LaTeX and XML

And now for something completely different…

It is no secret (at least to those who know me) that I use Leslie Lamport’s LaTeX as my principal tool for producing written output. LaTeX is based on (one of my heroes) Donald Knuth’s TeX typesetting system. TeX was developed to support Knuth’s writing of computer science texts. Because of TeX’s beautiful output (especially of maths), others soon took up the tool.

(I despise Microsoft Word… and in general any word-processing software.)

Some time later Lamport wrote a set of macros that make TeX typesetting easier for those of us unfamiliar with the intricacies of TeX, which is decidedly low-level (but provides extreme control over output). I took up LaTeX in the 1990s while working with/on hydraulic models for U.S. Geological Survey. I loved the ease of producing very nice looking text, textbook quality maths, and working in a non-WYSIWIG environment. (Windows was just coming along at the time and I hated it.)

During that time, I actively supported something called Literate Programming, which was another Knuth creation in which both source code and documentation derive from the same file. I used the literate paradigm to produce several programs and maintained the Literate Programming FAQ list for the mailing list associated with users and interested parties of literate programming. Because there was a need to publish the FAQ in a variety of formats, I ultimately cast the source in an XML (eXtensible Markup Language) variant called Docbook. I had tools that converted the source to HTML and LaTeX (and plain text as well).

There are times when I’d like to publish maths here on my site. Yes, topics that involve mathematics still interest me and will continue to do so while I draw breath. But publishing maths in HTML is problematic. There is no standard approach that can produce beautiful mathematics rendering.

I just learned about a project, PreTeXt (, that is based on XML and can produce EPUB, PDF, and HTML from a single XML source. TeX is used to set mathematics. I have not yet experimented with the work, but the prospect of producing e-reader formatted output, as well as HTML, that contains TeX maths is very interesting to me.

Therefore, once I finish working through my backlog of paying work, I think some experimentation with PreTeXt is needed. It might change the way I approach writing work. It will be interesting.

A New Adventure

Bird shoot in Smith, Nevada
From a bird shoot in Smith, Nevada
While reading this morning, I came across the obituary for William Zinsser. Zinsser wrote a very good book, On Writing Well, which I do not recall if I read, but it is on my list to read.

I live in a time where the passing of my heroes is more common. I suppose everyone who reaches their seventh decade is a witness to these circumstances.

This entry is beginning to feel like a ramble. So be it.

I am beginning a new adventure. It will be on where the earning of a paycheck will not be the first priority. The priority will be on continuing my education and working on my craft.

The appraiser visited earlier this week, did her work, and then provided a post mortem on her way out. When I asked her if there was any obvious problem, her reply was that she didn’t see anything but could not guarantee the outcome. So I wait for her report to see if we make this hurdle and move on to the next — the inspections.

If the appraisal is sufficient for the buyer to make their mortgage, then one or more inspectors will visit my house to ensure that the property is in good condition. I am fairly certain there are no significant defects. I generally stay on top of any problem I discover. I either repair it myself or hire a professional to do the repair. The inspections should happen early next week and I should have confirmation that the process is moving forward by the end of next week.

So, what happens then? I hit the road. I am uncertain just how that will work out. I might buy a utility trailer to take a few of my things with me and either rent cabins along my way or tent camp. I have most of what I need for tent camping over the summer. I also intend to visit family and can couchsurf with them.

What will I do? I have a ton of reading to do. Part of what I want to take with me is read the set of books on my list. I want to do that while away from computers and outside where I can breathe.

I want to make photographs. Part of working on my craft is the making, processing, and critical review of photography. I have been told that I do not have the talent to make it as a professional photographer; that there is a surfeit of photographers and that there is insufficient work to support the number of photographers who are trying to make a living at it. I don’t care if I make no money at this craft. I’m going to go make photographs. I will be posting some of them to my Instagram feed, a website (that I have yet to develop), and to Facebook. They will be there to share with my friends and family.

I want to write. Another part of working on my craft is the stringing together of words, hopefully into something that is interesting. I expect to post much of the text here on these pages. I will write about my travels, the people I meet (always interesting to me), and the places I see. I love to tell stories. Isn’t writing about telling stories? Even when I write technical reports, I am still telling a story.

I want to just “be.” I think there might be an entire essay (or even a book) about the busy-ness of life in American society. In particular, over the last few years, I observed the insanity of our culture’s pursuit of material goods. There is a focus on “having” that is ingrained in this culture. I do not want to do this anymore. I have enough. I have more than enough. I do not have what I really want in my life, for she is gone. There will not be a replacement and I do not think there will be a “second best.”

So, I think it is time to get away from the routine, be outside, be in the quiet of God’s creation, and just let that soak into me. I think it will be good to listen to birds, bugs, and the susurration of wind and rain. I think it will be good to feel the sun and let the healing warmth of the sun penetrate this old body and infuse my mind with light. I think it will be good to be outside and pray.

In the end, I cannot stay here. Without full-time work, the mortgage is unsustainable. Young Son will finish his tenure at the local college and move on. I have a few friends. But there is nothing else to hold me here. The draw of the road and the desire to spend time with Daughter and her family pulls me away. I hate living in hotel rooms, so I expect there is a travel trailer or camper in my future. I have some consulting work to keep me busy the remainder of this year. The income will be enough to keep me from drawing down my retirement funds.

It’s the tail end of this part of the journey. The wren’s tail made me think about beginnings and endings. I’m sure I’ll come back this way. I love the eastern Sierra Nevada. I think there might be some photography work for me to do. I have a couple of friends I want to keep in touch with. In the meantime, it’s time to go wander for a while. That’s what I’ll do.