Wednesday, July 25, 2012

on why i am weird with $\LaTeX$.

i suspect that i am widely misunderstood. it's either that, or it's just that i unconsciously make life harder for myself.

for instance, i try to avoid discussions about $\LaTeX$, because inevitably ..

.. when they ask me if i use winedt or texshop, i tell them that my laptop runs (ubuntu) linux;

.. and when they ask what program i use, i tell them that i just use a text editor like gedit, which comes standard with many (most?) linux distros [1].

.. and when they ask me how i compile my LaTeX, i tell them that i open up a terminal and type [2]:

      > latex myfile.tex && dvipdf myfile.dvi

.. and when they ask me how i find errors, and in particular the line containing it, i tell them that the "find" command is usually Ctrl-F.
.. and eventually, exasperated, they just ask: why the hell would you do all of that? so i tell them that, one summer long ago,
i didn't live in an apartment with air conditioning, but the public library had it, so i spent a lot of time there;

i didn't own a working laptop [3], yet the same library had desktops available for the public, so i used theirs.

they didn't have any $\LaTeX$ programs, they didn't allow users to download and install software .. but on Windows, PuTTY is a single executable file and never identified as anything other than a generic download, and i had access to a server where i could run latex remotely ..
so i spent a summer at the public library, with three PuTTY windows and one Adobe window open:
  1. one for pico, a text-based text editor,
  2. one for sftp, so that i could transfer the pdf output after each compile,
  3. one, ready and waiting for when i'd send the in-line latex commands remotely.
as for the Adobe window, i needed to view the pdf somehow ..


put another way, i use gedit because it's easier than pico.

left: gedit, which is clickable; right: pico, purely text-based

honestly, it was a fine way to spend a summer.

whenever i had something to type up, i'd go to my neighborhood public library, code until my allotted time was up, and either work on the details on paper or read graphic novels for a little while. when i was eligible for another time slot, i'd continue coding.

doing so had its perks: for one thing, breaks were automatic. i also met a lot of librarians, whom i found very cool people. i was young and maths was new to me, and there was the passingly-real possibility that i could make a living from it .. (-:

[1] it's actually a pretty robust program, and probably designed with coders in mind. it even changes the color of words, depending on command type. i've heard good things about texmaker, though, but i haven't gotten around to trying it.

[2] as for why not just a pdflatex command, i have a one-word answer for you: pstricks ..

[3] i didn't have much summer funding at the time, and the laptop that i wanted cost more than one month's rent. the prospect of being wired but homeless didn't exactly appeal to me.


Daniel said...

I'm the same way. I actually started with Lyx but got sick of the lack of control. At this point, I have written enough style files, \renewcommand and other latex tools, that I could not imagine going back.

janus said...

it's good to see another guy who likes the hands-on approach. (-: