Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Outdoing Bawa

Geoffrey Bawa was undoubtedly a genius and it is only to be expected that he will have many followers. Unfortunately it seems to me that some of his ideas are becoming rather overused.

I have just seen some pictures of the former Villa Mohotti and they have left me rather uneasy. The Villa had been redone and it was perfect, needing nothing more than a little maintenance. I believe it was a ruin that was restored by Bawa himself.

However the new owners have gone and added new buildings and crammed the place with furniture, leaving it looking rather overcrowded.

None of the buildings can be described as ugly but I think it is important to retain a certain amount of empty space-both within and without a building.

The same mistake is evident in the other property recently renovated by the same owners - Tintagel on Rosmead Place. The building looks very nice from the outside, but step inside and one finds the place chock-a-block with ultra modern furniture that simply does not go with the main building. Step outside into the terrace (it used to be a lawn) and one meets another concrete jungle of paving stones and concrete tables under umbrellas with scarcely any space to move.

I have once visited Tintagel in its previous state and rather liked the lawn and the blue cement floors, both of which have now gone. I think the lawn at the back was sacrificed for part of the swimming pool, which I think was unnecessary.

Fitting in the maximum number of tables in a given space might sound sensible from a business point of view but it takes away from atmosphere of the place, which is what true boutique hotels are all about.

Presumably the new owners are awaiting a huge tourism boom and have added enough capacity to make the most of it but they may have inadvertently ended up taking their properties downmarket, rather than upmarket.

I don't see myself visiting either of the places.

Monday, December 28, 2009

Questions, questions.

The Christmas season has been surprisingly busy and despite my having done very little real work, find myself quite run down. The season had been a series of large noisy gatherings with very little meaningful conversation until I met a friend for dinner yesterday. We were discussing a few questions and I thought I would share these.

1. For those familiar with Maslow's hierarchy of needs, where does sex fit in? I thought it would not be static but vary with age. My friend suggested its relative position would be in inverse proportion to the likelihood of it occurring.

2. Women and grooming. What is it that really drives a woman to look after their general appearance (dress, accessories, makeup etc). We were rather distressed by the way in which some very good looking women were ruining there appearance by overly heavy makeup.

I thought it was driven by insecurity, which would increase with age .I knew of a classic case of a really good looking woman in her mid 30's making a hideous mess of her face. My friend, on the other hand, knew someone who made the same mistake as a young university undergraduate and he put a different perspective on it.

He suggested that women groom themselves not to impress men but to impress other women. Thus it is not a case of the peacock displaying a beautiful tail to impress the opposite sex but rather a case of establishing a position within the social hierarchy of a tribe.

I do know that men who work out are always checking out the physiques of other men in a gym and there is always a subtle level of competition that goes on with the amount of weight being lifted.

3. Why is it that a few television serials tend to be evergreen, endlessly reinventing themselves while others fade out after a few programmes? The classic is Dr Who which is still seemingly evergreen after many decades and after a succession of doctors.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Ordering books

Thanks to the internet people need not confine themselves to the selection of books available at the local shops. True, there is the added cost of shipping plus the possibility of theft but quite a few people do order books online.

There is however, a new hazard. Big Brother is Watching.

A friend of mine related an incident that happened last week to someone he knew rather well. This chap had ordered some books, perfectly harmless books, a Terry Pratchett children's book, another on diet and a few others. The books arrived and he went over to the post office to collect them.

The people at the post office opened all the parcels and started reading through the books. When asked why, they replied that they were looking to see if there was any anti-government material being brought in.

He was so taken aback that he did not have the presence of mind to inquire as to the penalty for such a crime, which would presumably, be suitably hideous.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Sunday musing

Woke up this morning almost shivering with cold. Spent a good part of the morning sneezing and sniffling, not something that would bother me much normally, but given the exotic types of influenza going around, dosed myself with piriton to stop the sneezing. It eased the problem but did not stop it. Took another late in the afternoon and followed it up with two panadols for good measure, but it seems to have helped only a little, which means something slightly more serious is creeping around my system.

So, falling back on an old remedy - eat like a pig to give the body the energy to fight back. No chocolate is available but there is a blancmange, which I'm eating as type, in between the odd sneeze or sniffle. My overall mood is thus, slightly grumpy, which may explain what follows.

Returned from the SOSL Christmas concert slightly disappointed despite a good performance by the orchestra. The issue was in the programme, not the performance. The second half of the concert was supposed to be Christmas Carols, some with audience participation. The carols that were played were all in jazz arrangements which I found unappealing.

The Grammy Award winning re-arrangement of the Handel's Hallelujah chorus was particularly distasteful. The programme note claims it to be a "gospel style reinterpretation", to me it was strongly reminiscent of the saccharine stuff that passes for music in the modern evangelical movement. Fortunately, Handel, being dead for 250 years, was in no position to object.

Shall take another does of panadols and piriton in another half hour and hope for the best, good night all and have a good week.

Sunday, December 06, 2009

Chinese aid not working?

I have been wondering why the many infrastructure projects have seemingly had so little impact on the lives of the population. Despite all the money being spent incomes and employment don't seem to have improved.

I assumed that since most of the projects were outstation the impact must have been felt in the regions. A report in today's Sunday Times offers another explanation - that there is in fact very little impact.

The problem is that most of the material and labour are imported from China. Typically infrastructure projects generate a lot of employment and use some local resources such as transport, even if the bulk of the material is imported. According to the Sunday Times even the labour is imported.

I was discussing this with another friend of mine who worked for many years in Botswana. He had seen similar things in Africa, with Chinese projects running almost entirely on imported labour, down to the cooks and cleaners. Difficulties in communicating with local labour is one reason why Chinese contractors use their own labour but it is also apparently a method by which the Chinese government creates employment for their people.

This means that all the recipient country is left with is the physical infrastructure (roads, ports or whatever else was built). Infrastructure is necessary and will deliver benefits provided it is properly planned. Bridges to nowhere, most notoriously built in Japan, and gold plated infrastructure of the type seen in Nigeria will bring little or no benefit to the population. They are however enormously profitable to the contractors and the people involved arranging the deal.

Had the projects been done on concessionary terms, the benefits would be much greater (in terms of costs against benefits) but it appears that the projects are being done on commercial terms and at many times the actual cost due to various fingers being stuck in the pie.

The criticism being leveled at 'Western NGO's' and the development agencies is that there is too little local component in the projects being offered. In the case of Chinese aid the situation appears to be even worse, especially given that the donor agencies offer loans at lower interest terms while much of the Government financed or Chinese financed infrastructure is on commercial terms.

Why not simply use the development agencies or the NGO's to finance projects instead? The problem is that these projects come with a lot of strings - read oversight, which makes it a bit more difficult to cream something off. Commercial borrowings are free of strings, but they must be repaid at commercial rates, by taxpayers.

Friday, December 04, 2009

NGO's responsible for high rate of accidents

This news item brought a smile to my face this morning.

Not only are they corrupt, ineffective and responsible for undermining the sovereignty of the country they are also causing accidents.

And here I was, blaming the speeding VIP convoys for many accidents. It is only now that we learn the truth.

I have been told that one of the causes for accidents are the lousy brakes on the Land Rovers. Land Rovers, being typical British cars, have a reputation for mechanical problems and on top of that the brakes are supposed to be pretty bad which makes for a lethal combination.

Why these vehicles are so popular is a bit of a mystery but they are reputed to be good performers-chiefly due to the light aluminium body which gives and excellent weight/power ratio. Indeed the rugged body is one of the main strengths of the vehicle.

The rest is largely due its reputation which is bolstered by the cinema. As for me, give me the Toyota Landcruiser or Nissan Patrol anyday.

Wednesday, December 02, 2009

Julie Andrews to sing again

Julie Andrews lost her voice in a botched operation in 1997 to remove some non malignant nodules from her vocal chords.

She will sing again in May, although we have been forewarned that her voice will only remain a shadow of its former self.

It is hard to imagine a more untimely blow of fate. To an average person losing their singing voice is to say the least a very unhappy experience. For someone who had such a gorgeous voice and reveled in what she did, it must have been catastrophic. The only other personal disaster that I can think of this magnitude is Jonah Lomu's kidney disease which reduced one of the most devastating players on the rugger field to a cripple.

The only consolation is that the accident happened to Julie Andrews towards the end of her career although Lomu was not so fortunate.

Go for it Julie, we are all with you.

Listen to the 12 year old Julie Andrews sing God Save the King here.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Ladies and Gentlemen

There is a saying that it takes eight generations to breed a gentleman. Money can be be found in one but manners take another seven.

To be sure this is slightly elitist, very few families, even those that are perfectly well-mannered, can trace their history that far back, but the crucial fact: that new money generally goes with poor conduct is well borne out by experience.

However there are many people who appear to be reasonably agreeable and inoffensive until one meets them in a traffic accident or marries them, at which point they turn out to be utter cads, so some means of identifying such specimens at a distance would be useful.

I am a poor driver and have had many minor accidents in the past. In order to avoid the hassle I've generally tried to settle the matter without going through the insurance companies. The end result is that I get cheated. Times without number I have paid up without question or complaint, usually many times over what the actual repair would have cost. I find it so disagreeable to deal with such people that I prefer to pay up and finish it rather than negotiate, especially when it is fairly apparent that they are out to take you to the cleaners.

The situation seems worse when the car the other person is driving has already got a number of dents or scrapes. (I would expect the opposite- if car is shiny and new I can understand them being a bit fussy). They seem to want to recover the cost of all the numerous repairs from any unfortunate who bumps into them.

So how does one really know a gentleman from a cad? Unfortunately it is only when one is involved in a dispute do the true colours show. Anyone who can conduct himself with civility, grace and dignity in a dispute carries the true hallmarks of a gentlemen.

General Robert Edward Lee is supposed to have defined a gentleman as:

"The forbearing use of power does not only form a touchstone, but the manner in which an individual enjoys certain advantages over others is a test of a true gentleman.

The power which the strong have over the weak, the employer over the employed, the educated over the unlettered, the experienced over the confiding, even the clever over the silly--the forbearing or inoffensive use of all this power or authority, or a total abstinence from it when the case admits it, will show the gentleman in a plain light

The gentleman does not needlessly and unnecessarily remind an offender of a wrong he may have committed against him. He cannot only forgive, he can forget; and he strives for that nobleness of self and mildness of character which impart sufficient strength to let the past be but the past. A true man of honor feels humbled himself when he cannot help humbling others."

In the local political sphere the treatment meted out to former friends is quite instructive.

If anyone has a short cut to assessing people let me know. In the meantime Lou Bega has this to say:

Gentleman

St Andrewstide

A Service of music and readings for St. Andrewstide presented by

The Chamber Choir affiliated to St. Andrew’s Scots Kirk
Conducted by Denham Pereira.

7pm Saturday 28th November,

St. Andrew’s Scots Kirk
73, Galle Road,
Colombo 03

Includes music by Orlando Gibbons (1583-1625), Adrian Batten (1591-1637), Tomás L de Victoria (1548-1611) and William Harris (1883-1973) amongst others.


On Monday 30th November (St. Andrew’s Day)

A Recital of
BRISTISH ORGAN MUSIC
Featuring works by Elgar, Stanford, Thalben Ball, and more

played by
Denham Pereira
Organist and Director of Music, St. Andrew’s

Entrance by
Programme
[Rs. 400.00]

7pm Monday 30th November,

St. Andrew’s Scots Kirk
73, Galle Road,
Colombo 03

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Rain, rain...

Rain, rain, go away,
come again, another day.


These are the lines that I remember from an old nursery rhyme and its the only thing that came to mind on damp, gloomy Saturday.

We have had three weeks, of this rain, some ten, twelve or even more hours of it every day. This sometimes happens during the monsoon but never, in my memory for such a long period of time. The monsoon rains tend to be predictable, starting at a particular time every day and finishing up at a certain time. They also tend to move a little, starting slightly later each day as the week wears on, meaning that daytime rain eventually turns to night-time rain when it does not bother people too much.

This rain is on in the night AND in the daytime, with only shortish breaks inbetween, leaving everything damp, cold and gloomy. It does not seem to bother people who have lived overseas, the cold and the wet may even be welcome, yet for people who have spent most of their lives in the tropics it is highly depressing.

I am beginning to wonder if we have been cursed by some god. Or perhaps is this a sign, grim warning of things to come? A reign that may never end?


ps. I'm off to try sailing some paper boats...hmmn wonder if I can remember how to make the twin funnel steamboat?

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Buns

Does anyone else share a passion for good buns? They are sometimes called plain buns, sometimes tea buns. Baked from a basic sweet bread dough, sometimes with a few sultana's thrown in, round and about the size of the palm of your hand. Eaten fresh, preferably straight from the oven they are super.

There is a bakery a little way from the office that does a baking at around 12.30pm-1pm - just the right time to nip across after lunch for my snack. Imagine my annoyance therefore when I walked across a while back to find they were out of stock. I checked all the shelves, peered into the back of the shop (where the ovens are) just in case there were a few lying around - but no. They offered me fish buns or Kimbula bunnis, I was not in the mood for fish and Kimbula's are too hard. I've always suspected that the Kimula's were made from left over dough, they are hard and tasteless, except for the sugar on top. Had to make do with some other miserable sugar coated bun that approximated the real thing but was not it.

This brings me to an interesting question posed by Steven Levitt in the opening chapters of Freakonomics 'Who decides or plan the quantity of bread to be baked every day in the city of London?' The answer - 'nobody' is so simple, almost to verge on the absurd. Ar'nt markets wonderful?

By the way, the very best buns are baked at the Majestic Bakery, opposite the MC, bloggers who fit the description of 'MC Dude' or 'MC Gal' or whatever else they call themselves, please stop over and try them out.

Once bitten..

Twice shy, or so it seems. People are now seeing bubbles everywhere.

The latest warning comes from Hong Kong Exchanges & Clearing Ltd.’s Chairman Ronald Arculli who said asset bubbles may be looming in Asia amid burgeoning stock and property prices.

Nouriel Roubini warned of a double dip (or W shaped) recession in August. Given that he was one of the few who warned of the crash before it happened, as opposed to everyone else who opined on its causes after the event, he needs to be taken seriously.

Perhaps they are right. Looking at the recent performance of Colombo's market, one wonders if they could be anything but right.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

A note to my 16 year old self

Was Tagged by Delilah, on the letter to my 16, year self, an era of my life that I recall with a shudder. Anyway here goes:


Boy, you don't know what you are in for.

Your lazy, indolent existence at the bottom of the class is about to end, for you are due a visit from your uber cool cousin from the Americas who is going to come across your report card, note the scores that resemble the Sri Lankan cricket team's unfortunate encounter with the West Indian's in the World cup (all out for 80, with only a couple of players getting into double figures) and shame you into attempting to study.

Leave off from trying to talk big about government finances until you learn a little bit about them. Not only will it earn you an unfortunate nickname, you will end up doing so much of it that you will heartily wish you had ended up in different field of study.

Shaving would be a good idea. Che Guevara beards are best left to real revolutionaries. It will improve your chances with the girls considerably and save you from having to explain the Vijaya Kumaranatunga look at checkpoints and hiding all those embarrassing family albums. The decrepit T shirts and shapeless pants had better go too, grunge is not in and its not you anyway.

Isaac Asimov is not one of the Masters of the Universe, although his attitude to knowledge is well worth emulating. There will be no finer work of fiction than The Stainless Steel Rat Saves The World (at least until the arrival of Terry Pratchett) so while you still have the time to read, explore history and the arts more extensively.

While you are about it, born rebel that you are, please attempt to prevent your upright and law abiding family from turning in your grandfather's guns to the police, as required by law, on his death. A Westley Richards is not a mere piece of sporting equipment, it is a bespoke work of art, one of a handful in the country and its disappearance is a heinous crime; exceeded only by the 'remodelling' of the wonderful dutch house that contained it. Even the four genarations bandicoots that the ceiling contained wept at that atrocity. You also need to invent a trap to catch wild boar, if that superlative curry is to be enjoyed again and attempting procure it from shady joints in Nuwara Eliya is not a good idea.

You will come to regret your lack of attention to your music classes, the gaps in your knowledge will come back to haunt you, when you eventually come to appreciate the the bloody thing. Living by your wits when you perform is more dangerous than you know.

Do not set great store by the professions and their hollow claims to knowledge. They are only means of earning a living and will not teach you to think. A Level logic will teach you more and you would have learned a great deal more if you had gone into in more depth.

Women will continue to mystify, but then don't worry, they seem to have acquired that trait before the Peloponnesian wars and have baffled mankind since.

Well thats about it, Let me tag Dee Cee and Scrumpy.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Political Wisdom

Was chatting to a friend yesterday and he said something rather interesting.

"When Premadasa was in power, we said JR was good. When Chandrika was in power we said Premadasa was good. When Mahinda is in power we say Chandrika was good."

Going on this form we may safely assume that should the leadership change at the next presidential election we will probably be saying Mahinda was good.

There is speculation that General Fonseka will contest as the common opposition candidate, should another presidential election be held. On hearing this, another friend remarked that the UNP does not seem to have learned a lesson from the last time they tried this strategy - at the Colombo Municipal Council elections.

Having messed up its nomination, the UNP came into an alliance with another small party, whose name escapes me (the election symbol was a pair of spectacles). People were asked to vote for this party instead of the UNP and vote they did. Once elected however, the party refused to cooperate with the UNP with the net result that a three wheeler driver became the mayor.

Such are the times we live in.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

A special literary evening with Fatima Bhutto on 10 November (today)

The organisers of the Galle Literary Festival, have arranged a special literary evening with Fatima Bhutto, journalist and poet (niece of Benazir Bhutto) this evening in Colombo.

Details:

Venue: The Park Street Warehouse, Colombo 2
Time : 7pm
Tickets: Rs.500/- (talk only) or Rs.3000/- (talk and dinner) available at No. 61, Ward Place, Colombo 07 (10 am - 4 pm Monday - Friday) or from Park Street Mews, 50/1 Park Street, Colombo 2 (during restaurant opening hours). For all further information call 011 2691056 or email info@galleliteraryfestival.com.

The Festival proper is from the 27th to the 31st of January 2010. This time the poya day falls conveniently on Friday the 29th so most people will be able to attend three days without taking leave, which means it will be more crowded than before, so make your hotel bookings early. Email me if you want the contact of a cheap, clean guesthouse in Unawatuna.

For those looking to take up permanent residence in Galle, have a look at the Galle Tips website.

Monday, November 09, 2009

People of Importance; Dignity and Impudence

There was a book of charcoal and pencil drawings which I discovered in my teens and which I loved.

I'm not sure what took my mind back to it, but for some reason this morning it did and after racking my brains for over an hour, the name of the book finally came to me: People of Importance. Happily someone has scanned a few images, you can check them on the link. The comments at the link point to a few other books by the same artist J.H. Dowd, which I shall endevour to track down.

Its not high art, but they are very lovely.

This train of thought brought me to another of the lesser pictures that I like: Dignity and Impudence by Landseer. The sight of the cheeky little terrier besides the bloodhound always brings a smile to my face.

Have a good week everyone.

Thursday, November 05, 2009

Calling London, calling London, come in London...

There were a couple of very interesting blogs that I used to follow, both of which I believe were written from London.

They were quiet for while but now seem to be active again-but open only to invited readers, which leaves me unfairly deprived of entertainment. Given the lack of material to read, I'm beginning to see a conspiracy here, an international one, hatched in the city that was once the capital of the world, to deprive me of my rightful share of stimulation.

Therefore I appeal to all the true, um, fans(?) of this blog to track down the rascally owners of these blogs:

The Spider

Snazzy

I shall promise to be on my best behaviour when visiting these blogs. Shall not litter them with page after page of random comments, shall not stalk the owners or inundate them with proposals of marriage and will even be nice to their pets, cats included.

Friday, October 30, 2009

Facebook - New login system Phishing Scam

Just to warn anyone who may not have realised it, this is a Phishing Scam. Some details here and here.

Monday, October 19, 2009

If you hate what you do..

Suicide may not be the answer although, sadly, twenty four employees of France Telecom have killed themselves in the last 18 months. See the report here.

One employee stabbed himself in the middle of a meeting, but survived, another jumped out of the office window, very shocking and in France of all places, a country not known for a driving work ethic.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Raj and the local market

The story of Raj Rajaratnam's arrest was all over todays newspapers. Given the dearth of news that can be reported this story has provided much gristle to the media mill. Everyone, it seems, has an opinion to air or an axe to grind.

Nevertheless it was rather amusing to see the reaction of an official of the (local) SEC: "In the general sense of things we need to probe and find out whether any of the transactions Rajaratnam was involved were questionable, said an SEC official, who declined to be named. “There haven’t been any issues in the past (over his investments) but due to the new developments it is incumbent on our part to look at these issues afresh”. (from the Sunday Times).

Anyone who has any insight into the Colombo Stock Exchange will tell you that the local market runs on a healthy dose of price manipulation with more than a dash of insider trading thrown in. I believe the problems to be so rampant that investors here would be better served if these activities were decriminalised and the SEC disbanded with the resultant savings in costs passed on the investors in the form of lower transaction costs.

A body which allows the listing of Ponzi schemes on the market does not deserve to exist and apart from the persecution of innocents such as poor old Michael Mack who was hounded to his grave I have not seen a great deal of value added to investors.

Anyway, for the adventurous, tomorrow should be a good buying day.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Raj Rajaratnam, Founder of $3 Billion Galleon Group Hedge Fund, Arrested

It seems that Raj Rajaratnam, a large investor in the SL market has been arrested for insider dealing by the FBI. See this

This may be bad news for the local market if he has to liquidate his positions here.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

9 financial signs of a cheating spouse

Saw an interesting looking article on the above topic here.

I don't think many of these are applicable to SL; for example "Income tax returns that reveal unexplained or previously unknown travel-related deductions" does not apply because there are no travel related deductions (and hardly any other deductions) that are allowed.

Credit cards are the main thing to watch for here. I was told by a bank employee that they have had several instances of trouble when verifying overseas usage on cards-the bank calls the contact number (which, unless the person has roaming, is a home number) to verify a transaction and it turns out that the spouse of the cardholder is not aware of the trip.

Credit card statements also leave a trail, as do phone bills and info on both is much sought after by jealous lovers trying to nail down an infidelity.

On maintaining a separate bank account- this I find surprising, I would expect most people to continue with their own individual bank accounts even after marriage, in addition to having a joint account. I know someone who closed everything and put all her money in a joint account and lost a packet when her husband left. Sharing is the key in marriage, but don't the individuals continue with at least a part of their former lives and their bank accounts? What is the usual practice with managing money post-marriage for couples here?

Thursday, October 08, 2009

Random Questions

1. How much does cricket contribute to SL's GDP? There are tidy sums of money from television and advertising rights to player fees to ICC grants that flow in. Support services include coaching and supply of equipment. Its a fairly small but rapidly growing industry. Does anyone care to hazard a guess as to its size or the number it employs?

2. What is driving the demand in the local FMCG sector? Companies are experiencing double-digit volume growth, what drives this? Some people guess that it is a switch from imported products (due to the high duties), some of it is probably due to increased supply to the East. Today I heard a novel explanation: soldiers pay. The government pays the army quite well now and increasing amounts are being sent home to their families in the villages and this is causing a change in consumption patterns. Does anyone have any other explanation and/or harder data?

3. Are the leasing companies the next on the list of financial institutions in trouble? The finance companies, heavily involved in the property trade, have already had their little crisis. With yards full of repossessed vehicles and a collapsing vehicle market are they now tottering?



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Sunday, October 04, 2009

What am I?

Four months

Four different choirs

Two churches of different denominations

Oh what a wandering minstrel, have I become.

A soldier of fortune, all for the price of a song.

Friday, October 02, 2009

Silly radio commercials

My mind is being assaulted by a number of very silly radio commercials:

1. The wheels of the bus go round and round (Arpico advertising some promotion)
2. 100 items lower than the lowest price (Keells claiming they have lower prices)
3. Dulux half a litre free with every four litres.
4. Airtel's long cock-and-bull story about a marriage proposal (international phone calls).

These tell me a few things:

1. Sheer desperation on the part of the companies, some gimmick, any gimmick to try and push sales. The reasoning seems to be: 'the war's over, lets tap the optimism and get the sales up'.
2. A complete lack of ideas as far the agencies responsible for the production of the ads. Reasoning on the lines of 'we need to get the ad done by xx, whats the first thing that comes to mind....'

Incidentally, all the above have to do with price. I keep telling marketing guys if cutting prices is the only way you can grow, then why do we need you???

TGIF.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Difficulties with foreign visas

Heard that some people have had difficulty obtaining visas, especially from the UK. I know the UK has been tightening up on visas since the markets crashed last year but some of the stories I have heard have been pretty bad; of students being asked to show Rs.8-9m in their own bank accounts (not their parent's accounts), of a senior businessman who has traveled extensively in Europe and the US being denied a business visa until intervention by another business associate.

Does anyone have any stories to share? My purpose is to understand the difficulties early before wasting money on visa application fees.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

I can see clearly now....

The frames of my spectacles have needed replacement for some time, but I had not got around to doing it. I'd been thinking about it for more than six months, when finally catching a free long weekend, decided to go and check a frame out last Saturday.

My eye's are pretty bad and the trouble is that when I take my glasses off to try a new frame on, I can't see what it looks like in the mirror until my nose is almost jammed against the glass, which is why I always end up choosing some horrible frame so this time I took a friend along, to help me decide.

As a matter of routine, I got my eyes checked (on the little machine) as well and the guy in the shop said my eyesight had improved a lot. He double checked by getting me to read the letters off a card placed at a distance (the old fashioned way of testing eyesight) and it still showed a big improvement. He wanted me to get my blood sugar checked and I decided to go to a proper eye surgeon as well.

To cut the long story short, my eyes have improved by about 50% and when I put on my new glasses it was amazing. I could see so much detail, traffic lights, number plates, the speedometer on the dashboard even the gravel on the road - everything was pin-sharp. I could see faces the small photographs hanging on the wall without peering at it.

My eyesight has probably been changing for about a year at least, I don't know how I managed to get by thus far. I cursing and wondering if by wearing my high powered lenses I actually weakened the eye further.

The optometrist was amazed that I did not seem to have noticed much discomfort; there were the odd difficulties but I thought it was overwork, stress, etc.

Anyway, I shall be testing my eyes more regularly and with any luck can move to lower powered glasses in another year.



ps. My eye's used to be -6 and -5.5; now they are -3 and -3.5.

Monday, September 07, 2009

Iran to import petrol from Venezuela

Iran has just entered into an agreement to import petrol from, Venezuela.

This may surprise a few people but Iran's decrepit oil industry lacks refining capacity so they export crude oil and import refined fuel. Hang on a minute, is'nt Iran the country that is helping us to build a brand new refinery in Colombo??? Lets hope we don't end up with a another Mihin Air.

Anyway, Iran exports crude and imports refined oil, but why go halfway across the world to import petrol when there is plenty of it nearby? Presumably its a super deal, which probably means that the poor Venezuelan is about to subsidise Iran's oil bill, just so that it boosts their leader's ego and sphere of influence? Or perhaps its case of the two countries concerned being rather short of friends, which has driven them to each others arms? Hang, on, hang, these are our friends, right?

Sunday, August 02, 2009

The dead music of living composers

Just returned from the SOSL Young Performers concert and the opening piece, something by a local girl aged 22, set off a train of thought. It was quite a pleasant little overture but nothing particularly memorable about it.

This is the fundamental issue that I have with modern Classical (or 'Serious') music: the lack of melody. Melody was abandoned as being unnecessary somewhere in the early twentieth century and was replaced by the modern "musical idea" which is (s far as I can tell) a random collection of notes. It is quite possible to construct symphonies, sonatas and even operas on the basis of these musical ideas and this is precisely what the successors to the classical tradition went on to do. Not surprisingly, the resultant 'music' is quite incomprehensible to the average listener. It is not listened to, although endured occasionally in concerts while waiting for other, more approachable pieces to be played.

We are now almost at the close of the opening decade of the twenty-first century and looking back to the last century, can we name the great composers of the previous century? A handful of names comes to mind : Prokofiev, Britten, Strauss, Rachmaninov and others of their age, almost none from the second half of the century.

What of Glass, Stockhausen, Antheil, McCabe or Lloyd? Most would hardly have heard of them, and those that do, would probably recall any encounter with their music with a shudder.

The criticism of the lack of melody is not new, Thomas Beecham regularly railed against it, famously noting that if an opera cannot be played by an organ grinder, it's not going to achieve immortality. He also suggested that composers should write tunes that chauffeurs and errand boys can whistle.

The musical establishment chose to ignore the advice and pursue its sterile experiments in music minus melody with the result that modern music has lost its audience completely. It survives as an academic exercise, with learned professors, fellow composers and other musicians weighing in on its merits and demerits while the public continues to clamour for the music of the Old Masters; the still-living music of long dead composers while conspicuously ignoring the dead music of their living peers.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

20/20 cricket

I have not watched a cricket match in ages but was forced to watch the final of the 20/20 cricket tournament last Sunday.

It made a pretty poor impression on me. For a start, the game is too short for any real buildup of excitement. A 45 or 50 over game is of decent enough size to allow for a certain amount of strategy. The original world cup matches were of 60 overs duration, which in my opinion were perfect for a championship tournament. Twenty overs is just too little. I have seen more excitement in 6 a side cricket than in the 20/20 matches, indeed six overs a side is a decent size (the Hong Kong sixes is packed with excitement)for a quick match; 20 over falls between two stools and is pretty lame.

Second, I did not see one single stroke of grace or beauty in the whole match (I started watching in the 12th or 13th over so not sure if anything decent was played before this). In fact the stroke making was positively ugly, a standard not even seen in beach cricket.

I have liked watching bits of the IPL because they have nice cheerleaders but this tournament lacked even this.

The Sri Lankan cricket team may not have performed very well but they must have earned a decent fee; the team must rank as one of the top performing export industries these days.

On a different note, I wonder how long the IPL will last. Vast sums of money have been expended on the tournament and much of it lost to the sponsors (owners), the only chance a sponsor has of recouping the loss is if the team wins, which means a majority of the sponsors will lose their money.

I think a sponsors will continue to back an expensive sports event as long as it has the requisite glamour and prestige, with the ICC trying to cash in on the craze with an annual 'world cup' (the normal cricket world cup takes place once in four years) I wonder if the attraction of the 20/20 will be diluted, thus killing it off.

Luxury must be sold on the basis of rarity, age and, if possible arcane or exotic rules. There is only one Wimbledon and one Ascot.

Mind game

A really big made guy in a gym once said something to me : lifting weights is a mind game. I never quite understood what he meant until now.

After a lousy routine about three weeks ago went on a light but focused routine two weeks back and concentrated on 'thinking' the weights up.

Last week it paid off 185 x 6 x 3 on the bench, with no support. Not a record by any means, but by my own abysmal standards, not bad. Yesterday, on a different schedule did 175x5x3 with relative ease.

The only issue is I need to keep my mind clear and not get engrossed in conversations or think of anything else. It takes a bit of effort to constantly keep in focus, I think it probably comes naturally to sportsmen after years of practice.

Something else my trainer said made me think: he said the concentration and the focus that one needs to put into competitive sport will increase the capacity to handle stress. That seems to be happening to me, has anyone else experienced this?

Tuesday, June 09, 2009

I've got a little list

The search is on for the list and it reminded me of these lines:

As some day it may happen that a victim must be found,
I've got a little list — I've got a little list
Of society offenders who might well be underground,
And who never would be missed — who never would be missed!

And apologetic statesmen of a compromising kind,
Such as — What d'ye call him — Thing'em-bob, and likewise — Never-mind,
And 'St— 'st— 'st— and What's-his-name, and also You-know-who —
The task of filling up the blanks I'd rather leave to you.
But it really doesn't matter whom you put upon the list,
For they'd none of 'em be missed — they'd none of 'em be missed!

Chorus.
You may put 'em on the list — you may put 'em on the list;
And they'll none of 'em be missed — they'll none of 'em be missed!

Listen to the song here.

It is rather funny.

Saturday, June 06, 2009

Beautifil lips












These pictures are sure worth more than a thousand words each, right?

Who needs Hollywood when we have Bollywood? I find the Bollywood films far better anyway. Hollywood has been reduced to imitating video games whose characters and plots (?) they frequently use.

Friday, June 05, 2009

Kama Sutra

Apparently, Maharishi Vatsyayan has stated in his magnum opus "Kamasutra" that ....Sex is:


"Duty", if done with your Wife;

"Art", if done with your Lover;

"Education", if done with a Virgin;

"Business Transaction", if done with a Prostitute;

"Social Work", if done with a Divorcee;

"Charity", if done with a Widow, and;

"Sacrifice", if done with your own Hand.

Thursday, June 04, 2009

Thoughts on Iraq

One of the main reasons George W Bush invaded Iraq was to destroy Saddam Hussein's collection of Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD). I don't know whether the term was precisely defined but they include chemical, biological, nuclear weapons and the like.

It was all a big mistake and one that could have been easily avoided had GWB listened closely to one of his core support groups: the National Rifle Association(NRA).

Gun crime is a serious problem in America and the NRA has succeeded in blocking legislation to control guns on the argument that "guns don't kill, people do".

All Saddam had to do was contact the NRA and whisper listen, WMD don't kill, people do...

Wednesday, June 03, 2009

Jester goes to town in Tonga

Now a Court Jester (like myself) needs a Court to perform. There are not many monarchies around but it seems that one of my fellow traveler's found employment in the court of Tonga.

Tonga is a Pacific Island archipelago, which is just the sort of place where crazy things are bound to happen and where I would dearly love to retire. Sunshine, beaches, beautiful women and a happy-go-lucky island culture.

To return to the story, the King of Tonga hired a jester. The jester claimed to be the only one in full time employment jestering (or gesturing or is it gesticulating?) or whatever that jester's do.

The king then puts the jester in charge of a $26m trust fund. Good grief!

Kings are nutty, but why on earth does one hire a jester and put him in charge of a trust fund. Turns out the jester was a retired banker (?? bloody hell this was before the credit crunch. Now I guess it would not be so surprising, but tells you what sort of people bankers really are). I've always had a bit of a low opinion of bankers, to tell you the truth.

The jester's name was Bogdonoff, which is the most suspicious sounding name that I have come across, sounds a hell of a lot like Madoff. Investments were made through the jester's company company Wellness Technologies (!).

Anyway, the King accused the jester of mismanaging the trust, investing unwisely and taking inflated commissions. He also cheated King Taufa'ahau Tupou IV and his government out of the money the country made from selling citizenship to Hong Kong Chinese people ahead of the 1997 handover of the former British colony to Chinese rule.

Its gets even funnier. Some $20m of the fund's money allegedly evaporated after Mr Bogdonoff invested it in life assurance for the terminally ill.

Who in the name of hell sells life insurance to the terminally ill? Why do the insurance companies make you take a battery of tests before selling life insurance? Because they want you to LIVE, not die. They never make money if you die early and will never sell you a policy if you are likely to die soon. The deal with life insurance is that they pay your family money if you die accidentally, otherwise the insurance companies will be broke.

Anyway it all ended happily with the jester settling out of courts for $1m. Presumably he retired rich and happy.

Hmm.. Wonder when the next plane leaves for Tonga?

Full story here.

Tuesday, June 02, 2009

The end of South Africa

I have been watching, with growing apprehension the events of South Africa. The election of Jacob Zuma, who had charges of fraud and corruption dropped marked the turning point. Mbeki was bad but this man is far worse. Without strong commitment to its institutions, democracy in South Africa will surely wither. This has been the fate of most newly independent nations with very few exceptions. In Africa I can only think of Botswana and South Africa.

The protest against the Leader of the Opposition Helen Zille, by ANC War Veterans is eerily reminiscent of the activities of the War Veteran's in Zimbabwe. Accusing her of "anti-African behaviour" goes against the spirit of democracy and demonising the opposition is the first step on the long march to autocracy.

Friday, May 29, 2009

Bummer.. Tagged

Was tagged by Delilah and by Santhoshini.

What does one say in five words about a war?

The most significant feature of this war of late, has been its distance: news is limited , there may be many columns of text in the newspapers and hours of reporting on television, but despite all of this, very little information. Nobody dies, nobody is hurt and nothing is damaged. I watch no television and my mind blanks out when trying to read the newspapers so this has been for me a rather surreal war. This leads to Berkeley's question : does something exist if it is not perceived? or in his words “To Be is to be Perceived” (“Esse est Percipi”).

The question is neatly summarised in Knox's limerick:

There was a young man who said "God
Must find it exceedingly odd

To think that the tree
Should continue to be

When there's no one about in the quad."

To which, was written an anonymous reply:

Dear Sir,
Your astonishment's odd;
I am always about in the quad.
And that's why this tree
Will continue to be,
Since observed by

Yours faithfully,
God.

So how does one feel about the ending of a war that, philosophically speaking, does not exist?

Initially:

Confusion

Secondly:

Relief

that it ended

Thirdly :

Fear

for the unknown; what happens next?

Fourth

Pity

for those who suffered

Fifth

Hope

for a better tomorrow.

Edit:
Oops forgot to tag someone in return.
I hereby tag someone who will really and truly appreciate the tag; PadaShow ha ha ha

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

What is democracy?

I have sometimes wondered as to whether a democracy can actually work, especially in a developing country, but perhaps I should have first posed the question: What is democracy?

It is system of government, as opposed to government by individuals. It also government of the people, by the people themselves.

What does this mean?

It is best illustrated with a simple analogy. I work in finance and have encountered fraud many a time, so much so that my personal philosophy is 'never trust an individual, you can only trust a system'. This is the heart of democracy: the system. Individuals do not, indeed should not matter.

The reliance on the system is result on many centuries of struggle against the tyranny of individual rulers. Why place our faith in fickle, fallible people when we can put our faith in a system? A system of laws.

So what exactly is the system?

The foundation of a democracy is the constitution. This sets out the basic rights that every individual enjoys. This is designed to protect its citizens from abuse. A government is not supposed to go against the constitution.

Democracy is also about self government - the people choose their representatives in free elections held at regular intervals (the rulers, however good or bad are ejected periodically as a check on power). Thus power flows upwards, from the people to the government and the government must be answerable to the people.

The third broad principle on which democracy is based is that power is always limited, no one enjoys unlimited power.

Power is limited in various ways but principally because it is divided or separated, between parliament, the judiciary and the executive.

The executive is the government; the Head of state and the cabinet of ministers. It is they who will set government policy. However the executive is answerable to parliament. Parliament is supposed to act as a check on the executive, to question, which is why some of the losing sides in an election are allowed in parliament. The opposition must lead the questioning of the executive, but properly speaking even ruling party MP's must raise questions in accordance with their conscience. Further, a government must pass laws in order to rule and these laws must be debated and approved by parliament before they are enacted.

In the event some people think the laws or policies of the Government violate the constitution then the citizen has the right to take his complaint to the courts who will rule on the matter.

This is the bare bones of how a democracy works, there is a lot more but this should suffice as an introduction.

Democracy is also about government by the people. Citizens are not supposed to be idle bystanders they are supposed to actually participate in affairs.

The people are free to criticise their elected leaders and representatives, and to observe how they conduct the business of government. In turn elected representatives at the national and local levels should listen to the people and respond to their needs and suggestions.

It follows that individuals must have the right to their own beliefs, and to say and write what they think. No one can tell an individual what to think, believe, and say or not say.

For individuals to be informed and to express their views they depend on mass media. No media can be completely free of bias so there must be free competition for news and information to allow many different viewpoints to emerge. When individuals express their opinions, they should also listen to the views of other people, even people they disagree with. Everyone has a right to be heard.

Government by the people works in part through the media. News in carried in the media and people respond, by writing to the media, by writing to the ministers or authorities concerned, by being interviewed and complaining on the media to convey their issues to others who may be interested.

People should question the decisions of the government, but not reject the government’s authority. No one should denounce a political opponent as evil and illegitimate, just because they have different views.

Democracy is cumbersome, complicated, and irksome for rulers who often find themselves facing a barrage of criticism, sometimes entirely unwarranted, but it probably serves the people better than any other.



Acknowledgment: Some of the material in this post is drawn from here. It is a succinct but comprehensive introduction to the subject, read it for further enlightenment.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Any bets on Dialog results?

Would anyone care to make a prediction as to what Dialog's bottom line is likely to be for Q1?

I'm expecting a loss of Rs.4,000-4,500 million. They lost Rs.3,900m in the quarter to December and observing things from a distance no significant changes are apparent in the business, apart from the fairly small VRS which will have an impact from Q2 onwards.

The loss in revenue should be greater in Q1 because they will not have the one-off sign on fee that customers paid to register for the Blaster package. I customers were charged Rs.500 each to sign-on and assuming a million signed up, Dialog could have booked in Rs.500m in revenue, depending on how it was accounted for. I suspect a far higher number signed on and if they accounted all the fees as revenue then this will not appear in Q1.

A company that manages to lose such large sums of money has something fundamentally wrong with it: it needs to re-look at its business model from scratch; incremental changes will not help.

Anyone who is expecting volume growth to compensate for tariff cuts must remember that this tied to the economy: the spending power of retail consumers (which is being eroded by inflation, salary cuts, job losses and the like) as well as the general level of business activity, which is what drives business usage. In any case it is the height of optimism to expect a 60% tariff cut to translate to a 60%+ usage increase (I'm just looking at the Dialog to Dialog charge which was Rs.5 in Jan 2008 and is now Rs.2). Nor are tariff cuts likely to increase penetration significantly given that it is already at a fairly high level.


Update: Dialog announces a first quarter loss of Rs.1,800m today.

The results are far better than I expected. Am trying to get my hands on the numbers analyse them further to see where the improvement came from.

Update 2:

Had a quick look at the accounts and I'm baffled. Gross margins are down by around half, operating profits are down by a similar amount but cash generated is up significantly, from 893m in 2008 to 3,617m in 2009. Even odder, cash generated from operations exceeds gross margins (in comparison, last years cash generated was around 18.7% of gross margin). EBITDA, which should be pretty close to the cash generated figure is only 1.33bn so how cash generation was double that is a mystery.

The company succeeded in raising 16bn of debt in the quarter which should keep them going for a while, although it is not known on what terms the debt was raised.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Modern day dilemmas

Why are Malu-Pang's always triangular shaped?

Who started this tradition, and why? Was it always so?

Is there some precedent for odd-shaped buns in any other country, or is this unique?


In the modern age of cell phones the public telephone box is fast disappearing. This poses a number of problems: where does Clark Kent change into his Superman costume? And where can Dr Who land the TARDIS without the danger of it being promptly stolen by seekers of curios or antiques? Perhaps Dr Who and Superman will need to collaborate in the future, with Superman phoning Dr Who (on his Blackberry) to get him to bring the TARDIS where ever needed.

For Captain Kirk and the crew, the hand-held communicator has become a reality in the form of the cellphone, its the intergalactic roaming charges that are killer.

How on earth (really!) did a tale involving wizards and magic get into mainstream adult cinema? Pratchett did it first (and a lot better, in my opinion, I've yet to finish a Harry Potter book) but this was within the restricted genre of Fantasy. I thought magic was left behind with the Magic Faraway Tree, The Wishing Chair and similar tales by the age of ten, Disney cartoons (upto and including Beauty and the Beast) being the sole exceptions? Disney lost its way after that, save a couple of exceptions the Pixar collaborated Incredible's being the best.

Sri Lanka seems to have a host of heavy metal bands, at least judging by the pictures in the Sunday newspapers of late. They all attempt to look nasty being the approved image for such bands, long hair, unshaven, T shirts with ominous slogans but end up looking like schoolboys (which most of them are) dressing up to attend a fancy dress ball.

Perhaps some serious work on the music (having attended many a TNL Onstage programme - I had friends who were competing) would obviate the need for the 'image'? Why not let the music do the talking? The problem in this case is that no one understands the importance of form in music. Form is to music, what grammar is to language- a frame on which to string ones ideas. Breaking the rules is possible (and the riles of music are far more flexible than that of language) as long as the whole thing makes sense. Listen to Sri Lankan original music and one is left unsatisfied because while there may a tune or two, a theme or two, the authors have only the vaguest idea of how they need to be strung together. Look up song form on google and this will generally give you the idea. Music is ordered sound and 'Western' music is ordered on a number of dimensions: the scale, the time (rhythm) and then form

Therefore to write music some understanding of the underlying principles is necessary, skill as a performer is not immediately transferable to composition.

Thats all, folks, its Saturday night and I;m off to look for my fix.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Work

I have come to the conclusion that work is alien to Man. If one thinks about modern society work is what defines one. Meet a stranger and what is the question that comes up fairly early in the conversation: where do you work? what do you do? And god help you if you happen to be a housewife.

Going back a bit further into history, the caste system is based on occupations, farmer, fisher, warrior and the like. So what is this thing and why is it so important?

I would define work as being, in its essence, gratification postponed and thus similar to the economic principle of saving.

In the animal kingdom almost all activity willingly undertaken is either always pleasurable or results in pleasure. If one thinks of primitive man in a hunter-gatherer existence, life would have revolved around the search for food and other necessities of life. Some effort would need to be expended on this activity but the objective is simple and the reward reaped within a fairly short period of time

The shortcoming with this simple life is the uncertainty in obtaining food, which lead to the development of agriculture and animal husbandry and unwittingly set Man on the rocky road to serfdom. With agriculture the fairly short time span between effort and reward lengthened; from hours to weeks and months; thus was work born.

Farming is a fairly simple example of work; the objectives are fairly straightforward and the relationship between effort and reward, though distant is fairly visible: in the blooming orchards or fattening calves.

With the dawn of the industrial age, this link was weakened further and disappears completely for a vast majority of people trapped in mindless offices or factories, despite the best efforts of Human Resources departments to introduce performance related reward and numerous other distractions from the drudgery of work.

The need for holidays, as an escape from the misery of work, eventually became necessary. This started simply enough with the eight hour day and the five day week. In agriculture work is determined by the seasons and the weather. Man works according to the rhythms of the seasons which has its own breaks. No such breaks exist in the world of factories and initially workers were expected to work till they dropped.

After much conflict, the birth of the trades union movement and a revolution or two later, we had the five day week. Would a weekend have any meaning if the week were not crammed with work? And what does one call someone who has been fortunate to emancipate himself from this drudgery? a Gentleman of Leisure, later shortened to Gentleman meaning one who does not work for a living.

Thus work is an entirely artificial construct, something that Man has created, something that we do in order to exist. Work has been with us since the dawn of civilisation perhaps 7000-8000 years ago. It is yet to evolve as a natural instinct in an animal that has been in this modern form for perhaps 6 million years and evolving for around 40 million years before that.

This of course has nothing to do with my slothful attitude towards the dashed thing or my constant attempts to avoid as much of it as possible. I'm just trying to get in touch with my inner animal.

Burning out

I seem to have run out of things to say. The local blogosphere seems to have erupted in a series of catfights (another one seems to be starting today) which is bad enough, work pressure is terrible, with profits evaporating the people in charge of the till are not popular and of course the raging controversies that fill the pages of the newspapers.

I attended a fairly decent concert by the Chamber Music Society yesterday which seems to have restored my spirits a bit. The playing was decent, although the overall sound seemed a bit heavy on the bass for some reason.

I was also in Galle over the holidays and although it was pretty wet, managed to catch up with a friend who moved there. Said he hated the traffic, the roadblocks, the noise and the pollution in Colombo.

I don't usually complain a lot but this whine seems to have stimulated my grey cells a bit, just had an idea for a proper post, must please my fans, no?

Eating ones own words

I find that I have been seduced by the discipline economics and perhaps the dismal science may be blamed for my perennially gloomy outlook on affairs. Some say it is better to be the optimist who sets out hoping the sun will shine rather than the pessimist who always takes an umbrella about on the basis that it will rain; someday. I probably fall into the latter category.

When I started this blog it was mostly to pin down my opinion on events, mostly for my own entertainment, and to reflect on these from time to time.

I have long held the view that the war could not be won militarily. My argument rested on a couple of principles; that the government would run out of money half way and that even if significant advances were made, the Tigers would scatter into a guerrilla force, which would again stretch resources to breaking point. When the Government's money eventually ran out they would return.

The battle is now all but over and the Government has emerged triumphant so my thesis is proved wrong.

I underestimated the determination of the Government. I thought MR was an incompetent duffer, the steely resolve with which he, the Defence Secretary and the Army Chief prosecuted it was something that I had had not reckoned with. As a friend said some months back, in Gotabhaya, Prabakaran met his match.

The economy, although battered proved to be more resilient than expected and even with the impact of the global crunch, the real collapse is starting only now, so we managed to squeak through. The bill will eventually need to be paid and the price will be heavy but as far as this battle is concerned it had no effect. There is also the minor matter of the social and political price, which appears trivial to the public, such things always do, until the bill is presented.

Thursday, April 30, 2009

Getting your vehicle through the Emission Test

A gentleman takes a certain amount of pride in his motor. It goes without saying that the said motor, like the gentleman himself, should be in perfect working order. Imagine therefore my horror, when my jeep failed the test. Thus began a saga that cost me in excess of 50,000 rupees, a great deal of time and enormous heartburn. Here are some tips for the unwary. The information below applies to diesel vehicles.

The test

The test being performed here is known as the is the Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE) J1667 Snap Acceleration Test. The link has more details but the basic test is to sharply accelerate to 'maximum operating revs'. The maximum is not precisely defined but is around 3000-3500 for diesels.

The test is conducted without load, so A/c, lights and all accessories should be off.

The test measures the opacity of the smoke, which is indicated by the k factor. The higher the k factor the greater the opacity of the smoke and thus pollutants.

The test is conducted (for diesels) by:

1. Inserting one probe through the dipstick (to measure oil temperature)

2. Placing a probe on the engine that derives the RPM from the engine vibration. This is a derived reading so it is important that this is placed properly so that the reading corresponds to the RPM counter in the vehicle. If you don't have an RPM counter read the manual or search the web to find out the normal idle speed on your engine. Usually engines idle at around 750-800 for diesel engines and slightly lower for petrol engines.

3. A third probe is placed in the exhaust. This is a light probe that measures the opacity (k factor). A beam of light is passed between two points on the probe and the strength of the light beam measured to identify the k factor. If you have fancy curved or twisted exhaust pipe it could cause problems. If you are in doubt, I found the full SAE J1667 test procedure (about 43 pages) on the web. This details the proper placement of the probe for unusual shaped exhausts.

The standard (or pass mark)

This is the standard according to the Government Gazette. However the dates are wrong. Since this is the first year of testing, the applicable k factor for diesels is 8.

The pass mark of 8 is pretty low: your vehicle has to be a real belcher to miss this target. The problem is that the test is performed thrice and the variance in the k factors between tests should not exceed 1.

To my mind high variance between tests should indicate an invalid test, but the system simply fails the vehicle, which is why it is important to ensure that the test is conducted properly.

If your vehicle fails the test examine the report carefully. Look for the average k factor. If it is below 8, then there will be the word "Pass" in small letters next to the average, although the overall result is "Fail". If this is the case, then your engine is generally ok, what you probably need to do is follow the test tips carefully.

Tips for success


The 4x4 Club has published some useful tips here. It is important to note that :

1. Engine should be warm, give it a good run before the test.
2. Stamp on the accelerator at least thrice, taking the RPM upto 3000-3500 and holding for a few seconds. This clears a lot of old soot and other pollutants trapped in the system.
3. Ensure that the probe monitoring the rpm is giving the correct reading. Once the probes are placed they should not be shifted around in between the the three tests. This could cause unusual variances between the tests thus resulting in a fail.
3. Make sure that all a/c, lights and all accessories are off.

If your vehicle does fail, try a new air filter or a change of fuel (to super diesel), these may cure marginal failures.

I did not realise any of the above when I took the jeep in for the test. It was failed with an average k factor of 1.17. It was failed on the variance. Had I known that the standard was 8 I would not have gone to too much trouble. Instead I foolishly listened to the staff.

I was asked to clean the air filter and to pressure the injectors and I foolishly went to to the garage and asked them to do this plus service the injector pump, all of which were entirely unnecessary. A good warm up and a few stamps on the accelerator to clear accumulated soot would have done fine.

Two overhauls of the injector pump, two rounds of pressuring the injectors, a change of the three main belts, replacing the main pulley (which got messed up probably attending to the other repairs) not to mention 50k poorer, I advise you guys its no big deal to pass, just make sure the test is conducted properly.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Frangipani : a dance performance by nATANDA.

A dance group that I have not previously heard of, nATANDA is having a performance today at the Lionel Wendt theatre.

Went for yesterdays poorly attended show and it was rather impressive, worth going if you have the time this evening.

There is a write up here.

Details of show:

Date and time : April 23 at 7:30pm
Place: Lionel Wendt Theatre

Facebook link

Friday, April 17, 2009

Abolishing the Provincial Councils

Yet another Provincial Council election is underway, the streets are littered with election propaganda and I think its time to ask ourselves: what purpose do these councils serve?

They were brought about by the 13th amendment to the constitution in 1987 as part of the Indian imposed peace agreement. The idea was to devolve power to the provinces as a permanent solution to the war.

It has patently failed to achieve it prime objective, so is there any purpose in continuing with this futile exercise? Why it failed is a question that can be looked at separately, perhaps there was no real devolution, perhaps that was not the solution needed, maybe there were other reasons, but failed it has, which means we must return to the question: why persist with the exercise?

What does the Provincial Council DO? I'm not very sure to be honest. Will someone please enlighten me? To the best of my knowledge they perform some of the functions previously carried out by the Municipal Councils. Have services improved to the population in the provinces? Certainly not.

What purpose does the PC serve? Its a money making machine for the politicians. I had a friend who had a friend who was contesting for a certain PC. He had told my friend that the target for a PC Chairman was to earn Rs.30m over a five year period. This was earned by granting building permits, water and electricity connections and other types of permits and supplemented by commissions from any other projects undertaken.

This discussion took place a couple of years ago so by now the target has probably increased. Its not a bad life for a small time politician and its time we stop paying for someone else's lifestyle, in return for zero benefits.

The Indian imposed peace of 1987 is viewed with abhorrence by the present regime, lets capitalise on this and get that blasted 13th amendment repealed.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Money, money money.

Was stopped late last night at a checkpoint in Colombo. I was returning from a short trip out of Colombo, the policeman on duty seemed to be looking for inebriated new year revelers, at least judging buy the way he was trying to sniff my breath. He asked me my name, where I was from and what I did for a living.

Then he dropped a hint, asking if I had anything to offer them for the new year. I said no, wondering where this was leading. I was bit flummoxed when he then asked me "the bonna support ekak thenda puluwan tha?" meaning, could you give me some money to have a cup of tea. I gave him a hundred rupees and he asked me if I was giving it freely and I replied that I was and he smiled and waved me on.

I have been joking to friends saying that the number of checks for dunk driving seem to be inversely related to the state of the economy. The worse it gets, the more check are conducted, with the implication that the policemen need a few more bribes to tide them over the high cost of living.

The fellows at the checkpoint must have had a poor haul that night to have to descend to begging.

I was chatting to a friend a couple of days before. This guy lectures to O level students at a tutory on a part-time basis. This is a really cheap place that charges students a thousand rupees a month and hold large group classes. The school used to have an roll of 6000 students, it is now down to 4000. I asked him why enrollment was down, he said it was a combination of economics and the security situation.

Some parents, it seems, can no longer afford to spend a thousand rupees a month on education. Although it sounds very little to me, it must represent something quite large to some people, especially since education is highly esteemed in local society and is probably the amongst the last things to be cut from family budgets.

The school also used to have students from the outskirts of Colombo; Negombo, Wattala and surrounding areas who would come to Colombo on Friday or Saturday morning, stay with friends, relatives or in a boarding house for the weekend, attend classes and return on Sunday or Monday. Many of these students were Muslims or Tamils and with the increased number of raids on lodging houses and the need to register temporary visitors it appears to have become too much hassle to come to Colombo anymore.

These two little examples underline the importance of the value of money. The vast majority of people live on a fixed monthly salary or a fixed daily wage. Salaries are generally revised once year or if they are lucky twice a year. If the value of money drops and the basket of goods that a given amount of money can buy shrinks, the result is an increase in poverty. The decline in the value of money is called inflation. The concept seems abstract and unworldly but the impact is real and affects everybody. Failure to manage inflation amount amounts to theft by the government.

Nobody understood this better than the prophet of Bloomsbury. To quote his remarks on the subject:

“Lenin is said to have declared that the best way to destroy the Capitalist System was to debauch the currency. By a continuing process of inflation, governments can confiscate, secretly and unobserved, an important part of the wealth of their citizens. By this method they not only confiscate, but they confiscate arbitrarily; and, while the process impoverishes many, it actually enriches some. The sight of this arbitrary rearrangement of riches strikes not only at security, but at confidence in the equity of the existing distribution of wealth. Those to whom the system brings windfalls, beyond their deserts and even beyond their expectations or desires, become ‘profiteers,’ who are the object of the hatred of the bourgeoisie, whom the inflationism has impoverished, not less than of the proletariat. As the inflation proceeds and the real value of the currency fluctuates wildly from month to month, all permanent relations between debtors and creditors, which form the ultimate foundation of capitalism, become so utterly disordered as to be almost meaningless; and the process of wealth-getting degenerates into a gamble and a lottery.”

Lenin was certainly right. There is no subtler, no surer means of overturning the existing basis of society than to debauch the currency. The process engages all the hidden forces of economic law on the side of destruction, and does it in a manner which not one man in a million is able to diagnose.”

J.M. Keynes, The Economic Consequences of the Peace (p. 235-6)

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Ask Lucy

The local newspapers are quite dreary. The local blogosphere is also rather dry these days, so what does a frustrated fellow do to enliven a bad day at the office? Look to one of the few quality newspapers still around.

Ok this is not really news but the advice given by Lucy is superb.

In love with a senior at work


My bonus is being paid for by taxpayers, do I give it back?


*Sigh*

How long do we have to wait before the local blogosphere returns to quality debate?

Friday, March 20, 2009

Música de España

Stumbled across some nice music, quite by accident.

There is a Spanish band called Los Manolos that plays some nice music including cover versions of some well known songs. Unlike other cover bands they do not simply play the music straight but instead infuse it with all the rhythms of Spain and the result is quite exhilerating.

Amigos para siempre is rather bad song by Andrew Lloyd Webber but in the hands of Los Manolos it is elevated to this.

Maybe its just the rhythms that are getting to me but when they turn their hands to the Beatles classic All My Loving it just blows me away. It is also rather amusing to hear the song sung with a Spanish accent.

This is something else by the same group, rather different in spirit but still nice.

Since I was on the subject of Spanish music, Volare is another classic by the Gypsy Kings. Have heard the song before but never listened to it properly before or knew who sang it. Seeing it being performed is an eye-opener.

Israel's democratic credentials

I tend to disagree with many of the positions taken by Israel. I also tend to sympathise with the plight of the Palestinian's: their cause if just and they suffer from a lot of repression, some of which is quite brutal.

For all its fault's however, it must be admitted that Israel is a functioning democracy. Alternative voices are heard and there is process that works. If further proof were needed, this should suffice.

Contrast that, with for example this.

Monday, March 16, 2009

The purpose of advertising

There has been some debate on the subject of the Sri Lankan advertising industry. I am not involved in this industry nor do I have a background in sales or marketing but there is a question that I would like answered.

What is the purpose of advertising?

To me, the answer is straightforward: to improve sales and ultimately profits.

Business exists for only one purpose: to make a profit. People talk of corporate social responsibility (CSR) and a business, like everybody in society needs to comply with certain standards but fundamentally a business does not exist to perform CSR. It exists to make a profit.

There is a different debate, mostly concerning bahavioural psychology, as to whether businesses actually strive to provide the best return to shareholders, but for this discussion I think it can be ignored.

Working on this principle, the role of advertising, as in every other aspect of business is to improve profits. Advertising is primarily concerned with sales (I admit that there are other reasons for advertising too) but its main purpose would be to increase sales.

This brings me to a second question: if the purpose of advertising is to improve profits, then should advertisements be judged purely on this basis?

Stated in another form, does it matter how nice is looks or how well it is put together as long it does its job? Extending this further, does it matter whether an advertisement or even a whole campaign copies something done somewhere else? Is it necessary that an advertisement be original and display a certain artistic qualities?

After all the whole business of management education is based on attempting to derive successful principles from the practices of the past. Why do we read case studies? So that we may draw on examples that may be useful in similar situations in the future and apply them where possible. If a particular advertisement or campaign is successful in one market then is there any harm in copying it or adapting it in another market? To me, as long as it works, it does not matter where it comes from or how ugly it is.

Advertisements are only a means to an end, a mere tool to be used. It is true that there are elements of ingenuity that are involved in the process of developing advertisements but I tend to think that people get rather too carried away by these things.

An advertisement is not art. The fact that it seems to be regarded as such in Sri Lanka is a reflection of the debased state of society.

An advertisement may draw on certain elements and use the mediums that are found in true art but no one should regard something as intrinsically base as an advertisement as art.

There will be instances when the maker of posters or a commercial on film or television displays great skill in the use of the medium and we may justly admire such skill and be grateful that our senses have not been assaulted but it is not art.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Kicked out of HSBC

It finally happened, the straw that broke the camel's back. I went back to my old bank, NDB. HSBC, the World's Lousiest Bank finally drove me out.

It took a while. I put up with their indifference, impersonal automated service, lousy rates, sky high charges and god knows what else for a fair while. I'm a patient man and a lazy one. Its a nuisance to maintain multiple accounts and because NDB does not have a credit card I am forced to retain that but HSBC is not going to make any money out of me anymore. Well maybe just a little, but no longer will they enjoy my deposits, which is what they want.

I found HSBC's internet banking convenient and my credit cards were linked up to auto settle so I had minimum interaction with them. The little I did have however resulted in poor and increasingly worse service.

My relationship with HSBC goes back to 1994, when I first got a credit card. Service was terrible but I stayed. Then in the late 1990's I encountered a wonderful manager at the Bambalapitya branch, thanks to her service, over time I transferred everything to HSBC. After she left things began to go downhill again, a little at a time. She left me various contacts, through whom I was able to get some things done and I would also ring her occasionally to get extra help, but there is a limit to which one can bother staff who are now in different departments. I am also reluctant to use the corporate muscle that comes with my position to keep ringing the senior people to get things done on my personal account. When I'm really stuck I will, but for routine, simple things, I can hardly bother them can I?

The last straw was when I tried to ring them yesterday. I tried several times and no one would even pick up the phone and on the one or two occasions that they did the call was on left on hold and then cut.

This morning I rang my old account manager at NDB. She saw me right away, almost an hour before the bank even opened (they let me in through the staff entrance) and I made my deposit and was back in my office within fifteen minutes. Now THAT is what call service. They also paid a much better rate than that other blasted place.

Sunday, March 08, 2009

It was the babblers' nest - Conrad Felsinger

I just finished skimming Juliet Coombe and Daisy Perry’s ‘Around the Fort in 80 Lives’. I saw this book while wandering around Galle during the literary festival. I was tempted to buy it but (luckily as it turns out) I did not. I discovered later that a friend owned it and borrowed it from him.

I was rather disappointed by the book; although it starts off with a good theme and has the potential to become interesting it seemed rather shallow and naive. A coffee table book with insufficient pictures and too much text; rather unsatisfying on the whole.

My mind was then taken back to an altogether different story of Galle, EFC Ludowyk's charming autumnal reflections on growing up in Galle. Deeply felt and beautifully written it is a lovely memoir of a way of life that no longer exists.

This is turn brought me to the other beautiful memoir, from an even earlier era which is the title of this post. I'm not sure how many people have read this splendid work, but if you can get your hands on a copy (I would suggest you try raiding the second hand book shops on D.R.Wijewardene Mawatha, if the last copy on Amazon gets sold) it is something that I think is a must read for anyone interested in this land. It is a highly entertaining account of schoolboy life at the beginning of the twentieth century, when a catapult was a regular part of any boy's armoury and birds the usual victim. It is a book of schoolboy life; of outrageous pranks and elaborately organised trips made in bullock carts. A vivid portrait of life in another era.

I get rather sentimental reading stuff like this and perhaps not just because I am a sentimental fool. I feel very alienated by the politics in Sri Lanka today, but deep down, I think I still retain a love for this land.

Saturday, March 07, 2009

Holding seats in a theatre

Got back from the performance of the Verdi Requiem a while back, the most uncomfortable concert I have ever been to. Never realised that the cathedral could get so hot and it does not, unlike most churches have wide windows or doors. The crowd was also massive, perhaps because it was free, and since no tickets were being sold seats were in short supply.

I got in by about 6.20 and found a seat easily enough. Then a friend asked me to hold a couple of seats for him so I left my seat (it was being held by a neighbour) and occupied another a few rows behind. While waiting there an old woman with a couple of similarly aged friends walks up and exclaims "oh there are three seats here". I had omitted to put anything down on the seat so I said that I was keeping one seat for a friend so there were only two available, to which she retorted sharply "but they are not here are they?"

I was not about to get into an argument with an old woman over a seat so I gave in with no further comment.

The question is: is it right or fair to hold a seat for a friend in crowded theatre? There was a time when the British Council had a notice put up forbidding teh practice in their auditorium, but as a general practice is it fair?

Friday, March 06, 2009

A man of courage and conviction

Such men are hard to some by, particularly in the Third World, so it good to see the tale of John Githongo being published. I have always admired such men and this book should be required reading for anyone interested in politics in this country.

The book's title "Its our Turn to Eat" could apply equally well here.

Those interested in reading his report on Kenyan corruption can access it here.

Hoppers with jam, anyone?

I have introduced some friends from overseas to the delights of a hopper. The only thing is, they seem to prefer to eat them with jam, strawberry jam in particular, rather than the usual curries.

Even an egg hopper is rejected in favour of the plain hopper with jam, although the sweet milk hopper is accepted willingly enough.

Does anyone else like this (to me at least) strange combination?

I remember eating hoppers with butter as a child but cannot remember ever liking them with jam.

There's no accounting for taste I suppose.

Sunday, March 01, 2009

The End.

A friend sent me this rather witty text message. How will we describe the ending of the war? Gota-dammerung?

It is difficult to find intelligent commentary on the what is necessary post victory. Malinda Seneviratne tackles some of the thorny issues in an insightful essay on Dignity and Relatedness.

Saturday, February 28, 2009

Time

Going through some fairly stressful times at work and the weekends have been pretty hectic too. Went off on five trips on successive weekends and that has left me with even more stress. I enjoyed myself thoroughly but the after effects were the problem.

I'm not sure how other people feel but I need space, I need time for myself. I need to read a little, I need to reflect, I need to think. I also like to take little naps in the afternoon and that seems to help my system as well.

When I don't get my dose of space I start feeling more and more frazzled.

I've sort of managed to salvage something from this Saturday, could not get much reading done but at least I slept for a while. Now plotting on how to extract the maximum from tomorrow, have a practice in the morning, gym in the afternoon....aargh its beginning to sound all too stressful again.......

Peter, Paul & Mary

Just stumbled on these guys, purely by accident. Nice sixties music. Just try:

Early In the Morning


If I had a Hammer

The Marvelous Toy


I had heard a couple of the songs before but never knew who sang them.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

A Martian view

Just imagine that a friendly Martian landed on these shores. Imagine also that the Martian, finding himself on a populated land, decides to find out about the inhabitants through their own media, the Lonely Planet not quite reaching Mars.

He would quickly discover that the state media are the sole arbiters of the truth and, not wanting to be misled, concentrates entirely on them. He finds out that there is a war in progress and eagerly scans the press for details. Martian's being a warlike people are quite familiar with war, but this war baffles him.

It is the most beautiful war.

A war with no reversals.

A war with no casualties.

A war of territory but not of people

A war where no innocents die.

A war with no cost.


A war that would make the Martian equivalent of Charles Dodgson proud.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Cannibalism

It was only to be expected. The Great White Hope of the stockbrokers and punters has turned out to have feet of clay. As predicted by yours truly after the release of the third quarter results (results to Sept '08), Dialog has made a loss for the full year 2008.

The reason?

With only a cursory glance at the results I'm guessing that there is one reason: the Dialog Blaster package. This has probably cannibalised the entire customer base. I have a pretty low regard for marketing staff and indeed for the intellect of people working within the corporate sector; most can't think straight but this takes the cake.

You launch a package that is designed to save perhaps a 100,000 customers switching from Dialog to Mobitel's Upahara, but inadvertently give a discount to 2.9m of your paying customers (I take Dialog's published subscriber numbers with a sack of salt, they say have 5m but the paying active base is probably closer to 3m I reckon).

The fun is only just beginning, because Upahara has also wrought havoc amongst the SLT base, although it may have brought some marginal benefit to Mobitel. Things are probably pretty bad there, which is why their results are late, the accountants will probably be working overtime to make the best of the bad news.

And as for the future, my personal bet on the Dialog share price is Rs.2, once the foreigners start to sell but there is no telling where a floor will emerge once that starts to happen. Keep a lookout for stockbrokers and their clients jumping out of top floor windows in the WTC.