Saturday, June 30, 2012

my top 10 life lessons from Suits season 1

I enjoy watching this series on TV called "Suits". It follows a strong mentor-mentee relationship. Harvey Specter (played by Gabriel Macht), one of the best lawyers in the city, gives valuable lessons to his associate, Mike Ross (played by Patrick J. Adams), the lawyer without the law degree. I find myself taking notes (and tweeting them) as I watch the different episodes.

While waiting for the July 1 premiere of the second season of Suits on Jack TV, I list down the top ten lessons that I gleaned from watching the first season of series. It's not surprising that many of them came from the great Harvey Specter. There are few things in there that came from Mike and Harvey's arch-nemesis, Louis Litt (played by Rick Hoffman), as well.

NOTE: if these sound like a lecture, it's because these are notes I write to myself for when I need them... and to whoever is reading this list.

Here we go:

1. "First impressions last. Start behind the eight ball and you'll never get in front." -- Harvey Specter
Always dress as good as (or better than) you are. If that means upgrading one's wardrobe to look like colleagues then do so. Lab rats, however, have limited work clothes choices thanks to safety rules in the lab. Therefore, the dressing up part comes in mainly during conferences. Thanks to Suits, I'm now particular with fabric and stitching details on clothes, even if only on the ones I wear in the lab.
2. "When you screwed up... I didn't put that on you, I took it on myself because that's my job." -- Harvey Specter
Yeah, yeah. That's command responsibility. Leaders have had complaints and grumbles hurled behind their backs all the time. And it sucks. Whenever I get negative feedback from the boss, I remember not to take it personally because just before I've been told off, my supervisor has most likely gone through more hostile territory.
3. "I know I'm a bit prickly. But we're a team. That means I can help." -- Louis Litt
Not all supervisors are made equal. They have different leadership styles and different personalities. Not liking these qualities in one's supervisor is not a reason to not ask for help when the situation calls for it.
4. "Don't access information that's none of your business. It can backfire." -- Mike Ross
While this was about information being transmitted via fax in one Suits episode, I think that this statement also encompasses reading someone else's emails on screen and eavesdropping on people's conversations. This is hard, even when not meaning to, because today's workspaces have shrunk into cramped cubicles. Lots more people can listen in on one's conversation, thanks to the lack of sound barriers. Computer monitors facing the corridors beam their contents to people walking by.
5. "He's never going to make partner... because he doesn't get it... Doing good work isn't the whole job. Part of 'getting it' is that things like the dinner actually matter even when you don't think they do." -- Harvey Specter
Thought that the dinner invitation is just a means to good and FREE food? Or joining an office activity after-hours makes me get home later than usual? While these may be true, these social events are good ways of knowing people outside one's department. There are times when work backlog or personal things get in the way, so I don't always get to attend these social activities. But when I do, I normally end up with interesting conversations.
<6. Find influential people.
In one of the training courses I've attended, students have been asked to list down influential people they personally know. By influential, these people have bargaining power and can help one get what he/she wants.
7. "People hear what they want to hear." -- Mike Ross
So next time you're presenting an idea or some scientific discovery, remember that people are always thinking about how this new information can help them. They'd filter out or paraphrase your spiel to fit their ideas or their needs. So why let them? These could lead to misunderstanding. Might as well highlight how your information can benefit them and watch them get animated because their curiosity is piqued... then sneak in the other important details.
8. "Win a no-win situation by rewriting the rules." -- Harvey Specter
I don't know how this is done, but I think this is more about thinking outside the box than really rewriting the rules. In one of the training activities I attended, the lecturer said that if the instructions don't say you can't do something, then you can. For example, in one party game, the instructions were to go find the "treasure" and the complete team that arrives at the finish line first wins. Nothing was said about how to go find the treasure, so one group went on foot and another drove around. The team that walked had left a slow walker behind; the team that drove picked up the straggler. The walkers got to the finish line first but their team was incomplete. The team with the car was complete when they arrived. But since the straggler was with them, the two teams were complete at the finish line at the same time. Therefore, the game ended in a tie. This game still keeps cropping up in coffee table discussions half a decade after it was played. No team game has topped it yet.
9. Signed documents are very important.
Gone were the days of verbal agreements. Handshake agreements are no longer honored; hence the arrival of signed paperwork. In places other than law offices, paper and email trails are considered as recorded documentation. Hmm... that means I need to think again before deleting an email conversation.
10. "Winners don't make excuses when the other side plays the game." -- Harvey Specter
No excuses. Period. So next time you feel that you're on the losing end of a game or an argument, don't start making excuses (of being exhausted, of being on the more difficult side of the debate, etc). That difficult. The voice that keeps talking louder as one feels more discouraged is hard to silence as the boat is increasingly tilted. Continue playing and listening wholeheartedly and with an open mind. The leverage needed might just show itself when we're not distracted by negative thoughts.

Sunday, June 24, 2012

graceful sea jellies

One of my first encounters with jellyfish, or sea jellies (as scientists call them now), was when I was eight years old. I, along with the siblings and some friends scooped out a jellyfish from the sea (back then, all of us didn't know the dangers of doing so) and placed it in a transparent glass powdered coffee bottle filled with water. Since the water came from the tap, we added salt into the water, iodized salt.

Poor jellyfish.

I've since gone to visit a few aquaria during trips overseas. So when the Manila Ocean Park opened a few years back, I wanted to go there to see how it compares to the other ones I've seen. The first chance I got to really explore the place was on June 19th, when I went with Ate Bing and Ate Mary.

One of the attractions we visited was the "Jellies: Dancing Sea Fairies". It turned out to be one of my favorites. Just inside the room, we were greeted by the life cycle of a sea jelly... in glow-in-the-dark. The room was bathed in darkness, probably to make it easier for use to see the jellyfish. The persons who built this enclosure was successful: not only did our attention concentrate on these sea creatures, but I noticed the music a lot more because there were very few things to make me distracted.

Different species of sea jellies were in several aquariums with black backgrounds. As the lights changed in time with the music, the colors on the jellyfish changed too. I was fascinated with how graceful these jellyfish were. They floated up and down their aquaria, mindless of the people taking photos, tapping on the glass, and ooh-ing and aah-ing.

One important thing to remember about these jellyfish: while they are pretty to look at not all of them are safe. For example, big groups of jellyfish could disrupt power plant operations and tentacles of some species could actually inflict excruciating pain to the unfortunate sea swimmer. That's the kind of danger I had never thought about back on the beach as the "pet" jellyfish was transferred from sea to iodized salt water.

At the very end of the exhibit was one of the more dramatic displays of moon jellies. I felt like I was walking in one of Batman's secret rooms... except that instead of suits of armor, there were several cylinders of floating multicolored jellyfish. Quite haunting, really.

how to hurdle a brick wall

How does one lead when he or she is not in a position of (recognized) authority?

This is a question that was voiced out in one of the dinners during the GRiSP Leadership course I attended last year. And it is one challenge that we have to face after graduating from that class. While "small rocks vs big rocks" and "sharpening the saw" are some of the lowest-lying fruits from the leadership training tree, this question is one of the harder challenges from the class.

If leading without the positional advantage (also known as the job description) is akin to butting one's head onto a brick wall, it certainly is one very painful experience. While I am not afraid to butt my head onto brick walls if I need to, I have to stop when I draw blood. As I see it, for people with seriously sore skulls, there are two alternative approaches:

(1) Back off. Stay within the confines of one's comfort zone while consciously seeing what needs to be done and not making a comment about it.

(2) Find a hole in the wall. Use one's influence to encourage change without drawing too much attention to one's self. This, I think, is similar to the concept of inception forwarded by the 2010 Christopher Nolan movie. A lot more of behind-the-scenes action, definitely.

I have since decided that the first choice is NOT for me. Instead, I am working on the second alternative, which sounds a lot better despite the difficulty. After all, I want to see improvement opportunities maximized.

Is this second option the better path to take? I guess I'll soon find out.

Saturday, June 23, 2012

happy birthday, Jose Rizal!

JP Rizal's final resting place

If Jose Rizal were alive today, he would be 151 years old. On June 19th, since Ate Bing, Ate Mary, and I checked out Manila Ocean Park, we thought that it would be a good idea to visit the birthday boy where he actually is: at the Luneta. After all, we were on holiday that day because it was his birthday. This visit certainly beats a brief trip to his parents' house in Calamba (where I suspect most of the activities were held).

It's been a long time since I've dropped by the Luneta without planning to. Previously, I was there because of photo-walks, field trips, or the Milo marathon. During those times, the path leading to Rizal's monument were not decked out in celebration of anything. Today, however, flags lined the area not accessible to tourists; there were flowers near his monument; and there was a lively fountain show in the background. It really looked like people were celebrating someone's birthday (at least to me). I just didn't see the birthday cake, the balloons, and the party hats... BUT I did see a Jollibee staff carrying packs of spaghetti and Chicken Joy close by. I had a sneaky feeling there's a real birthday party going on but just couldn't see where.

Visiting where heroes lived and died is always a good way to celebrate national holidays. It somehow reminds people that history is alive. Going to these places makes me feel fascinated that long time ago, the greats like Rizal, the Luna brothers, Aguinaldo, and Bonifacio actually walked on the very same roads I was walking on. History is definitely not something that people just read in textbooks.

If Ambeth Ocampo is still giving tours that trace the roads in the Noli Me Tangere and the El Filibusterismo, I just might go and join one of them.

Friday, June 22, 2012

lunch at Makan Makan Asian Food Village

One of the nice things of going round and round at the Manila Ocean Park is that it leaves people famished. On Jose Rizal's 151st birth anniversary (a holiday in Laguna), I went there with Ate Bing and Ate Mary. After roaming the first few attractions, we opted to take a seat at Makan Makan and eat lunch there.

Makan Makan (the restaurant) was named after makan (the Malaysian verb which means "to eat"). Sounded promising. The next line of the name was a bit more intriguing. "Asian food village" denotes that food from different parts of Asia is represented there. All right, a one-stop shop for someone who wants to eat different cuisines!

Makan Makan is found on the floor above the entrance to the Oceanarium. It is strategically located for hungry Ocean Park tourists like the three of us; we came across it just as we exited the Trails to Antarctica exhibit and as my stomach signaled the lunch hour.

Inside the restaurant, I thought I was looking at a simpler and a smaller-scale version of the buffet restaurants in Aria and Monte Carlo. The lunch offerings at the time we dropped by were not buffet meals; we were ordering off the ala carte menu. Upon closer inspection, though, the central area of the restaurant appeared more like wagons and food stalls than the long tables and counters typical of buffets. The common denominator among these three restaurants, though, was that customers could see what's cooking because the kitchen is surrounded by glass panes.

True to the restaurant's theme, we ordered food from four different countries: China, Singapore, Taiwan, and Thailand. My only concern, as always, was the possibility that my seafood allergens would sneak into the food that we were ordering. The waiter assured me that the food we got mostly had chicken... or egg. On with the food!

I've tried bird's nest soup in other restaurants before. The other items were chosen by Ate Bing and Ate Mary; it looked like they've liked the other dishes in their travels so they got them for us. I chose the oyster omelet because I got curious about how it tasted.

nasi goreng

oyster omelet

pandan chicken

I liked the food that we ordered. The flavors were probably adjusted to suit the Filipino palette. One more thing, since I was up to the challenge to trying different food when on food trips, I decided to drink something I haven't tried before: lemon barley water. It's basically pearled barley boiled in water and then served with lemon wedges and sugar. That's an interesting, and healthier, variant to the normal lemonade.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Pho Hanoi: Vietnamese restaurant close to home

There's this restaurant in Calamba that I've been wanting to try out for a long time. It's called Pho Hanoi and it's located in Bucal, near the Total Gas Station. A few months after its opening, I was able to drop by for dinner and see if the pho was comparable to what I've tried out in Hanoi and Redwood City.

From outside, the restaurant looks welcoming and clean. Wooden tables are covered with red tablecloths and the lighting appeared inviting; not at all intimidating for a sole diner stopping by for a late dinner. Take note, I arrived there about 8:30 p.m., I think. It certainly helped that the waiting staff and the owners gave a very warm welcome to me as I entered the restaurant.

As in the previous Vietnamese restaurants I've tried, I wanted to order pho ga. However, I was surprised that this chicken soup was not available. Instead, Pho Hanoi is offering it's signature soup, pho Hanoi, and three other selections. Naturally, I had to try the pho Hanoi

HUGE. That was my first reaction when the bowl arrived. This soup definitely is good for more than one person... except if that individual was famished. In my case, I was able to polish off such a large serving because my last meal before this one was lunch. That's eight hours prior to dinner!

pho Hanoi

One thing I noticed as I slurped on the soup was that it tended to be sweeter than what I've tried in Hanoi but was similar to what I've tasted in Redwood City. An adaptation towards international taste, perhaps? I attributed the hint of sweetness to the onions I kept seeing in my bowl of soup. 

Unlike the other restaurants where I've eaten pho before, including ones in Manila, Pho Hanoi gave only a few pieces of basil leaves, bean sprouts, and a slice of calamansi. Normally, I'd be given a plateful of basil leaves, several lemon wedges, and lots of bean sprouts. Because of the lack of herbs to enhance or mask the pho's flavors, I was able to take in the real taste of the soup. I just missed that freshness that comes with the basil and the sharpness that's from the lemon.

As I dug deeper into the bowl, I realized that the spring onions were cut up into finer pieces than in the hole-in-the-wall I wandered into in Hoan Kiem; the vegetables in the soup were much sparser than what I got in Saba Cafe. However, I have to emphasize that in those previous forays into Vietnamese cuisine, I always got the pho ga, which has chicken. Pho Hanoi had beef in it; thus, the garnish proportions for it might be slightly different.

Then there were the spring rolls. The last time I've eaten one of these was when Tran Anh Nguyet was still a scholar in the GQNC Lab. Of course the spring rolls in Pho Hanoi tasted differently from what I used to eat; I used to eat build-your-own-rolls, in which I added all the basil leaves I could fit in the rice paper.

fresh spring rolls

The spring rolls in Pho Hanoi normally have shrimp but since I'm allergic to it, I requested to have something else in there... they gave me chicken! Instead of lots of basil leaves, the spring rolls balanced the flavors with the crunch of lettuce and the softness of rice noodles. These rolls could be dipped either in vinegar or in the brown peanut sauce. Personally, I preferred the vinegar dip, but that's just because I like the sharp flavor of it.

My dinner at Pho Hanoi was a good first try that I've decided to drop by again soon. Next time, I'll try other dishes and not just the pho. Nothing beats eating Vietnamese food in Vietnam but Pho Hanoi is the closest Vietnamese restaurant to home. 

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Review: Snow White and the Huntsman (2012)

While watching Snow White and the Huntsman, I can't shake off the feeling that it's a coming together of so many characters from different stories into one movie plot. It didn't help that the two leads gained icon statuses in previous movies. The story is a retelling of the children's tale about Snow White. This story, however, is definitely NOT the Disney Princess version. It's dark. It's scary. It's ending didn't have the "happily ever after" feeling Giselle had at the close -- okay, all throughout the plot -- of Enchanted.

And here we go...

Thor and Bella traveled through Narnia, Middle Earth, Pandora, Sherwood Forest, and Underland. Along the way, they met Legolas, Gimli and the other dwarves, Smeagol and Gollum, and Harry's patronus. All their efforts in the beginning were done to escape Silas and the legionnaires who work for the icy villain, Evil Queen (a mash-up of Lamia, Maleficent, and Voldemort).  
And just like in the traditional Snow White story, she just had to eat a poisoned apple and lose consciousness. She was transported to the castle by her allies (dwarves, Merry Men) just like the way Faramir entered Gondor after the Battle of the Pelennor; however, instead of a mad Denethor intending to burn her in the midst of her unresponsive state, Bella was watched over by Thor. Meanwhile, the captains debated how to put an end to the oppressive ruler while Theoden stood his ground about defending the people who needed protection.  
When Bella finally woke up from her reverie, she was determined to defeat the Evil Queen. She suited up in mail and rode to battle as Eowyn did against Mordor's forces in Gondor; as Elizabeth I did against the Spanish naval fleet along the English coasts; as Lady Marian, with the Lost Boys, did against the French on the English coasts (again). On the final showdown, the Evil Queen was the Jabberwocky to Bella's Alice.  
Once the battle was over, Bella was crowned queen in a manner quite similar to Aragorn's coronation; the only things missing were the singing in the Elvish tongue and the presence of wizards, wolves, and vampires in the crowd.

... Maybe it's just me, though.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

my astronaut dream can come true after all!!

Once upon a time, I was reading a short story from a Young America Basic Reading Program book (a required reading in grade school). This story was about people traveling from Earth to somewhere in outer space, whose space ship was saved from asteroids and other floating materials by bubble gum.

This story was one of the more memorable ones for me from grade school; no, it's not because of bubble gum. This story made me think about what it must be like to travel in outer space (hence the development of my recently quashed dream of becoming an astronaut).

I'll see you again. Someday.

The short story, written probably in the 1970s, was talking about commercial space flights. About forty years after the Young America story has been published, it looks like commercial space flight is almost a reality. That is, after NASA mothballed the Space Shuttle program. Hope unlooked for (for me) came up when SpaceX's first attempt at unmanned space flight went smoothly two weeks ago. Other private companies are into the space race as well. One day, choosing which space ship to ride in will be similar to choosing which airline to fly with.

In the near future, there will be commercial flights to the moon, or to Mars, even. I just feel it. Yes, fellow backseat astronauts, our dream can become a reality pretty soon!

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

fascinated by the partial lunar eclipse

Ate Mary and the waxing gibbous moon
(Mind Museum, Taguig)

Yeah, I'm one of those people who love watching an eclipse. The natural phenomenon, NOT the movie.

I got hooked when I had the chance to see my first lunar eclipse one clear evening many years ago. The late Ernie Baron was still the weather reporter on TV Patrol at the time. After his weather report, he announced that the lunar eclipse was about to begin. My siblings, cousins, and I ran out to the street to watch the moon shrink from a yellow-orange orb into a blood red sliver before going back to normal.

Naturally, when I got wind of the supermoon eclipse on June 4, I was very excited to watch it... even if it's just a partial one. I was excited because the moon's supposed to be HUGE! With a huge chunk missing!

I wished then that I could have taken at least a photo; but since I couldn't, I decided to sit back, relax, and enjoy the show.

And so once the sky finally darkened, I found myself a good seat, hoping that the cloud cover would be blown away by the wind. A few minutes into the wait, the full moon rose above Mount Banahaw in the east... only, it's not perfectly round. I saw the moon in the Earth's umbra: the Earth's central shadow darkened a third of the moon. That was such a great sight to see. Amazing!

A few more minutes into the lunar eclipse, the moon began leaving the Earth's umbra and started becoming brighter again. Thin wisps of clouds began to move over the moon, making the moon quite blurred to look at; beautiful, nonetheless.

As quick as it began, the lunar eclipse ended. The moon glowed brighter as the night grew deeper.

Friday, June 1, 2012

joel and trixie's getting married!

We are all growing up, and older. One trusty sign that me and my friends have gone a long way from high school is the fact that friends from back then are getting married.

The latest pair is Joel and Trixie. Joel is in the same batch as I was in UP Rural High School while Trixie was in the year ahead of us.

And later this year, they'll be tying the knot.

Congratulations, Joel and Trixie!!

on the road, listening to Pure... Drive

The CD subtitle and cover was what piqued my interest. Who could resist such a CD compilation after being promised a long drive with some of the greatest songs in the background, right? After all, long road trips could be a bore while listening to endless radio jock banter, current music selections, and the old and reliable long-drive CD (in my case, it's my 2-CD EWF compilation).

Anyway, I got Sony Music's Pure... Drive, a four-CD music compilation, and was very excited to find out that some of my favorite songs are in it! I always look forward to listen to songs from decades past on Fridays (when the local DJs play the 80s and 90s music). Now I can listen to them ANYTIME!! The only caveat, however, is that the songs in Pure... Drive are best played when driving on the open road; much like when Lightning McQueen and Sally Carrera went driving along the old Mother Road.

There are some songs in the four CDs that are definitely great driving companions. However, there were a few songs that took me by surprise because I couldn't imagine them being played by road-weary drivers. These songs are the downright boring ones in the list. Since I have yet to test drive the Pure... Drive compilation on a really long road trip, I can't really say that those songs are really bad ones. Perhaps when the driving gets rough, these "boring" songs can tide drivers over. We'll see...

In the meantime, I've taken the CDs on a spin through my daily commute. So far, so good.