Photograph of a personal demon

We all have artefacts that have weird effects on out inner selves. Pictured in this post is a personal artefact that has become a mental equivalent of a ball and chain. It’s a detail of a heavily hand edited printout of a story. Too long to be “short”, too brief to be called anything else. The time stamp on the photo is 2007 but I have tinkered with it since I think 2003. The first paras are in quoted in an older blog post.
Print out of story draft with hand written notes
The monstrous quality of this thing starts harmlessly enough. Typically when I read it after opening the drawer while looking for something else. Nothing harmless about skimming over a few lines no? A paragraph gives an invitation to be edited. The flabby sentences get tightened. The extraneous is amputated. A few perfectly meaningful sentences gets added. They efficiently describe details that give what feels like meaningful depth.

Inevitably a new detail becomes an unavoidable opening line to another paragraph. For a while the sentences write themselves. More paragraphs come and go like hair pin bends on an unknown mountain road. You don’t know where it’s going or how far. The only signs simply say “there’s a lot more to go”. Eventually you snap out of it and hours have gone by. Important things have been left untouched. To my horror, the thing has grown bigger. I can already see where the some “tightening” (as the voices call it) can begin. Before my eyes the fresh sentences acquire a corny embarrassing stench. Automatically the paw fumbles for a pen. Scratch out line here. Add a word there.

It never ends. This “story” is my personal version of Jorge Luis Borges’s “The Book of Sand” (the short Wikipedia article describes the metaphor better than me). It eats hours and precious sleep yet takes me nowhere nearer to the finish. There’s a sense that the story could be infinitely long. To quote a line from “The Book of Sand”, “If space is infinite, we are in no particular point in space”. Just replace the words “space” with “the story” and you get what the end of an “edit session” feels like.

So what to do? Lately I’ve managed to dodge its spell. Real life has plenty of reasons to pull me back. Fact is that you can’t build anything by piling up sand crystals. There has to be some sort of underlying narrative structure to build on. I’ve taken a few tentative steps at it. It still feels futile. What’s the point?.

Yet the demon’s magic keeps me from shoving it in the shredder. The fact that I have only pecked one post for march this year somehow made it seem even more powerful. The insanity is that I barely time for blogging (I know I have said so endlessly) let alone work on a “story”.

The only fitting thing is to pack this little metaphorical pickle into a blog post and call it a night.

Building Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAV) in Sri Lanka

Unmanned aerial vehicles can be built using off the shelf hardware and open source software. The Do It Yourself Drones web-site provides a good overview of the possibilities.  Which beg the question – should UAVs be developed locally to locate terrorist activities?

The Defence ministry web-site has this to say about importing remote controlled flying toys:

Range of Remote Controlled Air Craft/Flying Devices will not be permitted to be imported.

But nothing about building them in Sri Lanka. Building one would no doubt fall into this category. I doubt such regulations have deter a global terrorist group such as the LTTE. They could buy UAVs without the hassle of building their own. Either they havn’t been successful getting UAVs or don’t need them. The Sri Lanka air force clearly prefers to buy their UAVs. I doubt the home built kind can deliver the airstrike videos that have become a staple of the war. 

Which makes me wonder if there is any logic to developing UAVs locally. Not as replacements for SLAF UAVs such as the IAI Scout and RQ-2 Pioneer but for routine surveliance of LTTE controlled areas. Low cost UAVs could be deployed to constantly reconoirter specific areas of LTTE held territory. Acting as cheap spy sattelites. Possible terrorist activities (such as hidden LTTE airstrips) could be quickly and closly followed up with “higher end” drone.

I find it hard to belive that Sri Lanka’s engineering brain power can’t essemble a working model using existing hardware and software. My best guess is that the Sri Lankan military has stable sources of “high tech” gear. Their focus is on fighting a war. Not funding R & D on a third world defence budget. I won’t bother with suppositions and innuendos in the absence of facts. If you know more about such matters the comment box grovels for your insight.

Plain cloths “Inteligence operatives” at check points

They were dresses liked street thugs pulling chariots over at a “check point” on Dutugamunu street. There were only two police constables around. Plain cloths guy claimed to be from the “Intelligence branch” (Buddi Ang-sha-ya in Sinhala). The driver of our chariot was not pleased. Challenged them – claiming that anyone could make the claim. Demanded the “intelligence” guy’s ID. For which all he could mumble was that this check was for our security.

One of the constables ambled over and started going through the ritual of glancing at everyone’s ID. I was in the back seat and they couldn’t even SEE my face. But they glanced at the back of my ID for the requisite 2 seconds all the same. Meanwhile the driver as down to accusing the plains cloths guy for being an LTTE operative. Ah the bravery. I merely begged him to get moving since the check point wasn’t interested in us.

We could have had a trunk full of claymores and they wouldn’t have caught us.

I’m resigned to the fate that most of Colombo’s security is ritual. Often involving a sniff at an ID card to see if it has a Tamil name. The LTTE has gotten around ethnic profiling by buying its ID cards and other documents. Sri Lankan National ID cards go for about Rs5000/- a pop (though that might have gone up with the cost of living – most bribes have). Don’t ask me how I know – that’s another post I’m wise enough not to write. Suffice it to say that I don’t have LTTE contacts. I just keep my mouth shut and ears open when ever I’m taken along for dinners with people in the know.

What bothers me is that these plain cloths guys could be anybody. Underworld kidnap squads. Perhaps even LTTE operatives. My gut feeling at the checkpoint was that they were underworld types (who could be also be intelligence operatives. ;)

It is traditional that when it comes to a crunch the organised crime side of Sri Lanka’s politics comes to the surface like crocodiles. Like it did during the late 1980s during the JVP uprising. The scary thing is that the LTTE can easy buy off the underworld (as if they haven’t already).

Time to stop writing.

Not because a dumb blogger like me who doesn’t post recordings of conversations online has much credibility. Sometimes its best not to speculate. Or pretend to do so about conversations that took place while you were supposed to be innocently sipping your Elephant House Ginger Beer.