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Brian Mayer: product and marketing strategy consultant.

I am based in New York City and I update my blog infrequently. About me.
Law & Order

Law & Order

It’s inevitable that every 3-6 months I will dive down a Law & Order rabbit hole. If I’m at my parents’ house, it tends to be Law & Order: Special Victims Unit. I believe with confidence that I have seen every episode of every version of the franchise, with the understandable exception of that Trial by Jury malarkey.

I must be some kind of sadist, though not an uncommon one, to be so obsessed with this show. I’m not generally into crime shows but L&O is different. It’s a character-driven, not an action-driven show, with elements of the crime only secondary to the drama unfolding with the excellent rotating cast.

It’s also unusual with the depth of attention given to the ‘Order’ part of the narrative, evoking real-life legal battles and complicated questions of police ethics, relative morality, civil rights and the justice system in general. The legal debate may be charged for effect, and any lawyer will tell you that most law is boring paperwork, not flashy closing statements. But the issues are real and deserve an intellectually honest airing. Over the years, no sacred cow has been spared. Multiple episodes are dedicated to the politics of abortion, freedom of speech, gun control, environmentalism, race, prosecutorial and judicial misconduct, horse racing, religious freedom, and more. Episodes from the late 90’s were particularly prescient in their discussion of modern-day issues such as data privacy and internet safety.

It’s also not just a show for seriousness. Lennie Briscoe’s one-liners are legendary. Adam Schiff was known to make a joke or two in his day. John Munch, a character that has appeared on 10 different television shows across five networks, cracks wise so much he has been divorced three times. The line when Odafin Tutuola told Munch that he was secretly a Republican was probably the funniest moment of the show.

Through the evolution of the characters we see not just humor but watch as deep, realistic personal issues get faced head-on, from Olivia Benson’s struggle to survive sexual assault and kidnapping, to Ed Green’s past as a gambling addict.

With all this going for it, it’s not a surprise the franchise has been on TV, in some form or another, for almost 30 years. It has survived a re-alignment of television around the internet streaming age, and the formula has changed to allow for more on-screen action, but the basic premise is the same, and the show still lets drama, not cheap shots, carry the day.

Only time will tell if Law & Order will survive for another 30 years, but I hope it does. It brings a level of nuance and seriousness to important issues that need to be discussed the way that a Jack McCoy would discuss them. And in the age of instant gratification and made-for-every-brain television, it’s nice that there’s still a show that has mass appeal purely for its willingness to take on real and controversial issues head on.

It’s Sunday. Time for another SVU marathon.

January 20, 20190 commentsRead More
David Brooks: The Cruelty of Call-Out Culture

David Brooks: The Cruelty of Call-Out Culture

A couple days late reading David Brooks’ excellent new piece in which he examines the ‘cycle of abuse’ of the finger-pointing, witch-burning bullying of people across the internet who deviate from the ever-shifting ideological norm. It’s further affirmation of my growing and persistent fear that actually, no one is safe, and we should, as a society, be very very worried.

Do we really think cycles of cruelty do more to advance civilization than cycles of wisdom and empathy? I’d say civilization moves forward when we embrace rule of law, not when we abandon it. I’d say we no longer gather in coliseums to watch people get eaten by lions because clergy members, philosophers and artists have made us less tolerant of cruelty, not more tolerant.

At the end of the day, we don’t gain anything from tearing each other down, especially for such obviously minor offenses which often don’t even mean harm. Let’s save our online hate for the people who deserve it.

And stop trying to burn heretics. You’re not so innocent yourself.

January 19, 20190 commentsRead More
The Road

The Road

The road has always been a preferred metaphor for progress, journey, and achievement.

It has been a long road, they will say at the end of the championship season. If you lost, you might have been on the road to failure all along. There will be twists and turns in the road, and even forks in the road, but you will persevere as long as you have a close friend by your side. If it’s a Yellow Brick Road, the Emerald City is at the end of it–but isn’t that just another extended metaphor?

When you reach a decision point, of course, you’re at a crossroads. And you might not be able to see the road ahead. No matter what you choose, sometimes something might go wrong, but that will be just another bump in the road. Remember to focus: you have a roadmap to success.

But, don’t always take the easy road. In the future, down the road, you’ll be glad you didn’t. When you find yourself at the end of the road, you will not want to look back and wonder what might have been. It’s better, in life, to always take the high road.

And regardless of how lonely the road, always remember one thing. No matter which road you choose, it won’t actually matter that much in the end. After all, all roads lead to Rome.

January 18, 20190 commentsRead More
A Quote

A Quote

This is one of the most beautiful and humbling paragraphs in all of science. The closing of The Descent of Man, by Charles Darwin.

Man may be excused for feeling some pride at having risen, though not through his own exertions, to the very summit of the organic scale; and the fact of his having thus risen, instead of having been aboriginally placed there, may give him hope for a still higher destiny in the distant future. But we are not here concerned with hopes or fears, only with the truth as far as our reason permits us to discover it; and I have given the evidence to the best of my ability. We must, however, acknowledge, as it seems to me, that man with all his noble qualities, with sympathy which feels for the most debased, with benevolence which extends not only to other men but to the humblest living creature, with his god-like intellect which has penetrated into the movements and constitution of the solar system–with all these exalted powers–Man still bears in his bodily frame the indelible stamp of his lowly origin.

January 17, 20190 commentsRead More
The Biggest Mindset Shift I Ever Made

The Biggest Mindset Shift I Ever Made

I spent all day today attending a leadership summit from the fantastic folks at RRE Ventures and it was great.

This one slide (of which I snuck a discrete photo) is so spot on it’s scary, and largely reflects, in my view, the biggest difference between people who are succeeding in their careers and those who are stuck.

In my experience, it’s all too common for someone to come to a job knowing everything they know, and failing to learn anything new for the duration of their (ultimately short) employment. I call this ‘smartest kid in the class’ syndrome because it’s very common with naturally intelligent people who have never had to work that hard to make it through school and often to their first job, but at a certain point, the training and experience becomes more important than natural intelligence. It’s then that the “smart kids” either sink or swim based on their mindset.

I know this, because I had this very syndrome and struggled to break out of the mindset for many years. I would wonder why coworkers who were less smart than I was were getting promoted when I wasn’t, why my ideas weren’t being adopted on my say-so alone, and why no matter how hard I worked, I wasn’t actually making a difference.

It wasn’t until this all clicked that everything changed. With a growth mindset, there are no limitations on your abilities, only patience. And things that seemed like setbacks before are actually just opportunities to get better. When your best friend gets promoted at work and you don’t, it’s not a conspiracy. It’s because your friend is doing something you’re not. What is it?

The situations are the same, but the frame of mind changes everything.

These days, when I see colleagues in their early careers struggling to get to the next level, it’s almost *always* because of a lack of this crucial perspective. The universe doesn’t owe you a promotion, but you can get better and get one for yourself. Own it. And do it.

January 16, 20190 commentsRead More
Word Avalanches: My New Favorite Obsession

Word Avalanches: My New Favorite Obsession

My favorite recent reddit discovery is /r/WordAvalanches. It’s a wonderful collection of grammatically correct tongue twisters that build on a common sound, phoneme or rhyming structure, always, of course, introduced with a setup.

For instance, “The guy who sketches crossbreed dogs is suitable for the role.” In other words, “The labradoodle doodle dude’ll do.”

Another favorite: “Let me get this straight: the losing liberals deserted the remaining conservatives to fix the fallen goalpost?” In fact one could say, “Right, the down left downright up and left the left right to right the down upright.”

Trying your hand at these is easier than it seems. Recently I was talking with a friend about bald-faced lies, or whether they were actually called bold-faced lies. But in reality, one could tell a bold, bald-faced lie. In an email, it could be a boldface, bald-faced lie. We riffed on this for a while until we came up with: if you’ve been set aback by a particularly forceful email containing an untruth regarding breakfast cereal, one could say you’ve been bowled by a bold, boldface, bald-faced, bowl-based lie.

And so on. I was wondering what the longest of these ever has been. Fortunately, reddit has the answer. I’ll let you click through to read it, but it starts:

Core orc core-core-cork-core-ore-corps, or ‘Core Cork-Core Orc Corps’, cord-cored core ‘Core Cork-Core Orc Corps’ cork-core’s ores; cord-core Corps orcs scored ‘Core Cork-Core Orc Corps’ cored-ore cord-core, orc or orc; orcs scored, ‘Core Cork-Core Orc Corps’ cord-core orc cord-cored o’er ‘Core Cork-Core Orc Corps’ cord-core orc…

Words are fun.

January 15, 20190 commentsRead More
Cast Iron

Cast Iron

I love my cast iron pan. I love that I can use it to cook anything, as long as I clean and season it properly afterwards. It has made me pancakes, omelettes, crepes, spinach, onions, mushrooms, steak, chicken, lamb, liver, and once, hearts.

Most of all, my cast iron has years of history baked into the metal. Every thing I’ve ever cooked, every meal alone, every dinner with friends, every spice and seasoning and failed experiment and “the best meatballs ever” have left something behind on that pan. I’ve invested in this simple pan and every time I use it, I get compounded returns.

What’s something simple that you love?

January 14, 20190 commentsRead More
No Sugar: Day 7

No Sugar: Day 7

Since Jan 7 I’ve completely stopped eating sugar, and it’s gonna kill me.

It’s not just that sugar is in everything, which it is. I can’t eat fruit, baked goods, chocolate or almost any snack, drink juice, get a caffeine fix without black coffee which I hate… I’m reduced to a diet of cheese, nuts, raw meat, and iced tea.

The real thing that’s starting to get to me is the cravings. At first it was just psychological, but enter day 7 and my stomach is in knots looking for its next fix. It doesn’t help that I could grab a cookie off the counter, like, right now.

But I’m persevering, for now. At this point the universe is basically daring me to finish.

When I go back to eating sugar, I hope I remember how literally addicted my body has become to it, and adjust my intake accordingly.

Plan is to go 30 days, until February 7. Wish me luck.

January 13, 20190 commentsRead More
If Mom Can’t Set up the WiFi, We’re Doing Something Wrong

If Mom Can’t Set up the WiFi, We’re Doing Something Wrong

Today my parents called me to help them find their wifi password, because apparently they think I do IT support for a living. Since I don’t have their wifi password (why would I?), I walked them through logging into their router settings using the defaults, on the one device that was already connected to the network. Xfinity, unhelpfully, doesn’t let you change your wifi password using the router settings and makes you install their xFi app instead. After trying on the phone, and then FaceTime on a third phone so I could see the screen, coordinating two apps across three different devices, we were able to figure it out.

The first thing to occur to me was that even Sergey Brin probably still gets calls from his parents to help them with their wifi or their printer. The mechanics of what we’re talking about are so devastatingly simple, that even ‘knowing anything about technology’ is qualifying.

But the more profound realization I had is that we technologists are failing the public in building accessible products. WiFi is a 20+ year old technology and we’re still depending on antiquated security measures like routers whose defaults never change, coupled with frustrating security measures like passwords people use only once thus guaranteeing they won’t remember it, unless they write it down on a post-it note next to the computer, defeating the whole point.

Which is to say it’s completely unacceptable that my parents can’t use the most basic technology tools. They just aren’t basic enough.

I recall this excellent talk by Charlie Owen about web accessibility and how we were too busy as technologists pushing fancier code and ignoring the basics. We tend to take shortcuts to make projects easier for us, but if the occasional ‘edge case’ (she calls them ‘stress cases’) comes along, that’s not our problem.

Every time a parent calls a child to get help setting up technology, we’re not only failing our users, but we’re creating massive inefficiency in our own industry. That inefficiency means fewer people using the technology we worked so hard to build.

So, if you find yourself building a technology product, remember to build something that works for everyone. Put it in front of your mom to see if she can use it. Because if she can’t, you can expect a lot more phone calls.

January 12, 20190 commentsRead More
Moving Right

Moving Right

I was discussing Indian politics with a friend, a topic which admittedly I know very little about. But I do know that Modi came to power, like Trump, on a wave of (in his case) Hindu nationalism, and has, at the least, expressed controversial ideas about Hindu nationalism in the past, and possibly is even more complicit in violence against non-Hindus when he was governor of Gujarat (although it’s worth noting he has been investigated and cleared of complicity).

These things are not great, and to my friend, they were disqualifying of any support of Modi or his party.

However, unlike in Trump’s case, the alternative party to Modi, which held power in India for 49 years, was disastrous for the country, pushing socialist (arguably communist) policies which have stifled India’s growth and kept swaths of the country mired in poverty for decades. Modi is not just a Hindu nationalist, but comes as a reformer whose ideas about economic ideas, including free trade and liberalization, have been embraced by a hundred million plus Indians—including 8% of Muslim Indians—as a better path forward.

This is not unlike the situation in Hungary, where the right-nationalist Fidesz party came to power only because of the failure and incompetence of the socialist party that had dominated politics there for 16 years. Whenever Hungarians today have to consider voting against the party in power, which now controls the media, the judiciary, and arguably the voting process itself, they have to consider the historical performance of the alternative, along with their dissatisfaction of the status quo. Speaking with my Hungarian friends there, it has long been a running joke that not voting is the best choice, although Fidesz is now getting so bad that their political fortunes may finally be waning even amongst the most complacent.

The traditional narrative being propagated by the media is that right-wing populism has swept the world’s major democracies in the last decade because of a resurgence of nationalism, racism, and xenophobia. The narrative completely ignores the possibility that, though these attitudes do exist and have always existed in human societies, they’re not the only reason people might choose to vote for a right-wing party, especially in each national context where the alternative may have made a royal mess of things. Given the open thievery and corruption of Brazil’s Worker’s Party, is it any surprise voters went with an alternative?

It’s a charitable explanation, but a likely one, that most voters may actually be trying to vote in their countries’ best interests, but like with any two-party system, you don’t get to pick and choose individual positions, so in when people move right they get nationalism along with reform. But that should be a familiar “Devil’s bargain” to anyone with a brain who has pondered pulling the lever in the voting booth.

It’s also unlikely that, contrary to the mainstream narrative, people have become more racist or xenophobic over time, and the data support this, along with other measures that try to gauge anti-immigrant sentiment.

So, does Modi’s nationalism disqualify his party from power in India? Obviously it’s an ongoing debate in the world’s largest democracy. But it’s worth noting that democracies tend to have a mediating effect on political positions. Politicians may have a history of incendiary or wildly radical beliefs, but when faced with a parliament that requires discussion and compromise to pass legislation, their worst impulses are kept in check. Notable exceptions to this trend see rhetoric growing worse and turning into action over time, whereas there’s little evidence in Modi’s case that he has become more extreme. In fact, the evidence shows quite the opposite. I hope it will be the same in Brazil as well. And in the US, well, that may be a lost cause. But at least we get to vote again soon.

January 11, 20190 commentsRead More