An IT Checklist (and other things to know) for New Volunteers

Greetings to all new VSO volunteers who are coming to Nepal. Here is what you need to know regarding IT…

  • Bring your own laptop – your laptop will be your source of entertainment (movies, tv, music, photos, etc.) and it will allow you to work from anywhere (at home, at Cyber cafes, wi-fi enabled restaurants etc.). Don’t rely on your partner organization to provide you a working PC (some are ancient). You can purchase laptops in Kathmandu but they are expensive since the shop keepers tell me that they get hit with excess import taxes. A decent laptop can run from 60,000 to 75,000 npr. If you have no choice or realize that you do have to purchase a laptop in Nepal, have no fear since all brands are available and the services at some shops are pretty extraordinary (ie. “free” software, support, extra add-ons if you bargain). For my work here, I like small and compact laptops, especially if you plan to carry it around from office to office, district to district (no need to break your back). Netbooks are worth it in my opinion (if you are the Internet-Word-Photo-viewing only type of person). If there is no DVD/CD drive, just get the extra external optical drive and leave it home when not needed! Don’t forget to bring back-up CD’s of your operating system and software – you never know if and when you have to reinstall them (you don’t want to install anything from here either). Integrated web cams and mic is a must.
  • Anti-virus software – DO NOT mess around with this aspect. Pay for a decent anti-virus software program as the free ones will not cut it. Without a doubt YOU WILL come across viruses, especially in some places where Internet is still on dial-up and sharing files via flash USB drives (pen drives as they call it here) is the norm. Read my previous post of recommended anti-virus programs. Regarding anti-virus updates, you can plug your laptop into any cyber cafe. If you are in the Kathmandu valley, fill up at the VSO office.
  • Electrical plug outlet adapters and surge protectors – re: plug outlet adapters, it would be good to bring your own high-quality adapters but you can also get good ones here. Re: surge protectors, if you have a good, high-quality one bring it for the sake of your laptop. Poor power surge bars will eventually drain your laptop battery (our brand new laptop used to last for 3 hours and now it can barely last for 1). However, you can also purchase high-quality surge protectors in town for cheap.
  • External hard drives and USB flash drives (pen drives) – for backup and file sharing, it is a must! Sure, you can burn DVD’s of your important data, photos and files but they do fill up fast (and if you are a photo addict like I am, you will need it). You can purchase inexpensive drives here (Transcend is the popular brand – 120 GB for 9000 npr) but heck, bring your own anyways. Pen drives bought here are really inexpensive and pretty reliable.
  • Upgrading your laptop – I am not sure why (maybe because parts can “easily” be imported in) but upgrading RAM and laptop hard drives is relatively cheap.
  • Thinking about a Desktop computer? – For only 25000 – 35000 npr you can get a pretty fast clone PC. But get a laptop.
  • PC or Laptop support/troubleshooting? – If there isn’t any IT volunteer or any tech-savvy volunteers around, VSO Nepal outsources their IT needs and perhaps you can use the same company as well. If you are out of valley, I would head to your local cyber cafe and start from there for advice. The IT industry is booming here in Nepal.
  • Laptop bags and gear – a protective sleeve for your laptop is always good (for dust, spills, flying dal bhaat, whatever) as well as a good bag. You can get a good notebook style messenger bag but it’s not as convenient as a good backpack designed for notebooks. It’s easier to carry, you are more mobile and flexible, especially if you are on a motorbike. A notebook lock is good but I never really used mine.
  • Internet Providers in Nepal – still debatable on which ones to use as every volunteer has had good and bad experiences with each company. Check with VSO Nepal for their updated recommendations but here is my list of companies to use.
  • Mobile phone – you can bring your own GSM SIM card enabled phone but if it is an expensive one, I would be wary about bringing it as there is a chance that you can lose, damage, or get it stolen. You can get a decent mobile phone here (and it will for sure work) for 2500 to 3500 npr. Out-going volunteers can pass you their old phones as well (very convenient as you do not have to go through the hassle of registering for a phone number). However, if you do need to register for a new number, Mero Mobile and NTC are the popular (and most reliable) service providers in the country (as side from the registration fee, you would also need a passport photo and a photocopy of your passport). Like all telecom companies, they do have their business-driven Pros and Cons (ie. Mero moble users calling another Mero mobile user is cheaper than calling an NTC user, NTC has cheaper rates but hard to get SIM card for some reason).
  • Email (and related web services) – most often volunteers create new email address accounts while they are working in Nepal. The big 3 email providers, Microsoft Live Mail, Google Gmail, and Yahoo! Email each have their own perks and depending on which company your friends mostly use, it will also likely determine who you sign-up with as well. This matters the most when it comes to chatting and accessing useful web services that you may find useful for staying in touch with friends and family back home.Here is quick summary of these services:
    • Yahoo! – with your Yahoo! account you will not only have email but access to Flickr (for photo sharing and storage), Delicious (for storing and sharing bookmarks on the web), Yahoo! Groups, and Yahoo! Messenger for chat.
    • Google – along with Gmail, you can setup your own Blog with Blogger, manage your photos on your computer and share them online with Picasa, chat with other Google users on Google Talk (and Gmail if you have chat enabled). Google also has Groups. Like to map things? Google Maps is neat. Google is my choice.
    • Hotmail (or Live mail from Microsoft) – you got blog with Live Spaces, MSN messenger chat, photo sharing and management with Windows Vista or 7, and lots of other services. You can’t go wrong here.
    • Mac – if you are on a Mac, well you have all of the above plus your own cool world (MobileMe).
    • Facebook is a notable mention – it is has everything you need especially if all your friends and family are on it. VSO Nepal even has a Facebook group.
  • Blogs – need a web site (blogs are really web sites)? Then I recommend Blogger.com, WordPress.com, or Tumblr.com. Windows Live Spaces is included with your hotmail account.
  • Software – aside from the aforemention chat programs above, Skype is a godsend for video, chat, and phone calls. You should have your basic office applications such as Microsoft Office. Be aware however, most organization that I have worked with are still using older versions of Microsoft Windows and Office (Windows XP and Office 95/2000) for obvious $$$ reasons so you may stumble upon file compatibility issues (.doc vs. .docx). OpenOffice is great but if you are working on a document that was originally in Word or has to be submitted in Word, DO NOT use OpenOffice as you may find yourself having many formatting and layout headaches/issues.Finally, here is my essential list of software to load your laptop with:
    1. Anti-virus software of course
    2. Microsoft Office (or OpenOffice) and a backup/restore CD of your laptop or operating system
    3. Email software: if using Hotmail, download Windows Live Mail to email read your email offline. Gmail via Google Gears. Mozilla Thunderbird is another free email software package.
    4. For photos: Picasa is free as is Windows Live Photos.
    5. Web browsers: Google Chrome is nice, light and fast, Mozilla FireFox is neat, if you are living in Microsoft land go with Internet Explorer.
    6. Adobe Acrobat Reader (but get the full Acrobat version if you can or install PDF Creator)
    7. Skype (did I mention that already?)
    8. For blogging offline, Windows Live Writer which is great when you don’t have internet access and you can draft your blog entry and have it ready to go.
    9. Video and DVD’s – VLC Media Player, it plays everything.
    10. CCleaner – a useful all-in-one cleaning program that clears out the junk and organizes your computer (makes your computer go faster and can free up hard drive space.)

If anybody else has any other suggestions, feel free to share them here.

One Reply to “An IT Checklist (and other things to know) for New Volunteers”

  1. This sounds like a wonderful article Rex! Bet many would enjoy reading it.

Thoughts?