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

Leading the News

Apple CEO Defends Company In FBI Dispute Over Encryption.

Coverage of the dispute between the FBI and Apple over San Bernardino shooter Syed Rizwan Farook’s iPhone continued to remain heavy among print and online news outlets over the weekend. None of the network newscasts, however, mentioned the story.

The AP  (2/27, Bailey) reports Apple CEO Tim Cook received “a standing ovation Friday at his first stockholder meeting since his company’s epic clash with the FBI unfolded,” during which he defended his “unbending stance” toward the bureau, calling it “the right things to do.” However, Cook “offered only brief remarks about the FBI case, and most questions from shareholders concerned other aspects of Apple’s business.” The AP adds that Cook “won praise during the meeting from the Rev. Jesse Jackson and Cindy Cohn, executive director of the Internet rights group the Electronic Frontier Foundation.” The Silicon Valley (CA) Business Journal  (2/26, Elias, Subscription Publication) quoted Jackson as saying, “We applaud your leadership. …I recall the FBI wiretapping Dr. King in the civil rights movement. …We cannot go down this path again.” Bloomberg News  (2/26, King) reported that Jackson said that he and others opposed “unprecedented government over reach.”

The Los Angeles Times  (2/26, Lien, Dave) quoted Cook as saying, “We are a staunch advocate for our customers’ privacy and personal safety. …We’ve been in the news lately, and some of you may have some questions on that. …Being hard doesn’t scare us.” Shareholders, the Times says, offered mixed reactions to the company’s refusal to comply with the government’s demands, with some stating in interviews that they wish Apple would unlock the San Bernardino iPhone.

According to the New York Times  (2/26, Shear, Benner, Subscription Publication), Cook’s position has threatened what associates call “a relationship of professional admiration and mutual self-interest” with President Obama. “If Apple had more of a presence in Washington, as do Google, Facebook and Microsoft,” the Times suggests “the dispute might have been quietly resolved,” citing technology executives. The Wall Street Journal  (2/26, Paletta, Subscription Publication) adds Congress is also carefully watching the conflict between Apple and the FBI, but is unlikely to do much to help resolve the dispute.

In a nearly 1,450-word article, the Los Angeles Times  (2/26, Mather, Queally) explains the Federal lawsuit against Apple and highlights how “police in California and other states have complained for many months that data encryption creates a major investigative hurdle in the hunt for killers, human traffickers, child pornographers and other offenders.” The Times reports the “court battle is being watched closely by police officials around the country who hope a finding in favor of the government could serve as a landmark victory that will set a precedent allowing broader law enforcement access to encrypted data.” In a separate article, the Los Angeles Times  (2/26, Pierson) states that while Apple “has come out swinging in its pitched battle with the” Justice Department, the company “has been far more accommodating” toward China, where it “has censored apps that wouldn’t pass muster with Chinese authorities.” The Times admits that if Apple complies with the FBI, “That could set a precedent for China’s authoritarian leaders to demand the same in a country where Apple has never publicly defied orders.”

Tech Companies Filing Briefings Supporting Apple In Encryption Debate. The Washington Post  (2/28, Nakashima) reports Microsoft, Facebook, Google, Amazon, and Yahoo are among more than 25 tech companies, media organizations and civil liberty groups filing briefings this week in support of Apple’s fight against the FBI’s request that it help unlock Syed Farook’s iPhone. The filings “indicate the level of anxiety” regarding the expansion of what the government can force a company to do in criminal and national security investigations. Meanwhile, law enforcement groups and family members of those killed in the San Bernardino attack are filing briefings in support of the government.

Rival Smartphone Makers Quiet On Apple’s Battle With FBI. Reuters  (2/26, Williams) reported that other smartphone makers have so far kept a low profile in Apple’s dispute with the FBI. Leaders and spokespeople from mobile phone makers Samsung, Lenovo, Xiaomi, ZTE, and LG either declined to comment or would not say whether they supported Apple’s position on encryption. Only Chinese firm Huawei has publicly backed Apple.

Analysts Believe Apple May Move To Make iCloud Inaccessible To Law Enforcement. The Huffington Post  (2/28, Williams) reports that Apple’s recent feud with the FBI over encryption on one of its smartphones may lead Apple to create new security measures to make data stored on its iCloud inaccessible. The Huffington Post points out that, up until now, Apple can retrieve users data backed up on iCloud in the event a user forgets their password or looses their device, which means that security engineers had access to that data, and would, on occasion, be required to turn over a users data pursuant to a law enforcement subpoena. The Huffington Post adds that analysts believe Apple will make the iCloud inaccessible to its security engineers “to wriggle out of future data requests more easily.”

Higher Education

Embattled Accreditor Run by For-Profit Executives.

The Chronicle of Higher Education  (2/26, Waldman) reports that the Accrediting Council for Independent Colleges and Schools has faced significant scrutiny after having let Corinthian Colleges Inc. “keep on operating right up until the for-profit college chain collapsed after evidence emerged that its campuses had lured thousands of needy students into predatory loans.” Noting that the accreditor is facing two Federal investigations, the Chronicle reports that its principals “include executives at some of the most scandal-plagued colleges in the country.”

Chicago State University Sends Layoff Notices To All Employees.

The Washington Post  (2/26, Douglas-Gabriel) reports “Chicago State University sent layoff notices to all faculty, staff and administrators Friday” in what’s described as “a drastic move” as the school continues its fight to remain open without funding from the state of Illinois. CSU President Thomas Calhoun Jr. said in statement the actions taken Friday “are necessary to fulfill our legal obligation and to make necessary reductions so that we can continue running the University in the absence of state funds. It is our sincere hope that the Governor and legislative leaders will do the right thing and provide funding for public universities before these layoffs would have to be executed.”

Writers Differ On Whether Student Loans Should Be Widely Available.

In a pair of opinion piece in the Wall Street Journal  (2/28, Subscription Publication), Sara Goldrick-Rab, professor of educational policy studies and sociology at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, and Neal McCluskey, director of the Cato Institute’s Center for Educational Freedom, sound off on whether student loans should be available at will. Goldrick-Rab says that banks should not restrict loans based on perceived college aptitude, and McCluskey counters that saddling unprepared students with debt hurts the individuals banks are trying to help.

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

Utah State Biological Engineer Develops E.Coli-Based Replacement For Synthetic Dyes.

The Ogden (UT) Standard-Examiner  (2/25) reports that Utah State University biological engineering professor Jixun Zhan “is helping the country take steps away from synthetic dyes found in many consumer products,” having “patented a method to produce a natural blue dye called indigoidine” using “cells of E. coli.” The pigment could replace synthetic dyes which are harmful to humans and the environment.

Gizmag  (2/29) reports that the textile industry is known for producing large amounts of “toxic synthetic dyes,” creating a demand for “less harmful, natural alternatives” such as Zhan’s development. Zhan created “usable quantities” of indigoidine by genetically manipulating E. coli cells. Chemical Engineer  (2/29) and Phys (UK)  (2/29) also cover this story.

Army, Engility To Develop Universal Encryptor Chip.

ExecutiveGov  (2/28, Adams) reports that “the U.S. Army Materiel Command’s Communications-Electronics Research, Development and Engineering Center has partnered with an Engility-led team to develop a universal encryptor for all communications devices used by the military.” The Army said “the Reprogrammable Single Chip Universal Encryptor or RESCUE aims to cancel out the need for numerous cryptographic engine cores to control cost and time spent in the transmission of classified information.” The Army also “said CERDEC expects RESCUE to be NSA-certified and ready for use by September 2017, but stakeholders that plan to use the encryptor can reach out to CERDEC before then.”

University Of Rochester Gets $766K In Research Grants.

The AP  (2/27) reports that the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases has awarded the University of Rochester a $450,000 grant for immunology research. The National Institute of Child Health and Human Development awarded the university a second $316,000 grant to study “how children learn to perform basic and complex math.”


National Science Foundation Launches Million-Dollar Initiative To Improve Diversity In STEM.

Think Progress  (2/26, Raymond) reports the National Science Foundation (NSF) “is asking the scientific community to” improve diversity so STEM “is fully and widely inclusive.” The article explains the NSF “launched a new initiative this week dubbed NSF INCLUDES, a mouthful of an acronym that stands for ‘Inclusion across the Nation of Communities of Learners of Underrepresented Discoverers in Engineering and Science.’” The article adds that while “increasing the share of women and minorities in the STEM fields would likely have a strong effect on systemic wage gaps,” NSF Director France Cordova argues “Diversity – of thought, perspective, and experience – is essential for excellence in research and innovation in science and engineering.”

Industry News

Google Argues Against Steering Wheels In Autonomous Cars.

The New York Daily News  (2/26, Powers) reported that the company is arguing against including steering wheels and gas and break pedals in its self driving cars, claiming the car’s software would “react more quickly and keep people safe on the road,” according to an interview Google self-driving car project technical director Chris Urmson on NPR. However, the California DMV still wants cars to include a steering wheel, gas, and brake pedals and require that a licensed driver be in the vehicle while it is operating.

Google Designing Self-Driving Car Interior. Business Insider  (2/28, Oreskovic) reports that Google is looking to hire “seeking an Automotive Interiors Engineering Lead who can weigh in on industrial design concepts and define all the car’s ‘interior systems,’” according to a recent job posting, indicating that the company is designing the interior for its self driving car.

Boeing Planning Layoffs For Aircraft Engineers.

Reuters  (2/26, Scott) reported that Boeing told employees on Friday that it is planning cut aircraft engineering jobs at the company and may consolidate its engineering units. In an internal memo obtained by Reuters, Mike Delaney, vice president of engineering at Boeing Commercial Airplanes, said that the company is considering whether or not to make voluntary layoffs to those employees, while adding that it would not seek to replace the senior employees who leave. The article notes that the memo comes two weeks after CEO Ray Conner said that the job cuts, which would start with executive and management staff, were needed in order to “win in the market, fund our growth and operate as a healthy business.”

Engineering and Public Policy

Fracking Waste Could Still Be Shipped On Ohio River Despite Coast Guard Proposal Withdrawal.

The Columbus (OH) Dispatch  (2/26, Arenschield) reported the Coast Guard this week announced it would withdraw a contentious proposal to “allow companies to ship fracking wastewater by barge on the Ohio River.” Instead, the Coast Guard said it would review applications to ship the waste on a case-by-case basis, “without much — if any — public input.” Lead engineer Cynthia Znati said the Coast Guard” will not make completed applications available to the public, nor will it notify the public if it approves applications.”

Second El Faro Hearing To Be Scheduled After NTSB Expedition In April.

News outlets reported on the last day of testimonies at the El Faro hearing. The AP  (2/26) reported that Tote Services Port Engineer Tim Neeson testified that the El Faro’s captain knew about Hurricane Joaquin before the ship sank on October 1. The article added that a second hearing will be schedule after NTSB’s expedition in April to find the ship’s data recorder.

The Florida Times-Union  (2/26, Kitchen) added that Coast Guard Capt. Jason Neubauer, chairman of the board and the Coast Guard’s chief of the Office of Investigations and Analysis, said that he plans to have a second hearing around late May but that this would be delayed if the NTSB finds the data recorder.

UAV To Assist NTSB’s Search Of El Faro Wreckage. The Cape Cod (MA) Times  (2/28, Driscoll) features photos of the autonomous underwater vehicle Sentry that will be used by the NTSB in its search of the El Faro’s wreckage in April. According to the article, the Sentry has “an 11.4 megapixel color still camera with titanium housing that can take an image every 2.5 seconds for up to 60 hours and provide a detailed mosaic of the ocean floor.”

Elementary/Secondary Education

Obama Initiative Encourages Students To Visit Labs.

The AP  (2/28, Superville) reports as part of his “effort to encourage young people, especially girls and minorities to pursue careers in the fields of science, technology, engineering and math,” the President “is launching a version of ‘take your child to work day’ that’s focused on America’s science laboratories.” During “National Week at the Labs” this week, “more than 50 national labs in 20 states are opening their doors this coming week to approximately 5,000 elementary, middle and high school students to help spark interest by exposing them to the scientists, engineers and lab employees.” The students “will participate in mentoring sessions, hands-on experiments and other activities.”

West Virginia Lawmakers Delay Vote On Science Standards Due To Global Warming Skepticism.

The AP  (2/26, Mattise) reported that on Friday West Virginia lawmakers voted 73-20 to delay “new science standards related to Common Core” due to “doubt over man’s contribution to global warming, particularly through burning coal for power.” On Thursday, state lawmakers’ discussion “focused on concerns, largely by coal proponents, that teaching the standards about global warming would follow a ‘political agenda’ and an ‘ideology.’”

New England Students Compete In State Robotics Championships.

The Boston Globe  (2/27, Annear) reports on the FIRST Tech Challenge state championships, a robotic completion, which was held at Natick High School and 32 teams from the New England area participated. The Globe says, “Each team was tasked with building, programming, and assembling a working robot capable of carrying out specific tasks and completing challenges inside a set of arenas, or ‘playing fields.’” The competition decided which seven “winning” teams would advance to the East Super Regionals, in Pennsylvania, in March.

Robotics Competition In Missouri For Regional High School Students.

The Rolla (MO) Daily News  (2/28) reports that on Saturday Missouri University of Science and Technology will host FIRST Tech Challenge, a regional robotics competition for high school students in Missouri and Western Illinois. 48 teams are expected to participate with robots they have built and programmed, according to the Rolla Daily News, and teams will earn points by having their “robots climb various ramps meant to represent mountains, pick up and deliver “rescued climbers” to a shelter and resetting rescue beacons at various points.” Winners will compete in the super regional competition in Iowa in mid March.

Fourth Grade Science Project Brought To Life With 3-D Printer.

The Hampton Roads (VA) Virginian-Pilot  (2/28, Connors) reports that fourth-grade teacher Scott Scholtzhauer together with guest Bill McConnell, an education professor from a Virginia Wesleyan College, tasked fourth grade students at Cedar Road Elementary School with using 3-D software to create a fish in an adapted environment, and then, using a 3-D printer, printed the student’s designs. The article says the project encouraged a “civil” science debate between members of the class.

Middle School Students Use STEM Skills To Compete In Robotics.

The AP  (2/27, Guidry) reports, that on February 17, fifteen teams of middle school students from Caddo Parish used computer programming skills to compete at the NSU-RC1 robotics competition by Northwestern State University’s Department of Engineering Technology. The AP says they competed in tests for speed, strength, and accuracy. The AP says “The kids programmed their robots to meet the tasks, incorporating science, technology, engineering and math (STEM).”

Lego Robotics Competition Encourages Interest In Engineering.

The Poughkeepsie (NY) Journal  (2/27, Wilson) reports that on Saturday at the Hudson Valley FIRST LEGO League Championship Tournament teams of students nine to fourteen years old competed with Lego robots. The program promotes participation by underrepresented minorities and girls and had a handful of all-girl teams. The article says, “Each team built a robot from a specific set, with the goal of completing up to 12 tasks, such as knocking over bricks or moving pieces, within a set time limit.”

Also in the News

Tests Reveal Problem With Pentagon’s Radar Blimps.

The Los Angeles Times  (2/26, Willman) reports a new report by the Pentagon’s testing arm indicates tests have shown the Army’s radar-carrying JLENS blimps have “trouble conveying accurate, timely information about potential airborne threats.” According to the report, the problem “could result in some high priority radar targets not being processed and tracked.”

Friday’s Lead Stories

US, Mexico Sign Agreements Promoting Energy Cooperation.
Fed Analysis: Elderly Holding “Significantly More” Student Debt.
Cornell Researchers Make Quantum Dot Breakthrough.
Paid Re-Entry Programs Can Help Women In Tech.
Deere To Complete Significant Expansion Of Engineering Center.
DOE Offers Steps To Fix “Broken” Relationship With Labs.
Houston-Area Energy Education Opportunities Profiled.

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