Ultimate Guide to Saving Money Online In Australia

This is a bit out of the ordinary for the sort of post I write, but I’ve had a lot of people ask how I get things cheap. There’s a little bit of effort invovled – but not that much, and generally the effort is far less than the money saved.

Here is my ultimate list of methods to purchase goods online, and get the biggest discounts possible. I’ve been using and refining these for many years and saved lots of money compared to walking into a store.

These options aren’t difficult to use, and combining these methods together should help you reduce your overall spend:

  1. OzBargain – A community driven site where users post and vote for bargains and deals discovered.

    Visit this page regularly to keep an eye on deals that pop up. Use the ‘deals’ section rather than the main page, as the main page only shows items with lots of votes. Use the search function when looking for an item to see if there’s any existing deals (use the All Nodes > Type: Deals (No Expired) advanced option to only see active deals). Failing that, check expired deals to see what sort of prices may be possible, or if it’s worth waiting for another future deal to pop up.

  2. Cashback Schemes –  Where retailers pay the site to advertise, and they give the users a portion of that payment.

    CashRewards^ is the one I use, but there’s also Topcashback amongst othersSign up for this, and use the Chrome extension. A certain percentage of purchases you make on supported websites gets credited back to you, which you can transfer back to your bank account when you have enough. You don’t really have to think about it after that – when you go to a website that CashRewards supports (and there’s a LOT of them, including major ones like eBay, Telstra, Virgin, Microsoft, CatchOfTheDay etc) it’ll pop up asking you to activate the cashback. Sites like aliexpress offer 10%, which is a reasonable return and should be considered when trying to find the cheapest price possible for an item, as well as automatic money back for random online shopping.

  3. Lasoo – This site hosts a lot of Australian stores’ catalogues online, which are searchable.

    When looking for an item, go here and search to see if there’s any good deals on it. It’s a quick way to see if a retailer has a good price on an item you’re going to buy.

  4. Rewards Card – A credit card from a financial institution that rewards points for each dollar spent.

    When doing online purchases, you should be earning points of some sort. Points Hack is a good website to see what deals are happening. Find a credit card that doesn’t cost anything to maintain, or the costs are nullified by their benefits (e.g. an American Express^ is one card I have which gets 100,000 points on signup, and up to 2 points per $1 spent. It costs $395 a year, but it also includes a $400 travel voucher a year and a bunch of other benefits – so I end up saving money). Also link up your points earning card to Paypal, so when doing purchases through that you’ll still earn points.

  5. Frequent Flyer Points – Airlines or hotels who have their own points system that can be used to receive discounts or spend on items.

    Those reward cards sometimes convert straight to a Frequent Flyer program, or they might have their own points system where the points can then be sent off to one of several options. Don’t transfer unless you want to spend the points, as often there will be promotions where a bonus is paid when transferring the points ( e.g. 15% extra points from Virgin). If you know you’ll use them later with that company, transfer when there’s a bonus. The points can then be used against airfares or their online stores, and really it’s points you paid nothing for.

  6. Discount Codes and Coupons – Usually a code to enter at the time of purchasing an item to receive extra discount.

    Most websites have a code option, and it’s worth checking to see if one exists when doing an order. Honey^ is another Chrome addin that is community driven, and able to test and apply all known codes automatically when it recognises a website, to see if you can get any discount. There’s also some other sites it’ll give you points for when doing a purchase, which can be redeemed for Amazon credit. Failing that, there’s coupon sites such as RetailMeNot where you can search for the site you’re on to see what codes might be available. I generally do a Google search for the site I’m on like ‘Coles Online Code’ and check the first few results.

  7. Specialty Search Websites – A site that indexes certain types of items to quickly find the cheapest option.

    You may have to go searching for these. For computer parts, I use Static Ice which shows in price order the results from many different stores. For board games, I use Board Game Search. It’s worth noting that you may find cheaper from the other methods above, but it’s an easy way to price check.

  8. Price Matching – Some retailers will offer a price match guarantee which can be worth your time.

    EB Games is a good example here – their normal prices aren’t very good, but they’ll price match with almost any advertised price. If it’s more convenient to go to their store than another, it can save you a bunch of hassle. OfficeWorks is even better as they’ll beat any advertised price by 5%. If you find a great online deal, but Officeworks has the item too, you can easily save another 5%. On big ticket items that can easily be worth the hassle of going into a store.

  9. Gift Cards – Cards that can only be spent at certain stores

    The cards themselves provide no extra value, but often they can be bought for less than their face value. For example, WISH cards which are redeemable at the Woolworths group of stores can be bought for 5% less than their value through a variety of different methods, possibly through a service you already use. 5% off your groceries each week adds up fairly quickly for very little effort.

  10. Entertainment Book – A book full of discounts

    There’s a few of these around, but the Entertainment Book is one of the most popular. Although it costs $70, using it twice when going out for dinner will generally cover the cost of the book. Beyond that, you’re saving money. Meal deals are usually 2 for 1 or 25% off which are reasonable savings. You’ll also get those gift cards at 5% off (e.g. JB Hifi, BWS, Jetstar ) which again can pay for itself very quickly. If you have to fly Jetstar, it’s nice to get a discount.

  11.  Overseas Fees – When making a purchase from overseas, it’s often in a a foreign currency.Credit card companies normally charge an extra fee when purchasing in a different currency than AU. There’s often bargains to be found overseas, which are much cheaper (even after shipping!) than anything you can find locally. For this reason, it’s good to have a credit card that won’t charge you extra to do this. The two favorites are the Bankwest Zero Platinum MasterCard and the 28 Degrees Platinum Mastercard – both have no fees on overseas purchases, and no annual fees. Amazon in different countries often comes through with great pricing, and is worth keeping an eye on.

If you think I’ve missed something or have anything to share, please comment so I can review and update this list. I’ve avoided things that require lots of effort to maintain.

^ These are affiliate links, meaning I get a few $ if you use them. If you don’t want to use those links, go to the site manually – but there’s no negative impact to you for doing so.

Samsung Gear VR Competition

After winning Netwrix’s Sysadmin Blog Award for Tech Tips, the prize of the Samsung Gear VR has turned up today for me in the mail.

I’ve decided to give this away as a prize instead – I have opened it to make sure it wasn’t damaged in transit as the box is a little beaten up, but haven’t used it as I don’t have a Samsung phone :)

Simple and straight forward, use the widget below to enter. Worldwide entry allowed, assuming the local post office will let me send it to you and I’m not breaking any international laws.

If the winner wants to do a review or share a photo of them with the prize, I’d gladly share that on my blog too, but this isn’t a requirement.

I’m also not a supporter competitions that promote spamming, so there’s no entries for sharing this. Good luck!

 


A somewhat beat up box, but the contents are fine!

Samsung Gear VR Competition

Checking CSV Against Active Directory Users

I’ve written before on how to update Active Directory from a CSV. This time, I’ve got a CSV list of users that I want to check are valid users against my Active Directory (AD) environment.

There’s a huge amount of ways this can be done, and this is just one of them. If you have others, or ways to improve this I’m always keen to hear!

This script assumes you have a CSV file with the header (first line) with the word ‘users’. Here’s an example CSV file: myusers.csv

Below is the PowerShell script I wrote. I’ve also written about ‘If’ and ‘Else’ before, so read that if you want some clarification. The user list I have is based on User Principal Name (UPN) rather than just username, so I’m searching AD to see if there’s a match or not.

Import-Module ActiveDirectory

$Data = Import-Csv myusers.csv

foreach ($user in $data){
$upn = $users.user
$check = $(try {get-aduser -filter "userprincipalname -eq '$upn'"} catch {$null})
if ($check -ne $null) { }
else { "$upn Doesn't Exist" }
}

What I’m doing here is setting each line of the CSV as the $UPN variable to search for. Then using the ‘Try‘ function, I’m catching if there is no result/match (null). If there’s a match, it won’t equal null, so display nothing. Else, show the UPN via the $UPN variable and follow that with ‘Doesn’t Exit’.

This way, I will only get results back from each AD search where the UPN in the CSV doesn’t match a user’s UPN in my AD environment – and I get to see what those results are.

This script method can be applied in many different ways of course, but it was the first time I’d used the Try function, and it worked really well.

 

On-Premise vs On-Premises – Who Cares?

Haven’t we got better things to do than worry about this?

From time to time, I see people argue and get upset, frustrated or just obnoxious on the use of “on-premise”. But why?

Yes, the word “premises” means – a house or building, together with its land and outbuildings, occupied by a business or considered in an official context.

…and the word “premise” means – a previous statement or proposition from which another is inferred or follows as a conclusion

(thanks Dictionary.com)

so, it makes sense to extrapolate this to an IT term when referring to something being on your property as “on-premises”. It’s the correct term to use.

However, ‘on-premise’ has become mainstream, and it seems to irk a lot of IT professionals. This has been happening for years already, 3 years ago Brian Madden already wrote about how the grammar war had been lost.

We are now at a stage where the biggest of vendors use the term ‘on-premise’ Here’s a few easily googlable examples:

VMware Microsoft Mailguard SAP LogMeIn RedHat RSA

Also, I just used the word ‘googlable’. That’s not a real word… yet. You knew what I meant though, right? Partly because you’ve probably heard it before, and in context it’s rather clear.

Here’s an example of these polar opposite views on Twitter:

 


Obviously I’m on the side of the second example here.

To me, there is a huge difference between seeing someone email about “Microsoft Exchange 2012”. That doesn’t exist, and it means I don’t actually know which Exchange version you’re talking about, and question your knowledge on the product if you think that exists. I don’t apply the same logic to “On-premise” because it’s crystal clear what you mean by the term. If vendors commonly use it, why shouldn’t we expect customers of these vendors to do the same?

It’s also widely accepted to use ‘on-prem’ as an abbreviation. I’ve never heard or seen a complain about that term. Isn’t it then silly, and of little to no value to go on about ‘on-prem’ and ‘on-premises’ being acceptable, but ‘on-premise’ isn’t?

On top of this, not everyone is a wordsmith. We all have different skill sets and abilities, and nobody is an equal when it comes to language. It is not a sign of intelligence or lack of intelligence if someone writes about PC’s when they mean PCs. It’s not a lack of attention to detail either – just like so many struggle to have instant recognition of which variation of ‘there’ to use.

Here’s a little secret – up until a few days ago, I thought the term was ‘pre-madonna’ but saw it written for the first time… it’s ‘prima donna’. We all have these silly stories on terms that we got wrong for so much of our lives. I also knew someone who was telling me about ‘phone ticks’. It was actually phonetics, they’d just never HEARD the word, only in it’s written form. They’re funny stories, but they all show a connection between the word and it’s use.

I’m not saying we should abandon grammar and correct terms. Using the correct term is what we should aim for; it reduces the chance of incorrect interpretation. However, the English language is always evolving. The term ‘Cloud’ was made up by someone recently, and it’s still a very broad, general use term that usually needs defining to work out exactly what it is in each situation.

Here’s another example; do you ever use the word ‘datum‘? It’s the singular of ‘data’. True, it’s less likely to be talking about a single piece of information, but when we do, who interchanges ‘data’ to ‘datum’? I don’t see anyone getting upset about that in the IT community…

I don’t mind if you disagree with me, and think it’s just THAT important that people add the missing ‘s’ on. If that’s what you want to do, good luck to you! I used to get annoyed with the term ‘Serverless‘ but have come to realise that despite it’s technical inaccuracy, I know what it means. So go on, keep using that word too.

Clear communication is what I believe is important; and nothing is lost in that when someone uses the term ‘on-premise’. There’s plenty of more valuable habits that are worth trying to change out there.

Zero-click Single Sign-On Without ADFS

Login prompts to websites are a pain. Enterprise employees these days expect to have a single sign-on experience (meaning the same username/password everywhere) and a minimal amount of logging in to systems each day.

It’s a very different from years ago where every system had it’s own unique login, and users got into the habit of synchronizing password changes when the regular password expiries hit (and I’m sure some companies still run this way), but it’s a problem IT as a whole has worked on for many years.

Microsoft has had a big focus in identity management for many years, with products such as FIM/MIM and ADFS along with the old faithful Active Directory, controlling and giving framework for authentication. The on-premises approach didn’t work for cloud based technologies though. Going to a site such as Office365.com will show an area to sign in:

 

Going back to the requirements of getting logged out of sites, or needing to log into each different Microsoft service is a pain and time sink for users. The original answer to this problem was ADFS. This works well, but requires the ADFS infrastructure to be set up, and needs to be highly available. If ADFS goes down, your users can no longer authenticate to Azure AD, which is what powers the identity management and authentication orchestration for Microsoft enterprise users (this includes Office 365).

More recently, another native solution was released – Pass Through Authentication for Azure AD Connect (Azure AD Connect being the service that syncs your on premises AD to Azure AD). This removes the requirement for entering a password to these Microsoft services which is great for users, but still requires the entry of the username (which in Azure AD, is the User Principal Name, and looks the same as an email address to confuse things more for users). It’s a good start, but still not the seamless authentication many users expect.

There is another way of providing zero-touch logins to Microsoft services without ADFS, which is Azure AD Domain Join. Windows 10 is a requirement here, but beyond that, the setup is quite easy if you’re already configured for Azure AD. Maurice Daly has written a great guide on this, which outlines all the requirements and steps to follow to be up and running. (Thanks Maurice for your help on this!)

Gotcha for myself: I found that I had an old version of the Microsoft Azure Active Directory Module for Windows PowerShell which didn’t have the get-msoldevice cmdlet at all, and had to download an updated version. I also updated the AzureRM module for good measure since it was also out of date, but shouldn’t have been a requirement.

This is a rather complex topic, so I’ve tried to give a fly-over view of the native options available. There’s also Smart Links which can speed up and improve the user experience.

If you’re on Azure AD and Windows 10, give Azure AD Domain Join a try. It may save you the hassle of building and maintaining an ADFS server, and give your users a better experience overall.

Five Generations Of The Lenovo X1 Carbon

This is an updated version of the original Lenovo X1 Carbon – Three Generations post.

The X1 Carbon is part of Lenovo’s Thinkpad series. These are normally aimed at businesses, due to their military-spec testing. Consumer models of Lenovo laptops are still of high quality, but don’t have the same stringent testing and guarantees. Thinkpads have been around since 1990 – then they were owned by IBM, but Lenovo bought out IBM’s personal computer business in 2005 and continued with the name.
How do you know what generation of X1 Carbon you have, or which one to buy? Here’s the breakdown of the differences between each model:
Generation 1

Originally, the Lenovo X1 Carbon Gen1  launched in 2012. It was the successor to the Thinkpad X1, and was quite popular when it hit the market, but there were a few major drawbacks. No touchscreen, and a 14″ 1600 x 900 res screen were still good, but not in the realm of amazing. This was partly resolved about 4 months later at the start of 2013, when a touchscreen variant, inventively called the Lenovo X1 Carbon Touch. This still had the lower resolution though, while the Lenovo Helix released at the same time had a much smaller 12″ screen yet ran at 1920 x 1080.

Battery life was quite good too, Lenovo quoting 8 hours under ideal conditions. For a 2012 laptop, that was pretty impressive.

lenovo x1 carbon gen1 keyboardLenovo X1 Carbon Touch Gen 1 Keyboard

The Gen 1 laptop was powered by a 3rd Generation Intel CPU, Intel HD 4000 graphics chip . It weighed in at 1.54kg. Keyboard wise, this was the standard design that most Thinkpad laptops had, and worked well.

Generation 2

Then in early 2014, the Lenovo X1 Carbon Gen 2 launched. For the CPU, Lenovo had moved to the 4th Generation of Intel CPUs. Screen wise, the base model was still the 1600 x 900 res, but there was also upgrades available – a massive 2560 x 1440 resolution with an additional touchscreen optional.

Several new design changes were made, and not all were seen as improvements. The biggest was a new feature called the ‘Adaptive Keyboard Row’ which was a long LCD panel at the top of the keyboard. Instead of actual buttons for function keys, it was now a cycling set of images that let you toggle to the keys you wanted – standard function keys, or 3 other screens of laptop shortcuts. Software could be installed to auto detect the most likely keyboard option you’d need, but personally I’d almost always want the function keys. It was also possible to always default to the one you wanted which made it more usable. Personally, I’d rather just have keys and a function button.

Other major changes were the dropping of the left and right buttons on the trackpad – now it was just where you clicked on the trackpad. I prefer those physical buttons. A strange adjustment was removing the caps lock key, and replacing it with ‘Home’ and ‘End’ buttons. For anyone who uses a keyboard regularly, changing the placement of buttons to the opposite side of the keyboard than you’d expect them to be isn’t a great design choice.

Caps lock was still possible to do by pressing ‘Shift’ twice, and that would light up a tiny LED on the shift key to indicate Caps Lock was on. Another strange design choice, as it was very easy to accidentally press Shift twice, and start typing in capitals.

The power port was also doubled up to support OneLink docks, which lasted for another generation before being replaced by Onelink+, and in the 5th generation, abandoned completely.

Despite these changes, the laptop was still solid overall. For it’s weight, it was 200 grams lighter than it’s predecessor at 1.34kg. The graphics had been updated to Intel HD 4400/5000, and battery life was ‘a bit longer’ at around 9 hours.

lenovo x1 carbon gen 2 keyboardLenovo X1 Carbon Touch Gen 2 Keyboard

The laptop was also thinner, and sported more ports than the Gen 1. Between then Gen 1 and Gen 2, each had it’s pros and cons. If only they could mash them together to make the perfect laptop…

Generation 3

Enter the Lenovo X1 Carbon Gen3 in early 2015. A 5th Generation Intel CPU would be inside each laptop, along with another updated Intel HD 5500 graphics chip. The base level resolution had been bumped up to 1920 x 1080, with the standard 2560 x 1440 high res option available, along with a touch variant.

Battery life had gone up another hour or so, to 10ish hours depending on what screen you had. It hadn’t shed any weight, depending on the variant it came in at somewhere between 1.31kg and 1.44kg, which is still rather light and comparable to the MacBook Air.

WP_20150331_17_19_20_Pro

Lenovo X1 Carbon Touch Gen 3 Keyboard

The adaptive keys were gone, function keys were back. Caps lock had it’s place back on the keyboard too, with Home and End being moved to the right side of the keyboard again. The trackpad had it’s left and right mouse buttons back too!

Almost perfect, except they put the function key back in the bottom left hand corner. For people used to finding the Ctrl button there, it’s a bit of a change to get used to (and Gen 1 had the key in the same spot). Really, it should be one key over – such as Lenovo’s Yoga 2 Pro has.

Generation 4

2016 brought in the X1 Carbon Gen 4 and along with it, a similar new X1 Yoga which I reviewed. The touchscreen which had been standard for the last three models had now gone, which to me made the Yoga a better buy. Again, an updated Intel CPU was used – 6th generation i Series. The onboard graphics, (the 520) gets a bit of a bump too. This laptop also had OneLink+ support for the dock, which meant a new dock if you’d invested in the original OneLink.

Lenovo X1 Carbon Touch Gen 4 Keyboard (not the standard US/AU keyboard pictured via @jonolafs)

Battery life was slightly improved, with a now 11 hour claim. It also dropped some weight, down to 1.18kg which was a decent jump down. The fingerprint reader has been upgraded to a press sensor, rather than the swipe style – This newer style is quicker to use, so a welcome change. This one also came in a bit thinner at 16.5mm, where the last model depending on screen specs, was between 17 and 20mm.

Generation 5

As we’ve now grown to expect, 2017 brought in the X1 Carbon Gen 5. Another CPU upgrade too, the 7th gen Intel CPU (which is also the first to not support anything less than Windows 10). This model is so far the most radically different from previous years. Battery life is now up to 15.5 hours, and the entire laptop itself is much smaller. Check out the pictures further down to see the difference, as Lenovo have slimmed out the bezel around the display, making the entire unit more compact. It’s slightly thinner at just under 16mm. This has lead to only a slight weigh increase, now down to 1.14kg. I was surprised at how light this laptop feels when carrying it.

Lenovo X1 Carbon Touch Gen 5 Keyboard

The other drastic changes on this laptop are the ports. The old rectangle plug is gone, in favour of a standard USB-C connection. Actually, they’re Thunderbolt 3 ports. Confused? So is everyone else, but both types of devices/cables will work here. USB-C and Thunderbolt seem to be the new standard that pretty much all the manufacturers are moving to now, so it’s good to see Lenovo go along with that. The ports look the same, and the plug style is identical. Regardless, those old power packs won’t help you any more.

Oh, and there’s now a silver version that releases a bit later than the standard black version, for those who think black is ‘so 2016’.

Lenovo X1 Carbon Touch Gen 5 – Silver

The 2017 X1 Yoga Gen 2 isn’t out yet, so I can’t comment on that – but I’d expect it to again be an all rounder, and maybe a better choice if you want touch screen and tablet mode. Otherwise, the Carbon will give a pure laptop experience which may be all you want.

More Photos

To show what ports are available on each model, and comparing size/style, here’s some photos from each side of the laptops stacked together, oldest on bottom to newest on top (Gen 1 on bottom…). Note that I had to use an X1 Yoga for the 4th gen position, the only visible difference is the stylus, power and the volume controls on the right hand side, which are missing from the Carbon (separate photo below). You can see the vast size difference of the Gen 5 on top:


Front view

Left side view


Right side view (note 4th Gen shouldn’t have stylus, power or volume but rest is identical, see below – X1 Yoga used)

Back view

X1 Carbon Gen 4 Right side view (Thanks again Jon Olafsson for these shots!)

Summary

There are many other areas I haven’t covered – such as all three models have a backlit keyboard which is great in the dark. The first 4 gens have RapidCharge technology, meaning you’ll get about 80% of your charge back in 35 minutes. The 5th gen takes up to an hour, which seems to be due to the Thunderbolt changeover. The screens on all options are high quality with great viewing angles and you won’t find much difference between each one.

It’s hard to say which one you should pick – but hopefully this article lays out the differences to be aware of, to help you decide. Price should be a big factor in this, if you have to go one year older but it’s a lot cheaper, it may be the better choice for you.

The X1 Carbon has a great reputation of being a sturdy and reliable business laptop – you’ll pay a premium for having this sort of quality, and is on par price wise with similar offerings from other vendors.

Note: These laptops were on loan or borrowed from various sources (including Lenovo) and returned. This is not a sponsored or paid for post.

Viewing Mbox Files On Windows

A MBOX file is similar to a PST file, in that it contains a collection of emails. PSTs will be familiar to those of us in the Windows world, as it’s one of the old formats Outlook will use.

(Side note: PSTs are bad, but they do function well as a way of transporting a large chunk of mail from one place to another).

MBOX is the Unix version of PSTs. Google also uses this for Gmail, so if you run an export job, you’ll end up with a MBOX file. Microsoft Outlook doesn’t support this format though – so if you’re sent one, how do you view the contents?

If you start Googling, you’ll come across a bunch of ‘free’ viewers and converters. Most of these are free in the demo sense, and will only view or covert 20ish emails.

I eventually found these two free solutions and tested that they worked; if you find any others feel free to share.

 

Windows Mbox Viewer

This is a free, open source viewer of MBOX files. There’s no installer, just launch the exe, open your MBOX file and you’ll get a simple list of emails and can view the contents. Beyond being able to do searches, the program doesn’t do anything else. This is a great, simple solution if you just want to view the contents of the MBOX file. If you have Outlook installed, double clicking on an email will open it in Outlook, which can then be saved/printed.

Thunderbird

This is also completely free, from Mozilla. Here is a great set of instructions on how to configure Thunderbird to be able to read your MBOX file, but there’s a few more steps involved. Once Thunderbird can see them, you have a lot more options. The emails can be synced to another mail server, or you can simply select emails and save them out. They’ll be saved in the EML format, which Outlook will then recognise. More information about importing and exporting is available here.

 

I never found completely free software to convert from MBOX to PST, so if you really need that functionality, it might be time to take out the credit card and pay a hard working developer!