Welcome! Tech, Neuro, Rowing, and Sci-fi ++

Welcome! Tech, Neuro, Rowing, and Sci-fi ++

Howdy! My name’s Alex, and it appears that you’ve come across my blog. Allow me to show you around!

I’m a developer, UI/UX designer, and neuroscientist by trade, and this blog will primarily focus on supporting my passion in my work. Expect to find technical tutorials, research reviews, case studies, and more on this blog as I pursue my career.

But wait there’s more! Yes, I’m delighted by designing, developing, and deploying amazing digital experiences (and occasionally writing long alliterations), but I also greatly enjoy rowing, sci-fi, building random stuff, travelling, puns, and spending time with friends and family. And that is why this blog was born. I want this to be a place to discuss anything and everything that comes to mind and a place to learn and grow as time goes on.

So, without further ado, let me tell you a bit about myself and the kinds of stuff that I spend my time on.

I was raised in a then-small town called Oakville, near Toronto, Canada. From a young age, I became fascinated with machines and robots and their ability to make our lives easier. Concretely, I started playing around with Arduino boards and went from gawking at blinking lights to eventually building a small self-driving rover.

I couldn’t find a photo of the long-disassembled rover, but please enjoy this photo I have of an Arduino Uno with two extra shields on top for some reason.

Later on, in high school, I started getting into web development because I was captivated by how accessible the technology was. Anyone with access to a computer could build a website that had the potential to be seen by millions of people across the world! Though, unfortunately, my first website got only two views (both from me as I refreshed the page). I learned continuously through trial and error until one fateful November hackathon during my first year of university where I, along with two awesome teammates: Adam and Sid, built an automatic note-taking software and dubbed it AutoNote (36-hour sleep deprivation does wonders to one’s creativity, as you can see). We won an award for the project and decided to pursue it further.

AutoNote had been built with Angular 2, software I was comfortable with and a backend on Flask. After electing to pursue the project further, we ended up dumping the code base and switching over to the MERN stack instead. This was the Angular 2/4 era and the SPA’s bulk and indecisive plans coupled with a personal interest in learning ReactJS pushed us to adopt a different core system. AutoNote eventually became Knowtworthy, but that’s a story for another time.

AutoNote acted as a sort of catalyst for my interest in web dev, and as the demands of my projects grew more complex, so too did my skill set. Less than a year later I was standing on stage in front of over 400 people receiving a $10,000 award, along with my now Co-Founders Adam and Sid, to pursue the idea further. Around this time I was also beginning to work on freelance projects for various clients on everything from administrating docker swarms and writing data management scripts to designing shiny new frontends for businesses interested in upgrading their look.

As you can see I picked up a lesson or two in web design along the way. These were designed by me just a little over a year apart

All of this was happening in parallel to my degree in Neuroscience and Cognitive Science at U of T, where I was able to get a coding position at the Duncan Memory Lab. This cognitive neuroscience lab opened the door to my interest in neural research - specifically in how the processing power of computing can be leveraged to better understand cognitive function.

So why am I telling you all of this? And where to sci-fi and rowing fit in?

In the last few paragraphs, I talked a lot about the things that interest me but little about the biggest thing I was doing at the time: undergrad. This isn’t to deemphasize the importance of university, but rather to demonstrate by example that your undergraduate years are a lot more mouldable than you might initially realize. Especially in a field like computer science where the barrier for entry is comparatively low (you don’t need an MD to start writing python scripts), working on external projects in school can be extremely rewarding on numerous levels.

But now: a brief interlude about rowing.

That’s me rowing bow of an uncoxed four.

I’ve been rowing for almost four years now and it has become an increasingly important part of my life. Does waking up at 4 am to bike 10km to practice in the dark before lecture every morning suck as a night owl? Absolutely. Is rowing in the pouring rain in a soaked jacket when it’s just above freezing outside and you are no longer sure where the skin on your hands ends and the wood handle of the oar begins, the worst thing ever? Undoubtedly. Is it all worth it when you finally pull 10 perfect strokes at the end of a gruelling race and medal in your province? Yep.

It’s rather challenging to describe to someone why rowing is enjoyable. After all, it is the only Olympic sport that used to be a form of capital punishment. But, I’ll give it a try. Though each individual motion is repetitive and hard, and you are combining said difficult motion into a linked list of hundreds or thousands motions, the feeling of being in complete sync with your crewmates, or of gliding perfectly and elegantly through the water in a single, is unlike anything you can experience in any other sport that I’ve tried.

It takes years and years of practice to achieve that kind of mastery of the sport, and I am certainly nowhere close, but the chase is part of the fun.

Whew, now that my heart rate is up thinking about rowing, let's talk a bit about sci-fi. Sci-fi is great. Specifically space opera. Specifically The Expanse. You should read it. Did I mention its great?

I recently finished all eight of the planned nine Expanse books by James A. Corey and I was blown away by how well written and captivating they were. And if the books weren’t enough there is also a TV show based on the books that is currently in its fourth season and it was amazing too!

Probably one of the most intriguing aspects of the books and the show are the lengths to which the authors and producers go to maintain scientific integrity, if not necessarily validity, throughout the plot. The world-building of the Expanse is incredibly thoughtful and thought-provoking and the surprisingly detailed scientific descriptions take the story of human struggle and conflict to a whole new level. No spoilers or anything, but as the books progress and things get more expansive (ha. ha.), the science is still well-informed and adds to the mystery as it unfolds.

And so, now that we’ve taken a tour through my interests and my passions, my work and my hobbies, I’ll wrap up this intro by thanking you again for stopping by! I’m reachable by email at alex@alexgordienko.com or by twitter @alexgordienko_ in case you want to chat :)

See you next time!

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