Site: French Shorthand Blog

Hi folks, Baobab here! I’ve just created a shorthand blog in French. It has stories and famous speeches written in French Gregg shorthand (par moi!) and the keys in regular French underneath. Right now, my shorthand is not at the point yet where it should be even looked at, let alone read but one day I hope to be able to churn out readable texts for your enjoyment.

I’ll also make a page soon with information on learning French Gregg shorthand, with examples and images and crazy stuff like that. I’m learning English Gregg too (slowly) so I could do one in English in a few months if there is enough interest.

Review: Plants vs. Zombies

Developers: PopCap Games | Year: 2009 | List Price: $19.99 | Buy from Amazon

Looking through the archives, I can’t believe we haven’t done a review on Plants vs. Zombies (shame on us!). I have played the game since it came out, but didn’t have the chance to buy and actually finish the game until it came out on the Mac App Store a little over a year ago.

For those of you who haven’t heard of Plants vs. Zombies (shame on you!), it’s a game aimed at kids where you place vicious plants on your lawn to defend yourself against the oncoming zombie attack. There are many plants to try, and quite a few levels to progress through. It is very creatively funny at times, and there are many things that, though unnecessary, really make the game much more enjoyable (like Crazy Dave or the music video). Although it seems quite kiddish and simple on the surface, it actually has quite a bit of strategy involved and there is a Survival mode for ultimate replay value.

Possibly even better than the game itself is the in-game music. It’s all composed by Laura Shigihara, and it’s surprisingly melodic for such a kiddy game. It embraces all the facets of the game; the composer said the three main themes are macabre, cute, and funny. The tunes are certainly creepy, but definitely not too much so, and they are very catchy. You can listen to all the songs at this YouTube channel (performed by the composer) and buy them here.

So I hope this short little overview has convinced you to try the game if you haven’t already done so, and if you have the game, why not play a level right now?

 List Price: $19.99 | Buy from Amazon

Site: Learn to Use an Abacus

People told me when I was younger that experts could use an abacus faster than an electronic calculator. That was certainly true about 20 to 30 years ago, but not so much anymore with the newer, faster calculators that have become mainstream (except with those guys which use a mental abacus). Nevertheless, it’s still nice to jump into the past about 50 years when everyone would have known how to use an abacus.

There are two main types of abaci: the Chinese suanpan, and the Japanese soroban. They are easily distinguishable. The suanpan has 2 beads on top, 5 on the bottom, and usually has 13 rows. The soroban has one bead on top, 4 on the bottom, and can have anywhere from 13 to 28 rows.

Most people learning abacus stick with the soroban, because of its simplicity. The Japanese technique associated with it allows you to add, subtract, multiply, and divide, as well as use some advanced techniques involving square roots and logarithms.  Some of them can be very long, allowing for larger numbers to be used.

The Chinese suanpan is slightly different. It is not used much outside of China, except by Chinese immigrants to other countries. Because it has all the beads a soroban has, it can do all the Japanese techniques, in addition to traditional Chinese techniques, which are more difficult but can be a lot faster. The extra beads can be very distracting to someone using the basic methods, so a soroban would be more practical. (It’s not actually that hard. I started out with a quite ancient suanpan my grandma gave me, and I’ve learned to ignore the top and bottom beads.)

Although starting out will need some mental maths, much like doing equations on paper, as you get better, and once you memorise finger movements, using an abacus can become as practical as using a calculator if slightly slower. If you or someone you know is quite young (under the age of 10), consider enrolling them in an abacus school, and they could, with sufficient practice) learn to do the amazing mental maths shown in the video link above.

To learn how to use an abacus (anyone can learn, even if you’re 50!) visit this website. It demonstrates all the main Japanese techniques and has smaller tutorials on the Chinese techniques.