Saturday, January 23, 2010

Tech support from 8,000 miles away

So my sister and I are in Thailand for a 6 day visit with my parents. Yes, I know I was just here in November, but I thought I'd be nice to my sister and assist in the 20 hour journey with her 23 month old toddler. That journey is a story in and of itself, but I'm still too traumatized to post about it...

One of our goals this trip was to set up Skype with a webcam for my mother so my parents can video chat with us when we're back in the Bay Area. The first step, which was accomplished the day before we arrived, was getting high speed internet installed with a wi-fi network. We don't know the very nice technician who came and got everything up and running, but we are deeply grateful to him.

We walked in the house at 1 a.m. our first day, connected to the network and all was good (especially since both my sis and I have a mountain of work to do while we are here). The next day, we trotted out and bought a webcam. Then we tried to install it on my mother's laptop - it was most definitely not plug-and-play. One hour and one very frustrated sister later, we decided that the laptop was a piece of s#%t and gave up.

It's actually kind of funny - when we booted up that laptop, the info screen said it was running Windows 2008 (what?!) brought to you by... with a photo of a pointing Bill Gates. We figured out it was an illegal copy of Windows.

So today, we set off for the big electronics store to buy a whole new laptop. It turned out to be a fascinating exercise. We found a nice Dell laptop (Inspiron 6600 in a lovely deep red) for 19,000 baht, which is roughly $520. Then we learned it only came loaded with DOS. DOS! Seriously! I wasn't even sure I heard him right! (Turns out it's FreeDOS - an open source OS)

The nice salesman told us that we could get all the software we wanted for 800 baht ($23). We were confused. I asked about just installing Windows. He responded that we could also get the real Windows for 12,000 baht ($350) with no other software. That's over half the cost of the machine we were buying! After a very short (almost non-existent in fact!) moral argument about the sanctity of copyright, we went with the 800 baht option (which was done on the side by our kindly salesman, and not paid to the store itself).

A couple of hours later, we returned to pick up our machine and handed over 800 baht in cash. For that princely sum, we received the nice salesman's mobile number and the promise of tech support for my mother if there were any software issues. And Windows 7, MS Office, Photoshop, Acrobat, Nero, QuickTime Pro and an anti-virus software package. In fact, the desktop was completely cluttered with application shortcuts.

We're now conducting a tutorial with my mother (who has only used her computer for email in the past) and hoping that we don't have to do too much troubleshooting from 8,000 miles away.