Welcome to 2019!

To be frank, this weekend is my first break since Thanksgiving. We had “rush priority” work for multiple clients come in toward the end of Q4, and had to scurry through the holidays. However, I did get to prepare a special blend of our cider for Winter Solstice, and our family enjoyed it … a lot. Which is great, since this is my favorite holiday of the year.

BTW, Happy Holidays to you and yours!

Some accomplishments during 2018 at Derwen for which I’m especially grateful:

  • got most of our legal structure set up for the company
  • met our financial goals for 2018H2
  • people started using our early products (even if they’re unaware)
  • we’ve announced the Rev 2019 conference along with Domino Data Lab, with a fantastic line-up of speakers coming together
  • Ben and I finished our third of three surveys (in publication now) for O’Reilly Media
  • four AI tech start-ups which I’m advising are going strong
  • last but not least, the 2018 season produced our best cider batches to-date

The first six months of life for a new business can be tricky to navigate. We’d planned on major expenses during meager revenue, for at least that long. Fortunately real-life turned out the other way around. Given the current business climate (translated: much uncertainty) it’s been no small feat to meet financial goals this early. And make payroll! Especially while working on product market fit and soft launch of our first product, plus exploring key partnerships to enhance that line. I’m grateful that a number of amazing people have asked to work full-time at Derwen. Though we’re being careful not to hire “too soon, too quickly” (an old familiar anti-pattern of tech start-ups), we’re building a foundation for a larger team — hopefully later this year.

Many people have asked about Derwen. The name means “oak tree” in Celtic languages and it’s the root for the word “druid” in English.

We’re not in a stealth mode, per se, even so we haven’t had much need for PR or marketing just yet. Safe to say, our product focus correlates well with some known interests within the team:

  • active learning, aka “human-in-the-loop”
  • machine learning use cases in media
  • “dev rel” and open source community evangelism
  • leveraging knowledge graphs

I can drop a few teaser-phrases, for example: digital rhetoric, neo-animism in design, enaction, terministic screen, attention economics, inverted funnel, etc. That doesn’t say much. For now, the consulting and advising parts of our business are visualized by our business flywheel— which my friend Mark Grover described as distributed product management:

As mentioned, Ben Lorica and I have been conducting industry surveys about enterprise adoption for “ABC”, the new-ish acronym for the winning combo AI, Big Data, Cloud. We’ve found some surprises in this analysis, which we’re eager to share. O’Reilly Media published our first survey of the series in Q4, and the other two are just now going to press. I’ve given a few talks based on this material — at Big Data Coruña, Big Data Spain, Nike Tech Talks. Looking forward to having all three mini-books published soon, to draw from the full analysis in upcoming talks. If you’d like to schedule a presentation, please send a note.

Hella exciting news: Rev conference was announced at the end of the year. Our focus for the event — held in NYC, May 23–24 — will be leading data science teams: practical guidance for and by data science leaders and teams, aspiring to make data science an enterprise-grade capability. Daniel Kahneman, the Nobel laureate author of Thinking Fast and Slow will be headlining! I’m absolutely thrilled about it, and frankly cannot think of any other speaker who’s work is more central to the current industry dialog about data science and AI.

I’m grateful to get to be co-chair for the conference, and our CFP is open through Feb 26 — submit talk proposals here — we’re eager to hear your stories.

BTW, Derwen curates and publishes a conference watchlist; please use this resource for upcoming event listings in Data/ML/AI. If we missed anything, send a note.

Autumn 2018 produced our best cider batches to-date. I’m giving credit to environmental conditions at Caer Goedwig, where the seasons here on the lower coastal edge of the PNW align well with cider fermentation — mostly. Our home orchard features Gravensteins, which arrive early (August) when the weather is still upwards of 30° C. That’s way too warm for making cider, although I found a cool spot and let the Grav pommace go into a wild ferment this year (a first!) while I was working in Spain. Wild yeasts move slowly, and that batch is just now nearly ready to sample. Other batches of Black Twig (thanks to our neighbors at Hale’s Apple Farm) and Newtown Pippin (from our orchard) were ready much sooner.

Those were Oct/Nov harvests, fermenting during a much cooler part of the year, when mists drift in from the Pacific and our mornings are near freezing. Full disclosure: the thermostat at Caer Goedwig never goes above 16° C during winter, so our ciders have a stress-free time during primary fermentation and racking, with an average temperature at about 12° C.

Black Twig this year came out with an especially delightful body, and the Pip is nicely crisp. After years I’m finally learning to calibrate the back-sweetening in ways that other people prefer :)

Speaking of product research, PMF, etc., … The summer’s travels included a pilgrimage of sorts, a Welsh farm stay in Snowdonia near the ruins of Tomen-y-Mur. That was the site of the legendary palace of Ardudwy in the Mabinogion. Near paradise for me. Along those lines, here’s my list of light holiday reading:

The third one in particular — Ingold 2011 — that’s a rare gem. Well-worth the reprint price (~US$42) if this area interests you?

Yet all science depends on observation, and all observation depends on participation — that is, on a close coupling, in perception and action, between the observer and those aspects of the world that are the focus of attention. If science is to be a coherent knowledge practice, it must be rebuilt on the foundation of openness rather than closure, engagement rather than detachment. And this means regaining the sense of astonishment that is so conspicuous by its absence from contemporary scientific work. Knowing must be reconnected with being, epistemology with ontology, thought with life. Thus has our rethinking of indigenous animism led us to propose the re-animation of our own, so-called ‘western’ tradition of thought.

I ❤ that. Whether intended or not, Ingold’s article unfolds a beautiful synthesis of Maturana and Varela meets the later works of Friedreich Wilhelm Joseph von Schelling. Core to my beliefs and sound guidance for what we’re doing at Derwen.

Betti Marenko provided my introduction to Ingold, and her article is also an excellent read:

Neo-animism can provide a powerful alternative to the images and figurations we conjure to describe the current human–digital thing entanglement. It can do so, however, provided that it is conceptually framed neither exclusively as a design method, nor as a philosophical position. Indeed, this article makes a plea for a way of engaging design with philosophy, via a reappraisal of animism.

Brenda Laurel (author of Computers as Theatre) offers keen insights in her monograph. “I am a recovering Aristotelian,” were the first words I ever heard Brenda say — and it shows, though I adore her work nonetheless :)

In 1990, I’d recently befriended Timothy Leary — eventually we sold his software through FringeWare. Tim and I had initially bonded over mutual reminiscing about West Point — which, as it turns out, is guaranteed to clear the hippies out of the room! I went to see Tim speak in LA, where he introduced Brenda and Joi Ito on a panel discussion. Thankfully, during the new few years I got to talk more with Brenda while I was serving as a TA for early ACTLAB with Sandy Stone.

Joi and I later had some peripheral collaboration when YMO used one of my Mondo 2000 articles (issue #7, with Brenda on the cover). For kicks, check out credits on the “High-Tech Hippies” song on their Technodon album, which also featured sources from Tim, Wm Gibson, W.S. Burroughs, and John Lilly. Joi’s firm (especially Gohsuke-san) worked on brainwave-controlled stadium video art for YMO’s tour. Fond memories.


Serendipitous items to recommend:

Also, a list of my current favorites among podcasts. These gems are rich with ideas and hard-to-find insights that are guaranteed to make you ponder and muse. As guaranteed as how Timothy Leary and me talking about West Point used to clear the room of (most) hippies:

I’m now at episode 38 currently for the latter one, and Jeffers’ sections about neolithic Scotland are outstanding! So many authors seem to dwell on “Greeks and Romans did everything first and are really all that matters in the Classical period” — which is complete B.S., if you bother to look closer. Check out your nearest Oppidum for deets. Also, too many “scholars” adhere to the wacked idea that people arrived in the British Isles as a result of waves of conquest and displacement — even though contemporary DNA analysis begs to differ. Thankfully, Jamie Jeffers digs further into the story and evidence, with a refreshingly innovative approach to telling history:

> The focus of this podcast is upon the human drama that is played out in history. Rather than providing a dry recount of dates and names, I am doing my best to provide a three dimensional image of what these people, places, and events were like. The people I’m speaking about were real flesh and blood individuals with dreams, fears, and flaws. And where the information is available, I intend to highlight those aspects for you.

Somewhat less aristotelian, ibid., Brenda, Hegel, most product managers in Silicon Valley who ignore even elementary media theory, dogmatic adherents of Abrahamic religions in general, et al. :) That entire BHP podcast is amazing, especially Prehistoric through Sub-Roman Britain emphasis on the development of Celtic history and culture.

“Mae’r haul yn gosod.”