en español: El Innovador de Texas
Ensuring Timely Textbooks
In the long run, Texas school children deserve a reliable, stable source of funding when it comes to purchasing their textbooks, but in the short run an immediate, quick fix is necessary to guarantee our kids have the tools they need to get a world-class education.
I have identified $279.9 million in General Revenue that is available through budget execution authority that could be used to ensure timely textbooks for school districts across this state now.
We have the money. We need to set aside part of it to keep our schoolbooks up to date. It’s important to our schools and to our children.
At the height of the state’s budgetary crisis in 2003, funding for new textbooks and instructional materials was cut dramatically and replaced by what I said at the time was an inadequate funding source.
Texas Department of Transportation officials put forth a proposal to restructure our state’s motor fuels tax collection with the idea that stopping fraud would raise $75 million for textbook purchases. I said the scheme would not work and only $7.9 million would be available for textbooks. That’s unacceptable.
Texas already has a long-established and highly effective fuel tax fraud investigation program. It has been a national model dating back to Comptroller Bob Bullock’s administration. Motor fuel distributors have routinely been audited for years, and a major emphasis of our Criminal Investigation Division has been uncovering motor fuels tax fraud through joint efforts with national, state and local enforcement agencies.
Despite my warnings, the Texas Department of Transportation’s idea became law, and now we have a problem – there simply is not enough money from this source to buy the books our school children need.
Nothing is more important than education and we can’t educate our kids without books.
When the Legislature meets again either in special session this year or regular session next year, it is my hope that everyone will recognize the long-term wisdom of fully funding textbook purchases with a reliable source.
Until then, our state’s leadership can and must meet and appropriate the needed money out of funds I have already identified.
Carole Keeton Strayhorn
A special bloodmobile hit the streets of Central Texas in April 2004, collecting the “gift of life” for some the area’s sickest friends. This bloodmobile’s patrons are the kind that wag their tails.
The Austin-based Pet Blood Bank, which opened in March 2004, operates the new animal bloodmobile. The Pet Blood Bank is one of seven animal blood banks in the United States, according to the Association of Veterinary Hematology and Transfusion Medicine. Its mobile unit is the nation’s third animal bloodmobile. The University of Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine operates the other two.
The Pet Blood Bank provides blood products and supplies to veterinarians nationwide. Co-founder Mark Ziller said the Texas bank takes donations only from dogs but plans to work with cats in the future.
The Pet Blood Bank’s bloodmobile serves Central Texas, Houston and Dallas/Fort Worth.
Talking trash is going high tech. Connecticut-based Startech Corp. developed a system that creates a plasma that breaks down and destroys garbage molecules at temperatures up to 30,000 degrees Fahrenheit, or three times hotter than the surface of the sun. The plasma converter turns the trash into solid, recyclable metals, such as iron or copper, plus clean, hydrogen-rich gases that can be used as fuel.
“In places like New York City that generate tons of garbage daily, they have to find a solution,” said Joe Longo, Startech’s CEO. “New York City has no room in its landfills; it has to truck its trash to other states. Eventually large waste generators are going to have to come to us. They can cut their costs in half or more, and our system doesn’t corrupt the environment.”
Longo said while his company has not yet sold a system in the U.S., he has sold converters in other countries, including two to an Italian businessman who wants to corner the market on disposing of e-waste, such as computers and telephones.
“It’s no longer garbage in, garbage out; it’s garbage in and assets out,” Longo said.
For more information, contact Steve Landa,
Waste not, watt not
It might be pond scum to some, but to others it’s the fuel of the future. Researchers at Penn State University developed a microbial fuel cell that can generate electricity from wastewater. The fuel cell takes advantage of natural microbes that feed on organic matter.
It’s just a start—in trials so far the cell hasn’t managed to create enough electricity to power a single Christmas tree light. Still, the promise of simultaneously cleaning wastewater and generating power with a naturally occurring microbe is an attractive alternative to fossil fuels.
The device could help reduce the $25 billion cost of treating wastewater in the U.S., according to Bruce E. Logan, one of the Penn State researchers working on the project. It also could help bring affordable sanitation technology to developing nations, he said.
For more information, contact Barbara Hale,
Penn State, firstname.lastname@example.org, 814-865-9481
Automated phone angst
There is a new weapon in the battle against automated and telemarketing phone calls. It’s not a “do not call” list, but computer software that can recognize frustration and anger in callers’ voices and help get the information they’re after.
Dr. Shrikanth Narayanan, a linguistics and computer science associate professor at the University of Southern California, developed a voice-recognition software program that can detect rising levels of angst in people’s voices and automatically switch them from an automated call to a conversation with a live person, or even simply switch operators for them.
“One of our goals was to figure out how to express a human’s emotional state, which is a very important part of how we communicate,” said Narayanan. “Things like the rate of speech, intonation and word choice are indicators of a person’s emotions.”
The software is designed to help the person at home —from the perspective of the call center or telemarketer.
“Call center application is a good place to start, since it’s all voice-to-voice communication,” Narayanan said. “What we are trying to do is enhance the capability of call centers to serve customers.”
Narayanan said the U.S. Army also is interested in developing the software technology. He said it will be at least two years before a commercial version is available.
For more information, contact Shrikanth Narayanan,
Students at Carnegie Mellon University in Pennsylvania are turning to computers to do their laundry.
Pennsylvania-based USA Technologies developed a pilot program that began in March 2004 that allows students to control university laundry rooms via their computer.
“When you go to do laundry, our students use their student ID to swipe in the controller,” said Tim Michael, director of housing services at Carnegie Mellon. “You interact with the keypad and select the machines you want to use, and when you’ve loaded your laundry, the controller starts the machine.”
Students can monitor the amount of time left on washers and dryers through a Web site, or have a reminder sent to them via e-mail, text messaging on a cell phone or through a personal digital assistant.
The university declared the program a success and will replace 230 campus washers and dryers with new commercial-grade machines hooked up to the virtual laundry room, Michael said.
“Laundry is one of those things that everyone has to do,” he said. “It’s really about the student’s time. Our students are so busy, and anything we can do to make things easier and more convenient for them, we’ll do it.”
For more information, contact Tim Michael,
Boots made for marching
The thought of wearing a 70-pound backpack across miles of rugged terrain or up 50 flights of stairs can scare off the toughest hikers. But new robotics research at the University of California at Berkeley (UC Berkeley) could literally take the load off people’s backs.
Scientists at UC Berkeley’s Robotics and Human Engineering Laboratory developed the Berkeley Lower Extremity Exoskeleton (BLEEX). It consists of mechanical metal leg braces and a power unit on a backpack-like frame. The user steps into a pair of modified Army boots attached to the metal leg braces and dons a vest attached to the backpack frame and engine. More than 40 sensors and hydraulic systems work like a human nervous system to help adjust the load based on what the wearer is doing. The exoskeleton constantly calculates what it needs to do to distribute the weight so the wearer feels little to no load.
In test experiments at UC Berkeley, a subject moved around a room wearing the 100-pound exoskeleton and a 70-pound backpack but said he felt like he was lugging about five pounds.
UC Berkeley researchers said the machine could help anyone who needs to travel long distances by foot carrying a heavy load, such as Army medics or firefighters.
Scientists designed the system to be ergonomic, highly maneuverable and robust so the wearer can walk, squat, bend and swing from side to side, said Homayoon Kazerooni, director of UC Berkeley’s Robotics and Human Engineering Laboratory.
For more information, contact Homayoon Kazerooni,
Seeing eye computer
Blind people might gain a seeing assistant that rides in a backpack, if a new device created by researchers at Wright State University in Dayton, Ohio, finds its way to market.
The system, called Tyflos (from the Greek word for blind), can translate images it “sees” into verbal descriptions, according to the researchers. A miniature camera mounted on a pair of glasses transmits what it sees to a laptop computer carried in a backpack. Complex algorithms then analyze the visual information, and the system provides the user with a description in synthetic speech, via a headset. Users can ask Tyflos questions about their surroundings via the headset’s microphone or set the system to feed them continuous information.
Tyflos has limitations; its camera, for instance, can’t auto-focus, so users may have to move it about to get a clear image for interpretation. Dim lighting poses another problem. And while Tyflos can be used to read some printed matter, such as menus and labels, it can’t interpret handwriting very well.
On the other hand, the Tyflos software is sophisticated enough to identify people’s faces by matching their features against a database.
For more information, contact Nikolaos Bourbakis,
Wright State University, email@example.com
In fall 2004, students who ride the bus in Pinellas County, Fla., will thumb a ride to school. Pinellas County schools will install fingerprinting technology on each of its buses to track students’ movements on and off school buses. The new system also will use Global Positioning System technology to track the location of the school buses.
For more information, contact Terry Palmer,
Transportation Director, 727-547-7294
German scientists are leeching pain from arthritis sufferers—using leeches, according to a study published in the medical journal Annals of Internal Medicine. Leech saliva contains a substance that decreases inflammation, the cause of arthritis. The study found that patients who had leeches applied to arthritic knees reported less pain than patients who used a traditional topical gel.
For more information, contact Annals of Internal Medicine,
Pretending to be sick or stuck in traffic during a cell phone call could be more convincing using new software that generates phony background noise.
Romanian phone software company Simeda has developed SoundCover, which adds fake background noise to a call at the press of a button. It can mimic a thunderstorm, a bustling street, a dentist’s drill or a circus. The software can also create the sound of another phone ringing to give the user a reason for cutting a phone call short.
The company’s slogan for SoundCover, available for purchase on its Web site at www.simeda.com, is “Hide behind sound, make it your alibi.”
Editor: Karen Hudgins
Contributing to this issue: Angela Freeman, Magdalena Hamner, Ann Holdsworth, Greg Mt.Joy, Edd Patton, Clint Shields, Suzanne Staton, Pam Wagner and Bruce Wright