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Foreign currency transfers

Transferring money between different currencies can be expensive.

Traditional banks buy and sell foreign currencies at rates vastly different from the live exchange rates you might see on the news. And while they may claim they don’t change fees, they do earn quite a bit of money by adjusting the rates used to buy and sell currency.

There are, however, a number of disruptive financial companies emerging that can save you money. Companies like TransferWise, Revolut, and others.

For example:

  • a Bank of Ireland transfer of €1,000 to a UK bank will get you £887.80.
  • Using TransferWise to move the same €1,000 will get you £909.45. That’s a difference of £21.65 – or 2.5%!
  • Using Revolut to transfer the €1,000 will get you £914.00. That’s a difference of £26.20 – or 3%

And as the numbers get bigger, the difference will start to matter a lot more. Move €5,000 and the difference between Bank of Ireland and Revolut is £131.

So, it’s worth shopping around.

Ten years, and then some

I just noticed that this blog is 10 years old!

The first post dates back to June 2007, only a couple of months after I moved from Edinburgh to Dublin.

This isn’t my first blog however. I started blogging back in September 2000, when very few people had even heard of the word ‘blog’. The whole personal publishing concept was very new in those days, and almost nobody had their own website. We felt like pioneers, and formed our own little communities. I used to read a handful of blogs every day, and felt like some of these people were my friends.

Scottish Bloggers

In Edinburgh I even used to go along to Scottish Blogger meetups, which mainly seemed to comprise of sitting in the pub all day drinking. Seeing the Blogger logo printed off and casually left on the pub table was the secret clue for meetup newbies about which group to approach. And contrary to expectations, we didn’t sit with our laptops out, but instead met and got to know like-minded people, and in some cases made new friends.

I even helped out with the running of a site that linked to all the Scottish blogs in existence at the time. There were so few of us, we could include them all in a manually-curated directory!

In the early I blogged anonymously, and was a lot more candid about what I wrote about. Then I decided to put my name to my words, and became more reserved, because exposure of my thoughts was then just a google-search away.

Social Media

When social media came along, blogging as we originally knew it changed. The ephemeral and frivolous posts moved from blogs onto social media, and many blogs – including my own – fell into disuse.

In the last six or seven years, I’ve not really dedicated myself to blogging that much – at least not on my personal site. I like to keep the blog there, as it does afford me an outlet for the occasional post when the mood takes me (like this post). Instead, like the rest of the world, I’ve mainly used social media for personal stuff. And for more specialist subjects, I’ve created subject-specific blogs for my writing – mostly on cycling and weight loss.

Domain Names

It’s interesting (to me, at least) to think back about all of the different domains I’ve used for my personal blog over the years. Since starting some 17 years ago, my blog has moved between all of these domains:

  • web-richard.net
  • rebuke.org
  • bloomfield.me.uk
  • richardbloomfield.ie
  • richardbloomfield.blog

I suppose that speaks more to my obsession with domain names rather than anything to do with blogging!

The Future

So what about the future? Well I realised recently that I quite miss writing blog posts. It’s something I’ve neglected of late, and want to get back into. Let’s hope that feeling lasts, and you should hopefully see a bit more content here!

My own personal Kanban board

I like lists. My memory isn’t what it was, and a good list helps reassure me that I haven’t forgotten something.

I’ve kept various to-do lists over the years, in many different formats. I’ve had scraps of paper in my pocket, I’ve had reminders written on the calendar (both paper and electronic), and I’ve used smartphone apps like Google Keep to keep track of tasks, but none of them were quite good enough for my needs.

And then it dawned on me… I work in agile software development all day, and use project tracking tools all day. And I figured that, if these tools work well to keep an agile team of 9 people aligned, then I could easily apply their use to my personal life.

The most obvious choice is a Kanban board. It’s great for tracking the progress of non-time-bound tasks, and helps focus the mind on getting tasks finished to completion due to the WIP limits on the “doing” column.

A simple Kanban board has three columns for To Do, Doing and Done, but I decided to expand mine a bit and add a fourth column for “Blocked”.

I also wanted my Kanban board to be electronic. They can be physical, and many agile teams use physical boards in an office with post-it notes or index cards stuck to the wall. But I wanted mine to be a bit more portable.

There are loads of online tools out there that do Kanban boards, but it seems that they’re mostly commercially focused and cost money to use. So I eventually settled on meistertask who have a free account option. And best of all, I can access my board on the web and via their mobile app. They don’t have WIP limits defined on their boards yet, but I guess I can enforce that myself for now.

Anyway, so I’ve been using my Kanban board for about 2-3 weeks now, and I’m finding it very useful to keep track of personal chores and tasks.

My only dilemma now is whether to invite my wife to share the view of my board. If I do then it might help us both track and share our domestic jobs. But it would also have the down-side of allowing my wife to allocate lots of jobs to me!

Review of An Post AddressPal

Last year An Post launched their AddressPal service to compete with the likes of Parcel Motel who offer a virtual delivery address in the UK.

They recently upgraded the service to add a virtual delivery address in the USA, to allow people to shop for goods that are not generally available in Europe.

After signing up, the service works by giving you a virtual address, which you then use as the delivery address for anything you order online or by mail order. The idea is then that An Post will ship on your item from the UK or USA to Ireland and deliver it either to your home or your local post office for collection.

I signed up to the service last week in order to buy a new monitor from Amazon. I guessed that the box would be too big for any of the Parcel Motel lockers, so I thought I’d give AddressPal a try instead.

Progress and Notifications

The parcel got delivered to the English address at around lunchtime on the Friday. However if you use the service to deliver to a Post Office, then An Post offer no means of tracking the parcel’s progress. They don’t even acknowledge that they’ve received it. When I check the AddressPal site there’s no parcels listed against my account. This is something that An Post should look to introduce, to give customers some kind of reassurance that an item has been received.

The AddressPal site says that it take 4-5 working days to be delivered on to the Post Office of your choice. That’s quite a long time to relocate a package from England to Ireland. Especially as it look less than 24 hours for the courier to deliver my monitor into the hands of An Post, and now it’s going to take up to a week for the onward leg.

It’s now 3 working days on, and I’ve not heard anything. An Post only send an email and/or SMS out once the package is ready for collection at the Post Office – and that could be another couple of days from now.

Final Delivery

My email notification finally arrived after 4 working days saying that my parcel was ready for collection at my local Post Office. I had to leave work a little bit early to go there, as my Post Office closes at 5.30pm, which is a bit of an inconvenience.

To collect the parcel I had to show the AddressPal card that that An Post had delivered to my house, together with a form of photo ID. I had to sign a screen to accept delivery, pay the €3.75 fee (cash or card is accepted), and the parcel was mine. It took just over 5 minutes in all, because I had to wait in line to be served, and then the woman serving me had to process my collection which took a couple of minutes in itself.

The Verdict

Would I use AddressPal again? Maybe. I wasn’t overly impressed by the 4 working day wait to redirect from Britain to Ireland. And having to find a time to collect when the Post Office is open is not very convenient.

Parcel Motel is quicker at delivering to the designated lockers (1-2 days), and you can pick up at any time, 24 hours a day.

Potential problems using Parcel Motel and Amazon

Parcel Motel is a great way to overcome delivery restrictions and outlandish courier costs when buying mail order in Ireland.

The service gives you a virtual delivery address in Northern Ireland, and then redirects your parcel to a locker of your choosing for you to pick up in a 48 hour window. And with many UK retailers refusing to ship to Ireland, or charging expensive shipping costs, the fee of €3.95 of using Parcel Motel can seem like a bargain.

However, there are potential downsides to using Parcel Motel with Amazon.co.uk:

  1. Your parcel might be too big – the maximum size of the largest locker is 41 x 38 x 64 cm. If your parcel ends up being bigger than this (and bear in mind the amount of packaging Amazon normally uses) then you will be charged an additional fee of €7.00, and you will have to collect your parcel from your nearest Nightline depot – or pay even more for it to be delivered to your house.
  2. Your parcel might be too heavy – there’s a weight limit of 10 kg per parcel, and if you go over it you have the same charges as for big parcels. They also have something called a dimensional weight calculation which calculates weight based on size – check out the prices page for more on that.
  3. Your Amazon order might be split into several parcels – even if you select that you want everything delivered in one go during the Amazon checkout, they may decided to dispatch your order in two or more packages – and Parcel Motel will charge you for each one. Even if two packages for you arrive into Parcel Motel at the same time, they won’t put them in the same locker.
  4. Your parcel might take an extra 2 days to get to you – depending on the time of day that Parcel Motel receive your package, and also on how busy they are, it might take 2 days to reach your locker. So if you’re in a hurry, it might be worth paying the higher shipping costs to deliver direct (i.e. don’t use Parcel Motel).
  5. You might not collect your parcel in time – you have 48 hours from the time you are notified your package is in the locker to pick it up. If you miss this window, it will be removed from the locker, and it’ll cost you extra to get to it. Bear this in mind if you’re going away on holiday or business travel in the next couple of weeks, because a delay from Amazon in shipping may mean it arrives in your locker while you’re away.

An alternate to Parcel Motel exists with a service from An Post called AddressPal. This service has the advantage of having an English virtual delivery address, instead of a Northern Ireland one, which is good for retailers who will only delivery to the British mainland. The AddressPal service allows you to collect your parcel from your local Post Office (which might have restricted opening hours) or get it delivered to your home. They also have a virtual delivery address in the USA.