3.342 more on LaTex (60)

Thu, 10 Aug 89 20:32:01 EDT

Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 3, No. 342. Thursday, 10 Aug 1989.

Date: Thu, 10 Aug 89 15:32:59 -0500
From: Alan D Corre <corre>
Subject: LaTex

I have been working with computers for fourteen years (I've even tried
some assembly language) and regard LaTeX as the biggest challenge I
ever undertook. You can enjoy the marijuana of WordPerfect, even graduate
to the cocaine of some programming language or another, but LaTeX is
definitely the heroin of programming, to be avoided unless you plan to
write an updated confessions of an opium eater. It is not a word processor.
It is a typesetting program, and one of the most difficult and frustrating
things you can imagine. Only one thing is worse, TeX itself. I once opened
the TeXbook, decided it was the Bible of Beelzebub himself, closed it and
vowed never to open it again. Many times when using it I have cursed the
day I started. But...the results can be fabulous. I used it to compose my
forthcoming book "Icon Programming for Humanists" and the technical editor
at Prentice Hall wrote to me that it was one of the best-looking manuscripts
she had ever seen. She asked me casually: Would you mind taking out the
dots that join the chapters and page number in the index? I wrote back to
her: Would you mind if I don't? Why? Because to achieve that seemingly
simple task I should have to crawl around the guts of that awesome program
which is full of dragons and dungeons. And that is the crux of it. LaTeX
can do everything, but nothing simply. White space is a bear. Try and
alter a little bit of it and all hell breaks loose. Error messages look
like dispatches from Moscow to American diplomats in Vienna. It takes
for ever to run. It asks coy questions to which you don't know the answer.
In short, it is guaranteed to drive you crazy, and when you approach the
local Texpert he or she will give you more soothing words than good
advice. If nonetheless you decide to navigate these troubled waters,
keep your files short. LaTeX has ways to join files together satisfactorily.
Divide and conquer.
Better yet, switch on your tape deck and play the timeless ballad:
There is a house in New Orleans
They call the Rising Sun
And it's been the ruin of many a poor boy
I know, cos I am one.
Then take the advice of this poor boy and stick to your user-friendly word
Alan D. Corre
Department of Hebrew Studies
University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee (414) 229-4245
PO Box 413, Milwaukee, WI 53201 corre@csd4.milw.wisc.edu

[I cannot resist repeating "the standard joke about TeX" related to me
by someone whose wisdom in these matters far exceeds mine:
To the question, "Can it be done with TeX?" the answer is invariably,
To the question, "Is it easy?" the answer is invariably, "No!"