June 24, 2017

New Look for MCI Coaches

I haven’t been very active on my blog here the past year, but I’m working on changing that and getting the site updated again. I’ve kept the Links pages pretty much up to date, but have a lot of other things to share, too, especially with other drivers. I’m planning to change the direction of the site more decidedly toward motorcoach drivers, not so much for motorcoach passengers, although I’m considering developing a separate site for passengers. Stay tuned.

Have you seen the new look of the MCI J4500 models? Both inside and out, MCI has refined and updated the look of their touring coaches. You’ll still clearly recognize them as MCI — they will stand out as different from Van Hool and Prevost just as much as in the past. Not a lot of details yet on their Web site, but early renditions and some information has been posted.

New 2013 J4500 MCI Coach Preview

In addition to the slick new appearance outside, the other thing that caught my eye was the improved cockpit layout, with the transmission controls much more logically placed for the driver.

One big question remains unclear: have the designers considered that passengers create trash, and that trash needs to go somewhere? Guess we’ll have to wait and see.

NYC 2011 Holiday Motorcoach Traffic Regulations Published

New York City has finally published their official 2011 Holiday Motorcoach Traffic Regulations. Although it was just published online this week, it was effective beginning November 18th and continues through January 2nd, 2012. View (and print) the PDF file with a listing and map of the new regs and parking areas here:

NYC 2011 Holiday Motorcoach Traffic Regulations

There are a few additions to previous parking locations, as usual. But there are also a few listings that in reality don’t exist currently, such as (23) 8th Ave between 54th and 55th Streets — currently taken up by construction barriers and other equipment.

There is still not nearly enough parking for the number of charter and tour buses in the city at this time of the year. It becomes a game, as coaches circle the parking areas looking for other buses leaving to pick up their groups. It’s not uncommon for buses to circle for 1-2 hours looking for parking, adding to the pollution, noise and traffic in NYC. While there is talk of various possible solutions, politicians are gridlocked, just like in Washington, DC, unable to come up with any meaningful solutions.

Initial Impressions of the iPad 2

I finally received my iPad 2 a couple of days ago. I had ordered it back on March 11, 2011, the first day it was available. I had initially tried to pick one up at an Apple store, and after waiting in line almost two hours, they ran out of the model I wanted. So I went home to order it online. But by that point, there was already a two to three week wait! Mine came almost three weeks to the day after I ordered it. 

I’ve had an original model iPad since June of last year, right after they came out. So this is an upgrade for me. In addition to the iPad 2, I also bought the black leather Smart Cover. 

The original iPad was—and still is—amazing. Magical, as Apple likes to put it. For Apple to improve the iPad so dramatically over last year’s model is quite a feat. The iPad 2 is about one third thinner, several ounces lighter, and nearly twice as fast for most operations. Graphics can be as much as nine times faster. Then there are the additions of both front- and rear-facing cameras, FaceTime, and other features and software additions. 

While some of the reviews have indicated the iPad 2 is an evolutionary upgrade rather than a revolutionary upgrade (I would tend to agree), the improvements are still very significant, and I think make it worth upgrading if you’re a daily iPad user. 

The biggest improvement is the form factor. While the original iPad was relatively thin and portable, the iPad 2 is even more so, and you can readily tell the difference as soon as you pick it up. Thinness counts. Less weight means it’s easier to hold for longer periods without your hands tiring so quickly. The display, which is the same resolution as the original iPad, is even brighter and easier to use outdoors or other bright lighting conditions. 

Of course, the improved speed is a major benefit, too. You’ll notice the difference as soon as you open an app you’ve used regularly before. Browsing the Web with Safari is better than ever. Sites load more quickly, and the new iPad has enough memory to remember sites you’ve visited recently. I’m not a game player, but if you are, you’ll see some dramatic improvements in speed, especially related to game graphics. 

The cameras are a bit of a disappointment. They are relatively low resolution, not very good for still photography. My iPhone has a much better camera. They are very adequate, though, for video and FaceTime, for which they were primarily intended. 

The Smart Cover is more useful and practical than I expected. Even though it covers just the front of the iPad, it folds open in several different ways to hold the iPad at an angle, for easier typing or viewing, or removes completely with an easy pull. It fastens magnetically along the one side of the iPad, clicking perfectly into position as soon as the edges get close to each other. When the cover is closed, the iPad automatically turns off. Remove the cover, and the iPad is instantly on. Brilliant design. 

The iPad is one of the most valuable tools a motorcoach driver can use. I’ll be posting another article shortly on how I’m using the iPad, updated from my earlier article with apps I think are most helpful to a driver. 

(Written and posted from my iPad 2)

Williamsburg Grand Illumination Video

I’m back in Williamsburg, Virginia today finishing up a three day tour to Colonial Williamsburg, featuring the Grand Illumination held at the beginning of each December to kick off the Christmas season celebrations here. I’ve seen the Grand Illumination fireworks before, but this year’s seemed better than ever.

Santa came to my house earlier than usual, this year, and left me my requested present — a new video camera — just in time to bring along on this Williamsburg trip! Nice of him, wasn’t it? Anyway, thanks to the new camera, I was inspired to video some of the fireworks. Here is my very first video posted on YouTube — edited down to about 5 minutes of the nearly 30 minute show. Hope you enjoy it!

Virginia Increases Interstate Speed Limits

I just returned last night from a three-day trip with a school group to Williamsburg, VA. I was surprised to find new speed limit signs being posted on most of the interstate highways in Virginia.

The speed limit has been increased from 65 to 70 MPH in the rural and less populated areas of the state. That includes much of I-95, I-495 around Richmond, and I-64, which I saw first-hand this week, as well as other interstates in Virginia.

The current governor of Virginia, Bob McDonnell, the same one who had made a campaign promise to reopen Virginia’s closed rest areas, had also promised to increase the speed limit to 70 MPH on most of the Interstate system in Virginia. He has followed through on both promises, and the somewhat controversial legislation was passed accordingly earlier this year effecting the speed limit increase.

“The increase in the speed limit from 65 to 70 mph in rural and less populated areas of the state will help Virginians arrive at their destinations quicker and safer and will speed the delivery of goods and services throughout the commonwealth,” according to a statement from the governor.

Most motorcoach companies have speed governors set at 70 MPH or less on their coaches, so it’s not likely to make a significant difference to motorcoach passengers, except they’re likely to see more cars flying past the windows. Of course, that was already happening with few automobile drivers limiting their speed to 65 MPH on the interstates.

2010 NYC Holiday Motorcoach Guide

New York City has just published the 2010 Holiday Motorcoach Operator’s Guide, the Midtown Manhattan traffic regulations for the remainder of the year. It includes specific drop-off/pick-up locations for groups going to the Christmas Spectacular at Radio City Music Hall, as well as a list of parking locations for motorcoaches.

It takes effect today (November 19, 2010) and goes through January 2, 2011.

Instructions are slightly different from last year. Make sure you read them carefully. Parking locations also have a few changes this year, with several streets being eliminated, and one or two new ones added. They are listed in the guide.

Download the two-page PDF file and take it with you: CLICK HERE to get the file. I’ve also added the link to the Parking & More page in my Links section.

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.

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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