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Didier Verna's scientific blog: Lisp, Emacs, LaTeX and random stuff.

Wednesday, March 21 2012

Star TeX, the Next Generation

I'm happy to announce that my contribution to TUG 2012, the next TeX Users Group International conference, has been accepted. Please find the title and abstract below.

Star TeX, the Next Generation

In 2010, I asked Donald Knuth why he chose to design and implement TeX as a macro-expansion system (as opposed to more traditional procedure calls). His answer was that:

  1. he wanted something relatively simple for his secretary who was not a computer scientist,
  2. the very limited computing resources at that time practically mandated the use of something much lighter than a true programming language.

The first part of the answer left me with a slight feeling of skepticism. It remains to be seen that TeX is simple to use, and when or where it is, its underlying implementation has hardly anything to do with it.

The second part of the answer, on the other hand, was both very convincing and arguably now obsolete as well. Time has passed and the situation today is very different from what it was 50 years ago. The available computing power has grown exponentially, and so has our overall skills in language design and implementation.

Several ideas on how to modernize TeX already exist. Some have been actually implemented. In this talk, I will present mine. Interestingly enough, it seems to me that modernizing TeX can start with grounding it in an old yet very modern programming language: Common Lisp. I will present the key features that make this language particularly well suited to the task, emphasizing on points such as extensibility, scriptability and multi-paradigm programming. The presentation will include reflections about the software engineering aspects (internals), as well as about the surface layer of TeX itself. Most notably, I will explore the possibilities of providing a more consistent syntax to the TeX API, while maintaining backward compatibility with the existing code base.

Tuesday, July 19 2011

LaTeX Coding Standards

EDIT: the paper is now freely available for non TUG members.

I'm happy to announce that my contribution to TUG 2011, the next TeX Users Group International conference, has been accepted. Please find the title and abstract below.

Towards LaTeX Coding Standards

Because LaTeX (and ultimately TeX) is only a macro-expansion system, the language does not impose any kind of good software engineering practice, program structure or coding style whatsoever. As a consequence, writing beautiful code (for some definition of "beautiful") requires a lot of self-discipline from the programmer.

Maybe because in the LaTeX world, collaboration is not so widespread (most packages are single-authored), the idea of some LaTeX Coding Standards is not so pressing as with other programming languages. Some people may, and probably have developed their own programming habits, but when it comes to the LaTeX world as a whole, the situation is close to anarchy.

Over the years, the permanent flow of personal development experiences contributed to shape my own taste in terms of coding style. The issues involved are numerous and their spectrum is very large: they range from simple code layout (formatting, indentation, naming schemes etc.), mid-level concerns such as modularity and encapsulation, to very high-level concerns like package interaction/conflict management and even some rules for proper social behavior.

In this talk, I will report on all these experiences and describe what I think are good (or at least better) programming practices. I believe that such practices do help in terms of code readability, maintainability and extensibility, all key factors in software evolution. They help me, perhaps they will help you too.

Wednesday, December 1 2010

Nice feedback on my TUG 2010 paper

Here's a nice comment from a reader of the TUGBoat on my TUG 2010 paper entitled "Classes, Styles, Conflicts: the Biological Realm of LaTeX":

I really enjoy Didier Verna's paper (pp. 162-172). His analogies between LaTeX and microbiology is truly exciting! Being neither a TeXnician nor a (micro) biologist, the paper gives me more insight about LaTeX while at the same time giving me a glimpse to a world beyond my narrow field of knowledge. Please do extend my compliments to the author.

Tuesday, March 9 2010

Paper accepted at TUG 2010


I'm happy to announce that I will be presenting a paper at TUG 2010, in San Francisco, for the 2^5th birthday of TeX. The abstract is given below:

Classes, Styles, Conflicts: the Biological Realm of LaTeX

Every LaTeX user faces the "compatibility nightmare" one day or another. With so much intercession capabilities at hand (LaTeX code being able to redefine itself at will), a time comes inevitably when the compilation of a document fails, due to a class/style conflict. In an ideal world, class/style conflicts should only be a concern for package maintainers, not end-users of LaTeX. Unfortunately, the world is real, not ideal, and end-user document compilation does break.

As both a class/style maintainer and a document author, I tried several times to come up with some general principles or a systematic approach to handling class/style cross-compatibility in a smooth and gentle manner, but I ultimately failed. Instead, one Monday morning, I woke up with this vision of the LaTeX biotope, an emergent phenomenon whose global behavior cannot be comprehended, because it is in fact the result of a myriad of "macro"-interactions between small entities, themselves in perpetual evolution.

In this presentation, I would like to draw bridges between LaTeX and biology, by viewing documents, classes and styles as living beings constantly mutating their geneTeX code in order to survive \renewcommand attacks...
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