Waiting for the American Soccer Mesiah

I was first introduced to the game in 1974 by my father. Seattle had introduced a new sports franchise that year in what was a relatively new sport to the United States, soccer. The team was the Seattle Sounders and that year in particular started a city-wide love affair that endures to this day.  During that time the sport has evolved both at the youth level and the professional level.  It has spawned the term, “Soccer Mom”.  Created for many parents an endless summer of driving and flying to local, national and international soccer tournaments.  The MLS is growing and being followed by a new generation of sports fans, do I dare say it is being successful.    The World Cup is more popular than ever.  Every Saturday and Sunday morning I wake to the EPL and SPL games.  I see the best teams in the world: Chelsea, Manchester United, Real Madrid, Barcelona etc..  I see the best players in the world:  Christiano Ronaldo, Lionel Messi, Edin Hazzard, Neymar, etc..  However one thing is missing from all these great events, games and players, there are no great American players.  We have come a long way but we still don’t have a great messiah of the world’s game and consequently don’t have the world’s respect.

When I first started watching and following soccer back in the seventies there were very few American professional players.  The NASL had a rule – you had to have two Americans on the field, later changed to three.  Trouble was finding 2-3 American  players who were any good.  When you did find one, well thanks to American marketing know how, you made him a star.  Our first start was a Texan named Kyle Rote jr.  I am not sure he was great but he did in his first few seasons score goals, which was something new to American players.  He played for the Dallas Tornados and the crowds in those days were small, usually under ten thousand.  But for those of us who followed soccer he was the best we had.  He can say he played against greats such as Pele, Franz Beckenbauer, George Best, Johan Cruyff, but all these legends were past their prime.  Kyle Rote Jr. would disappear from the sport and is now a businessman in Memphis.

Things would not change much in US Soccer until Paul Caliguiri would score his epic goal against Trinidad & Tobago to send the US to the 1990 World Cup in Italy.  People would call it the shot heard around the world.  I think they had their planets mixed up.  It was a big moment in US Soccer history, for sure, but how many noticed I suspect is few.  The US was going to the biggest stage on earth.  There were no real star on the team, the oldest player was 27, most played their full-time soccer on teams that would qualify them as semi-professional.  A few of the players would have fairly successful careers, players like John  Harkes, Tab Ramos, Eric Wynalda, and Kasey Kellar.  However on the international stage none would be considered great.  In fact you would have to be a USA soccer follower to know who they were.  The good news was the 1990 World Cup was the stat of what s now seven consecutive World Cup appearances.

The next big soccer moment was the 2002 World Cup jointly hosted by South Korea and Japan.  The US had improved.  We had our own professional soccer league, the MLS.  We had some exciting young players in Landon Donovan, Clint Mathis and Demarcus Beasley.  We had players who had played professionally in leagues outside the US.  We started with a major upset defeating Portugal 3-2.  A goal from John O’Brien was key and he would be an example of what could have been.  He was on par with america’s other starlet Landon Donovan.  He had grown through the famed Ajax youth system in the Amsterdam.  Unfortunately the Portugal game was the last we would see of him as injuries derailed his career.  The US would defeat  our arch-rival Mexico 2-1 in the round of 16 and make into the quarterfinals.  A tough 1-0 loss to eventual finalist Germany wold end up being the best the United States has ever done at the World Cup.  However we had something new in US Soccer, hope.

Landon Donovan would emerge from the World Cup as the new star of US Soccer and maybe for the first time the US finally had a recognizable star, that even non-Soccer people would know.  Landon would endure great success in the ever improving MLS.  Winning titles in San Jose and LA.  But he is almost as well know for his failures in Europe.  In a lot of ways Landon was an enigma, who seemed the consummate brooding star.  When he was not happy, it seemed to show it self as a sulking child on the field.  When happy he would light up the soccer field with his speed and quickness, at times playing at a different level than the rest of the players on the field.  His moodiness would hurt him when leading up to the World Cup he decided he needed a sabbatical from soccer.  It ended for him when he was dropped from the World Cup roster in 2014 in Brazil.

The other star to emerge was Clint Dempsey.  Who may be even more recognized than Landon Donovan due to his success in the English Premier league.    Dempsey was maybe the classic inspiration growing up in a trailer park in Texas and working his way up the youth and professional soccer system.  He would spend six years in England playing predominately for Fulham and ending with Tottenham.  In his time we would score 57 goals, some of them world class like the one he scored against Italian power Juventus in the Europa Cup.  A good career. He has also scored 40 goals for the US and is the only player to have scored in 3 successive World Cups.  His career falls short of being a messiah because he  played in tier 2 clubs in the EPL.  However he did reach levels no other US field player has reached in world soccer

What will it take for an American player to be the great soccer messiah?  The game in the United States has improved greatly over the last 40 years. The level of training and commitment at the youth level is far more than I ever could have dreamed of when I was a kid.  When I look at what my three sons have accomplished they have had far better access to training and games than I ever did.  However we still lack representation at the top-level.  The big clubs as mentioned earlier.  The Manchester United’s, Barcelona’s, Real Madrid’s, etc..We do not even have good representation in the top leagues,  There are no US players playing in the Spanish Premier League.  Despite the great strides made by the MLS, it is still a long way from being a top-tier league.  Right now our domestic league is still a vacation destination for older players like Steven Gerrard, Frank Lampard and Kaka, to name but a few.  Some in better shape than others.  We have had hype, who can forget Freddy Adu, the child prodigy.  Where is he now? In Finland, a league beneath Sweden, Norway and Denmark

I do believe in the next 10 -15 yrs we will have that great player, as we do have Americans playing in great soccer academies across Europe.  We do have great soccer coaches, programs and professional academies in the United States.  Maybe more importantly the american soccer fan is hungry for greatness.  We have been creating a soccer culture in the United States. Every year there are more and more American players coming through the ranks and making an immediate impact at their respective clubs.  The game is growing. I have been waiting for over forty years for a player from Seattle, Springfield or wherever in the USA, to light up the world stage,  I can wait a few more.

Good Night and Good Luck

Hans Henrik Hoffmann May 22, 2015

Windows 10…looking forward

I have been around Windows launches since 1991 and the launch of Windows 3.1. I have seen Windows upgrades succeed and I have seen them fail. I have seen Windows reach the pinnacle of the industry and I have seen it try to stay relevant. It has driven an empire and it has driven an industry. More than anything Bill Gates created Windows and Windows created Bill Gates. Bill Gates created Windows developer momentum and then watched developers flee as Steve Ballmer begged them to stay. Now we are on the verge of the launch of Windows 10 and Microsoft is once again trying to build momentum to prepare the world for the next great release of the flagship Windows Operating System.  As I listen to the Microsoft BUILD conference I cannot help but feel a bit tired from it all, is it really any different?  What is there to get excited about (there actually are a few things)?  What would I like to see a OS become?   There were some exciting discussions and announcements that were cutting edge.  Maybe Windows 10 is helping Microsoft stage a comeback.

The Microsoft BUILD conference is really about one thing: Developers.  The one thing consistent throughout its history is Windows is only as good as the applications that are developed for the platform.  Without developer support the influence of Windows begins to decrease.  Currently the biggest challenge Windows faces is the web.  If I am going to start a business I don’t start with a Windows App, I start with a website.  If I am going to sell something I will need e-commerce as part of my website.   The only thing I need Windows for is to launch my browser.  That is a big challenge for Microsoft.  There is the idea of the offline experience.  I will need something to cling to when the network is down and will need offline versions of Office to survive, but that in my view is short-sighted.  With each year connectivity improves in terms of reliability and in speed.  Eventually this will hit the Lanline phone experience of five nine’s.

The Microsoft Holo-Lens has generated some buzz in the industry.  I find that exciting as I remember in my last job at Microsoft one of our metrics, if you can call it that, was to generate industry “buzz” .   I took a beehive and threw it into a room of developers, it worked fairly well (the author is making a false claim).  I cannot say I am a huge Tom Cruise fan, but his film, “Minority Report” touched a lot of technologist fantasies and remains a significant influence and benchmark for many in the industry.  Especially the ability to manipulate holographic screens via touch.  What we saw at BUILD does not quite get us there, but it does give us a glimpse of the future and where we are headed.  If Microsoft is able to capitalize and grow this as a development platform, they will have made a significant contribution to the technology industry and alter how we interact with one another as a species.

An operating system in reality is pretty simplistic in what it is supposed to do and its function in the computing world. The primary responsibility for a OS is to take the end users commands and display them on a monitor. Essentially bring the PC/Tablet/Smartphone to life.  As Bill Gates loves to say, “Software is where the magic happens”.  That traditional experience is being challenged by newer technologies like the Smartphone OS and the emergence of browser-based devices, such as Google’s Chromebooks.  The idea of the Windows OS as the center of the software development universe has long since passed  and some question do I need be concerned about Windows at all?  Windows still has a place just by the fact that to this day they remain 90% of the desktop/laptop computing space.  However the market has expanded well beyond into the mobile space where Apple iOS and Google’s Android are the dominant players

The only thing for certain in the future is change will happen.  The industry will continue to evolve with new form factors and as the holo-lens leads us to, it may not be a handheld device.  The computing experience in the next ten years will transform again and become more transparent.  As the Internet of Things, Big Data, Cloud mature they will take us into new areas where direct interaction between human and device may not be as evident as it currently exists.  It will likely engage other human senses beyond touch and look to voice (sounds), human emotions, sight, and taste.  It will touch all man-made objects and living organism’s.  I think we will see the computing experience leave the device.  No longer tied to a monitor and a keyboard.  We have watched an industry go from mainframe to smartphone.  In the next decade we will start to leave that all behind.  Reality will look much different.

Will this be a big launch?  Will Windows 10 be on a billion devices by 2010?  Is this the last big Windows release?  I think the realization is setting in at Microsoft, and has for some time, that there will not be another Windows 95 launch.  Despite all the enthusiastic talk, the audience has grown weary and are looking for new emerging fields of technology.  This is probably why the Holo-lens has been greeted with enthusiasm as it demonstrates possibilities for a yet to be realized future.. This is probably the key point, that the technology industry is built around Windows of the future, not reflecting on Windows of the past  Even Satya Nadella said in his opening memo to Microsoft employees “Our industry does not respect tradition, it only respects innovation”.  This is a critical time for Microsoft. Am I excited about a new OS? No I cannot say I am.  Am I excited about a new future?  Without question I am.

Good Night and Good Luck,

Hans Henrik Hoffmann May 15, 2015




The Internet of Things

As is typical in the tech industry, much is built around hype and blowing up things very big before they are ready or even real.  My experience during the dotcom boom and bust was very much around this reality.  We had the creation of Application Service Providers, who provided applications that resided in a data center and not on premise.  It was an early version of what we today call the cloud. It was early and there were a lot of things not ready for prime time. What the dotcom boom did do was lay the infrastructure for today’s world-wide web experiences.  We were laying down fiber all over the planet and coming up with new ways of accessing content on the web via technologies like DSL and the cable modem.  Prior to that we were all dialing in via a modem and waiting for content as it slowly made its way to our PC or laptop.  As Tom Friedman stated in “The World is Flat” we created an infrastructure where everyone could ride for free.  We did have mobile phones that could access the web, but these experience via a Windows Phone or RIM Blackberry would be best stated as painful in a comical sort of way.  However do to the “pain” we suffered we laid the foundation for today’s mobile society and providing our services in the cloud .

The tech industry is an industry that never sleeps, it always moves forward rarely reflective of its past.  Now we are hearing a new buzzword called, “the internet of things”. Companies are lining up and starting to talk about this new movement in the economy.  Noted author and futurist, Jeremy Rifkin,  discusses it prominently  in his recent book, “The Zero Margin Cost Society”.  The concept of IoT ties nicely into another current trend, Big Data.  So what is it?  For a long time now our computing experience has been tied to our devices, the PC, Laptop, Tablet and the Smartphone.  What we are discussing now is all the other devices on the planet that we can build and deploy software on so they can communicate and provide us data.  It can and will be everything from your household appliances and furniture.  If it is man-made it can be tied into the Internet. the most important thing being is we have the ability to connect everything.  And for everything we connect we have but one simple question, “what is it doing”.

If you think about this for a moment you can quickly surmise that every man-made and living thing is a container of information.  The walls of your house have frames built with wood or metal.  They have measurements.   Some use screws some use nails.  What type of nails? What type of screws?  They may have plumbing or electrical wiring.  Are you running a network through the wall? Phone lines? Cable?  If a rat chews through your cable how will you know? Through the magic of software that will all be known.  Through Big Data it will be analyzed.  What is analyzed can be acted upon.  It is pretty powerful stuff. The internet just passed a yottabyte of data, but when you think of the billions of devices the amount of data will grow 2 fold? 10 fold?  We will be know so many things about everything around us in ways we have never known as possible before.  We may even answer the age-old question,”if a tree falls in a forest and no one is around does it make a sound?”

A good example of IoT will be the advent of driver-less cars.  This has been changing for a long time now as the car moves from being a vehicle to a digital platform.  However it is becoming clear that the network will move from fiber to pavement.  Our roads will be a giant network topology, capturing data from everyone and everything that decided to move across the paved network.  If you think about maps in general they are simply network diagrams, you just have to rethink what you know as physical and start thinking of it as digital.  The network will monitor car speeds and keep speeds within legal limits.  No more police officers to stop you for speeding.  No more photo tickets, since none of us will be technically driving the vehicle as it will simply be a programmed and connected platform, part of the great paved network.  Beyond IoT, who knows, maybe we will not even need pavement anymore.

As robotics improves and it makes all these devices mobile, we will be able to collect data from these new robotic devices, like a lawnmower and learn where we are working well and where we are falling short.   It will give us the ability to modify and improve mobile machines in ways that traditionally required us to go to the nearest repair shops and pick up in two weeks.  Machine Learning will take on a whole new meaning in IoT.  It will replace mundane day t day tasks and displace low-end workers from their jobs as they will no longer be needed.  For all the high school kids looking for summer jobs mowing lawns, you will need to find a new source of income (asking mom or dad for money is not allowed).  If all motion devices become connected and are robotic how much data will be collected and acted upon?  The scenarios are to plentiful to consider here, but with little imagination we can all begin to sense the IoT future

In the end the Internet of Things and Big Data are the same thing.  Via IoT we will collect information from every man-made device and every living organism.  The data collected will be sliced and diced and turned into something actionable. We will be able to this with speed and decision-making time will be reduced.  The world will evolve quicker and the benefit to the human race will be greater.  Such power comes with enormous responsibility.  When we have these big shifts it creates new opportunities both for the good seminarian and the common criminal.   With each wave the wave seems to become bigger, leading to bigger shifts in how mankind lives and operates,  Before we had little Tidal waves now we will move to enormous tidal waves.  The wave will either lift us to new highs or crush us with an enormous crash delivering us from earth to a non-existent life.

Good Night and Good Luck

Hans Henrik Hoffmann May 8, 2015