Thursday, December 28, 2017

Mandatory year end post

This year has been pretty good on the reading space with few really good books that I had a chance to read, courtesy Brags and other nalla ullams who share their loot. Keigo Higashino tops my list of thriller genre authors and have almost read all his translated books. Was super impressed with “Devotion of suspect X” and “Malice” and Peter Swanson conquers all with his masterly depiction of suspense genre. “Her every fear” still resonates with its effect even while reading the review and would await his next realase in 2018 with bated breath. The year was quite good on the movie front as well with quite lot of interesting movies in tamil.

2017 started off with Jallikattu protests, which tuned all of TN in same frequency, with the emotional outpour flooding the sands of Marina. I had firsthand witness to some really senti scenes on MRTS stations that would put any mass scene on movies to shame, even without the BGM. Politically, it was a watershed year for TN with so much of chaos and considering the recent by-election looks like 2018 is all set for a tumultuous beginning as well.

With junior turning two, everything in our house, that used to be at ground level, have been shifted to over 4 feet high as a safe distance. He has an interesting way of expressing his displeasure or anger by cussing out numerals. On normal recite mode he would say from one to ten in sequence. When irritated he would mutter “one, Shevan (seven), nine, ten”. The entire apartment knows about this and always make it a point to tease him for a show. 2018 may well be the beginning of his school year and not a day passes for me without dreading the d-day. The coming year also ensures several major changes all within the first quarter which would set the wheels of my life turning another corner. As much I try to detach myself, the eventuality of the situation does creep in at times. At least a few of those major decisions should’ve been taken care in 2017 itself which didn’t materialize , courtesy the one up above. Hopefully, in few months’ time, things should take care of itself.

So long folks. Hope to catch you all again on the other side of the year. Wish you all a year full of happiness, joyous memories to cherish and good health.

Wednesday, December 27, 2017

Maayavan and velaikaran review

Maayavan – Sci-Fi movies in tamil is a rarity and that too one with good script/screenplay is even more of a rare case. A sci-fi movie in tamil with a good script/screenplay and solid performances is probably the rarest of rare cases. The last such movie was “Indru netru naalai” which was impressive right from the title. “Maayavan” is from the stables of the same house with the story department helmed by the producer himself. C.V Kumar and Thirukumaran entertainment have become synonymous with good movies with excellent storyline. He doesn’t disappoint in his maiden venture as a director as well. The storyline is pretty original (with no Korean/foreign movie yet to be identified from where it was lifted) with a police official investigating a series of murders following similar pattern. Right from the opening scene the story picks up tempo and it continues till the end with no lag anywhere. There are lot of activities happening within the first fifteen minutes of the movie that are neatly streamlined into the bigger picture. The way immortality is explained and the ease with which its implemented may be too much for science buffs but I am pretty sure it would hit bulls eye with those who does have penchant to follow such movies without the science portions becoming overdose. Sudeep, who plays the hero/inspector, has done a fairly neat job. The romantic portions involving the heroine, who plays a shrink, are neatly embedded into the storyline without compromising on the seriousness of the plot. There is hardly any comic portion but that doesn’t feel needed at all. The gruesomeness of the murders are somewhat diluted in the ingenuity of the motive and the killer. The end twist was more of a given considering the opening scene.

Gils verdict- Very rarely you get to enjoy a movie which not just thrills but also feels original. Maayavan is a member of that rare breed. May the tribe of CV kumar grow and prosper.

Velaikkaran – After Remo, I didn’t really had high hopes on Siva for he had tasted success with his tried and tested formula of portraying wastrels on screen, wooing heroines, buoyed with foot tapping numbers by Anirudh and with his penchant for punchy comedies. With Velaikkaran, he breaks all those comfort zones around him and sets himself up for the next level of stardom. Any Kollywood superstar, worth his salt, would’ve done few themes mandatorily on their way up in their career. By default, they should’ve played a lady character, a dyed in blood commie up against the evil capitalist management, an all-powerful cop, son of the soil village character and ultra hep city bred modern youth. Siva had ticked all these and with velaikaran fulfills the lot as commie comrade. It’s been a long while since factory, workers themed movies made way in tamil as against the halcyon days of vijaykanth and Rajini. Probably it helps to bring novelty to the story on screen. One thing that strikes you right away from the first scene is the volume of dialogue. Not the sound but the reams and reams and reams of lines written for the characters with Siva and Fasil (villain) shouldering the bulk of the lot. It’s not conversation but literal seminar like speeches that happen every alternate minute and is really straining. Probably the director could’ve used the visual medium of cinema a bit more and toned down on explaining everything?

Kuppam FM is as catchy as it sounds and those scenes with Robo Shankar where Siva gives running commentary on gang fight are a hoot. Considering the serious tone of the story, the director goes very strict into preaching mode after every possible emotional scene, be it funny or sentimental. Is it just me or Fasil reminds of “Thani oruvan” not just in looks but also in his voice modulation (or whoever dubbed for him). In the pretext of showing the evils of capitalism and greed the director has trashed marketing as a concept and sales rep’s as a career choice. The latter at least has some poignant scenes for justification, but the supermarket scene felt a bit over the top for it didn’t sound wrong, but just another marketing gimmick. If that’s the case, every toiletry that uses “new” as the keyword to renew itself should be booked. The second half is all too easy for the hero to establish is success while the first half is way too digressive to bring home the point. With so much of running time dedicated for dialogues, the portions of Sneha and Vijay Vasanth alongside possibly lot more comic portions involving RJ Balaji Satish and co have been mercilessly chopped down I guess. To prove the carcinogenic nature of the food items, the way Sneha does a big boss on herself is pretty unique. Any more detailing on the packaged food, the food industry would’ve been up in arms against the movie. Anirudh reserves his best for Siva and the final song is pretty uplifting and ensures the viewers leave the movie with an upbeat feel.

Gils verdict – considering “Sakka podu podu raja” by Santhanam, who is often spoken as Siva’s competitor, as both are from similar backgrounds, this movie is leaps and bounds better than any other contemporary fare and cements Siva’s position in the league of bankable stars.  One more blockbuster would make him minimum guarantee star for sure.

Wednesday, December 20, 2017

Salvation of a saint - book review

This would probably the last book in the Keigo Higashino I may get to read this year. Another intriguing tale of murder investigation where the suspense around “Who” and more importantly the “how” gets prolonged almost till the last chapter, unlike his other novels where it’s mostly open book case of who is the killer with only the investigation procedure taking everyone on a thrill rider. Here again, the police investigation and the detailing around it makes it a compelling read.

There is a death pretty much at the very beginning of the novel with more than sufficient hint as to who is going to kill the victim and even on the “how” part. But as the investigation progresses, there are so many view points and details that crop up which makes one wonder where the initial apprehensions as simple as they seemed. Whatever could be the point of view of the reader, there is a character that voices out and thinks on the same line and thereby the author makes a big win. There are immediate connects to each of the character and after a while, it feels as if the dialogues are being voiced out in your head with each character speaking for itself!!

Like each of his mystery novels, there is a strong undercurrent of love and relationship as the central plot and each of the novels have a very strong heroine/villi, around whom the entire story revolves. The translation of this particular novel is almost on the lines of “Devotion X” and never gives a feeling of an imitation. But one thing that was a big letdown was the very thing which is the strong point of the story – a water tight investigative procedure. Would they been so callous as to not check the plants from the very beginning when they are searching for the source everywhere? And the reason why the victim hides details about his personal life, especially his girlfriends, doesn’t quite add up and felt as if its forced to bring the story to a conclusion. When you expect mega serial like fighting scenes between the wife and the “other lady” in her husband’s life, it never happens and the reason, when revealed in the end, elevates the poignancy behind the act. The fact that the crime is touted as the perfect crime falls flat on these aspects but other than that, the premise and the way the murder is self-inflicted on the victim are brilliant. To wrap it all, the motive being such a sensitive one, considering that Japanese do suffer from such demography related issues and to make a crime story out of it is sheer brilliance.

Gils verdict – the story doesn’t offer the thrills and twists of the other novels. But it deals with a very important situation in a country where the population growth rate is always in the news for its abysmally low levels. It may not be the best of the lot, but it sure does have its heart in the right place. But wonder why such an odd title though? To cash in on the “Devotion” success probably, to make it sound like a sequel?

Aruvi and Last Jedi - movie review

Aruvi – Ever since release, there has been so many reviews and feedbacks and appreciations and accolades around this movie that, it was really surprising to see such an unanimously positive comment. And surprisingly, not a single one of the review carried any link about the story and the comments were also an exact replica of each other. Felt as if, someone typed a review and circulated it to all newspapers and social media to “touch upon” and circulate. Every single one of them had praised on the finer aspect of the casting, be it the heroine, the soothing bgm or the wonderful supporting cast. The words were a repeat across all media. Usually, such kind of reviews are reserved for Karan johar, SRK movies, which are often “sponsored” content. But for this movie, everyone went out of their way to promote word of mouth publicity.

When I saw the movie, I felt, all those adulation were more out of guilt rather than anything else. Guilt that as a society we have failed to take care of the needy. Guilt that we, knowingly, ill-treat transgender people and diseased, especially the HIV infected. Of all the cursed diseases, people with AIDS would be the most lambasted lot, for it not just questions their immunity but their character as well. No one would wontedly get afflicted with any disease, especially this dreaded one with varying reasons the source for spread and for infection. The storyline is more of a sentimental slap on the ignorance of the public and the collective lack of empathy which people have towards the victim. There are lot of sentimental scenes which are interspersed with dark and gallows humor that would make it an interesting watch on theaters. Since the subject is emotion heavy, any comic relief is well received. But it still doesn’t justify the reason for the hostage scenario. May be its full of metaphors which are total bouncers  for my little brain. I loved the first half hour into the first half, which are so full of life and traverses a normal life of any girl maturing into a lady.

Gils verdict – There are some movies about which you cannot say bad. Aruvi is one such movie, for at its heart, it’s an honest attempt to hold mirror to our inner selves as to how we are at our baddest. It takes guts and lot of preparation to present such characters on screen. Kudos to the heroine and the director for venturing into such a bold subject. Wonder if she would have such meaningful roles or any roles ever in tamil movie industry. She will be slotted as “performer” and considering that the industry churns out mostly masala stuff, antha cute smiling heroine mega serials pakkam pack paniduvanga nenakren.

Last Jedi – Be the previous installment “Force awakens” or this one, the Star wars franchise are adept at the art of packaging old stuff in new bottle. The rise of the franchise co-incided with video games and with predominantly most of the scenes in current generation video games resembling more real life action, wonder for how long the series would get mileage. Story wise, even the original series was nothing new and with the rehashed version, its yet another done and dusted plot, heavily borrowed from its illustrious previous episodes. The heroine, who is the hero in this version of the series, looks and acts her part. Han Solo’s equivalent hardly has the screen presence of Harrison Ford’s dimple. The villain or the anti-hero looks like younger version of Snape and is as confused as the character. But from a mob mentality feel good perspective that you are also part of the bigger crowd of “naanum star wars fan da”, it makes a passable watch. Spread almost over three hours, by the time help comes in, it almost felt, was the previous scene from pre-interval or from previous episode!!!

Gils verdict – Deepavaliku ganga snanam aacha pola, Rajini padam release aana paathacha kekara pola, Star warskum antha dialogue porunthum. Wish they have an abridged version for TV. Ilaati Christmasku start aagi Newyearku thaan mudiyum with all its ad breaks.

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Supergirl - drama series

Post dedicated to Thala Ramesh 😎

The only superhero I knew for a really longtime during my childhood was Superman. The bulging biceps, well-oiled mop of black hair, billowing red cape and shiny blue body suit were irresistibly matched with x-ray vision, heat rays and above all his ability to fly, made the comic hero a real superhero. When the cartoon series used to play on and off on DD, the starting of the series would have a mini-intro about Superman, like how the man of steel, came from Krypton as a child, his ability to outrun a train or be faster than a bullet. The most famous tagline/catch phrase of all being, “it’s a bird.. it’s a plane..its SUPERMAN”. Unfortunately I never had a chance to watch the toon series for long for it was discontinued. When I chanced upon the drama series, “Supergirl” I was in two minds before I started watching the series. If at all there could be an antithesis of Superman, the ultimate macho superhero, that would be “Supergirl”, with the name itself giving it a feminine tinge, obviously. I couldn’t quite compare the super strong comic hero in a lady format and thought the series would be off air pretty soon. But I was pleasantly surprised and happily wrong once I started the series.

It’s very easy for the audience to get hooked on to the suited superhero, but his alter ego of Clark Kent was often a major letdown. Be it on drama series or on movies, there never was much focus on Kent for it never really mattered when you are all those rippling muscles and bulging biceps underneath. This is exactly where “Supergirl” team scores heads and shoulders above Superman series. They’ve struck gold in casting with Melissa Benoist, playing both the roles with much aplomb.

She is super cute as Kara Danvers, lady equivalent of Clark Kent. Her infectious smile, the energy with which she plays that role, makes it all the more appealing. The same can’t be said about her Supergirl performances though. You simply cannot associate power with such cuteness. She does seem disinterested in the action scenes and with all those camera tricks, it doesn’t really matter anyway. With Kara, she brings a whole new level of vulnerability and relatability to an otherwise drab character that was poorly written to say the least for its male counterpart. With her Blond ponytail and black horn rimmed glasses and bubbly persona, she looks like Barbie girl doll in real and you wouldn’t mind Kara’s portions being lion’s share of every episode.

The series, is literally littered with so many good looking lady artists. Chyler Leigh, who plays Alex Danvers, Kara’s elder sister, comes a close second on cuteness quotient. I first noticed her on Grey’s Anatomy drama series, where she comes pretty late into the series and sadly gets killed within few seasons. With cropped bob cut hair and strikingly lithe physique she could very well have played the role of a superhero of her own. She would probably on top ten list of people with best smile worldwide I guess. The disarming way with which she starts her smile for every reaction, be it sad or serious, its immensely likeable. For almost the only character with no real superpower and basically human, she is successful in portraying the toughness of her character very well.

Next in list is the latest villi in the current season, who dons the role of Reign – Odette Annable. She came pretty late in the “House M.D” series and with her friendly smile became a mini-regular in those series. If at all there are faces meant for advertisements, she would be it. It’s a face that you can trust or get tricked into buying any product. Awaiting to see how her role shapes up in this series. There is almost a sense of knowing or does she resemble someone famous I am not able to put a finger on it, but that she is immensely likeable is anyone’s bet.

Floriana Lima, who played a regular cop in the series alongside being the lesbian partner to Chyler Leigh is another addition to the good looking list. The dimple donning damsel has played her part in many other famous drama series and I recollect seeing her in How I met your mother, House M.D and recently in Lethal Weapon series as well.

Finally to the trigger behind the post – Amy Jackson!! Yes. The “Madarasapattinam” heroine who is currently pairing up with Rajini in “2.0”. She looks natural in the Supergirl setup and probably is as local as any of the cast. Considering that she IS actually British, it’s quite obvious.

It’s actually a mokka series from supervillain/villi perspective, but the cast more than makes up for it J

Monday, December 11, 2017

A midsummer's equation - Book review

This is the fourth book on my Keigo Higashino series. Easily the longest of the four and setting wise quite different from any of the other three. I felt, “Devotion of Suspect X”, probably had the best translator and wish the same person had done the other three as well. The strain of translation is visible at places in this book though not as worse as “Name of the game is a kidnapping”, which was worse right from its title or “Malice”, which had its fair share of mistakes. The other aspect that was notably different in this book was the sheer number of characters. There is an army of them and trying to follow who does what is a tedious task in itself. In almost all the book, there is a leading lady character who is a hostess. Now that I think of, that’s the only profession they belong to on all the four books!! And a teacher character is a repeat across most of them. Probably the author has his own favorite of professions I guess.

Story wise, it’s one of the most detailed and circuitous one with a whole lot of drama related to environment thrown in. Based on the exchanges between the pro and anti-group, it is quite confusing what is the stand of the author – whether he is pro or against the movement to protect the sea. Probably it was intentional to leave the thinking to the readers. It all begins with a train ride by a kid to his uncle’s inn, wherein he meets amateur detective professional physicist Yukawa. The story then moves onto the details of debates and discussion on how a group of local residents are fighting against a big corporate from excavating their beach resources for rare earth elements. One fine morning, a corpse is found. Police suspect suicide and before they close the case, they identify the corpse as one of their own guys, a retired police officer and upon pressure from higher ups, they reopen the case. As the investigation unravels, it takes them back several years to another case which the dead cop was in charge of. How the murder that took place 3 decades earlier, which was actually solved by the cop, resulted in his death, which was initially believed to be suicide but later proved murder, forms the rest of the story.

In between, there are exchanges between the kid and the detective professor, how the latter helps him with his school work while solving crime in parallel, back story of the painting on the hotel which actually has a direct link to the murder mystery and a side story of adultery and love at the root of everything makes up for a really tedious read. Unlike other stories, the reason for murder is pretty muddled and with almost everyone having a role to play, more than whodunit, it becomes a tale of everyone did it.

Gils verdict – very long and tiring read. More of a mid afternoon yawn.

Security and Block chain

The concept of public and private in the context of Block chains is less to do with sharing but more to do with who can authenticate a transaction or not. In a public Block chain – like bitcoin –every node can authenticate a transaction. But in the case of permissioned ledger or private Block chain, you select a certain number of entities who have preferential rights to authenticate that transaction. So when we come to access, that’s where we come to the privacy bit.

So what does this do in terms of security and in terms of confidentiality?

On the security front – the database is replicated across different nodes and each can view the transaction – as a result, any change which is made to the database all the nodes in a system have to verify that and authenticate that change. Even in a private Block chain, for example in a supply chain, confidentiality is an issue. Not everything in a supply chain transaction is meant to be viewed by all the actors and you need to restrict access. This decentralization and relative freedom of access has led to some unexpected consequences: Because anyone can read and write transactions, bitcoin transactions have fueled black market trading. Since the consensus protocol is energy consuming, the majority of users operate in countries with cheap electricity, leading to network centralization and the possibility of collusion, and making the network vulnerable to changes in policy on electricity subsidies.

Both of these trends have led to an increased interest in private block chains, which could ultimately give businesses a greater degree of control.

Primarily used in financial contexts, private block chains give their operators control over who can read the ledger of verified transactions, who can submit transactions, and who can verify them. The applications for private block chains include a variety of markets in which multiple parties wish to participate simultaneously but do not fully trust one another. For example, private block chain systems supporting land and physical asset registries , commodities trading , and private equity distribution are all being tested. As these systems develop and evolve, they, too, may encounter unexpected consequences, some of which will have repercussions for the security of the system and the assets it manages or stores. As in software and product development, considering security at an early stage alleviates the difficulty of making fundamental changes to a product to address a security flaw later on.
It simply means that Block chain as a solution cannot be used for everyone.
To understand the inherent security risks in block chain technology, it’s important to understand the difference between public and private block chains.

There are generally three categories of block chain-like database applications:

1. Public block chains
A public block chain is one in which anyone in the world can read, anyone in the world can send transactions to and expect to see them included if they are valid, and anyone in the world can participate in the consensus process – the process for determining what blocks get added to the chain and what the current state is.
As a substitute for centralized or quasi-centralized trust, public block chains are secured by crypto economics – the combination of economic incentives and cryptographic verification using mechanisms such as proof of work or proof of stake, following a general principle that the degree to which someone can have an influence in the consensus process is proportional to the quantity of economic resources that they can bring to bear. These block chains are generally considered to be “fully decentralized”.

2. Consortium block chains
A consortium block chain is one where the consensus process is controlled by a pre-selected set of nodes; for example, one might imagine a consortium of 15 financial institutions, each of which operates a node and of which 10 must sign every block in order for the block to be valid.
The right to read the block chain may be public, or restricted to the participants, and there are also hybrid routes such as the root hashes of the blocks being public together with an API that allows members of the public to make a limited number of queries and get back cryptographic proofs of some parts of the block chain state. These block chains may be considered “partially decentralized”.

3. Fully private block chains
A fully private block chain is one where write permissions are kept centralized to one organization. Read permissions may be public or restricted to an arbitrary extent. Likely applications include database management, auditing, etc internal to a single company, and so public readability may not be necessary in many cases at all, though in other cases public auditability is desired.

Private block chains. Compared to public block chains, they have a number of advantages:
-      The consortium or company running a private block chain can easily, if desired, change the rules of a block chain, revert transactions, modify balances, etc. In some cases, eg national land registries, this functionality is necessary as an attempt to create a government-uncontrollable land registry would in practice quickly devolve into one that is not recognized by the government itself
-      The validators are known, so any risk of a 51% attack arising from some miner collusion does not apply
-      Transactions are cheaper, since they only need to be verified by a few nodes that can be trusted to have very high processing power, and do not need to be verified by ten thousand other systems
-      Nodes can be trusted to be very well-connected, and faults can quickly be fixed by manual intervention, allowing the use of consensus algorithms which offer finality after much shorter block times

Given all of this, it may seem like private block chains are unquestionably a better choice for institutions. However, even in an institutional context, public block chains still have a lot of value and in fact this value lies to a substantial degree in the philosophical virtues that advocates of public block chains which are freedom, neutrality and openness.

Advantages of public block chains generally fall into two major categories:
-      Public block chains provide a way to protect the users of an application from the developers, establishing that there are certain things that even the developers of an application have no authority to do
-      Public block chains are open, and therefore are likely to be used by very many entities and gain some network effects. To give a particular example, consider the case of domain name escrow. Currently, if A wants to sell a domain to B, there is the standard counterparty risk problem that needs to be resolved: if A sends first, B may not send the money, and if B sends first then A might not send the domain. To solve this problem, we have centralized escrow intermediaries, but these charge fees of three to six percent. However, if we have a domain name system on a block chain, and a currency on the same block chain, then we can cut costs to near-zero with a smart contract: A can send the domain to a program which immediately sends it to the first person to send the program money, and the program is trusted because it runs on a public block chain. Note that in order for this to work efficiently, two completely heterogeneous asset classes from completely different industries must be on the same database – not a situation which can easily happen with private ledgers

As the implications of the invention of have become understood, a certain hype has sprung up around block chain technology. This is, perhaps, because it is so easy to imagine high-level use cases. Block chain technology offers new tools for authentication and authorization in the digital world that preclude the need for many centralized administrators. As a result, it enables the creation of new digital relationships.

Is the data dynamic with an auditable history?
Paper can be hard to counterfeit because of the complexity of physical seals or appearances. Like etching something in stone, paper documents have certain permanence. But, if the data is in constant flux, if it is transactions occurring regularly and frequently, then paper as a medium may not be able to keep up the system of record. Manual data entry also has human limitations. So, if the data and its history are important to the digital relationships they are helping to establish, then block chains offer a flexible capacity by enabling many parties to write new entries into a system of record that is also held by many custodians.

One of the first decisions to make when establishing a block chain (public or private) is about the network architecture of the system. Private block chain operators can control who is allowed to operate a node, as well as how those nodes are connected; a node with more connections will receive information faster. Likewise, nodes may be required to maintain a certain number of connections to be considered active. A node that restricts the transmission of information, or transmits incorrect information, must be identifiable and circumvent-able to maintain the integrity of the system. A private block chain underlying commodities trading may grant more-central positions in the network to established trading partners, and may require new nodes to maintain a connection to one of these central nodes as a security measure to ensure it behaves as expected.

Another security concern in the establishment of network architecture is how to treat uncommunicative or intermittently active nodes. Nodes may go offline for innocuous reasons, but the network must be structured to function (to obtain consensus on previously verified transactions and to correctly verify new transactions) without the offline nodes, and it must be able to quickly bring these nodes back up to speed if they return.

The process used to get consensus (verifying transactions through problem solving) is purposely designed to take time, currently around 10 minutes. Transactions are not considered fully verified for about one to two hours, after which point they are sufficiently “deep” enough in the ledger that introducing a competing version of the ledger, known as a fork, would be computationally expensive.

While the risks of building a financial market or other infrastructure on a public block chain may give a new entrant pause, private block chains offer a degree of control over both participant behavior and the transaction verification process. The use of a block chain-based system is a signal of the transparency and usability of that system, which are bolstered by the early consideration of the system’s security. Just as a business will decide which of its systems are better hosted on a more secure private intranet or on the internet, but will likely use both, systems requiring fast transactions, the possibility of transaction reversal, and central control over transaction verification will be better suited for private block chains, while those that benefit from widespread participation, transparency, and third-party verification will flourish on a public block chain.

If high performance, millisecond transactions are what is required, then it’s best to stick with a traditional-model centralized system. Block chains as databases are slow and there is a cost to storing the data – the processing (or 'mining') of every block in a chain. Centralized data systems based on the client-server model are faster and less expensive at present.

In short, while we still don’t know the full limits and possibilities of block chains, we can at least say the use cases which have passed inspection have all been about managing and securing digital relationships as part of a system of record.

Wednesday, December 06, 2017

Block chain and equities

The private equity market, while attractive to investors and businesses, has seen little technological investment or innovation in recent years. However, as calls for greater transparency, efficiency and security are made - especially in a world where cyber-attacks are a common occurrence - private equity funds and services need to address the lack. To tackle the problem, IBM and Northern Trust have turned towards the Block chain.

To take the hassle out of regulatory and legal compliance, the technology has also been designed to support current rules and was created by working with government officials and regulators during the process. Ownership stakes can be transferred and managed through the ledger, and the companies say the service offers "one version of the truth" to users on the platform. Current legal and administrative processes that support private equity are time consuming and expensive and a lack of transparency and efficient market practices almost always leads to lengthy, redundant and fragmented investment and administration processes. This solution is designed to deliver a significantly enhanced and efficient approach to private equity administration.

GFT, a fintech specialist, claims it is now possible to individually track and manage multiple physical commodities assets through the use of its block chain business model. With a number of high profile cases of fraud within the commodities market – typically the result of a failure to tightly control physical inventories, the distributed ledger’s ability to create a full audit trail for each and every participant in the movement of physical commodities will be a game changer and will be of particular interest where proof of ownership and location of the physical commodity are essential for market participants.

Warehouse receipt financing, is another example, where there may be a number of duplicate and therefore confusing receipts created for a bank’s financing of a commodities deal, may well be de-risked by this type of technology. This will be done by digitally tracking an underlying physical asset by features such as origination, current location, beneficial owner, certain attributes of its quality or grading, and its provenance. Tracking is enabled by capturing data held by a unique identifier for each commodity ‘parcel’ (a consignment of iron ore or wheat, for example). Because a bar code or QR (quick response) code can be more easily separated from the asset or even replicated, GFT is planning to test with an RFID (radio-frequency identification) tag. This technology has been chosen because the tags can easily be embedded into the physical asset (perhaps a sealed container or even a single package or item). The data contained in the unique identifier is written into a block chain record to ensure a clean audit trail.

GFT is using a private block chain, on the Ethereum platform. A digital ‘smart contract’ model embedded within this platform captures and enforces the stored data. The prototype includes a basic permission model for different user-types including logistics, warehouse and end-user. The concept of this model looks to improve transparency across a very early stage component of the supply chain but this could have applications in other functions, particularly when interacting with the trade finance function. Most likely to benefit from this in the first phase of its release will be industry or asset verticals. For example, a global agri-business might seek a reduction in the paperwork required to administer but certain quality attributes (such as whether a consignment of grain is genetically modified or not, its moisture content, country of origin, or whether or not it has been sourced sustainable) must be captured and locked-down at the point of origination, then each parcel identifier can be tracked and verified at any stage in the life cycle of that trade. It would be possible to transfer the parcel ID through the value chain, literally to the ingredients on the packaging of the finished goods.

The payback of this for the tracking of raw materials in terms of quality control are manifold, as indeed are they for the intervention of the finance function. For treasurers with a group risk function the increased transparency and visibility into the supply chain is clear; such a solution also has the potential to support the associated cash flow management around the status of different parcels and their asset ownership throughout their life cycle. Although this model has potential to benefit many different functions along the supply chain, the current multiple platform/multiple system technology landscape is complex. A further issue might be the regulatory constraints around the cross-border movement of data.

A payments solution launched recently by Citi, in partnership with its client Nasdaq, facilitates straight through processing and automated reconciliation by using a distributed ledger to record and transmit payment instructions. The solution tightly integrates Citi’s core financial infrastructure with a block chain system, Nasdaq’s Linq in this instance. The result is greater operational efficiency in Nasdaq’s private securities business.

In the months prior to this, Nasdaq had already applied the distributed ledger to create their Linq platform for private markets securities. And whilst this enabled a more transparent and efficient transfer of stock certificates, there remained a dislocation between the new and old world, especially in regard to how the block chain interacted with financial systems to initiate and receive payments based on these transactions. To solve this, Citi came out with CitiConnect® ,which tightly integrates distributed ledger technology with Citi’s global financial network.

For example, if an investor buys a private market security through Linq Platform, funds deposited in Nasdaq’s account will be auto-reconciled and reflected on Linq’s digital sub-ledger through the CitiConnect® for Block chain connectivity channel. For Nasdaq, the solution will bring a number of potential benefits. Firstly, because it offers direct access to global payments from Nasdaq’s Linq platform using CitiConnect for Block chain, there can be a seamless end-to-end transactional process for sales of private company securities. For private market securities purchases the solution helps match exactly who has bought the security with their payment, enabling auto-reconciliation for Nasdaq.

With so many critical business functions and industries lining up to transform their mode of verification and operation into block chain, it all rounds back to the basic and very important question - how secure is block chain and what are the risks involved?

To understand the inherent security risks in block chain technology, it’s important to understand the difference between public and private block chains. Will try to deliberate on it a bit on subsequent post.

Monday, December 04, 2017

Implementing block chain

In a system like Block chains, where all the parties involved are know all the information for a transaction, is it even possible to have privacy?
 If so, what kind of data should be left out of the system?
But first, it is important to distinguish a distributed database and a decentralized ledger system.
A distributed database could very well be where there is a central authority which holds the data and multiple copies of that data is there for others to view it. A classic example of that could be a central government database – say with the taxman, the RBI and others in a governance framework. But that really is not Block chain. In a situation where different actors do not trust each other, what you do normally is that you would set up an intermediary that you all trust. The good example being currency - One wouldn't know if the currency they have has any value, therefore, the RBI authenticates or certifies that it has value.’ That is the centralized intermediary concept. In the Block chain situation, you are creating an architecture where you are decentralizing the intermediary’s role of certifying a particular transaction or certifying a certain asset class.
When experts list the areas where block chain has significant potential to shake up existing services and processes, they first mention finance (banking) domain and next in line would be governments and, in particular, how governments handles land registries, deeds and titles. That process is currently cumbersome, time-consuming and expensive — with property sales requiring title searches and, just in case those aren't enough, title insurance. But if you put the history of a property's sales and transactions on the block chain, there would be an indelible record of it all. Will see some real time case studies of Block chain implementation in banking world and some specific case studies of how block chain is being implemented by governments world over.
Block chain in Finance
Bitcoin introduced the first Block chain as a tool for making payments without going through the banks.
But what if you work for a bank?
Strangely, many of the features that made bitcoin distasteful to the banks are making the underlying Block chain technology attractive as a way to settle transactions among themselves in dollars or sterling. It's public, so banks can see whether their counter parties can afford to settle their debts, and distributed, so they can settle faster than some central banks will allow.
Ripple is one of the first such Block chain-based settlement mechanisms: Its banking partners include UBS, Santander, and Standard Chartered. But UBS and Santander are also working on another Block chain project called Utility Settlement Coin, which will allow them to settle payments in multiple currencies, with Deutsche Bank, BNY Mellon, and others. If these systems catch on, it's surely only a matter of time before such Block chain payments trickle down to compete with traditional inter-bank transfer mechanisms such as SWIFT.
Not so surprisingly, Indian Banks, who’ve always been front runners in adopting to newer technology have already decided to embrace Block chain in big time.
Finacle, a banking product by Infosys, that is widely used across various Government banks, has been tweaked in its latest release to accommodate Block chain functionality and seems like already 11 major banks have shown interest to implement the same. Finacle Trade Connect, will help digitize the trade finance business process, including validation of ownership, certifying documents and making payments. It is available for functions including bill collection, letters of credit and invoice financing among others.
Axis Bank, India’s third-largest private sector bank, has launched instant international payment services using Ripple’s enterprise Block chain technology solution. The bank has launched a service for its retail customers in India to receive payments from RakBank in UAE and for its corporate customers in India to receive payments from Standard Chartered Bank in Singapore. Ripple makes international remittances faster and transparent for customers while ensuring security and improving efficiency. The transactions reach their destination account in minutes, with certainty of settlement, and with end-to-end visibility over the journey of the payment. So far, Ripple counts Standard Chartered Bank, Bank of America Merril Lynch, UBS Group, Mizuho etc as partner banks.
State Bank of India (SBI), the country’s largest bank, said that it will be deploying a smart contract for KYC solution over the Block chain. This will be deployed over BankChain, a community of Indian and foreign banks which are developing Block chain solutions, BankChain was started in February by SBI and other members include ICICI Bank, YES Bank, DCB Bank, Kotak Bank among others. It has 29 members at the moment.
YES Bank is using a smart contract developed by fintech startup Cateina Technologies on a Block chain which will allow Bajaj Electricals to process disbursement of funds and discounting to its vendors. It added that it has put in place a detailed road map on commercializing Block chain-based banking solutions in India and is exploring use cases for implementation towards ‘Letter of Credit’ and Documentary Collections, Foreign Remittances and Partnering with Correspondent Banks for Trade Finance among others.
ICICI Bank has created a Block chain application and piloted transactions on its Blockchain network in partnership with Emirates NBD, a banking group in the Middle East. In ICICI Bank, the first transaction on the Block chain was executed to showcase confirmation of import of shredded steel melting scrap by a Mumbai-based export-import firm from a Dubai-based supplier. The second transaction involved a transaction on the Block chain application that enabled an ICICI Bank branch in Mumbai to remit funds to an Emirates NBD branch in Dubai in real time. It could do so as the Block chain technology is equipped to send real time financial message to the recipient bank allowing the remittance transaction to take place instantly. The Block chain eliminated the need for financial messaging between banks and provides the convenience of instant cross-border remittances for retail customers. Currently, international remittances take a few hours to up to two days.
Block chain in real estate
Block chain could play a role in manufacturing and supply chain operations too, as the technology could be used to create audit trails that allow companies to track the provenance of both materials and finished products. It could also be used to create permanent, transparent logs of industrial and commercial records, such as maintenance and inspection reports. There is increasing interest in using block chains to keep land records and pay property tax.
Sweden’s land registry authority, Lantmäteriet, started a pilot in March this year where it will use smart contracts to purchase small houses on the blockchain and manage mortgages.
The Republic of Georgia signed a deal with bitcoin mining company BitFury to build a private block chain to keep track of its land registry, via a private block chain, which is a tamper-proof ledger, and then to make those transactions verifiable using bitcoin’s block chain, which is public. It is the first time a national government has used the bitcoin block chain to secure and validate official actions, signifying a vote of confidence for a technology still somewhat tainted by an early association with illicit activity. Having so far built the software and tested it with a couple dozen land title registrations, Bitfury and the Georgian National Agency of Public Registry have now signed a new memorandum of understanding to expand the service to purchases and sales of land titles, registration of new land titles, demolition of property, mortgages and rentals, as well as notary services.
In India, the Andhra Pradesh government has partnered with Swedish startup ChromaWay to run a pilot for land registry on a block chain to track the ownership of property, reports CoinDesk. The state will be introducing a digital identification for land registry parcels called Bhudhar, which will help citizens pay property taxes as well. Meanwhile, ChromaWay said that it will be using a distributed ledger on the back end and a web app on the front end.
In Honduras, the government has partnered with FatCom for securing land title records with distributed ledger technology.
As per a survey worldwide, the value of “dead capital” — in which people do not have legal title to their houses, cars and other assets — at $20 trillion. In a blockchain-based ledger, records are time-stamped, as are subsequent changes to those records. This would allow enable people interested in a specific property to see and verify the date of past transactions.
Additionally, data on blockchains can be made private or public. In this case, the details of the real estate transactions are placed on a private blockchain network run by known computers, and then, in order for citizens to verify the authenticity of certificates, that data can be turned into a cryptographic “hash” that’s made public on the bitcoin blockchain which is run by thousands of computers worldwide. The hash is a type of digital fingerprint that enables anyone to verify that the data matches what’s on the blockchain without seeing the data itself.
Finally, blockchain technology brings security to real estate transactions because there’s no central point of failure. The ledger is distributed among many computers, so a would-be hacker would need to simultaneously attack at least 51% of the network in order to fraudulently alter records.
Block chain & Identity
On the internet, famously, no one knows who you are and on the internet of things, identity can be similarly difficult to pin down. That's not great if you're trying to securely identify the devices that connect to your network, and it's what prompted the U.S. Department of Homeland Security to fund a project by Factom to create a time stamped log of such devices in a block chain, recording their identification number, manufacturer, available device updates, known security issues, and granted permissions. That could all go in a regular device-management database, but the DHS hopes that the immutability of the block chain will make it harder for hackers to spoof known devices by preventing them from altering the records.
It's not just devices that can be spoofed, but also qualifications.
If you were looking to hire someone with block chain expertise, and the applicant told you they had a professional certification, what would you do to check the certificate's validity?
Software developer Learning Machine hopes candidates will present their certificates in its mobile app, and that you will check their validity using Blockcerts. This is a way of storing details of a certificate in the block chain, so that anyone can verify its content and the identity of the person to whom it was issued without the need to contact a central issuing authority.
The certificates can be about educational qualifications, professional training, membership of a group, pretty much anything, so if your organization issues certificates, you could issue them on the blockchain, too. Learning Machine and co-developer MIT Media Lab have published details of Blockcerts as an open standard and posted the code to Github.
Supplychain & Block chain
Everledger is counting on blockchain technology to prove the provenance and ownership of diamonds recorded in its ledger. In fact, it's using two block chains: A private one to record information that diamond sellers need to share with buyers, but may not want widely known, and the public bitcoin block chain to provide an indisputable time stamp for the private records.  Diamonds are eminently traceable as the uncut ones have unique physical characteristics and the cut ones are, these days, typically laser-etched with a tiny serial number. Recording each movement of such valuable items allows insurers to identify fraud and international bodies to ensure that trade in diamonds is not funding conflicts. Everledger CEO Leanne Kemp believes the system could transform trade in other valuable commodities, too. The company has identified luxury goods and works of art as possibilities.
Pork is one of many products for which fine-grained tracking and tracing of inventory can be helpful, and happens to be the one Walmart is testing block chain technology with. It's using IBM's block chain to record where each piece of pork it sells in China comes from, where and how it is processed, its storage temperature and expected expiration date. The pilot project is designed to trace pork as it moves from suppliers to Walmart's shelves. By the time food is sold to a consumer at a Walmart store, each individual item will have been authenticated using block chain technology to create a transparent, security-rich and traceable record. The record created by the block chain can also help retailers like Walmart better manage the shelf-life of products in individual stores, and further strengthen safeguards related to food authenticity.
Block chain will enable digitally tracking food products from an ecosystem of suppliers to store shelves and finally on to consumers. It will digitally connect food items to digital product information including farm origination details, batch numbers, factory and processing data, expiration dates, storage temperatures and shipping details. The relevant information will be entered into the block chain at every step of the process of moving food from suppliers to consumers. The information in each transaction is agreed upon by all members of the business network; once there is a consensus, it becomes a permanent record that can't be altered. This helps assure that all information about the item is accurate. If a product recall becomes necessary, it will be able to narrow down the batches affected and identify exactly where they are or, if they have already been sold, who bought them. The project may extend to other products: The company has just opened the Walmart Food Safety Collaboration Center (WFSCC) in China to work with IBM and industry partners to make food supplies safer and healthier using block chain technology.
Will try to collate information around security aspects of Block chain in upcoming posts.

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

Bit more on Block chain

How to setup a Block Chain?
The term Block Chain is often bandied with various other terms like “distributed ledger”, “smart contracts”, “mining”, “crypto currencies”. What do they mean?
What will happen to incorrect data, accidentally stored?
How to correct the immutable chain?
If there is a way to fix the data, wouldn’t it be in contradiction to the concept of immutability?
Let’s try to get some answers around these queries.

When cars were first invented, they were called as horseless carriages. Any invention, in its initial release state, is often compared with the nearest service that it would be rivalling or replacing. Likewise, Block chain, if at all can be renamed, could well be called as “Ledger on the net”. With the ever rising rates of BitCoin, one particular area where Block chain can be implemented is already well renowned. But other than crypto currencies, there are lot many areas where the concept of Block chain is creating revolutionary ripples, having far reaching implications. Whichever may be the area, the primary function of Block chain being, to remove intermediaries between interested parties and raise the possibility of increased trust and shortened transaction duration.
As mentioned previously, Block chain is nothing but a ledger, managing transactions. Would one want to reveal the contents of their personal ledger? We share the details of our cheque book not with all and sundry but would primarily be restricted with our spouse, parent or partner. With Block chain, the transactions are going to be shared with lot many person of interest.

Doesn’t that mean, private information would be made available to general public?

Technically yes.

But in the form of anonymity. The name of the interacting parties would be anonymous or under pseudonyms, with only the raw transaction information being available on the public ledger. In case of the Block chain itself being private, the parties may well be revealing their identities. In a nutshell, it keeps the parties anonymous and the transactions public.

When a transaction is posted on the network between two parties, other nodes on the network compete to solve a mathematical proof that locks that transaction into everybody else’s ledger as well. So if you wanted to go back and hack the Block chain ledger, you would have to undo every single other prior transaction. And that proof of work and the chain aspect of the block—a block is a transaction—is chained to all prior blocks, is what makes this the interesting technological innovation that the Block chain is.

The next immediate question would be, how might an organization use something like that to make part of their work easier or more secure or otherwise better?

A good example of this can be found in what’s happening in the financial services industry. If you imagine, it takes us seconds to do a stock trade. If we are going to buy a certain stock and then going to sell certain stock, that record happens instantaneously. The marketplace handles hundreds of millions of transactions a day. But the settlement, like the fact that now the securities are going to change ownership, can take days. Right now, we have all these intermediaries that play the settlement role, that verify if the money has transferred over, that the securities transfer over– all that, can actually be put on the Block chain. We can put both the cash that person A has and the securities that person A has, along with the cash that person B have and securities that person B have on the public ledger. And then we can do it as a transaction across the two of them on this public ledger that takes place. So the settlement can also be instantaneous instead of taking multiple days. And that massively reduces the friction that takes place in financial services.

Supply chain could well be the next area where Block chain may be a major player. The problem with supply chains is one of trust. We do “trust” a company saying that this has been ethically sourced, organically sourced, non-GMO sourced, or without child labor etc. One has to actually rely on the brand and the brand’s promise, and hope that they’re doing the right thing because right now it’s actually impossible to look at a mango that one has bought from store and know whether it was actually grown in an organic farm, where and when and how it was shipped to the store.

So the notion and the promise of Block chain is to say, every single transaction, from the seed to the fruit to the harvesting would be recorded and would be publicly available to track its entire flow. The other key aspect being, one doesn’t have to rely on the brand to trust the provenance or the promise of the goods that are being created.
The concept is similar to that of voice over internet, that reduced the role of phone companies, Napster taking down the entire CD industry by storm.

Since it deals more about replacement of middlemen, the next logical question would be, what are the areas where Block chain, may potentially have a disruptive role – especially in the job sector?

Accounting firms immediately comes to mind as all they do is primarily verifying of transactions that took place. If Block chain takes off as the system of record inside of organizations, then we will need a lot fewer accountants. One of the most interesting aspects of the Block chain, because it’s a digitally native technology, is that it’s also programmable. So when a certain truck arrives at a certain supply depot based on GPS coordinates matching, we will release the funds. You will release the goods and the funds are released. Right now, the way it works is that, the materials get transported, then we email them or we send them an invoice, then it takes 30 days to process. And then the check gets written or some electronic payment is made.

Next immediate job sector on the firing line, would be the lawyers. They are the arbiters of contracts and all of a sudden, with smart contracts in play, the contracts are going to be automated. And that the intermediary roles that lawyers play in defining contracts, and figuring them out, and writing contracts will become redundant as if one can automate contracts, then once we have a template of one contract, you can replicate that over and over again and once we’ve a bulk set of template contracts created, it pretty much reduces the dependency on lawyers.

Musicians and other performing artists, would be other set of beneficiaries as they can remove the middlemen involved in them getting their royalties. So, the list goes on and on.

I found some interesting case studies of a leading bank who went live with Block chain this year, a prototype health care setup on block chain and how the concept may impact ERP world with one leading ERP already embracing the concept. Along with basic terminology definition of key terms involved with Block chain would be covered in the next series of posts.

Friday, November 24, 2017

The blockchain of trust

Ever since I read this post by mister Goku, have been fascinated by the concept of cypto-currencies and block chain and have long wanted to do a post on them. Have tried my hand a bit with whatever little info that I could understand from the materials online. Feel free to pitch-in to correct anything contrary to what is stated below.

How critical it is in current world to create “trust”, considering we’ve companies that solely run on them – Airbnb, Etsy, Uber, Facebook. These are the current generation’s super giants, who go by the concept of not owning any inventory, but selling the concept of a better user interface. Reputation and trust which their clients have on them is very critical for their existence and survival. How important it is to verify contents when reputations are at stake with fake news taking on MSM? One wrong or false information on the net, with conspiratorial tone, can cause irreparable damage to the company and their goodwill.

Take the case of over the counter drugs or even prescribed ones for that matter. With so many versions of WebMD sites on the net, querying about any tablet for its side effects or symptoms of a disease is quite easy. But when we actually buy the drug from the pharmacy, it is basically trust on the seal of the strip for the expiry/manufacturing dates mentioned on them. How vital it is to ensure fake drugs are prohibited for patients when lives are at stake? How useful it would be, if one can verify the entire lifecycle of the drug from formula to finished product till how it ended up with them at the click of a code?

Various studies, categorically confirm that, by 2020 there would be 50 billion mobile apps in circulation, each vying for the attention of the 7 billion odd people of the planet. Trust is the only capital they would be looking for along with gut feeling and probably user review and feedback. With the lifetime of a mobile app lesser than that of a firefly in case of unfavorable reviews, how vital it is for the company to be transparent and win the confidence of their clientele by sharing undisputable facts?

Quis custodiet ipsos custodies – Who will guard the guardians?

The single biggest selling point of Block Chain is that, it reinvigorate the concept of trust by making any data on it immutable and making way for the biggest democratizing force in human history, where collective trust outweighs individual irregularities, through an economy that is fully programmed. As an early adopter to the concept, Walmart, which took almost 7 days to track the details related to the Mangoes they procured from farm to store, an activity, which despite their best efforts, had many gaps in the information of the supply chain flow, managed to achieve the same in 2 seconds post going live with Block chain. The promise of Block chain is that, it offers an autonomous and decentralized store of value – not just for money but for intellectual property, real property and anything that can be owned.

How to setup a Block Chain?

The phrase is often bandied with various other terms like “distributed ledger”, “smart contracts”, “mining”, “crypto currencies”.

What will happen to incorrect data, accidently stored? How to correct the immutable chain? If there is a way to fix the data, wouldn’t it be in contradiction to the concept of immutability?

Will try to pitch in with simpler description for each in subsequent posts.

Monday, November 20, 2017

Dheeran - Adhigaram ondru - review

There is a clichéd thought process in IT world, where “senior” developers often tell their “juniors” that how coding used to be much tougher during “their times” as compared to spoon feeding GUI’s at present. Especially the coders from pre-google era who often complain that developers these days have to learn only one skill – “how to search for codes in google” whereas they had to actually type in the code. When I was watching “Dheeran – Adhigaram ondru” I was acutely reminded of the above fact. Especially during the scenes where Karthik, painstakingly gathers file after file on the dacoits and when the forensics expert, checks each and every finger print manually. To me, if anyone can understand the enormity of the content of these scenes, they would be able to appreciate the movie better.
Police investigation, as against what is shown on most of the movies and drama series, is often tedious, boring, monotonous, painstakingly irritating job, wherein you’ve to labor through volumes and volumes of data to figure out the anomalies and base your case on. That’s why novels of Keigo Higashino are so profoundly successful, for at its heart, it’s a simple case of how-dunnit with the “who” part told upfront. What works for the movie are mainly two things, the first being the realistic and almost factual account of police investigation and the difficulties associated with the job, the problems they face on investigating cross state culprits and the sheer volume of effort involved in days of no computerization. Not sure if the present day scenario is any better. But definitely kudos to those who put in their hours in nabbing the culprits in real world, for this movie is based on actual incidents. The second aspect that boosts the movie is the sheer scare factor of the dacoits and their methods. It sends a chill down the spine and I was genuinely scared at some scenes, imagining how it would’ve been in real time. When the villain/villainy grows strong enough, matching the ever ready strong dose of heroism, you got a hit on the cards. Be it the adrenaline pumping bus chase, where one of the thugs is caught, the climatic night fight between the police and thugs or even the very first introduction of the thugs on their night act, every action scene packs a solid punch. Rakul preet singh looks cuter than in SPYder movie. Considering that the movie runs for almost three hours, even those lengthy romantic portions looks small in comparison. But could very well be under the chopping block for an abridged version.

Gils verdict – Some may feel the movie is lengthy. Especially the second half. But if not for its length, it might not have that impact is my guess. A simple case of cop and thief story told in a realistic manner. And those history points about the thugs is awesome too. I liked the name of the villain, Oma. A must watch for those who love cop movies. Considering the title, wondering if there are plans for a sequel!!?

Friday, November 17, 2017

The name of the game is a kidnapping

Just finished reading the third book on the trot of Keigo Higashino. Probably the least thrilling of the three one can say upfront. What kept me hooked till the end was, again the simplicity of the thought process and the sheer logical approach towards making the perfect crime. And above all, the audacity with which the story had been lifted and made into a tamil movie – Sarabham. When I saw the movie, without knowing about the book, I was stunned by the twists and turns in the screenplay and the movie was quite a watch. The least the director could’ve done was a nod to the book. (If the mention was really made but I only missed out, it’s my bad)

While movie is a page to page lift off from the story with minor twists, it did really was well “translated” onto the screen. Same can’t be said about the book though. Unlike the first two novels, which made the English version as good as any written in English, the effort on translating the content is literally visible in this book. At many places, there are unnecessarily used words which would test your GRE skills. The way the character’s and their actions are described are also very native. Like how the girl scratches her head while talking and the expressions used by guys while pointing at the other person, it all reminds of tamil dubbed Chinese movies. If it can be redone again in a better version, I guess, this book will still have some pull.

Story wise, it’s that of a kidnapping gone right. A girl, who is seen, escaping from her house, by the prota/antagonist , decides to join hands with him in faking her own kidnapping. The duo does manage to get the ransom money and after pulling of the heist, the guy realizes that he has been taken for a ride, literally. The end twist probably carries the now famous author stamp and must’ve been the first step towards achieving his level of typicality.

Gils verdict: I still find the movie to be more engaging, despite the small size of the novel. Maybe it’s the translation or maybe it needs to be edited bit more, cutting down on lengthy sections. But if anyone starts with this book and proceed to “Devotion of suspect X” and “Malice” they would easily make out that this book is probably one of the earlier attempts by the author. A decent one nevertheless.

Thursday, November 16, 2017

Carpe Vitam

As junior takes baby steps towards schooling, all those dormant fears about that “place” raises its ugly head again. Reading books like “Malice” which talks about bullying in school didn’t quite discourage that thought process and the more I read news, more scary it becomes as to the kind of world my kid would be entering into. The more I observe school going kids, the more I get confused that where is the innocence that is usually associated with childhood!! Words that were once taboo for us as kids, are style statements for present generations and nothing seems to be sacred. As news about pollution causing institutions to shutdown, rains causing havoc and summer getting more and more intense, the next decade could very well be witnessing scenes from sci-fi movies I guess. We may soon start living in underground bunkers. With ever increasing trend of greedy and imbecile people lining up for usurping powerful posts in politics, anarchy is just around the corner.

The biggest challenge I believe for his generation would be to identify true information from false. We’re surely witnessing the “data age” at its nascent stages and the turmoil caused by people with access to creating content and sharing it. We’ve recently witnessed the case of fake news toppling overwhelming favorite and pushing a buffoon to the post of supposedly the most powerful position in the world. Soon time may come when the concept of news wouldn’t ever fit into the format of national, entertainment, weather and sports, but just cacophony of shouting spree in the name of debates.

I’ve often wondered what kind of a society my kid would grow into and like many parents, securing their finance strikes as priority numero uno. But beyond that, nothing strikes as significant for it wouldn’t be in my control to decide on the civility, trueness and goodness of the society he would end up with. As a concerned parent, the least I can do is to strengthen him to overcome the hazards of growing up in a near hostile environment. I am clueless how to go about it but hoping to learn quick enough before its late. But, whenever I see him mock imitate the way I sneeze, the way I do my neck exercises, in front of my mom and his, with a sly sideways look at me, the strain of securing his future falls flat against the joys of enjoying the present.

Friday, November 10, 2017

Malice - Book review

My list of favorite authors went up by one ever since I read “Devotion of suspect X” by Keigo Higashino. If at all there was an investigative thriller with such an exquisitely simple premise, I would be really surprised if it would be a shade on the book mentioned. Such was the mastery of the author that, had it been a poker game, he played with all his cards turned upfront and yet won the bet!! “Malice” his other novel may not be in the same category of “Devotion”, yet it stands out on its own merits. And yes, in this book also, the murder happens within twenty pages and the killer is identified in the next score of pages. Yet the book which is over 200 pages long, almost never lags in its pace and seldom loses its hold on the reader, keeping them hooked till the end.

One similarity between both the books being, the relatively lesser mention about local culture, cuisine or setup, but for the names of the characters. It not just makes the theme universal, but also easier to follow. I would really doubt had it been the case if we read the original version in Japanese. But full credit to the person who translated, Alexander Smith. If there is ever a case for a remake being better than the original, this effort should win the cake. Such is the fluency with which he has translated the book that nowhere it feels disjointed or forced. If the book succeeds in English, a good portion of the credit goes to the translator as well. Another unique feature that’s noticeable on both the novels where the straightforwardness of the situation and the simplicity of the investigative portions. Unlike Agatha Christie or Conan Doyle, who often introduce a totally different background or reason, un-identifiable to the reader, as the motive, both the novels, take the reader along with the investigation, with the process of questioning being as if we ourselves are asking those questions.

In this book, especially, while halfway through the investigation, when the killer writes his first confession, I was confused. Why should he stick on to the mental abuse and blackmail by the deceased, when he could’ve simply used a pseudonym and published his stories. Somehow it didn’t stick as a plausible reason for motive. Though not exactly that angle, the policeman has his own reason for not believing the story and the end reveals the spectacular. Just wanted to highlight that, such is the straight forwardness of the story that, when the police stumbles, we would feel so, for we would be piggybacking that character, tailing the investigative quest. May be this is the singularly main reason for the attractiveness of the novel. It goes to such an extent that when the grand reveal happens, the author gives a pat on the back to himself in the form of the character, acknowledging the credibility of the scene and the uniqueness of the twist. This happens on both the novels, but goes easy on the eye, for by that time, the reader is totally hooked into the investigation, accompanying the police on their quest.

The story is about that of a wannabe writer/school teacher, who kills his well-established author friend and gets caught by the police, despite his clever ploy of deception. Since all these happens within first 40 pages, it’s hardly a spoiler. The police, despite having caught the killer, plods on for a motive. The do identify a quick reason when they discover that the killer was a ghost writer for the deceased. The best part about the act being, the killer giving his own written testimony. Somehow, not satisfied, despite having such iron clad proofs, the inspector plods on and on. Would anyone bother to solve a problem already having an answer? When the final reveal happens it justifies those repeated attempts to dig deeper by the police.

Gils verdict – I relished the book from start to finish. Such was the mastery of the story that, it’s nothing but a well told tale of lies, with inbuilt set of lies. There are so many changes in our perception and by the end, one can’t help but feel wondering on the concept of truth in itself. Can anyone have so much hatred within to destroy themselves to achieve their means? MALICE is MAjorly LIES told with incredible honesty.

Thursday, November 02, 2017

The devotion of suspect X

When I started with the book, I had so many prejudices that any discussion on the reason why would’ve been sub-judice. I’ve a tough time following storylines involving any country other than American or British and even in them the number of characters can’t be more than 5 for I would be confused with each of them. European novels with Baltic/Nordic setup’s and Japanese ones come with even tougher nomenclature and almost every setup would feel alien and difficult to read at the basic level. Even if the scene involves a restaurant, the kind of food the characters eat, right from that, it would be off-putting, for the lines wouldn’t be as simple as “took a bite of a burger or pizza” but something like “quiche” or “Sashimi”’ or “Nigiri”. I would get distracted to imagine how those dishes would look like or whether they are juices? It might sound absurdly trivial, but if I am unable to visualize I pretty much lose interest in the story line. I never had high hopes for this book but had been hearing the name of the novel across so many spheres and sites that it had an Oscar movie hype about itself. Despite all my inhibitions I decided to give it a try for first few pages, willing myself to drop it the moment the scenes became incomprehensible. After about an hour I glanced over the page count and then only I realized how far I’ve made it into the story. That it was a racy page turner is a clichéd term to describe it. The story was so simple and the situations so real and relatable that, you could almost feel yourself watching it happening like an invisible spirit hovering inside that setup.

When I was three fourth’s into the story, I wanted to see how it ended and tried googling for it. For a book that is so many years old, not a single soul had revealed the ending. The climax of the plot happens within the first 100 pages of it so it was pretty much a given as to what had happened. The “why” part became more and more intriguing and as the story unraveled the curiosity was unbearable to know the “how”. When it gets explained, the simplicity of the setup strikes you with such a force that the “how” becomes a super big “WOW”. In fact I was almost tempted to think that the author could’ve even tried such an act in real life and would’ve gotten away with it. Almost a perfect crime. Even before I could venture into the story, the title was intriguing to say the least - The “devotion” of suspect X. Why call it devotion? The character is probably the most clever, ever written on print form and the title could’ve very well been “the cleverness of the suspect” or the ingenuity. But why devotion? It does get revealed and the reason stumps you as well. There are more than enough hints as to the reason why. But when the final realization reveals itself, the story, which till that time is a murder investigation thriller, morphs as a love story at the very last page.

Such is the genius of the narration that, when the physics professor, who doubles up as the amateur detective, feels saddened when he finds out the truth, the reader cannot feel not aggrieved. The character of the love torn maths teacher, who aids the lady in hiding the murder, is so well defined that, despite with so few dialogues, just by everyone talking about his appearance and his mannerisms, he takes a very realistic shape in mind and wins the heart all though. You want to root for him, but he is so hell bent in his method and goal to save his love that, the ending remains a foregone conclusion. Midway through the book, you even hate that lady for being so ignorant about the maths teacher, who does so much for her and wonder how she could be so blind and insensitive when her teen daughter and everyone else around her could realize his feelings for her. Love is blind takes a whole new meaning in this setup and all this strikes in the end when the detective finally reveals how they were all fooled. The cleverness of the author is such that he boldly reveals the murder details and who committed it and how. The ingenuity shines bright in the way in which he leads the reader and the rest of the character on a wild goose chase, all the while looking at the evidences from a totally wrong angle.

Gils verdict: By the end of the book, every prejudice I had for different culture themed novels were torn apart to say the least, for I never felt any story I’ve ever read to be this simple and relatable. Despite me not being to visualize every single step of the way, the narration was able to guide me into being on course with the rest of the characters on their quest to know the truth. Till the time, Bragz who gave me the book asked me did I liked that “love” story, little did I realize that, the crime thriller was at its heart a beautiful yet brilliant love story of sacrifice. Probably the best book I’ve read for this year and may be ever.

Friday, October 27, 2017


For previous parts click here Part 6

“So what is it that you are going to gift Monica this time?” Ross asks Chandler
“Its something I’ve custom made for her..see” Chandler shows a card
“Seriously..a greeting card? That’s the best you can come up with?”
An exasperated Chandler points him to look at the card and  open it to see.
“Wow..a MENU card. How original Chandler. She is a chef so you get her a Menu card for birthday? Even Joey could think better than this” comments Rachel
“Whoa..whoa…whats with me and my thinking?” enters Joey
“Chandler has got a MENU card as gift for Monica’s birthday” quips Phoebe
“Dude..what’s wrong with you? What are the dishes you’ve mentioned in it? Is Meatball sub there in it?”
Chandler plucks the card from Ross and hastily goes to his room.

Monica enters the apartment, looking all dazed and tired.
“Whoa..what were you cooking at the restaurant today? Crystal meth? You look stoned” says Phoebe
“I the way..why you guys are always here..don’t you’ve your own apartments?”
The group laughs away that comment and indulges in conversations totally ignoring Monica.

“So..Ross how was your date with your hot neighbor?” queries Phoebe
“Hot neighbor? Why I was not told about her? Ross..what’s with the secrecy?” questions Joey with a hurt look.
“Exactly the reason it is she turned down me asking her out twice prior to accepting. I didn’t want to involve competition as well” which leaves Joey beaming with a knowing smile and a nod.
“So that makes your neighbor more of a “nay” bour and the candor with which you won her over would make you a candidate for a candid date?” quips Monica.
A stunned looking rest of the group watches her in awe, which makes Monica become hyper conscious of what she said. “Oh my God. I am Chandler..I am Chandler” and she runs into her room.
“I warned her marrying him will leave side effects” says Rachel sagaciously.

“But come you are here today. Didn’t you had an acting assignment for that ad?” asks Ross
“Yeah..but I quit”
“Whoa.why?what happened?” asks Rachel
“Well..there was this character that they wanted me to enact yesterday. Which I did PERFECTLY. And today, the director asked me to re-act that scene again. I told him clearly. If you want me to perform again you’ve to pay me again. Fair deal right? He shot me down”
“That’s bad. That’s why I hate employers” says Phoebe voicing her protest.
“Hold on..did he ask you to react?” queries Ross slowly.
“Exactly” and then looking at rest of the group watching him with eager sense of anticipation it suddenly dawns on him.
“Oh my god” he rushes out catching his jacket, to make a dash to the agency.

When they finally get time together, Chandler gives Monica the card.
“Happiversary dear”
“Wow..a menu card. How..hmm…nice”
“Open it”
It turns out to contain the list of all her favorite things, her favorite songs, the first time they met and list of things that they did together et al. The more she read it, Monica goes misty eyed.
“Whoa Chandler..this is the most beautiful and romantic thing you’ve ever done for me. Thank you”
“Its not just a menu card..its “Me n U” card. The priceless moments that we share together which you cook up for us. Thank you Monica”
Monica looks at him wide eyed which makes Chandler super conscious of what he did and he rushes out shouting “I am Monica..I am Monica”

At central Perk, Chandler, Joey and Ross discuss about what happened.
“When I finally gave her the card then only I realized how much I’ve been ..i’ve been..”
“acting like Monica” filled in Joey
“Yeah. If she’s a country I would be a Monican by now”
“Don’t worry. You’re not alone in this. Today morning she imitated you” and Ross goes on to explain the comment that Monica made.
A smirking Chandler is all smiles.
“That’s my girl. She’s Bing on target” looking at the reaction on their faces, Chandler retracts saying “there are gentle pun. But that was pungent”

Friday, October 20, 2017

The dot on the top of i

Some years back I had posted about finding purpose in the below post. Or rather how I didn’t knew anything about having a purposeful life.
Do I know the answer now? May not be a resounding yes yet. But slowly there seems to be a pattern appearing in horizon. After certain stages in life, things get into a routine. There is only an extent to which you can rebel against and keep deliberating on what’s, how’s and why’s and thinking about why not’s. End of the day, the routine that is called society catches up with you and wears you down to conform to its norms. May be that is why it’s called “settling down”. Like a dead weight tied to your limbs so that you don’t keep fluttering your wings and drags you into what is exactly called as “ocean” of life. It’s not drowning per se. But people automatically get bogged down with the responsibilities that surround one from all sides and the struggle ensues to stay afloat. May be as part of this process or as orderly as any other chaos that is omnipresent in life, invariably and unknowingly people tend to gravitate towards another person and somehow the other person, often ends up as the missing purpose in search all throughout. Life stories of commitment-phobic youngsters who get married would be the best case in study, especially after they become parents and when their entire world of individual glorification starts to orbit around their kids life and growth.

There was a line in a song written by Kamal that “Naam vaazhntha vaazhvirku saandru aavathu innoru uyir”. As usual, like any other quote by him, the above mentioned line also has layered meaning. Loosely translated it means, the evidence of our existence is in another life. Here “saandru” could mean evidence or proof or example and for each take, it gives a whole new meaning to the sentence. We can lead a life such that it serves as an example for other. We should lead such a glorious life that, its evidence can be found in the enrichments of others. We may lead such a meritocractic life that the way of our life could be proof for others, to follow or abhor. Such a simple line and so many different meanings!! Also, “innoru uyir” when seen with the meaning as one’s own kid as against any other life, the whole sentence makes a totally different reference!!!! As often I find myself, floating listlessly in thoughts, I used to wonder what my dad would’ve felt while raising me up. I am pretty sure, his purpose in life would’ve been to ensure, there is a never thing that is left unattended for me, not a thing that I ask is left ungiven. He would’ve been an inspiration for “Life is beautiful” movie had it been made in tamil. Not that my surroundings were concentration camps, but for the sheer effort he took in protecting us from the pressures and trials of outside world and never ever showing his internal turmoil’s out in open. He wanted to take up postal learning of a degree course and it never materialized. But he made sure I became the first degree holder from his side of the family. I never knew if he ever thought for himself on any other occasion but ensuring a good life for the family.  Was he like that since his younger days? I would doubt it. Coming from such a large family with lot more mouths to feed and having joined job at a very young age, he must've had lot more dreams about himself. But considering how he transformed, it felt as if a missing link just revealed itself. 

The purpose that've been thinking about all throughout was from a prism strongly focused on self. It was always about what I wanted to do and how it would enthral me. But the moment the focus got shifted to how other people can still become the purpose of my life, it opened a whole new dimension. Like mom, who cooks for the entire family, the tastiest of dishes. But doesn't have to eat every single morsel of it to enjoy it. At times, even when there is nothing left for her, the smile on the faces of the satisfied kid would mean more to her than a mouthful of the delicacy. Like Dan Brown's novels which are based on extraordinary queries with the simplest of answers, life at times stumps you at multiple levels,  Ithaya ithana naala theditrunthomnu!!! I guess, the lens for life is not convex or concave but a simple mirror which changes the image based on the focal point of the observer.

Thursday, October 12, 2017

Origin - book review

Usually Dan Brown’s book fall into the below set of process – when you are reading it you will feel the thrill of a roller coaster ride with adrenaline rush, as it reaches climax you would feel the excitement of a kid opening birthday present, after the initial few minutes of completing the book the mind would be reeling with all those information trying to process and after few hours you would be left wondering was the climax worth all those events that transpired in the course of the book. Also his novels will double up as travelogue for the respective city/country of the premise and would definitely send in flocks of tourists, curious to visit those places so beautifully crafted into his stories. In fact, locations have almost played the role of a key character in his books. Origin is no less different. And the guts of the guy to portray the king of Spain as gay!!! If you need any reference in stirring a hornets nest, Dan Brown should be on your speed dial.

Like all his novels, there is this extremely brilliant guy whose revelation was going to shake the foundations of the church and just when he manages to reveal it, he gets killed. Right from DVC, this has been the recurring theme. And to top it all, Robert Langdon would be invited to meet the guy right on the day of their demise. Is Langdon the Emadharman reincarnate, a meeting with whom would be your last in mortal form – could well be the next theme. And right on cue, the beautiful damsel, related to the deceased would accompany Langdon without second thought in all his cross country quests. The climatic reveal on what would’ve been the prime reason for the quest would leave you disappointed like, “ithukada ivlo akka poru” and the twist on who murdered the brilliant guy would turn out to be someone very close to Langdon. Since the same is followed in every novel, it has almost become the much expected surprise. But one should appreciate Brown for the fantastic running quests in his novels – be it chasing the bloodline of Jesus, the full blown war between Science and the church, despite its mokka ending the fantasy of free masons and the ultimate reveal or the ever increasing population, he has a knack of blending the theme with its surroundings in presenting a racy thriller.

As compared to his recent novels, it’s definitely his best attempt since “Da Vinci Code” to rile up controversies. If “Lost symbol” felt like an apology on book form to the church, he is back to where he found his fame. In this novel, there are two key questions for which are repeated umpteen number of times throughout the book – where we came from and where we are going. As simple as they sound, nothing could be more profound than knowing answers for these queries for it has been the eternal search. This novel stands out on two aspects that are different from his previous ones- the number of puzzles are pretty less and there is a surprise new addition that helps him in his quest – an AI tool called Winston. The reason that the scientist who claims to have answers to those eternal queries, however megalomaniacal he may want it to appear, are nothing more than a mix of some of the most popular theories floating around as to how the life forms first appeared. The religions may attribute it to the hand of god, but scientists have more or less convinced on the reason how the primitive life forms appeared on earth. The conclusion offered in the book is something of an extension which is sugar coated. But it’s the second answer that is more interesting and engaging and to a large extent might be true as well- the answer to where we are going. More appropriate phrase would be where would be human race be in 50 years from now. The answer is out in the open, if you are reading this post in any of your laptop, desktop, mobile, tablets or whichever form of reader. The AI tool, Winston, offers another significantly open clue. Considering the enormity of the role played by these gadgets, the answer is for anyone to guess.

As I finished reading the book, the first thought was “WOW”. As I began to think around the solutions provided and the story in general it was slowly losing its sheen and the only thought that remained was, in what way this revelation would’ve caused that big an uproar in religious crowds, for there are far more atheist viewpoints that are in circulation which are far more damaging in content.  Considering that the guy who gets killed reaches out only to representatives from Christian, Muslim and Jewish religions, the result sounds more like a case of comfort than all-encompassing solution. All said and done, the concept of an AI so smart that it takes its own decisions based on “thought process” of its creator is something which is scary and scintillating at the same time. In such a world, there may not be a need for god makes sense. But wouldn’t the humans be the creators of those AI and be the God for them? That is a whole different argument in itself. Overall, if you want a super racy book for your weekend reading, this book is right up there.