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A. Makelov

Monthly Archives: April 2014

My (current) LaTeX configuration: a relatively easy way to learn how to take LaTeX notes in real time

This is the product of several years of meticulously writing LaTeX documents, coupled with 3 or 4 sudden realizations of the form “I’ve been doing this wrong the whole time, and here‘s how do to it faster”. The end result is that I can take notes in LaTeX as math people write stuff on the board and say all kinds of complicated nonsense, and the notes are just as understandable and readable as the real thing (hey I’m not a magician yet so I can’t actually make it more understandable). And all that without having to memorize unnatural keyboard shortcuts.

Starting with the OS, I’m running Linux, more specifically an Ubuntu Virtual Machine. I have 4GB of RAM and a reasonably fast CPU, so I can pull it off.

The editor I’m using is gummi. It also has a version for Windows which they say is super unstable; I’ve used it a couple of times for minor things and it behaved OK. Maybe it’s altogether OK, but I don’t know. Edit: actually, a friend of mine had been using the Windows version for several years and had like zero problems, so maybe you should have more confidence in it!

There are (at least) two very important things about gummi: live preview, and snippets.

The live preview is an extremely light .pdf viewer embedded in your editor window, on the right side of the actual .tex code. It shows how your document would look if compiled and exported to .pdf. It refreshes automatically  (so you don’t have to click anything) every n seconds where n is a natural number between 1 and 60 but otherwise entirely up to you. It’s super useful in terms of knowing what you’re doing and how things look. It gets a little unwieldy when your document is over 50 pages or something, but that’s not a big issue for me right now. Also, you can always put different parts of your document in different files to avoid that, and play around with commenting/uncommeting \include statements.

Edit: One important thing I forgot to mention is that the preview scrolls up and down automatically as you edit different parts of the file, at least for documents that aren’t too long. Also, by doing Ctrl + click on some part of the preview, the cursor in your code goes to the place producing the thing you clicked on! That’s really neat.

The snippets allow you to replace a (usually short) sequence of non-space characters with some predefined text, in such a way that your cursor will be positioned wherever you want in that text, and each next time you press Tab, it goes to another place you want it to be at. So for example, I have a snippet “frac”, which does the following: whenever I type “frac”, and press Tab when I’m right after the “c” at the end, it produces \frac{}{}, puts my cursor in the numerator placeholder, and pressing Tab again moves it to the denominator placeholder and finally outside the environment. You can do this with more complicated commands too, and add additional functionality. Basically, just  make snippets for all your theorem-ish environments, your equation environments, your bracketing (matching left/right parentheses, square brackets, and those absolute value things whatever they’re called) and all your special operators like summation, probability, limsup, etc., and you’ll be in good shape. Gummi comes with some pre-loaded snippets, too. The result is that you don’t have to use your mouse/touchpad to transition into and out of complicated environments, and you can generate common environments fairly easily.

So I guess the moral is this: even if you don’t use gummi, find an editor which has the above two functionalities. They, when used reasonably and combined with a reasonable preamble full of reasonable macros (for example \def\N{\mathbb{N}} is super reasonable) can actually give you amazing results in terms of speed! Happy nerding out!



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