November 16, 2022

Humans of Mem #2: James Hull

Humans of Mem #2: James Hull

Welcome to the first in a new, ongoing series of short interviews with people who’ve found cool ways to use Mem in their everyday lives. After we published this piece in September — a collection of excerpts from four interviews with Mem users — we realized that we should make showcasing interesting use-cases an ongoing project. We hope you find them as inspiring as we do. Read on, and follow us to get notified when we post our next instalment.

"I did a stint in Obsidian and Roam and then Notion, but I don't want my notes to be their own aesthetic project. So when I saw what you guys were doing, and the simplicity and low-friction of it, that seemed really attractive", James Hull told me. James works as a wine importer on the East Coast, and is hoping to turn his Mem into both a collaborative workspace and shared knowledge wiki for him and his team. "We're only a small company, it's four of us, so it definitely has the potential to be a system we can use, and have [Mem] as a little company data center".

James explained what that knowledge database might look like in more detail for him and his company. "For us, we'll have something like a page with the information on a wine producer, but then you can start branching off from there. For instance, what's the history of the grape variety they're using? What's the history of the area they're working in? There are all these avenues that open out from there."

Now that they're working with more winemakers, having a shared bank of easily-retrievable information is more important than ever. "We work with 35 winemakers right now, and sometimes you'll be on an appointment or something like that and think, oh God, what was the soil type they use again? Or what vine-training method do they use? And being able to access that really quickly is great. And then over time, we'll be able to flesh out their profiles in Mem even more, and get really concise, solid information built up that any of us in the company can access and alter and refine."

Right now, James has a fairly consistent professional routine with Mem, jumping in on Mondays to plan out what his week will roughly look like and taking note of any appointments he has or needs to make. (In the future he's hoping to use Mem recreationally, too, for storing the music he plays and journaling).

But being a wine importer isn't a typical office job where you're at your desk from 9 to 5, so the ability to get "tasting notes, information, little nuggets" into Mem while on the go is crucial for James. "'Cause sometimes, if we're in Italy or something, we're visiting with a producer and we're standing in the middle of a field-"

"You're not going to get out your laptop", I guess.

"Yeah, exactly".

And while James is pretty decent at "bumbling [his] way through" Italian, he's not fluent in the language, so quick-capture is even more important when he's overseas talking to producers and trying to keep up with the conversation. "Oftentimes when we're visiting, my boss [and the producer] will be speaking in Italian to each other, and then my boss will repeat in English what they just said. It all happens conversationally, and I need to get down all the information we'll need to sell the wine later". He's considered audio-recording these conversations for extra ease, but right now being able to capture notes in Mem on the fly works for him.

Texting a wine's tasting notes to Mem is also something he does a lot. "Often on Mondays the team will taste some wine together. So I'll taste it, take notes, use the text [function]". Sharing the mems with the rest of the team is useful, too, especially "if only one or two of us can be at the tasting": that way, everyone can be on the same page about a particular wine's flavor profile. James has a template set up for wine tastings, so he can add that to a new mem and record all his notes there.

I'm interested in the language used to describe wine for a couple of reasons: one, because the taste of a particular thing is, philosophically speaking, a quale - a subjective, first-order experience; and two (relatedly), because the terms used to describe wine are generally analogous or metaphorical. On his Substack Let Them Eat Cake, former restaurateur T. W. Lim recalls how he once asked a wine retailer how he selected the wines he sold in his store. The retailer replied: "sometimes, when I taste a wine, I hear a bell. If I hear a bell, I’ll think about selling that wine.”

Lim goes on:

“Sometimes, when I taste a wine, I hear a bell” is still the most essential and consistent rubric I know for engaging with wine, because unlike every professional course of wine training I know of, it embraces the ineffability of what happens every time we taste.

I ask James about the particular inadequacy of language to describe the taste - the "ineffability" - of a wine, and if that's a problem he and his team ever come up against when sharing tasting notes. Maybe it's easy to agree on the levels of tannin and acidity, or the fruit aromatics of a wine, but what about "angular", "ethereal" or "brooding" as wine descriptors?

James agrees that the language of wine can be pretty subjective, but he's interested in seeing how Mem's AI learns to deal with that, especially as NLP models across the board continue to improve and refine over time. "I think you're leaning on an important question, [and that's] whether as my notes build up and the AI gets better, how much it can connect to this insular language that we wine people have".

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