[nSLUG] Learning TEX

Mike Spencer mspencer at tallships.ca
Tue May 29 01:55:36 ADT 2007

So: if one wants to learn and start using TEX, what's the entry point?

Assuming that Demighod Knuth was the authority on his own system, I
bought The TEXbook over a decade ago.  Found it not very helpful, put
TEX aside because TEX on ms-dos and a dot matrix printer wasn't very
workable anyhow.

Now I I have the whole shebang in a Linux distro and a laser printer.
The TEXbook is still barely helpful.  Both the book and any
documentation that I can grovel up from within the TEX distro package
seem to offer only trivial material or very advanced detail.

   + There is no "reference manual", i.e. a list of all the 900 or so
     things you can say in basic TEX (let alone all the 3rd party
     macros) with detailed descriptions of what they do, e.g.

         \fnord{ text }
         \fnord  text

          The \fnord construct causes affected text to be printed but
          be invisible to all but 10th level Illuminati. \fnord
          affects the text inside following braces or all following
          text up to the end of any enclosing block or an instance of
          \endfnord, whichever comes first. \fnord is valid anywhere
          in a TEX document except within a math construct where
          affected text will be silently elided together with all
          instances of the digit '3' anywhere in the document.

   + There seems to be no easily accessible documentation or FAQ that
     answers  how-to questions, e.g., "How can I indicate numbered
     sections according to numbering scheme foo such that the sections
     will be numbered serially in the output and allow me to
     interpolate new sections without having to manually renumber all
     the sections following the interpolation?"

There seems to be a huge library of follow-on macro packages but,
AFAICS, they all have the same shortcoming as the book. There are
answers to questions like, "When I write '\foo\bar\ sillytext
\elbonianstyle \superscript tm', there is an extra, unwanted dingbat
in the next paragraph. How do I make it go away?" but very little
about simple beginner or intermediate questions.

To learn C, I read K&R cover to cover. To learn AWK I did the same with
The AWK Programming Language. To learn Perl, I read the the ASCII doc
that came with Perl 4 and, later, Perl 5 manpages.  I can't say the I
"know" Maple but I managed to find a copy of Maple V Library Reference
Manual which gives me the syntax for everything that may be said to
the Maple V interpreter and what the syntax does.

Assuming such a learning style, where should I go to get up to speed
with TEX?  Or am I cluelessly trying to do something that no sane
person would do, akin, say, to composing photorealistic images by
writing a bitmap in a text editor?

- Mike

Michael Spencer                  Nova Scotia, Canada       .~. 
mspencer at tallships.ca                                     /( )\
http://home.tallships.ca/mspencer/                        ^^-^^

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