Saturday, March 10, 2018

A Return to LaTex

When I started writing the documentation for Tali Forth, it was in plain ASCII. Quick to write, but it looked like crap. Then I switched some stuff to Markdown, and for a while, I convinced myself it looked better. Maybe it did. But last week, I had to admit it still sucks.

Then I remembered LaTeX.

It's been almost two decades since I last used LaTeX -- the two books on my shelf on the subject still have prices in Mark ("DM 79,90").  I remember those days, drooling over laser printers with price tags that seemed forever beyond the reach of mere mortals. I remember it took a whole tool chain and a measurable amount of time for the finished document to be rendered.

Almost 20 years later, LaTeX has become dramatically, nay, ridiculously easy to use. Installation is two calls to apt-get (one for pdflatex, the other for more fonts, because you can never have enough fonts). PDFs are spit out immediately. The speed at which things get done is amazing. Some of this is 20 years more experience with vim, of course, but that is part of it: I can use the most powerful editor on the planet for both code and documentation.

But the biggest change comes from online search engines. At the level I'm using LaTeX, there are no new problems. Every question has an answer, a tutorial, endless examples. Going back to the books was more an act of nostalgia than actually useful -- it just takes too much time. The final result is much, much better, especially because the PDF version comes with internal hyperlinks. Some things never change, of course: I still suck at title pages.

Oh, and I actually own a laser printer now. Maybe in another 20 years, I'll be able to afford a graphics card.