When you run a Twitter trivia contest…

… I expect the answers to be right.

Namecheap, a domain registrar and web services provider, is currently running a Twitter contest with tech/domain/company trivia, awarding free domain registrations to participants, and top prizes of a Macbook Air and iPads to the top of the leaderboard. To be clear, I am not competing in this contest, and my first involvement with it was with this question. In other words, I’m not posting this because I want anything out of it—I’m posting it just to point out the mistakes.

Inconsistent tenses aside (one… his/her), the most important parts to emphasize are:

  • what record
  • domain propagation

The best answer, although not necessarily the 100% correct answer (see below), as I answered in my tweet, is the Start of Authority (SOA) record. About three other individuals on Twitter agreed with me, facing hundreds with a different answer.

In fact, the Refresh and Minimum TTL data entries in the SOA record are responsible for domain zone propagation, whether to a secondary nameserver or to the broader Internet.

Screenshot of Twitter users giving the "TTL" answer, which should be wrong.
Twitter users giving the “TTL” answer, which should be wrong.

Hundreds of others poured in their answers, most lending their support to the answer that Namecheap ultimately declared correct: Time to Live (TTL).

This is (mostly) wrong. For two reasons:

  1. TTL is not a DNS record. It is a setting within the SOA record, and an attribute attached to other records such as A and AAAA host records. Given the question, this should disqualify it as a potential answer.
  2. TTL whenever applied to non-SOA records affects particular records, not domain propagation (e.g. the lifetime of the ‘www.namecheap.com’ A record, not of all entries in ‘namecheap.com’).

Ultimately, the question posed was a bad one. The traditional understanding of the SOA minimum TTL is that it is the shortest frequency with which other nameservers will check against the authoritative/primary nameserver—at least according to this DNS service provider. While the original specification, RFC 1912, would completely agree with me here in declaring…

Minimum: The default TTL … This is by far the most important timer. Set this as large as is comfortable given how often you update your nameserver.

RFC 2308 changed things so that the minimum TTL in the SOA record affects only negative caching: e.g. you visit ‘doesntexist.namecheap.com’, it doesn’t work, the ISP’s nameserver caches it, and the minimum TTL specifies how long before your ISP’s nameserver fetches that data again. It’s not supposed to be used as a lower bound for update frequency anymore.

That having been said, given the constraints of record and domain propagation, we can be certain that TTL on individual resource records is an incorrect answer that was erroneously, but not maliciously, accepted.


Really, Penn?

If IE6 (that ancient browser all web developers hate) works, I’m pretty damn sure Chrome 21 will!

Penn's stupid "invalid browser" message
Penn’s web apps, like certain features in Penn InTouch, give an “invalid browser” message when using Chrome.

It’s time they fixed this. Stop forcing me to launch Firefox!

4 online document hosting services

Over a year ago, I compared two online services designed specifically for PowerPoint slideshows. Today, I want to review 4 free online document hosting services that take your document files and convert them to a format that can be embedded and shared on the Internet.

I’ll be giving scores based on these factors:

  • Web site design / usability
  • Compatibility
  • Converted appearance
  • Embeds

In case you’re wondering, these 4 document publishing services are Docstoc, edocr, Issuu and Scribd. Of these, Scribd and Docstoc are likely the best known and the best established.

I should give a warning for those on low bandwidth connections: this is a screenshot/media-heavy post.

Continue reading “4 online document hosting services”

What a scam: Domain Registry of Canada

I’ve been receiving these letters every single year a few months before any one of my domains is set to expire.

This company is clearly harvesting WHOIS data in violation of their ICANN agreement to send official-looking “expiration notices” to domain owners, many of whom unwittingly send in payment, unaware that the “Domain Registry of Canada” is merely a company attempting the entirely unethical practice of domain slamming.

Since 2001, this company has been soliciting domain transfers under the guise of renewing the registration with the existing registrar. Of course, their prices are ridiculously expensive — $40 per year for a domain name — and that’s part of why I didn’t fall for it, since I operate my own domain registrar and I know the value of domain registration services aren’t that high.

An early example of the domain letters from 2002 is published online.

In 2003, the Federal Trade Commission settled with the sister company “Domain Registry of America” to stop their misleading business practices. The way they decided to comply was by adding a little blurb that blended into the text, one that few people seeing an official-looking letter would read.

They’ve changed it a bit now, to uppercase and bold text, but the premise of their operations is still the same.

The letter comes in an envelope that almost looks like it's from the Government of Canada
The letter comes in an envelope that almost looks like it’s from the Government of Canada; my address is redacted

The envelope is misleading. Indeed, the colour and layout of the envelope nearly exactly matches that of an official Canadian government letter, except for the return address in the top-left. And there they’ve neatly placed a maple leaf, knowing that it is associated with the country, and by extension, the government.

Even the NAME is misleading.

The letter has been changed in recent years, but still carries the same layout that I recognize from as early as 2005. The prices are ridiculous; a .net domain isn’t worth $40/year. (I know; I was selling them for $7.99 last month.)

The letter is sure to make inexperienced domain owners panic.
The letter is sure to make inexperienced domain owners panic.

That letter just irritates me. Sentences like “take advantage of our best savings” when you actually pay $30 more, misleading phrases like “You must renew your domain name to retain exclusive rights”, and worst of all:

“Failure to renew your domain name by the expiration date may result in a loss of your online identity making it difficult for your customers and friends to locate you on the Web.”

It’s rare for me to be this angry. But it’s a ripoff.