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Some see things as they are, and ask "Why?"   I dream things that never were, and ask "Why Not".  
Robert F. Kennedy

“Impossible” is only found in the dictionary of a fool.  
Old Chinese Proverb

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Hot Smokin' Weapon! Award for April, 2013


Today, I proudly announce yet another of my - somewhat - famous and world renowned Hot Smokin' Weapon! awards - and this award goes to my Usenet provider, Giganews.

The various criteria for my Hot Smokin' Weapon! award are somewhat subjective.  However, since it's MY award, obviously I get to choose the criteria, right?  (Laughing!)

Seriously, an award like this has to have rather flexible criteria, since it can encompass a wide variety of people, places, and things, depending on what strikes my fancy at a particular point in time.

However, the basics are something like this: 
  • Do they deliver, as promised, 100% NO BULLSHIT?
  • In the extremely unlikely event that "Shit DOES Happen," do they promptly step up, take ownership, and make it right, right away?
  • Do they make product quality and customer satisfaction their highest priority?
  • Is this something I can unashamedly recommend to whomever might be interested?
  • Do they make "uncommon valor a common virtue" by going above and beyond the call of duty to meet the customer's needs?
  • Do they do this at a price that mere mortals like you and I can afford?  And despite that, do they make us feel like we're big-shots like Warren Buffet or Bill Gates?
In this particular case, Giganews meets, and exceeds, these exacting criteria, and I can honor them with my (semi) Coveted Hot Smokin' Weapon! Award with absolutely no reservation whatsoever.

So, who is Giganews anyway?

In short, Giganews is my Usenet provider.  And they have been my Usenet provider for a number of years.

Of course, calling Giganews "my Usenet provider" is like saying that The United States of America is "my nationality."  It may not seem like much on the surface, but there's a lot more under the hood than meets the eye.

Giganews IS my Usenet provider, and at that task they do an excellent job.  With article and download retention periods exceeding a thousand days, (right now, their web-site says the retention is at 1700+ days and climbing), and network speeds that make National Internet Backbones jealous, they are THE Usenet provider par excellence.

Now don't quote me on this, and I don't know this for a fact, but I would NOT be surprised to discover that Giganews provides the "National Internet Backbone" for the places they serve, their speeds are that awesome.

One thing you CAN quote me on is something a Giganews support person told me years ago:  If you're having speed problems with downloads; something you can 100% take to the bank, and get CASH MONEY for, is that the problem is NOT at their end.

Another thing you can quote me on is the fact that I have seen, with my own eyes, the servers at Giganews totally saturate a 100 Mbit premium cable internet connection without seeming to break a sweat.

I have watched them go from a standing start to 100 Mbit in less time than it has taken me to write this sentence - and I am not the world's slowest typist.  Depending on network congestion, I've seen them go from zero to network maximum in less than five seconds - often in one or two.

I have also seen, again with my own eyes, the network folks at Charter Internet throttle my internet speed rather dramatically!  (You know, I don't think Charter likes these guys. . . . .)

As far as downloads are concerned, the only thing that would make my joy complete would be for them to start mirroring some of the more important Linux distributions, important Open Source projects, and back issues of Linux Format magazine!

Another thing they do, and do damned well, is provide highly secure VPN portals to various places all around the world.

Why is this important?  Well. . . . .

First of all, at least in my case, I tend to be rather mobile.  And I really don't know where I might be the next time I go on-line.  And many of the places I connect at are, ah, (shall we say), somewhat less than pristine security-wise.  (Can you say "Public Hot-Spot"?  Ahhh!  I KNEW you could!)

Being able to connect to a secure VPN connection that punches you through the wilds of that hot-spot to get you to the Internet is a Godsend.

Now, don't get me wrong.  Simply punching through a hot-spot isn't the last word in Internet Security, and if that's all you've got going for you, than you're in huge trouble.  However. . .  It does protect you from others on that hot-spot who want to launch a sneak-attack on your system, or prevents you from falling prey to an "evil-twin" exploit.  Etc.  And that can be critically important, everything else being equal.

Another useful thing is that not only do they have a whole host of convenient VPN endpoints, these endpoints are located all over the world.  Literally.  Asia, Europe, the Americas.  Even Russia!  You name it, they got it.  (Or will have it in two shakes of a tiger's tail.)

Why is this important?  Simple.  It allows you to appear to be somewhere else than where you physically are.  And that can be damn handy.

Here are a couple of very simple examples:

First example:
My wife, (who came from Russia), loves to watch Russian TV and Russian movies, so she subscribes to a Russian entertainment web-site: etvnet.com.  It's a subscription site, as in "for-pay", though they do have a whole host of free, (бесплатно), content as well.  (Hint!  Hint!  If you're studying Russian. . . .)

There's only one kicker.

If you're not physically located in North America, (the United States or Canada), then No Enchilada Señor!  Subscription or no, you cannot connect to their site.  So, if we're traveling abroad, and she wants to catch the latest episode of an interesting mystery series, she's outta luck.

The solution?  I punch through to a VPN endpoint physically located in the U.S., and I can connect to etvnet.com all day long if I want.  And she can watch her Russian TV regardless of where we may be in the world.

Another example, just like the first, only going the other way:
There is a "coupon" site in Russia, Vigoda.ru, (I think), and they have periodic deals from various businesses, like resorts, who have excess product or capacity they want to fill.  And the discounts can be rather dramatic.  In the past we've scored all inclusive vacations at excellent lake-side resorts just north of Moscow for pennies on the dollar.  Or maybe I should say kopeks on the Ruble?  (grin!)

Since we periodically travel there to spoil our two delightful granddaughters absolutely rotten, and we like to take them to interesting places when we're there, if we can get massive discounts by booking before we go, so much the better.

Again, there's a location kicker.  If you're not physically located there, then No Vodka and Caviar for You, Comrade!  And, just like before, the solution is to punch through to the Shiny New VPN endpoint they just opened in Moscow Russia.

Which, I might add, is the particular inspiration for this Hot Smokin' Weapon! Award.

Back on the 14th of this month, (April, 2013), they announced a Shiny New VPN endpoint in Zurich Switzerland.  And that's nice.  I can think of all kinds of things to do with an endpoint in Zurich.
(Visiting CERN's lab comes to mind. . . . . .)

Coincidentally, (i.e. at the exact same time), we were having no end of troubles trying to book something nice for our granddaughters on said sooper-dooper deal site and I had narrowed the problem down to the fact that we were not physically there.  So I sent a reply back to Giganews suggesting that, at some point in the future, if possible, they might, maybe, sorta' want to consider a VPN endpoint somewhere in Russia.  If it could be located in Moscow Russia, that would be even better.

In a matter of an hour or two, my suggestion of a Russian endpoint, at some future point-in-time, if possible, maybe, had been responded to, and assigned a trouble ticket number.  The very next day, I received a personal reply from a gentleman within the support team at Giganews telling me that they were always on the lookout for new VPN endpoints, and they appreciated suggestions like mine to improve their ideas.

The crowning point:
Six days later, Giganews announces a new VPN endpoint in Moscow Russia!  I have the e-mail in my hot little hands, fresh in my inbox today.  Not just somewhere in Russia, which would have sufficed, but exactly where I had requested!  Now that's customer service with a vengeance!

I am still looking for more bandages to cover the scrapes on my jaw where it hit the concrete floor in my basement.

What else do they do?

They have a cloud storage product called, oddly enough, "Dump Truck", and everyone, even the lowest tier subscribers, get to use it - free of charge.

They have a sweetheart deal with NewsLeecher to provide you with free access to what is probably the best news-crawler software out there.

Not only do they provide all these VPN access points, they provide a cute little utility that automates the connection process for you.  You click on the icon, select the endpoint you want, and away you go!

In other words, not only do they have one heck of a service, they go outta their way to make it work for you, instead of you working for it.

Since they know that not everyone needs the same things from a Usenet provider - some people read the occasional message or two on .alt.birdwatching.european.crows, while others, (like myself), use it as a major research tool - they have a variety of subscription plans.

These plans range from their more limited "Perl" level plan starting at $5/month, (for the bird-watchers), all the way to their power-user "Diamond" plan for $35/month, though they usually have a nice sign-up incentive for the Diamond plan that gives you a sweet discount for the first few months.

Of course, depending on the plan you choose, there is a greater or lesser amount of freebies included with it, though they go outta their way to make things as nice as possible for everyone - so even the bird-watchers feel right at home.

Go pay 'em a visit!  (<== cleverly hidden hyperlink)  And tell 'em that Jim over at QA TechTips sent 'ya!