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Planmixplay irregularities part two
Sunday November 27, 2016 | Lasse Laursen

It has been another month with neither an update, nor a (PlanMixPlay) show in sight. The short story is that life has gotten a bit in the way. The slightly longer one also tells of some odd internet connectivity issues that I'm trying to sort through. Hopefully what's coming on the other end will be worth the wait however. I'm once again tempted to talk a lot about plans and ideas, but so often these things turn to nothing before they were ever anything. Once you get involved in a creative circle you start to notice how some individuals talk a lot about plans, but never follow through. Sometimes... You'll notice this person in the mirror. It's important to take a few lessons from this.

First, that we all have a tendency to do this to some degree. It's alluring to talk about fantastic thoughts/ideas/plans. Especially if you feel that you'd actually be able to execute on them. It makes them seem more real. Despite the fact that they're no more real than most peoples hopes for winning the lottery. But take some comfort from this. It is - if nothing else - an equalizer. We can all hope for big things that we'll never manage. What really separates people - to me - is how big and often this talk occurs vs. what comes into being. I'd speculate that perhaps only 1% of the things I imagine become real, and perhaps only 20% of the ones I talk about do. I guess what I'm getting at is, ideally, we should all talk less and do more.

The second is actually the most important lesson I think. That what other people say vs. do doesn't matter. It can be beneficial as a motivator, to convince yourself that you're making actual headway while this other person is merely talking about making headway. But at the end of the day - that's irrelevant. Who knows - this other person might catch a break far sooner than you, and then the headway you've made will perhaps not matter. So at the end of the day - you may as well just do your utmost regardless of what anyone else is doing.

Which brings me the to the final part of this post. What I've been thinking about in terms of making headway. The time has come to start trying to create some real encapsulated output with PlanMixPlay. The danger with a project such as PlanMixPlay is that - while it does resemble a lot of existing software - the concept is slightly different fundamentally. Which means trying to explain the subtle difference is difficult. To the point where you're better of showing it. I've tried often enough to explain PlanMixPlay to interested parties to realize that in order to actually make real headway, I need to have some tangible and workable examples of what I'd like to achieve. I need to get to a place where someone will be keen to ask 'So is this ready to go?', or perhaps better, not even ask, just assume that it is.

But creating an encapsulated output ready for propagation is not enough. The former sentence reveals why it is not. Propagation. It must be easy to spread. You'll hear a lot more from me when I have something that's both, but for now all I can say is that I'll see if I can't get at least a show in sometime during December, provided that the technical issues subside.

Here's hoping!


PlanMixPlay show irregularities
Saturday October 1, 2016 | Lasse Laursen

Hello friend,

I hope this day finds you well. Hmmm. Starting to sound an awful lot like one of those well-to-do Nigerian princes who mean so well, but generally tend to end up scamming you for all you're worth. Their e-mails always start off in such an open and friendly manner, and often have a lot of upfront well wishing about ones health and well-being. But you and I have barely begun discussing today's important agenda, and I've already digressed...

For that, I apologize. But I also apologize for sad news that I must deliver. Moving and migrating is tough business and quite time-consuming. Consequently the weekly PlanMixPlay shows that I do on SlayRadio.Org will be occurring in a little more haphazard fashion, for the brief but foreseeable future (i.e. the next month or two). On the bright side, I can dedicate some of this recently granted non-broadcasting time to developing PlanMixPlay, which in the long run hopefully stand to benefit us all!

So keep an eye on the schedule, and if you'd like, you can also follow the happening re. PlanMixPlay on the official twitter account!

Have a fantastic day!


Codility is an automated service to test programming and logic puzzle skills. I've taken numerous tests via Codility, to the point where I felt a simple Framework for both C++11 and Python might be of some help to others. As every Codility task boils down to a single function taking input and returning output, I created a framework that mimics this functionality, along with printing some helpful text to allow you to more quickly get an overview of whether or not your method performs as expected. So the frameworks essentially enable you to save some time which might otherwise be spent printing input/output.

Both frameworks are available on Github: Python | C++11

strongly recommend you make use of the Python version, unless you're forced deliver a solution in C++11 instead. The main reason being that you'll get more done with less code in Python. I say this as a developer with over a decade of experience using C++. It might be different for you, but for me, it was worth getting back into Python just to ease these tests.

I'll close by saying that I've read a number of blogs/articles/comments for, and against, Codility as a tool to evaluate potential employees. If we, for a moment, disregard how beneficial the tool is (or isn't) for both the employee and employer, I find the most interesting aspect about Codility, is how its proliferation as an evaluative tool causes a significant side-effect. I think most individuals using Codility will agree that their tests generally do not resemble real-world programming tasks. A saying, I think is fitting here, is You get what you test for. Not only is this true - Codility will filter skilled logic puzzle solvers, and not necessarily good programmers - but it breeds an artificial drive to become good at puzzle solving. So the more Codility is used, the more prospective employees will be forced to train themselves via Codility's convenient lessons. It is of course in Codility's interest to have its test takers study and become better. Perhaps the skills learned via Codility may be applicable, but to me it feels more like it creates a new artificial hoop to pass through. A bit like a personality test.


The title really says it all. But I'm guessing you'd like a few more details. Like the fact the visa took approximately 6 months to obtain (from submitting the first document to actual completion), and closer to 9 months if I include all prerequisite document preparation.

In this post I provide a fairly detailed report of the effort, time, and money required to acquire a skilled independent visa to Australia; having just completed the process myself. A skilled independent visa is a perpetual work/live visa for Australia without any requirements in terms of sponsorship. There are many different visas available, and if you're reading this with any intention of applying yourself, you should absolutely look them over.

I opted for the skilled independent visa as I value my independence and see it as a position of strength. A sponsored visa can lead to less than ideal consequences were employment to be terminated unexpectedly. A final detail before we get to the fun stuff; take this post with a grain (or possibly a truckload) of salt as your own personal experience with acquiring a visa will undoubtedly differ due to...

  • you not being me. Different person = different qualifications/skills/papers/needs, etc.
  • the cost of local transportation. There may be some intercity travel required, especially related to the medical check up.
  • work flexibility. Some tasks will require you to take time out of an average week day, resulting in lost income.
  • changes in procedure. For example, the visa cost increases annually, and this guide will probably only stay semi-accurate for a brief period of time.
  • mistakes made by me. Obviously I accept neither responsibility nor liability for any information presented in this post. If you use it, double check it!

With that out of the way, let's get down to brass tacks. First an important detail regarding the whole application process. Namely,

 

Should I use a migration agent?

I'm far from an expert on this matter, but I'll tell you what I know. I believe that a migration agent will approximately double the cost of the visa, making it about 8000 USD. Furthermore, I imagine that an agent can offload approximately 50% of the 'work' involved. The conservative estimate is derived from the fact that although the agent will be submitting a lot of information on your behalf, you will still have to provide the agent with a significant share of information first. As I see, the most convincing argument for engaging an agent is that they'll give you peace of mind. The Australian immigration department (AID) seems to run at 200% load throughout the entire visa process, and is consequently quite poor at providing acknowledgments regarding received paperwork, confirming rules/regulations, and/or clearing up contradictory instructions. Only by calling the immigration department directly and waiting on hold for about 1-2 hours each time will you be given timely and generally helpful feedback. In these cases, an agent can obviously provide you with a fairly dependable upfront answer.

Even so, given the (from my perspective) fairly poor price/performance, I'd only seriously consider using an agent if:

  • You have plenty of disposable income.
  • Tend to fill out forms incorrectly and struggle with bureaucracy.
  • Are anxious about dealing with large incommunicative entities.

I'm sure an actual agent could list a host of reasons as to why they're well worth the money, and if you are the type of person who prefers having someone take the reigns and hold your hand along the way - then I think an agent would be well worth the money. For the rest of us, let's dive into the process of...

 

The skilled independent visa application

The Australian immigration department (AID) uses a point based system to determine your value - for lack of a better term - to them. You will be assigned points based on a number of factors such as age, education history, qualifications, language skills, previous work history, etc. The whole process goes like this: You lodge an Expression of Interest (EOI) via the AID's SkillSelect system. At the very least you are then required to take an English test and have your qualifications verified. Finally, you submit the results of these tests/verifications, at which point you will be assigned a final score, and hopefully be invited to apply for an actual visa.

Submitting an EOI for a skilled independent visa requires at least 60 points, and if I recall correctly I received 65, which lead to an invitation no more than a week or two later. I believe invitations are regularly sent out every two weeks, but depending on your skill-set and points it can obviously take more or less time. The AID's SkillSelect system has a long list of sought-after skills, and I imagine the more migrants they seek with a given skill, the lower the actual requirements for your point-based score.

I will break down each of the aforementioned, as well as a few upcoming, steps in the remainder of the post. But first let's break down the cost of these individual elements, as listed below in (my) temporal order:

Task Cost (in currency paid) Cost (in USD)
Mandatory english exam 217 EUR 242 USD
Mandatory certification of documents ( Bachelor/Masters/Ph.D. Degree's, Employer References, Grade Letters, etc.) 60 EUR 69 USD
Mandatory skill certification 500 AUD 380 USD
Skilled independent visa 189 3600 AUD 2777 USD
Visa CC processing Fee 80 AUD 62 USD
Mandatory medical exam 240 EUR 267 USD
Crime certificate(s) 13 EUR 15 USD
Total   3812 USD

Phew... Do note that travel costs, as well as lost revenue due to time off from work is not covered by the break-down above. Potentially making your visa costs far larger.

Now allow me share a bit of experience on some of the individual tasks.

 

Mandatory english exam

The AID is quite flexible when it comes to proving your goodness in English. Yes, goodness is a word. Anyway, a total of five different standardized tests were acceptable when I went through the visa merry-go-round. I prioritized availability, price, and grading, when choosing between the available English tests. The first two criteria are obvious - the test should ideally be in close proximity to you, and preferably as affordable as possible. My brief research into the available options boiled it down to either the Test of English as a Foreign Language internet-Based Test (TOEFL) or the International English Language Testing System (IELTS), both of which I'd imagine the AID have long deemed acceptable given their widespread existence. The price between the two tests is pretty negligible, which leaves us with grading. You see, if you're determined to have superior English goodness you earn 20 points on the AID's score-board, as opposed to just 10 (for proficient English). Remember, the more points you can score on your Expression of Interest (EOI), the better!

Standardized testing would lead you to think that both tests should be equally difficult, and I honestly don't think it's possible to either prove or disprove this common sense thought without massive amounts of 'within subjects' test data. So if it's impossible to know which test is easier, what made me pick the IELTS over the TOEFL? Well, looking at how the tests are conducted - TOEFL with computers and IELTS with pen and paper - you'd be forgiven for thinking I would have chosen the TOEFL. While I do write far faster using computers these days, I opted for the IELTS as there's a slight margin for error on the AID's grading scale, as opposed to the TOEFL, where no mistakes are tolerated. Yes, in the TOEFL written test you must score 30 points out of 30 in order to achieve superior goodness.

I should also mention that the IELTS comes in both a general and an academic version. Given that the general is sufficient, I obviously opted for the easier test. Spare your pride and cross where the water is the most shallow.

Of course, no properly laid plan is unaffected by Murphy's law, and superior English on the IELTS, as graded by the AID's grading scale, still requires a minimum of 8.0 in each of the four tested skills - listening, speaking, reading, and writing - with a maximum possible score of 9.0. With all of this foreshadowing I'm sure it comes as a complete surprise to absolutely no one that my scores ended up being 9.0, 9.0, 9.0, and 7.5, respectively. Proficient goodness in English was the verdict. Perhaps because of my exasperated use of the word 'goodness'?

In all seriousness, I didn't practice the writing portion enough and only later realized that not properly dividing my text into paragraphs and having a proper intro, middle, end portion probably ate that vital 0.5. So what I'm getting at is don't let my seemingly high goodness in English and depressingly 0.5-shy-of-8.0 score get you down. My handwritten English is not stellar, so there is plenty of hope for the rest of you!

Check the bottom of this post for a little bonus IELTS anecdote!

 

Certification of documents

Depending on where you live, this can become a costly affair. The AID seems to accept a number of local authorities worldwide certifying documents, but if that's not the case you may require a private attesting notary, which I'd imagine costs a bit more than a public service. The only obstacle I encountered was a lack of English at the local municipality service center here in Germany. A public notary cannot certify a document he/she doesn't understand. Luckily I happened to visit the service center on a day where an English speaking employee was available.

 

Skill certification

To ensure that you can actually perform the tasks associated with the profession you claim, a skill certification is required by an Australian authority. Not surprisingly, qualifications and skills in Computer Science fall to the Australian Computer Society, to verify.

I don't have much to say about this part of the process, other than to read the instructions carefully and list all seemingly relevant previous employment, even if they seem slightly borderline. You obviously shouldn't be listing irrelevant occupations, but it's up to the authority to have final say as to whether a certain occupation does, or does not count towards your years of skilled employment. In my case, some of my past part-time positions were no more than 7 hours a week, which is a far cry from the required 20 hours a week. Thus I refrained from listing them as eligible skilled employment.

 

Skilled independent visa - subclass 189

This is the big enchilada.

You will be filling out a lengthy document detailing a number of personal details, employment history, education, family, travel, etc. As with most bureaucratic processes, the more your paperwork is in order the easier it will be. Can you look up your past addresses over the past 10 years? Where have you traveled internationally? Did you keep your expired passport? All of these things will make this part of the process easier.

Although I have to admit, even someone like me who tends to keep most significant documents stored and saved, had to work overtime to document every single piece of international travel I embarked upon in the past 10 years (30 if you're a refugee). Three things I think are worthy of note under the big 'skilled independent visa' header.

First, you will encounter slightly contradictory instructions though out the application process. Most of them - fortunately - are not. On the whole, the instructions provided throughout the process are numerous, but not unmanageable, which is why I further question the need for an agent. Two contradictions I recall running into were:

  • A request detail letter denoting I list primary and secondary education, where as the application form itself (Form 80) specified that tertiary education is sufficient (unless it's a Refugee/Humanitarian Visa). So should primary and secondary education be listed, or only tertiary?
  • A request detail letter asking to include marital status of my various family members, yet the application form itself (Form 80 again) providing no obvious field for such information. Is the marital status of my various family members needed, or no?

In the grand scope of things, these are minor details, but can actually compound and become quite irritating when you consider the next noteworthy detail.

Second, as stated in the prologue of this post, the AID seems to be running at 200% load at all times. Any e-mails you dispatch will generally not be answered.

At all.

I think over the course of the 6 month visa application process I sent a total of around 10 e-mails. Apart from automated replies and some communication via third parties (BUPA) I never received a single reply. Not one. Perhaps because my questions and issues were so benign and the AID is so overloaded that they simply tell their staff to only respond to absolute emergencies.

So how did I manage to get my answers? I got my answers via the phone to the AID over the course of three calls which break down as follows:

  • 40 Minutes on hold, 16 minute helpful conversation.
  • 75 Minutes on hold, 6 minute semi-helpful conversation.
  • 130 Minutes on hold, 10 minute helpful conversation.

Yes... Expect to be on hold. A lot. Also don't use Skype if you can avoid it as the AID's number is some sort of shared-cost number which Skype just charges a whopping ~0.22 EUR a minute for. I believe a land line call from Germany is/was far cheaper, and I wish I had realized this prior to making the first two calls. Again, take that advice with a grain of salt!

Third, is a somewhat morally ambiguous detail. But I find it to be a salient enough point to address. In the lengthy Form 80, which is the central visa application form, you will be asked whether or not you have been convicted of any offense in any country, including any conviction which has been removed from the official records. I'm going to be a bit vague here because reasons. It is my understanding that the purpose of removing convictions from any official record is so this conviction does not follow the individual around indefinitely. Like for example when wanting to start a new life somewhere and applying for a visa. To ask someone to still list these, now removed, convictions would seem to go against the whole point of removing them. Obviously there will be convictions which cannot be as easily erased given todays ubiquitous and persistent modern storage technologies. But I suppose your view on this matter will largely depend on whether or not you think people can serve a sentence and have their debt to society paid, or if you feel they should be permanently stamped for the remainder of their lives as a result.

Food for thought.

 

Medical exam

You will need to visit one of Australia's authorized panel physicians to have a health check-up. One of these may not be located in your city of residence. You may therefore need to set aside an entire day to accomplish this task. In my case, further examinations were required which bear additional costs. Since it is such a unique thing I opted to omit these particular details, but sufficed to say that this process is fairly thorough and if you do suffer from any serious illnesses you can be sure that your migration will end at this point in the journey.

It seems like an apt place to ponder the methodical approach to evaluating your usefulness as an individual, or rather, any short-comings you might posses as one. While it's tempting to see a lot of this bureaucracy as very callous and cold, I think it's wiser to understand the motivations behind it. The responsibility of the AID is to ensure that people who are given access to Australia pull their weight and contribute to society. Yes, that unfortunately means if you're unlikely to do either, you're not welcome. Cold perhaps, but really surprising is it? Would you let someone into your house who were more likely to drag you down than pull you up?

Enough soliloquizing from me.

 

Crime certificate(s)

I just love that term: Crime certificate. You'll need one for each of the countries you've been resident in for more than a single year in the past 10 years (unless Ref/Hum etc.). Not much to say on this topic other than that the information provided by the AID can be slightly misleading. For example, their website states that a letter of intent is required in order to obtain a crime certificate from the Japanese authorities. This turns out to be unnecessary if seeking this crime certificate by an external consulate, such as the one I used in Germany.

 

Final thoughts

I generally advise you to closely read and follow all instructions provided by the AID. However, as with any process there is usually some leeway here and there, depending on your circumstance. So make sure to also use some common sense and judgment. For example, the instructions I was provided by the AID stated that copies of documents must be certified and translated. According to my current understanding not every type of document is eligible to be certified, which creates kind of an impossible situation.

To be a bit more concrete, after submitting my visa application I was asked to provide further proof of employment. I provided an assortment of additional documents, among which contained two Danish pay-slips. Because the pay-slips are 80% numbers inside of a table with a few scattered labels, I opted to not translate these.

Given that I ended up receiving my visa in the end, it's possible to either interpret this in two ways: Either the AID didn't mind the pay-slips being in Danish as they could easily decipher the important dates and names to verify its relevance, or the other documents I submitted were more than enough and the pay-slips were disregarded. Hard to know which of the two is actually true. But I do know that getting the skilled independent visa is quite doable, so if you're seriously thinking about it, I hope this guide helps with the decision making.

 

IELTS anecdote

Now for the anecdote I mentioned. When you register for the IELTS, you are provided with a series of online tools and materials to practice for the upcoming test. I highly recommend you take your time and thoroughly prepare for the test (more so than I did obviously). For the writing portion, which I did worst at, google some exemplary answers and study how they look. It'll give you a much better idea of what to jot down during the actual exam.

Anyway - on with the anecdote: The IELTS was established in 1989 and can boast approximately 2.5 million test takers annually. Impressive. But as with most things in life, the IELTS isn't 100% flawless and I happened upon something I found a bit puzzling in the testing material I was provided. Thus, I promptly dispatched the following E-Mail to the IELTS:

Dear British Council,

My name is Lasse and I signed up to take the IELTS test last weekend. Having gone through some of the testing material, I am a little distraught by how some of the questions are left 'too open' to interpretation in my mind. It is unfair to expect perfection, but when IELTS is used to ensure proper English for numerous applicants, and when the service is paid for, I think it's fair to apply a high level of scrutiny.

Allow me to clarify. On the Road to IELTS portal, the second 'General Training' reading practice test includes two questions/answers which adequately demonstrates a problem.

Question/Answer 1:

In Section 1, question 7 a statement is provided: 'The co-ordinator keeps student attendance rolls'. Looking at the text provided on the previous page, the relevant paragraph is clearly the last which states:

'The Co-ordinator is responsible for matching volunteer tutors with students, organising tutorial rooms, ensuring student attendance and overseeing volunteer tutor training. [...]'

I opted to interpret the statement in Question 1 as TRUE, since the co-ordinator ensures student attendance. The correct answer, however, should be 'NOT GIVEN'. In hindsight, I agree that the text doesn't explicitly state whether or not she keeps an actual roll, and is therefore unverifiable.

Question/Answer 2:

Fast forward to Question 21, which states: 'Casual workers can be dismissed without notice'. Looking at the text provided on the previous page, the text that relates to this statement is the last paragraph:

'If you are a casual worker, you do not have rights to any of the above entitlements nor penalty payments. Casual workers have no guarantee of hours to be worked and they do not have to be given advance notice of termination.'

Here I wavered between FALSE and NOT GIVEN, because the statement doesn't refer to 'advance notice', merely notice. It turns out that the statement is supposed to be TRUE. But I fail to see how this can be the appropriate answer if we stick to the literal wording provided in both the text and the statement that is to be verified. The statement merely asks if they're given any notice at all - as in not told until they one day show up for work and are informed that they're actually not employed anymore.

Does this not seem like something that should be amended in the statement posed in the question?

Regards,
Lasse

Obviously, the ambiguity I point out is quite narrow, and I'm sure some of you will feel that the situation is clear as day. I, however, cannot count myself among those individuals. Honestly, if it were that simple, I would have expected an answer from the British Council long ago. I submitted this question in November 2015 and the last time I heard from them was in May of this year. Back then I was told that someone was looking into the matter and would get back to me. Given that we're now closely approaching a full year since I originally enquired regarding the matter, I'm not holding my breath.

I hope you enjoyed reading this as much as I enjoyed writing it. If you have any questions about the process (not covered by the fairly extensive documentation and help provided by the AID) or just want to say hello, feel free to send me a mail!


PlanMixPlay first Teaser
Sunday July 17, 2016 | Lasse Laursen

Just like the rest of the human population I seem to be very good at saying one thing, and doing another. But contrary to this rest of the human population, I have no trouble in pointing out my contradictory behavior. Perhaps because they're tiny indiscretions, or perhaps because I've yet to learn my lesson. Either way, my loss is your gain (hopefully,) and this time I think you'll be pleased, regardless.

Please click and absorb (via your eyeballs and earbones) the following first official Teaser for PlanMixPlay.


It's short and sweet I'd say, but obviously I'm biased. Hmmm. Who could we get to say it's short and sweet who's not biased. Hey wait a minute...! You! Yes, you my friend! Why didn't I think of it sooner - this works out perfectly. If you think this PlanMixPlay business is the cats pajamas, then say it, share it, hashtag it, Pokemon Go it, on all your favorite social media sites. Especially if you'd like to see more of it. If you're more a bit of an old-school dude like me and more into good old fashion e-mails, then feel free to reach out and let me know how that Teaser made you feel. I'm all earbones.

Have a fantastic day.


© Lasse Laursen 2015 - 2018