When minutes matter

The danger of blogging, as we are, about this technological—though pampered—life on the high seas, is that readers may question the motive of the writer. Is it the author’s sincere intent to entertain and inform or, as some baser souls may suspect, simply gloat? (My understanding is that Bill Bryson is constantly haunted by this issue.)

Allow me to assure you that though treated well, we aboard the Westerdam have our burdens to bear as well. I believe, for example, that on the overnight passage between Tallinn, Estonia, and our current port-of-call, St. Petersburg, Russia, the boat briefly canted a little over three-quarters of an inch from port to starboard, disturbing my shallow sleep enough that I had to roll over and rearrange the four fluffy pillows provided for my cranial comfort.

I mean, honestly .

Other than this sort of inconvenience, we have one major issue that is of slightly more concern—Internet access. The Westerdam is equipped with satellite broadband access that is both expensive at a price of between $.40 and $.70 a minute (depending on the length of access you purchase) and slow. Now don’t get me wrong, each day I’m aboard I bow down to the technology gods for the miracle that allows me to wirelessly surf the Web (at whatever speed) and keep in touch with my colleagues and nearest and dearest, but the nature of the connection has forced me to make some adjustments.

Although Leo Laporte provided a solid leg-up with his Configure Network for Shipboard Conditions AppleScript, a script that rejiggers your TCP Receive Window to a size (65,536 bytes) that better deals with this kind of connection’s latency, I knew that I had to alter the way I used my browser and e-mail client to get the greatest bang from by broadband buck. Thankfully, I am uniquely qualified to deal with the vagaries of satellite broadband Internet access, as I lived with this technology for years while I waited for some other form of broadband in the boonies.

The first thing I did was open Safari, click the Bookmarks icon (or press Command-Option-B), and click the + sign at the bottom left corner of the resulting window to create a new Shipmarks folder. I then clicked on the Bookmarks menu to expose a list of my bookmarks and Option-dragged half-a-dozen of the bookmarks I needed to access from the boat into this Shipmarks folder. I then dragged the Shipmarks folder into the Bookmarks bar to add it to, well, the Bookmarks bar. Finally I clicked the Bookmarks Bar entry in the Bookmarks window’s Collection column, enabled the Auto-Click option next to Shipmarks, and clicked the Bookmarks button to return to standard browser view.

Now, once I’ve logged onto the system, I click Shipmarks in the Bookmarks bar and each of my important bookmarks opens simultaneously in separate tabs—something that can be done while I’m putting my PowerBook and its pricey connection to some other use.

That other use is grabbing my e-mail. It took just a single 1.3MB press release to send me dashing to the accounts area of my e-mail client. Here I configured that client to only partially download messages that exceed 20K in size. That way I could leave the press releases on Macworld’s servers for a time when I have a speedier connection and choose to download only those large messages that were of vital importance to me.

I’ve further narrowed the inflow of e-mail by reconfiguring my accounts so that a subset of that email makes it across the wire. For example, Macworld offers server-side spam filtering. Suspected junk is sent over a Purgatory account. As Sean, our IT god, has done an excellent job filtering wheat for non-wheat, I’m confident that I needn’t peruse this effluent until I’m off the boat.

Our man in Estonia, Macworld’s Jason Snell, has nicely refined this technique so that his e-mail is cherry-picked by sender. As Mac Publishing’s Commissar of Content , he absolutely needs e-mail sent from Macworld’s employees as well as those who’ve made his A list. He’s configured things back at HQ so this very important mail is delivered in full. Less vital missives have been relegated to a “get when you next meet with the Baltic’s wizards of wireless” account.

Before you dash off to the forums to start the “Oh You Poor Baby” thread, let me explain that while you may not find yourself on an ocean-going luxury hotel any time soon, these techniques are just as applicable when you’re in a wireless wasteland and have to rely on dial-up or a data connection through your mobile phone.

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