Monday, 13 February 2012

Valentines Day Thought

So here we are again. Another manufactured day just like mothers day, fathers day, boxing day, May day to name a few. Now I'm all for these days if it means we get a day off work. Otherwise its not worth it as we will most likely end up spending one way or another. Now depending on which part of the world you're from, today is Valentines day. If its not yet then Happy Monday 13th February 2012. Now Valentines day is as manufactured as they come. The most common myth or truth depending on how you look at it is candy companies invented it so that they can sell loads of, well you guessed it, candy. However the truth is far more complex. Hit Wikipedia if you want the full story. Bet you thought I was going to give you an explanation.

My point in posting about Valentines day is that even though I am not single, I still somewhat despise the day. The main reason being that people spend aimlessly on ridiculous items which don't mean anything. For example, flowers and chocolate you can buy any day but people always get these which nearly always end up in the bin a few days later because lets face it, a lot of these chocolate boxes contain rubbish chocolates (I'm talking to you Mr Thornton and Mr Milk Tray).

Now if you do decide that you'll be partaking in this event because you are forced into it or you actually feel like doing something nice then here's my take on what you should do. Well I always say experiences are better than actual items. Days out come to mind. Now there are loads of days out from something adventurous as Bungee Jumping to something as calm as a Spa Relaxation day. Now these things although not tangible will be far better received than just another year of the same old same old. Just make sure you actually have it booked and ready for the day rather than just handing a gift certificate on the day because that sure won't be received as well although the other half will eventually enjoy the gift.

So now you know what you can do for next years Valentines day because I'm pretty sure if you haven't already thought of this then you'll have missed the window to get these kind of things booked so better luck next year assuming that is you don't become single. If you unfortunately do then may I be the first to say Happy Thursday 14th February 2013!

P.S If you're single right now then Happy 14th February 2012. Hope you have a good working day like the rest of society.

Wednesday, 8 February 2012

Don't Buy An iPad 2 Wait For The iPad 3

When it comes to Apple you either love them or hate them. Some love them for their simplicity, elegance and ease of use while others hate them for their secrecy, software restrictions and pricing. However what I say is each to their own. The reason Apple is back on the rumour cards again (some say the rumours never end) is due to the iPad. It's done a full circle, that's 12 months to normal folks, and come round again for an update. An update shall I dare say isn't really needed but is expected. Most iPad 2 owners would say that they are perfectly happy with their current version of iPads and cannot see any ways to improve them apart from the obvious i.e. speed, storage, battery life, etc. Therefore if it were up to them there would be no new iPad but as with any technology, improve or get left behind and that's something Apple cannot afford to do.

Well according to numerous sites we are due for a new iteration of the iPad which will have an original name of iPad 3. Can you imagine the number of meetings it took to decide that? As with the previous generations, we are expecting an announcement around March 2012. This tallies with previous launches with the original iPad launching on 3rd April 2010 and iPad 2 reaching consumers on 11 March 2011. Even accessory manufacturers are predicting March 2012 as the launch month. However no one will truly know until Apple say so.

So what can we expect with this new iPad 3?

1. A6 Processor
This one is more predictable than most others as it would be a logical step in speed increases. It would also keep in line with Apple's competitors who rightly so will be launching quad core based products, possibly using chips such as Nvidia's Tegra 3. Having a quad core will allow the iPad 3 to run the expected higher resolution screen as well as other multiple apps all at the same time.

2. Retina Display Screen
What better use to put all that processing power than a display which runs at a phenomenal 2048x1536. This could be subject to change but double the current iPad 2 resolution would make it easier for developers to recode their apps in the same way developers recoded for the change in resolution from iPhone 3GS to iPhone 4. Some may say this resolution is an overkill but others might argue that this would be one of the unique selling points amongst the many others which Apple will use to their advantage in their marketing material.

3. Better Graphics
At CES 2012 Imagination Technologies unveiled its new PowerVR Series6 GPU which will power a number of mobile devices. Now we don't have anything concrete but as previous generations have used graphics chips from Imagination Technologies and Apple are shareholders, it would almost be predictable that Apple would upgrade the GPU and integrate it in the A6 processing chip. For all we know they could already have been testing this with Imagination Technologies deciding on CES 2012 to reveal this.

4. Better Camera
This one is almost guaranteed that it probably doesn't even require mentioning. My predictions are that they would launch it with a rear 8 mega-pixel camera capable of shooting HD video. The front camera is also likely to see improvements possibly being able to record HD so that they can use one of the most overused two letter acronyms today which is HD.

5. Siri
As Siri has already been launched and is being used on iPhone 4S, it would be a rather simple task to implement it on the new iPad. Even regular folks with a little know how have got it working on older iPhone models therefore this is likely to be a feature. However it can be argued that it may not be much use to a tablet user.

6. Other features?
Well I highly doubt we will see NFC on the iPad 3 as there would be no practical use other than payments and I don't see people whipping out their tablet to make a payment. Even banks are struggling to get this method of payment right.

4G? Not yet. This will need far more deployment worldwide before Apple decide to implement it. There is a world outside of the USA and countries such as the UK have not even auctioned that spectrum yet.

What about thunderbolt? If you haven't heard of these, they are a new type of connection being deployed by Apple across its product range. However as Apple is moving more to cloud based computing, it would have limited use and possibly not be worth the extra cost incurred. Even as an option I don't see much consumers taking this up.

If you heard other rumours about their being new models which have different size screens then think again. This is very unlikely as it would fragment the product range far too much. Apple usually do very similar things with their iPhone range and if they haven't launched an iPhone with a smaller or larger screen size yet, its unlikely to happen this time round for the iPad. Furthermore the 10" screen has hit the sweet spot for a tablet. Anything smaller and your approaching phone screen size and risk canabalising iPhone sales. Any larger and you risk MacBook sales. So you can put that to rest.

Finally what about what it will look like? Well here's a sneak preview.

What? Looks the same as an iPad 2? Well there are some rumours that this update will be an internal specs update but as I've said before, this is Apple and they may just surprise you. Then again they just may surprise you by keeping it the same or not announcing anything at all. Only Apple will tell.

Well I hope I've answer your questions on whether you should buy an iPad 2 or wait for an iPad 3. I would say wait no matter which you decide to buy. There isn't that long to go and once iPad 3 is launched, if you still feel that there isn't a huge improvement to justify buying an iPad 3 then you are sure to find some bargains for an iPad 2.

Monday, 6 February 2012

5 Star Hotels For Cheap - IHG Friends and Family Secret

Don't you just dream of going on holiday staying at 5 star resorts and living like a king or queen? Well read on to find out how you can make that dream come true.

Now lets start off by explaining that this only applies to the Intercontinental Hotel Group also known as IHG. This includes InterContinental Hotels & Resorts, Crowne Plaza Hotels & Resorts, Hotel Indigo, Holiday Inn, Hotels & Resorts, Holiday Inn Express, Staybridge Suites, and Candlewood Suites. Now my title is slightly misleading as only the InterContinental is a 5 star but the rest are very good too and excellent value for money considering what you get. Now at this point I should also point out that always check trip advisor and compare to other hotels to ensure the hotel you select is a good one. Don't be fooled by the polished Photshopped pictures.

Now lets move onto the actually getting these bargain prices. Many people would assume that friends and family rates are just for employees and their close ones but the term here is used loosely. All you have to do to get this rate is ensure you hand in a voucher with the persons name on it when you check in. I'll explain more about the voucher later. Check in will not ask how you know this person or any other questions. If they ever do, just say you know them on Facebook.

Step 1

Go to the following link. This is the friends and family page for an employee of IHG called Steve Sickel.

Step 2

On the right hand side of the search box enter a destination, fill in the dates, number of people and hit search. You will then be presented with a list of hotels that have the friends and family rate available.

Step 3

Select the hotel from the list and it will list the rooms and rates that are available. If breakfast is usually included in a room e.g. Club Rooms, Suites, etc, then the friends and family rate for that room should also include it. Likewise if the hotel usually gives breakfast as standard such as Holiday Inn Express then it should also be included. If in doubt, you can contact any of the hotels directly and they will be happy to answer these questions.

Step 4

Once you've decided on the room you want, you can go ahead and complete the reservation. Please note you do NOT get any priority club points on these bookings even though it allows you to enter your membership number.

Step 6

Once the booking is made all you need to do is print the voucher and ensure you present it when checking in. Sometimes staff will not even ask but just in case they do ensure you have it on you. The link for the voucher is here. Just fill in the employees name, arrival date, number of nights and reservation confirmation number and you're all done.

That's all there is to it. If I use the example from the screen shots above which is for a search in Istanbul, Turkey, we find the Ceylan InterContinental Hotel standard room available on the friends and family rate for €249.05 instead of the standard rate of €293 when you do a regular search on the best available rate. That's a saving of €44 per night. If you stayed for 7 nights that's a total saving of €308. Now that's just one example. If you play around with the search tool, you might be able to find better deals from other hotels all around the world. I should also remind that you ensure you check against published rates as sometimes they have deals like 2 for 1 nights and so on which can work out cheaper.

One more thing, this definitely works as I've tried it myself. Maybe you were never thought that you'd ever stay in 5 star hotels or maybe you're the type that only stays in such luxury places. Either way I'm sure that this will save you money in the future.

Sunday, 5 February 2012

Suited and booted for the snow

Yes! It's that time of the year again. When even the worst ghetto areas look amazing because of the white stuff. Not milk but snow! It was the first snow of the winter yesterday and as usual no one was prepared even though snow had been forecast almost a week ago. Or was it just me that was unprepared? Well anyway realizing that I will most likely end up having a snow fight/battle/war (delete as appropriate), I decided to get suited and booted for the weather. This involved a trip down to my local shopping centre. Some gloves. Check. Some boots. Check....but which one? I was spoilt for choice. Not wanting to break the bank but at the same time get a waterproof boot was a dilemma.

Ever since I was a child I've never had waterproof shoes or boots. Whenever I had to walk in the rain to school or play in the snow, I knew I would always come back with wet socks and frozen toes. Today marked the end of wet socks with the purchase of these babies. A pair of Nike Mandara Boots. And only for £52. Nike sell them on their website for £70 but in this case Sports Direct is your friend.
So there I was walking out with my new pair of boots. I got to the car and immediately put them on as I knew that I would end up in a snow fight sooner rather than later when I got to my friends house. You can never be too prepared. Oh yeah I also bought a pair of socks as my other ones were wet.

Well I must say that it was very weird driving with big boots. I could barely feel the pedals but soon got used to it. When I got to my destination, I gathered the troops and we set out to "clear" all the snow of our cars. Well that's what we told the misses. It was the best snow fight I had in ages. We definitely cleared a lot of snow! By the end of it, my feet were dry and warm and I felt like I had run a marathon. The same can't be said for my neck, ears and nose which were frozen. I must remember for next time to get a scarf and hat. But I recommend these boots. Excellent, lightweight, waterproof and they look good. What's not to like?

Here's a shot of one of the streets with the snow while it was still fresh.

Friday, 3 February 2012

Tesco Clubcard and Avios

Staying on the topic of holidays, I thought I'd let you all in on a good thing. A bit like spreading the festive cheer or something like that. Well have you heard of Avios? No? What about Airmiles? Am I getting warmer? You must've heard of Tesco atleast otherwise where on Mars have you been?!

I have regularly collected Airmiles for the last two years and wished I discovered it sooner. I have been moving my Tesco Clubcard points over to Airmiles since I discovered that they are worth more than just spending it on rubbish at Tesco. Previously a £2.50 voucher used to get you 50 airmiles and all you needed was 1500 airmiles to get a return trip to Istanbul. That works out at £75 compared to a regular ticket which prices on average at £200.

Alas Airmiles is no longer Airmiles and has been rebranded by those bandits British Airways. It is now known as Avios. Now this was a huge devaluation of all those Airmiles I had been collecting for ages. They also stopped including charges for taxes and fees meaning we now had to pay that as a seperate charge on top of using our points. I could write forever about how unfair the UK airport taxes are but I'm sure I'll reach some kind of limit, be it Googles limit or the limit of my RAM on my computer.

Now even though things have changed, it is still by far the best way to spend those hard earned Tesco Clubcard vouchers. Right now Avios have a bonus offer of 1000 points for every £2.50 Tesco Clubcard voucher. This offer is valid between 26/01/2012 and 31/03/2012. So lets work this out and compare to before. Now all I need to get to wonderful Istanbul is £37.50 in clubcard vouchers as well as the damn tax of £27 which is actually discounted for Zones 1 and 2 on the Avios map. That makes it a total of £64.50. Now you're probably thinking isn't that cheaper than before the rebranding. You are indeed correct Sir Madam. However remember that this is only a limited time offer.

After the bonus period the offer returns back to normal which is 600 avios points for every £2.50 Tesco clubcard vouchers. On the calculations above it works out as £89.50. Now this is still less than half the price of a ticket were you to buy it using cash so it still works out good.

So my final thought is if any of you reading this shop in Tesco's then join start collecting Clubcard points and if you already are collecting then stop spending them in store and convert them to Avios especially during this bonus offer! Adios for now folks.

Wednesday, 1 February 2012

Too Good To Be True

Some would say that I go on too many holidays, I say you can never have too many holidays. So when I got back from my holiday to Bangladesh, Malaysia, Indonesia and Singapore, I started looking for my next destination. Fast forward a few months and I was playing around with the Thomas Cook booking engine when to my amazement discovered a holiday too good to be true. It was a 4 star(don't get me started on the star rating abroad) all inclusive holiday to Greece for £109 per person. All excited thinking that I found the deal of the century, I decided to go ahead and book it for the family. I clicked next, declined all the other add on extras they try to flog you nowadays and when to the final total to pay stage. Lo and behold the price had gone up to nearer enough £600 per person. I thought I had made a mistake so went back and sure enough it was still showing as £109 per person.

Being a keen bargain hunter and not wanting to miss out on something that my children's' children will tell for generations, I gave Thomas Cook a call. Now the nice young lady on the phone instantly knew what deal I was talking about before I even finished my first sentence. It turned out that there was some error and they had received loads of calls about this. She told me to get lose and stop being cheap. OK that's not true but she said you can't get something for that cheap and this was one of those cases where it was too good to be true.