PC lab in remote leper colony had wrong cables, no licences, and not much hope

Not even Linux could save the day for odd educational outpost

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On-Call Welcome back to On-Call, The Register’s weekly tale of – ahem – challenging support jobs that readers have encountered around the world.

This week, meet “Mick” who told us about his visit to New Ireland, a remote province in Papua New Guinea.

There’s decent surf out there, nice kayaking and dive sites featuring World War II aircraft wrecks in shallow water, so a few tourists are starting to show up. Which is why the spot Mick visited was home to a vocational training college.

“We counted more people currently studying tourism than tourists in the entire province, New Ireland Province,” Mick told On-Call. “It was one of the few places where the students had questions, but they tended to be about who pays us to be tourists.”

The college also had some computers.

“The Chinese embassy had generously provided what had previously been a leper colony with a supply of laptops for the staff and a room full of desktops and screens for students,” Mick recalled. “Unfortunately, the desktops only had HDMI and the screens were VGA, so not much could be done on our visit other than note what was missing and try to get it shipped.”

“The staff laptops, inevitably, came with Windows, but were also unused because there was no licence for Word so no way that they knew to do any word processing.”

Sadly Mick was not in New Ireland long enough to demonstrate how to run Linux live from an optical disk, but said “If anyone is passing, it would be interesting to know if they were able to use the free Ubuntu 16.04 and MINT disks we left behind, or if they were defeated by the elaborate dance to boot from disc and are just doing what they can with WordPad, ignoring the constant interruptions and Windows’ dire warnings of out-of date virus checking etc.”

Mick’s also asked that visitors “please don’t upgrade them to 17.10 and wreck the BIOS.”

Have you ever found IT in a bigger mess than the one Mick stumbled upon? If so, click here to write to On-Call and your story might appear here on some future Friday.

Or maybe even a future Monday: an On-Call reader named Steven wrote to ask “Have you considered doing the opposite of On-Call in the form of ‘Tech Support Confessionals’ in which IT folk anonymously report the times that *they* messed everything up by accident?”

Which sounds like an excellent idea, so if you’re willing to share tales of when you cratered a computer, do feel free to write. As ever, we promise anonymity to spare blushes. Feel free to write with possible names for such a column, too! ®

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