Pressing Toward the Prize

Learning a New Language

Posted on: September 28, 2010

As part of our Senior Capstone, each of us who is majoring in math will be writing a research paper that will involve mathematical notation and formatting. In anticipation of this, we are currently learning to use LaTeX, a mathematical typesetting language that will allow us to produce academically sound, professional-looking documents. Our first assignment in the learning process was to re-create a document crafted by our professor in order to give us exposure to the various aspects of LaTeX.

After attending an introductory LaTeX session, printing off a sample document with accompanying code, and finding an online tutorial, I set out on my adventure. The process of writing the code to reproduce the professor’s document was a bit cumbersome, because I had to stop and look up how to do nearly every component!! Of course, not every command was readily available, and I had to learn how to “tweak” the examples to write code that would produce the specifics I needed. I discovered that many of the commands are fairly intuitive in that they are often a simple description of the symbol or function you want to create, which is nice. For example, to produce the symbol “is an element of” you type “\in,” for “greater than or equal to” you type “\geq,” or to center something, you type “\begin{center}…\end{center},” and so on. But like other computer programs, LaTeX wants what it wants when it wants it, and part of the trick is finding out what that is in any given situation!!

LaTeX does have some interesting idiosyncrasies, however, that I found quite humorous. To make something print larger than normal, one would use the command “\big,” for larger one would type “\Big,” and “\Bigg” would produce something larger still. But to go very huge, one could type “\Huge.” Isn’t that a hoot?!

All in all, I feel much better about learning and using LaTeX since I have “battled through” creating (or re-creating, if you will) a document myself. It was a very momentous occasion when I compiled the code and it actually produced the document exactly as it should have been. I couldn’t have been more proud (and thrilled) if I had just finished writing my first novel!

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2 Responses to "Learning a New Language"

Doesn’t learning a new code just feel ridiculous sometimes?! I took CSCE 144 and I am so not computer savvy haha so it was a difficult class for me, and I was feeling the same way about LaTeX at first! But once I got it all finished and compiled correctly I just felt so accomplished! I think because I struggled through it a little that just made it so much more rewarding for me one I saw the finished product! I hope it was the same for you 🙂

I also agree with you that it was hard at first to write the code. I have learned that it gets easier with time. A couple days ago I wrote my first test using LaTeX and the students appreciated the test written with LaTeX more than the test written in word. It didn’t take long to write a 31 question test either. I can’t wait to write up more quizzes and tests using this program.

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