Thursday, December 29, 2016

The Phantom World of Ghostwriters

by Eileen Neary
Junior Project Manager

Legions of nameless writers, churning out manuscripts behind closed doors. Books in bookstores emblazoned in bold letters with the names of literary goliaths receiving credit for works they did not pen. It sounds like a conspiracy theory. But it’s not. Ghostwriters were once invisible forces in the publishing world, but in recent years, the practice of ghostwriting is more forthright than ever.

Literary agent Madeleine Morel represents several ghostwriters through her agency 2M Communications Ltd. In her estimation, “at least 60 percent of the books [were] ghostwritten” on the nonfiction bestseller list at the time she was interviewed for NPR. She goes on to say that “10 years ago . . . you’d maybe tell your best friend on pain of death never to tell anyone else cause there was a slightly ignominious feature to it.”

These days, ghostwriters are often able to reveal whom they have written for. Ghostwriter Daniel Paisner, for example, is behind the works of Daymond John from ABC’s Shark Tank, athletes Ray Lewis and Serena Williams, actor Denzel Washington, and many other politicians and prominent figures.

In the fiction universe, best-selling author James Patterson is perhaps the most open about his use of ghostwriters. Without them, he could never have achieved the massive output that has made him one of the most prolific authors of all time. Between 2008 and 2013, Patterson revealed the process: He writes a 30- to 80-page project, a ghostwriter steps in to complete the work, and the pair check in monthly on the progress.

Author K. A. Applegate is best known for her Animorphs series, targeted for young adults. Though she started her career as a ghostwriter, fans were upset to learn during a Reddit Q&A that ghostwriters wrote dozens of the books in her series. Like Patterson, Applegate (and her husband, Michael Grant, who partnered with her on some writing projects) would come up with outlines of varying length that were used as a frame of reference for the ghostwriter’s drafting. Her reason for this practice? “It was either use ghosts or end the series. Our schedule was 14 books a year. Plus other projects.”

It’s certainly no cakewalk working as a ghostwriter. In addition to often losing out on name recognition, there is a lot that goes into trying to sound like a different author. According to NPR, ghostwriter David Fisher “studies speech patterns, sentence structures, what jokes his subjects tell . . . and organize[s] all the bits of information into a coherent story.” And when it comes to the money? The ghostwriter receives about 30 percent of the book’s advance, plus an agreed-upon percentage of the book’s royalties.

It makes you wonder . . . will ghostwriting become further legitimized as time goes on? Or will these writers continue to hide in the shadows? Revealing the truth is fine by me. I ain’t afraid of no ghost.

Did You Know?

Baseball agent Christy Walsh penned the term ghostwriting. Walsh went on to set up the Christy Walsh Syndicate in 1921 to “exploit the literary output of America's sporting heroes.” He and his firm went on to ghostwrite under the names of many famous athletes.

Thursday, December 22, 2016

Rock-Paper-Scissors Goes Pro

by Amanda Gutierrez
Fall 2016 Intern

One of my best friends and I are constantly taking part in the time-honored tradition of using rock-paper-scissors to make decisions. All either of us needs to do is hold up a fist—the universal sign to engage in a game of rock-paper-scissors.

Even in the professional world the game is sometimes used to make decisions: In 2005 Sotheby’s and Christie’s auction houses were asked by their potential client to compete in a game of rock-paper-scissors to decide who would handle the sale of a multi-million-dollar art collection. In the end, Christie’s choice of scissors sliced down the competition.

Of course, not everyone uses this game to make choices. For some, it’s purely recreational—children on a playground often play the game to pass time. For others, it’s a sport—the members of the World RPS Society compete professionally (believe it or not) for the title of champion. The society, originally called the Paper Scissors Stone Club, was formed in 1842. The club existed as a space where members could enjoy the game with only their honor at stake. In 1918, the headquarters for the club were moved to Toronto, Canada, and the name was changed to the World RPS Club, then again in 1925 to deem it a “society” to reflect its growing membership.

To this day, the fans of the game hold championships around the word, and it’s not only honor that’s at stake. Championship purses can total thousands of dollars. At one tournament in Las Vegas in 2006, the prize was $50,000! When there’s that much on the line, the top professionals develop techniques to recognize and counter their components’ playing patterns (and in doing so, win the dough).

Some players enhance the tournaments through the addition of costumes and code names. One player, called the Midnight Rider, plays wearing a mask. Another player calls himself Master Roshambollah—eponymous of roshambo, another name for the game.

In 2007, rock-paper-scissors was so popular that the finals for the USA RPS League Championship in Las Vegas were aired on ESPN2. The finalists, Jamie “Landshark” Langridge and David “The Brain” Borne, held their epic battle within the confines of a miniaturized boxing ring. In the end, the shark beat the brain.

Think you have what it takes? Test your skills of predication here.

Did You Know?

Sitcoms love putting their own twist on the traditional options of rock-paper-scissors. In a Friends episode, Joey insists "fire" beats everything, until Phoebe releases a "water balloon." On The Big Bang Theory, Leonard, Sheldon and gang often leave decisions to "rock-paper-scissors-lizard-Spock."

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Walking on Water: The Power of Art

by Abbrianna MacGregor
Fall 2016 Intern

If you’ve visited an art museum, you are probably familiar with the feeling of silent awe and inspiration provoked by pieces that move you. If such remarkable emotions are elicited by viewing something, imagine the sensations attached to an interactive art installation that immerses you in its full experience. And imagine if this interactive work of art was placed in an exotic setting, surrounded by picturesque scenes that seem transported out of a travel brochure. Sound surreal?

The Floating Piers, an art installation that was displayed on Italy’s Lake Iseo from June 18 to July 3, 2016, allowed for all of the above.

The exhibit, which was free and open to the public, gave art fanatics the opportunity to feel as if they could walk on water. The pier consisted of yellow fabric held up by hundreds of thousands of floating plastic cubes and extended for nearly two miles on both pedestrian streets and across the lake. Heightening its exquisiteness, the coloration of the fabric fluctuated between shades of red and gold as the water and surrounding light shifted.

Geographically speaking, the pier allowed visitors to walk from the Italian commune of Sulzano to the town of Monte Isola to the island of San Paolo. Certain features of the pier were strategically placed to accentuate its undulating movement—the water’s motion created the illusion that the pier was breathing. Those who experienced the pier compared it to being on a slightly rocky boat!
Who could have dreamed such a unique installation? Husband and wife artist duo, Christo and Jeanne-Claude, conceived the idea in 1970. Jeanne-Claude passed away in 2009, and five years later Christo found Lake Iseo in Italy’s Lombardo region to be an ideal location for their unrealized project. Christo is a conceptual artist who focuses on impermanence. He and Jeanne-Claude created works so that they belonged to everyone for just a short period of time.

The Floating Piers was fully funded by the sale of Christo’s original artwork. In total, the project cost $16.8 million. When the 16-day exhibition was completed, all components were removed and recycled.

Christo himself emphasizes that this project’s most important component was its “nomadic quality.” His idea is that to really experience his art, you have to soak in your surroundings and feel the physicality of the project’s nature. He wants people to fully immerse themselves in art, not just glance at it briefly and move along.

Did You Know?

The artists behind The Floating Piers were not only husband and wife, they were both born on the same day: June 13, 1935.

Thursday, December 15, 2016

Wait till THIS Year!

by Ken Scherpelz
VP Sales & Business Development

I realize this is the time of year when those of us in winter weather areas should be preparing for snow by pulling out the shovels from the far corners of the garages we never got to cleaning out this past year—although we promised we would. I have to admit, while most are caught up in preparing for winter’s weather and the season’s many celebrations, I’m still basking in the warm glow brought about by my Boys of Summer.

And by “Boys of Summer,” I, of course, mean my Chicago Cubs. And by “Chicago Cubs,” I mean the 2016 World Series champions.

You may recall, in the fall of 2015, I wrote a blog post about the surprising success of the Cubs, the team identified as the owners of the longest championship drought in professional sports history. Although they made the playoffs that year, they couldn’t keep the momentum going to get past the National League Championship Series.

But this year—THIS year—they put on a show of talent and grit that raised the eyebrows of sports fans as they dominated their division and their opponents and most facets of the game on the way to their first World Championship in 108 years. The team in blue pinstripes that has let me down for the past 59 years finally—FINALLY—came through and won it all. I shared that moment of joy and relief with friends and family who had suffered alongside me, and I still replay highlights of that glorious Game 7 when the Loveable Losers became losers no more.

It’s been over a month since the Cubs came back from a 3–1 game deficit to beat the Cleveland Indians in a series that had something to please every fan of the game. And while snow is starting to gather on some ball fields previously covered in dust and chalk and sweat, Cubs nation is still reminiscing about a different season—baseball season. That final third-to-first out from Bryant to Rizzo presented the long-suffering and much-deserving fans of Chicago Cubs baseball with the greatest gift of all—their dreams actually coming true.

So go ahead with your preparations for and celebrations of winter. For me, those will just have to wait a little longer while I replay the dream-come-true of one spectacular summer.

Did You Know?
The number 108 held great significance in this year’s World Series championship. It had been 108 years since the Cubs last won the Series. There are 108 double stitches on an official Major League baseball. Before this year’s championship appearance, the Cubs had not won a World Series game since 10/8 back in 1945. The left and right field corners of Wrigley Field, home of the Cubs, are 108 meters from home plate. And the principal business of the Ricketts family, new owners of the Cubs, is located on South 108th Avenue in Omaha, Nebraska. And—believe it or not—this paragraph is exactly 108 words. It’s fate!

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Newborn Knowledge: Is Language Innate?

by Abbrianna MacGregor
Fall 2016 Intern

How did you learn how to speak your first language? Don’t remember? Don’t worry…you shouldn’t! Theories and research about human language acquisition have been abounding for decades—from B. F. Skinner’s idea that we learn language from operant conditioning to Noam Chomsky’s opposition that language is innate. Now, recent studies suggest that humans are actually born with biases in language structure.

A team at the International School of Advanced Studies in Italy conducted an experiment designed to examine how infants perceive different types of words. In the process, they viewed how the oxygenation of a specific part of the brain changes over time. In doing so, the researchers analyzed the brain reactions of newborns when exposed to common and uncommon sound combinations. Interestingly enough, results illustrated that even with hardly any knowledge of phonetic conventions, infants reacted in different ways to common sounds than they did to uncommon ones. These results suggest that some components of language may, in fact, be innate.

Iris Berent, a psychology professor at Northeastern’s College of Science, has conducted behavioral studies on infants in Northeastern’s infant phonology lab in conjunction with the Italian study. In Berent’s study, each child involved was seated in front of a video screen that displayed an image that moved in accordance to a specific sound, such as “bnog” and “bdog.” Neither of the aforementioned sounds exists in the English language, but the sound sequences in “bnog” are more popular across other languages. Berent originally hypothesized that when infants heard sounds to which they possess innate bias, they would look longer at the screen. The study is ongoing, but so far results have upheld her hypothesis.

It is fascinating to think that we could be born with a basic knowledge of language structure rather than with blank slates waiting to be written on. Discoveries such as these can help strengthen the way we communicate and change the way we perceive language dysfunctions for the better.

Did You Know?

Modern American Sign Language (ASL) may have been adapted from the French. A person using ASL may recognize some signs from French Sign Language (LSF), but the two have developed into their own distinct languages.

Thursday, December 8, 2016

Listen to the Lullaby of London

By Amanda Gutierrez
Fall 2016 Intern 

The next time you sit down to watch a movie, close your eyes and listen. Under all the dialogue and music there’s something else—ambient noise. It could be the sounds of distant traffic for a scene set in a penthouse apartment in downtown Manhattan. Or it could be the light chirping of crickets surrounding characters camping in the woods. Now consider this—if those scenes were filmed in a studio, then someone at some point had to go out into the world, hunt down those sounds and record them so that they could be used in the movie. But not all field recorders (as they are called) work for Hollywood; some, like those participating in the London Sound Survey, find and record the sounds of life just for fun.

The London Sound Survey is a group of avid sound hunters who focus on the sounds of England’s capital, ranging from the sounds outside of King's Cross Station to the faint sounds of nature. The group made its place on the web in 2009 and has since grown to include about 2,000 recordings! In addition to modern recordings, the London Sound Survey website includes archival recordings dating back nearly 90 years, as well as text references to London sounds that go back to the early eleventh century.

The London Sound Survey was founded by Ian Rawes, a former employee of the British Library Sound Archive. His zeal for sound hunting began after he came across a collection of recordings covering all of the bus routes in Yorkshire county in England. These recordings inspired him to go out and find some sounds of his own. Some recorders, like Rawes, keep the recordings as they are, some integrate music into their sounds and others integrate the sounds into their music!

Field recording has been around since the late 1800s, and the practice has a rich history that stretches across the globe, bringing the sounds of the world together for all to hear.

Did You Know?
Thomas Edison lit the way for modern sound recording when, in 1877, he became the first person to properly create a sound recording that could be listened to again.

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

New Art Installation is the Bee’s Knees

By Amanda Gutierrez
Fall 2016 Intern

Imagine standing in a meadow. Grass shoots up from the ground around you, tickling your ankles. In every direction, flowers of brilliant reds, purples, blues, yellows and whites are sprinkled over a blanket of green. The flowers bow with grace as a light breeze passes you. You hear chirping birds, rustling leaves and a low buzz. This buzz is the sound of one of nature’s busiest workers—the bee. 

When artist Wolfgang Buttress was conceptualizing a piece for Expo 2015 in Milan, themed “Feeding the Planet: Energy for Life,” he was inspired by the little buzzing pollinators and created The Hive. This sculpture is a 56-foot tower of metal and electricity that acts as a testament to a fascinating creature.

The Hive has recently been moved to the Royal Botanical Gardens, Kew, in London; it will be open to the public until the end of 2017. There, guests can pass through a wildflower meadow and enter the lattice-like metal structure—evocative of the honeycomb design of a beehive—and watch as 1,000 LEDs flicker in response to the real-time action taking place in an actual nearby beehive. This hive is outfitted with tiny vibration sensors called accelerometers that pick up minute vibrations from the movement within the hive. The information is then sent to The Hive. When the bees are sleepy, the lights flicker less, but when they’re active, the lights come to life in a flickering frenzy.

Beneath the structure there are metal bone conductors that can convert sound to vibrations. Guests who have been given wooden sticks can touch the sticks to the bone conductors and feel the vibrations in their heads. As scientists have recently discovered, it is through vibrations like these that bees communicate—unbeelievable, right?

The Hive also features a special soundtrack recorded by a group of musicians called Be. Their music—which features string instruments, vocals and piano—is integrated with the sound of a beehive. Within The Hive, the music is selected to match the intensity of the bee activity, completing the experience. Occasionally, the musicians have played a live collaboration with their buzzing buddies.

On its own, the sculpture is an exceptional piece of art. But with its many interactive aspects, The Hive is a truly unique experience. Check out The Hive in action here. It’s beeutiful!

Did You Know?

After a bee locates a source of pollen, it returns to the hive and performs a special kind of communication through movement: the waggle dance. The waggle can be used to show other bees in the hive what direction the food is in, how far it is and what kind of pollen is there.

Thursday, December 1, 2016

Manhattan Exhibit Turns Concrete into Green Space

By Abbrianna MacGregor
Fall 2016 Intern 

Growing up in a quiet suburban town in Connecticut, transitioning to a college located in the heart of Boston proved to be an abrupt culture shock. Accustomed to secluded trails and vivid autumns, I found myself yearning for wide open spaces. I aimlessly wandered the bustling Boston streets, hoping to find peace of mind somewhere in the midst of all of the intersections. The city would be much more comforting if only it provided a natural sanctuary.

New Yorkers must have felt similarly, because the city’s Lowline project in the Lower East Side is hoping to prove that with innovation and time, nature and cities don’t have to be incompatible.

If the city fully approves the plans, the Lowline will be a permanent underground park assembled in a former trolley station that, until now, had been abandoned for years. The earliest the Lowline is expected to open to the public is 2021, when it hopes to further agricultural education and provide an unconventional setting of natural solace to urban dwellers.

The project has also included a nearby laboratory space, which is designed to test how plants can be grown and sustained underground. So how do plants obtain the resources necessary for survival in an underground environment? The engineers behind the Lowline developed a system for tracking sunlight in the sky, capturing it, then distributing it to the underground space through protective tubes. A solar canopy awaits to spread the rays across the entirety of the space.

A great deal of brainpower, experience and tenacity is required to formulate and implement such a system. Co-founder James Ramsey realized the possibilities for this type of solar technology while working at NASA. His counterpart, Dan Barasch, is a former Google strategist.

The Lowline Lab is due to close in March of 2017, but until then, positive use is being made of the temporary lab space through the Young Designers Program. During weekdays, children visit the lab to learn about the science, technology, engineering, arts and mathematics (STEAM) that go into the Lowline. It also serves as a youth mentorship and job-training site for Young Ambassadors who are eligible to receive a scholarship for their participation in the program.

Along with providing opportunities for STEAM education, this addition to the city would open doors to new technologies that could be implemented in urban settings throughout the world. The Lowline has the potential to challenge society’s preconceptions regarding the amount of nature that cities can accommodate.

Did You Know?

The recorded height for the tallest sunflower ever is 30 feet 1 inch. It was grown in Germany by Hans-Peter Schiffer, who has held the record twice before.

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Medieval Manuscripts Illuminate Boston

By Sarah Dolan
Fall 2016 Intern

The Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum is always quiet. Even mid-afternoon on a Saturday the crowd was hushed. I stood and looked through the glass at a six-hundred-year-old book. Lines and lines of meticulously hand-painted text covered the pages. I was struck by the sheer amount of work that went into what was before me—and I was only looking at one spread!

Beyond Words is an unprecedented exhibition of illuminated manuscripts from the Renaissance and Middle Ages. Illuminated manuscripts are so named because their pages are “illuminated” with decorations and illustrations, made especially vivid with bright colors and gold leaf accents. The Boston exhibition contains more than 260 manuscripts from 19 local curators and, according to Harvard art historian Jeffrey Hamburger, “will easily be the most ambitious exhibition of illuminated manuscripts ever held in North America.” The exhibition is divided among three locations around Boston, each focusing on a different type of these historic manuscripts.

Italian Renaissance Books—the portion of the exhibition that I was lucky enough to visit—is on display at the Isabella Stewart Gardener Museum from September 22, 2016–January 16, 2017. This display “explores the birth of the modern book in fifteenth-century Italy.” The exhibition delves into how book production changed in the 1400s. At that time, parchment changed to paper, scripts changed to fonts, and illuminated manuscripts changed to black and white ones.

Manuscripts from Church & Cloister is being presented at Harvard University’s Houghton Library from September 12–December 10, 2016. The display focuses on how central books were to medieval monastic life. It displays the detailed texts that were produced in monasteries and convents. The exhibit focuses on how monastic life centered not only on the Bible, but on books in general. The exhibit seeks to convey the monastic reverence for texts and the “survival of classical literature and learning.”

The third part of the exhibition, Manuscripts for Pleasure & Piety, is being presented at Boston College’s McMullen Museum of Art from September 12–December 11, 2016. This exhibit “focuses on lay readership and the place of books in medieval society.” The pieces in this collection are heavily illustrated, demonstrating the focus during the High Middle Ages on the visual and empirical experience.

This exhibition is an unprecedented collaboration between collectors and museums. Beyond Words is an excellent experience for bibliophiles and history buffs alike. If you find yourself in Boston, I definitely recommend going to see these pieces of literary history.

Did You Know?

Paper was not widely used until the late Middle Ages. Instead, parchment was commonly used. Parchment, also called vellum, is made from treated animal skins—oftentimes from cows, sheep or goats. A large book may have required one whole cow skin to make a single page spread. A lengthy manuscript could use the hides of entire herds.