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

Leading the News

Apple Unveils iPhone SE, iPad Pro At Cupertino Event.

Apple’s announcements on Monday generated heavy coverage among print and tech media. The event confirmed earlier product rumors, with Apple unveiling the 4-inch iPhone SE, the 9.7-inch iPad Pro, and new Apple watch bands. Several outlets also cover Apple CEO Tim Cook’s remarks concerning smartphone encryption, while others focus on the “predictable” and “underwhelming” nature of the products unveiled at the event as well as of the event itself. The Los Angeles Times  (3/21, Dave) offers a representative analysis, citing negative social media reaction to Apple’s “boring” event and asking why “a company that heralds itself for being innovative” couldn’t “find a way to spice things up.”

In a separate piece, The Los Angeles Times  (3/21, Dave) asks whether Apple’s iconic product launches are in a “need of a refresh” and suggests ways for Apple to “spice things up” such as holding events in emerging markets such as Brazil, India, and Russia, moving the event to prime time, or “partnering with a media company” to draw attention to the event. The article cites Roger Kay, president of research firm Endpoint Technologies Associates, as saying that Apple is unlikely to modify its product events anytime soon “because they have a winning hand, they should keep playing it…They can continue to milk that for a long time.” For now, the article suggests that Apple events will continue to consist of a “highly choreographed performance, starring middle-aged white men in front of gigantic illustrations in a darkened auditorium.”

MarketWatch  (3/21, Poletti) offers a similar assessment, calling Apple’s event “particularly underwhelming,” saying that Apple took nearly 25 minutes to introduce its new products, instead beginning the event with an introduction of its product recycling program, something “that other companies have already been doing.” The article also cites negative social media reaction to Cook’s Siri demonstration involving Kevin Hart, and concludes that “most of what Apple introduced was incremental or seemed backwards, a repeat of older products.”

Chris Taylor of Mashable  (3/21) offers a cynical view of the event, saying that Apple’s new devices indicate that the company is “simply repackaging the same iOS machines in differently sized boxes.” Taylor also sarcastically mentions the launch of the SE, saying that “maybe some day the company will give us the iPhone SSE, a 3.5-inch device for those with extra small pockets and hands.” The New York Times  (3/21, Subscription Publication) offers brief, general coverage of the event. USA Today  (3/21, Cava) also reports.

Apple Debuts 4-inch iPhone SE. Venture Beat  (3/21, Novet) reports on Apple’s unveiling of the long-rumored 4-inch iPhone SE. The article says the SE, “with its straight edges,” looks similar to the 2013 iPhone 5s, but features “guts” similar to those of the iPhone 6s, featuring “an A9 chip, an M9 motion coprocessor, Touch ID, always-on Hey Siri, a 12-megapixel iSight back camera that can record 4K video with two-tone flash and Focus Pixels, and support for Apple Pay.” The SE will run on iOS 9.3 and will also feature support for Live Photos, retina flash is on the front camera, faster LTE speeds, and a “stainless steel Apple logo on the back.” The article quotes Cook as saying that Apple released the SE in response to customer demand, introducing the device by saying that “many, many customers have asked for this, and I think they’re really going to love it.” The 16 GB variant of the SE will retail for $399, with a 64GB version available for $499. Apple will open pre-orders for the SE on March 24, and will start shipping the phone on March 31.

Apple Announces 9.7-inch iPad Pro. Engadget  (3/21, Alvarez) reports that at its Cupertino event, Apple also unveiled a new 9.7-inch version of its iPad Pro tablet. The tablet features a retina screen, Apple Pencil compatibility, 2,048 x 1,536 display resolution, and TrueTone technology, which “adjusts the brightness depending on the color temperature of the light around you.” The new smaller iPad weighs less than one pound, 12.1-megapixel camera with a TrueTone Flash, 4K video-recording capability, and a new rose gold color option. A 32GB variant of the new iPad Pro will sell for $599, while a 128GB version will cost $749 and a 256GB version will retail for a “hefty” $899. The tablet will feature an optional keyboard for an additional $149. The Verge  (3/21, O’Kane) focuses on the smaller Smart Keyboard Apple announced for the new 9.7-inch iPad Pro.

Higher Education

Student Debt Relief Rulemaking Committee Fails To Reach Consensus.

Inside Higher Ed  (3/21) reports in continued coverage that ED’s negotiated rulemaking committee on protections for students who have been defrauded by their colleges “failed to reach agreement on new standards for when federal student loan borrowers can seek debt forgiveness on the grounds that they were misled or defrauded by their colleges.” The panel failed to reach consensus on restricting mandatory arbitration agreements “as well as an expansion of the federal government’s ability to require troubled colleges to post letters of credit.” The lack of agreement means ED “is now free to move ahead with its own plan.”

New York College Pushes Back Against ED’s Letter Of Credit Requirement.

The Washington Post  (3/21, Douglas-Gabriel) reports that New York’s Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute “has a bone to pick with the Education Department,” criticizing ED’s “characterization of the university’s financial management, which was highlighted in a recent Washington Post article.” The Post reports that the school is “is one of 450 colleges the department has required to post a letter of credit assuring the availability of cash in exchange for access to federal financial aid.” The school, like most on the list, failed ED’s financial responsibility test, but college officials “issued a statement on Sunday disagreeing with the Education Department’s judgment.”

Virginia Offering Prison Inmates College Credit For CTE Classes.

The AP  (3/21) reports that the Virginia Department of Corrections “is offering state prison inmates college credit for five career and technical education courses.” The courses “include introductory business, commercial arts and design and software applications.”

Some Colleges Aim To Increase Appeal By Hand-Delivering Acceptance Letters.

The AP  (3/21, Binkley) reports on a “wave of colleges that have started to deliver small batches of acceptance letters in the style of a surprise television sweepstakes.” The piece lists several schools conducting notifications in this manner, noting that “experts say the idea is spreading as schools face tougher competition for students.” The article quotes National Association for College Admission Counseling President Phillip Trout saying, “If a hand-delivered acceptance letter gets a college a leg up on the chance of being able to enroll that student and capture the yield, they’re going to do it.”

Middle Eastern Students Are Leaving Idaho State.

The New York Times  (3/22, Saul, Subscription Publication) reports that Middle Eastern students are leaving Idaho State University because of “discrimination” and what they see as broad accusations of cheating. Saudi Arabia also recently announced that scholarships from the King Abdullah Scholarship Program would be limited to the top 100 American schools, adding to Idaho State’s concerns. The Times says that Idaho State professors have found it difficult to teach the Middle Eastern students because they are ill-prepared for US academic workloads and have been unable to adapt to American culture. The school lost more than $2 million from the 100 students who left last summer, providing “a cautionary tale…of the complexities of integrating foreign students into a campus and a community.”

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

University Of Texas Researchers Develop Method For Eliminating Radio Antenna Reciprocity.

The Austin (TX) American Statesman  (3/22, Subscription Publication) reports that a team of researchers at the University of Texas led by Andrea Alù, “best known for research into a Harry Potter-style ‘invisibility cloak,’” have “found a way to enhance radio antennae by disguising them from the very signals they send out.” Alù says his team has “used deception to thwart ‘reciprocity,’ a phenomenon that causes a radio signal to be disrupted when it bounces back or because another signal on the same frequency hits the antenna during transmission.”

Uber’s Research Partnership With CMU Reportedly Stalled.

Reuters  (3/21, Somerville) reports that Uber’s partnership with Carnegie Mellon University has not resulted in any collaboration, according to faculty and administrators. Head of CMU’s National Robotics Engineering Center Herman Herman said joint research with the ride-hailing company is “not a high priority,” though he added “certainly we are open to it in the future.” Uber gave CMU a $5.5 million gift and originally planned a closer relationship with university researchers, Reuters reports, but hired away a majority of the institutions researchers.

Colombian Researchers Create Breast Cancer-Detecting Bra.

Mic  (3/21) reports that a group of researchers at the National University of Colombia’s School of Electric Engineering has “created a prototype for a breast cancer-detecting bra” which detects temperature changes from increased blood supply to abnormal cells.

Ford Researching Wearables For Improving Self-Driving Cars.

According to TechRadar  (3/21), Ford is planning to use wearable technology to “enable driver-assist technologies to be more aware of the driver.” Researchers at the company’s new Automotive Wearables Experience laboratory, part of its Ford Research and Innovation Center, are working on ways to “link vital health information to in-vehicle technologies.” According to Ford global manager for vehicle design and infotronics Gary Strumolo, wearables could provide “more accurate biometric data to stream continuously and alert active driver-assist systems to become more sensitive if the driver shows signs of compromised health or awareness.”

Industry News

Yahoo Partners With Google, Microsoft, Others To Publish New Email Security Standard.

PC World  (3/21, Constantin) reports that Yahoo is partnering with Google, Microsoft and other tech companies to “improve the security of email traffic traversing the Internet.” Engineers from these companies have created the SMTP Strict Transport Security mechanism, which will allow email providers to define rules and polices “for establishing encrypted email communications,” reports PC World, adding that a draft was published last week for “consideration as an Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF) standard.”

Additional coverage is provided by ZDNet  (3/21) and MediaPost  (3/21).

Report Shows Shipping Industry May Be At Risk Of Cybercrime.

The Guardian (UK)  (3/21, Duncan) reports a study by Allianz called the “2016 Safety and Shipping review” shows that the shipping industry may need to protect itself against “the potential risk of pirates using cybercrime to target vessels.”

Colorado Plans To Create Cybersecurity Center. The Business Journals  (3/21, Hoover) reports Colorado has “plans to create the National Cybersecurity Intelligence Center, which will try to further commercialize cutting-edge research on cybersecurity ideas, and serve as a rapid-response center for businesses that are hacked.” The Business Journals adds that Colorado is a “leader in the cybersecurity industry,” utilizing private and public sector cooperation, and “strong cyber programs” at Colorado universities.

Engineering and Public Policy

McConnell Tells Governors To Stop Working To Comply With Clean Power Plan.

In a letter to the nations governors Monday, Senate Majority Leader McConnell told state officials “to stop their work toward complying with the Obama Administration’s climate change rule for power plants,” The Hill  (3/21, Cama) reported. In the letter, which was sent through the National Governors Association, McConnell said the Supreme Court’s decision to stop the Clean Power Plan “validated his earlier advice for states to ignore the regulation and not try to comply.” McConnell wrote, “This is precisely why I suggested a ‘wait-and-see’ approach with respect to the CPP last year. … ,Given the Supreme Court’s recent stay of the CPP and the painful lessons of [the mercury and air toxics standards], ‘wait-and-see’ remains the most responsible approach today.”

Court Denies Conservative Group’s Brief Arguing “Collusion” Invalidates Clean Power Plan.

The Hill  (3/21, Cama) reports that the Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit has denied the conservative Energy and Environment Legal Institute’s request to file its own argument in the legal case against the Clean Power Plan. E&E Legal wanted to present the argument that the EPA “improperly colluded with environmental lobbyists in formulating the Clean Power Plan” and invalidating the regulations. E&E Legal is still participating in the litigation with other groups, but it isn’t allowed to file its own separate brief.

Transition To Natural Gas-Fired Power Happening More Quickly Than Anticipated.

The Washington Post  (3/21, Mooney) reports that according to recent EIA data, in 2016 “natural gas is expected to supplant coal as the No. 1 source of electricity in the United States.” The projection says natural gas will make up 33.4% of power, while coal will contribute just 32%. In its March Short-Term Energy Outlook the EIA said, “This would be the first time that natural gas has generated more power than coal on an annual basis.” Although this transition to natural gas has been occurring over several years, the rapid shift “has taken everyone by surprise,” including the EPA, who in its Clean Power Plan issued last year “projected that natural gas would hit 33 percent of generation and that coal would sink to 27 percent, in 2030 under the policy.”

CA Communities Take Over Electricity Purchasing, Favor Green Energy.

The Sacramento (CA) Bee  (3/21, Ortize) reports that two local governments, Yolo County and the city of Davis, follow other California communities in unanimously voting for a “Community Choice Energy program” which forms a joint power authority to buy electricity on the wholesale market, “with the hope of getting less expensive energy from greener sources.” The program kicks off March 2017 but allows residents to “opt out and continue purchasing power through PG&E.” PG&E received approval to double monthly exit fees “to allow the utility to recoup the possible financial loss,” according to Public Utilities Commission Spokeswoman Terri Prosper, adding that “it was only fair that the customers of the (community choice energy programs) who were bundled utility customers when the utility entered into long-term commitments…should still pay their fair share of those contract costs, and not allow costs to shift to the remaining bundled customers.”

US Regulators Evaluates 800-Megawatt California Wind Farm.

Bloomberg News  (3/21, Eckhouse) reports that the US Bureau of Ocean Energy Management determined Monday that Trident Winds LLC is qualified to develop the first offshore wind farm in California and now looks to initiate the lease area’s bidding process if other companies are also interested. The proposed 800-megawatt wind farm could be the twelfth commercial wind lease awarded by BOEM, joining the 11 other previously awarded leases along the Atlantic coast.

Elementary/Secondary Education

Austin, Texas Elementary To Add Launch Program.

The Odessa (TX) American  (3/21, Campbell) reports that “with a financial boost from Chevron, students at the elementary and middle school levels are getting an infusion of new engineering materials and, at Zavala Elementary” in Austin, Texas, the Launch program, part of Project Lead The Way, “will take off this fall.” Principal Amanda Warber said that having Launch “will be almost like having a STEM academy because it has math and science components that reinforce the academics.”

Women Hold Fewer Than 25% Of STEM Jobs.

US News & World Report  (3/21, Kendall) reports that according to statistics from Million Women Mentors, “women hold fewer than 25 percent of jobs in STEM fields” despite comprising 47% of the workforce. Experts say “there is strong connection between the number of female mathematics and science high school teachers and the number of schoolgirls who choose a STEM-related major and graduate with a college degree in a STEM field.”

Arkansas Surpasses Texas In High School Computer Science.

The Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette  (3/20, Fanney) reports that though Texas “was the first state to require that all high schools teach computer science,” Arkansas “catapulted ahead in the past year after a mandate from the governor backed by millions in funding, said state and national advocates.” Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson has “made computer coding a state priority,” pushing a bill to “provide funding for teacher training and to mandate that high schools offer the courses. It also requires that the classes count as math or science credits instead of an elective.”

Monday’s Lead Stories

FBI, Apple To Face Off In Court On Tuesday.
No Consensus In Mandatory Arbitration Rulemaking Negotiation.
MIT Researchers Develop Autonomous Car System That Foregoes Traffic Lights.
Self-Riding Bicycle Considered Good Fit For City Bike-Share Programs.
Chrysler Pacifica Is Lightest Minivan On The Market.
NYTimes Analysis: EPA Facing “Tumultuous Election Year.”
Nebraska Student Builds Drone To Help Farmers Monitor Crops.

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