en español: El Innovador de Texas
Good For Families, Good For Texas
This month Texans will begin receiving W-2 forms and start filling out their income tax forms. Tax time can be daunting and the process can be overwhelming, especially for those Texans unfamiliar with the process.
As the state’s chief financial officer, I encourage low-income Texans who qualify to take advantage of free income tax assistance, such as Volunteer Income Tax Assistance programs around the state, and the Federal Earned Income Tax Credit.
In 2004, more than 2 million qualifying Texans received $4.3 billion in Earned Income Tax Credit refunds. That is an average of $2,069 per family, which can be used to pay bills and buy household goods and school clothes for their children. The EITC is one of the quickest ways I know to bring more federal tax dollars home to Texas and to put those dollars in the pockets of hard-working families.
Earned Income Tax Credit refunds vary depending on family income and the number of children in the family. To claim the credit, the Internal Revenue Service requires families to meet specific eligibility requirements and have a valid social security number for each family member.
Texas taxpayers who expect to qualify for the EITC and have at least one qualifying child can sign up for the Advance Earned Income Tax Credit at work to receive part of the credit in each paycheck throughout the year, instead of waiting for a tax refund. For low-income families, that is money they can use immediately to help make ends meet.
For more information on how to qualify for the Earned Income Tax Credit, along with helpful links to Internal Revenue Service tax forms and publications, visit http://www.window.state.tx.us, or call the IRS toll free at (800) 829-1040.
As Comptroller, but most importantly as a momma and a grandmomma, I know the importance of making every dollar count. Taking advantage of free income tax assistance and qualifying families receiving the Earned Income Tax Credit is good for Texas’ low-income families, and it is good for Texas.
Carole Keeton Strayhorn
A Houston company has football players chilling out on the sidelines—thanks to air-cooled shoulder pads.
Douglas Protective Equipment manufactures football shoulder pads that work with a system that the Houston Texans and other professional and college football teams use to keep players cool.
Williams Sports Group of Jacksonville, Fla., licensed the technology from the University of Florida.
When air from the system reaches a player’s pads, it’s about 45 degrees Fahrenheit, said Fred Williams, president of Williams Sports Group.
“The average temperature under a player’s pads when he’s playing is about 120 to 130 degrees,” he said. “You could pump 80 degree air in there and it would feel cool.”
The system costs about $25,000, according to Williams. Some teams, including the Dallas Cowboys, have rented it.
“Renting costs about $2,500 to $3,000 a game, depending on the distance we have to travel, the number of players and other factors,” he said.
Heat is a big concern for professional athletes—it has contributed to several player deaths at various competitive levels—so the system could be a boon in Texas.
For more information, contact Williams Sports Group,
Professors to go
Don’t feel like going to class? Not a problem. Pop in earphones and listen to the professor on an iPod.
Students are finding a more academic use for iPods with Pick-A-Prof, an Austin-based online service that sells downloadable lectures for the devices.
Titled “Coursecasts,” the trial service is available at the University of Texas at Austin and Texas A&M University and costs students $5 per lecture.
“We’re not looking to replace attending class,” said Karen Bragg, director of university relations for Pick-A-Prof. “Most students agree that you’ll learn more through attending than by just listening to the lecture.”
If the trial is successful, Pick-A-Prof will expand the program, Bragg said. But professors ultimately decide if they want to sign on.
Pick-A-Prof, known for offering anonymous student reviews of professors to more than 50 universities nationwide, also allows professors to post feedback.
Cleaner stain fighters
Stain-resistant coatings used on nonstick cookware, clothing and paper goods may instead stain the environment. They use the chemical perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA), deemed a likely carcinogen by the Environmental Protection Agency. Scientists at the University of North Carolina (UNC) at Chapel Hill developed a compound that may help stain-resistant coatings clean up their act.
The new compound uses a type of short-chain fluorocarbon that does not degrade into PFOA and is less likely to cause health problems, according to UNC scientists. The coating would replace ones on clothing and paper goods, not nonstick cookware, but scientists believe the fabric-based coatings cause the most environmental damage.
“These new compounds can go a long way toward reducing PFOA in the environment while still providing the convenience of stain-repellant coatings,” said UNC study leader Joseph M. DeSimone. “That’s good news because once PFOA gets in the environment and in the body, it tends to stay there.”
For more information, contact Joseph DeSimone,
Lifting the fog
A team of scientists at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) may have found a permanent solution to the problem of foggy windshields. The team developed a coating made of silica nanoparticles that can be applied to surfaces to make them resistant to fog.
Fog occurs when thousands of tiny water droplets condense, scattering light in random patterns and causing surfaces to become translucent. The new coating prevents this process because the nanoparticles in the coating attract water droplets and force them to flatten and merge into a transparent sheet.
“The coating basically causes water that hits the surfaces to develop a sustained sheeting effect, and that prevents fogging,” said Michael Rubner, co-leader for the MIT team.
The coating can be applied to virtually any surface and lasts for long periods, unlike current anti-fogging sprays on the market, according to the researchers. The team expects the coating to be useful on surfaces such as windshields, eyeglasses, camera lenses, ski goggles and bathroom mirrors.
Rubner applied for a patent on the manufacturing process and said the coating could be available in consumer products in two to five years.
For more information, contact Elizabeth Thomson, MIT News Office,
Robot at home
A child-sized robot that can recognize words and work as a house sitter went on sale in Japan in September 2005.
Mitsubishi Heavy Industries Ltd. (MHI) developed the “Wakamaru” robot, which comes equipped with voice and face recognition capabilities that allow it to identify up to 10 different people, including two that it considers “owners,” according to MHI. It uses speech recognition technology to identify 10,000 Japanese words.
The robot can initiate conversations with family members, use gestures when speaking and discuss daily news or weather reports it obtains via the Internet. It can look after its owners’ house and be programmed to call a designated person or security person if it notices a problem.
A panoramic camera on its head enables Wakamaru to identify its position in the house. Wakamaru stands about four feet tall and weighs 66 pounds. It can travel a little faster than half a mile per hour, avoiding objects and identifying moving people.
Wakamaru’s battery life is two hours, after which the robot returns to a charging station, according to the company.
MHI said it planned to sell about 100 of the robots at about 1.58 million yen, or $14,000 each, to residents in central Tokyo.
For more information, contact Akio Kishimoto,
Plastic spaceship to Mars
NASA researchers developed a new plastic that may change the way manned spacecraft are built.
The new material, called RXF1, is based on polyethylene, a common plastic used to make garbage bags and other low-tech items. RFX1 has three times the tensile strength of aluminum, yet is 2.6 times lighter. It can be manufactured as a fabric and molded to create various shapes as needed.
The most promising feature of RXF1, however, may be its effectiveness as a radiation shield. Astronauts on extended stays in space, such as would be required for a Mars mission, will be exposed to radiation in the form of cosmic rays, which may affect their long-term health. While no shielding light enough to be mounted on a spaceship can stop all cosmic rays, plastics such as polyethylene can be more effective than metals in reducing the risks involved.
Researchers at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala., said this is because plastic chemical structures tend to fragment radiation particles and cause less “secondary radiation,” a release of radioactive byproducts caused by the collision between the cosmic ray and the shielding material itself. This secondary radiation can be more harmful to human health than direct encounters with cosmic rays.
For more information, contact Nasser Barghouty, NASA Marshall Space Flight Center,
Fun for all
All kids want to have fun doing basically the same things, including playing on playgrounds, according to Connecticut-based Boundless Playgrounds (BP). The company has worked since 1997 building playgrounds accessible to all children, including those with disabilities, according to Dina Morris, senior communications specialist for BP.
“We have a checklist for our playgrounds,” she said. “They have different surfaces [than normal playgrounds]. Some have rubberized surfaces. There are no wood chips or gravel, and every child can get to the highest play deck.”
Some BP playgrounds include sensory gardens, music and Braille panels and spots beneath play structures for kids with autism and other disorders who sometimes like to play alone, Morris said.
Jean Schappet and Amy Jaffe Barzach co-founded the company. Their goal, Morris said, is to be out of business in 15 to 20 years, after all playgrounds are accessible to all children.
“We’ve got a long way to go,” she said.
There are more than 70 BP playgrounds in 21 states and Canada.
In Maryland and Connecticut, statewide initiatives have helped create 25 BP playgrounds, Morris said.
For more information, contact Dina Morris,
A University of Pennsylvania researcher developed a backpack that could one day assist soldiers in the battlefield or first responders in disasters.
Dr. Lawrence C. Rome invented the Suspended Load Backpack. The pack’s load is suspended from the frame by vertically oriented springs, allowing the load to move up and down in relation to the backpack frame, while normal backpacks attach to the frame with no movement.
A generator attached to the backpack frame can generate up to 7.4 watts of electricity, enough to power an MP3 player, night vision goggles and other paraphernalia.
For more information, contact Dr. Lawrence Rome,
High levels of injected vitamin C are effective at fighting cancer cells, according to research at the National Institutes of Health in Maryland. In laboratory tests, researchers injected the vitamin into lymphoma cells, which either were destroyed or induced to commit what the Institutes called “cell suicide.”For more information, contact Dr. Mark Levine,
The catastrophic storms of 2005 may boost interest in a Dutch innovation: amphibious houses. A new development of homes built by Holland’s Dura Vermeer construction company lies on the Meuse River in Maasbommel. The floating houses can slide up and down on steel mooring posts sunk deep into the ground, rising up to 18 feet to cope with flood waters.
For more information, contact Dura Vermeer Groep NV,
Editor: Karen Hudgins
Contributing to this issue: Angela Freeman, Magdalena Hamner, Ann Holdsworth, Greg Mt.Joy, Edd Patton, Clint Shields, Suzanne Staton, and Bruce Wright