Memorable Moments from 2019 Automattic Grand Meetup

I’ve finally recovered from the Automattic Grand Meetup – took me a while this year, spent a few days in nomad-working in Cocoa Beach, and found myself sick for quite a few days. One reason it took so long to recover was because the meetup was totally amazing!

The keynote speakers this year were consistently fantastic. Each one made me look at the world slightly differently – very thought-provoking. Here are some memorable moments 🙂

Alexander Rose of the Long Now Foundation

I’d heard about the Long Now Foundation, but never really looked past the surface. At face value, it’s a compelling idea – how can we think and operate on timescales larger than our experience?

The work they are actually doing is delightfully idiosyncratic, and generally inspiring engineering (of the mechanical variety). I learned a lot about exactly what they mean by “long now clock”, and lots of fascinating details about what they are building.

Stephen Wolfram

Stephen Wolfram was an intense experience! He casually walked us through a bunch of big ideas, noodling in his interactive, natural-language based system for so-called “computational essays”.

His way of working really resonated with me – this seems like an important part of the next wave of computing. It really was like science fiction unfolding on stage. The Wolfram language allows you to jot down questions in a much more precise format. The system has types & semantics so that it really understands the places, concepts and numbers that you type, and it has “knowledge” – it’s connected to many vast data sources.

What I found compelling about this is its expressive and communicative power. When we use natural language, there’s always a “translation gap” – the symbols in the language are an approximation for what we mean. Can we develop a more precise way to communicate? Could such a system provide a common, standard set of tools for white papers or public policy development?

Scott Berkun

Scott Berkun presented a very a holistic view of design. He’s currently working on a new book – refreshing to have a talk not selling a book, but workshopping a book that’s in progress!

Everything is design, everything is designed, everyone is a designer. Often the nominal “designer” is working within constraints that they don’t control, and the “true” designer might be a producer, a mayor, a lobbyist, etc.

I really appreciated the “call to arms” in Scott’s talk. How can we ask questions and peel the layers back to understand what patterns and agents are really designing the experiences, cities, and products that we all use every day? Get involved here!