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spikegifted.net - Archive Q4 2008

December 2008:
Home: It’s amazing how quickly three, four days pass. One moment we were greeting my brother-in-law on his arrival, and the next we were waving goodbye to him and his family. Suddenly, our house was all quiet and empty again - just the Ruler_of_spike and I. We could enjoy a few days of rest before going back to work after the New Year.
Home: My nephew-in-law (we just call him “TT”) is a cool little kid. He’s now seven years old and he’s shaping up to be an interesting fellow. He’s learning the violin, which is small enough to be manageable for a kid his size. However, he saw my bass guitar and so I gave him a shot at it. The darn thing is taller than him and probably half his weight, but he gamely tried to play it. Admittedly, the strings were too heavy for him and the neck too long to plug meaningfully, but he made a good impression. And dare I say that the bass made a good impression on him! Another thing: as someone who is a rugby fan and can’t stand any inflatable object that has a regular bounce, the only way to keep him occupied was with rugby ball. I don’t believe he’s ever put his hands on a rugby ball before, but we spent a good hour out in the cold having fun throwing the ball around the back garden. To be completely honest, I loved it! I hope that in the few days stay in our house, we managed to give him some new experiences.
Home: My brother-in-law has two daughters, the older (“Zaza”) is turning into a sensible and pretty little girl, but the younger one (“mini_mi”) is something else. She’s not yet three, but she has personality by the bucket load! While you won’t say she’s out-and-out ‘beautiful’, she certainly ‘cute’. I have been told that she looks just like how the Ruler_of_spike looked when she was mini_mi’s age. Just like the Ruler_of_spike, mini_mi can only be described as petite. It’s hard not to appreciate when you great in-laws.
Home: With the weather being so cold, it was not sensible to expose the kids too much by dragging them around sightseeing. We took them to Wimbledon Village, a nice part of London, to have a walk around. Again, the kids loved the horses walking around the common and even visited the stable to have a look. We had another excellent lunch in one of the pubs near the common. It was comforting that they liked the food offered by the pubs we’ve visited. Otherwise, the choices were rather limited aside from home cooking. To be completely frank, I’m not sure if I would want to my own cooking while on vacation, so I don’t think I could have subjected them to such cruelty.
Home: We didn’t know it at the time, but when the Ruler_of_spike’s brother arrived in London, it was the beginning of a bitterly cold couple of weeks in the UK. It wasn’t great for walking around and sight-seeing. We took them into London to visit some tourist sites. The kids loved the horses standing in guard along Whitehall. We took them to a pub down King’s Road that I frequented back in my university days. The place was just as I remembered it – warm, cozy and serving good food. What an excellent pub lunch at quite a reasonable price for central London.
Home: It must have been a bit of a shock, coming from a big house in small city in France to a Victorian semi in a suburb of London. Our house is only occupied by the Ruler_of_spike and I, and it is perfectly adequate for our use. Of course, we have plans to have additional inhabitants in the house, but accommodating four adults and three kids was a stretch. Space, something that usually would not have been an issue, suddenly became a scarce commodity. Don’t take me wrong, I’m in no way complaining. It was great to have them in our house. Ok, space was limited, but it wasn’t killing us. They drove from south Brittany to London without any problems. The car was jammed packed, of course, but that was expected - you need a lot of kit to keep three little kids occupied and entertained. My brother-in-law as he drove up from Portsmouth to London using use the GPS. That was quite impressive for someone who’s not familiar with UK roads and had to drive in the dark.
Home: The reason for the rush to complete these little jobs in the house was that the brother of the Ruler_of_spike and his family were coming to spend a few days in our house after Christmas. Obviously there were things that were clearly not finished. My objective was not to finish all the unfinished business, but to get some bits done that could have been done quickly which provided the most benefits, either visually or qualitatively. It took a few weekends and a few more days to achieve the results, but it was worth the effort.
Home: I bought some more hardboards and cut out a single piece to cover the uncovered area in the hallway. I created a piece that would cover the areas and also fits precisely with the other pieces that have already been nailed down. Then, I mixed some epoxy resin adhesive and spread it out as evenly as I could over the concreted area. After I slotted the final piece of hardboard into place, I place several boxes of books over the area and left it to dry. After a few hours, I checked the hardboards and they appeared to have attached strongly to the concrete surface. Finally, job done! Ok, we know that this was suppose to be a temporary solution until we can put the carpet down, but at least it looked neater now. 
Home: I tackled the difficult areas in the main loft first, as I knew that my motivation level would not sustain me had I left those areas until later. After the main loft was done, the other two smaller loft areas were relatively easy. The space above one of the spare room is occupied by my stuff and there was fairly little I can do to the space. The smallest of the lofts was over the utility room. There was very little I could have done except blocking up a hole that was created to pass radiator pipes through. It might have been just my impression, but both the Ruler_of_spike and I felt that additional insulation made some difference to the house.
Work: It was the annual appraisal time again - the annual farce which, for whatever reason, no matter how well or bad you do, you always ended up with the same score. I have been with my current employer for long enough to observe that promotion has nothing to do with how well your colleagues score you in the annual appraisal. In fact, it is certainly down to just one or two factors - how well you get on with your boss and how hard your boss pushes for your promotion. There were people who freely put their hands up to admit that they’ve done nothing throughout the year and they get the same scores for effort and achievements as those who’ve worked flat out. I have seen enough people who are not exactly good at their job getting promoted above those who are knowledgeable and hard working. In fact, I have seen people who’re incompetent getting promoted. There is no fairness in this process - it’s completely arbitrary and full of politics. This was my third year seeking for a promotion. I know my chance of getting the promotion is so slim that I really shouldn’t bother, not with all the things going on in the bank. On the other hand, I feel I have done well enough and consistently enough over a sustained period of time that I deserve a promotion. All that could be for naught and I would have wasted another year in this place, but I live in hope...
Home: Our main part of our house was originally built back in the 1870s and there were subsequently two extensions completed, with the last modification completed back in the 1920/30s. So there are actually three lofts! Furthermore, the main loft is not a single open space, but it has been partitioned into a number of areas. Some of these areas are more difficult to get to than others. So while on the surface, it appeared that the job was relatively simple, there was more to it than I initially thought. I had to spend some time carefully crawling through some small spaces - careful not to put a knee through the boards to make a hole in the ceiling or putting other parts of my body through the roof as I maneuvered my way around the place. The place was incredibly dusty as many years’ worth of dust has accumulated since the area was last disturbed. It took quite a few hours worth of work to lay on this additional layer of insulation.
Home: I heard on radio that the UK was experiencing the coldest winter in 10 years. So it’s not surprising that our heating has been on more often than previous years. It has been a concern of ours since our first winter in the house that the upstairs temperature was always lower than downstairs. Other than the fact that radiators in the rooms downstairs have always been noticeably warmer than those upstairs, we suspected that there was something to do with insulation in the loft. I have read somewhere that up to 60% of heat lost in an un-insulated house is through the roof/ceiling. We have suspected that our loft insulation was not up to the job since the first winter, but haven’t yet found the time to fix the problem. So after my first proper inspection of the insulation, it was evident that there was insufficient insulation in the loft. Something has to be done.
Home: After talking to my colleague again, the solution to my hardboard-meet-concrete problem seems to be glue, or more precisely, epoxy. However, before I get to that point, there was still more work to be done. Looking at the hallway, I had around 95% of the surface covered by hardboard. While I could have covered the rest of the area using left-over bits, that was not the point. I would have to buy a bigger piece of hardboard for another project anyway. So there was no point buying to attempt the difficult thing, when there was an easier solution. Seeing that most of this final piece of hardboard would be almost exclusively over concrete, the job has to be done at the same time as the other pieces of the jigsaw.
November 2008:
Home: In a way, it was an easy job: the hardboards being only 3mm thick, it was possible to cut them using a sharp knife (like a Swiss Army pen knife or a Stanley knife). I took a lot of care to make sure that the hardboards were cut to meet the shapes of hallway, doorways and whatever else that sticks out. Of course, even with a very sharp knife, I discovered that hardboards were not the easiest thing to cut into shape. Once I got the boards into the desired shapes, it was time to put them down with nails. The main reason the hallway was not stripped and polished like the bedrooms was because there is this large block of concrete around the chimney breast - it is not the easiest thing to get away with, not matter what we decided to do. The only sensible thing to do is to cover it, along with the rest of the floor boards with carpet. So the nails, and lots of them, went in fix the hardboards onto the floor boards and to make sure that the hardboards do not move. It was a good fit as I managed to cut the hardboards to within 1mm of accuracy. The nails where the easy bit, but the hard part was to figure out what to do with the part where the hardboards were covering the concrete - I could not drive the nails through and even had I been successful, there was no grip to hold the nails (and hence the hardboards) down. Hmmm...
Home: The upstairs hallway has been in a real state since we moved into the house nearly two and half years ago. We know exactly what we want to do in that space, but we haven’t done anything yet as we still haven’t done what we wanted to do in the bathroom. Lots of dependencies and not a lot of action... The plan is to lay carpet in the hallway after the bathroom has been remodeled. While talking to a colleague, he mentioned that as the floor boards were uneven, the carpet could not be laid until the surface has been evened out and in our situation, the simplest and most likely solution would be laying down a piece of hardboard. This gave me an idea: as the hardboard has to be laid before the carpet, it should not make much of a difference if we have it laid now or later, given that we only wear slippers in the house, the wear and tear should be relatively low. With that in mind, I went ahead and bought some hardboards from my local hardware store. There were a number of different sizes I could pick from, but the ones that would have been most suitable for our hallway were too large to fit into my car, so I went for the next best thing.
Work: While the big picture was belting out doom and gloom across the whole financial market, each individual working in the financial market was still busy trying to get his/her job done. This meant that there were still business flows, no matter how speculative. The worst part was the business that eventually got turned down. Those required much more work than business that got approved. This made complete sense - front office people (the revenue generators) were not going to let a simple rejection from credit risk to stop them from pursuing a piece of business that they thought might generate revenue for the bank, no matter how little. So if we reject a deal for whatever reason, they would go away and make some small modifications which gave the appearance that the concerns have been addressed and push for an approval again. So we have to work out what the modifications actually meant and provide a decision again. Back and forth the deal went, until we put enough nails into the coffin to rid the deal for good. Or so we thought. You see, as business opportunities disappeared, the front office moved from their usual sport of ‘chasing the clients’ to ‘flogging the dead horse’. Deals that we thought were dead came back to haunt us in yet another incarnation. Your have to give them top marks for being persistent. So, business might have been slow on the revenue generation side, risk professionals like us were still working flat out.
Home: With the weather getting cooler and less sun, many trees and plants were shedding their leaves. May be it was just me getting overly excited about our lawn, which is actually less than 7 months old, the first thing I have been doing in the mornings of weekends was picking those fallen leaves from the lawn. The trouble was that my next door neighbor have lots of bushes and scrubs on their side of the fence and they were out of control - some of these plants were growing so well have half were in actually over the fence and in our garden. When they started shedding leaves, they shed in our garden, rotting and generally destroying our lawn. That really beat me up! We spent good money and made a huge effort to get the garden into good shape, we weren’t going to let some rotten leaves ruining my turf. Aside from killing my neighbor’s plants, the only alternative was to pick up as much of the leaves as possible. Well, I least I got to go outside in those nice crisp mornings in the weekends.
October 2008:
Home: I finally got an appointment for an engineer to come and fix our boiler. It caved in on Tuesday night, I got the appointment on Wednesday morning and it was for Friday, on an unspecified time. Wednesday and Thursday nights were just plain freezing. We have a couple of small electrical heaters and they were just inadequate against the kind of cold in our house, and one of them just spills out bad smell. Not good! On Friday, I was given permission to work from home as I waited for the engineer, who called in the morning to inform me that according to his schedule, he should be at our place early in the afternoon. I tried to work in one of the spare bedrooms where the computer is located, but it was really difficult. I had the mini heater on (the one that didn't smell), layers upon layers of cloths, but I just felt cold. The temperature read 14C. At that temperature, I discovered that it was really difficult to concentrate - I spent most of my time trying to keep warm, by moving around, rubbing my hands, etc. Nothing was working: not the warming up nor getting on with my work. I repeatedly went to make cups of Chinese tea which provided welcomed moments of a bit of heat, but they didn’t last long. You would have heard a rather loud sigh of relief when the engineer knocked at the door. It didn’t take him long to find the fault - the feed valve wasn’t functioning and therefore, the boiler was continuously fed by the mains. As a result, pressure inside the boiler went up and the pressure was so high that water was forced out of air valve at the top of the boiler. That water must have been sprayed around then cascaded down the inside surfaces of the boiler. Luckily, there was no other damage to the unit. It was pure pleasure to be able to switch on the central heating and feel the house gradually warming up.

Home: The 'Indian summer' has come to an end. Moreover, it would appear that autumn has been skipped and we were thrust straight into winter! As it was still only October, we resisted putting on the central heating - we usually tried not to turn on the central heating until November. However, the final week of October has been really cold. So on the Tuesday night, we switched the heating on. After around ten minutes, the Ruler_of_spike alerted me that the boiler was leaking. She wasn’t far wrong, there was water coming from the inside of the boiler and it was cascading down the pipes under the boiler and down to the floor. After switching the boiler off, I checked the internal pressure of the boiler and the reading was in excess of 4 bars! Typically, the pressure should be around 1 to 1.5 bars. Something has gone wrong. I called the emergency helpline but was told that the office was closed so I could not book an appointment until Wednesday. However, the lady on the phone advised me that I should turn off the water mains as it was feeding directly into the boiler so the pressure inside the boiler would not come down with the mains still on. So, not only did we not have central heating and hot water, we had no running cold water. We were down to the water that we could hold in buckets and jugs. It would be difficult until the boiler was fixed. 
Work: The merger/acquisition of the bank I work for and another bank has been announced for a while. However, there has been very little information regarding our on-going operations and eventual integration. There was uncertainty at the senior level and amongst the troops. All these have not been useful in maintaining the morale of the troops. Communication has been really lacking. There was probably not a single party that was at fault. I suspect, and this is my personal view, that our new owner/partner didn't know what they've gotten themselves into. I think that when they carried out their due diligence on our business, they asked the wrong questions to the wrong people and gotten the wrong answers. None of the 'misinformation' was deliberate. It was just a case that the people who answered the questions simple didn't have a clue the kind of activities our bank was/is involved in. If they didn't know, they couldn't give an accurate answer. It's fair to say that our new partner/owner is heavily focus in our home market. There is nothing wrong with that - that's their business. However, when they bought into us, they didn't look at our business careful enough - I don't think anyone from their side actually came to see us in London and most of our bank's investment banking activities was/is based in London. As a result, they bought into this thing that they didn't what to do with. Since discovering that, they've been struggling to come up with a solution that would destroy the least amount of shareholders' value. Instead of being decisive and made business decisions that took advantage of our strengths and targeted the growth areas, our new masters took their time to discover what they have really gotten themselves into and leave the troops waiting. The troops being restless was hardly an unexpected result.
Home: It was my birthday... I have never really liked my birthday - I have never mentioned it to anyone and I certainly haven't done any celebrating. I never had a birthday cake for any of my birthdays, and I don't usually bother about my 'special day', I don't expect much in any given year. However, the Ruler_of_spike has other things in mind. After this year's birthday, I can say that I have had a birthday cake and my birthday was not always a painful experience. In her way, the Ruler_of_spike has helped me 'exorcize a ghost' that has been 'haunting' me since I was a little kid (something to do with my folks when I was little). I won't say that I look forward to my next birthday - that would be a step too much, but I don't think I fear it as much as my last one. Thanks, my dear!
Work: Credit crunch?! Global financial crisis!! Meltdown!!! This was just going mad! Being a credit analyst in an investment bank here in London, I, and my colleagues, was sitting in the middle of the storm. In the first couple of weeks of October, there was not a single bit of good news that would make the markets better. Everyday, there was bad news from one country or another: US banking bail out, Icelandic banking crisis, UK banks under pressure, European banks getting government cash... All the 'great names' in international banking had been hit, one by one or in groups. Volatility, which has been going up and up in the second half of September, has now gone through the roof. There was a time when it was big news if a particular stock market dropped by 2-3%, now 5% or even 10% were not unknown. We were just being hit by big numbers and we have become accustomed to them. Some of my counterparties have just stocks as collaterals for loans. Typically, we'd charge hefty discounts on these stocks to protect ourselves. Now, however, these discounts were not longer enough - we were witnessing falls of over 50% in very short periods of time. You could tell our clients were going around scrambling for funding and liquidity, and there weren't much of them around. Everybody, and I do mean every single one of them, were doing the same thing. The interbank market, which has been struggling since the beginning of the credit crunch in the autumn of 2007, has practically seized up. No-one trusted anyone any more. There were bonds issued by big name financial institutions that had no prices for days on end. The credit spreads on these very same institutions were trading so wide that it was becoming scary. Everything just seemed so surreal... A friend was telling me he was humming 'It's The End Of The World As We Know It' by R.E.M. Was this the end of the world? More important, what would be waiting for us at the other end?