GT Spectrum

GT Spectrum

by / August 31, 2001
Virginia DMV Puts the Brakes on Unsafe Trucks
RICHMOND, Va. - The states DMV has a new tool for improving the safety of trucks traveling on Virginia highways.

Virginia joins several other states, including North Carolina, Georgia, Kentucky and Tennessee, which use infrared sensors to inspect trucks. The Virginia DMV officially demonstrated its the new infrared inspection system (IRIS) earlier this year, but has been using the technology since last October to improve safety, said Pam Goheen, the agencys deputy director of public relations.

"One of our motor carrier programs primary concerns is the safe movement of trucks on the commonwealths roadways," Goheen said. "Infrared screening technology gives inspectors and law enforcement the information they need up-front to target trucks that should go through more thorough safety inspections."

The DMV has four IRIS units currently in the field: two operating in the Northern Virginia area, one in the Richmond area and one in the western part of Virginia. The equipment allows the DMV to inspect trucks for faulty brake systems, under-inflated tires and leaking exhaust systems without making them stop.

"If a vehicles brakes are working, they radiate heat, and that heat is highlighted on the infrared camera monitor," Goheen explained. "If the brakes are not working, they dont radiate heat, and, therefore, there is a dark image on the monitor. That tips us off to a potential problem."

More than 270,000 vehicles were inspected with IRIS over the past six months, according to Goheen. "355 trucks were identified with infrared screening as having potential problems," she said. "Of the 355 inspected, 226 trucks were taken out of service for safety violations."

Before IRIS, law enforcement officers stopped trucks for random examination. Now trucks are pulled over only if the IRIS sensors detect a problem, she said. "This gives law enforcement officers the information they need to determine if trucks need further inspection."

Cities Use Credit Cards to Create Revenue
GERING, Neb. - Perhaps youve seen the ads on TV: "Get a credit card with the logo of your favorite football team on it." Thats known as an affinity credit card, and, with revenue getting tougher to find, several towns in Nebraska have hit on affinity credit card programs as a way to generate extra cash.

South Sioux City, Neb., population 11, 925, has raised approximately $30,000 through its four-year-old affinity credit card program, said Lance Hedquist, city administrator. The city receives 1.25 percent of each purchase made with the Siouxland Foundation card.

"Weve used the money for a handicapped lift at the swimming pool," he said. "Weve used it for playground equipment at city parks and at schools; weve used it for a welcome sign; weve used it for baseball fields; weve used it for our arboretum project. Its a nice revenue source for one of the areas that typically gets cut in municipal budgets: parks and recreation programs."

Revenue from the card goes to the Siouxland Foundation, which disperses the funds.

Gering (Neb.) City Administrator Michael Steklac also is exploring the option of creating an affinity credit card program for his jurisdiction at the suggestion of a city council member. Steklac has been gathering comments from municipal officials across the country and searching for a model RFP.

"I was asking for lessons learned, those types of things, and one person said, Does the city really want to get involved in encouraging people to take on credit card debt?" Steklac recalled. "Another person said, Its kind of the same thing when the community is deciding to go with Coke or Pepsi for all its facilities. Its that same controversy. Youre affiliating with a particular bank in town; using your position as a government to endorse a particular bank or other financial institutions."

Money generated by affinity credit cards would be earmarked for downtown development efforts and other special projects, Steklac said, adding the cards also could be used as an economic-development tool if local businesses to give discounts to patrons using the cards.

Ohio Nixes Ads on Agency Web Sites
COLUMBUS, Ohio - Gov. Bob Taft vetoed an amendment to the Ohio budget that would have required the state to hire a private company to sell advertising space on agency Web sites.

"No discretion is provided for the state to perform this service itself, nor to limit which Internet sites would be subject to such advertising. Although such advertising may be appropriate, fuller review of the issues associated with it is necessary," the governor wrote in his veto message.

The amendment, introduced by Republican staff, stipulated that money raised by Web site ads would go to Ohio schools.

"The Governors Council on Electronic Commerce is currently evaluating the numerous issues related to advertising on state Web sites," the governors message said. "At this time, it is not in the best interest of the state to require such advertising."

Dallas County Fights Identity Theft
DALLAS - In early June, the Dallas Morning News reported on a rash of identity thefts targeting county employees in a couple of different agencies.

Seven or eight people were victimized in the County Auditors Office, according to one of the newspapers sources. The paper reported that three county courthouse employees also had their identities stolen.

Its nearly impossible for the county to determine how the thefts occurred, said Virginia Porter, Dallas County Auditor. Now county officials are spreading the word about ways to fight further incidents.

"We have not done any countywide training, but we will be doing so soon," Porter said. "Weve talked to department heads to make sure they are aware of whats going on."

She said the county hass taken several steps to minimize the threat of identity theft. Employee Social Security numbers have been removed from tracking systems that cross departmental boundaries, Porter explained. Officials also transferred paper records containing Social Security numbers to disks instead of keeping paper copies lying around.

"If there are hard-copy documents, weve tightened up our flow chart as to where those are circulated to," she added.

Charging activity on credit cards obtained with the stolen identities stopped when the newspaper stories broke, Porter said. "This has been a real eye-opener. We really do care about what happens to our employees. We are safeguarding their records; it is a lot of work for an individual to clean up their credit record."

Got Goats?
SAN FRANCISCO - Although technology solves a lot of problems, others require a decidedly low-tech approach.

Each month San Franciscos Department of Public Works targets one of the citys 11 districts for beautification efforts, which include picking up trash, planting trees and performing other landscaping projects.

In June, the department tackled Twin Peaks, a neighborhood popular with tourists because of its spectacular views of the city, said Alex Mamak, the departments director of public affairs. Unfortunately, the areas steep terrain made it potentially dangerous for human clean-up crews.

Enter Goats-R-Us, a company based across the bay in Orinda, Calif., that rents herds of goats to public agencies to help clean up tracts of land. "We hired 500 goats to help us reduce winter brush," Mamak said. "They do a great job of it. They sort of keep on munching and, after four or five hours, they did a lot of work."

The company erects a fence around areas that need denuding, then turns the goats loose while a pair of border collies act as supervisors.

San Francisco International Airport has used the goats to control excess weeds around runways, and the citys Recreation and Parks Department plans to use the herd to thin out dead weeds in parks, Mamak said.

"We work all over Northern California, said Terri Holleman Oyarzun, co-owner of Goats-R-Us. "We work for East Bay Regional Parks; U.C. Berkeley; Easy Bay Municipal Utility District; Lawrence Berkeley Labs; Orinda Unified School District; the city of Hercules, Calif.; we have 100s of clients."

She said Goats-R-Us typically take a herd of 500 goats to a location, and a herd of approximately 300 goats are able to denude an acre per day.

"Its a nice way to do fire mitigation and undesirable-plant eradication," she said. "Its certainly more desirable than using controlled burns or chemical methodologies near homes."

AOL, Cox to Run Multi-ISP Cable Trial
DALLAS - Cox Communications and America Online announced in June that they struck a deal to test delivery of the high-speed AOL PLUS Internet service over Coxs broadband network.

The six-month trial allows both companies to test the service with the option of negotiating a definitive open-access agreement, company officials said. Under the agreement, AOL and other ISPs will join Cox to examine technical issues involved in rolling out multiple ISPs over a broadband cable network.

The trial was scheduled to begin in the summer. AOL and Cox intended to roll out AOL PLUS over Coxs cable network in El Dorado, Ark. EarthLink also will participate in the trial, according to Cox.

Cox Senior Vice President Dallas Clement said his company is eager to explore the technical feasibility of offering more than one ISP over the network, potentially giving customers multiple choices in high-speed connectivity.

Florida Meteorologists Unveil Heavy Artillery
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. - State meteorologists are modifying a Mack truck - dubbed the "Seminole Hurricane Hunter" - to gather data from the heart of potentially devastating storms.

The Hurricane Hunter will withstand 155 mph winds as it records data that, until now, has gone uncollected, said Professor Peter Ray, chairman of Florida State Universitys meteorology department.

"There is almost no measurement of what winds in hurricanes cause what damage," Ray said. "What this radar system will allow is the measurement, house by house, of what the hurricanes winds are, and that can be related back to the damage caused."

FSU is handling the customization of the rig, Ray said. A mechanical engineer from Georgia Tech contributed design specifications for equipping the truck to withstand the fury of a category-five hurricane.

Three sets of hydraulic outriggers will extend sideways up to 20 feet to brace the truck and level the bed, allowing instruments to collect accurate data as a hurricane rages around the vehicle. Two Doppler radar systems with individual transmitters will gauge the size of raindrops, making it much simpler to determine where flooding could occur. A 25,000-watt generator powers the trucks equipment.

According to Ray, three such hurricane-information-gathering vehicles are in use, though FSUs Hurricane Hunter is larger and more technologically sophisticated. Ray added that he and his team will be more than happy to hit the road to help other jurisdictions gather information on hurricanes and storms.

Saving Power Remotely?
SACRAMENTO, Calif. - DBS Industries chose the roof of a local mall to demonstrate its potentially power-saving technology. The company uses satellites to remotely turn down air conditioners at participating state and commercial buildings during times of peak electrical demand.

The system uses a blend of the companys proprietary remote monitoring-and-control technology and commercially available Low Earth Orbiting (LEO) satellites. The test was designed to demonstrate the technologys ability to selectively manage energy loads to specific buildings across the state. DBS Industries believes the technology could help avert rolling blackouts that are expected to plague California throughout the hot summer months.

"Energy industry officials estimate the state faces a 3,500-5,000 megawatt shortfall on the hottest days this year, or about 10 percent less than needed by the states 34 million residents," said DBSI Chairman and CEO Fred Thompson in a prepared statement. "It is our belief that by advocating a statewide program targeting buildings such as major shopping complexes and state- and federal-operated buildings, our proposed solution could yield upward of 3,000 megawatts."

Broadband IP Scales New Heights
LONDON - UK-based Inmarsat launched the worlds first broadband IP service over satellite in June. The companys Global Area Network (GAN) IP service clocks in at a speed of 64,000 bps.

Michael Butler, Inmarsats managing director, said the service is as fast as an ISDN connection. The GAN IP service overlays the companys existing satellite ISDN service, and Butler said usage fees will be based on the data carried, rather than the time spent online.

Butler said he expected Norway-based Telenor to become the first telecommunications provider to offer the service commercially early in July, with almost all providers offering the service worldwide by September.

"Were not calling it satellite broadband, because its only 64,000, but it is an important step in the right direction since it allows access to the Internet at high speeds from just about anywhere," he said.

Butler said he expects the satellite service to appeal to organizations such as broadcasters and contractors. "While the rest of the telecommunications industry is still testing, or in some cases only talking about 2.5G services, [we] will be delivering a global, mobile satellite packet-data service," he told reporters at a London press conference.

Inmarsat said Xantic will offer satellite services by mid-August in the Netherlands and Australia, and Comsat should have its service in the United States operational by September. - Newsbytes