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.