Samsung Series 9 Laptops and the "Down Under" Tax

Yesterday ZDNet released an article Why Do Aussies pay more for software, and I’ve come to expect that many things cost more in Australia and especially electrical goods as we simply don’t have the size market to get the economies of scale that they can achieve in markets such as the US or Europe but this story really hit home with me.

Over the weekend I was looking at some reviews of the new Samsung Series 9 laptop and liking what I saw. Check out a full review at http://www.laptopmag.com/review/laptops/samsung-series-9.aspx, but some of key features are:

  • Weighs 1.3Kg
  • 1.7cm thick
  • Intel Core i5
  • Sandy Bridge
  • 128GB Solid State Hard Drive
  • Wakes from hibernate in under 3 seconds, and boots from cold in under 20 seconds.

Seriously, with specs like these what’s not to love, however, if you want to buy one in Australia, Harvey Norman has them exclusively and the mark-up they have put on it can only be described as a “down under” tax. At the time of writing, Harvey Norman is selling the laptop for $2498, but if you bought the same laptop from the US you’d be paying $1599. Given the current exchange rate (at the time of writing 1.07) the totally cost would come to AU$1495 giving us a difference of just over $1000 or a mark up of 67%.

An alternative option that I think is going to become more and more popular given the huge mark up is to purchase the goods from overseas and ship them out, however most places such as Amazon won’t ship electrical goods to an international address. To get around this you can use a service such as My US Address (www.myus.com/Australia) which effectively allows you to register an address with Amazon for your goods to be delivered to within the US and they will then forward the goods to you in Australia. Now even taking into consideration freight of about $100 and GST, you are still going to be around $700 – $800 better off. A couple of things you will need to think is firstly power supply. Fortunately with laptops all the manufacturers are creating standard power bricks which you can replace the connection to the power point with a localised power cord. The second is warranty. Samsung is offering an international warranty on the laptop, so if you need to make a claim you would need to post it to their customer site in Sydney to have it taken care of, but otherwise you are covered.

Alternatively, the exclusive deal with Harvey Norman runs out at the end of June, so hopefully this will allow for some more competitive prices. Here’s hoping.

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Telco’s Holding Us To Ransom

imageI was stoked last year when Microsoft decided to launch the new Windows Phone 7 devices in Australia and New Zealand. Now I know this is mostly due to it being a softer market to launch into where they can iron out any last minute show stoppers before the big launches into markets such as the US and Europe, but it was still very exciting to be one of the first in the world to be on the new platform.

During a press conference prior to the launch that Microsoft and Telstra hosted, one of the questions from the media asked about how software updates were going to be handled and the answer was that everyone would receive the updates at the same time, regardless of the carrier they were on which brought much joy to the wider audience. Fast forward 4 months when Microsoft started to release the first software updates in February (firstly a prep update known as pre-NoDo which was simply a patch to ensure the actual update went smoothly, then the real update – NoDo) and what do we find – the updates though they are coming from Microsoft via the Zune software, looks up your phone to see which carrier and does a verification to check if they have allowed the update.

Now at the time of writing (almost 3 months after the updates were released), all of the carriers in the world except two have release the update – Telefonica in Spain and Telstra in Australia (http://www.microsoft.com/windowsphone/en-us/features/update-schedule-world.aspx ), yet the frustrating thing is that Telstra were the launch partner! The big question on everyone’s mind is simply why? What could they possibly be still testing? If they find any bugs, its unlikely that Microsoft will stop the release seeing as all providers in the world except these two have released it. You would think this was a big enough testing bed to find any issues, plus any issues they did find, unless they were major bugs, would most likely be going into the next release (Mango). Its also very unlikely that there are compatibility issues between NoDo and the Telstra network, seeing as they already released the HTC HD7 pre-installed with the update over a month ago. So this bring me back to the initial question, why are they holding up the release, and the only conclusion I can come to is simply because they can. In a market where class actions are taking place against their competitors, it puts them in a position that those on the network are unlikely to up and change carriers (not mentioning the fact that I am locked into a 2 year contract) – even though the other carriers here in Australia have already released the NoDo update.

So. the biggest thing that I find most annoying is the fact that we were led to believe at launch that we would not be left in this situation where the carriers hold us to ransom, for what gain I really don’t know.

Update: Telstra has released the update as of this morning. The update includes NoDo as well as the SSL critical update.image

Windows Phone 7 Game–Wordament

clip_image001I was listening to the Frankly Speaking Podcast the other day and was put onto a great new game for the Windows Phone 7 called Wordament. It’s essentially a word search game, but played in real time against other players on the internet. The board consists of 16 tiles and you have 2 minutes to try to find as many words as possible by dragging your finger from one letter to the next. At the end of the 2 minutes you get to see the words you missed, then get shown a leader board to see how you went against your online competitors. I’ve never been big on word games like boggle or scrabble, but the fast pace and the multi player aspect of the game gets you totally hooked in very little time.

One of the best recipes for phone games is they are easy to play, but take a long time to master, plus, you can play for as little as a few minutes or can play all day and this game certainly fits that bill nicely. You’ll go to bed and think, I’ll just have one quick game, and before you know it you’ve been sitting there playing for an hour. I’m totally addicted, not to mention the other great thing is that the game is free. Definitely give it a try.

Migrating Outlook Rules to Google Mail Filters – Filtering External Emails

Further from my recent post on Google Mail Filters, another rule that I had setup in Outlook was to move emails that originated from outside my organisation into a separate folder "Inbox – External". This way marketing information, or newsletters for example wouldn’t clutter my inbox. There isn’t a predefined scenario in the Outlook Rules Wizard to handle this, but you can achieve the desired result by setting the “with specific words in the sender’s address” to “@” and adding an exception “except with @myorganisationdomain.com in the sender’s address” as shown below. Effectively the rule states that all emails except those originating from my organisation should get moved to the defined folder.

image

You will see in the screenshot that I also have exceptions for specific individuals and domains. What I found was that after setting this rule up, I was missing important emails as they were being moved out of my Inbox. For example, emails from the client of the project I was working on, my car pool buddy (in case he was leaving early that day), and of course my wife. Effectively you can set these up as exceptions to the rule by adding them to “except if from” or “except with @clientdomain.com in the sender’s address”.

Now that we have moved to Google Mail, I wanted to replicate the rule in the Google Filters.

  1. Under Settings -> Filters select Create a new filter
  2. On the Choose search criteria screen, set:
    1. From: –@myorganisationdomain.com (note the minus before the @)
    2. To: me
    3. Doesn’t have: from: wife OR from: car.pool.buddy (obviously replace with the names you want to exclude)
  3. Use the Test Search button to test the criteria you have entered. The filter looks something like this:

    image

  4. Click Next Step >>

    clip_image003

  5. In the Choose action screen, tick “Skip the Inbox” and tick “Apply the label: Inbox – External”
  6. 6. Click Update Filter

Google Guru

Yesterday I learned of a neat lab that’s available with Google Talk called ‘Google Guru’. It’s essentially a question and answer service that lets you do several types of queries using the Google Talk chat service. To setup the service, you first need to be signed into Google Talk, then add the contact guru@googlelabls.com. Now you can initiate a chat session with the guru and ask questions such as the weather in your location:

image

Sports scores:

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Ask simple calculations:

image

Or translations:

image

I must say though that it is very hit and miss with the results:

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I ran a similar searches in one of the best question and answer services around, Wolfram Alpha which had no problems handling such requests:

clip_image002

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Next I thought I’d throw it some curly questions and see how they compare. Firstly in Google Guru:

clip_image005

Then in Wolfram Alpha:

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So the Google Guru might be useful for some basic queries and if you are a fan of Google Talk as your IM client, you may find it handy, but it certainly struggles with many of the requests I gave it and the results no where as good as those by other such services.

For more information on the service, go to http://guru.googlelabs.com/

Migrating Outlook Rules to Google Mail Filters

I’ve been following the practice of Getting Things Done by David Allen for some years now, and one of the core things that I have learnt is to keep my inbox for unprocessed work only. You will find there are many other strategies for managing your inbox but essentially they all discuss the same concept of and dealing with the overload of emails your receive on a daily basis. One of the important concepts of the Getting Things Done methodology is triaging you inbox. This is done by applying what they refer to as the 4 Ds:

  1. If you can get it done in under 2 minutes: Do It.
  2. If it will take longer than 2 minutes: Defer It.
  3. If it isn’t important: Delete It.
  4. If you don’t need to do it: Delegate It.

One of the best ways to manage my inbox I found, was to get Outlook to automatically triage as many incoming messages as possible through the use of rules. I created several folders in Outlook to help me process the messages:

  • Inbox – CC
  • Inbox – External
  • Inbox – Alerts

Then I would have a series of Rules to move items out of my Inbox into the relevant folder. One of the key rules I had was to move items where I was being CC’ed into the "Inbox – CC" folder. The reason for this was that if someone included me on the CC list but not in the To list, this would mean that it was for my information rather than requiring any response on my part. The rule in Outlook looked like the following:

clip_image001[4]

The Rules Wizard in Outlook covers many pre defined scenarios, so I was a little concerned with the move from Exchange Server to Google Mail that I wouldn’t be able to get the same functionality. There is however a very advanced search criteria functionality that comes with the filters which take a little getting used to. Many of the advanced functionality can be found at Using advanced search.

To re-create the above rule "where my name is in the Cc box", do the following:

  1. Under Settings -> Filters select Create a new filter
  2. On the Choose search criteria screen, set:
    1. To: -to:me (note the minus before the to)
    2. Has the words: cc:me
  3. Use the Test Search button to test the criteria you have entered.
  4. Click Next Step >>

    clip_image002[4]

  5. In the Choose action screen, tick the following:
    1. Skip the Inbox
    2. Apply the label: Inbox – CC
  6. Click Update Filter

    clip_image003[4]

Moving from Exchange Server to Google Mail for Windows Phone 7

As part of my organisations move from Exchange Server to Google Mail I needed to update my phone settings to sync to the Google server. To do this, from the home screen I select the right arrow at the top of the screen:

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Then selected Settings:

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Finally, select email & accounts –> Outlook.

My existing settings have the username as my network login  id, and the server set to exchange.mycompanydomain. To switch over to using the Google Mail server, I changed the username to my email address (e.g. david_cook@mycompanydomain) and changed the server to m.google.com. After saving I received an alert “Action Required” on the email & accounts screen. Selecting the Outlook account I was prompted to “Update your password for m.google.com and press Save” after re-entering my password the account showed “Synchronising”. and my emails are now syncing via Google Mail.