For this week’s episode of The Weekly Briefly, I’m just coming back from 2 weeks away in Colorado and Louisiana. And so, before getting back into the daily swing of things I wanted to have a more fun, geeky episode talking about a few things that are awesome and are related to what I’m working on now.

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Last Year in Football (Part III): This Summer’s World Cup

Hello, again. This is Shawn’s cousin, Nate, continuing to guest post while Shawn is away. Some of you may remember me from the last time I wrote some guest posts. This time around I’m doing a mini-series on recent events in soccer. Or as 2 billion people call it, football.

Welcome to “Last Year in Football”. Below is part III. You can catch up here: Part I and Part II.

If you have any feedback or comments about these football articles, you can email me here.

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Expectations for an exciting World Cup this summer were running high in the months prior. Cups in South America have traditionally been more infused with the free-flowing spirit of the football of that continent, if not also the gamesmanship thereof.

Going into the tournament, I was thinking along the following lines:

Looking Likely

The title holders and, dare I say, heavy favorites, were Spain. Having won the last three major tournaments that they entered (European Champions of 2008 and 2012, and World Cup Champions of 2010), it seemed foolhardy to pick against the title holders. With the controversial late addition of the deadly Diego Costa (Brazilian-born but Spanish nationalized) to the Spanish roster, the Spanish side only looked stronger. The warning signs were there, however. Prior to 2008, the Spaniards had never lacked for talent, only for sharp goalscoring and confidence. What they finally added in 2008 was a pair of red-hot strikers in David Villa and Fernando Torres, and a big dose of swagger. When their strikers started to age and/or cool off, and teams started to learn how to deal with their possession-heavy style of play, Spain stopped running up the scores but held onto their confidence and won a lot of games by close margins. Could Diego Costa be the injection of liveliness that Spain’s game had been missing in the goal-scoring third of the field?

Brazil had had a great warm-up tournament in 2013, the Confederations Cup: not particularly prestigious but still fun. Brazil stormed through the opposition in style, and it was a coming-out party of sorts for a young star named Neymar. However, Brazil’s performances in friendly matches in 2014 had been suspect, with Neymar looking increasingly alone in a dull offense. Betting against a host nation is always an easy way to look foolish, though.

Argentina is home to the little maestro Lionel Messi. No one ever wants to come out and say that Lionel Messi won’t win, because there’s the possibility that he’ll score 4 and make you eat a big slice of humble pie. The inner child of every football fan is always alive to the possibility of Messi dribbling six players and scoring, and with the World Cup taking place on South American soil, every team native to the continent gets the home team treatment when they aren’t playing Brazil. Although Messi hasn’t performed as insanely well for Argentina as he does for Barcelona, he’s still world-class for them. The question was whether Argentina could provide enough quality elsewhere to complement his mighty left foot.


England, Italy, and France weren’t making any toes tingle before the tournament, but they’ve shown they can always be a threat. France were particularly impressive, if only by contrast with their previous World Cup squad which had failed so dismally in South Africa. 2010 runners-up Holland were also again putting a lot of quality on the pitch, and to our delight had been placed in a group with the previous winner Spain, meaning that a replay of the previous final was going to take place in the opening days of the tournament.

Germany, of course, always has technical ability in spades and usually goes deep into tournaments.

The South American factor

The aforementioned South American boost put a nice shine on already quality teams like Uruguay and Chile, and even added some gloss to other nearby teams like Colombia and Mexico.

The pot was bubbling over, and everyone was ready to eat! So what happened?

Brazil exploded out of the gate looking . . . mediocre. With a questionable penalty call necessary for their first win, at least we got a statement of intent from Neymar, with a brilliant goal from nothing.

The tournament felt like it really got started on the next day, with the replay of the 2010 Championship game between Spain and Holland. Spain scored first, again on a dubious penalty, and were bossing possession as usual. Then, just before half-time . . . magic from the Flying Dutchman Van Persie. It was a real shocker and it felt afterward like the blow that kicked open the door to one of the most memorable group stages in World Cup history. In the second half Holland scored four more goals as chins all over the world sagged to the floor in collective disbelief.

“Ok,” we thought, “Spain lost their first game at the last World Cup. They can pick up the pieces.” Apparently Chile didn’t get the memo and unceremoniously dumped the holders out of the Cup in their next game. The weirdest part was that it felt kind of like a relief. Diego Costa had played like a man with a ball and chain strapped to one ankle; he was obviously not fully recovered from the injuries that had kept him from playing in the Champions League final. With David Villa relegated to a substitute role for reasons I’m not sure anyone could articulate, and Spain’s other strikers proving ineffective, I didn’t want to see another tournament of 89 minutes of sideways passing with the odd half-chance mixed in. Out with the old, in with the new.

What else did we get to see in the Group Stage besides goals galore? A young Colombian firebrand named James Rodriguez making his presence known. The United States playing legimately good soccer in spurts, and finally overcoming their bogeyman Ghana. Mexico getting systematically robbed and still making it through. Cristiano Ronaldo looking mostly average (hehe). Germany looking terrifying and then bleh and then dominant. Luis Suarez continuing his sterling run of form. Messi finally scoring in bunches in a World Cup, and Argentina actually looking a complete team (their defense has been suspect in recent, uh, decades). Crowd darlings Costa Rica overachieving their way out of their group. The young studs of France winning with style, including what would have been one of the goals of the tournament scored while the referee was blowing his whistle to end the match.

And the goals. Did I mention the goals? So many goals. It was a joy to see attacking football prevail over the defensive style that had perhaps characterized the last couple major tournaments.

Once the smoke had cleared, we saw the following shocking list of teams going home after just three games: England, Italy, Spain, Portugal, Ghana, Ivory Coast, Russia. Wow!

Once we got into the knockout rounds, we had more 1-0 scorelines and penalty shootouts than I would have liked, but don’t look a gift horse in the mouth and all that, yeah? Again we had great sporting moments: Tim Howard’s incredible performance against Belgium, this ridiculous Messi pass that I could watch all day, a volley from Rodriguez that I could watch all year, heartbreak for Mexico against Holland after a wonderful Cup-long display of heart and talent.

And not-so-great moments as well: the biting from Luis Suarez. The terrible foul on Neymar that cracked his vertebrae and ruled him out of the remaining games, and the infamous subsequent 7-1 mauling of Brazil by Germany (who could probably have scored more). For that matter, the ugly spirit that Brazil themselves showed against Chile and Colombia.

Finally we get down to two teams: Germany and Argentina. After the group stage it looked like Argentina were sound but not yet great, but surprisingly, their defense was the backbone of the team. Mascherano had shown that a concussion is actually a performance enhancing drug against Holland. Angel Di Maria, while not even at his personal best, probably outperformed Messi in the knockout games by sheer volume of output. Germany, of course, looked like the favorite after demolishing the hosts. I was a little afraid that they would repeat the performance, having seen Argentina out of the previous two World Cups.

What I didn’t expect was for Argentina’s attacking talent to carve out three clear chances and miss them all! One for Higuain, one for Messi, and one for . . . the other guy. Germany dominated the second half but couldn’t find a way through. Then finally, deep in extra time, just as we’re all resigning ourselves to penalty kicks, comes a wonderful goal worthy of winning the World Cup.

The pundits on TV talked about Germany through the tournament in colorless terms, like “clinical”, “precise”, “ruthless”, which I thought was uncharitable and a bit biased, albeit technically accurate. If England had played like Germany they would have been “open” and “free-flowing”; Brazil would have been “creative”; Spain would have gotten “it’s a joy to see their renewed energy”, etc. Germany were all of those things and fully deserved their eventual win.

I thought this World Cup was probably the best of my lifetime, certainly the best of the ones I’ve watched. It probably won’t go down as being “great”, because Germany were the only team that looked like a great team, and a great final needs two great teams to bring the best out of each other. But as a spectacle it was absolutely riveting, and it had so many great dramatic elements: villains, new heroes, overachieving underdogs, epic collapses from dynastic teams, and don’t forget about the buckets and buckets of goals.

Here’s my wishlist of 5 things I’d like have to have seen at the World Cup:

  1. Brazil knocked out by Chile. Then we’d get to see Chile vs Colombia, and the winner of that game vs Germany. I thought Brazil were too negative and Neymar was the only bright spot.
  2. A fully fit Diego Costa. I think Spain will be a force to be reckoned with again very soon with a fit Costa and a coach willing to cut Torres. That said, I thought it was insulting to Spain’s other strikers that Costa kept getting starts when he wasn’t up to par.
  3. Radamel Falcao fit and playing for Colombia. Colombia played out of their minds with just Rodriguez, how good could they have been with Falcao on the field?
  4. Suarez keeping his teeth in his mouth where they belong. He robbed us of his presence against Colombia and I like watching the guy play.
  5. The US holding on for the win against Portugal. If the US can top their group by drawing against Germany, that game looks a lot different, and we might get to play Algeria (whom we beat at the last World Cup) instead of Belgium. Why did the US play so well for so long and then turn off for thirty seconds at the end?
  6. (I cheated) One more attacking player in great form for Argentina, preferably an attacking midfielder to feed Messi.

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What were your favorite moments or wishlist items from the 2014 World Cup? Let me know and I’ll drop them into the last column of the series, coming soon!

Last Year in Football (Part III): This Summer’s World Cup

Erik Spiekermann:

Every craft requires attention to detail. Whether you’re build­ing a bicy­cle, an engine, a table, a song, a type­face or a page: the details are not the details, they make the design. Con­cepts don’t have to be pixel-perfect, and even the fussi­est project starts with a rough sketch. But build­ing some­thing that will be used by other peo­ple, be they dri­vers, rid­ers, read­ers, lis­ten­ers – users every­where, it needs to be built as well as can be. Unless you are obsessed by what you’re doing, you will not be doing it well enough. Typog­ra­phy appears to require a lot of detail, but so does music, cook­ing, car­pen­try, not to men­tion brain surgery. Some­times only the experts know the dif­fer­ence, but if you want to be an expert at what you’re mak­ing, you will only be happy with the result when you’ve given it every­thing you have.

Being Obsessive About Detail Is Being Normal

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My thanks to Tapes for sponsoring the RSS feed this week. It’s a very well-done implementation on a very simple idea: that sometimes we want to share a screencast and not just a screenshot. Tapes is one of those apps that does one thing and does it very well. Just $10 in the Mac App Store.

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Last Year in Football (Part II)

Hello! This is Shawn’s cousin, Nate, continuing to guest post while Shawn is on vacation at an undisclosed location. Some of you may remember me from the last time I wrote some guest posts. This time around I’m doing a mini-series on recent events in soccer. Or as 2 billion people call it, football.

Welcome to “Last Year in Football”. Below is part II. If you missed Part I, it’s right here.

If you have any feedback or comments about these football articles, you can email me here.

* * *

I’m going to cheat a little bit here because in the last article I said I was going to talk about the Spanish Premier League. What I’d really like to talk about is the story of Atletico Madrid.

Quite a few of the big cities in Europe have more than one professional football club competing at the top level. I’m probably going to embarrass myself by trying to list some (and leaving others out) but here goes:

  • Manchester, England has Manchester City and Manchester United.
  • Milan, Italy has Inter Milan and AC Milan.
  • Munich, Germany has Bayern Munchen and 1860 Munchen.
  • Madrid, Spain has Real Madrid and Atletico Madrid.
  • London has somewhere between 4 and 13 clubs playing in or near the top flight at any given time!

Typically in these pairings, there is a dominant force and a lesser one (although there are exceptions). Think the Yankees and the Mets and you’ll get the picture. In Milan the balance swings back and forth over the years, but in Madrid there is always one big club: Real Madrid.

In my prior piece on the EPL, I mentioned that Liverpool are one of the clubs that seems to have to sell their players once they become superstars, rather than attracting superstars. If that is the case, Atletico Madrid have been a breeding ground for superstars and potential superstars in recent years. I’ll define a superstar in practical terms: a player that most big clubs in the world would sign if they had the money (Messi, James Rodriguez, Ronaldo, and Zlatan); a potential superstar would be someone who has shown that they can perform at that level, but maybe the big clubs are waiting on some consistency, or to see if the player can avoid injuries for a season or two, or the player seems to need to mature as a human being to achieve their full footballing potential (Balotelli, and, err, no one else springs to mind right now).

I don’t know what the scouts at Atletico Madrid have been eating, but in the last ten years or so they have been identifying players even before they get to that potential superstar level. Whatever they are doing, they’re doing it right, because they have been finding exceptional players on the cheap, developing them into world-class players, and then selling them as the offering prices become too high to resist. Sergio Aguero, Fernando Torres, Radamel Falcao, and Diego Costa are the most notable players who have come up through Atletico recently, which they’ve eventually had to sell. Atletico have also had other world-class players that were perhaps not superstars anymore, or maybe they never were quite at that level, but whom Atletico made good use of nonetheless — such as Diego Forlan, Maxi Rodriguez, and Jose Antonio Reyes.

The point is that Atletico have been doing more with less for quite a while now. When you’re constantly taking risks on new talent, the best you can usually hope for is to be a perennial also-ran (see: Arsenal). But every once in a while the stars align and you get a team with two or three genuinely world-class players on the come-up and a solid team around them, and the right coach for the job.

That’s what happened at Atletico last season. With Diego Costa as the main man, and Diego Godin, Juanfran, Turan, Miranda, and Courtois all playing solid or spectacular football on a weekly basis, Atletico shot out of the starting gate with menace and then, to everyone’s astonishment, kept up pace with the two giant Spanish teams Barcelona and Real Madrid all season. The toughest part of the season for smaller clubs is the end, because they don’t have the depth on the bench that the big clubs do, and Atletico had everything in place to give them an easy excuse should that prove the case. On top of competing for the Spanish title, they were also deep into the Champions League tournament, playing against the best teams on the European continent.

To every football lover’s delight, Atletico just flourished under this pressure, first knocking Barcelona out of the Champions League, and then the English Club Chelsea. This was particularly sweet, because Chelsea had previously nipped one of Atletico’s greatest players, Fernando Torres, for a fee 20 million pounds more than the cost of Atletico’s ENTIRE starting 11 for that game!

Then a weird thing happened. Just like in England, none of the teams in contention seemed to want to win out at the end of the season. Atletico itself was in a seemingly unassailable position with three games to go, whereupon they lost and drew the first two.

This set up one of the most nailbiting ends to any campaign in history: their last game, which determined the winner of the Spanish League, would be played against Barcelona AT BARCELONA. All they need is a tie in the game to win the league. And then a week later, the Champions League final to be played against their cross town rival, Real Madrid. Oh, the drama!

Then the worst happens. Early in the game against Barcelona, their star man Diego Costa limps off the field. Then Barcelona takes the lead. Barcelona is notorious for being impossible to get the ball from once they have the lead.

But DRAMA! Atletico Madrid scores to tie the game, and holds on to finish at 1-1. Atletico wins the league! I have to admit that even as a Barcelona fan, I was pulling for Atletico.

Now every Atletico fan, and every neutral fan who wants to see a great game, begins to sweat Costa’s fitness going into the Champions League final. Weird reports of horse placenta treatments surface. Then finally the news: Costa is going to start the game. NNNNNGGGGHHH YEAH.

Then: tragedy. It was all for naught and Costa limps off again early in the game. Doomed, everyone thinks. Barcelona wasn’t particularly consistent this year, but Real Madrid had been tearing up the Champions League, annihilating the former champions and making it look easy. But Atletico wasn’t done yet — they draw first blood! The tension rises to a fever pitch as Real look for a way back into the game, but as the time rolls into stoppage it looks like Atletico will have pulled off the most incredible double of all time. OF ALL TIME.

Then: tragedy strikes again. Freaking tragedy, you suck! Sergio Ramos delivers a beautiful header to tie the game in the last minute of stoppage time, and Atletico’s heroic resolve finally collapses. Real Madrid scores 3 in overtime to win the game.

Alas and alack. It was still a heroic effort and season from a wonderful team, and everyone saluted them. All good things must come to an end, unfortunately, and Chelsea (who else) bought the agent of their torment, Diego Costa, this summer.

Another tragedy to come from this story is that we didn’t get to see a fully (or even minimally fit) Diego Costa at the World Cup this summer, his injuries at the end of the season coming too hard on the start of the World Cup. Tune in soon for the next installment in . . . Last Year in Football (and by last year I mean last season and summer), to hear about this year’s World Cup.

Last Year in Football (Part II)

Last Year in Football (Part I)

Hello again! This is Shawn’s cousin, Nate, guest posting while Shawn is on vacation at an undisclosed location. Some of you may remember me from the last time I wrote some guest posts. This time around I’m doing a mini-series on recent events in soccer. Or as 2 billion people call it, football.

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As a brief primer to the uninitiated, in European countries there are usually many hierarchical divisions of football, which teams can work their way up through by winning or placing high in the league that they are in. At the very top of each hierarchy is a division often referred to as the Premier League or the National League. This system is foreign to Americans – imagine starting a basketball team at your local rec center and winning for 15 years until you’re in the NBA. On top of that, there are tournaments where the minnows from lesser leagues get to play against the sharks from the big show and have a chance at a famous victory.

Some notes on the points system: in the world of European soccer, there are two kinds of competition. Knockout tournaments play out just like our playoff system after a certain point. But the league itself doesn’t have that format. In the league, you play against every other team twice, and at the end whoever has the most points wins. To an American this seems almost sacrilegious – playoffs are where champions are forged. But after some exposure I began to see the beauty of having to be consistent for the entire season in order to have a shot at the title. In a playoff system the most consistent teams are often punished for their extended efforts because those high-achieving players are beaten and bruised from a long successful campaign.

Football Year

This has been a fascinating year in football. The two major leagues I follow, the English and Spanish leagues, both had fascinating conclusions. Then there was a little tournament in Brazil you may have heard of . . .

Let’s take a look!

In the English Premier League, with 5 games to go, Liverpool was in prime position to claim their first league title in 20 odd years. Liverpool is one of those underdog teams that occasionally pick up two or three world class players and put together a run for the title, fall just short, and then can’t hold on to all its superstars. The exception to that rule is Steven Gerrard, who at his peak was one of the most terrifying midfielders to roam an English pitch. Stevie G is a titanic figure in English football; universally respected for his on-field performances and (perhaps somewhat begrudgingly) for his loyalty to one club. Liverpudlians and neutral fans alike were a-tingle at the thought of Gerrard winning his first League championship; we previously thought the moment might have gone, as he’s past his prime now. Liverpool’s success last season was less about Gerrard’s aging legs and more about the dynamic front pairing of Daniel Sturridge and one Luis Suarez. Yes, that Luis Suarez. A divisive figure if ever there was one, Suarez is perhaps the most talented footballer to don the Liverpool crest. One might say that he has a real . . . hunger to win.


He’s also derided for his intentional handball that ended up eliminating crowd darlings Ghana in the World Cup four years ago. To which I say, score your penalty kicks. Suarez did the right thing to give his team every chance to win and I would have done the same thing in his place. But I wouldn’t bite people.

Back to the EPL last season. So Sturridge and Suarez are combining to score goals left and right last year. With 5 games to go, Liverpool was in pole position (I’m not even going to attempt to summarize the drama that was going on at all the top clubs leading up to this point – suffice to say it was a wild free-for-all and no one was consistently winning at the end). Even better, both of their rivals at the top of the table were still in their schedule. With wins over both of them, victory would be almost assured.

Liverpool wins the first showdown against Manchester City in a 3-2 thriller! So far, so good. Four games to go, they win again the next week by the same scoreline. Six goals in two games, they’re firing on all cylinders, right? They’re going to need all the momentum they can get because up next is their hated rival Chelsea, coached by one of the most effective and boring tacticians of the modern game.


Chelsea wins 2-0.

Ok, all hope is not lost. Now Liverpool are even on points with Manchester City, all they can do is keep winning and hope Manchester City slip up. Or they could score 14 goals in two games to go ahead of Manchester City on goal difference (unlikely, in case you didn’t pick up on that).

Then came Crystanbul. Liverpool go up 3-0 against a team they should rightly be dominating and look set to cruise to victory. Unfortunately, karma from 2005 comes calling at an inopportune time. Crystal Palace score 3 goals to tie the game and effectively end Liverpool’s title hopes.

The images of Suarez weeping on the field after the game was a humanizing moment for many neutral observers and delicious nectar to his haters.

Almost mercifully, Manchester City won their remaining games. If they had dropped points, it would only have been that much worse.

In the end I think Manchester City were about as sheepish as could be for winning the league. It was universally felt that Liverpool had lost it more than MC had won it, and there was a sense of doom about the whole situation. Liverpool have labored in Manchester United’s shadow for twenty years now, and it feels like a curse that they can’t win a Premier League Championship since United’s star has risen and Liverpool’s has faded.

They did win one of the greatest games ever played on the big stage and clothed themselves in glory as European champions, but that’s a story for another time.

At least they can take comfort in knowing they’ll never walk alone.

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As crazy as the EPL finish was, the Spanish League finale was even more dramatic. Tune in again soon for the next installment in last year in soccer!

Last Year in Football (Part I)

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John Carey:

Like the clothes we wear, the cars we drive, or the houses we live in, our photographs are another vehicle to which the world judges us because the world expects to see proof of our beautiful, happy lives and we have grown to crave that attention. In this light, photography has grown vein in its old age. […]

The solution here is obvious and most of us are already well aware of this tune, don’t shoot to share, shoot because you love what your shooting. Shoot to remember. Make your photographs in your own image and personality.

Don’t Forget To Remember This

Say hello to the brand new podcast network from my very good friends, Myke Hurley and Stephen Hackett:

It makes sense for us to have a single home for all of our work; starting a network is the right decision for us. At launch, we are featuring four returning shows and one new one. We have lots of plans for the future, and can’t wait to get to work making those dreams a reality.

A huge congrats to them and all their show hosts. It take guts to leave something that was doing well and to build it back up from scratch. Not to mention the metric ton of energy that goes in to building something like this.

You can read more about the behind-the-scenes on Stephen’s post here, Casey’s article about his new show, Analog(ue), and Myke’s article about why they chose to build this new network.

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