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New WLBT weather app now available

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WLBT.COM) – If you have an iphone, you may want to download our new First Alert Weather App. The app was released last week and is available free in the Itunes Store. Search for “WLBT Weather.” The app is: Highly responsive interactive map optimized for 3G and WiFi performance Vertical and horizontal map display with looping NOWrad, the gold standard for radar in the weather industry Highest resolution satellite cloud imagery available Exclusive patent pending Road Weather Index Color coded weather alerts arranged by severity Fully integrated GPS for current location awareness Integrated compass overlay for 3GS models Most accurate 10 day forecasts with both daily and hourly detail Ability to easily save your favorite locations Full featured and user tested Earthquake plotting – tap on an earthquake to display its detail iOS 4 compatibility The app is also available for the Android platform.]]]]> ]]>

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Walmart joins Kroger to test driverless grocery deliveries in Houston

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Nuro D2. Photo courtesy Walmart

Retail giant Walmart announced Dec. 10 that it has launched a pilot program to deliver groceries with driverless vehicles in Houston, Texas.

The pilot program is in conjunction with California-based autonomous vehicle company Nuro, which has been providing the service to Kroger in Houston since March, according to its website.

Nuro’s R2 driverless vehicle is about half as wide as a compact sedan, shorter than most cars and has no room for passengers or drivers, reports The Verge website. Each vehicle is monitored via chase vehicles with human drivers and with remote technology as it makes its deliveries.

“Nuro’s vision of using robotics to improve lives runs parallel with Walmart’s mission of helping customers live better,” Walmart said in a statement. “Through the Houston-based pilot, Walmart aims to develop, refine and continue learning how to offer the best end-to-end customer experience.”

Walmart said it is committed to delivering groceries “with a side of time-saving convenience” through its ever-expanding grocery pickup and delivery service. The retailer offers the service in nearly 3,100 locations with deliveries coming from more than 1,600 stores.

“Along the way, we’ve been test-driving a number of different options for getting groceries from our stores to our customers’ front doors through self-driving technology,” Walmart said. “We believe this technology is a natural extension of our grocery pickup and delivery service and our goal of making every day a little easier for customers.”

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Automation is remaking Mississippi jobs: Are workers ready?

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A high school student repairs a car in an automotive shop class. Jobs in automotive body repair are relatively safe from automation, and they don’t require a college degree. Photo: Jackie Mader/The Hechinger Report

New educational pathways are needed to prepare workers of all ages for tomorrow’s jobs

by Megan Conn, The Hechinger Report

June 18, 2019

Rising use of automated technologies has eliminated thousands of jobs in Mississippi, and many more are at risk, according to a recent report by the Brookings Institution. The report looked at the percentage of tasks — that is, what people actually do at work, rather than the skills needed to perform a particular job — that could be automated. An average of 47.7 percent of the tasks performed by Mississippi’s workforce could be automated using today’s technology, a figure higher than in 41 other states.

At greatest risk are those jobs that consist of largely routine functions, whether manual or clerical. In Mississippi, the study found that truck drivers, wait staff, fast food workers and stock clerks are at the highest risk of having their jobs automated.

Automation affects workers around the world — nearly half of the employers surveyed by the World Economic Forum last year expected automation would reduce their workforce by 2022. But Mississippi’s risk exposure to automation is elevated by a combination of factors.

“Small towns are more exposed than big towns, and rural places more exposed than towns,” said Mark Muro, lead author of the Brookings study. “Black and brown people are more exposed than white people because of educational issues and historic occupational histories. A place like Mississippi is heavily exposed.”

“As machines become more important, we need to get better at being human. We should be migrating to the things machines can’t do, like empathy and caring and creativity.”

Mark Muro, senior fellow and policy director of the metropolitan policy program at the Brookings Institution

Data collected as part of the Brookings study shows that more jobs are at risk in the state’s northeast and east central counties like Clay, Lowndes and Lee, where more than 49 percent of tasks could be automated. By contrast, counties near the capital and Gulf Coast have a lower automation exposure; the average automation exposure of a job in Hinds County is only 42 percent.

So what can Mississippi do to prepare workers? Experts and educators point to a few strategies — some of which are already being explored by leaders within the state:

Increase access to post-secondary education

The first thing Muro recommends young people do is get a college degree.

“It’s very apparent: The likelihood that one will find oneself in an automatable, low-skill job is much higher if you don’t have that degree,” he said.

In fact, 80 percent of Mississippians who sought employment assistance in 2015 had less than a two-year degree. The state workforce board’s two main goals are improving the workforce participation rate, which at around 55 percent is one of the nation’s lowest, and increasing the number of people with more than a high school credential, according to its 2018 plan.

But that doesn’t mean all students need to go to a four-year college. Mississippi’s 15 community colleges offer relatively low-cost programs in automotive repair, nursing, utility line work and diesel mechanics, fields that are unlikely to be automated, according to an analysis done by the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce on behalf of The Hechinger Report.

East Mississippi Community College, which serves 4,000 students at seven locations, has gained national attention for its close relationships with local employers, particularly manufacturers like Yokohama Tires, Severstal Columbus steel and Airbus Helicopters.

“We are constantly in touch, on a weekly basis, to see what their demand is and continuously improve our methodology and equipment and curricula,” said Raj Shaunak, the college’s vice president of workforce and community services. These relationships proved essential in helping retrain 838 of the more than 1,600 local workers who were left jobless after the closure of a Sara Lee plant in 2007, he said. At the college, workers who used to make hot dogs and sausages gained the skills to manufacture steel and engines.

“Change is the only constant, and we understand that,” Shaunak said. “What we’re teaching is skills and thinking. We teach learning to learn, to constantly adjust.”

Invest in high school career and technical education programs

Training for a job with stable long-term prospects can begin well before high school graduation. At the Madison Career and Technical Center in Mississippi’s Madison County, teens take two-year course sequences in fields at low risk of automation such as automotive services, health science, construction, and engineering and robotics.

Instructor Dale McCraw has taught automotive services for 35 years. While many assembly-line jobs have been replaced by automated production, he’s seen rising demand for capable repair technicians. A recent survey of auto shops he conducted confirmed the trend.

“Every place had a shortage of technicians — one was even offering a $10,000 signing bonus for a tech that could do transmission work,” he said. “Repair-side jobs are increasingly available and pay is going up. The nice thing is, it’s pretty recession-proof, because even if people aren’t buying new cars, they still have cars that need repairs.”

But not all Mississippi students have access to high-quality career education programs. A recent effort to standardize automotive programs by requiring them to attain an Automotive Service Excellence certification prompted the closing of at least thirty programs, said McCraw.

He said low pay undercuts schools’ ability to train and retain instructors with specialized technical knowledge. Mississippi has paid its teachers less than any other state for the past three years, according to the National Education Association. Even when adjusted for cost-of-living, teacher’s pay in the Magnolia state ranks 37th in the nation.

“You walk in as a teacher and you can leave 35 years later as a teacher — there’s no money, no bonuses,” said McCraw. “If I’m a young teacher and another state is offering me a raise, I’m gonna leave. I encourage my kids to follow the money.”

Value technical education and trades

Preparing students for jobs that are likely to survive automation also means confronting the stigma that learning a trade is less valuable than a four-year degree. Both McCraw and Shaunak said they regularly hear from parents and counselors who see technical education as a fallback option.

“We’re trying to change the mindset within the K-12 system that modern manufacturing in the Golden Triangle is not the 4 D’s: It’s not dirty, not dangerous, not disappearing, and not for the dumb,” said Shaunak.

McCraw pointed out that automotive technicians need to understand advanced concepts like kinetic friction, thermal dynamics, and Pascal’s law, which governs the fluid mechanics of braking systems. He said his high school students use a college-level textbook.

Workers seem to be taking note of the value of technical training. Shaunak said that every year, East Mississippi Community College enrolls about 1,000 students who already have a bachelor’s degree or higher, often in the liberal arts, but have found their skill set isn’t aligned with a high-paying career.

McCraw recalled a student whose father, a banker, urged him to follow his older brother into banking. Instead, the student earned his diesel technician certification — and ended up making more money than his brother. McCraw said the father later called to thank him for changing his mind.

Develop human skills

Despite the demand for technical skills, most of the core competencies that Mississippi employers reported workers needed to improve on were “soft skills” like communication, leadership and professionalism, according to focus groups and surveys administered by the state workforce board, the Mississippi Development Authority and a state wage and benefits survey.

Muro, the author of the Brookings study, said jobs that require these dynamic, responsive skills are less likely to be automated.

“As machines become more important, we need to get better at being human,” he said. “The more creative, interpersonal skills are becoming more important and less replaceable. We should be migrating to the things machines can’t do, like empathy and caring and creativity.”

Prepare for the future

The strong economy has fueled job growth, but Muro warned that a future economic downturn could hasten employers’ efforts to cut costs by replacing workers with automated technologies.

“It’s been happening steadily, but it won’t happen evenly: The largest surges of automation occur in economic downturns,” he said. “The future of work is already here — it’s been here for 25 years. We need better systems of workforce training to help people adjust, because there’s going to be some turmoil coming.”

This story was produced by The Hechinger Report, a nonprofit, independent news organization focused on inequality and innovation in education.

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3D ‘Ghost Guns’ are traceable, Ole Miss researchers say

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Plastic can leave a unique forensic footprint when fashioned into a firearm, according to two researchers at the University of Mississippi.

A single-shot handgun called the “Liberator,” the first printable firearm design made available online. (Source: Defense Distributed)

Known in law enforcement circles as “ghost guns,” such weapons are created by 3D printers using strands of heated polymer and similar material. Specific plans are loaded into a computer and sent to the printer, much like anyone sending a print job for a Word document.

In 2013, plans for the world’s first 3D gun were downloaded from the internet—more than 100,000 times in two days. Concerns followed on both sides of the gun-control debate that a Pandora’s Box had been opened, one that could lead to a new and dangerous method of producing untraceable firearms. Last year, the U.S. Department of State settled a lawsuit with Texas-based Defense Distributed, the company that distributed the first plans, that allowed the firm to release its gun plans online, touching off a wave of counter-moves in the federal courts.

Meanwhile, the new technology led University of Mississippi associate professor James Cizdziel and graduate student Oscar “Beau” Black to develop a way for law enforcement to track whether a plastic gun was used in a crime. With a $150,000 grant from the National Institute of Justice—part of another cabinet-level agency, the U.S. Department of Justice—they began making plastic .22 and .38 caliber handguns with certain metal parts to comply with a federal law that prohibits weapons undetectable by metal detectors. One testing ground was the Mississippi Crime Lab in Pearl.

“We can positively identify the type of polymer used in the construction of the gun from flecks or smears of plastic on bullets, cartridge cases and in gunshot residue collected on clothing,” Cidziel told Ole Miss reporter Shea Stewart. Test firings provided samples the pair used to identify all the types of polymer in 3D printed guns.

They entered the evidence left behind by different polymers into a database for forensics experts, who use it to determine whether a 3D-printed gun was used in a crime. Cizdziel, who works in the university’s chemistry department, explained that if a 3D-printed gun was used in a crime, investigators can determine the polymer used and then if there is a link between the polymer and a suspect.

“Our growing database provides a second means of identification or grouping of samples, alleviating the need for subjective interpretation of the mass spectral peaks, “ Cizdziel said. “We also published fingerprinting protocols on surfaces of 3D-printed guns.

“Overall, we demonstrated that our methods are particularly useful for investigating crimes involving 3D-printed guns.”

Black, who has since earned a doctorate in chemistry, said the pair’s research continues, including expanding and improving the 3D-print polymer reference library.

“The ultimate goal would have the reference library in a format that’s similar to the other reference libraries that are out there for fingerprints, etc.,” Black said. “Every different arena has a reference library that goes along with that discipline.”

(Information from Ole Miss: University of Mississippi News.)

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