Welcome to
Caches to Caches

This blog is devoted to the broad interests of Gregory J Stein, which includes topics such as Numerical Modeling, Web Design, Robotics, and a number of my individual hobby projects. If there's any article you would like to see, or something you've been wondering about, be sure to let me know on Twitter.

After making quick progress during a summer I spent doing research at Sandia National Labs before my senior year of college, I was invited (at the very last minute) to present at a conference one of my mentors was helping to organize. Rather than pay dues for the conference, I was flagged as a student volunteer. However, while the other 30 students were all pre-assigned specific tasks from a grid, as a late addition, I was not. Instead, I was told "just make yourself useful", with the expectation that I wouldn't do very much.

Having students staffing academic conferences is pretty common practice; they do not have to worry about paying for the registration and have an opportunity to interact directly with the high-profile researchers organizing the conference.

The reality was entirely different.

Even with so many deep learning papers coming out this year, there were a few publications I felt managed to rise above the rest. Here are the five papers that impacted my mental models the most over the last year. For each, I state the "goal" of the paper, briefly summarize the work, and explain why I found it so interesting.

It's no secret that I've spent longer on the aesthetic of this blog than I have on the content. I first created this website during a two-week-long effort to learn about web development over two years ago. Since then, I've toiled over the design of my posts and have become obsessed with visual design. I consider ways of maximizing the signal-to-noise ratio in everything I do.

Maximizing the signal-to-noise ratio is one of John-luc Doumont's universal principles of design that he outlines in his book, Trees, maps, and theorems.

As I've experimented with the layout of Caches To Caches, I've come to embrace one fundamental rule of effective communication:

Clarity is key.

This sounds simple enough, but you'd be surprised how difficult it is to get this right. For example, the last version of this blog was filled with unnecessary clutter—particularly the left sidebar. By drawing the eye away from the margin notes on the right, the sidebar distracts us from the content without contributing much. Instead, the new sidebar, revealed only in the presence of excess screen space, is isolated by color and avoids causing confusion:

Here you can see the dramatic change in the left sidebar in the new version of the site. Rather than have a table of contents which blends in with the text, it's now drawn with a dark background so as to visually isolate it from the center column. The sidebar quickly disappears as screen size shrinks, so as to prioritize the text.

Here is a collection of guidelines I've come up with to help you emphasize your content and avoid needless distractions.

Another day, another fire rages at Uber.

Since you've likely lost track of all the different scandals at Uber (at the time of this writing), allow me to refresh your memory:

I recognize that this list is far from complete.

At some point in the midst of all of this news, I'd finally had it. I couldn't handle all of the sexism and the twisted company culture. After getting viscerally upset at Uber for the Nth time, I decided to delete the app and install Lyft instead.

I get a lot of email. I'm also pretty sure you get a lot of email. However, email is still not a solved problem. Each potential email client is acceptable on it's own, yet none of them satisfied all of my desired features:

This is evidenced by the fact that a quick Google search yields no less than ten viable options for email clients on my Mac.

  • The ability to access my email without an internet connection.
  • I travel quite a lot, so this was very important to me.

  • Easily move messages between different folders, which is how I keep all of my emails organized by project.
  • Quick yet powerful search of all my mail messages.
  • Having an auto-updating status indicator that shows me how many unread messages I have.
  • Managing multiple accounts (Gmail for personal emails and Microsoft Exchange for work emails) and syncing local changes so that my phone can still be up-to-date.

If you follow this blog, you'll recognize that I've gotten a bit carried away with migrating the different aspects of my life to operate within the Emacs environment. So it was only a matter of time until I finally decided to give it a shot, and I converged upon a solution which happily satisfies all of the above constraints. Every email service is a bit different so YMMV, but this setup works for me.

There's something about the end of the year that, in my experience, gives rise to a sort of sullen feeling. At least where I'm from in the northeastern United States, this time of year is characterized by shortening daylight hours, increasingly hostile temperatures and (frequently) gentle reminders of the passage of time and of all the things one set out to accomplish this year yet never quite got around to. The question you may ask is then:

What can be done to avoid this feeling?

Ultimately, I doubt that avoidance is the answer. Some people make an effort to ignore their feelings. More will drown themselves in their work. Others may hint at discomfort, but not reach out in the way they should. However, there is an upshot; despite the somber atmosphere (or perhaps because of it), people are increasingly willing to help one another out when called upon.

I have a friend who's always in "startup-founder mode". He's about to graduate with his PhD and he's starting a company, which in his eyes is already a unicorn. It is inspiring to see, and we have a weekly lunch in which he will fill me in on the company status and we bounce ideas off of one another on how to make his technology more robust or user friendly. A couple of weeks ago, I was particularly distracted and stressed. He quickly recognized that I wasn't doing very well and transitioned conversation to ensuring that I would be okay. Here was a guy who frequently cannot sleep because of his passion for his technology and spends every waking minute thinking about the future of his company, yet he made it clear that, no matter how much that mattered to him, my well-being would always come first.

What's most amazing to me is that this is a relative rarity, especially since most people I know would gladly help out a friend who asked for their help. We've all been there: the meetings pile up, exams interfere, or deadlines loom and it becomes easy to narrow our focus to our work or studies and to ignore the signs of colleagues and friends who may need someone to talk to. However, it is still our responsibility (and your responsibility, dear reader) to ensure that no one we know falls through the cracks. This short post is a call to action:

Be caring, and reach out to those around you.

I'm a pretty outgoing person, so I have no problem bringing up these issues or asking someone "Are you okay?". I have a number of friends who have not been faring too well lately. Graduate school can be tough, and I'm in a high-stress program. I try to remind them their well-being is more important than their work, and that the latter frequently requires the former. Further still, something we view as a failure is frequently an opportunity in disguise. I can only help so much, but reminding them that there's someone they can talk to and relate to can make a real difference.

If this message has resonated with you, I implore you to reach out to a friend, coworker or family member. Start with one person, and then help out more if you can. Invite them out for coffee or call them on the phone. Even an email can be a nice gesture, though there's nothing like a face-to-face conversation. Most importantly, listen more than you talk and don't make the conversation about you unless they ask; I'm sure they'll value your concern.

No excuses either: you can always think of someone who could use support.

Happy Helping, Happy Holidays, and Happy New Year. Be well.

Who this guide is for: If you've been using Emacs for a while, you should probably try the Vim way of doing things. Too many resources online push people in the direction of giving Spacemacs a try; most such guides are designed to encourage Vim users to try out Emacs and have a habit of alienating established Emacs users such as myself. During my efforts to embrace Evil, Emacs' Vim emulator, I hit a few road blocks and decided I would put this article together to help others through them. Whether you'd like to try out evil-mode or you're simply curious to see how the other half do development, keep reading.

The reverse of this is probably true as well, and if you use Vim I encourage you to give Emacs a try, but that's not the purpose of this guide.

My first thought in conducting this experiment was just to open my mind and learn something new. In addition, my Emacs pinky occasionally bothers me, and I wanted to try a more ergonomic way to appreciate the editing tools I use on a daily basis. This is a log of my experience, and some code for setting up your .emacs.d files. My verdict after roughly a week:

Having tried the Vim way, I won't likely revert to using pure Emacs.

I really love the way everything came together; the modal system of editing has started to change the way I think about composing text and code. The macro system and a couple of other niceties I'll talk about below blew me away, and I've quickly integrated them into how I work. Finally, Evil is quite popular, so many of the packages I use on a regular basis, like magit and org-mode have extensions to add more vim-like default keybindings.