FotFM: The Domain Name System (DNS)

Once upon a time, back in the ancient history of the Internet–before the 1990s–domain names were carefully controlled and regulated. A single organization controlled each top level domain. If you wanted a domain name, you had to meet their requirements. Often the policies enforced were quite picky. If you wanted a .uk domain name, you were required to actually be in the UK, for example. If you wanted a .org domain, you were required to be a non-profit organization.

The spam problem part 3: Objections to attention bonds

In part 1, I enumerated the approaches to spam eradication I was aware of, and explained my conclusion that the only approach which will work is an economic approach. In part 2 I discussed various options for tackling spam economically, ending with the one I think would actually be acceptable and useful: attention bonds.

Now I’ll run through (and shoot down) a few of the objections commonly brought up when the possibility of involving actual cash in e-mail sending is raised.

The spam problem part 2: The dismal science

In Part 1 I took a “from first principles” look at the spam problem, and concluded that the only way to actually solve the problem was to make people pay to send e-mail.

Now, it’s time to look at what I mean by that—because there are almost as many ways to implement “pay to send” as there are ways to implement filtering.

This is going to be a bit more technical than part 1. I’m going to assume you know basically how SMTP e-mail works. If not, there are tutorials available.

The spam problem part 1: Describing the problem

A great many words have been written on the subject of e-mail spam. Effort has been poured into all kinds of technological measures against it. In my view, many of these efforts have been a waste of time, because they have failed to address the fundamental problem of spam.

To explain my thinking, I’ll start with some basic statements:

  1. Your attention is a valuable resource. If you doubt this, you need only look at the amount of money spent on advertising in an attempt to acquire your attention.

  2. Therefore, your inbox is a valuable resource. Many people, perhaps most people, now check e-mail multiple times a day. In fact, according to some surveys college students spend more time on the Internet than watching TV. They check their e-mail inbox more than they look at ad breaks.

  3. SMTP e-mail allows anyone to send mail. There’s no centralized registration required in SMTP; there’s no control over the growth of the SMTP e-mail network. While some servers restrict which SMTP clients may connect to them, there’s essentially no control over who sends mail, as it’s always possible to open a new web e-mail account, buy a new ISP dial-up account, or whatever.

  4. SMTP e-mail is free for the sender. Sure, many people pay for their Internet access; but once you have an Internet connection, sending e-mail basically doesn’t cost you anything—it has marginal cost.

Now, let me re-cast those four statements:

We have unrestricted access for anyone in the world to use arbitrary amounts of a valuable resource.

Can you think of any case where there has been a system like that, and it has worked? I can’t. The canonical example is the tragedy of the commons, but there are plenty of others, including the Cambridge ‘Green Bike’ scheme and the overfishing of cod.

In order to avoid a “tragedy of the commons” situation, we need to alter the situation so that one of the statements above is no longer true. Let’s go through them again and consider our options.

Censorship roundup

#1: The SF Chronicle has suspended Henry Norr because he was arrested at a peace protest. He told them beforehand that he would likely be arrested and consequently would need to take a day off, as a personal day or sick day or vacation day. (Note that Henry Norr is a technology columnist, and his weekly column, delivered ahead of deadline, did not mention the war in any way.) #2: The Yellow Times web site has been shut down by its ISP for publishing photos of Iraqi war casualties.

Army Of Losers

I’m getting increasingly annoyed by the amount of money and resources AOL wastes trying to get me to subscribe to their service. The latest gimmick is that they’re not just sending me CDs… they’re sending me CDs in a metal tin, decorated with an American eagle and a border of stars, styled like a US coin or something. It’s the most appalling waste. I mean, let’s be clear about something: If AOL was the only Internet Service Provider in the world, I’d set up a BBS for my friends or arrange a UUCP feed for my e-mail.

Made it better to make it worse, so make it worse to make it better

Some time last week the ReplayTV stopped connecting successfully. At the weekend, the program guide information ran out and it stopped recording, so I think we missed The Simpsons and a couple of other shows. It appears that something phone-related was upgraded—perhaps the modems at the ISP the box dials in to, perhaps our phone line—and the ReplayTV modem started connecting at a higher speed… which it couldn’t sustain, causing it to drop the line part way through.


Got home, booked tickets to Minnesota. It’s funny, when I married Sara I didn’t really think about the fact that it would mean visiting Minnesota every other winter. Not that I’d have decided differently; I’m just amused that it didn’t occur to me. Also fixed my web site. The Perl script rewrote most the HTML for AT&T’s web servers, but I had to change a few URLs in my LiveJournal template and fix the redirection at pobox.

Wireless is go

I’ve got the wireless router accessing my dial-up ISP. Next step is to get a wireless card for the other Mac, then I can get cable modem… It seems there’s some incompatibility between the router and IE on the Mac. Oh well, maybe a firmware upgrade’ll fix it. Went to a bi brunch at Pho Pasteur in Harvard Square. Excellent food. Afterwards I browsed the music stores and somehow managed to avoid spending any money.

Router suckterfuge

Got an SMC7004AWBR 4-port Wireless Broadband Router. It’s broken. It works, except that there’s no way to get to the main configuration screen. All the other navigator links work; I can set up firewall options, define a DMZ machine, and so on. I just can’t actually tell it my ISP or anything useful like that. I can plug it into my existing router and use it as a wireless access point, or alternatively it’ll do as a doorstop.