Document Typesetting Fantasy

“This is TeXnical support. How may I be of assistance?”

“Yes, I’m trying to typeset the conference book for an upcoming conference — you know, the thing we give everybody which has the abstracts of all the presentations, and so forth — and LaTeX isn’t working.”

“What seems to be the problem, sir?”

“Well, the alphabetical list of speakers, the index at the very end, isn’t displaying.”

“It doesn’t appear in the DVI output?”

“That’s right.”

“This is an alphabetical list of speakers which tells where in the conference book their abstracts will be found?”

“Yes, each abstract is given a number with the \label command, and the list refers to them with the \pageref command. The LaTeX source is actually the output of a Perl script which reads the conference data from a MySQL database, so all of this is automatically generated.”

“Well, sir, one possibility is that the \pageref command is broken. Have you tried redefining it with a \renewcommand at the top of your document?”

“Let’s see. \renewcommand{\pageref}[1]{#1} — just for the fun of it. . . Aha! Now the list appears, with the page numbers wrong, of course.”

“Do you use the \pagenumbering command in your document, sir?”

“Um, let me check. Yes, there’s a line just after the \begin{document} which says \pagenumbering.

“Is that all which that line says, sir? The \pagenumbering command expects an argument.”

“D’oh!”

“Yes, \pagenumbering expects an argument which is one of the values arabic, roman, Roman (that’s with a capital R), alph or Alph (with a capital A).”

“Let me specify Arabic numerals and run this document through one more time. . . Hooray! It works! Thank you, mythical TeX Support line!

3 thoughts on “Document Typesetting Fantasy”

1. It’s like zephyr, only, muuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuch more polite.

2. I spent more time than I’d like to admit this afternoon figuring out why LaTeX was expecting \endcsname commands and generally barfing out error messages from the inscrutable bowels of TeX; once I got it, I figured the Internet should know, too.

3. Randall says:

At work, every so often we have to print up the names and comments of a few hundred thousand people who signed an online petition, grouped by state or Congressional district. Guess what we use to do it? Yup: LaTeX.

The details could get boring pretty quickly, and I think I even told you about this before, so suffice to say that: 1) TeX can typeset 20K+-page documents, no problem — I vaguely recall you might have to increase one of the built-in stack sizes but that’s it. 2) One of the craziest TeX-y projects was to break a petition into thousands of little PDF packets that people could print out and individually take to local Senate offices. 3) The LaTeX-generating Perl script has the distinction of having once crashed because I forgot about American Samoa (dangit!).

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