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Category Archives: Sri Lanka

S.T.E.M, skyscrapers and suicidal Tuk-tuks

One month isn’t enough in Sri Lanka!

 

 
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Posted by on July 7, 2018 in Education, Sri Lanka

 

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Bandarawela, a hideaway too often misunderstood

Don’t believe Lonely Planet. Don’t look at the once-sleepy up-country tea-trading town of Bandarawela only as a place overtaken by tuk-tuks and buses. That’s just one part of a town that’s outgrown it’s status as a hub for tennis tournaments, a wholesale vegetable trading route, and where some of the finest tea comes home to roost.

The Bandarawela I know is still in tact, if you care to look. The quiet three-mile walk past old churches, convents, and a haunted house. The breathtaking switch back (in these parts we call them ‘hairpin bends’) up to Pilkinton Point. A quick dip in the waterfall on the way to Diyatalawa, and so much more.

 
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Posted by on June 15, 2018 in Sri Lanka

 

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Banning hate speech in Sri Lanka poses social media conundrum

The apps stopped working in Sri lanka sometime on March 7th. The blanket decision to curb the hate speech that ensued after the clashes in Kandy was both a blessing and a curse. It’s not the best strategy, but it’s often the only one left when a government is caught unprepared.

Censorship – what else could we call it?- is a curse. “Social media is a noisy and contested space,” observed Nalaka Gunawardene. After all, “many have been using the platform to counter myths, misconceptions and prejudices.” Hate speech lives here alongside the more commendable forms of social interatcion. We have seen this movie before, though. Social media companies are often unable to, or incapable of filtering out the noise. Or the conspiracy theories, or the fake news. So pulling the plug is a hard choice. But it should go with long-term preventive measures that prevent offline hate speech. Which, as has been well documented, the government has not addressed for years. Again it’s worth quoting Nalaka who observes:

We did not reach this point overnight. For many years, ultranationalists have been poisoning the public mind with racial and religious hatred. Some local language newspapers – in both Sinhala and Tamil – regularly use racially-charged language and accommodate extremist viewpoints. Privately owned TV channels, engaged in a fierce competition for ratings, have also sometimes played with fires of communalism. 

His article, a long read, is titled “Smart phones and stupid governments.”

In 1983, the outbusts of hatred and bigotry travelled over long distances with no help from phones, let alone smart phones. There was no platform to block or blame. The culprit? Politicians! People at the top of the totem pole with no crisis plan, no leadership.

 
 

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Google’s drag-and-drop ‘Scratch’ doodle

As Google doodles become more interactive it’s fitting to see it launch Hour of Code with a drag-and-drop doodle. It’s their first Coding-based doodle. Have you tried it? It’s on today’s Google landing page.

Worth reading: A description by MIT’s Champika Fernando, who was on one of the 3 teams that built this doodle.

Hour of Code runs through this week, which is also Computer Science Education week, and the anniversary of 50 years of programming languages. Scratch was developed at MIT.

 
 

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Fighting Technoference? Buy a goldfish

I brought up the word earlier –Technoference. It’s one of those Urban Dictionary words that smacks us in the forehead but eventually creeps into our vocabulary –like ‘Dweeb,’ ‘Fudgel’ and ‘Thunking.’  So I decided to devote my Nov column in LMD magazine to it.

So what’s Technoference, you ask?

Besides having to actually read the damn column, I’m betting you already experienced it. Have you ever had a conversation with a teenager, only to have her pause you in mid-sentence and pull out a phone to fact-check something? Thought so!

Once you get off your Snapstreak, let me know your thoughts on it.

 
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Posted by on November 2, 2017 in LMD, Social Media, Sri Lanka, Technology

 

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Chamath Palihapitiya could throw a wrench into AI heavyweights

It’s always good to keep an eye on what Chamath Palihapitiya is up to. He has been building a team of ex-Googlers, and is supposed to be after the next generation of computing. A $10 million startup, to be sure!

This could signal a lot of things, depending which pair of lenses you put on. It probably has a lot to do with AI – Artificial Intelligence. For instance he hired away eight of the ten people at Goggle working on a secret project involving a chip with AI. He has poked fun at Watson, the IBM cloud-based machine learning application.

Watson, as you might be aware turned tables on Jeopardy and Go (the 2,500-year-old game), but has machine learning entrenched in many sectors from genomics to industrial safety. Google’s machine learning project, known by its bland name, Tensor Processing Unit (TPU), is underway.

Pahlihapitiya talks of ‘probabilistic‘ software that is changing how we depend on devices – a great shift from ‘deterministic’ software based on “if-the” sequences. Watch how he explains how machine learning and II is transforming, and will up-end computing. I bet Watson took in every word of this.

 

 

 
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Posted by on September 1, 2017 in Disruptive, Sri Lanka, Technology

 

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Two weeks to Robotics Olympics! Team Sri Lanka gears up

Yesterday I spoke to Sri Lanka’s four-member team making the final tweaks to their robot, with hundreds of moving parts including 8 motors, 4 sensors, 4 servos, and some pretty fancy wheels. (This was them, 2 weeks ago.)

These are A-Level students, with the grit and passion you’d expect from college kids. They’ve mastered the programming software Blockly. They tell me they redo some parts of the design, just to be sure. In two weeks, they pack it all up and head to DC.

Today I also spoke to Joe Sestak, president of FIRST Global, and he told me how impressed he was by this team which is so committed, despite getting the robot kit a few weeks later than most other country teams.

I wish them the best!

 

 
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Posted by on July 3, 2017 in Robotics, Sri Lanka, STEM

 

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