Sophie Stadler – Notes

Very occasional postings.

Vim vs. Neovim

October 29, 2017

I just read this interesting post on the benefits of Neovim over Vim. I thought the author made some good points, but I also lack the perspective of a contributor; I’m only a vim user. I decided to install Neovim (brew install neovim) and take a quick look.

Right off the bat, I noticed two things:

  1. Neovim is configured to use a bar cursor (|) in insert mode, and a block otherwise. This visual indicator makes it really easy to keep in mind what mode you’re in. When I tried to add a configuration to my .vimrc, I found that it wasn’t easily doable in macOS’s Terminal.app. Perhaps there’s a way to get it going—I’ll have to do some more digging—but I’m not interested in switching to iTerm 2. I like my tmux setup quite a lot, thank you.
  2. Neovim was, in a way, painfully slow. Switching out of escape mode took longer than my fingers are used to. I’m wondering if that’s expected, or a unique issue. Admittedly, I haven’t yet done any serious programming in Neovim. I’m going to give it a shot.

Both programs have the same UI that I know and love. I’m torn whether it’s worth switching to something that has been carefully developed under the hood, and may allow for me to contribute to development down the road, or if I should stick to the tried-and-true.

Munich

April 25, 2017

I just got back from Munich and wow, was it incredible—my favorite city I’ve visited this semester. I can definitely see myself living in Germany one day. Here, some thoughts on why I liked it so much.

Public Transportation

I get the sense that incredible infrastructure is found throughout Germany, but it’s worth emphasizing just how great the public transport is. I was able to buy my tickets using the MVV app, which was incredibly easy. The city also offers steep group discounts, and easy transport to the airport. Train cars are a mix of old and new (old on the U-Bahn), but are uniformly clean. The only city I’ve been to that rivals this quality of transport is Copenhagen. Budapest’s system is extremely comprehensive too (and there’s really nothing to complain about), but Munich won me over because all of its trains are electric, and the S-Bahn is suuuuper fast. If the H5 that I take every morning were that fast, my commute would be way shorter. Also, like most things in Budapest, the system isn’t super clean.

There were also some very beautiful ads in the subway. Though Munich isn’t Germany’s hippest city, there’s an emphasis placed on beauty in public spaces.

Leisure

En route to our third day of Springfest, Jane, Joyce, and I discussed how we didn’t feel that we had really been having fun while traveling, and that Germans really seem to value the idea of leisure. While I wish it were that Americans simply aren’t good at having fun, I think that we have a lot of societal issues that preclude us from prioritizing leisure. In particular, a huge number of Americans are unable to make ends meet, so it’s inconceivable that drinking in a biergarten is given priority over, say, healthcare, or housing, or food. But despite the German proclivity towards fun, their economy is the strongest in Europe. I’m still in awe of this fact.

Escalators

Hungary has an insane escalator game. These things are janky, a little dangerous, and super duper fast. Once you realize that escalators should be faster than just walking up steps, slow escalators become unbearable. Some escalators in Germany barely moved at a crawl. I have a feeling that this pet peeve is going to plague me for years to come. One thing that’s cool though—lots of German escalators will stop moving entirely until you step onto them. Freaky at first, but more eco friendly and probably safer. I’m a fan!

Wifi

I was caught off guard by the total lack of wifi at restaurants and coffee shops in Munich. I luckily was on Vodafone HU’s very cheap EU data roaming, but was still shocked when not one of the places we ate had a wireless network, password-protected or otherwise. In Budapest, nearly every restaurant has one, and they’re always password protected. I’ve definitely been spoiled by that.

Cash

The cash situation in Munich was also quite surprising. While I understand why businesses at Springfest were cash only, I was surprised that almost every restaurant was, too. In Hungary, I pay for nearly everything on my phone (or Watch⌚️), because the standard payment terminal there accepts PayPass technology. It felt silly fumbling for money all the time—I really wonder why card usage is so limited.

I had such a great weekend in Munich. These three days really made me regret passing on Berlin. I need to get there soon.

Habits

April 22, 2015

I once watched a TED Talk called Try Something New for Thirty Days. Well, without even trying, it looks like I’ve done it. Every day for the past 32 days, I’ve pushed something to my GitHub. What started as a way for me to work consistently on Squadfinder has evolved into a push to learn something new every day. Now, whether I’m working on a side project, pushing to this website, or just learning more about GitHub’s tools, I’m making a conscious effort to expand my knowledge. And even though the thirty days have passed, there’s no end in sight for this streak.

Year So Far

February 25, 2015

Well, we’re two months into 2015. That’s 1/6th, or 16.67%. Here are some things that have made the year so far pretty good.

New Drake

If You’re Reading This It’s Too Late is a no-nonsense mixtape full of all the bravado and one-liners you could want. I don’t think Drake really needs a confidence boost, so I tend to imagine that all of the bragadoccio is about me.

Gym (sometimes)

I go to the gym more this year than I used to. I like using a recumbent bike and watching an episode of Twin Peaks. I should go more often, because I’m actually enjoying working out for the first time in forever. Baby steps, I guess.

New Hat

I’m pretty simple. I got a new beanie. It’s red and the perfect size. That’s enough for me.

Hackathons

I went to my first hackathon in early February, which was ADI’s annual DevFest hackathon. It was really cool. Some friends and I made Rumblr. In fact, I had so much fun that I’m going to hackNY next week. Looking forward to learning more and creating something awesome there!

More Music

As always, I’m expanding my musical horizons. Lately, I’ve really been digging Viet Cong, D’Angelo, Alex G, Mitski, Paperhaus, and Talib Kweli.

2015 also looks ridiculously promising in terms of upcoming music. There’s new Kanye, new Kendrick, new Django Django, new A$AP, new Majical Cloudz, and apparently new Run the Jewels on deck. And if we’re lucky, we may even see some of Frank Ocean or Jai Paul. Fingers crossed!

Learning Stuff

I’m finally in a computer science course here at Columbia—Intro to Computer Science & Programming in Java, to be exact. It’s nice to be learning something that will hopefully be relevant to my major, and I’m really enjoying the coursework so far. Computers are infinitely interesting to me, and I hope this is the first of many CS courses to come in my academic career.

Writing in LaTeX

January 28, 2015

As part of my Calculus IV class, I’ve started working in LaTeX for publishing equations. My only exposure to it so far has been exams from my Calc III class, so I’m really starting with a blank slate. Though it’s definitely not code, LaTeX is a powerfully customizable markup system, and one that requires a lot of care to get right. A couple observations:

Shifting Aesthetic

I’ve always been a fan of the slightly decorative, clean aesthetic that’s commonplace on the web nowadays. You know—sites that aren’t too gaudy, but also not barren. But LaTeX, similar to my professor’s website, adopts a much more spartan feel. I’ve found myself appreciating the simplicity of alignment, balance, and whitespace that LaTeX is so generous with—those components that often go overlooked in other mediums.

Sleuthing

I really dove right into LaTeX. Instead of reading a formal guide, I’ve just started with tex.stackexchange.com and a wealth of examples online. As a result, I’m finding myself learning about the language by trial and error. The ‘$’ symbol, for example, makes a world of difference in the way your text compiles.

Clarity

In writing solution guides, it’s important to display only what’s necessary. If expressions can be eliminated without sacrificing understanding, they should be. I’ve had to analyze my work for redundancy, and make assumptions about what can be understood and what can’t be.

Uniformity

There’s something to be said for the fact that LaTeX always looks the same. It’s refreshing, and exactly what I should be emphasizing. Rather than decoration, I’m drawn to focus on organization and content.

ShareLaTeX

ShareLaTeX is the best way to do it. Period.

Just a few thoughts—LaTeX is fun, efficient, and something I’m going to be seeing a lot of.

Type Tips

November 24, 2014

A few principles I like to follow when I’m writing:

The link between typeface and voice is known to be profound for readers, but I’m increasingly noticing its effects on me as a writer. Using the right typeface can make an essay flow—it’s too bad all of my schoolwork has to be submitted in Times New Roman.

Asimov’s Creativity

October 23, 2014

The MIT Technology Review recently published a previously undiscovered Isaac Asimov essay. It’s a great, simple piece that you should read if you haven’t already.

Asimov presents the idea that creativity is simply a series of links—that a creative’s job is to connect the threads between two ideas, thereby forming something greater than the sum of its parts. He explains the idea using an interesting example example:

Obviously, then, what is needed is not only people with a good background in a particular field, but also people capable of making a connection between item 1 and item 2 which might not ordinarily seem connected.

Undoubtedly in the first half of the 19th century, a great many naturalists had studied the manner in which species were differentiated among themselves. A great many people had read Malthus. Perhaps some both studied species and read Malthus. But what you needed was someone who studied species, read Malthus, and had the ability to make a cross-connection.

Steve Jobs, many years later, touched on this idea of connections. It’s almost eerie how similar the ideas from a Wired interview he did back in February 1996 are to those of Asimov:

Creativity is just connecting things. When you ask creative people how they did something, they feel a little guilty because they didn’t really do it, they just saw something. It seemed obvious to them after a while. That’s because they were able to connect experiences they’ve had and synthesize new things. And the reason they were able to do that was that they’ve had more experiences or they have thought more about their experiences than other people.

Jobs was no thief, though—remember, Asimov’s essay was recently discovered, untouched, in some old files. The fact that two of the century’s most revolutionary minds conceived such similar theories suggests that they must have been doing something right.

Asimov’s writing also reminded me of the philosophies of Pixar’s Braintrust. (The whole story of the Braintrust appears in Creativity, Inc., but you can read a bit about it here). In short, the Braintrust is a roundtable meeting of trusted Pixar wizards that is designed to maximize candidness, effectiveness, and success. Some hallmarks of the system include “people with a deep understanding of storytelling, who usually have been through the process themselves” and a distinct lack of authority—every idea offered is simply a suggestion. Pixar executives maintain that this method is the key to the studio’s unparalleled success.

In describing his own version of a Braintrust, Asimov offers similar ideas that focus on fostering creativity:

But how to persuade creative people to do so? First and foremost, there must be ease, relaxation, and a general sense of permissiveness. The world in general disapproves of creativity, and to be creative in public is particularly bad. Even to speculate in public is rather worrisome. The individuals must, therefore, have the feeling that the others won’t object.

Asimov, as one of the greatest authors of science fiction, was no stranger to creativity. The same principles that he regarded as crucial to the creative process are the principles responsible for many of the best movies of our generation. Next time creativity must flow, openness and candidness must be of paramount importance—they’re the vehicles for effective brainstorming.

Just as Isaac Asimov’s literature foretold of the future in a science fiction universe, his prose foretold the future: the future of creativity and self-awareness, the future of a hugely successful animation studio, and the future ideas a brilliant innovator. His essay is a time capsule, and a reminder that some things never change.

Pushing

October 21, 2014

I’ve never pushed before.* So far, all of my web projects have been theoretical sites created so that I could teach myself a little bit about how the web works. I’ve decided to create a personal page so that I have something to refine and practice with. It will (hopefully) be constantly evolving.

Here are some things I’d like to add:

Wish me luck!

*Now that I think about it, that’s a lie. I made my own Tumblr theme.

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