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Which program for math/physics hand-ins?

  1. Aug 31, 2007 #1
    Which program would you guys recommend for doing math and physics hand-ins on the computer? I mean normal schoolwork things, that are to be printed out and then delivered.

    For the past year I've been using Microsoft Word 2003 along with MathType 5.2 (the latter I got for free from my school), which I guess is working pretty well. My problem is that it seems to take quite a while fiddling with all those menu's.

    Is it worth using a mathematical application like Maple or Mathematica, or are they unsuited for that?

    Also, I'm running Windows XP.

    Thanks a bunch in advance :-)
  2. jcsd
  3. Aug 31, 2007 #2
    A computer algebra system like Maple and Mathematica would probably be most helpful for figuring out the algebraic steps involved in proofs or derivations, but probably not as helpful for writing up assignments like lab reports and problem sets.

    For producing documents like lab reports and problem sets, I would recommend learning LaTeX. It is the de facto standard in typesetting mathematics, so much so that LaTeX's mathematical syntax has been integrated into message boards like Physics Forums and blogging software like Wordpress. Thre is a nice LaTeX distribution for Windows called MikTeX, which can automatically download packages, fonts, and other extensions as needed. For editing LaTeX documents, many people seem to like TeXnicCenter or WinEdt, but I personally prefer the Eclipse integrated development environment with the TeXlipse plugin. As far as learning LaTeX goes, many people have learned from The Not So Short Introduction to LaTeX (a.k.a. "lshort").
  4. Aug 31, 2007 #3


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    Nothing is as fast and as flexible as hand with fingers and a pen; but neatness and modern technology make people want to achieve consistancy. Fiddling with menues and buttons is less natural; but if you have TexAide and the word processor called Jarte, then these two programs work extremely well together. Both are FREE. Unfortunately, I have not been able to figure out how to make the TexAide information go into a WORD document and give the expected type-set symbols -- I only saw unreadable code.

    Conclusion up to now: TexAide with Jarte makes a good combination of programs for type-setting mathematical expressions.
  5. Aug 31, 2007 #4
    Thanks a lot guys.

    I've heard of LaTeX before, but I've always somehow figured that it was way more advanced than what I needed, and would take a long time to make - if however looking nicer. But I guess I might as well learn it, after all, I intend to spend the rest of my life with mathematics in one way or the other, so I'll probably need it sooner or later anyhow :-)

    I'm also gonna have a look at TexAide and Jarte.

    Again, thanks a lot :)
  6. Aug 31, 2007 #5


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    Oddly enough, I'd recommend against TeX. The output is beautiful, but it's often just too tedious to type up long documents in it. You may eventually be forced to learn TeX by your university, but why deal with it now unless you have to?

    If you have access to a copy of Mathematica, you might want to try to doing some document production in it. It's not bad, actually! And then you won't have to type everything twice -- once to do the homework, and once more to pretty it up.

    Should you wish to go the TeX route, Mathematica is also able to generate TeX code.

    - Warren
  7. Aug 31, 2007 #6
    MathType has other ways of entering equations than using the menus and palettes. There are keyboard shortcuts for all the common stuff and you can assign as many others as you like. Assuming you have set up shortcuts how you like them, it is much faster to enter than LaTeX as shortcuts have fewer characters and you can't get syntax errors as in LaTeX.

    BTW, for those that already know LaTeX, MathType 6.0 allows one to type LaTeX expressions anywhere in the equation. This gives you the best of both worlds. Type LaTeX for the stuff you do remember, pick from menus for the stuff you don't, and edit the equation as in standard math notation, not a programming language simulation.

    As for LaTeX being the "de facto standard", the only people that say that are people that know LaTeX. The fact is that 85% or greater of scientific publishers' submissions from authors are in Microsoft Word with MathType or our Equation Editor equations.

    For the sake of full disclosure, I am with Design Science, the maker of MathType. Of course, I stand by all of the above.

    Paul Topping
    Design Science, Inc.
  8. Sep 1, 2007 #7

    Chris Hillman

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    No brainer: go with LaTeX

    Ditto. LaTeX is easy to learn and use for writing up homework. It consists of Tex macros; Tex is by far the most powerful/flexible text formating package. LaTeX and Tex are not commercial packages; LaTeX is freely available.

    I don't want to get into a shouting match, and I commend Paul for revealing the COI, but I hear a different story from others, not just mathsci types. From another thread:

    ditto "nothing else seems professional".

    I would disagree with anyone claiming that LateX is hard to learn (Tex is hard to learn), but it's unfortunate that more schools don't make available a simple tutorial showing by example how to make tables and so on. You don't need to buy a book or anything like that; most likely, everything you need can be taught in 10-20 pages, including tables of the LaTeX codes for math symbols (don't worry, you'll quickly memorize them). If you can find someone willing to give you some sample homework solutions and to sit down with you for a five minute tutorial, this will pay off hugely in later years.

    There are some simple common sense tricks, like compiling every few sentences, and keeping an xdvi process running in the background so that you see the changes. This is because LaTeX syntax is tricky, although using a text editor like vim can help a lot.

    I advocate exactly the opposite approach: it is best to start learning LaTeX as soon as possible in your student career. If you are contemplating writing a thesis or submitting a manuscript to a journal, indeed you will almost certainly be required to use LaTeX, but there is no reason to postpone benefiting from its power!

    As is Maple. An important point here is that any Tex code will be understood by LaTeX since as I said, LaTeX is overlaid on Tex.

    When you compare a LaTeX processed document with a textually identical Word processed document, I can promise that you will be utterly amazed at the difference. Word isn't even in the bush leagues.

    And palettes are very inefficient. If you are willing to consider making a dual boot installation of linux (with X environment, for example under KDE), the process I described above looks like this: type some sentences with LaTeX markup. In another shell, with same "present working directory" as your latex file, type "!l". Repeat. Well, you need to start with something like "latex myfile.tex" and "xdvi myfile.dvi &" but that's not very hard to type. Trust me, if you have a chance to see this is in action, you'll see that it's very fast, particularly if you are a fast typist. You can substitute any dvi viewer for xdvi.
    Last edited: Sep 1, 2007
  9. Sep 1, 2007 #8
    I actually agree with Chroot here that mathematica & maple are quite sufficient for writing up assignments. Maple especially is quite elegant & I've had a good experience working with it.
  10. Sep 2, 2007 #9
    Thanks for all your replies :-)

    It seems that LaTeX is either hated or loved, so I guess I'll have to try it out myself, and as I intend on writing mathematics on the computer for the rest of my life, knowing LaTeX will probably be nessecary sooner or later anyhow. I'm pretty comfortable with Linux, so whilst I don't really want to do dual-boot atm, I'm just going to install Ubuntu in a virtual machine and learn it from there. Until I learn it, I guess Word 2007 and MathType 5.2 will do - maybe if I learn some more shortcuts.

    Is that assignments that are printed out, or digitally delivered? And do you know any good tutorials for learning Maple/Mathematica like that?

    10-20 pages following what tutorial? Do you recommend the not so short introduction to LaTeX?

    I'm not really sure I can find someone skilled in LaTeX, maybe my math teacher knows it, but I'm not really sure, so I'll probably have to stick with internet tutorials / forums.

    Don't really know where I should get the homework samples from either, but a lot of you guys seem to use it for homework right? Think I might be able to get an example of some of it? :-)
  11. Sep 2, 2007 #10


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    Let me offer a different type of answer.

    If I were your instructor, I would prefer that you spend your time on the content rather than on the appearance. Typing and Mathematical Typesetting (whether LaTeX or MathType or MathML or whatever) takes time... too much time in my opinion, unless you plan to re-use them or develop them further into notes or a book. Let me phrase my preference a different way: I'd rather read a handwritten submission with good content than a neat typeset submission with less than good content.

    For fancier lab reports or papers, I'd definitely suggest learning some kind of mathematical typesetting. Yes, I'd suggest LaTeX [which has been around for a while, is coded in human-readable plain-text [and can be manipulated by scripts and other software... and possibly someday searchable by search-engines], is available on many platforms, and is often free]... but MathType and EquationEditor is okay. (In my experience, Equation Editor might not be selected in the default installation of Microsoft Office.)

    my $0.02
    Last edited: Sep 2, 2007
  12. Sep 2, 2007 #11
    Yeah I know handwritten papers are easier, but I'm kinda special. I have no problem with writing equations by hand, but I simply HATE writing words by hand, so if I hand write assignments, my explanations are likely to become very hard to read for anyone not me, which is kinda bad.

    My problem with MathType has been that I've always found myself messing with menus taking up too much time, hence I'm looking for alternatives and asking what other people use. I don't know how fast typing in LaTeX is, but as I see it, I'm going to need it for later work anyway, so I might as well learn it now - and if it doesn't take up too much time, I will use it.
  13. Sep 3, 2007 #12
    Printed & nope. You can probably find some online. I recently ran across a book that included the latex source files if you're interested. I also wrote a firefox extension that implements a subset of latex for writing equations on wikipedia or w/e
    Last edited: Sep 3, 2007
  14. Sep 4, 2007 #13

    Chris Hillman

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    Some on-line resources

    Actually, as I read the above, everyone who has used LaTeX loves it, but chroot and some others thought learning LaTeX might be too much trouble. But since you say you are looking to do this long-term, I trust everyone now agrees that it makes good sense for you to plunge right in.

    Good for you! :smile: IIRC, latex is not bundled with Ubuntu, but you should be able to install it very easily using synaptic (a popular front end to the powerful package maintaince tool apt); in fact ubuntuforums.org/showthread.php?t=8427 should help. See http://packages.ubuntu.com/gutsy/tex/texlive-latex-extra for more ideas.

    If you like keyboard shortcuts under That Other Operating System, just wait till you learn about pipes! :smile: Most linux magazines frequently run short series teaching newbies about the wonders of the shell, in fact the current Linux Format contains such a tutorial.

    Right here.

    I'd be suprised if anyone who went to math graduate school in past two decades has not learned LaTeX.

    Decades ago, the University of Washington used to have a very nice short "tutorial by example", from which I learned LaTex in about one day! (Of course, I learned some more "tricks" since then, but you need very little to get started doing useful work.) I used to cite this but unfortunately the unit which maintained it was dissolved years ago and the tutorial vanished forever. Googling brings up alternatives such as these:
    Last edited: Sep 4, 2007
  15. Sep 4, 2007 #14


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    Although I agree with those who say that LaTeX may be overkill for assignments, I do feel that only LaTeX output looks professional. Maple & Mathematica should be fine for homework, though.

    For myself, I'm actually not too fond of those two systems, perhaps because they focus much more on analysis than number theory. Even Pari, with the naive Windows binary and Linux dlls, has been faster for me than Mathematica, on the same computer, for problems where I've parallel-programmed. (I've had Mathematica more than double Pari's time on multihour number theory programs.)

    Oh, and I've done my homework about half by hand and half in LaTeX in the past few years. It's actually pretty fast in my experience, not much slower than handwriting (and sometimes, though infrequently, faster).
  16. Sep 7, 2007 #15
    Yeah, it wasn't too hard to install. Got it setup pretty nicely, using gedit (which I prefer over vim) for editing code, and then just constantly compiling it with latex and viewing it with xdvi. It's not too hard at all. Only thing is, it doesn't compile the latex code I download from the net correct, iunno why but I'll figure it out somehow ;-)

    Yeah I use pipes now and then, nice to get the output from program xxx into a textfile and I guess commands like
    Code (Text):
    ps aux | grep program
    are done using pipes too. Sending the output of the ps aux command to grep right? Really handy when you need to shut down something that crashed (like Beryl :P).

    Well I guess I will learn to use Maple as well, which could come in handy. Then I'll just mess around myself and see what I like best.

    Thanks again for all your replies everyone :smile:
  17. Sep 7, 2007 #16
    Various on-topic comments:
    - Chroot has a point in saying "why deal with it now unless you have to" but misses the "why not learn it now and create nice text now, when you have to learn it later, anyways".
    - I don't really follow the thread: I hope you are not installing Linux just because you want to use LaTeX - that runs perfectly fine on Windows. I'm not discouraging installing Linux, though.

    A longer not-so-on-topic comment:
    I might have misunderstood you. It might strongly depend on the field. It might be that some 85% of submissions are rejected :biggrin:. Anyways, unless Word is able to produce TeX-looking output (and a large share of users uses that option) that does in no way reflect my experiences. From the papers I read, the amount of ones not looking like being created with LaTeX ranges in the order of ~1%-3%.

    The portal most relevant for me, Arxiv.org, sais:
    Last edited by a moderator: May 3, 2017
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