Saturday, November 12, 2011

On LaTeX and Microsoft Word

Sorry, this is a ranty post. Adjust your desire to read appropriately.

I was busy writing my APS abstract this last week. When we got near the end I was having a heck of a time getting Bibtex to work with Latex and insert my references properly. Later on I realized that APS doesn't really allow for citation ala Latex and Bibtex, but whatever. I was struggling with this, and mentioned to my advisor, jokingly, "Man, I hate Latex." He says, also jokingly, "you could use Microsoft Word." I say sure, despite the fact that the APS website says they prefer Latex and that Latex is actually easier for the submitter, MS Word is no problem. In fact, that is kind of the point. I wrote my abstract using Org-Mode precisely because it made little to no assumptions on the end result. I can export to Latex or one of the many other formats or just grab my text and paste it into MS Word with no problems. I can also send it to any human being in the world with a computer and that person can open it and understand what they are seeing. Hell, in a handful of keystrokes I could post it to this blog.

Later, when printing, my advisor changes from his joking suggestion to insist that I use MS Word (presumably so that I can export to a Rich Text Format document that the APS accepts). This will make it easier, right… So, I copy/paste it over to a document and save it as an RTF file. Low and behold, of course, the equations are not interpreted by word. It would take at least 15 minutes and perhaps up to an hour to figure out how to get the proper symbols, fonts, and kerning into the document for submission. The last kick to the nuts is that the APS provides an RTF template, but in order to use it, you must actually type the document into it yourself, by hand. If you copy and paste it into the template something, apparently, will get screwed up. I will repeat that, the American Physical Society requires you to actually, physically, press the keys on your keyboard while their template is open in order to submit an abstract (though I imagine something like xdotool might serve me well here). This is what happens with you use things you don't understand people. You get black magic crap like this.

Point is, I miss my previous colleagues and advisor, nay entire department, nay entire institution where they held the opinion that any individual in the sciences should be using Latex as their format for correspondence. Also, bravo to the APS for encouraging people to use Latex for submitting abstracts.


  1. @mahakk01

    I don't think this should have given you much information regarding LaTeX other than the fact that there was a day where entire physics departments (and perhaps any many others) used LaTeX to typeset papers and that other methods (like MS Word/RTF) were considered ludicrous for this purpose.

    As you may know, LaTeX is a piece of software that allows you to decouple the document content to the document typesetting. This is very much like modern day HTML but tuned for papers, particularly those with mathematical equations. This post was just a statement of the depressing trend of physics academia moving away from established solutions to simpler yet less capable ones with lower learning curves.