Krystals Corner

Krystals Corner


BooksPosted by Krystal Jan 14, 2010 18:55:11

OK. Some of you may already know this. Actually, I might have told a few of you this quite a few times, and you may be sick of me telling you. But for those who do not know, my family and I are going to the Philippines. We're leaving on the 16th of January at 1:00 a.m. Which is probably the worst time to have a flight. I know I'll be sleepy, groggy, and mostly incoherent. I guess I'll have to sleep before we leave for the airport on the 15th. Apart from the getting-on-the-plane-at-one-in-the-morning part, it's all pretty exciting.

We'll be seeing family in Manila, staying over, then going to Cebu. Naga, Cebu, to be specific. I haven't been since I was about 10 years old. But if there's one thing that my 10-year-old brain retained with sufficient detail, it's that the malls there were HUGE. And I mean HUGE. Some of them make Sylvia Park, New Zealand's biggest mall, look pretty pitiful. (No offence, Sylvia Park.) And I've done a little research, and I've noticed one pretty awesome thing.

I was looking up some of the Philippines' most common bookstores online (because I couldn't stand the idea of going overseas without visiting a bookstore). I found a few big stores, some that I remember from my last trip, some that my mind had mercilessly forgotten in the last 5 years. They all had an online store adjunct. Out of complete curiousity, I searched for the first book that came to mind. Stardust by Neil Gaiman. 3 editions showed up. The cheapest was PHP255, and the most expensive was PHP299. (That's Philippine pesos.) I converted those prices to NZD, the currency I happen to use. The cheapest one cost NZ$7.52. The most expensive, NZ$8.82. That's a really cheap price, compared to the cheapest edition in NZ, costing NZ$22.99.

Transfixed, I typed in more book names. Eragon, Eldest, and Brisingr by Christopher Paolini. I could buy all three in the Philippines and pay the price that one volume would cost me in NZ. Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell by Susanna Clarke would cost a third of the price if I bought it there instead of here. A non-fiction book called Finding Serenity by Jane Espensen cost NZ$22.27, when I was going to order it for $33.95 at my local bookstore. I guess my personal library is going to get a big boost.

Books generally cost less in Philippine bookstores than in New Zealand bookstores.

The sci-fi/fantasy/bookish geek in me was absolutely tickled. At one stage, I seriously considered bringing a whole suitcase full of books back to NZ. That's probably a bit unrealistic. And I won't be doing that. But I do look forward to completing a few series collections that need completing.

EDIT: Oh, and I hope to try something similar to this out while I'm over there.

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Alternate Realities

GamingPosted by Krystal Jan 08, 2010 17:23:30

Ever wanted to feel like a secret agent? Wanted to feel like Sherlock Holmes or Gil Grissom? I don't know if it's just me, but I certainly have.

Why is that? There's something really fun in having a secret to keep, and in knowing that you know something that everyone else around you doesn't. It's pretty addictive having a coded message that's devilishly hard to solve, but whose solution is always a step away from you. It feels good to be involved in something way bigger than your own little world and your day-to-day life.

But it's a little jarring to get an email or phone call from a person you thought was fictional. Wait, what? Communicating with fictional people? What's that all about? I'll tell you what it's about. It's about alternate reality games, or ARGs for short. As the name suggests, ARGs are games that are set in alternate realities. And how do you play these games? Do you have to buy a console of some sort, or subscribe to something? No. Just like you play Halo 3 on an Xbox 360, you play ARGs in real life. Yes, the console for ARGs is the world around you. You aren't represented by an avatar in a computer game. Instead, you represent yourself. And you collaborate with dozens of other players to further the story, or influence the story, or uncover a mystery.

Alternate reality games are basically another way to tell a story. Practically every non-arcade video game out there has a story and plotline to convey to its players. In the same way, ARGs are designed to immerse players in a different world, and to entertain them with a story. Except, these stories are much more fluid, and they are conveyed not through graphics on a screen, but through things around you. Through websites, phone conversations, videos, pictures, puzzles and codes, hidden objects at certain locations, anything, ARG designers tell their story. And all these things are left for you to find, and leave a trail that you and other players around the world follow and make sense of.

You are your own character. So you can receive emails and calls and letters and packages from characters in the ARG you're playing. You can run out to your local mall to pass a secret message to an in-game character. Or you can just sit back and help other players solve the puzzles and mysteries that the ARG designers (also called puppetmasters) leave for you. But as a player, you can influence the story, you can change its course and direction, and you can make a huge difference in the story's outcome. This is unlike most console games, where the story is pretty fixed and can't really be changed.

The point of ARGs is that they blur the line between fiction and reality. They immerse you in a fictional world. And you're not the only one playing - sometimes, collaboration with other characters is the only thing that can help drive the story forward. Sometimes, you need others' expertise and knowledge, and other times, they'll need yours. It's a strange and weird branch of gaming, but it's definitely one you should take a look at. If you're anything like me, you might enjoy giving this obscure gaming genre a whirl.

For more information on ARGs (and a better explanation than I could ever offer), go here.

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Film: Avatar

MoviesPosted by Krystal Dec 23, 2009 16:24:42

Avatar promotional poster
20th Century Fox

Okay, so I saw Avatar (written and directed by James Cameron) in 3D (!!!) on Sunday. It was so incredibly fun! The graphics were impressive, and there was a lot of work put into the film as a whole. And it certainly paid off! (Although, I must admit that 3D is hard to get used to, but once you know where to focus at the right times, it works really well.)

Neytiri (Zoë Saldaña), and Jake Sully (Sam Worthington) in his avatar body
Weta / 20th Century Fox

There's one word that I've seen everywhere that's used to describe the setting: rich. And I certainly agree with this. The setting of Pandora was so rich with flora, fauna, and creatures. The physical environment was so well-imagined and carried out. There were numerous scenes and views that I thought were just stunning - the mountains and the jungle were superb. And to have all that in 3D was breathtaking. The culture of the Na'vi (the native 10ft tall, blue-skinned humanoids) was well-developed, and was rich with tradition, beliefs, and language. And on that subject, the Na'vi language was constructed as a real language, and that definitely added some depth and history to the Na'vi culture. The way that Neytiri and the Na'vi mourned and cried and expressed emotion was different to humans' ways, but were still so familiar and easy to empathize with. This added another dimension to them as people, something that some other sci-fi/fantasy works seem to lack.

Picture of Neytiri
Weta / 20th Century Fox

Avatar wasn't just an adventure movie. It had a deeper layer of meaning. I know, I know, it's way more fun to sit back and watch a film for its entertainment value. But after 3 years of high school English classes, where you have to extract some meaning from texts and come up with your own interpretation, I find it hard to walk away from a film without taking away a message or concept. Sci-fi/fantasy films seem to lend themselves to various interpretations. For example, the Lord of the Rings is laden with religious and spiritual themes, as well as metaphors for power, control, and truth. Star Wars mentions ethics and morals. In this case, Avatar touched on environmental issues, and rather blantantly pointed out the wasteful and destructive nature of humans. It even explored naturalistic pantheism through Na'vi spirituality and beliefs. Of course, interpretations of things are going to vary from person to person, because interpretations are based on each person's beliefs and opinions. There's something in Avatar for everyone to interpret. And that's what I like about it.

Wood sprites!
Weta / 20th Century Fox

Putting aside all the deeper meaning stuff, the characters of Avatar were great. They weren't Mary Sue-type characters, you know, those incredibly perfect, flawless characters (or evil-for-the-sake-of-evil characters) you see in some films or books. The characters of Avatar had flaws and personal weaknesses. For example, Jake Sully (in his avatar body) was often adventurous, but reckless. Dr Grace Augustine was strong-willed, but often quite harsh to others. One of the main antagonists, Colonel Quaritch, didn't act the way he did just because he was evil, but because of his blind attitude and close-mindedness. It was also good to see a very strong female character (Neytiri) as a supporting character.

My grade: Fantastic graphics that felt so real, rich setting and characters, perfect music score by James Horner, fun to watch. I give Avatar an A.

(Grading system: A, B, C, D, F, with + or - appended for specific grade. A+ is the best grade possible, and F, the worst.)

Wanna see more pics? See Empire's Avatar trailer breakdown.

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Read It! Book Suggestions for December 2009

BooksPosted by Krystal Dec 13, 2009 10:41:50

As I've mentioned before, I'm an avid reader. I read like there's no tomorrow. At the moment, I'm reading a fantasy book, Assassin's Apprentice by Robin Hobb. I just finished reading Oliver Twist by Charles Dickens. Maybe you read just as much as I do, or maybe you wish you could read more often. Reading is a great way to boost your vocabulary, encourage your imagination, and (best of all) to relax.

But sometimes, walking into a bookstore or library to find a book can be a bit daunting. There are so many aisles, shelves, and stands, that it's easy to get lost, and it's hard to find something good to read. Sometimes, you just need a suggestion, a push in the right direction. Some bookstores and libraries take the time to set up Recommended Books shelves. However, some don't. If you want to try a new genre, or just want some suggestions, here are some books that I've read that I (personally) enjoyed. Hopefully, I can add more similar posts in the future.

>Name of text Author's name
>Content classification || suitable reading age (approx.)
>If you're interested in


1) >Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close Jonathan Safran Foer
>Genre: modern literature
>Mature readers || -
>If you're interested in: impact of Sept. 11 attack, World War II history

A sad, thoughtful novel. Narrated through the eyes of an overly-perceptive nine year old boy, Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close is a rich tale. The author has incorporated use of images, differing typefaces, and other visual techniques to add another dimension to the novel. Yes, this book has pictures, and some very interesting use of font and color. Many readers may find this novel a bit strange, but that's because it's different. Foer's unconventional writing style may not suit all readers, but it's certainly a breath of fresh air. It mixes the past and the present (something Foer has done in Everything Is Illuminated), and blends reality with fiction. A heartbreaking and heartwarming read, and definitely one that leaves an impression!


2) >The Name of the Wind Patrick Rothfuss
>Genre: fantasy, fiction
>General audience || -
>If you're interested in: fantasy universes, magic, adventure

It is widely known that the fantasy genre is a congested one. Finding the right book to read in the fantasy genre is oftentimes a difficult task. Lots of fantasy books are in giant series, meaning you've got to find out which book to start off with. Others fantasy books are large, sometimes exceeding 150,000 words, and others are just difficult to get through. OK, so The Name of the Wind is over 250,000 words long, but you won't feel sorry. It's definitely not boring. You'll be happy that it's over 250,000 words long. Really. I thoroughly enjoyed this book. It's a great place to start for newbies to the fantasy genre, and it's the first in its trilogy (The Kingkiller Chronicle), so you know you're starting at the start. Rothfuss creates a captivating world, with equally captivating characters and plots.


3) >Oliver Twist Charles Dickens
>Genre: classic fiction, social criticism
>Some violence, mild impact || ages 13+
>If you're interested in: 1837 London society, crime in 1837

Classic books are those which stand the test of time. They are books and texts which, to this day, are still widely recognized, studied, and read. I must admit, I find classics hard to read after getting used to more modern novels, which have more modern language. I have to be very patient when reading classics, making very sure that I don't skim large portions. The reason why is because classics were written in a different time, where the English language was used differently. Slang and phrases that were once commonplace now seem foreign to a modern 2009 audience. The English language has developed so radically in the last few centuries. But I digress. Oliver Twist is a great book, brimming full with a cast of colorful, dark characters, who live in the dark criminal underground of London. For those not used to classic literature, stick with it. Be patient with this book, and you'll be rewarded with a memorable story. The most interesting characters are the bad ones, and there are plenty in this book.


4) >Speak Laurie Halse Anderson
>Genre: young adult, fiction
>Some mature themes, moderate impact || ages 15+
>If you're interested in: American high school society, adolescent psychology

This is a dark book. Anderson deals with some tough concepts and elements in this book. The book is told from the perspective of a teenager in high school who is dealing with a traumatic incident. It's a well-written book, characterized by a unique writing style. This book has been challenged for the difficult issues it brings up. Some schools and parents have disallowed their students and children to read this book. Anderson has spoken up against censorship like this, because ultimately, it leaves people ignorant. Here's a quote from Laurie Halse Anderson from my copy of the book:

"But censoring books that deal with difficult, adolescent issues does not protect anybody. Quite the opposite. It leaves kids in the darkness and makes them vulnerable. Censorship is the child of fear and the father of ignorance. Our children cannot afford to have the truth of the world withheld from them."

A thought-provoking read, peppered with humor and shadowed with darkness.


5) >Goodnight Mister Tom Michelle Magorian
>Genre: historical novel, fiction
>Some violence || -
>If you're interested in: World War II's impact on people, guardian-child relationships

When a timorous young boy named William Beech is evacuated from London in WWII to live with an old man, his life is changed. This book is centered on his relationship with his new guardian and the emotional twists and turns he is put through. I read this book when I was quite young, and it still remains one of my favorite books. Magorian develops the relationship between young, timid William Beech and old, cranky Tom Oakley so wonderfully in this book. The harmony of these two seemingly opposite characters is what binds the book together. A touching read.


Hopefully, I have mentioned at least one book that interests you. If you've got any book suggestions that you'd like to share, post a comment!

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An Introduction

IntroductionPosted by Krystal Dec 07, 2009 20:26:23

So far, if you've read my first post, you know that I believe Santa exists, that I write notes to myself in my organizer, and that Christmas makes me really happy. But you probably don't know much else. And maybe you don't really want to. But maybe you want to know where all this opinion is coming from. Maybe you want to know whose writing voice this is. Well, I guess I'd better tell you.

My name is Krystal. I'm 15, and in my penultimate year of high school. My parents are from Naga, Cebu. I live in a city called Auckland, in a country called New Zealand. (New Zealand is small and relatively obscure, but is well-known for Flight of the Conchords, Peter Jackson, and the Lord of the Rings.) I don't want to bore you with my entire list of hobbies and interests, because that list is exceedingly long, and is guaranteed to put most people to sleep. But I will say that I love the sciences (biology, chemistry, mathematics, and physics), and that I am an avid reader and writer. My favorite genre is fantasy/sci-fi, or any genre that introduces a whole new world or universe for the characters to play around in. I love film, and always make time to watch 2 or 3 movies a week. And music keeps me sane. I play the piano, but am also learning the ukulele, and I dabble in violin and guitar. One of my favorite genres to listen to is alternative rock.

I'm one of those people who finds it really hard to choose just one favorite anything. I don't have a favorite subject at school, I have several. I don't have a favorite movie, but I can name my top 10. And as for my favorite band or composer or song, I never have just one. My interests range from astronomy, to philosophy, to the properties of the number zero. But if I were to choose one word to describe me, one word to encapsulate all my interests and hobbies (or the abundance of them), that one word would be this: "GEEK". Yes, I think 42 is an awesome number, I know how to say "Live long and prosper" in Vulcan, and I learn languages like Python. I read like there's no tomorrow, and do algebra for fun (seriously). Yes, I am a proud geek girl. Just so you know.

But anyway, enough about me. I hope I haven't scared you away just yet. I suppose I'd better tell you a little bit about what this blog is about. It's about having a youth voice. It's about a youth's opinion about the world around them. It's an outlet for this voice and opinion, and a way for the world to hear it. Or, if not the whole world, any readers at least. It's about likes and dislikes, experience and observation. Welcome!

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Deck The Halls

HolidaysPosted by Krystal Alferez Dec 06, 2009 00:49:55

You've probably noticed that it's that time of the year again. 'Tis the season. The season where you dust off the Christmas tree (or buy a fir tree). The season where children count down the days until Santa's arrival. And where parents stealthily wrap presents behind their children's backs. Yes, 'tis the season – the season to be jolly. (Fa la la la la, la la la la.) Christmas is here once again.

Every year, my mother would buy me a calendar with scenic New Zealand views. I never really did care much for calendars; I never saw the point. I wasn't a grown-up kid, so I didn't need to worry about important homework deadlines and club meetings and exam dates. My calendar was neglected. I only ever really looked at it to turn the page at the end of the month. But every December, I would take a sudden and unusual interest in my calendar. You could even call it an obsession. December would become the only month where I cared about my calendar. The only month that ever really got any pen marks on it. Because "December" always meant Christmas, to me.

Every 1st of December, I would flip over my calendar's page. I would mark the number of days until Santa's arrival on each day's square, and color in "25 DECEMBER" with all my special felt pens and coloring pencils. I would draw lopsided reindeer and presents and baubles around the 25th, making it as bright as I could. And every day, I would announce with fervor to my parents and friends the number of days until Christmas came. "24 sleeps 'til Christmas!" "23 sleeps 'til Christmas!" "22 sleeps 'til Christmas!"… But each day would pass slowly. I would wish fervently for the day to end, to give rise to a new morning, on which I'd strike another day off my calendar, drawing ever nearer to Christmas, but not quite near enough for my restless mind.

The malls would dust off their decorations, glittering and gleaming in the amber shop lights. The giant reindeer statues and candy canes and elves would come out of storage, finally being put to use at the end of the year. Christmas songs would creep into mall playlists over the speakers, weaving their merry tune into the secretive activity of Christmas shopping. I would hear the Band Aid song Do They Know It's Christmas while buying my Christmas cards, and would get caught up in Wham!'s Last Christmas while buying my parents' presents. And I would sing along to the songs, without any fear of embarrassment.

Why, exactly, I was so excited for Christmas, I don't think I'll ever know for certain. Maybe it was act of staying up until midnight on Christmas Eve to unwrap presents. Maybe it was the Christmas special episodes on TV. Or maybe it was the food, and the fireworks outside at the stroke of midnight. But there's that indescribable feeling, that spirit that you feel when you think about Christmas. And we all take it for granted. It's there, honestly, it is. Without sounding too hackneyed, I'll try to explain it. It's that warm feeling you get inside, that sheer happiness that fills you when you're with your family and friends at Christmas. It's that closeness and togetherness that the Christmas season calls for, the "I'll-sing-along-I-don't-care-if-you-laugh-at-me" cheerfulness that you get when you're really happy.

But now, I often find that Christmas catches me unawares. My December calendar page is probably the emptiest page in the year. No countdown, no lopsided reindeer, nothing. Two years ago, I received approximately 30 Christmas cards from my friends. Last year, I got about 20. This year, I got 7. Exactly 7 cards. It's not that our social group is getting smaller, or that people are growing out of indulging in Christmas cheer. It's that we've all become entangled in other things. Even though I'm only 15, I've found that I've become busier than most adults. My student diary is messy with homework details and deadlines, research points, study reminders, assessment dates. It's got warnings scrawled in the margins that if I don't hand stuff in, I'll be in trouble. You know, just to give me some motivation, because wading through an accounting assignment leaves me with very little motivation to do anything else. And as exams start to creep into my schedule, I think about nothing else. So for me and most of my friends this year, Christmas card-making had to take a back seat to life's little ordeals.

When I see little kids in the mall lining up to get a picture with Santa, I feel nostalgic for the naïveté I once felt as a 7 year old, that carefree attitude I had, and that shelter from all the worldly troubles of grown-ups. I was once one of those kids, lining up to talk to the guy with the incredibly large beard and bulging red clothes. And even though I know there isn't really a guy like that who rides a sleigh and delivers presents to every good boy and girl, I know that there is a metaphorical Santa. A Santa does exist. Santa isn't just one person. Santa can be anyone (or anything) that makes Christmas what it is to you. A Santa brings spirit, that warm feeling you get inside during the Christmas holiday. A Santa brings that sheer happiness that fills you when you're with your family and friends at Christmas, that closeness and togetherness that the Christmas season calls for, the "I'll-sing-along-I-don't-care-if-you-laugh-at-me" cheerfulness that you get when you're really happy.

Merry Christmas, everybody.

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