The RubeTube

Life's a cube.  Solve it.

April 29, 2007
Check out the photos of my niece Tinsel's 6th birthday celebration last weekend. My brother took most of them.

On Saturday (her actual birthday), we went for lunch at Burgoo in Gateway Mall which was followed up in the afternoon with a visit to Active Fun (at their branch in Fun Ranch, Pasig). Active Fun is essentially a blown-up version of a McDonald's "play place." My brother and I took turns accompanying the kids inside; we had to watch over Anton who was too small to defend himself against playground bullies. (Interestingly enough, the "no-play" adult pass is cheaper than a kiddie pass. But when you follow kids around, you have no choice but to play along with them. The adult pass is unlimited too!)

Tinsel was very, very excited to go there. I was very skeptical about the appeal of such a place at first, but having experienced it first-hand, I must say that I probably had more fun than the kids! This is a video of me and Anton on the giant slide:
And here is a photo of Tinsel and Anton in the playground:

On Sunday, we had a kiddie party at their home with her friends. Notice how incredibly pink the party was! This is the birthday girl looking pretty in pink:

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April 26, 2007
I commuted to the Mandaluyong City Hall today to pay off the fine for my traffic violation and get my license back. It turns out that my fine was actually 500 pesos, not 250 as the traffic officer told me. But since I've been making a concerted effort lately not to be an asshole, I just shrugged and paid up.

The whole process was quick and painless. It took around 10 minutes from the time I entered the Mandaluyong Traffic and Parking Management office to the time my driver's license was released. It also helped that there were very few criminals in the office with me at that time.

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April 25, 2007
Today, I became a third-rate criminal, a felon of the lowest degree, barely a menace to society, charged with the least of all evils known to man: (click for a better view)

Ah, my first traffic violation. I unwittingly went straight in the counterflow lane at the intersection of Julia Vargas and San Miguel Avenue, unaware that it was a left-turn only lane despite all the blaring signs along the road. Never mind that every day, hundreds of cars commit the same traffic violation. (When I was pulled over, I was quick to point out to the officer the car that was following behind me, which then got promptly pulled over as well. A miniscule victory, but a victory nonetheless.)

When I told my officemates about my experience, the usual reaction was, "Why didn't you just run away or pay the guy off?" To which I replied in the most self-righteous tone I could muster, "I want to be a part of the solution, not the problem." Besides, if I did something reckless, my 250-peso fine could easily turn into a 250,000-peso disaster.

Tomorrow, I shall go out and (literally) pay my debt to society. And get my license back. To be honest, I'm not mad at the world or even at the officer who gave the ticket. On the contrary, I'm excited to experience something new... even if it involves long lines and idiotic bureaucracy.

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April 24, 2007
With help from a timely 20-percent-off-on-all-items sale at Powerbooks, I was able to get myself a copy (the last one!) of one of the hottest business/management books today: The No Asshole Rule: Building a Civilized Workplace and Surviving One That Isn't by Robert Sutton. I found out about The No Asshole Rule from Guy Kawasaki's blog. There's also an "Asshole Rating Self-Exam (ARSE)" that you can take to find out how much of an asshole you are; I scored a 4, which makes me a non-asshole.

I haven't finished reading the whole book, but so far, it's been worth every penny. The book tackles the problem of assholes in the workplace, and discusses their damaging effects and ways to mitigate their impact. I love how the author is unafraid to use the word "asshole"; I agree with him that there simply is no better word to label those jerks who make the world a drearier place to live in.

One of the best sections I've read so far is the one listing the factors that contribute to your organization's "Total Cost of Assholes", or TCA. The argument is that tolerating the presence of assholes will end up costing your organization a lot, even if the asshole is always one of the top performers. Here are some of the ways that an asshole can kick your ass:
  • Damage to victims and witnesses: distraction from tasks, loss of motivation, absenteeism
  • Damage to the asshole him/herself: humiliation, job loss, long-term career damage
  • Consequences for management: time spent "cooling out" victims, time spent replacing departed assholes
While I was reading the book, I couldn't help but feel tremendously fortunate to be working at such an asshole-free environment like the one at HP. Let me repeat that: no one at HP is an asshole! Surely, there have been some cases of "temporary assholes", but I haven't met any "certified assholes" so far. If there are any certified assholes at all among us, then they are most definitely first-class assholes to be able to hide their asshole-ness behind a sweet, non-asshole exterior. I'm proud to say that we are very efficient at weeding out assholes and making sure they don't infest our workplace.

But if there are no assholes at HP, then why did I buy the book? Aside from the in-your-face title and eye-catching cover, I just wanted to find out if I was an asshole myself. So am I one? You tell me. (Am I being one right now?)

(P.S. If you work for an asshole-infested organization, it's probably not a good idea to let your officemates know you're reading The No Asshole Rule... or this blog entry, for that matter. They may not easily realize it or admit it, but deep down inside, assholes just know they're assholes.)

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April 20, 2007
A couple of months ago, some of our managers engaged in a "Biggest Loser"-like contest. The goal? To lose the most weight after a fixed period of time. (To make things fair, they measured the percentage loss instead of just the raw difference.) The pot was huge; each manager put in a hefty 2,000 bucks, winner takes all.

Not to be outdone, us subordinates got into our own little contest: two months, 16 contestants, 500 bucks each, winner takes all, runner-up loses nothing (as a consolation). Do the math; that's a huge potential pay-off! And instead of measuring the percentage change in weight, we used the percentage change in body fat index as our metric; after all, muscle weighs more than fat which would put the already-fit people at a disadvantage.

(If you're wondering how we measure body fat index, we use those 5-peso machines at Mercury Drug which measures your height, weight, body fat index, and even blood pressure! Those machines are pretty inaccurate in my opinion, but they're the easiest way.)

It's been almost three weeks since our initial weigh-in and I've only recently started getting into it. My regimen is simple, almost too simple: 30-45 minutes of exercise in the morning for three times a week (mostly consisting of light jogging/walking), a "stricter" diet (only by my standards) of more fruit and fiber and less fried and fatty foods, lesser food intake (especially at night). I'm not in the company's limited-slots fitness program which entitles us to a month's access to Gold's Gym, but I'll try to get in next month.

And as an extra measure, because I'm absolutely crazy, I take the stairs up and down everyday at our office building. Unfortunately (or fortunately), HP is at the 7th floor (and also at the 14th, but thankfully I'm not located there). I have a technique to psych myself up for the stair-climbing task. I have to take 6 flights of stairs to get to the 7th. 6 flights is just 2 sets of 3 flights. One can easily climb 3 flights of stairs, right? So when I get to the 4th floor (which is pretty easy), I just say to myself, "One more time!" and convince myself that I just have to climb 3 more flights, which is again pretty easy, right?

It takes less than 2 minutes to get to the 7th floor. I try to maintain a constant, healthy pace; no cheat by slowing down! And I do all that with a 7-pound laptop on my back! After two weeks of climbing stairs, I've gotten really used to it and can do up to 3 sets up and down a day (not continuously, of course!) without getting my body wasted. But the question is: does it help? Or am I just working out my thighs?

(By the way, I started with a whopping 30.3% body fat... and 15-20% is normal for guys. Ick.)

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April 15, 2007
Photos from our weekend outing at Laiya Coconut Grove, from March 31 to April 1. A beach outing with the whole family and AndreƩ. Lots of sand and water. My nephew Anton really enjoyed the beach:

Photos from our traditional Holy Week escape to Tagaytay (at my tita's house), from April 5 to 7. Billiards (8-ball), more 8-ball, and a trip to the nearby churches. Refreshing. Even at 8-ball, I'm ultra-competitive, as usual:

(This entry should've come before the last few TopCoder posts, but I just copied over the photos today.)

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Well, my run at the 2007 TopCoder Open has come to an end.

Algorithm Competition: To say that my performance in Online Round 1 was disappointing would be an understatement. I submitted to the two easiest problems, but one got successfully challenged and the other failed the system test. If I had just gotten one of them correct, I could've made Round 2. Looks like I'll need a lot more experience (and practice) if I want to get far in TopCoder. Next step: Work my way back up to a blue rating, and hopefully win some cash!

Marathon Match Competition: I didn't pass Online Round 3 (placed 91st, top 50 qualify to Round 4), but I definitely had loads more fun with this competition. I think I did better with the marathon matches because they encourage a lot of experimentation by trying out different approaches. Next step: Get a yellow rating (I'm very near!), and place in the top 20 in the next marathon match.

Hurrah! I've won two shirts!

(On a side note: This will be the last of my TopCoder Open posts. Until next year.)

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April 07, 2007
First, the good news: I made it into the Online Round 1 (see list of qualifiers here)! The last qualifying round was a relative push-over (I ranked a respectable 105) because all the geniuses had already qualified in the first two rounds. Still, can't complain about the result... and I've already won a shirt!

Here's the bad news: Because of my indicated preference (you choose from three time slots for Online Round 1), I've been grouped with the heavy-hitters in TopCoder: Petr, ACRush, kalinov, and the lot. Which basically means that my chances of advancing to the next round are nil. I'm not being pessimistic, just realistic. But on the bright side, like I said... I've already won a shirt!

(I knew shouldn't have picked the time slot that falls on a weekend. It was the one that most people would pick first, and since those with higher rankings are prioritized, it makes sense that all the big names would be assigned there.)

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April 03, 2007
I've qualified for Online Round 3 of the 2007 TopCoder Open Marathon Match Competition! Take a look at the standings here. I dropped from my provisional rank of 85 to my final rank of 105 (the top 200 qualify). Still, not bad!

After coasting into Round 2, I found myself hard-pressed to survive the cut this time. The objective of this Marathon Match (see problem statement) was to create a player AI for a poker-like game; the rules are similar to five-card draw except that there's only two cards, the card values are only from 0 to 4, and there's an infinite number of each value in the "deck".

I made submission after submission, fine-tuning my algorithm to improve my score. At some point, I found the key to getting a good score: fold when your hand sucks... which is what you're supposed to do in real poker anyway. Being a poker player really helped!

My next objective is to make it to Round 4 (duh!) and to get a yellow rating (currently at blue). The competition will be much tougher next time and the race to get into the top 50 will be very tight.

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About me

Mark Punzalan
a.k.a. "Punzki"
Location: Redmond, WA
Occupation: Softie

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