Thursday, June 29, 2017

A Boston July Fourth Tradition: The Boston Pops Fireworks Spectacular

by Eileen Neary
Jr. Project Manager

As a kid, one of my family’s traditions was watching the Boston Pops Fireworks Spectacular on TV on the Fourth of July. Boston’s greatest orchestra plus other musical guests plus an amazing fireworks display is always the perfect way to end a New England Independence Day. Inspired by the orchestra’s compelling performances, I began learning to play the violin when I was 8. Performing at the Hatch Shell one day seemed like a dream come true (next to being Mia Hamm, of course).

My mom adored (and still does) the Boston Pops’ conductor, Keith Lockhart, like most people adore their favorite singer or actor. To date, Lockhart has led over 1,800 Boston Pops concerts during his 22 years (1995–present) as conductor. But if you think that’s a record, you’re wrong—Arthur Fiedler was the conductor for 49 years (1930–1979). Fiedler is responsible for introducing pop culture to the Boston “Popular Concerts”—later shortened from “Popular” to “Pops.” He is also responsible for organizing the first free Charles River Esplanade concerts.

Composer John Williams (yes, that John Williams, most-nominated-living-person-in-Academy-Award-history John Williams) also deserves some major credit for his tenure as the Pops conductor (1980–1993). Williams introduced to the Pops repertoire some of his film scores from famous movie scenes, helped lead the orchestra to record some national best-selling albums and used some of his Hollywood connections to have Steven Spielberg, Martin Scorsese and iconic characters like Darth Vader and R2-D2 appear onstage. 

Today, the Boston Pops Fireworks Spectacular is broadcast worldwide and inspires more than half a million people each year to grab their blankets and folding chairs and flock to the Charles River Esplanade for the celebration. This year, the Independence Day tradition includes a fighter jet flyover while “The Star-Spangled Banner” is performed, Hamilton star Leslie Odom Jr., pop singer Andy Grammer and singer-songwriter Melissa Etheridge, as well as new compositions and old patriotic favorites. And best of all? The 20-minute Fireworks Spectacular, which lives up to its name every year.

For more info on the show, visit

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

PSG Staff’s Must-Have Music

by Marianna Sorensen
Spring 2017 Intern

Here at PSG, it’s clear that our musical tastes cover a range of styles and sounds. I have a soft spot for Irish music—both traditional and contemporary—with a fondness for all songs involving Heidi Talbot. But I wanted to see what others thought, so I asked around to see what everyone’s favorites were—and some of my coworkers surprised me!

·      Ken loves James Taylor because of Taylor’s compositions, arrangements, fun rhythms and unexpected chord changes. Only true music lovers like Ken have a preference based on chord changes!
·      Alyssa grew up listening to the Beatles and the Rolling Stones, but also loves a lot of Top 40 pop, including artist Vanessa Carlton.
·      Tess also loves the Beatles (George is her favorite) and other bands from that time. For newer music she’s into groups like Walk the Moon and Florence + the Machine.
·      Kate’s favorite band is U2, who she’s seen in concert twice. She also got to see one of her favorite artists, Adele, live at the House of Blues in Boston right in front of the stage.
·      Eileen likes hardcore rock, and her favorite band is Our Last Night. She first saw them more than 10 years ago, when the lead singer was only 16—talk about being a fan from the beginning!
·      Sam likes albums of indie music, dream pop and “shoe gazer” music, with the Fleet Foxes being one of her favorites.
·      Colleen especially enjoys both traditional and new folk and has been going to the Newport Folk Festival for over 20 years now, so she’s seen tons of folk legends and been introduced to amazing new music.
·      Don likes a whole variety including punk, bluegrass, hip-hop, metal, folk and classic rock. He also had a radio show in college, where he played almost exclusively Nirvana demos, live recordings and import versions, which is the ultimate indication of a music lover.
·      Annette has a self-described eclectic taste in music. She loves alternative rock music—Pearl Jam being her all-time favorite. She also loves the Decemberists and Jimmy Eat World and makes it a point to see those bands any time they tour nearby.
·      Sarah also enjoys a large variety—reggae, rap, hard rock and nu-metal are among her favorite genres.

I never expected to receive such a wide range of answers! One thing’s for sure, if I ever want to try out any new music, I know who to ask—the staff here at PSG are one music-loving bunch!
Did You Know?
Your skull’s size, density and shape affect the frequency at which you hear music. This means people may hear the same piece of music differently. Scientists have found that this could be a part of why you like or dislike certain songs.

Thursday, June 22, 2017

Ancient Smartwatches: The Statement Piece of a Roman Sundial

by Samantha Perry
Spring 2017 Intern

In high school, we had three foreign languages to choose from: Spanish, French and Latin. I decided to take Latin, hoping it might take me on a school trip to Italy as a senior. Although I didn’t make it to Italy in high school, I did study Latin throughout and learned quite a bit about ancient Roman culture. 

One thing I learned was that the ancient Romans stayed on top of new technology just as fervently as we do today. The wealthiest Romans often owned the newest tech and the latest styles, which were used to show off just how much wealth someone had. A portable sundial was a combination of both, and therefore the perfect status symbol.

The Roman day was divided into 12 increments of daylight and 12 increments of nighttime, with an hour measuring about 45 minutes in the winter and 75 minutes in the summer. Wealthy Romans who sported portable sundials could boast about knowing the time wherever they traveled. But these flashy pieces did require a good bit of technical knowledge in order to be used correctly. Many of the sundials that have been recovered were found with “cheat sheets,” collections of coordinates for different locations, which were used to calibrate the sundial to find the correct time for the desired area.

One of the most famous portable sundials was discovered in 1706 in the ruins of Villa dei Papiri in Herculaneum. Think your Hello Kitty iPhone case is cool? This sundial is in the shape of an Italian ham, and has been dubbed the “pork clock” since its discovery. It was recently recreated in a 3D model, which includes a replication of a grid on one side of the ham that marked the months of the year as well as hours past sunrise or sunset. The actual dial piece (called the gnomon) is missing, but it had been described in the past as being in the curly shape of a pig’s tail, so the 3D model includes this unique feature. A sundial of this shape is an extravagant example of a Roman status symbol, possibly intended for an Epicurean philosopher. These thinkers used a pig for their symbol and were known for their carpe diem attitude. Seize the day—and the pork, apparently!

But, similar to today, there were always those who preferred simpler ways over new technology. Some ancient Romans insisted that their stomachs were the best judges of time, since they told them when it was time for breakfast, lunch and dinner. They’d probably have something similar to say about roosters vs. alarm clocks—too bad they never got the chance to experience the snooze button!

Did You Know?
The month of January is named after the Greek God Janus, the god of beginnings and ends. He is depicted as having two faces, one looking forward and the other back, to represent the transition between the old year and the new.

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Around the World in 95 Minutes: What It Takes to Be a Celestial Telescope

by Marianna Sorensen
Spring 2017 Intern

Imagine if it were your job to literally go around the world every 95 minutes. Wouldn’t you want to retire after 27 years? Well the Hubble Space Telescope, the “world’s first large, space-based optical telescope,” has reached that point. NASA is beginning its final tests on its replacement, the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST).

JWST, costing nine billion dollars, is going into its final round of ground tests before it’s set to launch in October of 2018. One part that needs to be completed is a shield to protect it from the sun’s heat. Because JWST is designed to look at infrared wavelengths, it has to be kept really cold. Once JWST is deployed, this sun shield will have to go through a series of steps to unfold to its full size, a process which takes two weeks. Scientists and engineers have spent almost 20 years in its design and building, so those on the team are very excited to finish it.

NASA has additional tests to run on JWST before sending it up to space. One test they have completed recently checks whether JWST can withstand vibration and acoustics necessary for traveling into space. Scientists and engineers put JWST in a test chamber and exposed it to noise loud enough to cause comparable vibrations.

What makes JWST different than Hubble is its infrared vision. Because the first stars and galaxies are always moving farther away from us, their light is moving toward redder wavelengths. This means JWST, because it’s a near- and mid-infrared telescope, will be able to show us the early stars—a site that we have never seen before.

JWST will also search for extraterrestrial life on exoplanets by providing information about their atmospheres. It will also study the “transit method” of those exoplanets, or how they are traveling around their stars. And, using coronagraphs, it will get direct, colored images of exoplanets, which will provide scientists with data related to seasons, vegetations, rotation and weather.

Is there life in galaxies far, far away? JWST may just help us find out.

Did You Know?
Hubble is so accurate that it could shine a laser beam through a dime from two hundred miles away. And when Hubble is outside of Earth’s atmosphere, it can see astronomical objects so well, that NASA compares it to being able to see fireflies in Tokyo all the way from Maryland.

Friday, June 16, 2017

Kudos to Ken—PSG’s Ken Scherpelz Retires

by Ken Scherpelz

Please join us in extending the very best wishes to our VP of Sales and Business Development, Ken Scherpelz, as he retires from Publishing Solutions Group after 11 years of dedicated service.

Ken has a long and storied career in educational publishing. After receiving his BA in elementary education and English from Augustana College, Ken entered the workforce as an elementary school teacher. Five years later, his 38-year stint in the educational publishing industry began. Ken wore many hats over the years, including working as an acquisitions manager at Scott Foresman, a managing editor at Zaner-Bloser, an editorial director at SRA/McGraw-Hill, and a vice president of two educational development and production houses.

For over a decade, Ken has been a part of the PSG family, and we’ve all been very lucky to learn from his experience and to be able to work with him on countless projects and endeavors.
When asked his thoughts about retirement, Ken wanted to share:
  • The first item on my Retirement To-Do List is to have dinner on the table each evening for my wife and me. 
  • We also have a young granddaughter in Minneapolis who needs to be spoiled and taught the ways of the world.
  • And I’d like to get back to playing the harmonica and expanding my repertoire beyond just “Oh! Susanna.” 
  • The PSG staff are some of the best and most talented publishing professionals I have known and worked with, and I’m thankful every day that I have had the opportunity to collaborate with them in building a strong and successful business.
  • My advice to all of you (c’mon—you expected some words of wisdom, didn’t you?) is simply work hard and treat each other fairly.
Ken is known for keeping the office laughing and entertained—and busy, of course. There is never a dull day with Ken around. His wit and know-how will be greatly missed by every member of our PSG family. We wish him the very best in his new role as Grandpa–Golfer–Musician Extraordinaire!

Thursday, June 15, 2017

A Giraffe, a Scientist and a Reporter Walk into a Podcast

by Sam Perry

Spring 2017 Intern

Even when I was young, I remember struggling to find the perfect radio station to listen to in the car. My favorite channel featured a two-hour-long show called The Playground that played requested children’s music with limited interruption. The two-hour window meant I couldn’t tune in too often, so I can only imagine the never-ending stream of Harry Potter–inspired songs I could have had access to if The Playground had existed as a podcast.

Today, you’d be hard-pressed to find a subject not covered by a podcast. There are ones for academics or entertainers, for dedicated listeners or podcast passerby, for adults or children. It’s been a while since we talked about podcasts for kids, but several new ones have emerged. Below are a few examples of podcasts designed by and for children to keep them entertained and learning.

Eleanor Amplified is a series of adventures featuring the radio reporter Eleanor, who pursues truth and quality journalism as she encounters various kinds of villains. The show, which is designed for kids aged 8–12, encourages kids to keep asking questions and inspires interest in journalism.

Tumble is a science podcast for kids. It hopes to instill curiosity and exploration in children with real science. The hosts, a married couple with backgrounds in journalism and teaching, created the podcasts in the hope that getting kids to ask questions early in life will also help them to ask the right questions about science in the future.

Kids aren’t just standing by, either. There are several podcasts in which kids take an active role, like Ear Snacks and But Why. Both podcasts focus on the curiosity of children, either by interviewing them or featuring questions submitted by children. Ear Snacks, created by Andrew Barkan and Polly Hall who also compose music for the children’s TV show Wallykazam!, commonly interviews children about various topics on their podcasts. They’ve also interviewed 35 experts . . . and 2 giraffes!

With But Why, questions are submitted and answered on the show. Parents are encouraged to record their child asking a question and email an audio file into the show for a breakdown. Kids will get a great question answered and parents will get a kick out of the kinds of things kids think to ask.

The great thing about podcasts is that you can plug in and listen almost anywhere—from the playground to the poolside to the porch swing. And kids will love listening to the ones that are specifically made with them in mind!

Did You Know?
Broadcasting over 250 stations around the world, Global Breakfast Radio is a 24-hour program that only airs during breakfast time in each time zone.