richardbloomfield.ie

Weblog and online journal of Richard Bloomfield

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Cloning Remote Control Fobs

In my apartment block there’s an underground car park that’s accessed using a remote-control key fob. We have one allocated car parking spot down there, and as such the management company for the block only issued us with one key fob.

My wife uses the key fob for her car, but I also have a requirement to get in and out of the car park, because that’s where I lock up my bikes.

When we moved in around 18 months ago I approached the management company of the apartments to try and get a second remote control. And despite me explaining the situation, they refused to issue another one to me – even though I offered to pay the €70 they said it would cost.

After some discussion they reluctantly agreed to give me a key to the pedestrian gate, which I’ve been using ever since – but the inconvenience is annoying.

But then I was on the internet one day and found that you can buy cloning remote control fobs that can copy existing fobs, they’re less than a ten quid to buy, and they work perfectly!

Remote Control Cloning Key Fob

Remote Control Cloning Key Fob

I got myself one last week from an ebay seller, but they’re also available on Amazon and other places. The initial programming can be a little tricky to be begin with, but after that it works like a dream.

Obviously in order to clone a key fob you need an existing working fob for the gate/door:

  • To start the programming, press and hold the top two buttons (A and B) together for between 5-10 seconds, until the light blinks rapidly, and then release. This action puts the fob into learning mode, and also wipes any codes already stored on the fob, so if you want to program a new button you have to start again and program them all.
  • Touch the two key fobs together, and press and hold the button you want to program (say the A button) at the same time as the corresponding button on the original fob that you want to clone from. You may need to move the fobs around at different angles to pick up the signal in the cloning fob (end to side seems to work), and when you do the light will flash rapidly to say it’s finished learning. Then simply repeat the process for any other buttons you want to clone.

If you get into trouble, take a quick search on YouTube for key fob cloning tutorials.  When I first got my fob I thought it wasn’t working, but that’s because I wasn’t programming it correctly.

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Improvements to the UPC Horizon Set Top Box

Horizon is UPC’s premium TV offering, and has several advantages over other TV/DVR systems, such as:

  • Ability to record up to 4 TV shows at the same time and watch a 5th, which avoids recording conflicts
  • HD channels as standard, rather than as a paid-for extra
  • Integrated broadband modem and WiFi router in the set top box, so you only need one box for TV, Broadband and Phone (although of course, as they’re in one box, you have to have everything in one location)
  • Ability to stream live TV via WiFi onto iOS devices and PC/laptops in the home (although no support for Android yet)

However the new Horizon system is now without its problems.  I was involved in the public trail back in the spring of 2013, and fed back all of these findings to UPC – but as of today, none of them have been resolved:

  • The TV Guide is very slow to navigate. There is no way to go straight to a particular, so if you want to find something to record in a week’s time, you need to scroll through an entire week’s worth of shows to find the one you want.
  • The Recorded Shows navigation is slow and involves a lot of key presses.  Deleting individual shows is very slow, and you often end up pressing the remote several times, thinking that the button press has not registered. Also if you want to delete a whole series, you are forced to delete each show in the series individually, which takes ages. There’s also a very dangerous “delete all” option that could accidentally be selected – and it will delete everything off your box!
  • The Now and Next on-screen option is very poor. You can see what’s on now, or what’s on next, but not at the same time!  It’s so bad it’s not even worth bothering with.
  • There are numerous sound problems. If the picture freezes for any reason (a regular occurrence particularly with recorded shows), or you press pause while playing on-demand content, then the sound drops out completely. The only way to get it back is to fast forward or rewind a couple of times.
  • Recorded shows are inaccessible to watch. Sometimes the recording corrupts, and the series/episode numbers show as ‘-1′. When this happens you can’t access the show to watch it.
  • WiFi reach is quite poor. It’s certainly not as good at the old UPC modem I had. There are also problems where the wifi will sometimes stop working altogether (about once a month), which requires a box reboot to clear.  Some devices also have problems connecting.  It’s such a problem in my house that I’m planning to switch back to a separate wifi router.
  • The horizon.tv website is useless. You’re meant to be able to stream all the channels from it (if you’re on UPC internet) but only some of the channels are available. The TV guide doesn’t work properly either – particularly the remote record function.

I’m very surprised, and disappointed, that none of these issues have been resolved in the past six months, and the UPC continue to strongly push the Horizon service knowing that it has problems.

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12th Day of Christmas

The Christmas decorations are meant to come down on Twelfth Night, which is on the evening of the 5th January. But when was the Twelfth DAY of Christmas?

From doing numerous searches in Google and on Wikipedia, there seems to be disagreement about when the 12 days of Christmas start and end.

My understanding was always that Christmas Day was the first day of the Christmas season in the church calendar and, by counting forward, the 12th day of Christmas would fall on 5th January. The twelfth night would be on the evening following the 12th day – on 5th January.

However, some other sources suggest that the First Day of Christmas isn’t Christmas Day itself – they say the First Day is on Boxing Day (or St Stephen’s Day) on 26th December – and thus the 12th Day of Christmas is actually the 6th January (the feast of the Epiphany). However those sources (including the Oxford English Dictionary) place the Twelfth Night as the evening before the Twelfth Day – on the 5th January.

But how can you have the seasons of Christmas and Epiphany overlapping like that? Surely that can’t happen. The seasons of Lent and Easter don’t overlap. The seasons of Advent and Christmas don’t overlap. So how can the 6th January be the last day of Christmas and the first day of Epiphany?

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Passengers on flights from the UK still have to go through Passport Control in Dublin Airport

Yesterday afternoon I arrived home on a flight from Edinburgh, and had to queue for 25 minutes at Passport Control in Dublin Airport. When I fly the other way, into the UK from Ireland, there’s no passport checks when I arrive. So why am I forced to go through Passport Control in Dublin?

Ireland and the UK have what is called a “common travel area” that is meant to allow people to travel freely between the two countries without having to show their passport – and includes everyone travelling between Ireland and Britain, and Ireland and Northern Ireland.

Unfortunately in 1997 the Irish government changed the law so that the rule about not requiring passengers to present a passport only applies to Irish and British citizens. People from other countries (including other EU nationals) are required to present their passport when arriving in Ireland.

And because a flight or ferry from the UK will probably include people who are not Irish or British, then everyone has to be checked when they arrive.

And although all passengers have to go through Passport Control, if you are Irish or British you don’t actually need to show your passport. Your only requirement is to satisfy the Immigration Officers (who are members of the Garda Síochána) that you have travelled from within the common travel area (your boarding card should suffice) and that are an Irish or British citizen.

Of course, the easiest way to prove you a Irish or British citizen is to show your passport! But according to the citizen’s information you just need to show any form of photographic ID to prove who you are, such as a driver’s licence, bus pass, or work ID. However none of these other forms of photographic ID show your nationality, so I don’t know how that’s supposed to work.

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Ordering the Google Nexus 5 in Ireland

Update 19/03/2014: The Nexus 5 and 7 are now available to purchase SIM-free direct from the Google Play Store in Ireland. The Nexus 5 is also available as part of a contract from Three Ireland and Meteor.
Google Nexus 5

Google Nexus 5

I’ve written about how I’ve ordered the Nexus 4 in the past, and a few minutes after the Nexus 5 was released to the public today I had already ordered one for myself, and I thought I’d share how I did it:

  1. To access the Google Play store to order the phone you need to appear as if you’re in the UK. For this you need to use a VPN or Proxy service. I use VPNUK to access the play store, and they have a 7-day free trial if you want to give them a go – but any similar service will do – lots of other people seem to use “Tunnel Bear”.  If you already have an active Google account, you may need to use the privacy/incognito mode of your browser, as sometimes the Google browser cookies will continue to identify you as being in Ireland even when you use the VPN.
  2. Have a UK delivery address ready to use.  I use Parcel Motel for this, and you can use their Northern Ireland address for delivery – more info on using Parcel Motel.
  3. You need to have a credit/debit card that is registered to a valid UK address, but it doesn’t have to be the same address as you’re using for delivery. I’ve heard of people that re-register their Irish credit card with a UK address, use PayPal, or use a UK prepaid credit card, but I can’t comment on whether any of those work.

The Nexus 5 is available in both Black and White, and is priced at £299 for the 16GB model and £339 model – and both come pre-loaded with the latest version 4.4 (KitKat) of Android.

My Google Nexus 5 - just arrived today!

My Google Nexus 5 – just arrived today!

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House of Fraser savings in Ireland

The UK department store House of Fraser only has one branch in Ireland, in the Dundrum shopping centre in Dublin.

It’s a nice enough store, but the prices charged to Irish customers are not always the most competitive, particularly when compared to the same products in the store’s UK branches.

This is a problem that a lot of Irish consumers face when shopping in foreign-owned stores, as the price conversions from pounds to euros (or dollars to euros) often don’t reflect the current exchange rate.

A case in point is that we were recently shopping for a big-ticket electrical item, and the price in-store in Dundum was listed as €480. As it happens, the only one of this item they had in stock was faulty, and so the store gave us a refund on a gift card and advised us to order direct from the House of Fraser website.

And so we looked and found the item available on the website for £395 (at current exchange rates, €468) – with free delivery available either to the Dundum store or to anywhere in Ireland. That’s a saving of €12.

However, when we used the gift card to pay their website gave a very generous conversion rate of euros to pounds – 91p for a euro, rather than the prevailing exchange rate of 84p for a euro – and that means we paid even less, just €435!  A total saving of €45.

And so the message is clear. If you want to save money when shopping in the Dublin House of Fraser, go into the store and buy a gift card, then use that gift card to order on their website. You’ll end up saving around 10% off the physical store prices.

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Avoiding Car Hire Additional Charges

With online booking comparison sites (I like to use CarTrawler) and increased competition in the car hire market, there are some great bargains to be had. But when you turn up to hire the car, you can often be stung for some very expensive extras.

Earlier this month, we hired a ‘compact’ car in Salerno from Budget Car Rental, and it cost us €242 for a week, which is a pretty decent price. However, when we turned up to collect the car, the agent tried to sell a whole load of additional things.

First off, he informed us that our rental only included ‘basic’ insurance, which has a damage excess of €1,500. This means that if we were involved in any accident, we would be charged an additonal €1,500 to fix the car – and with the stories we’d heard of Italian drivers, we though an accident was more likely than not! And if the car was stolen the excess to pay would be a staggering €2,299!

He encourages us to reduce these excesses to zero, by upgrading the insurance cover to the ‘complete cover’ option for the price of €21.78 per day – that’s an additional €154! And to add in Personal Accident Insurance (which arguably might not be needed if you already have travel insurance) it would be another €12.10 per day – or €85 for the week. That’s a total of €239, which almost doubles the price of the rental.

Luckily, we had been forewarned of this insurance scam by a friend of ours that rents cars quite often. She put us on to Car Hire Excess Insurance, which can be used to provide the same protection against huge excess payments, but for significantly less money. Within Europe they charge just €2.99 per day to reduce your excess to zero, and if you hire a lot of cars you can get an annual policy for €49.99, which is still a third of the price the rental agent was going to charge us.

In addition, I noted that these were the prices for the other ‘optional extras’:

  • Under age driver (21-25 years old) – €18.15 per day
  • Additional driver – €5.00 per day
  • Booster seat – €7.26 per day
  • Toddler seat – €24.81 per day
  • Infant seat – €24.81 per day
  • GPS – €14.52 per day

If you had a bunch of young children with you, it would cost an absolute fortune!  In fact I’m sure it would be cheaper to bring child seats with you on holiday, even as excess luggage on a flight, rather than pay these prices.

I did consider whether we might need a GPS to get around, but at €102 for the week, it was cheaper and easier to use the navigation functions on our smartphones, even if it did incur mobile data roaming charges.

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