Sunday, March 26, 2006

Wet Words

Yesterday I took apart my office keyboard for some much-needed cleaning.

I own a very old keyboard. It was the same one assigned to me when I first started working in my company over five years ago. Although I've changed PCs twice in those last five years, the keyboard has always come with me (as has the mouse and the CD-ROM drive, but this story wouldn't be as interesting with them). For all I know, it could even have been a used keyboard, which would imply that it could have had a succession of owners even before my arrival.

Why clean the keyboard? I just noticed that it was starting to look old and ratty at first glance. That, and I've been under a great deal of stress at work lately. An easy, non-thought-oriented menial task was quite welcome under the current circumstances.

I started off by borrowing a philips screwdriver from the Technical Maintenance department, which was pretty much all the hardware I needed for the task. ("What do you need the screwdriver for, Sean?" "Oh, nothing... I just wanted to see if it could fit up my nose, that's all.") From there, it took me only a few minutes to shut down my PC, disconnect the keyboard, and remove the twelve screws holding its casing together.

If you haven't seen the insides of a keyboard, I can tell you that it's a pretty mundane sight. Your basic keys are attached to the top half of the casing, and are set so that every keypress will exert pressure on one specific area of a thin rubber mat. Beneath this rubber mat is a sensor plate that detects where you punched your key, and transmits that information to the PC for digital translation. (What this means is that, if you're using a Qwerty-type keyboard, you can rearrange the keys however you want and still type according to the Qwerty configuration. But you probably knew that already, didn't you?)

While the mat and the sensor plate both looked fine, I was overly concerned with the top part of the casing where the keys were located. Years of putting up with my work habits had trapped any number of foreign materials between the keys and the case; By the time I finished removing all the buttons with a blunt plastic instrument, I could see the accumulation of dust, dirt, grime, hair, dandruff and bread-bits staring right back at me. For that matter, I suspected that a few more years would have molded the combination into a new form of earthly life.

It took me the better part of an hour -- and half a roll of tissue paper -- to get the casing clean. Even then, it had a burnt and smudged look where the grime simply refused to come off with a single dry wipe, and in some places the hair and dirt had already matted into solitary protozoan cells. I had to run the entire thing under a bathroom faucet and give it another wipedown just to give it the mere illusion of cleanliness.

The keys were another matter altogether. After I pried all of them loose, I dropped the entire mass of disembodied words into a Tupperware container for temporary storage. Remembering what happened with the main casing, however, I ended up filling the container with water a few times for a quick rinse, then taking out and wiping the soggy letters one by one. It felt strange , spending the better part of an hour cleaning one key at a time.

Of course, I knew better than to stack a bunch of wet materials onto a bunch of electronic components, so I stationed all of the above items in front of an industrial-sized electric fan and waited for them to dry.

After that, it was all a matter of putting everything back together again. I mulled over the possibility of giving myself a Dvorak configuration instead of the previous Qwerty-type setup, but I eventually decided that the size of my current workload discouraged it.

So now I have a clean keyboard. How does it feel, you ask?

Well, strangely enough, it feels a little sticky. It works just fine, but the keys seem a little, er, "slower" than normal. I don't know if it's because I did something wrong when I screwed the case back together again, or if it's simply because I'm not used to a clean keyboard. If you're the type of person who enjoys seeing it that way, I could be writing this entry merely because I want to reassure myself with these relatively pristine keys.

It's probably all good in the end, though. Even if I don't get used to this, I suppose that I can always just ask for a new keyboard. :)

* Sean in no way condones the wanton dissection of keyboards, even if they've committed heinous crimes beyond human ken. If you're planning to pry apart your keyboard to clean its insides, fix a problem with the sensor plate, or look for buried treasure, then be my guest. Just don't forget that I won't take any responsibility for when it ups and dies on you like a good electronic component does.

Sunday, March 19, 2006


Why talk politics, then?

Astute observers will have noticed that I hardly post any talk of politics, activism or current events on this blog. It's not remarkable, mind you -- there are plenty of blogs that don't engage in analytical discussion like that. What should make us wonder, I think, are the reasons behind such direction.

We can't help talking about current events. Human opinion is almost a reflex action in this regard -- we involuntarily generate opinion on any distinct (historical) events once the initial shock rubs off. Give us news of an event, and we will inevitably consider the who, what, where, when and why it happened.

From there, it becomes a question of the outlets we use. Some of us sit back at the table, a bottle of beer in hand, and proceed to tell our partners exactly what we think of current events. Some of us take to the streets in the perception that we're screaming our displeasure for the sake of the majority. And some of us -- those with blogs, I mean -- write our stuff down for perusal by an online audience.

So why talk politics, then?

I would say that recent events in the Philippines have inspired plenty of reaction, if only for the fact that that would be an obvious understatement. We've had a stampede that somehow became representative of the poverty situation in the country, a martial-law-esque proclamation that further eroded confidence in the President, a failed coup attempt that would have resulted in a glorified military junta, and a persecution of libelous elements that looks supiciously like media-muzzling.

In short, there's been plenty to opine about in the last few months. Any blogger worth his or her salt would have had their statements up in a heartbeat, I think. For that matter, there have been more than a few authors who have made points salient enough to beat what the newspaper columnists are putting together. Blogging gives us a voice, and it's good to see that people are using it as an outlet for their beliefs.

The involvement of blog-based opinion may also be important when we consider the last of the above four issues. I'm not sure how the Philippine government words or numbers its proclamations, mind you, but any moves on their part to rein in the media certainly do not bode well for the public at large. In a worst-case scenario -- that of a complete state suppression -- blogging may very well end up as one of our few outlets for free speech.

That still doesn't answer the question, though. Why talk politics?

There are already plenty of people out there who post political, social and cultural opinions online. Some of them break off from any combination of recurring topics to write these statements; Others devote entire sites to them. Whatever the case, there are plenty of these writers out there.

The issue I have, therefore, is that there may altogether be too many of them. Everyone has an opinion; For that matter, anyone can come up with an opinion at the mere drop of a hat. We may very well be prepared to read the reactions of one man on yesterday's news headlines, but show us seventy-three other blogs that do exactly the same thing and we'll probably get bored trying to read them all.

In a sense, once you think about it, a monotony of public opinion may be every bit as dangerous as a suppression of the primary outlets of media.

And, of course, that would still beg the question: Why talk politics?

This blog is perfectly capable of expressing the political opinions of its author. It's perfectly capable of expressing anyone's political opinions, for that matter. It's one of the many outlets available to us, although it's unique in that it's one of the few outlets that gives us access to an online crowd of readers.

As an outlet that is less guarded and regulated than the more popular media bases out there, this blog has an interesting place in the current situation. It can easily continue the practices of free speech without the immediate reprisal or wanton bias that threatens or dominates the newspapers and television networks. Its author can say what he wants, and there will most certainly be no shortage of things to talk about.

As one blog among thousands and thousands of others, however, it must be acknowledged that the words here are but one voice in a massive multitude. And although the multitude accomplishes great things, it also tends to compromise the uniqueness of personality. We can express our opinion all we want, but such expression can all too easily be lost in the great depths of chatter out there. It would be just as bad as remaining silent.

So why talk politics?

Why do people find a voice in their online writing? Why do some of them perform their political analyses there? Why don't I publish anything significant about similar matters?

Your guess, I think, is as good as mine.

Monday, March 13, 2006

Killer Graphics

"I'll put you in [room] number one... ... ...because ONE stands for MURDER! Hwahahahah!"

- Zorak, The Brak Show

If there was anything I sensed about the Murder by Design conference last Saturday, it was the fact that the venue needed a bit of air-conditioning. The stamp that they placed on my right arm to certify my entrance easily started to melt from the moment I entered. I find it strange, for that matter, that they would hold the conference in an unbusinesslike establishment, but I'll chalk that up to a designer "thing".

Murder by Design was actually a workday for me -- the company was paying for my time there, and I whiled away the hours with a couple of staff members who had similar duties. All three of us expected to gain some insight into the nature of the graphic design business, and I don't think we were disappointed by the proceedings.

With all that said, however, I eventually came to a startling conclusion after watching three or four speakers come up on stage and do their little verbal dances. It was a conclusion borne from various other seminars and conferences, and it was a conclusion borne from even the iBlog summit held last year. That conclusion was a simple one: You can be as skilled as you please, but that doesn't necessarily mean that you'll be able to speak well in front of an audience.

It's true, ladies and gentlemen. Oratory is quite a different animal, as compared to literary writing, graphic design, and all those other endeavors we've come to know and love. I find it funny, in a way, that the schools and universities have probably known this for decades now, and yet most of us don't seem to have realized the fact.

But then again, I'm not complaining. After all, Oratory is hardly a pursuable art nowadays. It's difficult to practice, especially considering that the average person doesn't see many invitations to speak in front of a live audience. For that matter, it's usually only field-based professionals who are invited to speak in this fashion, and even then we probably shouldn't expect a good show. I imagine that being good at graphic design, software development or blogging doesn't leave one with much time to practice speeches in front of a mirror.

Despite all these assumptions, however, one has to wonder about Dean Alfar.

I've seen Dean Alfar speak twice so far. The first was at the iBlog summit, where he easily blew away an audience that was prepared to hear about creativity in blogging (and consequently got it in spades). The second was at last Saturday's conference, where he was able to grab the attention of a tough crowd and somehow managed to toss them a few tips on starting and running a design business. He seems to consistently do very well at this speakership thing, and I wonder how he does it.

I know that he's gotten up and spoken to audiences before, but I'm not sure if it's to a level where he's become adept at it. I know that he's a consistent writer, but there's always the question of whether or not writing has anything to do with oratory in the first place.

Maybe it has something to do with the way his mind works. Maybe it has something to do with the fact that he seems confident enough to do what he does. Maybe he's just been lucky so far, and that he'll crash and burn somewhere in his next outing. (Or maybe not.)

Whatever the case, he bears watching. As with any person who seems to do something well, it's probably worth observing him to see just how he does it.

I spent most of the conference in a state of bewilderment, to be honest. A good chunk of the lectures seemed to involve a bunch of professional designers going up on stage and explaining their portfolios. They would hook up their laptops to the projector and open up a bunch of demo files, for example, essentially explaining how and why they came up with certain designs for certain clients. While these were enlightening, they brought to mind the question of what most of the designers in the audience were supposed to learn from them.

But then again, good design isn't something that you can learn from a single conference. Good design, like writing and oratory and many other things, is something that you learn from experience. That may have been the point of the entire conference, I think. Heck, if anything, that may be the point of any conference:

"We're giving you a bunch of speakers who probably aren't all that good at speaking. But they're professionals in their chosen fields, and they've been around. You have to realize that they've gone through a lot to get where they are right now, and they're going to share some of these lessons and experiences with you, so that you'll know what to expect."

It's priceless in every sense of the word, now that I think about it. Talks, round-table discussion groups, and even TV dialogues probably work under the same realization.

I unfortunately had to leave the conference early because I needed to return the family car, so I missed out on the latter proceedings as well as the ever-present raffle. It was fine, though... they were generous enough to give their attendees a fair share of giveaways in any case.

By this time, however, the stamp was nothing more than a half-congealed mess that needed a good amount of rubbing alcohol to remove. I figured, however, that if it left any vague marks on my right arm, I could always claim that it was the hallmark of a rare disease that was turning my skin blue.

Yes, no one would probably believe me. But then again, I do have a propensity for telling tall tales, and both the confidence and experience to back them up. At least I have that much to go on...

Thursday, March 09, 2006

Help Wanted (Part 1)

It's been almost a month since my reflections on HR interviews, and I've gone through a few more since then. My company's in the process of padding out a few more staff issues, and it looks like we'll be all set come April. That might be bad news to more than a few of the new graduates, seeing that a lot of them usually only start applying for jobs after the graduation ceremonies.

Going through my archives the other day, I found that I had previously drafted a blog article concerning tips for job-seekers. These, of course, weren't your ordinary, run-of-the-mill job application guidelines. Instead, these were lessons gleaned from years of watching applicants stumble, misspeak, misspell, turn off, break down or otherwise screw up their chances of corporate hiring. While that might sound overly negative of me, I can assure you what I don't make fun of these mistakes as often as I bewail the frustration that comes about when I first encounter them.

I'm not a Human Resources person, mind you, and I have little experience in HR matters that involve more than personally interviewing job applicants. While that might seem like a disadvantage at first glance, I've come to see it as more of a qualification in this case. To me, the mistakes seem more obvious, the subtleties seem greatly magnified, and the lessons seem all too easily forgotten once you sit down for your first interview. For some reason, most people seem to be able to either write a good resumé or conduct a good one-on-one chat, but not both.

There's still plenty about the Human Resources aspect that escapes me, but I like to think that I have enough hands-on experience in the matter to be able to identify particular trouble spots for people. At worst, then, I'd just be another source of possible advice.

Onward, then, to some of the less obvious aspects of job application:

1. Do NOT mention proficiency in a language unless you know how to use it.
You may think that this is obvious, but I still run into a problem case every now and then. Either an applicant professes an expert command of the language in an error-riddled resumé, or they submit a well-edited personal profile and proceed to fail miserably at the interview. The worst case I ever encountered involved a cover letter with the most atrocious grammar I had ever read, submitted by a young man who gave himself a "10 out of 10" in English skills.

The truly abominable part about experiences like these lies in the fact that I'm a writer. While my English is probably still leagues away from the practices of the true linguistic scholars, I still hold deep resentment for anyone who mangles the language and claims that they're using it right. Geez Louise.

2. Every HR person in the world probably knows that if an applicant mentions that he or she has "basic" knowledge in something, then he or she knows next to nothing about it.
This is true, yes. "Basic" knowledge in a skill, as far as we know, might as well be the same as having no experience with it at all. To be quite frank, most people only list down their "basic" skills in their resumés in order to pad things out.

Don't get me wrong, though. While there's nothing unethical about padding out one's resumé, there's a good chance that any skill level you list as "basic" will be quickly shunted off to the side and ignored. If you have relatively significant knowledge or experience with a certain item, then make sure that you don't simply write yourself as having a "basic level of skill" with it. In fact, it's probably best that you cite your previous experiences or learning programs there -- anything that would make it substantial enough for interviewers to take notice.

3. No religion, please, unless it's relevant to the position or the company.
Yes, you're a religious person. Yes, you have "God-fearing" clearly spelled out on your resumé. Yes, you're an active member of your church organization. But if none of that has anything to do with the job you're applying for, then why bother putting that down on paper? I mean, it's not as though people will hire you for your religious beliefs.

Some people will probably argue that a mention of their faith would act as a testament to their devoutness or dedication, when in reality it doesn't do much. Words on paper are sometimes just words on paper. Dedication is measured by practice and noted by observation, for the most part. You don't claim steadfastness, you demonstrate it.

What irks me the most in this regard is that some applicants tend to sing praises to the divine regarding their considerable skills and technical advantages. The business world, however, is an extremely realist setting. A company won't care if your talents are God-given or if you just happened to make a deal with the devil. If you can do the job, then you can do the job. End of story.

4. Do NOT apply for a position that you have absolutely no business applying for.
Every company has some darn good reasons for listing the qualifications for an open position. Sometimes they want an applicant to hit the ground running, so to speak -- they want the new employee to start immediately on some overdue project or service. Sometimes the job in question has certain requirements for the sake of safety or quality (you don't hire an auto mechanic to perform gastrointestinal surgery, for example, and vice-versa). Sometimes the job will have certain prerequisites that are only found in applicants of a specific background.

Whatever the case, the job requirements are there for a reason. Do not apply to be a programmer if you don't know how to program. Do not expect a small company to pay your relocation costs if you're applying to them from another country. Do not send your resumé to a "women-only" ad if you happen to be male with no plans of a sex-change operation. Doing so would simply be a waste of paper for you.

5. The phrase "willing to be trained" has little or no meaning whatsoever.
I see this phrase a lot, and I never understand why people put it in their personal profiles. Isn't this supposed to be a given, after all? I mean, as long as you're applying for a job, aren't you silently agreeing to the fact that you will learn new skills and gain new experiences during your period of employment?

You can say that you're "willing to be trained" all you want, I figure, but the fact of the matter is that every single applicant is willing to be trained. Ironically, mentioning the phrase doesn't let you stand out from the rest of the pack -- instead, it makes you blend in even more. And if by some chance you don't want to be trained at all... then why are you applying for the job in the first place?

6. Do NOT create a resumé that deviates from the accepted norm.
One of the funny things about most designers is that they're very creative. Really creative, I mean. In fact, sometimes they're so creative that you just have to wonder what they're thinking.

I've seen cover letters enclosed in pink folders and decorated with pastel-and-pencil artwork. I've seen job applications laminated and sealed inside confidential envelopes. I've seen resumés printed on construction paper, collated in hemp binding, and sprinkled in scads of clip art. I've seen all three, yes, and frankly, I'm all too tired of seeing them crop up.

The problems with such "expressions of creativity" are twofold: First, they're difficult to place on file. For that matter, if we can't file them properly, then we simply won't... if you know what I mean. Creative execution be damned.

Second, such artistic works may indicate an attitude that does more harm than good. If a company is looking for a graphic designer, they're most likely looking for someone who can fire off good design work within a reasonable project deadline. In that case, a souped-up resumé that implies a certain level of obsessive-compulsiveness may not be the best thing to hand in...


These items are by no means the only guidelines I have to discuss. In fact, these considerations barely even scratch the surface. There are plenty of things that one can do wrong when it comes to looking for a job. I've seen too many of them done, and in some cases, I've even done them myself.

If you're looking for a further breakdown of things to avoid when you're applying for a job, I'll be posting a second part to this article. Human Resources, as with many other endeavors, isn't an exact science... but we can always map things out as we come to them.

Come to think of it, I actually have at least two more applicants to test and interview over the next two days. Hopefully they won't come up with any new problems. My instincts, after all, have had enough trouble detailing the ones you read here now.

Sunday, March 05, 2006

Kiss Me, I'm Catholic

For the Catholics, Lent started last Wednesday. That means that, apart from the strange ashen crosses that showed up on everyone's foreheads last week, I'm looking at a stunted diet for the next month-and-a-half.

If you're not familiar with the tradition, Lent represents the forty days that Jesus Christ spent wandering the desert after his baptism. During that time, he was subject to three temptations by the devil himself -- all of which he passed -- and consequently returned to the world of man in order to begin his ministry. Catholics commemorate this occasion (as they do with all significant events in the Bible) by abstaining from meat every Friday for forty days. Eventually everything comes to a grand end during the last week of Lent, during which Christ's death and resurrection are marked on the days of Good Friday and Easter Sunday, respectively.

If the above paragraph makes little or no sense to you, then feel free to blame me for the description. Darn it, Jim; I'm a writer, not a theologian.

What this means, as far as I'm concerned, is that I won't be seeing any chicken, pork, beef, or any sort of mystery meat every Friday till mid-April. Complicating matters is the fact that I don't happen to like seafood, and so therefore I'll be restricted to veganism once a week.

(Whatever happened to the word "vegetarian", anyway? Did it go out of use due to some imaginary negative connotation? That would be a funny thing, really, seeing that there's no obvious discernible difference between "veganism" and "vegetarianism". If you like vegetables, then you like vegetables. If you like vegetables enough to eat only vegetables, then you like vegetables enough to eat only vegetables.Nothing wrong there.)

Muddying the waters further is the fact that the Buddhists happen to be one of my favorite guilty pleasures in this regard. Devout monks of the Buddhist religion, you see, are similarly disallowed from eating meat. For that matter, they're not even allowed to consume fish. In a strange response to these restrictions, however, Buddhist kitchens are remarkably skilled at mashing bean and tofu paste into replicas of various meat dishes. These people, therefore, literally serve the equivalent of Spam without any meat at all. (There's still the question of whether or not there's any meat in Spam to begin with, but that's a topic for another time...)

So I'll be going meatless every Friday till Easter because of my Catholic followings, and I'll be going for the occasional serving of Buddhist meat-cum-vegetable creation instead. I can't help feeling that there's something wrong with that arrangement, somewhere.

What's probably even stranger is that I consider myself a non-practicing Catholic. I may be a Roman Catholic, yes, but you probably wouldn't guess it from my daily habits. I complain, I swear, and I philosophize. I wax poetic about both evolutionary theory and the notion of God as a human construct. I keep my prayer to a minimum because I invariably think of doing things myself. And in the most obvious aspect, I don't keep a regular Sunday habit that most Catholics do.

The way I see it, there are devout Catholics (mostly in the church gatherings, arguing about scandal and morals), activist Catholics (mostly in the street rallies and the mailing lists), and non-practicing Catholics; and the last category probably has my picture attached to it. So if there's anything strange about my current situation, it's the fact that I'm willingly skipping meat every Friday for the whole of Lent.

Why do I do this, anyway? I mean, it's not as though I'm going to redeem myself as a Catholic by refusing to eat meat for six weeks.

I suspect that it has something to do with my habit of self-mortification. I'm probably masochistic that way -- I constantly test myself with the strangest endeavors in order to determine if I'm... if I'm... ...well, I don't know, I guess. I obviously haven't made an ounce of sense here, so why start now?

Catholicism is strange by itself, really. We worship entities whose existence we have no way of physically proving, we engage in rituals whose meanings have all been lost in the time since they were first established, and we take our orders word-by-word from a book that has seen more printings and translations than we can count.

And we listen to those words, follow those practices, and search for those entities -- all in one vague attempt to claw our way back into meaning. We know that it all leads somewhere. The problem is that we don't know where it goes just yet.

As well-governed and established as tends to be, I won't be the first to think that general religion is just as screwed up as the rest of us, Catholicism notwithstanding. Which is why, in a sense, it fits us to a T.

So now I'm a meatless man. And I'm a Catholic, too. In fact, I'm not just any Catholic, but a non-practicing Catholic who just happens to practice one inconvenient religious tradition out of the many convenient ones. I'm a bundle of contradictions here.

But hey, no one ever said that religion was easy to understand. :)

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

Disclaimer: March 2006

You didn't think I was going to forget to write this, now did you?

We're coming off an interesting number of recent experiences, and stepping into what looks to be an equally interesting period of time. The deadlines for both the Draconic Anthology and the Fully Booked contest are now behind us, and the local writers find that it's the Palanca Awards we now have to worry about.

From a more workaday point of view, it's now March. That means that the start-of-year rush is dying down, the upcoming graduates are starting to check the want ads, and the local fast-food joints are starting to put up their Lenten offerings. We step from one field of experiences into another.

In short, there are still a lot of possible opportunities for the plagiarists to operate. The prospect of handing in a copied work to the Palancas or a forged resumé to a potential employer isn't too far off, after all. (You'll have to take my word here; it's not as though I haven't seen a forged resumé in six years of managerial efforts.)

I've given some thought to the idea that I may just be paranoid about this whole thing. I suppose that I must concede the truth of that statement -- the last thing I want to happen, after all, is for some undeserving writer to receive recognition for some piece of mimeographed work. But I still think that it's a legitimate cause for concern -- especially on the Internet -- and I'm afraid of the possibility that it might happen right at the moment when my guard is relaxed.

So I still write these monthly disclaimers (mostly for the lawyer-types who don't have the energy to read everything on this blog). It's a personal choice, really.

Everything written on this blog is the property of Sean, and is certified as truly original by the author himself. Everything here, in a sense, comes off the top of my head somehow, and I'll duly admit to having written every single entry regardless of whether it's good or bad. The only exceptions here are those items or references that are taken from other sources. These entries are clearly marked, and I try to place a reference to the actual source whenever possible.

I suppose that under some strange and twisted circumstances, somebody out there might decide to quote or reference one of my articles here. I have no quarrel with such people as long as they have enough decency to ask permission first. Who knows, for that matter? I might even be able to point out some better resources for them in such a case.

Otherwise, however, a direct attribution and link to the source in this blog will also do. I'd rather have the permission, though, because I don't like the possibility of being quoted out of context.

Violators, as far as I've determined, will be dealt with harshly. There is such a thing as Philippine Copyright Law, and even in cases where it doesn't seem as though it's clear enough to deal with certain situations, I can always fall back on International Copyright. Steal from me, and I will pursue you with litigation. The cost won't matter, really; I'll even go as far to say that it'll give me a bit more purpose in life.

Oh, and there's also the matter of physical threats. If you plagiarize anything on this blog, then you agree to give me the right to come after you with the sincere efforts of blunt force trauma without the possibility of your retribution. Granted, it'll only be a temporary right, but it'll at least make me feel better.

We now return you to your regularly scheduled programming. Have a nice day, everyone.