April 8th, 2006


It's A Miracle!

After sitting in its case overnight, I took the dead Gateway laptop out just for grins, noted trhat the battery was now completely dead (it had a full charge last time I checked) and decided to plug it in and see if it would power up.

It did.

So I'm now using XP's file/settings transfer widget to get all my stuff off there before I nuke the hard drive, and sell it as-is on eBay.
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Took the Foreign Service Written Exam this morning at SJSU. I was not impressed.

The first thing I was not impressed with was the choice of venue - they did not post any signs, which is amazing considering the amount of paper the Federal Gummint wastes, and the only way I found which room to go to is there was a huge mob of high school aged students waiting to get in to take some pre-college exam in the same building, and those folks had put up a white board which said that this was not the line for the FSWE, we should go to rooms on the 3rd floor according to out last name. Mine was 358.

Though the invite strongly and clearly stated that the test begins at 8 am, and no one will be allowed in late, we didn't get started till 8:15 because they let latecomers in. There really was no excuse, nice sunny day, no traffic, free parking, etc.

During the test, our proximity to a main street was made manifest by the occasional subwoofer-equipped low-rider, fire engines, police sirens and at one point a very loud refrigerator truck parked right under our window making loud idling noises for about 15 minutes.

There was a proctor and a monitor in the room. Ordinary 30-seat classroom with uncomfortable too-small student chair-desks. The proctor, a Caucasian woman of about 45, did not know what she was doing, had trouble reading the instructions to us, and had obviously never done this before. I sure hope she isn't a Foreign Service officer.  The monitor was a 20-ish latina or Asian/Latin woman with streaked hair. All she did was assign seats (which was stupid because there were almost as many people as there were spaces) and hand out/collect the papers.

The test was in four sections, with a 15-minute break (which turned into a 25-minute break) in between.

Section 1A was  45 multiple-choice questions covering a wide range of subjects. One of them checked to see if you knew what a modem was. Another asked what a URL was. There were questions about one or two obscure political events, and  there was a question about the 14th amendment which did not have a correct answer listed. Most of the questions had one obviously right answer and three obviously made-up ones.

For Section 1B they had us skip to a part of the booklet specific to our choice of career path. I chose Public Diplomacy, the other choices were Consular, Economic and Public Affairs. This section was a bit more subjective, but again the right answers were usually easy to find. There were some practical questions, such as one on how to convert currency values, and what advice you would give the ambassador on a particular issue from a set of facts. There were some general questions, and at least two pairs of questions asked the same thing in almost the same way.

Section 2 was an essay. They gave you three subjects to choose from, all of them ended in a question, and the idea of the essay was to answer that question. All three choices were intelligent, current, and well thought out. I found this difficult to do by hand - I haven't done any significant hand writing in 35 years. I was wishing for a word processor after 10 minutes.

After break, they had us line up and show our invitation and photo ID, which we had to do to get in in the first place. This time they collected our invitations.

Section 3 was a "biographical" exam. 90 multiple-choice questions which basically boiled down to "in a crisis, who would you kill first". No, I'm joking. They were good questions to find out how xenophilic you were, what your level of drive, honesty and integrity are, some indicators of leadership ability and your predeliction to be a leader. My favorite one was where they asked if you had ever tried to learn a foreign language, and if so, write a phrase in each (limit of 4). I wrote something in Thai, Hebrew, Malay and Chinese. I hope they are impressed. About one in six of the questions in this section followed up the multiple choice with "list up to four examples". They gave us 90 minutes, I needed 70. It was a long wait to the next section.

Section 4 was English usage. Very time-consuming, and the layout was a bit confusing. So were some of the questions. They basically had a column on the left with an essay or speech, and sporadically throughout this column there were underlined words and phrases, and footnote numbers. Sometimes they would have you choose between the underlined words of alternate spellings, grammar or even meaning. Sometimes they would ask which paragraphs should be in which order. Or they would do this with a phrase. Or they would ask to choose the best way to say something. Lots of variety, and it really required native speaker skill to pass this one. I'm not sure how well I did, but I took my time, and was done with 30 minutes to spare - a third of the other victims were done sooner than me.

I was the oldest person in the room by at least 15 years. My room had everyone whose last name started with S-Z, which should have been a good mix, but there were no black men, only one Asian man, and only one back woman. 2/3 of the group were women. It looked like we had folks from all walks of life, including tattooed trailer trash, a goth girl with metallic magenta hair and an Indian man who was dressed to be a cashier at Fry's.  And three tall slender blonde women out of the country club catalog, slumming no doubt.

I think I passed and will be called in for an oral exam, but I won't be heartbroken if I'm not.
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