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Movie Review: The Triplets of Belleville

The other night I watched a DVD with a friend. We just had a few to choose from and between The Triplets of Belleville and some war film we decided to go with the Triplets, not knowing at all what it was. Les triplettes de Bellevilleis the true title as it’s French and made by a Canadian, Sylvain Chomet. It begins with a two-dimensional black and white cartoony animation of three women singing and various characters coming on stage like Fred Astaire and Josephine Baker. Josephine’s famous banana costume is attacked by male patrons from the audience who turn into monkeys.

I was a bit surprised when the movie started to see it was a cartoon. I wasn’t ready to watch a long one but the camera pulls back on the triplets, vaudeville singers to show it is on TV and that we’re in the room of a very short old woman, with mustache hairs, one foot shorter and a lift on her shoe, plus an eye that rolls which she must push up. Her grandson is a melancholy child and she tries to find ways to make him happy. His parents are dead and nothing seems to cheer him.

Although this is French with English subtitles, the main characters never really talk. It is only the background announcers for TV and the Tour de France who talk. The actions and images tell all. The style of the animation changes with the grandmother and her grandson, Champion. It is a painted set, with subtle colors, indicating and idyllic life, and shifts again when in Belleville. Grandma buys Champion a puppy, and he is momentarily elated but saddens again, until she discovers he has an interest in bikes and buys him a tricycle.

Bruno, the young puppy, has a traumatic experience with a toy train, and trains continue to plague him throughout his life, for real, and in black and white dog dreams. If a cartoon character could steal the show, Bruno comes close. This cartoon character displays dogness so well that you can’t help but laugh at his antics and his fat body and spindly legs. In fact, the attention to individual detail in this film is what makes it stand out.

Bruno would have won in the endearing category if it wasn’t for Grandma Souza. She loves her grandson dearly and clearly continues to innovate ways to do numerous things. Years span by in a lovely painted style of animation, where they live in a tall brick house, that is eventually encroached upon by building and expansion, until it’s not so lovely. But that doesn’t stop Grandma from helping her grandson train for the Tour de France. Nor Bruno from barking at every train.

Champion is really a two-dimensional character compared to Bruno and Madame Souza, but then all he lives for is bicycling and he is a passive character. Grandma on the other hand peddles along on Champion’s outgrown tricycle (still the right size for her tinyness) using a whistle to encourage Champion on his training. He is skinny except for massive thigh and calf muscles which she massages with electric beater, hand lawn mower and vacuum cleaners.  She fixes bicycle rims with a tuning fork and the use of a miniature Eiffel Tower. She carries her overgrown grandson up stairs, puts him to bed and sees to his every need. For every problem she finds a way to fix it. But she is a terrible singer.

Eventually Champion goes into the Tour de France only be to be kidnapped along with other exhausted bicyclists by the French wine mafia and stolen away to Belleville. However Madame Souza and Bruno don’t give up and through beautiful scenes find themselves trying to trace Champion’s captors in the big city. Belleville looks like it could be in France but there is a chubby statue of liberty and every person on the street is huge and round, probably a tongue in cheek comment about Americans.

Grandma has no money and as she sits under a bridge she finds an old bent rim and begins to play a tune on it when three elderly ladies, the triplets, appear and hum a tune. They take her in but they seem a bit crazy, not letting her use the vacuum cleaner or read a paper. But they too have a way of surviving. They hunt frogs with dynamite and there is frog soup, skewered frogs, cooked tadpoles and frog popsicles, much to Grandma’s dire dismay.

All of these truly funny antics are for a reason. Every nuance or little quirk ties back into the plot as Grandma discovers the mafia’s nefarious plan. She and the triplets, with the help of Bruno and some ingenuity, rescue Champion.

I can’t say when I saw an animated film that was as charming and truly funny as this. The imagery and design are beautiful and quirky. The mystery of the kidnapping is played out well and without words. The actions truly speak stronger than the words. The storyline is intriguing and complex in its way, and the characters are just so much fun to see. It is endearign to a point that I would see it a second time.

I started out thinking I didn’t want to watch a cartoon and was completely charmed by it. This film came out in 2003 and won numerous awards, including a Genie for best motion picture, and was nominated for many more. If you get a chance to rent this film, it’s highly recommended. I’d give it nine stars (or more) out of ten.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Triplets_of_Belleville

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Keeping Track When Your Cat Makes Tracks

This was first published in Technocopia in 2000. I have updated the links. Remember the technology may have changed in nine years.

I heard a vet on CBC radio say that cats need a square mile of territory each, hence why they fight so much in the city. My cat certainly likes his outdoors but if he actually traveled a square mile he’d be made into road pizza by the semis that hurtle along the road several blocks away. So where does he go during the day when he’s not eating and sleeping?

Curiosity may have killed the cat, but it’s also bitten Technocopia’s readers who have asked a similar question: How can I keep track of my cat (or dog)? Of course, most vets will admonish that the way to keep your cat safest and to know where it is, is to keep it indoors. For those who believe in individual freedom for felines tracking them is not such a problem, or is it?

What happens if Sigmund your purebred Burmese is catnapped, or Frodo the Pekingese dog escapes house arrest yapping into the wild blue yonder and isn’t seen for hours? There are even people in the agricultural sector who would love to know where their cattle get rustled to or find that little lost sheep in the hills giving birth to three-headed twins.

While people are interested in tracking their animals for different reasons, the technology has not lived up to need. Global positioning systems (GPS) on the market for everything from yachts to directional maps in cars have not been viable for tracking animals. The cat’s collar would need a receiver for gathering information from the GPS satellite, and a transmitter to send to the home base—your home PC or a receiving center.

GPS tracking has the additional problems of losing transmissions emitted from building interiors, too big and heavy for most animals to wear, only certain regions are covered, and it would need constant battery replenishment to operate twenty-four hours a day. Until the units become more compact and lighter they’re not a good bet for finding your cat.

The GPS problem seemed solved when a company called Global Trak announced devices such as Pet Trak, Execu Trak, Senior Trak and Kid Trak, a line of personal GPS tracking devices small enough to put in a purse or on the wrist of a child. For about $695 you could purchase a regional license and a demo unit. However, Pet Trak turned out to be more elusive than your cat before going to the vet’s. People who paid the money and expected goods in 1998 are still waiting. Bob Parks wrote a very informative article for Wired and today you will find nothing when you do a search.

Microchip embedding is currently used in the UK as well as the US, Canada and other countries. While this technology helps identify an animal it will not help track one. Peter Watson for Bayer UK said that all cats and dogs imported to the UK are required to have microchips. Many animal protection societies and vets are using these regularly.

The implant (is encased in bioglass, an inert material, and is about the size of a small rice-sized pellet. It is subcutaneously injected into the dorsal area of the neck. Recorded on the chip is a ten to fifteen-digit alphanumeric code that designates the country where the chip was implanted, the manufacturer and an ID number. The microchips should last about ten years and can be easily removed by a vet using a local anesthetic. It is now called Tracer Advance and could be smaller longer lasting. You can check it at: http://www.tracer-microchips.co.uk/

The handheld reader for the implant (costing about £370 in 2000) transmits a weak radio signal of one frequency, which is absorbed by a small coil attached to the microchip. This powers the microchip with enough energy to transmit the encoded information back to the reader’s receiver. The reading range is just two inches so this is best for identifying an animal once it’s found.

Destron Fearing of St. Paul’s, MN also supplies their HomeAgain microchipping. The American Kennel Club (AKC) endorses HomeAgain and part of the registration fee they collect goes toward funding free distribution of scanners to veterinarians and animal protection agencies across the US. http://www.akc.org/public_education/responsible_dog_owner.cfm So far, as of 2000, over 500,000 animals have microchips implanted and over 28,000 animals have been located and returned to their owners.

HomeAgain uses the BioBond anti-migration cap, which is a porous polypropylene polymer that inhibits the migration of the pellet by building up fibrocytes and collagen fibers within the animal. Cost is about $12.50 and a vet injects the chip. The scanners are similar to Bayer UK’s and work on Radio Frequency Identification (RFID). http://public.homeagain.com/index.html

Having your animal tagged in some way for identification would be helpful if it does become lost then found. Pellets can be implanted on animals as small as birds or reptiles and as large as horses.

Another monitoring system had been developed by CompuGuard Services in Oakwood Village, Ohio (looks like they filed for bankruptcy in 2003). They specialized in prison bracelets or house arrest technology and were slightly incredulous that we would consider such an item for tracking animals. A base unit was attached to the phone line and had a built-in delay feature of several minutes. This allowed for the unit to make sure the person had left the area where they were supposed to be. Once the unit confirmed the person was gone it transmitted on a special radio frequency to the monitoring center. Maybe everyone escaped and they went out of business. A special drive-by unit (if a person phoned in that he/she was attending an AA meeting) would allow CompuGuard to confirm that the person was in the vicinity within five hundred feet.

The most promising development in tracking wayward animals was Micro Trax by Harris Corp, in Melbourne, Fl. Harris hoped to have Micro Trax up and running in twelve months of funding. Micro Trax was a radio-based system and would require an infrastructure of call centers.

With Micro Trax, a domino-sized receiving unit, which could easily fit on an animal collar, woud transmit a spread spectrum wave signal. The receiving center picks up the signal that can penetrate buildings, car trunks, basements, glove boxes, etc., and accurately locate an animal to within ten meters of its location. If you were up in the mountains in a log cabin Micro Trax might not work. Its efficiency would depend on the widespread infrastructure of operating centers and less populated areas were bound to have fewer of these centers.

The biggest problem with Micro Trax or any other unit attached to a collar is that the collar can fall off or be taken off if your feline is catnapped. Brian Holt of Harris Corp. believed the bigger market would be in making sure your dog or cat stayed within set perimeters and if it went beyond, the receiving center would send a message to you via Internet or by phone.

Likewise, he said it would be one way of keeping track of whether your child ends up where he/she is supposed to be. Micro Trax could also be placed with certain household items or jewelry. However, the unit could be removed in the rare case of abduction or theft. If the unit is made so it can’t be removed there runs a risk of injuring the wearer in the attempt to remove it.

Holt said that units would probably run about $100 with a monthly service fee of $10, comparable to buying a pager. Different services could be offered with varying price ranges. As well, units could be devised of different sizes and ruggedness depending on the need.Harris Corp. was determining the market viability and what consumers actually wanted. If you check therir site today http://www.rfcomm.harris.com/ they’re big on communications for defense, military and emergency aid, but there is nothing about Micro Trax.

 Until some other company comes up with the infrastructure for locating your favorite, wayward pet, there are several other precautions to take for the safety of your animal. You can try any of the following:

  • Make sure the animal has a safe collar with proper identification.
  • Have it tattooed at the local SPCA or by your vet.
  • Check your area or your vet for microchip implant availability.
  • Keep your pet indoors.
  • Fence your yard or put your dog on a long chain (advisable for dogs but cats need to be away from climbable objects so they don’t hang themselves).
  • Take your dog to obedience classes so it learns the rules.

SOME USEFUL SITES:

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Weird Science: It’s all About the Brains


We have a few years to go until brain or head transplants are carried out, and long before they’re common, if ever. However, serious research was done on transplanting heads in the 50s. Bizarre to think of but then heart transplants were once unheard of. This fascinating article (below) opened my eyes.

The article asks near the end, but would we want to do this? Earlier it raises the possibility of such science being used for someone whose body is dying but the brain is alive. Would it be beneficial to paraplegics who cannot use their bodies because of spinal cord injuries? In theory, with enough scientific research, head transplants could become possible.

Would the the person pick up phantom memories from his/her host body or have phantom pains from the old one? Would there be a disembodied or disassociated feeling? Since phantom pain is a very real phenomenon and there is some indication of people with heart transplants having memories that belonged to the host’s heart, it’s an interesting realm of the unexplored.

Vladimir Demikhov was one of the pioneers, in Russia, where Stalin was trying to beat the West in medical science. A no-holds barred approach ensued where Russian doctors dreamed the unthinkable. Demikhov, in the height of the 50s, believed any organ could be transplanted, like hearts and lungs. We have now seen many of those and in the last few years, people getting heart, lungs and stomachs transplanted all at once. Now that a face transplant has been done, who knows how close we could be, but sometime just maybe, your head could end up on another body.

Transplanting a head is probably easier than transplanting a brain, since there are less very touchy nerves and such to reattach. Still it’s a formidable thing, to put a head on another body. However, Robert White, in the US, then took up the challenge and transplanted a brain into the neck of a dog. The brain lived for several days but no one could ask it if it still thought. The freakish Frankenstein dog with the puppy’s head attached lived for six days, both dogs panting if hot, drinking and retaining individual personalities.

White went further and replaced one rhesus monkey’s head with another. It could drink, bite and watch what was going on. But it couldn’t move its body. Since there are still a phenomenal number of nerve threads that would have to be reconnected, it was beyond the doctors’ abilities. White argued that a paraplegic whose body was dying could at least have another body to keep the head alive, even if they still couldn’t move.

Dr. Frankenstein may have been a bizarre imagining of Mary Shelley, but only time will tell if science can transplant our heads. I joke about having my brain put into a new body and someday it could be true. However, I do have to say the whole two-headed dog head thing is kinda gross and creepy, to say the least. Shades of Mars Attacks.

http://www.dailymail.co.uk/pages/live/articles/technology/technology.html?in_article_id=426765

or: http://static.scribd.com/docs/kewb70kz1183c.pdf

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Weird Pets

rabbit, bunny, pets, Dutch rabbit, animals

Dutch Rabbit Wiki Commons

The other day we got talking about the weirdness of some pets. I have a friend whose cat will eat any flowers she brings into the house. One of my cats loved bread and would eat a whole loaf if he could. Another friend had a cat that loved fruit. It’s known that cats will eat corn, olives and melon. What appeals to their taste buds, I don’t know. But other animals can have just as many odd habits.

I grew up in a household that had dog, cats, rabbit, budgie and guppies (a turtle at one point too). My particular pet was the rabbits. I had several successive Dutch rabbits. They remain small with (the most common colors of) grey or black hindquarters, white upper torso and black ears with whtie on the face. The paws, including the hind ones will usually be white. Kind of the same as the tuxedo cats.

In Calgary we kept the rabbit in a hutch outside. It had free run of the fenced yard during the day and when weather was really cold, we’d bring it in though it probably would have been find in its hay. Rabbits are easy to train to use the litter box and are fairly calm though if they’re startled the sharp digging claws that they sport can do some damage.

I think I had three rabbits in all but maybe it was only two. I remember Snuffy and then the male. My mother named him after the Minister of Highways because they were both odd. I didn’t know what she meant at the time but now might hazard a guess.

Gordon Taylor was a bit different for a rabbit. Rabbits are naturally timid, but Gordon had to stand up to his own with two cats and a German Shepherd. In the summer I’d see one of the cats chasing the rabbit around the yard and whereas this might give concern to some, we soon learned not to worry because the next few seconds would see Gordon chasing the cat around the yard.

It could be that the cat was running in terror because Gordon, true to his species, was a very amorous bunny. I don’t know if he ever tried to hump the cats but we have pictures of him hanging on the Shepherd’s tail (all that he could reach) and trying to make mad passionate love to it. The dog pretty much rolled its eyes and ignored him.

Gordon’s odd penchants ran to food too. As I teenager I would sometimes eat a raw wiener (why on God’s green earth, I don’t know) and one day I was doing this and holding Gordon. He leaned over and took a giant chomp out of the wiener. I stood looking down at him in shock, saying, You’re not supposed to do that. You’re a vegetarian.  Not only did he swallow that piece but he took another bite.

Gordon also was very fond of chocolate. We had to put him in a kennel once when we went away. I greeted him with a chocolate bar, which he nearly swallowed whole. I didn’t know then that chocolate isn’t good for animals, especially dogs, but if it did Gordon any harm, he never showed it.

Being a cocky little rabbit with a big dog attitude, Gordon also loved to race around the yard. Sometimes he’d kick up his hind feet and squirt. I don’t know what this signified but he did it to me once. I was so mad I picked him up and dunked him in a tub of cold water. He never did it again.

Gordon died mysteriously, his neck broken. We don’t know if a dog got into the yard (ours would have said something) or if he hit the fence. He wasn’t savaged and his skin was unbroken.

I stopped having rabbits for pets after the last one died, a little female, in a way so gruesome I still shudder (and won’t relate here). But after that I said no more. Rabbits rarely died natural deaths and it was too much. Still they were gentle and interesting pets and definitely had their individual personalities and predilections, like Gordon Taylor. He gets to go down in history as one of the quirkiest pets I had.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dutch_rabbit

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Bad Dog

In Vancouver, a man and his dog were recently attacked by three full grown Pit Bulls and a pup. It seems that the person who owned the dogs was living in his van and is now being questioned about similar attacks around BC. Of course, the media has latched onto this story (should I say, like a Pit Bull that won’t let go?) and is doing talk shows, etc. asking whether Pit Bulls should be banned. Ontario passed such a law against Pit Bulls.

When I was a kid, the breed that everyone feared and called “vicious, uncontrollable, unpredictable” were Dobermans. German Shepherds were also in there too at one time. The breed changes with the decade and people’s out of proportion fears raised to such levels by the media. Yes there are dog attacks, and yes a few end in death but it’s pretty hard to say it’s one breed. Statistics (which are sketchy at best) do not seem to show how many of one breed bite compared to the total number of that breed in an area but it seems to be less than 1 %. Banning a breed will just transfer the eyes of the media and the fear to another breed.

The only time I was ever bitten by a dog, I was walking up an alley and a Dachshund ran out and bit my ankle. I was so shocked I just stood there. It didn’t break the skin and it couldn’t reach higher, but I had done nothing to provoke it, nor had seen it before it bit.

I grew up with German Shepherds. They were fine and loyal. We did have one that showed more aggression, even as a pup. It was overly protective of my brother and might have been a problem but it was killed before it was full grown when it escaped the yard and was hit by a truck. That was only one dog.

I’ve been around a lot of Rottweilers, and terriers and dogs of all sorts. I’ve never been bitten except by that one crazed wiener dog. The “disposition” for a dog to bite is more likely to be linked to how it’s raised. People sometimes (not all the time) will buy a particular dog because they think it will protect them or make the person look more macho. Often what goes hand in hand with a vicious dog is a combination of poor or no training, lack of proper socialization and lack of proper control or attitude by the owner.

Instances of dog attacks should probably be counterbalanced with instance of dogs saving people, and good dog behaviour. There is far more of the latter or people would not have dogs as pets. I’m sure that if studies were done of many owners that owned vicious dogs, it would show the above (they didn’t train their dog) or a problem with socialization of the owner as well as the dog.

It wouldn’t be a bad thing for every person who buys a dog of any size or breed from anyplace (pet store, breeder, SPCA) to have a certificate that shows that they have had training on how to handle and socialize a dog and that they will then take that particular dog for training. The dog will then have its own certificate and should it be sold/given away, there is proof of its training too.

Such percautions would lessen the incidences of unruly dogs or dog attacks. It will never get rid of them. Sometimes dogs are provoked. Sometimes there is one that is just “off.” It’s best to never forget that a dog has the mentality of a 2-3-year-old. But with training the incidences would definitely go down. Some interesting facts: more bites happen from dogs that are leashed/chain than by those that aren’t. More intact dogs bite than those that are neutered/spayed.

When teenagers are out of control or in trouble it’s often related to what their parents are like and how they act (Just ask anyone who has ever had to teach problem children.) Likewise, if there is a bad dog, look at the owners and ask if they know what they’re doing.They may claim they do but were they trained to handle another species?

This site has some good information. http://www.goodpooch.com/MediaBriefs/GPcanineprimer.htm

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