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Test 1 / 18

Is the internet changing our lives?

Sarah

The internet often tells us what we think we know, spreading misinformation and nonsense while it’s at it. It can substitute surface for depth, imitation for authenticity, and its passion for recycling would surpass the most committed environmentalist. In 10 years, I’ve seen thinking habits change dramatically: if information is not immediately available via a Google search, people are often completely at a loss. And of course a Google search merely provides the most popular answer, not necessarily the most accurate. Nevertheless, there is no question, to my mind, that the access to raw information provided by the internet is unparalleled.  We’ve all read that the internet sounds the death knell of reading, but people read online constantly – we just call it surfing now. What’s being read is changing, often for the worse; but it is also true that the internet increasingly provides a treasure trove of rare documents and images, and as long as we have free access to it, then the internet can certainly be a force for education and wisdom.

Geoff

Sometimes I think my ability to concentrate is being nibbled away by the internet. In those quaint days before the internet, once you made it to your desk there wasn’t much to do. Now you sit down and there’s a universe of possibilities – many of them obscurely relevant to the work you should be getting on with – to tempt you. To think that I can be sitting here, trying to write something about the Swedish film director Ingmar Bergman and, a moment later, on the merest whim, while I’m in Swedish mode, can be watching a clip from a Swedish documentary about the jazz musician Don Cherry – that is a miracle (albeit one with a very potent side-effect, namely that it’s unlikely I’ll ever have the patience to sit through an entire Bergman film again). Then there’s another thing. From the age of 16, I got into the habit of compiling detailed indexes in the backs of books of poetry and drama. So if there was a quote I needed for an assignment, I would spend hours going through my books, seeking it out. Now I just google key words.

Colin

It’s curious that some of the most vociferous critics of the internet – those who predict that it will produce generations of couch potatoes – are the very sorts of people who are benefiting most from this wonderful, liberating, organic extension of the human mind. They are academics, scientists, scholars and writers, who fear that the extraordinary technology they use every day is a danger to the unsophisticated. They underestimate the capacity of the human mind to capture and capitalise on new ways of storing and transmitting information. When I was at school I learned by heart great swathes of science textbooks. What a waste of my neurons, all clogged up with knowledge and rules that I can now obtain with the click of a mouse. At its best, the internet is no threat to our minds. It is another liberating extension of them, as significant as books, the abacus or the pocket calculator.

Ian

The evidence that the internet has a deleterious effect on the brain is zero. In fact, by looking at the way human beings gain knowledge in general, you would probably argue the opposite. The opportunity to have multiple sources of information or opinion at your fingertips, and to dip into these rather than trawl laboriously through a whole book, is highly conducive to the acquisition of knowledge. It is being argued by some that the information coming into the brain from the internet is the wrong kind of information. It’s too short, it doesn’t have enough depth, so there is a qualitative loss. It’s an interesting point, but the only way you could argue it is to say that people are misusing the internet. It’s a bit like saying to someone who’s never seen a car before and has no idea what it is: “Why don’t you take it for a drive and you’ll find out?” If you seek information on the internet like that, there’s a good chance you’ll have a crash. But that’s because your experience has yet to grasp what a car is.

Opinions:

Reservations about the benefits of universal access to it are unfounded.
Colin
It excels in its ability to disseminate facts.
Sarah
Its power to sidetrack us can be both positive and negative.
Geoff
It assists learning by exposing people to a wider range of ideas than was previously possible.
Ian
Much of the material on it is not original.
Sarah
It enables us to follow up on ideas that suddenly occur to us.
Geoff
It is only with time and practice that we can make best use of the internet.
Ian
The quality of material on it is questionable.
Sarah
It still requires people to process the written word.
Sarah
It has still reduced the need to memorise information.
Colin
Test 2 / 18

Four Woods

Read about the four different woods, then answer the questions.

Oak

Oak wood has a density of about 0.75 g/cm3, great strength and hardness, and is very resistant to insect and fungal attack because of its high tannin content. It also has very appealing grain markings, particularly when quartersawn. Oak planking was common on high status Viking longships in the 9th and 10th centuries. The wood was hewn from green logs, by axe and wedge, to produce radial planks, similar to quarter-sawn timber. Wide, quarter-sawn boards of oak have been prized since the Middle Ages for use in interior paneling of prestigious buildings such as the debating chamber of the House of Commons in London, and in the construction of fine furniture. Oak wood, from Quercus robur and Quercus petraea, was used in Europe for the construction of ships, especially naval men of war, until the 19th century, and was the principal timber used in the construction of European timber-framed buildings.

Today oak wood is still commonly used for furniture making and flooring, timber frame buildings, and for veneer production. Barrels in which wines, sherry, and spirits such as brandy, Scotch whisky and Bourbon whiskey are aged are made from European and American oak. The use of oak in wine can add many different dimensions to wine based on the type and style of the oak. Oak barrels, which may be charred before use, contribute to the colour, taste, and aroma of the contents, imparting a desirable oaky vanillin flavour to these drinks. The great dilemma for wine producers is to choose between French and American oakwoods. French oaks give the wine greater refinement and are chosen for the best wines since they increase the price compared to those aged in American oak wood. American oak contributes greater texture and resistance to ageing, but produces more violent wine bouquets. Oak wood chips are used for smoking fish, meat, cheeses and other foods.

Elm

Elm wood was valued for its interlocking grain, and consequent resistance to splitting, with significant uses in wagon wheel hubs, chair seats and coffins. The elm’s wood bends well and distorts easily making it quite pliant. The often long, straight, trunks were favoured as a source of timber for keels in ship construction. Elm is also prized by bowyers; of the ancient bows found in Europe, a large portion of them are elm. During the Middle Ages elm was also used to make longbows if yew was unavailable.

The first written references to elm occur in the Linear B lists of military equipment at Knossos in the Mycenaean Period. Several of the chariots are of elm, and the lists twice mention wheels of elmwood. Hesiod says that ploughs in Ancient Greece were also made partly of elm.

The density of elm wood varies between species, but averages around 560 kg per cubic metre.

Elm wood is also resistant to decay when permanently wet, and hollowed trunks were widely used as water pipes during the medieval period in Europe. Elm was also used as piers in the construction of the original London Bridge. However this resistance to decay in water does not extend to ground contact.

The Romans, and more recently the Italians, used to plant elms in vineyards as supports for vines. Lopped at three metres, the elms’ quick growth, twiggy lateral branches, light shade and root-suckering made them ideal trees for this purpose. The lopped branches were used for fodder and firewood. Ovid in his Amores characterizes the elm as “loving the vine”, and the ancients spoke of the “marriage” between elm and vine.

Mahogany

Mahogany has a straight, fine and even grain, and is relatively free of voids and pockets. Its reddish-brown color darkens over time, and displays a reddish sheen when polished. It has excellent workability, and is very durable. Historically, the tree’s girth allowed for wide boards from traditional mahogany species. These properties make it a favorable wood for crafting cabinets and furniture.

Much of the first-quality furniture made in the American colonies from the mid 18th century was made of mahogany, when the wood first became available to American craftsmen. Mahogany is still widely used for fine furniture; however, the rarity of Cuban mahogany and over harvesting of Honduras and Brazilian mahogany has diminished their use. Mahogany also resists wood rot, making it attractive in boat construction. It is also often used for musical instruments, particularly the backs, sides and necks of acoustic guitars and drum shells because of its ability to produce a very deep, warm tone compared to other commonly used woods such as maple or birch. Guitars often feature mahogany in their construction. Mahogany is now being used for the bodies of high-end stereo phonographic record cartridges and for stereo headphones, where it is noted for “warm” or “musical” sound.

Beech

Beech wood is an excellent firewood, easily split and burning for many hours with bright but calm flames. Chips of beech wood are used in the brewing of Budweiser beer as a fining agent. Beech logs are burned to dry the malts used in some German smoked beers, giving the beers their typical flavour. Beech is also used to smoke Westphalian ham, various sausages, and some cheeses.

The European species Fagus sylvatica yields a utility timber that is tough but dimensionally unstable. It weighs about 720 kg per cubic metre and is widely used for furniture framing and carcass construction, flooring and engineering purposes, in plywood and in household items like plates, but rarely as a decorative wood. The timber can be used to build chalets, houses and log cabins.

Beech wood is used for the stocks of military rifles when traditionally preferred woods such as walnut are scarce or unavailable or as a lower-cost alternative.

The fruit of the beech tree is known as beechnuts or mast and is found in small burrs that drop from the tree in autumn. It is small, roughly triangular and edible, with a bitter, astringent taste. They have a high enough fat content that they can be pressed for edible oil. Fresh from the tree, beech leaves are a fine salad vegetable, as sweet as a mild cabbage though much softer in texture. The young leaves can be steeped in gin for several weeks, the liquor strained off and sweetened to give a light green/yellow liqueur called beechleaf noyau.

Which wood is not spoken of as being used in military equipment?
Mahogany
Which wood doesn't have the reputation of being pretty to look at?
Beech
Which wood can be permanently submerged with little ill effect?
Elm
Which wood can make a food or drink more valuable?
Oak
Which wood are you most likely to find on stage at a rock concert?
Mahogany
Which wood became associated with luxurious buildings?
Oak
Which wood is the most flexible and is therefore used where this is required?
Elm
Which wood burns very well?
Beech
Which wood was used as an agricultural aid?
Elm
Which wood can alter its colour?
Mahogany
Test 3 / 18

English Mazes

There’s nothing the British like more than to go and get lost. In grand gardens of stately homes and castles around Britain you’ll find some of the world’s oldest and largest hedge mazes. These elegant horticultural labyrinths have been playfully confusing visitors for hundreds of years.
This historical fascination is being fuelled by a boom in creating new mazes. Britain now has mazes of turf, water, brick, stone, wood, colored paving tiles, mirrors and glass.

Hampton Court

Any exploration of the twists and turns of British mazes should include the oldest and most famous. The classic maze at Hampton Court Royal Palace by the Thames in West London was planted more than 300 years ago during the reign of King William III. He dug up an old orchard planted by Henry VIII and redesigned the garden in the formal style of the time.
The 1702 Maze is the only remaining part of William’s garden. It’s Britain’s oldest hedge maze with winding paths amounting to nearly half a mile and covering a third of an acre. One of Jerome K. Jerome’s “Three Men in a Boat” declared it “very simple…it’s absurd to call it a maze,” only to become completely lost. Inside he met other visitors “who had given up all hope of ever seeing their home and friends again.”
The Hampton Court maze still swallows 300,000 people a year. If you do manage to get out, there are also exquisite riverside gardens and the fabulous Tudor palace to see.

Longleat

Another great estate 100 miles to the west has become one of the centers of British maze-making. A visit to Longleat in Wiltshire includes the ancestral stately home of Lord Bath, Capability Brown landscaped gardens, and a drive-through animal safari park… plus six mazes.
The newest of them, The Blue Peter Maze was built of timber especially for children. It was designed by a nine-year-old girl who beat 12,000 entrants in a competition run by a children’s TV program.
Other Longleat mazes include the indoor King Arthur’s Mirror Maze, the rose-covered Love Labyrinth, and the intertwining Sun Maze and Lunar box hedge labyrinths.
Serious maze enthusiasts are catered to by the grand Hedge Maze: it has the world’s longest total path length at 1.69 miles. The hedges are made from 16,180 yew trees and are laid out in curves to disorient the walker. It opened 26 years ago and is so complex that special ‘lift if lost’ direction panels are incorporated to help you find the way out.

Jubilee Park

If you’re starting to get the taste for delightful disorientation, the third must-see site is the eccentric Jubilee Park close to the border with Wales near Symonds Yat in Herefordshire.
Maze-mad brothers Lindsay and Edward Heyes planted The Amazing Hedge Puzzle Maze to commemorate Queen Elizabeth II’s Silver Jubilee in 1977. It stands in an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty in the Wye Valley and is now Herefordshire’s most popular private visitor attraction.
The octagonal cypress maze has a pagoda at the center – if you can find it. There’s also a route from the center to the world’s first Maze Museum. This has hands-on interactive displays and puzzles explaining the history, design and construction of mazes around the world.
Lindsay is the creator of the museum and an acknowledged maze expert. Edward meanwhile takes care of the Hedge Maze, personally spending ten weeks doing all the trimming every year.

Hever Castle

You don’t have to be crazy about mazes to enjoy the spectacular Hever Castle in Kent. From the outside, the 13th-century double-moated fortress has changed little since Henry VIII’s second wife Anne Boleyn spent her childhood here. The castle is set in 30 acres of magnificent gardens. A century ago the wealthy Astor family lived here and planted a yew maze, which visitors can still explore. A more recent addition is the highly acclaimed Water Maze on a shallow lake with an island at the center.
The walkways are made up of curved paths supported above the water on stilts. To make getting to the island even more difficult, some slabs, when stepped on, trigger a spray of water. Can you reach the island AND stay dry?

In which places?

Does a member of the aristocracy still live?
Longleat
Is there a maze that was made to mark a special occasion?
Jubilee Park
Does the creator personally take care of the maze?
Jubilee Park
Is there a maze that was ridiculed - before getting its revenge?
Hampton Court
Is there a maze created by the youngest person?
Longleat
Could tackling the maze prove a damp experience?
Hever Castle
Did a rich family create a maze?
Hever Castle
Is there a maze that a newlywed couple would perhaps like to visit?
Longleat
Does the maze include maps showing you how to get out?
Longleat
Would you see yourself getting lost in the maze?
Longleat
Test 4 / 18

Is it Art?

Corinne

Art is the result of an artist using her or his skill or creative imagination for a creative purpose, to give pleasure to the viewer through its aesthetic qualities, or to get a reaction from the audience to a wider more significant issue outside of the work of art itself. That work of art might be a painting, a sculpture, an installation of some kind or an example from the performing arts like dance or mime. I think we sometimes get bogged down by the notion of ‘skill’. For many in the anti modern art camp, there needs to be evidence of the artist’s craft on show before the work is taken seriously and can merit the term ‘art’, be it intricate drawing skills, expert use of form or an artist’s eye for colour. I’m not suggesting that an artist need not have these credentials but hand in hand with craft is, as I said earlier, creative imagination, the ability to see the value or beauty of something unremarkable which would often go unnoticed by the untrained eye. Much of modern art I think possesses this second quality which is why I often leave an exhibition of modern art feeling that I’ve had the chance to reflect on something that I wouldn’t normally have given the time of day to. The art has engaged me, has had an impact, made me think about something in a way that I wouldn’t have thought about before.

Michael

I would certainly call myself an art enthusiast and have been for many years and in my opinion the modern art world is full of second-rate junk which most of us, if we were being totally honest, would agree a 4-year-old child could do. The idea that a slept-in bed such as that ‘produced’ by Tracy Emin or many of the pieces by Damien Hirst and his ilk are works of art is hard to justify as is the huge price tag that accompanies their work. I find it particularly galling when extremely talented people out there who have spent years honing their skills and learning the craft of drawing or painting are completely ignored. What’s more, one of the dangers of this kind of ‘art’ is that it serves to alienate the mass of the population from the visual arts. The man in the street viewing one of these pieces is left thinking the world of modern art has no value; worse still, that he lacks the intellectual ability to understand the meaning of the piece when in fact there is little to interpret. Thankfully, one or two great artists make it through, but I’m afraid many are lost amongst the deluge of dross the art-world deems ‘art’. For me, the first measure of the worth of an artist must be the degree of skill exhibited in the work or at the very least a pedigree of fine art preceeding any more abstract pieces produced by the artist such as was the case with Picasso.

Robert

The idea that modern art is some kind of mass deception and that all modern artists are talentless fraudsters just doesn’t hold water. And I’m not talking here about the painters who for centuries have made a living out of copying works of art and selling them on as originals. I’m talking about abstract art and the idea that the great art collectors such as the Saatchis or Rockefellas and the great museums of art around the world, would somehow allow themselves to be duped into paying a fortune for an abstract painting or sculpture. Are these artists really tricking these people into paying huge sums of money for something worthless? Of course not. Though some of these works may not appear to the layman as having any artistic merit, neither did the great impressionists or the more abstract works of Picasso or Rothko when they were first exhibited. In the same way that great poetry can speak to us in a way that prose never can, abstract art can engage with the audience in more subtle and effective ways than is the case with art of a more realistic nature. So, they may get their fingers burnt now and again but I don’t think the Saatchis will be cursing the day they spent huge sums on works of abstract art. Quite the opposite in fact and in the process of making a canny investment they have helped further raise the profile of some of our great modern artists.

Janet

Here we go again: the media are once more up in arms about the latest ‘is it art’ shock-horror editorials following the latest Turner Prize shortlisting. When will they learn? For decades art in many forms has moved away from realism and towards abstraction. Ever since the invention and popularisation of photography, art has had to reinvent itself. Patrons who wanted a perfect representation of themselves no longer needed to turn to the artist. Artists started to struggle with the challenge of catching the essence of the thing depicted rather than simply its external appearance. Abstract artists try to convey a pure idea, not the exact replica of the subject concerned. It’s true that some works of art are so obscure that you may need to read up on the theory behind the creation, which is usually helpfully supplied in art galleries. But this isn’t always necessary. Take Guernica by Picasso. To get a full understanding of this painting it could be argued the audience needs to appreciate the historical context, the bombing of the Basque city during the Spanish Civil War. It would also probably help to have a good understanding of the techniques of abstraction that Picasso had used to create the effect. However, I think most people viewing this masterpiece would be struck by the horror it depicts even without this background knowledge. And I would argue it is the effect of this abstraction that adds to the impact on us compared to a realistic portrayal of such a scene.

Which person gives each of these opinions about modern art?

Some practices have been going on for hundreds of years.
Robert
Some people may not have the knowledge to understand a work of art fully.
Janet
Certain aesthetic qualities can be invisible until brought to our attention by the artist.
Corinne
Picasso is an example of an artist who proved his craftsmanship.
Michael
Appreciation of the work itself is not always the artist's aim.
Corinne
The purpose of Art has undergone change.
Janet
People don't always appreciate the works of great artists initially.
Robert
Abstract art is generally overpriced.
Michael
Abstract art isn't always a good investment.
Robert
We can be touched by a work of art without knowing the context.
Janet