[OS X TeX] Imposing Latex on authors of articles

Ross Moore ross at ics.mq.edu.au
Tue Feb 26 14:52:20 EST 2008

On 27/02/2008, at 1:58 AM, ludwik kowalski wrote:

> I am a new subscriber. About a week ago I successfully downloaded  
> and installed Latex software on my new iMac.  Then I started to  
> learn how to program in Latex language. So far I complied only  
> several short input files. What follows is an extract from notes I  
> am composing for myself. Do you agree with my observations? If not  
> then why not?
> Thanks in advance,
> Ludwik
> = = = = = = = = = = = =
> Item 15
>  $ \int \sqrt{\alpha^{2} + x^{2}}\,dx $
> The above command will produce the integral sign followed by the  
> square root and the dx. The expression between the square brackets  
> will be changed and placed under the square root.
> 1) Typing something without seeing the representation at the same  
> time (as in writing by hand or with a word processor) seems  
> unnatural to me. Writing usually goes along with thinking; we often  
> think better when we write.

The only imposition is that you are restricted to the letters on a  
keyboard, and
the need to have these in a linear stream. Its similar to writing by  
except that you use the names of symbols rather than tracing their  
With practice, like with any other physical skill (such a playing a  
instrument) it comes naturally after awhile, and you can get to be  
very proficient.

> There is nothing wrong with this. It would probably be better not  
> to merge the process of typesetting with the process of  
> mathematical thinking.

You should learn to break up the task into:

  1.  initial input, which allows plenty of time for exactly what you  
mean by
       "we often think better when we write".

  2.  fixing up the inevitable errors that you'll make in step 1.
      This also forces you to look back on what you have done,
      and rethink parts of it, often leading to improvements.

  3.  considerations of how things look on the page.

> Mental energy of users of mathematics should be used on mathematics  
> itself, not on nitty-gritty rules, commands, and error messages. By  
> learning Latex language one does not become a better mathematician,  
> physicist or engineer.

I disagree completely.

You shouldn't think of LaTeX as a programming language.
It is a way to express mathematics using a key-board.
As such, it is much, much better and easier than any other
system that you'll find.

The formal structure, of sectioning, environments, lists, etc.
actually force you to think about the structure of the information
that you are trying to present. This *does* help you to understand
it better; and may indeed help you to become better at your
chosen profession.

> 2) In my opinion dissertations written with word processors should  
> be accepted by universities. Likewise, papers written with word  
> processors should be accepted by editors of scientific journals.  
> Neatly handwritten formulas, or formulas composed with tools  
> available in word processors, are usually sufficient to communicate  
> mathematical ideas. They can be shown as illustrations, or turned  
> into final form by professional typesetters, either manually (as it  
> used to be), or with tools like Latex. Shifting the burden on  
> authors does not seem reasonable.

> 3) Creating Latex input files with formulas is very demanding and  
> error-prone. Promoters of Latex often write that it allows  
> mathematicians to concentrate on mathematics while formatting is  
> performed by computers. Yes, formatting is performed by computers  
> but computers must be instructed by humans. Instructing computers  
> is demanding and error-prone. Composing Latex files does not help  
> me to think about mathematics, or about anything else described in  
> a document I am creating. On the contrary, it prevents me from  
> thinking about the content.

It starts out that way, because you are only just learning
something new. Do you remember what it was like when you were
first learning to drive a car, or ride a bicycle or horse?

After awhile, when you have become familiar with the menus
and palettes, or just more proficient at typing, this all
becomes secondary. You will get to the stage of thinking
about the mathematics at the same time as you are composing it.

Others have already replied along these lines.

> Ludwik Kowalski, a retired physisist
> 5 Horizon Road, apt.2702, Fort Lee, NJ, 07024, USA
> Also an amateur journalist at http://csam.montclair.edu/~kowalski/cf/

Hope this helps,


Ross Moore                                         ross at maths.mq.edu.au
Mathematics Department                             office: E7A-419
Macquarie University                               tel: +61 +2 9850 8955
Sydney, Australia  2109                            fax: +61 +2 9850 8114

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