Archive: Mar 2008

  1. Software and Information Industries Drive Jobs and Economic Growth

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    The Software & Information Industry Association (SIIA), the principal trade association for the software and digital information industry, recently released a first-of-its-kind report that measures the substantial economic impact of the software and information (S&I) industries on the U.S. and global economies. The report, entitled “Software & Information: Driving the Global Knowledge Economy,” finds that these industries are among the fastest growing and most important for propelling continued economic growth-both in the U.S. and globally.

    “This report shows the critical role that the software and information industries play in a vibrant and dynamic U.S. economy. It underscores the importance of continued U.S. investment in innovation and technology,” SAYS Ken Wasch, SIIA President.

    “The report’s findings take on an increased importance in the midst of our current economic uncertainty,” Wasch continues. “The demonstrated high-growth potential of software and information companies, along with their leading role in the digital revolution that is transforming all sectors of our society, will continue to propel the U.S. economy forward.”

    The Report’s key findings reveal that software and information industries:

    • -Experience faster growth than overall U.S. economy. The rate of growth in the S&I industries significantly outpaces that of the U.S. economy as a whole. Recent growth of 10.8% compared to 3.2% GDP growth helps to sustain the expansion of the overall American economy.
    • -Generates millions of jobs for Americans. The U.S. software and information industries employ more than 2.7 million Americans, with 17% net employment growth between 1997 and 2006.
    • -Creates high-wage jobs. Employees working in the nation’s S&I industries are well compensated, earning among the highest wages in the country. The annual average wage paid in the S&I industries was $75,400 in 2006, 78% higher than the average $42,400 for all private-sector workers.
    • -Competes successfully around the world. American firms comprising the S&I industries are world leaders, selling products and services in markets around the world with strong sales and revenue growth. S&I direct sales through U.S. affiliates are over $60.4 billion, 13% of the total $483 billion for all U.S. companies. Additionally, the S&I contributed another $19 billion in cross-border exports.
    • -Propels global ICT spending. Global ICT spending, a broad basket that includes a measurement of expenditures for software and computer services is greater than $3 trillion and is projected to grow to approximately $4 trillion in 2008.

    “It is clear from these findings that the digital revolution is spurring an unprecedented level of innovation and growth, providing significant new opportunities for software and information producers and their customers,” continues Wasch. “Innovation in the software and information industries is clearly a critical reason why the U.S. continues to be the global economic leader, but there is little room for complacency if America hopes to maintain its leadership position.

    Sustaining-and growing-the significant economic and job impact delivered by these dynamic industries will require a supportive public policy environment.”

    For the full text of the report, please visit:  www.siia.net/estore/globecon-08.pdf.

    Read more about software engineering at www.GraduatingEngineer.com.

  2. Clean, Carbon-Neutral Hydrogen on the Horizon

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    Hydrogen as an everyday, environmentally friendly fuel source may be closer than we think, according to Penn State researchers.“The energy focus is currently on ethanol as a fuel, but economical ethanol from cellulose is 10 years down the road,” says Bruce E. Logan, the Kappe professor of environmental engineering. “First you need to break cellulose down to sugars and then bacteria can convert them to ethanol.”Logan and Shaoan Cheng, research associates, suggest a method based on microbial fuel cells to convert cellulose and other biodegradable organic materials directly into hydrogen in a recent issue of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences online.

    The researchers used naturally occurring bacteria in a microbial electrolysis cell with acetic acid-the acid found in vinegar. Acetic acid is also the predominant acid produced by fermentation of glucose or cellulose. The anode was granulated graphite, the cathode was carbon with a platinum catalyst, and they used an off-the-shelf anion exchange membrane. The bacteria consume the acetic acid and release electrons and protons creating up to 0.3 volts. When more than 0.2 volts are added from an outside source, hydrogen gas bubbles up from the liquid.

    “This process produces 288% more energy in hydrogen than the electrical energy that is added to the process,” says Logan.

    Water hydrolysis, a standard method for producing hydrogen, is only 50% to 70% efficient. Even if the microbial electrolysis cell process is set up to bleed off some of the hydrogen to produce the added energy boost needed to sustain hydrogen production, the process still creates 144% more available energy than the electrical energy used to produce it.

    For those who think that a hydrogen economy is far in the future, Logan suggests that hydrogen produced from cellulose and other renewable organic materials could be blended with natural gas for use in natural gas vehicles.

    “We drive a lot of vehicles on natural gas already. Natural gas is essentially methane,” says Logan. “Methane burns fairly cleanly, but if we add hydrogen, it burns even more cleanly and works fine in existing natural gas combustion vehicles.”

    The range of efficiencies of hydrogen production based on electrical energy and energy in a variety of organic substances is between 63% and 82%. Both lactic acid and acetic acid achieve 82%, while unpretreated cellulose is 63% efficient. Glucose is 64% efficient.

    Another potential use for microbial-electrolysis-cell produced hydrogen is in fertilizer manufacture. Currently fertilizer is produced in large factories and trucked to farms. With microbial electrolysis cells, very large farms or farm cooperatives could produce hydrogen from wood chips and then through a common process, use the nitrogen in the air to produce ammonia or nitric acid. Both of these are used directly as fertilizer or the ammonia could be used to make ammonium nitrate, sulfate or phosphate.

  3. Contact Lenses Platform for Superhuman Vision

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    contact lenses platform for superhuman vision

    Movie characters from the “Terminator” to the “Bionic Woman” use bionic eyes to zoom in on far-off scenes, have useful facts pop into their field of view, or create virtual crosshairs. Off the screen, virtual displays have been proposed for more practical purposes-visual aids to help vision-impaired people, holographic driving control panels and even as a way to surf the Web on the go.

    Engineers at the University of Washington have for the first time used manufacturing techniques at microscopic scales to combine a flexible, biologically safe contact lens with an imprinted electronic circuit and lights.

    “Looking through a completed lens, you would see what the display is generating superimposed on the world outside,” says Babak Parviz, a UW assistant professor of electrical engineering. “This is a very small step toward that goal, but I think it’s extremely promising.” The results were recently presented at the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers’ international conference on Micro Electro Mechanical Systems by Harvey Ho, a former graduate student of Parviz’s now working at Sandia National Laboratories in Livermore, Calif.

    There are many possible uses for virtual displays. Drivers or pilots could see a vehicle’s speed projected onto the windshield. Video-game companies could use the contact lenses to completely immerse players in a virtual world without restricting their range of motion. And for communications, people on the go could surf the Internet on a midair virtual display screen that only they would be able to see.“People may find all sorts of applications for it that we have not thought about. Our goal is to demonstrate the basic technology and make sure it works and that it’s safe,” states Parviz, who heads a multi-disciplinary UW group that is developing electronics for contact lenses.

    Ideally, installing or removing the bionic eye would be as easy as popping a contact lens in or out, and once installed the wearer would barely know the gadget was there, Parviz explains.

    The prototype contact lens does not correct the wearer’s vision, but the technique could be used on a corrective lens, Parviz says. And all the gadgetry won’t obstruct a person’s view.“There is a large area outside of the transparent part of the eye that we can use for placing instrumentation,” Parviz states. Future improvements will add wireless communication to and from the lens. The researchers hope to power the whole system using a combination of radio-frequency power and solar cells placed on the lens.

  4. Why the Web Tells Us What We Already Know

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    Researchers from the University of New South Wales (UNSW) in Australia have found that while Internet searches do bring up a variety of useful materials, people pay more attention to information that matches their pre-existing beliefs.

    “Even if people read the right material, they are stubborn to changing their views,” says author and UNSW Professor Enrico Coiera. “This means that providing people with the right information on its own may not be enough.”

    The research considered how people use Internet search engines to answer health questions.

    “We know that the Web is increasingly being used by people to help them make healthcare decisions,” says Coiera. “We know that there can be negative consequences if people find the wrong information, especially as people in some countries can now self-medicate by ordering drugs online.”

    “Our research shows that, even if search engines do find the ‘right’ information, people may still draw the wrong conclusions-in other words, their conclusions are biased.”

    What also matters is where the information appears in the search results and how much time a person spends looking at it, according to the research, which has been published in the Journal of the American Medical Informatics Association.

    “The first or the last document the user sees has a much greater impact on their decisions,” states Coiera, who is the director of the Centre for Health Informatics at UNSW.

    Dr. Annie Lau worked with Professor Coiera to design an interface to help people make sense of the information which they are presented with and to break down these decision biases.

    “The new search engine interface we have designed could be a part of any search engine and allows people to organize the information they find, and as a result organize their thoughts better,” says Coiera.

    While the research was conducted in the area of health, Coiera says the results-and the technology-are applicable to other fields too. The research on the interface will be publicly available within a year.

  5. California Flood Risks a “Disaster Waiting to Happen”

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    While flooding in California’s Central Valley is “the next big disaster waiting to happen,” water-related infrastructure issues confront almost every community across the country, according to engineers at the University of Maryland’s Clark School of Engineering in separate reports to California officials and in the journal Science.  An independent review panel chaired by Clark School Research Professor of Civil Engineering Gerald E. Galloway said the area between the Sacramento and San Joaquin river floodplains faces significant risk of floods that could lead to extensive loss of life and billions of dollars in damages. The panel’s report, “A California Challenge: Flooding in the Central Valley,” was commissioned by California’s Department of Water Resources.The panel pointed out that many of the area’s levees, constructed over the past 150 years to protect communities and property in the Central Valley, were poorly built or placed on inadequate foundations. Climate change may increase the likelihood of floods and their resulting destruction. The panel recommends that state and local officials take swift action to reduce the risk to people and the environment.The comprehensive flood-risk abatement strategy the panel recommends focuses on land-use planning and integration with other basin water management activities.

    “The challenges that California faces are widespread across the nation,” Galloway says. “The recent failure of a levee in a Nevada irrigation canal points out growing infrastructure problems.”

    Another civil engineering researcher from the Clark School, Dr. Lewis “Ed” Link, also served on the California panel.

    “I believe the State of California is taking a very enlightened approach to difficult issues,” Link states. “Supporting this study is a good example, as is their examination of risk for the entire Central Valley. They are looking strategically at measures that can create long-term solutions, a model for others to follow.”

    Galloway is also co-author of an article in the January 18, 2008 issue of Science-”Aging Infrastructure and Ecosystem Restoration”-which calls for the targeted decommissioning of deteriorated and obsolete infrastructure in order to support the restoration of degraded ecosystems.

    “As we move forward with infrastructure enhancement, we must consider how, in the process of carrying out these activities, we can restore and enhance the natural and beneficial functions of the floodplain, which can at the same time reduce flood losses,” Galloway explains.

    Link and Galloway were prominent figures in the review of the levee system around New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina devastated the area.

    Link served as director of the federal government’s Interagency Performance Evaluation Task Force, which evaluated the hurricane protection system around New Orleans. Galloway is a former brigadier general with the Army Corps of Engineers and has been part of the State of Louisiana review team looking at long-term plans for restoration of the Gulf Coast.