4 Replies - 985 Views - Last Post: 25 August 2015 - 01:57 AM

#1 cfoley   User is offline

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Is it worth learning TeX?

Posted 24 August 2015 - 07:01 PM

I've recently been hacking away at LaTeX a lot. It appears there is neither rhyme nor reason to the way it works. Things that should be easy are difficult and things that should be difficult are difficult. It seems impossible to compose the bits of LaTeX I know together unless I follow a tutorial's incantation to the letter.

But maybe it's my fault. LaTeX is built on top of TeX and I don't understand the underlying technology. Maybe if I did I could work with it instead of against it. Maybe I'd be able to solve problems by myself instead of installing a package to solve a simple problem. (Those packages add up and are often incompatible with each other.)

Does anyone here have experience of TeX? What am I likely to find if I follow the rabbit hole? Are there nice answers down there or just more layers of specifics to learn?

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Replies To: Is it worth learning TeX?

#2 jon.kiparsky   User is offline

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Re: Is it worth learning TeX?

Posted 24 August 2015 - 07:25 PM

I've considered going down that road. Then I looked at the TeXBook, and I thought... maybe not. Not this year, at least. Opening to a random page, I find:

Quote

A (dimen parameter) is one of the following:

\hfuzz (maximum overrun before overfull hbox messages occur)
\vfuzz (maximum overrun before overfull vbox messages occur)
\overfullrule (width of rules appended to overfull boxes)
\hsize (line width in horizontal mode)
\vsize (page height in vertical mode)
...

and on like this for half a page. Followed by a list of possibilities for (glue parameter), followed by...

Okay, so it's not just that this is an exhaustive list, there's a place for that. It's that these parameters, all together, feel like a lot of magic numbers, all in a bunch.

Maybe page 274 was just a bad page, though. So I open to 211, and my eye falls on some code. Aha! Let's see what this looks like!

\def\yes(\if00} \def\no{if01}
\def\hphantom(\ph\yes\no}...\def\phantom{\ph\yes\yes}
\def\ph#1#2{\let\ifhph=#1\let\ifvph=#2\phant}



Mmmm, no. I don't think I'm really that excited about learning a language that makes Perl look like Shakespeare. Maybe at some point I'll have a need for it, but I'm going to need a really really good reason for it if I ever want it.
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#3 cfoley   User is offline

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Re: Is it worth learning TeX?

Posted 24 August 2015 - 08:09 PM

I guess that's why LaTeX exists then. :)
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#4 Dormilich   User is offline

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Re: Is it worth learning TeX?

Posted 25 August 2015 - 12:51 AM

I started using the MacTeX package and that came off quite easily. you get some decent TeX editors with some sensible defaults so I only had to add the text parts, looking up some bits of structuring syntax in the cheat sheet and bam, got a shiny text as PDF (including auto ToC).
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#5 cfoley   User is offline

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Re: Is it worth learning TeX?

Posted 25 August 2015 - 01:57 AM

I've had bad experiences with TeX IDEs in the past, although I have not tried MacTeX. Maybe it's awesome but I don't have a Mac.

My current setup is Sublime Text 3 with LaTeXTools. The problem isn't with the defaults. Things like maths mode and anything else you would find on a cheat sheet are fine. TOC and references/citations are easy too. It's when you want to do something less straightforward that things get tricky.

For example I had a table with a large number of rows. The correct incantation was to install the longtable package. I had another table with lots of rows and lots of columns. It was just a table of data included in the appendix for completeness so I wanted to squash it onto one page. I spent about 2 hours resizing text, rotating headings and changing column spacing before finding a command that scales whatever is inside it. 30 seconds and I was done once I knew the correct incantation.

These are details that you either know or you don't know. It's impossible to discover them without google and the tutorials I've read cover only the most basic macro creation.

Would MacTeX have helped me with these problems? If the answer is "Yes" then I'll be happy to give TeX IDEs another go!
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