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

Leading the News

Cook, Lynch Speak Out Amid Continued Debate Over San Bernardino iPhone.

Continued coverage of the debate over San Bernardino attacker Syed Rizwan Farook’s iPhone remains heavy. With limited developments on the legal front, coverage focuses on arguments made outside of the courtroom by the government and by Apple. Major sources, including network and cable news, cover remarks made by Apple CEO Tim Cook and Attorney General Lynch on their respective positions. Sources also cover levels of support on both sides of the debate, with attention paid to recent poll results.

Cook: Software Necessary To Fulfill FBI’s Request On iPhone Would Be Like “Cancer.” In an interview on ABC World News (2/24, story 5, 3:55, Muir), Apple CEO Tim Cook said his company has “cooperated with the FBI fully” in the San Bernardino case by giving investigators all the information it has on Syed Farook’s iPhone. However, Cook says that compelling Apple to write software to break into the phone “would make hundreds of millions of customers vulnerable around the world, including in the US.” Cook described the code that would be needed as the “software equivalent of cancer,” and said if there was a way to do it without exposing everyone’s privacy “we would obviously do it.”

Cook also said that in the early days of the San Bernardino investigation, the “FBI directed the county to reset the iCloud password,” which meant Farook’s phone could “no longer back up to the cloud.” Cook claimed that if Apple had been contacted earlier that “would not have been the case.”

The Los Angeles Times  (2/24, Dave) reports that Cook implied he was blindsided by the courtroom battle over Farook’s iPhone. “I don’t think that’s the way the railroad should be run,” Cook said. “I don’t think something this important to the country should be handled in this way.” According to the CEO, Apple is forcefully fighting the FBI because the bureau’s request “could expose people to incredible vulnerabilities,” “be bad for America” and “also set a bad precedent that I think many people in America would be offended by.”

Lynch Says “Case Law…Clear” On Cooperate Cooperation In Investigations. Fox News’ Special Report (2/24) reported that Attorney General Lynch, without referencing the dispute between Apple and the FBI, reportedly told lawmakers on Wednesday that “the case law is clear” that if a judge believes a certain item contains evidence, the court can order a third party to help the FBI recover the data. USA Today  (2/24, Johnson) reports that Lynch’s comments, her first public remarks since a judge last week ordered Apple to cooperate with authorities, were made at a hearing of the House Appropriations Committee.

Sources: Apple Already Working On Increased Security Measures For iPhone. The New York Times  (2/24, Apuzzo, Benner, Subscription Publication) reports Apple has begun efforts to develop “new security measures that would make it impossible for the government to break into a locked iPhone using methods” at the center of the current dispute, according to sources close to the company. The Times says that if Apple succeeds as expected, it “would create significant technical challenge for law enforcement agencies, even if the Obama administration wins” the current fight. Reuters  (2/25, Menn, Love) reports that an Apple executive, commenting on the condition of anonymity, said Apple will further encrypt its phones should it prevail in its battle with the federal government. Even if the government wins, experts said, tech companies my further invest in security measures that are unbreakable by even their own engineers.

In-Flight Hacking Situation Leads USA Today Columnist To Rethink Apple-FBI Debate. In his column for USA Today  (2/24) , Steven Petrow recounts a recent experience he had aboard an American Airlines flight where a passenger informed him he had hacked and read all of his and most of the other passengers’ emails through the GoGo in-flight Internet connection. Petrow says the situation caused him to reevaluate the current debate between Apple and the FBI regarding encryption, saying that he now appreciates Apple’s push for privacy.

Higher Education

AACRAO Stops Recommending Against Colleges Including Major Disciplinary Actions On Transcripts.

The Huffington Post  (2/24, Kingkade) reports most colleges don’t include information about major disciplinary punishments or infractions such as “sexual assault, physical violence, theft or drug use” on students’ transcripts. The article reports that for the last 20 years, the American Association of Collegiate Registrars and Admissions Officers has recommended that colleges “keep track of information about students’ disciplinary actions, but not include it on academic transcripts.” However, on Wednesday, the group “shifted” its stance and now says that such transcript notations should be “optional” instead of “not recommended.”

Group Calls On ED To Deny Aid To For-Profits That Force Arbitration.

Inside Higher Ed  (2/24) reports consumer advocacy group Public Citizen has filed a petition with ED demanding “that for-profit institutions that require students to sign predispute arbitration clauses not be allowed to receive federal funding.” The group “also urges the department to bar institutions from including arbitration clauses in enrollment or other agreements with students as a condition of receiving federal aid.”

CFPB’s Fight With For-Profit Accreditor Could Reverberate.

Inside Higher Ed  (2/24, Stratford) reports that the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau is engaged in an “ongoing legal battle” with the Accrediting Council for Independent Colleges and Schools over “what it has described as possible illegal activities ‘in connection with accrediting for-profit colleges.’” CFPB “last summer demanded information from [ACICS] about its approval of some for-profit colleges,” but the group refused to comply. The article suggests that the case “is being watched closely by accreditors and others,” and “could have major implications for the federal government’s role in accreditation.”

California Student Web Series On STEM Life Enters Second Season.

The Los Angeles Times  (2/23, Chan) reports on a YouTube web series called “STEMbility” launched by students from UC Irvine, Orange Coast College, and Irvine Valley College last September. The series featured students from across Southern California “as they brainstormed ideas for inventions related to science, technology, engineering and mathematics, or STEM, and eventually executed their visions,” the LA Times says. STEMbility is preparing for its second season, and filming will start in March.

Only One-Third Of College Freshman Can Pass Military Entrance Exams.

Jim Cowen, director of military affairs for the Collaborative for Student Success, and Marcus Lingenfelter, VP of state and federal programs at the National Math + Science Initiative, write in The Hill  (2/25, Cowen, Lingenfelter) “Congress Blog” that federal statistics indicate 19 to 26 percent of all college freshmen need remedial courses. Furthermore, Defense Secretary Ash Carter said that about half of the 21 million Americans aged 17 to 21 are able to meet “our high-quality standards on our entry exam,” and when including standards for physical fitness, “only about a third are actually eligible to join the military.” Cowen and Lingenfelter fear the “ramifications” this can have on our natural security, and urge school districts to “redouble” efforts to ensure “a high-quality education for students broadly.”

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

Boston Dynamics Releases Video Of Robot Overcoming Human “Bullies.”

Christian Science Monitor  (2/24) reports that MIT spinoff Boston Dynamics, which is owned by Google, has released a video showing its latest generation of Atlas robots. In the video, the robot finds and picks up “ten-pound boxes even when a human bully pushes them out of its way.” The robot, intended to be used in disasters where humans can’t go, “will need some human-like skills.” The video shows the robot regaining its balance after having been pushed off balance.

Google Reveals Successful Test Of Project Loon.

Wired  (2/24, Metz) reports that Google revealed that it successfully “established a 155 megabit-per-second optical connection between two balloons more than 100 kilometers (62 miles) apart” during tests of its moonshot Project Loon, which aims “to build a new kind of computer network 20 miles above the earth.” According to Google X optical communications engineer Baris Erkmen, “It wasn’t a one-time thing, a 30-second success. It was done over three days. We tested during the day. We tested at night. We had many hours of stable and robust communications.” The technology would then send signals “send wireless signals down to the phones below,” avoiding “weather and scintillation” issues by possibly using “electromagnetic technology such as WiFi and LTE, rather than optics.”

FAA Tests New Drone-Detecting Technology At Airport.

Defense One  (2/24, Tucker) reports the FAA has said that they are now able to “detect drones flying near airports” and locate the drones’ operators on the ground. The article describes the development as a significant “step forward in integrating drones into commercial airspace.”

Flyer Talk  (2/24, Cortez) says the “program is based on technology by CACI International, which” uses radio sensors at sites around an airport. According to the article, the technology was tested in more than “140 trials at New Jersey’s Atlantic City International Airport (ACY) between January and February 2016.” FAA Senior Advisor on UAS Integration Marke Gibson is quoted as saying, “The explosive growth of the unmanned aircraft industry makes evaluating detection technologies an urgent priority.” Gibson added, “This research is totally aimed at keeping our skies safe, which is our number one mission.”

IARPA Working On Superconducting Supercomputer.

IEEE Spectrum  (2/24, Brock) reports that “from the mid-1950s to the present,” the NSA has “repeatedly pursued” the “dream” of a superconducting supercomputer. Now, the Intelligence Advanced Research Projects Activity “has launched an ambitious program to create the fundamental building blocks of a superconducting supercomputer.” Over the next few years, the push “could finally show whether the technology really can beat silicon when given the chance.”

Industry News

Apple’s Encryptions Fight Could Speed Development Of Secure Devices.

Reuters  (2/25, Menn, Love) reports that the fight between Apple and the FBI over encryption is likely to accelerate efforts to engineer super-secure phones and applications. Jonathan Zittrain, co-founder of Harvard University’s Berkman Center for Internet & Society, said that even a government victory could prompt investment by tech companies in security systems that even the companies’ own engineers can’t access. Reuters says that the case benefits a niche industry that has released phones and apps designed to thwart surveillance. These include phones such as Boeing Co’s Black, that targets government customers, and Blackberry’s Priv, an Android device marketed to corporate clients seeking more security.

Engineering and Public Policy

Brief Filed By Nevada Attorney General Opposes New EPA Rules On Power Plants.

The Las Vegas (NV) Review-Journal  (2/24, Chereb) reports Nevada Attorney General Adam Laxalt filed a friend-of-the-court brief with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit opposing the US Environmental Protection Agency’s new regulations on power plant emissions. Laxalt cited the cost of complying with the regulations and federal government overreach as reasons for filing the brief. However, the Governor of Nevada did not request a filing of an amicus brief in the case and indicated that the Attorney General was merely offering his legal opinion. Consumers’ Research, which joined Laxalt in filing the brief, claims the regulations may cause a 14% a year increase in utility costs and come at a cost of $79 billion dollars to consumers.

Senators Reach Bipartisan Deal On Flint Aid.

In what the Washington Post ’s (2/24, Snell) “Power Post” blog said is “the first breakthrough in the politically charged fight over how to help Flint and other cities that are struggling with contaminated water,” Michigan Sens. Debbie Stabenow and Gary Peters, working with Senate Environment and Public Works Committee Chairman James Inhofe “and a bipartisan group of at least seven other senators,” have reached a deal to “provide funding to help cities like Flint, Mich., replace aging lead pipes that have contributed to public health crises in several states.” The deal would provide “$70 million in credit subsidies for water infrastructure projects, $100 million for subsidized loans and grants to help states with spoiled water supplies and $50 million for public health programs.” The costs “would be offset by rescinding $250 million in loan credits for a program that was intended to help auto companies develop fuel economy technology.”

The AP  (2/24, Daly) reports the “tentative deal” comes after “weeks of negotiations on how to provide emergency aid to Flint.” Currently, “at least 10 senators – four Republicans and six Democrats” – have signed on as co-sponsors. Roll Call  (2/24, Bowman and Akin) said while Stabenow and Peters “originally attempted to attach an amendment aiding Flint to an energy bill…an impasse over offsets stalled that effort.” However, Inhofe “was optimistic that the freestanding legislation would gain bipartisan support.”

Sanders To Visit Flint Thursday. The Detroit Free Press  (2/24, Gray) reports Sen. Bernie Sanders will attend a community forum in Flint on Thursday, marking his second visit to the state in a week.

McCarthy: Energy Industry Emits More Methane Than Previously Thought.

Reuters  (2/24, Scheyder) reports EPA Administrator McCarthy on Wednesday defended her agency’s efforts to reduce methane emissions, noting the US oil and natural gas industry emits more methane than had been previously thought. In remarks to IHS CERAWeek, McCarthy said, “Methane emissions from existing sources in the oil and gas sector are substantially higher than we previously understood,” adding, “The data confirm that we can and must do more on methane. … By tackling methane emissions, we can unlock an amazing opportunity to better protect our environment for the future.”

Scientists Say Global Warming Slowed In Early 2000s. The Washington Post  (2/24, Mooney) reported in its “Energy and Environment” blog that “climate change skeptics and deniers circa 2013” repeatedly cited the idea that “global warming ‘paused’ during the early 2000s,” and “a group of top scientists has just published a paper in Nature Climate Change robustly defending the idea,” saying, “‘The observed rate of global surface warming since the turn of this century has been considerably less than the average simulated rate’ produced by climate change models.” The Post notes that the authors “absolutely do not think that global warming is over or anything of the sort – rather, the argument is that there was a real slowdown that’s scientifically interesting, even if it was brief and is now probably over.”

Elementary/Secondary Education

Girl Day Seeks To Promote Engineering As Opportunity For Girls.

Holly Maddams, executive director of Girls Inc. of Delaware, writes in the Wilmington (DE) News Journal  (2/24, Maddams) about National Engineers Week and Girl Day, February 25, established “to show girls that studying engineering helps them to develop their analytical and problem solving skills and can lead to successful careers in many different fields.” It also intends “to demystify the field of engineering and show girls that they don’t need to be exceptional in both math and science to become engineers.”

Lunch Offers Beaumont-Area High School Students Chance To Discuss Careers With Engineers.

The Port Arthur (TX) News  (2/24, Ball) reports on the Engineering Job Shadow Lunch Wednesday at the Beaumont Event Center, hosted by Junior Achievement of the Golden Triangle and Flint Hills Resources. There were over 180 high school students meeting with “75 professional engineers from 21 local companies.” The students came from nine area schools.

Florida Senate Approves Bill Making Computer Coding A High School Language Offering.

The Miami Herald  (2/24, Clark) reports that on Wednesday Florida Senators approved a bill to “allow high school students to count computer coding as a foreign language course.” If the bill becomes law, it would take effect in the 2018-19 school year. Sen. Jeremy Ring said “We are truly, in this state, pioneering something that I believe will be a very significant trend” calling Florida a “technology leader.”

Science Achievement Gap Begins Before Children Enter School.

The Huffington Post  (2/24, Klein) reports on a study by Pennsylvania State University and University of California, Irvine which found that children from upper class, white families tend to enter kindergarten with a greater knowledge of science than low-income minority classmates, and the science achievement gap grows as grade level progresses. The Huffington Post references the “insidious consequences” these findings could have on diversifying and expanding the STEM field within the US.

Robotics Club Meets Robot Construction Deadline For Competition.

The Beloit (WI) Daily News  (2/24, Crozier) reports on Hononegah High School’s robotics club’s Tuesday night preparations for participating in the FIRST Robotics Competition in Peoria. The students were given six weeks to prepare, which Robotics Club coach Brian Brown says is not a lot of time, but it teaches students to deal with real life deadlines and the stress associated with them. Students were able to meet the Tuesday, midnight robot completion deadline, and they named their robot, Sir Shoots-a-Lot.

Catholic-Run High School Prep Program Hosts STEM Inspired Competition.

Staten Island (NY) Live  (2/24, Sherry) reports elementary school students in the High School Preparatory Program of the Catholic School Region of Staten Island in the Archdiocese of New York attended a robotics competition event at St. Joseph by-the-Sea High School on Wednesday. Students have been preparing for the competition since November 2015 and Michael Consolmagno, associate director of development at Sea says, “our Prep Program gives 7th and 8th graders an advantage by exposing them to curriculum they will encounter on the high school level,” and gives them STEM skills that many college admissions value. Eleven elementary schools are participating in the prep program.

Also in the News

Hired Hackers Easily Accessed Hospitals’ Networks In Test Of Cybersecurity.

The Baltimore Sun  (2/24, Duncan) reports a group of hackers from Independent Security Evaluators recently were hired to test cybersecurity at some of Baltimore’s hospitals and found “flaws that could allow attackers to hack into medical devices and kill patients.” The Sun details scenarios where the hackers were able to “remotely…take control of several patient monitors,” and use a lobby kiosk “to commandeer computer systems that track medicine delivery and bloodwork requests.” The Sun points out that the hospitals tested require more “staff and money to address the problem.”

Wednesday’s Lead Stories

Gates: We Need An “Energy Miracle” To Solve Climate Change.
NYTimes Backs Bill Banning Questions About Drug Convictions From FAFSA.
LLNL Researcher Discusses Difficulties Of 3D Bioprinting.
Florida Legislature Divided Over Fracking Bill.
Panel Highlights All That Women Can Accomplish In STEM Fields.

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