failing like never before


Me and Tex

Someone once told me that all the "cool kids" use Latex to write up all their technical documents. Due to my desperate desire to be part of the cool crowd, I immediately began reading through Latex tutorials. At the time, the only formal document I was working on was my resume, so I rewrote my resume in Latex, and because I wanted to have lots of fancy formatting, it took me a surprisingly long time to write it up. The end result was a resume that looked pretty decent, and one very annoyed college student who decided that Latex was far too aggravating to be used on a regular basis for such trivial things like lab reports or resumes. So for the longest time, my resume was the only document I used Latex for.

Now lets put the way-back machine in reverse and jump forward one year, to last week, when I was typing up my linguistics homework in VIM. We were working with sentence trees (think back to your automata/algorithms class, where you used a formal grammar to show that a string is an element of a language) and unfortunately, there is no good way to draw graphs, or much less trees, in plain ASCII text. Lucky me, Google-fu revealed that there are numerous Latex packages that will allow a writer to knock together some pretty spiffy graphs. Long story short, it took me a really (really (really (really))) long time to write up my linguistics homework using Tex. I was up till 4 AM, and most of that time was spent making sentence trees. Granted, I spent a pretty good chunk of time relearning Latex, learning how to use some crazy packages I found out in the Internet, and going "Ooooo! Look what I can do!"

sentence tree, from ling homework

Ooooh! Pretty tree!

The end results: the loveliest homework assignment I've ever turned in, and one tired college student.

Funny story, the next day, I wrote up my algorithms homework in Latex. This week, I wrote part of my circuits lab report and my new linguistics homework in Latex.

I run Linux almost exclusively and its often quite difficult for me to create nice looking documents with fancy charts, tables, and nicely notated equations, because quite frankly, Open Office just doesn't cut it when I need to make stuff look nice. Not only that, but I still haven't bothered to install Open Office on my laptop. The end result is that I write most of my lab reports in Microsoft Office on the school computers. Now I'll admit, I do bash on Microsoft on occasion, but I actually enjoy using Microsoft Office 2010. Office's new equation editor is simple to use and it creates really pretty looking equations, and the graphs now have nice aesthetically pleasing colors and shadows (unlike the old-school graphs). So really, there hasn't yet been a reason for me to seek out an alternative to MS Office. Until now of course.

Latex allows me to create epically awesome, professional grade documents in about the same amount of time as it takes in MS Office. Some tasks are actually faster because I don't have to fight the editor program, which usually thinks it knows better then me. I can now also work on my documents from the comfort of my own desk, or on my laptop while I'm chilling in the hallway between classes. Plus, documents marked up in Latex just look better in general then your typical MS Word doc, due partially to more consistent formatting rules and a more structured layout.

So join the rest of us cool kids! Jump on the Latex bandwagon! After all, how could something created by Donald Knuth possibly be bad?