ASEE First Bell – Breaking news in the engineering and technology field

Leading the News

Energy Issues Expected To Play Major Role In 2015.

Politico  (1/4, Martinson) reports that the President will “spend 2015 taking on energy controversies from fracking to smog, from interstate air pollution to coal-burning power plants — and in December, his negotiators will head to Paris to try to reach a global agreement on climate change.” During all that, “he just might make a decision on the Keystone XL pipeline.” Overall, it should “add up to one of the most ambitious years in energy and climate policy in decades.”

Schumer Predicts Democrats Could Sustain Keystone Veto. The Washington Post  (1/5, Sullivan) reports in its “Post Politics” blog that Sen. Charles Schumer (D) on CBS’ Face The Nation on Sunday “predicted Sunday that his caucus could sustain a presidential veto of a bill to authorize construction of the Keystone XL pipeline.” Schumer added that Democrats are expected to introduce amendments to the GOP bill in the new Congress, but still expects to oppose it. Schumer said, “These amendments will make it better but certainly not good enough at this point in time, and I think there will be enough Democratic votes to sustain the president’s veto.”

Texas Prepares For Fallout From Oil Price Decline. In a front-page story, the Wall Street Journal  (1/5, A1, Hilsenrath, Campoy, Leubsdorf, Subscription Publication) reports that Texas’ economy has been driving national growth since the recession ended, boosted by the energy boom. However, with oil prices plunging, Texans are starting to brace for a drop. The consensus among economists and political leaders, the Journal says, is not whether the state’s economy will be hurt, but by how much.

WSJournal: Methane Regulation Is Unneeded. In an editorial, the Wall Street Journal  (1/5, Subscription Publication) says that the Administration’s plan to regulate methane emissions is misguided. The Journal says that methane emissions from drilling are already falling sharply, and that the real target is resource extraction generally.

Vermont Yankee Nuclear Plant Begins To Wind Down Operations. The New York Times  (1/5, Bidgood, Subscription Publication) reports that the Vermont Yankee nuclear power plant, which opened in 1972, is beginning the process of shutting down. The plant “drew decades of protest from residents who feared a nuclear disaster in these bucolic environs and, over the past several years, a protracted effort by its home state to close it.” The owner, Entergy, announced its closure in 2013, arguing it was “no longer economically viable.” Still, the Times says it is likely to have a deeply negative impact on the local economy.

Higher Education

Efforts To Unionize Adjunct Professors Growing In Calif.

The Los Angeles Times  (1/3, Gordon) reported in depth this weekend on a “wave of union organizing” at several private colleges in California, in which adjunct professors are holding initial contract negotiations “or are campaigning to win the right to do so.” According to the article, the adjunct faculty are “increasingly discontented over working conditions and a lack of job security.”

LATimes: US Should Start Over With College Ratings.

In an editorial on Friday, the Los Angeles Times  (1/2, Board) commended the Obama Administration for “the admirable but tricky task of rating colleges based on real-life factors” but pointed out flaws in the system. Specifically, the Times said the Education Department is attempting to avoid “false precision,” but “as a result, it is going so broad that the ratings would be all but meaningless.” The editorial argued that the administration “would be better off abandoning the project now than creating a shallow and misleading ratings system.”

Thunderbird CEO Touts ASU Merger.

In an opinion piece for the Arizona Republic  (1/2) on Friday, Thunderbird School of Global Management CEO Allen Morrison discussed his school’s merger with Arizona State University, which he called “clearly a win-win for both institutions.” Morrison went on to detail the various positive aspects of the deal and answers some frequently asked questions about the merger.

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Accreditation and Professional Development

Column: Book Criticizes Rigid Teacher Evaluations.

In a column for the Washington Post  (1/4), Jay Mathews discusses the “potentially… disruptive movement” of using student test scores in teacher evaluations, highlighting “a persuasive critique of the way the change is being made,” written by three education experts who say “its inflexibility might bring more harm than good.” Mathews argues that given the credentials of the three authors, reformers should heed their advice to let educators and school officials determine the best way to evaluate teachers.

Research and Development

CIO Working To Bring Federal Government Into Modern Age.

The New York Times  (1/4, Davis, Subscription Publication) profiles US chief technology officer Megan J. Smith, 50, “an M.I.T.-trained mechanical engineer and former Google executive, is working hard to bring her Silicon Valley sensibility to the Obama administration.” Four months into her tenure, Smith “is facing culture shock in a federal bureaucracy ruled by creaky technology and run in part on the floppy disk.” The article notes that, “so far, she has adopted a cheery tone.” The article details her major accomplishments so far.

BRAIN Researchers Meet During NIH, NSF “Mixer” In Maryland.

The Washington Post  (1/3, Nutt) reports that this past November, eighteen months after President Obama launched the Brain Research Through Advancing Innovative Neurotechnologies (BRAIN) initiative, a “motley group” of more than 100 scientists gathered in Maryland hotel for a two-day “kickoff” event. The “mixer,” organized by the National Institutes of Health and the National Science Foundation, “provided intellectual cross-pollination for the researchers involved.” The new year starts “the hard, slow grind” for these scientists to find “answers to some of the most enduring mysteries of the human mind”

RE2 Robotics Engineers Target Disabilities, Dynamite.

The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette  (1/2, Twedt) reports on Pittsburgh area firm RE2, Robotics Engineering Excellence, which recently received a National Institutes of Health Phase I, Small Business Innovation Research grant of $75,000 “to develop what the company calls a Patient Assist Robotic Arm.”

Marshall Space Flight Center Kicks Off Recycle Rush Robotics Challenge.

Alabama Live  (1/3, Campbell) reported that NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center kicked off the annual FIRST Robotics competition on Saturday, announcing the theme to be “Recycle Rush.” Teams from Alabama, Tennessee, and Mississippi were given kits and instructed to design robots that “can manipulate three objects: a plastic garbage can, a hard-sided crate, and… a swimming pool noodle.”


Markit Index Of US Manufacturing Fell To 53.9 In December.

Bloomberg News  (1/2, Chandra) reported on a separate survey of some 600 US manufacturers, the Markit Economics index, which dropped to an 11-month low of 53.9 in December from 54.8 in November, according to the London-based firm behind the data. As in the ISM’s PMI, a figure in the Markit index above 50 indicates expansion. The median forecast from a Bloomberg survey of economists was 54. The index had a preliminary reading for December of 53.7. “The manufacturing sector saw growth of activity lose further momentum at the end of 2014, but that didn’t stop factories from enjoying their best year since the recession,” Markit chief economist Chris Williamson said. “Companies are citing greater uncertainty about the outlook, especially in export markets, leading to some scaling back of expansion plans.”

Hope For Wage Increases Rises In New York City.

The New York Times  (1/5, Swarns, Subscription Publication) reports that hourly employees “across New York City are hoping to see their protests for better hours and wages bear fruit in 2015” as the economy improves and labor demand rises. The Times adds that following five years of decline “in the city’s median family income, a recent study by the Fiscal Policy Institute found that it had increased to $58,012 in 2013, up 3.5 percent from the previous year.” However, it still remains lower than it was in 2008.

Impact Of Increasing Minimum Wage Closes Non-Profit Restaurant. In an op-ed for the Wall Street Journal  (1/5, Subscription Publication), Michael Saltsman, research director at the Employment Policies Institute, writes that Michigan’s rising minimum wage is responsible for the closure of a non-profit resident in Hillsdale called Tastes of Life. It was run by Pastor Jack Mosley, who said that the increasing minimum wage was “the straw that broke the camel’s back.” Saltsman said that such “unintended consequences of a minimum wage hike aren’t unique to small towns in south-central Michigan,” but “repeat themselves in locales small and large each time legislators heed the populist call to ‘raise the wage.’”

Cuomo Continues Rhetorical Fight With Teachers’, Public Employees’ Unions.

Newsday  (1/5) reports that New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo “has escalated his fights with teacher and public employee unions” which did not support his reelection “by targeting major policy changes” they oppose, including suggesting changes to teacher evaluations, firing processes, and probationary periods for new educators. The article also details the escalating rhetoric by Cuomo and the unions in recent weeks.

NYTimes: Cuomo Must Address Racial And Economic Segregation In New York Public Schools. An editorial in the New York Times  (1/5, Subscription Publication) argues that if New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo is serious about improving public education across the state, he must confront and offer “remedies for the racial and economic segregation that has gripped the state’s schools, as well as the inequality in school funding that prevents many poor districts from lifting their children up to state standards.”

Industry News

Tuesday’s SpaceX Launch Features Reusable Rocket Test.

The New York Times  (1/4, Chang, Subscription Publication) reports that when SpaceX makes its next launch to the International Space Station on Tuesday, it will attempt “to upend the economics of space travel” by trying to land the first stage of its Falcon 9 rocket on a floating platform. If that works, SpaceX will reuse the stage on a future launch, bringing it one step closer to its goal of developing a reusable rocket. According to the article, SpaceX CEO Elon Musk claims that reusability will reduce launch costs “to a hundredth of what they are now.” Meanwhile, the article notes that the launch is also generating more “scrutiny” because it is carrying 17 of the 18 student experiments destroyed during an Orbital Sciences launch failure back in October. Jeff Goldstein, the director of the National Center for Earth and Space Science Education, said that NASA “moved heaven and earth” to make sure the experiments made it onto this launch.

Popular Science  (1/2, Grush) reported that if successful, SpaceX’s work here toward reusable rocketry meant that this year is the first year of “affordable” spaceflight.

SpaceX Posts Jobs For Its Commercial Launch Site. The Brownsville (TX) Herald  (1/3, Perez-Treviño) reported that SpaceX has begun issuing job openings “for an electrical engineer for the launch pad facilities and for a field contact representative” at its commercial launch site at Boca Chica Beach.

Engineering and Public Policy

Cybersecurity Push Bolstered By Sony Hack.

The Hill  (1/4, Bennett) reports that the “high-profile” hack at Sony Pictures “has injected new urgency into the years-old push for cybersecurity legislation, with a broad spectrum of lawmakers suddenly vowing to take action in the new Congress. ‘It’s basically fair game for everything cyber’ after the cyberattack on Sony, said Jessica Herrera-Flanigan, a lobbyist at Monument Policy Group, which represents tech giants like Microsoft.” The recent cyber attack “caused Sony to briefly pause the release of a multi-million dollar movie, spurred a White House response and escalated tensions between the US and North Korea, which the FBI has blamed for the attack,” and it has “also transformed what some viewed as a stale debate on Capitol Hill over cybersecurity issues. ‘We’ve been having the same discussion on information sharing…since the mid-90s,’ said Herrera-Flanigan, referring to various long-stalled cybersecurity information-sharing measures that would give legal protections for companies exchanging cyber threat info with the government.”

Corporations Not The Only Victims Of Hacking. NBC Nightly News (1/4, story 6, 3:00, Holt) reported that computer hacking “doesn’t just happen to large organizations, individuals can be targeted as well,” and “the way one hacker pursued a teenage girl is a warning for every parent.” NBC (Snow) added that Cassidy Wolf in March 2013 “got a notice that someone tried to change her password and a message from a stranger.” A hacker “had sent Cassidy malicious software that she clicked on which gave him access to her laptop, including the webcam and was watching her for months,” and now “he was threatening” to “publish pictures if she didn’t do what he said. Cassidy went to the FBI but many young victims don’t.” The FBI discovered that the hacker was Jared Abraham, a high school classmate of Wolf’s who pleaded guilty to three counts of extortion and one count of unauthorized computer access and was sentenced last year to 18 months in prison.

Gates Questions Own Philanthropic Efforts.

The “Answer Sheet” blog of the Washington Post  (1/3, Strauss) reported in depth this weekend on “admissions and new uncertainty” from Bill Gates over the success of some of his efforts with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, highlighting the question of whether wealthy philanthropists should be given such influence “to drive public policy.” The Post quotes American Association for the Advancement of Science analyst Steven Edwards, who said, “For better or worse… the practice of science in the 21st century is becoming shaped less by national priorities or by peer-review groups and more by the particular preferences of individuals with huge amounts of money.”

Republicans To Use Congressional Control To Challenge Obama.

McClatchy  (1/3, Lightman, Subscription Publication) reports the incoming Republican-run Congress will “start the year with a lot of muscle” and in control of “every aspect of congressional activity,” which means they’ll likely look to target a number of Obama Administration actions. However, McClatchy says Republicans must also work on “restoring public trust” as Congress’s approval rating is only 15 percent.

The AP  (1/3, Press) reported in depth on the new heads of various Senate Committees, highlighting the Republicans who “are intent on pushing back many of President Barack Obama’s policies.” According to the article, Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.), the incoming chair of the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee has “said he wants to fix President George W. Bush’s No Child Left Behind education law that’s been due to be renewed since 2007 and update the Higher Education Act.”

Republicans Looking To Control State Governments.

The Washington Post  (1/3, Wilson) reports now that Republicans control 31 governorship’s and 68 of 98 partisan legislative chambers across the country “this all but guarantees a new tide of conservative laws.” Items on the Republican agenda at the state level according to the article are a “fresh assault on Common Core education standards, press abortion regulations, cut personal and corporate income taxes and take up dozens of measures challenging the power of labor unions and the Environmental Protection Agency.”

Elementary/Secondary Education

Film Program Helps Students Develop Technical Skills.

The Las Vegas Review-Journal  (1/3, Lyle) reported in depth this weekend on a partnership between Studio 11 Films and the Nevada Partners development agency which developed a pilot program, called 11Eleven11, designed to help young people gain technical skills for the film industry. The article profiled the youths’ participation in the making of a film and their enthusiasm for the industry as a result.

Maryland County Expands Foreign Language Immersion Programs.

The Washington Post  (1/4, Wiggins) reports on a “growing effort in” Maryland’s Prince George’s County schools “to immerse young students in a foreign language.” The county has three elementary schools which have begun offering Spanish immersion, and the county also offers Chinese and French immersion programs in other schools. The Post also highlights the popularity and effectiveness of the programs among the students.

Friday’s Lead Stories

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