Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Reflections of a gamer's memory.

I have heard rumor time and time again that the Wii is the best selling game system Nintendo has ever released. Even though the original N.E.S set the standard for commercial success in the gaming industry, and in my opinion the S.N.E.S. was the golden standard of gaming excellence; the Wii does surpass them all. As a system the Wii is different in many ways from its ancestors. When I got my N.E.S. , circa 1986, it came packed with Super Mario Bros(with two controllers), Duck Hunt(the Zapper), and World Class Track Meet (and the Power Pad which I maintain is inspiration for the Wii Fit).The best selling game for the NES was Super Mario Bros 3. That cemented firmly the Italian Plumber as the driving force behind the Nintendo empire.
When Christmas came around in 1990 I found myself wishing (and getting) my S.N.E.S. It came packed with Super Mario World (and two controllers). As the second generation Nintendo system it was a big step up from the 8 bit days of the N.E.S. To me the S.N.E.S was the enlightened golden age of gaming before the long dark ages of the Nintendo 64 and Gamecube. The SNES had so many wildly successful games like Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past, Super Street Fighter II, Mortal Kombat, and Final Fantasy IV and VI (released as 2 and 3). Link (being the pseudonym of my real life best friend) and I spent hours on end with the SNES. Though Nintendo expanded the Mario universe with games like Yoshi' Island the systems success was actually most profound in the library of of non-Nintendo developed games. Capcom, Square-Enix (original Square and in the SNES days Squaresoft), and Konami to name a few grew to greater importance in the gaming community. While Sonic the Hedgehog was becoming a name brand on the Genesis (which I didn't own until 1997) Nintendo was the big market leader.
Which was all well and good until Sony released the Playstation. Nintendo's answer for this was the Nintendo 64. I toyed with the idea of buying a 64 for a while but the system initially released with just the unit and one controller. They broke the formula of Mario success from their golden years! My ex wife actually bought me a 64 bundled with Pokemon Stadium (we were big Pokemon fans from the days of red and blue despite me nearing my 20s)Later I got Mario 64, Legend of Zelda:Ocarina of Time, and a few other titles, but to this day I only have a half dozen titles for the system. That is at least in part to the expense of buying extra controllers and the over all disappointment I felt for the 64.
I had always played PC games, but during the days of the 64 (with the exception of some time devoted to Ocarina and Mario 64) I stopped being a console gamer. When I returned some years later to console games it was to buy the PSone. Not long afterward I upgraded to a PS2 and became the fan of Sony systems that I am today. The PS2 I bought used with no games and two controllers, but since it was backwards compatible I just picked up where I left off with Final Fantasy Chronicles. All the while I took very little notice of the Gamecube. In fact I still do not own a Gamecube. I played Mario Sunshine on Amy's son's GC, and Link and I hooked our Gameboy Advances to his GC to play Final Fantasy:Crystal Chronicles. I was less than impressed. I didn't think I would see the day I would be that big into a Nintendo console again.
It is worth saying that I have two Gameboy Colors, a Gameboy Advance, and a DS. As far as portable gaming goes I haven't ever left the Nintendo. Sure my PSP may see regular play but so does the DS. The point here is I am talking about Nintendo consoles not handhelds!
Last Christmas I bought my daughter a Wii in Germany. Little did I know that my parents had sprung for me a PS3 at the same time. I unwrapped the PS3 with genuine excitement and surprise. Being that we were in Germany I ended up with a European 40 GB PS3. I came to discover that would mean that the already limited backward compatibility (PSone only) would be eliminated because of region code restrictions. Though the system came without a game and with only one controller and I couldn't play my PS2 or PSone games, it wasn't a total loss. I was able to download Mortal Kombat II, Warhawk, and Super Stardust HD.
We really spent our game time though with the Wii.It came with Wii Sports and one Wii-mote with Nunchuck. My parents, my daughter, and I passed that controller around for days afterward before giving in and buying Wii play to get a second controller. I felt the system was going to be a big let down because it did not come with a Mario game. I could not have been more wrong.
This Christmas my parents decided I needed a Wii because of how much I enjoyed my daughter's Wii. They got me the same Wii Sports package and Wii Play. I think we actually played more with my Wii than with my daughters. Since Christmas my Wii catalog has grown with Mario kart and Mario Galaxies. I have also been picking up a few Gamecube titles along the way (Paper Mario, Mario Sunshine, LoZ:Windwaker).Mario is more the golden standard of gaming than ever before. I was amazed at how much fun it was to be Mario in a Bee suit. Amy and I have been working our way through Galaxies with enough fervor that we have only played Mario kart once.
Th biggest thing that Nintendo has done right was to pick up the thing that Sony did right before. They gave us backward compatibility to the Gamecube and then via the Wii store have been giving us NES, SNES, and N64 downloads. I find it Ironic since Sony decided not the make the PS3 fully backward compatible. Kudos to Nintendo for picking up some slack. Let us hope they just keep it up going forward!
Well I am low on my daily Wii time. Time to get back to it!

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Packing complaints

I wasn't born in Tennessee, but I spent the vast majority of my life right here in Knoxville. Truth be told we moved here from North Little Rock when I was six months old and didn't leave the house we moved in to until I was twelve. For the next five years I lived in the country with my parents and then my (now ex) wife and I moved into the house I grew up in. I think that moving was no big deal to me all those times because I didn't play a hand in the real moving process.
When the wifey wanted to move close to where I worked in Oak Ridge, I caved and we got an apartment. It wasn't smart since the house we lived in was rent and mortgage free. I was a good man though and wanted to keep her happy. It was a burden but we moved and for the first time I came to hate both living in a place I didn't own and the entire moving process.
A while later the company I was working for went under. We tucked tail and moved back out from under the pain of rent. That move was less fun than the move in had been. We left a huge mess behind us. To top off all of that I ended up paying the rental company $1500 to replace the carpet and fix damage we caused moving out. I started to hate moving even more.
The wife and I split up and the kid and I stayed living with my parents for about a year afterward. I was pretty happy as far as it went living in the country and having my parents around all the time. The only catch in that plan was privacy. In true male fashion I let my penis lead me into trouble and I moved out into a house we had previously left rented. Luckily this time the most painful part of the process was made easier by A) I only had to move 1 room full of my stuff and B) I had my own truck! I still didn't like to move, but damn it not having to be total silent while getting busy made it worth it. I like to be vocal damn it!
The house I live in now was my destination. I have lived here (with the exception of time lived in Europe) for the past 8 years. Truthfully I have never completely moved ALL of my stuff out of the place since I moved in years ago. This is home and I am very thankful for it. The fun part of that was though two years ago, when it came time to move to Germany, anything I wanted to take with me had to be at my parents house when the movers came to load. I spent several weeks ferrying my stuff back to my parents place and I left behind stuff that I could do without.
The growing pains of getting cleaned up and ready for the movers to come was a bad experience in and of itself. Most of my closest friends completely bailed on me and I was left doing not only my own doing but also getting my Mom, Dad (who already lived in Germany but had left all but two suitcases of his stuff here), and my kids stuff ready and packed. I managed it but it took my hatred of moving to a new high. Or so I thought!
I unpacked in Germany and was genuinely happy with the job the movers did. The only real mistakes that were made were that a few boxes meant for Germany were sent to Storage and vice versa. Nothing was damaged and it wasnt too much of a pain in the ass to unpack. I was happy enough to have my stuff that I didnt hate the moving too much.
I left Germany first. I don't have any inclination to discuss the hows or whys. Just take it as fact that I came home last year carrying two suitcases. The majority of my earthly goods were left with my family. Later when Mom decided to come home the German moving company showed up to pack it all up and send it home. I was worried about the situation because I wasn't involved, but at the same time I took comfort that I was only dealing with half the frustration of moving.
The Germans who packed us up were morons. With all the vast majority of things in my families belongings they grouped the dumbest things together. I can only imagine the thoughts going through the head of the guy who was packing the Anvil. "This guy has a freaking 55 pound Anvil. What the bloody hell am I going to pack with an anvil? Wait didn't I have a 25 pound weight earlier? Wow it fits. The box weighs 80 pounds now and its not even a foot square. What a clever mover I am!"
While I am glad he didn't pack the anvil with, say, my Grandmother's china, still it amazes me that someone really thought it was a good idea to pack to two together. The cowboy hat and the bongo drums came out of the same box. I still haven't managed to find my guitar. I had sort of expected to find those two things together. Especially since the hat was hanging on the end of the guitar case. The bongo drums were not even on the same FLOOR as the Cowboy hat.

While it maybe true that I am not technically moving, I still am not having much fun unpacking. Granted it gave me something fun to blog about. I could really do without the boxes stacked to the ceiling in three rooms of my house. Well, I had better get back to it.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Final Fantasy VII: Crisis Core, or PSP Redemption!

Last year at some point I put up a good sized post talking about my disappointment with Final Fantasy VII: Dirge of Cerberus. As a whole I have not been as impressed with VII as I have been other chapters in the Final Fantasy series. I have explained various reasons why in past posts to the point that to do so here would feel like beating a dead horse.
I have to say that FFVII: Crisis Core shattered all my expectations. DoC felt like Square Enix was milking the teat of the success of the original VII. While the game certainly did expand the background of Vincent Valentine and the world of VII as a whole, I was still taken aback at the shortness of the game and the lack of depth. Crisis Core is NOTHING like that.
Square Enix again decided to break from the standard turn based RPG style that it has perfected in the FF series. This time though the system is still a call back to the original style with the action turned up and the turns removed. Each battle scene you can pull of attacks, cast magic, or use items as fast as your fingers can scroll with the L and R buttons on the top of the PSP and slam down your thumb to select with the X. While this might make the game sound like it belongs more in the action category than an RPG, for me at least it did not feel false as a Final Fantasy series game (like the shooting action of say Dirge of Cerberus).Initially the new menu system put me in mind of the gambit system of Final Fantasy XII.Most likely had Crisis Core involved controlling more than SOLDIER Zack then gambits (or something like them) would have been required to make the game playable. As it stands I give it a 10 of 10 for gameplay, graphics, sound, and overall playability.
Which brings me to the things I care most about in my games: Story! Dirge of Cerberus did have it in limited doses and that redeemed the game from being a total loss. With Crisis Core one of my main concerns was spending 40 hours piloting a character that was a knock off Cloud (or Cloud then was a knock off Zack). I won't spoil the plot (because everyone should play this game) but by the end of the game the similarities (the ones we weren't already aware of from VII, Last Order, and Advent Children) are explained in great detail. I even like Cloud a little bit better now than I did before. Over all I prefer the Zack character any day of the week, but at least now I don't feel like Cloud is a pathetic knock off loser without cause.
Whats more Sephiroth is fleshed out a bit more. I tended to laugh at him because he seems uber effeminate to be such a bad ass. That is a very common trait with Final Fantasy bad guys though (Kefka, Kuja, and Genesis for example).By the time the big S departs the storyline I didn't feel he was near as cheesy as I used to.
Overall Crisis Core is a very worthwhile play through. Even for those of us who know the broad strokes of what was going to happen (that would be most all Final Fantasy VII fans) the game still has plenty up its sleeve to make it worth the time.
For the record I am well aware that this is no where near a new release. I tend to write about games as I play them. For example my PS3 shelf is currently holding Ninja Gaiden Sigma and Devil May Cry 4. They may or may not get blog time depending on how I feel about them. Don't expect that for at least a week or two. Amy and I are working our way through Super Mario Galaxy. So far I have found it a lot of fun. Granted Mario gets a lot of slack on my love for his series. That statement made me realize how behind I am on my gaming. I still haven't played Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess yet. Now that I have a Wii that will be fixed as soon as possible. So many games, so little time!
One last note about Crisis Core. I started the game Friday before last. I have been playing every free moment I have had ever since.Everyone who knows I am back in WoW is thoroughly frustrated that I haven't had any play time. While that is in some part due to Crisis Core, I have also been dealing with the impending arrival of my things from Germany. They arrive at 9 am tomorrow morning.(That is 6 hours from now OMG!) I spent the day today moving stuff to storage (two truckloads and a trailer full of stuff), helping get my Mom's place prepared, and finally painted my living room before trying to get some rest. I enjoyed Crisis Core so much that I spent two hours finishing the game and then immediately hopped on here to write about it! That to me says the game is well worth playing. Hell I can even admit I will probably replay it through with a strategy guide just to grab the things I missed on my first time round. The game selection for the PSP has not been great, but between Crisis Core, God of War: Chains of Olympus, the Sega Genesis Collection, and the Capcom Remixed games I have never had any major buyers remorse.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Confessions: Facebook- Social Relevance

Social media is a new and expanding market worldwide, and as far as I see Facebook is the ruling king of the industry. It is common place to have Facebook come pre-installed on a tablet or smart phone or be book marked on a new laptop or PC. My eyes were really opened when Facebook came pre-packed into my XBOX360. The message is simple: Facebook is here to stay.
I questioned if that was really a good thing or just an enormous waste of time. I am not some techno fear ridden dinosaur that doesn’t understand the difference between a doughnut and a droid. I just like taking a close look at the trends I involve myself with. Facebook was a safe haven when myspace got entirely too obnoxious. Facebook maintains relevance as twitter is overwhelmed with celebrity blarney on an epic scale. I am a fan. I will go so far as to LIKE Facebook.
I don’t maintain a Myspace page anymore. Myspace seems to be all about promoting goofy little flash based games and the music industry. I enjoy music, but not enough to put up with all the annoying baggage that comes along with Myspace. To me that makes it not worthwhile. Apparently, most of my friends feel the same way. Most of the people I know that are online are on Facebook. Myspace also seems to be about young idiots hooking up. I am young and stupid but not that young or stupid.
The funny part about me and social media is I don’t really do the whole social thing. I don’t spend time with friends except for my wife who takes the title of best friend. I spend a little time with my immediate family and certainly with my daughter. Facebook gives me a way to get to know the people around me better without too much of the whole face to face mess. I can get to know people I would term as associates without too much investment of my time and little risk. The ones that are nuts and I need to avoid out themselves, and more importantly the real quality people turn into friends.
Even this blog turns into a type of relationship with my Facebook friends. I sincerely hope people stumble across my rants and raves by accident, but really what I have to say here is about putting a piece of myself out into the world. I show how my mind works while giving away a little piece of my soul. The pictures on my Facebook page are a reflection of that idea. I will grant that they are also a a symptom of my complete and total narcissism. I love me and I want everyone else to know and love me… from varying degrees of distance.
While lazy socializing and flattering my ego was what got me into social media and Facebook it is not what keeps me there. Like most people I work quite a bit. When I am not doing to day job I have about a million money making or career advancing projects to tend to. Along the way I spend time with loved ones. I also spend about 10 hours a week with my feet running on a treadmill or lifting weights.
That means that most of the meaningful banter between my friends happens via Facebook. Sure, I could give out my cell number and let people call and text me when they want to, but that puts the power in their hands. By limiting that interaction to Facebook I can pick when I want to interact and how long I want to do so. The people then who have my number are the most important people in my life right?…. not necessarily.
That came to me very powerfully recently. While I was managing the Weigel’s in Corryton I got to know a few hundred people (maybe more) by sight and in most cases by name. I made friends with some of my customers and most of my employees. Were I to sort through my friends on Facebook I would say more than half come from some associate there or the other.
I didn’t think much of it when my friend and former Employee Zach’s Mom Jenny added me. I had talked to Jenny a bit in the store. She seemed funny and nice. Pretty soon I started seeing comments from her on nearly everything I posted. I commented back. We chatted back and forth normally in a mean spirited but fun way. Jenny became a part of my daily ritual. She was suddenly in my thoughts and in my day without me ever really stopping to think about it.
I left the Weigel’s a year ago December 27th. I live in the Corryton area, but I don’t really hang out there or do any socializing. I haven’t seen most of the people I once saw every day face to face in a year. Facebook made a nice way to stay in contact and soften that loss.
When I heard Jenny had died very suddenly I was first shocked and then very sad. My heart went out to Zach and his sister Morgan both of whom I think the world of and talk to when I can. I felt her loss in a real way. She was someone I knew though not well. She was someone I counted a friend. I hurt and I grieved… still am honestly.
The full force of her passing didn’t slap me between the eyes until I realized she hadn’t made a comment on my Facebook in a few days. That is probably horrible and stupid and wrong. My friends lost their mother, but the tears came to my eyes while I was being a smart mouth online. I actually sat with my computer in front of me and felt the full gravity of Jenny’s death as keenly as if it were a friend I saw face to face every day…. because that is what she was.
Most of our conversations took place on Facebook. We laughed and joked and gave each other a hard time while never thinking about the weight of that truth. (At least I never did) For the least year and a half or so I talked to her most everyday along with a hand full of others online. I can say very honestly those little simple interactions meant the world to me. I mourn Jenny’s loss and from it I have taken the value of the online friends I still have.
The truth is we all become temporary passengers in other people’s journey of life. Some interactions are more powerful and beneficial than others, but they all do matter. That is a frightening and enlightening thought that has fundamentally changed part of who I am. It is easy to say something nasty or disregard the fact that at the other end of the keyboard is a real person who has real feelings and a real soul.
Rest in peace Jenny. Thank you for what you have taught me, the kindness you showed me, and for giving me hell as long as you could. I truly miss you. I dedicate this post, such that it is, to your memory and also to all the people who are my friends and family online and off. To Zach and Morgan, if you take the time to read this. Forgive me for sharing a story that wasn’t wholly mine to share. If you guys need anything, reach out and I am there.

If anybody reads this and wants to lend a hand or a kind word to the family- message me.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

The Saga of the Old Yellow Truck!

Back in 2001 I was driving to my bank on my way to work at my Pizza job. Sitting across the road from my bank was a BRIGHT yellow 1983 Ford F150. Something about that old truck just screamed ,"Buy me!" I went over and test drove it, haggled a little over the price, headed to to bank, withdrew $700, and bought myself a truck.
Or Rather, I bought my Dad a truck. I already had a 1984 Ford F150. So I drove the truck to work and afterwards gave my Dad an old beat up pick up. That was 8 years ago.
Over the next few years the Yellow Truck was driven nearly all the time. My Dad drove it back and forth to Nashville and Cleveland Tennesse from Knoxville twice a week. When he stopped driving it and started scooting back and forth in a little 4 cylinder, I started driving th Yellow Truck as my main vehicle.
In 2003 when I first went to work for the phone company I was still driving it. I drove it until I bought myself a 1989 Ford Bronco. I had long dreamed of owning a Bronco with a big 351 Windsor. Still I kept the old Yellow truck around. Not too long after that though its transmission went out. A month later though my birthday rolled around. My Dad bought me a used transmission out of a Ford Taurus from a Junk yard for $100.
I bought a BMW, an Izusu Trooper, and a 1991 Ford F150. All the while Dad drove the old Yellow F150. When time came around that we decided to move to Germany we started getting rid of all our old junk cars. Yes this maybe east tennesse where having a salvage yard on your property makes you popular, but since we didn't really have any way of upkeeping the herd with all of us gone it was time to crush cars.
One of the very first things I noticed when I got the truck was the holes in the panel between the wind shield and the passenger side window looked like it had been shot several times with a BB gun. I also noticed that the neon mustard paint was missing around the drivers side window and had been sanded and replaced with primer gray. I suspected that some kids had gotten angry with whoever owned the truck and shot it up with a pellet or BB gun. The truth was much more outlandish.
The yellow truck had been bought without a tailgate. It inhereited a brown hood and brown tailgate. Now the banana boat had a pair of rotten ends. Still even with the color wrong the over all condition of the hood was better. Come to find out there was good reason for that.
I have lived in my house for years. Before I lived there it was my grandparents property and they had had the same neighbors on either side for the better part of 20 years. When I moved in I was surprised to find that I knew the people living to either side of me. It has mostly been a friendly situation. As a result though I met the guy who painted the yellow truck yellow.
According to this source, he was working as a mechanic for a carlot when the old yellow truck came through for sale. It had been a one owner vehicle and was in good shape except for its, "Shit Brown Paint!". The truck was certainly brown because the roof of the cab is still factory brown. His boss apparently wanted to move the truck and had it painted bright yellow. Since the sticker from the carlot was still on the back bumper I believe the story.
Now interestingly enough as I went back to driving the yellow truck I learned a few more things about it. On my way home from work one day a police man stopped me. I was very confused by being pulled over because I wasn't speeding and I was wearing my seat belt. The cop came to my window and got my license and registration. After running my information he came back to the truck and asked," How long have you had this truck?" I told him I had had it for nearly 4 years. He nodded and said," I knew the guy who had it before you. It is probably not a good idea to drive this through the wrong part of town." I gave my most respectful,"Yes Sir" and drove home highly confused.
Nearly six months later I was driving through the Wendy's drive through when a car pulled up next to me and made the universal motion to roll down my window. I did and was regaled with a tale almost too incredible to believe. Come to find out this person knew the dark story behind my truck. She explained that the original owner of the truck was in some way related to her (her brother's cousin's sister's husband or some such shite. This guy had been driving the truck through a rough part of town looking to score some drugs. (her words not mine) He apparently called a guy over to the truck and the two got in an argument. The alleged drug dealer pulled out a sawed off shotgun and shot the guy through the drivers side window in his face!
I have a rule since having a child that unless I am writing my fiction I tend to spoil surprises or suspenseful situations. The guy lived. Sorry for anyone who lost interest here. He is apparently severely scarred, but he did in fact live.
So after he was shot, our hero floored the gas pedal.The truck ran down the road out of control and crashed into a fence. The impact scratched up the yellow paint, dented the front bumper, dinged the front quarter panel, and put a couple of dings in the hood. At some point while he was recovering, as the story was told, the truck was sold. A few months later apparently, I bought it.
We had the truck and passed it back and forth over the years until the decision was made to move to Germany. I couldn't bring myself to get rid of my old faithful yellow truck. In fact I got rid of my 1972 Chevelle Malibu. I got rid of all my project cars except for my BMW(which I sold but has yet to be moved or paid for), the Trooper (which we thought we had sold and didn't), and the Truck (which I had no intention of getting rid of. After looking into the cost of storage units I decided that the truck would make do sitting in a field until we returned.
Two years later Dad and I made a trip out in the Trooper to pick up the truck. With all our stuff making its way back from Germany I thought it would be nice to have a way to move things around (besides the Trooper and trailer). With much trepidation Dad and I drove out with a good selection of tools, a set of booster cables, and a gas can.
Ten minutes after arriving the truck started with no more tinkering that a jump start. That is massively impressive for a truck that has been sitting for near to two years. Well, I was massively impressed anyway. It is not bad for a 26 year old vehicle. We were still left with one problem. The drivers side tire was flat. That in and of itself would have been minor. My spare tire though was flat as well. With my handy dandy little lighter run air compressor I pumped air into both tires. When that wasn't enough to bring them to full we jacked the truck up, took off the one tire, and got both tires aired up down the road at the gas station. The whole affair took just over half an hour.
I decided I wanted to drive my truck home. As soon as I pulled out of the driveway though she died. (yes the truck is a she. I wouldn't want to be INSIDE a male truck.) I coasted down the hill and down a side road. Dad jumped the truck off again, and we traded vehicles. ( I am Johnny on the Spot for most endeavors, but Dad is just the man when it comes to stuff like that!) We dropped the truck off at my place and headed out to get back on with our evening.
The next day I got the tags renewed and added the truck to my insurance. I wanted to get her road ready so Dad could take over driving her the rest of his time in town. He and I maybe the only people on the planet that are sentimental about my old rust bucket. I at least knows he appreciates the truck as much as I do. So Dad drove her around town for a few days.
Sadly, the yellow truck took its final turn at my Mom's place. After a couple of days of sluggish running she wouldn't start again. After tinkering under the hood I found that the oil was mixed with water. With that sad discovery the yellow truck was pronounced Dead! I towed her home to my place with my Trooper, and put her resting (with two new tires now) in her place of honor, my far driveway.
I have put my heart into resurrecting the old girl. Right now the plan is to pull the motor and buy a new one. With that done I am going to chase down all the wiring quirks (yes I haven't had all my turn signals at one time since I bought the truck), replace a few key body panels, and get a paint job. I don't know if I will return to yellow. The original factory brown is out of the running though.

Keep watching for new pictures of my old truck. Oh and better believe that as soon as I make some progress the saga of the Old Yellow Truck will continue!

Thursday, January 1, 2009

Nice things do come in small packages!

Yes I admit the title does make this out to be a risque sounding post. Sadly, it isn't. I have to get a little geeky here and talk about my new laptop.
As I was making my way home from Germany my mind was whirling around all the things I was going to enjoy about the states. Dill pickles were very high up the list. Krystal hamburgers though were my first stop once I hit Knoxville. My mind was certainly in gear but the main gear it was in was simple. It was time to buy a new laptop.
I had been out of the computer market for quite some time. I had money in the bank but not quite enough to order up something from Alienware. Most of all though I didn't really want a gaming machine. I wanted a good all around notebook. I wanted something solid that would let me do a little gaming, a lot of chatting, and a TON of writing. I picked up a laptop magazine in the Cincinnati airport. (along with a copy of Entertainment Weekly that featured Twilight the movie, which in turn led me to purchase Twilight the book and start reading that series.)
I spent a few weeks at home before I finally made a decision. After all the bargain hunting, thumbing through the want ads, and reading reviews I made my choice based on something very simple. I bought a Gateway M Series to replace the Gateway M series I left behind with my daughter in Germany. For the money I spent it was really the best bargain for what I wanted at the time. A month later my Dad picked up a Sony at about that same price. Had the Sony been a choice I might not have bought my Gateway... but I did.
Now I have heard some nightmare tales about Gateway. My first Gateway system was a laptop running Windows 98. It was a hand me down system that Kailani got tired of. It was my second ever laptop and really I didn't use it for much. I was happy with it until the day it would no longer take a charge. I still have it with the rest of my "vintage" computers in my storage unit. (That includes my first laptop a 2000 pound Toshiba Satellite that had no CD drive and required 15 3.5" floppy disks to reinstall Windows 95!) My second Gateway I bought from a buddy who was selling it because he needed cash. He had only had it a couple months and sold it to me at nearly half price. I carried it around the world twice and was entirely pleased with it when I left it with the kid. (I wanted a new laptop and I didn't really want to carry a laptop and the PS3 in my carry on bags. My shoulders were bruised from just the PS3 by the time I got back to my place!)
I was then very surprised to find that some of the keys had come off my trusty Gateway that I left with my daughter. She claims that there was no foul play, but I have my doubts. I pecked out many a blog post and literally the better part of two novels on that computer. Besides, it was in good shape as I left. She needs a computer in good shape so she can learn to type, and of course she can't do all the fun things like Webkinz on a computer missing half the keys on its keyboard.
So we came to a compromise. I would trade her my new Gateway for my old broken one. It left me with no portability but still with a good solid system I could use at home. As a Remedy to that problem I bought my very first Asus laptop. I got the 10 inch Asus EEE PC. It is a 1000 series with Windows XP. So far I am massively impressed with it.
I am working to put this little machine through its paces. After getting my antivirus and firewall software installed I immediately copied over 4Gb worth of Mp3s and downloaded Itunes. I was shocked at the entirely full sound that issued forth from the little laptop. While it certainly is not Bose Surround Sound or a THX theater experience, for a laptop, particularly a mini laptop the sound is considerable. My Mom has a HP Pavilion Entertainment series notebook that has only slightly better sound quality with its Altec Lansing speakers.
I really expected the biggest drawback of the Asus EEE was going to be its lack of a optical drive. I was prepared for the compromise and had many of my files already waiting on an external hard drive. Other things I simply went and downloaded from the web (OpenOffice.org for example). Since I am a gadget guru I had to be able to sync my Moto Q to this computer. With about 2 minutes of searching I was able to download Microsoft Active Sync. It is worth noting that I do prefer Active Sync for Vista as opposed to the XP version. Neither are bad for my purposes.
Night before last though I started to really be impressed. I spent some time watching video on the Asus. Sure I can't slide my Heroes Season 1 DVDs into it, but for digital video files the screen has a brilliant display. That got me wondering what the video card was capable of. I decided to download the World of Warcraft 10 day free trial and take it for a more intense test drive.
With either of my Gateways Final Fantasy XI was out of the question because my Intel chipset display was too weak to push the graphics. Likewise WOW was always choppy and tended to lag in high population areas. Since all the rest of my hardware was more than adequate for the task at hand I decided my video card was the culprit and as a result got more of a real life and ignored the MMO scene. (The PS3 and now the Wii sitting in my family room may have had a hand in that decision as well.)
Lo and Behold, Wow plays beautifully on the ASUS EEE PC. I gained a couple of levels and walked out to Ogrimmar before logging out of the game. Sure that didn't massively test drive the system through something like a big PVP combat, but just the fact that it runs the game smoothly speaks volumes about this little laptop. Either Gateway at three times the price weren't able to do as well!
With a little work on my old system and a program called Undisker, I created ISO files for my Diablo II and Starcraft disks. With some creative use of Daemon Tools and a little searching for out of date update files I got D2 playing. I have to say that it wouldn't be legitimate if Blizzard had not provided the no cd update in version 1.12a. Still it is nice to be able to hack and slash my way through a classic game.

I am not done putting this baby through its paces by any means. So far so good! I plan to really press the envelope and see just how big a fan of the Asus EEE series I am going to become. They are proving that good things do come in small packages.

December 2nd Comic Books on a Budget