Archive | Education RSS feed for this section

Shortcutting… Special Alphabets

14 Aug

In my post on flags the other day, I said, in what at the time was a joke, that I’d ‘save semaphore for another day’. Well, now that the Olympics are over, I’m going to need something else to blog about, so I thought what the hey – today’s that day! Today, class, we’re going to be looking at four different alphabets things: flag semaphore, Morse code, the NATO alphabet, and Braille.

So let’s start with the flags, because that’s what made me think of the whole thing. The first thing worth noting is that you don’t have to use flags for this – you can use anything kind of rod-like, but I think flags are the most glam, so feel free to use up all your leftover Olympics ones trying this out. It was originally used on ships but I think we should bring it back, maybe for when you’re phone runs out… Here’s the alphabet, courtesy of my favourite reliable source, Wikipedia:

  • Rest / Space

  • Numerals

  • Error or Attention

  • A or 1

  • B or 2

  • C or 3

  • D or 4

  • E or 5
    (8x) Error

  • F or 6

  • G or 7

  • H or 8

  • I or 9

  • J or Letters
    Letters / Position Sign

  • K or 0 (zero)
    Invitation to Transmit

  • L

  • M

  • N

  • O

  • P

  • Q

  • R

  • S

  • T

  • U

  • V

  • W

  • X

  • Y

  • Z

(Numbers can be signaled by first signaling “Numerals”. To change back to letters, simply signal “J”.)


Right, next up, it’s dot dot dash time. This one’s great for whenever your secret spy identity’s been blown, and you want to plot your escape with your partner in the next cell. It’s my go-to secret alphabet – Morse code! You can either do it by flashing a light (torch or mobile phone screen perhaps?) or tapping, although it can be a bit tricky to distinguish between dots and dashes. But whatever happens, at least learn S.O.S. – dot dot dot   dash dash dash   dot dot dot – that one might get you out of a few tricky, undercover-operation-gone-wrong situations.

File:International Morse Code.svg

The next one – the NATO alphabet – is pretty easy, it’s really just to help understand letters. It’s most useful when you’re trying to spell something over the phone and just can’t think of anything that starts with ‘k’ except ‘knight’. Et voila:

File:FAA Phonetic and Morse Chart2.svg


Okay, now you probably don’t need this last one, seeing as you’re reading my blog and all, but I’ve always thought it would be super-cool to be able to read Braille – you could be pretending to talk to someone and actually be reading a book! Or you know that age-old problem of whether to read the book or watch the film first? You could do both! At the same time! So here it is:

Braille A1.svg Braille B2.svg Braille C3.svg Braille D4.svg Braille E5.svg Braille F6.svg Braille G7.svg Braille H8.svg Braille I9.svg Braille J0.svg
a/1 b/2 c/3 d/4 e/5 f/6 g/7 h/8 i/9 j/0
Braille K colored.svg Braille L colored.svg Braille M colored.svg Braille N colored.svg Braille O colored.svg Braille P colored.svg Braille Q colored.svg Braille R colored.svg Braille S colored.svg Braille T colored.svg
k l m n o p q r s t
Braille U colored.svg Braille V colored.svg Braille X colored.svg Braille Y colored.svg Braille Z colored.svg Braille W colored.svg
u v x y z w


Right, so there’s your homework for tonight. You will be tested on all four next week. I’m expecting straight As. Good luck.

Keep shortcutting,

Zulu Oscar Echo


Shortcutting… Flags

10 Aug

With any meeting of nations comes that confusion of multi-coloured stripes, circles and stars that is… the flags! Yay! What better game to play while sitting in any cafe, shop or restaurant with the Olympic bunting on show than Name That Flag! Now, with so many countries (204), learning each and every flag is no simple task. I’d say I can name about 40 without revision (not that I’d revise… That would be weird…) – most of Europe plus USA, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and a handful of Asia, Africa and South America. I don’t know how your average, non-geography-trivia-loving person would compare, but I’m giving myself a ‘could do better’ (I’m really good at capital cities though, I swear!).

First on today’s agenda, I would like to present you with a guide for more easy flag-identification. I know you’ve been dying for one. (No seriously, please skip this paragraph unless you’re a hardcore flagophile – it’s very boring.) Starting with Europe, a good clue is the off-centre cross, which ought to point you in particular towards the Scandinavian region – see Sweden, Norway, Denmark, Finland, and Iceland. Three equal vertical stripes is also a safe bet for Europe (France, Italy, Ireland, Germany, Romania, Belgium, Moldova, Andorra), three equal horizontal stripes (Russia, Hungary, Austria, Estonia, Croatia, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Netherlands, Slovakia, Slovenia, Serbia) or two horizontal stripes (Liechtenstein, Monaco, Poland, Ukraine, San Marino). That doesn’t quite cover Europe, but it’s a good start. Themes of Africa include stars (Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Djibouti, Ghana, Guinea-Bissau, Liberia, Morocco, Mozambique, Sao Tome and Principe, Senegal, Somalia, DRC, Togo), crescent moon and star (Algeria, Mauritania, Tunisia – Northern Africa), and triangle on the left with stripes (Djibouti, Equatorial Guinea, Mozambique, Sao Tome and Principe, South Africa, Sudan, Zimbabwe). It turns out there are a fair few three vertical stripes here too, so maybe that ain’t such a good clue after all… The crescent moon, symbolizing Islam I believe, is also present in Asia (Malaysia, Pakistan, Turkmenistan, Turkey, Uzbekistan), although apart from that there ain’t much of a trend… For Oceania, look for the Union Jack in the corner (Australia, Fiji, New Zealand, Tuvalu), and for South America I’m going to say horizontal stripes with a twist – i.e. with a crest, or a lot more than three, or differing thicknesses. North America is rather un-patterned, except for a few flags that are divided into four segments in one way or another.

Whew. Okay. That’s over with. Now let’s have a bit more fun (no, don’t get too excited – I’m sticking with flags). Here are a couple of my favourites (if you don’t know them – and shame on you if you don’t – just hover over them and your questions will be answered):

And finally, just in case I haven’t quite bored you to death yet, I have one more piece of exciting trivia for you. For you will be thrilled to hear that there is one flag that is different, unique, an outsider. What is so special about this flag? It’s different on the front and back. I know! So exciting! But which flag is it? Ladies and gentlemen, please put your hands together for the flag of… Paraguay! Yayyyy! Woooo! So how exactly do the front and back differ? Well, the front has the country’s coat of arms on it, whereas the back has the Treasury Seal. Don’t believe me? Well here’s a lil pic for you to see for yourselves what the difference is:

Picture courtesy of

So there you go. Bet you’re all flagged out now. You’re probably waving the white flag of surrender  (see what I did there?). Your strength is diminishing – flagging, one might say. So I shall save semaphore for another day.

Suffice it to say, keep shortcutting,


Shortcutting… Taekwondo

9 Aug

Sorry for the recent lack of posts – my excuse is that I have been swept up in a wave of all-consuming Olympics frenzy, as you might have guessed from my last few posts, before the frenzy completely took over. But today I return to you with information on a new sport that has caught my eye, after watching Jade Jones take the gold for team GB a few hours ago. It is my belief that no activity in which a spinning kick to the head is encouraged and rewarded should go unnoticed and so I would like to draw your attention to the ancient and brutal art of taekwondo.

According to my good friend Wikipedia, the name ‘Taekwondo’ can be broken down into ‘tae’ – to strike or break with foot, ‘kwon’ – to strike or break with fist, and ‘do’ – way/ method/ path, so can be literally translated as ‘the way of the hand and the foot’. The ‘Games and Beyond’ web page for taekwondo agrees with this but offers a more accurate translation – the art of kicking and punching. Brilliant. So let’s get started.

Taekwondo is a Korean martial art, and the national sport of South Korea, hence all the Korean names for things. Matches are fought in an 8 x 8m court between two contestants. Both wear  white suits – ‘doboks’, and protective equipment – ‘hogu’ – which is either red -‘chung’ – or blue – ‘hong’. Matches are three rounds of two minutes, with one minute breaks in between (in the event of a tie a sudden-death fourth round is played). Athletes are only allowed to used closed fists to punch and parts of the foot below the ankle to kick, so no knee-ing or shin-ing. Full-force kick and punch attacks are only allowed on the part of the torso covered by the protector. Only foot techniques can be used to attack the head, and these attacks must be to the front of the head. Points are awarded when a contestant uses accepted techniques to deliver a full-force kick or punch.

Points are awarded as follows:
  • One point for a valid attack on the trunk protector.
  • Two points for a valid turning (spinning) kick to the trunk protector
  • Three points for a valid kick to the head
  • Four points for a valid turning (spinning) kick to the head

If a player is knocked out or counted out, their opponent is declared the winner.

There are two types of penalty that may be given:
  • A kyong-go warning penalty is given for misdemeanours such as falling down, grabbing, holding or pushing, turning your back on your opponent or attacking below the waist. Two kyong-go penalties lead to a one-point addition to the opponent’s score.
  • A gam-jeom penalty is given for infractions such as attacking your opponent when the round has stopped, attacking a fallen opponent or intentionally attacking your opponent’s face with the hand. One gam-jeom penalty leads to a one-point addition to the opponent’s score.

[The above information has been sourced from the Games and Beyond website]

I believe that there are other ways of doing taekwondo other than simply sparring, and taekwondo-ists can also collect belts etc. as in the more mainstream martial arts karate and judo, but this is a quick guide to the Olympic way of doing things, just so you can understand the rules. Do research further – in my opinion, it’s pretty cool!

Get ready to kick some ass (or rather, trunk and front of head)…

Keep shortcutting,


Shortcutting… The Sonnet

5 Aug

Time, I think, to take a break from the Olympics-related posts. Let us turn instead to that most fiendish of poetry forms, which is to writing what souffle is to cooking – the sonnet. (Actually I’m pretty sure there are more difficult types of poem that are less famous but meh, I’m sure there are many things harder to cook than a souffle, it’s just that us non-cooks haven’t heard of them. What I’m trying to say is that they’re notoriously difficult…) This may seem like a completely arbitrary topic for a blog post but I can assure you, it makes perfect sense to me…

The first step in the recipe for sonnets is iambic pentameter. Iambs are to do with the stresses on syllables – if we call unstressed syllables ‘dee’ and stressed syllables ‘dum’, then an iamb is a ‘dee dum’, for example ‘today’, ‘because’, ‘and then’, ‘instead’. So iambic pentameter is five of these in a row – ‘dee dum dee dum dee dum dee dum dee dum’, for example ‘the other day I went to see a friend’, or ‘I pushed him off a cliff; he met his end’.

Having mastered iambic pentameter, the next stage is the rhyme scheme. A sonnet is fourteen lines long, with the rhyme scheme ‘ABAB CDCD EFEF GG’, or in other words three stanzas of four lines each where lines 1 and 3 rhyme and lines 2 and 4 rhyme, followed by a rhyming couplet.

The king of sonnets is of course Mr. William Shakespeare, so to illustrate the stress and rhyme schemes, here are a couple of his most famous ones:

Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?
Thou art more lovely and more temperate:
Rough winds do shake the darling buds of May,
And summer’s lease hath all too short a date:

Sometime too hot the eye of heaven shines,
And often is his gold complexion dimm’d;
And every fair from fair sometime declines,
By chance or nature’s changing course untrimm’d;

But thy eternal summer shall not fade
Nor lose possession of that fair thou owest;
Nor shall Death brag thou wander’st in his shade,
When in eternal lines to time thou growest:

So long as men can breathe or eyes can see,
So long lives this and this gives life to thee.

(I’m not too sure about the iambic pentameter of the first two lines – you slightly have to force yourself to stress the words as ‘dee dum dee dum dee dum dee dum dee dum’: I suppose things were pronounced differently back then – but apart from that it fits the structure, and the words make sense together too!)

My mistress’ eyes are nothing like the sun;
Coral is far more red than her lips’ red;
If snow be white, why then her breasts are dun;
If hairs be wires, black wires grow on her head.

I have seen roses damask’d, red and white,
But no such roses see I in her cheeks; 
And in some perfumes is there more delight
Than in the breath that from my mistress reeks.

I love to hear her speak, yet well I know
That music hath a far more pleasing sound;
I grant I never saw a goddess go;
My mistress, when she walks, treads on the ground:

   And yet, by heaven, I think my love as rare
   As any she belied with false compare. 

(This one’s cool because he’s all ‘I’m-not-going-to-pretend-she’s-perfect-but-I-love-her’, so he’s kind of making fun of all overly-romantic poets.)

Hopefully these give you some idea of what a sonnet looks like when it’s done well. For an idea of what one looks like when it’s done badly, here’s one I’ve written about the Olympics:

The Games are here: today is London’s day,

So let’s all gather round our t.v. sets,

And when our favourites win let’s shout ‘hurray’,

And hope that we’ve made money from our bets.

We watch the rowers row and cyclists pedal

And runners run and gymnasts well-dismount.

And pray that they can win some kind of medal,

So we get higher in the medal count.

It kind of makes the nations all unite,

Because we’re all a-watching the same things,

But really we all want to win the fight,

Despite the linked-up-ness of the five rings.

But let’s pretend that we don’t give a jot

When losing – we’re all winners are we not?

(I slightly cheated with ‘pedal’ and ‘medal’ – let’s just pretend they’re only one syllable…)

Keep shortcutting,


Shortcutting… Cockroaches

20 Jul

This week I switched my day of rest from Friday to Thursday. I have a good reason for this. Yesterday, I was incapable of blogging, due to a terrifying encounter with a horrifying beast. I was walking calmly across my hotel room floor when a dark, menacing shape flashed past in the corner of my eye. Full of apprehension, I slowly turned in its direction. And almost screamed. It was a cockroach.

Cockroaches are terrifying. Before this week, I considered myself to be brave and unsqueamish. I am not scared of spiders. I only flinch ever so slightly at the hum of a mosquito. I do have a great dislike of worms, but I put that down a to a traumatic childhood experience (I saw a boy get covered in worms on t.v.). But the cockroach is something else. For other insects, I am willing to concede that the expression ‘it’s more scared of you than you are of it’ holds true. But I genuinely believe the cockroach doesn’t give a damn. As my friends reassuringly told me (I was panicking online) as I tried to trap and squish the thing, cockroaches can’t die. They survive nuclear explosions for heaven’s sake. My foot is not going to stop them. (Before you judge me, I normally really try not to kill insects, but I saw this as self-defence.)

So anyway, what did I do? First I tried trapping it under the bin (see, I am humane!), which fortunately wasn’t too full of rubbish, but it crawled out. ‘Hah’ it said, ‘think you can stop me with a bin?’ It then, like the sneaky little ninja it is, kept darting between cupboards etc. and hiding from me so I had to be totally alert in order to keep track of where it was. After waiting for some time with a shoe in hand, heart pumping, hands shaking, breath shallow, the perfect opportunity came, and I threw a shoe right on top of it. Bingo. I then trod on the shoe a few times, hoping to squash it. At this point, I confess, I enlisted help. Said help was someone less squeamish than me, who had the guts to lift up the shoe (at this point I was terrified that the cockroach was playing mind games and wasn’t actually under the shoe) and there it was. Dead. Or so I thought. Just as I was rejoicing my victory, I saw a leg twitch. Things go a bit blurry at this point but I imagine I either jumped, screamed, or fainted.

Anyway, to make a long story short, we eventually got the wriggling corpse into the discarded binbag, tied it up super tightly, and took it as far away from the room as possible. It was still difficult to get to sleep.

So I hope you understand why I was unable to blog yesterday. I hope you are never bugged by one of these horrible things.

Keep shortcutting,

Shortcutting… African Cats

18 Jul

Unfortunately, despite my Greek background, I have only a very limited grasp of Greek, so when it came to watching t.v. this afternoon, my choices were limited. After much flicking back and forth, I came across the ‘movie’ channel, and, hoping the films were in English, stuck to it. What was on? African Cats. Sounds thrilling, doesn’t it? A little googling revealed it to be a Disney nature documentary (I had no idea they even did those?) about big cats in the Savannah. Not my usual thang, but there was nothing else on, so I thought ‘what the hey’, and gave it a shot.

What followed was a heartwarming tale of both a lion pride, with one ‘protector’ male who turned out to be a massive coward, and a cheetah called Sita who was a single mother with five (adorable) kids to protect from predators. I can tell you, life is tough for single mothers. With no government support to help her, Sita had to hunt down dinner, scare off predators, and keep track of all five kids at the same time. There was a terrible moment when she lost track of her kids, night fell, and in the morning it transpired that two of her cubs had been taken by hyenas in the night. There were tears in my eyes. But (spoiler alert), you’ll be glad to her that they had a happy ending. (Who’s laughing now, hyenas?)

As for the pride, led by Fang (who had a broken tooth which supposedly made him look hard), their drama was that the lead hunter, Leila, was getting old and so losing her value to the pack (I don’t see what Fang thought his value was but you know what men are like), and when left behind her daughter Mara was torn between looking after her mother and following the pack. But in the end, after being an outcast when her mother died, Mara managed to get integrated with the rest of the pack. There was also a threat from Kali and his four sons on the other side of the river, and it all built up to the moment when the two prides came face to face, and when they did how did Fang defend his family? By running away. Brave. So it was up to the women (as usual) to save the day. Actually, the second time Kali and co attacked, they somehow sort of just joined forces and became one pride (Fang was nowhere to be seen).

So what have I learnt about African cats? Adult cheetahs have to live ‘a solitary life’ – so in other words, they’re all single mothers (well except the men obvs), lions are all alpha males who want to rule the land, and it’s the lionesses who actually do all the dirty work. And a mane doesn’t necessarily mean balls.

So there ya go. I have learnt not to turn my nose up at documentaries. I hope that made you paws for thought. (You thought I’d gone through a whole post without making a pun, didn’t you? Don’t be ridiculous!)

Keep shortcutting,

Shortcutting… National Holidays

4 Jul

It’s the fourth of July today, and even an inattentive Brit like me knows what that means: American Independence Day! Yay! When I think about it, it probably isn’t, historically, a very good reason for  me to celebrate, but I like to see myself as a very international person who celebrates everyone’s holidays – I don’t discriminate y’all! On that note, I thought today I’d take a look at some other national holidays and try to make myself (and you) a little calendar of times to get down and partay about other countries’ achievements (I’m basically going to start with my own limited knowledge and then search random countries on the internet and see when their big days are, including as many independence days as I can find).

1st January – Cameroon – Independence Day

15th February – Serbia – Independence Day

17th March – Ireland – St. Patrick’s Day

25th March – Greece – Independence Day

26th March – Bangladesh – Independence Day

23rd April – England – St. George’s Day (this one’s legit for me)

5th May – The Netherlands – Independence Day

2nd June – Italy – Festa della Repubblica

6th June – Sweden – Independence Day

4th July – United States – Independence Day

9th July – Argentina – Independence Day

14th July – France – Bastille Day

19th August – Afghanistan – Independence Day

7th September – Brazil – Independence Day

3rd October – Germany – German Unity Day

12th October – Spain – Fiesta Nacional de España

26th October – Austria – Independence Day

21st November – Everywhere – My Birthday (I give you permission to partay!)

30th November – Scotland – St. Andrew’s Day

1st December – Iceland – Independence Day

Hope this random selection is enough to keep you going throughout a long year, and see you at all those Argentinian independence parties next week!

Keep shortcutting,