Panama’s rickety networks

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Thousands of students have so far been unable to matriculate for their next year of studies at the University of Panama, causing chaos and anger. The university had proudly announced that starting 2013, the matriculation process would be entirely done over the web, and the special site would come online Monday the 25th of February at 00:00.

Why anyone would open up a heavy load site at midnight when no tech support is available is anyone's guess. We talked to students who tried to use it:

"They said that we could use it at midnight, but because this is the University of Panama, we decided to go there anyway in case it didn't work so we could do the process like always."

That was a wise move. As soon as the system came online, it crashed. When employees of the administration finally showed up in the morning, it was announced that the system would be back online later on Monday. But then power went down all over the country, and the new launch hour was delayed until midnight again.

And again, it crashed. Plus, it turned out that it was incomplete. Some faculties simply couldn't use it. It's now supposedly going to be alright at midnight again, Thursday morning at 00:00.

How could this happen? We had a look at it and what they are trying to use is something that can be called a beta test version at best, which they are trying to let loose on a student population of about 50,000. There is no redundancy in hosting of the system, servers, etc. There are serious security problems. It's just so amateurish that it would be a miracle if it didn't crash. Then again, we have to remember that this is a university that is headed by a man who calls himself a "rector magnificus" even though he has a doctorate from a diploma mill, a man who has never published one single scientific article but names streets after himself on the campus, a corrupt figure who sells diplomas through his entourage of employees and then goes on foreign trips using so much money for his own comfort and that of his accomplices that there hasn't been any scientific work done at the university for years on end.

Power outage

While thousands of students were getting really angry, a couple of transformers blew up near Penonome. The load then was taken up by other components of the grid, which, one by one, also blew - a phenomenon known as "cascading system failure". Eventually, practically the entire country was without power. Then the water went out as well, because the water company IDAAN has no back-up power for the pumps.

ETESA, the state owned company that is in charge of the national grid, claimed that a fire in a sugarcane field had destroyed the transformers. That fire, however, turned out to have been tens of miles away, and we suspect that lack of maintenance and stealing money instead of replacing outdated equipment are the cause.

At least it is good to know that you can just hit one transformer to knock out the lights in all of Panama. Just wait until protesting Ngobe groups hear about this.

HSBC hacked

A friend of Bananama Republic told us that she and her husband had received notice from HSBC that there had been fraud detected on their credit cards and that they would be replaced with new ones. Great service, you'd think. But then other people started getting the same notices from HSBC. All these cards cloned at the same time?

"You have been hacked," our source said to an HSBC manager, who then admitted that this had indeed been the case.

HSBC Panama, now sold to Bancolombia, had apparently been trying to keep things quiet, but in a small country like Panama it a kind of draws the attention if a lot of people all of a sudden need their credit card replaced because of fraud. Getting the new cards has been a nightmare, affected clients told us. The cards weren't there when they were promised they would, snotty employees, bad communications between different branches. It's typical for a thuggish bank that has been stealing millions from its clients.

Systems

What HSBC, ETESA, IDAAN and the University of Panama have in common is that they rely on weak networks. Each and every system that has failed over the last couple of days has done so because it has been designed for cheapness and not to be reliable and secure. ETESA doesn't invest in the grid because they want to pocket the money for its managers instead. IDAAN is roughly the same story (and so is, by the way every privatized electricity company in Panama as well as all the telcoms). HSBC gets hacked because their systems are not secure, and then it turns out that their system to replace the hacked cards is dysfunctional too. The University of Panama lets amateurs run an amateurish system because the money needed to make it work has long disappeared in the pockets of the corrupt rector and his cronies.

The only enterprise in Panama that seems to have reliable systems in place is the Canal Authority, but that will probably change for the worse too, now that Martinelli is trying to get his cronies on the board there and an ill conceived expansion project is suffering delays and budget overruns.

6 thoughts on “Panama’s rickety networks

  1. We now know that Cane Burning was actually a fraud and a big fat lie!

    Had the damaged, burned, or destroyed these High tension Power lines, it would take days not hours to reinstate High Tension electrical service to all of Panama!

    Looks like the Panamanian Electrical Grid has some major faults that will only increase the amount of Brown outs in the future!

    Way too many Transformers that are too small for the task at hand, too far apart with no cross tied system fail-safe for redundancy!

    The Voltage here in Panama City has been averaging over 122 volts(up to 125 volts at peak) for a electrical service for the Past month, also it have been running over 60 cycles(Hertz) averaging from 58.5 to 63.5 cycles(Hertz) in the same time period!

    The Grid is very unstable and these constant voltage surges are a daily event,

    It is driving the cost of electrical use up by speeding up the Electrical meter used to bill you for the use of Electricity.

    Have you notice that you CFL are blinking or flashing lately?

    Voltage & Hertz are not constant this leads to premature death for your appliances.

    If you do not have Electrical surge protectors or Voltage regulators on your appliances, you will be see them die a lot earlier than their “normal life cycle”.

    This is a deliberate orchestrated attempt to raise power use by not managing the Electrical Grid for efficiency but for profit.

    Or are they so stupid that they do not have a clue as to what they are actually doing with this Panamanian Electrical Grid?

    Also while I am at it Cable Onda is just as wacky and poorly maintained!

    Their language SAP program and TV on line guide are never working properly or even maintained, these are now rather simple software fixes not hard core reboots or rewiring as just a few years ago.

    Their Severs for their outbound ISP Internet service is never at any one speed let alone the speed you supposedly paying for as Advertised!

    Server logs, DNS logs and Router logs are never reset on timely basis used, setup, or even monitored!

    Cable Onda and Cable & Worthless are also a card carrying member of these weak feeble networks as you stated above!

    No, far worse than that they are not even networks that are functional on a reliable regular usable basis!

    As for any real form of Network security, there is very little and most of these Intranets and Internet connections are copied right out of the Cisco, Nortel, Novel, Microsoft, and Security Manuals that come with the routers, switches and servers.

    Then these so-called networks are maintained by academically trained tested individuals with no real hands on, real world training, or experience on these actual up to date systems and/or equipment being used!

    Just how any real business get done in Panama is amazing!

    One last question just where is all the Electrical power going to come from to run Martinelli’s Cartel Government Metro subway Fiasco?

    Like everything here in Panama it all show and no go!

  2. Panamanians have a strange reluctance to pay for anything that has even a miniscule amount of public good. For example, if you told a Panamanian that he could spend $1.00 on maintaining the road in front of his house and this would make his house worth $99.00 more, he would not spend it. The fact that others on the street would gain a tiny incremental benefit from his dollar spent would make him think he was an ahuevado for spending it. He´d rather lose the $99 benefit than think that he paid a dollar for someone else´s benefit.

    It is a “cut your nose off to spite your face” mentality taken to the extreme. It is for this reason that the country has Saudi type income and Haiti style infrastructure. It is not just the politicians or the rich that suffer from this “dog in a manger attitude”. It starts with the poorest peon. It is a national trait that is derived from an intense fear of being seen to be an ahuevado, or chump to anglophones.

  3. When I read somewhere that power went down in the entire country because of cane burning, I knew it was a lie because hardly a week passes without a power cut in this region (Highlands, West of Volcan) and that doesn’t affect Volcan or David, nor did it when once a transformer burnt out and later, when another one exploded.

    Because of the many issues with electrical power I hooked up an oscilloscope and saw that instead of a sine wave, the waveform resembled a triangle with flatted top / bottom. IOW when the central power control regulates the peak voltage, the effective voltage is wrong and vice-versa. That wasn’t all: with a high-pass filter I measured the interference (noise) on the line and that had an amplitude of 10 Volts! I emailed Fenosa and still am waiting for an answer / solution.

    Interested in how in a rural region, very far from any industrial activity, power line interference could be 10,000 times the level of what I was used to near EU industrial regions, some checking was done. It appeared that on several places, the ground connection was lacking. IOW when hit by lightning, the energy can enter the homes of Panamanians and destroy everything connected to power – which frequently happens.

    What was remedied, regarded a tree which made contact with the high-voltage line – the sparks could be heard from from quite a distance. It was remedied only because of danger to human life – electrocution by touching the tree. It’s rather likely there are more places where this happens but unfortunately, the people have no knowledge of such issues.

    It looks like maintenance doesn’t happen, let alone preventive maintenance so that on a windy day the next year, the power doesn’t go down again for another 4 hours or so. What makes the situation worse is that the US power line system has been copied – not just in Panama but all over Latin America. Its grounding system is fundamentally unsafe and my measurements indicate that’s it’s most unsafe during the dry season – when the ground rods no longer are in contact with ground water (or wet soil).

    Pictures from the oscilloscope, the defective grounding and the tree under high voltage can be put at the disposal of the editor. A concise article on grounding systems is at 10.1.1.22.2439.pdf and even laymen can understand table 1 of it.

  4. Cheers to Faustino! No water but I don’t pay for it or I wont pay for what use medidor!!!!!!!! Same goes with all other infrastructure. Basura lo mismo, and when the government does have to raise a rate because they didn’t for 25 years we riot. Remember the Diablo Rojos for un real

  5. It is sad to see that the infrastructure has not changes a whole lot in the 26 years since I have been there. I can remember the power going out on a regular basis around noon time, and the traffic lights going blank. We used to joke that the power company must have been out to lunch. The fluctuations in cycle are new though, we didn’t have anything like that when I was there. That is a very bad sign.

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