Thursday, July 23, 2015

Paw-blishing Solutions Group: PSG Pets

by Ali Dokus
Summer 2015 Intern

When I’m not interning at PSG, I also work at a doggie day care. I have gotten to know about 40 dogs, from miniature dachshunds to German shepherds to English bulldogs to Great Danes. I rub bellies, toss Frisbees, serve lunch, referee scuffles and scoop poop. Even before this illustrious canine career, I was always a dog person. I grew up with a Rottweiler named Zachary, who, despite the breed’s reputation, was the gentlest soul. He let me crawl all over him, tug his ears, and ride on his back like a horse. In fact, I used to think the Carl series—a collection of illustrative, mostly wordless children’s books about a babysitting Rottweiler—were biographical, taken right from my childhood.

When I arrived at PSG, I found many kindred animal-loving spirits. Almost everyone here owns a dog or a cat—or both! Don and his girlfriend each have a cat, Spiffy and Penelope. Before the four of them moved in together, Penelope visited for a trial run, and luckily, everyone got along perfectly! Ok, almost perfectly. Spiffy really wants to be BFFs with Penelope, who is more of a lone-wolf type of cat. But Spiffy isn’t giving up easily. Oh, and Don knit Spiffy a teal scarf during the brutal 2014–2015 winter.

Like Spiffy and Penelope, Troy’s cat Callie (short for Calliope) is dying to be buds with his dog Cinder, but no dice so far. If the cat tries to cozy up with Cinder, she’ll jump off the couch. Ouch. Maybe it’s because Callie prefers to let mice be, so Cinder has to pick up the cat’s hunting duties as well as her doggie chores, which include attacking the lawnmower.

On the other hand, Nick’s cat, Balu, has absolutely no relationship dramas. He’s just fat and lazy and timid.

Kate, though lacking in her own pets, sometimes dog-sits for a Lab named Sampson who is also content with just people. Sampson is a wiggly yellow Lab adopted from a shelter as an adult. Despite his age, Sampson thinks he is a puppy—crashing into everything, pushing through people’s legs, and planting his face into the rug if his nose itches. He is also a master of gaining affection, pacing back and forth in front of people assembly-line style to maintain a constant petting cycle.

Meanwhile, Eileen and her boyfriend are currently pet-less, but they’re narrowing their search for a boxer or boxer mix to add to their family. (At the time I’m writing this post, they are about to meet with a potential foster dog!) When she was little, Eileen dreamed of transforming into her family’s terrier mutt Graycy, much like a character from the popular Animorphs series. In eighth grade, Eileen got a Westie puppy named Mac. Her parents cared for Mac when she went off to college and were so in love with him that they had to keep Mac for themselves. But who can blame them? Dogs (and cats) steal our hearts.

Did You Know?

According to the Guinness Book of World Records, the world’s smallest dog is a Chihuahua named Milly who lives in Puerto Rico. She is only 3.8 inches tall!

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Checkmate! Chess Class Could Be Coming to Spain

By Tanya Seamans
Summer 2015 Intern

Math, science, languages—these are the subjects we tend to consider standard required courses for students, both in the United States and in other nations. Well, Spain could soon be adding a new one: chess may become a compulsory subject for students.

In 2012, the European Parliament endorsed the Chess in School program, calling on each European Union (EU) member state to encourage the introduction of the program into its educational system. In February 2015, nearly all of Spain’s Congress supported a resolution that would bring Chess in School to the Spanish education system. Pablo Martín, the Socialist party (PSOE) deputy in charge of defending the initiative, claimed that chess “increases strategic abilities and memory, teaches you how to make decisions under pressure, and foments concentration, among many other qualities. And the financial cost is very low.”

While the agreement is not legally binding, it is a “serious political commitment, especially because it was unanimous,” according to the Socialist spokesman in Congress, Antonio Hernando, and the education spokesman, Mario Bedera. The next step toward making the agreement official is to bring up the issue with the Education Ministry’s Sectorial Committee, whose decision will be binding.

Spain is not the first country to consider adding chess to its curriculum. In 2011, Armenia became the first country to make chess compulsory in school for second, third, and fourth graders. Armenia is clearly a country that takes chess seriously; they have produced more than 30 chess grandmasters and have won three of the past five Chess Olympiads! Judit Polgar, a Hungarian chess grandmaster, has also been successful at getting chess into schools. Her Skill-building Chess subject has been available for elementary schools in Hungary since September 2013.

Several studies have been conducted evaluating the impact of chess on school students. One study published in Italy in 2012 found that students who play chess as an extracurricular activity have improved cognitive abilities, a higher capacity for coping and problem solving, and better socio-affective development. Another study from Italy conducted in 2011 found that learning chess as part of third grade studies increased math achievement in students.

In the United States, any officially recognized chess in school is pretty much still restricted to the chess club. But if more and more European countries begin to adopt chess as a part of their curricula, who knows? Maybe one day our students will be practicing their chess moves along with their math homework.

Did You Know?

The second book ever printed in the English language was about chess! Its title was De Ludo Scachorum (Latin for About the Game of Chess). The book was written by Frà Jacopo de Cessole (Jacob Cessolis), a Dominican friar, sometime between 1275 and 1300. It was translated into French in 1347; over 125 years later, in 1474, the book was translated into English and printed by William Caxton.

Thursday, July 9, 2015

PSG Bookshelf: An Office of Readers

By Reena Karasin
Summer 2015 Intern

When I first came into the PSG office for my interview, I sat reading until Lori was able to see me. She came over, and the first thing she did after shaking my hand was ask me how many books I had with me. She told me that everyone at PSG carries at least two.

To work at PSG is to see what happens when a group of lovers of reading are put together. The people here don’t just create books—they share them. We trade recommendations and lend each other copies; we know each other’s tastes and send links about Harry Potter. To give our blog readers a better idea of what we read, we’ve decided to offer a glimpse of the PSG bookshelf.

Many people here at PSG are big fans of young adult literature, citing both popular, well-established favorites and newer gems, such as Becky Wallace’s The Storyspinner. Several of us also enjoy murder mysteries and horror books—Don, Colleen and Eileen are very into Stephen King—while others prefer to read fantasy—like the Song of Ice and Fire series—nonfiction or comedy.

When intra-office recommendations don’t suffice, many of us turn to online recommendation services such as Goodreads or Publishers Weekly to find new reads. We also love to browse, whether in a bookstore or via Amazon. Kate has a less traditional method of hearing about new books—she likes to know what everyone on the train is reading, even if it involves leaning over into their personal space a little bit. We’re also not picky about format; we read both print books and ebooks, and Don is a big proponent of audiobooks. We find books through our libraries, our bookstores and our electronic devices.

We overwhelmingly prefer fiction, but most of us enjoy reading a mix of other types of books as well. The same holds true for magazines and newspapers—while many of us consider books our favorite form of reading, we dabble in magazines and newspapers, especially when we don’t have endless time to read. Nick loves fashion magazines, while Eileen faithfully reads her local newspaper, the Eagle-Tribune, and Elizabeth enjoys Yoga Journal.

As for what books we’re reading at the moment, Kate’s making her way through Where’d You Go, Bernadette?, and The Girl on the Train rests on Nick’s desk. Elizabeth is currently reading The Cruelest Month, the third installment of the Three Pines Mysteries series, which features Chief Inspector Armand Gamache. As for Alyssa, who knows—it’s impossible to keep up with what she’s reading, because she finishes up to an astounding four books a week. Meanwhile, when I’m not at PSG, I’m paging through a wonderful—if lengthy—seafaring novel by Danish author Carsten Jensen entitled We, the Drowned.

Did You Know?

While many people have embraced the advent of e-readers, few have abandoned print books completely. According to a 2014 study conducted by the Pew Research Center, 87 percent of people who stated they preferred using ebooks had also read at least one print book in the previous year.

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Toy Story Becomes a Reality

By Ali Dokus
Summer 2015 Intern

In 2009, Barbie celebrated her fiftieth birthday. She has been a veterinarian, astronaut, dentist, five-time United States presidential candidate, chef, paleontologist and Olympic gymnast. And I’m just naming a few of her careers.

Yet Barbie learned to talk only recently. A prototype of Hello Barbie was first shown at Toy Fair 2015 in New York, where Barbie displayed her speech recognition technology, made possible by Mattel, Inc., and the San Francisco startup ToyTalk. Barbie now has the ability to analyze what kids say to her and produce relevant responses. If a child mentions loving to swim or wanting to be a paleontologist when they grow up, Barbie will remember those facts and bring them up later. “The idea is they’re going into the things that kids aspire to be and the career paths Barbie represents, from scientist, mathematician, surfer, painter, writer. . . .” Oren Jacobs, CEO of ToyTalk, says. “We’ll be taking a look at Barbie and what the girls and boys who play with Barbie want to do, what they want to ask her.” As a woman who has dabbled in more than 150 different career paths, Barbie will be ready to dole out the advice.

In a statement about privacy and security, ToyTalk and Mattel assure parents that the speech system doesn’t search the open web for answers to questions posed by children. And ToyTalk is no stranger to the world of high tech and artificial intelligence. A startup based in San Francisco, the company has amassed over $31 million of funding by turning conversations with make-believe characters into a reality. They create a vast swath of mobile apps, such as SpeakaZoo and SpeakaLegend. These games allow children to converse with fantastical creatures fused with artificial intelligence.

Additionally, a similar company, Elemental Path, has launched a Kickstarter to push through CogniToys Dinos: adorable, cuddly and utterly squeezable talking dinosaurs whose souls are infused with Wi-Fi. The CogniToys Dino was made possible when Elemental Path won the IBM Watson Mobile App Developer Challenge, a global competition requiring developers to create an app with IBM’s Watson, a supercomputer with amazing cognitive capacities. As a result, CogniToys are now charged with the power of Watson. Early prototypes were printed on a 3D printer, and kid focus groups helped create a vast database of dialogues and stratified vocabulary levels. Like Barbie, the Dino tailors its conversation based on the level of interaction.

The spectacular thing about toys with artificial intelligence is that they have the ability to learn and grow as children learn and grow. Fancy terms like cognitive computing power, speech-recognition system and natural language processing referring to toys tell us that we reside very much in the “future.” We’re marching toward the era of hoverboards and time travel, with super-smart Barbies and squeezable Dinos leading the charge. If Barbie does happen to gain sentience and take over the world, at least she has the experience for global leadership, given that she served as an ambassador for world peace in 1986.

Did You Know?

The name Siri means “beautiful woman who leads you to victory.” Dag Kittlaus, the original creator behind the iPhone’s virtual assistance technology, planned to name his daughter Siri but ended up using it for the program instead.

Thursday, July 2, 2015

Golf: "A Good Walk Spoiled"

by Ken Scherpelz
VP Sales & Business Development

Full disclosure: While I can call myself a golfer, I am not a good golfer. I know the rules of the game, and I understand the overall objectives. After playing for almost thirty years, I can eventually get the ball to do what I need it to do, and I’ve made some great shots, but like most amateur golfers, I can’t make those great shots on a consistent basis. Still, I play on. And although Mark Twain supposedly once described golf as “a good walk spoiled,” days on the green have become a very special time for me.

I didn’t grow up in a golf environment, but now I live in serious golf country in Dublin, Ohio, home state of the legendary Jack Nicklaus. Even as I write this blog, the pros—including Woods and Mickelson and Spieth—are teeing off just a mile from my home in the first round of Nicklaus’s annual Memorial Tournament at the Muirfield Village Golf Club. I’ve been to the tournament and watched the best in the world display their incredible (and consistent) skills just minutes from my front door.

Unlike the four major professional sports in the United States—baseball, football, basketball and hockey—golf is not played against other players. While each player needs to score better than the others in order to win, there’s no real defense out on the course trying to block your putts or intercept your drives. And while the other sports are played in front of cheering—sometimes screaming—fans, golf is a quiet game, punctuated by an occasional cheer or high five after an exceptional drive or well-read putt.

Golf has also been referred to as “gentleman’s game”; in amateur golf, you keep your own score and call your own penalties. There’s no striped-shirt referee on the course watching your every move to call fair or foul when appropriate. (That’s not to say we amateurs won’t occasionally employ poor counting skills or a discreet tap with a foot to improve an otherwise difficult ball position.)

One of the highlights of my year is my annual trip to Tampa, Florida, where I gather with college friends I’ve known for over 40 years to share a long weekend of golf. Each February for the past 22 years, we’ve shed our winter layers and picked up our clubs to enjoy Florida’s warmth, share our stories (career, family, health), trade the same bad jokes and play a little golf. Years ago, we would play six rounds in four days. Do the math: 18 holes per round times 6 rounds equals 108 holes; 108 times 4–5 (or even 6–7) strokes per hole equals over 500 strokes over the course of those four days. We now acknowledge our age (and aching backs and shoulders and knees) and have pulled back to four rounds in four days, saving around 150 strokes (as well as our backs and shoulders and knees).

On these trips, golf is not just a game; it’s also the mechanism by which we gather together and keep our relationships strong. The play on the course is less important than the camaraderie and conversation shared long after the scorecards are tallied and spikes cleaned off. After 22 years of playing golf with these guys, I’m not sure that my golf is getting any better—but I know my connections with these friends gets stronger every year. We’ve already lost two members of the group’s original eight, and in the coming years we’ll most likely lose others. But until we have our tee times on that Great Golf Course Up Yonder, we’ll continue our annual treks to Tampa to play a game we love with the teammates we love even more. And despite how Mark Twain felt about the game of golf, our annual “good walk” (or cart ride) is anything but spoiled.