# A risk when using tex.sx.com

Today, this is exactly one year, when I firstly met this tex.sx.com. I found out that this is very interesting phenomenon from (web)-technical, TeXnical, social and psychological points of view. There are many very nice questions and answers here. Moreover, a group of very hyperactive users is here and I should ask them:

Do your activities at TeX.SE steal too much time from your real life?
Do you feel that you are absorbed by this site and your normal activities are faded?
Do you spend too much time in front of your computer monitor with TeX.SE open?

I personally must answer: "I do" for all these questions. So, I decided today: to stop with my activities here. This is my last post (except short comments, maybe). Compare, that I was not such hyperactive as other users. I selected only interesting questions where the beauty of TeX and of ideas can be shown. I didn't deal with questions where questioners are drown in the useless LaTeX complexity nor very simple questions with straightforward answers: "read the manual" or "read the log file carefully" or "your misunderstanding is due to the different TeX and LaTeX terminology" or, finally "do it yourself, this site isn't a code generator". Such type of questions are about 90 percent here.

It would be better for me to stop my activities here because (for example) I really don't want to dispute with @egreg (one of hyperactive users) again and again. I hope I leaved the clear trace in my answers here with the messages:

• There is not only LaTeX, don't forget the existence of TeX.
• The solution using straightforward TeX tools are more elegant and more simple and compact (but this was rarely understood and upvoted because users don't know TeX, unfortunately).
• It will surely pay to know TeX language firstly. The higher level languages have a potential dangerous bend: they hide the TeX from your thinking and TeX will repay you (for example) with the messages of the type "missing \endcsname inserted" which you cannot understand if you avoid basic TeX principles.
• More and more complicated higher level layers do problem less and less traceable (using \tracingall, for example).
• LaTeX was born as a template only (modular template: article, book, report) for users-authors. It was supposed that a TeX-specialist is ready to help users-authors during filling the template. But if an user-author needs to do more (to program the document, to control the design) he/she must to understand the TeX language first. LaTeX level only is not good choice for this.
• Very bad practice is the blending of layers (mixing \newcommand with \def for example). The user is lost in the Babylon of languages. But the first language in the TeX word is only one: language of TeX primitives.
• The answer explaining how TeX works is more valuable than the answer of the type "use this package and don't think how this is done".

Good \bye, tex.sx.com. If somebody needs to contact me, please use my email, no this forum.

Edit: My decision to leave this site is not due to my opinion discrepancy with LaTeX masses here but simply it is my personal failure: I feel that the concept of this site drags me into a "sx.com addiction" and I want to break this. This is the reason of my questions in this post. IMHO the sx.com concept can be very interesting subject for psychologists.

• Although I was sometimes 'annoyed' about your rants against the LaTeXensions to TeX, I appreciate your knowledge on TeX very much. Please do not leave the community. If you think you need a break -- that's quite healthy (I did recently too...) – user31729 May 15 '15 at 10:23
• You've been very helpful to the community. Certainly you've helped me improve my knowledge of TeX quite a bit. I hope you do not leave the community; wish you well whatever you decide to do. BTW, I find your OPmac macros very nice :) – Guido Jorg May 15 '15 at 11:56
• Sorry, but I agree with none of your arguments in the list, but I'd be very sorry if you really leave TeX.SX. – egreg May 16 '15 at 10:43
• @egreg You surely don't disagree with the first one There is not only LaTeX, don't forget the existence of TeX. :) – Manuel May 16 '15 at 13:20
• @Manuel Yes, of course; I didn't consider it in the list of complaints. – egreg May 16 '15 at 13:49
• @doed There are {plain-tex} or {tex-base} or {context} tags here, so non-LaTeX users can use those. IMHO the ratio of such type of questions to others isn't comparable with the ratio of non-LaTeX to LaTeX users. Because non-LaTeX users know TeX, they needn't to formulate the questions of type: what does mean "undefined control sequence". And they are not drown in useless complexity. – wipet May 17 '15 at 19:01
• Dear fellow plain-tex user, please don't leave just because another user has a patronizing style of writing. – morbusg May 18 '15 at 16:22
• As much as I love expl3, I do still have a strong appreciation for raw TeX if only in its uniqueness as a language (languages and language design are something of a hobby of mine). TeX is and will always be TeX and without TeXperts such as yourself, there could be no real progress. Leave the site if you feel it is the right thing to do, but I urge you to keep teaching on what you believe in. Ultimately, that's all that matters. – Sean Allred May 18 '15 at 17:46
• @egreg I am looking forward to you answer to my questions, (but not to polemize with my messages, of course). – wipet May 19 '15 at 19:46
• Just my thoughts: If it's taking more of your time, may be i would suggest to subscribe to Newsletter, Favorite Tags and if you want Emails(Email me my unread inbox messages) using Edit Profile & Settings --> Preferences of your UserProfile page. As 'schremmer' has already pointed out below by : "when somebody competent leaves, everybody loses". This includes the vast number of users and audience(mostly who come here by google searches) who benefit from your tools,software, ideas,clarifications, the valuable feedback from them. Thank you for your contribution here. – texenthusiast May 20 '15 at 21:44
• @wipet I always mistrust in people thinking they have the truth in their pocket (as we say in Italy). You seem like that. Your questions and the reference to me are clearly telling that you believe that I should answer yes to them: well, it's none of your business. – egreg May 20 '15 at 22:44
• @egreg I mistrust too. You seem like that. And you put something into my mouth what I never said (as we say in Czech). – wipet May 21 '15 at 5:45
• I don't want to be mean, but this thread reminds me of this CollegeHumor video. – Sverre May 26 '15 at 15:35
• I'm voting to close this question as off-topic because the user is back on the main site. Also, there's probably very little value of additional answers to this post. – Werner Sep 6 '15 at 19:49
• I'm voting to close this question as off-topic because the user is back on the main site. Also, there's probably very little value of additional answers to this post. – Werner Nov 11 '15 at 18:13

As someone who was very active for a while (and at one point even tried to keep up with David Carlisle's rep) and then weaned my self off TeX.SE, I can relate a bit to how you feel and thought I should contribute to this thread.

Do your activities at TeX.SE steal too much time from your real life?

I never felt it stole any of my time. Yes, it took up quite a bit of time (at still does sometimes), but it was (and still is) a lot of fun for me. I learned a lot, and by participating here I learned the hacking that I needed to start my project. I have received so much help here and for that I am so grateful. I think you even answered a few of my questions. Even though I probably did not use your plain TeX answers (more on that later), I am pretty sure I tested it and upvoted it.

Do you feel that you are absorbed by this site and your normal activities are faded?

Absorbed? Yes? But then, the activities here are part of my normal activities so I don't see a problem with that.

Do you spend too much time in front of your computer monitor with TeX.SE open?

Yes. But, it isn't too difficult to step away for a while and come back when I need to look something up, need a break from my work, or need to procrastinate as I have to do stuff that I don't enjoy.

The solution using straightforward TeX tools are more elegant and more simple and compact (but this was rarely understood and upvoted because users don't know TeX, unfortunately).

On this point, I have admit I am guilty. Many of the plain TeX and expl3 solutions are just beyond me (not to mention expansion issues). I don't understand fully how they work and prefer to not to use them, even if they are more elegant and more efficient. The reason being is that if I don't understand it, it will be difficult for me to modify it, should I need to later at some point. Now, partly because of this, I am suffering form a very lengthy time to do a complete build. I really do wish I could better understand plain TeX and had the time to rewrite all my base code, but unfortunately that never really happens. I am slowly tweaking things and improving compile times when I can, but also do need to keep my project moving forward.

The answer explaining how TeX works is more valuable than the answer of the type "use this package and don't think how this is done".

Totally agree. I spend quite a bit of time reading and rereading those answers, especially when I get stuck. But, at the end of the day, if a package does the job for me I'd prefer to use it as it is less work for me. If the package comes around much after I already have my solution working then I'll just leave my code as is until I run into a problem.

One things that I would like to add is that to keep in mind that not everyone on this site is here for the same purpose. There are other uses for TeX/LaTeX other than just publishing a paper or writing a thesis. I try very hard to make my questions generic, but sometimes it is difficult and they come across as bizarre. Two examples I can think of are How to ignore everything in the document environment? and Remove page number from index entries. All my questions have been actual problems that I needed to solve and really don't know how I would have been able to solve them without help from people like you. I am sure that there probably are many other people you have helped that you are not aware of. If others disagree with you, I think that's ok as they are looking at it from a different point of view. That shouldn't be taken as a negative thing.

In closing, if you need a break, take a break. If you find that at some point you are not having fun here, spend less time here. If you feel like contributing then do so. If not, we'll just have one less person here who actually knows TeX and that is a loss for the community, but you should do what is right for you.

• Great answer, Peter! – Paulo Cereda May 18 '15 at 10:03

I'll paraphrase the questions in a somewhat modified form:

Do your activities at TeX.SE steal too much time from your real life?
Do you feel that you are absorbed by this site and your normal activities are faded?
Do you spend too much time in front of your computer monitor with TeX.SE open?

My answer to all three of these questions is a resounding "Maybe...?" It's because I have other things to do and sometimes need a break. So, I disappear for a while, perhaps performing more janitorial and administrative stuff on the main and meta site rather than answer questions. While the site is driven by a Q&A style interface, it still requires some housekeeping...

I joined this because I had a question, and it was also my first Tumbleweed... What I learned over the years is that you should consider this community just like you would those that you regularly hang out with at the bar or restaurant. They're very similar in many ways. Some you see all the time, while others come and go.

Ultimately you're dealing with people here, and people have emotions and feelings and the Internet. If you don't like it here, take a break. If you enjoy it, stay a while. If you love it, participate and chat. If you hate it, go and do good somewhere else. We don't expect a heartfelt thank you or departure with every user, just that you contribute to or learn from the body of knowledge that exists here.

You've been around for exactly one year. The site has been around for about 4 years, and many things have changed over this period. You're still very new in terms of the site's existence, in my opinion. If, for whatever reason, your \bye turns into a new \beginning some time down the road, brush off the dust, accept that you're part of a community (again) and move on. The intent here is to be scientific in nature (mostly unbiased) and factual. If that's not the case, the diamonds in the rough can be notified to sort things out.

• Thanks for your answer. Unfortunately my questions were answered very shortly: "Maybe.". Then only principles of this forum was mentioned. But your comparison with people at the bar or restaurant is very good:). I am looking forward to @egreg answer too. – wipet May 17 '15 at 16:40

Hi, Petr. I am Paulo. You probably saw a wacky duck avatar hanging out in the site, that's me. I will try to answer your questions the best I can.

Do your activities at TeX.SE steal too much time from your real life?

I wish I had a real life. :) Seriously though, I wouldn't say TeX.sx steals much of my time because it became part of my real life. Granted, we express ourselves in here through a virtual representation, but IMHO it doesn't make less real than making eye contact with other people; there is someone sit in front of a computer, somewhere in the world, expressing him/herself.

I have two jobs and study. At the end of the day, I'm tired and sometimes frustrated; life sometimes gives us lemons and, despite the fact we should make lemonade (and not make life take the lemons back, as Cave Johnson suggests us), it is still sour nonetheless; places where I can vent, talk nonsense, be myself, laugh, have fun, are the missing sugar to make this proverbial lemonade taste somehow better.

TeX.sx is my sugar. I hang out here because it plays an important role in my life. Of course I have my other sources of sugar and sweeteners, but this one is particularly at the distance of my click.

I remember when I first joined. TeX.sx was different from start, and I decided to hang out in the chatroom for a while. I am usually very talkative, I like to be friendly, I like to make new friends; all of a sudden, there was I spamming the chatroom with random sentences, as we say in Portuguese, to break the ice (messages along the lines of "Oh, it's cold here!" and "I like ice cream." and "Do you guys enjoy soccer?"). And the community was there for me. I know, for example, that Joseph Wright and Christian Hupfer are Monty Python fans, egreg doesn't like Chopin, percusse is a very skillful drummer, and David Carlisle is a heavy vim user in disguise. This information is surely not related in any way to TeX and friends, but it make us feel welcomed. That's why I wouldn't say TeX.sx steals time from me, it deservedly earned this time. :) They are not TeX users for me, they are my friends. And surely you are one of them too.

Do you feel that you are absorbed by this site and your normal activities are faded?

To be completely honest, I don't feel I'm that absorbed, mostly because I am not good with TeX at all neither with janitorial work. :) So, besides of being a chatroom regular, there isn't too much for me to proactively contribute to the main site, apart from voting and eventually flagging something that deserves moderation attention.

By the way, I even miss questions that are tagged with ! I believe I somehow have the moral obligation of at least posting comments to them, since I am the author of such contraption and the one to blame in case of fire. :) This silly example probably illustrates how much of an abstracted person I am. What I do on a daily basis, almost religiously, is to use all my 40 votes; I think I am the top voter of the entire StackExchange universe for a reason. I have two downvotes so far, so I think I am more inclined to provide positive feedback and be supportive. Again, it's probably my nature, I like being friendly. Internet is already a heinous place, full of hate and aggressiveness, so I'm trying my best to encourage the good in people.

Do you spend too much time in front of your computer monitor with TeX.SE open?

My browser is opened almost all the time I am using the computer, and of the default tabs point to the TeX.sx chatroom. Once in a while, I take a look at the main site, and that is it. Sometimes, someone in the chatroom mentions a main/meta site activity, so I go there and take some action, if needed.

I will surely miss you. I wish someday I could understand the bowels of TeX as much as you do; your answers are fantastic (my research currently involves macroinstructions and I learned a lot from your code), and I really want to thank you for your invaluable contribution to this site and TeX in general.

I don't want your message to sound like a goodbye. How about see you soon? At least, consider the possibility of hanging out a little in the chatroom, it would be great for us to say hi to you once in a while.

Thank you, pal.

• Very nice answer, thanks. – wipet May 19 '15 at 19:36
• "and of the default tabs point to the TeX.sx chatroom". Should probably be "and one of the default tabs...". – Faheem Mitha Jul 21 '15 at 16:42

Don't your activities at tex.sx.com steal too much time from your real life? Don't you feel that you are absorbed by this site and your normal activities are faded? Don't you sit before the computer monitor with tex.sx.com too much time?

I am trending in the direction of becoming more active. Nowhere near the most active users in terms of answers or questions, who usually help me rather than I being able to help them. But I am more active however than the average user, apparently. So perhaps my answer is worth something.

I use the site in three ways:

1. Randomly browsing periodically (as when I check the news) to improve my TeX usage. I hope to learn more elegant or productive ways to do whatever typsetting I'm already doing. For I am not an expert at it. Yes, I have taught TeX to grad students. But that's not because I'm any expert. Rather, whenever nobody else could be found to lecture on it...

2. Writing a paper with notation or figures easy to produce by hand but not so easy to typeset. Typesetting the handwritten article, to submit for publication, I tend to post a question. Maybe I'm making a presentation. Well, high chance there's another question in there. Also having to do with figures. I started out with questions about complicated commutative diagrams.

3. I also answer questions, partly to clarify my own thoughts.

This doesn't cost too much of my time, I think. Measuring the results in terms of whether it ultimately saves me time when it comes to notes or publications.

The whole Stackexchange concept is an evil genius. <-Period.

Getting reputation, getting badges, getting access to more tools for contributing ... This is online gaming addiction, the knowlege edition. Stepping back every once in a while seems to be a good idea. Having a fanatic badge, not so much.

To level up, you need a strategy, as noted on some help page here. Having a strategy means a need for efficiency and this is where the system tumbles over. A call for facts and clarification, where a slow approach would be more suitable for the user. The system does not allow the slow approach. I somehow feel like answering a completely different question. Somehow, this is not even an answer, but a pretty long comment.

I'd like to see you around every once in a while, if you decide otherwise i wish you all the best. :-)

• Exactly! I fully agree. – wipet May 21 '15 at 15:38
1. Tex.sx.com is where I come when I get stuck---which is often---but I have asked only very few questions and I have never proposed an answer. (And this is my first, accidental, time on META.)
2. I once bought a book on TeX which, unfortunately I still have to study but the little I read convinced me that Wipet is right: Truly to understand LaTeX, you need first to understand TeX. (But it is so easy "just" to LaTeX it!)
3. All of this to say that I would urge both those who might have been a bit unfriendly and wipet to be a bit more ... indifferent because, when somebody competent leaves, everybody loses. Obviously those who, like me, survive by scavenging existing answers, but also those who, directly or indirectly, caused someone to leave, and even the one who left. (I have been there and I know.)
• If you read a book on C/C++ you need to read an book on assembly language first to understand C/C++? ;-) – user31729 May 20 '15 at 11:54
• @ChristianHupfer Needs a C programmer to read Assembler error messages? Needs he to mix C code with assembler code? Needs he trace his program in assembler? No, the new abstraction level is possible to do over assembler. But TeX was not designed for doing new abstraction levels. I regret that LaTeX users are repeatedly confused because they have not knowledge about TeX but TeX messages and TeX constructions, TeX tracings of problem etc are everywhere. – wipet May 20 '15 at 18:51
• @wipet: There are some cases, when a higher level programming languages allows for inline assembly code (depending on the compiler too)... So mixing is possible and sometimes necessary. – user31729 May 21 '15 at 4:18
• @ChristianHupfer I know about this rare situations, but LaTeX x TeX mixing is common. You can put assembler code to the library and create a new abstraction level as API for this library. The tracing routines can skip tracing the commands inside the library, the name conflict in program with internal name used in the library is impossible, etc. So, the new abstraction level over assembler and over C libraries is possible. But it is impossible in TeX interpreter macro language. Don't compare incomparable, please. – wipet May 21 '15 at 6:03
• @wipet: I just realize that's almost impossible to convince you that there is more way than using pure TeX. You take grip about tracing issues etc. and are not willing to loose this grip again. This is irrelevant for most users of LaTeX, since they don't develop packages. My example was just irony: It's not necessary to know the deep internals of TeX to use LaTeX. But since you essentially forbide the usage of LaTeX, it's of course necessary to know TeX – user31729 May 21 '15 at 6:56
• Wouldn't it be more whatever to agree to disagree and leave it at that? – schremmer May 21 '15 at 13:05
• @wipet I see the advantage to your Plain TeX evangelism in some (many) cases. However, I'm sorry, but I can't agree with your statement, "But TeX was not designed for doing new abstraction levels." It was actually designed for this, as discussed by Knuth himself on pages 9–11 of The TeXbook. You may or may not agree with the design of LaTeX as an abstraction of TeX, and that's fine, but to say TeX was not intended to be used in this way is another matter entirely. – Paul Gessler May 21 '15 at 13:54
• @PaulGessler: My full agreement with your statement. TeX is marvellous and I wished I had the insight and knowledge of Plain TeX users, but I keep the slogan to like all approaches on (La)TeX for typesetting documents. – user31729 May 21 '15 at 18:18
• @PaulGessler Knuth's words from page 11: The best way to learn is probably to start with plain TeX and to change its definitions, little by little, as you gain more experience. This doesn't mean: start with learning a complete different language. But many users do start with different language and then they are confused. Of course, you can define a macro \TeX (for example) and then forget this definition and simply use it (as mentioned at pages 9-11). But you cannot forget features of TeX primitives when you are seriously using TeX. – wipet May 29 '15 at 9:26