The Nation Sunday Print Edition - page 10

10
THE NATION Saturday, April 25, 2015
focus
By Rukshana Rizwie
M
ounting
pressure
from
both
environmentalists
and
residents
has prompted the
Central Environmental Authority
to overturn its approval to build
a Hydro power plant at the scenic
Sylvan Athwelthota waterfalls.
Speaking to
TheNation
, Chairman
of the CEA, Professor Dharmasiri
said that in light of protests by
residents and concerns that have
been raised by environmentalists,
the CEA has decided to temporarily
overturn its decision.
The Athwelthota waterfall in
Palindanuwara in the Kalutara
districtispopulartouristhotspot.The
waterfall which has a rich folklore
to it is known more for its scenic
beauty. Water from the Sinharaja
forest streams into the Athwelthota
River creating a natural pool which
cascades 12 feet deeper creating a
waterfall. Unlike other waterfalls in
Sri Lanka, water cascades from the
fall into a deep hole at the bottom.
The stream of this which flows into
the Palana Ganga River, have been
enjoyed and used by generations of
people in the nearby villages.
“Ever since the CEA approved a
project proposal by Sakura Energy,
there’s fear among the residents and
us environmentalists that a mini
Hydro plant will soon be built across
this stream since it has a waterfall
between the village of Athwelthota
and Morapitiya,” said Hemantha
Withanage, the Executive Director
of the Centre for Environmental
Justice.
The CEA approved a proposal
by Sakura Energy to build a hydro
power plant with the hope that it
would add a capacity 1.5 MW to
national Electricity grid. “Ironically
enough the initial Environmental
Examination (IEE) does not mention
this as a waterfall but merely a
tourist hotspot,” he said.”According
to the officials, thiswaterfall does not
conform to their technical definition
of a waterfall.”
According to the Lanka Council
of waterfalls (LCWF), the only index
available in the country Pilithuda is
a 5-meter high waterfall.
He added that this is not the first
time that a site of scenic waterfall
has been threatened by authorities.
“The Watawala waterfall is no
more, even St Clair was spared only
because of mounting pressure from
the general public.” he opined.
Meanwhile the Palindanuwara
Pradeshiya Sabha gave approval to
the project citing that the spot was
unsafe for bathing.
CEA side of the story
“At the time when the project
proposal was put forth to the
CEA, we had setup a committee
that comprised of officials and
individuals from the National
Building Research Organization
(NBRO), Forest Department, CEA,
Road Development Authority (RDA)
and members of the Palindanuwara
Pradeshiya Sabha,” he said. “The
project was approved after the
Environmental Impact Assessment
(EIA) was submitted.
Professor Dharmasiri said that
the CEA has received innumerous
complaints regarding the proposed
project, bothfromresidentsaswell as
environmentalist. “It is with this in
mind that we’ve decided to overturn
our decision and reconsider the
proposal,” he said. “We hope to visit
the site within the next two weeks
during whichwe will prepare a fresh
report that will take into account the
qualms of residents and the effect a
project of this nature would have on
the environment.”
Forest Department
Anura
Satharasinghe,
the
Conservator-General of the Forest
Department who spoke to
The
Nation
also said that the Forest
Department would send another
team to investigate the issue. “We
have withdrawn our decision
regarding the project, we will
need to conduct an inspection to
understand the impact of a project
such as this,” he said. “We will take
into account several factors on the
next visit, including the impact on
the environment, social setting and
affect that the project would have
on the esthetic appearance of this
waterfall.”
Biodiversity
A section of the river is home
to at least 18 endemic fish species
which two of them only can be
found in this location in the world
according to environmentalists.
During an Islandwide freshwater
survey, researchers from the
Wildlife Conservation Society of
Galle (WCSG) found fairy
dandiya
(Rasboroides nigromarginata) in
one of the streams after an absence
of 53 years.
TheRasboroidesnigromarginatus
was first described by a German
scientistH.Meinken in 1957 as anew
species base on a single specimen
which he collected from the ‘Ceylon’
without knowing exact locality. It
has not been collected since then
until the rediscovery in 1994 from
Athwelthota by R. Pethiyagoda
& K. Manamendra Arachchi and
independently in 2010 by members
of Wildlife Conservation Society
in Galle. With the recent review
of Rasboroides group it is now
considered as a valid species occurs
only in Athwelthota area of Kalu
river basin.
It is also believed that the type
location of Stiphodon martenstyni
-Martinstyn Weligowwa is only
Athwelthota as recorded in 1998.
A change of water flow they
argue could undoubtedly disrupt
the ecosystem of the endemic
fish species in these streams and
threaten their survival. Villagers
have been quoted as saying that
since the streams carry a heavy
load of water during the monsoon
reason, building a dam in this site
could easily cause flooding to the
nearby villages.
Folklore
According to popular folklore,
Prince Weediya Bandara, who ruled
Palindanuwara in the 16th century,
hid his jewels behind the water
curtain of this fall. Some say that
there is a tunnel constructed just
belowthewaterfall to the“Yakkunge
Wala”.
Threat
The
Road
development
Authority had previously issued
a letter stating that project would
not pose any dangers or damages
to the main road. However
according to Withanage, the 1.5
meter damwill increase the water
level of the river to the road level.
Athwelthota River brings down
large amount of water during the
rainy days as it flows down from
Sinharaja and the flash floods are
very possible. There is a greater
possibility for the road to go
under water during these flash
floods which happens many times
during the rainy season.
ByYudhanjayaWijeratne
S
ri Lankan and Australia mix quite a
lot.Education.Immigration.Cricket.
That second cousin, twice removed,
who Skypes every Wednesday.
A sizeable set of industries with large
commercial interests in the other country.
And then there’s Cinergix: a Sri Lankan
company registered in Australia (or an
Australian company working mostly out
of Sri Lanka – whichever you prefer).
Cinergix’s software, a diagramming tool
called Creately, is used by PayPal, Ebay,
Amazon, IBM, Nat Geo, Google, Adobe, and
even NASA.
They’re competing ina globalmarketwith
locally-built software, and by all accounts,
they’re doing a fine job of it. It’s not every
company that can list as their customers the
people who put the first man on the moon.
Cinergix
In 2008, Cinergix unveiled Creately, their
web-based diagramming software, in tech
startup central – Silicon Valley. Nobody had
seen these guys before. They were unknown
even in Sri Lanka – a bunch of coders
hacking out of a seedy, run-down house in
Borella.
And they were a hit. A year later, they
rolled out Creately to the public. Since
then, with no sales pitches (other than the
text on their website) and none of the usual
contract-hunting, they’ve racked up an
impressive global customer base – purely
off the strength of a free-to-try web app, a
well-aimed bit of press publicity, and a lot of
work.
Meet the players
Creately, and the team behind it, lives in
Orion City, Dematagoda. About a hundred
feet behind the big Virtusa building is a
right turn leading to what Orion calls “the
Nest”. In here are what one might call “new
blood” – lean companies that mostly work
on their own products, as opposed to the
outsourced engineering work that make up
the biggest chunk of Sri Lanka’s software
industry.
Somewhere in here is Chandika
Jayasundara and Hiraash Thawfeek, the
CEO and CTO of Cinergix. Both Chandika
andHiraasharepeopleI’vemetbefore,if only
briefly,attheColomboJavascripthackathon.
Chandika is a soft-spoken individual,
impeccably polite and vaguely explanatory.
He’s been named in Echelon Magazine’s
40 under 40, a list of some of 2014’s biggest
“risk takers and rule breakers”. Hiraash is
a stark contrast; a lean firebrand who stays
aloof, almost disinterested in small talk,
until he starts talking about Creately; then
a light goes on behind his eyes.
The story starts with Chandika and
Hiraash in D.S. Senanayake College, in the
early 90s. Back then, they had an active
school computer society. With few teachers
in the entire country capable of teaching
the subject, the students were left to their
own devices. Which meant that a hard core
congregated and began hacking. Like MIT’s
Tech Model Railroad Club, which spawned
the first generation of hackers, the D.S.
Senanayake College Computer Society was
a small hotbed of creative geek activity.
Chandika and Hiraash quickly found their
way to the exhibition circuit, showing off
neat things that they’d come up with.
Hiraash, in particular, found great
success here. By the time he finished
school, he’d build a mapping application
for Colombo – this was before Google
Maps existed – and racked up quite a
number of university-level awards. While
Chandika went on to the University of
London, Hiraash snagged his first job, as
an associate at a brand-new startup.
Hiraash’s enthusiasm for this first step
still shines through: his face lights up with
a huge smile as he discusses this piece of
his past. “It was amazing, because all this
time you’ve been writing software, and now
you’re writing software that people actually
use!” he exclaims.
All told, he had a good run on the bleeding
edge – when he switched to Zone 24/7 a year
later, he was working with smart cards,
fingerprint scanners and SIMs – everyday
tech that, back in the 90’s, was practically
science fiction to a large part of the world.
Meanwhile, Chandika had graduated
from the University of London and made a
beeline for Virtusa. He’d already started a
company called Xeont; they built websites,
but it didn’t quite work out. Virtusa was
a two-year stint for Chandika; it was one
of the best companies he’d ever seen,
but eventually, he packed up and left for
Australia for his Masters degree.
Ideas, check. People, check
The storypicksupagain in2007. Chandika
found himself working, with a few other
senior researchers, on a program that
could comment on images. It was meant for
collaborative learning, but Chandika started
using it to make memes out of people’s
Facebook
profile pictures. People loved it.
This evolved into something else:
diagramming.
“Day in and day out, you see this,” says
Chandika, referring to the everyday art of
diagrams. “I realized that we apply a great
deal of knowledgewhenwe create a diagram.
Takeanetworkdiagram:alotof thinkinggoes
intohowit’s set up. But on the final output, all
that expert knowledge is lost, ironed out, and
you end up with a simple image that tells you
what’s connected to where.”
Chandika spoke to Nick Foster, who would
end up becoming Cinergix’s COO, Hiraash,
and Chiranjit Singh, another friend. They
realized that they could remove a great
deal of the planning overhead by bringing
in computerized, expert knowledge into
the process of making a diagram. “Like a
spellchecker for visual design” Chandika
explains. The idea was to automate part of
the creation process, so as to make life easier.
They called it Knowledge Objects. It was a
very complex design, and it got them enough
recognition to secure a bit of funding.
“That was our proof of concept, our
validation,” says Chandika. “Hiraash was
at Zone. Another friend, Dumindu, was at
WSO2.WeSkyped.We talked.Andwedecided
to take the plunge.”
“Youknow,whenall of thishappened, Iwas
shuttling back and forth between the US and
Sri Lanka,” adds Hiraash. “We threw around
names, code…and then in 2008, I was left with
a tough choice: keep doing what I did or join
the guys and work on our own company. I
thought to myself ‘It’s not every day, right?’
and packed up and left to join Chandika.
“Our first placewas this really, really seedy
place in Borella. We wanted a cheap place to
hack; we got it. It was right next to a shady
massage parlour. We’d walk around in shorts
and ignore everything except the code and
each other. We were coders. And janitors.
And whatever else we had to be.”
Chandika laughs. “We wanted a massive
whiteboard; we were so cheap that we went
toKotahena, got ahuge piece of plywood, and
got a guy to paint it.”
Cinergix had a problem: they were
competing with Microsoft. They had a team
– a handful of people in a run-down place in
Borella, one person in Singapore, another in
Australia. They had a product. That was all.
In Chandika’s words, “We were nobodies.
We knew we were good; that was just about
it.”
So in 2008, they applied to the Fall event of
Demo. Demo was the place to launch. From
1987 to 2010, some of the best products had
launched there – Java and Skype being just
two of them. The top media and the top tier
of the tech industry sat in. Every year, about
a thousand companies applied; only seventy
got in.
“Walt Mossberg was having coffee right
next to our table!” grins Chandika, referring
to the iconic journalist christened “The
Kingmaker” by Wired.
They tried to pitch to Mossberg, but he
wavedthemaway.Then,withafrenziedspurt
of last-minute coding, they aced their Demo
pitch. “They were like ‘You guys are good to
go’,” says Hiraash, “And that was amazing.
We’d also applied for the TechCrunch50
– TechCrunch and Demo are rivals – and we
sent Jason Calacanis* an email saying ‘We
got selected to Demo, are you interested?’
They called us, but didn’t give us anything
official, so we launched at Demo. They
were bitching about TechCrunch at Demo:
I remember someone on stage saying that
Micheal Arrington was as good a mentor for
business as Britney Spears for musicians.
We went and had a look at TechCrunch as
part of the audience.”
*Jason
Calacanis
eventually
had
a
massive falling-out with
TechCrunch.
They want to draw
What
Cinergix
launched at Demo that
fall was not what they
have
now.
Hiraash
heads over to
YouTube
,
finding an old video
about the app. Creately
works by giving each
object a certain amount of knowledge. Each
object can communicate with the other, with
connectors actually linking objects rather
than just visually charting something. He
shows me this by building a crude network
map, dragging and dropping routers, an ISP
and a bunch of computers onto the chart.
He links the computers to the router by
drawing a line between them. As soon as
the routers are linked to the ISPs, they – and
the computers attached to them – change
their status. They’re now connected to the
Internet.
“Knowledge Objects understand how
to communicate with each other,” he
explains. “It wasn’t just a drawing platform.
Objects dynamically change based on their
connections, their interactions and so on.
The problem is we didn’t really have the best
representation of this. We couldn’t show this
off very well.”
“And we had hardware players like
Samsungwhowanted to use this for different
purposes,” says Chandika. “People just
wanted to draw.”
They went back to the drawing board.
Their initial thoughts were to get experts
in different fields to encapsulate all the data
they’d need into the objects. But that was a
task of monumental scale – they realized
they’d need a 100-man team with ten PhDs
customizing the platform for each and every
niche, and it would never be done.
So they thought back to the idea of
diagramming itself.
Athwelthota Waterfall Power Project
Borella
versus
Microsoft:
the story of
Cinergix
Central Environment Authority
backs
out of
own decision
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