A better means of patient care

I have often wondered why there was no alternative available to allow for the mass of people crossing the roads in Bambalapitiya, Kollupitiya and Fort, mostly while sitting exasperated behind the wheel of my car, behind many other drivers in a hurry to get to work. So I was honestly quite thrilled to hear about the proposed overhead pedestrian bridges that are to be included in the urban development plan for Colombo. This also put me in mind of another area that the authorities should pay attention to – the Cardiac Care Unit (CCU) of the National Hospital of Sri Lanka (NHSL).

As you can see from the map below (please zoom in for clarity), the CCU is separated from the main hospital complex by the junction created by the intersection of E W Perera Mawatha and Kynsey Road.

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 I happen to travel along Kynsey Road on a daily basis and have noticed that often patients are wheeled along on trolleys over from the CCU to the main complex. Being the only person in the car at the time, I’ve not been able to capture any photos of this practice, until recently when a minor repair resulted in the opportunity to travel to work in the passenger seat.

As you can see from the photos below, patients are being carted off from the CCU (which I think is where you’re put if you have some serious heart conditions) to the main complex (where I think the surgery wards are located) during morning traffic, under no cover. Looks a pretty lousy deal to me.



The patients are carted over by attendants, with their families in tow:


On this particular day it was two trolleys/mobile beds in use and there were two families(I assume) following the patients.

Now I’m no medical expert, but this seems a rather horrible risk to be exposed to, especially if you’re having some sort of heart condition. So while we’re looking at the possibility of overhead pedestrian bridges for the main junctions, perhaps this area could also get some attention?

An overhead crossing of the sort you find in Singapore or Hong Kong, with escalators and elevators would no doubt provide some relief.

Why don’t you complain?

Real Estate Client Referrals angry customer
Photo from here

One of the hazards of being in services is that people expect you to be responsible for all service issues they’ve experienced with that company. So general conversation moves very quickly from the usual “Where do you work?” ice-breaker to the “oh! you work there? I had this terrible experience last Tuesday with …”

All too often, my response has been an apology on behalf of the company and a request for the new acquaintance’s contact details so that I can pass them on to someone in the Customer Service Department.

Until recently, that is. Now I ask “Have you complained?” and surprisingly get the answer “No” more often than not. When I ask about the hesitation to complain – “no, it’s not nice – no?”, “but service is generally very good except for that specific area” are the cliché responses. I then take some time to explain that complaining is the best way the company will find out about the problems in its service delivery.

Do we as Sri Lankans have a problem with complaining? Is it because culturally we are expected to be nice to people and therefore feel bad about pointing out a failure, albeit a minor one? Or is it that we as a people don’t take complaints in a positive manner – so much so that the “victim” feels that there is no point complaining since there will be no redress?

I looked back on my own experiences with less than satisfactory services/suppliers. Historically I’ve been the type to just not make a fuss, but somehow I find that I’ve become less tolerant of poor service.

And then there’s the time that I was put on hold for 15 minutes when booking a flight with JetStar which made me appreciate the better response from our local call centers. When I gave them the feedback via their website, I got a letter from their Manager apologising for the inconvenience. When Sri Lankan Airlines forcibly offloaded my Mother-in-law with no proper explanation and we complained in writing, in the months that have passed we have not even received  an acknowledgement of the complaint. So basically we can complain, but YMMV.

From a personal viewpoint, it’s the criticisms of my actions that have helped me improve. Sometimes those criticisms have been misdirected, so I’ve had to exercise some judgement on whether to change or not. But overall, complaints have had a positive impact. I would imagine that companies would benefit from adopting a similar stance.

Where do you find good help these days?

We recently did some landscaping work, where my Mother-in-Law’s motto “every Baas will break something in the process of making something” was confirmed. Her call for constant supervision of the “experts” – something my own father constantly demands- was also vindicated when the water bills came in.

Turns out the guy who “jazzed up” the water outlet in the garden managed to do so by doing some shoddy work with the pipes, resulting in a massive underground leak. The result was that we ran through three months’ worth of water in two weeks. Thankfully, the Water Board has a team that will come and check the pipes for leaks, for a reasonable fee.

It’s when we were wondering what to do later on that it occurred to me that the market for Skilled labour – Carpenters, Masons, Electricians and Plumbers – in Sri Lanka is something of a gray area (at least, as I know of it). I mean, where do you find one?

For example, I have always associated Carpenters with Moratuwa (not withstanding the fact that I spent most of my childhood there) so whenever we need the services of one, my aunt calls up one of her pals there to find out. An electrician? It’s the same guy who’s been doing the stuff for the house over the past few years, and that too a recommendation from a relation.

But what is the guarantee that the person you select knows what he’s doing? It’s the reviews of people you know that matter. When we were looking for a plumber (the usual fellow being unreachable), my Father in Law consulted the guy at the Kade at the top of the road. Next thing you know, a guy turns up in the evening saying that he’ll have a look. It being a little dark at the time, I took him around and told him about the prospective leaks. Then he tells me that he’s actually an electrician, but he does a little plumbing too. Given the recent nightmares, I promptly showed him out.

So where do you go to find someone with skilled labour? And where do you get training in such skills? In some parts of the country I guess it’s more of a learned skill that gets handed down from generation to generation. Which would suffer if the mentor didn’t turn out to be a very good one.

In some countries you could use craigslist or the equivalent. I haven’t used a telephone directory in ages, so I don’t really know if any of them advertise. Where do you find your carpenter/mason/plumber?


Solar Power in Sri Lanka

Sunshine over the jungle
Sunshine over the jungle by Walter Saporiti

Not too long after my post on LED lighting, it seems that Sri Lanka has commissioned its first solar power plant in the week ending 13 August 2011.

The state media has publicized the commissioning of the 500kw plant, as has LankaBusinessOnline.

While the economics may still be debatable, it’s good to see that Sri Lanka is moving in the direction of independence from oil-based power generation.

At a presentation during the recent CIMA Leadership Conference, the Minister for Power & Energy talked about other things in the pipeline – including Net Metering.

I first read about Net Metering in Thomas Friedman’s Hot, Flat and Crowded. In the book, Friedman discussed an energy-net, much like the Internet.

In this scenario, homes can have their own solar panels and generate electricity to be fed to the national grid. As a result, ho me consumers can enjoy a reduction in their usage at the end of the month, which would be the net of their actual usage and units fed to the grid. A great way to reduce electricity bills, methinks.

Friedman also discussed “Petropolitics” (or the power that comes from being an oil-producing nation) and how turning to alternative power sources was also a means of creating national power.

In this background, it’s heartening to note that Sri Lanka is making some progress. Even more so, since we have the advantage of being smaller and having a monopoly situation with electrification – which could allow us to adopt the key strategies towards a greener nation faster than other countries.

The Youtube video embedded below is a news clip (in Sinhalese) of the ceremony marking the commissioning of the plant. Unfortunately, the images show a cloudy day in Hambantota, where the plant is situated. Given how much sunlight they are supposed to get in Hambantota, that’s quite ironic.

Nevertheless, I hope this works out well and that we are able to see more alternative energy generation in action in Sri Lanka.


Energy Efficient Street Lighting

LED Light Bulb

I was very happy to read in the Sunday Times that there’s a proposal to bring in LED street lighting to Sri Lanka. The company concerned with the project, Carbon Futures is also planning on using local production facilities in partnership with local company RONA Electricals (Pvt) Ltd. The initial investment that they make is not a gift or donation – the company plans on making use of the carbon credits that it will generate to recover the costs. But that’s still great news. At least it will make it possible to reduce the costs of lighting our streets. With development taking place, we will have even more roads to light up, not to mention homes, factories and offices. With better LED lighting, there should be at least some cost benefits to people.

Given that we use oil to generate almost half of our total electricity supply as of 2008 (IEA statistics) any methods of reducing eneregy consumption should be made use of.

Given the low energy consumption of LEDs, one other point that came to mind is that these could be married to a Solar solution. Although established Sri Lankan company SolarTherm also provides a similar solution, it seems to be more of a standalone product, whereas solar panels on street lights could be connected to the national grid. The result would be generation of power during the day (although a small amount, given current power generation capabilities of solar panels) which is fed to the national grid, followed by minimal usage during the night when the lights are in operation. The electricity bill is calculated on the net of the power supplied by the grid and the power used by the lights, so the state should save some money. Apparently, MAS Thurulie uses a similar “netting” method as well, among its many other energy saving methods.

If the news of Solar Power Stations in 2011 turns out to be true, then it would seem that we are already moving towards some sort of renewable energy use. But then again, I’m not sure how long lived the solar powered street lighting initiated in 2006 turned out to be.

It’s also interesting to note that Sri Lanka is better positioned than America to make use of the “Energy Internet” described by Thomas Friedman in “Hot, Flat and Crowded”. Having just one electricity grid, we would be better able to have individuals or companies able to generate their own electricity (using non-fossil fuel methods) feed the grid. Imagine all those houses just exposed to the hot Sri Lankan sun – what if each of them had a Solar panel, feeding the grid during the day, while also reducing everyone’s electricity bill?

Who you gonna believe?

The Daily Mirror (yes, that website that stole my crappy photo and continued to use it without any attribution some time ago) has gone ahead and published an article about the resignation of the Sri Lankan cricket team’s Bus Driver. Many thanks to Mr. Senanayake for his continued highlighting of such moments of hilarity.

Type this into Google, since you are not going to find it on their site any more:



The original article is at http://www.espncricinfo.com/page2/content/story/509832.html which ends with the quote:

This article is dedicated to the memory of Trevor Chesterfield. A lover of cricket and satire, it’s the kind of thing he would have enjoyed.

Well, so much for their breaking news.

But what is heartbreaking is that this same story in its entirety appears on Lankapuvath, which is supposedly by the “National News Agency of Sri Lanka”.

BusDriver Farce

Journalism was last seen walking on a rail track, weeping into a sodden handkerchief. Incidents like this are possibly the best reason for continued repression (alleged) of media freedom in Sri Lanka.

O tempora! O mores!

Phone spam

A Cold Call
In the beginning there was no spam. Or well, maybe there was, but no one wrote about it.

And then people who wanted to sell stuff decided that the best way to sell it was to let everyone know. So there began bulk mailing and literally junk mail.

With communications moving on to the internet, the junk mail developed into junk email. The general cluelessness of many email users, coupled with clever scams (e.g. “Win a free iphone, mail this to ten friends with WinAFreeIfone@gmail.com in the cc field”) led to many people receiving loads of junk email. Thankfully, filters can be put in place to stop that.

With attention turning to mobile devices, we started getting text messages from people. From New year greetings from the top, to updates on the latest Metered Three Wheeler service in town.

And now, we have the phone call spammer. Cold calling at its coldest. You get a call on your phone, which you answer since the number is not a known one. “Hello…” you start, only to find out that instead of a human being on the other end, you’ve got a little recording telling you stuff you didn’t know you were going to hear. So far its been about Star Points and Leasing, but I guess anything else is possible.

In an age of limited attention spans and crowded media outlets, is this really the way forward for companies – telecoms, advertisers and agencies? I hope not. After all, who’s going to decide how many ads per phone per day?

I’m not very impressed. My phone is for people – real people – to contact me. Not some automaton trying to sell me something. And besides, how do I know whether an incoming call is genuine or automated? I’m going to be annoyed by every new phone number that turns up on the CLI…

Monday Morning Quarterbacks

While reading for my postgraduate qualification I came across Yahoo’s value statement as part of the coursework. Interestingly, they also include a separate page for what they don’t value.

One of the terms I came across in all of this, is the “Monday Morning Quarterback”. As always, Google helps us find out what that means:

Monday morning quarterback

a person who, after the event, offers advice or criticism concerning decisions made by others; one who second-guesses

Source: http://www.yourdictionary.com/monday-morning-quarterback

After Saturday, wonder how many you will encounter over the next couple of weeks?

Getting tagged on Facebook

Picture for Facebook tagging
silhouettes for tagging people, from http://reface.me/
Picture from Reface.me

So first it began with people tagging their friends on Avurudu (New year) greetings, then school/college/office/party function adverts. Then it turned out that there’s a whole subset of pictures which you can get tagged in on Facebook. Depending on what your friends think you are, you will find yourself tagged on a generic photo.

This is kinda cute, but can be downright annoying if ever you try to log in to Facebook from a different country. Should you choose to verify your identity by correctly identifying friends in photos, then heaven help you if the ones that turn up are assorted greeting cards and tag-friendly ones. I guess this has implications for anyone who wants to recover their account – forget your secret question? Then hope the friends whose photos turn up are unlikely to be tagged in generic photographs on FB.

It’s just as annoying as getting friend requests from people who have flowers/kittens/manga as profile pics. I for one am going to spend some time untagging myself from a lot of photos…