[texhax] syllabus (fwd)

Robin Fairbairns Robin.Fairbairns at cl.cam.ac.uk
Fri Oct 1 10:46:48 CEST 2004

phil taylor wrote:

> Robin Fairbairns wrote:
> [snip]
> > the typeset documented source, with indexes, comes to something in the
> > order of 700pp of a4.  a convenient summing-up might be "they're
> > pretty complicated".  which really isn't enough; learning tex is a
> > good precursor of learning how to duplicate the functionality of
> > latex, but latex has a lot of useful structures embedded in it that
> > are useful stuff for the knowledgeable programmer.
> There is another way of looking at this : LaTeX carries with it
> an enormous amount of "excess baggage" which most users neither
> need nor understand.  I have yet to find anything which LaTeX
> can do that cannot be done using Plain TeX plus additional
> (custom) macros created specifically for the task in hand.

or to put it another way, plain tex is far better for the expert who
has no need of helping anyone else.  custom macros for simple tasks
are usually simple ... yet i've been at a presentation given by phil
where he recounted some piece of maths macro programming he had done
in plain tex.  i don't actually remember what he had programmed, but
(a priori) it didn't seem a particularly big deal.  yet towards the
end, when he got to the final ironing-out of the final bug, the
audience broke into spontaneous applause ... and that before the
"conclusion" section of the talk :-)

yes, latex carries baggage for a lot of things that i never once used
all that time i was writing letters using it, to be read to my blind
grandmother.  yet it enabled me to adjust the sizes aand faces of the
fonts in those letters until we had found a good size for her
partially-sighted friend to read them to her, with ease.  sure, there
are font selection packages for plain tex, but they're baggage that
most plain users would rather avoid.

just remember that latex is often the minimum-thought alternative[*]
to cobbling together macros in a language you barely understand.  and
realise that many people aren't as clever as phil.


[*] or, one such alternative.  there is another excellent candidate,
now: context -- even larger, even more baggage, but arguably better
suited to the simple needs of everyday use.  i don't participate in
such arguments, since i don't know context particularly well, but it's
clear that it's a pretty fine piece of work.

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