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

Leading the News

Media Analyses: Apple, FBI Engaged In PR Battle.

Reuters  (2/22, Volz, Roy) says the standoff between Apple and the FBI over San Bernardino attacker Syed Rizwan Farook’s locked iPhone has become a PR battle between the two sides and Apple fired the last shot Monday, calling for the creation of a government panel on encryption. Also Monday, Apple CEO Tim Cook sent a letter to employees saying, “This case is about much more than a single phone or a single investigation. … At stake is the data security of hundreds of millions of law-abiding people, and setting a dangerous precedent that threatens everyone’s civil liberties.” FBI Director Comey, meanwhile, argued Sunday on the national security legal blog Lawfare that the case is about “victims and justice,” writing, “Fourteen people were slaughtered and many more had their lives and bodies ruined. … We owe them a thorough and professional investigation under law. That’s what this is.”

The Washington Post  (2/22, Berman, Nakashima) says Comey urged people to “take a deep breath” and described “the government’s request as quite narrow,” insisting “that authorities were not asking Apple to create ‘a master key,’ as the company has asserted, and that the government’s demand was not ‘trying to set a precedent’ that will invade user privacy.” Comey noted, “Maybe the phone holds the clue to finding more terrorists. Maybe it doesn’t. But we can’t look the survivors in the eye, or ourselves in the mirror, if we don’t follow this lead.” ABC World News (2/22, story 4, 2:00, Thomas) reported the FBI “says it remains urgent to get inside that phone,” because it “thinks there may be seven weeks of data leading up to the attacks on that phone, potentially photos, emails and text communication, with the other killer, his wife.”

Zuckerberg Voices Support For Apple. Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg voiced support for Apple and “reject[ed] the idea that technology companies should create “backdoors” for intelligence agencies and law enforcement,” USA Today  (2/22, Baig, Guynn) reports. Speaking at the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, Zuckerberg said, “We’re sympathetic with Apple. We believe in encryption; we think that that’s an important tool,” adding, “I don’t think requiring backdoors with encryption is either going to be an effective way to increase security or is really the right thing to do for just the direction that the world is going to.”

However, a new Pew Research Center poll and a pair of opinion pieces show support for the government’s position. The Pew survey found that more than half of Americans believe Apple should unlock the iPhone, the Los Angeles Times  (2/22, Pierson) reports. According to the survey, 51% “said Apple should unlock the phone,” while 38% said “Apple should not unlock the device.” The results, the Times notes, “underscore the potential risk Apple faces for its brand as it carries out its fight against the government both in the court of law and public opinion.”

Higher Education

Purdue Engineering Students Poised To Complete Race Car Project.

The La Porte County (IN) Life  (2/22) reports that while past Purdue University Calumet students have attempted the feat and not finished, senior mechanical engineering students Terrence Bennett and Colten Munday are leading a team of 40 students who “are well on their way to crossing the finish line, so to speak, in an effort to design, build and ultimately test the performance of their Formula One car.” The team is participating in the Collegiate Design Series Formula SAE international competition in may at the Michigan International Speedway in Brooklyn.

Proposed Bill Would Expand Options For College Credit At High Schools.

The Detroit News  (2/22, Burke) reports US Sen. Gary Peters (D-MI) is introducing a bill that would permit the US Department of Education “to create a grant program using Higher Education Act funds to carry out dual and concurrent enrollment programs.” The bipartisan legislation, introduced with Sen. Bill Cassidy (R-LA), would also “offer professional trading teachers to teach such courses, as well as assisting with course design, student counseling, and supporting course approval processes.” Data provided by the National Center for Education Statistics says that early-enrolling college students earn on average 36 college credits. Peters said a major benefit of his legislation is savings on college costs for families.

Grand Canyon Education Plans Nonprofit Spinoff.

BuzzFeed  (2/22, Hensley-Clancy) reports Grand Canyon Education, the most valuable publicly-traded for-profit college in America, announced a plan to “essentially split the company into” two halves: a nonprofit college, Grand Canyon University, and a for-profit service provider. The move comes as for-profit colleges have “taken a beating amid a regulatory crackdown in recent years.” Grand Canyon has tried to become a nonprofit college since 2014, but its initial plan to accomplish this goal, by taking out a large bond to purchase itself from shareholders, would be too expensive. Instead, the idea of splitting the company would require “a much smaller loan, since much of Grand Canyon’s value….is tied up in machinery that supports the school.”

Illinois Governor Vetoes CC Scholarship Bill.

The Chicago Tribune  (2/19, Bott) reports that Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner has vetoed a bill that would have provided $721 million “for community colleges and scholarships for low-income students, saying again that the state can’t afford to pay for it.” Rauner said “the bill would take away money from social service providers who care for the state’s most vulnerable residents.”

ASEE ED on NPR’s Air Talk
Norman Fortenberry discussed the efforts to make STEAM from STEM

Surmounting the Barriers
The joint NAE-ASEE report makes recommendations for breaking down long-identified barriers to diversity in higher education.

Research and Development

Some Experts Believe 3-D Printers Will One Day Become Routine Tools For Heart Care.

In an article titled “How 3-D Imaging Could Change Heart Surgery In The Future,” the Washington Post  (2/22, Sohn) reports, “In the cardiac operating room of the future, a surgeon may repair your damaged heart with personalized parts,” negating the need for “donor lists and immune-suppressing” medications. The Post adds, “As costs decrease and discoveries accelerate, experts predict that 3-D printers will become routine tools for heart care.” Some “scientists envision customized patches or even full-fledged beating hearts, ready to be implanted, an exact fit for the patient’s body.”

Michigan Tech Professor Working On Technology To Counter Rogue Drones.

The AP  (2/22, Ramirez) reports that Michigan Technological University Mechanical Engineering Department associate professor Mohammad Rastgaar-Aagah is “working on a way for agencies to safely take down runaway flying machines should they threaten air traffic, military bases, government buildings or sporting events.” The piece quotes Rastgaar-Aagah saying, “The system we’re developing will quickly capture a drone and remove it from an area so it’s no longer a threat to anyone’s safety.” The technology “involves a drone that can shoot a net at other unmanned aircraft and haul them in.”

Arkansas Professor Inspired By Curiosity About Electromagnetics.

The AP  (2/22, Morris) profiles Arkansas State University associate professor of electrical engineering Brandon Kemp, who was inspired to study electromagnetics during his undergraduate days at the school by a poor grade in the subject. Kemp and his team conduct research into “theoretical advances to model existing applications and explore the feasibility of emerging technologies such as tractor beams, invisibility cloaking and controllable materials and surfaces.”

Facebook Uses AI To Determine Where Humans Live.

Wired  (2/22, Metz) reports that while Facebook has ambitions of bringing the Internet to people who cannot currently access it by using drones, satellites, and lasers, the company must use artificial intelligence to determine where those people are. Facebook engineer and optical physicist Tobias Tieche drew on some of Facebook’s AI Lab’s services and developed a system that can determine where people actually live by automatically analyzing satellite images of the Earth. Facebook’s neural network has analyzed 15.6 billion satellite images covering 21.6 million square kilometer of the globe.


Study Finds Female Coders Create Better Work, Face Gender Bias.

The Washington Post  (2/22, Ghose) reports “new research suggests” women “tend to produce better computer code than men, but they are penalized if their gender is common knowledge.” A new study has found that female coders “who submitted proposed changes to publicly available and freely modifiable software through a platform called GitHub had their work accepted more often than men did, but that changed if other users knew the person behind the changes was a woman. ‘Our results show that women’s contributions tend to be accepted more often than men’s. However, when a woman’s gender is identifiable, they are rejected more often,’ the researchers wrote. ‘Our results suggest that although women on GitHub may be more competent overall, bias against them exists nonetheless.’”

Industry News

Foxx Discusses Future Of Self-Driving Cars.

NPR  (2/22, Siegel) reports an interview with US Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx during which he discusses the future of self-driving cars days after NHTSA announced the self-driving car system could be considered as a driver. Foxx said he sees the future when he rides such vehicles. He told NPR: “We actually have some studies that some private sector folks have done suggesting that the combination of autonomous and connected vehicles would potentially reduce our fatalities by 80 percent – that is a pretty significant number when you consider we have almost 33,000 fatalities on the road every year.” He explained the NHTSA sets standards on what a driver is vs. what a car is. When asked about whether there needs to be a licensed driver inside every self-driving vehicle as suggested by the California DMV, Foxx said he agrees, adding “By the way, our interpretation of a driver as one of these driverless systems doesn’t mean that the car itself meets all of our standards.”

NPR  (2/22) reports the US DOT is looking to include new technology to make driving easier. NPR quotes Foxx saying, “We’ve asked the industry to give us innovations that they think can and should be part of vehicles. GM, for example, has requested that we interpret our Federal safety standards to allow for the camera you described, and today, we are issuing guidance that this technology does qualify under our current standards.” He added, “We need to be at the leading edge of this revolution in technology and transportation, and our NHTSA department needs to be at the table as this technology is coming into place.” Foxx said, “There are still some questions that have to be resolved by the technology company as to whether those vehicles meet our standards.” He explained that questions are still being discussed and guidance is expected in coming months.

Engineering and Public Policy

Group Seeks Restart Of Clean Power Plan After Releasing EPA Official’s Emails.

The Washington Times  (2/22, Richardson) reports the pro-energy advocacy group Energy & Environment Legal Institute released a report Monday showing former EPA Office of Policy associate administrator Michael Goo – who “headed the working group tasked with preparing the initial memo on regulating coal-fired plants” – communicating with environmentalist groups on a private email account to discuss options on such regulation. In light of the discussions, the institute on Friday requested permission from the US Court of Appeals for the DC Circuit to file a brief arguing that the Clean Power Plan “needs to be sent back to the EPA for an honest restart.”

Elementary/Secondary Education

Elementary Student Group Helps School IT Support.

The Louisville (KY) Courier-Journal  (2/22, Clark) reports that at Jonathan Jennings Elementary in Charlestown a group of 20 students called the Chrome Ninjas students, help the school meet its IT needs. The fifth graders provide tech support help in a group called the Chrome Ninjas. The Ninjas provide services that extend from helping teachers connect to wifi, to simple programming and basic computer repair. Technology teacher Beth Day began the program three years ago. According to interviews by the Courier-Journal the program has built self-confidence, encouraged interest in computers, and has some students considering jobs in technology.

Robotics Lab In Charlotte Provides Work Space For K-12 Teams.

The Charlotte (NC) Observer  (2/22) reports on FIRST Zone, a robotics lab that opened in December that provides a work space for teams competing in the K-12 robotics challenge in Charlotte NC. The 10,000 square-foot-space was funded by a grant from Argosy Foundation. Mentors from various high schools formed a group called Queen City Robotics, and have created a program called the “pink pipeline,” all-girls elementary and middle school teams to encourage girls to participate. Queen City Robotics hopes to teach technical and mechanical skills, and also develop team work and collaborative qualities.

Go Kart Building At Career Center Helps Students Discover Skill Sets.

The AP  (2/22) reports that students in Indiana’s Central Nine Career Center are putting go-karts together from scratch and learning manufacturing, engineering, welding and logistic skills. Students were able to participate in a go cart race at Collegiate evGrandPrix at Purdue University. The program has helped students like 18-year-old Douglas McCollum discover his skill set, originally a computer programmer, McCollum discovered, “I was really good with the logistics part of the class… it showed I had a different skill set. When I found out I had skills in logistics, I started to look at… what I want to do in school.”

Monday’s Lead Stories

Calls To Cut Liberal Arts Funding And Promote STEM.
Student Advocates Say Colleges Shouldn’t Ask About Discipline During Admissions.
Obama Honors UVA Engineering Professor With Early Career Award.
Ahead Of Governors’ Meeting, Advocate Touts Benefits Of Wind Energy.
Industry Stresses Development Of Skilled Workers Who Are Job-Ready At Graduation.


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