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Report on PracTeX06

From the Participants and Compiled by Dave Walden

This journal is a child of the PracTeX conference series; it was conceived two years ago at the second PracTeX conference in San Francisco. As this journal was pulling its seventh quarterly issue together, the third PracTeX06 conference was held at Rutgers, the State University (Busch Campus), Piscataway, New Jersey, USA.

The conference began with a four day LaTeX workshop followed by a three day conference with a mostly idle day in between.

[Editor's note: For this conference report, I solicited two or three sentences from each participant on his or her impressions of the conference generally, of one specific session, and one sentence on any other aspect of PracTeX06. Several attendees followed the "rules" and submitted the requested two or three sentences, a couple of attendees said they could (and did) provide sentences on more presentations as needed, and the enthusiastic and prolific Boris Veytsman sent remarks on all presentations except the three he was involved in giving. Although my intention was to select only one comment for each presentation, in the end I included everything I received.]

General comments on the conference

Kaveh Barzagan: Content was possibly the best ever. Precisely relevant to Practical TeX, and a minimum of geekspeak. All presenters did a great job. The location was disappointing with nothing much to do around the hotel.

Barbara Beeton: The enthusiasm reminded me of early TUG annual meetings, which tells me that TeX's time isn't over yet. And the informal networking that everybody indulged in is perhaps the most important aspect of a meeting like Practical TeX, as well as one of the most enjoyable.

Karl Berry: As an organizer of the conference, I was very happy that the general consensus seemed to be that nearly all the presentations "provided useful information, rather than being over my head." (Several people used essentially that phrase.)

Elizabeth Dearborn: I truly enjoyed participating in PracTeX 06, with so many knowledgeable, interesting people, and I look forward to PracTeX07.

Peter Flom: The conference was excellent, with many informative talks at different levels. I would encourage more attendance (and participation) by people who are relatively new to the world of TeX -- the presenters are friendly and the water is fine.

Troy Henderson: I got more out of this conference than I have from any other conferences that I've attended.

Robin Laakso: I thought the talks and interaction at this PracTeX conference were particularly rewarding, inspiring and fun. Sometimes it seemed like a real-life version of a support mailing list ... which is the whole point of organizing a Practical TeX conference, so yay :)

Donald Pellegrino: "Practical TeX 2006" was a great opportunity to see how TeX is being used by the experts who really know how to use it.

Boris Veytsman: This was a very pleasant and useful meeting. The atmosphere there was just right.

Dave Walden: This was my first TeX or TUG conference; I learned much, was inspired to try several new things, and loved meeting all the TeX users

Many (not all) conference participants posing for a photo

Detailed conference agenda

Tuesday, July 25, through Friday, July 28: the LaTeX workshop with volunteer instructors Sue DeMeritt and Cheryl Ponchin.

Saturday, July 29: Many people arrived by plane, train, and car for the conference proper. An informal reception was held from 5-7pm on Saturday evening at the Clarion Hotel in Edison, NJ, where many conference attendees stayed. At the reception, conference attendees made new acquaintances and renewed old acquaintances.

The conference itself was held on Sunday, July 30, through Tuesday August 1, at the Core Building on the Rutgers (Busch) campus. Each day consisted of two morning sessions separated by a break, lunch, and two afternoon sessions separated by a break. Other formal and informal events were fit in before, after, and between formal sessions.

Sunday, July 30

9am Karl Berry -- Opening & introductions

9:20am Barbara Beeton -- keynote address: How to Create a TeX Journal: A Personal Journey

     Steve Grathwohl: It was a wonderful presentation, full of stuff I didn't know and was glad to learn.

     Boris Veytsman: The keynote address was an interesting and enjoyable journey into the history of TeX, TUG, TUGboat.

     Dave Walden: Barbara gave a fascinating tour through the various changes in the style of TUGboat over the years. Even more exciting was hearing and meeting, Barbara in person; she has been the editor of TUBboat for essentially its whole life, and TUGboat in turn was the initial reason I joined TUG.

10:20am break

10:30am Peter Flom -- LaTeX for social scientists and other people who think they don't need it

     Robin Laakso: Peter's funny, common sense perspective on encouraging people to use (La)TeX was instructive and personally inspiring. He ended his talk with a "wish list" of suggestions on how to improve its ease of use. It was amazing, and at times amusing, to observe Peter's wish list getting smaller and smaller as attendees recommended solutions and gave advice.

     Boris Veytsman: Peter Flom's presentation gave me a rare opportunity to see how TeX is viewed by a relative novice; after all these years of working with TeX I sometimes lose this fresh view.

11:10am Jim Hefferon -- LaTeX resources

     Karl Berry: Jim's tour of LaTeX resources operated was at a level we need more of -- not just saying you can use x, y, or z, but actually making recommendations and choices.

     Boris Veytsman: Jim Hefferon's work gave a bunch of references to LaTeX resources; there were some new points for everybody, and I picked up a couple too.

11:50am Boris Veytsman -- Design of presentations: Notes on principles and TeX implementation

     Dave Walden: Taking off from Edward Tufte's 31-page, self-published essay, The Cognitive Style of PowerPoint, in which Tufte denigrates PowerPoint style presentations, particularly their bulleted lists, Boris gave many illustrations of another approach to presentations; he particularly emphasized the use of the pdfscreen program (from attendee Kaveh Bazargan's company) to avoid the artificial boundaries that each PowerPoint slide tends to put into the flow of a presentation. (Boris's admonition to avoid bullets on slides became a running joke for all the rest of the presenters at the conference.)

12:30pm lunch

1:40pm Alan Wetmore -- TeX and after dinner speaking

     Boris Veytsman: Alan Wetmore's presentation gave me many new ideas about interactive texts and presentation and how to make them myself.

2:20pm Steve Peter -- Fonts, typefaces, glyphs & sorts

     Boris Veytsman: Steve Peter's beautiful talk was a fascinating representation of the history of typography.

3pm break

3:10pm Klaus Höppner -- Creation of a PostScript Type 1 logo font with MetaType1

     Karl Berry: I found Klaus's tutorial on using MetaType1 in practice very carefully worked out and quite entertaining to boot.

     Boris Veytsman: Klaus Hoeppner's talk explained techniques for MetaPost/MetaType1 work; it was a useful exposition of a rather obscure material.

3:50pm William Adams -- TypeSpec v2: typesetting font specimens

     Boris Veytsman: William Adams's talk was a very passionate showcase of great fonts; I really enjoyed the beauty of typography.

4:30pm Q&A session

5pm Four parallel birds-of-feather sessions
- Professional Publishing and Meeting Journal Guidelines for PDF with TeX
- Maintaining a large TeX installation
- Customizing TeX Shop
- Trial run slide show introducing (La)TeX
- Additionally, a MacTeX group discussion took place at the hotel Saturday afternoon; they also met for lunch on Sunday.

Monday, July 31

9am Ned Hummel -- Common macro pitfalls and how to avoid them

     Boris Veystman: Ned Hummel's talk was a very good introduction into logical markup and an exposition of the sad fact that most people choose the (seemingly) least resistance path of visible markup - and are bitten hard down the road.

9:40am Jonathan Kew -- XeTeX: past, present, future

Kaveh Bazargan: For me, XeTeX was the star of the show, bringing simplicity to TeX.

     Troy Henderson: Of course, the talk on XeTeX was particularly interesting because of the ease of adding and using new fonts.

     Donald Pellegrino: The presentation not only helped me understand what XeTeX is, but it also helped me understand how silly I am for not using it already.

     Dave Walden: In addition to describing XeTeX, Jonathan repeatedly mentioned the value of Will Robertson's fontspec package for use in conjunction with XeTeX.

     Boris Veytsman: Jonathan Kew brilliantly presented his great work on XeTeX -- a plot to make the TeX font guru obsolete.

[Editor's note: I have allowed a disproportionate number of comments on this presentation. As Kaveh says above, it was the "star of the show"; this status was clear from the spontaneous burst of applause from the participants when Jonathan dragged a new (non-TeX-format) font file to his computer's fonts directory and, with no other machinations, his document compiled correctly using the new font.]

10:20am break

10:30am Federico Garcia -- Capabilities of PDF interactivity

     Boris Veytsman: The talk by Federico Garcia gave a very good short introduction into PDF capabilities of hyperref -- something interesting for various users.

11:10am Boris Veytsman, Maria Shmilevich -- Automatic report generation with web, TeX and SQL

     Dave Walden: This presentation showed how a small number of weeks of work was able to produce a system that automatically formatted reports required under U.S. government contracts based on minimal essential input from the people doing reporting.

11:50am Kaveh Bazargan -- Removing vertical stretch - mimicking traditional typesetting with TeX

     Boris Veytsman: Kaveh Bazargan presented both an elegant solution to a very old problem (typesetting to a grid), and a very interesting talk about his company, which represents a way to go in introducing TeX to real life environments.

12:30pm lunch

1:40pm David Walden -- A lifetime as an amateur compositor

The amateur (your editor for this issue) lectures his betters

     Karl Berry: I found Dave's review of pre-computer technologies, with props, a whole lot of fun!

     Peter Flom: I particularly liked the talk by Dave Walden on some tips for writing a book using LaTeX -- I have already implemented some of them.

     Boris Veytsman: Dave's fascinated me by its historical part: it put the digital typography in a perspective.

2:20pm Troy Henderson -- Using MetaPost for creating high-quality technical graphics

     Robin Laakso: I enjoyed Troy's talk on MetaPost very much. I thought the department logo he re-created with MetaPost looked great, and was wowed by his LaTeX and MetaPost previewer, both of which could be handy to use at various venues.

     Boris Veytsman: The two presentations about graphics (by Troy Henderson and by Andrew Mertz and William Slough) were a useful introduction into great and useful graphics packages.

3pm break

3:10pm Andrew Mertz, William Slough -- Graphics with PGF and TikZ

     Karl Berry: I thought Andrew and William did an excellent job presenting a graduated series of examples with TikZ, a friendly front-end to PGF (I gather), for producing graphics entirely within TeX. (They did a similarly excellent job introducing the beamer package last year.)

3:50 Jon Breitenbucher -- LaTeX at a liberal arts college

     Barbara Beeton: Jon Breitenbucher's presentation on tactics for getting students not only to use TeX, but to improve the quality of their content while doing so was full of ideas that could profitably be used to spread the word.

     Boris Veytsman: We all could easily relate to the talk by Jon Breitenbucher about successes and tribulations in teaching LaTeX to students.

4:30pm Q&A; TUG meeting

Tuesday, August 1

9am Peter Flynn -- Rolling your own document class

     Elizabeth Dearborn: It is extremely difficult to choose only one presentation to comment upon, but Peter Flynn's talk on rolling your own document class has inspired me to try something I thought was beyond my capabilities.

     Boris Veytsman: The talk by Peter Flynn was a good introduction for fledgling class writers.

9:40am Federico Garcia -- LaTeX and the different bibliography styles

     Boris Veytsman: The talk by Federico Garcia described, among other things, his great work on the very useful opcit package. It was interesting & practical.

10:20am break

10:30am Boris Veytsman, Leila Akhmadeyeva -- Drawing medical pedigree trees with TeX and pstricks

     Dave Walden: We learned a lot about certain kinds of genealogical tree diagrams used in medical research and diagnosis and how TeX can support creating them; the insight I gained surely applies to other application areas.

11:10am Elizabeth Dearborn -- TeX and medicine

     Boris Veytsman: Elizabeth Dearborn's talk was one of the most inspiring presentations at the conference. The details of book publishing and the dos and don'ts of the process were quite interesting.

11:50am Bob Neveln, Bob Alps -- Writing and checking complete proofs in TeX

     Boris Veytsman: The presentation by Bob Neveln and Bob Alps gave an insight into the math papers of the future, when computers will check not only our spelling, but the soundness of our logic as well (God forbid they do the same with the speeches of our politicians!)

12:30pm lunch

1:40pm Stephen Moye -- A wayward wayfarer's way to TeX

     Boris Veytsman: Stephen Moye's talk was a great talk about the life with TeX by a wise man and a very good storyteller.

2:20pm Steve Peter -- Introduction to memoir

     Boris Veytsman: This presentation by Steve Peter was a good introduction into the capabilities of memoir.

3pm break

3:10pm panel -- Barbara Beeton, Peter Flynn, Mirko Janc, Jonathan Kew; moderator: Dave Walden

     Boris Veytsman: I really liked the panel; the questions were interesting, and the possibility for all of us to talk about the future of TeX was priceless.

4pm closing

7pm banquet at the Clarion hotel

     Kaveh Bazargan: Perhaps one alcoholic drink could have been provided per person, with the rest available at the bar.

Wednesday, August 2: Visit to New York City and the Morgan Library.

     Karl Berry: The Morgan Library was awe-inspiring. To see an actual Gutenberg Bible, especially, along with so many other exemplars of the finest printing, made me remember why I was drawn into this world in the first place.

Conference organizers Karl Berry and Robin Laakso with Dante
president Klaus Höppner at the top of the Empire State Building

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