20 February 2022

Flags of the World Quiz

Are you an expert at matching the country with the flag? Then why not try this quiz to test your knowledge of twenty diverse flags of the world?  Pictured below is a screenshot of the first question to give you an idea of what the quiz looks like and the level of difficulty.  The "20" in the purple circle on the left shows how many seconds you have to answer the question!

We’ve created this in Kahoot – one of the leading quiz platforms in the world.  All you need to do is click this link to go to it.  Before you start the quiz, you will be asked to type in a “nickname” – the name with which you will do the quiz.  You will then be taken to your twenty questions.  Each flag has four different choices – and you have to guess which is the right one.  Of course, you might not have to guess if you are a flag expert!  However, you will only get 20 seconds to answer each question.

Your points will be added up according to how many you get right – plus the time in which you answered the question, so it’s a good idea to answer them as quickly as you can so you can beat off the competition!

As you go along you will see how you are doing compared to other people.  Don’t worry if someone is beating you – it’s just for fun (plus you can have another go if you want).

We have tried to include some of the more unusual flags of the world for this quiz.

If you are used to Kahoot and want to use a pin instead, then go to kahoot.it and use 02635257.

So, how many can you get correct? Good luck!

PS This quiz is open till 12PM on March 19, 2022. If you come across this and want to play it, drop us a line in the comments section below.

19 February 2022

The Online World – Help with Revision to Pass the Exam

If you study the BTEC L2 First Extended Certificate in Information and Creative Technology (or the BTEC L2 in IT as we more simply call it where I teach!) then you will know that Unit 1 (The Online World) comes in the shape of an external exam.  Past papers are quite difficult to find and – of course – take an hour to do.  That's the best part of a class gone.

These “Do It Now” activity sheets are designed to get students ready for the exam in short bursts. There are currently 12 revision sheets which you can buy as two separate sets or save yourself a little money by buying both sets at once. The Online World is a tricky one – it’s not so much that it is mega-difficult in itself. What makes it challenging are the  vast amount of learning aims (from online services to packet switching to transmission methods – and many, many more) plus the fact that the exam is only an hour long.  Each year I hear from my students “It would have been better if I had a bit more time").  If they had been able to recap the learning aims more thoroughly they might have been able to use the sixty minutes to better advantage.

I’ve been teaching on the BTEC Level 2 in IT since it started and I know the Online World (and its sibling exam, Unit 2, Technology Systems) are challenging for the reasons I have outlines above.  I’ve also taken on board the kind of questions that come up repeatedly and incorporated them into these sheets so that recall and recap can be done as painlessly as possible. There can even be an element of competition with these.

In response to the challenges of the The Online World, I developed  series of revision aids which have proven to be a huge hit with my learners.  They can be used both in and out of the classroom and take the shape of a set of recall questions. If you have not heard of “Do Nows” – they are brief warm-up activities that are usually at the beginning of a lesson to help students to start thinking. They are rooted in Dewey’s constructivist theory as well as Hinton, Fischer & Glennon’s active learning theories of student-centred learning (there's the science stuff!).

These can take place in the usual Online World session but can also be used at the beginning of any IT classes when the Online World exam is coming up. They are designed to be quick (five minutes for the questions, five for the answers) and to provide a different revision and recall route for your learners. However, they could just as easily be given out as homework or used by individual students for short revision bursts.  Students can adapt them in to their own revision timetable with ease – they can do them singly or even get a member of the family to ask the questions if they do them at home.

Each activity sheet contains two multiple choice, two “explain” questions and three “true or false” statements. The latter does not exist in the exam as a question type but is intended here, to give students quick and easy definitions for course elements that regularly appear in the exams. Elements from all Learning Aims are included on each sheet wherever possible, but Learning Aims A & B are at the forefront. Answers are included, of course!

As they are time-constrained they reproduce an exam-style atmosphere where students must spend five minutes silently working on the questions. The answers can then be delivered in a way that you choose, to best suit your learners. I tend to ask individuals the answers and choose them according to ability. This part of the activity can often provoke discussion which will help students recall the information again.

The activity sheets are formatted in PowerPoint – you can edit as you wish.

These activities have proven highly popular with my learners and I hope will with yours too!  If you are a learner reading this, also feel free to use them- they are on the website with the aim of helping you get through this nasty little exam!

18 February 2022

The History of Writing Tools

The ability to write down information is one of the crucial inventions for humanity. It is how we communicate, teach, and share ideas and discoveries. It allows formulating, recording, and protecting any type of data. And it is fascinating to see how much writing tools have evolved throughout history.

In the modern world, a lot of writing is actually typed. Office workers type letters and presentations, and students type their essays, case studies, or term papers. Sure thing, we still write by hand but much less than even 20-30 years ago.

Of course, students might feel like they have enough writing in college. There are plenty of assignments to do and a constant lack of time. But with this hustle of fitting in with deadlines and academic requirements, it is easy to forget how unique this ability is. Of course, it requires a lot of practice and effort like any other skill. No wonder a lot of students do not feel confident in their writing.

If this is the case, there are plenty of helping resources out there, from online courses to WritePaper.com, a fantastic academic writing service. There, one can find not only excellent advice but also professional help editing, proofreading, and writing or any college assignment. If you are struggling with assignments or simply do not have time, you can always ask for expert help!

And here is a brief history of how all of that came to be.

Source https://unsplash.com/photos/QdRnZlzYJPA

It All Started with Scratching

The earliest way of putting information down was not about staining the surface. People first learned to incise and engrave letters and pictures into various tools.

It is believed based on archeological foundlings that first writing was developed in Mesopotamia. And at that time, a tool every student should know about was a clay tablet. They were used instead of paper, which will be invented much later.

People drew on wet clay tablets by hand. They could be re-used if still moist or baked to keep them permanent.

In ancient China, historians found engraving into animals’ bones or turtle shells. However, it is hard to tell whether it was the only way to store information. Maybe it is just the only one that survived due to its durability.

Greek and Roman culture had another way of storing information – wax tablets. They used styluses to carve words out. Wax tablets allowed erasing things and re-using tablets. Those were basically the notebooks of the previous era. Students used them to learn; others used them for drafting, making lists, or accountings.

But none of those methods were perfect. Clay tablets were heavy and not very easy to transport. Wax ones were not very durable, especially under heat or sun. So eventually, it led to the usage of ink.

Here Comes the Ink

The first evidence of ink in writing comes from 3200 BC Egypt. So it almost co-existed with incising; however, it was less widespread at the time. The historical view describes two types of ink at the time - staining ink that penetrates the surface and pigment ink that does not penetrate the surface.

The issue was in finding the formula that would work well in terms of flexibility and usage as well as longevity.

Some of the materials used for making ink at that time were:



     Aniline dye;

     Iron gall, etc.

The ink was applied to the surface with reed pens. Reeds were widely used in the Middle East. They were quite good for Persian, Ottoman, Urdu, and Arabic calligraphy. But reed pens were not very comfortable or flexible, so they didn’t last very long.

Soon after, the quills entered the picture; they were especially popular in Europe. And they stayed one of the primary ways of writing for centuries. Quills are much more flexible and could hold ink in. They were made from the feathers of large birds - those were usually the first 5 flight features from the left wing.

Such precision had to do with the specific curving of feathers. It made writing from left to right easy for right-handed people. And the papyrus was also invented around this time. Yet, it was not the only thing used for writing - parchment and vellum were also used at this point in history.

One of the main problems with quills is that they are not long-lasting. They need to be sharpened. And one usually holds up only for a week; after that, it needs to be replaced. But from what existed, it was the best option anyway.

Interestingly, metal pens have existed in Europe since Roman times. But there was no means of mass production back then, which made them relatively unavailable for many people.

Source https://unsplash.com/photos/Aet6IBKXJSg

Invention of Printing

Printing also has a long history. The practice of transferring the image from one surface to another has existed for ages in the form of engraved seals. Those are found in Mesopotamia, Roman Empire, Egypt, and ancient China.

Around the 8th century, xylography was used in China. Texts were cut into wooden blocks that were used for prints. The oldest text created in such a manner dates back to 704-751 CE. But archeologists found it only in the 1960s.

In Europe, printing had its own history. Johannes Gutenberg discovered it around 1452. There is no direct connection between his experiments and ancient Chinese practice. So as for now, it seems that printing was invented twice in different parts of the world.

Gutenberg created the printed Bible in 1455, and by the 1480s, there were multiple prints all over Europe. This invention truly changed history. This turn made writing and reading more accessible to student artists, scholars, and the wider public.

19th Century and Today

Here is where it all incredibly sped up. The industrial revolution made possible the mass production of metal nibs for writing tools. James Perry was doing it first in the year 1819. Another producer was John Mitchell, who manufactured them in 1822.

A pen with an ink reservoir was patented in 1809 by Bartholomew Folsh. And in 1827, a fountain pen made its way to the writing scene thanks to the French Government.

In 1888 John J. Lous invented the ballpoint pen. In 1906 mechanical pencils appeared - and the first solid-ink pen was introduced in 1907.

Also, in the second part of the 19 century, typing was invented. Back then, people used typewriters, but it was the same QWERTY keyboard we use today on our laptops and computers.

The 20th century only adds to the fast development of technology and more access to education. Of course, tools got more advanced, but we still use pens, pencils, and the same keyboard type for writing.

In Summary

Writing tools have come a long way. People went to graphite pencils with erasers and ball pens from using a reed or sharp stone. Some tools are only in history books now, and others are still used. The choice lies in the usability and longevity of the instrument.

Although most writing happens digitally now, everyday things like pens and markers probably won’t go anywhere soon. They are still extremely widely used because of how easy, affordable, and comfortable they are. And luckily, no birds are involved in this process anymore!

17 February 2022


If you are going to conduct guided tours around an area infamous for crop circles then it’s probably best, for your clients’ sake, to drop the cynicism. Not so Barbara, however, who treats the latest minibus of UFO tourists as a cash cow to be treated with the utmost sarcasm. Her tune, however, may have to change when – as darkness approaches – the engine of the minibus mysteriously fail.

The truth is out there and it’s about to show itself...

This entertaining short was directed by Chris Thomas  and written by Allan Macleod.

Hollywood Nights Time-Lapse

Welcome to Hollywood - from the Hollywood Boulevard, the Sunset Strip and the Hollywood Hills not to mention the Hollywood Tower, this time-lapse by iVideoMaking has the lot.  You may think that this was all filmed in one hectic evening but even these masters of time-lapse couldn’t quite manage that – all told this took approximately 60 nights to capture.  The result is, however, amazing.

Lake Kaindy – Kazakhstan’s Sunken Forrest

Lake Kaindy is situated near the village of Saty in the Kungey Alatau Mountains (a range in the North Tien-Shan) in the central Asian country of Kazakhstan.

There wasn’t always a lake there: the trunks of pine trees jutting out of the water provide testimony to that.

So what happened here?

The lake is only 400 meters length but in some places it is over thirty meters deep.  It was formed as a result of the massive 1911 Kebin earthquake.  There was a huge landslide which blocked the gorge and a natural dam was formed – and endured.  As the waters rose and it submerged the Schrenk's Spruce (the place means lots of spruce) growing in the area.

The Hyrax - The Elephant's Cousin

Meanwhile, over at the Ark in Space they have cranked up the cute quotient to the max with a feature on the hyrax. This rather lazy looking example is doing what the hyrax loves to do the best - sun bathe!  Although they may look like an over-sized guinea pig, their closest living relative is in fact the elephant.  Sounds bizarre, perhaps - but there's nothing quite as strange as real life!

Image Credit
Image Credit No1

14 February 2022

Teddy Bears are for Lovers

Collin is something of a serial Casanova and, just when his girlfriends’ thoughts turn to love he heads off the issue with a gift – a teddy bear.  This has gone on for some time but one evening when Collin is in bed, the teddy bears come back to exact their revenge on him.  Directed by Almog Avidan Antonir, this short film features some of the most murderously cute teddy bears you will see this week.


Over at the Ark in Space there is a terrific set of photographs of animals caught in the act of fighting. Some of these conflicts are simply play - but in others you can see a real tooth and claw (or beak and wing for that matter) struggle going on. Wild!

He that fights and runs away
May turn and fight another day
But he that is in battle slain
Will never rise to fight again.

Image Credit Flickr User fPat

Upside Down Feeling

Arthur may be young but he has an over-developed imagination which, together with his obsession with death and disease, leads him to ask questions beyond his years.  While his sister responds with the self-assured glibness her teenage years demand, Arthur may well find the more profound answers he is looking for from one who lived and suffered long ago.  Written and directed by Eddie White, Upside Down Feeling has won a number of awards, including Best Drama at the 2016 South Australian Screen Awards.

Black Skies

A young woman survived a massive tornado in her youth.  Years later she believes that she was somehow spared by the storm and attempts to call it back to a point where reality and fantasy change places.  Make what will of this beguiling short by Alejandro Adrian – it has been created for you to interpret it as you wish.  One thing is for sure, however – I bet you watched it all the way to the end!

The Campbell–Stokes Sunshine Recorder

Before the dawn of the computer age scientists who wished to record the amount of sunshine in any given place had to be inventive.

A variety of sunshine recorders were invented, with the Campbell-Stokes Recorder quickly becoming the most popular.  In fact many are still in use to this day.

If You Have Never Wanted to Visit Barcelona, You Will After You Watch This

Bareclona is one of my favorite cities and it is easy to see why after watching this fantastic hyperlapse by Kirill Neiezhmakov.  If you are new to the cosmopolitan capital of Spain’s Catalonia region this will probably make you want to visit Barcelona in the very near future.  This video shows off two things – first the beauty and diversity of Barcelona and its architecture: secondly, Neiezhmakov’s consummate skills when it comes to the art of the hyperlapse.

6 February 2022

Among the Ancients - A California Timelapse

The Eastern Sierra Mountain Range is home to some of the world’s most ancient trees as well as spectacular terrain and stunning views of the night sky. Photographer Michael Shainblum captures the majesty of this part of the world beautifully in this timelapse.  Born and raised in California he feels a special affinity to this particular mountain range – this was obviously made with great love for the place.

Luke I’m Your Father

If you happen to be two things today then this will amuse you.  First, you would probably have to be something of a Star Wars fan and secondly you should really be in a slightly silly mood as well.  This song was created by writer, filmmaker and video editor Rohan Francis for his students in an after school program he used to work for.  Well, that’s his excuse, at least but I think you will agree that this doesn’t really need one!

How Did Anthropology Begin?

The history and roots of anthropology can be difficult to trace but if you want to know how the methodology evolved then this video is for you.  It traces the study of various aspects of humans within past and present societies to its modern roots when the question what does it mean to be human was first asked in a particular way.

This entertaining and educative animation was created by Visual Effects and Motion Graphics compositor Glyn Jenkins for the School of Anthropology of the University of Wales.

Jaçana – The Big Foot of the Bird World

This is the Jaçana. A fairly unprepossessing wading bird, but take a look at those feet and claws! This really is the big foot of the bird world! Above is the African Jaçana, one of eight species which inhabits the world's tropical zone from Asia to the Americas. Our sibling site, the Ark in Space has the story of this unusual bird as well as some incredible photographs. Go take a look!

Image Credit Flickr User Lip Kee

The Break

Do you do a job which, little by little, has overtaken your life so that instead of doing a job you have become the job?  Spare a thought for Mo, then (we are calling him Mo even though he isn’t named in this short film!).  As a self-employed man, he has found himself with a little spare time between assignments and, do what he might, he cannot get his job out of his head.

Of course, when you’re a hitman that might be difficult.  Take a look at this entertaining, darkly comic short film directed by Nathan Turner of Roy's Boys Films and starring Greig Ritchie and see how this particular workaholic tries to resolve this particular issue.  It may not be quite what you expect!

The Lifeguard Towers of Miami Beach

Lifeguard towers can be found the world over.  Yet not many places can boast as many unique examples of this form of architecture as those along the eight and a half mile stretch of Miami Beach.  All told there are twenty five towers guarding those who use the beach. At once functional and decorative, they contribute beautifully to the overall aesthetic of this Floridian resort city.