Adventures in "Extreme Telecommuting"

Fast, cheap Internet access in Greece can be harder to find than the lost city of Atlantis.

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Another ethical problem: My hotel here in Crete uses those room keys that you slide into a slot by the door, which turns on electricity for the room. (These are almost nonexistent in the U.S., very common in Asia and rare in Europe.) The idea is that when you leave and take your room key, all lights and other appliances are turned off. The hotel saves money on power and lowers the environmental impact of empty hotel rooms. What that means, however, is that you can't charge your gadgets during the day while you're out and about. It took me a day or two to discover that any card will do, so now I charge gadgets all day with my automobile club card in the slot.

The biggest challenge by far, however, is just connecting to the Internet.

I was surprised to learn early on that tethering my BlackBerry to my laptop worked just fine from Athens, without any modification. It was deadly slow, usable for e-mail and light Web surfing but impossible for uploads. Here in Crete, I have zero data access on my phone. I couldn't find either of these surprising facts (tethering works abroad from Athens; zero data access on Crete) anywhere on the AT&T site or on the Internet.

Tethering was a nice surprise, but totally inadequate for real work. My first task in Greece was to figure out how to connect for real in Athens. I found stark contradictions. For example, Starbucks all over Greece charge you $660 for a month of Wi-Fi access. But right next door is a better coffee joint called FloCafe where a month of Wi-Fi costs you zero. There are something like 36 FloCafes in the greater Athens area and another 21 in the rest of Greece. They're open from 7 a.m. to 2 a.m.! The late hours are ideal for "extreme telecommuters" from the U.S.; 2 a.m. in Athens is 4 p.m. in Silicon Valley and 7 p.m. in New York, so it's nice to be able to be online during U.S. business hours. But there's a catch.

I quickly learned that, for reasons unknown, no Google site (and a small number of other sites I frequent) is accessible over the FloCafe network. So no Gmail, no Google Calendar, no Blogger, etc. These are sites I rely on every day. So I used FloCafe for hours per day but made a list of all the tasks to do on Google sites, which I did later over pricier connections.

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