I love getting new gadgets. They're like toys for adults (not to be confused with adult toys...) - though to be honest, I'm still a kid at heart. So what gadgets am I proud to own? Let's look!

Music Player
80gb iPod Classic - I bought this my first year at UCLA, to replace my old one that had died. Of course, that was back when 80gb was enough to hold my music library... I'm over 100gb now. I was considering getting an iPod Touch for a while, but wasn't sure if I was willing to trade capacity for features. No longer have that dilemma, thanks to my newest gadget (at the bottom).

Video Game Systems
Xbox 360 Premium w/ 20gb Hard Drive - Bought this over summer before my second year, because I wanted to be able to play Halo 3 when it came out. In addition to playing games, it does a good job of playing DVDs and video files from my USB hard drive, allowing me to watch them on my TV instead of my computer screen.

Nintendo DS Lite - Gaming on the go! Great way to pass time between class, or just kill a couple hours with simpler games. I'll be honest - I bought this so I could play the new Pokemon games, but I'm glad I did. Have picked up a few other cool games as well, and it's a nice casual (and portable) alternative to my Xbox.

Digital Camera
Canon PowerShot SD1200 IS - I absolutely love this camera. I had some really bad luck over the years with point-and-shoot cameras, mainly because I was sticking to the $100 range. My third Nikon died only a few weeks after my trip to San Diego, and I just returned it, spending the money on clothes instead. But after doing some research, I settled on the PowerShot, and couldn't be happier. It takes really crisp pictures, has lots of features, and has put up with more use than all my previous cameras put together. If you're getting a point-and-shoot camera, aim for a Canon, even if it'll put you closer to $200. Totally worth it.

Olevia 32" LCD HDTV - I bought this for myself as a 20th birthday present, to replace the crappy CRT I had been using. I wanted something to let me use the HD output for my Xbox games, but I got an unexpected bonus with this purchase - a built-in HD tuner! So now I can pick up local channels in HD in Dykstra, which is great for watching Heroes, The Office, Glee, 30 Rock, and football. I'm a little spoiled by this HD though... coming home to our non-HD 42" TV is kind of disappointing.

17" Toshiba Satellite - My old Toshiba was a good, reliable computer, but it was time for an upgrade. So I got this one for my 21st birthday, and I love it. It's a pretty good computer for $700. Super fast, and has cool little things like a built-in 10-key pad. One of my co-workers actually bought the same computer a week after me, and he loves it too. The only "problem" with it is that it's a pretty big computer, so not super-portable. But I rarely move my computer around (except to set up camp in a new location, like during finals), so it's not a huge deal. And now, it's a total non-factor, thanks to this:

Cell Phone
Motorola Droid - I finally got a smartphone, and I really don't know how I did without for so long. I LOVE my Droid. It's super fast, and can do so much. It does have a few quirks, but nothing a few free app downloads couldn't fix. It's so nice to know that even when I leave my computer, I can still do pretty much anything I'd want to. I imagine that it'd be like this with any smartphone, but I really like that it syncs with all my Google data. I love Google's services (like Blogger!), so this interconnectivity is pretty sweet in my book! Plus, the camera is pretty awesome - takes some good pictures/video, especially for a phone camera.

Of course, I still have a wish-list of gadgets to get. Most of these fill niches that aren't quite covered by my other gadgets, but some are just fun little things I'd like to have:

- Flip Video Camcorder (the Droid takes pretty good video on its own though, as does my camera)
- SanDisk Sansa Clip + MP3 Player (My iPod is kind of bulky to exercise with, so a small clip-on MP3 player would be great for that)
- 19"-22" Monitor for my computer
- Netbook (I really do treat my laptop as though it's a desktop computer, so having a super portable computer would be nice. But for now, my laptop & Droid combine to cover most bases)
- PS3 (has some good exclusive games, and it's a Blu-Ray player)
- Surround sound system
- New sound system for my car (tape deck is a little outdated...)

Read the rest >>

Art and Avatar


Ever since I saw Avatar (read my thoughts here), I've been thinking a lot more about what constitutes "art", and how we should judge it. Of course, you can only get so far before you hit a major roadblock - how do you define "art"? CAN you even define it?

I've joked (as have many, many people) about how just painting a solid red square is hardly art. Then again, I've seen this (or something similar, at least) on display in a San Diego art museum, so obviously there are some people who consider it "art". This is a difference that needs to be reconciled before there can even be a conversation about art.

I think a big problem comes from the inability of people to (consciously, at least) make the distinction between art as a subjective concept and art as an objective concept. For example, when I say I don't think a red square is art, what I really mean is that I don't think it's GOOD art. Objectively, I agree that it is art. But subjectively, I don't think it's worthy of the same kind of praise as say, the Mona Lisa.

Which is all a big buildup for me to say that for the rest of this post, when I talk about art, I'm doing so objectively. Art is something created by somebody to have some kind of aesthetic feel to it. It's a vagues definition, yes, but it really boils down to intent. If it was made with the intent of being aesthetically pleasing, it's art (objectively).

If I'm talking about art in a subjective sense, I'll bring in words like good or bad. So, with that out of the way, click below to read my thoughts on Avatar (no spoilers) as a work of art.

So then what defines a movie? Again, being intentionally vague, we can call a movie any kind of story set to moving images. It doesn't require sound, dialog, or even that the images blend together (so you could in theory have a slideshow of images be considered a movie, provided it tells a story). Though, most modern movies do include all these things, because they generally help tell the story.

By these definitions, Avatar is most definitely a movie. And since James Cameron made it to be aesthetically pleasing, it is most definitely a work of art. The interesting questions are, is it a GOOD movie, and is it a GOOD work of art? Note that these are two distinct questions. A movie can be a good work of art without being a good movie itself. And I think Avatar fits into this category.

Of course, we're hitting subjective here, but I enjoyed the experience of watching Avatar. I loved the world it was set in, and thought that the many subtle touches (moss glowing as it's walked over, for instance) simply added to that. From an aesthetic standpoint, the movie was amazing. And because of the technology involved to make it, the leaps forward in 3D viewing, and the overall visual depth of the movie, I certainly consider it a good work of art.

When you look at Avatar as a movie, however, then you need to compare it to other movies, by the criteria that you would judge other movies. This includes the visuals, as well as the dialog, story, music, and much more. Here is where I think Avatar goes to being sub-par. The story, as I've said, is totally unimaginative. I don't think it even tries to be anything other than a rehash of previous things. The dialog is poor (though with some unintentionally funny parts), and the score is nothing special. The wonderful visuals cannot carry it as a movie, even though they define it as (good) art, so as a movie, it is sub-par.

Just for fun, let's compare it to another movie. The one I have in mind is also a sci-fi epic that pushed the boundaries of technology for its time. And it also had a story that was a social/political allegory for its time (and an aggregate of many stories that came before) just like Avatar. That's right, I'm bringing in Star Wars.

I don't think there are many people who try to argue that Avatar was a better movie than Star Wars (the first one, to keep it fair). That's because while they have many similarities, the manner in which Star Wars was put together vastly exceeds that of Avatar. They aren't on the same level.

But when you compare them as art, they're closer. Star Wars is still quite a bit better in my book, because it is good art on many more levels. But the way you experience Avatar is unlike anything I've ever seen, and indeed, unlike anything that's been created so far.

So while it may be a sub-par movie, it's a great work of art. The biggest problem is that the vast majority of people can't make this distinction between art in general, and movies in particular. This leads to lots of reviews giving it extremely high praise as a movie simply for the visuals. And like I told Vicki, we really need to qualify our reviews.

If only the masses would go for that...

Read the rest >>

Movie Review - Avatar


So I got to see Avatar in 3D yesterday (for free!). In case you haven't heard much about it, Avatar was a movie that James Cameron has had in mind since pretty much after he finished with Titantic. The movie focuses on a conflict between humans and the indigenous people of the planet Pandora. It's also supposed to be a breakthrough in filmmaking technology, using cameras specifically designed for the film.

There was a lot of hype for this movie, and I'd heard great things, so I was excited to see it. And ultimately, I think it was an enjoyable movie. Visually, it was one of the most impressive movies I've ever seen. A lot of times, I felt like I was watching a really long cut-scene in a video game. The 3D was really well done, which gives me a lot of hope for the future of that media. There were no 3D gimmicks - it was just used to add good visual depth to the movie. The environments were incredibly detailed, and you could just get lost in how awesome the scenes were.

The problem with the movie, however, was that it was predictable. And by predictable, I mean it was completely unimaginative. A lot of reviews compare it to Dances With Wolves, Ferngully, and Pochahontas, which are all good comparisons. About 10 minutes into it, you realize you've seen this movie before. You know where it's going. There are no twists (at least, none that you won't anticipate).

Really, without the stunning visuals, this movie is pointless. It's actually a pretty bad movie, just cased in a stunning shell. My friend Dan couldn't get past how bad the story/dialogue was, and he hated the movie. Personally, I think that the simplistic plot allowed me to just focus on the visuals and enjoy that, so I liked it for that.

Ultimately, it comes down to how you feel about this, and what you're expecting. It's definitely a movie that you'll either love or hate watching. I happen to fall into the former camp.

Read the rest >>