Thursday, March 31, 2016

Short Story Vending Machines Invite Commuters to Snack on Culture

by Duncan McCay
Spring 2016 Intern

I am never one to fully plan ahead for the boredom of my commute. By the time I am out the door, I realize that the best entertainment I have is my iPod and my smartphone. Sure, my music is always somewhat entertaining, but due to my lack of interest in social media, my smartphone does not provide a wealth of excitement. I assume there must be others like me who plan poorly for their commute and, given the option, would like something more substantial to do than checking social media on their smartphone. While nothing exists in America to fill this void, publisher Short Édition thinks they may have filled the void in the French city of Grenoble with their short story vending machines.

Currently, there are eight machines in Grenoble that print out short stories on a till-like receipt—free of charge. Each machine prints stories that are one minute, three minutes or five minutes in length, depending on the choice of the user. While you might not have ever expected to hear the four words short, story, vending and machine together, the idea is quite a real invention and its name may be one you hear a lot in the near future. In the first two weeks of the machines’ existence in Grenoble, users had printed out more than 10,000 stories.

What makes the machines click so well with commuters? First, Short Édition has ensured that only quality stories are printed by having their online user base of around 142,000 select the 600 best stories for the machines. This involved selection ensures that readers have a cultural experience when reading each piece of literature. Second, the machines always print out a random genre of story, surprising readers with what content they take in, and forcing them to go into each reading with an open mind. Short Édition hopes that the machines’ popularity with commuters helps to promote literary creation not just in Grenoble, but eventually the world.

At this point Short Édition has received requests for the machines from several countries, including Australia, the United States, Canada, Russia, Greece, Italy, Spain, Chile and Taiwan. I doubt that the machines will have any issue catching on with a range of readers from a variety of nations once they have been received. I know if the machines reach the United States, I will be happy to be immersed in quality literature instead of staring at my smartphone.

Did You Know?

The idea for the vending machines came about when a group of Short Édition employees were huddled around vending machines choosing and eating snacks. It made them think of a bite-size story for a commuter’s brain to snack on.

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Math Takes Center Stage at DC Festival

by Lauren Cepero
Summer 2015 Intern

The first National Math Festival took place in Washington, DC, on April 18, 2015. The event was organized by the Mathematical Sciences Research Institute (MSRI) and the Institute for Advanced Study (IAS) in cooperation with the Smithsonian Institution.

With more than 20,000 math enthusiasts in attendance, the festival began a few days early, starting with a Twitter challenge: #ispymath. The goal—to spot math in your everyday life—earned the festival dozens of posts from followers ranging from schoolchildren to companies such as Scholastic. On festival day, the Math Midway featured 20 interactive exhibits for festivalgoers to participate in and to explore. For those interested in exercising their minds as well as their bodies, the Ooblek Olympics was open for participants to create small teams and tackle a variety of “mathletic” challenges. Other events included Geometric Origami and the Who Wants to Be a Mathematician contest, offered by the American Mathematical Society (AMS). The top prizewinner of this game earned $3,000!

Though the National Math Festival had a clear mathematical focus, books outside the typical textbook realm were also incorporated into the day. The MSRI and the Children’s Book Council (CBC) joined together to create the Mathical: Books for Kids from Tots to Teens book prizes. Open to submissions from fiction and nonfiction authors, the prizewinners of the inaugural event were: in the pre-K category, Have You Seen My Dragon? by Steve Light; in the grade K–2 category, One Big Pair of Underwear by Laura Gehl; in both the grade 3–5 and grade 6–8 categories, Really Big Numbers by Richard Evan Schwartz; and in the grade 9–12 category, Nearly Gone by Elle Cosimano.
Each winner was recognized during a press conference at the Mount Pleasant Library in Washington, DC. The winning titles are also going to be made available to schools through the MSRI and the CBC’s partnership with First Book, a company whose focus is to provide books to children in need. To date, First Book has distributed more than 130 million books to children throughout Canada and the United States.

The day of mathematical engagement also included presentations and select events like Knots and DNA, Black Girls Code and How Not to Be Wrong for festival attendees to join. How Not to Be Wrong, presented by Dr. Jordan Ellenberg, got to the very heart of the National Math Festival’s mission—to show how interesting math can be and how it is used in daily life events, ranging from playing baseball to posting on Facebook.

Interested in the second National Math Festival? It’s already in the works, tentatively scheduled for April 2017 in Washington, DC!

Did You Know

The equals sign first appeared in the book The Whetstone of Witte, written by mathematician Robert Recorde in 1557. Recorde’s equals sign had lines that were significantly longer than the lines used today, which were shortened and made popular in the 1700s.

Thursday, March 24, 2016

From Negatives to Digital: Preserving the History of Film

by David Fox
Summer 2015 Intern

Remember the analog days before social media and the digital world took over? When the internet had yet to be born, photos were kept in an album in the closet and movies were made with unstable film that could either catch fire at any moment or slowly deteriorate into a useless vinegary mess? Unsurprisingly, when you take these two possibilities, and then add that many studios simply threw out much of the older films that were cluttering their vaults, you end up with a precarious situation regarding the survival of our earliest movies. According to The Film Foundation, created by director Martin Scorsese in 1990, “half of all films made before 1950, and over 80 percent made before 1929 are lost forever.” It isn’t a totally bleak situation, however. Although they can’t bring back the destroyed and lost films, the combined efforts of Scorsese’s foundation, the National Film Preservation Foundation and others with similar goals have used modern technology to save more than 2,000 other films from suffering the same fate.

The key to reviving these relics is through locating the original negative, or the film that went through the camera when the movie was shot. The quality of this negative, along with time and budget constraints, determines whether the film is digitally scanned in either 2K (2048 × 1098 pixel resolution) or 4K (the preferred, cinema-standard 4096 × 2160 pixel resolution).

Many negatives of classic American films have been preserved in fairly good condition at the Library of Congress, making a restoration viable. Such was the case when Criterion Collection recently restored Alfred Hitchcock’s classic film Foreign Correspondent.

However, many other films aren’t as lucky. Criterion also worked on restoring Satyajit Ray’s Apu trilogy consisting of Pather Panchali (1955), Aparajito (1956) and Apur Sansar (1959). The trilogy is an epic coming-of-age story considered by Empire online as one of the “Best Films of World Cinema.” Unfortunately, the negatives for this all-time great had been partially damaged in a 1993 fire in South London, totally destroying some reels and turning others into a warped and brittle mess. However, after a year of scouring the globe, Criterion was able to find a film restoration house skilled in the obscure art of rehydrating brittle and burnt negatives. At the end of the process, about 40 percent of the negatives from the trilogy’s first installment were usable, and more for the other two films. This may not be enough to produce a breathtaking 4K image, but it does ensure that future generations will be able to watch at least some of this once-endangered classic.

Right now, the biggest obstacle in film preservation is its prohibitive cost—even a 2K restoration runs for hundreds of thousands of dollars. But hopefully over time, as technology improves and these processes become more affordable, we will be able to save more and more of our cinematic heritage.

Did You Know?

On June 4, 2015, the National Film Preservation Foundation announced grants to save 57 films, covering a wide range of topics and genres. The films range from early color home movies of President Hoover and his family to Winston Churchill speaking in Cuba to Jessie Maple’s 1989 independent feature film Twice as Nice, which tells a tale of twin sisters playing basketball in the days before the WNBA.

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Is Speed-Listening the New Speed-Reading

by Kate Domenichella
Spring 2016 Intern
Podcasting is an established, but still emerging means of listening to your favorite stories or talk show personalities. It is not an issue of what types of content people want to listen to; it’s finding the time to enjoy listening to them. Perhaps this is what has sparked the newest trend—is speed-listening the new speed-reading?
            Overcast, a free podcast-listening app for iOS, was developed by Marco Arment, the creator of Instapaper, and launched in 2014 after almost a year of improvement. Arment wanted people to be able to enjoy content faster by implementing the Smart Speed feature, which dynamically shortens silences without distortion, and Voice Boost, which boosts and normalizes the volume so every episode is loud, clear and always the same level. Not only does it help you listen to your favorite podcasts faster, the app also increases the quality of many entertaining but poorly produced podcasts.
People are increasing the speed not only on podcasts, but on audio books as well. House of Sand and Fog by Andre Dubus III is a work of tragedy and suspense available on audio that runs for nearly 14 hours. However, one listener, Babu Krishnamurthy, cut the listening time in half by hitting fast forward.
It seems as though society’s need for instant gratification is changing the way we consume the media. These people are the active and the insatiable listeners who want to enjoy as much content as possible, even if the delivery is rushed—and by rushed I mean a speed of 1.5 to 2 times the normal rate. For some, however, this accelerated trend seems to be working, as evidenced by the success of apps like Overcast.
Others may not see time saving as enough reason to pick up the pace. I, personally, prefer to take my time, appreciate each word the author chose for the purpose of the book, and let the intended message sink in on its own time. Listening to the content at an increased pace often does not allow for that, and, particularly for literature, some of the charm of the author’s specific word choice is lost. In the end, it all comes down to preference: do you want to take your time, or save some time?
So will speed-listening become the new speed-reading? Only fast-forwarded time will tell.

Did you know?
            In 2011, Adam Carolla, host of The Adam Carolla Show, won the most downloaded podcast, according to Guinness World Records. Carolla received 59,574,843 unique downloads, overtaking the previous record set by The Ricky Gervais Show.

Thursday, March 17, 2016

All the World's a Stage: Shakespeare's Plays in Different Languages

by Nora Chan
Spring 2016 Intern

Last semester I completed an introductory course to Shakespeare’s plays, and I remember struggling with the language, hating that the relationships between the characters were even more complicated than the plot of the film Inception and laughing at the famous stage direction from The Winter’s Tale that read “Exit, pursued by a bear.” But it is the variety of reactions and emotions in the audience that make these plays great, and by translating them into different languages around the world, some theater companies are reinventing the universality of Shakespeare’s work.

Shakespeare is known for his comedies, tragedies and sonnets, all of which have been recreated, remade and reinvented any number of times since he first wrote them in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. His plays especially have been translated into many different languages, including British Sign Language. There have even been performances in Klingon for anyone who is both a Star Trek and a Shakespeare fan. 

In 2012, Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre in the United Kingdom staged several of Shakespeare’s plays in 38 different languages as a part of the Cultural Olympiad. Dominic Dromgoole, the Globe’s artistic director, stated that the company was trying to show Shakespeare as an international language. The productions in the Olympiad included The Tempest in Arabic, Julius Caesar in Italian, King Lear in Aboriginal, The Taming of the Shrew in Urdu and Titus Andronicus in Cantonese.

However, some worry that the plays may not hold the same value or the same meaning in another language. For instance, iambic pentameter is difficult to duplicate into other languages and can sometimes make the play twice as long when the meter is attempted in a translation. The plots are also a cause for worry for some; the play is often altered to fit the culture and social norms that accompany the language. For example, in Romeo and Juliet the suicides of the title characters are tragic to some audiences, while in other cultures, such as Japan, the act may be considered honorable.

In defense of the translations, the director of a Chinese production of As You Like It in Beijing states: “But [humor] also does not translate in English—because it is fair to be reminded that we don’t speak the language of Shakespeare.” Additionally, with each translation Shakespeare’s plays become like new and, as Brendan Cole notes for the BBC, “foreign audiences get to hear it for the first time.”

Nearly 400 years since Shakespeare’s death, his work is still being transformed again and again on stages all over the world in several languages. As a result, no two productions are alike, which is part of the fun of seeing them over and over again!

Did You Know?
William Shakespeare died on April 23, 1616. In order to discourage grave robbers, he penned an epitaph for his tomb that included the warning “cursed be he that moves my bones.” So far, his remains have not been disturbed.

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

A College Education Past "College-Age"

by Arige Shrouf
Spring 2016 Intern

As a child, I pictured college as something that came right after high school, lasted about four years and then ended. I never imagined older students attending college, so I was surprised to encounter a middle-aged student in one of my classes freshman year. With each passing semester, I met greater numbers of older students, and when I worked in the writing center on campus, I quickly realized that I could be tutoring an 18-year-old student at one moment and a 70-year-old student at another. Eventually, I came to accept and expect this wide range of ages at my university, but many schools are not as clearly age-friendly for students who want an authentic college experience.

Colleges and universities are based on educational systems where most education ends when students are in their 20s, but there are increasingly more instances of people attending college later in life. Some of these students are early retirees who want a fresh start in a new career, and others are extending their education or getting one for the first time.

Not all of these students want to earn degrees; some just want to learn new skills or earn a certification. Others want to improve their chances of advancing in their careers. Whatever their reasons for getting an education later in life, many of these older students want to attend classes on campus rather than online. Because so many of them are already deeply ensconced in their lives, their options are limited by a lack of time or money to put toward a degree.’s EncoreU, an organization focused on “the talents of students in midlife and beyond,” recently took strides to address these limited options. The organization held a Higher Education Summit in New York that included representatives from 22 colleges and universities. A main topic of conversation at the summit was finding a way to improve the college experience and education for older students.

The US Census Bureau reported 298 students over the age of 55 enrolled in college in 2014, and US Department of Education projects an increase in enrollment of similarly aged students for years to come. By offering older students incentives, such as counting life and work experience as credits toward a degree and making colleges more accessible to students of all ages, colleges can secure a new, more diverse student body.

Did You Know?

Lifelong learning is a term often used to refer to the act of keeping your mind sharp by constantly challenging your brain. Doing so can improve brain function, and studies show that keeping your brain active can even reduce your risk of Alzheimer’s by lowering your levels of beta-amyloid, a protein linked to the disease.

Thursday, March 10, 2016

Harry Potter Illustrated Editions Hope to Enhance Series' Magic

by Duncan McCay
Spring 2016 Intern

I remember two things about the Harry Potter novels—besides the fantastic writing—from my youth. First, they were a great way for me to remain entertained during my older brother’s hockey practices, much to the delight of my father. Second, I recall the colorful cover art that drew me into reading each of the books I owned. What I did not realize was that the illustrations on the covers of my books were not the only versions that drew a multitude of people into reading the imaginative adventures of the boy wizard. While I was reading Scholastic’s American edition of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone and my first image of Harry was him flying on a broomstick underneath a golden arch, people in Britain were introduced to Harry as he stood in front of his first train to Hogwarts, excited to start the life of a wizard.

By this point in time, there has been a wealth of cover art released for the series, like Scholastic’s fifteenth anniversary edition in 2013, designed by Kazu Kibuishi. Releasing this new artwork sparked interest in the books again for both former and new readers. More recently, publishers decided to take renewed artwork far past the cover. For the newest release, the publisher wanted to shift how readers would experience the series entirely, by adding illustrations on nearly every page. How immersive would reading the series be for someone if there were illustrations coinciding with the reading? As long as the artist gets it right—very immersive.

Creating illustrations for the world’s most successful book series was not without its stresses for award-winning illustrator Jim Kay, for obvious reasons. But that pressure seemed to work well for Kay, because a quick view of some of the images from Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, The Illustrated Edition shows that Kay took his role seriously, and improved the way in which a reader would interact with the book.

For the Sorcerer’s Stone alone, Jim Kay created more than 115 images, using mediums like pencil, charcoal, wax crayons, house paint, oil paint and acrylic paint. Just think, by the time the illustrated edition of each installment of the series is published (one is due to come out every year, ending in 2021), Kay may have produced nearly a thousand images, each one with its own unique look to captivate readers. I can only imagine how I could have further lost myself in the series if these illustrations were in the books when I was younger, even with the sound of pucks smacking plexiglass all around me.

Did You Know?

For the extreme Potter fan, Bloomsbury has released a deluxe edition of Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone, The Illustrated Edition. It includes a “pullout double gatefold of Diagon Alley; intricate foiled line art by Jim Kay on the real cloth cover and slipcase; gilt edges on premium grade paper; head and tail bands; and two ribbon markers.”