It's almost the end of the 2023 – this year was an emotional roller coaster for me, definitely can't say it was boring. There was so many things, hard to even list everything. This post covers some of the highlights and lowlights of the year for me.
My mom's cancer battle [warning: heavy content ahead]
I'll start with a heavy stuff, because that's what on top of my mind right now. Almost a month ago my mom got diagnosed with an advanced primary peritoneal carcinoma (type of ovarian cancer). Life has changed a lot since then.
If you know any oncologists in the UK or elsewhere specialising at ovarian cancer (for the second opinion), or some new clinical trials, or any organisations that could help, please let me know!
For context, my parents live in a tiny village (about 500 people) in Russia, very far from "civilisation" (about 5 hours drive from the nearby big city). They have about 20 sheep, 7 goats and many cats. They never been abroad and they didn't even travel further that this big city for over 33 years.
I miss my parents a lot, I haven't seen them for 2 years already, because of the war. I really wanna go and see my mom now, and support her, but there's a high chance of me being drafted. If anyone has some tips on how to safely travel to Russia, please let me know.
The diagnosis was both shocking and overwhelming, yet in some ways, not entirely unexpected. They live in such a rural place with a very poor state of healthcare system and not having the best lifestyle (e.g. there's no gyms to go in there).
Something happening to my parents was one of my biggest fears (especially when I was leaving Google and jumping into the unknown). And this happened when I'm at my lowest point financially (trying to bootstrap my startup), also when there's a war and I can't visit them easily. Basically biggest fears come true. It's hard, but I'm trying to approach this with a growth mindset.
Despite these challenges, we're making progress. We've found a reputable clinic in St Petersburg and already had all the diagnostics complete, and even done the first chemotherapy. I'm thankful for my relatives in the medical field who have been instrumental in this process. Both my parents are holding up well emotionally, which is a huge relief.
I'm surprised about myself that I'm holding up well too. I usually feel my best when there're exciting things about the future, but it's very hard to be excited about the future right now. I'm trying to stay present, be helpful as much as I can, and enjoy every little moment of my own life.
Also it's not very clear what should I do when I run out of money in March. I was planning to fundraise for my startup before that, but it might not be the best idea right now. Also doing temporary jobs could be distracting from the precious time with my mom as well. But this is a smaller problem, I'll figure it out!
I believe in my mom, I trust the doctors, I trust in the universe, and I trust in my dad's and my own abilities to navigate these tough times.. Hoping for the best!
This was a huge change in my life at the beginning of 2023 (see my post about it). Leaving amazing comfortable job, and as a result giving up a decent salary, my dream flat and a lot of stability in life. I still question myself if it was a right thing to do, but I'm happy that I did.
This year was the hardest for my mental health – I experienced my first panic attack at the beginning of the year, fought anxiety and even occasional heart palpitations (super uncomfortable when your heart skips the bit). But I figured out a way to manage all of that and I think now I'm a way stronger than before.
Lift: The Movement
We work on my flexibility (increasing the range of motion), mobility (increasing the strength at the entire range of motion), stability, core strength and skills; using methods from gymnastic strength, calisthenics, physio, yoga, mat pilates, movement, FRC (functional range conditioning) and more. Was taking 1:1 sessions twice a week (and in addition one sesh on my own at home) for the entire year (when travelling – doing on my own).
I tried many different styles of training before, from regular strength/resistance training to a bit of capoeira and playing sports like volleyball. I'm very stiff naturally, so even though I was getting stronger, faster, and had a lot of fun along the way, I felt like I was missing some important underlying components (like mobility).
At some point I came across Peter Attia's videos about DNS (Dynamic Neuromuscular Stabilization) – a clinical approach to retraining movement, based on human development between three months of age and walking. Peter also emphasises the importance eccentric strength vs concentric strength, how people getting older, fall and break something. I started diving deeper into these theories and learned about the Prague School of Rehabilitation (good podcast about it), Dr Vladimir Janda and others. So, the Anatomy Trains and the Janda approach are the primary theories used as the foundations of Regeneration programming at Lift (according to Angus, Lift's founder).
We had an indepth assessment at first, I have a PDF with all my imbalances and problems:
and then focused on fixing them all and building up foundation bit by bit:
My startup (wildflow)
I finally figured out what I'm doing next, and there was already a lot of progress made in 2023.
I'm building an ocean biodiversity data platform wildflow. The idea is to organise multi-modal biodiversity data (eDNA, bioacoustics, computer vision, geospatial, manual observations / other ways of measuring biosphere) and use AI to e.g. forecast coral bleaching events, predict harmful algae blooms, create marine protected areas, assess the impact of offshore wind farms, biodiversity assessments for corporates and more.
It would be great to build foundation models for biodiversity (similar to how ChatGPT can use text, images, etc as input), we would use video from underwater cameras, raw audio from underwater microphones, DNA data, etc as input and understand state of ecosystem and it's insides. Building kind of a "digital nervous system for the planet".
I managed to establish good ties with scientific and conservation communities, now focusing more on the commercial side. I'm want to crystallise product-market fit before raising money.
There're a lot of learnings on that side, I'll publish more posts about it soon!
Shark conservation in Mexico
I spent over a month in La Paz in Mexico working with a shark conservation project Pelagios Kakunjá (trying to figure out their data bottlenecks and building a prototype to try solving some of them). Learned a lot about sharks and creation of marine protected areas (MPAs)! Will publish a ton of learnings soon (for now you can watch an interview with Dr James Ketchum). Huge thanks to Dr James, Elka, Carlos and a fantastic Pelagios crew for the amazing time in Mexico!
2023 Burning Man was incredible! This was my second burn (first in 2019). Long time ago when I didn't know much about BM, some friends told me it's a festival where people go to have sex, get drugs and take pictures. I haven't done any of these, yet I found it amazing and always wanted to come back. To me it's all about amazing people! I loved BM2019, but my biggest regret was not being active enough to meet more people. So, this year, I tried to focus on that!
Every year 70k people from all over the world come together for a week and having a blast, while building an ideal society, where people respect and support each other, everything is for free, having incredible experiences together, etc.
It's like in London (small compare to the entire planet) you can find pieces of culture from all over the world, here it's condensed even more in space and in time (like 10 days). Everyone would have their own experiences and find the things they love. You can go stargazing, jump with a parachute, stay in the Orgy Dome or eat miso soup with strangers telling each other favourite stories near bonfire.
I loved this burn even more than the last time! I already knew what to expect. I proudly was going to bed at 11:30pm every day. I didn't drink alcohol or take any drugs. Even though people think it's a druggy, I didn't take any and had a superb time!
I love that animals was the theme of this burn. Honeycomb shape of the man made my heart warm! Avoid hurting nature when organising such a massive event is really hard, but I think organisers did a good job doing it ("leaving no trace" principle, a lot of volunteers help keeping the desert clean, etc).
A unique twist this year was the rain, which transformed the event. It made traveling across the playa more challenging, but it brought people closer together. We spent more time with our neighbours, embodying the true spirit of Burning Man. Such a big discrepancy between what was my experience and what was in the news, it's just crazy!
I might write a detailed post about BM2023. But this was my highlight! Looking forward to going next year!
This year I had a deeply personal and transformative experience with ayahuasca. For the context, I don't believe in stuff like astrology, also I'm not religious (I do believe in science and engineering though). I'm very health conscious. E.g. I haven't tried alcohol till I was 22 and I haven't been drinking any alcohol for a year already. I try things like that with a great caution, e.g. I still haven't tried any psychedelics, even though I had many chances to do that and I believe they are great if used in a right setting. But I'm open minded.
This year presented an opportunity to participate in two ayahuasca ceremonies. The setting was ideal, shared with friends and guided by a renowned shaman, whose grandfather first introduced Europeans to ayahuasca.
In the first ceremony, I entered with an intention to explore how to become a better version of myself, not knowing what to expect. The brew's taste was bitter, evoking a sense of familiarity yet indescribable. The ceremony, filled with chanting, was like a symphony of forest birds, each with its own song, creating a beautiful cacophony.
As the ayahuasca took effect, I felt a sensation of tingling across my body, a blend of itching and energy. It was a full-body sensory overload, amplified by the surrounding chants and movements. The chanting took on a spiralling quality, creating a mesmerising auditory experience. In this altered state, I found myself slipping into deep childhood memories, embracing my family in my mind and feeling an overwhelming sense of love and connection.
The second day was brutal, what many would describe as a "bad trip." My intention was to confront and understand my fears. Everything felt different. This time the ayahuasca seemed less responsive, leading to feelings of frustration at the beginning. However a few hours later, I was immersed in hallucinations of geometric patterns and felt as if I was observing myself from both a first-person perspective and slightly from outside my body.
Then I tried to "wake up" from our reality/simulation (like in Matrix). I was overwhelmed with great fear and a desperate desire to get back to normal. Was very challenging, I was shaking for a few hours. It was an intense confrontation with my deepest fears, culminating in a moment of awe at the brightness and beauty of the stars.
In the days that followed, I experienced a blend of lightness and normality. There was a noticeable shift in my physical and mental state: a deep relaxation, a deeper voice, and a heightened sense of control and confidence. Interactions with people became more joyful, and I found myself less reactive to typically upsetting situations. Remarkably, my flexibility in the gym improved by over 20%. Eventually, this newfound state became my new normal.
My ayahuasca journey was like an intense course of therapy compressed into a few days – not always comfortable, but undeniably transformative.
Meeting people I admire
This year has been unexpectedly rewarding in terms of meeting people I've long admired. The list includes renowned entrepreneurs, engineers, scientists, podcasters, YouTubers, and authors. This was my new experiment: intentionally reaching out to these influential individuals.
Admittedly, not everyone responded, but to my surprise, many did. These interactions, ranging from casual chats to hangouts, have been incredibly enriching. They've offered fresh perspectives, support, and even opportunities for collaboration.
I'm sharing this experience to encourage you not to hesitate in reaching out to those you consider "out of reach." A well-crafted, personalised message can sometimes open doors you never thought possible. I'm definitely planning to double down on that next year!
I had a fair bit of travelling this year: Lanzarote, Dahab, NYC, Boston, Iceland, Paris, Brussels, The Hague, Montenegro, Black Rock Desert, Silicon Valley, LA, Mexico. Unfortunately, had to cancel Norway trip with orcas and Dominica trip with sperm whales. Let's see what's gonna be next!
This year I tried making a few YouTube videos, participated in 6-week bootcamp by YesTheory and CreatorNow. I'm planning to create more videos next year.
For my channel (youtube.com/@nozdrenkov):
- documenting my journey (like why I left Google, etc)
- thoughts about life (e.g. how to find unknown unknowns)
- quick videos about my trips (e.g. diving in Egypt)
- educational content about engineering (e.g. how to process geospatial data in Fireship style)
- technical investigation (explorations like DreamQL)
For my podcast (youtube.com/@wildflowai):
- ocean + biodiversity + tech/AI/science – I keep meeting so many interesting people telling so many fascinating things, I thought it's a shame to not record these conversations. So I decided to give it a go!
Planning to post more and need to start assembling a crew (looking for people who could create shorts from podcasts, etc).
This year has been very special, I feel very fortunate and grateful for many things in my life, especially being surrounded by amazing people! You folks, hope you're gonna have a fantastic 2024, keep rocking! 😎🎄
Please help me improve my writing 🙏