TeXtalk: an interview with lockstep

Welcome to the TeXtalk! For the second episode of the series, we have another special guest: our friend Thomas Titz, also known as lockstep, one of the most active members of TeX.sx, a trusted user (36k+), 650+ answers so far, top voter, top editor, a one-man flag and tag machine! It was fantastic to interview him!

Paulo: Could you tell us a bit about you?

lockstep: I’ve studied urban planning and am working as a zoning official in the Vienna city administration. My hobbies are biking, singing, tarock (an Austrian card game), and, obviously, (La)TeX.

Paulo: How was your first contact to TeX, LaTeX and friends?

lockstep: In 1995, I wrote my master thesis with Word, which did horrible things to my headers and footers. Many years later, I decided that I needed something better for my (still to be written) Ph.D. thesis. I started to experiment with LaTeX in January 2008 and to delve into


internals in the summer of that year.

In 2009, I bought the “classic” LaTeX books (Mittelbach/Goossens, Kopka/Daly), and finally also the TeXbook.

Joseph Wright: You seem to be the


expert on TeX.sx. Do you have much to do with the development side of that project?

lockstep: Starting in 2009, I have made several bug reports and feature requests for


– e.g., the several


are based on one of my requests. I had also hacked together a personal


style, which made it into


of the core package.


was also the reason that I joined my first LaTeX forum (


), because I noticed that a forum member was looking for the very


style I had created.

Paulo: As Joseph mentioned, you are the


expert and the one-man tagging machine on TeX.sx. How did you become aware of this community?


lockstep: I occasionally peruse


via Google (I do not participate, though). There was a post about a proposed stackexchange group dealing with TeX, and (half a year later or so) another post that the private beta had started. I decided to give tex.sx a try – it was already in public beta then. The rest is history.


Joseph Wright: You do a lot of tagging: what approach do you take to find material in need of attention, and what for you makes a good tag?

lockstep: I wasn’t active on meta at first, and so the “big” decisions (e.g., concept tags instead of command name tags) were already made when I seriously started retagging. The “practical” part seemed to be somewhat in disarray, though – e.g., what is


today was divided into




then, with no discernible difference between the two tags.

A good tag a) should have an easily comprehensible meaning b) should be helpful in locating existing answers and avoiding duplicates.
That’s for “new” users of tex.sx; for “power” users a tag should c) be helpful in notifying questions which one might like to answer.

Paulo: The


package saved me a lot of times. Could you tell us a bit about your first package?

lockstep: When trying to typeset indexes, I soon noticed that the positioning of the sectioning heading was wrong (LaTeX bug 3126 in action). Mittelbach/Goosens gives the advice to use


to define a customized


environment. I wrote a small package for private use that also worked with


s index features. When a user on


lamented about his wrongly positioned index heading, I decided to write something more general and put it on CTAN – that was at the start of 2010.

Later, it turned out that my


package, which is partially a recoding exercise of


s and


s index environments, also solved issues with regard to the exact positioning of hyperlinks – I got some unforseen praise from Geoffrey Jones, one of tex.sxs early high-rep users.

I should add that


today is partially superseded by @egreg’s


which makes use of the


facility. And if you want


plus runin-typesetting of index items and affiliated subitems, use





Paulo: Our community is very friendly. How do you feel about TeX.sx?


lockstep: It’s addictive, isn’t it?


Seriously, the stackexchange model has turned out to be very appropriate for questions/answers about (La)TeX – fast response times, less duplicates than in traditional forums, and a “reward” system that attracts expert users.

Paulo: How do you see another year for TeX.sx? Top voter, top editor, top tarock player?


lockstep: Top voter – likely; top editor – for sure; top tarock player – there are other Austrians at tex.sx, and who knows how good they are with respect to card gaming. 🙂

Paulo: You need to teach me. I only know how to play truco.


lockstep: With regard to tex.sx in general, I’m hoping to see more “consolidated” reference questions/answers.

One has to walk a fine line between being too specific and answering too many questions at once, but I still think that tex.sx would profit from “consolidated” Q/A’s.

Paulo: Ready for LaTeX3?


lockstep: Excited. I’m especially hoping for/looking forward to grid typesetting.

At the moment, there are partial solutions/workarounds, but several consecutive sectioning headings in larger-than-normal fontsize will destroy a grid almost for sure.

Paulo: What do you recommend for a newbie eager to learn TeX, LaTeX and friends?


lockstep: Read “LaTeX Beginner’s Guide” by Stefan Kottwitz – this book features a well-considered selection of what new users need/don’t need to know about LaTeX. If you speak German, also read “Wissenschaftliche Arbeiten schreiben mit LaTeX” by Joachim Schlosser.

BTW, Joachim Schlosser decided to include a chapter about


in the 4th edition of his book, and more focus on


is my “top request” for a 2nd edition of Stefan’s book.

Paulo: Thanks for your time! Tausend Dank!


lockstep: You’re welcome – gern geschehen!

Stay tuned for the next episode of TeXtalk!

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