Fun with LaTeX

I’ve had a cold for the last few days, and while it hasn’t been the most debilitating I’ve had, I’m both slow on the uptake and disinclined to go anywhere. That kind of pressure towards sitting-around activities usually drives me to the comfort of electronic screens: games, videos, and tinkering with my computer. Two movies yesterday was our limit, and my XBox is still packed away, so there was a fair amount of tinkering time. I decided to install LaTeX, everyone’s favorite mathematical typesetting language.

I never did my problem sets in LaTeX, the way some people did, but it’s hard to get through a mathematico-scientific education without significant exposure. In my case, I wrote my college thesis, a solutions manual, two term papers, and a whole bunch of teaching materials for the class I TAed. It can be persnicketity and confusing, and some tasks are much harder than they ought to be, but when you get in the LaTeX groove, the quality-typesetting high can be quite a thrill.

In any event, I can report that LaTeX on OS X is both easier to install and much easier to work with than any LaTeX environment I’ve ever used on a PC. Given OS X’s strong Unix roots and high-quality graphical interfaces and development tools, this should not be surprising. As refresher exercises, I’ve typed up two thing I’ve been meaning to throw online for a while. Both were very easy work in LaTeX, and would have been nightmares using HTML. Both are fun exercises using ordinary first-year calculus:

  • Integration by Clever is a tribute to my sister (currently taking calculus) and how she managed to discover integration by parts on her own.

  • No Lebesgue Needed is a solution to a contest problem that shows off a neat application of the fundamental theorem of calculus.

It will be no surprise that I wholeheartedly agree as to LaTeX’s worth. Did I ever recommend LyX to you? I find it to be a fantastic frontent to LaTeX — not quite as conceptually clean as writing the code oneself, but on the other hand it’s nice to see what it’s actually going to look like as you’re writing it, and in math mode you just type in the LaTeX code, and get to watch your equations assemble themselves on the page.

I’m taking a much-too-hard-for-undergraduates (by the prof’s admission) course on differential topology and Lie groups right now, and having a MediaWiki set up for the class, with its built-in support for TeX equation typesetting is a lifesaver in trying to figure out what’s going on in the, shall we say, somewhat terse textbook, by that time-honored method of writing everything out more verbosely.

Two weeks into the semester, we have gotten up to about page 15.