Monday, 30 April 2012

Siri: Meet Aisha...from India

 
Siri – the often frighteningly competent and occasionally annoying voice assistant of Apple’s iPhone 4S – now has an Indian version.
But whilst ‘Siri’ sounds like a Sri Lankan alcoholic who moonlights as an electrician, the Indian version is charmingly named ‘Aisha’ and sounds, very, well…Indian, not to mention politically correct.
Actually it stands for Artificial Intelligence Speech Handset Assistant.
And whilst you have to cough up a small country’s GDP to purchase a Siri-ready iPhone, Aisha will be available on a new locally-made smart phone: the Micromax A50 Ninja which will set you back just Rs 5000 (approx. GBP65).
Through the voice recognition tool, users can initiate a Google search, view stock market details, make calls, read news about desired locations, view recipes and, perhaps most importantly, view their daily horoscope.
Aisha can also help users send messages, inquire about missed calls and make queries on varied subjects such as date and time, weather conditions, and even general knowledge.
- UKAsian Staff


Siri: Meet Aisha...from India

Sri Lankan Buddhist monk accused of sexual assault on girls aged 10

 
A court in South London has been hearing evidence in a sexual abuse trial involving one of the most senior Buddhist monks in Britain in a case that has sent shockwaves through the Sri Lankan community in the United Kingdom.
The Venerable Pahalagama Somarathana, 66 – founder of the popular Thames Buddhist Temple in Surrey and one of the most respected figures in the community – is facing nine counts of rape, indecent assault and sexual assault dating back to the late 1970’s and early 80’s.
One of his alleged victims claims she was abused by the priest in Chiswick, West London while another says she was abused in a shrine room at the Surrey temple.
The Sri Lankan-born Venerable Somaratana appeared at Isleworth Crown Court last week to deny the charges, saying he was the victim of mistaken identity.
According to the prosecution, the first victim – who was nine at the time of the assault in 1978 – had been lured into the monk’s room with fruit Polo sweets before being indecently assaulted.
The second victim only recalled the assaults during hypnotherapy sessions she underwent as an adult in 2009.
Members of the majority Buddhist Sinhala community who patronize the temple have come out in force defending the monk.
A dozen character witnesses appeared at court to give evidence on behalf of the defense, with one saying she had known the accused for more than 30 years and he had “always been a professional”.
“He’s a priest and as far as I’m concerned he’s never stepped out of that role” she said.
Another witness, a GP, said she too had known the monk since the inception of the Thames Buddhist Temple and had never had any complaints from her children about the chief monk.
The case continues at Isleworth court.
- UKAsian Staff

Sri Lankan Buddhist monk accused of sexual assault on girls aged 10

Seven Islands Single Malt: Blending Indian culture with an ancient Scottish art

 
India’s centuries-long love affair with Scotch whisky received a further boon in London last week with the unveiling of a new luxury Single Malt.
‘Seven Islands Vintage’ – the name refers to the 7 islands that were reclaimed over centuries to form modern Mumbai – combines all the colour and cultural vitality of India with the Scottish art of whisky making.
Whisky is widely consumed in India; Scotch whiskies such as Chivas Regal have long been popular in the country.  India is also home to numerous, local brands such as McDowells, Royal Challenge and Royal Stag which are made out of molasses with a small percentage of traditional malt whiskey.
The consumption of Single Malt Scotch however, is still confined to the country’s relatively well off although that demographic is rapidly expanding, a fact that hasn’t escaped the attentions of the promoters of Seven Islands: Tilaknagar Industries, the company behind such popular Indian whisky brands as Mansion House, Senate Royale and Blacpower.
Seven Islands is the company’s first super-premium whisky and will be made at the BenRiach Distillery in Scotland’s Speyside; home to some of the world’s finest Single Malts, including Glenlivet and Glenfiddich.
The new whisky was unveiled at a suitably glamorous reception at the Mint Leaf Restaurant and Bar in London prior to an international launch which will take in a number of major cities around the world.
- UKAsian Staff

Seven Islands Single Malt: Blending Indian culture with an ancient Scottish art

'Anarchy' in post-war Sri Lanka's Yala National Park

 
Yala is a place of magic, of rocky outcrops, big trees, ancient lakes and the rushing sound of the Indian Ocean never far off. It is a place of leopards, elephants, sloth bears, antelopes and a rich bird life of peacocks, hornbills and more.
But conservationists in Sri Lanka are warning that anarchic behaviour in some national parks is endangering the wildlife and the ecology of wilderness areas.
They say safari vehicles are flagrantly breaking speed limits and that marauding behaviour by drivers and tourists is grossly insensitive to fauna and flora.
This is especially the case in Yala in the south-east, the most famous habitat for leopards - the only big cat found on the island.
I experienced this during a recent trip there when we careered through the park at high speed, even though we told our veteran driver that we did not want to go fast and that we were by no means obsessed with seeing a leopard.
At first we were merely jolted, but within about 10 minutes, I had been flung to the hard metal bars running along the ceiling of the safari truck and sustained a serious head injury.
'Jeep jam'
But there have been serious consequences for wildlife in the area. Four months ago a female leopard cub was killed in Yala by a hit-and-run driver.
The BBC has been told of jeep drivers going up to 100 kph (the nominal limit is 40 kph), bottles and dung being thrown into bushes to entice the animals out, and widespread littering.

It is also not uncommon to see jeep "jams" caused by the frenzied use of mobile phones to spread the word about a wildlife sighting.
A contributor to travel and nature website lakdasun.org said he could not photograph a bird or rabbit without jeep-drivers barging in thinking he was looking at a leopard or revving their engines, overtaking and shouting obscenities.
The bad behaviour is all in aid of spotting the beautiful and elusive leopard - or drivers trying to show one to tourists hoping it will get them a fat tip.
Yala's elephants, sloth bears, spotted deer, crocodiles and rich bird life are almost ignored by comparison.
Manori Gunawardena, a wildlife biologist living near Yala, says "leopard-centric marketing" is to blame. "It's become a status thing - everyone wants to put the leopard shot on Facebook," she says.
Mithila Somasiri, who is a moderator on lakdasun.org, says tourists, especially Sri Lankan ones, make heavy demands on the drivers. Until quite recently there were few photographers and no mobile signals. Now, he says, the open part of Yala is "no longer a wildness experience".
As for the drivers themselves, one of their representatives admits there is chaos.
"There are lots of vehicles travelling in the park after hours," Tharindu Jayasinghe of the Independent Safari Jeep Drivers' Association told the BBC.
"On some days there are 500-600 vehicles entering Yala. That's terribly high and should be limited to about 150. There's so much congestion that you can't see the animals, so much noise that they disappear."
He admits that many enter the park without even a driving licence and would like to see a proper register of all the vehicles that enter.
Safari lessons
Several wildlife enthusiasts said they had seen both drivers and self-driving visitors breaking the rules in Yala yet getting away with it because of their close relationship with politicians.
A senior government official candidly admitted to the BBC that rules were being disregarded.
"We must build a relationship with the drivers to keep them under control," said S Kalaiselvam of the Tourism Development Authority.
He said the authorities have started an awareness programme on better behaviour for drivers and government-employed wildlife trackers, who number only 40 in Yala. They have also distributed DVDs to tourists and drivers on how to conduct a safari.
The programme is in its infancy, however. Mr Kalaiselvam admits there are not the resources to monitor driver behaviour properly but says that where offending drivers are caught they should be suspended from the park.
Others favour special licences for jeep drivers or even switching off the mobile service at peak viewing times in the early morning and late afternoon.
Many say the emphasis should be bringing drivers on board in developing a new outlook.
"You can't just follow phone calls," says Riaz Cader of Jetwing Eco Holidays, a Sri Lankan tour operator which has forbidden its chauffeur guides to use their mobiles.
"You must show the wildlife at leisure, follow the pugmarks, try and track them."
'Wildlife will suffer'
For some, this problem is symptomatic of broader issues. The wildlife biologist Manori Gunawardena says Sri Lanka's stated target of attracting 2.5 million tourists a year by 2016 is unrealistic and unsustainable, and criticises big development works being carried out near Yala.
"The trajectory we are on does not take wilderness and wildlife into account," she says.

In the end, says Rukshan Jayewardene of The Leopard Trust, a local organisation, the wildlife stands to suffer unless there is change.
He recounted a recent incident in which a group of jeeps obstructed a leopard as she pursued a buffalo calf. As they were moving into her space, she gave up the hunt.
"Any time a leopard fails in a hunt, she comes a step closer to starvation," he said. "This happens quite a lot - the leopard will change its mind and direction. They feel a lot of frustration.
"Don't be so over-zealous that you practically park on the leopard."
Anarchic behaviour on Sri Lanka's roads takes a regular, terrible toll of fatalities. Similar indiscipline now appears to be penetrating the wildlife parks.
- Charles Haviland, BBC Online


'Anarchy' in post-war Sri Lanka's Yala National Park