Friday, January 30, 2015

An Eye-Opening Hour of Code

by Ken Scherpelz
VP of Sales & Business Development

Though we rely on computer code nearly every hour of every day, many of us take programming for granted, thinking that since we’re computer literate and can use software, that’s all we need to know about it. But those working behind the scenes are the ones making our computer literacy possible, and there is a growing need for them in our technologically advanced world. In fact, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics of the United States Department of Labor (BLS), the employment of software developers is expected to grow 22 percent from 2012 to 2022, “much faster than the average for all occupations.” So despite the trillions of lines of code that have already been developed, the demand for new and more efficient code (and its programmers) will only increase.

A nonprofit called was started in 2013 with a twofold mission: to train more programmers and to increase the participation of more women and members of underrepresented groups in computer programming. The company is funded by a range of organizations, from small philanthropic family foundations to corporate giants such as Google, Microsoft,, Disney, Best Buy and JP Morgan Chase & Co. Its focus has been on K–12 education, where computer science has been largely absent from many curricula. During Computer Science Education Week in December 2014, millions of students were invited to participate in an Hour of Code, a global movement thought up by the creators of to encourage a jump-start in computer programming. While other websites also participated in the initiative,’s own contributions involved many free online tutorials that the company designed to introduce students to the basic concepts behind computer programming. For example, one tutorial teaches movement commands for Anna and Elsa from Disney’s Frozen.

The methodology behind the Hour of Code is similar to that of the Logo programming language, which was first used in classrooms in the late ’60s and relies on turtle graphics to teach code. Both the Hour of Code and Logo tutorials lead students through a series of steps to achieve a visible, attainable (and sometimes interactive) goal. In this way, students can feel the accomplishment of seeing their programming produce actual results.

More than 90 million people participated in an Hour of Code, and those participants greatly varied from the average background of those in computer science. reports that in their online courses, 43 percent of the students are girls, and 37 percent are African American or Hispanic. Many schools in my area (Columbus, Ohio) have been taking part in these tutorials, including the classroom where my wife works with fourth- and fifth-grade students. She says that her students were excited to participate in the original Hour of Code, and many have gone on to work independently on additional tutorials. My wife also notes that many students have said they would someday like to create their own computer games and apps for smartphones.

Perhaps this single introductory hour of programming will spark a student’s interest in a career in programming. Maybe the combined enthusiasm shown by students and teachers toward this program will move school districts to introduce new computer science and programming curricula. Programming instructors have put forth that their students learn logic and problem-solving principles that can be useful in many types of classes and careers. A greater number of young, technology-using students in our schools are showing an interest in programming, and programming instruction is becoming cheaper and easier because of access to online courses. It appears this initial Hour of Code can indeed lay out the basic steps to wonderful careers while drawing into those careers a more diverse group of young programmers.

Interested in trying your own Hour of Code? Click here to learn about coding without signing up or register for free for access to multiple Hour of Code courses including the Frozen exercise.

Did You Know?

A major contributor to the early beginnings of computer programming was Ada Lovelace. In the mid-nineteenth century, she built upon the work of Charles Babbage, a mathematician and scientist who designed the first “computing engines,” and Italian engineer Luigi Menabrea, an Italian engineer who wrote about Babbage’s Analytical Engine. Lovelace’s notes regarding how the engine could be used in a step-by-step fashion to solve mathematical problems have caused some to consider her the first programmer. A forward thinker, Ada also foresaw the engine being used for tasks other than mathematical calculations, such as composing music.

Though her name often goes unheard, her father’s does not. Lovelace was the daughter of George Gordon Byron, more commonly known as Lord Byron, one of the most influential English poets during the Romantic period.

Caught Read-Handed: Rare Book Thievery

by Chris Hartman
Project Manager

Rare book thievery has been with us as long as there have been books—it has haunted the rare book and manuscript world literally for centuries. For example, during the medieval and Renaissance periods in Europe, churches and libraries would actually tether bindings to bookshelves with chains in an attempt to prevent theft.
Book thievery can include the theft, mutilation or forgery of antiquarian materials.
For example, in 1997, James Gilreath, historian at the Library of Congress, stole and attempted to sell approximately $30,000 worth of books from the library’s collection to a Boston rare book dealer by whom I was employed at the time. Gilreath, who entered an Alford plea, was sentenced to, among other penalties, one year of home detention and a $20,000 fine.
In 1996, José Torres-Carbonnel, a Spanish national married to a Harvard graduate student, was arrested for stealing about $750,000 worth of rare books from Harvard University’s Widener and Fine Arts Libraries—many having been mutilated by the crude extraction of illustrated plates, which he sold to various dealers. He was convicted of 16 counts of larceny and sentenced to between three and four years in prison as well as deportation and ten years probation.
In a particularly shocking case from 1985, Mark Hofmann, a Salt Lake City con man who, in addition to forging and selling numerous bogus historical documents to unsuspecting members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, also killed two people with homemade bombs “to keep from being exposed as a fraud”. Ironically, in the case of one dubious document that Hofmann had forged and was seeking to have authenticated—the Oath of a Freeman, claimed by Hoffman to be the only extant copy of the first example of printing in America—the aforementioned James Gilreath was called in to perform an exhaustive, and ultimately inconclusive, evaluation of the document. Hofmann pleaded guilty and was convicted of the murders in 1988.
More recently, in 2005 Edward Forbes Smiley III, one the most notorious map thieves of recent decades, who, in the course of his career, stole nearly 100 maps worth around $2.3 million in the United States and Great Britain, was arrested after suspicions were confirmed that he  removed maps from books in Yale’s Beinecke Library. He spent two-and-a-half years in a federal prison and six months in a work-release program, both of which were in Smiley’s home state of Massachusetts.
In 2012, Marino Massimo De Caro, director of the Girolamini Library in Naples, Italy, was arrested for conspiring with four accomplices to steal what has been estimated to be in the tens of millions of euros worth of rare books from the Girolamini’s collection. De Caro was sentenced to seven years under house arrest. Though many of the library’s books have been recovered, others continue to elude authorities as their library stamps and other identifying markings had been removed.
Understandably, in such thefts, money is the primary motivator. Hofmann and Smiley were both reportedly in serious debt. Hofmann, in addition to forgery, was also very much involved in counterfeiting, and Smiley overextended himself by purchasing a second home in Maine and by buying and restoring several other nearby buildings in an unsuccessful attempt to establish an artist colony in the community.
Though the lure of illicit financial gain will always be present in the rare book field, librarians and dealers continue to fight back—both proactively and reactively. For example, universities such as Harvard have had electronic security measures in place since the mid-1970s. Both the Northeast Document Conservation Center (NEDCC) and the American Library Association (ALA) have web pages with security guidelines. The NEDCC’s guidelines cover disaster preparedness in general for library collections and archives, while the ALA provides suggestions for special collections librarians, scholars and dealers through their Association of College and Research Libraries (ACRL) division and Rare Book and Manuscript Section (RBMS). The RBMS also maintains a security site that lists, an addition to other helpful information, thefts dating from 1987 to the present. Furthermore, the International League of Antiquarian Booksellers (ILAB) hosts its own site,, and its US branch, the Antiquarian Booksellers’ Association of America (ABAA), maintains a blog where the group’s security committee reports about stolen items.
In a business shadowed by secrecy and theft, any measure taken may help to safeguard the treasures that so many libraries, museums and private owners hold dear. It is thus imperative that members of the rare book trade work in concert with institutions, individuals, and law enforcement to uncover and report suspected theft at every opportunity. Not only because one’s reputation depends on it, but because scholarship itself is at stake.
Did You Know?

What is widely considered the largest theft of rare books in American history was committed by Stephen Carrie Blumberg of Ottumwa, Iowa. When he was apprehended in 1990, Blumberg had amassed a collection of nearly 19,000 volumes valued at a total of $5.3 million. The FBI hired a 40-foot tractor-trailer to remove the 19 tons of books, which had been stolen from 327 libraries in the United States and Canada. Restoring the books to their rightful owners was extraordinarily difficult and at times impossible, as most had their library markings removed. In fact, the FBI allowed about 11,500 of the books to be returned to Blumberg under the care of his father, because, as explained by Philip Weiss in Harper’s Magazine, there was “no hard evidence that they had been stolen. Only about 3,000 could be returned to libraries."

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Can a Common Core Approach Bridge the Gap for English Learners?

by Mallory Abreu
Intern, Fall 2014

Is America’s school system equipped to appropriately challenge both native English speakers and English language learners (ELLs) alike? Statistics on United States student enrollment indicate that, in the 2011–12 school year, the number of ELLs in the public school system made up 9.1 percent of total students. Likewise, the number of ELLs grew by 53.2 percent from 1997–2008 [PDF link]. Furthermore, it is nationally projected that by 2030, ELLs will constitute 40 percent of the K–12 population [PDF link]. This is a reality that will test the success of the Common Core State Standards for students across diverse backgrounds and academic achievement levels.

The multi-faceted backgrounds with which ELL students arrive in the American education systems needn’t be considered a barrier to achievement. An addendum to the Common Core [PDF link] states, “Many ELLs have first language and literacy knowledge and skills that boost their acquisition of language and literacy in a second language; additionally, they bring an array of talents and cultural practices and perspectives that enrich our schools and society.” In order to expose this breadth of knowledge that may not initially appear in ELLs, the addendum stresses, “Teachers must build on this enormous reservoir of talent and provide those students who need it with additional time and appropriate instructional support.”

The implementation of the Common Core begs the question, What does it mean to be an effective teacher in the twenty-first century? Alejandra Monroy is one of many teachers using the Common Core to restructure lesson plans and the way learning is approached. Monroy is a third-grade teacher at the high-achieving Laurel Street Elementary School in Compton, California. The Common Core standards have helped Monroy to prioritize factual evidence over opinion and to invite inferential discussion into her reading classes. Monroy reflects that, in past years, “some English learners survived those [state] tests just by knowing the basics. The Common Core tests will go beyond that. Students will need to . . . show that they understand the material on a higher level.” With these goals in mind, Monroy now devotes more of her class time to discussing the purposes and implications of reading passages; she also pushes students to use advanced vocabulary from readings in new contexts when answering questions.

The evolution of fourth-grade teacher Angel Chavarin’s teaching methods is a testament to the Common Core’s initiative to rely on textual information, rather than background information, for evidence. Chavarin says, “Common Core really reinforces using the text. If not for the Common Core, I would have allowed them to infer things with their background knowledge.” In an effort to bring students up to speed on advanced vocabulary, Chavarin now makes a point of using more complex language himself. “. . . If we don’t expose all our students to words like that, where would we expect them to pick them up? We see the effect poverty has on children, but that’s no excuse not to provide a rigorous curriculum for them.”

Timothy Shanahan, professor emeritus at the University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC) and one of the authors of the Common Core English language arts standards, sees this increased emphasis on vocabulary and comprehension as capable of propelling ELLs forward to academic achievement on par with native English speakers by the time they reach high school, when they might be thinking about their goals after their K–12 education. However, Ben Sanders of the California Office to Reform Education (also known as CORE, unrelated to the Common Core) speaks of concerns that the Common Core “adds extra complexity. We’re worried that people will get overwhelmed.” The achievement gap between native speakers and ELLs has the potential to widen as curricula becomes less about basic English proficiency and more about cultivating analytical and inferential skills. However, if this achievement gap has any hope of being bridged, it is imperative that ELLs are pushed to be taught the same analytical strategies that native speakers are.

Indeed, if the Common Core is achieving anything for ELLs, it is that it is laying the foundation for a learning environment where socioeconomic and academic backgrounds do not validate the simplification (and thus inequality) of educational material. As students of all different backgrounds are exposed to the same skill sets and pushed to think in increasingly advanced ways about the information presented to them, ELLs may have a better shot at quick progress and academic achievement. Monroy attests that students’ score results on recent practice state tests were “higher than the results last year, when we didn’t do all the things we’re doing now.” With devoted educators who possess an openness toward curriculum reconstruction, the framework of education may hold future promise for English language learners in the United States.

Did You Know?

Are you a teacher looking for new ways to approach your curriculum with the Common Core in mind? This instructional article [PDF link] by Lauren Davis, senior editor at Eye On Education, consolidates five important “shifts” in teaching strategies, to consider when teaching to meet the Common Core standards. These items consist of the following:
1. leading high-level, text-based discussions;
2. focusing on process, not just content;
3. creating assignments for real audiences and with real purpose;
4. teaching argument, not persuasion; and
5. increasing text complexity.
Davis expands on each teaching shift and also provides further references for approaching English language arts instruction.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Employee Spotlight: Meet Alyssa

by Alyssa Guarino
Junior Project Manager

In my younger days, I was a well-known library patron. It earned me certain privileges: I never needed to bring my library card, and I had my own box behind the checkout desk to store all of my interlibrary loan requests. Growing up, my parents encouraged me to explore my interests, hoping that by the time I began applying to colleges, I’d have a career path in mind. My mother figured that the library was the best place to cultivate an interest in learning. She was right.

Some weeks, I was there every day, discovering new worlds in fiction and exploring nonfiction by making my way through the Dewey decimal system. While my friends found the answers to their homework just a click away, my first impulse was the reference section of the library. At one point, I could recite the Dewey call number for each American war and could even tell you where to find information on most mammals. During the summers, instead of vacationing on Cape Cod like many of my friends, I spent my time discovering exotic new locations by perusing the library’s travel section.

By the time I was in high school, I couldn’t imagine life without being involved in the world of books. Naturally, my first job was as a library page. Going forward, publishing seemed the best opportunity to stay close to my passion, so that was my compass in the college-seeking process.

While at Emerson College earning my bachelor of fine arts in Writing, Literature & Publishing with a minor in science, I began interning at PSG. It was the perfect place to combine my interest in publishing with my love of pedagogy. I had also been aware of educational industry news from my time in high school spent as the student representative to my town’s school committee. Spending my days writing blog posts on issues relating to educational publishing, proofreading math assessment items and working with members of our sales team on acquiring new work seemed too good to be true. I couldn’t imagine parting with the PSG team after my internship, and I guess they felt the same about me; while I finished my degree, I found myself balancing a part-time job at PSG as an editorial assistant and later as an assistant project manager. Two years after my internship, I became a junior project manager.

At PSG, I’ve had the opportunity to work on numerous projects, including Spanish translations, teacher training manuals, math and science textbook series, and assessment items aligned to TEKS, CCSS and NGSS. PSG is my dream job because it reminds me of being at the library. Every day, I immerse myself in something new and face what seems a limitless opportunity to learn new skills, subject matter and techniques.

I’ve always had a near-obsessive need for organization—one look at my closet is proof enough. As a project manager, my organizational skills are well received, and not just because I use pleasing palettes when I color-code spreadsheets. My inbox holds over 50 folders, most of which are project specific. I keep numerous schedules, one internal and external for each project, and even have a massive combined schedule to keep track of overlapping deadlines. Also known for being a meticulous timekeeper, I track my entire day in 15-minute intervals. This has especially proved handy when I don another role at PSG: the internship coordinator.

Outside of PSG, I volunteer as a director for The Scholarship Foundation of Wakefield (TSF of Wakefield), one of the nation’s largest private scholarship organizations, and I have recently become a Wakefield adult mentor (WAM), working with elementary school children. I am a certified lifeguard and taught swimming lessons to kids aged nine months to fourteen years at the Boys & Girls Club of Woburn, where I was on staff for over six years.

I still retain my status as one of my hometown's most well-known library patrons, stopping by the library at least a few days a week. And my tastes are as eclectic as ever.

Little Known Facts About Alyssa

In the winter of 2013–14, Alyssa developed cold urticaria, an allergy to cold temperatures. It has not proven very advantageous in the New England climate beyond being excused from shoveling snow.
Alyssa is also known as the office ninja for her tendency to (unintentionally) sneak up on people. It is not a new practice: Alyssa’s ninja skills were once tested while cat sitting when she scaled the side of a house to climb in a window after being locked out.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Power to the People: The Impact of Crowdfunding

by Nick Persad
Editorial Assistant

When I first decided on the topic of the impact of crowdfunding websites, I had what I thought was the basic definition of the term crowdfunding: the process of inventors in various fields using a website to promote their creations in hopes of acquiring funds from potential consumers so as to develop the project on a greater scale.

In an article titled “What is Crowdfunding and How Does It Benefit the Economy?Forbes contributor and Onevest co-founder Tanya Prive describes crowdfunding sites by stating, “The idea of ‘it’s not what you do, but why you do it,’ really hits home here. By focusing on a bigger purpose, the driving force behind a brand, project creators will be able to create a unique community of likeminded individuals. Each campaign is set for a goal amount of money and a fixed number of days. Once the project is launched, each day will be counted down and the money raised will be tallied up for visitors to follow its success.”

Most importantly, monetary transactions are not acted upon unless a project reaches its target goal, meaning if a person uses their credit or debit card to donate $100 to a project that needs a goal of $10,000, they will not be charged unless—and until—the project reaches that goal in the given time. Crowdfunding is an “all-or-nothing” business.

Upon investigating examples, I was shocked to find some of the ideas on crowdfunding sites like Kickstarter and Indiegogo were completely ludicrous. Naturally, I became enamored by these seemingly pointless ideas, particularly those raking in money far beyond their target goal.

Potato salad, anyone?

As someone who never utilized crowdfunding websites, I assumed the products would be presented in the most professional format—high-resolution video enhanced by vivid images and well-written text—so as to convince or manipulate the consumer into spending money.

In the New York Times article “Crowdfunding and Venture Funding: More Alike Than You Think,” one of the main questions posed is this: “Do crowds—driven by a herd mentality, crowd euphoria or sheer silliness—gravitate toward funding seemingly irrelevant ideas? Or can crowds make rational funding decisions and, better yet, exceed venture capital investors and other traditional gatekeepers in identifying promising projects?”

While some are quite astounding and presented as such, like the Freedom Chair based out of Cambridge, Massachusetts, others may cause a few raised eyebrows with what seems to be a lack of effort in presenting their product in the best light—you do want people to invest, right?

Acknowledging that the basis of these sites is to acquire funds, I don’t think it’s unreasonable for the inventors/designers/engineers to shell out some cash to make their product look appealing to the consumer—iPhones videos don’t make the cut.

Regardless of the validity of every project on crowdfunding sites, the results are undeniable—something that doesn’t go unrecognized by the entrepreneurs of budding start-ups.

The aforementioned Forbes article continues, “In a seemingly nonstop recession wave, small businesses [and entrepreneurs] are struggling more than ever to stay afloat. . . . Crowdfunding offers these individuals a chance at success, by showcasing their businesses and projects to the entire world.”

Recently, I watched a movie called Blue Ruin. It was great, and I highly recommend it. My enjoyment of the film prompted research into its development and production, and I was pleasantly surprised to learn the film was partially funded through Kickstarter donations.

The film, which has received very high critical acclaim, would not have come to fruition without the money earned through Kickstarter—a clear example of the power of crowdfunding when utilized properly. It is also a testament to the public—the investors—who can recognize a product worthy of backing.

But there is one crucial element of crowdfunding that makes it even more unique. The consumers who invest in a product may receive something in return—depending on the amount they invest—although that isn’t the desire behind the donation.

The New York Times article, “Why Would You Ever Give Money through Kickstarter?” sums up the investment mentality perfectly, stating, “But Kickstarter backers aren’t investors, and they aren’t looking for the project that will give them the greatest return on their money. Kickstarter does not function as a store (as its website goes to great pains to remind you), any more than PBS is ‘selling’ you a tote bag in exchange for your donation. Kickstarter as a phenomenon is made much more comprehensible once you realize that it’s not following the logic of the free market; it’s following the logic of the gift.”

Regardless of whether an idea is completely asinine or the next tech marvel, crowdfunding is building great momentum—with no signs of plateauing anytime soon—as more people and businesses are viewing it as a legitimate way to promote and create a product.

Did You Know?

ArtistShare is considered the first crowdfunding website. Launched in 2003, it was referred to as a fan-funding platform “that connects creative artists with fans in order to share the creative process and fund the creation of new artistic works.” Since its launch, artists funded through ArtistShare have gone on to receive numerous Grammy nominations and wins. Rick Moranis—a Canadian comedian, actor and musician who has starred in movies such as Ghostbusters, Spaceballs and the Honey, I Shrunk The Kids series—worked with ArtistShare to fund his country album, The Agoraphobic Cowboy, which was released in 2005. The album went on to be nominated for Best Comedy Album at the 48th Annual Grammy Awards in 2006.

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

To Infinity and Beyond: The Mathematical Magic of Pixar Animation

by Eileen Neary
Assistant Project Manager

From Toy Story to Finding Nemo to Up, no computer-generated imagery (CGI) production company has conquered the animated feature film industry quite like Pixar. Each film opens with the iconic Pixar lamp staking its place in the Pixar logo, usually to the delight of contented moviegoers.

Pixar’s success owes much to the technical innovation behind the films that have dazzled the general public and won not only viewers’ loyalty, but also 26 Academy Awards, 5 Golden Globes and 3 Grammys. Cutting-edge animation combined with resonating storytelling has made Pixar one of the biggest household names in animation, alongside DreamWorks and Walt Disney Animation Studios.

The lead of the Research Group at Pixar Animation Studios is Tony DeRose. As Pixar’s senior scientist with a BS in physics, PhD in computer science and a background in teaching at the University of Washington, DeRose’s job is to translate mathematics into digital objects. He is also closely involved in initiatives to inspire teens to pursue STEM careers and engage in hands-on projects with their peers.

DeRose has held a TED-Ed original lesson and led lectures at the Museum of Mathematics (MoMath) in New York City and the MAA (Mathematical Association of America) in Washington, DC. The lectures attracted crowds of teens as well as parents, teachers and researchers. DeRose spoke about the role of math in animation, which includes geometric coordinates (to map a character’s place in space), trigonometry (to move characters), algebra (to create effects like shining), and even calculus (to create accurate lighting).

Creating an animated movie starts much the way you might expect it to—with artists hand-drawing different scenes and characters and toying with ideas in the form of pencil-drawn sketches. But those blueprints soon jump into image-editing programs, and the procedure begins.

Animators begin the long process of building the character. This involves hundreds of “strings” (DeRose’s analogy is to think of the animated character as a marionette) that help to angle and fine-tune every movement and expression. For a character to behave realistically, each of these strings must be in harmony.

Integral calculus allows animators to accurately simulate the movement of light. The geometric technique of subdivision surfaces allows making smooth surfaces actually look smooth. And the harmonic coordinates technique is used to map points of movement in a simplified fashion, saving time while helping to make character movement seem real.

To me, it sounds impossibly complex. I haven’t taken a math class since junior year of high school, and that Prob and Stats class was one I referred to as “problems and naps.” Now that I know what really goes into every miniscule motion and moment in an animated feature film, math seems less mundane and more magical.

Merida, the heroine of Pixar’s 2012 hit Brave, sports an untamed mane of curly red hair. Her hair alone needed a new approach. The effort resulted in creating “100,000 individual elements” of her hair to make it appear voluminous and lifelike. This is a feat that would not have been possible without the success of a short film that premiered more than a decade earlier.

Pixar’s success with subdivision surfaces arose after the release in 1997 of a short called Geri’s Game. Despite its Academy Award win in 1998, you may not recognize the title. But for a ’90s baby like me, this short film brings back the paralyzing awe of going to the movies as a child with my mom and brothers, all the while being partially swallowed by the folding cinema seat. Geri’s Game is a four-and-a-half minute film that was created by 18 animators, including Tony DeRose and his new curve-generating algorithm, which helped to perfect face shapes and clothing movements. It was shown before the screening of A Bug’s Life (1998) in theaters and came bundled with the VHS and DVD releases.

Geri is an elderly man who wears a suit and has tufts of white hair at his ears. He plays chess against himself in the park as fall foliage flutters in the background. He grows more and more excited as his game progresses, displaying an impressive range of facial expressions and an incredible distinction between the reactions of the two Geris. At the end, one Geri’s glee is just as palpable as the other’s shock at the sudden loss. As an eight-year-old I’d never seen anything so bright, spellbinding and real.

It was subdivision surfaces that brought this all to light. Today, this method is the industry standard. With open-source software readily available on the market, Pixar’s abilities are no longer exclusive. The company even chose to make its subdivision surface code library open-source. DeRose supports this. “We get more value by letting everyone contribute,” he says. And this is his objective. To inspire the future designers and animators of the world to strengthen their math backgrounds, work as a team, delve deeper into the art of simulation and captivate a new generation like never before.

Did You Know?

Have you heard the term uncanny valley? This phrase is used to describe robots or CGI characters that are designed to look especially human but leave viewers with a creepy feeling instead. The most infamous offenders are widely considered to be the animated characters in The Polar Express (2004), though viewers also cite Beowulf (2007), along with characters in video games like some of the Final Fantasy (1987–present) titles or Mass Effect 3 (2012). The term was first used by roboticist Masahiro Mori and involves a feeling of revulsion due to humans or robots looking just . . . off . . . enough to ring our instincts’ alarm bells that signify viewing a very sick person or a corpse. If you really want to feel creeped out, check out the truly disconcerting “creepy girl.”

Intern Spotlight: Meet Alison

by Alison Oehmen
Intern, Fall 2014

As far back as I can remember, I’ve been the modest bookworm type. Always the soft-spoken one and often referred to as “quiet Alison,” it’s taken me awhile to accept and embrace my introvert’s personality. Although I’ll never be the life of the party, I like to think of myself as a highly thoughtful and empathetic person. Despite heavy and longtime involvement in team sports when I was younger, my favorite pastimes by far are painting and reading; I’m drawn to the analytical and reflective aspects of such artistic and literary pursuits.

When it comes down to it, though, my first love was the written word. In elementary school, I’d sneak a flashlight into my room and stay up until all hours binge-reading Roald Dahl books. Then, in middle and high school, I was the girl who had her nose in a book as she walked between classes and who actually looked forward to writing essays on Shakespeare. And for me, the best part of Fourth of July celebrations has been the annual book sale held that weekend near my family’s lake house on Winnipesaukee in New Hampshire. I’ve been known to spend hours combing through the collection and then leaving with boxes of books in tow. As a result, I am quite literally surrounded by literature at home. My room boasts two large bookcases filled with books, all lovingly alphabetized by author.

So when I decided to major in English at Bates College in Maine, no one close to me was particularly surprised. However, the inevitable follow-up question asked by friends and family—“What will you do?”—was a much more difficult one to field. When I was younger I had dreams of becoming a writer, and during my high school years I briefly contemplated becoming a teacher. But it wasn’t until my college years that I discovered the wide world of publishing while interning at a small New Hampshire publishing company one summer.

Since graduating college, I’ve had the good fortune of snagging two concurrent internships, one of which has been at PSG. It’s turned out to be a very advantageous arrangement, as it’s afforded me the chance to explore and become more familiar with different facets of the industry before I attempt to navigate through it professionally. After all, at Bates there weren’t any courses that related directly to publishing, nor were there any internship opportunities near campus.

But PSG has made up for that in so many ways. I’ve been able to continue writing and to expand my skills in this regard by doing research for and constructing blog posts on a myriad of fascinating topics. I’ve also brushed up on and strengthened my proofreading skills on a few projects. Most recently, though, I’ve begun assisting with fact-checking work, which is brand-new territory to me but very interesting all the same. Nothing makes me happier than the challenge of mastering a new skill.

Little Known Facts about Alison

Many people have a sweet tooth, but few have one to rival Alison’s. If it were socially acceptable, she would spend her days eating bags of M&M’s. Nothing is too sweet for her taste buds, especially if there’s chocolate involved, and she’s never met a dessert she didn’t like. As a result, she loves to bake. From cookies and cakes to brownies and pies, she loves to make anything sugary and nutritionally useless. She is sure to share the scrumptious wealth, though, and her baked goods are well-known and amply appreciated among friends and family.

Monday, January 12, 2015

STEMinistas: Science Clubs Just Got a Whole Lot Techier

by Alyssa Guarino
Junior Project Manager

When I was in high school, the science club was like a dusty old chalkboard, largely forgotten and barely acknowledged, even by department faculty. And while writing lab reports and conducting investigations were enjoyable, it didn’t occur to me that I could have been performing experiments after school. But for others, this idea has occurred. The award-winning Science Club for Girls (SCFG) takes extracurricular activities to a new level. The club was established in 1994 by Beth O’Sullivan and Mary McGowan, two parents concerned that their daughters would be left behind as math and science students. O’Sullivan was influenced by a study published by the American Association of University Women, “How Schools Shortchange Girls,” and observed, “We have this tendency to say a child ‘just isn’t good at math.’ But we don’t accept, except on rare occasions, that a child can’t learn to read.”

SCFG uses a curriculum targeted especially for girls and currently offers after-school programs in four eastern Massachusetts cities: Boston, Cambridge, Lawrence and Newton. The group also has previously run a program in Pokuase, Ghana. Started in the science hub of Cambridge, the club is a nonprofit geared toward girls of all ages, especially those in underrepresented groups. An average of 1,000 girls, aged 5–18, participate each year. The club is designed to not only give girls opportunities to work on hands-on, interactive science projects, but to also give them a greater awareness of science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) in a real-world context. SCFG aims to show girls what the opportunities in the STEM field consist of, to narrow the achievement gap, and to give girls a competitive edge once they reach the college level and, in turn, the job market. Club programs are run by volunteers and include female STEM professionals such as scientists and engineers, as well as students from the undergraduate, graduate and medical levels.

SCFG offers programs each semester on an application basis. Girls can choose from several different programs, each geared toward a specific grade range. The K–5 science clubs, which are the core programs for elementary-aged girls, are focused on exploring and inspiring through activities led by teen junior mentors and volunteer mentor-scientists. Girls also have the opportunity to attend Show Me the Science, an event where adults facilitate activities and demonstrations of different scientific principles.

Programs for teen girls in grades 6–12 fall under the Career Exploration, Leadership, & Life Skills (CELLS) umbrella, which primarily exposes girls to careers in STEM and helps them to develop specific STEM skills. Core programs allow girls to explore STEM through “inquiry- and project-based team learning” in STEMinistas (grades 6–8), Challenge Teams (grades 8–12) and through the leadership-focused Junior Mentor Program, which allows girls to assist teaching in the elementary clubs. Students in grades 11 and 12 also have the opportunity to enroll in STEM internships. SCFG is aligned with local universities and supported by a variety of companies and institutions, such as tech giants IBM, Microsoft and Verizon, as well as biotech forerunners EMD Serono, Genzyme and Novartis.

The clubs offered by SCFG don’t just end with the school year, however; high school girls can enroll in the summer program, Young Leaders in STEM. And while the club does take a break between each semester and the next, SCFG also finds reflection an important aspect of the club’s success, making sure that its participants recognize the value in the process of learning. During Science Fest, girls can take the opportunity to share what they have learned, showing off their newfound knowledge and successful science experiments as well as their failures—proving that the scientific method is a never-ending journey, helping determine a new path for every unsuccessful one.

Whether it’s in the lab or the classroom, the work done through such clubs give students a better idea of the kind of work involved in STEM careers. With new skills and a better understanding of the fields, young students are given more options when it comes time to decide on a career choice or life passion, and some are creative enough to combine both.

Did You Know?

SCFG isn’t the only program of its kind. Also started in 1994, Girls Excelling in Math and Science (GEMS) clubs were created by Laura Reasoner Jones. GEMS clubs are started on a voluntary basis and have successfully expanded to over 40 locations around the country. Central Texas’s Girlstart offers after-school programs similar to those at SCFG as well as a summer camp program for girls entering grades 4–8. The Science Center of Iowa (SCI) offers programs through their Girls in Science Initiative, focused on giving girls the chance to meet with female mentors working in STEM fields.

Thursday, January 8, 2015

Interactive Fiction: Redefining the Reader’s Role

by Alison Oehmen
Intern, Fall 2014

Have you ever been reading a book and found yourself so engrossed in the plot that you want to reach in and become part of the story? With interactive fiction (IF) you can do just that. Part book and part game, interactive fiction uses an online book format that gives the reader a say in how plots develop. As people read these text games, they have the options of clicking (or tapping in the case of touchscreen devices) on certain words or passages that are interactive, indicating different points where the narrative can branch off into other directions. Depending on which selection a reader chooses, the story can take any number of interesting twists and turns.

Although IF is not exactly brand new—it’s been around since the 1970s, when the reader-to-text interface consisted of text commands—it has experienced a spike in popularity as of late. For those of us who remember the Choose Your Own Adventure books, interactive fiction is a somewhat similar concept. However, IF stories allow for an even greater variety of reader collaboration. For example, one newly released project by IF writer Emily Short allows the reader to direct the main character’s actions. Entitled Blood & Laurels, this text game features an “Act Now” button at various points throughout the storyline that, when clicked, presents the reader with a wide array of specific actions or reactions from which to choose. The reader is consequently transformed into an extension of the game’s protagonist, able to dictate how the character operates within the story. Reading (or playing?) this text game becomes an improvisational exercise of sorts and the storyline, a dialogue.

The genre has come a long way since the first interactive text game, Adventure, was created. A man named Will Crowther created the original game in the 1970s. The program eventually made its way into the hands of Don Woods, who—with Crowther’s permission—worked to fix bugs and modify the game for wider use. Thereafter, Adventure—and interactive fiction in general—gained greater commercial popularity until the late 1980s, at which time interest began to wane. However, improved IF development systems like TADS (Text Adventure Development System) and Inform managed to keep IF alive. Since then, the internet and new technology have helped bring IF even more recognition.

The possibilities for IF aren’t restricted to personal computers or laptops anymore. With e-readers now widely used, design agencies like IDEO are imagining new ways to transform the traditional reading experience. For instance, someday, readers could uncover clues in a mystery novel by shaking their iPads until most of the words “fall off” to show hidden codes. There is even talk of IF readers eventually receiving text messages or emails from characters.

Then there are games like Zombies, Run! that combine narrative and physical activity. Once the app is downloaded on their smartphones, players literally run while the game tracks their location and speed via GPS and an accelerometer. Meanwhile, the game directs players and conveys a storyline using audio clips. The game also supplements these clips with tracks of players’ own music. Depending on how well they follow and react to the action described in the game, players earn rewards in the form of games items. Thus, the readers themselves become characters within the narrative, propelling the action forward with their own movement.

With such compelling innovations currently being released and more prospects on the horizon, it will be interesting to see how IF will fare in the long run. Will it continue to catch on? Could it be the next frontier for reading and literature? Who knows—only time will tell which path this story will take.

Did You Know?

The inspiration behind the game that started the IF craze, Will Crowther’s Adventure, is quite heartwarming. Crowther developed the game for his two daughters as a way to reconnect with them after a divorce. As an avid caver, Crowther mapped some of his real-life cave explorations; in Adventure, he used some of these maps and added touches of fantasy to captivate his daughters. The game was a big hit with the girls. Eventually, the game began making its way around to friends and then spread via the ARPANET (Advanced Research Projects Agency Network, which was a precursor to the internet), gaining what would become an impressive following.

Monday, January 5, 2015

A Page from the World of Rare Books

by Chris Hartman
Project Manager

The scholarly treatment of rare books has undergone significant changes since the advent of the internet. Having spent over a decade working with rare books and other written materials, I have seen reference books evolve from an almost exclusively print-based medium to a virtual one. But the canon of standard references that rare book librarians, book collectors and dealers use to evaluate their inventory is and has been firmly established. A comprehensive listing of these references can be found on the website of the Antiquarian Booksellers Association of America (ABAA).

Though it has its own specific references, the business of the rare book field is conducted much like any other commercial enterprise, where a willing seller and a willing buyer converge. In pricing a book, the bookseller consults pertinent reference materials; reviews sales records (usually, though not always, through auctions); evaluates condition; and researches for provenance, which is the history of the book’s ownership. Establishing an association with a famous person or family can have great impact on a book’s desirability—above and beyond its intrinsic value as an object. Such books, particularly if they are inscribed or annotated by the previous celebrity owner or author, are of keen interest to librarians and other researchers seeking new insights and perspectives on the book’s subject matter, its author, or other literary questions.

For students of bibliography, An Introduction to Bibliography for Literary Students by Ronald B. McKerrow (1927) and its supplement, A New Introduction to Bibliography by Philip Gaskell (1972), are invaluable. These books emphasize, respectively, the development of the handpress and the machine press in book production. John Carter and Nicolas Barker’s ABC for Book Collectors (8th edition, 2004) is an alternately humorous and insightful look into the vocabulary used to describe the parts and conditions of books: dentelle (a lacy pattern, often gilded, on the cover of a book), cancel (a replacement section substituted into the original manufactured book), blind stamp (a colorless, ungilded impression on the cover of a book), and deckle edges (page edges that have not been trimmed evenly) are just a few terms explored. The book also wades into the vast frontier of online and web-based collecting.

With regard to rare book librarianship, the American Library Association’s Rare Book and Manuscript Section (RBMS) has taken great strides in recent years to codify the procedures for handling and cataloging rare materials, including books, manuscripts, prints and ephemera. One of RBMS’s most influential publications is Descriptive Cataloging of Rare Materials (Books), which comprises the standards by which rare books and related items are catalogued and accessed in a research library setting.

Similarly, in the rare book trade, there are seemingly innumerable bibliographies designed for specific genres of books. To assess rare printed works on America (i.e., Americana), there is The Final Edition (Of U.S.iana) by Wright Howes (1994) or Gale Digital Collection’s Sabin Americana, 1500–1926, which was inspired by bibliographer Joseph Sabin. For American literature, there is the Bibliography of American Literature, compiled by Jacob Blanck for the Bibliographical Society of America in 1955. If researching a noted individual to determine provenance of a particular book or the author of a certain manuscript being evaluated, the Dictionary of American Biography (DAB) or the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (DNB) (British) can both be very helpful. The National Union Catalog (NUC) “is a record of publications held in more than eleven hundred libraries in the United States and Canada, including the Library of Congress” and details the histories of many books. Lastly, American Book Prices Current, originally a reference printed each year and now available online, curates the sales records of major auction houses. With so many references available both in print and online, the secrets of the world of rare books are right at your fingertips!

Did You Know?

Rare Book School (RBS), located at the University of Virginia, offers a wide range of courses focused specifically on the history of written, printed and digital works. RBS students come from myriad backgrounds: some are booksellers and collectors; others are librarians; and a growing number are graduate, undergraduate and even high-school students. Each class, usually limited to 12 or fewer students, offers intensive training over the course of one full workweek. During this period, students attend class daily for a total of 28–30 hours by the end of the week. Course credits are not offered by RBS; however, on the final day of a class, students receive a certificate of completion.