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Journal PopeRatzo's Journal: Deep in the Heart of TeX-Ass 3

Years ago, when my wife was finishing her PhD in Math, I helped her with putting her dissertation into the required format, which was a TeX document. The main thing I remember about it was how much trouble it was just to lay out a document. It was hard enough for her to do all the very difficult Math work and get ready for her PhD defense, but to then require her to learn TeX just seemed like piling on.

The other day, my daughter, who's now a Math grad student, came to me and asked if I knew anything about TeX. It caused a sickening deja vu as I realized that after all this time, TeX is still the required format for technical documents.

Now, I understand the elegance of TeX, and I can appreciate the need for a standard way of typesetting such documents. I've seen the Chinese students taking class notes in TeX and I'm aware of the place TeX holds in the Math, physics and engineering communities.

But jesus christ on roller skates, can no one come up with something a little easier to learn and use? I'm a musician and composer and arranger. I score films. Creating formatting and typesetting a music manuscript is at least as exacting and formalized as setting up a document to show some equations, some graphs and a figure or two. I've got a handful of excellent professional software that makes writing (and printing) music as easy as writing a business letter. I don't have to write code just to put in a D.S. al coda for heaven's sake.

When I was working on my own dissertation decades ago in critical theory, I remember using the DOS version of Nota Bene, because that was what my adviser used and by gawd, that was what I was going to use. It was like an even more baroque version of Wordperfect with all sorts of code and macros and packages for diacritical marks. But the world has moved on since then and now there's open office to fill all my document needs.

I guess I'm just venting a bit, thinking about my daughter having to learn tex on top of everything else she's got going on, and I know I'm going to get hit with questions, which means I'm going to have to go back and brush up. I'm about to install LateX on my machine for the second time in over 20 years and if nothing else, can I get some encouragement? Maybe an explanation of why time has stood still in this one area?

Now let me go get some aspirin.

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Deep in the Heart of TeX-Ass

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  • While the basic system itself hasn't really changed, there's LyX as a graphical front-end. I don't have experience with that, but why not give it a shot?

    I've always done the following. I've created a template, a basic document with the layout that I like, and not focus on the tiny details. It's really a machine that does the work for you, you shouldn't focus on the details like "the left margin a hundredth of an inch to the left please". When the template document is done, use that as the start for all othe

    • My support and tips for you:

      I cannot thank you enough. I will make sure my first grandson is named for you, cerberusss.

    • I just came back from reading about SVN. It never would have occurred to me to use it for this purpose, but I can see how it would be a huge help. I'm going to make an account and fool with it today. Thanks again, friend. You've really helped us out.

Do not underestimate the value of print statements for debugging.