ICTs and improving road safety

It’s 17 May 2013, and today we celebrate World Telecommunication and Information Society Day (WTISD). The purpose of the day, according to the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) website, is “to help raise awareness of the possibilities that the use of the Internet and other information and communication technologies (ICT) can bring to societies and economies, as well as of ways to bridge the digital divide.”

The date of 17 May was chosen because it marks the date of the signing of the first International Telegraph Convention in 1865, and the creation of the ITU. Initially the day was only known as World Telecommunications Day (it was celebrated annually since 1969). In November 2005, the World Summit on the Information Society called on the UN General Assembly to declare 17 May as World Information Society Day, “to focus on the importance of ICT and the wide range of issues related to the Information Society raised by WSIS.” In November 2006, at the ITU Conference in Turkey, it was decided to combine the above two events into a single World Telecommunication and Information Society Day.

Every year, WTISD promotes a specific theme, an area where telecommunications and ICT has a significant impact, or potential for significant impact, on society. For 2013, the theme is “ICTs and improving road safety.”

According to a report by the UN’s Road Safety Collaboration, 1.3 million people die annually in traffic-related accidents, with another 20-50 million injured. Considering the medical costs involved, as well as costs of work-loss etc, traffic accidents clearly have a huge impact on economies globally.

The impact of telecommunications and ICT on road safety is immense. Sadly, it is not all positive. (© All Rights Reserved)
The impact of telecommunications and ICT on road safety is immense. Sadly, it is not all positive.
(© All Rights Reserved)

The impact of ICT and telecommunications on road safety can be viewed from two sides. On the positive side, improved connectivity has a positive impact in terms of placing road users in contact with emergency services and road side assistance. Ever-increasing accessibility of maps and navigation services through smartphones etc can also improve safety on the road. Increasingly sophisticated traffic management systems have the potential to positively impact on traffic safety, and at the high end of technology, intelligent driver assist systems is another domain where ICT in particular has a huge potential role to play.

On the downside, however, driver distraction and road-user behaviour, including texting and interfacing with navigation and other communications systems while driving, count among the leading contributors to traffic-related accidents. And it is not only distracted drivers that cause problems – texting pedestrians represent an equally big risk, putting themselves and other road users in danger. The challenge in addressing these dangers is, of course, more educational than technical – it is all about educating all road users about the dangers of being distracted by personal communication systems while using the road.

So while today is a day to celebrate the amazing technological contribution ICT has made to improved road safety, it is also a day to remind ourselves of the terrible tragedies that have followed from the injudicious and inconsiderate use of mobile phones, GPS systems, etc while engaged in road usage.

Be safe, everyone.

Love your voice on World Voice Day

It’s 16 April, and today we celebrate World Voice Day. To quote the official website, “World Voice Day is a worldwide annual event devoted to the celebration of the phenomenon of voice.”

Today we celebrate our voices and the “enormous importance of the voice in our daily life, as a tool of communication, and as an application of a large number of sciences, such as physics, psychology, phonetics, art, and biology.”

Whether you're a professional singer or can hardly hold a tune, your voice is unique to you, and deserve to be cared for and celebrated. (© All Rights Reserved)
Whether you’re a professional singer or can hardly hold a tune, your voice is unique to you, and deserve to be cared for and celebrated.
(© All Rights Reserved)

We use our voices to communicate, to share our thoughts and ideas, to educate, to make music, to laugh, to cry. Our voices are unique to each of us, and even as we age, our vocal ‘fingerprint’ remains uniquely ours.

World Voice Day serves as a reminder that our voices are fragile, and need to be treated with the same care we afford our eyes, hearing etc. In the same way that we exercise and train our muscles, starting with light training and moving on to more strenuous training as our strength and fitness increase, we can also exercise our voices and mouths with daily voice warm-up exercises. These are particularly valuable if you are likely to find yourself in vocally strenuous situations – if you are doing public speaking, or if you’re a singer or other vocal artist. Hoarseness is a sign that your voice may be overstrained, or even that you suffer from infection, and need to be treated immediately by resting the body as much as possible, drinking lots of water, doing general stress reduction exercises, and avoiding to speak unless really necessary (whispering strains the vocal chords as much as speaking does). When singing or speaking in daily life it is also wise to, as far as possible, operate within our given and familiar vocal range.

Take care of your voice; celebrate your voice; love your voice.

Developing social and cognitive skills on International Tabletop Day

Today, 30 March, is International Tabletop Day, the day we celebrate all tabletop games. It is a reminder that these games – from chess to playing cards to snakes and ladders – can be a great way to spend some fun time with friends and family.

Since these games tend to be non-physical, they can be enjoyed by people of widely varying physical abilities – you don’t have to be a strong, fit 18 year old to take someone on in a game of Scrabble! As long as these games don’t keep us from physical activity, they can have great social and cognitive benefits, teaching us about communication, team work, strategy and innovative thinking. Just what the doctor ordered for a rainy day! (Just remember to get out of the house for a bit of a cardio-vascular workout when the weather clears…)

Still a classic - anyone a game of Scrabble?(© All Rights Reserved)
Still a classic – anyone a game of Scrabble?
(© All Rights Reserved)

And don’t think there’s nothing in the tabletop gaming genre for you just because you’re tired of the classic games like Scrabble and Monopoly – new tabletop games appear on an almost daily basis, and there are websites going to great lengths discussing and reviewing these – why not pop over to Tabletop Gaming News or have a look at the Top 10 new tabletop games for 2012 according to game informer.

Whatever rocks your boat – be it board games, dice games, war-games or card games – pull up a few chairs and have some fun on International Tabletop Day.

Radio: the power to inform

It’s 13 February, which means today is World Radio Day.  This day, proclaimed by UNESCO, is a celebration of radio as a truly non-discriminatory information and communication medium.

As explained in the World Radio Day 2013 press release, the day aims to “improve international cooperation between broadcasters; and to encourage major networks and community radio alike to promote access to information and freedom of expression over the airwaves.”

No matter how old the radio, you can still access the latest news, views and information.(© All Rights Reserved)
No matter how old the radio, you can still access the latest news, views and information.
(© All Rights Reserved)

As the world continues to evolve into multiple levels of digital connectedness, radio remains the medium that reaches the widest audience worldwide. From commercial FM stations to shortwave community radio, the medium continues to entertain and inform a diverse audience, across all ages, genders and cultures.

Despite changes and developments in broadcasting technology (from shortwave and medium wave to frequency modulation to digital broadcasting), the interface to its audience has remained largely unchanged, making it the simplest, most affordable and most widely accessible communication medium. The fact that radio can carry its message without the need for electrical connectivity at the receiving end makes it particularly suited to disseminate information in conflict situations and during natural disasters.

While traditional broadcasting remains at the core of radio, digital technology has opened up new opportunities – online radio stations are decreasing the cost of broadcasting, resulting in more citizen journalists and community groups using the medium to give voice to their unique messages.

It is this far-reaching power of radio that UNESCO wants to communicate on World Radio Day. To quote Irina Bokova, Director-General of UNESCO in her message on the occasion of World Radio Day: “UNESCO is determined to make full use of community radio to address poverty and social exclusion at the local level and to empower marginalized rural groups, young people and women. Radio is the key platform for education and for protecting local cultures and languages. It is also a powerful way to amplify the voices of young people around the world on issues that affect their lives. We must bolster their skills and give them opportunities to engage fully with radio.”

World Braille Day, celebrating communication via raised dots

January 4th is World Braille Day, a day to celebrate the code of tiny elevated dots that has been instrumental in opening up worlds of information and opportunity to millions of people around the world suffering from blindness or low vision. The date coincides with the commemoration of the birthday of Louis Braille (4 January 1809 – 6 January 1852), the Frenchman credited with the invention of the braille code language over the years 1821 – 1837.

Braille - opening up new worlds of communication through touch.(© All Rights Reserved)
Braille – opening up new worlds of communication through touch.
(© All Rights Reserved)

Louis Braille, while not born blind, was blinded through an accident when he was only 3 years old. He attended the National Institute for Blind Youth in France, one of the first schools in the world for blind children. Here he learned to read using a system developed by the school’s founder, Valentin Hauy, who had books specially printed using a complex wet-printing process, to create raised imprints of the Latin letters in the text. While this was useful, it was very difficult to accurately read the letters by touch, and the complexity of the printing process made it impossible for an individual to use for writing. Braille yearned to read and write as well as any able person, despite his disability, and he knew that effective communication was critical if he was to function fully in a normal world. He is famously quoted as saying: “We must be treated as equals – and communication is the way this can be brought about.”

This passion lead him to devise a set of symbols, consisting of raised dots on paper, that could be felt by hand and read as a sighted person would read printed letters and words on a page. The simplicity of the raised dot system meant that a blind person could also generate a page with the code using simple tools, thus effectively enabling him to write. The system was an improvement on an earlier code system, known as ‘night writing’, developed for military use by Captain Charles Barbier of the French Army.

It is a testament to his intelligence, drive and tenacity that Braille developed most of the code that was to become the basis of the braille language by 1824, when he was a mere 15 years of age. His initial system, published in 1829, contained both dots and dashes, but he replaced this with an updated, simplified edition using only dots, released in 1837.

Braille’s system of communication took some time to gain widespread adoption. First adopted at the school where he was educated, its popularity grew throughout France, and from there it slowly gained recognition in other countries. Almost 2 centuries after its invention, braille remains a critical tool for learning and communication among the visually impaired. Over the years, it has been adapted and expanded for many world languages.

In an incredible twist of fate, the very tool that accidentally blinded Louis Braille at the age of three – an awl – became the tool he used used to write his unique braille code.