Kung Fu Panda 2

By إبن البيطار (Own work) [GFDL (www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC-BY-SA-3.0-2.5-2.0-1.0 (www.creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia CommonsYet another sequel this weekend (there seem to be a staggering number of them out and upcoming right now), this one more for the kiddies.

Kung Fu Panda 2

“This could be the end of Kung Fu.”

Plot-in-a-nutshell: A threat to kung-fu is unleashed by a scary peacock. Only the gang from the first film (who else?) can stop it.

See it if you like: CGI cartoons with decent humour, great visuals and a developing story.

Like the Shrek series, Kung Fu Panda takes the events of its first film and starts to add more detail, fleshing out the characters. In this one, we focus on Po‘s past. After all, did you really thing a panda was fathered by a stork?

Surrounding this extra level of characters detail is a story about a terrifying force which could destroy kung fu as we know it. Po and his cohorts are charged with hunting down the source of this evilness and destroying it. This is done in a very visually pleasing way with some good gags and great voice acting from a superb cast.

I confess, however, that I never really warmed to it in much the way the first one never really got my imagination going. I much preferred the original on DVD after a couple of watches – I didn’t think that much of it in the cinema either. No idea why not – they’re both my kind of film – but something just didn’t hit home for me.

At least it’s a more original sequel than Hangover 2, and it kept all three kids who were with us entertained. Little Mister was so enraptured he forgot to drink his Capri-Sun for about 20 minutes.

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Scratch-ing an itch

Scratch logo
Image via Wikipedia

Sorry for the awful pun. It had to be done.

For those who don’t know, Scratch is a programming language geared primarily at younger children. We use it with our S2 classes (around 12-13 years old) although I am aware of many primary schools who also introduce it to children at a younger age.

Frankly, after a bit of struggling to begin with, I’ve found it to be a great language. Sure it doesn’t have a solution to every problem and yes, you often have to fiddle around a lot to get it to do precisely what you want but for the level it’s aimed it, it’s a fantastic tool.

The best thing is the layout. It’s bright, clear and gives very fast results. The colour-coding of different data types makes it easy for children to spot how the programs are put together. There’s no typing necessary (other than the occasional number) as the programs are built using jigsaw pieces with code on. The pieces change shape dynamically as code is formed into loops and the like. All very pretty.

Over the holidays I spent an hour or two with Little Miss (aged 10) who was very impressed with the simplicity. She managed to create a couple of short animations on her netbook. I went into full-on geek mode and created the attached Ghostbusters game (no copyright theft intended – it just seemed like a nice name).

Use the mouse to point your gun in the right direction and the space bar to fire. There are seven levels, on each of which you have ten bullets and have to hit the ghost five times. Clear a level using exactly five bullets and you get a bonus.

You can download Scratch from http://scratch.mit.edu/ for free. There are versions for Windows, Mac and more penguin-oriented operating systems.

My ghost-busting title is available as a single file here: Ghostbusters (ZIP file, 2.8Mb)

UPDATE: you can play the game online here!

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Bowling For Soup (acoustic performance)

Bowling For Soup Acoustic
Image by Iain Purdie via Flickr

I first Saw Bowling For Soup at Download some years ago and thought they were rather good fun. When I saw they were playing Glasgow last year I rushed to get a ticket and wasn’t at all disappointed (Anni had told me they were great when she saw them in Cardiff back in 2007, I think). It turns out that Jaret and Erik do an acoustic show, and this is what I went to see this week at the Liquid Rooms in Edinburgh.

I wasn’t 100% sure what to expect, but it turned out to be excellent. Certainly a departure from what I’m used to, but one of the best gigs I’ve been to in some time precisely because of it.

Jaret and Ryan Hamilton (from Smile Smile) kicked things off as a duo called “People on Vacation”. They did a handful of nice songs then tootled off to be replaced by “Linus of Hollywood” who did a solo set, which was very well received.

With a very short set change, and in between having their photos take at the side of the stage with umpteen fans, half of Bowling For Soup grabbed their guitars and ploughed through a set lasting nigh on two hours. This was partly due to a very accommodating venue. The gig was, apparently, meant to end at 10pm, but they ran on until just after half past. Thanks to Liquid Rooms for that! I guess they were still coining it in over the bar…

I don’t think a hit was left untouched, and the acoustic versions were suitably different in places to warrant a separate album, in my opinion. The crowd were singing along from the start and the banter was as good as you’d expect from BfS. Any shout was responded to in good humour, the between-song dialogue genuinely funny and it was obvious you were watching two long-standing friends doing what they dreamed of doing when they were kids.

They even managed to squeeze in a version of “Dance Song” from the current album (soon to be outdated by a new release in three weeks). So we have an acoustic version of a rock song parodying a dance song. Cool.

The icing on the cake was the two guys in front of me trying to pull the two girls next to them… who ended up getting off with each other.

A great night with a great band in a great venue with a great crowd. Roll on October and the full band coming back for another tour!


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Help a friend

Pictograms of Olympic sports - Swimming
Come on in - the water's lovely

I’m not normally one to plug things like this, but this is on behalf of a very good friend of mine who’s doing something utterly cool.

Later this year Sharon is taking part in the Great North Swim, by far the biggest physical challenge she’s ever undertaken. She will be raising money, hopefully a lot of it, for Help For Heroes – a UK charity which helps the members of the armed forces and their families who are killed or injured in the line of duty… and then not taken care of properly by the government which sent them wherever they were when it happened.

It is a fantastic cause and the swimming will be done by a fantastic woman.

Please, if you have a spare few bob, head over to Sharon’s JustGiving page and make a donation.

Thanks, folks. Normal service will be resumed once I think of something disgusting or ranty to write about.

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