Archive for October, 2001

Firsts for Me – 10.29.01

Monday, October 29th, 2001

Quote of the Day”
“Still, I guess it does make sense that you would tell someone whose tongue has been in your mouth things you wouldn’t necessarily tell your best friend.”
Princess in the Spotlight

Yesterday I experienced something altogether new to me and quintessentially Californian. It was my first earthquake! According to the US Geological Survey website a magnitude 3.7 quake occurred at 8:27 AM that morning and was centered a bit northwest of here. I was lying in my bed on a Sunday morning when what felt like a car hitting the building woke me up. At that time all I thought was, “Who would be dumb enough to run into the building?” Not realizing how utterly ridiculous that sounded I went back to sleep and didn’t think about it again.

“Did you feel the earthquake yesterday?” Dan said to me this morning at work. My mouth dropped open. That’s what it was? Immediately I raced over to the computer and had Hal bring up the USGS website. I don’t know if this was the right emotion to feel at the time but I was excited to discover that Seal Beach was close enough to the epicenter of the quake for residents to be able to feel the tremors. Now I can consider myself a Californian. After living here for five months I have finally lived through an event that is equivalent to a hurricane in Florida. Even if no one else is impressed I am going to remember the experience.

Something else that is quintessentially Californian is Hollywood. I had an appointment with a professor at the University of Southern California (USC) this afternoon so I had to drive into the city of Los Angeles to get to campus. As I was driving north on the 110 freeway I noticed that downtown LA was off to the right of the road. This was rather impressive considering a metropolitan scene isn’t something I see everyday but the next thing I spotted was even more thrilling. On a hill to the left of the freeway I squinted and could just make out the word “Hollywood” in large white letters contrasted against the green. It was the famous Hollywood sign! How many people can say that they have been able to see both downtown LA and the Hollywood sign at the same time while driving? OK, so anyone who has driven north from the 405 freeway on the 110 can say that but it’s still cool.

So that’s two firsts for me. Just your basic California experiences but for those of us who haven’t been here that long they are pretty exciting.

I Was Free – 10.21.01

Sunday, October 21st, 2001

Quote of the Day:
“Someone changed the location of ‘normal’ and didn’t bother sending me a map.”
Nita, The Wizard’s Dilemma

I woke up yesterday at 7:30 AM. It was a cloudy, cool Saturday morning and Anna had gone away for the weekend so I had the room to myself. I should have lazily rolled over and gone back to sleep but then I remembered why it was so hard for me to go to sleep the night before. I was scheduled to take the GRE at noon and I was unbelievably nervous.

I don’t know how I made it through the morning but I left for the test center at 11 AM. Since all of the computers were open when I got there I started the test immediately. One of the ladies just sat me in front of the monitor and said, “Good luck.” No more encouragement than that. Either my attempt to cover up my apprehension was working or else the lady didn’t notice that I was shaking like a leaf. I tried to calm myself down during the tutorial that explained everything about the test and the demographic questions that figured out what schools would be interested in my performance on the test. It didn’t work.

The first section was quantitative – basic math questions. This should have been no problem for an engineering student, right? My anxiety was trying to prove otherwise. First, there was not enough space on the desk for me to do my scratch work. Second, my hands were so shaky that I couldn’t write legibly. About three questions into the section I closed my eyes and took a deep breath. It wasn’t supposed to happen this way. I was supposed to be prepared for this test. I was supposed to be thinking, “This is a piece of cake.” I was supposed to be calm enough to read my own handwriting! Things never happen the way you expect them to. I contemplated walking out of the room right then and there but something kept me in my chair. I opened my eyes, picked up my pencil, and continued answering questions.

After awhile my hand steadied and my brain focused. I began to feel in control of the situation for the first time. Too bad it happened about five questions later than I would have liked! The second section was analytic – reasoning and logic questions. Everything was starting to fall in place but I was convinced that I would have to take the GRE again simply because I had almost lost it at the beginning of the first section. Being resigned to that fact made me even more relaxed. It was still hard not to think back to questions I wasn’t sure I had answered correctly. Every so often I had to remind myself to concentrate on the problem at hand and put the others behind me. That’s a pretty hard thing to do no matter what the situation.

The third section was verbal – reading comprehension, analogies, etc. I had studied vocabulary for the past two months to prepare for this section but I still managed to encounter words I couldn’t even begin to decipher. The biggest mental obstruction I had during the test was remembering how much I had studied and wondering when exactly it was going to pay off! It’s a good thing that most engineering graduate programs don’t even look at the GRE verbal section because I had to guess on the words I didn’t know.

The fourth section must have been the one that didn’t count, the one stuck in there for research purposes, because I ran out of time and had to start randomly guessing at the end. By that time my brain was tired of thinking and I would have given anything for the test to be over. I knew this was the wrong attitude to have but I was sure I would have to retake the test so what did these questions matter?

I finished the test. The computer asked me whether I wanted to report my scores or cancel them. Although my heart was pounding like I had just finished an aerobics class I clicked the “Report Scores” button. The next screen wanted to make sure I knew what I was doing so I had to click “Report Scores” again. Before they appeared I covered my face with my hands and exhaled as much pent up fear as possible before learning how I had done on the GRE. When I had the courage to move my hands and open my eyes here is what I saw (remember that these are out of a possible 800 points):

Quantitative – 790
Analytic – 780
Verbal – 610

In complete and total disbelief my hands flew over my open mouth. My mind was racing and I was gasping for air. Were these really my scores? I couldn’t have possibly done this well. Was this a joke? After about two minutes I was able to disengage my hands from my face for the second time and think that I actually may have earned the scores I was looking at. The next few screens let me select which four schools I wanted to send my scores to and I chose Stanford, UCLA, USC, and Cal Tech. My brain wasn’t thinking clearly enough to be more creative. Then I gathered up my things and left.

When I got outside I wanted to dance and sing and basically make as much noise as possible. There was some kind of exhibition going on in the parking lot so shouting didn’t seem like a viable option with so many people to hear. The only celebrating I indulged in on the way back to my car was walking with my mouth open and a silly grin on my face. I had done it. I had conquered the GRE and I never had to worry about taking it again. For the moment I was free.