Quarter Life Crisis

The world according to Sven-S. Porst

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TEX and LATEX really belong to the small set of software I actually like. Sure, they aren’t the prettiest tools around. And certain aspects of them give away their heritage from the 1970s, but at least they work reliably.

And they are improving. Particularly when compared with other software. When I got into TEX in the early 1990s processing a document was an adventure. And when using ‘fancy’ packages styles, it could take about a minute to process a page on my Atari ST. And that was just processing the document, not even printing, which in high-quality mode on the NEC P6 took an eternity and kept the whole neighbourhood awake.

Now look at the progress: Today speed and memory are almost non-issues for TEX. You can load all the packages you want and it will happen almost instantaneously. Up to hundred pages per second aren’t unrealistic even on the smallest MacBook. And even the output of that, given as a convenient PDF file, has improved over time. I’m quite happy with that. (Bonus question: What were the speed improvements of XPress or Word in the same time frame?)

One thing that keeps irking me is TEX’s positioning of subscripts. Why the heck is the position of a subscript changed when a superscript  – and that includes the innocuous prime mark ′ – is added. It just makes things look silly when they are written next to each other.

M_g, M'_g and M' next to one another

August 29, 2007, 23:33

Tagged as TeX.


Comment by maurits: User icon

It’s one of the compromises Knuth made. You can probably read up on it in the TeXbook - I don’t have it, so I can’t check.


If you really want to get around it, you can change the math font dimensions.

August 31, 2007, 3:10

Comment by ssp: User icon

Thanks for the description. It’s been more than ten years since I had the proper TeXbook from the library…

I guess I’ll be happy enough to just use this for the time being :)

August 31, 2007, 8:58

Comment by Henning: User icon

As I am no mathematician I wasn’t that interested in this article and just had a quick look at it. But today came the announcement of a new package: subdepth which improves exactly the behaviour you described. If this is really coincidence then it’s really funny.

September 3, 2007, 17:40

Comment by ssp: User icon

Henning: My inbox suggests that this isn’t entirely coincidental :)

It seems that Will (big thanks!) knew a solution for this and was good enough to share it in a convenient form after reading this.

September 3, 2007, 20:11

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