[OS X TeX] MacTeX and LaTeX package documentation

Rowland McDonnell rjmm-lists1 at fireflyuk.net
Sun Oct 15 11:46:48 CEST 2006

> On 14.10.2006, at 05:40, Rowland McDonnell wrote:
> >>
> >> Le 13-oct.-06 à 13:22, Rowland McDonnell a écrit :
> >>
> >>>
> >>>> You also may use the "texdoc" command. "texdoc babel", in the
> >>>> Terminal, opens the "TeX Catalogue online"'s section for Babel's
> >>>> documentation.
> >>>
> >>> Well, yes, I tried that, but I must say that:
> >>>
> >>> Babel: Multilingual support for LaTeX
> >>> The author is Johannes Brahms
> >>>
> >>> doesn't look like user documentation to me.
> >>
> >> Sorry, I should have added that, once the TeX Catalogue Online
> >> relevant page is displayed, you have to click the symbol
> >> representing a pdf file to get the documentation.
> >
> > Thank you - I did get that information eventually.
> >
> > It's not at all obvious what those pictures are there for.  It
> > didn't occur to me that they could have any function at all.  They
> > don't look like functional elements to me: they look like
> > decoration.  I certainly didn't see them as having any *meaning*. 
> > I looked for words and links, and couldn't see any words that would
> > help me or links that would take
> > me anywhere.
> It's hard to believe that you've never seen a PDF icon before or that  
> you meaning of a folder icon has been hidden to you until now.

[Tell me, what exactly has this comment added to this mailing list?  A
bit of bad atmosphere, yes - anything else?]

But those pictures do not look like the icons I see in my daily computer
use, and I had no reason to think that they were functional since if
they were, I would have expected there to be some words to tell me what
function they performed.  There were so such words: I therefore ignored
the pictures as meaningless.

Consider also: the folder icon on that Web page is not presented in the
same context as a folder icon in the Finder.  In the Finder, you're
working with a computer's filing system, and every functional folder has
a label in words.  In the TeX On-line Catalogue, you're looking up
information about packages and none of the icons had words displayed
next to them, or had any indication at all that they performed a

Actually, now that I've been told what those icons mean, getting files
from CTAN is going to be a lot easier - rather than looking things up in
the catalogue and then going to CTAN to download them, I see that there
is a direct way of doing it.  That is, until I forget what the pictures
are for (which will happen if I don't use it for an extended period).
That's why words in addition to pictures are essential: to cue the user
in to `what's going on' so that they can interpret the pictures as

I mean, there I was, faced with a poorly designed user interface - and
you think an appropriate reaction is to sneer at me?  Weird.

> After,  
> you're using a Mac, don't you?


> > Argh!  It's *awful*, it really is.  So much gratuitous pain, which
> > could be so easily avoided by just putting the words on the Web
> > page in the sensible fashion, but oh no, we've got to have `pretty
> > pictures'. Pfft. Well, pretty pictures don't mean a thing.
> It's called graphical user interface, it was made popular by some  
> kind of fruit company some years ago.


Actually, I think you'll find that up until recently, almost all the
pretty pictures that Apple gave us to work with were backed up by words
as well.  Back when I started with Macs (1990), we also had multimedia
tutorials and manuals to teach us what all the pictures meant and how to
use them: that is how I learnt how to use a Mac (along with a single
half-hour computer lab lecture).  Since such training aids are no longer
provided - software firms often don't even bother with manuals any more!
- a lot of the functionality of MacOS X is denied to me.

`Mac Help' and suchlike present very limited information in a way that
makes it very hard to learn from - a far cry from the excellence of
old-time computer documentation, although Apple's manuals have only ever
been `okay' at best (I've got the Apple ][ manuals on my shelf - DOS
3.3, Applesoft Basic, and Integer Basic).

The `pictures on their own without words permanently displayed' of the
MacOS X dock is the main reason why I cannot use the dock; I use
DragThing, which is rather like the old Launcher control panel.

On top of that, how is one to know that one has been presented with a
purely graphical user interface unless one is told?  Given that all the
rest of the navigation around the catalogue is done purely with `word'
links, I don't see how one could be expected to spot this bizarre switch
to a purely GUI interface.

It's like the switch some decades ago from domestic appliance manuals
which used words to the ones that use pictures.  The picture books are
universally much harder to understand and universally much less useful.
Words are what the human race developed to get arbitrary ideas across,
and it's a big mistake to think that pictures alone can replace them[1].

Do you see the problem, now?  For those in the know, I'm sure it's fine
to be presented with that catalogue - but for people like me?  We're
stuffed - excluded - shut out.  This is a Bad Thing, and no matter how
much you sneer at what you see as my stupidity and ignorance, there are
a lot of people like me and we're not stupid at all: we just see the
world a different way and think differently.

I don't much like the sneering tone I've had in response to a lot of my
posts in this supposedly technical mailing list - it gives a very
unpleasant atmosphere.  Yes, I'm not the same as you - so what?  I don't
sneer at your ignorance[2], do I?  That's because personal commentary
like that does not belong on a technical mailing list.


[1]  The new washing machine that arrived here yesterday has a manual
full of words rather than just a picture book.  Unfortunately, it is
very confusing and generally makes it hard to work out how to use the
machine intelligently.  I suspect that this is because it's been
translated from German by a non-technical translator who understands
literary style rather better than teaching and learning methods.  The
point being that just because it's written with words doesn't mean it's
any good.

[2] To paraphrase Frank Zappa: `We're all ignorant' (he said `dumb', but
that means `unable to speak' to me).
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