24 February 2009

Forgotten travellers are a mental challenge

Ever arrived at a strange railway station or airport terminal and wondered what the heck you are supposed to do? Spare a thought, then, for people "with cognitive impairment and those with mental health problems”. The chaos and confusion can be even worse for them, as I found when working up the item Forgotten travellers for my IET transport slot.

Prompted by a report from the OECD's International Transport Forum, Cognitive Impairment, Mental Health and Transport, the story concerns the design and operation of transport systems in a way that makes them easier to navigate. Information has to be simple and easier to pick out from stuff that doesn't matter.

The real message for me is that make life easier for this segment of the population, one that is growing as there are more older folks around with declining mental powers, and travel also becomes easier for the rest of us.

09 February 2009

Useless PDF files

I was looking forward to writing about the CBI's recent survey of companies and their attitudes to R&D tax credits. In the end, the piece I wrote, Would you tax credit it?, over on Science|Business was less than it might have been.

That is because whoever produced the report over at the CBI decided that it was too sensitive to allow anyone to copy text out of the PDF file. This removed the possibility of copying quotes out of the document.
We all know about selective quotes, but this is counterproductive.

Surely the CBI would not prefer to have journalists type the quotes. That is a good way of adding mistakes to reports of your work.

This is not the first time I have come across PDF files with a "chastity belt". Indeed, I have encountered the ultimate here in the shape of press releases that you can't copy.

When you point this out to people, they are often as surprised as the recipient. They did not ask for this level of security, which should be a lesson to anyone responsibvle for culculating PDF files. Check that the audience can get at the content.

05 February 2009

EU meddles in transport research

The EU comes in for plenty of stick from the media. One area, though, that has attracted little vilification from the Daily Mail and other Europhobes is its support for R&D. This is surprising given the amount of money that Brussels hands out. For example, over at The IET I have a few details of the €1 billion that the EU has committed to the European Green Car Initiative alone.

It isn't just cars that Brussels wants improved. Trains are in there too, with some signs of significant success.

Take ERTMS, the European Railway Traffic Management System. As I wrote in an earlier piece, by creating a new standard for railway signalling, and supporting development of the technology, the EU hasn't just eased the flow of trains through Europe, it has put the indigenous signalling companies in a position to flog systems to the likes of China and India.

Business with the right chemistry

Ludwigshafen, home of BASF, the German chemical company, may not be the most bucolic location but the company's R&D facilities there are impressive. At least, they were when I last had a trip to join one of BASF's PR jollies.

Now we have some insights into the philosophy that currently underpins their R&D effort. BASF is into clusters. But as I say on Science|Business, the company's clusters are not the geographical variety that many observers of the R&D scene would recognise.

The real message is that BASF is one of a number of large technically advanced businesses that continues to spend oodles on R&D, even in these times of economic gloom. It is also interesting to see the company talking about adapting its research strategy rather than banging on about changes in its business structure.

Maybe it BASF does that too, but having seen other chemical companies go down the pan as they constantly restructure their business, while steadfastly saying nothing about research, it is encouraging to see them openly recognising the value of R&D.