Audio Books Cure Boredom, October Glory in the Rugby World Cup, Kinsey Brown Bag

Multi-tasking with Audio Books

Over the past few years, general availability and ease of use have increased the popularity of audio books.  Professor Annie Lang is an avid “reader” of audio books.  She shared with us some of her personal experiences with audio books.  She has been listening to audio books for over ten years –first on cassette, then on CD, and now digitally.  She joined audible.com around six or seven years ago and has since accumulated over 475 books in her personal library, books she can pass on to friends or choose to read again.

Annie has noticed several things about her reading habits since embracing digital audio books.  First, she admits she is more than willing to read “trash” on paper, but doesn’t have time to listen to it in audio book form.  Conversely, she explains, “I’ve been reading better-quality books on audio.  Classics that I’ve never had a chance to read because they were on paper – the beauty of the language ties you up.  It’s a different experience for us media folks.”  Second, Annie finds herself listening to audio books whenever she is involved in an activity that doesn’t require a lot of cognitive effort.  Now that she is “reading” while walking, gardening, and knitting, she is reading more books than ever before.

Her productivity at work has increased too.  She has been scanning work and course-related readings into .pdf format and uploading them to Amazon’s Kindle converter so they can be transcribed to audio.  It is important to note that the converted audio file is a text-to-speech algorithm that generates an automated voice and not a human one.  While this might be off-putting for some, Annie says she has been listening to it long enough that she can no longer tell that it’s a computer-generated voice.  “My brain fills in the gaps and I don’t notice the automation or the words that it mispronounces.  My brain just fixes them.”  You can listen to a text-to speech sample, one that Annie has completely adjusted to, below.

Doctoral student Bridget Rubenking didn’t start listening to audio books until she started taking long road trips by herself.  One of her road trips is an annual event, a family reunion of sorts that happens every summer in Ogden, Iowa.  Every July, her family would make the 12.5 hour drive from Cleveland, Ohio to Ogden and now, as a graduate student, Bridget has been making the trip from Bloomington.  “It’s a 9.5 hour drive from here.  I listen to audio books on the way there and back, with some music mixed in.”  Bridget explains that audio books are versatile, as you can choose one for whatever mood you are in.  She usually chooses more light-hearted selections, if only for the reason that she has listened to some books that have left her in tears while driving.

As for her book selection process?  “I posted a Facebook status asking for suggestions this past summer.  I got a dozen good suggestions and confirmations of the collective favorites.  Also, I always ask my mom because she knows good books and what I like.”  Her favorite audio book to date is The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, which she found to be funny, thoughtful, compelling, and satisfying her penchant for precocious children.  When it comes to actual readers of the books, she has enjoyed self-narrations by David Sedaris and Chelsea Handler, but her ultimate preference is for readers with accents.  “It doesn’t matter from where.  I just prefer to hear people with lovely accents to read me lovely books.”

October Glory: The Rugby World Cup

October is here. In the American sports world that means two things: football, and playoff baseball. Between stadium shaking upsets, fantasy football frenzy, and ritual Saturday tailgates, no other month offers such sweet sports satisfaction. Yet, amidst the coverage of Peyton Manning’s neck injury, the record-setting collapse of the Boston Red Sox, and the collective groans of fantasy owners who took Chris Johnson in the first round, the world’s fourth largest sporting event is unfolding in front of a rabid international fan base. The Rugby World Cup, trumped by only the FIFA World Cup, the Olympics, and le Tour de France in terms of global popularity, is largely swept under the rug by American sports media outlets and ignored by Americans too occupied with the big two. However, a few in our department are displaying their rugby spirit, providing a brief look into one of the coolest sporting events in the world.

Count me among the Americans who had never paid attention to Rugby. Outside of a brief introduction by my English co-worker over the summer, the sport hadn’t crossed my mind until MS student Craig Harkness walked into T505 wearing an English rugby jersey only to receive a ribbing by Professor Mark Deuze. Inspired by their zeal (and the deer in headlights look of the rest of the class, myself included) I figured the fourth largest sporting event in the world needed a little bit of American recognition.

For the uninitiated, a Rugby match is played by two teams, each fielding 15 players on a field roughly the size of a soccer pitch. For two 40 minute halves, players from each team attempt to score points by moving the ball into the team’s in-goal area (think running into the endzone), or kicking the ball through a set of uprights in the team’s in-goal area. Players move the ball by running, passing and kicking. Blocking is not allowed, and players can only pass the ball backwards or laterally. If you’re a football fan needing a visual reference, think the classic hook and ladder play from the 1982 Stanford vs. Cal game (when the marching band prematurely went on the field), but for 80 minutes. Opposing teams attempt to stop the advancing team by tackling the ball carrier. For this reason, Rugby is largely recognized by Americans for its brutality. The fact that most Rugby players match the biblical description of Goliath doesn’t help either. Tack forty pounds of solid muscle onto your prototypical well-conditioned soccer player, and have them smash into each other at full speed with no pads. And you thought football was dangerous. According to Deuze, looks can be deceiving. In football, pads provide an illusion of protection which encourages players to do dangerous things. Conversely, the lack of pads in Rugby encourages players to play fundamentally sound with an emphasis on protecting their body. While injuries do occur and it is still quite violent, Rugby isn’t the bloodbath that some make it out to be.

The Rugby World Cup, which started in 1987, takes place every four years and features twenty teams from around the world. Much like the FIFA World Cup, the first round consists of a pool phase. Five teams are assigned to a group (Groups A, B, C, and D), and each team plays every other team in their group once. Two teams with the best record from each group advance to the knockout stage, where the rules shift to single game elimination. The last team standing is awarded the William Webb Ellis Cup, which is popularly known as the Rugby World Cup.

While Harkness shouts for England, Siyabonga Africa, Mark Deuze, and Betsi Grabe all root for South Africa. Unfortunately, over the weekend, England fell to France, and South Africa fell to Australia, effectively ending their world cup dreams.

There is an old saying, “Soccer is a gentlemen’s game played by hooligans, while Rugby is a hooligan’s game played by gentlemen.” For Grabe, this saying embodies what makes Rugby so special. Despite the violent nature of the sport, and its potential to turn ugly at any time, Rugby players often possess a commitment to the game, and a level of sportsmanship rarely seen in other major sports. It’s not uncommon to see one player absolutely bury the ball carrier only to help him up a minute later. Team captains aren’t necessarily selected for their athletic prowess, but for their ability to manage a team. Individuals may shine as stars, but the concept of a team, and playing as a team, trumps any kind of individual accomplishment. This type of behavior is reflected in the ways the referees manage the game. According to Deuze and Africa, refs like to keep the game going. Therefore, when penalties are committed, it is not uncommon for the ref to let the play continue and scold the offenders with a line something like “come on guys, you should know better, play like gentlemen.”

Rugby is more than a game. For countries like South Africa, rugby has the power to bring a country torn by racial tension together. Grabe, originally from South Africa, comes from a rugby family. Both her father and her brother played rugby competitively at a very high level. Growing up, sports were largely the territory of race. Cricket was the sport for white Englishmen, soccer the sport for blacks, and rugby the sport of Afrikaners. In 1995 post-apartheid South Africa was welcomed back into the international sporting world, and President Nelson Mandela saw an opportunity to show the world that things had changed. Recruiting François Pienaar, the big blonde captain of the Springbok rugby team, who would represent South Africa on a global stage, Mandela went to work convincing the country that the South African Rugby team was everyone’s team. Mandela sent the Springbok team into the streets to play rugby with black children. The team learned the old song of black resistance, now the new national anthem, Nkosi Sikelele Afrika (God Bless Africa), and belted it out before each of their games. By the time of the final against New Zealand, the entire country was behind the team and after their victory, the entire stadium, regardless of race erupted into furious chant of “Nel-son! Nel-son!” While the racial tensions still exist, for one day, on the platform of the Rugby World Cup, the entire country came together as one. To this day sports in South Africa still serve the same function, providing its citizens an opportunity to experience national pride when the country is at its best. In the words of Grabe, South Africa does a good job rising to the occasion.

For those looking to watch the rest of the Cup, NBC currently owns the broadcast rights, and while it did broadcast USA matches (Yes, America does field a rugby team, and yes it did lose all of its games) on national television, the rest of the games are available in a pay-per-view format, usually for $25. While the pay-per-view option is available, many fans have taken to more dubious methods, usually P2P streaming services, for watching the Cup.

Brown Bag

This week’s brown bag presentation featured Erick Janssen, Senior Scientist and Director of Education and Research Training at The Kinsey Institute.  His presentation provided an overview of The Kinsey Institute’s workings as a research organization with an emphasis on how collaborative efforts with other schools, departments, and scholars can advance sexual health and knowledge. Telecom doctoral student Lelia Samson served as the respondent and talked about how she had benefited from her interactions with Erick and The Kinsey Institute.  She offered thoughts on how Department of Telecommunications and The Kinsey Institute could collaborate for research on issues related to media and sexuality.  For more information about Erick’s research, click here.  You can also visit the Kinsey Institute’s website at www.kinseyinstitute.org.

Listen to the full audio of the presentation:

The Kinsey Institute: Erick Janssen and Lelia Samson     

Credits

Mike Lang:  October Glory – The Rugby World Cup

Nicky Lewis:  Multi-tasking with Audio Books, Brown Bag

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