Kudos: SuperNews

My Usenet provider deserves a positive mention here.

In this world (and even in this blog), it is much more common to hear or read complaints about companies than praise for them. Therefore, I wanted to start a new series of ‘Kudos‘ reports to provide kind words about those who do a good job and, more importantly, run a business with respect for customers, as I try to run mine.

I have been using SuperNews to provide public newsgroup access for many (at least 5) years now. I switched when I was forced to change ISPs due to a service change from my then provider Comcast. (Do not look for a Kudos column on them any time soon.) My new SDSL provider did not advertise a newsgroup server, and for good reason: theirs was terrible. I needed to keep up to date on certain Usenet groups, so I found SuperNews and paid for a month or two of service.

After the initial monthly period, I was convinced that it was worthwhile to get an annual (text-only) account, which worked out to something like $5 per month. The servers were fast and always available, while the groups were fairly spam-free (compared to my previous experience). More importantly, the moderated shareware newsgroups, comp.software.shareware.*, were set up and working correctly. After the first year, I set up automatic annual billing to a company credit card and just used the service without incident.

Earlier this year, the aforementioned credit card expired, which precipitated a number of “your credit card has expired” warnings from various companies (some of whom should not, in my opinion, have saved the number in the first place). I did not, however, hear from SuperNews because, as I discovered later, I apparently opted out of receiving such email messages. Then, the inevitable happened…

A while ago, I tried to check the newsgroups and was unable to log in, and since I actually use this service to test whether or not the DSL line is working, I immediately thought that the squirrels had (once again) wreaked more havoc on my connectivity. However, on my second try (after verifying the DSL connection), I noticed that there was an error message that actually included an URL to explain the problem.

I went to the provided URL, logged in using the newsgroup password, and confirmed that the expired card was the only issue. Then I typed in the new card number and expiration date, pressed a button to confirm and approve the charge and then had instantaneous access to the news server as before. In fact, it happened so fast that I logged into our corporate account tied to the card and verified that the charge had already gone through. It was at that point I noticed that the annual charge had, without fanfare, gone down by $10.

The amazing thing about this event was that it occurred in the wee hours of the morning (around 3:00am) and the entire transaction took less than three minutes. It took me longer to look up my newsgroup password then it did to fix the problem, so I am now spending the time saved by not having to call anybody, or wait for the morning, or await an email in the quasi-standard “24-48 hours” support timeframe for other companies, to tell you how much I actually enjoyed spending that money with SuperNews. Kudos to them.

Additionally, I had a recent experience in which I was communicating with a group of people to work out how to moderate a Usenet newsgroup, from a technical standpoint. As it turns out, SuperNews requires a special moderator flag to be set on an account, lest one be evicted for spamming (due to posting messages under multiple names). One member of the group happened to be an employee of SuperNews and he noticed that I was a customer, so he went in and set the flag for me without being asked; in fact, I did not even know it was necessary until he had already (preemptively) resolved the issue. Now that is great customer service.

Obviously, for anybody looking for a reliable news server to access Usenet and other publicly propagated newsgroups (such as those from Microsoft and other small countries), I strongly recommend SuperNews. If you do not currently read Usenet or use appropriate groups for product marketing, then I suggest that you get an account and see how many of their 31558 groups (as of today) have something of professional or personal interest for you. (I subscribe to 65 public newsgroups myself, for various purposes.)

More on game marketing via Usenet in my next posting…

Microsoft misrepresentation

Windows Update crosses the line to the sleazy.

This morning, as part of my regular updates, I went to Microsoft Windows Update to get any operating system updates that had been released (usually on Tuesdays). After clicking on the ‘Custom’ button, indicating that the Microsoft Update ActiveX control had already loaded, I was greeted with the following:

To use this latest version of Windows Update, you will need to upgrade some of its components. This version provides you with the following enhancements to our service:

  • Express and custom installation: Choose only the most recent critical updates or pick and choose from all available updates.
  • Smarter downloads: If downloading is interrupted, the process will start up where it left off the next time you download that update.
  • Smaller downloads: Only the files your computer needs are downloaded, saving download time and connection-speed costs.
  • One version: Only the most recent updates are offered to you.
  • Less clutter: You can now hide updates you don’t want to see.
  • Update news: A News from Microsoft section on the Windows Update home page displays tips and the latest information.

That all sounded good, except that it looks like several of those features were already present in the previous version. Curious, I clicked on the ‘Details’ arrow to find out exactly what was being updated. To my surprise and dismay, I read the following:

Windows Genuine Advantage Validation Tool (KB892130)
1.1 MB , less than 1 minute
The Windows Genuine Advantage Validation Tool enables you to verify that your copy of Microsoft Windows is genuine. The tool validates your Windows installation by checking Windows Product Identification and Product Activation status.

Excuse me? This Windows Genuine Advantage Validation Tool is not what is being hyped above, and it is essentially the same piece of undesirable crap I ranted about in my post HNT: Respect Your Customers almost exactly one year ago. Apparently, Microsoft is desperate enough to get this piece of spyware on customers’ systems that they are willing to lie about it.

Signed, Disgusted.

Class of 2007

My older son officially graduated high school today.

I just returned from the Commencement ceremony for the East Lansing High School Class of 2007. James, my son, graduated Summa Cum Laude (or merely Magna Cum Laude if you look in the wrong place) and took the special walk across the stage, along with about 275 of his classmates.

It was a special day for my wife, Sherry, and I because not only did we have our son graduating with honors, but we also had bonds with a couple dozen other graduates who I had coached in soccer, Sherry had led in both Cub Scouts and Boy Scouts, or we had cheered for as the other Senior members of the very successful Quiz Bowl team.

Speaking of the ELHS Quiz Bowl team and their success this year…

As already mentioned on this blog, the Quiz Bowl team won the Quiz Busters tournament in March of this year. In April, they followed that up with a win in the Michigan State Quiz Bowl Championship, making them the official State Champions for this year. Then, late last month, both the A and B varsity teams went to the NAQT High School National Championship Tournament in Chicago and qualified for the finals, where the A team (the one James played on) placed 13th in the nation.

The Quiz Bowl success was such that the class President, Kate Mulhern, mentioned in her commencement speech that it should be a recognized varsity sport. Ms. Mulhern also happens to be the daughter of Jennifer M. Granholm, the current Governor of the State of Michigan. (It was interesting to see the Governor in the same crush of people leaving after the proceedings were finished.)

The whole event (and an event it was) was held at the Great Hall of the Wharton Center at Michigan State University, and we were actually restricted to only seven tickets (yes, tickets) per graduate. It was definitely an impressive commencement, reminiscent of and rivaling my sister’s graduation from Texas A&M University. (It was far more impressive than my own commencement from the same high school.)

We are very proud of what James accomplished during the last four years, and next fall, our younger son, William, starts his own career at East Lansing High School, while James continues his education in the Honor College at Michigan State University.