Author Archive | nigel

Stop the Dangerous Blogs Bill

In England, a number of journalists and media industry figures broke the law.

They hacked cellphones and computers. They bribed police officers for stories.

Their behaviour was so egregious that a number of people have already been convicted and jailed, and there are charges still pending against others.

That was wrong. But that conduct was always illegal.

The British Government asked Lord Leveson for a solution to the excesses of journalists.

He said he wanted to regulate print media.He proposed that judges  be allowed to award exemplary damages and full costs against unregulated publishers.

Regulation of the press takes us some way back towards the Star Chamber. What is are proposed are stringent and controversial measures, but even their architecht only envisaged them applying to large and powerful publishers. Not websites (unless they belonged to print publishers).

Last weekend, the proposals were agreed in a rush, without public consultation, and with scant attention to detail.

The result is that they apply to any size of publication.

If there’s more than one author, the content is edited and there’s a business involved, then you must join up to be regulated. Even trade commentators such as DOMAININCITE.COM, for example, would appear to fall under this.

Most blogs aren’t powerful publishing houses. But the would need to be regulated, or face punitive measures if it ended up in court.

The threat of websites being regulated like this was never the purpose of Lord Leveson’s recommendations.

Websites weren’t involved in phone hacking.

There is no evidence that they need to be forced into self-regulation like this.

It is a serious infringement of the right of free-expression that fails the test of necessity and proportionality to make it legal.

If this is not corrected now, some English or Scottish blogger will find him or herself in the middle of an expensive and messy court proceeding that has the likelihood of going all the way to Strasbourg.

Take a few minutes and email Nick Clegg, Harriet Harman, and David Cameron to ask them to back off and leave the Internet out of Leveson.



Why do developers use outdated country lists?

Something’s puzzling me.

The ISO-3166-1 country code list is not a static thing. New countries and territories appear on the list. Others disappear.

In the 20 or so years I’ve been dealing with these things professionally there are many examples. The Aaland Islands (AX) for example, and South Sudan (SS) have appeared. Yugoslavia (YU) and the German Democratic Republic (DD) have disappeared. Guernsey and Jersey (GG and JE) were added to the list in 2006.

Yet many e-commerce websites I see have drop-down lists for “Country” in their address entry fields are missing many of the recent additions to the list.

Leaving aside the fact, that in some circumstances the list is just the wrong thing to use (for example airlines using the list to classify passport details — the ISO list is NOT the same as a list of nationalities), why would any website developer intentionally choose to use a seriously outdated list, when the current list, and announcements as to changes is easily accessible these days from ISO itself who even publish a change-tracking page.

This has real serious economic effects on individuals. Guernsey and Jersey residents often end up paying a surcharge of 20% on goods ordered over the web as a direct result of this

Now, maybe I’m being picky, but I think if you advertise yourselves as specialists in search engineering you ought to know what the correct ISO list contains.

After all, a website’s location and target audience does form part of the myriad inputs to Google’s magical PageRank algorithm, don’t they?

I was on the point of ordering a particular SEO firms service (I won’t mention them to spare their blushes, but I can see their name as I write this).

But when I got to the address form, guess what — the drop down list didn’t include an option for the particular country/territory the organisation I was planning to order the service for. So guess what — that particular SEO firm lost a sale.

Is YOUR site up-t0-date?


PS: By the way, although I just checked that everything that should be there on our own webforms, is,  to prove it,  here’s a little challenge, which will help us in our own quality control.

Now there’ve been some fairly recent changes to the ISO list — and the first person who identifies an instance of a missing country code in any of the webforms on WWW.CHANNELISLES.NET will win a CHANNELISLES.NET USB key (Note: this is a great little device — it’s got masses of storage, it’s in the shape of a real key, and fits on your keyring with your house keys so you always have it with you).

We’ll also offer another USB key for the person who submits the website (any website, anywhere in the world) that has the a drop-down list with the most missing entries.

In both cases we’ll use the latest version of ISO-3166-1 to compare.


Welcome to DomainPulp!

Since about half of my articles are about the Internet Domain Name industry, I was challenged to come up with a clever brandname for that side of my writing the other day.

You know, one that might be even half as clever as the paronomasiac  DOMAININCITE.COM

Sadly, I was unable to match Mr Murphy’s cleverness.

But I did find something that expresses what is a wide sweep of the domain name industry that I cover. So welcome to Domain Pulp!

For the time being we’ll still be carrying on as normal on WordPress, kindly hosted by BLACKNIGHT.COM.

But we manage to get more material, including guest contributors (HINT), I will move it to its own platform.




How I learned to stop worrying and love the insecurity

A ‘source close to’ ICANN, the International Organisation responsbile for the co-ordination of the internet’s naming system, tells me that they are :

“assuming that every inbound/outbound IP packet over the course of the ICANN conference will be thoroughly inspected and dissected” and that “it’s likely that it will be  impossible or extremely difficult for anyone attending to establish a VPN.”

First of all, I doubt things will be as blatant as this. Beijing is not Pyongyang.

China is the worlds largest nation, Its prosperity depends on its relationships with the rest of the world. No matter what it does with its own population’s access to information, it seems to me that it is not likely to jeopardise its standing in the world by excessively locking down normal standard internet access for some of the most important people in the internet world while they meet in its capital to decide the future shape of the ‘net.

Of course that doesn’t mean that things will be quite as straightforward as they are in, say, Canada or Germany. China hosted a similar (but smaller) international meeting in Shanghai somewhat over ten years ago. Most things worked. I did find BBC news to be inaccessible — which was a bit of a black mark — but that was just a duhka, easily overcome with the right kind of meditation.

Now I have no doubt that Unit 61398 will also have a plan to to safeguard the economic well-being [of the People’s Republic]’.  After all, it’s only reasonable to expect that China would avail itself of opportunities that the UK and USA would not fail to pass up, would you?

Unit 61398


So what could attendees do? I mean that’s proportionate and sensible.

First of all, as Douglas Adams would say: ‘DON’T PANIC’.

I mean, really, you are probably not as important as you think you are.

But, if you work for a corporation, you do have a duty of care to your employers and shareholders so you should not be blind to the possibilities.

The easiest thing is, that unless you have skills in data destruction (DBAN is your friend),  it would be quite sensible to take a brand new laptop to Beijing. Data can’t be stolen from it if it was never there in the first place.

And, unless you are going to keep your electronics close to your breast 24 hours a day, even when sleeping, it seems to me that, rather than interception of your emails,  the biggest threat is that of the ‘evil maid attack’.

If you leave a laptop unattended for even a short time, mirroring your harddisk is a trivial task for someone who has physical access to it.

You can buy a cheap netbook at Tesco (UK) or BestBuy (US) for not much more than two or three hundred dollars.  Cheap at twice the price. There are slightly more sophisticated techniques you can use, too.

Secondly, don’t forget that you might have sensitive information etc on your tablets and iPhones. Leave them at home and take a new GSM only device if there’s a possibility of commercially sensitive data being on them.

Finally, if my sources worst fears are confirmed, and you find that after all you cant ‘call home’ securely (i.e. using your corporate VPN) over the internet, then just sit back and enjoy the holiday away from the routine rush of work emails.

You’ll probably realise that 90% of them you didn’t need to see.

Consider the time you will gain as sesshin.


ICANN LA to be broken up; begging letters to stop.

Fadi Chehadé’s new broom at ICANN continues to sweep the house, according to reports just in from Singapore.

Apparently  his X-wing fighter has scored a direct hit on the ICANN LA office (affectionately known to some as ‘the Death Star’, after ICANN’s logo) and it is to be broken up. This is in an aim to make ICANN less US-centric.  Fadi Chehade portrait[1]_2

A new term: ‘service hubs’ are to be established in Singapore, Istanbul, and LA. A number of people in LA office will be asked to relocate move to the other hubs. This should prove a real career opportunity for the right people, while, inevitably, I expect this means some familiar faces among the staff will take the opportunity to move on

Not content, with that, ICANN is to cease asking ccTLD registries to contribute to ICANN’s chest — which currently bloated with doubloons and pieces of eight from newTLD application fees.

What effect this will have on ccNSO funding mechanisms or gTLD perceptions is yet unclear but should be interesting to watch.


Wherefore whereas?

Those who know me well know that I have an intense interest of the English language, often annoyingly so.

The Board of ICANN (the non-profit corporation that co-ordinates the internet’s naming system,) like most companies in the English speaking world, records its decisions by way of written Resolutions.

In my own company, we do something similar.  — It’s needed to documents important decisions taken by the ‘corporate mind’. For example: “The Board resolved to open a bank account with the London branch of Bloggs Bank’.

But for some reason, ICANN peppers its Board resolutions with arcane and archaic rehearsals of fact before getting to the meat of the decision recorded.

“WHEREAS it is recognised that blah blah blah”

For all we Brits look to the USA as being modernistic and at the forefront of new things, American English  — which., in the study of linguistics is regarded as a quite separate language to BBC English, Scots or Irish English —  yet has so many archaisms which survive into everyday use and are redolent of pre-Revolutionary 18th century English.

For example, Americans are always surprised that we don’t have felons any more. (This is because European society has evolved and moved on from the view that someone who commits certain criminal offences cannot ever be rehabilitated, and therefore after serving their sentence must continue to be punished in pettifogging ways like being ineligible to vote forever — we think this promotes recidivism).

Other words, like ‘beverage’ are mutually understandable, but seem quaint, and almost never used in England in common speech. So, no one in England would ask: “Would you like a beverage” (except in a deliberately affected manner for humorous effect ( usually when the beverage concerned was alcoholic) in nature.  The word ‘bevvy’ on the other hand, deriving from the same root, WAS a very common dialect word in my home country, and it invariably meant beer. (Clue: my father taught at the school atttended by John Lennon and Paul McCartney).

Anyway, back to ‘Whereas’.  Really, I don’t see the point. Wherefore the nub, in fact!.

(The word  ‘wherefore‘, contrary to the common misapprehension does not relate to location, but means ‘why?‘. Juliet was not inquiring where her paramour was hiding as is usually believed, but was bemoaning the fact that she was a Hatfield and he was a McCoy).

But always assuming that it is helpful to rehearse factual background before recording Board Decisions decision, Plain English must be preferable, surely?

Kieren McCarthy, CEO of dot-nxt has started a campaign to reform the wording used by ICANN’s boarrd resolutions. It’s a laudable goal, and I support it.

But for myself, I think I’ll suggest replacing it with ‘the Humble Petition of the gNSO sheweth that ..’


Why we will not use UPS in future

Open Letter to D Scott Davis, CEO of UPS

Dear Mr Davis

I have just given instructions that your company be removed from the list of courier companies that we use.

In addition, as far as we are practically able to do so, we shall, henceforth, avoid placing any orders with companies if they propose to use you for delivery.

Why have I taken this Draconian step? The answer is that we do not deal with companies that mislead.

Specifically in your case,  by recording parcels as having been delivered whilst they are still en route.

Please see the extract from the Proof of Delivery shown below.

I have the original screen print of this (as I expect it may change, and you can see for yourself what the current realtime status at including the green bar and “Delivered” tick mark.

Tracking Detail

Updated: 21/01/2013 8:45 Eastern Time
Shipping Information

Delivered On: Monday, 21/01/2013 at 9:24
Shipped By
Request Status Updates »

As you will seen, it clearly showed today that the package concerned, given over to you in England on the 17th, was delivered 09:24 this morning.

But you will note, that instead of a signature, the signature field appears to contain routing information.

Needless to say the package has not been delivered, and now that you are no longer tracking it and seemingly are not able to locate its whereabouts, from past experience, I have no expectation that it will be delivered anytime soon.

In fact, it’s my belief that it will not be delivered before Friday or Monday of next week, despite the timescale you agreed in your contract with our supplier (which calls for delivery by today). I do however, hope to be proved wrong.

But I’m less than concerned about exactly when it gets here. Unlike some shipments, this one is not terribly time critical, although I’d be disappointed if it didn’t turn up before the 24th.

What bothers me is the misleading ‘Delivered’ status on the tracking.
Your colleagues on the phone attempted to persuade me that black was white, and that “Delivered” in a Delivery Report should not be construed as as “Delivered to customer” but sometimes means “delivered to the next delivery stage”

Of course, if that were true, why just not put  “Delivered” on the tracking system as soon as the sender delivers into your custody on despatch? That way you will get a 100% on-time, same-day rating. Job done!

As you can imagine, this is neither the service, nor care and custody we expect from UPS.

I do expect you to track packages at every stage in their journey.

I do not expect that you will always deliver on time.  There might, for example, be adverse weather at Guernsey and/or Alderney airports.

I never expect your company to record something as Delivered (and stop the clock) when it has not yet, in fact been delivered.

Should your office wish to contact us about this issue, I’d be delighted if you (or someone with sufficient nous to understand what it is that has exercised me) should email to discuss further.


Nigel Roberts, CEO Island Networks


How to get around Pirate Bay blocking (part 1)

Over the last few weeks, the largest ISPs in the UK have been required by a court order to block your internet feed in such a way as to prevent you from accessing certain websites – the most well-known one of course, being ‘Pirate Bay’ ostensibly operated from Sweden. (At least it now uses a Swedish domain name, and when I last looked at where IP packets were going to, it was Stockholm, but of course when you read this article it may physically be anywhere in the world.)

The details of how the block is being implemented have emerged, and it seems it is a combination of fiddling with lookups at the DNS level, and imposing the use of transparent proxy servers for every web access. (There are other things the ISPs can do, and maybe either they already are, or may do so in the future.)

It seems to me that the ISPs are simply following the letter of the Court Order. So is there any valid ground for criticism?

I’ve taken the time to read the court judgment, and its interesting.

Unlike other attempts at dealing with unlawful file sharing (particularly the idea of three allegations of copyright infringement and your whole family loses its internet connection) the Court Order appears to me to be compatible with the internet user’s fundamental rights.

The law requires a balance to be drawn between competing interests; the right to free expression on the one hand, and the right to property on the other, and to make sure that any action taken is reasonable in scope.

So don’t beat up the ISPs, as some commentators have. They are just following the law. And it seems that they are doing exactly what they’ve been required to do, and nothing else.

Now there are a number of websites within the UK which have started to offer Pirate Bay access as a service. In a followup article, I’ll explain why it is it may not be a very smart of moves to use them, but how is is almost certainly a very dumb move on their part of the site owners to run them, particularly in the UK

But the UK courts haven’t (yer) ruled that it’s illegal in itself to visit

It has ruled that its unlawful to use it (and, in fact, by analogy any similar site) to enable copyright infringement, and that because that appears to be the site’s principal purpose, it would be proportionate to require the defendants to take steps to prevent user access.

But the odd thing about the Order, however, is that it applies specifically to half a dozen companies, including BT.

This means that any company that was not named in the order (or relies on the services of a company named in the order to deliver web browsing to its users) is not (yet) legally required to block TPB.

s. So of course, they don’t. I’ve read reports of TPB being readily available on certain mobile phone network

So all you need to do to get around the Pirate Bay block, if it affects you, is change ISPs.


How many UK banks will fall foul of this?

I am the attorney for a family member in England. That is to say, I hold an Lasting Power of Attorney explicitly executed by them last year.

The reasons one might give an LPA are explained here.  Setting up an LPA is an extremely sensible thing to do, and I commend it to anyone who is resident in England, Wales, Scotland or N. Ireland. (The law is rather different in the Channel Islands and the Isle of Man). Registration of the LPA gives effect to the powers under it.

I attempted to open a savings account in the UK today for the benefit of the person whose registered LPA I hold.  In fact what happened was I came across a list of Best Buy savings rates and one of them was the Principality Building Society.

But the Society explicitly denied the application to open the ‘E-Saver 5’ account as their terms and conditions exclude people who, unable to operate an account themselves, have given an LPA to a trusted family member of friend. I was told I could open a different account, on a postal application, but that the terms and conditions of the account would be different (and the interest rates would, I expect, not be as good!)

Unfortunately for the Principality Building Society, and any other bank having a similar condition, it appears that this is unlawful. To be precise it seems to me to contravenes the UK’s Equality Act 2010 , since disability is a ‘protected characteristic’. It’s unlawful to offer services on different conditions to disabled people as to able bodied ones.

I telephoned the Society, and the first person I talked to seem to me to be a bit offhand. I then spoke to a manager who was courteous, but confirmed their position and seemed to indicate that it was introduced “because of FSA moneylaundering rules” which I find rather hard to understand.

However, they’ve taken note of my complaint, and are investigating. An update will be posted here.

If anyone else has been affected similarly, please feel free to contact me.


Glass houses

ICANNIt’s easy to throw rocks at ICANN, which has once again good-naturedly blundered into a hornet’s nest. So I won’t.

But see for one take on this.

No complex information system can be guaranteed problem-free. Everyone who manages or runs such systems is in a glass house, and it behoves us to be constructive in our criticism.

I spend a lot of my professional life running game-theory situations about what to do to fix systems (including human systems) that break under unexpected loads and I think it’s a little harsh on ICANN to scream about this. There’s a tinge of schadenfreude in this afternoon’s commentary, I think.

You see, ICANN’s greatest problem is really one perception. It has set it itself up, over an evolutionary period of 15 years (gosh, is it really that long?) as, to use a common phrase I hear, as “the galactic lords of the Internet”.

And a common, but unspoken, thesis among ICANN people (and by that I do not distinguish between staff and participants)  is that ‘Daddy knows best’.

But those of us who know (and still have a great deal of affection for) ICANN know it as being (these days) entirely well-meaning, but not always as sharp as it might be.

One rumour is that the site was attacked by Anonymous. There’s no shame if that’s true — they had the resources to take the UK interior ministry’s website down last week, after all!

But the reality seems to be emerggin, is that ICANN in its insistence on micromanaging the business models of TLD applicants, wanted  EPP schemas in the applications.

Now EPP is based on XML which like HTML has lots of < and > characters. And the latest information is that ICANN’s application system may not have been able to handle those Yes, really! (If they can’t handle that, what about Unicode characters like you find in IDNS!)

If this is true, it tells me one thing.

ICANN didn’t test its system as it should have done.

That is to say, its likely that no dummy application was made by ICANN before releasing the system to go live with one of the most important systems on which several million dollars worth of applicant’s businesses were required to rely?

It begs a question as to whether an organization that is happy with this level of testing should be regarded as suitable for being awarded the contract to run the IANA and one of the 13 root-servers on which we all rely. But that’s a matter for others to ponder, not me.

I’m really not going to throw rocks. They have enough to cope with, without me sniping. They need a little space to get their act together now. So maybe we should leave the poor so-and-sos be?

But, really …  tsk tsk.


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