Thursday, May 15, 2008

NBA Round 2: Do or Die

The home team in the first round of the playoffs were 30-14, no thanks to the Celtics not winning in Atlanta. In the second round, home teams are 19-1, Orlando being the only team to lose at home to Detroit. Boston's home record is perfect: 7-0. Imperfect is their away record, at a playoff worst 0-5, which includes three losses to 8th seed, sub-.500 Atlanta in the first round and back to back losses in Cleveland. Detroit and Utah are the only teams still alive to have given up an first round home loss. With this year's wacky playoffs, its hard to tell who will crack the egg and win on the road. Boston is under the heaviest pressure cooker, being the #1 seed without a road win, after posting only 10 losses in 41 road games in the regular season. Losing the first 5 playoff games on the road is not a formula for a championship. Andrew Siciliano stated on Fox Sports Radio that the last team in the past 12 years to win a championship with the fewest road wins was the 2000 Los Angeles Lakers, who went 6-5 including the finals on the road. The Celtics have already met the loss total, and not even one game won on the road. Good luck, because there is obviously none to be had for the Celtics.

Three teams will require a victory on the road, on top of securing their own court, in order to move into the conference finals. The Spurs, who tonight play host to New Orleans, have been getting smeared in New Orleans, and will need to play with the same tenacity they play with in the first half on the road and their Spurs showing in San Antonio. Utah, who only lost one game on the road in the opening round against Houston, will need a game 7 win in LA, which never happens. Cleveland should be able to beat Boston at the Garden, as much as a flop they have been on the road, that should transition to a game 7 loss for Boston in Boston. Detroit won on the road, slamming the door to Orlando's bid to tie the series 2-2, and finished the job at home to win 4-1.

The Spurs are in the greatest trouble of being tossed. Their play has been shaky, and even with a big game 4 win in San Antonio, they will need double that to win in game 6 tonight against a Hornets team looking to let everyone know they are legit, too legit, for that matter, to quit.

But let's get real:
Hornets in 7
Lakers in 7
Cavaliers in 7

Remembering what LeBron did to Detroit last year, I can't see him not doing it again when it counted. Lakers will get edged in Utah, but will deliver their ever so mighty knock-out punch in game 7, barring any further injury to Kobe.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

How does one retire from golf? Or at the age of 25?

Yesterday, story broke that women's golf legend Annika Sorenstam was retiring from golf, at the age of 38. One can understand the time put into playing and training for golf, because the weekend casual player isn't on the PGA or LPGA tour last I saw, but how does one actually never play on tour again before they turn 80? Arnold Palmer, Jack Nicklaus, and Lee Travino may not be kicking it with these young guns on tour, but they never formally retired from the game. So, does Sorenstam go play croquet or badminton if golf was too much for her to play?

And Justin Henin retires from tennis, as the number one player in the world, at the age of 25. Tomorrow, Eli Manning will call it a career. You heard it here first.

Annika will retire golf for her family time. So, does this mean we won't see her at the local country club on Saturday mornings? My guess, she is going into rec league bowling.

Cell Phone Trends

Everyone remembers when the RAZR came out. Motorolla pimped that phone as much is it could, making sure everyone who saw the commercials knew this was the best cell phone you could buy. That was also the most expensive phone I have ever seen, with a $700 price tag (without contracts). Soon enough, the entire world was making sleek and slim flip phones with full color external displays, Bluetooth capabilities, etc. Then we had the first attempt at the ROKR, the first phone with iTunes. Combining music and mobile voice was revolutionary, considering most phones only had internal memory, which didn't amount to much. Then we see a rise is smart phones, although they have existed for quite sometime, it was much more of a reasonable price for an early Motorola Q or even the Nokia communicator series. With more and more smart phones emerging, it is quite safe to assume the industry is shifting to a PDA/smart phone based device base. With the release of Apple's iPhone last year, we are now seeing more and more touch screen phones (LG Venus, HTC Touch), as well as phones integrated with music services (Samsung SLM) and Wi-Fi built-in (Nokia N95).

With the setting of trends in the cell phone, I was curious to see where the trends started that have made today's phones multi-capable devices.

Back in 1992, there was this little device called Simon, developed by none other than IBM. It was not only the world's first "smartphone" but it also featured a touch screen, email, world clock, calculator, address book, notepad, and games, with included functionality of a pager, fax machine, PDA, and of course cell phone. Every smartphone today has these features, most have more, with video sharing, MMS, GPS, etc. Heck, most cell phones, not smartphones, have all of these features. Your simple $20 go phone has all or most of those features, save the touch screen. Although this was a little out of hand, in price, $899, and availability, release in 1994 in only in 190 U.S. cities in 15 states, this set the standard for what a smartphone should be - loaded with everything but the kitchen sink.

The Nokia Communicator line was the next huge step in smartphone, offering a QWERY keyboard, which is hidden behind t
he face of the phone, which flipped vertically along the phone to offer a screen and keyboard, while still preserving the generic numeric pad on the front of the phone, with usual call/drop buttons, menu and navigation buttons, with a small screen on the front as well. There are plenty of cell phones using the Communicator's design to this day, including the later versions of the Communicator, the LG enV, and U740 from Samsung, which offered a dual-flipping phone (pictured below):

The enV from LG

The U740 from Samsung

Most smartphones out today take some mold to the Simon or Communicator. AT&T/Cingular introduced their line of branded smartphones which combine a touch screen along with a slide-out keyboard, which few companies have used on standard mobiles, such as Motorola's new ROKR E6, which integrated iTunes in the original release of the ROKR.

Cellphones usually take one of three forms: candybar, clamshell, or slider. There have been a few who have tried to integrate a new style such as the "swivel", pictured below with the popular T-Mobile Sidekick 3, or a more proprietary form, such as the Nokia pictured below, which rotates.
Nokia 3250
T-Mobile Sidekick 3

What influence has the RAZR had? Well, they practically started the Slimmest Cell Phone War of the 21st Century. Also, the RAZR's unique keypad design, which they claim is laser etched, has branched over into the landline phones as well, with design of keypad and sleekness, compared to bulky cordless phones.
VTech DECT 6.0

Oh, and remember when it was a commodity to own a cell phone, kind of like it was to own a TV, two cars, satellite TV, etc.? Well, with the growing number of plans available for families to share, the entire family is mobilized, from the white collar father, the soccer mom, and the actual soccer
sons and daughters. I've seen 10 and 12 year olds with better phones than me! Thankfully, we still have age limits for drivers' licenses, else pre-teens could be seen on the streets with Blackberries AND Hummer H2s.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Astros Quarterly Report: I

The Houston Astros can no longer blame their lack of bat for losing so much. After sweeping Milwaukee, LA, and taking 2 of 3 from Washington, they have pushed towards the top of the division, and put Berkman back into the spotlight as a NL MVP candidate. The pitching worries me, with Oswalt and Chacon are the only two starting pitchers with 100 games under their belt, and with Backe prone to injuries, this could be a concern. The team as a whole posts a 4.24 ERA, which is middle of the road in the MLB. The hitting is in the upper tier, with 192 runs scored, and 344 hits, 5th and 11th respectively. With only drawing 115 walks while striking out 223 times, I am hoping the rest of the order around Berkman can pull through. Only a game and half back from the division leading Cubs is good news, considering the hole they were in this time last year, and they are actually looking like a good team. We will soon know when the Cubs come to Minute Maid next Monday through Wednesday. The should go in winning the next two series, a four game against San Fran and a weekend in Arlington.

Current Record: 22 Wins, 17 Losses (1.5 games back in division; 0.5 games back in wild card)
Leading Hitter: Lance Berkman - .393 (2nd in NL and MLB); 13 HR (T-1st in NL and MLB); 38 RBI (1st in NL, 2nd in MLB)

Leading Pitcher: Roy Oswalt - 4 Wins, 3 Losses; 48 K, 15 BB, 5.05 ERA, 12 HR (T-Most in NL)

Key Series Wins: Florida (April 11-13); San Diego & Cincinnati (sweeps: April 21-24); Milwaukee (sweep: May 2-4); Los Angeles (sweep: May 9-11)

Streaks: Won 5 straight between May 2 and 7 - won 5 of 7 series after losing first 5 of 6 of season. 9-1 in May. 16-5 since April 20.

How To Capitalize on Wii's Success

I recently became a prodigal son of the Big N - I took a several year hiatus due to the fact that Nintendo just wasn't cutting it for me. This came after buying a Nintendo DS, only to trade that, along with every bit of my Nintendo belongings in for a PSP. So with that, and an Xbox, I was happy. For years, I was enthralled with my Halo 2, Doom 3, Unreal Tournament, etc. Long story short, when the Wii came around, I found the Big N again. I have owned it almost a year now, and I am completely satisfied. However, as with all good things, they come to end. As Bob Dylan once sang, "the times, they are a-changin," (Ron Burgandy never heard that song :-) ), and the Wii could use some minor updates that can keep the train rolling. After exhaustive posts on the WiiChat forums, I have found some of the top complaints to be the same - storage.

If I were chairman of the development of the Wii, I would pose these options to my development team as challenges to overcome before the holiday season:

a. Allow the Wii's internal storage to be expanded to the SD storage. By simply adding a cheap 512 SD card (under $10), the storage is doubled. As a programmer, not a hardware designer, I understand there could be some difficulties, but the software development of Nintendo can surely make this a reality.
b. This would in turn allow the Wii to load and save data directly to the expanded storage. I would love the option of being able to take game saves from one Wii to another, which is an option that has been a part of video gaming since the PlayStation in 1996 - why is this not an option now?

a. Sell VC games preloaded on SD cards that can be sold in stores or bundled with Wii games. If loading a game save directly from the SD, loading a VC game should be as well.
b. Develop an adapter that will allow SD cards to work as GameCube memory cards. Since Nintendo does not offer first party cards, they should at least have a way to give customers a premium product that can be easily manufactured and sold.
c. Find a manufacturer to handle the GameCube controller manufacturing - again, since Nintendo doesn't have their first party controllers, and the few controllers left over are surplus and not manufactured in the past year or more. Get behind a wireless development of controller that will work seamlessly with the GameCube library. Many would want to use the classic controller with the GC games, which means the GC would have to get input from a Bluetooth signal, which would require the Wii to emulate the controls from the classic to the game, and would require more hardware. If Nintendo cannot offer a quality controller for the GC or support with the current controls, then I would be hard pressed to see why allowing GC playback would be necessary.

My main concern will continue to be the storage. Every week, I get an email stating the VC releases. If there will be more VC games added in the future, as well as additional Wii Ware applications, it would be a priority for my development team to find an answer for more storage.

Here is a current list of games I either own, rented, or played, along with a brief review:

Wii Play - *** out of 5
Only about four of the games are any fun to play, and two of those could be played on a regular basis. Good deal for the Wiimote!

Zelda: TP - ***** out of 5
One of the best games I have played in recent memory. I love the surplus of rupees! Just so hard to get a big enough wallet.

Madden 08 - ***1/2 out of 5
A good attempt using the motion controls, but definitely needs work with the online mode.

Mario Strikers Charged - **** out of 5
Only played the original once, but I love the idea. The level of difficulty is immense in the single player cup mode - online even more brutal. Nintendo does decent job with WFC online mode.

Super Mario Galaxy - ****1/2 out of 5
A beautiful Mario game! Graphics are amazing, "worlds" are neatly designed and crafted. It gets very repetitive after you actually defeat Bowser the final time, in search of all the stars.

Super Smash Brothers: Brawl - ***** out of 5
The best of the series by a mile. Characters are vast and well detailed, overall graphics not totally great, but good enough for sure. Stages are decent, love the option for Melee stages and build-a-stage.

Resident Evil: Umbrella Chronicles - *** out of 5
Not exactly what I expected from RE, although this was more of a shooting gallery game which had worlds from past RE games. Gorgeous graphics, but just a point-and-shooter.

The Bigs - ***1/2 out of 5
I love baseball games, and although this one is watered down, it has enough big catches, hits, collisions, and strike outs to last me for a while. Still can't run over the catcher though.

Mario Party 8 - **** out of 5
Not the best MP game of the series, but this is definitely fun. More board interactions, very intriguing game play aside from the mini-games give it more depth, but still has the pick-up and play attributes.

My Wish List:
Metroid Prime 3: Corruption
Mario Kart Wii
Alone in the Dark
Fire Emblem