3000 Days in Ireland

As of today I’ve been living in Ireland for 3,000 days.  That’s a little over 8 years.  And when you put it together with the 12 years I lived in Scotland, then I’ve been living outside of my home country of England for over 20 years.

In another few years, I’ll have been living outside of England for longer than I ever lived there.

And although England will always be my nation of birth, and my accent will always identify me as English, the length of time away has shifted my allegiances somewhat. For international sporting events, for example, I feel much more allegiance to the Irish team than I do for the English.

I guess England no longer feels like home to me.  Sure, it’s where I grew up, and it’s where I have family. But in my case, my feeling of connection to England has faded over time. And as such, I don’t really harbour any desire to return.

Two months with a OnePlus One

There’s been a lot of hype surrounding the release of the OnePlus One mobile phone since it was announced just over a year ago.

Even today the Chinese manufacturer still maintains a certain air of mystery and supposed exclusivity by maintaining an invite-only means of ordering. They also run promotions every now and again to enable people without an invite to order, such as the one-hour sale they had at the end of October – and that’s how I got mine.

The OnePlus One is not sold in high street or online shops – it’s only available to order from the manufacturer’s website. It’s also not on sale in Ireland, but you can easily use Parcel Motel to bypass delivery restrictions.

I wasn’t 100% convinced I’d like this phone before I ordered it.  I was worried that the handset would be too big, because it has a 5.5 inch screen – a significant step up in size from my old 5 inch Google Nexus 5. But in actual usage it feels very comfortable in my hand. I can just-about operate it with one hand, but the far edges of the screen are a bit of a stretch. I’d also say that it occasionally digs into me when I’m sat down with it in my jeans pocket.

The screen and camera are both better quality than my previous phone, and everything just seems to run a bit quicker.  But by far the biggest improvement over other smartphones I’ve had is the battery life.  I fiddle with my phone pretty-much all day, and I found that after a year’s usage of my Nexus 5 that the battery was running down by late afternoon.  Not so with the OnePlus One, which has a huge battery capacity.  I’ve never come close to running out of battery, even when I’m out of the house for 12-14 hours.

One other difference the OnePlus One has over its rivals is the operating system.  It run something called CyanogenMod, which is a variant of Android. However, there’s no steep learning curve when switching from other Android phones – it’s just like Android, but with a bunch of extra options and features available.

The price is also a bargain in comparison to other mobiles.  My 64GB model cost £269 (about €360 at today’s exchange rate), but the 16GB version cost just £229 (€305).  That’s compared against €699 for the cheapest iPhone 6 from the Apple store, or about €650 for a Samsung Galaxy S5.

All in all, I’m very happy with the phone, and would recommend getting one if you are able.

4G/LTE Restrictions in Ireland

One thing to note with the OnePlus One is that it only supports a limited number of 4G (LTE) frequencies. It supports bands 1, 3, 4, 7, 17, 38 and 40.  Currently in Ireland, Vodafone uses band 20, Meteor uses bands 3 and 20, and 3 use band 3.

So you should be fine to connect using 4G with Meteor or 3, but if you’re with Vodafone you’ll have to make do with 3G.  Having said that, I’m with Vodafone, and I get download speeds of 15 or 16 Mbps on the 3G HSPDA, so I can totally live without 4G.

UPC Ireland – Horizon Software Update

I wrote back in January about some of the interface problems with the Horizon box, and thankfully some of them seems to have been solved with a recent software update.

  • The general navigation speed seems to have increased
  • The dreaded “Delete Everything” option has been relocated to the depths of a Preference screen, where it can’t cause any damage. No longer will people select it, thinking it means ‘Delete Series’ and then find their DVR completely empty.
  • The much-anticipated “Delete Series” has finally appeared, and works pretty quickly.

I haven’t checked the other problems to see if they’re fixed, but just these few things make the service a bit easier to live with.

Has anyone else seen improvements?

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.

Lisbon Reform Treaty Referendum

On Thursday Ireland goes to the polls to vote in a referendum on the Treaty of Lisbon, and at the moment it seems too close to call what the result will be.

In a remarkable display of unity, all of Ireland’s major political parties (except for Sinn Féin) are pushing for a ‘Yes’ vote, to amend the country’s constitution and ratify the Lisbon Treaty. But the ‘No’ vote campainers have also done a very good job about putting their message forward, citing numerous justifications (some of them quite spurious) as to why the people should reject the changes.

And it seems, with the majority of the population mostly ignorant as to what the Lisbon Treaty is actually about, the voting will mostly be led by people’s hearts rather than their minds.

To me, it comes down to one overiding principal: do you want the governance of Europe to be fair and equal for all, or do you want the early EU entrants in Western Europe to continue to exercise a disproportionate amount of power?

A ‘Yes’ vote would see increased equality for all member nations, and a reduction in the stalling and veto powers of western nations. And conversely, a ‘No’ vote would see the status quo continue, with newer members in Eastern Europe being treated like second-class citizens.

I can see why a lot of people in Ireland want to vote ‘No’ and reject the Treaty. The European Union has been good for Ireland; providing much of the funding that has driven the economic revival the country has enjoyed over the last 20 years or more. And people will naturally want to protect the status quo when they’re on to a ‘good thing’.

In the past Ireland has always been a net recipient of EU funding; receiving more cash back from Europe than it paid out. But with the more recent addition of somewhat poorer counties in Eastern Europe, this situation will undoubtably change in the future, as EU development cash will be redistributed to these other countries.

And with a ‘Yes’ vote, it’s conceivable that this changeover to being a net contributor to the EU would happen faster.

There’s also the argument that a ‘Yes’ vote will lose Ireland some political influence within the EU. And for a country of some 4.2 million residents, out a total EU population of almost half a billion, it has certainly held a disproportionate influence in the past.

And even with a ‘Yes’ vote, it will continue to do so, as smaller counties always get more representation than their population would warrant. And with a ‘Yes’ vote, the Dáil (along with every other country’s national parliament) would get more say in European policy too. But don’t take my word for it.

If you’re an Irish citizen, then you really should take the time to inform yourself about the Lisbon Treaty, and make an informed decision in the referendum on Thursday.

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