Andrew's Blog

Random Thoughts of an ASP.Net Code Monkey

Cookies Law: Ah the Irony!

May 23, 2011 08:30 by Andrew Westgarth

Update 26th May 2011: This just keeps getting better and better.  The ICO have now issues guidance to say they realise there are going to be technical issues implementing this new legislation, therefore they are granting businesses a one year reprieve to come up with and test solutions to get everything in order.  This seems to be a bit of a case of closing the barn door after the horse has bolted!  For more information the ICO have released additional guidance and the BBC have also commented on the issue.

On Thursday 26th May 2011, the Privacy and Electronic Communications Regulations are changing in the UK as a result of the revisions made to the European Directive.  The changes cover of a number of issues but the issue I’ve been focussing on recently is that of the changes in regulations to how cookies are used on websites.  However these changes from what I can see are going to cause not only companies and developers issues, but more importantly will cause more inconvenience for users!

funny-pictures-cat-wishes-to-access-your-cookiesSo what’s changing I hear you ask, well up until now the regulations required that websites which used cookies for storing information, informed users how the website used cookies and advised how they could opt out if they wished and gave instructions on how to do so using browser settings.

In their infinite wisdom the European Union, and consequently the UK, have decided to change this and require that websites provide full information about how cookies (including Flash Cookies and Isolated Storage) are being used and ask users to opt in to the use of cookies.  The only exceptions to this rule would be where a cookie is “strictly necessary” for the function of a site, e.g. maintaining a shopping basket.  An example of a cookie which needs to be declared and in common use on many websites around the globe, are those created through the use of the Google Analytics service.

How Can a Website Comply?

In the UK the information Commissioner’s Office, in their guidance document have advised website owners that they should look at this in three stages:

  1. Review and make a list of all cookies and similar technologies (Flash Cookies; Settings in isolated storage) being used on your website and how they’re used;
  2. For each one identified determine how intrusive it is;
  3. Determine a method of obtaining consent for each one, which will provide the best experience for users of your website and which will fulfil your requirements. Then put together a plan to implement this.

It is no longer sufficient to users browser settings to indicate whether or not they wish to allow the use of cookies, due to the lack of sophisticated control of cookies, levels of variation between browsers versions and the fact that browsers are not the only way in which users access websites.

Solutions and Irony

I’ve been looking at possible technical solutions to this issue and still can’t find one which I like and believe will serve all interested parties well.  All of the possible technical solutions have advantages and disadvantages.  Some examples of the options I’ve been considering are Popup windows or splash screens, but these are often blocked by browser settings, can cause immense confusion and often inaccessible to users'; Requiring the acceptance of terms and conditions which detail required use of cookies is again unworkable as users would have to have accounts with which to access your website, how can you handle anonymous users?

The irony of all of these changes is that the likely technical solution is to ask for permission to write a cookie to indicate whether or not the user is happy with cookies being used.  However if a user does not allow cookies, the cookie can’t be written so what do you do then?  Deny users access to your website? Prompt them on each request from your website?  If you chose to disable the cookie(s), for example the Google Analytics tracking cookies, do you turn them off on an individual page basis, or do you disable them on a session basis?

Comments

Apparently there were consultations with members of our industry on these changes and discussions on how they will work.  I can’t believe that these regulations have been passed in their current state, they are extremely unworkable and pose so many issues for maintaining a workable, compliant and usable web. 

The intention behind these changes is good, in that the EU is aiming to protect user’s privacy and enable users to make informed decisions about what data is released and able to be used by third parties.  However by asking users for consent for permission to use cookies each time they try and access something on a website, after they have said they don’t want to allow the use of cookies, users will start accepting the use of cookies just so they can use the web.  Also as user’s won’t always access websites through the homepage, site owners will need to implement solutions which cater for every possible entrance to the site.

The most common instance of where websites write cookies are for the use of analytics services, i.e. Google Analytics.  So far Google haven’t commented on whether they are changing their service to not need cookies, nor have they provided any guidance for website owners on how the service can be used if user’s deny cookies.  So are site owners going to stop using the very, very popular service in order to improve the usability of their site but also lose the benefit of analytics – which ultimately are used to improve user experience?  I wait with baited breath to see how major websites – Amazon, Play, Google; tackle this issue from Thursday in a way which won’t lose them users.

I think the major losers in all of this, are going to be the users, which these changes are attempting to protect – ah there’s the irony again!  By creating differences in how websites comply, users will be left confused, harassed and frustrated when all they want to do is use a website to do something which they’ve been able to do for years be that buy a book, find information or post an update to their timeline.

What’s Your Opinion?

I’d be really interested to hear other people’s take on this.  How do you interpret the changes?  How would you implement the technical requirements?  Do you think it’s workable?  I look forward to an interesting discussion on this issue and seeing the many responses to this on a website near you!

Other Posts on This Issue

Craig Hawker has put down his thoughts on this issue in the form of an excellent blog post, which I recommend reading for additional commentary - The “EU Cookie Directive” (2009/136/EC) and you.

Black Screen And Mouse Pointer After Enabling Live Mesh Remote Connections

April 17, 2011 21:16 by Andrew Westgarth

Live Mesh is a fantastic product, on top of giving access and synchronisation services to 5GB of storage on SkyDrive, it provides the ability to open remote desktop connections to machines over the internet.  It is this connectivity gain which I have made most use of in the past, and unfortunately it has caused me no end of pain after a complete rebuild of my laptop, so much so I’ve had to disable remote connections.

About a month ago I rebuilt my laptop OS, something I do fairly regularly (well at least once a year) to make sure everything is running smoothly.  I have a Dell Latitude D820 (Intel Core 2 Duo, 4GB RAM and NVIDIA Quadro VS120M Display Adapter) and it has served me very well for more than 4 years.  However I noticed an issue recently with my laptop after rebuild whereby upon boot all I got after logging in was a black screen with a white mouse pointer!  I tried everything I could as this seemed to be quite a common occurrence when I’d searched for it, at first I thought it was a graphics driver issue so I uninstalled went back to basics and tried with each version of the drivers, still the same outcome. 

I was however able to remote desktop using Live Mesh to my machine and see the full desktop and interact fully, so it continued to baffle me. Well I had to flatten my hard drive for an unconnected reason.  So as I started to rebuild once again I tested each stage to check where the black screen issue appeared.  I noticed it happened after I installed Live Mesh and enabled remote connections, something I’ve done many times before but having been able to replicate the issue twice I believe there is another issue, maybe it is a combination of Windows 7 Ultimate 64bit SP1 and Live Mesh I’m not sure.  All I know is since I have disabled remote connections through Live Mesh the issue doesn’t exist on my laptop anymore.

So my final question is: has anyone else seen the same behaviour?  Have you had problems after enabling remote connections?  I’d like to hear from anyone else having this issue.  I’m trying to raise a bug on the relevant Connect element but have been unable to so far, I’ll update this post with the link when I have created it.

What Podcasts Do You Listen To?

March 17, 2011 00:23 by Andrew Westgarth

When I presented at NxtGenUG in Birmingham last month I was asked which podcasts I listen to and I promised to write a blog post listing some of my favourites.  So here it is!

  • .Net Rocks! – Carl Franklin and Richard Campbell publish a podcast twice a week and cover a wide range of .Net related topics for .Net Developers
  • RunAs Radio – Richard Campbell and Greg Hughes host a weekly talk show primarily aimed at IT Professionals.  I’m a developer but pretty much an all round geek, so love hearing about additional technology such as Exchange, Hyper-V and Lync.  Plus to be a good developer I believe you need to have an understanding of the systems you are interacting with.
  • Hanselminutes – Another weekly talk show this time hosted by Scott Hanselman, covering a wide range of topics from how-to advice, tools, utilities and issues and workarounds.
  • Deep Fried Bytes – Deep Fried Bytes is a podcast with a Southern (US) flavour hosted by Keith Elder and Chris Woodruff, a huge variety of topics are covered as they say in their description “Anything is fair game if it plugs into the wall or takes a battery.”
  • This Developer’s Life – This is a fairly new podcast but a great listen.  Scott Hanselman and Rob Conery talk about different aspects of being a developer and most of it is really relevant, especially the Disconnecting episode.
  • NEBytes Bytecast – Of course our very own NEBytes Bytecast – I always listen back to see how good or otherwise it was.
  • PC Pro Podcast – This is a weekly podcast from the team behind the PC Pro Magazine, covering a wide variety of topics and technology, quite an easy listen.
  • Polymorphic Podcast – This is a great podcast which I only found last year, Craig Shoemaker covers Object Oriented Development, architecture and best practices (.Net).  Unfortunately there haven’t been any new episodes for a while but the archives are certainly worth listening to!
  • Pixel8 – Podcast centred around building great user experiences.
  • Sod This – Podcast by Oliver Sturm and Gary Short two normal guys interested in technology, software, programming and lots of other things.
  • The Thirsty Developer – A fairly new podcast to me, been running quite a while though – podcast with MS Developer Evangelist Dave Bost and Clark Sell
  • SEO 101 – As I’ve been getting more and more into SEO I came across this easy to listen to podcast, unfortunately what’s not easy to listen to are the four long advert breaks per episode, thankfully I can fast forward through them!
  • Radio TFS – What it says on the tin – a podcast dedicated to Visual Studio ALM (Team Foundation Server)
  • Pragmatic Programmer – If you’ve read the Pragmatic Programmer then you should check this podcast out from the Pragmatic Bookshelf
  • Windows Weekly – This Week In Tech’s Windows Weekly podcast with Paul Thurrott, a weekly look at all things Microsoft.
  • NxtGenUG Podcasts – Podcast from Rich and Dave although they haven’t produced many new podcasts lately their back catalogue is certainly worth a listen.

Finally I have just found the Herding Code Podcast and will be adding that to Zune for synchronisation and automatic download.  That finishes quite a long list but are there any podcasts I don’t have in that list that you listen to and would recommend?

User Group Tour 7th to 11th March 2011 IIS, Media Services and IIS SEO Toolkit

March 1, 2011 21:35 by Andrew Westgarth

I’m currently in Redmond, Seattle at the 2011 MVP Global Summit but next week I’m embarking on a User Group tour back home in the UK. I’m covering a number of IIS topics including IIS 7/7.5 for Developers, IIS Media Services and IIS SEO Toolkit.  I’m starting off in Bristol at DotNetDevNet on Monday 7th March 2011 and finishing in Cambridge at NxtGenUG on Thursday 10th March.  I’m really looking forward to visiting new groups and talking to the attendees about these great sessions.

I decided to take a week off work to travel and talk to groups I usually wouldn’t be able to take time out to do so.  Hope to meet lots of new people and catch up with old friends too as I work my way back up the country!  Hope to see you there!

Event Details and Sign Up links:

Categories: IIS7 | Events | MVP | UK Community
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Great Resources for Budding User Group and Conference Speakers

February 3, 2011 21:53 by Andrew Westgarth

I’ve been sitting writing and submitting session proposals for Developer Day Scotland this evening.  I really enjoy speaking at User Groups and Conferences and am always looking for ways to improve and share knowledge.  In our User Groups i.e. North East Bytes and the Developer Community we actively encourage new speakers, indeed that was the original mandate of the DDD events.  We’re always looking to discover new speakers and to encourage new speakers, be they starting out with a short 10 minute Grok Talk or standing up and delivering a full one hour conference session.

Guy Smith-Ferrier, well respected speaker with over 20 years experience of speaking at User Groups and Conferences such as Tech Ed, has recently published a series of 8 videos on How To Give Great Presentations in addition to his paper which he has previously written on the subject.  Guy is a great speaker and these sessions address key elements of giving great presentations with plenty of tips and information which both new and experienced speakers can use to improve their presentations.  Check them out now,

Two Great Resources from Other IIS MVPs

January 27, 2011 13:37 by Andrew Westgarth

I don’t often post links to posts from others, however I really wanted to highlight two great resources which two other IIS MVPs have started recently.

IIS Community Newsletter

Steve Schofield has recently published the first IIS Community Newsletter.  The newsletter comprises all of the latest information and happenings in the IIS Community.  If you would like to find out more or register to receive the newsletter go to http://www.iisnewsletter.com and if you have anything you’d like to contribute you can also contribute to the Wiki.  Big thanks to Steve for the mention is the inaugural newsletter for both my Twitter account and for NEBytes

Web Pro Series

Scott Forsyth has recently started a 52 week series of walkthrough videos on a number of topics relevant to IT Pros and Web Developers covering a vast range of topics including

  • Troubleshooting essentials;
  • Application Request Routing and Load Balancing;
  • URL Rewrite;
  • SQL Syntax for IT Pros;
  • Scripting;
  • Command Line Basics;
  • IIS Share Configuration;
  • Keyboard Shortcuts;

In the first four weeks Scott has covered Ping and Tracert; Understanding DNS Zone Records; Nslookup; Capturing Command Line Output.  It’s a great start and will help to fill gaps in knowledge and also add tools and techniques to your arsenal for resolving issues and implementing technologies in the best way possible based on a wealth of experience. 

Categories: How To | IIS | MVP
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Book Review: MCTS 70-515 Web Applications Development with Microsoft .Net Framework 4 Self-Paced Training Kit

January 25, 2011 22:44 by Andrew Westgarth

For many reasons I haven’t had much time to blog in the last few months.  This is something with the coming of the New Year I’m aiming to rectify.  One of my other personal/work goals is to complete the Microsoft Professional Developer (Web Developer) Certification.  This requires me to site and pass four exams:

  1. 70-515: Web Application Development with Microsoft .Net Framework 4 (TS)
  2. 70-513: Windows Communication Foundation Development with Microsoft .Net Framework 4 (TS)
  3. 70-516: Accessing Data with Microsoft .Nest Framework 4 (TS)
  4. 70-519: Designing and Developing Web Applications with Microsoft .Net Framework 4

First on my list of exams to study for and complete was 70-515: Web Applications Development with Microsoft .Net Framework 4.  I had the exam booked for Tuesday 18th January 2011 and I’m pleased to say after a lot of intense and hard swotting I passed the exam.  Due to the severe disruption caused by the bad weather on both sides of the Atlantic it became very difficult to get hold of a printed copy of this book when it was due to be available in the UK.  There was a digital version available but I still like to read a physical book, although I am being tempted more and more of late by the Kindle.  Fortunately I was able to get a copy of the printed book prior to my exam, just!

WARNING: I don’t think this would be a useful review if I didn’t stress at the beginning that while this book covers the topics which the exam covers, it should not be your only resource of learning.  I made use of my attendance of relevant sessions at User Groups, real world experience on projects and additional reading, such as Steve Sanderson’s excellent Pro ASP.Net MVC 2 Framework, Second Edition which is an excellent book for getting to grips with ASP.Net MVC 2.

MCTS 70-515 Web Applications Development with Microsoft .Net Framework 4 Self-Paced training Kit CoverThe Self-Paced Training Kit

The Self-Paced Training kit is an excellent tool to help study for the exam.  They follow a standard package format of the

  • Self-paced study guide;
  • Practice Tests;
  • Over 300 practice and review questions;
  • Code Samples in VB.Net and C#;
  • eBook edition of the study guide.

The study guide is broken up into fourteen chapters, which breaks the curriculum into manageable segments of learning.  One technique for working through these guides is to take one chapter per night and work through each chapter covering the topic in great detail.  Planning to spend extra time when needed.  The chapters discuss the individual topics in some detail, have Labs to go through and get practice in implementing the topic discussed. At the end of each chapter there are Scenario based questions to guide you into choosing the right solutions for the problems faced and there are also review questions for each section.  The fourteen chapters combine to cover the objectives of the 70-515 Exam:

  • Developing Web Forms Pages;
  • Developing and Using Web Forms Controls;
  • Implementing Client-Side Scripting and AJAX;
  • Configuring and Extending a Web Application;
  • Displaying and Manipulating Data;
  • Developing a Web Application by Using ASP.Net MVC 2.

Verdict

This self-paced training guide was an invaluable tool for me in my preparation for the exam.  The guide breaks down the objectives into manageable chunks and highlight areas which need to be covered.  The Labs cover each topic as you progress through each chapter.  My one major criticism of the labs is that each lab often starts by setting up a new project/solution with the same name as the previous lab which is really frustrating.  Personally I would much rather have started a new solution per chapter and modified the solution/projects as I went through the labs in that chapter.  The review questions are a great way to review your knowledge and how much you’ve taken in after completing studying each chapter.  The Scenario based exercises are even better as they make you think how your knowledge would be applied in the real world.

I would recommend buying and working your way through the MCTS 70-515 Web Applications Development with Microsoft .Net Framework 4 Self-Paced Training Kit as part of your preparation for the 70-515 exam, however I would also recommend additional sources to compliment your learning.  For example the MVC area was easier for me to pick up as I have completed some projects using the Framework and have also read other books on the topic, whereas the Client-Side Scripting element was harder for me to pick up as I have had less exposure to that area of study.

If you’re studying for the 70-515 exam good luck and I hope you find this book and review useful!  I’m off to search for materials so I can prepare for my other exams as the equivalent training guides won’t be available for quite some time yet.

Never Was So Much Owed By So Many To So Few

September 15, 2010 10:00 by Andrew Westgarth

Just a small post to issue my personal tribute on Battle of Britain Day in it’s 70th Anniversary Year.

The gratitude of every home in our Island, in our Empire, and indeed throughout the world, except in the abodes of the guilty, goes out to the British airmen who, undaunted by odds, unwearied in their constant challenge and mortal danger, are turning the tide of the world war by their prowess and by their devotion. Never in the field of human conflict was so much owed by so many to so few.

Winston Churchill. House of Commons, August 20th 1940.

 

http://news.bbc.co.uk/onthisday/hi/dates/stories/september/15/newsid_3521000/3521611.stm

Never_was_so_much_owed_by_so_many_to_so_few

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Awarded Microsoft Most Valuable Professional Award for 2010

July 6, 2010 13:25 by Andrew Westgarth

As is the case with most of my blog posting of late, it’s well.. late and in a big queue, but seeing this is relatively time sensitive and the fact that I’m over the moon again.  I thought I’d jot a quick post.

Last Thursday (1st July 2010), I was very pleased to receive an email from Microsoft to inform me that I had been awarded the Microsoft Most Valuable Professional Award for 2010 – Internet Information Services (IIS).  This is the third consecutive year I have received this and as I’ve mentioned before I am extremely humble to be associated with a great group of technical people around the globe.  I’ll be aiming to continue my efforts to help the community and deliver as much content as I can to aid and spread knowledge. 

Categories: MVP | Microsoft | IIS
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Search and Deploy – Slides from NxtGen Manchester April Event

May 13, 2010 22:32 by Andrew Westgarth

Finally I am uploading my slides and links to demos from the session I delivered at NxtGenUG Manchester on the 21st April, for those who attended thanks for coming along I hope you enjoyed the session, and I’d like to offer a massive apology for taking so long to post the slides and links to the demos.  My session covered the Web Deployment Tool including the integration in VS2010 and I also covered the IIS Search Engine Optimization Toolkit.  Download the slides from my Slides & Resources page.

MS Deploy Resources

SEO Toolkit Resources



MCTS

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Disclaimer

The opinions expressed herein are my own personal opinions and do not represent my employer's view in anyway.

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