From Dotcom Startups to Cloud Startups

It’s hard to find inspiration to write sometimes until you realize it is staring right at you. In my current life I work with startups, which is very interesting and exciting work. I was at Microsoft flying all over the United States during the Dotcom era, which was very exhilarating and probably provided me with some of the best experiences and adventures I ever had during my career at Microsoft. Moving to today’s era of startups, the startups I have spoken with over the past year are truly amazing and inspiring. The breadth of technologies and problems they are trying to solve can be overwhelming as we cross industries from healthcare, financial services, renewable energy, retail, manufacturing, human resources, resource management etc…The technologies are all over the map using AI, ML, Blockchain, Quantum, IoT, Analytics, Genomics Data, etc..Some of the solutions are nearer term using AI and others are much farther out, such as Quantum Computing.  Having been around for a while now it brings me back to my first go around with startups which was during the  dotcom era in the mid to late nineties, a different time with different issues and different opportunities.  

Innovation is a great thing as it fosters new opportunities and different ways of thinking about how society works and can be pushed forward.  How we approach those problems and the solution to those problems gets turned on it head.  We escape the mundane methods of what was to the kinetic energy of what will be.  When the internet came of age in the mid nineties it threw a lot of industries into disarray,   Though it was invented many years before (not by Al Gore) it quickly became part of the mainstream dialog during this time period.  As is usual with new technology it was over-hyped and oversold.  We were still early on and though the internet was not new, the infrastructure to support it needed to be built out.  The old tech adage of, “We overestimate what we can  do in 2 years and underestimate what we can do in ten years” was in full effect. During that time I met with a lot of startups and visited a lot of data centers, they were a startups showcase piece.  Companies had racks of pizza box servers, raised floors, fiber everywhere, cooling systems, backup generators, tight security policies etc… Every company I spoke with wanted a investment from Microsoft, as though we were no longer cool, we did have piles of cash and what startup  does not need cash?  The ideas were good the execution often was not so good.  Early on there were a lot of dial up ISP’s, every company wanting to be the next AOL.  AOL was far away the leader in accessing the internet in those days. It seemed in our local papers we received a lot of CD’s inviting us to join.  In hindsight rather ludicrous but made for a nice CD collection. Some companies focused on “crawling” the internet with search engines. Some were pretty good but what was the business model? One company figured it out and if you want to learn more I suggest you “google” it

Dotcom was party central, it seemed every time I went to an event, passes were handed out to some “private” event. You gave a bunch of young kids a bunch of money, what better way to recruit clients and investors then by hosting a large party. I do not believe a lot of business was done, but in hindsight we sure had fun. It all unraveled rather quickly as most startups were built on a deck of cards that quickly came back to earth.  I was in Silicon Valley at a bar with a startup that I had been working with.  The place was rather empty except for one table where a celebration was underway.  The person I was with said, “Those type of celebrations used to mean they just got funding, now it means it is their last day in business”.   The startup I was with was called Allexgrix and  they soon went out of business.  The individual is now a VP at Google.  He is doing fine. In hindsight all the startups left behind was a lot of really expensive furniture.  

There were a few winners.  Mark Cuban, now owner of the Dallas Mavericks had a company called Broadcast.com whose inspiration was that he wanted to be able to listen to Indiana Hoosier basketball game over the web.  It would grow to 330 employees and during the height of the dotcom boom was sold to Yahoo! for $5.7 billion.  Cuban is considered some type of tech genius, but in my opinion streaming radio broadcasts is not “genius”.  What was genious is perhaps one of the hardest things to do in technology – timing.  He sold when the hockey stick curve was going straight up and was not at the crest before it came straight down.  Later he would say Googles acquisition of YouTube would be a failure as they would spend years in litigation.  Back to earth, back to reality.  He was dead wrong.  Had Broadcast.com been visionary with audio streaming they could have been Netflix, but that comes back to timing and having a vision for the future. You cannot fault Mark Cuban, he is doing fine.

During the time from Dotcom to Cloud we saw business models mature and expand. Amazon was the first to realize that they could be much more than a eCommerce provider when Bezos announced their intention to sell their excess compute capacity. It seemed to take a while for the rest of the industry to realize what was happening with the creation of Amazon Web Services (AWS). Not sure we can call this the birth of the cloud, but it enable the industry to start thinking in a new direction. The first inkling of AWS was announced in 2002, Microsoft Azure would not be announced until 2008. There have been a slew of other vendors to announce their cloud dreams IBM, Google (GCP), AT&T, Rackspace, AT&T etc…Some more successful than others. At this point it is a 3 horse race – AWS, Azure and GCP. When we talk about new tech like AI/ML, Big Data and Analytics, IoT, etc..the foundation of these new services is Cloud Computing.

What we are seeing now with the cloud startups is a much stronger focus on solving problems. The infrastructure age is over and now we are tackling real-world problem. The technology at the forefront of many startups is AI. I find it amazing that artificial intelligence is now mainstream, it is being used to tackle specific problems, some as simple as scheduling a doctor’s appointment. Another area is the Internet of Things (IoT). This could be as simple as your thermostat, think Googles NeST. Any device can be turned into a IoT Device, HVAC’s, Drones, Cars, Household Appliances, etc..In addition we can capture data which leads to Big Data and Analytics, thanks to the internet we have moved beyond gigabytes and talk in terms of terabytes and exabytes. Companies now not only collecting data but do analytics to enable them to make decisions and act upon them. There are some far out ideas, like Quantum computing which will revolutionize a great many things but for all the hype we are still probably a decade away (this comes from Quantum PhD’s I have spoken with). It is fascinating in the Quantum realm that computing will not be based on binary but based on qubits. There are a number of new technologies I have not mentioned, but this gives us a start.

The field of Artificial Intelligence came into existence in 1956 at Dartmouth College, there were several researchers there, some from IBM but they came up with this groundbreaking statement  “every aspect of learning or any other feature of intelligence can be so precisely described that a machine can be made to simulate it”. This small conference is what started us on the path today. If you want a good overview of the history of AI I would watch this video with Google Chairman, Eric Schmidt. It is easy to get confused with the AI of film and the AI of reality. The AI in film is what is really know as Artificial General Intelligence. The freaky science of creating something much smarter than a human being (we may well get there but we still have a ways to go). The AI being created today focuses on specific problems. Could a law firm collect enough legal data and write an algorithm to provide an attorney with answers so a law firm no longer need to pay a paralegal? Could a shipping company (DHL?) get enough location data so an algorithm could provide a fleet of long haul trucks information to deliver their shipments in the most timely manor at the least cost? A modern fleet management system. Could they use prescription data to know in advance when my patients will need a refill or come in for a follow up appointment? These examples all require human intervention but what if I take that away? The three scenarios are all being tackled today by multiple startups and that is just a small sampling.

The problems that startups are tackling today and the problems they will bring, raise the same questions that have been raised every time we have a big global economic shift – Agrarian to Industrial to Information. Will workers be displaced? How do we protect them etc..In the past these shifts lead to new jobs and new opportunities. In all these shifts one thing that seems to always be ignored is time. We can transition quickly but those that are displaced cannot just go out and apply for a new job with a skill set they do not have. Many years ago as the information age dawned upon as and the spotted owl controversy raged in Washington state the thought was these loggers needed a new job opp…..data entry. Put the chain saw down and start typing on a keyboard. If human nature was so simple. Happiness is a part if life, change can excite us but it can also place us into despair.

When I look at our startup community today the incredible pace of change is truly amazing. Healthcare which has become an amazing tragedy in the United States could be changed though AI to serve all rather than the wealthy few. The IoT solutions can lead to more efficient machinery, whether it be an HVAC, Oil Drill, airplane, etc..the ability to capture, analyze and take action on data – reducing waste while improving results. The “renewable energy” sector is in force validating the job growth opportunities in this space. To reuse an overused term, digital transformation is sweeping across all sectors. Every industry will become a tech industry. Many of those changes being driven by a vibrant startup community. As is often the case, “big things start small”. The next decade will provide us with a whirlwind of change that will impact us for the remainder of the 21st century, for those who “time” it correctly they will retire very soon. Will it make life better? There will be those that succeed and prosper and there will be those that suffer. Mankind always strives for utopia and yet we always come up short. However it is that entrepreneurship of startups that will continue to drive towards that imagined future.

Good night and Good Luck!

Hans Henrik Hoffmann, November 3rd, 2020

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Why I oppose the Wall

There has been a lot of bluster of late on this topic and while I have been going through a bit of writers block I figured it may be helpful for me personally to at least try and articulate why I am opposed and possibly those that are for the wall can explain to me why I should not oppose.  At least if I put this down in writing I can be held accountable for my views. I can also clear my mind and block out all the rhetoric that goes on with this subject and maybe more importantly, the emotion.  As  I started this writing we are in a partial government shutdown all because of this one $5.7 billion subject.  We may enter a shutdown again shortly.

It is probably useful to give a back story of where I come from on this subject, part of it is simply growing up and being educated in America.  One of the things you learn is what is written on a plaque on the Statue of Liberty, “…Give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free”.  The quote is actually a little longer yet that one line is what we remember.  Probably because it speaks to the foundation of the American experience dating back to Plymouth Rock.  It has been lionized in literature and film, such as “The Godfather Part II”.  Immigration has always been part of our history as is the racism that accompanies it – Italians, Poles, and Irish were all stereotyped and ridiculed when they came to the country.  I had one line in my middle school play “Westside Story” and it was “Wop” a racist term used to describe Italians.  Since my parents had immigrated from Denmark I was part of the American experience and appreciated the opportunities it provided me and related directly to the history I had learned.

Yet today that view has changed.  We are in a period where we look inward and look to history to justify a false claim – so what changed?  Simply the word “illegal” is now placed in front of immigrants who migrate north to cross the Mexican border into America.  A whole economy has been created utilizing the labor provided by “illegal” immigrants.  Illegal immigration into the US ha been occurring for quite sometime, it did not start under Obama or Trump.  I can remember as far back as Reagan as this being a topic of discussion.  One thing I find missing in the current discussion is why they come.  The talk of a “caravan” I found reprehensible as it seemed to refer to a group of people as an angry mob with evil intent. even though most were women and children.  Many were coming from Nicaragua, El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala.  Fleeing poverty and violence.  Were there some criminals?  It would be naive to say there were not.   Was ISIS among them, not very likely.  The people come from Catholic countries with little or no exposure to Islam.  Most American understand this but I worry and am shocked that many still do not.  If however it supports a particular political narrative, the things people are willing to believe to support there cause seems endless.

Will they take jobs?  Yes they will.  Jobs no one wants to do like picking fruit and vegetables.  They can also be found at a Home Depot willing to do about any work you want around the house or garden.  When we talk jobs to be clear they will not be computer programmers they will be doing blue collar type work, likely under the table as they have no green card.  There must be demand for these services because there always seems to be people willing to pay for the work.  If you have had landscaping work done, the workers were not white and middle class.  In many, if not most, cases they did not speak English.  They were, however, willing to work.  Some live in low income housing, but given where they come from they have a higher view of those accommodations than the average American does.  Never underestimate or under appreciate the importance of having a roof over your head.

Will a wall protect us?  To me it is kind of a medieval solution to a modern day problem.  Wheel vs wall analogies aside, it will not reduce crime.  It will not reduce the flow of narcotics into the United States. Technology will play a key role in rooting out tunnels. Monitoring the skies.   Tracking boarder vulnerabilities.  Technology is not limited to the good guys.  It will play a key role in seeding new violence in the modern world.  The ability to use drones to move narcotics has been tried, though most narcotics come through legal points of entry.  If a wall is built the process of getting around a wall will swing into full motion and the tide of immigration will continue, it will just choose a new path.  When you are desperate and have no options, a wall will be a trivial obstacle.  It will be more symbolic than effective.

Why do “illegal” immigrants take the risk?  Where you have poverty you have a cry for opportunity.  The drug cartels are only too happy to oblige.  I am  hopefully not naive,  We see drugs in our country and we know to well where most of thee drugs come from.  We know the names of Pablo Escobar and El Chapo.  We have seen it glorified in film such as “Scarface” and treated a little more honesty in films like “Sicario”.  There are cities in Mexico right over the Rio Grande where death by violence is a daily occurrence.  If we go into Central America the story is not much different.  What do desperate mothers do? They flee.  They want to provide their children with an education and opportunity.  To provide their children their love in a safe environment. In the America’s there is only one game in town to provide that sense of opportunity, that sense of safety.

The United States has always been a caring country when given the chance.  We honestly believe we are the best.  That is an arrogant statement, but it is also a big reason why we have succeeded on the global stage.  Why despite what we see in media we are still admired by many as the place I want to go seek my future.  We were the nation that welcomed immigrants into our boarders and many of those immigrants went on to do great things.  Now we are in a time where we look to deny immigrants entry and hide behind a wall.  We espouse the rule of law in our defense of a wall, which is a pillar of a stable democracy.  However if we begin segregating who is entitled to that opportunity, we turn on our back on our history, on our destiny.

Good Night and Good Luck

Hans Henrik Hoffmann

February 2, 2019

 

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The AI Platform – will it be the last?

I have been in the tech industry for over 25 years and have witnessed a lot of change in that time. I was early on as the PC era took off. Was on a plane and travelling across the US as the internet era began. Saw mobility revolutionize the way we interact with technology. Social Media become an outlet for finding friends and releasing political angst. Watched everything go digital. Seen the Cloud computing era begin.  All these changes that have transformed society and changed lives and livelihoods.  Changes that have created new market opportunities while generating enormous wealth.  During all this change one thing has been consistent.  We need a platform and we need developers to write applications for the platform.  No developer excitement, no platform excitement equals death.  It has been a constant throughout my journey.

Platforms may best be exemplified by Microsoft Windows.  During the PC era it was Bill Gates who identified the problem and said developers need a common platform to write to.   Prior to Windows we had something developers hate…fragmentation. We had Commodore 64, Tandy, Atari..each with it sown development platform, its own development tool kits, each with fragmented market share. Microsoft bought a simple OS for $50k, called DOS, and the rest history.  Things would change again when we witnessed the birth of the internet and suddenly everything needed to be web enabled.  If it was not enough, Steve Jobs had his grand moment when the iPhone launched and then riding his coattails Google launched Android.  Within a period of a few years every developer was targeting one of two mobile platforms: iOS and Android.  Since that summer of 2007 we have witnessed the birth of Social Networks, like Facebook and Twitter.  The rise of the Cloud has created enormous new opportunities as Amazon, Microsoft, and Google battle it out for dominance.  However the journey maybe coming to is final resolution, to a place that used to be fantasy now approaching reality. As we have built and grown and created enormous amounts of data the Artificial Intelligence platform has emerged as the next great opportunity, the holy grail.

The concept of AI is not new, it was first created at a conference at Dartmouth College in 1956, though we should give a nod to Alan Turing, perhaps the real father of AI.  the sixties and seventies there was a lot of great work done on AI, but something was missing: data.  Sure we had data at the time but not in the terms of gigabytes, terabytes. petabytes, or exabytes.  That would take time and technology.  In today’s world data is no longer an issue, we have lots of data,  The amount of IP traffic per month on the internet is measured in zettabytes (spell check does not even recognize this word).  After the AI winter of the early eighties AI has come back and no longer in fantasy, but in reality.  At some levels it is hard to grasp, after a childhood where AI was limited to science fiction novels and film and never depicted kindly.  I think of films like “2001: A Space Odyssey” or “Blade Runner”.  Of a supreme artificial being deciding the fate of mankind.  That dream or nightmare is coming ever closer to reality

Today all the major tech players are investing and investing heavily in AI.  Google CEO Sundar Pichai stated at Google I/O that “we are a AI first company”.  We have Amazon Echo, Google Home and the soon to be released Apple HomePod offering devices that will answer our questions, make musical suggestions.  How long before we start talking of these devices as if they were friends?  The autonomous vehicle is moving along faster than anticipated.  Local municipalities are starting to think of what changes they will need as our roads become transformed into advanced digital networks, taking driving decisions out of our human hands.  When we go online and go to web sites with support questions we will likely begin our journey with a bot,  We have robotic devices getting better each day in cleaning our homes as they gather information about every nook and cranny in a room.  AI is not a trend, but a technology here to stay.

In addition all the big tech players now provide a AI platform that developers will be able to write to and extend.  As the developer community grows the innovations will follow.  What makes AI incredible is it is built on data so as an example you could have a AI device collect information about a specific task and then feed that data back into a larger database, where an algorithm is running and thus improve the performance and results of the initial device.  In a very simple way it has become self learning.  Developer will create new scenarios to address and solve new problems.  We can see this in the Legal field with eDiscovery.  In Product Support services we have seen chat bots become the first line of support.  Though still a bit clunky and frustrating, overtime they will continue to improve and handle deeper and more complicated support issues

There will be other breakthroughs that will speed up the development of a “universal” AI platform.  My big bet will be on Quantum computing.  I will not get into a physics discussion, as I am the last person you want to do this, but the promise of quantum computing will be the death of the traditional silicon-based chip design, while exponentially improving on computational capabilities.  The best example is Shor’s algorithm.  On existing computes would take decades, but if the dream of Quantum Computing is realized could take minutes.  This will create risks as solving Shor’s would result in the breaking of RSA encryption, thus creating a whole new and potentially more lethal form of security risks.

The fear, and there always is a fear with technology disruption, is will we see the death of labor?  As AI improves the field of robotics will I need a maid service?  No more cab drivers.  No long haul truckers to move goods.  The question will become what will humans do?  Time will be freed up in a way it never has been before.  We are on the verge of experiencing a change in human capital that has never occurred before.  You may think than is not happening now but as things move changes will begin to happen much quicker than before.  We will move from years to months to weeks to days and quicker as time never stands still.  It will raise the question can the general population keep up? Could we have a situation like HAL in “2001: A Space Odyssey”, most say it is unlikely but the fact that it is a possibility makes it a bit unnerving.

All along these breakthroughs in AI will continue to improve the platform..on its own. At some point needing no human intervention.  No coders.  No Architects.  No Project or Product Managers.  It is self learning, self-correcting.  With each passing second it improves and becomes more efficient, more stable.  It will need no assistance.  It will move towards perfection in a way humans could never attempt.  There will be no more upgrades let alone someone trying to come up with a new OS.  When quantum computing emerges this self learning will accelerate even faster. In the future will AI need a corporate sponsor like Amazon, Google, or Microsoft or will it move beyond traditional financial structures and corporate domain to be its own entity?  At that moment there will be no AI 2.0 or 3.0.  It will be its own self-fulfilling cycle of improvement serving all or maybe just one: itself.

Good Night and Good Luck

Hans  Henrik Hoffmann July 5, 2017

 

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A Dying Free Media is a Death of an Ideal

I am a product of history, as my father was born in 1917 and served in the Danish resistance during World War II.  My mother was from Aalborg in the north of Denmark and lived her formative childhood years during the war.  I grew up listening to tales of the second world war and where Hitler went wrong. Of what life was like in an occupied country.  You made your own soap from lard.  School was 3-4 days a week.  There were always German soldiers on the streets.  It was in hindsight an interesting upbringing as I grew up in  an era where the backdrop was Vietnam and the human toll that the controversial war took on young lives. The role the media played in changing public opinion. You look back on these years from WW I to today and one thing is common is the role of media and how it shapes and influences war.  What perhaps is most frightening is how some groups utilize new media to influence and corrupt civilians in search of a false glory built on a misguided view of the future and how it is there to serve but a few, not the masses.

We often ask in WW II how did it happen that a country was seduced by Adolf Hitler, which led to more loss of lives ever in history?  It is a common question and one of the most researched and discussed topics in human history.  There were many reasons, many stemming from the Treaty of Versailles, following WW I.  However one of the driving factors in creating this mythical status of the Third Reich was a relatively new form of media: film. It would be easy to say film had been around for some time, but the pace of innovation was much slower in the early 20th century.  The Nazi’s early on used film to meet their purpose: propaganda. They had a well-educated man led the efforts, Joseph Goebbels (there was a sickness in his mind but that is another story).  Starting in the twenties and through their rise in the thirties the Nazi’s used film to frame their arguments of the German race as the superior race.  It would portray Jews as the scourge of German society and responsible for many of the economic issues of the day.  It culminated in 1935 with Leni Riefenstahl’s classic “Triumph of Wills” filmed in Nuremberg in 1934 during a Nazi Party Congress attended by 700,000 supporters.It is a classic not for its cinematic beauty or content, but how it was used to glorify the Nazi regime for an evil end purpose.  It was very effective.  It is often cited as one of the greatest propaganda films ever made.  It is hard to argue.

What followed is a cornerstone of the global history in the 20th century.  The loss of lives too many, atrocities like the Holocaust and Nanjing footnotes in history that still impact us to this day.  But it was that ability of the Nazi propaganda machine to spread fear to its own civilians that played a major role in setting the table.  It was still relatively new to a generation of people and not fully understood so it was accepted as truth.  Information traveled much slower in that era and in hindsight was more easily controlled. People were eager to consume and the Nazi’s were there to oblige, to fill a vacuum.  It seemed as if a whole country went temporarily insane, but it was all very carefully messaged and staged.

But this could never happen again?  I mean what possible form of media could be used in this fashion to seduce and manipulate?  Enter the social media revolution and evolution. Not a day goes by on Facebook or Twitter where I am left dumbfounded by the hatred in print I have to read and wonder who is telling the truth, where do these attitudes come from.  Whose source are goo?.  Who is politicizing social media for their own gains?  To beat their chest and say, “My views are holy, while your’s are a sin”.  Many do so in hiding. Choosing anonymous names, which is to say they are not accountable for what they say. That is the beauty of the internet.  I can say what I feel and not be accountable if it is right or wrong.

We now talk of fake news.  The idea of making up a news story to create an emotional response.  Our President calls it fake news when he does not agree with what is being said. How is this any different from what the Nazi’s did?  It is similar but it is very different.  In Nazi Germany information could be readily and easily centralized.  Joseph Goebbels was the end point who made the decisions.  Social Media acts in much the opposite way.  It is not a centralized systems but instead has thousands of end points.  Social Media enables these myriad of voices.  It creates a lot of noise.  It creates so much readily available information that it is not humanly possible to consume it.  At times it seems overwhelming and are heads are about to burst, sometimes with joy but often with anger. What does one do?  People gravitate towards sites they agree with and disdain those that they do not.  Fake news than enables some to increase the volume on whatever and whomever they want.  If you do not agree with someone you are an ignorant fool who is not well read on the subject.  You are belittled and your anger becomes toxic.

Our political system in the US has devolved into this system.  Every day I hear about the liberal media (usually on Fox News which I find ironic) or racist web sites like Breitbart harking back to a bygone era but appealing to many white males. Two extremes straddling the divide.  Everyone claiming they are the truth.  Asking us to follow them, how blind we have become.  We crave honesty, it’s a human desire but we are taught by mainstream and social media not to believe anyone.  Unfortunately in today’s society we all seem to suffer from some form of Attention Deficit Disorder. We are bombarded with media and really have little time to read much more than a headline. Thus the beauty of a 140 character Tweet.  At 140 characters it is not really constructive though but emotional outbursts, designed to create a response at a louder volume.

Part of America is going though an economic boom, my hometown of Seattle may be at the top of that boom.  With companies like Amazon, Microsoft, Expedia, Starbucks etc..Other major players like Google, Apple and Facebook expanding their presence in Seattle.  A robust startup economy.  I a city that seems to have it all and yet you do not have to go far to see the other America.  Go out to the coast and visit Aberdeen (birth place of Kurt Cobain) a former logging town and corridor to a strong fishing industry in the seventies, starting with the eighties it has witnessed a slow spiral down.  A dive into despair.  It is like many towns across the country who have experienced a slow death.  They are willing recipients of great change and do not need the media to tell them of their problems, they just want a solution.  Often that solution looks to the past of a strong manufacturing base.  A fondness of glorified memories.  It is dangerous to look to the past for the glory of the future.  It is a view that is mired in futility and will ultimately lead to defeat.

The latest revolt is a fake revolt, intentionally called fake news.  Used to seduce a public into believing only a few, only those that are approved.  Those that align with a certain moral compass.  Designed to make us distrust the mainstream media and turn us on each other.  To slander history and rape us of its learning.  To give into the worst of our emotions that then cause us to blindly lash out in an uncontrolled fury.  Part of this is the result of the “politically correct”, which caused us to repress some of the cancerous problems that still exist in America. Of economic inequality, an underlying racist view, anti-Semitism ironically married with a strong anti-muslim view, homophobic leanings and other views that all result from a lack of understanding, of caring.

Am I cynical about the present and the future?  I am probably a bit.  We stand at the cusp of radical social change, which will lead to a prosperous future for some. Technology is about to make leaps forward on multiple fronts from AI to Robotics to Quantum computing.  We will cure cancer and 3D print human tissues from your own DNA thus simplifying and improving a liver, heart or kidney transplant. However our self inflicted anger may delay and condemn our success.  As those tied to the future have made fortunes we have left the backbone of our nation behind,  small town America has been destroyed. There is no sense of community.  No white picket fences.  We have become a divided nation.  Separated by the success of the coasts and the desperation and desolation of the interior between Interstate 95 and Interstate 5.  We are angry, which historically leads to the warmth of dictatorships.  Having a strong media to provide an alternative voice is a strength of our republic.  It is important for our past and for our future. Ronald Reagan referred to as “a shining beacon of light on a hill, that will carry us through these dark times.  A light for the freedom of all and not just the few”.  He had immense respect for our institutions, are branches of government, of our free media.  If we fail now how will history remember us?

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Good Night and Good Luck

Hans Henrik Hoffmann February 26, 2017

 

 

 

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“The New Tsar: The Rise and Reign of Vladimir Putin” – by Steven Lee Myers

It has been a while since I have reviewed a book on my blog but I felt the timing was good and the book was worth it.  It seems Russia has come back in our media and politics. Resurrected from its cold war hangover and reborn by one man, Vladimir Putin.  The book is well written and researched by Mr. Myers taking us from Putin’s childhood in St Petersburg, through his time as a KGB agent to his eventual rise to power..

What we learn about his early years is this was a young man who did not stand out.  He was not an academic genius.  He was a typical kid who showed no great ambitions.  Like many it was film that inspired him and the Soviet spy thrillers that influenced him to want to be a KGB foreign spy.  He would never get the job in the west having to settle for a posting in Dresden, East Germany, where the KGB kept check on the Stasi.  He would be there until the collapse of East Germany.

Following the collapse of the Soviet Union,like many at the time he was a drift. A life that seemed so structured was no longer.  That lack of structure was a very difficult issue for Putin. He would work for people in St Petersburg,  on local campaigns  and what you learn about Putin is he was loyal to whomever he worked for and he worked hard for those people he reported to.  Loyalty and structure would drive him moving forward and define his personality.

He eventually found himself in Moscow working in the Boris Yeltsin apparatus  Again he worked very hard until he started to get noticed by Yeltsin.  After many Prime Ministers came and went under Yeltsin, Putin was eventually offered the role. He was picked by Yeltsin to become President once Yeltsin stepped away, primarily for health reasons.  It is really amazing this unexpected rise, but all of a sudden a former KGB man is leader of Russia.

The biggest influence in Putin’s first term were two-fold: terrorism and Chechnya.  They went hand in hand and Putin did as he was trained he came down on those who threatened Russia with force.  During this early time as the crisis unfolded he also took steps to reign in the media and put them under state control.  The oligarchs who had made billions were also brought in line.  Those who did not fall in line were brought to trial and sent to Siberia (Yukos Oil).  The people who really made out during Putin’s first eight years were old fiends from Petersburg, KGB etc..Corruption was contained but it was also alive and well in Putin’s Russia

The biggest event that lead to Putin’s break with the west was the Orange Revolution in Ukraine in 2004.  After this point Vladimir Putin changed.  He became the man to resurrect Russia as a major player on the global stage.  The book covers his time where he stepped back for 4 years as Prime Minister, while Medvedev was his appointed President. During this time primarily managing the corrupt Sochi Olympics and being a power broker behind the scenes.

There is a lot covered in this book by Mr.Myers and I just touched on some, but why you would admire Vladimir Putin is a mystery to this reader and I think to Mr. Myers as well. As Angela Merkl told President Obama, “Putin is in his  own world”  The Russia Putin believes in is based on history, history of a great past that is pre-Soviet.  It is a fascinating account of what makes up a man who has created a cult of personality.  He will be a major player for some time, through the 2018 elections (there is no competition in Russian elections…as we learn they are not Democratic).  Read the book. It is a great read and will make you feel uneasy about the future.

Good Night and Good Luck

Hans Henrik Hoffmann December 28, 2016