Not in my name!

Those of a sensitive disposition may not want to read the links in this post, as they deal with recent research at Cardiff University into amblyopia, an eye condition also described as “lazy eye”. Their research involved the use of animals in a way that I feel is little more than animal cruelty. I’m not going to detail the research itself, but the fact of its existence has angered me.

I first heard about this story when a friend posted a link to the following story on Twitter:

I’d hoped that the actual research had merely been misrepresented, until a link to the Huffington Post’s write-up was posted:

closely followed by Cardiff University’s own statement on the research:

The reason for my anger is that I actually have amblyopia – or, at least, a condition that closely matches it from the definitions I’ve seen. When I was just a baby, my eyes didn’t align properly and as a result my left eye failed to develop. Several operations to correctly align them failed, and my parents and I suspect that incorrect advice was given over the application of eye patches.

As a child, it led to a few limitations: I was particular poor at sports involving anything fast or airborne, simply because I had no point of reference to judge their speed by. I also had, and still have, constant double-vision with a strong image from my right eye superimposed upon a less distinct image from my left.

But as an adult? I’ve learnt, over time, to adjust:

  • The left-eye image is still present, but my brain ignores it most of the time (unless I need to use it, for example to glance at something in a rear-view mirror).
  • I can’t read through my left eye, as the vision through it is on a par with peripheral vision, but for eye tests I can simply tell the optician which row is the last in focus.
  • If something is thrown to me, and I know its size, I can use that to judge how close it is.
  • Driving has never caused me any problems. Cars have this nice habit of being on roads, which gives me the point of reference I need.

(Some of you may be reading this thinking “but, I do that as well, and my eyesight is fine”. Ok, well, I didn’t know that that’s how “normal” vision works, did I? Nobody ever documents what normal eyesight looks like!)

In fact, the only thing I can recall recently having difficulty with is bursting bubbles floating around my garden. Which isn’t a major problem, as my 3-year-old son prefers to pop them himself.

Cardiff University have sought to justify their research, in their statement above, with phrases such as:

“The condition can also be frightening and upsetting for the children who suffer from it. Moreover, severe amblyopia persisting in adulthood is a significant risk factor for blindness in the case of an individual losing sight in the good eye.”


“This ultimately leads to extremely poor vision or even clinical blindness in one eye for the sufferer. The condition affects binocular vision and depth perception, harming quality of life.”

I don’t recall ever being “frightened” by my eyesight, as I never knew any different. If I was upset, it would have been due to difficulties in simple tasks such as trying to learn how to catch – but the wonderful thing about the human brain is that it adapts. Severe amblyopia may be a significant risk factor for blindness, but without any information on the relative risk between amblyopics and non-amblyopics this is a meaningless phrase.

Yes, of course it affects binocular vision and depth perception, the same as closing one eye does for someone with two that work. The difference is, these are problems that a person can adapt to.

Their final words:

“While a treatment for older children may be some time away, Cardiff University believes this research raises the prospect of markedly improving the sight of sufferers of this serious condition.”

My final words: this research was cruel, unneccesary and appears to have been performed by people with little or no experience of the condition that their scaremongering words describe.

Time’s Up!

Back in May, I gave up on the nicey-nicey route with my former employer (“ABCD”), and started proceedings against them via an Employment Tribunal. The case was relatively clear-cut – they had, I was certain, broken employment law by withholding a substantial amount of salary and outstanding holiday pay. I submitted my tribunal form, received confirmation that the case had been accepted, then waited.

And waited …

… then waited a bit more …

… but then, the nice thing with an employment tribunal is that every action has a time limit. After around four weeks the deadline was hit with no response. My statement went before a judge uncontested, and on the 12th June the action by default went in my favour.

ABCD does still have the right to call for the case to be re-heard, if they can demonstrate that their lack of response was for reasons outside their control. That right expires on the 24th of July.

In the meantime, I ended up with a judgement from a court stating that ABCD owe me a certain amount of money. Today, that was sufficient to grant me a county court judgement (CCJ) against ABCD, which will restrict their ability to gain access to credit until paid off; it’s also cost them another £40. In addition, I now have access to further actions including sending bailiffs, freezing their bank accounts or even applying to have the entire company wound up. If this were a game, I’d think of it as unlocking the Boss level and letting rip.

For now, I plan to wait until the 25th before taking any more action, out of a possibly misplaced sense of fair play. For their sake, I hope they pay.

Categories: Uncategorized

A Positive Experience

A fair proportion of my posts over the last few years have been negative, covering technical issues or, latterly, employment disputes. In one in particular, I mentioned a new job in passing. I feel it’s time to expand on this, and describe why I feel that my new employer is the best place I’ve worked in so far.

The company itself is very small – some half-dozen people – and based in an office near to my own home. When I say “office”, I actually mean “purpose-built office over the MD’s garage at the end of his garden”, not “pokey serviced office with impersonal staff hanging around”. And “near”? My journey in to work takes me 7 minutes. As the crow flies, it’s a little over 450 metres.

The first thing that struck me when I arrived for my interview was the pool table in the middle of the room. I queried it at the time, as far too often these are mere decoration and last a few weeks; no, this was regularly used when one or two people in the team need 5 minutes time out. My past month bears this out, barely a day goes by without 3 or 4 games happening during an afternoon.

Things only got better on my first day. It’s standard practise (and, probably not appreciated enough) for a developer to be given a fast PC and two widescreen monitors, but this PC also came with my favourite accessory (which i’d noticed during interview and had made an appreciative comment about), a Microsoft Natural Keyboard 4000. As keyboards go I’m no connesseur (i cant even spell the word), but I’ve been a fan of this series since the first model.

Day two turned out to be pizza day, so the MD headed off to Costco, asking on the way out what my favourite snack happened to be. An hour later he returned, laden with pizza, big bags of coffee beans (for the office grinder, naturally), energy drinks for the non-coffee drinker, and a big box of Snickers to add to the piles of nuts, diet coke, crisps and Twix bars that my new colleagues variously favour.

There is work in amongst all of this, of course. As a .net developer my experience outside the Microsoft world is limited, but since starting I’ve been exposed to PHP and Yii, vast amounts of Grails, and even set up a Jenkins server to automate builds and rollout of C# REST services. But whatever problem I face, there is an existing team of developers able to help as I learn my way around.

In summary? It may have been a tough year getting here, but at last I’m somewhere that I think I belong,

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to get some sleep. The MD has arranged a karting session for tomorrow afternoon.

Categories: Uncategorized

The Story Continues. Unfortunately.

May 3, 2012 1 comment

This blog was never meant to be about my personal life. It was intended to give my views on technology and security issues, and how businesses within those sectors operate. However, events have conspired against me and it appears that what is foremost in my mind is not the Lumia 800 in my pocket, nor the iPad 3 I’m writing this on, but the much more complex subject of employment law.

At the end of my last post, I was just starting a week away from the office, on garden leave, before starting my new job. All was good, I was able to get some work done around the house (while making sure I kept myself available for work if called), and the sun even decided to shine. One week later, my final pay packet came through.

£600 short.

Taking advice from ACAS, I wrote to the directors reminding them that I was entitled to be paid up until the end of the month, and giving them a fortnight to react. With no response, I contacted ACAS again and took up their offer of their conciliation service, which attempts to resolve disputes through amicable means. Three weeks in, there has been no success (that I’m aware of at the time of writing), no payslips, no P45 and most importantly no payment.

In the past month, I’ve learnt a number of things about my former employer. Rather than admit to his own mistakes, my former colleagues were told that I was dismissed. And earlier today I had a phone call from a recruiter friend who’d come across my CV as it was a few months ago, and was calling me to ask if I’d gone out of my mind; I am far from the only former employee to have had a negative experience there, with tales including constantly late pay and all leave being cancelled at the last minute (including holidays booked and paid for months in advance).

I’ve also spent quite a bit of time reading up on employment law:

  • I left with 2.5 days leave outstanding, but due to the distribution
    of bank holidays in the UK I am entitled to the pay for 3.5; I was 3 months into a calendar year containing 8 holidays and, with only one having passed I was entitled to be paid for one other.
  • A company must give notice if they require holidays to be taken as part of garden leave. Needless to say, this notice has not been given.
  • The concept of “unfair dismissal” does not exist until an employee has been working in a company for at least 2 years. In my case this does not apply as I had resigned, but even then notice periods still apply.
  • Even when an employee is dismissed for gross misconduct, they are still entitled to be paid for the outstanding leave. There are literally no circumstances where is it legal to withhold pay in this manner.

In summary: my former employer has no right, whatever they may have decided to believe about the circumstances of my departure, to withhold around £1,000 of owed pay. It’s not a route I ever wanted to take, but unless there is a significant development tomorrow I will be forced to take them to an employment tribunal.

Update: Despite having tried to get hold of the directors of my former employer multiple times over the past few weeks, ACAS have been unable to talk to anyone capable of resolving this situation amicably. Their own rules do not permit them to identify themselves (except to the people they are wanting to talk to) as being from ACAS, but if you are ever left a message by someone “needing to talk about an urgent HR matter” and “not a sales call”, it’s a fair bet there’s trouble ahead.

So, notice to restore full pay has been given and ignored. ACAS conciliation service has, through no fault of ACAS’s, failed. Its now time to fill in ET1, and start the process officially. Wish me luck!

Categories: Uncategorized Tags: ,


March 22, 2012 Leave a comment

In March 2012, whilst searching for a new job following the disappointment of ABCD, I was introduced to a company local to me. Research and interviews followed, and my instincts screamed out at me that these guys knew what they were doing, they were technical from the ground up with a business advisor who was generally recognised as an expert in his field.

This post is not about them; it is possible that the above may be the last thing I write about them. This post is about leaving ABCD.

I knew that resigning from ABCD would be a harrowing experience. Not emotionally, no: but because four months into the job I still wasn’t sure who my line manager was and thus who would handle any HR issues. Details like these are normally spelt out in detail within terms of employment documents, but I had yet to receive mine; indeed, the only details of the job I did have in writing (either paper or email) were my salary, holiday entitlement and the hours I was expected to work.

Notice period? No, that’s not there. Under UK statute – and, rest assured, I even telephoned ACAS to confirm – the minimum notice period an employee is required to give is just one week if no other time period is given. I wanted out of the company, I was far from being an essential employee in my eyes, and the sooner I could leave the better. The only project I had outstanding had barely a day’s work left on it, so even on moral grounds there was no reason to worry: I’d be saving the company three weeks of paying a salary to someone who everyone would know didn’t want to be there.

I decided that one certain individual, who had been responsible for my recruitment, was the most likely candidate, and addressed my resignation letter to him giving a final date of a week and a half away, to round it off nicely on a Friday. The letter was signed, left on his desk, and opened at 11am the next morning to much surprise and a little consternation; I was warned that the MD may take the “one weeks notice” element quite badly.

Various conversations happened that day, including one with the MD which went surprisingly well. He countered the offer with a promise of an immediate 5% pay rise, slightly shorter working hours and a chance to move to an architectural role and oversee changes to the whole project management process in order to increase efficiency. Had these suggestions been made several months before they may have been of interest, but they were too late now and, having been given 24 hours to consider, I was called into a chat between him and another member of the management team.

The chat they were having was positive; indeed, I was singled out for praise over the work that I’d been doing that was directly influencing clients into buying into the company. It started going downhill quite quickly though; the following is paraphrased but based on notes made about 10 minutes after the events in question. “OP” is the other person in the meeting, who I don’t wish to identify even obliquely.

Me: “I have decided, and I will be going with the other company”
MD: “Ok, I think you’re making a really bad decision.”
OP: “So do I.”
MD: “I think you’re making a really bad choice and you’ll end up regretting it.”
Me: “Yes, but that’s my decision.”
MD: (sigh) “Ok, that’s your choice, but at least we’ve got you for four weeks.”
Me: “No, I’m on one week’s notice”

A slight pause …

MD: “No, you’re on four weeks notice. That’s standard.”
Me: “I haven’t had anything saying I was on four week’s notice, and statutory is one week.”
MD: “OP, what did the offer letter say?”
OP: “I’m sure it would have said notice period on it.”
Me: “It didn’t. I’ve checked.”

At this point, the MD stopped and simply stared at me. I suspect he was trying to get me to back down, but this was one of those moments where rights needed to be asserted and I would not have put myself in this position had I not been 100% certain of my legal position.

A second or two later, with neither of us giving an inch, he played the only card he had left.

MD: “That is low, and you are the lowest. Get out. Get out now. Go and clear your desk. OP, you will escort him out of the building.”

I sat, slightly shocked for a moment that he could turn so cold, and at such speed, then stood up and walked out. Neither the OP nor I talked whilst I cleared my desk and removed my books, and said a brief goodbye to those left behind. As we walked to my car, he tried to say something and I suggested – nicely, he was himself quite shocked – that we wait until we were out of both sight and sound of the office, to avoid him being seen to do anything to raise the MD’s ire even further.

I was glad to go home, to enjoy a bit of time with my family and to work on my house, knowing that the decision I had made had just been justified even more than I’d even suspected possible. The OP, who I now know to also be job hunting, had to return; resigned to the fact that his life was just that little bit more hellish than before.

Categories: Development

Maybe I was a bit hasty …

March 22, 2012 1 comment

In October 2011, I accepted a job at a company I previosly referred to as ABCD. I had a number of reasons for accepting the job, not least of which was that ABCD were in the business of selling software to “big business”, and as a result had a vast number of three- and four-letter initialisations with the odd acronym thrown in. As a move from a company whose business model and management I had ceased to believe in, it seemed like the ideal opportunity to add a few useful phrases to my otherwise “small business”-focussed CV.

Of course, dreams can sometimes turn into nightmares. Rather than the model of ruthless efficiency that I expected, I was shocked to discover the number of areas in which ABCD could have performed so much better. In my four months at ABCD little changed, and for reasons that will be explained in a later post if change does happen it will not be by my hand. A few typical examples:

Source Control

ABCD use Microsoft TFS, in itself not a minus point. Unfortunately, at the point of initial setup it was misconfigured such that to edit code a developer must branch from the “tested” tree back into “development”, update all the version numbers, change permissions, and then perform their edits. Once fully tested, code is then branched back into “tested” with a new version number and the “development” tree cleared again.

Project Structure

The entire system contains some 50 to 100 individual Visual Studio projects, some of which are merely business classes to support a single UI project. No solution files are used (due to the paths to the projects constantly changing), therefore a developer typically has 3 or 4 instances of Visual Studio running.

Project Management

All work is managed through a central bug database, where a developer is assigned a “bug number” to work on (whether it is for a bug or a new feature). Through daily timesheets, which are emailed to the management team, progress is updated until the work is ready for “unit testing” – a document written by the developers that runs through a few basic tests of functionality that is then uploaded into the bug database to indicate that system testing can commence.

I could easily write a dozen more points, but all of these are issues that are put up with. People faced with situations like this can generally be divided into three separate groups:

  • Those who are aware of the issues, and choose to do nothing;
  • Those who are aware of the issues, and try to change them; and,
  • Those who are unaware of the issues.

I try to be the second of these, however the most I feel I’ve been able to do is turn a few of the “unawares” into “aware but choose to do nothing”.

A company generally gives an employee three months to prove themselves before they are made a permanent member of staff. I’m a firm believer in the converse also being true: an employee should give an employer three months, in order to show that they are a company that the employee wishes to stay with. In my case, ABCD was sadly not a company I wished to stay with, and so in late February 2012 I updated my CV and returned to the agencies, cap in hand, hoping that mistakes such as this are lessons to be learnt from and not repeated.

Categories: Development

Why Microsoft.VisualBasic should be buried

December 6, 2011 Leave a comment

A friend of mine, who I hope won’t object to me recounting this anecdote, was recently posed the following interview question:

What would you change about the .NET framework?

To me, the answer was simple: I would deprecate the Microsoft.VisualBasic namespace with immediate effect, and phase it out entirely by the time version 5 of the framework was rolled out. It is a relic of a language that ceased to be ‘current’ 10 years ago, yet is still being actively used; even this week I have seen code, recently written to run under .net 3.5, actively using methods from it.

To understand the reason for it existing, it is worthwhile looking back to when .net was introduced. Microsoft was targetting two separate groups of developers: those coding in C or C++, for whom it developed C#, and those moving forward from Visual Basic 6. For this latter group, they included a number of VB6 commands, using them as wrappers around the .net equivalents; these were placed within the Microsoft.VisualBasic namespace, with it being automatically included as a referenced namespace in all new projects. As Microsoft go on to say in their page about Visual Basic .NET internals,

An important goal for Visual Basic .NET was to retain as much backward compatibility as possible, while providing more power and flexibility for the developer. This was accomplished by providing “helper” methods such as Rnd (which is a static method on an imported class) and intrinsic language features, such as CInt, to provide functionality identical to that of Visual Basic 6.

Unfortunately, not all VB6 developers embraced the object models available, and as a result far too many developers are still using the constructs such as CInt() as shortcuts to the .net equivalents. Those developers presumably assume that CInt(number) is equivalent to int32.parse(number) both in functionality. Nothing can be further from the truth; from the same page:

While there are a few specific methods that don’t provide the same performance characteristics as Visual Basic 6, you can fully expect that a Visual Basic .NET application will significantly outperform its Visual Basic 6 counterpart.

Our simple CInt() function performs a wide variety of options, covering parsing, boundary checking and rounding. Using it leads to inefficient code and, more importantly in my mind, developers who are unskilled in the wider concepts of OO within the framework.

Microsoft.VisualBasic is a relic, and deserves to be buried.