Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Distilled Prose: Postcard Narrative Assignment

Okay, here's another assigment that I did for my Distilled Prose class. It has three parts to it: 1) a 500 word narrative, 2) a 250 word revision, and 3) a 250 word rationale. I received a mark of 90% on this assignment. (Woo hoo!)

Dungeons and Dragons fans might recognize the name of the priest. Ruphus Laro is a background character from the Shackled City Adventure Path that was published in a series of DRAGON Magazines for 3rd Edition. The character's personality and flaws didn't fit my world so I changed them to suit the game, which, of course, is normal a part of gaming.

I guess you could call this "fan fiction," but gamers prefer to refer to such writings as "story hours." A story hour is fictional writing based on actual game play. However, this scene wasn't played out. It's fiction based on what happened in the game. Ruphus went on a journey "in-game" but it was never detailed. I knew what happened but I hadn't written it down in stone before now.

Still, it's more like fan fiction since I did not create this character. (Not that Ruphus is a primary D&D character beyond the pages of DUNGEON Magazine but it's still important to say.) Anyway, I'll stop rambling now. . .

A Priest Contemplates His Journey
500 Word Version
The doors opened and a young soldier entered the room from the vestibule.

“Master Ruphus, they are ready to leave.”

The young priest of the Protector did not move a muscle as he knelt before the statue of his goddess.

“I will be there shortly,” Ruphus replied.

The young soldier left the priest to finish his prayers closing the door quietly behind him.

Ruphus of Cauldron went over the events of the past few months in his mind. The journey from his homeland had been arduous and long. He had been relieved to see the looming gates of the city of Tallawan appear over the horizon. The relief soon turned into sorrow as he passed through the gates of the city and saw the conditions in the city.

The citizens of the city were a beaten down people living in abject fear of a race of creatures that were more like beasts then men. The people shirked from the streets as he and his escorts walked through the city towards the temple dedicated to the Protector. The city was on the verge of collapse. Hundreds of buildings laid in ruins from a dozen assaults by the beast men.

It had taken Ruphus over three weeks to gain any sort of trust from the city's populace. Hours of ministering to the sick and wounded had helped but his skirmish with the beast men outside the city had been the real turning point. He had been asked to help treat an outbreak in one of the nearby villages.

The beast men had come out of nowhere.

The battle had been quick and brutal. The beasts wore savage headdresses and wielded wicked weapons with jagged edges. They showed no mercy attacking both soldiers and villagers alike. Ruphus had balked when he first saw their true forms. The beasts were catlike creatures with long, sharp claws and teeth.

Ruphus had looked into their faces and couldn't help but see the face of the Protector but twisted into a horrid form. One of the beasts had jumped him and only the instinct to protect his life had saved him. He had skewed the beast with his sword but not before it had clawed away half his face including his left eye.

Ruphus let out a breath of sorrow as he opened his good eye and looked up into the catlike visage of Bast the Protector. The attack on the village had occurred over two weeks ago. He still wore the scars of the cat-man's claws across his face. He had underestimated the creature's ferocity. It was a mistake he would not make again.

“Now I understand why you chose me to make this journey, goddess. I have always doubted my own ferocity. I have always felt out of place at home. Here, I have found my purpose. I'm Ruphus Laro, battle priest of Bast.”

Ruphus stood donning his helmet. He walked from the temple to join the soldiers going to war.

250 Word Version
“Master Ruphus, they are ready to leave.”

“I will be there shortly,” Ruphus replied kneeling before the statue of the Protector.

The soldier left him to finish his prayers.

Ruphus mentally went over the events of the past few months. The journey from his homeland had been arduous. He'd been relieved to see the gates of Tallawan. His relief had turned to sorrow as he'd passed through the city's gates.

Its citizens were living in fear of nearby beast-men. They'd shirked from Ruphus as he'd walked through the city. Hundreds of buildings laid in ruins. While hours of attending to the downtrodden had eventually helped Ruphus gain their trust, it was his skirmish against the beast-men that had mattered most to them.

He'd been asked to help treat a sickness in a nearby village. The beast-men had appeared out of nowhere. They'd worn savage headdresses and wielded wicked weapons. They'd shown no mercy.

He'd balked when he'd seen their catlike forms. He'd seen the Protector in their forms. Then a beast-man had jumped Ruphus. Only his instincts had saved him. He'd killed it but not before it clawed his face.

Ruphus opened his good eye and looked at the catlike visage of the Protector. The attack had occurred several weeks ago. His face still wore the scars. He'd underestimated it. He would not make that mistake again.

Ruphus stood donning his helmet. He walked from the temple to go to war.

For this assignment, I decided to write something fictional based on a fantasy world that I designed for the Dungeons and Dragons game. Ruphus is a background character from a series of adventures that I ran. Therefore, I felt comfortable using him as the basis for a short narrative.

I began by visualizing how he would view the city of Tallawan as he first came upon it. I knew I wanted the city to be beleaguered, so it was easy for me to understand how the character would react. The encounter he had with the cat-men greatly changed him.

Ruphus' goddess is the Egyptian deity known as Bast. This mythic figure is usually depicted in the form a cat-headed woman. Therefore, it was important to connect the savage imagery of the cat-men to the priest's divine patron. This savagery is also reflected in Ruphus' physical and emotional scars.

While the initial writing was easy for me, it was a lot harder to cut the narrative down to 250 words. Compressing down narrative writing irks me as it always feels like I'm cutting away part of a character's personality. Removing his dialogue at the end of the narrative was very difficult for me.

The character's point of view is the key component of how I wrote this narrative. He is looking back on his journey remembering the important details. It is important to note that this journey is a much spiritual as it is physical.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Turning the Assignment Corner

Okay, I worked on my 10-page research paper today. I wrote nearly nonstop for 4 to five hours. I finished everything but the conclusion. After hours of writing and citing i needed to stop before my brain gave out.

I took a break, ate some food, and stretched my aching back, hip, and neck. Then I put on my headphone, hit the CBC and Global websites. I had to watch two Global TV webcasts and to listen to a CBC Radio One podcast for my Newscast Critique assignment.

That one is done.

Now, I just need to get my 10 questions done for Thursday, finish my research paper, and start working on another Distilled Prose assignment that is due next week. (That's right, I haven't started it yet.)

Friday, November 14, 2008

My Aching Brain

Okay, I'm sick to death of my latest assignment for Research Skills for Writers. It is a research paper that has to be a minimum of 7 pages and a maximum of 10 pages and it is due next Thursday.

I decided to write the paper one the ever expanding power of multinational corporations. I swear, if I ever hear that term again after it's done and handed in, I'm going to howl at the moon.

My head hurts so bad from acronyms such as MNC, NGO, and PMC as well as terms such as global economy, nationalization, and privatization.


I have to admit I've learned a lot but that hasn't kept my brain matter from aching. It feels like it's going to start seeping out of my ears at any moment. And guess what the worst part is; go ahead, you'll never guess...

I haven't finished reading all my research material yet, and I keep uncovering more stuff that I either end up reading or quickly turn away from because my brain can't take in any more information! Case in point, I still have to read a article about human rights and the World Trade Organization (WTO). Joy. Not.

And I still haven't even looked at my Distilled Prose assignment for Monday. I have a feeling it will either get done at the last moment or have to wait until next week. Luckily, it's one of the assignments that can have an extra week grace period. Still, I have to get that done, start two other Distilled Prose projects, and come up with 10 questions for a Survey Design project, which has to be done for this coming Thursday too.


Anyway, I have to go check on my laundry now and run some dishes through the rinse cycle. Then I need to do some more reading before going to bed. I'm going to to see Quantum of Solace tommorow with some friends at 1pm. After that, it's back to the hell that is multinational corporations (if my computer doesn't die). Knock on wood.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Research Skills for Writers: Critical Analysis Assignment

Here's another assignment I got back last week. This one was for my Research Skills for Writers class. I received a mark of 89% on this one. My best mark so far this semester.

Critical Analysis Assignment:
“Reassessing Risk Assessment” by Douglas Mulhall
If we were to flashback to the summer of 1991, we'd see a very different version of the world compared to the world we live in today. Back then I was a mere neophyte when it came to technology, and even after two years in the Microcomputer Management course at MacEwan, I was still little more than a novice with computing science. However, it was at this time that I first heard the word nanotechnology. In the early Nineties, I considered the idea of nanotechnology to be little more than scientific pipe-dream. I did not realize at the time that the world was changing in a dramatic fashion and at a incredible rate. How can we hope to understand how this new technology will reshape our world? Douglas Mulhall's research study entitled “Reassessing Risk Assessment” from the January-February 2004 issue of The Futurist might be a good place to start. Mulhall, an expert in the field of risk management, takes his audience through an in-depth look at how innovative, nanomaterial-based technologies are changing the world and how those changes might impact the environment we live in.

This analysis will look at the five main points of Mulhall's study, which includes the following: (1) nanomaterial technologies; (2) enhanced human intelligence; (3) punctuated equilibrium; (4) nanotechnology vs. nature's complexity; (5) reassessing risk assessment. In an attempt to better understand some of these concepts, I have done my own research based on these main points. I have studied the listed web site's that Mulhall provides as his sources, looked for additional materials online, and looked through several of the online databases available through the MacEwan Library. Finally, I will take a look at who Douglas Mulhall is and who his intended audience is based on The Futurist as a periodical.

Mulhall starts his article by looking at several nanomaterials prototypes such as Smart Dust and photovoltaic paint made from nanomaterials. He gives a good overview of Smart Dust and doesn't gloss over the technology's potential benefits such as environmental monitoring. He is less detailed regarding to the solar cell nanomaterial, however. I would have liked to have known more about it and its possible benefits. Instead, Mulhall takes these two examples and crossbreeds them into one intelligent nanomaterial with the ability to “multiply a trillionfold and become an integral part of the ecology.” (Mulhall, 2004, par. 9a).

This statement is misleading at best and pure fiction at worst as Holmes points out in his article entitled “Our Microtech Future” in the September-October 2004 issue of The Futurist:

“Microscopic technology has received much attention in the past few years, especially as nanotechnology has entered public consciousness. But vision at the nanotech level is generally limited to electron microscopes operating in a high vacuum, and, for the most part, nanotechnology is experimental and speculative. There are few actual working devices.” (Holmes, 2004, par. 1).

Yes, there has been progress towards useful nanomaterials since then, which can be seen through the research being conducted by Crossbow Technology ( and through the commercial applications being developed by Dust Networks ( but nothing as radical as Mr. Mulhall projects.

The next section of Mulhall's article deals with an idea he refers to as enhanced intelligence. He details how data processing is rapidly increasing and that genetic programming is outstripping humanity's ability to compute information. He gives examples that range from “a thermostat and actuator that were superior to those designed by a human” (Mulhall, par. 13a) to a theoretical microchip that could allow the blind to see light. His reasoning appears sound. However, I cannot say for certain that I agree with him.

The third section of Mulhall's article links merging nanotechnologies with a concept known as punctuated equilibrium, which was “first proposed in 1972 by Niles Eldredge and Harvard evolutionary biologist Stephan Jay Gould.” (par. 18a). He also discusses climate change, comet impacts, and volcanic eruptions, which he refers to as mega-threats. He also discusses “nanoscale organisms that are hundreds of times smaller than most bacteria.” (par. 22a). This section is quite liberal in its use of conjecture. Mulhall seems to be using the theory of punctuated equilibrium to sell his own ideas without considering the model's history. Punctuated equilibrium was never intended to be a model for microscale evolution as Gould (2004) explains in his article “Punctuated Equilibrium's Threefold History.”

“. . . we developed these implications over the years, and the theory grew accordingly. But we never proposed a radical theory for punctuations (ordinary speciation scaled into geological time), and we never linked punctuations to microevolutionary saltationism.” (par. 6).

I can see the connection between mega-threats and punctuated equilibrium but Mulhall takes it a step to far by trying to link punctuated equilibrium to nanotechnology and nanoscale organisms. I dislike how he “sells” his book Has Heart Disease Been Cured? as a worthy source of information without saying that he is the person who wrote it.

The next section of Mulhall's article delves into the idea that humanity's technologies might soon “match nature's complexity.” (Mulhall, par. 26a). He points out that “most of our technologies are unable to match the complexity of natural environments” (par. 27a) but that nanotechnology could change all that. He refers back to photovoltaic paint and theorizes about the possibility of molecular-based drugs that would be “so precise that they backfire only occasionally.” (par. 28a).

The section is short and to-the-point and equally realistic and speculative.

The last section of Mulhall's article appears to be a summary of the article, yet at the same time, it introduces more information not previously mentioned. Mulhall puts forth the opinion that both nanotechnology and mega-threats must become a part of future risk assessment for such assessments to be worthwhile. He lists various types of experts who should be a part of such an undertaking and goes into detail about some of the work being done by researchers regarding nanobes. He ends the article abruptly with a quote from a professor from the University of Texas named Robert Folk that doesn't seem to match Mulhall purpose.

The information he gives on nanobes seems out of place in this section. It would have been better if it had been given its own section or an earlier section of the article.

Douglas Mulhall is clearly a man with experience in the field of risk assessment. “He was Managing Director of the Hamburg Environmental Institute, a scientific assessment organization. He co-founded the first Brazilian institute, 'O Instituto Ambiental', to be devoted exclusively to water recycling” (Mulhall, 2006, par. 4b). He is obviously well informed regarding environmental issues and new technologies. “Reassessing Risk Assessment” is clearly speculative and is intended for an audience that looks to future instead of the past. It is an article for futurists by a futurist. The Futurist is the perfect medium for such an article as the magazine “takes no stand on what the future will or should be like. The magazine strives to serve as a neutral clearinghouse of ideas . . . . Each issue contains feature articles written by outstanding experts in a wide range of fields: business, creativity, education, economics, environment and resources, values, and more.” (The Futurist Magazine, 2008, “About The Futurist” par. 2-3).

In conclusion, Mulhall is clearly trying to inform his audience of the risks he perceives regarding nanotechnology and mega-threats. He wishes to sway knowledgeable experts with an interest in such ideas to come together and help redefine risk assessment for the new century. He is looking towards a future that could be dominated by nanomaterial that merges with the natural world — forever changing it. He would have his audience envisioning a future where solar cell paint covers everything and intelligent nanomaterial machines run our lives and might possibly destroy our world. His views are almost fanatical but with a quiet dose of scholarly diffusion.

RatingI consider myself a bit of a futurist so it should be no surprise that I liked this article the first time I read it. However, as I began to assess Mulhall's ideas and facts I began to question the man's logic. His biases are obvious, and he fails to delve deep into the facts he is writing about. He definitely knows how to write, and I found few errors in the article from a mechanics point-of-view. Mulhall's writing could use some polish, however. He repeats ideas and writes in a manner that makes me think he swallowed both a dictionary and a thesaurus. He uses buzzwords such as “hyperchange” and “mega-threats” and uses over-the-top adjectives and adverbs. His article is filled with “exponential growth rates,” “extraordinary developments,” and “physical manifestations.” He certainly uses style to pull the reader along and it's fun to read even if the reader doesn't understand everything. It's fluffy and fun while also being a bit scary. I have the sense that he is trying to teach and terrify at the same time.

If I had only read this article once then I would have rated it highly. However, Mulhall makes so many assumptions while twisting the facts regarding the risks of nanomaterials that I found myself questioning his integrity. He is trying to sell his ideas as future facts instead of as speculative discourse. He even tries to sell his book to me, which I found a bit insulting. Still, The Futurist is definitely not a scholarly journal, so I can forgive some of his biases. Perhaps this article would have been better as a two-part series, which would have allowed Mulhall to go into more detail regarding his need for reassessing risk assessment. However, he would more likely spin towards new tangents best left alone.

Rating = 5


Distilled Prose: Dialogue Exercise

I got another assignment back tonight. I received a mark of 85% on this one as well. Anyone who has read my World of Kulan Story Hour will recognize these characters. It was easy to take characters that I already knew and use them as the basis for this assignment.

The Trouble With Dragons
“I don't want to talk about it,” Dabuk said shaking his head.

“It might help you deal with what happened.” Bactra replied. “It's not every day someone gets swallowed alive and lives to tell about it.”

“I don't want to talk about it,” Dabuk repeated emphatically.

“Just be glad we were able to cut you free after we killed the beast,” Dvalin said. “A dragon's stomach would be a terrible place to spend your last moments of life.”

“I said I don't want to talk about it,” Dabuk pleaded.

“Yeah, I think you mentioned that already,” Mesik added with a grin. “It's too bad the dragon didn't swallow your pride too.”

“That's the trouble with dragons,” Bactra said with a laugh. “They aren't chew-sy about their food.”

“Oh Gods,” Dabuk groaned. “Save me from my friends.”

Character BiosBactra RedwindBactra is an elf from the forested city of Woodknot. He is a wizard and the son of a tailor. He has traveled the world extensively. He seeks hidden arcane secrets in the lairs of beasts and lost ruins. He is mirthful and fun-loving.

Dabuk Tigerstorm
Dabuk is a half-elf who was born in the wilderness. He is Bactra's cousin and the son of a famous hero. His mother was killed by an ogre. He seeks revenge against all ogres for her death. He is moody and jaded.

Dvalin Thunderstone
Dvalin is a dwarf from the mountain city of Milo. He is a stout warrior and the son of a soldier. He has lived as a trader and as an adventurer for a long time. Therefore, he is often the voice of reason amongst his friends.

Mesik Tindertwig
Mesik is a halfling whose background is mysterious. He is a skilled thief and mapmaker. He seeks the comfort of friendship to block out the mistakes of his past. He is often jovial one minute and forlorn the next. He is Dabuk's mentor.

Sunday, November 09, 2008

The Shadow Between

Here's an In-Class Assignment I did for my Distilled Prose class. I got a final mark of 85%.

The Shadow Between

By Robert Blezard

I have often asked myself what I believe. I rarely come up with a firm answer, which has a lot to do with the question. I guess the easiest way for me to look at it is to visualize myself at a crossroads with multiple directions.

Darkness and light are the themes of those multiple paths. I often find myself traveling the darkest roads. These are the paths dominated by the mistakes of my past. Pain, hate, and sorrow are my guides while lost in the dark, and I often embrace them with a morbid glee.

I have been known to choose the paths of light, which are harder for me to traverse. Dominated by love, hope, and family & friends, the brightly lit paths lead to moments of joy and discovery. When I'm gaming with friends or writing something new, I am often on the path of bright faith.

However, neither the dark ways nor the shining paths are truly my friends. Isolation and depression are usually the result of traversing the darkened roads too much. Overexposure to the glittering paths often blinds my senses and overwhelms my soul with too much life.

Therefore, it isn't surprising that I am still looking for that elusive path that will combine the best of both the pitch black walkways of my troubled mind with the light of faith and life. I've always believed in a balance of the two, which is nearly impossible to find in this world.

I've stood at the crossroads for so long that I've come to consider it my home. I've become the Dweller at the Crossroads watching as others chose a path. Mine still alludes me, but I must make a choice soon. Perhaps the perfect path will open up to me, which will allow me to walk the edges of darkness and light. When that day comes, I will walk the road once again. Until then, I will remain at the crossroads, content to dwell in the shadow between.