Deathwatch: Travel agents

April 15th, 2014 No Comments By Ian Wade

zzzz5 300x168 Deathwatch: Travel agentsCan you recall the last time you went into a travel agents and booked a holiday? No? Well then that would explain why they’re all closing.

In yet further ‘bad news for the high street’ news, travel agent closures have soared by 45% in the last year.

A whopping 77 travel agencies and tour operators went out of business in the 12 months prior to March 2013.

That’s not to say no one is going on holiday anymore, as Gatwick recorded an increase of passengers passing through it. No. It’s down to the pesky internet innit?

The rise of online booking services and price comparison sites, along with everyone having broadband, has made booking a holiday less stressful than thumbing through a heap of fancy brochures.

DIY holidays, supermarket points systems and the ability to book direct from accommodation websites has proved to be the death knell for the travel agent.

It’s looking likely that this trend will soon wipe out the existing travel agent shops faster than downloading killed everything else.

Oh well.

Bitterwallet Twitters @earlybird 550 million Twitter accounts have never even tweetedRoughly speaking, there’s 974 million Twitter users. That’s impressive isn’t it? However, according to the latest statistics from Twopcharts, there’s a lot of people not using it once they’ve signed-up.

Around 550 million people haven’t sent a single tweet, which is approximately 44% of Twitter accounts. It doesn’t end there – there’s millions and millions more who haven’t used the social network for over a year. 126 million have sent a tweet at any point over the last 30 days.

In the past, Twitter have said that the service has around 241 million average monthly users who are active, which Twopcharts disagree with.

The discrepancy seems to lie in the fact that Twopcharts are looking at accounts that send tweets, while Twitter might have access to information on people who might not tweet, but are reading other tweets and logging in.

In addition to all this, Twopcharts’ data reckons there are around 391 million Twitter accounts with 0 followers and over 232 million accounts who haven’t followed a single user.

You could argue ‘what’s the point in setting up an account then?’, but if you’d read some of stuff some people come up with, you could argue that no tweets are better than a hundred tedious tweets.

Bitterwallet appeal parking tickets1 Councils dole out a parking ticket every 4 secondsAccording to reports, local councils issued in advance of eight million parking tickets last year. Or, if you prefer, that’s one every 4 seconds. This has seen motorists paying out more than £255 million in fines.

What’s worse is that these are only from the figures available under freedom of information laws. Seeing as less than half of the local authorities in Britain replied to the survey, the figures are going to be much higher.

The folks at Churchill Car Insurance carried out the research and said that Westminster City Council issued the highest number of parking notices, giving out 455,390 fines worth £24 million or more.

The top 13 locations for parking fines were all in London. Away from the capital, Cardiff council issued the most with North Somerset generated the most revenue.

Eric Pickles, the Communities Secretary, said: “The law is clear. Councils should not use parking as a tax or cash cow, and we are currently looking into the potentially illegal use of councils’ parking contracts. Councils should open their books so that any interested members of the public can scrutinise local parking practice and expose any dodgy deals.”

“This Government is reining in over-zealous parking enforcement and unfair parking practices in England, with the levels of parking penalty charges being kept under review. We have scrapped Whitehall planning policy that encouraged councils to hike parking charges and removed restrictions around the provision of off-street parking spaces.”

“We also recently announced further reforms including stopping CCTV being used for on-street parking enforcement and reviewing unnecessary yellow lines.”

What do you make of that then? Not really surprising news, but is anyone going to do anything about it, or is it just a load of hot air?

green houses 300x225 Low and middle income Londoners need to earn £50k to get in on shared ownership scheme?Remember the good old days when things other than creosote did exactly what it said on the tin? The latest Mayor of London scheme to help the little people on to the property ladder is under fire from critics who claim that the very people the scheme has been set up to benefit are being excluding from taking part.

The London scheme is run by First Steps and offers those unable to afford a whole property in the capital (which is pretty much everyone who isn’t a Russian oligarch) the chance to buy a slice of a property, to (potentially) reduce their monthly outgoings and to benefit from any increase in property values. However, in practice, it seems that many of the properties are still dangling just out of reach of the average nurse, teacher or policeman the scheme was designed to look out for.

Take the case of Joanne Pearson. The 36 year old nurse profiled in the Guardian lives Southwark, south London, and earns around £26,500. She had hoped to buy a 25% share in a one-bed flat but has been disappointed by the First Steps offering: “Many of the one-bedroom flats advertised on the website require an income of above £50,000 a year, while for others you must earn above £33,000,” she says. “I wonder how many nurses, teachers or other workers on low or modest incomes actually earn £50,000?” Under current NHS bandings nurses earn between £21,388 and £34,530, although there is a London weighting added as appropriate.

Ms Pearson also claims that the mortgage payments would be cheaper than the £1,000 rent she is currently paying. She is not a happy bunny. “As a person who provides an essential public service, I feel disheartened and let down that I’m locked out of this scheme.” A report by Green party member of the London Assembly, Darren Johnson, found that the average minimum income required (where this was stated by housing associations) through First Steps was £38,452.

A spokesperson for the Mayor of London said that, of the 50,000 low and middle-income Londoners buying their own home through First Steps, “some” are on salaries of around £25,000 a year, with the average household income of those accessing the scheme at £33,000. However, with “affordable” properties on the site reaching as much as £712,000 (Blandford Street, Marylebone), and requiring an income of £128,000, perhaps the mayor’s office is just a little out of touch…

facebook mobile 300x200 Facebook to decide what you see and money serviceFacebook changed their algorithms so that your feed was filled with stuff that was, in effect, cherry-picked by the company. Small businesses soon started to complain that their posts weren’t being seen, while Buzzfeed and Upworthy links because pretty much swamped everyone’s timelines.

In essence, Facebook was deciding what users saw and it got annoying very, very quickly. And now, the social media company have announced that they’re going to be tinkering with the system again, this time, trying to remove spam stories and articles that are clickbaiting to get more likes.

Any users tying to bait people into likes, comments or shares will barred from using the site. Overly shared stories will dealt with by Facebook’s ”de-emphasizing” these pages on feeds. Pages that trick users into visiting an advertisement website will also be under scrutiny.

According to the company, they think that this will enhance a users’ experience as well as help to promote a more open Internet. A more open internet, in Facebook’s eyes, is deciding what users can and can’t see.

It seems the only way to circumnavigate these publishing problems is to buy a load of advertising with Facebook… and even then, there’s the small matter of accusations of Facebook’s dodgy use of clickfarms, which are nigh-on useless to those paying for increased exposure. If you’re not a business on FB, and just a regular Joe who wants to look at pictures of attractive people from your year at school, you can whistle.

On top of all that, and some privacy tweaks, Facebook are preparing a money transfer system, aiming to compete with Paypal. It has been reported that discussions have been held with money transfer providers, TransferWise, Moni Technologies and Azimo. They’re looking at the developing world, where some people don’t have bank accounts, and sensing a goldrush.

Would you trust Facebook with your money?

A teenage girl thought it would be really funny to tweet a terror hoax to an airline.

She said: ”@AmericanAir hello my name’s Ibrahim I’m from Afghanistan. I’m part of Al Qaida and on June 1st I’m gonna do something really big, bye”.

American Airlines responded to her tweet saying: “Sarah, we take these threats very seriously. Your IP address and details will be forwarded to security and the FBI.”

Choas ensued. Have a look.

1404sarah8 325x500 Teen makes terrorism joke   American Airlines dont laugh

That was a bit stupid wasn’t it?

Of course, it soon went viral, being retweeted more than 10,000 times. Then, she started cracking more jokes, at one point, saying: ”I always wanted to be famous, but I meant like Demi Lovato famous, not Osama bin laden famous.”

Her account is now suspended.

neil diamond 300x300 Neil Diamond costs foolish phone user over £2600It doesn’t take a genius to work out that downloading stuff abroad is likely to incur roaming charges. However, it seems you need to be cleverer than a maths teacher, after a Warwickshire woman failed to calculate that an £8.99 album would cost over £2,600 once roaming charges were added.

Teacher Katie Bryan, 43, was visiting her boyfriend’s family in South Africa when she decided to download a multiple-track “best of Neil Diamond” CD from iTunes to her phone for £8.99. When she returned to the UK, she was dismayed to find that, not only did she still have a Neil Diamond album on her phone, her bank account was more than £2,000 overdrawn after Orange took a direct debit of £2,609.31.

No-one, not even Miss Bryan herself, can explain what possessed her. She admits to having had “a bit” of wine, but claims it was “not too much”, thereby scotching the drunk-and-didn’t-know-what-I-was-doing excuse. She can’t even claim the moral high ground on musical taste despite describing herself as “really not that big a Neil Diamond fan”, after admitting to not only owning a Neil Diamond cd in the UK, but actually having it in her car, as well as claiming to be “more of a James Blunt fan”.

Upon her return to the UK, Miss Bryan called Orange, who laughed at her were initially unable to help her, reiterating the published tariffs which meant her 20 minute download, which used 326 MB of data, had been charged at £8 per megabyte once her 10MB monthly foreign allowance had been used up. Nevertheless an enterprising employee then came up with the solution of selling her a backdated bundle which would bring the data cost down to a still-scandalous £400.

Unfortunately, the powers that be at Orange tried to rescind the offer, entitled as they rightly were to the full £2,600, but last Friday the executive office agreed to the £400 compromise, refunding the hapless teacher £2,209.31. Orange also apologised for the stress they had caused. Presumably adhering to the customer service school of the customer is always right, even when they are an idiot.

Miss Bryant said: “I think Orange are preying on people who make a mistake while abroad. Why such a massive difference in cost? In England you would just pay the album price. There is no way this huge bill relates to the actual cost to Orange.” Grossly inflated roaming costs are currently under investigation by the European Commission within the EU, but this would not have helped someone holidaying in South Africa. Besides, no phone company ever claimed that roaming costs bore any resemblance to the costs incurred.

Miss Bryant continued bleating: “You hear of people doing this and you think ‘stupid person – why did you do that?’ I do feel foolish.” No-one, anywhere, argued with her.

“But I also feel it is morally wrong to be expected to pay this sort of money for a Neil Diamond album” she finished. Now there’s something we can agree with.

Tesco set for another profit fall – how?

April 14th, 2014 2 Comments By Mof Gimmers

tesco Tesco set for another profit fall   how?How on earth do you cock-up a business like Tesco? They’ve got all the suppliers in their pockets and own a terrifying amount of shops – all you need to do is make sure you have stuff people want and not rip them off. Surely they’ve done the hard part?

However, they’ve managed it and they’re all set to reveal a second year in a row of falling profits, which will heap untold pressure on chief executive Philip Clarke

Industry figures show that Tesco’s market share falling to 28.6% in the 12 weeks to March 31, which is down from 29.7% in the same period a year earlier. Of course, Tesco are still loaded with pre-tax profits around the £3bn mark, but that’ll be down by 15% for the full year.

Clarke is in the middle of a turnaround plan, which sees Tesco again focusing on the UK after failing to win over people abroad. The retailer is scrapping more than 100 major store developments and instead, concentrating on convenience shops and online sales.

Still, that hasn’t stopped finance director Laurie McIlwee quitting his post of 14 years, allegedly thanks to no confidence in Clarke’s strategy. He said that he’d hang around until a replacement is found, but warned that Tesco faces a period of “unprecedented change” in the supermarket industry.

Meanwhile, Aldi and Lidl are chipping away at the market share of the big supermarkets.

Looks like the big guns are weighing up whether or not they should have a dramatic change with their pricing strategy, sacrificing some profit to regain lost market share and slap down their rivals. Tesco had better hurry up and make a decision because it certainly looks like the supermarkets all have the same idea.

Deals of the Day – Monday 14th April 2014

April 14th, 2014 No Comments By Mof Gimmers

space 300x168 Deals of the Day   Monday 14th April 2014It isn’t everyday we give you lot the opportunity to go into space, but today is different. We’ve found a deal that, provided you have the money, could see you floating around in zero gravity and quite possibly the star of a dreadful televised accident.

That’s right astro-nuts! You can get return flights to space with Virgin Galactic! Some of you should be given one-way tickets, but we don’t make the rules. If you have a spare £149,000 or want to remortgage the house and sell one of your darling children, have a look here and you could be in space with a load of celebrities and heads of drug cartels.

EVEN MORE DEALS FOR YOU!

12 x Captain Morgans tankards for free – just pay £4 postage at BarSupermarket
Duracell AA Plus batteries – BOGOF at Lloyds Pharmacy 8 for £1.99
New York return flights in March 2015 from £301.30pp
Super Mario 3D World WiiU at Zavvi for £27.98
5 issues of RetroGamer for £5 at Imagine Publishing
iPod Touch 5th Gen 32GB white/silver at Sainsbury’s for £165

FOR MORE BRILLIANT BARGAINS, VISIT HOTUKDEALS

There’s a million useless videos made by corporations in a bid to go viral that are fantastically useless. However, now and then, there’s one that even the hardest cynic can’t help but like.

Those gits at Vodafone have done a video which is, bluntly, an eyeball wetting joy. They get two old ladies and stick them on a plane for the first time in their lives. One of the ladies is a bit of a wuss, but lovely and game. The other is an absolute riot who you should love from the moment she cackles her way around a loop-the-loop on a rollercoaster.

So, without giving any more away, have a look at this.

[via Gizmodo]

Android vulnerable to Heartbleed

April 14th, 2014 2 Comments By Mof Gimmers

heartbleed bug Android vulnerable to HeartbleedSay what you like about the Heartbleed bug that’s been going round, but one thing is for certain – it definitely has the most eye-catching logo.

However, it isn’t very nice and Google are the latest to issue a warning about it, saying that their products could be prone to Heartbleed exploitation.

The company have noted that all Android versions are unaffected, unless you’re on version 4.1.1 (that’s Jelly Bean to you), which a good number of you are. Google are in the process of patching up the chink in the OS’s armour.

Over a third of Android users are running on 4.1 to 4.1.2, with the exact number of users running 4.1.1 not known. The problem here is that a lot of budget handsets could be on this specific Jelly Bean and not being given updates once shipped.

In addition to that, Google’s Search, Gmail, YouTube, Wallet, Play, Apps, App Engine, AdWords, DoubleClick, Maps, Maps Engine and Earth were affected by Heartbleed, but should’ve been patched by now. Facebook, Tumblr, Twitter, Yahoo!, Dropbox and Amazon were also vulnerable.

Apple, meanwhile, have said that nothing of theirs was in danger at any point.

Fare dodging arse gets caught

April 14th, 2014 7 Comments By Ian Wade

oyster swipe Fare dodging arse gets caughtFare dodging can be quite funny. Although we’re talking mainly as in a ‘happy accident’ way, and nothing to the level of a hedge fund manager avoiding £42,550.

That’s an actual pisstake.

The git-heel would travel from Stonegate in East Sussex, and regularly travelled back and forth to the capital. He’d get off at London Bridge and then change for his office in Cannon Street, which with his Oyster, would cost a third less than his whole journey.

The station at Stonegate has no Oyster tappy barriers, and so his usual journey was significantly less when tapping in and out of Cannon Street.

He also successfully avoided any ticket inspectors on the trains.

He was discovered last November, when a ticket inspector was standing at a terminal at Cannon Street and spotted awry behaviour. He paid back the £42,550 in dodged fares, plus £450 in legal costs, within three days as part of an out-of-court settlement.

Southeastern trains were made aware of the man’s expired season ticket hadn’t been updated since 2008.

He has, unsurprisingly, also now updated his season ticket.

bwbest 300x255 News round up – the best of the week’s storiesBest of Bitterwallet

Shop at Aldi instead of Sainsburys? bitterwallet/sainsburys
Do we need to axe BOGOF deals? bitterwallet/bogof
Anger over Women Who Eat On Tubes bitterwallet/WWEOT
Facebook working on secretive anonymity app? bitterwallet/anon
FCA say financial advisors are ripping us off bitterwallet/£££
Galaxy S5 gets run over by a truck bitterwallet/samsung
Shopping in charity shops in DANGEROUS bitterwallet/charity

Best of the Rest

Dig starts for WORST VIDEO GAME EVER huffingtonpost/et
Uh oh. Change your passwords. time/heartbleed
A postcode postcode lottery? dailyrecord/postal
Tesco to do food differently lse/Tesco
Google Glass. In the shops for 24 hours theinquirer/24 hours
Behold! The atomic wristwatch! skynews/atomic-wristwatch

In order to afford your first mortgage these days, you have to be earning a pretty healthy wage. Gone are the days when you could be a sniveling bong-headed student and just ask your Mum to be guarantor on an interest only mortgage. home sweet f ing home If you want to buy a house, you need to earn £40,000 a year

Now, to be a first time buyer you have to be raking in £40 grand per year to comfortably afford the average loan of £119,000 – meaning that a new home is just a pipe dream for those earning the average wage of £26,500.

Even so, the Council of Mortgage Lenders says that young people are clamoring to borrow via the Help to Buy scheme, or taking out mortgages that are 3.4 times bigger than their gross salaries. All anyone wants is a place to call their own, with no black mould or landlords who collect the rent while holding a machete.

In February, around 22,000 mortgage loans were agreed by people who were around the age of 30, up by 41% on last year.

But if interest rates rise, the dreams of idealistic young home owners could turn to dust as they struggle to afford even the most average mortgage.

Time to get a better paying job? Oh, sorry, there aren’t any.

Customer fines Npower £50 for ineptitude

April 11th, 2014 1 Comment By Thewlis

npowerlate 220x300 Customer fines Npower £50 for ineptitudeYou know how it is when a service provider provides a bad service and you just wish you could fine them, or charge them for your wasted time trying to sort out their  incompetence? Well that’s exactly what one man has done, after getting increasingly frustrated with Npower’s apparent inability to refund his credit balance after he switched supplier.

Dave Clark, was not only sick of not finding a cheque on his doormat every morning, but was also getting more and more peeved at receiving final demand letters from Npower, when it was they who owed him money since the previous November.

So he decided to respond in kind. He wrote and emailed npower using the language from their demands, culminating in the issue of a final demand  (complete with obligatory red capital letters) which included a £50 fine on top of the £137.41 he had overpaid. And Npower not only paid it, they apologised.

Mr Clark, who outlined the whole sorry process on his website, said: “I’m satisfied. The regulator should be looking into the days and weeks it takes to pay someone’s money back and if the likes of Npower persistently refuse to give money back straight away they should be fined heavily.

“They’re very quick to bill the rest of us so perhaps if we all hit them with charges they would realise they need to improve service.”

Guy Esnouf, director of external communications at Npower said: “We are very sorry. Where we know we’ve caused inconvenience we’ll look to a goodwill gesture because we don’t want to cause our customers inconvenience.”

Mr Esnouf added: “We said in December we are having system problems. We are making good progress, but we made it clear we wanted to improve, we are trying to improve and we are.”

So surely now everyone else to whom Npower owe money can expect a nice windfall and better service…