Saturday, October 30, 2010

2010 Rocky Mountain Modern Language Association Conference

On 14 October 2010, I was fortunate to present a paper at the 2010 Rocky Mountain Modern Language Association (RMMLA) conference in Albuquerque, NM. Now I love Albuquerque and I have attended some conference there every year since 2006 (5 total) so I was really hoping to get to participate. Once I got there, however, I could little believe how friendly and open the other conference attendees were both at my presentation and out by the coffee/tea bar. In addition, I listened to some fine papers in both Technical communication and literature. I hope that I will be able to attend next year in Scottsdale, AZ and, if you study literature, writing, or technical communication, you should too. Here is a snapshot of my presentation:

Multi-dimensional Audience Analysis: Synthesizing Technical Expertise and Cultural Dimensions as Audience Heuristic

Analyzing and articulating different audiences is a significant challenge for students of technical communication. Instructors of technical communication can provide these future practitioners with the tools to accurately identify and profile specific audiences by introducing heuristics that synthesize dimensions of technical expertise and culture. By practicing how to use this heuristic in ‘real-world’ contexts, instructors can provide students the tools necessary to identify and articulate specific targeted audiences within a global environment.

In this presentation, I first briefly examine two common audience analysis heuristics: technical expertise and dimensions of culture. Both approaches can provide valuable guidelines for practitioners of technical communication to assemble effective audience analyses for their writing projects.

Next, I articulate how technical communicators can benefit from incorporating these heuristics into the classroom. Specifically, technical communication students can function as symbolic-analytic workers and information architects as they synthesize technical expertise with cultural dimensions in order to analyze a specific audience for a deliverable such as technical instructions.

Finally, I offer a pedagogical approach to introducing heuristics of technical expertise and cultural dimensions into the service-level technical communication classroom. Specifically, I introduce my heuristic approach to audience analysis in the classroom: The Technical Frame.

Presentation Slides

If you are so inclined, or if you suffer from insomnia, you can read more about my conference presentations at

-Safari Bob

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Dreadnought by Cherie Priest

Dreadnought is the second book by Cherie Priest in the steampunk Clockwork Century series. The first book in the series, Boneshaker, was quite well received and features a strong female protagonist with memorable characters. She continues that tradition in this book.

As the story begins, we find the heroine of the story, Vinita "Mercy" Lynch, working in Virginia as a nurse in a war hospital that serves the South during this alternate history of America. She soon receives news that her husband, who was fighting for the Union, has died in a POW camp. Soon after, she learns that her estranged father, who she has not seen since she was very young, is deathly ill and he requests that she come to see him--in Seattle, WA. Having no reason to stay in Richmond, she decides to travel alone through the war, across a dangerous and unincorporated western prairie and over the Rocky Mountains to a strange city on the other side of the continent.

Along the way, she travels by dirigible, steam boat, and the infamous Union-operated steam engine Dreadnought, a terrifying weapon of war that often transports the dreadful steam-powered "walkers" of mass martial destruction. She also becomes involved in a political struggle between the Union, the Confederacy, the Texan Republic and Mexico--all seeking the answer to this question: What happened to a lost legion of Mexican soldiers and why are they eating people in Utah?

I quite enjoyed this book. I love the steampunk genre but Priest does a good job of writing her protagonist as an ordinary human being just doing her best to survive the strange circumstances in which she finds herself. Her narrative is tight, descriptive and introspective. For instance:

She felt alone, in the middle of everybody--even the other civilians who hunkered in the ceter passenger car and read books or played cards or sipped out of flasks to pass the time. She was the only medical professional of any sort on board, which meant that every stubbed toe, every rheumy eye, and every cough gravitated her way for analysis and treatment. It was the nature of the beast, she supposed, but even these small ailments did little to punctuate the wary boredom [1, p. 296].

This humanizing, descriptive prose also extends to action passages:

The hum started slow, and low; it began distant, and thundering, and rough. A cloud clearing its throat, or a mountain shrugging off a small avalanche. A windmill caught in a gale, shuddering and flapping. The conductor called for it, saying, "More hydrogen! Divert it from the secondary boiler! Just power the plow first--we won't move without it!" With more fuel, the hum came louder, and steadier. It went from the crooked fan blade, unbalanced and wobbling, to a smooth and vocal growl that rose up so loud that it almost (not quite, but almost) dampened the sound of Theodora Clay and the men in the passenger car firing; the Mexican inspector, still upright, still shooting, and now openly crying; and the undead hoards oncoming [1, p. 356].

Overall, this is a good, solid read that delivers action, adventure and dirigibles. What is not to love about that? It also touches on race relations, class distinctions and gender roles but all in the modern understanding of each. Still, if you enjoyed Boneshaker, this novel does provide a less pessimistic view of the world (even though its troubles deepen for the entire continent) while continuing the overall tale. I recommend it.

-Safari Bob

[1] Priest, C. (2010). Dreadnought. New York: Tom Doherty Associates. ISBN: 978-0-7653-2578-5