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Journey to the Centre of the World

I think I've found my true goal in life. I intend, before I pass over to the disposed memory stack in the sky, to rent a car online from any one of the major rental companies so that - when I turn up at the desk to collect it - I don't have to pay some more money. Maybe it isn't actually possible, and when I go to meet the great programmer in the sky the first thing he (or she) will do is ask me for my credit card. Maybe rental car check-in clerks have a secret list pinned up behind their desk that lists all those extra charges. Or maybe they are specially trained to be able to make them up on the spot.

"Well, sir, it would be very unwise not to have personal state door-ding injury avoidance tax damage cover". And... "Actually, sir, I really recommend you avail yourself of our special non-refundable fuel insurance out-of-state limited collision breakdown waiver." Or... "Ah, yes sir, I'm afraid that you do have to pay refuelling not-our-fault airport charge extra driver tax". "And how about upgrading from that nasty little car you ordered to a nice shiny new 11-seat 6-litre 8-wheel pick-up truck for only $6 a day extra?". Like that would be a really great idea when there's only two of us and a small suitcase. Mind you, since I'll be driving on the wrong side of the road, it will mean I won't notice when I bang into other cars - or the occasional wall...

Anyway, you probably guessed by now that I've been travelling again. My wife and I were back in Florida for the ASP.NET Connections conference - held at a new venue this time, the "Orlando World Center". I always thought the centre of the world was somewhere full of molten iron and rather hot, not a big field just next to Disneyland (though it was quite hot there as well, even though it was only March). But the hotel was rather nice, and quite large. In fact, it's the first hotel I've been in where you need to take a shuttle from the lobby to the car park. I wonder how long it will be before they get so big you need one of those golf-carty things to take you from the lobby to the parking lot shuttle stop, so you can get the shuttle to the car park. And in case you haven't been to the "Orlando World Center", I've included a couple of photos just to make you jealous.

Orlando World Center Hotel Orlando World Center Hotel

One nice thing about this trip was that fact that we weren't in the usual airline cattle-class. OK, so we still can't afford business class, but instead I managed to find a local holiday tour company that fly direct from Manchester (England) to Orlando. Well, when I say Orlando I actually mean a "regional" airport about 50 miles away, but we got a rental car in the package (as you probably gathered from the earlier rant) so it was just a reasonably pleasant drive from the airport to the hotel (I'll come back to that "reasonably" qualifier in a moment). We paid a bit extra for their "Premiair" service to get a bit-bigger-than-usual seat just behind the driver, and extra in-flight service. So it was the first time we've managed to do the "walk down the special no-queue line" thing, and the "get on first and sit there looking superior drinking not-quite-champagne" bit as well. We'll certainly be looking to do the same again - I might even wear a suit next time, or cream chinos and a tuxedo with a red bow tie.

However, something I strangely missed out on was the fact that, as we had our own toilet, I never got to go and look at the ones that they kept telling the third-class (sorry, "tourist") passengers were "...to be found downstairs by following the circular staircase". I've never been on a plane with a downstairs (yes, I know they have an upstairs on the 707), and I kept worrying that someone would pee on my suitcase. But I suppose they don't mean you have to wander around the cargo hold looking for a suitably quiet corner. And, following on from earlier diary entries, here's a strange and partly-related question: why are they called "toilets" instead of "rest-rooms" on American planes...?

And so to the "reasonably" bit that I promised I'd come back to. When you collect a car from the rather nice Sanford airport, they remind you several times that you need $2 for tolls to get to your hotel (they assume everyone from England is going to Disneyland). What they don't say is you actually need 2 quarters (2 x 25c) if you intend to follow the road signs for Orlando, instead of going on their "suggested" roundabout route - which costs more in tolls (maybe they get a kickback from the owners of the road).

So I ended up causing a traffic jam at the first toll booth which turned out to be automated, unmanned, doesn't accept dollar bills, and has a credit-card slot that doesn't recognize any of the four different credit cards I tried (including, out of desperation, an English supermarket loyalty card). In the end I went through on red, stopped in the pull-in next to it, and got change from a following driver. Figuring that the warning signs about video surveillance were true, I then made a great play of walking aimlessly around the booth, across the road and back, and carefully placing each coin in the collection basket. So far, I haven't had a notice of the $100 fine, though I'm still looking nervously out of the window for a squad car full of state troopers to pull up outside my house and arrest me for jay-walking.

As to the conference itself? OK, so it was smaller than the Fall edition in Las Vegas, but still attracted over 1500 attendees. Some even came to my sessions. They seemed to enjoy the "Web Accessibility" session, which uses both a text-only and a talking browser, and there was quite lively discussion about issues that arise. The session on Enterprise Library in ASP.NET also went down well (according to most of the evaluation forms), and may even have gained a few new convertees for the technology.

Out of all the sessions, the one I was most nervous of was "ASP.NET Design Patterns". I quite expected to get flamed, and even bombarded with rotten fruit (probably oranges with it being Florida). It didn't help that the session was in one of those slots that are 15 minutes shorter than usual, and I'd never done this presentation before a real audience either. However, the feedback was actually quite good. One attendee thanked me personally for presenting it, and said it had really made her think about development options. Another emailed with much the same comment; and the evaluations were generally positive. I guess I'll have to tidy up the loose edges and do it again. So, why not book now for Las Vegas, and come and see it? Please remember, however, that customs regulations prevent the importation of fruit.

Conference Web site: http://www.devconnections.com
Article about Design Patterns: http://www.daveandal.net/da/articles/ASPNETDesignPatterns/

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