Archive for February 21st, 2009


The Santa Barbara mission at sunset.

The Santa Barbara mission at sunset.

Three weeks ago I was writing a lab report for my senior physics lab, the first lab report I had to write in over a year (other labs were all notebook based) and I chose to do it in Microsoft Word 2008. Suffice to say it was a relatively frustrating experience with some very delicate formatting that could not be disturbed by changing fonts, font sizes or line spacing.

While writing the report I looked over my friends paper and it looked amazingly more professional than mine. He used LaTeX, a typesetting language used for any document that requires specific typesetting. It is used extensively in the science academic community because I instantly recognized the default font and format as that used by professors throughout out my time at college.

Now I have a new lab report to write and I am attempting to do so all through LaTeX (alright I initially wrote most it in TextEdit). So far I have have gotten through the 141 page tutorial up to mathematical typesetting, essentially I skimmed over most things I did not need except for the command to display pi. 

One nice thing about LaTeX is that the file can be read by free applications on any operating system and they will display the same results. This is very helpful when needing to send rough drafts between my lab partner and myself as he uses three operating systems.

So far I am using TeXShop and it is all working great. Once a document is written with all of the appropriate tags it needs to be typeset, which is sort of a render or a compile of the document, and if there are no errors (like the wrong command) a PDF file will be the output.

When I first heard about LaTeX I wanted to learn it but I had no motivation, now that I am using it as a tool instead of an abstraction I feel that I am learning it better. In a way it is similar to most learning, if it has to be done either through a class or a job then there is more motivation to learn.

Since it is free I recommend giving it a shot for formatting a final object intended for printing or distribution. I won’t be using it for humanities papers or every day typing (that is taken care of with MacJournal or TexEdit) but for any future lab report it will be my program of choice.

Read Full Post »