Archive for December, 2014

Windows Mobile Receives WatchESPN

ESPN, the self-proclaimed “worldwide leader in sports,” has at last released their WatchESPN mobile app for Windows devices. The free-to-download app is available for all Windows 8/8.1 devices and allows streaming sports directly to your mobile device. Of course the standard caveat with any WatchESPN app is that a cable television subscription in order to access the live streams.

Despite requiring a TV package, seeing the field of apps expand for Windows users is a good sign. Though they sold not even 3% of the smartphone market in the third quarter of 2014, Windows phones may very well be on the rise. Microsoft has plans to grow their app market, potentially through the Android app market. As the IDC graphic below illustrates, the vast majority of smartphone units sold in Q3 2014 were on the Android platform — mostly the more budget-rate devices for sub-$200.

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Microsoft’s recent focus has been on that particular price point — they sport four unlocked devices for less than $200 each as well as 14 different phones below that either on contract or off. If adding the WatchESPN app is the beginning of a new era of Windows smartphones, all the better for competition.


RosterBot to Add Chat Feature

RosterBot, the service aimed at streamlining all team organization for youth and recreation leagues, will introduce a chat feature in January, Sports Illustrated recently reported. The feature will allow coaches, players and parents to plan pizza parties, coordinate practice schedules or share a video of the game-winning hit, an attractive tool to an already solid team management service.

“It keeps (communication) in one place, where you can read it at your leisure,” said Bret Hedican, a former NHL player and current San Jose Sharks broadcaster and RosterBot co-owner, to Sports Illustrated. “There are always things to talk about and we want all that info in one spot.”

For those that want to spend more time coaching and less time on the administrative side of the job, RosterBot is a coach’s dream come true. Coaches enter a team roster and can create events, or games, and players or parents can check off which games they will or will not be attending. The player editor lists players’ names, contact information and positions, and a coach can blast an email team-wide with one click. And with the chat feature to come, gone are the reply-all emails that chew up an inbox’s space and grind at the patience of the recipients.

Created in 2008 as an experiment by Ian Bell, RosterBot received over $1 million in seed funding, as it announced earlier this year. Former NHL player Paul Reinhart’s investing group Sora Capital led the financing and was joined by Hedican along with David Tedman, co-founder of Hootsuite. Additionally, RosterBot has partnered with Invoke Labs, which specializes at accelerating growth for startups, as it did with Hootsuite. Tedman also founded Invoke Labs.

Reinhart, a father of three hockey players — including Sam Reinhart, drafted second overall in 2014 by the Buffalo Sabres — told Beta Kit that RosterBot will become essential in all levels of sports.

“It’s a service that I certainly wish existed 15 years ago when my career as a hockey dad began,” Reinhart said.

But RosterBot’s value isn’t just for youth sports. Ever manage an adult rec league team? The biggest pain is collecting league fees from players. RosterBot will handle the bookkeeping. The app won’t count a player as active until they’ve paid their dues. And can you imagine the smack talk with the chat feature? Expletives galore.

RosterBot (free) is available for both iPhone and Android and users can also log in at rosterbot.com to access their accounts.

(Image via RosterBot)

Building a Retrosheet Database – Part 2

Welcome back to TechGraphs’ series on building your own Retrosheet database. If you haven’t already, go back and read part one. If you are interested in actually following along on your own system, you must do some work up front, which all mentioned in that article. If you’ve made it past that point, you’re ready to actually load some baseball data.

Before I get too far into things, I should mention that much of what I will be presenting is an updated version of Colin Wyers’ article at our sister site The Hardball Times. That article is how I first learned to do this install, so many thanks are owed to him for laying down the groundwork.

(Note: a lot of these processes will take a good deal of computing resources and time. Be prepared to wait a good deal for these to complete. I would recommend doing this during a time you won’t need to do much else on your computer.)

The first step is to download the .zip file that will contain all the batch files and folder structure you will need. There are two options; one for 32-bit machines and one for 64-bit machines. The files are essentially the same, but the file paths in the scripts vary slightly. Check back with part one if you don’t know if you have a 32- or 64-bit machine. There are instructions on finding out toward the bottom of the article.

Download the proper file and extract it into a new folder on the C:\ drive called Retrosheet, so the result looks like C:\Retrosheet. Open the folder \data\zipped, and run the file get_zip_files batch file. (Note: if you don’t know, batch files are basically strings of code that tell your computer to run multiple processes all at once, saving you a whole lot of clicking.) When you run the get_zip_files file, you’ll notice a lot of scrolling text in the Command Prompt. This is a good thing. Basically, your computer is downloading all the game files from Retrosheet and unzipping them into usable files. If you back up to the \data\unzipped folder, you’ll notice all the .EVA and .EVN files that were just downloaded. This is the format Retrosheet used for their files. We’ll be using a program called Chadwick to turn these files into MySQL data. Also in that folder are three batch files — $cevent, $cwgame, and $cwsub. Running these files will parse the data through Chadwick and place the resulting .csv files in the \data\parsed directory. Run each script one time. Be patient, these processes can take some time. You can minimize the Command Prompt window, but DO NOT CLOSE IT. Closing the window ends the process, and you’ll have to clear out the parsed directory and start over again. When the window closes, the process is done and you can run the other two processes.

Now, it’s time to get our hands a little dirty with MySQL. Open the MySQL Workbench that we installed in part one. There should only be one connection to choose from at this time.

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Double-click and enter the root password you created to open the workbench. The first thing we need to do is create the proper schema. A SQL schema is basically the bones of the database. It creates the tables and the fields that go into those tables. It doesn’t load the actual data, but it gets everything set up to load the data in. To create the schema, click File > Open SQL Script. Navigate out to the Retrosheet directory and open the “retrosheet table schema.sql” file. It will load the SQL commands into the workbench. In the toolbar right above all the new text, you’ll see a lightning bolt. This button runs whatever is in the editor window — in this case, our schema creation. Click the lightning bolt and let the SQL commands do their magic. When it’s all done, you’ll have to refresh your schema list to see the new Retrosheet tables. One the left-hand window, next to the word Schema, you’ll see a little refresh button. Click it, and the Retrosheet schema should now be visible.

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Now, it’s time to fill those schemas. Go to File > Open SQL Script again. This time, navigate to Retrosheet\loaders. These files tell MySQL to fill those tables with the data we extracted in the previous steps. Choose events.sql, and you’ll see the SQL statement load into the workbench. Click the executing lightning bolt again and wait. Then, wait some more. You’ll have to wait for a while.

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See that little circle in the tab above your SQL statement? That means a process is running. Wait until that disappears before you run the games.sql and subs.sql files.

Once the other .sql files are run, you’re all done. You’ve done it, you’ve created your very own Retrosheet database.

What exactly can you do with it? Well, I think we’ll save that for the next installment. I’ll go over some basic queries and show you just what your shiney new database can do. Until then, take your time, be confident, and don’t be afraid to sound off in the comments if you have any questions.

 


My Top Five Online Purchases of 2014

While Facebook does their “year in review” with everyone’s respective timelines, I’d like to take a look at the my past year’s purchases and orders in either the sports or nerdy fields, sometimes both. Given my personal interests, there should be no surprise to find soccer and baseball dominate the list. In reverse order, this is my very subjective list of my favorite online purchases from the year.

Honorable mentions:
Thrustmaster T-Flight Stick
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In what is inarguably my nerdiest purchase of the year, I went out and bought a joystick controller for my computer upon learning was Star Wars: TIE Fighter was available again. I’m not sure how 9-year-old me managed to beat the game, as 27-year-old me has struggled to make it past the third battle.

NCAA Football 2006 for the Xbox/Xbox 360 top5ncaaI’ve ran the dynasty in this game almost since release day. No surprise to say I’ve worn through several discs, but this year’s replacement will probably have at least another year or two in it. When I stumbled across this game for less than six bucks via Amazon, I had to buy it.

5. An Alberto Callaspo Oakland A’s shirsey
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It was the top of the 12th inning and at this point the combination of frustration and craft beer had taken its toll on me. In possibly the cruelest turn of playoff events, I made a promise to the Twitter world that if the pinch-hitting Callaspo delivered an RBI hit, I would instantly purchase his shirsey. Well, he did. I ran around my apartment excited, ordered the shirsey, and my A’s lost anyway. Que sera, sera. On an unrelated note, I may be the only man in the world to own the triple threat of shirseys with Daric Barton, Brett Anderson and Alberto Callaspo.

4. FOX Soccer 2Go
top103Probably a top-five streaming service — excluding Netflix and Amazon Prime — FOX Soccer 2Go is a very clean interface, though not particularly cheap at $119.99 for the year. The quality of the UEFA Champions league matches makes up for the price tag, however top league plays such as the Premier League and La Liga cannot be streamed. I’ll continue to support this, as top flight football fixtures are worth it me, though this may not be for everyone.

3. Two tickets to the 100th anniversary of Wrigley Field

top5wrigleyWas it cold? Absolutely. Did I run late and miss out on the Federal jersey? Of course I did. All that aside, it was still a pretty incredible game, plus the view made it worth it.

wrigley100At the time my iPhone’s Passbook worked  very well, though Apple Pay wasn’t available for in-stadium purchases just yet.

The game itself was entertaining, even in the ninth inning as the Cubs blew a three run lead. The WPA chart is a sad story. At one point the Cubs held a 97.5% chance of winning. Oof.

2. A South Korea Home Jersey + Scarf
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I guess I should give props to Amazon for packaging these two options together with their creepily-accurate targeted ads. I was only after the jersey, but they sucked me with a great deal on the scarf. While my home nation flamed out in the group stage — in awful fashion, too as they couldn’t score against a 10-man Belgium side and even conceded a goal up a man — this combination of team pride is something I’ll wear long into the future.

1. MLS Live
top5mls
As the full version of the review states, the video-on-demand system MLS Live brings to table is the best I’ve come across. The interface is clean, the mobile app is strong on its own and best of all, the price tag for a full season is barely half of MLB.tv’s cost. As a league, MLS is on rise in terms of quality, plus seeing USMNT players at the club level is always grand. This is certainly an annual purchase for myself from now on.

(Header image via Forbes.com)

Cable Bills Are Going Up In 2015 Due To Sports Programming

With the seemingly inexorable rise in the price of sports programming, it seemed inevitable that cable operators would have to charge subscribers for the privilege of watching American sports. According to Multichannel News, that time has already come with Time Warner Cable, as they have announced that they will be adding a $2.75 sports surcharge to subscribers’ bills starting in January 2015.

In the announcement, Time Warner cable claimed that the cost of cable sports programming has risen 91% since 2008, and according to Patrick Hruby of Sports on Earth, the average cost of a regional sports network has has risen 52 percent over the past five years. This is certainly conceivable with the types of TV deals being reached in the past few years, like the 9-year $24 billion NBA-ESPN deal in October of this year.

In Forbes, Maury Brown noted the irony of Time Warner’s announcement after their struggle to get distribution for SportsNet LA, the regional sports network they manage. The costs of carrying the channel jumped after they made a 25-year deal worth over $8.35 billion  to broadcast Los Angeles Dodgers games. This led to a standoff between TWC and other cable operators like DirecTV for distribution rights, leading nearly 70% of Los Angeles area residents unable to watch Dodgers broadcasts this past season.

After the Supreme Court’s ruling against cable disruptor Aereo, and with John McCain’s Television Consumer Freedom Act having little hope of passage in Congress, there doesn’t seem to be much hope for governmental intervention in the cable arena. Regardless, speculation of an approaching sports cable bubble persists. However, it will likely take years for this bubble to burst, requiring an increasing rate of cord-cutting and rising prices for cable subscribers.

(Header photo via NewYorkTrendNYC)

Milwaukee Bucks Seek Edge in Analyzing Facial Expressions

As the NBA as a whole continues its light-speed advancements in advanced data analysis, the Milwaukee Bucks are investing in the face to gain an edge in player evaluation.

As The New York Times reported Thursday, the new owners of the Bucks – hedge fund billionaries Wesley Edens and Mark Lasry – hired renowned facial coding expert Dan Hill to build an emotion metrics database in an attempt to quantify the previously unquantifiable – character, personality and chemistry.

Hill uses methods developed from the Facial Action Coding System (FACS). Published in 1979, FACS based combinations of 43 facial muscle positions which correspond to seven emotions: happiness, surprise, contempt, disgust, sadness, anger and fear. Today, FACS has been established as a computed automated system which detects faces in videos and spits out quantified data based on every smirk, furrowed eyebrow and smile a player makes.

“Actions speak louder than words,” Hill told ESPN of muscle movements in the face.

He said players that score highly in his evaluations have only a moderate degree of happiness. He doesn’t want to see players too easily satisfied, and says that it identifies coachable players. Meanwhile, players that score highly in happiness tend to become sloppy.

Hill, whose 16 years of facial analysis have mostly been for marketing and advertising, also values disgust and anger, as they show levels of drive. Of course, it all comes in moderation, as high levels of anger lead to a hot head. Finally, cocky expressions are good, while arrogance on one’s face is a bad sign.

The Bucks hired Hill — owner of Sensory Logic, Inc. in Minnesota and the author of Emotionomics — in May, and he’s already made his mark. Working alongside team psychologist Ramel Smith, Hill watched video of potential draft picks, assessed the players and reported back to Smith. The Bucks considered Australian point guard Dante Exum with their second overall pick, but ultimately grabbed Jabari Parker, who was one of the top rookies in the league before a knee injury ended his season.

“Nothing against Exum, but emotional resiliency, stability and an immediate, assured presence were all key considerations in support of selecting Parker,” Hill told the Times.

Facial coding isn’t widely accepted. Until now, more interest has come from law enforcement and anti-terrorism agencies, along with marketing, rather than academia.

“To me the big question is, how well does the method actually work?” said Martha Farah, a cognitive neuroscientist and director of the Center for Neuroscience & Society at the University of Pennsylvania, in an interview with the Times. “It’s not easy to get good evidence, because a player’s performance and teamwork are complex outcomes, and the teams are not run like clinical trials, with coaches and managers blind to the facial coding findings and so forth. So it’s hard to know whether this system works well, gives some marginal benefit or does nothing at all.”

Facial coding has made waves in another sport as well. Jeff Foster runs the NLF’s scouting combine and hired Hill in 2011 to evaluate prospects. He said Hill’s methods could be especially helpful for teams considering quarterbacks and safeties early in the draft, as those players require unusual leadership and cerebral traits difficult to project.

Washington State head coach Mike Leach had Hill evaluate players in 2012. He was just hired and wanted to know what kind of players he inherited to develop his coaching methods around.

“Someday Dan will be able to get hard data linking the face to on-the-field performance, and I don’t want to miss that,” Leach told the Times.

Not one to be behind the curve, I’m pretty sure Houston Astros general manager Jeff Luhnow has already left Hill 17 voice messages.

(Photo via Keith Allison)

Cash in on Post-Holiday Savings for Your New Devices

There is no denying the holiday season brings a boon for the most sales industries, in particular the wireless field. With that in mind, many of the staff and readers of TechGraphs have no doubt received a device of some sort, so here today are some post-holiday season add-ons. Ranging from music to films and television to apps and video games, we have a wide assortment of free and reduced price things for you to browse.

Kicking things off with a topical, or at least seasonal, item today via the Google Play Store the entire Frozen soundtrack is free to download. All 32 tracks — I couldn’t believe there were than many either — are free today. So quite possibly for the first time in forever (I had to sneak a little play in), grab the score from the biggest grossing animated film of 2013. For a different sound, pop-punk band Pararmore has made their track “Ain’t It Fun” also free today along with nine other singles from various artists.

Of course, if you’re looking for a good read instead, H.G. Wells’ “The War of the Worlds” is free in the Play Store as well. In lieu of classic reading, given the new year — not to mention new year’s resolutions — then check out some of the various free workout guides. Factor in the end-of-the-year sales on apps such as Runtastic Butt Trainer, no really, as well as a sleep aid app (also by Runtastic for free) and the Play Store offers plenty of options.

Not to be outdone, Amazon has offered a bevy of apps marked down to free for their Kindle tablets. Head over to their App Deals or specifically the Fire Tablets page for them. On top of the apps and games, there are more than 22,000 songs (over 45,000 if you include Prime only tracks) also available to download at no charge. If you prefer the old fashioned pages of a real magazine rather than a digital screen, now is the time to get yourself a 12-month subscription to Golf Digest, normally almost $100, now less than 20 bucks. As with many Amazon purchases, the digital version is available instantly with the paper version shipping within a few weeks.

Apple and iOS users have great options as well, including a reduced price on the instant video add-on via Coach’s Eye. Both NBA 2K15 and NHL 2K have been marked down 50% to $3.99 each. Mere days ago Apple released their list of the top free and paid apps — only viewable in iTunes unfortunately — but the list of this week’s hot apps is available as always directly on the iTunes site.

Be it a Kindle Fire HDX, an iPad Air Two, or a Nexus 8 — no matter which device you were fortunate to receive (or treat yourself to) there is no shortage of cheap and even free entertainment. Make sure you don’t miss out on the holiday specials!

(Header image via 401korganizer.org)

OOTP is Looking For a New Tagline

The team behind the most stupidly addicting baseball video game in the world — Out of the Park Baseball or OOTP — is apparently looking for a new tagline:

As our stable of sports management games grows, we realized that we need a great tagline to pull them together. (Kind of like The Big Lebowski’s rug, only without the soiling part.)

We thought about it a lot, and we realized that “We Make the Best Sports Management Games on the Planet” didn’t have the right ring. Markus’ suggestion, “Bow Down Before Us,” wasn’t quite right either.

So we’re turning to you, our loyal fans. As explained in last Friday’s newsletter, we need you to send your suggestions to tagline@ootpdevelopments.com by midnight Eastern time on January 11, 2015. The winner will score some cool stuff.

The prize bundle is composed of blah-blah-blah and something-something never-see-your-wife-and-kids-again, but you don’t need to worry about that. Instead, offer me your best suggestions and I’ll go ahead and forward them on your behalf.

So far I’ve got:

    3) “OOTP: Video games for thinkers. And addicts.”
    2) “OOTP: Honey, stop crying. I’ll come to bed when I’m done.”
    1) “OOTP: Because graduating or seeing your kids’ first steps are hella overrated.”

There’s gotta be a winner in there somewhere!


WatchESPN is Finally Coming to DirecTV Customers

WatchESPN — ESPN’s online streaming site — has been providing access to all kinds of sporting events for some time now, but the ability to use the site has always been contingent on which cable/satellite package one subscribed to. Many of the big players like Comcast, AT&T U-Verse, and DISH already have agreements with ESPN/Disney to offer said streaming content. But anyone who had DirecTV as their television provider was left out in the cold. According to a press release from ESPN, those days will soon be over.

Thanks to a new agreement between the provider and Disney, some 39 million DirecTV customers will soon have access to WatchESPN as well as many other Disney streaming services. The deal is set to kick in sometime in early 2015. While this might be too late for this go-round of college bowl season, DirecTV customers will soon have access to a large swath of sports streaming content including NCAA basketball, NBA, the SEC and Longhorn Networks, and original ESPN programming like SportsCenter and Around the Horn on their computers and mobile devices.

It’s a little surprising that it took this long for ESPN to strike a deal with such a large television provider, but better late than never, I suppose. Download those apps, DirecTV customers. Soon you will have the span of nearly every ESPN offering in the palms of your hands. It’s a Festivus miracle!

 


Review: Coach’s Eye App

Sitting atop this week’s most popular Android apps is Coach’s Eye, a free app designed to give feedback and help hone skills for everything from track & field to baseball to golf to tennis. By providing on-the-fly feedback, Coach’s Eye can show tips on mechanics ranging from rotation to hand positioning.

While the app itself is free, most of the analytic tools cost either $2.99 or $3.99. The tools include packages such as the Angle Tool, Line Tool, Circle Tool and like, displaying various things on screen. There are also advertisements ranging anywhere from 10 to 30 seconds longs. However, you can remove those for $4.99.

coaches eye2

Despite the nickel-and-dime feel for certain features, Coach’s Eye does offer some incredible free features. The ability to create GIFs on your phone is awesome, and the so called “Channels” is great as well. The built-in GIF maker within Coach’s Eye takes just a few moments to turn a video clip into a GIF. Within the file size parameters you can pick when to start and end the GIF as well, thus capturing only what you want to.

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Channels is a three-part listing including Staff Picks, Leaderboard and Latest video clips. Staff Picks include proper weight lifting techniques, how to make better contact on the golf course and even a Stephen Curry workout.

coaches eye stephen

The Leaderboard tab shows popular videos, occasionally with breakdowns on it. For example, a field goal kicking breakdown is available to watch.

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The hub labeled Latest is just that, the most recent user-created uploads. It could be a goalie on the ice, a runner on the track or someone in the batting cage. There is no shortage of uploads.

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Coach’s Eye brings unique and needed instant help to athletes, though some may get frustrated with the advertisements and the need to purchase add-ons to get a full feel for the app. Even just the free version is well worth the download as the Staff Picks and Leaderboard videos are great, as is the ability to create a GIF of yourself or your friends instantly.


Apple Pay Makes NBA Debut Tonight in Orlando

Starting tonight, Orlando Magic fans have a new way to pay for those ten dollar cold ones.

The Magic is the first team in the National Basketball Association to offer Apple Pay to its customers. To start, it will only be available at 60 concession and retail locations throughout the Amway Center. However, the team will be expanding locations during the season and aim to reach 200 for the start of the 2015-16 season.

This, however, will not be Apple Pay’s debut in professional sports. MLB Advanced Media paid an undisclosed figure to install more than 300 terminals at Kauffman Stadium and AT&T Park in October for the World Series, marking the first use of the service at any sports facility. Meanwhile, down on the farm, the minor league Akron RubberDucks announced in October that it will accept Apple Pay at Canal Park for the 2015 season.

Here’s how it works. Using a near-field communication (NFC) chip, the iPhone 6 or iPhone 6 Plus will send a payment to a store or restaurant’s reader when the user holds or waves the phone while keeping a finger on the Touch ID home button, which uses fingerprint recognition security. The payment will be processed using credit card information entered in the Passbook app that will assign a device an account number, which is encrypted and securely stored. Each transaction is authorized with a one-time unique dynamic security code.  All major credit card companies are on board, as are a growing number of banking institutions and credit unions. Unfortunately, older iPhone models are not able to use the Apple Pay feature.

Ideally, a customer would wait in line to buy food. After ordering, the cashier rings up the cost, and the customer pulls out the phone, holds the Touch ID button, waves it in front of the reader and the payment is complete. This should take, what, ten seconds? Can we dream of an in-stadium experience where we won’t miss two innings waiting in line for a hot dog and a beer?

Alex Martins, chief executive of the Orlando Magic, told the New York Times earlier this week:

“One of the biggest pieces of feedback we get from our fans is that the food and beverage lines are too long,” Mr. Martins said in an interview. “It keeps them from going to the concession stand because they don’t want to miss the action. This, and technologies like Apple Pay, will speed up our service.”

To be fair, it’s not like what Apple is doing is anything new. Samsung, MasterCard and Google Wallet have been around for some time. The optimism is that because of Apple’s reputation and giant consumer draw, any problems that existed with previous tap-to-pay services will evaporate.

For now, the Apple Pay experience is raw. Anecdotal reports reflect retailers don’t know how to use the system correctly, if at all. And that Apple training retailers would go a long way to create a much smoother experience. Fast Company’s technology editor Harry McCracken went a week without his wallet, only using Apple Pay to make his Whole Foods and McDonald’s purchases. And while he faced plenty of problems, McCracken, as he wrote in October, is hopeful about the future of the product.

But even though my experience with Apple Pay wasn’t perfect, and despite obstacles such as recalcitrant retailers, I had a good time using it. I expect to reach for my phone rather than my billfold quite often from now on—partly for convenience’s sake, and partly for the privacy and security benefits of being able to pay a store without sharing any information about myself. And if mobile payments finally start to catch on—which seems likely to me—we could end up looking back on last week as the most important moment so far in the history of the technology.

Whatever it takes for me to get my beer quicker.

(Image via Tom Baker)

Game of Drones Set To Bring Drone Sports To Your TV

As this nation entered the 21st century, few could have predicted the little-known show BattleBots would plant the seeds for the next evolution of brutal robotic combat. Sure, BattleBots only aired for three years on Comedy Central and was watched by approximately three people, but it is now clear the show was ahead of its time with the emergence of the Aerial Sports League (ASL) this year.

The founder of the ASL, Marque Cornblatt, is also the founder of Game of Drones, a hardware company that manufactures some of the booming industry’s most resilient drones. Priced at $650, The Game of Drones Actions Sports Airframes are currently sold out on the company’s website. They are nothing to trifle with—built to withstand water, fire, and extreme impacts. In the below video you can even see a man shooting one with a shotgun.

 

After starting in a local barn with friends, Cornblatt’s ASL is now touring around the country. “Originally, we thought the sports league was a way to promote the hardware, but in a way, the league’s become the driving force,” said Cornblatt in an interview with Betabeat. With the FAA anticipating over 7,500 civilian drones to be flying in American airspaces by 2018, it’s a league that’s almost certain to flourish in the coming years.

According to Betabeat, the rules of the game are simple. Each drone operator starts with three points and loses one every time their drone hits the ground. The first person to zero loses. In his interview with Betabeat, Cornblatt said he sees television as the next logical step for drone sports. “I see us doing a permanent show in Vegas, but we’re going to have a show on TV very soon. It’s an inevitability—the TV show frames itself around the development around that Vegas product.” With behemoths like Amazon making drones a central part of their future business, it’s clear that drones will be part of our future as well. Whether an ASL TV show will have the same short-lived fate as BattleBots remains to be seen, but the company does have a head start in capturing the lion’s share of an exploding market.

(Header image via Game of Drones)

Building a Retrosheet Database – Part 1

That magical time of year has come again. Yes, the very fine folks over at Retrosheet have updated their game files once again, and the new batch includes (among other updates) the play-by-play files for every baseball game in 2014. There are a lot of things you can do with the Retrosheet files, but one of the most powerful options is to create a Retrosheet MySQL database.

Certainly, there are a lot of things you can find out at FanGraphs and Baseball Reference without the need for your own database. But every now and then, a question pops up that Googling, FanGraphs leaderboards, or even the Almighty Play Index at Baseball Reference cannot answer. It’s a luxury to have your own database, to be sure, but any baseball nerd worth their salt should at least have one to tinker with.

This tutorial is going to be starting from scratch. This means that this first installment of the series will simply be about acquiring the right tools to build out the database. We’ll get to actually inputting the baseball data in the next chapter. This may seem like the boring part, because it is. But it’s important to have the proper foundation before we get to the fun stuff.

DISCLAIMER: For right now, I’m going to be working strictly in a Windows environment. The tools that we need — which will be revealed later — were meant to work with the Windows command line. There are options for you Mac/Linux users out there, and I will discuss them down the road. But for right now, these initial steps will be for the Windows folks.

MORE DISCLAIMER: I’m trying my hardest to keep this tutorial accessible for everyone. You’ll need a basic understanding of Windows, but you shouldn’t have to be a computer wiz to follow these steps. Conversely, those that are very familiar with Windows will see this as pretty basic stuff. I’m not trying to be insulting. I’m just trying to make sure everyone can follow along.

Step 1: Installing MySQL

The term “database” might sound like you need some sort of special hardware or server rack in your house. While this is true in the corporate world, the truth is you can have your own database right on your regular PC. No need for special hardware or hosting plans or anything of the sort. This is not to say that having a hosted database doesn’t have it’s advantages, but for the time being, we’ll be dealing with what are called local databases — those that live right on your regular machine.

However, a complete Retrosheet database will require a good deal of hard drive space. From my experience, a Retrosheet database that spans all the available data requires a little over 8 GB of hard drive space. However, as Retrosheet releases more and more updates, that need will expand. To be safe, I wouldn’t work with any less than 15 GB of available space. You’ll be surprised how fast that fills up.

Personally, I have a separate machine that hosts my personal database. It’s a headless (just  a tower stowed away in my attic, no monitor or keyboard attached) unit that performs a lot of functions like storing my ripped DVDs and music. But my Retrosheet info also lives there, and I connect to it to do my querying. If you are totally baffled by this notion, don’t worry. I’m still teaching you how to install it locally. But for those with a little knowledge of how to handle some basic home networking, know that this is an option.

OK. Let’s get to the action. The type of database that we’ll be using is called MySQL. It’s a very common database language. There are lots of resources in both book and online form to learn more about it, and pretty much any problem is easily Googlable. It’s one of the industry standards, so that’s what we’ll deal with.

To keep things nice and free, and since we’ll be only using this for personal reasons, we’ll deal with the Community Edition of MySQL. You can find the download link here. You’ll want to choose the second (larger) download link toward the middle of the page. The next page will give you some buttons to login or signup, but you can bypass that with the “No thanks…” link a little further down the page. Once the .msi file has downloaded, go ahead and run it.

pt1screengrab1If you want to go the quick and dirty way, go ahead and choose the Developer Default option. It will install everything you need, and probably some stuff you don’t. You might want that stuff later on, but for the sake of this article, I’m going to choose the Custom option and pick what I want installed. You should install the Server and Workbench at minimum, though it’s a good idea to include the notifier and the documentation as well. You’ll have to click through some category trees to get what you want. Use the green arrow to add your options to the list of things to be installed.

pt1screengrab3The installer will check to make sure you have all the required utilities to do what you want. In my case, I didn’t have the C++ 2013 distribution on my machine — you may have more things that need installing. Just click Execute and the necessary files will be downloaded and the respective installers will run. Once everything is installed, click Next and your MySQL install will begin.

pt1screengrab5For configuration purposes, go ahead and keep the defaults, unless you have specific reasons not to (and you know what you’re doing).

pt1screengrab6You can add users to the database if you want, but for simplicity, we’re just going to define a password for the “root” user. REMEMBER THIS PASSWORD. It’s your key to doing anything with the database — adding data, querying, etc. If you lose it, you’re pretty much horked. Use a familiar password or write it down. If you’re just having this on your own machine, there’s really no need for a super-complicated password. It’s holding freely-available data, after all.

pt1screengrab7For the Windows Service configuration, you can keep the defaults as well. You can choose to not have the MySQL service to run when you start the machine, but if you do you’ll have to manually start the service each time you want to use the database. If you don’t know what that means, have it run on default.

pt1screengrab8Go ahead and click Execute, and the options will be configured. After that, a few clicks of Next should do it. You’ve just installed MySQL on your machine. Congratulations!

Step 2: Install Wget

Wget is a great utility for downloading mass amounts of data from a server without having to click a thousand links. It’s a script-based tool, and it’s what you’ll need to download all the Retrosheet data with in one big swoop. Don’t worry, we’ll provide the scripts you’ll need.

Download the installer here. Run the installer, keeping all the defaults.

Step 3: Install 7-Zip

7-Zip is a .zip file utility. It’s one of the best free tools for handling .zip files, and it’s what we’ll be using. You can download the installers here. Choose one of the first two options, taking care to choose the right version in regards to 32- or 64-bit. If you don’t know what version you have, go to the Control Panel of your machine, click System and Security, then System. You’ll get a similar screen, which should show you your version. Remember which one you have, as this will be important later on.

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Yes, I name all of my devices after baseball players. Don’t judge.

After you’ve downloaded the right version, go ahead and install, using all the defaults.

You’ve done it! You’ve done all the pre-steps for installing your Retrosheet database. If you have any questions, sound off in the comments. Stay tuned, as next week, we’ll get our hands dirty with installing the actual Retrosheet data. I’ve made it as painless as possible, I promise. Don’t get worried. If you can handle what we did today, you can handle the rest. Good luck, and don’t feel bad about asking for help.


There are Great Sports Games Available at Steam’s Holiday Sale

Fellow video game enthusiasts, today is a magical day! The annual Steam Holiday Sale went live today, putting hundreds of games on sale. Steam, the game distribution system designed by the Valve Corporation, is free to download, and many games themselves are also free. While these games are limited to PC/Mac/Linux (sorry console gamers), the Holiday Sale is a great time to make bulk purchases to last you all of next year. Most titles are on sale, however two of the three most played games are free to download and play, in Defense of the Ancients 2 — more commonly referred to as DotA 2 — and Team Fortress 2. For sports related titles, Football Manager 2015 is the fourth highest played title thus far today.

steamsale

In Football Manager 2015 you are tasked with building a competitive soccer club and juggling things from scouting and trades to developing a strong youth program. While the 2015 version is not on sale, the full price is $49.99, the 2014 version is discounted to down to $14.99. Rugby Manager 2015 is marked down to just $9.99.

If you prefer to take the pitch yourself rather than run the operations behind the scenes, Pro Evolution Soccer 2015 — winner of the gamescom Best Sports Game 2014 — is 15% off, costing $33.99 right now. For those who would rather take to the court rather than a soccer field, NBA 2K15 is also 17% off sticker price, going for $49.79

Released not even four months ago, The Golf Club is a solid golf experience in lieu of actually stepping onto the fairway. For me, golf is only available about half the year, thanks to the lovely Michigan snowfall. The Golf Club offers tournament and league play, as well as an option to challenge your friends on existing courses or even build your own. Thanks to the Holiday Sale, one can pick up this title for $24.99, 30% off the regular price.

Possibly the best sports simulations games is Out of the Park Baseball 2015, and of course it is being discounted. On sale for $14.99, OOTP was already given a detailed review by the handsome and brilliant Bradley Woodrum. If you’re looking for a game for a baseball enthusiast, do them a favor and grab OOTP while it is on sale.

In addition to the titles highlighted here, Steam also has dozens of racing games from F1 2014 (half off at 24.99) to Nascar 14 (going for $7.99). Given the fact that Steam is free to download, as are 170 different games, if you’re scrambling for a holiday gift, Steam’s free-to-play games, as well as their sale, make for a great option.

(Header image via Steam)

 


Fancred: A Social Network For Fans

Fan networking just got easier with Fancred’s latest update. Fancred, a free app specifically designed for fan interactions, now allows users to create albums of photos, videos, posts and updates seamlessly. Community pages for various teams will even display content automatically to present the users with fan-created content.

Picking which team to follow is easy with a simple search function. Yes, I know the teams I root for are…interesting. Once you join a team community to follow their updates, your timeline will be shown other user’s content if tagged with your team.

fanfix

Uploading pictures of ticket stubs, selfies at the game or stadium shots can now be placed in separate folders or together, depending on if you’d prefer to group things chronologically or categorically.

fancred1

In a similar vein to Reddit, on any given post you can upvote or downvote, repost within Fancred or share directly to Twitter and Facebook.

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Fancred is a growing social network geared specifically for sports fans and has already secured $3 million in startup money to continue their growth. The app is currently available for both iOS and Android devices and simply requires an email login. While already impressive, the app does lack things such as a hashtag search or a way to tweak feeds. For example, rather than get flooded in the wee hours on Premier League or Bundesliga moves, it would be great to stop push notifications on things like comments for my Queens Park Rangers and Leverkusen, while still getting them for the Oakland A’s. Still a work in progress, Fancred has nonetheless shown enough to have earned a place on my phone.


It’s Time for VR in Sports Broadcasts

Word is the Google Cardboard toy — which started as a gimmick, is now a toy, and will soon be a tool, I suspect — now has over 500,000 users.

This got me thinking: We already have mini-cameras we can embed in the ground; we have 360° camera technology; and now we have cheap, accessible virtual reality (VR).

Isn’t it time for 360° MLB.tv? Perhaps a camera embedded neatly in front of home plate or the pitcher’s mound. Maybe on the back of the mound to watch closeup up as the shortstop flips a double-play ball to the second baseman.

Google Cardboard could rapidly democratize the world of VR customers.

Google Cardboard could rapidly democratize the world of VR customers.

Or what about mounting a 3D camera on the cable-tugged NFL sky view cameras? Allow fans to watch the play unfold while focusing on just their fantasy wide receiver, finally giving them the vindication to scream at the quarterback, “He’s wide open! Throw it to James Jones already!”

And doesn’t NASCAR already have cameras mounted on every vehicle? Would it be any more difficult to swap in a 360 model?

The technology is probably not a point just yet where a 360 camera can be safely embedded into a soccer pitch or — certainly not — a basketball court or hockey rink. But goal post cross bars, tops of basketball backboards and jumbotrons dangling from stadium roofs could all be reasonable and fun locations for VR watchers.

Think about it, sports execs. Because it would be awesome.


IOC Set To Launch 24/7 Olympics Channel

For an organization known more recently for its spotty human rights record than forward thinking, the IOC surprised many last week, including its own president, Thomas Bach, when they adopted the 40-point “Olympic Agenda 2020” program proposed by the IOC president.

Included in the series of reforms is a plan to develop an over-the-top digital TV channel to begin broadcasting as early as 2015. The AP reported that the channel will cost around $600 million to create, with the hope that the IOC would recoup their investment after 10 years. The channel’s programming won’t interfere with the Universal Sports Network in the US, which already provides round-the-clock coverage of the Olympic games, including live events, to more than 60 million cable subscribers. Said to be based on the National Geographic Channel model, the channel will broadcast from the archives of past Olympic games, as well as provide Olympic news and other non-Olympic sporting events.

It remains to be seen how much interest there will be for the channel, given that the network will be unable to broadcast live events due to previous agreements with networks like NBC. Recent sports networks like NBA TV, the NFL Network, and the Pac-12 Network have all started with the archives and news format, but included live broadcasts to draw in initial viewers. There is also a concern that a 24-7 Olympics network will lessen the novelty for games that are held once every four years. But for an organization that has been much maligned recently, the new channel is a worthwhile bet to recapture some of its lost relevance, especially with a younger audience that is accustomed to this type of programming.

(Header image via adrian8_8)

Esports and Caffeine Continue to Grow Together

Soda — or as some call it, “pop” — and video games have a long history of working well together, be it in your friend’s basement, at an arcade or corporate sponsorship. Today at 4pm eastern Coca-Cola will take the next step in their esports interest with a debut Game-A-Thon event in Atlanta. The games will also be streamed via Coke’s Twitch.TV channel, however exactly which games are being played remain a mystery.

Scheduled to last four hours, the Game-A-Thon will pit five esports figures and players against each other in the mystery games in order for the prizes to be donated to various charities. Keeping the players in the dark about what exactly they’ll be playing is all part of the fun. In an interview with GamesBeat, Matt Wolf, head of global gaming for Coca-Cola was quoted saying:

We are interested in gaming. It’s big. We know it. We’re being smart and focused about how we approach it. As we head into the end of the year, this opportunity with our friends at Twitch is a great way for us to cap off the year with a great on-site production. We can give back to the players and to a charity for the holidays.

While Coca-Cola has helped in the League of Legends realm, specifically with their Coke Zero LoL Challenger League, this marks their first major foray into other games. Caffeinated beverages — not to mention energy drinks — have been a part of video games for years. From the Halo “Gamer Fuel” to Mountain Dew and their double experience points for Call of Duty games, to personal sponsorships by Red Bull for StarCraft II players such as Bomber, major beverage labels continue to appeal to gamers and esports fans with both their carbonated drinks as well as their efforts within the gaming communities. Cracking open a can to drink while watching your favorite game or team suddenly doesn’t necessarily equate to beer and baseball anymore.


Amazon’s ‘Make an Offer’ Loaded with Sports Memorabilia

Before logging on to Amazon to wrap up your Christmas shopping, you’ll want to flip through The Art of Negotiation. It could save you a few bucks.

Last week Amazon unveiled “Make an Offer,” a new feature which allows customers to negotiate lower prices with more than 150,000 items. For the initial rollout, Amazon has limited the experience mainly to collectibles – sports, entertainment, coins, history and political memorabilia – and fine art.

The sports category easily lists the most items featuring the Make an Offer opportunity. Photographs, uniforms, balls and trading cards are some of the most abundant memorabilia available, with Major League Baseball and the National Football League represented the most.  There’s even a pair of wrestling trunks signed by Hulk Hogan.

First, the seller must enable the option on an item’s listing. The customer can then either purchase the listed item at the available price or click the Make an Offer button and enter an offer. Amazon sends an email to the seller, who then responds within 72 hours. The seller can accept the offer, reject it or submit a counter offer. Now, this is when that copy of The Art of Negotiation comes in handy. Because now it’s on. Negotiations continue via email. Should the customer pull off their best Donald Trump impersonation and the seller accepts an offer, the item is placed in to the customer’s shopping cart at the negotiated price for checkout and purchase.

jeterclubhousechair

For example, check out this Derek Jeter clubhouse chair listed by Steiner Sports, used August 24 when the New York Yankees hosted the Chicago White Sox. The Yankees won 7-4 and Jeter went 0-for-5. It’s listed at $2,500. Now, I’m not a Yankees fan, and while I respect The Captain, I’m not obsessed with him, and I certainly don’t have a disposable income that would allow for such a purchase, though I do need a new office chair. So I made an Arte Moreno-esque take-it-or-leave-it offer of $500 with the ultimatum that my offer will stand for 72 hours. I can’t imagine Steiner Sports accepts my low-ball offer, which is 80 percent off the asking price. But if they do, I think I can sell it to the wife, seeing as I was ready to drop $175 on an office chair from Ikea. Knowing her, she’ll use Lysol wipes to clean off any Hall of Fame lingering germs and drop the value of the chair by 40 percent.

Steiner Sports is looking forward to a better shopping experience between customers and sellers utilizing the Make an Offer service.

“The ‘Make an Offer’ experience gives customers more control and better deals than they may have received prior to this program,” said Steven Costello, Executive Vice President of Steiner Sports Memorabilia, Inc. “The negotiation experience will hopefully get more communication between us and our customers to help us better gauge the price for certain items. We love the ‘Make and Offer’ program, and it is only going to get bigger. Once customers know this is an available feature more offers will come, leading to more sales.”

jeterchairconfirmationemail

Amazon emailed me confirmation of my offer within a few minutes. Other customers can still purchase the item at the current list price. So there is risk involved. However, if a customer is looking for value only in the Amazon market place, this shouldn’t be much of a concern.

Amazon said it plans to expand the number of Make an Offer eligible items in 2015. So there’s time to hone those negotiating skills.


The State of Soccer Ball Sponsors

Though the Major League Soccer season ended not even a week ago, the league has wasted no time looking ahead to next year. Partnering up with long-time sponsor Adidas, MLS has announced their new official match ball for the 2015 season. Called the NATIVO, it will feature the six identically shaped panels, continuing the move away from traditional pentagonal or hexagonal designs.

Sponsoring leagues and competitions with match balls is a well-trodden road for Adidas, as they also use a new ball for the Women’s World Cup 2015 as well as Euro 2016 qualifiers. Competition is rife among Adidas and Nike for official match balls, or OMBs, and both companies are eager to put their respective designs on the field. Nike holds an edge in number of leagues — though many countries and leagues aren’t listed of course — in Europe, including inarguably the two best, Premier and La Liga.

Premier League La Liga Serie A Ligue 1 Bundesliga MLS
Nike Ordem Ordem Ordem
Adidas Pro Ligue 1 TORFABRIK NATIVO

For international leagues both at the county and club level, Adidas has locked up OMB status in a clean sweep, though Nike does sponsor the 2015 Asian Football Cup 15 with their new Ordem 2.

Men’s World Cup Women’s World Cup Euro 2016 Qual UEFA Champions UEFA Europa Africa Cup of Nations
Nike
Adidas Brazuca conext 15 Euro 2016 Finale 14 Brazuca Marhaba

Between 12-panel vs six-panel designs to the thermal-bonding or fuse-welded discussion, there is no shortage of differences of balls in league matches. Factor in the chance for a player to potentially use three different balls in a 12-day period — league fixture, UEFA and national team call up — the lack of standardization is odd. It isn’t a question of quality, merely continuity. The old saying “different strokes for different folks” rings true in many aspects, but when millions of people (not to mention millions of dollars) are involved in these matches, perhaps the saying “can’t we all just get along?” would be better.

(Header image via Facebook)