What I'm Reading
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Saturday, April 29. 2006
So I came across this interesting personality quiz called the Johari Window. From the quiz: "[The Johari Window was] invented by Joseph Luft and Harrington Ingham in the 1950s as a model for mapping personality awareness. By describing yourself from a fixed list of adjectives, then asking your friends and colleagues to describe you from the same list, a grid of overlap and difference can be built up."
I've setup a Johari Window, and I've picked six adjactives that I think best describe me. So it's your turn.
It's that simple. It should be interesting how this thing turns out, and to see what kind of vibe I give off to people. The site also lets you setup your own window for free, so if you do, leave a comment and I'll fill yours out as well.
Friday, April 28. 2006
Well, the title speaks for itself. My exams were completely done so I had no more school work to do. I go home and do absolutely nothing, and there were no consequences because I didn't have to study any more. That is some sweet action right there, although, I guess for all of you out of university, it seems rather unexciting.
To start off the week, I got my tax return on Tuesday which was great! It was perfect timing because I wanted to invest part of my return in an American oil company. Once the return came in, I converted it to American dollars which took about two days. By the time Thursday hit, the oil company's stock price had dropped $8; the stock market was throwing a sale, so I picked up a few shares for a great price. By Friday, the stock was starting to bounce back up and recover. Sweet.
On the academia front, I got all my exam marks back. I bagged an A+ in Computer Graphics, and an A in Artificial Intelligence (AI). The computer graphics final, I scored the third highest mark. The AI course was kind of funny. The prof sent out an e-mail telling us that the exam marks were out; however, just because you got full marks on a question, it doesn't mean you got it right. The prof was VERY generous in his marking, otherwise a lot of people would have failed the course. To illustrate how bad it was, the final exam was an open book exam, and it was supposed to last 3 hours. He gave us extra time, so I stayed for a total of 3.5 hours. When I left, 70% of the class was still writing. Some people took up to 5 hours to finish. Yikes.
At work on Friday, we had our end of term lunch at Japanese Village. Yum. Consequently, this week marked the fourth year that I've been working with the company I'm with.
Friday got better as it was floor hockey night at church. There were a LOT of people there that night. They had enough people for 4 teams; normally we have 3 teams. I bagged 3 points and 3 assists for the night, and no sticks to the face, so it was pretty good. Sarah also played and she was the enforcer as usual. One of the kid's mom decided to play floor hockey as well, and lets just say Sarah asserted herself as the alpha-female. I think the mom was scared of Sarah after being checked a few times . By my count, I think Sarah scored at least 4 points for the night, could be more. Adam as usual bagged a crapload of points, and I lost count.
All in all, it has been a great week off from school. It all starts back up on Monday, and we will be doing battle with the last, final term. Bring it on!
Thursday, April 27. 2006
It looks like the long standing softwood lumber dispute between Canada and the U.S. may be reaching a conclusion now that a tentative deal has been established. All of the big provinces seem to be onboard with the deal, and the Canadian government is in support of it as well. No surprise, the opposition parties hailed this deal as Canada selling out to the Americans. After reading the article, it looks like British Columbia is set to really benefit from this deal which is great news for us. That means mad money for British Columbia!
From the National Post article, "B.C. Supports Amended Softwood Deal With U.S."
A tentative deal endorsed by Canada and the United States to end the decades-long softwood lumber dispute will help all regions of Canada, Prime Minister Stephen Harper said Thursday as he announced the agreement in the Commons.
Opposition politicians called it a sellout and a great day for American policy.
But Harper said Washington met several conditions set by Canada for the seven-year deal, which will refund about $4 billion of duties collected over the last few years but limits Canadian shipments to the U.S. market if U.S. lumber prices begin to fall.
Specifically, the framework agreement helps British Columbia, Canada's dominant exporter, Quebec's border sawmills and keeps Atlantic Canadian lumber mills out of the trade fight, Harper said.
The agreement was endorsed by the three main lumber exporting provinces -- B.C., Quebec and Ontario, but derided by the Opposition Liberals and NDP, who complained it would hurt the country.
In Vancouver, British Columbia Premier Gordon Campbell said he will support the lumber agreement, which "on balance is a reasonable deal for Canada and a good deal for British Columbia.''
"We think we've crafted a trade agreement that allows for different responses from different parts of the country. This is a fair trade agreement which will provide the stability we want.''
Even Ontario, which had opposed an earlier leaked version of the agreement as too restrictive, changed its mind Thursday and came out behind the framework agreement when the province was assured it would get a bigger share of the U.S. market.
B.C. support was pivotal because the province accounts for more than half of Canada's $10-billion annual lumber exports to the U.S. construction and home renovation market.
"Our market share has been protected and for the first time ever we have some ability for our market to grow without penalty,'' Campbell said in Victoria.
The framework, which is supposed to form the basis for a final deal, lifts onerous duties on Canadian softwood but caps Canada's share of the U.S. market and imposes a border tax when prices fall below a certain level where American producers say they can't compete.
The seven-year deal also leaves about $1 billion of the $5 billion in duties collected by U.S. Customs since May 2002 in American hands, half of it going to U.S. lumber companies whose complaint triggered the duties in the first place.
Some quick thoughts about this. This is really great news for British Columbia since we export a lot of wood to America. Our economy has been recovering from a decade of mismanaged NDP rule, and this will only help that recovery. It's also good that they're able to recover $4 billion in duties from the Americans. Originally, the Americans refused to to give any of it back, so getting 80% of it back is no small accomplishment. Lastly, kudos to the government for resolving this issue so quickly. This was one of the top grievances that we had with the Americans, and it really ticked off a lot of Canadians. Hopefully this will help smooth relations between the two countries.
A lot of my peers in university seem to believe that we don't need the Americans, and our relations with them doesn't matter. Some openly call America our greatest enemy. I beg to differ considering that over 70% of our economy is tied to the American economy. We do over $1 billion of trade with the Americans every freakin day! They can screw us over big time if they wanted. In either case, better working relations equals productive things like this tentative agreement. I believe that the anti-American Liberal government made it really difficult to resolve this dispute. Now that we have a new government, they were able to resolve it in no time and get everyone onboard.
Tuesday, April 25. 2006
On the weekend, I spotted an article from the National Post where they talk about Canada's intelligence agency, the Canadian Security Establishment (CSE). They offered a rare look inside their facilities. Most people haven't heard of this agency because they're very secretive and they'd prefer it that way.
In either case, the National Post offers some interesting peeks inside the secret world of intelligence. Apparently the National Post is the only media company that has ever been given a tour of their facilities. From the National Post's article, "Listening in on the enemy":
Inside a bland brick building that could pass for a high school, past two security checkpoints, down a hall decorated with the office bowling trophy, a red sign hangs on a beige door.
"Restricted Area," it warns.
Beyond the door, noisy fans whirr, cooling row after row of computers the size of refrigerators that are carrying out the most secretive and sensitive tasks of the Canadian government: hunting down the phone calls of suspected terrorists, reading their e-mails, breaking their codes and more -- all in the name of national security.
This climate-controlled room in a government building in south Ottawa is the brawn of the Communications Security Establishment, the federal agency charged with defending Canada in ways that are as formidable as they are unknown.
From its headquarters near the Rideau River, the CSE operates a vast electronic eavesdropping system that works with allies in the United States, the U.K., Australia and New Zealand to analyze intelligence on foreign adversaries.
A civilian branch of the Department of National Defence, the CSE specializes in "signals intelligence," or SIGINT, which means searching out, intercepting and analyzing electronic communications around the world that relate to threats to Canada's security.
Canadians can be excused for being unfamiliar with the CSE. The agency was once so secret the government would not acknowledge its existence. At one time, it was not even listed in government phone books.
But it has been slowly coming out of the shadows, and the National Post was recently allowed to tour its Ottawa facilities -- believed to be the first time a media outlet has ever been allowed inside.
"There's been a willingness really since the Anti-Terrorism Act was passed just to let Canadians know who we are and what we're doing," said Adrian Simpson, the agency's spokesman. "The chief feels very strongly that the Canadian taxpayer has a right to know what we're doing here and why it's so very important."
Up to a point.
During a tour of a CSE building that cannot be identified, there were long pauses as an official who cannot be named was asked for examples of what the agency does. He could not get into details, he resolved.
From time to time there are hints of what the CSE is up to. Signals teams deployed in Baghdad played a role in the March 23 rescue of one British and two Canadian hostages in Iraq, for example. The agency has also saved the lives of Canadian troops in Afghanistan by intercepting details on enemy attack plans. But the agency's work goes mostly unnoticed -- which is how the CSE prefers it.
The CSE is said to have the highest ratio of PhDs in government. Its staff consists of computer scientists, translators, analysts, mathematicians, engineers, and program developers, among others.
Their job: collect foreign intelligence related to security threats such as terrorism and weapons proliferation; protect government computer systems; and help law enforcement and security agencies.
But their work depends on technology, particularly an army of computers that perform more tasks on any given day than those of all of Canada's banks combined.
The computers are engaged in four main tasks, said Prof. Rudner, director of the Canadian Centre of Intelligence and Security Studies at Carleton University.
They are maintaining "dictionaries" of the names and phone numbers that are being targeted, scanning the flow of telecommunications to identify messages of interest, analyzing and decrypting coded communications and collecting, sorting and retrieving data needed for intelligence products.
The CSE occupies three buildings at its headquarters complex and has space in a fourth, in addition to listening posts in Ottawa, Alert, Gander and Masset that are run by the Canadian Forces Information Operations Group, known as the "291ers."
Two large portables have recently gone up near the CSE headquarters, an indication of the expansion the agency has been quietly undergoing. It has grown from about 1,000 employees before 9/11 to about 1,600 today.
According to Mr. Almand, despite all this the CSE has not demonstrated that it has had any tangible successes. "We haven't heard of anybody that they've caught." But that may say more about the agency's secretive nature than its effectiveness.
Were the CSE too candid about its home runs (and those who work in the field of counter-terrorism insist there are many), terrorists would just adapt their tactics. In other words, the story of the CSE and its role in Afghanistan and the Baghdad hostage rescue might never be told.
Pretty neat stuff. It's also interesting that they were involved in rescuing hostages in Iraq which I covered earlier. It's also amazing that they have more computing power than all of the banks in Canada. As a computer geek, I drool.
In either case, a salute to our intelligence services that work behind the scenes and safeguard our freedoms and interests both domestically and internationally. It must be tough to be doing great work and having no one acknowledge the good that you're doing. I appreciate that.
Saturday, April 22. 2006
I've finished all of my final exams and I am now enjoying a temporary break from academia. This break is particularly short as it only spans one week, but hopefully I'll make the most of it. As with any end of term, it is customary for me to have the end of term dinner splurge. This is a feast where we go high end and expense is not a factor.
So tonight I went to Sen Zushi with Myron. I've heard good things about the restaurant from a lot of people, so I've been dying to go there. In addition, I've been craving sushi for months now. People in my immediate circles aren't really fans of sushi, and I haven't had time to go out for it. The last time I've had sushi might be last term with Pam during our compilers course. That's a long time.
In either case, we arrived there at 7:30pm and we had to wait a little bit for a table because it was a full house. After we sat down, I looked around and my initial reaction was that the place was quite chic and modern looking. Myron remarked that it was a bit stuffy in there, and it was. It looked quite a bit better than Yoshi Sushi, a little more upscale as well. For the rest of the article, I'm going to use Yoshi Sushi as the benchmark. Yoshi Sushi is another Japanese restaurant here in town.
Continue reading "Sen Zushi"
Thursday, April 20. 2006
After weeks of doom and gloom in the stock markets, we finally have some bull market action. Yesterday, the Dow Jones Industrial was up a whopping 200 points. In either case, I'm crowning a new stock of the year in my portfolio. My previous stock of the year title was given to Advanced Micro Systems (AMD) which was up 40% since I bought it. For those who are unfamiliar with AMD, they make CPUs for computers ranging from personal computers to laptops to servers. They're a direct competitor to the industry goliath, Intel (INTC don't buy, don't buy!). Right here, right now, I'm crowning Ballard Power Systems (BLD.TO) my stock of the year.
So just a quick introduction to Ballard Power Systems. They're a Canadian company based in Burnaby, and they're recognized as the world's leader in fuel cell technology. Their goal is to create power plants based on fuel cell technology, and also to power cars using fuel cells. Notable partners include General Motors, Honda, Mercedes Benz, etc. This company was an industry darling during the dot com bubble. The stock traded at over $160/share. Once the bubble popped in 2002, the price came tumbling down to $15/share.
By the end of 2004, a lot of these former dot com bubble companies were witnessing a resurrection, at least I thought. At the end of 2004, I was ready to get into the stock market because I had a few years of success with mutual funds, and I had finished most of my business courses, and I thought I had a good handle on things. In addition, what a great time to buy stocks when the stock market was just crawling out of the ashes of the bubble burst.
I was hunting for a good speculative stock. A speculative stock is basically a high risk stock that can either make you a lot of money, or lose you a lot of money. They're high risk because the companies themselves don't make any money yet, and their futures are very unpredictable. Typically they're researching or developing something that could be the next big thing.
The only time you should invest in a speculative stock is when you have money that you can literally throw away and not cry about. Cash earmarked for tuition, rent, etc would NOT qualify as money you can speculate on because you need that money. The other thing is, only 20% of your stock portfolio should contain speculative stocks. Why? During the dot com bubble, people had 100% of their stock portfolio in speculative internet start-up companies, and they lost everything when the bubble burst. So, that's why we limit our risk exposure. In addition, if you're nearing retirement, you shouldn't hold ANY speculative stocks in your RRSP. I rarely recommend speculative stocks to friends because it's just too risky, and I don't like to be yelled when they lose money.
In either case, I settled on Ballard Power Systems because the stock was hovering at around $8/share, and everyone was very negative about Ballard because a lot of people lost a lot of money in it. However, their technology was still sound; they were still the world leaders in fuel cell technology.
My thesis was, given that oil is becoming increasingly expensive, green technologies will become more and more viable (especially with the Kyoto Protocols in play). So, this was a long-term play where I would buy and hold and wait for the thesis to come true. This is not something where you buy and hope you get rich in a month.
To illustrate this, I've pulled up stock charts from Yahoo Finance. Yahoo Finance's charts are really cool because as you can see, there's a feature to map your current mood relative to the stock's performance . So, here begins my rollercoaster ride with Ballard Power Systems.
I bought shares in the company at $8/share just before Christmas. I thought the stock was done going down considering how much it had already dropped from. How wrong I was. Within a few months, the thing sank down to $6/share. That was a house of pain right there. We're talking about -25%. A few more weeks and it went below $5/share.
Continue reading "Ballard Power - Stock of The Year"
Tuesday, April 18. 2006
So with only one academic school term left in my masters program, a lot of people have been asking, Chan, what are you going to do after you're done? Honestly, I haven't really thought it through. A lot of people have 5 year plans that they prepare, ie, where do you see yourself in 5 years. Those plans kind of went down the drain when I started my masters because I didn't anticipated going into graduate school. It was kind of spontaneous, and mostly Myron's fault .
Anyway, with one term left, there are two options on the table, and I'm split between the two. Option A is to graduate and find a permanent job somewhere in town. Option B is to extend my program by going into co-op and going after my dream job which is half way across the country. Why on earth would I do a co-op term? Well, co-op has several benefits. For one, I don't have many contacts in my industry these days because I've been out of the industry for so long. A lot of people use co-op to get their foot in the door with a company, and gain a permanent job after the term is over.
Here's the breakdown of the options.
The two are somewhat mutually exclusive at the moment. Part of me thinks that I'll regret not taking a chance and seeing what life is like at the dream job. Even if I don't like it, the certification that I'll be getting would be extremely valuable for the resume. In addition, being able to travel sounds pretty good because I haven't done any travelling at all. It's also nice to get paid to travel. The farthest that I've been away in the last 6 years has probably been only as far as Kamloops.
On the other hand, I have friends that are out there in the industry, and they tell me that I'm already packing some serious academic firepower, and I should get out there and find a permanent job because I already have everything that's needed. They wonder why I would take a lower paying job to get a certification and work experience that I don't really need. They say a master's degree is enough to blow away a lot of competition in the job market. On top of that, I'm not some theoretical student that hasn't worked a day in my life. I've got 6 years of related professional work experience under my belt as well. That's better than quite a few of my peers. I know one guy who's doing his master's, and he has only worked 4 months as a programmer, and that's it.
In either case, this is what's on my mind these days. I have to reach some sort of conclusion by the end of the month. I've been hesistant to commit to anything because I have no clue where I'm going to end up. I'm going to give it more thought after I finish all my exams and my head is clear. Both paths sound good but both have time sensitive aspects that make them mutually exclusive.
If you have any thoughts or comments, I'd love to hear them.
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"All these conspiracy theories have two basic problems. One, they believe the government is competent. And, two, they believe the government can keep a secret."
--Richard A. Clarke, American National Security Council
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