After yet another unintended spell of dormancy amidst myriad distractions, I have decided to re-ignite my writing bug and get to my under-maintained-yet-overly-faithful blog. I’ll start with a recap of my activity from the past three-plus months. And here we go.

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Back in late March, Zynga launched its first-ever voice based teams for gameplay and technical support. Previously, only the Billing department provided this service to their players. With the monumental launch of this new line of business, I was nominated by several of my supervisors as a pioneer for the team, owing to my experience with handling phone calls in two of my previous accounts. Despite mild resistance, I accepted after learning of a good bonus to be added to our payroll and recalling the fond memories I had of my former line of work.

I was dispatched to the CityVille/Cafe World team when the service went live. Although I was averse to having to handle two key titles (and being the farthest thing from a fan of Cafe World was no helpful either), I bit the bullet and went about supporting my colleagues who had come from Cafe World and were learning their way with CityVille. In turn, I made it a point to try and learn what I could from my colleagues who had handled Cafe World. And slowly but surely, my confidence began to rise and I managed to revive my phone agent skills that had gone dormant in my tenure with Zynga.

The biggest challenge of being in the pioneer team was that of unstable schedules, as it jeopardized our chances of being able to file vacation leaves. As misfortune would have it, on the weekend my Pop planned his overnight birthday outing in Zambales, three my other colleagues had planned some serious things of their own. With the leaves denied, I was frantic. I managed to convince my supervisor to let me go out for the weekend (as someone was available to cover my absence) and two of my other officemates managed to push through with their plans. However, it left one of us to stay at work since no one could cover for him and I made a personal vow that he (and another teammate who managed to cover for me during my absence) would get paid back somehow. Oh, and I will go to the vacation weekend shortly.

With our schedules having stabilized for the time being, it has been a welcome change and I am hoping to get a more favorable schedule when the metrics for measuring our performance have been formally implemented. In the meantime, I stand on the lookout for opportunities that may help my personal career path finally escape the tar pit it has been in for so long.

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My sisters, niece and I posed for a picture at scenic Potipot Island Resort during Pop’s weekend birthday bash.

With my absence request approved, I was in for one of the best weekends of the year (as of this post). For the last weekend of April, Pop planned an overnight beach outing in Zambales with the family.

It began on the morning of Saturday, April 28, when we headed to Pop’s house to rendezvous with our other siblings and cousins on our way to the beach. We arrived in Angeles City before lunch and left in a rented van headed for the Subic Bay Freeport Zone outside Olongapo City, Zambales. After about two hours on the road, we arrived at All Hands Beach and sat down to a hearty lunch getting together with other relatives including my Tito Alex, who was manager of the day-to-day operations at the beach resort. We spent the afternoon  and early evening bathing in the cool waters followed by some kayaking and beach volleyball. From there, we headed to a house rented for the evening, which happened to be the residences formerly used by the American soldiers. As it was still early, my cousin and I decided to rent a basketball at the nearby office and play a pickup game. Despite having to cut the game short due to my being out of shape, I managed to beat him and had a good workout overall. We ended the evening exchanging stories and relaxing to the quiet of the wooded surroundings.

We got up early the following morning (Sunday, April 29) and took the long drive to scenic Potipot Island Resort in the northerly town of Candelaria, Zambales. Pop and Tita Lydia decided to head home instead, to allow us more time to have fun. From there, we hopped on a boat and took the short ride to the island. After a long search for an available table, we found one near the docked boats and proceeded to a quick lunch before going for a dip in the clear waters of the South China Sea. However, the noticeable piles of garbage did lessen the natural beauty of the island and  it left me to wonder what had happened since my first visit there a few years ago.

With the sun setting, we took the long ride back home and managed to stop for some treats along the way, including a hearty dinner at Shakey’s Pizza in the Subic Bay Freeport Zone to celebrate a successful weekend. And upon arriving in Angeles City, we rested for a few hours before finally heading back to Manila in our own car.

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And this past weekend (almost a month to the weekend in Zambales), we got together once more for a round of laser tag at Greenhills’ LazerMaxx. As luck would have it, our cousin Petite happened to have free passes for a round of laser tag good until the end of May only so we got together for the event. In yet another intense 15-minute session with us being split into three teams of three members each, we would finish in second place and kill-wise, I ended up right in the middle of the pack as with our last session. We then headed to KFC for a hearty lunch before I rushed off to work afterward.

And so, with a pair of epic weekends in stride for April and May, my summer was not so much of a bummer after all.

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Recently, we moved to a more spacious unit within our present condominium of Narra Heights after having resided in our previous unit for the past four and a half years. Despite our hectic schedules and the ensuing inconveniences we met, we have now started to settle into our new unit. Although it is noisier outside as it is facing the street, it does afford a more interesting view of the city from the veranda. And being on the second floor (as opposed to the third floor) as well as closer to the gate, the walk to home base is certainly less strenuous.

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Due to my previously erratic schedule at work, I haven’t been able to run as often as I used to and I have ended up missing many a running event over the past months. I feel myself gaining back the inches I lost, and I am desperate to find a trail of my own to blaze.

Wish me luck, folks.

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Kevin Durant has led his Thunder past the Mavericks, Lakers and Spurs en route to the Finals. Can he give the team a Larry O’Brien Trophy too?

The NBA Playoffs have been a hoot. The Oklahoma City Thunder, led by stars Kevin Durant, Paul Westbrook and James Harden, stunned the long time powerhouse San Antonio Spurs in six games to reach their first NBA Finals since moving to Oklahoma (with their last trip to the finals in 1996 as the Seattle Supersonics, where they lost to Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls in six games). After losing the first two games to the Texan trio of Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobli, the young guns of The Sooner State won the next four games in improbable fashion to win the Western Conference Finals series. This leaves some questions for the Spurs, who in spite of their championship experience are sporting an older lineup that may have just a couple of seasons left in the tank.

Over in the Eastern Conference Finals series, the Boston Celtics were in nearly the same place as they hold a 3-2 lead against the Miami Heat. After the trio of LeBron James, Dwayne Wade and Chris Bosh gave South Beach a strong 2-0 lead, the Beantown Boys rallied their way to huge wins in the next three games. With the crucial Game Six at their homecourt of TD Garden, the Fab Four of Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce, Ray Allen and Rajon Rondo counted on their experience of winning the title in 2008 to take them to the NBA Finals once more. In the meantime, LeBron James would likely suffer even more torment if his season ends very soon, as his perceived failure to lead his team to victory becomes a hallmark of his career.

But with their season at stake, the King James of old finally came out with guns blazing. He would torch his conference rivals with a 45-point outburst on enemy turf to win Game Six and even the series. And in Game Seven, the Heat survived a solid first half from the Celtics and with the game deadlocked at 73 points apiece to start the final quarter, Miami’s Big Three scored the team’s remaining 28 points (with James contributing 31 points and 12 rebounds, Wade adding 23 and Bosh scoring 19 for the game) to win the game 101-88 and secure their second consecutive trip to the NBA Finals.

This once, I’m considering backing up my bets with real money. I’ll know for sure soon enough.

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Tiger Woods may finally be back in the hunt.

This past weekend, the former World No. 1 golfer captured his second victory of the year at the Jack Nicklaus-sponsored The Memorial Tournament by two strokes, made possible with three birdies on his last four holes including a spectacular chip-in birdie at the 16th. With the win, Woods ties Nicklaus for second place on the all-time PGA Tour wins tally with 73 total, just nine shy of the late Sam Snead (82). After falling to a low of 50th in the world rankings, his two wins this year (he won the Arnold Palmer Invitational in March by five strokes, his first since the 2009 BMW Championship) have pushed him to fifth place among the PGA’s global talent. With the U.S. Open approaching later in the month, Woods may have finally exorcised the demons from the marital scandal involving him and his now ex-wife Elin Nordegren and his hunger for golfing greatness looks insatiable once more.

The question will be answered at the Olympic Club in San Francisco, California in just over a week. And the world will be watching whether he snares Career Major No. 15. Click HERE for my blog entry on my love for golf and a more detailed analysis of Tiger Woods’ chances.

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Pawn Stars features (from left to right) Corey “Big Hoss” Harrison, his dad Rick Harrison and his grandfather Richard “Old Man” Harrison, who own a pawn shop in Las Vegas.

I have become heavily hooked on History Channel, especially for shows like Pawn Stars, American Pickers, American Restoration, Ice Road Truckers, Top Shot and The Universe. So much so that I did not shed a tear upon the removal of Discovery Channel from its standard lineup (even though I will miss Adam and Jamie’s antics in MythBusters). Along with Discovery Channel and sister channel Animal Planet, several other channels have now been made exclusively available to those who sign up for SkyCable’s DigiBox (a proprietary channel decoder box, apparently another sneaky way to make more money off couch potatoes like myself). Since the current cable TV arrangement in our condominium means that upgrading to the DigiBox will force all other tenants to upgrade, I am seriously considering signing up with another cable provider that can give me the channels I want without the added hullabaloo of gimmicky gadgets and excessive fees.

That is, after I get my TV fixed so that we still have options.

To return to my History Channel obsession, I found myself hooked on its most popular show Pawn Stars. The show focuses on the daily operations of the family-owned Gold & Silver Pawn Shop in Las Vegas, Nevada. The main stars include Richard “Old Man” Harrison, his son Richard Kevin “Rick” Harrison, grandson Corey “Big Hoss” Harrison and Big Hoss’ childhood friend Austin “Chumlee” Russell. They go over items with clients and discuss the history of these items, as well as haggling prices with them as in a typical pawn shop business, but also features interpersonal conflicts between the cast members. In some cases, they even call in experts from other fields to help verify items that they are unsure of.

American Pickers (marketed as The Pickers outside the US) features the adventures of partners Mike Wolfe and Frank Fritz as they travel across America looking for antiques and collectibles from collectors, hoarders and the like. They receive leads from Danielle Colby-Cushman, who manages their head office in Le Claire, Iowa. Interpersonal conflicts also feature in the show as well as their locating and haggling for prices of the various items of interest. On occasion, they also consult local experts to appraise pieces that they are unsure of its real value.

American Restoration (marketed as Kings of Restoration outside the US) is a spin-off to Pawn Stars and features Rick Dale, who featured as having restored many items for Rick Harrison of the Gold & Silver Pawn Shop before. The show features him and his staff working on various restoration projects, with the usual interpersonal conflicts. Key members include his son Tyler, his brother Ron, his girlfriend Kelly and workshop employees Kowboy, Kyle, Bob, Ted and Brettly (Kelly’s son). The history of the items is also discussed in the show, and haggling does take place, although much less often.

The Universe is a show featuring the many amazing aspects of the universe and the objects within using computer-generated imagery, with many prominent experts in the fields of astronomy, cosmology and astrophysics sharing their knowledge. Subjects such as space exploration and time travel are also discussed, making for a highly interesting show.

Ice Road Truckers is a reality show featuring a group of truckers who make a living transporting various items along the dangerous Dalton Highway in Alaska, as well as the usual interpersonal conflicts. I quickly grew to like Lisa Kelly, a native of Alaska who made her mark as the first female trucker in the series and soon became one of the top truckers in the series and its spinoff series IRT: Deadliest Roads (which feature the truckers traveling on dangerous roads elsewhere in the world e.g. India, Bolivia and Peru).

Top Shot is a reality competition show featuring contestants from various fields across the US, who engage in various shooting challenges. Competitors are eliminated one by one until only one remains, earning him a $10,000 grand prize and the title of “Top Shot”. The show is hosted by Survivor contestant Colby Donaldson. Various weapons are used, from bows to handguns to SMGs to sniper rifles and all others in between.

When watching shows such as Pawn Stars and The Pickers, I cannot help but feel sympathy for the stars of the shows when the clients begin to haggle with them excessively. Often, they expect to be paid at an auction level price when in fact, they have to ask for a lower price to be able to make a reasonable profit when reselling these items (which the client in term can misconstrue as being shortchanged or cheated). In an episode of The Pickers, after they buy a carnival banner for $700 and end up getting an offer of as much as $10,000 from one buyer, Mike and Frank go so far as to visit the original owner of the banner and give $5,000 to help towards rebuilding the old amusement park outside New York City that he now owns.

On the other hand, Ice Road Truckers highlights the challenges of trucking in the climate and terrain of the northernmost US state and gives me renewed respect for truckers who travel without fanfare to make commerce possible. And The Universe is the perfect show for the astronomer in me, as I get to learn more about the vast space that we inhabit and its many unique features.

But National Geographic is not down yet. They still have Cesar Millan in The Dog Whisperer, and that makes the end of my work week truly enjoyable.

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The rainy season is upon us. With Typhoon Mawar (Ambo) dumping heavy rain only days ago causing serious flooding and three reported deaths, we can only expect more wet days ahead of us. Time to get the dusty boots, raincoat and umbrella out of our closets.

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