December 11, 2018

iPad for Drivers

I’m in love. About three weeks ago I received my long-awaited Apple iPad — the tablet computer you’ve heard so much about (unless you’ve been hiding under a rock). And it has already changed my life. It is an amazing tool, truly a “magical” experience, as Apple CEO Steve Jobs puts it.

Those who know me know I’m a gadget lover. So it’s no surprise that I was one of the first on the block with an iPad. Actually, my 90-year-old dad beat me to the iPad experience — he bought one a couple weeks after they were introduced to use as a book reader. I helped him set it up, and knew I had to have one, too.

So what’s so great about it? What does it do that my laptop or any other computer doesn’t do? Nothing. That’s the short answer. But the real answer is not WHAT it does, but HOW it does it. That’s what makes the iPad revolutionary and a life changing experience. I warn you — you touch one and play with it for 15 minutes — and you’ll have to have one.

The iPad has made my job more fun than anything, ever. Here are a few of the ways I use it on a daily basis.

Maps

The most valuable app for a driver comes built into the iPad — Maps. It’s based on Google Maps, which I’ve used for several years already on my laptop to plan my trip routes. Having a portable version that’s so readily available, literally at your fingertips, anytime, anywhere, is amazing. The iPad’s built-in GPS chip automatically locates you on the map, so within literally an instant of turning it on, you’re looking at a detailed map of exactly where you are right now. Switch to satellite view with another finger click, and you can see destination entrances, exits, bus parking, etc. Invaluable. Your laptop can do this, too, of course, but not this easily or quickly.

Traffic Reports

One of the apps I’ve begun to rely on on a daily basis is Inrix Traffic, a cool little app that displays traffic flows, construction areas, accidents, and more on top of a Google map. The map, using the iPad’s built-in GPS chip, scrolls as you drive, so you can see upcoming traffic situations ahead. Or you can zoom out before you start the trip and see where problem areas might lie long before you get there. When you do need to take a detour, Inrix Traffic or the Maps app (mentioned above) makes it extremely easy to see what your options are for a safe detour. Inrix Traffic is a free app but also offers a pro version for $10 annually that includes additional features such as traffic cameras. I’m still experimenting with that.

Web Browser, Email

You can do all your homework for your trip right on the iPad. Look up destinations’ websites for more information, parking links on eightwheels.com, and more. Virtually anything you’d look up on the Web with your laptop or desktop computer, you now have in your hands with the iPad. Check and respond to email, too, anytime you have a free minute. No more coming home from a trip and finding yourself dozens or hundreds of messages behind.

Entertainment

The iPad really shines here. It’s a great ebook reader, and if you like to read, this is the way to go. It supports iBooks, Apple’s new electronic bookstore, of course, with the most amazing interface ever on an electronic reader. It also supports Amazon’s Kindle app with over half a million books available, and Borders’ new ebooks app. You will never in your life be without something to read — and probably less expensively than ever before.

Games, oh my, the games … I’m not really a game player, it’s just not my thing. But once in a while I do enjoy it as an interesting diversion. There are already thousands of games available to play on the iPad (and it plays virtually all the games written for the iPhone, too). Most are amazingly cool, taking advantage of the hardware features of the iPad, such as knowing what orientation the iPad is in at all times. For instance, steer your car around a race track by holding and moving the iPad like a steering wheel. Lots of classic games, too — checkers, chess, and a great game of Scrabble.

Movies. I used to try and remember some of the better movies that my groups were watching while I drove, so I could check them out next time I wanted to rent or buy a movie. No more. For about $9/month, I have Netflix on my iPad, and can watch as many movies as I want, anytime I want (not while driving, of course LOL). What a relaxing way to spend some time while you’re waiting for the group.

Music. Can’t forget the music. The iPad is also an iPod (speak carefully when saying that out loud LOL). I have over 20 GB of music on my iPad, which is my complete music library. I can play it through the bus stereo system or listen privately on headphones, or in a pinch use the monaural speaker built into the iPad itself, which doesn’t sound bad for its diminutive size.

Productivity

The iPad is basically a very, very portable computer you operate with your fingertips. No mouse, no keyboard, no wires of any kind (except to charge it after 10 or 11 hours of use). That opens it up to all kinds of other productive uses. Like writing. This article was written and edited on my iPad, while sitting in a restaurant (Strokos, my favorite deli) in Manhattan, New York City. When I have a lot of text to enter, such as with this post, I use a bluetooth wireless keyboard for the text entry. But you can also use the on-screen keyboard built into the iPad. I’m still struggling to be able to type as efficiently with that as I can a real keyboard, so I carry the ultra thin Apple Bluetooth keyboard in my bag for times like this. Switch it on, it connects automatically, wirelessly, with the iPad, and I’m typing away.

And there is so much more. This post was going to be a quick, short post extolling the virtues of the iPad for a driver, but it lost the “short” part because when I get so excited about an outstanding product, I want to tell you everything about it. I’ll save the rest for future posts. I know this is full of superlatives, but I can’t leave them out — the iPad is truly a revolutionary product, as if it was designed just for a tour bus driver. Is it perfect? No, there’s always room for improvement. But for a first generation product, this is more than just a home run — it’s a grand slam, maybe even a 9th inning walk-off-the-field grand slam for Apple. And we’re the beneficiaries. Enjoy.

Boston Marathon 2010 Photos Posted

Boston Marathon Runners on my coach

Boston Marathon Runners on my coach

I’m back from Boston, and got a few photos posted from the trip. This was my sixth trip to the most famous of marathons, but I’ve yet to actually see the runners run. There is nowhere to park my motorcoach within walking distance on race day. But it’s still a fun trip, one I look forward to every year, especially as I’ve gotten to know my passengers on this trip.

I’ve posted a few photos from the trip here: http://www.bobbergey.com/p41009462. Although I don’t see the race itself (except on TV from my hotel room), I do shuttle the runners to the starting line in Hopkinton. That’s where many of these photos were taken, just before the race started. You’ll see the group of 30 runners I took this year (and in the photo above). The hotel we stay at is also very nice, photogenic even, and I have a couple of shots there that I took just for me — including my coach, of course.

Boston Marathon, Day 1

I’m in Boston, MA today. I left from our terminal with a group of runners (I decided not to run this year — or ever), and their families. First stop was at the Prudential Center in the heart of Boston, where I had a very filling dinner at the Cheesecake Factory. Good thing I don’t have to drive another seven hours! Runners registered at the Convention Center, and the rest shopped and ate. Now we’re off to the hotel for the night, with more race prep (after church) tomorrow. This is one of my favorite trips, this being the sixth year in a row I’ve driven for them. So I’ve gotten to know most of them on a first name basis. Fun trip!

Eight of My Favorite iPhone Apps

WeatherBug Elite iPhone App

It’s been nearly a year since I last wrote about the iPhone. After almost 15 months of daily use, it’s become an indispensable part of my life. Here are just a few of the apps, a couple of which I’ve just come across recently, that I use nearly every day and would hate to ever again be without.

WeatherBug Elite — 99¢ (weather reports)
Simply the best weather app I’ve found — and there are lots of them. It has a really nice interface, very easy to read and understand, and all the important info you’ll likely need right on the opening screen. It’s shown in the photo above.

WorkLog — $4.99 (personal time clock)
Great app for tracking your work hours if you get paid by the hour and want to keep your own records. It has nice reporting and makes it easy to check that you’re getting paid for hours actually worked (or not overpaid, LOL).

Qik Video — $1.99 (video camera for older iPhones)
If you have the latest iPhone 3GS, you won’t need this … but if you have an older model, such as my iPhone 3G, this app gives you a pretty decent video camera for just two bucks! This is a relatively new app and works much better than I would have expected. Worth checking out.

Flashlight — FREE (turn your iPhone into a flashlight)
I’m amazed how often I use this. It’s one of the first apps I ever downloaded, it’s still regularly updated (although most of the newer features are of little or no use to me), and I still use this nearly every day! It’s great to find your way around a dark hotel room at night or look for something you dropped under a seat in a dark bus.

FlickTunes — 99¢ (iPod music controller)
I use my iPhone for its iPod features almost every day on my motorcoach to play background music. FlickTunes makes it easy to control the music while you’re driving without taking your eyes off the road; a simple finger swipe lets you pause or play the music or adjust the volume. Before I start the trip, I select what play list I want in the iPod settings, then after it begins playing, switch to FlickTunes, and I’m set for the trip.

AOL Radio — FREE (listen to radio stations across the country)
Part of my daily morning routine is listening to KYW1060, the local all-news station, for the latest news, weather and traffic reports for the day. This app lets me listen anywhere, anytime, as long as I have a cell phone signal!

Kindle — FREE (Amazon’s ebook reader for iPhone)
Before I had my Amazon Kindle (which I got this past Christmas), I had the Kindle app on my iPhone and began building my Kindle library. Now I use it mainly to read in bed at night; during the day I use the real Kindle. What’s cool, though, is how it keeps my reading synchronized, no matter which device I’m using — it goes to the last page read on whichever device was last used.

NoteMaster — $3.99 (note taking app)
I don’t take a lot of notes on my iPhone. But I do have some info I need readily available, and that may need updating occasionally. Apple includes a basic Notes app with the iPhone, but it’s a little too basic. NoteMaster syncs with Google Notes, so I can create notes either on my iPhone or my notebook computer and have them instantly available on the other — or any computer with online access. Some of my most used documents include a list of prescriptions for doctor visits, and a list of my hotel frequent-stay membership numbers. Lots of other uses, too.

Incidentally, I believe all of these also work on the iPod Touch, with the exception of Qik Video, since the iPod Touch has no camera.

Other apps I use nearly every day include many of those you probably already use, too: Clock, Calendar, Contacts, Messages, Calculator, Maps, Google, Voice Memos, and more …. I don’t know how I ever survived without my iPhone! If you’re not already an iPhone user, you might want to seriously consider it when it comes time for a new phone. Even though I had to jump ship from Verizon to AT&T, the iPhone made it more than worth my while.

Will the Apple iPad (available starting April 3rd, 2010) change things? You bet … but no one knows how just yet. I’ll likely replace my Amazon Kindle with an iPad in the near future, so stay tuned.

What are your favorite apps? Use the comments section below to respond to this article, or click the link to the forum discussion of this article.

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Virginia to Reopen Closed Rest Stops

Good news for tour groups, truck drivers, and tourists traveling through the state of Virginia: Virginia’s new governor, Bob McDonnell, has announced that all 19 of Virginia’s closed rest stops and visitor centers will reopen over the next few months. The state had closed them in July 2009 in an effort to reduce the deficit in their state budget. McDonnell, elected last November, had promised during his campaign to reopen the rest stops. Not surprisingly, state tourism, as well as Virginia’s public image, was hurt significantly by the closures. Click here to read McDonnell’s official announcement.

Four of the closed rest stops are scheduled to reopen by February 17th, 2010; eight more will reopen by March 17th; and the rest by April 15th.

Click here for a PDF map showing all of Virginia’s rest stops and welcome centers, both those now open and the ones scheduled to reopen.

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US DOT Bars Truck and Bus Drivers from Texting

Effective today (1-26-10), the US Department of Transportation has announced a ban on texting for commercial drivers. Below is the text of the news release.

U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood Announces Federal Ban on Texting for Commercial Truck Drivers

U.S Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood today announced federal guidance to expressly prohibit texting by drivers of commercial vehicles such as large trucks and buses. The prohibition is effective immediately and is the latest in a series of actions taken by the Department to combat distracted driving since the Secretary convened a national summit on the issue last September.

“We want the drivers of big rigs and buses and those who share the roads with them to be safe,” said Secretary LaHood. “This is an important safety step and we will be taking more to eliminate the threat of distracted driving.”

The action is the result of the Department’s interpretation of standing rules. Truck and bus drivers who text while driving commercial vehicles may be subject to civil or criminal penalties of up to $2,750.

“Our regulations will help prevent unsafe activity within the cab,” said Anne Ferro, Administrator for the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA). “We want to make it crystal clear to operators and their employers that texting while driving is the type of unsafe activity that these regulations are intended to prohibit.”

FMCSA research shows that drivers who send and receive text messages take their eyes off the road for an average of 4.6 seconds out of every 6 seconds while texting. At 55 miles per hour, this means that the driver is traveling the length of a football field, including the end zones, without looking at the road. Drivers who text while driving are more than 20 times more likely to get in an accident than non-distracted drivers. Because of the safety risks associated with the use of electronic devices while driving, FMCSA is also working on additional regulatory measures that will be announced in the coming months.

During the September 2009 Distracted Driving Summit, the Secretary announced the Department’s plan to pursue this regulatory action, as well as rulemakings to reduce the risks posed by distracted driving. President Obama also signed an Executive Order directing federal employees not to engage in text messaging while driving government- owned vehicles or with government-owned equipment. Federal employees were required to comply with the ban starting on December 30, 2009.

The above release is available online at:
http://www.distraction.gov/files/dot/MotorCarrierPressRelease.pdf.

For more information on distracted driving, visit: http://www.distraction.gov/.

For a list of cell phone and texting bans on a state-by-state basis, go to:
http://www.ghsa.org/html/stateinfo/laws/cellphone_laws.html.

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Happy Holidays

Holiday Lights at the Mormon Temple's Visitors' Center near Washington, DC The busy fall season is behind us now, and I can finally catch my breath. I’m fortunate that our company has been very busy, and I’ve had lots of work. Now it’s time to do some catching up here over the next few weeks.

A couple of days ago I updated the software that runs the forum here on EightWheels.com, as well as the blogging software itself (WordPress). The last couple of days I’ve added several new photo galleries from recent trips; I still have quite a few more to add, but I’m making progress and they’ll get posted shortly. And I’ve got several articles half written, including one on the challenges of driving and parking in New York City this month. Stay tuned.

Meanwhile, Christmas is nearly here, so it’s time to wish all of you who celebrate, a very Merry Christmas, and best wishes for a happy and prosperous New Year!

Ohio Has E-ZPass!

I just returned Saturday from a seven day trip to Chicago, and was thrilled to discover that Ohio finally has E-ZPass! Starting October 1st, 2009, E-ZPass is now accepted at toll plazas on the Ohio Turnpike (Interstate 80 and 90), across Ohio — complete with discounted fares. So E-ZPass now takes you all the way from New Jersey to Illinois using electronic toll collection, since it’s also accepted in Indiana’s I-Zoom lanes and Illinois’ I-PASS system, or from Maine to Florida, without stopping to pay tolls. Go to E-ZPass for more information.

Eight Tips for Using Your Cell Phone on the Bus

Summary:

  1. Turn phone off or put it on vibrate.
  2. Make/receive essential calls only.
  3. Keep it short and speak softly.

A survey back in 2004 revealed the cell phone was both the most loved and most hated technological device of our time. I don’t think much has changed in the last five years, except many feel even more strongly now, one way or the other. It’s a love-hate relationship.

Cell phones on the bus can be a real advantage — students calling parents, for example, to notify them of a pick-up time on the way back from a trip, have made life easier for teachers and chaperones. On the other hand, ringing cell phones and loud conversations have become a thorn in the side to other passengers and even the motorcoach driver on bus trips.

Here are eight guidelines, expanded from the summary above, for using your cell phone on your next bus trip.

  1. Turn the ringer off when you board the motorcoach.

    No one wants to hear your phone ring. So if you can’t turn your phone off altogether, at least put it on vibrate. And if you’ve forgotten to do that and your phone starts ringing, be sure you know how to silence it instantly without answering it — usually pressing one of the side buttons will silence a ringing cell phone without hanging up on the caller.

  2. Answer the phone only if you recognize the caller and it’s an essential call.

    Let the call go to voicemail and check your messages later when you won’t disturb other passengers.

  3. Wait to make calls until you get to the next rest stop or arrive at your destination.

    Then you can walk away from the group and talk in privacy.

  4. If you must talk on the phone while you’re on the motorcoach, keep it short, speak softly, and avoid personal conversations.

    Cell phones have very sensitive microphones, so there’s no need to shout into your phone. Loud conversations, especially about personal issues, are probably the single most annoying use of cell phones on the bus — or just about anywhere else!

  5. Make sure the speakerphone is turned off.

    Worse than hearing your side of the conversation is hearing both sides! Be sure you know how your cell phone operates and do not use it as a speakerphone on the bus.

  6. Sending/receiving text messages is fine, as long as notification sounds are turned off or on vibrate.

    And as long as your seat mate isn’t offended that you’re ignoring them.

  7. When the driver announces an ETA (estimated time of arrival) on your return home, it’s okay to notify those waiting or expecting you by cell phone of your ETA.

    Just keep the above guidelines in mind — short, quiet conversations are still in order.

  8. Last, but not least, keep this basic rule of cell phone etiquette in mind, so when you “break the rules,” you do it respectfully of those around you: Keep a 10-foot (3 meter) distance between you and anyone else whenever you talk on your phone. And never talk in enclosed spaces.

    That basic guideline would rule out talking on the bus altogether, but using the previous guidelines I’ve suggested above allows respectful use of your phone when you’re on a bus trip. Respect for your fellow passengers is the key.

I’ve seen signs posted inside some motorcoaches that forbid ALL cell phone use for any reason from the first three rows of seats in the coach, to avoid disturbing the driver. I don’t ask for that on my bus, but keep in mind, drivers aren’t interested in your phone conversations, and they can indeed be a distraction to the driver. If the bus isn’t full, sometimes you can move to the rear of the bus to make or take an urgent phone call. But always wait until a stop if at all possible.

For more on cell phone etiquette, including other tips for cell phone usage when traveling, check out http://www.nophones.com/.

Eight Tips to Help You Navigate the Interstate Highway System

On the Interstate

On the Interstate

The Interstate Highway System of limited access highways is one of our nation’s great assets, relied on every day by motorcoach, truck and automobile drivers across the US. Although its roots go back to planning in the 1920s and 1930s, it wasn’t funded and building wasn’t started until 1956, when Congress passed the Federal-Aid Highway Act of 1956, championed by then-president Dwight D. Eisenhower. It has grown into a network of nearly 50,000 miles, making it the largest highway system in the world and the largest public works project in history. It is a subset of the National Highway System. Here are eight tips for finding your way around the Interstates, some well known, others less so.

Now, before you email or comment, I know there are numerous exceptions to most of what I’ve listed below! But in general, these tips will be very useful in finding your way around the Interstate Highway System. It’s the government, you know … and they don’t always follow their own rules.

  1. It’s a big grid.

    Not a perfect grid, thanks to our geography, but a grid none-the-less. The grid consists of one- and two-digit even numbered highways running east and west, lowest numbers in the south and highest numbers in the north; and one- and two-digit odd numbered highways running north and south, lowest numbers in the west and highest numbers in the east.

  2. The grid is supplemented with loops, beltways, and spurs.

    Interstate loops, beltways, and spurs

    Interstate loops, beltways, and spurs

    Loops and beltways bypass or circle major metropolitan areas, often easing your drive around highly trafficked areas. They are numbered with three-digit numbers, the first number being an even number, and the last two reflecting the primary Interstate to which they connect at two different locations.

    Spurs, likewise, are also numbered with three digit numbers, the last two of which reflect the primary Interstate from which it’s a spur, and the first digit being an odd number.

    There are no duplicate three-digit Interstate numbers within one state, but the numbers are duplicated from state to state.

    Interstate Mile Marker

    Interstate Mile Marker

  3. Mile markers are your compass.

    The Interstates are indexed with small green or blue signs marking each mile of the highway — in most cases, marking each tenth of a mile. It’s a great way to know exactly where you are on the highway. Miles are numbered from the west to the east, and from the south to the north, always restarting from 0 at the border of each state. So … if you’re on I-80 (an even number so you know it’s an east-west route) and the mile markers are increasing, you know you’re going east! If you’re on I-95 and the mile markers are decreasing, you’re going south.

    If you’re traveling south or west, you know exactly how many miles it is to the state border (or the end of the Interstate, if it doesn’t reach the border). Traveling north or east, however, you need to know how long that section of the Interstate is to know how far it is to the border.

  4. In most states, exits are numbered by the mile marker.

    A few states still number Interstate exits in numerical order. But most states have followed newer federal guidelines and renumbered their exits according to the nearest mile marker, making exit numbers infinitely more useful. If you’re headed to exit 40, for instance, and you’re at mile marker 20, you know you have 20 miles to go to your exit. If the exits are numbered in consecutive order, you have no clue how far it is to the next exit based on the mile markers.

  5. Left exit or right exit? The clue is on the sign.

    The exit number flush left to indicate a left exit, flush right to indicate a right exit.

    The exit number flush left to indicate a left exit, flush right to indicate a right exit.

    Interstate exit signs usually mark the exits at one and two miles in advance. The exit number is at the top of the sign on a separate board. If that exit number board is flush with the left of the larger sign, it’s a left exit. If the exit number board is flush with the right side of the sign, it’s a right exit! See the photo at the right for an example of each.

    Left exits are much less common than right exits, and are often marked in a yellow section at the bottom of exit signs, also.

    There are a few states who have opted not to update their exit signs to this national standard — Connecticut, for example. They have exit numbers centered at the top of the sign, giving no clue to whether it’s a right or left exit. You’ll occasionally see other exceptions, too, even in states that largely follow the federal guidelines. But for the most part, you’ll find this tip very useful.

  6. The Interstate Highway number grid is a flip-flop of the US Highway numbering system.

    The US Highway system, around long before the Interstates, is also laid out in a nationwide grid. But it’s flip-flopped, north-south and east-west from the Interstate numbering scheme. Odd numbered highways still run north and south, but the lower numbers are in the east, higher numbers in the west; even numbered highways run east and west, with lower numbers in the north, higher numbers in the south.

    There are exceptions to both numbering grid systems, although more exceptions in the US Highway system.

    Because these numbering grids are flip-flopped, you’ll find no I-50 or I-60 route numbers; chances are they’d be in the same states with US Highways of the same route number, and would be very confusing for drivers.

  7. Interstate Design Standards: Roadway widths, bridge clearances and weight limits

    I-95 Shield

    I-95 Shield

    Interstate design standards include a minimum of four 12-foot wide travel lanes, a minimum shoulder width of 10 feet, full control of access, and design speeds of 50 to 70 miles per hour (depending on the type of terrain).

    Bridge clearances are specified to be at least 16 feet, including shoulder clearances. Although the maximum height of trucks in the US is 13′ 6″, the design standards were written to allow movement of military equipment, part of the missile defense system, now obsolete. Bridge weight limits accommodate at least maximum legal loads of 80,000 lb. (40 tons); in some states the limits are significantly higher — Michigan, for instance, with their super-heavy trucks.

    HOWEVER — it’s important to note that there are many exceptions to these numbers! While new construction meets these design standards nearly 100% of the time, many older Interstates do not, especially roads such as the Pennsylvania Turnpike that were not originally constructed as Interstates but became part of the Interstate system later. Motorcoaches should not generally have a problem on any of the Interstates, but trucks do have to be careful and watch for an occasional low clearance or underweight bridge limit even on the Interstates. Exceptions should be well marked in advance of the problem. Most problems will be limited to oversize loads, not a problem for tour buses.

  8. Interstate Highway Trivia

    The longest Interstate:
    I-90, 3,020.54 miles, from Seattle, Washington, to Boston, Massachusetts

    The shortest Interstate:
    I-97, 17.62 miles, Annapolis to Baltimore, Maryland

    The highest point on the Interstate system:
    I-70, in the Eisenhower Tunnel at the Continental Divide in the Colorado Rocky Mountains (11,158 ft.)

    The lowest point on the Interstate system:
    I-95, in the Fort McHenry Tunnel under the Inner Harbor in Baltimore, Maryland (107 ft. below sea level)

    Highest speed limit:
    80 mph (130 km/h): I-10 and I-20 in rural western Texas and I-15 in rural central Utah

    Lowest speed limit:
    40 mph (64 km/h): I-490 through Rochester, New York; I-68 through Cumberland, MD; and I-394 east of I-94 in Minneapolis, Minnesota

For references and more information, visit these sites: