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spikegifted.net - Archive Q4 2004

December 2004:
- The news in the past few days has been dominated by the tsunamis disaster around the eastern Indian Ocean. The destructive forces of natures are simply incomprehensible, the losses in human lives are just staggering and the suffering of the survivors is just painful to watch. It is through these images that we understand how fortunate we are.
- Around Christmas time last year, there was an earthquake in Bam, Iraq, which killed thousands. This year on the same day of the year, an under-water quake in northwestern Indonesia (which measured 8.9 in the Richter Scale, the strongest quake for over three decades) caused tsunamis which hit Indonesia, Thailand, Burma, Bangladesh, India, Sri Lanka and the Maldives. Thousands were killed and many more are still missing. Some people in the world are enduring extreme suffering, yet there are others who sit comfortably in their homes complaining to themselves that they didn't get the presents they wanted and look forward to the meaningless post-festive sales. Wake up and look around you!
- As I've used up all my vacation allowance for the preparation of our wedding, I can't take any time off during the Christmas and New Year period. So my time away from the office is restricted to the public holidays. Additionally, the prices for flight tickets to Brittany are just plain robbery, so we decided to stay in London during the Holidays. However, all is not lost - a friend of ours came over and stayed from Christmas Eve through to Boxing Day. We had a great time. We are glad that he came over and we can share the festive period with someone else.
- Merry Christmas!!
- When things don't go well, they all tend to go really badly. Tung Chee Hwa, the unpopular chief executive of Hong Kong, is now getting heat from the Chinese communists. That's the problem with someone who can't please anyone - Tung wants to be 'convince' the people of HK to 'behave' so not to upset the communists north of the border; at the same time, he's under pressure from the powerful folks up in Peking to get more control of the territory. So he's not pleasing anyone. The next decision for the position of HK's chief executive is not until three years time. In the meantime, I just hope that he would not be replaced by those in power in Peking, using the excuse of 'compromise' and 'bringing stability' to install a hardliner to run HK. I think the fairest way is to let him finish his term and then allow free elections to give the people of HK a chance to choose their own leader.
- This is a recent development that really annoys me - public announcement in London Underground stations. On average, I spend around five minutes standing on the platform of the Waterloo & City line waiting for the train to go to Bank (the Waterloo & City line only has two stops - Waterloo and Bank). In those five minutes, there are usually announcements non-stop: one telling you how awful parts of the Tube network is running, with a reminder that whatever cock-ups those lines have, the rest of the system is doing just fine; security announcements, telling you that how much trouble you'd cause by leaving your bags behind; no smoking announcements; contract cleaner announcements; they just go on and on and on... Aside from the fact that they are very annoying, the PA system is very loud. With announcement after announcement, you just switch off, ignore them and put me in an awful mood for the rest of my trip!
- The past year has been a very tough one for the Ruler_of_spike. Around a year ago, her previous employer of over five years relocated the business and made her redundant. Since then she has picked up a small consultancy job which kept her occupied for a couple of months. Other than that, she has been looking for a job. As I know from personal experience that finding a job in a difficult market is not an easy thing to do, the Ruler_of_spike has been doing that and still managed to organize our wedding
single-handedly! That is some achievement! There have been many false dawns and I know it must have been incredibly frustrating - it was frustrating to watch. I just hope that I managed to help her in whatever inadequate way I could. Yet, my dear wife has been cheerful and optimistic, yet determined and not allowed herself slowing down. This is not the 'grim determination' of the British variety, there is nothing 'grim' about it at all, but the most infectious optimism that things will be better, we just have to work on it. Today, after this unfortunate and frustratingly long wait, she started a new job with an employer that is worthy of her skills and experience. I am so proud of her and I am so humbled by her. She's amazing! Now we can look forward to our future.
- May be it is the case that I'm no longer 'connected' to the world of art or the fact that I haven't been 'practicing' art for a while, but I find certain aspects of modern art very difficult to understand or even comprehend. While I feel a little uneasy about that, at least I feel comfortable in knowing that I'm not the only one. I recognize that the moment the camera was invented, art was freed from the traditional role of 'capturing the moment'. However, art has always had other roles, like presenting powerful sceneries through the view points of artists. I accept that art has always been the platform to challenge people's perceptions towards certain things like biblical images or a particular view, imagined or real-life. However, I find it rather hard to accept that art itself has 'evolved' in such a way that art now challenges people's perceptions towards art itself. The ultimate role of art is to present an image
, either as a flat image or a 'sculpture', with all the skills and prejudices of the artist, which contradicts with this year's winner of the Turner Prize, who claimed that "Art is often the idea. The event itself is usually something I have no control over." In that case, that is no longer 'art', but rather a 'documentary', and should not be eligible for an art prize.
- After three years, I've finally relented... Last weekend, we put up our Christmas tree. Previously, I've resisted the Ruler_of_spike's attempts to introduce lights to the trees, but we are going to have them this time round. The tree we picked up is excellent, better than any tree we've previously chosen. I brought it back to the apartment and set it up, and the decoration was solely the work of the Ruler_of_spike. And what a great job she did! I have to admit that I have been wrong - the tree looks better with lights...
- Now that Gordon Brown, the UK's Chancellor of the Exchequers, is a father, he is really pushing for those social policies that hopefully will help British families. That's a very nice touch, especially if all that extra funding will come with no additional taxes, for the time being anyway. One thing that is a particular fascination for me is: it all looks very nice on paper, but how is going to be delivered? I don't want to sound cynical, but demanding a six-fold increase in the number of children's centers in six years doesn't sound like a well thought-out plan. Where are all the childcare professionals coming from? This is how I think is going work. The government has set down the policy (more childcare) and will set up targets (a favorite of the current Labour government) for the local councils to deliver. As there are insufficient childcare professionals in the country, the cost of achieving these targets will increase and councils will be forced to put up council taxes to deliver the services (another Labour government favorite: push through a well-intended policy but provide no additional funding, forcing local councils to find the extra cash). If the services are not delivered or if they are delivered in insufficient quantity and quality, it is the councils' fault, because the government has the policies and it is up the the local governments to deliver. The government is made up of a bunch of saints. Social policies, like so many other things in life, cannot rely on 'sound bites' and 'initiatives'. We have a choice: either make those who want childcare pay for it themselves (and if they can't pay, don't have it) and receive a good quality service or tax people for it and make a good job of it (like our European neighbors). To find a 'third way' will simply deluding people and ultimately disappointing them.
- If I remember correctly, there's a saying that there's no free lunch. I know that Chancellor of the Exchequers are all blessed with incredible abilities and they can perform magic from time to time, but it is my understanding that if they spend more than they receive, they will run their country into debt. Of course, that's why countries like the UK is given AAA credit rating - to reassure the lenders to the country that their money will be repaid when they come due. So the UK is running a bigger 'overdraft' than the Chancellor has led us to believe. But hey, that's no big deal right, because in a few years' time, the UK economy will be booming again and the budget deficit will simply disappear before our eyes. Magic indeed. 
- How dare they? Rail fares are set for inflation-busting rises, again! Nearly every year since I started commuting, the cost of public transport has been increasing at above-inflation rates. And every year it is the same excuse: we need to raise fares to invest in our public transport network. This is insane! After all these years of 'investment', I certainly haven't notice any improvements to my daily commute. Realistically speaking, I strongly believe that my commute is now worse than it ever has been. Yet, wheel-clampers can now gain a national certificate - BTEC in Vehicle Immobilization (a GCSE-standard course). This country has gone mad!
- Back in the days when I was considering which university to apply, Exeter University had one of the best chemistry degrees in the UK and it was certainly one of the courses that I considered applying for. Today came the most shocking news: Exeter is to close its chemistry department due to lack of funding! May be I'm a bit bias when it comes to chemistry as I loved the subject and thoroughly enjoyed my university course, but how can an institution, that is considered a leading university in the UK, be forced to close one of its highly reputable departments as a result of poor funding? And yet, on this very same day, the Education Secretary called on universities to safeguard subjects
(including sciences) that are vital to the UK's trade and security. If this country wants to have world-class institutions that deliver world-class education, then these institutions have to be funded. The money has to come from somewhere: the state (taxpayers), the individuals, charitable organizations, whatever. Some people need to sit down and bang some heads together to figure out a solution!
November 2004:
- An interesting thing happened in the beginning of this week: When I returned from work on Monday evening, I found my main rig not working. It was just dead. This was highly unusual as I've a track record of building highly stable and highly reliable computers. So why does this happen to me? In addition to the curiosity from a geek's perspective, it is annoying as I do use my main rig on a daily basis (if not anything special, just to collect e-mails). My first guess was the power supply unit (PSU) have given up on me. Since I wasn't mentally prepared to rip out a PSU from another rig to test my theory, I left the problem overnight. Furthermore, I have a day job and I have to catch some sleep... I came back this evening fully prepared to get to the bottom of this mystery. Pulling out the replacement PSU from another rig was relatively painless. However, putting it into my main rig proved to be a little harder, no thanks to the jungle of wires inside. It turned out that I guessed correctly, it was the PSU. What really surprises me is that this unit was on acquired back in May and it is from a reputable manufacturer. Well, it is now high time I test out the '3 year warranty' that came with the unit and see if I can get a replacement.  
- It is not even the end of November and there are Christmas trees for sale. Across the street from our place, there's a huge sign telling people that there are Christmas trees available. What is even sadder is that most shops have now started their pre-Christmas sales and we're constantly bombarded by all those TV commercials 'tempting' the nation's desperate shoppers. Why, oh why? This country is hell-bent on shopping for Christmas. I might be old fashion, but I thought Christmas is about celebrations and spending time with family. These are things that will make you happy, joyful, fulfilled, etc... Shopping will simply turn people into shoppers and empty shells, and shopping cannot make miserable people happy. Yet, year after year, pre-Christmas sales are starting earlier and earlier, and Christmas 'shopping ideas' are getting more and more ridiculous.
- My brother-in-law (the Ruler_of_spike's brother) was
in town to conduct some business and came to say with us for a couple of days. We're only too happy to have him over. While I'd be the first person to confess that I'm not a good cook, the Ruler_of_spike allowed me to cook a curry for her brother, and he ate it all! And he seemed to have enjoyed it. That's not a bad endorsement... The only down side was that the apartment smelt of curry for the next day or two.
- It is simply not good enough being the richest man in the world or being one of the most influential people in the IT industry, now Bill Gates has been given the 'honor' of being the most spammed person in the world! (By his own CEO, who, not to be outdone, claims that he's not far behind...) I'm not sure if being the 'most spammed person' is an 'honor' that you want to pick up voluntarily, but even those who don't like Mr. Gates and his company have to admit that 4 million spam messages a day is a little excessive. All the more reason to spend good resources to combat spam.
- Wonders never cease: Somalia, one of the poorest countries in the world has one of the fastest growing telecommunication sector in Africa. This country has no democracy, no government, no laws, no convertible currency, practically no order and the country pretty much run by warlords and competing factions leaders. Yet, it has a thriving telecom industry. Even more interestingly, there are people in Somalia who want a government. To all those who preach the virtues of free market goes hand in hand with democracy - take note.
- While I was surfing the BBC News site during one of my lunch hour, I noticed couple of interesting pieces: "Notes from the UK: The moon is rounder abroad?" (in Chinese) and "Lucky number for Chinese Olympics". These two articles touched me, but in two very different ways. The first one talked about the phenomenal where more and more Britons are leaving the UK to seek better lives abroad. The feelings expressed by those mentioned in the article closely echo my own personal thoughts: aside from the horrible weather, there are for many reasons why the UK is not a place to live for those who seek a reasonable quality of life - especially those who have the welfare of their children in mind - and the alternatives are just too good not to give serious consideration. The Chinese Olympics story was just funny. Being Chinese, I really won't think twice about getting a bunch of "8s" - if I have my way, my phone number will be "888168"!! And if I can avoid it, I would not have anything to do with number "4". However, it is only if you're from outside the Chinese culture that you'd find such things unusual. The abovementioned article, which devoted its entirety on Chinese superstitions, was contrasted by Chinese version which, aside from mentioning the fact that "8" sounds like "rich" in Cantonese, didn't even say anything about feng sui (but I'm darn sure that the organizers have already asked the high priest in the temple to pick the "most prosperous/favorable hour" for the opening ceremony to proceed). While I was reading the English article, I was thinking: "Darn right!", and it suddenly came on me that despite having lived in the UK all these years, I'm more Chinese than I care to admit.
- Boy, have I got a pain in the neck! Well, that's not entirely accurate as it's more than a pain in the neck - I've pain in both my shoulders (poor me). I don't know what happened over the weekend, but when I woke up on Sunday, my left shoulder was very stiff and there was pain in the muscles, particularly along the upper and middle trapezius. Something similar was also happening with my right shoulder, but it wasn't nearly as bad. I think it really didn't help that I rode my bicycle into work on Monday as holding the bicycling posture for prolonged period wasn't going to relieve the stress and tension around the shoulder area. The pain is in such a position that is hard for me to massage, so there's nothing much I can do except allow the Ibuleve Maximum Strength Gel do its work.
- The unrestrained use of fireworks over the past three days has been like a repeat of previous years, despite the law against such behavior. There were fireworks being let off well into the night over Friday and Saturday. What is the big deal with fireworks?
- It is Guy Fawkes and Bonfire Night. As I sit here and type this entry, it sounds like a battle is taking place outside. In this evening, up and down the United Kingdom, the population is probably going to expand more gunpowder than it was used during the Second Battle of Ypres. Earlier, I went outside to pick up our take-away dinner and the air was thick with the smell of gunpowder. If the youth of London hold true to their form of past years, the fireworks will go on until early hours of the morning, despite the new law against anti-social behavior through the use of fireworks. I'm so looking forward to a restful night of sleep.
- What a difference a couple days of reasonably dry weather made... At least the tail end of October has not been as wet and horrible as the beginning. This morning, while I was waiting for the bus to go to the train station, I noticed that there were a lot of fallen leaves. Well, leaves have been falling for a while, but during the wet weather, they're all meshed up and gelled to the ground. Today has been the first time that it has been dry enough for long enough that the leaves were not stuck to the ground. What fun it was kicking those dry leaves around while waiting for the bus. It made my morning commute just that little bit easier.
October 2004:
- Freedom of speech is one of the most fundamental democratic rights of liberal society. This right also extends, directly and indirectly, freedom of the press/media. Whether you're cynical about the positives and negatives of press freedom, it is, in many places, the only effective 'loyal opposition' to the regime in power. The degree which the press enjoys its freedom in a jurisdiction is also a barometer of the quality of democratic rights in that country. One of the organizations that I respect the most is reporters sans frontières (reporters without borders). They have just published the Third Annual Worldwide Press Freedom Index. Take a good look at the index and the previous indices, and you'd the 'usual suspects' at both end of the scale. Call it 'stereo-typing', or whatever you want, but these indices are compile with about as little interference from the 'authorities' as possible. For me, the most depressing thing is the erosion of press freedom in Hong Kong - it was 18th in 2002 (with a score of 4.83, lower the better), then dropped to 56th in 2003 (11.00), then recovered slightly to 34th (7.50). My fear is that when the next report is published in twelve months' time, it would slide down the scale once again...
- I know that I shouldn't be complaining as I have been living in the UK for such a long time, but the weather we've been having lately sucks! You must be thinking: "You live in the UK, dude, you can't expect great weather in October." Well, I know what kind of weather I can expect, but we have been having non-stop battering by wind and rain for
over two weeks. To make matter worse, it has been very humid in the past few days, so commuting while wearing a raincoat became a very uncomfortable experience. Then, suddenly, this Sunday morning and early afternoon, it was bright and sunny with blue sky. I guess the foul weather previously made us even more appreciative of good stuff when it eventually came. We knew it won't last long and before the day was out, rain was pouring down again. I guess we just have to look forward to the next glimpse of the sun...
- The question of moving has come up again... We initially looked at the prospect of moving back in March, but owing to a number of reasons (one of them was the price of the property that we liked was too high) we chose not to move. However, the thought of moving was never far from our minds. At the time when we decided to stay in our apartment, we tentatively agreed that we should revisit this subject after our wedding. Now that we're married, we've looked at the housing market again. While we have seen some very nice properties at very agreeable prices, we went over our tenancy contract again and found that we need to give fairly extensive notice if we were to break out of the contract. With that in mind and the fact that the rental market in London is very fast moving, we don't feel that any landlord will be willing to keep a property empty for two months, and we're not willing to sacrifice months worth of rent in somewhere that would be left empty. So the decision is to delay our move again. Looks like our next opportunity to look at moving again will be next spring. Hopefully, our luck next time round will be better and we find an apartment that we like at an attractive price.
- So, over a year a half after the beginning of the conflict in Iraq, the UK government finally admits that much of what was contained in the September 2002 dossier on Iraq's weapons capability has been false and those false intelligence reports/assessments have been withdrawn. It has taken the death of a government weapon scientist, resignation of the top two officials in the BBC, two public enquiries and the spending of a lot of taxpayers' money as legal fees to arrive at this juncture. Of course, the decision to go to war was made on 'good faith' - I guess with completely flawed intelligence, you have bring a country to war on something... though I'm not sure if it was 'good faith' or egomania. Job well done, folks.
- For anyone who has kids or those who are planning to raise a family in the UK, like the Ruler_of_spike and I are, I would think that he/she would have serious thoughts after hearing this piece of news - a 14-year old girl was killed yards from her home in a motiveless shooting incident on her way home after a night out. Someone has suggested that it was a case of mistaken identity and others suggested that she was caught in a crossfire. To be completely honest, I don't care what the reason was. An innocent life has been lost in brutal way. What's happening to all the money that has been spent on crime prevention? Where are all the extra police officers? Violent crimes are going up and yet crime detection is on the way down! Is my tax money simply going down the drain?
- 'Longhair', a controversial and prominent pro-democracy activist in Hong Kong sworn in to the Legislative Council. (Chinese)
- Finally, the Iraq Survey Group has reported that there were no WMDs in Iraq when the invasion of Iraq took place in March 2003 (if not months/years before). This is completely in contradiction to what George Bush and Tony Blair claimed that Saddam Hussein's regime was an immediate and growing threat to US and UK national security prior to the war. However, I find it rather troublesome that the ISG still tries to 'justify' the war on behalf of the US and UK administrations by claiming that the Iraqis had the 'intentions' to produce "small quantities of chemical and biological weapons". Since when have 'intentions' been used as 'proof' of guilt? 
- From what I can remember, people in Hong Kong love bank deposit boxes. You can pretty much walk into any half-decent sized bank branch in Hong Kong and it will be able to provide with this service. I don't know what people keep in those boxes - I guess anything from passports to money to the family jewels. Well, it would appear that one bank branch in the territory didn't have much of a clue either: 83 deposit boxes were sent to the scrap yard, where they were destroyed! A lot of the times, items in deposit boxes have far higher sentimental value then physical value: just how do you put a value on the piece of cloth that was used to bind someone's great-great grandma's feet when she was a little girl?
- The arguments for going to invade Iraq have been repeated so many times that it is simply refreshing to hear something different from time to time. The whole 'case for war' for the US (and for the UK) had been: weapons of mass destruction (which we now know did not exist) and links with al Qaeda. We now have a leading figure in the Bush administration (Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld) admitting, on the record, that he has "not seen any strong, hard evidence that links the two". At last, the cat, which as been threaten to escape, has been let out of the bag! All those lies that have been told are not coming back to haunt the liars.
- Having been living outside Hong Kong for such a long time, I'm getting really clueless when it comes to the timing of traditional Chinese festivals. As the traditional Chinese calendar is lunar based, these festivals move around the Western calendar, making it difficult to remember. This week, when I went to pick up my usual Chinese comic, I saw a bunch of 'moon cakes' in some shops in China Town. Then I suddenly realized that I've missed this year's Mid-Autumn Festival (usually on the same day as the autumn solstice and it is my favorite Chinese festival) which this year was on September 28. You must be thinking: "Big deal! You're not living Hong Kong or China, so why do you bother celebrating Chinese festivals?" For me, these few days of the year are my only link back to my ethnic origin, aside from those silly comics. I am living in a Western industrialized society, I practice this society's customs and consume a fairly Western diet; English is my main language and I have very few Asian acquaintances. But I'm Chinese, after all. You cannot mistake that - just take a look. I just hope that one day in the future when my kid(s) asks me about Chinese customs, I'd be able to provide him/her with a coherent answer.
- This piece of news was reported a few days earlier, but I wasn't (and am not) sure how to react to it before I have a chance to think about it. I first saw it in the Hong Kong and Taiwan section of the BBC Chinese News site, with a title which roughly translate to: "Report suggests Beijing will be more proactive in the administration of Hong Kong" (in traditional Chinese). However, I later read a similar article on the BBC World News site, which said: "China 'may intervene more' in HK". To me, it would appear that the tone of the Chinese article is less severe, and the implications 'less bad', than the one in English. On the other hand, there are more undercurrents in the Chinese version. Anyway, please follow the links and see for yourselves and let me know of your thoughts.
- I've been very happy with my hosting server since moving to the current one over a year ago. Ok, there has been some down time in the past 15 months or so, but this is not a business site and I'm not living off my 'blog', so little bit of down time is no big deal. However, I was surprised to find that the site was down this evening, and not just for a short while, it was down for over 6 hours. Again, it's not that big of a deal, I just hope that this is an isolated incident and will not occur for a long time.