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Planmixplay version 0.3.0 is coming along nicely

Wednesday June 28, 2017
by Lasse Laursen

The occasional listener will have noticed that there's been a sharp decline in weekly shows on SlayRadio.org. I apologize that the stream of weekly shows has been put on a bit of a hiatus. A combination of a brief lapse of lacking enthusiasm and a few personal matters are to blame for the temporary setback. I strongly emphasize the temporary because although it's currently still hard for me to tell when I'll be back in full force, I believe I can tell you that when I do return, I'll either have, or be close to, finishing the next major release of PlanMixPlay. My last shows have further strengthened my resolve in delivering something more visually appealing to the show.

If you'll allow me to quantify my view, I'll deliberate it for you. When the very first visual shows started making their way up to the associated PlanMixPlay YouTube channel, the number of viewers during the live broadcast hovered around a solid 1 person. Most individuals who've spent any real time delving into what it takes to accrue a significant following has realized that the proverbial YouTube land-grab has ended. The pioneering days are behind us, and while there's no reason you cannot gain sufficient traction with something new and exciting (wink), it's not just short term investment. You have to plan to be in it for the long haul. While my weekend shows do bring me joy and enable me to continuously test PlanMixPlay, a big realization struck when I finally got the webcam working as part of the live show. The viewer count jumped from 1 individual, to approximately 6 people. I had always expected some actual personal presence in the visuals to appeal, but seeing it really happen is something else. This in turn kind of clicked for me, leading me to decide that I'd rather save a few shows and then come back with something much more unique than before. I know maintaining a presence is important these days, what with most peoples attention spans being shorter than Aaron paul's career, but I figure the people who'll drop off can come back, and those who can wait will appreciate what I'm working hard to deliver.

I'll do my best to get something done as soon as possible, but there's a lot of work still to be done, and not much time to do it in. I'll hopefully see you on-the-air soon enough!


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A minor update

Wednesday March 22, 2017
by Lasse Laursen

It's been a solid month and more since the last update, so I thought it high time to provide a bit more news on recent events. Since the last update, the weekly shows have remained fully visual which I feel is a significant milestone. I envision two further milestones in the near future. The first is removing all the terrible hacks I put in, to make this visual version of PlanMixPlay an early reality. Hopefully that milestone will be achieved within a week or two. The second milestone is polishing the new features to the point of being release-ready. This will, in all likelihood, take at least another 2-3 weeks with the current momentum I'm having.

These public releases of PlanMixPlay mostly serve as a personal tangible milestone, rather than a widely anticipated software relase. In fact, last time I checked, the initial release of PlanMixPlay had been downloaded a total of 0 times. Which I am ok with. I believe that as the product matures, there might be some mild outside interest. Time will tell.

For the interested few, the visuals are broadcast using XSplit. I would have definitely preferred the cheaper OBS option but for some reason that software would not broadcast anything except a static image of my rendering output. As with most problems you face as you get older, I opted to throw money rather than time at it, and luckily XSplit did/does the trick.

Last, but certainly not least, provided I've done my due diligence in testing, the PlanMixPlay twitter account will now not only announce new shows when... announced, but also tweet out 60, 15, and 5 minute reminders prior to every show. So if you've ever found yourself missing part of the live experience you really would have rather been present for, now is the time to follow the official PlanMixPlay Twitter account!


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We have visual confirmation

Monday February 27, 2017
by Lasse Laursen

We react to big changes, not small ones, over time. We are continuously familiar with our own surroundings as time passes, because each change is minute. Tree's grow slowly. We grow/age slowly. Almost imperceptibly slow, one could argue. Our brain is much more adept at picking up the bigger changes. In a day-to-day context, this means only when something significantly impressive crosses our path does our brain do a double take. If something is just 1% better than what we've always seen before, the result is still 'meh'... So why this lengthy opaque introductory text? Well...

Yesterday, for the first time (apart from one short trial run), did I live-stream visual output from PlanMixPlay to YouTube. The viewer count was low (topping out at 10), the audio was tinny (most likely due to the not awesome (software-based?) soundcard in this here ASUS G751), the visuals were simple, but by golly they were there. That's what mattered. It's a bridge to a whole new level for PlanMixPlay - one that, now breached, will flow so much more easily. To tie this together with the previous paragraph - it's a fairly imperceptible change on the way to a huge one when (hopefully) PlanMixPlay is able to do/deliver so much more. To have people do a double-take and actually take notice.

There's still so much to do as the architecture that held together yesterdays visuals were more or less the virtual equivalent of duck tape, shoestring, and some gum. MacGyver would have been proud. Now that the visuals are on track, there are countless minor things administrative things to automate.

  • Automatically linking each YouTube video with the show on PlanMixPlay.com.
  • Integrating the show title into the visuals.
  • Automatically announcing the show both via Slayradio.org and YouTube.com
  • and, and, and...

All of these are time consuming and unfortunately add little to the experience itself, but exposure (as I've come to understand) is just as important as the message you're sending out there. Your art might as well not exist if no one appreciates it. Speaking of which, the quite shaky first broadcast is available below.

 


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My Top 11 Tokyo Eats

Saturday January 14, 2017
by Lasse Laursen

This list is almost 2 years overdue now, but given that I still often offer this advice to travelers to Tokyo, I thought I'd finally get my butt in gear and write this stuff down for all posterity. So without further ado, here are my top 11 Tokyo eats that I'd recommend all visitors to Tokyo to go to at least once!

Sushizanmai - In Akihabara, in the Yodobashi building on the 8th Floor

Style: Sushi
Price Range: Low - Medium

Sushizanmai is a franchise, so you'll find plenty of its stores around Tokyo. This one I recommend as it's first of all what's known as a kaiten sushi (meaning conveyor belt) sushi, which is slightly more affordable than their standard store shops. Furthermore, I am an avid fan of arcade games, so this place would always get a visit from me whenever I was in Akihabara! Do yourself a favor and order whatever tuna special they have on and promise me that you will go to the trouble of ordering directly from the sushi chefs. Yes, yes, I know being a foreigner can be intimidating, but even just pointing at the fish on the menu will get across the inteded message. The only word you absolutely need to learn is 'Sumimasen', i.e. Excuse me! Say that, point at the menu and use your fingers to indicate how many you'd like. If you want to also taste the very best sushi you can get there (or any other sushi-joint) then you'll also have to learn to say 'Aburi toro' - which will net you the braised fatty tuna. It's simply to die for. I usually ended up eating myself full for about 3400 Yen without sparing any quality.

Numazuko - In Shinjuku underground

Style: Sushi
Price Range: Medium

Numazuko is somewhat more upscale than Sushizanmai in my opinion, and their price range does reflect this. You'll also have a bit more trouble deciphering the menu here, but any extrovert should not have too much trouble. Again, just point/ask away and you'll get through a lovely meal. What you can expect with the higher price is that almost all of the fish is less cold, whereas with Sushizanmai you may get unlucky and see the chef grab it straight from the cooler (prior to serving) forcing you to either wait to consume the delicious fish or lose some of its taste.

Genki Sushi - In the Shibuya neighborhood

Style: Sushi
Price Range: Low

This is more or less the McDonalds of Sushi in my eyes. Not in terms of being so pre-processed and sugary that you'll hit a high, then crash, and be hungry two hours later. More in terms of the most low-end offering with ingredients that are just good enough to eat. I'd recommend it all the same just for the experience, and it is worth mentioning that I'd recommend Genki Sushi 100 times more than McDonalds. The entire serving system is automated via a small tablet along with moving conveyer-belts. The menu offers multiple languages so you won't have to worry about misunderstandings. Finally, I will stress that the Sushi is nowhere near the quality of either of two aforementioned places, so set your expectations accordingly.

Gyu kaku - In a basement in the Shibuya neighborhood

Style: Korean Barbecue
Price Range: Medium-High

Another fairly priced favorite of mine. This place offers an endless supply of meat in more varieties than you can fathom. It's not the highest quality, but it's no slouch either. I highly recommend getting one of their all you can eat deals. Yes - you read correctly, deals. They have multiple all-you-can-eat options depending on how fancy the meats are that you'd like to dine on. This particular establishment tends to get quite busy during regular dining hours so expect to wait to be seated (sometimes up to an hour) or just go a bit later/earlier than the general population. If they don't offer you an English menu upfront you can usually get one if you ask, however note that it may not be as up to date as the Japanese one, so I'd recommend holding on to both during your dining experience.

Barbacoa - Any franchise location in Tokyo

Style: Brazilian Barbecue
Price Range: Medium-High

This is one of the more upscale choices. Given the price tag attached, I highly recommend visiting the restaurant during lunch time for a cheaper experience. Their all-you-can-eat offer is what you'll want to take, and do yourself a favor and perhaps pass on the chicken and sausages that they'll offer up first. After those two meats, you'll be served an endless rotation of various delicious cuts each more delicious than the last. Beware you may find yourself rolling home rather than walking from this place. It is nothing short of supremely delicious. Given its popularity, reservations are a must, usually a day or two in advance. My one and only knock against the place is that the all-you-can-eat menu only includes water/juice unless you go all the way and include beer and wine.

Frijoles - Any franchise location in Tokyo

Style: Mexican
Price Range: Medium

This is what I'd call good upscale take-away food. Their steak filled burrito is simply to die for - especially when you're nursing a hang-over from going hard at Womb from the other night. Personally I always stuck with their rice variety in Grande with sour-cream - hold the guac. Nothing against guacamole but the whole thing is so delicious on its own that it never seemed necessary.

Takahashi in Gotanda

Style: Japanese Yakitori (Meat skewers)
Price Range: High

This place used to have a Michelin star which I believe it has unfortunately lost. That being said, I would still say this place offers a phenomenal Japanese dining experience in the 6000-10000 Yen range. I'd highly recommend taking the chef's choice menu to start and then supplying with whatever skewers you find appealing. I personally cannot recommend the miso-Chicken skewers enough.

Yakitori in Roppongi

Style: Japanese Yakitori (Meat skewers)
Price Range: Low

This is a bit of a sad story. I used to live about 10 minutes on foot from this place and only found out about it during the last two months of my stay in Tokyo. For the price range it is in, and considering its location, it offers phenomenal value. Given that it is located in/near Roppongi, this makes the place even more unique. I'm sure you can find other yakitori places that are just as good/affordable, but this is one of the ones I've been to several time with terrific results. Note that it offers near zero help for foreigners as the entire menu is in Japanese and without any pictures.

Nabe-zo - any franchise location in Tokyo

Style: Shabu Shabu (Thinnly slice meat in hot pot with veggies)
Price Range: Medium

Another lovely all-you-can-eat offering which I recommend visiting at lunch time for an incredibly affordable experience. The cuisine is Japanese and the place offers both a standard meat all-you-can-eat experience and a deluxe meat all-you-can-eat experience. I recommend the former as the latter didn't really offer anything significantly better in my opinion. Don't hesitate to ask for more sauce if/when you run out, and a single replacement of the hotpot water is also included in the offering.

Basically any Izakaya in Tokyo

Style: Informal Japanese Gastropub
Price Range: Low-Medium

I thought a bit about mentioning some specific Izakaya's throughout Tokyo, but honestly I think you'll be generally well off with most of them. In which case, you may as well pick one close to your travels. Lots of guides on the internet can tell you where to find the very best in terms of price and service/food. I generally recommend going to an Izakaya because it's a very affordable Japanese dining experience. During rush hour you'll find they're frequented by a lot of post-work salarymen. Note that like many of Tokyo's restaurants frequented by salarymen, it is virtually impossible to avoid smoke. Also good luck finding one that serves rum and coke. They do exist, but they're few and far in-between.

Firehouse

Style: Burgers
Price Range: Low-Medium

Yes - burgers are not Japanese. But that doesn't mean that burgers are not tasty in Tokyo. This place holds a special place in my heart being near my place of work (The University of Tokyo) as well as being run by an exceedingly friendly gentleman who is fluent in English. If you come across Daimon, please tell him 'Hello' from yours truly. I personally recommend their mushroom burger, but pretty much any option on the menu is a solid pick.

Honorable Mention: Wendy's

Style: Burgers
Price Range: Low-Medium

Yes, yes... Wendy's is perhaps now the farthest we can stray from either Japanese or 'upscale' food, but Wendy's burgers are nothing to scoff at. I frequented their (now closed/moved) Roppongi branch more than I care to admit to. Their burgers are exceedingly tasty, and I personally recommend the deluxe double patty version with the works, which will cost you just shy of about 1000 yen.

And that's it... The entire list. Glad I got that out of my system. Now you go to either of these places and get some of their goodness into your system!

 


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PlanMixPlay pre-alpha testing *now*!

Wednesday December 28, 2016
by Lasse Laursen

Pre-Alpha testing of PlanMixPlay has started!

Excitement, ballons, confetti, clowns, and trumpets!

Even more exciting is that you, yes you, can actively participate in said testing. To keep expectations in check, let me state that PlanMixPlay is very feature slim. It currently cannot compare to current live performance software on any conceivable level. However - given time, testing, and care we here at PlanMixPlay HQ hope it can offer something new and unique previously unseen in the live interaction space.

In the future there'll probably be a forum, a trello board (to track development), and a series of other neat things to look at and use, but for now, if you're keen on giving PlanMixPlay a spin in its pre-alpha state, head over to http://www.planmixplay.com/register, sign up for an account, and proceed to downloading PlanMixPlay.

Happy holidays, and have a happy new year!


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Planmixplay irregularities part two

Sunday November 27, 2016
by 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!


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PlanMixPlay show irregularities

Saturday October 1, 2016
by 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!


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A C++11 and Python Solution Framework For Codility To Help You Save Time

Friday September 9, 2016
by Lasse Laursen

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.


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An Australian skilled independent visa will cost you 3812 USD in 2016

Tuesday August 23, 2016
by Lasse Laursen

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!


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PlanMixPlay first Teaser

Sunday July 17, 2016
by 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.


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