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Home > Weblog w/e 11.3.2000

Saturday 11 March 2000, 23:15 GMT
Domain name games I. There are lots of tools that let you check whether a particular domain name is taken. domainsurfer.com goes one better, allowing you to do wildcard searches for phrases. Unfortunately it only covers InterNIC addresses (.com, .org, .net) at the moment, but even so it's fascinating to see what names are taken: did you know there are thirteen .com/org/net domains including the phrase "thebeard"?
Domain name games II. On a more serious note, the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers have announced changes to their plans to create an At Large membership of ordinary Internet users to vote for members of the ICANN board and get involved in what it hopes will be a "bottom up" policy-making process. ICANN has a lot on its plate: it's expected to oversee the work of allocating domain names, figure out how to resolve trademark disputes, decide whether new Top Level Domains are needed to relieve the strain on the .com TLD, and manage the establishment of any new TLDs. It's possible that in the long term the current system of domain names is going to be unsustainable, but for the time being managing this stuff is important. Find out more about applying to become an At Large member here.
Having problems getting Linux to talk to your PC peripherals? A lot of peripheral manufacturers only supply driver software for Windows, which at the very least causes delays in getting support for them under Linux. Worse still, they don't always make sufficient information public about the way their device talks to the PC to allow an Open Source driver to be written. The Linux Drivers Petition aims to collect 2 million signatures in a short period of time, to demonstrate to peripheral suppliers that they're missing out on a big market and encourage them to either supply Open Source drivers themselves or else release sufficient details to allow others to do the job for them. [Via User Friendly]
I saw Three Kings this evening. Very good indeed, with a properly complex view of the mess that was left after Desert Storm and the hopes the Allies saw fit to raise then dash. After this and Out of Sight, there's no question that George Clooney has successfully managed the transition from TV star to movie star.
Friday 10 March 2000, 23:35 GMT
Fear of dentistry. According to a new survey, 25% of patients experience "fear of visiting their dentist." Only 25%?
Farewell and good riddance to Zoe Ball. She left the BBC Radio 1 Breakfast Show today after 2½ years of torturing listeners with her audible intakes of breath, her gabbling about her hectic social life and her team of sycophants who would laugh at her every utterance. Why can't Radio 1's management understand that a TV presenter does not a DJ make?
Teachers are to "promote marriage" as part of the quid pro quo for the government repealing the ban on local authorities "promoting" (i.e. acknowledging the existence of) homosexuality. This stinks on so many levels.
Dune done right? The Sci-Fi Channel in the US have just put up a website for their miniseries version of Frank Herbert's epic science fiction novel, Dune. Few fans of the novel were big fans of the David Lynch film (which I thought looked splendid, but was clearly trying to cram way too much into a two hour span), so hopefully this time round the story will be told properly.
Thursday 9 March 2000, 23:40 GMT
As powerful interests try to restrain free speech on the Internet through everything from the English libel laws to the UCITA in the States, could Defamation Havens provide a refuge?
Who Wants To Be A Homosexual? [Via Metafilter]
Wrap up well next time you visit your local supermarket.
Once again, we're treated to the spectacle of politicians lambasting dole cheats, supported (as usual) by the press. We've been here before, and we'll be back in a year or two. I worked in a dole office for twelve years, and while there are undoubtedly some people who make a habit of working while claiming benefits it's fair to say that they're a tiny minority. However, it's much easier for politicians to rail at "dole cheats" than it is to target the people who really cheat the taxpayer: the small- and medium-sized businesses which knowingly employ people on benefits, and the businesses which do everything in their power to avoid VAT and corporation taxes. But then, it's always easier to pick on individuals who can't afford accountants.
Wednesday 8 March 2000, 23:40 GMT
Yet another 'free Internet access' deal arrives, this time from BT, allowing unmetered access, albeit over conventional phone lines. There's a monthly charge, but this time the deal involves being able to choose your ISP (at any rate, from those ISPs who sign up with BT to provide the service.) This competition between ISPs for my custom seems much more promising than the NTL, AltaVista and Telewest announcements, which seem to tie you to one ISP. It's worth noting that AltaVista have admitted that despite their announcement they still haven't even got a telco in place to provide this 'free' connectivity: I say, wait for the services to run for six months, then evaluate which way to jump.
Blofeld is dead!
Gorgeous picture of Io (courtesy of Astronomy Picture of the Day).
Several high-tech companies joined the FTSE 100 Index today, replacing a number of old bricks-and-mortar firms. Interesting to see both Freeserve (the biggest UK ISP) and Thus (owners of Demon Internet, one of the few British ISPs making a profit - clearly they haven't heard that dot.coms aren't supposed to make money!) in the FTSE-100. It's also good to see Psion in there - they've come a long way since they were Sinclair Research's pet software house. I wonder what the effect of the bursting of the net bubble will be over here: I can only think that it'll not be quite as bloody as it will in the States, where a worrying percentage of the economic growth that it making the current presidential election seem so irrelevant in some quarters is down to insane dot.com valuations.
Tuesday 7 March 2000, 21:50 GMT
This seems to be the busiest week for announcements about unmetered Internet access in ages. All of a sudden, companies are lining up to offer us all 'free' Internet access, from AltaVista to NTL to Telewest. Most of these seem to be package deals, with Internet access thrown in as part of a telecoms package and subject to some sort of conditions, like making £10 of non-Internet phone calls per month. Add to this Tony Blair arguing that we need universal Internet access if the British economy is to grow, BT finally starting ADSL trials soon, and BT talking about introducing unmetered access through its new SurfTime deal, and it seems as if we're in exciting times for UK net users.

It all sounds good, so why am I not more excited? First of all, the pattern that such offers has followed so far is that companies announce 'free' access deals, then get swamped to the point where callers just can't get through, and I'd like to wait a while and see if the new competitors will cope. Second, all the deals I've heard of so far involve using the access provider as your ISP, and I'd much rather that ISPs were allowed to compete for my custom than see half a dozen major ISPs, each allied to a telco, dominating the market. Third, I'm sceptical that the new wave of telcos-cum-ISPs are going to give a damn about issues like censorship or resistance to political pressure to offer family-friendly content, or indeed anything but turning the Internet into a web-based shopping mall: how many of them will allow users to run servers, or will care about maintaining a full newsfeed? Finally, surveys suggest that a lot of British people wouldn't get on-line even with unmetered access, because for a hell of a lot of the population devoting several hundred pounds of their disposable income to the purchase of an Internet-capable PC isn't a high priority.

I hope I'm being unduly sceptical, but so far this week I've seen a lot of hot air and little substance. Let's see what the situation is on the ground in six months' time, then we'll see whether much has changed.
The second reading of the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Bill began in the House of Commons today, and it's gratifying to see that so far Home Secretary Jack Straw is coming under fire for some of the Bill's more illiberal provisions, like a presumption that someone who is unable to hand over a private key is guilty unless they can convince a court that they have lost it, forgotten it, or never had it in the first place. If you want to know more about the RIP Bill, see the excellent guide produced by Stand.

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