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Four Hour Commute: Lessons Learned

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For the first time in my life, I have had to commute for a job, travelling two hours each way to Oslo and back home. This has not been easy, and now that it’s over, I thought I should share some of my experiences.

Lessons learned from a four-hour commute

Public transit works, mostly

I had three options for going to Oslo: The train (NSB), the bus (timekspressen), and the car.

I don’t own a car, so that option was out, but during the time that I worked in Oslo, the main bridge for the E18 collapsed, and winter broke out, so I don’t imagine that would have been any fun.

I used the bus once, but found the seats uncomfortable for sleeping in, and even less comfortable for doing work on a laptop, then never tried again.

The train was never late, and only once did NSB have a “bus for train” service because of construction. Since there is only one train per hour, timing my arrival at the train station was crucial. This means leaving the office at a fixed time, and getting up very early.

My main issue was with the local VKT buses. The bus from my island to downtown T√łnsberg goes once per hour, and is well-timed to reach the R11 train to Oslo, so in theory, this was great. The return bus leaves me with 15 minutes time to go shopping at the downtown mall.

In practice, however:

  • the buses will sometimes be no-shows in harsh winter conditions
  • when the bus is late (again, winter conditions), missing the train means a one-hour wait.
  • There is no Sunday service on the 109 line.
  • The last bus from T√łnsberg leaves at 21:15, and I have to leave Oslo at 19:39 to reach it. That does not allow for much after-work socializing.

Forget about work-life balance

Our office had core hours starting at 9:00. This is inhumane for anybody who commutes this far, as it means having to get on the train by 6:59, and with my morning routine and a quick breakfast, that meant my alarm was going off at 5:30 every weekday.

I found that I was able to change my sleep schedule to the point where I went to bed around 22:00 to 23:00 and got up at 5:30, despite years of not having to get up before 10:00. I had some nights where sleep simply would not come, but once I figured out how to manage those, things were actually working out.

Working a full day in the office meant that I would be coming home after 19:00, and there is precious little that I can still do in the hours between then and bedtime. My main hobby is programming, and getting anything substantial done requires four hours of uninterrupted time. I would eat dinner, maybe chat with friends on IRC, and I watched a lot more movies.

The actual trips are not all productive time

This still left me with too little sleep, and I spent a lot of the trips to Oslo catching a second sleep on the train, reducing my ability to work on the train to the trip home in the evening. Depending on how my day at work had been, I would either write code and emails, or I would watch TV shows and listen to podcasts on the way home. Eressea made a lot of progress in this time, because working on it requires almost no internet connection, except when I’m accepting github pull requests. The free Internet on NSB trains is through mobile internet, and it has a number of problems:

  1. coverage is spotty, and connections cut out not just in the tunnels.
  2. certain websites are blocked.
  3. Connecton quality is not good enough to stream anything.
  4. On some days, the login screen or DNS for the on-board WiFi would simply not work at all.

I understand why the try to block certain sites, it’s a simple attempt to manage the limited bandwidth shared by all travellers. Dropbox, Box and others still seem to work, though. YouTube is also not blocked, but you cannot stream anything because the quality of the connection is so bad. When I was watching movies and TV shows, Netflix was a no-go, so I made sure to have whole seasons of TV shows downloaded to my PC before leaving the house. If I ran into a blocked site that I really needed to use, or the DNS was acting up again, I would use the Tor Browser to circumvent that.

Conclusions

If I were to ever consider this commute again, I would have to really love the job.

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