The UK-TUG beginners’ LaTeX course continues to be popular. Each time it is presented, there are minor adjustments to be made to the material. This is a collaborative process, and UK-TUG is keen that other people can benefit from and contribute to our work. The most current version of the material used for the course has therefore been made available on GitHub. Feel free to use the material, make suggestions or indeed volunteer to help run courses!

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Yesterday’s LaTeX beginners course was well-attended: 22 students came for the full-day of experience with LaTeX. The course was led by four volunteers from UK-TUG, and this seemed to work very well. For those people who could not make it, the slides and handouts are available in PDF format, or you can download the LaTeX source for both.

We’ll be looking at the possibility of running a similar course again later in the year. There is already a waiting list for information, so if you are interested please do drop the committee a line.

As anticipated, our LaTeX for Beginners course is now fully-booked. As with the previous course, we will be maintaining a list for any spaces which do become available, and are also already planning yet another presentation of the same material for later in the year. So do e-mail to express your interest!

The UK TeX Users’ Group (UK-TUG) periodically runs training courses in using LaTeX. We are very pleased to announce a presentation of our beginners course, loosely entitled ‘Using LaTeX to write a thesis’. The course will cover topics such as:

  • Setting up LaTeX on a computer
  • Creating basic documents
  • Logic structure in LaTeX documents
  • Including graphical material
  • Bibliographies
  • LaTeX Q&A

The course will be taking place on Friday April 15th in central Cambridge, and will run from approximately 10 a.m. to around 4:30 pm. The course will be aimed at new LaTeX users, with an emphasis on hands-on experience. We will be using a computer lab equipped with Windows PCs, but there will the opportunity to set up your system to use LaTeX. More details about the full programme for the day will be circulated to participants nearer to the course date.

Places are strictly limited by the size of the venue. To book a provisional place, please e-mail joseph.wright@morningstar2.co.uk with your details. The non-refundable course fee (£10) and the a copy of the membership form should then be sent to Joseph Wright, UK-TUG Secretary. (The course fee includes membership of UK-TUG for 2011.) Payment should be sent within two weeks of making a provisional booking, otherwise the space may be released. We will also hold a ‘reserve’ list of names if the course reaches capacity: experience suggests that the course will book up very rapidly.

The course material is intended as a general introduction to using LaTeX. However, it is useful to have some idea about the interests of those attending, as this enables us to prepare for at least some of the potential questions. A brief outline of your background is therefore encouraged along with your booking. It is also useful to know what operating system you usually use, as this is useful when preparing instructions on how to set up LaTeX for your own systems.

Members will be receiving their latest Baskerville and TeX Live 2010 DVDs over the next few days. In the same mailing is the renewal form for 2011. Membership for this year is £10, and a form is included in the mailing. Alternatively, you can get an electronic copy from the membership page.

SEGM Voting results

The results of voting on the three motions put to the SEGM were as follows:

  • Motion 1. 27 for, 0 against, 0 abstentions
  • Motion 2. 27 for, 0 against, 0 abstentions
  • Motion 3. 25 for, 1 against, 1 abstentions

In addition, the committee received two e-mails containing votes which were outside of the period of the SEGM, which are therefore regarded as invalid.

All three motions are therefore passed. There will be a separate notice shortly regarding renewal of membership for next year (2011).

The Committee has called a Special Electronic General Meeting (SEGM) of UK-TUG, to run from 29/11/2010 (00:01) to 05/12/2010 (23:59), inclusive. Attendance of members at the recent AGM was not sufficient to hold a formal vote on the motions put to that meeting, and an SEGM is therefore being held to allow voting to take place.

Motions

Three motions are to be considered at the SEGM:

  1. That this meeting approves the accounts for 2009–10.
  2. That this meeting delegates authority to appoint an inspector for the 2010–11 accounts to the Committee, who shall decide after taking advice from the Treasurer.
  3. That the membership fee for 2011 be £10 for all individual members (apart from life members), and that there be no additional entrance fee.

As previously detailed, these motions are all necessary for the day to day administration of UK-TUG. At the AGM, informal discussion about all three took place and the members present indicated their support for all of the motions.

Discussion

Discussion at the SEGM should take place on the ‘announce’ mailing list (uktug-announce@tug.org). Messages posted by members to this list concerning the SEGM will be sent out to all members.

Voting

Voting on the motions for the SEGM will take place by members posting to the ‘committee’ e-mail address (uktug-committee@uk.tug.org). In contrast to discussion e-mails, these votes will only be seen by the committee. For each motion, members should indicate whether they are voting FOR, AGAINST a motion, or ABSTAIN from voting. Votes will only be counted if received by the Committee via uktug-committee@uk.tug.org during the time frame of the SEGM.

Start of the SEGM

An e-mail will be sent to the ‘announce’ list the day before the SEGM starts. This will include a voting form for the three motions to be considered.

Chairman’s report

As reported earlier, Jonathan Fine presented his final report as Chairman of UK-TUG yesterday at our AGM. He has now made this available electronically, and it can be seen in PDF format or as the TeX source, but you can also read it here:

I have been Chair of the UK TeX Users Group for four years now and am not standing for re-election. Although not a founding member of UKTUG I joined it in its first year (1990), have served on the committee for several years, and in particular organised several effective and well attended meetings and written many articles for our journal Baskerville during the 1990s.

In this report, in addition to recent news, I will take a longer view. In 1990 there were 12.4 million mobile (then called cellular) phones. Last year there were approximately 4.6 billion, 370 times as many. In 1989 the USA had its first commercial dial-up access internet service provider, and in 1992 Congress allowed the National Science Foundation funded network to interconnect with commercial networks. In 1990 there were 313,000 internet host computers. In 2009 there were 681 million, which is 2,175 times as many.

In 1990 and 1991 Tim Berners-Lee started the World Wide Web while at CERN. In 1993 there was Mosaic, the first widespread graphical web browser and approximately 600 web sites. By 1996 there were about 100,000 of which half were dot-com. Also in 1996 two PhD students at Stanford (Larry Page and Sergey Brin) started the research project that became Google, which last year had a profit of $6.5 billion from a revenue of $23.6 billion.

Facebook was launched in February 2004 and by July this year it had over 500 million active users and estimated revenues of $0.8 billion. It is estimated that there are 6.9 billion people alive now, so about 1/14 are on Facebook and about 2/3 have a mobile phone.

In short, over the past 20 years humanity has built an electronic communication network that reaches most of the globe and is used by perhaps a majority of the world’s population. This system now embraces person-to-person communication (as in the telephone), broadcast communication (as in newspapers, radio and television) and also distribution of books, film and recorded music.

All this is not possible without agreed behaviour, without standards. The world’s oldest international organisations are the Central Commission for Navigation on the Rhine (1816), the International Telecommunication Union (1869) and the Universal Postal Union (1874). For example, prior to the UPU a letter sent abroad often needed stamps of several countries on it.

In 1977, when Don Knuth starting working on TeX, paper was by far the dominant medium for written communication. Books, letters, bills, newspapers, timetables, tickets, advertisements, diaries, logbooks are all examples. Punched cards and paper were used for textile looms (1725, Jacquard 1801), ticker tape (1870), 1890 US census (Hollerith) and player pianos (flourished 1896–1930). Hollerith was a founder of what became IBM. In 1977 paper was in libraries the dominant media for data storage, along with vinyl for music. Around then the Betamax and VHS video tape formats were introduced.

At that time academic, scientific, government and commercial data processing were major users of electronically stored written information. Now ordinary people are major users. In 1980 IBM produced the first gigabyte capacity hard drive, the size of a fridge, 550 lbs and $40,000. Today £50 will buy a 1 terabyte hard drive, and £5 a 2 gigabyte USB drive. The source file tex.web for TeX occupies about 1 megabyte.

Typesetting is an early example of this move from paper to digital media. Prior to the rise of phototypesetting (shining light through negative images of characters onto photographic film) in the 1970s, hot metal typesetting was often used to create a single original which could be photographed and used to produce offset lithoplates. Phototypesetting was, in turn, replaced by digital typesetters (in important ways similar to modern laser printers) driven by a computer.

This was the situation when Don Knuth started working on TeX in 1977. There were computers and phototypesetters, and a software gap. TeX and Metafont admirably filled this gap, particularly for mathematical content. PostScript was developed by John Warnock and released by Abode in 1982. PDF followed in 1993. Digital typesetting is now taken for granted. We generate our PDF file, send it to a print supplier, who then returns thousands of printed copies.

Today many people prefer to receive written communication electronically, as text or chat message, email, web-page or PDF. Much typeset material is read on-screen and is seldom printed. And the web-page is a major medium for written communication. Last year Google bought a disused paper mill in Finland, for conversion into a data centre, at a total cost of $260 million. All for storage and transmission of digital information.

Although paper is far from dead, this enormous shift from paper to electronic media is of immense importance for the TeX community. Sadly, we are barely coping. Translation of LaTeX to XML and vice-versa is not straightforward. The problems of mathematical content on web pages have hardly been solved. Installation and running of TeX requires a long download and many technical skills. The LaTeX3 project, started in 1993, is still far from completion.

Scalable Vector Graphics (SVG) provides us with a new opportunity. I describe it as PDF for web pages, with some elements of Flash. Although the W3C adopted SVG as a standard in 2001, it is not yet widely used due to non-adoption by Microsoft. But that is changing. All modern browsers support SVG, including Internet Explorer 9, but not IE7 and IE8.

SVG, together with web fonts, allow TeX quality typesetting to be displayed as a scalable part of a web page on many modern browsers. For IE7 and IE8 emulations are available. (For graphical material Google’s svgweb translates SVG in the browser to Flash. For typeset matter HTML, CSS and webfonts provide a better emulation. The MathJax software gives an excellent example of what can be done now.)

There are many important challenges and opportunities facing use, besides SVG. Improved documentation and training, translation to and from XML, simplified installation, Unicode support are examples. But SVG is special for two reasons. First, it gives us an opportunity to establish TeX as the definitive means of rendering mathematics both for display on web pages and for print. Second, SVG will become the major medium for reading typeset material on web pages and elsewhere. For example, every EPUB reader must support SVG.

This, then, is my view of the past 20 years, which roughly speaking encompasses the life of the UK TeX Users Group, and of some of the challenges facing us now.

In the past four years we have made steady progress. When I became Chair things were so bad that there was open talk of dissolving the organisation. We instituted a subscription holiday and set up a projects fund to reduce our considerable surplus. Broadly speaking both have done well. We have shown ourselves able to spend money on supporting TeX in the UK and more widely. The AGM is being asked to end the subscription holiday.

We have funded two projects in 2007–8. We provided Jonathan Kew £1,600 for the TeXworks integrated development environment, which was completed and is now part of TeX distributions. We also provided £1,700 (with a second equal instalment on receipt of a progress report) to add Unicode maths support to Latin Modern and the TeXGyre font collection (a project led by Hans Hagen). Here there seems to be no progress and no expenditure.

We have replaced our previous rather quirky constitution with something that will serve us better. We have held some fairly successful meetings, and earlier this year we organised LaTeX training.

Particular thanks are due to David Saunders, who has been an excellent Treasurer, a steady and reliable voice, and who led greatly on the new Constitution; to Joseph Wright, who has ably managed our web-site, handled membership and much administration, ran LaTeX training with Nicola Talbot (who is is also thanked); and to Jonathan Webley who with much independent effort has restarted our magazine Baskerville.

I wish all new and continuing committee members and our new Chair, Alun Moon, all the best for the coming years.

The annual UK-TUG meeting, including talks on a range of topics and the AGM, took place today at the wider FLOSS meeting in Birmingham. As this was an ‘uncoference’, the day was organised very much as it happened, although the AGM was of course a fixed item!

Opening

The day started with a talk to everyone at the uncoference from Simon Phipps, a member of the Open Source Initiative board. The talk ranged over a wide range of topics, and was very much looking at the big picture for developers in Free and Open Source software. This sparked a lot of discussion, which went on well into the coffee break!

Morning session

After the coffee break, the unconference split into different groups, and those of us with an interest in TeX and related issues got together. The flexible nature of the uncoference meant that along with a core group of the TeX-devoted, there were interested audience members picking up on individual talks.

Jonathan Fine, outgoing Chairman of UK-TUG, took the first talk of the day looking at MathJax, SVG and the web. The focus was on the way that high-quality typography can be presented in modern web browsers. The SVG format was a key part of his talk, and Jonathan demonstrated how TeX output can be converted into scalable, copyable content using dvisvgm. He then explained the issues with Internet Explorer 7 and 8 with this approach: lack of SVG support! The solution to this is the Google-produced SVGweb, which converts the SVG to Flash content. Of course, Jonathan then explained that this is not an ideal solution, but it’s better than no support at all.

Jonathan’s talk led into a wider discussion about the availability of web fonts. Once again, Google’s name was mentioned, and their work on a web font directory. It was very pleasing to see David Crossland, our former Secretary, as the author of several of these.

The second talk of the morning session was given by Alex Regueiro on the topic of running TeX as a service on Windows. Alex started off outline the background:  the cost of starting up a process on Windows, and the need to look beyond MiKTeX and TeX Live for a solution. He then described the approaches he’s tried, first sticking with a standard TeX binary and then looking at a more complete approach in which a change file is applied to the TeX sources to avoid file operations.

AGM

After lunch, the formal business of the day needed to be completed. A draft of full minutes for the AGM have already been circulated to members. The AGM marked the end of Jonathan Fine’s tenure as Chairman: he handed over to new Chairman Alun Moon at the end of the AGM. The make up of the new committee was also announced:

  • Simon Dales
  • Jonathan Fine
  • Alun Moon
  • David Saunders
  • John Peters
  • Jonathan Webley
  • Joseph Wright

The new committee will be making some more announcements in due course about other matters arising.

Afternoon session

At the end of the formal business of the AGM, Alun Moon gave a statement as the new Chairman of UK-TUG. This led on to a wider discussion on the topics he raised, which broadly covered four key topics: advocacy, awareness, usability and training. There was a lot of engagement in all of these areas from the members (and non-members) present.

Joseph Wright gave the first talk of the afternoon on his LaTeX package siunitx. Joseph focussed on how he’s tried to help users, with the detail of the development process very much in the background. siunitx is a package for dealing with typesetting numbers and units, and Joseph highlighted the fact that there are a wide range of user requirements that he has tried to handle using key-value settings rather than a large number of user macros.

The second talk came from Andrew Ford, who focussed on converting a LaTeX book to ePub format, using the example of his wife’s cookbook of vegetarian recipes. Andrew explained that the ePub format is a combination of XHTML and CSS, and that LaTeXML has allowed a relatively painless conversion process. Looking beyond ePub, conversion to Kindle format (which unlike ePub is closed).

Next, Simon Dales talked about his work on using Doxygen as a tool for documenting TeX material. The concept he described makes use of suitably-designed comments to provide the documentation, a concept that many LaTeX programmers will have seen with DocStrip and the DTX format. However, Doxygen makes HTML/LaTeX/… documentation directly from the final TeX/LaTeX package files, so is good at retrospectively documenting code. Simon highlighted some of the compromises he’s had to make to get Doxygen (a tool for C-like languages) to work with TeX. His system is more than a proof of concept and promoted quite a range of discussion on the broader documentation issue.

Squeezed in before the end of the day, Joseph Wright came back to say five minutes about the TeX StackExchange site, something that both he and Jonathan Fine have taken quite an interest in.

David Saunders, Returning Officer for the election of a new Chair, writes

We have received one valid nomination for Chair of UK-TUG, and so there will be no need for a ballot. I’m pleased to say that Dr Alun Moon has been elected as Chair, and will take office at the end of the AGM on Saturday.

We are very pleased to welcome Dr Moon to the role. He takes over as the Chair of UK-TUG at the end of the AGM on Saturday. Alun writes:

Let me introduce myself, I’m Alun and I’ve been a LaTeX user since 1982 (‘Eee when I were a lad we ‘ad t’ make do wit’ teletype’). Don’t worry this isn’t an introduction for TeXies Anonymous. TeX and friends have been a useful tool through my time in HE, though in my institution I’m a rarity. A colleague once likened the circle of TeX users to the ‘escape committee’. I’ve seen TeX grow with more and more packages; powerful graphics, presentations, pdf support, and more. In this age of the wiki, just about every wiki system I’ve looked at has the capability to use LaTeX as a back-end formatter for mathematics, many publishers support it for submissions. A Google search for material will show the range of organisations that use it. There are even apps for smart phones to write TeX. In this internet age we could be looking at a golden age of LaTeX.

There are three things I would like to encourage. Advocacy: we know LaTeX is good, but we still have to convince a sometimes sceptical world. Training: we can continue with the already excellent training and support material that we have produced. Usability: can we make TeX usable? My kids have been exposed to WYSIWYG words from day one at school, what can we do to make LaTeX usable for them?

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