Since 2010

Dear Sydney Trains

Saturday 11 January 2014

An email I sent to Sydney Trains just before Christmas:

Dear Sydney Trains.

I use Olympic Park station as part of my daily commute to and from work. I use the station at what I imagine are peak hours: between 07:00 and 08:00, and 17:00 to 18:00. I use the “back” entrance to the station, which has three ticket gates.

I estimate that about 75% of people using this entrance to the station at these times do not use a ticket: they instead force their way through the wide gate, or sneak through behind those of us who do use tickets.

As a frequent user of this station this angers me. The implications are obvious if the people forcing their way in and out of the station don’t have tickets. If these people DO have tickets but for whatever reason choose not to use them, then I’m worried that the true passenger count at this station cannot be reported against, and the service frequencies could be reduced in the future.

I’d like to know what, if anything, is being done about this situation.

Kind regards,
Scott Macpherson.

What really grinds my ass is that most of the people using Olympic Park station - other than event-goers - are professionals working for one of Australia’s largest banks. It’s infuriatingly comical to watch middle-aged women and men wearing suits climb over ticket barriers.


Sunday 29 December 2013

Let me tell you, receiving a letter through the mail from the Australia Federal Police sure does get the heart pumping. I can only imagine what it must feel like if you don’t already know the contents. And inside this envelope? The results of my National Police Check to support my application for Australian permanent residency.

Most folk reading this will know that I’m well into the PR application process, which has so far taken almost a year. Here’s what’s happened so far, roughly in this order:

Skills assessment

The whole PR thing uses a points based system. You get so many points for being a certain age, some for being from a certain country, that sort of thing.

Interestingly, folks from predominantly English-speaking countries, like Scotland, Canada etc. don’t have to prove they are fluent in English, but they don’t get any extra points for it either. People from non-English speaking countries who can prove that they’re fluent in English do get extra points. Weird.

Anyway, everybody going down the skilled independent route, like me, has to prove that they have skills which are on Australia’s skilled occupation list. In order to accomplish this, applicants must have their skills and experience assessed by the relevant nominated authority. In my case that was the Australian Computer Society. They take a vast amount of money (A$450), and about three months later send a letter back with a yay or nay.

Something which continues throughout the entire process is a print-copy-sign-scan thing, where everything is online, but documents have to be printed, then photocopied, then signed by a justice of the peace to prove that the copy is a genuine copy of the original document, even if the source of the “original” document was an electronic format. Then the certified copy has to be scanned and submitted electronically. If you ask me, they’re just introducing points where stuff can be forged.

Expression of interest

Now that I had my skills assessment, and therefore enough points to get my foot in the door, I could submit an expression of interest to the Department of Immigration and Border Protection. The expression of interest is a pretty comprehensive application, but it’s free and it serves as a way for the government to whittle out the folk who don’t have a chance of getting PR.

Another point which is worth noting at this stage was the number of accounts I had to create for various systems used by the Australian government. To get things rolling on the skills assessment required one account, EOI required another user account, while my health assessment (see below) required a new account, and the actual application at the end of all of this needed yet another account. To be fair, it does look like the Department of Immigration are trying to consolidate things a bit into just one “ImmiAccount”, but there can’t be much of an incentive since it’s a you-need-us-more-than-we-need-you situation.

From submission of my EOI to receiving the green light took about four months, but there are still some bits and pieces which are required for the main application:

Police checks

Immigration refer to these as “character references”, but it boils down to being able to prove you’re not a hooligan. The Australian Federal Police performs checks for folks living in Australia, and the equivalent for the UK is the Association of Chief Police Officers. I needed both since I’ve lived in both countries. There was a wee bit of confusion for us around the whole Scotland thing, but it turns out that a Disclosure Scotland report doesn’t cut the mustard, and the ACPO uncovers any wrongdoings anywhere in the UK.

The UK application was by far the most antiquated process encountered. It was entirely paper-based, had to be mailed to the UK, and paid for with a UK cheque which is easier said than done if you’ve not had any contact with a British bank for four years.

Both police checks cost money, but not much. Somewhere in the region of A$50 each I think.

Health check

Speaking of money, it starts going out faster from this point on. A health check for our visa class was A$350 per person at the time we got them done. Now the health check doesn’t need to be done before submitting the application as Immigration will ask for one if they need it, but it’s apparent from reading everything and speaking to other people that everyone needs to do one anyway so we decided to get ahead of the curve.

The health check has to be performed by Department of Immigration and Border Protection approved medical centres, and was a very interesting experience. The health centre operates like a production line. They make you book an appointment, but we had to wait for several hours after our allocated time before we were seen. Station one performed a chest x-ray. Then another wait. The second check was eyes/height/weight and a urine sample. More waiting, then provide a blood sample, before another wait. Finally, we were marched towards an actual doctor who told us to strip and had a good poke around for abnormalities. Set aside a whole day if you’re going through this process yourself.

We don’t get to see the results of the health check - it’s sent straight to Immigration. I’d like to think that if they found anything we should know about we’d be told immediately, but I doubt it.

Application for permanent residency

It’s at this stage that you can actually apply for PR! The application is long but doesn’t contain anything terribly exciting, and annoyingly it repeats all of the questions and uploads from the Expression of Interest application, but without pre-populating the answers given from the EOI. Document upload is pretty painful simply because there are so many documents. See my previous grumble about print-copy-sign-scan as well: I ended up getting a colleague - who is also a justice of the peace - to certify 21 pieces of paper!

The cost of the application was A$5280 for both of us.

So that’s where we’re at. The application was submitted on 9th December 2013, and we’ve got our bridging visa which allows us to stay and work in Australia if our current visa expires before we have the results of our application for permanent residency. All we can do now is wait. Again.

Balmain Rentals

Wednesday 18 December 2013

Balmain Rentals are a bit of an institution in Sydney. They’re known for miles around for their cheap van hire. Most of them are Toyotas, all of them are white, and all of them look like they’ve had a… colourful existence.

Well last weekend I was helping a friend move a washing machine, so I finally had an excuse to experience the mighty Balmain Rentals for myself, and what a hoot it was!

The van we ended up with had half-a-million kilometers on the clock, and you could see and feel every single one of them! This thing had done the equivalent of driving to the moon and half-way back again, all from just pottering around the shores of Sydney. The steering wheel needed a quarter turn before anything happened, the gear stick felt like it was connected to a bowl of semolina, and the exhaust fumes leaked through one of the many holes in the floor straight into the van.

I haven’t laughed as hard for a very long time! I wouldn’t hesitate to rent a van from these guys in the future.

The washing machine was delivered in one piece by the way.

Verify your backups

Friday 13 December 2013

There are two kinds of people: those who backup their data, and those who have never had a hard-drive fail.

That’s an old joke that IT support people like to throw around, but as someone who has had several hard-drives fail over the years, it comes dangerously close to the truth. The hard-drive in your computer will eventually fail. The mechanics in spinning drives don’t last forever, and even SSD drives are known to wear out after a while.

I remember, back in the floppy disk days, telling my Dad that the accounts and invoices for his business were lost for good. Now Dad had been taking regular backups, but he’d never bothered to check that the backups actually worked. So when the inevitable hardware failure happened it was game over.

The folks over at TidBITS have declared that every Friday the 13th, whenever that date rolls around, should be considered International Verify Your Backups Day. Their advice is simple:

Take a few minutes to identify some critical files and see if you can restore them successfully from your backups.