Thursday, June 26, 2008

Tex and LaTeX: Dork It Up!

So, you think you're a science dork, eh? In my book, you don't get to really wear the dork crown until you write all of your papers in LaTeX. LaTeX is a language for creating documents with TeX typesetting; I don't really know what that means, but I do know it makes beautifully formatted pdf documents. There's also a good free mac implementation of LaTeX called TeXShop.

Here's the caveat: it does take a bit of effort to learn. It has a bit more in common with writing computer programs than it does with MS Word, for example. If you've ever edited html code, it's sort of like that. But the effort is time well spent. Here are the main things I like about using LaTeX.

1. Good bibliography management with BibDesk, and automatic citations and bibliography generation. I like this system better than EndNote because it's free, and it doesn't crash or do unspeakable secret things to your document.

2. Ever tried to get a figure in the right place in Word? This process makes me want to stick flaming skewers in my eye. With LaTeX, you put a reference to a figure in the document, and the program figures out a logical place to put it.

3. Equations. Word's equation editor has gotten better, and LaTeX requires some learning of syntax, but once you get it, it works beautifully. All of my math geek friends use LaTeX all the time.

4. Readability. LaTeX documents are easier to read than Word documents.

5. Integration with r through sweave. You can even make documents where figures and results are generated on the fly from your data when the file is processed - so if your data changes, the paper is updated automatically.

5. Reign over other dorks. Being good at LaTeX is the computer equivalent of wearing a Tron costume and speaking klingon (the warriors tongue). AT THE SAME TIME.

10 comments:

Glor said...

I'm beginning to like LaTeX, but I've had some difficulty converting my EndNote library to BibTex format. Turns out it's going to take a number of custom Perl scripts to get all the citations with accented characters and strange formatting in the notes section over to the BibTex format and I haven't had the time to do this yet. In any case, I'm glad Luke is leading the charge to further nerd-dom.

Glor said...

I think Igic might have some advice on running version tracking software in LaTeX to facilitate revisions among collaborating authors.

Dan said...

I've often thought that I should learn LaTeX, but have so far refrained due to anecdotal evidence linking it to a high incidence of Asperger's and increased body odor. I'll be watching Glor carefully over the next few months, and if he seems okay I may give it a shot.

Brian R. Moore said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Brian R. Moore said...

One of my favorite LaTex utilities is LaTexIt, a small tool for quickly typesetting equations that can be exported to any supporting app (e.g., Keynote), without the need to deal with file creation, preambles, etc.

Jeremy said...

So my first question was definitely going to be, "can I import from EndNote to this BibDesk of which you speak?" Now I have to decide if freedom from Word is worth reconstructing my references database.

Glor said...

You might not have as much trouble as me. I tend to have rather lengthy notes in my EndNote library and these were causing the biggest problem. There are a few applications available on-line to help you along.

Luke J. Harmon said...

I did the transfer without too much trouble. There were a few weird things, and a lot of the refs now have the same "name" when called in LaTeX, which has to be fixed for the formatting to proceed. Still, it's pretty slick.

Tom Near said...

I am not convinced....does BibText have all of the preformated citation styles?

Glor said...

First, my bad for calling it bibtext, it's actually bibdesk. In any case, it does seem compatible with many common styles. Let's be honest, have you ever had EndNote do this without making lots of custom revisions to the format file?