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Thursday, October 13, 2005

Fonts

Fonts are the last thing I want to worry about when I write a research paper. Unfortunately fonts have often become the last thing I need to worry about when I write a research paper.

In the olden days (circa 1990), we all wrote our LaTeX papers using the Computer Modern font. When we sent a paper to a proceedings we printed up a clean copy and sent it via Federal Express.

Now we have choices of fonts. Fonts are a surprisingly complicated process. A good font is a work of art and a scalable font is actually a computer program for each letter. If you intellectual property issues for digital music is complicated, IP for typefaces is nearly impossible to implement well.

When some societies like the IEEE first started taking electronic uploads for their proceedings we would get the occasional disastrous effects because the IEEE fonts didn't match the fonts people used to create a paper. For example the "<" would appear as a "⇒" making some of the papers unreadable. Most of these organizations have become more aware of this issue but now require us to jump through some hoops (use the right fonts and style files and putting the paper in the appropriate format using the right program to do so). Makes me wish for the old days when I could send a paper and they would scan it, which the IEEE will still do but charge extra for.

Sometimes you'll see "¿From" in older papers. This is not a font problem but a property of sending text files through email would add a ">" to a line beginning with "From" which would come out "¿From" after LaTeX processed the file. You see it less now as files get sent via attachments instead of directly in the mail body.

Distractions from worry about something as minor as fonts really keeps us away from focusing on research and other important activities. Remember, no one was ever denied tenure for bad font selection.

25 comments:

  1. I stick with times for my LaTeX needs. The newer concrete fonts and the old CM fonts are/were nice, but a little too off the beaten path. Times hyphenates better too, and allows you to compact more per line (the latter causes the former).

    I feel bad when I see a paper with only right-double-quotes and no left-double-quotes at all. (Because they only use '' instead of `` and ''.)

    It probably won't be much longer before a paper is published using mediawiki as the file format.

    ReplyDelete
  2. BTW, this command will give you PDFs without that chunky electronic-reading effect:

    dvips -P cmz -t letter -q -f INPUT.dvi | gs -q -dNOPAUSE -dBATCH -sDEVICE=pdf
    write -sOutputFile=OUTPUT.pdf -c save pop -

    ReplyDelete
  3. pdflatex foo.tex should do the trick.

    ReplyDelete
  4. This is off topic, but I was wondering when we can expect to see conferences and journals offering TeXmacs style files. Why use LaTeX/TeX when you can use TeXmacs?

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  5. Never gave a thought about publishing in HTML (the world's standard)???

    You, university scholars, are really retarded.

    Best regards anyway,

    Chris. F. Masse

    ReplyDelete
  6. Never gave a thought about publishing in HTML (the world's standard)???

    You, university scholars, are really retarded.

    Best regards anyway,

    Chris. F. Masse


    Rudely urging us to use a format that you obviously haven't mastered yourself? Your "web page" is an abomination.

    ReplyDelete
  7. Wow. Mr. Masse stated:

    Never gave a thought about publishing in HTML (the world's standard)???

    Please see this site for the difficulties in maintaining a standard for HTML:

    http://www.webstandards.org/

    There are difficulties with any standard for markup languages. As the "feature" set of a standard or product is "improved", the choices and the variance in the cost to implement those choices increases.

    I agree with Dr. Fortnow. The time and effort required by an author or authors to construct a document should be minimal. The best use of the author's time is in performing research and in providing the timely transcription of that research for their audience.

    ---O

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  8. Hi folks,

    I meant that you, university professors, publish in PDF format for a readership of old referrers.

    The world would be better off it you, guys, published in HTML format, on the Web, for everybody to read.

    You, guys, university professors, then complain about errors in Wikipedia. But that's free stuff, formatted for the Web. Plain language, plain HTML, free for all humans connected on the Net. Do the same, and your smart papers then will reach the people ---who are the ones who support your salaries.

    As for my "web page" ("an abomination" [sic]), it is the number one directory on prediction markets. Proof that unsophisticated websites can be of interest anyway.

    Best regards,

    Chris. F. Masse

    ReplyDelete
  9. Does HTML support math formatting the way latex does?

    ReplyDelete
  10. Foundation for the inclusion of mathematical expressions in Web pages

    MathML
    http://www.w3.org/Math/

    MathML is about encoding the structure of mathematical expressions so that they can be displayed, manipulated and shared over the World Wide Web. A carefully encoded MathML expression can be evaluated in a computer algebra system, rendered in a Web browser, edited in your word processor, and printed on your laser printer. Mathematical software vendors are adding MathML support at a rapid pace, and MathML is fast becoming the lingua franca of scientific publication on the Web.

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  11. The only thing html math-papers would improve is the income of optometrists and if you can't read pdf then I'm really sorry for you.

    ReplyDelete
  12. PDF: Unfit for Human Consumption

    Source: Jakob Nielsen (the pope of Internet usalibity)

    "Users get lost inside PDF files, which are typically big, linear text blobs that are optimized for print and unpleasant to read and navigate online. PDF is good for printing, but that's it. Don't use it for online presentation."

    http://www.useit.com/alertbox/20030714.html

    Again, the point that I wanted to make is that scholars should reach as many readers as possible. Not just the old persons. Everybody. And everybody is on the Web, these days. And it seems to me that Jakob Nielsen has done research that backs publishing simple, almost simplistic, HTML-formated websites.

    His principles are an inspiration for my website, the premier directory on prediction markets ---the world's most popular on this topic. Sounds like "abomination" is like those "Fisherman's Friends" candies ---a bit strong.

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  13. Tips for avoiding optometrist consultations:

    1. Use FireFox.
    http://www.mozilla.org/

    2. Go to TOOLS, OPTIONS, GENERAL, FONTS & COLORS.

    3. Specify that the minimum font size should be 24. Check "use system colors" with black ink on white pages. Check "always use my fonts and colors".

    Another question, doc?

    Best regards

    Chris. F. Masse

    ReplyDelete
  14. Chris F Masse said
    Source: Jakob Nielsen (the pope of Internet usalibity)

    "Users get lost inside PDF files, which are typically big, linear text blobs that are optimized for print and unpleasant to read and navigate online. PDF is good for printing, but that's it. Don't use it for online presentation."


    The fact that someone ("the pope of Internet usalibity" - WTF is that??) said something doesn't make it more creditable or interesting. The barrier to reading and understanding theory papers is much higher than obtaining a PDF reader.

    The HTML is not so standard, and probably neither MathML.

    The sad truth, that it is so hard to save a file and know that every user will see it the same way, is what bothers me. How come PostScript and PDF are so popular and still don't solve this issue?

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  15. Much of our recent problem with fonts is due to the desire to get rid of bitmaps and make documents searchable using PDF (hence the times font with its ugly Greek letters). The conversions to PDF are now not standard (pdflatex shrinks fonts, some versions of ps2pdf mess up the 'fi' ligature or its spacing) and the PDF standards keep changing.

    MathML won't be answer until it reasonably smoothly combines math formatting with the entire repertoire of formatting, cross-referencing, and bibliographic support found in tex/latex/bibtex. Given how little MathML does if it is supposed to be the emerging solution then it is amazing how little it has changed since its 2001 spec.

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  16. Hello,

    You talk about 'reading' theory papers.

    Research conducted by Jakob Nielsen shows that people mainly scan (and sometimes read) Web documents.

    HTML pages are easier to scan for people. Browsers are far more popular than PDF readers.

    Indeed, not everyone can understand theory papers, but a lot more would access their introductions and conclusions, which are written in an accessible language and are more didactic, and scan the inside of these theory papers.

    ReplyDelete
  17. Chris Masse said:
    The world would be better off it you, guys, published in HTML format,
    on the Web, for everybody to read... your smart papers then will reach the people --- who are the ones who support your salaries.


    Somehow, I hardly think the format is the barrier preventing "the masses" from reading our papers...

    The argument that the masses are somehow supporting our salaries may be true, but is rather irrelevant here. If you put it to a vote, I am sure support for university faculty would not be a high-priority item (and even more sure that increased access to technical papers will be completely off the radar screen). Or haven't you noticed the poor treatment that high-school teachers get?

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  18. Taxpayers are the ones who finance public museums, and as a result, there is low-price (and sometimes, free, as in London, U.K.) tickets so that every citizen can enjoy classical beauty.

    Taxpayers subsidize public universities, and today's youngsters are gouged by college fees, so that faculty members can enjoy a high level of compensation. Is it too much asking for researchers to publish their piece of knowledge in the most accessible way?

    The mass market has decided that the browser is the most popular, useful reading tool. Please, make your papers available as native Web documents, for everyone in the world to see what you're worth. If all of the world's papers were available this way, the Web itself would be kind of like a giant Wikipedia ---and you, scholars, would quit complaining about "errors" in this online encyclopedia.

    The Internet, especially the Web, and posting by scholars in particular, has played a great role in my informal education. I just want more of it, more easily accessible.

    Best regards,

    Chris. F. Masse

    ReplyDelete
  19. HTML renders differently in every browser. How does publishing work in html make it more accessible? If a person is so inflexible that they can't get used to the annoyances (whatever you think they are) of reading a pdf file, then chances are they're too inflexible to wrap their minds around any non-trivial idea in a paper. The general public does not read theory papers. Maybe you try to read them. Good for you. But why should the community sacrifice all the goods the pdf format brings so you and maybe 3 other people like you are happy?

    You're complaining about usability. Judging from your comments and your website, you haven't got the slightest intuition about usability. It's nice that you're bald enough to comment on things you've no clue about just because you feel a particular way about them, but please stop wasting everyone�s time.

    ReplyDelete
  20. Hello there,

    The next generation of scholars will publish their papers directly for a Web audience.

    Best regards,

    Chris. F. Masse

    ReplyDelete
  21. Do you actually read papers online?

    I read abstracts or first pages of papers on the screeen, but if I then decide that I want to spend some time really reading the paper, then I will evidently print it. I find a paper version much more comfortable.

    Now, it seems that some of my students read the papers assigned in class without ever printing them.

    How about you?

    ReplyDelete
  22. I am torn between finding Chris Masse painfully annoying and painfully amusing. (In small doses, I find a lot of annoying things can be kind of amusing.) But he perhaps has a point, regarding accessibility.

    I have seen many posts here by Lance on topics related to accessibility -- how do we explain our work to non-technical friends, how do we convince grant agencies what we are doing is important, etc. Surely finding ways to make our work more accessible to more audiences is a worthwhile goal.

    Of course, Mr. Masse's specific suggestions are way off base. PDF is essentially a universal format -- even for non-academics. And I don't think making our technical papers more accessible to a general audience is the right approach -- but perhaps survey articles, popular books, and even Web pages specifically written with the layman in mind by CS theory people would be a good idea.

    So, Mr. Masse, if you want to hang around and be a gadfly now and again, more power to you. But you could try to be a little more polite. You might even find some of us have some worthwhile ideas too.

    ReplyDelete
  23. "The next generation of scholars will publish their papers directly for a Web audience."

    No they won't and your comments on this topic are worthless because the whole topic is beyond you and your comprehension.

    ReplyDelete
  24. Great, as always when controversy pops up.

    The question remains: why aren't our papers organizes as hypertext? Given the modular structure of many results and proofs, this *would* be very natural. I think of theorems, where you can click an informal statement to get exact parameters, or proofs, where lemmas expand into their proofs etc.

    I can think of several reason:

    1) Tradition (have to publish in proceedings and journals)
    2) Problems with printing (for any kind of hypertext, because we don't want to read on a screen)
    3) Problems with making annotations (this is actually possible in pdf, but makes sense only when you use a tablet pc)
    4) Too much work/no good tools (especially since we are spoilt by latex output quality ... and html math documents just look ugly)

    ReplyDelete