Saturday, July 31, 2010


I had my hearing tested today. We got a late start, the road we planned on taking was shut down for repairs, but we made it with 15 minutes to spare anyway.

The doctor was brazilian, she had a wonderful accent when speaking in spanish. All the "s" sounds were pronounced "z", and she spoke really clearly. I guess if you plan on testing how well people hear you, you have to make sure you aren't the one messing them up. It was kind of interesting to listen to her talk with that accent while my father talked in spanish with his english accent. Three people with completely different accents talking to each other.

She explained everything she was doing as she did it. Including the little graphs she printed out, the basic (very basic) anatomy of an ear, and how the tests spot where, exactly, the problem lays.

It was standard procedure. Put on some earphones and lift your hand when you hear a beep. At one point, they were placed on the ridge of bone right behind the ear, which means you detect the sound only with the inner ear, since it's actually vibrating all around your skull. Then they were placed on my forehead, again, only the inner ear detects it, and if your hearing is fine you should hear the beep equally with both ears.

The other part was just her reading a list of words/senseless monosyllables whose volume got softer and softer and having me repeat them.

I asked the doctor a bit about her job. It took her 5 years of college (in Brazil), and she's accredited in New York, as well. It only takes 3 years of study in this country, which apparently is because the private universities are a business, so they teach the students which buttons on which machines to press. That's about all they need to know to be able to charge for the results.

She spent a bit of time talking to be trying to convince me to look into that as a career. I actually will go into medicine if I study in the State University, but seriously doubt I'll go into Audiology.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Student Bloggers

To those interested in what life is actually like at the universities I´m trying to get into, here is a list of blogs from students who actually go there.

You can find a pretty good list right here:

Another one with a pretty big group of resident bloggers:

University of Pennsylvania and the US Air Force Academy:
I´ve never mentioned this first one before, have I? I didn't send them my SAT score report in May. I also can't find a list of student blogs, apparently they don't have any attached to the school. That isn't to say that their students don't write about it. I'll try to find blogs by students and post them as they come up.

Note: the Naval Academy isn´t included. I´ve come to the conclusion that I´m really more interested in getting into the Air Force than I am in attending a Service Academy. Applying to the Navy is no help at all if I would rather enlist in the Air Force anyway.

More Essays

I just finished the Ministry of Education´s writing test. It´s a bit like the SAT essay, but easier. You get 2 hours instead of 25 minutes; 1 of 4 prompts to choose from instead of 1 of 1. I guess it´s not much like the SAT at all. This gives me time to jot down ideas, make a rough draft, check and edit my rough draft, make a final copy, check that, and still have time to spare. It´s also worth 30% of my Spanish grade.

My prompt was: Is it necessary to be competent in various disciplines to enter the work force?
Answer: No. The disciplines are all one.

Very zen, don´t you think?

It does have a lot of annoying little rules. 300 word extension (which doesn´t actually fit on the 3 pages they give you, I got to 296), perfectly aligned margins, no lines between paragraphs, no mixing cursive and print, which seem logical (and are) except that they´re very strictly graded. You can lose points because the little tail on your "a" was too long, and looks vaguely cursive-ish. It´s scored on a 1-100 scale, a pass is a 70, and kind of hard to fail, really. Unless you go off on a different subject, then you get a 1.

En fin, I have to get used to writing essays, and writing them fast.

Note: this doesn´t actually affect college admisions, aside from the fact that if I flunk the Ministry tests I get held back.

Unrelated, but cool: One of the students from my high school (who was graduated 2 years ago) alog with my classmate went to the 42nd International Chemistry Olympiads in Japan. The latter received the highest score in the Americas, olym. By which I mean the whole continent. Which means he got a gold medal. He came back with a huge stuffed Pikachu. I´m really proud, kind of because he´s the guy preparing my group for the National Math Olympiads, but mainly becuase he is really smart and studious and really deserved this. He also has medals from math, more chemistry, physics, and geography.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Faint Praise

The teacher evaluation forms are given to 3 teachers, English, Math and Other. It contains questions about how you participate in class, whether you tend to lead, how well you follow, attention span, and so on. It also asks the teachers to add any comments they think would be useful to understand the student. Finally, it asks for a negative trait.

My current English teacher has only taught me for a few weeks, since my other English teacher recently moved to the US. He doesn´t really know me all that well, but he´s pretty likeable and a good teacher. Unfortunately, that means he had to ask me for my negative trait. Self-analyzing is never a good idea, and I can think of nothing... of course I have negative traits (I put my shoes on the bed, spend a lot of time reading webcomics, read too much sci-fi over serious literature), but when it comes to school, I´m pretty concentrated. Although I have the doubtful honor of being the only one in my generation who has received a report (that´s 10 points off the behavior grade)... for wearing a hat. I was completely unaware of that rule, and for what it´s worth, other similar rules aren´t enforced in the least. Not an excuse, I admit.

Eventually he thought of something on his own and sent in the report. I was afraid to ask.

Commend Me!

Well, I gave the English teacher/vice principal the papers about the high school profile, senior year schedule and all that. This last one is a bit tricky. It´s not exactly thought out here. Once the teachers have covered everything the Ministry makes them, they´re on their own. The Physics teachers deals by covering everything sloooowly, but thoroughly. The Chemistry teacher covered all of high school by the end of tenth, and then just started prepping us for the Chemistry Olympiads. Right now we´re going into organic chemistry in some detail, far more than required. The Math teacher is having a lot of fun with us. She´s just about finished taking us through calculus. A classmate tried to study by doing a University level test on the same subject... and it was too easy. The point is, no one really knows (or cares) what the teachers are doing with us as long as we pass the Ministry tests at the end of the year.

I talked my Chemistry teacher into giving me a letter of reccomendation. She is really smart. She was born in Ecuador, and studied a while in the US, but I´m not sure where, rumor has it in MIT (apparently she also found the fountain of youth, can turn lead into gold, and has a secret underground laboratory under the college library. She´s a legend). I´m kind of honored that she was actually willing to do this.

I´m trying to talk myself into asking the computer/robotics/programming/physics teacher for one, but i don´t quite seem to be able to do it, which is ridiculous, since this guy is happiest when he´s helping people. Case in point: I had to give a quick presentation on transformers (the kind on power lines, not the car/robot things) with a couple of friends, and we were doing the standard Powerpoint thing, when he sees us and asks what were doing. We tell him, and he goes:

"You morons! Why didn´t you tell me? What´s wrong with you??" The guy looks like he´s about to explode, we just cringe.

(Muttering) "Damn students, can´t ask for something simple, can they? They´ll come to you when they need a hovercraft, but a transformer? NOOOooooo!"

He´s ripping apart something vaguely electronic looking, tears some cables, and starts smashing it with a pair of pliers. We´re a bit worried now. He holds up the mess proudly,

"This is a transformer."

We ask if we can have it (what it came from is looking pretty useless by now). He instead threatens to throw it at our heads and offers to bring us a whole bunch of different types and gives us a couple of broken speakers to pull apart as well. He hands it to my friend and tells him to connect it to a socket so we can measure voltage, frecuency, and potential.

"What, like this?"

"Yeah, just any old way" Looks up, "Oh God no! Not like that!"

Rips it out of his hands and asks him not to touch the two stripped wires he was gripping. He also suggests we not put them in out mouths while it´s connected, which apparently has happened.

It´s a good thing I get along with all my teachers. Having to ask for their help reminds me of something that happened in physics. The teacher gave us a quiz. When we finished, he collected the papers, shuffled them, and handed them back out to the class, everyone got one that belonged to someone else. We had to score them (he put the answer and procedure on the board). The guy who got mine is the only one in my class I really don´t get along with, and just the night before I´d been fighting with him (which is our normal way of communicating). I made one mistake, put a minus where there should have been a plus. The whole procedure was right, though, with a pretty clearly labeled diagram. Other classmates had done worse and passed (thanks to the fact that everyone was trying to ward of bad karma with good scores). I flunked, of course. You never know when someone will get a chance to get even. Don´t make them.

On a more somber note, my knee still hurts. It´s been a week. Sometimes it´s alright, and then a butterfly flaps its wings in Japan or something and it feels horrible for a moment. Walking down steps is getting to be a challenge at times. It feels alot better today, but I´m still a little wary.

I sceduled the audiometer, and the physical (almost), which is the last of the medicals. The ophthalmologist´s report, which should have been here Monday, has failed to arrive. Again, it´s been a week, and I´m getting a bit annoyed.

I stopped doing my pushups for a day or two, and wow, what a difference. I´m back down to ten, dammit. Pull ups are getting easier, but are the first two inches the hardest, or what?

I also bought my first cellphone. Which I´m ridiculously happy about, even though I know I´ll pretty much never use it. And I forgot to bring my laptop´s charger, which is pretty important when its battery life is, this very second, (Sunday night, with a full week to go) is down to about 3 minutes. Guess why this was uploaded Monday?

Monday, July 19, 2010

Run, Mutt, Run

With little over a month left, I still have to prepare for the CFA. Here's what I have to do for a top score :

Event ..................................Male .............................................. Female
BB. Throw .......................... 102 .................................................... 66
Pull-Ups .............................. 18 ....................................................... 7
Shuttle Run ........................ 7.8 sec. ............................................. 8.6 sec.
Sit-ups .............................. 95 .......................................................95
Push-ups.............................75 .................................................... 50
Mile Run ............................ 5:20................................................... 6:00

You get two minutes for each, unless the score is a time, and three tries on the throw.

Now, I don't play sports. My school has no teams, and I'm better at individual sports anyway. I do run, love to swim, and I'm willing to try playing just about anything (I want to play rugby sometime, looks violent) although I've never actually trained. I'm actually fairly athletic.

Push-ups, however will be a problem. The arms are willing, but the core is weak. Basically, a push-up is holding the plank while your arms do the macarena.

The plank: put your body in push-up position but rest on your forearms. Stay there. The following timeline shows the important incidents when I do the plank:

0:00 seconds: begin
0:50 seconds: start to tremble
0:55 feel back start to bow down, tighten stomache muscles and tremble even more.
Between 1:05 and 1:10 tightening muscles no longer has any effect on stability, I'm headed toward the ground whether I like it or not.
1:20 I'm making maximum effort even though my whole body is on the ground and my trembling muscles have reached Richter 8.
1:25 Collapse, luckily, there's nowhere to fall.

I'm getting measurably better, though. I can do 17 push-ups in a row. Hurray.

I can't do a single pull-up properly (I can do a couple if my hands are facing away from me). It's another case where my energy goes into shivering. There has to be a more efficient way to do this.

Sit-ups won't be a problem. I'm progressing with the basketball throw. I hurt my knee...

I run around my back yard for excercise. It's sloped and full of trees and broken branches to dodge. I trot doggedly up-slope and race across the level part leaping over fallen trunks and run back down. Speed isn't a problem here, judging the depth of the overgrown grass is. Suddenly, my leg is in the hole left from a rotten tree stump and temporarily delayed while the rest of me tries to leave it behind, forgetting that we're connected by some seriously loyal ligaments intent on keeping us together. My knee explodes in the ensuing battle, sending shards of bone like bloody shrapnel into the trees and an exposed artery throbs sickeningly, crimsonly in contrast with the green undergrowth...

No, of course not. I'm just kidding. It is sore, though.

On a related note, my father knows a guy well on his way to West Point who wrecked his knee (and chance of acceptance) kick starting his bike.

Friday, July 16, 2010


Wheeeee!!! I've been promoted!

According to my Air Force Academy Admissions Status page, I am now a Candidate. With a little asterisk next to it because I still lack a nomination, but a Candidate none-the-less.

With this comes a cheerful note informing me that I now have 45 days (of which only 37 remain) in which to complete the following forms (incomplete list and paraphrasing names):

High school profile, senior year profile, and transcript. (I suppose my English teacher, who is also something like the vice-principal, will have to help fill this out, since he's the guy that actually speaks English. My principal is rather unhelpful about stuff like finding out students' grades and class rank, she's really stressed. Of course, she just got the job this year, and isn't quite qualified. This isn't an insult, she literally doesn't have the training required to be a principal, however, she's doing a pretty good job of it, all things considered. )

Writing sample. ("Where did you hear about the Air Force Academy? What career do you want to go into? Why?" "What will be the hardest part of the academy for you, and how will you succeed?" "Describe a hardship you overcame in the past and how you would handle it now". These are limited to 300 or 500 words, so you have to keep your answers concise, but with enough relevant detail to make them stand out.)

Drug and Alcohol Abuse Statement (This was easy, I have never done drugs and I don't drink, for a few reasons. One of my friends drinks at parties and always throws up, falls asleep (or blacks out) in the bathrooms, slurs unintelligibly, or pees somewhere inappropriate. At every damn party. While other party-goers drink as much as he does and stomach their booze politely, if a bit too loudly. The other is that I have no intention of risking my motor functions, or any other for that matter, when they're just too valuable. The first reason is so much more concrete, though)

Personal Information. (Addresses, phone numbers, information about parents and guardians.)

Activities Record. (Sports teams, clubs, extracurriculars, jobs, volunteer hours, and a place to explain, in 5000 characters or less, your many accomplishments, of which I plan on taking full advantage (and don't end sentences with prepositions))

Evaluator Selection Form from Math, English, and Other teachers. (Language dilemma, do I send a letter from the guy who is actually my English teacher, who teaches English as a Second Language because it's a Spanish speaking country, or from my Spanish teacher, who's actually the one teaching Literature, Writing and Grammar?)

Candidate Fitness Assessment. (Suffice to say it's tough. The only requirement identical for men and women are the sit ups. 95 in two minutes for the top score. Ouch.)

Interview with a Liaison Officer. (In my case, it's going to be by phone. The Officer contacted me by e-mail asking for a brief resume so he could get to know me a bit before the interview. Normally, he speaks to the candidates in person a few times before the actual formal talk.)

Bull' s Eye

I did indeed go to the ophthalmologist yesterday. When I called to set up the appointment, I made a point of doing two things:

  • confirming that he speaks English.

  • faxing him the complete instructions for the eye exam, along with a photocopy of the form to fill out, even though Dr. Zoidberg (in my previous post) is actually the one in charge of filling them out. However, this way I can be certain that he does all the necessary tests, and can check them off the boxes as we go along.

An optometrist did a few quick tests to see how my eyes were. The first thing I discovered is that my eyes are incredibly over-corrected. I got the glasses I wear close to three years ago. The correction is -0.1. The optometrist puts me through my paces having me read off a chart and gaze past a lens into a picture of a ballon in the distance. The picture becomes blurry and then refocuses as the computer considers by eyes. She asks for my glasses, looks at them, and goes

"This is shocking, you shouldn't be wearing these."

Apparently my correction should be more along the lines of -0.05. Quite a difference, actually. She asks me if I always wear them (I usually don't), whether my eyes tire (not really), and whether I need them (to read the blackboard from the back of the class).

"Don't use these, ok? It's bad for you. Get a smaller correction as soon as possible and try not to use them too much."

What was really strange was that only 2 months ago I had my eyes checked and told the correction should be -0.075. Someone messed up... The good news is that eyes with a bit of under-correction can correct themselves. Over-corrected eyes tend to get worse and worse. So no glasses for me.

Next the ophthalmologist calls me in. We go through the obligatory chart readings. A screen half red, half green, asks me to identify the colors. Takes my eye's internal pressure. This is cool. He puts some drops in my eyes, pulls down my lower lids and inserts the round part of a tiny spoon-shaped thing. I don't really notice. A bit later, I realize my eyes are feeling really weird. I reach up to wipe them and notice I'm actually poking my eye and don't feel a thing. Weird. I ask the doctor what he did too me, and he responds that it was anesthetic. Cool! I spend a while happily poking myself in the eye as he fills out some sheets and feeling returns.

He then hands me a box lined with round, colored circles. He takes them out, mixes them up a bit, and leaves a blue one in the box. The rest are a mix of green, yellow, pink, violet and purple. There are maybe 15, and he asks me to order them beginning with the blue in the box. The final result should be a gradation from that, through the other colors, to purple. It's pretty easy to follow, generally, but two blues and two greens threw me off. I swear they were identical. I switched them around a couple of times, but whatever position I put them in, the other always looked better.

Then some more charts, and finally the fun part. He dilates my iris. He puts some drops in each eye and sends me outside to wait. I go out into the street, it's evening and beginning to darken, but not for me. My eyes expand. I come back inside, my father takes one look at me and goes:

"Whoa, man, what're you on?!"

I checked myself out in the mirror and it looked awesome. The Eye Guy checked it out with a very bright light. Everything is in working order. Supposedly, the results, along with my photocopied form, should be ready today, but the secretary told me there was an emergency and he couldn't finish his report. I should get it in the mail Monday or Tuesday.

Monday, July 12, 2010


I called the Embassy and got through to an actual human being. Patty asked me to send her some info (name, SSN, phone number) and she would get back to me. So I sent it, and she very kindly called back about 5 hours later. Which was cool, because precedent (described in my previous post) suggests it could take years.

We had had brief back-and-forth of :

"Get the tests done and then call.."

"Wait, what? Schedule tests, embassy physician"

"Embassy doesn't have one, but this one guy is really good at filling out forms...

"Wait, what?"

"Get the tests done, get this guy to do the forms"


Obviously, I was the "wait, what?"er.

My mind was still stuck on the naive fantasy that maybe I could get an appointment, take one day to go to some clinic, get the tests and forms filled, and go happily on my way. Actually, the embassy has no physician they can just schedule appointments with. I get to figure out who's willing to do the examination piecemeal (because the people in charge of the urinalysis aren't checking out my eyes), get the info from them, then take it all to a certain doctor hereafter referred to as Zoidberg who'll fill in the appropriate boxes and give me the physical.

My doctor.

Dr. Zoidberg then looks at the documents I got from the other doctors and fills out all the forms based on that. This isn't as weird as it sounds, the people from the lab probably dont speak much English and have neither the time nor inclination to pore over the annoying paperwork. Zoidberg has worked with the embassy before, so the paperwork is just run-of-the-mill stuff to him (I can only hope) and he speaks English. So all is cool.

I hope to get everything finished by the end of the week (ha!), because school starts again Monday (I'm on vacations at the moment) and will make getting to a doctor that much harder.

A quick rundown of what this entails:

Urinalysis. Take a sample, send it too a lab, pick up the results an hour later. It checks for blood, sugar and protein. I was negative on all counts, which is good. Sugar means diabetes, protein means diseases in the kidney, and blood can indicate some kind of infection.

Eye examination. At least 8 separate tests. I have an appointment on Thursday, so I'll describe them in detail then.

Hearing test. I've yet to schedule that. The last one I took it was in elementary school, they put a pair of earphones on me and asked me to raise the hand corresponding to the side I heard the beep in.

Reading aloud. Hones in on speech impediments. It's just standing and reading a paragraph out loud, this paragraph is included in the instructions, so you can practice and there's absolutely no reason to mess it up because of nerves. The tester stops you sharply if you make a mistake and has you start over. The idea is that if you stutter or stammer in the exact same spot, it's likely a speech impediment, if you make it through, it was probably just nerves.

Complete physical. Everything. Just everything. Mobility and strength of limbs. Skin problems, skeletal problems, GU system, the works.

My high school also made its students get a routine blood test done. Unfortunately, one of my friends has been diagnosed with leukemia. Fortunately, it's in the early stages, he's stable, and will get to participate in the Chemistry Olympiads in Japan. He is that awesome.

Thursday, July 8, 2010


I shouldn't have any problems with the Medical Examination.I'm in good health, no sickness, no accidents, no conditions, no allergies, don't smoke, don't drink, not depressive, fine hearing, all my limbs move correctly, all organs in their proper places, so on. Average height and weight. A bit myopic, but I already knew that. Nope, no problems at all.

If I could just schedule the damn thing.

Living in a country with no US Military Bases, I was referred to the US Embassy. I have to schedule the examination with an Embassy Physician, ask for help scheduling it with some other physician in this country's military base, or pay a private physician. In that order of preference. This country has no military, consequently, no military bases. The private physician is the absolute last option because this place already has an Embassy. There's no excuse for going somewhere else. What, is the Embassy not good enough for you?

It does have an Embassy. A singularly unresponsive one. Two phone calls and one e-mail later, and no human contact at all. Actually, they're probably busy. It is tourist season (no, you can't get a license to hunt them).

I left messages both times I called, although one time the machine told me I could press (some number) for assistance or hold and leave a message. I should have pressed, but since they speakthisfast and you have to dial NOW! Too late, please leave a message after the tone. BEEP. You're still wondering whether you should supersize that before you realize you're being recorded.

Also, the phone operators, who send you across this wide expanse of wires, putting you on hold often, don't listen so much to your explanation as much as they do to key words. I could just have said "Medical examination, medical review board, service academy application" and ended up at the same place instead of giving my whole explanation, because that's what they hear anyway.

I know this because as I was explaining all this to a person, the second I said the keyword: "Medical review board" I was transferred with nary a word from my listener. One second I was saying "... board to schedule an..." to actual flesh and blood and the next some cold, toneless voice was interrupting to tell me to leave a message while I tried to explain my plight. There's no telling where they'll send you, either, the first time I was welcomed to the Health Department (or something like that) and the next there was nothing at all. I can only assume the sent me to some abandoned phone in a cellar used to receive calls no one knows what to do with. No doubt it's checked periodically to make sure it can still take calls, but they remain there unheard, unattended, until they have to be erased to make room for more.

Really, though, it seems as though it all went into a black hole. I'll call again tomorrow, and if I don't get through to someone who can schedule that appointment, I'm going in person. Where no doubt I'll be placed in a small featureless room with piped music and eventually told to leave a message with the secretary.

Oh, bureaucracy.