Monday, December 19, 2011

Polar Express

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On Saturday we visited the steam railway at Bo'ness again, this time for 'Santa Steam Trains'. We arrived at 10.00 to a very cold station with a frozen carriage in the process of being defrosted

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We boarded Santa's Polar Express and found our table with our name on it. Within a short time the carriage was warmer and the windows demisted so we could see out. After seeing Santa walk up the platform to the front of the train, we were off!

Santa walked up and down the train a few times waving to everyone and all the children were given an Orange to eat. Ethan enjoyed his!

The train travelled very slowly during the short hop to Birkhill during which we sang Christmas Carols and enjoyed a carnival type atmosphere onboard! We were interrupted with the guard announcing we'd soon be stopping at the North Pole (South) station???

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Birkhill had been renamed for the day and there were cups of warm punch and skewers of marshmallows and strawberries drizzled with chocolate for sale. We bought some and climbed back aboard for the journey back to Bo'ness.

During this leg Santa stopped to speak to all the children in our carriage and gave them each a present.

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On arrival back at Bo'ness there were tea and warm mince pies offered for all the grown ups. We managed to get another photo with Santa and watched the next train leave!

We all enjoyed the day out - and even spotted one of Santa's trunk of toys.

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Saturday, December 10, 2011

Santa Sleigh Ride!

So today we went on this at Pollok Park:

Santa Sleigh Ride Pollok House

Glasgow City Council own Clydesdale Horses stabled in Pollok park and Glasgow Green which are sometimes used to offer dray rides to the public (we were on another one a few months back at Hogganfield Park).

What a great morning out! Ethan got to meet Santa (again) who specifically cancelled his snowboarding and snow mobile practice to see Ethan for the 3rd Saturday in a row. We then rode around Pollok park in a 'santa sleigh' dray driven by two of Santas many elves and Clydesdale Horses with santa hats. We sang christmas carols and listen to christmas music whilst enjoying a cloudy, but rare dry and calm December day in Glasgow! The dray ride lasted around 20 minutes (though I didn't check) and afterwards in the visitor centre there were activities put on to make bird feeders, christmas decorations and colour in pictures of local wildlife.

Ethan really enjoyed himself, but unfortunately took a bit of a tumble on the walk out of the park and scraped his forehead pretty bad on the tarmac. We took him to the A&E at Yorkhill just in case as the bump looked quite large. Thankfully he was given a clean bill of health and was out after a short waiting time. The tumble didn't seem to bother Ethan anywhere near as much as it effected Mum and Dad! He is very well now and we gave him one of his Christmas presents 2 weeks early which he was chuffed to bits with - a woollen dinosaur we've named 'Stompy' - roar!

Monday, December 05, 2011

Initial Thoughts on an iPad 2 for Toddlers

I'm a bit late to the game here, but I've been swithering over the iPad 2 as an educational device for my son.

Whilst I've been an Apple Mac OS X user since 2005, the iPhone and subsequent iOS devices have never appealed and I prefer the Android ecosystem. However in terms of applications - specifically educational ones - nothing can beat iOS, in fact, I wouldn't even consider purchasing an Android tablet.

A combination of my son soon being two and the recent black friday sales at the Apple store I felt the time was right to go ahead and purchase one. So I purchased a white iPad 2 with the green smart cover.

We've had it in the house now for 1 week and I think it is a great device. I have a few issues, for example why can't the keyboard keys show capitalisation so you see what case you have? There is no haptic feedback unlike HTC when pressing an active part of the screen which means sometimes you don't know if that is really a button or not. Also my son loves pressing that home button - an option to disable it would be useful.

Quickly overcoming these I searched the app store to see what apps I could purchase for my toddler.

At this point things became a bit more difficult as Apple's app store doesn't appear to be well laid out for finding applications targeted for specific preschool age groups. The 'popular' apps were all aimed at spelling and maths which Ethan is a bit young for. So the point of the next few posts is to highlight iPad applications which my 19 month old son has shown a positive interest in. Some initial applications are below, but over the next few posts I'll go into them in a bit more detail with direct links to the iTunes store once I work that bit out!
  • Abby's Magic Laptop for Preschool and Toddlers
  • Shapes Toddler Preschool (Toy Box function)
  • Toddler's Seek & Find: My Animals
  • Toddler's Seek & Find: My Little Town
  • Zoo Train (for building trains and recognising objects)
  • Fisher-Price Laugh & Learn Range

Update:
We've had the iPad now for 2 weeks and it is spooky how quickly he has adapted to it. He knows to press the home button and how to swipe to choose a different app. Some apps have further subsections (Zoo train) and he hovers over each icon to choose which activity to do. Then when he gets bored has worked out where the 'back' arrow is to choose another activity.

Ethan seems to prefer the musical section of Zoo Train at the moment and will dance along to the rhymes.

A few more recommended apps:
  • Ladybird: First Words (British accent too a major plus)
  • ClickySticky
  • JukeBox (Americanised nursery songs, Ethan likes it)

Monday, September 26, 2011

Day Out With Thomas

Day Out With Thomas - 01

On Saturday 24th September we visited the Bo'ness and Kinneil railway for a special Thomas the Tank Engine themed event. Ethan has been showing an interest in Thomas and Trains so we especially took him along.

We thoroughly enjoyed the day, parking was well thought out by directing people to the nearby Lidl carpark (which was useful for augmenting our picnic). Our booked tickets were on the 13.30 train, but we arrived at 11.30 so we had plenty of time to explore the area before travelling to Birkhill.

We started off by collecting a bucket of water so Ethan could help fill Thomas under supervision of the Fat Controller (who incidentally wasn't that fat, but kept in character very well) and his engineer. We then bought some goodies for Ethan from a station vendor.

Day Out With Thomas - 10

We joined the queue to show Ethan inside the driver cab of Thomas and have his photo taken; Louise asked the driver if she could toot Thomas' horn to be told only if coal is added to the boiler! The driver showed Louise where the shovel is kept and in to the boiler went some fuel and thus permission to make some noise! The driver kindly took a family photo of Louise, Ethan and myself inside the cab which was great!

We then sat down for some lunch where the Fat Controller came up to use and spoke to Ethan giving him a sticker!

During lunch the goods train 'Robert' travelled back and forth and we then made our way to our carriage.

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The journey to Birkhill was enjoyable and I think it may have been the first time I've travelled on a full size steam train. There was no electric lights on, so when the carriages passed underneath a road bridge we were plunged into total darkness for a few seconds. We emerged to a series of whoops from passengers and Ethan's expression was priceless - as if the world had suddenly ended and then played the worlds largest game of peek-a-boo! Eyes and mouth were wide open!

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Birkhill was a scenic station, although there wasn't really that much to do, we bought some home baked cakes, avoided the entertainer show and found a picnic bench on the railway platform - we bought some tea and waited...

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After arriving back at Bo'ness we could tell Ethan was becoming tired so we made our way back to the car, we stopped at the imagination station to pick up some colouring leaflets and Ethan was given a Mega Bloks Thomas. I took some pictures of the passenger train leaving for Birkhill and drowning the bridge onlookers in black soot!

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We'll definitely return! Although will probably stay on the train at Birkhill.

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Saturday, September 17, 2011

Highland Cattle Show 2011

Today we visited the Highland Cattle Show in Pollock Park, Glasgow and thoroughly enjoyed it! We arrived around 11am where we drove in to the park without any significant traffic issues, Glasgow City Council excelled in organising parking and traffic, we were quickly directed to park on a football pitch where minibuses were waiting to ferry us directly into the event!

We arrived to a slightly muddy, but still very passable field with some rides, stalls , 2 arenas and a brass band. We bought Ethan a woollen blanket, 2 lucky dips (paintbrushes and a teddy bear) and a book (Hungry Hettie).

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Then moved on passed the cow enclosures to walk around the arena where about 15 cows were being judged; quite interesting spectating this as the judge explained to the public exactly what they were looking for and why.

Highland Cattle Show - 05

After this we wondered further to find a Clydesdale Horse being rehoofed by farriers and decorated, the same handlers who rode us in the dray at Hogganfield Loch were there.

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Behind a kids competition was taking place to milk a cow the fastest! It was a wooden cow, but still very much 'Father Ted'; the boys won. At this point the 'Drakes of Hazard' was about to start which is a dog and duck display team with two Border Collies herding Indian Runner ducks (from Malaysia) around an obstacle course which was fun to watch. The announcer was very, very good.

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On the way for food, we stopped to watch more cattle judging where I found amusement in the brass band playing the Imperial March at the same time the cows were parading around the arena.

We then went to have something to eat, where we had some Aberdeen Angus burgers which seemed oddly fitting for a cattle show...

We then wondered back to watch the bird of prey show to see various birds in a display. In particular we saw 'spike' the Hawk, 'bungle' the Bateleur Eagle and an Owl whose name I never caught. Very impressive birds, although the Owl became uneasy as a hot air baloon or other craft flew over a very long way in the distance and the Owl impressively became focussed on it.

Highland Cattle Show - 18

On the way back to the minibus we stopped off at the Ranger's tent for information about Glasgow's parks and events, then visited the 'fur and feather' tent where an enormous range of pigeons were on display along with information about the country code.

A lot to do and will look out for this next year!

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Sunday, February 20, 2011

PPI Cover Win!

In 2005 I took out a loan with Tesco Personal Finance to cover Wedding and Honeymoon costs. At the time TPF wouldn't sell me the loan unless I took out payment protection insurance which annoyed me, but we could not have paid without the loan so agreed.

In 2009 I learned I may have been mis-sold this policy; so I contacted a company in Manchester (advertised over Spotify) and they thought I could win, but after speaking to them I discovered they would take 50% of any compensation received. So... I did my research and found the PPI Reclaiming guide on Money Saving Expert: http://www.moneysavingexpert.com/reclaim/ppi-loan-insurance.

I meticulously gathered all correspondence (including the hand written notes I made during my application for the loan) and progressed with their 3 stage approach.

I sent the stage 1 letter to Tesco and received a few "we're very busy" type letters for a few months before eventually receiving a document explaining why they thought I was wrong and their "surprise I hadn't cancelled the policy already" and made an offer of £750 as a goodwill gesture with the assumption I'd be happy and consider the case closed and not take it further. Well this letter actually annoyed me, so I called Tesco and cancelled my PPI policy (which I hadn't realised I could do) and sent the stage 2 letter. This was almost immediately disregarded as they wanted additional evidence. As a stage 2.5 letter I sent a copy of my hand written notes made during my initial application. Tesco still weren't convinced so I called them directly asking to speak with the person responsible for my claim. I attempted to bargain, but he explained there is nothing more he could do and just suggested I go to the Financial Services Ombudsman. I declined their £750 gesture.

I forwarded all my correspondence to the Ombudsman along with Money Saving Expert's stage 3 letter. The Ombudsman also took their time but sent regular letters explaining what was happening. After 3 months I received a call from an adjudicator asking to explain my position and answer some further questions they had. At that point they agreed there were a number of points in my favour and another 3 months later (more than a year after my initial complaint) I received a letter from the Ombudsman informing me that Tesco will settle my complaint as recommended by their guidelines.

Unfortunately Tesco took their time to finalise my claim; the ombudsman stated I should hear from them within 8 weeks. After 12 I emailed the ombudsman explaining I'd not heard anything. I'm not sure if this email catalysed any reaction, nor was I sure it was read. But ultimately 2 weeks later I received a cheque from Tesco Personal Finance for a lot more than the £750 they tried to offer me.

My advice? Forget about all these "claim back your PPI" companies - as they'll make a fair amount of money out of your claim. Just do it yourself - admittedly it took 18 months, but all it cost me was 4 first class stamps and the time to print out 3 letters which I downloaded from Money Saving Expert!

Monday, January 10, 2011

Skype Account Compromised

Oh no!

My Skype account was compromised this afternoon; I never realised until I got an email through on my phone stating an auto recharge was successful. Odd I thought given there was a few euros in the account and I have my subscription gives me free UK calls... and nobody was using it! Thankfully I get my emails on my phone else I may not have discovered it until too late.

I acted the moment I discovered it by signing into Skype and changing my password - this logged my home phone out so presumably whomever was abusing my account also got kicked. I then disabled auto recharge; given hindsight this could have easily drained my bank account via paypal - how dangerous is that option?

Since Skype is a prepay service I doubted I would get any compensation and ultimately I lost 5 euros which is a small price to pay for a reevaluation of security. I contacted Skype support anyway and got an almost robotic response that it is my responsibility about ensuring my password is safe, there are no spyware applications running or keyloggers and helpfully gave me advice about phishing. That didn't wash with me and quickly got bored of the automaton on Skype's chat. My faith in Skype has somewhat tarnished, I'm a very long time user using both SkypeOut and SkypeIn services since they were introduced.

My Skype password has not been changed in years and was very poor (7 chars, no numbers, all lowercase), it was changed to this simple password for a handheld Mylo device which had a complicated password entry mechanism 6 years ago. I assume my password was either brute forced or perhaps stolen from another website where I've used the same "don't care" password and username combination. I use randomly generated secure passwords for meaningful web logins - how Skype escaped I'm not sure... Oops.

Anyway, today I made 18 calls (totalling 25 minutes) to the following countries:
Niger; Rwanda and Burundi; 1 call to a UK phone card reseller and 1 to a US toll free number.

Clearly Skype don't run realtime fraud detection algorithms as this is way off my usual call pattern.

I can only hope the person who made the calls did good with the calls (12:48 to Rwanda and 22:50 to Burundi).

Next time I may not be so lucky...