How to save on call costs when travelling (overseas calls to/from the UK)

I recently went on holiday to South Africa to see my family and introduce my son to all his aunties, uncles and cousins. I’m quite a thrifty person and try not to waste money so the trip was planned well in advance to try get the best flight prices. We even booked some accommodation in advance to take advantage of a weaker currency (I booked a safari when it was R24 to the pound a few months back, on our holiday it was about R18). I even saved big on currency conversion as I have a credit card that charges no ATM fees or conversion fees and uses a genuine exchange rate.
After all this planning it would be a shame to waste money on calling costs which can be extortionate.  My mobile phone would have cost 80p a minute to make a call!

I needed to call my family to discuss our plans before we arrived and my wife needed to keep in touch with her granny whilst we were away so it was important we found a solution to keep costs down. Here are my tips based on my recent experience.

1)      Call over Wi-Fi when you can. With things like WhatsApp, Skype, FaceTime even messenger you can call each other for free. If you both have Wi-Fi (i.e. not using your data allowance) you can use several apps to make calls. Unfortunately for me this wasn’t really an option as my brother and my wife’s granny have no Wi-Fi at home!

2)      Make sure your phone is not SIM locked and get a local SIM card when you are abroad. When you are travelling around whilst on holiday you usually need to make a few local calls (see if attractions are open, hotel information etc.) so instead of using your UK SIM, use a local Pay-As-You-Go one that you top up. You can also use your local SIM to call the UK as it’s sometimes cheaper. In my case my UK SIM would cost 80p a minute to call the UK, the local one would cost about 7p (depending on currency fluctuations).

3)      Save on your mobile data/Satnav hire. Whilst travelling from place to place we needed a Satnav or Google maps for directions. Satnavs are quite expensive to rent with your car hire firm & Google Maps use mobile data (though I think you can save directions offline) which is not too bad if you have a local SIM. My plan, which worked well, was to download the HERE maps app on my android phone, then download the South African map (about 500MB) to use offline. So on our travels around the Western Cape, Cape Town and Garden Route I set HERE maps to offline mode and then searched for directions. Sometimes I needed to go online to find certain less popular places, but we could normally do this when we had Wi-Fi.

4)      Sign up to your mobile providers travel bundle. Now this one is my last choice as it could be the most expensive (depending on how many calls you make). My provider charges a flat fee per day and you can use your monthly minutes/texts/data while abroad.

I hope the tips above help you save your money for something more worthwhile, like a Boerie roll and a bottle of Castle lager!


How to Look Impressive and Like You Know What You’re Talking About

Have you ever been thrown off course during a conversation where someone drops in an obscure acronym? It often happens during conversations with teenagers as new abbreviations pop up on social media every second and leave you feeling lost and confused. A few that I recently learned the meaning of include:

  1. TL;DR: Too Long; Didn’t Read. Indicating a passage of text is too long to invest the time to digest.
  2. BAE: Before Anyone Else. Not just an acronym, this has now become the name of the thing it is referencing e.g. “My BAE and I are staying in tonight”.
  3. NSFW: Not Safe For Work. Signifying that a post or article is considered inappropriate for the workplace e.g. contains nudity.

However, I’ve also found myself stumped when mixing with certain professionals such as accountants or lawyers. In any industry there are a number of acronyms that become part of that industry’s language but leave the rest of us wondering what on earth they’re talking about.

In the directory enquiries and tech industry we have an endless list of such abbreviations. Here are a select few that are used regularly in the Simunix offices:

  1. DQ:Directory Enquiries. A telephone service used to find someone’s telephone number e.g.
  2. XD: Ex-directory. When a person chooses not to have their telephone number listed in a telephone directory or available through directory enquiries.
  3. ER: Electoral Roll. An official list of people in a district who are entitled to vote in an election.
  4. TPS/CTPS: Telephone Preference Service/Corporate Telephone Preference Service. A register of telephone numbers whose users have indicated that they do not wish to receive sales and marketing calls.
  5. TBR: The Bereavement Register. A central database that acts as the main register of deaths with the aim of stopping direct mail being sent to the deceased.
  6. PAF: Postcode Address File. A database which contains all known postcodes in the UK.
  7. OSIS: Operator Services Information System. This database holds directory listings for all UK Communications Providers.
  8. OS: Ordnance Survey. The national mapping agency providing large-scale detailed maps of Great Britain.
  9. GPS: Global Positioning System. A satellite navigation system that allows land, sea and airborne users to determine their exact location.
  10. API: Application Program Interface. A set of functions and procedures that allow the creation of applications which access the features or data of an operating system, application or other service.

So next time you find yourself in the company of a directory enquiries expert, you can impress with your knowledge of industry acronyms. If you really want.


Confusion over new UK Calling charges for 118 numbers

YORK – July 24, 2015 – 118 365, one of the UK’s cheapest directory enquiry services, is aiming to clarify the new charges for 118 numbers that came into effect on 1 July 2015, amidst growing consumer confusion.

When Ofcom announced a new system that would make the cost of calling these numbers more transparent and easier to understand, many people were still left confused. The cost of calling a service number is now split by a service charge and access charge. The access charge is set by caller’s phone service provider and the service charge is set by the service provider.

However, many 118 services are still charging an amount per call, plus their own service charge with the access charge added on top of that. In addition, it is not immediately clear what the access charge will be and callers are having to contact their phone service provider to find out.

For example, a one minute call to 118 118 from a BT landline costs £2.75 per call plus £2.99 per minute with an access charge of 9.58p, totalling £5.84.

John Lewis, Managing Director of 118 365 says, “We aim to make our charging as simple as possible and do not charge customers per call. Our service costs 55p a minute plus the cost of the access charge, that’s it. Although the total price of a call has gone up slightly due to the introduction of the access charge, we remain one of the cheapest directory enquiry options out there.”

To help callers determine what their access charge will be, 118 365 has included links on its FAQ page to information pages provided by the main telephone companies that bill their callers. Access charges appear to be varying from 5p for TalkTalk landline calls up to 25p for O2 calls.

118 365 is urging its callers to remember that the access charge is paid per minute and is not just a one-off charge.

People can find more information on the cost of calling directory enquiries by checking this daily updated infographic which charts the cost of a one minute call to different 118 numbers.


Clear Call Rates for 08, 09 and 118 Numbers

Numbers beginning 08, 09 or 118 are known as ‘service numbers’ and the cost of calling these numbers can vary from a few pence to several pounds. It is not always clear just how much you are being charged for calling one of these service numbers.

This is all set to change from 1 July 2015. Ofcom has announced a new system that is being introduced to make the cost of calling 08, 09 or 118 numbers much clearer. The changes apply to both consumer mobiles and landlines.

The cost of calling a service number will be made up of two parts: an ‘access charge’ going to the caller’s phone company (e.g. BT), and a ‘service charge’ set by the organisation or service you are calling.

So what does this mean for our 118 365 number?

The cost of a one minute call to 118 365 will increase slightly. We will continue to charge 51p a minute but the access charge will now be added to the total cost of the call. For example, a one minute call to 118 365 from a BT landline will cost 51p for the service charge plus 9.8p for the access charge, making that about 61p for the whole call.

Remember, the access charge may differ slightly depending on your phone company.

Also on this day, calls to Freephone (0800 and 0808) numbers will become free from all consumer phones – including mobiles, making this the biggest overhaul of phone calls in more than a decade.

The Spacecraft Soon Arriving at Planet Nine…

New Horizons

In July of 2015, the New Horizons spacecraft will arrive in the vicinity of Pluto. It will make the first flyby of Pluto, the last of the classic nine planets of the Solar System to be visited by a spacecraft. Below is an artist’s impression of the unmanned craft.

Until 1962, all eight planets had only been viewed through earth-based telescopes. With the dawn of the space age, unmanned probes were dispatched to those distant worlds; gradually they gave up their secrets, and Pluto will be the final one.

1962 – Venus

In December of 1962, the American Mariner 2 spacecraft made a flyby of Earth’s closest neighbour, Venus. The cloud-covered planet was further visited by several U.S. and Soviet craft, including a short-lived landing craft in 1967. The harsh surface conditions (a runaway “greenhouse” effect) presents a challenge to any lander.

1965 – Mars

Mars has in recent years received several American landers and rovers, but its first successful visitor was the Mariner 4 spacecraft in July 1965. The crude images returned showed none of the famous “canals” that had been mistakenly observed from Earth (an optical illusion) but more significantly showed a cratered surface not unlike the Moon. Later craft showed apparent river channels and other features from early Martian history that suggested the former presence of water, and a possibility of past or even present Martian life.

1973 – Jupiter

In December of that year, a spacecraft from Earth, the American Pioneer 10, made a flyby of the largest planet in the Solar System, Jupiter. Pioneer 10 was aptly named, and paved the way for the heavier and more famous Voyager spacecraft, launched in 1977, both of which visited the planet.

The Jovian system has since been visited by more spacecraft, including the Galileo craft which went into orbit around the planet. It was thus able to witness the demise of the Comet Shoemaker–Levy 9 as it crashed into the planet in 1994, and was able to launch the first probe into the atmosphere of the gas giant.

The use of the gravity assist technique to increase the speed of a spacecraft as it travels to more distant worlds,has ensured that Jupiter has received several passing visitors.

1974 – Mercury

The closest planet to the Sun, Mercury, was first visited by yet another U.S. spacecraft in the Mariner series, number 10. Once again, it revealed a cratered world.

The old notion that one, similar to the Moon, Mercury kept one face pointing at its parent, is not the case (which spoiled a few science fiction stories).

1979 – Saturn

In September 1979, two years after the Voyager craft had been launched, the earlier Pioneer 11 spacecraft flew past Saturn, the ringed planet, returning the first close-up images of this beautiful world. The craft had earlier visited Jupiter along with its sister Pioneer 10.

Since 1979, the Saturnian system has been visited by several craft, the Voyager probes and the Cassini spacecraft which landed a probe on the largest moon, Titan.

1986 – Uranus

In January 1986, the Voyager 2 probe became the first, and so far only, probe to fly by the seventh planet. The triumph of this feat of unmanned engineering, after a 9 year voyage, was to be marred a couple of days later by the Challenger accident.

1989 – Neptune

The Voyager 2 probe’s final planetary encounter (though it is still working as of 2015) was with the blue gas giant, Neptune, in 1989. The eighth planet has yet to receive any further visitors.

2015 – Pluto

Pluto was “demoted” from the club of planets in 2006; it is now a minor planet, along with the larger dwarf planet Eris, and others.

If all goes to plan, in July, humans will finally be able to view this most distant rocky world and its largest moon, Charon.

The digital images, broadcast back to Earth at the speed of light, will take over four hours to make the journey; compare that with the second and a bit that it takes a light from the Moon to reach us, and the 8 minutes that is required for light from the Sun to reach us.


Google will start penalising websites that are not mobile-friendly from April 21st. The search engine is making significant changes to its mobile search algorithm to promote sites which are responsive to different browser screen sizes.

A Google survey found that a staggering number of people browse the internet from mobile devices, even if they can get to a desktop computer. Websites which are not mobile-friendly will appear much lower down in Google search results.

It is generally recommended that web designers make use of Responsive Design when developing websites. This type of design dynamically adapts content to suit the size of the browser window, changing menu layout, scaling pictures and reducing the number of columns displayed.

A recent article on TechCruch reported that almost half of the Fortune 500 websites are not currently mobile-friendly. Simunix has been working to make sure all of our websites adapt to varying screen sizes.

Ten Easter Eggs

The Easter weekend is over and the more restrained amongst you may still have some chocolate eggs lurking in your kitchen cupboards. However, did you know there may also be some Easter eggs hanging about in your favourite films, or even on your computer?

I’ve rounded up a few of my favourites:

1. There’s a Starbucks cup visible in every scene of Fight Club.

2. An X appears before the death of someone in The Departed.

3. R2D2 and C3PO appear in Raiders of the Lost Ark.

4. The Chrome “unable to connect” dinosaur turns into a game when you press the space bar.

5. The Spotify app updates – look at the last one in “What’s New”.

6. A strange bug in the Windows calculator – find the square root of 4, then subtract 2, the answer isn’t 0.

7. This product page – just wait.

8. On IMDb, the rating for This is Spinal Tap goes up to 11.

9. The Facebook globe icon changes depending on where you are in the world.

10. Enter the Konami code on (up, up, down, down, left, right, left, right, b, a).

Cold Calling Clampdown

The government announced last week that it intends to clamp down on cold call companies, leaving them more vulnerable than ever to potentially massive fines.

Penalties of up to £500,000 can be imposed on telemarketing companies if they are considered to be making nuisance cold calls. Currently, firms can only be punished for this if it can be proved that the call has caused “substantial damage or substantial distress”. However, the government are making changes to the law which will remove this legal requirement and make it easier to impose fines on offending companies.

People can opt out of receiving unsolicited sales calls by registering with the Telephone Preference Service (TPS). Telemarketers must TPS check their call lists against this register at least once a month as the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) can issue fines to organisations that cold call TPS registered numbers.

Organisations making automated marketing calls are required to have the individual’s consent before making a call or sending a text to that person; a breach of this regulation can also incur a hefty fine.

Funny Directory Enquiries Calls

Anyone who works in a call centre will get their fair share of challenging calls to deal with but, as a number of directory assistance operators have experienced, some of these calls can be downright bizarre! We found a few entertaining transcripts showing some interesting queries and some very patient operators.

A caller asked for a knitwear company in a place called Woven…

DIRECTORY ENQUIRIES: Woven? Are you sure?

CALLER: Yes. That’s what it says on the label: “Woven in Scotland”.

CALLER: I’d like the RSPCA please.

DIRECTORY ENQUIRIES: Where are you calling from?

CALLER: The living room.

CALLER: The Water Board please.

DIRECTORY ENQUIRIES: Which department?

CALLER: Tap water.

CALLER: I’d like the number of the Argoed Fish Bar in Cardiff, please.

DIRECTORY ENQUIRIES: I’m sorry but there’s no listing. Is the spelling correct?

CALLER: Well, it used to be called the Bargoed Fish Bar, but the ‘B’ fell off.

CALLER: I’d the number for a reverend in Cardiff, please.

DIRECTORY ENQUIRIES: Do you have his name?

CALLER: No, but he has a dog named Ben.

CALLER: The Union of Shopkeepers and Alligators please.

DIRECTORY ENQUIRIES: Do you mean the Amalgamated Union of Shopkeepers?

Rule Breakers and Record Makers: 10 Facts About the Oscars

The 87th Academy Awards will be taking place this Sunday evening (or 1:30am Monday morning for us Brits). Here’s your chance to brush up on your awards trivia:

1. There are only three films in the history of the Oscars that have walked away with the “Big Five” awards (Picture, Director, Actor, Actress and Screenplay): It Happened One Night (1934), One Flew Over the Cuckoos’s Nest (1975) and Silence of the Lambs (1991). 

2. Midnight Cowboy (1969) is the first and only X-rated (as per American film ratings) film to win the Best Picture Oscar (the rating has since been reduced to R). The only other X-rated film to be nominated in this category was A Clockwork Orange (1971).

3. The only actor to win an Oscar for portraying an Oscar winning actor is Cate Blanchett who played Katherine Hepburn in The Aviator.

4. John Williams has racked up a staggering 49 nominations to date (45 of which are for Best Score). However, he is beaten on this record by Walt Disney who was nominated 59 times with 26 wins!

5. Beauty and the Beast (1991) was the first animated film to be nominated for the Best Picture Oscar. Since then, animated films Up (2010) and Toy Story 3 (2011) have been nominated in this category. Beauty and the Beast lost out to Silence of the Lambs but did take home the award for Best Original Score.

6. The sealed envelope was first introduced at the 13th Academy Awards in 1941 after the Los Angeles Times had leaked voting results in 1939.

7. Bob Hope hosted the Academy Awards 18 times between 1940 and 1978. The next most frequent host is Billy Crystal who has hosted 9 times between 1990 and 2012.

8. Seat fillers are employed at the Awards Ceremony to make the place look full if people either haven’t shown up or someone has temporarily vacated their seat e.g. to accept an award. The only people who can apply for this position are relatives of people who work at the Academy or employees of PricewaterhouseCoopers (the accounting firm that counts the votes).

9. There are many rumours surrounding Marisa Tomei’s Best Supporting Actress win in 1992 for My Cousin Vinny. Few had anticipated that the relative newcomer would win against the other veteran actresses in her category. There was speculation that the presenter, an elderly Jack Palance, had misread the name and the Academy were too embarrassed to correct the mistake. Another claim is that the other four nominees split the vote to such an extent that the only solution was to allow an underdog (Tomei) to take home the award.

10. The number of blondes to win the Best Actress Award is 18; the number of brunettes is 45.