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The company I work for introduced the government "Cycle to Work" scheme just over 3 years ago. This scheme allows you to buy a bicycle ( up to the value of £1000 ) and pay for it monthly buy salary sacrifice, which means that the tax and national insurance you would have paid goes towards the bike cost! At the time I took it out the VAT could also be claimed back which meant I paid about half the list price. The idea behind it is that you use the bike at least half the time to travel to work which reduces traffic and improves the health of employees. With the current government cut backs the scheme is always changing, e.g. cannot be VAT free from 2012, but still great value.
The distance from my home to work is 21 miles and, at the time, I didn't feel that I could cycle that distance so I decided to look at combining public transport with cycling. The total distance I needed to cycle with option was a more reasonable 3 miles each way.
We were limited to buying our bikes from Halfords (which despite it's bad reviews the experience was fine) and so I went down to the Pontefract store to have a look. After talking with the sales assistant I decided that a folding bike might be just the thing (can be taken on a bus as well as train) and chose the Dahon D7.
After sorting out the paperwork I took delivery about 4 weeks later.
The bike was already set up and I was shown how to fold and unfold the bike which takes about 15 seconds with practice; it is difficult to explain but the handlebars release and twist, the steering column release and folds down next to the front wheel, the pedals push in and fold flat, the seat column unclips and pushes down and the frame unclips and folds in half. A magnetic clip near the front and rear wheels holds the bike together well when folded. Unfolding is the reverse of this. Youtube have a few videos which will make it all clear!
When unfolded the seat can be easily adjusted to the correct height and then you're off. The bike has 20" wheels which feel , and look, small compared to the standard wheel size of 26" on a typical mountain bike. The size of the wheels can feel pretty scary if you are going down hill at speed but once you get used to them the ride is almost, but not exaclty, like a "real" bike. The small wheels also make you feel the bumps in the road more so not ideal for country tracks or potholed streets. The bike has 7 derailleur gears which are easily changed by twisting the grip and you can get to a steady speed of about 13 mph, on a bike with standard size wheels you would probably be going about 15mph for the same effort. I would recommend that this bike is very good for short journeys, say up to 5 miles max. Make sure the gears are properly set up because once when changing into seventh gear my chain fell off into the rear wheel and jammed it up and was a real *** to unjam.
The bike comes with mudguards, rack and elastic attachments as standards so very commuter friendly.
For storage and transport the bike is fairly small and can easily fit in a small car boot which is useful for the weekend or holidays. When folded it is easy to lift into the boot or onto a train / bus but I had to carry it over several platforms at Leeds station once and it was quite awkward and hardgoing so be warned.
One of the best things about this bike is that it is suitable for most heights of people, my friend who is 6'4" and my daughter who is 4'10" find it comfortable to ride.
The bike feels very solid and is very well made, they provide a small bottle of touch up paint with the bike which is a great idea as you will scratch it when folding.
I am sure that in London this bike would not stand out and may be seen as rather cool but in the less cosmopolitan areas of Yorkshire you do get rather funny looks and a few times arriving at work I have been greated by wolf whistles and general abuse, on the other hand my daughter took it to school and the other children thought it was the best bike they had ever seen!
A very flexible bike which I would readily recommend to anyone.
My Mum's kettle for all of my childhood was a stainless steel (I think) Morphy Richards one with a big thick fabric coated cable which just kept on going. After 30 years or so she got fed up with it's lack of style and bought a plastic cordless one with a blue light inside. The old Morphy Richards was banished to the attic and never seen again.
When I left home I couldn't afford a fancy kettle and just bought a plastic jug kettle which promptly broke, this was followed by at least 12 other "cheap" kettles, some cordless, which have all gone the same way.
I have a freind who has a saying "We're too poor to buy cheap things", I always thought that this was always an excuse to indulge himself but with kettles I think that he really is right. About 3 years ago I decided that, poor as I felt, I was going to splash out on a decent kettle, the children could enjoy their Christmas by sitting round the new kettle taking in its splendor.
I looked around and remembered my Mum's indestructible Morphy Richards and found this one.
Firstly it looks good, we live in an old house and have an old cream coloured Aga (no we can't afford to switch it on!) and with this kettle's 1950s retro looks it looks perfect in our kitchen. The body, lid, spout and handle are metal and well built. It has a 1.5 litre capacity and a 3kW rapid boil hidden element and you certainly don't feel your waiting to long for it to boil. It is cordless and sits on a round base and can go on at any angle. Down the side it has a gauge to see how much water is in there and my favourite function is that it whistles when it boils; the whistle is just electronic and only goes on for a few seconds and you can switch it off on the base if it annoys you.
There are a couple of downsides to the kettle: when it boils and switches off the water inside carries on boiling for 5 seconds or so and if you pour the water out it spurts out of the spout onto the work surface; the lid is awkward to remove for filling but easy to fill from the spout; the kettle is quite heavy and may not suit an old person.
So for the price of 4 or 5 cheap kettles I've got one which is reliable, does the job quickly, looks great and hopefully keeps going until I get fed up with it and put it in the attic.
There is one certainty in this life and that is getting older and for some of us this means losing your hair.
When my dad started loosing his hair he grew it longer and swept it over the top of his head to discreetly hide his bald patch, as in the famous "Comb over" style favoured by Bobby Charlton, Donald Trump or the Emperor Constantine. However today this style is not quite the fashion and men have 3 main choices for different budgets:
1. £10000 gets you a Ryan Gigs style hair transplant
2. £25 gets you a pair of hair clippers for a Bruce Willis cut
3. £0 gets you the sod it haircut of Bill Bailey
Being from Yorkshire the cost advantages of number 3 seemed very attractive until Tesco ran a deal with their Clubcard exchange promotion and I manged to get these clippers just swapping £12.50 of vouchers.
I have owned these clippers for nearly a year and I'm pretty pleased with them.
The unit can be charge up in about an hour and battery will last for 3 or 4 cuts before it needs recharging. It comes with 2 different heads (10 different hair length settings), one head cuts 3 to 11mm and the other cuts 13 to 21mm. There is a simple push button to choose the desired length and this scale is the same as used in the barbers, so if you've ever asked for a "number 2 on the sides and 3 on top" you'll be perfectly at home. The length locks in and I have never had it jump out to a different length.
To cut your hair you just select your length, switch on and then pass through your hair, going "against the grain". The head of the clippers can be twisted round so that easily reaches all points. I would recommend doing this in front of a mirror and also having another mirror to check the back of your head.
On 99% of my head the cut will be perfect but in certain areas (this may just be my hair) the clippers will leave slightly longer patches, for me this is around my ears. For these areas I have to go down a length and then it clips them perfectly. So far nobody has commented what a mess I have made of my hair so it can't be too bad.
The clippers are light, if plasticy, and very comfortable to hold. The blades are self sharpening and don't need oiling.
I am sure that a barber would do a slightly neater job but at if Bruce Willis ever needs a hair cut in East Yorkshire I can save him a few quid.
If I had to pay full price for them I would do!
Got given this phone by the place I work so they can hassle me 24/7!
I have always had Nokia phones and been amazed at their brilliant battery life. However as this phone has loads of power hungry features which gives me a useful battery life of about a day, from what I understand the iPhone is similar to this.
The phone looks pretty good, with its stainless steel casing, and is very well built and sturdy. I must have dropped mine at least 20 times with no apparent damage. A work mate has an iPhone as a company phone and he smashed the screen within 3 months and had to pay for the repair himself.
One great advantage this phone has over touch screen smart phones is the full qwerty keyboard which makes it very easy to type emails and texts quickly and accurately. We have Lotus Notes at work and the Lotus Traveller seems to work fine. There is also a Google Mail app which I have installed for my personal mail if I ever need it.
I find the calendar function really useful as the phone will warn me ahead of time of birthdays or appointments.
The phone has wifi and 3G and usually has a good signal. This phone has inbuilt GPS which makes things like Google Maps very accurate and also useful for Sports tracking apps. The great thing about all Nokia phones is that they offer FREE sat nav on all their phones with this facility. Install the Ovi Maps and you can download any country in the world (I think). I have used it many times and found it to be pretty accurate and good routes but sometimes I think I have a better route. It can be set up to make a noise when you exceed the speed limit or when there is a speed camera, it also displays the speed limit for the area you are driving in. Maybe not as fancy as the dedicated Sat Navs but an added bonus for this phone.
The number of apps is limited compares with apple or android market but OK for basics. I would recommen the "Whatsapp" application where you can send text messages via this app to people who have it on their phone, it is available on the iphone, blackberry and android phones too.
It has a very useful feature where you can switch between personal and business settings so your work emails don't come through when you are holiday.
Useful for basic photos or videos too but the quality is only really good enough for viewing on a computer screen, not for printing out.
Love the built in FM radio but only works with Nokia 2.5mm headphones (these are supplied with the phone and you can always get an adapter to convert to the more standard 3.5mm headsets). It can also play music or podcasts and takes a miniSD card so you can get loads on it.
As usual I did alot of research before buying this camera. I knew I was going to compromise on quality slightly but it seemed to be a massive price increase to buy one of the higher spec models. I only considered Canon cameras because I already have EOS film lenses, if your not stuck to a certain lens then you will have a harder choice of brand as well. I bought the camera with the standard lens, 18mm to 55mm which is very lightweight and plasticy but the quality seems OK.
The camera is pretty small and lightweight but does not feel too tacky or badly made. The functions are pretty similar to any other Canon and can be used by a complete amateur, even my children can use it, or a keen photographer. It has fully automatic functions, including autofocus on the lens, or can be used in several different manual functions. My favourite is Aperture Priority where I chose the aperture, and depth of field, and the camera does the rest.
I hate the flash, as with most built in flashes, it is not powerful enough and being directly above the lens it casts too much sahdow; this is OK for a quick family shot but nothing better. I overide the flash and bump the ISO setting up if needed (Maximum ISO 1600 but a bit grainy at that).
The image quality is very good but the colour saturation could do with boosting. You can take the photos in RAW format and work with them in Photoshop, or similar program, afterwards.
Battery life is very good, a day taking hundreds of photos of several months just taking a few a week. If you are a very keen photographer might be worth buying an additional one but I haven't needed it.
There is a cable supplied and image software but I tend just to cut and paste the files in Windows Explorer and then change any I need to in Photoshop.
If you already have non digital EOS lens they work fine but remeber there is a magnigiaction of 1.6x so a 100mm lens will act like a 160mm lens.
The only thing that is missing for me is a tilting rear screen but that is only a minor issue. Got mine of the bargain price of £299 with Canon's cashback offer, for that price you can't really go wrong.
Would definitely recommend the camera to anyone who is a keen photographer but if you want to take photos in low light invest in a good flashgun.
This is my first review and for those who know me I am really tight with my money. I don't mind spending my money as long as I get a good price and get the best product I can afford. I am on to my 3rd iPod and have loved each one of them. The first one was an ipod mini which I won from a Walkers Crisps promotion, it was really good looking and just played music, next I had a ipod Nano 2nd generation, which again looked good, played music and videos and games (very small screen though); this is still working and I have given this to my 10 year old daughter who thinks it is really cool.
I have owned my current ipod touch for just over a year and this 16gb ipod touch 2nd generation is a fantastic handheld computer and I use it constantly. Of course it plays music like all my previous ipods (I would recommend you turn off the jog setting, it is really makes the tracks jump about) but it does so many other things, e.g. plays videos, games, surf the web, internet radio, send and receive emails, carry out basic office tasks, etc.. As I said the jog setting is pretty bad but probably worse still in the auto complete spelling, it has a mind of its own and should either be rewritten by Apple or switched off, I spent alot of time either typing rubbish or retyping words which it didn't know.
With so much flexibility you will be wanting to buy loads of apps and this is why I would buy the 16gb, it fills up so quickly that 8gb is not enough! Having said that my 16gb does need tiding up quite often so maybe the 32gb would be better?
The screen scratches under heavy use so you must buy some cheap screen protectors (ebay about 10p each) and I bought a clip on protector for the shiny metal back case to stop it being scratched too.
The battery life varies depending on what you are doing so for playing music i get about 20 hours, surfing and emailing about 5 hours, watching a video or playing a game about 2 hours. I have a cherger next to my bed so it gets put on every night.
Now that Apple have just upgraded to ios5 please remember that the 2nd generation is stuck on ios4. If I were buying one today I would buy a new generation because I fear that this generation (and the 3rd gen 8gb) will be left behind and App developers will start just writting for ios5. However if you are happy to just listen to music, surf and email then there is no real advantage.
One point on iPods in general is the syncing with iTunes; we have 4 iPods in our household and when you connect any one of them to the PC (might be different for Macs?) it wants to sync to which ever iPod was synced on that PC and wipe the iPod which is connected! It does give you a message asking if you want to wipe but you would have thopught that they would have developed a way of it recognising each ipod and being able to cope with multiple ipods. I believe that ios5 does not need iTunes so maybe this is just an issue for older models :(
The best deal I could find was to buy through the Apple store (via Topcashback) and buy a refurbished one, looked brand new to me and hasn't given me any problems. Hope this helps.