Thursday, April 28, 2011

Culture Lesson: How to Ride Bolt Bus

I made my first Maryland to New York trip on Bolt Bus last April. Since moving to New York last fall, I've taken several trips. Because I've decided I am an expert, I thought I'd share some of my advice and tips, gathered from hours upon hours of bus riding experience. This is not an endorsement and I have not been paid to write this post.

Bolt is owned by Greyhound. (Bolt is also owned by Peter Pan, but Peter Pan is owned by Greyhound.) It currently serves the Northeastern United States, and goes to the following cities: Baltimore, Boston, Cherry Hill (New Jersey), Greenbelt (Maryland), New York, Newark (NJ), and Philadelphia.

Bolt's big draw is that the seats are wider and more comfortable, each seat has a power outlet, each bus provides Wi-Fi, all rides are non-stop, all buses have bathrooms, and each ticket guarantees a seat.

This is all mostly true. Some buses I've taken look like they've been recycled from the Greyhound fleet, but they're fairly comfortable. (Most buses really are brand new. And that makes me feel safe!) Every seat has its own outlet—either in the bottom center of the seat in front of you or at the top of the aisle seat in front of you—except for the seats in the middle. (If you need an outlet, check the seat before you sit down.) Most buses have free Wi-Fi. (If you can't get online, and you have the nerve—I don't—let the driver know!) Bolt made the buses non-stop (on my route, at least) some time in the late fall. Sometimes the driver pulls over for personal reasons, but then quickly resumes the trip. (So bring snacks!)

Bolt advertises $1 tickets. These do exists. The first ticket for each scheduled trip is $1, so you'll need to know you want your trip four to six weeks in advance, and book early. Prices go up from there the closer you get to your departure date. (Schedules are released four to six weeks in advance.) The most expensive tickets are $25, and it's $25 cash to buy tickets in person when you board.

Tickets are available online at and by phone at 1-877-BOLTBUS (1-877-265-8287).

A customer service representative will tell you your group if you book by phone. Generally your confirmation number will list the group, too. If it starts with an A, B, or C, that is probably your group. (If you change your number to skip groups, and then you try to sit with me, I will ask you to sit somewhere else.)

There is a $0.50 booking fee. Rescheduling your tickets cost $3. 

Bolt boards by groups. And this is probably why I keep booking Bolt over Megabus. Most buses take passengers first come first serve. This is fine, but it can lead to near-riot conditions, no seat guarantee, and a bad seat assignment. (I'm not asking for much, just a seat near the bathroom, please.)

There are four groups: A, B, C, and walk-up boarders. You want to be in Group A, because you board first. The best way to get into Group A is to book early and sign up for the Bolt Rewards program. Even if you book late, you can hop into Group A. Do this even if you don't think you'll take a trip again.

The other benefit to Bolt Rewards is a free one-way ticket for every eight rides/four trips you take. I like to wait until I have two rewards to take a free trip. These rewards are really handy for free last minute trips.

Boarding can be a real hassle if your bus is on the street. This is what you need to do: Find a space on the sidewalk where you're out of the way but have a clear path to the bus when it arrives. Bolt says to get there 15 minutes early. Most buses don't board until departure time, but it's best to be prepared, so heed Bolt's advice.

This will allow you to see where the bus pulls up to the curb. Align yourself with the bus doors, so you can walk to the front of the line when the bus arrives. If you crowd the sidewalk, you'll be a walking hazard for the city's residents. You'll also be shoved aside by fellow passengers. I tend to stand in the back of the crowd and politely push myself forward when my bus arrives. There's no way to avoid someone standing in front of you in New York.

DC tends to congregate into a single line. If there's a line when you arrive (and Union Station has ropes out for groups, but they are rarely used), find the end of your group and put yourself there. If you're in Group A, and you get dirty looks from Group C, politely tell them to suck it. Seriously. Suck it, Group C. If you had Bolt Rewards, then yes, you could stand in front of me.

If you have luggage you plan to stow in the undercarriage, toss your luggage under the bus as soon as it has arrived and opened its carriage. You don't need to waste your time waiting for your group to be called. You an miss your seat if a lithe 19-year-old gets to board before you because you were polite. (Seriously!)

Step forward after the driver calls your group. Don't push or shove anyone. And be nice to the driver when you finally meet. Find your seat when you board, and feel free to take your time adjusting yourself while others search. If you find that you are stuck with an aisle seat, ask if the seat is free before you plop down.

If you board first, you do not get to reserve the seat next to you without a ticket. This is just bad form. You can't tell people they can't sit with you because you want to sit alone on a sold out bus. (The person I asked to sit elsewhere had been hitting on me for an hour, was 18, and annoying. It was mean, but he really pushed my buttons, and I wasn't going to entertain him for the next six hours.)

After the ticketed passengers have settled, the driver will count empty seats and begin to seat walk-up passengers. (See why you want to book in advance?) If you travel on a weekend, or a peak time, you might have a hard time getting a walk-up seat (or a seat alone). The best bet to getting your own seat is late afternoon on a weekday.

After everyone has boarded, and the bus has pulled away, the driver will make an announcement to the bus. He or she will tell you where the bathroom is (back of the bus), remind you to keep your phone conversations quiet, let you know about the Wi-Fi, and give you an estimated time of arrival.

Please be mindful of your fellow passengers. Keep conversations at a minimum level, respect their personal space, and don't text the whole ride if your keys make a noise when you press them. Use head phones if you use a laptop or music device, don't clip your toenails, and keep your personal mess to a minimum.

The bathroom is in the back of the bus. Make sure you lock the door! The light will turn on after the door is locked. (Locking the door will also turn on the light outside the bathroom so passengers will know the bathroom is occupied.) This is how most airplane bathrooms work. There are no sinks but there should be a dispenser with hand sanitizer. There's also a flush button!

Happy riding!

Additional Information:Bolt Bus
Bolt Bus, Twitter
Bolt Bus v. Fung Wah: Which Cheap Bus To Boston Is Least Annoying?, The Awl

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Photoshop: What Is A Filter?

Filters are another big feature for Adobe Photoshop (and other similar products). The software comes with several sets, but you can also download filters (from third-parties and Adobe) as plug-ins to enhance your Photoshop experience. (If you install plug-ins, use a trusted source, and follow Adobe's directions for installation.)
Filters are special effects that will change the appearance of your canvas. Some categories include artistic filters, blur filters, brush stroke filters, distort filters, noise filters, pixelate filters, sharpen filters, render filters, sharpen filters, sketch filters, stylize filters, texture filters, and lighting filters.

You can access your filters in the FILTERS menu at the top of your screen. Here are some tips from the HELP provided with Photshop 7.0:
To use a filter, choose the appropriate submenu command from the Filter menu. These guidelines can help you in choosing filters:
  • The last filter chosen appears at the top of the menu.
  • Filters are applied to the active, visible layer.
  • Filters cannot be applied to Bitmap-mode or indexed-color images.
  • Some filters only work on RGB images.
  • Some filters are processed entirely in RAM.
  • Gaussian Blur, Add Noise, Dust & Scratches, Mediam, Unsharp Mask, Solarize, and High Pass filters can be used with 16-bit-per-channel, as well as 8-bit-per-channel images.
RGB is a setting for your image. This is how we digitally see images on the screen (and television). It stands for RED GREEN BLUE. The alternative is CMYK, which is how images are interpreted in printing. (And that is CYAN MAGENTA YELLOW BLACK.) If your image is in CMYK you'll have to change the file RGB in your IMAGE menu.

Be sure not to save filtered work over your original filter. Try each filter out as your explore Photoshop to get a better idea of how the filters work.

And be sure to relax and have fun!

Additional Resources:
Adobe Photoshop Filters

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Photoshop: What Is A Layer?

One of Photoshop's features is layers. Layers help you edit and manipulate a digital canvas in a constructive way that precludes you from making permanent changes to the original file. (Layers are also a feature in many of Adobe's other programs.)

From Adobe Photoshop 7's help:
Layers allow you to work on one element of an image without disturbing the others. Think of layers as sheets of acetate stacked one on top of the other. Where there is no image on a layer, you can see through to the layers below You can change the composition of an image by changing the order and attributes of layers. In addition, special features such as adjustment layers, fill layers, and layer styles let you create sophisticated effects.
So you can hide and reveal layers, use layers to apply effects to your image, and use layers to merge images and/or elements together. In the image below, of a layers palette in Photoshop 7, you'll notice eye icons. Those eyes indicate layer visibility. When you click the eye, and it goes away, the layer does too. When the eye is there, it means the layer is visibile. The locks indicate that the layer is "fully locked." That means the layer cannot be edited. (The layer can be unlocked, and then edited.)

Photoshop allows you to use thousands of layers in one file. Your computer's memory may restrict your attempts to reach the software's maximum, however.

Layers are one of Photoshop's greatest features. Play around with them so you can maximize your artistic potential!

Additional Resources:
Photoshop Layers 101 Photoshop Tutorial, PhotoshopCafe
Understanding Layers in Photoshop, Digital Photography School
How to Merge Layers in Adobe Photoshop, eHow

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Photoshop: An Overview

Adobe Photoshop is a digital painting program manufactured by Adobe. Photoshop, which is part of the Adobe Creative Suite (something I lust for), is lauded as great photography software. (My college advisor once pointed out that it doesn't take pictures and is really more like a digital drawing and painting program, since that's sort of what it's for. I'm on his side, of course.) The most recent version of this software was released at the end of 2010 and is called CS5. (The CS) stands for CREATIVE SUITE. 

The program is often used to edit images. It crops, resizes, rotates, and adjusts the balances of light and color. The program also allows users to create collages using layers, and provides a variety of filters for tweaking and manipulating photos. You can also build Web sites in Photoshop, though I would recommend skipping Photoshop and using Dreamweaver. The program gets very advanced, and provides users a wide range of editing options. As a result, the program is very popular, but also misunderstood. (It does not, for example, take pictures.)

Photoshop released Photoshop Express in 2008. Express is a free flash-based service that lets you edit photos online. The services Express provides are very basic, and it's likely that these are more of the services you need. In theory, once you've finished editing your work, your photos will be blog- and Web-ready. Express also backs up your work, which is pretty handy. (Of course you are also using an external hard drive to back up your work.) The software is expensive, so exploring Express is advised before making the investment. (You can also download a one-month trial of the software.)

(Adobe also has a program called Lightroom, which is sort of like a digital darkroom. Combined with Adobe Photoshop Elements, the three make the "Photoshop Familiy.") 

I think Adobe programs are pretty great, but I can see how Old People might find them confusing. The software can do a lot (and take up quite a bit of your hard drive). Luckily, there are tutorials through Adobe, and the software comes with a great Help section. 

That may be my biggest tip for you. Take a deep breath, relax, and try the help section. Adobe explains what filters, layers, and masks are. (Masks and filters will likely sound familiar to dark room photographers.) Adobe explains its software in language that is easy to understand, and provides step by step directions, just like this blog.

Additional Resources:
Adobe Support

Photoshop Support tutorials
Photoshop Express

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Culture Lesson: "Mexican" Food

Do you wish you were a more adventurous eater? Do you have a daughter who would, if she could, eat chorizo tacos for the rest of her life and nothing else? Would you order chorizo tacos if you could just remember what they're called? I'm here to help.

Burrito A burrito is like a giant taco, with extra fillings. (See my note on "real" tacos below!) A burrito is a large tortilla filled with meat, cheese, beans vegetables, and sometimes cheese, lettuce, beans, and sour cream, and tightly wrapped. Some would argue it's not a burrito without beans. Burritos tend to be quite large.

Chimichanga Deep fried burrito. And you though deep frying was American! Just kidding, this food product may have been invented in Arizona in the '20s.

Empanada A pastry turnover, filled with chopped meat, vegetables, or fruit. (Fruit empanadas are usually "dessert.") Empanadas are Latin American, European, and Caribbean in origin.

Enchilada This is a giant tortilla, filled with meat and cheese (and sometimes more), and covered in a chile sauce and cheese. (You'll need a fork.)

Fajita These are noisily delicious. Fajitas are often brought to the table on a steamking skillet. The meat and vegetables (usually green peppers and onions) are grilled and served with tortillas on the side. The steak here is usually skirt steak. Fajitas are considered Tex-Mex, and therefore inauthentic Mexican food. Whatever. Give me more.

Flauta A tortilla is filled (usually with shredded meat), rolled tightly, and deep-fried.

Pupusa This food is Salvadoran. It's delicious and becoming super popular on the East Coast. (OK, I can't prove that. But it seems that way.) This is a thick corn tortilla (it's more like bread) with shredded meat and/or cheese. There is sometimes a salsa served on the side.

Taco A taco is "A Mexican dish consisting of a fried and folded or rolled tortilla filled with chopped meat, shredded lettuce, etc." (Webster's New World College Dictionary) I am assuming WNW means the hard shells when it says "fried."

Tamale A tamale is "a Mexican dish consisting of cornmeal dough around a filling of minced meat and red peppers, the whole then wrapped in corn husks or plantain leaves and cooked by baking, steaming, etc." Tamales are pretty plain, but incredibly delicious.

Taquito See flauta.


Ground beef and chicken chunks are the American standard. In a more authentic restaraunt, or even Chipotle, your options are carnitas (pork, usually shredded), barbacoa ("barbequed" meat, usually beef), bistec (beaf stec), and chicken (occasionally called "pollo"). I gave up ground beef for New Year's a few years ago and never looked back. If you see chorizo, it's pork sausage. It's usually seasoned. Depending on the origin, the sausage is crumbled or sliced into rounds (like a pieces of a hot dog).

Adobada Marinated pork!

Al pastor Grilled meat! (This technique is of Lebanese origin. There are many Lebanese people in Mexico.)

Carne Asada Barbequed beef!

Carnitas Roasted or braised Pork!

Chorizo Sausage. I love chorizo in all of its forms, which vary. (This Washington Post article explains in some detail)

Pollo Chicken!


The main salsas you'll fine in America are pico de gallo (an uncooked blend of onions, cilantro, tomatoes, and chiles), roja (cooked tomatoes and peppers, this is a red sauce), and verde (a hot green sauce made with chiles). You can usually also order guacamole (avacadoes, salt, lime, tomatoes, and spices) and sour cream on the side.

The establishment will probably define the meat and products for you, especially if it's an Americanized/Western dining establishment (Chipotle, for example).

Additional Resources
More chorizo to love, The Washington Post

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Technology Lesson: How to Text Message

As a warning, this is a very basic overview of how to send and receive text messages. Every phone is a little different. This lesson will be more applicable for basic cellphones—cell phones without full keyboards. Cell phones that are not smartphones. Be sure to check your phone's manual for— more information. If you can't locate your manual, try visiting the Web site for your phone's manufacturer.

Sending A Text Message

1. Get your phone. Turn it on.

2. Go to your MENU. The menu is where you'll find your settings, tools, and your contacts. There might be a button on your phone labeled menu. (Some phones might use the key that says OK to take you to the menu. Mine is not labeled at all, but bigger than the other keys on my phone.) It is most likely in a prominent location.

3. When you are on your menu screen look for your MESSAGES or MESSAGE CENTER. You may need to use keys on your phone to highlight the word and/or icon to get to your MESSAGES/MESSAGE CENTER.You'll need to hit your main (menu or OK, probably) button.

Your phone might provide a shortcut to the MESSAGE CENTER. On my phone's main screen says MENU and MESSAGE on the left and CONTACTS on the right. If I press the left softkey (the key with a dash on it—these keys are generally on the right and left of the phone next to the menu button) I'll go to my text messages. If press the other key, I'll go directly to my list of contacts.

4. You may have visited your MESSAGE CENTER before. This is where you access your voicemail. (If you dial 1 to check your voicemail, it's possible that you haven't.)

Use your keys to highlight NEW MESSAGE. (Or maybe TEXT MESSAGE.) Go there. If your phone takes photos, your phone might provide two options (TXT MSG/TEXT MESSAGE or PICTURE MESSAGE). Chose TXT MSG/TEXT MESSAGE.

5. Now you'll need to choose your contact. On my phone there is a long blank list. You cursor will go to the first line by default. You can type out the number, but I only advise that if the recipient is not already in your phone. Your phone may vary on this step. On my phone, I need to use the right softkey to access my contacts. (I can also choose from recent calls, which is faster than scrolling to the named I need.) Find your contact, and confirm that person. (Repeat as necessary.) You should return to the list of numbers. (This list might be over the text message space. If so, move down to that box.) Press the OK/Menu button to get to the next screen.

6. Type your message. If you have a keyboard, each letter has its own key. That means texting is super easy for you. If you have a regular keyboard, that means each number has a second function. Numbers 2 through 9 have three letters assigned to each key. (Like a rotary phone; 9 has four letters.) The # key will have a bracket. That is your SPACE key. Your 1 key is your punctuation key.

There are two ways to type your message. You can press the keys for each individual letter ("abc" mode) or you can press the key once and your phone will put the word together based on your combination of keys (T9 or "word" mode). You access these options by pressing your softkey. It will be on the side that says "abc". There should also be an option for capital letters ("ABC") and an option for symbols and characters. (A handy shortcut and alternative to pressing 1 several times.)

So if you are using abc and you want to type "hello" you would press the 4 key twice, going past "g" to get "h", the 3 key twice, passing "d" to get to "e", pressing the 5 key three times, passing "j" and "k" to get to "l", doing that again, and pressing the 6 key three times, passing "m" and "n" to get to "o".

But if you use T9 or "word" you would only need to press the 4 and 3 keys once, the 5 key twice, and the 6 key once to spell hello. T9 has some disadvantages. Some words, like GOOD and HOME use the same keys. My phone won't accept IS and always displays GP. (WHAT DOES THAT EVEN MEAN.)

Type your message. You'll have a character limit. Mine is 160 characters. If you go over, the recipient will receive multiple messages at once, which might irritate the recipient.

7. When you're done, press SEND. This is probably your Menu/OK key.

Good job! You sent a text message.

A faster alternative is to look up your contact (by going to the contacts list, recent calls, or using speed dial), click OPTIONS (using a softkey, likely), choose NEW TXT MSG, type your message, and send.

Receiving A Text Message

This is much easier. Depending on your settings, your phone will post an alert on your phone. (In addition to playing a ringtone/buzzing.) You can accept the message or ignore it. You can retrieve it—and your other messages—by going to your MESSAGE CENTER.

Goodness. I am exhausted! I assure you that texting will not wear you out.

Additional Resources:
iPhone Basics: How to Send a Text Message to Multiple People, Art of the iPhone

Friday, April 8, 2011

Technology Lesson: The Basics of Text Messaging

Text messaging is a popular form of communication, but if you're unfamiliar with your phone (or simply prefer talking), it can seem daunting. If you're unfamiliar with what texting is, here is a technical explanation from Tech Republic:
Text messaging, also known as "Texting" or more formally as Short Message Service (SMS), is the process of sending simple text messages between mobile phones. Another form of mobile text messaging is Multimedia Messaging Service (MMS) which allows people to send photos, ring tones, and movies directly from one mobile phone to another without using the Internet. The focus of this white paper is on SMS since nearly all cell phone subscribers, throughout the world, own handsets which have the capability to send and receive SMS text messages.
Texts are short messages sent from one cellular phone to another. Sometimes text messages include photo or video. And sometimes you can send a text from your phone to a person's e-mail inbox.

You can use the service to make Twitter updates and send direct messages (DMs) through Twitter (do be careful), download ringtones, and update Facebook. You can receive pictures of your adorable niece, news stories...and spam.

You may have to pay a fee to send and receive texts, depending on your service provider. Some networks (like mine) allow free texting to in-network users. You may also be allowed to purchase a block of texts (500 each month, for example), or unlimited texting. You'll have to consult your provider for more information.

Keep in mind that like talking on the phone, texting has its own set of etiquette rules. Though discreet, it's not polite to text at the dinner table or a social event with friends. Where and when varies of course. (Texting on public transit is fine, which is great since talking on transit may be considered rude. Texting at a sports game is OK, but at a personal party is probably not.) You may want to clear texting permission with new friends or less phone restrictions. Some people only like to text in network (I prefer in-network and an out-of-network sister), whereas some people don't want to receive or send texts at all (but have not blocked the service). Some may have texting for emergencies only, or have a limit on texting through the provider. It may seem dorky to Young People, but it's very thoughtful to make a polite inquiry.

Of course, Old People have the best sense of decorum, so keep a level head, and you'll be able to enjoy your new life in texting freedom.

Additional Resources:
Going Mobile: Text Messaging Basics For Business, Tech Republic
Now’s A Good Time To Turn Off Your Twitter DM Text Messages, If You Don’t Want To Embarrass Yourself, Gizmodo
When To Whip It Out: A Practical Guide to Using Cellphones in Social Situations, Gizmodo

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Guest Post: Smart Phones

Look Kids, Grandpa Got a Smartphone: When New Gadgets Attract Old People

Most of us aren't lured in by the world of technology. At our age, we like to keep things simple and stick with what we know. Of course, some of the different products that come out today could be useful to us, but that's only if we are willing to overcome the technology gap and learn how to use them. There are plenty of practical applications and uses for iPods, cell phones, and laptops for active adults in their retirement. After all, you can load your mp3 player with songs to enjoy while you take your morning walk, use your smart phone to manage your investments or navigate on your road trip, and use a laptop to keep in touch with friends and family members no matter where you are in the world. 

I don't like change any more than the next person, and the last thing that I thought I needed was some gadget that did more than I knew how to make it do. So, needless to say, when my son suggested that I get a 'normal' cell phone (not the prepaid dinosaur I'd been paying to use for years now), I hesitated initially. Eventually, I decided to buck up and go look at these devices and see what I could find. The girl at the store was really helpful, showing me all the different features of the phones and how I can use them. And I ended up getting a really great deal on a phone. When I took it to show my family, they were a bit shocked.

I chose a smartphone. Why, you ask? Well, quite frankly, it makes it easier for me to go and do things and find things to do. I can track my exercise, schedule my training appointments, find golf clubs when I'm traveling, keep in touch with my family and friends, and so much more. There's a huge learning curve for these things, but after a few weeks of fiddling around, I think I've finally got it all figured out. Sure, I like the simple things in life but the complexities of this phone actually made my life simpler and easier to manage. You can bet I'm enjoying my retirement even more, thanks to technology. 

Contributed by Mary Albert, a blogger for a senior lifestyle Wweb site that provides advice for the 55+ age group as well as medical alert reviews.