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Shortcutting… Time

28 Jan

No time. That’s my excuse. That’s pretty much everyone’s excuse for pretty much everything. Taken literally of course, it’s complete bullshit. There’s always time. Time keeps on ticking by, regardless of what we do. In fact, I’d go so far as to suggest that the absence of time would be even more of a reason to get things done. It’s when time passes that’s the problem. But despite the fact that (as far as I am aware) time has been continuing as per usual, I have managed to fit a little blogging in. It’s about time.

Would you rather have a pause button or a rewind? I have often (perhaps ironically) whiled away the hours pondering this conundrum. It seemed obvious at first that stopping time would be a lot more useful and less messy than trying to go back and change things, which is riddled with paradox and anyway, as any chart-topping singer worth his or her salt has doubtless told you, what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.

Pausing on the other hand would not only let you get more done, it would also allow for some hilarious prankery (oh the fun you could have with people who piss you off). Then again, you have to account for ageing. If you kept pausing here and there to get your homework done, or stick your boss’ fingers up his nose or whatnot, wouldn’t you get old a lot faster than anyone else? You’d have to give yourself a careful allowance of, say, ten minutes per year, to make sure it wasn’t noticeable. Knowing me and my incredible lack of self discipline, I’d have been fifty by the time I was fifteen.

Perhaps then it’s better not to try and change time, but rather stick firmly to the present. But how to ensure that you’re perfectly on time? (On a side note, I’ve often wondered, if every clock in the world was moved forward five minutes, would time itself change? Spooky…) Anyhoo, might I draw your attention to a delightful new discovery of mine: Not only does this little site give you the exact time, in any time zone in the world, it is made truly special by its little time-related news bulletin. I was fascinated to learn, for example, that Ukraine is considering abolishing daylight saving time! It’s daylight robbery! So yes, I rather enjoyed that feature.

Okay, I think I’ve just about bored you for long enough with my little ramblings on the very essence and nature of time. If you’d like to explore time in popular culture, please check out Back to the Future: it’s one of my fave films. Okay, that’s it. Time’s up.

Keep shortcutting,


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… 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… Weather Songs

23 Jun

Okay, so I didn’t blog again yesterday. That’s two Fridays in a row (or whatever day yesterday was for you – check me out, catering for my international readership :D). So I’ve decided I’m going to make Friday my official day of rest because, as you may have noticed, I don’t have enough ideas for seven days a week. And you know what they say: quality not quantity! (I feel really self-conscious about phrases like that since my Shortcutting… Cliché post but it did seem necessary there.) So yes, there’s my breaking news for the day. Onto the main post…

The other day, my Mum looked out of the window, said ‘here comes the rain again’, and then, ‘how does that song go again’? I scoffed, gave her a disdainful look, and said ‘uh, it’s here comes the sun, duh!’ Apparently, and I know this is shocking and hard to believe, I was wrong. Actually, if my sources are reliable, it probably isn’t so shocking. My sources tell me that it’s a pretty famous song, so it’s likely you know it. In my defense, it was released in 1984 (yes, I’ve done my homework!), which is before my time. Well anyway, the point of this post it not to ponder over my limited musical knowledge, but rather to find weather-related songs. Basically, I have this thing where whenever I can, I burst into song when people say things (‘hello’ = ‘hello, is it me you’re looking for?’/ ‘I just came to say hello’. ) Anyway, I’ve noticed that there are a lot of weather-related songs, which are really fun to keep pissing people off with every time they try the whole ‘commenting on the weather’ small talk thing, and I thought I’d share them with you so that we can start a little flash mob type thing every time someone mentions the weather. Here’s what I’ve got:

  • Here Comes The Sun
  • The Sun’ll Come Out Tomorrow
  • Chasing The Sun
  • Let The Sun Shine
  • Ain’t No Sunshine
  • It’s Raining Men
  • Here Comes The Rain Again (apparently)
  • Umbrella
  • Why Does It Always Rain On Me?
  • Set Fire To The Rain
  • Purple Rain
  • Blowing In The Wind
  • Somewhere Over The Rainbow

Let me know if you can think of some more…

The sun’ll come out tomorrow :).

Keep shortcutting,


Shortcutting… Cliché

20 Jun

Sometimes, coming up with blog posts is like trying to get blood out of a stone. Honestly, I’ve been up burning the midnight oil trying to think of something to write about more times than I’ve had hot dinners. But hey, when life gives you lemons, make lemonade, right? So I figured, I’d just sit and think for a while: patience is a virtue, and let’s not forget that good things come to those who wait. And then, in a flash, it hit me. I must be as blind as a bat not to have seen it before. A totally original topic that’s never been done before… The cliché!

Now, clichés really rub me up the wrong way. Maybe I ought to keep my trap shut about them, but I am a strong believer that the squeaky wheel gets the grease. So let me break it down for you: avoid clichés wherever possible. Always try and find your own way of saying things. I too have succumbed to the cliché on many an occasion, as I’m sure you’ll be quick to point out if I don’t. But I do try to be original. It’s important for short things like blog posts or articles, and especially for short stories. If you’re writing a novel (and everyone is these days), it’s not the end of the world if your character’s ‘heart skips a beat’ or his ‘hair stands on end’ or ‘shivers run down his spine’ every once in a while (Jesus, what are you writing, some kind of horror story?!).  But in a short story, it’s probably better if his ‘sino-atrial node misses a nerve impulse’ or something instead. You’ve only got a few words to play with, so you don’t want half of them to belong to someone else! Vis-à-vis finding more original ways of saying things, probably ignore what I did just there of finding synonyms, and instead think of a slightly different way of getting across the same gist: to take the ‘heart skips a beat’ example again, you might instead say ‘his heart began throbbing like a dubstep bass line’ (okay I admit that wasn’t very good but I’m tired 😦 ask me again another time).

I hope that didn’t seem too much like the blind leading the blind, but I swear I gave it a hundred and ten percent!

Remember, it ain’t over until the fat lady sings… Tralalalala! Okay, it’s over.

Keep shortcutting,


Shortcutting… Sarcasm

19 Jun

I’d just like to start with a quick thank you regarding all those helpful comments on yesterday’s post. You’ve really made my blogging a whole lot easier, and I couldn’t have carried on without you. Oh and liking the post and not commenting: that wasn’t cheeky at all. It didn’t indicate to me that you read the post but you just couldn’t be bothered to help a friend out. Cheers… Okay, so you should hopefully have realized by now that today’s post is about one of my favourite hobbies: sarcasm (and let’s not forget its dizygotic twin,  irony). I would be slightly worried if you’ve been reading my previous posts without knowing this but basically, sarcasm/ irony = saying the opposite of what you mean, something which I never ever do. Before I go on to ‘being sarcastic oneself’, here’s a quick guide to some of the warning bells indicating irony.

1)  Italics: I quite often use italics to signify that I’m being ironic, so if those letters start a-slanting, it might be a good idea to take another look at that sentence.

2) Strange opinions: If someone says something to you which seems quite ridiculous, it is very possible that they are being sarcastic. If it is pouring with rain, they probably don’t actually consider it to be ‘a beautiful day’. Common sarcastic interjections include ‘that’s just great’, ‘thanks a lot’, and ‘wow, you look stunning’. (At least, I think that’s common; maybe I just have mean friends…) I should warn you though that I do have some strange opinions which might throw you off a bit, so don’t assume every crazy thing I say is the opposite of what I mean. (Yes, I really do hate sand!)

3) Speech patterns: While you do get the odd deadpanner, most people make it quite obvious when they’re being sarcastic: they sorta slow down the sarcastic words and put emphasis on them – the oral equivalent of italics. Sentences followed by ‘lol’ or a wry smile should also be more closely analysed.

Right, you should now be the Sherlock Holmes of irony detection, so you may remove your deer-stalker hat and join team Moriarty – the sarcastics themselves. Welcome. I’m  so glad you could join us. Okay, firstly, just look at the sarcasm-detection steps and try to do all the things like saying the opposite of what you mean (only if it’s obvious what your actual opinion is), and putting emphasis on certain words/ writing in italics when you do. Having mastered this, and only then, you can move on. When you get beyond rookie stage, half the fun of sarcasm is when the people you’re talking too aren’t quite sure if you’re being sarcastic or not, in which case you will need to disregard all the above rules. Don’t start with this though – remember: you have to learn the rules before you can break them!

Finally, when you are sarcastic to someone, make sure there are other people around to laugh uproariously at your joke, because the victim of your humour probably won’t appreciate your biting wit.

hope this has been of utmost use to you and I’m certain that you won’t hesitate to comment etc. now…

Keep shortcutting (no really, do!),


Shortcutting… Interviews

13 Jun

Today I attended a talk on how to be a good interviewee. Turns out, it doesn’t have to be completely and utterly terrifying. Even more interestingly, what you actually say doesn’t even matter! At risk of encouraging superficial shallowness and all that, you will be judged almost entirely on appearances. Don’t worry, I’m not talking about your dress sense or make up (much), it’s all about body language. Apparently, in communication, humans judge each other 70% on body language, 20% on tone of voice, and only a measly 10% on what you’re actually saying! It almost seems like it would be more efficient to just emit mindless mumbo-jumbo while making constant eye contact and sitting in an ‘open’ position (I’ll come to that in a minute), ensuring to ‘speak’ in a calm, confident-but-not-arrogant tone. Almost. So anyway, here’s how to deal with the different sections:

Preparationwhat you say may only be a measly 10%, but you will panic if you haven’t prepared anything in advance. Make sure you know whatever you’re being interviewed about inside out. And outside in. In other words, do your research!!! Use the internet: if the company or whatever have a website (and they ain’t good enough for you if they don’t), find out what exactly they say they’re looking for and make yourself that person: think of evidence to support you in your claims to being open-minded, organized, cooperative or whatever.

Body language: two words: 70%.Or is that three words? Anyway, it’s important. So here are some key things: open and close with a firm, assertive handshake. Make eye contact as much as possible. Smile at all times like you’re in control. Don’t fidget. Don’t fold your arms defensively. Exude confidence (love that word). One way to practise is to try answering some questions you might get while looking in the mirror, so you can see all whether you’re exuding or not.

Answering questions: I think we can safely assume that if you’re in an interview, you’re going to be asked some questions. The key is to start and end your questions clearly, and try and structure them in a clear way, answering every part of the question. Also, you will inevitably be asked some difficult ones. Think ‘what are your weaknesses?’, or ‘when have you failed?’. You can’t sound cocky but you don’t want to admit you actually have any weaknesses – exuding, remember? So you could either go with the ‘I’m a perfectionist’ type answer, which to be honest is kinda arrogant and a tiny bit cliche. Instead I’d opt for the honest weakness that is totally irrelevant: ‘I can never flip my omelettes without them breaking’, or something like that… (This wasn’t actually recommended by the woman giving the talk so yeah that one’s copyright me.)

Thank you for your time, assertive handshake, and goodbye.

Keep shortcutting,