BookHub.lk – Sri Lanka finally gets an ebook store

Bookhub.lk banner

Bookhub.lk was launched two days back, and Sri Lanka has finally got a proper ebook store. Proper I say because the project is backed by two giants: Etisalat from the mobile world and M.D.Gunasena from the book industry. There have been previous attempts like pothpath.lk (which isn’t a store after all), but Bookhub is fortunate enough to have the backing of good sponsors.

Even though initiated by Etisalat, the books aren’t restricted to its users. You have to visit the bookhub.lk website and register for an account to purchase books. You can either pay with your credit card or Etisalat credit. Then you open up the bookhub e-reader app (which is only available for android for the moment, but apparently a PC edition and an iOS edition are on the way), and download the purchased books to the device. And you’re good to go.

The downloaded ebooks reside in their own directories with separate files for content, styles, images and meta data. The content is in OPF files, so if you zip such a directory and rename it as an ePub you’ll be able to read the book with any e-reading app or device. This also means that there’s no DRM and you can share the books with anyone once downloaded.

And talking about the android app, it sucks (see footnote). The user interface isn’t friendly and the menu options don’t work. You have to enter login details every time to download the books (so please choose an easy-to-type password while registering). Text rendering isn’t perfect, but readable. When you touch the edge of the screen to flip through the pages, several pages turn instead of one. I emailed the developers yesterday about this but still they haven’t replied. Later I learned that I can properly flip the pages if I touch the screen very… gently and take the finger back asap. It’s like a beta app; or an alpha one rather.

Main interface

Main interface of the app

Downloading books

Purchased books can be downloaded in one tap

alice in wonderland

Alice in Wonderland. Text rendering isn't perfect but readable.

Aladin

Aladin. It's not just text.

Dhaaraa

Dhaaraa. The only book I'm going to read from the available ones.

The store only has about 25 books for the moment, some Sinhala ones and some English. There will be tamil ones in the future as well. As for the English ones, all the books currently available there are ones from the public domain. Pride and Prejudice costs 400 rupees, which is ridiculous. You can get it for free from Project Gutenberg.

Regardless of the shortcomings in the app and the current state of the book store, the project is likely to be a success. The Etisalat website reports,

The content will go beyond novels, potentially including any locally published material such as educational publications, magazines, children’s books, religious texts, business journals, etc. Going forward the parties involved also commented on the possibility of adding newspapers and school textbooks to the eBook store.

This is likely to fill a huge gap by making local books available for the digital media and and the userbase will most probably grow once the store is able to boast of a considerable amount of titles. I just hope the prices wouldn’t make it cheaper to buy the paperbacks.

P.S. I almost forgot the most important piece of information: all the books currently in the store are available for free for the week starting from Monday, 26th of March. So hurry up and grab if you’d like to give the service a try.

EDIT: Just hours after this blog post, the Bookhub.lk android app had been updated. Several issues have been fixed. It now remembers your login credentials. Page turning is less buggy now. There are still many lags and quirks, hope they’d get fixed soon as well.

Little Miss Sunshine

Little Miss Sunshine

Movies. Something I’ve never been able to get into. Perhaps the last time I watched one from start to finish was about six months back. It’s just that I can’t sit watching one for one and half hours without getting bored. It isn’t like reading books. In fact, I haven’t watched more than 10 movies in a theatre in this lifetime. Pathetic, I know.

But then there are those few movies I’m crazy about. The first one I loved as a child was Ben Hur. At uni we got access to an infinite collection of movies. Million Dollar Baby, Pulp Fiction and the Saw series; a few I liked the most.

Then there is Little Miss Sunshine. I watched it from start to finish more than half-a-dozen times. You never get bored; at least I don’t. Today I stumbled upon a random blogger profile which had Little Miss Sunshine as a fav movie. Which made me click on the link to find who else have it as their favorites. Apparently there are more than a hundred thousand, and more than 90% of them are girls. But it’s definitely not a girls’ movie. It’s about this little girl whose only dream is to win at a beauty queen contest, this boy who has taken a vow of silence and wants to become a pilot, a drug addict grandfather, an uncle who just committed an unsuccessful suicide attempt, a father with an unsuccessful career as a motivational speaker and a mother dealing with all these problems. And it has 7.9 stars in IMDB; 7.9 isn’t petty, right?

If you haven’t watched Little Miss Sunshine you should definitely give a try. Even though there’s a big chance that you may not like it. It’s not an action thriller or whatever after all. Just a drama, but a different one. Not a love story. No sex, except for the exchange of some profanity. I know, it doesn’t sound interesting at all. Have never heard a friend mention the name of the film. But still…

The IMDB page has some trailers of the movie if you’re interested.

Angry Birds Space

Angry Birds Space

The bubble around the asteroid marks its gravitational field

The eagerly awaited Angry Birds Space, the fourth Angry Birds game from Rovio, finally landed today on Android, iOS, MacOS and Windows. It had been announced since a few months ago, but I was a skeptical about how they would create a new experience that’s markedly different from the previous versions. In fact, all the three games they’ve released up to now had basically the same gameplay except for the new levels and all.

Danger Zone

First level of the Danger Zone

Half an hour with Space proved that my doubts were unfounded. It’s a totally different experience. The game takes place in outer space, which means it doesn’t have the earth’s boring gravity anymore. Things are worse. When you release the bird, it travels in a zero gravity space until it reaches the atmosphere of a planet or an asteroid and is forced into its own gravitational field. This can be more complex than it sounds. I still couldn’t get past the first level in the Danger Zone, which, according to Rovio, is the most difficult Angry Birds level pack ever.

Angry Birds Space and Galaxy Note

Angry birds space - Galaxy Note exclusive level

The exclusive level for Note

Samsung Galaxy Note is the official launch partner for Space. There’s a special level in the game featuring Lazer Bird exclusively for Galaxy Note owners and they get the Danger Zone pack is free for three months. But ironically, it’s clear that the game hasn’t been optimized for the Note’s screen. Most cut scenes and menus are obviously made for low resolution displays. Which is a shame coz of all the advertising Samsung did before the release. But still, the game play is pretty fun than playing on a smaller screen. I’m yet to try the game on a tablet.

When health care meets technology

Arogya parama labha, thakshanang paramang dhanang.

— Lord Buddha?

Going to the doctor’s every time something happens to you isn’t always convenient. But then, most of us in the younger generation have no idea how to react to a particular health situation, especially emergencies, without asking for a doctor’s help. Countries like US have popular medical / health care hotlines with 24-hour support. Two such services have also sprung up in Sri Lanka since recently.

Suwasariya

Suwasariya, or Health Net, was inaugurated by the Ministry of Help with the help of ICTA a few months back. The most prominent service it offers is the health information hotline which can be accessed by dialing the number (+94) 0710 107 107. The major plus is that you will be able to talk to the doctors directly. Confidentiality is guaranteed; this will be helpful on situations when you’re not comfortable with discussing your problem with a doctor face-to-face. The service is available in all three languages.

The only time I wanted to contact the service, I was told by the automated answering machine that the service is available only during working days from 8.00am to 3.30pm. In other words, this isn’t a 24/7 service. Which means that you won’t be able to resort to the Suwasariya service in case of an emergency. Apparently Suwasariya offers services through other media like live chat, email and skype (which is highly commendable), but they too suffer from the same drawback.

Dialog First Aid on Your Phone

The First Aid on Your Phone service commenced by Dialog a few weeks ago fills this gap. This 24/7  service is actually provided by Med1 (Pvt) Ltd, an American-managed, Sri Lankan company. Unlike Suwasariya, this aims to provide information in case of a health emergency. Put in another way, they give you the essential first aid tips for any emergency situation. Note that it won’t be providing you with professional medical consultation. You can call the hotline to get advice on situations ranging from a simple leg sprain to a major burn injury or a heart attack (a PDF link to the complete list of conditions covered).

The hotline agents are polite and your call is immediately attended to, at least for now. You may notice a slight stammer in the tone now and then, compared to a doctor is giving advice. But the overall quality of information they provide is high. A few recorded sample calls are available in the Med1 website. Only Sinhala and Tamil samples are provided, however the service is available in all three languages.

First Aid on Your Phone is a value added service provided by Dialog. You can access the hotline by dialing 1990 from your Dialog mobile and you will be charged Rs 8/= + taxes per minute, which is quite reasonable IMO.

The services, both commenced within the last six months, are major steps taken towards a better health care service aided by technology, especially in a country where the only common instance the technology was being used was to make specialist reservations. Some private hospitals have already come along with successful online bill payment schemes and other online facilities are on the way. The future may not be bleak as you think.

Plain tea at Patty Mahaththaya’s: A review

Food review blogs are popping up like mushrooms these days. For example, my friend Savindri (or @PhuckYou_ as some of you may know her) started this Tuk-Tuk Thosai thing. She’s got some really good stuff there, you should certainly pay it a visit. But the problem with the food she reviews is that almost all of them cost a hell of a lot more than what a person with a limited budget can afford. Who’d want to have a cup of tea that costs several hundreds of rupees? So I thought of reviewing something which is affordable to everyone of you: the plain tea at Patty Mahaththaya’s Kade.

Patty Mahaththya’s Kade isn’t situated in Colombo. You have to travel down south to Matara to taste its delicious plain tea. Well, it’s not in the city of Matara either; you have to travel 18 km in the Hakmana road to Kirinda. Then You turn right from the Getamanne junction towards Beliatte and travel 4 km until you come to the Hettiyawala junction. From there it’s just a 500m walk along the Karatota road and you’ll find the Patty Mahaththya’s Kade, concealed to rest of the world.

There’s no dedicated parking, so you’ll have to park your vehicle in the not-so-wide gravel road. It isn’t much of a problem, coz not more than one vehicle, and that too a three-wheeler, happen to travel on this road even in the busiest hour. Just a heads up.

Now for the real stuff, the review. 😀

Patty Mahaththaya’s Kade is built with a mix of post-modern look and a dark theme. Dark I say, because the interior is mostly dark. When you first see the Kade you’ll think it’s just another old and shabby boutique, but it’s just the theme.

Plain tea at Patty Mahaththaya's

When you order a plain tea it will come to your hands in a split second, unlike in most high-class cafes. The secret to this swiftness is that they already have plain tea prepared in a kettle during the day, so all they have to do is pour some to a cup. The cup of plain tea smelled of ginger. When I asked the waiter (actually, both the waiter and the cashier of the shop are none other than the owner himself, Patty Mahaththaya) what tea this cup was brewed with, he said it’s some kind of a loose tea. The flavour is unique to Patty Mahaththaya’s. It was a bit too much sweet; I guess that’s due to too much sugar.

A cup of plain tea here costs only 10 rupees, so it won’t make much impact on your pocket. It was even cheaper a few years back, but Patty Mahaththaya had to increase the prices because of the high tea and sugar prices.

Overall rating: 9/10

Why only 9? Because it was a bit too sugary. A little less sugar and I’d have given 10 out of 10.

So that’s the first food review to be featured in this blog. Not likely that there’d be another. Even so, don’t forget to leave a comment about my review and where I should improve on. 🙂

If this then that!

Always wanted to automate the internet for you? If This Then That, a service that would remind you of Yahoo Pipes, might be what you’re looking for.

IfThisThenThat lets all your online stuff work together to do way more interesting stuff.

Put simply, ifttt does the following:

  1. Waits for an event to trigger (e.g: a new post is published in one of your favorite blogs)
  2. Performs a specific action according to the trigger (SMSes it to you or saves that link in Instapaper)
If this then that

 

For example, here are some ‘tasks’ I’ve automated with ifttt:

  • Save all the links I tweet in my Evernote.
  • Email me each new xkcd comic strip.
  • Whenever a person tags me in a photo on facebook, download that photo to my dropbox.
  • Send me an SMS on the first day of each month reminding me to pay my bicycle park fee.
  • Email me Gizmodo’s android apps of the week.

Creating a task is simple with ifttt‘s intuitive interface. Consider the first one mentioned above; saving all the links I tweet in Evernote.

  • You click the Create Task button on ifttt.
  • Then it lets you select the trigger channel; in this case it’s Twitter.
  • Choose the trigger; here it’s yourself tweeting something with a link. 
  • Now it gives you with a list of channels to create your action; in this case we choose Evernote.
  • Now select the action; create a note. You can specify which notebook to create it in, what should be the title, what parts of the tweets are to be included in the note, etc.

A part of my ifttt task list (click to enlarge)

For a more comprehensive walkthrough, check out Lifehacker’s article. You can also browse the hundreds of ‘recipes‘ other users have created to save your time.

Bored?

Bored? Wait! Here's more!

Here are some more suggestions for other cool stuff you can do with ifttt:

  • Receive an email when an item you’re looking for goes for sale on eBay or Amazon.
  • Send the Google Reader feeds you star to Instapaper, Read It Later, Evernote, etc.
  • Receive a text when a certain twitter user (your crush, may be?) tweets something.
  • When your facebook dp changes, update the twitter dp as well.
  • Send an automated ‘Good morning, world!’ tweet at 8am every day.
  • Add all the places you check-in with Foursquare to your Google Calendar.
  • When you get a new follower on twitter: follow them back, send a thanking tweet, or add them to a new twitter list.
  • Get alerts when one of your favorite blogs is updated.
  • Get Google Calendar updates as SMSes.
  • Remotely download torrents by sending the torrent file to dropbox.
  • Eavesdrop on twitter conversations between two users. 😛
  • Get notified when there’s a fuel price hike (for example, you can consolidate multiple news sources into one feed and make it trigger when a feed contains the words ‘fuel price hike’).
Interesting!

Eavesdrop? Now _that_ sounds interesting!

Pros:

Deceptively powerful service. A few seconds’ brainstorming will give you dozens of new ideas.
Not rocket science. It’s all very simple and intuitive.

Cons:

The number of services you have to choose from is limited, although the list contains most of the major web services.
Available number of triggers are poor for some services. For example, you can’t check for the facebook statuses of your friends.

Daily Potpourri

People continue to share idiotic photos and stories on facebook.


We of course need bio-diversity, so let the poor fellows be.

Sri Lanka almost won the first final in the CB series against Australia.


Fingers crossed for the next two matches.

Started reading The Fountains of Paradise by Arthur C. Clarke.


An Arthur C. Clarke after years. And this one is really good!

A soldier has died in an attempt to rehearse for a new Guinness record.

Apparently he has asked the family members to bury himself alive, and had been found dead when they finally tried to dig him out. 

And finally…


Found a photo of a scientist researching for female orgasm in the mid-1940s.