McSport

Questions abound as the Bush administration attempts to reclassify fast food jobs as manufacturing jobs from their current classification as service jobs.

Manufacturing is defined by the United States Census Bureau as work involving employees who are "engaged in the mechanical, physical, or chemical transformation of materials, substances, or components into new products." As discussed earlier, professional sport — with its employees that are engaged in the biomechanical, biophysical, and biochemical transformation of technology and technique into information, images and identities (I3) — could certainly also be classified as belonging to the manufacturing sector.

The only challenge to such a classification is the uncertainty inherent in the I3-manufacturing process. And as McLuhan points out, "the uncertainty of the outcomes of our contests makes a rational excuse for the mechanical rigor of the rules and procedures of the game."

Notes on the Virtualization of Hockey

Jon Azpiri writes that if the NHL closes down business next year over the expired Collective Bargaining Agreement (great article on the CBA at Ordinary Least Square), the only professional hockey that fans can see may be in videogames.

Note 1: Videogame Realism

The article goes on to describe the increasing realism of hockey video games, a feature that is driven by consumer demand:

Where most video games create fictional worlds, sports games aim to replicate real people and places. Realism is an important selling point, according to EA producer Todd Batty, who works on NBA Live. "We're constantly compared to reality, and the reality is on TV every single night," Batty says in his office at EA Canada's Burnaby headquarters. "It's on the highlights every single night. Any slip-up where our game differs from reality is where we're instantly going to hear criticisms." The company's producers provide a level of detail that borders on the absurd. In the "dynasty mode" of EA NHL 2004, users can oversee every aspect of their own pro-hockey franchise, from negotiating contracts with players to hiring medical staff to scheduling practices to buying new furniture for the GM's office.

In this model of sport mediation, the athlete's contribution is diminished to producing statistical information that will make the model more robust. As Azpiri notes, this statistical information as well as motion capture information of players performing actual hockey movements is "coordinated with an audio engine that features music, sound effects, and words by Canucks play-by-play broadcaster Jim Hughson and former NHLer Craig Simpson. The game stores more than 35,000 bits of their speech and stitches them together to form a running commentary that matches the action on the ice."

Thus, the Lineage of Radio Hewitt ends up running through the Television Cole and Neale to the recombinant nature of the Videogame Hughson and Simpson, suggesting a Third Golden Age of (fantasized and fragmentary) professional sport that is mediated by virtual space and artificial intelligence engines.

Note 2: Videogame Engines

Though the term "engine" in information science can be traced back to Babbage's Analytical Engine, its usage seems more in line with the automobile references we have become used to as we continue our journey onto the Information Highway. The engine features prominently in videogames:

Each EA NHL disc features more than a dozen "engines": specific sections of programming that drive a particular area of the game. NHL 2004 features a powerful graphics engine that renders every physical detail of a player–from his facial features and body type down to his skin tone and hair–as well as accurate 360-degree replicas of all 30 NHL arenas. The new consoles allow for a palette of more than a million colours and much greater resolution than previous games, Warfield says. The PlayStation 1 could process 360,000 "polygons" per second; the PS2 can process 20 million. On today's systems, a player's glove has more polygons than an entire player model had on the original PlayStation.

The first definition listed by the The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language for "engine" is "a machine that converts energy into mechanical force or motion," with "such a machine distinguished from an electric, spring-driven, or hydraulic motor by its use of a fuel." It is interesting that the term "engine" is used in the context of videogames, since the fuel of such an engine is information, and that which the fuel is converted into is also information. The irony is that instead of mechanical force or motion being created, it is in essence destroyed, since the athlete's motion, once captured digitally, need not be repeated. "Rendered" athletes, indeed …

Glyph Equity and Brand Transference

Do you remember when Nike changed its logo by removing the "NIKE" text from below the swoosh glyph? I do. The first time I saw it was at the end of a Nike TV commercial and I was completely blown away. Basically they were saying "Look, we know that you know who we are. We are so confident in our brand and our swoosh glyph that we are going to remove our company's name from our advertising — because we know that you know who we are." That was a pretty bold statement, as few other corporate glyphs have that type of recognition without the accompanying text that makes the logo complete. The golden arches of McDonald's and the apple-sans-bite of Apple Computer are two comparable glyphs that come to mind.

Today, the brand landscape is changing even more. Nike has invested enough money in the "meaning" associated with their glyph that subsequent sport sponsorship only serves two purposes: first, to refresh that meaning from time to time, but perhaps more importantly, to defensively prevent adidas or Reebok from developing the same amount of glyph equity. At this point, there is no way that as many people would recognize the adidas or Reebok logos if the corporate text was not also attached to the glyph.

So while Nike is using sponsorship in this context, perhaps they are also attempting to pioneer a step in the branding process beyond brand loyalty, which we can call brand mark transference. That is, how much impact can the Nike brand have on the Jumpman or LeBron23 brands?

Companies in other segments hope that the answer is significant and in the positive. "All advertising advertises advertising," Marshall McLuhan noted, so when NBC Sports points out that Tiger Woods shills for Nike even while he appears in commercials for other sponsors, those sponsors hope that there is simultaneously a brand transference factor working in their favour.

Open (Re)Source-fulness

I present to you The Man Who Staked His Future On Open Source, starring:

Billy Beane …. as Lou Gerstner
Oakland A's …. as IBM
Bill James …. as Linus Torvalds
Paul DePodesta …. as Sam Palmisano

Or vice-versa.

(Hey, I know that I haven't found roles for everyone yet, or that the characters listed aren't exact fits … that's what the people in Casting are for!!)

The point is this: both Beane and Gerstner steered the future direction of their respective companies based upon tools that developed in an open source fashion. For Beane and the Oakland Athletics, it was the decision to use sabermetric analysis to field competitive baseball teams for less money; for Gerstner and IBM, it was the decision to build support for Linux — freely available operating system software — into their general corporate strategy.

The question though, is where does Beane go from here? IBM has the ability to change the rules of the market: once upon a time they were a hardware company, then they became a software company, and now with their support of Linux, they are becoming a consulting company — for there is a great deal of money to be made in integrating free (though more secure) server software into the corporate world.

Beane has no such luxury: the object of baseball is and always will be to score more runs than the other team, and thus win more games.

So what happens to Beane when the window of his competitive advantage begins to close? DePodesta, who was set to take over the reins in Oakland when Beane was on his way to Boston, is now the GM of the Dodgers. When Beane balked at the move, Theo Epstein became the youngest GM in baseball by assuming that mantle with the Red Sox. And another Beane protege, J.P. Ricciardi, is now at the helm of the Toronto Blue Jays. Each brings with him the sabermetric bag of tricks to his new job, and in the first two cases at least, arrive to find far more money waiting for them to spend.

Beane will have no choice but to innovate technologically or change jobs, and since he just turned down the Boston post, it seems safe to say that the latter option is out for the foreseeable future. So he must become even more precise with his statistical modeling to stay ahead of DePodesta, Epstein, Ricciardi and the other GMs around Major League Baseball. He must embrace the entire open source core of sabermetrician prosumers, and somehow convert that high identification into proprietary knowledge. The entire culture of baseball, right down to developing grade-school athletes, will begin to revolve around this model and OPS will become the new sign of success.

He might never win his championship, but he will have changed the game forever.

Punch-Spasm

The Sports Guy weighs in on the latest spasm in the sports media-net, the Todd Bertuzzi situation (tks. Seabs):

"I was more worried about myself. Why couldn't I stop watching? Is something wrong with me? This was like slowing down as I passed a car wreck, only this time I kept doubling back to the crash. Do I enjoy seeing hockey players maim each other? My stomach rumbles with disgust, but it's a lot like when I watch those strangely absorbing Autopsy shows on HBO. Most important, am I the only one? Did you flip the channel and say, "I can't watch this again," or did you keep staring at the TV waiting for more too?

Of course, you kept watching. That's why Bertuzzi's punch has lingered almost as long as Julio Franco has. But we're also being played here. Janet Jackson's boob comes flying out on Super Bowl Sunday, causes a national ruckus … hey, guess who has a new CD coming out this spring! It's the formula these days. Leak a sex tape, get your own TV show. Seduce the prez, get your own line of purses. Make up stories for your newspaper, get a massive book deal. Eat cockroaches and cow intestines on TV, get your 15 minutes and a winner's check.

Welcome to Rubberneck Nation. We can't turn away, and both Hollywood and the media know it. Bertuzzi's punch headlined sportscasts and newspapers for a solid week, with every column and TV segment centering around the same exhausted themes: Isn't it despicable? How on earth could the NHL allow their players to do this? Doesn't this make you sick? Oh, and by the way, would you like to see it from another angle? (Absolutely! Hey, show me the one from the right side, when you can see the guy's head bounce! Where did I put my TiVo remote?)"

Fractal?

From "The Russian Nesting Doll of Games" on Wired News:

It was bound to happen. First there was SimCity. Then there was The Sims. And then came a series of highly successful expansion packs like Hot Date, Livin' Large, House Party and others.

Now comes a fan-made plug-in that allows Sims characters to effectively play SimCity inside The Sims. The Sims franchise has gone meta.

For the uninitiated, The Sims is the most successful line of games ever. It started in the late 1980s with SimCity, a game in which players take the role of a powerful mayor who creates and modifies a city to keep citizens happy. About 10 years later, Electronic Arts, the publisher of the series, released The Sims. In this game, the best-selling title of all time, players control the lives of virtual people, called Sims, and determine their daily activities to keep them content.

Now the series has come full circle. The plug-in from Simslice, called Slice City, lets the Sims in the game play a video game in which they create mini cities. So, along with the many things that Sims can be instructed to do — such as going to work, playing guitar, cooking, socializing and dating — they can blow endless hours creating small urban environments.