If you bank with AIB, KBC or the Bank of Ireland you’ll have been able to use their contactless debit cards for the last couple of years.
However Ulster Bank in the Republic of Ireland do not offer a contactless debit card. They have contactless on their ROI credit card, and they have it on their Northern Ireland debit card, but the bank have given no indication when it will be available on ROI debit cards.
It’s annoying for Ulster Bank customers, who can’t take advantage of the convenience of contactless payments.
In December 2015 I was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s Lymphoma (sometimes called Hodgkin’s Disease), a type of blood cancer.
I had been feeling unwell for some time prior. I had what I thought were recurring chest infections, because I had a bad cough and shortness of breath. I was also experiencing a constant mild fever and itchy skin, but I assumed they were unrelated symptoms. I was sent for a chest x-ray, then was admitted to A&E, then had various other scans, blood tests, and biopsies over the next couple of weeks before being diagnosed.
About three months later, and I’m now in the middle of receiving chemotherapy. It seems to be going well, and most of the initial symptoms are now gone. The only ill-effects I now feel are from the chemo itself: nausea and tiredness, but so far no hair loss!
With UPC confirming recently that it is to re-brand to Virgin Media over the next few months, it will be interesting to see if they also introduce one of Virgin’s products to Ireland – the TiVo.
TiVo Series 1
I had one of the original TiVo Series 1 boxes that was on sale for a couple of years in the UK from 2000 onwards. It was an amazing PVR and was much better than anything that Sky or the cable companies offered at the time.
It recorded shows from compatible set-top boxes, and learned the type of TV you liked to watch, and would pro-actively record programmes it thought you might like. The on-screen interface and remote were also intuitive and easy to use.
There was a small but active TiVo Series 1 community in the UK at the time, which included people who modified and upgraded their machines to increase the functionality offered. I upgraded my box to increase the record time from 40 hours to 250 hours, and to also install a network card to allow software/EPG updates over broadband. I also installed all kinds of software plugins, including one that allowed me to remote control the box over the internet – including setting programmes to record – something that, 15 years later, we all take for granted.
I loved that TiVo. Indeed, I was so attached to my TiVo that, when I moved to Ireland in 2007, I still kept it for a number of years – even though it didn’t work abroad!
In 2010 Virgin Media in the UK announced that they were offering TiVos to their customers as one of their set-top box options, and today they offer two TiVo options for TV subscribers – a 500GB box and a 1TB box. Today’s TiVos are much more advanced that the old Series 1 that I had, and integrate the cable receiver into the box – allowing customers to record two channels while watching a third.
It would be pretty amazing if, as part of the Virgin Media re-brand, that TiVos were also brought to Ireland. They would be a very welcome replacement to the existing Horizon boxes offered by UPC, which have some known problems.
They’re not, as more than one person has suggested to me, colouring books with ‘adult themes’. I think that’s an even more niche market that’s yet to be tapped. Maybe I should trademark the name Fifty Shades of Colouring?!?
The idea is to get stressed-out adults doing colouring in, and in so, improve their mindfulness (i.e. stop them stressing out about everything) at least for a short while.
And lest you think the idea sounds like the ramblings of a crazy person, this is a real thing. Check our the online book charts. Adult colouring books have been occupying several of the top-10 best seller spots for months.
So what’s it like?
Well I decided to order a couple of books which arrived earlier this week. I then realised, because I’m not 10 years old any more, that I don’t have a ready stash of colour pens and pencils. So I had to go out and buy a set of pencils as well.
I was slightly nervous about having to explain myself to my good lady wife. Would she think I was bonkers, or having some kinds of break-down, if I suddenly announced that I was going to do some colouring in? Well as it happens, she had already heard about the craze for adult colouring in, and was just as keen to give it a go.
It was a good job that I had ordered two books, as for the next 30-40 minutes (while dinner was cooking) we both sat at the kitchen table colouring in. And you know what, it was quite calming and therapeutic.
I found that I was quite a stickler for making sure I didn’t draw outside the lines – and to ensure that, I had to concentrate harder, and take thinks a bit more slowly – and as such, it just increased the mindfulness on this task.
My interest – and for a while, obsession – with hifi music began when I was still in school.
I had been given a second-hand Marantz receiver (combined radio and amplifier), which looked very impressive, with lots of buttons and dials – but I quickly realised it didn’t really do anything on its own.
I would need to get some speakers, in order to actually hear some music. And if I wanted to listen to anything other than the radio, then I would need some other components – or separates.
So, at a time when most people were buying an all-in-one music centres or ghetto blaster, I was being indoctrinated into the world of hifi separates. The idea espoused by audiophiles was that a single-box solution was a compromise in terms of audio quality. The only way to chase the dream of true high fidelity music was to buy separate components, often from different specialist manufacturers.
And so it was, over time that I added more separates into my collection – a tape deck and a CD player – and I also replaced the second-hand receiver with a separate amplifier and tuner. However my quest for incremental improvements in audio quality wasn’t yet satisfied. To try and eke out the last drop of sound quality I would end up buying a separate DAC (digital to analogue converter) to try and improve the sound from the CD player. I would also upgrade all the interconnect cables, connect all the power sockets to a surge protector, and isolate each component from vibration on its own glass shelf.
Before the end of my 20s I had acquired a very impressive set up, which sounded amazing. And every time I moved house since them, over the last 15+ years or so, each separate was packed away in its original box, transported to the new location, and then faithfully reconnected at the other side. It was a labour of love to set up my hifi in each new living room, but in recent years I realised it was also a wasted effort.
With the advent of streaming services like Spotify, I had stopped buying and listening to CDs, and I didn’t even own any cassette tapes any more. Indeed for the last 2 or 3 years I had only ever used my hifi for playing back music on my phone or tablet. All my CDs had been ripped to MP3s, or the music was available on Spotify. And so everything except the amplifier and speakers fell into disuse.
It was earlier this year, as we were having a clear-out prior to moving out of our apartment, that I finally cut the cord (metaphorically) and got rid of the stuff I didn’t need. Gone was the tape deck for which I had no tapes. Gone was the CD player that didn’t really work properly. Gone was the DAC that never really added anything. And gone was big glass stand that it all sat upon.
I’ve kept the amplifier and speakers, as they’ll still be used – but for now they’re in storage while we live in temporary accommodation and hunt for our new house. And in the mean time, I’m making do with an old pair of shelf-mounted speakers powered by a tiny little amp called the Gemtune SA-36A. The amplifier is simplicity itself – on the front it only has an on/off switch and volume control, and on the back are sockets for speakers and a single music source – and it works perfectly with the Spotify playlists on my phone.
It’s not a true audiophile system, but for the amount of music I actually listen to at home (as opposed to the amount I imagine I will listen to), it’s good enough – and it also doesn’t take up half the room!
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