Wednesday, 29 February 2012

The best voucher code sites

Since the beginning of the credit crunch, the UK has fallen in love with vouchers. No longer do we suffer any embarrassment at fishing that piece of printed paper from our bag when we sit down at the restaurant table, quite the opposite. Dining out without getting money off is seen as a failure.

Little wonder then that the internet is awash with voucher sites all claiming to offer exclusive discounts at thousands of popular shops and restaurants. Sorting the wheat from the chaff starts to become a pretty difficult job, which is why we're here to tell you which are the five best voucher code sites out there.

Probably the most comprehensive, reliable and well-organised of the lot. They list the Top 20 codes each day, colour code their offers so you can see what sort of shops they are for and offer real exclusive offers. It's easy to navigate, and thankfully free of irritating ads.

2. KGB Deals 

When it launched, people went completely crazy for Groupon, but these days it's gone down in my estimations. They seem to have a lot of very similar offers - mostly for beauty treatments - and they often aren't nationwide which can get frustrating.

KGB Deals works just like Groupon, but I think the offers they have are much better. There's a good variety of offers from restaurant vouchers to bargain boutique hotel stays, and a whole section of pretty decent national deals too so no-one feels like they're missing out.

You do have to sign up to get your hands on the deals which means they email you - but just once a day which isn't as bad as other sites.

3. Hot UK Deals

Quite different to all the others out there, this is essentially a forum where users post deals they've found. It's pretty amazing how many different offers people find and users rate the deals so that the most popular shoot to the top of the list. There's an impressive array of different offers.

The downside? It's pretty hard work sifting through all the deals as you can't organise them by type - so it does require some patience.

4. MyVoucherCodes

An absolutely huge aggregator of voucher codes this site has probably the biggest list of all. The choice is almost unlimited and the deals are well-organised. It does unfortunately have rather too many ads for my liking, and be wary of their claims to 'exclusive offers' - you'll often find they are available to everyone.

5. Savoo

Another well organised site with a good selection of offers. Watch out again for their 'exclusive' claims, but there are some good deals to be had. The other thing I like about this site is their very active community. If you're looking for something specific, post on their forum and you're guaranteed to get a response. Plus, people share when they find other good deals the site hasn't mentioned.

Tuesday, 28 February 2012

Could sleeping pills lead to an early death?

Next time you're tossing and turning, unable to sleep, think twice about popping a pill.

New research from scientists at the Scripps Clinic, led by Dr. Daniel Kripke and published in the British Medical Journal Open, has found that taking sleeping pills twice a month can make you up to four times more likely to die prematurely, reports the Telegraph.

As a result, researchers are recommending alternative therapeutic treatments instead.

The study looked at 10,500 people who were on a variety of sleeping pills like tamazepam, zolpidem and diazepam and compared those taking sleeping tablets with others who had similar lifestyle and health factors, but were not on the pills. Researchers found that those taking higher doses of the drugs were also one-third more likely to develop cancer.

Scientists discovered that those taking higher does of tamezepam were six times more likely to die in the next two-and-a-half years, while patients frequently taking zolpidem were 5.7 times as likely to succumb to premature death.

Sleeping pills are also thought to increase depression risk.

"The meagre benefits of Hypnotics [sleeping pills], as critically reviewed by groups without financial interest, would not justify substantial risks," Dr. Kripke wrote.

"A consensus is developing that cognitive-behavioural therapy of chronic insomnia may be more successful than hypnotics."

Nina Barnett, spokesperson on older persons medicines for the Royal Pharmaceutical Society. told the paper: "This is an important study and although it is unlikely to radically change prescribing in the immediate term, it should raise awareness and remind both patients and prescribers to the potential risks of sedative use for insomnia.

"The association between mortality and sedation is not new and this research tells us is that people who took these medicines were more likely to die than people who didn't take them. However it does not mean that the deaths were caused by the medicine.

"Patients should not stop taking any prescribed medicines straight away. If you are concerned about your medicines discuss this with your pharmacist or Doctor about other ways of getting help with sleep problems so you don't have to use medicines."

Professor of clinical psychopharmacology at the Institute of Psychiatry at King's College London, Malcolm Lader, also warned of the dangers of stopping medication abruptly, explaining that patients could suffer epileptic fits and withdrawal symptoms. He also said that patients should not panic as a result of these findings.

Monday, 27 February 2012

MWC 2012: Nokia reveals 41MP cameraphone

Rory Cellan-Jones takes a look at the Nokia 808 Pureview

A 41-megapixel Nokia smartphone was among the new technology on show during the opening day of Mobile World Congress in Barcelona.
The 808 Pureview offers enhanced low-light performance as well as sophisticated image compression designed to help users share pictures.
Nokia hopes to regain ground lost to Google and Apple in the mobile market.
However, some have criticised Nokia's decision to use its own operating system, Symbian, on the device.
Nokia's other smartphones typically run on Microsoft's Windows Phone software.
Symbian, which first appeared on Nokia phones in the 90s, is widely regarded as inferior to the app and social media-driven Windows Phone system.
"The Pureview 808's Symbian Belle operating system might detract from its appeal to a broader market, where it deserves recognition," said Tony Cripps, a principal analyst with Ovum.
"It's a pity that Nokia was unable to combine the photographic prowess of the PureView 808 with the style of the Lumia 900.
"Such a device may well have been the first smartphone to truly deserve the title of 'superphone'."
Nokia claims the 808 sets a "new industry standard" in mobile imaging devices.
"People will inevitably focus on the 41 megapixel sensor," said Jo Harlow, executive vice-president of Nokia smart devices.
Nokia say the 808 will set a "new industry standard" for mobile imaging
"But the real quantum leap is how the pixels are used to deliver breathtaking image quality at any resolution and the freedom it provides to choose the story you want to tell."
The BBC's technology correspondent Rory Cellan-Jones said he expected some consumers would be surprised over the choice of platform.
"Nokia's put this on a Symbian phone, which will seem strange to people," he said.
"It's also pretty chunky, pretty heavy - but it does take amazing pictures."
China push
Also on show were new models in the company's Lumia range - including the 610, a cheaper device aimed at a "younger audience".
The firm also announced it plans to make the Lumia available in China "in the coming months".
Nokia's chief executive Stephen Elop said that introducing the cameraphone and entry-level smartphone were "the actions necessary to improve the fortunes of Nokia".
Once the mobile world's dominant player, Nokia has struggled to compete as sales of Google and Apple devices have soared in recent years.
Last month Nokia announced it was to stop manufacturing mobile phones in Europe, instead relocating to Asia at a cost of 4,000 jobs.

Sunday, 26 February 2012

Tendulkar gets honorary life membership of Sydney Ground

AUSTRALIA (Sydney): Iconic India batsman Sachin Tendulkar on Sunday became the first overseas player to be presented with the honorary life membership of the Sydney Cricket Ground here.

Presenting the award, New South Wales premier Barry O'Farrell said, "Sachin is one of the greatest cricketers ever and it's only appropriate we honour him with life membership of one of the world's greatest cricket grounds.

Praising Tendulkar for his sportsmanship and deference for the history of the game, O'Farrell remarked, "The batting legend has said the SCG is his favourite ground outside of India and it's no wonder when you look at his record at this ground."

"Sachin has provided crowds with wonderful memories at the SCG. He averages an amazing 157 in Tests; headed by his magnificent double century in 2004 Test. Always a crowd favourite, Sachin has often received support akin to Australian legends of the game.

"Many in the crowd today will be willing him towards his much-vaunted 100th hundred. Regardless of how many runs today, I'm certain the Sydney crowd will pay appropriate tribute to this legend of the game in which is almost certain to be his last match at the SCG," he added.

SCG Trust chairman Rodney Cavalier said the honorary membership was in recognition of Tendulkar's immense contribution to cricket at the SCG.

"The Trust does not award honorary membership lightly. Sachin is the first overseas player in any sport and only the second cricketer to be handed the honour," said Cavalier.

"Cricket fans have been treated to many splendid innings by Sachin at the SCG, including his innings of 241 in 2004 where he shared a magnificent stand of 353 with VVS Laxman.

"Sachin has conducted himself with grace and dignity throughout his career. I'm sure all members and cricket fans would welcome him back to the SCG at any time."

At this ground, Tendulkar has scored 785 runs from five Tests at an average of 157.00 while in one-day internationals, he has made 301 from seven matches at 60.20. (Before Sunday's match against Australia)

Friday, 24 February 2012

Shelf help: best self help books

You can find all kinds of self help books aimed at guiding you through life's challenges - but can they really make a difference? We take a look at some of the newest self help books and most popular titles.
Be Happy Without Being Perfect - Alice D Domar
If you're one of those people who put pressure on themselves to be perfect, this book is for you. It features a questionnaire to help you identify the areas of your life that you strive for perfection - such as your body, work, relationships or home - and then offers some practical advice to get your life back in balance.

Learn to be an optimist - Lucy Macdonald
You might think you are either born an optimist or pessimist (or that life's events can change your outlook) but this book suggest it's possible to change your thinking and look on the bright side. It's not without some effort though, so be prepared to do a lot of exercises each day.

The Mood Gym - Dr Helen Christensen
Packed full of drug-free remedies for depression, this book looks at strategies for coping, such as cognitive behavioural therapy, which can be used alongside medical treatment. With clear explanations and practical strategies, it offers anyone suffering with depression useful advice which can help make a difference.

Trust Your Vibes: Secrets for Intuitive Living - Sonia Choquette
Feel as though you aren't reaching your full potential? Experienced psychic and spiritual teacher for over 32 years, Sonia insists that we all have a sixth sense. And we need that extra sensory power to feel fulfilled, peaceful and happy - this books guides you to a place of security, confidence and courage along the way.

Feel the Fear and Do It Anyway - Susan Jeffers
This self-help classic deserves its place on the self help book shelf. If you haven't read it for a while, think about re-reading it! We can all slip back into negative and restrictive behaviours - and a boost of positive thinking, confidence and strategies to overcome low self-esteem is of benefit to everyone.

The Break-up Survival Kit - Pam Spurr
If you've suffered a break-up and are tired of hearing that there's 'plenty more fish in the sea' and other such clich├ęs then this is the book for you. The fact is, the end of a long-term relationship can leave many with feelings of anger, frustration and desperation - and this book recognises that. Packed with tips for getting back in the dating game, it's a great companion for getting through a break up - and finding love at the other side.

Have you been inspired by a self-help book? Let us know which you would recommend below.

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Fears for council tax benefit funds

Town hall officials fear they will not be able to plug the hole in funding for council tax benefit left by Government cuts.

Research found 86% of councils cannot meet the 10% grant reduction through back office savings, fuelling concerns the payments, which support the poor and vulnerable, will be reduced or axed altogether in many parts of the country.

Senior local authority managers also want to be free to raise council tax bills next year, according to the study by the Local Government Information Unit (LGiU) and The Municipal Journal.

Around 95% of executives support another round of Government-backed freezes on the levy in the new financial year but 80% want more control over local rates in 2013.

Senior managerial staff, such as chief executives and chief finance officers, in 81 English local authorities responded to the study.

Andy Sawford, LGiU chief executive, said: "There is some good news for government here, with most freezing council tax, and a small majority expecting changes to business rates to benefit their council.

"However, there may be trouble ahead as councils predict significant inflationary pressures and want the flexibility to increase council tax in future years. The major concern both in the medium and long term is the effect of demographic change on demand for older people's services. This confirms the importance of the Government bringing forward proposals for changes to social care funding in the forthcoming White Paper."

A Department for Communities and Local Government spokesman said: "Every bit of the public sector needs to help pay off the budget deficit.

"Councils have delivered significant efficiencies. 'Can do' councils are working together to innovate, do things differently, reform and rethink services around resident needs, reducing duplication and driving out waste. But there is still more that can be done.

"Councils need to carry on doing everything in their power to improve their productivity and seek out new and innovative ways of delivering services through: smarter procurement, reducing the costs of management and support services, sharing services, reducing building costs and assets."

UK economy shrank 0.2% revised data confirms

Activity in the key service sector was unchanged in the last three months of last year

A second official estimate of GDP has confirmed that the UK economy shrank by 0.2% in the last quarter of 2011.
The fall marked a sharp reversal in economic growth from the third quarter of 2011, when gross domestic product (GDP) expanded by 0.6%.
However, the estimate for GDP growth in 2011 as a whole was revised down from 0.9% to 0.8%, versus the previous year.
The second estimate from the officer (ONS) follows a "flash" estimate given in January.
The Bank of England's governor, Sir Mervyn King, has warned the economy is likely to "zig-zag" this year.
The fall in GDP was largely driven by the biggest drop in business investment for a year.
The production sector, which includes manufacturing, fell 1.4% compared with previous estimates of 1.2%.
The ONS also said that the number for the output of the service industries was unchanged, while output of the construction industry fell by 0.5%.
It said household final consumption expenditure increased by 0.5% in volume terms in the last quarter.
The ONS also said that, in current price terms, compensation of employees fell by 0.3% in the fourth quarter of 2011.
UK economist at RBS, Ross Walker, said the figure was disappointing but he expected a return to modest growth for the first quarter of this year.
"It's a pretty poor number," he said "The main positive is that improvements [in survey data] that look increasingly broad-based have not been captured, and we will get a bounce back in Q1 [the first three months of 2012].
"I don't think it will be a spectacular Q1 but I think we will squeeze some growth out of it."

Tuesday, 7 February 2012

Why cooking skills are the key to healthy eating

Parents who want their children to eat more fruit and vegetables should give them an apron and let them cook, recent research suggests.

By teaching our children to cook they are more likely to grow up to be healthy adults because they have a better knowledge of cooking techniques, preparing food and new tastes.
Watching talented amateur cooks on Masterchef and gazing longingly at meals concocted by TV celebrity chefs is fine, but actually doing the cooking ourselves is what matters.

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Being able to cook is a life skill which helps children grow into healthier adults.”
Rob ReesSchool Food Trust
When it comes to young children, I Can Cook on CBeebies might hold their interest while you put on the washing but it's no replacement for getting out the butter and flour and letting them make a mess, or so new research has found.
A study in Liverpool, by City University London, found that cooking classes aimed at both school pupils and adults had a positive impact on eating habits, with more pupils saying they ate more fruit and veg following the sessions.
Another study, carried out by the School Food Trust, which measured the impact of a national network of school-based cooking clubs for four to eight years olds, found that learning to cook improved their recognition of healthier foods - and their desire to eat them.
With the UK in the grip of an obesity epidemic, is this the answer to improving our diets and our lifestyles?
A boy cooking a stir fryExperts say children can learn a lot about food from cooking themselves
On hold
The push to get school children to eat more healthily is not new, with Jamie Oliver among many others campaigning against unhealthy 'turkey twizzlers' on school dinner menus for years.
But the previous government's plan to include cooking skills in the curriculum for 12 to 16-year-olds is now on hold while the current government reviews the national curriculum, to come into force in 2014.
At primary level, cooking is still part of the curriculum but the quality of lessons is thought to vary enormously from school to school.
This is where charities and social enterprise initiatives can play an important role, inside and outside school.
Jacqui Lawson, a teacher of food technology at Enterprise South Liverpool Academy, knows how valuable cooking lessons are for school pupils.
She organised for a group of her sixth form students to take part in a secondary school cooking competition run by Can Cook, a social enterprise.
The students received three hours of training from a chef, before practising cooking some recipes and then their dishes were judged by a panel of professionals.

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They were trying things they hadn't tried before, like Spanish cooking, Thai food and how to make burgers from scratch...”
Jacqui Lawsonfood technology teacher
Beef burgers
"They were trying things they hadn't tried before, like Spanish cooking, Thai food and how to make burgers from scratch with lean mince beef.
"At first they were sceptical, but they learnt to cook restaurant quality meals and the experience also taught them about working as a team and independently - lots of skills useful for later in life."
After the sessions, students' comments included, "It was challenging in a good way", "it was fun learning how to cook", "the chicken was quite hard to understand but the chefs helped" and "I felt I could do all of the stuff we were shown".
Since 2007, Let's Get Cooking has helped more than 1.7m people improve their cooking skills through more than 5,000 school-based clubs.
A survey of 2,500 of its members found that 92% used their new skills again at home and more than half said they were eating more healthily as a result of learning to cook.
Child eating strawberriesPrimary school children are currently taught cooking as part of the curriculum
Of the 335 children surveyed, an increased number said they ate more bananas, tomatoes and peas than before.
'Less fatty'
Rob Rees, chairman of the School Food Trust, says all children should have the chance to learn to cook.
"Fundamentally, being able to cook is a life skill which helps children grow into healthier adults, and that's why our evidence to the national curriculum review calls for practical cooking to be compulsory for all children."
Professor Martin Caraher, author of the Liverpool study from the Centre for Food Policy at City University London, said the range of meals cooked at home following the Can Cook sessions had changed.
"They were less fatty and less sugary than prepared previously, and there was less use of microwave and instant meals, suggesting an increased knowledge of healthy eating."
But Prof Caraher says it is about changing the culture, giving children simple and healthy recipes to take home and cook and giving their parents the basic skills to help nurture their enthusiasm for cooking.


Blue bird
Blue Jay



Monday, 6 February 2012


UK house prices rose 0.6% in January, Halifax says

Housing analysts do not expect much movement in house prices over the coming year

UK house prices increased by 0.6% in January, according to the latest survey from the Halifax.
The change means that the average cost of a house was £160,907 last month, The bank said.
House prices are 1.8% lower than a year ago, according to the Halifax's measure.
The bank said prospects for the housing market over the coming months depended on whether the debt crisis in the eurozone would affect the UK economy.
"If the UK can avoid a prolonged recession, we expect broad stability in house prices in 2012," said Martin Ellis, Halifax's housing economist.
The Halifax, now part of Lloyds Banking Group, said that the price of the average home in the UK was very similar to the average value in the middle of 2011.
This had held up owing to the low level of interest rates, the lender said.
And Tracy Kellett, managing director of UK buying agent BDI Home Finders, said: "House prices are being held artificially high by two key factors - an extreme lack of stock and historically low interest rates.
"Throughout 2012, we are likely to see a further widening of the north-south divide. Prices will be hit hardest where the economy is feeling it the hardest."
Annual view
House prices in the three months to January fell by 0.9% when compared with the previous three months, the Halifax said. This three-month on three-month comparison is often thought to be a better measure of underlying conditions in the market.
Last week, the latest survey from the Nationwide building society valued the average home at £162,228. It said that prices fell by 0.2% in January compared with December.
The Nationwide said the annual rise in house prices in January was 0.6%, notably different to the 1.8% fall recorded by the Halifax.
However, the year-on-year comparison is calculated slightly differently by the two lenders. The Halifax compares the previous three months with the same three months a year earlier to give a smoother comparison, rather than a direct comparison of the equivalent months.
UK house prices
Year on year % change
%-1.8%0.6%HalifaxNationwide200720082009201020112012-20-15-10-50510Average prices: Nationwide - non-seasonally adjusted; Halifax - seasonally adjusted.Source: Halifax and Nationwide