Category Archives: Writing

Butcher’s Human Predator Fact Check

I passed on this Wikipedia list of people who mysteriously disappeared 1 on Twitter last night which led to the following reply from Luke Neff.

“Last year in the U.S. alone more than nine hundred thousand people were reported missing and not found…
That’s out of three hundred million, total population. That breaks down to about one person in three hundred and twenty-five vanishing. Every year….
Maybe it’s a coincidence, but it’s almost the same loss ratio experienced by herd animals on the African savannah to large predators.”

? Jim Butcher, Dead Beat

I actually read this novel at one point and I meant to see whether this was true (it’s a great writing prompt either way). I did’t know how many people go missing each year in the U.S.A. or what the predation rate is on herd animals on the African savannah.

The first part seems pretty straightforward. I did a search for missing person statistics us site:.gov

During 2013, 627,911 missing person records were entered into NCIC, a decrease of 5.1% from the 661,593 records entered in 2012. Missing Person records cleared or canceled during the same period totaled 630,990. Reasons for these removals include: a law enforcement agency located the subject, the individual returned home, or the record had to be removed by the entering agency due to a determination that the record is invalid.

-NCIC Missing Person and Unidentified Person Statistics for 2013

Even if we pretend that the nearly 630,000 entries were all missing permanently, we’re still about 1/3 short. When you look more closely at the numbers, you’ll also see that at the end of 2013 there were 84,136 active missing person records which is considerably short of 900,000. I did find the 900,000 number here (You must read the comments.) but there’s no references or anything to where their numbers come from.

I did want to know some things about predation rates on the African savannah. That took a bit more effort. I found this reference to predation rates on African livestock – between 2-10% in the 1970s – which was a good bit higher than the .3% Butcher references. There are variety of percentages and any number of interesting opportunities for more exploration. Another study, in Bhutan rather than Africa, found 2.3% losses to wild animals. And finally, closer to the mark, The Wildebeest in Western Masailand tells us that the bulk of the roughly 8% yearly turnover in the herd is due mainly to lion predation.

Twilight Zone Titles Poetry

This is the first #ds106 assignment I’ve done in a long while. The challenge is to write a poem using only the titles of Twilight Zone episodes. It’s an easy one for any English teacher to use as is or to adapt to whatever restricted set they want – chapter titles from a book, band names, Top 40 song titles, scientific names for animals etc. etc. I think more and more that a major part of English class ought to be encouraging students to play with language and then to figure out why they like what they like. Maybe that’s obvious.

Thanks to Todd Conaway for the assignment (official assignment in the repository) and for the work getting the titles in one place. I also took his Word doc and put it in a Google Docs table to help me see more/most of the titles at once and because I dislike having to open programs on my computer these days.

Is The Apocalypse Upon Us?

Mr. Denton On Doomsday

The Fear
The Fever
The Last Flight
The Monsters Are Due On Maple Street
The Four Of Us Are Dying

And When The Sky Was Opened
I Shot An Arrow Into The Air
The Last Flight
The Purple Testament

Dust
Static

The Silence

wolverine_love

Wolverine Love Poems

I’ve been interested in using this Garfield Minus Garfield site for a while. Here are a few ways I might use it.

wolverine_love
Instant creative writing prompt-

  • Write a love poem to a wolverine.
  • Or write a love poem from the perspective of a wolverine.
  • Or simply write a love poem using the word “wolverine” at least once1

The image matters. Having images like this always changed the quality and engagement I got from my students.

eat my socks
And we have a vocabulary exercise, in this case, for the word consume. Depending on where the student is at, they could match words to provided comics, find their own comics matches etc. I’d probably have them find their own matching comic and create a sentence along the lines of “Though Jon consumed the socks, the meal did not quench the fiery passion in his heart.”

If you feel like really making your students work, you might white out all the words and have them use the comic of your choice to explain something complicated or leave the words in and ask them to provide the context that will make it make sense.

For instance- this comic re-worded could become . . .
pity smile_filled
a look at King George III’s thoughts on the American colonies2. Part of the assignment would be explaining why your comic makes sense and that could be in writing or verbally to the class. A collection of these would provide for some interesting review material. I might even use them as test questions. I’d present the comic and then ask them to explain it.

It’s all simple stuff, I know but it might be interesting to someone out there. The Internet is a big place after all.


1 Bonus points for including a Red Dawn reference.

2 If students don’t have image editing software, just put it in Word and put text boxes over the speech bubbles. If you don’t have it, just use picnik or something similar

RSS, DIY, Technology, RSS and Passion

Passive Aggressive Learning and Other Drivel

These things are less techy and more inspired by pop culture once again but I thought they were worth remembering.

RSS, DIY, Technology, RSS and Passion
Scion Crest Generator – While the choices aren’t unlimited, this nice flash interface will help you make a lot of different crests. The real power would be in requiring logic for the various choices and in that way the restrictions almost work for you- less time in building and more time spent on why your choices make sense. You could do this with just about any character or historical figure. The really nice thing is the image sizes are really good- up to 2048×1536 so you could print them out and do other things with them or just use them as a starting point in Photoshop or some other image editor.

For instance, I made the crest above for this blog. The wrenches on the left to represent the DIY ethic of much of the stuff I like. The circuit board patter on the right to represent the technology. Then the broadcasting icon represented RSS to me and the fire is for igniting a passion for learning. The wolf is because I like to bite people. I just liked the wolf, a little gritty and banged up from the real world. Corny, I know, but you get the idea.

It’d also be a fun first day, get to know each other activity for younger grades.

30 MINUTES!!
Passive aggressive notes via Mental Floss – I can just see all kinds of fun with this concept.

There’s the semi-obvious W. C. Williams “This is Just to Say” poem option. Then you have the students write similar passive aggressive poems “apologizing” for things in the style of other poets.

You could warm the students up by having them write passive aggressive notes first in the style of current pop culture icons. Not exactly current, but Mr. T keeps springing to mind.

I pity the fool
that left those plums
in that icebox.

I won’t spit
no jibba jabba
about being sorry
I ate them.

Mr. T’s gotta eat too.

What kinds of passive aggressive notes would various characters/historical figures leave for one another? You could even get into what they’d write on/with and why. What would their handwriting look like? You’ve got some flexibility in terms of using scenes from the play or real life set ups (Marc Antony and Brutus are sharing an apartment for example).

Take for instance in Julius Caesar, Marc Antony leaves a note for his roommates-

Friends, roommates, countrymen,

Someone has borrowed my car without asking and only one of you has the spare key and that person is Brutus.

I know Brutus would never, ever borrow my car without asking. And if he did, as a “honorable man,” he’d at least have the decency to fill it up with gas when he brought it back because after all he is an “honorable man!”

from Act 3. Scene II of Julius Caesar

And just for fun . . .
Nature abhors a vacuum – the perfect shirt for your favorite science teacher

Google Zeitgeist as a Writing Prompt

So the folks over at Google Blogoscoped had a great idea. Use Google trends as a writing prompt.

For instance, if the top queries are …

1. subaru impreza
2. priyanka chopra
3. build a bear
… and so on …

… then your narrative may go like this, to quote from Simon’s try:

I went out and bought a brand new Subaru Impreza last week, which was very scary as I have only just passed my test. I took Priyanka Chopra, the Indian film star, with me to keep an eye on me and exert a calming influence as I was pretty nervous because the Impreza is wild beast of car.

“Let’s go build a bear”, I shrieked as we weaved through traffic, “an actual live bear that will do our bidding”.

“Good idea,” agreed Priyanka, “This bear could drive us around too, anything would (and so on) …

Morphs pretty well into a fun writing prompt that uses subjects that are, by definition, things people are interested in.
Ways to take it to the next level-

  • write the zeitgeist as a character or historical figure
  • use the words to take the pass the sentence game to the next level
  • see who can make the longest sensible sentence with the fewest additional words (not listed in the trends list)
  • constrain it further with a theme- a fairy tale, a haiku, a reality tv show
  • you could compare different dates and research why the keywords differ

Stuff like that. I’d probably check the date out before hand just to make sure it’s decent and to make sure there are no “surprises.”

Photo credit John Bauer