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Olson’s Observations

Technology. Innovation. Science. VC. Media. :: by Eric Olson

Archive for the ‘Sports’ Category

2008 Tour of California: Check out the Adobe Tour Tracker

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Amgen Tour of CaliforniaI am not sure how many of you out there are cycling fans but I am one. A big one in fact. Yeah, I know there have been a lot of doping issues lately but the sport, in my eyes, is still beautiful and also a display of pure suffering and perseverance. The sport is also cleaning itself up aggressively but that’s the focus of a whole other post.

Anyhow, the Amgen Tour of California is going on right now and it is a great race. Yesterday Tom Boonen, a sprinter with team QuickStep, took the win and today there was a hard fought battle between Gesink (Rabobank) and Leipheimer (Astana) for the stage win. Gesink prevailed but Leipheimer got the 7 seconds he needed to snag the gold leaders jersey for the first time in this tour (Nice work Levi! Note: Leipheimer won last years Tour of California.).

If there is any race that newbies should watch to get a feel for the sport it would probably be the Tour of California because it is so accessible. You can catch it on cable via Versus (formerly the Outdoor Life Network) but what makes this Tour truly accessible is the fact that they broadcast each stage live on the web.

The Tour of California’s Adobe Tour Tracker is freakin’ awesome in terms of live streaming sports coverage. Not only do you get the live video/commentary you also get a ton of metrics (speed, distance to go, GPS based overlays of the riders on a Google map, etc.).

They launched the Tour Tracker last year but they had a lot of problems with it. This year everything seems to be ironed out though and I am loving it.

If you are new to cycling and want to check out a race check out the Tour of California on their live Tour Tracker. It is easy to access and free so you have no excuse. I bet you’ll be hooked once you start picking up on all of the strategy and witness the drama that is bike racing (don’t say I didn’t warn you). And, hey, if you’re not hooked after watching for a while at least you can say you checked out a nice application of a handful of technologies.

(If you’re not new to cycling you should still check out Tour Tracker. It’s the best way to watch a race in my opinion. When will the Tour de France (or any of the grand tours) get something like this?)

Written by Eric Olson

February 20th, 2008 at 7:53 pm

Posted in Sports, Technology

Patriots Postmortem: Three things this season and Super Bowl XLII can teach us about start-ups

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So, last night was a stunner to say the least. New England is still reeling from the loss and the pundits are all analyzing and re-analyzing the game to death. I am sure they will continue to do so for years (or at least until the Sox take the field in a few months). However, I think it’s interesting to look beyond the surface of the game for a few minutes. Beyond the Patriots offensive line’s massive breakdown. Beyond Ellis Hobbs’ poor defending. Beyond Matt Light’s few false starts.

Once we get passed all that I think there are three things we can pick up from super bowl XLII and from the Patriots season that relate to business and start-ups in specific.

The mighty can, and do, fall:

The Patriots were more or less invincible this season and they have been a force for about seven years now. However, they fell yesterday night to a team that, by all accounts, was not the better team. Clearly anything can happen on any given day and the Giants (specifically the defense) really stepped it up last night and made things happen.

Start-ups know this is true as well which is partly why they take on the challenges they do including competing with large companies that, to any outside observer, they have no business beating.

Underdogs can take more risk:

Last night the Giants took more risks than the Pats and their risks paid off. The Giants were able to take more risks simply because they weren’t expected to win while the Pats played more conservative football. The Giants pressured our offense at the line at the expense of covering our receivers better and while that could have resulted in some big plays for the Pats it didn’t because the defense at the line was so strong Brady never had a shot to throw. Pressuring the offense at the line was a risk that paid off big for the Giants.

Start-ups also have a similar advantage over large companies. Since larger companies are very concerned with keeping their current revenue streams in tact (due to responsibility to shareholders, etc.) and due to the fact that they are larger and slower to move they sometimes don’t take risks they should leaving themselves vulnerable to start-ups who, by all accounts, shouldn’t win.

Heart really makes a difference:

Last night it was obvious that the Giants just wanted it more. They played harder than we did and they deserved to win that game.

You have to have heart (a.k.a. passion) in business as well. It plays a larger role than I think people think it does. Start-ups with heart can win battles that they technically shouldn’t making them a threat to the big guys.

While I am pretty bummed out with regards to the outcome of the super bowl I am glad that some lessons came from the game that I could share here. All I can say now is, go Sox!

Written by Eric Olson

February 4th, 2008 at 10:11 am

Posted in Business, Sports

Book Review: Positively False

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Positively FalseAs most of you know I am a big cycling fan and cycling is especially top of mind for me during July since cycling’s largest event, the Tour de France, is in full effect.

During July I usually pick up a cycling book I have yet to read and this July is no exception. This time around I read the recently released book “Positively False” by Floyd Landis.

Positively False in a memoir of Floyd’s cycling life with a focus on his 2006 Tour de France win and subsequent doping scandal which still has yet to reach a conclusion.

I was as eager to pick up Positively False as most people are to get the latest Harry Potter novel because I really wanted to hear Floyd’s side of the story in his own words. I also wanted to learn about some of the arguments and facts Floyd and his team have built up to challenge the “positive” doping tests.

While the book is Floyd’s and will tell the story he wants to tell the evidence that he and his team have put together is pretty convincing. Here are a couple of the most important and basic issues with the doping test Floyd supposedly failed:

1. Mislabeled Sample:

Floyd’s sample number is repeatedly incorrect in his documents and it isn’t event the same wrong number each time the number appears. This shows negligence and incompetence among the lab technicians at the very least.

2. The Specimen was Contaminated:

According to U.S. Anti-Doping Agency (USADA) regulations Floyd’s specimen was clearly contaminated.

3. Unreliable Testing:

In multiple tests of the same sample the test results can’t vary by more than 20% for testosterone and 30% for epitestosterone. Floyd’s varied by 181% and 238% respectively meaning the tests should have been thrown out.

4. Positive Criteria was not met in Carbon Isotope Ratio Test (the more accurate test done after the prelim tests):

Four things are tested in this test and the Word Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) says all four must be positive tests for the overall test to be positive. In Floyd’s case only one of the four were positive meaning his test should be been labeled negative.

There are also many other issues including one that will be particularly interesting to all of you. The software the lab was using to test the samples was obsolete (I believe it hadn’t been updated since the 80s) and they were not operating the testing machine correctly most likely because they didn’t have the user manual. In fact, they never had a user manual as long as they had the machine.

I am still on Floyd’s side on this. The evidence is pretty clear (the lab screwed up continuously while testing his sample) and he seems like a pretty straightforward stand up guy. For more on the evidence Floyd’s defense team has put together please check out Arnie Baker’s site (Arnie is Floyd’s medical analyst and retired M.D.).

I would also recommend checking out the book if you have a chance. It is a quick read and it will give you a chance to get into the pro peleton where you will learn what goes on during a push for a win and after as things fall apart.

Written by Eric Olson

July 23rd, 2007 at 6:46 pm

Posted in Books, Sports

Le Tech: Technology of the Tour de France

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Of course the Tour de France is top of mind for me right now and will be for the next 20 days or so. If you haven’t been watching it you should start. It has been very exciting so far and all the riders are totally clean and at the top of their game. Cycling really is a beautiful sport.

Anyhow, I thought it would be fun to talk a little about the tech behind the Tour today. I am sure some of you are thinking that their couldn’t be much tech since they are guys riding bikes. Well, you’d be wrong. There is a lot of interesting technology that goes into the Tour at many different stages leading up to it and during the race.

The Bikes: Design and Testing

The bikes in the Tour aren’t just regular bikes. They are technological marvels. Once of the bike companies that is the most technology driven in my mind is Cervelo. These guys are engineers and technology guys who really like bikes. You can see this through the four engineering white papers they have on their site.

Of course most of the technology is used to make the bikes lighter and more aerodynamic. That said, the two pieces of technology that are heavily used are computer aided design software (with top notch computers of course) and the wind tunnel with all the technological gadgets it holds inside.

The CAD software bike designers use is top notch stuff that also required some top notch hardware. This is why AMD was a great sponsor for the U.S. Postal team. They provided top notch machines to Postal (and Trek) so they could design and then test the bikes in the wind tunnel. The results speak for themselves.

The wind tunnel is serious business is pro cycling since every second counts. The more aerodynamic the bike the faster one can go and they easier it is for them to go that fast. Advanced wind tunnel testing is done by most, if not all, of the top Tour teams and the software they use to analyze the results is incredibly detailed.

The Bikes: Materials

I not a materials expert by any means but what I can say is that bicycles have done a lot of pioneering work with advanced materials. Most notably of these advanced materials is carbon fiber.

I am fairly certain that all the pro tour bikes are carbon fiber now and that bike companies have definitely taken carbon fiber based designs to a new level. Take the Cervelo Soloist Carbon below for example. That bike frame is essentially all carbon fiber and it looks beautiful. (Think if I talk about Cervelo enough they’ll send me a bike?) Of course I like my steel frames but if I was racing in the Tour I’d be going full out carbon no question.

On the Road: Measuring the Tour

While the guys are riding there is still a lot of technology at work. The most evident piece of technology are the mini computers that cyclists use to get their speed, distance traveled and other information.

Traditionally cycling computers have relied on a sensor to be hooked to the front fork and to the wheel. Typically these were two magnets and the computer, knowing the size of the wheel, could calculate speed and distance based on how many times the sensor on the wheel passed the sensor on the fork.

Garmin Edge 205Recently this has been improved ten fold by the introduction of GPS into cycling computers. I actually just picked up a Garmin Edge 205 cycling computer (side note: Buy.com has them for $100 off list) and I am loving it. Instead of installing wires and sensors I simply mount the 205 (shown right) to my handlebars and that’s it. The 205 doesn’t need any sensors since it bases my speed, distance, etc. on my GPS coordinates. it also comes with advanced training software so I can download all my data to my laptop and analyze away. Hey, I know I am never going to enter the Tour but I am a data geek. What can I say?

More recently cyclists have started to use power meters on the road as well as computers (most of the time the power data is integrated into the typical computer). A power meter simply measures the amount of power a cyclist is putting out in watts as they are riding. These devices had been used in trainging for a while but Floyd Landis was the first (I believe) to use a power meter in competition.

CycleOpsA cyclist can use the wattage data to understand how close to their peak they are and since they know what they can sustain and for how long they can use it to pace themselves. The cycleops power meter pictured left is also wheel hub. This means that it can be built right into a rear wheel which makes it much easier to use one of these meters for both practice and racing.

I am sure there is much more tech in the Tour but for the purposes of this post I think the basics have been covered. If you’d like to learn more about the technology behind today’s advanced bikes please check out Bike Tech Review. Oh, and watch the Tour if you get a chance. Once you get into it you’ll be hooked. There is a lot of strategy that goes into the whole race and the athletes are just phenomenal to watch.

Written by Eric Olson

July 12th, 2007 at 8:18 am

Posted in Sports, Technology

Tour de France 2007: Where to Get Your Fix

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Maillot JauneI can’t believe the Tour de France is just around the corner. It’s been almost a year since all the pre-2006 tour doping scandals went down and a little under a year since Floyd Landis won the 2006 Tour and started fighting his doping allegations (for more on that check out his new book “Positively False” - I just started reading my copy - and the Floyd Fairness Fund site). I really hope Floyd is innocent and there is mounting evidence to confirm his side of things. I guess we’ll have to see what happens.

Anyhow, that’s not the point of this post. The point of this post is that the Tour starts Saturday (July 7th) and it’s time to get psyched - and to figure out where to consume your share of Tour de France media.

For me this year will be much different than last year since I no longer have cable. That means, unfortunately, I won’t be able to watch the live Tour coverage on Versus and listen to the tried and true trio of Phil Liggett, Paul Sherwen and Bob Roll.

Yup, they don’t have a live video stream on the web. I am not sure why (well, I am pretty sure it has to do with TV contracts). The Amgen Tour of California did and they seemed to have proved out the technology for the most part. Heck, I’d pay for it just like I pay for MLB.tv. Hopefully they will offer that option soon.

That said, I have done some digging around to find some top sources of Tour media online. Here are all the spots I’ll be turning to in order to get my daily dose of the 2007 Tour de France.

TDFBlog.com: This is a site that I stay subscribed to all year long. However, during the Tour site owner Frank Steele really picks things up. This is a must read during the Tour and beyond.

EuroSport.com: EuroSport provides a live streaming audio feed during the Tour de France. These guys are the real deal. They provide solid clear-cut race coverage that, as Bicycling Magazine says, assumes this isn’t your first go around. The live audio feed is just the start of things though. They also offer video from the stages, stories, interviews, etc.

Bicycling.com: The guys at Bicycling Magazine have put together a nice site that includes daily podcasts from their European correspondent James Startt, streaming video, a tour tracker and some background on the course and history of the tour.

LeTour.fr: This is my tour tracker of choice and it also happens to be the official Tour de France site. They have continually made a better tour tracker each year on LeTour.fr and I am looking forward to this year’s improvements.

VeloNews.com: These guys always put out quality cycling content and should be a must read year round, but as everything does in cycling, VeloNews really ramps up in July. They have a great tour tracker and always get great interviews. They also have some great podcasts and streaming video each day of the Tour along with rider diaries that will really put you in the peloton.

So now that you’re all geared up for the Tour all you need to do is sit and wait for the start on Saturday. In fact, you are in for a pretty unique start this year being that the start is in London. Here’s to a clean and epic race. Let the cyclism begin.

Written by Eric Olson

July 5th, 2007 at 9:35 am

Posted in Sports

When Doping Allegations Go Too Far

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David OrtizI was appalled to see this headline in the Boston Herald a couple days ago:

Papi unwitting ‘roid user?

As was Papi himself.

How did that headline come about you ask? Here is the quote that sparked it:

“I tell you, I don’t know too much about steroids, but I started listening about steroids when they started to bring that (expletive) up, and I started realizing and getting to know a little bit about it,” Ortiz said Sunday. “You’ve got to be careful. . . . I used to buy a protein shake in my country. I don’t do that any more because they don’t have the approval for that here, so I know that, so I’m off of buying things at the GNC back in the Dominican (Republic). But it can happen anytime, it can happen. I don’t know. I don’t know if I drank something in my youth, not knowing it.”

Michael Silverman should be ashamed of himself for taking a benign comment and warping into a sensational headline which ended up hurting one of the nicest and greatest Red Sox of all time. Now Papi is saying he may stop talking to the media and that’s a total bummer. It’s not like these guys ever give us groundbreaking insight into the game during post game interviews but Ortiz is a good and fun guy and hearing him talk always reminds you that the game is fun and we shouldn’t forget that.

Hurting an impeccable role model and Bostonian like Papi for no reason is inexcusable but it looks like Silverman got what he wanted. I, along with the rest of Red Sox Nation, are talking about him and his article.

This coincides with some other doping related issues in the cycling arena. Sure, a lot of these guys are guilty as sin which is too bad for the sport. In fact, a lot of smaller races are starting to be cancelled due to lack of sponsors. They are all spooked by the doping scandals of course. The killer here is that the aggressive anti-doping procedures in cycling are very progressive (and good overall) but they are outing a lot of people and hurting the sport. Other sports who probably have similar doping issues are not being as strict so their sports are still thriving while cycling is taking a nose dive.

Most of the problem probably lies in the catty and unprofessional way the doping scandals are handled in the media (ahem - L’Equipe that means you) by the testing labs, anti-doping agencies and media alike. If they could all handle themselves with a bit more tact and professionalism perhaps the sport wouldn’t be taking such a hit.

On that note, I read the article in this months Bicycling Magazine about Floyd Landis and his fight to clear his name. Whether he is guilty of doping on Stage 17 of the 2006 Tour is still up for debate (I think he’s probably innocent or at least I want to believe he is) what seems to be clear is that the test samples were handled improperly and the results of the tests could have been easily affected in a handful of different ways. For the details please check out the info on Floyd’s Fairness Fund website. Bottom Line: the tests are probably inaccurate.

It seems that there should be some ort of anti-doping standard across all sports in order to provide the best attack on doping. It also seems like the testing facilities need to be managed better (i.e. have standards across all testing facilities - in Floyd’s case the French lab that hit him with the doping charge is much less strict in terms of handling samples and has a crummy track record compared to other labs like the one at UCLA).

The facilities should also have regular and unscheduled observation periods in order to keep their credentials. Lastly, the media needs to take a step back and figure out what the real story is and stop trying to sell papers will allegations that are unfounded (of course this gets back to the fact that we judge news in the same way we do entertainment which is worrisome in and of itself).

Will all of this happen? I am not sure but one thing that’s clear is reform is needed across sport, anti-doping agencies and their labs and the media before we can really rid sports of doping while continuing to preserve the sports.

Photo Credit: Waldo Jaquith on Flickr

Written by Eric Olson

May 10th, 2007 at 3:55 pm

Posted in Baseball, Sports

Fantasy Baseball 2.0: Play Ball!

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I received a note from Adam Kane the other day suggesting that we get a fantasy baseball league together for techies, entrepreneurs, web workers, etc. I.E. the TECH cocktail crowd. Of course I loved the idea and Adam went ahead and set up a league via Yahoo! sports called Play Ball 2.0 (beta). Gotta love the name!

If you want in on this league please shoot me a note or comment on this post and I’ll make sure to let Adam “The Commish” Kane know so he can send you an invite.

Quick FAQ

Is there money involved?

Possibly. If we do decide to put any money down be assured that it’ll be low stakes and that the winner will be required to take the winnings and put them toward a Kiva loan.

Is the draft live?

Yes, but you can rank your players so they will auto select if you can’t make the draft.

When is the draft?

Saturday, March 31 at 12:30pm central time. This can be changed to fit everyone’s needs as well so don’t let this time discourage you from joining the league.

What are the Rules/Settings?

They are as follows (and are negotiable):

League URL: http://baseball.fantasysports.yahoo.com/league/playball20
Season Type: Full
Draft Type: Live Draft
Draft Time: Sat Mar 31 12:30pm CDT [ Add to My Calendar ]
Max Teams: 12
Scoring Type: Head-to-Head
Player Universe: All baseball
Max Moves: No maximum
Max Trades: No maximum
Trade Reject Time: 2
Trade End Date: August 12, 2007
Waiver Time: 2 days
Can’t Cut List Provider: Yahoo! Sports
Trade Review: League Votes
Post Draft Players: Follow Waiver Rules
Min Innings Pitched: 7
Weekly Deadline: Daily - Tomorrow
Start Scoring on: Week 1
Roster Positions: C, 1B, 2B, 3B, SS, OF, OF, OF, Util, SP, SP, RP, RP, P, P, P, BN, BN, BN, BN, BN, DL
Stat Categories: R, HR, RBI, SB, AVG, W, SV, K, ERA, WHIP


C’mon - you know you want in. It’s going to be a killer season and I’m sure the fantasy league will add to the excitement. Plus, it’s on the web and we all love the web.

Written by Eric Olson

March 13th, 2007 at 11:51 am

Posted in Sports