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canopy gone, scaffolding down, project seems done, but there’s a whole new shit show in town now so
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29 days ago by peterhoneyman
An Efficiency Comparison of Document Preparation Systems Used in Academic Research and Development
The choice of an efficient document preparation system is an important decision for any academic researcher. To assist the research community, we report a software usability study in which 40 researchers across different disciplines prepared scholarly texts with either Microsoft Word or LaTeX. The probe texts included simple continuous text, text with tables and subheadings, and complex text with several mathematical equations. We show that LaTeX users were slower than Word users, wrote less text in the same amount of time, and produced more typesetting, orthographical, grammatical, and formatting errors. On most measures, expert LaTeX users performed even worse than novice Word users. LaTeX users, however, more often report enjoying using their respective software. We conclude that even experienced LaTeX users may suffer a loss in productivity when LaTeX is used, relative to other document preparation systems. Individuals, institutions, and journals should carefully consider the ramifications of this finding when choosing document preparation strategies, or requiring them of authors.


However, our study suggests that LaTeX should be used as a document preparation system only in cases in which a document is heavily loaded with mathematical equations. For all other types of documents, our results suggest that LaTeX reduces the user’s productivity and results in more orthographical, grammatical, and formatting errors, more typos, and less written text than Microsoft Word over the same duration of time. LaTeX users may argue that the overall quality of the text that is created with LaTeX is better than the text that is created with Microsoft Word. Although this argument may be true, the differences between text produced in more recent editions of Microsoft Word and text produced in LaTeX may be less obvious than it was in the past. Moreover, we believe that the appearance of text matters less than the scientific content and impact to the field. In particular, LaTeX is also used frequently for text that does not contain a significant amount of mathematical symbols and formula. We believe that the use of LaTeX under these circumstances is highly problematic and that researchers should reflect on the criteria that drive their preferences to use LaTeX over Microsoft Word for text that does not require significant mathematical representations.


A second decision criterion that factors into the choice to use a particular software system is reflection about what drives certain preferences. A striking result of our study is that LaTeX users are highly satisfied with their system despite reduced usability and productivity. From a psychological perspective, this finding may be related to motivational factors, i.e., the driving forces that compel or reinforce individuals to act in a certain way to achieve a desired goal. A vital motivational factor is the tendency to reduce cognitive dissonance. According to the theory of cognitive dissonance, each individual has a motivational drive to seek consonance between their beliefs and their actual actions. If a belief set does not concur with the individual’s actual behavior, then it is usually easier to change the belief rather than the behavior [6]. The results from many psychological studies in which people have been asked to choose between one of two items (e.g., products, objects, gifts, etc.) and then asked to rate the desirability, value, attractiveness, or usefulness of their choice, report that participants often reduce unpleasant feelings of cognitive dissonance by rationalizing the chosen alternative as more desirable than the unchosen alternative [6, 7]. This bias is usually unconscious and becomes stronger as the effort to reject the chosen alternative increases, which is similar in nature to the case of learning and using LaTeX.


Given these numbers it remains an open question to determine the amount of taxpayer money that is spent worldwide for researchers to use LaTeX over a more efficient document preparation system, which would free up their time to advance their respective field. Some publishers may save a significant amount of money by requesting or allowing LaTeX submissions because a well-formed LaTeX document complying with a well-designed class file (template) is much easier to bring into their publication workflow. However, this is at the expense of the researchers’ labor time and effort. We therefore suggest that leading scientific journals should consider accepting submissions in LaTeX only if this is justified by the level of mathematics presented in the paper. In all other cases, we think that scholarly journals should request authors to submit their documents in Word or PDF format. We believe that this would be a good policy for two reasons. First, we think that the appearance of the text is secondary to the scientific merit of an article and its impact to the field. And, second, preventing researchers from producing documents in LaTeX would save time and money to maximize the benefit of research and development for both the research team and the public.

[ed.: I sense some salt.

And basically no description of how "# errors" was calculated.]
I question the validity of their methodology.
At no point in the paper is exactly what is meant by a "formatting error" or a "typesetting error" defined. From what I gather, the participants in the study were required to reproduce the formatting and layout of the sample text. In theory, a LaTeX file should strictly be a semantic representation of the content of the document; while TeX may have been a raw typesetting language, this is most definitely not the intended use case of LaTeX and is overall a very poor test of its relative advantages and capabilities.
The separation of the semantic definition of the content from the rendering of the document is, in my opinion, the most important feature of LaTeX. Like CSS, this allows the actual formatting to be abstracted away, allowing plain (marked-up) content to be written without worrying about typesetting.
Word has some similar capabilities with styles, and can be used in a similar manner, though few Word users actually use the software properly. This may sound like a relatively insignificant point, but in practice, almost every Word document I have seen has some form of inconsistent formatting. If Word disallowed local formatting changes (including things such as relative spacing of nested bullet points), forcing all formatting changes to be done in document-global styles, it would be a far better typesetting system. Also, the users would be very unhappy.
Yes, LaTeX can undeniably be a pain in the arse, especially when it comes to trying to get figures in the right place; however the combination of a simple, semantic plain-text representation with a flexible and professional typesetting and rendering engine are undeniable and completely unaddressed by this study.
It seems that the test was heavily biased in favor of WYSIWYG.
Of course that approach makes it very simple to reproduce something, as has been tested here. Even simpler would be to scan the document and run OCR. The massive problem with both approaches (WYSIWYG and scanning) is that you can't generalize any of it. You're doomed repeating it forever.
(I'll also note the other significant issue with this study: when the ratings provided by participants came out opposite of their test results, they attributed it to irrational bias.)
Over the past few years however, the line between the tools has blurred. In 2017, Microsoft made it possible to use LaTeX’s equation-writing syntax directly in Word, and last year it scrapped Word’s own equation editor. Other text editors also support elements of LaTeX, allowing newcomers to use as much or as little of the language as they like.
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4 weeks ago by nhaliday
Interview with Donald Knuth | Interview with Donald Knuth | InformIT
Andrew Binstock and Donald Knuth converse on the success of open source, the problem with multicore architecture, the disappointing lack of interest in literate programming, the menace of reusable code, and that urban legend about winning a programming contest with a single compilation.
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5 weeks ago by nhaliday
Do you use source control for your database items? - Stack Overflow
Top 2 answers contradict each other but both agree that you should at least version the schema and other scripts.

My impression is that the guy linked in the accepted answer is arguing for a minority practice.
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8 weeks ago by nhaliday
OPPORTUNITY  IDK  WCWS  from twitter_favs
june 2018 by JonClodfelter

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