A cheap way to travel. Blablacar

While reading a random website today, something caught my eye. It was an advert for a rather unique ( I think anyway ) service. Dee reminded me that a friend of ours last year told us about it as he uses it a lot. The service in question is called Blablacar. Blablacar is pretty much an organised hitchhiking system. This is a really popular service in Europe and has really taken off there, but in Britain as with a lot of other things we try to take part in, it not taken off as well as elsewhere.
Basically, according to the Blablacar website, you

1. Find a ride. Just enter your departure and arrival points and your travel date, then choose a driver offering a ride going your way. Before getting in touch, you can check the trusted profile of the drivers, with a photo, mini bio and member ratings.
2. Get in touch. Click on Contact Driver button and then contact your driver via phone or private message to book your seat with them. If you send a private message, BlaBlaCar will immediately notify the driver of your message via SMS. This is a free service.
3. Travel together. Be at the planned meeting point on time! Remember to bring exact change so you can pay your driver the agreed contribution during your trip. After travelling together leave a rating for your driver, they will return the favour and it will boost your Experience Level. Drivers prefer travelling with passengers who have a high Experience level.

Theres quite a bit on their site about safety etc etc as to be expected, but in Europe payment is handled through the website, so users’ address and bank details are on file. In the UK, where payment is cash in hand, it is still possible for someone to advertise with nothing more than a mobile number and email address. Hopefully this will change over time to help with personal security.

Have a read of this writers personal experience post from the Guardian newspaper here

The official website is here

Used correctly it can mean people can travel all over the place very cheaply. Once your journey is inputted into their website, it calculates the minimum and maximum cost of the journey so that people cannot use it as a profit making scheme. Being a non profit making system it means that you don’t need commercial insurance as well.

It can be a bit hit and miss as to your transport. You could end up in a rough ( but roadworthy) car or van or if you are really lucky, a high end Jag.

It looks a really good idea to me. Whats your thoughts on it. Have you actually used this site. Let us know of any experiences you have had.

Avantree Joytune Bluetooth Handsfree Car Kit with FM Transmitter review

This is an honest review of my experience with the Joytune. I have not been paid for this review.

 

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Avantree Joytune Bluetooth Handsfree Car Kit with FM Transmitter

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This week I received my Avantree Joytune Bluetooth Handsfree Car Kit with FM Transmitter to review.

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It comes complete with the Joytune unit itself, a car adapter, a charge cable to charge from your pc / laptop, and the sun visor clip for the back of the Joytune, along with a 12 month warranty card, quick starter guide, a user manual, and a card from Avantree advertising other products.

After fully charging and powering up the Joytune for the first time I put it into pairing mode by holding down the main button on the device, I was greeted by a rather stern emotionless female voice ( like some sort of dominatrix ) giving me instructions on how to perform the task. Once this is done, it then gives the option on your phones screen to give access to your phone book so that it can identify who’s calling when a call comes in and I assume for voice dialling. Once that was done, off to the car we went to test it on the road.

In the car I clipped the Joytune to my sun visor. I was surprised at how flat it sits given that the clip on the read seemed to stick out quite a bit. I was expecting the visor to be pushed out a bit when in the folded back position.

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As normal when I get a new device I can use to interact with people, I called my best friend to check the call quality. Firstly I tried a call with the sound coming directly through the Joytune. Unlike other car kits I have tested, this pushed the voice through immediately rather than having a 30 second period at the beginning of the call where the other person could not hear anything. Immediately my friend heard me. The call quality was good, even when going along a noisy, bumpy road. The call did not fade out or break up at all. The call was ended easily just by pressing the main button on the unit.

After parking the car up, I paired the Joytune with my car stereo. This is where you may have to have a bit of patience. Not because of anything to do with the Joytune itself but find a channel with the least amount of background hiss or crackle. To connect to your car stereo, just make sure the stereo is on ( obviously ) and press and hold the ‘FM’ button on the side of the Joytune until it gives you the sexy, stern voice telling you its connecting to the FM radio. It tells you what FM channel to tune to. This is where you may need to press the ‘FM’ button a few or several times to retune to different channels until you find one you are happy with. Unfortunately, you are in the hand of the gods ( or rather the dominatrix woman inside the Joytune ) for the channels. If you decide the previous one was better, as far as I am aware you cannot go back to it. Its just whatever random channel the Joytune tells you to pick.

Once tuned in, I decided to try out the music playing side of this product. I sat and selected random songs from my collection. ( all 80’s music as I am a complete 80’s nut ). Every single song I picked came through like cd quality. The only downside was even with my phones volume turned up full, I still had to crank up the car stereos volume quite a bit to get decent volume. I didn’t adjust the Joytune volume as that would make any call coming though too loud, so I just left it. But sound quality itself was spot on. I tried making a call while playing a song and it cut the music off while the call was in progress then resumed again after the call ended.

One thing I forgot about with the Joytune and made me laugh is when I had left the car to got to a shop, came back, and the moment I got in my dominatrix friend shouted at me that I was once again connected to her. This happens automatically. It detects when you get in the car as long as your bluetooth is activated on your phone. How much drain on the Joytune’s battery this has I have yet to discover, but its a good feature. On other car kits I have used in the past I have had to manually connect to it, or double check its connected, which all takes time when all you want to do is get going. The Joytune does that for you and notifies you. Less hassle has got to be a good thing.

For those people who are curious or just a bit geeky in general about these things, here are the specs for the Joytune.

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Up till now, I have had no problems at all with the Joytune and already I think this is the best car kit I have ever used. Believe me, when it comes to gadgets, it takes a lot for me to say that. I am very picky about some stuff.

PRO’s

1: No cables across my dashboard. Thats one thing that after a while irritated me about another car kit transmitter I had, was that to play through the car stereo I had to plug it directly into the AUX socket. I have enough cables already due to sat nav’s and mobile phone charge cables etc. I don’t need any more.

2: It sits nice and flat on my sun visor and also allows the visor to still open up properly. A cheaper car kit I had prevented the visor from opening up fully due to its size so when it was sunny I couldn’t really use the visor, or I had to relocate the car kit and risk poor sound quality on calls.

3: Good sturdy build. This product is well made and feels like it will last a good long time.

 

CON”S

None at all apart from the suggestions below.

A couple of things I would like to see incorporated into the Joytune for future versions is a solar panal ( such as what is on the Avantree Sunday car kit ) so it can be getting charged whenever it is daylight and you have no worries about the battery running out and also the option to change voices for the prompts and not just the language.

Avantree Force review

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The Avantree Force arrived to me with three quarters of a charge already in it, so I charged everything I could until the unit was completely drained. I then placed the Force on charge and waited to see how long it would take to recharge. My other battery pack, which is a Kondor Powerbank takes at least 24 full hours to recharge fully. The Avantree force was still charging this morning after about 10 hours but was a third full. I went out with the family for a few hours and come back to find it was fully charged. So fully charging takes roughly 10-14 hours all out.

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I tested the Force on my Samsung Galaxy Note 3 to see how long it takes to charge. And it was fully charged in a couple of hours. The same time as if I had plugged my Note into the wall charger.

The Avantree Force comes with one built in charge cable with micro USB cable, which folds away conveniently along the length of the device to where the plug itself plugs into a micro USB parking port for storage. Note: this port is just a dummy port meant for the storage of the built in cable and plug.

Avantree Force diagram

You can easily see how much charge is available by the 4 little green lights near the charge ports ranging from 4 lights showing it its fully charged to on light with only 25% left on the Force’s battery. You can check the battery level at any time by touching the touch switch which located on the top edge, for 3 seconds. Its a hidden button but there is a label to show you where it is.

It is Universally compatible with iPad, iPhone, Android, Blackberry, Nook, Kindle etc etc. Basically anything that Can be charged by micro USB or even standard old school fully size USB can be charged by the Avantree Force. Even stuff like bluetooth headsets or Playstation 3 controllers and some Ecigarettes and cameras can be charged by this.

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I have charged a Galaxy s4 2.5 times and my Galaxy Note 3 once and its still got half the battery left. This power pack is out performing the normal Kondor power pack I use, and I though that was a great product.

Avantree Force dimensions

Here are the specs for the Avantree Force

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Pros

A really stylish eye catching power pack that is small enough to stick in you bag when you are out and about and you don’t need to worry about cables as is has the micro USB already built in ready and waiting for you. Imagine sitting it Starbucks making use of their free wifi and then notice your battery is nearly depleted. No worries if you have the Force. Especially if your name is Luke. ( “Use the Force Luke” as Obi Wan Kenobi said in the Star Wars film )

Cons

A couple of things that I think could be changed are that thing I think they should include is some form of carry case or pouch for this as the glossy white plastic could get damaged or scuffed on your bag over time plus the harsh corners could damage your pockets over time if carrying in you jacket.

Even though I love the look of this power pack with its bright green and contrasting Avantree colours and the number 13000 in digital style numbering raised up on the top surface,  I do think that it could be a bit nicer Cosmetically. In its current format looks a bit like an over sized lego brick. I really think they could round the  edges off a bit to make it a bit less harsh looking and a bit more aesthetically pleasing.
Also I would to see a few more USB ports added. Theres enough space on the side to incorporate this, although I do realise this would also mean more drainage on the battery life. But people are now carrying more and more chargeable devices with them more of the time.

I will admit that this battery pack is a bit on the heavy side, especially compared to my Kondor pack but it does have a more powerful battery inside it.

Conclusion

I really nice well made, solid product as I would expect from Avantree that will stop you from worrying if you will run out of battery power. I can see me using the Force for many years to come as long as I don’t need to charge more than 2 devices at the same time with it, which admittedly would be rarely.

If I had to give it makes out of 10, I would give it an 8

For more information on The Force, it can be found here

 

Magic Moments 16/3/15

Last night Dee and myself went to the Newcastle Arena and saw Spandau Ballet. I don’t normally do this but I bought more expensive seats than normal as it was a band I wanted to see since the 80’s. We were very shocked when we got to our seats. We knew we were close, but didn’t think we would be as close as we were. It was a great night. Totally coincidental that it fell on this date, but its a Mothers Day that Dee won’t forget in a while.

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Sureflap Pet Door review.

This is my review of the Sureflap Pet Door after a weeks usage. This is not a paid review. We bought the Pet Door ourselves.

After a week of our cats having to come to terms with us not being at their beck and call and having to get up and open the window every five minutes to let them in or out and wasting valuable heat in this cold weather, they are eventually getting used to the new addition to our their house. Last week, if you read my previous post, you will know I installed a Sureflap pet door. Not the easiest job in the world, cutting a gaping hole in a UPVC door and making sure its the right size and shape, but I more or less got it done. It still need adjusting and straightening up a touch, but its in and its solid.

The Sureflap Pet door is a cat flap that is locked at a pre designated time ( cerfew mode ) so that the cats are locked in at night and allowed out during the day, subject to other lock modes we may have to use for different reasons. The flap locks are unlocked by detecting the cats microchip, which you register with the flap right at the start. So any cat thats not chipped or registered with the flap cannot open the cat flap and cause chaos in the house.

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Anyway, we have three cats. Molly, the oldest, Costa, the middle one and Franklin the youngster of the three. Molly and Frankin both took to the door within a day or so. Getting used to the loud click that it produces when the locks lock or unlock. Costa though, being the sensitive soul he is, took a bit longer. Its took him about 4 or 5 days to get the courage up to use it without us holding it open for him. We even had to activate a custom mode on the flap so that the locks stayed open during the day. He still needs a bit of coaxing from time to time to go through but we just ignore them now and they come and go as they like throughout the day. The cats definitely seem a lot happier in my opinion. Having all this freedom all of a sudden. Its funny at 5.45 am seeing them sitting there waiting for the locks to click open at the end of the nights cerfew so they can get out and patrol their patch.

The Sure flap pet door, which is the top of the range flap they sell is quite expensive, retailing at around 119.00 ukp ( might find it slightly cheaper elsewhere if you shop around.) direct from Sureflap themselves at Sureflap. We got ours at a better price at 99.85 from Petsupermarket.co.uk
They offer a 15% off your very first order as well, which saves you even more money. We received the Pet door within 2 days. It was a nice easy transaction.

With regards to Sureflap themselves. Yes their direct price is more expensive but one place they do stand out is with their customer service. I have emailed them with questions and even spoken to them on the phone and they are so polite and professional and try everything they can to rectify your query. So a massive thumbs up to Sureflap. I wish more companies were as courteous and easy to deal with as Sureflap.

Like I mentioned earlier, the do sell other cheaper flaps which may suit your needs, but we wanted the automatic cerfew mode locks.

They also sell automatic microchip controlled food bowls as well so each cat can have their own food without the other cats or dogs pinching it. Basically when the registered cat walks up, the see through lid opens up allowing the cat to have access to his food. When they walk away, it closes again stopping the other pets from pinching their food.
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Another great idea but not one I can afford yet, especially as they are selling for 99.99 ukp each. So for me it would be a few pence short of 300.00 ukp just for food bowls. Its a shame.

All in all, great products if you can find a decent price and definitely fantastic customer service.

Junk mail. How can you stop it?

This is one thing that really gets on my goat, beats my baton, boils my pee, etc etc etc.

JUNK MAIL!!!!

We get loads of it. Everything from restaurants to takeaways, to Avon, to local council / political elections to events at the local community centre. I am sick to death of this rubbish. To make it worse, I bought a sign and stuck it to the front door.

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Do they take any notice of it? Do they heckers. They still just dump their crap through the door.
I did give one unfortunate guy a shouting at from the bedroom window couple of weeks ago. He was very apologetic and even tried sticking his hand back through the letter box to retrieve the junk mail he had just deposited there. No luck, it was already littering my hall floor.

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( not my hallway in this photo. Photo courtesy of www.blogs.stopjunkmail.org.uk )

I am sooooooooo tempted to keep all the junk mail and select one lucky ( or unlucky ) recipient from all those companies, and go and dump the lot all over their shop. A different one each time. I assume I would be threatened with a beating if I did that at a takeaway or restaurant.

Do you guys have much problem with junk mail? How do you deal with it. Any devious ideas about how to get it to stop.

Sureflap Pet Door

We have recently decided to invest in a Cat flap after one of our cats has started not coming back until it’s too late and she ends up locked out all day while we are out. After doing loads of research of different makes and features, I always ended up back at the Sureflap website. It was then a case of which model. I read all the reviews and watched every video I could find about Sureflap product and ended up deciding to go for the Pet Door.
I shopped around until I found the cheapest I could find, which was on the petsupermarket.com website. It arrived just a few days later.
I had already watched a video on how to install the Pet Door into the same type of door as mine, so I purchased a handsaw to go with the other tools I had, and the next day I set about installing the flap.
This is where it stated getting bad. The video I watched showed a man cutting a Georgian style UPVC door and installing the same cat flap as I have. He seemed to make it look a lot easier. Whether it was all down to editing the video and cutting out all his swearing or he is a master tradesman, I don’t know but what a complete b***h it is to cut through the door and decorative trims.

All the bending down and twisting and vigorous sawing left me in a lot of pain. I needed a really relaxing bath after that.

The annoying thing is, is that it still isn’t finished. The flap is in and screwed in but still need removing again and adjusting as it’s a bit lop sided. Also once I eventually get it sorted, I will probably squeeze some sealant around the edges to help keep the rain out of the door.

I will do another post about how the 3 cats of ours have taken to this new personal door of theirs.