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June 12, 2017

THE FAST TRACK TO LUXURY


This November sees the release of a new version of Murder On The Orient Express, the second big-screen adaptation of the Agatha Christie novel featuring the legendary detective, Hercule Poirot. As is the way with such things, there is a murder, and the suspects are a suspicious group of aristocrats and well-to-do (and their staff) traveling across Northern Europe in the dead of winter on a steam train. Created in 1883, the Orient Express was simply a passenger route, primarily from Paris to Istanbul. It wasn't until after the 1934 publication of Ms Christie's book that it became associated with luxury travel. But as our methods of travel changed and became more affordable, the extravagance of a journey on the Orient Express - not to mention the relatively long time the journey took %u2013 fell out of favour. In 2009, the Orient Express was closed down and forced to remove itself from the timetable of scheduled journeys, instead becoming a private venture.

But the desire to make a slow journey across land in what amounts to a five-star hotel on wheels remains popular for those who can afford it, as there are luxury train routes running throughout the world. Some retain their old-world sensibilities, while others make the best of modern technology to give a more 21st Century feel. And all of this without a dead body in sight.

The Orient Express (or the Venice Simplon Orient Express, to give it its full, less interesting name) currently runs from London to Venice, via Paris, and from Paris to Istanbul. But is plenty of luxury rail travel available throughout Europe. Many are short trips, such as the Swiss Classic Train, or the Belmond British Pullman, both of which have the added authenticity of using steam-powered locomotives. Others take in a variety of routes, such as the Majestic Train De Lux, which runs out of Austria to a number of Baltic States, and is a replica of the personal train of Emperor Franz Joseph I of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. There are also trains that celebrate the destinations as much as the journey, such as El Expreso De La Robla, which covers the countryside and coast of Northern Spain.

Probably the second most famous train route in the world is the Trans-Siberian Express. Currently run by Golden Eagle Luxury trains, this line, the longest train route in the world, cuts a nine thousand kilometre path straight through Russia, from Moscow to Vladivostok. There is also the Imperial Russia service, which additionally runs to Beijing, China. Another epic journey, albeit with a completely different climate, is The Ghan, which runs North to South straight through the middle of Australia, via Adelaide, Darwin and Alice Springs.

Some of these journeys are truly once-in-a-lifetime experiences. Imagine, for example, taking in an eight day tour of north-west India aboard the Maharajas' Express. From Mumbai to Delhi, there are visits to palaces, temples and castles on routes that go through mountains, jungles and deserts. There's even an elephant polo match and a safari. Or if you'd like to see the safari without having to remove yourself from your opulent carriage, then you could take the Pride Of Africa, with its specially designed viewing carriages. Be warned, however, that the price tag for most of these adventures is incredibly high.

Even today, luxury train travel is in high demand. Starting operation in May this year in Japan, the ultra-modern Train Suite Shika-Shima has already sold out until April 2018, despite the journey working out an average of $2.50 for every minute you spend aboard. With 10 carriages but a maximum of only thirty-four passengers, this updates the luxury train experience for the elite of the modern age. Hot-tubs, an open fire and an open kitchen where you can watch a Michelin-starred chef prepare modern Japanese food - it would be easy to forget that you were on a train and not a space ship.

With less people in the entire train than most commuter services have in a single carriage, a luxury train journey can really add a new spin on the holiday experience - provided you can afford it.


May 8, 2017

INTRODUCING OUR NEW AND IMPROVED USA SIM


Telestial are proud to announce the (re)launch of our USA SIM service. We've taken on board your comments and feedback and have made a few changes to ensure that we offer the best service possible for all our customers. Some of the new features of our USA SIM include:

Improved coverage
We've made some changes to ensure that no matter where you are in the USA - metropolitan areas or out in the big country -you'll get the strongest signal available, for both calls and data.

Works everywhere
Previous iterations of our USA SIM have only worked in the US. But now you can use your SIM while in transit, giving you the option to share your US phone number with family and friends before you travel.

Auto-activation
Again, previous versions of our SIM required you to manually configure your SIM once you arrived on US soil. Now, activation is automatic, giving you one less thing to worry about when you arrive in your destination.


Despite these changes, we haven't had to cut back on our deals - we still offer the same great bundles as we always have, with a range of unlimited talk and text deals, and up to 2GB of data. So if you're headed to the USA this summer, don't forget to pick up your Telestial USA SIM card today!


April 25, 2017

THE BIG NAMES MAKING BIG MOVES


There have been some huge changes to the world over the last 10 years, and this is made very clear when you look at the list of the top 5 largest companies in the world. Exxon Mobil, General Electric, Bank Of America and Citigroup are all gone, replaced by Alphabet (Google's parent company), Amazon, Facebook and Apple. Only Microsoft remains (and in the same third place as it was back then). Clearly, smartphones and what they are used for have become all-encompassing in their importance, so with this in mind, what are the biggest players planning for 2017?

Facebook
When you're a tech company in the top five biggest companies in the world, you don't need to turn up to other people's tech showcases, you simply host your own. The WWDC (Worldwide Developer's Conference) is Apple's version, while Google have I/O. Facebook have just held their annual conference, named F8 was held in San Jose this month, and they revealed some of their ideas for the future. Mark Zuckerberg is renowned for having an ambitious vision of the future, and this year's announcements were no exception - they're working on creating a way for computers to read your mind. This is something that Zuckerberg has been thinking about for at least two years, but the difference between a man worth $60 billion and the rest of us, is that he has the resources to turn daydreams into reality. As well as dreaming big, Facebook will be making a few tweaks and changes to their existing properties, which include the most popular apps in the world (for example, the number of people using Facebook Messenger is now an astonishing 1.2 billion). They'll be looking closely at both Virtual and Augmented Reality (and as you'll see below, they aren't the only ones), updating the Messenger app (because 1.2 billion users isn't enough) and working to combat 'fake news'.

Apple
Traditionally, Apple likes to wait until September before making any big announcements. Given that 2017 is the 10th anniversary of the release of the first iPhone, people are expecting something special this year, and there's already plenty of speculation about what that will be. But Apple have a bit of an image problem at the moment. After 10 years at the top, the sheen is starting to wear off a bit, and Apple are having to engage in a bit of damage limitation. What, for example, are they planning on doing with the $245 billion profit pool that they've got stashed offshore (it's unlikely to be anything on this list)? It was recently announced that in the future, Apple's phones would be made from 100% recycled materials. While this might be down to a new-found sense of responsibility, the more likely explanation is that it deflects criticism away from the fact that they don't allow people to repair the Apple products that they own.

Despite their issues, Apple remain technological visionaries, and, just like everyone else, considers Augmented Reality to be vital to their future plans. Having already reaped $3 billion from the success of Pokemon Go! apps on iPhones, Apple sees this as a better bet than Virtual Reality, as the former enhances the real world, while the latter locks you away from it. They have some interesting plans, and the option to combine this with another piece of futuristic tech that is becoming a reality - self-driving cars. The idea of Apple's design team let loose on the humble automobile would be something to get very excited about indeed, but we still need to ask ourselves how much Apple would charge for such a thing, and whether you'd be able to fix your car if it broke down.

Google

Apple aren't the only big company flirting with the self-driving car concept. Google are also on the case, and are already offering free rides in their driverless cars in Phoenix, Arizona. This is a little bit behind their co-founder Larry Page's extraordinary new toy, which looks like something taken straight out of the pages of a Batman comic. Meanwhile, Google continue to put their AI DeepMind through its paces, setting it up against one of the world's best Go players. DeepDream, an experiment to figure out what an AI network 'sees' when it looks at an image, continues to push the boundaries of both science and modern art. Even Bob Ross's Joy of Painting is not immune to its surreal influence.

In the smartphone market, Google seem to be faltering a little. While there are plans to follow up their very successful Pixel phones with newer models, there are still issues getting hold of the original. For a company the size of Google, this is a rare misstep. However, they have also recently announced two new initiatives that should make a sizeable difference. Firstly, they're reportedly putting an ad-blocking feature into their Chrome browser. Some may believe this is a bit of a strange move from the world's foremost advertising platform, but it's to protect users from other types of advertising - pop-ups, self-playing videos and the kind that hides malware. There's not much news on that yet, but speaking of news - they have also just announced an offensive against 'fake news'. How they're going to achieve this is yet to be seen, but in common with their peers, Apple and Facebook, no one could accuse them of thinking small.



April 11, 2017

GETTING THE BANNED BACK TOGETHER


It was announced last week that both the USA and UK governments have issued a ban on certain electronic devices being carried on flights in or out of their respective countries. The devices in question are any electronic items with a battery or plug, and that are more than 16cm in length. While this generally covers laptops, e-readers, tablets, portable DVD or games systems and some smartphones (the latest iPhone sneaks in by being just short of the requirements at 15.8cm long, but some other models of 'phablet', such as the HTC Ultra, are too long). While many believe that these measures are ineffective, others, particularly the airlines affected, at least have a sense of humor about things. But this is merely the latest ban on electronic devices, and while this one has very real ramifications and serious reasons for doing it, it's not the only ban out there at the moment.


From the serious, to the deliberately light-hearted - comedian Chris Rock has announced a tour entitled "Total Blackout". Part of the title has a very real application, as mobile devices will be banned from the audience. To do this, he'll be making use of a company called Yondr, who provide self-sealing pouches to venues to stop audience members recording the whole show on their smartphones. It's been an issue for Rock for a long time - in an interview conducted in 2014, Rock expressed concern that footage of him practicing jokes for a stand-up routine were being put into the public sphere before they were ready, and therefore ruining the act that would later be put together. He's following the lead of his fellow comedians, Dave Chappelle and Louis CK (although the latter's issues appear to run a bit deeper).


Sticking with showbiz news, another ban on using cellphones has been announced - but this is not for the audience, or even the stars. This is for PriceWaterhouseCoopers, the accountancy firm. PwC, as you'll recall, recently took responsibility for the biggest error in Oscar history - when the wrong winner of the Best Picture award was announced. It later transpired that one of the accountants responsible for holding onto the envelopes that contain the winners had been Tweeting photos of the stars just moments before the mistake was made. Whether this was the reason for the mix-up or not, it's evident that the person in question was not concentrating on the task in hand, and next year, cellphones will not be permitted.


You might have thought that professional sports might be one of the few areas that doesn't really need to worry about smartphones on match day. But over in Australia, the National Rugby League is banning phones from dressing rooms. There is a partial concern that social media is distracting some players before a match, but the bigger issue is one of illegal betting. Because the NRL only (currently) releases the team list one hour before a match, the governing body of the league also wants to stop information that may be passed on to gamblers from the players themselves. In a similar but unrelated move, banking giant Deutsche Bank has banned employees from using WhatsApp or SMS messaging on their company phones, in order to tighten up compliance with banking rules and regulations. Since they've accrued almost $14 billion in fines since 2008, anything they can do to stop problems arising seems like a great idea at this stage.


Finally, in the historic Roman city of Bath, England, a local pub has created a stir by banning phones at the bar. Apparently, this is as a result of calls from the local drinkers, who often ask the barman to make sure that people on phones go outside. Evidently, the landlord got sick of having to do this, and banned phones outright. It's not the only pub in the country to ban phones - The Gin Tub in London has even gone so far as to construct a Faraday Cage around their bar. But to compensate for this, old-fashioned dial phones are on each table to make ordering/reordering much easier.


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