Sunday, January 3, 2021

LaTex, a curse and a blessing

I've been making teaching materials on computers for over 25 years. Maybe 15 years ago, I was introduced to MathType, and it made my equations so much nicer. Now it doesn't work with Word, and you have to pay a yearly fee. No thanks. It seems crazy to me that MS Word doesn't have a better equation editor. (I don't really remember what I don't like about it, but I think it has annoyed me lots over the years.)

I got a new computer in the Spring, and since then, whenever I need to make a formula, I've been using my old computer with an old version of Word, and my very old copy of MathType. Today I wondered if it was time to bite the bullet, and make a quiz using LaTex.

I've tried to learn a bit of Latex a number of times before, and it just felt overwhelmingly weird. I especially hated that I couldn't see what I was doing. This time was better in a number of ways. First, my colleague showed me overleaf, where I can see what I'm doing. You can choose split screen, and hit recompile after every little change.

The next thing that helped was that I got a bunch of materials from the author of the book I'll be using. (Oscar Levin, Discrete Mathematics: An Open Introduction.) I used those as templates for my own work. I deleted what I didn't want, and began to add what I did want. (If you want to learn LaTEx (or TEx), and you don't have a bunch of materials someone else made that you can modify, this quiz template might be helpful.)

The reason I was using LaTex was the equations, but that was one of the things I didn't know how to do. This site, codecogs, came to the rescue!

I also needed to include an image of a Venn diagram. I read up (googled latex image), tried to do what they said, and my image ended up in a weird place, next to the questions. I guessed, and added a line that I saw in other places in my documents from Levin (\vskip 1em). I figure that's a vertical skip. I have no idea what the 1em is. (I tried 5em for more space. Nope.) It worked!

But the image was still too big. Read up again, use [scale=0.5], put it in the wrong place, so it doesn't work. Figure out the right position, it works! And now the image doesn't look right hanging out on the left. I read up, use "the centered environment," and it is all just prefect!

Here's the centering:


That took me over an hour. (Maybe two.) I made a second version of that quiz in ten minutes.


I'm learning...


Does LaTex seem way too complicated, but it still might be the answer to your problems?

  • Use a simple environment like overleaf where the split screen lets you see what you've done.
  • Start with a template you can modify.
  • Use something simple like codecogs to build your equations.
  • google your questions.

Good luck!

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