My summer started in March, when school basically finished. Grappled with what I’ve always desired, unlimited free time, I sought a productive outlet. In this post, I’ll outline some of the highlights of my summer.

I started my break with a goal to refine how I code with the Missing Semester MIT course. This course goes into workflow tools for coding, ranging from teaching Bash to explaining cryptography. It was through this course that I discovered my love for Vim. It no longer was this abstract editor of hackers; it was a way to “code” the way I code. And I can’t explain how much time I’ve saved using Vim. The only problem is the time I’ve saved using Vim, I spend to convince others to use Vim. But it doesn’t matter; I just feel like a superhero using Vim.

Back to the topic, from this course I also learned about Git. Now, I already knew how to use Git, but this course showed me the inner workings, going into the ideas of trees, blobs, and directed acyclic graphs. What this is to say is that I became better at Git, and it was valuable.

As always, a relevant comic from xkcd

The next milestone of my summer was rebuilding my personal website, something I’m really proud about. A more in-depth explanation of how I did this can be found here. In short, I modernized the website. It had been about 2.5 years since I originally made my website, but my new design was vastly different from the original one. Looking back, it’s cool seeing just how much I’ve grown in a relatively short amount of time.

The highlight of my summer was by far making HelioHex: a highly-configurable, modular, music-syncing lighting system. I wrote a post which has a demo and a tutorial of how I made it here. I don’t think I could do it justice with a summary here, so I highly recommend checking it out.

The bulk of my summer was spent working with the Looger Lab along with the Turaga Lab to use machine learning to devise better calcium indicators of neural activity. I worked with some amazing people across disciplines from chemistry to neuroscience to computer science. My summer work was amazing; from devising and constructing models using TensorFlow to writing regression tests, I felt like a real machine learning engineer. The coolest part was applying all my newfound knowledge from the Missing Semester course in scripting and Git.

With roughly a week left before school started, my family encouraged me to enjoy my remaining time before the stress of school hits. The problem is that I find it hard to kick back for extended periods of time. Don’t get me wrong, I love to relax, but I enjoy myself more when I’m productive. So after taking a few days off, I spent the last half-week of summer vacation learning D3.js and creating a visualization of my Spotify listening patterns. What this project taught me is that I love D3.js. It’s a bit complicated to understand the basics, but now that I do, I feel the world at my fingertips. I want to visualize data because I have a drive to tell stories. And so a few days on what was supposed to be a side-project now feels like a legitimate career path. Funny how things work like that 🙂.

Outside of CS

Outside of refining my computer science skills, I learned how to draw better. I followed the DrawABox lessons, which at one point, comprised of drawing 200 boxes freehand. It took a lot of work, but definitely helped me understand constructions better. I took a step back once school started, but hopefully I can dive back in during winter break.

Also, I’ve spent some time enjoying nature through walks and runs. Often, my mind needs space to escape the confines of the blue glow from my laptop screen, and taking in the scenery outside can help. It amazes me just how helpful it is, but it’s hard to build this as a habit. It’ll be something I’ll be working on in the future.

Lastly, I’ve read some pretty great books. I’m saving them for a future post, so stay on the lookout! Most of the books I read were personal biographies, a genre that I resonate with. There’s something comforting in listening to human stories, listening to how people learn, grow, and make the world around them better.

To this end, I’m calling this summer the Summer of Stories. From making a scrollyteller of my Spotify listening patterns to listening to autobiographies to witnessing lives of people affected by the pandemic to telling my own narrative with this blog, this summer feels like it revolved around stories. I’ve learned that I love stories because they make me feel human. They make me feel like I can connect to the experiences of others.

In summer-ry (get the joke?), I’d say this summer was pretty productive. I’ve picked up some cool new computer science tools and learned from valuable experiences. The optimist in me finds this reassuring that even in a pandemic, I can grow as a person.