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Latex vs. writing math

  1. Apr 4, 2013 #1
    Is anybody here able to work as well on the computer with something such as latex as with pencil and paper? Sometimes I think it would be nice to just carry my computer with me, and not fifty pages of blank paper, pencils, erasers, etc.

    I'd like to be able to sit and work anywhere, not requiring a huge workspace. Yet I find working with pencil and paper very organic and easy. I'm wondering if I had competence with something like Latex that I could achieve the same level of fluency.

    -Dave K
  2. jcsd
  3. Apr 4, 2013 #2
    This is one I'm trying to get my head round at the minute too with MathCAD. Work place reports and calculations were always a mixture of a lot of different tools eg. Excel, Word, AutoCAD, hand calcs et al.

    I've been assured that it is worth persevering with and can see from others work that it does produce pro level work (rather than "old school" approach which gets laughed at now).

    These programs just weren't a thing when I was at school so it feels like learning to type again. Are you experimenting with different programs to see which suits best or do you need to learn a work based standard program?
  4. Apr 4, 2013 #3


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    I don't think people use Latex to think through things. Rather Latex is used to prepare equations for publication. However, I could see someone using MATLAB to work through a problem though.

    You could consider a good notebook app on an iPad to write your equations freehand (like Penultimate or Noteshelf or Inkfow) and print via pdf or use the Ti-NSpire app to compose and run them.

    There are limitations in the calculator apps as not all math symbology is supported. I've yet to find a really effective Latex app for iPad. ( there are some good ones available but the all have some defficiencies that make them not so good to use )
  5. Apr 4, 2013 #4

    George Jones

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    I do a lot of my work, including rough work, using Scientific WorkPlace on a small (13 inch), light (no DVD/CD drive) that I take to places like coffee shops. Scientific Workplace is a front-end for LaTeX that displays math in a readable format, and that includes a symbolic math package.

    I have attached a screenshot.

    Attached Files:

  6. Apr 4, 2013 #5


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    I will sometimes work on a LaTeX document and carry the equations in my head. I usually work things out on scratch paper and then typeset it in LaTeX.

    The increasing use of touch-enabled devices will probably make it easier to ``write'' mathematics electronically, but, at least for now, I find such things are difficult to use.
  7. Apr 5, 2013 #6
    Not as pretty as LaTeX, but Word's quite nice for shorter documents.
  8. Apr 5, 2013 #7


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    If you write in latex a LOT (which I do) you basically can get accurate enough to, using Texmaker or something with an instant preview, build the page without errors. Maybe one in 5 times I write a complete equation on the fly, without proofreading it, do I get an error, and its usally a forgotten "}" or I did an underscript T_SM thats not bracketed.

    This gets me up to a speed of being able to type a long equation in about 10 times as many seconds as if I were doing it by hand. And my hand can write down ideas about a hundred times slower than my brain can think them.

    So as long as you have the ability to take your time, its very nice. You can organize things very well. But when in a class, there is probably no way to be able to type up the equations that are on the board as well as write comprehensive notes AND still understand the material. Too much going on at once, and you'll do yourself a disservice.

    There are apps (well, I have seen 1) that can convert your handwriting to latex, and theres this:
    which is promising. But its still a few years from being worthwhile. I think that if you are going to use an iPad or equivalent, not only do you need Retina-level graphical detail, you need the same level of input detail, and its just not there yet. Most physicists I know write quite small, or if theyre writing large, its because theres about to be a bunch of small sub/superscripts. No pad interface, except maybe the high end CAD/graphic artist ones have the input resolution of pen and paper yet.

    EDIT: I didn't even think about it, but I probably "think things through" using Mathematica and MSPaint more than I do pen and paper now. I'd say this changed from 10/90 Mathematica/Paper ratio to a 80/20 ratio as soon as I learned how to make Mathematica do all of my math for me. (I mean more advanced stuff in physics, not just calculus).
  9. Apr 7, 2013 #8


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    It looks like the same company offers a much cheaper alternative, Scientific Notebook (which is $202 vs. $810 for WorkPlace). The difference seems to be that WorkPlace support LaTeX while Notebook does not. (Hmmm -- an additional $600 for LaTeX capability? Wonder if I am missing something here.)
  10. Apr 8, 2013 #9


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    LyX seems roughly equivalent to Scientific Workplace, and is only $0.
  11. Apr 11, 2013 #10


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    While I occasionally use pen and paper to do a quick calculation,
    if I work on a longer calculation I prefer to do it on my TabletPC
    (with a stylus on a Wacom-based TabletPC, not merely an iPad).
    For me, the advantage is that my work can be edited and be organized and date-stamped.
    Since I like to do things step by step, it's easy to copy the preceding line of ink then make the appropriate changes.
    I can also drop in screen captures from side calculations or plots done in Maple.

    (I've been using a TabletPC with a projector to teach physics courses for almost 10 years now.)

    For some calculations (e.g. tedious tensor-index manipulations), I prefer to do it in LaTeX.
    Again, I can copy a line and then make the needed edits.

    (I have heard of some folks who can LaTeX on the fly... [e.g. taking notes during a seminar] .)

    Mathematical handwriting recognition and Mathematical-OCR isn't that good yet...
    but there are some attempts:

    xThink's MathJournal [website down?] http://www.youtube.com/user/mathjournal?feature=watch
    (If I recall correctly, it attempted to convert handwriting to MathML or TeX.)
    and more recently
    Microsoft's Equation Writer and Math Input Panel (in Windows 7)

    see also
    http://webdemo.visionobjects.com/portal.html?locale=default [Broken]
    http://www.inftyreader.org/ (for OCR to LaTeX)

    Here's an interesting TabletPC that should be released soon
    Last edited by a moderator: May 6, 2017
  12. Apr 11, 2013 #11

    Ben Niehoff

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    Like RobPhy, I use a tablet PC for all my calculations. I have literally hundreds of pages of calculations. It's nice to be able to take all those notes with me all the time, and dig up things I did years ago that just became relevant again. It's also nice to be able to copy and paste handwritten math formulas, and to be able to select things and move them around (say, to make space for a minus sign or a factor of 2).

    As for LaTeX, I think I've gotten to where I can type it decently fast. But I don't typically use it for calculations, unless the calculations are very simple (such that I can do most things in my head).
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