Thursday, November 28, 2013

After the Fact III: The Government Shutdown

Reflections on a national disgrace and the man and his party who started it all.

By now, we all know that the Tea Party Republican Federal Government Shutdown™ was a national disgrace. From Sikkim to St. Petersburg to Sao Paulo, citizens the world over are still shaking their heads or shaking their fists at our right wing's inconceivable capacity for waste and stupidity.

Republicans, of course, were elated:
  • Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-MN):  "We're very excited. It's exactly what we wanted, and we got it. People will be very grateful."
  • Rep. John Culberson (R-TX): "It's wonderful. We're 100 percent united!"
But of course, the carnage they wrought brought anything but smiles across America. On top of the 800,000 federal workers who suffered through the first half of October without a paycheck, the impacts on air travel, imports and exports, small businesses, national parks, and America's reputation across the globe are now well-documented. Ironically, the overall price tag of $24 billion according to Standard & Poor's will now be paid by the same U.S. taxpayers the Tea Party professes to represent with its unique brand of vehement ignorance.

But to me, one of the most disturbing details of this dark chapter revolves around the man CNN dubbed the "Architect of the Shutdown," Congressman Mark Meadows (R-NC), who apparently circulated the letter that, once signed by a host of Republicans in Congress, left them beholden to the folly of the shutdown no matter what the costs. Explaining why he would jeopardize his party and the country in such a reckless manner, Meadows said:
"My job first is to make sure I represent the people back home. I don't believe that when I get here that people expect me to look at the political implications. That's for somebody else to focus on."
But in fact, as a member of the United States Congress, there are matters much more important than "political implications" for Congressman Meadows and his Tea Party compatriots to focus on. He is now a national leader (as terrifying as that may seem), and a national leader must look at all these issues through a national prism. His votes, his commitments, his party, even his inane floor speeches, all have national implications, implications well beyond the gentle slopes of western North Carolina, implications in Brooklyn and Compton and Fargo, North Dakota and Jackson, Mississippi. If Mark Meadows wants to represent the people back home, he really ought to do us all a favor and go run for mayor of Morgantown, where the most damage he can do would be slicing his thumb open while cutting a ribbon.

If any more evidence were needed that the Tea Party is not fit to make decisions with national and international implications, last month's government shutdown shows us that Mark Meadows stands as Exhibit A in an open-and-shut case.

Friday, July 5, 2013

Douglas Engelbart, America, and Great Things

The loss of a computing icon gives us the opportunity to reconsider America.

On July 3rd, Silicon Valley lost one of its greatest icons. If you are reading this at a computer, as the vast majority of you are (ubiquitous mobile devices notwithstanding), you are at this moment using many of the technologies conceived by Douglas Engelbart and his colleagues at the Augmented Human Intellect Research Center (AHIRC) at Stanford Research Institute (now SRI International). It probably doesn’t surprise you that some techno-geniuses long ago invented things we now take for granted like the hyperlink that brought you to this blog or the mouse you used to click that link. But what might surprise you is that all of these concepts—along with more basic ideas like organizing digital information into folders and files, viewing graphic representations of information on a screen, and even interacting with friends and colleagues through computers—were all created many years before companies like Apple, Microsoft, and IBM ever took advantage of them. And what might surprise you even more is that the objectives set out by Engelbart and his team back in the 1950s actually never mentioned a computer at all, and were in fact solely focused on humans and the effectiveness of their intellectual work.

I personally was a 9-year-old Catholic school boy (and those of you who know me know that must have been a very, very long time ago) when Engelbart and his team, and most notably his primary research partner Bill English, delivered what is now known as “the Mother of All Demos” at the Fall Joint Computer Conference in San Francisco on December 8, 1968. If you’re geeky enough, as I was, to make it well into the YouTube posting of this video, you just might learn some valuable historical lessons about our country, what we once were, and what we’ve become.

The video shows what was projected on a large screen before a 2000-seat arena, and Engelbart introduces it by saying, “If in your office, you as an intellectual worker were supplied with a computer display that was backed up by a computer that was alive for you all day and was instantly responsive to every action you had, how much value could you derive from that?” Forty-five years ago, he literally describes the work environment of hundreds of millions of people on the planet today.

Engelbart sits below and to the right of the screen, which shows both his face and a number of other images superimposed on the view of his “computer-display work station.” Behind the scenes, Bill English commands a team of six people located both in San Francisco and at SRI’s headquarters in Menlo Park, who make the demonstration real and capture it on film by manning “cameras, switches, mixers, special-effects controllers, etc.” In noir black and white, Engelbart starts his presentation by showing capabilities and “user features” of one of the first timeshare computer systems. The computer feeds back, robotlike, with beeps and buzzing at various pitches. About 5 minutes into the demo, the video shows Engelbart’s hands and keyboard, and you realize he is using a mouse. Even the microphone headset Engelbart wears looks as if it belongs in 2013 and not 1968.

Ultimately, however, like all good presenters, Engelbart starts to give us stories. The first is the story of his wife calling and asking him to do some shopping, giving him the chance to show us how he constructed not just one but a series of shopping lists for various stores he would visit on his way home, and not just the lists, but also a map of his trip home showing the various stops, each with a hyperlink to the shopping list associated with that particular stop.

Then, 18 minutes into the demo, Engelbart declares that he will be “shifting from the illustrative material to the real working stuff, in case you wouldn’t recognize it.” And this is where he gets to the more interesting story: that of his team at SRI, its history, its objectives, and its funding sources.

His team had had the system he was demonstrating up and running for about 6 months, going from one timeshare terminal to 6, with plans to add another 6 in the coming months after that, and here he explains that “... the next step when you’re faced with having this in your office all day, as I now do (it’s been very exciting since), how do you put that to work for yourself?”

At the time, the AHIRC was staffed by 17 people working in a specialized computer lab. Staffing over the years from 1950 onwards had grown in fits and starts, and had in fact been only 1 from 1950 to about 1962, rising to 17 by 1968. Through that time, it functioned as what Engelbart calls a “goal-oriented pursuit” of the following primary objective:
Improve the effectiveness with which individuals and organizations work at intellectual tasks.
Notable to me in that objective was its broad sweep. Engelbart wasn’t trying to win a war, he wasn’t trying to defeat terrorists, and he certainly wasn’t trying to make any money for anyone. Nonetheless, in all that time, he tells us, AHIRC was “sponsored by government agencies. Currently, ARPA, NASA, and RADC. Also, in the past, AFOSR and ESD. These are the people that first grubstaked us many years ago.”

Now many of you will recognize those acronyms but many won’t, so I’ll help: Engelbart and his team were supported in their sweeping research objectives by the U.S. Government’s Advanced Research Projects Agency, the National Aeronautics and Space Agency, and the U.S. Air Force’s Rome Air Development Center. In addition, they had gotten initial funding from the U.S. Air Force Office of Scientific Research. And of course that’s a good thing, because it’s highly unlikely that the iconic computing enterprises of the day, IBM, Hewlett-Packard, Fairchild, or any of the rest, would have spent a dime on a small research team whose objectives had no direct line to their bottom line.

Even more remarkable, Engelbart goes on to explain his team’s research approach, which he describes as an empirical approach of build and try, or “bootstrapping in a new sense.”
We needed a research subject group to give them these tools, put them to work with them, study them, and improve them. We’ll do that by making ourselves be the subject group and studying ourselves and making the tools so that they improve our ability to develop and study these kinds of systems and produce in the end this kind of system discipline.
Now as I heard Engelbart saying this on the video, I was listening from my 2013 frame of reference, and from that frame of reference I found myself channeling the likes of a Paul Ryan or an Eric Cantor, and hearing what they would hear, and what I came up with was something like, “These guys want our government to give them money so they can build a bunch of high-tech toys that they themselves will go play with, all in the guise of a serious research project!?” Well, that’s exactly what they wanted, in a sense, and that’s exactly what they got, and that’s exactly what they did, and in the end, hundreds of millions of citizens of the world got new, more effective, more efficient ways of executing their daily work. And of course there were “toys” at AHIRC and there was “play,” but what there was, mostly, was intense, groundbreaking, intellectual work, the cost of which had been justified and explained in exacting detail in research proposals submitted to government agencies dating back to 1950. And we can all be thankful that there were intelligent people at those agencies applying both critical and creative thinking to the reviews of those proposals, because otherwise we never would have gotten the very tangible results that we are now, by the thousands, looking back on in the Mother of All Demos.

In Engelbart’s day, the roles of Paul Ryan and Eric Cantor were played by people like Joseph McCarthy, Barry Goldwater, and Richard Nixon, and I struggle, frankly, to imagine any of those elected leaders applying the kind of critical and creative thinking the Defense Department, the Air Force, and NASA did when they approved Douglas Engelbart’s research proposals. I will, however, continue with that struggle, because that’s my only way of remaining connected and hopeful in our hyper-partisan 2013 America.

I was surprised to find in his writings that Engelbart was aware, at some level, of what he was asking of the world as he embarked on his quest for a better world. Seeing ever-increasing complexity in daily life, and increasingly complex problems facing humanity, Engelbart realized that his effort to tame that complexity would amount to something like a “crusade.” And as he wrote in his 1986 paper Workstation History and the Augmented KnowledgeWorkshop:
Crusades have many strikes against them at the outset. E.g.: they don't connect to a normal source of government or business revenue; they don't have nice organizational frameworks—you can't go out on the streets and expect to find financial, production, or marketing vice presidents; even if you accomplished the sweeping change that was the ultimate objective, chances are that in this very complex world, the side effects might be bad enough to make you wish you hadn't.
We can only be glad and appreciative that despite those misgivings Engelbart resolved to press on, and despite the forces arrayed against him, our government decided to support him in the end.

Barney Frank has said, “Government is simply the name we give to the things we choose to do together.” We should all be pleased and encouraged that so often those things turn out to be the truly great things that change the world.

Sunday, June 2, 2013

Silicon Valley, a Wake-Up Call

There are times in life when you are humbled in a way that goes to your core. Of course, we are all humbled each and every the perseverance of the disabled vet, by the smarts of the colleague 20 years your junior, by the grace of the special-needs adult smiling through his day. But sometimes you encounter humility that ends up actually making you sad.

This is what happened to me the day I read George Packer's piece, "Change the World: Silicon Valley transfers its slogansand it's moneyto the realm of politics," in last week's New Yorker. Like Packer, I was raised in the Santa Clara Valley that everyone in the world now calls "Silicon Valley." Packer was a senior at Gunn High School in Palo Alto in 1978, the year my wife Carol was a freshman there. I graduated the previous year, 1977, from Branham High School in San Jose. Very much unlike Packer, however, I did not follow the Woodward/Bernstein inspiration that led me to complete my journalism degree in 1983. Instead I was swept up by tech, and have now had a long and lucrative Silicon Valley career. I'm certainly no Marc Andreessen or Sergei Brin, but I am comfortably settled into an obscenely overvalued rancher in Los Altos, holding out reasonable hopes for an earlier than usual retirement.

And this is why Packer's Silicon Valley piece was so humbling. From the vantage point of my tech career and my day-to-day life in the valley, I have observed the trends with some uneasiness: the rise of social networking companies that "make" nothing beyond user interfaces on which to display advertising, the insulation of workers in citadels with free gourmet food, dry-cleaning pick-up, and medical/dental centers, the increasing divide between the super rich and the unrich best embodied by urban gentrifications that have literally pushed the disenfranchised further and further out to the edges. I have observed these changes, scratched my head over them and even seethed with envy at times, but I had never seen them as a contiguous whole, as a real social transformation taking place at an alarming rate in the place where I was born and raised, until I read Packer's piece.

And that was just the setup.

Packer goes on to expose twenty- and thirtysomething millionaires and billionaires who have artfully convinced themselves that they are “changing the world” when in fact they have no clue what “the world” is. As Packer observes:
It suddenly occurred to me that the hottest tech start-ups are solving all the problems of being twenty years old, with cash on hand, because that’s who thinks them up.
More alarming (or perhaps more amusing), Packer tells us how this "change the world" self image has led these captains of tech to look for political applications for their millions. And what happens when the cash-rich and clueless get involved in politics? Well, I’ll direct you first to Packer’s piece—it’s a must-read in my opinion—but I’ll also embellish with my own observations: 

The only “world-changing” I expect from this latest crop of IPO millionaires might be:
  1. A few new laws and regulations favored by the tech industry, such as an increased allotment of the H1B visas they use to displace uppity American engineers in favor of the half-the-cost variety available from various parts of Asia, or reductions in corporate tax rates because, hey, how can they possibly be expected to keep their intellectual property, profits, and jobs in the US with these exorbitant tax rates. (This despite the fact that they themselves live in the US, walk the safe streets of the US, eat the safe, thoroughly inspected foods of the US, educate their kids in the US, etc., etc.)
  2. Perhaps a few more “world-changing” developments like the candy shop, arcade, and soon-to-open hobby shop that now grace the streets of Downtown Los Altos, all brought to us by local Google executives whose children are apparently bored by the currently available attractions in the historically geriatric village. (Yes, the young techistocracy are procreating, and apparently their kids need something to do with themselves beyond the walls, vineyards, swimming pools, and tennis courts of the Tuscan villas of Los Altos Hills.)
Other than that, I don’t expect much. But hey, surprise me.

Sunday, February 17, 2013

The Case for Alex Smith

Why I believe San Francisco 49er Coach Jim Harbaugh made a mistake in benching veteran quarterback Alex Smith.

I’ve been a San Francisco 49ers fan since I first understood what a first down was, roughly about 40 years, so I was one of the tens of thousands of hugely disappointed Northern Californians who watched on February 3rd as my beloved Niners lost their first Super Bowl in 6 appearances. I am also, however, one of a small minority of Niner fans who, despite the obvious flair and powerful throwing arm of Colin Kaepernick, believe that Jim Harbaugh made a mistake in Week 10 when he decided to bench veteran Alex Smith in favor of Kaepernick.

None of us will ever know, of course, whether the 49ers would have won the Super Bowl with Smith at the helm, or even whether they would have made it that far. (The narrative among most fans is that they surely wouldn’t have.) And more than that, I’ll admit that much of my initial ire at Smith’s benching was emotional: a guy who had stuck it out through some of the darkest years in 49er history, who had never asked to be traded as any sane professional would have, and who, when given the chance, had delivered a stellar season and taken the team from the depths of nowhereland to within a breath of the Super Bowl, to me, a guy like that deserved some loyalty in return. But even after Kaepernick attained instant super-stardom through his performance and the team’s continued success, I remain convinced that the team was better with Smith at the helm, and here’s why:

First, the teams I love (and the teams we 49er fans had gotten used to watching over the years) are the ones who are entirely predictable but nonetheless wildly successful. When a fellow Niner fan berates Alex Smith for being “boring,” I say, “Good! Boring is good!” With Smith leading a balanced and nuanced passing attack and the unstoppable running back Frank Gore leading a freight train of a running attack, the 49ers were this kind of offensive team: defensive coordinators knew exactly what they were going to do on the field, and there wasn’t a damn thing they could do about it.

Second, when you’ve got a Super Bowl team, you don’t mess with it. So you’ve got a young talent at a key position on the bench, sure, toss him in now and then to make sure he’s game-ready should the unthinkable happen. But when you’ve made it within a game of the Super Bowl and are charging to the playoffs at 6-2, that is not the time to make dramatic changes like replacing your starting quarterback. Just ask the NFL teams that have never been within a whiff of the Super Bowl: those opportunities are rare indeed, and when you get them, you do not mess with them.

Bryn Swartz of the Bleacher Report captures the moment of Smith’s benching extremely well:
The fascinating aspect is just how well Smith had been playing when he was benched. Let's look at his numbers. He had completed a ridiculous 70.2 percent of his passes, tossing 13 touchdowns and five interceptions. His 104.1 passer rating would be the third-highest mark in the league if he had thrown enough passes to qualify.

In fact, Smith's second-to-last game as the 49ers starter was the best of his career. He completed 18 of 19 passes for 232 yards, three touchdowns and a near-perfect passer rating.
So what, most people say. Smith was great, Kaepernick is greater. Taller, faster, flashier, and able to toss the ball 70 yards from his back foot if he has to. Agreed. He’s an amazing talent and I look forward to years of watching him lead the Niners to many wins in the future, and hopefully back to multiple Super Bowl appearances. But Kaepernick himself isn’t the problem. It’s what Kaepernick, in this particular juncture in his career, did to the team. From Week 10 onwards, the Niners were different. They were no longer running Frank Gore down opponents’ throats until the linebackers and safeties bit, then putting the hammer down with the passing attack. Instead they were a team that was trying so hard to be unpredictable that they were confusing their own offensive linemen, a team that all but abandoned receivers like Vernon Davis, one of the most feared tight ends in the game, a team that, ironically, was becoming even more predictable by relying more and more on a single combination: Kaepernick-to-wide receiver Michael Crabtree. Not being one to simply accept what I was seeing, I decided, like Bryn Swartz, to look at the numbers.


Fortunately, Smith and Kaepernick each started exactly 8 games, so a decent apples-to-apples statistical comparison can be made, starting with the straight-up quarterback passing numbers. Kaepernick and Smith threw the same number of passes, and as I’m sure Harbaugh had hoped, the stronger-armed Kaepernick completed enough long balls that his overall yardage was higher, despite completing fewer passes overall. But as I said, my kind of team is the kind that runs at you with a fierce, predictable, and unstoppable attack. (Think of Joe Montana and the West Coast offense he used for 10 years to the frustration of opponent after opponent.) An offense like that does not, in my opinion, require long bombs to win games—and the fact that Smith won 6 games and Kaepernick only 5 is good evidence of that. So for me, the much more dramatic numbers on this chart are Smith’s superior 70% completion percentage and 104.1 passer rating. To me, this is not a quarterback you put on the bench, and what’s more, doing so for the reasons Harbaugh apparently had in mind changed the team, and not in a good way

Passing        SmithKaepernick


Receiving statistics for the Niners’ top 7 receivers provide the strongest evidence of this. With Smith at the helm, 4 of those receivers pulled down over 200 total yards in receptions. With Kaepernick starting, only 2 did, and that second one was only because of a late-season surge by Delaney Walker. In fact, Kaepernick, as one would completely expect of a young quarterback, locked in on Michael Crabtree and milked that cow right to the end. If I’m an opposing defensive coordinator, you’ve just solved one problem for me: all I have to do is stop Crabtree, and I’ve just taken away 2/3 of the Niner’s passing attack. Admittedly, during the playoffs those defensive coordinators tried to do just that, and Kaepernick responded by going repeatedly to Davis to make up the slack. Still, I think it’s telling that the play that ended the Niners Super Bowl was a fade to the corner of the end zone—a play the Niners had not run successfully all season long—to Michael Crabtree.

Receiving Yards        Smith as StarterKaepernick as Starter


All along you’ve been thinking, all this talk completely ignores one of Kaepernick’s greatest assets, his running ability. Agreed, he is an amazingly fast and dynamic rusher who adds a dimension to the offensive attack that can drive opposing defenses crazy. But at what cost? When I consider this, I always put myself in the shoes of an offensive lineman. In those shoes, the first thing I want to do is charge off the line and hit someone with a block that’s got a head of steam behind it. The second thing I want to do is backpedal into pass coverage and set my feet to keep a charging defender out of the space behind me. In both cases, my job is clear. With Frank Gore charging into the line or Alex Smith dropping back to pass, my job is clear. With Coilin Kaepernick running read options and scrambling around behind me, my job just got a lot more difficult. Now I’ll have to admit, my intuition told me Frank Gore, like Vernon Davis, had been marginalized in the second half of the season, with Kaepernick as the starter. In fact, he actually had more carries in the last 8 games, which surprised me. What doesn’t surprise me, though, is that his yards-per-carry was down, given the increased complexity and uneven rhythms of the offensive scheme. Again, I like a team that comes at an opponent and beats them, not a team that feels like it has to fool the opponent into losing.

Two other things I found interesting about the changes in the running attack: First, Alex Smith is no Colin Kaepernick when it comes to running the ball, but he’s no Ben Roethlisberger either: he ran the ball 27 times as a starter with a very respectable 4.8 yards-per-carry average. Second, with Smith as the starter, the three of these players—Gore, Smith, and Kaepernick—averaged 5.6 yards per carry. With Kaepernick starting, they averaged only 4.5.

RushingSmith as StarterKaepernick as Starter


Finally, and perhaps apropos of nothing, there’s the defense. There has been lots of talk about the precipitous decline in the Niner defense’s performance late in the season, and how their abysmal first half performance in the NFC Championship Game nearly cost the team the win, and how a similar performance in the first half of the Super Bowl ultimately did. So on my part I’ll just point to the fact that the defense performed better with Smith as the starter and leave it to more dedicated souls to figure out why. Was it because a more efficient 49er offense allowed them to play less, and thus perform better? Or was it the other way around: the defense simply faltering in the second half of the season, thus making Kaepernick’s job harder than Smith’s had been.

Defense          Smith  Kaepernick
Yards Allowed

The unfortunate thing about all this is that it's very unlikely there will be a chance for any of this analysis to be proven right or wrong. In order for Alex Smith to perform this well again, he’ll have to find himself starting for a team that has all the tools at its disposal that the current 49ers do, and let’s face it, there aren’t many teams like that around. Alternatively, he could remain the 49ers backup—something that has been talked about lately—in which case he’ll have no chance to prove himself. I would of course be extremely surprised if Kaepernick didn’t continue to grow into a truly great NFL quarterback worthy of every bit of the hype. I seriously have nothing against the kid. I just don’t think this was the time to thrust him into the starting role, and I will always regret that Harbaugh decided to do so.

Saturday, January 26, 2013

Recipe: Huevodillas

The ideal pre-ride breakfast...explained.

A friend of mine showed me how to make this simple morning concoction a while back, and it quickly became my standard breakfast on bike ride mornings. Don't bother Googling "huevodilla" because all you'll find is a bunch of overly complex, overthought, over-engineered contrivances that frankly violate the spirit of the name: huevodilla, as in huevo (egg) in a tortilla, just as quesadilla means queso (cheese) in a tortilla. (And as for "huevadilla" with an a, that's apparently Spanish slang for persons and/or behaviors some might find offensive, so best to avoid that term.)

Now I'm not a chemist or a dietitian, so I don't know why the huevodilla turns out to be such a fantastic fuel-up for a day of road cycling. All I know is, two of these babies in the morning, and I'm slammin' up Montebello Road like Lance Armstrong on sterioids (which is to say, like Lance Armstrong).

The huevodilla, like the quesadilla, can be augmented with additional ingredients (think of chicken quesadillas): I have a friend who makes his huevodillas with a bit of ham added, and another who adds chorizo, and so on. My particular favorite is the huevodilla con queso, with just a bit of cheddar cheese added.

These are the ingredients, and it's hard to imagine anything so flavorful and at the same time so simple:

Ingredients for 2 Huevodillas con Queso

  • One large egg
  • One soft-taco-size corn tortilla
  • One teaspoon of your favorite salsa
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • For the con queso version, 1/2 ounce shredded cheddar cheese
Because the huevodilla takes less than 5 minutes to prepare, I recommend arranging all of your ingredients for easy access before starting, as shown in the photo above.

The tools you'll need are simple as well:
  • A small non-stick skillet
  • A silicone or other non-stick-friendly spatula
To prepare the huevodilla, do this:

Heat a tablespoon of extra virgin olive oil in the skillet. Heat should be medium-high, as you would normally use for frying an egg.

Once the oil is hot, roll the pan around to spread it evenly, then crack one of the eggs into the middle of the pan. (If the egg yolk rides up onto the sides of the pan, you can have problems later.) The egg should sizzle when it hits the pan.

Immediately after cracking the egg into the pan, puncture the yolk with the corner of your spatula.

Immediately after puncturing the yolk, place the tortilla over the top of the egg. You want to do this before the egg cooks at all so that the egg will adhere to tortilla.

Let the egg cook with the tortilla over it for about 2 minutes, or to whatever your taste is for fried eggs. I like mine over easy, and 1-2 minutes usually does the trick for me.

At this point you should be able to pick up the skillet and slide the cooking huevodilla around on the oil. If you're a pro chef, you can flip the huevodilla like an omelet, but if you're a poser like me, you'll want to slide your spatula under the egg and flip it so the tortilla side is down, then immediately season with salt...

...and some fresh-ground pepper.

Place the grated cheese onto the egg, slightly off to one side. (You'll be folding the tortilla in half in a few seconds.)

Spoon the salsa in on top of the cheese.

With your spatula, fold the egg-only side of the tortilla over onto the cheese-and-salsa side.

And you're done. Cooking the huevodilla for another 30-60 seconds is fine, but there's enough heat in there at this point to melt the cheese, so it's not necessary to do that.

If you're smart like me, you'll serve this one to your wife while you make a couple for yourself.

These are great served with cold orange juice to take the sting off the hot salsa, and make sure you've got some paper towels handy, because these can be some messy eating. (Think of La Fiesta soft tacos.)