Texas Ticker

IT innovation by agencies, cities, counties, schools and universities throughout the state.

by / January 1, 2006

Classroom in Your Palm

Central Texas College (CTC) is testing a program that will allow a small number of students to take entire college courses on a PDA. The CTC is working with partner Coastline Community College on the initiative, and the guinea pigs for the PDA Pilot Program are students in the Navy College Program for Afloat College Education.

Students will begin their PDA matriculation this year. The courses -- biology, communications, English, government, management, math and psychology -- come on computer chips the size of postage stamps, which simply plug into the palm-size PDAs from Dell. The class instruction and assessments come via the PDA, but an old-fashioned textbook also is used as support material.

The courses are designed to provide a multimedia experience with video, audio and text. So instead of just providing the articles of the Constitution in written form for a government course, the folks at CTC's radio station, KNCT, read them aloud as an audio feature. -- Killeen Daily Herald

Tommy Thompson to Speak on Health IT

Former Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy Thompson will travel to Austin, Texas, in May to speak about IT for health care.

Thompson, now independent chairman of the Deloitte Center for Health Solutions, will appear at the World Congress on Information Technology (WCIT) 2006 conference, slated for May 1-5.

"Secretary Thompson's knowledge and efforts as [a former] HHS secretary and former four-term governor of Wisconsin are strategically aligned to the forum's goal of improving the use of IT in health care, by providing innovative solutions to the health challenges facing American families, businesses, communities, states and the nation as a whole," said Ben Bentzin, CEO of the WCIT 2006.

The conference will also serve as a forum for such topics as privacy, security and digital access of IT; and expects to draw 2,000 business, government and academic leaders from 80 countries.

"It is important to continue to bring the world's health-care issues to the forefront of discussion," said Thompson. "WCIT 2006 has done a wonderful job of framing this issue for discussion, and I am looking forward to working with other participants to create policy proposals that will help change health-care technology standards and practices around the world." 

Amber Alert Grants

The Texas Department of Public Safety was awarded a grant of $818,535 in October 2005 to help with the statewide expansion of the Amber Alert Network, and to better equip officers to deal with methamphetamine lab seizures.

These grants were awarded under the federal Local Law Enforcement Block Grant Program and are distributed by the Governor's Criminal Justice Division.

"With these funds, law enforcement officials will be better able to protect children from violent predators and continue aggressive efforts to combat the methamphetamine plague," said Gov. Rick Perry, who announced the award.

Through the grants, local law enforcement agencies can purchase necessary equipment and technology, as well as provide increased training and education for new law enforcement personnel. In addition, the grants help establish task forces and crime prevention programs; increase security in and around schools; and support drug courts, aftercare services and treatment programs for offenders.

The Texas Department of Public Safety was awarded:

  • $189,331 to continue to expand the Amber Alert Network, which provides 24-hour support to local law enforcement agencies that report and investigate child abduction cases, and issue both regional and statewide public alerts for emergency child abduction cases; and
  • $629,204 to provide safety equipment and technical assistance for hazardous chemical removal and disposal to officers statewide who come into contact with illegal methamphetamine laboratories.


Sued for Spyware

When Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott sued SONY BMG Music

Entertainment, Texas became the first state in the nation to bring legal action against SONY for illegal spyware. The suit is also the first filed under the state's spyware law of 2005, which protects consumers from spyware.

The company used new technology on certain music CDs to install files onto consumers' computers that hide other files installed by SONY. This secret "cloaking" component is installed without consumer knowledge, and can cause their computers to become vulnerable to computer viruses and other forms of attack.

The Attorney General's lawsuit also alleges that a phantom file is installed to conceal the XCP files from users, thus making it difficult for them to remove the files from their computers.

Because of alleged violations of the Consumer Protection Against Computer Spyware Act of 2005, the Attorney General is seeking civil penalties of $100,000 for each violation of the law, attorneys' fees and investigative costs.


Texas Techno Rollout

Citing a new state law that experts say could shape national communications policy, SBC Texas announced an $800 million investment in video and high-speed Internet access technology for the state. The investment will give consumers a new competitive choice over cable television, and will equip every SBC central office in Texas with DSL technology.

Texas Gov. Rick Perry, numerous state and local officials, and executives from Alcatel met with SBC officials at their Plano, Texas, IPTV Demonstration Center in announcing one of the largest single private-sector technology deployments in the state's history.

As part of this investment, SBC Texas plans to deploy approximately 5,500 miles of fiber-optic wire and related network technology in the state as part of Project Lightspeed -- SBC's plan to deploy fiber-to-the-neighborhood and fiber-to-the-premises technologies to deliver IP-based video, voice and high-speed Internet access services to approximately 18 million households across 13 states as part of the first wave of deployment.

In addition, through the installation of "neighborhood gateways," which use fiber-optic technology to expand the reach of existing DSL service, SBC Texas brought DSL service to another 228 neighborhoods in dozens of communities throughout the state at the end of 2005. -- SBC


Say Cheese

The notorious E. coli bug made its film debut when researchers at the University of California, San Francisco and the University of Texas announced in the Nature journal that they created photographs of themselves by programming the bacteria -- best known for outbreaks of food poisoning -- to make pictures in much the same way Kodak film produces images.

The researchers extracted light-sensitive genes from algae that emit black compounds and spliced the genes into a batch of E. coli bacteria. The organisms were then spread on a petri dish that resembles a cookie sheet and placed in an incubator. A high-powered projector cast photographic images of the researchers through a hole on top of the incubator, exposing some of the bacteria to light.

The result: Ghostly images like traditional black-and-white photographs of the researchers responsible for the invention, at a resolution of approximately 100 megapixels, or 10 times sharper than high-end printers.

It's the latest advance in "synthetic biology," a disputed research movement launched largely by engineers and chemists bent on genetically manipulating microscopic bugs into acting like tiny machines, creating new, powerful and inexpensive ways to make drugs, plastics and even alternatives to fossil fuel.

The field seeks to go beyond traditional genetic engineering feats where a single gene is spliced into bacteria and other cells to manufacture drugs. Synthetic biologists are trying to create complex systems that function as logically and reliably as computers.

Mainstream biologists, however, scoff that biology -- life itself -- is too unpredictable and prone to genetic mutation to understand, let alone tame and turn into miniature factories.

Bio-ethicists, meanwhile, fret that synthetic biologists are attempting to create new living creatures and are inventing technology that can be readily used by terrorists. -- Seattle Post-Intelligencer


Texas Investment

Raytheon Co. is receiving $4 million in incentives to move defense program work from California to its plant in McKinney, Texas. In return, the Massachusetts-based company will invest $21 million to expand the facility in Texas and create 200 new salaried jobs averaging at least $65,000 annually.

The McKinney Economic Development Corp. wrote its largest single cash-incentive check ever, for $2 million, to Raytheon on Dec. 2, 2005, and Raytheon is nabbing $1 million from the Texas Enterprise Fund.

The company also received $1 million from the McKinney Community Development Corp., which is funded by a half-cent city sales tax reserved for development. -- Dallas Business Journal

Shane Peterson Associate Editor