Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Status Check

It's one-thirty in the morning. I have a short story on the back burner that doesn't look as though it'll be finished anytime soon, and I have a contingency story on tap. If I don't manage to finish my main offering by tomorrow afternoon, I'll be submitting my contingency measure.

I think I've hit upon why I've had too many unsuccessful tries for this one: Pressure, plain and simple.

I've had a lot of miscues coming into the final days of the Fully Booked contest, but for some reason, I've only been able to write freely once I had the backup story prepared. Was I resting secure in the knowledge that I would have something to submit regardless of anything? Perhaps that was the case.

That would make a good lesson for the next contest, I suppose: Ready the contingency plan first. Seeing that the Palanca awards are accepting entries already, and knowing that I already have my story seeds for the 4th L5R Ficathon, I'll have ample opportunity to try this out. It feels strange having to work on a backup for a non-technical case study, but I suppose that writing is a pretty sensitive endeavor to begin with.

My head is spinning again, for that matter, and this is the first time it's happened to me without the benefit of strenuous physical activity. It's obvious that I've been writing for too many straight hours, so I'm going to take a breather now and head straight off to bed. (Thankfully, I can now afford to do this.)

It's funny, really, how you can be writing for over half your life and still have to figure out a number of lessons from the business. Then again, I suppose, it would be a pretty boring way of life if we didn't learn something from every task we tried to take on.

Monday, February 20, 2006


I'll be on hiatus for a week or so, most likely. I don't think I came up with a particularly good entry for the Draconian Anthology last time, so I'm going to try to clear my mind a bit before I write something for the Fully Booked contest.

Yes, I'm aware that the deadline's a week away. That's why I'm sitting down, calmly pecking at the keyboard, and trying desperately not to panic.

What I most fear at this point is that I'll end up with a lemon again. And if that happens, then will that imply that my writing skills have become a lot more random as of late? Will it mean that I continually churn out average stories with the odd hidden gem every now and then? Will it mean that I still have a lot farther to reach when it comes to that penultimate goal, that scourge of hacks, that finality of fiction as a whole?

The more I think of it, the more I start to believe that it's not the money I'm after. I probably join contests because I want to reassure myself. I want to see if I can still swing that bat when the bottom of the ninth comes up and the bases are loaded. In a sense, it becomes a very, very personal thing.

So I'll be at the keyboard if you need me. Maybe I'll be online and maybe I won't, but at the moment, I just want to take down this beast of a deadline before my time runs out.

That's not to say that I don't have plans afterwards. I do have plans, yes, and in fact, they were stunted by the weeks of preparation for the contest itself.

If I don't write anything on any of the following topics within the next few months or so, please feel free to write up a comment and bother me:

- A list of mean-spirited tips for enthusiastic job-seekers. (Something that's more of a "Dos and Don'ts" than anything else.)

- A weekly feature article. (I'm taking suggestions for this one. Any ideas?)

- Antaria fiction. (Yeah, this one really suffered from the sudden spate of writing contests.)

- The Weirdest Job Hunt Stories You've Ever Heard. (It's graduation season, people. Head for the hills!)


Wish me luck, everyone. I've got a score of writing tasks coming...

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

One on One

Now, one of the things I like about my job is the fact that I get to interview applicants.

I work in a fairly small company with fairly complex job requirements, you see. In addition to that, I hold one of the more senior management positions (as far as five years would be considered "senior") and generally have an excellent idea as to how the business works. To top it off, I spent some of those last five years collating data from HR transcripts, analyzing online job-hunting systems, and critiquing various forms of composition -- all of which allow me to make good educated guesses based on tiny little details.

What that last sentence effectively means is that I can take one look at a resumé and produce a number of relatively accurate remarks about the applicant at hand. I'm not right all the time, mind you, but I've surprised a few people on occasion.

It actually feels strange whenever I do this. I try to go about life without any premeditated expectations floating around my head, but right before I meet and talk to an applicant, I just have to make a few guesses about his or her character and experiences. That way, when I finally perform the interview, the whole experience transforms into a game: Was I able to read this person correctly? Will the applicant's actual personality change anything? What's my batting average so far?

I like to think that I've done rather well for myself. If anything, it's at least improved my skills in resumé-writing. :)

One of our previous HR personnel once told me that I had a habit of asking "casual" questions during interviews. When I asked her what a "casual" question was, she explained that it was something that didn't seem to have anything to do with work -- a bolt out of the blue, you might call it. Not that she minded, however: She assumed that it was my way of putting the applicants at ease.

Not necessarily, I told her. One can infer quite a few things from the answer to a casual question, as long as we know well enough to listen.

The trouble, I think, is that applicants always mean to make themselves look good. While this is to be expected, it sometimes keeps interviewers from finding out the stuff they really need to know. And rest assured, there are inevitably times when such knowledge would mean the difference between picking the right person for the job, or getting stuck with a dud.

Let's take skills, for example. I've noticed that applicants who have had only the slightest bit of experience with a certain field will invariably pad their resumés with it. We're likely to write down "Basic knowledge in Japanese", for example, even if we've only attended a single Japanese-language class in our entire lives.

So I end up asking "casual" questions. If an applicant's resumé tells me that he has basic knowledge in Japanese, I'll probably find a way to fit in a quick "Konnichiwa. Watashi wa Sean desu. Douzo yoroshiku?" in the interview somewhere. It tends to get a sheepish smile in response.

One of the most common "casual" questions I ask is "Do you surf the web?", and the answer is almost always an affirmative. In a company that works extensively with Internet technologies and web solutions, this happens to be a lot more important than people think.

"Do you surf the web?", for example, uses the term "web". If an applicant doesn't know what the "web" is, mind you, then I already know that he has no business applying for an Internet-based business.

The question usually gets followed up with "How often do you surf?". This helps get an idea of how much exposure the applicant gets when it comes to the Internet. I've had people tell me that they only log on for about an hour each week to check their e-mail; but on the other end of the spectrum, I've interviewed hardcore junkies who sit at a terminal for six hours at a time. The more regular exposure an applicant has, the more adept she most likely is at our line of work. (With that said, the more exposure an applicant has, the greater the chance that they'll slack off in front of an unlimited DSL connection.)

And then there's "What site do you feel embodies good web design?" (i.e. "Pick a web site that you think is good, and explain why."), which, to be quite frank, is a very vague question. I've found it very useful, however, for revealing exactly what the applicant visits regularly. Most people, after all, tend to name the first good-looking site that comes to mind. (One person pointed out the Playboy web site with his answer, which immediately got me skeptical about his work habits.)

Don't get me wrong, though. I'm not an HR person, and at this rate, I'll never be one. I'm a business manager and a writer, however, and I find it easy to look into peoples' depths of character from my position. In fact, it's fun looking at things from a non-HR point of view; you get to personally identify the rationale behind a lot of rules that way.

So at this point, I'm slogging away in front of my computer, knowing full well that hiring season will most likely last from now until mid-May. I went through two applicants this morning, and I've got a couple more dropping by the office tomorrow. I continually promise myself not to intimidate them too much with my sullen demeanor, my scruffy countenance, and my "casual" questions.

In that sense, it's probably a good thing that you've read this post all the way to the end.

For all we know, the next applicant I interview could just be you. :)

Monday, February 13, 2006

Heads Up

Hmm... whatever happened to the Antaria stories, anyway? I'll have to write up the next installment sometime.

For now, however, I'll have to admit that they've fallen into the void that appears whenever I've got too much work on my hands. My entry for the Fully Booked contest might even be in there as well, although I'll be reaching for it again in the near future.

Ironically, the entire storyline for Antaria is already in my head at the moment. I just have to find the right time and place to write it down...

Friday, February 10, 2006

Lord of the Dance

Eight o'clock this evening found me at the Manila Polo Club, sleazing my way into a Capoiera lesson.

If you have no idea what Capoiera is, then don't worry -- I'm new to it myself. It's a Brazilian martial art, and I've long felt that it's very indicative of their culture. From a distance, you see, it looks a lot like dance. (It's the kind of dance where your partner can easily knock you senseless if he knows what he's doing, but it looks like very rhythmic dance nonetheless.)

I have a horrible track record when it comes to exercise. I needed twelve minutes to finish a one-mile run during my last full physical in college, I foundered my way through Tai Chi for six months (the instructor said that I moved like the scarecrow in The Wizard of Oz), and I hefted weights like Charles Atlas's 78-pound weakling for a little while last year. I'm all for exercise, mind you -- it's just that exercise doesn't seem to like me.

Capoeira seems to emphasize a constant state of motion and flexibility -- or at least, the regular practitioners certainly look well-toned enough to think so. As you probably expect, there are quite a few warm-ups, cool-downs, and water breaks for the newbies. The Dojo Gym of the Manila Polo Club also happens to be the proud owner of some very solid wooden floorboards, so you also have significant incentive to stay upright during the entire exercise.

Forty-five minutes, sixty jumping jacks, thirty push-ups, thirty sit-ups and countless awkward attempts at Capoiera movements later, I was beat. The whole dojo was starting to spin before my eyes, which made for a cool LSD-type effect but also told me that something was wrong. Five seconds later, the instructor moved past me -- walking on his hands, no less -- and I got the feeling that I was waaaay out of my league. :)

I did manage to muster enough strength for the cartwheeling exercises, though. You haven't lived till you've tried a cartwheel; it's one of those little physical feats that just gives an amazing feeling of satisfaction when you manage to do it right. Unfortunately for me, after about five passable attempts, the room really started spinning in front of me, and I was forced to retire to the back of the class. I therefore spent the latter half of the session seated in a Zen Burmese position, just watching the participants sweat it out and occasionally retire themselves.

Now, don't get me wrong here. First of all, I felt just fine; countless attempts at exercise have left me knowing exactly where my stamina threshold is, although it constantly comes up pretty short of the mark. Second, I was pretty proud of myself for lasting at least forty-five minutes; If I'd have wanted to give up completely, I would have done it in far less time. Finally, I'm looking into further participation in the future. Capoeira looks like pretty good physical training, and as long as the instructors don't tire of my face and my snide attempts at humor, I could see myself throwing and dodging kicks like the best of 'em.

For now, however, I'm content to rest the soles of my feet and flex my fingers on a plastic keyboard. Despite my general ineptitude, there are still some forms of exercise where I don't necessarily act like a total moron, and this happens to be one of them. It doesn't often involve such elements as rhythmic dancing or Christie Montero, but I'll take this one any day. :)

Sean's Note: Many thanks to Gem, who was nice enough to introduce and accompany me to this session. And while we're on the subject, Gem, I owe you a bottle of Gatorade. :)

Sena's Note 2: Greetings as well to Ramon and Neva, who I haven't seen in a long time. It's nice to know that I wasn't the only person there who wasn't getting enough exercise. :)

Saturday, February 04, 2006

Rule 13

I opened up my e-mail this morning to find that Fully Booked had entered a new post in their mailing list -- specifically, their mailing list for contest updates:

> To: gaiman_writingcontest @ yahoogroups.com
> Date: Fri, 03 Feb 2006 09:31:43 -0600
> Subject: [gaiman_writingcontest] VERY IMPORTANT REMINDER! *gasp!*

The MOST IMPORTANT RULE is the ominous # 13.

Visit your group "gaiman_writingcontest" on the web.
To unsubscribe from this group, send an email to:
Your use of Yahoo! Groups is subject to the Yahoo! Terms of Service.

Yup, that's it. That's all it said.

It makes me wonder just how much effort they're putting into this endeavor.

It's funny, really: You're one of the biggest sources of high-profile literature in metropolitan Manila. You're running one of the most extravagant writing contests in the history of the Philippines. You're being sponsored by an influential author with an international repertoire. You're giving details to more than a thousand people, all of whom are most likely scrambling to reach the deadline for your contest.

And in what's supposed to be a "very important reminder", this is all you tell us?


Frankly, I'm disappointed. Who writes these "updates", anyway?

Are they aware that the contest rules on the Fully Booked web site were inaccessible for the longest period of time early this year because something was wrong with their registration system? For that matter, were they aware that said registration system was very inconvenient (and easily bypassed) for anyone who just wanted to read the rules?

Are they aware that the contest rules are displayed as an image on their site? This makes the download extremely slow for anyone who isn't on a Broadband connection. Heck, the contest rules are all in text. Why don't they display it in text format, to begin with?

Are they aware that the contest rules still show the deadline date as "January 31, 2006"? Sure, there's now a label that indicates the deadline extension, but as of their last message, plenty of people still assumed that they were running under the original due date. Either they made the change too late, or the addendum just isn't very noticeable. And why don't they just edit the darn January listing in the first place?

Put all this together, and you can understand why just placing a reference to "Rule Number 13" just isn't going to cut it.

Does everybody have convenient access to the contest rules? No.

Can everybody efficiently acquire a copy of the contest rules? No.

Is everybody aware that the contest rules have been updated? No.

I still have a copy of these regulations from when I first heard about the competition, which was sometime in early December. And based on my little reference here, Rule 13 reads as follows:

"13. For comics, all artwork should be in black and white. No signatures must appear on any of the pages of the entries."

Yup, I'm sure that that must be plenty important.

Obviously, the contest rules have been updated since the time I first right-clicked on my browser window and saved these words for posterity. I know that they've been updated -- I visited the site just this morning.

In fact, when I visited the site this morning, I found it offline. I did manage to find what I presume is the most recent version of the contest rules, but it took quite a bit of trial-and-error on my part.

You're running a competition that rivals the Palanca Awards, people. You're organizing an effort that's supposed to help put alternative Philippine literature in the spotlight. You're speaking to over a thousand people whose entries hang on every detail in every one of your words.

There is a way to do this right, and believe me, you're far from doing it.

Throw us a bone, people. Give us something to work with. Toss us a line. We're your audience, for God's sake. We may be writers, but we're still your audience.

You may have one of the biggest contests to come around since contests were even invented, but we're the people who make your endeavor possible. We populate your little marketing-based world. You need us.

Don't sell us short like this.


Sean's Note: The current Rule Number 13, for those interested, goes as follows:
"13. All rules and guidelines of the contest must be followed STRICTLY. Non-compliance will subject the submission to immediate disqualification."
My reference for what I presume is the most recent version of the contest rules is at the following address:


You're welcome to have a look, everyone. Do keep in mind, however, that this may or may not be the final set of regulations that we're supposed to be follow. For your inquiries, please reference the Fully Booked web site (assuming that it's available, of course).

Sean's Note 2: I'm sending a copy of this article to the only referenced Fully Booked e-mail address I know of. They may not like me for it, but at least I know that I'll be saying exactly how I feel, and at least I know that those feelings are justified. And hey, if worst comes to worst and it takes me out of the running, then that means less competition for you, doesn't it?

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

Do Not Pass Go. Do Not Collect $200.

Sean's Note: It's funny how you can create an article out of bits and pieces. This thing's pretty old, although I've been adding to it little by little over the last month. The prequel to this article is over here.

Three games of Monopoly later, my siblings and I are all tied at one win each. My brother won our first game by hoarding three railroads and cruising to victory on the rent; My sister won our second game when she managed to land on all the light-blue properties early in the game; and finally, I won our most recent outing when I started charging them $900 rent every time they landed on Pacific Avenue.

While Monopoly's still far from being a purely strategic game in my book (there's too much of a luck requirement for my taste), it makes for a passable evening diversion. Somehow, though, I keep hearing stories of people who play it often enough to develop expert skills. I wonder just how many hours you have to spend at the game just so that you can crush your opponents' hotels beneath your feet.

Three games looks like a good enough start, though. I figure that it's possible to assess my stratagem now, make a few changes, and see if they do anything for the next couple of matches. That's probably where the educational value of board and card games lie, I think: They constantly get you wondering whether or not you're playing things right. If you're not, the games encourage you to fix your play style; otherwise they get you considering how you can one-up those opponents who use the same strategies.

I outlined six propositional strategies in my previous article on the subject, and I'll revisit each in turn:

A1. Favor certain properties.
As Roy carefully noted earlier, it's simply not viable to expect to land on certain key spaces on the board. While players are more likely to land on certain properties over others, the variance between them is so low as to be untrustworthy.

That said, Baltic Avenue and Mediterranean Avenue are still probably the worst places to set up shop. With the low frequency by which people seem to land on them, $50 per house simply won't get any substantial return. Boardwalk and Park Place suffer from a similar problem with low frequency, and on top of that, the $200-per-house charge will probably bankrupt you by itself. But it's worth seeing an opponent's face, at least, when he comes up short of Go and has to shell out $35 or $50 because of his misfortune.

A2. Know when to hold 'em.
It turns out that there might not be much strategy in buying idle properties at auction. In addition, deciding which deeds to mortgage at which times is probably an easier decision than expected. Both have the same underlying logic behind them, and it involves, quite frankly, whether you have the money or not. No money, no moves.

A3. Know when to fold 'em.
This was extremely obvious at first glance, particularly because properties don't diminish in worth over time. It's too obvious, though, which really questions its worth as a strategic element.

I suspect that the real issue of timing comes about when you're given the opportunity to un-mortgage your properties. When's the right time to do that? Should you buy the place back and prevent your opponents from seizing it, or should you keep the cash in case you suddenly run into a vicious case of rent? A good deal of the risk-management aspect of the game is reflected in the mortgage mechanic, I think.

A4. Track your income.
Yes, you get $200 whenever you pass Go. The longer the game goes, the lower the value of this $200 gets, but it's still free income, and free income never hurt anyone. In fact, for some players, the regular $200 infusion could mean the difference between staying in the game or going bankrupt.

This is in all probability why the "Income Tax" space is so frustrating: You either lose that $200 you just got, or you cash in ten percent of your available funds. In addition, anyone who manages to pull in the Light-Blue properties places three more areas on the board that can take peoples' hard-earned money away from them.

A5. Sometimes you'll want to Go to Jail.
This was the only one I pegged exactly right the first time. When it's early in the game, you'll want to get out as soon as possible in order to buy up more properties. Otherwise, however, you'll want to stay inside just to avoid a treacherous path across the board. The only downside to staying in Jail is the fact that you're not getting the $200 from passing Go, and even then, this won't mean much if you're already in the late game.

A6. Hoard the houses.
Five words: "You are assessed for street repairs." The card only appears once in each of the Chance and Community Chest decks, but it's enough to give you second thoughts about insane levels of house-buying.

That said, three houses appears to be sufficient for most properties. At that point, the rent becomes substantial enough to trouble your opponents, you hoard a good-sized portion of the supply of tiny green tokens, and having to pay for street repairs won't hurt as much.

Now, considering our last three games, I have a bit more to add:

B1. Ride the railroads.
By themselves, the properties in Monopoly are fairly pathetic when it comes to rent. You may pay $280 for Marvin Gardens, for example, but how long will you probably need to recoup your investment if you don't own both Atlantic and Ventnor as well?

The railroads, interestingly enough, are almost certainly the best deals when it comes to receiving rent. One railroad gives you $25 rent, which is average for the game. Two railroads, however, give $50 rent, and double the chances by which you can ensnare opponents. If you somehow manage to own three or more railroads, then you're probably cruising to a win right then and there.

B2. Position is everything.
Board positioning is remarkably important in Monopoly. I think I've even covered this before, considering that we know that Baltic Avenue, Mediterranean Avenue, Park Place and Boardwalk probably aren't exactly the best places to buy.

For one, position determines the price of houses and hotels. Structures on the cheaper areas of the board, for example, have much lower prices than structures on the more expensive sections. While the Light-Blue properties don't offer as much as some of the later properties in terms of return, for example, it's easier to develop them because of the cheaper structures. You could theoretically be kicking opponents in the shins before they even get their first house on Indiana Avenue.

Another couple of items to note is that everyone inevitably wants to pass Go as often as possible, and that in the later stages of the game, everyone wants to stay in Jail for as long as possible. That makes properties around those areas somewhat attractive; Controlling the Orange properties, for instance, gives you a good chance of charging rent right after a player walks out of prison.

The Go to Jail space on the board may also be a distinct factor in this regard: Why invest heavily in the Green properties, for example, when players heading in their direction have a good chance of being sent back halway across the board? The presence of the Jail mechanic probably makes the more expensive properties more than a little risky.

Finally, there's always the prospect of building a "minefield" -- teaming up with a player in order to develop all the properties that lie on a single edge of the board. Opponents are going to have to pass through eventually, and it'll obviously be difficult for them to get through without having to pay you or your allies huge sums of money.

B3. Build in bursts.
It's difficult enough to expect to land on specific spaces of the board, I think. In fact, it's a lot more unreasonable to expect opponents to land on those specific spots.

Let's suppose that you own all the Green properties, where the houses and hotels are worth $200 each. Now let's suppose that an opponent is slowly moving towards those properties, and you only happen to have enough cash on hand to build one house. Where do you build it?

The simplest and most correct answer to this, I think, is that you shouldn't bother. If you manage to build only one house in that situation, the chances of your opponent landing on that exact same spot within the next turn are pretty slim. In addition to that, he'll have to do one more lap around the board before you get that chance again. Even worse, you're now down a couple hundred with almost nothing to show for it.

I've noticed that it's probably best to buy "rounds" of houses in this regard: If you're going to develop a set of properties because an opponent is coming up the walk, then you might as well buy for all of them at the same time. This increases the chances of forcing a large payout from that opponent. In fact, if your opponent's lucky enough to land on one of those developed properties, his rent will help finance your next round of construction in the same area.

B4. Talk turkey.
One of the interesting aspects of Monopoly is that you can negotiate with opponents when it comes to title deeds (although sadly, you can't lend or borrow money). This supposedly adds something to the risk-taking element of the game, but it can also be seen a good control mechanism for certain situations.

Every now and then, someone's going to get lucky and gain an advantage that puts him ahead of everyone else. That person may have gotten three or four railroads, or have acquired all properties of one color group, or have had multiple houses waiting in certain zones. In those cases, I feel it's clear that if the rest of the players in the game don't do something quick, the offending player is going to bleed them dry.

I think that pragmatic negotiation should really take over at this point. If somebody's charging you an arm and a leg for hotel rental on Atlantic Avenue, then you should start making offers that are more than a little skewed in nature. You say that you don't want my St. Charles Place for your Illinois Avenue even though it means that we'll both complete our color sets? Then we both might as well sit back and lose the game. If somebody's way out in front of the rest of the pack, then the rest of the players need to take drastic measures in order to catch up.

After three games, our interest in Monopoly has petered out a little, so I guess that I might have to hoard these strategies for a while. If anyone's interested in a game, though, do drop me a line. We can set something up, I suppose. :)

Now where did I put that Clue gameboard...?

Disclaimer: February 2006

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Finally, no matter this entry looked that badness, I may guarantee which your Systran is quite good tool serves for the translation. Meaning, you attempt to translate something I to become Chinese and behind. Two times. It is not pretty.