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Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Where have all the good DNS registrars gone?

I have been trying to register a couple of domain names, a .CO.UK and a .EU, and have them set up with my name servers with Glue Records (IPv4 and IPv6).

Should be simple right? But it has so far turned out to be a mammoth task.

I started out by looking for a not-too-expensive registrar who could cope with .CO.UK and .EU names, and who would process the initial registration automatically (and immediately), as opposed to requiring a message to be submitted to a human for processing whenever they saw fit.

After searching around, I landed on NamesCo. Their automated system processed the initial registrations straight off.

Unfortunately they rather messed-up the registrant's (i.e. my) e-mail address as recorded with EURid, putting their own e-mail address instead of mine — VERY naughty. Also it look a LOT of jumping up on down on them via several support tickets to get this fixed. In the end it looked like they had to do (what EURid call) a "trade", presumably at their expense, to get the domain ownership transferred to me. Eh? Yes. From EURid's point-of-view, the domain wasn't actually registered to me at all! So it looks like NamesCo were being extremely naughty and registering names requested by customers to themselves — seems to me to be really quite illegal.

Anyway, I eventually got around to wanting the nameservers and Glue Records set up. So I put in two support tickets, one for each domain name.

The .CO.UK was processed correctly within one business day and I was all set.

After a while, they came back to tell me that the .EU was done. I checked. It wasn't. I queried. A different person waded in on the support ticket and made a comment that was total nonsense. I queried. They made another nonsense comment. This went back and forth a few times before the original person re-surfaced and told me to disregard all the comments from the other person, and made a comment which made sense. Professional? Not really.

This first person made some enquiries, and finally came to the conclusion that they could not support IPv6 Glue Records on .EU domain names because the company which actually processed their .EU registrations (Register.IT) did not support IPv6 Glue Records on .EU domain names.

This was bad as it was. But it was made even worse by the fact that I had deliberately asked, in a support ticket a few weeks earlier, whether they supported IPv6 Glue Records for .EU domain names. Their reply was that their ability to support IPv6 Glue Records was limited only by the ability of the relevant registry to support them. So having said "yes", they now said "no".

I checked the sample agreement which is agreed between EURid and registrars. In section 2.5 it says that registrars must offer all the services to end-users that EURid offers. I also telephoned EURid in Belgium (English +32 2 401 27 60) and asked them if they supported IPv6 Glue. The chap I spoke with didn't know, but he telephoned me back later to say that they did. So it would seem that Register.IT is actually obliged to support IPv6 Glue on .EU domains, but doesn't. So what is that? Probably a civil wrong toward EURid. Ah well.

Eventually I decided that NamesCo was not for me and started to have a look round for another registrar. After looking around I found that AAISP have a domain name "", and that was registered through an outfit called Nominate.

"Nominate"? Odd. Sounds like some kind of play on "Nominet", and really quite a silly name. Ordinarily I would not have any truck with a company which (a) has such a silly name and (b) appears to be deliberately trying to confuse people into thinking it might be some other organisation (Nominet). But, I thought, hey ho, if it's good enough for AAISP, it's good enough for me.

So I spoke with Nominate to see if (a) they did deal directly with the registries Nominet and EURid, and (b) if they would support IPv6 Glue. They said that they did deal directly with those two registries. On the subject of IPv6 Glue, they said that whilst it was not something they had done much of, they did have access to most registries, and doing "unusual" things with domain registration was something that was well within the sort of thing that they would do.

So I took a chance and promptly transferred my .CO.UK and .EU to duly took over the domain names. I then asked them to set up the .EU with the desired nameservers and Glue Records. Within a short while they had managed to get those set up correctly. Fantastic.

At this point both domains were set up and from a DNS point of view, all correct and returning the correct nameservers and Glue Records, including IPv6 Glue Records. In addition, the information recorded with the registries legally identifying me as the registrant owner was correct. Fantastic.

So Nominate were starting to look reasonbly good.

However their web control panel does leave quite a bit to be desired. For example the Postal/geographic address bit doesn't really have the right layout for UK postal addresses, and unless you have an unusually brief address you end up having to cram it in and shove bits of the address into what is really the wrong box.

Also, Nominate are incapable of accepting e-mail addresses which don't happen to fit into their own private definition of what is acceptable. RFC5322 doesn't seem to have reached as far as Longfield, Kent, and they will not accept an e-mail address with a plus symbol in it. Clang!

Even worse was the reason they cited. Something to do with their system treating e-mail addresses as regular expressions! Bizarre! So if the e-mail address contains a plus symbol, this will be interpreted as "match one or more of the previous entity"!

Now, I can tell you, as an I.T. professional with 20 years experience in the business, that this is HIDEOUSLY, HEINOUSLY BROKEN, and indicates that their technical staff (if they have any at all) are hideously incompetent and any company that is this technically incompetent should not be touched with a bargepole.

So in summary: I'm still looking for a DNS registrar which is at least a quarter decent. If you do have any suggestions, please do let me know.

Results so far:

NamesCoTechnically incompetent. Don't touch with a bargepole
Nominate a.k.a. BB-OnlineTechnically incompetent. Don't touch with a bargepole

Humax Foxsat-HDR won't record two channels at once — FIXED

A few years ago, I installed a Sky free-to-view system for a relative. This involved installing a Sky minidish on the outside of the house with a single LNB and a single cable coming down to a Sky digibox. This was just a straight standard definition receiver box — I think it even pre-dated Sky HD services in any case. There was no record facility so it, so only one cable was required. The Sky digibox was acquired second-hand via eBay. I think I originally set it up with one of those viewing cards which was no charge per month and let you watch just the basic channels.

This all worked fine. After a while the situation meant that the relative wanted to have a basic package from Sky, which they got, and were paying fees monthly to Sky. After another while, they decided they didn't want to pay Sky anything, so changed their package again down to a no-charge-per-month package.

This was fine for a while. Then the digibox started playing up. It would work for a while, then go downhill with the picture breaking up. If switched off overnight, it would then work for a few hours the next day before going downhill again.

I was called in to fix it — a 100-mile trek. I reasoned that as it worked for a while after powering up, it must be the digibox, perhaps something like it was overheating. So I swapped in another digibox, the same make and model, which I had lying around after having had my own installation upgraded to Sky Plus.

With the other digibox swapped in, everything looked fine. 100 miles back home. But then it started doing the same problem as the first one had. So I wondered if perhaps it was something else.

In the initial installation, I didn't really know what I was doing, and had bought the dish and cable as a kit. There was 20m of cable (aluminium foil screened I believe) in the kit, which wasn't really long enough to reach, so I had routed the cable in a way which left it a bit exposed to the elements and not thoroughly clipped down. So I wondered if the cable had deteriorated. So, after another 100 mile trek back to site, I tried putting in a short temporary cable (using proper copper-foil-screened foam dielectric cable) from the dish to the box, and I also tried a third digibox (my Sky Plus box from home).

Neither of the Sky digiboxes would work on any cable, but the Sky Plus box worked on all cables. So I reasoned that my second "test" digibox was broken in the same way as the first digibox.

So this would require changing the box. I advised my relative that they might want to take this opportunity to upgrade to a recording Freesat system and to get a Humax Foxsat-HDR.

Now, at the time they only had one cable coming down from the dish, and of course a Foxsat-HDR, to work fully, would need two cables.

So the plan was for them to get a Humax Foxsat-HDR, install it themselves on a single cable, and then I would come back another time to arrange a second cable. 100 mile trek back home again. As it was, the original cable was not long enough and was not routed optimally, so I decided to put in two new cables.

So eventually I found the time to put in two new cables from the dish to the Foxsat-HDR. 100 mile trek back to site again. This time I used proper copper-foil screened, foam dielectric cable, with brown outer insulation to match the colour of the house, clipped on with matching brown clips. The cable was also routed properly so as to be out of the elements, no tight corners, and clipped all the way. Much better.

Connected it up to the Foxsat-HDR. The box said that it could see good signal on both inputs. "So", I thought "Job Done". 100 mile trek back home again.

I spoke to my relative in the meantime to help get them into being able to record programmes, which eventually I was able to do. After a while they discovered that they were not able to record two high definition programmes at once. I was puzzled by this, but put it down to the data rate on high definition programming being too high to cope with another stream at the same time.

After another long while, it transpired that they could not even record two standard definition channels at the same time. Very puzzling. After all, I had checked the box and made sure that both inputs were showing a good signal.

After a while it was time to visit again. I had a play with the box. Sure enough there was still a really good signal on each receiver channel (something like strength 90%, quality 100%). But if I told it to record a programme, then I went to watch something else, I would find that many of the channels were "greyed out" and unable to be selected. Puzzling.

I had a sniff round on the web and found that this problem could happen because of the box only using one receiver input. But … but … I checked, and the box was showing two good signals, so surely it couldn't be that.

Then eventually I found a suggestion that the box only "decided" how many cables it was going to use at initial set-up time, i.e. the thing which it usually only does once when you first set the box up. So, for example, it would not do it on a soft power-up time, or even on a hard power-up. Only when the box is initially set up. As I had not thought I would need to do this when I had first put the two-cable feed in place, the box would then only be using one of the inputs.

The solution suggested was to do a "factory reset" on the box. I was concerned that this would erase all stored programmes, something which people would not normally want to do. But I thought I'd go and have a look.

I went into the "factory reset" option on the box, and thankfully it presented a clear message on-screen to say to the effect that recorded programmes would not be removed.

So I went through factory reset, and the box went through its initial set-up, and I had to re-enter the postcode etc.. Crucially, at one point it put up a message to the effect of "Detected cables: two". This then told me that it was detecting the number of cables connected.

After that, I could tell the box to record a programme, then go and watch another programme, and all channels were available, i.e. none were "greyed-out" as before. I could also record two programmes at once.

So it looks like the engineers at Humax have decided that the number of cables is pretty much fixed, and they haven't really catered for the case of someone starting with one cable and later upgrading to two cables.

I am surprised that the box does not re-detect the number of cables more easily. It even shows the signal strength and quality on both cables, so it knows that the signal is there. Also there seems to be no option anywhere in the menus to re-detect the number of cables. The only way is to do factory reset and go through initial set-up.

Update 2011-03-14: It turns out you can change the number of cables without having to do a factory reset. The cable configuration can be changed through a hidden menu.

So it is both (a) hard to even tell that it hasn't detected the second cable, and (b) even when you do figure this out, it's a bit hard to discover how to fix it.

Once you know, it's easy. But the knowledge is "magic" and not easily discoverable.

Hopefully by posting this article, it may save some people some trouble.

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Phrases to help people find this page:

  • Humax Foxsat HDR some channels are grey
  • Humax Foxsat HDR won't record two channels at once
  • Humax Foxsat HDR won't use second cable
  • Humax Foxsat HDR won't use second receiver
  • Humax Foxsat HDR won't let me record one channel and watch another
  • Humax Foxsat HDR problems