Wednesday, November 02, 2011

Bearing 7 Billion

The world's population exceeded seven billion yesterday according to the UNFPA (United Nations Population Fund). It seems to have been taken in a celebrative notion. Although the joy a baby brings to its parents and family is something immense, this is not about celebrating the birth of a one or two or few '7 billionth' children. It's about the world's population reaching a substantial rounded figure. This is a mark that needs to be considered seriously or else a mark that should change how we perceive the future of the earth.

How many billion people walk on earth is not the real issue. Can the earth bear them all and if so for how long is the issue. If you've watched the 'HOME' documentary which by far is the best of its kind when it comes to enlightening us on 'earthly' issues, then you'd probably have a good idea of what I'm talking about. If you haven't seen it, I strongly suggest you do.

We eat everyday. We eat many things. Most of them are either produce which are grown on soil or based on such sources. Then, we drink. The base being that wonderful and amazing liquid made up of two Hydrogen atoms and an Oxygen atom; namely water. But, drinking water is sparse. So sparse that it accounts to less than 1% of the planet's entire hydrosphere. Apart from this, we consume water for many other activities too. We inhale, we burn, and we make use of the Oxygen in the atmosphere. We produce. We produce all kinds of artificial material using elements extracted from the earth. These don't get back to their normal forms or places in a hurry. In fact, some would never in a time we could comprehend. While consuming all this, we release harmful substances back to the eco-system; often referred to as pollution.

What ungrateful masterminds we are. We suck the cream out of the earth, gulp it up, or convert it to an artificial state that would never enter a natural cycle, and pollute it! How could we expect the situation to get better with an increasing population? How could we expect 'Mother Earth' to bear all this indefinitely? Most people don't seem to be bothered, or (to put it in another way) are ignorant.

You and I, we need to understand, acknowledge, and act sooner or later. Because there's a limit to everything. Even Mother Earth has her limits. Once limits exceed, her wrath will be upon us. Mankind may opt to call it 'end of the world' not knowing that he is the one who caused it.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Towards a generation of e-Socials

Humans by default are social animals, not in the modern meaning but as a fact. This comes with their dependence on others to grow, to learn, to find food, to mate, to bear & raise offspring, and in short to LIVE. Initially I was a bit reluctant to proceed writing this article after a previous one on orthodoxy versus modernisation drew some criticism but continues to rank high in page views. If you think the same, then it accounts to another who's misread (with no pun) the whole thing. I try remaining moderate on most things I've come across in life and still am. The aforementioned article is no exception to that rule, where it stresses on the concept of 'balance'.

Continuing on this, I wish to highlight a new breed of human beings who could be termed 'e-Socials'. Simply this means people who socialise online and maintain a rather (in)different attitude offline - consider offline as the antonym of online. Personally, this inconsistent behaviour has put me off several times and I have all the reason to believe & assume that few more people find it rather irritating or confusing. My understanding has done away with the confusion part, since I now realise this to be a psychological trait, which in turn may characterise the behavioural aspect of an individual.

Interaction and implicit communication are imperative components of socialising. In today's web and networked life this has been achieved in other ways. Take for example a person in a chat room. They interact by typing, scream (by capitalising letters), show emotions via emoticons, and appear to be of a certain gender where in reality the person(s) is (are) not inclined to act as such. To elaborate, think of an individual in a grumpy state being able to express the complete opposite by typing in a smiling face (emoticon). The digital/virtual interface has facilitated the above merrily and successfully. I have met many people offline and have found them to be extremely different than they appear to be online. Some who appear very outgoing and cheerful online are surprisingly introverted and timid when encountered in normal day-to-day life. How could this happen? Is it a Multiple Personality Disorder or a distortion caused by living an extreme online life thereby ignoring to associate in REAL life? I'm not aware of any psychological analysis or study conducted on these lines but there couldn't be none either.

The arrival of social networking web sites has only assisted the above. Facebook, Google+, Hi5, Twitter, etc provide a bag of virtual substitutes for the online social being. People chat, share their thoughts, share photos, 'like' things, play games (as oppose to sports), find & make friends, entertain themselves, learn stuff and many many more by just sitting in front of a computer or by the use of a mobile gadget. Some even opt for the now rather conventional medium of email. What I think is, this is pretty alright if the whole world is connected and there's no need of offline interaction. But, (un)fortunately that's not the case. Hence, when there are two types the latest and uncommon become eccentric leading to confusion, irritation, agitation (in society) and you name it! So, we either wait for the transformation to happen imagining that this is a transitional phase and expect ourselves to be guzzled up by the tide. If there are no signs of it happening in the near future, then I say: GET A LIFE, and by that I mean a real one, not a forged one!

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Some special freshwater fishes of Sri Lanka

My interest on fish started at a very young age. Initially it was a few Guppies borrowed from a friend in school and which I kept in a huge toffee bottle. But then, to a bigger fish tank and another. Joining YZA was the climax of this. There, I was able to scientifically learn & study about all the freshwater fish species in Sri Lanka.

In this aspect too, our country is a blessed region, since we are very rich and diverse in fauna & flora. Sri Lanka is currently home to 80 odd indigenous freshwater fish species. (I'm a bit confused on the exact figure due to a few rapid changes and additions that have recently taken place in this sphere). Most people are startled to hear this fact and are also utterly unaware of the array of species our country possesses. Hence, on the positive, awareness through whichever means would benefit the conservation of our fauna & flora for generations to come. On these lines, I thought of sharing some acquired knowledge of freshwater fishes of Sri Lanka with you. And as it's difficult to provide information on each and every fish, I've chosen a few special species - although there are more - for this blog post.


1. Hora dandiya - Rasboroides atukorali - හොර දණ්ඩියා


I'll start from the two extremes. Previously known as Horadandia atukorali, this little fellow is the smallest freshwater fish in Sri Lanka growing to an average length of 2 cm or less. It belongs to the Cyprinidae family which accounts to the most number of species in the country. This fish has no lateral line and is transparent in colour with a light green hue. They often live in large schools close to the surface while feeding on planktons. It is a somewhat weak fish compared to other Cyprinids. Has been reported from the wet zone (locations such as Diyawanna Oya, Attidiya, Matugama) and Yala in the dry zone. Not an endemic species.


2. Shark catfish - Wallago attu - වලයා

A Walaya caught at Kitulgala - from Rohan Pethiyagoda's 'Freshwater fishes of Sri Lanka'


From the smallest now it's to the biggest. The Wallago is the largest freshwater fish in the country which measures to a maximum length of 5 feet, although individuals of this magnitude are very rare. Since its rarity in recent times, the Wildlife Conservation Society of Galle had once requested to report any sightings of the fish as part of a survey carried out by them. This species belongs to the Siluridae family which boasts of many large individuals.

The Shark catfish is blackish brown in colour and white underneath. It has two pairs of barbels out of which the maxillary is very long. The mouth which extends beyond the eye, suits its nature of being a voracious carnivore. Mostly active at night, its diet includes small fish, reptiles, birds and even mammals! This is a solitary creature that lives in deep pits in large rivers or tanks. It has been mainly reported from areas such as Kitulgala, Mahaweli River and tanks in the dry zone. Harmful means of fishing such as dynamiting is believed to have contributed towards the diminished numbers of this species and resulted in being extinct from some of the previously inhabited locations. It is not endemic to Sri Lanka and is also recorded from India.

Now I move onto a couple of fishes with unusual habits.


3. Archer fish - Toxotes chatareus - දුමිත්තා

     An Archerfish shoots at a target

Ever heard of a fish that spits? Well, this one certainly can. In fact, that's a way it hunts for food. And as its name implies this fish is a skilled shooter, which channels a jet of water towards a target over the surface thereby hitting the pray and causing it to fall. The younger ones are not very accurate, but they eventually develop and learn to deal with the angles concerning the refraction from air to water. This species is an average sized fish and shows a distribution from India to Northern Australia. It is found in both fresh and brackish waters and often in lagoons too.


4. Upside down sleeper - Butis butis - නිදිමතයා

     Laying upside down


Although called a 'sleeper', it's just a position that this species is sometimes found lazing around, not that they actually sleep (even its Sinhala name presents the same meaning). They are often found lying in one place on a surface. Due to this weird behaviour, it's sometimes even referred to as 'crazy fish'. This species belongs to the Eleotridae family which has another individual - Eleotris fusca - in Sri Lanka. It is carnivorous and feeds on smaller fish or crustaceans. Lives in fresh and brackish water while commonly found in lagoons, estuaries, swamps and lower reaches of freshwater streams.

The last two I've chosen are a bit unusual in appearance.


5. Freshwater garfish - Xenentodon cancila - යොන්නා


The Freshwater garfish is a 'needle fish' - because of its shape - and belongs to the Belonidae family. It grows to a maximum length of one foot although most reported are about 8 inches. Has big eyes and long jaws, and teeth of the bottom jaw protrude out while the upper ones don't. Length of its head is almost half the total body length. A dark band with a margin runs along the side of its body. They prefer to stay in one place, close to the surface in wide streams or large rivers. It's not the best-known swimmer and usually are found in packs of 7 or more. As a carnivorous individual, it feeds mostly on small fish & frogs, tadpoles or crustaceans and hunts mostly at night. The Garfish has been reported from areas such as Waga and Kithulgala while I once observed it in a tributary of the Magal Ganga at Deraniyagala. It's at times mistaken for the 'Halfbeak' known as මොරැල්ලා in Sinhala.


6. Ocellated pipefish - Microphis ocellatus - නැට්ටා


This fish belongs to the family Syngnathidae which includes Sea Horses too; the major difference being that sea horses hang about vertically (yes, they are fish. Not horses, or for that matter mammals!). These fish have a series of bony rings that encloses their body and have no scales. They feed by sucking into a tubular snout. Males have a brood pouch in which the eggs are laid, fertilized and incubated. It grows to a maximum 6 - 7 inches in length and is a VERY slow swimmer. It's also a very rare species and has been recorded only from a few locations in the wet zone. (e.g.: Avissawella, Agalawatta). Mainly occupies slow flowing habitats although may exist in fast flowing locales as well.



Friday, June 03, 2011

They know you more than you

Privacy is one of the most talked about topics of the information age. With more and more information generated it's bound to aggravate. As I see it privacy is two fold in our usage. One is the derived form (non-voluntary). The other is more straightforward where we submit our information to another party (voluntary). Many people are knowledgeable on what they submit to the World Wide Web or at least intrinsically think twice before doing so. If not, at least a bit of commonsense would do. This is of course assuming that you're really bothered about your personal information and hence privacy. But what about the other form, where someone else derives certain information on you based on various data? Additionally, you may think on the lines of a personality test. The first (and the last) time I sat for one, I scored pretty well. But a web based company could be in a better position of judging you with the amount of information gathered throughout the years. I intend of giving you some goose bumps largely based on these.

When we upload photos to Facebook, or post crazy status updates we are well aware of who could see them and the fact that Facebook stores it on their servers. Furthermore these sites have their own 'Terms of Use' & 'Privacy Policy' posted publicly although more often than not people really don't care reading them. As per internet statistics, the most popular, used and visited websites are Google, Facebook, Youtube, Yahoo, Live, etc. and are run by US based companies. This eventually creates a certain web centricity towards a certain geopolitical location as well. This blog is no exception either. Privacy when coupled with politics can be a tricky issue, where it's sometimes even referred to as intelligence. But the gravity of infiltration, harnessing and action taken upon depends on the country's laws and regulations.

Just imagine the amount of information your Gmail or Yahoo mailbox contains. From passwords & bank/credit card account information to communication with crushes, your fetishes and even porn are only a few to mention. Not excluding religious and political stuff as well. And it's not only free web mail services, but chat software such as Gtalk, Yahoo, MSN, etc might record your chat history although you may have opted to go-off the record. If you think that's all, just consider the amount of searching you'd done throughout the years using all those popular search engines. What's the assurance that these companies wouldn't store your search queries or for that matter any personally identifiable information including location data. Google even has a function that allows you to delete/manage your search history termed 'Google Web History'. So if you're still the kind of person who thinks that Google doesn't know anything about your multiple accounts, I say wakeup! that's such an insignificant thing.

Data mining technologies are the most used in deriving information or patterns from this data. In fact, our search & browsing patterns, Facebook likes, email contents and anything similar is sufficient of determining our personality and interests. This helps in creating a somewhat virtual personality of you. The integration or interconnection of social and other major web platforms have only helped it.

Then there are the types who say, "So what? I don't care what any web company or country knows about me, I feel totally OK with it". Actually I myself belong in that category. The purpose of this post was to enlighten the extra-cautious individuals who aren't very comfortable with this issue and not to drive you off the web. Who knows, someday we might just have to admit that's how it is. After all, wouldn't it be nice to see Google predict what you'd be up to this coming weekend?

Now why do I hear someone mutter "creepy…".

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Few tips on how to save your internet quota

Is your workplace one of those places where restrictions on internet browsing has been imposed? And, is there a restriction on the amount of bandwidth you consume per day or week? Then better get yourself accustomed to using it [bandwidth] thriftily and wisely. Apart from that, it could be very useful for people with limited broadband packages. This article gives a few tips that would help your cause.

Look out for:

'Heavy' sites! Websites with loads of graphics, flash animations, streaming video/audio are the ones to lookout for. Sites classified as entertainment, news, gossip, etc often fit into this category. Occasionally, web sites with pages that refresh automatically every few seconds, such as Cricinfo could consume a lot of data although not necessarily identified as 'heavy'. Richly developed/designed web sites like Facebook too transmit more information between the user and the web server although unnoticed, in order to provide the user with a better browsing experience.

When browsing:

At times, our ignorance itself could be a reason. One such example is the Google Image Search. If you search for a certain term which yields hundreds of results and scroll down to the end of the result page, this will end up loading all the images in the result. But, if you were to scroll down page by page, images below are loaded only upon scrolling. Another instance is clicking on audio/video links which are linked or hosted on an external site, although embedded in a not-so-heavy web page which you are viewing. Streaming audio & video relatively consume much more data irrelevant of where it's played; in a flash player window or a popped-up media player. People who use web based free email services – Yahoo, Gmail, etc – tend to download large attachments in their emails without further thinking. But be aware that this could gobble up your quota, as any download of this nature is done over HTTP. A cheeky little solution is given below ;)

Exemptions:

Of course, intranet web applications and your company's / organisation's website and web based email will be excluded from quota usage if hosted internally.

What you could do:

Most content on a web page is not needed especially if you're reading an article. The flashy graphics and irritating advertisements are not the kind you'd often like viewing. So, you could stop the web page loading further once the content needed has been loaded. To do this, simply hit the 'Esc' key or click on the button next to the address bar. Later if there's an image you need to see, right click on the empty image box and click 'Show Image / Show Picture'. You might find this operation to be much quicker in Firefox than Internet Explorer. Disabling the loading of images on a web page will save a heap of quota, but you could view only the textual content of a web page. To disable image loading in Firefox, go to Tools -> Options -> Content and uncheck "Load images automatically". In Internet Explorer 8, go to Tools -> Internet Options -> Advanced and uncheck "Show pictures" under "Multimedia". The paths and/or option names will slightly differ and vary depending on the browser versions.

If you're the type of person who checks the latest news and events happening around, visiting the relevant website(s) periodically might not be the best idea. Instead, you could subscribe to the relevant web site's RSS feed and manage it as a bookmark in your browser. These RSS feeds will display summarised lists of content (such as the titles of news stories) and you may view the entire article by clicking on the link to the related web page. View images below.







Bookmarks in Firefox








Feeds in IE


Remember me mentioning about rich websites consuming more data? Well, a neat but not so user friendly alternative is to use the mobile versions of such sites if available. Most of the frequently accessed websites on the net have their mobile versions. Some examples are Gmail, Yahoo, Cricinfo, Facebook & Twitter. These versions are designed for use on mobile devices and hence are very light-weight although with lesser functionality.

And the 'cheeky' solution for downloading big attachments; forward your email to your office email account if it’s hosted internally and save the attachment to your PC from there. This will cost you nothing except for the bandwidth consumed during the usage of the web mail service. Staying in the topic of web mail, in case you need to check your Gmail or Yahoo mail accounts frequently, better install the relevant toolbar. This way (given that you're logged in), you could get notified of any new mails along with the subjects.







Gmail notifications in Google toolbar


Obviously this is not everything and there are many more workarounds and practices you could adopt. While some might find this an added burden to their [internet] surfing behaviours, once got used, it will be negligible. Same as turning off the light before you go to sleep. After all it's your choice.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Who are the 'Isurumuni Lovers'?

Isurumuni LoversAccording to folklore Namalpura near Vijithapura during 455 - 473 A.D. (the reign of King Dhatusena) was ruled by a commander named Namal. This commander was executed by King Kashyapa due to his allegiance towards King Dhatusena and his elder son Mugalan. Commander Namal's only son, who was also known as Namal, was spared by Kashyapa. Young Namal's mother too passed away grieving over her husband's death. Hence, the young prince lost both his parents.


Prince Namal was a charming, talented and strong young man. His life was majorly devoted towards agriculture and religious activities.


One Vesak full moon poya day, this prince was attending religious activities at the Vijithapura monastery. Suddenly he couldn't believe his eyes with what he saw. She was the most beautiful damsel he had seen and he would ever see. He couldn't take his eyes of her, and so was she. They both grew close and talked with each other. While this conversation was going on the prince realized that the girl had heard about him and was longing to meet him. She was Chithra, a granddaughter of King Dhatusena. King Dhatusena had a brother named Kumarasena. Kumarasena had a son named Guptasena. Chithra was his daughter. She had a brother named Bandusena, who was a commander of King Kashyapa. Prince Namal knew Guptasena quite well.


Because of this friendship Prince Namal was invited the next day to Chithra's palace in the vicinity of 'Kala Wewa'. Chithra's parents gave Namal a warm welcome and their marriage was confirmed. The wedding had to be delayed since Chithra's brother Bandusena was abroad at that time. He was spying on Mugalan who escaped to India, according to the orders given by King Kashyapa. So it was decided that the wedding would be held once he returns back home.


During this time Namal and Chithra used to meet every evening and go for a walk. It was a well known fact to everyone in the area that the couple was engaged.


Meanwhile commander Bandusena returned back home from duty with a friend of his, named Mahanaga. Mahanaga was a deputy of Bandusena. Seeing Chithra, he told his friend Bandusena of his intentions of marrying her. Replying to him Bandusena said he may marry Chithra with her consent. Though this wasn't the time for Mahanaga to ask Chithra, he had high hopes that he'll be married to her.


Few days later Bandusena and Mahanaga were coming back from the palace when Mahanaga couldn't believe what he saw. It was prince Namal and princess Chithra seated on the bank of 'Kala Wewa' chatting with each other in a world of their own. Mahanaga couldn't bear it and his jealousy ended up in verbal abuse towards prince Namal. Being the calm character he is Namal wasn't intimidated. In fact he explained to Mahanaga and Bandusena about his relationship with Chithra and that he got her parents approval.


According to Bandusena's response it seemed as if he was totally unaware about the whole situation, because he was on a busy schedule since returning from India. But Mahanaga didn't want to give in, and it was decided that both of them resolute this matter with a 'Duel' (sword fight) between them. This was much to the comfort of Bandusena who didn't seem to have a solution. Though Mahanaga was in no position of denying the challenge, he insisted that someone like Namal was no match for him. Anyway according to the guidance of Bandusena, a venue and time was scheduled for the fight.


As expected the fight began amidst a huge gathering. Facing the first swing of sword from Namal, Mahanaga quickly learned that he had underestimated his opponent. It took another couple of swings for Namal to disarm Mahanaga. The third not only disarmed him but also ended his life. Namal emerged victorious!


Hearing about prince Namal's feat, King Kashyapa appointed him as a commander in chief. Prince Namal and Princess Chithra were married amidst celebrations. But their marriage wasn't to be a long lasting one.


A few months after their wedding came the rainy season. 'Kala wewa' was overflowing due to the heavy rains. And many people gathered towards the lake to watch this scenery. Among them were Namal and Chithra as well. When Chithra was approaching the left canal of 'Kala Wewa', in came a gust of wind and she was thrown in to the gushing water. Namal who jumped in to the water was able to save her life initially but the currents were too strong even for him, and they both were washed away and drowned. Their bodies were found lately and the funeral was held with state honour.


By this time, King Kashyapa had commenced renovation work at 'Isurumuniya'. It was done under the supervision of Kashyapa's elder daughter, princess Bodhi. She was also an expert architect. It is said and believed that the carving of the 'Isurumuni Lovers' was done by herself in remembrance of prince Namal and princess Chithra.


* This is a translation of an original Sinhala article published in the 'Divaina' newspaper of 04-09-2005. Its online version can be reached at: http://www.divaina.com/2005/09/04/scholast01.html