Ethnicity is Bullshit

I have no idea why the argument started or what it was about – it was third or fourth grade, after all. I just remember how it ended: with Lorraine Garcia very pointedly and angrily in my face saying, “You are not Mexican! You don’t look Mexican, your family isn’t Mexican, so stop saying it!”

I was aghast. Of course I’m Mexican! My mom was white as white goes, and I inherited a lot of her phenotypical traits, but, as I always maintained, “Zazueta” ain’t just a fancy name. My dad and his family did look Mexican and, in many ways, acted Mexican. Well, Americanized Mexican, any way.

I spent many a holiday at my aunt’s home surrounded by family as the women cooked in the kitchen and the men messed around in the backyard or gathered to watch the game. The food on the table was always flavorful and spicy, often including mole from my grandmother’s secret recipe (which she would later explain was simply a jar of Dona Maria mixed with a Hershey’s bar). My cousin drove a low rider in the late 70s and early 80s, complete with shag carpeting and a chain steering wheel, a living stereotype pulled directly from a Cheech and Chong movie. Continue reading

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.

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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. Continue reading

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. Continue reading

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. Continue reading

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.