# The Living Thing / Notebooks : LaΤeΧ (and ΤΕΧ, and ConTeXt and XeTeX and…)

The least worst mathematical typesetting system. A crunchy chunk of the academic writing workflow. De facto standard for mathematicians, especially those who are not so impertinent as to insist in writing in non-English languages, or are so shallow as to not not take simple delight in the painstaking handicraft of manually setting linebreaks, or have grad students who will deal with the corner cases for free. That is, a tool that meets the needs of the Tenured Western Academic admirably, and that the rest of us live with.

Other alternatives include

1. using MS Word, and
2. stabbing your eyeballs with a pencil

… each of which I regard as equally undesirable, and, to be clear, both marginally less desirable than LaTeX itself despite my qualms.

Oh! and of course,

1. Acquiring grad students to do the work for you.

And that one is how the whole academic cortège keeps on shambling forth.

Addendum: Yes, I am aware there are differences between ConTeXT and LaTeX and TeX, and that they are all awful in refreshingly different sub-details of formatting, interoperation, character set handling, compatibility, and community support. However, standards lock-in being what it is, I believe I can avoid arranging the deckchairs on this sinking boat, however, and I will discrete wait over here near the HTML lifeboats for some amped-up scholarly version of Markdown to come save me.

## Things to ease the irritation

mactex wastes your life if you install the whole gigantic thing. But you can install what you need via tlmgr using the minimal version, basictex. Then you install the things you need. For example, to render jupyter notebooks, you’ll need:

tlmgr install \
collectbox \
collection-fontsrecommended
enumitem \
logreq \
ucs \
xstring \


To handle biblatex:

tlmgr install biblatex


You keep it up to date in a similar way:

tlmgr update --self
tlmgr update --all

• latexian is a closed-source editor for Mac OS X that looks slick.

• texshop is the open-source stalwart osx editor. Not quite as shiny, but actually rather good.

• TeXmacs - if you want to integrate a beautiful but obscure and poorly maintained notebook-style interface with your typesetting. Many do. I’d rather use knitr etc for integrating my diagrams and keep the GUIs separate, but this is personal preference.

• How to take lecture notes with LaTeX

• Robert Kosara has an excellent rant:

The tools of the trade for academics and others who write research papers are among the worst software has to offer. Whether it’s writing or citation management, there are countless issues and annoyances. How is it possible that this fairly straightforward category of software is so outdated and awful?