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

Leading the News

White House: Obama Will Make Keystone Decision Before Leaving Office.

Reuters  (11/2) reports the White House said Monday that the President will make a decision on whether to grant a permit to TransCanada to build the Keystone XL pipeline before he leaves office. “Our expectation at this point is that the president will make a decision before the end of his administration on the Keystone pipeline, but when exactly that will be, I don’t know at this point,” White House spokesman Josh Earnest told reporters. Asked whether the decision could come this year, Earnest said, “It’s possible. It’s also possible it could happen next year.”

TransCanada Requests US Suspend Permit Application. The Wall Street Journal  (11/3, A6, Harder, Subscription Publication) reports TransCanada on Monday asked the State Department to suspend its permit application. “In order to allow time for certainty regarding the Nebraska route, TransCanada requests that the State Department pause in its review of the Presidential Permit application for Keystone XL,” the company said in the request. “This will allow a decision on the Permit to be made later based on certainty with respect to the route of the pipeline.”

The Washington Post  (11/3, Eilperin) notes that the Nebraska Public Service Commission is “reviewing the pipeline’s route in the state, after residents there challenged the state’s approval process for the project,” and the company argued that it would be “appropriate” to delay any federal decision until the Nebraska route is settled.

The New York Times  (11/3, Davis, Subscription Publication) says a delay “would be almost certain to put off a final decision on the pipeline until Mr. Obama left office, making it likely that the pipeline would be a hotly debated topic in the 2016 presidential race.” The Washington Times  (11/3, Wolfgang) similarly says the move “raises a real possibility Mr. Obama will not be the one to make a decision on the pipeline and that the next president, perhaps one more inclined to back new oil-and-gas infrastructure in the US, will be the final arbiter.” Environmental groups, USA Today  (11/3, Dorell) reports, “cheered” the announcement and urged the President “to kill the project for good.”

Higher Education

ED Releases New Financial Protections For College Students.

USA Today  (11/2, Sumter) reports that according to Under Secretary Ted Mitchell, ED has announced “two new sets of regulations” intended to help “borrowers pay off their student loans” by giving them “more freedom in choosing how they receive federal aid” and allowing them to “cap their monthly student loan payment at 10% of their annual income.” The piece quotes Mitchell saying, “The first set of regulations will help protect students from unreasonable account fees, safeguard taxpayer dollars and provide transparency regarding accounts offered to students by requiring … information about the costs students incur. This will ensure that students have a choice about how to receive their federal aid and will prohibit their personal information from being shared without their consent.”

Briefs Submitted To Supreme Court In Texas Affirmative Action Case.

Inside Higher Ed  (11/2, Jaschik) provides a 1,475-word review of several prominent briefs submitted to the Supreme Court as the court prepares to hear Fisher v. University of Texas at Austin, a case which casts a spotlight on affirmative actions admission policies and whether higher education institutions have the right to admit race into the admissions process. Reportedly, the Supreme Court’s decision in this case is likely to come in June 2016.

Opinion: What Has $1 Trillion Student Debt Investment Yielded?

Writing in the Bloomberg View  (11/2, McArdle), columnist Megan McArdle offers a 1,100-word essay questioning the value of the $1 trillion investment in student debt, and criticizes policymakers for failing to come up with an education policy beyond the writing of larger checks, without examining the investment being made, what returns can be expected, or the root causes of why higher education has become so expensive.

Campaign Aims To Graduate 10,000 Black Engineers Annually By 2025.

The eCampus News  (11/2) reports that the National Society of Black Engineers has announced its “Be 1 of 10,000” campaign, which aims to provide the resources to graduate 10,000 black engineers with bachelor’s degrees by 2025. Commenting on the initiative, Karl W. Reid, Ed.D., executive director of NSBE: “Graduating 10,000 black engineers per year will generate benefits that extend far beyond our organization. By harnessing the STEM talent of greater numbers of African Americans, we are expanding the corps of problem solvers and innovators in service to the nation.” The NSBE reportedly plans on providing additional online resources to students, expand STEM education, and encourage more public school districts to offer core courses such as calculus in high school.

October Prism Now Online – Members Only
Cover story – A sprawling telescope array has made South Africa a world leader in radio astronomy and produced a pipeline of specialized engineers.

The Best Part of ASEE Membership
Members weigh in in this short video from the Annual Conference.

Transforming Undergraduate Eduction in Engineering
Read the first report of this multi-phase project.

Research and Development

Opinion: Artificial Intelligence Creates New Ethical Questions.

In a Washington Post  (11/2, Lin) opinion piece, California Polytechnic State University philosophy professor Patrick Lin outlines some of the ethical dilemmas facing humanity as we continue to develop artificial intelligence. Lin posits that robots with artificial intelligence will have to be programmed to behave in more ethical ways than humans do because they are capable of doing so. Lin shares the example of programming a self-driving car to cause a crash in order to minimize the number of human lives lost. While executing such a decision might be impossible for a human working under pressure, a robot would now feel the emotional pressures of stress or the like and so it may be capable of making such a decision quickly, but then human begins would have to decide whether this kind of premeditation is ethical. Lin predicts that ethics will become a bigger part of computer science education and the field itself as artificial intelligence continues to be developed.

Johns Hopkins Researcher Studies Movement Of High-Flying, Jumping Crickets.

The New York Times  (11/3, Gorman, Subscription Publication) reports Johns Hopkins University mechanical engineering professor Rajat Mittal began studying the movement of spider crickets while he was trying to eradicate them from his house. Mittal studies the mechanics of flying, swimming, and other motions in his lab and has documented how spider crickets are able to jump up to a distance of “60 body-lengths.” Through his research, Mittal discovered that the crickets typically land on their hind legs similar to how aircraft land with their front ends elevated above the back ends.

Industry News

Blackberry To Release Priv Smartphone Nov. 6.

Several articles reported on the impending release of the Blackberry Priv smartphone, with most outlets discussing the company’s switch to Android amid serious business challenges. In its Bits Blog, The New York Times  (11/2, Austen) reports that “after years of marketing that dismissed Android and iPhones as unfit for serious minded business users” BlackBerry has “raised a white flag” with the Nov. 6 launch of its Priv smartphone that announces it is “powered by Android” when switched on. James Moar, analyst with Juniper Research said that while Blackberry’s phone business wouldn’t “disappear overnight” the company’s future would be dependent on its “security brand image more than anyone else.”

The Wall Street Journal  (11/3, Dummett, Subscription Publication) also discusses the difficulties facing Blackberry, noting that it will likely stress the device’s security features, particularly its encryption technology in marketing the Priv.

Bloomberg News  (11/2, De Vynck) strikes a pessimistic tone, saying that the Blackberry Priv “could be the company’s last attempt at making its devices profitable before ending production” with company CEO John Chen saying that Blackberry would end device manufacturing if it were no longer profitable. The phone will come equipped with a number of Blackberry’s “highly respected security and productivity features” including a preloaded application “that tracks how much other applications on your phone are accessing your personal data and location.” The article quotes Brian Colello, a Chicago-based analyst at Morningstar Investment Services as echoing this downbeat sentiment, saying that “perhaps there’s something else in the pipeline, but this device does seem like a last stand” and “we’ve seen new products come out for the last couple years, BlackBerry’s trying to get a hit with any form factor, any price point and now it’s with a different operating system.”

UberGizmo  (11/2, Farooqui) reports that the device will be carried by AT&T in the US, will retail for $249.99 with a two year contract or $700 unlocked and will also be available via Blackberry’s website. The article also discusses the device’s specifications, which include a 5.4 inch Quad HD display, Snapdragon 808 processor, 3GB RAM, 18 megapixel rear camera, microSD card slot, and a 3,410mAh battery.

Reuters  (11/2) , TechnoBuffalo  (11/2, Haselton) , Engadget  (11/2, Tarantola) , The Verge  (11/2, Welch) , reports, reports, reports, also reports.

Feature: How Blackberry Seeks To Woo Customers With Android Phone. In a feature for CNET News  (11/2) Roger Cheng reports on Blackberry’s development of the Android based Blackberry Priv smartphone, quoting Chen and BlackBerry head of devices Ron Louks on the development of the device and quoting several analysts on the grim prospects for Blackberry smartphones unless the Priv is a success.

Engineering and Public Policy

White House Issues Cybersecurity Strategy And Implementation Plan.

The Hill  (11/2, Bennett) reports that the White House “issued a sweeping new plan aimed at better defending the government’s networks from the hackers that have infiltrated numerous agencies in the last year.” The new Cybersecurity Strategy and Implementation Plan “helps get our current federal house in order, but it does not re-architect the house,” in the words of Federal Chief Information Officer Tony Scott. The Hill says “the administration will issue a new protocol for responding to cyberattacks, the Department of Homeland Security will speed the rollout of its intrusion detection system and agencies will have to take stock of their cyber workforce and file reports on their findings.”

Meanwhile, NextGov  (11/3, Ravindranath) reports that NIST is “developing standards aimed at protecting consumer privacy in the Internet of Things, noted Isaac Potoczny-Jones, research lead for computer science at Galois.” He is “working with NIST on a pilot in which consumers’ information, culled from smart-home services, could be integrated into a ‘privacy preserving data store.’”

EPA Says More Vehicles Contain Emissions Cheating Software.

In a revelation USA Today  (11/3, Bomey, Woodyard) says “casts doubt on” Volkswagen Group’s “past statements about the situation,” the emissions scandal surrounding the company widened Monday as the EPA said it installed “so-called defeat-device software on SUVs and additional luxury cars not previously implicated in the scandal.” The New York Times  (11/3, Mouawad, Subscription Publication) says the “disclosure covers about 10,000 passenger cars already sold in the United States since the model year 2014.” The violation notice also “covers an undisclosed number of 2016 vehicles.”

According to the Los Angeles Times  (11/3, Masunaga), VW’s subsidiary Porsche has been pulled into the scandal. Models added to the list of vehicles the EPA says were illegally equipped include, “the 2014 VW Touareg, the 2015 Porsche Cayenne and the 2016 Audi A6 Quattro, A7 Quattro, A8, A8L and Q5.” The EPA also added the 3.0-liter diesel six-cylinder engine to the list. The Wall Street Journal  (11/3, Spector, Subscription Publication) says it was not known whether VW intends to stop sales of the newly listed models as it did with vehicles revealed to contain the devices in September. The CBS Evening News (11/2, story 8, 0:30, Pelley) also reported briefly on the EPA announcement.

Oil Industry Increased Lobbying Spending Against California Energy Bill.

The Los Angeles Times  (11/3, Megerian) reports, “The petroleum industry dramatically ramped up its spending on lobbying” between July 1 and Sept. 30, spending almost $11.3 million in total on lobbying. It focused on a California “measure intended to increase energy efficiency, boost renewable energy and reduce oil consumption for transportation.” However, “the oil and energy sectors vastly outspent their environmental critics,” and the bill’s petroleum target was removed.

The Sacramento (CA) Bee  (11/3, White) reports that oil companies “massively increased” their lobbying spending. For instance, the Western States Petroleum Association spent $6.7 million, more than double from the prior two quarters, and Valero spent $582,000, compared to $48,000 for the rest of the year.

Elementary/Secondary Education

Retired Entrepreneur Moves Back To Texas Hometown To Open Up Science Laboratory For Children.

Fortune  (11/2, Gazzaniga) reports Bonnie Baskin, the founder of two successful biotech companies that she sold for $40 million and $163 million respectively, has retired to her hometown of Johnson City, Texas, to support STEM education. Baskin opened up the Hill Country Science Mill in Johnson City to inspire children to pursue STEM careers. The facility is a science laboratory designed for children to become interested in STEM topics, and regularly hosts field trips from the nearby Austin and San Antonio metropolitan areas.

Construction Union Opposes Administration Apprenticeship Program.

The Washington Times  (11/3, Boyer) reports that North America’s Building Trades Unions, which represents the construction trades, on Monday “voiced its disagreement” the Administration’s “push to fund apprenticeship programs with tax dollars.” Union president Sean McGarvey “reacted to the administration’s initiative by saying that the construction trade unions have been funding successful apprenticeship programs on their own for a century.” The Times says this is “the latest tension between Mr. Obama and big labor after the president’s highly public fight with unions and their Democratic allies in Congress last summer over passage of a massive free trade deal with Pacific Rim nations.”

Students Work Together To Make Cars To Help Disabled Students.

The Washington Post  (11/3, Smith) reports a group of eight students at Gunston Middle School in Arlington, Virginia worked together to get a plastic car moving to help a mobility-impaired student. The project was part of the international effort called GoBabyGo that helps design such devices for children with disabilities to move and play. Skye Donovan and Cole Galloway, both physical therapy professors, founded GoBabyGo in 2006. The article outlines different challenges students face in building the cars.

Monday’s Lead Stories

Federal Government To Fund Dual-Enrollment Program Students Beginning Next Fall.
Florida For-Profit Medical College Shuts Down.
Unmanned Sikorsky Black Hawk Successfully Completes Test Run.
Murkowski Criticizes Energy Policies That Restrict Drilling.
South Carolina Camps Expose Girls To Technology Industry And Careers.
Tech Philanthropists See Social Ills As Engineering Problems.

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