Welcome to the TeXtalk! The special guest for today is our friend Yiannis Lazarides, one of the most active members of TeX.sx, a trusted user (34k+), 231+ badges and 444+ answers so far. Get ready for this great interview!
Paulo Cereda: Could you tell us a bit about you?
Yiannis Lazarides: I am currently Projects Director with a Construction Company operating in the Gulf and stationed in Doha Qatar. I was born in Cyprus, but spent most of my years in South Africa, where I obtained my PhD in Mechanical Engineering under the late Prof. Costa Rallis. As a matter of interest he is the only person that had a thermodynamic cycle named after him since the 19th century. He typed his thesis on an IMB with a changeable golfball. He mentioned in passing that nowdays you might be able to do that sort of thing using TeX and the rest is history.
Paulo: Do you have any hobbies?
Yiannis: These days is mostly computer programming, but I read a lot and collect postal history.
How was your first contact to TeX, LaTeX and friends?
Yiannis: Paulo, it was a bit bumpy. I started with TeX and the TeXbook and then moved to LaTeX in what was probably a pre 2.09 version. Don’t remember now. Maths was great but zero support. I was probably one of the first users in South Africa.
Paulo: Was it a smooth transition?
Yiannis: Very smooth. Forgot to mention on all from a floppy on an HP-9816, which was also used to read in all the instruments. As a text editor, I used the Turbo Pascal editor. It was easy to use and I still remember some of the keys
Paulo: Really?! It was one of my first editors!
You have a very interesting programming background. Can you tell us a bit about it?
Yiannis: I started with Fortran and punch cards, before South Africa (in London where I got my first degree). Then moved onto a gwbasic when micros came out and quickly went onto Pascal and C. I kept with all the languages as I had what you would now call a start up of a number of private colleges for about 7 years, specializing in computer training.
I view programming the way an Engineer views maths. It is a tool and you need to keep it sharpened.
egreg: You know several programming languages. Do you think it helps in dealing with TeX?
Yiannis: It helps with TeX, but it helps more the other way around. I picked up CS mostly on the way by reading, but which other language gives you the opportunity to define your own for loops, booleans, list data structures etc? Before the word mapping came we could use
Just perhaps with one exception Lisp. If you know Lisp I think is easier to grasp some of the concepts.
Paulo: I can relate to that.
You are one of the top users, 34k+ rep. How did you become aware of the TeX.sx community?
Yiannis: I saw it advertized on the main side, when I googled something. Really surprised me.
Paulo: How do you feel about our TeX community?
Yiannis: I think we have one of the best communities around. It is moderated very professionally and it has also attracted some of the best people in the field.
Paulo: You posted an amazing answer in our TeX.sx Birthday Contest. It’s very impressive to see TeX/LaTeX being used far beyond the “normal approach” – articles, books. Do you think this area of high quality photo books can be covered by TeX/LaTeX or even ConTeXt approaches?
Yiannis: I think it can, provided you take the same approach like a designer building it page by page. It will be much easier when Frank is finished with the coffins. I am also busy with developing a class to make it easier – to be released before the official release of LaTeX3.
Paulo: That sounds fantastic! Could you tell a little about this project?
Yiannis: I got a book project that I am working on and off. It is a sort of history book with lots of images. This what triggered the beginning of the project. It has a lot of code scattered all over. I am collecting all these ideas in a class. Problem to automate layouts is difficult algorithmically. We don’t have the answers. Open any magazine and have a look at a layout. Not easy to define and automate. Also how do you provide a user interface that does not require a physics PhD to use?
Paulo: Indeed. I remember one of your answers where you said something like “if typographical rules can be deduced, we can incorporate them”. It’s very challenging.
Speaking of typography, you are the first user to earn the
badge! How did you become so acquainted with it?
Yiannis: I was not aware I was the first user. I think it was just a miracle that I was the first user to get it.
I always had an interest in it. I read some of Knuth’s writings and one day it struck me. What he did was to study all the maths publications and deduce some typographical rules. I am currently doing the same with images and layouts (he conveniently missed this otherwise he would have still been busy with TeX). Small things like don’t put a small image on a page on its own can make a big difference.
He also left color out. Color is very difficult to handle correctly from a typography point of view.
Paulo: True. The color schemes help a lot, but I believe there is a very thin line between a good color combination and a color disaster.
egreg: I believe that color printing has made progresses well after 1982. As did the font technology.
Yiannis: True, although colour publications could be found even in the 19th century. Color Laserjets came in the 90s if I remember and there was no way to see color on a computer screen till about late 80s.
egreg: I’m very curious about your many examples about pages with text and photos: are they part of some project of yours?
Yiannis: Some of them are from project(s) of mine, I am working, but mostly I add real pictures in answers, it helps me and the OP visualize better things.
Paulo: Trusted user, 34k+ rep, 231+ badges, 444+ answers. What’s your secret?
Yiannis: I answer questions that I like, you tend to write more naturally this way and I learn a bit on the way. I also try to turn poor questions to interesting answers.
For example, Applying an operation only to capitals. egreg, Bruno, Holle and myself, gave what I think were very good answers and showed various ways of doing things. The OP went and accepted his own wrong answer that did not work.
Can you name something you really like in TeX/LaTeX? And is there something you dislike?
Yiannis: On the dislike question, I am sure there is a better way of handling fonts and
input. On the like too numerous, but what stands out is its enormous flexibilty.
Paulo: Ready for LaTeX3?
Jokes aside, I think the LaTeX3 Team is doing a great job and is on the cards to study it very soon. I can use it a bit, but I find the commands too long and the syntax a bit alien. Long commands trouble me as I tend to code from memory don’t have cheatseets around, at best I can
something. I use lists a lot, LaTeX3 can be a great help.
That is part of my dislike of Java among other things too.
Paulo: I can relate to that.
Sometimes verbosity is unproductive.
One advantage I see is that the context is clear. But it’s clearly a matter of taste.
Yiannis: I can understand the need for it though, to keep consistency in the code and it helps with the architecture of the system.
Paulo: Any chances with Lua? It’s a nice language to play with.
Yiannis: I am more far ahead with Lua. Read a couple of books and tried things out. Great if you need to do any complicated parsing.
Paulo: With a Lisp background, pattern matching sounds like piece of cake.
Paulo: I heard about it. Is it good?
Yiannis: I think so but Patrick should know better, why don’t you post a question?
Paulo: Good idea.
I’ll see what I can come up with.
Do you have a “favorite” answer of yours?
Yiannis: It is actually a question, Macros with # as the last parameter; this is the sort of post that I enjoy at TeX.sx, it attracted six very good answers and I think I provided a good user interface in the question (to typeset fractions and automate fraction calcs in about 12 lines of code – try that with Java).
Paulo: LOL! Wait for lambda support, then we can talk again.
Yiannis: I am waiting…
Paulo: Do you use
Yiannis: I tried both but use mostly
Paulo: What do you recommend for a newbie eager to learn TeX, LaTeX and friends?
Yiannis: To handle LaTeX the way a baby eats watermelon! Get your hands, feet, face and ears dirty. Don’t look for perfection at first, just let things fall into place. If you get bitten with the bug, read other people’s code.
I subtly inferred that in Help in choosing LaTeX2e books in light of LaTeX3 development, the post got downvoted at first but over the months the post got traction. If you want to learn about parsing for example, read microtype, soul, listings and of course if you can take a sabbatical read Bruno’s LaTeX3 code.
Paulo: Thanks a lot for this great interview!
Yiannis: Thanks for inviting me. Obrigadão!
Paulo: Your Portuguese is better than mine.
Yiannis: I very much doubt it.
Stay tuned for the next episode of TeXtalk!