Sunday, December 30, 2007


After realizing I repeated most of my Piston's analysis in the two blog posts I created here, I figured I'd move on to something that's been consuming a lot of my time lately--video games.

Playstation 3 General Review:

As I mentioned previously, I bought a Sony Playstation 3 about two months ago. I haven't been a very active console video game player, but we owned a Playstation 2 since 2000, and I had been spending more and more time trying PS2 games. The lure of so many new features drew me to the next generation consoles, and I decided on the PS3 for a variety of reasons. Now that I've had ample time to try it out, I figured I'd share my take on the PS3.

First, the system is very well integrated. It reminds me of the single console dream for all your multimedia needs. It plays CDs, DVDs, and now Blu Ray high definition DVDs. It plays MP3 music files, either from the decent hard drive, or from an external player connected by one of the four USB ports... or even memory cards. I'm not certain which memory card slots it provides, but we've used our compact flash cards from our digital camera to view digital photos.

The Blu Ray functionality has to be a pretty significant selling point to people that aren't certain how much gaming they'll be doing. At $400-$500, the cost of the console isn't much more (if any) than a stand-alone Blu Ray player. Ultimately, you have to decide if you're willing to invest in a new technology. Is 1080p worth it? Will Blu Ray beat out HD DVD? Or will another format eclipse both of them before they're firmly established? Well, with a Netflix account, I rent the vast majority of our videos (rather than buying them) and I'm not forced to invest in Blu Ray. I will continue to be inexpensive DVDs (below $10, preferrably $7.50 or lower) to replace video tapes. Since Blu Ray titles tend to be full price, I'm opting for standard DVDs. While the difference in video quality is instantly recognizable, my complaint with video cassettes is the fact they degrade, often becoming entirely unplayable. While I'd prefer a 1080p copy of a favorite movie, I'd rather have something permanent (a standard DVD) than something that is not much different than an expensive rental (a tape).

*If* Blu Ray DVDs don't continue to lead HD DVDs in sales, I'm not really out anything. I rent the high quality videos when they're a choice and I can enjoy 1080p video and amazing sound now... but I'm not really out much, since I'm also getting other functions out of the console, namely video games and internet browsing.

While people have commented on how the Xbox 360 and PS3 compare, I can't say enough about how wonderful the graphics (and sound) on the Playstation 3 are. I hear critics saying games like "Folklore" (which I'm playing now) doesn't push the system very hard, I'm still in awe over the exotic setings (the faery realm and the undersea realm, for example) and lush scenery. I don't face video lag or stuttering, like I did on any PC I've owned, and the entire system is infinitely more user friendly.

Sony has integrated the internet connection with their PS3 very well. I was able to set up the wireless connection (on the 80gb version; I think the 20gb version has a standard ethernet connection) without any problem. I was able to register and configure an account on the Playstation Store simply enough. Unlike other gaming systems, online access is free. If you're curious, "serialdirge" is my PS3 name. Users can message, even video chat (I'm told), or simply connect with other players for some online action via their favorite games.

Another nice feature is the ability to download game demos directly onto your PS3. I've tried about a dozen or more games. Some games are available for download using a payment system integrated into the online store. For example, Tekken 5 is a $19.99 download. I bought Go! Sudoko (Easy pack) for $1.99 or $2.99, I believe. Games range from $1.99 to $39.99, from what I've seen, and it tracks what you've downloaded. If you wanted to make space on your harddrive, and delete a game you've paid for, I'm fairly certainly the store remembers your purchase and allows you to download it again (sans payment).

In addition to the many playable game demos, videos and add-on's are also available. I've watched the new video preview for the Spiderwick Chronicles, as well as the next Batman movie. As I said, I've downloaded well over a dozen games... from The Simpsons and Bladestore (a hundred years war game), to Folklore, Conan, Genji, and Uncharted. Most demos are playable, giving you a great sample of what the game is like.

Themes for your "desktop", wallpaper backgrounds, and free add-ons (as well as commercial ones) are often released. I was able to download a free holiday paint job for one of the big rigs in Motorstorm, and new Christmas-inspired costumes for Ellen and Keats in Folklore. That's a great way to keep people checking in. I know they released some free seasonal songs for Guitar Hero 3, as well.

The controller on the PS3 is also pretty innovative. It isn't as dynamic as some of the features on the Nintendo Wii, but the "Six Axis" controller senses a lot of motions. In Folkore, for instance, you need to draw the Id (soul) from Folk (aggressive, fey creatures formed from negative emotions that pass on to the Netherworld when people die). You do so in a variety of ways, including pulling it out in a fishing rod type motion, and rocking it left and right, or even balancing it (again, a right and left motion). Other games also make use of the controllers abilities. "Toy Home" is a racing game set in a house. Your wind-up car has to be flipped over by jerking the controller upward. Tilting it to the right or left turns the car, as if you were riding a bike and leaning. My NBA 2k7 game employes a free throw like motion for shooting from the line. Sony has released quick little ski games, bowling and other games that make use of the controller features. I expect more and more games will make use of these features, though many initial releases for the PS3 didn't use the Six-Axis controller very well.

In my opinion, the PS3 has high end graphics (every bit as good as the Xbox 360, though people will continue to debate the issue), a dynamic controller and gameplay (similar to the Nintendo Wii, though with a focus on more "adult" games) and a great value (Blu Ray, free online access, web browser, multimedia functions, etc). I'd highly recommend it if you're considering a next generation gaming console.

PS3 Games I've Bought:

Currently, I've played four PS3 titles: Motorstorm, Dark Kingdom, NBA 2k7, and Folklore.

* Motorstorm is bundled with the PS3. It's an offroad racing game with stunning graphics and sound. I have a hard time "grading" Motorstorm because I'm not a big fan of racing games. It has seven categories of cars, with five paint jobs for each, and eight tracks to experiment on. I have noticed several add-on's released online, including new vehicles, races, and paint jobs. I updated my game and it added two new songs to the great soundtrack. It definitely shows off the graphic capablilities of the PS3, though I'm sure they'll continue to push the envelope with future releases.

* Dark Alliance is the second title I got. I payed $17.99 for a used copy from Gamespot. It had been dropped to $20 for the new version, but I figured $2 is better than no saving. Anyway, I read a lot of negative reviews and ignored them. Dark Alliance is a lot like the revised version of Gauntlet (Dark Legacy). The graphics are better than the PS2, but not really on par with PS3 standards. The story line is poor, at best, and the game play is fairly dull. Overall, it's a pretty lousy game, and you'd be better off ignoring the lower quality graphics of Gauntlet: Dark Legacy and playing that on your PS3. I plan on selling it back sometime soon. I didn't exect a lot of $18, and it's not the worst game I've tried, but it's short, fairly unexiting, and definitely not the best use of $20.

* NBA 2k7 was also a clearance product, $19.99 at Target specifically. I owned NBA 2k5 for the PS2, and I like the pro basketball series, and they've made great upgrades with this game. The graphics are solid, though I suspect they'll continue to get better. The players don't look a great deal like their real world NBA counterparts, though they do move similarly. I'm told the mroe recent NBA 2k8 has dealt with that, and has an entirely new graphics engine. That said, it's a *great* game for $20! It has quite a few modes of play, from steetballing (complete with storeyline) to association play (seasons at a time, drafts, scouting, injuries, trades, you name it) or just quick games or online matchups. You can play cooperatively, or go against another human player. I'll probably download the 2k8 demo just to see what they've done to the graphics. Even if you're not a huge sports fan, this can be a fun game. I guess I'm biased, being a NBA fan, but it's undeniably well put together and extremely customizable (for all levels of ability).

* Folklore was a Christmas present from Brenda. I can't say enough good things about this game. To be fair, it is the first full price game we bought ($60), and the standards *should* be higher, but I havne't been disappointed. People have complained about the blend of movies, a comic-style cut scene, or more typical in-game conversation to relate a very enganging mystery that quickly adds supernatural elements. It is set in Doolin, a nearly abandoned town in what seems to be the coast of Ireland (British, anyway). You can play either Ellen, a young woman that was orphaned and has a conneciton to the town, or Keats, a reporter for an occult magazine. More importantly, you can alternate between characters from chapter to chapter, and I believe you need *both* characters later in the story. Again, some complain about this, but I like the two perspectives, and the way the story lines connect. I've alternated from chapter to chapter.

You'll quickly journey to the Netherworld, populated by faeries, halflives, folk and folklore. You fight folk, absorb their Id (soul), and use them against other folk. Folklore are very powerful folk that rule different worlds. The graphics are amazing and the creatures are equal parts Brian Froud (Labyrinth/Dark Crystal character design) and Tim Burton (Corpse Bride and Nightmare Before Christmas). The game play can be challenging in spots, and I've gotten frustrated a couple times, but it's definitely quite an adventure. It really helps ilustrate how amazing the Playstation 3 is. I'm not sure about the replay value, but there are downloadble quest packs, and more may follow. I'd estimate a good 40 hours of game play, though, possibly more for the more adventure-minded and curious. I like to explore every nook and cranny, as well as develop my character's abilities (which can be repetetive, though I don't mind).

PS2 Greatest Hits!

One important facet with the Playstation 3 is the compatibility with the Playsation 2. The $399 20gb version has no compatibility. The older 60gb version (no longer available) is close to 100% compatible. The $499 80gb version has software emulation, and I'd guess it is around 80% compatible, maybe 90% if you ignore some very minor video glitches that don't affect game play. Out of my 25 games, 22 are compatible. That's pretty wonderful if you ask me.

To be fair, as great as some PS2 titles are, eventually that compatibility won't be a big selling point. More and more PS3 titles are being released every day. The new capabilities are just too impressive, and eventually the PS3 titles will make people forget even their favorite PS2 titles. Nonetheless, there are a lot of very good, very inexpensive games from the Playstation 2 that play fine on the PS3. The "Greatest Hits" collection is often $20 a title, new, and place like Gamestop and EB Games offer great deals on used games. I just bought Final Fantasy X-2 for myself, and received "Shadow of the Colossus" and "Final Fantasy XII" and both are stunning, despite the better graphics of newer games. Game play is always going to be an issue, and good design is good design. There are probably hundreds of fantastic PS2 titles that are worth trying while you're waiting (or saving for) PS3 titles... and that's if you get bored with the demo games pretty quickly. Some demos are pretty involved.

Quick News:

Gwen gets her braces soon! The 3rd, I believe.

The Pistons are tearing it up. They just beat the Pacers in back-to-back games (Friday and Saturday). Stuckey is playing well, and I'm sure their vastly improved bench is making other teams (and their fans) nervous. I suspect Jason Maxiell, Rodney Stuckey, and Arron Afflalo will have great careers in the NBA. I have a lot of faith in Amir Johnson, too, though he's gotten sporadic game play.

My sympathies go out to my friend Sue (Kyra). Her mother passed away shortly before Christmas. While she attended the funeral, her cat was diagnosed with terminal cancer. She's had a very difficult holiday, and I just wanted to say... you are in my thoughts, for what that is worth.

I got to talk to quite a few friends over the holiday...
* Happy Birthday, mom!
* Mark, whom I've known since 7th grade, and has put up with crazy rantings for many years, even after rooming with me a year in college.
* Patty, a high school aquaintance that has become a great friend... I managed to catch her on her drive home from visiting her parents.
* Chris, a high school buddy, who actually had a few days off from his crazy work schedule and got to celebrate with "Little Man" (his son, who is about three and a half right now).
* And Kathy, my roleplaying "sister", who stopped by with her very cool boyfriend Paul, and went out to dinner with us despite her stomach problems (Crones disease).

Anyway, happy holidays to everyone, both those I caught on the phone and in person, or those via e-mail!

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Happy Holidays!

Oh, the weather outside is... well, mild. At best. We've had--surprise, surprise--rain, with a few flurries amid the drops, but not enough to even dust the soggy ground. I do miss the snow, a bit, just not driving through it. Or taking shovel to walkways. Or cold fingers and cold toes and a cold... er--nose? There is just something very nostalgic about Christmas, the decorations, unwrapping presents, Bing Crosby and Rosemary Clooney in "White Christmas" or even Bill Murray in "Scrooged."

What's not to like about "Oh, look Frank! A toaster!" BAM!

I had a great Christmas last year. This year was very cool, too, and I like the trend. I used to really suffer with depression during the Christmas season. No, not the clinical type, but just a reaction to the sort of reflection and introspection people tend to do when reminded of their past. Anyway, things have gotten progressively better, especially since we moved to Seattle. It isn't the mild weather, nor the west coast culture, or even our ever-improving financial situation (though I won't deny how helpful that is); no, it is a combination of the maturity of the children and a sense of place, if not purpose.

Since my accident, I've grown more and more at peace with my lack of a career. While I'm frustrated over not contributing to our household, the gradual acceptance of my situation has allowed me to concentrate on things I enjoy--childish or not. If Brenda is fine with bearing the weight of our combined financial situation, why should I care what other people think? I mean, honestly, I'm a firm believer in the stupidity of humanity. While I'm clearly part of that group (*shudders*), I'd like to think the mere fact I'm introspective enough to consider "the why" of things is enough to earn me slightly better than a D+ in the awareness contest. I wouldn't bank on better than a C-, mind you, but I think I'm passing.

So I've been able to enjoy more of the simple things, taking them for what they are worth without constantly considering what the "successful" people would think. The twins had to answer "what is successful?" in one of their classes recently, and I answered "self-sufficient and responsible" without giving it much thought. Well, I'm not self-sufficient--not even close. As a whole, Brenda and I are definitely both self-sufficent and responsible, but only through her excellent career.

Even last year, I was left feeling very disappointed in what I've done and accomplished. As time goes by, I've become more comfortable with the idea that we are partners, a pair. Yes, she earns far more than I'm capable of without going back to college. I'd be surprised if I could earn much better than a third of what she earns, even if I was mobile. More likely, I'd earn half that much, working part-time, and I'd be surprised if I cleared anything after the increase in our taxes and the expense of a second car.

I still feel obligated to explain my situation to people I meet. I mean, I know I'd look at myself and think "deadbeat" as an outsider. Maybe that's a good reason not to judge others, since we rarely understand another's situation as well as we see into our own lives. Whatever the case, I'm growing more content with being a stay-at-home dad, or simply opting for an "early retirement." I'd be very interested in a job that could work around my limitations, but I'm not holding my breath. There aren't a lot of work-at-home jobs out there, despite the ridiculous advertising. When I get my mobility back (the pain subsides to a tolerable level), I'll have to look at my options. I don't think I'll be jumping into the job market without a lot of consideration. As much as I want to contribute, I don't want to work for nothing--which is precisely what a typical part-time job would amount to after the increase in tax bracket and second car expense. Okay, if the second car is a 350Z or a 'Vette, I might be willing to take that hit to my free time. *Grins*

Some hobby nonsense? Really? Well, if you insist!

The Pistons are tearing up the NBA. They have the second best record, trailing only the Boston Celtics. The Celtics are the team that traded away a lot of young talent for three aging, but very talented, players--Kevin Garnett, Ray Allen, and Paul Pierce. Actually, they had Pierce. They're playing guys that would be questionable backups at the point guard and center spot, but holding up well. Their bench is precariously thin, though they have a decent swingman in Posey. Anyway, Detroit played against the Celtics, on their home court, and came away with a two point win. While it was a closely contested game, I feel Boston will struggle in a seven game series--if they escape injuries to their three stars. Remove any one of those three players, and I suspect they'd be fighting for the bottom of the playoff berths.

In Pistons news--Rodney Stuckey, the rookie point guard drafted with the 15th pick, finally was cleared to play after breaking three bones in his left hand during the final pre-season game. His third game was a ten minute performance against the Nets. He shot three of seven, and earned an "and one" (free throw after a successful bucket despite a foul call) for seven points. He had two steals and one rebound. Most importantly, he had three assists and only one turnover. Now, this comes after a poor second game (not much scoring, though he did move the ball reasonably well) and a quick five minutes in his first game, but I'm very optimistic.

Dumars has made some very good moves. While other teams are gambling on aging stars (for example... how much Chicago spent on Ben Wallace), he has moved to get younger. The core of the Pistons is aging. Only Rip and Prince are reasonably young, and both have more games on their bodies than any other players in the NBA (outside of the other core players from the Pistons) in the last five years. He drafted Stuckey (at 15th), Afflalo (at 27th), and Sammy Mejia with their second round pick (57th).

Analysts considered Stuckey more of a shooting guard than point guard, but Dumar's had confidence he could run the offense. He was drafted higher than analysts expected him to go, originally listing him towards the bottom of the first round due to playing at a school (Eastern Washington) in a weak league (Big Sky Conference). After the summer games, he was widely considered to be worthy of a top 10 pick, if not a top 5 pick. It's too early to say how that'll play out, but every Piston fan is optimistic he'll be everything they hoped for.

Afflalo plays shooting guard, but has proven to be the most NBA-ready perimeter defender in the draft. He's able to guard both guard spots, as well as the small forward position despite being a modest 6'5" (same as Stuckey). He's also demonstrated superb decision making, and has filled in for Rip a few times this season already. I was concerned he would be a career roleplayer, but I'm not certain about that now. With a 27th pick (the bottom of the first round), a quality reserve/roleplayer is actually a sound draft pick... but his hardworking attitude and commitment to defense is going a long way towards making him look like another excellent choice.

Mejia, unfortunately, ended up waived to make room for a veteran (Ronald Dupree). I Mejia spent most of his time at the shooting guard spot, but at 6'7" he had the ability to play small forward, as well. While still somewhat raw, he showed a lot of promise, and I wouldn't be shocked to see him back with the Pistons in the future, or at least playing in the D League or European leagues.

The Pistons already had a few young guns lined up... Jason Maxiell, Amir Johnson, and Cheick Samb.

Maxiell--Mad Max--has been dubbed "The Putback King" on some ESPN highlights. He's an undersized power forward (6'7") who even spent some time at center (the spot he played in college). He trimmed down from 260 lbs. to about 230 lbs., and his leaping ability has show vast improvement. He's rebounding better, scoring on monster dunks, and even demonstrating a solid mid-range shot. He might not make sixth man of the year, but he's got a pretty solid lock on "most improved" player, and is certainly the most important big man off the bench for the Pistons.

Amir Johnson tore up the D League last year, in his second season. Unless the NBA reverses their age limit, he'll go down as the youngest player at the time of the draft. He was picked up with the 56th pick (very end of the draft), and has grown from a thin 6'9" to 6'11" and developed a post game. He's a superb shot blocker, good rebounder, and has the ability to dunk as well as score from beyond the arc. He's still learning, but the Pistons made a big commitment and signed him to a three year contract rumored to be $12m or so. He's not getting much time yet, but I'm still optimistic he'll become a dynamic player for the team.

Cheick Samb was drafted by the Lakers (2nd round pick), but traded to the Pistons for Maurice Evans. Samb is a 7'1" center that has only been playing basketball four or five years. He spent last year in the Spanish league, and the Pistons decided to sign him for two years and bring him over in the summer. He's already earned a bit of playing time, and got in two games in the D League (which he's elgible for this season and next). I'm sure they'll bring him along slowly, but he's a fantastic rebounder and shotblocker, that has a surprisingly smooth shot. He's a project, but an interesting one.

Dumars also made some nice trades and moves over the years. The Pistons are owed the Timberwolves second round pick next year, though I think there is some confusion about that (since I read they were trading their 2nd round pick to the Celtics). If that pick ends up in the Piston's hands, they'll likely get the very top of the second round, which is far more valuable than most second round picks typically are. They also are owed two second round picks from the Raptors for Carlos Delfino, though I have no idea when those will be in the Piston's hands.

He signed Flip Murray for $1.8m. Murray might not be the best player in the league, but he's a steal at $1.8m. He hasn't meshed perfectly with the Pistons, but at that cost he's a fantastic reserve, and a valuable trade asset (since his contract expires at the end of this season).

He signed Jarvis Hayes for a single year for the veteran's minimum. Hayes, as I've said before, is too young to really deserve his "injury prone" label. A single injury cost him part of two years (of his three year rookie contract). He was drafted at 10th in 2003, and while I don't think he's worthy of a lottery pick, he's not a wash, either. He's a good scorer, off the bench. His defense is mediocre, and he can't create his own shot, but he's got good size and is deadly accurate out past the arc. He has his ups and downs, as most reserve shooters do, but I think he's an asset.

Dumars also corrected his mistake in signing Nazr Mohammad for the mid-level exception ($5.5m to about $7m) over five years. Nazr was the best center left on the market after Big Ben sold out to Chicago, and I can't fault Dumars for signing him. Unfortunately, he hasn't played well with the Pistons, and they had his contract for what seemed like forever. Solution? The Pistons just traded him to the Bobcats for Primoz Brezec and Walter Hermann.

Brezec is a 7'1" center who was a double-double machine for his first two seasons with the Bobcats, then he saw his minutes dry up to virtually nothing. He's not the toughest center, but he rebounds reasonably well and has a silky release on his shot... a touch most big men don't have. He's got an expiring contract, too. If he works, great! If not, nothing lost :) Likewise, Hermann is an Argentinian 6'9" small forward/power forward. He's definitely a talented scorer, with range out the three point line. I would not be shocked if he challenges Hayes for minutes at small forward when he gets up to speed on Detroit's play. He's also a fairly good defender, and a real hustle player. While both contracts are expiring, Dumars essentially rid himself of a contract that was bloated (given Nazr's play time) and long while getting a good look at two players that interest him.

Brezec, Hermann, and Flip Murray could all be used in a trade for someone Dumar's thinks the team could really use, too, since most NBA teams are interested in cutting salary with expiring contracts.

All in all, I'm very impressed by his decisions. I don't fault him for drafting Darko. Darko isn't playing up to a #2 draft pick, but he's not a washout, either. He signed a good contract with the Grizzlies over the summer, and that's a pretty good sign other teams still see the potential, too. Furthermore, in the aftermath of the Big Ben betrayal, Dumars managed to secure something from his mistakes (Nazr into expiring contracts, and a #15 draft pick that became Stuckey). Stuckey may very well be a much better player than Darko... for less money, and a much, much better attitude.

Anyway, it's close to 2 AM, and I'm thinking about gettng back to playing "Folklore" on the PS3. I'm really enjoying the game, both the amazing graphics, interesting storyline, and fun combat. I've read several reviews that critique the story line. Well... I don't see anything wrong with it thus far. Perhaps I'll change my mind, but the very creative manner of telling the story is worth something, too. It's a good game, and the recent addition of an expansion pack (on the Playstation Store) is intriguing. So far, it's eating up all my time, but "Final Fantasy XII" and "Shadows of the Colossus" should both be great, too... if I ever get through "Final Fantasy X-2" and "Arc the Lad: Twilight of Spirits!" Oh, and we got the girls "Shrek the Third" (video game) for the Playstation 2 they have; even that looks fun, so I wouldn't write off trying their game ;)

Once again, Happy Holidays!

Saturday, December 22, 2007

New Blog, Great Price...


As much as I got used to Blog City, they decided to eliminate free blogs, and I couldn't see spending $45 each year on a service I use so infrequently. I decided to switch over to Blogger, Google's blog service. I created an account some time ago, just to check it out, and it seems adequate, and the price (free) is just right.

So, Christmas is right around the corner. I'm writing this Saturday night, two days away from Christmas. Brenda and I have been fighting "teh sick." We both got flu shots this year, but we've spent the last two weeks dealing with assorted problems culminating in well... liqui-poo, headaches, chills, and a special Holiday fever! Friday started fine, but we spent Friday night taking turns polluting the bathroom, and hoping the nausea wouldn't result in a communion with the porcelein god. Thankfully, it didn't, but I was up nearly the entire night, and Brenda crashed at about 9 PM, after feeling miserable a bit earlier in the evening than I did.

Saturday was better, though we were both a little wiped out from the previous night. We did manage to go shopping, or rather I slept in the car while Brenda and Gwen hit the store. I did hit Michael's for a last minute addition to my homemade art kit for the girls. I had already picked up a pencils, graphite pencils, kneaded erasers, gum erasers, tortillions, and those nifty sandpaper sharpeners (as well as more typical ones for harder pencils). Oh, then I bought three small sketch pads, and three full size ones for the girls. I put everything in a neat little plastic organizer that latches shut. I added a big set of pastels, chalks, and colored pencils today (the first two purchased at Michael's). I already had a big set of unused colored pencils I bought for myself and never used! Oh, and I got another small package of tortillions, which are used to smudge/smear pastels and chalks around. Neat stuff. I wrapped it and concluded our Christmas shopping for the year.

Despite my mother's assurance that she wouldn't spend as much as she did last year, the tree is absolutely stuffed with gifts. We had planned to get little more than $100 gift certificates to Ross, a discount clothing store (like TJ Maxx) the girls all like. Well, naturally we had to have a few things for them to open, and that continued to increase, and now I wonder just how much we spent. Whatever the case, my mother topped my effort, and there are dozens of gifts, big and small, under the tree. I'm sure they'll be happy, although I couldn't get Gwen a fish or cell phone. I *may* get her a cell phone, but that'll have to wait until her birthday, after I've had a chance to find a decent plan, and I'm still not sure about that. Realistically, she only has one friend she would call frequently, and she has the same service we do (T-Mobile) so it would be free anyway ;p

I'm sure she would prefer a phone of her own, but 100 minutes for $20 seems like an awful deal. I think I have a 2000 minute account ;p

Anyway, what else has been going on?

* Brenda had a good annual performance evalutation at work. She wasn't really certain how she was handling the move from accounting to cost management. Her new job has a lot more to do with communication skills and a persons' knowledge of Boeing rather than their technical expertise with accounting. Fortunately, she's a more talented communicator than she gives herself credit for.

* The Pistons are doing very well. They got over their plague of injuries, and Rodney Stuckey played his first NBA game on Friday (against the Grizzlies). He only played five minutes, but had two points and two assists, without a turnover, so that's encouraging. I suspect he'll add a dimension they've lacked for a long time. They're actually second in the East, behind the Celtics, and second overall in the NBA. They just played thier first season match against the Celtics, at Boston, and won the game by two points (a pair of free throws, courtesy of Billups with 0.2 seconds left). Overall, I think the Celtics are playing far better than I figured they would... but they are a single injury away from being a struggle to make the playoffs at all, and I question how they'll hold up with the long minutes their big three stars are logging. Meanwhile, the Pistons starters have been putting in about three quarters a game, often taking the entire fourth quarter off. Their bench is vastly improved.

* Bench status:
** Jason Maxiell is still the standout. He might not be a lock for sixth man of the year with Ginobli playing off the bench, but he's definitely in the running for most improved player and is like a lightning bolt off the bench. He's earning the title "the Putback King," getting offensive rebounds and converting a miss to a thunderous dunk.
** Amir Johnson is being used a bit less than most fans had hoped, but he is doing well on the defensive end, both as a rebounder and shot blocker. I think he'll continue to improve, especially since the Piston's traded away Nazr to the Bobcats.
** Jarvis Hayes hot shooting cooled off a bit. He's been better the last few games, but he went through quite a draught, and I'm sure the Wizard fans complained about that when he played behind Caron Butler. Anyway, I still like him, and think he's a great backup to Prince. His defense isn't great, but he's not a liability, either. When his shot is falling, he looks great out there.
** Arron Afflalo, the rookie shooting guard, is really showing his stuff. He's a superb defender, NBA ready immediately, and he's displaying a great basketball IQ--showing a good shot selection. He's gotten more playing time with Stuckey out and Flip Murray playing point guard, but I wouldn't be surprised if they use Afflalo over Flip if Stuckey can hold down some scoring responsiblity. I envision Afflalo as a long term member of the Pistons.
** Rodney Stucky, obviously, has yet to log many minutes after his broken left hand, but I have a lot of hopes for him. He's tall, fast, and very strong. He can create his own shot, and gets to the rim, either drawing fouls, getting an easy basket, or dishing back to open men. He's running the offense like a true point guard, not the shooting guard most people envisioned him as. I think he's the perfect complement to Billups.
** Flip Murray is still erratic. Sometimes, he plays great ball, but when his shot isn't falling, he seems to get anxious to score, and jacks up bad shot after bad shot. I won't really miss him, even if he's a veteran presence. I think Stuckey and Afflalo will be an ideal pair of reserves.
** Lindsey Hunter is probably going to spend time on the reserve list with Stuckey back in uniform, but he did well against the Celtics, and is still an amazing defender. I think he'll retire after this year, but he still seems capable of playing a reasonable role as a backup player.
** Cheik Samb was assigned to the D-League, and them moved back to Detroit. He's still too raw to be an asset, but it's hard to dislike his ability.
** Walter Hermann is the 6'9" or 6'10" Argentinian player that came from the Bobcats with Primoz Brezec in exchange for Nazr and Dupree. He's capable of playing either small forward or power forward, though he's a little better on the perimeter. He has great three point accuracy, and is a great hustle player/defender. I'm curious how he'll integrate with the team. He looks like Fabio, but he's got game, and I think he's more valuable than a simple expiring contract.
** Primoz Brezec is the 7'1" center that came from the Bobcats, as mentioned above. He really wanted out of Charlotte, and loves the idea of playing for the Pistons. I think Brezec is better than people give him credit for. He's a good rebounder, and decent defender, but he has a great shooting touch for a big man, and I think he'll get some burn time as a Piston.

* I suspect Dumar's is considering trading Brezec, Hermann, and Flip Murray for a key piece, since they're all expiring contracts, worth roughtly $7-$8m total. I don't know what he'll end up doing, but he might be able to snag a very talented player that pushes them over the edge... or he might simply want them as a group. They've all exhibited flashes of great play, and I think Hermann and Brezec are too new to write off. Hermann was rookie of the month last year, and Brezec was a double double machine until his minutes were cut to virtually nothing last year. He's not an all star, but he's not the wasted player people think he is, either. I still think he could be a nice fit in Detroit, and Hermann might be a better backup for Prince than Hayes, but only time will tell.

* I've been playing some video games. I've played a little NBA 2k7 on the PS3, as well as Final Fantasy X-2 (PS2 title) and wiped the dust off Marvel: Ultimate Alliance (PS2 version) to give it another shot. I'm pretty thrilled with the video game collection I've got going. I've got for games to trade in at Gamestop/EB Games, but I'm not postive what I'll get. I'm leaning towards Folklore, but we'll see. I probably won't hit a new game until after my birthday in February, since I've got a lot more to try out still.

Well, that's it for now. I'll switch over my site to link to Blogger in the next few days :)