Thursday, November 19, 2009

November 14, 2009 - Technical Genius

Please excuse me as I take a moment here to toot my own horn. I just managed to do something that has me so impressed with myself that I simply have to share. I just turned our cell phone into a dial-up modem for the computer. Now, for most people my age, this wouldn't have been that big of an accomplishment, but for me, well, this is a major deal. I can barely text on the phone (I continue to be handicapped by my early adoption of the blackberry), and updating our antivirus software every once in a while is about as technical as I get with our computer. So, when our friend Karin told me that I could use my phone to get internet access, and began to describe in intricate detail how to do it, using terms like "data bundles," "drivers," "3G," and "settings," my eyes started to glaze over. She had to explain it to me several times, but eventually it took.

Here is what I did:

1. Bought a SIM card from Vodacom, the local telecom company
2. Bought a lot of pre-paid airtime
3. Through the phone's menu, transferred most of those minutes to data bundles
4. Downloaded a software driver for our phone from so that the phone would speak to the computer
5. Called up Vodacom and had them walk me through the rest of the set up steps
6. Plugged the phone into our laptop via a USB cable that came with our Canon camera and just happened to fit the phone too

This all took a little while, but now our GSM cell phone is functioning as a dial-up modem. It isn't terribly fast, but I can read the New York Times, while sipping a cup of coffee, in the comfort of my own (floating) home. Moreover, we are now set up to have internet access for the next three months as we work our way down and around the coast of South Africa.

The process would have been somewhat simplified if we had a newer model of phone, which would typically have come with a disc containing the necessary driver software. If we had a 3G phone, our data speed would be faster. If I was used to Broadband, the slow speed would be driving me batty. But as we haven't had any internet at all since we left the Seychelles two months ago, we're not awfully picky at the moment about how fast pages open.

The most amazing thing about this whole process (other than the fact that I, a person who really does feel lost without a 24 hour IT help desk at my beck and call, managed to pull it off), is the level of service I got from the phone company. I don't know much about South Africa yet, but I can tell you that the service personnel at their telecom company put the service department at every American phone company I've ever dealt with to shame. They not only answered the phone, which is a minor miracle in and of itself, but they gave me clear (once they switched to speaking English from Afrikans), precise instructions on how to modify the phone's settings and my computer's settings to make the system work. Maybe monopolies aren't such a bad thing after all.

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