So, i finally got myself a VPN.  I’d been pondering the idea for a while, i’d even got around to shelling out for a licence a couple of years back, but then Beijing changed the rules about foreign companies offering services in China and suddenly i was back on me Jack Jones.  But the delay in signing on again wasn’t associated with any concerns about receiving a knock on the door from a sinister state official and being escorted to the nearest station for further questioning, it was more a problem of remembering to buy the package when i was out of the country.  This is a necessity as the websites of the companies offering these services are blocked as a matter of course.  However, i wasn’t going to pass credit card details over an insecure wireless connection while staying at a hostel in Hong Kong.  And even though i appeared to be the only one in the terminal on one of my overnighters at Incheon International Airport, i still didn’t fancy the odds.  I had plenty of opportunity to purchase on trips to Europe and USA but there always seemed something more pressing on the agenda, a spot of tennis, a live broadcast of a mountain stage of the tour de france or a plain old trip to the bookshop to embrace the jetlag with a lengthy snooze in one of their plush sofas. My basic rule of thumb on this latter course of action is that, if you come away with a purchase, a two hour nap is acceptable as long as you don’t snore too loudly and don’t drool on a book you aren’t planning to purchase.  Many years ago I broke this rule when I arrived back in the UK and headed straight to the University of Surrey to meet up with big Sis.  I got there just as she was going to a laboratory class and i foolishly went to the library with the honorable but unrealistic plan of reading the latest edition of Physical Review B.  The last thing i remember was looking at a rather boring diagram describing energy states in a superconductor, the next i woke up with my face down on the magazine and the drool dripping off the desk onto the carpet.  I left the magazine hanging off the back of the chair next to a radiator to help it on its way and fled the building, trying to rub some feeling back into my nose.

But, getting back to the VPN story, I finally made my pledge the night before flying back to China from a jaunt to the USA.  We were leaving for the airport at 4.30am so no one in the house was really sleeping – there were four of us heading out to three different flights and with only two bathrooms in the house i suddenly had an hour on my hands and not much happening at that hour.  I read the product reviews, i balanced the pros and cons, i bought a one year licence, i downloaded the package to my laptop, i headed to the airport.

No further action was taken until about a week later when i received an email from a friend that ran something along the lines of “Bradley Wiggins was awesome, you need to watch stage 3b of the Tour de Salford”.  So I double clicked, installed the package according to the step by step instructions, and it all went fine until the final “you are now ready to connect!” step.  It said to right-click on the red monitor icon and select connect on the popup menu.  When i right clicked i got a popup menu with a server list that read like an itinerary from Around the World in Eighty Days.  I went back through the install process, i’m not exactly computer illiterate, but i couldn’t work out where i had gone wrong.  

I managed to connect to a customer support service hosted in Russia and a gent rather predictably named Vladimir.  I explained that when i tried to connect i was getting the full city list of servers rather than a simple connect option, assuming he would be able to pinpoint the problem immediately.

“a full city list of servers?” he typed
“yup, which one am i supposed to select? there are about 100 to choose from”
“where did you get a list of servers from?”

I finally assented to granting him remote access to my laptop (with Mandarin operating system) and sat back to watch him attempt to navigate around the system settings.  His mouse movements were both confident and elegant, or they were until he brought up the server list.  The mouse was motionless for about 30s, then he right clicked on the connect icon again, then he stopped.  After a few moments he started typing again

“how did you get this server list?  what is it?  where did it come from?” he demanded
“I dunno” i replied in an equally professional, if somewhat less panicky style
“i installed your package, and there it was”

he resumed his somewhat halting traversal of my Chinese OS until he finally managed to stumble upon the system services settings.  At which point a little light bulb began to glow dimly somewhere in the back of my head.  I couldn’t interfere because he was controlling the mouse, so i just waited until he began typing again

“did you previously install another VPN on this computer?”
“yeah. sorry, i completely forgot”

he was very sporting about the whole thing, expressing surprise at how two completely independent VPNs were able to integrate so well to produce something that ran but didn’t work.  A few more clicks to remove unwanted system services and i was online

all i have to do is figure out some “illegal” content to peruse.


One Response to “VPN”

  1. janh1 Says:

    Don’t worry. I’ll send you some links 🙂

    Froome. Stage 17, Vuelta 2011.

    ..and honestly…what kind of person admires another person’s mouse technique? That’s got to be the zenith of Geek. ;-p

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