Text of my ‘When Worlds Collide’ column published in Ceylon Today Sunday newspaper on 27 May 2012
For the past few days, while enduring Colombo’s heat and high humidity, I’ve been hoping for a timely monsoon.
A billion and a half fellow South Asians joined me in this waiting and guessing game for the mighty rain-carrying oceanic winds — one of the great forces of nature on this planet. Few things – human or natural – evoke such anxiety and anticipation.
And with good reason: the rains that the summer monsoon brings are life-giving for most parts of South Asia. An ample monsoon that arrives on time can boost harvests, drive power generation and and generate wealth across South Asia where large numbers are still engaged in farming.
A delayed or failed monsoon, on the other hand, causes much concern for governments and communities. India’s Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee acknowledged…
This week’s Ravaya column (in Sinhala) is dedicated to a forgotten Ceylonese astronomer who died over a century ago, and now has a Martian crater named after him. He was Percy Molesworth (1867 – 1908).
This was the title of a presentation I made at National Media Summit 2012, at University of Kelaniya, Sri Lanka, this morning. I was asked to talk about New Media and policies for Sri Lanka.
In my audience were academics and researchers on journalism and mass communication drawn from several universities of Sri Lanka. I was told the biennial event is to help frame new research frameworks and projects.
Now, I’m not a researcher in the conventional sense of that term, and am fond of saying I don’t have a single academic bone in my body. Despite this, occasionally, universities and research institutes invite me to join their events as speaker, panelist or moderator.
University of Kelaniya, a state university in Sri Lanka, has the island’s oldest mass communication department, started in the late 1960s.
Perhaps inertia and traditions weigh down such places — while I had a patient hearing, I found our ensuing discussion disappointing. The historical analogies, policy dilemmas and coping strategies I touched on in my presentation didn’t get much comment or questions.
Instead, rather predictably, the ill-moderated discussion meandered on about the adverse social and cultural impacts of Internet and mobile phones and the need to ‘control’ everything in the public interest (where have I heard that before?).
And much time was wasted on debating on what exactly was new media and how to define and categorise it (I’d argued: it all depends on who answers the question!).
Part of the confusion arose from many conflating private, closed communications online (e.g. Facebook) with the open, more public interest online content (e.g. news websites). Similarly, the critical need for common technical standards (to ensure inter-operability) was mistaken by some as the need for dull and dreary orthodoxy in content!
Concepts like Citizen Journalism, user-generated content, privacy, right to information were all bandied around — but without clarity, focus or depth. Admittedly we couldn’t cover everything under the Sun. But we didn’t even discuss what options and choices policy makers have when confronted with rapidly evolving new media types.
Half anticipating this, I had included a line in my talk that said: “Academics must research, analyse & advise (policy makers). But are Lankan academics thought-leaders in ICT?”
I was being a polite guest by not explicitly answering my own question (but as a helpful hint, I mentioned dinosaurs a few times!). In the end, my audience provided a clear (and sadly, negative) answer: far from being path-finders or thought-leaders, they are mostly laggards who don’t even realise how much they have to catch up!
And some of them are framing Lankan media policy and/or advising government on information society issues. HELP!
Don’t take my word for it. Just try to find ANY online mention of National Media Summit 2012 that just ended a few hour ago. Google indexes content pretty fast these days — but there is NONE that I can find on Google as May 25 draws to an end (except my own PPT on SlideShare!).
Text of my ‘When Worlds Collide’ column published in Ceylon Today Sunday newspaper on 20 May 2012
What’s the worst human invention of all time? The answer depends on whom we ask.
As a cheer-leader of innovation and currently host of a TV series on this topic, I keep asking around. I find there is no agreement on either the best or worst inventions — even top 10 lists vary enormously.
But many now agree that the internal combustion engine – which has literally driven our civilisation forward for a couple of centuries – needs serious rethinking. Burning fossil fuels (petroleum and coal) is costly, polluting and planet warming. We really need to kick our addition to oil.
Where do we begin? Electrically powered vehicles are much cleaner, provided the electricity is readily available and affordable. Are hybrid vehicles – now growing on Lankan roads – the solution, or just…
Phoning each other during personal or shared emergencies is one of the commonest human impulses. Until recently, technology and costs stood in the way. No longer.
We now have practically all grown-ups (and some young people too) in many Asian countries carrying around phones or having easy, regular access to them. For example, Sri Lanka’s tele-density now stands at 106.1 phones 100 people (2011 figures).
What does this mean in times of crisis caused by disasters or other calamities? This is explored in a short video I just made for LIRNEasia:
With the spread of affordable telecom services, most Asians now use their own phones to stay connected. Can talking on the phone help those responding to emergencies to be better organised? How can voice be used more efficiently in alerting and reporting about disasters? Where can computer technology make a difference in crisis management?
These questions were investigated in an action research project by LIRNEasia in partnership with Sarvodaya, Sri Lanka’s largest development organisation. Experimenting with Sahana disaster management software and Freedom Fone interactive voice response system, it probed how voice-based reporting can fit into globally accepted standards for sharing emergency data. It found that while the technology isn’t perfect yet, there is much potential.
Malima (New Directions in Innovation) is a Sinhala language TV series on science, technology and innovation. This episode was produced and first broadcast by Sri Lanka’s Rupavahini TV channel on 10 May 2012.
Produced by Suminda Thilakasena and hosted by science writer Nalaka Gunawardene, this episode features three stories:
• REVA meets ELCA! Indian-made compact electric car REVA has been on the market for a decade. Now, a young Lankan has made a home-grown version. Nilanga Senevirathne Epa’s ELCA (short for Electric Car) is a two-door, two-seater ideal for city and suburban running; it can reach speeds of up to 60 km per hour. Over 60% of the car is made locally but the motor and battery are imported from Japan. When fully charged, its lead-acid batteries can power the car for 80 to 100 km on — recharging can be done at home by connecting it to 5 Amp ordinary power outlet for 8 hours. Nilanga is now working with a leading company to mass produce ELCA for the local market. Next target: make batteries locally to sell them cheaper. If all goes well, ELCA should be running on Lankan roads before end 2013.
• Ride, pack and go! Nearly two centuries after the bicycle was invented, they are still innovating with it. We bring you an international story about a bicycle that can be folded up and carried in a case!
• Dengue mosquitoes, beware! An interview with school boy inventor G A Hirun Dhananjaya Gajasinghe, of Ruwanwella Rajasinghe Central School, who has designed a device with which gutters can be remotely turned upside down for easy cleaning. By emptying water and leaf debris collecting in gutters without having to climb to the roof, this invention can help in the battle against dengue-carrying mosquitoes – a formidable public enemy in many parts of Sri Lanka. This comes just in time for the rainy season!
Text of my ‘When Worlds Collide’ column published in Ceylon Today Sunday newspaper on 13 May 2012
Exactly three months ago, on 13 February 2012, Robert Paul Lamb died at his London home. With his untimely exit, I lost a gifted mentor and the world, a planetary scale story teller.
For over 30 years, he reported about the state of our planet using its most pervasive medium: broadcast television. An accomplished science writer, TV journalist and documentary film maker, Robert was just 59 when he succumbed to cancer.
Robert’s outlook was rooted in journalism, where he started his career in the mid 1970s as a TV reporter with the BBC. He later straddled the worlds of media and development, but always remained a journalist at heart. He used simple words and well chosen moving images to show how we mismanage natural resources and energy.
Four years ago, I wrote in a book review: “Here we have, straight from the original source, the story of how cricket became the de facto national past-time, if not our national addiction or religion! Like it or hate it, cricket is an integral part of our popular culture. Radio (and later TV) cricket commentaries take much of the credit (or blame, in some people’s view) for building up this uncommon fervour that occasionally unites our otherwise utterly and bitterly divided nation.”
In this week’s Ravaya column (in Sinhala), I dip into broadcasting history of Ceylon/Sri Lanka to find out more about the origins of live cricket commentaries in Sinhala. A principal source is the book I reviewed in 2008 soon after it came out: Palitha Perera Samaga Sajeeva Lesin (Live with Palitha Perera).
Palitha Perera, who did the first ball-by-ball cricket commentary in Sinhala in March 1963, is still engaged in this enthralling practice nearly half a century later. He is now one of the three seniormost cricket commentators in the world with the longest track record.
Text of my ‘When Worlds Collide’ column published in Ceylon Today Sunday newspaper on 6 May 2012
Growing up in a very different Sri Lanka during the 1970s, I was image starved.
We had no television, no Internet, and going to the cinema was a rare treat. And cameras were uncommon – those who owned them had to carefully plan every photograph to make the best use of film rolls with a finite number of shots (12, 24 or 36).
My school teacher parents had a Kodak box camera, using which they took some home photos of my early years. Two dozen black-and-whites (some in sepia prints) survive to this day in remarkably good shape. That is all I have to show for the first decade and half of my life.
I also have a few (now fading) colour photos from my mid to late teens, taken fleetingly with…