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July 9, 2006 12:23 AM   Subscribe

What's the best way for a tech-impaired, budget-conscious mom in the US to talk to her son while he's living in Indonesia?

My mom's in Orange County, California; I'm in Bandung, Indonesia.

Mom's got an ancient *eMac* running a version of OSX which is incompatible with Skype, a Verizon cell phone, a Cox landline/cable internet bundle, and a Yahoo account. The eMac has a microphone integrated into its monitor and, presumably, some USB ports for a headset.

However, the computer is in my (16-year-old) brother's room, and the time difference (14 hours, yo!) makes using the computer at night difficult if she wants to have a private and/or hilarious conversation with me. Getting her own computer is a big priority but not in the financial cards right now.

I've got an Indonesian PAYG mobile phone (Simpati), no landline or internet at home, and a Gmail account. I use internet cafes, so I'm paying for my time and I can't install any new software - though I do have a 512mb USB flash drive I could (maybe?) install something on. Most of the time I can stick something into a USB drive (headset?), but I've never used one of them, so I don't know how that'd go on a computer not my own.

Calling cards are possible, but I'd love to be able to get us into the free/extremely cheap territory of Google Talk or Skype - money's tight for both of us and we are really, really chatty. Is there some obvious option I'm not seeing here? Thanks!
posted by mdonley to Computers & Internet (18 answers total)
You could run a Radio Shack splitter on the line-in and speaker-out jacks of the computer, and use audio extension cords to run a semi-permanent line out of the bedroom to a headset located elsewhere. Set Skype to auto-answer on her end, plan to call at a given time, and have her make sure your brother turns off the speakers in his room at night so your converation doesn't wake him up.

Convoluted, but relatively cheap and easy. If calling at a predictable time isn't workable, you could always make a quick calling card call to announce that you're going to call back on Skype.
posted by cortex at 12:40 AM on July 9, 2006

(Not specifically recommending Radio Shack, but if your mom is not tech savvy that's probably the most painless way to locate a couple of 1/8" splitter jacks.)
posted by cortex at 12:40 AM on July 9, 2006

Not free but you can use skypeout to your mom's landline for cheap. Here are the international rates.
posted by freudianslipper at 12:59 AM on July 9, 2006

Have you noticed how cheap the calling cards in Indonesia are? It's almost as cheap as Skype, really!

Also, the quality of a direct phone call is still far superior to Indonesian internet access, I bet. Granted, I haven't been there for a few years, but I lived there for years in the late 90s. We used calling cards then.
posted by Lucie at 1:16 AM on July 9, 2006

If the Internet cafe will allow you to plug it in, you could buy a Vonage phone, and assign it a number that's local to your mom. Then she could just call you like you were in town.

It'd cost $90 or so upfront for the phone, and another $25/mo for unlimited calling (plus another couple bucks in hidden it $28/mo.) If you talk for 500 minutes or less a month, it'd be $18.

You'd have to haul some gear in... the Vonage adapter, a network cable, the power adapter, and, of course, a telephone. You can use a standard unpowered landline, the Vonage adapter will power it for you.

I don't know how good the Net connection would be there... it may be unusable. But if you want to keep things ABSOLUTELY simple for your mom, this would work pretty well. She can make unlimited local calls, right?

If you can get Skype installed on a USB Key, they offer a SkypeIn service which works similarly, where you have a phone number that regular phones can call. This also costs, but I think it's quite a bit less than $25/mo. I've not tried to run Skype from USB, but it might work, and it'd probably be free to try, as opposed to the $90 phone. However, you'd also have the issue of keyloggers grabbing your Skype password.....
posted by Malor at 3:19 AM on July 9, 2006


mdonley: "Mom's got an ancient *eMac* running a version of OSX which is incompatible with Skype"
posted by Bugbread at 4:57 AM on July 9, 2006

Are pre-paid calling cards not an option?
posted by Faint of Butt at 5:16 AM on July 9, 2006

Response by poster: OK, some updates:

Cortex: that scenario sounds amazingly cool, but the fact that my mom can send e-mail is a very recent innovation. She also

Malor: I make about $600 a month, so this idea is pretty unworkable in my current financial situation. I can spend money on a headset and that's probably it.

Lucie: I haven't noticed how cheap the calling cards are here, because I haven't seen anyone advertising cheap phone cards for calls to the US. Where did you find them?

FreudianSlipper/other Skype suggestors: The internet cafes that I use have ONE USB port accessible. So if I'm running Skype (for SkypeOut) off a flash drive (as I can't install anything on these computers), there's no way to plug in a headset! Furthermore, there are no speakers on the computers, and there's nowhere accessible to plug in headphones! Ack!

What about a messenger client of some kind with voice capabilities?

Keep the ideas coming!
posted by mdonley at 5:26 AM on July 9, 2006

Response by poster: PS - It's not that prepaid calling cards aren't an option; it's just that I haven't found them here, and my mom's experience has been that the phone cards she's investigated still want 20 cents or more a minute to call an Indonesian cell phone, which is more than we want to spend.

SkypeOut sounds freaking perfect - if only I could use it! Aaargh, internet cafe dictators!
posted by mdonley at 5:29 AM on July 9, 2006

Response by poster: D'oh.

Cortex: that scenario sounds amazingly cool, but the fact that my mom can send e-mail is a very recent innovation. She also doesn't have much time to get out to Radio Shack, rig up some wires, etc. But thanks. :)
posted by mdonley at 5:32 AM on July 9, 2006

incompatible with Skype

Christ. Apologies, I read that as "compatible" last night.
posted by cortex at 8:11 AM on July 9, 2006

I found many pages of calling cards that can be bought online -- from 4 cents a minute with various fees, 10 cents without. I don't know if that is cheap enough, but it might work for you.
posted by Margalo Epps at 9:22 AM on July 9, 2006

I think you'll find the rate to call cell-phones in indonesia to be much higher than calling a landline. this is pretty much the case with every country except the US (since the owner of the cell phone pays for the airtime in the US)
posted by reverendX at 10:05 AM on July 9, 2006

Hmm, I'm afraid I can't remember where to get calling cards in Indonesia. Um, the toko? ;)

Online might be your best bet, as per Margalo Epps's post. That, or ask around. If you're in Bandung, maybe try to get some hints from students at the uni?
posted by Lucie at 4:57 PM on July 9, 2006

There exists a USB key with Skype preinstalled AND a headset jack, to facilitate just what you are facing at the cybercafe. I've been trying to Google it to no success, but I think I saw it on Engadget or Gizmodo if you want to look into it further (or perhaps I have sparked some other MeFite's memory).
posted by Rock Steady at 5:24 PM on July 9, 2006

Rock Steady is probably talking about the MPlat FlashPhone F2K. Looks perfect for you, but I know nothing about it aside from what's shown on the webpage I linked. Here are prices, which isn't bad. You could (I presume?) use SkypeOut with this, or here is a list of skype alternatives, maybe one of them will work for your mother?

There's also a new Vonage version of the flash drive/headset, that might work better if you have to call your mother on her real phone. (Again, I don't know how it works).

Can't your little brother help her set something up, if he's techy enough to need the computer in his room?
posted by jacalata at 5:40 AM on July 10, 2006

I second the FlashPhone idea...well...maybe:

Skype to Skype:
+ free
- mom not that confortable with tech
- computer location issue

+ number in her area code she can call from landline
+ free to her
+/- IMHO $38/yr is not a bad price, YMMV I suppose
- If you're not on skype when she calls, voicemail OR forwarding to your cellphone (If this happens realize you're paying SkypeIN+SkypeOUT minutes+Cellphone minutes :-/ )

+ Cheaper/Equiv to calling card rates
+ Not paying calling card minutes AND cellphone minutes
+/- You're calling her, but it doesn't really matter I guess because you have to be at the cafe to recieve skype calls anyway.

In any case I guess what it comes down to is: If you're using Skype you have to come up with an alternative anyway if she wants to call you on your cellphone. Which is cheaper: initial device purchase + skype fees + internet cafe fees OR calling card + cellphone? Which is more convienent and less hassle?

I love skype as much as anyone, but in your situation I'd say a good ol calling card just whomps a skype solution. You can call anywhere without having to get to a cafe and carry around another device and it's probably just as cheap if not cheaper anyway.
posted by crypticgeek at 10:33 AM on July 10, 2006

Response by poster: Hey all - for future reference, I cajoled the local internet cafe into installing Skype, got myself some SkypeOut credit, and now I'm enjoying 2-cents-a-minute calls to the US, which beats all other available options.

posted by mdonley at 6:26 AM on November 30, 2006

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