Orange fail

oranges-vitamin-c-lgLast month Tina received a bill from Orange stating that she owed them £27.56. The letter went straight into the bin as she migrated her mobile number from them to O2 eighteen months ago.

Yesterday she received a reminder saying that she still owed £27.56 and please could she pay it as soon as. This time she kept the letter and put it in the study for my attention. When I spoke to her about it she insisted she didn’t know why they were sending her letters and just to ignore it.

But from my experience, these type of problems don’t usually go away and following the Tina way of ‘burying her head in the sand’ would not stop them from sending it; in fact the bill would probably increase due to non-payment.

So I suggested she call them. Of course, once she managed to speak to customer services they were insistent that she owed the money.

“Put me on” I said, “I’ll sort it!”

I explained to the ‘helpful’ Orange person that we had closed the account in October 2011 and that the account number quoted on the letter was not recognised by us, so was probably an admin error. I pushed them for more details about the bill and she said it was for a broadband dongle and the payments of £5.10 had suddenly stopped in November 2012.

“I don’t even know what a broadband dongle is?” Tina questioned when I relayed what the CS person had said. I then started getting annoyed with the rep, stating it must have been a mistake and we were not going to pay!

Then I overheard Tina talking aloud and mention that she might actually know what it was for after all. She said she remembered that she set something up with her sister to give her broadband access when she was staying in her boat. A quick call to Jill confirmed that she had stopped paying for the dongle in October and assumed that the account would automatically close.

“Ah, right” I thought, “I now need to change tact slightly!”

I then started playing the apologetic customer act, stating that we weren’t aware of the dongle and the account should have been closed last year. I think the guy took pity on me and eventually agreed to waive the charges and close the account. Result.

Of course in the process of getting it sorted we probably spent over £25 on call charges!

Games, game, games

drawOne of the of the successes of the smartphone has to be the popularity of the games that are available to download on to them. Early adopters had little by the way of choice and were restricted to playing games such as Tetris and Bejewelled, but as the phones became more powerful, arcade games started to appear, creating the ability to play out highly graphical racing or sports games such as Need for Speed or Tiger Woods PGA.

Then came Angry Birds, a game that seemed to really capture people’s attention, with its simplistic preface of catapulting different variants of feathered creatures at smiling pigs in order to get stars. The success of the game wasn’t just the fun of flinging fowl, but it also involved a level of skill and strategy to work out the best way to get the porkers with the least birds. 4 picsAnd the creators of the game have been clever to keep people wanting more by releasing newer versions of the same game; Angry Birds in Space and Angry Birds Star Wars are still towards the top of the download charts even now.

The latest smartphone game that seems to have captured people’s imagination is 4 Pics 1 Word, whereby you have to guess the word associated with the photographs and is very addictive.

The other main reason for the success of games on the smartphone is the ability to interact with other people remotely. We now have the ability to play games with friends and families when we are totally apart. And play with total strangers too. It is so easy to start up a game, request to play with someone else and within minutes be chasing someone on a race track or trying to out-point someone on Scrabble.

So what are my favourites?

wordsUntil recently I have enjoyed playing Draw Some (me and a remote work colleague are up to +350 correct guesses between us) but mainly I now play Words with Friends. I started playing WWF with Alison from Melbourne, a complete stranger, a couple of years ago and now we are Facebook buddies and occasionally exchange chats, catching up on each others news. I have a couple of other regular players, although they seem less chatty and more intent on beating me!

I’m sure there are many people who have never tried playing the games on their phones, siting the excuse that they’re not interested in them, but for others it’s become an obsession and I suspect they couldn’t do without their daily dose of fun.

I know another gadget is just wrong but…

ipad miniSo another birthday has materialised; they do seem to come around very quickly these days. With the announcement of a bonus this week, I thought I’d treat myself to another gadget and so decided to go for one of them iPad mini’s that everyone is raving about. I must admit I have been thinking about getting one since the launch back in October, but kept putting it off until now.

The main reason I wanted the smaller version was to be able to take it to work as the larger version it a bit too bulky to carry around. The smaller footprint model will be ideal as a device to use around the office; especially as our work internet is so slow sometimes.

As for the other iPad I am hopeful the smaller one won’t make it redundant; I’ve heard that lots of people who have bought the mini version now no longer bother with the bigger one, I guess time will tell?

 

Going electronic

It’s been a while since I wrote a blog so I thought I’d get something down on the first day of the traditional blog-a-day-in february, which was first started by mate Mark over at www.masher.tv.

My blog posts have been a bit sparse of late; a combination of apathy, a mundane lifestyle and a very active puppy that constantly wants walking. Whenever I sit down at my iMac, I get a nose up against my side and a sort of whining noise and although I keep telling her to stop, Tina just won’t leave me alone!

So to my blog…

Last week I started reading an e-book on my iPad entitled ‘Paperless’ in which the author described how he had managed to go completely paper-free in his home and office, converting every piece of literature to pdf before filing in an orderly fashion on his computer. Now me being an organised type of person thought this idea worthy of some consideration and started to look at how I could incorporate this way of saving the planet into my life. But how to achieve such a feat?

Well firstly I had to look at my work and how much paper I consume on a daily basis. What with printing for meetings, one to one’s with my team, notices and process documents it was going to be a tall order but I was certain I could make it happen. I started by scanning in the large pile of paperwork that had gathered on my desk; there were a number of forms that needed to be kept but they didn’t necessarily have to be in paper format. Fortunately we now have access to an all-in-one-scanner that e-mails the output straight to your inbox. It wasn’t long before I was filling my system with exact copies of the forms, in pdf format, neatly entitled with a standard filename so I could easily retrieve it. Great. Then came the 121’s and the tricky problem of sitting down with my engineers without filling in reams of paper from which the new appraisal scheme requires. So I went electronic. Now my engineers will be able to store their performance evidence on their laptops and e-mail me once we’ve been through it. They, therefore, don’t need to carry an encyclopaedia-sized folder to the meeting and I can upload what is required for the scheme onto my storage area should anyone want to audit it. I’ve also stopped printing everything I get sent to me and instead now read it on the computer screen and then file it. I just hope our IT department do regular backups as I’m really putting my faith in this electronic medium.

ScanSnapS1300iAnd so to home. To be fair I have tried to cut down on holding on to bits of paper over recent years; the advent of the electronic utility bill and paperless bank statements have greatly reduced the amount that I have needed to hold and I have regularly scanned any statements that are sent by post onto my Mac using my as-in-one-printer, but was a long and laborious process and so I decided to invest in a dedicated scanner. I purchased a Fujitsu ScanSnap 1300i scanner and I must admit I’m pretty impressed with it’s ability to scan the documents, OCR them and file them, with just one press of a button. I’ve managed to scan a number of documents that I am reluctant to just throw away just in case I need to refer to them again, taking minutes rather than hours to transfer them to my system.

As a precaution, I’ve set up a backup routine where I have two local copies of my files and an off-site back up too so I have every confidence that when the documents go through my shredder I will be able to retrieve them.

So I’m not sure whether my contribution will save any trees; most paper these days is made from sustainable forests but at least it gives me an excuse to use tech and now I have the ability to get to my documents remotely. Very 21st century!

QR Codes

Like me, you may have seen hundreds of these codes on packaging, websites and in magazine adverts but never really bothered to check them out. I have always assumed they were just some sort of new-age sign that looked pretty but didn’t mean anything.

So I put aside my pride and asked someone what they were…

“They’re QR codes” he replied “and you can download an app on to your phone and scan them in” he added.

A quick Google told me that QR codes were invented back in 1994 by a Japanese company in order to track parts going through a car manufacturing plant, but are now more widely used by marketing types as the codes can hold more information and be scanned by smartphones.

I quickly found a free app for my iPhone and was soon searching for packaging and labels I could try out my new gadget; being amazed on how quickly it recognised the strange dots and converting it into readable content.

Then I wondered how easy it would be to create the codes with my own content and soon found another app which allows you to do just that and output it to a picture.

So here’s a little test for you. Here are a few QR codes of my favourite sites as well as a message to my readers. Download a suitable QR reader for your mobile and give them a scan.

 

London

Tina and I decided that for our wedding anniversary rather than go away for the weekend, instead we would travel down to London for the day to watch a West End show, do a bit of site seeing and maybe some shopping.

We drove to Huntingdon station and we were soon on our way, the train filling up with weekend travellers to a point where there was standing room only as we neared the capital.
I was looking forward to seeing the refurbished Kings Cross station as we pulled in, but then overheard another passenger say that it didn’t open until Monday. Oh well maybe next time.

We made our way to the underground, our usual mode of transport when in London and we were surprised how busy it was, especially as it was a Saturday. The Piccadilly line took us straight to Leicester Square, where we intended to get our show tickets. We soon found a ticket booth and purchased matinee tickets for Stomp, playing at the Ambassadors Theatre.

We then started walking towards Coventry Garden, as I had indicated I would like visit the Apple Store to take a look at the new iPad, which had been launched on Friday. I guessed that as there had been a lot of excitement about its release, with long queues at the store on launch day, I wouldn’t get a chance to look at one, let alone actually buy one. I was pleasantly surprised as we found Apple had loads of tables with demo iPads set up to test. I had a play and was instantly sold; the HD display was so crisp and clear and seemed much quicker that my iPad 2. I looked at Tina and she knew straight away that we were not leaving the shop until I had a shiny new one in my hands.

At this point, dear reader, you may be thinking back to last year, when I bought myself an iPad 2 for Xmas. And you are right. The mistake I made with that model though was that I only ordered a 16GB version and I was finding I was running out of space and having to delete lots of apps. I also couldn’t store all the thousands of photos I’ve taken over the years, which was one of the prime reasons for getting an iPad in the first place.

Back to the Apple Store and I soon selected the device I wanted; a 64GB wifi only version and within minutes we were leaving the shop, me carrying my new toy in a distinctive Apple logo’d bag.

We stopped for some lunch, before I suggested we get the tube to Oxford Street, where Tina could do some balancing out on the spending front, by visiting her favourite jewellery shop, Tiffany’s, that is housed within Selfridges. It didn’t take long for Tina to spot a necklace she liked and soon I was handing over my bank card.
We then wandered down Oxford Street, dodging the thousands of people who were out shopping in the rain before heading towards the theatre to watch Stomp.
The Ambassador’s Theatre is quite small and it didn’t take long to fill up ready for the afternoon performance. We both thoroughly enjoyed the show, different to anything we’d seen before, but worth watching all the same.

Afterwards we wandered back to Leicester Square, but by this time the rain was quite steady so we agreed on an early dinner and found our favourite Nando’s which is just north of the Square.
By six o clock we had eaten and then decided to try to book tickets to the cinema. We walked back to Leicester Square but unfortunately all the films we wanted to see didn’t start until around nine o clock. As my back had been playing up all day (even dosing up on Codeine and Ibroprofen didn’t help) we agreed to head back to Kinds Cross and travel home.

And so in the end it proved to be an enjoyable, if not expensive day out in London. We didn’t do much site seeing due to the wet weather but did have a good time despite that.

We both agreed that we would not go anywhere near the place during the summer months when the Olympics are in town, as the place will be heaving and very difficult to travel around. There seemed to be a lot of roadworks, station refurbishments and generally loads of building works everywhere which I assume will all complete by August, when the games start. Otherwise visitors will get a poor impression of our capital as one that was not up to the challenge when it comes to showing off London at its best.

Apple TV

When I became an Apple fan boy (at the moment in time when I converted from a Windows to an iMac) I also bought an Apple TV box for watching content through our main TV. Whilst the content available was not great it did allow me to play any music from my collection, view YouTube movies and watch hired or purchased movies downloaded from the iTunes Store.

The Apple TV concept was still in it’s infancy though and purchasing films was expensive and so we continued to buy DVD’s, storing them in the unit next to the TV cabinet. Whilst this was fine, the amount of space they took up was excessive and all the DVD boxes on the shelves didn’t look great either.

And so after doing some research I found out it was possible to convert any DVD movies, legally, into a format the Apple TV could play.  I therefore started the mammoth task of copying my collection onto my iMac for onward transmission when required. But as you can imagine, each movie was taking up over a gigabit of space on my hard drive which was not brilliant and so I bought a stand-alone hard drive to save the films onto. The old DVD’s are now stored in boxes in the spare room.

With my collection now fully digitised into this new format, we now are able to select any one of the movies, TV shows or Podcasts and watch them on the Apple TV unit, using an iPad or iPhone to locate and control the viewing. And as the content is available through WiFi I can also watch it on my iPad, which comes in handy when laying in bed not wanting to get up.

Back to the Apple TV and I was still yearning for the ability to watch streaming films but with only the iTunes store providing online content it was a bit restrictive and expensive. But then about two weeks ago, a new online streaming service, NetFlix, was launched in the UK. This service has been running in the USA for a number of years and has proved very popular in delivering cheap movie and TV content over the internet. And as they were offering a free months trial and it can be used on the Apple TV I signed up. The choice of movies is quite extensive, although it is mainly older films but for £5.99 per month you can hardly complain.

And so it looks like the days of going to a shop to physically buy a DVD are becoming numbered, a bit like buying a music album, which I only ever buy and download online nowadays. The Apple TV, for me, has become the digital media centre and maybe it won’t be long before it is the only way we watch TV and movie content.

 

Christmas is coming…

So it must be time for a new gadget!

“So what do you want for Christmas?” Tina enquired whilst we were shopping at Peterborough yesterday.

“Hmm, I said, I’m not really sure I will have a think”, not really having a clue what to suggest.

When I got home I thought I’d check out the Apple site to see what was new when I spotted that they were having a ‘Black Friday’ sale for one day on the 25th November. Not one to miss a chance for a new Apple gadget I checked the prices today and saw that the iPad 2 had been reduced in price, £30. Still I already have an iPad 1 so could I justify getting another? I then recalled there are were number of online sites where you can sell your old gadgets, sometimes for good prices. So a google search later and I found ‘Gadget Panda‘ and got a really good quote for my existing iPad, which is in pristine condition. I still have the original box, which meant I would get the top price too.

And so I ordered the new iPad, along with a Smart Cover, which cleverly protects the screen when not in use and have agreed it can be wrapped up as a Xmas present to open next month. When I mentioned it to Matt he said he was thinking about getting one too, so he ordered the same model this afternoon (we agreed to give him some money towards it for his Christmas present).

With the old iPad packed up and posted to Panda, I just hope the price they have quoted is honoured or else it could be an expensive present!

Slow News Week

It’s been a couple of weeks since my last blog update, the new addition to the family vying for attention and keeping me away from my iMac and the ability to document any creative thoughts.

Rio is starting to settle down into the family; yes, he does still have his mad moments biting everyone, but these are becoming less and less and he is starting to respond better to the word ‘NO!’. He also had his first ‘clean’ night yesterday, no wees or poos; let’s hope that continues as the house is starting to smell a bit ‘doggy’.

Other news includes a tumble drier that decided to trip the mains. Not a problem in itself as it is over ten years old but the tripping did cause some constanation when my HP MediaVault server decided to stop talking to my Mac (with many photos and files on it!) . I tried rebooting, taking out the hard drives and checking the internal motherboard battery but to no avail. Eventually I googled the problem and found that the unit had a reset button on the back and after holding it in for ten seconds…hey presto is came back to life, all files still intact. A quick back up of the files to a spare USB drive soon followed.

And so to get a replacement tumble drier. Tina located one on the Curry’s website and I soon ordered it for collection from the Kettering store on Sunday morning. As I left the house I sarcastically remarked  “I will make sure I try to get a machine with a dent in the front!” (a reference to the washing machine we bought last year with a lovely caved in part at the bottom of the machine). It wasn’t until I’d plumbed it in did we spot the dent and at that point I couldn’t be bothered to unplumbed it and return it.

Anyhow, I collected the new tumble drier, nicely protected in polystyrene for extra safeguarding against dents and scratches and soon had it installed in the kitchen space where the old one came from, with the help of an inquisitive puppy of course.

Time to switch it on try it out and oh no…a horrible grinding noise came from the spinning drum. The machine was pulled back out and I soon discovered the problem; the fan housing at the back of the drier was dented. “Doh not again” I shouted.

I removed the screws and soon bashed out the dents, allowing free movement of the fan situated behind. Of course what I didn’t realise was that I’d dislodged the heater element on the panel, causing the unit to trip the mains. “Doh bugger it!” Once I’d sussed what was going on I finally got the machine installed, an hour later that expected.

Not much else has happened in the last week; my car passed it’s MOT but needed three new tyres costing me a fortune to replace. I really need to shop around in future rather than pay dealer prices!

Hopefully next week I’ll have some more to write on Rio as he’ll be able to go out of the house, although judging by the practice walks we’ve been doing recently he’ll need to be dragged around the street.

Siriously Good Phone

As mentioned in my last blog, I have been waiting for months for Apple to launch their latest iPhone and today the day finally arrived. The intention was to order the iPhone 4S on line and get it delivered but as previously stated Three refused to give me credit so I was resolved to have to go into town to purchase my latest gadget.

Up until Wednesday this week I was still undecided as to which network to go with; the Three offer was tempting but after speaking to a few people the concern over network coverage was still nagging away in the back of my mind. So I decided to stick with O2, who I have been with for the past two or three years and have been happy with the service they offered.

The O2 website stated that their shops would be opening early on launch day but would only be serving existing customers so I was confident that I would be able to get the phone of my choice. Then I spotted they were going to give out stock updates every half an hour during the day and alarm bells started to ring as perhaps I’d underestimated how popular this latest Apple release would be.

And so I decided to get to the O2 shop first thing this morning and thankfully I made the correct decision as when I arrived at the shopping mall around 7.15 I found three other people in the queue in front of me. After passing time chatting to the fellow saddo’s and accepting the free breakfast offered by the O2 staff the opening time of 8.02 soon arrived (not sure why the opening time had to be so precise but they opened bang on time). By this time there was fifteen or so people waiting in the queue all holding on to their precious numbered card given out on arrival. Luckily there were four staff serving so I was seen straight away and 20 minutes later I was the proud owner of a new 64GB iPhone 4S.

My initial thoughts of the new iPhone are extremely positive; Apple seem to have continued to build on the success of their earlier versions and this one should be a match for many of the smartphones in the market place. The feature that I believe will set it apart from others though is the built-in speech recognition application called ‘Siri‘. Without any training required, the phone is able to accept verbal instructions and carry them out with great accuracy. I managed to send a text without touching the keyboard, searching my contacts list or correcting the words I spoke. Amazing.

I have yet to try out the other new features such as the 1080P video or camera but I did manage to transfer my contacts and apps using the new iCloud service. That was so easy.