Smile Politely

Listen Up: Speakers in C-U from November 17 – 23, 2008

You live near a major university. There are smart people that come here every week to talk to the general public about interesting topics. Perhaps you were not aware of this fact, or were overwhelmed by the sheer number of opportunities for possible transcendence. If that’s the case, Smile Politely understands and is here to help. Here are three speakers that will be on campus this week, and two of them took the time to answer a few questions about their area of expertise. Check one or more of them out if you have time.

Monday, November 17 @ 8 p.m.: “The Aesthetics of Nostalgia: Modern Readers and Medieval Texts,” by Dr. Renee Trilling, U of I Assistant Professor of English; Levis Faculty Center Music Room

Smile Politely: What would you hope that a non-academic reader of the classics would take away from your talk?

Renee Trilling: I think it’s really important to remember that medieval people were not a completely alien species; some things about their literature seem very strange and different to modern readers, but the underlying themes and interests and beliefs are very similar to the kinds of things modern authors do, too.

SP: How has the way that people interact with medieval texts evolved over your lifetime?

RT: Digital technology has made it possible for virtually anyone to have access to medieval manuscripts. Instead of being limited only to specialists who can get permission to handle the manuscripts, which was the case even a decade ago, now anyone with a computer and Internet access can look at images of medieval manuscripts at the British Library, for example. That really takes the mystery out of medieval literature and lets us all appreciate the manuscripts as the works of art they are.

SP: What topics will you cover?

RT: I’ll be talking about how movies about the Middle Ages offer a very nostalgic portrayal of the period as a golden age of knights and ladies and castles, but also about how medieval authors did exactly the same thing with their own texts, such as Beowulf, which looks back to the pre-Christian era as a golden age of heroes with the same kind of nostalgia.

Tuesday, November 18 @ 12 noon: Sustainability Seminar Series — “Straw Bale Construction: A Path to Sustainability,” by Julie Vogel Birdwell; Stephen J. Warner Conference Room, Illinois Sustainable Technology Center (Waste Management and Research Center Building), One E. Hazelwood Dr., Champaign

Ms. Vogel Birdwell is the President of New Prairie Construction Company and has extensive experience in straw bale construction. If you have free time over the noon hour, this looks really interesting.

Smile Politely: How did you get involved in straw-bale construction, and where is the house that you helped to build?

Julie Vogel Birdwell: I began hearing, reading and studying straw-bale construction more than 10 years ago. This culminated in the construction of our house and garage/studio at 605 East Main St. in Urbana.

SP: What are some of the unique challenges involved in straw-bale construction?

JVB: Some of the unique challenges in doing this are finding architects who know how to design straw bale structures, and keeping up with the latest information regarding straw-bale construction. Surprisingly, it wasn’t as easy to find the rye straw we sought to use as a building material. I was able to do so because most of my family are farmers who knew someone, who knew someone … who had organic rye straw. I found, however, that central Illinois is more of a “corn and bean” place now, than when I grew up. It also involves learning to plaster and stucco. We had to teach ourselves these skills.

SP: What are some circumstances where straw-bale construction would make more sense than traditional wood-frame construction?

JVB: Personally, I feel that most circumstances would tend to favor straw-bale construction over wood frame, for these reasons:

1. Straw bale walls are stronger, and more earthquake and fire resistant.
2. Straw bale walls have much higher “R” value than the 2×6, standard insulated walls that are common in wood frame construction.

SP: How many three-little-pigs jokes do you expect as part of your presentation?

JVB: Honestly, I hope I don’t get any of the three-little-pigs jokes; after all of these years, it gets tiring.

Wednesday, November 19 @ 12 noon: Beckman Institute Director’s Seminar: “Beyond Words: Prosody in Speech Production and Perception,” by Dr. Jennifer Cole, U of I Associate Professor of Linguistics and Cognitive Science; Beckman Institute Room 1005

Dr. Cole has this to say about her presentation: “Prosody refers to the intonation, rhythm and tempo of speech. Prosody conveys linguistic meaning, e.g., it can be used to distinguish between a question and a statement, and it also conveys the speaker’s attitude with respect to his/her utterance and the discourse, and his/her emotional state. Having a good characterization of prosody is important for the develpoment of computer speech technologies, as well for the general understanding of the organization of language. I became interested in prosody through my research on phonetics and phonology (the linguistic study of sounds and their function in human languages). This is my area of specialization in Linguistics. I was first introduced to Linguistics as an undergraduate at the University of Michigan, where I studied Linguistics in conjunction with foreign languages.”

Wednesday, November 19 to Friday, November 21: There are a bunch of entrepreneurship speakers this week, sponsored by The Academy for Entrepreneurial Leadership. Some of them require registration, so check out the link and be aware.

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