Sunday, 25 November 2012

Geocaching - what it's all about

 Until last Christmas I'd heard of geocaching, but didn't know anything about it. That changed when Andrew's aunt started looking for local caches when we were both at his parents. She explained the basics, that there's a site that lists all of the caches and it's basically a treasure hunt. I really couldn't see the point or overall aim, but accepted it. Being a bit of a Googleaholic, I decided to look into it and ended up at the website. I entered my postcode and was suprised to find there were a number of caches within a mile of our house. My interest was piqued at that point. 

The following day we were at my parents and needed to get away from the roaring wood burner and out for some air. Again, I looked at the website and was surprised to find some caches in the nearby town. We printed out the relevant pages from the website and off we went. We were plagued by two problems; we used our iPhones as GPS devices, which we struggled with due to patchy 3G reception in the countryside, and were relying on torches on our phones and street lights to be able to see. We'd picked a multi-cache for our first cache and visited various points around the town, such as historical plaques and gravestones, picking up digits which we then used to come up with the location of the actual cache. As luck would have it, this was out of town and we were thwarted by both lack of 3G reception and light. We decided that stumbling around a field at night wasn't the smartest idea and gave up for the night. We returned the following morning on our way home. Due to the patchy 3G reception and inexperience, we struggled a bit to find the final location, but did so after half an hour or so. After digging around in undergrowth we found the box we'd been searching for and signed the log book. We were hooked.

We did a few more caches in the same way, before deciding we were sold on the idea enough to get a GPS unit. After much research, we got a Garmin Oregon 450 which came with UK Ordnance Survey maps. It also came with a month's complementary premium membership for the Geocaching website. This meant we could effortlessly export all caches meeting certain criteria to the unit. No more need for bits of paper.

I know initially I really didn't understand the point. With hindsight, the best thing is that it's a great excuse to get outside. We've been to Iceland, Jersey and Norfolk this year and visited places that we'd never have been to, if it hadn't been for the fact that there were caches hidden there. I was always a bit of a reluctant walker, but tell me there are caches on a footpath and I'll be pulling my walking boots on. As people ask me what it's all about, I thought I'd do a blog about a series of caches we did when we were in Norfolk recently.

We picked a set of sixteen caches about 15 miles away from where we were staying and headed over to the recommended parking spot. As all the caches were already on the GPS unit, it was a simple case of turning it on and seeing which way to head.

The blue pin in the last photograph shows the location of the first cache, and the arrow the direction of the GPS unit is pointing in, so it's usually a case of heading the way the unit tells you to go, as long as that means you're keeping to roads and footpaths. The route took us past the castle and out to a hedgerow, where we found the cache tucked away. All cache containers have a log of some description which you need to sign to show you've been there. The bigger containers contain swaps, and you'll sometimes find a trackable. This is a travel bug or geocoin. They all have tracking number and the aim is for them to move from cache to cache, picking up mileage along the way, and hopefully meet their overall aim. This first cache container housed a travel bug which wanted to get back to Germany, we picked it up and took it with us to help it on its way.

The route to the next cache look us along a country road and over to a field entrance where we found the next cache tucked in a tree. Again, this contained a travel bug, so we picked it up to take it across the country with us.

  We followed the road down past a stream and over to a ford which overlooked the fields, church and priory ruins. There was a bench next to the ford which a local resident was sitting on, enjoying the view with his dog. As Geocaching terminology would put it, you shouldn't give anything away to 'muggles' so we exchanged pleasantries with him, before using taking photos as cover for investigating the wall behind him where the cache was hidden. We found the spot quickly and extracted the cache and signed the log book.

We headed across a muddy field towards the priory. The next cache was a small canister, which had been hung from a hook set into the tree. It took us a while to locate, but then we signed the log and moved on.

We carried on around the priory and back onto the road. The next cache was right next to where a group of workmen had parked up in their van. We waited until they'd got to work, clearing the roof of a nearby building and then darted into the tree which the GPS suggested the cache was hidden in. Luckily we found it quickly, without them wondering what we were up to! The container again contained a travel bug which we picked up and took with us.

The walk then took us up past the church, the cache was well hidden, tucked into a road sign but we found it, signed the log and returned it to its hidey hole. I couldn't find my pen at this point, so Andrew patiently went back to find where I'd dropped it whilst I signed the log with a pencil I was carrying.

The route took us around the town and out towards the outskirts, where the next cache was also tucked in a sign. Unfortunately the log was so wet that we couldn't unroll it, let alone sign it. Hopefully the cache holder will be able to replace it soon.

The route headed out down a footpath passing fields, and surrounded by trees displaying Autumn colours. We found the next cache tucked in a stack of sticks.

We carried on up the path enjoying the countryside and headed out onto the road at the end. The next cache was again tucked into a sign, but in a more original manner. The batteries in our GPS had been complaining for some time, so we took the opportunity to put new ones in and recalibrate the compass before heading on our way again.

We continued up the road before branching off onto the footpath. The next cache was hidden in the hedgerow, tucked into a tree, and was difficult to get to through the undergrowth, which is why Andrew's crouching in a hedgerow!

From this cache, we headed across a tree plantation and crossed a road before heading up a path which skirted a piggery. The next cache was again tucked in a tree.

We walked two sides of the pig farm before reaching the next cache location. We found the cache holder, an ornamental mushroom, tucked into a tree but unfortunatley the log was nowhere to be found.

We headed out of the footpath and would have walked down the farm track but it was flooded and very muddy. Our walking boots weren't up to it, so we skirted the neighbouring field instead. The next cache was hidden against a tree and was a quick find.

We headed down the track and out onto the road. We were relieved to be off the muddy track, but after a sunny day, the evening mist seemed to be rolling in, so we quickened our pace. The cache was just outside the church yard, we searched for about quarter of an hour before finding it tucked into an ivy covered tree.

The route took us along a main road and then headed back down to the village. Unfortunately the penultimate cache in the series defeated us. We knew what we were looking for, but couldn't find it anywhere. We looked for about twenty minutes before giving up as the light was fading and we didn't want to have to drive back in the dark, given the misty weather. We continued up the road and across a footpath. The final cache was tucked away in a tree stump. We also found a final travel bug to take home with us.

From this point we carried on down the footpath and found ourselves back at the car after a good 6 mile walk around the area.

The final part of the process is to log all of our visits and finds onto the Geocaching website when we got home, which again is a fairly straight forward process. We've now found 159 caches which isn't bad seeing as 12 months ago I had no idea what geocaching was all about!

Saturday, 3 November 2012

Brace fitting day

I'd put this back once to give my extraction more time to heal, but by Wednesday I felt I was as ready as I'd ever be. The first step was to see the hygienist for a thorough clean, I'd seen the same hygienist about six months earlier and had a fairly traumatic time as I'd not had a scale and polish from my dentist for a couple of years, partly due to him having less high standards, and partly due to his nurse being off sick. Still carrying the memories of my previous visit, it's fair to say I wasn't looking forward to this part of the day. I needn't have worried, she commented that I'd obviously got to grips with using the TePes, as I had no plaque at gum level. She still scraped away for twenty minutes or so, but I didn't bleed or flinch at all, so I put that down as a success!

The next step was to warn me about what I shouldn't eat. As I'd be having ceramic braces, curry is a bad idea as it stains the braces, so best left for the days before an adjustment. Similarly, crusty bread, apples and raw carrots plus other hard food can knock a bracket off the tooth and so should be avoided. Fizzy drinks are bad as the bubbles are a perfect breeding ground for bacteria, and similarly sweet food should be limited. She then ran me through the approach I'd need to take to cleaning once I had my brace. I'd need to take care of my gums, so I'd need to keep using the Tepes and angle the toothbrush down against the gums when cleaning. I also had to use a special brush to get in an around the brackets. She showed me both manual and electric toothbrush versions so I knew what I needed. I'd also need to use mouthwash, but not at the same time as cleaning my teeth. If I'm unable to clean my teeth after eating, I should carry some mouthwash with me, so I can use that instead. Most importantly, I need to pick one part of the day when I can spend some time giving my teeth a really good clean. The bacteria which forms plaque takes 24 hours to form, so as long as I clean really well once a day, I should be okay. It all sounded fine to me.

I then returned to the waiting room and waited to be called through by the orthodontist. I wasn't waiting long, he called me through and asked if I had any questions. My only query was about mouth ulcers. I normally use Corsodyl for a few days if I get one, and that clears it up, however, I knew that it might stain my braces. He agreed that long term use would stain both my braces and tongue, but using it for a couple of days shouldn't be an issue. I could also get topical anesthetic gel, which would take the pain away whilst they healed. He also mentioned that they'd give me some wax which I could apply to any parts of the brace which were rubbing to cut down on any discomfort.

We then moved onto the main event. He told me it wouldn't hurt at all and would take about half an hour. He started with my back molars, the process for each tooth was the same: apply some acid to remove the top few microns of enamel so that the bracket would stick, wash it off thoroughly, then apply the glue, apply the bracket and wipe off any glue overspill, then use a blue light pen to dry the glue. After doing the molars, he put in lip retractors and an appliance to stop me from supposedly needing to swallow (it didn't!) and then did all of my front teeth. The only painful moment was when he rested his finger in the socket of the extraction I'd had a couple of weeks previously! The process for the front teeth was only different as the brackets were pre glued. Once all the brackets were in place, he fixed the archwire at the bottom, adding power chains at the sides to close my two extraction gaps. Apparently these are normally only fitted at the end of treatment, but he was keen to fix my crossbite as soon as he could. Once the archwire was also fixed to my top jaw it was all done. I had a good rinse out and went to look in the mirror. My teeth felt huge with brackets on the outsides and I struggled to close my lips over them. When I smiled, I ended up with my lips stuck around the edges, not a good look! He warned me that my teeth would be uncomfortable for a few days whilst I got used to my braces and that he'd see me in six weeks for my first adjustment. By that time, hopefully my crossbite would be resolved. I was sent home with a selection of items to help me through the first few weeks.

When I got home I wasn't in any pain and so thought I should eat before that changed as I hadn't had any breakfast. I had a sandwich which was messy, as it got caught up in my brackets, but a good clean removed all the bits. The pain started about five hours afterwards, with my teeth aching when any pressure was applied, but a couple of painkillers took the pain away. I stuck to soup for the first couple of days but now, three days on I'm starting to use my front teeth to bite softer food and can chew carefully with my molars on one side. Hopefully the worst is over for now! I've also had problems with two of the brackets on my molars catching my cheek and one of the brackets on my front teeth rubbing against the inside of my lip when I speak. Luckily applying a bit of wax to the problem brackets seems to have prevented any mouth ulcers so far, fingers crossed it stays that way. I'm still slurring a bit when I talk, as my mouth is a different shape to that I'm used to, but at least I'm smiling less awkwardly.

So that I can keep a track on progress, I thought I'd take photos following every visit. The first picture was taken at my consultation appointment six weeks ago and shows my crossbite. The second picture was taken on the day I had my braces fitted. In my mind I thought I'd end up with really wiggly wires, so feel I've got off quite lightly! I'm already looking forward to going back in six weeks so I can compare progress. 

If you're considering braces and have any questions, just ask and I'll try to help!


Friday, 2 November 2012

Goodbye Three, Hello GiffGaff

I've been with Three for over three years. Initially they were a breath of fresh air, but over the last year I've got more and more frustrated with them. My first annoyance was when, perfectly legally but completely unapologetically, they changed my monthly payment amount mid contract. They then upped their sales efforts, ringing to try to sell me extra mobile phones or other devices. One day I had two calls within an hour trying to sell me an iPad. Finally, I reached the end of my twenty-four month contract to find that the upgrade offerings for new handsets were identical to those offered to new customers. So much for rewarding loyalty. I only found this by looking on the website, no-one rang to offer me a new phone. I decided that it was time to look at other deals.

I'd happened across GiffGaff as one of my Facebook friends raves about them. GiffGaff is a virtual network which uses the O2 network, and differs from conventional operators by involving customers in sales, customer service and marketing, for which they are rewarded. I looked into what they offered and for £10 a month I'd get unlimited texts, unlimited internet (albeit that's reducing to 1GB next month) and 250 minutes of calls. I looked back at my usage and it more than met my needs. It seemed mad not to give it a go, I could have myself more than £20 a month on what I was currently paying and free myself from Three's tactics into the bargain. I ordered a sim card from the GiffGaff website, using my friend's referral code which meant that she'd earn some payback cash, and I'd get £5 credit on my account.

I knew the next bit wouldn't be easy. My iPhone was locked to Three, so I needed to get it unlocked and get a PAC code to transfer my number to GiffGaff. Although there are other methods, I decided to get my phone unlocked by Three, as it seemed like the easiest way. I called Three on a Saturday morning and started by selecting the relevant options on the phone system to get my phone unlocked. This was relatively straight-forward, although the call centre was clearly a long way away judging by the quality of the line, and the operator spoke very quietly, so I did struggle a little. They started by taking my credit card details so they could charge me the princely sum of £15.32 for unlocking and took my IMEI number. After putting me on hold for what seemed like an eternity, they advised that I'd receive a text in a couple of days to let me know it had gone through. I should then put a non-Three sim card in my phone, connect it to iTunes and it would be unlocked. Next, I selected the options to be put through to the relevant department to cancel my contract and request my PAC code. The operator, whilst very pleasant, had clearly been told not to release any customer without a fight. I gave them my list of grudges, which they seemed to note down, but ironically, still tried to push their £6 a month sim only deal. I kept reiterating that I wanted to cancel my contract and be provided with my PAC code. After 45 minutes on the phone, including again some unexplained time on hold, they conceded and told me I would receive it in 24 to 48 hours. The whole process was unnecessarily drawn out and painful. If I'd been unsure before about the decision to leave Three, this would have swung it for me.

Suffice it to say that I didn't receive my PAC code within 24 to 48 hours. On the Tuesday I decided to look into this and found out that Ofcom regulations state that this should be provided immediately over the phone, or by text within 2 hours. Clearly the operator didn't know what she was talking about. I filed a complaint online and contacted customer support through Twitter. Whilst I received an acknowledgement of my complaint seven days later, customer support did get the PAC code for me. I shouldn't have had to have chased it up, and the whole experience was completely unsatisfactory. The only good news was that on the same day I received the text to tell me that my unlocking request had been received. I was on the way to leaving Three.

I was so fed up with Three that I decided to transfer my number sooner rather than later, so I could wash my hands of them. I inserted my new GiffGaff sim card into the phone and connected it to iTunes. The phone connected, but came up with a message telling me that it wasn't registered. The next step was to go into the GiffGaff website and set up my account. This was very straight forward and only took a couple of minutes. I had to buy a goodybag for my phone, but once that had registered, the phone was good to go. I submitted my PAC code and request to transfer my number, which again was very straight forward. There are various warnings about backing up your phone, but with the iPhone everything seems to be stored on the phone rather than the sim, so I didn't take any further precautions.

Today was my number porting day. When I got up, neither the existing number nor the number I'd be porting in were in use when I called them, so I put my GiffGaff sim card in and turned the phone off. At about 11am I went into my account on the GiffGaff website, which showed my new phone number. I turned on the phone and sure enough, the number transfer was complete. To update the settings from Three to GiffGaff, I had to text the word 'settings' to 2020 which imported the internet settings. In doing this, the phone had been kicked of our wireless network, so I had to fiddle to get it recognised again by the router. The next step was to set a new voicemail greeting and turn on the option so that I would get a text to let me know whenever I had voicemail. Again, this was all very straight forward. My only annoyance so far was that whenever I sent a text or made a call, I'd get a message pop up immediately afterwards to tell me what my remaining credit balance was. A quick search on Google revealed that I could turn this off through the website, which I did. The only settings which I had to input manually were the MMS settings, but that only took a couple of minutes. Finally, as I use my phone regularly and don't want the hassle of topping it up, I set the option for recurring goodybags, so every month I will be charged £10 and another goodybag added to my account.

So far, the process has been entirely trouble-free and I've certainly not lost any sleep over moving from Three. I've already had one text from them today, asking me to let them know if I don't want to transfer my number. I'm afraid, Three, that it's too late. I've already gone.

If you'd like to give GiffGaff a go and get £5 credited to your account (and earn me a little payback), please click on the referral link below.

Get a free giffgaff Sim