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

Leading the News

Pai: Scrapping Net Neutrality Will Put Engineers, Entrepreneurs In Charge Of Internet.

FCC Chairman Ajit Pai said on Fox News’ Fox & Friends (11/22), “All we are simply doing is putting engineers and entrepreneurs back in charge of the Internet. These rules were imposed two years ago and inspired by 1930s Great Depression-era regulations. What we want to do is return to the free market consensus that started in the Clinton Administration and served the economy in America for many years.” Asked about concerns that the change will result in ISPs charging higher prices, Pai said, “That is false. That’s not the Internet economy we had from 1996 until 2015 when these rules were imposed. There was nothing broken about the Internet before 2015. And going forward, if a company acted in anti-competitive way, the Federal Trade Commission is expressly empowered to protect competition and consumers.”

Professor: Weak Reasoning For Killing Net Neutrality Will Prompt Courts To Intervene. Columbia University law professor Tim Wu writes in a piece for the New York Times Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (11/22, Subscription Publication) that while FCC Chairman Ajit Pai announced plans to eliminate “even the most basic net neutrality protections,” the commission “may also have overplayed its legal hand. So drastic is the reversal of policy (if, as expected, the commission approves Mr. Pai’s proposal next month), and so weak is the evidence to support the change, that it seems destined to be struck down in court.”

Higher Education

NYTimes: Congress Should Close Loophole Aiding For-Profit Colleges In Targeting Veterans.

The New York Times Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (11/24, Subscription Publication) in an editorial criticizes the for-profit college industry for continuing to target veterans utilizing the GI bill, an issue they say came from a Congressional law in 1998 that allowed the schools to count the 10 percent of funds raised from sources other than federal student aid as coming from other federal funds including the GI bill. The Times urges Congress not to allow the Education Department to undo “rules that protect students generally, and veterans in particular, from exploitation,” and calls on Congress to “close the loophole in the 90/10 rule to ensure that all federal funds are counted as such.”

DC Area Universities Increasing Focus On Science.

The Washington Post Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (11/26, Stein) reports that an “unprecedented science building boom” at Washington, DC-area universities is “altering the landscape of campuses, fueled by burgeoning enrollment in science, technology, engineering and math majors.” The piece reports that Howard University has “a gleaming $70 million science building” and “at George Mason University, construction is wrapping up on a $73 million building focused on the health sciences.” The Post reports that “at least eight universities in the Washington area have completed construction in the past few years or are building and renovating science facilities for their students.”

Fewer High School Graduates In South Dakota City Going To College.

The AP Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (11/25) reports that according to a report from the National Student Clearinghouse, “a growing number of high school graduates in” Sioux Falls, South Dakota “didn’t enroll in college in the two years after earning their diploma,” with over one-third not enrolling in 2015, “up from a quarter of graduates in 2009.” This trend “runs counter to statewide goals aimed at preparing for a future in which more of the state’s jobs require credentials beyond a high school diploma.”

ASEE Board Re-Organization Feedback
ASEE members can leave a comment on a proposed reorganization of the Board of Directors.

Doctoral Engineering Research Showcase
Registration deadline approaching. The National GEM Consortium (GEM) and ASEE are hosting a Doctoral Engineering Research Showcase for doctoral students, postdoctoral fellows, and new faculty to display their leading-edge technical research and connect with potential agency sponsors and academic employers. The event is in Washington, DC, January 22-23, 2018. Watch this short video for more details.


Research and Development

Hackathon Focuses On Improving Software To Combat Child Exploitation.

The New York Times Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (11/24, Mzezewa, Subscription Publication) reports on a hackathon held this month in New York City, where 100 engineers from around the world gathered “to work with Thorn, a nonprofit that uses technology to fight adolescent and child sexual exploitation.” The hackathon project involved “how to help authorities identify missing or exploited children that appear in escort ads” by creating a program that could quickly filter through thousands of images. Thorn says its original search tool, Spotlight, which the hackathon volunteers were working to improve, is currently “used by more than 1,200 law enforcement agencies across the country and Canada.”

Semiconductor Industry Heading Toward Extreme Ultraviolet Lithography.

The Oregonian Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (11/26) reports that “the future of the semiconductor industry relies on” extreme ultraviolet lithography, calling the technology “a far-out tool that projects narrow waves of light onto silicon wafers, sketching patterns for the circuitry inside future computers, smartphones and the self-driving cars just now beginning to appear on our roadways.” The technology “could extend by years the pace of innovation in computer chip technology.”

Kansas Researchers Partnering With China To Develop Wheat Straw Ethanol Algorithm.

The AP Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (11/26) reports that Kansas State University researchers are partnering with peers at China’s Yangzhou University “using mathematical modeling to improve the process of converting wheat straw into pellets for the production of ethanol.” Wheat straw pellets “can be more easily handled and transported to ethanol processing plants, where ethanol extracted from them can be substituted for fossil fuels.” The piece quotes Kansas State’s Zhenzhen Shi saying, “Mathematical modeling is a powerful tool because it can save both the time and resources required for experimental studies.”

The Topeka (KS) Capital-Journal Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (11/25, Carpenter) reports the researchers “investigated issues with biomass temperature rise during pellet production, which can undermine ethanol output.” The Great Bend (KS) Tribune Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (11/24) also covers this story.

California Awards Lyft With Permit To Test Autonomous Vehicles.

Reuters Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (11/22, Rai) reported California has awarded Lyft with “a permit to test autonomous vehicles in California, taking it one step further in the race with several other companies to bring self-driving cars to the masses.”

Autonomous Vehicles Could Greatly Improve Mobility For The Elderly, Blind, And Disabled.

The Washington Post Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (11/23, Halsey) reports about the mobility benefits of autonomous technologies for those “too old to drive safety” and those who are visually impaired “or otherwise have sound reason to fear climbing behind the wheel of a car.” The story says that one of the major problems for regulators and lawmakers is how to give industry the appropriate amount of space to innovate autonomous technologies without destroying public confidence in things like self-driving cars. The Post mentions that at a meeting hosted by NHTSA earlier this month, Consumers Union representative William Wallace said that “Whether it’s because of General Motors ignition switches, Takata air bags or Volkswagen emissions software, consumers are not necessarily going to immediately trust auto companies.”

Researchers Testing Tiny Brain Implant That Could Help Paralyzed Persons Move Again.

Bloomberg News Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (11/22, Gale) reported that Australian researchers are developing a “matchstick-sized brain implant” that can “circumvent damaged spinal cords and help paralyzed people become mobile – powered by their own thoughts.” The stentrode is “designed to relay thoughts wirelessly to an external robotic device, such as an exoskeleton or prosthetic limb, to enable patient-directed brain control over movement and locomotion.” It will “be tested on up to five volunteers possibly as soon as next September, according to Nick Opie, a biomedical engineer at the University of Melbourne and the Australian project’s chief technical officer.”

Engineering and Public Policy

Two Months After Hurricane Maria, Half Of Puerto Rico Is Still Without Power.

The CBS Evening News (11/23, story 12, 2:30, Ninan) reported that half of Puerto Rico remains without power two months after Hurricane Maria, and “more than 1,300 people are in shelters.” CBS (Begnaud) reported from the Puerto Rican neighborhood of La Perla, which was featured in a “video from Luis Fonsi’s hit song Despacito.” CBS said that “rebuilding in La Perla may be tougher than elsewhere. Many in the government view the neighborhood as a crime-filled slum, too close for top tourist attractions, and developers have long eyed the seaside location as a potential resort.”

Whitefish Energy Resumes Work On Puerto Rico Grid After Partial Payment. The Wall Street Journal Share to FacebookShare to Twitter(11/24, Scurria, Subscription Publication) reports that while the Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority (PREPA) hired Whitefish Energy Holdings LLC for $300 million to rebuild the island’s power grid before firing the company due to its ties to key officials, the company announced on Wednesday that it had resumed work on a south-to-north transmission line that was damaged by Hurricane Maria after receiving partial payment for its $83 million bill. Whitefish suspended work on Monday and had demanded Prepa or construction subcontractor Arc American Inc. make the payments on the project.

NYTimes Blasts Trump Over Puerto Rico Recovery. The New York Times Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (11/25, Subscription Publication) editorializes that “it has been weeks since President Trump visited” Puerto Rico “to jovially toss rolls of paper towels to needy fellow Americans and brag about how successful the recovery effort was.” However, “true evidence of progress has been hard to come by. Even the simplest symbols of government, like traffic lights, remain useless. Most of the Pentagon’s emergency troops have begun pulling out, except for those working on the island’s shattered power grid.” Trump “is unfortunately remembered on the island for his scornful critique of local leaders ‘not able to get their workers to help,’” as he tweeted, “They want everything to be done for them when it should be a community effort.” The Times concludes, “Rather than offering defeatist salvos, the president has a sworn responsibility to offer the support that Puerto Ricans deserve as American citizens trapped in a dire emergency.”

FCC Critics Charge Net Neutrality Comment Process Has Been “Corrupted.”

The Washington Post Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (11/24, Fung) reports critics of Federal Communications Commission Chairman Ajit Pai’s push to “to dismantle [the FCC’s] net neutrality rules for Internet providers” are “zeroing in on what they say are thousands of fake or automated comments submitted to the FCC that unfairly skewed the policymaking process.” According to the Post, some activists and officials have seized upon the “allegations about anomalies in the record…to discredit the FCC’s plan,” with New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman saying in a letter to the FCC this week that the process “has been corrupted by the fraudulent use of Americans’ identities.” However, FCC spokesman Brian Hart “said the agency lacks the resources to investigate every comment” and he insisted “supporters of the net neutrality rules are not blameless either” as there are also 7.5 million comments in favor “that appeared to come from 45,000 distinct email addresses, ‘all generated by a single fake e-mail generator website.’”

Elementary/Secondary Education

Study: Business, STEM Students May Benefit From Different Entrepreneurial Teaching Methods.

The Wall Street Journal Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (11/26, Dizik, Subscription Publication) reports a recent study suggested that business students are much more likely than their counterparts in science, technology, engineering, and math fields to consider launching a start-up after completing entrepreneurship courses, even though both business and STEM students entered those courses with equal entrepreneurial knowledge. University of Twente associate professor for entrepreneurship Dr. Rainer Harms, one of the researchers on the study, said the results indicate that STEM students are typically exposed to entrepreneurship by business professors who do not alter their teaching methods to reach out to STEM students.

NASA Expands Space Education Through Virtual Reality Technology.

Newsweek Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (11/25, Delzo) reported that a “new development of virtual reality suites” has enabled NASA to connect scientists and students at the Goddard Spaceflight Center in Maryland. That “technology allows individuals to explore rock formations, identify damaged satellites, and many other features, all while saving both time and money.” NASA “aims to encourage more staff to explore the virtual reality space,” and intends “to allow those who have virtual reality technology to be able to experience Goddard from the comfort of their own homes.”

Iowa District To Incorporate Robot, Garden Beds To Enhance STEM Curriculum.

The AP Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (11/21) reported Buffalo Elementary School Principal Heidi Gilliland spearheaded an effort to introduce “FarmBot,” a project-based learning incentive involving agriculture, “to supplement the new focus of the school: Science, technology, engineering, math or STEM, with arts integration.” Davenport West High School technology students, Mid-City High School building trades students, and “the grade school students in Buffalo” will participate. With the help of a $2,700 grant, the Iowa district purchased a FarmBot kit robot to be used on a garden bed. A neighboring, identical garden bed will allow students to monitor what, if any, differences occur, and then develop a business plan accordingly. The goal is for all “gardens to provide a great deal of produce, and to bring Buffalo-based products to the Freight House Farmers Market in Davenport next summer, Gilliland said.” The AP noted the California-based FarmBot “is online and the site is open-sourced, meaning it is freely available to anyone interested in the plans.”

Best Buy Hosts Free “Tech Teen Center” For Underprivileged Minneapolis Youth.

The AP Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (11/25) reported about 300 teenagers are active members Best Buy’s free Teen Tech Center, based out of the Minneapolis Central Library. The program provides underprivileged “teens with computer software and equipment that they can use to learn new skills and make things.” The center features “virtual reality headsets, a green screen and a soundproofing recording studio.” The Minneapolis center opened in 2013, and is “one of nearly a dozen centers across the U.S.” University of Minnesota Department of Gender, Women, and Sexuality researcher Kari Smalkoski commented, “The digital divide really is very much a part of the achievement gap and educational disparities, because it’s really leaving a lot of kids behind when you think about the technical and technology skills and media skills that are needed for the 21st century.”

Also in the News

Architects, Fire Experts Divided On Safety Of Compressed Wood Buildings.

Tony Dokoupil of the CBS Weekend News (11/25, story 9, 2:45, Ninan) reported the use of compressed wood in construction projects has skyrocketed into a “global boom,” with “major projects” underway in Portland, “Minneapolis, Vancouver, and London.” Fire experts, however, warn that the wood-based buildings “could fuel an inferno that firefighters can’t fight, like the deadly Grenfell fire in London, which climbed the building’s aluminum cladding.” Yet, a Portland project called Framework – projected to become “the tallest wood building in America” – was “designed with cross-laminated timber that [lead architect Thomas] Robinson says is actually fire resistant.” To secure a building permit, “the material had to survive two hours in a furnace at 2,000 degrees.” According to Robinson, “They’re already building a number of them in Portland. You’re going to see them all over.”

Wednesday’s Lead Stories

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