Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Trick or Treat

It’s the night when all the spooky creatures come out to play. When witches prepare magic potions in their black cauldrons and get ready to feast. The night when the headless horseman goes looking for his lost head. It’s all part of Halloween…The modern day one that is.

The origins of Halloween goes back to the ancient times of the Celts in Britain and Ireland. The Celts are an ancient race that occupied the areas of Ireland and Northern France over 2000 years ago. It is from their ancient festival of Samhain (pronounced Sow-in) that the modern celebrations of Halloween came about.

According to the Celtic calendar, their new year fell on November 1st. It was the day that marked the end of summer and the harvest and the beginning of the dark cold winter, a time of the year associated with human death. The believed that on the eve of the new year the boundary between the dead and the living became blurred and ghosts of the dead returned to earth. They also thought that the presence of these spirits made it easier for the Druids to make their predictions This was what was celebrated on the night of October 31st as the Samhain.

Led by the Druids they celebrated the festival by building huge sacred bonfires, where they burnt crops and made animal sacrifices. During these celebrations the Celts wore costumes typically made out of animal heads and skins.

Then in AD 43 the Romans conquered the Celts and ruled them for 400 years. Two Roman festivals became integrated with the Samhain celebrations. One was the Feralia, a day to commemorate the passing of the dead and the other was a day to honor Pomona, the Roman goddess of fruit and trees.

Later Christianity made its influence on the Celts. They declared November 1st as All Saints Day, to commemorate saints and martyrs. This day was known as All Hallows or All Hallowmas. Subsequently the day before, October 31st was referred to as All Hallows Eve, which through the year turned into Halloween. Later the church declared November 2nd as the All Souls Day, a day to honor the dead and it was celebrated similar to Samhain.

Later as people migrated to the new worlds they took with them these traditions, which have evolved into the celebration that we see today.

To us SL people there is no significance of Halloween, except maybe to throw another party.


Links for the interested:

Halloween Wikipedia
Halloween History
All Saint's Day
All Soul's Day
The Goddess Pomona

Friday, October 26, 2007

The Beast

She slumbers patiently
Till the time a rider will come
Brave at heart and an adventurous soul
To awaken her spirit
And take her out into the world
Her black coat shines
Where the sunlight hits
With a hint of chrome
To give that extra glint

A tiny spark is all that it takes
To ignite the inflammable blood
That courses through her veins
Blood of fire that will pump the heart
To bring the iron maiden roaring to life
Open roads beckon forth
Break the chains and taste the freedom
An Iron maiden and her rider
Goes forth towards the setting sun

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Night Fishing

Last Saturday night I was nicely settled with a book when two of my buds, K and R called up saying they were going fishing and were picking me up too. So half and hour later I was in back of the K Mobile and heading towards our usual place.

The “Usual” place is a small park on the banks of a river, where there is an unfinished pavilion of sorts with steps leading down to the water. I say unfinished because I think the initial plan was to have a roof over the thing, but I guess they ran out of money before that. Now there are only some concrete pillars standing there. The place is cool, most of the time deserted at night, but with lights for illumination. This is where we normally end up when we want to throw back a few beers and just chill.

When I say river, it is not your clear-blue-water, can-drink-straight-out-of-it sort of river. It runs through a city so it’s basically brown in color, and while you can drink out of it, you’d better be prepared to stay inside the loo for a couple of days. However there’s plenty of fish in it. Whenever we are chilling out here, we see local fishermen out on boats, who catch loads of fish, and some even put lines from the bank and goes home with a bag load for dinner. So we thought we’d also try our luck at it.

I have gone fishing with my dad a couple of times when I was small, but never caught a thing, not even a malnourished sprat. The only things that got caught were some twigs. That kind of put me off the whole fishing experience. R on the other hand has some experience at it. So armed with some lines and hooks, no rods mind you, we tried our luck that night. For bait we used this Barnacle like critter with a conical shell that gets washed up on shore during low tide. I have no idea what they are called though. You have to crack the shells to get the critter out of it.

With hooks thus baited we cast out the lines and waited. We opened up a couple of beers and ate some munchies. After about ten minutes or so what do I see? My line has a bite on it. Reel it in and there is an unlucky bugger attached to it. My first ever fish, in a life time. Ok it wasn’t a big one, but a small fry the size of my finger, but hey it’s still a fish ain’t it? Oddly enough, before I could celebrate, it started to rain. You think maybe someone was trying to send us a message? Hmm I wonder…

Anyway when the rain settled down we continued with renewed excitement. Within another half hour or so R managed to catch two more. We thought we were in for a big haul. Unfortunately that never happened. After nearly five hours of standing in water, what do we have to show for it? Three measly fish no bigger than your fingers and a crab, which R found hiding in an old tire. The annoying part was that there were plenty of fish, some were even pecking at our legs and jumping out of the water, but they weren’t just taking the bait. They have gotten smart. I swear I could hear them laughing as we got out of the water. Darn critters…

After awhile we got fed up with it and around one o’clock Sunday morning, we headed back home. Ah but we are not deterred. We will be back, with a rod next time, and maybe try our luck from the bridge. You wait and see, we’ll get you yet…

What happened to the fish we caught? Well they weren’t even worth to make a soup out of it, so we gave them to a cat that hangs around the park. Lucky kitty had a right royal dinner that night. All three disappeared inside its tummy in less than a minute. As for the crab, he went back into the water, where he must be regaling his buddies with his adventures.

I learned a valuable lesson from this little expedition? Thank god for supermarkets :D. I don’t think I’ll be able to catch anything even if my life depended on it. There must be some kind of art to it, privy only to the fisher-folk or, everybody else except me…

Monday, October 15, 2007

National Parks of Sri Lanka

The long awaited day is here at last. Today (Oct 15th) is Blog Action Day, where bloggers worldwide unite and write for a common cause, the environment.

Our environment is an essential part of our lives, without it we can not and will not survive. This fact seems to be lost on many people today. Rampant destruction of the environment is slowly killing off the planet.

Well I’m not going ramble on about the causes and effects of environmental destruction. You can find more than enough articles about it on the net and other media. Instead I’m going to put the spotlight on the National Parks of Sri Lanka, which are playing an important role in nature conservation and protecting whatever wildlife that is left from total destruction.

Although we are only a tiny island with only 65,610 sq. km of solid ground to stand on, we can proudly say that we have set aside 12.4% (8135.64 of that land mass as protected areas. That may not be much, but considering the land area and the population, it is significant. With the growth of the population, this is also getting threatened.

All of these protected areas are administered by the Department of Wildlife Conservation, which was set up just for this purpose. There are 18 such national parks established up to now. These are from a range of ecological zones and they are designed to preserve and protect a variety of flora and fauna that is unique to these particular areas.

Conservation of nature has been a part of our tradition, since the ancient times. We should be proud that one of the world’s first wildlife sanctuaries was established in Sri Lanka, as far back as the 3rd century BC. This was established by King Devanampiyatissa, during his reign. It was during his reign that Buddhism was introduced to the country.

The first legal provision to protect wildlife through the establishment of wildlife sanctuaries was the Forrest Ordinance, enacted in 1885, during the colonial period. The Fauna and Flora Protection Ordinance of 1937 abolished game sanctuaries. This ordinance also introduced 4 categories of national reserves.

1. Strict Nature Reserve
2. National Parks
3. Nature Reserve
4. Sanctuaries

Presently there are 18 national parks established around the country. They are as follows:
(Please note all area values are approximate)

Ruhuna (Yala) National Park

This park consist of 5 blocks.
Block I – est. 25th February 1938
Block II – est. 3rd September 1954
Block III – est. 28th April 1967
Block IV – est. 9th October 1969
Block V – est. 5th October 1973

The total area covered by this park is 960, but only 138 sq km is open to the public.

More Details

Yala East National Park

Consists of two blocks

Block II – est. 26th December 1969
Block I – est. 2nd January 1970

Total area covered is 178 sq km

Udawalawa National Park

Declared as the 5th national park in the country on 30th June 1972
Total area cover 302 sq km

More Details

Willpattu National Park

One of the oldest parks in the country, it was established as a sanctuary in 1905 and upgraded to national park status on 25th February 1938. Willpattu North Sanctuary was declared on 7th November 1947.

Now there is also a marine extension to the park with the Dutch and Portugal Bay areas also declared as protected under the reserve.

Total area of the park is 1290 sq km

More Details

Wasgomuwa National Park

This park probably has the least amount of human disturbance and infrastructure, being isolated by large rivers on all sides except one. It probably has more wildlife and diversity among the wild fauna and flora in any park.

This was originally established as a game sanctuary in 1902 and part of it declared as a strict nature reserve in 1938 and the rest as an intermediate zone in 1945. These two areas and additional areas ware brought together and decaled as a national park on 7th August 1984.

Total area of the park is 385 sq km

More Details

Somawathiya Chaitiya National Park

This park has the largest concentration of wild elephants in the country, together with the adjacent Flood Plains National Park.

This was initially designated as a sanctuary on 9th August 1966 and declared a national park on 2nd September 1986. it was later extended on 12th May 1987 with the addition of Block II.

Total area of the park is 370 sq km

Flood Plains National Park

This park was created along part of the River Mahaweli, the largest river in Sri Lanka, with the river flowing along the middle of the park. Its importance is because it creates a link between the Wasgomuwa National Park and the Somawathiya Chaitiya National Park, providing a safe corridor of passage for migrating wildlife, especially elephants between the two parks.

Declared as a national park on 7th August 1984

Total area of the park is 170 sq km.

Minneriya National Park

This covers an uninhabited area of the country’s most diverse natural systems. The park basically covers the Minneriya Tank (Reservoir) and the surrounding areas. This tank was built during 3rd century AD by King Mahasen.
The Minneriya – Giritale area was initially declared as a sanctuary on 29th July 1938 and declared as a national park on 12th August 1997

Total area of the park in 87 sq km

More Details

Lahugala Kitulana National Park

One of the smallest parks in the country, it is in the basin of the Heda Oya (River). It covers three tanks (reservoirs) Lahugala, Kitulana and Sangamuwa.

Initialy declared as a sanctuary on 1st July 1966 and upgraded to national park status on 31st October 1980.

Total area of the park is 15 sq km

Maduru Oya National Park

Created to protect the catchment areas of five reservoirs of the Mahaweli Project.

Declared as a national park on 9th November 1983.

Total area of the park is 576 sq km

More Details

Gal Oya National Park

Established to protect the catchment areas of the reservoir Senanayaka Samudraya on 12th February 1954.

Total area of the park is 253 sq km

More Details

Horton Plains National Park

Probably the most scenic of the park and is situated in the hill country. It covers the Horton Plains and the surrounding forest and Peak wilderness, which has the county’s most important catchment areas of almost all the major rivers of the country.

Initially declared as a sanctuary on 5th December 1969 and upgraded to a national park on 16th March 1988.

The altitude of the park ranges from 1800 m to 2400 m from sea level, and the plateau at 2100 m is the highest in the country.

More Details

Bundala National Park

An important wetland for birds and one of the most important wintering areas for migratory shore birds.

Initially declared as a sanctuary on 5th December 1969 and declared a Wetland of International Importance on 15th October 1990, during the time of Sri Lanka ratifying the Ramsar convention.

Total area of the park is 60 sq km.

More Details

Lunugamvehera National Park

This is the immediate catchment area for the Lunugamvehera Reservoir and provides a link between the Yala National Park and the Udawalawe National Park, for safe passage for migrating Elephants.

Established on 8th December 1995.

Total area of the park is 198 sq km

More Details

Kaudulla National Park

Recently created by covering the Kudulla Tank and surrounding areas. This tank is one of the oldest in the country.

Established on 1st April 2002.

Total area of the park is 70 sq km

More Details

Horagolla National Park

The youngest and the smallest of the parks, it was established on 28th July 2004 and cover only 33 acres.

More Details

Hikkaduwa National Park

One of the two marine parks of the country, it protects the coral reefs along the western coasts Hikkaduwa area.

Created as a marine sanctuary in 1979 and upgraded to a national park on 19th September 2002.

Total area of the park is 0.5 sq km in the sea.

Paravi Dupatha National Park

This covers part of the Indian Ocean on the Eastern coast of Sri Lanka, near Trincomalee

Established on 4th June 2003.

Total area of the park is 4.6 sq km.

With the growth of the population, the battle between humans and the wilderness is on the increase. The need for land for agriculture and human habitation is taking away whatever wilderness that is left. The aim of these nature reserves is to protect at lest some of these wilderness areas from total destruction. This way we can ensure that future generations too can enjoy the beauty of the wonderful fauna, flora and the wilderness of the beautiful island we call home.

Sorry can’t provide any good online links since I sourced the details from a book

Source: A Guide to National Parks of Sri Lanka
Published by: Department of Wildlife Conservation, Sri Lanka

Other Links

Nature Reserves - Wikipedia
Department of Wildlife Conservation, Sri Lanka
National Parks - InfotravelSriLanka
Sri Lanka Wildlife Conservation Society

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

The Case of the Disappearing Fish

I have this small fish tank that I keep in my room, with six little fishies in it, four gold fish and two Scavengers. Last night I came home and went to say hi to the buggers and what do I see? There were only five of them swimming around. One dude has gone AWOL. One of the Scavengers was not in the tank. I checked with me dad, and he say all 6 were there about an hour ago. So the mystery deepens. How can a fish disappear from a tank in a closed room?

I was brooding on this and looking around the room and what do I see? Mr. AWOL lying on the floor all the way across the room. It seems like he has jumped out of the tank and gone for a little stroll. He was on the other end of the room from where the tank is. I thought the dude was dead, but when picked up he was still alive and kicking, so quickly put him back. I didn’t bother to cover up the tank earlier, but with these adventurous dude around I might have to reconsider :D.

Most commonly known here as “Scavengers” they are also known as “Plecostomus” meaning “folded mouth” or “Plecos” for short. Other common names include “Suckerfish” and “Suckermouth Catfish”. Their scientific name is “Hypostomus plecostomus”.

Generally peaceful animals, so they can be kept with other species without any trouble. It seems that the grow up to about 18 inches, which means I might have to get a bigger tank in the near future.

Pleco Profile

Pleco Profile - Wikipedia

Fishy Jones aka Mr. AWOL
Ain't the greatest pics, but the dude wont stay in one place :D

(Got this off the net)

Monday, October 08, 2007

Oasis of Silence

Photography exhibition “Oasis of Silence” by Beat Presser will be shown at the Lighthouse Hotel & Spa in Galle, from the 7th to the 27th of October. The workshop exhibition "My Oasis of Silence" by the 26 Sri Lankan photographers, who participated in Beat Presser's workshop, will also be displayed.

The book entitled “Oasis of Silence: will also be available during the exhibition and in all leading bookshops.

Beat Presser

Friday, October 05, 2007

World Teachers Day (WTD)

October 5th is designated as World Teachers Day, celebrated since 1994. According to UNESCO, WTD represents a significant token of the awareness, understanding and appreciation displayed for the vital contribution that teachers make to education and development.

As I see it, teaching is one of the most important professions in the world. Ok you may disagree saying that doctors or scientists and even, god forbid politicians are better, but a doctor wouldn’t be a doctor if someone hadn’t taught him/ her in the first place. All of us have had teacher in our life, and still do, and we wouldn’t be where we are if not for them would we? Yet somehow the profession of teaching does not get the due respect which it deservers.

In the good old days, at a time when knowledge was held in high esteem (yes, there was a time like that), teachers were held in high regard. However as the world became more money mad and where wealth, instead of knowledge got you respect, teachers have been reduced to mere servants to look after kids. Dumbass politicians, drug lords and others of their sort are the one’s getting the “respect” now. It’s a sad world today. Most teachers get paid in peanuts, and we wonder why they complain and have strikes. In my perfect world teachers and the profession of teaching would be held in high regards, with pay scales to match.
Ok during the school years (a long time ago :D, a time which I sadly miss), nobody likes their teachers and will make fun of them behind their backs at every given chance, but the respect was there. While in school you don’t realize it, but teachers does play a big part in how you turn out in life. I am not saying that all teachers are saints, there are some despicable ones around, but the majority is truly concerned with nurturing the minds of the young.

So I say a heartfelt thanks to all my teachers who have taught me something along this potholed road of life. The truth is that I haven’t seen or heard about many of them after leaving school, but where ever they are they do deserver a big thank you.

Something from the official site:

We, teachers of the world, demand

* A decent working environment - a safe and healthy learning environment for teachers and learners, appropriate class-sizes and adequate pedagogical resources in the classroom;
* Living wages - salaries that allow for decent living conditions and that are regularly paid;
* Equal pay and equal rights for women - female teachers should not experience discrimination of any form and governments should ensure the empowerment of women in the education setting, in decision making and in the workplace;
* Initial and ongoing professional development - the opportunity to gain and to develop professional skills, to be kept uptodate with new information and pedagogical techniques, and to develop a career;
* Involvement in policy-making - to ensure that new policies reflect the reality of the classroom, social dialogue should be an integral part of education planning and policy formulation;
* Collective bargaining to defend and enhance teachers’ rights - working conditions, as well as quality assessments of teaching procedures, must be negotiated between representatives of the government/employers and the representative education unions.

The true teacher defends his pupils against his own personal influence.
Amos Bronson Alcott (1799 - 1888)

Teachers open the door. You enter by yourself.
Chinese Proverb


Thursday, October 04, 2007

50 Years of Sputnik

On a day like today 50 years ago, a revolution took place. A revolution that changed the way people saw the world and ushered in a new era of technological development. It all started because a hunk of metal the size of a Basketball, weighing 183 pounds was hurled into space where it orbited our lovely little planet in an elliptical path.

October 4th 1957 was the day that the first ever artificial satellite was launched into space. It was named Sputnik and was launched by the Russians, the former USSR, from their Baikonur cosmodrome in Kazakhstan. To make sure that every one back on Earth knew that it was up there, the equipped it with transmitters that broadcasted on 20 to 40 MHz frequencies.

Now these were the days of the good old cold war. A time when the US of A was the self-proclaimed capitalist good guys, and USSR the commie baddies, who were basically worthless. So when the so called bad guys were the first to launch a space satellite, the good guys blew their tops off and vowed never to let the baddies win again. This gave birth to the “Space Race” between USA and USSR, on top of the existing race of “Bigger and Better Nuclear Weapons”. (The term WMD hadn’t still caught on). They kept on building bigger and better stuff to keep ahead of the others. In a way it was good, in that it speeded up the technological development.

Years went by, USSR became capitalist Russia and became pals with USA. Now they work together, instead of against each other to further space exploration. A result of this cooperation is the “International Space Station (ISS)”.

Even though many countries have some sort of space program, only USA, Russia and China have successfully put a human into space.

"In 1957 while anxiously awaiting a successful launch of Vanguard I, I was listening to Radio Moscow on the evening of Oct. 4 and heard the original announcement to the world of Sputnik, the first successful space satellite. Listening on the 27MHz frequency announced on Radio Moscow, I heard the Beep, Beep, Beep that was heard around the world. It was not there at first and I had to listen for a while to get it, gradually building up then dying out. Thus I heard the actual Sputnik before it was even announced on American radio and TV news. Some thought it a hoax at the time but I knew better. Listening to the Beeps getting stronger then fading with a Doppler shift quite evident. 27 MHz was a strange choice of frequency, never figured out why the Russians chose it."

Rich Tweedie – An amateur radio operator who was one of the first people to hear Sputnik

(Pic source Wikipedia)

External Links

NASA History Page


Space Exploration

Space Agencies

International Space Station