Saturday, 30 November 2013

Get some cashback this christmas

Back in the old days, when anyone heard the word cashback, they instantly thought of mobile phones and redeeming your bills for cashback by either sending it off to a retailer who you brought the phone from or visiting them in store. Alas that died a sudden death due to the greed of these mobile phone companies who left so many people with large bills to pay and the networks not doing anything about it since the agreement was with the retailer and usually they knew nothing about it. This left a bitter taste in peoples mouth when thinking of cashback.

Nowadays thankfully its a lot more civil. Cashback for mobile phones no longer exists. Cashback now refers to a whole industry who offer you money back on things you buy. Pretty straightforward. No redeeming or showing your receipt is required. Now there are credit cards which offer you cashback but that depends on banks accepting you in the first place and usually the rate is very low anyway at 1% or less cashback. Even the promotional 3% has strings attached. Its usually not worth it and you're better signing up to travel reward cards which work out better in my opinion.

The other route for cashback is via online shopping. Now this is a huge industry. Normally the likes of Google or Moneysupermarket earn money via referrals. So when you click on a link through their website and go on to purchase an item, they get paid a percentage of the transaction. Thats why so many comparison websites have popped up. There is a lot of money through referrals. This is where the likes of Quidco and Topcashback come in. These websites are designed using the same referral system. The only difference is that YOU get paid instead of the companies.

Now there is some serious money to be made. Since I opened my Quidco account almost 5 years ago, I've earnt about £1500. My more recent Topcashback account has earnt me over £300. The areas that you can make the most money are things like insurance, broadband, sky, virgin media, gas and electric. Some cashbacks hit over £200 at times. Thats for a single purchase. As you can see these large amounts of money will change who you choose to go with. For example with sky I usually calculate the yearly overall cost then minus the cashback figure and work out my monthly payment. I do the same with virgin media and compare both to see which one works out better for me. You can apply the same logic to all the other categories.

Now I mentioned that you can save some money for Christmas. Well you can as signing up to these websites are free. Unlike cashback credit cards which you have to make an application for, wait for the bank to credit check you and then finally accept you. And then wait for your card and PIN to arrive. By that time Christmas might have come already. Signing up to these websites is immediate and instant. You could also combine your cashback/travel reward credit cards with cashback websites to maximise returns. I would recomend you sign up to both cashback websites as not all retailers are on both websites. If a retailer is missing from one website, try the other as they can often have different agreements. Also if they are on both, check to make sure who pays the highest and go with that!

You can sign up for Topcashback here.

You can sign up for Quidco here.

Thursday, 7 November 2013

The best of the best of the best in backup solutions

I work for a school who had no ICT operations manager for almost a year. Now that I've joined, I've managed to get them up to a decent standard in terms of network performance and usability. Out of my long list of things to do when I joined, one was to find a good back up solution as up until now there was none! Scary, I know!

As the servers are running on Windows Server 2008, the most straightforward way or so I thought would be to use Windows Backup to make full and incremental backups to an external hard drive. Therefore I went ahead and ordered an external 3TB hard drive. This was a Samsung 3TB D3 Station. It was cheap and I thought it shouldn't cause any issues as it was just for backup purposes.

Once it arrived, I attempted to connect it. As we run virtual servers, the hard drive was connected to the host server. I then used direct pass through to allow the virtual server that was going to run the backups take complete control of it. The host detected it fine and showed the 3TB partition. When I went ahead and attached it to the virtual server, it failed to recognize the partition. It only reported about 300GB in drive management. Eventually I found out that it was due to the hard drive not having 512k emulation and also some other compatibility issues. I eventually gave up with this hard drive.

At this point we were no closer to a backup solution. I then started looking into cloud backup solutions. I came across Amazon S3 and their ridiculously cheap Amazon Glacier storage. The difference between those services is that Amazon Glacier doesn't have fast access to your backed up files. If you need access, you need to request it then wait a certain amount of time, usually 4 hours, before you can restore it. But since I was going to be using it for backup anyway, this didn't seem to be a problem. All looked good until I started to look into how to perform the actual backups. It turns out that Amazons interface is very messy and very difficult to use for backup purposes.

I was about to give up on that when I discovered Cloudberry. Their Cloud backup software appears to tick all the boxes for my needs. They can backup to several cloud services including Amazon, HP, Google, Microsoft and Rackspace. The interface is pretty straight forward and offered all the options that Windows Backup offered and then some. It was also very reasonably priced compared to other backup solutions like Norton Ghost.

Cloudberry allows you to backup network shares so you can backup multiple servers to one location. It also allows you to encrypt backups before being sent to the cloud. This will allow you to protect your data and ensure that even if someone manages to intercept your backup data on route or even hack into your Amazon account, they cannot get access to your data.

I must say this is the all in one solution I have been after and would wholeheartedly recommend it to other schools. Just for comparison, I asked my local authority's ICT department what sort of backup solution they could provide. They came back with a ridiculous price of £2500 per year for 1TB of cloud storage backup. Compare that to using Cloudberry and Amazon Glacier which costs only £80 a year, you can take a guess which solution I'd be choosing.

Monday, 7 October 2013

Three's so called returns policy

I took out a sim only contract with three on the one plan last week in order to use the sim's unlimited data in a dongle. They allow you to tether so I thought they shouldn't have a problem with me putting it in a dongle as I'll be using the same amount of data anyway, just via a different method. How wrong I was! Read on. 

I was happily surfing away for a few days until the internet stopped working. I got a message for any website other than three's own website(how typical) saying that "you cannot use this sim other than in a phone...." I was like wtf?! Why should they care how I use the data as it's the same data whether it's going through a dongle or through a phone tethered. Needless to say I wasn't happy. It's not something they tell you is a restriction when you take out the contract. What I don't get is I am saving them money by not even using the bundled minutes and text so they should be happy for me to use just data this way. But of course like any other greedy corporate business they're just after your money. And when they have that they want more. 

Next day I called their customer services. Now I'm not a racist but these Indian call centres are a very big hit and miss. Some companies employe knowledgable Indian people who actually are an asset to the company employing them. Then you get those like three who employe any tom, dick and Harry. Some even call themselves that too. 

Anyway I called them and they read their normal script and informed that I cannot cancel because ...........get this.....the SIM card is used. Used? Yes that's right. Well Mr Three how the flip am I supposed to try the sim out and even test your coverage if I can't "use" the SIM card. Do you just want me to buy a sim or phone from you, leave it in a draw and then return it within 14 days unused? How do you expect me to know if I'll be happy if it's in the draw the whole time. Back to the drawing board on that one for you. 

So they told me I can't cancel and I was like yes I can since I'm within the 14 day cooling off period. Lady went away and came back and kept on saying hello pretending that she can't hear me. I knew she was lying which I told her so but she stayed ignorant then eventually hung up on me. 

I called back. Did the same thing and was told the same script and hung up on again. Third time lucky? Not for me. I called up again and eventually got put through to a so called manager who promised to investigate and get back to me within 5 working days. This wasn't good enough as now I was willing to even pay for what I had used on their now "used" SIM card. It's not as if they resell the sims but I was willing to pay for the data usage as that's all I used and even then it wasn't much data as I said before they blocked access via the dongle I was using. He kept on repeating that he would have to get back to me. I should also point out that at this point he was the manager at the Indian call centre and even then it appears they have no real decision making powers. They most likely have to refer to an office in the uk for a decision. Also at this point I was pointing to several uk laws which they would be in breach of which he hadn't a clue about. I mentioned that as it was an order over the phone I am covered by the distance selling regulations and that gives a 7 day cooling off period which I was still within. Furthermore as this was a contract it is a form of credit and therefore the consumer credit act comes into play here with its 14 day cooling off period. I'm sure there are other laws but I couldn't remember any other at the time. None of this was having any effect on the so called manager. This is one of the reasons why it is a bad idea to have foreign call centres as they will not understand all our laws in the same that we won't understand theirs. Eventually I have up and said fine call me back in 5 days. 

I had almost given up but I still had a little fight left in me. Plus it was a quiet day at work. 

I tweeted three's customer service but did not get any replies. Useless and a waste of time that was. Then a breakthrough. I was google something and stumbled across the executive offices email address and postal address based in Glasgow. I thought I've got nothing to lose so why not give it a try. 

After telling them the whole fiasco in an email I received a call later from a very helpful Jane. She was based in the uk and apologised. She understood exactly what I said in the email and promptly cancelled. I thanked her and did a victory dance. That was that. Its nice when people understand your request and have the power to action them. 

Now just to make it clear I still have a three mobile iPhone contract and I do like their unlimited data which is unmatched by any other uk network. However I think their Indian call centres are rubbish and their returns policy utterly disgraceful. They really need to look at that and think about it from a customers perspective. 

Thursday, 26 September 2013

Don't you just love glitches?

Yesterday I saw a post on Facebook by hotukdeals and 10 ways (search them up and like them) about a tesco price glitch. The glitch brought the price of chunky cookies which normally retail for £1.89 down to 7p each! You had to buy in multiples of 3 to get that price. 

Initially I tried 3 out at the self service. It's best to use self service as staff won't raise eye brows or even worse stop the transaction when they see the price. 

Once the test worked I went back and filled up a basket as much as possible. I rinsed and repeated until the shelves were empty. Eventually I came out with a total of 110 cookie packets! The staff were slowly catching on with me repeatedly going through the checkouts but by the time they realised I had cleared the shelves. 

These should have cost me well over £200 but I paid only £7.70. This is why I love price glitches like this. I feel sorry for the staff responsible for the error. You can bet they got fired for this. 

Tuesday, 12 June 2012

Cocoa's Cupcakes

Ever seen fruit made to look like flowers? You probably have. They are known as edible arrangements. However Cocoa's Cupcakes add a twist to this by creating delicious cupcakes to look like a bouquet of flowers. Several people that have seen it including me have thought they were actual flowers. The skill that goes into each cupcake is first class. Hats off to the chef or baker or baker chef.

The story doesn't stop there as they taste as good as they look. The cupcakes contain a nice vanilla flavoured sponge.

Take a look at the gallery. My favourite one is the ice cream cupcake. It looks just like a classic ice cream with a flake. The amazing thing is it even tastes like one too.

If you live in Birmingham and haven't tried one yet then you've been missing out. So go on click through and place you order. Go on I'll even make it easy for you. Here's the link

Saturday, 24 March 2012

Its been a while....

Ever since Google and their bots banned my AdSense account, I've had less enthusiasm to write about anything since I wouldn't be making any money out of it. But I thought an update for people that actually read if there are any may help.

I've been working on starting up a business to provide IT Support and solutions. Its called IT Aftercare. Hit the link and see how the site is. Hope its easy on the eyes, if its not you need to pay a visit to specsavers. But seriously what does everyone think, good bad or ugly? Any feedback is good feedback as sometimes you need that fresh perspective.

Well here's hoping this proves to be a successful venture. Still a lot more work to do but as usual I will try to keep you updated....that is if Google the (insert expletive here) don't ban my blog account.

Monday, 13 February 2012

Valentines Day Thought

So here we are again. Another manufactured day just like mothers day, fathers day, boxing day, May day to name a few. Now I'm all for these days if it means we get a day off work. Otherwise its not worth it as we will most likely end up spending one way or another. Now depending on which part of the world you're from, today is Valentines day. If its not yet then Happy Monday 13th February 2012. Now Valentines day is as manufactured as they come. The most common myth or truth depending on how you look at it is candy companies invented it so that they can sell loads of, well you guessed it, candy. However the truth is far more complex. Hit Wikipedia if you want the full story. Bet you thought I was going to give you an explanation.

My point in posting about Valentines day is that even though I am not single, I still somewhat despise the day. The main reason being that people spend aimlessly on ridiculous items which don't mean anything. For example, flowers and chocolate you can buy any day but people always get these which nearly always end up in the bin a few days later because lets face it, a lot of these chocolate boxes contain rubbish chocolates (I'm talking to you Mr Thornton and Mr Milk Tray).

Now if you do decide that you'll be partaking in this event because you are forced into it or you actually feel like doing something nice then here's my take on what you should do. Well I always say experiences are better than actual items. Days out come to mind. Now there are loads of days out from something adventurous as Bungee Jumping to something as calm as a Spa Relaxation day. Now these things although not tangible will be far better received than just another year of the same old same old. Just make sure you actually have it booked and ready for the day rather than just handing a gift certificate on the day because that sure won't be received as well although the other half will eventually enjoy the gift.

So now you know what you can do for next years Valentines day because I'm pretty sure if you haven't already thought of this then you'll have missed the window to get these kind of things booked so better luck next year assuming that is you don't become single. If you unfortunately do then may I be the first to say Happy Thursday 14th February 2013!

P.S If you're single right now then Happy 14th February 2012. Hope you have a good working day like the rest of society.