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 https://www.marketsimplified.com/disrupting-fintech-blockchain/ 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.