Sunday, 15 July 2012

Market-leading loan rates fall below 6%

Derbyshire BS and Sainsbury's have jumped to the top of the personal loan best buy tables by cutting their rates to less than 6%.

If you need to borrow money but are worried about the cost, the fact that Derbyshire Building Society has slashed its personal loan rate will be welcome news.

Now customers wanting to borrow anything between £7,500 and £14,999 over five years can apply for a market-leading rate of 5.9%.

This is the lowest the Nationwide Group (which owns the Derbyshire) has ever gone for personal loans.
5.9% is the new 6%
Derbyshire is not the only lender to cut its personal loan rate below 6% though. Sainsbury's
 has also moved its rate for loans of between £7,500 and £15,000 over a five-year term to 5.9%. In fact, you can get an even lower rate of 5.8% should you agree to pay the loan off quicker, over a term of one to three years.

And Barclays has cut the rate it offers on loans of between £10,000 and £25,000 from 6.2% to 5.9%.

The Barclays loan is available over two to five years and comes with a price match guarantee giving customers a £50 one-off payment if they can find the loan cheaper elsewhere within 30 days. But the catch is these loans are only available to existing customers and you have to borrow more than Derbyshire and Sainsbury's
 to activate the best rate.

Borrowing £7,500 over five years
Here is a roundup of the most competitive loans available for borrowing £7,500 over five years, ranked by lowest typical APR.
Typical APR
Monthly repayment
Total amount repayable
M&S Personal Loan
Existing Customer Personal Loan
What are the chances?
When taking out a loan you should remember that the attractive advertised rate is not necessarily the rate you will be given if you're accepted.

Lenders like Derbyshire are only obliged to give the headline price to 51% of applicants while the rest can expect to receive a higher rate.

Read what really damages your credit rating and make sure you check your credit profile to avoid being part of the 49%.

The alternatives
If you need to borrow money you don't always have to turn to a loan.

One alternative is to take out a 0% credit card. This could be more appropriate for your needs and help you cover costs without incurring any extra debt for a set period.

Of course this is under the proviso that you pay the amount back during the interest-free period!

Wednesday, 4 July 2012

Shard due for laser inauguration amid ticket price anger

           An adult ticket to the Shard's viewing platform will cost £24.95

The Shard is due to be inaugurated later with a light show visible across London amid anger over the "exorbitant" price of visiting its viewing platform.
The EU's highest building's external completion is to be marked with a laser show beginning at 22:15 BST.
Beams will be fired from its summit to 15 London skyscrapers and landmarks such as the Gherkin and Canary Wharf.
But there was dismay as it was revealed it will cost nearly £90 for a family of four to visit the viewing platform.
Tickets to the platform - which opens in February - will cost £24.95 for an adult and £18.95 for a child.
By comparison, an adult ticket to the top of the Eiffel Tower in Paris is currently priced at 14 euros - just over £11.
Russell Gray, of the Bermondsey Village Action Group, said: "It does sound pretty exorbitant.
"I don't think many local people will be going up to the viewing platform at that price."
He continued: "We have this massive pyramid slapped down here as a monument to the munificence of the Emirate of Qatar.
"Yet the price is yet another of the many examples of how the Shard is clearly at odds with the community in which it's defiantly planted itself."
But the PR firm representing the project insisted it was competitively priced compared to other major London attractions.
A spokesman also pointed out that the "visitor experience" would include such attractions as "kaleidoscopic lifts".
During the ceremony on Thursday the London Philharmonic Orchestra will perform classical music including Aaron Copland's Fanfare For The Common Man.
The 310m (1,016ft) tall structure will be inaugurated by the prime minister of Qatar, Hamad Bin Jassim Bin Jabor Al Thani, and Prince Andrew.
'The building is yours'
Sheikh Abdullah Bin Saoud Al Thani, governor of Qatar Central Bank, which joint-owns the tower, said: "The Shard is the newest London landmark and a beacon of the city of London's resilience and expansion, even during tough economic times.
"The lightshow will mark a key moment for the Shard, and one people around the world can enjoy."
The laser show will culminate in the illumination of the Shard itself, with the ceremony streamed on the internet.
Architect Renzo Piano said: "Up until now the building was ours. Now the building is yours.
"This building is not going to be a symbol of power."
London's iconic tall buildings

Monday, 2 July 2012

What really happens when your mobile is stolen

If your mobile phone is stolen, in many cases you are hit with a bill of thousands of pounds for fraudulent calls. But who are the thieves calling? And why?

Having your mobile stolen is stressful enough. Firstly you're without a phone and uncontactable. Secondly you have to go through the rigmarole of calling your network, getting your SIM cancelled and arranging a replacement.

However the real sting in the tail comes when you get your next bill and it turns out thieves have used your phone to ring premium rate phone lines anywhere from Algeria to Mexico, landing you with a bill of thousands of pounds.

For a long time I rather naively thought the thieves were calling their mums back in their home countries – but the truth is a lot more sinister than that.
Premium rate and profit share
The mobile phone thieves who nick your phone from your bag in the pub are part of much bigger organised gangs.

The gangs rent premium rate telephone numbers around the world and, after they've stolen your phone, use it to call them. These numbers can cost anything from £1 to £10 a minute to call.

Because premium numbers share revenue between the provider and the person who purchases them, the fraudsters can generate significant revenues by keeping your phone connected to their own premium rate number.

So, the premium rate number provider profits from the theft, the thief does, and so does your mobile network which bills you for the calls.

Liability for calls
If you're on a monthly contract there is generally no cap on the bill you can run up each month. Contracts state that you're responsible for all the calls made on your phone until the phone is reported as lost or stolen. So if you lose your phone on a night out but don't report it lost until the next day, you'll be liable for the calls made all night.

Thieves tend to act quickly – they'll start calling premium rate numbers the moment they steal your phone. This means that people who leave it only a few hours or a day to report their phone stolen can still face a massive bill.

Mobile phone insurance won't protect you either. The small print of policies says the insurance will only kick in once you've reported the phone's theft. So although it may pay out for a new handset, you'll be left footing the bill for fraudulent calls.

Mobile Phone networks
So, what are the networks doing about this scam? Well, nothing. Why would they when it's such as nice money spinner for them?

Critics have repeatedly asked UK mobile networks why they don't immediately spot fraudulent activity on a mobile phone account. After all, if you usually only use your phone to call landlines and mobiles in the UK and never exceed your monthly minutes allowance, surely a bill of £5,000 calling premium rate lines in Eastern Europe would arouse suspicions?

Unfortunately mobile phone firms are under no legal obligation to inform customers when they inadvertently run up high bills.

This lack of protection compares unfavourably with banks and credit card providers who have a legal duty to protect customers from fraud under the consumer Credit Act. Banks have processes in place which alert them to suspicious activity on an account and then either the customer is contacted or card cancelled. Mobile phone companies have no such system.

Credit limits
Some networks, such as Virgin Mobile, do allow customers to have a credit limit on their account but, worryingly, this doesn't necessarily protect you.

The networks themselves say that these limits can't be relied upon and don't work abroad. They claim this is because there is a technical delay – of several days – in foreign networks reporting usage back to the billing network in the UK.

This, of course, begs the question of how pay-as-you-go (PAYG) phones work? If you use a PAYG phone abroad and run out of credit you won't be able to make any more calls.

A cynic might say that as mobile networks are raking in profit from phone theft, they have no interest in protecting customers who fall victim to this type of crime.

But, then, I'm just a cynic.

Sunday, 24 June 2012

Voice algorithms spot Parkinson's disease

Mr Little wants to create a database of voices to help diagnose Parkinson's

Parkinson's is a devastating disease for those living with the condition and currently there is no cure.
Diagnosis can also be slow as there are no blood tests to detect it.
But now mathematician Max Little has come up with a non-invasive, cheap test which he hopes will offer a quick new way to identify the disease.
He will be kicking off the TEDGlobal conference in Edinburgh calling for volunteers to contribute to a huge voice database.
Mr Little has discovered that Parkinson's symptoms can be detected by computer algorithms that analyse voice recordings.
In a blind test of voices, the system was able to spot those with Parkinson's with an accuracy of 86%.
Mr Little was recently made a TED Fellow.
The non-profit organisation behind the TED (Technology, Entertainment and Design) conference creates 40 such fellowships each year. The programme aims to target innovators under the age of 40 and offers them free entry to conferences and other events.
Intel founder
Mr Little became interested in understanding voice from a mathematical perspective while he was studying for a PhD at Oxford University in 2003.
"I was looking for a practical application and I found it in analysing voice disorders, for example when someone's voice has broken down from over-use or after surgery on vocal chords," he told the BBC.
"I didn't occur to me at the time that people with Parkinson's and other movement disorders could also be detected by the system."
But a chance meeting with someone from Intel changed that.
Andy Grove, one of Intel's founders and ex-chief executive, was diagnosed with Parkinson's in 2000 and has since pledged millions of his personal fortune to fund research into the disease.
This includes funds for the chipmaker to develop its own projects to monitor the symptoms.
"They were using devices that detect breakdown in dexterity and accelerometers but they had also recorded the voices of around 50 patients with Parkinson's," explained Mr Little.
The recordings were detailed as the team had recorded the patients once a week over a six-month period.
"They had an enormous amount of data but they didn't know what to do with it. So we wondered whether my technique would work," said Mr Little.
"They set me a blind test to see if I can tell them which ones had Parkinson's. I had 86% accuracy using the techniques I'd developed."
Voice tremors
Vocal folds in action, credit James P.ThomasThe technology works partly by tracking the motion of vocal chords
The system "learns" to detect differences in voice patterns.
"This is machine learning. We are collecting a large amount of data when we know if someone has the disease or not and we train the database to learn how to separate out the true symptoms of the disease from other factors."
Voice patterns can change for a number of reasons, including throat surgery, heavy smoking and even just having a common cold.
But Mr Little believes the system will be smart enough to tell the difference.
"It is not as simple as listening for a tremor in the voice. That tremor has to be in context of other measures and the system has to take in other factors such as if someone has a cold."
Now he is looking for volunteers to contribute to a vast voice bank to help the database to learn even more.
He is aiming to record up to 10,000 voices and has set up local numbers in 10 countries around the world. In the UK the number is 01865 521168.
Anyone can call and they need to state whether or not they have been diagnosed with the disease.
There is also a website where people can find out more about the project.
"The more people that call in, the better," he said.
"If we get 10,000 recordings we'd be very happy but even a tenth of that would be great,"
Clinical trials
He hopes that the technology will be available to doctors within the next two years.
"We're not intending this to be a replacement for clinical experts, rather, it can very cheaply help identify people who might be at high risk of having the disease and for those with the disease, it can augment treatment decisions by providing data about how symptoms are changing in-between check-ups with the neurologist," he said.
There could also be a role for the technology in clinical trials.
"The technology makes it easy for people to report their progress whilst on a new drug, for example," he added.
"If you can catch the disease early it will make a huge difference to care costs. It could become a key technology in reducing the burden of care on the NHS."

Wednesday, 6 June 2012

CT scans on children 'could triple brain cancer risk'

The study looked at the records of nearly 180,000 young patients

Multiple CT scans in childhood can triple the risk of developing brain cancer or leukaemia, a study suggests.
The Newcastle University-led team examined the NHS medical records of almost 180,000 young patients.
But writing in The Lancet the authors emphasised that the benefits of the scans usually outweighed the risks.
They said the study underlined the fact the scans should only be used when necessary and that ways of cutting their radiation should be pursued.
During a CT (computerised tomography) scan, an X-ray tube rotates around the patient's body to produce detailed images of internal organs and other parts of the body.
In the first long-term study of its kind, the researchers looked at the records of patients aged under 21 who had CT scans at a range of British hospitals between 1985 and 2002.
Because radiation-related cancer takes time to develop, they examined data on cancer cases and mortality up until 2009.
Brain cancer and leukaemia are rare diseases.
'Significant increases'
The study estimated that the increased risk translated into one extra case of leukaemia and one extra brain tumour among 10,000 CT head scans of children aged under ten.
Dr Mark Pearce, an epidemiologist from Newcastle University who led the study, said: "We found significant increases in the risk of leukaemia and brain tumours, following CT in childhood and young adulthood.
"The immediate benefits of CT outweigh the risks in many settings.
"Doses have come down dramatically over time - but we need to do more to reduce them. This should be a priority for the clinical community and manufacturers."
CT scans are useful for children because anaesthesia and sedation are not required.
This type of check is often ordered after serious accidents, to look for internal injuries, and for finding out more about possible lung disease.
Regulations on their use in the UK mean CT scans should only be done when clinically justified - and the researchers said their study underlined that point.
Professor Sir Alan Craft, a co-author and leading expert in child health, said: "The important thing is that parents can be reassured that if a doctor in the UK suggests a child should have a CT scan, the radiation and cancer risks will have been taken into account.
"There's a much greater risk of not doing a CT scan when it's suggested.
"This study will push us to be even more circumspect about using it. We have much stricter rules here about using CT than in the United States, for example."
Dr Hilary Cass, the president of the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health, said: "We have to take very seriously the link between repeated CT scans and increased risk of these cancers amongst children and young people.
"But with both tumours rare, the absolute risk remains low."
A Department of Health spokesman said: "The UK uses lower levels of radiation in CT scans than other countries.
"We also have clear regulations to ensure a CT scan is only carried out when clinically justified."

Wednesday, 30 May 2012

David Nutt suggests alcohol sensors 'in every car'

Under Prof Nutt's proposal, all drivers would have to breath into a device and be within the legal drink drive limit before their car would start

Alcohol sensors should be in every car to cut drink-related road deaths and injuries, says the government's former chief drugs adviser.
David Nutt says motorists would have to breathe into the devices before starting their car, to test they were not over the limit.
Prof Nutt was sacked from his post three years ago after clashing with Labour ministers over drugs policy.
He later set up the independent Scientific Committee on Drugs.
That body ranked alcohol as a more harmful substance than heroin and cocaine.
He also said people in the UK would be less inclined to get drunk if they were able to smoke cannabis at Amsterdam-style "cannabis cafes".
Alcohol suggestions
Prof Nutt, president of the British Neuroscience Association and a professor at Imperial College, London, said Britain was facing a "public health crisis" of "immense proportions" because of a rise in the number of alcohol-related illnesses and deaths.
Although he welcomed plans for minimum unit pricing in England, Wales and Scotland, saying it will have a "big impact" on heavy drinkers, Prof Nutt said much more must be done.
In his new book, "Drugs - Without the Hot Air", he suggests seven ways to reduce the harm caused by alcohol.
They include shorter licensing hours, compelling pubs and supermarkets to sell non-alcoholic lagers and beers alongside alcoholic drinks and devising less dangerous alternatives such as drinks which give people a moderate "buzz".
One of his most controversial suggestions is for the "wider use" of alcohol detectors that won't allow cars to start if the driver's drunk more alcohol than the legal limit.
Prof Nutt told the BBC that some countries used the in-car breathalysers, known as alcohol ignition interlock devices, to ensure that people convicted of drink-driving don't take to the wheel, but he had an even more "radical" idea.
"You could potentially have it so that was true of all cars - everybody would have to breathe in [to the device] before they were able to drive away," he said.
"You hear about terrible accidents when four or five young people die simultaneously in the one car because the driver's been drunk. It could save a lot of lives."
'Worth investigating'
Provisional figures for 2010 show there were 250 drink-related road deaths in England, Wales and Scotland. A further 1,230 people were seriously injured and 8,220 were slightly hurt.
Robert Gifford, executive director of the Parliamentary Advisory Committee on Transport Safety, gave the idea a cautious welcome, but said it would have to go hand-in-hand with lowering the drink-drive limit from 80 mg/100 ml of blood.
"It's certainly worth investigating," Mr Gifford said.
But the Department for Transport said it had no plans to install in-car breathalysers in cars - or to use them to test drink-driving offenders.
A spokesman said: "These schemes are very difficult to manage because offenders can get round the lock by changing the car they drive. We are also not persuaded as to their effectiveness in changing long-term behaviour.
He added: "We are always willing to consider new initiatives to combat drink driving and of course would consider any new research or technology in this area."
Professor Nutt also re-iterated calls he's made previously for drugs to be decriminalised, saying there should be a system of "regulated access" from pharmacies.
Drug laws
He suggested establishing a network of coffee shops, similar to those which exist in the Netherlands where people can buy small quantities of cannabis for personal use.
"I've spoken to a lot of young people and they would prefer to go out and have a joint than get drunk - but they have no choice. "
He said if cannabis cafes were set up in Britain up to 25 per cent would switch to smoking the drug rather than drinking alcohol, leading to less drunken behaviour and violence.
Prof Nutt is due to give evidence in June to the Home Affairs Select Committee, which is conducting a wide-ranging inquiry into the effectiveness of Britain's drugs policy including the arguments for decriminalisation.
But the Home Office has made clear on a number of occasions that it has no intention of liberalising the drugs laws.

Sunday, 27 May 2012

Vegetarian Awareness Week: Meat-Eating Men Considered To Be ‘More Masculine' Than ‘Wimpy' Vegetarians

Vegetarian men are ‘less manly’ than meat-eating males, a recent study has revealed.

According to research published in the Journal of Consumer Research, men who prefer to nibble a green salad at lunch and tuck into tofu rather than a steak are considered to be less macho than their meat-eating ‘beefcake’ counterparts.
The study investigated the link between the words ‘vegetarian’, ‘meat’ and ‘masculinity’ by examining people’s word associations with certain foods.
Researchers asked participants to rate the masculinity of foods like meat, dairy products and vegetables.
They discovered that the majority of people classed meat (in particular ‘muscle meat’ like steak) as ‘manly’ and used masculine words when associating the food to metaphors.
Quick Poll

Are Vegetarian Men Less 'Macho' Than Meat Eaters?

The study also delved into how people pronounce meat-related words and investigated how ‘manly’ the words sounded. They discovered that ‘meat’ in 23 languages is spoken with a more masculine pronoun than the word ‘vegetable’.
“To the strong, traditional, macho, bicep-flexing, All-American male, red meat is a strong, traditional, macho, bicep-flexing food.
"Soy is not. To eat it, they would have to give up a food they saw as strong and powerful like themselves for a food they saw as weak and wimpy,” claimed the report.
Researchers believe that if food experts want to make a vegetarian diet appealing to men, they should re-market veggie foods so they resemble meat (for example, soy burgers that look like grilled burgers), as it might help cautious men make the transition. 

"In marketing, understanding the metaphor a consumer might have for a brand could move the art of positioning toward more of a science," add the study authors.
Do these men look 'wimpy' to you?
                                                            Famous Vegetarian Men
These results follow a previous study by the University of British Columbia, which discovered that woman view vegetarian men as less masculine than 'real men' who eat meat.
“Although abstaining from meat is widely established with the symbol of power, status and masculinity, it seems that the vegetarian man is perceived as more principled, but less manly, than his omnivorous counterpart,” explained lead researcher Dr Steven Heine at the time.
Are you a reluctant vegetable eater? Be tempted by these colour-boosting veggies that'll excite your tastebuds...