TeXtalk: an interview with Leo Liu

Welcome to the TeXtalk! We have a special guest for today’s interview: our friend Leo Liu, 33k+ rep, 217+ badges, 467+ answers, author of the `<a href="http://ctan.org/pkg/zhmcjk">zhmCJK</a>` package, and a very active member in our community. Get ready for this awesome interview!

Paulo Cereda
Dear friends, welcome to the TeXtalk! Our interviewee today is Leo Liu!

Could you tell us a bit about yourself? `:)`

Leo Liu
My name is, in Chinese, 刘海洋. But I think most western people would rather use Liú Hǎiyáng. I use “Leo” just because of the same pronunciation as my family name “Liu”, so that no one would make a mistake. `:)`

I’m a gradutae student at school now. At first I study Mathematics, but now work on Computer Science.

Paulo
How nice! Any hobbies? `:)`
Leo
I like travelling, hiking in the holidays. I like badminton and swimming as well.
egreg
Where are you living?
Leo
I’m in Beijing, China. But I think it’s not very suitable for living now, the big city.
Paulo
How was your first contact with TeX, LaTeX and friends? `:)`
Leo
It was about late 2006. I was taking a course on mathematical model. Our teacher introduce TeX — just the name τεχ — to us. I knew nothing about it before, but after that I read a book and started.

At first I wrote nothing in TeX, because I even not had installed a TeX distribution on my computer. I just read the book. That’s a little weird.

egreg
It happened also to me: I had The TeXbook and The Joy of TeX on the desk, but no TeX on the machine for some months. `:(`
Leo
Yes. I think it might be useful for novice. Without a computer, one have to think about (La)TeX before doing. It may help beginners to avoid some silly mistakes.

I mean, TeX is indeed difficult to learn at first.

Paulo
Awesome! Can we ask which book helped you in the beginning? `:)`
Leo
Ah, that’s a book in Chinese, named A”（LaTeX2e 科技排版指南）, I think. But later I knew that some meterials [in] the book are based on Kopka’s Guide to LaTeX.
Paulo
CTAN lists some of your packages. Could you tell us about your first package? `:)`
Leo
I wrote only two packages my self: `zhmCJK` and `diagbox`. But before that, I joined the `ctex-kit` project and wrote TeX code for `ctex`, `xeCJK`, `zhmetrics` packages.

For my `diagbox` package, it is just an alternative of old `slashbox`, with more modern syntax and it uses much more math to make things automatic.

Paulo
Cool! `:)`
egreg
Is it difficult to use Chinese in LaTeX? I know no Chinese, I admit. The situation seems to have evolved since 2006. `;-)`
Paulo
`zh­mCJK` 🙂
Leo
It used to be VERY difficult to use Chinese in LaTeX. But it’s rather easy these years. I’ll talk about it.

Typesettings CJK scripts was a big problem years before. In the 1980s, there’re some preprocessor for Chinese TeX (CCT, TianYuan, etc.), these systems are not used these days. Later we have Lemberg’s `CJK` package. `CJK` package is not perfect, it solved the problem of fonts selecting, but many other problems remained. That’s what `CJKpunct` (by Sun), `ctex` package do.

These years, XeTeX appeared. Then we have `zhspacing` and `xeCJK` for Chinese typesetting, they make things easier.

My `zhmCJK` is a kind of retrogression. It uses older `CJK` package but appeared after XeTeX. But I still like it. It enables people to use `CJK` scripts in pdfTeX, but with a convinient syntax like `xeCJK`. I think it’s cool. Frankly speaking, however, I think it is not very useful since XeTeX is a better choice.

For LuaTeX, `luatexja` is fine for Chinese, as well as Japanese. A Chinese developer (Ma Qiyuan) is working in the `luatexja` project.

egreg
You can use Chinese characters directly. Was it difficult to switch to LaTeX3? For whom doesn’t know: Leo Liu is one of the maintainers of `xeCJK`.
Leo
I think there’s nothing diffulct to swith to LaTeX3. `xeCJK` is now totally written in `expl3` syntax. Of course the package is written for NFSS2e, but we are ready for LaTeX3.

Typesetting `CJK` scripts for serious books are more complex than what `CJK`, `xeCJK` packages do. Not all TeX developers in China, Japan and Korea send there packages to CTAN. And these systems are quite different. For example, `pTeX` in Japan, and our `ctex`. I hope things will be better in the future.

David Carlisle
is there still a need for `CJK` support for (pdf)TeX or has anyone needing these scripts moved on to XeTeX and LuaTeX to get Unicode support?
Leo
A package is still necessary. XeTeX and LuaTeX solve the problem of font selecting. But we need packages for proper line breaking and kerning, etc.
David
Yes I’m sure that is true. `:-)`

I was going to ask, but I think your comment above also relates to this, how much LaTeX support there is for Chinese typographic tradition, apart from technical details of fonts and encodings it would be a shame if everything came out looking like `article` class documents, apart from the characters used.

Leo
`CCT` is the most popular Chinese TeX system before. There’re still quite a lot of books typesetting with `CCT` and its packages. For Chinese, some local document classes are provided by `CCT` and `ctex` bundle. But not that complex like `memoir`.
texenthusiast
Hi, are you a member of any Local TeX groups in China and do you participate in any local TeX support activities in your neighbourhood or online forums?
Leo
Yes. I am one of the webmasters of several Chinese forums. `bbs.ctex.org`, `bbs.chinatex.org`, a TeX board of `newsmth.org` etc.
texenthusiast
Nice to hear that. How do you manage your studies and different roles?
Leo
I do not always have time for TeX developing and forums, but I do I spent much of my spare time for TeX.
Paulo
How did you become aware of the TeX.sx community? `:)`
Leo
I’ve no idea. I think I heard TeX.sx in some forum, from my friend Jiang Jiang or Wang Yue. And soon I add this site to my favorite folder.
Paulo
Yay! `:)`

Any plans for a new package? `:)`

Leo
No, not yet. I was working hard for my new book on LaTeX (in Chinese) for two years. I think it would be puslished next month. After that I’ll think about my packges.
texenthusiast
Congratulations for your book. `:)`
Leo
Thank you.
texenthusiast
How was your experience to make others(friends) get interested in LaTeX typesetting?
Leo
I usually fail to make others love LaTeX. Most of my friends use LaTeX for writing math/CS papers, but they really don’t like it.
texenthusiast
Are you planning to visit Japan at TUG 2013, any TUGboat articles?
Leo
No plan for that, by now.
Paulo
Do you have a favorite answer of yours in this site?
Leo
texenthusiast
i see you have translated asymptote manual , do you use it often for your work?
Leo
Besides part of the translated manual, I also wrote a tutorial on Asymptote. I use TikZ often (like other peoples, maybe). However, TikZ is limited for some pictures, then I use Asymptote for more mathematics and more programming.
Paulo
Can you name something you really like in LaTeX? And is there something you dislike?
Leo
I really like LaTeX for the high quality and full control of the document. I don’t like the old TeX macro programming scheme (who likes it?), and I don’t like some limitations of LaTeX, e.g. the problem in my question.
egreg
What? Masterpieces like `\begingroup\catcode`P=12 \catcode`T=12 \lowercase{\def\x{\def\rem@pt##1.##2PT{##1\ifnum##2&gt;\z@.##2\fi}}}\expandafter\en‌dgroup\x` are not to be forgotten!
Leo
And some thing like `\begingroup\lccode`\~=\`" \lowercase{\endgroup\def~#1~{...}}`. I think I know too much I need to cope with TeX. `:)`
Paulo
Ready for LaTeX3? The available interfaces are pretty neat. `:)`
Leo
Yes, LaTeX3 is much better, but via plenty of ugly and slow TeX tricks. TeX is really old, maybe too old for modern typesetting industry and new programmers. I don’t think LaTeX3 is the ideal solution, nor LuaTeX. But without that, it is not the TeX we know.
texenthusiast
What is your default engine and choice of TeX editor? BTW I like your answers, very nice and lucid.
Leo
I always use XeTeX since TeX Live 2008. I am the maintainer of xeCJK, you know. I use TeXworks for short documents and VIM-latex for large ones.
texenthusiast
Leo
I do like this site. For newbies in TeX.sx, just ask and answer and learn.
Paulo
What do you recommend for a newbie eager to learn TeX, LaTeX and friends? `:)`
Leo
For newbies: TeX/LaTeX is not as easy as a word processor. Be careful and learn it seriously.
texenthusiast
any plans for studies on western hemisphere like Ph.D etc?
Leo
I think I’ll get my PhD degree in China in years.
Karl’s students
Leo
I have to. Seriously `:)`
Karl’s students
How long did it take for you to grasp the TeX before start writing your first package?
Leo
texenthusiast
Does mathematics, CS background help to learn TeX macro programming well?
Leo
yes, I think math and CS backgounds helps. But TeX’s macro is so different that any background won’t matter much.
Karl’s students
Do you have any comment and suggestion to improve The TeXBook?
Leo
I don’t know much plain and low-level TeX. TeXbook is a good book for serious TeX learners. But a typical LaTeX user don’t need the book.
Karl’s students
Do you offer TeX consultation commercially?
Leo
Occasionally, only a few times.

If there’s no further questions, I think it’s time to say goodbye. And thank you all.

Paulo
Thank you very much for this awesome interview! `:)`
egreg
Thanks for the interesting conversation!
texenthusiast
Thanks a ton for your interest and patience. It’s nice chat.

Stay tuned for the next episode of the TeXtalk!

4 thoughts

1. Well great to know active and younger member on this community, I am new here but feeling good now that in future I will meet some extra ordinary peoples.

2. Steve says:

I think it is interesting that many of you (and myself as well) of having read about TeX/LaTeX but not installed/used this. Perhaps it would be good to promote online platforms like sharelatex.com to make it easier for people to get in touch without having to download and install the entire system.