Monday, November 05, 2007

LaTeX For The Win!

Yeah, yeah -- I feel a little silly making a big deal about having just now become a convert to LaTeX. It's like wandering into a room of World-of-Warcraft-playing geeks and bragging about "this super-cool game I found; it's called 'NetHack'!"

But dang! I can't believe I made it through two-thirds of a Master's degree in computer science without even trying this brilliant tool. I mean the quality of the output (okay -- the quality of the typsetting; the actual semantic content is still GIGO) makes even the most mundane homework assignment look like something that's going to be published in some major journal any day now.

The key was in resolving to take the first step. I was dreading it, but I found that forcing myself to do that first assignment in LaTeX let me pick up probably 80% of the formatting tricks I'll ever need. Definitely worth the effort.

LaTeX strikes me as a perfect example of what Kathy Sierra used to blog about (Author's Note: Hi, Kathy! Come back! We miss you!): software that lets you (me) KICK A**! It's a software tool, but it has one key characteristic of the best physical tools as well -- it takes a modest force as input (your (my) typing), and amplifies and concentrates that force to shape an output that you (I) could not have achieved with your (my) bare hands.

Simply put: LaTeX rocks.

I just hope TeXShop -- which is the front-end I use on my Macs -- plays well with Leopard. There aren't a lot of issues I can think of that would keep me from upgrading, but losing LaTeX/TeXShop would definitely be a showstopper.