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It Seems I Live in a Second-Rate Country

How long will it be before the Internet becomes useless? I'm not talking about the junk Web sites, constant spam, and network-borne viruses. No, I'm talking about the major players who - through their own actions - are making it harder for "ordinary" users like me. In fact, in some cases, I'm being penalized and discriminated against simply because I don't live in the U.S.A.

I guess all this started for me a couple of years ago when a reader of one of our books emailed me to ask a question about some ASP.NET technique we demonstrated. I replied, spending somewhat more than a few minutes typing out the message thanking them for the feedback and answering their question. Only to find, almost immediately after sending, that it reappeared in my Inbox as undeliverable.

Why? Because the reader was a customer of Verizon.net and I live outside the U.S.A. As simple as that - they didn't accept email from non-US servers. My mail server has an IP address within a range identified as being in the UK (a British Telecom address in fact), and Verizon simply rejected all my emails with a curt note referring me to the spam policy detailed on their Web site. That included the emails to the postmaster asking how I could get added to their white list. OK, so I did some more tests recently and it seems they may have relaxed the rule in some circumstances; but if you are a Verizon customer, and are waiting for an email from me, you know why I don't seem to have replied.

Want another example of a daft spam email policy? I replied to an email sent by a different reader last week, who has his own email domain set up through an ISP that I have so far been unable to identify. But, whoever they are, they don't seem able to detect IP address ranges in a way that makes sense, and don't bother to check for SenderID or other information. This is what I got back:

  smtp;553 217.45.1.* rejected due to spam (Attack detected from pool 217.45.1.66)

Yes, my IP address is in the 217.45.1.xxx range, but not in the subnet containing the specified address. The server is rejecting my email because someone else with an IP address that is nearly the same as mine sent spam to this ISP.

Here's some more fun tricks to try. If you live in the UK, go to http://www.google.com. You get redirected to http://www.google.co.uk. OK, so this is the "local" UK site, but if that's where I wanted to go I'd have typed that URL to start with. Set your browser language to "en-us" or just "en" (in the Languages dialog that opens from the Tools | Internet Options menu in Internet Explorer), and you'll see it makes no difference. Google obviously use the same IP address classification scheme as Verizon to detect where you are. So now I have to open Google at their Help page (http://www.google.com/webhp), which contains a search box but does not do the country redirection.

Worse still, try http://msdn.microsoft.com while your browser is set to "en-gb" . The redirect takes you to the UK site (check the URL and you'll see it contains "en-gb", though the "United Kingdom" logo on the page also tends to give the game away). Now do a search for something like "Response.Redirect", pretending you want to know about this method and its overloads. You get several pages full of links to Office pages. Even adding ".NET Reference" or similar to the search string seems to be a waste of time.

Now edit the URL to contain "en-us" instead of "en-gb" and search again. And guess what the US site shows right near the top of the results? If it was only an occasional hiccup like this I could accept it. But searching the UK site seems to be a total waste of time every time, as it never seems to find .NET stuff. So now I end up changing the language setting to "en-us" on my dev machine just so I can use MSDN successfully.

Still, things could be worse. At least I just got a suntan as well as enjoying a week talking to developers and presenting sessions at the Microsoft ASP.NET Connections Conference in Orlando, Florida last week. It is a great conference, and attracts a range of people with many levels of experience, and from many sections of industry. I even got to spend part of one evening talking to some people who work for a company that builds warplanes.

In the sessions, I talked about ADO.NET, XML, and data caching, but in some ways the most rewarding was the session on improving accessibility in Web sites. It was so satisfying to see the expression on people's faces when they realized the difficulties that disabled users face, how easy it is to make a real difference, and the legal implications of non-compliance. One of the attendees (who had been at my pre-conference session) had some vision difficulties, and attended the accessibility session. He helped to point out some issues I'd missed, and afterwards said that he wished all sites implemented the simple techniques I'd discussed. He's even reviewing and commenting on the session slides to improve it!

Meanwhile, on the "non-working days" Tina and I went off to do the tourist thing. An afternoon and evening in Disney Magic Kingdom to see the evening laser and water show turned out to be a typical screw-up on my behalf when we discovered that the show we'd come to see was at Universal Studios. Wrong time? Wrong day? Not me - I just got the wrong theme park. But we enjoyed the afternoon in the Haunted Mansion, and a few other of the more gentle rides. Just a shame that someone had spilled hunny on the track of the Pooh Bear ride through Hundred Acre Wood, and so it was closed. I wanted to do that one...

The last day was a visit to Busch Gardens. We'd promised ourselves a trip there for a while, and I have to say it is one of the nicest such places (outside of the Wild Animal Park and Zoo in San Diego) that I've ever been. Stuff that was supposed to be wood actually was wood (not fibreglass), and stuff that was supposed to be stone was only concrete in a few places. And, best of all, the animals, and general wildlife and scenery, are mostly stunning. The animals and birds look happy enough, the shows are educational yet entertaining (especially the bird shows), and you can get round and see most of it in a day.

What I didn't realize until we'd been there a while was that the park was set up and is owned by the Anheuser-Busch family that makes Budweiser beer (as an Englishman, I use the word "beer" here in it's loosest sense). So you get this strange "opposite" approach. In Disney, you can't buy alcohol, while in Busch Gardens they actually give it to you for free! How can you not enjoy a theme park that gives you free beer?

Anyway, here's some photos I took during the trip...


Clearwater Beach on a Quiet Day

Wildlife at Busch Gardens

Flamingos at Busch Gardens

Butterflies (Floral) at Busch Gardens

Excuse me, is the Princess in...?

Some of the attendees enjoying the party
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