In just about every technical community but one, I probably have a higher profile nowadays than my brother Kevin. I say that not out of younger-sibling competitiveness, but almost for the exact opposite reason – to point out that he’s a pretty technical guy too, and largely responsible for my being one. Here are a couple of points of evidence.

  • His interest in computers predates mine. When a friend of the family loaned us what had to be one of the first TRS-80 computers in New Zealand, it was Kevin who really jumped all over the opportunity.
  • He made a lot more effort regarding computers. One of the very first things he did when he came to the US (a year after our mother and I did) was save up and buy an Apple II. Given the price tag and our economic circumstances at the time, that was a pretty major expenditure. He dove right into 6502 programming, still years before I took programming seriously.
  • He was involved in open-source long before I was . . . except it wasn’t called that back then. Kevin was on the NetHack 3 development team, which was a pretty complex global enterprise. If you were to look at the way the developers coordinated, you’d recognize a lot of the patterns in common use today. This was back in 1989, as I was just starting my own programming career.

Since then, I’ve gone on to infamy and misfortune. Kevin is now a DNS guru, which is why I said “every community but one” earlier. As it happens, this knowledge came in handy just recently. I’m trying to consolidate my web “properties” which are currently spread all over the place. I want to use one provider for DNS, one for email, and one for everything else. GlowHost is very soon going to web-only, and not even that as soon as I get un-stuck enough to set up my own nginx/PHP/etc. configuration on a cloud server I already use for a bunch of other things. As I was trying to move email from GlowHost to FastMail I ran into a glitch. I transferred DNS and email for one of my less-used domains just fine. When I tried to move atyp.us – yes, this domain right here – the DNS part seemed to be OK but I was having trouble with email. I was able to get email on FastMail, but I could see from the headers that it was still going through GlowHost first. I looked at the NS and MX records from a bunch of different places, and everything seemed fine, but even after several days I was still seeing this screwy behavior. Time to call in the DNS expert to see what I was missing.

Pause: can anyone else guess?

The problem turned out to be that mail transfer agents are dumber than I thought, and my silly insistence on using pl.atyp.us instead of atyp.us was confusing the poor babies. Even though I had the MX records for atyp.us and *.atyp.us in place, they’d still fail to find an MX record for pl.atyp.us specifically. Then, they wouldn’t even go “up the tree” and get the MX for atyp.us as I thought they would (and as the SOA for pl.atyp.us makes pretty clear). Instead – and this is the part where Kevin was able to point me in the right direction – they’d fall back to looking for an A record which was still pointing to GlowHost because that’s still where the website is. Bingo. I added the “pl” MX records, and I can already see email flowing in without going through GlowHost.

So thank you, Older Brother. No, not for the MX thing. For every thing.