How to answer any Impromptu speeches

My Toastmasters club recently had a session focused only on Table Topic

It’s often called an ‘elevator pitch’. The simple idea is that you get into an elevator and meet your ideal client. At Apple employees dread to go into an elevator with Steve Jobs. He’d say : “I’m Steve. What are you working on?” . If he didn’t like nor understand the answer , he’d fire the person.

At Toastmasters, the table topics/ Impromptu speeches are random questions thrown at the participant. Then you get 2min max for a mini speech. Example of questions:
– If you want peace, prepare for war. Do you agree or not ?
– How do you deal with conflicts ?
– Does music bring peace ?

You have a short time to pitch your idea to a captive audience.

Sounds easy in theory, but in practice, your pitch is subject to various factors.

Buy yourself time

Instead of jumping straight, try rephrase the question and get additional time. It is better than a silence.

Have as many prepared stories

Darren Tay’s book “Express to Impress” has a chapter dedicated to Table Topics. His advice is have prepared as many stories as possible. Then pick the one closest to the impromptu question.

Use a structure

To have more impact , think of a format to deliver the message. By adopting a structure, your message carries more data in less time.

Some prefer
– sandwich ( intro, meaty development, conclusion )
– STAR (situation, task, action, result )
– PREP (Point, Reason, Example, Point)
– Pros vs Cons
I personally prefer the full circle where the conclusion is a callback to the introduction. Re-emphasize the initial question. Or try to end with an open ended question .


How much will it cost to store Google photos on AWS

Google Photos will end its free unlimited storage on June 1st, 2021. The difference with premium Google Photos is that the photos are stored RAW (no compression and be 16 times larger)

I was wondering how much did it really cost for Google to store photos per user.
Since I am more familiar with AWS than Google Cloud. Let’s evaluate the minimal cost to store photos on AWS.

AWS S3 (simple storage service) is the defacto choice to store the photos and is object storage service. In addition, S3 is the most cost effective solution (cheaper than EBS elastic block storage, EFS Elastic File System). Our assumptions are:

  • losing photos is not acceptable (Redundancy is a must)
  • only a few photos will be accessed (infrequent access)
    We can therefore select S3 Standard – Infrequent Access

In this post, we only look at the storage cost to build a minimal viable alternative to Google Photos. Regarding S3 pricing, there are three other factors to account (which won’t be covered here):

– request and data retrieval pricing
– data transfer and transfer acceleration pricing
– data management features pricing

Google Photos Cost

Price (EUR / monthly)Capacity up to (GB)Cost to store
Google One pricing

To find the cost of storage per gigabyte (GB), let’s have a look at AWS calculator.

PS: Later, I’m going to mix USD and EUR pricing.
As I’m in Europe, Google Photos show the pricing only in EUR. In whatever regions, AWS pricing is always in USD. Sorry for the inconvenience.

Estimating the cost per GB

I used the to estimate the costs. The more you consume, the better cost deal you’ll get.

  1. Press the button “add service”.
  2. Enter in the search “S3”, “Amazon Simple Storage Service (S3)” will appear.
  3. At its bottom right corner, click on the “Configure” button.
  4. Don’t forget to select the region before entering any calculations.

I inputed the maximum storage capacity (99999999 TB) for S3 – Infrequent Access. Here are the following costs in the different Europe regions:

  • 0.0125 USD in Ireland, Stockholm
  • 0.0131 USD in London, Paris, Milan
  • 0.0135 USD in Frankfurt

Let’s take 0.0125 USD/GB as the minimum and 0.0135 USD/GB as the maximum

There are S3  Intelligent-Tiering storage class cheaper. The longer backups and archives are, the cheaper the storage is.
The pricing for Glacier is at 0.004 USD/GB and Glacier Deep Archive is at 0.00099 USD/GB.

Estimated cost of storage

The max storage column was calculate by multiplying the capacity by maximum price per GB. Example: for the capacity of 200 GB, 200 GB * 0.0135 USD/GB = 2.7 USD

The min storage column is a bit trickier. Once you exceed the capacity, the subscription goes to next tiers of pricing ( next row). The formula is (previous_capacity + 1) * min_price. Example: for the capacity of 200 GB, (100+1) GB * 0.0125 USD/GB = 1.2625 USD

Price (EUR / monthly)Capacity up to (GB)Min storage cost (USD)Max cost for S3 Infrequent (USD)Max cost Glacier (USD)Max cost for Glacier Deep Archive (USD)

There must be an anomaly, the max storage estimated cost is 27 USD for the 2000GB. While Google charges only 9.99 EUR.

To make more cost effective solution is that of object lifecycle management whereby the photos could be transitioned to a cheaper storage class (like S3 Glacier or Glacier Deep Archive ) after a period of time depending the lifecycle configuration .

Obviously at very high volume, AWS pricing scheme is much lower than its calculator showed us.

Cheaper storage but slower access

The photos could be transitioned to a cheaper storage class (like S3 Glacier) after a period of time depending the lifecycle configuration you put in place.

However the cost of data retrieval is more expensive, the longer archives are.


This exercise was only about storage cost.

To make the service complete, we must account for the outbound data transfer, cost to run the software services on top.

The majority of premium customers use less than half a storage and retrieve a few percent of their photos.
For these type of service, the worst case scenario: reach the maximum storage capacity and retrieve all data.

Last, how could Google afford to make storage free under 15GB ?
In one year, the max storage will cost 0.2025*12 = 2.43 USD.
2.43 USD, a meagre sum compared to the 182 USD revenue per user that Google makes ( )

Special thanks

I consulted with AWS business support. Special thanks in particular to Nicholas, the support engineer, who re-verified my calculations and brought new light with references.


Data privacy compliance

In 2018, before GDPR arrived, I worked 2 months full time to who is the data controller vs data processor, the reasons why this data is collected. You read more in plain English.

Two years later, there is no easy proper solution for a simple blog. Most serious budget friendly solutions print their terms & conditions on a .pdf file which is exposed open in the public.

This website only uses Google Analytics and users can post comments.

I got the terms from


Companies that give Take-Home Tests: review your hiring funnel

TDLR: This is my opinion.

To candidates: Go where you’re treated the best.
Why would you spend X hours upfront on an unpaid project to be interviewed?
While at top tier companies, if you succeed the 1h phone interview, you’ll be invited on-site with travel costs paid.

To companies: DON’T SEND “full application to complete” take home challenges to filter out. It sends the signal: “we are OK to waste hours of your time, so you can have the privilege to interview”.
Instead, use a short interview screen. 30 min is more than enough and what a proper code review would have taken.
The quality of people will rise.

To be a known quantity, please share your experience in this survey . A list of good companies will be published.

Take-home projects are heavily in favour of company side: no time invested, free consulting.

Some argue take-home challenges reproduce the real work environment with developer tools that anyone can do at their own convenience. The very same camp argues that whiteboard coding (algorithms + data structure) does not reflect daily routine. However the take-home approach has a huge time investment and the risk to be ghosted (ignored without feedback) is high.

The reasons why take-home assignments became popular is time invested asymmetry. It takes much less time to review than to do an assignment.
It basically sends the message: “we prefer to waste 100 hours of candidate time than a few hours of company ‘s time”

However take-home challenges themselves as a filter is just a wrong strategy.

Their hiring funnel looks like this

Here are the steps in the hiring funnel:

  • Applicant pool. The candidates who applied are in the applicant pool. The resumes and cover letter are usually read by a human in smaller companies who may call each candidate for the 1st interview.
  • HR: Major HR interview is a friendly 30 minutes chat. After everyone will receive a coding interview to complete at your home on your time. Some passive developers are contacted on various channels ( Linkedin, StackOverflow … ) by the HR/recruiter who try to bring attention.
  • Most recruiters have no way to filter technical people, usually almost everyone who interviewed with the recruiter will receive the coding challenge.
  • take-home challenge: Once the homework read, the majority of developers believe the challenge is not worth their time and will stop there. Among the candidates who interviewed first with HR and received the take-home test, how many of them complete the task? Few recruiters were transparent with me about the percentage of people who submit their code. My guesstimate is fewer than a third submitted for an established product company . As Gayle mentioned if this is screening round, it should be kept short.
  • interviews Often the code challenge is not even discussed, it was only used as a filter. On several occasions, I like that these interviews served as an open discussion for design choices and the take-home project serves as a template to add additional features during a live coding interview (googling is allowed)
  • hiring committee (if there is any). Interview reports are read and the salary range is discussed. An offer might match.

Pain points in this funnel

You can already see two major pain points in the funnel :

  • Almost everyone in the applicant pool was interviewed individually by HR. HR has to sell candidates to complete the homework. The HR is really busy to filter, interview, follow up with candidates. The focus is on quantity rather than quality.
  • survivorship bias on who completed the challenge. The hiring managers may believe that only successful candidates were the ones who submitted and may brush off that those who didn’t submit not were up to the challenges. In their vision, the take-home challenge is a test of worthiness for the next interviews.
  • Do you really think qualified candidates will do the test? People in demand will simply prioritise better alternatives.
  • very few candidates submit the take-home test. Because full-time employees who apply elsewhere prefer low hanging fruits. Didn’t you notice the HR keeps sending reminders about the project status?

If the conversion rate is low, something is wrong in the funnel. Which leads to why don’t candidates just submit the homework?

Take-home challenge is not scalable

The take-home test approach is not scalable for both the interviewers and interviewees. As each project is unique, the interviewers have to reply to candidates who request clarity (if the authors ever reply at all). Reviewing the submitted project takes time to understand the logic. The reviewer may spend more than 1 hour to review correctly. This hour should be rather spent on tech screening.

At your work, a full code review of feature request may take more than one hour. Yet the scope is smaller than a full blown project.

Project scope & time underestimated

I don’t mind to complete an automated graded test online for 1-2h.

However, most take-home tests are the type “Build an app/website that X and Y from scratch. We expect tests, threading, SOLID architecture, deployment, production quality, offline mode, 100% test coverage … You have 4h (to unlimited time) to complete the project”.

Were the expectations and scope of the test stated properly? Often you have to navigate with ambiguity and the project scope is ridiculously too large.

I said I don’t mind to spend 2h. Oh now the company set the time limit to 2h ? and the scope is still the same. Of course, the projects are highly underestimated.

For tech screening, online tests are much faster to evaluate candidates.

Automated tests as tech screening

Since the code challenge have to be reviewed by humans. It is much better to filter with online automated test ( ) . Main advantages are:
partial grading. Expectations are known. Different reviewers have different way to grading.
time efficiency for the company. No one has to correct behind the scenes. Candidate

No feedback, no review at all

With take-home assignments, rejection without feedback is common.
While if I do an in-person interview, I guess where I missed the answers. The HR always follows up with feedbacks.

You don’t know on what criteria you will be evaluated. Your application could be rejected on “unstated” trivia criteria:

– “we don’t care about problem solving, we only care about your code style.”
– use the wrong formatting tool. In the developer circle, I heard various stories: “I spent 8h on an Android tic tac toe project, they turned me down because they didn’t like the code formatting”
– use a popular library that is not known by the team
– use an architecture that the team is not familiar with
– deliver a high quality project, over-engineered for the reviewer
– …

Intellectual property

Imagine, you gave your best shoot and product of your work. You submit. No feedback, you are rejected.

However your code solved a business relevant to this company. You solve in a novel approach. They use your code in production.
You are still owner of your code, but you were not paid.

Only complete a challenge that a company has already solved in different ways long ago.

Why Top Tiers companies don’t use take-home tests?

Top tech companies FAANG (Facebook, Amazon, Apple, Netflix, Google) and other respectable ones in Europe ( Spotify, Zalando, Criteo … ), Asia (Alibaba …) DON’T give take-home assignments as a filter. There is not even a take-home coding challenge. There is no shortage of candidates willing to work for them who would take the unpaid assignment in a heartbeat.

After passing the HR interview (30 min) and first technical screening (45 min to 1h), the candidate is offered to travel on-site (flight+hotel+food). So why spend more than 4h+ only on the possibility to reach interviews? While top candidates invested 1h30 interview time and are compensated with travel and accommodation.

Take-home assignment is a huge opportunity COST. Qualified candidates will be turned off. For screening, a 1h interview is enough. Serious companies know that the better candidates won’t put up with crazy requirements like a lengthy take-home that most likely lands in black hope.

I once explained this situation to an HR lady: “We are a start-up, we don’t have the resources”. In admitting this, she hinted the compensation will be lower.

There are way more people applying there. The ratio of candidates to interviewers is higher. How do these companies find the time to interview candidates?

Look at their hiring funnel. The hiring funnel picture below is not at scale. First, notice the applicant pool is much larger and filtered for the HR screening. Second, the take-home challenge is replaced by a short technical screening.

Optimal hiring funnel

  • much larger applicant pool. At large companies, it is not uncommon that candidate profiles are filtered by machines ( ATS = application tracking software) based on keywords. To stand out from a large number of people, you should ask an employee (who knows you) to refer you.
  • HR: usual same friendly HR interview who will guide about the whole process. HR will prepare you for the materials and resources to study to ace the next technical/behavioral interviews.
  • Technical screening (45min to 1h): introduction of candidate and interviewer followed by one whiteboard coding, sometimes two (if you do well). If you performed one working solution that is not the optimal ( time and space complexity), you will get a 2nd technical screening. Depending on the companies, the success pass ranges from 5 to 20%.
  • interviews. 3 to 5 interviews based on algorithms, system design, and behavioral. A bit more difficult than screening. Generally, you are invited on-site, flight and hotel are offered by the company. In the Coronavirus period, the interviews are online.
  • the hiring committee will read the interviewer report. Depending on the headcount and availability, they will make an offer.

Hire the best, not the desperate

The best job candidates have choices and will not ignore those jump through hoops processes.
The desperate have time on their hands to complete the challenges. I would advise to work on personal demonstrable projects is better use of their time.

Whiteboard practice

From now on, I prefer to stick to whiteboard coding style interviews because they are time-boxed and scalable. Once I understand a problem, I never forget and re-apply the same principles elsewhere. The Leetcode efforts are amortized. If you believe that Leetcode is learning by heart, you are doing wrong. You need to understand the problem solving approach under the hood.

On whiteboard coding , the metrics are clear: the solution passes all tests, thought processes, efficiency in time and space complexity.

It is fun to experiment with a project with the latest libraries ( still in dev, alpha, beta version, I am looking at Android Hilt, Jetpack Compose … ). But it is better to understand the CS fundamentals used to build these libraries or frameworks. The algorithms and data structure are timeless knowledge.

Usually, employees working at companies without whiteboard interview might be good technician of a particular framework and know by heart the API methods. But they lack basic data structures (Map, Set) and CS fundamentals. Being on the hiring side, I interviewed such candidates coming from these companies.

Their solutions on the whiteboard are far from the most optimised, almost no notion of Big O notation. To the question: “Propose a solution to find an element in an array in constant time”. The candidates would use the built-in binarySearch in Java on an unsorted array. Instead of pre-caching the values of the array in a Map or Set. My colleagues unanimously said: “For sure, NO hire.”

What are your experiences on the hiring funnel for any companies that send take-home projects? Please comment below.

If you are on the hiring side, please post your funnel numbers (how many received tests /submitted/were invited for interviews)

PS: from others experience, companies with take-home assignment are only “interviewing but not actually hiring”.

Views from other industries

I once spoke to a friend who is actor, David . Each casting is a free interview. But the recording won’t be used for commercial purposes.

No actors, dancers will record a commercial scene for free. What you told me is :
Imagine you go to as many restaurants and tell them:
I will pay only the best after I sample each potential restaurants for free.”
Won’t you feel bad to about this to each restaurant? This is exactly what these companies are doing to you.

Dear fellow engineers, don’t get scammed, you are in demand. You have the power to say NO.


Ask other professionals for free sample. Try to ask a a locksmith to open your door for free? It takes a few minutes of their time.

Now developers are asked to spend hours on a single take home assignment. Do you think to it’s fair offer your time for free?

A few times per month, I receive a cold phone call from a recruiter. “We have this amazing opportunity. Would you like to hear more? … We ask for a small code challenge, it will take only 3 hours”. After a quick glance, the project is a full-fledged app with pixel perfect Sketch designs. The assignment asked for unit tests, integration tests, complete CI/CD pipeline, [docker & kubernetes]. It would take at least a week to complete. My response: “Listen , you are the ONE who contacted me. I never applied.”
And your response should be:

Hi [recruter],
To be perfectly honest, I'm really excited about [company] and got a great impression of the company from my interview with [you or engineer]. I estimate this assignment will take at least H hours of work. My contract rate is €$ X/hour. I can complete this assignment for [total] and return it to you completed by the end of next week. If that isn't acceptable, I do have an extensive portfolio of my work available on github (link). Please let me know how you would like to move forward.

You could probably charge for 165 USD/h for 20 like this guy did.

Even Free work from reputable Firms?

Reputable firms are classical banks (not online banks), retail stores or any companies with 9 digits annual revenues.

I submitted code to a firm. The reviewers were impressed but the firm wanted more features, it would take 2-3x times. I politely declined. The manager invited me for the rest of interviews. So the code reviewer was not even important enough to be part of the interview.

Another time, I sent the project. The company sent feedbacks, but the position was refilled by an internal employee.

Or the best, I inserted analytics in the project and readme.html ( not .md file), so that when the documentation or project are opened, I’d be informed. The company never opened and sent a blank template “no pass”.

Most likely, you will gain nothing from completing take home assignment except adding to your public portfolio. My repeated and peers experience is that simply being asked to do a “take home project” is a strong indication that companies are cheating and not actually hiring.


Please share your experience in this survey

The goal is not to shame and name the authors. But to get an overview in the hiring funnel and share the fair players in this coding homework game.


File Sharing infringements in Germany

In 2014 , I downloaded plenty of films on BitTorrent. I received several copyright warning letters from law firms asking compensation up to 1000€ each and a declaration to cease and desist.

Warning letters concern a formal demand to stop doing a particular activity. The idea behind such warning letters is to settle disputes directly and cheaply, without resorting to taking claims to court. The copyright infringement warning letter is an out-of-court settlement offer.

Worse, all the warning letters must be replied within 7 days. I contacted some lawyers specialised in internet copyright.  I learned a lot about file sharing infringements. If you don’t have much time to read through this, go directly to the last paragraph Summary

What is illegal ?

The music and film industry pursue file sharers. As a general rule of thumb, download is allowed. You are not allowed to upload copyright material publicly.

If the exchange of music to friends via e-mail , chat or cloud storage ( even though this is an upload) takes place within the private sphere, it is then legal.

Streaming is legal as long you only download. How can you that you’re not uploading while watching ? never install any software to watch anything online. Ex : some people thought popcorn-time was uploading on their behalf.

How do law firms track file sharers ?

By default, when you use a peer to peer such as torrent, your IP address is visible. Look below at the screen capture . The IP addresses are displayed and their respective countries.

utorrent peers list . IP addresses are listed

utorrent peers list . IP addresses are listed

Copyright holders ( Hollywood , music labels … ) purse the file sharers of their content. To expand territorial scope  ( e.g. Hollywood is US based) , copyright holders use law firms based in Germany. These law firms target only IP addresses only in Germany and the time ( important for dynamic IP address ).

The name and address of the person accessing the internet cannot be directly obtained from this information.

The internet service provider ( ISP ) is not permitted to simply pass on personal details; but they must do so if presented with a civil court ruling. ( Copyright Act , Urheberrechtsgesetz,  § 101 UrhG )

The ISP is obliged by court order to send the information directly to the copyright holder. In doing so, internet providers may demand payment for providing copyright holders  the information concerning IP addresses. (According to paragraph 113, sub paragraphs 2, sentences 2 and 3 of the Telecommunications Law)

Once the name and addresses are obtained, warning letters are sent.  The requests from rights holders comprise thousands IP-addresses at a time.  The whole process is highly automated.

However the IP Address is not sufficient to prove its owner was the one who committed the crime. It could the children or a neighbor using the wi-fi.

The defense (you or your lawyer) focus on proving you are not the perpetrator but someone else did it.

It could be someone else who was using your internet access via Wi-Fi. That’s why all wifi must be secured.

Unsecure Wi-Fi

The German Federal Supreme Court decided that every person who owns an internet connection is under an obligation to ensure that it is secured.

If the wireless connection was not secured, but the owner can prove that he/she didn’t commit the copyright infringement (e.g. because they were not at home at the time the download took place), then the owner will not necessarily be liable as the perpetrator, but will nevertheless be strictly liable for causing a nuisance.

Cease and Desist letter

Not only does the warning letter ask for a compensation ( the price always inflated ) , but it asks you to sign and return a cease and desist letter (Abmahnung) within the next 7 days.

The initial cease and desist letter is crafted to take advantage of you because :

  • You acknowledge to pay compensation and the opposition side’s legal cost
  • You were the one who committed the copyright infringement.
  • You would be bound by the declaration for 30 years and future changes in the law by Parliament or through the courts would have no effect.

Instead you should submit a modified declaration to cease and desist, which satisfies the other side’s claim. You acknowledge to pay a lower compensation, you don’t know who did it and you will never be involved in copyright infringements.

There are plenty of free “cease and desist” samples online. But the modified declaration can be rejected by the opposition side if the formulation terms are incorrect.

A specialist lawyer in file-sharing case is a great help for the average joe.

How to choose a lawyer

I contacted some lawyers specialised in internet copyright. Each case costs a nominal fee. Most of them have a flat rate price no matter the number of warning letters received. Meaning all the copyright infringements committed before the last warning letter was sent will be ignored but the ones after are not included in the flat rate contract.

But the most important criterion for me was the location of the lawyer. If the case is escalated to Court, it’s better to have your lawyer in the same city.

If you choose one, you will have to mandate the law firm and give the power of attorney (  Vollmacht in German ).

Executive Summary

Now you received a warning letter , it doesn’t matter how you were caught. You read you have to pay a fine.

Remember a warning letter is an out-of-court settlement offer. The copyright holders didn’t bring the case to court. A letter is cheap, the court is expensive. 

After receiving a copyright warning letter, there are several options :

  • Be the stupid guy ( be Ned Stark ) . Sign the cease and desist letter and accept their unfavourable conditions.
  • Be the nice  guy . Return a modified cease and desist letter favorable for you ( lower compensation and you were not the perpetrator) . But never sign the original one.
  • Be bold. Reject the warning letter and reject the cease and desist letter. State no compensation will be paid. The copyright holders will escalate with another out-of-court letter. Maybe the case will reach the court only if the opposition thinks the cost of the Court is worth.
  • Be ignorant. Ignore the warning letter as if you never saw it. There is little chance that the copyright holders will ignore your ignorance. The consequences will be worsened.

A lawyer is not required but can be very helpful for your defence.

Copyright holders ( via their law firms ) bring customers to defence law firms.  The compensation requested by the warning letters is always inflated. Copyright holders have minimum costs to recover because Internet providers can demand payment for providing the names behind IP addresses.

Warning letters based on alleged copyright infringements have become big business for the German content-industry, anti-piracy firms and their affiliated lawyers. And the people who are benefitting the most are the defence lawyers whose demand is only increased by customers who receive warning letters.

Because the whole process of  1 tracking IP addresses/ 2 requesting the name holder of those IP addresses / 3 sending warning letters is highly automated, it has created a nuisance for hundreds of thousands if not millions of honest internet users in Germany. The current implementation of warning letters violates EU law

A major difference with France’s HADOPI , the French government sends some waning letters ( rarely with fine ) while in Germany, private law firms carry on the warning letters.

With growing losses due to piracy , the corporations are suing the content consumers instead of re-inventing the content distribution.

To avoid future warning letters, I suggest to read anonymity on P2P network


The following lawyers frequently send out copyright warnings:

Auffenberg, Petzhold, Witte; Baumgarten & Brandt; Bindhart , Fiedler, Zerbe; CSR; Daniel Sebastian; Denecke Haxthausen & Partner; Fareds; Johannes Rübenach; Kornmeier & Patner; Lihl; Lutz Schroeder; Marcus Meier; Marko Schiek; Negele; Nümann und Lang; Paulus; Philipp Marquort; Rainer Munderloh; Rasch; Reichelt, Klute, Aßmann; Sasse und Patner; Schalast & Patner; Scheuermann,Westerhoff, Strittmatter; Schutt, Waetke; SKW Schwarz; U+C; Vahrenwald & Kretschmer; Waldorf Frommer; WeSaveYourCopyrights; Winterstein; Zimmermann & Decker.


Why TOEFL is a money making machine and ETS doesn’t respect You

To start the new year, I will add one more Rant about the TOEFL iBT ( in addition to this rant from an Oxford scholar)  . One week before the test, I took some practice with Notefull videos . Joseph Miranda does a great job at explaining how to score well on the TOEFL iBT. The latter is not exactly measuring English skills , you have to know different kinds of tricks which are not even nearly related to English skills. My weakness is the Speaking part . My English speaking is fluent but I find it unnatural to say everything in 45 sec or 60 sec ( no more , no less). The voice is recorded and later scored by a certified ETS  rater. It is a similar to a rapper contest without the rhythm. Even in my native language ( French ), I cannot do it. I passed the test on December 5 at GLS Sprachenzentrum Berlin. Despite the training from Notefull, I knew I fucked up the speaking part. agents reply like robots

I received my score, 10 days later , I thought I performed better. Only 22 on writing.

I knew I could score better at reading and much more at writing ( I used the right paragraph structure according to Notefull. Wrote 350+ words for the first essay and 500+ for the 2nd => the more the higher score). Surprised , I requested to see my corrected exam. Here is the template answer I received :


Thank you for contacting the TOEFL Program.

Dear Mr.,

Thank you for your email.

Please be informed that we do offer a score review service – after receiving your scores, you can request a review of the Writing section and/or the Speaking section of your TOEFL iBT® test. You have 1 month after your test date to request a review. IMPORTANT NOTE – the score review service is not available if you have already requested that your scores be sent to any institutions or agencies.

Keep in mind that you can only request only 1 score review per test administration, and there is a cost of US$80 for each section. Both sections together cost US$160.

If the review results in a change in your scores (either higher or lower), your new scores will be posted to yourTOEFL online account, and you will receive a revised test taker score report if you requested a paper copy before you took the test. The revised scores will become your official scores.

Download the Score Review Request Form at

Results of the score review will be posted online within 3 weeks of the receipt of your request and payment

If you have any further questions, please don’t hesitate to contact us again.

Kind regards,

Agent ID: xxx
Case ID: xxxx


US$80 to request one score review ?? It is no secret that paying for an extra review will grant a higher score. Now I never asked to review, I simply requested to see my corrected test.

The  TOEFL test taker are not allowed to display parts of the exam in any public environments. So I understand their refusal to show only the reading and listening parts because they are multiple choice questions. But the answers can be so different on the writing and speaking sections. So why hide it ?

ETS agents only reply with template answer. I don’t know if these agents can properly read emails. After 5 exchanges , I am redirected to  to request a correction of my exam. Judging by the template answers the ETS agent reply , I seriously doubt they can get a B1 on the Reading.


Thank you for contacting the TOEFL Program.

Dear  ,

It’s great to hear you took the TOEFL® test!

We received your request for a score review – unfortunately, your scores can’t be reviewed because you have already requested that they be sent to at least one institution or agency.

As stated on the TOEFL website at and on the Score Review Request Form, our policy is that scores cannot be reviewed if the test taker has selected any institution or agency as a score recipient.

Furthermore, our Score Review service is not available for the Reading or Listening sections of the TOEFL iBT® test. Those sections are scored by computer and validated by the ETS® Score Quality Control process. The Reading and Listening sections are graded and validated in several stages, and the scores can’t be put through our review process.

If you decide to take the test again to try to improve your scores, be sure to check out all the free and priced test preparation products at

We’re sorry we can’t be of more help!

ETS is committed to improving your customer service experience. Please take a moment and complete a short Customer Service Survey at:

Thank you in advance for your participation.
Maria xxxx
Case ID xxxxx


How qualified are TOEFL examiners ?

OK by reading above , I guess I will never see my corrected essays. It is no use to waste my time . If the monkeys behind email cannot read and answer by their own words , I don’t blame them. What about the people who score the test : writing and speaking ?  The examiners must have at least a higher command of English . I checked the requirements for the scoring job opportunities ( note this is not specific for TOEFL )

The Online Network for Evaluation (ONE) is ETS’s proprietary software application that enables Raters to score test-taker responses and/or other submitted work via secure Internet access. Raters typically score from their homes or offices, in accordance with ETS guidelines. Online scoring sessions may occasionally be conducted at regional sites.

The process for each testing program includes:


To certify and score using the ETS Online Scoring system, prospective Raters must have computer equipment that meets the minimum hardware and software requirements.

So the raters are just a bunch of people working from home. There is no need to have a bachelor, no English certification required ( TEFL certification ) . The English teachers I met in China and Germany aren’t the smartest crowd, yet they have at least a bachelor. I have nothing against them, some are very smart ( one was a former investment banker). But these guys/gals recruited by ETS have no fuck*** credentials. There is no requirements for them to speak fluent English. Just have a computer and internet connection, and you can score any TOEFL listening and writing tests. I wonder where are located the ETS scorers ?  If I were the CEO of ETS , I would put the bare minimum for all raters at least 26 out of 30 on the Writing or Speaking sections.

On top of that, ETS charges US$80 to review the speaking or writing part . My guess estimation is that it takes no more that 30 minutes to score each section. Sorry ETS ( Educational Testing Service ), I think the test takers deserve more respect from you. Especially when you charge US$245 for a 4h test in Europe. I got excellent customer service for as cheap as US$10. ETS has the monopoly of the TOEFL, it is just a lobbying and money sucking machine.

So next time, I will look at IELTS . At least the IELTS speaking part is done in the presence of an academic examiner. ETS, don’t count on me to take your GRE. I prefer the GMAT.


IntelliJ bigger Font size

At any meetup, conferences, the speaker shows the code on the large. People in the back struggle to read what is on the screen.

Usually, the advice is Ctrl+plus , or Ctrl + mouse wheel up on Mac or PC. But this applies only to the current file (not a global setting).

Recently (yesterday) I had a hangout call, where I had to show code on my IDE.

The Smart Way to increase Font size

In order to keep the same font size global, go to IntelliJ IDEA > Preferences

Preferences > Editor > Font > Size . Enter the new font size

Don’t forget to press “Apply”or “OK”

After the presentation you can revert to the previous font size.


Tutorial: change Color Scheme on IntelliJ IDE

You found a nice theme packaged in a .jar file (eg. from Now you wonder how to change your IntelliJ based IDE to the new colors.

A long time ago, I wrote how to change the Theme in IntelliJ based IDE . The word “Theme” is misleading for Scheme (read below) and Theme (Preferences > Appearance & Behavior > Appearance > Theme).

In MacOS, the Preferences bar can be accessed at the top left corner under the application name or shortcut “cmd + ,” . Please post in the comment, how to in Windows or Linux.

In order to change the Scheme, go Preferences > Editor > Color Scheme > General.

On the cog icon circled in red, select “Import Scheme” and select the .jar file.

select the color scheme .jar file

And voilà , the look & feel of Android Studio Dark Kotlin

Now if someone has an idea how to import these themes from JetBrain, I am curious.


AWS Summit Paris 2019

AWS ( Amazon Web Services ) dominates the Cloud industry with the breadth of services ( over 100+ ) and is way ahead Google Cloud and Microsoft’s Azure.

If an AWS Summit is in your town and go ahead, it is well worth it and free. The keynotes , sessions are really enriching. It’s great way to network with the local players. The AWS partners range from cloud consulting to service to tooling providers. You can expose your cloud problems to an AWS Solutions Architect.

I went to the keynotes just for Adrian Cockcroft, ex-Netflix , now VP Cloud at AWS .


The sessions were enriching especially the “Alexa design” by Benoit Nachawati. The arrival of Dynamic Entities helps to personalize Alexa Skill experiences by adapting the interaction model at runtime without edits, builds, or re-certification. Basically imagine that Alexa can only accept a finite Set of words , say a drink : coffee, latte, tea … in the utterance. The user says “water” , and it is not a defined value, your Alexa Skill can remember this word for later use.

Startup Central

An area was dedicated to startups . I went to see the architecture of 8 finalist startups. Serverless was used by all of the finalists, maybe a condition from AWS to promote this technology.


Static website

I started to experiment with static website generators. Why use one instead of sticking to a CMS such as WordPress ?

Static sites response time are faster because there is no database connection. But static websites cannot persist any data, meaning that no one can post comments.
In short, static site features are more limited than WordPress. If you only need a single page application or few pages, go static.

I created a simple website with Hugo for my portfolio and freelance activities. is great start which platforms to choose.