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.