The Torreador Paradox

I’ve often considered attending a bullfight. I imagine I would root for the bull. There are too many arrogant men thinking themselves the better of the beasts of nature and nowhere near enough bulls to gore them all to death.

This assuumes, of course, that the bullfight is as bloody and violent and detrimental to the health of the bulls as I have always been told. It is described as a barbaric event that has no place in modern society. And, yet, parts of Spain and Mexico are still dotted with plazas del toros that, presumably, draw crowds ravenous for bloodshed.

But perhaps the naysayers are wrong. We live in an increasingly politicized society, where every act – no matter how big or small – carries the deep weight of intention, known or unknown, that opens one to stiff reckoning by, if not one’s peers, than those who seem to have more time on their hands than average. The very act of writing this will be deemed by most as a political act – just what is Rob Z. trying to say here? Maybe I’m saying nothing. I’m usually saying nothing but having it praised by educated masses – educated in what, who is to really say – and being lifted as some kind of prophet or, in the very least, someone with something worth saying, even if I often question it’s value myself.

That may all be in my head. Most things are.

Regardless, it would probably be wise of me to attend a bullfight to determine the truth myself. In so doing, I would be able to form my own opinions based on my own senses mostly free from interference from the naysayers. And I may very well prove my assumptions correct, and will decry that people continue to support this barbaric ritual.

But I will have then, myself, supported it by the very act of observing it, having paid for the ticket to enter the plaza and see the blood on the sand firsthand. This is the very definition of a paradox, and it keeps me from making a satisfactory decision on how to proceed.

Perhaps I could ask for a refund.

Unsustainable Edens: A Decade of Maker Faire and the Monetization of “Free”

There is nothing in the world like walking through the old growth redwoods north of Arcata, California. Surrounded by vast, primordial beauty, it’s easy to lose yourself in the wonder of it. Walk far enough and you’ll come across Fern Canyon, a cool breeze gently blowing the ferns clinging tightly to its stone walls, carpeting it in an undulating, shimmering emerald. I could spend all day here. I could set up a tent and never leave.

But, of course, I must leave. I have work to do to pay for my home back in Concord, to pay for medical bills, my car payment, my son’s education, my wife’s college classes, etc. etc. Even if I were to abandon the trappings of society and “live off the grid”, as these trips up north often tempt me to do, I would still need to till my land, scrub my clothing and do the work necessary just to keep us alive. Though I would love to stay there among the ferns and the great wooden sentinels, that is not my land and, even if it were, it is unlikely to keep me fed and healthy.


You don’t have to be a kid to appreciate pint-sized synchronized dancing robots, but you’ll sure feel like one.

Edens are not sustainable. Even the original Eden was ripped from our grasp, which is the legendary origin of our daily toil. I was reminded of this as I attended the 10th annual Maker Faire in San Mateo this weekend. If you’ve never attended a Maker Faire, it’s more difficult to describe than you’d think. I could talk about the giant steel rhino truck that shoots columns of flames from its horn, or the cadre of pint-sized dancing robots or the fact that you suffer a greater chance of being run down on the sidewalk by someone racing a cupcake then you do anywhere else other than your best peyote-fueled dreams, but none of that does it justice. Because it’s not the mechanical beasts, androids or mobile baked goods that really make it interesting, it’s the constant sense of wonder and joy, the little moments of shocked delight when you turn a corner and see a 15-foot tall war machine firing six-inch paintballs at an art car that make the Faire a worthwhile annual pilgrimage. Continue reading

Sleep Safe Tonight – The Northern Border is Well Secured Against Corny Dipshits

The following conversation *actually happened* this evening (July 31, 2014) at approximately 10:15pm EST on the U.S. Side of the Windsor-Detroit tunnel as I was crossing back into my native country. The entire interrogation lasted about 10 minutes, but it felt like a damned eternity. I honestly thought I wasn’t going to make it back.

Me: [Handing the nice border guard my passport, already opened to the picture page, all cheerful and dopey] Hello, sir. How are you tonight?

Border Guard: Where are you coming from this evening?

Me: Windsor, Ontario, Canada, sir.

Border Guard: Why were you in Windsor?

Me: Sight seeing.

Border Guard: What did you do while you were there?

Me: Well, I went to the Queen Elizabeth II park and saw fireflies, had dinner and, uh… went to a Tim Horton’s. It was the most Canadian thing I could think of doing.

Border Guard: Did you make any purchases while you were there?

Me: Well, I went to the duty free store at the tunnel opening and bought some maple fudge, a magnet and a tchochke for my son.

Border Guard: [Alert] A what, sir?

Me: A tchochke. [I pull out this weird cube labeled “Windsor” with two polar bears floating on a white sea and hand it to him]

Border Guard: [Inspecting the tchocke] For your son?

Me: He’s five.

Border Guard: Did you purchase any alcohol or tobacco products?

Me: No, absolutely not.

Border Guard: Are you carrying any cash back from Canada?

Me: [Cursing my dumb foreign currency collection] Uh, yes. But not a lot.

Border Guard: More than $1,000?

Me: [Stifling a laugh] No, nowhere near that amount.

Border Guard: [Looking at my passport with additional scrutiny] You’re from California. Are you staying in Michigan?

Me: Yes, in Detroit.

Border Guard: For what purpose?

Me: Business.

Border Guard: What do you do for a living?

Me: I’m a technical consultant employed by Intel.

Border Guard: Is this your car?

Me: No, it’s a rental.

Border Guard: Do you have the paperwork?

Me: [Sudden terror setting in] Uh, no… it’s back in my hotel.

Border Guard: [Extra suspicious] And where is your hotel?

Me: It’s the Hilton Garden Inn in downtown Detroit. It’s nice, I guess.

Border Guard: And you have no paperwork to indicate you rented this car?

Me: [Stomach sinking] No.

Border Guard: That’s a problem. [Pause] I’m going to need to see a driver’s license and your work ID. Do you have your work ID?

Me: [Suddenly proud of my anal retentiveness in always carrying my Intel ID with me] Yes, I do! But… it’s in the trunk. Should I get out and get it?

Border Guard: No, sir, stay in your car. Please open the trunk and I’ll get it.

Me: [Scrambling to find the bloody damned effing trunk latch which WAS JUST RIGHT THERE BUT IS GONE NOW GAWDAMMITFUCKSHITGOINGTOGUATANAMO] Uh… sure, here’s my license in the mean time.

Border Guard: [Concerned at my hand disappearing below the window line] Having trouble sir? Let me open the door.

[Door opens]

Me: [Seeing the latch on the floor RIGHT WHERE I WAS FUCKING REACHING GAWDAMMIT] Ah, there it is, thank you, sir. [Pops trunk] It’s in my bag.

Border Guard: You have a computer bag in the trunk? Like that?

Me: Yes sir.

[Border Guard goes to the back of my car. I idly wonder how much handcuffs chaff as I hear him rustling around for my bag]

Border Guard: [Holding my bag] Where is the ID in this bag?

Me: It’s in that small outer pocket. Would you like me to get it?

Border Guard: No, I’ll find it.

[Border Guard returns to the back of the car as I desperately try to remember what contraband I have in that bag so I can have a convincing story ready]

[Border Guard pauses, shuts trunk, comes back to the booth]

Border Guard: What exactly do you do for Intel? What is your role there?

Me: [Thinking, “Now I have to describe my job to someone who knows nothing about my industry like my life depends on it because MY LIFE DEPENDS ON IT“] I’m a strategy consultant. I do strategy consulting on behalf of Intel for our customers. For something called APIs.

Border Guard: [Eyeing me with – is that pity I see?] And where do you work out of?

Me: San Francisco.

Border Guard: And what business did you have in Detroit?

Me: Uh, well, I was here for a conference. It’s called API Craft, it was held at the Port of Detroit. Oh, but I did visit some prospects while I was here, too.

Border Guard: [Suspicious and confused] The Port of Detroit? What’s at the Port of Detroit?

Me: [Realizing that even the native Detroit people had never seen this venue before] Uh, it’s like this cool conference room thing at… uh… the Port. Of Detroit. In… Detroit.

Border Guard: Huh, OK. And who did you visit while you were here?

Me: I had meetings with [Big local company he’s definitely heard of] and a meeting with [Big company located nowhere near here that I forgot I met with over the phone].

Border Guard: Did they hold you at the Canadian border crossing?

Me: No, aside from just asking a couple of basic questions [HINT FUCKING HINT].

Border Guard: Is this your first trip to Canada?

Me: Yes! It was cool. [Dork]

Border Guard: [Looking at my license] Where is Concord?

Me: In the East side of the San Francisco Bay.

Border Guard: What cities is it near?

Me: Uh… it’s East of Berkeley.

Border Guard: [No response]

Me: Uh, do you know where Walnut Creek is?

Border Guard: No.

Me: Pleasant Hill?

Border Guard: No, I’ve never been to California.

Me: Uh, it’s east of Oakland.

Border Guard: [Alert Again] Oakland? Kind of a run down area, right? Not a great place?

Me: [SHIT WHAT DID I JUST DO?] Uh, well, yeah, parts of it are dicey, but there’s a lot of nice places too. In the hills.

Border Guard: Is that where Concord is?

Me: Uh, no.

Border Guard: So you’re from the bad part of town?

Me: [FUUUUUUUUUUU…] No, no, Concord is nice. It’s several towns over – Like, it goes, Oakland, Berkeley, big tunnel, Orinda, Lafayette, Walnut Creek then Concord.

Border Guard: And is that where Intel is located, Concord?

Me: No, it’s in Santa Clara.

Border Guard: So you work in Santa Clara? I thought you said you worked in San Francisco.

Me: [SHIT!] Well, I work for a company that was acquired by Intel that’s located in San Francisco. So I take BART every day to work from Concord.

Border Guard: But you’re in Detroit for work. Did you fly here?

Me: Yes. And I fly back out tomorrow.

[Border Guard Looks at my passport again. Looks at my license again. Pauses long enough that I legit think I’m about to be detained.]

Border Guard: [Folds license into passport and hands it to me.] OK, sir, have a good evening.

Me: [HOLYCRAPYES] Thank you, sir, you too.

I want to be clear – this was not friendly chit chat. I got the sense he was trying to catch me in a lie but, ultimately, was just making sure I was who I said I was. He wasn’t being a jerk about it at all, just being very stern and… well… border guardy. For the record, when going IN to Canada, the guy asked me where I was going, what I did for a living, why I was going to Windsor, then very skeptically asked me whether I intended on going anywhere else. Like, “Why the hell would ANYONE go to Windsor just to sight see?” That whole conversation took three minutes.

And this is why we need a wall.


A Programmer Is You – API Strat Amsterdam Talk

A couple of weeks ago I flew to Amsterdam – the first time I’ve ever left the North American continent – to deliver a speech on the intersection of the Internet of Things, APIs and great UI. It was an incredible audience at a great conference in an unbelievably cool city – definitely a high point in my career so far.

(I start speaking at about the 14:33 mark)

Coming to Terms With College

I had an interesting exchange with an old college friend on Facebook today. He mentioned that, had he known then what he does now, he would have not moped around so much in college. It was a trait we shared – both of us seemed genuinely unhappy with where we were. Neither of us dated, neither of us knew how and we commiserated on this and a number of other things in a number of ways.

I responded to his comment:

“I hear you on the moping around bit. The future was too uncertain. It’s *ALWAYS* uncertain, but I have a better grip on how to deal with it now. C’est la vie. I’m probably a better man for it. I hadn’t had a chance yet to fail and prove to myself that I could dig myself out of the hole. At 38, I’ve done it enough times that I have absolute confidence that I can overcome anything, so long as I point my face forward and keep pushing.”

My comment that “I hadn’t had a chance to fail” came as a minor epiphany to me. And, upon reflection, it’s not even entirely true. In fact, I had just experienced my first big failure, and it profoundly shook me to my core in a way that, all these years later, still reverberates.

When I was 11 years old, I got it into my head that I wanted to be a Mechanical Engineer. I had always loved science and have had a long fondness for building things and playing around. I fell in love with computers when I was about 8 years old and was able to completely throw myself into them when I inherited my first computer – a TRS-80 that had just entered obsolescence – just before I turned 10. I had no real concept of computer science or engineering or anything else at the time. The computer I had came from a family friend who, himself, was a mechanical engineer. I imagined that he got to build amazing things and work on all kinds of complex technology. While not entirely far from the truth, it turns out his work was far more mundane, focusing on the thermodynamics side of things and only building small electronic circuits and such for fun on the side.

Still, through him I was able to glimpse a world where knowledge led to creation. He passed on his old copies of “Design Engineering” magazine, which I thumbed through repeatedly as if they were holy scripture. A key highlight of my youth was when he took my mother and I to the expo floor of an engineering conference he was attending, where I saw linear actuators, ultra-high resolution computer monitors, and tons and tons of ball bearings, mechanical gew gaws and materials that were far beyond anything you could find at the hardware store. That I was able to take sample after sample after sample of all of these led to my later fascination with conference swag. That walk around the expo floor cemented the position of my aspirational compass.

I threw myself into math and science classes in high school, often reaching far beyond my grasp. Math has always been a tricky subject for me, largely because I struggle with abstract concepts that can’t be tied to real world analogs. Being told to just remember a formula and trust it to solve an equation leaves me cold. Rather, had they presented me with a real world problem and demonstrated how working through the formula would help me arrive at an answer, I’m certain I’d be a math whiz. Alas, that’s just not how math works (so I’m told).

Regardless, I somehow wound up accepted into the highly competitive Mechanical Engineering program at UC Berkeley – one of the top programs in the country. I was living my dream. It didn’t take long for that dream to shatter. I barely passed Calculus I and spectacularly failed Calculus II. Despite trying to get help from the TAs and professors, I was never able to get my head around the purpose of derivatives, integrals and the like. I still don’t get it.

That poor math foundation led to even more problems in Chemistry and Physics, where I was expected to make the conceptual leap entirely on my own between the Calculus and the real world. Again, overburdened TAs and tenured professors provided no insights. By my third semester, I had spent enough time on academic probation to be faced with the dreaded specter of expulsion.

The associate dean of the college of engineering called me into his office to decide my fate. He presented me with what he termed “the Faustian bargain”: I could leave UC Berkeley – a place I had called home now for two years and had established a strong social circle and lifestyle – and continue my study in engineering at a school with a more practical focus, like Cal Poly San Luis Obispo. He had strong ties there and was certain he could get me in. More so, he was certain that, based on my other aptitudes, I’d be successful there and likely to graduate with an engineering degree. Or, I could sat at UC Berkeley. He couldn’t guarantee that another college within the University would take me – he’d be sending me out into the cold to re-apply on my own – and I would have to sign a document to promise that I would never take another course in the engineering department during my undergraduate years. But at least I’d still be at Cal.

I was about 20 years old when this happened. I had spent seven years dreaming of being an engineering student and two years failing at it. This moment was the culmination of my failure, and it was devastating. By that time, I had no interest in pursuing engineering or computers or, really, anything having at all to do with science or technology. I was an abject failure and I felt it to my very core. I signed the paper and decided to take my chances trying to get accepted into the college of Letters and Sciences, which turned out to be far easier than I anticipated. To his credit, the dean was very positive about my decision and even said he’d make a note of my name, for he was certain he’d be reading it on the cover of a book some day.

My remaining three years at Cal were actually pretty solid from an academic point of view. But my abysmal engineering grades were never expunged from my records and the credits could not be recouped, so, by the time I graduated, it was by the skin of my teeth with no credits left to spare. My stubbornness in sticking with engineering as long as I did weighed me down and, despite the fact that I did exceptionally well in my L&S classes, I was never able to pull my grades up past a 3.0 because of it. Engineering was an albatross around my neck, made all the worse by the humiliation of having to abandon this thing that I had so deeply ingrained as part of my identity.

At the time, I had a hard time seeing my successes in the wake of so great a failure. Having never really experienced failure, I felt alone, as if no one else could comprehend it. My mother – who had sacrificed so much to get me into college and support me while I was there – remained my biggest supporter and was proud that, rather than giving up, I simply found other ways to move forward. But what choice did I have?

I retreated to Classical studies – Latin and Greek – to get as far away from technology as I could and because I held some romantic ideals of college as a place, if not to train for a career, then to expand one’s intellectual breadth. I had studied Latin for three years in high school and enjoyed it, so I decided I might enjoy it in college. Perhaps I would become a classics professor. Perhaps I would simply become yet another over educated barista. Either way, the destination, like the languages I was studying, was a dead end.

I started writing for the Daily Cal because I wanted to write novels. A writer writes, and I figured the discipline of having to write something every day with a looming deadline and the possibility of getting paid for it would put me on the right path. What I found in journalism was a new path. Journalists could be scoundrels or journalists could be heroes. You saw them each evening on the nightly news and you read about them in the papers and in books. Woodward and Bernstein became personal heroes and I’ve since watched “All the President’s Men” more times than I can count – more times than “Star Wars”, if you can believe that!

Journalists didn’t get paid much, but it was certainly a better defined career path than “classicist”, so I shifted majors again. The only thing on offering at UC Berkeley for undergrads that even closely resembled journalism – despite boasting one of the best graduate J-Schools in the nation – was mass communications. Mass comm is the study of the effects of journalism on society and has produced far more PR flacks and marketing drones than real journalists (at least, that was my perception at the time). So dedicated was I to this new craft that I eschewed the mass comm route and sought a way to get a real journalism major.

The college of Letters and Sciences at UC Berkeley has a major called “American Studies” – what I refer to as the “Choose Your Own Adventure” major. If you can convince the department heads that what you want to study is worthy of a major AND you can create your own curriculum around it AND you can convince the department heads of the interdisciplinary classes you need that it’s worth giving up a seat from a student in their department for you AND you can somehow tie it all back as an aspect of the study of American society, you can turn it into an American Studies major.

American Journalism was a slam dunk. But, to accomplish it, I would need to take Journalism classes. Those classes were only open to graduate students. Convincing the dean of the Journalism school that I should displace a potential grad student from the classes I needed so that I could get my undergraduate degree was a challenge.

By this time, I had already spent a year at the Daily Cal and was officially a staff writer on the crime beat, both University and City. There was not a day that one of my stories didn’t appear in the paper, even if it was just a 250 word “News in Brief”. That dedication turned out to be enough for me to land a faculty sponsor at the J-School and to convince the dean that I should be allowed to take graduate-level journalism classes with the likes of Tom Leonard, Lowell Bergman and Neil Henry.

After another year at the Daily Cal, I quit in a rather churlish fashion due to some perceived – and at least partially, if not wholly, factual – slight from the new guard of leadership and went to work as an intern at AOL, where I managed the Bay Area news desk for their Digital Cities local content experiment. After a couple of weeks, they determined the news desk was not worth the cost and moved me to community management, hosting chatrooms for teenagers and single people on the prowl. My aspirations were now firmly affixed on a career in journalism and letters, perhaps starting with a bit of travel writing to fund my way through a backpacking trip around the world. When layoffs came to Digital Cities, I was the first to go, but I took it in stride and chose to focus, instead, on completing my last semester and graduating in May, all while making plans for my world tour.

As May approached, the reality of my financial situation – about to be made worse by crippling student debt – began to set in. I panicked. I had no income and no job prospects. I wrote query letters to newspapers across the country, but none seemed interested in hiring me. I was about to graduate and was faced, yet again, with the possibility of cataclysmic failure, of having the rug pulled out from under me.

Two weeks before graduation, I received a call from a former co-worker at Digital Cities. He had since moved to Intuit, remembered how skilled I was at community building and coding and wanted to know if I’d be interested in working for him. Ecstatic at the last second save, I drove down to meet with him and his boss on a Friday and had an offer in hand by Monday. As a newspaperman, I had been told that the most I could expect to make at my peak was around $58,000. At Intuit, I expected to open the salary bidding at $35,000 with the expectation that we’d finally settle somewhere around $28.000.

Instead, when the offer came, they apologized that the absolute most they’d be able to pay me was $40,000 – would I be able to live with that?

That’s how I wound back up in technology. Though my writing was sharp, my business knowledge was severely lacking. But, unlike many of the other content producers on the team, I frequently coded my own pages in HTML and showed an interest in learning their proprietary templating language. Before long, we determined that my programming skills would be of better value to the company, and I moved up rapidly from there.

Since then, I’ve stumbled more times than I care to admit.  There was the nine month stretch of unemployment following the first dot com crash when no one would return my calls. There was the terrible, soul-sucking job as a web engineer at the Academy of Art College. And then, of course, there was the spectacular implosion of my own business, TechKnowMe, as I struggled to breathe life into it long after rigor mortis had set in.

I’ve been beat down in so many ways so many times over so many years, and I keep coming back stronger. Somewhere along the lines I finally gained the confidence in myself to know that I can pull myself out of any hole. I know that, sometimes, I just need to stop, evaluate the situation, decide where I want to go, then put my shoulder down and do the hard work to get there. And, so long as I don’t lose focus and don’t give up, I can do it. This is as true for the big things – marriage challenges, job problems, money troubles – as it for the small things – the drive to get out of bed on a rough day, the perseverance to finish work I don’t want to do, the will power to stick to a diet. I’ve gone through it enough times to know there’s peace on the other side, and that’s what keeps me moving. I’m driven by my own set of personal values that I’ve established and identified through the years and keep as my guiding light.

When I was in college, when the future was so uncertain, when I had the misguided belief that following a certain path would guarantee success and happiness and deviation would destroy me, it’s no wonder that I spent so much of my time worrying, especially when I felt I had that path pulled out from under me. I’ve learned to thrive in uncertainty. While I can wish I had learned this sooner, regret is a useless emotion. I am who I am because of all of that, and I happen to like who I am and where I’ve wound up. And if I wake up one day and find out I’m not happy, I know I have the ability to fix it. It is, by far, the most expensive lesson I’ve had to learn – not just in terms of money, but in terms of time and wear and tear on my soul – but it’s also a lesson that I value greatly.

Cliff Stoll Was Not That Wrong

Back in the very early days of the Internet, Cliff Stoll – an astronomer employed as a de facto sysadmin at LBNL – uncovered one of the first cases of cybercrime, documented in the classic book “The Cuckoo’s Egg“. He became an early public face for the Internet when it first went public around 1994, and cemented his reputation as the curmudgeonly Internet contrarian when he published “Silicon Snake Oil” in 1995. A companion piece he wrote in Newsweek about the same time is currently making the rounds again, where it’s being presented as a laughable miss on prognosticating the growth and importance of the Internet.

I know a thing or two about underestimating the Internet in those days (one of my favorite stories is the one where I turned down an opportunity to work at a new company with the ridiculous name of “Yahoo” in 1994 because, and I quote, “I think this whole Internet thing may be a fad.”). Back then, laptops were clunky and slow, desktops not much better, online speeds were laughable and the infrastructure required to bring some of the amazing advances futurists were predicting – telecommuting, digital delivery of entertainment, ubiquitous connectivity – seemed a nigh on impossible challenge to overcome. Fact is, unless you were already deeply embedded in the computer sciences or telecommunications industry, you simply didn’t have insight into all of the variables the Internet boosters were seeing.

Re-reading the Newsweek piece, it does seem on the surface that Stoll was wildly wrong. In 2013, many of us carry computers in our pockets that are orders of magnitude more powerful than the ones that served the first web pages and that are always connected. The high cost of university-level education has lead to an explosion of disruptive online education companies like Udacity and Khan Academy. And, for the first time this year, online shopping is taking greater precedence over in-store shopping thanks largely to to the ease of finding what you want and knowing it will be in stock.

Stoll spends much of the article wringing his hands over how technology will further disconnect us. “Discount the fawning techno-burble about virtual communities,” he wrote. “Computers and networks isolate us from one another.” Social media sprung up in response to that concern and took the world by storm. And, while he’s correct that they’re “a limp substitute for meeting friends over coffee”, sites like Facebook and Instagram have allowed families and friends separated by distances maintain a closeness that never could have otherwise happened.

But the backlash against the lack of a human element continues, and I predict it will get worse in 2014 as we cycle through another re-evaluation of just what we have wrought with our technology. Online education is hitting a stumbling block, indicated by a study that shows that, at one popular online education site, only four percent of registrants actually complete the courses they signed up for. The question of the value of a college education is still in hot debate, but I contend that the connections made and experiences had outside the classroom will always trump what you learn from a lecture, and online education will struggle for some time to replicate that.

IBM predicts that the move we’ve seen to online shopping will slow and redirect in some ways as more people opt to shop at locally operated stores. That seems counterintuitive, but for all of the wonders e-commerce has brought us, they still haven’t been able to replicate the feeling one gets browsing physical items in the real world and interacting with real, friendly and knowledgable sales people.

For all of the strides we’ve made in connecting the world, in disrupting stodgy old businesses and revolutionizing the way we live our lives with the Internet, we still seek that human connection. In that sense, Cliff Stoll was right on target. It’s difficult even now to imagine a time when the cold glow of a computer monitor or even the haptic feedback of a wearable device will replace human contact. Not that we won’t keep trying, but it’s one area where I remain skeptical that the panacea the Internet seems to present will ever find an adequate replacement.

Couldn’t Have Said It Better

Editor’s Note: This is not an invitation to debate politics with me. I don’t give a fuck about your political views – I really, really don’t. And, while I’m open to new ideas and perspectives that force me to re-evaluate my positions, I no longer see how it’s possible to have constructive, respectful discussions of that nature in our current hyper-politicized atmosphere. I’m posting this here mostly for posterity, not because I want to talk about it endlessly. If you disagree and want to debate it, do it somewhere else. 

I’ve been following the whole Bitcoin thing from a distance. The greedy capitalist in me is kicking himself for not jumping on earlier when I first heard about it a couple of years ago (I could be RICH and would be able to buy all kinds of illicit things like drugs, assassinations and Teslas!). The pragmatist in me is still waiting to figure out where this whole thing is going and is mildly concerned that I’ll get in too late. And the guy in me that failed freshman algebra in high school is still struggling to understand how the hell the whole thing works.

All of this is to say I haven’t formed any solid opinions on BtC yet, so I’m interested in those of others. Charlie Stross posted his opinion on the occasion of a precipitous 50% loss in value of Bitcoin after China stopped allowing their citizens to contribute. He wants to see it “die in a fire”, and his reasons are very interesting.

But that’s not why I’m posting.

At the end of the article, he very succinctly expresses a belief that I strongly share in regards to certain popular political movements – in this case, comparing Libertarianism to Leninism:

…I tend to take the stance that Libertarianism is like Leninism: a fascinating, internally consistent political theory with some good underlying points that, regrettably, makes prescriptions about how to run human society that can only work if we replace real messy human beings with frictionless spherical humanoids of uniform density (because it relies on simplifying assumptions about human behaviour which are unfortunately wrong).

The problem with most political theories is that they rely way too much on an idealistic view of the public with absolutely no mitigation in place to account for them. One of the reasons American democracy works as well as it does (and I argue that, despite a lot of problems, it still works) is because of the set of checks and balances that are intended to account for human flaws. It’s not American democracy that’s broken, it’s the erosion of those checks and balances through consolidation of power and the encroachment of “national security” as an excuse to hide more and more information.

It’s not perfect, but I still believe it’s the best of the options out there.

Preparing Your API For Open Innovation

In my latest post on the Mashery API Strategy Blog, I dive back into my extensive experience supporting a well-established API program and talk about what it takes to support it. It’s not enough to just put your API out there, attend a couple of hackathons and hope for the best – you need to foster strong relationships with developers. It’s not quick and it’s not easy, but it’s essential and absolutely worth it.

Everything As A Service: Applying APIs to Your Internal Systems

Posted my latest entry to the API Strategy blog last week, in which I advocate approaching your internal architecture as a series of APIs rather than a monolithic system.

I’m certainly not the first to propose or recommend this idea. It has, in fact, been around for a while under the label “Service Oriented Architecture” or SOA. But SOA has traditionally relied on complicated protocols like SOAP or CORBA or technologies that lock you in to a given platform like COM or JMS. RESTful APIs are becoming the best solution for modularized systems, even within the same data center, as they allow for maximum flexibility with no vendor lock in. It does require additional work in the initial stages to get it running correctly, but tools like Apigility (for PHP) and restify (for node.js) allow you apply a RESTful facade in front of legacy systems until they can be rearchitected to serve a RESTful interface natively or replaced entirely.

Since REST is a completely open standard (though I use the term “standard” loosely here), you can rapidly onboard new developers and integrate with the latest and greatest technologies with ease. You can also more easily expose select parts of your infrastructure to partners and third party developers with very little additional work.

Precious few internal systems are built like this, and too many systems architects dismiss the idea of an API driven architecture out of hand without  considering the benefits. Forward-thinking architects immediately see the benefits of combining highly modularized systems with RESTful API interfaces to deliver tremendous flexibility, systems reusability, increased rates of innovation and reduced onboarding time for new developers.