Tuesday, November 24, 2015

High School Musicals: It’s Not All Oklahoma! Anymore

by Chelsea Wilson
Fall 2015 Intern

When asked to picture a high school play, most people probably see a shaky spotlight focused on a student standing in front of a backdrop painted on an old bedsheet, reciting lines dutifully—if somewhat unenthusiastically—and waving around a rubber prop for emphasis.

These days, you might see what I saw as a stage manager in high school. Productions have been getting bigger and more professional. Technology has made it possible for fortunate high schools to stage higher quality performances with advanced audio and light capabilities. Although the majority of schools do not have access to these resources, those that do are taking full advantage of their opportunities.

Coming from a relatively small town, my high school theater program was lucky to have a professional stage and strong community support, and we followed the same trend as many other fortunate high school musical programs, which has been taking the extracurricular activity to a whole new level. Students audition with more theater experience, some after years of voice or dance lessons. Some Broadway plays such as The King and I even come in “junior versions” for elementary schools. These versions have edited original material so that it is age-appropriate.

Students with the loudest voices (or, to be polite, with the best ability to project) are no longer guaranteed lead roles now that it is less expensive to use microphones. Theaters now also have the ability to program elaborate light and sound cues into a computer and change scenes in seconds.

While my high school’s ability to put on shows was facilitated more by our community than by our budget, some schools are reported as having spent more on theater than on the drama teacher’s salary. Some of this budget may go to acquiring permission to perform new plays. The licensing company Music Theater International (MTI) once made nearly all of its revenue from professional productions, but now makes $75–100 million annually from schools. For the programs willing and able to pay, MTI offers a $250 disc with recordings of lines and songs so students can rehearse anywhere, any time.

High school musicals have come a long way from students belting out the lyrics of songs from Oklahoma! on an echoing cafeteria stage. Time will tell if they evolve to the point of hooking Elphaba to a fly system for her flight from the Emerald City in Wicked.


Up until 2010, You Can’t Take It With You has always been in the top three of most produced plays in high schools. However, since 2010, it has only dropped to the fourth position indicating it is still a popular choice.

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Dr. Seuss’ Long Lost Book Finally Gets Published

by Tess Renault
Fall 2015 Intern

When I was younger, story time was arguably my favorite part of the day. My mom and I would sit on our living room couch as she read to me from the books I had carefully picked out at the library. On many occasions, a Dr. Seuss book would be in the mix, my favorites being The Foot Book and the more popular One Fish Two Fish Red Fish Blue Fish. On July 28, 2015 a new Dr. Seuss book was published: What Pet Should I Get? It features the same brother and sister from One Fish Two Fish, so fans of that book will be excited to see what those siblings are up to now. I know I would’ve been.

The manuscript for What Pet Should I Get? was only found recently and was published over twenty years after Dr. Seuss’ death. However, it is believed that he wrote the book between 1958 and 1962. So why wasn’t it published earlier? No one knows for sure. Dr. Seuss’ widow, Audrey Geisel, thinks he may have just forgotten about it. Simple as that. The late fifties and early sixties were a busy time for Dr. Seuss—with the publication of his other books and his growing commercial success, it seems likely that What Pet Should I Get? got lost in the heap.

However, now multiple generations—those who grew up on Dr. Seuss books and those who are just discovering his work—get to experience this “new” book together. The central plot of What Pet Should I Get? lies within the title: The siblings have the difficult decision of picking out a pet. By the end of the book, their choices are endless, with imaginary creatures that only Dr. Seuss could have conjured prancing across the pages.

Dr. Seuss revitalized children’s literature. Prior to Green Eggs and Ham and The Cat in the Hat, children’s books were often unappealing for young readers. However, once Dr. Seuss came onto the literary scene, children were more eager to read. They looked forward to the colorful pages and fanciful plot lines that he could offer them. He forced them to use their imagination and think about what they read.     

Fortunately for young readers, What Pet Should I Get? is not the last to come from Dr. Seuss. There are a few more books planned for future publication due to additional material found in 2013. Better late than never.

Did You Know?

Considering the popularity of The Cat in the Hat, it may not be surprising that Dr. Seuss, whose real name was Theodor Seuss Geisel,  was an avid hat collector. He collected them for over 60 years and acquired several hundred hats from all over the world. In 2013, his hats were displayed in the New York Public Library in an exhibit called Hats Off to Dr. Seuss!

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Misquotations on the Internet Continue to Spread False Info

by Kyle Amato
Fall 2015 Intern

The recently departed and eminently quotable Yogi Berra once said, “I really didn’t say everything I said.” Turns out he’s not the only one. False or misattributed quotations happen all too frequently—especially on the internet. It’s very easy for these falsities to happen online. If an image, like a meme or an infographic, looks authentic enough, an incorrect quote from Morgan Freeman can be treated as fact and make its way into public consciousness.

A recent example of this phenomenon can be seen on the US Postal Service’s limited edition Maya Angelou commemorative stamp. The stamp includes a famous quote of Angelou’s—one that she never actually said. In fact, it was the same misattribution that President Obama used in an address in 2013. The quote in question (“A bird doesn’t sing because it has an answer, it sings because it has a song.”) really came from author Joan Walsh Anglund, though Angelou often recited it. Dozens of writers and public speakers have fallen victim to this trend, and it seems impossible to avoid. 

It’s not always as simple as running an online search, especially in the era of Tumblr. Fact-checking is especially difficult on the popular blogging website, as an original post is nearly impossible to find due to the website’s design. A certain quote from popular young adult author John Green was making the rounds for a while. Turns out the quote (“I’m in love with cities I’ve never been to and people I’ve never met.”) belonged to a 13-year-old blogger! Fortunately, John Green caught on and set the record straight. As he says, “We do an epically bad job of acknowledging one another’s work and checking our sources.”

The calibration of quotes to fit bumper stickers or coffee mugs is a similarly common trend. Brian Morton, writer for the New York Times, recalls seeing a mug with the phrase, “Go confidently in the direction of your dreams! Live the life you’ve imagined.” The actual quote comes from Thoreau’s Walden: “. . . if one advances confidently in the direction of his dreams, and endeavors to live the life which he has imagined, he will meet with a success unexpected in common hours.” Of the edits, Morton notes, “I suppose that the people responsible for the coffee mug would say that they’d merely tweaked the wording of the original a little. But in the tweaking, not only was the syntax lost, but the subtlety as well.” It’s more difficult to prove these kinds of quotes incorrect, as the speaker has said at least part of it. It’s a frustrating development for sure.

In the end, it’s important to remember how easily the truth can get lost on the World Wide Web. My advice would be to take quotations from famous people that you see online with a grain of salt.

Did You Know?

Falsified quotes are nothing new. Voltaire’s biographer, Evelyn Beatrice Hall, in 1903 invented the saying that Voltaire became famous for, “I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.”

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Mailbox Beats Inbox: You’ve Got Mail!

by Kate Carroll
Jr. Copyeditor

Have you heard about monthly subscription boxes? It seems like the topic is popping up everywhere. I have several friends and family members signing up to receive a wide range of materials right at their front door each month. And who doesn’t appreciate a good piece of mail, especially when it’s a box full of goodies?

These monthly subscription boxes come in all sorts of shapes and sizes—but more importantly, they come in varied genres. Animal lover or pet owner? Treats and toys can be delivered each month to subscribers of companies like BarkBox and meowbox. Makeup maven? Ipsy and Birchbox (which has a “grooming” box option for men and a “beauty” box option for women), offer the chance to try new cosmetics with trial and full-size samples. Constantly crocheting or knowledgeable about knitting? Yarnbox and Fiberista Club both offer supplies for the craft-minded.

There’s a wide range of options out there, many which guarantee entertainment. Green Kid Crafts delivers boxes with games, crafts and even STEM-focused kits. Companies like Brilliant Books allow subscribers to essentially have their own book club—a different book can be delivered each month depending on a subscriber’s preferences.

Food lovers seem to have the most options. Choices range from snacks to diet-specific options to entire weeks’ worth of groceries and recipes. Companies like Blue Apron and Plated make meal prep easier and give subscribers a chance to try new recipes. Others go international: Kitchen Table Passport not only supplies the spices and recipe for a meal from a different country each month, it also provides information about the country and its culture, as well as two mementos from that country.  

For the most part, these companies seem to cater to subscribers’ specific tastes. The contents of pet boxes are determined based on the qualities of the owner’s dog or cat, cosmetic boxes cater to skin type and personal preferences, and food boxes also take into account subscriber favorites. Prices range based on the company and the subscription level chosen, but for some, the price is worth it.

Maybe subscription boxes are just the latest fad, or maybe they’ll stick around, but it seems like people still love to hear, “You’ve got mail!”

Did You Know?

The voice for AOL’s “Welcome. You’ve got mail!” notification came from an actual person, not a computer. Elwood Edwards recorded a handful of phrases for AOL’s email services in 1989. The iconic phrase certainly caught on, inspiring pop culture in many ways, including the title of Nora Ephron’s 1998 film starring Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan.

Thursday, November 5, 2015

Typewriters: Tom Hanks Tested, Tom Hanks Approved

by Kyle Amato
Fall 2015 Intern

Raise your hand if you’ve used a typewriter in the past five years. Odds are you haven’t, unless you’re like Tom Hanks, in which case, you’re a passionate collector of the old writing machines. In fact, Tom Hanks is so devoted to typewriters that he created an app with developer Hitcents to capture that old typewriter feel in the digital age. Hanx Writer, available on the Apple App Store, is a throwback to an earlier era that does not demonize our modern world, but instead uses it to celebrate former, dependable machines like Hanks’s own first typewriter: a Hermes 2000.

In an opinion post in the New York Times, Hanks writes, “I use a manual typewriter—and the United States Postal Service—almost every day. My snail-mail letters and thank-you notes, office memos and to-do lists, and rough—and I mean very rough—drafts of story pages are messy things, but the creating of them satisfies me like few other daily tasks.” Hanks enjoys some things the old-fashioned way, but he admits that he uses a computer to get certain deeds done quickly. He doesn’t reject computers, he just prefers many qualities of typewriters, including “the sheer physical pleasure of typing; it feels just as good as it sounds.”

Clearly, Tom Hanks’s beliefs struck a chord with the American public, as Hanx Writer was the number one app in the App Store in August 2014. Perhaps the popularity was solely due to Hanks’s fame, but part of me wants to believe that people wanted to try out a typewriter without the heavy commitment.

After reading the review, I decided to download the app and try it for myself. Hanx Writer is a well-designed app that does exactly what it advertises: It turns your phone into a typewriter. The click-clack of the letters certainly is satisfying. I felt more aware of what I was typing, so I took a little more time doing it. Though, I will readily admit that I typed some nonsense just to hear how fast the clicks could get! In the end, I was pretty entertained and, well, as one of Tom Hanks’s most celebrated characters, Forrest Gump, would say, “That’s all I have to say about that.”

Did You Know?

There are several websites and forums run by typewriter enthusiasts, where they display and discuss their machines with other devotees. There’s no telling how deep this rabbit hole goes, but for typewriter lovers, it’s just one of many available resources and opportunities to indulge in their hobby.

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

NASA’s New Horizons Mission Sparks Interest in Pluto and Beyond

by David Fox
Summer 2015 Intern

On July 14, 2015, after nine years and more than 30 billion miles, NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft flew within 7,800 miles of Pluto. As New Horizons passed by the icy world on its one-way journey into the cosmos, it recorded and beamed volumes of priceless data and images that NASA will be busy analyzing for years to come. The flyby was the biggest event in twenty-first-century space exploration and it was closely followed by the public—NASA reported almost 10 million page views and 1.7 million social media posts using #Pluto and #PlutoFlyby. But why are so many people fussing over this faraway, cold, uninhabitable rock?

Well, according to California Institute of Technology professor Mike Brown, Pluto’s icy nature—relatively unchanged throughout its 4.5-billion-year history—is part of what makes it important. “The planets are all so big and are so close to the sun, and their materials have been heated up and smashed and mixed around, and so you if look at the Earth and [sic] you get very little insight into how the Earth got here 4.5 billion years ago,” Brown said in an interview with CNBC. “But if you go into the outer part of the solar system, all of these objects have been essentially in deep freeze for 4.5 billion years, and you are getting a much closer direct look at what these things are like.”

Notice that Brown said objects. The old, stereotypical, grade-school model of our solar system always stopped at Pluto—making it appear to be the end of the road. That’s far from the truth, though. Pluto isn’t a wall at the edge of our solar system; it’s really a window, showing the way toward future discoveries. “We didn’t really start seeing objects beyond Pluto until the ’90s,” Jim Green, director of NASA’s planetary sciences division, said in an interview with CNBC. “So there is a whole new generation of people growing up in America that are starting to learn about a new population of objects beyond Neptune that are called Kuiper Belt objects.” The Kuiper Belt and the still-further Oort Cloud are the birthplace of comets and contain as many as 2 trillion icy bodies of varying sizes and shapes orbiting around the sun in 10,000-year arcs—enough to keep astronomers busy for several lifetimes. The next generation might get to visit the moon or Mars, but their dreams will extend farther out than ours, to an infinite array of cold, quiet, celestial bodies.

Did You Know?

When New Horizons flew by Pluto, scientists were surprised to find that the world was still active geologically—something that had previously only been observed in planets much closer to the sun. There is a smooth, heart-shaped area of about 1,000 miles called the Tombaugh Regio (after Clyde Tombaugh, discoverer of Pluto) where glaciers composed of frozen nitrogen, methane and carbon monoxide slide across the surface.