Thursday, January 31, 2008

I Should Have Kept My Mouth Shut

Sometime during dinner tonight, I made the mistake of saying, "My company's having an open house sometime next month."

My brother raised an eyebrow. "Open house?"

"Yeah. We get to bring guests in, and show them what we have in the office, where we go for work, and what it is that we do all day. Like I said, it's an open house."

"As in, we get to see your office?"

I suddenly got very uncomfortable. "Uh... yeah."

"We have to tell you beforehand?" my mother asked.

"Yes," I said. "That's why I'm telling you this right now."

"For the registration," she said.

"Yes... if you want to drop by, then I have to submit your names to the organizers. There'll probably be temporary IDs involved."

My brother laughed. "What if we're from a competitor?"


"I mean, what if we were from a competitor or something? Would your company still let us inside?"

"Well... I'm pretty sure that you'd be under my supervision. And I wouldn't let you see anything important."

"That wouldn't be worthwhile."

I drummed my fingers for a bit. "I never said it would be worthwhile."

"How are you supposed to work, then?" my mother asked. "I mean, if you're going to watch us for the whole time that we're there..."

"I think I can handle it," I told her.

"Oh. Will you be selling us some of your products?"


"When your father was still working with his bank, whenever he would have an open house, there would always be this room where some people sold us perfume and other things for discounted prices."

"What did that have to do with his bank?"

My mother shrugged. "I don't know. But we did buy a few things. That's why I thought that you would have a room where we could buy your products at discount."

"I'm in the information technology department. That's a far cry from the factory, you know."

"Yes, but they can sell you some of their products at lower prices, right? I mean, you work for them."

"Yes, but that doesn't automatically mean that I can take the stuff home whenever I wanted!"

"I didn't say that. Doesn't the company give you any of this?"

"Sometimes. Not all the time. Sometimes we have sales for the employees."

"You should tell us about those. You should also ask them for more things to bring home."

This time I was the one who raised an eyebrow. "I can't do that! I haven't even been in the company for a year!"

"Yes, but you're doing something important, right?"

"I, ah... well... I don't know."

"You don't know?"

"Er... okay, that's it. Forget that I said anything."

"We'd love to come to the open house," my brother added.

"Er, ah... they haven't given a date for it yet. Yeah, that's it... they haven't scheduled a date yet. I guess I'll have to wait for a while before I tell you when we can register. Ahah hah."

"You just said that it was next month."

"I lied," I said, getting up to go to the bathroom. "Now shut up."

And that's where I stayed for the next ten minutes.

When I got back, they were talking about a few relatives who were flying in the next morning. I sat down, I picked at the food, and I didn't say anything for the rest of the meal.

Some dinner topics, after all, should be kept under wraps.

Monday, January 28, 2008


Over three years ago, I wrote the following things down for my first post on this blog:

Still learning how to work this thing.

Every now and then a single image flashes before my eyes, and that's of those days in the late 80s when I was working out how to operate the VCR.

Everything's obviously different this time around. There's not even a "Play" button in sight.

Four hundred and ninety-nine posts later, I'm still learning how to work this thing.

Yes, you counted that right. This is the 500th post I've written and published for this blog. I've come a very, very long way since that first post.

For most writers, this would be a perfect time for a retrospective. Unfortunately, I don't share their beliefs in this regard. Why should we restrict our momentous retrospectives to the posts with the big round numbers, anyway? I mean, what's the basic difference between a 500th post, and, say, a 483rd? They both mean the same thing -- that I obviously don't have any better things to do apart from work and write -- and I see no reason why Number 500 always gets to have the retrospective while Number 483 gets left out in the cold.

This is why I put up my retrospectives in the strangest places. This is also why this 500th post will get royally shafted by me tonight. This subtle rejection will ultimately develop into a form of mental trauma for this poor article; after which it will spend the next decade in a useless, drunken stupor; until it finally comes to its senses, blames me for all its troubles, and comes hunting for me with a high-powered rifle. Or not.

The truth is that I'm too lazy to do a retrospective tonight. This is the 500th post for this blog, which means that there are 499 articles before it that I now have to root through for the sake of looking at my past development. Apart from those, I also have a grand total of forty-two articles that I started writing, yet never brought to light for one reason or another. About a third of that number involves fiction in some way.

I'd like to do a total count of the comments on this blog, mind you... too bad I can't find a feature or a hack that lets me do so. As best as I can tell, I get about twenty-five comments a month. Over forty or so months, that puts it at a thousand comments. Half of those are probably mine, seeing that I try to answer everybody who drops by... so in a sense, there are 500 separate individual comments from external visitors floating around at the moment. Cute coincidence.

And then I'd also like to do a word-for-word analysis of every single post I've ever published, simply because I'm curious as to how many times I use the word "the" on this site. Then again, the word "the" shouldn't be put on a pedestal that way... I'd like to know exactly how many words I've ever written for every blasted article that appears here.

The way post number 500 should see it, my non-inclusion of a retrospective here saves me the time and trouble of doing some actual work at this time of night.

As it stands, I don't think that much has changed since I wrote my first post. Oh, I've gotten a few years older, I've written a few good yarns, and I've gotten into a more dedicated job... but I still whack my head on the keyboard trying to come up with good stories; I still hold a passion for board games, probability theory, and stuffed toys; and I still have a tendency to write about absolutely nothing at all.

The more things change, the more they stay the same. You and I both know that five hundred posts aren't likely to change that.

Here's to another five hundred posts for this blog. Maybe we'll still be around in three or four more years, if we're lucky enough to stay on topic.

Pass me that bottle of champagne, would you?

Saturday, January 26, 2008

Dangerous Times

A small area near my house was cordoned off with police tape by the time I got home, and I wondered what had gone down.

"Some guy got shot near our place early this evening," my brother told me.

I raised an eyebrow. "Oh?"

"Yeah. He was in a car. Some guys on a motorcycle rode up next to him after he had just come out of the bank. Shouted for his money, and then shot him."

"How did you find out?"

"Mom texted me. The guy was fifty years old or something. She thinks he died."

As it turned out, the victim was in critical condition at the nearest hospital. He had apparently withdrawn a significant amount of funds from the bank (somewhere in the area of six digits), which gave the assailants plenty of motive to chase him down. The robbers most likely held no remorse at all for the shooting -- the victim's family was in the same car as him, with his four-year-old granddaughter among them. At least, that's as far as I know right now.

One of the first things that I did when I went online was check the newspapers for more details. The victim's name sounded oddly familiar for some reason, so I ran a small background check using the local search engines. This, combined with my mother's powers of recall, gave rise to the notion that he was an old acquaintance of my late father. We had consulted him on a purchase of building material some twenty years ago.

It's funny, how some coincidences play out. But then, considering the circumstances, it doesn't really strike me as funny right now.

We live in interesting times. Sadly, there's a fine line between "interesting" and "dangerous" nowadays.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

This Post Says Nothing at All

If there's anything that I've realized tonight, It's pretty hard to write when you've just come home from a day's work.

That's not because I'm tired, mind you. For the record, I am tired -- I spent the whole day checking and rechecking a bunch of contracts, and on top of that, one of my servers decided to roll over and play dead three straight times in the last twenty-four hours. (The German executives who owned the data inside were not very amused.) But I was able to drag myself in front of the computer to wrap something up for a freelance assignment, and if I can do that, then I can certainly log into this website and write something.

Besides, I've already been writing for a while now. One of the things that you do once you've been writing for a few years involves being able to force yourself to write. There's no guarantee that you'll be able to magically come up with a good plot, of course, but it does encourage you to get off your duff and make some healthy use of your time.

No, I'm not finding it difficult to write because I'm tired. Heck, I'm writing now despite the fact that I'm a bit weary of the day's developments.

That's not to say that I have a shortage of ideas right now, either. I still have quite a few ideas floating around my head, if only because I'd like to come up with something that'll get published this year. I think about them every now and then, trying to mold them into the stories that they should become when they grow up... so I suppose it's fair enough to say that I'm not lacking for any ideas at the moment.

No, I think that the reason why I find it difficult to write at the moment is the fact that I've been thinking about work all day. As a result, it's hard for me to shift my thoughts at this time of night -- I inevitably find myself thinking about my plans for tomorrow, after all. Logic tells me that I should still write about what happens to be on my mind at the moment, but to be honest, I'd rather not barrage you with tales of my office life. I should have better things to post about.

I should try tinkering with a new approach here. Maybe a hard shift in thought -- some point in time where I stop thinking about work and start thinking about, say, purple unicorns -- might help. Or maybe I could simply find some way to relax without having to stare at a blinking screen for a while; that way, I'll be working from scratch when I finally power up the ol' monitor-and-keyboard.

And if all else fails, there's always the third option -- when you can't think of anything to write about, then you can write about the fact that you can't think of anything to write about.

Hey, it did work for this post. Look, ma, three hundred words! :)

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Eulogy: Bobby Fischer

There are two schools of thought on the topic of greatness.

One school declares that, in order for one to be a great person, one has to accomplish something momentous, unprecedented, and otherwise distinct in the history of humankind. One has to perform some great feat, some act that typifies one bright shining moment in the fleeting lifespan of the human spirit. It doesn't even necessarily have to be impossible, heroic or even practical; more than a few humanitarian endeavors lie forgotten alongside the fame of outrageous stunts.

If you subscribe to this school of thought, then Bobby Fischer was a great chess player. Even if you somehow don't see him as the greatest of them all, you would be foolish to rank him as anything but among the best who ever moved a pawn across the black-and-white board.

Say what you will, but the man ate, slept, dreamed, read, wrote, and breathed chess. He knew the game right down to its core. He knew its subtleties, lived its openings, and experienced its endgames. Bobby Fischer was a passionate eccentric at heart, one who all but dedicated his life to the game and showed us where it could take him.

In an era and history that saw an almost completely Russian domination of the game, Fischer was an anomaly. He was a lone American champion, a superstar among the elders, an innovator who poked and prodded at the fabric of the tournament system and showed the judges his own particular brand of defiance. He would challenge people in his games, dragging them into the foremost reaches of unknown territory and forcing them to play with his own primal technique. He shattered the unspoken notion of chess as a "boring" game: To him, this was not something where you could memorize the moves or record the clicking of the pieces in the back of your head. No, when you played against Fischer, you either played chess... or you went down like a bag of bricks.

But there are two schools of thought on the topic of greatness, and I have only mentioned one so far.

This other school preaches a concept other than greatness. This second school preaches temperance. It is, after all, not enough to accomplish something great. Heck, anybody can accomplish something great as long as they can set their minds to it. It is the question of humanity that ultimately decides whether or not the action was worthwhile. What did you do it for? Who did you do it for? Why did you do it? And even more so than anything else -- did you remain a human being, knowledgeable and compassionate, afterwards?

If you subscribe to this school of thought, then Bobby Fischer was probably one of the worst individuals who ever played the game. Or if you refuse to go that far, he was one of the most abominably controversial.

He threw tantrums over the smallest details. He wrapped himself in an unsettling sense of paranoia and blamed everything around him for matters that only he could resolve. He demanded, he bickered, and he railed at the most inappropriate things. He was anti-Semitic despite being of Jewish descent; he was anti-American despite being American himself.

Despite his considerable talent, Bobby Fischer was world chess champion for only three years. But he did not lose his crown in a down-to-the-wire match against an honorable opponent; he resigned after the world chess federation refused to change the tournament rules according to his wishes. He was less a well-meaning ambassador of the sport, and more a cranky old miser with little patience to start with. There is an entire line of chess players who you probably wouldn't mind meeting, sharing a cup of tea, and talking shop with. Bobby Fischer belonged less on this list and more underneath the broken lightbulb at the back of the building.

He was controversial, and that was why people watched him. He was self-centered, and that was why people disliked him. He was both a genius and a crank at the same time, and whether or not the combination is a good quality happens to depend purely on what you think.

Bobby Fischer was either a great man, or a man who ended up wallowing in his own greatness. Exactly what that means is up to you; as I mentioned, there are two schools of thought on the matter.

The only certainty now, however, is that Bobby Fischer has passed on. In the end, he was neither a genius nor a crank; he was merely a chess player who made his last move and finally resigned from the game. In the end, he was an old man who left behind a legacy of skills and eccentricities, of wise moves and grievous errors, of the pitfalls of fame and the benefits of infamy.

Greatness, after all, is always a matter of black or white.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Firing On All Cylinders

"Burnout" is such a strong word. That's why I'm not going to use it.

For that matter, neither am I going to tell you how my week has gone so far. I'm not going to tell you about all the service issues that suddenly cropped out of nowhere to land on my desk. I'm not going to tell you about all the rinky-dink seminars being given by other departments in the same building at the same time (which nevertheless all come with a free lunch). I'm not going to tell you about the split-second projects that people suddenly decided to dump on my shoulders. I'm not going to tell you about the fact that I ran through about twenty meetings, got yelled at by fifteen different clients, answered about two hundred e-mail messages, and the fact that the week isn't over yet.

Heck, I'm not going to tell you about my splitting headache at the moment. I'm not going to tell you about the bags under my eyes, or the three-hour sleep sessions. I'm not going to tell you that I barely have time to do anything else, much less the stuff that I've been forced to put on hold for a while: Writing. Plotting. Going out. Playing around. Taking baths. Changing my underwear.

I'm not going to tell you that I feel tired right now. I'm not going to tell you that sometimes I fear falling asleep into my keyboard. I'm not going to tell you that sometimes I walk around the office floor with a plastic cup of water in my hand and wonder if I should dump it over my head.

I'm not going to tell you that my dreams have been strangely empty as of late, and I'm not going to tell you that I can't seem to remember which words rhyme with each other. I'm not going to tell you that I suddenly don't know what the capital of Iceland is, and I'm not going to tell you that I've forgotten what fettuccine carbonara tastes like. I'm not going to tell you that I haven't even so much as checked the newspaper in the last week, and I'm not going to tell you that I can't find my little cast of stuffed toys for some reason. (It's probably wash day or something.)

But I am going to tell you that I'm still up and about. You'll know that I'm starting to wind down when the smoke starts coming out of my ears, when my breath starts coming in ragged smoker-rasps, and when I start spouting inappropriate random words in five-second bursts.

When I do, the instructions are simple: Just lean me over my desk, look for the rotator keys in the three slots somewhere along the small of my back, and wind each of them up. One key controls my thoughts, one key controls my speech, and one key controls my actions. (I grant bonus points to anyone who somehow gets the literary reference.)

Did I say that "burnout" was such a strong word? I'll say it again, then: "Burnout" is such a strong word. It feels good to resist the temptation to use it, I suppose.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

On the Workload

Yes, I know that my posting rate seems to be slowing down. It's one of the busy seasons over at work.

I don't have much time at the moment, but I'll take a few minutes to explain things for the benefit of those who haven't held onto a job before, or those who haven't been part of the workforce for a while. You see, there are certain times of year when the workload just suddenly piles up on your desk. And by "workload", I can mean any number of things: paperwork, project executions, late-night meetings, anything. At these times of year, the office tends to be in "hell week" mode -- everyone's busy trying to finish what they can before the end of the week rolls around.

Normally, these "overworked" weeks come at specific times of the year. The end of June and the end of December are particular favorites, as these dictate the presence of mid-year and end-of-year reviews. What that means, therefore, is that the project managers are inevitably rushing the last steps of their self-driven initiatives at these times. After all, the review periods that take place here are usually favorite deadlines.

The work also has a tendency to pile up shortly before extended holidays or vacation periods. Every time the people in the office realize that they won't be back at work for another week or so, it usually means that a mad scramble is likely to take place shortly before the holidays come on. The consequences can also be applied to any high-level manager who plans an extended vacation, because they almost always look to finish what's on their plate before they head off.

This time of year, however, is the post-vacation period... it's that time of year when half the office has just returned from a long break (in this case, the Christmas holidays), and as such, have about two weeks' worth of unanswered e-mails to slog through. I certainly have my own share of papers to read and check and edit, despite having stayed in the office throughout the long break. On top of that, I'm expected to give a hand to the tens of hundreds of people who are doing the same thing.

You can see why I haven't been getting much sleep lately, least of all finding the time to sit down and write blog posts.

It doesn't mean that this'll last forever, though. Sooner or later -- maybe in a week, maybe in a month -- things will stabilize a bit and I'll be able to go back to my old arrangements.

Now I'll just have to find a way to survive...

Saturday, January 12, 2008

Ode to a Mailing List

I first came upon the mailing list a few years ago. At that time, I was coming off two years of literary inactivity and two more years of careful probing into the local writing industry. I felt that I was on the cusp of what looked like a perfectly plausible writing career, and I decided to take steps towards that end. This list looked like the healthiest writing community of its sort on Yahoo! Groups, so it was the first one that got my subscription.

Now, you don't take signing up for a mailing list lightly. Any populous mailing list will result in a lot of messages in your inbox every day, so you usually have to brace yourself for the onslaught. You also have to have quite a few expectations of the list itself -- to me, this was a question of how many contacts I could make within the writing world; how many fellows I could meet and discuss the details of the art; and how many creative opportunities I could find nestled within the pages of their public fora.

One other expectation, however, was the fact that I had to leave the list someday. Considering the circumstances, now may be the right time.

It's not entirely the list's fault, of course. No, most of my complaints concern the stuff that I see in my inbox each day. I expected critiques, discourse and advice when I signed up; instead I constantly get unoriginal forwarded articles, "vanity" posts that serve as non-subtle links to somebody's blog, unwanted media advertisements, and solicitations for seminars that have barely anything to do with writing at all. I do get a few shreds of interesting discourse about once a month, but that's about it.

In short, it's probably high time for me to get on the horse and move on into the sunset. I know that there are other less populated, more developed forums out there. I don't want to continue subscribing to one that doesn't offer me any benefit at all.

Part of me feels like sounding off on the mailing list itself. Oh, you know how it'll probably go -- I write a really long letter mouthing off the list and all the people who turned it into the glorified walking archive of spam that it is, the denizens take the perceived insults personally and start calling me names, and others take my rants a little too close to heart and start a crusade to clean up the discussions. All in all, normal human behavior. But the more I think about it, the more I think that I shouldn't.

I mean, people have the right to post what they want. It's their piece of the Net, after all. As a member of a mailing list, you can use your time to either start some constructive discussion, or you can use your time to send bits of spam to everybody. Whatever the case, it's still your right to do whatever you want with your time -- and if the mailing list supports what you do, then I'm not going to complain about it just because I'm a member who happens to dislike it.

We can make any number of arguments over whether this opinion is right or not, I think. I imagine that some of us out there would rather take the high road in this case -- you know, dust off the tin star, mosey down Main Street, and clean up the town. If you have good reason to do that, then go right ahead by all means. But on my part, the welfare of one mailing list is farthest from my mind. I'm not interested in redeeming this one little thing when I have a lot of other little things sitting around waiting for my attention.

This logic shouldn't just apply to mailing lists. I mean, there's a whole Internet out there, and there's bound to be quite a few people, places and things that either offend you or insult your sensibilities. Depending on the situation, you could either give them a wide berth, or go in with guns blazing. Me, I'd usually rather leave them the wide berth. I usually don't have a reason to contest any claims, and there are plenty of other places that can hold my attention.

Sure, you can fight for what you think is right, but you still have to have a good reason to do so. You can't antagonize anybody just because. If I had a greater stake in the mailing list (as if, say, I was its owner or something), then I'd stick around, bring the people back in line, and try to run the spammers out of town. As it stands, I don't... and basically, I won't.

It's the same with the Net, really. If I hold differences against somebody's website, then I'm not about to suddenly strike up a campaign directed solely against that person. I find it far more logical (and practical) to ignore him. If I had a direct stake in the affair -- plagiaristic offenses and reputational damages come to mind -- then I might take some sort of action. But as long as I don't have a good reason to do anything drastic, then I won't. Any other person has about as much right to the Net as I do. Any other person has about as much right to their opinion as I do.

And that's why I'm just plain leaving. The spammers can have this mailing list, as far as I'm concerned. Throwing some heavy-handed complaint into the mix would just be placing some unwarranted emotional investment into something that's really not worth the trouble.

You might have a different opinion, of course. You might want to do something completely different in the same situation. Heck, you might actually take offense at this entry in this blog and decide to complain about it in a forum of your choosing. If that's the case, then whatever you do is your call. This is one of your rights, after all.

Just don't expect to complain for no good reason at all and expect people to take you seriously for it. There's a perfectly good stable of logic behind having at least one leg to stand on, and it most definitely involves the fact that you don't suddenly collapse on top of your own argument.

That's some fair advice up there. Take it or leave it as you may.

Wednesday, January 09, 2008

One Potato, Two Potato, Three Potato, Four

When your company hosts three hundred employees in a single building, the corporate Christmas party tends to be a little impersonal. So the people in my division decided to host our own thirty-man affair, thus capping off our last working day before the long weekend. As we didn't have much of a budget left, we decided to go for a potluck gathering... each person was required to draw a random food type, and then provide a dish of that category for the party.

Along with three other people, I got unlucky and drew the "Vegetables" card, which meant that we had to find something organic that about thirty people would be willing to eat. Worse, our workload substantially increases just before the Christmas season, and in the weeks before the party, my compatriots had to beg off attendance due to one work-related reason or another.

In the end, my culinary-deprived skills and I decided to order a nice baked-potato dish from a company-approved caterer, to the tune of Php1,300.00 (USD 26.00). For a vegetable dish, it turned out to be pretty good (never mind that I already like potatoes to start with), the party ended up a modest success, and the end-of-year vacations went off without a hitch.

Fast-forward three weeks to this morning, where I was wondering if I could get my fellow group members to split for the price of the food. One thousand three hundred smackers is a lot for one person to take, even more so when you consider that four people were supposed to divide the costs to begin with. My first e-mail -- sent a few days before the party to let my co-workers know about the price -- had gone unanswered, however.

So this morning, the situation was clear: I had to find a way to negotiate the shares of my respective co-workers without giving the impression that I was a bitter, money-grubbing miser. Basically, I wanted to avoid an e-mail like this:

Hi, guys:

I want your P325.


Eight-letter messages may satisfy the demands for corporate minimalism, but they also speak loud enough to get you beaten up.

On the other hand, I didn't want to be so subtle that they would again ignore me entirely. My own workload was seeing a post-New Year resurgence, and it was likely that if I didn't ask them for the money now, then I was never going to see a single red cent. That, and I like to think that I have a spine running along the length of my back.

Hi, guys. Er... ah... remember our Christmas party? That was a great night, wasn't it?

Oh, yeah... you weren't able to make it. Sorry.

Now, ah... remember how we were all supposed to provide a vegetable dish for the evening? Remember how I spent two straight days looking for an available caterer, and how they came through for us with those two platefuls of baked potatoes? I'd just like you to know that I, ah... paid for everything a bunch of weeks back, and, well... even though you weren't around, you were, ah... at least there in, er... spirit.

There was also the question of attitude. These were people who I was supposed to work with on a daily basis. I didn't want to show them that I was some loud, obnoxious fool who made unreasonable demands and always got what he wanted. (If I were, I'd probably be in upper management right now.)


It's been three weeks since our Christmas party, and I am still out over a thousand pesos. You each owe me P325, and if you don't pay up, then I am going to start piling on the interest. If you somehow manage to ignore this message even after the many notices I've sent, then I will be forced to take drastic physical action (mostly involving the beer in your fridge).

I know you've got the money, so seal the funds in a clean white envelope and leave it under my locker by tomorrow morning. Do not screw with me, or I will turn green and start smashing everything in sight.

And then... I didn't want to get down on my knees and plead either.

Hi, guys:

Please please please PLEASE pay me the P325 you owe me from the Christmas party. I REALLY need the money now. Honest.

If you pay me before this weekend comes around, I will be your absolute bestest friend for life. I will serve you breakfast when you come in for the morning, and I will take all your calls for you late at night. I will shine your shoes, press your ties, and walk your dogs. I will clean your cabinets, wash your dishes, and write your reports... well, maybe not that last one.

Somewhere in the middle of my thoughts, before I even so much as sent anything, I noticed that I had received an e-mail from one of those group members. It was brief and to the point:

Hi, Sean:

How much do we owe you for the Christmas party?

"P325", I mentioned in my reply, and within the next couple of hours I had the money safely stowed away in my wallet. And no, I hardly had to type so much as a single actual word.

So all in all, it wasn't bad -- I wasted a few minutes this morning thinking about absolutely nothing at all, and I emerged plenty more well-funded for some reason. There's probably an underlying message to this strange sequence of events, something that would probably dictate the course of my life and convince me to make quite a few more serious decisions in the future.

Now, if I only knew what it was...