Open Source Advocacy on the Amtrak Train

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I take the Amtrak train into work 3-5 days a week from Norwich, CT to Manhattan. The ride is a 2.5 hour commute each way (137 miles each direction, 275 miles total). It gives me a lot of “focus time” to work on the train, and the schedule is relatively reliable. I don’t mind it at all. The cost is a bit prohibitive, but that’s all a wash in the “cost of doing business”.

I basically travel the entire length of the state of CT twice a day, almost every weekday.

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On the commute, I end up talking to dozens of people who are heading to various places along the East coast. Some are going to Richmond, VA… some are going to Boston, MA, and some are going to New York City as I am. There’s always someone interesting to have a side conversation with, and the Amtrak staff all knows me now from being on the train so often. I end up helping other passengers when the power is out in the cabin (GFCI is hidden at the end of the corridor) or when other things pop up, it’s really not boring at all… (except when the trains are 3 hours late, like they were Monday night. Arg!)

This week, I was in the cafe car working on the ride in, and a gentleman sat next to me with an old’ish Windows laptop, and was trying to copy some fonts from an external drive to his machine, overwriting the ones Windows was reading from C:\Windows\fonts. There were hundreds of them, and he had to confirm each overwrite from the GUI. He was tapping the Enter key for nearly 15 minutes straight until he decided to prop up his phone on the Enter key to hold it down for him, because he was tired of hitting it for each new font to be overwritten.

Being an uber-optimizer, I leaned over and told him that he could do it in a fraction of the time, if he did it from the shell. He didn’t even know what that was, so I walked him through how to open a Command Prompt, cd over to his external drive and copy all of the fonts from there to C:\Windows\fonts. It took about 4 seconds to do all of the fonts in one go.

He then explained that he had some sort of crash, and had to reinstall the operating system from scratch and that he didn’t have all of his programs installed yet. He specifically mentioned how he was behind on his deadlines, because he still couldn’t find and install his copy of Microsoft Office.

Since I always carry a cache of Open Source software for Windows with me in a directory in my code tree, I knew I had a fairly recent copy of for Windows in there. I explained to him what was, showed him how I was using it on my laptop at the time and said that I could get him a copy right then and there, on the train, so he could get back to working again. I had to answer all of his questions about compatibility and functionality, and he was sold. Metro Edition

I also mentioned that supported more file formats than Microsoft office, supported exporting to PDF (which requires an expensive application from Adobe to function within Microsoft Office), and that it also includes a handful of other things you’ll never get from Microsoft Office.

Oh, and it’s 100% free of any cost, of course (but donating to the project is good for the soul!).

I put it on a USB key I had with me, handed it over the aisle to him, he mounted it, copied the installer over, and installed it on his machine.

For the remainder of the ride as I continued to work on my projects, I glanced over and noticed he was not only doing what appeared to be “official work”, but he was also playing around in the features of’s interface and applications. I saw him making a mock presentation in ooimpress, playing with the templates and slide layout and some other things.

It’s good to see how easy it is to convince someone of a better, faster, more-intuitive, secure way to function.. And all I was doing was taking the train into work.

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