As it turns out, getting access in Alaskan ports of call to a quiet phone line, or even a functioning computer, wasn't all that difficult, but knowing this in advance put my mind at rest. As did knowing that Net access from a ship at sea is currently so arduous and expensive that one might as well call it impossible. So I set off, lugging the trusty Digital HiNote portable my wife has named The Admiral Grace Hopper -- just in case of computer scarcity.
Don't bother with using your cabin phone for a modem connection. It's $10/minute [actually, it was $15 -- kd] and will not work as the compression scheme used on the satellite link uses about 8 kilohertz for a voice channel, plus has a 1- to 2-second propagation delay, plus has a huge amount of echo.
When I mentioned surfing from a ship I was using a routed digital link. The ship usually has a 64K bit/second digital connection to the world. They use 9600 baud for the data link and also run around seven voice channels. Two voice channels are for the ship and five are for passengers. The ships talking about passenger Internet were going to buy a second 64K link.
Inmarsat sells a laptop-sized unit that only costs $3000, then $180 per hour -- for 2400 baud. John Carlyle-Clarke sent this pointer, but I'll wait for Teledesic, thanks.
In Sitka a delightful establishment called Highliner Coffee sells the best latte for three hundred miles around, as well as Net access by the hour on two Windows machines. Liked it so much I bought the sweatshirt. If you're ever in Sitka, go into the barbershop in the Subway shopping plaza; walk straight through and out the back, and you're in the Highliner. (Alaska is like that.)
In Juneau and Ketchikan I used phone centers -- not common in these parts, but a good business in towns regularly visited by ships that carry 1200 travellers and a crew of 600. They're always but a short walk from the gangway.
Rose, by Martin Cruz Smith. This engrossing yarn is set in the English coal-mining town of Wigan in the last century. Smith as always delivers a compelling sense of place and peoples it with complex, engaging characters. His bad guys are larger than life and frighteningly believable; his hero/protagonists are built to take punishment at a level painful to contemplate. Smith pulls out a surprise happy ending that is a pure astonishment after all the hardships the good guy endures.
A Little Yellow Dog, by Walter Mosley. This is the fourth of the atmospheric mysteries featuring Easy Rawlins, of which the second, Devil in a Blue Dress, was made into a movie staring Denzel Washington. Mosley's prose is sharp as a rimshot and his worldview is bleak as four in the morning, but Yellow Dog is a heartwarmer. Go figure. You come out of this book glad to be a human in a world that has Walter Mosley in it.
Of course I returned with more books than I brought along. John Straley is an Alaskan mystery writer whose protagonist, a Sitka-based private investigator, gets involved in seamy local doings and wrapped up in the mysticism of the indigenous population. I'll start on the first of the four I brought home, The Woman Who Married a Bear, as soon as I put this issue to bed.
Most recently updated 2000-03-29