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From the Editor: In this issue; Next issue: LaTeX and TeX on the Web; Editorial: A handy reference for Class & Style?

Lance Carnes

In this issue
Next issue: LaTeX on the Web
Thanks
Editorial: A handy reference for Class & Style?

In this issue

This second issue of 2008 concentrates on a subject most LaTeX users love to hate: Class and Style packages. Hopefully, some of the articles here will ease this discomfort and encourage the use of packages.

The first article, Class & Style — an introduction, was written by the editors in response to a reader who asked for a Compleat Idiot's Guide to Class and Style files for new LaTeX users. We don't discuss files much, but show how to use the basic Class and Style features in LaTeX documents.

In Go positions with METAPOST Wentao Zheng writes about an ancient Chinese game now known best by its Japanese name, Go. The main technique he describes is the use of METAPOST to draw Go board positions. METAPOST is derived from the METAFONT program, which was originally used to design and create the Computer Modern fonts. Even if you don't play Go, the article shows the sort of pleasant graphic images that can be drawn with this tool.

Next, Lars Madsen describes some newly released features of a versatile document class called memoir. Following the theme of this issue, memoir is a Class, and was developed by LaTeX guru Peter Wilson. (Peter also devised a clever LaTeX sudoku solver. See this issue's Distractions column for more about this package.)

The last piece is an Opinion, "Enduring LaTeX Documents". Those of you who have used LaTeX for many years know the problems that occur when trying to format an old LaTeX document with a new LaTeX system — most often you get a different result, and sometimes new errors show up which weren't there before. The culprit? Class and Style packages! Can the LaTeX community solve this?

Dave Walden, in his Travels in TeX Land column, continues working on assembling a book of photography using the ConTeXt system. ConTeXt is a sister system to LaTeX but operates in a much different way. Where LaTeX has Classes and Styles that can be incorporated piece by piece as needed, ConTeXt is more of a monolithic system. It has a large set of tools and resources always at the ready, and the author uses those that work best for the current project.

In the Distractions column we offer a way to have fun with packages — for printing and solving sudokus. While you are using LaTeX to solve these addictive puzzles you may learn a few more things about Styles (packages).

We hope you enjoy this issue!

Next issue: LaTeX and TeX on the Web

We invite readers to submit articles on LaTeX and TeX on the Web. Do you publish typeset articles on the web or on a wiki? Do you create Web-based LaTeX and TeX training materials? Do you have a web site that lets users experiment with a running TeX system? Articles or notes on these or other projects with LaTeX or TeX on the Web are welcome. We encourage articles for this issue that are in html or otherwise formatted for the Web.

Submissions are due by September 30, 2008, and the issue will be published in October.

Send your article idea to the editors.

Thanks

Many people have collaborated directly or indirectly to the success of this electronic journal: the authors, the production editors, and the readers.

Thanks to my fellow issue editor, Yuri Robbers, and to all the production editors; and to others who proofread the articles and provided useful comments and feedback.

Editorial: A handy reference for Class & Style?

This showed up recently on the Slashdot site:

For many years I have been using LaTeX to compose scientific documents, but truly I am getting tired of its complexity. You have to install new packages for new features, ... and you need to be a LaTeX Jedi master to create a new document class. I'm looking for a document processor ... that is a viable replacement for LaTeX, possessing all of its advantages — consistency between text and math text, automated cross references, direct PDF creation, etc. ... [Full quotation]

This person voices frustrations many of us have as LaTeX users. However, the printed results from LaTeX are so fine that we put up with the complexity. Only a handful of LaTeX users create new document classes so the "LaTeX Jedi master" name is fitting, but packages are used by nearly everyone. I wish this person luck finding a replacement document processor — LaTeX (TeX) is simply the best tool for document composition.

But the person has a good point about the complexity of using packages to incorporate new features. When doing my main work I'm willing to spend some time learning new techniques, but when I use LaTeX it's a different matter. Writing documents with LaTeX isn't my main occupation, and I don't use it often enough to have a lot of commands at my fingertips. When I need an answer, it usually involves a lengthy hunt for information. I consult the few LaTeX books on my shelf, then look online, then experiment for a while. Following is an illustration of how many LaTeX users go about creating a document.

If you are a regular LaTeX user (that is, you are not a LaTeX expert), your document source probably looks something like this:

          % My usual document source
          \documentclass{article} 

          \usepackage{times}

          \begin{document}
          \title{A paper}
          \author{A. U. Thor}

          ...

          \end{document}
	

Like most LaTeX authors I have a collection of previous documents that begin with something like the fragment shown above. When it's time to write a new document I make a copy of an old one and then change the content. (If this isn't similar to the way you operate, you're probably a LaTeX expert and can skip reading the rest of this.) Life goes on, and I get my documents written.

Then one day I need a new feature. I saw a LaTeX article somewhere (perhaps in The PracTex Journal?) that had clickable links that take you to another part of the article or even to a web page. This seemed like a really nice feature, and wouldn't it be nice if I could use this in my documents?

If I'm in an adventuresome mood and have a few hours to spare I'll try to figure out this new feature. Some of the articles in The PracTex Journal have the source document available and I can borrow the authors' tricks. It will probably take some time to figure out, but once mastered, it's a new arrow in my quiver. I add the new trick to my usual document source:

          % My usual document source
          \documentclass{article} 

          \usepackage{times}
          \usepackage{hyperref} % make links in my document

          \begin{document}
          \title{A paper}
          \author{A. U. Thor}

          ...
          \href{http://www.mypage.net}{My Web site} % a link!
          ...

          \end{document}
        

The next time I need to write a new document I can copy this one and start anew. The new tricks I picked up are included and ready to be used again.

The downside is that each time you add a new technique to your "usual document source", it may take an hour or two or more. If you like experimenting with LaTeX this is no problem. But for those who want to spend their time writing rather than fiddling around with LaTeX, the extra hour or two needed to figure out each new feature is prohibitive, and you just do without.

A year or so ago The PracTex Journal received an article from an engineering Ph.D. student, Lapo Mori. While writing he must have found he was spending a lot of time researching LaTeX features. Shortly after submitting his article, he proposed that there should be a LaTeX-pedia. That is, an online resource where an author can easily find useful information about LaTeX, and examples of LaTeX documents. Lapo proposed this project to his friends at the Italian Users Group (GuIT), and it has become one of the group's long-term goals. I haven't spoken to Lapo recently and don't know the state of this project, but it certainly seems like one that needs to happen sooner than later.

There are currently several good online LaTeX resources. In my browser's bookmarks I've collected about 100 such sites. Each has its advantages and maybe a few shortcomings. Still, when I want to know about a package or feature, I most often use a search engine and type something like, LaTeX format url, to find out how to typeset a url. Using this method I often land at one of the sites I've already bookmarked, and sometimes I find a new one, but it's usually hit or miss.

Rather than constantly looking through a variety of sites it would be nice to have a single site where I could start my search. Even if this site were just a well-maintained index to other currently available sites it would be a great resource. And who knows, over time it could even become a self-contained complete reference.

The LaTeX-pedia or someting similar would be a valuable resource. I'd certainly use it, and it might even satisfy the LaTeX-weary Slashdot person.

Lance Carnes
Editor


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