The Box Trolls – A Short Review.

A quick disclaimer. This post may contain spoilers.

A Warm Hearted Animated Film.

We took my daughter and five of her friends to see this film as her birthday treat. I would consider any children’s film which manages to hold the attention of six 7 and 8 year old children for an hour and a half to be a success, and The Box Trolls definitely met that criteria. And as a bonus it was good enough that my wife and I both enjoyed it too.

The film is a stop-frame animation, though I suspect there may have been some CGI post processing. But there is a lovely section right at the end of the film where two characters are standing talking, and one of the animators begins to be ghosted into the shot as the camera pulls out. This allows you to see both the characters and the set that they are being filmed in, but also the painstaking work of the animators. The speech that one of the characters gives about someone moving his arm in tiny movements is both amusing and full of pathos.

The Story.

The story takes its sensibilities very much from fairy tale type stories. A child has been taken, and is presumed to have been killed by the subterranean Box Trolls of the title. We are given reassurance that the child is safe, and is being raised by the Box Trolls. The child grows up, becomes known as Eggs (from the name written on his box).

Then an exterminator, a social climber who longs to join a Guild devoted to the love of cheese, takes advantage of a public outcry to obtain the commission to rid the town of the Box Trolls once and for all. The Box Trolls, peaceful and kind by nature are no match for Snatcher and his unpleasant crew, and their numbers dwindle rapidly. Eggs decides that they must fight to save themselves.

In this fight it is revealed how Eggs ended up being raised by the Box Trolls, and just how wicked Snatcher can be.

As is befitting for a children’s story, the good triumph, and the bad are vanquished, and those who were uncomfortable with their involvement are given the chance of redemption.

Final Thoughts.

A great film for children that parents can enjoy too. My only complaint is that I found myself trying to identify one of the actors from their voice for almost the whole film. It was a relief when the credits came round and I was able to identify Richard Ayoade.

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Blogging 101, Day 1: Who Am I, and Why Am I Here?

I have had this blog for a while, and I sporadically update it. However, I received the notification regarding the latest blogging course being provided at The Daily Post, and I thought that it might offer me the opportunity to develop a better blogging habit.

It is September the 15th and the first assignment is in. Who am I, and why am I here?

This is a timely assignment. My daughter has just started at a new school, and has been given her very first piece of homework. There was some maths, but there was also a page where she was asked to draw a picture of herself and to write a little bit about herself. I was helping and encouraging her, so we got some scrap paper and wrote phrases about her. These were things like ‘Likes and Dislikes’, ‘What others think of her’ and ‘What her aspirations are for the future’. Sadly she chose to write only a very little on the page itself. Like most of us, I suspect she was nervous of putting herself  ‘out there’ for her teacher to see.

I thought it would help to do something similar.

Likes:

I am an unabashed geek. I love to play around with computers and gadgets of all kinds. I love to push the envelope on the way that I use kit. I tend not to run the default system where it is practical to hack things. I’m a huge fan of Linux, and I use it as my main operating system at work (on servers and my own desktop computers) and at home (though my laptop is dual boot so my wife and daughter can use it).

I love Italian food, particularly pizza.

I would spend most of the day where I wasn’t using a computer reading. I like to read a weird plethora of books, often ploughing my way through instruction manuals and user guides for software, but I also love fiction.

My favourite author is Jane Austen, and my favourite book is Pride and Prejudice. I’ve read it so often that I can recite sections of it, I can pick up a copy and pick a page at random and start reading, and will know exactly what has happened beforehand and what is yet to come.

I like animals, especially dogs. I also enjoy walking the family dog, especially in the morning when I take the time to think about the day ahead.

Dislikes:

I’m firmly of the opinion that life is too short to waste much time on hate. But there are some things which will cause me to get my soapbox out and go on a rant. Today isn’t the day to be so negative.

What People Might Say About Me:

Of course, the real answer is that you would have to ask them. I aspire to many things. How well I succeed I simply don’t know.

Aims and Aspirations:

I’m not a particularly ambitious person. I like my job, and I love that I get to spend time with my family who are the most important thing for me. I aspire to collect knowledge and to learn every day. I watch my daughter and enjoy the fun and pathos that she brings into my life.

There you go. A little bit of introspection about who I am.

Why Am I Here?

The answer to this depends on how profound you want to be at this particular juncture. I’m here, writing this blog because I like the idea of writing. I like the idea that ideas shape language and language shapes your ideas, and I want to pummel my ideas to see what happens. I am also here because if I have one major weakness when it comes to writing it is that I am hopelessly verbose. I think the best cure for this is to develop a less verbose habit, and that is best done by practice.

The other answer is that, as far as I’m concerned I’m here, like all of us because of an accident of cosmic happen-stance. As far as we can tell there was a rapid inflation of space-time about 13.6 billion years ago. As the space expanded it cooled and condensed into elementary particles which clumped together into simple elements which then clumped into stars which lit up the early universe while turning lighter elements into heavier elements. The stars exploded scattering their remnants into space where they clumped again to form other stars. Some of the elementary material clumped into smaller balls of matter which rotated around the stars and cooled and coalesced as planets. One of the planets, nothing special just happened to have the right conditions for the formation of very simple self replicating molecules. These molecules began a race which would eventually be labelled ‘The Survival of the Fittest’, and began to change with replication, eventually forming simple cells, then multi-cellular life and then a myriad of life forms each ideally suited for the conditions found on the planet.

Eventually one of the higher life forms on the planet developed a slightly different mechanism for survival. Whereas other life always relied on bigger teeth or stronger muscles this animal relied on a brain which was capable of modelling the world around it and cooperating and making tools. The human race took this ability and ran with it, and soon (in geological and biological terms) this species covered most of the world and were more successful than any other species apart from bacteria.

And then came the computer, and the internet and the infinite number of monkeys battering an infinite number of keyboards…

I don’t believe in any deity. And even if you were to provide information which showed that there was a finger on the button that triggered the big bang I would not consider any of the claimed gods worthy of worship. They all reflect the bigotry of their creators and the social mores of the time they were dreamt up.

 

It Wasn’t A Graduation, But It Was Lovely.

Yesterday was my daughter’s last day at her infant school. She has been there for three years, and has been happy there almost all the time.

To mark the end of their time at the school they held a special leaver’s assembly. It was a simple affair. Once all the parents and other children were seated there was a procession of each of the children down the aisle of the church (it is a Church of England school), while their teacher said something about what sort of pupil they were, and what their memories of the child would be. It was very sweet, each child wearing a hand made cardboard mortar board.

I’m very glad to say that the school wasn’t silly enough to use terms like graduating, graduation or graduate. These are seven year old children who are leaving one school and moving on to another. They have come a long way in the time they have been at their current school, but they have a long way to go as well.

The wonderful parts of the whole event were:

  • The understandably proud look on each child’s face as the proceeded down the aisle while the teacher sang their praises.
  • The multiple photo opportunities for individual children, groups of friends and families.
  • The fun ‘throw your hats in the air’ photo opportunity.
  • The chance to say hi to the former teachers that the children had had, but who had moved on in the interim.
  • A yearbook full of wonderful memories and sweet biographies. The spelling is sometimes hilarious due to the use of phonetics, but the sentiments ranged from sweet, through funny to full of pathos and almost heart breaking sadness.

A new, exciting, and sometimes scary adventure awaits the children who left the school yesterday, but a great deal has been done to prepare each child for a bright future.

Linux vs. Windows – Another Linux Success Story.

When I was purchasing my home laptop, I chose a Dell. One of the reasons that I liked the Dell store was the way that I could choose a system and then tweak the requirements as needs be.

As I was running through the options, things like processor, memory and disc size, I remember deliberately choosing not to have a webcam at all.

The reasoning was simple. I was planning to use Linux at least part time on this new computer, and add-ons like webcams were, I thought, difficult to use, or poorly supported. If I didn’t bother having them then I wouldn’t need to fiddle to get them working.

Now, spool forward three or four years. My daughter got a book for Christmas which boasts ‘Augmented Reality’, requiring a simple program install and a webcam. So I borrowed a webcam from work (we have it for those occasions when interviewers want to Skype) and took it home.

Obviously the ‘AR’ software only runs on Windows or Mac, so we booted the laptop into Windows, plugged in the webcam and waited while Windows did its thing.

It is worth noting that Windows 7 does an excellent job of detecting the device and installing the drivers, but it took an inordinately long time to do so (more than 5 minutes, less than 10). But once it was done, it worked very well.

When I got to work this morning I decided to try an experiment by plugging the webcam into my desktop machine running Linux (its a Mac, but it dual boots into Linux because, well, I like it like that!).

I plugged it in, then started up ‘Cheese’, the webcam program where you can add weird and wonderful effects to you images. I then selected ‘Preferences’ and was able to switch between the computers built-in webcam and the USB webcam straight away (with no apparent drivers required).

Now I have a horrible feeling I will need to buy a webcam for home…

Cool Tree, and Lizzie Too.

Image

Lizzie is at Summer Camp this week. One of the reasons that we chose this particular holiday activity is that the location is just a little walk off of the bus route I use to get to work which meant that with a bit of planning I could take Lizzie each day, dropping her off before walking into work, and then picking her up on the way home. This has worked out well, though the walk is a little further than little legs are really happy with, and takes a lot longer than I had expected! But in the evening we take what I call a short cut, but isn’t really. The Botanical Gardens lie between the summer camp and the bus stop. Normally there is a charge to go to the gardens, but as I work, in part, for the Plant Sciences department, I don’t have to pay. And the walk is a nice one, away from the roads. Lizzie particularly likes the tree pictured, so last night I took a picture. If you look closely you can even see Lizzie standing at the foot of it…

There is no escape from Stalag 33

We have a rabbit. It would be most accurate to say that he is Lizzie’s rabbit, but I actually look after him most of the time. I let him out of his hutch in the morning, feed him, make sure he has water and that his litter tray is in the corner of his run where he tends to use it, and in the evening I coax him back into his hutch for the night.

Last weekend, out of the blue he suddenly started burrowing.  And, unsurprisingly, he is good at it, and pretty soon there was a large hole under his hutch, and he looked headed for freedom.  Lizzie was worried because she didn’t want him eaten by a fox, I was worried because I didn’t want to come home and find that he had disappeared, and I would have been left dealing with a very upset five year old!

Consulting with the man in the pet shop (we had gone to stock up on food)  the advice was to line the bottom of the run with chicken wire. Luckily I still had a whole roll of the stuff left over from making the run in the first place!

So today we coaxed Buddy (the bunny) back in to his hutch so that we could remove his run, flip it over and add the chicken wire.  I have to say, I didn’t like doing it. I worry that it might be uncomfortable on his feet, and it feels a bit prisoner of war, but it is definitely preferable to a heartbroken little girl.

Buddy and Lizzie when Lizzie first arrived.
Buddy and Lizzie in the garden.