dot-EU Kerfuffle: what’s in an email anyway?

You may remember that last year I complained about what I defined the dot-EU kerfuffle, related to the news that EURid had been instructed to cancel the domain registrations of UK entities after Brexit. I thought the problem was passed when they agreed to consider European citizen as eligible holders of dot-EU domains, with an agreement reached last December, and due to enter into effect in… 2022.

You would think that, knowing that a new regulation needs to enter into effect, EURid would stop their plan of removing access to those domains for the UK residents for the time being, but it’s not so. Indeed, they instead sent a notice that effectively suggests that any old and new domain that would be then taken off the zone by marking them as WITHDRAWN first, and REVOKED second.

This means that on 2020-03-30, a lot of previously-assigned domains will be available for scammers, phishers, and identity thieves, unless they are transferred before this coming May!

You can get more user-focused read of this in this article by The Register, which does good justice to the situation, despite the author seemingly being a leaver, from the ending of a previous article linked there. One of the useful part of that article is knowing that there are over 45 thousands domain name assigned to individuals residing in the UK — and probably a good chunk of those are of either Europhiles Brits, or citizen of other EU countries residing in the UK (like me).

Why should we worry about this, given the amount of other pressing problems that Brexit is likely to cause? Well, there is a certain issue of people being identified by email addresses that contain domain names. What neither EURid nor The Register appear to have at hand (and me even less) would be to figure out how many of those domains actually are used as logins, or receive sensitive communications such as GP contacts from NHS, or financial companies.

Because if someone can take over a domain, they can take over the email address, and very quickly from there you can ruin the life of, or at least heavily bother, any person that might be using a dot-EU domain. The risks for scams, identity theft and the like are being ignored once again by EURid to try to make a political move, at a time when nobody is giving a damn of what EURid is doing.

As I said in the previous post, I have been using flameeyes[dot]eu as my primary domain for the past ten or eleven years. The blog was moved on its own domain. My primary website is still there but will be moved shortly. My primary email address is changed. You’ll see me using a dot-com email address more often.

I’m now going through the whole set of my accounts to change the email they have on file for me with a new one on a dot-com domain. This is significantly helped by having all of them on 1password, but that’s not enough — it only tells you which services that use email as username. It says nothing about (say) the banks that use a customer number, but still have your email on file.

And then there are the bigger problems.

Sometimes the email address is immutable.

You’d be surprised on how many websites have either no way to change an email address. My best guess is that whoever designed the database schema thought that just using the email address as a primary key was a good idea. This is clearly not the case, and it has not been the case ever. I’d be surprised if anyone who got their first email address from an ISP would be making that mistake, but in the era of GMail, it seems this is often forgotten.

I now have a tag for 1Password to show me which accounts I can’t change the email address of. Some of them are really minimal services, that you probably wouldn’t be surprised to just store an email address as identifier, such as the Fallout 4 Map website. Some appear to have bugs with changing email addresses (British Airways). Some … surprised me entirely: Tarsnap does not appear to have a way to change email address either.

While for some of these services being unable to receive email is not a particularly bad problem, for most of them it would be. Particularly when it comes to plane tickets. Let alone the risk that any one of those services would store passwords in plain text, and send them back to you if you forgot them. Combine that with people who reuse the same password everywhere, and you can start seeing a problem again.

OAuth2 is hard, let’s identify by email.

There is another problem if you log into services with OAuth2-based authentication providers such as Facebook or (to a lesser extent) Google. Quite a few of those services would create an account for you at first login, and use the email address that they are given by the identity provider. And then they just match the email address the next time you login.

While changing Google’s email address is a bit harder (but not impossible if, like me, you’re using GSuite), changing the address you register on Facebook with is usually easy (exceptions exist). So if you signed up for a service through Facebook, and then changed your Facebook address, you may not be able to sign in again — or you may end up signing up for the service again when you try.

In my case, I changed the domain associated of my Google account, since it’s a GSuite (business) account. That made things even more fun, because even if services may remember that Facebook allows you to change your email address, many might have forgotten that technically Google allows you to do that too. While Android and ChromeOS appear to work fine (which honestly surprised me, sorry colleagues!), Pokémon Go got significantly messed up when I did that — luckily I had Facebook connected to it as well, so a login later, and disconnect/reconnect of the Google account, was enough for it to work.

Some things are working slightly better than other. Pocket, which allows you to sign in with either a Firefox account, a Google account, or an email/password pair, appears to only care about the email address of the Google account. So when I logged in, I ended up with a new account and no access to the old content. The part that works well is that you can delete the new account, and immediately after login to the old one and replace the primary email address.

End result? I’m going through nearly every one of my nearly 600 accounts, a few at a time, trying to change my email address, and tagging those where I can’t. I’m considering writing a standard template email to send to any support address for those that do not support changing email address. But I doubt they would be fixed in time before Brexit. Just one more absolute mess caused by Cameron, May, and their friends.

The dot-EU kerfuffle — or how EURid is messing with their own best supporters

TL;DR summary: be very careful if you use a .eu domain as your point of contact for anything. If you’re thinking of registering a .eu domain to use as your primary domain, just don’t.


I have forecasted a rant when I pointed out I changed domain with my move to WordPress.

I have registered flameeyes.eu nearly ten years ago, part of the reason was because flameeyes.com was (at the time) parked to a domain squatter, and part because I have been a strong supported of the European Union.

In those ten years I started using the domain not just for my website, but as my primary contact email. It’s listed as my contact address everywhere, I have all kind of financial, commercial and personal services attached to that email. It’s effectively impossible for me to ever detangle from it, even if I spend the next four weeks doing nothing but amending registrations — some services just don’t allow you to ever change email address; many requires you to contact support and spend time talking with a person to get the email updated on the account.

And now, because I moved to the United Kingdom, which decided to leave the Union, the Commission threatens to prevent me from keeping my domain. It may sound obvious, since EURid says

A website with a .eu or .ею domain name extension tells your customers that you are a legal entity based in the EU, Iceland, Liechtenstein or Norway and are therefore, subject to EU law and other relevant trading standards.

But at the same time it now provides a terrible collapse of two worlds: technical and political. The idea that you any entity in control of a .eu domain is by requirement operating under EU law sounds good on paper… until you come to this corner case where a country leaves the Union — and now either you water down this promise, eroding trust in the domain by not upholding this law domain, or you end up with domain takeover, eroding trust in the domain on technical merit.

Most of the important details for this are already explained in a seemingly unrelated blog post by Hanno Böck: Abandoned Domain Takeover as a Web Security Risk. If EURid will forbid renewal of .eu domains for entities that are no longer considered part of the EU, a whole lot of domains will effectively be “up for grabs”. Some may currently be used as CDN aliases, and be used to load resources on other websites; those would be the worst, as they would allow the controller of the domains to inject content in other sites that should otherwise be secure.

But even more important for companies that used their .eu domain as their primary point of contact: think of any PO, or invoice, or request for information, that would be sent to a company email address — and now think of a malicious actor getting access to those communications! This is not just the risk that me (and any other European supporter who happened to live in the UK, I’m sure I’m not alone) as a single individual have — it’s a possibly unlimited amount of scams that people would be subjected to, as it would be trivial to pass for a company, once their domain is taken over!

As you can see from the title, I think this particular move is also going to hit the European supporters the most. Not just because of those individuals (like me!) who wanted to signal how they feel part of something bigger than their country of birth, but also because I expect a number of UK companies used .eu domain specifically to declare themselves open to European customers — as otherwise, between pricing in Sterling, and a .co.uk domain, it would always feel like buying “foreign goods”. Now those companies, that believed in Europe, find themselves in the weakest of positions.

Speaking of individuals, when I read the news I had a double-take, and had to check the rules for .eu domains again. At first I assumed that something was clearly wrong: I’m a European Union citizen, surely I will be able to keep my domain, no matter where I live! Unfortunately, that’s not the case:

In this first step the Registrant must verify whether it meets the General
Eligibility Criteria, whereby it must be:
(i) an undertaking having its registered office, central administration or
principal place of business within the European Union, Norway, Iceland
or Liechtenstein, or
(ii) an organisation established within the European Union, Norway, Iceland
or Liechtenstein without prejudice to the application of national law, or
(iii) a natural person resident within the European Union, Norway, Iceland or
Liechtenstein.

If you are a European Union citizen, but you don’t want your digital life to ever be held hostage by the Commission or your country’s government playing games with it, do not use a .eu domain. Simple as that. EURid does not care about the well-being of their registrants.

If you’re a European company, do think twice on whether you want to risk that a change in government for the country you’re registered in would lead you to open both yourself, your suppliers and your customers into the a wild west of overtaken domains.

Effectively, what EURid has signalled with this is that they care so little about the technical hurdles of their customers, that I would suggest against ever relying on a .eu domain for anyone at all. Register it as a defense against scammers, but don’t do business on it, as it’s less stable than certain microstate domains, or even the more trendy and modern gTLDs.

I’ll call this a self-goal. I still trust the European Union, and the Commission, to have the interests of the many in their mind. But the way they tried to apply a legislative domain to the .eu TLD was brittle at best to begin with, and now there’s no way out of here that does not ruin someone’s day, and erode the trust in that very same domain.

It’s also important to note that most of the bigger companies, those that I hear a lot of European politicians complain about, would have no problem with something like this: just create a fully-own subsidiary somewhere in Europe, say for instance Slovakia, and have it hold onto the domain. And have it just forward onto a gTLD to do business on, so you don’t even give the impression of counting on that layer of legislative trust.

Given the scary damage that would be caused by losing control over my email address of ten years, I’m honestly considering looking for a similar loophole. The cost of establishing an LLC in another country, firmly within EU boundaries, is not pocket money, but it’s still chump change compared to the amount of damage (financial, reputation, relationships, etc) that it would be a good investment.

Public Money, Public Code

Imagine that all publicly funded software were under a free license: Everybody would be able to use, study, share and improve it.

I have been waiting for Free Software Foundation Europe to launch the Public Money, Public Code campaign for almost a year now, when first Matthias told me about this being in the works. I have been arguing the same point, although not quite as organized, since back in 2009 when I complained about how the administration of Venice commissioned a GIS application to a company they directly own.

For those who have not seen the campaign yet, the idea is simple: software built with public money (that is, commissioned and paid for by public agencies), should be licensed using a FLOSS license, to make it public code. I like this idea and will support it fully. I even rejoined the Fellowship!

The timing of this campaign ended up resonating with a post on infrastructure projects and their costs, which I find particularly interesting and useful to point out. Unlike the article that is deep-linked there, which lamented of the costs associated with this project, this article focuses on pointing out how that money actually needs to be spent, because for the most part off the shelf Free Software is not really up to the task of complex infrastructure projects.

You may think the post I linked is overly critical of Free Software, and that it’s just a little rough around the edges and everything is okay once you spend some time on it. But that’s exactly what the article is saying! Free Software is a great baseline to build complex infrastructure on top of. This is what all the Cloud companies do, this is what even Microsoft has been doing in the past few years, and it is reasonable to expect most for-profit projects would do that, for a simple reason: you don’t want to spend money working on reinventing the wheel when you can charge for designing an innovative engine — which is a quite simplistic view of course, as sometimes you can invent a more efficient wheel indeed, but that’s a different topic.

Why am I bringing this topic up together with the FSFE campaign? Because I think this is exacly what we should be asking from our governments and public agencies, and the article I linked shows exactly why!

You can’t take off the shelf FLOSS packages and have them run a whole infrastructure, because they usually they are unpolished, and might not scale or require significant work to bring them up to the project required. You will have to spend money to do that, and maybe in some cases it will be cheaper to just not use already existing FLOSS projects at all, and build your own new, innovative wheel. So publicly funded projects need money to produce results, we should not complain about the cost1, but rather demand that the money spent actually produces something that will serve the public in all possible ways, not only with the objective of the project, but also with any byproduct of it, which include the source code.

Most of the products funded with public money are not particularly useful for individuals, or for most for-profit enterprises, but byproducts and improvements may very well be. For example, in the (Italian) post I wrote in 2009 I was complaining about a GIS application that was designed to report potholes and other roadwork problems. In abstract, this is a way to collect and query points of interests (POI), which is the base of many other current services, from review sites, to applications such as Field Trip.

But do we actually care? Sure, by making the code available of public projects, you may now actually be indirectly funding private companies that can reuse that code, and thus be jumpstarted into having applications that would otherwise cost time or money to build from scratch. On the other hand, this is what Free Software has been already about before: indeed, Linux, the GNU libraries and tools, Python, Ruby, and all those tools out there are nothing less than a full kit to quickly start projects that a long time ago would have taken a lot of money or a lot of time to start.

You could actually consider the software byproducts of these project similarly to the public infrastructure that we probably all take from granted: roads, power distribution, communication, and so on. Businesses couldn’t exist without all of this infrastructure, and while it is possible for a private enterprise to set out and build all the infrastructure themselves (road, power lines, fiber), we don’t expect them to do so. Instead we accept that we want more enterprises, because they bring more jobs, more value, and the public investment is part of it.

I actually fear the reason a number of people may disagree with this campaign is rooted in localism — as I said before, I’m a globalist. Having met many people with such ideas, I can hear them in my mind complaining that, to take again the example of the IRIS system in Venice, the Venetian shouldn’t have to pay for something and then give it away for free to Palermo. It’s a strawman, but just because I replaced the city that they complained about when I talked about my idea those eight years ago.

This argument may make sense if you really care about local money being spent locally and not counting on any higher-order funding. But myself I think that public money is public, and I don’t really care if the money from Venice is spent to help reporting potholes in Civitella del Tronto. Actually, I think that cities where the median disposable income is higher have a duty to help providing infrastructure for the smaller, poorer cities at the very least in their immediate vicinity, but overall too.

Unfortunately “public money” may not always be so, even if it appears like that. So I’m not sure if, even if a regulation was passed for publicly funded software development to be released as FLOSS, we’d get a lot in form of public transport infrastructure being open sourced. I would love for it to be though: we’d more easily get federated infrastructure, if they would share the same backend, and if you knew how the system worked you could actually build tools around it, for instance integrating Open Street Map directly with the transport system itself. But I fear this is all wishful thinking and it won’t happen in my lifetime.

There is also another interesting point to make here, which I think I may expand upon, for other contexts, later on. As I said above, I’m all for requiring the software developed with public money to be released to the public with a FLOSS-compatible license. Particularly one that allows using other FLOSS components, and the re-use of even part of the released code into bigger projects. This does not mean that everybody should have a say in what’s going on with that code.

While it makes perfect sense to be able to fix bugs and incompatibilities with websites you need to use as part of your citizen life (in the case of the Venetian GIS I would probably have liked to fix the way they identified the IP address they received the request for), adding new features may actually not be in line with the roadmap of the project itself. Particularly if the public money is already tight rather than lavish, I would surely prefer that they focused on delivering what the project needs and just drop the sources out in compatible licenses, without trying to create a community around them. While the latter would be nice to have, it should not steal the focus on the important part: a lot of this code is currently one-off and is not engineered to be re-used or extensible.

Of course on the long run, if you do have public software available already as open-source, there would be more and more situations where solving the same problem again may become easier, particularly if an option is added there, or a constant string can become a configured value, or translations were possible at all. And in that case, why not have them as features of a single repository, rather than have a lot of separate forks?

But all of this should really be secondary, in my opinion. Let’s focus on getting those sources, they are important, they matter and they can make a difference. Building communities around this will take time. And to be honest, even making these secure will take time. I’m fairly sure that in many cases right now if you do take a look at the software that is running for public services, you can find backdoors, voluntary or not, and even very simple security issues. While the “many eyes” idea is easily disproved, it’s also true that for the most part those projects cut corners, and are very difficult to make sure to begin with.

I want to believe we can do at least this bit.


  1. Okay, so there are case of artificially inflated costs due to friends-of-friends. Those are complicated issues, and I’ll leave them to experts. We should still not be complaining that these projects don’t appear for free.
    [return]

Europe and USA: my personal market comparison

While I have already announced I’m moving to London, I don’t want to give the idea that I don’t trust Europe. One of my acquaintances, an eurosceptic, thought it was apt o congratulate me for dropping out of Europe when I announced my move, but that couldn’t be farthest from my intention. As I said already repeatedly now, my decision is all to be found in my lack of a social circle in Dublin, and the feelings of loneliness that really need to be taken care of.

Indeed, I’m more than an Europeist, I’m a Globalist, in so far as I don’t see any reason why we should have borders, or limitations on travel. So my hope is not just for Europe to become a bigger, more common block. Having run a business for a number of years in Italy, where business rules are overly complicated, and the tax system assumes that you’re a cheater by default, and fines you if you don’t invoice enough, I would have seriously loved the option to have an “European business” rather than an “Italian business” — since a good chunk of my customers were based outside of Italy anyway.

This concept of “European business”, unfortunately, does not exist. Even VAT handling in Europe is not unified, and even though we should have at least a common VAT ID registration, back when I set up my business, it required an explicit registration at the Finance Ministry to be able to make use of the ID outside of Italy. At the time, at least, I think Spain also opted out to registering their VAT IDs on the European system by default. Indeed that was the reason why Amazon used to the run separate processes for most European business customers, and for Italian and Spanish customers.

Speaking of Amazon, those of you reading me from outside Europe may be surprised to know that there is no such thing as “Amazon Europe”, – heck, we don’t even have Amazon Ireland! – at least as a consumer website. Each country has its own Amazon website, with similar, but not identical listings, prices and “rules of engagement” (what can be shipped where and for which prices). For the customers this has quite a few detrimental effects: the prices may be lower in a country that they may not usually look at the store of, or they may have to weight the options based on price, shipping restrictions and shipping costs.

Since, as I said, there is no Amazon Ireland, living in Dublin also is an interesting exercise with Amazon: you may want to order things from Amazon UK, either because of language reasons, or simply because it requires a power plug and Ireland has the same British plug as the UK. And most of the shipping costs are lower, either by themselves, or because there are re-mailers from Northern Ireland to Dublin, if you are okay with waiting an extra day. But at the same time, you’re forced to pay in GBP rather than Euro (well, okay not forced, but at least strongly advised to — Amazon currency conversion has a significantly worse exchange rate than any of my cards, especially Revolut) and some of the sellers will actually refuse to send to Ireland, for no specific reason. Sometimes, you can actually buy the same device from Amazon Germany, which will then ship from a UK-based storehouse anyway, despite the item not being available to send to Ireland from Amazon UK. And sometimes Amazon Italy may be a good 15% cheaper (on a multiple-hundreds euro item) than Amazon UK.

So why does Amazon not run a global European website? Or why doesn’t an European-native alternative appears? It looks to me like the European Union and its various bodies and people keep hoping to find European-native alternatives to the big American names all the times, at least on the papers, probably in the hope of not being tied to the destiny of American with what comes down in the future, particularly given how things have gone with the current politics on all sides. But in all their words, there does not appear to be any option of opening up opportunities for creating cross-Europe collaboration on corporations.

The current situation of the countries that make up Europe and the States that make up the USA, is that you are just not allowed to do certain types, or levels of business in all the countries without registering and operating as a company in that country. That is the case for instance of phone operators, that get licenses per country, and so each operates independent units. This becomes sometimes ludicrous because you then have Vodafone providing services in about half of Europe, but with such independent units that their level of competence for instance on security and privacy is extremely variable. In particular it looks like Vodafone Italy still has not learnt how to set up HTTPS correctly, and despite logging you in a TLS-encrypted connection, it does not set the cookie as secure, so a downgrade is enough to steal authentication cookies. In 2017.

If you remember, when I complained about the half-baked roaming directive results, I have suggested that one of my favourite options would be to have a “European number” — just give me a special “country code” that can be replaced by any one member’s code, and the phone number is still valid, and appears local. This is important because, despite the roaming directive allowing me to keep my regular Irish (for now) SIM card on my phone while travelling to either UK or Finland, it prevents me from getting a local phone number. And since signing up for some local services, including sometimes free WiFi hotspots from various cafes and establishment, relies on being able to receive a local SMS, it is sometimes more of an hindrance than a favour.

Both Revolut and Transferwise, as well as other similar “FinTech” companies have started providing users with what they call “borderless” accounts: Euro, Sterling and Dollar accounts all into one system. Unfortunately this is only half of the battle. Indeed, while I welcome in particular Revolut’s option of using a single balance that can provide all the currencies in a single card is a great option. But this only works to a point, because these accounts are “special” — in particular the Revolut Euro account is provided with a Lithuanian IBAN, but a UK BIC code, which makes a few system that still expect both throw up. And this is not even going into how SEPA Direct Debit just does not work: my Italian services can only debit an Italian bank, my Irish services can only charge an Irish bank, and my one French service can only charge a French bank. Using credit cards via VISA has actually better success rate for me, even though at least Vodafone Italy can only charge a specific one of my credit cards, rather than any of them. Oh yeah and let’s not forget the fact that you just can’t get your salary paid into a non-Irish bank account in Ireland.

Banks in Europe end up operating as country-wide silos, to the point that even Ulster Bank Republic of Ireland cannot (at least, can no longer) provide me with an Ulster Bank Northern Ireland bank account — or to be precise, cannot act on my already-existing foreigner bank account that is open in Northern Ireland. And because of all these things happening, the moment I will actually move to London I’ll have to figure out how to get a proper account there. I’m having trouble right now opening an account there already not because I don’t have the local tax ID but because they need proof of employment from a UK company, while I’m still employed by the Irish company. Of the same multinational. Oh my.

You could say that banks and telcos are special cases. They are partial monopolies and there are good reasons why they should be administered on a country-by-country basis. But the reality is that in the United States, these things are mostly solved — plenty of telco stuff is still pretty much local, but that’s because of network access and antitrust requirements, as well, to a point, the need of building and servicing local infrastructure (a solution to this is effectively splitting the operation of the telco from the provider of physical infrastructure, but that comes with its own problems). But at the very least, banking in the US is not something that people have to deal with when changing State, or having to work with companies of other states.

These silos are also visible to consumers in other forms, that may not be quite obvious. TV, movie and similar rights are also a problem the same way. Netflix for instance will only show a subset of the programming they have access to depending on the country you’re currently located in. This is because, except for the content they produce themselves, they have to acquire rights from different companies holding them in different countries, because different TV networks would already have secured rights and not want to let them broadcast in their place.

I brought up this part last, despite being probably the one most consumers know or even care about, because it shows the other problem that companies trying to build up support for Europe, or even to be started as Europe-native companies, have to deal with. TV networks are significantly more fragmented than in the USA. There is no HBO, despite Sky being present in a number of different countries. There is nothing akin to CNN. There are a number of 24-hours news channels that are reachable over more-or-less freeview means, but the truth is that if you want to watch TV in Europe, you need a local company to provide you with it. And the reason is not one that is easy to solve: different countries just speak different languages, sometimes more than once.

It’s not just a matter of providing a second channel in a different language: content needs to be translated, sometimes adapted. This is very clear in video games, where some countries (cough Germany cough) require cutting content explicitly, to avoid upsetting something or someone. Indeed, video games releases for many platforms, in the past at least including PC, but luckily it appears not the case nowadays, end up distributing games only in a subset of European languages at a time. Which is why I loathed playing Skyrim on the PlayStation 3, as the disk only includes Italian, French and German, but no English, which would be my default option (okay, nowadays I would probably play it in French to freshen up my understanding of it).

For American start-ups – but this is true also for open source project, and authors of media such as books, TV series or movies – internationalization or localization are problems that can be easily shelved for the “after we’re famous” pile. First make the fame, or the money, then export and care about other languages. In Europe that cannot possibly be the case. Even for English, that in the computer world is still for now the lingua franca (pun intended), I wouldn’t expect there would be a majority of users happy to use a non-localized software, particularly when you consider as part of that localization the differences in date handling. I mean, I started using “English (UK)” rather than the default American for my Google account years ago because I wanted a sane date format in Gmail!

All of this makes the fragmented European market harder for most projects, companies, and even ideas to move as fast as the American or (I presume, but have not enough detail about it) the Chinese market, in which a much wider audience can be gained without spending so much effort to deal with cross-border bureaucracy and cross-culture porting. But let me be clear, I do not think that the solution is to normalize Europe onto a single language. We can’t even do that for countries, and I don’t think it would be fair to anyone to even consider this. What we need is to remove as many other roadblocks as it’s feasible to remove, and then try to come up with an easier way to fund translation and localization processes, or an easier way to access rights at a Union level rather than on a country-by-country basis.

Unfortunately, I do not expect that this is going to happen in my lifetime. I still wish we’ll end up with a United Federation of Planets, at the end of the day, though.

How the European Roaming directive makes my life worse

One of the travel blogs I follow covered today the new EU directive on roaming charges, I complained quickly on Twitter, but as you can imagine, 140 characters are not enough to explain why I’m not actually happy about this particular change.

You can read the press release as reported by LoyaltyLobby, but here is where things get murky for me:

The draft rules will enable all European travellers using a SIM card of a Member State in which they reside or with which they have “stable links” to use their mobile device in any other EU country, just as they would at home.

Emphasis mine, of course.

This is effectively undermining the European common market of services: if you do not use a local provider, you’re now stuck to pay roaming just as before, or more likely even higher. Of course this makes perfect sense for those people who barely travel and so have only their local carrier, or those who never left a country and so never had to get a number in a different country while keeping the old one around. But for me, this sucks in two big and kind of separate ways.

The first problem is one of convenience, admittedly making use of a bit of a loophole. As I write this post I’m in the USA, but my phone is running a British SIM card, by Three UK. The reason is simple: with £10 I can get 1GB of mobile data (and an amount of call minutes and SMS, which I never use), and wit £20 I can get 12GB. This works both in th UK, and (as long as I visited in the previous 3 months) a number of other countries, including Ireland, Italy, USA, and Germany. So I use it when I’m in the USA and I used it when I went to 33c3 in Hamburg.

But I’m not a resident of the UK, and even though I do visit fairly often, I don’t really have “stable ties”.

It’s of course possible that Three UK will not stop their free roaming due to this. After all they include countries like the US and (not a country) Hong Kong in the areas of free roaming and they are not in Europe a all. Plus the UK may not be part of the EU that long anyway. But it also gives them leverage to raise the prices for non-residents.

The other use case I have is my Italian mobile phone number, which has been the same for about ten years or so, changing three separate mobile providers – although quite ironically, I changed from 3 ITA to Wind to get better USA roaming, and now 3 ITA bought Wind up, heh – but keeping the number as it is associated with a number of services, including my Italian bank.

Under the new rules I may be able to pull off a “stable links” indication thanks to being Italian, but that might require me to do paperwork in Italy, where I don’t go very often. If I don’t do that, I expect the roaming to become even more expensive than it is now.

Finally, there is another interesting part to this. In addition to UK, Irish and Italian numbers, I have a billpay subscription in France through free.fr — the reason is that I visit France fairly often, and it’s handy to have a local phone number when I visit. I have no roaming enabled on that contract though, so the directive has no effect on it anyway. That’s okay.

What is not okay in my opinion is that the directive says nothing about maintaining quality of service when roaming, it only impose prices. And indeed Free.fr sent an update this past July that, due to a similar directive within France, their in-country roaming will have reduced speeds:

De ce fait, les débits théoriques maximums atteignables par abonné sur
le réseau de l’opérateur partenaire en itinérance 2G/3G seront de
5 Mbit/s (débit descendant) et de 448 kbit/s (débit montant) à compter
du 1er septembre 2016 jusqu’au 31 décembre 2016. En 2017 et 2018, ces
débits seront de 1 Mbit/s (débit descendant) et 448 kbit/s (débit
montant). Ensuite, ils seront de 768 kbit/s (débit descendant) et 384
kbit/s (débit montant) pour l’année 2019 et de 384 kbit/s (débit
descendant) et 384 kbit/s (débit montant) pour l’année 2020.

So sure, you’ll get free roaming, but it’ll have a speed that will make it completely useless.

My opinion on this directive is that it targets a particular set of complaints by a vocal part of the population that got screwed sideways by horrible roaming tariffs of many European providers when on vacation, and at the same time provide a feel-good response for those consumers that do not actually care, as they barely, if ever, leave their country.

Indeed if you travel, say, a week a year in the summer outside of the border, probably these fixed limits are pretty good: you do not have to figure out which is the most advantageous provider for roaming in your country (which may not be advantageous in other circumstances) and you do not risk ending up with multiple hundreds of euros of bill from your vacation.

On the other hand if you, like me, travel a lot, and effectively spend a significant amount of the year outside of your residence country, and you even live outside of your native country, well, you’re now very likely worse off. Indeed, with the various 3 companies and their special roaming plans I was very happy not having to have a bunch of separate SIM cards: in Germany, USA, Austria I just used my usual SIM cards. In UK, France and Italy I had both a free-roaming card and a local one. And instead before that I ended up having Vodafone SIM cards for the Netherlands, Czech Republic, Portugal and very nearly Spain (in that case I used Wind’s roaming package instead).

Don’t get me wrong: I”m not complaining about European meddling into mobile providers. I used to have a tagline for my blog: “Proud to be European”, and I still am. I’m not happy about Brexit, because that actually put a stop to my plans of moving to London eventually. But at the same time I think this regulation is a gut reaction rather than a proper solution.

If I was asked what the solution should be, my suggestion would be to allow companies such as 3 and Vodafone to provide an European number option. Get a new international prefix for EU, allow the companies that have wide enough reach to set up their own agreements locally where they do not have network themselves (3 and Vodafone clearly have already a wide reach) by providing a framework for capping the cost as applied to providers. Then get me a SIM that just travels Europe with no additional costs, and with a phone number that can be called at local rates everywhere (you can do that by ensuring that the international prefix maps to a local one in all the countries). Even if such a contract is more expensive than a normal one, the frequent travellers would be pretty happy not to have to switch SIM cards, phone numbers, and have unknown costs appearing out of nowhere.

How not to sell me something — Why I won’t be maintaining Yubikey software directly in Gentoo

You probably remember my previous notes about WordPress, FTP and the problem with security. At the end after a (boring) set up session I was able to get vsftpd provide FTPS service, which should be usable both by WordPress and by Dreamweaver, so that my friend the webmaster can upload through it directly.

This is important because as it happens I have another prospective customer who’s going to run WordPress, and FTPS now start to look more interesting than SSH, as it doesn’t require me to give shell access to the server either.

Unfortunately I’m a bit worried (maybe more than I should be) for the use of standard passwords rather than certificates or keypairs for authentication. Which meant I went tried to think of other alternatives.. of which there are mostly two: Google Authenticator and YubiKey .

The latter I knew by name already because I proxy-maintain the required software for Brant, and I know it’s outdated already and would require a new maintainer who can deal with those packages – I already posted about hardware-related maintenance for what it’s worth – so it was my first choice: while it meant I had to spend some money, it would have solved my problem and improved Gentoo, even if just for a tiny bit. The price for YubiKey devices is also low enough that, if I felt like providing more FTPS access to customers, I could simply bill it to them without many complaints.

So I went on the manufacturer’s (Yubico’s) website and tried to buy two of them (one for me to test and set up, and one to give my friend to access the server); despite publishing the prices in dollars, they sell through Sweden and UK, which means they are part of EU’s VAT area, and me being a registered business within EU, I should receive a reverse-charge invoice by stating my own VAT ID… never had much of a problem with it, as many of my suppliers are sparse through Europe, I registered for the “foreign-enabled” registry right when I opened business — don’t ask me why Italian (and Spanish as far as I can tell) business owners are not enabled by default to have intra-union suppliers.

Now trouble starts: since, as I just noted, not all VAT IDs are valid to use for intra-union trade, there has to be a way to ensure you’re dealing with an acceptable party. This is implemented through VIES the VAT Information Exchange System which, for what concerns Italian businesses, only tells you a boolean result of valid/invalid (and not the full registration data that most other states seem to provide). I knew VIES from a previous business agreement, but I never cared much. Turns out though that most e-Shops I encountered validate the VAT ID after order completed — or in the case of Amazon it seems like they check their internal database as well as VIES.

Yubico instead validates the request through VIES at the time of registration:

VAT Number could not be validated with VIES at this time. This typically happens when the service is under maintenance. Please retry after some time. For urgent orders, please contact order@yubico.com

Considering that the VIES website has a long disclaimer (which I can’t quote here for reasons that will be clear in a moment) stating that they do not guarantee the availability of the service at any time, and only seem to guarantee the validity of the data to the extent that the law ask them to (which probably means “as long as the states’ own databases are correct”), relying on such a service for registration is .. bad.

The VIES website is indeed down since at least 11am today (over four hours ago as I write this); for a moment they also gave me an interesting page (which I forgot to save), telling me that there were too many requests’ failures from “my IP address” … listing an IP address in the 2128 range — my actual IP address is in the 948 range.

What’s the end result here? I’ll probably waste some more time trying to get Google Authenticator; Yubico basically lost a customer and a (possible) contributor by trying and failing to be smarter and won’t have a dedicated maintainer in Gentoo in the near future. It’s sad, because it seems to be easily the most cost- and time-effective solution out there (Google Authenticator is free, but it requires a greater investment of time, and time is money as we all should know).

Proud to be European

And no, it’s not a matter of not liking Americans, it’s just a matter of being more proud being an European than being an Italian ;)

A couple of discussions in a few different channels, involving quite some different people, in the last few days, ended up with me deciding to actually register a domain for myself (which also wouldn’t be tied to dyndns), and of course such a domain had to be a .eu domain :)

The reason why it had to be a .eu is actually pretty simple: .com is in one of the common domain traps, it seems, .net had nothing to do with me, .org was already misused by the previous domain (flameeyes.is-a-geek.org), .it is a pain in the ass to register…

I actually like it this way, I wrote before that I like living in the European Union, as I can shop in Germany to get around stupid Italian prices. So I decided to change (maybe temporarily, not decided yet) the logo on the homepage with a slightly different version, thanks Angela for preparing it for me :)

The old URLs will be redirected to the new one, but you might want to update your bookmarks and feeds nevertheless: the URL is now https://blog.flameeyes.eu/ enjoy! :)

(It’s also shorter to write, 17 versus 32 characters, no dashes, no fourth-level domain, which makes it quite easier to remember).

goes away whistling the Ode to Joy

I love the European Union

Sometimes something good happens even here on the other side of the pond… but let’s go with order.

First of all, I want to thank Christian Iuga, who sent me 1GB of RAM for Klothos (received them yesterday), that now compiles quite faster (which is very good for my debugging sessions, or every time I had to wait eternity :)), so last night I returned working on ~sparc-fbsd (also because there’s a new FreeBSD release ready, but I’ll talk about that later), but now the bottleneck, instead of the RAM, seemed to be the network… okay, hme0 is known to be the worst network driver for FreeBSD, and it ended up giving me NFS performance comparable to a 10Mbit network.. not that good when you have the portage tree over network :/

Unfortunately, the only PCI network cards I have at home are Realtek-based, 8139 chipset, that Ciaran told me likely not supported by SPARC, and indeed I simply get a “Data Access Error” on the serial line trying to boot with one plugged in. So I had to find some better supported card… e100 was the suggestion, but a quick skim over my usual retailers, both in shops (through the sites) and via Internet, told me that none carried E100 cards; the only Intel cards I could find were the Gigabit ones, that cost about €50, which is not exactly cheap.. but okay, maybe I can slowly start updating the local network to Gigabit, now that both Enterprise and Intrepid have Gigabit-capable cards, so I can try one of those… but even that card is difficult to find on my retailers…. okay, so hold on for now.

But also, two nights ago I had some trouble with one of the fans of Enterprise, that started doing a really bad noise, and my mother forced me to turn it off during the night (sigh a batch-compile cancelled), and last afternoon I spent trying to find which fans was.. after an half-working suggestion from Jakub and Javier (to try stopping the power supply fan to see if that was it, but I did it wrong and stopped the CPU fan.. that refused to restart till I powercycled the system), I found the dying fan, the rear-case one.. unfortunately trying to stop it, I also broken it definitely, so I simply removed it, luckily there seems to be no risk for my CPU for now, the temperature goes between 34°C while playing music to 47°C while compiling, although KingTaco suggested me to find a new CPU cooler.

And again, finding a decent one from my usual retailers was difficult… the best I could find, the Thermaltake Silent 939, would cost me €29 plus VAT (20%) and €11 for shipping; which is not really acceptable to me…

Introducing the European Union and the single market. Some time ago, someone (luckyduck maybe, it was just when I did join Gentoo), gave me the site of a German shop that ships to the rest of Europe too. I decide to give it a shot, although I used it before to compare prices, I never tried to order from it before.

The network card is at €34.49, the CPU cooler is at €24.19, both are quite a bit cheaper than in Italy. The shipping cost is €20 though, which removes most of the saving, and I have to count it will probably take a week or two to get the stuff here, I suppose.

But then I get the great idea.. I have a laser printer at home, a Kyocera-Mita FS-1020D, pretty cool of a printer, the toner kits are quite cheap too, €100 in shop, €90+€6 of shipping from an online shop.. how much would they cost on the German shop? €67.38 .. which, even if it was the only thing I ordered, added the shipping costs, is lower than both. I ordered one of that, even if I still have probably half the toner in the current cartridge, because it’s something that won’t go wasted anyway, and that alone makes the deal affordable and a good saving for me.

So at the end, thanks also to zzam who translated a few phrases for me, and pointed me at where to look for the info, I was able to order both the network card and the CPU cooler at a good price, and I’m pretty much happy about it, as I won’t burn down the CPU of Enterprise, and I’ll be finally able not to have to wait for eons to download portage on Klothos ;)

For once, I want to thank the European Union and the existence of Euro :)

Now, on a more technical level, FreeBSD 6.2_rc2 was released yesterday, thanks again to AMD64 team, I downloaded and repacked the sources from pitr, and they are already on the mirrors; even the ebuilds should have hit the RSync mirrors by now. This time, dev-libs/libedit is being used, which means that while upgrading you need to symlink libedit.so.5 to libedit.so or it will fail to run /bin/sh (I know it’s annoying, I’m working on new stage for this reason).. for who’s following emerge upgrade order, which will miss libedit.so.5 before libedit.so is merged, you can take my libedit.so and use that in the mean time.

Now, while working on Klothos last night, I also found how to tell FreeBSD kernel to boot from a different partition than the default one (ad0a in the case of SPARC64 hardware). You need to edit loader.conf and set this:

vfs.root.mountfrom="ufs:/dev/ad1a"

The result is that I can now boot Klothos unattended, and not have to retype the string every damn time I reboot (which happens pretty much every time if I’m debugging the Kernel).