domingo, julio 14, 2019

A Perfectly Useless Afternoon - Hands on Review

First things first: You have to give some kudos to the guys at Mr. Jones Watches for the fantastic customer service and response times and for allowing this idea to come to life.  Let's start from there: A Perfectly Useless afternoon is a very good idea.  

The design of the dial (as seems to be the case for most Mr. Jones´ watches) is the main feature:  Someone floats peacefully on a swimming pool and, if you look from above, the leg of the character marks the hours while the position of the rubber duck floating nearby marks the minutes.  

The name of the piece makes it almost the stuff of poetry and it was inspired, according to its designer Kristof Devos, by a quote from Chinese writer Lin Yutang:

'If you can spend a perfectly useless afternoon in a perfectly useless manner, you have learnt how to live'.

Add to this the 100 pieces-limited-edition factor and you have, again, a very compelling proposition that made the author of this review pull the trigger just minutes after seeing it in an Instagram review by Santiago Tejedor from Horas y Minutos.  I insist: A very compelling idea.

A Perfectly Useless Afternoon

But ideas are a dime a dozen, so the question is whether Mr Jones´ execution measures up to so much inspiration.  Is this watch also the stuff of poetry in the metal?

The most compassionate answer to that question is another question: Is it really possible to access the realm of poetry for around €200 in the watch world?

Unfortunately not.  The piece in the metal is not nearly as beautiful as the idea that spawned it. Mr. Jones does not reveal the material used for the cristal but it feels extremely plastic and fragile. The case is a tad too small and the polished silver finish looks like a magnet for scratches all the way to the bezel.  The lugs feel slightly puny and the milanese bracelet does not feel like the right choice of bracelet by default.  (They did offered to change it for free before shipping though).

The general issue is that on the wrist the watch does not look nor feel like it was built to last more than a summer, so I cannot help but think that the execution is actually defeated by the underlying ambitious idea and by its own marketing halo. If this wasn't a 100-piece limited edition I wouldn't expect the watch to feel like a real collectible item.

Oh, but of course it would look and feel better with a sturdier case, a sapphire crystal and a mechanical movement. Pick any one of the three and you will certainly be nearer to the €500 price point, so I propose we examine this watch as the watch that it is, not as the watch that we would love our favorite Swiss brand to make.  Let me say something almost controversial: While it is far from Chaykin's Joker, it shares the same spirit. It reminds us that we take this hobby (and ourselves) too seriously.   The reason why it might be a good idea to add this piece to any collection is precisely because having it in our wrists would remind us that we are also doing this for the fun. And then in all honesty, I tend to think that the impulse of wearing it precisely while pointlessly floating on a swimming pool is irresistible.  I might try it this summer.

This happens to be my first watch from Mr. Jones, so I cannot comment on the brand and their ethos.  Judging from A Perfectly Useless Afternoon, they have a long way to go in terms of their manufacturing capabilities but they have also proven that they can give it a shot. That they can recognize a beautiful idea when they see it and that they are ready to execute on it.   I wish them many more beautiful ideas and an equally inspired path to that place where fun meets watchmaking poetry.

A Perfectly Useless Afternoon

Technical Details as advertised by Mr. Jones:

Strap: 18mm silver stainless steel (alternative straps available here)
Mechanism: single jewel quartz mechanism
Waterproof: Yes! 5ATM
Guarantee: 12 months - any problems after, we’re happy to help
Width (3 o’clock to 9 o’clock): 37mm
Height (from lug to lug): 46mm
Case: 316L stainless steel - polished silver finish
Largest strap diameter: 205mm
Smallest strap diameter: 150mm

Will I give it some wrist-time? Don't own a pool.  Not sure yet.

Account Information Services as KYC enablers

Barclays Bank Limited, 61-63 Old Christchurch Road, Bournemouth, Dorset

A few weeks ago in this write-up I proposed some ideas on how AML Law can evolve to enable financial service providers to innovate their customer on-boarding experiences. One of my suggestions was that the AML Law of the future should abandon exhaustive lists of mandatory KYC measures that circle around specific technologies and instead lay out the minimum elements for an adequate AML risk assessment while allowing financial service providers to devise and implement KYC routines that effectively address any identified risks.

That piece was a very long chunk of text by internet standards, so this time I will try to keep it succinct and focus on a very interesting set of regulated services contemplated in PSD2 that are particularly well-suited for building seamless KYC routines in the context of online/Non-face-to-face financial services. I am referring specifically about Account Information Services (AIS), defined in Art. 4 (16) of the PSD2 as follows:
"An online service to provide consolidated information on one or more payment accounts held by the payment service user with either another payment service provider or with more than one payment service provider;" 

What I propose is that AIS can be used by financial service providers to build the kind of enhanced due-diligence measures that are required by AML Law whenever an AML risk assessment shows high risk indicators such as business relations or transactions that take place fully online (or non-face-to-face). A hypothetical enhanced-due diligence measure that relies on AIS in the context of online consumer credit, for example, could be outlined as follows:

  1. Credit applicant is prompted to fill in an online credit application form that is deliberately designed to gather information that could be later on verified by means of AIS. This information could well be: IBAN numbers, exact names of account owners, name of banking institutions, etc.
  2. Once the Credit applicant has filled-in the online credit application form, the Consumer Credit Provider obtains his/her consent to work with a licensed Account Information Service Provider (AISP) in order to gather information from the applicant's account(s) disclosed in the form.
  3. Once the AISP gathers the account information and passes it on to the Consumer Credit Provider, the latter cross-checks the information gathered directly from the account and the information that was provided by the customer in the online application form. This can be done automatically, without the need of human interaction. If there is a good match between the information provided by the customer and the information collected by means of AIS, then the enhanced due-diligence measure can be deemed to be fulfilled.

Here is a flow-chart of how that routine could look like:

Now, the kind of routine I described above is not a silver bullet for all types of transactions and should probably be accompanied by some sort of complementary ID verification, but if we look at the history of enhanced due-diligence measures that were accepted as valid for NF2F transactions in the AML Law of most jurisdictions, it becomes apparent that this routine is in some ways a superior analog to the once ubiquitous "Cent-Transfer" or "Penny-testing" routine which, in the European context was widely accepted as mimicking one of the examples in Art. 13. 2 (c) of the third AML directive:

"(...) ensuring that the first payment of the operations is carried out through an account opened in the customer's name with a credit institution."

This so-called "cent-transfer routine "typically consisted on prompting a prospective customer of financial services to make a very small payment to the account of a financial services provider in order to ensure that the first payment (and the subsequent transactions that took place in the course of the relationship) were done, whenever necessary, through an account opened in the customer's name with a bank that, in turn, had an obligation to carry out KYC routines on the prospective customer and probably had done so before opening the account from which the first payment is initiated.

In my mind, it is easy to see that the routine I briefly described above as the AIS KYC routine is ultimately not so different from the "cent-transfer" routine. In fact, assuming that the AISP collected the account information in compliance with the Secure Customer Authentication standard enshrined in the regulatory framework of PSD2, it is clear that the AIS routine would allow a financial services provider to corroborate with a good level of certainty the ownership of the payment accounts of its prospective customers and to safely initiate a business relation insofar as the verified payment account serves as the basis for the new "non-face-to-face" relation with the customer in question. (In the case of credit, for example, the consumer credit provider can simply refuse to disburse any loans to accounts that are not adequately verified by means of AIS).

Again: This is no silver bullet. In non-face-to-face contexts there is always the risk of impersonation but this routine seems solid enough especially if accompanied by a proper AML risk assessment and by an adequate system and methodology for transaction monitoring. I should say that my team has not yet been successful in getting the approval for this kind of routine as a compliant NF2F KYC routine by the Spanish AML Authority (after two years of well written submissions with detailed explanations on the processes and technologies involved) but I tend to think that now that the PSD2 is here, companies like Kontomatik, Figo and Perfios that have built significant expertise and reliable APIs for the provision of account information have one more interesting application for their technology: In the the very near future they might just be perceived as key enablers of seamless and compliance-enabling NF2F KYC routines.

Ir a Auschwitz

In-Between Fences

Hay una cierta ironía macabra que uno no puede pasar por alto al visitar Auschwitz en un día soleado de primavera. Bajo el sol de Osvecimia (Oświęcim, en polaco) no es tan fácil imaginar las cinco terribles primaveras en las que este sitio fue el epicentro de una de las peores atrocidades que los miembros de nuestra especie hayamos decidido poner en marcha.

Algunos parecen a prueba de ironías: En la entrada, justo debajo de la inscripción "Arbeit Macht Frei", varios Instagrammers posan con una sonrisa gigantesca. Supongo que es la misma incapacidad para la ironía que les permite sugerir, invocando a Deepak Chopra y mientras toman el sol en la piscina de un hotel cinco estrellas, que la clave de la felicidad es alegrarse con lo que uno tiene.

Auschwitz Barracks

Aparte de la indolencia de los Instagrammers, el sitio irradia una cierta austeridad respetuosa. La administración ha logrado implementar una logística eficiente y cómoda que no se siente como la melosa hospitalidad de Disnelyandia sino como la prudencia que debe observarse para visitar un sitio en el que fueron asesinadas más de 1 millon de personas. E insisto, he ahí una realidad que es difícil de digerir mientras se visita Auschwitz. Algunos tienden a imaginar un sitio en el que no vuelan las aves y el suelo supura maldad, pero no hay nada de eso en un día de primavera en Osvecimia. No hay ninguna manifestación sobrenatural o de dimensiones cósmicas para toda la barbarie que logramos conjurar en este sitio.

Brick and Barbwire II

Y esta suerte de indiferencia cósmica tiene dos efectos: Por un lado nos recuerda lo insignificantes que somos en la gran fotografía del universo, incluso cuando nos vamos a los extremos. Por otro lado, nos hace susceptibles a los esfuerzos de los que quieren negarlo todo, de los que quieren que olvidemos.
Estos esfuerzos de negación empezaron con los nazis mucho antes de que el campo se cerrara, continuaron con la destrucción de las cámaras de gas cuando la guerra estaba perdida y fueron retomados después por ciertos pseudo-historiadores que proponen revisiones de la historia. El más conocido de estos pseudo-historiadores es David Irving, quien ha logrado proponer versiones alternativas de sucesos de la segunda guerra mundial que son tan sofisticadas y eruditas que por momentos le han dado un nuevo oxigeno a una versión de la historia en la que los nazis no cometieron genocidios o crímenes de lesa humanidad y en la que el pueblo Judío se buscó su suerte.

Es difícil adivinar a quien le interesa argumentar que después de todo los nazis no fueron tan malos  sin perdernos en extrañas teorías de la conspiración, pero la existencia de estos esfuerzos nos acerca a la razón principal por la que ir a Auschwitz debería ser casi obligatorio: Las ruinas de lo que allí sucedió son lo único que se interpone entre nosotros y estas ficciones tan verosímiles que se inventan algunos expertos para que se nos olviden los terribles errores que hemos cometido, para que entre la confusión terminemos dándole una segunda oportunidad a la barbarie y al horror.

Broken Doll

Entre esas ficciones, una que tomó mucho asidero durante algún tiempo cuestionaba precisamente las cámaras de gas de Auschwitz, el uso del químico Zyklon B y las cifras oficiales de las víctimas de estas cámaras de la muerte. David Irving y otros revisionistas han argumentado con cierta sofisticación que las cifras son improbables y que no hay evidencia del uso de Zyklon B. Que todo se trata de algún tipo de conspiración urdida entre los comunistas, las agencias federales americanas (y tal vez elementos sionistas) para exacerbar los ánimos y avanzar ciertas agenda políticas de la posguerra.

Las ruinas de Auschwitz no mienten, sin embargo: La mejor evidencia que se ha producido sobre el uso masivo del Zyklon B proviene de los exámenes químicos de los escombros provenientes de las paredes de las cámaras de gas, dinamitadas a la carrera por los Nazis para esconder sus crímenes en los últimos días de la guerra. El color azul y la presencia de Zyklon B es innegable.
Auschwitz Barracks

Es precisamente por eso que vale la pena ir a Auschwitz y conservarlo para las generaciones futuras: Porque en este mundo de post-verdades en el que vivimos hay una suerte de guerra mediática por nuestras mentes y corazones. Estos sitios que lucen tan inocentemente rurales en los días de sol custodian algunas de las verdades más difíciles a las que todos deberíamos enfrentarnos de vez en cuando para evitar los errores del pasado.

Así, cada vez que estemos a punto de dar por cierta algunas de esas cosas que suelen decirse sobre el otro  (que los mexicanos son criminales, que los inmigrantes son peligrosos, que los venezolanos nos están invadiendo) podemos acordarnos de Auschwitz y de lo que ocurre cuando le damos rienda suelta a los dueños de esos prejuicios, a los que ondean esas banderas.   

Hay muchos empeñados en mantenernos en ese cierto comfort que viene con el olvido y la negación, pero una buena visita a Auschwitz funciona exactamente como pretende la placa en el monumento de Auschwitz-Birkenau: Como un grito desesperado y una advertencia sobre toda la maldad de la que somos capaces.

All along the watchtower

Todo el album de fotos acá:


domingo, marzo 11, 2018

On top of the Burj

Burj al Khalifa III

It's too easy to dismiss Dubai as some gauche manifestation of excess subsidized by oil money. But any town that spawned out of that bone-dry desert to become this fanfare of opulence is better viewed as a symbol of defiance.

Downtown Dubai II

 It is perhaps this symbology that explains the whiff of scorn that some "men and women of the West" betray when they refer to this place in light conversation. It's the city that shouldn't have been, a triumph of the contrarian, the impossible human-made oasis all tailor-made for the smart-phone era.

Dubai Skyline