Friday Grab Bag: $1 Billion for perfect March Madness bracket?

Every year you hear, usually third hand, about somebody who correctly picked all of the winners in the NCAA’s March Madness basketball tournament. A side note is that they won an office pool with maybe a few hundred dollars in it.

Well Warren Buffett is changing the stakes to the game, along with Berkshire Hathaway and Quicken Loans. They are offering an award of $1 billion for the person that correctly selects all 63 winners. You can ask for that in either $25 million a year over 40 years or a lump sum of $500 million. Such tough choices.

More Thursday night games from NFL
Remember those games that the NFL said it was not going to be playing on Thursday nights. Well the networks have all started bidding on the rights to broadcast the games that will start this upcoming September and the deal is expected to be for one season.

In the mix are CBS, Fox and NBC and the rumored amount is in the $400 million and is expected to be for eight games. However it appears that the deals are not exclusive but rather the NFL will also broadcast the same games on its NFL Network.

More NASCAR changes coming
NASCAR does not seem to want to leave good enough alone and is once again altering the rules that establish who wins the championship each season. The sport has been tinkering off and on with changes since it established the Chase for the Sprint Cup.

More teams seem to be the answer, at least according to NASCAR, which is trying to recapture its former broadcasting ratings glory. SportsOnEarth does a very nice job tearing down the proposal and pointing out how the sports executives seem bent on destroying the unique nature of the sport.

MLB Advanced Media honcho looks into the future
MLBAM has gotten a lot of news so far in this young year, deals streaming the new WWE online channel and a relationship with Sony that will leverage the MLBAM’s technical know-how for its back end technology.

Now its CEO Bob Bowman is talking about where he sees streaming video going and what impact the recent high profile deals will have on MLBAM

X Games have started
The prelude to the Winter Olympics has begun with ESPN’s annual X Games, hosted in Aspen, Colo. Just prior to the start of the Winter Olympics. However it looks like a few big names will not be seen at the events.

One is 13-time gold medal winner Shaun White, who said that he needed the time to prepare for the Sochi Games. The other is Red Bull, one of the top sponsors for the event. Monster Energy has replaced it and Forbes speculates that this could be the start of Monster establishing itself as a rival to Red Bull in the sports action market.

Sharp goes big in tablet spaceIf the current generation of tablets, now edging out to 13-inches, is too small to meet your needs then you might want to take a gander at the latest from Sharp, the RW-16G1, that boasts a 15.6 inch display.

The tablet runs Windows 8.1 operating system and is seen as a tool for those looking for a powerful tablet to replace a desktop or laptop computer. Among its features are 128GB storage, 3200 x 800 screen resolution and is powered by an Intel Core i5 processor with 4GB RAM.

Red Bull Stratos Jump: Success! Recap and Photos

Felix Baumgartner gets set to leave the capsule for the Red Bull Stratos jump. Credit: Screen shot of Red Bull video footage

In case you weren’t one of the 7 million-plus live viewers on YouTube, or countless more watching on the Red Bull site, the Red Bull Stratos Jump went about as well as could be hoped for Sunday morning, with Felix Baumgartner free-falling for more than 4 minutes from more than 20 miles up before deploying a parachute and successfully and safely landing back on his feet in the New Mexico desert.

We’ve stitched together some screen shots we took of the live video coverage of the event, where we saw on YouTube a self-reported figure of almost 7.5 million people watching, which has to be an online live viewer record of some sort. YouTube’s blog says the final number is somewhere north of 8 million, which we and others are guessing was the most-viewed live Internet event ever.

Though the jump apparently didn’t set one of the records it set out for — the longest free fall ever, missing by about 20 seconds — that miss may have been a function of just how fast Baumgartner was going, somewhere north of 700 mph according to early figures.

Felix Baumgartner starts his descent.

If you watched, like we did, there were two distincly scary parts: Right before the leap, when Baumgartner sounded dazed and confused while getting ready to leave the capsule (flight command had to tell him twice to remove his air hoses) and during the leap, when even from far away it appeared he was going into a violent spin, one of the things they said pre-jump that could be fatal if uncorrected.

We’re not sure exactly how Baumgartner corrected his spin, but he did, and then floated down to the desert after deploying his chute. Though we had some pre-jump cynicism (it’s still hard for us to justify risking human life for something that is really just a stunt) after it was over I had a different feeling, one of joy for seeing a fellow human being test himself and the limits of our existence. Though the Red Bull folks will play up the event’s contributions to science and space travel, at the end it was just a supremely well done stunt with a happy ending. Nice recipe for marketing success, and we applaud it.

A shot of Baumgartner in free fall -- check out the speed

Chute deployed!

Heading for home

On the ground and happy to be there in one piece.

Looks like USA Today has a good recap. Here’s the full text of the first release from the Red Bull folks:

Red Bull Stratos: Mission Accomplished

Austria’s Felix Baumgartner earned his place in the history books on Sunday after overcoming concerns with the power for his visor heater that impaired his vision and nearly jeopardized the mission. Baumgartner reached an estimated speed of 1,342.8 km/h (Mach 1.24) jumping from the stratosphere, which when certified will make him the first man to break the speed of sound in freefall and set several other records* while delivering valuable data for future space exploration.

ROSWELL, New Mexico – After flying to an altitude of 39,045 meters (128,100 feet) in a helium-filled balloon, Felix Baumgartner completed Sunday morning a record breaking jump for the ages from the edge of space, exactly 65 years after Chuck Yeager first broke the sound barrier flying in an experimental rocket-powered airplane. The 43-year-old Austrian skydiving expert also broke two other world records (highest freefall, highest manned balloon flight), leaving the one for the longest freefall to project mentor Col. Joe Kittinger.

Baumgartner landed safely with his parachute in the desert of New Mexico after jumping out of his space capsule at 39,045 meters and plunging back towards earth, hitting a maximum of speed of 1,342.8 km/h through the near vacuum of the stratosphere before being slowed by the atmosphere later during his 4:20 minute long freefall. Countless millions of people around the world watched his ascent and jump live on television broadcasts and live stream on the Internet. At one point during his freefall Baumgartner appeared to spin rapidly, but he quickly re-gained control and moments later opened his parachute as members of the ground crew cheered and viewers around the world heaved a sigh of relief.

“It was an incredible up and down today, just like it’s been with the whole project,” a relieved Baumgartner said. “First we got off with a beautiful launch and then we had a bit of drama with a power supply issue to my visor. The exit was perfect but then I started spinning slowly. I thought I’d just spin a few times and that would be that, but then I started to speed up. It was really brutal at times. I thought for a few seconds that I’d lose consciousness. I didn’t feel a sonic boom because I was so busy just trying to stabilize myself. We’ll have to wait and see if we really broke the sound barrier. It was really a lot harder than I thought it was going to be.”

Baumgartner and his team spent five years training and preparing for the mission that is designed to improve our scientific understanding of how the body copes with the extreme conditions at the edge of space.

Baumgartner had endured several weather-related delays before finally lifting off under bright blue skies and calm winds on Sunday morning. The Red Bull Stratos crew watching from Mission Control broke out into spontaneous applause when the balloon lifted off.

* The data on the records set by the jump are preliminary pending confirmation from the authorized governing bodies.

Red Bull Stratos Jump: Second Time a Charm?

Here we go again. The folks behind the Red Bull Stratos Jump are saying they have a green light for a Sunday morning launch, so if all remains windless in New Mexico the world will get to watch live (on the Internet, at this location) to see if Felix Baumgartner can survive what might be the world’s highest free fall. If all goes well, the YouTube window above will start showing the jump attempt around 5 a.m. Sunday Pacific Time. If not, check the Red Bull site for the live link.

We say might because we are cynics and we know how these things could go; the guy could end up jumping from a lower height, say, and they might still proclaim everything a success. Who knew that the first attempt would be scrubbed because the balloon twisted? What will happen Sunday? Who knows. We will be glued to YouTube however, mostly because of the Internet-ness of the moment. For Felix I hope everything goes alright. In case you haven’t heard of this stunt before, here is what they are trying to do:

Baumgartner needs near wind-less conditions at ground level and clear skies to get his balloon inflated and then aloft. He will ride in a space capsule attached to a 850,000 cubic meter helium balloon to a record-breaking altitude of 36,576 meters (120,000 feet). There the 43-year-old adventurer will jump out into the lifeless stratosphere and attempt to break the sound barrier at speeds near 1,110 km/h during his plunge back to earth.

The World Wingsuit League Jumps into Action backed by Red Bull China

While the news of a new sports league often seems like old news being just an imitation of an existing sports league, the World Wingsuit League, that leaps into being tomorrow in China’s Zhangjiajie National Forest Park seems assured of not being another knock off pro league.

The league is kicking off with the Tianmen Mountain Grand Prix Wingsuit Race where contestants will start the race by jumping off a 900-foot cliff, which you have to say is very different than how most sporting events begin.

The event is brought to us, not surprisingly, by Red Bull China, and will feature 16 athletes dressed in wingsuit who will not just leap off of a cliff but then complete a three quarter mile long obstacle course while flying. While maybe not quite the Red Bull Stratos experiment this looks like a real thrilling and exciting event.

They will fly around a course marker platform on the ground below that is roughly the size of a tennis court seconds after jumping, then swoop down the mountain and under the tramway cable finish line before opening their parachutes and landing at the mountain’s foot.

Just doing the jump once seems like an award winning feat and that is really just the start. There will be two rounds of two runs each with the first being an elimination round with all 16 wingsuit pilots, then a finals round with the top eight. Gold, silver and bronze medals will be awarded to the top finishers. In addition, the Grand Prix champion will earn $20,000, 2nd place will win $10,000 and 3rd place will take home $5,000 while the fastest time gets a trophy.

From the images posted at its Facebook page it looks like in the practice runs the athletes are diving into a fog bank. I am pretty sure that there is no way you could get me to do that. So far the fastest round in the qualifying rounds was by James Boole and his time was 23.83 seconds

I think this looks like a great event and one that I would be very happy to watch but unfortunately it looks like it will only be broadcast live in China. The WWL said that it is working hard to get a live streaming video of the events that will take place on the 13-14 of this month, but so far no news. You can follow the league on its Facebook page. It also has a YouTube channel but it does not say if that will have live video.

Red Bull Stratos Jump: Will Conditions Ever Be Right?

If there ever was a deflating event it was Tuesday’s non-launch of the Red Bull Stratos experiment, which purports to use a big balloon to lift daredevil Felix Baumgartner some 20 miles into the sky, a height from which he will attempt the highest free fall ever.

But after being scrubbed Monday the Red Bull crew tried to get Baumgartner off the ground Tuesday — but after some limp inflating of the balloon high winds perked up and the whole thing was called off. Apparently the gusts also twisted the balloon enough to make it structurally unsure, as Red Bull said in a blog post:

As we inflated the balloon and got Felix into the capsule at about 11:42 we experienced gust of wind …that took us to above 22 knots at the peak of the balloon, that caused a spinnaker effect on the balloon billowing, which twists the balloon in the launch arm, the integrity of the balloon at that point is really unknown and unacceptable to use for manned flight because we were not sure what would happen as we launched.”

According to another blog post Wednesday there are some real complicated weather parameters that all need to fall into place for the launch to take place, leading us to wonder if this thing is ever going to happen — or if it ever really was in the first place. There’s a lot of interest in this stunt, as evidenced by the numbers of viewers on the live YouTube channel — which at one point hovered near the one million mark, which has got to be a YouTube record even though nothing was happening.

The non-cynic in us sees the immense amount of marketing money Red Bull has put into this effort and says, yeah, they really plan to do this. And apparently there is a second balloon at the ready, so another launch attempt is possible. But the jaded side of us says — you need to have perfectly still weather in the desert in the fall? Good luck with that. Stay tuned to the Red Bull Stratos page for more launch updates, the site says now that the launch is re-scheduled for 7 a.m. Mountain time this Sunday but this may be one of those things like the Maverick’s surf contest, where they wait for months for big waves that might not happen. We’ll keep watching, so stay tuned here at MSR for the latest when we see it on the Red Bull site.

Will You Watch the Red Bull Stratos Jump Live? Delayed Until Tuesday Next Week

UPDATE 3: Looks like we will have to wait until Sunday at the earliest:

Meteorologist Don Day confirmed a Thursday launch is not possible. The next weather window opens on Sunday October 14th.


Red Bull Stratos

UPDATE 2: Launch was canceled Tuesday due to strong winds. Try again tomorrow?

UPDATE: Follow the live feed on YouTube. As of 10:15 PT, the launch looks like a go, with Baumgartner getting into the capsule.

I’m still not sure if the upcoming Red Bull Stratos Jump is something really special, a complete PR stunt, a budding hoax, or at the very worst, the first live execution on the Internet. There is certainly no shortage of promotional prep work being done for the planned space jump by Felix Baumgartner, but the whole idea that the dude may have his eyeballs melt or something horrific like that makes the whole thing something I will probably skip when it happens live, now on Tuesday due to weather complications.

For a lot of details, Engadget has a great writeup here. Which spells out some of the risks, which include great harm that could come to Baumgartner’s body if bad things happen, like a suit tear, or an unstoppable spin.

Will you watch? Where do you come out on this stuff? I have been spending a lot of time lately being amazed at how Red Bull, the kind-of-weird energy drink, spends boatloads of cash to do things like sponsor far-out mountain bike escapades all in the name of YouTube bike porn. Good fun. But the space jump seems… a bit out there, in my opinion. As the blog post clip below notes, Felix will be wearing five high-def cameras so if anything goes wrong… the web will be the first to know.

Good luck Felix. I hope this is a thrill and not something bad.

Advanced high-definition cinematography cameras will beam real-time images of Felix Baumgartner’s every move in the Red Bull Stratos space capsule, providing interior and exterior points of view during the mission. And when Felix jumps, he’ll be wearing five high-definition cameras, giving you the feeling you’re right there with him in the descent.

In addition to documenting the record-breaking jump Felix’s experience will also be captured by powerful long-range and infrared cameras on the ground, as well as by a helicopter hovering near his flight path. The live stream of Felix’s jump will be available on, on partner sites and carried by more than 50 TV and Internet channels around the globe, in advance of a BBC documentary this fall.

Jay Nemeth (FlightLine Films), the mission’s director of high-altitude photography, and his team have been working to meet the challenges of the lethal stratosphere for the last five years. The Red Bull Stratos capsule and Baumgartner’s pressure suit have more HD cameras than most 45-foot TV production trucks. “We have basically created a flying video production studio,” Nemeth said.

Who ensures secure signals from the capsule back to earth? Riedel Communications, renowned for its advanced fiber, intercom and radio technology – provides the entire communications solution for the mission, integrating both wireless and wired digital intercom systems. Riedel furnishes the fiber-based video and signal distribution as well as the wireless video links to the capsule’s onboard cameras – enabling stunning pictures to be delivered from the Red Bull Stratos capsule to ground control.