TeXtalk: an interview with Jake

Welcome to the TeXtalk! We have a special guest for our second interview of the year: our friend Jürnjakob Dugge, also known as Jake, hi-rep user (32K+), 460+ answers so far, 178+ badges, and TikZ/PGF guru! It was a great interview!

Paulo Cereda: Could you tell us a bit about you?

Jake: I’m originally from Germany, but moved to Zurich four years ago to study Environmental Engineering. At the moment, I’m doing my Master’s, and I’m currently in Canberra, Australia to work on my thesis. If all goes to plan, I’ll graduate in July this year, and we’ll see what the future holds…

Paulo: Cool! Do you have any hobbies? :)

Jake: I do long-distance cycling (“Audax”) and rock-climbing, and I like going on hikes and camping. I’m quite lucky to be in Australia, there are excellent spots to do all of those things.

I also like looking at maps. But I don’t think that qualifies as a hobby.

Paulo: I think it does. :)

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

Jake: I first started using LaTeX in high school, for a fairly large report (by high school standards). I think I had to write about how you produce PVC, so I had to typeset some chemical diagrams. I’m not entirely sure who gave me the idea to look at LaTeX for that, but that’s the first time I used it. It worked out okay, although I did something wrong with inputenc (or fontenc or something), and after I’d handed the report in, I noticed that all my ß had been turned into SS, which looked pretty weird. I found the overall appearance still pretty impressive, though, and so I kept going. I was really thankful that I did: It made handing in maths assignments and reports at university so much easier to have a couple of years of experience already.

Paulo: How did you become aware of the TeX.sx community?

Jake: I had a concrete problem (Pgfplots: Assemble dates from different columns), and Google led me here. Even though there wasn’t an answer to my problem yet, the clean design and the low noise really quickly convinced me that this is a good site. :) I had always been reluctant to post on forums, because I often wasn’t sure how active they were and how likely I was going to be to get an answer. But that wasn’t the case with TeX.sx. I didn’t get the answer I was looking for to my first question until much later, when Christian Feuersänger, the developer of pgfplots, also started to become active on the site, but that didn’t stop me from embracing the site (and becoming somewhat addicted).

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

Jake: That’s exactly what I like about it so much. Everyone is so patient and helpful, and there’s an amazing amount of knowledge and experience here with all of the gurus. It’s a really great way to learn. And I have to say, even though I don’t participate much in the chat, I really enjoy reading the transcripts. It makes the site much more alive and personal.

Paulo: I 100% agree. :)

Jake: I’m really impressed with how well the community works. There are hardly any downvotes, which is great, and we usually manage to help new users to quickly improve their questions so everyone gets the most out of the site.

Paulo: You are one of the TikZ/PGF experts in TeX.sx, and the first user to earn the tikz-pgf gold badge! Very impressive! How did you become so acquainted with TikZ?

Jake: You could say “Everything I learnt about TikZ, I learnt through TeX.sx”. I had been using gnuplot to do all my plots from year 11 to the end of my Bachelor’s degree, then I briefly flirted with pyxplot, and then I found pgfplots. Then I needed to annotate a plot (the one I asked my first question about), and that’s when I started looking at TikZ. I was a bit intimidated by the huge manual, but just browsing through the {tikz-pgf} questions on TeX.sx with all the little examples and code snippets made it much easier to digest. And because I needed to annotate a lot of plots for my coursework, I had to learn quickly. :)

Paulo: Any plans for a package? Maybe TikZ/PGF related? :)

Jake: Oh, I’d love to. I’ve been meaning to help with the “From Answers to Packages” project for ages, I’d really like to turn the answer to How to create magnified subfigures and corresponding boxes for portions of a large image into a package. But I haven’t got round to it yet, and I feel like I still have to learn a lot before I can write a proper package. It’s one thing to whip something up that works for a couple of cases and answers someone’s question, but to make it work for the general case, and be user friendly and intuitive without giving up too much flexibility, that’s going to take quite a bit of planning.

Paulo: You are one of the top users here; 32k+ rep, 460+ answers so far. What’s your secret? :)

egreg: It’s a very impressive votes per answer average.

Jake: Put screenshots in your answers. I find it really helpful to see what the output of some piece of code is going to (or is supposed to) look like, even if it’s not TikZ related, and I think people are quite trigger-happy with the upvote button if there’s something pretty to look at. :)

Paulo: Ready for the new gems like LaTeX3? :)

Jake: I’m not really up to date with LaTeX3 (isn’t it still some years away?). I do like the look of Lua, though, I think that’s really going to make a lot of things a lot easier. Yet another thing I should spend some time reading about and trying out. And, incidentally, yet another thing that TeX.sx turns out to be quite useful for: I don’t think I would have heard about it without this site, and again the little examples (like Azoun’s in How do I create an algorithmic Tikz code to obtain a list of numbers which is conditionaly defined by a recurence relation?) make it a lot easier to get started.

Paulo: Indeed! :)

Do you have a “favorite” answer of yours?

Jake: I really like how well the approach to Add page and line numbers to a PDF (using ImageMagick to find out where the text lines are in a PDF, and then adding the line numbers to the PDF using TikZ) works, that was a fun challenge.

And I find that the answer to Draw a bivariate normal distribution in TikZ just looks really nice.

Paulo: Do you use pstricks too?

Jake: I tried just the other day, to see if I could produce a 3D plot. I really struggled though, I’m just not used to the syntax. I was surprised to see how different it is from TikZ. There are a lot of interesting things in pstricks that I’m sure make a lot of TikZ users a bit jealous (the 3D capability, for one, and I’m quite impressed by the pst-geo bundle, seen here in action). But I don’t really see myself migrating. I’d rather help TikZ catch up.

Alan Munn: I’m assuming that you use TikZ and PGF plots a lot for your research. Have you looked into using R for plotting?

Jake: Yeah, I use R a lot to analyse data. It’s an excellent tool for that, you can really dive into complex datasets quite easily using the very impressive plotting capabilities. During the actual analysis, I stick with the R plots, for the final version that goes into a paper or presentation, I usually export the relevant data to a CSV and create the plot in pgfplots so it integrates nicely with the rest of the document.

Alan: I’m always impressed with the elegance of your solutions. Do you have a sense of how/where you developed that?

Jake: Thank you, that’s very flattering. I don’t really know how to answer that, though, I haven’t noticed my answers being especially elegant.

Alan: Well perhaps I can clarify a bit. In TiKZ and in LaTeX generally, there are often many ways to implement the same thing. I’ve noticed that your solutions often seem to pick the way that is either clearest or simplest. Not everyone has this ability or even gets the aesthetic of it, I think. You do.

Jake: I think that’s mainly because the TikZ syntax and philosophy appeal to me, so I generally assume that there must be a “proper, nice” way of solving a given TikZ problem, and that’s what I try to go for in my answers. That said, in my own documents that actually need to get done, I’m far more pragmatic and happy to use a couple of xshift commands instead of figuring out the right order of constructing an image, for instance.

Paulo: What do you recommend for a newbie eager to learn TikZ/PGF? And also TeX, LaTeX and friends in general? :)

Jake: For TikZ/PGF: If you have the time, go through the tutorials in the manual. If you need to get something done quickly, find an example on TeXample.net, and adjust it to your needs. You should still look at the tutorials in the manual at some point though, because they teach you the “right” way to do things in TikZ. Just like with LaTeX, it’s easy to get into bad habits.

For LaTeX: Don’t start learning LaTeX when you need to submit something in a week. Use Word for that one, and then start experimenting with LaTeX.

Paulo: Thanks a lot for your time! :)

Jake: No problem. Thanks for doing all these interviews, Paulo!

Paulo: My pleasure. :) Thanks again for such a great interview!

Stay tuned for the next episode of TeXtalk!

4 thoughts

  1. Great interview! Nice to learn about Jake the Guru! I had always imagined him having an Australian accent, but now I know the truth 🙂

  2. I enjoyed and leanred reading very good interview. My (La)TeX knowledge is pretty basic. But since joining this forum, I’m picking some very useful nuggets from you helpful bunch. I hope Jake wouldn’t mind if I ask question on pfg/tikz in future! Thank you everyone here and at texcommunity for your help. I think I’m going to stick around this forum for a long time. 🙂

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