Leading the News
Rosselló Announces Cancellation Of Whitefish Energy Contract.
On Sunday, Puerto Rico Gov. Ricardo Rosselló announced the cancellation of energy firm Whitefish Energy’s contract with the Puerto Rico Electrical Power Authority. On ABC World News Tonight (10/29, story 5, 2:00, Llamas), Victor Oquendo reported on the “shock announcement from the governor.” Rosselló: “I have asked the board of the power authority to invoke the cancellation clause in the contract immediately.” Oquendo: “That contract with Whitefish Energy could soon be scrapped after the revelations the Montana power company had just two employees when it was awarded a massive $300 million contract to restore power across the island,” and that Interior Secretary Zinke “hails from the same town the company is based in.” Politico (10/29, Wilhelm) reports that Zinke said on Friday that he had “‘absolutely nothing to do’ with the awarding of the contract to Whitefish.”
On the CBS Weekend News (10/29, story 4, 2:00, Quijano), David Begnaud reported, “Three hours after the governor’s surprise announcement, Ricardo Ramos, head of the Puerto Rico Electrical Power Authority, announced that the contract will be canceled, but only after Whitefish completes its current work.” Ramos: “It becomes effective in 30 days.” Begnaud: “So far, Ramos says Whitefish has been paid nearly $11 million, and there is another $9.8 million payment that is pending.” The AP (10/29, Coffey, Levin, Fieser) reports that Rosselló also “said that Whitefish will continue with current work, but the contract would then be scrapped – leading to delay of 10 to 12 weeks in completing the work.”
On NBC Nightly News (10/29, story 2, 2:35, Snow), Gabe Gutierrez reported that Whitefish Energy CEO Andy Techmanski said that he “had nothing to hide. … You used LinkedIn to get a $300 million contract?” Techmanski: “LinkedIn’s going love this, but yeah.” Gutierrez: “He strongly denies that [Zinke] or anyone else in the Trump Administration had anything to do with the contract. Still, FEMA said it had significant concerns and never reviewed the document, despite wording that suggested otherwise. … Techmanski says that language wasn’t supposed to be there and had been deleted from an amended version of the contract.”
USA Today (10/29, Gomez) reports, “Democrats and Republicans in Congress have called for investigations, and last week…Rosselló requested that the inspector general of the Department of Homeland Security look into the contract.” The Wall Street Journal (10/29, Scurria, Subscription Publication) reports that Sens. Maria Cantwell and Ron Wyden have also asked the US Comptroller General to investigate the use of public money under the Whitefish contract. The New York Times (10/29, Robles, Caron, Subscription Publication) reports, “Critics have raised questions about why the power authority opted not to request aid from mainland utilities after Hurricane Maria struck the territory.”
The Washington Post (10/29, Mufson) reports that Rosselló’s statements have “added to the confusion about the oversight of the utility and the commonwealth, both of which are bankrupt. A financial oversight board Congress created for Puerto Rico is planning to ask a federal court this week for clear authority to examine contracts as small as $10 million,” and a federal judge “is overseeing the restructuring of Puerto Rico’s more than $70 billion in debts.”
Before the announcement, San Juan Mayor Carmen Yulín Cruz was asked on MSNBC’s AM Joy (10/29) if she supported a cancellation. Cruz said, “Yes, I called for that last week. There were too many questions. It was evident that this company did not have everything that was required to complete the mission that it has to do in Puerto Rico.”
Sources: DeVos Considering Only Partial Relief For Students Defrauded By For-Profits.
The AP (10/28) reports that according to unnamed ED officials, Education Secretary Betsy DeVos “is considering only partially forgiving federal loans for students defrauded by for-profit colleges…abandoning the Obama administration’s policy of erasing that debt.” The sources say DeVos “is working on a plan that could grant such students just partial relief” and “may look at the average earnings of students in similar programs and schools to determine how much debt to wipe away.” Such a policy, the AP reports, “could leave many students scrambling after expecting full loan forgiveness, based on the previous administration’s track record.”
Collins: DeVos Showing Favoritism To For-Profit Colleges.
In her New York Times (10/27, Collins, Subscription Publication) column, Gail Collins contends that DeVos has hired a number of advisers with backgrounds at for-profit colleges as the Department of Education under her leadership eases up on the industry.
WPost: Jealous’ Free Tuition Proposal Is Misguided And Reckless.
The Washington Post (10/29) editorializes that Maryland gubernatorial candidate Ben Jealous’ stated goal to provide “free tuition for Marylanders who attend public universities, colleges and community colleges” is a craven political strategy and will be a potentially reckless piece of legislation if it ever advances to that stage. The Post calls Jealous “irresponsible” for floating the idea when a similar bill to provide free community college for 40,000 Maryland students failed this year because it was considered to be unaffordable, even though Jealous’ proposal would likely cost hundreds of millions of dollars more annually if it came to fruition. The Post goes on to assert that Jealous’ proposal could “amount to a gigantic giveaway for thousands of well-off families” with children who attend one of the state’s expensive four-year universities. The Post argues that the money that would be earmarked for this “giveaway” could be better spent on “K-12 schools, parks or mental-health care.”
University Of Arkansas, Fayetteville To Construct Dorm With Timber.
The AP (10/29, Adame) reports the University of Arkansas, Fayetteville’s proposed “202,000-square-foot Stadium Drive Residence Hall, which will consist of two halls connected by a ground-level common area, is the first U.S. campus housing project built using what’s known as cross-laminated timber, industry experts said.” Using timber instead of steel framing and concrete will add $1.3 million to the estimated $79 million project. University officials maintain the alternative construction method could boost the state’s timber industry, and it has been “hailed as having benefits that include increased environmental sustainability.” Elizabeth Stokes, an assistant professor in Mississippi State University’s sustainable bio-products department, received federal grants to “study how termites affect cross-laminated timber compared with other materials.” She called the project “basically real-time investigative science.” The AP notes the safety of such “cross-laminated timber in a fire is not unanimously agreed to be as good as concrete and steel, but those who work with it describe intensive testing and good fire resistance.”
Former University Of Iowa Student Accused Of “High-Tech Cheating Scheme.”
The AP (10/28) reported 22-year-old Trevor Graves, a Colorado native and former University of Iowa wrestler, was arrested Tuesday in Denver on federal charges of “intentionally accessing a computer without authorization to obtain information, and knowingly transmitting a computer program to cause damage.” Graves allegedly carried out the “high-tech cheating scheme” by “secretly installing devices known as keyloggers in computers in university classrooms and labs that allowed him to record what his professors typed, including their credentials to log in to university grading and email systems, according to the FBI.” Graves also allegedly “changed his grades more than 90 times over a 21-month period, and changed grades on numerous occasions for at least five other students.” He was “released on bond pending an initial court appearance Thursday in Iowa,” and faces a maximum sentence of 10 years in prison.
University Of Wisconsin-Madison Introduces Electro-Acoustic Research Space.
The AP (10/28, Lorenzsonn) reported University of Wisconsin-Madison Mead Witter School of Music horn professor Daniel Grabois founded the school’s “new $161,000 Electro-Acoustic Research Space – EARS for short.” The center and its collection of “keyboards, speakers, microphones, pedals and all kinds of high-tech gizmos” was “financed by the Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation with the support of the vice chancellor for research and graduate education.” The purpose of EARS “is to facilitate innovative and creative research that harnesses electronic audio – sounds that have been generated by machines, or transformed by them in some way.” While “The field of electro-acoustics has fundamentally shaped music for the last century,” academic institutions, including the University of Wisconsin-Madison, “often lack electro-acoustic music in their research or curriculum, said Grabois.”
Research and Development
University Of Delaware Breaks Ground On New Biopharmaceutical Research Facility.
The Delaware Business Tiimes (10/25) reports, “The University of Delaware’s STAR Campus on Monday broke ground on the new Biopharmaceutical Innovation Building.” The research facility, scheduled to open in 2020, “will feature state-of-the-art laboratories and serve as the headquarters for the National Institute for Innovation in Manufacturing Biopharmaceuticals (NIIMBL), which works to advance the industry and develop the next generation of workers.”
The Philadelphia Business Journal (10/24, Subscription Publication) reports that university officials “say they want the institution to be a leader of the biopharmaceutical industry in the United States.” The facility “will be a hub for researchers to advance the biopharmaceutical industry and for students in the field to learn from experts.”
“Mystery Object” May Be First Interstellar Visitor Observed From Earth.
Reuters (10/27, Whitcomb) reported that “mystery object” A/2017 U1, a small asteroid or comet spotted by astronomers earlier this month, may be the first confirmed interstellar object spotted in the solar system. NASA JPL Near Earth Object Studies Manager Paul Chodas said, “It’s long been theorized that such objects exist – asteroids or comets moving around between the stars and occasionally passing through our solar system – but this is the first such detection.” A/2017 U1 “quickly stood out for scientists because of its extreme orbit, coming from the direction of the constellation Lyra, almost directly above the elliptical plane where the planets and other asteroids orbit the sun.” NASA JPL Navigation Engineer Davide Farnocchia said that “we can say with confidence that this object is on its way out of the solar system and not coming back.” If the object is confirmed as the first interstellar object spotted from Earth, NASA scientists said that naming rules will need to be established by the International Astronomical Union.
NASA Twins Study Releases New Findings On Gene Activity.
PBS NewsHour (10/28, Shivni) reported on new findings from NASA’s Twins Study, which examines spaceflight’s biological and genetic effects by studying data collected from identical twins Scott and Mark Kelly, active and former NASA astronauts, respectively. The year-long study compared terrestrial data on Mark Kelly with data collected from Scott Kelly, who recently returned from a year-long mission aboard the ISS. Researchers “discovered an increase in Scott’s methylation rate, a process that turns gene activity on and off.” Twins Study Principal Investigator Chris Mason said, “There are over 50,000 genes in the human genome, and when floating in zero gravity, the body is trying to manage that situation in new ways. Both DNA and RNA were found to express genes in order to compensate for a lifestyle in space.” Researchers plan to use “tools such as CRISPR-Cas9 and other genetic engineering methods to prevent methylation from causing detrimental genetic effects. They’re also looking at ways to use these same tools after the fact to repair damaged or disrupted cells, Mason added.”
Armies Eye Robotic, Unmanned Systems For Future Capabilities.
The Wall Street Journal (10/29, Wall, Subscription Publication) reports that militaries around the world are increasingly looking at unmanned vehicles to supplement traditional capabilities. US Army Tank Automotive Research Development and Engineering Center Associate Director for Ground Vehicle Robotics Kevin Mills said that the Penatgon has experienced a sharp rise in US military interest in unmanned systems. Self-driving cars are cited as one factor in driving down the cost of sensors required to guide autonomous ground vehicles across a battlefield. The US Army’s Wingman system is highlighted, which is an autonomous version of the service’s Humvee and planned for demonstration within the next three years. British Army Head of Capabilities Maj. Gen. Chris Tickell said that the British Army is firmly committed to robotics and autonomous systems in its future plans, while Australian Army Head of Land Capabilities said that autonomous systems have great promise for smaller armies, who can partner their soldiers with the systems as a force multiplier.
Iowa Company May Become First To Receive FDA Approval For AI-Based Diabetes Diagnostic Technology.
The Cedar Rapids (IA) Gazette (10/29, Miller) reports IDx, an Iowa City-based medical diagnostics business tied to a University of Iowa research center and founded by a faculty member, “soon could make history” if the FDA clears its diabetic retinopathy “artificial intelligence-based diagnostic device.” The company is seeking approval next year, and if approved, the device “could preserve the vision of countless diabetes patients, save millions in health care costs, equip primary care providers with a relatively easy-to-use tool and pave the way for future technology like it.” The National Institutes of Health is noted for contributing nearly $7 million in grant funding for research on the device.
USA Today Analysis: Tesla Poised To Dominate China’s EV Market.
USA Today (10/29, Lesage) reports Tesla last week “confirmed that it’s been in talks with the Chinese government to set up shop in a free trade zone in the Shanghai region.” USA Today says the report “confirms rumors and think pieces” about the company’s agenda to build its own factory in the “new energy vehicle” market. While it is “not yet clear if an agreement has been made,” Tesla would be the first foreign automaker to build cars in China without a joint venture with a Chinese manufacturer.
Volkswagen Engineers Told Management About Full Extent Of Emissions Cheating Sooner Than Revealed.
Reuters (10/27, Sheahan) cited Der Spiegel in reporting Friday that Volkswagen engineers “told top managers that diesel emissions manipulations went far beyond issues in the United States two days before the carmaker made a public announcement to that effect in 2015.”
Apple Fires Engineer Who Let Vlogger Daughter Show Off iPhone X.
Business Insider (10/29, Gilbert) reports that Apple has fired an engineer named Ken Bauer who allowed his daughter, YouTube vlogger Brooke Amelia Peterson, to feature a new iPhone X that he gave her in a video that she posted last week. Peterson claimed in a new video posted over the weekend that the original video “was removed at the request of Apple.” Apple did not respond to a request for comment.
Additional coverage was provided by AppleInsider (10/28, Campbell).
Engineering and Public Policy
FERC Chairman: Coal, Nuclear Power More Reliable Than Natural Gas.
Bloomberg News (10/27, Traywick) reports that during a roundtable discussion on Friday, Neil Chatterjee, the chairman of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, revealed he agrees with Energy Secretary Perry “that coal and nuclear power are more reliable than other energy sources.” Chatterjee asserted “coal and nuclear ‘are firm, non-interruptible fuel sources’ that are more resilient to extreme-weather events than fuels which must be obtained off site such as natural gas.” According to Bloomberg, Chatterjee’s “comments may put him at odds with the organizations that he regulates as FERC evaluates Perry’s proposal” to change how energy is priced.
Appellate Court Order Halts EPA Rule On Emissions For Big Trucks.
The Hill (10/27, Cama) reports the US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia issued an order Friday stopping the “implementation of a portion” of an EPA rule establishing “emissions-reduction standards for big trucks’ trailers,” aimed at reducing drag that affects their engines’ fuel economy.
USA Today Weighs Administration’s Approach To Clean Power Plan.
USA Today (10/29) editorializes that the Trump Administration’s recent focus on “gutting the Clean Power Plan…demonstrates sheer contempt for laws governing clean air and the benefits of environmental regulation.” The editorial board describes the advances that the renewable energy industry has made recently, even in the wake of President Trump’s decision to remove the US from the Paris climate agreement. USA Today asserts that, while the Clean Power Plan or something similar could still survive the attempted dismantling, it “might take years or bureaucratic and legal wrangling” while our planet continues to grow warmer.
Karen Harbert, CEO of the US Chamber of Commerce’s Global Energy Institute, asserts in USA Today (10/29) that the “fundamental flaw” of the Clean Power Plan “was that it would have intentionally raised the cost of energy without regard to the impact on families and businesses.” Harbert opines that we should be seeking to make every form of energy more affordable and cleaner, rather than relying on mandates from Washington. Harbert does concede that “the US Chamber of Commerce believes that the climate is changing, and that man is contributing to these changes.”
Devils Lake, North Dakota Working On Plans For UAS Park.
The Bismarck (ND) Tribune (10/29, Baumgarten) reports Devils Lake, North Dakota officials are working “with engineers to develop a concept for a UAS park” near the Devils Lake Regional Airport, “one of 50 airports across the country chosen by the Federal Aviation Administration to be given automated authorization to fly unmanned aircraft, also known as drones, in controlled airspace.”
Energy Industry Cites Questionable Studies In Push Against Ohio Renewable Power.
The Inside Climate News (10/29, Wieners, Hasemyer) reports that the Ohio state House voted to gut “a 2008 law designed to speed the adoption of solar and wind as significant sources of electricity in the state.” Part of the reason is that, “as fossil fuel interests mobilized at the national level to fight proposals to mitigate climate change that would undercut their profits, they made Ohio a priority for fighting clean energy policy at the state level.” The industry donated to anti-renewable energy politicians. It also touted “questionable research” produced by Industry-supported think tanks “purporting to show big job losses.” One such study was commissioned by the Energy and Environment Legal Institute, which “receives funding from Peabody Energy and Arch Coal, the two largest suppliers of coal in the United States.” The Beacon Hill Institute, which produced the study, used “an economic model that ignored the rapidly declining cost of electricity generated by wind and solar.” Beacon Hill lost its affiliation with Boston’s Suffolk University “because, a university spokesman told The Boston Globe, its research lacked rigor and tended to reach conclusions sought by its underwriters.”
Mississippi State Official Advocates For STEM-Based Curriculum.
Mississippi Central District Public Service Commissioner Cecil Brown, in a piece for the Hattiesburg (MS) American (10/29), says while Mississippi state policymakers worry “about finding abundant, high-quality jobs that are critical to healthy economic growth,” company leaders “are scrambling to find qualified applicants to meet the growing demand.” Brown says “the development of STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) education” bridges that gap, which he credits to both a large number of jobs requiring “a basic understanding of STEM,” and a shortage of Mississippi college students who “go on to earn a STEM-related degree.” He argues that “a STEM-based education can help open career doors to students who traditionally find them closed,” adding that “it’s never too early or too late to prepare for a rewarding STEM-based job in the utility industry.”
New Mexico State University Receives Grant For Cyber Infrastructure High School Program.
The Las Cruces (NM) Sun-News (10/28) reported the National Science Foundation awarded New Mexico State University a more than $460,000, three-year cyber infrastructure training grant to “help local high school students gain experience on how information technology is integrated into various disciplines to help them be better informed and skilled when they choose a career.” NMSU, one of only 12 universities to receive such a grant, will apply the funds toward the “Cyber Infrastructure Training and Mentoring (CI-TraM) program.” Through CI-TraM, as many as 50 students per year will receive training and mentorship, and “spend seven hours a week for two semesters at NMSU’s Computer Center as a job site to learn not only technology skills, but also receive career coaching.” Co-principal investigator and computer science professor Satyajayant Misra commented, “The NSF is looking to us to create a model that can be used by other institutions.”
Idaho STEM Action Center To Provide 3D Printers To Schools.
The Twin Falls (ID) Times-News (10/29) reports the Idaho STEM Action Center will help 44 schools, libraries, and learning centers across the state “expand their capabilities to include 3D printing, design and fabrication.” The center also partnered with the Digital Harbor Foundation to co-sponsor several worships at which science, technology, engineering, and math, or STEM, “teachers and mentors will learn how to operate, maintain and troubleshoot 3D printers.” The Times-News says that this professional development opportunity is part of the Digital Harbor Foundation’s team-based digital fabrication competition, called FabSLAM. Participating students “practice design, iteration and rapid-prototyping skills primarily focused on 3D design and printing.”
Friday’s Lead Stories
• Study: Hurricane Maria Caused Largest US Blackout Ever.
• Commentary: Trump’s Plans To Cut College Work-Study Program “Troubling.”
• Columbia Researchers Working To “Debug” IA Decision Making Process.
• SpaceX, Google, Tesla Top List Of Preferred Companies For Tech Workers.
• New, Growing Firms Tout Innovations at Southern Arizona Tech + Business Expo.
• Three Gas-Fired Power Plants In California Will Close End Of 2017.
• New Mexico Decision To Adopt Next Generation Science Standards Wins Applause.