Posted on: February 26, 2010 1:24 pm
Edited on: February 26, 2010 1:25 pm

Notebook: Microsoft exec avoids the penalty box

Microsoft Business Division President Stephen Elop looked up as he delivered a presentation to his top managers on Microsoft's campus on Wednesday.

As Elop had been speaking, one of those managers, Kirill Tatarinov, had groaned several times.

"Was it something I said," Elop asked Tatarinov, who runs a division that creates business software for midsize companies.

Sheepishly, Tatarinov confessed that he had been watching the Russia-Canada Olympic hockey game. If Tatarinov worked for some other bosses at Microsoft, that could have been what is known in Redmond as a "career limiting move." Luckily, Tatarinov works for Elop, himself a huge hockey fan.

"I respected his choice of priorities," Elop told me. "He didn't take a ding on it at all."

Plus, it was hard to be too mad. Each groan meant that Elop's beloved Canadian hockey team was winning.

"I was more pleased that Canada was winning," Elop said.

Elop even managed to wrap the meeting up a bit early so that he, Tatarinov, and the rest of the team could catch the action at the nearby Spitfire Grill. When the Russians finally pulled their goaltender after the deficit grew to 6-1, Elop lovingly put his arm around Tatarinov.

And being the hockey fan that he is, Elop, of course, found his way to Vancouver. In a bold move of his own, Elop showed up to the USA House on Thursday, hours before the gold medal game, decked out in his Team Canada jersey, getting quite a bit of ribbing from those at the U.S. Olympic Committee-run pavilion.

Part of the visit, Elop said was business. In a brief meeting Thursday before he headed to watch the gold medal women's hockey game between Canada and the U.S., Elop noted that he is Microsoft's executive sponsor for Bell Canada--a major telecommunications customer for Microsoft and a sponsor of the Games. But, he agreed a big part of the trip was also about hockey.

In addition to that women's hockey game (the outcome of which means I now owe Elop a beer), the Microsoft executive also plans to attend both the bronze and gold medal men's games.

We did spend a minute or two talking shop. I pressed him on rumors I keep hearing that Microsoft is working on a version of Office (or some Office applications) for the iPad and iPhone, but Elop slipped the check with a flat no comment.

He did assure me that those reading Microsoft's move with Windows Phone 7 Series as a move away from the enterprise are misunderstanding. While the new interface is designed to appeal to consumers more than other versions of Windows Mobile, he assured me his unit is investing more in software for Windows phones than ever before. "The business division is more involved than ever before," he said.

A quick recharge
One of the coolest gadgets I've run across in Vancouver is the rapid battery-charging machine from Samsung. The company has them stationed at venues across the city. The units, which are free to use at the Games, allow many different types of cell phone batteries to be charged in 20 minutes or less.

A Samsung mobile charging station, one of more than 60 such machines located in various hotels, Olympic venues, and other spots across greater Vancouver and Whistler.

According to Samsung, the chargers use a processor that detects the battery voltage and applies the same or slightly higher voltage to increase the rate of charge, allowing for a process that normally takes a few hours to be done in a matter of minutes.

The Korean electronics giant -- and big-time Olympic partner -- has installed a total of 67 charging stations for the Vancouver 2010 Olympic Winter Games, in hotels, press rooms, athlete's villages, competition venues, and other locales.

To use the machine, you need only make sure your battery works -- it has to do with where on the battery the conduits are located. Then choose a three-digit pin to secure your battery, pop in the battery, and come back 20 minutes later to find your once-depleted battery ready for more action. The stations came in particularly handy for me on Tuesday as I spent the morning covering hockey and then shifted to an evening of writing about figure skating.

Ina Fried is a Senior Writer for CNET News. She will be in Vancouver covering various angles for both CBSSports.com and her CNET Blog " Beyond B1nary ". You can also follow her on twitter at: http://twitter.com/Inafried

Posted on: February 26, 2010 1:14 pm

The Olympics run on Windows (XP)

By Ina Fried

The good news for Microsoft is that all the PCs powering the Olympics are running Windows. The bad news: it's the older Windows XP operating system.

Windows 7, it seems, was a bit too new to be used, while Windows Vista was, well, Windows Vista. So, instead, all the PCs are running an operating system that was first released before the 2002 Games in Salt Lake City.

Representatives for Acer confirmed that the more than 6,000 notebooks and desktops that they delivered to Olympic organizers were all running Windows XP.

"It was the operating system requested by VANOC (the Olympic organizing committee) and Atos Origin" (the technology integrator managing the Olympics tech operations), said Todd Olson, who manages Acer's tech work in Vancouver.

To be fair, the Olympics tends to be conservative, even in the IT profession. Its mandate to suppliers was to "deliver a flawless Games" not try out the latest in new technology.

And as an Atos Origin executive said last week, so far the games have been, if anything, boring from a technology perspective--which has been the goal.

"My goal is to make sure that nothing happens that has to be reported on," Olson said. "We're here to be behind the scenes."

Out of the 6,200 computers, Olson said there were just a couple of trouble tickets as of Tuesday. Perhaps the most interesting incident came when an Olympics worker got excited during one Olympic event and stood up to cheer, spilling soup all over the laptop. She quickly shut it down and it ended up continuing to work.

Acer offered to get the worker a replacement machine, but she decided that if that machine was hearty enough to survive soup, she didn't want to part with it.

"That's been about the most exciting thing," Olson said. "So, as you can tell, it's been pretty smooth."

Acer and organizers also opted to go with a lot of desktops, but those are small desktops, which Olson said meant less shipping costs and environmental impact.

"We're helping out to decrease their logistics by giving them smaller equipment," he said.

But Acer's goals for the games extend beyond just keeping its technology out of the headlines. After spending a considerable amount to become a global partner of the Olympics, Acer is also looking to make the most of the marketing opportunity. The company has released some limited-edition laptops and monitors with the Olympic logo and also has set up an "Acer Showcase" at one of the main gathering places in central Vancouver. That pavilion, Acer says, is getting about 5,000 visitors per day.

Meanwhile, the Acer brand can be seen all over the games, from the sides of buses to the Internet cafes the company has set up in the athletes' villages and main press center.

That should help the Taiwanese company, which has grown into a leading global and U.S. computer maker, but lacks the name recognition of a Dell or Hewlett-Packard.

"We are very unknown at this point," said Anton Mitsyuk, who manages Acer's sponsorship on the marketing side.

Ina Fried is a Senior Writer for CNET News. She will be in Vancouver covering various angles for both CBSSports.com and her CNET Blog " Beyond B1nary ". You can also follow her on twitter at: http://twitter.com/Inafried

Posted on: February 22, 2010 3:17 pm
Edited on: February 22, 2010 5:15 pm

Olmypic Notebook: Photo finishes

By Ina Fried
The advantage of being Omega, in addition to the branding benefit of being the official timekeeper, is you also get access to some really cool photos from the Olympic finish line.

And this year, Omega has an even more powerful 2,000-frame-per-second camera, to capture those close calls. The folks at Omega  were nice enough to share some of the photos from the first week of the games, which I've put into a photo gallery.

Photo Gallery: Images of photo finishes

The shots include Seth Wescott narrowly winning the gold medal in snowboard cross and Apolo Ohno edging out Canadian Charles Hamelin in a semifinal heat of the men's 1,000-meter speedskating. In the finals of the same event, it was two Koreans in a tight finish for the gold, with Ohno getting the bronze.

Off the podium

Unfortunately, it wasn't a photo finish for Steve Holcomb in the two-man bobsled. The tech enthusiast and bobsled star was in fourth after the first two of four runs and finished sixth.

"We gave it everything we had, unfortunately it just wasn't enough," Holcomb said in a posting on Twitter.

Holcomb said he had hoped to do better going into the last run. "It's a disappointment," he told reporters on Sunday. "We were in reach (of a medal)."

But Holcomb and "Mac guy" Steve Mesler are looking forward to the four-man event where they are the reigning world champions. That event is slated to run Feb. 26 and 27 and I am hoping to cover at least part of it in person from the Whistler Sliding Center.

"You've got to suck it up and move on to the next race," he said after Sunday's final run.

Women's hockey
As for today, I am back at women's hockey, again checking out some of the less highly ranked--but no less spirited--teams. It should be a nice low-key affair compared to the men's hockey madness that was Super Sunday. All of Canada is still reeling from Canada's stunning loss to Team USA.

"OUCH!" screams the headline on today's 24H newspaper here. "Canadian pride takes beating at hands of America in 5-3 loss."

Ina Fried is a Senior Writer for CNET News. She will be in Vancouver covering various angles for both CBSSports.com and her CNET Blog " Beyond B1nary ". You can also follow her on twitter at: http://twitter.com/Inafried

Posted on: February 22, 2010 12:18 pm

Olympic timing a high-tech affair

By Ina Fried

Less than a century ago, the timing of downhill skiing required someone at the top and bottom of the run, each with a stopwatch synchronized to the time of day.

Every few skiers, the timer at the top would send down a piece of paper with the start times of the last few skiers and then some math would ensue, eventually resulting in the time of the run being calculated.

Oh, how things have changed. Not only is everything electronic, of course, but the sensors are often tied to the athletes themselves. In speedskating, racers wear a transponder that can measure not only start and finish times, but also determine other things, such as acceleration in and out of a turn. On the slopes, it is the skier's knees passing through a "snowgate" that creates a contact, instantly sending an impulse to triggers the start of the electronic timing.

"There's not a lot of human intervention," said Christophe Berthaud, general manager of Omega Timing.

That said, the high-tech effort actually requires more people to administer. At its first Olympics, in Germany in 1936, Omega sent a single technician with 27 stopwatches to the Games. At the 2006 Turin, Italy, Winter Games, Omega sent 208 people--127 timekeepers and 81 data handlers--along with some 220 tons of equipment.

Each year, Omega finds a new way to either enhance the accuracy or reliability of the timing. This year, for example, Omega is adding a new electronic starting gun that replaces the traditional pistol and blank cartridge. The new gun emits a consistent light and sound that can be used with a time-synchronized photo as a backup if the electronic timing system were to fail.

Plus, Berthaud, notes, the new starter is a lot easier to get through airport security.

Meanwhile, the ability to measure minute differences in finishing times also has improved. And a new photo finish camera, for example, shoots 2,000 frames per second.

Improved ability to measure minute differences is important, Berthaud says, because of how close the results can be.

In some events, a 3-kilometer run can be settled by a matter of less than two meters by athletes traveling at more than 100 kilometers an hour.

"It give you an idea of the accuracy you need to deploy," he said.

Photo Gallery: Timing of the games

Some events, such as aerials skiing, ice dance and figure skating, of course, do have a human component, evaluating the technical and artistic merits of a performance.

"When you are having judges of course the human component is important," Berthaud said. "What we are bringing in order to make it more fair is a certain number of technologies to help the judges."

The biggest enhancement, there, he said, has been the use of more video replays to make the judging more systematic. "You don't rely only on the memory or the eye of the judge."

That, of course, has not made the scoring in figure skating any less controversial, but at least there can be no argument over whether a skater did or did not complete a required element.

Humans, are also key, Berthaud said, in being able to make sense of what the technology produces. Being able to read those photo finish images, he said, requires years of training, much as a doctor needs to learn how to read an X-ray.

"You need to have people very well trained to see a pixel of difference," he said. Still, he said, there's one thing that hasn't changed. "You have a start and a finish the one that crosses the line first is still the winner," Berthaud said.

Ina Fried is a Senior Writer for CNET News. She will be in Vancouver covering various angles for both CBSSports.com and her CNET Blog " Beyond B1nary ". You can also follow her on twitter at: http://twitter.com/Inafried
Posted on: February 19, 2010 5:49 pm
Edited on: February 19, 2010 5:51 pm

Canada's Chan: Lysacek deserved gold

By Ina Fried

When it comes to the controversy of giving the figure skating gold, Canada's Patrick Chan sides with American Evan Lysacek.

The decision to award Lysacek the gold even tough Russian Evgeni Plushenko did a quad jump drew some criticism from some corners, but not from Chan.

"He definitely deserved to have won with two great skates," Chan said, speaking that British Columbia International Media Centre here. "If I had done two greats skates just like he did, I think I would be side by side with him."

Chan said that "anyone can do the quad," insisting the jump gets too much attention and distracts from the true artistry of the sport.

"With the quad, you really have to take out a lot," Chan said, "because you;'ve got to really concentrate on having a good set up."

In the press conference, Chan said he is pleased with his performance, even if it wasn't what he hoped and noted that -- at 19 --he still has a long career ahead of him, including the 2014 games in Sochi, Russia.

I also asked Chan to talk about the scoring system in general, as well as the role of technology in skating.

"Technology wise we have come so far we have instant replay and we have computers now to put in calculations for all the marks," Chan said. "They used to write on paper, now it's all done on touch screens."

Ina Fried is a Senior Writer for CNET News. She will be in Vancouver covering various angles for both CBSSports.com and her CNET Blog " Beyond B1nary ". You can also follow her on twitter at: http://twitter.com/Inafried

Posted on: February 19, 2010 3:24 pm

Canada's Brodeur talks hockey, tech

By Ina Fried

Team Canada goalie Martin Brodeur was in Robson Square on Friday ostensibly to talk about health and technology, but naturally the talk quickly turned to hockey and, specifically, the incredible pressure on the host nation's team to win gold.

"I think it's just normal," Brodeur told reporters. "People have been waiting for a lot of years to have these Olympics in Canada .... Expectations are high and we definitely are looking forward to the challenge. It's what we do in Canada -- we play hockey."

Brodeur, for those not keeping track of hockey, was on fire in last night's shootout, stopping everything the Swiss could throw at him as the Canadians pulled out a 3-2 victory.

Asked what it would take to beat the Americans in a key matchup on Sunday, Brodeur quipped "Score more goals than them."

"It's a big rivalry," he said. "It started in 1996 when they beat us in Canada at the World Cup. We played them in 2002 in the finals and we were able to win against them in their country ... It's building up. It's because of the people on each side -- We know each other. We're teammates (on NHL teams). It's definitely an interesting match-up."

I also had a chance to quiz Brodeur about the role of technology in hockey.

"Technology, it's everywhere and definitely hockey it's a big part of it," Brodeur said. "You see a lot more broken sticks than before. That's a technology that's probably good for shooters and tougher for durability and more expensive for parents and that's not a great combination but it makes for better hockey, I guess.

Ina Fried is a Senior Writer for CNET News. She will be in Vancouver covering various angles for both CBSSports.com and her CNET Blog " Beyond B1nary ". You can also follow her on twitter at: http://twitter.com/Inafried

Posted on: February 19, 2010 9:07 am

Behind Canada's "own the podium" program

By Ina Fried

Determined to make a better medal showing on its home soil, Canada has spent millions of dollars over the past several years in an effort to "own the podium."

And a big part of that effort has been a "top secret" program that aims to give the country's athletes better uniforms and better equipment, as well as access to technology that can help them improve their performance.

In the past five years, Canada has invested $8 million exploring anything that might give their athletes a boost, including better materials for uniforms, putting athletes through wind tunnels, and using motion-capture software to measure body position.

In all, 55 projects were selected involving 20 institutions and 150 researchers from the National Research Council, universities, and private companies.

"It's pretty exciting," said Todd Allinger, the Ph.D. in biomechanical engineering who manages the "top secret" program. "We know we've made a bunch of gains." 

Begun in 2004, the Own the Podium program set the lofty goal of leading the overall medal count, an ambitious goal, considering Canada failed to win a single gold medal at the two previous Olympics it hosted, the 1988 Calgary Winter Games and 1976 Montreal Summer Games. Although things improved in more recent games, even athletes in the 2002 and 2006 games said they were out-gunned from a technology perspective.

"Some of athletes were saying, 'we can't beat the Americans because they have better suits,' or 'we can't beat the Austrians because they have better skis,'" Allinger said.

He co-authored a report that stated that Canada could capture the top medal spot, but only if it made significant investments in training and technology. The country stepped up, pouring millions of dollars to fund research and training efforts across the country.

Among the projects are several conducted at nearby University of British Columbia. There, professor Savvas Hatzikiriakos has led a team looking into ways of reducing both ice and snow friction.

A new base for skis and snowboards that can reduce friction by 20 percent already appears to be showing results. Canada led the medal count at the world championships last year and has won several medals, including two golds in snowboarding, both by athletes using the new base.

One way you can tell a Canadian snowboard racer is just by looking at the underside of their board. While other countries ride boards proudly showing the company that made it, Canada's are plain black, showing that they are using the base that Hatzikiriakos helped develop.

Photo Gallery:
Technical effort to win gold

And while Hatzikiriakos worked in the lab, fellow UBC professor Sheldon Green took to the local slopes, studying which compounds performed best in which conditions.

"We ended up building a database consisting of a whole bunch of snow and weather variables that is used by ski technicians to give them some guidance," Green said. In the past, technicians have relied on trial and error and their own experience to choose the right ski waxes and grinds. While not downplaying the importance of experienced and knowledgeable technicians, Green said "instead of just memory that can be fallible, this gives people a scientific database."

Meanwhile, in another project, researchers used GPS to measure the effectiveness of different lines that skiers could take when tackling a particular slope.

"Sometimes the fastest way down hill might be a direct line, but there might be a faster speed that takes more distance," Allinger said.

Technology is obviously only one component, with the top athletes being the most important thing, followed by the right conditioning and training.

"We cannot bump someone from 20th place to the podium, but we can improve [them] a little bit," Hatzikiriakos said.

Allinger concurred but also noted that there is often a minuscule difference between medaling and missing the podium. For example, Allinger noted that Kelly Vanderbeek was fourth in the Super-G skiing event in Turin, Italy, finishing just three hundredths of a second away from the bronze. "We want to ensure that doesn't happen because of equipment or technology."

So how is it going? Well, Canada has already won three gold medals at the Vancouver Games, though it still trails overall medal leaders Germany and the United States by a significant margin.

However, the head of the Own the Podium program has urged people not to judge the program until the games are over, noting that some of Canada's strongest medal contenders compete toward the end of the games.

"Ostensibly, it may appear we are behind in the medal count, but in day by day analysis we have bested our performance in Turin," Own the Podium CEO Roger Jackson said in a statement to CNET. "Coming into these games, we knew we must be patient as our best chances for medals fall in the last four days of the competition. While we congratulate the other countries for their fantastic performances thus far, we remaining focused on our game plan."

While many of the "top secret" projects have proved fruitful, not all were ready for this year's games. Hatzikiriakos points to an effort to make a microscopic pattern on speed skates that mimics the water-repelling lotus leaf. The problem, he said, wasn't that it didn't reduce friction. It just worked a little too well, meaning skaters didn't have the control they needed in the turns. Hatzikiriakos' team did succeed in helping skaters choose better metals to use in their skates.

There has been some criticism that Canada has gone a bit over the top in its effort to win more gold, particularly in the way it has limited access of international athletes to venues like the Whistler Sliding Center where the luge, bobsled, and skeleton take place. Allinger rejected that idea.

"I know that the athletes have had more access to this track than any other Olympic track before the games," Allinger said.

Ina Fried is a Senior Writer for CNET News. She will be in Vancouver covering various angles for both CBSSports.com and her CNET Blog " Beyond B1nary ". You can also follow her on twitter at: http://twitter.com/Inafried

Posted on: February 18, 2010 9:19 pm
Edited on: February 18, 2010 9:23 pm

Notebook: Kid reporter enjoying Games

By Ina Fried

Working in the unofficial press center at Robson Square, Brennan LaBrie stands out a bit.

It's not just that he's blogging, doing podcasts, and posting to Twitter. It's that he's 10 years old. LaBrie was one of a dozen winners of a Time magazine "kid reporter" contest. But LaBrie was already an experienced reporter before landing the Time gig. He runs a handwritten neighborhood weekly that has roughly 250 subscribers paying 25 cents an issue.

Because his hometown, Port Townsend, Wash., is so close, the folks at Time suggested he come to the Games for a day.

That wasn't enough for LaBrie though, who said one day just wasn't sufficient to do the kind of reporting he wanted to do.

"I'm all about people," LaBrie told me. "I believe everyone has a great story."

So LaBrie sought additional funds from neighbors and family, raising more than $1,400 so he can spend a week covering the games.

Thus far, LaBrie hasn't made it inside to see any events firsthand, but that hasn't seemed to slow him down.

"We just go to the big screens and get real close," said Brennan's mom, Colleen LaBrie.

iPhone as reporting tool
Speaking of younger journalists, I've also been sharing the press room with a team of student journalists testing out a tool that turns the iPhone into a multimedia reporting machine.

VeriCorder, based in Kelowna, British Columbia, has a $5.99 iPhone app for audio recording, is just about ready with a $7.99 multimedia version (photos and sound), and hopes to have a video version ready in time for a broadcasting trade show in April.

To both test and promote the technology, Vericorder has brought in student journalists from the U.S. and Canada to cover the Olympics using the technology.

"We think they adopt technology a little more quickly," said Vericorder senior VP David Barkwell. "We thought it would be a tremendous experience for them. It was also a way for us to really put our technology to the test."

University of Missouri journalism professor Karen Mitchell said that using the iPhone has a side benefit for the younger reporters. Its wide-angle lens doesn't let them work from too far away from their subjects.

"It forces them to get close to people," Mitchell said. "Once they get close they find better stories. They get intimate. They ask different questions."

Mitchell, who has been editing the students' work, is an Olympics veteran, having previously covered the Atlanta and Sydney games as a photo editor for Gannett and the Associated Press.

Ina Fried is a Senior Writer for CNET News. She will be in Vancouver covering various angles for both CBSSports.com and her CNET Blog " Beyond B1nary ". You can also follow her on twitter at: http://twitter.com/Inafried

The views expressed in this blog are solely those of the author and do not reflect the views of CBS Sports or CBSSports.com