Introducing Freebie-Finder.co.uk

A new site has joined the Lunatude family; Freebie-Finder.co.uk. It’s my biggest acquisition to date and represents a huge opportunity to grow the business.

The website provides guidance on where users can obtain “freebies” (ie. free products, trials for services, free samples and so on) and makes some revenue through partnerships with companies offering some kind of free offer.

Here’s the current homepage, which will be getting a fresh lick of paint in due course:

freebiehomepage

 Tags: Introducing   Published: 3rd January '13

Ubud Top Picks

Ubud is full of superb spots to eat, and after a ~4-month stint here, I’ve tried quite a few places. Here are some standout locations (in no particular order):

  • Locavore: best resto in town, for sure. Fine dining.
  • Elephant: Great location and all round veggie food.
  • Who’s Who: consistently great.
  • Kafe: The original hangout.
  • Soma: Proper Ubudian. Raw/vegetarian/whatever.
  • Seniman Coffee Studio: Funky coffee place.
  • Melting Wok: Well deserving of it’s uber high TripAdvisor ranking. Attentive service and cheap, good eats.
  • Warung Saya: One man show. Great food, but be expecting a bit of a wait.
  • Cafe Pomegranate: Amazing location in the rice fields. Great food too. A must see.
  • Gaya Gelato: Top notch gelato.
  • Palau Kelapa: Located next door to the $100+/head Mosaic. Wooden chalet building. Pan-Indo. Cheap and rather great.
  • Kebun: Good wholesome grub.
  • Five Elements: 20-mins outside of Ubud, but deserving a mention. Beautiful resort. Only vegan/raw. Pricey.
  • Taksu Spa: A spa with a restaurant. Set in the jungle, comfy, fast-wifi, free Tea refills and the best value breakfast.

Some other really rather great, but not outstanding places:

  • Ibu Oka: Famously suckling pig, favoured by bus loads of tourists and locals alike. Of by Anythony Bourdain fame.
  • Clear Cafe: A firm favourite. Only vegetarian, but so good you quickly forget.
  • Dayu’s Warung: Same road as Sopa – great organic fare.
  • Alchemy: Kinda expensive, but delightful salad bar. Vegan, so salad options is a bit lacking.
  • Warung Sopa: Just vegetarian. But also great.
  • Bali Buddha: An old favourite with a great dessert menu.
  • Fair Warung Bale: Charity outfit claiming the #1 spot on TripAdvisor. Good food with profits going to charity. Fair enough.
  • Mojo’s Flying Burritos: Best burrito in town.
  • Bernadette’s: Known for its Rendang; my favourite Indo dish.
  • Warung Schnitzel: A great schnitizel and killer deserts.
  • Cafe des Artist: Best steak I’ve had in Ubud.
  • Four Seasons: Incredible souffle!
  • Bettlenut: An event location. Good food, I thought.
  • Sari Organik: Great setting just beyond Cafe Pomegranate. Overrated, I think.
  • Putu’s Wild Ginger: Nice fare.
  • Il Giardino: Probably the best Italian in town.
  • Lamak: Souffles! Upmarket joint.

Popular places that don’t really float my boat:

  • Fly Cafe: Frequented by older ex-pats.
  • Biah-Biah: Balinese food, tapas-style, and cheap.
  • Ibu Rai: Nice setting, but only so-s0.
  • Bebek Bengil: Famous duck that just isn’s so special.
  • Taco Casa: Good Mexican, probably the best in town, but best restaurant in Ubud? Nah.Naughty
  • Nuri’s: Also popularised by Anthony Bourdain. Probably the best ribs in town.

For spa’s, I’d recommend these:

  • Putri Spa, Jalan Sanggingan
  • Restu, Jalan Goutama
  • Taksu Spa, Jalan Goutama

Many more places to check-out. I’ll give this another update sometime.

Edit: This needs a proper update; many new places in Ubud and some recommendations made that are almost embarrassing.

 Tags: Random   Published: 26th December '12

Global Airport Lounge Access for £50

Despite supposedly inventing the concept of a credit card (or charge card, to be more accurate), holding a Diners Club card is fairly pointless.

However, one of the perhaps lesser-known perks of the card is that it entitles you to complimentary access to airport lounges. We’re not talking about First Class lounges for flagship airlines, but rather generic independently-branded lounges. You’ll typically find that you’ll get a more comfy area to rest, free snacks, drinks (including alcoholic), wi-fi, and sometimes showers and other amenities.

With lounges located in all major airports, obtaining unlimited free-access for £50/year (the annual cost for a Diners Club card in the UK) is a no-brainer for a frequent flyer. If you conservatively value all of the above for £5, you’d need only fly through an airline 10-times during the year for it to make sense. AMEX offers a similar perk on with a Platinum card costing £450/year, whilst the similar access-providing PriorityPass card costs £259/year.

Update: Diners Club has effectively closed this little perk – they now charge £15 per lounge visit, which makes it fairly worthless unless you have a lot of hours to kill at the airport.

 Tags: Random   Published: 1st November '12

Some Travel Tips

Downtown and need a pee? Skip Starbucks and head to the nearest 5*/posh hotel (typically located in handy to find spots) and defecate in style. Refresh yourself with some Molton Brown hand cream and congratulate yourself on a job well done. The fancier the hotel, the more likely that staff have been trained not to confront people wandering around. It helps to walk with purpose and head to the bar/restaraunt area; the toilets are likely to be adjacent. Sniff it out, so to speak.

Downpour? A cheeky extension of the above; take the persona of a guest and hang a little while by the exit. The doorman/bellboy will promptly offer you a nice branded Golf umbrella. Give it back afterwards, of course.

Concierge as your guide. Hotel staff are less likely to do you up like a kipper – use them to get ahold of maps, advice and proper recommendations. Asking for their 2nd favourite restaurant might jolt them out of recommending their “preferred” default option.

Pack light, really light. It makes jumping on and off public transport so much easier, security improves, and wondering around in the heat no longer poses a health hazard. I’ve been working on perfecting my packing list for the past year – I’ll post a video on here someday. The general trick is to get yourself a small backpack; thus forcing you to pack little. I’ve got a 28-litre bag, which is a bit extreme – something around 35-litres is just right. Be prepared to rotate through clothes at a rapid rate.

Opt for small, quality gear. Good stuff lasts longer, generally speaking. You can get pretty hi-tech with even your underwear and making the right choices helps keep the size/weight of your backpack under control, plus see you through different environmental conditions. My packing list wouldn’t work in Wintery conditions, but I surprisingly feel that I have too much, rather than too little.

Don’t plan too much, especially if you’re on a budget. Book your first night in a new location in advance, if you must. But you’re usually better off sniffing out things when you arrive by just wondering around and asking people. You’ll get better deals haggling in person too; paying the rack-rate is balmy.

For fancier urban hotels, using the Internet is a must. “Secret Hotels” on Lastminute.com can get you a real bargain, as can Priceline’s “Name Your Price” model. Hotels typically pay some 20% commission to OTAs (online travel agents; Expedia etc) – call up the hotel direct and state the best price you spotted. They’ll typically match the price on their own website anyway, but propose that you book direct (generating more revenue for them) in return for an upgrade, or a free breakfast.

Use airport websites when searching for flights. Kayak is a superb meta search engine with a very comprehensive data set. However, it doesn’t yet have data feeds for every low-cost airline. A smart way to uncover who flies in and out of an airport is to check their live departures/arrivals section on their website.

 Tags: Random   Published: 28th October '12

In Search of (Digital Nomad) Paradise

Hitting Thailand has long been on my bucket list and after a 3-month stint in Chiang Mai, it was time to check out the islands. I was eager to not only revel in the beauty of the place, but also turn it into a research mission looking for the “perfect” spot to potentially relocate to for a more extended period time in the future. My core criteria included: affordability, natural beauty, plentiful activities and things to do, reliable Internet (slow is permissible, but flakey is not).

It’s sometimes redundant reading singular review of places that lack any kind of relative comparison. Whilst my trip was by no means exhaustive, I did end up checking out a number of places. Here’s a recap of my thoughts (written many months later):

Hat Yai
Hat Yai is a bustling little town close to the Malaysian border and made by first stop. There’s a clear Muslim influence in the air and it had a different feeling to what I’ve become accustom to in Chiang Mai and the North. The direct flight from Chiang Mai made this the ideal starting point for my island expedition. The town isn’t beautiful or charming in any way, but did the job as a transport hub. On two separate occasions I was approached and informed by that I was handsome – a nice ego boost to kick off the trip!

Pak Bara
A port village two hours West of Hat Yai. The only purpose of being here is to grab the ferry. And you’d only stay here, like me, if you didn’t quite make that day’s ferry. There’s basically only a couple of hotels and a shop or two. If you you know that you’re set to miss the ferry that day, than you’re better of staying in the Pak Bara proper or Hat Yai (departing early the next morning).

Koh Lipe
Lipe had come recommended by a couple of friends who knew their stuff (ie. had visited a few places themselves), so expectations were running high. The beaches and water was the most beautiful that I encountered on the trip. There was a nice blend of party action, chill out spots and relative isolation. I stumbled upon an apparently old copy of Lonely Planet which only used a paragraph to describe the island as a desolate place. Development will likely continue at a furious pace, but I reckon the island will continue to attract a civilised crowd and it’ll retain its charm. There’s a lack of agriculture on the island, meaning that everything is imported – something that dampens some of the exotic feel somehow. It hurts to think about how amazing it would’ve been to visit only just 5-10 years ago. Spent some time chatting to a local chap and the changes he’s seen in his lifetime is staggering – there were once Tigers on the island, which baffles in the mind. Internet speeds weren’t fasntastic, but it was workable. Good mix of some relatively upmarket places to eat and more reasonably prices local options. Dogs everywhere, and they get pretty fisty at night, just as I had to trek inland to the guest house. Swedish everywhere, but more the older crowd.

Koh Ngai
I had in mind to mind to move up North to Lanta and had heard that Ngai was a bit of a gem, so made an extended stop along the way, spending something like a week here. There’s only around 5 hotels and a couple of budget options. Eating out is limited to just the hotels too. But the island is very beautiful and quiet – I found myself quite at home. Kayak and Agoda will be your good friends to get the best rates (offering some ~30% less than the rack rate) if you’re looking to book in advance or understand your haggling room. Made a fantastic kayak trip around the island, stopping on an isolated beach, trekked inland and encountered some locals who lacked any English but kindly offered me some coconut.

Koh Muk
I made a classic 4-island day trip from Ngai and Muk was one of the first stops. Despite its small size, the island inhabits some local people and so has a bit less of a resort-only vibe.

Koh Kradan
Just here for a few hours, but rather impressed. I can only recall some nice shallow waters, sandy beach, and general tranquility.

Koh Lanta
Lanta is a gigantic island in relative comparison. The port area is built on stilts and is somewhat hectic; so the arrival experience was a little different than landing on an empty beach. I was a bit puzzled at first why the island had come recommended; the sheer size meant that it didn’t really feel like an island. Moreover, whilst the beach and water were perfectly nice, they hardly leave you in awe. On the other hand, the size meant that everything was really spread out and it gave a relaxed vibe. You’d have no problems finding a huge chunk of beach to claim as your own. The local inhabitants and bridge link to the mainland means better food and availability of cheap eats (a welcomed change). I had a blast just scooting around on a moped, but was glad also to move on.

Koh Phi Phi Don
Quite a different picture. The island is beautiful, but very developed. Crazy, especially when you consider that everything has been just rebuilt in the years following the tsunami (which hit the island very badly). Party-goers everywhere and a bit intimidating. Some nice Swedish babes for sure. In amongst the mayhem were some good eats and a local market of sorts. The viewpoint is definitely worth the uphill trek. Other parts of the island are much nicer in my books.

Koh Phi Phi Ley
Of “The Beach” fame. It is really very beautiful. The sand, water, cliff enclave, and palm trees paint the perfect picture. I’d heard of “horrific” stories of hoards of tourists descending on the beach during the day, so decided to instead charter a 6am boat just for myself. You can sleep on the beach overnight, but there’s no options to stay here and that’s a good thing.

Ao Nang
The Swedish Acapulco? The Beach itself is okay, but ruined by the ambience of the area, especially in the evening. The town is non existent apart from a strip of restaurants and tacky shops, curiously all of which are run by Indians.

Railay
I’d heard mixed reviews of the place, but found it generally nice. The geology is quite difference with many dramatic steep cliff-faces, perfect for rock-climbing enthusiasts. Railay is only accessible by boat and it was pretty quiet when I was there. Accommodations options generally lean towards the upper end of the market. The area is well developed, but not overwhelming.

Koh Phayam
Saved the best to last? Certainly not the most beautiful, but rates highly for liveability. Relatively “difficult” (but still incredibly easy) to get to and it was good to see that it attracts a large number of Thai tourists. Very quiet and spread out, and easy bike paths that cross the island. Options to live by, or very close to the beach for a totally reasonable cost.

Some islands I’d still like to check out:

  • Koh Jum
  • Koh Phangan (and Bottle Beach)
  • Koh Tao
 Tags: Random   Published: 20th October '12

Obtain Backlinks You Already Have

If you have an old, well established site, it’s likely that there are dozens, if not hundreds, of inbound links across the web pointing to the homepage and other pages on your site. You may be surprised by just how many of those links are dud; caused by typos, or links to pages that no longer exist (or perhaps have never existed).

Users may still end up arriving on your 404 error page, but a significant chunk of the SEO juice will be lost if Google does not see a congruent match in content between the source page, anchor text of the link, and the destination page.

301 redirects placed in your .htaccess file can help fix the issue, helping both users and the search engines find what they were looking for. In addition to typos, you’ll want to fix-up deleted pages too, by redirecting users back to an approximately-similar page, or just the homepage.

Both Google Webmaster Tools and AdSense provide a list of crawl errors; showing pages that Google tried to crawl but was unable to do so. Simply work through that list, matching the erroneous URL with the correct one, and then appending that to the .htaccess document. Webmaster Tools reports the source URL of the link, so you could plug those into Open Site Explorer (or similar tool) to then prioritise redirects by the SEO-weight of the links.

I’ve scheduled a reoccurring monthly task to update the list of 301 redirects. It’s hard to measure what impact it makes, but it intuitively makes sense as a worthwhile endeavour.

 Tags: Business   Published: 18th October '12

A Shared Love of Penguins

Google’s latest Penguin algo data refresh was most kind to me. I thought it’d be a nice gesture to the universe to adopt a Penguin

It’d be neat if all those who were positively effected by Google’s animal-named updates made charitable gifts to their namesake. If you were negatively effected, feel free to visit your local zoo and make obscene gestures at them instead.

 Tags: Random   Published: 10th October '12

Pret-A-Manger Free Lunch Trick

Mystery shopping hardly produces much of an income, but it’s a bit of fun and bags you a freebie. If you focus in on one company, you can become pretty fast at submitting the survey reports (I once became the Subway connoisseur of Dublin).

Pret-A-Manger has partnered up with Marketforce to provide mystery shopper feedback. The sandwich company famously discusses the findings in weekly restaurant team meetings and rewards mentioned staff members with spot bonuses. They’re one of the most prolific companies featured on Marketforce and they have outlets in every corner of London. If you like your Pret and think it’s worth 10-minutes of your time to get a freebie, then you could bag yourself a free lunch many times over.

 Tags: Random   Published: 6th August '12

The next big thing…

My father, somewhat in jest, asked me what I believed to be the next big thing. A side effect of spending way too much time online is that you can see trends bubble up way before it hits the mainstream. Here’s my crack at some predictions. I’ve tried to steer clear of the bleeding obvious or cliche trends (mobile, social).

Micro-computers. The £25 Raspberry Pi was developed to lower the barriers for kids to get into programming. The original target was to ship 3,000 units, but they’re on track to ship a million before the year is out. Presently, the demand comes from hobbyists who want to create a low cost hackable media centre, for example. The number of potential applications are vast and it has the scope disrupt all sorts of existing solutions. I could imagine that something like a commercial security camera system is darn expensive, but now there’s the prospect that an amateur could patch together some low-cost hardware and a highly flexible software offering – all at the fraction of the cost. For the non-tech crowd, I envisage that developers might chose to bundle the OS and software as a downloadable disk image (ala “app”) or sell it all ready to go – creating a new kind of ecosystem.

Big screen “app” gaming. You only have to witness the overwhelming response of Ouya on Kickstarter to see that there’s something huge coming. Only a tiny percentage of the market has even heard of Ouya and yet they’ve reaped multi-millions in pre-orders – it’s going to be big. The smartphone has shown that good gameplay rules the day. Up until now it’s still been difficult for the game developer to reach the TV gaming audience (the Xbox/Sony/Wii stores still have many hurdles). People want a cheap console with access to low cost “throw-away” games and developers want the open platform to reach the end user without restrictions or an unjust revenue share – Ouya and other future devices will bring together that marriage. Conversely, I also predict some stagnation of the blockbuster games at the other end of the spectrum. The recent E3 was dominated by franchise extensions – suggesting publishers are keen to stick to safe bets rather taking on a high-budget original ideas.

Hardware cloud. In the more distant future I can see cloud computing becoming more literal, whereby a software experienced in enhanced by the computing power of distributed server farms. The first real demonstration of this that I’ve seen is the cloud gaming service Gaikai, which has recently been snapped up Sony. Maybe Moore’s Law negates the need for any additional external hardware power, or maybe it’s going to allow us to perform tasks that we can’t even imagine yet.

Technology under the skin. Remember Interspace? It’s going to become a reality. Less so human shrinking with comical effects, but more so embedded technology under the skin that’s going to revolutionise healthcare. A recent trip to the GP reaffirmed to me that ailment diagnosis isn’t best performed by man. I figured I might have caught a tropical bug and all that was needed was a blood test to really know what was going on. Imagine a time when there’s a tiny implant inside your body conducting tests continuously and flagging problems before you even experience symptoms. It exists already for Diabetics. Technology will also help with other areas that have traditionally been considered out of reach from quantitative measurement; research has shown that a regular MRI scan can has the potential to diagnose most physiological illnesses. The technology might be a few years out before delivering something mind blowing – but I’m confident that it’s going to happen and it will change our existence.

P2P disruption in surprising places. Disgruntlement with the UK banking industry has no doubt been a boon for established disruptors such as Zoppa and upstarts like FundingCircle. There are still many other industries ripe for peer-to-peer disruption and recessions tend to lead to the reassessment of the status quo.

Extreme information synthesising. We all experience information overload and the rate of content production is only growing. There’s an increasing need for tools and solutions to consolidate and condense information. The cute Little Printer is mostly a novelty item, but it demonstrates a trend where people will increasingly value small nuggets of information that’s precisely targeted to them. The rapid boom in mobile “Apps” has helped steer content providers to trim down information to the bare essentials and the mind-shift is spilling over onto the desktop experience too. I have a few ideas in this area that I’d love to explore at some point in time.

Natural inputs for the desktop. Someone is going to acquire Leap – I wish I could invest today. It’s quite impressive to see a toddler use an iPad – there’s something special going on with a natural experience such as touch. Ever since Minority Report, people have been salivating about the prospect of waving around your hands to control a computer. Leap, a Kinnect-esque device, will make it a reality for a mere $75. I’ll be ordering one on day #1. I’ll be shocked if Microsoft or Apple haven’t made an “acqui-hire” by this time next year.

Story enhanced products. The rise of local/organic food shows the increasing interest by consumers to better understand the story behind the product that they’re buying and the company that they’re supporting. IceBreaker has a neat feature that let’s you input the barcode number and see a map of the precise location where the wool was sourced. I think we’ll quickly see that many more products will be attached with the opportunity for the consumer to extend their experience online – a meat supplier will allow you to see a photos from the animals entire life, a 3D printer company will let you see a video of your item being produced, product manuals will be supplemented with links to short videos and so on.

Demise of digital cameras. There’s still a place for the high-end DSLRs, but I think the entry level range will see a quick demise with the smartphone filling its spot. The Flip camera infamously rose to fame, got acquired for $600m by Cisco, only to be axed 2-years later. Who’d want to carry around another bulging gadget in their pockets when a smartphone can product a satisfactory quality snap (where the core use case is to share on Facebook, rather than print)?

The movie industry is screwed. I don’t feel too sorry for the music industry. The labels once served a clear purpose with a fairly legitimate case for charging £15 for an album (accounting for the cost in scouting for talent, brining artists to market and covering all the failed bets). The internet changes that completely – now an artist, using fairly basic equipment can produce good-enough quality tracks, raise awareness online, garner some fans and eventually make a living from tours. Low budget movies generally suck. We want to watch extravagant movies with leading actors and that costs a ton. Yes, the studios need to sort out things like simultaneous global release dates, but it’s going to continue to struggle against piracy.

TV is the new film. Conversely, the TV is potentially safe. The content is more absorbing and people are willing to put up with a few ads – if, and very importantly, the broadcasters allow you to stream/download the content seamlessly. Make it easier and quicker to watch a show with ads than pirate it and it’ll be safe for a few more years.

Back to basics. Just as nanontechology and new materials accelerates forward, it’s interesting also to spot trends for minimalism and using natural materials. Turns out that barefoot shoes are actually better for you, and wool is amazing.

I don’t invest (something would be wrong if I could get better returns than putting the funds back into my business), but if I did, here are some companies I’d be bullish about (based on my feeling for the company/brand rather than the financials which I do not really understand in the slightest):

  • Nike: I simply think that the brand is really strong at the moment. They’ve been really smart in partnering with technology (Apple and Xbox) and their “cool” factor has improved in recent times in my book.
  • Facebook: I don’t understand things well enough to know if they’re worth a $100b. But considering the sentiment towards the company from investors, I still think there’s a disillusion on just how much Facebook has become a “utility” that provides the pipework for everything social to come in the future. Much like Google, Facebook will also be intertwined with the entire Internet experience. Moreover, Facebook still hasn’t made significant inroads in capturing the brand marketing budgets (a much bigger market than Google’s direct response success story), but it’ll come soon. I hope.
  • Amazon: Their customer support is fantastic, product availability vast and they make it just so darn easy to buy stuff. Why I like them so much is the fanatical accomplishments in maximising conversion rates on their site. Whilst there probably isn’t so much more for them to etch out through further optimisation, it leaves me with a feeling that they’ve got an ethos of using technology with a singular goal to achieve more sales.
  • Lululemon Athletica: A sportswear retailer. One of several companies who I spotted doing a superb job with social media – and they have avid fans. Zero international presence makes them ripe for growth.
  • Airbnb: Not yet a public company, but I’d like to invest. Their progress so far has been nothing short of incredible. What gives me such high hopes it that an increasing number of my friends are aware of the concept but have yet to try it (mostly because of being timid and some ‘friction’ problems that Airbnb booking process still has). Positive experiences and the word of mouth it creates will make it mainstream.
 Tags: Random   Published: 29th July '12

Web Peeve #06: Remember Me, Forget Me

The site is going to drop a cookie and allow me to bypass the login form the next time I visit the site. Wonderful. The only problem is that the cookie only lasts a very short period of time (24-hours in this case), making it essentially useless. Name and shame: LeadImpact.

 Tags: Web Peeve   Published: 1st June '12