Sat Navs and Hire Cars

Hello people, long time no see!

My son recently went on holiday and told me a story which has prompted this post.

First things first:- When hiring your car, ask if it has built in satellite navigation. These days many new cars have it as standard and hire cars are often only two or three years old (many we have had have been brand new).

My son took his wife and son on holiday to Spain and arranged a hire car. They were staying in a friend’s apartment and had no idea of the way, so a Sat Nav was arranged with Avis Cars together with a child seat. They arrived at the Avis desk, were given paperwork and the chap serving them double-checked their requirement for seat and navigation (even asking if they wanted it in English). They agreed, signed the paperwork having not actually seen or inspected the car, were handed the keys and sent to find their car in the car park.

When they got there an attendant in a hut handed them the TomTom and car seat, which they had to fit themselves. When they finally got to their Avis car, it was a brand new Audi A3. They were delighted.

However when acclimatising to the car controls, as one does when jumping into unfamiliar territory, my son pressed a button and up popped an integral satellite navigation system set to English, which is the one they used.

Of course they questioned the £150 added to the invoice for the TomTom loudly and clearly. Having signed the Terms and Conditions of Avis Cars when picking up the vehicle, customer service just referred back to this fact and would not enter into a discussion about it. It may be legal but it is not morally correct.

So anyone heading off on a self-drive holiday. Remember to ask if the car you get has onboard navigation. If not, take an old one of your own and update the map (it won’t cost £150) or look at buying data and use your mobile phone. It has excellent free apps!

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Revolut is a must have for travelling

It has been a while, I know. However I finally have something worth writing about! It is not exactly a gadget but as I’ve said before, I will share anything that makes life easier and this definitely comes in to that category.

Revolut is an online bank account with an App and a debit card (see http://www.revolut.com) backed by MasterCard. You don’t need the card to use the app however. You top the account up with your base currency (in my case sterling) ready for your holiday and off you go… but why would you, and what makes it different?

First point: Your sterling is only exchanged when you actually spend it, so you don’t have to buy large amounts of currency just in case and get stuck with it, either having to save it until the next trip or exchange it back again.

Second point: The exchange rate is the bank rate and not the tourist rate you would usually get from buying currency. This can make a huge difference.

Third point: The card is a contactless debit card which can be used in shops, hotels, ATMs for all purchases and cash requirements.

Fourth Point: There are no charges for the service. The app is free. The card is free. Withdrawal of cash is free (there is a limit of a ‘charge free’ withdrawal of £200 cash per month. After that there is a charge of 2% for any more cash withdrawn that month).

There is so much flexibility in the system that it is difficult to précis it all for a blog post, but the above points are the ones that will appeal to anybody who travels. Being my blog though, I would like to share all the ways I have used Revolut, and I only signed up about three months ago and have left the country once so far.

Late last year we had a visit from some Spanish friends. She had exchanged euros to sterling for the trip but at the end of the week was left with £150. I kept the sterling and used Revolut to send her the equivalent in Euros. She does not have a Revolut account but that doesn’t matter. Revolut send a link to her email address or mobile number (your choice which). She receives the link and fills in her bank details. The money is then deposited in her account. Simple and effective.

Next was a Christmas present for my niece in Australia, and later that month a 60th Birthday present for a close friend, also in Australia. Both gifts I bought were on Australian websites for local delivery. If I had used my own credit card or debit card, there would have been an extra charge so I used Revolut to pay in their local currency. Inter Bank exchange rate, no charges.

One of our christmas gifts from our kids was an overnight trip to Berlin (how lucky am I?) so of course I topped up my Revolut account for the trip. I used it to pay for train tickets, restaurants, gift shop and also in an ATM to withdraw some cash I know we will need for an upcoming skiing trip. Not a single extra charge was paid. The app shows you the amount you paid, who to, the exchange rate on the day and you can even catagorise the purchase and add your own note for reference later.

We wanted to buy something we could only get in America on Amazon. So we paid for it and had it sent to a friend in Texas who arranged to post it to us. She messaged me with the amount in US$ and I paid her through Revolut (she got a text message etc). She was so impressed by it, she asked how I did it and has now joined up herself.

My children have signed up to Revolut themselves. In fact it was my daughter-in-law who told me about it. It makes life even easier! We are off on holiday together in the near future and I payed for all our seats and luggage requirements. They paid me straight back on the Revolut card just by ticking my name in their contacts.

If you prefer to know your exchange rate rather than be subject to the highs and lows in these volatile times, not a problem. You can exchange your base currency in to the currency of your choice and spend it in all the forms mentioned above. All on the same account using the same card.

Revolut have promotional videos and a very good website which you should check out. Here I just wanted to share it’s versatility in every day life from the perspective of a very ordinary person living a pretty normal life.

Happy Travelling

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Babysitting using an iPhone

You are on holiday with your family staying in a hotel, half-board, when one of your children falls asleep at dinner. What do you do? There is no babysitting service, the parents still have to eat and you didn’t bring the baby monitor with you. 

This was our situation last week when I was on holiday with my family in the Pyrenees. Our granddaughter fell asleep at dinner and her mother had to leave the dining room to put her to bed and would have had to stay there with her if I hadn’t had ‘the App for that’. 

At home, when I was babysitting for my first grandchild and was worried I would not hear her cry, I checked the App Store for a solution and found Cloud Baby Monitor. It required two monitoring devices and a wifi connection in my house. Perfect. We used an old iPhone 3, installed the App and set it up in the baby’s room as the child monitor. Then I downloaded the same App (you only purchase it once if you use the same account) on my computer and my current iPhone, setting it up as the parent. It meant I could choose to monitor our sleeping child from my phone or my main computer, whichever suited me best, at any time I needed to. 

So when my daughter was about to be stuck upstairs, I told her to download the Cloud Baby Monitor App on the old iPad our three year old granddaughter uses to watch kids’ YouTube and to play games. I told her to register it to my account and set it as the child device. Downstairs in the Dining Room, we set our iPad up as the parent device and carried on eating whilst we watched the child sleeping and her mother returned to eat her meal. 

It worked beautifully. Not only could we watch our grandchild sleep (using the front or rear facing camera) we could hear her too. You can also play lullabyes through the iPhone/iPad speaker and you can speak to your child as well; an addition we were very grateful for when our granddaughter woke up and I could tell her ‘mummy is coming’ through the App as my daughter legged it up three flights of stairs to get to her. Hearing my voice and not seeing me did not seem to phase her one bit. When my daughter entered the room, all was quiet and calm and in minutes the child went back to sleep. 

For travel and even for everyday use, I highly recommend the Cloud Baby Monitor App. You get the added pleasure of finding a use for your old tech and save a fortune as baby monitoring systems cost in excess of £100. 

Best Thing About The Apple Watch?

I know people that rave about the Apple watch, saying it is ‘superb’; a ‘must-have’ and other happy exclamations.

I was lucky enough to be bought one for my birthday last September. I have the rose-gold version with a lilac strap and it does look pretty on my wrist, more like a piece of jewellery than a gadget, which is important in the case of a watch.

I enjoy it. I like the fact that I don’t have to carry my telephone around with me all the time for step counts, business emails and family messages (although wearing leggings is not so good for my waistline and carrying a mobile at least kept me in my jeans with pockets!). I thought I would mind taking it off at night to charge it, but it turns out that I don’t. When you lay it sideways on your side table, it gives you a digital time display when you need it in the middle of the night because you have been woken up by that screeching cat outside your window or just because you are too hot.

All that said, I don’t quite get why people rave about it as they do. It is convenient and fun but not a life changer in the same way the original iPhone was in its day (June 2007, I believe). I am reading a lot of reports of-late written by people who want less intrusion in their lives rather than more, which might be why the smart-watch is not on the wrist of every smart-phone owner. My biggest problem with it personally, and the reason I didn’t buy it for myself but received it as a gift, is not being able to wear it in a swimming pool. As my preferred exercise (other than walking our dog) is swimming, it really misses the mark for me.

My Apple watch has one feature though which I use all the time and saves me a lot of stress. One little press of an icon on the watch face makes my iPhone ping when I can’t find it, which is often. Down the side of the sofa; in the kitchen when I have been slouching around in the living room; in the car when I could have sworn it was in my handbag. This week, on holiday, it pinged in my daughter’s bedroom when I was trying to find it in my own room.

So there you have it. Five months after my birthday, having worn it every day since, I have found a reason to post about my Apple Watch. I think that says it all.

 

iPhone and Photography

I have a pretty good camera. I’ve also had a couple of video cameras over the years (rather large compared to modern ones) but these days I use my phone more than anything else. The quality of photographs and video has improved a great deal but more than anything, I always have it with me so convenience wins the day. 

At one time I downloaded a few editing apps but gave them up, preferring to use the generic iPhone camera and editing tools. I’m not particularly arty; more a ‘snap and go’ sort of girl. 

Recently I noticed my niece editing a photograph she’d taken with her iPhone and was struck with simplicity of the format she was using. I asked her what it was and she introduced me to VSCO.cam

I downloaded it when I got home and was about to delete it again, realising it was a bigger app than I’d imagined, but then changed my mind and decided to give it a go. It took a few minutes to work out the menus but the basic taking of a photo and saving I picked up quite quickly. The extras I ignored until I’d decided to keep the App. Once I had, I used this VSCO-com Tutorial to understand the editing tools. 

I can still use the generic camera if I want to (I need to for video anyway) and swiping up on my iPhone still gives me easy access. But for photographs I am going to carry on using VSCO now I have the hang of it. 

Why don’t you give it a try? I believe it is available on Android too. Snapping a photo doesn’t mean it can’t be a good photo, once you get time to play with it. 

It’s Your Fault Email Is Broken

The idea that any form of chat will kill off email is ludicrous (to me anyway). Email is a super-fast mail service which can be used to verify actions taken, confirm aural agreements and provide proof of receipt, as well as keep families in touch, chat to friends, receive advertising etc.

Email and chat are too different for either to affect the other no matter how individuals use them.

The TechCrunch article is an interesting read and reminded me how important these communication sectors have become and how happy I am not to have to rely on snail mail all the time even though I still love to receive and post a letter now and then.

My iPhone Anti-Gravity Case

You may not have heard of Kickstarter, the crowd-funding site for people with great ideas who need financial backing. Kickstarter and Indiegogo both give us, the general public, a chance to invest in ideas and products and help bring them to the world market.

One such product is my anti-gravity iPhone 6 case by Mega Tiny Corp. The idea caught my attention when I was scrolling through some of the things on offer. It is a case with a sticky back which you can place on glass, cupboards, tables and such like so you can use your hands whilst using FaceTime, when cooking (to read your recipe), or to take selfies without having to hold the phone in your hand.

I supported their campaign by pledging the price of three cases with glass screen protectors included, due for delivery in May 2015. Mega Tiny Corp were very good with regular progress updates. They had to produce prototypes, then take it into production, finalise their packaging and many other things before the product was ready to ship. I enjoyed the process which included emails giving the backers regular updates about the process and its ups and downs.

As with anything innovative, the process is prone to delays and this was no exception. However we were advised every step of the way which avoided any unrealistic expectations. My order was delivered about six weeks later than initially expected but it was all very professional. The packaging was well designed, the product completely as expected and the continued support from MegaTiny excellent.

The case itself fits my iPhone perfectly. The ‘sticky’ back is super-sticky to begin with and gets dirty quickly which would be off-putting for some. However if you persevere it becomes less sticky to the touch with handling yet still has enough to attach to hard surfaces. My feedback to Mega Tiny Corp suggested that a cover for the ‘sticky’ back could be useful when not using it, but that is probably not practical. I use this ability of the case more than I expected. It is even good when you are out and about and leave your phone on the table. It is hard for someone to knock it off accidentally, and takes a decent grip to lift it, which makes it harder to steal too!

I am glad I decided to give it a try and I really like my case. My phone is well protected. The back of the case can be cleaned with a damp cloth. It does what they promised it would do and overall it was a good experience.

Birthdays

I have just come across the simplest of improvements to Contacts on IOS and one that makes me wonder why it has taken so very long. 

I was just adding a birthday to a contact after realising it was missing. Low and behold, finally you can add the date without the actual year of birth. There are many times you need to know the date of something but the year doesn’t matter. 

Hardly worth blogging about, you might think. Personally, I love these little improvements and the feeling that when you buy a smartphone, it doesn’t stay the same forever.  Tomorrow it will have improved yet again and by next year, who knows what you will be doing that you can’t do today. 

Reader: A True Eye-Opener

WordPress Reader is fast becoming my daily read over-and-above other social and news services.

My introduction to WordPress was my first blog post Here. I knew nothing about it, had never blogged nor followed any blogs or feeds. So this past few months have been a voyage of discovery.

As my blog is not daily but more on a ‘this is how I use technology’ basis it didn’t take me long to realise that I’ll never be prolific. However it did remind me that I really am interested in science and technology even though I have no background in either, so I followed those subjects in the Reader. Mostly BGR and TechCrunch. I like the way I get the headline, the image and the first few lines to choose whether to pass on by or click to read. It is perfect for browsing on my phone and filling in waiting time.

As a writer it has also reminded me of the importance of a title, tag-line plus the first sentence to grab an audience. When I look back-at my posts to-date, I have not always kept that in mind.

This month I joined Blogging101 hoping to learn more about the technical side, not realising it is more about meeting other bloggers and marketing your own blog. Another eye-opener. Why on earth set my Reader only for other technology blogs when there is so much more I am interested in? So I have added some other interesting bloggers to my reader and as my first line suggested, it has become my daily pleasure.

So what have I found that has inspired this post?

Dr. Ash’s Science Mix Tape : A reminder on how much fun learning something can be as well as awe-inspiring videos and songs. My kids (now grown-ups) remember an enormous amount in lyrics, a skill I never managed myself.

BGRs ‘Why did Meryl Streep Write to Every Single Member of Congress?‘ : A reminder that equality for women in all spheres of life is still being fought for and just how brilliant Meryl Streep herself is.

BGR again and the most amazing Computer Chips I’ve ever read about. How magnificent is this? I am not against animal testing for medical purposes but if there was a way to avoid it, the world should choose it.  Or what about the 14-year-olds who invented the Smart Condom?

Susan Appleyard writes about Medieval History and I find her blog engaging and well-written. She has reminded me how much I enjoy history but does it in small pieces I can enjoy easily. I read a lot, but I tend towards escapism in fiction when I have time to read ‘properly’.

There are a lot of headlines I pass by, nobody has time to read it all. But as a catchall of blogs to visit, exciting happenings in the world and universe and items to make you smile, the WordPress Reader has overtaken anything else I used before (twitter, flipboard, google+ and such like).

Evernote in the Garden

After the major bi-annual job of cutting the ivy back,  we had some planting to do.

I am hopeless at gardening. I try and remember the names of plants, which is best where etc., but every year I am none the wiser. We often buy a few perennials to mix with the annuals, but each year I seem to have to fill all the pots again (bar a few hardy Fuschias which are my favourite flowers).

Last weekend we went shopping for this years selection of flowers and foliage. Being quite late in the year already (we’ve been very short on gardening opportunities in the last couple of months) we wanted some instant colour as well as the usual patio/bedding type plants. We spent our cash and carried home the goodies but with so much work to do to tidy up the garden, we didn’t manage to plant anything.

This week however I have managed to fill all the pots with colour and, I hope you agree, it is looking really lovely. The ‘tree’ is a pot containing three different Acers which we’ve had for about 8 years now. I trim the tops every Spring and Autumn to stop them growing too tall. As for the other pots, bearing in mind I’ve only just planted them, I doubt very much I could tell you the names of all the plants in them.

This is where Evernote comes in to play. I had my phone-camera at the ready, the pots positioned where I thought they would look best, the compost bags open for business, a table to put each plant on when I photographed it and my Evernote App. I started a new notebook called Planting (I’m so original) and then added my first note. I then took a photos of the plant, the name and information for the plant, followed by a photo of the pot I was planting in. Finally I tagged  ‘winter in shed’ for any plant which would not survive a frost.  I created a new note for each pot. Voila! I now have a reference for what is in each pot, can remind myself of the flowering/planting instructions in the future and best of all, I can check the tag in the autumn, and any plants which won’t survive the deep winter, I can identify the pots (if not the plants) and put them in my shed/office for the coldest months of the year. Finally add a reminder using Evernote itself or Handle which is my preferred option and you won’t forget to over-winter the plants in November/December.

Once the work was done I rejigged the layout to the picture shown above and watered them all. If some of them grow better than expected, I can move them all around again. That is the benefit of pot planting, it is like gardening for idiots. So long as the plants survive, you can’t really get it wrong.

At this point, I was intending to post one of the notes for you, but a screenshot won’t show it all and exporting does not offer a jpg format which I could then upload here. I can’t seem to copy and paste it either. The best I can do is this… look here (fingers-crossed it works).

So there you have it. Evernote in the Garden. I have no excuse in the future to assume there are weeds in the pots and just sling them out. The three smallest pots I have used to plant seeds for chives, coriander and spinach. Evernote contains photos of the packets to remind me (and yes I just had to check what I had planted as I could only remember the chives without looking). I also have a note for the annuals we have planted so I can refer to that next year when we go shopping again.

All we need now is a little sunshine to help them along. Evernote cannot help with that, but perhaps I should search for UV light-boxes for gardeners?