Saturday, October 22, 2005

A rant on work ethics

One thing has become so very personal for me, so very personally hateful to me is a perception of my uselessness. I guess it is the only part of me that I can describe as unrepentantly machismo. But I hate it with all of my heart when people think that I am of no help.

Friday, October 21, 2005

Black and White, and Shades of Gray

This is an Adobe Photoshop color swatch toolbox. As a child, we were led to believe that there were only seven colors. Later that collection of colors was extended, first to sixteen, then to thirty-two, then to sixty-four (for those fortunate enough to afford those boxed Crayola sets), and then even later we were told that there were only, really, just three colors. Of course, sky blue, perriwinkle and dodge blue are very different colors and, for the longest time I didn't know what made them different from each other and all the other types of blue. And that's just the color blue.

Later on, when I learned about "computer" colors in my programming language class, I found that there are, actually, different sets of primary colors. I had always thought that it was Blue, Yellow and Red; now I was being told that it was actually either Red, Green and Blue, or Cyan, Magenta and Yellow. We learned to look at long color charts for the numerical equivalents of displaying colors properly; we also learned that different machines will display the "same" color differently. As a consequence, we learned to "cheat" our displays so that we can actually come up with the color we actually want, regardless of what the color chart says it really is. For instance, when Pink doesn't look pink enough, we use a light shade of some violet/purple color.

And, at around that time, I learned how to use, first of all, MS Paint and then Adobe Photoshop. And this box over there at the top of this post (which is an Adobe Photoshop color swatch toolbox) became very familiar. But, for some reason, we always knew that blue was blue, red was red, yellow was yellow, etc. etc.

About two years ago, my wife (then my girl friend) found a way to enroll me into an art class. She knew that I always dreamed, wished and fantasized about doing my own paintings and, thanks to Chords and Canvas (a project she was working on at that time) she found where I can finally realize my dream, wish and fantasies (all in that order).

Thursday, October 20, 2005

Arroz caldo straight from the heart

My favorite dish has always been Arroz caldo in all it's permutations. For most Pinoys, arroz caldo only refers to that type made with chicken, the most usual type. Other types are referred to as either goto or congee if the meat used is beef tripe or meat dumplings, and lugaw if it doesn't have any meat in it at all. Technically, all these are arroz caldo, just as Colgate is just another type of toothpaste; Colgate, by the by, is the "generic" term for toothpaste for a lot of Pinoys for decades, only slowly changing during the last decade of the last century. Well, as I said, arroz caldo is my favorite dish and my favorite version of it is arroz caldo de bulalo.

For the past few weeks, I've already made three batches of this my favorite dish, but not because it is my favorite dish. I've been making this because my niece's favorite solid food dish is my arroz caldo. Of course, my brother and siste-in-law have already been trying to feed her some solid or semi-solid food. On the whole, she wasn't a picky eater, but only with arroz caldo did she display any sort of fondness, actually holding her mouth open to be fed, occassionally grabbing the spoon to put it in her mouth herself and crying if she still wants more. I mean, really, how can I resist? I am also her godfather after all.

Of course, I have to tone down my recipe so that it wouldn't be as spicy as I am wont to make it. Here is my modified recipe, based on my Mom's way of cooking it, henceforth called Arroz caldo de manok ala Dayang:

What did the fool say in his heart?

"Last week a middle-ranking officer of the Salvation Army, who gave up a well-paid job to devote his life to the poor, attempted to convince me that homosexuality is a mortal sin.

Late at night, on the streets of one of our great cities, that man offers friendship as well as help to the most degraded and (to those of a censorious turn of mind) degenerate human beings who exist just outside the boundaries of our society. And he does what he believes to be his Christian duty without the slightest suggestion of disapproval. Yet, for much of his time, he is meeting needs that result from conduct he regards as intrinsically wicked."

At last, an atheist finally admits that religious people are actually better human beings than those who claim that their creed is humanism (

And yet he still does not see this as proof that God exists but rather as the sort of mental delusion that just so happens to make them better human beings (no surprise there). And that is just one atheist; the others still think they hold the moral high-ground and believe that religious automatically means evil.

Another Alibi?

A lot of things were wrong with T2 from the very beginning, although I was too thankful that they hired me without a lot of questions asked. I had nothing to be ashamed of, of course; it's just that I've always been subjected to the rather heart-breaking experience of being passed over so many times because of my alma mater.The Quiet Room Also, initially, the training that they gave us during the first month was well-paced and well-designed and, although my impressions of the people I was going to work with on the first day was not so positive, I was fortunate to finally be put on a team whose members were not rambunctious and generally people I enjoy being with. It was also nice that we were being paid during that period, before we were technically doing any real work, and that pay was the highest I ever got in the Philippines.

It was much later, when our product training started that we had our first intimations of disaster looming on the horizon. Compared to the accent-neutralization training we received (ACE), which was, as I stated, paced, designed and balanced well, this was hurried, with no clear statement of our goals or objectives, incidental in treatment... basically not really training us for what we should be trained for. I mean, after all that big talk on the first day that our ACE and product training would be seamless and interspersed, we were disappointed and disillusioned to see that there was actually a clear demarcation line between ACE and product, and that the only ones benefitting from the product training are those who've already undergone that sort of training in another company.

Still, I thought that I can handle it... and why shouldn't I? I, who prided myself on learning computers more swiftly than others? I, who (in my hubris) gloried over the nickname given to me by friends of "The Machine" because of my skill and know-how in anything mechanical or electronic? Why shouldn't I pass this easily? I wasn't looking out to be the best; I just want to be good enough.

But, so tedious to relate, the training claimed even those of us who believed we were "techies" as victims: we just weren't understanding enough of it on time. Still, our team performed much better than all the other teams, due probably in no small part to the introspective nature of those on the team; but we were not happy being the best. Being the best means being the first on the floor, and we knew that we needed much more training that we had. Even when we tried to ask questions, we were always told in that annoying North American accent to just "figure it out."

I suddenly felt what it was like for a raw recruit with just a month of basic training before being sent into a battlefield, where your first mistake will always count... well not quite—technically, we had almost two months before we hit the floor, but you know what I mean.

Actually, I wasn't so bad. I sounded and talked like an American well enough for the clients to think that I was, and for a while that was all that mattered. I was there to help people, and helping people (as I was accustomed to) took focus and time. Especially time. It was only when my team leader told me I wasn't doing it fast enough that I even had any inkling that I was doing something wrong. That's when everything started going wrong. Suddenly, we were all counting our AHTs and ATTs (that's Average Handling Time and Average Talk Time in newspeak), feeling irritated at the occassional grandma who just wouldn't put the phone down because they knew that we hadn't really helped them enough yet. Our goal was to help our clients within 14 minutes. FOURTEEN, FREAKIN' MINUTES!!! I mean, gee! I guess I can, if I didn't have to give all of the prescribed opening, troubleshooting and closing scripts that make me sound like an intelligent robot. I guess I can squeeze all of the help if all we had to do was "help" them. But we were supposed to document everything while helping them, that is, we were supposed to be typing like crazy everything that we did.

But I think I can handle even that. I'm a touch-typist after all. What was so illogical and unhelpful is that we were supposed to troubleshoot according to a fixed and immutable flow-chart. It didn't matter if the agent before me had already done that, even with access to his/her "notes" I was supposed to go through it all over again. And it wouldn't matter that I had already done all that, and painstakingly recorded all of it, too. The agent that the client would have to call because I was not able to "resolve" the problem within the prescribed time will, also, have to go through the same steps.

And, though it pains me, I know I can handle even that. Yet, for those few cases that training did not prepare us for, we had to rely on our "floor support" which is basically a few knowledgeable individuals who have actually handled the "product" and can answer specific questions. But with thirty or more people in our team, of more than three teams, start waving our help-me flags, they cannot help all of us at once (and with our AHTs still ticking away). Even when they eventually came over to "help" us, the North American Caucasians (who were our trainers and our floor support) would merely tell us that "we took that up in training" (when was that?) and tha we should "figure it out." Even now, the phrase "figure it out" has become a sort of swear word to us Pinoys. That first week was the breaking point for me and a lot of my teammates. My scores on quality were really good, that is, inspite of my terrible AHTs (the longest of which was almost an hour and a half long), because I knew how to get a banter going. But the first time that was the worst day, which was some time later, also proved to be my last day. I spontaneously developed S.A.D.

This was a bitter pill for me to swallow. I had faced down principals, angry parents and idiotic teenagers in the past without flinching, without fear, then suddenly found myself having an irrational panic attack during a call. And knowing that it was an irrational panic attack was not helpful... it made me even more anxious... it didn't help that I was talking to a client that had such a thick French accent and couldn't understand a word he was saying. Somehow I finished the call, but I knew that I never want to take a call ever again. I excused myself quickly from my Pinoy teamleader and the pretty but insensitive caucasian trainer. All admonitions not to quit fell on not so deaf but definitely numb ears... I wanted out and I wanted out now. By the time I got home, I had a splitting headache, my heart was beating so fast and, though exhausted, couldn't go to sleep.

It didn't help that I knew why I was experiencing such. After weeks of being "weighed and measured and found wanting" (something I have always hated), suddenly being thrust into a situation where one is judged on literally a minute-by-minute basis on rules that are unfair yet unchangeable triggered that panic attack. I have not told anyone but my wife because I, of course, fear judgement. "Coward" and "quitter" are just some of the milder translations of their Tagalog equivalents. The thing is, the actual practice of taking a call and helping them blindly while on the phone isn't new to me—I've done it for years with friends, students and former employers alike. I'm used to talking to caucasians. But having a dagger continually over one's head all that time, and being constantly reminded of it everytime we look at the timer on the Avaya web phone was just too much. I never want to work at another call centre ever again if I can help it. Even if some of my co-workers (now unemployed like me) assure me that other call centres are not as strict, I know for a fact that all of them operate on equations that compute erlangs. Basically, it means that I shall always be judged on how swiftly I end a call rather on how good I was at a call. No thank you.

Although I realize that I shouldn't be ashamed of that panic attack when it happened, I find that I cannot talk about it with others. I definitely didn't bring it up when discussing it with my family or my in-laws, that's for certain. Mom had always wondered why, as a young teen, I developed stage-fright; I had always performed in front of people, and performed well. I became ashamed of this stage-fright or jitters and have, over the years, successfully gotten rid of it. I still feel uncomfortable speaking in public, but I never feel anxiety or panic any longer. So, my intellect reasons out, I shouldn't be ashamed because even entertainers like Donny Osmond would spontaneously suffer from Social Anxiety Disorder (SAD, for short) at the height of his career. I reason to myself that I only experienced such because I hated to be judged that rigorously (I had also been "assessed" before in my other jobs, of course, but they never came minute-by-minute and over things out of my control).

But still, I feel ashamed. I feel that I cannot hope for understanding. I was making more money than at any time in my life, and for some that should have settled things.

It was only later that a lot of us would read the opinions of North Americans about outsourcing—basically, they thought that we were taking away jobs meant for them. When I went through the resignation process and the exit interview, I found that T2 didn't care so much if so many of us resigned. For one, there were always more of us waiting to be hired, so we were as replaceable as a broken lightbulb. Another thing was that, high as our salaries were, we were relatively dirt cheap, so our American employers' collective pockets didn't ache if a lot of us resigned, even if they seemingly "wasted" their resources on training us for two months. We were peanuts. Of course, with that knowledge, even if our salaries were relatively high, knowing that on the grand scheme of things we were not as highly valued as we would have liked to believe (a weakness, I admit, amongst Pinoys), hastened the departure of those whom I left behind. It also gave us some insight over the perceived tendency of the North Americans reluctance to teach and help us Indios—was there an agenda somewhere?

Of course, one can read this entire post as rant and alibi, written by one so anxious to justify oneself. There are many, another one may reason, who find that they can stay in call centres with no problem at all. And knowing that there are some who think that way makes me feel more ashamed still. But my parting shot is this: while we were still there, we had a name for those who eventually proved hardy enough to remain. We called them "asses" and, though they had amazing 5-10 minute AHTs, they were the ones that give "phone technical support" the reputation of being unhelpful, uninformed and rude.

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

Archive of SayBox messages

Total shouts: 28

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Happy birthday, Ate Chris!!!
andanda ng comp!!!
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Gryphon Hall:
Well done, Ærynn! At last, you are writing the sort of posts I was expecting from you.
Gryphon Hall:
Thanks, Slaxx! Really appreciate it.
know what sir, you can make a concept book out of your blog...really good topics...
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iba ka talaga kuya jo ang galing mo! thank you talaga
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hi sir! musta no po?
pede po ba matanong kung pano niyo po nagawa itong "say box" thing and how did you make your blog's baskground like this. that is if it's okay.
kimi, as in kimi ng first year (dati) or kimi ng mars?
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Gryphon Hall:
By the way, Valerie, check your comments on your blog.
Gryphon Hall:
Well, you can find my wedding pics by following this link: -link-
hi sir... this is valerie... i am still using my blog!! how are you?? i want to see your wedding pics... were can i possibly find them? thanks!!
i'm gonna link you sir if that's fine with you.
we have the same tagboard. hehe. kimberly here sir. just bouncin' by. have a great day.
Gryphon Hall:
Thanks! I think so, too!
ahmm...know what...eowyn claire's really cool and cute...hehehe
woohoo! the slacker was here! hehehe
Happy now dat iv posted something? I enjoy ur musings!
Christine was here!
Gryphon Hall:
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I've been using SayBox for some time now. But I've changed to ShoutBox because SayBot keeps on bugging me with ads. I mean, I understand that these guys have to make a buck for a living. But if there is an alternative to this that is still free, I'm alright with it.

At any rate, I included the archive of all my "shouts" from SayBox right there on the right. Maybe someday I can port it to my ShoutBox? Or, maybe not. Who knows?