Getting wireless in Estonia

Two full days in, and we Mac Mania cruisers have packed a lot of excitement into those days, both on-ship and off.

Friday was the only “sea day” for the MS Westerdam, as we steamed from Copenhagen, Denmark, east to Tallinn, Estonia. And it was a full day of Mac Mania sessions. I stopped in to a crowded conference room to see Chris Breen and David Pogue take turns at two keyboards: the typing kind and the playing-music kind. Their GarageBand session attracted about 25 conferencegoers, who got to see two expert writers and accomplished musicians design several compositions using Apple’s music-creation program.

A little later in the day, I gave my first of four presentations during the cruise, “Tiger Primer,” a guided tour of the new features in Tiger. I’ll admit that, up against David and Chris, I was afraid my session would turn into “Tiger: Jason’s conversation with himself for an audience of none.” But instead, I managed to get a lively audience of about two dozen cruisegoers, who were very polite as I talked on about Spotlight queries and Dashboard widgets and the like for an entire hour.

I’m notoriously bad at judging the length of presentations: give me an hour and I’ll fill with fear that I’ve only got a half-hour’s worth of material, which of course leads me to generate far too many slides and cause the opposite problem. I’ll admit I went overtime Friday, but I only put one person to sleep so far as I could tell, and she was kind enough to blame it on the jet lag.

A bit later in the evening I journeyed up to the Crow’s Nest, on Deck 10 of the ship. (Star Trek fans—and there are some of them on this ship, as there’s also a Star Trek cruise going on at the same time—would delight in the fact that the Crow’s Nest is actually “Ten Forward.” Meanwhile, the other 800 people on the ship must be wondering what all these PowerBooks and Vulcan ears are about.) In any event, every evening in the Crow’s Nest, broadcasting and podcasting personality Leo LaPorte and a random assortment of other presenters are on hand to man the “Ingenious Bar,” a freewheeling discussion of Mac-related issues, solving of Mac-related problems, and general good times.

Over drinks and snacks, Leo and I discussed the Intel transition, mysterious Tiger printing bugs, the Mac mini, and several other topics with a small collection of Mac fans. It was a good time, and the kind of casual, low-key discussion it’s hard to get at an event like Macworld Expo, where all the experts tend to be rushing from meeting to meeting in a severely discombobulated fashion.

Saturday was our port stop in Tallinn, Estonia, and what a stop it was. Tallinn’s Old City is a gorgeous (and small, making it eminently walkable) medieval city with city walls, towers, pointy church spires, and extremely friendly people. It also helped that it was a beautiful, sunny 70-degree day. At the ferry dock, my family and I met Veljo Haamer, who’s the editor of, a Web site and organization that is spreading wireless Internet hotspots throughout Estonia, particularly in Tallinn.

Veljo led us through the city via back streets ( check out the slideshow ), letting us avoid most of the crowded, touristy parts of the city while also steering us toward his favorite spots. We ascended to the hill at the top of the city, where we were treated to some spectacular views and numerous examples of Veljo’s work. Adjacent to the Estonian parliament building are two beautiful parks, both of which will be enabled with free wireless Internet access within a week.

After our walk, we ended up at Pegasus, a trendy café with—you guessed it—free Wi-Fi access. Although some of the cafés in town do charge for Internet access (it’s a nominal fee, about 10 Estonian Kroons, or less than $1, for 24 hours of use), most of them seem to believe that having free Wi-Fi is like having free newspapers available for patrons: it keeps them happy and keeps them in the café, spending more money.

Later, we met up with one of Veljo’s friends, Meelis Piller, who’s the founder of the Estonian edition of PC World. Meelis’s group is extremely small—just a handful of people working out of his home—but they’ve just put out their second issue and are competing well with two other computer magazines in Estonia. This country is small—less than two million people—but Meelis says that there are a growing number of Mac users, and the cover of PC World features an Apple logo and the phrase Nüüd ka Maci kasutajatele , loosely meaning, “Now covering the Mac too!” And sure enough, inside is an Apple section, featuring an article about the Intel transition (Apple läheb üle Inteli arhitektuurile) , a feature story about Tiger (Apple’i Tiger operatsioonisüsteemi võidukäik) , and even a story by Macworld’s Peter Cohen from E3 (Power Mac’id jooksutavad Xbox 360 demosid) , all translated into Estonian.

As we finished our long walking tour of the city, we passed a beautiful orthodox church and I noticed a sign that marked it as Kultuurimälestis: National Monument. More striking, though, was the symbol at its center: the same one you find on your Mac’s Command key, next to that Apple logo. I’ve heard the story about how that symbol was derived from a Scandinavian sign indicating a “place of interest,” but now I’ve got proof. I took out my PowerBook to display the symbol to Veljo and Meelis (who is, like his PC World counterpart in America, a PowerBook user). It was pretty funny.

With only a few hours to go before the Westerdam had to depart for our next stop, St. Petersburg, we had to bid farewell to Veljo and Meelis. Warm sun, friendly people, free and fast wireless Internet access … what an excellent time we had in Tallinn.

On to Russia, just in time for the Fourth of July.

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