February 11, 2016

Hello Northern Rail Chappies!

Filed under: Uncategorized — madaxeman @ 1:02 pm

Last night, I found myself at in Leeds Railway Station with a little unplanned free time on my hands, seeing as Northern Rail had cancelled my train. For the second time in three days I was going to have to catch a later train home, be late for dinner, and not get so long with the kids. I was, shall we say, rather annoyed…

I decided to have a look at Twitter to see how my fellow passengers were getting on with their journeys, and came across a lady who said both her journey to work and home again had been on overcrowded trains, pointed out the potential for people to be injured, and asked Northern Rail’s Twitter bod to at least acknowledge that the service was indeed overcrowded based on a photograph she took.

They failed to do this, and why that should be is not exactly a mystery – we only have to look at what the Twitter Bod is there for. From what I have seen over recent months, they have the following functions:

  1. When asked, they will try to assist passengers with information about timetables, connecting services etc.
  2. If people complain, they will say that it “has been passed to the relevant department” and then try and end the discussion.

Option 2 is a bit sneaky though, isn’t it. I appreciate they would rather not discuss “difficult” or “awkward” topics over Twitter where there response is there for all the public to see. I understand they want to protect their reputation. But deflecting questions on safety? Is that really on?

I jumped into the conversation about overcrowding, and pointed out that their response did not address the lady’s very direct question. They invited me to contact them using the “Contact Us” facility on their website. This would limit me to a mere 2500 key presses (for no good reason), but that’s not my main reason for not playing ball. My real gripe is their motivation for asking me to take the conversation to the Contact Us page – and it can be summarised thus:

“Get this the hell away from our social media account! We don’t want other people reading this!”

That’s a problem.

The truth is, a lot (though not all) of the problems with Northern Rail’s service are actually beyond their control… They’d like to run more trains, but can’t get hold of the rolling stock (which has to be released from the DoT) and even then they have to sort out pathing on the timetable. With the best will in the world, they are not able to address everyone’s concern / complaint effectively… They should simply bloody say so – rather than pretending that some manager will review the passenger’s concerns in the morning…

Sticking feedback in the suggestions chute (because I suspect it effectively leads straight to the skip outside) does not fix the problem. Denying the problem exists does not fix the problem. But recognising that you have a problem is the first step toward a solution. Then passengers can direct their fury where it really needs to be (MoT), and we can all work together for a better service in the future.

Northern Rail have lost the franchise, so business as usual shouldn’t be an option for Arriva when they come on board – Northern have proved it doesn’t work. We need an operator more concerned about service delivery than their image on social media. We need an effective champion for genuine improvement. We need someone who accepts the current situation is poor, but is prepared to work with passengers to improve it.

Here’s hoping.


January 31, 2016

The Togmeister has Ascended…

Filed under: Uncategorized — madaxeman @ 11:26 pm

Like many of my cohorts, I was stunned this morning to learn of the death of Sir Terry Wogan – courtesy of a shocked phone call from a close friend who was perhaps even more of a fan than I… It was the kind of news that just slaps you in the face and makes you stop what you’re doing – and when my friend mentioned that Radio Two were broadcasting a tribute show, I knew I had to listen…

As I write this, thanks to the magic of the BBC IPlayer, I’m listening again. At the side of me I have a cup of tea mixed with something a little more potent, and a box of tissues. Both are getting some use.

You see, from late 1999 until about 2007, I was, in common with millions of other people up and down the nation, one of Terry’s regular listeners – or a TOG to those in the know… For most of the time in question I had jobs that involved about a 40 minute commute, so the “Wake Up To Wogan” show became a big part of my day. The irreverent humour of the team (the show was never simply about Terry), the banter between Terry and his producer Paul Walters, the finely tuned musical selection – all came together to get me fired up for the day, and to make sure I’d had a few smiles before finding my desk.

Listening to the tribute show now, I am inevitably reminded of listening to the tribute show Terry himself organised to mark the passing of Paul Walters. I can still remember lying in the bath listening to that show, how poignant it was, the “comforting pain” I felt as I listened to “He Ain’t Heavy”. Well, it’s even more intense now that we are marking the passing of Terry himself – but there IS comfort there…

Muscially, well – he had Paul Walters had amazing taste. They introduced me to several stars – people like Eva Cassidy and Katie Melua, the remarkable thing being that they were not the “known” figures of  today, but rather “unknowns” who made the playlist simply because of Terry and Paul’s love of quality. Listening to the tribute show, there are so many of these tracks that I would never identify as being amongst my favourites – but I’m struck by how good these records are… Exquisite was an everyday thing on the show.

Terry was, as they say, only human – and at seventy seven years of age, we should all be able to admit, as Terry certainly would, that the road ahead was somewhat shorter than the road behind. I’m sure, the humour of the man being what it was, he wouldn’t want to think of nation wailing in despair; rather, he would want us to remember all the fun we had…

So, to Terry, to Paul(ie) Walters, to Fran Godfrey, to Alan “Voice of the balls” “Deadly” Dedicoat, to John “Boggy” Marsh – Thank You. There’s much more to be said, but it doesn’t need to be – I’m sure they know… If God exists, his mornings have just got a little more interesting…




December 1, 2015

Why are we doing this?

Filed under: Uncategorized — madaxeman @ 12:54 pm

It is likely, by the end of the week, that the RAF will be attacking ground based targets in Syria – in an effort to quell the continued rise of the so called Islamic State. I’d like to discuss why I personally think this is a huge mistake.

To start with, our record in recent military adventures has hardly been an unending story of success. The forces have performed magnificently, but the Taliban are taking back the territory we fought for in Afghanistan, Iraq continues in civil war… This isn’t how we saw it all ending, and that’s one of the problems with military campaigns – their ends are so difficult to predict.

Which isn’t to say that I am card carrying pacifist – I support our forces even when I do not agree with their deployment, and like anyone else I’m singularly impressed with their exploits… We are lucky to have one of the finest bodies of fighting men and women in the world.

Personally, I would have no problem sending them into harm’s way – that is after all what they are there for – but I wouldn’t do it on a whim, or when the goal was unachievable, or for political reasons back home. They deserve more respect than that.

The stated aim of the forthcoming air campaign is to protect our National Security by degrading Islamic State – a band of despicable terrorists who quite deliberately hide within civilian population centres. Can someone explain to me why a bomber is the weapon of choice for a job like that? Whilst it’s true that from time to time you’ll get a chance to wipe an ISIS land vehicle from the face of the Earth, is it really that simple?

How are we to avoid killing innocent civilians? What of our obligations under the Geneva Convention if we have forces on the ground (and you’re a muppet if you really think we haven’t got SAS soldiers on the ground doing recon work now…). If we do injure or kill innocent civilians, what effect would that have on Islamic State’s ability to recruit? Does attacking their forces in theatre make them more motivated to launch attacks on UK soil?

If we are to act against Islamic State, then we need to confront the basic reality that in order to be effective we will have to put boots on the ground – and lots of them. There is no other way to deal with a body like Islamic State – they won’t fight a conventional war, and sadly dealing with them will require ground forces in significant numbers. It won’t, so soon after Afghanistan and Iraq, be popular politically, but there you are. If you’re going to give the forces a reasonable chance to completing the task, that’s what’s needed.

But that isn’t what Cameron is about to do. Conscious of his political standing here at home, he will only commit to an air campaign. At best this will be ineffective, and at worst, counter productive. He hasn’t got a problem sending our aircrews into harms way to achieve very little, but at great risk to the crews involved. That is shameful.

We should do the job properly, or not at all.


August 3, 2015

What of Justice?

Filed under: Uncategorized — madaxeman @ 11:06 pm

What of Justice?

In recent years, I have taken an interest in three court cases that have been heard before the High Court at the Royal Courts Of Justice in London. My experiences have been varied, but one thread that runs throughout is that justice via these hallowed halls is now only for those who can afford it – and that troubles me greatly…

Let’s start with the case of Paul Chambers, the now infamous #TwitterJokeTrial – where a man had his life blighted with a criminal conviction simply for making a joke about the fact his local airport had closed due to adverse weather. Whilst it is true that Chambers was eventually cleared at the High Court, it should not be forgotten that this was the culmination of a very long fight throughout the Magistrates Court, the Crown Court, and the High Court. His defence was possible partly though the benevolence of a number of legal professionals who worked on his case on a pro bono basis, partly because the community on Twitter came together to raise funds, partly through a number of high profile comedians holding a benefit gig. The sincere support of people like Stephen Fry, Al Murray and Graham Linehan, who were prepared to very publicly stand by both Chambers and his cause, did his case no harm at all.

What would have happened though Chambers not had these assets to bring to the fore, on a freedom of information case, and instead found himself contesting say a charge of assaulting a police officer. Could Chambers have pursued a campaign to establish his innocence without such a support movement behind him? Of course not.

Now, this raises for me two important points. First of all, I believe that the genuinely innocent man / woman should have the basic right to appeal their conviction, and finance ought not to come into it. For this reason, we had the system of “Legal Aid” in this country, but it is now been watered down to such an extent that it is barely recognisable, and certainly lacks the efficacy it once had. It is no longer properly resourced, and until this is remedied, neither is justice in this land.

The second point we must consider is that where the courts have convicted the wrong person, not only does the innocent suffer an unwarranted conviction, but the actual perpetrator is left to commit further offences. It is for this reason that I feel the genuinely innocent actually have a moral obligation to fight – but in a courts system so ruled by money and resource, many are not in a position to do so.

The second case I would invite you to consider is that of Jacqui Thompson, a Welsh Political Blogger who ended up fighting a libel battle over comments on this very blog, and indeed her own. The High Court managed to conclude that Thompson was conducting some form of personal vendetta against her local council’s Chief Executive, a Mr. Mark James. They also ruled that that Thompson had attempted to pervert the course of justice – a finding that resulted in the insurers backing both Thompson’s case and her defence from a countersuit backing out.

There are many interesting aspects of this case, and I don’t want to focus on this case too closely in this post, so we’ll just cover a couple of them. First of all, an attempt to pervert the course of justice would be a criminal matter, triable under the criminal burden of proof, and not by the judge in a libel trial, which is of course civil law. Secondly, it’s interesting that Mr. James managed to secure an indemnity against his legal expenses from his employer, the legality of which appears highly questionable indeed.

Although Thompson has had an appeal, which incredibly she lost, she is now in a position of owing hundreds of thousand of pounds, has a charge against her home, and will in all likelihood eventually lose it. What’s remarkable here is that now the mainstream press are beginning to take an interest in events around the council, they seem to agree with the overwhelming majority of the points that Thompson has made. Rather than pursuing a grudge, she is merely scrutinising (and incredibly effectively) the local council who act in her name. The woman deserves the freedom of the city, not losing her home!

Unfortunately though, finance alone means that Thompson will almost certainly never be able to clear her name. A woman who has tirelessly campaigned against waste and corruption will lose her home, merely because she refused to let them get away with it and lacks the financial resources to fight the case.

Cases should not be brought and fought merely on the basis of who can afford justice – justice is a right.

Finallly, let’s consider the case of Tim Ireland, a candidate in the recent general election who tried to bring a petition against Nadine Dorries MP. Dorries and Ireland have a lengthy history, and for a number of years Dorries has maintained that Ireland has been stalking her. The police have repeatedly found that Ireland has no case to answer, and Ireland has asked on a number of occasions that Dorries should publish evidence (such as emails she claims to have received…), without success.

In the run up to the election, Dorries repeated in the media her claim that Ireland was stalking her, even going to far as to suggest it was unsafe to attend a hustings event because Ireland would be present. She did however send a number of supporters, including her own daughters, to this “unsafe” event, who then distributed material Ireland considered to be libelous to those gathered at the event. Ireland also noticed that this material did not comply with certain aspects of election law, such as bearing the candidate’s address and details of where the leaflet had been printed.

At the High Court, the matter was thrown out because Ireland’s legal team not not served Dorries with legal papers correctly. The matter of whether or not Ireland is a dangerous stalker was not even considered, much less decided by the court. Surely, if the claims were genuine, Dorries should be entitled to have Ireland exposed. Similarly, if the claims are lies, Ireland should be entitled to have the matter settled as well.

Rather than allowing for the procedural mistake in serving papers, allowing Ireland’s legal team to serve Dorries again, and reconvening a further hearing in say a couple of month’s time, the court simply struck out the petition. This has a number of consequences – besides the lack of a proper scrutinly of the claims Dorries has made, we also now have an electorate unsure of whether or not she conducted herself unlawfully in the lead up to the election. Isn’t Dorries herself entitled to have that issue put to bed at the very least? Isn’t Ireland entitled to have his accuser’s claims tested in open court?

The most serious consequence however is that Ireland is now reportedly saddled with over £150K of debts in the case, and that sends a very negative message indeed to anyone else thinking, quite properly, of bringing a similar case in similar circumstances in the future. The effect therefore is that rather than being exposed, dodgy practices are indirectly actually PROTECTED by the judicial system! What a tangled web we weave…

If justice is to mean anything, then our courts need to focus on the task of ensuring it is delivered, irrespective of cost, and delivered consistently to all members of society, great and small. Justice isn’t a budget – it’s a principal and a right. Sometimes expensive, sometimes inconvenient perhaps, but absolutely essential if we are truly to live in a fair, free and hopefully just society.

June 30, 2015

Goodby, Goodbye, Goodbye… (to my bike)

Filed under: Uncategorized — madaxeman @ 11:48 am

On Thursday 28th May 2015, some despicable little scrote stole my mountain bike (value around £500) from outside the St. John’s Offices building in Leeds City Centre. From the start, I decided to stay constructive – I wasn’t about to see my property again, but I really, REALLY wanted to see said scrote answer for his crimes.

The traditional, law abiding method of doing this here in Britain is to involve the police, so that is precisely what I did as I trudged toward the railway station that evening. I’ve gave them chapter and verse about the bike, every detail I could think of. I also made damned sure they understood that this theft took place in front of  the “LeedsWatch” cameras.

LeedsWatch are a separate agency from the police – probably part of the local authority – but the police naturally use them to gain access to the recorded footage of happenings within the city centre.

Imagine my surprise then, upon asking the police to gain the footage of my bike being taken, to be told that this was apparently not a reasonable use of police time. Really? Theft? £500? Having grilled the police a little more carefully, it seems they have a policy whereby they will not ask for footage unless the victim can specify when the offence occurred to within a tolerance of 15 minutes.

You read that correctly.

The justification offered is “We can’t have people viewing hours of footage” – to which my response is two-fold:

  • Have the council staff at LeedsWatch do it, and
  • It doesn’t have to take hours. Check cameras at noon – if the bike is there, it was taken in the afternoon. Check at 1430. If the bike is there it was taken late afternoon, if not it was taken early afternoon. Five or six times around this process and you should be staring at Mr. Scrote in glorious high definition.

You see, I’m more annoyed not by the loss of my bike (which has ticked me off somewhat to put it mildly), but by the failure to even begin to investigate the crime. I don’t demand results – those to be fair are beyond the control of the police – but I do expect them to a least try to investigate! A failure to do so is a plain invitation to other thieves to have a field day because, apparently, cycle theft isn’t worth bothering with in Leeds.

Finally, I have had to really chase both the Police and Leedswatch to get any sort of response out of them. Both have outstanding correspondence to address, but it’s clear to me now that they simply aren’t even going to extend the simple courtesy of a reply. I’ve tried to speak with a Sergeant or above to discuss this, but apparently the control room people don’t have the ability to talk to a specific officer unconnected with my case (the Sergeant who is connected with it was off duty).

I suspect your noses have gotten longer folks…

April 9, 2015

“Can I have a word with you for 10 minutes?”

Filed under: Uncategorized — madaxeman @ 12:28 am

So I’m sat at my station in the office when my line manager pops his head over my shoulder, and asks if he can have a word for 10 minutes. Well, he’s the boss, so of course he can have a word. I stand up and follow him away from my desk. For someone who wants a word, he’s not saying a lot… So, we walk off our floor, down onto a different level in the building, and into a little meeting room. I notice the head of HR is waiting for us, and also that a colleague has been brought down for what I assume is a somehow connected discussion. What the hell is going on?

“I’m going to read from this pre-prepared script…” Really, at this point I don’t really know what is happening, but I’m thinking either some form of disciplinary meeting, or I’m being made redundant. I think of my colleague in the adjoining room – is there something we have both been involved with recently? Something we might have done that someone could have mis-interpretted? No – can’t think of anything…

Well, as the script comes out, the mystery is resolved – redundancy it is. We discuss how, now that the project I have been working on is nearing fruition, the company wishes to return to it’s more “traditional” staffing levels. I’m asked what I think, but the truth is that neither my line manager of the head of HR really needs to be troubled by that. What I’m thinking is “I have two kids and a fiancee to provide for – what the hell am I going to do?”…

Eventually I am asked what personal effects I have brought with me, as my manager is now going to return to my desk and gather my belongings together before I am shown off the premises. Excuse me what? “Shown off the premises…”. 15 minutes ago I was trusted with the source code from the entire enterprise, and now I can’t be allowed to visit my desk. Heavens knows what the powers that be are afraid I might do…

Whilst my manager heads up to gather my belongings, I find myself left sat with the head of HR. To give her credit, she tries to make conversation, sympathetic noises etc – but there is nothing of comfort or practical benefit she can say, and we both know it. We’re left exchanging pleasantries until my manager returns…

We shake hands, and he then escorts me downstairs. I look at his eyes and I can see he is having a crap afternoon. I’ve been told that seven people are caught in this redundancy, and I suspect that I am not the only person my manager has had to go through this with today. The guy looks gaunt, and I’m torn between fury at how the company is now treating me, and sympathy for the guy. At the end of the day he is simply following defined procedure, and probably doesn’t want to be here any more than I do. I break the awkward silence to tell him that I know this isn’t personal, and that he’s just following procedure. We arrive in reception, where despite the pleasantries they are careful to see that I step out of the door…

Walking across the car park I encounter a group of individuals who have clearly been through the same experience I just have. They look a little angry, just like me – a little bewildered, just like me…. We can’t believe what has happened, noone can make any sense of it. We talk for five minutes or so, and then part ways.

If I ever find myself working in a position where I have influence over redundancy procedures, I will do a better job of it than my previous employer. I was left feeling guilty, like a criminal. The reality of the process of course is that you ARE being cast aside, but there has to be a better way to do it than this. Not having the chance to say goodbye to colleagues properly, as opposed to over social media, really stings. The truth of the matter is that most people when made redundant are not hell bent on revenge – they’re in shock – and it wouldn’t hurt to treat them as as human beings…

Having gotten to my car, I started to drive toward the school where my fiancée works – this isn’t the kind of news I want to pass on over the phone. I called a good friend to let him know what had happened, and then started out into traffic… As I head out onto the motorway I’m still quite shocked, and to be honest a little angry as well – but then it occurred to me that this attitude isn’t going to fix anything. I needed to be more constructive about things, so whilst I am driving back to Doncaster I place a call to my preferred recruitment agent – Gravitas Recruitment in Leeds. Over the course of the next few miles I explain what has happened, that I am looking to find a new role quickly, and my minimum requirements in terms of a salary. After listening to me for a few minutes, James (my recruiter) says “Right. I’ve got this. Go pick up Rachel, go home, sleep and we’ll talk in the morning…”. Still somewhat shell shocked, I decided that is exactly what I would do.

Rachel, bless her, was a star. It would be wrong to say she wasn’t worried, because she was – but there was no blame. All I received from her was support, and a determination that whatever was coming, we would face it together. I tried not to get too preoccupied with thoughts of “how do I feed these kids?” – but truthfully that was bouncing around in my head and wouldn’t go away… The first night of redundancy is probably the worst, because you have a million things running through your mind, and no idea what you are going to do about any of them because you haven’t really had a chance to start planning how you are going to address the situation. I didn’t get much sleep, and although she claimed to be fine, I doubt Rachel did either.

Come the following morning, and I get a telephone call from James asking if he can come out and meet me. I invite him to my home, but probably for safety reasons Gravitas prefer to do their business in coffee bars and other public places. We have a nice coffee bar in the village, so I arrange to meet James there later in the morning. Unfortunately a few minutes later he called back to say he couldn’t make it, and asked if I might meet him in Leeds City Centre instead. Well, having nothing better to do, I agreed – finished my coffee and caught a train.

Meeting James was a big relief. Tall, perhaps a little younger than I had expected, the guy exuded confidence. He told me to stop worrying – that the market was in my favour, and that recently he had turned around people in my situation in three days. He’d already sent me details of some suitable positions to examine on the way over, and it was clear to me I was dealing with someone who had an active interest in making things happen. In other words, he was precisely the kind of guy I needed in my corner. He asked for a period of exclusivity, which I reduced somewhat before I agreed to it – if I didn’t have decent leads in the next week or two then I would have to open my search to other agents. I was also keenly aware that a number of former colleagues were passing my details to their own recruiters, and I didn’t want anyone to feel slighted by not taking up their offers. Strange of course, but that is how I felt at the time…

Over coffee we discussed my requirements, expectations, and availability for interviews. Availability was an easy one – I kept my suit ironed and ready, and would be out the door on a moments notice… I left the meeting with James confident that if nothing else I had made a decent attempt at starting to get a job search on track. Over the course of the next week, I had interviews almost every day – often two the same day. Things went well, and I interviewed like crazy until things came to a pause of the Easter holidays.

At home though, things were far from ideal. Rachel and the kids were great, but something was wrong because I was having serious trouble sleeping. It would be wrong to say that I was constantly worrying about the situation we were in, but it must have been kicking around my subconscious because I simply could not get to sleep. Most nights I would try to lie in bed with Rachel, but would end up sneaking downstairs to watch TV, grab a warm milk etc, return to Rachel and stare at the ceiling some more…

I developed a chest infection, and at that point decided that I needed some help, so I went to see the local 8 while 8 doctor. He prescribed me some antibiotics to deal with the infection, some other pills to help with the acid he thought was causing my sleeping difficulties, and gave me some general advice about getting a good night’s sleep. I came away thinking all was fixed, but of course that night still couldn’t sleep…

In the end, I decided that if my body was determined to crash down like this, then I would let it – so I just waited it out until I was unbelievably tired, and went to bed early in the evening by myself. Sleep at last! I don’t pretend to understand what was going on with my body or mind through this period, but from that night forward, I was able to sleep. This episode was one of the strangest experiences in my life though, because I knew there was no reason why I should not be able to sleep, and yet simply couldn’t do it. It was the first time I have every really felt “out of control”, and was a very unpleasant time.

Once Easter passed, it came time to review where we were in terms of the results of the interview process. I started with an interview on the Tuesday morning, and as usual made a point of getting into the city a good hour before I had to, just to make sure I was there on time. I like to arrive at interviews relaxed and 20 minutes before they are scheduled, and I find being in the area an hour before to be the only way to achieve this.

As luck would have it, my walk to the interview would take me past Gravitas’ front door, so I put in a call to see Usman, James’ manager who was handling my case while James took some well deserved annual leave. In that meeting, Usman informed me that one of the companies I had previously interviewed with was prepared to make an offer, which would at least match the package I had received from my previous employer. This came of course as a massive relief, and as soon as I left Gravitas I called Rachel to tell her the good news – that we were now secure, but it was just a matter of seeing what other companies might be prepared to offer as well…

I attended my arranged interview, together with another one arranged at the last minute later in day… Whilst travelling home, I was informed that another two companies, including the one I had interviewed with that morning, were also making offers. Without revealing too much, I should be starting work again next week, and will be making an extra couple of thousand pounds per year than I did in my former role. I’m looking forward to the challenges to come, and this is very much the happy ending…

Sort of.

What I would like to do is to share some advice, so that hopefully someone else finding themselves having this nightmare experience might benefit from my own experience and approach.

First of all, don’t get mad at your previous employer. It’s not easy, but at the end of the day no good will come of it, and it only serves as a distraction. You don’t need the distraction, you have a job to find – so draw a line under things and move on. Besides, it only makes things tricky for your friends who remain with the employer…

Next, be constructive, positive, and act. Brooding isn’t going to help, so by far the best option you have is to take the situation by the horns and address it head on. Your new job is finding your new job – so get on with it.

Social Media is a tricky one… As I was introduced to the door the head of HR made clear her view that I ought not to criticise the firm on social media… One subconscious effect of this is that I didn’t really mention my redundancy on social media for some time – which of course I was able to do without attacking the company, and so could have done on day one. I’ve helped a lot of people in my career, and once I made public the fact that I had been made redundant (by which time I already had the offers in place…) I was amazed by the number of friends and colleagues whose immediate reaction was to try to help me. People were prepared to talk to their managers about upcoming vacancies… One former colleague asked me outright if I wanted an interview with the company he worked for… It rapidly became clear to me that I should have engaged my social network on day one.

At home, keep in mind what’s important. My situation was initially dire, but guess what? My girls were healthy, my partner loved me and we have supportive families. My initial fears about how do I feed these kids? The simple truth is that if I couldn’t, then our parents, together with an uncle to whom I am already deeply indebted in my life, would have come to the rescue. I wouldn’t have liked it, but the fact is that the kids were never going to starve… I have an acquaintance who is married with three daughters and is in a fight with cancer he is far from certain to win. Having lost a job, whilst a serious problem, pales into insignificance compared with that…

In terms of interviews, don’t be afraid to be yourself. People often seem to take on a special persona at interviews which is both fake and easily spotted by a good interviewer. Be yourself, be positive, and be honest. When I have conducted interviews myself, an answer I really respected is “I don’t know”. It takes a certain strength of character to recognise that, and can usually be easily addressed.

Be early for interviews – personally I always like to be sat in reception at least twenty minutes before the interview is scheduled to begin. You might be seen early, you might have to wait, but at the end of the day the interviewer sees that you have taken steps to ensure you attend on time. This speaks of preparation and planning – neither of which are negative impressions!

Finally, keep this in mind… I have personally been made redundant three times in my career. On each occasion, initially things seemed bleak, but looking back all three occasions saw me progress into better positions with better pay… Redundancy is a problem, but if properly addressed hopefully a temporary one, and the grass is usually greener on the other side.

April 7, 2015

Did anyone else hear that bang?

Filed under: Uncategorized — madaxeman @ 7:54 am

That was the unmistakable sound of VB.Net being taken out back and shot in the back of the head. Some might argue this is a kindness, a loving final act to a faithful companion whose time has come, but that’s an argument for a different time. The fact is, the shot has been delivered.

The shot takes the form of Microsoft’s decision (which I learned of from DotNetRocks) to not support VB.Net on the new Asp.Net vNext infrastructure. Apparently Microsoft feel that VB.Net developers as a community don’t tend to use the latest and greatest kit, have metrics in terms of project creation stats to back this up, and have therefore decided not to support VB.Net on Asp.Net vNext – or so the story goes…

This will lead to some perfectly justified wails of despair from the VB community. After all, when it comes to just abandoning a development technology and pulling the rug out from under a development community, Microsoft has form. It’s doubly tragic that for the most part the people who were historically affected, ie. Visual Basic 6 developers, now find themselves in line for the same treatment once again…

For me, it’s not the fact of the decision that is of interest, but the reason offered to justify it. Overlooking that vNext is going to be a massive part of the future of development on the Microsoft stack for now, I’m struck by the notion that this justification could be employed to exclude the Visual Basic community from just about anything.

The death knell of VB.Net has been firmly sounded. It sucks, but there it is… Anyone in the VB.Net space should in my view now immediately cross train in C#. Got technical assets you would like to take with you into the future? Well you need to be at least asking the question whether or not you should be considering a migration away form VB.Net. Whatever your views on C# as a language, it seems we live in world where there is safety in numbers, and where it doesn’t pay to straggle too far behind the herd…

December 17, 2014

Ah – TV Licensing…

Filed under: Uncategorized — madaxeman @ 12:43 pm

I keep seeing people online asking about how to deal with TV Licensing when they are “legally license free”, trying to do something about TV Licensing’s unreasonable habit of hounding perfectly law abiding people as though there were no tomorrow. I thought therefore that it might be helpful to some if I shared my own experience…

When I bought my current house, I wrote to TV Licensing and explained that as I would only be using the television set to watch pre-recorded DVDs, I wouldn’t be purchasing a license. They admitted that my position as described was perfectly legal, but then insisted that they would send an “enforcement officer” round to my property to check. The justification for this is that “when we go on-site, we sometimes find people didn’t properly understand their position, and do indeed require a license”. Unlikely, given I had been a part of a campaign against the license online for a number of years…

Still, they insisted. I wrote back and told them no, they couldn’t come over, and that until such time as I they were able to present me with some actual evidence of law breaking (they constantly claim in the popular press that they have the technology to do this), then I thought matters between us were concluded. However, TV Licensing weren’t done yet – oh no… I could be served with a “Magistrates Warrant” if I didn’t comply! Scary eh?

Well actually, no – not scary at all. For one thing since I wasn’t breaking the law at all, I had nothing to fear, save the inconvenience of the inspection. Amusing thought it would doubtless have been to watch them ferret around trying to justify their intrusion into the private life of an innocent man, they also have a habit of turning up with police officers in tow. I’m not scared of them either, but I wouldn’t want someone robbing an old granny down the street whilst the county’s finest were getting rather bored in my living room – so something had to be done.

Here’s the thing about Magistrates Warrants – they are only supposed to be given once a number of conditions have been satisfied. I would like to discuss a couple of those conditions…


Evidence has to be laid before the magistrate that demonstrates that it is likely an offence has taken place. Now, in practice it seems a lot of magistrates don’t pay much attention to this one – either granting warrants without any further thought, or accepting things that appear to be evidence, but really aren’t. For instance, “I observed flickering lights from the suspect’s living room, and as I walked down the garden path I noticed huge TV playing with several people watching…”. Indeed – they were watching a DVD… See – evidence of nothing.

The point here is that, if you do find yourself dealing with a Magistrate’s Warrant, always go back and challenge the evidence upon which it was granted. This serves two purposes – firstly it allows you to show that TV Licensing are acting improperly, but far more importantly it just might wake up a few magistrates to what is going on.

Reasonable Access

Another condition of granting a Magistrates Warrant is that TV Licensing have no other alternate “Reasonable Access” – and it’s this condition that I used to get them to shut up once and for all. I wrote to them and told them that they could come round whenever they liked, totally at their convenience and with no requirement for advance notice, so long as they brought with them a receipt for a £20 donation to the local children’s hospital. If they did that, guided tour, otherwise they could continue to sod off. A few days later, I got a letter from TV Licensing stating that they accepted that I wasn’t breaking the law, and that was the last I heard of them.

Of course, this tactic only works if you’ve got the confidence to risk a magistrates warrant, which if you are truly legally license free, you should have. I never needed to worry about it, but there are also a couple of things you should think about in terms of preparation for a warrant visit.

First of all, record the visit. Modern mobile phones are quite good enough for this task, but you want a video record of the entire visit. If they claim to have found something later, you want to be able to get out the video and demand “Where?”. There have been cases where TV Licensing appear to have presented fake evidence to the court (see the Shakespear case), so a good solid video is in the interest of both yourself and justice!

Next, TV Licensing are very keen on their 178 form, which details any problems they claim to have found within your property. It is essentially an admission of guilt. I propose that you should really equip yourselves with a “Confirmation of Innocence” form. It should have space for the TV Licensing staff to record anything they find of concern, but otherwise should contain the provision that “No evidence of an offence being committed has been discovered during our visit”, and a nice space for the TV Licensing Representative to sign. Why is this needed? Well, sadly it seems that in a minority of cases TV Licensing staff haven’t been above just inventing evidence on their forms. Having a declaration that all is well, and the chance to challenge it should they not agree, is a massive protection here for the householder…

Withdrawl of Implied Right Of Access (WOIRA)

There has been much debate online about the efficacy of this tactic for people who are generally license free, with the commonly held view being that:

  • TV Licensing staff do not respect it, and
  • It only serves to flag you up as a person of interest to them.

Personally, I have mixed feelings. I suspect both of the above are true, but didn’t really have a problem with being “brought forward” for the magistrates threats etc. As I mentioned before, my set up was totally legal, and I had nothing to  fear from magistrates. Being “brought forward” just brought things to a head sooner, which was a bonus for me. You might well feel differently though, and might well be nervous about having magistarate’s warrants served against you – which is perfectly understandable. If that is the case though, then WOIRA is not for you…

In conclusion, you should not allow yourself to be intimidated by TV Licensing or the tactics that they employ. Fight back! Don’t take this crap lying down… You can try and be nice with them, let them know your situation etc, but it won’t make any difference at all because they’ll not believe any information you provide and will insist on sending someone out to inspect your home. Personally, I was offended by the notion that I should be required to prove my innocence – that’s not how the law works here… I won’t play those games.

If you want any further advice on dealing with TV Licensing, my all means leave a message in the comments and I will see what I can do…

November 14, 2014

A Life Less Ordinary…

Filed under: Uncategorized — madaxeman @ 12:04 pm

Ever think that our lives are a little humdrum, run of the mill periods with few meaningful achievements?

Well, this morning as I drove into work I caught “Desert Island Discs” on the radio, and, it being their 3000th programme, they’d put a little effort into finding someone worthy of the honour…

Step forward one Captain “Winkle” Brown… I had the pleasure of listening to an interview with this chap last year, so I had some idea of what I was getting.

Amongst Brown’s achievements in his life:

* In 1937, he’s taken up in a plane, and told he has the temperament to become a fighter pilot – by a former World War 1 fighter ace. On Germany’s side!

* When Britain declared war in 1939, he was an exchange student – in Germany. He was arrested by the SS, who escorted him to the border, and let him keep his sportscar!

* In 1941 he joins HMS Audacity as a naval pilot. Audacity is sunk by a German U-Boat, leaving only two survivors. He’s one of them.

* He then gets involved in testing and researching carrier landings – commonly regarded in aviation as one of the riskiest manoeuvres there is. By 1943, he’s performed over 1,500 of them on 22 seperate carriers. He still, even now, holds the record for the most carrier landings a pilot has ever achieved.

* In 1943 he gets involved in training Canadian pilots in carrier landings, though not on carriers. He arranges a return favour where they take him along on actual fighter missions in return… BALLS OF SOLID GRANITE!

* Despite everything else he was doing, he also found time to involve himself in a minor little skirmish known as “The Battle Of Britain”!

* He then gets involved in evaluating captured enemy aircraft. Being wartime, he gets by without the luxuries – like training… He just makes do with whatever manuals he finds lying around in the aircraft!

* His superiors are so in awe of his performance that he’s immediately sent off to become a test pilot. In his first month alone, he flies 13 different *types* of aircraft.

* He performs the first ever landing of a twin-engined aircraft on a carrier. The stall speed of the aircraft is 30 knots above the maximum landing speed for the carrier. Not a problem – Winkle’s on the stick!

* He becomes the chief naval test pilot…

* Test pilots like pushing the envelope, and Winkle is no exception. He gets involved in high velocity projects, and flies at Mach 0.86! Don’t think that’s remarkable? He didn’t use a jet! This guy did it in a spitfire! Wood and canvas for heaven’s sake…

* Diverted to RAF Cranwell in bad weather, he accidentally meets Frank Whittle – inventor of the jet engine. Frank knows a good thing when he sees it – and asks Winkle how the jet engine can be improved for naval use!

* In September 1943 he performs a carrier landing without the arrester hook in position (down to a faulty indicator light, not down to Winkle). The resulting crash into the crash barrier shears off the undercarriage and shreds the propeller. Winker himself of course is made of sterner stuff, dusts himself down, and walks off UNSCATHED!

* In February 1945 he’s shown a helicopter, and taken up as passenger. A few days later he’s sent to RAF Speke to collect one. Of course, this being Winkle, there’s no need to bother with any of that tedious “Learning to fly a helicopter” malarky. The mechanics throw him a “large orange-coloured booklet” to read, and off he goes – IN FORMATION!

* As the European war is winding down, he’s sent off to a German airbase in Denmark to collect some enemy aircraft to look at. Sadly, the allied troops who are supposed to be liberating the base get delayed, so as Winkle touches down, this is a fully operational German airbase. The German commander does the only sensible thing, and surrenders to Winkle immediately!

* As a German speaker, and has someone who isn’t exactly known as a shrinking violet, he interrogates several of the officers at the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp following its liberation…

* He’s quite an effective interrogator – so much so that after the war he also “interviews” Wernher von Braun and Hermann Göring. Of course, he still needed to get around – so he takes Himmler’s personal aircraft…

* When Geoffery DeHaviland is killed testing his DeHaviland 108, someone needs to recreate the powered dive at close to Mach 1 he was performing at the time. Sensibly enough, they decide to ask if Winkle might be free… Winkle is cheerfully getting on with the business of performing a power dive, at Mach 0.88, at only 4’000 feet when all hell breaks loose – the aircraft shuddering so violently that Winkle’s chin is banging off his chest. This would kill a regular mortal – but Winkle sees the Lord by appointment only – so he recovered the aircraft!

* When the navy decided to perform the world’s first ever landing of a jet aircraft on a carrier, there was no way they would even consider giving to job to anyone else…

* You know the steam catapult that the Americans use for flinging aircraft aloft from their carriers? Who do you suppose showed them how it worked?

* When it came time to resurrect German naval aviation, Winkle was sent over to supervise and provide guidance. The navy only had one plane that was exclusively for their use. They gave it to Winkle…

* When we wanted to persuade the Americans of the concept of an angled flight deck on aircraft carriers, we sent Winkle. Nine months later, the Yanks built it.

* He wasn’t just a stick jockey either – rising to become a naval captain in 1967, taking command of HMS Fulmar, followed by naval air station (and later RAF) Lossiemouth.

* In his career, he has flown 487 different types of aircraft – and it’s important that we now define what a “type” is. For example, he flew fourteen different versions of the Spitfire and Seafire – but these are only regarded as one type. Also, the 487 count only includes flights where he was “Captain In Command”. Co-pilot doesn’t count.

* Obviously, he holds the record for the highest number of types of aircraft flown by a single individual. It’s generally accepted throughout the aviation industry that this record will stand until the end of time.

A truly amazing man, and I’m struck by the fact that I only learned of him last year, when I happened to be listening to “iPM” on Radio 4 one Saturday evening… The kids need to be learning about folks like this at school!

November 11, 2014

I don’t like what’s happening to VB.Net…

Filed under: Uncategorized — madaxeman @ 11:19 pm

When I started this blog, although I thought I’d end up covering a certain amount of politics and civil liberty matters, I actually thought that a good many of my posts would concern the day job – I work as a software developer writing software using the “Microsoft Stack”. As events have occurred, rather than trying to post a set number of technical articles within a set period, I’ve pretty much only blogged whenever something has annoyed me enough – or if I’ve had information to impart concerning #TwitterJokeTrial, #DaftArrest, or the fortunately inimitable Nadine Dorries MP…

My career as a software developer has basically come in three stages – initially I was writing software using Visual Basic 6, then I was writing VB6 but occasionally getting to dabble with VB.Net, and these days I code almost exclusively in C#.

Why do I work in C#? Well, it would be perfectly reasonable to say that both my current and previous employer require developers to be able to work with C#, so if I were being lazy I could claim to have been pushed into it – but the truth is I deliberately sought out positions which would allow me to move away from VB.Net. Why? Well, the writing appeared to be on the wall… Most serious developers can adapt to use another language when they have to, and a lot of people were making the move away from VB.Net to C#. The syntax was more concise (ever tried writing LinQ queries in VB?), employers were paying slightly more for it, and although Microsoft has maintained a commitment to both languages, having lived through the process of VB6 being taken out back and shot, invalidating vast swathes of work as they did so, I didn’t want to nail my colours too firmly to the mast of what seemed like an increasingly leaky ship…

Unfortunately, VB.Net developers now seem required to operate under a sort of stigma, as second class citizens in the .Net development world. It shouldn’t be so – some wonderful things have been written in VB.Net by some wonderful people – the language is every bit as capable as C# (though not as nice!). There are a lot of big systems out there that depend on VB.Net, so I was rather alarmed as I drove to the office the other day to discover commentators including it on a list of “five dead languages”. Even with my C# hat on, that seemed a little unfair… Now I discover that SharpDevelop, an open source IDE I have used for years, has decided to no longer support VB.Net development in it’s latest version… That speaks volumes for what some very well connected people in the industry think of VB’s medium term prospects…

Perhaps the writing is indeed on the wall again for Visual Basic developers – and if this is indeed the case, then it is a tragedy. It shows that, as an industry, we have learned nothing… Once again we will have major business systems out there in the wild with an ever dwindling pool of developers prepared to maintain them. It’s a particularly cruel blow given that a lot of people who got shafted at the end of VB6 chose to migrate their systems to VB.Net – and are now going to have to consider migrating again.

My advice to anyone (and I have a number of former colleagues from earlier in my career who fit the bill) still working exclusively in VB.Net is to start learning C# now. Today. It’s not because you’re uncool, or smell of wee, or old timers – it’s because I’d like to think you’ll all still be employed five years from now. It’s not that hard, so come on in, the water’s lovely…

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