Delete Word

Posted by sepoy on December 02, 2004 · 4 mins read

I do not use Microsoft Office for anything more than a work letter or something. But, to keep Murphy's Law from collapsing, I started my diss. description a few weeks ago on a PC in Word. Snicker. Sunday afternoon, as if on command, the PC's hard drive died (hi gerry) taking the document with it. No problem. I got a back up. So, I move that file over to my main OS X machine, and open it. Guess what? The fonts are changed, the footnotes aren't even in the right neighborhood and some weirdly bombastic prose has replaced my measured and balanced one.

Reminded me of this New Yorker piece by Menand last year (and I found it):

Few features of Word can be responsible for more user meltdowns than Footnote and Endnote (which is saying a lot in the case of a program whose Thesaurus treats "information" as "in formation" offering "in order" and "in sequence" as possible synonyms, and whose spellcheck suggests that when you typed the unrecognized "decorums" you might have meant "deco rums"). To begin with, the designers of Word apparently believe that the conventional method of endnote numbering is with lowercase Roman numerals i, ii, iii, etc. When was the last time you read anything that adhered to this style? It would lead to sentences like:

In the Gramscian paradigm, the "intellectual. xxxvii is, by definition, always already a liminal status.lxxxviii.

Funny in the way that cancer is funny. Most of my colleagues use Bengali, Sanskrit, Tamil, Persian, Arabic etc. and are constantly running haggard from searching for language fonts and diacritical fonts and trying to have those things actually print out on a piece of paper and look, well, professional. Word is so easy to use. Right?

Anyone writing anything longer than 2 pages in academia needs to use a typesetting program that gives you character-level (or at least line-level) control; ability to set exact margins and heights; robust footnoting; maintained bibliography; table of contents, index generation; ability to modify, extract, import parts of the whole; and the abillity to run on any platform. There are specialized programs out there that can do some of these things but there is only one that can do all of it. And it is free: LaTEX.

LaTEX is to word processing as html is to web publishing. It is a markup language. It instructs a compiler which displays the results (like a browser). It emerged out of TEX which was created by Donald Knuth to typeset his own book. By the late 80s, TEX was the text program for all social and physical scientists [all those equations and table, imagine that in Word]. Humanities is late to the game but the cadre of users is growing each year. LaTEX is a variant of TEX developed by Leslie Lamport and geared towards the enduser. It is not a WYSIWYG, it is a WYSIWYWTG (What You See Is What You Want To Get). You can produce files as .pdf or .rtf to share with other users. There a million extensions to help you do anything from adding graphics to the current time in Cairo to your pages. CTAN has all the files you need to get yourself set up. How to do it?

Here is a nice writeup for the new LaTEX user. As is this.

If you would like a bundled option: For PC: MikTEX; for Mac OS X: OzTEX [they have a buy-bundle too]. The free bundle I can recommend for OS X is TeXShop.

Don't write your dissertation using Word. Trust me.


tsk | December 02, 2004

Wanted to mention that, as far as I know, it's pronounced "teck", not "tex". The x is the one from the Greek alphabet. I laugh inside when I hear people ask "have you used [lay-tecks] for writing papers?". Maybe THAT is how to make academic papers sexy....

Morcy | December 02, 2004

I wrote a few undergrad papers in LaTeX and wrote, I think, one paper over the winter in it. My main issue, of course, is this: There is no fucking MLA bib.sty. Oh, sure, there's one *called* MLA, but it sux. it's a waste of everyone's time to have *every* cite include a code word in it, like, "Derrida then writes, 'can't stand these calculations'(Derrida n)." That's wasting everyone's time. Worse, and tell me, ga, how you fixed this, bibtex has no standard field for "translator." I've had bibdesk add one for me, but then it don't matter, since the bib.sty doesn't understand the field. I think I hand wrote in the translator on my portuguese books. We're both in the humanities, we're both into computers. Maybe we should build a team to write something. I imagine this: 1. MySQL db that generates .bib files. 2. perh. a webpage (comm. venture! I trademark this idea NOW) that hosts a brother's bibliographies. Web access, from anywhere, to look up who wrote that article on that thing that time about that guy. Here having your .bib as, actually, a MySQL thing makes more sense. Best of all, since it's yr own intellec property, you don't need to license it with oclc or whatever, so one could access it without proxies. I've seen science papers available on the web with the .bib file available too. Crazy. 3. A legitimate MLA style. You may not care about this, but I sure as hell do. I want everything from proper treatment of translators to having the works cited page read "Works Cited" and not "Bibliography." For now I only care about the bib.sty, but perh. a real LaTeX MLA style for diss would be good too. Then again, isn't there a Chicago.sty? 4. Some sort of robust relationship between oclc/worldcat/etc and bibtex/our mysql db. I don't know if one already exists. Endnote has this shit. Why can't we? (Yes, I still more or less refuse to pay for endnote. Fuck non-portable shit) 5. Some sort of understanding and ability to interact with other cat databases--like if an article I'm typing in is available at jstor, I want the permlink to appear in the "url" field, like, automagically. This may be pipe-dream level shit, though.

sepoy | December 02, 2004

Yeah, I be done for doing some SQL backed bib-project. There is a bib2xml project which can help us get it into mySQL db or go HTML. Not much activity though. So, worth starting up as a Humanities Project. We can also get money from the Uni for it. There is a chicago.sty and yes, i had to mod it. Querying WorldCat or OCLC, hmm, gonna have to look into that one. It should not be hard. The dbs are open to various engines, why not mySQL? tsk: you right. TEX is formed from greek characters "tau epsilon chi" and pronounced "tech" while LaTEX is "Lay-tech"

tsk | December 02, 2004

morcy (re:2): is what you were thinking of? sepoy: cuz mysql suuuuuuuuucks. mysql is to db's as windows is to os's. be a man, use postgresql. it is also free.

sepoy | December 02, 2004

tsk: No need for smack talking, yo. for web-backends, mySQL is short, sweet and just enough. yeah, postgreSql got that "advanced" Oracle-like query language and it has triggers (hmph) but that is about all. For something small like this, mySQL is fine. and it, sure as hell, is not to dbs as windows is to oses. that would be a paper napkin.

s¯nee | December 03, 2004

Microsoft Equation Editor pretty much handles all the complex differential etc equations and unlike laytech,(which reminds me of Matlab), you dont have to write too many codes. And combined with Microsoft Visio you can plot 'anything', from fancy graphs to Tables!! But of course i agree with all those messy foot-end notes problems, editing-formating problems and , 'your document cannot be retrieved' crap ; Thanks to sepoy's advice , i am now a Happy user!! and its FREE!!

tsk | December 03, 2004

there's some transaction assurances, too, with postgres. my bad about the smack talking, i'm of the persuasion to use a chainsaw when a pocketknife would do: probably way more than enough, but a whole lot more fun.

Cheeni | December 03, 2004

Someone forgot to mention this already? It's certainly one of the better tutotials out there, and their presentation style PDFs are really really good. A nice alternative to PowerPoint in some ways.

morcy | December 04, 2004

tsk: I'd never heard of It looks interesting, but it's not quite what I had in mind. I meant that we all have bibliographies of our own of some sort--an archive. This came up in a cm post recently, in fact. I'm saying, there might be value to creating an online, globally accessible archive. Not necessarily public, but accessible. Log into the web page, and pull up that article on whatever that you remember as "blue sapphire." Now, this is useful just in general (and the idea of portability is a big reason why I want to move to a laptop for everything), but it might also be useful if all the archives were searchable--in effect, a pooling of intellectual capital that would have value-added searching. OCLC, etc., return what's available--this would return what peers deem good, because it's good enough to be in their archive. I understand that that might be a little poach-enabling--like having DJs share their record libraries. DJs love dropping the obscure shit and having all the screaming trainspotters afterwards being all, "what was that one great song!?!" Maybe academics are the same way; I can't tell. I'd hope not--since, unlike DJs, academics merely start with a source and build something only informed by that source. DJs only ever slightly tweak the source on the fly.

Morcy | December 04, 2004

Also, this site could be like explicitly anti-science. All great online resources, it seems, are anti-humanitities. It pisses me off.

Andrew Hartline | May 08, 2005

Worse, and tell me, ga, how you fixed this, bibtex has no standard field fo "translator." I've had bibdesk add one for me, but then it don't matter, since th bib.sty doesn't understand the field. Solution: hack. Add the translator information to the Publisher field, inside curly braces. @book{LW:TLP, Address = {New York}, Author = {Ludwig Wittgenstein}, Date-Added = {2005-05-08 15:54:11 -0700}, Date-Modified = {2005-05-08 16:04:02 -0700}, Publisher = {{Trans. David Pears and Martin McGuinness.} Routledge}, Title = {Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus}, Year = {2001 (first published 1921)}} Aww yeeah!