Writing Prompt – A Special Writing Notebook

Imagine that every page of your writing notebook works like a Myst linking book with the ability to take you to the world described on that page. How did your notebook get that ability? Where will it take you? How do you get back home?

  • The notebook need not work exactly like a Myst linking book: 1) In the Myst series, a descriptive book which described the target world in great detail was needed first. Linking books referred to the descriptive book and linked to a specific location in the target world. In one sense, they were similar to a desktop shortcut on a computer which refers to a file. 2) A linking book also could not link from one place in a world to another place in the same world; it could only link to another world. You can follow these restrictions if you choose, but they are not necessary.
  • This story will be different for each person. The details will depend on what you have written in your notebook.
  • If your notebook describes different parts of the same world, can you use it to link to different locations in that world? If so, it would be an immensely valuable item, and inhabitants of that world may go to great lengths to acquire it.
  • If each section of your notebook describes a different story, can you jump around to each story?
  • Does your writing in your notebook literally create the world described? If so, how much control do you have over its history?
  • Does the notebook work only for you? If a character in a target world steals your notebook, could he link to other worlds or even to your world? That would open some fascinating story possibilities.
  • Maybe it only works for you and other writers. If so, that could open great story possibilities regarding a special status for writers. A fantasy world could have an elite class of writers who exercise incredible influence over many worlds. Can anyone learn the skills necessary to become such a writer, or is someone born into it? What happens when someone abuses this gift? This could grow into an entire novel.

You are free to use this prompt in your own writing. If you print it or post it online, however, please credit this post.

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Musings on “The Neverending Story” and My Own Writing

The Neverending Story is a classic movie from the 1980s and a must see for anyone who enjoys the fantasy genre or simply appreciates a free range imagination. I have watched this movie many times, but I can still watch it again and continue to enjoy it.

Why do I enjoy this movie? I have enjoyed fantasy stories for as long as I can remember. Some memorable moments in the fantasy genre include the Nazgul chasing Frodo as his pony carries him toward the river at the edge of Rivendell in The Fellowship of the Ring by J. R. R. Tolkien, and Goldmoon defeating the black dragon Khisanth in Xak Tsaroth with the blue crystal staff of Mishakal in Dragons of Autumn Twilight by Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman. These stories provide fun adventure in well-developed worlds that are foreign to us but which still grab our attention, and the magic and strange creatures provide special intrigue and wonder. The Neverending Story is filled with strange creatures (such as the rock biter and the luck dragon), and it has an intriguing plot about Atreyu’s effort to save his world from destruction.

I also enjoy The Neverending Story because it is about imagination unleashed. The entire world of Fantasia (every place and every creature) is the manifestation of human imagination. The movie is based on the premise that each world (including our world) manifests the imagination of another world in a never-ending chain, and yet those worlds are real in a physical sense. Each world is as boundless as the imaginations which create it, and they in turn are the creations of the imaginations of other beings in other worlds.

Throughout most of the movie, the plot plays out for real in Fantasia as Bastian reads it in the book that he borrowed (without permission) from the bookstore. After Fantasia is destroyed by the Nothing, Bastian enters the story and meets the empress face to face. She encourages him to re-create Fantasia in his dreams. She says he can have as many wishes as he wants, and that the more wishes he makes, the more amazing Fantasia will become. Fantasia then becomes the manifestation of his dreams, and he expresses his imagination freely.

I can somewhat relate to this story. I feel like I have an imagination that wants to break free in writing. The world inside my head can be an interesting place. Sometimes it is strange, but that makes it fun. Despite this, I struggle to write fiction. I once wrote a sci-fi story for a short story competition. I did not think I had a likely chance to win, but I decided that I needed to try regardless. It was rejected. I then submitted it to a sci-fi/fantasy literary magazine. It was rejected. Maybe I should post it on this blog so that more experienced writers can critique it. If I get enough requests in the comments, then I will do that. I am an amateur writer who has much to learn, but I am open to learn.

Sometimes I think that I am not cut out to write fiction, and yet that imagination wants to express itself. So, how do I let it out fully? “The Neverending Story” is an example of what can happen when a creative imagination is let out to play. I would enjoy doing the same.

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Writing Prompt – A Dark Ferryman

You are standing on a river bank when a dark ferry boat comes to shore. The ferryman wears a dark robe and hood. It is Charon, the ferryman of the river Styx. He says that he took a wrong turn and needs your help.


  • What do you do? Do you run away, afraid that he will take you with him?
  • Do you give him directions back to Styx? If so, how do you know where it is? You have never been there . . . , or maybe you have.
  • Suppose he offers you something in return for your help. What will you ask him to give you?
    1. Maybe you need a ride across the river, but can you trust him? Maybe he will take you to Hades instead.
    2. Maybe you want to tour the afterlife like Dante. Who will be your tour guide?
  • Why is he lost? He should know what he is doing. He has been doing it for thousands of years.
    1. Even if he took a wrong turn on Styx, how did he end up on this river? Are the two rivers connected? That would be disturbing.
    2. Maybe he did not take a wrong turn. You did, and you now stand on the shore of the river Styx.
  • Maybe he is nothing like he is portrayed in mythology. You could use this story to completely reinvent him.
  • You can draw from various sources in writing this story, such as Greek mythology, Dante’s Inferno, and Rick Riordans’ Percy Jackson and the Olympians series. Be sure to add your own twist.

You are free to use this prompt in your own writing. If you print it or post it online, however, please credit this post.

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Changes Coming

I am back again. Wow. I did not intend to be gone for this long.

I struggle to find the correct words to describe the last several weeks, partially because I will need to explain some of the vital details in a future post. For now, I think I will simply say that my past struggles with finding work in my field have taken a different turn. No, I have not found a job in any field related to my education, but I am re-orienting my life’s direction. This will bring some significant challenges for a while, including financial challenges, but in the end it will be better.

This sort of struggle can leave a person wondering where he fits. If one of the focal points of your life crumbles (career path in my case), then the struggle can be long and hard. What was the purpose of those years in school? I do not know yet. What should I do with my life going forward from here? The upcoming changes address that. What should I do with my writing, and how does it fit into the larger picture? I do not plan to quit writing, but I am considering how to focus it.

I know this post has been vague. Hopefully I can fill the gaps in future posts as this new direction takes shape. In the meantime, I also hope to continue posting writing prompts and musings on ideas that interest me.

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Time for a Break

I need to take a break from weekly posts so that I can handle some matters at home, but I do not plan to be gone long. In the meantime I will continue to read and will work on future posts when I can. While I am gone I will also read and respond to comments. If there is anything you want me to write when I return, feel free to send me a message through my contact page or post a comment under a post. I will have time to think about ideas while at work, and I always carry my notebook.

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Oddities of Modern English

Spoken language is always changing. What is normal English today would seem strange to people several decades ago or several decades in our future. There are also some changes in modern English which have occurred in my lifetime which I find odd.

That’s, Like, So Cool!

“I was, like, totally scared!”

“There were, like, so many people at the mall.”

Why do many people constantly insert “like” in meaningless places? “Like” does have some proper uses. It can express approval for something, such as “I like that music.” It can also make a comparison, as in “He stood still like a statue.” Today, however, it has invaded our spoken language as a meaningless add-on. It often serves no purpose except as a filler word. It is like people just like say the word without like thinking. It seems that the word is like there for no other reason than just to like be there. Like, you know?

To be fair, I should add that most people occasionally use filler words (such as “umm” or “uh”) when they need to think about what they are saying, but the prevalent use of “like” today sounds meaningless and weakens one’s speech. If it does not express a real concept, then give it a rest. Your English will sound better without it.

And so . . .

“It will be long test, so . . .”

“I was having fun, and so . . .”

The word “so” is a conjunction intended to lead into an explanation of the result or reason for an action. For example, “I packed last night so that I could leave quickly this morning,” or “He was distracted, and so he did not see the approaching car.”

More than fifteen years ago, however, I noticed people often ending sentences with “so.” In this usage it could indicate an implied conclusion which should be obvious from the context, but it has always sounded awkward to me. When I hear “and so,” my mind anticipates a concluding clause, and so a dangling “so” leaves me hanging.


“I was literally freezing!”

“I literally just arrived when you called.”

The word “literal” (or “literally”) refers to the basic meaning of a sentence without reference to metaphor or imposed interpretation not intended by the author(s). For example, a literal reading of a text interprets according to what the author(s) meant without imposing modern values.

“Literal” can also indicate that something is true in a real sense and is not merely hypothetical or figurative. For example, if the sentence “My office is hell” is read in a literal sense, then it indicates that the person actually works in the place of eternal punishment rather than an office with frustrating co-workers.

In modern use, however, it often indicates emphasis. The results can be strange. For example, “I literally screamed when he startled me.” Well, you either screamed or not. How does a non-literal scream sound?

The results can also be humorous. For example, someone might say “I was literally freezing” to indicate that he was very cold. Of course, if he were literally freezing, then the fluids in his body would solidify, followed by frost bite and possibly death. He means that he is freezing only in a figurative sense, which makes “literally” and odd choice of words indeed. People today greatly overuse the word “literally,” and I do not mean that figuratively.

I Could Care Less

“I could care less about the football score.”

“I could care less what they say about me.”

This one has always sounded awkward to me because of the contrast between what is intended and what is said. “I could care less” is intended to express that a person does not care about something, but the specific wording suggests that the speaker does care, even if only a little. “I couldn’t care less” expresses the intended meaning more clearly. The two expressions “I could care less” and “I couldn’t care less” are often used interchangeably, but strictly speaking they are not synonymous. Strunk and White explain it best:

The dismissive “I couldn’t care less” is often used with the shortened “not” mistakenly (and mysteriously) omitted: “I could care less.” The error destroys the meaning of the sentence and is careless indeed. (Elements of Style [2000], 42)

Closing Thoughts

I know these expressions are popular today, but they can become excessive and awkward. As Strunk and White explain, “If every word or device that achieved currency were immediately authenticated, simply on the ground of popularity, the language would be as chaotic as a ball game with no foul lines” (Elements of Style, 52). For a humorous example of where this can lead, watch and enjoy this video.

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Theological Themes in “Knowing” (2009)

Knowing is a fascinating movie about foreknowledge, determinism, and the end of the world. If you have not seen it, then I highly recommend that you watch it before you read this review. That could be said about any of my reviews, but in this case it is especially true. It has a great “wow” moment at the end which you will not fully appreciate if you already know what will happen.

Plot Summary

The story begins outside William Dawes Elementary School in Lexington, MA in 1959. A young girl (Lucinda Embry) listens to whispers with a worried, and possibly painful, expression on her face. The other children play, seemingly oblivious to the whispers.

Later that day in class, Lucinda’s teacher Miss Taylor announces that the school will bury a time capsule to officially dedicate their school. She asks each student to draw what they think the future will look like. The time capsule will be unburied for children to view in fifty years. Some children draw spaceships and robots, but Lucinda only writes a series of numbers. Each drawing is placed in an envelope and then into the capsule. As two men bury the capsule, Lucinda watches with the same worried expression. A teacher then notices she has disappeared. Police search the school. Miss Taylor finds her in a basement closet scratching the door with bloody fingers. She begs her teacher to make the whispers stop.

Fifty years later, John Koestler is looking through his telescope at Saturn’s rings and invites his son Caleb to look. They discuss the probability of alien life. When he puts Caleb to bed, John says they cannot be sure about the existence of heaven and where Caleb’s mother is, but he tells Caleb to believe if he wants to believe. John then sits alone with a drink and looks at a decorated box with a pained expression.

The next day, John’s class at MIT discusses determinism vs. randomness in the universe and what caused the sun to have the correct distance from Earth, thereby making life possible. Was it determined, or was it random? When a student asks John what he believes, he says, “I think $%# just happens, but that’s me” [0:16:04].

After John dismisses his class he goes to William Dawes Elementary to watch them unbury the time capsule. As children each receive an envelope from the capsule, Caleb hears a high-pitched sound and whispers which no one else hears. He receives Lucinda’s envelope. After he opens it and looks at the numbers, he sees a man in dark clothes watching him from a distance at the edge of a forest.

That night Caleb says his hearing aid is making funny noises. John notices Caleb brought home the sheet of numbers. Caleb thinks it might mean something. After Caleb goes to bed, John accidentally sets wet glass on the paper, making a ring. He notices the sequence 911012996, which he divides into 9/11/01/2996. He checks online and discovers that 2,996 people died on 9/11/01. He then discovers more such patterns indicating dates and how many people died and confirms these predictions through online research.

While at work he shows the sequences which he has circled to Phil Beckman and explains that the sequences predict every major disaster for the past fifty years and how many people died (including the time John’s wife died). The last three sequences, however, indicate disasters which have not yet occurred. Phil points out numbers which are not circled, but John does not know what they mean. Phil thinks John is seeing patterns that are not there.

John then meets with Miss Taylor who first announced the capsule to her class. He shows her Lucinda’s paper with numbers and asks to meet her, but Taylor says Lucinda died several years ago.

While at home, as John attempts to contact the janitors who unburied the capsule, Caleb is kicking a ball in the front yard. Two men in a car stop in front of the house. Caleb hears whispers and high-pitched noises and then runs to the car. One man gives him a small black stone. When John sees them through the window he runs out of the house, thinking Caleb is in danger from the men. He warns Caleb about talking to strangers.

While John researches Lucinda Emory’s death, his sister Grace arrives. She says their parents miss seeing him, but John does not like being a pastor’s son. That night he watches news reports about the economy, solar flares which will interfere with cellular communications, and a fire in the Gulf of Mexico.

The next day while on the way to pick up Caleb from school, John is caught in a traffic jam caused by a traffic accident. He checks his GPS for alternate routes but finds none. He notices his GPS coordinates and checks Lucinda’s paper. He realizes that the uncircled numbers are locations and that he is at the location for a disaster which will allegedly occur on that day as predicted on Lucinda’s paper. A commercial plane then crashes in the field next to the road after scraping its wing across the road and damaging several vehicles. John runs to the crash site and tries to help the survivors.

When he arrives at home, a news story on the TV reports that an estimated 81 people died, the number predicted on Lucinda’s paper. Phil visits the house and encourages John to consider other possibilities. Phil says his scientific mind tells him to have nothing to do with the paper and encourages John to do the same.

One of the strangers from the car watches John’s house from outside. Caleb wakes up hearing whispers. The stranger watches him from across the room and points out his window. Caleb sees everything outside burning. Moose and birds flee an approaching forest fire. Caleb then wakes up from his nightmare and screams. John sees the stranger outside. He runs out with a baseball bat and a flashlight and orders him to stay away.

John then meets Lucinda’s daughter Diana and her daughter Abby at a museum. He tries to talk to Diana about Lucinda’s ability to see the future, but Diana becomes afraid and leaves. John stops her and says he witnessed a plane crash where and when Lucinda said it would happen. He says 170 people will die in New York City tomorrow (Oct 16) and another 33 three days later (on Oct. 19). Diana refuses to listen and leaves. That night a TV reporter speaks about a suspected upcoming terrorist attack on a major east coast city.

John determines the intersection in New York where the next disaster will occur. He calls New York and asks them to seal off the intersection, but they do not listen. He leaves Caleb with Grace and drives to New York City. He finds the street intersection matching the GPS coordinates and then finds a police officer and asks why the intersection has not been sealed off. She asks him to come with her. When he sees a van across the street he runs into the subway. He chases a suspicious looking man, and the police chase John. When the police asks the suspicious man to stop he drops his box, spilling DVDs, not a bomb. A subway train then runs off of its track, causing a major crash and many deaths.

John returns home with Caleb where Diana and Abby are waiting. Diana reminds him that he mentioned October 19 and says that her mother told her that would be the day she would die. As they drive away together, Diana says she has believed all her life that no one can predict her future. She says it does not matter anyway because we all die, and she does not want to know her future. John tells her how his wife died while sleeping during a hotel fire. He had heard that someone is supposed to sense when people he loves are in danger, but that day he felt nothing. He had concluded that no one can know what will happen and that life is “just a string of random accidents and mistakes.” Now he says if he had found the list before that date, then he would have saved her life.

They then arrive at Lucinda’s old home. Diana notices the 33 at the end of the number sequence. She says it looks more like EE written backwards. As they walk in, Diana says that house is where Lucinda died of an overdose. All of her possessions are still there. Diana says Lucinda would say she could hear voices whispering and telling her terrible things. Diana’s father took her away, and then Lucinda moved there “to get ready.”

The next scene alternates between the car with Caleb and Abby and the inside of the house with John and Diana. The walls in one room are covered by news articles documenting various tragedies and a picture which Lucinda would stare at for hours – the wheels in the sky in Ezekiel 1. In Lucinda’s bedroom they find a Bible. While they leave the room John finds a black stone like the one given to Caleb. Outside, Caleb and Abby are asleep in the car. They both wake up and hear whispers while the strange men approach. John then finds a small collection of black stones. One of the strange men walks to the car and says to Caleb, “Come with us.” John turns over Lucinda’s bed and finds “Everyone Else” (which John realizes is the meaning of EE) written repeatedly on the underside. As Abby begins leaving the car, Caleb honks the car horn. When John and Diana run out, the strange men are gone. Abby says the “whisper people” said she and Caleb could go with them if they wanted to.

John sees one of them walking away. He grabs his gun and chases the man. When he finds the man, John asks him what he wants with Caleb. The man shines a bright white light from his mouth which dazes John and then escapes. When they return home, John and Diana both say they think the men have been following them for days. John notes that the final date on Lucinda’s paper does not have coordinates. They discuss whether the paper predicts the end of everything. John tells Caleb he thinks Lucinda could hear the men whisper like Caleb hears them.

The next morning, John finds Abby coloring the Ezekiel picture. At the top of the original picture, God sits in the center of a circle with points around the perimeter. Abby has colored it orange and says, “It’s the sun.” John goes to his office. Drawing from a paper he wrote on solar flares in another star system, he concludes that the numbers on the paper are a warning to everyone. He tells Phil that the Sun will eject a super flare, destroying the ozone layer and killing all life on Earth.

John wonders why he received the prediction if he can do nothing about it. How can he stop the end of the world? Diana admits she knew all her life that Lucinda was right but pretended that she was insane. She suggests some caves where they can take shelter. They then go home and begin packing food and supplies. Caleb hears screeching and whispers. John opens the decorated box and pulls out a locket containing a photo of himself with his wife and Caleb. John calls his father and reminds him of the sermon his father would deliver on Pentecost regarding the gifts of the Spirit, including the gift of prophecy. He warns his father to get deep underground, but his father is at peace with dying when his time comes. The cell phone then loses its signal. John goes upstairs to get Caleb and finds him writing a series of numbers like Lucinda did.

John realizes that Lucinda wrote the final numbers on a door. They drive to the school. John breaks in and takes the door. He then takes it to a shed where he scratches off the paint and then types the final numbers into his GPS. Diana is desperate to go to the cave and takes the children in her car. They are gone when John gets the numbers.

While riding in the car, Abby asks if they are hiding from the whisper people and says that the whisper people know where they are. She has not seen them again, but they speak to her and Caleb by whispering in their heads. This distresses Diana. She then stops at a gas station which receives an emergency broadcast warning people to stock up supplies and either stay indoors or seek underground shelter.

Caleb calls John’s cell phone. Diana takes the phone. John tells her the coordinates lead to her mother’s mobile home. He insists that they must go to her mother’s mobile home and that the caves will not protect them because the solar radiation will penetrate a mile into the Earth’s crust. Someone then steals her car, taking the children. Diana steals another car and chases them, but she runs a red light and is hit by a large truck. The children then realize that the car is being driven by one of the whisper people with another in the passenger seat.

John finds the gas station, which is being overrun by panicked people, but Diana and the children are gone. The attendant tells him someone took her car and that she chased them in another car. John speeds down the road to the crash site. Diana is in an ambulance where paramedics fail to revive her and declare her dead. He finds a black stone in her hand.

John arrives at the mobile home with his gun in his hand. His GPS is not working. He sees tire tracks and follows them through a field and into a clearing where the ground is covered with black stones. He drives further, with his gun in hand, and finds the car with the doors open. He searches while calling for Caleb and finds a whisper person. He approaches the man, pointing the gun at him, and demands his son. Caleb runs out to stop him. Three more whisper people approach them. John wants to leave, but Caleb says they need to go with the whisper people. Caleb and Abby (who are each holding a white rabbit) explain that the whisper people have been protecting them and “sent a message ahead of them to prepare the way” (1:45:13) and have now come for them.

More whisper people arrive, and then a spaceship descends through the clouds. Caleb tells John that the whisper people chose them so that they can start over. A spaceship made of rotating circles descends from the sky and hovers, and then a sphere exits the ship and lands on the ground. A whisper person stops them and communicates telepathically with Caleb. Caleb tells John that only the chosen may go. Caleb and Abby are chosen but not John. After a brief pause to think, John tells Caleb to be strong and to care for Abby. Caleb does not want to leave John, but John encourages him to leave. He insists that they will all be together along with Caleb’s mother. He gives Caleb the locket. Caleb joins the whisper people who transform into luminous aliens with translucent skin. He and Abby board the spaceship with the aliens and the rabbits. The spaceship then leaves earth as many other ships leave from locations all over the world.

John returns to the city, which is in chaos as people panic. He goes to his sister’s house. When she asks where Caleb is, John says Caleb is safe. He goes into the living room where he finds his parents. His father tells him it is not the end. The solar flares then destroy everything on Earth.

Caleb and Abby, now wearing white clothes, are standing in a large field on another world. They place the rabbits on the ground and watch the spaceship leave. They then run across the field toward a large white tree with widely spreading branches. In the distance, more spaceships can be seen leaving the planet.

Theological Themes

John’s father is a pastor, but John has lost faith. He is not convinced that heaven is real and says he cannot know where his dead wife is. His experience with seeing Lucinda’s prophecies come true, however, leads him to reconsider his beliefs. He calls his father, reminds him of the sermon on the gifts of the Spirit, and warns him to seek shelter. Later when faced with his upcoming death and the departure of Caleb, John assures Caleb that they will all be together, mother included. He does not express a new opinion on his father’s faith (except for the sermon on prophecy), but he does believe that there is more than the material life that we see every day.

John also changes his view on determinism vs. randomness. When discussing the question with his class, he says, “I think $%# just happens, but that’s me.” Witnessing the fulfillment of Lucinda’s prophecy seems to change his mind. He does not express a hard determinism view, but the does believe that the predictions are genuine, which would preclude randomness and “$%# just happens.”

Much of the theological material in Knowing revolves around the apocalypse. It does not portray a biblical view, but it does make some loose biblical references. It makes heavy use of numbers in Lucinda’s predictions. Numbers appear in the book of Revelation and other biblical prophecies. The movie also makes a few references to Ezekiel 1 in which the prophet Ezekiel sees a vision of wheels in the sky. Diana says that Lucinda would stare for hours at a drawing depicting that vision. Later Abby colors the picture and says that the circle at the top (not one of the wheels) is the sun. Near the end of the movie, a space ship descends to retrieve Caleb and Abby. It looks like a collection of rotating wheels.

After the ships leave, everything on Earth is destroyed. Like the book of Revelation, however, this is followed with a time of renewal. In the last scene, Caleb and Abby run across a field toward a large tree, presumably on another planet. This tree could be a reference to the Tree of Life in Revelation 21 which describes the new heaven, new earth, and the new Jerusalem. Revelation 22:1-3 describes the river of life with the Tree of Life on both sides of the river. There is, however, no river or city in the field on the new planet, and so it could instead be a new Eden. Which interpretation is intended is unclear, but considering the number of biblical references in this movie, the tree on this planet is most likely intended to refer to the tree in either Eden or the New Earth.

Also note that Revelation was written by the apostle John who informs people of God’s coming judgment. In Knowing, John Koestler receives the revelation in the numbers and warns people of the coming disasters. It is reasonable to conclude that John Koestler’s name is likely intended to be a reference to the apostle John.

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Writing Prompt – Artificially Intelligent Judge

A local government (city or county) appoints an artificial intelligence as a judge.


  • Consider possible advantages in an artificially intelligent judge:
    1. It could know all relevant laws and precedents without any lapse in memory, maybe a nation’s entire legal code in all areas of law with no need to specialize.
    2. It could work in any jurisdiction provided that jurisdiction coded its legal code into a compatible database file which could be uploaded to the AI judge.
    3. The judge would be impartial and could not be manipulated by emotional appeals or prejudice, if its programmers do not insert prejudice into the code. (Also a disadvantage. See below.)
  • Also consider possible disadvantages or risks in an artificially intelligent judge:
    1. It would be inflexible, with no compassion or mercy.
    2. It would be logical but with no moral consciousness.
    3. It would be vulnerable to manipulation by programmers who have political agendas but no legal training.
    4. Its ability to work in any jurisdiction could lead to more centralized control.
    5. Distrust of artificial intelligence could generate numerous requests for appeal of its decisions.
  • This story is an opportunity to take advantage of one of the greatest strengths of science fiction – the ability to use hypothetical situations to explore ideas which are of genuine concern to people.
  • This story could go many ways. It could explore the following issues:
    1. What are the ethics and viability of AI and the limits we should impose on its use? This question is relevant today as we develop AI for such uses as autonomous cars, human resources management, and medical care.
    2. Is an AI sentient?
    3. Which safeguards should we put on the decision-making algorithms of AI?
    4. Which checks and balances should be placed on the programmers to prevent the insertion of personal agendas into the programming?

You are free to use this prompt in your own writing. If you print it or post it online, however, please credit this post.

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Writing Prompt – A Strange Forest Path to an Even Stranger Place

You are hiking a forest trail which you have hiked many times. You gradually notice some details which are not quite right. After while it looks like you are no longer in the same forest but instead somewhere strange.

  • Choose any forest trail that you know well. Describe it in detail: the trees and underbrush, sounds, animals, etc. Is this forest in some mountains, a national park, or the forest behind your house?
  • Explain that you have been down this trail many times and why: exploring as a child, a chance to relax and clear your head after a stressful week of work, hunting, camping
  • Then something changes. Maybe things look increasingly different the deeper you go into the forest, or maybe you find a new trail (which you have never seen before now) veering off of the current trail.
  • The air feels different. Is it more/less humid, calmer or more windy, or a difference that is less tangible?
  • You notice different sounds. Maybe they are ominous or just eerie. Maybe humming or fluttering sounds. Describe them.
  • You notice that the trees, bushes, and underbrush are different, like nothing you have ever seen. Describe them.
  • You notice birds, insects, or other animals that you have never seen anywhere in your entire life. You wonder if your eyes are tricking you.
  • You might see a strange building in the forest.
  • This story is a great opportunity to borrow from mythology, folklore, and fairy tales from any culture. Some possibilities include:
    1. The hut of Baba Yaga
    2. Fairies, dryads, nymphs, satyrs
    3. Forest elf city
    4. Ents
    5. Something that makes people fall asleep for many years
  • How did you get here? Any of these options have great potential.
    1. Did the forest vanish with you inside and appear in a place where such creatures are normal?
    2. If you followed a new path, did it lead into a new realm? Why did the new trail appear in a forest you have visited many times without seeing that trail?
    3. Maybe you did not go anywhere unusual, but these creatures moved into the forest. Why? Are they there to stay?
  • How will you return home? After you return home, will you avoid the forest in the future or return to explore it further?

You are free to use this prompt in your own writing. If you print it or post it online, however, please credit this post.

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Fontana Village 2018 – A Day on the Town


For our last full day on vacation we drove to Bryson City, NC for lunch and some shopping. First we went to CJ’s Grille and ate outside with a nice view of the mountains. They had a great special on wings, and so I ordered some hot, Cajun garlic, and honey mustard BBQ, and I traded one wing with my brother-in-law for a lemon pepper wing. All of them were good. If you visit Bryson City, then I recommend CJ’s Grille (Facebook, Maps).

During the meal a cat was relaxing near our table. I was impressed that he was not intimidated unfamiliar people or the busy atmosphere. Being a cat lover, I gave him a few scraps. While we were leaving he wasted no time in claiming our leftovers. He was not even shy about it. A waitress told my father that he is a community cat and that various people feed him and take him to the vet. I do not know whether or not he has an official home, but people do care for him. He seems happy with his life.

After lunch we explored the town. I visited a used book store (always a good choice) and a chocolate shop with my sisters. We then returned to Fontana Village.

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