Wednesday, September 10, 2014

An Apple Watch! It's beyond what we expected and imagined!

As per this readwrite article, Apple CEO Tim Cook had told an audience of journalists on Tuesday—literally—what he has up his sleeve:
“An entirely new product. We believe this product will redefine what people expect from its category."
And guess what, it has truly redefined what we expect from this category!
It is called and Apple Watch. Yes. You got it right. An Apple Watch. Without the pesky 'i'. Expecting an iWatch, werent you? It is not an iWatch, it is an Apple Watch!!
Also this time around, even if you are ready to pay Apple's ridiculous prices for its gadgets, you still have to wait till 2015 to get an Apple Watch!
Well done Apple! You have truly redefined our expectations.
As for everything else announced yesterday, larger phone screens and addition of NFC support, it is all Apple trying to catch up with Android. Just what we expected...
Photo from : http://www.apple.com/watch/

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Book Review : Fraudster by RV Raman

I wanted to read this novel mainly because of its blurb which promised a great corporate thriller. It goes -

 
Illicit finance, high stakes crime and vicious manipulation come together in this story of corruption, greed and treachery among corporate India's black sheep. Arresting, fast-paced and written by an insider from the corporate world, Fraudster will keep you on your toes till the very end.
The book completely fulfills the first promise but falls slightly short of the second one.

The plot is brilliantly crafted and really takes us deep into the murky world of modern banking and accounting.

The novel begins with a trio of seemingly unrelated deaths and a hacking attempt into the server of one of the biggest accounting firms, following which we find our lead characters trying to make sense of the events by connecting the dots. It is a race between the good guys (Varsha, an employee of the accounting firm and Ranade, the police officer) trying to protect sensitive data and the bad guys who try their damnest to keep the evidence of their fraudulent activities under wrap. Though the plot is intricate, the narrative moves rather simply from one situation to the next without many parallel events or storylines. Towards the end, there are many exciting elements including high speed car chases and kidnappings through which the reader is nudged towards red herrings which keep the reader distracted till the protagonists track down and reveal the real fraudster and killer.

The amazing part about the novel is its interesting plot and how complicated technical aspects are described in a simple manner. The narrative includes complex financial manipulation and tinkering with BlackBerrys as well as Microsoft Exchange Servers.


However, it is not tedious to go through these technical parts as it is all nicely woven into the storyline. The author's expertise with respect to the banking industry is apparent from his descriptions of banks' decision making processes and also from how realistic the story is.

The plot revolves around a scam relating to dubious corporate loans facilitated by corrupt bank practices and officers. When I was reading this novel, the leading news story in financial newspapers was about the arrest of SK Jain, Syndicate Bank CMD and also the role of brokers in bribery for loans scandal! Thus, 'Fraudster' is so realistic that might just be a true story!

Where this novel falters is on its promise to be arresting and fast paced. The novel begins rather slowly and it only picks up pace close to the halfway mark. There aren't any real parallel story lines and only a feeble attempt to show the villains' point of view which seems to have been abandoned after just one chapter. More finicky readers may not stick to it till they reach the point where the story picks up pace.

Furthermore, the characters aren't particularly memorable either. After going through more than 280 pages I cannot remember any of Varsha's traits or description other than her being a karate expert and having tomboyish short hair. Similarly, Ranade, is also a cop who is too simple and straight forward and who gets his way almost always with their being only a passing reference to possibility of political interference with police work right at the end.

The cover of this book though seems to have been heavily influenced by Ravi Subramanium's two previous books, (Bankster and Bankerupt) both of which have a similar cover of a silhouette against the backdrop of a skyline. Though both authors cater to a similar audience, the nearly identical cover (be it intentional or not) seems like a cheap ploy to get the other's readers and does a disservice to Raman's writing which is good enough to sell copies on its own merit.

So though I thoroughly enjoyed the novel, I felt that it had the potential to be much superior. Better characterisation coupled with some cliffhangers and probably some more narration from the villain's point of view would have made this novel perfect!

RK Raman definitely could be the best corporate thriller writer in India and with his banking insights, he might give Ravi Subramanium a run for his money! I hope just like Ravi Subramanium, his novels become better and better. I hope he writes many more thrillers and am already looking forward to his next novel! You can follow him on twitter here.



Rating : 6/10

You can buy 'Fraudster' at a discounted rate on Flipkart.com!



Disclosure : I was supplied with a review copy by Hachette India.
 


Sunday, August 10, 2014

Monkey selfie! Does the monkey own the copyright to it? An Indian perspective…

David Slater, a British wildlife photographer visited a park in Indonesia in 2011. At the park, a crested black macaque got its hands on one of his cameras and took several selfies, including the one accompanying this blogpost. Slater is reported to have said said “They were quite mischievous jumping all over my equipment, and it looked like they were already posing for the camera when one hit the button, … The sound got his attention and he kept pressing it. At first it scared the rest of them away but they soon came back - it was amazing to watch.”

The selfie accompanying this post has become a point of dispute between the Wikimedia Foundation and David Slater since Wikimedia refused to take the image down and has deemed it to be in public domain by displaying the following notice -

This file is in the public domain because as the work of a non-human animal, it has no human author in whom copyright is vested.”

Contrary to what some news outlets have tried to suggest, even the Wikimedia foundation never really suggested that the copyright belongs to the monkey legally. That was just bad reporting and clickbait headlines on part of Times of India.

Indian Position

I am not very well read on Copyright Law but a cursory reading of the Indian law on the subject i.e. Copyright Act, 1957 seems to suggest that Wikimedia would be right even if all the events had taken place here.

Section 2(d)(iv) read with section 17 makes it clear that the person clicking a photograph is its author and the owner of the copyright so long as the photograph is not clicked as another person’s employee or upon being commissioned by another to click it. The relevant sections are as follows (underline added for emphasis) --

2. (d)(iv) “Author” means -- in relation to a photograph, the person taking the photograph;

17. First owner of copyright.-Subject to the provisions of this Act, the author of a work shall be the first owner of the copyright therein.
Provided that-
(a) in the case of a literary, dramatic or artistic work made by the author in the course of his employment by the proprietor of a newspaper, magazine or similar periodical under a contract of service or apprenticeship, for the purpose of publication in a newspaper, magazine or similar periodical, the said proprietor shall, in the absence of any agreement to the contrary, be the first owner of the copyright in the work in so far as the copyright relates to the publication of the work in any newspaper, magazine or similar periodical, or to the reproduction of the work for the purpose of its being so published, but in all other respects the author shall be the first owner of the copyright in the work;
(b) subject to the provisions of clause (a), in the case of a photograph taken, or a painting or portrait drawn, or an engraving or a cinematograph film made,
for valuable consideration at the instance of
any person, such person shall, in the absence of any agreement to the contrary, be the first owner of the copyright therein.

 

Since, by no means can it be proved that the monkey was an employee or a person acting for valuable consideration, it is quite clear that under the Indian law as well, Mr. Slater would not be the owner of the copyright despite the camera being his. Thus the wikimedia stance seems sound even when tested on Indian Copyright law.

 

Does the copyright belong to the Monkey? Is it a ‘Person’?

Now that we established that the copyright will not belong to Mr. Slater, the obvious question that next arises is whether or not the Monkey shall then be the owner of the copyright. As per sections 2 and 17 the would be the author of the photo and the first owner of the copyright, but only if it can be established that the monkey is a ‘person’. Since the word person is not defined under Copyright Act, 1957 we shall have to look into the General Clauses Act, 1897. It states -

"Person" shall include any company or association or body of individuals, whether incorporated or not…

While a simple reading of this would suggest that a Monkey is not defined to be a person, it could be argued that the definition, the way in which is worded only clarifies that in addition to the usual or other meanings conveyed by the word ‘person’, it would also include companies, association of persons etc. The definition does not bar a monkey from being defined as a person at all, though for all practical purposes I think no court would be ready to entertain a claim that ‘person’ includes Monkey.

 

Can Monkeys be non-human persons?

Though I say it is unlikely to succeed, I would love to see someone try argue that monkeys are ‘persons’ and  capable of owning copyright. I think one would almost certainly have to rely on a policy statement from Ministry of Environment and Forests which suggests that animals such as Dolphins may have rights. The statement was issued when the government banned dolphins from circuses or marine park shows. While by no means does a mere statement have the force or weight of law, it could be argued that both dolphins as well as apes or monkeys should be termed as ‘intelligent nonhuman persons’ having some rights though not all.

The ministry is reported to have stated -

Whereas cetaceans in general are highly intelligent and sensitive, and various scientists who have researched dolphin behaviour have suggested that the unusually high intelligence; as compared to other animals means that dolphins should be seen as ‘non-human persons’ and as such should have their own specific rights and is morally unacceptable to keep them captive for entertainment purpose,” the ministry said. <Link><Link>

 

State as a guardian?

If monkeys or other animals could actually be proved to be ‘persons’ eligible of owning copyright, the next question that would arise would be how would they enforce it in courts or what would they do with their revenue gained through licensing if any. One possible model that could infact work would be with the entire animal kingdom considered to be one large association of non human persons with all the copyrights of selfie clicking animals accruing to it. The state could then be the guardian of this entity and incharge of licensing the images. The funds raised through licensing could be collected in a special fund on animal welfare… The existence of such a model could also possibly extend its own scope to include animal sound recordings apart from selfies!

Note: The copyright of the image used on this page either belongs to Mr. Slater or the monkey or the image is in public domain. It certainly doesn’t belong to me. I believe my usage of the image is permitted under section 52 of the Copyright Act, 1957 as fair dealing for the reporting of current events.

 

That is all from my end. What do you think about the monkey selfie?

Do you think Mr. Slater owns the copyright or the monkey?

Or do you think differently and believe that the rights of humans who take selfies should be stripped of their human rights?

Do comment below and let me know!

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Book Review : ‘Private India’ by Ashwin Sanghi and James Patterson

I loved reading two of Ashwin Sanghi's previous works - Chanakya's Chants and The Krishna Key, and was thus eagerly looking forward to reading his next novel. Frankly speaking I was a bit apprehensive when I learnt that Sanghi and Patterson, two authors with rather distinct styles are collaborating. However, I must say that they have managed to come out with a novel that wonderfully blends the two styles.


'Private India' as the title suggests is the story of the India branch of the worldwide Private investigation agency whose other operations have been detailed in Patterson's previous books in the Private series such as Private LA, Private Games, Private Down Under and Private Berlin. As is now the trend with Sanghi, he has even come up with a YouTube trailer for the novel.

Private India book cover (James Patterson & Ashwin Sanghi)
My first impression of the novel wasn't all that great. Though the cover artwork looks impressive, the cover itself seemed too thin and had a very cheap feel to it. On 21st July it has only been released in India, (the cover mentions - edition for sale in India only) and it is only available for preorder as of now in stores abroad. While I am glad for an Indian edition (which I am assuming is a less pricey than other markets edition) I wish the publishers had gone for a better quality cover. It is interesting to note that Private India is the only Private Series novel cover in which the collaborating author’s name (Ashwin Sanghi) appears in a font size larger than Patterson’s! Perhaps that is the reason why, James Patterson’s official website has no mention of Private India at all! It neither finds a mention under the Private Series nor is it listed as an upcoming release. It did not find any mention on his Facebook page on the day of its India release either.


As you would expect from such a book, the novel starts with a murder the investigation of which is handed over to Private India by the police. The Private India team headed by Santosh Wagh, a detective with a murky past and a drinking problem soon discovers that the body discovered in the hotel is only the first in a long series of victims strangulated to death by a ritualistic serial killer. Ashwin Sanghi's usual touch of adding historical and mythological flavour to his thrillers comes to the fore as the investigators begin to unravel the mystery behind the killer's very elaborate rituals. While the murders remain the central theme of the novel, the tale soon branches out in a way that Private India is left to tackle not just a serial killer on the loose in Mumbai but also threats to its own existence.


The best part about the novel is how almost every chapter ends with a cliff hanger leaving you wondering what is about to happen next. The authors have managed to pepper the narrative with innumerable red herrings and the narration makes the reader constantly suspect different characters. The hints of betrayal of Private from within manages to keep the reader at the edge of his seat. About halfway through the novel, the Private India team is also joined by Jack Morgan, the worldwide head honco of Private. The book is divided into more than a hundred very short chapters. Most chapters are only about 4 pages long and the shortest one is just a couple of paragraphs. With each chapter the narration jumps from scene to scene and the narration from the point of view of the bad guys is scary enough to send a chill down the spine. Rapidly changing point of views along with the cliffhangers kept me completely hooked and I finished the book in much less than two days.

The trail of the killer takes the investigators around various Mumbai landmarks such as the Film City, Dharavi, Taj, Tower of Silence and onboard Mumbai's suburban trains. Here Sanghi manages to do complete justice to the city of his residence with detailed and vivid descriptions. He has also managed to weave into the plot begging networks, match fixing, bollywood romances and godmen-politician nexus, thus managing to capture every possible field of murky dealings happening in Mumbai.

Picture1

The authors take us to an interesting end which is hard to predict or guess. However, while the story of the killer’s identity is satisfyingly concluded, its link with the terrorism related subplots seems rather tenuous at best. Having read Rowling's novel featuring another limp detective just a few days prior to reading Private India, I could not help but feel that the character development is slightly lacking apart from Santosh Wagh's character. I was also left wondering details such as how Jack is personally familiar with Mumbai's underworld dons and how Private continues to investigate without any clear indication of who is picking up the tab.


Despite some of these minor irritants, I thoroughly enjoyed reading Private India. Its rapidly changing points of view along with the awesome cliffhangers kept me completely hooked and I finished reading the novel in much less than 2 days. This 450 page tale is full of suspense and continuous drama and I would not be surprised if it is soon picked up for a film adaptation. A thriller's objective is to keep you turning the pages at the edge of your seat and despite its few shortcomings Private India manages to fulfill this role perfectly!


Rating : 7/10

 

Private India and other books from the Private Series are available on Flipkart and Amazon.in! Buy them now!



Disclosure : I was supplied with a review copy by Random House India.


Thursday, July 24, 2014

Book Review – ‘The Silkworm’ by Robert Galbraith (JK Rowling)

Hard to remember these days that there was a time you had to wait for the ink and paper reviews to see your work excoriated. With the invention of the internet, any subliterate cretin can be Michiko Kakutani.

-- Robert Galbraith, The Silkworm.

Cormoran Strikes Again!

Despite her pseudonym cover having been blown after her very first novel as Robert Galbraith, JK Rowling has returned as Robert Galbraith with another amazing whodunit, The Silkworm. It is the second novel (in what is now rumoured to be a seven novel series like Harry Potter) featuring the private investigator duo of Cormoran Strike and his assistant Robin Ellacott who first appeared in The Cuckoo’s Calling published in April 2013. The Silkworm has unfortunately received slightly less press and publicity than The Cuckoo’s Calling partly because of the surprise of the pseudonym having worn off and partly because the book’s sales and publicity have been hampered by the ongoing Amazon-Hachette dispute.

the_silkworm__spanThe novel opens with Strike unexpectedly entertaining Leonora Quine’s request to help look for her husband, the arrogant and eccentric author Owen Quine who is missing for several days and later turns up dead, turning it into a murder mystery. We slowly learn how the death has occured closely on the heels of the leak of his latest manuscript, Bombyx Mori which is a revengeful masterpiece. Bombyx Mori (Latin for The Silkworm) is a book full of thinly veiled references to almost all the people in his life, portraying his lovers, agent, publishers and editor is an extremely negative light. This book which has potential to libel almost everyone in Quine’s world thus opens up an extremely wide field of suspects who have a motive for murdering Quine. We are presented with a cast of several memorable characters, all complete with their own interesting idiosyncrasies. With most of the characters in the novel shown to be associated in one way or the other with the publishing industry, it is impossible to not wonder if Rowling has based some of them on persons she herself has dealt with in the publishing world.

While, Cormoran Strike the one-legged, gruff former military police (also son of a famous rockstar) who is described as a 6-feet 3-inches tall Cornish bloke with boxer's broad nose and thick, surly brows was already introduced in The Cuckoo’s Calling, in The Silkworm we learn more about his friends and family, many of whom he has to call upon to ease his way with the investigation. We also see him continuing to deal with the agony of having finally ended the matters with his extraordinarily beautiful, high society fiancé with whom he has been in a relationship off and on for sixteen long years. Showing the continuity from the previous book we also see him having to deal with the consequences of his unexpected fame following his success in unravelling the mystery of a super model’s death in the previous novel.

Strike continues to be aided by his assistant Robin, a pretty girl, tall and curvaceous, with long strawberry-blonde hair. In The Silkworm, now being a regular employee rather than a temp, Robin’s struggle between her relationship and work comes to the fore. Throughout the tale she has to work around the issue of both the important men in her life being dismissive of her career aspirations. Rowling has continued to use Robin to subtly highlight the problems faced by the working women while at the same time she also tantalises us with some moments of sexual tension between the two leads. Robin’s issues with her largely unsupportive fiancé and Strike’s misery over his ex-fiancé leaves the reader pining for a romantic angle between the two leads.

Strike’s approach to investigation is disciplined and consists of interviews with the suspects coupled with collection of clues and logical deductions. When the long series of interviews slowly begins to feel repetitive, we come across several red herrings strategically embedded in the narrative, to keep the reader guessing. The narrative moves much slower than many other popular crime novels or mysteries but the deft plotting ensures that the reader keeps flipping the pages. At 453 pages the novel does seem a tad bit too long for the limited story that it encompasses and might have felt better had it been slightly faster paced. The ending is beautifully crafted with a clever twist in the tale that I did not manage to anticipate. Only after reading the end do you see the clues scattered strategically through the narrative. However, Rowling reveals that the protagonists have cracked the mystery while the reader has to follow them through almost another 75 pages to discover how they deduced the identity of the killer. I find this style very annoying but with web of clues and leads unfolding, it is impossible not to continue reading.

Writing as Robert Galbraith, Rowling sheds her sanitized language of the Harry Potter series and the characters use expletives rather liberally. She has also not held back on any of the gory details and descriptions of death, making the scene where the dead body is discovered especially gut wrenching. Characters’ dialogue is also peppered with her views on various matters of contemporary interest. Strike and his lawyer friend mention the phone hacking scandal and the status of legal aid respectively while many of the other characters also reflect on the publishing industry. Some of the more memorable lines are -

If you want a lifetime of temporary alliances with peers who will glory in your every failure, write novels.

 You can’t plot murder like a novel. There are always loose ends in real life.

Like most writers, I tend to find out what I feel on a subject by writing about it. It is how we interpret the world, how we make sense of it.

Fancourt can't write women,' said Nina dismissively. 'He tries but he can't do it. His women are all temper, tits and tampons.

Though the book is slower than most novels that I love to read, it is an absolute joy and pleasure to read The Silkworm. Rowling is a master of character development and at the end I not only felt like I knew rhr protagonists for ages but also remembered the quirky details of all the minor characters whom she has so expertly fleshed out. Rowling's amazingly detailed descriptions coupled with her deft plotting which keeps you curious throughout ensured that the book was unputdownable.

All in all, it was a great read and I cannot wait to read about Strike and Robin's next case!

Rating : 8/10

You can buy The Silkworm & The Cuckoo's Calling for a discounted price at Flipkart!

Disclosure : I was supplied with a review copy by Hachette India.