The Prisoner of Zenda

zenda_cover_webThe Prisoner of Zenda is an adventure novel written by Anthony Hope. It follows the story of Rudolph Rassendyll, an Englishman who craves adventure. At the start of the book, he journeys to Ruritania, a nearby European country with the coronation of a new king right around the corner. When he arrives, he discovers that he looks unbelievably similar to the king of Ruritania. He also makes the acquaintance of two very different attendants of the king: Colonel Sapt and Fritz von Tarlenheim. On the night before his coronation, Rudolph dines with the king in the forest of Zenda. Upon waking up, Rudolph discovers that the king was poisoned in the night by his extremely evil brother, Black Michael. Colonel Sapt and Fritz then decide to use Rudolph in place of the king for the coronation, because if the king is not crowned on this day, Michael will be. After the coronation, Rudolph and his attendants are outrun back to their house in the forest of Zenda, and they discover that the king has been kidnapped, and their servant murdered. In the ensuing tale gunfights, swordfights, and pulse pounding chases abound, as Rudolph and his posse face off against Black Michael and his crew of evildoers known as The Six. The final showdown is a very epic battle full of so many plot twists that it had me reading this book for 5 hours straight!

Overall, the book proved to be great fun, but only after a beginning that was so dull that I stopped reading after the initial two-chapter drag. The book was published in 1894, so you can expect some confusing language, and overly descriptive dialogue. The book receives an 8/10.

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The Time Machine

CoverThe Time Machine is a science fiction novel written by H. G. Wells. This book is widely thought to be the first science fiction work ever written. The story revolves around an unnamed man called the Time Traveller. After supposedly going forward thousands of years into the future, the Time Traveller relates his tale to some of his skeptics. The story is told by the narrator, who writes down the Time Traveler’s story. After finally finishing his machine, the Time Traveller sits in his chair and adjusts some instruments. Soon, the machine is flying into the future along with its passenger. Following a horribly sickening journey, the Time Traveller finds himself in a new and seemingly perfect Utopia. He quickly meets up with future humans called Eloi. These are not very intelligent, but very graceful and happy. After several days with the Eloi, the Time Machine is stolen by the Morlocks, horrible ape creatures who devour the Eloi after they have grown. The Morlocks have lived underground for centuries and are utterly terrifying. The Time Traveller then descends into the grim blackness of the Morlock territory to find his machine again…

The Time Machine  is a good read, considering that it is the first book of it’s kind. It is very short, and I read it in about 3 hours. I was very surprised at the bleak and terrifying future that Wells portrays, as this was very unnerving. Overall, I would rate it an 8/10.

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Wings of Freedom

B-24J Wheel

Earlier today, I was fortunate enough to visit the Collings Foundation Wings of Freedom aircraft display at nearby Dutchess County Airport. The exhibit consisted of a B-24 Liberator, B-17 Flying Fortress, and P-51 Mustang. Unfortunately I was unable to see the Mustang since it was having some maintenance work done this morning, but this did not detract from my experience at all.

B-24J Machine Gun

The B-24 (named “Witchcraft”) was the first aircraft that I saw. The nose art instantly caught my attention, as it was very original. It featured a witch riding a machine gun while throwing a bomb. The plane was well restored, and the paint looked exceptionally good considering that it flies over 100 times a year. I was very excited to see this aircraft in particular, as the B-24 was the type discussed in one of my favorite books, Unbroken. (Click HERE to read my book review) Being able to go inside was a dream come true. As I climbed the ladder to go inside, I was astonished at the size of the .50 caliber machine guns located at the beam positions of the airplane. I was able to actually move the gun around in its turret, and get a good feel for the way that it had to be airmed. After walking forward a few feet, we had to walk around the ventral ball turret, which was pulled up into the aircraft’s fuselage. After walking down into the bomb bay, I was shocked to see rows of bombs lined up, seemingly ready to be dropped out of the cavernous area. As I walked across the walkway, I could scarcely imagine bailing out of the plane in a death spiral. Overall, the B-24 was a very interesting experience, and I thoroughly enjoyed it.

After finishing the B-24, we boarded the B-17 (named “Nine o Nine”). This aircraft was truly amazing and lives up to its reputation. after boarding, the cockpit was clearly visible and the pilot and copilot stations were only inches away. From the outside, I could see the bombardiers bombsight, both cheek guns, and the terrifying chin gun with two .50 caliber guns aimed remotely. After inspecting the cockpit, I noticed the dorsal ball turret, and quickly stepped into it. It was very claustrophobic, I could hardly imagine firing the two giant machine guns positioned only an inch or two from my head. The radio operator’s room was also very interesting to see, as it looked like a very small office. Finally, I saw the beam gun positions, complete with ammunition belts surrounding them. Some of the giant bullets were red tipped tracer rounds which illuminate when fired, like a beam of fire. Upon leaving the plane I got a great view at my favorite position, the tail gunner. This spot had a small window and two huge guns beneath it. I especially liked the sight used by this gunner. The B-17 was even better than the B-24, and was definitely the highlight of my trip. I would recommend anyone go see these planes when they land on a runway near you.

B-17G Dorsal Ball Turrett

B-17G Dorsal Ball Turret

Click HERE to visit the Collings Foundation tour schedule and website!

 

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My 4-H Story 2014

Horseshoe Crab Tagging

Horseshoe Crab Tagging for part of  my Independent Project

4-H has been a very interesting experience for me. I believe that 4-H is a great experience, and that every child should try it out for at least one year.

My involvement in 4-H this year, has taught me many valuable lessons through community service. I never even thought that I would volunteer to do any type of community service, much less have fun doing it! Most of my volunteer hours were spent having a good time, and even though it was sometimes hard work, I always felt better at the end than I did going in. In my opinion, community service is one of the most valuable learning experiences a person can have.

As a 4-H member, I have helped many people as a camp counselor’s assistant. Both the counselors and students have said that I am a great help, and this has led me to try to help out at more summer camps next year.

Overall, I believe that 4-H is a great program, as it has been responsible for me discovering more of the things that I am interested in and to help others in my community.

Fairfield County 4-H Award Night

Fairfield County 4-H Award Night

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National Warplanes Museum Trip

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In the C-47 Skytrain

On September 13, 2014, I went to the National Warplanes Museum in Geneseo, New York with my grandfather. The museum consists of several large buildings and one hangar. Many planes are also displayed on the grass outside of the buildings. While there were many different exhibits in the buildings, I will only list my favorites. One unexpectedly interesting portion of the collection was a group of women’s Red Cross uniforms. These were interesting because they added variety to the collection, and prevented them from becoming monotonous. Overall, the entire uniform collection was fantastic, and included many different types of uniforms not often seen. Another fantastic exhibit was a Willy’s Jeep that I was able to sit inside of. Also included in the uniforms section was a pilot’s life preserver that was displayed along with the full uniform. I frequently paint this life preserver onto my scale figures, and it was interesting to see one in real life.

After viewing these displays, we went into the hangars. My favorite planes were the C-47, B-26, and L-21. By far the most impressive of the bunch was the C-47 Skytrain, known as Whiskey 7. This aircraft flew as the lead plane of it’s group during the D-Day paratrooper drops. Whiskey 7 recently flew back to Normandy to commemorate the 70th year since the D-Day invasion. The aircraft is beautifully restored and looks amazing. I was fortunate enough to be allowed into the plane and see the cockpit. I was shocked at the small ladder leading into the aircraft. It had only two rungs, and creaked loudly. The interior was stunning and I was amazed at the strange feeling inside of the large plane. Even though it was huge, it felt fragile, and the light seeping through the windows was very eerie. This was definitely the highlight  of my trip.

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The C-47 Skytrain Outside

The B-26 was also great. It had an unpainted finish and was sitting in the sun. The aircraft was situated on the grass, so you could walk completely around the plane. It was very interesting to see the landing gear mechanism.

By far the most unexpected plane was the L-21, which is essentially a Piper Super Cub painted in military colors. It was very odd to see the strange (and awesome) paint scheme on the small civilian plane.

Overall, my trip to the museum was fantastic, and I highly recommend it to anyone interested in history or aviation.

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Star Wars: Edge of the Empire Review

edge-of-the-empire-core-rulebook-rightStar Wars: Edge of the Empire is a role playing game released in 2013. It consists of a beginner set with a short rulebook, special game dice, premade character sheets, and one adventure. While the beginner set is fun, the real game consists of one giant core rulebook. (see image) The core rulebook explains the concepts introduced in the beginner set in greater detail than was previously available. It also includes one free adventure, but I prefer making my own to the pre made episodes.

One of the best innovations of the game is the dice system. While other RPG’s like Dungeons and Dragons rely on standard dice, Edge of the Empire has specially made dice. While it is too complex to explain in detail, I can sum it up quickly. The game revolves around something called a skill check. The difficulty of the check is decided by the Game Master, who has all of the features of the environment mapped out. When the player encounters an obstacle, the Game master tells them the difficulty level. Then, the player’s skill set is compared to that of the required skills to overcome the obstacle. In the game, there are good dice and bad dice. When the player encounters an easy obstacle, the Game Master may give them more good dice that bad dice. The opposite is true of a hard obstacle, where the player may have the odds stacked against them. After the dice are rolled, they are added together, and if the good outweighs the bad, the check succeeds. The twist is that there are also advantages and disadvantages. When the player gets an advantage, good things happen, even on a failed check. When he gets a disadvantage, bad things happen even on a successful check. While this sounds complicated, all of the information is in the core rulebook and these checks take only seconds to complete.

The other interesting facet of the game is that it takes place in the Star Wars universe. Detailed information is provided about the different aliens, droids, spacecraft, planets, and even illegal contraband of the Star Wars universe. All of these things are taken into consideration, such as; how easy is it to knock out a Rodian, how much is Yarrock spice worth, and what is the population of Tatooine, as well as what languages are spoken on the planet.

Overall, the game is great and easily achieves a 9.7/10. This is a great game for Star Wars and RPG fans alike!

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The History of the Baltimore Snowball

anatomy-of-a-snowball_534186b31017e_w1500    The snowball is one of my favorite summertime snacks of all time. A snowball is a very syrupy,  cup (preferably styrofoam!) of finely shaved ice. One of the distinct features is the marshmallow topping, which is very important to enhance the experience. Snowballs are the quintessential summertime dessert for me and many others. Why then does nobody know what they are?

The story begins in the late 1800’s when ice became widely available to the average citizen. As huge carts of ice travelled through Maryland, the drivers would shave off some of the ice to give to children. The children then took the shavings home and quickly made flavorings for their new treats. During the 1920’s shaved and flavored ice was sold during plays when customers needed to cool off during a long and hot show.

The modern snowball has its roots in the Great Depression, when standardized syrups could be purchased instead of homemade ones. Because of the low cost of ice, snowballs could be purchased for just 2 cents. This was one of the only treats that people could afford, and thus snowballs became very popular. Another facet to the story is that setting up a snowball stand is easy, as is making the treats, and many people turned to snowball making to sustain themselves. After the Depression, snowballs stayed popular throughout the war, when ice cream was nowhere to be found. While US troops ate ice cream, everyday citizens ate snowballs as their main icy treat.

After the war, the snowball remained popular, and is relatively unchanged to this day. Because the snowball is such an amazing little ice clump, it does make you wonder why you can’t have one right now (unless you live in Baltimore)?

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