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

Leading the News

Cook Decries Government’s Tactics Against Apple.

In a nearly 5,000 word article, TIME  (3/17, Grossman) reports on an interview the magazine had with Apple CEO Tim Cook. In the wide-ranging piece, Cook discusses several aspects of Apple’s fight with the FBI, including his frustration over the government’s tactics. According to Cook, not long after the San Bernardino attack, the FBI approached Apple asking that the company create a new version of its operating system to enable investigators to hack shooter Syed Rizwan Farook’s iPhone. When the company declined the request, Cook said he believed the saga may have been over, but was surprised when the FBI obtained a court order to force Apple to comply. “If I’m working with you for several months on things, if I have a relationship with you, and I decide one day I’m going to sue you, I’m a country boy at the end of the day: I’m going to pick up the phone and tell you I’m going to sue you,” Cook said. The CEO also noted that the FBI opted not to file the order under seal. This, TIME says, was an attempt to expose Apple to “the full glare of public opinion.”

Citing the TIME interview, CNN Money  (3/17, King) quotes Cook saying that he is, “seeing the government apparatus in a way I’ve never seen it before.” Cook said he was “deeply offended” by the fact that he found out about the government subpoena from the media. Cook took exception to the FBI’s argument that encryption is causing law enforcement to “go dark” with respect to the actions of criminals. “This is a crock. No one’s going dark,” Cook said. “Information about individuals is ‘everywhere,’” CNN says, quoting Cook.

The Huffington Post  (3/17) reports that Cook accused the FBI of using the San Bernardino iPhone case to try to set a precedent to enable it to win greater access to smartphones. “I think they picked a case to pursue that they felt they had the strongest possibility of winning. Is there something on the phone? I don’t know. I don’t think anybody really knows,” Cook said. The International Business Times  (3/17, Villapaz) quotes Cook that the San Bernardino case is “not about one phone. …It’s very much about the future.”

TIME  (3/17, Gibbs, Grossman) posts the full transcript of the magazine’s interview with Cook to its website.

Apple Engineers Might Quit If Forced To Unlock IPhone. The New York Times  (3/18, Chen, Subscription Publication) reports that with the prospect of the FBI winning its court case to force Apple to help unlock the iPhone of San Bernardino attacker Syed Farook, Apple’s engineers are considering either refusing to work or quitting outright “rather than undermine the security of the software they have already created.” Electronic Privacy Information Center executive director Marc Rotenberg said the FBI’s order “is like asking a doctor to administer a lethal drug.” If the engineer’s quit, hiring them could be a “badge of honor” among other tech companies that “share Apple’s skepticism of the government’s intentions.” However, if they just refuse to work, some officials think Apple could be found in contempt, while others think the company “could incur daily penalties.” Business Insider  (3/17) and Gawker  (3/17, Cronin) also report on this story.

Higher Education

ED Looks At Curbing For-Profits’ Use Of Mandatory Arbitration Clauses.

Inside Higher Ed  (3/17, Stratford) reports that the Administration is “considering banning or restricting mandatory arbitration agreements at colleges and universities that receive federal funding,” noting that an ED negotiated rulemaking panel is considering changes to “make it easier for students to file lawsuits against their colleges, especially for-profit institutions where such arbitration agreements are most common.” The piece notes that last year, ED banned Zenith Education Group “from forcing its students into arbitration” when it took over a number of Corinthian Colleges campuses, and says that the department now wants “to ban or limit arbitration agreements across the board.” The piece quotes Under Secretary Ted Mitchell saying, “The department is working to ensure that no college can dodge accountability by burying ‘gotchas’ in fine print that blocks students from seeking the redress they’re due.”

The Street  (3/17) reports that such new rules “would provide relief for people who borrowed federal money to attend colleges or universities that engaged in abusive, deceptive or unlawful practices.” The piece reports that for-profits have a history of using “mandatory arbitration clauses to shield themselves from accountability – forcing students into secretive dispute resolution proceedings that stack the deck against students and prevent systemic misconduct from scrutiny by regulators.” This piece also carries the above quotes from Mitchell.

King Praises STEM Work At Alabama A&M.

The Huntsville (AL) Times  (3/17) reports that Education Secretary John King’s higher education tour took him to Alabama A&M University on Wednesday, where he “showered praise” on the school’s “work in science and technology.” King took part in a town hall meeting, saying, “I’ve been very impressed by the work Alabama A&M is doing in preparing STEM graduates and particularly their partnership with NASA, which is a multi-layer partnership. So I wanted to try to celebrate that and lift that up. I’m visiting a number of colleges over next two weeks to try to point to colleges who are really creating pathways to opportunity and Alabama A&M is one of those.”

WAFF-TV  Huntsville, AL (3/18) reports that King “met with university administrators in the auditorium of Arthur J Bond Hall, which is the school’s engineering building,” and discussed “A&M’s partnership with NASA and efforts to increase and retain African American students in STEM disciplines.”

King Addresses College Completion At Georgia State. WABE-FM  Atlanta (3/17) reports that also on Wednesday, King visited Georgia State University “to gather research on how to increase college graduation rates nationwide.” The article notes that Georgia State “boosted its graduation rate 22 percentage points over ten years,” reporting that ED last year gave the school “an $8.9 million grant to expand its work.” The piece quotes King saying, “They’ve increased academic advisement; they’ve built predictive analytics so that they can look at how students are doing in their courses, so they could figure out when they should intervene to support their students, and now other universities around the country are replicating that.”

American Colleges Struggling With High Influx Of Chinese Students.

The Wall Street Journal  (3/17, A1, Belkin, Jordan, Subscription Publication) reports that as a result of heavy recruitment of Chinese students, American universities are struggling to handle the rapid growth, while the foreign students are finding difficulty in acclimating themselves to American culture and the American college education system. School administrators and teachers say Chinese students’ lack of preparation and poor English force teachers to change their lectures to better suit their foreign audience, a task they resent. Meanwhile, officials say Chinese students isolate themselves from the rest of campus because their numbers are so high compared to those of other countries.

PwC To Start Paying Student Loan Debt.

Business Insider  (3/17, Insider) reports that Pricewaterhouse Coopers (PwC) will start to help employees pay off student loan debt. The company will launch a program in June 2016 called the Student Loan Paydown (SLP), a benefit that will contribute $100 per month to an associate’s or senior associate’s student loan balance for up to six years.

Computer Programming Boot Camps Becoming More Popular.

The Washington (DC) Post  (3/17, Turner) reports on computer programming boot camps that are growing as a form of quick technical training to secure quality employment. Proponents of the boot camps cite the need for computer programmers, the availability of good paying jobs, and the focused and relatively quick technical and applied training that the boot camps provide as justification for the boot camps. However, others cite the lack of theoretical training, the varying quality among boot camps, and the desirability of someone with a 4 year degree in computer science over a boot camp trained programmer as reasons to avoid the boot camps.

I-Corps for Learning Webinar
Are you an engineering educator with an entrepreneurial mindset (or you’d like to be one)? The ASEE-managed I-Corps for Learning is seeking participants for the next cohort of this exciting project. NSF is holding a webinar this Friday to explain how you can join.

Safe Zone Ally Workhsops
With funding from NSF, ASEE is offering online workshops to become a Safe Zone Ally.

$25K E4U3 Video Contest
The National Academy of Engineering has announced a video contest on Mega Engineering! Most of humankind’s biggest endeavors are mega engineering projects that provide solutions that span disciplines, geographies, and cultural boundaries.

Research and Development

Army Pursues Lasers, Hoverbikes, And Nano Drones.

Military  (3/17, Drew) reports that Mary Miller, the Army deputy assistant secretary for Research and Technology spoke at the US Army’s Global Force Symposium & Exposition on modernization of defense technology. According to Miller, technology officials plan to develop lasers, hoverbikes, and nano drones as part of its innovation strategy.

Orbital ATK To Conduct ICBM Propulsion Research.

Airforce Technology  (3/18) reports that Orbital ATK’s Defense Systems Group has signed a contract to conduct advanced ICBM propulsion research under USAF’s multi-year ground-based strategic deterrent program. This contract will require the company to conduct trade studies and hardware demonstrations to improve ICBM system effectiveness, safety, and reliability.

Alibaba Setting Up Virtual Reality Research Lab For 3D Online Shopping.

Bloomberg News  (3/17, Chen) reports Alibaba is considering using virtual reality technology to “enhance the shopping experience” for its users and has set up a research laboratory to explore the technology and how it can be “applied to its other services, including online games and video streaming.” This marks Alibaba first entry into the “emerging market, which included leading a round of fundraising for” Magic Leap. According to data from Goldman Sachs, Alibaba predicts the “virtual reality and augmented reality hardware industry” will hit $110 billion by 2025.

TechCrunch  (3/17) and Tech in Asia  (3/18) also reports on the story.

Bayer Plans For New R&D Center In Cambridge, MA Biotech Hub.

In continuing coverage, the BioPharma Dive  (3/17, Gray) reports Bayer announced plans to establish a new life science R&D center in Cambridge, Massachusetts, called the East Coast Innovation Center, in an effort to make use of the biotech hub’s resources and connections. Head of Bayer’s US pharmaceuticals division Habib Dable said of the plan, “We want to be a partner of choice in the industry – one that collaborates effectively with not only scientists from the great research hubs in the U.S., but also clinicians, patient advocates and other key players essential to bringing novel medicines to market.”

Pharma Manufacturing Magazine  (3/17) reports the company plans that the center “will serve as a regional hub to strengthen Bayer’s ties to the thriving life science community.”

Industry News

Google Parent Reportedly Looking To Sell Robotics Unit.

US News & World Report  (3/17) reports that Google parent company Alphabet Inc. “is reportedly trying to sell” Boston Dynamics, which has garnered media attention for its humanoid robots. Though Alphabet “bet big on the future of robots in 2013 when it purchased startups including Boston Dynamics,” the firm now “is reportedly trying to sell it because they think its machines are unprofitable – and maybe a little scary.”

Apple Engineers Might Quit If Forced To Unlock iPhone.

The New York Times  (3/18, Chen, Subscription Publication) reports that with the prospect of the FBI winning its court case to force Apple to help unlock the iPhone of San Bernardino attacker Syed Farook, Apple’s engineers are considering either refusing to work or quitting outright “rather than undermine the security of the software they have already created.” Electronic Privacy Information Center executive director Marc Rotenberg said the FBI’s order “is like asking a doctor to administer a lethal drug.” If the engineer’s quit, hiring them could be a “badge of honor” among other tech companies that “share Apple’s skepticism of the government’s intentions.” However, if they just refuse to work, some officials think Apple could be found in contempt, while others think the company “could incur daily penalties.”

Boeing, Airbus Compete For Small Jet Orders.

The Puget Sound (WA) Business Journal  (3/17, Wilhelm, Subscription Publication) reports that Boeing may be edging out its competitor Airbus, as the companies have been competing to win orders for their small jets. According to Saj Ahmad, a chief analyst at Dubai-based Strategic Aero Research, the Boeing 737 Max LEAP-1B engines may be considered stronger than the Airbus A320neo GTF engines.

Engineering and Public Policy

New Jersey Officials Blame School Lead Issues On Infrastructure, Old Filters.

The CBS Evening News (3/17, story 2, 2:15, Pelley) reported the EPA began testing students in Newark, New Jersey after lead was found in the water at 30 schools. Newark District Administrator says the city’s 67 schools “average 82 years” of age and the infrastructure needs to be replaced. Teachers’ union president John Abeigon indicated pictures show some water filters are dated 2012. Abeigon believes district officials pushed replacing the filters “to the back burner because it was not on their to-do list.” Anna Werner reported district officials disagree that the photographed filters were outdated “but could not tell us how many filters need to be replaced.”

EPA Rejects Southern California Smog-Reduction Program As Ineffective.

The Los Angeles Times  (3/17, Barboza) reports the EPA has rejected part of a smog-reduction plan by California’s South Coast Air Quality Management District, saying it has been ineffective in cutting pollutants from oil refineries and other big emissions sources as required under the federal Clean Air Act, and “has allowed some of the region’s largest-emitting facilities to avoid installing pollution control equipment.” Air district counsel Barbara Baird said changes to the program approved recently by the agency would address the EPA’s criticisms. However, the Times says that after Republicans gained a majority of seats on the board in February, it voted to reduce the reduction of nitrogen oxide emissions from 14 tons per day to 12, a move attacked by state legislators and environmental groups, “who say it violates the law and will harm public health.”

Colorado Failing To Meet New Federal Ozone Targets.

The Denver Post  (3/17, Finley) reports, “Front Range residents are failing to meet federal air standards, and state officials on Thursday were fine-tuning a required plan to comply with the 2008 limit of 75 parts per billion of ozone.” The director of the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment’s Air Pollution Control Division Will Allison said the overall air pollution rate is declining but his division will not impose new controls on polluters to meet the new EPA limit, which has been “ratcheted down” to 70 ppb. The Post writes that the state “hasn’t begun figuring out how to comply with the new limit.”

New York Offshore Wind Leases Large But Expensive.

Bloomberg News  (3/17, Ryan) reports that the size of New York’s recently designated offshore wind sites will potentially generate “almost as much electricity as a nuclear power plant,” with more than 81,000 acres and as much as 900 megawatts of generating capacity. On Wednesday, the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management “officially defined the wind energy area, about 13 miles (21 kilometers) south of Long Island,” one of 10 Atlantic sites identified for possible wind development. This area “may be crucial” in building the US offshore wind industry but the challenge will be providing electricity at market rates, given that it’s currently about twice as pricey to build turbines at sea than onshore. The Washington Post  (3/17, Mooney) adds that the offshore wind opening is “a surprising about-face” for the Interior Department who recently retracted “controversial plans to allow oil drilling” off the east coast, representing a “double victory” for environmentalists.

The Houston Chronicle  (3/18, Osborne) reports that although “onshore wind farms have proliferated” across the US, offshore costs can “quickly multiply” and “little has changed over the past two years to make offshore wind more attractive,” according to Swiss tech firm consultant John Daniel. The US government found at least two developers interested in the leases but moving forward on a lease would depend on conditions closer to the actual time of project financing. This article also appeared on the Fuel Fix (TX)  (3/17, Osborne) website.

Ivanpah Solar Plant Gets One Year From CA Regulators To Fix Problems.

The Wall Street Journal  (3/17, Sweet, Subscription Publication) reports that the California Public Utilities Commission gave the troubled Ivanpah solar-thermal plant one year to fix problems and generate the contracted amount of electricity to P&GE Corp. Ivanpah is owned by BrightSource Energy Inc., NRG Energy Inc., and Alphabet Inc.’s Google and was financed with $1.5 billion in US loans, the Journal writes, adding that the extension was granted despite consumers’ calls for PG&E to cancel its contracts or renegotiate with them for better electricity rates.

Elementary/Secondary Education

Girls Overtake Boys In Intel Science Competition.

The Washington Post  (3/17, Reuters) reports that two of the three winners of the annual Intel Science Talent Search were girls, as well as 52 percent of the 40 finalists. This proportion of female representation was the highest in the program’s 75-year history, and Intel Foundation president Rosalind Hudnell commented on the “progress toward closing the gender gap in technology and engineering.”

US Workforce Skills Lower Than Those Of Counterparts.

Education Week  (3/17, Tucker) “Top Performers” blog writer Marc Tucker reports that the National Center for Education Statistics released a report showing that adult US workers placed lower than their counterparts in key skills. According to the data, US workers were average in literacy, “near the bottom” in numeracy, and “dead last” in digital problem solving. Tucker says that because the American workforce knows less than its counterparts but charges more, it is at a “crippling competitive disadvantage. That has economic consequences and those economic consequences are now turning into political consequences.”

Thursday’s Lead Stories

USA Today Investigation: Excessive Lead Levels In Nearly 2,000 Water Systems Nationwide.
CFPB Moves To Shut Down Student Debt Relief Firm.
Automakers Support AI Research At UC Berkeley To Foster Autonomous Vehicle Progress.
Leidos To Sell Heavy Construction Capability To Haskell.
US Opens Up New York Coast For Wind Development.
Kaine Introduces Bipartisan Funding Legislation For High School Career, Technical Education.

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