Proficiency with LaTeX

For the discussion of math. Duh.

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Amicitia
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Proficiency with LaTeX

Postby Amicitia » Sat Sep 08, 2007 6:11 am UTC

I just started using it about half a year ago, and have been wondering how the learning curve with it is. Right now, I can type up most things, but for math documents, my speed is quite a bit slower than if I were writing math or typing a word-only document. Is there anyone here who can attest that the gap does or doesn't close in?

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jestingrabbit
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Postby jestingrabbit » Sat Sep 08, 2007 6:19 am UTC

I find that when typing inline stuff ie stuff bracketed by $'s, I'm about as quick as usual. When it comes to formulae, its still slower than just writing it. That's after writing two different theses using it, so you get quicker, but there is a plateau.

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Postby Amicitia » Sat Sep 08, 2007 6:30 am UTC

Hey, math is expensive.

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Postby jestingrabbit » Sat Sep 08, 2007 6:38 am UTC

Especially when you're doing it on the cheap.

I doubt that there is a better proprietary product out there. MS equation editor sucks imo, all that mousing about is just time consuming, and everything else looks like clones of it. So I'd get used to starting to remember the keywords that you need.

Also, try to think ahead about some macros you might want to define. /R is usually the reals for instance, and writing up ten, twenty, or even a hundred macros that make sense for what you tend to write is a really good idea. Alternatively, do it organically. If you see yourself having to write the same symbols (or structures if you're an advanced player) a few times on a page, write a macro.

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Postby FiddleMath » Sat Sep 08, 2007 10:16 am UTC

To be fair, you're also packing an awful lot more information per character into the math than you are into your text..Yes, it's slow; but I think any system that gives you the requisite power will be of similar complexity.

Granted, it might be better if LaTeX expressions were like inline s-expressions with square brackets as syntactical delimiters. But that would be only slightly faster. :j

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Postby ptveite » Sat Sep 08, 2007 10:37 am UTC

On the topic of LaTeX, do any of y'all have a format for writing up problem sets (homework) that works well? I've kinda cobbled one together over time, but it could use some help.

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Postby Cosmologicon » Sat Sep 08, 2007 3:30 pm UTC

I've never been a huge fan of LaTeX, simply because it's a typesetting language, and doesn't encode meaning. I always hoped that something like MathML would eventually catch on in science, but I don't really see that happening. Having written short documents using MathML by hand, I can say that it certainly will never catch on without some kind of translation tool, either graphical or TeX-like.

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Postby recurve boy » Sat Sep 08, 2007 3:30 pm UTC

Everybody use LyX!

I used this for my thesis and homework. It probably doesn't make things faster for math, but it did reduce the learning curve a bit. You can insert math using the GUI or by typing. Because it displays the commands at the bottom, you soon learn what does what and can do so at your own pace and still get stuff done. You can also use macro and stuff for those assignments with common themes!


Edit:
I've never been a huge fan of LaTeX, simply because it's a typesetting language, and doesn't encode meaning. I always hoped that something like MathML would eventually catch on in science, but I don't really see that happening. Having written short documents using MathML by hand, I can say that it certainly will never catch on without some kind of translation tool, either graphical or TeX-like.


But you still need a typesetting tool to display what you MathMLed!

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Postby Torn Apart By Dingos » Sat Sep 08, 2007 5:32 pm UTC

It's slow, but much faster and the result much prettier than any other method I know of to write math on a computer (MS's Equation Editor and MathML, for example).

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Postby Amicitia » Sat Sep 08, 2007 5:35 pm UTC

jestingrabbit wrote:Also, try to think ahead about some macros you might want to define. /R is usually the reals for instance, and writing up ten, twenty, or even a hundred macros that make sense for what you tend to write is a really good idea. Alternatively, do it organically. If you see yourself having to write the same symbols (or structures if you're an advanced player) a few times on a page, write a macro.

Been there, done that. :D

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Postby Cosmologicon » Sat Sep 08, 2007 6:08 pm UTC

Torn Apart By Dingos wrote:It's slow, but much faster and the result much prettier than any other method I know of to write math on a computer.

The results are much prettier in a PDF, I agree, but not in a web document. Documents generated with Tex-to-HTML converters generally look quite a bit worse than MathML documents.

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Postby Alpha Omicron » Sat Sep 08, 2007 6:12 pm UTC

LyX looks pretty slick. I'll have to download it when I'm able.
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Postby ptveite » Sat Sep 08, 2007 6:28 pm UTC

I just use Winedt. It might not be quite as intense, but I know enough LaTeX now that i don't really need to look much up.

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Postby miles01110 » Sat Sep 08, 2007 6:45 pm UTC

I started typing my work with LaTeX at the beginning of last fall, and now I'm at the proficiency where I could copy notes on the board on my computer instead of paper and pencil.

But why anyone would do that is beyond me. It takes me about a half hour to write up my homework solutions in LaTeX these days (5-8 pages).

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Postby Øsse » Sun Sep 09, 2007 9:41 pm UTC

I think Latex is too complicated, it seems to me there's 10 commands for the same thing. I wish I were much better at Latex though.

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Postby blob » Mon Sep 10, 2007 11:34 am UTC

MS Equation Editor has a big brother called MathType. I've never used it myself, but you can download a free editor that exports to LaTeX.

Lyx looks a lot more visual than TeXnicCenter. In theory it's faster to type out LaTeX equations than build them up using a graphical interface, but that assumes you know all the necessary symbols by heart. I've only written a few reports in LaTeX and I find myself looking up symbols quite regularly.

jestingrabbit wrote:I doubt that there is a better proprietary product out there.

Mathematica notebooks? They have the added advantage that equations can be automatically updated dependent on other equations...
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Postby xyzzy » Mon Sep 10, 2007 2:18 pm UTC

Da, but the key thing about LaTeX is that it's built on TeX, which is probably the best piece of code ever written, and the best typesetting program by a long way.

It might be slightly harder to get the hang of, but you will get the best typesetting when you're done.
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Postby cmacis » Mon Sep 10, 2007 7:03 pm UTC

I intend to start using LaTeX to write up my notes this year. I've run through a short document and I'm ready to go, pretty much. So at least you don't need much to get started.
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Postby adlaiff6 » Mon Sep 17, 2007 12:23 pm UTC

Look at the Wikibook for LaTeX.
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Postby zenten » Mon Sep 17, 2007 12:52 pm UTC

Øsse wrote:I think Latex is too complicated, it seems to me there's 10 commands for the same thing. I wish I were much better at Latex though.


If there are really 10 commands for any one thing, then you only need to know 1/10th the commands to use it.

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Postby jtniehof » Mon Sep 17, 2007 3:20 pm UTC

The Not so short introduction to LaTeX is excellent; just skim the first bit of it and start slinging code.

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Postby Cosmologicon » Mon Sep 17, 2007 3:29 pm UTC

zenten wrote:
Øsse wrote:I think Latex is too complicated, it seems to me there's 10 commands for the same thing. I wish I were much better at Latex though.

If there are really 10 commands for any one thing, then you only need to know 1/10th the commands to use it.

Of course, the problem with excessive redundancy comes up when you want to learn how to do something new that depends on a more fundamental thing, which there's 10 ways to do. I find the best way is to search for it on a webpage, but you have to hope that the person who wrote the webpage does the fundamental thing the same way you do. Otherwise you either have to use it without understanding it, or learn their way of doing it too.

But that's not actually my experience. I don't find that Latex has more ways to do things than is normal for that sort of thing.

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Postby platypus01 » Tue Sep 18, 2007 1:58 am UTC

i havent used anything else for typing math so i cant really compare, but typing out math in latex is definitely slower than text. after all, most math isnt as simple as plaintext (fractions, roots, all those other symbol thingies..)

ive used latex for the past 2 years maybe. its worked fine for me. only problem for me is getting margins right, cause i also write up stuff in mla format for english. i still dont know how margins work in latex. :(
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Postby gmedina » Tue Sep 18, 2007 2:06 am UTC

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Postby platypus01 » Tue Sep 18, 2007 2:28 am UTC

the geometry package didnt seem to work for me. course i could be doing it wrong, and its been a while since ive tried it so i forgot what i tried... i ended up using a set of setlengths that just happened to work. 50% luck i suppose.

ive never used the layouts package myself. but someone had a 1page pdf of output using layout on a website, which i checked constantly while messing with the margins.

my biggest thing with latex margins is, i dont know how it all fits together. sure, i might know what a certain length, say, textwidth, is supposed to do, but sometimes just changing that isnt enough (at least, that was the case with me). i dont know what other lengths take precedence over others, so to speak, as they seem to do. you have to get that right combination of changed lengths to make the changes you want go into effect, cause otherwise it just doesnt work. maybe it stays the same, maybe it does some length changing but ends up also changing something you didnt want it to change (because of the "precedence" effect).
bleh

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Postby Amicitia » Tue Sep 18, 2007 9:24 am UTC

I also have to ask: Is TeX actually used anywhere? Since I've only met one other person who uses it, and he was a university professor. Everyone else just gives me funny stares and glares. I bought a LaTeX guide and I haven't really had many problems to date, except tables took a few days to get used to. And sometimes I feel bad for spending hours learning LaTeX instead of actually doing anything useful. :oops:

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Postby Cexy » Tue Sep 18, 2007 1:21 pm UTC

Amicitia wrote:I also have to ask: Is TeX actually used anywhere? Since I've only met one other person who uses it, and he was a university professor. Everyone else just gives me funny stares and glares. I bought a LaTeX guide and I haven't really had many problems to date, except tables took a few days to get used to. And sometimes I feel bad for spending hours learning LaTeX instead of actually doing anything useful. :oops:
A few older people use TeX rather than LaTeX, but LaTeX is pretty much the standard now.

I've never had a problem with LaTeX that I couldn't solve in a couple of hours of looking around the web for people who've had to do similar things. I've been using LaTeX to type up my math for two years now, and I'm not quite as fast as I would be with a pen and paper, but I'm pretty close. I could take lecture notes straight into LaTeX if I needed.

Nowadays I just have a couple of different style sheets I use for all my documents, with all of my macros predefined in them (I have a lot of macros now.) This works well, but it does have the disadvantage that it makes the plain .tex file harder to read for anyone who doesn't know my shorthand. On the other hand, most of it is pretty intuitive (\R and \C for real and complex numbers, \Re and \Im for fraktur Re and Im etc...)

I recommend this to anyone who is going to have to type up math documents for at least the next few years.
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Postby Cexy » Tue Sep 18, 2007 1:23 pm UTC

platypus01 wrote:the geometry package didnt seem to work for me. course i could be doing it wrong, and its been a while since ive tried it so i forgot what i tried... i ended up using a set of setlengths that just happened to work. 50% luck i suppose.
I use something like

\usepackage[margin=1in]{geometry}

to give a 1" margin all the way around, or perhaps

\usepackage{geometry}
\geometry{left=1in, top=1in, bottom=1.5in}

if you want to specify different widths for different margins. These need to go right at the top of the document, after \documentclass but before \begin{document}.
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Postby gmedina » Tue Sep 18, 2007 1:32 pm UTC

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Postby Amicitia » Tue Sep 18, 2007 9:10 pm UTC

Well, he happened to use TeX, but I meant LaTeX/TeX. :oops:

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Postby adlaiff6 » Wed Sep 19, 2007 4:22 am UTC

I mostly use the vim plugin latexsuite to speed things up (macros are _divine_), and I have my own .sty that I've accumulated slowly (mostly things like \def\directsum{\oplus} so I don't have to go look things up, and some predefined theorem environments, but a few really programmatic things), that also seems to help. The thing that always trips me up is getting Xfig to play nicely with LaTeX (especially if I'm compiling to dvi and pdf...pdf plays dirty).

As long as you're not an emacs user, go look up latexsuite though; it is one of the most useful pieces of software I've ever used.
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Postby xyzzy » Wed Sep 19, 2007 12:24 pm UTC

adlaiff6 wrote:I mostly use the vim plugin latexsuite to speed things up (macros are _divine_), and I have my own .sty that I've accumulated slowly (mostly things like \def\directsum{\oplus} so I don't have to go look things up, and some predefined theorem environments, but a few really programmatic things), that also seems to help. The thing that always trips me up is getting Xfig to play nicely with LaTeX (especially if I'm compiling to dvi and pdf...pdf plays dirty).

As long as you're not an emacs user, go look up latexsuite though; it is one of the most useful pieces of software I've ever used.


And for those of us who have seen the light and use Emacs, I recommend auctex. I tend to use it with xdvi and/or xpdf.
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Re: Proficiency with LaTeX

Postby bigsim » Wed Oct 17, 2007 12:49 pm UTC

Quick question: is there a preferred font that people use when typesetting in LaTeX? From what I've read, Computer Modern isn't looked upon with very high regard, so what? Times? Palatino?

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Re: Proficiency with LaTeX

Postby jestingrabbit » Wed Oct 17, 2007 12:54 pm UTC

My policy with LaTeX style is to change as little as possible so my answer is "default" which I think is times.
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Re: Proficiency with LaTeX

Postby the tree » Wed Oct 17, 2007 2:32 pm UTC

Open Office's equation editing thingumy has practically no learning curve, you'll pick it up straight away, but it takes a lot longer to do more complicated things than in LaTeX and it's syntax is lacking in grace and logic.

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Re: Proficiency with LaTeX

Postby skeptical scientist » Wed Oct 17, 2007 8:13 pm UTC

I would definitely pick up latex over any other equation typesetter if you want to type up math equations. Once you get to a certain level, everything is latex, and if you already know it you'll be much happier.

Also, speaking as a grader, your grader will love you if you type everything up using latex.
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Re: Proficiency with LaTeX

Postby xyzzy » Wed Oct 17, 2007 8:22 pm UTC

the tree wrote:Open Office's equation editing thingumy has practically no learning curve, you'll pick it up straight away, but it takes a lot longer to do more complicated things than in LaTeX and it's syntax is lacking in grace and logic.


As are it's results, I guess (although I haven't used it). The main reason I use LaTeX is that it produces much nicer output than anything else, even for plain text documents.

Give it the default page borders and font - it knows how to lay out words better than you do probably. Most people now have been conditioned by Word and the like to leave absurdly small margins on their pages, which makes things harder to read, due to excessive line length. LaTeX gives you sensible lines by default, and does a much better job of type layout.
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Re: Proficiency with LaTeX

Postby necroforest » Thu Oct 18, 2007 12:31 am UTC

http://www.texmacs.org/

It's sort of a cross between TeX and a WYSIWYG editor, I use it to take notes and do problem sets in my math/CS classes.
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Re: Proficiency with LaTeX

Postby Amicitia » Fri Oct 19, 2007 7:18 am UTC

skeptical scientist wrote:I would definitely pick up latex over any other equation typesetter if you want to type up math equations. Once you get to a certain level, everything is latex, and if you already know it you'll be much happier.

Also, speaking as a grader, your grader will love you if you type everything up using latex.

My GSI for econ doesn't even know LaTeX. Or how to derive much of the class material. =\

Formatting MLA is easy too.
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Re: Proficiency with LaTeX

Postby gmedina » Fri Oct 19, 2007 4:37 pm UTC

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