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!

“Any” doesn’t mean any

Just like “unlimited” really means subject to limits, the marketing guys at Rogers seem to communicate that “any” doesn’t mean any.

Any tier

Yesterday, I got an ad in the mail from them for their digital cable service, offering a free HD receiver. On the reverse side of the ad, it says that I can sign up for “any tier” of their high speed Internet or phone service to get an HD personal video recorder for free.

Sign up for any tier ... get an HD PVR for free.
Sign up for any tier ... get an HD PVR for free.

Apparently, the fine print specifies that “any tier” really means “Rogers Hi-Speed Internet Lite and above”, which excludes the Ultra-Lite tier valued at $27.99/month.

Hi-Speed Internet Lite and above only
Hi-Speed Internet Lite tier or above also required

I don’t think I’m the only one who would find this a little bit misleading.

While it doesn’t really look good on paper to say “sign up for Lite or above” in the big bullet, it would be a lot more honest than defining “any tier” as “not any tier but this one and above”.

And while I would certainly die of broadband withdrawal if I had the Ultra-Lite package, I still think there are people who will probably sign up for the cheapest tier and discover that they do not, in fact, get a free HD PVR.

Here’s the entire scan; click on the image to view in full size.

Get a free HD PVR!

(As of more than a year ago, I no longer use Rogers cable Internet because there’s something cheaper out there.)

What are the tiers?

On a semi-related note, Rogers seems to be doing a great job at market segmentation. Instead of providing consumers with economical plans comparable to those in France (20-30Mbps connections, VoIP service, and HDTV with a DVR included for just $45 a month), Rogers Communications has decided to split a service as important as cable Internet into… 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6 different plans.

  1. Ultra-lite @ $27.99/month; 500 kbps down, 2 GB limit
  2. Lite @ $35.99/month; 3 Mbps down, 25 GB limit
  3. Express @ $46.99/month; 10 Mbps down, 60 GB limit
    This used to be the highest plan back when it was only 5 Mbps.
  4. Extreme @ $59.99/month; 10 Mbps down, 95 GB limit
    This means $13 extra for 35 GB of transfer.
  5. (new) Extreme Plus @ $69.99/month; 25 Mbps down, 125 GB limit
  6. (new) Ultimate @ $99.99/month; 50 Mbps down, 175 GB limit

(all plan information current as of April 7, 2010)

Theoretically, creating these tiers of service maximizes revenue by differentiating between groups of consumers with dissimilar willingness to pay for Internet. (There’s also a supposed benefit to charging more for faster speeds and more bandwidth: curb torrenting and illegal file sharing. That’s a more reasonable justification.)

In reality, it just makes consumers jealous of users who can afford $100/month Internet. In addition, I’m rather wary of a company that has the capability to offer faster speeds overall to match the top countries (South Korea has average broadband of 14.6 Mbps, and Japan has an average of 7.9 Mbps), but which suppresses broadband for its corporate gain at the cost of consumer benefit.

This is probably one of many reasons why consumers, particularly Canadian iPhone users (albeit not for cable Internet), despise Rogers. It plays like it dominates the market. After all, broadband Internet in Canada is an oligopoly; Bell, Rogers, and Shaw are essentially the only big players in the market (and Shaw isn’t even available here). We don’t have much choice.

My conclusion

My personal perspective of Rogers, from a consumer view, is that they don’t deserve most of our business.

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.

Blog scraping

As a blogger, I’ve encountered the issue of trackback/pingback spam coming from splogs that scrape content. It is sometimes frustrating when a new post is immediately reproduced on spammy sites that do nothing but scrape content from other sites.

It used to be that these splogs would just quote the content word-for-word and add a link to the original source. As time went on, search engines and other tools became aware of them, and these sites were short-lived, as many of them made it onto blacklists.

Yesterday I posted about the Mercedes GLK, a sponsored blog post that was quickly and automatically copied by a splog.

I noticed something new. Instead of simply copying the original text, this splog uses computer intelligence to replace words with synonyms, evading duplicate content detection and content theft tools.

The first screenshot is my original post from yesterday. The lower screenshot is from the splog.

Original content from my blog
Original content from my blog
Splog's stolen content
Splog's stolen content

Now what? What will we see next from Webmasters who attempt to profit from scraping content?