This is a rant about technical problems with creating abstractmath.org. You will not get great new insights into mathematical language. You will not get any purty pictures, either. But if you read the following anyway and have suggestions, I would appreciate them no end.
I have long been frustrated with the process I used to create articles for abstractmath. The process has been this: I write the article in Word using MathType, then use their facility for generating an html file that uses pictures (stored in separate files) for the more complicated math expressions, then load them into the abstractmath website.
There are many good and bad things about this. Two of the most aggravating:
- It is difficult to change links if I reorganize something. With a TeX file I could write WinEdt macros to do it, but the Word macro language makes manipulating links (and doing many other things) a %#!!*.
- The documents look different in different browsers. IE Explorer 8 does the best job, Chrome looks uglier, and Firefox is the ugliest. After a document has been posted for a while, sometimes I open it to discover weird things, such as the recent discovery that some of my bullets had turned into copyright signs (Firefox turns bullets into double hyphens that are close to invisible).
For the past few weeks I have experimented with generating PDF documents using PDFLaTeX. I did this with the section called Functions: Notation and Terminology, the only one that is posted so far. Posting it required 45 minutes of fixing links in other articles by hand.
Creating that section in TeX was a pain. I used GrindEQ Math to convert the original document to TeX, which required a great deal of preprocessing (mostly to recover the links, but for some formatting things too) and postprocessing to fix many many things. I also had to recreate the sidebars by hand; I used wrapfig. Wrapfig does not work well.
In the process of converting this and some other files that I may post later, I created a bunch of macros in the Word macro language (horrible, although in principle I believe in OOP) and the WindEdt macro language, which is pretty good. Even with the macros, it is a lot of labor to do the conversion.
I have decided to abandon the effort. I may post a few more articles that I have already transferred to PDF, but I doubt I will revise any more from scratch.
One thing that has changed since I started doing the conversions was that a recent revision of MathType allows you to type the equations directly in TeX and to toggle back and forth between MathType form and TeX form. Before that you had to select symbols from a palette. That was the single most frustrating thing about using Word with MathType. I type fluently in TeX but I couldn’t use it. Now that I can type the TeX in directly the prospect of editing articles and writing new ones using Word is much less painful.
So one direction I will go in is to revise the articles already on the web using Word and MathType. I also expect to kill a good many of the incomplete or less well thought out ones in favor of links to Wikipedia.
But there is another direction, opened up by Mathematica’s Computable Document files. I have published some experiments with this in the last four posts here. I expect to be able to turn some of the articles in abstractmath.org into computable documents. The reader will have to have to have the free CDF Player on their computer, but if you download it once you have it forever.