Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Piecing Humpty Dumpty Together

By Mike Mishkin, Publishing Intern

Ever stop and think about how odd some of the phrases we use are? Take ‘happy as a clam’ for example. Are clams actually that happy? The phrase most likely derives from an older, now mostly unheard New England idiom, “happy as a clam at high water.” It could also be simply because an open clamshell resembles a smile. But, regardless of whether or not we know its true etymology, we say it anyway. As noted linguistic psychologist and writer Steven Pinker tells us in The Stuff of Thought, these literary relics are examples of how “most metaphors are dead metaphors…which most people would probably stop using” if they knew their origins.
As language and culture evolve, we lose touch with the original meanings of words and phrases. Most of us don’t usually think about a word or phrase’s origin when we use it, and, as anyone who’s heard “Four and Twenty Blackbirds” will tell you, the same goes for nursery rhymes, including one of the most well-known in the English speaking world, Humpty Dumpty.
Most of us know the story of Humpty Dumpty; he sits on a wall, has a great fall, so on and so forth. But where in the rhyme does it say anything about an egg? Sure, if an egg had a great fall from a wall, not even Fabergé himself could piece it back together, let alone all the king’s horses and men, but one could argue the same for porcelain vases. Pinker also tells us in How the Mind Works, “the mind couches abstract concepts in concrete terms,” a theory giving credence the notion (along with common sense) that there never was an egg-man enjoying a sit on a wall, and that it must represent something else. Recently I began wondering why, above all else, is Humpty an egg?
If we’re to answer that question, we need to go back to 17th century England, where a drink of brandy boiled with ale existed under the name humpty dumpty.. From the drink, it seems the term “humpty dumpty” became a colloquialism for a large, uncoordinated individual.
Around that time, in the same place, England was embroiled in its Civil War. During the siege of Colchester, the Royalist forces of King Charles I defended their stronghold fiercely with a large, powerful cannon. The cannon, big, and most likely clumsy, was named Humpty Dumpty. In a post by author Albert Jack, on the Penguin Group blog, the siege, and Humpty (the cannon) sat “on top of the church tower of St. Mary-at-the-Walls,” where “One-Eyed Thompson, the gunner, managed to blast away the attacking Roundhead troops with rousing success for eleven whole weeks…until the top of the church tower was eventually blown away, sending Humpty Dumpty crashing to the ground outside the city wall, where it buried itself in deep marshland.”
Seeing their chances of victory literally crash, the King’s forces tried to salvage the cannon to no avail. They were defeated, and soon, throughout revolutionary supporters, the original, and full version of the Humpty Dumpty rhyme, recounting their victory, spread:
In sixteen hundred and forty-eight,
When England suffered the pains of state,
The Roundheads laid siege to Colchester town
Where the king's men still fought for the crown.
There One-Eyed Thompson stood on the wall,
A gunner of deadliest aim of all.
From St. Mary's Tower his cannon he fired,
Humpty Dumpty was its name.
Humpty Dumpty sat on the wall,
Humpty Dumpty had a great fall;
All the king's horses and all the king's men
Couldn't put Humpty together again.
This rhyme was more literal than metaphoric in nature, but as it was repeated and passed down, the original context began to fade, the first two stanzas were lost, and it most likely became a riddle, to which the answer was, just as fragile as the cannon, an egg. The problem with this, however, is that there are no known manuscripts of the riddle being used, and it is not until Lewis Carroll’s Through the Looking Glass that we see the modern version of the rhyme, along with the iconic illustration of the egg-man atop the wall. It’s from Carroll’s story we get our current, permanent picture of Humpty Dumpty as an egg.
Perhaps warfare and sieges aren’t the best things to connect to a nursery rhyme, and for that reason, we can keep the Humpty metaphor as “dead” one, as Pinker puts it. But that’s not to say there’s no value in stopping and thinking about the things we say. The next time you catch yourself using a phrase like “straight from the horse’s mouth,” it might be worth looking up, because who knows what that actually alludes to? The question is, once you find the answer, will you, as Pinker suggests, stop using it?

Monday, September 26, 2011

Advanced Placement Courses

By Lori Becker, President & CEO

Advanced Placement courses are on the rise in American schools. There are 37 courses in 22 subjects sponsored by the College Board being offered in high schools around the country as well as internationally. More than 450,000 students passed at least one AP course in 2009. The College Board boasts that Advanced Placement courses help students get a jump on college-level work and may help students qualify for scholarships.

As publishers look to expand their offerings, AP textbooks are becoming a viable addition to the front list. Working with their college publishing colleagues, many school publishers are creating new AP titles that help college-bound students “hit the ground running.”

If you have not been to the College Board website, it is worth a few minutes to take a look at the courses for which publishers can create texts.

At PSG, we have experience working with our publishing clients to create Advanced Placement product. We have content experts who have written content, created assessment items, and edited and fact-checked AP content. If AP product is a part of your future publishing plans, be sure to give us a call for any resources you may need.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Secrets from the Far Side of the Moon

By Alyssa Guarino, Editorial Assistant
As a child, I enjoyed Wallace and Gromit: A Grand Day Out, most especially because the moon was constructed as a ball of cheese. My understanding of lunar matters has thankfully grown, but the moon still holds many mysteries, including the asymmetrical pattern of its terrain. 
The surface of the moon has two distinct planar shapes: lowlands and high mountains. Unlike Earth, the moon does not have moving tectonic plates—which create volcanoes and earthquakes—to explain this difference in geography. 
But scientists are coming closer to understanding the far side of the moon, according to recently published work in the scientific journal Nature by Erik Asphaug and Martin Jutzi.  
Asphaug’s theory places the blame on a second moon that collided with our moon. This second moon would have formed around the same time as our moon, as a result of debris from the still-forming Earth. At this time, no life existed on Earth, as its molten crust was still too hot for anything to survive.
The second moon would have been very similar to our moon, rising and setting at the same time for millions of years. Perhaps the close proximity of their orbits would have led to the collision over time. 
The moon is full of craters from interplanetary debris that crashed into it. So why would a second moon have created such a different physical structure? Simply put, a rare set of circumstances would have made it possible for this “sister” moon to hit our moon and not create a hole. Instead, part of the sister moon’s debris formed into a mountainous shape.
Asphaug and Jutzi have successfully created computer simulations to find those rare circumstances, but there is not yet evidence for their theory. In order to prove the theory, rock samples would need to be collected from the moon’s mountains and compared to samples from the other parts of the moon.
As of yet, no missions are planned to test the theory, but scientists are excited about Asphaug’s innovative ideas. However, next month, a mission called the Gravity Recovery and Interior Laboratory might reveal some answers. By mapping the lunar gravitational field, scientists may find out how likely the sister moon theory may be.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Great (and Early) Expectations in Math

By Ken Scherpelz, Vice President of Sales and Business Development

"For much of the last century, educators and many scientists believed that children could not learn math at all before the age of five, that their brains simply were not ready."

When I read this in a recent New York Times article I was somewhat surprised to learn that this was the common belief among educators. Fortunately there is a rapidly growing base of knowledge regarding brain function that is leading teachers, authors, and curriculum specialists to change their expectations of when children can start to learn math.

This research suggests that infants can distinguish a single object from two objects, and two objects from three. Studies have found that at 18 months children can recognize geometric shapes. By the time a child reaches preschool age, the brain can handle larger numbers and will try to connect concrete quantities, say, five blocks, with the abstract symbol "5." Studies by anthropologists suggest that mammals' brains are "hard-wired" with a number instinct, such that cultures in remote areas with no formal education have a basic understanding of quantities.

The husband and wife research team of Julie Sarama and Doug Clements, both at the university of Buffalo, applied this and other research by developing an early math program called "Building Blocks." The program, developed specifically for preschool-age children, includes numerous math-based activities that draw on findings from cognitive science. Building Blocks has been used over the last four years in more than 400 classrooms in the Buffalo area, and the results are impressive. Preschool students in the program taking an addition test scored on average in the 76th percentile, while students not in the program who took the same test averaged in the 50th percentile. And a year after the program ended, when students finished kindergarten, children in program sustained their gains, scoring on average in the 71st percentile.

And to get help with developing your own math programs, give us a call at Publishing Solutions Group. You can have great expectations of us and our work.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Breakfast of (Intellectual) Champions

By Alyssa Guarino, Editorial Assistant

Growing up, my parents enforced the idea that breakfast is the most important meal of the day.  One reason for that is that it is difficult to perform tasks, both physical and mental, without sufficient energy—which can come in the form of food.  Even now, I have difficulty being productive if I have not had enough breakfast.
But regardless of breakfast, the human brain, still one of the more intriguing organs in the body for scientists to explore, may have reached a stalemate.  Scientific theory has long differed when it came to the matter of how much of the brain we actually use. Now, some studies indicate that there is a limit to brain power and human intelligence has hit its peak. 
These conclusions come from recent studies analyzing how much energy the brain requires to function. According to the results of some neurobiologists, any further brain growth would require too much energy. Does this mean that no matter how much food I consume, I won’t be able to handle high-level activities? Even if I listen to my parents and eat a good breakfast in the morning, could it be that I still won’t be able to perform higher-level activities?
Neurological processes, just as any other processes in the body, require energy to work. The brain has many different types of processes, which each require varying amounts of energy. The more complicated a task, the more energy required to perform it. For example, one may feel slightly fatigued after taking a simple subject quiz during school. Only one set of skills is being tested here. However, one may feel exhausted after taking a more complicated exam, such as the SAT or ACT. Not only is this type longer, it is testing more than one type of skill over multiple subjects. 
Even within this idea of brain energy, there are differing viewpoints on exactly why our brains would need such a vast amount of it.
The brain can be thought of as a human computer, constantly sending messages and signals through wiring. This wiring connects to the whole body via neurons that send and receive signals. For example, if one touches a hot iron, the neurons in that hand send a message to the brain for the hand to pull away. 
Some studies have shown that more intelligent people owe their success to their brain wiring. We’ve all run into the problem of a slow-functioning computer. Brain wiring is similar; the better the wiring, the faster the messages are carried. This has led to the conclusion that faster processing leads to greater intelligence. Consider language: if one’s wiring is able to process more, it is likely that one can learn a language quicker, and be able to process and understand multiple languages. 
However, according to this idea, being “more intelligent” means one’s brain is consuming greater amounts of energy. Faster signals come at a cost.  It is just like exercise; walking only burns a small amount of calories, but running burns a much greater amount.  Based on this model, to dramatically increase brain function, for instance, the speed of wiring signals, would require greater amounts of energy and oxygen than we can produce. Our bodies would simply not be able to handle a “bigger brain.”
But the jury is still out on the brain: contrary to neurobiologists’s expectations, perhaps we will be able to evolve with bigger brains in the future. But, based on the projected amount of energy needed to handle a larger brain, this might require other evolutionary changes.  Along with a larger “dome” and speedier wiring, we may develop physical changes in the other parts of our bodies.  Maybe the size of the lungs will increase to contribute a greater amount of oxygen. 
However, scientists still aren’t sure we are using our brains to fullest capacity.  Perhaps maximizing the gray matter we already have will prove to be a more successful alternative.

Monday, September 12, 2011

The Synonymy of Social Media

By Julia Hardy, Editorial Assistant

I don’t profess to be an expert on social media, but I know enough to understand what its purpose is. In recent years, the Internet has become a hotspot for social networking websites: Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn, to name a few. Websites such as these were designed for people to connect, network, keep in touch with one another, and promote events. To my mind, the only social media site that has kept this standard is LinkedIn, while others have become adorned with so many extras that their original intention is no longer their purpose.

LinkedIn was designed for business people to network and share resumés in order to make professional connections and find employment. Facebook and Twitter were designed for the general public with a similar principle. But here is where the differences begin to emerge.

When I first started using it, Facebook was only available to college students, and you had to prove you were a college student by submitting your college e-mail address. Countless mini-games have been created since the site’s inception, which only skew the purpose of social networking. If you’re too busy playing with the Facebook applications, how do you have time to connect with your friends?

As for Twitter, the idea to share a short status was fine at the outset. But this was not a new idea; Twitter was designed to be a text messaging website, similar to a texting application on a cell phone. Furthermore, 140 characters are too few to share a status without resorting to the ever-growing language of e-Speak.

One could argue that LinkedIn is different from Facebook and Twitter because the audiences are different: business people have LinkedIn profiles while members of the general public have other profiles. But is that really true? Anyone can have a profile on any these sites, regardless of career status or age. One could also argue that the purposes of the social media sites are different, but that’s not really true either. Anyone can use these outlets to connect, advertise, or promote. Their purposes have become the same.

So is there really a difference? Should Facebook be clogged with mini-games and applications? Probably not. And if they aren’t already, social networking sites will most likely become synonymous with each other in the near future.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

The New World of Magazines

By Kaitlin Loss, Editorial Assistant
When was the last time you bought a magazine? For me, it was probably a few years ago, back when I could afford to drop $5 to read what was most likely one single article that I could find in some form on the Internet for free. I haven’t had a subscription to a magazine since I was in high school (when my mom paid for my subscription to Seventeen), and while I used to spend a lot of time at least glancing at the magazine racks in bookstores, I don’t even head over that way anymore. Aside from not wanting to pay for something I can get online for free, magazines—while shiny and beautiful with pictures waiting to be cut out and taped to my bedroom wall—take up space that I just don’t have in my tiny one-bedroom apartment. And when I was in college, there was talk in all of my publishing classes about magazines going the way of other things that no longer exist: dinosaurs, VCRs, print dictionaries.
Then came the iPad, with its sleek design and relatively large screen. Magazines began creating apps which allowed readers to access content directly on their device, which—unlike the iPhone or BlackBerry—was the perfect size for viewing graphics and written content. And while yes, a lot of that content is available on the Internet, it isn’t easy for taking on-the-go. Magazines are great for travel, for waiting in doctors’ offices, and for beach reading; laptops are not.
Recently, The New Yorker revealed that it has over 100,000 readers on iPad, making it the highest selling magazine app from Condé Nast, which publishes iPad versions of magazines like Wired, Vanity Fair, GQ, and Glamour. By the end of 2011, Time Inc. will have all twenty-one of its magazines—which include Sports Illustrated, People, and Entertainment Weekly—on the iPad. Time Inc. also will begin selling subscriptions on the Barnes & Noble Nook Color.
Like e-books, e-magazines are fast, easy to transport, and don’t take up extra room on our bags or homes. While I’m glad the magazine industry seems to have found a new way to keep up with the technology of today’s world and to stay out of the same category as the dinosaurs, I do wonder what will happen to pin-up posters of the latest celebrity and how teenage girls everywhere will decorate their bedroom walls.