Saturday, September 17, 2005

Colombo goes crazy over books!

Reader discretion: This post is long. Try not to fall asleep and crash your monitor

Yes! It certainly has to be the biggest exhibition in Colombo, if not the Sri Lanka, when you consider the long car strip that extends a couple of hundred meters, just waiting to get in to BMICH. The International Book Exhibition happens every year and it seems to be getting bigger and bigger each year!

This morning (if you consider 11AM as morning that is), as I was approaching the Book exhibition, I thought to myself - "I'm not waiting in that queue to checkout a couple of books!". So I temporarily lost hope, especially after seeing that both sides of the road were pretty much occupied by parked cars, but much to my delight the public park down Longdon Place had plenty of space.

The exhibition was just jam packed! So much that the main entrance to the BMICH was temporarily closed off to encourage us to visit stalls at the SBMICH and come back later. I decided to walk over to the University of Moratuwa's IT exhibition that was happening within the main exhibition.

Mortauwa IT Exhibition



Though paying a 40 rupees entrance fee is a bit of a turn off, considering the main book fair is free, after seeing it, I reckon it was worth it.

There were many interesting projects that were primarily dominated by micro-controllers. There were several robots that were either walking around colored blocks and taking pictures, walking around without hitting obstacles or trying to play soccer. Besides micro-controllers, they used infrared to detect obstacles, sonar sensors to detect obstacles as well as the distances to it, and a webcam coupled with OpenCV for Computer Vision.

Unfortunately if not surprisingly, one of the things that was lacking was a single project that was being demoed using a GNU/Linux platform. I find this as unbelievably shocking as UNIX based Operating Systems are generally more popular among academics. Sure there were one or two projects that used an Open Source library
here or there, but it just didn't cut it. The lack of FOSS knowledge, for example was seen in few projects such as one that was built from scratch to map streets and then later display once hooked up to a GPS receiver. When I asked the inventor if he had looked at GPSDrive, it was clear he didn't even know of its existence.
I also constantly kept getting a commercial vibe coming out of the inventors. For example, I heard one person talk about “bringing the product to the market", to which I enthusiastically asked, “Has anyone or company approached you?". The answer was either a no or that few have but there certainly wasn't anything concrete. I overheard one inventor talk about patenting the design and then looking to selling it off. Also when asked the price spent for a project, several times, I felt a reluctance getting a complete answer. Few would give the hardware cost and then pause a little and make a remark such as “Well, we haven't figured out the price for the software and design".

While its good to be entrepreneur minded some of the time, I don't believe people, especially at the academics level should for example invent for the sake of making money. May be its just me, but I felt there was a lot of commercial vibe coming out, perhaps as a result of ties with commercial companies. Nevertheless, this was a really good talented exhibition, I had seen in a while.

Back to the Books



After walking from about 11AM to about 4PM, I ended up buying a LOT of books. Most of them, as you would have guessed were plain old geeky. Here is the list.

  • PHP/Perl Cook Books – I've been putting off buying these, but since there were some good discounts of 200/- to about 500/- per book, I simply couldn't resist!


  • Hardware / Home / Wireless Hacking – Thats three books on fun hobby projects by O reilly. I hope to work on some of the projects as both a means to get back into some electronics and have lots of fun with gadgets.


  • UNIX concepts & applications – A real bargain for this book that was marked as 200/- and sold for 150/-. Only if they knew that most of Unix is still alive and kicking!


  • GENOME – No I didn't mean GNOME, a popular desktop environment. This is actually a popular science book on genes, subtitled as “The autobiography of a species". I actually bought this book about 4 years ago for my X-Girl friend when I was flying down from UK after a short project. Unfortunately we didn't last long enough for me to borrow the book :)


  • Men are from Mars, Women from Venus – Though I've read the book a couple of times, I still feel it impossible to understand Venusians now and then. So I might as well buy the book and keep it under my pillow, just so I see the cover first thing I wake up in the morning.


  • Stories from the History of Ceylon – Shameful as it is, I barely know or remember any! “Only if they could make feature films or animated movies of them." Oh well, at least I got myself a bedtime story book.


Besides buying books, I was lured into buying a 1GB Kingston memory stick with a 5year warranty for just under 8,000/- Guess I'll be installing a full fledge GNU/Linux distro on this baby! to be used as an on the move mini computer.

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