Notes

by Brian Mayer

Cofounder/CTO at the Creative Action Network. Cofounded midVentures (now TechWeek). Bar pianist at the Pour House.

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Ferguson is America

I apologize in advance for invoking Godwin’s Law, but as always, Nazism is such the prime historical example of snowballing fascism it’s hard not to bring it up. So I’ll get it out of the way with a brief look at Martin Niemöller’s well known and probably over-quoted poem:

First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out— Because I was not a Socialist.

Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out— Because I was not a Trade Unionist.

Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out— Because I was not a Jew.

Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.

We know the poem, and we know the message of the poem is supposed to be “speak out before it’s too late.” But I think a more important message of the poem is that fascism never announces its arrival with jackbooted stormtroopers marching down the town square. It arrives slowly, with...

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How I Became the Most Hated Person in San Francisco, for a Day

This morning I put the finishing touches on, and launched, ReservationHop.com, a site where I’m selling reservations I booked up at hot SF restaurants this Fourth of July weekend and beyond.

logo-300x120.png

I built it over the weekend after waiting at Off the Grid for 30 minutes for a burrito from Señor Sisig, and realized that there’s got to be a market for the time people spend waiting for tables at our finest city dining establishments. Turns out I’m not the first person to think it, as there are two startups doing this very thing in New York City (here and here).

It’s a simple site with a simpler backend. I book reservations under assumed names, list them on ReservationHop, and price them according to the cost of the restaurant and how far in advance they need to be booked up. I don’t use OpenTable; I call the restaurants directly. And I have a policy of calling and canceling reservations that...

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Being a Productive Animal

We all feel unproductive at times, some of us more than others.

For me, personally, I have high expectations of myself and what I’m able to do, so I feel unproductive frequently. It’s very rare that I put in a solid 10- or 12-hour day of work and feel good about it. Sometimes it’s because I don’t work solidly and I know it. Other times it’s because I work solidly but don’t feel like I accomplished anything.

I’ve been through long periods of employment and “funemployment” and it’s easy to feel unproductive in both cases. When I’m employed, it’s easy to work very hard and look back and not have anything significant to show for it. It’s not always clear if it’s the sort of work that adds up and pays off at the end or if the entire project, concept or enterprise is on the wrong track from the start. At other times you have a bad manager or conflicting goals from the top that make...

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“Check Your Privilege” is Actually Just a Lousy Argument

Like you, I’ve read Tal Fortgang’s piece, “Why I’ll Never Apologize for my White Male Privilege.” And like you, I’ve enjoyed watching him get skewered by blog after blog in the never ending one-upmanship that is the who-had-it-worse awards. As the internet froths at the mouth, I hereby declare that, like you, I think he made a big mistake! He should have elaborated on his first sentence and stopped there.

The point he should have made, but skipped over instead, was that the “check your privilege” riposte is not relevant to almost any discussion in which it is invoked. It is a rhetorical flourish used to discredit the proposition based on the identity of the speaker, and not the merit of the proposition itself. There’s a word for this logical fallacy: ad hominem. When employed, it can pack a powerful punch, but in reality it is lazy, lousy, and liberally lobbed in lieu of any...

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Design a Magical Product

Yesterday I took part in a workshop on Design Thinking. The exercise that fascinated me most was when we paired up with strangers to create a product for them. We started by empathizing with the “customer” by talking to them. My partner was international and was carrying all these receipts in his wallet for reimbursements and filing taxes back home. He clearly needed a product that digitally scanned receipts but also was able to provide the physical copies on demand in case of a tax audit.

While ideating and brainstorming on how to solve this problem, I wrote down standard solutions like pre-stamped envelopes, pocket receipt scanners, and more. But I also wrote down “Magical receipt reading elf.” It was not a serious brainstorm, and indeed I had already started to cross it out when my partner latched onto the idea. “It’s perfect! It can eat my receipts and scan them and then if I need...

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What Google Knows About Me

I started keeping a list of what Google knows about me. Even knowing full well that I gave this information to Google freely, it’s pretty awe inspiring.

  • Google knows every website I’ve ever visited (Chrome)
  • Google knows who all my friends are (Gmail)
  • Google knows who my closest friends are (Gchat, Gmail)
  • Google knows what products I’ve purchased and how much I’ve spent (Gmail receipts)
  • Google knows what mailing lists I’m subscribed to, and to which clubs I belong (Google Groups, Gmail)
  • Google knows what stocks I own (Google Finance)
  • Google knows how popular my websites are, and, by proxy, how well my startup is going (Google Analytics)
  • Google knows where I travel and when I am traveling (Google Maps, Google Maps on iPhone)
  • Google knows what I look like and what my friends look like (Picasa)
  • Google knows where I am during the day, and who I’m with, and for what purpose (Google...

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Towing is Extortion

So, I got my car towed this morning.

I’ll rephrase. I got my rental car towed this morning, after parking overnight outside my apartment because there was no overnight drop-off.

I’ll clarify. I got my rental car towed this morning after parking six inches over the line, my Hyundai’s ass sticking into my neighbor’s driveway. In his defense, he had left me a very nice note on my windshield informing me my car would be towed if I didn’t move it.

I got a $100 parking ticket at 7:55am. The city towed the car at 7:59am. The bill: $520.

Now, let me be clear. I screwed up. The tow zone was clearly marked. I took a risk butting the car into the driveway, and it was because I was lazy and tired and didn’t want to hunt for another space, and I thought I could get downstairs in the morning before anyone was leaving for work. I was wrong.

But let me ask you a question: isn’t $520 a ridiculously...

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I Used DuckDuckGo for a Week and Had to Switch Back. Here’s why.

It was really hard to switch off of Google, and when I finally did it, I didn’t think I would switch back.

In the past, whenever I’ve tried another search engine, I have failed. Searching is such a natural, compulsory thing to do on the internet, that whenever I have navigated to Bing or DuckDuckGo, I find myself staring at a blinking cursor not entirely sure what to search for. The conscious decision to make a search has always interfered with my ability to search naturally.

But the recent revelations about PRISM and the NSA have led to a surge in interest in cutting the chord to big cloud services like Google whose data collection practices are well known. So, following the herd, I decided it was time for me to switch my default search engine. It wasn’t enough to remember to navigate to DuckDuckGo for searches; instead, I had to change my address bar default search engine in Chrome...

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We are Obsessed with Race, not Racism

Our obsession with race has surpassed and perhaps even magnified our problems with racism in America.

Let me explain what I mean. Since I’m white, I can’t speak to the personal experience of racism, and I wouldn’t try to do so. As an American, I am part of a society that has made identity politics a most incessant and obnoxious trope, and I have observed that the more opposed to this drivel people get, the more the boundaries of politically acceptable discourse solidify to exclude them (or should I say, us). There are things that just can’t be said anymore, things that we need people to say because without dissent, race politics becomes an orthodoxy, and orthodoxies are dangerous. That said, I have travelled to a very many places and interacted with a great deal of people of all backgrounds, ideas and identities. Almost every person I have met has been full of opinions about racism,...

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Elevate the Conversation

I was recently introduced to a proverb:

Great minds discuss ideas; average minds discuss events; small minds discuss people.

It’s amazing how succinctly this quote (usually misattributed to Eleanor Roosevelt) describes the way most of our daily interactions work. Look at the media. Find yourself reading People magazine? Maybe you’d learn more by watching the Events on CNN. And you would learn even more if you cracked open the Economist and read about the great Ideas in there.

When you are having a conversation, the first question you should ask is, are we talking about People, Events, or Ideas? And if it’s People or Events, see if you can elevate the conversation.

This is harder than it seems. We all are tempted to talk about people that we know. We are natural gossips. These are conversations we all have had:

  • He just got a new job
  • They just got married
  • I really don’t like her
  • Did...

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