Friday, October 26, 2012

The hard not-as-hard part

Well, yesterday I got my test results from the State Department Foreign Service Officer Test. Turns out I passed.

I was/am pretty happy about it, but at the same time, I'm trying to keep in mind that passing the FSOT is only the first battle in a long campaign to actually become an FSO. So while the test was challenging enough, and I spent a few months studying for it, it's almost like "so much for the easy part."

The next stage is basically the analogue to submitting a resume––only instead of a resume it will be six short papers about my experience. That feels like the part I'll have the least personal control over. Sure I'll be writing the responses, but it's not an objectively graded test I can study for, or an interview that I can practice for. I guess I'm kind of thankful for that actually, but it still feels like I have less control than in the other parts of the process.

So anyways, I know I wrote previously that if I passed the test, it was probably still only a 10% chance that I'd make it past the next two levels and––while passing makes it easier to feel more confident now––that estimation is still probably pretty accurate. So it's still really a slim chance.

At any rate though, yesterday's news makes me at least feel a little better about the whole thing, regardless of what happens from here on in (or out).

And I'm super-thankful for all the people who've been supportive of me doing this, from the person who first suggested I look at the State Dept. in college several years ago, to the person who encouraged me to go ahead and take the test this summer, to my parents who were willing to put up with me not doing much but study this summer, to all the people who said their thoughts and prayers were with me taking the test. Thank you! And your thoughts and prayers will be appreciated as I take the next uncertain step into the selection process.

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Weather From the West

I know I already did a post devoted to fall-leaf photos, but that was at the beginning of peak, and now it's toward the end, which is also beautiful in its own way. And there honestly isn't a whole lot else going on that's worth blogging about. It's also been a pretty schizophrenic day weather-wise,  making for some interesting light. So here goes:

My sister taking here own photos of the leaves.

A front of rain coming in from the west this afternoon.
The house––approaching front visible behind.

The lamp by my door after the first rain-shower.

Some mustard reflecting the sun in the four-acre field.

My Grandpa Tom about to go hunting. 

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

In the Ruins of a Dying Empire


Sometimes I feel like a scavenger living in the ruins of a dying empire. Kind of like those people in The Book of Eli. 

Last night I felt like that when I reinstalled Adobe Creative Suite––albiet a very old version––on my computer.

I could never actually afford it, so instead I spent the night in the garage turned de facto office below the room I live in, trolling through stacks of paperwork and boxes full of tax returns, receipts and business cards for businesses long since dead to find the install disks buried at the bottom of a towering stack of banker's boxes.

It's like that with a lot of things.

My family has a really nice house and a couple very nice cars (though they no longer work that well). If you come in, there are lots of expensive looking iMac's sitting around on most available surfaces, an office work-station HP, a couple modestly sized but nice flat screen TVs, and some really nice office furniture that has now found a civilian use.

The furniture and the HP should give it away. None of this––not the cars, or the computers, or even the TVs––was really intended to be ours. It was all originally at my Dad's office.

Before 2008, the office in Mansfield was an exciting, bustling place. A third of the people in the church I go to worked there and there was literally a million dollars worth of inventory sitting in the lot in front of it, organized in compulsively perfect lines and washed (that was part of my job) so that the dust from the busy Route 6 that ran by wouldn't damage it. Customers came in on an hourly basis, and during peak which was usually between August and December (the business sold high-end wood and pellet heating systems) there were so many people calling in wanting information that on days we wanted to get anything done, we had to disconnect the phone system and put a closed sign on the door. We all spent the better part of our summers working trade shows around New York, Pennsylvania and Ohio and my Dad would sometimes invite me on business trips to places as far away as Northern Manitoba (some of my best memories with my Dad).

Then Fall of 2008 happened––and nobody would buy anything.

The million dollars of inventory out front turned from a source of excitement to a source of terror, as most of it was financed through GE Money, which faltered, got bailed out by the Feds, and passed on the grace by killing credit and hiking interest rates for all the people who owed it money. My friends from church were one by one laid-off.

The office was eventually vacated to a building up the road from my family's house so that the nicer one in Mansfield could be rented to a company of gas engineers. But a few months ago they left––along with the entire real-estate market––so it sits abandoned on a Route 6 that's busier than ever before, and the one of up the road from our house that the business was relocated to burned to the ground. So all that's left of the business is a website from which you can't actually buy anything, the leather furniture in my family's living room, the computers and banker's boxes on the floor in the garage above which I live, and about half a million dollars of debt.

So last night, as I loaded a suite of expensive-if-dated design software onto my computer to use in my own as-yet-to-be-successful money making endeavors, I was thankful for it. Just like I'm thankful for the ikea office chair I'm sitting on as I write this, the high-end boiler UPS I have my laptop plugged into as a surge-protector, the Sony TV I play Halo on and the iMac's that my younger brother and sisters are doing their school with over at my parent's house.

But more and more often I get the feeling of being a scavenger living in the ruins of a dying empire.

Friday, October 05, 2012

As It Should Be

A tree along a road beside our house.
This morning I had a great dream but got woken up in the middle by somebody driving past my house. I went over to my parents house and ate breakfast as usual.

I was about to go back to my place and start going through yesterday's metrics from YouTube, AdSense and Amazon as I normally do when I had this sudden urge to go for a walk outside instead. So I walked up Old Post Lane to where the Inn––a house we used to live in was before it burned down.

It was beautiful.

The Inn looked out across a valley and you can see just about all of Coryland Pennsylvania from there. The leaves are almost at peak, and I got there just in time to hear––then see––the first flock of geese heading south across the valley. Seems ironic as it's been unseasonably warm the last four days, but I guess they know what's coming, whereas humans like me can trick themselves into thinking it's supposed to be this way.

I didn't take a camera this morning, but yesterday afternoon I did something very similar, and took some photos.

The clouds were making patches of light and
shadow on the ground, and while it made getting the right
exposure a challenge I thought the interplay
between them was pretty striking.

Another one with that going on.

So snapdragons aren't leaves, but I couldn't resist.

Evergreen vs. deciduous. The age old battle. 

Tuesday, October 02, 2012

Misha's Space Bears

A few weeks ago, I watched a somewhat sensationalist but still interesting documentary about tardigrades––the tiny extremophile organisms that live on tree bark and have been proven to survive in space. I was fascinated enough by it that I ended up showing it to my Mom, who subsequently showed it to my sister Misha.

I didn't think much more about tardigrades until last night, when I got home from taking the FSOT in State College (went well I think, but won't know for three weeks now) and found Misha staring into a microscope––where she had apparently been for almost an hour.

That afternoon she had gone out in the yard with her pocket knife, found some moss, prepared a slide, and now, discovered a tardigrade, in our yard!

It was cool enough that I decided to try and take some photos of it, and after some trial and error, was impressed with how well a point and shoot camera was able to capture images from the microscope eyepiece.

It was mostly impressed with Misha though. This was the kind of thing I always dreamed about doing when I was her age but never actually did. It makes me wonder what she'll find next.

Of course I have no idea if she'll stay interested in science. But she certainly seems to be off to a good start!

And if nothing else, we now know that we have tardigrades (tardigrade means "water bear" in Latin) in our yard.