I'm very excited about the opportunity to perform with the Tallis Scholars later this week.
I'm one of 30 singers recruited from around Dublin to join the choir in the performance of the 40-part piece Spem in Alium by Thomas Tallis.
I've only sung Spem in Alium once in the past, as part of a scratch performance put together for my 40th birthday. Because, what else would you do for a 40th birthday, but get together all of your singer friends and sing a 40-part anthem? It wasn't the most technically accurate performance in the world (I, for one, was making tons of mistakes), but it was a heck of a lot of fun – and if you fancy watching the video, stay for the amazing rendition of Happy Birthday at the end!
The prospect of singing such a piece with the Tallis Scholars, in contrast, is a pretty intimidating. They are one of the best professional choirs out there, and tour all over the world to sell out audiences. And I've volunteered to sing – one to a part – so there's no hiding at the back!
I'm sure it'll go very well. The rehearsal last week was sounding really good, and I came out of that really excited.
I had the unfortunate experience in the last few days of my N26 card being cloned, and a whole bunch of fraudulent transactions cleared out my balance.
The first I realised that something was wrong was a series of transaction notifications late on Saturday night. And when I checked the N26 app on my phone I saw loads of fraudulent transactions.
This has happened in the past with a credit card of mine, and I've simply called the 24 hour phone number of the credit card provider, and queried the transactions over the phone. But N26 don't have a 24 hour support number, and it seems the process to get this sorted with them is a bit more complicated.
Blocking the card
The first thing I did when I saw the fraudulent transactions was to disable my card in the mobile app. You can do this from the Cards settings. I turned off all the options, and locked the card.
I then used the app to order a new card. My existing card number is compromised, so there's no point trying to use it again. Unfortunately it'll take a few days to get a new card – because I can't avail of the expedited service available to German residents.
I guess I'll also have to use cash until my new card arrives. I've gotten used to paying for pretty-much everything using contactless payments recently, so it's going to be strange going back to coins and notes.
Disputing the transactions
I tried calling the N26 support number on their website as soon as I saw the dodgy transactions, but they don't open 24 hours a day so I got a recorded office-closed message.
The contact page has local phone numbers for each country. The one for Ireland is a VoIP number, and isn't included in the free minutes on my mobile plan.
I have 6 fraudulent transactions, so that's six 4-page forms that I need to fill in and send off.
And you need to wait until the transactions are confirmed before submitting the forms. In the app, if you see a blue dot on the icon beside the transaction then it's still pending. It's only when the blue dot disappears that it's confirmed – and this might take 3-4 days to happen.
On the N26 Online Banking portal, you need to check the Statements sections for the current month. Only when they appear on the statement will they be confirmed.
The disputed transaction form also needs to show the date of the transaction on this Statement. I filled in the forms with the date/time from the mobile app – the date/time the fraudster actually made the transaction – and I had all my claims rejected. So I need to re-submit all my forms again!
Then I need to wait for N26 to query the transaction with Mastercard, and hopefully initiate charge-backs to recover the funds, which might take a while. Until then I don't have access to my money.
While I wait for my new card, I can't spend anything – which is fine, because the fraudsters took all my money. I can't top up my phone, or order anything online, because I don't have a card.
Also there are two direct debits on my account have been rejected as unpaid, because I don't have sufficient funds – and I'm also going to be charged bank fees for those failed direct debits!
So all-in-all I'm not particularly happy about the situation, and it's making me reconsider whether I want to continue using N26 for my banking. I can't help but think that other banks would deal with this a lot better.
Here in Ireland the new iPhone X will be available to pre-order from the 27th October at 8.01am.
The iPhone X (the 'X' being a roman numeral, so it's pronounced 'ten') page on the Apple web site already lists the prices as:
€1,179 for the 64 GB version
€1,349 for the 256 GB version
That's a lot of money for a mobile phone. For comparison, the Samsung Galaxy S8 sells for about €650, and the OnePlus 5 starts at €500 – half the price of the iPhone X. So is this latest iPhone worth the money? Is it twice as good as those Android phones?
Are people still going to queue up to buy it?
The thing is that this is an Apple product, and Apple products are not just phones or computers – they're aspirational items. They are premium products that people are willing to pay premium prices for.
A BMW 5 series costs roughly twice as much as a Skoda Superb. Both are lovely cars, and drive you from A to B in relative comfort. But the BMW isn't twice as good as the Skoda – it isn't twice as fast, or twice as comfortable. So when you buy a BMW you are paying for much more than the car – you are paying for the brand.
You are paying to own a car that proclaims its own expensiveness. That's why premium products have such obvious branding on them. Because after all, why would anyone pay more for a product that looks identical to the much cheaper equivalent?
In the 10 years since Apple first released the iPhone they have successfully positioned it as not just 'a' smartphone, but 'the' smartphone for people to aspire to.
People might justify (to themselves or others) buying the iPhone X for the superior operating system, or because they think it has the best screen, best camera, or best looking handset. But at the end of the day, they are really buying it for what it says about them.
And I don't think there's anything wrong with that. If owning the iPhone X makes them happy, then good. I'm happy for them. I may even take an interest if one of my friends or colleagues gets one – just as I would be interested to look at their brand new BMW – but not enough to part with the cash for either the phone or the car myself.
I used to own an iPhone 3G and an iPhone 4 back in the day – and I still think they're nice devices – but I couldn't justify to myself to keep paying the premium prices for successive iPhones, and I switched over to Android instead.
I guess that value for money matters more to me than brand – even if I do still lust over the latest and greatest technology out there.
And as anyone knows, one MB hardly goes anywhere these days. I sometimes use as much as 200MB a day, so if I used my Eir SIM for roaming data, it could cost me over €2,000 a day!
Of course, there are often roaming data bundles available, but you need to shop around for the best deals, and set them up in advance:
Vodafone – Red Roaming – 200MB of data for €2.99 per day
Vodafone – Connect Abroad – 100MB of data for €18.45 per day
Eir – USA Data Add-on – 200MB of data for €19.99
Three – No data bundles available
The Vodafone Red Roaming is clearly the best value for money, and that's the roaming deal I use for my trips. I just need to be careful to ensure that my APN is correctly configured.
Signing up for Red Roaming
Vodafone prepay and contract customers need to elect to use Red Roaming to avail of the roaming deal. It can be set up in the "My Vodafone" self-care web site, or by texting the word 'RED' to 50020 to opt in.
It's worth noting that if you run out of credit on Vodafone prepay you may be automatically de-subscribed from Red Roaming without notification, and then end up paying a lot more for data.
You also need to remember that the 200MB per day allowance runs from midnight to midnight Irish time. So if you're in Los Angeles (8 hours behind Dublin) your allowance runs from 4pm to 4pm each day.
What about a Roaming or USA SIM?
One other option to consider, if you travel a lot is to get a specialist roaming SIM card (available from a number of companies), or a SIM card for a US cellular network.
A typical offer of a specialist Roaming SIM is one from Roam Mobility, where it costs $10 to buy a SIM card, and then another $21.95 to buy 1GB of data. Similarly ZipSIM charges $30 for 1GB of data.
The US network T-Mobile also offers a Prepaid International Tourist Plan, which gives you 3 week of voice, texts and 2GB of data for $30. That's not a bad if you're visiting for more than a few days and also expect to make phones calls and send texts.
Dual SIM Phones
Sometimes the best deal for roaming data is from someone that isn't your regular mobile provider. And unless you fancy switching to another mobile number while you travel, you may want to consider getting a dual-SIM mobile phone.
I have a OnePlus 5 mobile that can take 2 SIM cards. So I have my regular Meteor/Eir SIM for use at home, and a second prepay Vodafone SIM for mobile data roaming.
When I'm travelling, I can have both SIM cards active in my phone at the same time. I can set my Meteor SIM to be used for calls and texts – so that I can contact family and friends – and set the Vodafone SIM to be used for data.
I just need to remember to switch the mobile data between Meteor and Vodafone each time I get on the plane.