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Cosmic VarianceBy Mark TroddenOctober 20, 2009 2:07 AM


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It has been a remarkably busy few weeks for me, as I'll report on in a post very soon. But I did want to immediately mention one important thing (at least for me personally) that happened recently. A couple of weeks ago I went through my interview (which I got through successfully) for US citizenship. I've lived in the US for over seventeen years now, and it's high time I acquired and exercised my right to vote (and never again apply to renew my green card). I started the process earlier this year and, apart from a small hiccup with mailing addresses due to my recent change in circumstances, it has, so far, gone incredibly smoothly. Most interestingly to me was that on the several occasions I've needed to speak directly with an immigration official by phone, they have been available, polite, and extremely helpful and efficient. Given the stories one often hears, I wasn't expecting this, and it was a lovely surprise. While the interview is relatively straightforward for someone like me (English speaking, with a long and continuous employment record, and married to a US citizen for well over a decade), one does have to go through the civics exam, in which one is asked ten questions chosen randomly from a list of one hundred, which one can study in advance from a booklet. The questions are not particularly difficult, and one only needs to get six correct to pass. However, being a good nerd, I studied dutifully, and made sure I could answer all one hundred correctly if necessary. One particularly disappointing question from the possible choices was:

What is one thing Benjamin Franklin is famous for?

for which the allowed answers were given as

Even though I'm now a member of the Penn community, I wasn't offended that these didn't include founding the University of Pennsylvania. However, although this is a civics test, as a physicist I would have loved to see some reference to Franklin's scientific activities. Nevertheless, arguing this with my examiner did not seem to be a smart course of action, and so I stayed silent, and sold Franklin out. The other problem for the geek taking the citizenship test is that if you get six correct before the examiner reaches ten questions, he just stops asking, and tells you you've passed. One must then avoid the temptation to say "No, come on, ask me the rest! I know the answers, honestly, just try me!" Pathetic, I know.

  • U.S. diplomat

  • oldest member of the Constitutional Convention

  • first Postmaster General of the United States

  • writer of “Poor Richard’s Almanac”

  • started the first free libraries

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