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spikegifted.net - Archive Q2 2004

June 2004:
- The staff of London Underground have gone on strike. Previously, in many strikes and threats to strike, the union held the 'morale high ground' - health and safety issues usually trigger some degree of public sympathy. However, this time round, there appears to be no other motivation other than greed! The staff has been offered 3.5% pay rise (UK inflation is below 1.5%) and guarantee to reduce the working by 2.5 hours in two years, in exchange for more productivity. Sounds fair enough... but that before you consider what their present packages look like. They want a four-day-week, in addition to the current 35-day annual holidays, 35-hour working week, a very generous salary (for what is a low skill, non-demanding job). Everybody wants to get pay more and has less responsibility, but the real world doesn't work like that and more importantly, most people recognize that. May be I should become a tube worker!

- Over a year after the defeat of Saddam Hussein, the Iraqis have finally regained 'sovereignty'. The very fact that the Coalition has been forced to return 'sovereignty' to the appointed governing council earlier than expected and in secret reflects the terrible job they've done since taking control of Iraq. Let's hope now that 'sovereignty' has been returned, the level of violence seen in recent days subsides and allow the people of Iraqi finally regain some sense direction and security.
- In terms of 'shock value', the preliminary statement from the 'September 11th' commission isn't exactly dynamite. It has been a long drawn out process and for those who've been following the commission's hearings, and are open-minded enough, they would have come to the same conclusion as the commission: there is no credible evidence that Iraq was not involved with al-Qaeda in the preparation or execution of those acts of terrorism. Now, with no links with al-Qaeda and no weapons of mass destruction, was the unilateral invasion of Iraq by the US and the UK (and a few other countries) considered justified? Was poor intelligence the sole cause of that misjudgment?
- 26 former US diplomats and military commanders urged voters to remove George W. Bush from office in the presidential election in November. This follows the statement from 53 former diplomats who accused the administration of undermining the US's worldwide credibility in May. Are these people 'Un-American'? Surely not! These are loyal servants of the country, they have devoted their careers to the betterment of their country. In airing their views, they're reversing an unhealthy process that has began after the 9/11 terrorist attacks - 'being patriotic'. Since those attacks, the Bush administration has been able to steam-roll a number of controversial policies, including the invasion of Iraq based on questionable intelligence and increasing the US national debt by a not insubstantial amount (condemning future generations of Americans the pain of national debt repayments). In airing their views, they're reminding their countrymen concepts that form the foundation of the American constitution - the freedoms of speech and thought - which have been eroded since the 9/11 attacks as criticisms of the administration was labeled as 'unpatriotic'. Patriotism is loyalty to the country, the constitution, the flag, the ideals, but not the administration. Wake up, America!
- It was nearly 16 months ago that was made redundant from my last permanent job. It has taken a heck of a long time to find another. Today, I made it! During these months, I've been to lots of interviews, but for one reason or another various 'processes' weren't taken further. In the mean time, I carried out couple of temporary contracts. While they paid the bills, they didn't offer what permanents jobs offer - 'career building'. Finally, I think I've found a role that I like and a place that likes me. Welcome to the brave new world!
- 60 years ago, the largest amphibious landing the world has ever known took place along the beaches of Normandy. The D-Day landing was the most important event on the Western Front against the Nazi-occupied Europe. The bravery of those who took part in that historical event can never be allowed to be forgotten. For all those who paid the ultimate price for freedom, I salute you.
- The former US President Ronald Reagan passed away at the age of 93. He was one of the giants of American politics in the 2nd half of the 20th century. It was, effectively, his determination to meet the threat of Communism that forced the USSR into near bankruptcy. On the other hand, he was open-minded and far-sighted enough to support Mikhail Gorbachev when he attempted to open up the Soviet Union. Reagan commanded the respect of friends and foes alike. This is a great loss to the world.
- The sudden resignations of DCI and DDO of the CIA are certainly interesting in terms of timing. They are two of the three most senior people in the agency (the other is the DDI) and they're leaving at the same time. More tellingly, there are speculations that they've been forced to leave the CIA ahead of the upcoming presidential election in November and the Congressional inquiries into 9/11 and the war in Iraq. For me, the axe has fallen on the wrong people. Intelligence agencies, just like other departments/apparatuses, are just tools for the administration - the administration provides direction and the agencies/departments/apparatuses provide the means to achieve the desired results/objectives. On the other hand, intelligence agencies are only as good as the people who ask the questions. The point about intelligence is that they are just probabilities and possibilities - there are seldom occasions where people are dealing with hard facts. If somewhere along the process is 'tempered', either due to political influence or incompetent operatives and analysts, the results will be skewed and the questioners ended being misinformed. The big question is was it due to political influence or was it incompetent execution that led to America not detecting 9/11 but went to look for non-existent WMDs?
- Today is the 15th anniversary of the saddest day in modern Chinese history: the 'June 4th Incident' - Tiananmen Square massacre. For me, personally, this anniversary is even more poignant following the refusal by the mainland Communists to allow the people of Hong Kong to choose their own chief executive and to select the entire membership of the Legislative Council through election. Time and time again, the Communists have resisted the will of the people by oppressing them and call them 'counter-revolutionaries'. Well, I'm not sure which revolution they're talking about, but by the way they act, they're clearly not 'revolutionary' in any sense of the word, but merely maintaining the status quo. Being a 'revolutionary' is to strife to achieve the 'unthinkable'; maintaining the status quo is simply prolong the misery for 1.25 billion people. While the Chinese people have never really experienced democracy in the country's long history, that doesn't mean the people don't yearn for it and it's no reason to deny them this basic right.
- The quarrel over the appointment of the new Iraqi president must the clearest sign of what is considered 'sovereignty' and 'self determination'. One the one hand, we have a governing council appointed by the invading coalition and this governing council has chosen someone it feels has the qualities to lead a new nation. At the same time, we have invading coalition applying pressure on the appointed governing council to accept another candidate and threatens to declare the appointment 'void' or 'invalid' if the council goes ahead and appoint its own candidate. In the end, the council's candidate was appointed. Somehow, I can't see a warm and friendly working partnership between the new Iraqi president and the coalition. To make matters even more confusing, the new president doesn't actually have 'wide spread' support from the Iraqi people, since he is the product of a coalition-appointed governing council. What a fine mess.
- The very fact that you're seeing a new entry on this site is a clear indication that I've successfully upgraded my main rig! Yeap, the operation has been a successful one and the patient is now well on the way to recovery. You must be wondering: If the rig is up and running, why is 'the patient' is only 'on the way to recovery'? The answer is simple - the rig is in good working order, but I'm still re-installing my software. As with anybody who spend time in front of a computer, I spend a great deal of time customizing the rig and the software so that it works just like how I like it to. Software takes a long time to re-install and customization takes even longer, as I've been given a 'clean slate' I'm keen to try something different. However, the bottom line is: I now have a 'new' rig!
May 2004:
- Wow! Doesn't time flies? A short while ago, I was looking at my main rig and realized that it was built back in March 2001. Ok, certain parts (like the faster CPUs and larger hard disks) have been upgraded since it was first built, but essentially it has been the same setup since then. As with my usual habit of building my rigs, I never go for the 'bleeding edge' stuff, because I don't see the point and the simple fact that I can never afford the 'bleeding edge'. While my rigs have probably considerably higher spec than the average home PC, technology has moved on from 3 years ago. So I'm taking advantage of the second bank holiday weekend here in the UK to upgrade my main rig.
- Fourteen months ago, I was laid off. Since that day, it has been a long, long road back. Being unemployed for over six months, finding one temporary role (after being interviewed for a permanent role), then not having it extended and then luckily finding another... Finally, today, I accepted an offer from a North American bank. As I'm only on a temporary contract, I've given my one week's notice today and am due to start in my new job on the first Monday of June and I'm very excited. At times I've wondered about the course I have been taking, but thanks to the support and encouragement from my friends (both old and new) and, in particular, the Ruler_of_spike, I managed through this rather difficult time. Looking back at this period, I think that once I made the decision to return to credit risk management, it has been a process of dusting off my skills and sharpening my credit instincts. It wasn't plain sailing all the time, but it focused my mind. The new role is full of potential and will be an exciting challenge to my skills and my ability to learn and adapt. I can't wait to start!!
- It has been a heck of a weekend - we spent it in three different countries! First we left London for northern France on Saturday to attend the registry part of a wedding of a friend of the Ruler_of_spike. After a quick lunch, the whole party descended to the Town Hall, where the couple was married in a civil service. Then the whole party drove off to southern Belgium for the wedding reception. As this was a fairly typical French wedding, the celebration lasted for the whole night (ie. finished around 4am). However, there was no accommodation at the place of where the reception was held, so we went back to France by car and stayed at a place near where the civil ceremony was held. The Ruler_of_spike and I probably gotten around three hours of sleep as we had to get back to London for the second part of our wedding preparation with the Catholic Church. We have gotten back around mid-day and after a quick bite to eat, we left again for the church. The 'preparation' finished with a mass where the Ruler_of_spike's engagement ring (along with other brides-to-be) was blessed. When we finally return home we were both completely exhausted.
- This Sunday evening, we watched a chilling documentary/drama/discussion on the BBC called 'Panorama: London under attack', which depicted what might happen in London if the city was attacked by terrorists. The program/mock terror attack was designed to show how London and the UK would cope in such a situation. The discussion that ran in parallel involved experts from a range of backgrounds included: intelligence, police, government, defense, fire/emergency, medical and crisis management. The program was excellent researched and the drama was carefully portrayed. Despite the fact that terrorism is one of the major security threat to the well being of London and the UK, the government not only refuse to partake in the program, but condemned it as 'irresponsible'. The one conclusion that I could draw from the program was that despite the fact that a terrorist attack in the UK, particularly in London, is a very present danger, and despite all the lip-service the government has paid claiming that it is doing it's best to ensure that in case of a real emergency, the system will be able to cope - we are not ready, not by a long way.
- The beheading of an American civilian contractor by Islamic extremist terrorist has just sunk the conflict in Iraq to a new low. There are several points I wish to make: 1) those who kill 'in the name of Islam' are not doing a good job representing the true teaching of the Prophet; 2) Over a year since Saddam was toppled, the Coalition still hasn't managed to secure the country; if anything, Iraq is less secure now than it was 12 months ago; and 3) Are the Iraqis any 'freer' now than they were under Saddam's regime?
- If there were any doubts about the poor state of the London Underground, that latest derailment will surely be the proof that it is far from something that we can be proud of. This was the 6th derailment in the space of 18 months and the sorry state of the system is simply unacceptable. To make matters worse, the focus of the accident investigation is on a set of points that was worked on by private maintenance contractors less than 24 hours before. This is clearly a situation that requires urgent addressing - the outsourcing of track maintenance to incompetent contracts should not be allowed to continue!
- Happy Mother's Day, Mom!!
- I've refrained myself from saying in public what I thought about the pictures of showing the part of the US military has been doing to Iraqi detainees. Putting politics aside, those pictures show an unacceptable face of human behavior and what effect power has on people who're not properly controlled by other processes and authorities. They show the poor discipline of a portion of the occupying forces. They show the desperation of those who chose to humiliate others either to 'entertain' themselves or to 'make their mark in history' or both. Such appalling behavior is not the behavior of one of the most successful military machines in the world and certainly not ones that have such long and proud traditions. Moreover, in the eyes of the humiliated and those who are not sympathetic towards the occupiers, these soldiers have demonstrated to them that the new invaders/occupiers are no better than the dictator that they removed. In fact, to make matters worse, they're now suffering in the hands of the 'infidels'. Doubly humiliating! Can someone tell me how the Iraqis and the rest of the Arab/Islamic world are going feel?
- May Bank Holiday... While over a million Brits headed out of the country in search of a good time abroad, but we stayed in London and conducted a 'spring clean'. Nothing beats a good spring clean! Ok, it's the beginning of the month of May and, technically, we're about a month or two away from the height of summer, but hey, it's a clean nevertheless. All those tidying and cleaning 'duties' that we've been putting off doing since god-knows-when have now either been completed or have made advance progress. There's an extra bit of freshness in the apartment and it feels good to be able to see the result of our hard work!
April 2004:
- Owing to the type of work I want to do (credit / counterparty risk management in investment banking), there are few places I can find employment. In all, I think there're no more than a half dozen of cities around the world where there're demands for risk professionals. While my line of work appears to be financially rewarding, the cost of living in London pretty much wipes out any perceived advantage. What really makes me question my motivation is the daily grind into work - the commute. For some reason unknown to me, there are people who fail to recognize that human beings, much like anything else, have a finite physical size and sometimes, no matter how much squeezing you do, you can't fit any more into a certain physical space, e.g. the train carriage. Southwest Trains, the train company that serves the area that I live in, has spent a good deal of money acquiring new rolling stocks. These new trains have lots of modern safety features, like not allowing the train leaving the platform if any one of its doors is not closed properly. Today, some self-centered numb-brains decided to put this feature to the test. By trying to squeeze into a train carriage that is already full, these fine folks managed to 'disengage' the doors, meaning it will not close properly and it will not open either. The train was held at the platform for over 10 minutes while the guard tried to solve the problem. Thankfully, he somehow managed to get the train moving again. Doors on that side of the train were not used again until we arrived at the terminal, where the doors that were previously 'disengaged' failed to open and we had to use the only other pair of doors to exit the carriage, adding another 5 to 10 minutes to our journey. So, in effect, those numb-brains caused a minimum 15 minute delay to theirs and everyone else's journey. Incidentally, had they jumped on the 'slow' train on the opposite platform which arrived after the train they got on, they would have arrived at the terminal ahead of the delayed train. The brain waves just won't stop coming!
- I've picked up a virus. I hate not being well - not only it is not pleasant, but it is also expensive. Being on a temporary contract, I'm paid on an hourly basis, which means that time not spent at work, I'm not being compensated. Moreover, there is the cost of medicine to fix my illness - not a very good show.
- This is complete madness!! Ariel Sharon, the Israeli prime minister, has present his plan to withdraw from the Gaza Strip and parts of the West Bank to the US president, and this has to be most insane 'peace plan' that has ever tabled: Israel is to keep certain parts of the West Bank under its control as they've illegal Israel settlements! The US president endorses the plan because of "new realties on the ground, including already existing major Israeli populations centers" and a full withdrawal is "unrealistic". The insanity of such proposal is not dissimilar to a claim by, say, Mexico to annex southern California and Florida as they now exist major Hispanic population centers in those states! 
- Back in early March, we were looking forward to the Easter weekend as a possible time to move to a new home. However, the properties available in the areas we were looking at and the prices those greedy landlords/landladies were asking for, we decided to renew our contract at our present address. That was actually a very good decision - it freed up the Easter weekend! It is five months and counting to our wedding and we finally get our act together to visit some department stores in London to figure which one provides the most complete service for us. The Ruler_of_spike doesn't like Oxford Street. While I thought I would never get tired of the hustle and bustle of the area, since I've spent a good deal of time in Hong Kong and the fact that I like shopping in general, in recent years I've become rather weary of going there. A 'good shopping experience' is made up of three vital ingredients - the product (which is the combination of every element of the shop and the goods it sells), the shoppers and the area of the shop is located in. Unfortunately, many shops in most parts of Oxford Street fail all three criteria of providing a 'good shopping experience'. That was the reason why we chose to go to visit those department stores along Oxford Street on the least busy weekend in the year - Easter! Of course, we've been looking at department stores in other shopping areas of central London, so we're now full of ideas and thoroughly confused by the number of options... It will take a while for us to figure out whose services we're going to use.
- The internet is just full of wonderful surprises!! I just come across something call SayMail from Sympatico.ca. This thing is just a bundle of fun and incredibly clever!! After a few mouse clicks, I managed to create this and this... I'm sure people with more imagination and creativity than I will have a great time playing around with this and come up with some really awesome things.
- Well, the optimism in the market place that I detected a month appears to be real after all. In a relatively short time after completing my last assignment, I've picked up another temporary contract in an European investment bank. Interestingly, it is the same bank that offered me a similar position prior to be starting in my preceding contract. I'm glad that I made a sufficiently good impression that they remembered me from 6 months ago and when they saw my résumé again, they invited me back for another interview. Anyway, while I'm happy and grateful that I've been offered another temporary contract, I'm still on the look out for a permanent position.
- If there is any need to remind the Ruler_of_spike and I that our wedding is approaching, this weekend is the reminder. We just spent a lovely weekend down in the Southwest of England to visit one of my best friend from university who's going to my best man. It was great to get away from London - due to all the upheaval in the past year, this is the first time in 15 months I actually left London! It was great. Anyway, he now has the list of people for my execution stag (bachelor) weekend that he's planning in August.