I’ll admit it. I have a bad habit of not finishing things. Video games, in particular.

For example, I can think of about 10 games off the top of my head that I bought but haven’t finished (or in most cases, haven’t even played). I’m sitting in my office right now, with no access to my game collection to confirm, but here’s a list…

Assassin’s Creed Revelations (Haven’t played)
Batman Arkham City (Haven’t finished. Maybe halfway through?)
Battlefield 3 (Haven’t played)
Battlefield Bad Company 2 (I think I own this?)
Borderlands 2 (Haven’t finished the latest DLC)
Brutal Legend (Haven’t played)
Brink (Barely played)
Child of Eden (Haven’t played)
Crysis 2 (Haven’t played)
Darkness II (Haven’t finished)
Dead Island (Barely played)
Goldeneye Reloaded (Barely played)
Mafia 2 (Haven’t played)
Mass Effect 2 (Barely played)
Rage (Haven’t played)
Saints Row (Barely played)
Saints Row 2 (Haven’t played)
Sonic Generations (Barely played)
Splinter Cell: Double Agent (Barely played)
Splinter Cell: Conviction (Haven’t played)

And now this list is just making me sad. That’s way more than 10. And it may not even be complete. It certainly doesn’t include XBLA, Wii, 3DS, and PC games.

Usually when I look at how many games I haven’t played, I’ll say something about making a list and plowing through them over the holidays or something. I’ve tried that the last 3 years and the list just stays the same size. But I think I’ve finally found a solution…

Step 1: Play though these games at some point in the near future.
Step 2: Stop buying games (Only have my eye on Bioshock Infinite at this point. Everything else is “meh”)
Step 3: Stop thinking that I NEED to play every good game that comes out.
Step 4: Stop thinking that I need to buy cheap games because they’re cheap (I got most of the above games for $5-10 via GameFly)
Step 5: Profit! (Literally, profit by not buying more games)

I just have to step back and admit that I can’t play games like I used to. Not in the same volume. Instead, I’ll focus on really enjoying a few games a year and pass on the rest. Maybe one day I’ll have a job where I can spend more time playing games.

I’d like that.

On the Surface

Last Friday, I took a trip to the Microsoft Store at the Domain here in Austin to pick up a new toy: The Surface RT from Microsoft. After having spent the weekend and a few work days with it, I’m finally ready to type out a few impressions.

First off, let me preface this by saying that I’m bought into the Microsoft ecosystem so getting a Surface over an iPad or an Android tablet was a no-brainer. I’ve had an Xbox for ages, and do the bulk of my gaming on my 360. I’ve owned both a Zune 30 and a Zune HD (Still use it almost every day!), and have had a Zune Pass for several years. And of course, I’ve been a Windows Phone user since WP7 launched in the tail end of 2010. So when I started looking into getting a tablet, neither an iPad nor an Android tablet made sense. That said, I jumped on the Surface RT as soon as I could.

Hardware wise, the Surface is incredible. I think its a bit heavier than other tablets, but it has a good “heft” to it. It feels really solid, and I’ll take solid over light every day. The VaporMg case gives it a very premium feel. The display is nice and crisp, though not as high-res as the newest iPads. So far, that hasn’t been an issue, and I doubt it will be. It’s a 16:9 display, so movies aren’t distorted or letterboxed in any way. Also, Surface works well in both landscape or portrait mode (minus a few odd apps). I find myself using portrait mode quite a bit for reading websites and such.

Unfortunately there does seem to be some kind of defect (Or maybe its intentional?) in the glass on a few (Maybe all?) Surfaces. They appear to have some kind of warping near the bottom, in two spots right next to the capacitive Start button, and right above the magnets that connect the Touch/TypeCover. I posted more about this issue over on The Verge, and the verdict so far seems to be that it isn’t that common.

Surface has a built in USB 2.0 port, a mini-HDMI port, and a microSD card slot. That means you can plug in a flash drive/keyboard/mouse/whatever (As long as it’s listed as “compatible” here), connect to an external monitor, and add up to 64GB of SD storage. The USB port alone takes it a long way towards replacing a “traditional” computer like a laptop. Also, Surface is WiFi only. You won’t be able to pop a SIM card in to jump on a cellular network, though you could connect to a cell-based WiFi hotspot if you have one.

I can’t comment on the innovative TouchCover or TypeCover, since I didn’t purchase either. I did use each of them briefly while in the store, and they’re perfectly capable keyboards. If you want to use the Surface as a laptop replacement or plan to regularly use it for serious typing, get one.

Personally, I’m using my Surface as a tablet, and if I need a keyboard I’ll use a USB or Bluetooth one. No need for a keyboard to follow me everywhere. However, I do hope that we see more “click in” accessories in the future.

Battery life on the Surface is excellent. In fact, I’ve currently clocked about 36 hours of “normal” (Not constant, but a bit of music here, video there, note taking, web browsing, etc.) use and I’ve still got about 5% battery life. Not too shabby!

The last relevant bit about the hardware of the Surface is the kickstand, which I find myself using more often than I though I would. It is locked to the “ideal” angle as determined by Microsoft, so you won’t be adjusting it based on how you’re sitting. So far though, I haven’t felt the need to try and adjust the angle, even though I’d like to have the freedom to.

Software wise, the Surface is… interesting. It runs Windows RT, which is effectively Windows 8 but without the ability to install “old” applications. That means you won’t be able to install Steam, Photoshop, iTunes, Firefox, etc, on your desktop like you used to. You can ONLY get apps via the Windows Store, and those run in the new “Metro” interface. The desktop mode is essentially just for the File Explorer, and a few pre-installed programs.

The only issue I could see this causing for most people is when it comes to buying Surface RT as a laptop replacement and trying to manage your iPhone. Since you can’t install iTunes, you’re out of luck, because I’m 99.9% sure that Apple won’t write a Windows Store iTunes app. Those people would need to wait for the Surface Pro, which has full Windows 8 and the ability to install other “old” programs.

Surface RT DOES come pre-loaded with a version of Microsoft Office 2013 that includes Word, Powerpoint, Excel (No macros), and OneNote. These have also been optimized for touch, so you can navigate just fine without a keyboard and mouse.

So far, the apps I’ve downloaded from the Windows Store are very well designed. I can’t really complain about anything, except for the fact that an odd one here or there doesn’t work in portrait mode. Unless there was recently an update, the Windows Store app itself doesn’t work in portrait, which doesn’t make a lot of sense. I assume that portrait capability isn’t a certification requirement, so kudos to the devs that are putting it in there.

The only drawback to the Windows Store is the selection. Yes, the big hitters like Netflix, Hulu, Angry Birds, Kindle, etc, are there. However, it remains to be seen if apps will be released in a timely manner. For example, when Rovio comes out with a new game, will it hit Windows 8/RT at the same time it does the iPad? We’ll just have to wait and see. In theory, RT should draw developers because they can cross-develop for Win8 and RT and reach that many more people. But much like Windows Phone, the app story remains “wait and see”

All in all, I love my Surface, but you might not. It isn’t for everyone. I would seriously recommend looking into Surface if you fit into one of about three different groups.

1: You’re bought into the Microsoft ecosystem (Xbox, Zune, Windows Phone, etc) and want a tablet. This is a no-brainer.

2: You want a tablet but need something that can get more work done than an iPad. With full Office and the ability to use a “traditional” Windows environment, you’ll be able to use Surface RT like a laptop.

3: You want to replace an aging desktop/laptop but don’t want to spend a ton of money, and you’re okay with not being able to install some programs.

Are those very specific categories? Yes. But that’s who the Surface is for right now.

It isn’t a better premium tablet than an iPad, but its better than many of the Android offerings out there and more flexible than the iPad.

It isn’t a better budget tablet than a Kindle Fire, but it is more capable.

It isn’t a better computer than a laptop, but it is more portable and cheaper.

Surface fits into an odd niche that I just happen to be sitting squarely in. For me, it couldn’t be more perfect. For others, it really depends.

I’ll be interested to see what happens with Surface down the line. In a few months, Microsoft will release the Surface Pro, which is a slightly beefier Surface that runs an Intel Core i7 chip, full Windows 8 (With a fully functional “old” desktop), has pen input, and has more storage. They say they’re going to price it competitively with Ultrabooks (Around $1000) instead of competitive with the iPad (Like Surface RT). I’d be much more likely to recommend that to people than I would RT, simply because it’ll be a true laptop replacement. As for the future of Surface, I assume we’ll see a “Surface 2” with cellular connections and maybe even an Intel CloverTrail (Intel’s low-power x86 SoC that should compete with ARM chips) version.

To sum up, as Microsoft’s first real foray into making premium hardware, the Surface is a winner. As a tablet competing against the iPad, the Surface is a contender but not an outright winner. If the app ecosystem evolves as it should, then Surface (And other Windows 8/RT tablets) have a real chance to go toe to toe with the iPad, and outright kill Android tablets. Only time will tell!

Texas Fans, We Need To Talk

This is going to be the longest, most football-heavy post I have ever written. However, in light of recent events, it is necessary.

As of about 3:00PM CST on Saturday, it seems as though everyone wants Mack Brown’s head on a platter. Heck, even Scipio Tex, a writer for Barking Carnival who I respect, wrote as much. Would that solve all the “problems” at Texas? Would that have helped us avoid what I believe was an expected result at OU? Lets take a look…

The main problem, which has been evident since the Oklahoma State game, is that the defense isn’t nearly as strong as we expected when the season started. Sure, they played lights-out in the first two games, and pretty well against Ole Miss, but then what happened? Well, THIS did.

Anyone who has talked to me about Longhorn football the last three weeks knows that I’ve been harping on the fact that losing Hicks was the downfall of this defense. I’m convinced that no one else is able to see what I see. Hicks was your only returning starter at linebacker. He made all the calls, and told everyone where to go. He was the only one with experience in Manny Diaz’s complicated scheme. He was also the most athletic of your LBs, playing the weak side, but still ending up involved in tackles when the play went to the strong side. Too many people have underestimated Hicks’ role in the Texas defense.

With Hicks out, we weren’t able to run a standard 4-3, and had to resort to a 4-2-5 w/ Vaccaro playing as a de-facto LB/nickel, because he’s the next-best at reading the backfield and reacting. That left Edmond and revolving door of other young guys at LB (And Demarco Cobbs, who proved last year that he can’t take a good angle to save his life). None of them are great at reading and making calls (yet?) and teams exploited that. By putting two backs in the backfield, Oklahoma State made reads more complicated on the young LBs (Who is the ball going to? Power or misdirect? Maybe he’ll throw? What if the FB releases for a screen? What if the FB AND RB release? Etc) and they looked BAD. Even if they got the correct read, whichever one was at the point of attack was getting locked up by the FB, and then the second one couldn’t get over to tackle the ball carrier. That left our secondary to try to make plays on a 6-1 200lb running back going full-steam ahead. That generally (as we saw) doesn’t work out well. Even if it does, the tackle is being made 7-10 yards downfield. When he was available (IE: Not covering the WR in the slot), Vaccaro could run down the guy and make a play, but this was not sustainable.

Jump forward to West Virginia. What did they do? They ran the ball. Often times with the SAME FORMATION that Oklahoma State used. So, repeat all of what I just said above, except take Vacarro out of the equation because he was having to cover the more-dangerous WVU WRs in the slot. Tavon Austin was used by Holgo to take Vaccaro away from the play either by lining up on the other side, or going in motion away from the play. There was no way for Diaz to scheme around this, because he simply didn’t have the personnel.

Now we have Saturday against OU. Guess what? They ran the ball. Often times with the SAME FORMATION that Oklahoma State and WVU used. So, repeat all of what I just said above, except add in a better offensive line (So we couldn’t get good pressure on Jones), and an opposing defense far superior to what Texas had seen thus far. Sounds like the perfect recipe for a blowout, doesn’t it? Without Hicks, we had little to no chance of stopping OU. We had to commit Vaccaro to either run support or pass support, and OU was able to hurt us with the opposite one.

Expected result. 

“But what about the offense! They were GREAT against everyone else! Surely we should’ve been able to keep up with OU!” Oh dear. Someone’s been drinking too much Kool-Aid. Before the season started, we knew exactly three things about our offense:

1. We have pretty good running backs that should be able to carry the load. Brown has great vision and quickness, while Bergeron has more power and brute force. Gray is an unknown.
2. Our offensive line is young and weak, and may be a problem. We’ll hide their problems with lots of misdirection, motion, and counters off of our base plays.
3. We have two decent quarterbacks, but one of them is going to have to step up and play really well.

Guess what? Our running backs have been pretty good (When healthy), and have carried the load. Our offensive line has been okay, but only against overmatched opponents. And Ash has played pretty damn well. So why couldn’t we keep up with OU? Simply because they are the first quality defense we’ve played. The yards and points we put up against inferior defenses were a red herring. This offense is still a work-in-progress, and it showed in a big way on Saturday. To beat OU we were going to need to be able to get a few successful base plays in, and then use misdirection to use their defensive speed against them. Unfortunately, with Malcolm Brown on the sidelines, we weren’t able to get our base plays going (Bergeron doesn’t have the vision or quickness to make things happen when there are tiny/non-existent holes, and Gray doesn’t have the strength to be effective after contact) and therefore weren’t able to move to counters and misdirection. As far as the passing game goes, without the run threat, the passing game never opened up. Sounds like the perfect recipe for a blowout, doesn’t it?

Expected result.

All things considered, we had a solid gameplan against OU on both sides of the ball, but without some key players we were going to be in a world of hurt. The margin between “competitive game” and “blowout” was razor thin for Saturday, and it all hinged upon Malcolm Brown and Jordan Hicks being healthy.

Now, dear reader, tell me how firing Mack Brown would make up for Brown and Hicks being hurt. Please, I’m begging you.

Better yet, tell me how firing any of the current coaches could help. Would a different defensive coordinator be able to magically conjure a replacement for Hicks? Or somehow age all of our players overnight so they can make reads like returning starters? Would a different offensive coordinator have a stronger and more experienced offensive line? Or maybe he’d lay his hands on Malcolm Brown’s ankle and make it all better.

None of those things would help. The issue is that this team is young and inexperienced, and we have an entitled fanbase. “But Mack Brown said on the Longhorn Network that this team was good and close to being great!” Holy shit. Have you ever heard of motivation? OF COURSE he’s going to say that! He’s trying to motivate his young team by telling them if they give all they have they can be great. Unfortunately, they gave all they had against WVU, and came up short. And then they came out flat against OU, because they knew they weren’t great.

Don’t tell me we should fire Diaz because the defense isn’t great. Don’t tell me we should fire Mack because the team isn’t great. Texas has lost two games to two pretty good teams. This season started with just about everyone saying that we’d lose 2-3 games. Guess what? That is still possible. You don’t go out and buy a new car just because you got a flat tire.

If we continue losing games (Baylor, Kansas, and Iowa State are up next), then you can come back and say “I TOLD YOU SO!” But for now, be reasonable. Firing a coach doesn’t magically make players older or stronger or healthier. Unlike in 2010, this Texas team has tangible physical issues, not mental ones. If we lose games that we shouldn’t, though, perhaps the physical has become mental. Then it’d be time to panic and ask for heads to roll.

To sum up: Everything that has happened to Texas football this year has been expected. Nothing should be a surprise to anyone who has closely watched this team without burnt orange glasses on. Keep calm and carry on.