Ethereality News & Weblog

May 30, 2010

Denon AH-D7000 review

NEWS:
The registration to the second run of my workshop closed much earlier than usual because too many people signed up for it and there’s already a waiting list. I’m as surprised as anyone, since the class filled up half-way just after the first couple of days of opening for registration, and that’s before CGSociety even started announcing and promoting it. When it filled up so quickly and people were put on the waiting list, my jaw was on the floor. I think it’s probably because there were already people who couldn’t make the first run and they were already waiting for a second chance to take the workshop, and the glowing testimonials from the students of the first run probably got some people excited too.

For me, this is once again proof that if you put your heart and soul into something and work very hard at going above and beyond the call of duty, people will notice, and they will appreciate your efforts. I was very fortunate that there were students in the first run of the workshop that were open-minded, receptive, intelligent, curious, and hard-working. They made the teaching experience a pleasure, and I hope they will continue to benefit from my instructions down the road in both their artistic and personal journey in life.

WEBLOG:
My Denon AH-D7000 finally arrived, and I’ve been putting it through its paces during the last few weeks. My perspective on the D7000 is from a slightly different angle from most people who have reviewed it, since I have used the previous generation of Denon flagship AH-D950 headphones from mid-90’s to 2005 or so. It was already falling apart around 2001, and I kept taping it back together until it could no longer be fixed and looked like crap. Here’s the D950 all beat up, with electrical tape, worn out pleather earcups, snapped off housing…etc:
denon ah-d950

denon ah-d950-2

It’s been with me all over the place throughout the years though, and will always stay in my memory. It still sounds great too, after the countless dropping on the floor, accidentally blasting at full volume, getting crushed/knocked around in the luggage…etc.

And here’s how the D7000 compares to the previous flagship model:

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denon-ah-d7000-1

What was immediately apparent to me about the sound of the D7000 is that it carried the torch of the D950 into the modern age. They have a very similar sonic signature. The D950 have that somewhat hi-fi sound where the treble and bass seems to have that smiley face EQ’d enhancement (just enough to be “exciting,” but not too much to become grating and fatiguing), while the D7000 is more accurate, but still retaining the excitement due to the superior sub-bass and detailed treble. The D7000’s sub-bass is definitely more substantial in the 30Hz range, whereas the D950’s sub-bass starts to roll off after 40Hz or so. The D950 emphasizes the upper bass for more punch, but the D7000 does not have any obvious peaks or dips in its bass region and is remarkably flat all the way down to 30Hz. The D7000 is also a tad more refined across the entire frequency range–higher resolution, if you will. In terms of comfort, the D7000 is very comfortable to wear–much more than the D950, since the D950’s earcups are shallow, with your ears touching the drivers, and it can get uncomfortable after a while (my ears would hurt after prolonged listening with the D950). The D7000 is hands down the most comfortable pair of headphones I’ve ever worn–its clamp is feather light, with luxuriously soft pleather earcups that are very well cushioned. Although the clamp is light, the headphones stay on the head pretty well, but I wouldn’t do any dramatic head-banging with it on though.

Compared to my Sennheiser HD650, the D7000 sounds like a smiley face EQ’d version of the HD650, with the treble being sharper, and the sub-bass more extended and prominent. The one thing I wish the HD650 could do better in is the sub-bass, since below 40Hz it starts to roll off, and the D7000 takes care of this problem, with the sub-bass remaining prominent and flat all the way down to 30Hz (I haven’t tested frequencies below 30Hz yet), which is a rare thing for headphones. The sharper treble of the D7000 can be a tad too bright on listening material that’s mixed/mastered on the bright side, and on such materials, I would prefer if the D7000’s treble is slightly more subdued. Although the D7000 is a closed-back design, it might as well be open-back because it barely isolates outside noise at all; however, the strange thing is that it isolates the headphone’s output much better, so leakage isn’t nearly as bad as with actual open-back cans (in other words, it sucks at blocking outside noise, but controls leakage into the outside world pretty well). Comfort-wise, I do think the D7000 is more comfortable due to the feather-light clamping of the earcups, but with pleather, no matter how soft, will never be as comfortable as velour, since pleather will get too warm and your face might sweat a little (or at least get slightly sticky). I bought a bag of headphone sanitary covers and with them on, the D7000’s pleather problem is solved. The sanitary covers are of similar material as some of the disinfectant moist wipes, so while they are soft, they are still not as soft as velour. At least they don’t get sticky like pleather though. The HD650 while has very soft velour earcups, clamp a lot tighter, but it’s a snug kind of tight, and quite comfortable, unless you have a ultra-sensitive head where any amount of pressure will give you a headache. I never had any problems with the HD650’s clamping pressure. Here’s how the D7000 looks with the sanitary covers on:

sanitary_covers-4

One of the reasons I got the D7000 was with the wish that it would be like if the Audio-Technica ATH-M50 and the HD650 got married and had a kid. So, does the D7000 sound anything like that? Well, yes and no. I already talked about how it compared to the HD650, so now I’ll talk about how it compares to the M50. One thing I really liked about the M50 is its sub-bass capabilities, remaining prominent down to 30Hz. Not many headphones can sound like there’s a subwoofer in your head, and the M50 is one of them. While the M50 sounds pretty neutral and flat in general, it doesn’t sound quite natural–as if the engineers somehow pushed and pulled it into sounding that way, instead of it naturally sounding that way with the way its components naturally work together. For example, the treble has a slightly metallic feel, as if a very narrow band of the treble frequencies was EQ’d to get that clarity, but it’s carefully tweaked so that it sounds very comfortable and never fatiguing. In fact, the M50 is one of the most comfortable headphones in terms of how pleasant it sounds. It is never too bright, but has plenty of clarity. The same goes for its bass–it’s full and substantial, but never overwhelming like some of the bass-head headphones where the bass is so bloated that it intrudes into the other frequencies.

So how does the D7000 compare to the M50? In terms of sub-bass prominence, they are about the same, although the D7000 distorts less when reproducing pure 30Hz sine wave test tones. The D7000’s treble is sharper for sure, and the overall clarity is also better, making the M50 sound warmer in comparison. The soundstage of the D7000 is also very good–almost on par with the HD650, while the M50 has a more typical closed-back sound with smaller soundstage. In terms of comfort, while the M50’s pretty good, the D7000 is definitely more comfortable. Without the sanitary covers, the M50 gets warm faster than the D7000, but with the covers, the M50’s pleather problem is also solved. Here’s the M50 with sanitary covers on:

sanitary_covers-5

In conclusion, the D7000 is a beautiful sounding pair of headphones (though with obvious flaws), possessing authoritative sub-bass presence and punch, a smooth, clean, and detailed sonic signature, a big soundstage that’s highly unusual for a closed-back design, very comfortable to wear, and visually attractive in that “premium high-end” style. Some people say the D7000 has recessed mids, and I agree. To me, it’s not just because the treble is more detailed and the sub-bass is substantial that it creates the illusion that the mids are recessed–the mid-range is actually recessed–at least compared to my Klein + Hummel O 300D‘s and other headphones. But it needs to be said that the recessed mid-range is in general not a good thing, especially when the vocals and instruments end up lacking body and weight on the D7000. Whether it sounds a tad bright and sibilant in treble depends on personal taste. I’m very sensitive to bright sounding headphones and speakers, as I find them very fatiguing and grating to endure–as if my ears will start bleeding if I keep listening, and the D7000 usually sounds detailed instead of fatiguing, but on some really bright material it becomes brighter than comfortable for me. It’s only somewhat of an issue though, as most of the music in my collection are not mixed and mastered by half-deaf engineers who have lost most of their hearing above 6Khz. 😀 But when the recessed mids combine with the slightly sibilant brightness, it can make some material really splashy, such as the song “William, It’s Really Nothing” by The Smiths–the hi-hat, tambourine, and strumming of the guitar all blend into this splashy mess that has no real body or definition. While the treble is up for debate, I don’t think the bass is–since I did extensive tests on its bass region and found it to be very flat and neutral all the way down to 30Hz and probably lower too.

The D7000 is a premium high-end pair of headphones, and as such, its price tag reflects that. Is it worth the money? I paid $571 for it before taxes and shipping, while some places sell it at its full retail price, which is $1,000. I don’t think I would pay $1,000 for it, but at $571 it’s acceptable (relatively speaking, since high-end anything is always a game of diminishing returns. It sure doesn’t sound five times better than the M50. In fact, with the recessed mids and slightly bright sound, it’s hard to say if it’s really “better”–maybe just different). Will I sell off my other headphones and keep just the D7000? It’s too early to say right now–I’ll have to live with the D7000 for a while longer before I even contemplate that thought.

To accommodate the new arrive in my headphone collection, I got a triple stand with adjustable arms. It’s very convenient and flexible, and since I don’t foresee myself adding anymore headphones, I think it’ll do just fine:

headphones_stand-1

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Now, in the context of serious audio work (mixing, mastering…etc), how doe the D7000 fare? Would I use the D7000 for that purpose? As you probably guessed from my review, the answer is probably no. It’s more of a “fun” pair of headphones, although its bass frequencies are very good–accurate enough to mix with, I can’t exactly use a pair of headphones just of one frequency range. The treble is a bit too sharp and the mids are a bit recessed, so it’s not as balanced as I would need for critical work. In comparison, I’d say the M50 and the HD650 are both more balanced overall. But at the same time, if I used it for audio work, I could end up with a warmer sounding mix that has great mid-range clarity and very balanced bass–maybe that’s not so bad after all.

Mosquitoes are a big problem in Asia, and even living up on the 7th floor, I still get insane number of mosquito bites during the summer. I used to use repellent sprays and they don’t smell very good and I hate having to spray myself down every day. I’ve tried liquid repellents that you plug into an electrical outlet, and I’m always thinking that they are bad for my health, especially when I have all the doors and windows closed during the summer due to running air conditioning. I also considered one of those bug zapping lights, but they are really loud whenever it zaps something, and that kind of loud snapping sound would keep us awake at night, which defeats the purpose in the first place. Finally, I found carbon dioxide-based UV lights with a running fan that traps mosquitoes and let them die of dehydration. We tried it for a week and found that it does work if you follow the instructions closely, and we ended up buying two more to disperse among the different areas of the home. They look something like this:
mosquito_light

The trap basically uses the UV light in conjunction with chemical reaction that emits carbon dioxide that attracts the mosquitoes (mosquitoes find prey by following exhaled carbon dioxide). There is no snapping sound since the trap doesn’t kill mosquitoes that way–it just sucks them into the trap with the fan and then the fan will dehydrate them until they die. I’m pretty happy with this method so far, although you do have to follow the instructions on where to place the traps, what time of the day to turn them on, and to have them as the main light source whenever you’re not in the room–all of which makes them more effective.

After trying out various demos of writing software and doing lots of comparisons, I have finally decided on the one I’ll be using from now on, and it’s Writer’s Cafe, which has one of the best implementations of tracking multiple storylines, which is a really helpful tool for structuring complex plot developments. WriteItNow is also very strong, with a very nice character relationships chart and very intuitive GUI (far more so than Writer’s Cafe). If it wasn’t for the fact that Writer’s Cafe can do screenplay formatting and multiple storylines mapping, I would pick WriteItNow. But now I don’t have to choose because when I corresponded with the creator of WriteItNow and offered many suggestions on how to improve it, he liked my suggestions so much that he gave me free activation codes so I could use the software. What a nice guy! If he implements my suggestions, I’ll gladly pay for a license, as I think with some improvements, WriteItNow could be much better than Writer’s Cafe in terms of intuitiveness and usefulness.

I finally received my PS3 games, and I’ve been playing Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune, Killzone 2, God of War Collection, and Demon’s Souls. So far, Killzone 2 feels a bit shallow, despite how gorgeous it is visually. God of War is trying my patience a little since I was never really a fan of platformers, and I’m mostly playing it for the story, which means the gameplay can feel a little like a chore for me at times. While combat is done very well, it’s also kind of shallow in general. Demon’s Souls is insanely hard, and I’m not quite sure how much punishment I’m willing to take before I just drop it altogether. Drake’s Fortune is probably the most fun so far, but mainly because of the writing–it’s more entertaining than the other games in general for me because the gameplay is more balanced between tedium and variety, (I’m not into puzzles, and Drake’s Fortune doesn’t have too many of them) although the platforming is a bit annoying a times. I guess I’m really just a FPS, action/adventure, and western RPG guy at heart. Platformers were never really my thing, as well as sports, RTS, J-RPG, racing, simulations, MMO’s…etc.

Quickie movie/TV reviews

Lost (season six) – Finally, it ended. I’m somewhat disappointed by the series finale, and I think the amount of mystery and the weight given to them compared to the explanations offered are way too unbalanced. If this is supposed to be a show about characters, then they should have scaled back the mysteries and concentrated on the characters, but with all the sci-fi, supernatural, and mythological elements in our faces constantly, What we got for answers are just underwhelming. The tone and the scale of the mysteries built up during the six seasons should have culminated in something epic and mind-boggling, and nothing short of biblical proportions would’ve been satisfying. It was nice to see all the characters finding closure though, including long-dead characters (although some were missing, probably due to logistical reasons like working on other films/TV shows). I don’t know if I’m the only one who thinks so, but Elizabeth Mitchell is much more attractive in Lost than she is in V. Part of it is because Juliet’s personality is more attractive to me than Erica’s, and I also think the stylists and makeup artists are better on Lost as well (even when the characters look haggard), not to mention the writing is better, so the dialogues in turn make the characters more interesting in Lost.

Arrested Development (season one) – I have heard so much about this show, and I finally gave first season a shot, and while it’s pretty entertaining, I found it pretty empty ultimately. I’m a firm believer that comedies must have some kind of emotional core so that we could care about the characters that we are laughing at/with, and I just don’t feel that with any of the characters or plot developments in this show. I’ll give second season a try and see if it gets any better.

The Office (season six) – This show could do no wrong in my eyes. I have loved just about every single episode since the pilot, and unlike 99% of TV series out there, it’s not showing any signs of fizzling out.

Kick-Ass – One of the most irreverent, entertaining, and fun movies I’ve seen in a very long time. All the critics who bashed for its depiction of a vigilante little girl taking down bad guys don’t really have any compelling arguments, because if she was “Hit-Boy” instead of “Hit-Girl,” there probably wouldn’t be nearly as much fuss made over the whole issue. Also, her violence was always directed at the bad guys–real scumbags that had it coming, so it’s not like she was out there killing grandmothers or little babies. As for the cussing–please, it’s a stylized, cartoony version of reality, much like how in the 80’s it was popular to have elderly folks act violently and cuss. It’s shock entertainment and irreverent fun, and you’re not supposed to take it seriously. I suppose the critics who had a problem with Kick-Ass are likely the kind of person who can’t stand Quentin Tarantino‘s films, and they probably hated Ellen Page in Hard Candy too.

May 12, 2010

Second run of “Becoming A Better Artist” starting on June 14 (enrollment open now)

Filed under: Art & CG,News — Rob Chang @ 7:48 pm

NEWS:Just wanted to let everyone know that the second run of my workshop, Becoming A Better Artist – Critical knowledge and techniques for today’s artists, will be starting on June 14, so if you missed the first run, now’s your chance to enroll for the second run. I have no idea if/when there will be more runs since my life is anything but predictable, so don’t take it for granted that there will be more.

The first maiden voyage of the workshop went very well, and it was very rewarding to see the students having all these exciting and mind-blowing “aha!” moments where the realities of their artistic world were forever changed. This next run of the workshop will be even more in-depth and complete due to all the things we expanded on in the first run, and I’ve updated the course with a lot of new additional material, so you guys are definitely in for a treat.

May 4, 2010

It’s a showdown! (Software for writers)

Filed under: Art & CG,Film/TV/Animation,My Life/Musings,Video Games,Writing — Rob Chang @ 11:09 pm

WEBLOG
I recently researched into the writing software market to see what’s changed since the last time I checked, which was several years ago. I simply got tired of having all these different files of notes, character profiles, prose, screenplays…etc in various folders. To my surprise, the market seems to have grown quite large, with a lot of different software competing for your money.

The most popular type seems to be the “creative writing aid” software, where the software holds your hand and actually helps you develop your storyline, characters, conflicts, pacing, structure…etc. I personally think software like that are useless for people that actually know how to write and does not want to be lead by the nose by some writing software designer who has his own idea of what a good story entails. The worst of the bunch is Dramatica Pro (AKA Storyview), where you have to answer a ridiculous number of questions about your characters, their background, their personality traits, their motivations, their various psychological traits, and a bunch of other stuff that may or may not have any relevance to your story. Then the software’s story engine tells you how you can construct the conflicts between your characters and how they can become your plot points, themes, and so on. If I was the kind of person who couldn’t write my way out of a paper bag, had no original idea, and understood nothing about dramatic pacing, structure, character development, then maybe I’d try Dramatica Pro, but anyone who actually knows how to write would hate being told or prodded constantly about how and what to write.

Other software in that category includes Contour, WriteWay, Storybase, Master Storyteller, Story Weaver…etc. All of them get in your way if you know how or what you want to write. Contour is particularly laughable because it only allows you to create one character–the protagonist, and then you must tell the software how your protagonist is an orphan at the beginning of the story, then a wanderer, then a warrior, then a martyr at the end. And you also have to follow a rigid pattern of small and large defeats and triumphs in the structure of your story. I can’t think of anything worse for a writer than to force some clichéd Hollywood story structure onto any story idea, regardless of what it is. Rigid software like that are only marginally useful for those who want to write the most mainstream and predictable Hollywood movies. What about an ensemble cast, or if the timeline is played out in not in sequence (such as Pulp Fiction)? What if there’s no protagonist and the main character isn’t supposed to triumph or lose but simply is (such as American Psycho)?

I then stumble upon some software that were far more useful and flexible–ones that stay out of your way and lets you write the way you write and tell the story that you want to tell, while providing you with a flexible space to do it in. Scrivener and Storymill, Storyist…etc was like that, but they were for the Mac only, and I’m a PC guy. I was giving up by that point, until I came across the PC equivalent in WriteItNow and Liquid Story Binder XE. That was it. I had struck gold. From there on, I dug some more and unearthed a few other interesting software. I’ll get into more details below.

WriteItNow – Great balance of customizable GUI, useful features, and does not try to tell how or what to write at all. If simply gives you the creative space to organize your ideas, characters, notes, chapters, scenes, research…etc.

Liquid Story Binder XE – It’s very pretty and flexible, but can be intimidating and complex to figure out, since it gives you way too many different tools and options and organizational methods. While it allows customization of the GUI colors, it does not allow you change the document background color of the File List, which is very strange, as it allows you to change the background color of every other type of document. Many writers prefer to work on darker background so the screen isn’t so glaringly bright, and if you customize your GUI to be darker, the File List will stick out like a sore thumb, being totally white and glaring. And while the software allow you to add color coding to each entry of character or idea in the Outline, Builder…etc, you’d have to use four mouse-clicks to change the color, going from one menu to another to another and then confirm the color choice. Flexibility is useless if the ergonomics are horrible.

The Guide – It’s very bare-bone and simple, where you just have a left pane that lets add any page and order them as parent to child hierarchy, and the right pane is just a RTF word processor. So you can basically create your own categories of characters, plot lines, notes, chapters, scenes…etc. It allows for simple customization of font and background colors, so that’s a good thing. In general it’s perhaps a bit too simple and primitive, but in a pinch, it’s definitely better than having to navigate multiple Word or RTF files in a folder, or lots of different kinds of information in one file (which is what I do now–where I have one document that contains my character profiles, notes, premise, plot points…etc, and scrolling up and down to find stuff gets to be kind of annoying–thus the need for these types of software).

Storybook – Interesting software where you can look at your story in various views and get a good feel for the multiple story strands and overall structure. The big problem is that you cannot customize that glaringly white background and it’s just too fatiguing on the eyes, and this can’t even be changed by altering the OS desktop colors–that white is hard-coded into Storybook.

yWriter
– Very similar to WriteItNow, and although it’s free, you can’t custom sort entries or customize GUI colors, which is absolutely unacceptable.

StoryBox – A very new software that’s not even at version 1.0 yet, but the creator is already charging people money for it so he could develop it further. You can’t customize document background color, which is a big no-no for me (and no, I’m not going to completely redo my operating system’s desktop theme just so I can have it carry over into my writing software). The character profile interview questions are lame too, even though you don’t have to answer them.

Writer’s Blocks – Basically they’re virtual index cards you can arrange however you want on the screen. It’s kind of redundant when other writing software already allow reordering of chapters, scenes, ideas, character profiles, notes…etc.

IdeaTracker – Allows you enter story ideas and assign a genre so you can find your ideas easily. Seemed like a good idea, but kind of useless when you can use any of the other writing software and create separate entries for notes and ideas, and you can simply have a saved project of just different story ideas and notes. The interface and navigation is also kind of clunky and unintuitive.

Power Structure / Power Writer – These two are similar–one is for creating and organizing ideas and story, and the other adds a word processor so you could execute the actual writing as well, and pulls back a bit on the story structuring features. They are halfway between the kind of software that tells you how and what to write, and the kind that simply provides a flexible space for you to write in. Power Structure/Writer provides a flexible space for you to organize your ideas, but they also have all these questions you can fill out, like what the goal at the beginning of an act is, and what you want accomplish by the end of the act, or what a character’s biggest failure, trauma, and success are, or what the opening hook of a scene is, and what has to happen by the end of the scene…etc. While these can be slightly annoying, they are actually not nearly as intrusive and are much more relevant to just about all kinds of story. Whether you want to deal with the “fill out these questions” format is a matter of taste, and I’m still debating if I want to deal with it or I’d rather stick to something like WriteItNow, where you are not prodded at all about how to write and what to consider. I should also mention that Power Structure is the most expensive of the bunch, costing double or more of the other software (which makes sense, since it does try to actively help you structure your story).

WriteWay – Similar to Power Structure, asking a lot of questions about your characters, their motivations, what the conflicts are in each scene, what needs to be accomplished in each scene…etc, but like Power Structure, they are mostly relevant and helpful questions, and you don’t have to answer them if you don’t want and simply use it as a organizational tool.

QuickStory – This ones kind of like Dramatica Pro lite, with a plot generating feature, but you can totally ignore it and just use it in the same way as The Guide, which is very bare-bone and primitive.

SuperNotecard – Mainly an organizer of ideas and factors that are involved in the ideas, but the naming convention of the categories are kind of odd and hard to relate to, and the way things are structured is a bit convoluted.

SceneWriter Pro – It boggled my mind that it couldn’t undo in the panes outside of the main document window. Lack of undo is one of the biggest sins in bad software design–BAD DESIGNER! No COOKIE!

PageFour – Similar to The Guide in how simple and bare-bone it is (though it’s slightly better), and it only allows the customization of the background color but not the font.

RoughDraft – It’s so primitive and clunky that it wasn’t even worth the trouble of trying.

YourOtherMind – A convoluted and ugly mess. I couldn’t stand it. No way would I write in something that was so cluttered and confusing and ugly looking.

While I seemed to have narrowed down my choices to just a couple, one thing was bothering me though–that they were tailored more towards the novelist, and I do just as much screenwriting as I do prose. I started to wonder if I could get both story organization and screenwriting in one software, as opposed to using something like WriteItNow and then writer the actual screenplay in something like Final Draft. Turned out there are software out there like that–in fact one of the oldest screenwriting software, Movie Magic Screenwriter, has recently implemented story organization features (probably trying to compete after software like Movie Outline combined both successfully, making it unnecessary to use two different software throughout the writing process). I wouldn’t be surprised if Final Draft follows suit as well. Montage is another one that combines both, but it’s for Mac only. Writer’s Café is a nice software that helps you get a visual overview of your story structure, and it also does screenplay formatting as well. I’m not too crazy about the way the GUI and navigation is designed though, although it’s usable and I could probably get used to it. Movie Outline seems to have the best integration of story organization and screenwriting features, although the ergonomics of the navigation and editing doesn’t feel all that good to me, and some of the story structure views take some learning to understand.
There are a bunch of others I looked at that I didn’t even bother trying to remember the names of since they didn’t come close to my needs. It really is ridiculous how many different software for writers are out there. I don’t know which one(s) I’ll end up with yet, as I’m still testing them. I’ll report back once I make a decision.

I recently gave away about four big boxes full of art supplies, because I just never use them anymore, having gotten so comfortable with digital tools, although I kept the acrylic paints, Pantone tri-tip marker set, and the better brushes, as they are useful for crafts projects. I also kept the expensive easel which can folded up and be rolled around–just in case I might want to paint traditional again in my old age or something. All the oil paints, oil mediums, watercolor, gouache, brushes, pen & ink, pastels, color pencils, charcoals, conte, mechanical pens, expensive projector/enlarger with tripod, kneaded erasers, blending stumps, art bin boxes, French curves, rulers–all given away–thousands of dollars worth of art supplies.

I actually still prefer traditional tools in some ways, such as the tactile and visceral qualities, the unpredictable expressiveness, the ability to splatter, drip, lay on thick impasto, and so on. But I haven’t had time to do any traditional painting or drawing for years now–my focus has shifted to multiple creative endeavors aimed to be put together as multimedia projects, where all the artwork are done digitally (just like any other modern day animation, game, or special effects studio), and all the music, writing, photography, editing…etc are software based. I don’t really think of myself as an “artist” these days–I haven’t for years now. Over the years I’ve gradually shed “the artist” identity and taken on the creator/writer/director/composer identity more and more, and although art will always be a part of my creative repertoire, it is no longer a main focus as it used to be. In a way, I sort of look at it like this:

-I don’t use outdated hardware multitrack recorders for my audio work and use DAW software instead.

-I don’t use film negatives or a darkroom for my photography–my setup is all digital.

-I don’t type out my writings on a typewriter–I use writing software.

-I teach a workshop online. I get freelance gigs online. I socialize online (all my friends and family live far away). I do my research and learning online–from science to history to home remedies to recipes. I keep up to date with various news online–from world news to industry-specific news. I shop online, including the things I enjoy for entertainment.

-So it only makes sense that all the visual aspects of my work are also done on the computer–the rest of my life already is anyway. And that’s why I gave away all my traditional art supplies. Sure, I’ll probably miss painting traditionally someday, but for the foreseeable future, my focus is on multimedia productions with emphasis on narratives.

I finally broke down and bought a Playstation 3. This is my first Playstation. I didn’t bother with the first generation because back then console games still had really rough graphics compared to PC games, and I was all about PC games back then. When PS2 came out, I was tempted, but I chose the Dreamcast and Xbox because there were exclusive games on them I just had to play (though eventually, the PS2 had just as many awesome exclusive games). Console games still had significantly inferior graphics compared to the PC at that time, but the gap was narrowing. I mean think about it–the PC pretty much was in HD resolution since ages ago–there was just no comparison. Although I could’ve bought a PS2 if I wanted to and still can, I just don’t have much desire currently to go back a generation now that I’ve gotten spoiled by this generation’s console graphics. When I play my Xbox360, I really don’t feel like I’m getting inferior graphics compared to my PC–they are so close that whatever differences just don’t matter anymore. Perhaps I’ll still get a PS2 so I can finally play Ico and Shadow of the Colossus or whatever PS2 exclusive games I’ve always wanted to play. Good thing they ported God of War 1 & 2 to PS3 though–I already ordered that collection. Objectively, I do think this generation of games is shaping up to be better than the previous generation, and it’s still going strong. I already don’t have enough time to play all the games I’m interested in for this generation, so it’s kind of pointless to try and catch up on the previous generation.

My main reason for getting the PS3 is the same as always with consoles–if I find the exclusive games attractive enough to really want to play, then I’ll take the plunge. It was that way with the N64, Dreamcast, Xbox, and Xbox360. Other consoles like the Gamecube and Wii might have a couple of games I really want to play, but not nearly enough of them for me to bother actually buying one. The only console I ever got just so I could play that one game I’m dying to play was the N64, for Conkur’s Bad Fur Day. For the PS3, there are already some awesome exclusives I just had to get my paws on–the Uncharted series, Killzone 2, God of War series, Demon’s Souls, and maybe Metal Gear Solid 4 and Heavenly Sword.

None of the games I ordered have arrived yet, so I just went for a spin in Sony’s Home, which is like Xbox Live/Marketplace, except it’s an actual 3D virtual world (sort of like Second Life). It was kind of neat for a little bit, but unless it does a whole lot more than just turning the lobby, purchasing, news…etc into a virtual 3D version, it’s really not worth wasting time in. Being able to decorate your own virtual apartment and avatar (which looks far better than Xbox360’s version, which looks like some primitive and dorky cartoon that’s not even aesthetically pleasing) is kind of nice, and judging by how much money Sony made from Home alone, many people are enjoying it as well, spending their hard-earned money on virtual furniture, clothing, accessories. Me, I really would much rather spend my money on real life counterparts–you know, things I can actually touch and use and take around with me. But that’s just me.

One thing I do like a lot more about the PS3 is how easy it is to copy media onto its hard drive using simply a USB flash drive. You cannot do this with the Xbox360–you can only rip music from discs, but not transfer files of any kind from the USB drive. It’s supposed to be some kind of security measure against pirating. Don’t know about you, but it pisses me off.

Ever since I got the 360 in the fall of 2009, I pretty much stopped gaming on the PC. I just got tired of upgrading to keep up with the resource-intensive PC games and dealing with broken games and update patches. I’ve never had any problems with console games, but PC games can be a nightmare since hardware compatibility is so unpredictable. The straw that broke the camel’s back was when I bought Mass Effect for the PC and it just didn’t run due to hardware incompatibility issues. I was so pissed off and it was after that I finally got a 360 and gave PC gaming the finger. After having been a loyal PC gamer for many years, I don’t miss it at all (until some amazing PC-only game comes out, that is). The upcoming The Secret World (from Ragnar Tornquist–the creator of The Longest Journey series–one of my favorites) might have tempted me back to the PC, but apparently it’ll be for the 360 as well, so I’m safe for now. I have no real interest in any other MMO out there since they are mostly just grinding and wasting time, without any of the exciting narrative and pacing of single player games, or the sheer action and strategy of FPS, shooters, or RTS games, not to mention significantly inferior graphics and a lot of assholes and morons to deal with. I hope The Secret World will be different, since I love the premise (I have a weak spot for supernatural thrillers. My own comic book series Enchanted from the 90’s was very similar to the premise of The Secret World) and the creator is someone whose career I follow.

Quickie movie/TV reviews:

Dexter (season four) – About half-way through season four of Dexter, I thought it was pretty interesting with the whole Trinity Killer plot, but the other domestic subplots weren’t all that interesting and felt like fillers instead of important aspects of the main story arc. I was hoping I’d be wrong and everything would play out beautifully in the end, and boy, it sure did. Everything more or less tied together and the season finale was such a shocker that I couldn’t believe what the writers had done. I can’t wait for season five–it’ll definitely be a very interesting season considering how season four ended. It was interesting to see John Lithgow play such a serious and evil character. My impression of him is mostly still from Third Rock From the Sun, so it was a bit weird seeing him not in a comedy.

Sherlock Holmes – Overall it was fairly enjoyable, but I thought Rachel McAdams was the wrong actress for the role–her vibe is too modern to me. I’m on the fence about Robert Downey Jr. Although I like him as an actor, I’m typically not thrilled about American actors trying to do the English accent. Very few American can pull it off, and Downey Jr. was struggling a bit in some scenes. He’s certainly not as good at it as Renée Zellweger, Gweneth Paltrow, or James Cromwell.

Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs – A pretty silly premise with heavy-handed messages and ham-fisted execution, but it was entertaining, and I thought Baby’ Brent’s transformation into a hero was the most fun and interesting aspect of the movie. You just wanted to slap him silly in the beginning, but by the end you really want to hug him and give him a solid pat on the back.

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