8.14.2020

LOUISE'S BAD BIRTHDAY! and the Next 1 Hr Fiction Challenge

 By Barbara Blackwell (August 2020, age 10)



We really enjoyed the last 1-hour fiction challenge, and found it to be a great inspiration for sitting down and getting writing (or drawing). So for our second challenge, we chose the theme of "#2 Hits the Fan" or "2HTF" stories about a collapse scenario. Barbara chose a "zombie apocalypse" collapse!

8.12.2020

Clothing - A Juxtaposition

  
A film enjoyed by all members of the Blackwell family is the adaptation of Micheal Chricthton's novel Timeline, featuring historians sent back to 1357 France. What strikes us everytime we watch the film is how much better the characters all look in their mediaeval garb versus modern. After watching them for most of the film dressed as mediaeval peasants, they look rather like "bums" in the final scene where we see them back on their archaelogical dig.

Here is another good shot of their mediaeval garb:



Versus modern:


The change (for the worse) in women's clothing over the centuries is the most striking. Another example snapped by Godfrey at the Tower of London offering further proof of our thesis that even the most basic peasant clothing of the mediaeval period was more gracious, dignified, and even functional than what we must wear today:


Now someone's sure to ask me what solutions we have to offer. Our answer: the tag on this post is "musings", not "answers"! In seriousness though, while we may have a certain affinity for the past, we cannot relive it. But maybe we can get some ideas. 

8.07.2020

SHORT STORY: WAR IN THE ALPS

By Albert Blackwell (July 2020, Age 13)

    A large heavily armoured shoe box shaped machine with three short sturdy legs on each side slowly made its way up the mountainous terrain. Steam billowed out the two chimneys at its rear ,armed with a Tesla coil mounted behind the commander’s cupola.

    A company of Austrian soldiers ,all of them wearing gas masks and heavily sealed suits to avoid the radiation in the air, advanced behind the machine. They were on a mission to investigate a space craft which had landed only a few miles away.

    Captain Fredrick Schmidt gazed out the narrow slit in his cupola, observing the rocky terrain before him. Like the rest of the crew of the steam tank, he wore similar clothing as the rest of the Austrian troops. Because of the nuclear war between France, England, and Germany, most Europe was laid waste and all of it in a state of a nuclear winter. Most people were leaving and moving to Africa, Fredrick and his men were preparing to evacuate with several dozen refugees when a Star Ship landed in the alps very close to the evacuation point. Whatever it was it was the soldiers job to make sure it wasn’t anything dangerous.

    Fredrick’s thoughts were interrupted by a loud explosion which rocked the tank. This was followed by another and then another!

    “We’re under attack!” Yelled Fredrick.

    Stones and other debris were flying in all directions. The tank’s armour protected Fredrick and his crew from the Shrapnel but not the soldiers behind, who were ducking for cover.

    Fredrick stared hard at the terrain before him to identify the attackers. After a few moments he saw them, two four-legged walkers, steam billowing out of their chimneys, each armed with a 67mm canon on each side were slowly advancing toward them.

    “Martians.” Muttered Fredrick, recognising the design. “Gunner! 40 degrees to the Left!” Fredrick yelled.

    Two engineers began turning their cranks rapidly to power the deadly Tesla coils. Using a pyramid shaped outline of 2ft metal rods the Gunner directed the bolts of electricity toward one of the Martian walkers.
    
    The bolts of surging electricity struck the walker, electric pulses flying all around it! A second strike hit the walker! Several seconds later it’s engine exploded, unable to handle the shock.

    The second walker quickened it’ s pace and in minutes was only a few yards away from the Austrian tank. Firing both its canons the walker continued to advance.

    The shells slammed into the tank creating a rupture it’s armour.

    “Full ahead!” Ordered Fredrick. “Gunner prepare to fire into it’ s under belly!”

    Fredrick realised the dangerous situation he was, in if the tank was hit again it would be destroyed.

    The walker spun its guns downward, trying to get at the tank. But it was to slow the electric charges smashing into its under belly destroying it’s engines. The walker crumbled to the ground on top of the Austrian tank.


* * * 


    Fredrick gazed at the destruction before him. His tank was wrecked but his crew escaped through the rupture in it’s armour. The remaining soldiers were able to capture the Martian ship Which would be useful for the evacuation. But why the Martians were there Fredrick would never know.

8.05.2020

Puerto Rico (Board Game Review)

Name: Puerto Rico
Game Designer: Andreas Seyfarth
Publisher: Rio Grande Games
Rating: 4 stars (out of 5)
Summary: A unique, and surprisingly enjoyable game of economic management and strategic thought.

Puerto Rico is an "Age of Discovery" game, where the players take the roles of plantation owners in the newly-founded colony of Puerto Rico, competing to amass the most victory points by the game's end. These can be accumulated by shipping goods back to the Old World and through constructing special buildings. The manner of play is very unique; it seems a little complicated at first, but it doesn't take long to get a firm grasp of the rules. Each turn, the players select a "role" such as mayor, builder, craftsman, among others, which guides what they can do. The person to select the role gets a special benefit, then everyone else plays the role normally. Then the next person selects a role, and so on. In the picture below, you can see an example of the board each player has, with a few crops and buildings already in play and some money and victory points in the top right corner; the available roles are laid out above. Crops can be sold for money to purchase buildings with as well as shipped back to Spain for points.

Below: croplands and buildings must be "worked" by colonists, signified by the little brown puck-like tokens.

It sounds a little strange, I know -- this whole "role" thing was what stopped be from buying the game myself for many years (despite rave reviews from other board game geeks of my acquaintance), but my sister bought it for me for Christmas a few years ago and I am very glad she did. Don't let the unique and exotic-sounding rules turn you away -- overall this is an excellent and enjoyable game that anyone can play. I am a huge fan of strategy games myself, However, my wife and sister-in-law, who are not strategy gamers at all, were able to quickly grasp and enjoy Puerto Rico. I think this is a key to games of this type, as you want everyone to have fun. Be warned, though, that this game isn't exactly light -- it does requires concentration and thought! This only makes it more stimulating, in my view, which is what we should be striving for otherwise we might as well rot our brains in front of the TV.
Below: the main game board that houses all the buildings available to be built, and the bank.


Puerto Rico doesn't have as much interaction as The Settlers of Catan does, but it still makes for a very fun evening or rainy-day entertainment. People will have fun trying to out-smart each other with the proper selection of roles, and trying to get their goods aboard ships before the others can, to reap the victory point rewards. The game involves no warfare, or anything objectionable (perhaps some P.C.-types would be offended by the colonial theme -- which makes it even better in my view). In the games we played there was lots of laughter. Luck is a very limited factor in this game, making it more strategy-oriented.

A game of Puerto Rico takes between 1 and 2 hours, depending on how many players you have and whether you're having to explain the rules to others as you go. It seems to average for around $25 USD, which in my view is a bargain for all the stuff that you get in this game, and the replayability. Every game will be different and there are many paths to winning based on the mechanics of the game, and therefore as a strategy game I think this has more replayability than some. In fact, Puerto Rico really demands to be played numerous times because successful strategies are not self-evident.
Overall, I still like The Settlers of Catan better, but Puerto Rico seems to have wider appeal as boardgamegeek.com rates it nearly 10% points higher than Catan. It is definitely an enjoyable game and I highly recommend it to anyone that wants a fun game that doesn't take too long to play and is intellectually challenging. For some more reviews of the game, you can go here.



7.31.2020

SHORT STORY: WELLINGHALL

By Anna Blackwell (July 2020, age 12)

    Glen Alken walked down the cracked concrete roads of the crumbling city of WellingHall. Beside him his faithful dog, a Doberman Pinscher with the simple name of Tucker, walked beside him.

    It was the year 2007, only a year ago the Great War ended. In the year 1712 scientists began using steam to power machines. Later on in time, scientist tried using internal combustion but it ended up in complete failure and disaster.

    For centuries later people used steam for most of the worlds technology, but in the year 1992 Muslim terrorists got their hands on the secret American blue prints of combat wolves (large steam powered walkers) with these blue prints they made millions of these death machines and used it against America.

    The Americans called the British, Canadians, French , and Germany for backup. While the terrorist called their backup from places like China and the Korea.

    And so World war I occurred.

    Glen Alken had been a war recruit in the American army making him a seasoned warrior in the art of combat. But by the time the war had ended America was a disaster. Glen had found Tucker among the ruins of New York City. Since then the two have been together after Glen quit the army and entered the torn world as a mercenary.

    He and Tucker had found their way to WellingHall which used to be a tall proud city but was now mostly ruins, only a few buildings were in one piece.

    Slinging his rucksack over his back, he continued on down the road, Tucker following . A thick mist was high in the air, blocking most of Glen’s vision of what was ahead.

    A lady, holding a girl's hand stepped out of the mist . Glen smiled a little to himself as the girl politely waved to him. Tucker wagged his tail at the two. Farther up ahead the city seemed more populated than at the beginning of the city, many of the men standing around stepped protectively closer to their families when they noticed on Glens belt was a weapon, a clockwork gearsword .

    “They have a good right to be scared.” Glen thought to himself. “Someone with a gearsword is not to be messed with.

    A gearsword is not dissimilar to a chainsaw, though gearswords are clockwork and lighter and less clunky, making them easy to use. To use one was simple. All you had to do was wind it up like a clock and place the brake on, then once you have to do a bit of action just release the brake.

    A lady wearing a pretty red dress stepped away from Glen in slight fear. Glen gave her a warm smile to tell he wasn’t going to hurt her. She only stepped more away.

    “Maybe Tucker is frightening her.” Glen thought to himself.

    Just then a loud racket came from ahead. Tucker began to growl, Glen put his hand on the hilt of his GearSword. “That’s no steam carriage.” He said. Suddenly a with a noise louder than 50 fireworks together, a large machine came out of the mist like a bullet. It had the appearance of a pirate ship, but it had giant tank treads to move it and two hideously large spinning blades were at its’ front.

    Glen and Tucker jumped out of the way just in time before the giant ship could have crushed them. Just then it stopped right in its tracks. Glen noticed a man standing on the prow of the vehicle.

    “No one move or you're as good as dead.” He shouted at the frightened citizens. Then with a wave of his hand a horde of men leaped out of the ship onto the ground, the man followed after them.

    “I am Black Eye the Mighty and I will have to ask all of you to hand over your valuables.”he said a evil glint in his eye. “How about you pretty girl.” He said pointing at the lady with the red dress, her face turned pale and she backed off.

    “Come now prettiness, I am not gonna hurt you.” He wickedly said walking toward her.”Just give me your valuables, like that ruby necklace you have there.”

    Glen advance over to Black Eye shouting”she is not doing that swine!”

    Black Eye turned around to face Glen”Who do you think you're talking to blonde?”Anger deep in his voice.

    “Nothing but a scoundrel,” Glen said.

    “Oh really!” Black Eye shouted drawing his ray gun and fired at Glen. It was a near miss, Glen felt the heat of the ray zip past his neck. He drew his gearsword. “Away to me, Tucker.” He ordered at Tucker who launched himself at the nearest thug. Releasing the brake Glen jumped at Black Eye who drew his own sword.

    The two had a rough struggle until Glen was finally on the ground but just before the strike fell the lady who Glen tried to save, hit Black Eye on the head hard with her hat.

    “ You clam faced…” Black Eyed shouted turning towards the lady pushing her backwards but it was just the distraction Glen needed with a swipe he cut Black Eye’s left eye. He roared in pain.

    “Mercy I implore you !” Black howled. “Don’t slay me Please!”

    “If I don’t will you never come here again?” Glen asked angrily.

    “Yes, yes, yes! I won’t come back!” Black Eye whined.

    “Then leave.” Glen said” and order your men to let my dog go.” Tucker was at the moment too at the mercy of Black Eye’s thugs.


“Alright I will.” Black Eye said still clutching his left eye waving with his right hand at his men to drop Tucker.

    Letting Black Eye get up, Glen patted Tucker as he ran up to Glen. Black Eye walked over to his ship but once he looked back at Glen a tricksters glint was in his right eye.

    “You have made a enemy for life.” he said a chuckle at the back of his throat.

    Glen didn’t take his eyes of the ship until it totally disappeared. He helped the lady up.

    “Thank you stranger.” She said.

    “Please call me Glen.”

 

The End

7.29.2020

Book Review: Lord of the World

Review by Godfrey Blackwell



Title: Lord of the World
Author: Msgr Robert Hugh Benson
Publisher: Novelbooks
Godfrey's Rating: 5 stars our of 5
Summary in a Sentence: A dystopian near-future novel about the rise of socialism, atheism, and ultimately the Antichrist; 1984 and Brave New World combined from a Catholic perspective and more accurate/prophetic than either work.

This is a novel that's been recommended to me many times and after finally reading it, I can't believe I didn't read it sooner. This work is a MUST READ for everyone, even moreso than the classics 1984 and Brave New World (which I think are very important) for its Catholic perspective which allows for a deeper understanding of all that is happening in our world.

As suggested above, where 1984 is a cautionary tale that depicts a world that "might have been", Lord of the World presents a prophetic description of what is happening to a certain extent in our current times. It is powerful because of its accuracy -- indeed Msgr Benson's nighmare world is daily becoming more reality before our eyes -- helps one understand the modern world, be forearmed against its blandishments, and is also encouraging to the Christian reader worn down by the events of our time.

The novel follows two main storylines, one that follows Father Percy Franklin, an English Catholic priest (for the Catholic perspective on things going on) and a parallel story following Oliver Brand an influential Labour MP and his wife Mabel (for the atheist/socialist perspective). At the beginning of the novel the world is on the brink of world war and catastrophe, when the enigmatic Julian Felsenburgh enters the world stage, saves the world from disaster and is ultimately elevated to a sort of ruler of a one-world government.

Having been written by a Catholic priest, Lord of the World describes a world where secularism and godless humanism have triumphed over traditional morality, yet without any graphic or salacious portions (as found in Orwell's and Huxley's works) to disturb the reader. The only barrier to younger readers is that the text is rather dense and it is serious reading.

The characters are very balanced and real, there are no caricatures and Msgr. Benson deals fairly with the anti-Catholic characters. The work does an amazing job of explaining theological truths and portraying Catholic worship and mental prayer without seeming to be too preachy. The work does tend to drag in a few sections of lengthy exposition (as was the style in the early 1900s) but on the whole, despite not having a lot of "action" is still a very engaging work. I cannot recommend it enough.

For those like me who don't have a lot of time to read, but can listen while commuting, Audible has a version read by Simon Vance which is excellent aside from Mr. Vance's pronunciation of Ecclesiastical Latin.
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