[texhax] learning tex vs latex

Philip TAYLOR P.Taylor at Rhul.Ac.Uk
Wed Oct 28 18:09:28 CET 2009

Susan Dittmar wrote:

> But I do not know much of my car and drive it nonetheless. [...]
> I just think that you do not *need* to understand  all the details
> if you just need to use the machine.

Well, at the risk of getting slightly off-topic, I fear that
here we must differ.  Whilst I accept that it is not essential
to know exactly how every last component in your car (or mine)
was constructed, and exactly how it functions, if you (or I)
do not understand the torque characteristics of our engine,
or understand why there is both a lower bound and an upper bound
on the rotational speed of the engine, and why there are
different values for these depending on engine loading, if we
do not understand under-steer and over-steer, and why one tries
to accelerate out of corners, then can we ever really drive
/properly/, with all the concomitant benefits that proper
driving brings (extended engine life, extended drive-train
life, extended tyre life, decreased running costs, increased
safety, and so on) ?

I think the same holds true for TeX : yes, (almost) anyone
can use LaTeX, but to use LaTeX /properly/, and to get maximum
benefit from it, one does need to know what is taking place
inside (that is, in the underlying TeX typesetting engine).
No, it won't last any longer, and in general a crash won't
be fatal, but if you /do/ know what's taking place inside,
you stand a better chance of being able to do at least a
little of your own maintenance and tuning, when things aren't
behaving quite as you might wish.

Philip Taylor

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