Magazine On-line [fall 2007]
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Transy Tip Sheet

Ever wonder what the odds are on winning at a Las Vegas casino? Can you coordinate color, taste, texture, and flavor to present a memorable dinner party menu? How about surviving in the wilderness? Showcasing their knowledge in matters related to, and sometimes just outside of, their classroom expertise, Transylvania’s professors give you some tips on these and other areas.

Survival in extreme situations

EWAN McGregor and Chris Begley
Anthropology professor Chris Begley, right, and actor Ewan McGregor take time out from filming a BBC documentary in the Mosquito Coast of Honduras.

Anthropology professor Chris Begley’s archaeological research focuses on the Mosquito Coast of Honduras, one of the most remote areas of the Western hemisphere.

He leads eco- and adventure tours there as well, and has learned a lot about surviving in the wild.

Perhaps wilderness survival skills seem like a thing of the past, but there are situations in the modern world that bring these skills into play. Sometimes people have to abandon their cars, for instance, or get lost while hiking or hunting.

“Two women recently died in Kentucky after becoming lost in a rural area,” Begley said. “In many cases, the people are only a short distance from help, but can’t find it, and panic.”

Panic, he says, is the real killer in these situations. If you do find yourself in a survival situation, your first order of business is to stay calm and assess.

“Assuming you are safe from immediate danger, stop and sit down,” Begley says. “Typically, you want to stay put and wait for help. You should always tell someone where you are going if you are driving any distance or going hiking. That way, someone will notice you are missing and know where to start looking.”

If help doesn’t come, and you must move, there are some simple rules to remember.

“If you know which direction you should go, you can use the sun and moon to find directions. The sun rises in the east and sets in the west, of course. If there is a crescent moon, follow an imaginary line from the top of the point of the crescent to the bottom, and continue the line to the horizon. That will be south. In most places in the world, look for a creek or river and follow it downstream. You’ll find people sooner or later.”

As for water and food, water is the more important of the two.

“First, forget about food,” Begley says. “You won’t need it for a couple of weeks. Digestion takes water and you will dehydrate much more quickly if you eat. If you do need to eat, look for common things. Around Kentucky, dandelions, acorns, and maple seeds are all edible and easily identified.”

Finding safe water is a priority, and drinking water is especially important in cold weather to help prevent hypothermia.

“There is no secret for getting water, except that drinking contaminated water can make your situation go from bad to worse,” Begley says. “Find the clearest water you can, from a moving stream if possible, and boil it.”

Although he feels equipment is much less important than knowledge and mental preparedness, Begley recommends making a little survival kit to keep in your car.

“The most important things to carry would be a knife to cut wood for fire and shelter, something to start a fire with, and a container for water,” he says. “Water purification tablets would also be a good addition.”

Begley cautions that in severe situations, you can’t rely on your survival instincts to kick in.

“You will have to summon the will to survive and bolster yourself,” he says. “Think of things to keep you going.”

Approaching the podium with confidence and calm

Do your palms begin to sweat at the mere thought of speaking in public? Do you imagine your audience yawning while you are trying to enlighten them with your brilliant speech? Do you find it hard to believe that anyone would want to listen to you in the first place?

If so, writing, rhetoric, and communication instructor Gary Deaton has some helpful, practical advice that anyone can use to turn a public speaking event into a successful experience for both speaker and audience.

His first piece of advice is on where to begin.

“The first mistake most speakers make is to begin by thinking of themselves rather than their audience,” Deaton says.

“You should begin by imagining yourself in the audience and then asking, ‘Who is my audience? What would they hope to get out of my talk?’”

After you consider your audience in terms of the content of your talk, think of them again in relation to your delivery.

“It’s not about writing the best manuscript and then reading it, because it’s not a reading exercise, it’s a speaking exercise,” Deaton says. “Giving an extemporaneous talk—where you work from an outline—is the recommended approach that will allow you to be personable and connect with your audience.”

Somewhere in your introduction, give the audience a reason to listen, and then preview the main ideas you will develop.

“Remember that audiences have one question foremost in their minds, and that is, ‘What’s in it for me?’” Deaton says. “I give a ‘Presentation on Presentations’ to first-year students, and I tell them that these presentation skills I’m about to give them will help them in their Foundations of the Liberal Arts class, in their upper level classes, and later in life.”

There is no substitute for practice, Deaton says.

“You will be much more comfortable in speaking from an outline if you practice your speech, with a tape recorder, in front of a mirror, and with a supportive audience. Then, when you get to your real audience, you feel good about it.”

Good eye contact is a delivery tip that Deaton feels is paramount.

“If your audience is small enough, make eye contact with every member at some point,” he says. “With a larger audience, make eye contact with a section. Don’t get locked into a single friendly face. As you move through your outline and change topics, use those moments to move your eye contact around.”

Make sure a visual display adds to your presentation instead of distracting from it.

“Have your audience looking at a display only when you’re talking about it,” Deaton says. “Find a way to cover it up at other times. Use physical movement toward and away from the display to underscore this, and make sure the display is not just a repetition of what you’re saying.”

As for those feelings of nervousness and apprehension some of us get at the prospect of public speaking, Deaton reemphasizes the importance of preparation and focusing on your audience and the message, and not on your performance.

“Taking a few deep breaths before beginning can also help,” he says. “Try breathing in very slowly to a count of 10, holding that breath for the same count, and breathing out slowly to the same count. Physiologically, you’re combating the adrenaline flow and slowing your heartbeat and relaxing.”

One way to visualize success in a public speaking engagement, says Deaton, is to imagine it as a beneficial conversation you may have had with someone.

“Good conversation and public speaking are not that different,” he says. “You are conversing with the audience. They’re not speaking, but they’re sending you nonverbal messages. Your goal is to make everyone feel like, ‘We had a great talk together, even if I didn’t get to say anything.’”

Pulling off the perfect dinner party

You’ve just suggested a get-together with friends that somehow evolved into a dinner party at your home. Now what do you do?

“Count to 10, take a breath, and make a plan,” is professor of hospitality management Mike Pepper’s advice.

The first thing to consider is theme and style.

“Is this a celebration? A social gathering of friends, family, co-workers? The purpose of your party will provide the framework for the plans,” Pepper says.

Next, consider the number of guests and budget. Pepper advises that in deciding how many people to invite, you must first determine if this is to be a formal dinner.

“Adequate seating for the style of party will be crucial in carrying out your plan. A buffet is less formal and depending upon your menu, more people can be accommodated if able to either stand around and eat or use their laps. Remember—no menu items requiring knives if you go this route.”

You will also want to decide how much you want to spend. Figure the total amount and divide by the number of guests you expect to invite. A per capita dollar amount will provide some insight into how to allocate expenses.

Then, there’s the menu, which Pepper points out will likely be the key to your success. Seasonal themes and foods may help to promote natural menu choices.

“You’ll want to choose a variety of colors, textures, tastes, and flavors that are complimentary and portray the theme of the party.”

Pepper suggests that you may wish to rely on your favorites or do a dryrun on items that you plan to make.

“This will also give you an opportunity to cost out the menu items and help you determine if you’re within your budget.”

Keep in mind that your entrée will usually represent half of your food budget. Dessert may even top the entrée cost or be a close second.

“If you’re insecure about baking or making desserts, you may wish to splurge and purchase dessert from a local favorite bakery,” he says.

Plan a food preparation schedule so that some pre-preparation can be done a day or two in advance. If doing this alone, pre-plate and refrigerate cold food items to minimize last minute detail work. Also, don’t plan last minute preparation unless the kitchen is to be the focal point and informal gathering spot. Unless you have help, don’t plan on last minute grilling, broiling, or stir-frying, which would require attention to detail and take you away from your guests.

The ambience you wish to create— simple or ornate, informal or formal—should be reflected in your choice of flowers, candlelight, table settings, and decorations.

“Garnish and presentation will bring on the oohs and ahs as guests are brought to your table and served,” Pepper says.

“Visit the library and look through some cookbooks or magazines for good, easy to create garnish examples. Simple or elegant, presentation is crucial no matter the style.”

“Above all,” Pepper says, “keep it simple.

Your guests will want your attention. This means having everything well planned and prepared to make it appear effortless and simple. Again, plan ahead, prep ahead as much as possible, and dress comfortably.

As your guests arrive, have your cool drink in hand when you answer the door, at least giving the appearance of having it all together.”

Beat the casino? Don’t bet on it

Thinking of jetting out to Las Vegas, hitting the keno room, riding a hot streak, and walking away a big winner from the casinos?

If so, you might want to talk things over first with mathematics professor Kim Jenkins.

With the exception of booking a flight for Vegas, the other three ideas in that first sentence are the exact opposite of what Jenkins would recommend you do, or advise you to expect. But armed with insights based on accessible mathematical concepts that will steer you to games with the most favorable odds, you can enjoy your casino time and at least return home with a shirt on your back.

Jenkins’ advice is based primarily on a knowledge of the mathematical concept known as the house “edge” and an understanding of how to approach games of chance. She picked up these insights while teaching a May term course titled Risky Business: Maths of the Gaming Industry with mathematics professor Mike LeVan that included a week in Las Vegas.

The house edge is the amount of money the casino expects to keep from your wagering and differs for the various games. Keno is the worst for you, the gamer.

“Keno has a house edge of 21 percent, which means you will gamble a dollar to win back 79 cents,” Jenkins said. “That’s a very bad expectation for you.”

On the other hand, blackjack, a game Jenkins recommends highly, has a house edge in the seven percent range even for a novice player and involves an element of skill in deciding when to accept more cards, and in counting cards.

“With card counting, you can raise your expectation in blackjack so the house edge is lowered,” Jenkins says. “The basic counting system is to add one for each low card you have seen played—two through six—and subtract one for each high card—10 through ace. If you have a positive total at any point in the game, you’ve seen more low cards and are more likely to get a high card next, and vice-versa.”

Craps is also recommended. “The house edge on craps is just 1.4 percent, in general, for a basic pass/don’t pass bet,” Jenkins says. Among the slots, Jenkins touts video poker because of its element of skill in choosing your discards.

For games of complete chance, roulette is a good bet, says Jenkins. “You can bet a number of ways—just the number five, for example, or all red, or the top row of numbers. No matter how you bet, the house edge is always 5.26 percent, which is very unusual.”

As for your general approach to gaming, a common pitfall, says Jenkins, is to believe that if you get on a hot streak, you should continue.

“Walk away when you win,” Jenkins says. “Streaks are a fallacy in gaming. The longer you stay at any game, the more likely it is that you will come away losing the house edge.”

The bottom line for Jenkins: “Never go into a keno room, play blackjack and video poker with a decent strategy, play craps and roulette for pure luck, take your winnings and run, and don’t expect to win a lot. That approach will give you hours of enjoyment.”

Begin your garden with perennials

Librarian Susan Brown’s advice for the beginning gardener is to first come up with the overall plan for what you ultimately want your garden to be.

“Start by planting two or three perennials and filling in with annuals,” she says.

“Each year, add more and more perennials, using your master plan as a guide.”

While sometimes less showy than annuals, in the long run, perennials are not only beautiful but also less expensive because they last for years and, when they grow large enough, can be divided, resulting in more plants.

Among the perennials Brown has found easy to grow are Echinacea, black-eyed Susan, day lilies, bearded iris, salvia, and monk’s hood, which is tolerant and a late bloomer, and rosemary arp, which gets large quickly.

When it comes to placement, she points out there is no right or wrong way. A garden can be anything from a cottage garden to something quite spare with two or three plants.

“Your garden is your expression,” she says. “Mix plants and colors the way you want to. Do what works for you.”

Brown’s advice for the first-time gardener in the Lexington area is attention to soil. “Understand what will grow here,” she says, “and amend the soil. Dig down and fill with peat moss, or amend around existing plants.”

When looking for answers, Brown suggests turning to books.

“Read, read, read,” she said. Three books she recommends are The Kentucky Gardener’s Guide by Denny McKeown, and Perennials for Every Purpose and Annuals for Every Purpose by Larry Hodgson. “Don’t forget to talk to other gardeners,” she says. “Walk around your neighborhood and notice what you like. Ask the gardener, ‘Why did that grow for you when it died for me?’”

Classics more accessible than many might think

Reading the classics might not be as foreboding an undertaking as you think, says classics professor John Svarlien, even though some texts make a clearer immediate connection with the modern reader than others.

“If you go back to late 18th-, early 19thcentury America, every educated person knew a lot about the classics,” Svarlien says. “For the most part, the works are very accessible and understandable.”

In general, Svarlien says it’s easier for him to recommend Greek texts than Roman, though he has suggestions for both, and comedies are the most problematic since the jokes are usually topical.

The one figure from the classical era that Svarlien recommends for anyone, and who provides the best starting point for Greek literature, is Homer.

“Homer comes out of an oral tradition and he’s a great storyteller,” Svarlien says.

“You can read either the Iliad or the Odyssey. The two are very different. The Odyssey is the great adventure story that everyone likes and is very accessible. It’s not about war, it’s about family life and getting home to one’s wife and children.

The Iliad is about war. It’s intense, tragic, with a lot of graphic violence and is harder to read.”

Whichever you choose, read a translation in verse, not prose, Svarlien says. “You don’t want to read a poem that’s been translated into prose—it destroys the literary quality of the work.”

For Greek tragedy, Svarlien suggests Euripides among a rich heritage that also includes Aeschylus and Sophocles. “Euripides might be the more interesting of the three for modern audiences because he’s more psychological,” he says. “A good selection would be the Medea.”

Plato represents the great Greek tradition in philosophy. “Any Dialogue by Plato would be worth reading,” Svarlien says. “I would suggest the Symposium, which is about love and beauty. Plato gives you a sense of how the Greek mind works, and he’s also a poetic writer.”

For history, Svarlien recommends the Histories by Herodotus. “Herodotus is a great read because he traveled widely and describes what he sees, and that makes him the first anthropologist in the Western tradition. He’s a great storyteller and uses anecdotes effectively. Reading Herodotus is like listening to a great conversationalist.”

Turning to the Romans, Svarlien first suggests a movie—A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum, which is based on the comedies of Plautus—as a good introduction to the Roman world. “It’s wonderful, and hasn’t aged at all,” he says.

For Roman literature, Svarlien begins with Lucretius and his poem on The Nature of Things, a philosophical epic. The Aeneid by Virgil is a great national poem that complements the Iliad and the Odyssey, but requires more effort on the part of the modern reader.

“Virgil is a highly literate and literary artist, and he makes references back to earlier works,” Svarlien says. “The Aeneid contains both an odyssey and a war, and you need to do some background reading to get much out of it. It’s more of a challenge than Homer’s works.”

The same is true of Horace’s Odes, Svarlien says, while Ovid’s Metamorphosis is more accessible. “If you want to read a funny author, one who is clever with language and will also give you an education in polity, try Ovid. It’s about 250 separate stories that are not continuous, so you can read just parts of it.”

Appreciating contemporary art

Art professor Kurt Gohde contends that you are engaged with contemporary art simply by living in the same world as the artist.

“For the most part, artists are responding to the culture they live in,” he says. “So, we’re already prepared to view and respond to contemporary art.”

Even so, some people find that when it comes to appreciating art, they’re not sure where to begin, and many are resistant to the idea of purchasing art.

“There’s a basic misunderstanding that artists are making money,” Gohde says. “In this region, artists are not making money. Since I’ve been here, I’ve seen a lot of galleries start up and stop because the gallery owners realize, they’re just not going to make money.”

Instead of purchasing original art, many people spend the same amount of money or more on framed reproductions of original artwork.

“You could, without a whole lot of work, buy an original painting from an artist in the region for the same price or less than you could buy a poster and have it framed,” Gohde says.

The reason that people choose posters over original art, according to Gohde, is comfort level.

“When people go to a museum, there are text panels that tell you why the art is ‘good.’ We are taught that we can’t respond to images without that stream of information.

I think that’s why people buy posters, because we know why everyone else likes an image, so it’s easy for us to appreciate it for those same reasons.” Gohde says people are generally uncomfortable having a personal reaction to art.

“Our immediate base-level reaction to things we don’t understand is that they frighten us in some way and therefore, we don’t like them. The way we deal with not understanding is to be frightened,” he says.

He stresses, however, that at its very core, art is a dialogue between the art and the viewer.

“If we live in the same time and place as the artist, we’re probably responding to the same things, so our uneducated understanding is enough. We don’t have to have someone tell us what the art is ‘about’ because we live in the same world.” If you’ve ever asked yourself what makes something art, or questioned whether or not a piece of work is art at all, Gohde has a two-fold response.

“First,” he says, “ask someone specifically and directly what is not art. Defining what is art is really hard, but if you ask someone what specifically is not art, they find that’s just as hard. My definition of art is simple. If somebody tells me something is art, if they ask me if it’s art, there is no reason it shouldn’t be art. There’s a world of difference between good art and bad art, but there is no benefit from saying that something is not art. That just disables people from engaging.”

If you have an interest in art and you want to know more, Gohde says the easiest thing to do is find someone who is clearly passionate about it and start asking questions.

“Everybody likes to listen to people who are passionate,” Gohde says. “If you’re intimidated by walking up to an artist and asking about art, imagine what you’re passionate about. If someone came up and asked you about it, you wouldn’t insult them.”

Setting the sustainable table

It is “sustainable” rather than “organic” that physical education and exercise science professor Sharon Brown wants you to remember the next time you’re shopping for groceries.

“The terms are often used interchangeably,” she says, “but there are some distinctions.”

Sustainable agriculture is a way of raising food that is healthy for consumers and animals, does not harm the environment, is humane for workers, provides a fair wage to the farmer, and supports and enhances rural communities.

“An organic farm can actually be a big corporate farm and not help with biodiversity,” Brown says.

“The United States Department of Agriculture was pressed to lower its standards for how the label ‘organic’ can be used. Thirty-five different substances can now be used in food labeled ‘organic,’ so the label does not necessarily stand for purity.”

Setting a sustainable table can begin with using bamboo or 100 percent cotton placemats, and continue with shopping locally at farmer’s markets or grocery stores that sell locally grown produce. “In Lexington, that would be Good Foods Co-op,” Brown says. “Wild Oats also gets some local produce when available.”

Eating seasonally is another component. “Eating fruits and vegetables that are in season supports the local farmers,” Brown says. “At the farmer’s market, you can talk to the people who grew the food; ask them about their produce and their methods.”

Brown believes paying attention to food source makes for a less stressful eating experience. Sustainable practices not only benefit the environment, but also promote personal well-being and the celebration of food.

“We know that organic farms and sustainable local farms are going to use little or no pesticide,” Brown says. “There’s also more pleasure in eating, so we’re more satisfied. A tomato from the farmer’s market tastes better than a tomato from the grocery store, and feeling satisfied helps you monitor how much you eat.”

If you don’t set your own sustainable table, you can choose one when you go out to eat.

“Sustainable practices happening in Lexington reflect what’s happening in the rest of the country,” Brown says. “Almost any day of the week, you can shop at a farmer’s market, and now there are restaurants serving sustainable food.”

Becoming involved citizen can start close to home

At first glance, the notion of getting involved in political affairs may conjure images of electoral politics, dominated by candidates making speeches before huge crowds and splashy media coverage of election night results.

However, for those wanting to take some first steps toward becoming more engaged in public discourse and increasing their feelings of being a responsible citizen, political science professor Don Dugi suggests a broader, yet more local, point of view that will likely bring more effective results.

“A good first step is to think of putting your own house in order,” Dugi says. “Look around you in your community and see what is needed to make it the best it can be. Get involved with your neighborhood association or work with your district representative for local government. In other words, focus first on the things that are closest to you.”

At the same time, Dugi says those efforts will only be as effective as your commitment to becoming an informed citizen.

“Informing yourself about the nature of this society, the place where you live, and the issues that are confronting people takes a little effort,” he says. “You can look at it as a matter of selfdefense. If you are not aware of the issues, people may do things that will have an adverse effect on you without your knowing much about it.”

One way of learning about politics is to find a book on public policy and create a reading group, Dugi says. This will not only further your education about public issues, it will also connect you with others in your community who share your interest in getting involved.

Playing a role in electoral politics is fine, Dugi says, but another, perhaps more effective, way of having an influence is to be part of an interest group.

“If you’re trying to affect policy, you can do that either by selecting personnel in an election, which may be problematic since not everyone does in office what you hoped they would do, or you can try to influence the outcome of policy at the moment through an interest group, which has become the more common way.”

Dugi’s own approach to being a responsible citizen is based less on political theory than on a straightforward goal that seeks a positive result.

“I don’t have a grand philosophy, I have a code—I want to leave people and places better off for my having been here,” he says. “You don’t have to have any grander commitment than that.”

As for strategies, Dugi recommends you consider your own comfort level.

“Find the role that works best for you,” he says. “That’s the bottom line in terms of participation. If you’re uncomfortable putting yourself out in front, then help somebody behind the scenes.”

Karate training benefits the mind and body

While it’s true that training in the Japanese martial arts style of Shotokan Karate will give you an effective means of self-defense, the benefits of the regimen go far beyond that, says economics professor Rod Erfani.

“Karate training is designed to enhance the total development of the person,” says Erfani, who is instructor for the Transylvania Karate Club. “It improves many areas of physical conditioning, such as coordination, strength, flexibility, endurance, and fitness, but also emphasizes mental conditioning relating to concentration, discipline, confidence, and respect for others.”

The physical regimen of karate consists of defensive and offensive techniques that utilize all parts of the body as legs, hips, shoulders, and arms are coordinated to develop speed, power, and balance. As a physical fitness exercise, it improves the cardiovascular system and provides conditioning for all major muscle groups.

Karate practice is divided into three categories. Kihon (basics) teaches karate stances, punches, kicks, and blocks, practiced individually or in combinations with others. Kata (forms) teaches pre-arranged forms or patterns that simulate combat against imaginary opponents. There are 26 standard Shotokan Kata. Finally, Kumite (sparring) is the practical application of karate techniques and ranges from predetermined sets where attacker and defender know the techniques to be used, to free-sparring that allows any technique.

Students of karate progress through seven stages of expertise, marked by belts of white, yellow, orange, green, purple, brown, and black.

Erfani, who was the U.S. coach for the 2006 World Junior Karate Championship in Sydney, Australia, says the benefits of karate can be enjoyed by virtually all ages.

“Men and women of any age can learn to effectively apply karate techniques as a self-defense,” he says. “They can also increase their energy level, reduce stress, improve their self-esteem, and reap other rewards that come from the focus that karate places on both mental and physical health.”

Getting your academic book published

History professor Melissa McEuen’s book Seeing America: Women Photographers Between the Wars was published by University Press of Kentucky in 2004, and she has some hints for others seeking to publish academic non-fiction. “I can only speak for non-fiction, since that’s what I write,” she says.

Her first piece of advice is to be familiar with book lists and investigate what topics or subjects presses specialize in.

“Say you’re writing about World War II, you need to know which presses generate books about WWII,” she says. “The same with food writing—you wouldn’t want to pitch an idea to an editor for a cookbook if her press doesn’t publish cookbooks.” McEuen notes that there are various selfpublication outlets, including the Web, which provides an instant and limitless audience.

“I wouldn’t recommend self-publication for advancement in the academic world, however,” she says. “It carries a stigma, the way it used to be with ‘vanity presses’.” Instead, McEuen says one of the best places for academics to float their ideas is at a professional meeting in the exhibit hall. “In the book/sources exhibit, there are acquisitions editors at many booths anxious to talk with people about their research,” she says. She also recommends reading books about publishing.

“The most helpful book I’ve read about publishing serious non-fiction is Susan Rabiner and Alfred Fortunato’s Thinking Like Your Editor,” she says. “They have a great chapter on how to put together a book proposal for a press.”

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