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spikegifted.net - Archive Q2 2007

June 2007:
Home: Bug-fixing a PC is never fun, no matter how intimately you know the rig. It was very frustrating for me as the rig was working just fine before we left for France. As there were no visible sign of damage, there were only four components failures I could think of that could result in a dead PC: blow fuse in the cable (which I swapped out), dead PSU (it was swapped out), a lost connection between the case power button and the motherboard (which I had visually checked) or a dead motherboard. Having eliminated the first two possibilities, I was contemplating how I could check out the last two possibilities. However, as I was having a busy week at work, it was difficult to spend time to investigate the source of the problem. I just had to wait until the weekend...
Work: After a week away from the office, it was back to the pressure cooker! The US sub-prime market was certainly making people nervous. The problems in the sub-prime RMBS market had now spread to the CDOs that have tranches of this stuff as collaterals. While it is often not too difficult to come up with a view on the quality of a piece of ABS asset, it is much more difficult to have a definitive opinion on a piece of ABS CDO asset without the complete breakdown of each piece of asset. To compound the problem, many CDOs are “managed CDOs” which means the collateral managers can switch assets in and out of the CDOs as long as these asset conform with the investment parameters. The lack of details of the underlying collaterals (the very things required to compute a sensible price) in a volatile market made pricing a sensitive issue, which also affected the overall liquidity of the market. Whether it is my good fortune or not, I have a couple of managers of structured credit funds in my portfolio which are substantial investors in ABS. These counterparties utilize repurchase agreements as a form of their funding. As a panic response to the changing market conditions (and our own firm’s inaptitude, which I won’t devolve into), we have been forced to stop rolling over these repurchase agreements. Of course, these caused great problems for our clients as they needed to find alternative banks to arrange new repurchase transactions in a short space of time. Such unfortunate actions also caused great damage to our relationships with the clients (and brought much embarrassment to the firm). From our clients’ point of view, we demonstrated our lack of sophistication and inability to distinguish the trees from the wood - the assets under the repurchase agreements were actually very high quality assets and they were willing to provide additional collaterals. That was not the strongest demonstration of our firm’s dexterity.
Home: After getting home, I got an unpleasant surprise the next day - the Main Rig wasn’t working! I mean it was completely dead. It was rather strange that the motherboard would have just died like that. This was all very frustrating, especially since we were away for a week, I was anxious to catch up on my e-mails. However, there was nothing that could have been done at the time, so I left the rig as it was and tried to come up with a recovery strategy. Home: When I had the first opportunity during the week, I swapped the power supply of my Main Rig. In the past, there had been a number of occasions when the PSUs have given up on me. As such, I was thinking that the same would be true this time round. However, even with the replacement PSU pulled out of the Gaming Rig, there was no life from my PC. I needed to dig a little deeper.
Home: After a week of rushing around and cleaning the house, we loaded up the car with our bags, our wedding presents (from over two and half years ago) and a few bits we picked up during this trip and came back to the UK. This was a measure of how good the car really is: with the back seats down and the car loaded to half full, the car didn’t handled any differently from when it was empty. Of course I was a little more cautious on our return trip because of all the china and glass ware we were carrying in the car. Every bump we went over felt like a crunch. I’m very happy to report that all the stuff survived the trip without any damage.
Home: Now that the festivity was over, it was time to do some cleaning. It is generally not healthy to leave damp on the walls for too long and we were determined to get rid of as much of it as we could during our stay. There were a few different theories as to how the damp got there in the first place. Given that the house was lived in, it was even more baffling. We knew it wasn’t something like rising-damp because the damp was actually heavier near the top of the walls and stopped just above half way down the sides. After eliminating the other possibilities (like leaking walls), we concluded that it was most likely to be my father-in-law’s cooking! All that steam coming off the pots and pans but has nowhere to go in the winter... The Ruler_of_spike was not happy! It wasn’t her idea to spend a day traveling from cleaning one house in the UK to go to cleaning another house in Brittany.
Home: It was a lovely wedding in the cathedral in a nearby town. This was the first full Roman Catholic wedding I’ve ever been to and it was certainly a refreshing difference to the typical Anglican ones. The reception was held in a château inland. This was a strange thing - the château was a massive place, yet we were cramped into a relatively small room. I understand that they wanted to create a cozy atmosphere, but we were sitting so close in the room that we were suffocating. The food was good though, a very well thought-out menu.
Home: Wow! What a shock it was after getting into the house. It has been lived in by the Ruler_of_spike’s father for nearly two years, but the place was in a state. It wasn’t so much that the place was dirty, but there was a lot of damp - black dots on white walls - which was really obvious. However, we had a wedding to attend, so we left the house knowing that there was much work to do during the week.
Home: The quality of expressways in France is just plain superior to those in the UK. How do we know? While driving around in the UK, we typically listen to Classic FM and once we approach a decent speed, all we can hear the noise of the road. In France, we switched over to Radio
Classique and at the same volume on the radio, we could faintly hear the music. To add to that, drivers in France are just so much more considerate. The roads connecting St. Malo and Vannes are typically two lanes in each direction, but there was no hold-up due to slow moving cars on the fast lane - the slower drivers don’t hog fast lane. Generally a typical French driver is far more observant than a typical British one. It all added up to a very pleasant journey.
Home: Our trip to France has been planned for a long time. Since we now had Obelix, we’re going to take an over-night ferry from Portsmouth to
St. Malo in north Brittany. Both the Ruler_of_spike and I took half days to that we could get home and get to Portsmouth at a relatively leisurely pace. Once getting to the harbor, it was just a case of lining ourselves up to be directed onto the ferry. Once we got onboard, we discovered that our cabin was actually below water line! We grabbed a quick meal from one of the restaurants onboard (which was very good), we just retired back to our cabin and slept most of our way (well, least I did). Owing to my poor clock-changing ability, we were woken up by the announcement that the boat was approaching St. Malo. So, we just managed grabbing a quick coffee from the restaurant before getting to the car.
Work: In the second week of this month, the Ruler_of_spike and I were going to Brittany for a week. With that in mind, I started looking ahead to take care of my workload. While part of my old portfolio has been shifted to other colleagues, but the clients that remain in my book are ‘high maintenance’ ones. What really doesn’t help was that once I have completed an annual review or a new piece of business, I would need someone else to approve it. These have taken longer and longer. What really didn’t help was that there had been a whole bunch of stuff going on at the same time, we have had auditors from the regulator visiting and that caused a lot of time delays to things. So I had a bunch of stuff that I’ve completed but were sitting on some people’s desks. When I complete a write-up, I just want it approved as quickly as possible. In those cases, they were just in limbo - very frustrating.
Home: I thought this is supposed to be the beginning of summer! The weather is just plain horrible. After the glorious April, May has been a huge let down. If unusually warm weather is not enough convince the sceptics, this freakish weather should. I read somewhere that the beginning of June is going to be a wash-out.
May 2007:
Home: After a two-day stay, we drove back to London on the bank holiday Monday. I was given plenty of advise as to how best to get back home and our trip took just under four hours, which was more reasonable. Thanks to Obelix, we safely return from another trip.
Home: It was great to get away from London. It was even better that we were visiting ‘Auntie’ (Chinese call anyone who’s close to their family ‘aunties’ and ‘uncles’...) - she really knows how to pamper us! Back in the time when I was still at school, I used to have her cooking all the time and I knew her cooking is great. After moving to London for college and then work, I visited her less and less, and as a result I haven’t really tried out her cooking much. That first meal was amazing. Boy, what have I been missing? The thing was that it was so effortless for her - she was there cooking, chatting, multi-tasking, the works. The result was all that anyone could wish for after a long car journey.
Home: We went up to visit a friend of our family in Cheshire on the second bank holiday weekend of May. There was a moment of stupidity that I chose to drive through London in the middle of a Saturday. Not the smartest decision I’ve taken, as I had to dragged the car around some of the busiest areas of London to reach the motorway to go north. Thank god for automatic transmission. From leaving our house to actually reaching the motorway, it took us around two and half hours. Needless to say, the Ruler_of_spike was not best pleased with that performance. Luckily, once we hit the motorway, things was a lot easier. Still the whole trip took nearly six hours, which was rather ridiculous. My bad!
Home: Foxes… You know, those cute four-legged animals that the government went to great lengths to ensure that they are no longer being hunted. Well, let me tell you this: they are not that cute. Ok, I have to admit that their big curious eyes and bushy tails are kind of cute, but they are more like pests. They may not carry lots of diseases, but they are dirty. The make awful noises and leave their fasces in my garden. The Ruler_of_spike hates them, but I’m not quite sure what to make of them… yet.
Opinion: Can anyone tell me why Tony Blair, the UK current prime minister needs to ‘farewell tour’? This is a guy who has been holding the highest office in the country for just over a decade, one which can only be described as a succession of lost opportunities. In 1997, the Conservative Party was unelectable and the party hasn’t really been a position to challenge the government since. With the substantial majority that Labour enjoyed through the first two terms, the government introduced successive policies that were eye-catching, but lacked thought and substance. At the end of Blair’s premiership, the UK’s public services have been forced to become target-orientated organizations. Although targets are tangible ways to measure performance, they are not the be-all and end-all. Unfortunately targets do not wholly account for ‘quality’. As a result, things that are not measured by targets don’t receive funding. Speaking of funding, given the massive injection of public funds into the country’s public healthcare system, very little tangible improvement has been achieved. That’s because the system wasn’t reformed prior to investment and the investment boost was wasted on ‘health managers’ rather than ‘health professionals’. To add to that, the Blair government decided to join the US in invading and occupying Iraq, an enterprise that the government lied in attempting to convince the electorate and is now hemorrhaging vast amount of money, costing the lives of British military personnel and of the Iraqi civilian population. No, in my opinion, we, taxpayers of the UK should not be paying for this soon-to-be former prime minister to tour the world. No, we should be spending the money on suing him for breaching international laws and crime against humanity.
Home: With the weather being so horrible (wet, windy, miserable, etc), it was proofing to be very difficult to finish the paint job on the front door. It was so frustrating - every weekend we looked to do something for the house, but at the back of my mind, there was this door that I needed to finish painting. Although I finally completed the bulk of the painting, the weather simply didn’t allow me to get on with the ‘touching up’ jobs. Well, at least most of the work has been done for now.
Home: After the hot April, May turned out to be a bit of a ‘damp squid’. It’s like winter again - it has been cold, it rained all the time and it just sucked! At one point, it got so sold that we had to put the central heating back on. On the second bank holiday Monday of May, we were traveling back from a long weekend up in the Northwest and it was only 7.5C - that was the coldest ever day of Test cricket in England… How about that for late spring / early summer?
Home: We had a pair of curtains made when we were in France last summer. However, they were not fully finished as we didn’t have curtain poles and didn’t know the proper length for the curtains. After we got back from our summer vacation, we were busy overhauling the rest of the house and the curtains were just left hanging in wardrobe. Even after the work had stopped for the winter, we couldn’t find a reliable alteration tailor to finish them. Earlier on this year, we finally got round to buy the necessary fixtures and we borrowed a hammer drill from our neighbor to get them installed on the wall. After measuring up the curtains, we took them to a drycleaner nearby who happens to have an alteration tailor. I picked up the curtains a week after leaving them with the tailor. Full of excitement, I went home and immediately hang them up. Imagine my disappointment when I discovered that they were different length! Good job that the tailor was good and he made corrected the problem without making a fuss. Now we have a beautiful pair of curtains over the French windows.
April 2007:
Home: This door painting business was very painful. The undercoats were easy enough - the paint dried quickly and it was quite warm. Then it was the gloss. This paint took so long to dry. The instruction on the tin said it would take 4-6 hours to dry sufficiently to touch, but upwards of 16 hours before applying another coat. So once I painted a coat of the darn thing, we had to wait around until it dried. Painful!
Home: How about this thing called global warming? It’s April and we were experiencing the warmest April since record began. It has been so hot that it actually felt like summer during days. It was lovely to be able to have our meals outside in our back garden. O glorious days!
Home: Now that I've recovered from my cold, it was the Ruler_of_spike's turn to have the bug. She is never ill. There was something very potent in the air. I had it when we got back from Cornwall and it took me nearly three weeks to shake it off. A number of friends and colleagues mentioned that they and their families had something similar and they all took around three weeks to rid themselves of the bug. There is nothing worse than having a bug that make you feel unwell, but not sufficiently so that you need to take time off from work and rest. Being impatient in nature, the Ruler_of_spike was getting frustrated… and I couldn’t blame her. Once the illness ran its course, she gradually gotten better. 
Home: It was the Easter weekend and we took full advantage of the long weekend to work on various bits of the house - the Ruler_of_spike on the mantelpiece and I was on front door duty. We've previously stripped the layers of varnish off the mantelpiece and we had the piece in a natural look for a while. However, in the past few months, we were looking at it on a daily basis and we found that it really didn't go well with the rest of the room, so we decided to have it painted in white.
Home: Finally, our new front door has arrived. I took the day off work so that I could start painting the door as soon as it was fitted. Little did I know that even though the door was cut to size prior to arriving our house, there was a lot of work that had to be done before it could be properly mounted on the door frame. What a mess it was! There was wood chippings everywhere. I took the opportunity to paint the first layer of undercoat onto the door to offer a bit of protection against the weather. I need not to have worried anyway - the weather was fine.
Home: This cold was making me rotten! First, there was the slight sore throat that went away quite quickly. Just when I thought it has gone away, a dry, tickly cough developed. The cold was ever-present. Soon, a real chesty cough developed, one that would make you cough up ‘oysters’! Uck!!! This was a very difficult cold to shake off. The worst part of it was that the cough was most aggressive during the night - my coughing woke me up during a number of night. Several of my colleagues had something similar when I was away and they were telling me that this cold took around three weeks to shake off. Not pleasant! The annoying thing was that I was never too ill to take sick leave and rest, so it just dragged on and on.