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Looking back, what really convinced you to begin writing with TeX or LaTeX?

This question is "community wiki", so there's no reputation to lose or to gain.

Please don't write advantages of TeX and LaTeX or any pros and cons.

I hope to read about something like

  • a drastic experience that led you to TeX,
  • a beautiful book, paper or poster that changed your view dramatically,
  • a first big success with a (La)TeX creation,
  • a person who inspired you.

Anything in this spirit would be great. Please post just a single reason or event in each answer. If you further shared a similar experience that you read here, voting that up would be fine.

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I think at first it was mostly curiosity. – Caramdir Aug 21 '10 at 10:48
I started using Latex because I wanted my school HW's to look really nice since the teacher at the time was adding 10% extra credit for well written reports. I really only wanted that extra credit for the HWs. This is how it all started. But now I use Latex for almost everything, even if there is no extra credit. – Nasser Jul 4 '13 at 3:07

40 Answers 40

Like many others, my thesis director told me to use LaTeX when I had to write something he had to read himself afterwards (he couldn't bear to read anything written with Word). Progressively I got to use LaTeX for everything to be printed, since the most straightforward letter to the most complicated math paper…

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In my university, most of the people in Schools of Mathematics & Statistics and Physics (note that they are two schools) are using LaTeX as a primary typesetting. They use LaTeX for typing lecture notes, or assignments etc.

I am a artistic person (although I do Physics), so when I heard of my lecturer that there is something in this world called LaTeX - I instantly write my homework by using LaTeX.

Unfortunately, I am not using LaTeX to write my homework (guess how I do my homework) at the moment. Instead, I use LaTeX to author textbooks that can use semantic decorations (such as Tikz uses programming to draw diagrams). I am a Physics and Information Systems person (did I said I am an artistic person...), using LaTeX can practice my logics with organising the nodes logically and so on...

So my message is...

LaTeX can boost your marks!*

*(Although this is not always true, when I need to write textbooks for procrastination, I can't get rid of LaTeX)

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I'm just getting started, and haven't actually used LaTeX for a real project yet...

I've had a few projects lately related to programmatically-generated documents, and I'm not satisfied with the results. LaTeX was on my radar, but I didn't have time to investigate until last week.

Some process complex lab data and produce a report that describes the results. Early versions were plain *.txt files; other than using a bit of white space they were difficult to read at times. Lately I've been using HTML output which allows for more complex formatting and is still accessible; but the output is inconsistent between browsers, and prints terribly!

I have also let the creation of some documents which were quote large and repetitive (over 2400 pages on 11x17!). Typically these documents are created by hand in Word, but that clearly wasn't an option due to the scale needed for these. We were able to generate MS Word files in sections, which were manually stitched together, and tweaked to keep it from breaking.

I wanted to include diagrams, but haven't found a practical method of generating them.

At this point, LaTeX looks to be a great fit, as I can generate plain-text files easily enough (even broken across multiple files), then render them to print-perfect PDF files that anyone can view. With Tikz (or the like), I can even include those diagrams!

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I wrote my PhD thesis in troff (heavy math involved), a few years later I was invited to collaborate with my advisor on some followup papers written in LaTeX. LaTeX has much more structure (in the sense of structured programming à la Pascal and such), I got hooked. Never really looked at TeX. Almost everything larger than a page or so I write in LaTeX nowadays.

I also dabbled in writing largeish documents in Word (mostly collaborating with a group of people, luckily no math but plenty of graphs and spreadsheet-style tables), not a experience I look forward to repeat anytime.

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When I first started using LaTeX, I wanted to be able to write papers using a text editor rather than word processing program. I was willing to embed special characters using high-bit ASCII codes, and to generate underlines and other simple effects by embedding ANSI codes in the file. The only reason I started to learn LaTeX--rather than just printing raw text files--was that I needed footnotes, and I realized that it would be too hard to code that up myself. That's it--footnotes. Of course, I got a lot more from the bargain and was happy about that, especially later on when my work became more mathematical.

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I came to (La)TeX as a graphic designer fed up w/ the limitations of Quark XPress and Aldus PageMaker (I think that should adequately place my experience time-wise) --- I'd just read Bringhurst's Elements of Typographic Style and was enchanted w/ the idea of perfection and hanging punctuation, &c.

At that time, the only graphical design tool which could hang punctuation into the margin nicely was Altsys Virtuoso, which ran on NeXTstep on a NeXT Cube. NeXTstep included TeX, and Tom Rokicki's TeXview.app --- TeX was the first design tool I found which had the same freedom and limitless possibilities as paper (or vellum, or parchment) and ink, where the limiting factor wasn't the featureset some corporation was willing to implement, but my own ingenuity and skill and patience.

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It was listings, then bibtex, then beamer – and then I just got used to it.

I wrote and edited a couple of theses in Word (up to 200 pages), with dozens of figures and tables, hundreds of references and so on. It was not at all a bad experience. I took the time to really understand Word, its concepts, and also it quirks. I then developed strategies and macro packages to work with them and to automate repeating tasks. In the end it is just the point that you have to know your tool.

I came to LaTeX via LyX during my PhD time. My supervisor used LyX, so I started writing my papers with it. I started to love the easy bibliography handling with bibtex, however, the first thing that really stroke me was the listings package: Beautiful typesetting of listings, the ability to refer to line numbers, and automatic syntax highlighting! I could not imagine how to automate this with Word.

Then I had to prepare a lecture with 500+ slides. I never loved Powerpoint, which has, compared to Word nearly no concepts of semantic markup, hierarchical structure, and so on. So I tried beamer. As my slides tend to be very visual, it was a steep learning curve and I had to abondon LyX, as basically everything ended up to be ERT boxes. So I started with plain LaTeX in VIM. VIM spoiled capability to use any other editor, so I quickly stopped to use LyX for other stuff as well (too many spurious ighjkls in the middle of the text...).

And as I wrote: I just got used to it.

Today, I love it because of the great "programming capabilities" that let me define powerful problem-related concepts for my projects.

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I like emacs and always want it to be able to fulfil my document preparation needs. LaTeX/TeX turns out to be the best solution. I make templates for most of the uninteresting documents and make them accessible through a key shortcut in emacs and thus I can produce documents no slower than people using word or the like.


Emacs extension used in the screenshot:

I have temporarily released minibuffer-choose.el at http://paste.lisp.org/display/113728. Most packages (org-mode included) when present choices to users use a message in the minibuffer (echo area to be precise) or a new buffer. This package actually uses the minibuffer so you get the experience of a real buffer and the convenience of the echo area. You can TAB, Shift-TAB, C-n, C-p, C-s, C-r, M-n, M-p or type directly the highlighted character to choose a choie. Example:

(let ((files (directory-files "/usr/local" t "[a-z]+")))
  (minibuffer-choose "Choose: " files 'file-name-nondirectory nil 'alpha))
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It is 1982 and I had just been made product manager for our PDP 11 (RSX11M) based SCADA system. I had acquired a spare PDP 11 for a development machine and persuaded the powers that be to let me purchase Unix so we could use it for a central configuration management environment. I also had a budget for a line printer for listings, but I instead purchased the (then) brand new HP Laserjet instead. My chief technical guy used nroff to produce a series of macros to enable us to write documents to a house style on this laserjet. All of a sudden, we had version controlled documents that were by far the most consistent and good looking in the company. The only disadvantage was that we couldn't add diagrams. This system kept us going until we were more or less forced by the take up of Microsoft Word around us (and particularly its ability to include pictures and diagrams) about 5 years later. But I became a fan of WYSIWYM and have been hankering after something like that for a long time. I even blogged about it some ideas 2004 http://www.chandlerfamily.org.uk/2004/11/wysiwyg-v-wysiwym/

Fast forward to today, and I am semi retired, but still writing software and attempting to establish a house style and not enjoying trying to do it in Libre Office. I am also frustrated how these open formats do not play well with my git version control system. Having just found latex and its capabilities I can see that it has all the benefits our original system had plus the advantage of graphics. As a test I wrote a quite complicated entity relationship diagram using the tikz package and once I had worked out how to do it, surprisingly easy to get a very high quality result.

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About 20 years ago, I had to write a report and a friend of mine had a piece of software called Ventura. This software didn't have a nice user interface, so we studied the Ventura output format and realised it was aplain text format, which we could edit by hand with vi. I don't know the exact details anymore, but there would be command sequences for Greek letters and so on.

Later, when I saw a guy's presentation in our local group at university, it almost looked like Ventura, but better. When I asked him if it was Ventura, he said, `No, this is LaTeX.' The next day I went to the library, got a copy of Lamport's book and read it from cover to cover. Then I started using LaTeX, and I've never looked back.

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I wrote my masters thesis using MS word and always wondered there must be better tool out there. Then a friend of mine told me about LaTeX, I tried but gave up. After a year or two I took up a job to create pdf document of 6 volumes of Ramayanam, which I could read on iPad. I saw the formatting of Gita press gorakhpur and thought to use that template. Then posted the questions about the template on this forum and finally I managed to create a 6000 page pdf document with best formatting I have ever done in my life. Hats off to the forum and creator of LaTeX / XeLaTeX.

Now I write my notes and documents in XeLaTeX only. I am working on Laghu Siddhanta Kaumudi. The flexibility it offers, I can not explain in words.

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Quite recently I decided to undertake a major private project: Taking a large body of RPG-related books (I.C.E.'s classic Rolemaster, 2nd Ed., to be precise), re-editing it (making one concise rule volume instead of a set of base rules and lots of optional add-ons) and translating it (to my native German). The goal was to provide a rule book that my friends and I could use for a RPG campaign.

That's a good dozen books of ~100 pages each, to be compiled into a ~300 page 4-part volume chock full of tables, lists, charts etc., with hundreds of cross-references to chapters and tables, footnotes and graphics.

Another requirement I placed on myself was to make the result look as much as the original as possible - including the two-column layout, typesetting, chapter headings etc.

Previous experience told me that neither MS Word nor OpenOffice Writer would be up to a task of these proportions and still be maintainable.

I've heard about LaTeX before (from co-eds at university), and decided that this was the time to give it a try.

Being a professional software engineer, I like learning new (or, in this case, old) technologies, widening my skill set, and actually prefer doing things "in source" as opposed to "WYSIWYG". (Being able to diff and grep and sed and svn my work sounded like it could come in really handy given the scope of the work, and I was absolutely right).

I downloaded the basic LaTeX package, the Texmaker editor, and a "quick guide", set up a SVN repository for the .tex files, and went ahead. It took me less than a day to realize that LaTeX was the ideal choice for a project like mine. Especially the fine control over tables impressed me, as well as the ability to enter the table data right away and worry about the actual layout at some later point.

I ordered the LaTeX Companion the next day. Took me a couple more days to find your excellent site here, though I ask myself what took me (regular customer at StackOverflow) so long.

I can't say I'd use LaTeX for everything, or even for most things. But for my project right now, I couldn't imagine anything more adequate. Too bad I won't be able to make it available to the public once I'm done. :-\

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Back in 2007, I had to write an article with actual mathematics in it. The text editors had a very poor math support, not the mention the lack of productivity and a ugly and messy document in the end. I use the \vdash symbol a lot in my mathematical stuff and soon I discovered that none of those editors had a symbol for that. I refused to use |- or instead (the second abomination, oops I mean symbol is for drawing ASCII boxes) as a replacement for \vdash.

A friend of mine suggested me to use LaTeX. Needless to say I was very skeptical, but at that point I had nothing to lose. So I embraced the idea. He told me some LaTeX basics (sections, items, inline math, and so forth) and how to produce my very first document. After writing my first lines of mathematics in LaTeX –- which was insanely fast and very intuitive –- I couldn’t believe in my eyes. Everything was correctly in place, beautiful typesetting and with a professional look.

Since then, LaTeX became part of my life. For everything. =)

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When I was a first year undergraduate math student, the lectures handed out some notes. Looking back today they were merely standard LaTeX documents. But back to then, they looked so amazing. And I would like my homework to have that look.

With quite a lot of efforts, I did reproduced one or two pages of the notes using Word. That was a painful progress especially the input of math. In addition the adjust of the layout took quite some time. I gave up Word and many other softwares, because I didn't believe that the professors would spent that much time to produce some lecture notes.

So the next step is searching. Well, I always like to solve problems alone. And after hours of googling I found TeX/LaTeX. The rest of the story was what you can guess easily.

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I'm a lawyer. I'm earning money by typing or speaking (Dragon became a lot better recently).

Typing into Word under pressure is horrible. It looks awfully. The program tries to outsmart me. It may crash.

LaTeX is much more easy going. Deadlines still are deadlines, but I know, as long as there's electricity, I'm gonna make it. It's reliable, if you know, what I mean. And the output is pretty.

Some years ago I delivered a legal due diligence written with Lyx for a bank in Kuwait and the customer was satisfied. My clients often can not judge whether I'm a good lawyer, but at least the pages look better than they are used to see.

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I had to write my Ph.D. thesis and the only thing available was Word 3 on a Mac Plus (many years ago). But in the computer room there was a copy of the TeXbook and one of "The joy of TeX"! I was fascinated and eventually (after the Ph.D. thesis was finished) I managed to get a working implementation of TeX; I was the first in my Math department to use TeX (plain or AMS-TeX).

I switched to LaTeX some years later when some colleagues asked me to help in producing the Proceedings for a conference they had organized. AMS-LaTeX had just been released and typesetting a math book with LaTeX had become possible. It was a pretty big volume: 393+x pages and 41 papers. Many of the papers had been written in ChiWriter (probably very few of you know about it). I'm pretty satisfied of the result, which required to define a personal document class and solving some difficult alignment problems: the conference was about Mathematical Physics, which is not my field, and some of the papers had huge formulas.

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In linguistics (my field), LaTeX offers many concrete advantages: automatic numbering/referencing of linguistic examples, automatic aligning of foreign language words/translations, automatic syntactic tree drawing; a full range of logic symbols, easy access to phonetic fonts etc., not to mention other basic academic requirements such as citations and bibliographies. When Mac OSX came out, running LaTeX became quite simple, and I made the switch then.

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I wanted something that made my calc and physics homework look pretty. At the time, Word couldn't handle equations gracefully. I looked around for something that could generate equations I could import into Word and found a LaTex equation generator and a WYSIWYG LaTex frontend that, when used in combination, would output pretty pdfs that I could then drag into Word. Eventually, I just shifted over to using the LaTex frontend for everything and tweaking the code as needed. I haven't used LaTex in ages, but I have many fond memories of it.

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I recently co-authored a book for a major tech publisher. They formatted it using -- I kid you not -- MS Word.

The late stages of the editing process (where I was working with the publisher's .doc files instead of just sending them text) were so painful that I vowed to learn Tex and/or LaTeX before helping my mother self-publish her upcoming quilting book.

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I came via a programming route. Had heard about LaTex over the years, but never taken the time to install all the requirements and get it working. Now, with the bundles that are available, I'm able to easily install on my Mac and Windows environments (primary documentation platforms for me).

As a Python programmer, I was using the Sphinx documentation tool. However, I wanted PDF output and Sphinx did not convert tables to PDF. After noting that Sphinx generated LaTex, I searched around, found longtable, and figured I could write a generator that would build that for me. After playing around a bit further, I determined it was easier to just write in LaText to start off with and then join it with some custom script-generated LaTex output that documents our data structures.

Been using it about a year now; have one 300 page technical manual completed and starting on a second one. Still very much a newbie, but still way more productive than the previous FrameMaker environment.

Also, since LaTex is strictly text files, I'm able to version control the source files and have more than one person working on the same document. Extremely efficient.

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Two things put me on the road. The author is perhaps the greatest influence on my programming career--- his article in DDJ alerted me to a problem that I had been wondering about at the time. Later (again a result of the Knuth) I became entranced with the idea of 'Literate Programming'. This approach precisely fit a problem I had; how to preserve code and document it at the same time. As this was a maintenance task, there wasn't a budget for any of the very expensive tools of the time, but LP was for free so I began to get my hands dirty. In that the code involved a chess engine, there were problems that were quite difficult for a beginner to solve, but in general correspondence with the authors of various packages kept me going. Moving forward a great many years I use LaTeX almost without thought for anything I deem needful of typesetting. Wouldn't have it any other way.

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I wanted to create a beautiful résumé. So, I downloaded moderncv and edited it to my heart's content.

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I wrote a lot of papers and documentation in RUNOFF on RT-11, and nroff and troff on VAX/VMS, Unix System 3, and BSD 4.3, all through the 80's. All the quirky .xx commands never seemed to quite do what I wanted, and the resulting source text would often end up very difficult to read and spell check. TeX was clearly a better way, and when it became available I was quick to adopt it. The big annoyance in that time frame was pushing drafts out of the 200 dpi printer that was a big deal at the time but combined all the good features of a 200 dpi thermal fax machine with an off-brand photocopier. Drafts were charged by the inch, and really had to be photocopied for longevity.

Being pragmatic and needing to communicate (meaning share documents) with the non-academic world Word ate the majority of my day-to-day business and technical writing. But TeX has always been there for those things it suits best. (We'll just ignore the brief affair with the SGML-based monstrosity named Ventura Publisher, and the flirtations with FrameMaker.)

I've recently dusted off my first editions of the TeX book and LaTeX book, and expect to be returning to them as a preferred way to build technical documentation. Especially now that my favorite little language (Lua) has found its way into the TeX family.

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For me, it was necessity. My first programming job (working part-time for a research division of my university) required me to edit some documentation, but my computer only had WordPad on it, and WordPad is terrible for absolutely everything so I tried to find an alternative since I wasn't going to buy Word just for that job. I noticed a co-worker using LaTeX to put something together, and I'd heard of it before but never used it. I spent a couple weeks reading the Wikibook on LaTeX before I finally decided to install it on my work machine and convert the original documentation over. It was glorious.

Now, I use it for just about anything that isn't a group project—software documentation, class assignments, and especially typesetting public-domain books (okay, and some non-public domain ones too).

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I feel fortunate. The first OS I ever used was unix, my first year of university, and was told immediately to learn emacs and that all lab reports for a class I was in had to be done in LaTeX. It was over 5 years before I ever used any MS software, and I've never used it to any great degree since. And I find Word confusing as hell. It's always doing things that I don't want and then I have to spend time figuring out how to undo it. It's automatic capitalization features drives me nuts.

So I was bred on the beauty of LaTeX and thought that was normal. I was never faced with the decision to choose LaTeX over Word. For me the decision was the reverse: should I go with Word and dump LaTeX? At my first job everyone was using Word so I tried it. I found it too anti-intuitive, too ugly (I hate ragged-right justification for example), dangerous (lost docs on a semi-regular schedule due to Windows semi-regular crashing), and the learning curve was just too high (way higher than LaTeX, imo). I was always asking others how to undo something Word was just sure that I wanted to do but didn't. I gave up on Word and now only use when forced to, which is rare.

I'm still having trouble absorbing that Joseph wrote his thesis in Word.

Word's popularity is explained by my "Doughnut Theory" : If all you've ever eaten are doughnuts, you can tell a good doughnut from a bad doughnut, but you have no idea what good food is.

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+1 for the doughnuts – Hendrik Vogt Jan 21 '11 at 7:59

As an undergrad I often failed to find a free machine in the shared labs on which to run Word or T3, as machines with hard drives were still relatively scarce. In contrast, editing plain text files with vi meant I could use essentially any system with a keyboard (even my ancient home PC), yet TeX produced such good-looking documents. Bibliographies and cross-references that just worked were the icing on the cake.

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Before using LaTeX, I created documents in OpenOffice.org and made extensive use of its semantic markup to format text (basically, I have never used the B, I and U buttons or the “font” selection in the formatting menu bar – I always created my own styles). Unfortunately, OOo had a few bugs that made this a real pain. Sometimes, changes in formatting were not adopted across the document. Sometimes, changes got mixed up.

Automatic references and figure numbering were also buggy as hell. Oh, and did I mention that I spent hours adjusting the word breaking and orphans to improve the overall look?

At some point I actually unzipped the document files (the .odf files are just renamed .zip containers) and edited the content XML manually to fix some wrongly nested markup.

So you can imagine that once I heard of LaTeX, my conversion was natural and immediate. But I was somewhat disappointed because LaTeX didn’t live up to my expectations of semantic markup: \textit? \textbf? Doesn’t sound very semantic to me. It took me some time to figure out that to work effectively in LaTeX, you need to define your own macros and use those. Once I learned this, I haven’t looked back.

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Invisible formatting in MS Word. So many times I had the bullets of a list become italicized or differently sized because somewhere (before?, in the item?, after? - never figured it out) there was or used to be a formatting of that sort.

And then I had to make some last minute changes to a paper written in Word but I was at a machine that only had OpenOffice. It wrecked the formatting. It looked good in OO, but when I opened it in Word the next day, I realized how the paper was submitted (the prof had Word).

That was the last straw.

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You can tell Word to display all whitespace and invisible formatting using light grey symbols, which is what I invariably use when editing client texts, since otherwise I can't reliably tell a single space following a period from a double period. – Charles Stewart Oct 25 '10 at 11:45

It was a bottle of sherry for me!

I don't know quite how I first became aware of the existence of TeX - I installed Linux on my first PC (my first computer was a BBC Micro which didn't, back then, support Linux) because the people with whom I was friends at the time wouldn't have stayed my friends if I hadn't! So TeX came along with it, and I suppose that many of my lecturers used TeX (of some flavour) for typesetting notes and the like so it was "in the air" as it were.

So by the middle of the fourth year of my degree I was sufficiently aware of TeX, and it's importance in mathematics, that when a lecturer set a challenge problem (I think it was that A_5 is simple), I decided to write my solution in LaTeX in order to learn it (I guess I'd already absorbed the lesson that the best way to learn LaTeX is simply to Do It^{TM}). So I wrote up my solution and duly handed it in!

(I got the sherry)

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Througout high school, I did all my math, physics and chemistry hand-ins in MS Word using Equation Editor, teaching myself the various short cuts, and patiently moving the equations back where they belonged when they for no apparent reason jumped. It was natural to continue this when I started at the university (and I had never heard of TeX/LaTeX). A few weeks later, my TA in linear algebra wrote "Come to the dark side. Learn LaTeX!" on one of my hand-ins. A week later, I was addicted :-)

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