December 16, 2017

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)

The Perfect Hotel Room

Four Points by Sheraton, Charlesbourg, Quebec -- a very bus-friendly hotel. 

Four Points by Sheraton, Charlesbourg, Quebec -- a very bus-friendly hotel.

I’ve been on the road a lot this summer, as far south as Mississippi, and north to Quebec City, Quebec, Canada. And lots of places in between. As I sometimes tell my passengers, I call home every day, so my wife at least recognizes my voice when I come home!

When you’re on the road that much, the right hotel room can mean the difference between a great trip and a terrible trip. It’s often the little things that make the difference. But it never ceases to amaze me how many hotels screw up the little things!

The basics: a clean, quiet room is a given. But many hotels fall down right there — the room isn’t clean, or not as clean as it should be. Good help is hard to find, I know; but in most cases I’ve seen, management is the issue. People do what’s expected of them and only so far as they’re held accountable. Often a dirty room means someone at a higher level isn’t doing what they’re supposed to be doing. (Does that apply to dirty buses, too?!)

A comfortable bed is also a given, you would think. I’m a tall guy — 6’5″ — and used to a king size bed at home, which is my ideal on the road, too. A queen size bed is still comfortable; but some hotels, mostly older ones, still have full size beds in their standard room. In those, my feet stick out the end, and I definitely don’t sleep as well. Some hotels have newer style “pillow-top” mattresses — wow, some are so comfortable I’m in no hurry to go home! Others have hard, “spring-loaded” mattresses; when you sit down you bounce right back up again — not good.

Other important factors include working temperature control in the room, preferably without having to hear a very noisy air conditioner or heater. A bathroom big enough to turn around in, with plenty of fluffy white towels. A wall mirror in the room in addition to the bathroom. A TV with a working remote. An elevator if you’re not on the first floor. A portico high enough to get the bus underneath for loading/unloading luggage on a rainy day. And, of course, bus parking — if you can’t safely park your motorcoach at or very near the hotel, all of this is a moot point.

Some hotel chains have introduced amenities over the years that have now become must-haves for the regular traveler. In the bathroom, a curved shower rod (thanks, Hampton Inn), and a great shower head (thanks, Holiday Inn). A “free” continental breakfast with at least one or two hot items (saves a lot of time and money when you’re on the road). Free Internet access. All of these used to be niceties, but I don’t want to stay in a room without them anymore.

If you’re away more than one night, especially on a trip where you end up killing a lot of time in a hotel room, a microwave and refrigerator is really important, too — partly for convenience, but especially for cost savings. On a multiple day trip I’ll often make a stop at a supermarket the first day and pick up a few things I can lunch on in the room.

Ironically, the more expensive hotels don’t include many of these things, or charge extra for them. Breakfast and Internet access, for instance, are often extra charges. Those hotels are more for vacationers and corporate travelers. Fortunately, for working travelers like motorcoach drivers, there are several chains who do a great job at meeting our needs. But the list is pretty short for those who do it well and do it consistently. There are exceptions, but overall, here are my favorites; the first three are way, way ahead of the pack:

  1. Drury Inn
    Too bad this chain is only in the midwest. “The extras aren’t extra” and they have no equal in my limited experience with them. It’s probably not a coincidence that they aren’t franchises — all are family owned.
  2. Hampton Inn
    Long my number one choice until my experience with Drury Inns this summer. They just get it right, over and over, across the chain. Must be someone following up somewhere!
  3. Holiday Inn Express, Holiday Inn Select
    These are the newer of the Holiday Inns, and, like Hampton Inn, get it right over and over again.
  4. The rest of the list is a distant fourth place or worse. They tend to be inconsistent — I’ve stayed in some excellent ones, and had to leave an occasional one, it was so bad. But because of the cost and/or location, they’re often in the running:

  5. Comfort Inn
    Many (most?) of these are two floors, no elevator. Many are older and run down. But a few are also very nice. I’ve had both good and bad experiences with these.
  6. Red Roof Inn
    Low price, pet friendly (which means if there’s a local dog show, you’re going to have lots of animals around!). Inconsistent quality.
  7. Days Inn
    Many of these are older and not in good shape, but there are some good ones, too.
  8. Ramada Inn
    I’ve only ever stayed in one Ramada I was comfortable in (Ligonier, PA). But I’m sure there must be a few other good ones somewhere.

Sheraton isn’t on my list above, because they’re often among the more expensive hotels that charge extra for things like breakfast and Internet access. But I recently had a good experience with a Sheraton near Quebec City in Canada, which is where the above photo was taken. Note the bus parking — right by the front door! I was the only bus there, so no competition for that spot; but other buses wouldn’t have had too far to go, since this was a fairly new hotel with very large parking lots.

A driver friend of mine has a real simple hotel rule: if there’s no front door giving access to all the rooms, it’s the wrong hotel. An oversimplification, perhaps, but you know what — he’s often right!

That’s my list, based on my personal experience. How does it compare to your experience? Feel free to add your comments below.

Luray Caverns, Car & Carriage Caravan Museum, Luray, VA

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Luray Caverns, in Luray, Virginia, are the largest and most visited caverns in the eastern US. It’s a great destination for groups of all kinds. In addition to the caverns, next door is the Car & Carriage Caravan Museum, an outstanding collection of antique cars, trucks, bicycles and a couple of other modes of transportation. You can purchase admission to both the caverns and the museum on one ticket. Although the caverns are the claim to fame here (and rightly so), I highly recommend the [Read more…]

Monticello, Charlottesville, VA

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I had a group of 8th grade students to Monticello, Thomas Jefferson’s home in Charlottesville, VA yesterday. The group had an 8 AM appointment, first one of the day, and had been instructed to be there 30 minutes early. That meant leaving our hotel really early, but at the direction of our conscientious group leader, we dutifully arrived on time as instructed. And guess what … the [Read more…]