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

Leading the News

DOJ Drops Legal Action Against Apple After Cracking Farook’s iPhone.

In a move the Washington Post  (3/28, A1, Zapotosky) describes as “stunning,” the Justice Department has withdrawn its legal action against Apple after an outside method “brought to the FBI this month by an unidentified entity” was successful at bypassing the locking function on San Bernardino shooter Syed Farook’s iPhone, USA Today  (3/28, Johnson) reports. In a two-page filing in a California federal magistrate’s court, DOJ lawyers wrote, “The government has now successfully accessed the data stored on Farook’s iPhone and therefore no longer requires the assistance from Apple Inc.” The Los Angeles Times  (3/28) quotes the statement as saying, “Although this step in the investigation is now complete, we will continue to explore every lead, and seek any appropriate legal process, to ensure our investigation collects all of the evidence related to this terrorist attack. The San Bernardino victims deserve nothing less.”

The New York Times  (3/28, Benner, Subscription Publication) says “law enforcement’s ability to unlock an iPhone through an alternative method raises new questions, including about the strength of Apple’s security on its devices.” In addition, it “creates potential for new conflicts between the government and Apple, as how the government broke into the phone remains unknown.” The Washington Times  (3/28, Morton) similarly says it is “unclear whether the surprise ending to this legal standoff will affect future battles over privacy and national security or if the FBI might still seek to use the tactic in the future if agents again find themselves unable to gain access to an encrypted cellphone.”

The Wall Street Journal  (3/28, A1, Barrett, Subscription Publication) says DOJ spokeswoman Melanie Newman indicated that although gaining access to Farook’s iPhone is no longer a concern, the larger battle over encryption-protected technology will likely go on, saying, “It remains a priority for the government to ensure that law enforcement can obtain crucial digital information to protect national security and public safety, either with cooperation from relevant parties, or through the court system when cooperation fails. We will continue to pursue all available options for this mission, including seeking the cooperation of manufacturers and relying upon the creativity of both the public and private sectors.”

While the CBS Evening News (3/28, story 2, 1:10, Pelley) said “at least for now, a major point of contention” between the Administration and privacy advocates “has been put to rest,” NBC Nightly News (3/28, story 5, 1:05, Holt) reported authorities “say the data extracted from the phone is encrypted and will take some time to decode.” Sen. Richard Burr told CNN’s Situation Room (3/28, 6:08 p.m. ET) the data on the phone “is absolutely crucial” to the investigation, but the difficulty in accessing it is “just one example of what I fear we will face in the future many, many times,” in both criminal and terrorist investigations.

On ABC World News Tonight (3/28, story 3, 1:35, Muir), Apple CEO Tim Cook said he understood FBI Director Comey’s claim that accessing the phone was about “14 people who were slaughtered.” However, Cook said, “To place a backdoor in the iPhone, we believe it does put hundreds of millions of customers at risk.”

Higher Education

Connecticut Senators Want Debt Relief For Students Of Fraudulent Colleges.

The Hartford (CT) Courant  (3/28) reports that Connecticut Sen. Chris Murphy and Sen. Richard Blumenthal “want to make it easier for students of for-profit colleges that close amid fraud allegations to get rid of outstanding student loans.” The article cites the abrupt closure last month of Marinello Schools of Beauty “after the federal Department of Education said the school was mishandling federal financial aid,” and quotes Blumenthal saying, “We’re here because of the heart-wrenching, gut-wrenching stories of Marinello students who show up to their classes … and the doors are barred. And they have these huge debts. How are they going to pay them off?” Murphy has introduced legislation “that would increase civil penalties for for-profit schools charged with fraud and use the money to help forgive student loans.”

Educators Pushing Early College Programs For High Schoolers.

Chalkbeat Indiana  (3/28, McCoy) reports on its website that “education leaders in Indiana and across the country are promoting early college high schools that let students earn a diploma and an associate’s degree at the same time.” Unlike dual-credit courses, “which let high school students pick up a few college credits, early college programs target students who might not make it to college without support.”

More Students Pursuing Alternatives To College.

CNBC  (3/28) reports on its website that “in part because of the rapidly rising costs and the ensuing debt burden for many, more would-be college students are discovering alternative occupational programs in industries with high-growth potential like software engineering.” The college completion rate fell to 52% from 56% of students “over the past three years at both public and private four-year institutions, while college enrollment has also declined overall.”

Walker Signs Four Bills Aimed At Improving College Affordability For Wisconsin Students.

The AP  (3/28, Godar) reports Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker “signed a series of bills Monday aimed at college affordability and announced the creation of a student loan debt specialist position in the state Department of Financial Institutions.” The bills “increase grants for technical college students; create grants to help two-year students deal with financial emergencies; require the Department of Workforce Development to coordinate internships with colleges and employers; and require colleges to provide students with annual information about their debt levels.” The AP  (3/28) says in another report that Walker signed the last of the four bills “on the UW-Eau Claire campus.”

More Companies Offering Student Loan Payment Assistance As A Benefit.

The Wall Street Journal  (3/28, Berman, Subscription Publication) reports that more companies are starting to offer student loan repayment aid as an employee benefit in the hopes that it will prove to be a good recruiting and retention tool. While student loan repayment assistance is still a fairly new concept, PricewaterhouseCoopers offers it as a pilot program and will expand it to all employees starting in July. Other companies are following suit.

Engineering Informing Liberal Arts Education
ASEE and education expert Sheila Tobias have launched a series of case studies on engineering habits-of-mind enhancing a liberal arts education.  Funding came from the Teagle Foundation.

Research and Development

3D Printing Leads To Surgical Innovations.

The Sacramento (CA) Bee  (3/28) reports on the use of 3D printing at the UC Davis Translating Engineering Advances to Medicine lab, describing a recent case in which a surgeon treating a toddler with a congenital heart defect “ordered up an exact replica of her heart made of flexible plastic.” The piece reports that “organ models” of this nature “are among the newest medical innovations made possible by the burgeoning, but expensive, printing technology.”

NASA Awards Lockheed $20 Million Contract For Supersonic X-Plane Design Review.

Architectural Digest  (3/28, Peregoy) reports the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) has recently awarded $20 million to aerospace firm Lockheed Martin to “develop a preliminary design review” for a half scale supersonic X-plane that would reduce supersonic boom and could be developed into a passenger jet. Architectural Digest reports in 2003 NASA demonstrated that sonic boom could be minimized through modifications in engineering and design, and hopes that a quieter supersonic jet could revolutionize air travel as we know it.

Microsoft Shows Off “Holoportation.”

Geek  (3/29, Humphries) reports on Microsoft Research’s “holoportation,” an idea that “is as cool as the name is corny.” Geek reports that Microsoft has created a 3D capture camera system that can create 3D images for people wearing a HoloLens headset, positioning “one or more remote people in the same room as real-time 3D holograms and record the entire scene to create a living memory.” The Geek article also includes a video showing off the technology.

CNET News  (3/28, Carey) reports that Microsoft could show the technology more extensively at its Build conference tomorrow.

Engineering and Public Policy

New USGS Maps Show More Earthquakes In Central US, Many Caused By Wastewater Injection.

According to USA Today  (3/28, Rice), a report from the US Geological Survey (USGS) released Monday concluded oil and gas drilling in Midwestern and Western states is causing earthquakes across an area inhabited by seven million people. The report found that seismic activity in Arkansas, Colorado, Kansas, Oklahoma, Texas, and New Mexico has “increased tenfold from 2009 to 2015,” largely as a result of increased wastewater injection rather than fracking. The New York Times  (3/28, Wines, Subscription Publication) reports “the risk of a damaging earthquake in the next year is as great” in the central US “as it is in high-hazard parts of quake-prone California.” The report found that most of the residents affected live in Oklahoma and Texas, and estimated the risk of a magnitude six earthquake to be “between 5 and 12 percent.”

The Wall Street Journal  (3/28, Ailworth, Subscription Publication) explains how the USGS created maps that predict earthquake activity for 2016, taking into account human-induced events. The most at-risk areas for residents are Oklahoma City and the Dallas-Fort Worth urban region in north Texas, according to USGS National Seismic Hazard Mapping Project chief Mark Petersen. In response to this trend, the Oklahoma Corporation Commission has cracked down on the use of wastewater disposal wells, ceasing or reducing operations of about 100 operators. USGS research geophysicist Justin Rubinstein pointed out the projections are based on quake activity near disposal wells, where it is impossible to distinguish between man-made and naturally-occurring earthquakes, indicating the need for additional research.

The AP  (3/28, Borenstein) adds the USGS also reported increased earthquake risk “around the New Madrid fault in Missouri, Tennessee, Kentucky, Arkansas and Illinois.” Rubinstein “said the fracking process itself mostly doesn’t cause quakes strong enough to be damaging, while injecting fracking waste does.” Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin (R) “said the research justifies action taken by Oklahoma earlier this year to cut back on injections.” The article links to the USGS One-year seismic map.

The Washington Post  (3/28, Achenbach) adds that the USGS “said Monday they do not know if there is an upper limit on the magnitude of induced earthquakes.” USGS geologist Susan Hough said in an email to The Post after seeing the maps, “My first thought was actually holy crap, Oklahoma is redder than California.” USGS Earthquake Hazards Program associate coordinator Michael Blanpied explained “fluids injected into the deep wells don’t lubricate the faults so much as put additional pressure on them, driving their walls apart.”

Gizmodo  (3/28, Kleeman) cites USGS seismologist George Choy as asserting, “In general, fracking is still not the major culprit for earthquakes. … It’s certainly not completely innocent, but we have to worry about regular gas and oil explorations.” Choy added that most of the wastewater injection “does not come from fracking, it just comes from regular oil and gas.”

Scientists Predict Pressure On Regulators Likely To Increase. The Houston Chronicle  (3/28, Osborne) provides background on increasing seismic activity in Texas and Oklahoma. Southern Methodist University scientist Heather DeShon explained the challenges associated with predicting earthquake activity, stating, “Whenever you have earthquakes you have a risk for larger earthquakes. … We’ve seen almost everything in geologic history…smaller ones leading to large ones, and smaller ones leading to nothing. There’s no easy trends.” A Texas Railroad Commission spokeswoman “indicated Monday the agency had gotten stricter,” saying that since late 2014 “the agency had only approved 20 out of 47 applications to drill new injection wells.” Yet, the Chronicle predicts “Pressure on the commission to take greater action is now likely to increase.”

According to Bloomberg News  (3/28, Roston), “shutting facilities in some areas has led to a decline in quakes.” The article cites regulations shuttering operators in Kansas and Arkansas that were correlated with declines in earthquake activity. Regarding the rules Rubenstein said, “New regulations, new restrictions on injection have changed the earthquakes. … but for Oklahoma specifically we’re waiting for more data to come in.”

Marines Stand Up Cyberspace Warfare Unit.

FedScoop  (3/29, Mitchell) reports that the Marine Corps Cyberspace Warfare Group “was activated Friday during a ceremony in Fort Meade, Maryland, forming cyber mission teams that will ‘perform both defensive and offensive cyber operations in support of United States Cyber Command and Marine Forces Cyberspace Command,’ according an announcement.” The group “will operate like a more offensive counterpart to the branch’s existing Marine Corps Network Operations and Security Center, which operates and defends the Marine Corps Enterprise Network.”

SOSE&I Director Discusses Synchronizing Army IT Efforts. C4ISR & Networks  (3/28, Rosenberg, Edwards) publishes an interview with US Army System of Systems Engineering & Integration (SoSE&I) director Doug Wiltsie, in which he discussed SoSE&I’s role as US Army’s cyber lead, and its involvement in: information assurance; cybersecurity; positioning, navigations and timing; and various other initiatives.

DHS Cyber Officials Take On New Responsibilities. Federal News Radio (DC)  (3/28, Miller) says DHS “seems to be on a never-ending find-and-replace mission when it comes to cybersecurity experts.” FNR reports that Danny Toler “is moving to be the career deputy assistant secretary in the Cybersecurity and Communications Office after serving as the head of network security deployment for the last 16 months,” according to NPPD undersecretary Suzanne Spaulding, who also announced that “Brian Gattoni, current Network Security Deployment (NSD) branch chief for systems engineering and acquisition, will take over as acting director of NSD once Toler begins his new position.”

Gateway Project May Move Forward Under MOU.

The New York Post  (3/29, Cuozzo) reports on a memorandum of understanding among New York, New Jersey, Amtrak, the US Transportation Department, and New Jersey Transit to create an “interim governance” arrangement until the Gateway Development Corp. is ready to “create a new, two-track rail tunnel beneath the Hudson River between New York and New Jersey.” The Post points out that Govs. Andrew Cuomo and Chris Christie have recently “backed off” their position that the project should be overseen by the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, leading to the possibility that it could be led by a board of “four members — one from each state (likely drawn from the PA), the Federal DOT and Amtrak.” The Post says that in order to start work, “Amtrak and the PA have agreed to split the $70 million cost of preliminary engineering and US Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx pledged to commit resources and accelerate environmental reviews.” Progressive Rail Roading  (3/28) also reports that Foxx has “announced that the department will commit the necessary resources and take steps to accelerate federal environmental reviews and permitting for the project.”

Elementary/Secondary Education

New York Institute Of Technology Engineering Dean Calls For More Computer Science Education To Fight Cybercrime.

In a Fox News  (3/22) op-ed, Nada Marie Anid, Ph.D., dean of the school of engineering and computing sciences at New York Institute of Technology, writes that the White House’s push to improve computer science education comes at an opportune time, given the rising need for cybersecurity workers. Anid writes that efforts to fight cyber crime “all face the same obstacle: a shortage of talent,” and calls for computer science to “become a central component of our education system.” Moreover, such efforts “to ignite a passion for cybersecurity careers should give special attention to young women.”

Department Of Defense Education Activity-Europe Students Compete In Robotics Competition.

Stars And Stripes  (3/28, Svan) reports on “the first district-level virtual robotics competition for elementary and middle school students in Department of Defense Education Activity-Europe,” focusing on students at Germany’s Kaiserslautern Elementary School “who spent nearly 90 hours designing, building and programming robots from LEGO kits” for the program.

Southern Arizona Students To Compete At International Science And Engineering Fair.

The Arizona Daily Star  (3/28) lists students from southern Arizona who will participate in the International Science and Engineering Fair in May. About 1,700 high school students from around the world are expected to compete.

Pontiac, Michigan School Awarded 3D Printer.

THE Journal  (3/28, Meyer) reports Oakland Schools Technical Campus Northeast in Pontiac, Michigan “has been awarded an Afinia H800 3D printer to help promote student interest in the manufacturing industry and manufacturing careers.” The printer came from non-profit SME “in recognition of Oakland Schools’ participation in SME manufacturing and career awareness activities.”

Monday’s Lead Stories

Apple: San Bernardino Developments May End Need For Assistance In New York Case.
ED: More Corinthian Students May Have Path To Loan Forgiveness.
Researchers Develop Breakthrough That Could Lead To Quantum Computing.
India’s DRDO Developing DEWs.
WSJournal Op-Ed: Airline Industry Players’ Squabbles Blocking FAA Reform.
EPA Releases Monitoring Plan For Animas, San Juan Rivers.
Scholars Debate Whether Teaching Algebra Is Worthwhile.

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