Thursday, November 29, 2012

Amtrak and my winter holidays

This holiday season, I am happy to say, I will not fly. For the second year in a row.

Last year I visited my family in Houston for Thanksgiving via a combination of bus and Amtrak. I wrote about what it's like to ride Amtrak. This year I plan to spend Christmas with my family thanks to a roundtrip Amtrak ticket.

Amtrak is significantly cheaper than airfare during the holiday season. While a plane ticket costs about $500 one way on the busiest days, Amtrak cost me only about $135 one way for the same time period.

The downside, of course, is that a trip that takes, say, six hours by plane (including going through security, waiting, delays, etc.) now takes about 24 hours.

But the upsides exist also. First, the price difference is huge. Second, you get to see some scenic sights of your country. You get a nice large window, and there's even a Viewliner -- a separate traincar with floor-to-ceiling windows where even the ceiling is mostly transparent. You get a comfortable seat, lots of legroom, nice reclinability, and! your very own power outlet! Now you can do some light [e]reading, some gaming, music listening, or even honest-to-goodness work. You can even be online by tethering to your mobile device. Since you're traveling by ground, your cell phone works normally.

I am excited about the roughly 40 hours (roundtrip) I'll spend on the train. Right now I plan to conduct a study of the quality of Verizon's 4G LTE. I am going to combine Verizon's UML290 USB modem with a GPS receiver. Using a custom program I plan to write, my laptop will continuously assess the quality of the Internet and record the result combined with the GPS location. Meanwhile I'll be free to do other stuff. After my trip, I'll plot the data using Google (or Bing?) Maps. Then we'll see how decent Verizon's LTE is, especially on the fringes of major cities.