Powerpoint monkey

I doubt this announcement will be of much use to anyone, but I’ve uploaded most of my latex presentations to my github repo (those for which I found the source code, anyway).

At least it’s a great way to see crappy latex code which probably hasn’t compiled in newer versions of latex for at least a couple of years.


Open Office, master documents and headless

I have been writing some documentation lately (crazy, I know) and needed due to some bizarre business requirements all the documentation for the application was supposed to be in a single .doc file. That’s write, a single file for user manual, technical manual, administration manual and so on. And I had no LaTeX either (damn those MS Office files, I hate them) so using multiple tex files and including them together wasn’t an option.

Choosing the least of all evils, I decided to use Open Office and master documents. With them you can create several different .doc files and then join them together in a single .odm file, which can then be exported to pdf (or .doc, if your boss says so). It’s a nice feature, but for such a simple thing as having multiple documents #included in a single one you would expect it to work better. From OO manual:

Yes, master documents do work in OOoWriter. However, their use is full of traps for inexperienced users[…]

Oh, thanks a lot OO.org (?). BTW, exporting an odm to pdf with a headless set == FAIL (i.e. don’t even try to use this if you intend to autogenerate some documentation with your makefile).

Automagic document conversion for your makefiles

So, now you have a common makefile, ready to be used for a TDD project and for code coverage report automagic generation. Not only that, but it even speaks to endlessly annoy your team. What else can we add to this makefile? Well, automatic documentation generation, clearly.

You want to batch convert .doc to .pdf using the command line on a server without a GUI? Or you need automated .ppt to .swf conversion through cron, a sysvinit service, or a remote web server? Online conversion services such as Zamzar.com and Media-convert.com not working for you? Whichever formats you need to batch convert, PyODConverter is a simple Python script for just this purpose.



Edit pdf files in Ubuntu

Well, for some reason my LaTeX py-pygments stopped compiling. Thanks for breaking backwards compatibility, you pig-ments.

I had two options, either spend hours trying to fix this by altering the preamble, or just edit the pdf file. Yeah, I know, editing the pdf sounds ugly as hell, but hey at 2 am in the morning I’ll take anything. And pdfedit was there to save the day (night). Just apt-get install pdfedit, it’s in the repo.

LaTeX: Including Source Code

sourcecode I’m sure every programmer has had to include source code in a document at least once, an architecture documentation for example, or perhaps as part of a presentation (beamer FTW, coming soon!).

With most document formats including source code usually means writing the code and use some kind of manual syntax higlighting. Of course, any time you change the source you’ll need to manualy update the document.

In LaTeX there’s an easy way to handle source code. Though it was difficult to figure out, once in place this requires no maintenance at all – no need to manually syntax highlight your code nor update any files other than the source code itself. Even more, you can even change the source code language and it won’t even matter in the presentation.


You’ll need “pygmentyze” which is provided by the package python-pygments:

apt-cache search pygment
python-pygments - syntax highlighting package written in Python
sudo apt-get install python-pygments

Using it is really easy, check the manpage. Anyway, I’m too lazy to generate the syntax highlighted document by hand, let’s add it to the makefile.

Automating the source code generation

Let’s beging by adding a “code” folder inside our project. We’ll store there all the source code files, and having them in a separated folder will enable us to add a target in the makefile to automatically update the source code in the LaTeX file.

Remember the makefile from a couple of posts back? Let’s add a target:

# Hack to make it work when foo.code => foo.code.tex
code/%.tex: code/%.* code/%.aux code/%.tex
	@rm code/*.aux
	$(MAKE) -C .

code/%.tex: code/%.*
	pygmentize -f latex -O style='border=#000000,colorful,linenos=1' $< > $@

# Search each code file to format and include
CODE_FILES:=$(shell ls code/|egrep -v '.tex$ |.aux$ ' )
CODE_FILES_DEP:=$(addprefix code/, $(CODE_FILES))
CODE_FILES_TGT:=$(addsuffix .tex, $(basename $(CODE_FILES_DEP)))

main.pdf: $(shell ls *.tex) $(CODE_FILES_TGT)
	pdflatex main.tex > /dev/null

OK, maybe a couple more than one. It may seem like a lot of makefile code but all it does is define a code directory and a target to run pygmentize on each source file found there. We’ll have to add a dependency in the document’s target so it’ll be automatically generated with each build:

main.pdf: code_frames *.tex
	pdflatex main.tex && pdflatex main.tex

and then, we’ll need to clean up the new temp files:

	@rm -f $(CODE_FILES_TGT) code/*.aux

Don’t worry, there’s a link to the full makefile.

At last!

It shouldn’t have been too much work and we’re done anyway. To include a source code file in your document now use the include command (like include{code/foobar.cpp) and re build. I’m attaching a complete example in a zip file, with my latest implementation of a bogosort algorithm (now 50% faster).

LaTeX: including documents

This is a post from my LaTeX series – check the others too!

So far we’ve seen some of LaTeX advantages, and a few basic commands to get you started. Let’s see a trick to be more proficient with it:

Including other tex files

tex You should be able to write some simple documents now, some in LyX, some in LaTeX, but you’ll soon start to notice that using a single text file to create a large document becomes cumbersome. Even more so if you need to split the work between several people in a team.

There’s an easy way to keep a main file and then several, smaller, files in which you can work more comfortably:


Easy, right? Beware, you can’t use an include inside an include. Why? No idea, but there’s a way around this:


Quick preview

Using includes has another advantage: you can have a quick preview while working with a chapter at a time. I usually keep the following structure within my projects:

	% Header declarations
	% Include packages
	% Document preamble
	% ...

	% input{chapter1.tex}
	% input{chapter2.tex}
	% input{chapter4.tex}

Just uncomment the chapter you’re working with. In big documents this has a very noticeable effect, as compiling a large LaTeX file into an enormous pdf document (several MBs) may be quite slow.

Of course, I use “input” in my main file so I can use include in the chapters themselves. I won’t usually need to include other documents inside the chapters, it’d get quite messy, but it’s necessary to work with embedded documents, as we’ll see in another post.

LaTeX: Makefile


Remember I said that being a programmer would make you a lot more comfortable around LaTeX? The reason is quite simple, tex is just source code for a document. As with any source code in Linux (Windows too, but that is besides the point) you can use a Makefile to compile it and make your life easier.

I have already posted this Makefile in another entry but it’s time to explain how it works.

all: main.pdf

main.pdf: code_frames *.tex
	pdflatex main.tex && pdflatex main.tex 

.PHONY: run clean edit
	gvim -S vim.sess

run: main.pdf
	evince main.pdf &

	@# for each .tex file, remove the extension
	@# 		and delete its generated files
	@for PART in $(shell ls *.tex| sed 's:.tex::g'); do
		echo "*.out *.nav *.aux *.toc *.log *.snm *.pdf *.vrb" |
			sed "s:*:$$PART:g" | xargs rm -f;

It’s rather easy, let’s check it target by target:

  • all: create the main document – used as default target
  • main.pdf: document’s target – no need to call it main.pdf, I just do it because the entry point in C programs is called “main” so I’m used to it. Also, it looks better than foo.pdf. As a side note, it runs twice “pdflatex” because it first creates the document and the second time updates the document’s index.
  • edit: I usually have a single document split in many files, so keeping a line to quickly open up your editor with all this files is handy. I just keep it as a Vim session, no need for more
  • run: target to open up the document in a pdf viewer. I call it run so I can use it with my default mapping in Vim
  • clean: clean up the files created while compiling a document. Some times it’s needed if there’s an error you can track – it may be a corrupted .aux file

Short entry this time – next: using source code from within LaTeX.

LaTeX: LyX Revisited

lyx_logo_hi Seeing I’m publishing a new LaTeX series it seems appropiate to review my old LyX article. This is just a copy & paste from http://debaday.debian.net/2008/01/20/lyx-a-text-editor-that-stays-out-of-the-way/

Did you ever get to struggle against your text editor’s random format feature while trying to write a document? Open Office may be a great project, but when you want to focus on the content, it can be annoying to have your editor format or unformat your text, seemingly at random.

Well there are good news for those of us using Vim to create content and then Abiword to format it: LyX is a text editor that produces beautiful documents, without the need of being a designer, and yet manages to stay out of the way. From the tutorial and the homepage (www.lyx.org):

LyX is the first WYSIWYM (What You See Is What You Mean) document processor. The basic idea of LyX is that you do not need to handle style, or actually, you use a set of predefined styles and concentrate on your document content, This makes sure that your resulting document will be typographically correct and good looking visually. […] LyX uses Latex as its back end typesetting mechanism.

Sounds great already, doesn’t it?

A first look into LyX

Upon start LyX looks more or less like any other graphical text editor in the universe:

Well, it’s logo may look nicer, but that’s about it. Anyway, the magic starts just as you start writing: you’ll notice most of the common format options seems missing, but you can define what you’re writing instead:

Note that we don’t tell it to center it or to make the font larger and bold. LyX takes care of all that automatically. Simply click on the format menu (below File, and it has the default value of “Standard”).

So instead of defining Times New Roman 12px bold centered, you say «Title». WYSIWYM, remember? In the homepage there is a «Graphical Tour» with all the basic functions, it’s quick and it’s great: http://www.lyx.org/LGT

Some useful features

LyX also provides a great support for math formulas (and all the weird symbols you can think off). Just click the button «Insert Equation» and a box to enter math symbols will appear. No more struggle to align the dividend and the divisor!

Of course, LyX provides the usual features such as tables, spell checking, footnotes and many more. The tutorial of the application is more than complete, and easy to follow.
LyX documents formats

LyX documents can be exported to a wide variety of formats, mainly because being based on Latex it takes advantage of the already existing conversion programs. Some of the possible export plugins installed by default are PS, PDF, DVI, Latex, HTML and Plain text, but custom ones may be defined.
What LyX isn’t for

Although LyX may be a valuable piece in anyone toolkit it’s worth noticing it isn’t exactly the Swiss army knife of the text editors. If you need to define a very customized layout or format, like slides for a presentation, this is the wrong tool for the job.


According to it’s homepage, LyX 1.5.3 was released the 16 th of December, 2007. It’s available in Debian since Sarge (packages.debian.org/LyX). Lyx Version 1.5.1, released 4 th of August, 2007, is available in the repository of Ubuntu 7.10. Development is still active. There’s also a Windows version for those of us stuck with primitive a OS at work.

LaTeX: format basics

Basic structure

tex So, what’s the most basic structural elements for any document you write? Paragraphs, of course. I ussualy use LyX for writing paragraph-based documents (i.e. most of them) and presentations don’t have many, so perhaps this is the structural element I use the least. Oh, wait, there’s no element, just a “nn”. Point for LaTeX (take that, HTML).

You’ll also need to put titles, sections, subtitles and all that stuff to give your document a nice structure. Well, that’s easy too, just use

  • section{name}
  • subsection{name}
  • subsubsection{name}

Easy, right? Check the example at the end of the post. There are some other commands you’ll use in any LaTeX document:

  • Footnotes
    footnote{ Footnote text }

    Just write your text, it’ll be there when you compile the document

  • Vertical skip

    Because, some times, LaTeX default formatting won’t be enough.

  • Align text Center:



    Again, some times you may need it. Not too often, though.

You should now be able to write your first LaTeX document, starting from a template (always start with a template… it’s easier). I’m attaching to this post an example document in LyX, LaTeX and its compiled pdf, in case you’re wondering what does it look like in the end. For the next entry: some “advanced” tips and tricks, now let’s see an example LaTeX document:

title{LaTeX Example}
author{Nicol'as Brailovsky}


This is just a LaTeX kick off, with some basic commands. 

section {Section one}
For example, this is a paragraph.
{ em Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit.}
Donec porta, enim eget tempus tempor, eros sem dapibus diam, vitae lacinia mauris metus id nulla.

You can have subsections too ldots

ldots as many as you want

subsection{Random stuff}
You can even create a shopping list in LaTeX, if you wish
item Beer
item Beer
		item (Another brand of beer)
item Pizza
item Beer

Or even better, use it to do the homework. \
Math is a breeze in LaTeX: $x_n = sqrt{a + b}$ can be typeset inline.

You can download the compiled document from this link. May be it doesn’t look too useful (I’d use LyX instead) but soon we’ll start doing some cool stuff LyX can’t handle. Keep tuned for the next LaTeX article.

LaTeX basics

LaTeX basics

Remember last post? I mentioned its possible to create several type of documents. Even if the structure will, most likely, be different for different applications, there’s a common ground which can be used for most LaTeX documents. I’d go as far as saying ALL of them, but in LaTeX it’s possible to override everything and anything. Any reasonable package won’t do it, so let’s see some LaTeX basics you can use for any project.


LaTeX documents

The first thing to understand about LaTeX, it’s not WYSIWYG. If you use a plain text editor you won’t see any kind of format at all (LyX provides some sort of preview though). This confuses some people who, used to Word-like applications, tend to think in the structure and desing before the contents; LaTeX is different in the way to structure documents, a way which is called What You See Is What You Mean, WYSIWYM, for short.

What does being WYSIWYM means? You just think about the content and structure and it gets formatted for you. Instead of saying you want “Centered, Arial 12px orange font with pink background” just say “this is a title”. The format will be there, but not attached to the content – it’ll be in a “stylesheet”, the document’s class (*). Of course, these styles can be changed too

WYSIWYM has a downside too: you’ll have to “compile” the mark-up text into a pdf (or any other format) using pdflatex, for example. It may be a shock to some but it’s not difficult, just write “pdf2latex file.tex” and let it work its magic. You can use the makefile I’m attaching to this post too, if you feel comfortable with makefiles (The makefile has a few cool tricks you can use too. I’ll explain all of it in another entry).

Seeing some examples

In GNU/Linux you can find lots of examples and templates in /usr/share/doc/texlive-doc/latex/ (no idea where may they be in Windows). Writing this article I found out lots of templates I didn’t know about so go and take a look. Go on, I’ll wait here. Done? Ok, let’s move on.


In LaTeX there’s a basic structure every document follows:

% Preamble

What comes before the begin‘ning is the preamble. There you can tell LaTeX:

  • Which packages are you going to use – there are lots of packages, some examples include source code highlighting, including images, absolute positioning of figures and much more. Include them with the usepackage command
  • The style – there are stylesheets you can use, just as you do with HTML, and the preamble is the place to define them. How to do it is package-dependent, Beamer, for example, uses a usetheme tag.
  • Global declarations – You may declare an image which you’ll use throughout the entire document, you’re company’s logo for example
  • The author(s) – OK, this is a global declaration too, but there is certain meta-data which is declared in the preamble that’s quite handy and author is one of them.
  • The title – same as before, the title is very important in your document!
  • Lots more – there are package dependent declarations so there’s no way to create a comprehensive list, just remember it’s a place to put global settings

This post is getting a little bit too large so I’ll leave some basic commands for the next one; you should be able to start writing some basic documents anyway.

(*) <Rant mode> Yeah, something like content and style separation but only a couple of decades before it was “invented” for the WWW.</Rant mode>