en español: El Innovador de Texas
Return Surplus to Texas Taxpayers
On August 31, after closing the books on the 2004-05 biennium, I identified $1.2 billion in unanticipated revenue that came into the state during the last three months of the year, primarily because of accelerated oil and gas severance taxes, increased automobile sales and an overall increase in sales.
Weeks and weeks ago, I urged the governor to call an emergency three-day special session so the Legislature could make an appropriation to the Legislative Budget Board or another appropriate agency so we could draw down money as needed for our storm-damaged communities in Southeast Texas and other communities across our state providing generous and gracious help.
If the federal government eventually reimburses us, great; if not, Texas should not wait, nor waiver in stepping up to the plate to take care of our own.
More than 412,000 evacuees came to Texas, and we opened more than 200 shelters in 42 counties. More than 46,000 evacuee children are enrolled in our already stretched Texas schools—and that will mean more than $345 million in additional state funding to educate these children.
We should also prioritize already appropriated and available funds now. There is more than $200 million remaining in the Texas Enterprise Fund that could be immediately used to rebuild our local economies.
A three-day special session would cost no more than $168,000.
But the governor says the feds will take care of us.
Since the governor refuses to call a special session for our Texas providers, I believe this unanticipated surplus money needs to be returned to its rightful owner—Texas taxpayers.
Last month, homeowners began getting their property tax statements. These Texans are hardest hit by skyrocketing local property taxes that are picking up 62 percent of the cost of educating our children.
I have run the numbers. Every Texas homeowner could get back a $260 check now, which is an 11.3 percent reduction for the average property tax payment for homeowners. The refund checks would jump to $307 per homeowner, a 13.4 percent reduction, if the more than $200 million currently in the Texas Enterprise Fund were added to the $1.2 billion.
Return the favor—return the check.
Carole Keeton Strayhorn
Storm before the storm
Instead of running from a hurricane, one scientist wants to create another tropical storm to stop it.
Because hurricanes are so unpredictable, weather forecasters try to tell coastal residents where a storm will hit to give them enough time to move inland.
But Moshe Alamaro, a Massachusetts Institute of Technology scientist, wants to use a cluster of 10 to 20 jet engines to push warmer air up into the atmosphere, possibly triggering a tropical disturbance. Such storms would feed off warm surface water and rob the oncoming hurricane of heat and fuel. The method resembles the one used by firefighters of starting a controlled fire in front of an out-of-control fire to burn up grass, brush and trees, essentially depriving the uncontrolled fire of its fuel.
“To solve a mega-problem you need to reduce it to smaller milestones,” Alamaro said.
Alamaro would like to first test the idea off the Texas coast to create drought-breaking rainstorms.
For more information, contact Moshe Alamaro,
Delinquent taxpayer detector
Tax collectors in two Virginia cities have a new weapon in their arsenal for finding delinquent taxpayers. The BootFinder, developed by G2 Tactics Inc., in Alexandria, Va., scans license plates and matches them against entries in a customizable database of delinquent property taxpayers and people with unpaid parking tickets.
Andrew Bucholz, a former Alexandria police officer, developed the device with a grant from the Justice Department. He did it to make searching for stolen vehicles easier, but he found a new market in tax collection.
In Virginia, tax collectors use the BootFinder to scan parked vehicles. When they find one owned by someone with unpaid fines, they remove the license plates and flag the vehicle, letting the owner know he or she has either unpaid parking tickets or delinquent property taxes. The owner has three days to pay the fines or the county tows the vehicle and sets a date to auction it.
For more information, contact Andrew Bucholz,
In July, Japan’s Fujitsu company announced it developed an electronic “paper” that can display vivid color images without the need for a power supply.
The film-based product is lightweight, flexible and bendable, and it uses a small amount of power only to change images. Fujitsu claims the new technology consumes as little as 1/10,000th of the energy required by conventional electronic displays. The images displayed do not flicker, and bending does not affect picture quality.
The company sees a variety of potential applications for its electronic paper. For instance, users could display advertisements or information in public places, and its ability to flex allows it to be mounted on columns or other curved surfaces.
Users also could make tags displaying prices in stores, which they could update electronically, without requiring store personnel to make the changes manually. Similarly, items such as restaurant menus and manuals could be changed frequently without the need for conventional printing. Ultimately, manufacturers may use the paper to produce light, portable computer displays.
Fujitsu plans to offer the product commercially in 2006 or early 2007.
For more information, contact Fujitsu Frontech Limited,
Drivers in major U.S. cities may soon get the traffic report they need for their commute without having to listen to the delays affecting the rest of their city. Traffic.com, based in Wayne, Pa., began a service in June called MyTraffic that enables customers to receive a personalized traffic report.
MyTraffic lets visitors to the Traffic.com Web site create a home page, indicate their personal driving routes and obtain real-time traffic conditions for those routes at any time. The free service also lets users get e-mail messages with traffic alerts. For $4.99 a month, users can upgrade to MyTraffic Inform, which delivers traffic reports to a user’s cell phone or wireless device.
Traffic.com also provides free citywide traffic maps of the cities the company serves if visitors want an overall view of a city’s traffic conditions without waiting for a television or radio report. The company has supplied radio and television stations with traffic information since 1998. Traffic.com provides information for 23 cities, including Dallas, Fort Worth and Houston.
For more information, contact Joan Silver,
It’s a truck; it’s a train!
A British designer is paving the way for a new means of transportation—moving people or freight by road or by rail—all with the same vehicle.
The Blade Runner, as of now merely a one-eighth scale design, could one day travel the road at speeds of nearly 100 mph, carrying about 100 passengers or more than 20 tons of cargo. Then, it could move onto rail tracks, lower retractable steel wheels and do the same thing.
In addition to its flexibility, Blade Runner could help reduce fuel use and emissions, according to Carl Henderson, who leads the project for Silvertip Design. Traditional rail cars use mechanisms to drive and slow the steel wheels, which then have to turn on the steel rails, an inefficient means of energy transfer.
Blade Runner would use the rubber wheels of the road-bound vehicle to move on rails, and the gripping capabilities of rubber would reduce the stopping distance by half, according to Silvertip.
Further, Blade Runner’s rail movement would use only one-fifth the energy necessary to move rubber against a road surface, according to Silvertip, but the vehicle can easily leave the rails to clear room for freight carriers or to go around an obstruction.
“A full-sized prototype could be ready in less than a year,” Henderson said.
For more information, contact Carl Henderson,
Bobbing for energy
The search for renewable, dependable energy alternatives has taken a dive into the ocean. Researchers at Oregon State University are working to make wave energy into the next big thing.
Engineers Annette von Jouanne and Alan Wallace designed three prototypes that could produce energy from ocean waves. The university also hopes to create a national Ocean Energy Research and Demonstration Center in Oregon.
The researchers hope to test the best of the prototypes in 2006. One promising system uses a buoy that rides ocean swells a mile or two offshore. The swells cause electrical coils to move through a magnetic field, which creates electricity, Wallace said.
While wave technology lags more familiar green energy sources like sun and wind power by a good 15 to 20 years, cost should drop and performance should improve as experimentation progresses, Wallace said.
A fleet of about 200 buoys could produce enough energy to power Portland’s business district, he said.
For more information, contact Alan Wallace,
Using nanotechnology, scientists in the United Kingdom developed a technique to incorporate silver—known for its anti-fungal and anti-microbial properties—into fibers that can be used to bandage and treat wounds. Defense technology company QinetiQ created the process and said its approach prevents the silver from dissolving, which has plagued earlier attempts at incorporating the metal into wound dressings, according to Gerry Hardy, the company’s media relations manager.
QinetiQ has produced anti-microbial and anti-fungal products using silk and acrylic fibers, Hardy said. QinetiQ successfully tested its silver fiber samples both in-house and externally, using an accredited United Kingdom product testing company.
Fabrics made using anti-microbial silver fibers can potentially halt the spread of bacteria, heal wounds and keep habitats germ-free, Hardy said. They also could control odors in shoes and clothing and the technology could be applied to foams, films, gels, paints and rubber.
Hardy said the technology could be used to coat equipment, furniture and door handles in hospitals to prevent the spread of bacteria. Ultimately, the fibers could be used on public transportation, furniture and work surfaces in homes to provide safer and cleaner environments, Hardy said.
The company is looking at establishing license agreements with other companies to take the technology to the commercial market.
For more information, contact Gerry Hardy,
Bikes for rent are increasing in popularity around the world, and in London, renters can use a cell phone to reserve their two wheels. Oybike subscribers pay a monthly fee and then use a personal identification number, via their cell phone, to unlock bikes at any of 27 Oybike locations in London. England has more than 16,000 kilometers of cycling routes, and subscribers can use the bikes as long as they like.
For information, contact Oybike,
Toronto-based SBS Interactive developed “reverse blue screen technology,” which allows users to insert themselves into pre-recorded programming using a digital camera attached to a set-top box. Users could insert themselves into exercise or training videos and compare their movements to an instructor’s.
Other applications include children’s programming, acting workshops and public speaking training.
For more information, contact SBS Interactive,
After a six-month study, a University of Miami research team has announced that an inhaled form of insulin called Exubera is just as effective in controlling Type 1 diabetes as injected insulin. Exubera is awaiting federal approval for commercial use and may be approved for the American public in late 2005.
For more information, contact Dr. Jay S. Skyler,
Department of Medicine, University of Miami, 305-243-6146
Editor: Angela Freeman
Contributing to this issue: Magdalena Hamner, Ann Holdsworth, Karen Hudgins, Greg Mt.Joy, Edd Patton, Clint Shields, Suzanne Staton, and Bruce Wright