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spikegifted.net - Archive Q4 2007

December 2007:
Home: After a few days of rest in Brittany, it was time to return to London. Owing to the time of year, the ferries leaving St. Malo are not as frequent as otherwise. So our return was from Caen / Ouistreham, on the Normandy coast. It meant a much longer drive from south Brittany. The crossing was just before midnight, but we left our house a good six hours before. First we had to get Rennes (just like going to St. Malo), then turn towards Avranches at the south-eastern end of the Normandy peninsular, finally over to Caen. It was our bad luck that soon after leaving Rennes, patchy fog descended on the motorways. We were driving in and out of fog pretty much for three hours. It was tiring and try to concentrate on the road, looking for road markings in night fog and try to find the tail lights of the cars in front to give indication of the direction of the road. It was a mighty relieve to finally get to the port. Actually, we got there relatively early and had time to park the car and went for a nice little meal before embarking.
Home: We left the UK via Portsmouth on an overnight ferry to St. Malo (as usual). However, the trip to go down to the coast was rather unusual - there was heavy fog all the way down from our home, probably because it was relatively early in the morning. This would the first time we cross to France on a day crossing. The sea was really calm which was not what we've expected as we thought the sea would be rougher during winter due to storms. With the crossing, the time zone change and then driving across Brittany, it was late at night by the time when we got to our house. Long trip.
Home: Finally, it was Christmas!! As Iíve mentioned before, 2007 has been such a long drag, thanks to the fall-out of US sub-prime RMBS and the subsequent credit crunch. It really didnít help that the summer was a complete wash out. It felt like we moved straight from spring into autumn. Funny how the weather affected our moods. Anyway, this year we spent Christmas over in Brittany with the Ruler_of_spikeís family. It was great to get out of London, out of the UK!
Home: Without realizing it, we had spent over three hours in the hospital, with most of the time waiting. Finally, one of the 'doctors' same to see us. These guys are qualified doctors, but most of them are junior doctors, which means that they're the people who do most of the work with the least amount of experience. We were asking him if there was any specific reason for the passing out. And the answer he gave was very 'woolly' and less than convincing. We realized that we would not get anything useful out of him and left without further delay. As I have calmed down a little by then, we drove home without any further incidents.
Home: I hate waiting in hospitals. At first the receptionist thought I was looking for an Asian family, I guess she made the assumption when she saw that I was Asian looking. It was only when the ambulance driver went to the reception that she realized that I was with my wife, who is white. The nurse carried out a whole bunch of tests, with bigger machines. However, there were these terrible long waits in between. However, it really didn't matter for me. The Ruler_of_spike was looking better and there's color on her face again. She was warmer and appeared to be doing ok. The waiting didn't seem to bother me at all.
Home: It was a terrible night for driving - it was cold with frost on my windows and windscreen. As it was so cold in the car, as soon as I got in, the windows started steaming up. I was dark and I could not see a thing out of any window. I was in a panic. After closing and locking the house door, I started the car and I just couldn't wait to go. The major problem was that I didn't know which hospital they were going to take the Ruler_of_spike to. I jammed the car into reverse and moved out my drive way. All came to a rather sudden stop and I appeared to have rammed into something. I could not tell what it was that I drove into to begin with as I couldn't see out of the windows (they were still fogged up). However, once the window was lowered, I realized that it was the ambulance with the Ruler_of_spike in it. There was no visible damage and it soon drove off with me following. While driving, I tried to make the electric window to move back up to the closed position. May be it was the ice on the outside of the window or just plain cold, it would only close three quarters of the way. That's the problem with electric windows, there was no way for me to manually move the window back up. I ended up trying to see through the fogged-up front windscreen, steering by one hand and using the other to try and move the window back up. What fun!! After getting to the hospital, I found a space to park the car. Somehow I had to close the window, so I gave it one more try and for some strange reason, it closed. Very strange!
Home: Like many Sunday evenings, the Ruler_of_spike and I watched a DVD as the so-called entertainment on TV these days were just plain boring. Normally, I would be the one complaining that the house was cold, however, that evening, it was the Ruler_of_spike who was complaining. After the DVD finished, the Ruler_of_spike complained that she was not feeling well - light-headed and feeling weak on her legs. I helped her to the bedroom and sat her down and went to the kitchen to get her some fruit juice. After a while, she was feeling better and we decided that to go the kitchen where, with the back door opened, would have some fresh air. She managed to sit on one of the stools at the breakfast bar, but she was saying that she wasn't feeling well again. Before I could ask what was wrong, I saw that she was sliding sideways on the breakfast bar. I managed to catch her before she fell and attempted to walk her back to the living room where the sofa is. Her legs just won't carry her and she ended up laying on the floor of the dining. To me, she looked like she had passed out. It was scary to look at her - her lips where nearly white and there was no color on her. She was cold sweating and her forehead and hands were cold to touch. I call the emergency services and while I was on the call, the Ruler_of_spike was coming back to consciousness. The paramedic arrived no long after and he found that that she was hyperventilating and taught her how to control her breathing. The paramedic also managed to carry a bunch of other tests on her while we waited for the arrival of the ambulance. After the ambulance got to our house, it was decided that they would take the Ruler_of_spike into hospital for further tests and observation...
Home: I felt absolutely shattered! It seemed that time has stood still. This year has been a complete wash out, in terms of work and in terms of weather. I seemed to be spending most of the week looking forward to Friday afternoon and I seemed to be spending all my time commuting or at work. The weekends never felt long enough and I was constantly tired. I didnít even have time to update the website! Our Christmas vacation just couldnít come quick enough...
November 2007:
Work: There were more problems with my portfolio of counterparties as a result of the US sub-prime RMBS problems. One of them has declared bankruptcy after its regulator moved to revoke its license. My counterparty failed to inform its investors the risks of the assets it was investing on their behalf. Of course, as soon as bankruptcy was declared, all creditors started queuing up to state their claims. Luckily, we only had a couple of options with the counterparties and they were both in-the-money for the client. However, things were never that simple and we found out how difficult things would be as soon as we realized that weíd be dealing with the liquidator / administrator. Well, things were not as bad as it could have been as we only have to terminate the trades and pay the mark-to-market. At least we were not expecting money from them. Good luck trying to get money out of them!
Work: This has been a horrible month. It has been a non-stop grind in our department. There have been lots of things going on, particularly with things related to the structured deals that we've been involved and it has not been pretty. It felt like that no-one was in control of the situation and we were just going from producing one presentation to the senior risk folks after another. The problem was that there were some people that were rather 'alarmist' about things on our portfolio. Certainly I'd be the first one to admit that not all the assets were as strong as others, but just because a deal was a structured deal didn't made it any more scary than another - you just have to spend time to understand the deal. Unfortunately, in my opinion, some people felt that we have been burnt in other deals and they were now all spooked. They were all gun-shy and reluctant to make decisions. They all wanted other people to put their names on the dotted line, so that when things blow up down the line, it won't be them losing their jobs. Why are these senior people being paid so much, if all they do is to hide?
Work: There were some things that we were told which seemed unbelievable! Our bank has a number of structured deals where the clients were on hook for a certain amount of Ďfirst lossí on leveraged play on portfolios and/or we have the right to put back the assets once they hit certain triggers. These required constant monitoring so ensure that we know how far the portfolios were from losses or how the assets were performing. This monitoring function was suppose to be carried out by the folks over in market risk. However, we found out that they hadnít been doing any of that. That was a shock! So just as the market was going from bad to worse and we werenít even monitoring things on our books - we were flying blind. So of course, a massive exercise was put together to look at the assets and we in credit risk got the short straw. Actually we didnít get the short straw, but we were Ďvolunteeredí by our boss. We were in no better position to opine on the assets than other areas - we just ended making comments based on Ďfeelí. It was unsophisticated and messy.
Home: It has been a little while since we have had guests in our house, with summer being a wash out, it was difficult to get into the mood to plan ahead. Then there were the summer vacations. And since the summer, things had been so busy at work that it was easy to forget that there was life outside work. Finally, we organized some social life for ourselves - one of my best friend came over for lunch. We have been inviting each other to lunch at each other's place for a good few years. It's not really any kind of formal of competition, but we seem to try to out do each other. In the past, it has been up to the Ruler_of_spike to do the cooking when they came over, but this time, it was my turn to get my hands dirty. Luckily we acquired the Wagamama cook book a while back and Iíve been giving a few of the recipes a try. While nearly all the Wagamama recipes have noodles of one sort or another in them, it is entirely possible to skip the noodles and just use the dishes like a Chinese meal. Although Iíve cooked all the dishes before and have had a Ďdry runí on cooking all of them at the same time, it was rather hectic to get all the dishes ready at the same time. Luckily, it all worked out ok and no-one suffered any ill effects.
Home: I managed to put a couple of coats of paint on the frame during the week and luckily the paint was dried by the weekend. Iíve planned ahead and have gotten some L-shape brackets to mount the mirror. After double-checking and then triple-checking the measurements to make sure that I would be drilling the right place, I borrowed the hammer drill from our neighbor and installed the brackets. I measured afterwards to make sure that I havenít made a mistake and it would appear that it would be a good fit. The next job was moving the mirror into position. While I could move the mirror by myself, lifting it up to mantle was something I wasnít going to attempt by myself. Thank god for the Ruler_of_spike! She might be little, but sheís invaluable when it comes to sharing the burden (literally and figuratively). It was with her help that mirror was finally moved into place. It was a good tight fit - the distance of separating brackets was half a millimeter less than the width of the mirror! Harrah!! The mirror really adds to the room.
October 2007:
Home: Finally, we were in shape to paint the frame of the mirror. Hmmm... Paint. The question is: What kind of paint? We knew it will have to be white. But what kind of white? Gloss? Matt? Eggshell? Gloss was a little too shiny, especially for the frame of a mirror. Eggshell was a strong possibility as the mantle piece and shelving to the sides of the chimney breast are all eggshell. So that was what we decided on. Matt was a possibility but we didnít want to introduce another paint in the area. The actual painting was relatively easy, once the glass of the mirror was suitably covered up. The weather wasnít great, so it took longer than expected for the paint to dry properly. But the end was getting nearer.

Home: For those who donít know, an electric planer is a scary (and heavy) piece of kit. Imagine an old fashion plane, now replace the traditional blade with a high speed rotating blade cylinder. Then add a heavy electric motor on top to rotate the cylinder at high speed. Finally add a power cord to limit mobility. Not the most user friendly of all electric power tools, but it is infinitely more powerful than a traditional plane - which means mistakes are made more easily. As it was the bottom edge of the mirror that needed attention, the first job was to turn the mirror upside down. That was easier said than done. However, it was next part that was the most fun. The top side of the mirror is beautifully crafted with panels and carved center piece. Basically, it is not going to stand upside down by itself. Of course, someone has to hold the heavy mirror while I plane the bottom edge. Between the Ruler_of_spike and I, we managed to somehow hold the mirror upside down and plane the bottom edge - without breaking anything! Darn, the mirror is nearly up to her shoulders, yet somehow she managed to hold on to it while I tried to plane the bottom edge straight. Some work!
Home: Now that I have stripped the paint as much as I wanted to, it was nearly time to paint it. However, before I could do that, I had to level off the bottom edge of the mirror. On examining the mirror after collecting it, it was evident that it was attached to something else previously and the seller (or someone) had recently saw it off before putting it on eBay. I don't know what they used or how they removed it from whatever it was attached, they made a messy job of bottom edge. While I knew exactly what I had to do to finish off the bottom edge, I don't own a plane to do the job. So, it was rather fortuitous that one of my friend owns an electric planer.
Work: In the mean time, all kinds of things were blowing up... figuratively speaking. I am involved in some of the structured finance transaction from the credit perspective. There were a couple types of financing transactions where our bank provided financing for our clients either by taking on assets on the balance sheet or via commercial paper conduits. In effect, these were leveraged play for our clients. Our bank in turn provided off-balance sheet finance for them and take second-loss risks. Many of the assets being financed were asset-back securities and other securitized assets. Typically, there were all kinds of triggers to protect ourselves; for example, rating triggers and loss triggers. However, assets had been downgraded so quickly and so much by the rating agencies that there were possibilities that the ratings and/or pricing would have dropped so rapidly that our bank could ended up losing money also. To compound the problem, there were no sensible pricing for the assets as the market was completely illiquid and there were very little faith in rating agencies, particularly after the way they downgraded hundreds of assets and many were going from AAA to junk in a single jump! Scary!! In the past, we assumed that asset pricing and ratings were monitored by market risk. However, as events transpired, they were not monitored as such. So there was this massive exercise to go through every piece of asset in these financing transactions to try and put the assets back to the clients. The other side of the problem is that while we in credit risk were involve in these transactions, we were restricted to the counterparty perspective, rather than looking at the underlying assets. We simple did not have the know-how to examine the assets piece by piece. So we ended up using a very conservative, but broad brush approach to this exercise - we were recommending a lot of assets to be put back. Of course, the clients were not happy about this turn of event. It was logical for them to assume that they've parked their assets in reasonably secured form of financing. However, just as funding was drying up (both inter-bank as well as in the commercial paper market), we went back to the client to put back assets back to them. It was not pretty. In any case, it was senior management's decision and theirs (and ours) was to protect the bank and making sure that we didn't lose money. It was a painful but necessary exercise.
Home: It was surprising to find just so many layers of paint on top of one another. Once I started with one layer, soon another layer reveal itself. Eventually, there were some areas that I stripped all the paint layers away and came face to face with the original wood of the frame. The wood was this lovely rich dark color, like an old oak or mahogany or something like that. It was a shame that I was planning to cover it back up again. However, the wood was just too dark and we wanted the frame to be white so that it would match the rest of the room. I had to strip as much of the old paint as possible to the point that they would not flaking anymore. It was quite a job. It was particularly difficult where there were indentations and grooves. It took a while, but I managed to get the job done in a couple of weekends.
Home: Now that we have the mirror, we need to decide what to it (if anything) before we mount it up. To be completely honest, it has seen better days. The uppermost layer of paint was an off-white, creamy color which just looked dirty. Since the main color of the living room is white, this simply won't do. Once I started trying to strip away the paint, I discovered that there were at least a half dozen layers of older paint beneath! Looks like no-one has bother to strip any of the old paint since the day someone decided to paint it.
Home: It was just before our wedding, back in 2004, that I saw, for the first time, my favorite band, Rush. Three years have fly by and earlier on in the year, a good friend approached me and ask if I would like to see the band in their latest tour. I agreed without hesitation. Strangely, we landed tickets for the Birmingham show (at the NEC) rather than one of the London show. Anyway, I took a half-day holiday on a Friday and met up with the guys. We drove up to Birmingham and found our hotel (traveling back in the middle of the night was not considered sensible) and even had time for a very civilized dinner. That was a completely different experience compared with the last time when we went to Wembley Arena - we had to rush there after work, cramped in some food before the concert and then somehow made our way home after. The concert was just as expected - excellent. All the guys in the band were in good form, which was impressive given how long they've been touring. The music was good. I like many of the songs from their latest album and they played most of them. After the concert, it was just a short drive back to the hotel; it could not have been easier. With a good night sleep in the hotel, we headed back to the South East after a hearty  English breakfast in the hotel. Very civilize and very enjoyable.
Home: After winning the auction, we decided that would pick up the mirror from the seller during the weekend. She was located in some farm in Wiltshire, which is about as far west as you can go without reaching Wales or the sea (except the metropolitan area of Bristol). As we've never been to that part of the country, we decided to pick up the mirror ourselves and spend the an afternoon around the area near where we had to go to pick up the mirror. After a 3-hour drive, we eventually found the little hamlet where the seller was located. It was so small that it did not even appear on the road map. Thank god for Google Maps! Afterwards, we went to village nearby and had an excellent homemade Sunday roast in the village pub. We even had time for little quick walk around before driving back with the mirror resting in the back of car.
Home: The Ruler_of_spike typically doesn't go on eBay. For one reason or another, if we buy or sell things on eBay, it would me who do the searching and then consult with her. One evening, the Ruler_of_spike called me at work and told me about an auction for a Victorian mirror. I took a good look at the photos and got the measurements, so when we got home that evening, we checked its dimension against the chimney breast in the living room. It was perfect. So we decided to put a bid in. We figured that such a piece would worth upwards of £250 in an antique shop. So if we managed to win the auction with a winning bid, which even with the cost of gas for the trip to Wiltshire, south of that, we were on to a winner! For the course of the week, we agonized over putting higher and higher bids. Judging by the accounts of some of the other bidders, we could tell that there were a couple of pros there who would pick up cheap pieces in auction and sell them at substantially higher price after restoration or simply by putting the items in a shop. Eventually, it was Friday afternoon. The auction would end during my commute home. I talked to the Ruler_of_spike in mid afternoon to figure out what would our maximum bid be and put it in one last time. I went online to check the result of the auction as soon as I got back. We won! The Ruler_of_spike did not expect that at all. So it was a real pleasure to be able to tell her that when I picked her up from the train station.