INCON Research, Inc.

INCONnecticut Computer Help for Small Business and Home UserINCONnecticut Computer Help


  Home Services Marty Roth Stories Conversations Contact Information



Below is a particularly memorable first hand story of support. It takes place on the island of Margarita, Venezuela several years ago. (photo

Windsurfing in Margarita, Venezuela


By Marty Roth

A few years ago I was in Margarita Island, Venezuela (another story) when Nick Judge, the owner of the condo we stayed in, tried to email me before our arrival to bring him a replacement hard disk. He had purchased a Compaq Presario laptop in Los Angeles and his Fujistu hard disk had crashed. He uses the laptop for email, scheduling, billing and word processing. I missed his email request but said that I would try to help him. Apparently, the Compaq warranty IS ONLY GOOD IN THE STATES and he was even thinking of flying to Miami for $1000 to get the machine fixed under the warranty. The local PC "Dealer" did not have any hard disks and couldn't get any for some reason. The PC had been down for three weeks already and he just wanted to check his email and send some new messages. Rather than ship the machine back to Compaq he wanted to try and fix it locally. So after a few rum drinks I said I would try to help him. (Did he see "Computer Help" written on my forehead?)

STOP #1 Nicks' apartment. A short walk from the condo to pick up the laptop. I looked at the case and immediately saw that you needed a special hex drive to open the case, so we would have to find somebody with the tools to help.

STOP #2 Another hotel. Just up the street from the apartment, we had to find the owner to find his wife who just flown in from Miami. She had purchased a Seagate 1.6GB hard disk by mail order for him from some company in California for $260. After the usual pleasantries, we got the drive. Just the drive -- no instructions, floppies or any documentation.

STOP #3 Computer Dealer. After a half-hour drive to the city of Porlomar, we went into the PC dealer to see if they could help. They didn't sell or service Compaq but they knew that "Jorge", the Compaq rep from Caracas was in town and maybe he could help. They gave is directions to his "office". All the discussions from here on in were totally in Spanish.

STOP #4 Jorge's Office. The "directions" indicated that the office was located behind a video store. It was a three-story apartment building with no directory. The people in the video store said that they never heard of him. Dead end. 

STOP #5 Jorge's Friend. Nick knew of another technician in town where Jorge might be so went over there. Another five story apartment building with a locked front door and no doorbells. We were shouting from the street "Jorge!, Jorge!" when one of the tenants let us in with her key. We knocked on the apartment door. Jorge was there, but they had a vicious dog, so we had to talk in the stairwell rather than in the apartment. Jorge said that "maybe" he could help, so let's go downstairs to the "store" to open the laptop and install the hard disk. The "store" was an open front bicycle repair/plumbing supply/construction and tool store in full swing with three bicycles being fixed on the lobby floor next to the pipe threading machine. We found an open counter space and with Jorge's hex tool, popped open the case. Out went the old drive, but the new drive was thicker and the mounting rail didn't fit it. So we "sort of" mounted it with two set screws and closed it up. 

Then, Jorge tried several boot disks so that he could partition the new drive and format it before installing Windows 95. After trying about 12 disks (all unlabeled), he said that he had all the "right" disks at home and we should follow him to his place. 

STOP #6 Jorge's apartment. Another part of town, another apartment. We set up the laptop on his kitchen table, and he brought down an old cardboard box of about 200 disks and a handful of CD's. None of the floppies had commercial labels -- they were all copies from something else. After a number of attempts, one of the boot disks worked and he was able to partition and format the hard drive. I saw a screen that said DOS 6.2, but at least it was working. I took a look at the Windows 95 disk that he was going to use. It said "Windows95 en Espaņol, OEM version 2" I looked inside and it was a stock disk from the TDK Disk company. I slid the cover out of the jewel box case and saw that it had been badly printed on a color inkjet printer. This was a pirated copy of Windows! Nick told him he wanted the English version of Windows (he's Australian) but Jorge told him that was all he had. Nick also wanted the Compaq OEM drivers that were originally installed in the machine. Jorge gave him a real Compaq disk for this, but it was marked ONLY for desktop systems. When we pointed this out to him, he said that it didn't matter, that they were all the same. He suggested that we go back to the dealer to have them install Windows in English and the Compaq drivers. 

STOP #7 (#3 again) the Computer Dealer. Since it was Saturday, the dealer was closing for the weekend at 1:00 p.m. and we had 10 minutes to get there. We made it, but they locked the door behind us and basically said that they had a pile of machines for repair ahead of them and would have to leave it for a few days until they could get to it. Nick persisted, and they said that they would "look at it" while we were there. After several lock-ups, disk errors and the blue-screen-of -death message with HARDWARE FAILURE, we were asked to leave so that they could "work in peace" (unobserved, I think). 

STOP #8 McDonalds. Yes, same decor, same menu. Service was much slower though - they cook to order rather than have prepared selections. Quite a pile-up at the registers when you have everyone waiting while they take new orders :-)

STOP #9 (#7,#3 Dealer re-visited). Back to the Computer Dealer. "See", says the tech. "The Compaq disk is the wrong one -- it's for desktops. It doesn't work." "OK", I say and suggest that they get the OEM drivers from the Compaq Website. "Good idea, but we're closing now - come back in three days and we'll see what we can do." After MUCH heated discussion, the laptop was left and they PROMISED to work on it as soon as they could. They also wanted to know where the original Compaq disks were. They were in Australia, as Nick didn't know why he had to drag install disks around with him. They would configure his laptop for 30,000 Bolivars (about $60). This in the land of $.25 beers. Exit the Dealer.

STOP #9 The Local ISP. One of the key reasons that Nick wanted his machine was to check and send email. So, he decided to drive over to the local Internet Service Provider (ISP) to try and use one of their machines to get his email. You should know that there are no phone lines on the island of Margarita -- all calls are cellular, including the connection to the ISP. The ISP has a satellite hook-up to the internet. Anyway, another part of town, another office building. In we go, and after more of the usual pleasantries Nick asked to use one of the PC's. "Sorry, the satellite is down. Come back maņana (Sunday, when they are closed) or try us on Monday". No email today. 

STOP #10 The Supermarket. Trying to salvage something out of this odyssey and after about five hours of running around we decided to pick up a few supplies. Nice modern supermarket, and everyone walks around the store shouting on their cell phone. Just like the suits in Manhattan! At least we didn't come back empty handed.


  The dealer finally found the correct OEM disk and got everything installed about a week later. Nick was back in business. The lessons learned here are:

1.      Check your warranty carefully to see WHAT is included and WHERE and HOW you can get service, especially if you travel overseas.

2.      Have a BACK UP plan to save all your important data and follow it regularly. Really.

3.      Always keep a boot disk handy and all keep all the OEM disks for your particular machine.

4.      Don't drink rum, and cover your forehead when talking to strangers about PC's!