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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:

http://www.mirror.co.uk/news/uk-news/kitten-experiments-cardiff-university-researchers-1156779

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

http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/2012/07/24/ricky-gervais-appalled-by-kitten-research-at-cardiff-university_n_1697057.html?just_reloaded=1

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

http://www.cardiff.ac.uk/news/mediacentre/mediastatements.html

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.”

and

“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.

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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: ,