We launched the Ray Wijewardene website at the British Council Colombo on September 28 evening to a packed house of friends and well-wishers. My colleague Nadeeja Abeyasekera and I introduced the site – product of months of work. Here are my opening remarks:
Introduction to the Ray Wijewardene website:
by Nalaka Gunawardene, Director, TVE Asia Pacific
This is our DIGITAL TRIBUTE to Ray Wijewardene, an outstanding scientist and thinker, not just of Sri Lanka, but of the entire developing world. On top of that, Ray was also a good friend and supporter of our own development communication work for many years. This is our way of PAYING IT FORWARD!
Looking back, I can say that this website was conceived in a moment of frustration and outrage. Let me explain!
When Ray passed away in August last year, there was very little SPECIFIC information about him anywhere on the World Wide Web. And there were ONLY a couple of good photographs online, which most newspapers and websites used when reporting on his death. They really had no choice!
In the days and weeks that followed, many warm tributes appeared in our newspapers. These shared precious memories and anecdotes about Ray. But I couldn’t help noticing that many lacked specifics, and some even had inaccuracies…probably inadvertent? Some didn’t even spell his name correctly!
We all know how Ray led a very productive and creative life — but it was not easy to find specific and accurate information about his thinking and many accomplishments. The reality these days is that if Google can’t find you, millions will never get to know about you!
I wanted to bridge this info gap as fast as possible!
So when I joined the Ray Wijewardene Charitable Trust as a Trustee, I offered to build a website as our first activity. We had no dedicated funds, but we just went ahead on a VOLUNTARY BASIS — relying on GOODWILL and IN-KIND contributions from many, e.g.
• We pooled information from Ray’s family members and friends;
• We sourced images from family and professional contacts; and
• We asked a few to write about different facets of Ray’s work/play.
This is what we call a NO-BUDGET ACTIVITY! We’ve harnessed the collaborative spirit very common on the Web. And we thank to all who joined this collaborative effort! They’re too many to mention by name – they know who they are…
My colleagues at TVE Asia Pacific worked long and hard to weave all this material into the website that we launch today. As with all our products, we aim this at the interested non-specialist. We’ve tried to keep it simple, concise and engaging – we know that web visitors have very short the attention spans!
Let me ask my colleague Nadeeja Abeyasekera, who built this website, to take you on a quick tour…to entice you to browse more at your leisure!
In my view, a website is never really finished…so we will continue to add new content and links to this as and when necessary to keep it current and relevant. We also solicit more information and images from all of you, some of which can be published on this website and the rest can support the research effort for the proposed biography.
The story goes like this. Victor Hugo was travelling out of town and wanted to know how his latest book was selling. He messaged (telegraphed?) his agent: ?
The agent, not to be outdone, replied: !
Enough said. How I wish I could beat that economy of words…
I have a fondness for both question marks and exclamation marks — I used a good deal of both in my own speaking and writing. I use these as a metaphor in a tribute I just wrote about one of my mentors: Ray Wijewardene.
“If I had to condense the multi-faceted and fascinating life of Ray Wijewardene, I would reduce it to a whole lot of question marks and exclamation marks. In his 86 years, Ray generated more than his fair share of both.
“He was unpigeonholeable: engineer, farmer, inventor, aviator and sportsman all rolled into one. Whether at work or play, he was an innovative thinker who rose above his culture and training to grasp the bigger picture.”
“We are very fond of blaming the poor for destroying the environment. But often it is the powerful, including governments, that are responsible.”
That was a typical remark by Wangari Muta Maathai, the Kenyan environmental and political activist who has just died.
In the 1970s, Maathai founded the Green Belt Movement, an environmental non-governmental organisation focused on the planting of trees, environmental conservation, and women’s rights.
In 2004, she became the first African woman to receive the Nobel Peace Prize for “her contribution to sustainable development, democracy and peace.”
The Green Belt Movement in a profile about their founder counted the many roles she played: environmentalist; scientist; parliamentarian; founder of the Green Belt Movement; advocate for social justice, human rights, and democracy; elder; and Nobel Peace Laureate.
“”It is the people who must save the environment. It is the people who must make their leaders change. And we cannot be intimidated. So we must stand up for what we believe in,” Wangari Maathai kept saying.
As a tribute, I have assembled a few links to interesting online videos featuring her.
Taking Root, a long format documentary, tells the dramatic story of Wangari Maathai whose simple act of planting trees grew into a nationwide movement to safeguard the environment, protect human rights, and defend democracy—a movement for which this charismatic woman became an iconic inspiration.
TAKING ROOT: The Vision of Wangari Maathai Trailer on PBS YouTube channel:
Wangari Maathai & The Green Belt Movement, short film by StridesinDevelopment:
Riz Khan’s One on One: Wangari Maathai: Part 1
Interview with Al Jazeera English first broadcast on 19 Jan 2008
“I will be a hummingbird” – Wangari Maathai
Two more memorable quotes from her to inspire us all:
“I have always believed that, no matter how dark the cloud, there is always a thin, silver lining, and that is what we must look for.”
“We cannot tire or give up. We owe it to the present and future generations of all species to rise up and walk!”
This is the Sinhala text of my latest Ravaya column, where this week I am paying tribute to Dr Osmund W Jayaratne (1924-2006), a remarkable physicist, science populariser and public intellectual whom I knew and worked with for many years.
This is my weekly column in Sinhala, published in the Ravaya newspaper on 18 Sep 2011. In this, I discuss how India’s prominent anti-corruption activist Anna Hazare uses broadcast television and new media in his advocacy campaigns.
Text of my Sinhala column for Ravaya issue of 11 September 2011. In this one, I discuss how front pages of newspapers around the world reported 9/11 terrorist attacks, and how the dichotomy between reporting and editorialising blurred in some media outlets.
“පුවත්පත් කලාව යනු ඉතිහාසයේ මුල් කෙටුම්පතයි” (‘Journalism is the first rough draft of history.’)
I can remember exactly where I was and what I was doing when the news of 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Centre Twin Towers in New York reached me.
It was around 1.15 pm in the UK, a bright sunny afternoon. I was just entering London’s Kings Cross Station to buy tickets. My colleague Marietta, walking with me, received a call to her mobile phone giving the breaking news that somebody had just flown a plane into WTC.
Another clumsy pilot, I thought — recalling how a B-25 Mitchell bomber aeroplane had once accidentally crashed into the Empire State Building, back in 1945. But as we soon found out, this was no accident: it was a dastardly terrorist attack by suicidal fanatics who somehow penetrated the already high aviation security arrangements.
Life in London continued normally, but we were all completely distracted. I had work to do in an office, but can’t remember any of us actually focusing on our chores. Instead, we just watched the live TV coverage of unfolding events across the Atlantic with mounting horror. So did over a billion other people around the world.
It was a world changing event about which much has been written and said. More reflective and less impulsive commentary on this 10th anniversary puts events and their aftermath in better perspective. Of course, we now have the benefit of hindsight.
Journalism is the first rough draft of history. The reporters on duty that day were challenged to cover a breaking news event whose magnitude and historical context would become clearer only as the hours and days passed. CNN was the first to break the news live on the air, followed by the rest of the news pack. On the whole, journalists in all media rose to the enormous challenges of covering a scary, bewildering and earth-shattering story.
CNN Breaks the Big News at 8.49 am Eastern Standard Time on 9/11:
If anyone thought (like I did, for a few minutes) that it was a terrible accident, all doubts were removed when the second plane hit. By this time, all cameras were focused on the already burning first tower.
News networks cover the second plane crashing into the second tower LIVE on air at 9.03 am EST
And now, a decade later, media professionals and researchers are looking back at their own impressionistic, on-the-run coverage. Among the many attempts at retrospection, I’ve found two particularly interesting:
Understanding 9/11: A Television News Archive.
This collection contains television news programs recorded live from around September 11, 2001 by the non-profit Television Archive to help patrons research this important part of United States history. These materials were originally available on the televisionarchive.org site from October 2001 through 2003.
This gallery explores the horrendous events of Sept. 11, 2001, and the extraordinary challenges that faced the journalists trying to report the news to a shaken nation and world. The gallery includes a tribute to photojournalist William Biggart — a journalist who died covering the attacks — and some of the final photographs he took. Also featured are front pages from around the globe about the attacks and first-person accounts from reporters and photographers who covered the story.
In the end, movie memories are all that we are left with.
As we remember the 9/11 tragedy 10 years later, a cool compilation released online last month packs extracts from lots of movies that featured the World Trade Centre Twin Towers.
As the Los Angeles Times noted, Dan Meth — a New York animator and filmmaker who generally works creating humorous videos for the Web — has put together a deceptively simple, deeply moving tribute to the twin towers by creating a montage of their appearances on film.
Twin Tower Movie Cameos 1969 – 2001
The filmmaker says about this creation:
“From 1969 to 2001, the Twin Towers made countless cameos in Hollywood films. Sometimes featured prominently in the foreground, sometimes lurking in the distance. This montage celebrates the towers’ all-too-short film career with songs that capture the passing decades. Man, I miss them.”
Just how many Internet users are there in Sri Lanka?
Looks like a simple question, but there’s no simple answer. Trust me, I’ve been looking.
Oh sure, it’s not possible to calculate such numbers precisely because there always are more users than are subscribers. But official and industry sources usually have a good idea. In Sri Lanka’s case, their figures vary considerably.
The Telecommunications Regulatory Commission of Sri Lanka (TRCSL) is the official data collector. It used to publish a quarterly compendium of telecom industry related statistics.
The last such report, for December 2010, cites these cumulative figures for the whole of Sri Lanka by end 2010:
• Mobile phone subscribers: 17,359,312
• Fixed phone subscribers: 3,578,463
• Internet & Email Subscribers – fixed: : 280,000 (provisional figure)
• Mobile Broadband Subscribers: 294,000 (provisional figure)
Although for the same point in time (Dec 2010), it doesn’t tally. TRCSL’s own data, when we add up fixed and mobile subscribers of Internet, comes to 574,000.
Both these state entities seem to be hooked on “email users” — a throw-back to the early dial-up days when some subscribers simply signed up for email facility and didn’t want web browsing as the latter was more costly. As far as I know, that demarcation disappeared years ago. But I may be wrong.
Even if we take the highest case scenario, of a total 574,000 Internet subscribers (fixed and mobile), it still comes to less than 3 per cent of Sri Lanka’s total population of 20 million (exactly how many people live on the island will be known after the latest census is taken in December 2011).
That’s the number of subscribers. The number of users is usually higher. Assuming an average 3 users per subscription, we can imagine around 1.72 million (approx 8 per cent of population) getting online. This calculation brings us closer to the number given for Sri Lanka in the Internet World Stats website. It lists for Sri Lanka: “1,776,200 Internet users as of Jun/10, 8.3% penetration, per ITU.”
The ITU focal point in Sri Lanka is the TRCSL, whose own published data is mentioned above. What am I missing here?
A researcher friend who had access to Wireless Intelligence, a subscription only service containing well over 5 million individual data points on 940 operators (across 2,200 networks) and 55 groups in 225 countries, found yet another statistic.
According to WI, Sri Lanka by end 2010 had:
• 1,971,018 mobile broadband subscribers
• 213,000 fixed broadband subscribers
This produced a total of 2,184,018 — which takes the percentage of population to almost 11%. And if we apply the same average number of 3 users, it could give us 30% of population accessing and using the Internet. But is that assumption of 3 users per subscription equally applicable to mobile devices? I’m not sure. I’ll wait for industry experts to clarify.
In fact, neither industry sources and researchers have a reliable figure of how many smartphones are in use in Sri Lanka. Because a significant number comes in through private channels (via returning travellers or Lankan expatriates), the looking simply at the import figures could be misleading. A conservative estimate is that at least one million smartphones with Internet access capability are in use. The number keeps growing.
Exactly how many such smartphone users go online on a regular basis? What kind of info do they look up? How long on average do they stay online per session?
If you know the answers, or have reflected on these, please share.
Let’s hope more reliable data would emerge from the 2011 countrywide census of population. An early report (July 2010) said: “Information will also be collected for the first time on people’s communication methods.”
Text of my weekly column, printed in Ravaya newspaper on 4 September 2011. This week I take off from the role of social media in fuelling, as well as countering the recent London riots – and discuss how governments, telecom operators and law enforcement authorities should respond to the always on, pervasive connectivity now enabled by mobile phones and other devices.