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Archive for March, 2007

Harry Potter fan fiction

Posted by Sathyamurthy www.sathyamurthy.com on March 29, 2007

Writing is a pass time for many of us. Some take it little more seriously and write some good stuff. Some make it their profession and get hugely successful both in terms of fan following and also in terms of earnings.

J.K. Rowling, of Harry Potter fame is a case in point. To be honest, I have not read any of her works till date. However, I have forcibly seen (since my sons took charge of the TV and I had no other choice) a portion of one of the filmed version of her Harry Potter series on DVD. To the extent I saw I could easily understand how she created arguably one of the most popular fiction characters of the 20th Century.

My first son like many others has read, re-read and re-re-read all of the Harry Potter series books. To me, the most exciting by-product of his liking Harry Potter books is that he also took to writing.

He went ahead and joined a Orkut community to publish what he wrote and I must say that he got excellent reviews from fans like him.

I take privilege in publishing his Harry Potter Fan Fiction here. I hope you will like what you read. If you like it do send in few words of appreciation to him at niranjan dot sathyamurthy at gmail dot com as it would motivate him to write even more.

Now, over to S Niranjan, all of 16 years with his Fan Fiction.

Chapter 1: Phoenix Feather

The moon was barely visible in the stormy sky. It had never been this cloudy in any part of London in the past years nor had it rained so hard. Not a soul was seen on the streets. Even the vagabonds who were seen in the alley ways were packed away in some shelter or the other. So thought the lone stranger as he walked along. He was unlike any person usually seen in Wisteria Walk. He wore long, black robes. The robes looked very old and had been patched and darned in several places. He had long, brown hair which was flecked with grey. He looked exhausted and the dark circles under his eyes showed that he hadn’t slept for many days. He was so fixed of purpose that he cared neither about the wind nor about the rain. Remus Lupin looked around again at his surroundings. He had been here many times. It was the same reason every time.

He had finally arrived at Privet Drive and the storm had also subsided. He looked across the street at Number 4. The house like all the others in that area lay in silence. His eyes worked their way up to the second floor windows. Everything was normal. But, for some reason he still remained alert. He moved on to the doorway of the house he was standing near. He knocked on the door and then remained silent.

He waited for a while after which he heard sounds of movement inside the house. The door creaked open, not fully, but just enough for the person inside to see the visitor. “Arabella, it’s me open up quickly.” said Lupin in a hoarse voice. Arabella Figg opened the door to let him inside.

“Dry yourself before you come in Remus.” said Mrs.Figg. With a frown Lupin took out his wand from his belt and with a lazy flick dried himself.

“Hagrid just left. He got a message from Minerva. He said that he was wanted in the castle.” said Mrs.Figg.

Lupin remained silent as he moved on to the nearest window and stood watching Number 4. He then looked at her and motioned her to sit.

“I want you to remain extra careful Arabella. The order has noticed traces of several magical entities lurking some distance away from your house and at certain times from Harry’s. I think we’ll be seeing Snape and Voldemort sooner than we thought. Its times like this that makes me wish Dumbledore were still here with us.” he said.

As Mrs.Figg opened her mouth to speak, a loud crack was heard outside. Mrs.Figg froze in her place as Lupin rushed forward to the doorway. He cautiously opened the door. “Lumos” muttered Lupin, as he looked around. Not now, he thought. As he looked around a gust of wind blew something onto his face. To his shock it was a phoenix feather and with it was a scroll of parchment. He went back into the house to where Mrs.Figg was sitting and showed her the phoenix feather and the parchment.

“Remus, could it be?” exclaimed Mrs.Figg. Lupin didn’t reply. Who could have sent this message to him? And why did they send it to him? He unrolled the parchment, read its contents and stood thoughtful.

“What does the parchment say?” asked Mrs.Figg. Lupin handed her the scroll. She wore a blank look on her face as she read it.

“Lord Voldemort is coming! Take Harry to Grimmauld place as soon as possible!”

Why? And Who? It surely couldn’t have been him. No, it couldn’t have been him. Should he heed the warning? Why Grimmauld place? Thoughts flowed through Lupin’s mind. Then Lupin decided. “Expecto Patronum!” he said and a silver wolf erupted out of his wand and bounded off into the darkness.

“Arabella, I have to leave right now.” Lupin said.

“But what about Harry? There’s no one else here to keep a watch on him.” said Mrs.Figg.

“I’m taking him with me.” replied Lupin.

“But where? To the castle?” asked Mrs.Figg.

Lupin nodded and then made his way out of the house. He looked across again at Number 4. The storm had ceased and the night was calm as ever. Lupin made his way across the street to the front door of Number 4. The house was silent as it had been before the arrival of the message. “Alohamora” Lupin said and he eased the door open.

(To be continued)

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Catch me if you can

Posted by Sathyamurthy www.sathyamurthy.com on March 8, 2007

I am a fan of Steven Spielberg. Since the time I saw his first movie, I became a compulsive fan as I liked his story telling and the slick narration on screen. He has an inimitable style and packs lots of humor in his narration. One of his recent movies I enjoyed watching few times is “Catch Me If You Can” based on a real life story of a con man of the past (now working with the FBI). Today I found this interesting article at Knowledge @ Wharton on Frank Abagnale Jr. the center character of the movie.
The Con Man in ‘Catch Me If You Can’ Is Now Out Chasing High-Tech Fraudsters
Published: March 07, 2007 in Knowledge@Wharton

In one sense, Frank Abagnale Jr. might seem an odd choice as a featured speaker at a cutting-edge, computer-ruled event like the Wharton Technology Conference 2007. That’s not just because Abagnale — the subject of the 2002 Steven Spielberg movie “Catch Me If You Can” — was one of the most notorious con men of the 20th century, but also because his technique was so decidedly low-tech.

Consider what Abagnale — a teenager at the time — did in the mid-1960s when he faked his identity as a Pan Am pilot, a move that allowed him to travel more than one million miles and visit some 250 cities in 26 countries, free of charge. A key element of his scheme involved faking a Pan Am ID card, a process he completed by taking the logo from an airplane model kit sold at a hobby store.

Indeed, while Abagnale’s riveting lecture was alternately humorous and poignant, it also contained an underlying message: Vigilance against fraudsters and con artists should be even more of a priority now than it was then, because Abagnale’s 1960s schemes were harder work.

“What I did more than 40 years ago is now about 4,000 times easier to do because of technology,” Abagnale said in a brief interview after his speech. “When I used to print checks, I needed a Heidelberg printing press — it was a million-dollar machine, it was 90 feet long and 18-feet high, and it required different printers and color separators and negatives. Today, I can open up a laptop, create a check from a large, existing Fortune 500 company, capture their logo from their web site, print it on their check and come out with a perfect document in a matter of just minutes.”

Breeding Ground for Cons

Indeed, Abagnale — who today runs a highly successful security consulting firm out of Tulsa, Okla. — works hard to keep up with today’s computerized and Internet-based fraud. But instead of perpetrating elaborate scams, for more than three decades Abagnale has worked to prevent them as an advisor on theft prevention for both the FBI and a roster of corporate clients.

He never lacks for work, especially in the Internet age. “Technology tends to breed cons, and it always will,” he said. “There are always people willing to use technology in a negative, self-serving way.”

While he was working the criminal side of the fence, Abagnale stole close to $3 million (mostly by writing bad checks), impersonated not only a pilot but also a pediatrician, and passed the Louisiana bar exam. He even landed a job with the state’s attorney general’s office. Arrested in France, he served time in French, Swedish and American jails for forgery. After the release of “Catch Me If You Can,” which was based on his autobiography and which featured Leonardo Dicaprio as Abagnale, he became a minor celebrity.

Although the movie closely follows his unbelievable but true exploits, Abagnale said it differs in at least one key respect — his relationship with his father (played by Christopher Walken in the movie). In real life, according to Abagnale, his life of crime was triggered by his parents’ divorce when he was 16, an event that not only traumatized the teenager but caused him to never see his father again.

As Abagnale tells it, he had an uneventful upbringing in the affluent suburbs of Westchester County, N.Y., until the day he was unexpectedly picked up at his strict Catholic high school and driven to a Family Court hearing. “I was ushered into the back of an immense courtroom, where my parents were standing before a judge,” Abagnale said. “I couldn’t hear what the judge was saying, but eventually … he motioned to me to approach the bench. I walked up to stand between my parents, but I remember distinctly that the judge never looked at me, never acknowledged I was standing there, but simply read from his papers that my parents were getting a divorce, and because I was 16 years of age, I would need to tell the court which parent I chose to live with.”

Abagnale said that he started to cry, and the judge called a recess. By the time the court reconvened, the teenager was long gone. He had boarded a commuter train for Manhattan, where he launched his nomadic existence.

At first, Abagnale — who said he looked about 10 years older than he was — tried to support himself with real work, augmenting his earnings by writing checks on his legitimate bank account from Westchester. But he soon changed the age on his driver’s license to 26 to try for better jobs, and kept writing checks even when his real money ran out.

Eventually, the 16-year-old knew police were looking for him in New York. Abagnale was walking down 42nd Street when he happened to see an Eastern Airlines flight crew leaving the old Commodore Hotel to board a shuttle van for the airport. “As they loaded the van, I thought to myself, ‘That’s it, I could pose as a pilot,'” Abagnale recalled. “I can travel all over the world for free. I can probably have anybody just about anywhere cash a check for me.”

He called the purchasing department of Pan Am, making up a tall tale about a lost pilot’s uniform as he went along. Soon he had the address of the airline’s clothing supplier and was fitted for his pilot’s uniform. Now properly attired, he headed to the nearest airport, which was New York’s LaGuardia, and walked around trying to figure out how to board a flight. He stopped for lunch, and found himself sitting next to a TWA captain.

“The captain kind of leaned over and said, ‘Hey, young man, how’s Pan Am doing?'” Abagnale recalled. “I responded: ‘Pan Am’s doin’ just fine, captain.’ He said: ‘What’s Pan Am doing out here at LaGuardia? Pan Am doesn’t fly into LaGuardia. They only go into Kennedy.'” In his haste to execute the scam, Abagnale had gone to the wrong airport. He told the TWA captain he was visiting a friend, but then the real pilot asked Abagnale what kind of “equipment” he used. “I thought, what the heck is ‘equipment’? The only equipment I’m on is this stool.” He didn’t know that he was being asked, in pilot jargon, what kind of plane he flew.

So Abagnale went to the drawing board. That’s when he talked his way into a phony Pan Am ID, working the phones to find the vendor, inventing a story that he was investigating a potential large purchase, and walking away with a demo with his picture. That’s how that Pan Am logo from a model kit came in so handy.

Indeed, as Abagnale addressed his computer-savvy Wharton audience, it seemed that the lack of advanced technology in the 1960s aided and abetted his scams. He learned that airlines had reciprocal check-cashing agreements, and so he would walk up and down a terminal, cashing bad checks as he went along. When the shift changed, he walked in the other direction, working the same counters.

In the interview afterwards, Abagnale said advanced technology cuts both ways. “You know, when I said I forged checks, people would say to me, ‘How did you know who signed Pan Am’s checks?’ I said I had no idea. ‘How did you know where they are drawn?’ — I would just make that up. I had no idea….

“Today, I can call any company in America, big or small, access accounts receivable on the phone and say I’m getting ready to wire them some funds. They will [give] me the bank [I should use], its street address and its account information. I can pull any annual report from a company and have the signature of the chairman of the board, CEO or CFO, and sign a check knowing that [it has] the signature of an authorized person.”

The Less Glamorous Side

For Abagnale, getting out of a life of crime in the 1960s proved harder than getting in. When he decided to end his fraud against Pan Am, and tried to settle down with his ill-gotten gains at a posh apartment complex in Atlantic City, he told his neighbors that he was a non-practicing pediatrician looking to invest in real estate. It worked well for a while, until a real pediatrician moved in.

Eventually, Abagnale was asked to fill in as an overnight supervisor at a Georgia hospital. “Being one who hates to pass up a challenge, I couldn’t help but give it a shot,” he said. Fortunately, no one died during his time at the medical center. Abagnale went on to pose as a lawyer and a teacher before he was finally nabbed in Paris in 1969, after five long years.

Today, with his fame compounded by the movie, Abagnale says he gets many emails, some saying he was a genius for the cons that he pulled off. But he replies that he was just a teenager, and that “had I truly been a genius, I don’t think that I would have found it necessary to break the law in order to survive. Although I know that people are fascinated with what I did 40 years ago as a boy, I have never lost sight of [the fact that] what I did was immoral, illegal and unethical.”

He also tried to dispel some of the mythology about his youthful exploits, saying he regrets the normal experiences he missed, like high school football games or the prom. “How could I tell you my life was glamorous?” he asked rhetorically. “I cried myself to sleep until I was 19 years old, every Christmas, birthday, Mother’s Day and Father’s Day, in a hotel somewhere in the world where people didn’t speak my language.”

In the end, Abagnale brought a touching dose of humanity to a conference that focused so much on technology. “Steven Spielberg made a wonderful movie,” he concluded, “but the truth is, I’ve done nothing greater, nothing more rewarding, nothing more worthwhile, nothing that’s brought me more peace, joy and happiness … than being a good husband and good father.”

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