Thursday, October 27, 2016

Bibliotherapy: The Doctor is in…Your Book

By Abbrianna MacGregor
Fall 2016 Intern

For me, reading has always doubled as Zen. Whenever I’m experiencing negative emotions, I find solace in curling up with a good book. Fictional realms help me temporarily escape reality, and compelling characters remind me that others’ lives are eerily similar to my own. I recently read Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell, and found myself highly identifying with the two misfit protagonists the book is titled after. Upon completing the book, I felt compelled to take control of my life despite the presence of obstacles.

Judging by the universal allure of literature, I’m not alone in feeling that books possess a certain level of healing power. This is also evident due to the popularity of self-help books and the consequential mindfulness they breed. Readers are able to receive benefits similar to those they might in therapy simply by opening a novel.

In fact, the practice of bibliotherapy is on the rise. A biblioterapist’s clients are prescribed literature that pertains to whatever may be occurring in their lives at the moment. The books can provide tips for how to deal with what is bothering them, serve as a great distraction or simply remind them that they are not alone. On one end of the spectrum, the books can offer a temporary calming effect to escape the constant anxieties and stresses of the day. On the other, they may aid in turning a reader’s life around.

Susan Elderkin, pioneering bibliotherapist and coauthor of The Novel Cure: An A–Z of Literary Remedies, firmly believes in the therapeutic qualities of books. She says there are books that have a “wonderfully calming effect on our pulse rate,” such as Ernest Hemingway’s The Old Man and the Sea.

Elderkin, who has been administering bibliotherapy since 2007 through the School of Life in London, has clients fill out a questionnaire detailing their reading habits and any obstacles they may be encountering in life. She then selects a few books for the clients that seem to fit their needs. Her time spent with clients has shown that inner peace and/or steps in the right direction can result from the mere act of opening a book and letting yourself become intertwined with it.

Keep this in mind for the next time you’re feeling stressed out—the first step to easing your troubles could be a trip to the bookstore.

Did You Know?

Newport Academy in Bethlehem, Connecticut, is a treatment center for teens struggling with addiction and mental illness. Their main therapy method is cooking, which psychologists say can alleviate depression by boosting positive activity and increasing goal-oriented behavior.

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Affected by Altitude: Linguists Locate Language Link

by Sarah Dolan
Fall 2016 Intern

How language evolved is a question that has puzzled scientists and sociologists for decades. It is generally accepted that groups of ancient people who shared a language and culture would split up into smaller tribes in search of fresh land. Over time these smaller tribes would change, with outside influences causing them to develop different languages. However, a new study shows that migration patterns may not be the only influence affecting language.

A study lead by Dr. Caleb Everett, an anthropological linguist at the University of Miami, suggests that altitude affects the phonological form of a language. The study found that languages with ejective consonant sounds occur more often in areas of high elevations. Ejective sounds are found in around 18 percent of the world’s languages. They are produced by compressing air in the pharynx and releasing it in a burst of sound that has a clicking quality to it. These sounds are not found in the English language—the closest English equivalent would be a “k” sound made high in the back of the throat. You can listen to Everett give examples of ejective consonants here.

The study found that languages containing ejective sounds are spoken in five of the world’s six high-altitude regions. These five areas, all 4,900 feet or more above sea level, include the North American Cordillera; the Andes and the Altiplano; the southern African plateau; the plateau of the East African Rift and the Ethiopian Highlands; and the Caucasus range and Javakheti Plateau. Noticeably absent from this list is the Tibetan Plateau. Everett admits that he doesn’t know why ejective consonants don’t appear there, although he had expected the sounds to be absent in several areas instead of only one.

As for why these sounds appear, Everett has several theories. One is that ejectives are easier to pronounce in high-altitude areas because of the lower air pressure—it takes less effort to compress the thinner air. A second theory is that these sounds may reduce water vapor loss through air expelled during speech. This is hardly trivial, as water retention is crucial to survival in high elevations.

This study sheds further light on how modern languages evolved. In addition to social influences, geographic influences also played a role. These languages, located thousands of miles apart from one another, evolved separately but share this common feature. Altitude is what binds them together.

Did You Know?

The International Phonetic Alphabet, or IPA, was created in 1886 and was last updated in 2005. Consisting of 107 letters and 56 marks used in linguistics, the alphabet represents every distinct sound that exists in spoken language. The IPA can be used to phonetically represent all languages on earth!

Thursday, October 20, 2016

Deep-Space Pizza: Astronauts Print Provisions

by Amanda Gutierrez
Fall 2016 Intern

Astronauts rejoice: Freeze-dried spaghetti may soon be a thing of the past!

Popular spacecraft fare currently consists mainly of rehydrated meals. While this works just fine for a quick jaunt to the moon, it isn’t particularly well suited for longer trips through deep space . . . say to our friendly red neighbor, Mars.

In early 2013, NASA awarded Systems and Materials Research Corporation (SMRC) a grant to develop a new food and nutrition system for the space program as part of NASA’s Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) program. So what’s the latest and greatest in space food? They’re using 3D-printing technology!

The goal is to redesign the food and nutrition system to maximize efficiency for resource use, time and space (that would be storage space, not outer space). SMRC’s 3D-printing technology will also allow for more variety in the astronaut diet and ensure that every space cadet gets his or her vitamins. The company’s printer has already demonstrated its food-making prowess with a pizza. The pizza—a plain cheese pizza for now—was printed dough-first onto a hot plate followed by layers of tomato and cheese. SMRC plans to integrate an oven and a nutrient additive to future versions of the printer.

SMRC’s system will work by combining ink-jet and 3D-printing technologies. The 3D technology combines starches, proteins and fats to form the structure and texture of the meal, then the ink-jet will deliver nutrients, flavors and scents to create appetizing dining options. One of the most enticing draws of SMRC’s system is that it will allow astronauts to pick which meal they want each day, rather than having to plan out (and stick to) all their meals months before their launch dates. For a Mars mission, SMRC envisions combining their new 3D-printing technology with the tried and true pre-packaged meals as well as some hydroponically grown options.

The 3D-printing system also creates some opportunities for those of us living on good old terra firma. Because the system had been designed to maximize resources while minimizing waste, it has potential as an alternate food supply source to combat resource shortages; this is especially useful considering the world’s ever-growing population. In fact, estimates forecast that the Earth will be home to 12 billion people by the end of the century—that’s a lot of printed pizza!

Did You Know?

As the space program has evolved, so has its food. A standard astronaut place setting now includes Velcro-equipped packaging that holds food down in lieu of gravity, a knife, a fork, a spoon and a pair of scissors—for cutting open the packages, of course!

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Star Struck: PSG Brushes with Fame

by Abbrianna MacGregor
Fall 2016 Intern

Flashing lights, portraits in magazine spreads, endorsement deals, paparazzi . . . sound like your lifestyle? I didn’t think so. The elusive nature of Hollywood habitués renders their way of life all the more intriguing. For many of us less glamorous folk, this fascination with fame causes us to break into a cold sweat and lose our ability to speak when we find ourselves in the presence of royalty—whoops, I mean celebrity.

I know the feeling. My first celebrity encounter was with Olympian Sasha Cohen. It was my tenth birthday, and my mom had taken me to an ice skating show that Cohen was performing in. I was in awe, while Cohen was flustered and composed all at once, and referred to me as “sweetie.”

I’m not the only PSG member who has encountered fame. Ever taken an elevator ride with baseball legend Sammy Sosa? Ken has. He also got Sosa’s autograph (despite never having asked for it). Sports players must ride a lot of elevators, because Don once rode in a hotel elevator with former Celtic Larry Bird. Another time, Billie Joe Armstrong from Green Day told Don he admired his bowling shoes. Not too shabby!

Because of where our interests take us, many of PSG’s celebrity sightings have been literary in nature. Annette has met humorist David Sedaris, New York Times best selling author Elin Hilderbrand and music journalist Rob Sheffield—all at book signings. Sheffield was signing a book about karaoke, so the audience members were performing. He complimented Annette's rendition of “Hit Me With Your Best Shot” by Pat Benatar.

Tess also met David Sedaris at one of his readings. Instead of merely signing Tess’s copy of his book, he drew a cartoon of her as a cat. Kate chatted with Pulitzer Prize–winning novelist Junot Díaz at a book signing she was working at, and she met actor John Krasinski, best known for his role in The Office, at an event he did for his film adaptation of David Foster Wallace’s Brief Interviews with Hideous Men.

At a library event, Alyssa met author Margot Livesey, who happens to be a writer-in-residence at Emerson College, where Alyssa completed her undergrad. Also at Emerson, Eileen’s thesis advisor was poet Jonathon Aaron. She also got to learn from Jon Papernick, Lise Haines and Gail Mazur—all published writers and professors.

Colleen may take the cake when it comes to the most spottings—both literary and otherwise. She has met Andre Dubus III, who wrote House of Sand and Fog. She also met Bill Simmons at the release of his book Now I Can Die In Peace. A huge Indigo Girls fan, Colleen has met Amy Ray and Emily Saliers multiple times. She even ran into actor Mark Wahlberg in Gloucester while he was filming The Perfect Storm.

Considering this wide variety of celebrities PSG has met, there’s no telling who we’ll encounter next!

Did You Know?

Film director, Steven Spielberg, was diagnosed with dyslexia at 60 years old. He grew up in the 1950s before dyslexia was a diagnosis. Filmmaking was his escape from his struggles and from being mislabeled as lazy.

Thursday, October 13, 2016

World’s Oldest Library Will Open to the Public

by Sarah Dolan
Fall 2016 Intern

During my freshman year at Emerson College, my writing professor took our class to the Boston Public Library’s (BPL) Central Library in Copley Square. I remember browsing the fiction section, ogling at the texts in the rare books collection and trying to get the perfect shot of the beautiful courtyard. After less than half an hour, I knew I wanted to get a library card for this historic building. Founded in 1895, the BPL’s Central Library may seem old, but it is very new when compared to other libraries around the world.

Considered to be the oldest continually operating library in the world, Morocco’s al-Qarawiyyin University Library was founded in 859 by Fatima al-Fihri, the daughter of a prosperous merchant. Originally a mosque, it was expanded in the tenth century to also contain a university and library. The library, previously only available to students and scholars, is slated to open to the public in 2017.

The library holds around four thousand manuscripts. Among its most precious texts are Qurans dating back to the ninth century and an early collection of Islamic hadiths. The collection’s crown jewel is an original copy of the Arab historian Ibn Khaldun’s Muqaddimah, or Introduction, written in the fourteenth century.

By the 2000s, over a thousand years after it was built, the library had fallen into such a state of disrepair that some of the ancient manuscripts housed there were at risk. Canadian-Moroccan architect Aziza Chaouni was asked in 2012 by the Moroccan Ministry of Culture to renovate the library. Chaouni was tasked with addressing the building’s structural problems and lack of insulation, along with a myriad of infrastructural issues including plumbing problems, broken tiles and cracked beams. She also endeavored to update the library as a modern public space while preserving its vast history. The restored library has a new gutter system, solar panels, air conditioning and—perhaps most importantly—a temperature- and humidity-controlled room to house the oldest manuscripts.

Upon completing the four-year renovation, Chaouni is excited to open the doors. “Both Moroccans and foreign visitors will get to glimpse, for the first time, some of the library’s amazing and unique manuscripts, as well as to enjoy its architecture.”

Did You Know?

The room housing the library’s most treasured manuscripts now has modern security, but it wasn’t always kept this way. According to the library’s curator, Abdelfattah Bougchouf, the door to the manuscript room originally had four locks with four keys. Each of the keys was kept with a different person, so all four people needed to be present to open the door and access the rare books.

Thursday, October 6, 2016

Can We Hack the Future?

by Shannon Pender
Summer 2016 Intern

Imagine this: You and a team of peers need to create a working app that will rival the most popular ones on the market. The challenge? You only have 48 hours.

Welcome to a hackathon.

It may sound crazy, but hackathons—short bursts of creative problem-solving where great minds come together to create new tech—are all the rage.

How does it work? Students from all over gather to build new technology, which can range from innovative apps to virtual reality software. Many events begin with team leaders pitching their ideas and recruiting engineers and programmers in the room to join them. Then the real work starts: sleep-deprived students power through the entire weekend, hunched over laptops and working furiously on code and software.

The prizes at these events, ranging from bragging rights to trips to Paris, should be incentive enough to partake, but hackathons are also becoming the modern day career fair. Top CEOs and companies from Silicon Valley often come to hackathons to recruit future employees or even make job offers. They’re looking for programmers who can thrive under pressure and maintain creativity under stress, and a hackathon is the ideal environment for this.

As hackathons have exploded in popularity, they’ve also become more diverse. The most pressing issue in the STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) community is that women earn less than 20 percent of computer science and engineering degrees. Recently, hackathons marketed for women have gained popularity. LinkedIn launched a hackathon called DevelopHer Hackday to promote “a stronger sense of community” for women in STEM fields. Plenty more like these are popping up all over the country.

So, if you have a knack for coding—or designing or business development—look for a hackathon near you.

Did You Know?
There are summer camps for future cyber spies. Sponsored by the National Security Agency and the National Science Foundation, the camp hopes to introduce young people to state-of-the-art technology and interest them in a variety of possible future careers.

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

Oh, the Books that You’ll Read! Phoenix’s Newest Literacy Program

by Christian Gibbons
Summer 2016 Intern

During my freshman year of college, I became involved with an AmeriCorps program called Jumpstart. In Jumpstart, I teamed with other college students twice a week to go to a preschool in Dorchester, Massachusetts, where we engaged children in fun, educational activities. All of the songs, puzzles, art and games we brought to the classroom may have seemed only that, we were also trying to address a serious problem that has been recognized across the nation: gaps in early childhood literacy.

For various reasons, some children are unable to read proficiently by the time they reach the fourth grade. Disparities between them and their peers—in vocabulary and language processing, for instance—may then put them at a greater disadvantage at a time when children are transitioning from learning to read to reading to learn.

Luckily, many other initiatives besides Jumpstart have been created to address these problems. Some states, such as Arizona, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Iowa and Ohio, have been especially recognized for their efforts to make sure their students succeed.

Take, for instance, Arizona. The state’s literacy programs highlight how involved local communities are with ensuring the best future for their children. Although the state’s “Read On Arizona” collaboration has been the most publicly acclaimed, that organization’s smaller “Read On Communities” have also received accolades for their actions. Phoenix, for instance, was recently given a Pacesetter Award from the Campaign for Grade-Level Reading for its contributions to early childhood literacy—perhaps the best example of which has been their new BookStorm program.

The BookStorm program is a partnership between Better World Books and the Friends of the Phoenix Public Library that donates books to local schools and brings the resources of a public library to their classrooms. Some 300,000 books were made available for the cause!

In addition to donating books to schools, BookStorm also has literacy outreach specialists visit schools and teach students about libraries. “Thanks to this partnership with Better World Books, we’re able to significantly increase the program’s impact. Including an outreach visit from staff at Phoenix Public Library sets kids up with library cards which is essential to developing lifelong learning skills,” stated Jason Peterson, the executive director of the Friends of the Phoenix Public Library.

The BookStorm program is an excellent illustration of how a cooperative ethic in a community can make a huge difference. And though the program is between active cycles at the moment, it will continue to provide to communities in the near future.

Did You Know?
If you’re ever in the mood for children’s literature with a classic twist, then you probably can’t get any more classic(al) than Winnie Ille Pu, the Latin translation of Winnie the Poo. Winnie Ille Pu was the first Latin book to have been on the New York Times bestseller list—a position that it occupied for 20 weeks!