Steven Levy ’74g went to New Zealand to report his latest story for Wired—a tale of how Google is trying to bring Internet access to some pretty remote locations using a pretty wild scheme. It involves putting antennas into solar-power balloons and launching them into the stratosphere. Google calls the idea Project Loon, because it’s kind of crazy. But it just might work.
Levy writes that Project Loon could “provide Internet to a significant chunk of the world’s 5 billion unconnected souls, enriching their lives with vital news, precious educational materials, lifesaving health information, and images of grumpy cats.”
Levy’s story is accompanied by some cool photos of the project.
Tina Hay, editor
I mentioned back in April how psyched we were to welcome Marc Kauffman to the magazine staff. Marc joined us after 20 years at Rodale Press, the last six as deputy art director of Runner’s World magazine. We love Marc’s newsstand-magazine experience, his talents, and his good-natured personality … and we also love his Rolodex.
OK, no one actually has Rolodexes anymore. But Marc has a brain that’s just crammed with the names of first-rate photographers, illustrators, and photo-illustrators with whom he’s worked over the years. And he turned to a few of them right away as he designed his first issue for us—our forthcoming July-August issue.
One of those contacts is Aaron Goodman, whom Marc hired to create several photo illustrations for our July-August cover story, on the history of the Nittany Lion mascot. Goodman’s portfolio includes some really cool composite photos, like the one he did for a 2006 Sports Illustrated cover (shown here) called ”A Team for All Time.” Below is the full-length version of the same photo-illustration, which we’re using here with his permission.
(You really should click on that photo to see it bigger. It’s great.)
To get a feel for what was involved in creating that dugout photo—let’s just say there were a lot of body doubles involved—you can read this short article at the Sports Illustrated site. This video from Goodman’s own website, showing how he created a particular ad for Nike, is pretty cool too.
What Goodman did for us for our Lion mascot photo essay and cover wasn’t quite this elaborate. But we like it a lot, and we hope you will too. Maybe we’ll show you a sneak preview next week.
Tina Hay, editor
USA Today has a sweet story online about the death on Monday of Deacon Jones, one of the L.A. Rams’ “Fearsome Foursome” of the 1960s. The story extensively quotes Rosey Grier ’56, who is now the sole living member of that foursome.
“It was a heavy blow for me, like losing a family member,” Grier says of Jones’ death. “We four were family.” Which may seem obvious—but, as the article points out, it was an unusual family for its time: three blacks and a white Mormon. Says Grier: “The four of us set out to prove that it wasn’t about the color of the man, it was about the desire of each individual to work together as a team.”
Something interesting I learned from the story: Despite his nickname, Deacon Jones was not a particularly religious man. It was Grier who encouraged him—even as recently as three weeks ago—to get in touch with his spiritual side.
(We did a cover story on Rosey Grier two years ago; you can read it here.)
Tina Hay, editor
One last note from the Alumni Association’s trip to Bhutan:
Bhutan is a spectacularly photogenic country, from its lush mountains and valleys, to its friendly people, to its Buddhist-inspired architecture. Their ubiquitous stray dogs are pretty cute, too. I asked the trip participants if they’d be willing to share some of their photos with me, and below is a slide show of about 30 or so images they contributed.
Tina Hay, editor
We had our annual alumni reunions here at University Park this past weekend, and the Class of 1963 asked me if I’d be the speaker on Saturday night at the dinner marking their 50-year reunion.
The idea came from Donna Sutin Queeney ’63, who suggested that I present a slide show of images from The Penn Stater over the years, starting with fall of 1959—when she and her classmates arrived on campus as freshmen—and continuing through to the present. It turned out to be a fun and very engrossing project.
Back in 2010, as we prepared for our centennial issue, the magazine staff combed through just about every issue from 1910 to the present. Each person took a decade (or two) and looked carefully at each and every issue from that decade, compiling a list of the stuff that stuck out: stories or photos that looked quaint or goofy in retrospect, or that evoked the mood of the times, or that echoed recurring themes (“The state never gives us enough money”; “Tuition is going up again”; “Paterno says he’ll coach five more years”). I relied heavily on the staff’s notes for guidance, and ended up finding some great stuff. I thought I’d share with you a few of the images that I showed the Class of ’63 on Saturday night.
First, you should definitely click on the aerial photo at the top of the page in order to see it bigger—it shows a very different campus than the one we have today. In the upper left is a big chunk of green space left behind by the relocation of Beaver Field in 1959. To the right of that chunk of green is Hort Woods, which was huge back then but which has since shrunk, giving way to North Halls and a number of arts buildings.
Just to the right of the centerfold you can see the beginnings of East Halls, and way to the right of that, all alone in the distance, is Beaver Stadium.
People at the reunion also got a kick out of this photo from 1961 of football coach Rip Engle and his staff, including a 35-year-old Joe Paterno:
I’ve added the enlarged version of Joe on the right, and here again, you can best get the full effect by clicking on the photo to enlarge it.
While on the subject of football, I thought that these head shots of Galen Hall ’63 and Dave Robinson ’63 as young football players were fun:
Perhaps not surprisingly, when I put the images up on screen, just about everyone in the room could name the players—and several remembered that Robinson went on to be a first-round draft choice of the Green Bay Packers.
Something else that struck me as I paged through the back issues of the magazine was its courage in covering tough subjects. That’s very clearly a tradition with the Alumni Association’s flagship publication, going at least back to 1970, when it was simply called the Alumni News. I had known about the three-part series on “The Black Experience at Penn State” back in 1989, when then-editor Donna Symmonds Clemson ’55 showed a lot of guts in chronicling how difficult life could be for black students here. But I hadn’t realized that nearly 20 years before that, in 1970, the magazine did two separate features—one in January and one in May—on campus unrest. Below is the opening spread from the May 1970 story, about students occupying Old Main:
That kind of unflinching coverage wasn’t necessarily common in alumni magazines at the time, and in some ways it laid the groundwork for what we’ve been able to do in the magazine in more recent years.
Finally, on a lighter note, I came across this item from our July-August 2004 issue, about the birth of sextuplets at Hershey Medical Center:
They were the first sextuplets ever born at Hershey, and the proud parents were “Kate and Jonathan Gosselin of Wyomissing, Pa.” Gee, I wonder whatever became of them?
Tina Hay, editor
Thimphu, Bhutan, is said to be the world’s only capital city to not have a traffic light. In fact, I think it’s safe to assume that there are no traffic lights anywhere in Bhutan, because if the capital city (population: about 75,000) doesn’t have one, the smaller cities elsewhere are even less likely to.
One busy intersection in Thimphu does have a kiosk where a police officer directs traffic in a graceful, almost mesmerizing series of gestures—even if we didn’t exactly understand what his gestures meant. Combine the mysterious hand movements with the fact that people drive on the left side of the road in Bhutan and, well, I think I’d be better off letting someone else do the driving.
Penn State traveler Julie Nelson shot the one-minute video clip below during the Alumni Association’s trip to Bhutan. Note that of all his signals, not one of them seems to say “stop” or “wait.” Yet somehow it works.
Tina Hay, editor
Our Penn State group happened to visit Bhutan at a really interesting time: The country is in the midst of its national primary elections, in which voters will be choosing, among other elected officials, a prime minister. The current prime minister is well known to many Penn Staters: Jigme Thinley ’76g earned his master’s in public administration from Penn State, and the university has honored him as both an Alumni Fellow and a Distinguished Alumnus.
If you saw the 60 Minutes segment on Bhutan back in 2008, you saw Thinley talking about the country’s program of Gross National Happiness. I haven’t been successful in finding an online video of that 60 Minutes piece, but you can read a transcript here.
Actually, it’s not quite correct to call Thinley the current prime minister. The way it works in Bhutan, when the elections roll around, the current government steps down and an interim government is put in place for about three months. So Thinley is out of office while he seeks reelection.
Thinley isn’t the only Penn State connection to the Bhutanese elections. The guy in charge of the whole process—the country’s chief elections commissioner—is Kunzang Wangdi ’80g, and our group had the pleasure of spending an evening with him early in the trip.
The folks in the Alumni Association’s travel office invited Wangdi to our opening-night reception, and despite the fact that this has to be an incredibly busy time for him, he showed up. He sat in the hotel bar with us for an hour or so, munching on snacks and answering our questions about the elections.
Bhutan is a fascinating study because it’s relatively new to democracy. Starting back in 1907, the country was a monarchy, and there have been just five kings in its history—all part of the Wangchuck family, all called the “dragon kings,” and typically referred to simply as “the first king,” the “second king,” and so on.
As I understand it, it was the third king who, back in the 1950s, started transitioning Bhutan from an absolute monarchy to a constitutional one, with the establishment of a National Assembly—akin to a Parliament. His son, the fourth king, formed a royal commission to study democracies around the world and pick the best elements of each. Just four years ago, that same fourth king abdicated the throne in favor of his 29-year-old son, in part to help accelerate the move toward a democracy. (Vanity Fair did an interesting article at the time on the coronation of the fifth king.)
In talking with Wangdi, the elections commissioner, we were struck by how much foresight and selflessness the kings had shown over the decades in realizing that their country would be better served by a democratic government than a monarchy. We also were impressed at how Bhutan had learned from other countries’ mistakes in creating its elections policy. The requirement that the incumbents step down at election time, for example, is based on the idea that you shouldn’t be trying to govern and campaign at the same time. And the government funds the elections in full, leaving no room for political action committees and their influence.
You also don’t see the roadsides in Bhutan littered with campaign billboards and yard signs. Instead, every so often you come across an “Election Advertising Board” like the one shown here.
We loved the evening we spent with Wangdi and were so impressed that he took time to visit with us. As if that weren’t enough, on the last day of the trip we received a package from him—a box of Bhutanese gifts for us. A very nice touch.
As for Jigme Thinley, it obviously would have been cool to meet him as well, and my colleague Deborah Marron ’78, ’86g did some advance legwork starting last winter to see if she could get it arranged. But we were visiting the western part of Bhutan at a time when Thinley was campaigning over in the eastern part of the country—and, after spending a few days bumping along at 12 mph on those narrow Bhutanese roads, I fully understood why the distance made that impossible.
Bhutan’s primary election is just days away now—Friday, May 31—and it will narrow the field of prime minister candidates from four down to two, with the general election to follow in July. It’s safe to say that the Penn Staters on this trip will be keenly interested in the results.
Tina Hay, editor