Monday, November 25, 2013

How the NFL Should Embrace Technology, Increase Viewer Participation and Make More Money

I spend way too much time drawing up trick football plays and offensive schemes that have little chance of success. So when I suggested an offensive scheme where the offensive tackle reports as tackle eligible on every single play - the idea being to lull the defense to sleep before striking - my friend, Vik, gently told me to perhaps focus on other areas of the game. So I decided to take my radical thinking and dream up how my NFL viewing experience could be greatly improved. And I came up with a way where the offensive and defensive play calls could be shared with viewers in real-time. Here's how it would work:

1. The NFL would require all teams to submit their offensive and defensive playbook to the broadcast networks in this format:

Offensive Play In layman's terms
Red-44-Blue-ZebraDeep pass over the middle to a wide receiver
Charlie-Tango-Alpha-23                          Halfback run up the middle
Z-99-XYZFake punt

Defensive playIn layman's terms
Cover-Cover-Zebra-52Cover 2 Zone
Foxtrot-Alpha-MichaelMan to man, bump and run coverage
Tango-Overly-Complex-Playcall-44All out blitz

2. As the play is transmitted to the QB and the defense, it is simultaneously transmitted to the broadcast network.

3. As the offense breaks the huddle and lines up, the network transmits both the offensive play and defensive formation to viewers in layman's terms.

Why this works:

1. It would generate tremendous interest in the pre-snap formations and increase anticipation. Let's face it; NFL football watching is all about the five seconds of live action followed by 40 seconds of waiting around; I'm trying to reduce that second number.

2. Viewers would have immediate insight into what plays were called and whether the QB totally missed his read, should have audibled, or it was just a dumb play call by the offensive coordinator.

3. You get to second guess the play calls and decisions all day Monday. Heck, this might lead to second guessing on Tuesday and Wednesday as well.

Why you might think this doesn't work and how I would make it work:

Q. If you are broadcasting the play pre-snap, couldn't the offense and defense simply have someone watching the broadcast and signal their team about what was coming up?

A. Absolutely. But note that there is a a transmission delay of five seconds, so chances are that TV viewers would see the play after the ball was snapped.

Q. Won't other teams be able to look at previous TV broadcasts and see what was called and come up with new information on what kinds of plays teams like to run?

A1. Yup. But the fact is that these days you have hundreds of ex-players coming out of the woodwork on multiple channels analyzing every play, tendency and weakness of each team. I can't turn on NFL Network or ESPN without being bombarded by never ending analyses. 

A2. Teams today spend way too much time watching film and most NFL teams would be better served spending more time practicing blocking and tackling.

Okay, so this is pretty wacky but tell me about how the NFL can increase audience participation and make more money. That's the only reason I'm still reading.

Well, here's where it gets interesting. If we have the above translation table why not allow for a fan to call a play? Say its a huge blowout and the home team is up by 25 points with five minutes to go. Well a team could hit a switch and fans could go onto some web portal where there could be a live auction to call offensive or defensive plays. So its 4th down, I pay my $1,000, or whatever, call in "fake punt" and that get's relayed to the coordinators as "Z-99-XYZ" using the table above. The money could go to charity or to NFL owner coffers. Can you imagine fulfilling football fan's fantasies this way?

Why this works:

1. There is nothing worse than watching garbage time of an NFL. For sure this would liven things up. 

2. Coaches would have someone to blame for running up scores. "Hey Coach, so why did you call the Hail Mary on the last play when you were up by 30 points?" "Well there is this kid from Make-A-Wish who really wanted to call a play and..."

3. Even if their plays weren't used, fans could prove or disprove that their play-calling was better than their team's offensive coordinator. "Hey Greg Roman, on that 4th down on the Baltimore five yard line when you threw the ball, 90% of your fans called for a run." (Yeah, I'm still bitter about the Superbowl.)

4. There are all kinds of gaming opportunities where participants could score points based on pre-snap predictions.

Why this doesn't work and how to make it work:

Q. Wouldn't gamblers who were more interested in point spreads than the actual game bid up to try and call in plays that tilted the point spread in their favor? Heck they might double down and call both the offensive and defensive plays; for instance have the offensive team throw a Hail Mary and on the same play have the defense play man to man.

A1. Ban audience participation for Nevada residents??

A2. Give the offensive/defensive coordinators first right of refusal.

In closing:

Technology and real-time interaction is pervasive. Asking the next generation of kids (raised on video games, web sites and individualism) to sit there and watch a three hour broadcast is unrealistic. I'm not going to be sitting by my phone awaiting a call from Roger Goodell. But heck every season it seems that he's watering down and wimpifiying the game more and more. Isn't it time he give something back to the fans?  

Saturday, November 9, 2013

Windows 8.1 Upgrade: Long, Difficult and with Data Loss

Upgrading from Windows 8.1 beta to the official Windows 8.1 release has been a terrible experience. I've been running on Windows 8 for a year and I like the operating system.  Yes, its a bit quirky as far as trying to create one user experience for desktops, tablets and mobile which was overly ambitious and fell short of the mark.   However it was stable, quick and usable and that's enough for me.  

Over the summer Microsoft release a beta of 8.1 with the following features:

1. Snap - the feature that lets you quickly have two windows open side by side.
2. Start button
3. Boot up in desktop mode.

It is worth noting that these were all in Windows 7 but removed from Windows 8.  While my upgrade to the Windows 8.1 beta required some time and several reboots, it was relatively painless. So you can imagine my shock and anger when I upgraded to the 8.1 official release this week and realized that all my installed software had been wiped out and required hours and hours to re-install everything. Not only that but some of my spreadsheets and other documents were also missing!

I had to re-install Office, Chrome, Acrobat, Skype and every other software I use. Then more time digging through backups for copies of my documents. Windows 8.1
 didn't even recognize my one year old Canon printer that was running perfectly under Windows 8 and Windows 8.1 Preview.  I had to search the Canon site for drivers - the way we did it in the 1990s - and install my printer again. Aren't we a little too far along to have ridiculous upgrade experiences like this?? And even if we did, why wasn't there a huge warning upfront that all apps are about to be wiped out? It turns out that only those running Windows 8.1 Preview have the app and data loss issues.

In summary, here is my advice about who should upgrade to Windows 8.1:

Your Current Operating SystemMy Advice 
Windows 7 or earlier Don't bother.  Windows 7 is a stable, solid operating system.
Windows 8 Go for it.  You can get all those features back that you liked in Windows 7.  Yippee!
Windows 8.1 Preview Definitely not.  Unless you have hours to kill and enjoy swearing and pounding your desk with your fist.

Below is the marketing video from Microsoft highlighting the new features of Windows 8.1.  It's safe to say that Microsoft is completely confused.  The video shows a person with a desktop PC yet every single featured demoed in the video is done by touch.  How many people use touch sensitive screens on their desktop?  Also none of the three features listed above are noted even though these are the top three requested improvements when Windows 8 was released.

Monday, November 4, 2013

Kindle Fire HDX 7: Lack of Camera Makes it Less than Perfect

Being a first day adopter of the iPhone and iPad, I decided to do the same with Amazon's Kindle Fire HDX 7" which came out last week. It is is a cool mini tablet with a lot to like about it but ended up falling way short in one key area - the lack of a rear facing camera.  Let's start out with what makes it great and for who.

It has a gorgeous 7" HD screen which looks better than the Retina screen on my iPad, it's slim and lightweight with a battery that lasts 11 hours.  The key new feature is free built in customer support delivered via one way video conference  It's a new service called Mayday and you just press a button and someone comes on within 10 to 20 seconds.  You can see them as shown in the screenshot below, and they can control your device and show you how to use certain features.

I tried Mayday twice with amazing results.  If you have a grand parent or anyone computer illiterate, this is true differentiator that makes this product stand out from anything else out there.  And this is coming from a huge Apple fan.

I am also a user of Amazon Prime and use Amazon for an increasing amount of purchases as  well as books and movies.  The device's tight integration with Amazon allows you to access all that content in one place could certainly simplify my life.

It's priced at $269 but for forty bucks less you can get a version that shows you an ad every time you start up. I opted for the cheaper model and its really not very intrusive and doesn't bug me.

Here is a pretty good review comparing it to other tablets out there.

There were two issues:

The biggest by far is that it has only a front facing camera.  So while its great for Skype you can forget about taking any photos or videos. I was so sure that it would have a rear camera that I didn't even read the spec closely enough prior to purchase.  My wife was also convinced that the camera must be and even spent some time looking for it! I'm guessing that most people, like us, would rather have a rear facing camera and this is a huge oversight.  Amazon probably figured that most people have smart phones which could be used for photos.  But here's what's wrong with that thinking; tablets and mini tablets with their ten hour battery life were tailor made to be used as a camera. Plus no one wants to crowd around a smartphone to watch a video. Its hard to recommend this device without one.

The interface is also not quite perfect. Movies, books and apps are mixed together in a jumbled display of different sizes that I just don't find intuitive. In the screen shot of my screen below you see two apps, a movie and two books.  It just doesn't look right and a week later, I just don't like it.

When its doing something one doesn't get a full sense of what exactly is happening or when its going to be over.  For instance when fetching movies and books from my Amazon account all I saw was a message about the content being queued and later on they were there but never got a sense of what was happening or when I would have it.

There are a couple of competitors to the HDX; Apple iPad Mini at $399 and the Google Nexus 7 at $229.  You can see a detailed comparison of all three here
Based on my usage of 7" tablets, here are my power rankings as of November, 2013:

  • Apple iPad Mini (the leader with gazillions of apps, a simple intuitive UI and five year track record)
  • Google Nexus 7 (has pretty much everything you need except all those apps)
  • Kindle HDX 7 (a must for every Amazon user but no rear camera)
  • Samsung Galaxy Tab 7 (a distant fourth. See my review here)
In summary if you want to use your mini tablet as a camera, I would go with the iPad Mini or Google Nexus 7.  Else skip the HDX 7" version and go with the HDX Fire HDX 8.9 which has an 8.9" screen and comes with both front and rear cameras. The HDX 8.9 is a regular tablet comparable to the iPad and is priced at $379 and you can purchase directly from Amazon