[OS X TeX] LaTex and the new professor (was D'oh!)

Lisa Schweiter lschwei at vt.edu
Wed Nov 17 02:36:35 EST 2004

On Tuesday, November 16, 2004, at 08:28 PM, Dr.John R.Vokey wrote:

>   As a senior scientist, I demand at a minimum a pdf (in correct APA 
> format) before I review---not some POS M$ Absurd document that rarely 
> translates anyway.  Otherwise, I don't review.  Simple.  On the other 
> side: a journal that refuses to review my *perfectly APA formatted 
> pdf* (via apa.cls) submission, never sees my submissions again.  
> Again, simple.  You don't have to tolerate shite, so don't.  Or not: 
> it is your life.  Pick your battles.

I've been following this thread sort of loosely as somebody who is not 
the most advanced user and not likely to useful to development any time 
soon. Immersing myself in LaTex in order to be advanced and/or useful 
has been precluded primarily by other things (finishing dissertation, 
writing, getting job, trying to keep job through more writing).  Maybe 
my comments will prove productive since it seems pretty clear that it 
has been a long time since most of you were at my level of proficiency.

  I have the tendency to think 1) that LaTex in general has one of those 
steep-ish learning curves at the beginning, but then 2) once you've 
twigged onto the basic logic of creating and compiling documents and 
understanding error messages, the base user is set, especially with 
something like TexShop. Once you get through the "HA! My document 
compiled! I have output! I have output!" euphoria and begin to 
fine-tune your typesetting, you then begin to learn more about where 
the good web resources are and other avenues of changing the 
formatting, such as how to create and make cls files and fiddle with 

The next step, at least for me, has been trying to figure out all this 
font business, which I simply haven't done, due to various and sundry 
other demands on my time like teaching for the first time and keeping 
head above water on committees.  I'm sure I'll figure out Tex Unbound 
or somesuch soonish.  And yes, this is a simple matter in most other 
word processors. I'm still new enough to LaTex that when I want to make 
something very very spiffy, I go to Pagemaker (expensive habit).  MS 
Word simply doesn't offer enough control, I'm still fuddled enough with 
placing images and columns etc that it's 4 times longer for me LaTex 
than in PM (this is my doing; I learned PM 7 years ago; LaTex beginning 
about 3 years ago).  Although this learning process may be unique to 
me, it  may not be, and my suspicion is that if you hang on long enough 
to get yourself through that first frustrating phase of  compiling your 
first document, you get hooked even if some things remain a mystery.

I do, however, have to say that my life does get difficult as a newbie 
LaTex person and being a shiney-new professor. I am, unlike Dr. Vorley 
,  in NO position to spurn journals that don't take my LaTex-formatted 
manuscripts. Which, irritatingly enough, is becoming rather more common 
even in the short time I've been a grad student/newly minted prof using 
LaTex and paying attention to such things.  Being new-ish to LaTex, I'm 
often fudging on the journals' formatting requirements (e.g.,  "Gee, 
this looks kind of like natbib would get close to their reference 
style") and would be in the proverbial mulligatawny if journal editors 
were as strict with my submissions as Dr.Vorley is regarding what he'll 
review. (This is not a criticism--you're a busy dude).  I am in a 
design/social science field, where formats are simply not as standard 
as I suspect they are for many hard scientists. This has another 
effect: except for economics journals, the remainder of the journals 
are I suspect much less LaTex friendly than those dealing with math or 
hard sciences.)

Furthermore, the cls files available as templates from many journals 
and publishers have proven dated and high-maintenance to push back into 
their formatting requirements. This seems like the sort of thing that 
might be easier to deal with not in terms of software but in template 
sharing.  For example, it seems silly to have every user have to 
download the buggy Elsevier template and rework it when all of us who 
have submitted there have fixed cls files we could share via CTAN or 
another clearninghouse area.

Anyway, my 2p. I am generally of the opinion that if anybody slowish on 
the uptake like me can learn something, it can't be that dreadfully 
hard. Which means LaTex is doing pretty well in terms of helping people 
get on board.  I do think there is demand for good-quality help for 
those of us intermediate users. Most intro to LaTex books are 
marvelous; once you've mastered what is in them, however,  I have found 
it less easy  to ratchet up to things like Tex Unbound and other 
advanced-user texts.  I feel as though I have fallen between books and 
I can't get up.


Lisa, new professor who admits publicly to fudging at LaTex and 
virtually everything else from teaching to research in the frantic hope 
that she fools people long enough to master any of  the above...

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