Students

Alex Kearney shows us the dapper side of practical

Beth met Alex when she was on a trip to Edinburgh with Microsoft – Alex’s style is both unique and deliberate, which is always a joy to hear about. We traipsed around Edinburgh as the weather changed from sunny to blustery and drizzly; and her outfit performed exactly as well as she said it would! (Unlike Beth’s….).

Tell us a little about you.

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Part way through high school my parents wanted me to get a job. I’d just finished a computer science class which prompted me to look at working as a programmer. My local university happened to have research-based internships available to high school students, which gave me a chance to try out some of the things I’d been learning in school.

I had done First Lego League as a kid—a competitive robotics competition using Lego—so I was put with a group that was working with robots: the Reinforcement Learning and Artificial Intelligence lab. For six weeks I sat in a pen full of robots, making them learn from interacting with the world around them.

After the internship was finished I decided Machine Learning was pretty neat, and maybe I didn’t really want to study economics in university after all. I wanted to continue playing with AI, so I left Canada to study Artificial Intelligence and Computer Science at the University of Edinburgh in Scotland.

Even though I moved away, I come home every summer and work on biomedical robotics at the University of Alberta.

Basically, I’m a computer scientist now because my parents told me to get a job.

Tell us about what you’re wearing.

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The weather in Scotland is variable. One minute it could be a beautiful day, the next you could be struggling through gale force winds. Dressing for the elements is your number one priority. To keep cozy, I’m wearing a wool peacoat from Calvin Klein, Eddie Bauer Jeans, and a pair of obscenely comfortable Green Doc Marten 1910s. They’re all practical student-staples for traipsing across the city.

When you’re limited by weather, prints and patterns can make practical outfits more interesting. I’m wearing lord and Taylor blue button down and an outrageously bright Au Jour La Jour jumper. The sweatshirt is one of my prized finds: It’s funky and unique. The combination of sunshine-yellow and printed hyenas makes this my favorite piece.

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Continuing with weather considerations, in my second outfit I’m Layering. To keep the chill off I’m wearing a checked Uniqulo flannel shirt and an Eddie Bauer vest. The best part of that vest? It has pockets: so many pockets. Underneath, I’m wearing an Apollo 13 printed tee I got on a visit to the Kennedy Space Centre. Just in case the weather gets a bit testy, I’ve brought a scarf along that I nicked from a family member.

How did your style evolve to what it is now?

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Western Canadian style can be described as “whatever’s appropriate for the weather”: it’s very
Practical. What you wear has to withstand the elements, whether that’s protection for wading
through snowdrifts at forty-below, or something to keep cool during heatwaves. What you’re wearing has to fit your environment.

Weather also plays a large role in Scottish style, but it’s a touch less casual than Canadian. I try to balance the two by mixing casual and formal pieces.

Do you have any style icons or favorite brands?

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I’ve been enjoying the androgynous trend in mainstream fashion. My favorite manifestation of this is Esther Quek; an authority on all things menswear and fashion director at The Rake. She effortlessly blends street-style with spectacular suits. Not only that, but her command of structure, wild prints, and popping colours is unparalleled. She has a fresh street-wear meets dandy style which you don’t often see.

Any advice for a young person thinking about getting into a STEM field?

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There’s no harm in exploring tech to see if you like it: give it a try. Check out your local community, hit up a few meetups, find a hacker-space, talk to people. If there’s anything tech people love to do, it’s help people that want to get started.

f you’re wary of heading out to events, the internet is your friend. Asking questions with a few well placed hashtags on twitter will garner an outpouring of support and advice. That’s how I started learning about interaction design.

What would you say is the project you’ve done that you’re proudest of?

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Over the past few years, I’ve spent my summers working with myoelectric prosthetics—or bionic limbs. When someone has an amputation, they have the option of replacing their missing limb with a robotic prosthesis. I’ve worked on ways of improving control of these limbs by developing methods of anticipating user control signals. If the arm can anticipate a user’s intentions, it can partially take control, improving an amputee’s speed at completing tasks.

Watching an amputee wear a limb made by a team I was working with was incredible. A device I contributed code and research to was a literal extension of a person: a bionic replacement for their biological limb. It’s the ultimate example of wearable tech.

Are there any misconceptions about STEM fields that you’d like to clear up?

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People often seem to be wary of tech-related geekery; they avoid it because they don’t want to associate with its basement-dwelling anti-social stereotype: a very limited view of tech. Technology touches everything; its influence is far-reaching, impacting up and coming fields—like digital humanities—and established fields—such as medicine. STEM fields can be mixed and matched with anything you want to do. In that sense, STEM is the opposite of its reputation: it’s a liberating field with almost limitless opportunities.

What is the best way (if any) for people to follow you on social media?

I’ve got an indieweb blog, but I can be found on more traditional social media. My handle on most things is Kongaloosh, including twitter and instagram.

The work Alex is doing with bionic limbs is so fascinating – definitely follow her advice and ask (her) some questions on twitter if you’d like to learn more about it! Wearable fashion is fascinating to us, and we’re grateful to Alex for letting us showcase the more altruistic side of it :)

Love always,

Dona & Beth

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