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.”