Friday, January 4, 2019

The Steuart

Right off the bat, I'll admit a bit of bias, &Co pub and kitchen at the Steuart is one of my favourite places in Colombo, and it's a pity I don't get to visit more often. (And they make a mean Bloody Mary, but that wasn't included this visit 😄)

&Co has a dark and cozy atmosphere, with the heraldic crests from Scot clans decorating the brick finish walls. Tartan patterns on the place mats add to the Scots Pub atmosphere. According to Wiki, Steuarts was founded by a "British" sea captain, but considering the spelling of Steuarts instead of Stewarts, I think Scottish is probably accurate. There is an outdoor area too, which I am not fond of, for people into that kinda thing. Colombo is warm, and AC is bliss, as far as I am concerned, and the dark, cool, air conditioned interior suits me just fine.



At this time of year, they had Christmas decor up too.

Not entirely sure what was on here...

&Co has a large menu, which is not cheap, but the portions are quite large, so there is value for money. Go with a decent appetite. Also the drinks are quite reasonable for this very touristy area of Colombo. The wait staff is pretty good too, attentive, and they know what they are selling. 

For this visit, I went with an old favourite, Pork Lamprais for lunch, and a good ol' cuppa mint tea to wash it down. 


Steuarts built up their business in the coffee trade and later tea when Sri Lanka transitioned from coffee to tea after a pest devastated the islands coffee plantations, and they still produce their own tea. It's a small thing, but nice touch. The fact that they bring a pot that holds two cups is nice too.




The lamprais was good, but it was a bit different from last time, where the pork was more of a juicy preparation, where this time it was a dry preparation. Personally I feel the more juicy version is better in a steaming hot lamprais, but this can't be faulted, the preparation is excellent. 

On a complete aside, the pub is also a nice place to take pictures, since the dark atmosphere means that controlling the light is easier, not a lot of ambient to worry about. I look forward to my next visit.

Tuesday, December 11, 2018

The Exchange Pub

The Exchange is a pretty unique theme restaurant in a crowded theme restaurant space. The premise is to make the transaction like it works at an exchange. Unfortunately, unlike a real exchange, the prices for the orders aren't really based on market dynamics of supply and demand, but rather, just the supply, but hey, what can you do? 😀

The unique pub is the work of former employees of MillenniumIT, the theme instantly familiar to those of the industry. The location is interesting too, just across the street from the WTC, housing the Colombo Stock Exchange, one of MillenniumIT's first clients. Naturally the CSE is there as the Fort, in the Commercial Capital of Sri Lanka, is the epicenter of financial activity of the country. The choice of location is inspired, in my opinion.
The decor is typical pub, but the screens displaying item prices like a stock market ledger interface is somewhat different. The effect is interesting.



I landed there in the company of some friends working closeby, the place suggested on whim. The prices are not cheap, but fairly normal for the area near Dutch Hospital. The portions seem pretty generous, specially on the rice my friends ordered. The food seems quite good too, worth a shot.

My Beef Burger with potato wedges. There actually is a patty in there, tho it seems like some cheese topped with a lot of lettuce 😁 It's not bad, even though I would have liked a bigger patty. Also, the burger bun got quite soggy quite quickly, but there was a decent mix of condiments and patty in there. Worth a try.

Sunday, November 4, 2018

De Vos Cafe - Oh for Fox sake!

De Vos Cafe, off De Vos Road in Bambalapitiya, has been creating much buzz on social media, specially after a Yamu review that it seems not many people agree with. Who ever is in charge of social media at De Vos is also doing a fantastic job with some sharp wit and a good sense of humor. So much so that I had to check it out for myself.


Unfortunately I didn't have my camera, so no pictures of the place, but I decided to take some food pics off my phone. This wasn't a planned stop, just joining my wife and her friends when they took a break from shopping to have lunch. The place will have to wait for another time (which will happen as I want to try the French Dip Sandwich, hilariously featured here)

For now, first thing on the list - English Pub Breakfast
Made a slight mistake, this comes with toast with butter and jam, but that came after a slight delay and I had already dug into this, so I didn't retake pictures including that. Pulse has pictures if you want to look into it. This looked way too good to sit around and wait. (I was right about that.) It IS a bit on the pricey side, (Though normal for the Colombo cafe scene) but at least you are getting a lot for your money, so can't really complain. Not something I would order every time (cholesterol is too high to be having all this bacon and hash browns) but it can definitely be recommended as a good solid meal. Going by the pics on Yamu, this has definitely improved in quantity.

The wife went on a more traditional route, rice and curry, called Lankan Delight. Once again it seems a ridiculous thing to go to a cafe and spend this much money on a rice and curry which can be had for approximately 1/4 of the cost from a place much closer to home, but as an experience, it's good. Quantity, check. Taste, check. Slightly too much spice for my tastes, but my wife is more of a fan of chillie, and she liked it just fine. I will add that there are certain meals worth sweating to eat and this would be worth the sweat from eating the spice.

I didn't try the other food, which was a chicken taco with penne alfredo and a vege and cheese sandwich, but the reactions were quite positive, and I can tell you, the portions were more than generous. The fries are interesting, they had a flavour I couldn't identify, not sure what it was, but whatever it was, I'm a fan.



We had drinks, which I didn't take pictures of, but quick summary. I had iced tea, which was nice, came with sugar syrup separately (which I appreciate) and also in rather large mason glass (which is also much appreciated). The girls had some coffee and something called a lemondrop. The one who ordered it apparently didn't read the description and wasn't a fan of the strong lemongrass flavour, but I, who love the lemongrass flavour, loved it and recommend it highly.

Definitely a place I would stop at to have a tea or lemondrop and read a book when I need to kill some time.

Friday, August 31, 2018

Calorie Counter

I'm not a health nut by any means, but I have heard plenty of good things about Calorie Counter, and  since I was working in the area that morning, I decided to drop in at the Ward Place branch and see what all the fuss is about. 

The restaurant is a nice space. I like the decor, specially the large wall mounted menus with accompanying pictures. It's a nice place to sit and work for a while. It does, however, lack WiFi (with signs saying there is no WiFi, talk to each other :) ) and no charging outlets, so it's not aimed at that kind of coffee shop clientele.

The founder's story board is a nice touch, but it's partially hidden. They should really find a better place for that.

The menu is quite wide, and I spent a long time trying to make a choice. Fortunately the staff is quite attentive, and the guy behind the counter pointed out the mains, as I had only been looking at the wraps and sandwiches. At that point I saw the Peri Peri chicken and that was immediately my number one choice. 



They did give a nice big hunk of chicken accompanied by vegetables and corn. It was quite good. It was well spiced, and quite sufficient in quantity. It wasn't quite like the Peri Peri Chicken that is found in Nando's restaurants but still quite good. A nice Nando's Peri Peri sauce would make things quite feisty, but then, this was about counting calories. 



Monday, January 26, 2015

Outreach - Ingress

Ingress is about 2 things. Taking gaming out of the sitting on your posterior and seeing new things, and meeting new people. This creation of contacts is what led to Operation Bucket List. It was the brainchild of a chap in Denmark called Pascal V, or, as he is known in the Ingress world, Agent @DrKaosDK. The lofty goal for this operation called for the creation of 100 Level 8 portals in 100 different cities in 100 different countries. Creation of a Level 8 portal requires a minimum of 8 agents (players) of Level 8 or higher to gather at the portal and power it up. Powering up 100 was something that would take time, as it would involve travelling to 100 different portals. If more manpower was available, the sensible thing to do would be to split up and cover different areas simultaneously.
No one has accurate information on how many portals are online in the game, but finding cities hosting 100 portals is not easy. In Sri Lanka, it can be done easily enough in Colombo, and it actually has been done, when we executed what we called a P8 Drive, teams of agents in 2 cars following a route starting at Viharamaha Devi park and ending up at a dinner party for a visiting agent from Australia so he could add as many portals as possible to his visited and captured portals statistics. The aim was as many as possible, the result was over 100. However, Colombo already has a large number of standing Level 8 portals, and it wasn't interesting.We weren't sure, however, that the other cities in Sri Lanka would have sufficient portals for us to reach the goal of 100. As luck would have it, Enlightened agents in Kandy confirmed that Kandy had enough portals, and due to relatively low numbers of agents, Kandy portals rarely reached Level 8. So Kandy it would be!
The next challenge was finding enough agents to make the portals. The date set was the 17th of January. The event was turned into a Kandy Meetup for Enlightened, and with that on the cards, agents responded. The Op was a go and off we went.
We all have our mini goals, of course. In my case, I wanted to qualify for my Gold Explorer badge, which is awarded to agents who visit 2000 unique locations. Something plenty of Sri Lankan agents have already done, but it was a landmark on my Ingress journey. I was 12 short when leaving Colombo, and I achieved this goal shortly after reaching Kandy. Impressively, I personally visited 118 portals through the day that I had never visited before, bringing my total tally to 2093 by the time I got home. Others were after other personal goals. Everyone wanted to do their part in creating 100 Level 8 portals.
On 17th January, we set off to Kandy. Initially the idea was to take the train, but I decided it would be easier to go in my jeep, so picking up agents along the route, off I went. The rendezvous was at 10.30am at Peradeniya, and we were only 1/2 an hour late :) We had a slightly worrying moment when a Resistance agent showed up there just before we arrived, but he seemed to have been a random passer by, and he went about his business and we left it alone. Short drives into the suburb of Peradeniya yielded our initial set of Level 8 portals, whereupon we drove into Kandy City and, parking at the City Center, we proceeded on foot. After 50 portals we stopped for lunch, meeting up with Agent @Cyan017 who was on a trip to the temple. After lunch we proceeded to the temple (which had been a battleground in the morning, judging by the reports on Comm, Cyan017 and Resistance agent Yakaa had spent the preceding hours swapping ownership of those portals) and quickly proceeded to make the whole area a bright Enlightened Green. 100 portals completed, we added a few more for good measure and went to a spot overlooking the Kandy Lake called Arthur's Seat for some photographs and refreshing King Coconut.

Those still going at the end of the op at Arthur's Seat

The view of the city from Arthur's Seat.

Operation BucketList2015 was truly remarkable. The countries goal was not met, as most of Africa and the Middle East didn't participate, the game is not played there a lot, probably due to problematic mobile coverage. However, the operation drew participation from 43 countries but over 2675 agents in approximately 140 cities responded, creating some 24,000 Level 8 portal. However, the point of the name of the operation, BucketList, stemmed from agents pointing out at least one portal that agents should visit before they die, and fittingly, Kandy being home to the Temple of the Tooth, the tooth relic of the Enlightened One himself, the Gautama Buddha, this portal was submitted as the Bucket List portal for Sri Lanka.
 



The Sri Lankan Situation Report can be found here -

over 100 standing Level 8 portals in Kandy.



The Global operation coordinators released this video showing the world wide effort, called the Exotic Matter Travel Guide The coolest places in the world, shown to you by the coolest people.
It also includes a map link showing all the cities that participated - http://goo.gl/2oz29x

It was a fun thing to be a part of, and getting to know our Kandy brethren, who showed us around and knew the good eating spots, was a definite plus. City Exploration get-togethers are fun, and I look forward to the next one.

Friday, September 12, 2014

Why do I play Ingress?

Ingress is a word many in the network world are aware of. The reference is to intrusion into networks. In simple terms, Ingress refers to a foreign presence coming into a space.

The game Ingress, by Niantic Labs, plays with a similar concept. The story behind it talks about a strange energy of unknown origin seeping into our world, Earth. The game revolves around this energy, known as eXotic Matter, or XM. The game utilizes an overlay over Google Maps to turn the world around you into a massive playing field encompassing your surroundings, a technique known as Augmented Reality, where players from two factions battle for control over the future of XM.
Ingress has several unique points to it. One is the multi-tiered levels of game play. I’ve described this in an earlier article, so I won’t rehash here, but if you want to read it - http://techwire.lk/ingress-augmented-reality-meets-your-android/


Second unique point: it moves gaming from a sitting proposition, beyond games requiring movement in limited spaces like Wii, into the massive spaces of the real world. There are quite a few real world benefits. It’s a health boost, as the best way to play is by walking, exploring your surroundings more, taking new roads, visiting new sites, discovering places of significance you might have otherwise have never known about, and meeting new people; fellow teammates or rival players.

The Grand Hotel - Nuwara Eliya
On the surface, many people find it dumb that players keep visiting the same locations over and over again. Ingress is just a little more complex than that. For one thing, it’s not visiting the same places. I have personally visited over 1600 locations playing this game, just in my home country, exploring parts of my home town I have never been to, and have been to locations as far away as Kalpitiya lagoon, the temple at the top of Kurunegala Rock, Polonnaruwa, the gates of the Uda Walawe National Park and Galle Fort. While most are places I have visited while doing something else, places like Kurunegala Rock are places I would probably never have visited if not for Ingress. I am even motivated to re-climb Sigiriya, something I had sworn never to do again. I’ve also discovered a number of shortcuts and by-roads which can be used to avoid traffic; side benefits of exploring outside one’s normal routine.



Operations with Global Impact
Also, one of the main points of ingress is control of areas by connecting portals using links in order to make something called Fields. This is not always the easiest of things to accomplish in itself, but there are more advanced techniques to be used to maximize scores. In addition, people create fields that can cover whole countries and indeed multiple fields. Recently, the Australians covered the whole continent, and multi country teams covered practically the whole Northern Hemisphere in a massive set of fields, which included a link of a record 6730kms. These fields covered Russia, Canada, all of Europe and parts of the USA. Considering all the rules involved in making fields, this is phenomenal undertaking, involving hundreds of people, months of planning, and actually requiring people to physically travel all over the world to meet the criteria of field creation. We were involved in something like that too, called Operation Mata Hari, a sequence of fields covering most of South East Asia, although SL operatives role was limited to clearing a path so a field could be created between India, Mauritius and Australia.There have been stories of people hiring boats, planes and helicopters, and even parachuting out to reach portals in order to create fields, raising superb adventure stories to be shared.

And shared they are. The other unique point of Ingress is the social aspect of game play. The game is structured in a way that does not reward hero play at high levels. Single players can have huge impact, but to is much more effective to play as a team, and it is this aspect of teamwork and cooperation that can truly set Ingress apart. As of the time of writing this article, I am the highest level agent in Sri Lanka at Level 14, but that has been a byproduct, I will always focus more on helping new agents score as many points as possible, since having more agents is a far more fundamental factor for achieving success than playing lone wolf by myself. I’ve driven many miles burning off my own fuel, and burned the midnight oil to get help my fellow agents, and it pays dividends, creating a strongly bonded team of players who enjoy getting together even outside of playing Ingress. The last push to make me the highest level agent around and first Sri Lankan to L14 was mostly due to the push from my fellow agents, who push, gave up supplies, put their own efforts to level up on hold to make sure that our team would have the first L14 agent in the country. Even a guy I met for the first time gave me keys to make a link to help me to my medals.
Scoring points
The opposition making point scoring easy

So get in on the action - Download Ingress from Android Play or the Apple App Store and discover it for yourself!


Human Shaper Together Create Destiny - Encoded messages from the Portals for bonus items

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Ingress

"You have downloaded what you believe to be a game, but is not. Something is very wrong." The words that greet you in a synthesized female voice that belongs to Ada, an AI that helps you along the way, when you first start playing Ingress..
Ingress is definitely one of a kind. With all the power and money off Google behind it, it offers a huge scope of gameplay. At an interview with CNN, John Hanke, VP of Product Development for Niantic Labs (sub division of Google) states the idea is to get people moving, exploring, and away from the normal stationary act of playing on their phones. Let's get right down to it.
What is Ingress? Its kinda hard to put a one word answer on that. To call it a game seems sort of trite. It has become a way of life to some people. In essence, its a massively multiplayer online augmented reality game, where the game play area is the whole world. Estimates put the number of people playing at over 500,000.
First, Ingress is still in closed beta. The backstory is still developing. But basically, the game revolves around something called Exotic Matter. This is an unknown substance of presumably extraterrestrial origin. XM for short, it's control is the core point of the game. XM enters our world through Portals. XM and portals cannot normally be seen with the naked eye, however, thanks to technological breakthroughs, you can view them on your mobile device using a pics of software known as the scanner. (If your mobile device is Android based). Now XM is believed to have properties and influence and enhance human creativity when exposed to it, so most portals are centered around public works of art. Statues, murals and places of worship seems to be the most common places. At least, thus runs the backstory.
On starting out (after initial training where you get a briefing to help you determine a side), you are invited to join one of the two sides struggling for control over the XM. The Enlightened believe XM is the next stage of evolution, enhancing humanity, giving new knowledge, and they want humanity to embrace what XM can give is. They are kinda like the X-Men. The Resistance want humanity to remain as is, not change. They are kinda like the William Strykers of Ingress.
Game play is sifted into multiple levels. At the top in the Niantic Investigation Board. Very few people actually visit this section, this is the real sit in your basement brainiac bit, trying to decode puzzles put out by Google. Solve the puzzles quickly enough, and get a passcode that can be redeemed for game play items.
One level below that is the Intel map. The Intel map is a tool that shows the current state of portal alignment, fields, allows access to the in game COMM system to chat with other agents, and lets you see activity (such as players attacking portals, creating links, etc). As such, an invaluable tool in strategic planning.
Which is all good, but thats not in line with Niantic’s idea of getting people exploring the world. The busiest, and definitely largest part of the game is run by the field agents. Agents are the people who trudge through the real world, seeking out portals, and trying to control things for their teams. To do this the player needs a scanner (mobile device with GPS and data connectivity running the Ingress software). The scanner shows players an area of around 300-500 meters around them, showing all the XM, portals, links, fields and game objects in the area, on an overlay of Google Maps. Interaction with an object requires the player to be within 40m of an object, presumably due to the inherent inaccuracy of GPS. GPS drift is one of the bigger problems of the game. But I digress.
First, XM. Move around so your scanner is within 40 meters of XM (radius shown by a handy circle on the scanner) and it will automatically harvest the XM. XM is most plentiful around Portals. XM is required to carry out just about every action in the game. However, XM is limited. Once harvested, its gone, until it regenerates about 20 minutes later. The XM is stored in the scanner, and how much you can store depends on your Agent Level. Once you have enough XM, you can approach a portal and “hack” it for game play items. Hacking a portal will cause it to eject items like resonators and bursters, which are stored in your scanner. A scanner can store 2000 of these items.
As I stated, players must control Portals. Portals are claimed for the team by placing resonators around it. Place 8 resonators and a portal is energized, ready for linking. Also, placing resonators around portals cause the portal level to go higher, which results in it generating better equipment when hacked. Portals can be linked together using objects called Portal Keys (hack portals to get it), causing bands of energy to flow between them. If three links are created in a triangular fashion, it creates a Mind Unit Field. The idea is, an Enlightened field causes people under it to receive the benefits of XM, while a Resistance field protects people from the effects of XM. The number of people who live in the area covered by the field is calculated as Mind Units controlled, and adds to the global MU score for each side.
As briefly as possible, that is the objective of the game. Help your team control the greatest number of mind units by controlling portals and building fields, breaking enemy fields and portals, defending friendly fields and portals. The catch is, aside from the defense of portal (which can be done remotely), all these actions require the player to be within 40m of the portal. So, yes, Niantic’s idea of getting people moving is certainly working out. People are out at all times of day, in the rain, the sun, and the snow, hacking, attacking, defending these portals.
This is not, however, a lonely activity. As a player progresses, interaction with others, cooperation with others, becomes a must. In order to build better portals, get access to keys, build fields spanning countries, requires a certain level of community interaction. The natural place, of course, is the Google Plus social network. Regional and local communities form, even across factions. And like I said at the beginning, this game all all the power and money of Google behind it. First, there is a weekly show (aired on youtube) called the Ingress Report, basically a news report of various things attached to the world of Ingress. This can range from community and agent news and achievements, to official released information on the game, backstory development, clues, passcodes, hints, etc. This can also drop from portals when hacked in the form of a media file. Google also seems to hire a cast of characters who play the in-game story figures. These characters, in addition to popping up on the Ingress Report, also show up from time to time in the real world and interact with people playing the game. Google spares no expense. The latest event organised by Google (massive real time battles between factions, termed as XM anomalies) called Operation Cassandra, just played out on a global scale, 13 cities worldwide in Australia, Germany, Japan, America, The Philippines and more, over 14 days. This involves hundreds of active agents trying to control the area during measurement times (Need to decode to get the times), and based on the measurements, victory will be awarded to the team. This also means in game characters traveling to those cites, meeting actual players and interacting.
On a local note, the resident Ingress community in Sri Lanka is small, but there are close to fifty people playing on an active or semi active level. Colombo and suburbs alone count over 300 portals. Other dense clusters and be found in Galle and plenty between Ratnapura and Hambanthota. Portals are coming up in Kandy, and even Vavuniya. Dambulla has 5, and there are even portals on top of Sigiriya. New ones come up all the time, meaning new places to visit and see.
Rich, active, immersive, Ingress is more than just a game. In some ways, to some people, it is a way of life.
Charles Darwin said “It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent that survives. It is the one that is the most adaptable to change”. For the Enlightened, this is Agent P3ricles. See you in the game.
This article was originally written for techwire.lk, the original can be found at http://techwire.lk/ingress-augmented-reality-meets-your-android/