Zoom, Commonality, and Branding

Thoughts of the week.

I still don’t know how frequently to send out this email. For now, I think I’ll send it on Sundays. Feel free to reply if you ever wish to.

Here are some things I spent a ridiculous amount of could-have-otherwise-been-productive time thinking about this week:

Zoom - I found myself telling someone about Sacha Baron Cohen like I know him. It’s because I have had the fortune to watch two zooms where he is being intimate with friends and co-stars, and one interview. Zoom shows you celebrities in their homes in the exact same location that you have been talking to your own family in their own homes, so you weirdly think you know these celebrities. I spent some time wondering, why doesn’t Zoom instead elevate your family/friends to celebrity status?

Professional Ethics in Mathematics - yes. Really. An old friend from Columbia contacted me out of the blue and invited me to a truly magnificent dinner party in London. (It was only 2pm my time, but everyone else was having a lovely dinner, though we all swiftly forgot to eat.) There was a bespectacled bow tie surrounded by stone artifacts, telescope, and books; an architect of unmentionable public facilities; a hip-hop artist with a PhD in physics; a financier and a documentarian, and our Norwegian accented hostess who knew more about our lives than we did. There were more Doctors than people on the zoom (most held more than one terminal degree). I was in heaven. The conversation revolved chiefly around whether Mathematicians would ever accept that they, too, should take professional ethics courses.

Commonality - To me, inclusion means that you must seek out the stuff you have in common even if it is only one thing, not that everything must be in agreement. We frequently leap to judgment these days: we call out the flaws and faults we see around us, and therefore we worry our own flaws and faults could cause our exclusion from the group. I’ve been thinking about aphorisms like Live and Let Live, and “the common good.” Mostly though, I’ve been seeking commonality. And before you side with most mathematicians who don’t see the point of ethics in pure math (or “maths” if you’re in Britain), a dinner party guest pointed out that Cambridge Analytica employed primarily mathematicians.

Branding - I have three brothers, and we have really esoteric email discussions about things that mean nothing job-related to any of us in the real world. This week we were talking about branding and whether the symbol appears first and people band around it, or whether a unifying thing exists and someone creates a symbolic representation of the thing. (We were initially discussing battle flags but we morphed into corporate branding.) Which came first? The symbol or the symbolic intent of the symbol? Can it be reversed—and what would that mean?

Yeah. So those are my random, ridiculous thoughts this week. If you liked this email, you might want to share it with some other people and maybe, who knows, actually start discussing something other than the usual things. See below for stuff I have productively DONE this week…

Stuff I have done this week:

If you don’t know me all that well, here’s a recent print (with old photos!) interview that discusses one facet of my ridiculously busy life. If you like that and want to see me on video, I did this Facebook Live interview on Friday with Katherine R. Lewis who founded a Parenting Journalist Conference which is open to any writer whose nonfiction subject is parenting-related. (Coming up in March.)

Here’s the link to find out more about the book, if you’re curious.

Thanks for reading & have a great week.