Geek stuff

Size matters

One thing that distracted me for a while was getting myself a new laptop, a 17″ MacBook Pro. Simply fantastic, of course. Huge and very bright sharp screen — I got a matte one — and fast. Oh, very fast. On my previous 1.5 Ghz 15″ PowerMac (a thing of beauty too), it took 28 seconds to typeset the Gödel book. Now the same LaTeX processing takes just over four seconds. And no, of course it isn’t that I really need all those saved twenty seconds in a day! But I don’t have to think any more about the business of refreshing the preview of the printed page — you just stop noticing the mechanics, so to speak, of using LaTeX.

I did think long and hard about whether to go for broke and get the big screen version. I’m glad I did. The laptop fits in the same bag I had before, and is not significantly heavier, so I don’t notice any real difference in the bother of carting it around. And after all, neither size MacBook Pro is the sort of thing you’d want to tote if you were really doing a lot of travelling (mmmm, the rumours of a really small laptop for 2008 are promising). So get the bigger one if you can: having the extra real estate again helps to make e.g. working with LaTeX (with TeXShop and BibDesk windows open, etc.) quite a lot more pleasant.

I’ve now just got to write another book to justify the expense …

How to make life difficult for yourself

A posting on philos-l, on corner quotes:

Choose a common font such as Arial. You’ll find a good enough corner there somewhere. Copy the symbol you want so you have it on the clipboard, then paste it into a Word document. THEN shrink it, adjust the baseline shift, etc., and you’ll have as good a corner quote as any fancy font will get you.

So much easier than typing \ulcorner or \urcorner, eh?

I suspect that the reason we still see people talking about this sort of simply daft palaver with the awful Word has nothing much to do with some intrinsic difficulty in learning LaTeX (because basic mark-up is a piece of cake), but more to do with the off-putting look of the standard manuals which makes it seems that LaTeX is only for hard-core scientists and mathematicians, etc.

Partly that’s because the manuals spend a lot of time on LaTeX’s stunning maths typesetting capabilities, which is understandable. But also the tendency has been (especially in the Guide and the Companion) to write manuals that go absolutely clean against the LaTeX philosophy of separating structural mark-up from typographically fine tuning. So the manuals tell you e.g. both how to mark up a list and how to do all kinds of clever fine tuning in the same few pages, and hence they bury the terse headline news — all you really need to know — in a mess of unnecessary detail. I’m almost tempted to try my hand at writing a logically structured manual for non-scientists!

Real Estate

I’ve been using my old desktop (well, under-the-desk) G4 Mac less and less recently, so I’ve reorganized things so that I can mainly use its fairly new and very nice LCD monitor with my laptop when I’m at home. Wonderful. I can have the TeXShop window with the PDF of the book I’m working on displayed on the external monitor (a full page at 150%), and the TeXShop drawer open too, with all the section hyperlinks: and then the source file of the current chapter and other stuff like BibDesk is on the PowerBook screen. Why on earth didn’t I think of doing this before? It’s LaTeX heaven!

So message to myself: no more lusting after 17″ laptops — keep to a 15″ one for portability, and get the additional real estate when you need it by plugging an the external monitor.

It all seems a very long way from thinking that WordStar on an ACT Sirius was really, really neat …

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