Category Archives: My experiences

#lka Social Innovation ideas for the Sri Lankan Government Service – Part 1

One of the new trends in Sri Lanka is for many politicians to talk about innovation economy. I always wondered whether they know what they are talking about. Anyway, I still am glad that even not knowing the full context, these two words are being discussed. Innovation economy is a concept where entrepreneurship and innovation are given prominence. In my opinion the Sinhala translation of the word innovation “නවෝත්පාදනය” may not capture the full concept of the word but since I am not an expert of languages, I will stay out of commenting on it any further.

I recently with my team looked at few concepts of innovation. Though they have been doing this for little over two years now, looking back at these concepts helped me to think about these concepts in a different point of view. One of the main concepts of innovation is to think from the customer’s point of view. In other words empathizing with customers. To state simply this is to understand a problem from the people who are facing it and devising solutions for those problems. The word customer has a broader meaning in this case. It is anyone, one is dealing with for example, your boss, your employee, you parents, teachers, friends, etc.

The first idea of this post occurred in my head on the 3rd of April when my Peradeniya University batch mates had a get together. Many of my batch mates specially females are now teaching in schools in Kandy area. When talking to them few of them mentioned a well known issue of closing the road next to the Dalada Maligawa and how it has affected their travelling and travelling time to their respective schools. That same day while driving back to Colombo, I was thinking about this problem. Road closing or opening is a decision of some government agency (regional/national). This agency (I assume attached to either the Ministry of Highways or the Ministry of Internal Transportation) decided to keep the road closed. Let’s leave out the reason for a moment. The customers of this government agency would be the people like my batch mates who has to use that road. Roads might also have safety and environmental issues related to it too. In such a situation those relevant agencies should look at from their customers point of views too. For a person who only read the related issues on news papers (very little is written anyway about this), it seems like this agency is only looking at this problem from the point of view of politicians and religious leaders.

I have been at the receiving end of few fines for minor rules violations while driving. I am not complaining about the tickets but as a customer  who would like to pay the fines on time, the hassle one has to go through for paying fines is something I could not agree to. First you have to go to the Police station to pick up one form, then have to go to the post office to pay for it, then bring the receipt back to the police station to pick up the driving licence. Sometimes to pay a LKR 500 ticket, one has to lose few hours of work and spend nearly LKR 300 of additional money of tuk tuks. Overall economics of paying the fine does not make any sense. As the postal mail is a dying business in the 21st century, coming up with an internet based payment system for all the government related payments happening through post office might help saving the postal service a little bit longer. Additionally, the necessary changes to the law should also accompany, so that the policemen do not have to keep the driving licences. The unpaid fines with interest could be linked to the revenue licence renewal at the end of the year. This will lead to higher collection of fines, less wasting of time of everyone involved, less bribing of Police officers and actually catching the culprits who break the law. In this case all the government agencies and law makers should focus more on their customers (we the general public) but less on balancing each other.

There are many other ideas, will keep on writing if time and life permit. For the moment this will be stopped here as this note is getting too long and boring to read.

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Filed under Colombo, Future, Government Service, Industries of Sri Lanka, Innovation, My experiences, Politics, Science, Science in Sri Lanka, Society, Sri Lanka

#lka Make the right kind of Scientists Happy, they will make the whole Sri Lanka happy

I finished a Chemistry special degree with first class honors at the University of Peradeniya and I found a placement for a PhD at the University of Arizona. After finishing a PhD in Analytical Chemistry from the ranked 5 university for Analytical Chemistry in USA, I went to Carnegie Mellon University (CMU) for my postdoctoral training. Some of my colleagues and my bosses of the PhD are on Facebook too. After joining my PhD research group I was given a grant code. Anything I want for research I could fill a form get my boss’s signature and order. If I want them quickly like overnight, I could get them quickly too. Additionally the chemistry department of University of Arizona had a chemical store room. Many of the heavily used chemicals and supplies were available there. You can walk in, find it on which shelf from the catalogue, walk upto the shelf, pick up however many you want, write on the logbook on your way out with that same grant code. That was the process. No one to monitor me.

After moving to CMU, my situation was upgraded. There I was given  Credit Card with the limit of $5000. I was allowed to order anything I needed for my research up to $1000 without even consulting my boss. I was not allowed to order instruments. There were days I used to read papers in the morning & by about 2 pm I order new chemicals. Next day morning it was next to my office door. So for the next few days/weeks I get lost in experiments. Once a month I had to do reconciliation with the departmental secretary of the things I ordered. It was so easy to be a scientist when people around you trusted you. So I quit my job at CMU and decide to move to Sri Lanka to be that happy scientist.

I joined a scientific institution of Sri Lanka. There were very new instruments. Some of them I have used, some were new to me, some of which I used to build from scratch for the CHEM 528 class at Arizona. I was not allowed to use any of them until I get the training from the very talented electrical engineer with a BSc. I had a condition, I will get trained by anyone who could answer my questions about why I should press which ever the button he/she wanted me to press. Only because I did not want to be trained monkey pressing buttons. So my training never happened. I was not allowed to order any chemicals. It was also taken cared of by the same electrical engineer. He was cheek and tongue friends with the chemical supplier companies. Even when a new instrument was ordered same company used to get the order most of the times. Even if there was a better quotation that was matched by that company by next day. When overseas equipment training came they came with names attached. Those names belonged to the ones who were good friends with that same talented young engineer. I asked around why I had to get trained from him. Some people told me that he was one of the few who got training for those equipment. Some people also told me when the training was in Japan he disappeared for 2 days. I don’t know how true those are. One thing I can tell is that happy scientist who thought of doing some innovations for the country died because now he doesn’t have any freedom to order any chemical or any supplies unless that young multi-talented electrical engineer and his friends at certain companies say yes. They also say minimum delivery time is 6 weeks. That actually happens only if you are lucky.

Sometimes after 6 weeks you have a different idea. That’s how scientist minds work. Ideas come sometimes non-stop but sometimes like writers block, it takes a break. It is not something to controlled by an external person and his friends. I know how to find my happiness. So I did but I can guarantee there are many unhappy scientists in Sri Lanka. If as a country we could find a way to make the right kind of scientists happy, they will make the whole country happy. Be aware every scientist is also not created equally. You need to be able to find the right kind of scientist.

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Filed under My experiences, Office politics, Science in Sri Lanka

Traffic (Colombo, Sri Lanka) – Part 1

I drive and I like driving. It helps me to think, debate with myself, think of new things and driving calm me down. At least it used to. Not anymore. I am not boasting. I drive a Honda Insight; a hybrid car. It tells me my fuel efficiency as I drive. Once I drove from Kadawatha, Sri Lanka to Polonnaruwa, Sri Lanka back and forth with one tankful of gasoline. Nearly 700 km. When there is no traffic I can drive to work in 25 minutes and my car does about 22 km per liter of gasoline. With traffic sometimes I have taken 1 hour 40 minutes and 7 km per liter. I only realized this because my car shows those numbers. I will point out (in my opinion) why there is so many traffic jams in Sri Lanka, in this part 1.

I think a lot about how the traffic flow work. I wonder how Physics, Mathematics, Engineering, materials science, chemistry and psychology works during driving. Even for the people who are not well versed with mathematics, their brain will do so many relative speed (velocity) calculations before changing a lane, accelerate or decelerate. Those motor cyclists, do many more like that as they are a dot compared many vehicles in a road. Engineering, Materials Science, Physics and Chemistry, runs the car but psychology actually drives it. Do these three wheeler with the driver’s children’s name on the back of the vehicle, really think about them and the family when they drive like this; my mind wonders. Do these motor cycles with parents and 3 kids riding on them be allowed to endanger their kids like this?

In my opinion many factors contributes to the traffic jams in Sri Lanka. In no particular order they are;

1. Road Condition. Although many roads are being built and resurfaced, there are still many more not good enough to drive smoothly
2. Motor Cycles – not adhering to any road rules. Creating their own lane, riding on the wrong side of the road. All these lead to breaking and slowing down of all the big vehicles. Each of the small delays adds up to a big delay. Most of the time they go to the front of the traffic at a light but they don’t have pick up to drive away fast. This makes few larger vehicles to miss the light and jam to get longer.
3. Three Wheeler – Most of the above comments
4. Smaller cars – Most of the above comments
5. General disregard of the rules – Lots of people use politicians as an example. I agree but just because one does something wrong, we all should not follow it. Do any of the drivers know that there are traffic lanes?
6. Slow drivers on the right most lane – self explanatory
7. Oversize vehicles on narrow roads – self explanatory
8. Bad drivers – self explanatory
9. Leaner drivers – most of the time they come to road in the rush hour
10. Attitude – Even when one driver does something wrong, they talk and act like the other driver is at fault. Most of the people think they can win with words though they are at fault. People say if you can drive in Sri Lanka, you can drive anywhere – that is the dumbest, stupidest thing I have ever heard. Just because one act like an idiot, they will not learn anything.
11. Problem with the Police – there are not enough men on the road. They use archaic methods to issue a fine, which simply takes too much time. Payment of the fine add on to further loss of productivity in the country. They ignore certain offenses thinking they are minor. Generally there is no implementation of the road rules.
12.Pedestrians – sometimes this is related to the road (side walk) conditions. Sometime they cross the road as and when they want. Sometimes they just walk in the middle of the road. Sometimes they intentionally block the road on protests and on other situation like building structures for functions.
13. Politicians – mainly not caring and not setting an example to the public. Not doing anything to solve the problem
14. Technology – distracted drivers, non-functioning traffic lights, etc.

Next time I will try to write something about solutions I wonder about while driving. In the meantime we could do our part. To save fuel, to save the environment, to increase the productivity, to decrease the stress and related illnesses, to be better citizens of humanity, be considerate while driving.

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Filed under Colombo, My experiences, Politics, Society, Sri Lanka, Sri Lankan Police, Traffic

When will you wake up?

I think it is mostly a Sri Lankan thing. Most of us live in denial. In made up worlds. Fake realities. I know lots of people in my life do that. I wonder why. I try to live with my feet on the ground in the hard cold reality. I think that is the wrong way to live.

I realized this recently while watching a NCIS episode. Agent DiNozzo was talking about how he has given a veggie to a kid in in high school only to realize later that he was the one who receive it.

I know lots of people in my life (parents, siblings, friends both male and female, relatives) who live in made up realities. As it is known by everyone if one is telling a made up story enough times, it become a reality in their minds as well as the people who heard it. Is it lying? May be or may be not. As the video clip states, it may be making things easier. Running away from our own lives is the easiest way yo live. What if (YES WHAT IF)…everyone lives in reality instead.

It is not only in the personal lives, we Sri Lankan live obliviously in our own made up realities specially in social and public lives. When will you wake up??

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Filed under My experiences, Politics, Society

2000 words

Picture is worth thousand here are two pictures.

I did not make them or take them.. simply downloaded them from a Facebook page called the “The Idealist“. So here they are….

The word American should be changed to Sri Lankan in my case…

This is how most countries are and the two countries I have lived in….

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Filed under My experiences, Politics, Religious, Society

One of mine

In the private sector the word “team” gets abused and over emphasized. At least that is my opinion. Seemingly when there is no team the managers keeps on throwing the word at you thinking that just by repeating the word “team” will automatically make the team to appear. In some sense I understand that. At a certain education level that might be the case. If you are dealing with people who are able to think for themselves, they will form their own opinion no matter what the managers do to make up a team. The moment that happens the managers effort becomes useless.

Talking to our HR managers I have realized office politics is a very common thing. I agree too. After all it is people from variety of backgrounds and educational levels working together in any given work place.

Recent happenings at work made me thinks of how to be in a team. To be precise what conditions one would have to fulfill if I am to be a member of their team. Please do not misunderstand this. I don’t have a separate team. I belong to the team of my company/team/department/etc., but I will call that my team. In my mind if the person  next to me to be included in my team (or the person next to me wants me to be a member of his/her team) him/her needs to fulfill certain criteria. So I list…

  1. I should be able to trust the person. If that person get caught in playing double games, get caught in lies, get caught spying on me, I will not be in a team with that person.
  2. I should be able to have faith in that person. When that person needs me, I will be there for him/her but reciprocity of that is expected. You could call it selfish but I think the TEAM is a collectively selfish concept
  3. That person should be able to speak his/her mind (may be at least in confidence). If that person speaks someone else’s mind or to put it in other words mouth piece of someone’s, no can do…I will not be part of that person’s team.
  4. Independence is the key. If you don’t have independent mind, if your thoughts/ideas are someone else’s or they are being controlled by someone else, I would be reluctant to be a part of your team.
At the moment that’s all which comes to my mind. I will expect readers to add more. That is if anyone reads my blog any more 🙂

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Filed under Industries of Sri Lanka, My experiences, Office politics, Society, Team work

What did you miss when the circus was in town?

There was only one news dominating last few days. Some may end up calling Mr. Weerawansa a hero. Some already is calling him an idiot. This whole spectacle or the debacle only distracted the whole country from some other things which may affect their future. Although I wanted to write about one of those in details, I have postponed it until the news cycle clears up. Here are some interesting things popped up in my mind.

A). The parliament passed the 2010 budget. Although that was a given conclusion as the government has a massive majority some interesting things came up during the debate. Just wanted to point that out so you may remember to look them up.

B.) Sri Lanka is going to let Maharashtra Housing and Area Development Authority (MHADA) to construct 10000 houses in Sri Lanka. 21 years ago current housing minister with their buddies set fire to the Indian made buses. When everything was said and done we the people walked as there were no buses when them the powerful took their pajeros. In an ironic twist Mr. Wimal Weerawansa has forgotten that Sri Lankan construction workers are also capable of building houses. Wasn’t there a million houses (well not exactly a million but) during the Premadasa era? What happened to those builders? Mainly what happened to the National Housing Development Authority – Sri Lanka ?

C). The government was building the image of Sri Lanka to improve tourism as they are placing all their bets on tourism to develop the country.  Tourism depend on the perceived safety of a place where the visitors are planning to go. When IIFA awards 2010 was held in Colombo as the government pointed out, it was to build the image of Sri Lanka as a safer place to visit. When I was in the university, JVP backed student union used surrounding and intimation as their way of achieving goals. So the former JVPier thought he could use the same tactics to intimidate an international organization. Results: the perceived safety of Sri Lanka went down and with it the future of people and businesses and their hope for Subha Anagathayak, UNDP office closed and I am not sure what is going to happened for the projects they were carrying out in Sri Lanka (which were helping the helpless), the foreign minister was embarrassed, some embassies which may have helped us with the UN committee were angered and the list goes on. When are the elected officials going to understand that they were place there to serve the country and the people? Where is the long term vision and assessment of risks and repercussions of their actions before looking for vigilante justice?

People (including powerful ministers) make mistakes and I understand that. I am sure people of our country do too. We boast about our literacy rate and the 2500 years of history. Well that happened with a lot of hard work and leaders with a long term vision. That’s why King Parakramabhahu set a goal to not let a drop of rain to go to the sea without being used. Can we move on from this feel good “shot gun” patriotism and lay out a 5 year plan (India is on their 11th 5 year plan)? Then implement it with attention to details? If we are I will get on the next plane to come home!

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Filed under My experiences, Politics, Society