Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Game Review - Mirror's Edge

So this was a neat little pickup I found on Sunday. I'd heard about it from my brother, who had given it a rather interesting review, and when I saw it at EB for $10, I decided, "Sure, can't not be worth that price." Thus far, though I've only played it twice as yet, it has not disappointed. Mirror's Edge is quite possibly the most unique game I have ever played; it's a new twist on the first-person game, but rather than being a shooter, it's a platformer. You play Faith, a Runner, who gets involved in investigating the murder of a prominent figure in the city, and are working to clear Kate, Faith's sister, and a police officer.

As for the gameplay, as I said before, nothing else quite like it that I've played. The closest thing, and this is a stretch, is probably the next-gen incarnations of Prince of Persia, but the freerunning in first-person perspective gives it a whole new twist and makes it very interesting, and exceptionally fun (if at times trying, but most games are). Figuring out all the platforming puzzles and learning all the moves and move combinations really makes the game, as well, and the time trial segment of the game is where that part of it REALLY shines.

The one downside I find with it thus far is dealing with the police officers and the combat system. Although the disarming is a neat idea, it's phenomenally difficult to get the timing nailed down, almost to the point where it's useless, and you get very little opportunity to recover from any kind of mistake. I think the idea was to add an element of difficulty and make it trickier and more fun, in that respect, but Tycho from Penny Arcade said it best, and I'll echo that statement (I may be paraphrasing): "I was already having fun." The police officers detract from the fun, rather than add to it, even if it brings an element of intensity to the game. On the upside though, there appears now to be a pure speedrun DLC for it on Xbox Live Marketplace, so maybe they had that idea as well.

Overall, Mirror's Edge may not be the greatest game ever made, but it's far and away the most unique, and it has a neat charm as a result of that. And if it's retailing for $10 now as opposed to the original $50, it's well worth the price to keep you entertained for a while.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

The Stanley Cup Finals and Sidney's 'Snub'

So, this piece is going to be very unpolished and stream-of-consciousness, but anyways. Two days after the finish to the Stanley Cup Finals, Sidney Crosby has won his first cup, leading his Penguins over the Red Wings in seven games. Credit to both teams; everybody played hard, and left it all on the ice. Except, maybe, Kris Draper.

After the clock wound out at the end of game 7, standard raucous celebration and dogpiling ensued on the part of the Penguins. No biggie there, I don't think. Handshakes came shortly after, Detroit lined up, and both teams went through the handshake line. Unfortunately, Crosby was evidently slow to the party, and Detroit captain Nicklas Lidstrom had already left the ice by the time Crosby had fought his way through the masses of reporters, microphones, and cameras. He did manage to shake hands with some of the Wings' players and key staff, but many had already left.

So here's where it gets fuzzy. Did Crosby intentionally snub the Red Wings in the handshake line out of malice or arrogance? Not likely, I don't think. Crosby, frequently accused of being a whiner, is probably one of the more respectful and respectable players in the NHL. Maybe the Red Wings were in a hurry to get off the ice afterwards? I don't know. Might be, might not. Regardless, this snap from Draper has me seething a bit:

Nick was waiting and waiting, and Crosby didn't come over to shake his hand...That's ridiculous, especially as their captain, and make sure you write that I said that! (Associated Press)
My (very, VERY blunt) opinion? Draper's being unnecessarily butt-hurt and making a mountain out of a molehill. I'll openly admit, I didn't pay much attention to how long the whole thing took, and how long the Wings waited on the ice (supposedly, not very; I wasn't keeping track). But considering Crosby would've had to fight through and likely knock over at least five dozen people with cameras and microphones, I don't think he should be terribly surprised or offended that he was a little late to the line.

Regrettably, the Crosby haters seem to be out in full force after this snit, and want to call him out for being classless, snobbish, whatever. They need to take a look at the situation here; he's a KID. He's not even 22 years old yet, and just led his team to a Stanley Cup. Life's dream. A billion different emotions at once. A hiccup in following protocol. That's all that happened. He's not snubbing anyone, he's not being a prima donna, he's not doing anything they might think he is, I don't believe.

Hate all you want; Sidney Crosby now has his name on the Cup. Miserable that a great series, and probably the best playoffs I've watched in years, has to wrap up with this, of all things. I don't believe for a second that this was a snub, particularly how Crosby is not only the face of the franchise, but of the entire NHL. He was late; that's it. Of course, nothing I say will stop the haters from hating, but it has to be said.

Let him have his night, Kris. You've already had four.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Another One Bites The Dust

It's a pretty public fact amongst people I know that I can be a pretty passionate person, and about several different things. You've already heard me sound off on matters of sport and of science, and now, to another passion of mine: Gaming. I'm a proud gamer, and have been for a long time, and I've been particularly fond of some of the RPGs that Square has churned out, one of my favourites amongst those being Chrono Trigger. I'm one of the many patient fans who have been waiting for another installment of the Chrono series, and after having heard rumours of a Chrono Break some time ago slated to be the third of the series after Trigger and Cross, it hasn't come to fruition.

There are some who are less patient than I, though. People in the mod community had already been slapped with a cease and desist order after Square caught wind of the Chrono Resurrection project, a homebrew remake that was shit-canned in September 2004. The CR remake was a 3D revamp of the original, and had some phenomenal potential, but likely was going to be released online, for no cost, at no profit to the developers, and at no (or very little) economic impact to Square, with full credit for the original IP given to the good people who worked on Chrono Trigger.

Bad enough that Resurrection got 86ed, just two weeks ago another fan project, using the Chrono Trigger cast and engine, but an original story, was axed. Crimson Echoes started development in late 2004, and was just three weeks away from release at about 98% finished, and due to hit the internet on May 31st, likely once again with credit to Square for original development, and without copyright claim, profit to themselves or negative economic impact to Square-Enix. It's bad enough that they came down on it in the first place, but to do it just three weeks from release, after these people have poured four and a half years of blood and sweat into it? Bad form.

So what's the underlying reason for this bit? Fanboyism gone overboard on my part? I don't think so, though I cop to being a bit of a CT fanboy. Criticism of Square's timing? Partly, but that's now been covered. A treatise on the DMCA and draconian abuse thereof? No; I'm a scientist, not a lawyer, and don't know the ins and outs of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (though if you like, educate yourself at the Great Wiki). This is largely to express bewilderment about Square's second snuffing-out of a fan tribute project, and what their intentions are with respect to the series.

I'll address the first of those two parts first, since it'll be the longer. I can't understand why fan projects like these are so widely feared or shut down or whatever you like to call it by the companies, especially when they look like they'll turn out to be quality projects. The act of jealously protecting a franchise name like this, or loading excessive DRM measures into a game (I'm looking at you, Electronic Arts. I haven't forgotten about the PC port of Mass Effect, even if I play the 360 version), or railing against a fan tribute as an act of piracy, only fosters a feeling of contempt, and appears to encourage cracking DRM. (Which, by the way, if it's there, someone, somewhere, WILL crack it; I don't know why they bother anymore, frankly. Another rant for another day, though, I suppose.)

On a consistent basis, it seems like Valve is the only developer that's gotten it right with respect to fan projects. Half-Life was a huge hit, and someone got the crazy idea of making a PvP first-person shooter out of the game. And so, when Valve caught wind of this, what did they do? They let it play out, saw that it was getting big, and got the hell on board. And so, the Counter-Strike franchise was born. Valve wanted the series, they commercialized it, and it got huge. Why Square hasn't tried to follow suit with the CR or Crimson Echoes projects, rather than continuing to flog the Final Fantasy series (which, while I enjoy it, probably has over two dozen different installments, without remakes by now to Chrono's two) is completely and utterly beyond me.

As for the latter point about Square's intentions, I hope, as the crew of Crimson Echoes do, that the move by Square to can CT:CE was as an interest in the series, and with the intention of making a new Chrono title, rather than just a short-sighted legal bitchslap that will continue to tire and alienate an enormous and devoted fanbase. If they decided to do what Valve did and port these games, say, Resurrection to Gamecume or PS2, and Crimson Echoes to DS, they would pull in dough that would make a gold mine look like chump change. Square, fans have been clamoring for another Chrono game after Chrono Cross for nearly a decade. Get your head out of your collective ass and get the hell on board.

For posterity:
Chrono Resurrection Teaser

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Setting the Tone - An Observational Experiment

A hunch I've had about Alex Rios, especially watching him for this season and last season, has been that he has a tendency to let his first at-bat really dictate how he hits for the rest of his game. If he has a good result early, he hits well; if not, he has a bad game at the plate. So what I've decided to do is to actually chart this and do a little statistical analysis on the findings.

So here's the rough explanation:
Duration: April 21st to June 7th, 45 games
First AB will be labeled either 'good', 'neutral', or 'bad'
Batting average will be tracked in those three categories
Good ABs: Hits, Sac Fly
Neutral ABs: Walks, HBP, ROE, Sac bunt
Bad ABs: Any outs other than sacrifices
Stats tracked: Hits, AB, batting average, HR, RBI, K, RISP

Over the course of those games, results get tabulated, and at the end of the experiment, we'll determine the batting average over those three categories, and see how they bear out. Might extend the experiment further, as well, to 60 games or so. Seeing how this affects how Rios at the plate should be an interesting exercise, and my hypothesis is that the numbers are going to bear out the qualitative observations over the last year. Also, I could use a project like this to fill my time.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Week One

So I'm aware of the fact that over six games, what I say is not statistically significant, but thus far, I've liked what I've seen out of the 2009 Blue Jays so far. They've been able to come back and win games from behind that they had no business winning, have gotten good to excellent starting pitching, and have been tearing the cover off the ball, and that's led them to a 5-1 start. So in here, I'll feature a few cogs of the Jays machine and my thoughts on their performances this week.

The Brilliant
  • Adam Lind, DH. Lind has absolutely flogged the baseball in his first six games, putting up a six-RBI performance on opening night, and wrapping up this week going 12-26, with three homeruns and 12 RBI. Lind was a terrific hitter all through his minor league career, and expect him to continue to thrive here at the MLB level now under Cito Gaston and Gene Tenace.
  • Aaron Hill, 2B. Hill has put up a very strong 8-26 so far in the early goings, along with eight RBI and two homeruns, one of those a key three-run bomb in the second game against Detroit, and starting the season on a six-game hit streak. Hill has always had a quick bat; if he puts up power numbers like he did in 2007, and can improve his on-base percentage, he'll be a key piece that was sorely missed in 2008.
  • Roy Halladay, SP. Yeah, I don't think this name is really a surprise. Save a shaky 7th inning in his start against Detroit, Doc has been sharp as a razor, posting a 3.86 ERA, a 1.00 WHIP, and a 2-0 record in his two starts. Expect another Cy Young push out of Roy, as well as a run at 20 wins once again.
The Good
  • Scott Rolen, 3B. Rolen is off to a great start as far as his hitting in concerned, currently sitting on 8-17, and continues to play his excellent defense, but didn't have a great start as far as production numbers go, with only two RBI. Admittedly, not entirely his fault with Lind hitting the way he has been this week.
  • David Purcey, SP. Purcey's start against Detroit was very well executed, in spite of the no-decision. The 27-year-old left-hander pitched seven strong innings with five strikeouts, two earned runs, and three walks. That last number he'll have to bring down, but he will win his fair share of games this season if he does.
  • Ricky Romero, SP. The rookie left-hander pitched a solid game against Detroit on Thursday, a six-inning, two-run, five-strikeout effort. The brightest thing about that game though, was that in one inning, with the Tigers having already scored two and still threatening, he escaped the inning, and would pitch well for the rest of the outing and get his first MLB win.
The Bad
  • Jesse Litsch, SP. Although Litsch pitched reasonably efficiently in his Wednesday start, he had a lot of trouble keeping the ball down, and got burned as a result, giving up five runs on seven hits, including three homeruns. On the plus side, it's a pretty minimal correction to make, and he should have a strong start on his next time out.
  • Rod Barajas, C. Barajas has started the season just 1-14 with just one RBI, and while you generally don't look for huge offensive output from the catcher position, you'd like Barajas to be giving you a bit more than this. Upside? Still strong defensively in the first week, and for the most part, he's got his pitching staff in good sorts.
The Ugly
  • BJ Ryan, RP. Ryan has started off ice-cold for Toronto this season, in two outings, he's had 1 2/3 IP, four earned runs, four hits, three walks, and a blown save. He needs to get it together, and get back to his 2006 form, or he'll likely lose the closer role if he can't find a way to throw strikes.
  • The Opening Night Fans. I had the misfortune of witnessing a debacle at the 2008 home opener last season, where rally towels, garbage, and a pizza were thrown onto the field, and a streaker took the field. A similar mess happened this season, with more garbage, baseballs, and golf balls thrown onto the field, bad enough that the Tigers actually left the field during a nine-minute delay, and resulted in a threat of forfeiture. That has to stop.
All things said, I think Jays fans have a lot to look forward to this season. If the young pitchers can play well and the offense keeps clicking, they'll be able to put the league on notice with a strong April.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Samson's Team Canada

With less than 11 months now until the start of the 2010 Olympic Men's Hockey tournament, it won't be too long before Steve Yzerman's selections for the Canadian roster is announced, and it's at this point that I'm going to put together my own roster for the tournament. I can't decide whether or not Yzerman has an enviable position; there's certainly no shortage of talent in the pool for him to draw from, but who goes and who stays is the question.

One certainty about this roster will be experience. Canadian players have no shortage of international play time, whether it be from the Olympics, World Championships, or from their time in the World Juniors, and every player on the roster will have worn the colours at least once. Another is that among the forwards, because of Canada's enormous depth at the centre position, a few of them are going to be playing out of position on the wing. Last, Yzerman will, particularly on the blue line, be looking for players who can play a strong two-way game, and complement their offense with strong defense.

We'll start between the pipes, and two of the picks for goalie are no doubters. As the primary, I'm taking Martin Brodeur. Even though he'll be a few months shy of 38 years old by that point next year, he's said himself that he wants to be the go-to guy, and he's still playing like he can be after a long-term injury layoff this season. Second is Roberto Luongo. Arguably the most talented goalie in the world, he can stop pucks that most goalies wouldn't be able to. He's said that if he goes, he wants to be the number one goalie, and he's good enough, no doubt; it's a coin toss as to who takes the lead between those two. For the third-string keeper, I'm more keen to take someone younger; the third-stringer is more a cheerleader position than anything, and for that I'll name Cam Ward from the Carolina Hurricanes.

Now, on to the blue line. As I mentioned before, many of the names here are going to be strong two-way players; guys that can run a power play, have big shots, but can also kill penalties and shut down at the same time. So, here are my seven choices, in list form:

Roster Selections:
  • Chris Pronger (Anaheim Ducks)
  • Scott Niedermayer (Anaheim Ducks)
  • Sheldon Souray (Edmonton Oilers)
  • Dan Boyle (San Jose Sharks)
  • Dion Phaneuf (Calgary Flames)
  • Shea Weber (Nashville Predators)
  • Mike Green (Washington Capitals)
All seven of these defencemen are very strong offensive players, either in a playmaking or power-play-leading scenario (Niedermayer and Boyle particularly), or as shooters (especially Souray, Pronger, and Phaneuf). All of these players, however, have strong defensive awareness; Pronger, Phaneuf, and Weber give a tremendous physical presence, and Scott Niedermayer still gets back on defense as quickly as anybody. Also a key bit to note: Mike Green is on this list because of his absurd stat line so far this season; 62 games played (13 missed so far), 28 goals, 67 points, both of which lead all defensemen in scoring, and has an outside shot at scoring 35 goals this year, a number beyond anything I can remember by a defenceman since the heady days of Orr, Bourque, and Coffey. As well, Souray and Weber each have scored 21 goals thus far this season.

Other Possibilities: Brian Campbell, Chicago Blackhawks; Jay Bouwmeester, Florida Panthers; Dennis Wideman, Boston Bruins. All three of these players are certainly capable players, and have qualities that coaches love; Brian Campbell has terrific speed and can get back almost as well as Niedermayer, Bouwmeester is an excellent puck-mover, and Wideman plays a very hard-checking defense, as well as having had a strong offensive year this year with nearly 50 points to date. Working against Wideman, however, is his lack of international experience; he has yet to play for Canada in an IIHF tournament. This may be his year, though.

Notable Exceptions: Rob Blake, San Jose Sharks; Robyn Regehr, Calgary Flames; Wade Redden, New York Rangers. Rob Blake while still an offensive and defensive presence, will be 40 years old by the time the Olympic Tournament starts next year; there's no guarantee he'll even be playing next season, and I don't wish to use a roster spot on him when there are equally deserving players. Regehr, while a strong stay-at-home defenceman, lacks the two-way ability of the other defencemen in the roster; there are simply more offensively gifted and more physically punishing options. Redden, similarly to Regehr, doesn't have the offensive ability that he used to have, and also lacks Regehr's defensive capability.

As for the forwards, the major problem (and it's not a bad problem to have, truth be told) is that there are so many good centres available that if you take the best thirteen forwards, you'll have too many forwards, and you'll have some of those extra centres playing out of position on the wings. That being said, many of these forwards are certainly adaptable enough to do that, and Canada will be able to field one of the most dangerous offenses in the tournament, top to bottom.

Roster Selections:
  • Captain - Jarome Iginla (Calgary Flames)
  • Sidney Crosby (Pittsburgh Penguins)
  • Joe Thornton (San Jose Sharks)
  • Dany Heatley (Ottawa Senators)
  • Ryan Getzlaf (Anaheim Ducks)
  • Rick Nash (Columbus Bluejackets)
  • Jason Spezza (Ottawa Senators)
  • Vincent Lecavalier (Tampa Bay Lightning)
  • Martin St. Louis (Tampa Bay Lightning)
  • Jeff Carter (Philadelphia Flyers)
  • Eric Staal (Carolina Hurricanes)
  • Marc Savard (Boston Bruins)
  • Simon Gagne (Philadelphia Flyers)
So here's part of the problem: All of these thirteen forwards, and only five wingers. All of these forwards are fantastically talented, though, and make for a formidable setup. For a big-time, high-speed scoring line, expect to see a setup such as Crosby/Savard/Gagne, or a Heatley/Spezza/Carter combination. Spezza flanked by two gifted scorers, Carter, who has broken 40 goals this year, and his Ottawa teammate Heatley, a two-time 50-goal scorer. If you're more a fan of a power-forward line, you'll like an Iginla/Getzlaf/Nash line to fill that role, or alternately, Getzlaf/Thornton/Nash. No shortage of dangerous combinations for the Canadian team to put together.

Other Possibilities: Shane Doan, Phoenix Coyotes; Mike Richards, Philadelphia Flyers; Brad Richards, Dallas Stars; Jonathan Toews, Chicago Blackhawks; Patrick Marleau, San Jose Sharks; Mike Cammalleri, Calgary Flames; Brad Boyes, St. Louis Blues, Ryan Smyth, Colorado Avalanche.

Notable Omissions: Joe Sakic, Colorado Avalanche; Jonathan Tavares, OHL London Knights; Brendan Shanahan, New Jersey Devils. With all due respect to Sakic and Shanahan, the two will be 40 and 41 years old respectively at the time of the Olympics next year, and while Sakic, when not battling hernia problems, can play with the best of them, I don't think it's likely that he will be playing next year, nor will Shanahan. As to Tavares, as gifted a player as he is, Yzerman has said that he doesn't plan to have any teenagers on the team, and I don't expect Tavares to be named, just as I doubted that Sidney Crosby would be named to the 2006 team. Expect Tavares to be playing for Canada in 2014, if the NHL decides to go.

With a roster like this, and an opportunity to avenge an underwhelming 7th place finish in Italy back in 2006, this edition of Team Canada looks to be more versatile, more balanced, and faster than the 2006 incarnation. Explosive scoring, hard hitting, and fast moving. It should be a good tournament and a good home crowd in Vancouver for this one.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

The Airplane and the Treadmill

Anybody who is familiar with the xkcd fora is probably aware that bringing up the legendary Airplane-on-a-Treadmill scenario comes with the risk of facing the Banhammer. The reason for it is that the subject has already created two threads and 450 posts of uncut stupid. So at this moment, I'll be discussing the ever-confusing Airplane-on-a-Treadmill problem here, in an effort to elucidate the problem. There are a few typical descriptions of it, but the key points are this:
  1. You have a typical airplane on an infinitely long treadmill.

  2. The treadmill can accelerate to any speed.

  3. Structural integrity will not be considered as a restriction (i.e. No structural failures of the airplane, tires, or treadmill.)

  4. The axles on the airplane's wheels are, for this case, frictionless.

  5. The airplane will start its engine and attempt a takeoff roll as the treadmill begins moving in the opposite direction, matching speeds with the wheels of the plane.

  6. The airplane will either take off as normal, or will be stopped by the treadmill.

Now, the major source of confusion with this problem seems to be in item number 5; many people have differing interpretations of just what this statement about 'the speed of the wheels' means, as follows:

  1. The speed of the wheels as measured by a speedometer connected to the wheel. This is dependent on the rotation rate of the wheel.

  2. The speed of the wheels as measured by a stationary observer off the treadmill as they move through space, i.e. The translation speed of the wheels.

  3. The ground speed of the airplane, which is identical in principle to case b.

So we'll deal with the misconceptions that abound in case a. Many people think that since the treadmill speeds up, it's going to draw the airplane back as it tries to accelerate; this is not the case. The issue here is that a false analogy to a car is being drawn. A car engine delivers its power to the wheels, which rotates them; that rotation then translates into a static friction force between the tires and the ground, which is what propels the car forward. A car on a treadmill would be stopped by the treadmill because it operates with respect to the ground. An airplane, and the wheels thereof, however, behave differently.

What IS the difference, I hear you cry? Well, the difference is an airplane isn't driven by rotating the wheels; it's driven by pushing the entire aircraft through the air via direct, and the wheels simply rotate freely on the axle to allow the plane to move more easily along the ground. A car's driving force goes through the ground it rests on, while an airplane's driving force goes through the air. The airplane operates in a different reference frame than a car, speficially, with respect to the air, not the ground.

Now, time to analyze the forces involved in the plane powering up. Brakes are off, throttle wide open, which means at our initial situation of a stationary plane and a stationary treadmill, we have two forces acting – thrust, and static friction. Thrust acts through the structure of the plane, accelerating it forward, and the friction acts on the tires. That friction, however, translates very little into the structure of the plane, and mostly only serves to rotate the tires along the ground. Additionally, that friction exists whether the treadmill is moving or not; it exists just the same on a paved, static runway, and airplanes take off from those all the time.

Now, what's the biggest problem with case a? This situation fundamentally defines the speed of the airplane as zero for all time; that's the only case where this situation would be true, and the only case where it can be true is if the engine is not running, or if you're picky, at low idle. Since it makes that definition, it's not physically significant, and once the airplane begins moving through space in reality, then you get a situation where the treadmill is constantly accelerating to match the speedometer connected to the wheel, which accelerates the wheel (but fails to decelerate the plane), which accelerates the treadmill. So with this feedback loop happening, you'll eventually get a situation that is eventually going to become physically untenable, but still failing to stop the acceleration of the plane through space.

So, that being said, case a is physically trivial. There's no important physics happening there because we've demanded in the question that the airplane remains stationary, and it has essentially reduced to “Demand that the airplane remains stationary. Does the airplane take off?” It creates a tautology by framing the question poorly or incorrectly.

So now that we've shown why that definition not only runs afoul of sense, but makes no difference to the physics of the problem as well, let's talk about case b, where the treadmill runs at the speed of the wheels through space. So, for a plane traveling at any given speed, v, along the ground, the treadmill will be running at the same speed, v, in the opposite direction. Now, taking into account what I mentioned well above about the friction, the wheels, will be rolling – and freely spinning on the axle, remember – at a relative speed of 2v, so for a plane traveling at 50 knots, the treadmill rolls back at 50 knots, and the wheels rotate at the equivalent of 100 knots. All the treadmill does is speed up the wheels, slow down the plane.

So, after all that, no matter how you rig it up, as long as your axle is frictionless and your wheels don't explode, then you can get moving forward, get lift, keep accelerating, and take off, no matter how you rig it up.

Still don't believe me? Well, here is some experimental verification, with a real plane on a moving tarp acting as a conveyor belt. You don't even need the ideal scenario!

So hopefully after reading this, you'll be able to find the signal for all the noise on this subject. Fare thee well, and hopefully we've learned something interesting!

Saturday, March 7, 2009

Spring Is In The Air

And what does that mean? Baseball. Spring training has begun for Major League Baseball, and this weekend marked the start of the second World Baseball Classic, an international 16-country tournament. Already, there's been an enormous upset in the double-elimination first round with the Netherlands managing to hold onto a 3-2 win over the Dominican Republic, putting the Dominicans on the chopping block.

This afternoon, though, if you were lucky enough to see the Canada vs. USA game, you saw a great one. It was an intense game through and through, and while it's a shame that Canada came out on the wrong end of a 6-5 score, I enjoyed every second of that game. My thoughts on the Canadian team:

On the mound: Canadian starter Mike Johnson pitched a solid four innings, after running up onto his pitch count. He clearly has a great mental makeup, very cool and collected on the mound, and has solid stuff on the mound as well the confidence to throw any pitch at any time (including striking out David Wright on a 3-2 slider).

Another pitcher to make a note of is Seattle Mariners farm hand Philippe Aumont, a 6'7" right-hander. Similar cool manner, brings a hard mid-90s fastball with some nasty inside-out movement, and a hard 82-mph slider, with a seldom-used curve to go with it. Aumont looked a little shaky early on with a couple walks and ended up loading the bases with none out, but buckled down very well and stopped the threat with a pop-up and two strikeouts.

The Canadian pitching staff definitely boasts some great arms; the only knock on them is experience. Few of them have played on a stage quite as big as this, but they've showed themselves to be quite a solid bunch. Almost a pity that four of the starters that were originally going to come out for Canada couldn't (or didn't) do it for some reason or another (Ryan Dempster opted not to compete; Rich Harden, Jeff Francis, and Erik Bedard are all injured).

At the plate: Canada appears to be boasting quite an impressive lineup, featuring both MLB veterans and some minor league prospects in various organizations. Star of the show today proved to be Joey Votto, with a terrific 4-5 performance, with a double, a towering homerun off Jake Peavy, and two RBIs. Votto is a future all-star with the Cincinnati Reds, and with days like today, you can see why.

Russell Martin and Jason Bay showed why they're in the show as well. Martin had a homerun and a double himself today, and Bay, though hitless, had three walks, and demonstrated just how good a hitter he can be, and why he's an all-star. Canada also bears a remarkably dangerous 2-6 stretch in the batting order, with the aforementioned Martin and Votto in the 2 and 3 holes, 2006 AL MVP Justin Morneau batting cleanup, Jason Bay batting fifth, and the lightning-fast swing of Matt Stairs in the sixth spot.

With the loss, Canada does face elimination on Monday, against the loser of tonight's game between Italy and Venezuela, but with this lineup, expect Canada to at least survive to contend for a second-round berth, much like they did in 2006, where their only loss in the first round was to Mexico, and even managed to upset the USA team 8-6 with a great pitching performance from Adam Loewen.

This is going to be a great tournament.

Saturday, February 28, 2009

Movie Review - Once

I'll be the first to admit I don't watch a whole lot of movies, and I review even fewer. But there's a movie that I want to talk about that I greatly enjoyed tonight; a low-budget music film made in Ireland called Once.

The film follows a nameless Dublin street musician (Glen Hansard, 'Guy' going forward) and a Czech immigrant (Marketa Irglova, 'Girl' going forward) who befriend one another while the guy is performing on the street one evening. He learns that the girl is a pianist, and after he shares some music with her, they go on to record an album with another group of street musicians to complete the band. The characters are simple, he being a vacuum repairman and writing music on the side, her being a mother taking care of a child, and the dynamic between the two main characters is enjoyably sweet. The shoulder-held camera shooting of the film also adds to its simplicity of both the characters and the story; very little in the way of high drama or fancy camera work, just a plain, simple, enjoyable story that doesn't try to do too much or be strikingly profound with any underlying themes.

Where Once really shines, however, is in the music. As mentioned, the story revolves around the guy and the girl recording an album, and the music that the characters record, which serves as the soundtrack for the film, is largely written and performed by Hansard and Irglova themselves, either individually or jointly, and serves as the true focus of the film. The music follows a general trend of being low-key acoustic ballads, with a range of emotion from more tender and hopeful ("Falling Slowly") to bitter hindsight ("Lies"), and much like the film itself, makes little effort to be musically profound or complex; with the exception of "Fallen From The Sky", the music is simple band arrangements or guitar/piano duets, that fit perfectly with the style of the film.

All in all, while certainly not an involved film by any stretch, it doesn't profess to be, and as such becomes a good film by being a simple story, as well as, admittedly, a vehicle for Hansard's and Irglova's music. If you're looking for something laid back and easy to watch and enjoy, with a terrific soundtrack to boot, I highly recommend it.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Wheeling and Dealing

So as a Toronto sports fan, by and large, I've had the unenviable task of rooting for some rather mediocre teams, not the least of which being the 2008-09 incarnation of the Toronto Raptors, who, admittedly with some critical injuries, have been underachieving all year. With signing point guard Jose Calderon long-term and picking up Jermaine O'Neal from the Indiana Pacers in a trade this off-season, things were starting to look up after a middling effort in the 2007-08 season at 41-41. Anyone who paid attention knew that the O'Neal pickup was definitely an experiment or a project, and as of last night, that experiment appears to be over by way of trade with the Miami Heat:


C/F Jermaine O'Neal
F Jamario Moon
Conditional First Round draft pick

F Shawn Marion
G Marcus Banks
$3M cash considerations

As for my thoughts on the trade, I don't think it's a bad move, difficult though losing Jamario Moon is to swallow, and a nagging feeling that GM Bryan Colangelo gave up a bit too much as a result. Moon was an energetic, enthusiastic player, and while certainly not up to snuff as a starter, was a solid bench option, and with his athleticism, a superb help defender. O'Neal, while a strong frontcourt player and rebounder, something the Raptors desperately needed, was a question mark with regards to the health of his knee, and with both he and star player Chris Bosh preferring to operate in the post, may not have been the best fit. As unfortunate as it is to see these guys go, it's business, and in the case of O'Neal, it's probably for the best. O'Neal looks like he may be a good fit in Miami as well, who had traded Shaquille O'Neal to the Phoenix Suns for Marion, and will give the Heat the post presence that they've been lacking after Shaq's departure.

Picking up Shawn Marion gives the Raptors, when they get healthy, a solid secondary scoring and rebounding option to Bosh, and a dedicated small forward. Although his 12.o PPG this season with Miami certainly leave something to be desired, with a point guard that can take care of and move the ball like Calderon, it's not an unreasonable expectation to see that number rise in Toronto, while maintaining his eight or nine rebounds per game clip. Marcus Banks will give Toronto a good secondary point guard option to Calderon, or at least another option along with Roko Ukic, which will have Anthony Parker as a dedicated shooting guard, and will make guard Will Solomon expendable.

This trade also gives the Raptors significant flexibility for the coming off-season as well; by off-loading the near-$23M owed to O'Neal next year, and replacing it with Marion's expiring contract, that frees up a tidy sum for Colangelo to work with, either to re-up Marion or to explore the free agent market and use that money elsewhere. Additionally, once the Raptors return to full health, this will give their starting five some stability by, for better or worse, making Andrea Bargnani the starting centre, and slotting Marion in at small forward, rather than having a revolving door in the frontcourt with the likes of Moon, Bosh, Bargnani, Joey Graham, and O'Neal.

Overall, I think this trade is a good move. It gives the Raptors some lineup stability, a secondary scorer, and one less question mark about health, as well as some increased financial flexibility. I doubt this will help the Raptors vault into the playoffs this season, but down the road it can bring them back to respectability.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Breaking It In

So here I am, with another blog that will likely not see too much action. Purposes of this will likely just be for random musings and the like, or if I discover I have something particularly poignant to say. I may also cross-post a few things with some other blogs as well. Until such a time occurs, I do believe this will be a wrap.