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

Leading the News

FBI, Apple To Face Off In Court On Tuesday.

Reuters  (3/18, Volz) reported that the dispute between the FBI and Apple will return to court on Tuesday during a scheduled hearing at which both sides will be able to cross-examine each other’s witnesses. The witnesses have given written declarations in briefs already filed in the case, an unnamed Apple lawyer said. According to the attorney, the government requested on Wednesday that Apple employees be made available to testify. Chief Privacy Engineer Erik Neuenschwander and Global Law Enforcement Manager Lisa Olle have been selected by the company. In their declarations, both Apple officials detail what they view as the burdensome nature of the FBI’s request.

Yahoo! Politics  (3/18, Bereznak) reported that the government’s request to hear from Apple officials in an evidentiary hearing so late in process is rare, “and may indicate that the government is ‘uncomfortable’ with its legal grounds,” experts said. It is unknown, Yahoo said, whether Apple will choose to question the two FBI agents who have given written testimony in the case. “The hearing will begin with a statement by federal magistrate Sheri Pym at 1 p.m. PT,” Yahoo added.

In a piece posted to the New York Times ’ (3/21, Benner, Apuzzo, Subscription Publication) website, reporter Katie Benner says that protesters have indicated they will be at the courthouse on Tuesday. “Court officials are saying they expect huge lines to get the few available seats,” she adds.

In a more than 2,300 word article, Bloomberg News  (3/20, Strohm) examines the history of the FBI/Apple dispute starting with the release of Apple’s encrypted iOS 8 in 2014. This dispute, Bloomberg says, may ultimately be decided by the Supreme Court or Congress and could set an important precedent for tech companies asked to cooperate in investigations.

Researchers Find iMessage Encryption Flaw. The Washington Post  (3/20, Nakashima) reports that a group of researchers from Johns Hopkins University have found a flaw with Apple’s iMessage that could allow a hackers to decrypt seemingly secure messages. “Even Apple, with all their skills — and they have terrific cryptographers — wasn’t able to quite get this right,” said computer science professor Matthew Green. “So it scares me that we’re having this conversation about adding back doors to encryption when we can’t even get basic encryption right.” Green led a team of graduate students to expose the encryption bug. “This specific flaw in Apple’s iMessage platform likely would not have helped the FBI pull data from an iPhone recovered in December’s San Bernardino, Calif., terrorist attack, but it shatters the notion that strong commercial encryption has left no opening for law enforcement and hackers,” the Post says.

Apple Disputes Claim It Made “Special Accommodations” For Chinese Government. The Hill  (3/20, Bennett, Williams) reports that Apple is battling claims by federal prosecutors that it has made “special accommodations” for the Chinese government while refusing to assist the FBI in the San Bernardino iPhone investigation. The claims, The Hill says, have “outraged” Apple. “Of course that is not true, and the speculation is based on no substance at all,” said Apple General Counsel Bruce Sewell. Many observers, however, are skeptical Apple could continue to do business in China without making some concessions. “Apple was only able to offer its flagship iPhone 6 in China after convincing Beijing the smartphones met the country’s strict Internet control standards,” The Hill notes.

NSA May See Little Value In Helping Breach San Bernardino iPhone. BGR  (3/18, Smith) reported that though the NSA may be able to crack the San Bernardino iPhone, there may be little value in asking the agency to do so. “Farook’s iPhone 5c was not his main smartphone and people believe that the device doesn’t contain much information,” BGR said, adding that Farook “destroyed other smartphones that could have contained sensitive data.” To hack the San Bernardino iPhone, experts say, the NSA would have to use up “zero-day” exploits that may be helpful in other instances. “Losing [zero-days like that] is so damaging,” a former NSA computer scientist to Forbes. “I don’t believe the NSA would think that this one case would be that valuable especially when Apple already provided the iCloud data.”

Modern History Of Encryption Examined. The Wall Street Journal  (3/18, Zimmer, Subscription Publication) discusses the history of encryption and how it affects the conflict between Apple and the Administration over the concept.

Higher Education

No Consensus In Mandatory Arbitration Rulemaking Negotiation.

The Chronicle of Higher Education  (3/19) reports that ED last week said that college “students who say they’ve been defrauded by their colleges” should “be guaranteed a chance to take their cases to court,” but notes that “after three days of negotiations over a rule intended to protect those borrowers, it’s still unclear whether such a guarantee will take shape.” The piece notes that ED argues that the use of mandatory arbitration clauses, generally used by for-profit colleges, result in students’ complaints being “resolved not through class-action lawsuits but by less-advantageous ‘secret tribunals.’” ED proposed a pair of possible solutions, but after three days of negotiations last week, “no consensus had been reached.”

The Street  (3/20) reports that ED last week “proposed new regulation that would provide relief for people who borrowed federal money to attend colleges or universities that engaged in abusive, deceptive or unlawful practices” by banning mandatory arbitration agreements. The piece reports that for-profit schools “have long used mandatory arbitration clauses to shield themselves from accountability.” The article 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. We heard them and we agree.”

ED May Begin Requiring Colleges To Post Letters Of Credit As Loan Forgiveness Grows.

Inside Higher Ed  (3/18) reports that ED’s debt relief process for former students of Corinthian Colleges is raising questions about how much taxpayers will have to pay to offset the measure. The piece quotes ED official Gail McLarnon saying, “It’s very hard for us to wrap our arms around how much this is going to cost.” Because of the risk to taxpayers moving forward, ED officials “say they want to expand their ability to guard federal money before a college goes under – in part so the feds can recoup from colleges the loans they cancel when institutions close or large numbers of borrowers prove they were defrauded.” Therefore, the Administration “has proposed expanding the circumstances under which the Education Department will require colleges to post letters of credit – essentially collateral that colleges must set aside when officials have concerns that the institution may be unable or unwilling to pay back money it owes to the government.”

ED Requiring Several Schools To Post Letters Of Credit. The Washington Post  (3/18, Douglas-Gabriel) reports that ED “is requiring several schools, including Drexel University and Bryn Mawr College,” to post letters of credit, “signaling that their financial management may be on shaky ground.” Of the more than 400 schools with such letters, 148 are private, nonprofit colleges. “Many are trade schools or small religious-affiliated colleges that failed a federal review of their” finances, while others “made the list for turning in late financial reports, changing owners or mishandling federal financial aid.”

Student Loan Defaults Top $120 Billion Nationwide.

The Detroit Free Press  (3/20) reports that last week ED released new data indicating that 20% of Federal student loan borrowers “have defaulted on their loans,” with some $121 billion in default. Moreover, the report indicates that “40% of all borrowers are not making any payments, and are in some sort of forbearance, delinquency or default.” The piece reports that when ED released the data, it “used it to trumpet the number of people enrolling in income-based repayment plans,” quoting Education Secretary John King saying, “Today’s analysis suggests that the administration’s efforts to help struggling borrowers are having a positive impact. While we see promising signs of progress, we know we have work to do to ensure that every borrower in distress has a clear path to avoid default. And I will continue to fight to ensure that students have access to an affordable education that helps them get ahead, rather than drowning in debt.”

California Community Colleges Seek New Accreditation System.

The Chronicle of Higher Education  (3/20) reports that the Board of Governors for California’s community college system “plans to consider a resolution on Monday that would establish a planning committee of campus leaders to explore ‘alternative structures for a regional accreditor, which will take many years to develop,’ according to a summary of the resolution.” The board is also “meeting with the current accreditor, the Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior Colleges, the ACCJC, to help improve both its operations and its relationship with its members.” The moves are part of “the continuing battle between the colleges and an accreditor that has been widely criticized as too punitive and unresponsive to calls for change.” There are also calls for the system to switch to a different existing accreditor, though this plan would require ED approval.

Critics Concerned New Model For Training Graduate Students May Create Unanticipated Conflicts.

The Washington Post  (3/19, Johnson) reported that a new partnership “between Johns Hopkins University and biotech company MedImmune to train scientists” is raising “questions from critics about potential conflicts of interest.” The program is “the first of its kind” in the US, which provides “a unique and innovative effort to prepare graduate students for the biomedical workforce.” Critics question whether the partnership between two “vastly different” institutions will “yield unanticipated conflicts” given that the merge of an academic and industry focus.

Founding Dean Of Campbell University Engineering School Focusing On Female Students.

The Chronicle of Higher Education  (3/20) reports that as Jenna P. Carpenter, founding dean of the School of Engineering at Campbell University, begins to build a new department, “she is relying on what she learned during 26 years on the faculty of the College of Engineering and Science at Louisiana Tech University, where she was associate dean for undergraduate studies and director of the Office for Women in Science and Engineering.” The piece describes several elements that Carpenter plans to include in the program, quoting her saying, “We want to turn away from the traditional ‘trains, planes, automobiles’ perception to focus on the aspects of engineering that might attract more women.”

NSF Gives Tennessee CC Grant To Recruit High School Students For Cybersecurity Programs.

The Bristol (VA) Herald Courier  (3/21) reports that the National Science Foundation is giving Tennessee’s Northeast State Community College “a $190,000 grant to recruit high school students and prepare them for careers in cybersecurity.” The program “will combine technical, entrepreneurial, and soft skills training to produce well-rounded professionals,” according to a statement from the college.

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

MIT Researchers Develop Autonomous Car System That Foregoes Traffic Lights.

The Christian Science Monitor  (3/19) reports researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, the Swiss Institute of Technology, and the Italian National Research Council “have designed a transportation system that doesn’t include stop lights.” The researchers have used mathematical modeling to “illustrate how vehicles can be installed with sensors that send signals alerting other vehicles how far to stay from each other as they move in a four-way intersection – to ease the congestion at intersections.”

Suer: Big Data Needs Citizen Data Scientists.

In a ComputerWorld  (3/18) piece, Myles Suer wrote “big data is moving out of something CIOs were comfortable experimenting with” and into “something where CIOs expect concrete business returns,” and advocated extending the concept of “citizen developer” to “Citizen Data Scientist.” Suer said that Booz Allen Hamilton’s principal data scientist, Dr. Kirk Borne, “is espousing this notion as well,” partly because recruiting large numbers of data scientists has been difficult.

Navy Scientists Research Treatments For Zika Virus. The Navy Times  (3/19, Gerber) reported the US Navy’s Medical Research Unit 6 based in Lima, Peru is working to develop treatments for the mosquito born Zika virus. Booz Allen Hamilton’s George Weightman, an advisor to the government, is quoted saying that “The military is focused on things that could impact service members wherever they deploy,” which is “a pretty big sandbox to play in.”

Ultra HD, Big Screen Laparoscopy Now Being Rolled Out In The US.

MedPage Today  (3/18, Susman) reported, “Ultra high definition, big screen laparoscopy – now being rolled out in the US – magnifies and illuminates anatomical features, features that may make gastrointestinal surgeries easier,” research presented at the annual meeting of the Society of American Gastrointestinal Endoscopic Surgeons suggests. One surgeon likened the process to “operating within an IMAX theater.”

Global Developments

Self-Riding Bicycle Considered Good Fit For City Bike-Share Programs.

The Washington Post  (3/18, Turner) reports that engineering students in India have developed a riderless bicycle, called i-Bike, whose “hybrid configuration” offers “potential uses beyond its original purpose” of being used by people with disabilities. The I-Bike, which is still a prototype, “can easily switch from autonomous to manual operation” with multiple modes. Its ability to run on “wireless phone networks, using smartphone and GPS technology,” and the fact it can be ridden “to a specific place by sending an SMS text with the location information,” make the I-Bike appealing for urban bicycle-share schemes, the Post explains.

Industry News

Chrysler Pacifica Is Lightest Minivan On The Market.

The Detroit Free Press  (3/19, Snavely) reported separately about how Chrysler engineers made the new 2017 Pacifica 250 pounds lighter than its predecessor, making it “the lightest minivan on the road today” with “a 10% better fuel economy rating” at 22 mpg, by “[using] a combination of high strength steel, aluminum and magnesium at key locations throughout the minivan to either enhance its strength and rigidity or to reduce the weight.” The Free Press noted that “lightweighting” is the “process of analyzing the structure of a vehicle and using lighter and stronger materials wherever possible without compromising safety” in order to enhance fuel economy.

The Detroit Free Press  (3/20, Snavely) profiles Chrysler Pacifica lead engineer Jessica LaFond, who “[turned] down several promotions so she could remain in her job” until the project was completed. The company reportedly “spent $2.6 billion to develop and launch the Pacifica” and is “taking some big strategic risks with the new” minivan, including “dropping the well-known ‘Town & Country’ nameplate” and “banking on the Pacifica to eventually account for the sales of the Town & Country and the Dodge Grand Caravan.”

Engineering and Public Policy

NYTimes Analysis: EPA Facing “Tumultuous Election Year.”

The New York Times  (3/18, Davenport, Subscription Publication) reports it will be a very “tumultuous election year” for the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), which is facing criticism from both Republican and Democratic candidates. The Times says the EPA has always been a “favorite political target of Republicans,” with Donald Trump and Sen. Ted Cruz this year vowing “to eviscerate the agency.” The Times adds that Democrats have also begun to question the agency, with Hillary Clinton and Sen. Bernie Sanders criticizing its handling of the Flint water crisis. According to the Times, “The agency’s responsibilities have never been greater, and its resources have never been so strained.”

Banks Cutting Financing To Coal Industry.

The New York Times  (3/20, Corkery, Subscription Publication) reports JPMorgan Chase joined Bank of America, Citigroup, and Morgan Stanley as big banks that are, “in one way or another, backing away from coal.” Some banks say its in order to address climate change, but bankers also reportedly say that lending to coal companies “is too risky and could ultimately prove unprofitable.” The Times adds that even “more daring investors like hedge funds and private equity firms, which are usually eager to pounce on industries in distress,” are distancing themselves from coal because of the industry’s uncertain future.

USCAS Urges Congress To Fully Fund FY17 Supercomputing Request.

HPCWire  (3/18, Russell) reported members of the US Coalition for the Advancement of Supercomputing (USCAS), which includes Cray Inc., Hewlett Packard Enterprise, IBM, Intel, SAIC, and Seagate, submitted a statement to members of Congress’ Energy and Water Development Appropriations Subcommittee advocating for “full funding of the Department of Energy’s fiscal year 2017 budget request for supercomputing.” HPCWire reported that “there is hope for bi-partisan support” for the National Strategic Computing Initiative (NSCI), and said the USCAS stated that supercomputing is the bedrock of the country’s edge in research and development, is being increasingly challenged from abroad, and that the US government has previously made investments in the nation’s computing industry at critical times.

WPost: Flint Residents Must Be Given Resources To Resolve Water Crisis.

The Washington Post  (3/20) editorializes that “government at every level bears some responsibility” for the Flint water crisis, though the state is “most to blame.” Still, the Post says it would be an “outrageous irony” if Republican lawmakers use the crisis as a pretext to cut EPA funding, especially since the agency’s GOP antagonists “routinely attempt to undermine the agency.” The Post says Michigan must ensure that resources needed both for fixing damaged pipes and for addressing the public-health challenge “will be available for as long as Flint’s residents, who were betrayed by their government, need them.”

Elementary/Secondary Education

Nebraska Student Builds Drone To Help Farmers Monitor Crops.

The AP  (3/20, Moody) reports a Nebraska high school student, after receiving a $1,000 grant from the Nebraska Farm Bureau, “is building a fixed-wing drone to help farmers improve crop production.” The student, Evan Palmer, “also attracted other sponsors who have contributed to the cost of designing and building his drone.” As part of the project, Palmer conducted research into flight systems, cameras, and 3D mapping software, and “envisions his drone being used by farmers to check crop health and make decisions accordingly.” Palmer “said that he plans to make a maiden flight of his drone in late March.”

Alabama High School Career Center Selected As Model For Statewide Programs.

The AP  (3/20) reports that the career center at Carroll High School in Ozark, Alabama, which “simulates workplace environments in seven different industries,” has been selected as the model “for 85 similar simulated workforce programs throughout the state. … In its full implementation across all of the programs next school year, the career center courses are expected to involve industry-indicative uniforms for the students, time entry for them to clock in and out of class, leadership positions – such as managers – for which the students can apply and interview, and soft skills development.”

Most California Public High Schools Do Not Teach Computer Science.

The Sacramento (CA) Bee  (3/19, Reese) reports that even though “California is home to Silicon Valley,” the “large majority of California’s public high schools don’t offer dedicated computer science or computer programming courses.” The state expects about 200,000 information technology job openings over the next decade. But “far more students take art, band, chorus, psychology or French courses than courses devoted to computer science.”

Students Take Part In SeaPerch STEM Robotics Competition.

The Lake County (IL) News-Sun  (3/20) reports, “Hundreds of students swapped leisure for science Saturday at the SeaPerch STEM robotics competition at the Great Lakes Naval Station.” The program “teaches children about science, engineering and robotics by having teams of 5th through 10th graders build underwater remotely operated vehicles (ROVs) with the help of Navy mentors.” More than 450 students “from about 25 area schools and youth groups put their ROVs to the test in the USS Indianapolis pool on Saturday.”

IBM Defends P-Tech’s Success Amid Criticism.

Fortune  (3/18) reported that Stan Litow, president of the IBM International Foundation, spoke with Fortune in defense of the P-Tech schools IBM sponsors to help bring STEM education to under-served communities, saying that disagreement with the program on how to deal with failing students had been resolved by agreeing to address fails on a case-by-case basis, and clarifying that “of the D’s and F’s P-Tech students earned this past fall, just 3% were F’s.” Litow said the 60% of the first cohort are on-target to graduate, and that due to its success, the model is spreading not only in the US, but internationally, with two P-Tech schools already open in Australia.

Friday’s Lead Stories

Cook Decries Government’s Tactics Against Apple.
ED Looks At Curbing For-Profits’ Use Of Mandatory Arbitration Clauses.
Army Pursues Lasers, Hoverbikes, And Nano Drones.
Google Parent Reportedly Looking To Sell Robotics Unit.
New Jersey Officials Blame School Lead Issues On Infrastructure, Old Filters.
Girls Overtake Boys In Intel Science Competition.

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