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

Leading the News

Experts: iPhone Hacking Technique Not Likely To Stay Secret.

Reuters  (4/2, Menn) reported that according to several Apple engineers and other experts, the FBI’s method for breaking into locked iPhones is unlikely to remain secret. When the secret is exposed, Apple, Reuters said, is likely to be able to patch the encryption flaw and is expected to announce the fix to customers.

SlashGear  (4/3, Westlake) quotes independent forensics expert Jonathan Zdziarski saying, “The FBI would need to resign itself to the fact that such an exploit would only be viable for a few months, if released to other departments. …It would be a temporary Vegas jackpot that would quickly get squandered on the case backlog.” According to SlashGear, the FBI’s technique is likely to be exposed to criminal defense attorneys in future cases in which the technique is used.

The Huffington Post  (4/3) reports that the contractor who worked with the FBI on the San Bernardino iPhone could chose to sell the hacking technique to another agency or country. “The more widely it circulates, the more likely it will be leaked,” the Post says. “Flaws of this nature have a pretty short life cycle,” an unnamed Apple engineer said. “Most of these things do come to light.” According to those with knowledge of “zero day” hacking techniques, governments often space payments for the tools out over several months in case the flaw is patched shortly after the sale.

FBI’s iPhone Hack Reportedly Linked To Japanese Firm. The Denver Post  (4/3, Yui, Gjorgievska) reports that the Israeli company rumored to have helped the FBI hack into the San Bernardino iPhone – Cellebrite Mobile Synchronization – is owned by Japanese pinball machine maker Sun Corp. “Sun — based in Konan, Aichi, a city of 100,000 and more than 200 miles southwest of Tokyo — has been building pinball-like game machines found in Japan’s pachinko parlors since the 1970s but has often displayed bigger tech ambitions,” the Post says. Sun Corp. acquired Cellebrite in 2007. “Neither Cellebrite nor the FBI have confirmed the link, and a Sun Corp. spokesman on Thursday said the company isn’t able to comment on specific criminal cases,” the Post reports.

Higher Education

As Tuition Costs Escalate, College Endowments Come Under Scrutiny.

The Hill  (4/2, Jagoda) reports Friday was the deadline for responses to letters congressional Republican “tax-writers” sent in February to 56 college and university tax-exempt endowments that are “large and growing” even as the private schools to which they’re attached are “raising tuition at rates above inflation.” Recipients of the letters were “private institutions with endowments of over $1 billion,” The Hill says, explaining that the scrutiny comes “in a presidential election year where the cost of higher education has become a top issue.” Once the data sought in the letters have been reviewed, “lawmakers might propose legislation requiring schools to spend a minimum percentage of their endowments, or impose limits on what endowment funds can be used for,” the story says.

Colleges Look To Address Communication Gap With Job Listing Terminology.

The Wall Street Journal  (4/3, Sussman, Korn, Subscription Publication) reports that there is a communication gap between the skills needs of employers and the colleges producing their workforce. Colleges are trying to use data collected from job listings to align their courses and definitions with the rapidly evolving job market.

Low-Income Vermont Students Less Likely To Use College Voucher Program.

VTDigger (VT)  (4/3) reports that low-income Vermont high school students are less likely to “take advantage of a relatively new program to get them into college classes.” The state’s dual enrollment program “provides state vouchers to high school juniors and seniors to take two college credit-bearing courses.” However, the state Agency of Education “saw several encouraging results,” including rising participation, notably among “low-income students and special education students.”

Experts: Female Engineering Students Often Derailed By Calculus.

The Arkansas Democrat Gazette  (4/3) reports that higher education experts say that calculus “often serves as a wet blanket thrown atop the aspirations of” students, and describe “a gender imbalance in outcomes after Calculus I, when about 1 in 6 women drop plans to continue with a sequence of calculus courses required for most engineering careers, compared with fewer than 1 in 8 men.” Survey results suggest “a lack of confidence among women compared with men.”

Elite Colleges See Drop In Admission Rates.

The Washington Post  (4/1, Anderson) reports that “super-selective colleges” are seeing lower admission rates, noting that Stanford “this year edged below the 5 percent mark for the first time,” while Harvard’s rate is just a bit higher. This decline “reflects the frenzy of competitive admissions,” the Post reports.

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

Carter To Announce Initiative With MIT To Develop High-Tech Textiles.

The Military Times  (4/3, Tilghman) reports Defense Secretary Carter on Friday will announce a “$317 million initiative to develop high-tech fibers and textiles.” According to Pentagon officials, the Defense Department “will help fund a consortium led by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology to research and manufacture advanced materials with broad applications for national defense.” According to prepared remarks “provided by defense officials,” in an event at MIT Friday, Carter will say, “Revolutionary fibers and textiles have enormous potential for our defense mission. … For example, lightweight sensors woven into the nylon of parachutes will be able to catch small tears that otherwise would expand in midair, risking paratroopers lives.”

Cal Poly Gets $2.6 Million Grant For Regenerative Medicine Research.

KCBX-FM  San Luis Obispo, CA (4/4) reports online that the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine has given Cal Poly “a five-year, $2.6 million grant for its regenerative medicine program” which “will specifically be used to create more masters-level stem cell scientists.” Cal Poly College of Engineering spokesperson Amy Hewes “said Friday that there’s a shortage of qualified stem cell scientists in the field right now.”

Researcher Launches Company To Bring Bionic Pancreas To Market.

TIME  (4/1, Sifferlin) reported that “the race is on for what may be the biggest innovation in decades for Type 1 diabetes management – the bionic pancreas – and” yesterday, “one of the lead researchers in the field announced at the Endocrine Society’s annual meeting that he’s launched a company to bring that invention to market.” According to Time, “Ed Damiano, a professor of biomedical engineering at Boston University who is developing a bionic pancreas…has spun his academic research into a company called Beta Bionics,” which “recently…secured $5 million from the pharmaceutical company Eli Lilly, which manufactures the insulin used in the device.”


Tech Industry Demand Expected To Again Exceed Supply Of New H1-B Worker Visas.

The Wall Street Journal  (4/1, A3, Jordan, Subscription Publication) reports demand from American tech companies for skilled foreign workers is expected to again exceed supply when Citizenship and Immigration Services begins accepting applications on Friday for the 2017 fiscal year, which will likely cause the Federal agency to hold a lottery for the H-1B visas.

Global Developments

China Aggressively Promoting Autonomous Cars.

The New York Times  (4/3, Markoff, Mozur, Subscription Publication) reports that China may be moving faster toward the use of “driverless cars” than the US, with “aggressive support from the national and local governments.” One analysis concluded that “within 15 years China will be the largest market for autonomous vehicles.” The Times points out “a number of Chinese companies are working on driverless car technology,” including Baidu, Letv, Uisee Technology, and Great Wall Motors. Still, despite the strong effort in China, “there are obstacles,” including poorly marked roads, a lack of signage, and the profusion of other users of roads including “people, animals, three-wheel rickshaws and trucks.”

Engineering and Public Policy

More Than 200 Current, Former Lawmakers File Brief Supporting Clean Power Plan.

The Hill  (4/1, Cama) reports more than 200 current and former lawmakers “are supporting” the Administration against “the legal challenge to its landmark climate rule for power plants.” The almost all-Democrat group argued in a brief filed on Thursday that the EPA regulation mirrors Congress’ intent when it passed and amended the Clean Air Act. The lawmakers wrote, “The rule at issue effectuates the policy Congress established in the CAA because it is consistent with the text, structure, and legislative history of the act.” The group adds, “Most significantly, it reflects Congress’s considered decision to establish a comprehensive regulatory regime that could address all pollutants, both known and unknown.” The Hill explains the lawmakers “said that Congress wrote a section into the law meant as a ‘gap-filling’ provision so that the EPA could, in the future, regulat[e] pollutants that Congress did not identify in 1990.”

Coalition Of Tech Giants Back EPA’s Clean Power Plan. Reuters  (4/1, Volcovici) reported that a coalition of major US technology companies filed a joint amicus brief filed to the US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia declaring their support for the Obama Administration’s signature Clean Power Plan against legal challenges. The companies, which include Google, Apple, Microsoft, and Amazon, said the rule is necessary to drive a transition to cleaner energy. As large energy users that rely heavily on renewable energy to power their facilities, the companies said that the EPA rule would help all businesses to reap the benefits of clean energy. *

Coal Industry’s Ability To Pay To Clean Up Abandoned Mines Spurs Concern.

The Washington Post  (4/1, Mufson, Warrick), noting that a 1977 Federal law requires coal companies “to clean up mining sites when they’re shut down,” says eroding profitability and debt problems have sparked concerns over whether the industry “can fulfill [its] obligations to rehabilitate vast strip mines in Western states,” many on land owned by the US government, “as well as mountaintop-removal mining sites in the East.” Taxpayers, the Post says, “could be stuck with hundreds of millions, if not billions, of dollars in cleanup costs” due to liabilities incurred by mining companies.

WPost: Fracking-Related Earthquake “Justifies” Regulations, Not Bans.

The Washington Post  (4/1) editorializes the US Geological Survey’s (USGS) recently released earthquake hazard map of fracking-related seismic activity “justifies regulating the industry, not shutting it down.” According to the Post, the USGS findings “lead to a very different conclusion than the one the ban-fracking crowd prefers.”

Energy Department To Lead Investigation Into Alison Canyon Leak.

The Washington Examiner  (4/1, Takala) reported the White House on Friday ordered the Department of Energy “to lead an investigation into the cause of a massive, months-long natural gas leak at a storage facility in California.” Sen. Dianne Feinstein “said she hopes the task force finds reason enough to shut down” the facility in Aliso Canyon. Feinstein met with Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz “on Thursday, who assured her that the task force will work with state and local officials ‘to resolve all outstanding issues, including whether Aliso Canyon can operate safely in the future, in order to protect our people and our planet.’”

LATimes: SoCalGas Co. Balks At State Program To Offset Porter Ranch Gas Leak. An editorial in the Los Angeles Times  (4/3) reports that Southern California Gas Co. has “promised to fully offset the emissions released” from the Porter Ranch gas leak. California regulators developed a program to reduce greenhouse gas emissions across the state with the expectations that the utility would fund it. However, SoCalGas Co. “balked” at the prepared program, arguing that “the mitigation plan is voluntary and the utility will make good on its pledge in any way it sees fit.” The Times agrees that Gov. Brown and the air board “don’t seem to have the right to demand how, where, or when the company offsets its emissions,” but notes that as a result, SoCalGas Co.’s own efforts may “reduce emissions significantly less than community members and environmentalists believe they are owed.”

Elementary/Secondary Education

Hartford High School Hosts Robotics Competition.

The AP  (4/2) reports that forty teams from Connecticut and Massachusetts were in Hartford this weekend for the state’s largest STEM event, an annual robotics competition at the Academy of Engineering and Green Technology at Hartford Public High School. The event enables students “to use engineering and problem-solving skills.”

Michigan Students Disconnected From Industry Needs.

The Detroit Free Press  (4/2, Cain) reports “serious mismatches” between Michigan teenagers’ aspirations and available jobs within the state as surveyed students placed “professional athlete or actor” at the top of their dream-job lists. Experts owe this to higher rates of exposure to stars on TV and social media than to real-world professions, as well as a shortage of internships and development programs offered in local industries affected by the talent gap. The Free Press suggests that increased state efforts on career planning and employer collaboration with local college engagement groups may provide positive results for both students and industry.

Virginia To Implement Career-Focused High School Changes.

The Newport News (VA) Daily Press  (4/1, Fain, Subscription Publication) reports that the Virginia legislature passed a significant overhaul to the traditional high school format consisting of “a pair of two-year sections with multiple paths to graduation” in which intern- and apprenticeships will count toward graduation. Students will have a “chance to leave high school with a certification” of qualification for specific industry work based on local availability, as well as an alternate path for four-year college preparation. Finalized regulations will affect freshman in the 2018 school year.

Girls Rock Tech! Invites Black Girls To “Embrace” Computer Science.

New Jersey Local News  (4/2, Herzog) reports that around 100 young black women attended the first Girls Rock Tech! summit, an initiative from Black Girls Rock! and Google aimed at encouraging diverse perspectives, particularly those from black girls, to improve technology and products. The summit invited high-profile speakers in science and policy fields to share their experiences and offered a coding class, although organizers plan for the program to expand into a broader STEM initiative.

Austin Science Fair Mentors Key To STEAM Expo Projects.

The Austin (MN) Daily Herald  (4/4, Bogott, Haslag) reports that that the Science Fair Mentoring Project facilitated Austin fourth graders’ participation in the STEAM Expo as part of a program lasting several months and including science demonstrations, lessons on experiments and variables, and field trips to science labs, in addition to personal mentoring from community members. 21 of the 46 students who participated will go on to a regional science fair later this month.

Friday’s Lead Stories

Arkansas Career Pathways Initiative Has Helped More Than 30,000 Gain Degrees Or Certifications.
University Of Illinois To Launch Online Master’s In Data Science This Fall.
Tulane Student Develops Nipple Graft Technology.
States Win Grants For Career Preparation Programs.
US Bankruptcy Judge Extends Bankruptcy Protection To Spain’s Abengoa.
FIRST Competition Expects 75,000 Students.
Jobless Claims Up 11,000, Reach Two-Month High Of 276,000.

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