Wednesday, July 15, 2009

The Stars Were Out

I watched the MLB All-Star game Tuesday night, and... the madness continues. Maybe I shouldn't say I watched it. I had the game on, but I was busy doing other things. Other online journalists (you know, the ones who actually get paid for speaking their mind) have ranted over the current MLB All-Star format, and I have to agree with a few sentiments. But my take on it might be a little different. I'm neither a baseball purist nor some Bill Veeck (bonus points if you know who he is without looking him up). But the current all-star format leaves a lot to be desired.

First, what is the MLB All-Star Game? It's just like the home run derby. It's an exhibition between players of various teams, whose sole purpose is to generate more buzz and revenue for the league. It doesn't figure into any league statistics for the year (like when Eric Gagne blew the all-star game save, but it didn't affect his record-breaking save streak).

My biggest complaint has to be Bud Selig's silly notion that the all-star game should determine home field-advantage in the playoffs as an incentive for players to play hard in this exhibition game. Lets look at the other US pro team sports with a championship series, the NBA and NHL. Both of these leagues award home-field advantage in their best-of-seven finals to the team with the better record (or points in the NHL). Now, it is true that in the last six years, there has not been a game seven in the World Series. But why wait until after a World Series goes to a full seventh game and it does make a difference?

In the all-star game this year, the NL had Justin Upton, a right fielder, playing left field. Curtis Granderson hit a one-out drive to left, and Upton's route to the ball allowed Granderson to get to third base. After a walk, Granderson scored on a sacrifice fly to right field. Should home field advantage in the World Series be determined by a guy playing out of his normal position in an exhibition game?

I won't mention both rosters featuring (count 'em) four first basemen. Rather than expanded rosters of 33 players each (how did they even come up with that number?), why not pick the best 25 in each league, play them more than one at-bat, two innings in the field, or one inning as a pitcher, and try to win a ballgame? We should strive for quality, not quantity.

How about this: who cares if there is a tie? It's an exhibition anyway. Fans are watching to see their favorite players, the stars of the game compete. If the game goes to 14 innings, call it a tie and award a tie MVP for one player in each league. I bet after 14 innings, most of the fans will have gone home or tuned off anyway. Why? Because deep down no one really cares who wins!

It didn't always used to be like this, especially back in the 70's when Pete Rose ran over Ray Fosse. People had pride in their league, and the game meant something. But with the introduction of interleague play, the novelty of the twice-a-year AL vs. NL (all-star game and World Series) has worn off. Don't get me wrong, I do like interleague play. But it comes at the expense of things like the all-star game.

I'm not a fan of the designated hitter in regular games. But for goodness sakes, get the DH in the all-star game every year. I don't want to see Roy Halladay bat in an exhibition game.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009


I've been asked quite a bit about netbooks lately, so I'd like to give my thoughts. What exactly is a netbook? I haven't come across a good definition (although I'm sure one exists), so let me try to define it in layman's terms. A netbook is a mini-laptop (9"-12" screen) designed for light computing usage (web browsing, email, word processing).

The upside for a netbook is the portability. A netbook is perfect in an airplane seat (I always found with a full-size laptop that I would have to bend the screen down or recline my seat back). Netbooks are also very light, making them very ideal for traveling. The Dell Inspiron mini 9 even fits inside the top pouch of my Tamrac camera bag.

Price is another upside to the netbook. Most netbooks are in the ballpark of $300. Earlier generations can drop as low as $150-ish, and adding extra RAM and/or storage space will run you closer to $500 on the upper models.

Netbooks are even being subsidized by various cell phone providers. You can purchase a netbook through Verizon, AT&T, and Sprint (and maybe even T-mobile). Deals range from a small discount ($200 on Verizon or AT&T) to as low as a buck (Sprint). All of the discounts require a 2-year commitment to a data plan, which can range from $45/mo to $60/mo completely separate from your cell phone plan. If you are planning on forking over the money for the data plan, it might be worth it. All have 802.11g Wifi, and all of them either come with Bluetooth standard or as an option, so you have plenty of connectivity options rather can a cell phone wireless network.

The downside of the netbook is... well it's size, specifically the screen size. Most early netbooks have a 9" screen, and others are getting a 10" screen, with models topping out at 12". You can't see very much on the 9" screen and a max resolution of 1024x600. Most desktop LCDs and monitors will display atleast 1024x768, 1280x1024, or widescreen resolutions up to 1920x1080.

Another possible downside is performance. Most netbooks use the Intel Atom processor, a CPU designed for low power operation and longer battery life. Do not expect the netbook to be your road warrior for professional digital photography or video editing.

Another possible downside is that netbooks do not come with DVD drives. You can get an external DVD drive and plug into the USB port, but they do not have them built in. Personally, I consider this a plus. Why lug around a DVD drive when I barely use it? When I need one, I just plug it in. You can convert DVDs to a viewable movie file (and the netbook will work well for that), but you won't be able to pop a DVD into the netbook.

Along the same lines of small size and portability, the keyboard is smaller, and that is something you have to get used to. On the Dell Inspiron mini 9, for example, the quote/double quote key is not on the home row (see this picture). It is a tradeoff to have larger key sizes, but lose some keys, verses having all the keys where you expect them, but smaller. It drove me up the wall, every time I would hit the quote key, I would hit enter key instead. Netbooks are on display at retailers (Target, Walmart, Costco, Best Buy, etc) and at cell phone stores (Verizon, AT&T, Sprint, etc). Go and check the keyboard out before you buy. Make sure you are comfortable with both the size and placement.

Specs-wise, most netbooks can be upgraded to 2 GB of RAM for a decent price. Storage on the netbook I've used is only 4 GB. That's not a lot of space at all! Some netbooks use solid state hard drives, super quick drives that don't store as much information. Get one that has atleast 32 GB, although you might consider 64 GB, or 128 GB (based on cost). Other netbooks use rotating spindle hard drives, the ones we've been used to in desktops and laptops for years. They might come in 160 GB, 250 GB or 500 GB models.

Several manufacturers make netbooks, including Dell, HP/Compaq, Acer, ASUS, MSI, and countless others. All have a pretty big following in online communities, so do plenty of reading and searching on reviews and forums. It will help cut down on any surprises afterwards.

Netbooks are interesting. They have a niche between a smartphone and a full-blown laptop, and the costs are somewhere inbetween that range too. It really depends on what you want to do. If you want something cheap and portable to check email and type out a few documents on the road, the netbook is for you. If you want to check out those RAW photos you just shot, the netbook probably isn't for you.