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Gopiharan Perinpam

Gopiharan Perinpam
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a guy next-door; loves people with a smile; in love with gadgets & new media; nexus user; undergrad student; a public servant by choice & profession.

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Few months back Sri Lanka reached a new milestone in the travel industry, with the deployment of the “Touch Travel Pass” – an NFC enabled contactless smart card that can be topped up and used to pay the bus fare. It became the first ever initiative to bring NFC technology to the transport sector in Sri Lanka.  Lanka Private Bus Owners Association took the bold step to propose the said system to the National Transport Board and the first phase was launched last June.

Sri Lanka’s mobile giant, Dialog Axiata PLC joined as the principal sponsor for the project and along with Lankan based contactless payment specialist, Orik Payment Solutions. They decided to deploy NXP’s MIFARE DESFire technology for this secure contactless payments and transport ticketing system. Initially the system was introduced on the 138 bus route and few weeks ago, the project got expanded with more bus routes (122, 125 etc) being included. During the course of this year, Dialog has planned to roll out the system throughout the Western Province and eventually nationwide, for the benefit of an estimated 20.6 million Sri Lankan commuters.

NFC and Travel Industry

Near Field Communication (NFC) on a wider scope enables wireless transactions and data transfers between two end points. Over the years, NFC has come along a rough journey filled with love and hate from various entities. For example Google has been a strong backer for the technology. From Android Beam to Google Wallet, the company has tried hard to push the technology to the consumer market. Google wallet payment is accepted by many merchants in the US. In New Jersey you can pay your transport fares via Google Wallet. But whether these NFC implementations have been a success, is not an easy question to answer; for the availability and adaptation levels vary in different countries. On the other hand, Apple, which is pushing iBeacon – a possible competitor to NFC technology, has always been a criticizer of NFC implementations. Leaving these aside, a recent report says that in 2014 around 416 million handsets will ship with built in NFC modules. The target is to get the number to 1.2 billion by 2018.

If you can remember, Dialog launched an NFC sticker sometime ago to manage their Star Points system

With these interesting developments, some experts say “2014 will be the year of NFC”. Well, we may need to wait to see the progress. As you can see, smartphones have played a big role in the rise of NFC. But the availability of NFC enabled handsets is still quite limited in many markets. For example, you don’t get NFC in feature phones mostly. iOS devices don’t come with the NFC module.

World Shipments of NFC Enabled Cellular Handsets

Smartphones are not the only option to take the benefits of NFC to the masses. If you can remember, Dialog launched an NFC Touch sticker sometime ago to manage their Star Points system. The stickers come pre-programmed for the mobile number and can be pasted on the phone or wallet and can be used at the merchant’s POS machines to earn and redeem Star Points, without the need to do the process manually. The NFC enabled touch-cards are another way to do it.

How does “Touch Travel Pass” work?

The Touch Travel Pass card is available for purchase at merchants along the deployed routes. They’re priced at Rs.200, that includes a refundable deposit of Rs.175 (i.e you can claim it back if you decide to stop using the card.). After buying the card, the commuter will have to top it up with credit (just like reloading a prepaid mobile number). The merchants have been educated on how to handle the recharges. Dialog also plans to expand the recharging facility to 14,000 eZcash recharge points around the country, along with the expansion of the project.

After buying the card, the commuter will have to top it up with credit (just like reloading a prepaid mobile number)

The merchants will utilize the special POS machines for this process. And once recharged, you can start using it on the bus. You can pay for the bus tickets by holding the  Touch Travel Pass near the special POS equipment carried by the Bus conductors. The card does not need to be tapped on the machine. Holding it close to the machine (around 2 or 3 inches) would do. According to Western provincial Council Transport Minister, “with the expansion of this system, Commuters’ frequent complaint of not receiving balance money properly could be addressed”.

On the consumer point of view, that’s the most useful part. For the bus owners, this method gives the opportunity to monitor the amount collected by the conductors, since the amounts are automatically updated on their bank account. Further more, this will also mean the owners can show this “daily income report” to the banks whenever they need to obtain loans. (Banks do expect you to show them you have a steady income).

Dialog has produced a nice video to explain how the Touch Travel Pass works in the bus. Check it out below.

Immediate Challenges

Technology improves the way of living in urban towns, like Colombo. But this will also bring challenges to both the involved parties and consumers. For example, there are lot of parties involved in this project. From Government bodies, transport associations, mobile service provider and the technology provider along with the top-up merchants and the bus conductor. So whom does the commuter reach to when he/she encounters an issue with the card or payment? As of now, Dialog has provided a dedicated “Touch Service” hotline through 1415, which has an option for the Touch Travel Pass related information. But how solutions will be provided through this service and the time frame, are still unknown. I tried contacting the number to ask how it works, and I was told they don’t have any details as of now, since the project is still in trial phase.

As of now, Dialog has provided a dedicated “Touch Service” hotline through 1415, which has an option for the Touch Travel Pass related information

Educating the conductors and merchants will also be a time consuming challenge. According to sources, bus owners are provided with loan facilities to purchase the ticket machines needed for this system with the coordination of the People’s Bank. It is also learnt that so far 840 bus owners have applied to purchase the ticket machine. It will be necessary to train the conductors accordingly. I’m sure Dialog is aware of this challenge, since they have already faced similar ones when they launched the eZcash payment system.

It has always been pointed out that NFC lacks standardization. This also has brought security concerns over time. There has been incidents where security experts have pointed out how these smart cards can be exploited using everyday technology. But it is also undeniable that over the years, the security aspect of NFC has improved a lot. And security may not be an immediate issue in Sri Lanka, at least until the cards begin to be used for transactions beyond purchasing bus tickets.

The Future

In addition to transport ticketing, Touch Travel Pass can be improved to work as a payment solution in shops and taxis in the near future. It’s the way to go forward, I guess. Specially this will be useful when you travel in taxis (meter tuk-tuks) where passengers usually end up without having change money. It will function more like a debit card (or like the rechargeable Sampath web card?) without the need of your signature.

As a frequent train commuter, I’d really like to see this in railway stations

One should also note this is more suitable for small payments which you perform on the move. As a frequent train commuter, I’d really like to see this in railway stations. Commuters spend a lot of time in queues purchasing tickets and end up missing the train they had to take. This will also be a great service for the tourists visiting Sri Lanka, who are most of the time unaware as to whether they are paying the right amount, and often get cheated while commuting.  It is also planned to use this technology to enable NFC-based mobile phone ticketing in the near future.

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Satya Nadella

After spending months interviewing potential candidates, Microsoft has finally named veteran insider Satya Nadella as the next CEO. Satya Nadella will be replacing the outgoing CEO Steve Ballmer, who announced his retirement last August. Satya Nadella becomes only the 3rd CEO in Microsoft’s 39 year old history. The list of executives Microsoft had their eyes on, included some of the well known names in the industry like, Nokia’s Stephen Elop, former head of Skype Tony Bates and Ford CEO Alan Mulally. There were also rumors that Microsoft was in talks with Google’s Sundar Pichai; but eventually they settled for an experienced insider from the company.

Who is Satya Nadella?

Satyanarayana Nadella (now known as Satya Nadella) was born in 1967, in the Guntur District of Hyderabad in India. His father, an IAS officer, was a special secretary to the Prime Minister of India, Manmohan Singh, sometime ago. Satya Nadella completed his early education at the Hyderabad Public School. According to Satya himself, during his childhood he had a passion for playing cricket. Well, we are not surprised at all. He even played for the school team. “I think playing cricket taught me more about working in teams and leadership that has stayed with me throughout my career” says Satya.

Satya Nadella completed his Electronics and Communications Engineering degree in 1988, with a first class, from the Manipal Institute of Technology. (Note: Some sources claim that he graduated from Mangalore University). MIT director Vinod V Thomas, who taught Satya 25 years ago, spoke to Times of India and he says, “I recall him as a sober and cool-headed student, not much into extra- or co-curricular activities.” Satya, then moved to the United States, where he completed his MS in Computer Science, and MBA.

He worked briefly with Sun Microsystems before joining Microsoft in 1992 at the age of 24. He is now 46 year old and has spent 22 years at Microsoft.  Why did he choose Microsoft? “I am here for the same reason I think most people join Microsoft – to change the world through technology that empowers people to do amazing things. I know it can sound hyperbolic – and yet it’s true. We have done it, we’re doing it today, and we are the team that will do it again.” says Satya Nadella.  He also says that “Many companies aspire to change the world. But very few have all the elements required: talent, resources and perseverance. Microsoft has proven that it has all three in abundance.”

Satya Nadella

Satya Nadella (Pic Courtesy: Microsoft)

When asked to define himself, Satya Nadella says “Like anyone else, a lot of what I do and how I think has been shaped by my family and my overall life experience. Many who know me say I am also defined by my curiosity and thirst for learning. I buy more books than I can finish. I sign up for more online courses than I can complete. I fundamentally believe that if you are not learning new things, you stop doing great and useful things. So family, curiosity and hunger for knowledge all define me.”

He was a Senior Vice President at Microsoft and back in 2011 he got promoted as the Head of  Server and Tools Business at Microsoft, that focused on cloud computing and enterprise business. Satya Nadella who played a big role in improving Bing Search, has played a key role in bringing some of Microsoft’s most popular technologies, like database, Windows server and developer tools, to the cloud service, called Azure. He also helped Microsoft bring a cloud version of Microsoft Office to the cloud, Office 365, which is a fast growing product.

In the first interview (embedded below) he gave after taking up the CEO role, he says he is both “honored and humbled” to succeed Bill Gates and Steve Ballmer as the third CEO of Microsoft.

“I came here because I believed Microsoft was the best company in the world. I saw then how clearly we empower people to do magical things with our creations and ultimately make the world a better place. I knew there was no better company to join if I wanted to make a difference. This is the very same inspiration that continues to drive me today. It is an incredible honor for me to lead and serve this great company of ours. Steve (Ballmer) and Bill (Gates) have taken it from an idea to one of the greatest and most universally admired companies in the world.”- Satya says in his first email to the employees of Microsoft, after taking up the new role.

Speaking about the current challenges of Microsoft,  Satya notes- “Our industry does not respect tradition – it only respects innovation,” He also says that “The opportunity ahead for Microsoft is vast, but to seize it, we must move faster, focus and continue to transform. I see a big part of my job as accelerating our ability to bring innovative products to our customers more quickly.”

“While we have seen great success, we are hungry to do more,” he notes. “This is a critical time for the industry and for Microsoft. Make no mistake, we are headed for greater places – as technology evolves and we evolve with and ahead of it. Our job is to ensure that Microsoft thrives in a mobile and cloud-first world.

“I’m a learner,” Nadella says. “I think the thing that I realized is, what excites me is that I’m learning something. I can learn something about some area. I can learn something from people. I can learn something from doing things differently. And I admire that in other people, too. I fundamentally believe that if you are not learning new things… you stop doing great and useful things. So family, curiosity and hunger for knowledge all define me.”

Satya Nadella believes that Microsoft has a great workforce. “One of the things that perhaps excites me the most is when I come across something at work, whether it’s somebody who’s really done a great feature in software, come up with a fantastic idea in pricing or done a great customer program, or just an approach to their job that is innovative or brought teams together – and I just, wow, I marvel every day at how people can excel – and that’s what really gets me going.” he says.

According to Microsoft, their new CEO finds relaxation by reading poetry, in all forms and by poets who are both Indian and American. “It’s like code,” Satya says. “You’re trying to take something that can be described in many, many sentences and pages of prose, but you can convert it into a couple lines of poetry and you still get the essence, so it’s that compression.” Indeed, he says, the best code is poetry.

He also enjoys watching Test cricket, “which is the longest form of any sport in the world,” with games that can go for days and days. “I love it,” he says. (Another reason to like him!) “There’s so many subplots in it, it’s like reading a Russian novel.”

From Left: John Thompson (New Chairman), Satya Nadella (New CEO), Bill Gates and Steve Ballmer. (Pic courtesy: Microsoft)

From Left: John Thompson (New Chairman), Satya Nadella (New CEO), Bill Gates and Steve Ballmer. (Pic courtesy: Microsoft)

The Future

In his email to Microsoft employees, Satya Nadella quotes Oscar Wilde – “we need to believe in the impossible and remove the improbable.”

“This starts with clarity of purpose and sense of mission that will lead us to imagine the impossible and deliver it. We need to prioritize innovation that is centered on our core value of empowering users and organizations to “do more.” We have picked a set of high-value activities as part of our One Microsoft strategy. And with every service and device launch going forward we need to bring more innovation to bear around these scenarios.” says he.

He also says that, “every one of us needs to do our best work, lead and help drive cultural change. We sometimes underestimate what we each can do to make things happen and overestimate what others need to do to move us forward. We must change this.

I truly believe that each of us must find meaning in our work. The best work happens when you know that it’s not just work, but something that will improve other people’s lives. This is the opportunity that drives each of us at this company.”

“Many companies aspire to change the world. But very few have all the elements required: talent, resources, and perseverance. Microsoft has proven that it has all three in abundance. And as the new CEO, I can’t ask for a better foundation” says Satya Nadella on a finishing note.”

Meanwhile, Bill Gates, founder and former CEO will be stepping down from his role as a Chairman and he will be returning to a larger role as a technology advisor at Microsoft.  John Thompson (former Symantec CEO and lead independent director of the board at Microsoft, who was also part of the team that selected Satya as CEO) will be taking over as chairman. In his welcome message to Satya Nadella, Bill Gates says “During this time of transformation, there is no better person to lead Microsoft than Satya Nadella”

“Satya is a proven leader with hard-core engineering skills, business vision and the ability to bring people together. His vision for how technology will be used and experienced around the world is exactly what Microsoft needs as the company enters its next chapter of expanded product innovation and growth. There’s a challenge in mobile computing. There’s an opportunity in the cloud.” Bill continues.

Declining PC sales have caused trouble to Microsoft. Windows Phone has been a moderate success. On the other hand Microsoft’s enterprise solutions and cloud based tools have started to bring in more revenue. And Satya Nadella was the one who was heading these areas. And Microsoft has huge hope in him that he will lead Microsoft back to it’s glory by adapting the global trends.

 

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In my previous article, I mentioned how Nokia is working hard to add more quality to the Windows Phone OS with their Lumia Devices and by getting more developers to create apps for the platform, through their “Nokia Developer” program. The recently concluded “Nokia Create” global contest was one such initiative that saw tremendous response from developers from more than 76 countries around the world.

The most exciting part of the contest was that 2 of the 8 “Master Missions” corresponding to the 8 main categories, were won by Sri Lankan developers. And today we will be featuring “Extreme Music” which won the “Music Master Mission”. We had a chat with the talented developer of the app, Heshan Pathirana. Heshan completed his Software Engineering Degree at APIIT recently and has started working at a private firm. Heshan is a person who loves coding. He spends most of his time coding, trying to recreate the apps he comes across, so he can understand how they work. “I developed a Windows Phone app for my final year project at APIIT. I believe that practice helped me a lot to achieve this goal” says Heshan. I can’t agree more with him.

Heshan Pathirana

Heshan Pathirana

Extreme Music: What Makes it special?

Extreme Music is the best and the most advanced music application available on the Windows Phone Apps+Games Store. The app has some of the most advanced features like Voice Control. One can control the app without even looking at the screen. “With a special screen called “Blind Aid”, even visually impaired users can control the app using the voice command feature” says Heshan enthusiastically. The speciality of the app is that it offers all these advanced features through a simplified User Interface, giving a pleasing experience to the user. According to Nokia Developer Blog, it’s this simplified user experience that led them to choose the app as a winner in this category.

Extreme Music is deeply integrated with Nokia Mix Radio online streaming service API. If you use a Nokia Windows Phone device, then you can also purchase songs through Nokia Music, using this app and get most out of related services. The app is available for free download and a number of advanced features can be enabled through a purchase. While writing this, I was going through some of the user comments for the app and some say this app is “far better than the default music app” and “this should be made a default app”. Those comments speak for the app. According to Heshan, the app currently has more than 17000 downloads. “Initially the app was created to overcome certain Windows Phone limitations like custom playlists and favorites. Then I  improved the features to suite Nokia Create Contest” he says.

Extreme Music

How did Heshan end up developing mobile apps?

Heshan started developing when he was in Grade 11 at school. He wrote his first program using VB 6.0. He has not stopped since then. Speaking about his motivation, he says “For a developer, sky’s the limit. I think this freedom motivates me all the time.” It was when he was working on his final year project that Heshan decided to venture into developing “Mobile Apps”. “I also decided on Windows Phone OS because I thought it’s better to master a new platform rather than mastering already established ones” he continues.

I had mentioned in my previous article about the prizes offered to the winners of the Nokia Create Contest. In case you missed, the winner gets a Nokia Lumia device of his choice along with a Nokia Gear. Winner also gets 5000 Experience Points from Nokia DVLUP reward program. Their app is promoted app on Windows Phone Store and AppSocial for one week and they also get PubCenter credits to run a campaign, to promote their app. Above all, the winners are offered an all expenses paid trip to Mobile World Congress 2014, where the winning apps will showcased! Speaking about these exciting prizes, Heshan says “I feel extremely proud and happy. Trip to Mobile World Congress in Barcelona is the most exciting prize for sure”. He is not mistaken there. He is getting an opportunity to showcase his app at a global event of this nature attended by some of the brightest minds of the tech world.

The Nokia Create contest was based on 8 Categories and had 15 “Missions” – that included 6 Mini missions, 8 Master missions and a DoGood mission. Each mission had a specific focus. Mini Missions required developers to add Nokia’s APIs and new features to their existing Windows Phone apps. To enter one of the 8 Master missions, participants had to develop a brand new app or game, or port one from another platform to Windows Phone 8. The Do Good Mission was quite different. According to Nokia, the aim of the DoGood mission was to “help enhance the lives and mobile experiences of visually impaired people.” The competition also had one Grand Prize.

Heshan is an enthusiastic youngster who is passionate about what he does. He also feels grateful for Nokia and Microsoft for the opportunity. He says he is “hoping to see some groundbreaking inventions and technologies from top notch companies in the world” at the MWC happening next month. We at Digit, are extremely proud of this high achiever and wish him good luck!

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Cover Cam

Windows Phone is slowly but steadily becoming popular around the world, according to reports. Most part of this success can be attributed to Nokia devices. Nokia’s Lumia series has become the backbone of Windows Phone OS. And Nokia does not stop there. It is also working hard to bring in more apps to the WP world, by luring more developers. Founded in 2012, “Nokia Developer” is one such program that “aims to help mobile app developers create apps and publish them to connect with people around the world.”

As part of this program Nokia held the “Nokia Create” contest which is a global competition for developers to develop apps for Nokia Lumia and Windows Phone 8. Developers from 76 countries around the world took part in the contest and Nokia announced the winners last week. It was a delight for us to hear that 2 Sri Lankans emerged as winners in two categories. “Cover Cam” app developed by Tharaka Wijebandara from Sri Lanka, won the “Master Mission” in Image and Photo category. Tharaka is a final year undergraduate, studying Information Technology at University of Moratuwa. He is also a Microsoft Student Partner and an active developer in the local scene. Heshan Pathirana a student of APIIT won the “Music Master Mission”for his app Extreme Music.

Cover Cam: The app

Cover Cam

Cover cam lets you set your Facebook profile picture and cover image with one click.

Cover Cam is an app that allows you to create your Facebook cover picture along with the matching profile picture with a single click. The idea is simple. But if you had tried for yourself, such an option is practically hard to execute from a single picture. But you should feel lucky if you’re a Windows Phone user. Tharaka’s app does that complex work for your, effortlessly. According to Tharaka, the app “makes your Facebook timeline header more beautiful, meaningful, and attractive or something totally crazy.” The app crops your profile picture and cover image from the original image and uploads it to your facebook account. While allowing you to take creative cover images, the app also allows you to choose existing photos from your gallery and turn it into creative Facebook timeline headers. According to Tharaka, his app is available as a trial version and a paid version. So far, it has been downloaded more than 80,000 times. It is also one of the top paid photo apps in many countries. As part of winning the competition, Nokia has also featured the app in many leading WP markets around the world.

So what inspired Tharaka to come up with such a cool idea for an app?

It was his friends. Few of them had manually uploaded their facebook profile picture and cover image in a way that made it look like a single image. Tharaka says that he immediately tried to create his own, with the help of Photoshop, but soon realized that not every image will fit into the idea. “Suddenly I got an idea. What if we can see the world through Facebook timeline header when we capture a photo? Then it will be easy to capture something beautiful for both profile picture and cover photo while they look as one image in the Facebook timeline header. So I decided to develop a Windows Phone app with this idea.” says Tharaka. And the uniqueness of the app is what made it a winner at the Nokia Create contest.

Tharaka Wijebandara, student of FIT, UoM

Tharaka Wijebandara, student of FIT, UoM

Tharaka’s developer career started when he was at school. He started to develop simple programs using VB 6, and they eventually became a hit among his friends, who encouraged him a lot. And thus, he ended up choosing Information Technology for his higher studies too. Tharaka enjoys developing mobile apps. “Mobile apps have very large audience compared to other software products“ says Tharaka; “We can have continuous feedback and keep on improving the apps”.

Winning a global competition brings more recognition for the developer. Our local talent gets noticed globally. And there’s a lot more. The winner gets a Nokia Lumia device of his choice along with a Nokia Gear. Winner also gets 5000 Experience Points from Nokia DVLUP reward program. Their app is promoted app on Windows Phone Store and AppSocial for one week and they also get PubCenter credits to run a campaign, to promote their app.

Nokia Create

Above all of these, *wait for it* the winners are offered an all expenses paid trip to Mobile World Congress 2014, where the winning apps will be showcased. Yes, you heard it right. Tharaka has won a trip to attend the MWC, which is happening in Barcelona in February. Mark Zuckerberg will be delivering the keynote speech this year. According to Tharaka, attending the MWC is the most exciting part of winning this contest. “It’s a great opportunity to learn new technologies, know about latest trends, make new friends and share experience with Windows Developers from around the world”, he says.

The Nokia Create contest was based on 8 Categories and had 15 “Missions” – that included 6 Mini missions, 8 Master missions and a Do Good mission. Each mission had a specific focus. Mini Missions required developers to add Nokia’s APIs and new features to their existing Windows Phone apps. To enter one of the 8 Master missions, participants had to develop a brand new app or game, or port one from another platform to Windows Phone 8. The Do Good Mission was quite different. According to Nokia, the aim of the Do Good mission was to “help enhance the lives and mobile experiences of visually impaired people.” The competition also had one Grand Prize.

Tharaka has huge hopes on Windows Phone OS. “Microsoft and Nokia  are very supportive and always encourage the developers” – Tharaka says enthusiastically. The Digit team feels proud for what Tharaka has achieved and wish him the best with his future endeavours!

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A section of the participants

InstaMeets are a way for Instagram users to meet the fellow Instagrammers in real life; discuss their favorite filters, exchange tips, or just take photos together. As part of the InstaMeetSL, the first edition of InstaMeetCMB was held on the 16th December 2013 (Monday). If you had read our earlier article, the plan was to meet at the Maradana Railway Station and to explore the areas surrounding the station including the Railway Yard. As planned, most of the Instagrammers turned up at the location before 4.15 PM and got their platform tickets and ventured into the station. The Maradana Railway Station is one of the busiest in Sri Lanka, and on a usual day it would have been really hard for us to get around at that time of the day. But thankfully, 16th was a public holiday and it was the perfect day to explore the station and the surroundings.

Mission Maradana

Maradana Railway Station

Maradana Railway Station

The first phase of the meetup went smoothly. All the participants were busy doing what they loved to do – Instagramming. It was also great to meet so many interesting people in real life and have a chat. Sri Lankan Instagram community is quite small for the moment and such a meetup was an ideal event to meet like minded individuals from various walks of life. Discussions were also related to photography, using different filters in Instagram etc. After moving around the station premises, the team decided to venture further towards the Railway Yard. The day being a public holiday didn’t mean it was a holiday for trains. They were busy keeping to their schedule as usual. And the participants made sure they were cautious enough to keep away from the tracks.

A section of the participants inside the station.

A section of the participants inside the station. (picture courtesy: Dulith Kasun)

Meanwhile, exploring the Yard that housed many used engines did not turn out well though. Since only Railway officials were usually allowed to enter those premises, participants were required to get prior permissions to explore the place. I guess this also involves paying fees (not small amounts), if anyone wanted to have a “photo shoot”. (I’m not sure whether Instagramming is counted as a photo shoot, though. Well, obviously, you can’t debate that with the Railway official, who has so many other things to worry about). The person at the yard informed he can’t allow us in since we did not have the required permission. Well, we were expecting this sooner or later. So the team decided switch to plan B: to leave Maradana and to explore the streets of Pettah!

The Pettah Mission

It did not take much time on the traffic-free streets to reach Pettah. The meeting point was Khan Clock Tower, that marks the entrance to the famous Pettah Market. The clock tower has a history of it’s own. According to sources it was built in 1923. It was built by the family of Framjee Bhikhajee Khan. This Parsi family of Mumbai had business ventures in Ceylon back in the days and the “clock tower and fountain was erected in memory of Framjee Bhikhajee Khan by his sons Bhikhajee and Munchershaw Framjee Khan as a token of affectionate gratitude and dedicated through the Municipal Council to the citizens of Colombo”. (The fountain does not function anymore).

A roadside vendor in Pettah.

A roadside vendor in Pettah. (Picture courtesy: Halik Azeez)

From there teams split into groups and set out to have the photo walk on the not so crowded but still busy streets of the shopping capital. Few walked towards the Leyden Bastian Road (that leads to the entrances of Port, Grand Oriental Hotel and the Police Headquarters) and York Street areas to capture the beauty of old colonial buildings while others set out along the Main Street and the cross streets. The streets were crowded but not to the extend of what you see on regular days. But since it was the festive season, we could see many colourful shops selling decorative items etc. Participants had so much to see and explore From old buildings, resting “Nattamis”, busy vendors, to stray cats. And this involved so much of photographing and Instagramming.

Time to rest.

Time to rest. (picture courtesy: Ashen Monnankulama)

And after a while we decided it was time to finish the event when it started to fall dark. We all met at Prince Street and had few group photographs taken.  Later, the members exchanged ideas on pictures taken. It was unanimously decided that we should have this kind of meetups very often. With that note we all set out to our homes.

For those who missed the event, and those who want to explore the beautiful instagraphs captured that day, you can search the #InstaMeetSL and #InstaMeetCMB hashtags on the Instagram app and enjoy. If you want to see them on the web, check out the following links: http://web.stagram.com/tag/instameetsl/?vm=grid and http://web.stagram.com/tag/instameetcmb/?vm=grid

The event attracted more than 20 participants who actively use Instagram. It was fun to have chats and take pictures while walking around and exploring places; something participants had never done before, even though everyone had visited Maradana and Pettah, quite often.

 

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iPhones don’t require any introduction. The first iPhone started a revolution in the smartphone industry and the revolution still continues. iPhones have become so iconic that they have a unimaginably large following all around the world. From the build quality to user experience, these beautifully crafted Apple iOS devices have always been a game changer of their time. But there is something more that attracts people towards iPhones; It’s the AppleCare warranty and after sales services offered directly by Apple or it’s partners. And this kind of a direct warranty backed by great after sales service was something, we Sri Lankans were not fortunate enough to experience.

Well, that was the story till few days ago. Yes, the long wait is finally over. Dialog Axiata, Sri Lanka’s largest and fastest growing mobile network, has become the first and only authorized partner and service provider for Apple iPhones in Sri Lanka. This unprecedented feat backed by Dialog’s proven track record of customer service has opened new pathway for Sri Lankans to experience Apple’s latest innovations without any hassles or worries about warranty and service.

It is also remarkable that Dialog was the first network to launch mobile 4G – LTE service in Sri Lanka and users of latest iPhone devices have the opportunity to experience super fast internet speeds thanks to Dialog 4G. Unlike any other manufacturers, Apple selectively approves mobile service providers to offer 4G-LTE connectivity to iPhones; and Dialog has now been officially approved as an LTE service provider too.

Dialog is now selling the beautifully designed iPhone 5S and the colourful iPhone 5C devices along with iPhone 4S devices. All iPhones retailed through Dialog will carry 1 year AppleCare warranty too. Following is the list of colour options available at Dialog for iPhones:

  • iPhone 5S 16GB version – Space Gray, Silver, and Gold
  • iPhone 5S 32GB version – Space Gray, Gold
  • iPhone 5C 16GB version – White, Blue, and Pink
  • iPhone 4S 8GB (GSM) version – Black

iPhone 5S 16GB version will cost Rs. 116, 000 and the 32GB version will cost Rs.129, 000 at Dialog outlets. iPhone 5C devices will cost Rs.98000 with Dialog and the iPhone 4S device will cost Rs.69 000. The usual discounts offered for Dialog’s priority customers will be still valid on their purchases.  Furthermore Dialog is offering “interest free” payment plans for Sampath Bank and Commercial Bank Credit Card holders. Other Credit Card holders also get regular 12 month and 24 month payment plans to purchase the devices.  These devices come without any contract commitments. And Dialog is providing some special offers along with the above deals.

As part of the special offers, Dialog has introduced special voice cum data package called “Apple Device Packages”. The chart below shows the Voice, SMS, and Data benefits offered in those packages. It should be noted that Dialog is offering these special packages without charging the rental for the first 12 months. Customer will have to pay rentals only from the 2nd year of use, which is a great deal.

Dialog iPhone Packages

Dialog iPhone Packages (Image courtesy dialog.lk)

Dialog has also made the iPhone devices available at all their main service outlets all around the country including North and East, so everyone can benefit from Dialog’s rapidly expanding 4G coverage. They also noted that their technical staff have been specially trained to offer instant support to their iPhone customers. Dialog Smart Device Support Desk can be reached 24/7/365 on 0777 886 886 for any assistance regarding iPhone devices. More details cane be obtained from http://dialog.lk/apple

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I’ve never owned a (stand alone) camera in my life. But I’ve been using smartphones that come with decent cameras, for sometime now. It’s amazing how smartphone cameras have evolved over the years. Back in the days “having a camera” on the phone was considered a luxury, even if it was a VGA camera. And then the megapixel wars started. A mid range smartphone these days will have at least a 5 Megapixel camera, while we’ve seen some some flagship models boasting up to 41 MP ones. While the megapixel and UltraPixel wars continue on one side, one cannot deny the fact that this revolution also has contributed to new ways of social networking through photo sharing apps and services. And Instagram does not require any introduction in 2013.

Started off as a photo sharing app on iPhone (iOS devices), it is now available on Android, Windows Phone and as a web based social network. I love Instagram (and for the record, I don’t share food pics). It’s about filters and “no filters”; and hashtags. There has been this age old debate as to whether Instagram is good for photography or not. Regardless of what people think, the growth and popularity of the service has never slowed down. Instagram is not limited for smartphone cameras either. There are a large number of professional photographers whose instagraphs are captured with Digital SLR cameras.

InstaMeetSL

Instagram is hugely popular among Sri Lankans. Even TweetupSL had an award category for Instagrammers this time. Few days before TweetupSL, Halik, one of my favorite Sri Lankan Instagrammers, tweeted this:

He was talking about an InstaMeet. Few days later I met him during TweetupSL and he mentioned about having a InstaMeet in Slave Island area and documenting the places and happenings there. The idea was simple. It had no cost involved. Above all it was about meeting people (cool kids?), which is fun. You carry your camera (again, not necessarily smartphone) and do what you are good at – Instagram! And thus, the InstaMeetSL idea was born.

So what are InstaMeets?

InstaMeets are a way for Instagram users to meet the fellow Instagrammers in their locality, offline (i.e in real life). Well, it is basically like having a Tweetup for Instagrammers. Instagrammers can take this opportunity to build real connections, discuss about photography (or should I term it as Instagraphy?) and discuss how they share common love for filters (*cough*). To quote Instagram, participants can “discuss your favorite filters, exchange tips, or just take photos together!”

The Community

There are many Instagram communities around the world. http://www.meetup.com/instagram/ lists all (1700+) of them. Everyone is welcome to join the “Colombo Instagram Community” meetup page here: http://www.meetup.com/Instagram/Colombo/ This meetup page will be monitored by Instagram staff too, and events will get featured in their blog etc. An InstaMeetSL Facebook group has also been set up.

(And, interestingly InstaMeets are not new to Sri Lanka. The “Kolamba Instagram Community” page has details of few meetups that were planned in 2012.)

Soon after InstaMeet Colombo announcement by Halik, we have seen announcements about InstaMeetGalle by Kasun. (Following is a confession) For someone who has never been to Galle (hides face in shame), I think these kind of meetups will give an opportunity to explore beautiful places.

The Plan?

At the time of writing we have more than 60 members in the InstaMeetSL Facebook group. If you’re an Instagrammer and not in the group, do feel free to join. The first edition of the meetup, InstaMeetCMB (InstaMeet Colombo) has been planned to be held on the 16th December (Monday) from 4 pm onwards at the Maradana Railway Station. Interested people can RSVP to the event here that the Facebook event page and the Meetup Community Page.

Sri Lanka has a rich Railway history. Stations in and around Colombo offer so much for the keen eyes. There are things that have never changed over the years and things that may be gone very soon. Hence, the selection of Maradana sure is interesting. To quote the event description, “Sri Lanka’s first Instameet, we will brave the elements and explore the ruinous remains said to conceal all manner of juicy photo ops North of Maradana Station, the station itself is quite happening.”

Instagram and hashtag have an interesting love and hate story. We’ll discuss that in a later post. For now, the hashtags for the event will be #InstaMeet #InstaMeetSL and #InstaMeetCMB. Participants are encouraged to use all three hashtags in their posts along with any other hashtag of their choice. If you can’t make it to the meetup, you can follow the above hashtags in Instagram, Twitter and Facebook!

I can’t wait to take part in the event and meet fellow Instagrammers. What about you?

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TweetupSL 4: Vote Now!

TweetupSL, as we all know, is the largest gathering of the Sri Lankan Twitter community. And from TweetupSL 1 to TweetupSL 3 which was held last year, the community has seen strong growth. This year, preparations are underway to have TweetupSL 4 in a grander scale. A number of interesting activities have been planned for the event, which will be held on the 7th of December at Mercantile Cricket Association, Colombo 7.

Entry Requirements

 This time around, the organizing committee has introduced a set of entry requirements. Tweeps who want to register for the event should meet the following criteria:

  • Should have been active in Twitter for at least 6 months.
  • Should have at least 500 tweets in his/her account.
  • Should have minimum 50 followers.

And more importantly, should be actively tweeting and interacting with the Sri Lankan Twitter community. At the time of writing, the registrations had exceeded 700.

Tweetup is a fun event focused on getting tweeps together and providing a chance to meet and interact in real life. So why have such restrictions, you may wonder. Well, there are many reasons. The Sri Lankan Twitter community is very large. It is also a rapidly growing community. So it is important to make sure the crowd at the event is manageable. These rules will allow to filter the most deserving & active tweeps who will benefit from the event. Also, this restriction will mean, the online votes for the competitions remain free of manipulations by any fake or spam accounts, thus contributing for a fair voting. (A tweep needs to register/login to vote for the categories)

 Supporting a worthy cause

This year will also see TweetupSL having something beyond the “fun” aspect. We will be having “Water With A Difference” (an initiative by late friend and wonderful tweep @sarathsc) on board as a partner and all participants will get a chance to contribute to the project. This will be done through the purchase of a ticket priced at 100 LKR. In return participants will get a WWAD bottle of water along with  a food voucher sponsored by Prima Kottumee. The fund collected will be donated to the representatives from WWAD at  the end of the event.

We will also have Needy Readers team  and the participants can donate any books in usable condition, which will be used to set up school libraries in less privileged areas. A target of collecting 5000 books is anticipated and tweeps are encouraged to bring books for this worthy cause.

 Furthermore Gihan Fernando (editor at digit.lk) is working on a special edition TweetupSL book, which will document the history and special events of Sri Lankan twittersphere. Such a book is published for the first time ever and it will surely be a great souvenir for the Sri Lankan Twitter community. What is worth mentioning about this book is that the book is compiled with the help of the tweeps, so its a one of a kind crowdsourced book in our views. The book is available to all tweeps who pre-order at a very reasonable price of Rs 250 (which is 50% off from retail price of Rs 500).

 Competitions

Moving on to competitions, the organizing team has planned for some really fun filled competitions for the event. We will also have our regular competitions to recognize the deserving tweeps among us. Voting started on the 25th and will go on till the 1st of December.

At the time of writing, the leaderboard for Mr.Tweep & Miss.Tweep, two of the hugely popular categories looked like this:

Mr.Tweep and Miss.Tweep leader-board at the time of writing

Mr.Tweep and Miss.Tweep leader-board at the time of writing

Surprisingly there isn’t a huge margin between the top 5 and the positions seem to be changing quite often. Looking at the number of votes for each participants in ‘Mr.Tweep’ category, I can tell you this will be a highly competitive and unpredictable one till the last moment.

The leaderboard of some other popular categories like Tech Tweep of the year and Twitterholic, looked like this:

Top contestants: Tech Tweep & Twitterholic of the year!

Top contestants: Tech Tweep & Twitterholic of the year!

Apart from the regular categories, few more interesting categories have been introduced. One of them is the “Twitter News Breaker of the Year” which will require the tweeps to vote for the tweep who is usually fast in providing news (of any nature). I’m sure a number of tweeps and journalists will have some tough competition. And I don’t think brands or news agencies will fit into this category, which is aimed at recognising individuals. At the time of writing, this category was among the ones with lowest total number of votes. And thus one of the unpredictable categories.

Twitter News Breaker of the Year Top contestants!

Twitter News Breaker of the Year Top contestants!

The organising team has also introduced few restrictions to the voting. As mentioned before, only those who register will be able to vote. So there cannot be vote manipulation. The members of the organizing committee cannot compete/ tweeps can’t vote for them. This is mainly intended in maintaining the transparency of the whole event. Also, this time tweeps cannot vote for someone who won the same award at TweetupSL 3, last year. This rule has brought mixed reactions from Tweeps. This was in no way intended to cause any difficulties in selecting a suitable candidate.  It was simply intended to allow more tweeps (from the now large community ) to get noticed and recognised. And to maintain a high level of competitiveness and interest in the competition.

What's your take on the "Most Controversial Tweep" and "Diplotweep"?

What’s your take on the “Most Controversial Tweep” and “Diplotweep”?

What the organizing team expects is to see people taking more interest in voting and vote for the most fitting and deserving candidates so their work/talent gets recognized. At the end of the day, the tweetup event should be a fun filled as well as a meaningful event. The Sri Lankan Twitter community is a very diverse one comprising of people from various beliefs and backgrounds but thus far we have managed to stand as one and celebrate as one. Let us unite once more, bigger and stronger, as ONE.

And before I finish, here’s a sneak peak into the leader-board of few more categories:

Who will end up winning these categories? I of course see some of my favourites in the list!

Who will end up winning these categories? I of course see some of my favourites in the list!

(Note: The above leader-boards reflect the status at the time of writing (28.11.2013). Each category has recorded different number of votes. Not everyone who registered has voted, yet. Tweeps have the option to vote all categories at once, or at different times, until the registration portal is closed. Once voted, the votes cannot be changed.)

1995

The much awaited event of the year for the Sri Lankan Tweeps, the TweetupSL 4 will be held on the 7th of December. And the portal for tweeps to get registered for the event is about to go live at 5 pm today! Yes, that’s few minutes from now and the excitement among tweeps can be seen everywhere on our timelines!

 We managed to capture some of the excitement here:

And to add to that excitement, we learn that they’ll be more exciting stuff happening this time at the event. TweetupSL will be partnering with ‘Water With a difference’ project and participants will be able to donate to the cause. Tweeps will also be able to donate books to needy Readers, so bring those books that you have read that are just lying around in your homes!

And as usual everyone can hope so many cool goodies including TweetupSL T-shirts. The Digit team is also excited to be an Online media partner at the event and we are also working on the TweetupSL book, for the first time ever. So, hurry to the TweetupSL website to register and learn more!

 

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Qboo Prototypes

“Bringing computing power to everyday objects” was the futuristic vision of Lahiru Priyadarshana, a Sri Lankan born software engineer with special interests in Human Computer Interaction, Artificial Intelligence, Computer Sensing and Machine Vision . And today, he and his team at Kreyonic (where he is a co-founder),  are on track with achieving this goal with an Indiegogo crowd-funding campaign for their newest project – “Qboo: Smart Plush Toys for Children”. The ambitious aim of the Kreyonic team is to raise $25000 to support the manufacturing cost and development of the product.

QbooLogo

Qboo

Gone are the days when kids used to run around in the gardens and play with physical objects. Change in modern lifestyle has shown it’s effect on the learning patterns of children whose brains undergo vast development during early childhood days. Sadly, children these days spend their lazy afternoons in front of TVs or playing computer games. “The time children spend in front of a display screen of some sort is increasing rapidly as well. However, apart from keeping them busy this passive and non-active screen time alone will not aid in their brain development.” notes the Kreyonic team.

“It is imperative for kids, particularly in their early ages to play with toys. Active play involving pretend-play and imaginative-play is a major part of healthy brain development as often stressed by child psychology experts.”

And thus, the Kreyonic team came up with Qboo! We at Digit were fascinated by this new product, and had a an exclusive interview with the team behind the idea.

What is Qboo?

Qboo is the first in the line of Kreyonic products. According to the Kreyonic team, “Qboo is a set of farm animals from the magical farm land far far away”. The Qboo characters are made of fabric (plush toys) and they come to life through an interactive educational tablet application which is bundled in the package. The team is planning to release the application for tablets running both iOS and Android. “With the use of actual toys, our products can make screen time more meaningful and fun for children.” Lahiru says while talking about this new project.

Qboo Final Version - Sample

Qboo Final Version – Sample

How does Qboo work?

Once you get hold of the Qboo toys and install the bundled application on your tablet device, all you need to do is to place the toys on the screen. And the magic will unfold in front of the little kids. The tablet app automatically detects the type / character of the toy and presents a variety of activities on the screen!

“Qboo toys do not have any electronics inside. Current toys are passive and use multi-touch technology on latest capacitive sensing tablet screens. Each toy has a uniquely identifiable pattern embroidered with a special thread; when kids place toys on the tablet screen, each toy registers a unique multi touch pattern that our application can use to recognize the type of toy being used” explains Lahiru.

Now, we have got a question. The toys need to be placed on the tablet screen for the stories to unfold. Will the toys damage or scratch the tablet device / screen?

“No. This is one of the main things many parents are concerned. We take this extremely seriously and that is why we wanted to create a toy, which is both kid friendly and tablet friendly. The toys are completely made of fabric (plush toys) and no matter how hard your child use it on your tablet device… Qboo toys will not damage or scratch the tablet screen.” assures Lahiru.

The most creative part of Qboo is that the application encourages non-structured, open ended game play, unlike any other game stories that end in a short time. Thus children can choose which characters they want in their stories. Qboo also allows kids to control the flow of the stories based on their own imagination. So, every time the kid starts to play, a different story unfolds in front of his eyes. This means the kids will never get bored with Qboo.

Another interesting thing about Qboo toys, is that they can be used as a regular soft toy, when there is no tablet around. “At Kreyonic, our main goal is to encourage physical play for kids without restricting their access to technology. The toys and stories are made carefully so that kids can continue playing with them even there is no tablet around! Qboo toys are not electronic toys so kids can do pretend-play and imaginative play in the real world just as they play with other plush toys.” adds Lahiru.

Qboo is targeted at the age group of 3-5

Qboo is targeted at the age group of 3-5

What age group is Qboo targeted at?

“The current application we are working on is targeted for kids from 3 to 5 years. The stories are developed under guidance and instructions from educators, early child development experts and parents. We are raising more funds so that we can add an educator and a creative story writer permanently to the team very soon!!” notes the Kreyonic team.

How can you become part of the exciting Qboo journey?

Well, you can use this chance to get something unique to the little ones in your family, while helping this team of Sri Lankan youth kick-start their business on a global scale. The Qboo project is currently in crowdfunding stage at Indiegogo. And, anyone around the world can start backing the project by contributing as low as CAD$ 10 (which will earn you exclusive Qboo merchandise). The real deal starts at CAD$20. Yes, as an early bird offer, you can pre-order the Qboo starter pack along with 3 stories for as low as CAD$20 (around Rs.2500. Add CAD$15 for international shipping). This offer is limited to the first 50 backers; so hurry! More other contribution plans can be seen from the official Indiegogo site here. The funding ends on 3rd of January 2014 and then the team will proceed to manufacturing and you’ll receive your product by next April, in time for the Avurudu! (There you go, perfect Avurudu gift idea for the little cousin!) :)

Meet the team!

“We love technology and we love KIDS!” says the team that includes Lahiru Priyadarshana, Dasun Priyankara and Amani Soysa. And the talented Isuri Hewage (Art Of Isuri) is the illustrator and designer behind the project.

Kreyonic Team. From Left: Lahiru, Amani and Dasun

Kreyonic Team. From Left: Lahiru, Amani and Dasun

Why did the team choose Canada? “We chose Canada because we knew that our initial target market is in North America…we wanted to be as close as to our target market. So we moved here in last August. We find Canada, specially Kitchener-Waterloo to be very exciting and active in the start-up space. It is the community here that makes all the difference! You are surrounded with passionate, inspirational entrepreneurs and you really can feel the energy that keeps you moving forward!” says Lahiru enthusiastically.

Qboo will be in the hands of little children. So the toys need to be safe and from a trusted manufacturer. “We are partnered with a local manufacturer based in Kitchener, Waterloo. They are working with a factory in China, which is where the final product will be made. The factories are operated in safer environment under toy safety regulations. All the toys will go under proper testing and will have an internationally approved toy safety certification.” assures Lahiru.

Isuri: the designer.

Isuri: the designer.

Adding further, “Current toys are passive and we have plans to release active toys with more electronics in future. So this is just the beginning” says he.

Even though Lahiru and his team are based in Canada, he is very much interested to see more similar startups emerge from his motherland. “We all at Kreyonic are very happy to see that a lot of great things are happening in the Sri Lankan IT sector…specially in the startup scene.! We are also just starting… still a small startup, and there is a long way to go. So with all the budding entrepreneurs out there, I would like to share one of the best advices we were given during our time here. “All the best things happen outside of your comfort zone; so step out right now!” :) ” – he says with a smile; the enthusiasm in this young man’s smile cannot be described in words. We at Digit are also proud of this young man, for he is one of the previous employees at GTS!

So, everyone reading this, do spread the word and help this budding startup to achieve their innovative goal by backing them in their Indiegogo campaign here: http://igg.me/at/qboo

Qboo: Smart Plush Toys from Kreyonic from Kreyonic on Vimeo.