By Land or by Sea

By Land or by Sea

E-mail is a luxury you can't afford to do without

I write this missive in the mid-Baltic, past deadline and beholden to my team back in Sydney (especially deputy editor Matt Rodgers) who put the issue together via e-mail collaboration over three continents. The Internet is a wonderful thing. What's not wonderful is that cocktail hour nears and there's a Scotch and soda with my name on it but it's verboten until I finish off this last responsibility, which I've been putting off for two days. Those two days have ended up costing a fair chunk of change.

Yes, the Internet allowed me to stay connected and manage this issue from afar, but it's been an interesting journey - one of delight, desperation, deceit, delay and de almighty buck.

The first week of travel involved business in San Francisco and Boston. Internet access was easy, with relatively inexpensive broadband available at each of the hotels I stayed at. It was a delight to log on, take care of business back in Sydney and get on with the job at hand.

The next few days were spent with family in upstate New York. Unfortunately I ran into a couple of problems. First, my mother's phones are hard-wired so dial-up was impossible. Second, while my mother has a computer, which meant Hotmail was an option, it's totally inappropriate to wrestle an 87-year-old woman to the floor just to gain access to your e-mail. (My mum does love her online blackjack.) Desperation set in after 24 hours of being incommunicado. But a solution was at hand via deceit. Keeping my fingers crossed that somewhere in her neighbourhood someone had a wireless network, I roamed her house (literally) and managed to pick up an unsecured one. The only problem was the connection was weak unless I sat on the middle of her bed. So I spent three days replying to e-mails while lying on my stomach and occasionally holding my notebook aloft to pump up the connection. My back still hurts.

I could blame my aching back for not putting the final tick to the issue and doing my editorial before I left my mum's, but that would be less than the truth. I just kept postponing it. Wrong move because the next part of my trip, which finds me in the Baltic sans my Scotch and soda, is taking place on the Silver Cloud and while there is Internet access it's costing me a motza.

The cruise line has decided to teach me a lesson for not getting into the proper holiday mood and is charging a dollar a minute to access their Internet connection. There's a discount plan available - isn't there always - which allows me to get about four hours of access this week for more than $135, but with the warning that there's no refund for unused time.

Now get this. The cruise line has totally automated the process for Internet access, and I cannot think of a way that it costs them one cent more or less if I access the Web for two minutes or 20 hours.

On a luxury ship that gives you litres of top-drawer booze, all the Bulgari toiletries you desire and more food than anyone on a rocking boat should eat, it's pretty clear that they're probably not trying to make an extra buck selling bandwidth. I am pretty sure they are doing their level best to punish those of us who failed to properly prepare to get into the holiday mood.

So in that spirit I am running spellchecker, closing this file, hitting send and heading straight to the bar.

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