Archive for May, 2015

Are Periscope and Meerkat Really Viable Sports-Watching Options?

Periscope, the live-streaming app developed by Twitter, has officially launched on Android devices. It comes several weeks behind Meerkat for Android, another mobile-based live-stream app and thus a comparison seems inevitable. Both are free and aimed specifically at being in the moment so neither offer a way to embed videos, though neither should be overlooked despite that particular detail. As simple as an app-to-app review could be, perhaps the greater issue at hand is what the apps offer: a way to potentially circumvent paid content and products.

As mentioned around these parts by Seth Keichline, the much ballyhooed Pacquiao/Mayweather fight promoters were actively and aggressively cracking down on illegal streams. As such, the question may not be what will people stream and watch, but rather will they? The demand for free streams isn’t surpassed by the desire for high definition, but if the content is shown in at least decent quality, the viewers may come. Shown below is a side by side of the two apps with Periscope on the left and Meerkat on the right.

periscopestream

Apologies for the shot of the Periscope app, as the screenshot function was noticeably lagged in comparison to Meerkat. The pictures are from the Wednesday afternoon game between the Tigers and A’s. My camera — or more accurately my phone — is the OnePlus One with a 13 megapixel Sony Exmor IMX214 capturing video and pictures from a 1080p Samsung television. Suffice to say, hardware shouldn’t be the issue in terms of questionable stream quality.

As much as I love baseball and other sports, I can’t see myself consistently watching a stream of this quality on my phone. Perhaps the rare event with something not shown on any available channels, a la a soccer tournament such as the Asian Cup or Cup of Nations, but not a baseball game. The issue at hand is that this exception brings us back to the original question regarding the boxing match: will people use these apps to pirate sports, concerts and other live events? I’ve skulked around enough dark corners of the Internet to realize people will look for any way possible to get around paying for something. From Napster to WinMX and Kazaa to torrent sites and mirrored links or VPNs to get around blackouts, the consumers will eventually get what they want, whether they pay for it or not. The ease of use for both apps have made providing and pirating content quite easy, however neither are perfect for said task.

Meerkat has the option to search for a specific user or stream, something that would appear to be a basic core element of a social networking app. It’s a shame Periscope decided against implementing it as very useful and seemingly easy to roll out. As more and more social apps gain the ability to monetize — Facebook and Tinder immediately come to mind — the possibility for someone willing to take the risk of selling digital tickets to a streamed sports event doesn’t sound too far fetched. Something named “Marlins vs Nationals” or “USA vs CAN” could easily gain viewers and traction, though perhaps it would be better to not so blatantly advertise something that violates terms of use for the apps and the broadcasted event.

meerkatsearch

Where both apps fall short is that neither has an option to duck the sound of a previous app. Listening to music either with Spotify, Pandora or Google Music was automatically muted or even ducked when watching a stream. It isn’t a deal breaker, but given that Meerkat does duck phone calls — whereas Periscope pauses the stream — it seems like an annoying issue that is bound to be fixed soon. Of course without a way to record the stream, after a pause it is resumed live, not from where it was paused.

periscoperesume

Though there is no search option, Periscope has nailed down the location service side of things. Rather than simply naming the city or location where a stream is in the manner Meerkat approaches things, Periscope can be tied directly to Google Maps. The location in Periscope is separated from the stream itself, shown below the stream. Meerkat sees fit to display everything at once. Below are two pictures showing the location of two streams, the first a stream from a restaurant in Stockholm, the second is fire fighting training in California.

meerkat1update

If the above picture looks cluttered to you, you aren’t alone in that opinion. It should be noted the following picture is not of the stream itself, merely the location.

periscope1

Both apps sport a chat function, though again the pros and cons come through. Within Meerkat, the chat cannot be hidden, so you’re at the mercy of other stream watchers. There is the ability to hide the chat within Periscope, or if only a handful of people are spamming the chat, you’re allowed to block specific people. Unfortunately some Periscope streams can be overloaded with chat and a pop up message occurs.

periscopechat

In order to try and parse down the chat spam, Periscope does allow private broadcasts where only followers or selected accounts will be invited to the stream. Meerkat is a strictly public stream and the chat tends to suffer due to that.

periscopeprivate

Both certainly have their strengths and weaknesses, so despite sounding like a cop-out, it’s nearly a toss up between the two. The option for private broadcasts more than makes up for any issues I have with Periscope, including the inability to search for users. If I find a stream is interesting enough then I’ll follow it, and thus can find the stream through my following list. It isn’t ideal, but at least it is a workaround. Meerkat isn’t perfect either as chat on those streams can rapidly turn into a live version of Lord of the Flies. The lack of a pause and resume feature on Meerket as well as the streams looking awfully crowded due to the chat and constant location make the feeds appear disorderly.

Given my usage patterns and preferences, I give a slight edge to Periscope. The pause and resume feature is incredibly convenient as I tend to receive a high volume of emails throughout the day and the option to get back into the stream and miss a minimum amount of time is fantastic. Periscope offers cleaner looking broadcasts as they can go unhindered by chat and have their location and descriptions hidden away. Neither are perfect, but I can see myself using Periscope more regularly. Of course, without an ability to watch previous broadcasts, only so-so streamer to viewer chat interactions and stream quality dependent on sending and receiving hardware as well as internet connection, both could be fads that fade with time. I envision both Meerkat and Periscope having similar issues to traditional television broadcasts: the inability to be flexibly with watch times — as opposed to YouTube, Twitch and Vine’s abilities to watch any time — may limit their long term success.


REVIEW: Schmoylent, Bags of Powder from the Internet

FUN FACT ALERT: The day I started putting this review into actual writing, I got this letter from the makers of Schmoylent — the very product I had been consuming for the purpose of reviewing.

Here’s the skinny: This is not for everyone. In fact, I’m specifically asking, “Is this right for athletes?” I spent a good many years as a collegiate athlete who struggled with nutrition and calories. For college students tight on money and limited on time, though, this could be a good fit. I was a scholarship athlete who could never get calories under control because I was too exhausted and too poor to eat anywhere but the cafeteria, and too poor to afford healthy, but quick groceries.

Liquid meals, therefore, could offer the necessary solution for the under- and overfed athlete on the budget. And that is the purpose of this investigation. It is to find the possibility of the Soylent Athlete.

Here's a look at the pouring consistency of Schmoylent.

Here’s a look at the pouring consistency of Schmoylent. NOTE: There’s a loose chunk of unmixed powder in there, but that tends to be user error. I usually can get it mixed well enough.

Grades

Taste: 8
Texture: 7
Nutrients: 10
Packaging: 3
Ego Depletion: 6
Price: 6 ($4.04 per meal)

Rating: 6.7

Taste

I gave name brand Soylent a 5-out-of-10 rating in taste and basically said no thanks. I’m giving Schmoylent an 8-out-of-10 rating and saying I hardly knew thee. The difference in taste? So far as I can tell, the only difference is the inclusion of chocolate powder in Schmoylent. Could that have made the powder-drink that much more likeable? Or maybe it was the fact that Schmoylent is based off an earlier version of Soylent, one which required the user to add a few bits of oil during the mixing process?

Not that I could taste the coconut oil I was adding per se, but I do recall wondering often how my Soylent would taste with some sort of smoothing agent like oil added to it. Was it better tasting than my so-far favorite 100% Food? Boy, it’s hard for me to believe it, but for some reason I just really like the taste of Schmoylent. I looked forward to my Schmoylent meals.

Texture

Much like Soylent, it tastes dusty. Maybe my having tried Soylent first prepared me in ways that 100% Food failed to prepare me for Soylent. But all I know for certain is that the texture, while not enjoyable, was not a deal-breaker this time.

Nutrients

A nice 2100 calorie supply of food with:

Carbohydrate: 252g
Protein: 114g
Fat: 70g
Fiber: 27g

That’s essentially the aim of this whole project — get sufficient nutrients and do so in a sustainable way. The latter half is still pending, but the nutrients of these liquid meals have typically left me feeling as or more awake and ready than ever.

Packaging

Here’s the problem with Schmoylent: It arrived in unmarked zipper bags.

This isn't at all suspicious.

This isn’t at all suspicious.

Soylent and 100% Food are both clearly young companies, but at least they had unique, professional-looking packaging. Schmoylent felt like some sort of terrifying Internet dare. And while I ultimately loved the product, the packaging would be such a tough sell that I imagine many users would never even taste the product upon seeing it’s floppy, suspicious transmission device.

And besides being a PR problem, the bags also constitute a practicality problem. Whereas 100% Food had self-contained bottles and Soylent had a free pitcher with the first order, Schmoylent lacked any storage accommodations. I was lucky my Soylent order arrived before Schmoylent, otherwise I wouldn’t have had a pitcher appropriate to render my Schmoylent portable (and thereby practical).

Thank goodness for the Soylent pitcher!

Thank goodness for the Soylent pitcher!

Ego Depletion

I honestly think I could eat Schmoylent long term. Had it not ceased its deliveries already. Oh well.

Price

While $4.04 is still better than Taco Bell, but not as good as Soylent’s grocery-level $3.06 price point — especially considering that Soylent also sends a pitcher with the first order.

Conclusions

My final say on Schmoylent:

  1. So far, Schmoylent tasted the best. Still dusty though, so maybe my tastes have begun to change.
  2. That means I should probably give Soylent another go.
  3. I shall miss you Schmoylent, you and your terrifying mystery bags of health powder.

Until the next one, eat well, my friends!

Other Reviews

Check out the Soylent subreddit for some great resources on liquid meal-replacements.


Kitman Labs’ Profiler Helps Keep Athletes on the Field

Sports analytics has moved on from the days when an ambitious amateur could fire up Excel or a relational database and make earth-shattering discoveries. Modern front offices must incorporate not only on-field performance but also medical histories, training results, biomechanics data, and a host of other sources into their decision making. To help teams better manage and access that mountain of data, Dublin-based Kitman Labs has developed the Profiler, a system that combines disparate data sources into analytics describing player health and injury risk.

Chief product officer Stephen Smith described Kitman Labs’ offering as “the operating system for sports teams.” The strength of the system is in its ability to combine data from multiple areas — including medical, biomechanical, and on-field sources — to produce more holistic analytics that can better inform team decision making regardingl athlete training and injury prevention. Smith said he was first inspired to create the system while working as an athletic trainer for Leinster, an Irish rugby team.

“One of the biggest challenges I had as a practitioner was that all the fitness data was held in one area, all the medical data was held in one area, and all the performance analytics were held in another area,” Smith said. “That just made it very hard to understand what any of the information actually meant.”

An example of the power of Profiler is demonstrated through a software application that allows users to collect markerless, three-dimensional biomechanical data from an off-the-shelf Microsoft Kinect. The software can calculate select joint angles from an athlete a few feet away — even during rapid dynamic movements, such as running, kicking, or throwing a pitch. And although Smith insisted that the Kinect software was “probably five percent of what we actually do,” he was enthusiastic about its ability to make motion-capture based analysis more accessible.

“Biomechanical information that you would garner in a normal professional sports environment would take you hours to actually get because the downtime is huge, and the cost of that is pretty difficult, and you just can’t access that day to day because it takes too long,” Smith said. “The software that we’ve created jumps professional sports teams into the next generation of real-time technology.”

When interviewed, Smith refused to name the specific organizations that have partnered with his companies.

“We definitely don’t like to speak about our clients because a lot of the information we’re housing, as you can imagine, is very sensitive data on very high-profile athletes,” he said.

But some of his clients have been less tight-lipped about their relationship. In March, The Los Angeles Dodgers announced that they would be partnering with Kitman Labs in their farm system, declaring themselves “the first American sports team” to sign with the company. Across the pond, Kitman Labs works with British Premier League squad Everton, along with a number of Irish rugby teams. Other organizations, including the San Francisco Giants, have also tested this system.

When Kitman Labs signs a new client, the two first collaborate to determine which data and which metrics are most important to the organization, and what sources of information the organization already collects. Kitman’s sports scientists then work with the coaches and training staff to demonstrate how to use the system and understand the analytics the system produces.

“We have a very experienced team of sport scientists who all understand the individual nature of each sporting discipline that we work with, and the uniqueness of each club, team, and athlete,” Smith said. “Those sports scientists will actually be on the ground with teams for a number of days actually helping them to get up to speed.”

Smith says he understands that his company offers an appealing solution to clubs looking to maximize the return on their sizable investments in player salaries, not to mention strength and conditioning, coaching, and other aspects.

“I presume that [general managers] want tools to ensure that they can get the best value from their athletes,” Smith said. “I think the clubs just love the idea of being able to try and maximize on that by being sure they can keep the athletes on the field.”

But the growth of biomechanics data has led to rumblings in some quarters. Some have expressed concerns that medical data which suggests an injury risk could be used against athletes during negotiations. (An example can be seen in the controversy surrounding the Houston Astros’ dealings with top overall pick Brady Aiken last summer.) Despite this, Smith said he hasn’t seen any pushback from athletes on teams using this product, and insists that the system was designed primarily with athlete wellbeing in mind.

“One of the largest driving forces for us in doing this is that we want to protect athlete welfare, we want to improve the standard of care that is given to athletes worldwide,” Smith said. “It’s there purely for the team to use that information to empower their decision making, and that way they can ensure the athlete makes it onto the field in the best possible shape.”

Kitman Labs was born out of Smith’s postgraduate research into injury risk factors, as well as his professional experience as an athletic trainer. The company was founded in October 2012, with its first product offering coming online in June 2013. By early 2014, Kitman Labs had signed their first partnerships with soccer and rugby teams, and were looking to expand into the American market.

“We kind of expected that the market over here would be pretty far ahead of what was going on in Europe,” Smith said. “But when we came over, we realized that it didn’t look like there was anybody else trying to do something like what we were doing.”

The company opened its first American office in Menlo Park, California, in September 2014. Since the MLB season was just wrapping up, Kitman Labs initially focused on expanding into baseball to coincide with teams’ buying cycles. Kitman Labs is now looking to expand into other sports, developing new applications in both professional and collegiate sports leagues.

“We’ve had early success with baseball in the U.S., but we’re actively working with NBA teams, NFL teams, and we’re actually now branching into the NHL as well,” Jeff Eckenhoff, a member of the Business Development team, said. “We’re pretty sport agnostic.”

And with the expansion into new sports comes an expansion of staff, as Kitman Labs looks to add sports scientists and engineers that can help them adapt their solutions for new clients. Smith said his company is actively looking to fill eight vacancies.

“We need industry experts from basketball, football, and baseball to come and be part our team, and to help us solve the largest problems for each of these sports so that we can truly help these teams to uncover the sources of injuries,” Smith said.

Still, Smith insisted that his company’s expansion would not come at the expense of Kitman’s current offerings.

“We don’t want to be a company that walks into a market and grabs a huge collection of customers and then walks away with their checks in our back pocket,” Smith said. “We want to change the face of sports science and sports medicine and we’re going to do that by incredible focus and by being extremely diligent.”


Can’t Science Solve Baseball’s Silly Foreign Substance Debate?

If you watch the HBO television program Last Week Tonight with John Oliver, you may be familiar with a reoccurring segment titled “How is This Still a Thing?” in which approximately three to four minutes are used to discuss the merits of some kind of tired tradition that probably needs to come to an end.

With the recent suspension of not one, but two major league pitchers for infractions regarding foreign substances, you may be asking yourself the same question. Sports, of course, loves a good debate, so when the whole issue was brought up again this go-round, the same old questions arose. Does it really help the pitcher? Do the batters really mind? Does anyone really care?

But the most prevalent question seems to revolve around how this issue hasn’t been put to bed already. Major League Baseball — and some certain managers, it seems — think that a pitcher’s employment of certain substances gives them an unfair advantage. This has not stopped the pitchers from disregarding the rules banning those substances, however. A recent segment on ESPN’s Baseball Tonight featuring former big leaguers Alex Cora and Dallas Braden accentuates this fact.

The subject of all this debate is confusing however. The current discussion isn’t revolving around Vaseline or hair tonic or emory boards or gobs of tobacco spit. Less my memory fails me, all the pitchers who have been suspended for abusing the foreign substance rule within the past few years have all used some sort of combination of pine tar, rosin, and sunscreen. These are all substances that can easily be found within the field of play during any baseball game, and, as Braden pointed out, are freely available for the hitter to use.

The quotes from John Farrell used at the beginning of the segment are also interesting.

“I would like to see an approved substance that pitchers can use,” Farrell said. “Because when we take a manufactured baseball and rub it with dirt, it’s going to create a slippery feeling to it. The mud residue leaves a film on it that you don’t necessarily feel a good, consistent grip. Unless you go to a ball like the one used in Japan where it’s got a tacky feel to it. But I’d like to see something that’s approved that everyone can use. I think if you poll any hitter, the hitter wants to know that the ball’s got a grip. The ball’s not going to get away from [the pitcher].”

This seems like an incredibly even-headed idea. Pitchers want a little something to make sure they have a proper grip on the ball. Batters want to make sure that pitchers aren’t throwing balls caked in substance that will make them dart all over the strike zone. Can we not find a happy medium? Lord knows MLB has not been shy about telling players what kinds of other substances they can and cannot use. Were those just picked willy-nilly? There had to be some science involved.

We have the technology to track a balls rotational spin, on either axis, with pretty tremendous accuracy. In today’s installment at The Hardball Times, Jesse Wolfersberger profiles private companies that are doing amazing things in the world of sports tracking and technology. I find it hard to believe that Major League Baseball, with all their resources and their StatCast tech already in place, couldn’t conduct some kind of study on the effects of certain substances on a pitched baseball.

Golf has a whole division devoted to testing clubheads and balls and shafts and putter inserts. While it would be cool to see baseball invent some contemporary to the golf swing robot, it wouldn’t even have to be that advanced. A group of pitchers and a large enough data set should be enough to find preliminary results.

There has to be a happy medium between tactile grip and rotational disruptment. A bevy of tests should be able to shake out the best compromise between pitcher and hitter. Heck, why not get third parties involved and have them submit their best attempt. Who wouldn’t want to be the Official Ball Gripping Substance of Major League Baseball?

There are rules in baseball regarding lengths, widths, and weights of bats. Gloves need to be within a certain size range. Uniforms have to fit a certain regulation. Perhaps it’s time that we adopt a certain substance as part of the pitcher’s equipment. Rosin apparently isn’t cutting it. Let’s do some testing and find some kind of goop that doesn’t skew the advantage too far in either direction. Make the stuff blaze orange so everyone knows it. No more hiding. No more trickery.

In some matters, baseball is leading the charge in technology and science adoption, both internally and through third-party companies. Fixing this silly doctored ball debate with a little number crunching would be a win for everybody. The pitchers don’t get wild, the batters can still barrel the ball, and baseball can point to yet another measure taken to combat cheating. The sports news networks will have to find something else to talk about, but that’s not really our problem.

(Header image via Keith Allison)

POLL: What How-To Questions do You Want TechGraphs to Answer?

Here at TechGraphs, we want to be your source for all kinds of sports-tech information. Much of it is news and commentary, but we also like to give you some good, old fashioned how to articles. We’ve shown you how to be an Excel wizard for stats domination. We’ve shown you how to make a decent sports podcast. We’ve even gone over how to get your Chromecast to work on ATT U-Verse for all your sports streaming needs. We’ve gone over how to get a Retrosheet database on your computer (and we’ll show how to query it. Promise). We want to bring you more, but we want to know what you would like to see.

So, what sports-tech quandaries are sticking in your craw? Want to brush up on more excel stuff? Want to dive into PitchF/X databases? Still struggling to make a decent GIF? Let us know in the form below. We want to make sure we’re bringing you the stuff you want.

Thank you for your support,

Management

(Header image via Leo Leung)

Hydration Sensor Could Address Wrestlers’ Needs

I can still hear my high school wrestling coach talking to us about the dangers of “cutting weight.” That is to say, dropping large amounts of water weight in a short amount of time in order to make weight and be eligible to wrestle at a particular weight class. Sheer weight used to be the determining factor in how much water one has shed, but no longer. From a study conducted by University of Strathclyde a new wearable device could be able to provide real-time feedback on fluid loss and hydration levels to a computer or smartphone.

Similar to boxing, wrestling is divided up into various weight classes in the name of fairness. Of course, the weight can be very misleading as in just a few hours of intense workouts one can drop multiple pounds of water, allowing athletes to make weight, then rehydrate and technically be above the allowed weight class. Cutting weight is an old story, one that has been around for years despite numerous deaths in the high school and collegiate ranks. The NCAA enacted rules, specifically banning the use of saunas, rubber suits, and pills, but without a way to measure just how dehydrated an athlete is, it’s a fuzzy line between working up a significant sweat and being in real danger.

Dr. Stephen Milne of Strathclyde’s Department of Biomedical Engineering said of the new device:

On an individual level this would allow people to rehydrate during and after exercise. When it comes to team sports, fitness coaches would be able to monitor the data during matches and ensure athletes get what they need to maintain their performance. The sensor is small and wearing it on the skin does not cause any discomfort. During exercise the user would barely be aware of it, allowing them to focus on the activity without distraction.

Given the uniqueness of each person, the need for a personalized game plan for each individual’s workout plan and thus hydration plan is varied. The sensor itself has been designed in part by Professor Patricia Connolly of the Medical Diagnostics Research Group at the university who credited Dr. Milne, saying

Stephen has been able to take our work in medical sensors and transdermal sensing from the healthcare applications into the field of sport.

As someone who managed to stay at the 103 pound weight class all four years of high school, cutting weight was something I was all too familiar with. There were no doubt times I was dehydrated, but our coaches and managers were keen to notice fatigue and sloppiness in me, and would scale back workouts if need be. I would run laps in the pool room where the sweat would just pour out of me, but I never felt in any danger. If I did, I have no doubts the workout would have ceased as I was fortunate enough to have an excellent coaching staff. With this new sensor, the guesswork and “gut-feeling” of coaches is removed. While the context is focused on weight-class athletics, no doubt distance runners, weight trainers and athletes of any caliber should take careful note of their fluid levels. With issues of dehydration to hydrating at the wrong times or even over-hydrating abound, the sports world has been waiting for a wearable device like this for too long.

(Header image courtesy of and features the very dorky author)

New Microsoft Technology Might Make Your GoPro Footage Actually Watchable

I do this weird thing where I take a GoPro on the golf course. It’s not because I love doing trick shots or utilizing bunkers as launch ramps for my golf cart — it’s because I want to look at my swing. One of my biggest issues this season is transferring success on the range to success on the course. I record portions of my practice sessions, but didn’t have anything with which to compare those recordings. So I now take my GoPro out on the course and record a few shots here and there to see how they compare with my technique on the range. It’s dorky, I know.

And while I like walking a course when I’m by myself, I’ll take a cart if I’m with a group. I don’t get as much exercise, but I’m not slowing everyone else down. The cart makes for an excellent GoPro tripod (quadpod?) so I’ll just clip the camera on there and let the recording roll. When I go through the footage, there’s a bunch where the cart is just rolling along. Some of it is boring, but sometimes the camera catches an interesting view or a pretty sunset as we’re meandering down the fairway. I always think this would be cool footage to share, but, well, it’s so dang long. Unless the viewer has some sort of ASMR reaction to video of fairways and sounds of the wind, no one is going to sit through the whole thing.

I imagine that those who participate in real action sports — you know, the people GoPros are intended for — feel the same way. Footage of downhill skiing can be cool, but it can also be quite long and tedious. Microsoft is working on technology that would help alleviate this situation by shortening and smoothing action video.

The software is called Hyperlapse, which conspicuously shares its name with a similar solution from Instagram. Microsoft takes the technology a little further, however. While Instagram’s Hyperlapse will simply just cut out frames to produce a time lapse, Microsoft’s version will pick out the smoothest and most important frames. According to Engadget:

In the mobile version of the app, instead of speeding up the footage by only keeping every tenth frame (for example) Hyperlapse only preserves frames that appear to visually follow the camera’s estimated path through the landscape. By removing wild card frames with sudden jerks or movements, the sped-up footage ends up being automatically smoothed and stabilized. As a result, the faster you decide to speed up your video, up to 32X, the more watchable the results will be.

Hyperlapse comes in two flavors; a mobile app for Android and Windows Phone, and software for PC. No word yet on iOS compatibility, but given Microsoft’s recent push to embrace the platform, I imagine one is coming soon. The PC version is currently a preview version of professional software, so expect that to cost some kind of money at some point in time. The PC version is the most obvious choice to edit footage from a standalone camera like a GoPro, but GoPro’s app does allow exporting to phones which could theoretically be imported into Hyperlapse. A Dropbox/Google Drive option could work as well, perhaps. You can see how well the software translates what would be puke-inducing time lapse video into something much more watchable.

A lot of action footage videos are a lot like vacation photos — they help you remember great times you had, but no one else really wants to see them. By giving us an easy way to edit and smooth this footage out, Microsoft is helping to create more dynamic and engaging material for us to email or post to YouTube. I’m not 100% sure it will help make my golf footage interesting, but I’ll still probably give it a try. I just finished a round on one of the hilliest courses I ever played. Perhaps that will make for some interesting footage when put through Hyperlapse. If not, it will still be more interesting than the source material. And certainly more impressive than my score that day.


beIN Sports to Offer Streaming of EPL Match to (Some) Cord Cutters

One week from today the final piece of the 2015-16 English Premier League will be decided. A single match between Middlesbrough and Norwich City will kick off at 10 am eastern time on May 25. The winner will advance to arguably the best soccer league in the world, the loser remains in England’s second tier league, the Football League Championship. Unfortunately, despite the high stakes, only a limited number of soccer fans — in particular those with cable subscriptions — outside of the United Kingdom will have access to the game.

Foreign broadcast rights for the Championship here in the United States and Canada fall to beIN Sports. Directly from the beIN website, they offer a free online system called beIN SPORTS CONNECT, allowing users to stream live events to their computers, iOS and Android systems. The downside is there is no standalone option for the service. You have to be in an area with beIN available to you, with a compatible cable provider and then purchase a qualifying cable package.

bein

The good news is Sling TV offers a package for $10.00 per month that includes, among other sports options, beIN Sports. Perhaps this is one of the first times in broadcasting history where cord cutters without a traditional cable package sit in an advantageous position to those with a cable subscription. Despite some channel lineups coming with beIN, the vast majority of cable packages don’t offer beIN until their highest package, or as an add-on at additional cost. In my area in particular, beIN isn’t available for my current provider. A competing cable and internet provider does offer beIN, though it isn’t an included feature — it is available as an add-on for $10.00 with the second and third most expensive packages —  until the highest cost package, coming in at a hefty $91.00 per month. That bill is before taxes and without accounting for internet or installation and activation.

At this point it’s hard to say which is more accurate: that the cord cutting generation is winning or that the old school cable TV model is losing.

(Header image via beIN)

Pro Athletes Are Turning To Yoga

If I told you Barry Zito did yoga, odds are you wouldn’t be too shocked. You could pick out most interviews with the pitcher and put it together like “Yeah, I can see that.” Not to say the former Cy Young winner isn’t an athlete, but it’d be a stretch to call him a jock. On the other hand, you would most likely be very surprised to hear a slugger such as Giancarlo Stanton utilizes yoga in his workout routines or USMNT midfielder Jermaine Jones regularly incorporates yoga to focus him.

Gaiam, likely the largest yoga focused company in the United States, recently announced both Stanton and Jones as stars of video series aptly named Yoga for Power with Giancarlo Stanton and Yoga for Conditioning with Jermaine Jones. Now available either traditionally via DVD or digitally online (but not through their GaiamTV streaming service just yet) the videos are designed to improve various aspects of one’s game. Where the ties between football and another non-traditional athletic event in ballet are quite established, recent years has seen yoga take off in baseball circles. A number of MLB teams have turned to yoga for various needs including strength, balance, conditioning and focus, and perhaps this latest wave of videos will shed further light on the subject.

Stanton, while speaking on yoga and his videos noted

Yoga has become an integral part of my training regimen. It strengthens my body and mind and pushes me to be more in tune with myself not only physically, but mentally as well. I truly feel that yoga has been a key component in developing a solid foundation on which I can continue to build a healthy athletic career while benefiting my life as a whole.

From casual workouts to more focused goals, yoga has certainly gained traction as a workout option in the United States. Via Statista, the revenue of the Gaiam specifically and yoga and pilates industry in general has been on a sharp rise since 2007 and projects to continue to do so.

yoga1

As the stigma surrounding alternative workout routines drops, potentially more professional athletes will step forward and embrace what yoga offers on both the physical and mental fronts. The mental side of sports while tough to quantify, shouldn’t be overlooked. As Yogi Berra famously once said: “Baseball is 90 percent mental, the other half is physical.”

(Header image via Gaiam)

HitTrax System Makes Batting Practice Perfect

Professional baseball is a grind, with daily games and countless hours of batting practice for hitters. But younger hitters working in a batting cage lack the feedback of seeing how that last hit would have traveled on the diamond. To help hitters get that experience, the company InMotion has developed the HitTrax system, capable of tracking batted ball speed, launch angle, and a number of other parameters that tell hitters how far each ball would have traveled during an actual game.

The system consists of separate hardware and software components. The hardware, encased in the rectangular white box seen above, consists of three near-infrared cameras and two near-infrared LED arrays that better illuminate the ball. Like other motion-capture systems, multiple cameras track the ball as it crosses the camera volume. The location of the ball in each camera’s field of vision, combined with the known distances between each camera, are combined to measure the position of the ball in three dimensions.

The box containing the cameras is positioned inside the cage, a few feet behind the batter and just in front of the plate, in a fixed position for both right- and left-handed batters. You typically wouldn’t want to stand by the box when someone is in the cage, of course, but the hardware is still well-protected from foul balls: the LED arrays are behind bulletproof glass, and the front of the box is “made from the same material as hockey boards,” according to Tom Stepsis, InMotion Systems’s director of marketing.

The tracking data is then fed into a physics engine to project the distance each hit would travel in the real world. But in addition to distance and trajectory, HitTrax also estimates whether each batted ball would result in a hit or an out. The fielders’ ability has been programmed to match the hitter’s, so high school hitters will face high school fielders, whereas more skilled fielders and deeper fences await older hitters.

InMotion, based in Northborough, Mass., claims that the speeds reported by the HitTrax system are accurate to within one mile per hour, as compared with conventional radar guns. Stepsis also claimed the distances reported were accurate to within five percent of the actual distance, as measured manually with a tape measure. The system does not track the ball’s spin (which has been shown to have an important impact on the distance a fly ball travels) but instead makes its calculation based on the first few feet of trajectory captured by the cameras.

The HitTrax software is controlled by a touchscreen, where the user can enter personal information, change settings, or switch between training and game mode. In training mode, the system can produce detailed spray charts, strike zone “hot and cold” zones, and trajectory data such as launch angle and exit velocity. Reports and leaderboards are available online so players can track their performance and get a sense of how a change to their swing mechanics might translate to in-game performance.

But game mode, Stepsis said, was entirely separate. Here, hitters can compete in home run derbies and on teams in simulated games. The system also includes fun features, like power boosts, to affect trajectories.

Despite its name, the HitTrax system is also capable of tracking pitchers. The system tracks the horizontal and vertical break of the ball, the “end speed” as the pitch crosses the plate, and where in the strike zone the pitch was located. Because the cameras are fixed in front of home plate, however, more in-depth statistics like release point, starting speed, and a more detailed trajectory of the ball’s path to home plate, are not available.

Prior to founding InMotion, the company’s founders had decades of experience with motion tracking technologies and a passion for baseball. It took InMotion “a solid two years” to develop the HitTrax system to the point where it was ready to be sold. Stepsis said that, because the product was so unlike other available offerings, the initial marketing focused on showing potential customers how to use the system.

“When we introduced this, part of the hurdle was explaining what it was to people,” Stepsis said. “And seeing is believing, so we did a lot of demos. And then once people saw it, word of mouth started to spread, and things really took off.”

The system is now in facilities across North America, along with some high schools, colleges, and the occasional private residence. For those in publicly-accessible facilities, the price for a session can vary widely.

“There are some places that charge over $100, there are some places that just put this in a coin-op [batting cage] and just charge double, so instead of $1 for 20 balls, it’s $2,” Stepsis said.

InMotion has gotten positive feedback from players, coaches, and facility owners as a training tool, but Stepsis said some users were also using it for tryouts or scouting purposes.

“Some of our customers who own facilities are also MLB scouts, and they love it,” Stepsis said. “They feel like the data we’re providing them just paints this elaborate picture of what the player’s like.”

As InMotion grows and HitTrax becomes more popular, Stepsis hopes that his company will be able to give players and coaches instant access to the type of data that will allow them to monitor their progress and quantify the effect of any changes in their swings.

“We’re not coaches. We just want to be data providers,” Stepsis said. “It’s all about making the indoor training environment more engaging and more beneficial.”


When Will UEFA Adopt Goal Line Technology?

The UEFA Champions League final will be set Wednesday as Real Madrid and Juventus square off to determine who will face Barcelona in the finals. Barcelona defeated Bayern Munich en route to their finals bid on a 5-3 aggregate score, but it could have easily been 5-4, and a one goal lead — technically two due to the away goals advantage — as a shot in the 39th minute nearly brought a bit of panic to the Barca side.

Bayern’s Robert Lewandowski received a pass near the penalty spot, turned and sent a strike that beat Barca’s keeper, Marc-Andre ter Stegen. From the game feed, as well as the reactions of the Bayern players, it looked as though it may have been a goal.

A different angle shows the entire ball did not cross the goal line, and thus the no goal call turned out to be correct.

While this second angle is no doubt an improvement over the game feed, it is still off-angle and not parallel with the goal line. The Champions League is one of the few leagues in Europe to not have some sort of goal-line technology (GLT) either planned or already in use. From the Dutch league to Italy’s Serie A to England’s Premier League, GLT is something that absolutely needs to be an industry standard.

Just two days ago GLT was the difference in the EPL as Swansea downed Arsenal 1-0 due to a no-goal call being overturned. Reddit user Poet-Laureate, via Gfycat, clearly showed the use of GLT to determine the game.

Both men’s and women’s World Cups as well as numerous domestic leagues have embraced the usage of GLT, though few international leagues have done so. Aside from the UEFA Champions League which pits clubs against each other, national teams in the 2015 Asian Cup nor the 2015 Africa Cup of Nations did not benefit from any form of goal-line technology. Similarly in North and South America the CONCACAF and CONMEBOL respectively have yet to implement GLT in any capacity. One of the reasons behind the lack of GLT is cost, as UEFA President Michel Platini deemed the technology too expensive in 2013, citing a preference to use the money “on youth programs and infrastructure.”

According to Statista, money paid to clubs in the 2012-13 season equated to €910 million.

uefa

Given the UEFA distribution model, 75 percent of the total revenue goes to clubs with the remainder being kept by UEFA. Revenue above the €430 million mark will be split at 82 percent going to teams and 18 percent to the league. It’s hard to cry poor with that amount of money being  publicly disclosed. Soccer leagues are unfortunately notorious for a number of murky and handshake deals — not to mention outright awful human rights — but not utilizing goal-line technology due to something as easily dismissed as cost is absurd. If the finals game is decided by a questionable goal or no-goal call, then maybe UEFA and other international leagues will stop sitting on their hands.


Slingbox Service Heads Across the Pond

For those frustrated in the United Kingdom regarding the Sky TV’s Go and Go Extra no longer being watchable on Google Chrome, help has arrived in the form of Slingbox’s M1 now being available throughout Europe. Via press release, Slingbox announced their set-top box system is now being sold for £129.99 or €199.99 and boasts being compatible with every cable and satellite provider and 100 percent channel availability in their M1 video.

While this still requires a cable subscription, Slingbox does not require any monthly fees to watch sports and shows on the go. That their computer and laptop interface is compatible with Chrome (as well as Safari and Firefox) is a major chip in Slingbox’s favor. Sky Go doesn’t cost anything extra for eligible cable subscriptions, however features such as international viewing, downloading or watching downloaded content are limited to the Sky Go Extra package, costing an additional £5 per month. Currently Sky Go and Extra are limited to iOS and Android whereas the M1 works with iOS, Android, Windows Phone and Kindle devices.

Slingbox is looking to fill what appears to be a self-created void created by Sky for many soccer fans throughout the UK. Given Sky — and to a lesser extent BT Sports — dominate the English Premier League broadcasting rights, it’s surprising to see a company refuse service on a web browser. Fans who can’t be in front their televisions could turn to Slingbox for their on-the-go needs. Senior VP and GM of Sling Media Michael Hawkey is counting on that and said of the latest market expansion:

Given its strong reception in the United States, we are excited to introduce the Slingbox M1 into the European market….With a Slingbox M1 that has been completely localised for customers, we’re delivering the most affordable Slingbox packed with the most robust set of features that we believe will significantly expand the mobile TV and video market.

If the M1 sells well enough and Sky finds many subscribers canceling their Sky Go Extra package, perhaps then the message will be clear: keep up to date with the consumer’s demands or you will lose money.

(Header image via Slingbox)

Even Professional Bull Riding is Getting into the Streaming Game

Last year’s Super Bowl being streamed online was a huge move for the big four — NFL, NBA, MLB and NHL — though the other sports have yet to cater to the streaming population. More fringe or niche leagues may be more willing to embrace the available technology as they attempt to grow their brands, or so it would seem within the ranks of the Professional Bull Riders. Last week PBR announced a partnership with the streaming company Flipps to showcase via pay-per-view their Ring of Honor: Unfinished Business event.

Earlier today via press release, Flipps posted additional details about the Ring of Honor stream. Set to take place on May 30, will consist of a three hour live broadcast of the various competitions with riders aiming to take home up to $160,000 in the winner-take-all formats. In order to view the event, a $29.95 price tag is attached, the same price to watch on Dish Network. Flipps CEO, Kosta Jordanov, said of the partnership with PBR:

PBR is the premiere bull riding organization in the world and we are honored to be able to elevate that content to new audiences through the Flipps platform.

Flipps, a free app available on iOS, Android, most SmartTVs and more, offers both free and PPV options for sports highlights, games and matches ranging from the ACC Digital Network to UFC Sports, the Golf Channel and dozens of others. The entertainment isn’t limited to sports coverage, though. Flipps is dedicated to bringing live coverage to their user base, and includes select programming from Showtime, music videos, plus dedicated genres for children and news. The channel selection also includes industry updates and videos from automotive, health and tech sources. With much of their content readily available for free, Flipps’ revenue comes from in-app ads and video ads, though given their impressive lineup, it is understandable. If you happen to be a bull riding fan who has cut the cord, this is mana from streaming heaven. For those who have dropped their cable packages but are not terrible enthusiastic about the PBR, Flipps has enough other options to be well worth a download.

(Header image via Doug Wertman)

Could the PGA Tour Be the Model for Technology Inclusion in Sports?

I think it’s safe to say that the Tiger Woods Era is over in golf. Sure, he may find his swing (or swing), again. We may see him in contention at a major tournament here and there. Hell, he may even win a couple. But personal problems, age, and a slew of injuries has put an end to what can and should be considered one of the most dominating runs in sports history. Although it’s actually been a while, it doesn’t seem that long ago that he was basically unstoppable.

Tiger Woods' Major championship wins, per Wikipedia

Tiger Woods’ Major championship wins, per Wikipedia

And with the rise of Tiger Woods, golf as a sport saw a rise in popularity. Woods’ presence created must-see TV for even the most casual of golf fans. Woods inspired droves of kids to pick up the sport. EA jumped on the chance to use his likeness in video games. A rising tide lifts all boats, and as Woods lifted trophy after trophy, the PGA Tour’s boat came with.

But now, golf is in trouble. Or at least people think it is. The crash of the real estate market has lead to countless golf course closings. Concerns over environmental sustainability of courses are being raised. Less people are playing, less people are watching. Golf isn’t dead, it’s just less alive than it used to be. I doubt we’ll ever see a talent like Tiger Woods in our lifetime, so it’s safe to assume that golf won’t see another surge in popularity any time soon. But that doesn’t mean they’re not trying. In fact, the PGA Tour is investing big money in technology in hopes to heighten the fan experience.

One of the biggest pushes being made is in the realm of statistics. Baseball fans may be salivating at the thought of what kind of data StatCast can bring to MLB, but the PGA Tour has been utilizing ShotLink technology for some time now. ShotLink brings everything to golf that StatCast promises for baseball. Using a laser system, ShotLink can track hyper-accurate distance and location data for every shot on the course. After these numbers are crunched, essentially any type of stat can be generated and consumed. And the PGA Tour does a magnificent job of this on their own stats page. With a few clicks, fans can find out which player hits the most greens in regulation from 190-200 yards away, who’s best at avoiding three putts from 40 feet away, and who is best at avoiding or finding the rough on the right or left side of the fairway. Baseball lends itself well to statistics due to its individualistic nature. Well, it doesn’t get much more individualistic than golf, and the PGA Tour and ShotLink are showing that seemingly every aspect of the game can be measured, compared, and analyzed.

Another big tech advancement has come with the inclusion of Protracer in TV broadcasts. Through what I can only assume is some version of witchcraft, Protracer hardware and software is able to track a golf ball throughout its flight and graphically display its trajectory. The PGA doesn’t do this for every event, but bigger tournaments — like this past weekend’s Players Championship — utilize the technology. This not only lets viewers see how the path of Sergio Garcia’s 3-wood,

garciaprotacer

but it can also be combined to show the aggregate of how all players faired on getting their drives to the hair-raising island green of the 17th hole at TPC Sawgrass.

TPCPar17

The use of Protracer is not only cool as hell, it appeals to the majority of the PGA’s fans — recreational golfers. This is where the PGA Tour has a huge advantage.

Professional golf is one of those rare sports where fans actually participate in the same sport themselves. Sure football fans might have a backyard game every now and then, and there is certainly no shortage of beer-league softball, but golf is different. We can play with (pretty much) the same equipment as the pros. We can play a lot of the same courses (if we shell out enough dough). While most golf fans can’t match the pros from the tee, all of us know the feeling of sticking an approach shot two feet from the pin or draining a 20-foot putt. Golf fans can do a lot of the things pros can do, just not nearly as often. We know what the trajectory of a perfect drive should look like, and seeing it on our TV screens time after time only solidifies our ideas of just how good these guys are. Football fans know that Aaron Rodgers is good. Golf fans know first hand just how stupid-hard a good golf swing is to make.

With accurate and in-depth metrics, we can know exactly how much better than us they are. We can see shot trajectories that have us yearning for a better swing of our own. If the PGA Tour has their way, these things will keep us coming back for more and more. No, numbers and shiny graphics won’t bring in the same amount of viewers as Tiger Woods once did. But it might be able to reach fans on a more personal level, which just might rekindle or intensify some viewers’ interest in the game. Until another Tiger comes along, that’s probably the best the PGA Tour can ask for.


Tableau Public Premium Goes Free

The graphics and data visualization department of the FanGraphs family have received a significant overhaul in recent months, largely due to the majority of the staff utilizing Tableau. Our own Bradley Woodrum wrote up an extensive and easy-to-read guide on how to take advantage of the program and it more than warrants another read thanks to Tableau Premium being available for free.

Via press release, Tableau announced their Public Premium features are now free for everyone. Boasting the ability to chart 10 million rows of data, 10 GB of storage and the option for creators to keep their own work private or public. Director for Tableau Public, Ben Jones had this to say on the topic:

For people around the world, Tableau Public is the go-to place to create and share public data visualizations. Two years ago we expanded Tableau Public’s analytics capabilities from 100,000 rows to a million rows. We’re so excited to be expanding tenfold again, and we can’t wait to see the stories that people will tell and share.

For a first-hand look at what Tableau can show, both Sean Dolinar and Owen Watson at FanGraphs have data visualization skills that far outpace my own. Count on seeing plenty more descriptive charts, interactive tables and beautiful graphics throughout the FanGraphs family, and with the welcome addition of free premium features, perhaps more beautiful and informative Tableaus will pop up on all kinds of sports web sites.

(Header image via Wikipedia)

Streamable Has a Simple and Quality Clip Maker

My love of GIFs stemmed from the early reaction shot days, but has since morphed into a variety of topics ranging from bat flips to goals, to, okay, still some reaction shots. The GIF is being phased out across the board as HTML5 and GIFV services are better equipped to handle a longer clip in higher quality, and recently the site Streamable has been popping up on my radar. As an inquisitive nerd, I dove right in.

Right off the bat you’re given the option upload from your computer or via URL. According to Streamable, the clips utilize HTML5, or in the rare case where that is unavailable, Flash. You’re not forced to create an account to view a clip or even to upload one, though in order to browse your own uploads it is encouraged to make a free account.

Unfortunately at this time there is no search or index option for other clips, so if you come across something you really like, you’ll need to favorite it. Say, maybe a clip of Leo Messi stealing Jerome Boateng’s soul, then chipping Manuel Neuer in the opening leg of the UEFA semi-finals.

(Editor’s note: Some Ad-Blocking extensions seem to block these embeds. If you see nothing, disable ad blocking.)

Where Gfycat doesn’t have a size limit, Imgur limits animated uploads to 200 MB. Streamable also has a limit, but it’s a 2 GB and 10 minute clip, which at 10 minutes, is longer than an average trailer and some short movies.

The interface is concise and uncluttered. If you choose to parse down a YouTube clip of a go-ahead shot from Game 7 of an NBA playoff series, it’s very easy. Once you have the URL, simply click “Paste from URL” and allow the clip to upload. As soon as it is in the Streamable editing system, feel free to trim it down from either side as the picture below shows.

streamable

After settling on the desired starting and ending points, click create clip and voila, you’re all set.

Streamable offers a fast and simple service and if you’re looking for a GIF-type clip but with sound — it’s the best option short of a full YouTube upload. While I’d certainly love to see a searchable index of clips like Imgur and Gfycat offer, I’ve already began to use Streamable as my go-to option for highlights, even if the highlight is against my favorite baseball team:


The FAA Shifts Their Drone Policies

I’ve criticized various organizations and even the Federal Aviation Administration for failing to embrace drones and their practical applications around sporting events, but I may be lowering my pitchfork now. The FAA posted a trio of press releases that seem to speak of them relaxing their stance on drones.

The first presser was the announcement of an iOS app (with an Android version on the way) called B4UFLY. The app aims to let controllers of unmanned aircraft systems (UAS or more commonly called drones) where it is legal for them to fly. It will have a straightforward “clear” or “not clear” flight availability for current locations as well as the option to search for other areas for future planning. There are preview screenshots of the app in the second press release here. Of note is a pre-flight checklist as well as indicators for special flight rules around specific areas such as Washington D.C. Within the first release, FAA Administrator Michael Huerta spoke on the app and its goal:

We want to make sure hobbyists and modelers know where it is and isn’t okay to fly. While there are other apps that provide model aircraft enthusiast with various types of data, we believe B4UFLY has the most user-friendly interface and the most up-to-date information.

The third item of news from the FAA was an announcement of a joint programs with CNN for news gathering in urban areas, drone manufacturer PrecisionHawk for crop analysis and monitoring and BNSF Railroad to help examine tracks and overall rail infrastructure. None of these partnerships directly affect the average sports fan, but that the government as well as different companies are at least willing to explore new uses for drone technology is worth celebrating. We may not be able to watch a soccer match in the way a polo match could be utilized, but I am just happy to see things shift from mere conversations and potential turn into policy and implementation.

(Header image via Facebook)

How to Split Strings of Sports Data into Individual Cells in Excel

This is a really simple trick that I think a lot of people will never need, but a few people will love forever. It’s this problem:

Year   Age  Tm  ERA   G     IP  FIP
1906    29 CHC 1.04  36  277.1 2.08
1907    30 CHC 1.39  34  233.0 1.97
1908    31 CHC 1.47  44  312.1 1.87

Here’s Mordecai Brown’s 1906 through 1908 stats from Baseball-Reference. But some nimcompoop has pasted them as pre-formatted values. Paste this biz into Excel and you get something like this:

This is very unhelpful data.

This is very unhelpful data.

Well, you’re in luck. Because there’s a super easy way to make this into legit data. Go to the appropriately-named “Data” tab and you’ll find the “Text to Columns” function:

Hello there, handsome!

Hello there, handsome!

With the data selected, click on this “Text to Columns” button. A pop up window will then prompt you whether you want to treat the text as “Fixed width” or “Delimited.” These concepts are weird-sounding, but actually quite simple:

  • Fixed-width: The data has spaces inserted into it so that it visually lines up. When you’re pasting from pre-formatted text, this is almost always the right choice.
  • Delimited: This is text that has special characters within it to help signify the differences between columns. So, if you’re pasting something from a CSV file (a file that uses commas between each data point), then delimited would be the right choice. You can also use delimited if there are spaces between data points — and this can be very helpful when translating a list not intended for spreadsheet use into a spreadsheet.

For this instance, let’s use Delimited to see what happens:

Highlight the text and then open the conversion wizard.

Highlight the text and then open the conversion wizard.

Step 2 asks us what our delimiters are. We can choose one of the usual delimiters (like tabs and commas) or we can use spaces or even insert our own characters (this can be usual for when, say, we scrape data off a Korean baseball site and special Korean characters divide the columns).

With “Tab” selected, you’ll probably notice the data in the preview box doesn’t change — as in, there are no vertical lines indicating the creation of new columns. If you click the “Space” box though, you should see something like this:

Hy! Look! New columns!

Hey! Look! New columns!

Note the check next to “Treat consecutive delimiters as one.” That is important, because without it, we end up with a lot of columns we don’t need:

Yup, that's too many columns.

Yup, that’s too many columns.

In the third step, we have the option to change the data formats and choose an alternative location for the new separated data to appear — both of which are handy — but in general, our work his here is done. Hit “Finish.”

That should give us something like:

Now the data is separated into unique columns. Note how Excel automatically identified the numbers as numerical despite originating within a text string.

Now the data is separated into unique columns. Note how Excel automatically identified the numbers as numerical despite originating within a text string.

So, the alternative to delimited data is fixed-width. Let’s go Pro on this thing and used the fixed-width setting. But this time, I’m going to use data from my Scoresheet league. I encourage any other Scoresheet users to play along with their own data.

I really like Scoresheet. It is one of the very few fantasy baseball sites to include defense. In fact, it might be the only one. But it has problem. The site’s interface was designed by DARPA to fend off the Soviets, or at least that’s what it feels like:

The 1980s called, and they want to warn us about a time-fissure in the land-line system of the 1980s that allows them to communicate with the future. They also browsed our internet, saw the Scoresheet interface, and they want their design principles back.

The 1980s called, and they want to warn us about a time-fissure in the land-line system of the 1980s that allows them to communicate with the future. They also browsed our internet, saw the Scoresheet interface, and they want their design principles back.

So, here’s my undrafted players list (and before you league-mates start thinking you’ve got a peak at my undrafted players list, just know: I’m no longer in the market for a second catcher or extra bat, so ogle all you want). In the middle, big frame, I have a list of players organized first by position and then by playing time accrued (i.e. their real world stats). But what I want to do is combine this data with, say, some projection data like the FanGraphs Depth Charts leaderboard.

But in order to match these undrafted player with the FanGraphs DC projections, I need to first suss out the names of the players. I can achieve that through scraping the numbers of available players here in this undrafted screen and then combine them with the Scoresheet master roster (downloadable here).

For those keeping track at home, I’m combining data like this:

The undrafted list will connect to the master roster which will connect to the FanGraphs  projections which will connect to my  league championship.

The undrafted list will connect to the master roster which will connect to the FanGraphs projections which will connect to my league championship.

We need to scrape the data from the undrafted list. This amounts to clicking in the middle frame of that previous screen, pressing CTRL+A (select all) and then CTRL+C (copy).

Remember, you only need the stuff in the middle frame.

Remember, you only need the stuff in the middle frame.

Pasting that into Excel gets something like this (note, I deliberately pasted using source formatting):

It's so beautiful!

It’s so beautiful!

First, we can get rid of those top two rows. Really don’t need them. BUT DON’T DELETE THAT THIRD ROW. We need that.

Let’s go ahead and split our data. Select the entirety of Column A (just click the “A” at the top). Then run our handy converter (Data > Text to Columns). This time, let’s go with Fixed Width (though, once again, we could probably make it work with either).

We see reach a screen like this:

We can click and drag the arrows to change where the columns start. We can also click on spaces in the ruler section to create a new column break.

We can click and drag the arrows to change where the columns start. We can also click on spaces in the ruler section to create a new column break.

The key here is that the numbers on the far left are isolated into their own column. It’s fine that the word “Pitchers” is getting sliced into multiple columns; we don’t really need it anyway.

Scrolling down the preview panel, I can confirm that all the numbers are indeed isolated into the far left column. Now I’m going to actually use the Step 3 of the conversion wizard.

In Step 3, I can choose an alternative destination for the conversion. I want to do this. So I’m going to change the “Destination” section to the next available column — in other words, change it from $A$1 to $B$1:

We can change the destination by either typing in a new one or just clicking on where we want the first row and first column to start.

We can change the destination by either typing in a new one or just clicking on where we want the first row and first column to start.

Great! Now I’ve got my data separated out:

Now I've got my original data (on the left) sitting next to my split data (on the right).

Now I’ve got my original data (on the left) sitting next to my split data (on the right).

Now I want to get rid of all the blank or white-font lines. These are leftovers from the column titles on the Scoresheet website. First I select all the data (CTRL+A and then CTRL+A again to select everything), and then I sort by the first column.

Sorting Z to A, I find — midway down the data — this blank spot where white-font titles have gather together:

Let's get rid of these now useless titles.

Let’s get rid of these now useless titles.

After I purge those rows, the data should be clean. Row B should be nothing but numbers. Beautiful, delicious numbers.

So let’s go back to the top and add a title row. I really only need the first two columns for this, so I’m going to name them Original and Number and then delete the rest. Then I’m going — once again in the “Data” tab — add filters (Data > Filter). If you had any one of the data cells selected (i.e. not a blank cell selected), then Excel should add a neat little pair of gray arrows at the top like such:

We can now sort this data in more fun ways.

We can now sort this data in more fun ways.

You may also notice my data is already sorted in the preceding image (note the little up arrow inside the gray box). But this data is clearly not sorted numerically or alphabetically — No. 444 Greg Bird is near the top. It is sorted, however, by color.

See how the items with gray fonts are now all in the top together? These are players already drafted or selected for my queue. This is why we need the original formatting in the first pasting job.

So now I’ve got my numbers isolated. Using VLOOKUP (or INDEX and MATCH), matching these players to their full names should be a cinch (also, a CONCATENATE formula will help join the first and last names of the players). And with first and last names, we can do one more VLOOKUP / INDEX-MATCH to join them to their projections.

The net result, with some formatting and careful data pollination, can look something like this:

WONDERFUL, SEXY DATA!

WONDERFUL, SEXY DATA!

Now the real trick will be for me to find a way to hide this article from the guys in my league.


Boxing Promoter Continues Its Fight Against Piracy As Periscope, Meerkat Flex Their Muscles

As TechGraphs readers commented, it didn’t take much digging to find a free stream of the Pacquiao/Mayweather fight from the weekend, despite HBO and Showtime’s legal jabs. And for the first time on a grand level, sports is dealing with pegged-leged and eye-patched mauraders in the form of social media live streams via Periscope and Meerkat.

The Los Angeles Times reported that Top Rank Inc. will seek legal action against individuals that it determines illegally streamed the fight and the companies that provided the platforms for them to do so.

“We’ll have to pursue any people who are allowing people to distribute something that is behind a proprietary wall,” DuBoef told the Times. “We’ll have to challenge those technology companies that are facilitating it and we’re going to have to take a legal position against them.”

Twitter, which owns Periscope, contends it respected intellectual property rights and disabled “dozens” of illegal streams of the fight. But a tweet from Twitter’s Dick Costolo, chief executive, seems to have discredited the company’s sincerity in fighting the piracy.

Christina Warren, a writer at Mashable, shared her experience exploring the different Periscope streams. It’s a great read which you should check out for yourself.

Tapping into a few streams, it was quickly apparent that some were just standard Periscopes of friends at a fight-night party, while others were focused intently on television sets or computer screens playing the fight in real time.

The number of streams was almost overwhelming. Some Periscopers were shooting in portrait mode (as is standard for Periscope), while others were shooting in landscape to capture more of a TV screen.

Some streams featured commentary from parties and shots of friends; others focused almost completely on the fight itself. Some streams were in crowded rooms, other in almost empty homes.

Based on the map on Periscope, I saw streams from all over the world. There was even a stream of the fight from a police department in Africa. The Pacquiao-Mayweather fight was a very global story, and this was evident from the Periscope streams.

Warren noted that it did seem someone was shutting down the streams. If a specific stream received too many favorites, it’d get shut down. But Warren would just find another. She said the stream she watched half the fight in had more than 10,000 people at one point. In an interview at TechCrunch Disrupt NY, Periscope co-founder and CEO Kayvon Beykpour layed out his team’s direct work with the content providers to shut down streams. Bekypour said he took down 30 of the 66 requests, with the others already having stopped streaming on their own. He said they are brainstorming with content partners on ways to better handle piracy.

TechGraphs has been at the forefront of reporting how these apps could affect sports. In March, our own David Temple opined as to possible ways these mobile apps could affect sports broadcasts, namely with streams live from an event or game. A day before the fight, my cohort David Wiers touched on the Meerkat Android app release and wrote:

These are urky broadcasting rights waters we’ve waded into. From takedown notices, muted streams on Twitch.tv due to music rights to being wary of narcs taking you down in person for an illegally stream boxing match, the gap between producers and end-users appears to be widening.

Shortly after Wiers posted his piece, news came out that the PGA Tour revoked a reporter’s credentials for the rest of the season after she streamed a practice round – which no one owns broadcast rights to. The NHL has banned used of the apps and warned reporters not to use them.

It’s one thing for big boxing, the UFC or the WWE to fight these live streams. Their business model depends on pay-per-view buys, and while Warren and others that watched these social media live streams likely weren’t going to buy the fight anyway, it is a legitimate concern that a percentage of anticipated revenue could soon be slashed. It’s a completely different other thing for leagues and content distributors to overreact to what amounts to a second-screen social experience for most.

(Image via Nicolas Raymond)

Age Gaps In Preferred Media and Entertainment

Media consumption, like most things, can be broken down into various age demographics. While the brackets tend to have somewhat arbitrary numbers attached to them  — does turning 26 years old really change the preferred method of watching your favorite TV shows? — they can serve as a platform for observation. With thanks to Statista and Deloitte, the gap between paid cable subscriptions and streaming services, among other things, for those in the United States can be clearly shown.

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It comes as no real surprise to see the two younger age groups consume the least amount of television while also nabbing the top two spots in video streaming. Somewhat surprising is to see the leading millennials 26-31 age group absorbing more newspaper, be it digital or print, than their older 32-48 counterparts. With large number of online and subscriptions available, plus the Washington Post’s agreement with Kindle customers, perhaps the leading millennial group has come back around in a cyclical trend of newspaper reading.

The percentage of the different aged people who are content with their current cable TV subscription is closely tied with age. The youngest three groups are the least satisfied, reporting at most 55% saying they haven’t at least considered cutting the cord.

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With no shortage of streaming or screencasting options — despite AppleTV’s recent insistence on requiring a cable package for CBS Sports, USA and NBC Sports — the number of current and potential cord cutters has increased over the years, particularly in the younger crowds. Already 25% of the polled age-14 through 25 group hasn’t paid for TV in over a year or have ended their cable subscription within 12 months. Within the age group another trend emerges as 28% of 19-25 year olds versus 21% of 14-18 year olds are calling themselves cord cutters.

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As the overall demand for TV changes, so does the desire for the way TV packages are sold. For the first time in the three year data set, more than 50% of the polled desire the ability to choose individual channels to watch. A three year decrease in the average number of channels watched further highlights the growing calls for an a la carte system. Canada is already developing a government mandate for cable companies to allow customers to choose individual channels after an initial package, though no legislative traction has gained ground in the U.S. yet.

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The numbers represent a clear trend in increased subscription based services and a desire to either ditch cable TV altogether or give it a serious overhaul in programming options. The people are applying pressure to big cable with their wallets as companies lose money with every person severing their TV packages. Still, and with apologies to Bon Jovi, at this point it feels like we’re livin’ on a prayer rather than being halfway there.

(Header image via Deloitte)