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Will Smith, left, and Joel Edgerton star in the Netflix release “Bright.”


Education
CAPS project leads to product pitch for Cedar Falls student

CEDAR FALLS — It started with a project in an engineering class this fall.

Justin Witt, a senior at Cedar Falls High School, would devise a fix for a broken window blind. It was one of the fall projects offered to students enrolled in the Center for Advanced Professional Studies. A Cedar Falls Community Schools’ employee who was having trouble with the blinds at his home suggested the project.

Today, several months after creating the part, Witt is traveling to Middleton, Wis., with a group of school district staff and presenting his idea to Springs Window Fashions, the company that makes the customized Bali blinds that had malfunctioned.

“It’s exciting because it has to do with engineering,” he said of the trip to the Madison suburb. “I want to get into engineering (as a career). Really, a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for me.”

All Cedar Falls CAPS students work with people in the professional world to complete their projects. Classes meet outside of the high school. A number of Cedar Valley companies have signed on as partners in the effort along with the city of Cedar Falls and the University of Northern Iowa’s education department.

Usually, though, the partners are involved from the beginning. Kenton Swartley, the district’s community partnerships and STEM facilitator, brought his problem with a set of window blinds to the attention of CAPS staff.

Witt is one of about 30 students enrolled this semester in the CAPS program’s three “strands.” He is part of the technology and engineering strand, which meets daily at Viking Pump from 1:15 to 2:55 p.m. The program, which started a year ago, will enroll as many as 45 students when second semester starts later this month.

“I chose to do this project because it involved 3-D printing,” said Witt. He was introduced to the process of three-dimensional printing as a ninth-grader at Holmes Junior High School and now has two 3-D printers at home.

“I had two ideas,” he explained, when approaching the problem with the blinds. The first was to redesign the original component, a square plastic piece that is part of the mechanism to raise and lower the blinds.

He decided to go another direction: Design a sort of end cap that slips over the defunct part, holding it together. “Kind of like gluing it,” said Witt.

Within two weeks, he had produced the part, which is about 3/4-inch in diameter and a 1/4-inch high with a square opening in the top to attach a rod that is part of the mechanism. He thought it would be the easier of the two solutions.

“I think the most difficult thing was getting in contact with the company,” noted Witt. “That was always the end goal to contact them.”

He tried to get in touch with customer support online and by phone. He got an email after the phone call, but received little response. He even tried connecting with the company through Twitter and Facebook. But it was another social media platform and the help of his teacher that finally got the company’s attention.

“Linked In was the only way we could do it,” said Maria Perez, the program’s technology and engineering teacher. She was able to make contact with a company official in early November. That resulted in today’s meeting with the company’s executive director of engineering and product development manager.

Perez is one of the other people on the trip, but she won’t take part in the pitch. That’s all up to Witt, who admitted he is nervous.

“Oh, yeah,” he said. “It will be a first experience like this.” He said the presentation will last three to five minutes followed by some time for questions.

After initially designing the fix for the blinds, Witt went on to another project with the Cedar Falls company Kryton Engineered Metals. As a result, he has some presentation experience under his belt. Still, he spent some time practicing the presentation over the holiday break.

If all goes well, the company could like his idea and want to use it. According to a “student agreement” Witt has to sign, if the company uses the idea he could get paid up to $500.

Perez hoped an internship could be a possibility for him. The company has an intern program, but it is usually aimed at college students.


Local
Bitterly cold temps freeze, burst pipes across Cedar Valley

WATERLOO — Very cold temperatures are still wreaking havoc on plumbing across the Cedar Valley.

Classes were canceled at the Dr. Walter Cunningham School for Excellence in Waterloo after a fire sprinkler line burst at 2 a.m. Wednesday in the elementary school’s boiler room, according to district spokesperson Tara Thomas.

Thomas noted crews were still in the process of cleaning up the mess, but staff was reporting for a professional development day in other areas of the building. She anticipated students would be back in school Thursday.

It would take longer than that to get back to normal at New Aldaya Lifescapes in Cedar Falls, where a large water feed line burst underneath the campus’ chapel Monday evening, cutting off water to the skilled nursing facility, according to CEO Millisa Tierney.

Around 125 residents were drinking portable water and showering and bathing in the assisted living facility as of Wednesday. Employees were manually flushing toilets and refilling them with five-gallon buckets, following the emergency plan already in place, said Tierney.

“Truly, our residents are receiving all the care and services they would receive if we had running water,” she said. “Our staff is doing a bang-up job.”

She said plumbers and contractors were busy Tuesday and Wednesday tearing out the chapel and laying new pipes to reconnect skilled nursing as quickly as possible.

Pipes freezing and bursting was a common theme around the Cedar Valley, according to Dalton Plumbing president Dave Krejchi. He said his business had received more than 100 calls just in the past few days dealing with that specific issue.

“The phones were running so fast, we couldn’t keep up,” he said.

Most problems stemmed from homes — and particularly basements — that were too cold, or not enough insulation around the pipes or between the pipes and the outside walls. Those who forgot to remove their garden hoses also were seeing broken water spigots.

PEX or plastic piping is more flexible and able to expand and contract with the temperature than older copper or galvanized plumbing, but in sustained subzero temperatures, any kind of pipes were susceptible, Krejchi said.

He offered a few tips to homeowners on how to prevent pipes from freezing and bursting:

Keep your home warm — at least 68 degrees — and don’t cut off any of that heat to your basement, even though no one may be down there. “A lot of people turn their heat down too low and close registers off in your basement,” Krejchi said. “You don’t want to do that. The basement is where your plumbing is.”

Once the heat’s on, make sure it’s actually getting around your house by keeping the thermostat set to “fan” instead of “auto.” “It’s not gonna hurt to keep your fan on so you’re moving air flow,” he said. That’s in addition to changing out your furnace filter monthly, and keeping your furnace maintained each year.

Though not everyone needs to, it’s probably a good idea in extreme cold to keep a small stream of water running in one of your home’s faucets — especially if you live in an older home with older plumbing. “Trickle water in the faucet so it keeps moving,” he said. And consider keeping cabinets where plumbing is located open, so that warm air gets to the pipes.

The biggest thing, Krejchi said, is keeping things warm — even if you like it a bit colder, your pipes don’t.

“Don’t get cheap on the heat,” he said.


Govt-and-politics
Grassley, Republicans challenged on Trump investigation

DAVENPORT -- Fusion GPS, the company at the center of the controversial Trump dossier, called Wednesday for a release of transcripts of their testimony before three congressional committees, including the Senate Judiciary Committee that’s chaired by Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa.

In a New York Times op-ed piece, published Wednesday, company founders Glenn Simpson and Peter Fritsch, also accused lawmakers of ignoring information about President Trump and Russian involvement in last year’s election, and instead seek to focus on them.

The op-ed set off a back and forth between Grassley and Fusion GPS on Wednesday.

Grassley spokesman Taylor Foy said the senator is committed to transparency but that certain information must be protected in the midst of an ongoing inquiry. He also said that it was Fusion GPS that wanted to keep the testimony confidential.

Fusion GPS is the company hired to look into Trump’s background, which resulted in a dossier compiled by a former British spy that detailed a number of allegations about the president’s ties to Russia. The company was first hired by a conservative web site and, later, by Hillary Clinton’s campaign.

In the op-ed, Simpson and Fritsch say they’ve testified before three congressional committees, and that Republicans “have refused to release full transcripts of our firm’s testimony, even as they selectively leak details to media outlets on the far right.” The two suggest their firm is being used to distract from allegations about reports of collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia.

Trump has denied the allegations and called the investigations a witch hunt.

Foy said Wednesday that Grassley “has always been and remains for transparency. There are, however, investigative factors that he must consider to temporarily protect certain information in the midst of an ongoing inquiry such as this one, like tainting the memory of other witnesses.”

Foy added the committee’s previous offer for Simpson to testify publicly “remains on the table.”

Joshua Levy, a lawyer for Fusion GPS, challenged the account offered by Grassley’s office. He said the company “has consistently supported release of the transcript” and only wanted to review it for accuracy, which he said now has been done, and to ensure the identities of its bank and employees would be protected because of threats.

He went on to say “the Committee has long known that Fusion GPS is neither the story nor the reason why the U.S. government is investigating the president’s campaign. We suggest Chairman Grassley acknowledge that fact and be transparent with the American people.”

Foy said Fusion has not not been cooperative with the committee, still hasn’t responded to follow up questions and is instead spending its time issuing press statements.

“Chairman Grassley remains committed to transparency, and will endeavor to make as much material public as possible at the appropriate time,” he said.


Grassley