- The Washington Times - Monday, May 26, 2003

KAUNAS, Lithuania - It’s almost 10 p.m. here and it’s barely dusk; the days are long in the Baltic region, where I’ve spent the past week on business. Along the way, I’ve picked up a bit of knowledge about how computing is working — and isn’t — in several places.

Finland is a surprise on some levels. Wireless service can be found in some places, while dial-up is a little less reliable. Helsinki offers wireless access in spots such as hotels and the airport, both provided by a firm called Telia.

Monthly subscriptions are probably available, but I opted for 24-hour cards on my two days there. The cards cost 15 euros, or about $17.50 depending on exchange rates, and I found that my card carried me through one evening and morning at my hotel as well as a session at the airport en route to Riga, Latvia.

Dial-up service is also available in Finland. My company uses a firm called iPass to offer dial-up in various places. I used it only in the town of Nokia — yes, there really is one; it’s the place that the mobile phone company was born — and it worked well.

What people are using for their computing needs is interesting. Microsoft Windows 95 is still visible in some enterprises, and the Mac has a firm hold on the desktop publishing market.

Latvia and its capital city, Riga, are a very pleasant surprise. This cosmopolitan town — which on May 24 hosted the Continent-wide “Eurovision” song contest — has very good dial-up connections to my carrier. I didn’t find wireless connectivity though, although I’m sure it is available somewhere.

Also impressive is the bustling nature of the economy. There are plenty of computer stores — something I also found in neighboring Lithuania — and I wouldn’t be surprised if my next trip to Riga allows me to find some wireless Internet access in several places.

Lithuania held some pleasant surprises. I have not found wireless access while roaming around, but I did find it in one office I visited. Logging on was not a major problem, and the connection, which was fed by a broadband connection, worked nicely.

Otherwise, dial-up Internet remains the order of the day. It’s good in short bursts for e-mail, but isn’t a good idea, financially, for long periods of Web surfing.

There are plenty of Internet cafes where one can access the Internet at faster speeds. On the Soviet-built “A1” highway that runs from Riga through Kaunas and Vilnius and on into Russia, there is a highway sign advertising Internet access 480 miles ahead.

Going on the road overseas, however, is a bit easier in these nations than it was before.

Last week, I explored the ins and outs of the APC TravelPower briefcase, where the power converter handles any kind of electricity and transforms it into the DC power my notebook needs. I can report that in three different countries, and several different hotels, the system didn’t fail once, thanks to having the correct adapter plug.

Adapters were not needed, however, for the phone cord connection — it worked with every phone I tried, even so-called digital systems.

A big advantage, however, comes from using a specific phone cord for your computer. They’re often given away at trade shows, and are sold at airports and specialty stores as well. I grabbed mine at New York’s JFK airport, and it’s proven a life saver.

Not nearly as much patience is required with computing overseas as once was needed, and I’m grateful for that.

With a bit of planning — like signing up for a global Internet access account before leaving, and having a wireless card (or a notebook with the feature built-in), you can keep in touch with the folks back home easily and quickly.

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