Archive for February, 2016

TechGraphs News Roundup: 2/26/2016

The countdown to the 2016 baseball season is on, and Friday brings us one day closer do the action. Before you crow hop into your weekend, catch up on these sports-tech stories from the past week that we found interesting.

Contrary to the wishes of some of our more outspoken readers, it looks like expanded safety netting will be a reality in both MLB and MiLB parks this year. In what should be more universally well-received news, the league released information on this year’s MLB.TV package this week. We’ll cover it in greater detail here soon, but, for now, know that the regular package is available for $109.99 (a reported $20 discount over last year’s rate) or $24.99 per month. The bigger news, resulting from MLB’s settlement of the Garber litigation, is that, for the first time, the league will offer single-team packages. The single-team annual subscription price, $84.99, is not a significant discount from the newly reduced full package price (and one wonders whether the league reduced the full package price in order to deter purchases of single-team subscriptions in a marketplace in which individual team allegiance, rather than broader interest in the sport, may be the driving factor for fan attention), and the single-team offering, like the full package, is restricted to out-of-market games. For real junkies, spring training coverage also is available.

Speaking of baseball spring training and, a popular topic here, biometric tracking, the Yankees may have found the new inefficiency: sleeping in. Recognizing that most actual baseball games occur in the afternoon or at night, the Bombers are looking to sync their players’ biological clocks with regular-season patterns by starting daily spring training activities closer to noon, rather than adhering to the near-dawn-patrol regimens to which the sport historically has been accustomed. This could be bad news for the rest of the AL East, whose batters the New York bullpen already was effectively putting to sleep last year. (Yes, you can hit me with your pillow for that one.)

February, with the Super Bowl and arrival of books like the Baseball Prospectus and Hardball Times Annuals, ostensibly signals the yearly end of football and beginning of baseball. We know that, like rust, the NFL is a probably corrosive force that never sleeps, however, a reality to which inane tweets and sports-talk-radio discussions this week about the NFL combine likely have alerted you. Something of interest for our readers, though? The emergence of virtual reality in professional football scouting. STRIVR Labs is bringing its VR technology to the combine in order to test quarterbacks’ adeptness at reading defensive schemes. Overkill? Maybe, but it definitely seems more on-point than the latest combine subject du jour: QB hand size measurement.

As for that other brand of football, fans of Italian soccer can look forward to the results of a newly announced partnership between STATS, LLC and European Broadcast Development that promises to deliver “advanced performance data to the clubs and media partners of Serie A TIM, the highest tier of Italian football.” This will reportedly include use of the SportVU tracking technology that has been revolutionary in advancing NBA analytics, among other tools.

Technology indeed has been a boon for better analysis and understanding of the dynamics at play in professional basketball, but you may not be surprised to learn that one NBA player, Steph Curry, is breaking the computer: “The Golden State Warriors guard has gotten so good at draining shots that historically have been statistically improbable that the NBA 2K [videogame] team hasn’t found a way to virtualize his skill set without compromising the realism of the game as a whole. ‘To be completely honest, we are still looking for ways to better translate his game into NBA 2K,’ gameplay director Mike Wang told Forbes.”

On the home front, advancements in exoskeleton technology are allowing those suffering from spinal injuries a chance to walk and run again. One such person — Charleston, South Carolina resident Adam Gorlitzky — had been a competitive runner and basketball player before he lost the ability to use his legs in a motor vehicle crash. His goal now that he’s acquired a ReWalk Exoskeleton: complete the 10k Cooper River Bridge Run.

Our goal is to keep you appraised of the latest and greatest in sports-tech news. In order to complete that goal, we provided you with the content above. As you now contemplate weekending, please remember to be excellent to each other.


To Fill A Mocking Board

Spring training is happening in Florida and Arizona and as baseball players shake the rust of the off-season from themselves, so do fantasy baseball players. Fantasy drafts — be it snake or auction — will be happening soon (hopefully yours didn’t already occur!) and as such, some level of preparation would be expected. Believe it or not, there is more to fantasy baseball than mere spreadsheets, and I say that knowing full well it could cost me my job here!

The truth is perception, hype, momentum or whatever you’d like to call it can play a huge factor in determining where or for how much any given player goes for. One way of getting a firmer grip on the fantasy baseball community’s collective value on a player is to conduct a mock draft. There is no shortage of mock draft platforms around, but for the purposes of exposure to a great crowd, I’ll be overlooking the ESPN, Yahoo! and CBS mock draft capabilities. Instead we’ll be looking at some premium (read: paid membership required) websites, specifically Mock Draft Central, Couch Managers and RT Sports. And just to get in front of this, no, this isn’t a sponsored post, I promise! Now with any of these three websites you don’t need a paid membership to join a draft, but you may need one to create a custom draft.

Contestant No. 1
Mock Draft Central
Premium Options: $4.99 monthly (auto renew) OR $24.99 annually

If nothing else, MDC has an incredible pre-purchase walk-through and example of options. For example, if one opts to go for the annual package, you’re given just about any level of access that a commissioner would have in a real draft. That is to say moving picks, editing or fixing picks, etc. A full breakdown of the differences are listed in this helpful chart from MDC, though it should be noted the highlighted areas were my doing.
Note: Click to embiggen any picture in this piece.

MDC

The ability to join unlimited mock drafts is great, however one per day (for a maximum of three in a week) seems like more than enough, even for the most addicted fantasy baseball player around. MDC’s “Coach Karma” is basically a way of the site protecting their users from one another. For example if you join a mock draft, but fail to show up, leaving the other mock drafters to wait while your slot gets auto picked, you’ll lose Karma. Similarly, rudeness and other poor behavior can lower your Karma as more and more users report you. There is a threshold of low Karma that if reached, will not allow you to participate in a mock draft. So basically, just follow Wheaton’s Law and you won’t have to worry about your Coach Karma. I really like the user interface at MDC, something that can’t be overstated enough as it’s intuitive and straightforward. Mock Draft Central’s ADP is currently limited to the top-255 picks, though that number can float depending on the recent qualifying mocks.

Contestant No. 2
Couch Managers
Premium Options: $2.99 monthly (auto renew) OR $9.99 annually (auto renew)

My enthusiasm for the MDC user interface doesn’t carry over to CM here. Couch Managers, despite also color coordinating things similarly to MDC, just doesn’t have the same level of eye candy.

CM1

The notes section is helpful when typing on the fly, but for me, I have my spreadsheets open during the draft and can make notes or highlight things there. One thing I really enjoyed was the Good Pick/Bad Pick voting system on CM. Unfortunately during the draft you can’t see who voted for which pick, however after the draft is wrapped up there is a section to see the full break down with Good Pick votes on the left and Bad Pick votes in the right column. The ADP is limited to the top 265 picks at CM, similar to MDC where deep leagues or 14-teamers could be left out in the cold a bit.

CM2

For example, the picture above shows three Good Picks casted on the Marcus Stroman pick at 7.76 pick.

Contestant No. 3
RT Sports
Premium Options: N/A, it’s free, though regular season (non-mock draft) packages are available

Given I picked nits with the draft lobby from Couch Managers, I’ll do the same thing to RT Sports. I’d say that RT is even more boring and less visually appealing as it’s all white board with no color coded positions. The drafting itself is nice and safe in that you have to click the blue “+” sign either in your player queue or from the primary board, then click the blue draft button. Think of the “+” sign as a way to take a closer look at a player before immediately drafting them, and RT even calls the preview window.

RT

Unfortunately, along with their minimal design, RealTime Fantasy Sports also limits you to the standard 5×5 categories with no customization. That said, one of my favorite features RT Sports offers is probably the post-draft analysis. I drafted (first overall, of course) against a slate of bots and somehow didn’t manage to project to win the hitting categories, though the system loves my pitching staff.

RT1

There is a FAQ section for the numbers their projection system spits out, and I encourage you to check it out. I’ll leave the selling points of RT Sports to those lovely folks, but know that you can create mock drafts with a free, basic account, albeit only standard 5×5 format. For custom league settings, you will be required to upgrade. Really the biggest drawback to RT is probably their top-300 ADP is shown in PDF form, a sub-optimal viewing format if you’re attempting to export and compare ADP’s across different websites.

The Pick
It should be clear there are more mock draft platforms out there — many more — but I only felt comfortable discussing the ones I use semi-regularly to frequently. If I had to pick one, I like RT Sports the most, even accounting for their lack of customization. Second place would be Couch Managers, with Mock Draft Central coming in with the bronze placing.

Now, who’s up for a mock draft?

(Header image via my RT Sports post-draft board. Bots are mostly easy to pick against!)

Expanded Safety Netting: Coming to MLB and MiLB Stadiums Near You

Last summer, Oakland A’s fan Gail Payne filed a class-action lawsuit against Major League Baseball in an effort to compel the league to provide more protective netting at all ballparks, including minor-league parks, seeking class-action treatment for her lawsuit and, among other remedies, “a rule requiring all existing major league and minor league indoor and outdoor ballparks to be retrofitted to extend protective netting from foul pole to foul pole [sic] by the beginning of the 2016-2017 [sic] MLB season.” In October, MLB responded by moving to dismiss the case in its entirety.

Little has changed in the case since last fall. Payne has amended her complaint to add two other named plaintiffs: Robert Gorman, a Charlotte Knights (White Sox AAA affiliate) season-ticket holder who alleges that he and his wife have been hit by foul balls at games and is the author of Death at the Ballpark: A Comprehensive Study of Game-Related Fatalities of Players, Other Personnel and Spectators in Amateur and Professional Baseball, 1862-2007, and Stephanie Smith, a fan who alleges she was hit by a foul ball at a Dodgers game last summer. The Amended Complaint also names each MLB team as a defendant and adds a state-law claim targeting the liability-waiver provisions of MLB game tickets, as well as a simple personal-injury claim by Smith, individually, against the Dodgers. In addition, the revised pleading contains citations to more articles on baseball fan injuries; more (often graphic) photographs of injured fans; more allegations of fan injuries at games in 2015; quotations from current and former players and managers (including Detroit Tigers Justin Verlander, Nick Castellanos and Anthony Gose, former Atlanta Brave Chipper Jones, Atlanta manager Fredi Gonzalez, and Chicago Cubs manager Joe Maddon) calling for the expansion of safety netting or attesting to the dangers of sitting in unprotected areas; and an expanded section asserting that MLB failed in unspecified ways to utilize the technology at its disposal– i.e., Statcast– to protect fans, primarily citing Statcast’s ability to determine batted-ball speeds.

The defendants (with the initial exception of the Blue Jays, who later joined the motion once the plaintiffs complied with international service-of-process procedures) again moved to dismiss the case in its entirety, essentially on the same grounds on which they moved to dismiss the original Complaint.

The court was supposed to hold a hearing on the defendants’ motion to dismiss last week, but it has postponed that hearing until late March due to a scheduling conflict with the plaintiffs’ lead attorney’s family vacation plans. At a minimum, that delay offers you plenty of time to read Nathaniel Grow’s analysis of the possible application of the “Baseball Rule” in this case, and why that legal precedent strongly favors the position of MLB and its teams.

While the Payne case is stagnating (surely a relative description in the judicial context) in court, actual developments in safety netting expansion are occurring. When we last checked in on this story, there was some indication that MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred would be discussing the issue at the then-upcoming owners’ meeting. Following that November 2015 meeting, Manfred said it was “absolutely clear” that changes in safety netting would be coming, but he declined to discuss specifics at that time.

Specifics still seem to be lacking, but MLB’s recommendation, issued in December, appears to be that teams provide safety netting for all seats within seventy feet of home plate, beginning with the upcoming season. A report on a minor-league team said to be complying with the new safety directive indicated that the team would extend netting “to the end of each dugout,” referring to the end farther from home plate. (For scale, another minor-league team, the West Michigan Whitecaps, is following suit, with the distance from the center of the backstop to the far end of a dugout reportedly constituting seventy-eight feet.)  That’s what the Royals are doing as well, and that report, which states that the Phillies, Cubs, and Rays also planned to extend safety netting in response to the league’s recommendation, quoted a Royals’ executive, who said that Kansas City’s netting expansion “exceeds all of [the league’s] recommendations.” The Twins are doing the same thing, and the Rangers may be going even farther, with one report claiming that safety netting in Arlington will extend “beyond the team dugouts” (although another report has the netting extending only to the end of the dugouts).

All of the teams installing more nets in advance of the 2016 season look to be doing so to the same extent, lengthwise, but some variance remains with respect to the height of the nets, though no team yet is extending them so high as to offer protection to fans seated in upper decks — which is where Gorman, one of the new named plaintiffs in the Payne case, says he was seated when he alleges a foul ball hit him in the face.

The plaintiffs in the Payne case want the league to mandate netting expansion “from foul pole to foul pole” (presumably they actually mean two lines of nets extending outward from home plate to each foul pole, not across the outfield wall), so the new recommendation doesn’t provide them all of what they’re seeking in that regard, but it’s clear the league is trying to meet them somewhere in the middle, which is where most litigants end up.

The impetus for covering this story at this site was that the coming collision of the new safety regulations, driven at least indirectly by the Payne suit, and the interest of those fans who, unlike the Payne plaintiffs, oppose expanded netting because they believe it will significantly obstruct their view of the game (a number of whom expressed those views in the comments to our initial post on this subject) created a seemingly fruitful opportunity and incentive for innovation in safety netting technology that could increase safety while decreasing visual obstruction.

Preliminary inquiries to netting companies last year and reviews of the minimal technical specifics that made it into news stories on the subject largely were non-revelatory, but now, with expanded netting imminent at a number of MLB and MiLB parks, at least one team is taking steps to address both safety and sightline concerns through the type of netting they’re installing. From the (St. Paul) Pioneer Press report on the new nets at the Twins’ Target Field:

Despite the fact they were safely within industry guidelines set forth this winter, the Twins will replace the traditional netting behind home plate with knotless Dyneema material. They will use a thinner version of that same netting to span the remaining distance to the end of each dugout.

The dugout netting, which will be 7 feet high and require its own system of cables, is 1.2 millimeters thick as opposed to 1.8 mm behind the plate. It will be affixed to the front of the dugout roof, making it “less invasive to sightlines,” according to Hoy, and preventing fans in the front row from brushing against it.

C&H Baseball of Bradenton, Fla., the same company that installed the original netting at Target Field, will handle this project as well. Installation is scheduled for mid-March, well in advance of the Twins’ home opener on April 11, and the Twins say the cost is relatively nominal.

A 2016 C&H Baseball sales brochure describes Dyneema as an “Ultra High Molecular Weight Polyethylene” fiber manufactured by a Dutch company of the same name, whose website describes the material as “the world’s strongest and lightest fiber.” Given C&H’s position in the industry– their customer list touts relationships with many MLB, MiLB, and major college teams, and a competitor has described them as “really the last word on the subject” of baseball netting– and the indication from the Twins organization that the cost of this newer netting is “relatively minimal,” it seems reasonable to expect that more teams will be moving to knotless Dyneema, or something similar, in the near future, in the hopes of satisfying both the entertainment and safety interests at stake.

(At the time this post was published, C&H Baseball had not responded to multiple requests from TechGraphs for comment.)

With Opening Day less than two months out, let us know what changes you’re seeing at your local ballparks, and if you’re reading and commenting on TechGraphs at the game (not not recommended), be sure to keep one eye on the action too.

(Header image via Elvert Barnes)

How to Quickly Search Your Favorite Baseball (and Other Sports) Sites with Launchy

If one were brave enough to scour the Internet, one could find a myriad of articles explaining how to optimize their workflow. Our workflow is super screwed up, it seems, and only optimization will help us become the well-oiled, hyper-productive sacks of meat we were always meant to be. You can eat better, you can spend your money more wisely, you can take a more efficient way to work, and you can certainly manage your time better — again, according to the Internet. My friends and loved ones point out my shortcoming often enough that I don’t worry myself too much with my workflow. I have, however, found a few tips and/or tricks which make the act of sitting at the computer a little less terrible. One such tip is using the application Launchy to help me perform searches faster. And by tweaking the program a little bit, you can make Launchy get you your desired content from your favorite sports sites without using your mouse to dig around for those little search boxes.

Launchy can actually do a whole lot more than what I’m going to explain here. It markets itself as a “keystroke launcher,” which basically means it’s a little applet that helps you perform tasks with just a few keystrokes. You can open other programs, search for files, or play music through Launchy without ever having to touch your mouse. If you’re a Mac user, you’ve probably heard of a similar program called Alfred. Alfred has plenty of its own perks, but we’ll be focusing on Launchy since it does what we need, is free, and is cross-platform (Windows, Mac, Linux).

Download and install Launchy. By default, it should open by itself. If it doesn’t hold down the Alt key and press the Space bar.

Now that Launchy is open, let’s test some things out. Type in Google and hit tab. Then type techgraphs and hit enter. A new browser tab should open with a Google search. Now open Launchy again (Alt+Space) and simply type techgraphs.com and hit enter. It should bring you right to our home page. You can even do math in Launchy. Open it and type 4+2 and hit Enter. You should get a result. This is just a sliver of what Launchy can do, but now you know the general mechanics of the program. Now that we have that, we can start customizing.

The first thing you will want to look at is the keyboard shortcut for displaying Launchy. If you click the little gear icon you’ll be presented with the Launchy settings page. On the left-hand side, you’ll see a section to select the hotkey for Launchy. By default (as we’ve seen), it’s set to Alt+Space (on Windows), but you may want to change it to something that feels better to your fingers. It’s not necessary, but if you do feel like changing it, now you know where to do that.

(Apologies for the slightly-off screenshots. I can’t get my screen-cap software to pick up the Launch pop-up window.)

launchysettings

That same settings window is where we’re going to add our custom sports searches. At the top of the window, click Plugins, then click Weby from the list of plugins on the left.

webysettings

In this list you’ll see all the sites that Launchy can help you search, including some of the ones we tested earlier. These are very handy to have, but we want to add our own sites, which Launchy allows us to do. But first, we need the proper syntax. Launchy needs to know the search URL that we want in order to work properly. Let’s track one down together, like old friends. Click Cancel for now and close out of Launchy by pressing ESC.

Let’s start with FanGraphs, which my boss tells me is a fantastic baseball site. We’ll want to use Launchy to quickly search on a player, so we’ll need to start with the proper search URL. Go to FanGraphs and do a search for “Stanton.” Don’t click anything, just type “Stanton” in the search box and press Enter. In the next page, note the URL in the address bar. It should say http://www.fangraphs.com/players.aspx?lastname=stanton. Notice the last bit. The string “stanton” is passed along with the search URL. The address up to the equal sign is what we want: http://www.fangraphs.com/players.aspx?lastname=. Copy that and go back to your Launchy settings.

Back in the Weby plugin window, we’ll want to click the + sign. This will create a new entry. The name field is up to you, make it something you can remember. I use the boring but explanitory “fangraphs” (no quotes). In the address field, paste the URL you copied, and add %1 to the end (the %1 just means that we want Launchy to ask for a variable). The whole thing should look like http://www.fangraphs.com/players.aspx?lastname=%1. Press the + button again to save. Now press the OK button, which should bring you back to the main Launchy window.

webysettings2

Let’s test. In the Launchy box, type fangraphs (or the name you chose) and hit Tab. You should see the name, followed by a right-facing arrow. Now type Stanton and hit Enter. A new web browser tab should open up and bring you to the same page we saw when we grabbed the search URL. Pretty cool, right? Now, open Launchy again. Type fangraphs and hit Tab, but this time enter Giancarlo Stanton after the arrow and hit Enter. Boom, you’re brought right to the corresponding page. Pretty cool, yeah?

This only works with unique names, so searching for Alex Gonzalez by full name will still bring you to a search page where you’ll have to choose the right person.

This will work for all kinds of sites, so long as you know the search URL. Here are a few examples:

  • Baseball-Reference: http://www.baseball-reference.com/search/search.fcgi?results=&search=%1 (You can also search for specfic teams by using syntax like 2015 Royals)
  • Baseball Prospectus: http://www.baseballprospectus.com/player_search.php?search_name=%1
  • Pro-Football-Reference: http://www.pro-football-reference.com/search/search.fcgi?search=%1
  • ESPN: http://espn.go.com/search/results?q=%1

You can plug all of those into Launchy to create your own custom searches. Of course, feel free to search out your own. Just search for something on your favorite site and pay attention to the URL of the corresponding page. Copy out everything that isn’t your search term, and you should be able to plop that right into Launchy.

This is a great tool for writers, fans, or even fantasy owners during a draft. It might not save you hours off your workflow, but it will at least limit the amount of time you need to spend at your computer — an exercise that is probably killing you. Happy searching!

(Header image via Leo Leung)

TechGraphs News Roundup: 2/12/2016

Salutations, dear TechGraphs readers. Those “X Days Until Pitchers and Catchers Report” tweets are actually starting to get relevant again, as baseball season is actually on the horizon. Stay tuned to TechGraphs for additions to our Retrosheet series, plus some other fun things. In the meantime, here are the news stories we found interesting this week.

If you haven’t heard already, MLB.tv is cutting its price by $20. It’s all part of a class-action lawsuit regarding blackout restrictions that was settled earlier this year. Click the link to learn more about how to watch your favorite out-of-market team even when they are in your neck of the woods (spoiler: it will still cost more money).

Speaking of; now that MLBAM has purchased the rights to stream NHL games, the folks at Puck Daddy wonder if the same restrictions will be enforced.

We’ll have more about the daily fantasy landscape next week, but between divisions being shut down, partnerships being dissolved, and investments getting devalued, it’s not been a great few weeks for the big hitters in the market.

The Super Bowl was streamed live, and CBS claims that the venture broke a bunch of records. That doesn’t mean the rollout went flawlessly, however.

How much data does a stadium in an already-tech-savvy town offer up to fans during the Super Bowl? Somewhere in the neighborhood of 10 TB.

The Raptors are teaming up with IBM’s Watson platform for a computational approach to talent analysis, and presumably to get better at Jeopardy!

A bionic knee brace is being brought to market and holy crap does it look equal parts awesome and terrifying.

Helmet company Riddell is in hot water after claims that their equipment help prevent concussions turned out to be false.

Jealous of the fact that your iOS-using friends were the only ones who could design and buy Nikes on their phones? Well, fear not, Android user, your wishes have been granted.

That’s all for this week. Have a great weekend, and be excellent to each other.


Super Options For Super Bowl Watching

Super Bowl L50 is nigh. While the NFL missed the opportunity to treat the world to Super Bowl Large, they’re keeping it simple with Arabic numerals, and CBS, which has the broadcast, is following suit: there will be no Megacast on Sunday night, and, really, nothing outside of what has become the ordinary. Truly a Jim Nantz production. Kickoff is set for 6:30 pm Eastern, and your broadcast options are as follows:

  • Traditional television broadcast: CBS
  • Spanish-language traditional television broadcast: ESPN Deportes; can’t keep La Nave Nodriza down
  • Online stream: CBS is streaming the Super Bowl for free through their online player; Roku, Chromecast, and Apple TV users will have access to this feed through their respective CBS Sports apps; USA Today reports that CBS “is working with” Amazon to provide service to Amazon Fire TV users; Windows 10 and Xbox One users reportedly will have access to additional camera angles
  • Mobile stream: the NFL Mobile app, available only to Verizon subscribers with Windows phones, iPhones,  Android phones, or similarly-connected tablets; outside of the usual data charges, there appears to be no additional cost for streaming live NFL games through the NFL Mobile app
  • Radio: CBS-owned Westwood One (find your local affiliated station here) has the terrestrial radio broadcast; the satellite broadcast on SiriusXM will be on the NFL Radio channel; the Panthers’ local radio broadcast will be available only on the Carolina Panther Radio Network’s flagship station, WBT out of Charlotte; the Broncos’ local radio broadcast will be available across the entire Denver Broncos Radio Network
  • Las Vegas-area television broadcast: As of yesterday, CBS; on Thursday, cable provider Cox Communications and area CBS affiliate KLAS-TV resolved an “impasse” that threatened to black out the Super Bowl broadcast to approximately forty percent of area viewers

If you’re more of a Puppy Bowl person, Puppy Bowl XII airs at 3:00 Eastern on Animal Planet. While there is a beta-quality stream of the channel, Animal Planet Live!, reports indicate that it will not be carrying the Puppy Bowl, so you likely will need to find a cable subscriber with a television to catch those little mutts in action.

Finally, if media overload is about to make you crack, I suggest Key & Peele’s completely unauthorized live Super Bowl commentary video feed, which starts a half hour before kickoff and is available online here.

(Header image via NFLRT)

A Case for Open Source Concussion Research

The Case for Open Source Concussion Research

Not so long ago, the divide between hardware and software was fairly distinct. Certain companies made hardware and others made software. Or, to be more precise, companies made software and others scrambled like hell to make hardware that would run it. This was the time of the 80s and 90s PC market — Microsoft was king and others fought each other to build the machines that would run Microsoft’s software. But as time went by and the silicon got smaller and more diverse, it made sense for the manufacturers to also implement their own software. They knew how the hardware was supposed to function, after all. We see this now with smartphones and tablets. Apple makes their own hardware and software. Samsung makes the phones and and the heavily-modded Android OS that run them. And, of course, we see it with the wearable market. If you want to see the data from your FitBit, you need the FitBit app. The same goes for Misfit and Jawbone and the Microsoft Band. Truth be told, this is usually a perfectly workable system. But the boom of the wearable market has brought with it the proliferation of devices that do more than just track steps. Multiple companies now produce products that measure force and damage done to the head in efforts to try and reduce or at least understand concussions — a now-important issue in sports that we should have paid attention to years ago. But if individual companies are making their own hardware and software to collect this data, the collaboration disappears. Important sharing of knowledge goes by the wayside. Everything gets segmented and compartmentalized. With the threat of head injuries looming so large, should we not strive to pool our collective research? Can we not create products for both good and profit?

The term “open source” brings with it some confusion. Open source was spawned out of the Free Software movement, and in the name lies the first problem. When many people read the term “free software,” they think of those handy programs one can download for free off of SourceForge. It is true that many developers offer their products free of charge, but that’s not what free software or open source is about.

In the 1990s, Linus Torvalds — in either one of the most important acts in the history of computer science or one of the stupidest moves in the world of business, depending on who you ask — created his own variation on the Unix operating system and released it, for free, to anyone who wanted to try it out. It was released under the GNU Public License. The GPL basically* states that anything released under said license is free to be tested, used, and modified. Those who make modifications are even free to sell their product for profit, so long as they pay the GPL forward and release their code for the same testing and modification.

*I know I’m giving a very high overview of this. My apologies to the hardcore free software people out there.

Torvalds’ flavor of Unix was named Linux, and if you haven’t heard of it, your nerdiest friends sure have. It runs almost every web server, ATM, smart tv, and super computer, and can be found on around 50% of the world’s smartphones. This article is being written on a laptop running Linux. Company after company took Torvalds’ work and improved upon it, personalized it, and commoditized it. All they had to do was show their work.

This is how open source works. Google doesn’t technically make money off of Android, which is based on Linux. They do make money off the Android Store and the data the OS collects about users’ habits. Companies like Ubuntu and Red Hat make a killing selling their special flavor of Linux for servers, and/or by selling support for that software. Sure, some organizations do it just to do it — to work toward a common goal of creating something great and exciting — and for the mere challenge of it. But do not be fooled, there’s big money to be found in open source, in one way or another. Device manufacturers need not be afraid, especially when their work goes toward the greater good.

Imagine a company that makes sensors for football helmets. We have covered quite of few of them at this site. The sensors are meant to measure impacts and forces that could lead to brain injuries. The company packages their devices with their special software and sells it to professional, collegiate, and even high school teams. Meanwhile, another company is doing the exact same thing and selling their wares to other such teams. Who’s right? Who has the best data? Each system is self-contained so there’s no opportunity for this type of data to be compared, contrasted, and improved upon.

This is where innovation and collaboration stops. Sure, each company gets their share of the pie, but they’re not necessarily making athletes safer. This data is somewhat useful in the hands of coaches and parents, but imagine if it were open to research groups — if doctors and scientists could pick apart the code to find exactly what was being measured and submit improvements to the software. We might actually have a chance at learning something.

In a recent article about CTE, Deadspin‘s Barry Petchesky wrote:

We don’t know a lot. We don’t know the rate at which CTE develops, or the mechanism. We don’t know the correlation with playing football as compared to other contact sports. We don’t know if some people are predisposed to developing it. We don’t know how its symptoms manifest in the living. (We don’t know if it has symptoms—correlation is not causation.) We don’t know if there’s treatment. Each announcement of another CTE-riddled NFL brain amounts to, basically, cataloguing.

Petchesky is exactly right. We’re at a stalemate with this issue. If a company were truly passionate about this, they would release their software under the GPL. They could still make and sell their hardware, but others would be able to sift through the mechanisms for measuring head injuries and submit advancements to make it better. Other companies could edit and enhance this code and implement it into their own sensors. Another company could come along and do the same. Meanwhile, everyone competing in this space would constantly be working to make better systems for tracking these types of things. Researchers, now armed with the code that powers these systems, could implement it into their own experiments and research. The conversation might still take a while, but at least everyone would be speaking the same language.

I understand that the point of all these systems is to make money. They give coaches and parents peace of mind knowing that steps are being taken to protect player safety. But there’s an untapped market here of contributing to the greater good. There’s still money to be made, it just comes with a little extra peace of mind that when a company uses this hypothetical open source system, they are putting their work out there for all to see. They are daring others to create a better system. These dares only lead to other dares, and sooner or later, people might actually learn something definitive about this subject. Players get better and companies still make money — imagine that.