Thursday, October 29, 2015

Did You Make it Through? The “Most Difficult Books” List

by Tanya Seamans
Summer 2015 Intern

As is true of most people who pursue a career in publishing, I have always loved to read. In college one of my majors was English, and I happily spent a good portion of my college career reading novel after novel for credit. However, we have all come across at least one book that s just too difficult. My most difficult book so far has been Edmund Spenser’s The Faerie Queene, which is unfortunate, as I spent an entire semester studying it. Even having an amazing professor couldn’t salvage this book for me. It was allegory to the nth degree, it was written primarily in Middle English, and it was too darn long.  

I am far from the only booklover to ever struggle with an amazing piece of literature. The Millions, an online magazine offering coverage on books, arts and culture, started a series on difficult books in 2009. The curators selected what they believe to be the ten most difficult of all. They are:
  • Nightwood by Djuna Barne
  • A Tale of a Tub by Jonathan Swift
  • Phenomenology of Spirit by G. W. F. Hegel
  • To the Lighthouse by Virginia Woolf
  • Clarissa or, the History of a Young Lady by Samuel Richardson
  • Finnegans Wake by James Joyce
  • Being and Time by Martin Heidegger
  • The Faerie Queene by Edmund Spenser
  • The Making of Americans by Gertrude Stein
  • Women and Men by Joseph McElroy
I, personally, felt vindicated to see my own literary struggle make the list. But, of course, this made me curious. Would others in the PSG office have similar Most Difficult Books, and would any of theirs have made the list?

There was a surprising consensus throughout the office. The Sound and the Fury by William Faulkner was the most popular Most Difficult Book with three votes. Herman Melville’s Moby Dick received two votes, while other honorable mentions included Leo Tolstoy’s War and Peace, James Joyce’s Ulysses, Charles Dickens’s Hard Times, Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness and Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter. My favorite response to the query was Ken’s explanation for why his Most Difficult Book was An American Tragedy by Theodore Dreiser: “846 pages to tell that story?!? Law & Order: SVU could have wrapped that up in 60 minutes (including commercials).”

While most of these are indeed classic and complex books, I was surprised to see a few on this list—some of them I had greatly enjoyed and not personally found difficult. So then what makes a book “difficult”? Is it obscure references and allusions to a time period we are no longer familiar with? Is it rich and dense prose, layers of allegory, and a disjointed stream of consciousness? Or can a book simply be difficult because for whatever reason we cannot connect to it, and without the ability to immerse ourselves in the story, we are forcing ourselves to sludge through symbols that we recognize individually but cannot comprehend collectively? Whatever it may be that makes a book difficult, take comfort in the fact that you are not alone in your struggle—none of us really knows what the one-line chapter, “My mother is a fish.” means in William Faulkner’s As I Lay Dying.

Did You Know?

À la recherche du temps perdu by Marcel Proust is the Guinness World Record holder for longest novel. Originally published in 1913, this 13-volume masterpiece clocks in between 1.2 and 1.3 million words! However, in terms of pages, the longest novel ever written is Artamène ou le Grand Cyrus by Madeleine de Scudéry. Published in ten volumes starting in 1649, there are 13,095 total pages!

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

No Imitation Game Here: Original Turing Manuscript Sold

by Lauren Cepero
Summer 2015 Intern

A 56-page manuscript written by Alan Turing, a major contributor to modern computing now known for his code breaking in World War II, has been auctioned by Bonhams auction house in New York. This collection of Turing’s “formulas and scientific musings” is contained in a small notebook, which was sold on April 13, 2015, for $1,025,000. A portion of the earnings for the code breaker’s handwritten insights will be donated to charity.

Also auctioned off by Bonhams was a functioning Enigma machine used in World War II. It went for $269,000. The Enigma machine was originally created by German engineer Arthur Scherbius, who hoped to interest commercial companies in a more secure way of communicating. The German army adapted Scherbius’ invention around 1926, and used it to code messages during World War II. The German army would use one machine to scramble an original message, which was then sent to another military base, where another Enigma machine, if using the same settings, could decipher the coded message. Using Polish intelligence about Enigma technology, Turing and his fellow team members at Bletchley Park in England were able to crack these coded messages by narrowing down the possible Enigma settings using a computing machine they invented.

The majority of Turing’s papers had already been donated to King’s College in Cambridge, UK, where Turing attended for his undergraduate degree. But this recently auctioned notebook had been withheld by Robin Gandy, a man who was not only Turing’s friend, but also an associate mathematician. While Gandy donated many of the papers Turing had left him to King’s College in 1977, he kept the manuscript in his care until his death in 1995. Gandy had also been using the blank pages as a journal. 

Recently, those who had no previous knowledge of how significant Turing’s contribution was to World War II have had the opportunity to see his life unfolded and reexamined before them. Just this year, Banbury sheets—papers used to break the Enigma code—were discovered in the walls of Bletchley Park huts. Though it was probably the star-studded 2014 film The Imitation Game about Turing and company’s time at Bletchley Park that more effectively catapulted his name into the media. The movie, starring Benedict Cumberbatch and Keira Knightly, was nominated for several Academy Awards including Best Picture, and won for Best Adapted Screenplay.

Did You Know?

The number of possible settings on the three-rotor Enigma is 2 × 10145. Written out, that means Turing and others attempting to break the German Enigma code had a 1 in 12,276,989,683,567,292,244,023,724,793,447,227,628,130,289,261,173,376,992,586,381,072,041,865,754,882,821,864,156,921,211,571,619,366,980,734,115,647,633,344,328,661,729,280,000,000,000,000,000 chance of finding the right setting. Like those odds? Further complicating the scenario, the team only had eight hours before the Germans changed the settings and they had to begin again.

Thursday, October 22, 2015

Art That “Pops”: International Pop Art Exhibitions

by Lauren Cepero
Summer 2015 Intern

If you were to begin talking about pop art, most people will immediately think of Andy Warhol’s Campbell’s Soup Cans (1962). If they’re more familiar with the movement, they may consider other works such as Wayne Thiebaud’s Three Machines (1963) or Jasper Johns’s Flag (1954). The subjects of these pieces might seem mundane and everyday, but the pieces are anything but drab and monotonous. A spark of irony lurks within the bold primary colors, and a sly humor is incorporated into each hint of mass media and consumer goods.

Pop art crashed onto the scene between late 1950 and 1970. After World War II, there was a rise of mass consumerism in the United States; there was also cultural and political tension due to the Vietnam War and the Civil Rights Movement. Artists utilized the indulgence and uneasiness of the time as a spark for their movement away from the previously popular abstract expressionism.
The artists continued to challenge the meaning of being an artist, the definition of originality and even the characterization of art. Appropriation was the method of choice for pop artists; by intentionally modifying and developing works intended for average consumers—photographs, food labels, attributed fonts and colors—pop artists transformed commonplace items into artwork. Pop artists wanted everything to be seen as having the ability to be transformed into art.

In celebration of this radical movement in the art world, museums have been creating exhibits that break away from Americanized pop art and focus more on pop as an international phenomenon. The Museum of Contemporary Art Australia ran a seven-month exhibit, Pop to popism, which ended in early March 2015. Similarly, the Walker Museum in Minnesota had a pop art exhibit titled International Pop that ran through August 2015. The exhibit had a total of 140 works of art from 14 countries, including France, Brazil, Argentina, Japan and Germany. Striving to reach beyond what is commonly imagined when pop art is called to mind, the Walker Museum encouraged participation through roundtable discussions, essays from scholars and critics, and a film program.

Another pop exhibition is currently at the Tate Britain museum in London. The exhibit, titled The EY Exhibition: The World Goes Pop, opened September 17 and runs into 2016. The World Goes Pop features 160 pieces of art from Latin America to Asia and from Europe to the Middle East. The Tate’s mission for the exhibit is “highlighting key figures of the era who have often been left out of mainstream art history. It will also reveal how pop was never just a celebration of Western consumerism, but was often a subversive international language for criticism and public protest across the globe.” The hope is to move away from overly familiar pop images and instead reveal other nuances of pop art. These nuances include the way female artists portray women, use of folk traditions, and pieces depicting more than just the United States’ rise in consumerism.

Did You Know?

Andy Warhol had a collection of 612 cardboard box time capsules. He used them to store movie ticket stubs, unpaid bills and even Clark Gable’s shoes. Curators also discovered a piece of Caroline Kennedy’s birthday cake within the capsules.

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

College Journalism in the Digital Era

by Reena Karasin
Summer 2015 Intern

As the internet becomes increasingly ubiquitous and digital overtakes physical reading material, the field of journalism has had to adapt to retain both readers and profits. In my 2015 spring semester at Tufts University, I served as a managing editor of my school’s newspaper, the Tufts Daily, and I can attest to the fact that we, like many other university and professional papers across the country, are in a period of turbulent change. In this year alone, we revamped our website, bumped up our social media presence, and developed a new system for covering and promoting breaking news. As journalism changes, college newspapers and university journalism curricula change with it; the trend toward online journalism is reflected on university campuses everywhere, as all journalists must re-imagine their craft in a digital world.

Multimedia content has become an integral part of journalism and, accordingly, it is being emphasized in journalism programs nationwide. For example, a few years ago the University of Texas at Austin’s School of Journalism abolished its concentrations—print, magazine, photojournalism, multimedia and broadcast—in favor of a holistic approach to digital journalism. When using visual and audio components proves so vital to modern journalism, specialization loses its value—today’s journalists have to be able to do it all.

According to a study by the American Journalism Review (AJR), there are a number of areas and skills on the rise in journalism programs. Sports journalism is growing rapidly, as is data-driven journalism. Skills in both data analysis and data visualization are becoming increasingly important, as the latter has proved an effective way of engaging readers. Many programs and professionals are also using new technologies, such as drones and Google Glass eyewear, to help with reporting. Audience analytics is also an invaluable tool for publications.

Social media has also become a vital part of journalism, especially for engaging the young audience that is a college campus. BBC News states that it uses social media as a tool for finding news and information, reaching readers, and promoting its content. It also mentions, however, a number of issues with social media—including privacy, anonymity and ethics. After helping run the Tufts Daily last semester, I understand the double-edged sword of social media: It is wonderful to have such a way to reach readers, but things can easily get out of hand when a reporter is live tweeting as quickly as possible, or students respond with angry or hateful comments.

As many daily print papers run into financial troubles and begin to favor a mostly or entirely online presence, some college newspapers are picking up the slack. For example, the University of Michigan’s daily paper also stands in as the local print paper for Ann Arbor, since the town’s own daily paper switched to printing only two times a week (with additional material online).

Technological advances have broadened the scope of what journalism can be, and while it may be difficult to adjust to its ever-increasing demands, this new age of journalism is certainly an exciting one to see.

Did You Know?

In 2013, the Pew Research Center found that there are more college and university newspapers in the United States than daily professional papers. And these academic programs are producing real news. Arizona State University students create pieces that are distributed to over 30 news organizations around the state.

Thursday, October 15, 2015

Left, Right, Up, Down: Not a Cheat Code, but the Motion of Languages

by David Fox
Summer 2015 Intern

Can you imagine trying to use your favorite social media site—or any website, really—with all of the text flowing in the opposite direction? ,siht ekil leef dluow tI and it would make said website very cumbersome to interact with. This was the reality that Hebrew, Arabic, Farsi, and Urdu speakers were stuck with until as recently as 2013 for Facebook and 2012 for Twitter.

With most of the world’s languages moving left-to-right, sometimes it feels like the internet isn’t built for those people whose first languages flow in other directions. Think about it: until just three years ago, if a Hebrew Twitter user wanted to use a hashtag, he or she would essentially have to tweet in reverse. Same thing for anyone trying to update a Facebook status. Was that backwards sentence in the first paragraph annoying to try and decipher? Imagine dealing with those kinds of sentences every time you wanted to check out your newsfeed.

Not everyone is bothered by words flowing in other directions, though. For instance, some three- and four-year-old children switch the direction in which they write on a line-by-line basis; they’ll start left-to-right like we’re used to, then follow that up by going right-to-left on the next line. If you saw your child do this, you would probably think it was the cute mistake of someone who hasn’t yet learned how to properly form sentences. Instead, you might want to check and see if your little toddler has secretly been studying ancient Greek; this alternating method of writing is called boustrophedon and was popular all the way back in the sixth century BCE. It makes sense when you think about it: if you hadn’t been taught to write in a certain direction, it would probably feel more natural to simply drop straight down to the next line instead of picking your hand up and going back to where you started. Toddlers clearly value efficiency over conforming to adults’ silly, time-wasting writing methods.

The way our words move affects more than just our ability to understand each other. Apparently, it can also shape our perception of time. In an experiment conducted at Stanford University, participants were asked to order four cards depicting the same event at different stages. Researchers found that the direction that participants’ language moved matched their perception of time: Native English speakers organized the cards from left to right, Hebrew speakers organized them right to left and Mandarin speakers sorted them vertically. (Traditionally, Chinese characters run top to bottom.) My next question is this: If the results of this study are accurate, what do they imply about the perception of time for boustrophedonically inclined toddlers?

Did You Know?

If you find boustrophedonic writing to be somewhat overwhelming, you would have absolutely hated life amongst the Easter Island natives. They wrote in a language called Rongorongo and employed the world’s only known practical use of reverse boustrophedon, which follows the same zigzag pattern of boustrophedon—but with the added headache of having the text rotate 180 degrees for each line.

Hold Up, GED: HiSET is Here

by Tanya Seamans
Summer 2015 Intern

There is no true path to success; everyone moves forward in life at a different speed and in a different way from others. It is comforting to know there are so many ways to get ahead, and when life gets in the way, there are many different ways to catch up. Now there are increasingly more ways to demonstrate the same academic proficiency as that required in high school: the GED is no longer alone.

Since 1942, the GED test has been an important part of the country’s education and a vital second-chance opportunity. Originally rooted in educating young members of the military returning home from World War II, the GED test is the only high school equivalency assessment battery that has been recognized by all US states and territories as well as all Canadian provinces. Nearly 800,000 GED tests are taken each year, and, in its history, more than 18 million people have passed the GED test!

In recent years, however, the GED has gotten some competition, providing even more choices for those wishing to signify that their academic level is the same as a high school graduate’s. When the GED went through an overhaul in 2013, a number of states took the opportunity to try out alternative tests. One of these new assessment batteries, offered by the Educational Testing Service (ETS), is called HiSET. (Editorial Note: While the ETS and HiSET websites don’t define the HiSET acronym, others have defined it as meaning “High School Equivalency Test.”) According to its website, the HiSET exam is the least expensive high school equivalency test on the market, striving to be as accessible and affordable as possible.

One major reason that states began to explore other tests is that the 2014 version of the GED test is only offered via computer; there’s no longer a paper-and-pencil version. The HiSET test is offered both online and on paper, which is very appealing to states that may not yet have transitioned completely to computer-based testing. It’s also good for test takers who aren’t very computer savvy; a person who’s inexperienced with computers doesn’t need to learn a new skill set on top of having to prepare for the test.

There are now 14 states that use the HiSET: California, Iowa, Louisiana, Maine, Massachusetts, Missouri, Montana, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, North Carolina, Tennessee and Wyoming. Some of these states use HiSET as their only high school equivalency test, while others offer it along with other options.

In addition to HiSET, there is another alternative now being offered: the Test Assessing Secondary Completion (TASC) from CTB/McGraw-Hill. Currently, eight states offer the TASC test, either alone or with the other two tests.

It is wonderful to see so many different options becoming available for people to prove their academic skills. As each test strives to be as affordable and accessible as possible, more people will have a better chance to follow the path of success, wherever it may lead them.

Did You Know?

In the 2011–2012 school year, Nebraska and Vermont had the highest graduation rates—each at 93 percent! Two other states, North Dakota and Wisconsin, also had graduation rates of 90 percent or higher.