Wednesday, October 1, 2008

2008 - 2009 Pistons

Just about every year I try to take a look at the Piston's roster and make some predictions. It's one of the few "traditions" I have, unless you count some matters of personal hygiene and complaints. Without further Bob McAdoo (that's a required bad pun when talking basketball), here is your 2008 - 2009 Detroit Pistons.

Projected Starters

Point Guard/Shooting Guard Chauncey Billups: At 32, Billups is showing signs of his age, though most of the complaints pointed his way seemed to come during the playoffs--after a leg injury. He's still one of the best point guards in the NBA, averaging 17 points, 6.8 assists and only 1.7 turnovers per game last year (32.3 minutes per game). For the first time since joining the Pistons, his minutes dipped a bit. I expect them to continue to drop courtesy of the emergence of Rodney Stuckey. I suspect we'll see cases where Billups, Stuckey, and Rip are all on the floor at the same time, with Rip sliding over to the small forward spot. Billups biggest advantages are his size, strength, and defensive acumen. He's 6'3" and 203 lbs. as of the last roster update. He's never been an extremely fast guard, and struggles with some of the quicker guards in the league, notably players like Tony Parker. He averaged 1.3 steals last season, which promises to be an important part of Curry's agenda. Steals lead to fast breaks and easy baskets. Billups is still deadly from beyond the arc (shooting 40.1% last season) and can post up many point guards in the NBA, a rare ability.

Shooting Guard/Small Forward Richard Hamilton: Of all the "aging" Pistons, I predict the years will have the least effect on Rip. He stays in such phenomenal condition, he is the one Piston that never seems tired. With Curry's emphasis on "Bad Boy" defense, start to finish, I bet Rip won't see a big drop in his minutes. More likely, he'll spend a bit of time at the small forward spot now and then. He was especially effective guarding LeBron James during the regular season last year when they matched him up despite giving up a great deal of size and strength (LeBron is built like a power forward). Most fans look to Billups, Rasheed, or even Prince to shoot 3's, but Rip has gone from below average to deadly accurate the last few years. He shot 44% from behind the arc last season. I think Curry wants the Pistons attacking the rim more, but I wouldn't be surprised to see Rip continue to make teams pay when they leave him unguarded out by the three-point line. His bread and butter, however, is still moving without the ball, coming off screens and taking incredibly accurate mid-range shots. I believe Rip might be one of the most underrated Pistons. He averaged above thirty points a game during the playoffs when Chauncey was out on injuries, even during a game in which Stuckey put up 15 points. Rip would stand out more than he already does if he was playing for a less balanced, talented team.

Small Forward Tayshaun Prince: The youngest of the core Pistons, Prince just turned 28 and still hasn't missed a game. His defensive ability, high basketball IQ, and versatility earned him a spot on the Olympic team this summer--and a gold medal--though he was probably the least valuable player among the star-studded cast. That said, he's still a great player. Last year, he spent some time as a "point forward," since the Piston's didn't have much relief in the ballhandling department. While most compliment his ballhandling skills, I watched him attempt way too many alley-oop style passes during the playoffs... creating a lot of turnovers. He's talented, but I think his strength will continue to be a balanced game; last season he shot 36.3% from 3P range and demonstrated he could drive to the hoop with a surprisingly quick first step. His defensive skills on the perimeter haven't taken much of a hit with the years, though he looked tired now and then last season. I think he'll get a bit more rest this year, especially come playoff time.

Power Forward/Center Antonio McDyess: At 34 years old, McDyess is still a skilled finesse player and led the Pistons in rebounding as he moved from the bench to starting. Still, there has been a lot of talk about moving Dyess back to the bench; despite his impressive collection of double-doubles, he seems more productive coming off the bench. Amir Johnson is said to be the leading candidate for replacing him in the starting lineup, but I think Maxiell has certainly earned his chance as well. I'm not certain how effective McDyess and Maxiell would be together. Maxiell is only 6'7" and McDyess is 6'9"... adequate for power forward, but undersized for center, the spot he'd likely be playing off the bench. Out of all the Pistons, I suspect his minutes will take the biggest hit, but his attitude might win over Curry. McDyess seemed to want a championship more than any other Piston this past season.

Power Forward/Center Rasheed Wallace: Also turning 34, Sheed is in the last season of his contract. Many expected him to get traded in the summer, but it doesn't look like many teams looking to drop payroll (courtesy his expiring contract) had anything to offer in return. Rasheed is still probably the most skilled Piston on the roster, though his rebounding ability is less than you'd expect for a big man. The other complaint facing Sheed is something he could address... fewer three's and more post offense. Sheed has an incredible post game, but he shows a lot of reluctance to go down low on offense. Curry has already been vocal about this. If Sheed doesn't comply, expect fewer minutes for him. If he's paired with Amir Johnson--the best rebounder and shot-blocker on the team--I'd expect some of his weaknesses will be covered, at least as long as Amir can stay out of foul trouble.

Second Options:

Point Guard/Shooting Guard Rodney Stuckey: If you haven't heard of Stuckey, ESPN magazine (if memory serves) picked him as the most likely player in the NBA to have a breakout year. He had some amazing playoff games last year, and he missed the first 25 games of the season after breaking his hand in the final preseason game. A year older, I predict Stuckey will be a "sixth starter" and compete for Sixth Man of the year awards. He's big (6'5"), fast, and gets to the hoop with amazing speed. He also seems capable of running the point, even if he doesn't have the court vision of the best pass-first point guards. He averaged 19 MPG last season, jumping up to 22.3 MPG during the playoffs--including two games as a starter while Billups was injured. During on of those two games, Stuckey scored 15 points and had NO turnovers. He gives every indication that he was an absolute steal with the 15th draft pick.

Shooting Guard/Small Forward Arron Afflalo: Arron played more than many expected last season (12.9 MPG), in part because Rip missed ten games. His offense was quiet (3.7 points per game), but he shot a solid percentage (41.1%) despite struggling from the three-point line (20.8%). In college, he definitely displayed a knack for scoring from the perimeter, and I suspect his consistency will improve this season. His defense is already impressive, which is how he managed to earn minutes over veteran Juan Dixon. During the summer league, I saw him score 26 in a game and the announcers ranted "He's a man among boys out there!" He definitely seemed poised and confident beyond the start of his sophmore season. He's undersized (6'5" 215 lbs.) for small forward, but Curry made a career as an undersized, defensive-minded small forward, so I wouldn't write off some minutes at the small forward spot for Afflalo.

Power Forward Jason Maxiell: Maxiell has been another fantastic draft pick by Dumars. He was definitely the Piston's sixth man last year and earned his minutes through sheer will power. At 6'7" he's one of the shortest power forwards in the league, and he even played a few minutes at the center spot against Dwight Howard. He rebounds very well for his size, though struggles against the true big men of the league. He's an adept shot-blocker. And, he dunks. Man, does Maxiell dunk. I was surprised when I heard the mentions of Amir Johnson competing with McDyess and Maxiell for the starting power forward spot, but Maxiell has played better off the bench. He's an "energy" player. His undersized status also limits how well he matches up with players. Still, I expect Maxiell continue to stand out in the NBA. He's a great guy and should be a real spark plug off the bench.

Power Forward Amir Johnson: People have started to expect a lot from Amir Johnson since he was drafted in 2005 (the 56th pick of the draft). He's demonstrated, in flashes, what a remarkable player he can be. He has explosive speed and is starting to make moves on the perimeter and cut to the basket. He is most definitely the most gifted rebounder on the Pistons, especially on the offensive glass. With his offensive rebounds come easy put-back dunks. He is the best per-minute shot-blocker on the team, too--able to block shots with either hand. And, lets not forget that he has three point range. The coaches have made Amir concentrate on post play, but he most definitely can hit NBA three's. At the end of the season in 2005-2006, Amir played three games. He shot 2 of 3 from three-point range. While he missed all three attempts from beyond the arc in the following year, he only played eight games. If you check, you'll find two of those shots were last second prayers, not legitimate attempts. I firmly believe Amir Johnson and Rodney Stuckey are the future of the Piston's franchise. Amir continues to make rookie mistakes, but no one else has the potential he does. To paraphrase something the coaching staff just said, Amir does some things you can't teach very well, and does some things you can coach poorly. That's a good spot to be in. I predict he'll get at least 15 minutes per game, whether he starts or comes off the bench. I'd like to see him get 20+ per game this season. I think everyone will stand up and take notice when they see what this guy can do.

Center Kwame Brown: When the news said the Pistons signed Kwame Brown, the fans were angry. That's the BIG trade? Well, no. He's a single piece, to replace the role played by Elden "Soup" Campbell, Dale Davis, and Theo Ratliff. Kwame is only 26 years old, but was drafted with the #1 pick by Michael Jordan right out of high school. He's an athletic freak--6'11" and 270 lbs., not to mention very fast--and everyone has been disappointed with his performance. The thing is, Kwame doesn't have much of an offensive game. He rebounds well. He is a good shot-blocker. He has small hands and struggles with free throws and anything beyond put-backs. Sound familiar? For $4m a year (two year deal, second is an option of some sort) is a good deal for a legitimate, young center that is a good--highly skilled--post defender. He has had some health issues, but is capable of putting up solid numbers off the bench. He'll probably get most of his play time against the real big men of the league, the ones the Pistons struggle with since loosing Big Ben (despite the fact he was only 6'9" and 240 lbs). I think Kwame was a good signing. He's trying to salvage his reputation and won't be expected to be the star. On the Wizards, he was beat down by player/GM Michael Jordan, who couldn't understand why Kwame wasn't Shaq. Then he was moved to the Lakers, where they expected him to replace Shaq. Last season, he finished his year in Memphis, where he was supposed to replace Pau Gasol on a very poor team. Combined with the health issues and some immaturity early in his career, is it really a surprise he hasn't lived up to the hype?

The Third-Stringers:

Point Guard Will Bynum: I expected Bynum to make the team a bit ago, but he finally earned a contract this year. He's an impressive athlete, very strong, and is a bull-dog of a defender. He gets to the rim, or at least did in the D-League (leading scorer two years ago) and in Europe, playing for Israel. He isn't likely to get a lot of play time behind Stuckey, but he's a good third option at the point. He doesn't distribute the ball well, but the bench often lacks scoring--something he can provide.

Point Guard/Shooting Guard Alex Acker: Drafted by the Pistons a few years ago, he finally gets his chance on the roster. He is filling the hole left by Lindsey Hunter, who seems to be headed to retirement now. Acker will probably be used at the shooting guard spot, not point, and I wouldn't expect him to play without injuries, but he isn't a bad player. He spent the last two years in Europe, and looked pretty good.

Small Forward/Power Forward Walter Hermann: Hermann is probably the most likely player of the third-strings to get play time. He's a good defender, but he also is versatile enough to play shooting guard to power forward with his 6'9" frame. He has a deadly three-point shot and can score in a variety of ways. I was surprised he was signed this year. I really thought the Bobcats turned him off to the NBA. I expected he'd be in Europe this year, but the Pistons have another year to see what he has. I think he's a quality player. I wouldn't be shocked if he got some time at the small forward spot.

Small Forward/Power Forward Walter Sharpe: Walter #2 is a rookie and is very unlikely to play this season. He's a prospect. I'd say he is the LEAST likely Pistons to put time in on the hardwood this year. I think they intend to move him to the D League next year, having him concentrate on the Piston's mentality this year (and what they expect).

Center Cheick Samb: This will be Samb's second year and he would have probably played some minutes if they hadn't signed Kwame Brown. As is, I suspect he'll spend a lot of time in the D League barring injuries. He's a 7'1" guy with incredible shot-blocking ability. He also showed he has a smooth shooting touch, making him a very interesting prospect. That said, he'll probably join Alex Acker and Walter Sharpe watching most games... at least for now.

So that's it. That's the 2008-2009 Pistons. They look like a very skilled, deep team. Michael Curry will be the difference maker if they succeed this year. He promised to bring back "Bad Boy" defense even if the rules have changed. I suspect he'll focus on transition baskets off of turnovers, post play, and use his bench more than Saunders. If he wants 34 year old guys to play hardcore defense, start-to-finish, and then pound the ball inside on offense... he won't be sending them out for extended minutes. With key players like Stuckey, Maxiell, Amir, Afflalo, even Kwame Brown... he'll have a lot of options. I suspect the improvement from the young guys combined with the new coaching approach will make for an exciting year.

Monday, September 29, 2008

Wow... Get me off this Ride!

This summer, I had a run in with Labrythitis. No, that's not connected to my love for the David Bowie movie, but rather a weird virus with dizziness, nausea, and headaches as symptoms. In short, it was like an intense case of motion sickness... and motion makes the symptoms worse. Guess when it hit me? That's right... during our vacation period, whem my friend Mark and then my mother visited for six days and ten days, respectively. Naturally, we spent a lot of their trips driving to around, even multiple trips out on Eliott Bay and Lake Union. Fun, fun!

Over the last couple years, I've been teaching myself about the stock market. No, I don't plan on becoming a day trader, but I would like to control more of our investments. For the time being, most of our decisions simply amount to picking mutual funds through 401k programs, but I suspect there will come a time when I'm able to invest additional income (my "Mad Money," courtesy of Jim Cramer) in some stocks, hoping to sell them for profit in a six to eighteen month window. So I started keeping tabs on the stock market. Since I replaced my laptop computer with a Slimline desktop (HP), I've been watching daily. My desktop includes a gadget that has real-time stock updates. Like just about anyone with money in retirement, I've watched accounts plummet for the last year or two, and the last few weeks has been atrocious. Today, a 777 point loss, was especially hard to stomach.

As I said in my last post, I hope to continue incremental investments and make certain Brenda is able to retire comfortably... hopefully before she's sixty-five. Lately, I'm glad we don't have more invested. It's been hard to predict what's going to happen. Will the $700 billion bailout work? Will any form of it pass? Will the pop of the housing bubble and the horrible state of the financial world bring down all the other businesses?

I've heard WAY too many people complain that the "fat cats" are getting rich on Wall Street, and cries of "let the market fix itself." Yes, the CEOs are filthy rich, but do people really think this problem is just the greed of the part of the population that benefitted from the housing bubble? The people to blame include all the dim-witted folks who took out ARMs they couldn't hope to repay without divine intervention. It's all the people juggling credit card debt. It's all the people that hope to retire off of less than $50,000 and live on Social Security, as if that was ever meant to replace a savings plan. In short, most of America is to blame.

I'm sorry if you're in the crowd that didn't contribute. I don't think I had much to do with the problem either. I rent, despite the fact we're closing in on a six-figure income because I won't gamble on future earnings and take out an ARM on a house I can't afford today. I have NO credit card debt. I invest between 11% and 14% of our income into a diverse retirement fund. Of course, I've also had periods of tremendous credit card debt and my family even received welfare (or whatever it was called from 1994 to 1997) for a time. Thankfully, those days are behind us.

My fear is that if the government fails to buy up these foreclosed homes, the recession will deepen to a depression. The unemployment rate when consumers stop consuming, businesses can't expand by attaining loans, and homes sit vacant for years at a time. Does anyone really believe a "correction" of the market--especially one as dire as the Great Depression--is something we'd find preferrable to an increased tax burden? It seems to me that paying a lot in taxes is less of a problem than not having an income to pay taxes with.

BTW, does any one else think Boeing is a really good value at $55/share? Perhaps it'll continue to drop, but BA is one of the few strong manufacturing businesses left in the United States. It may well bounce up when the bailout (in whatever form) passes, the strike ends, and the first 787 rolls off the lines. Those increases alone might make BA an attractive stock to own. *Shrugs*

Don't worry. My next post will be on the 2008-2009 Pistons team.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Short Term / Long Term

Right now, Brenda's employer--Boeing--is dealing with a strike. The Machinist Union is striking on behalf of job security, more or less. Sure, they want their piece of the pie; Last year was an amazing one for Boeing. They earned a record 4.1 billon profit and had 1,413 planes on order, crushing their commercial rival, Airbus. Still, the Union is fighting for the future of their workers, since Boeing is committed to outsourcing. The problem is that Boeing would be headed down the exact same path the auto industry and the airline industry have taken--disaster. To stay at the lead fo the aerospace industry, Boeing has to keep labor costs down and that means outsourcing.

So I understand the situation the Machinists are in. Ultimately, Boeing will reduce it's work force. I'd try to protect my job, too... but I also know the average machinist earns $56,000 per year and has good benefits, including a modest pension program. How many people can earn that kind of income with nothing more than a high school education? Brenda earns around 35% more than that with over seven years of education behind her: her BBA (five-year program, with accounting focus), her MBA (a two year program), and the PMP certification (first half of the Masters in Project Management). She has a nicer work environment--often working virtually, from home--and far more opportunities for advancement, but that's not a big difference in pay considering her qualifications and how many job openings are out there for a skilled person with a finance background.

Boeing is fighting for their future. I'm glad I'm not one of the Machinists, but I don't see a lot of alternative. If Boeing fails to outsource, they'll end up loosing more and more government bids and commercial contracts. Right now, their only commercial competition is Airbus, but I'm certain the emerging industrial countries will compete in the aerospace industry, eventually, just like they are starting to compete in the automotive industry. Companies have to look to the future. Employees should, too. Boeing actually covers 100% of the expense of college courses, all the way up to a Master's degree, regardless of an employee's position in the company and regardless of what they opt to major in. It's an incredible benefit. I happen to have a very good friend who started on the line, installing windows in the planes. She finished a two-year degree, and moved into an administrative job. It was a pay cut, but far less physically demanding with ample room to grow. She then finished her four-year business degree and moved into a professional position, as a business analyst. Last year, she finished her MBA, and has continued to move up the salary grades.

While not everyone is cut out for college, the need for a college education is just a fact of life now. If you graduate from high school and want more than a life of paycheck-to-paycheck subsistence. What other choices are there? A military career probably requires officer training, and that's easier to do through ROTC than enlisting and working your way up. There are some professions that offer middle-class pay, but they require some sort of specialized training, often through vocational schools. There are handfull of very dangerous or difficult jobs that require iron will more than an education, but those are few and far between. In short, success requires some long-term planning, most often in the form of a college education.

The news this morning featured headlines about the Chapter 11 filing of Lehman Brothers and the Bank of America buying (bailing out) Merrill-Lynch. AIG, the largest insurance company in the United States, announced a dramatic plan to sell their assets and bolster capital. It's ugly news... and it's fallout from good old fashioned American stupidity.

People gambled on their homes. They bought homes they couldn't afford, paying only the interest for the first five years and hoping their finances increased enough to afford the rest of their ARMs. It's not surprising. Some point to housing prices, but those prices are driven by what people are willing to pay. If a house costs too much, then rent. It isn't ideal and you're not building equity, but you're not rolling the dice with your financial future, either. The average American household has nearly $10,000 in credit card debt. Yes, this is an average, not the median. 20% of households don't have credit cards at all and another 30% pay off their entire balance monthly, but that still means half of our country lives in perpetual debt... in addition to the expenses of over-priced cars and homes. Whatever the case, it's a rotten situation. Many people borrow from their credit cards and spend many years catching up, spending countless dollars on interest payments.

Brenda and I certainly had our share of debt. Having three children by your early twenties is a sure-fire way to ruin a person's careful plans. It's taboo for a parent to call their children a mistake, but my own children certainly weren't planned. It's not a mystery how they got here, but I wasn't careless, either. Whatever the case, we managed to get through our lean years, and have done pretty well over the last decade--improving our financial standing every year. The last five or six years have definitely been middle class living, despite the fact we rent.

We save money annually, if not every month. We have a healthy saves, about six months of our living expenses. Our only debt is our car payment (which is modest, and two years from being paid off) and Gwen's braces, which should be paid off in short order. Our credit is good (slightly above 750). In short, we're in a good position... but prices in metro Seattle are very high. We're not willing to take out an ARM, betting on a lower cost of living (as the kids move out) and regular increases (annual raises at Boeing, or even a promotion). Probable or not, it would be a gamble. We'll turn that big savings account into a down payment when we're confident we can continue to save a reasonable amount and live with reasonable standards AND still pay our mortgage. Maybe we'll be able to buy in the spring. Maybe we'll have to wait until all three kids graduation, in the summer of 2012. *Shrugs* Whatever the case, we'll plan for as much as we can. It doesn't change the economy, but at least we aren't contributing to the problems.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Opinion of 4th Edition D&D and Forgotten Realms

It wouldn't be an exaggeration to say I absolutely loathe the 4th edition Dungeons & Dragons rules. Nor would it be an exaggeration to say I find nothing of value in the 4th edition Forgotten Realms Campaign Guide. After twenty-seven years of playing D&D, I find myself at a bit of a dead end.

I still greatly enjoy the last edition of the game (3rd or 3.5) and have every intention of checking out third-party publishers that stay with the older rules, but I have no interest in buying into 4th edition. I tried World of Warcraft and didn't like it. At least WoW had sound and graphics to distract me from a simplistic and painfully juvenile game system. It's pretty obvious the designers of 4th edition are fans of WoW. While the classes retain the names we grew used to over the last three decades or so, they might as well have stuck with the slang used in online gaming like "tank" or "controller" and such. In fact, they essentially did in the case of monsters. Gone are the spell levels, replaced by a simpler system because players didn't like "resource management." Instead, they gave all classes a host of abilities divided into "at will,"encounter" (typically once per encounter, but sometimes more from what I've read), "daily" (once per day, regardless of how many combat encounters happan) and "utility." Certain abilities have recharge times. Sound familiar to anyone who has played WoW?

I'm not really certain why these format is dramatically different to manage, but 3rd edition frequently funnelled players into a single big fight, followed by a need for rest to regain abilities. 4th edition eliminates that... but so to does it eliminate the art of knowing when to use your abilities and when to hold something in reserve.

I've always felt that people were buying into a single way to play 3rd edition rather than the way we played 1st or 2nd. A challenge had to be neatly balanced with the partys' level in mind, with an emphasis on consuming a certain percentage of their abilities (hit points, spells, and items). Even if the evening session didn't involve a single large combat, it wasn't likely to involve more than three to five short fights before the part had to rest. Was that the only way to play? I think not, and have designed plenty of cases where a party could fight their way through a dozen easier encounters with just enough challenge to deplete the same resources as two to five of the more typical 3rd edition challenges. I'm sure I'm not alone in understanding the many ways a DM can challenge a group without falling into the fight/rest/repeat routine.

That said, I like the variety and detail that went into 3rd edition. 4th doesn't have the oddities, nor the character. It is a video game without the benefit of sound, graphics, full-motion-video, nor even the excellent story telling in some of the better series (Final Fantasy, for example). People will play 4th, and some will enjoy it, but they're the same people that would enjoy playing cards or a board game with their friends.

3rd also made the mistake of advancing players so fast, within a year of once-a-week game nights a player would have an epic character on hand. Apparently, this is what players want. They want constant rewards for their "hard work," and get a real thrill from this "accomplishment." Unfortunately, they grow bored with their dwarf fighter, or elven wizard, and want to try something new in a short time, even with the regular prizes handed out. I've played in a campaign where it took eighty sessions to gain a single level... and had a good time for the majority of it. I play for the thrill of enacting the character, not these virtual prizes. If that was an issue with 3rd, it's a chronic ailment in 4th edition. The pace is even more torrid and it takes on the feeling of a table-top version of Gauntlet (the old arcade game punctuated by "elf needs food").

I can't blame Wizards for trying to tap into the WoW market and grow their player base, but I won't be going along with them for the ride. There hasn't been a year since 1981 in which I didn't buy new gaming products. In many years, I'm sure I spent $1000 or more, though not all of it went to TSR (and later, Wizards). I guess I should be thankful that I'm not spending much on gaming any more. My total expenditures will be to Paizo's Pathfinder rule set (a 3rd edition inspired game, basically a nice little revision of 3.5 for those who don't care for 4th) and miniatures, which are largely a seperate hobby.

I will continue to develop my own campaign world. While I would ignore small changes to the Forgotten Realms in the past, I'm writing off the 4th edition Campign Guide entirely. The old Forgotten Realms has their share of problems and warts, but 4th is not fit to be printed. Whatever they churn out over the next five to ten years, I'm confident it won't equal the quality of one of the older 2nd editon Volo's Guides or the Aurora's catalog. They destroyed the character of the game in an effort to reach out to new players, and in doing so, I'm certain I won't be the only fanatic gamer that won't be with them any more.

As depressed as I was about the prospect of no new material for the game (although I'm encouraged Paizo will contine to produce their Pathfinder line), I realized I've been getting joy out of the 1984 edition of the Marvel Super Heroes RPG (by TSR) since I was in junior high. Even if Paizo doesn't provide enough new content, it doesn't mean I can't continue to enjoy roleplaying.

My personal collection of 3.x material includes some 1100 products on PDF, another 500 or so Dragon and Dungeon magazines, and probably another 150 or so 1st and 2nd editon books I sometimes comb for inspiration. I also have my huge collection of Marvel and Shadowrun (3rd edt, having been unimpressed with the 4th edition of that game, too) to keep me busy. Maybe some new game will be worthwhile, but if not... I'll be fine with what I have.

Friday, March 7, 2008

Rest in Peace

I realize I'm late on posting a blog update. Again. What can I say? I'm not the most prompt person. It usually takes some sort of catalyst like...

The Death of Gary Gygax

For those who didn't grow up in a keep on the Borderlands, take an expedition to Barrier Peak, or follow the were-rabbit into Dungeonland, the name Gygax is probably meaningless. For nerds, geeks, and dweebs around the world, Gary Gygax is a father-figure. You see, he was the co-creator of Dungeons & Dragons, and he passed away March 4th at 69.

Like many, I regard Gygax as the creator of roleplaying gaming. His death won't change the industry, but it does mark the passing of someone who deeply affected my life through his creation-D&D.

I started gaming in 1981, which was fourth grade for me. My friend Billy Talo introduced me to the Dungeons & Dragons game, which his older brother was a "master" of. We spent the better part of one Saturday creating a character, an elf (which was then both a race and an occupation under the very simplistic Basic D&D rules). When we finished, I was revved up and ready to explore a dungeon... and I learned Bill didn't have a clue what came next. He just understand how to create a character. *Chuckles*

Over the next couple years, I would beg for D&D books and slowly build a veritable library of the game. I remember my first copies of the D&D Basic game and later, the Expert set. I remember reading the books at a craft fair my mother drug me to. I remember playing with my friends in our tree fort... until we dropped the green dice into the grass below. We tore up grass for hours, but couldn't find the dice. By sixth grade, I was well into the Advanced Dungeons & Dragons rules, a more complicated and "realistic" game. Dan Mueller and Mark Serrahn were my gaming buddies, each bringing some different experiences to D&D (and other games, like the original Marvel Superheroes RPG). Mark and I would go on to create our own games, including a Transformers game (using Lego-guys for figures), something we called the Key System (which was meant to be as realistic as possible), and board games like Mark's Battle for Solon.

Mark and I bundled our 1st edition books together, and we had quite a few, and traded them into a place (sort of a pawn shop) for three whole 2nd Edition books--the Player's Handbook, the Dungeon Master's Guide, and the first Monstrous Compendium (a binder that had replaced the Monster Manual). Yup, three whole books. Naturally, we later found our 1st edition stuff being sold for far more than the value of the 2nd edition books, but we were poor kids!

Over the years, roleplaying has been a constant in my life. I gamed online for years, but always go back to the tabletop game. Even as I type this entry, I have perhaps a hundred hard-cover books filling up a floor to ceiling shelving unit in my bedroom. What's there? Some old 2nd edition books I still like to read, a lot of the current 3rd and 3.5 editions of D&D. And thene there are products by other companies, like Privateer Press's Iron Kingdoms setting, the old Marvel Super Heroes game, Shadowrun Books, perhaps a hundred old Dragon and Dungeon periodicals, some of the recent Paizo Pathfinder series (the first two, before I cancelled my subscription because I wasn't using their stuff).

My desk is covered with miniature painting gear and a few partially painted mini's. I have an 8-drawer "hobby" shelving unit next to my bed which doubles as a night stand. I've got counters, dice, and miniatures jammed in there. Just one glance at my DVD collection will reveal my interests... Berserk, the Record of the Lodoss Wars, Legend, The Dark Crystal, Labyrinth, the Lord of the Rings collection, The Thirteenth Warrior, even some old animated classics like the Hobbit and the Last Unicorn. Yeah. I like fantasy.

Every weekend I rattle on to Brenda about the "Broken Blades" and the city of Mulmaster, which I've poured my heart and soul into for years. You see, these places, characters, items and monsters... they're as real to me as many people I meet. I can close my eyes and feel the cold winds blowing off the Moonsea (Ed Greenwood's contribution, but Gygax's game). I can hear the hammers beating steel into swords, glaives, speark heads. I can see Tanner wearing his dragon scales and spiked Breastplate in the court, looking uncomfortable, smirking, laughing loudly enough to scare the courtiers, and giving every indication he's the new High Blade because of the strength of his immense arms. I see what others don't... the tenderness with which he treats Saphrael, the trust he extends to the feral Jasper, fatherly Gustavus, forthright Tarka, pensive Llister, ruthless Parne, and glib Harlequin.

I owe these memories to Gygax, just as the millions playing World of Warcraft or exploring Morrorwind on their XBox 360 or Folklore on their PS3 do. While it's truth that Gygax borrowed a lot of his ideas from Middle Earth and Jack Vance, there is no doubt the gaming he develped was a wonderful addition to our world.

Gygax said "I would like the world to remember me as the guy who really enjoyed playing games and sharing his knowledge and his fun pastimes with everybody else."

With a fourth edition of the D&D game right around the corner and Dragon magazine closing in on 30 years now, I'd say that's how we remember him. He's the father of gaming, the guy that gave geeks something to get excited about. With a couple books, a few oddly shaped pieces of plastic, some scraps of paper and a pencil, maybe a pewter minature (though that wasn't the norm for may years), we were able to live another life. It didn't matter what ws going on at school, home, or in the world around us. We were able to escape, with our friends, and immerse ourselves in adventures fit for mythic heroes. I'd say Gygax has left the world a better place than the way he found it.

We'll miss you Mr. Gygax. Thank you for everything.

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Lazy Days of January

As it turns out, I'm not having the best start to the new year--at least in terms of being energetic--and keeping up my new blog is no exception! I'm endeavoring to catch up the blog, since I just turned thirty six and am feeling a bit older than dust right about now. This entry is going to be one of those, train of thought sort of things. I'm going to just share what I've been thinking on some current hot topics, in no particular order.

Heath Ledger's Death:

Okay, I rather like Heath Ledger, perhaps because he seemed genuinely likable. I suppose it's difficult to really feel attached to an actor, since we often judge them by their roles, not anything we might know about the person behind the characters they play. Anyway, I really enjoyed Ledger in "A Knight's Tale." I suspect a lot of people weren't crazy with the odd mix of modern music and a historical fiction set in the late middle ages, but I liked it. I mean, it had David Bowie's "Golden Years" mixed into a court room dance. What's not to love? It also had a fantastic supporting cast with Rufus Sewell (Dark City star), Paul Bettany (supporting parts in Master and Commander, The DaVinci Code as the albino, and A Beautiful Mind), Mark Addy (the father in TV's "Still Standing" and in the recent version of the Time Machine), and a very funny Alan Tudyk (Wash in "Firefly" and "Serenity").

Anyway, Ledger died of an accidental overdose by combining painkillers oxycontin (oxycodone) and vicodin (hydrocodone), anti-anxiety drugs Xanax and Valium, and sleeping pills. Now, given the fact I take oxycontin, vicodin and can't sleep, I understand the issue. I've taken Unisom, one of the two sleeping pills he was using, though I only use a half tablet. In most people, oxycontin and vicodin make you sleepy. In my case, apparently like his, my mind stays busy even when I'm physically exhausted. It's frustrating and would be even more difficult if I had an active life (which I suspect he did). It's an unfortunate loss, and one that makes me just a bit nervous, given what he died from. Thankfully, I don't need to maintain a normal schedule, and I've been able to avoid sleeping pills (after giving up on Unisom entirely).

The Presidential Primaries:

Well, as I write this, most of the tallies from Super Tuesday are in. McCain has a big lead over Romney and Huckabee. While I'm a liberal, I'm also a big fan of strong personalities. I value fiscal responsibility and lean right on criminal justice, so I'm not uncomfortable being labelled an independent. Simply put, very few people are lucky enough to be able to vote for a candidate they agree with on every major issue. It's far more likely, they'll have to support someone who strikes them as a leader, a reasonable and thoughtful individual, even if they can't see eye-to-eye on everything. I feel that way about John McCain.

I will most likely vote for Hillary Clinton before Obama, because everything Obama has said about "change" seems to exist in a void. Passing legistlation requires compromise. Hillary Clinton understands that. John McCain understands that. I'm fairly certain Obama, Romney, and Huckabee don't. Maybe that willingness to put aside partisan politics and come to an accord is really the definition of a moderate or independent. I see a Clinton v. McCain race as a win-win situation.

I'd be very disappointed if McCain ended up working to overturn Roe v. Wade, but his record seems to indicate his personal views (pro Life) wouldn't dictate some federal policy. Likewise, my own belief that same-sex marriage rights are undeniably the correct, reasonable way to move our laws wouldn't get much attention. McCain has made it a point that he believes it's a state issue, unlike his more socially liberal backers Gulianni and the Governator. While Hillary Clinton would undoubtedly not take an action to errode women's rights, and might move the reality of same-sex marriage rights closer, I think both of them would focus on the economy, salvaging the war in Iraq without pulling out as a knee-jerk reaction and turning the place into a veritable blender. Social issues are really important BUT I also can acknowledge the need for progress on things like health care (which is more likely under Clinton, but not out of the question with McCain), our economy, immigration and border security, and the war in Iraq.

I'm not convinced either Clinton or Obama can beat McCain. Clinton, in my mind, has a much better chance, but Obama galvanizes people. I don't see the appeal. He's done nothing remarkable. People are buying into his "change" rhetoric, but I haven't heard anything that leads me to believe he can correct the problems facing the nation, nor gain enough support within Congress. Whatever the case, I suspect the next president will be an improvement. I'm sure Clinton would be the candidate that serves me best, but I wouldn't be disappointed if McCain got elected, and even Obama would be less problematic than Bush. I guess we'll see.


I'm not a big fan of spending money we don't have, but I understand the complexity of the finances our government. I don't think 1% of our GNP will avert a recession, but it might blunt the outcome. Ultimately, I'd rather have a bit of the government's wasted money in my own hands. How do you plan on spending yours?

Depending on when we get our rebate (IF we do, I guess), I'll most likely just add it to my growing "house" fund. I have planned on paying off a small student loan and eventually Gwen's bracers, but we already will have those accounted for most likely. That leaves me with a single source of debt... my car payment. Even that is small, and we technically have enough to pay it off with enough for a cruise left over. None of that helps the economy, but I'm a frugal person. I buy things that interest me, when we feel comfortable spending the money... but I'm not going to go out and blow it just because I find myself with more money. I spend plenty anyway.

New Buys/Gifts

Brenda was gone in California this past week for a business trip, to kick off a new project, and she gave me crabs when she got back! Okay, by crabs, I actually mean hermit crabs. They were my birthday gift, since I've always liked the little fellows. They're sort of my totem animal, both the hermit-side and the fact they pinch! Heh. I'm going to do a bigger blog entry on the guys when I get the photos touched up and online.

I bought Brenda an 80gb Zune for her birthday, since our 20gb iPod hasn't been charging right... and no longer holds the 26gb of music I have. I continue to add ot our collection, ableit slowly, so it makes sense to find a system that will link with my computer (sync'd up, actually) and able to store enough. It also has a cool wireless connection, a bigger screen (3.2 inches), and a digital radio tuner. Overall, I think it's pretty nice, but I don't care for the way it handles the music. I would have been much happier with a system that functioned by standard Windows directories. Instead, it created a lot of "various artist" enteries for things like Fatboy Slim or other electronic acts with guests involved. Ah, well. It's still pretty nice.

Lastly, I got some nice little gifts from different people. I got two novels from Joel Rosenberg and volume one of Cowboy Bebop from Brenda. I was missing the first Bebop disc, though I have discs 2 through 6, and the movie! That's a great show, btw. I love Rosenberg, and although I'm missing some novels that come before these, Brenda was afraid (and rightfully so) they'll disappear entirely soon enough. I'm trying to find three of his novels on Ebay still. My mom sent me cash (which was silly, but one size definitely fits all) and two great color by pencil Thomas Kincaid sets. I'm looking forward to those, since I actually like to color. Mark, who has been friends with me longer than anyone I remain close to, got me two great graphic novels (The Watchers and The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, as well as a D&D book on my wish list (Lords of Madness). That was a great surprise, and I'm sure it'll give ma lot to read/do this month!


I won't go into another boring, redundant post, but it looks like the Pistons shook off a funk they went through (5 of 10 after their twelve game win streak ended), and are back ot a win streak of five or so. The bench is doing well and Amir Johnson is finally getting play time! For those that don't remember, Amir is the twenty year old 6'11" Piston who has a *gift* for rebounding and shot-blocking. He's still foul prone, but what an amazing athlete he is! The Pistons are five games behind the Celtics, but second overall in the NBA still. That's a pretty astounding record, and I like what they're doing.

The Lakers made a big move and traded off two draft picks ('08 and '10 first rounders), an expiring contract (Kwame Brown) worth $9m, and their point guard prodigy Jarvis Crittenton, for the Grizzlies' Pau Gasol. That's a fantastic move, though it has significant pay roll consequences. Still, it was likely the best deal the Grizzly organization could get since they're having serious financial problems. I'm sure they're going to try to move more players, since they have way too many point guards. They moved Stomile Swift to the Nets, and are shopping Mike Miller around, after buying out Damon Stoudemire (who went to the Spurs). Now people are wondering where the Net's Jason Kidd (or even Vince Carter) might land, and there are rumors about the Phoenix Suns swapping Shawn Marion and Marcus Banks to the Heat for Shaq! That's a weird move, but make sense when you analyze it.

Bascially, even with his delined athletic ability, Shaq is still shooting 60%. He simply isn't getting the ball very often in Miami. His rebounding will never recover, but he's still a threat. He seems like a terrible fit with the super fast paced Suns, but imagine Shaq (even with his quesitonable health) paired with Amare Stoudamire (as a power forward, for a change), and all the accurate perimeter shooting on the Suns. Yeah, they wouldn't get as many fast breaks, but whew! That could work. Miami picks up a very, very talented player that has a player option next season. He may match up well with Wade and company, and Marcus Banks is still has promise as a point guard. I think he'd be an improvement over Smush Parker, and I suspect Jason Williams will be gone after this season (maybe even earlier).

The trade deadline is approaching, and I'm curious to see what people will do. The Pistons have a lot of expiring contracts they could use to lure out a guy who makes a big impact. They have Primoz Brezec, Walter Herrmann, Flip Murray, and even Jarvis Hayes. I think Lindsey Hunter might be in his last year, too, though I can't remember now. I'd like them to keep Herrmann instead of Jarvis Hayes, since Hayes may not resign for the money he's making this season. Herrmann is a good defender, great even, and seem like a talented scorer. We'll see what they decide, but I think it's safe to say Flip Murray is gone. The Bobcats players and Jarvis Hayes are more questionable.

Bit Torrent

I finally broke down and swiped an out of print book on Bit Torrent. I don't like the idea of aquiring stuff this way, but I couldnt' even find a copy on Ebay, so felt desperate. It wasn't as if my money didn't go to the publisher; it wasn't headed there anyway! It's a neat system, not unlike Napster, but I don't know if I'll make a lot of use of it or not. It is certainly tempting, given how much media is available through Bit Torrent sites.

Well, that's it! I've got a bunch of photos I need to get online. I also have to back up my data files (mostly music, but also writing, gaming, photos, etc.) onto my external hard drive this week, too. I'm always paranoid of computer problems, and it pays to have a backup of the files you value. I have a pair of external hard drives that don't ever get used, so time to make them useful!

I'm off like a dirty shirt!