Sunday, June 29, 2008

iPhone 3G

I think I'm going to get an iPhone 3G (the new version includes a GPS receiver and 3G support).

The main questions are:

1) 8GB or 16GB. The latter costs an extra £60. I'm currently favouring the 16GB.
2) Black or White? You can only get White with the 16GB option, not 8GB. What do you think?
3) Contract or Pay and Go?

My average spend is about 50p/month as I very rarely make calls or text, although I do normally carry it with me.

a) Contract : £160 for phone, then 18*£30 = £700. This includes 75 minutes and 125 texts.
b) Pay and Go : £360 for phone (which includes 6 months data), then 12*£10 (for unlimited data) + PAYG=£30 = £510 ish.

Note: the Pay and Go rates are not finalised - they were temporarily visible and hastily removed.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Prescription sun glasses

I've been looking in to prescription sunglasses recently.

I'd really like some sports wraparound glasses but the curved lenses can't be made prescriptive so you end up with normal sunglasses with prescription lenses in a simple frame that is inserted behind the sunglasses. So they look cool from the outside but a bit silly on the inside. You'd also be looking through 2 sets of lenses.

But the biggest drawback is that they cost £200+. £100+ for the frame and tinted lens, £40 for the insert frame and £60 for the lenses.

I was killing time in Southampton whilst Emma and the kids were in Lush, and went in to Vision Express. They have an offer at the moment where you get tinted, UV protecting lenses for £39. You pay full price for frame which range from £20 to £150+.

My prescription is -3.5 and -3.0 which meant that I couldn't get the Hackett shades I wanted as they were too curved. I found another pair, Studio 123 WEH01, that were good (not as good but they were also £20 not £60).

I needed an eye test (£25) to get a current prescription and, asking at 2:40, they had one appointment left which was at 3:10 so that was perfect. By 4-ish we were leaving the store having ordered the glasses and arranging free delivery.

The receipt shows that the lenses normally cost £82 so getting them for £39 seems like a genuinely good deal.

Anyone for table tennis?

I've just ordered an outdoor table tennis table. I spent a couple of hours researching the options, mostly these in the £280-£375 price range:

  • BUTTERFLY Easyfold Outdoor Table Tennis Table
  • Cornilleau Hobby First Outdoor Rollaway Table Tennis Table
  • Cornilleau Sport 140 Outdoor Rollaway Table Tennis Table
  • KETTLER Stockholm Outdoor Table Tennis Table
  • Cornilleau Sport 240 Outdoor Rollaway Table Tennis Table

I managed to avoid going for the most expensive option, being reassured that all the Cornilleau tables are truly weather proof and have a 5 year guarantee on the playing surface (3 years for the rest of the frame).

I ordered the Hobby First from Millet Sports, priced £297.99. This is better than who want £325. This table comes with 4 bats, 6 balls and a cover.

I chose them over who have the same list price because I should get up to 6% cashback from Millet Sports as I ordered via They also accept American Express so that's another 1% cashback.

Hopefully it'll be here within a week or so - I can't wait.

Saturday, June 07, 2008

Orbea Orca - how I got my bike

Here's the full (you may fall asleep) story about how I acquired a bike worth £2300-ish for £1100-ish. More photos here

At IBM we have a flexible benefits scheme. We can opt to take some of our pay in a variety of forms other than cash, typically without paying (as much) tax.

For example, we can get paid in food vouchers for use at work without paying any income tax on them whatsoever. So an 88p latte (mmmmm...) really only costs 52p for a higher rate tax payer. There's also tax free Child Care Vouchers which are great as people insist on being paid lots of money to look after my kids.

One of the options is to hire a bike for a year. Technically it is not a bike purchase scheme but in practice you always get the option to buy the bike at the end of year for 5%+VAT of its purchase price. You pay in 12 monthly installments so you also effectively get an interest
free loan.

We can choose to spend anything from £100 to £1500 on a bike and bike-related accessories each year.

So I started out thinking I'd spend about £600 post-tax = £1000 pre-tax on a bike. I found the Trek 1.9 for £1000 which is a nice looking bike, with fancy wheels.

Then Rob Smyth and I joined forces and looked at bikes together as we had the same requirements. We went to the Peter Hansford in Winchester to look at the Trek 1.9 but they didn't have one in the shop. Looking at the Trek, BMC and LeMond bikes they had (with lots of helpful advice from Richard who works at the shop) we left having decided that we now both wanted a Trek Madone 4.5 (£1400), leaving £100 for shoes, pedals, pumps etc.

Then we went to the Peter Hansford in Chandlers Ford and left there being very happy with the help from their road bike guy, Adam, and we were leaning towards getting an Orbea Onix. This bike seemed like a better overall package than the Madone, but it was close.

After some web research we finally decided to order 2 Orbea Onix bikes. Peter Hansford do an excellent bike fitting session where you get measured for height, leg length, shoulder width, arm length and get to try the different "clipless" pedal technologies. We compared Shimano SPD and Look and decided on the Look system. I had thought that I'd choose SPD so that I could walk around a town after cycling there but trying the shoes made me realise that there's no way I'd choose to walk for more than a couple of minutes in SPDs - I'd take a spare pair of shoes instead.

We were originally told that the bikes would take about 3 weeks to be ready. But after 3 weeks we were told that Orbea were struggling to source the Shimano Ultegra groupset for the bikes and there'd be a delay. After a while Adam persuaded Orbea that he would source the groupset in the UK and invoice Orbea, which they agreed to. But then after another week or two we were told that Orbea had said that they didn't actually have any Onix frames and that it would be another 3 or 4 weeks before they'd be built. Aaargggh.

BUT, they did have one top of the range Orca frame that they could let us have instead of one of the Onix frames at no extra cost. This is a frame that costs about £1800. It was used by the Orbea racing team during 2007/2008 - a serious piece of kit.

But there's 2 of us and only one frame. We agreed that we had to get the Orca - we weren't going to turn down their top of the range bike. But who'd get it? We considered tossing a coin, but neither of us were willing to risk losing the toss. We worked out that if £186 was to
be given from Orca-buyer to the cheaper-bike-buyer then the percentage discount we'd be getting would be the same. But we both said that we'd definitely give the other £187 to have the Orca. But we also agreed that if the other offered £250 then we'd let the other have it.

We finally agreed that if I gave Rob £210 then we'd both be happy. Rob chose Madone 4.5 and it would only take 2 days to be built. The Orca was shipped from Spain and built in about the same time so we both had our bikes by the start of the next week.

So Rob's got a bike worth £1460 (he got Look Keo Sprint pedals thrown in for free for the inconvenience) for about £650 and I'd got a bike worth about £2300 for about about £1100. Both bikes are beautiful frames to look at: full carbon frame and fork, decent groupsets and pretty wheels.

When my bike turned up I realised that I had also been given the top of the range Orbea seat post and handle bars (Zeus Cat III) so that's another ~£100? of value which I hadn't been expecting.

And yes, it rides like a dream. Worth every penny.

Thursday, June 05, 2008

Cashback card - one year in

I just got my first annual cashback from the American Express. As expected, I seem to have received 3% cashback for about the first 3 months, then 0.5% for the remaining balance up to £3500 then 1% for the remainder up to £10000.

I didn't quite reach £10000 this year so I didn't break in to the 1.5% band - mostly because I also got an Abbey card that paid 5% cashback on supermarket purchases.

Total cashback from Amex for the year = £131.05