I have long wondered why there is no piece of software that typesets ASCII math -like people used to write before tex.

In my view tex is great but $ signs for instance should really be facultative. Even many equations should naturally be displayed by the word processor. I'd like to write say: "Let (x,y)\in R^2 be a solution of x^2+bxy+x=0 y^4-yx=0" and have it typeset in a reasonable way as if I had put the dollar signs, the \mathbb, and the equation display in latex. I do not need full control of my output I just want it to look like reasonably written math.

More generally what is the fastest/shortest way to type math to get a tex-like output?

Thanks alot.

  • 3
    The fastest way is to use $. Period. Alternatively you need to use a different interpreter... something like Pandoc. – Werner Jun 12 '15 at 19:09
  • Thanks I'll look at Pandoc. I'd like to avoid having to use $ or some such marker, that looks reasonable to me -robots can dance, this should be much easier. – plm Jun 12 '15 at 19:14
  • Would be too ugly to have all x typeset with the same fonts. – Sigur Jun 12 '15 at 19:15
  • @plm No, because you want what is right not what some algorithm guesses. If I put Let I be ... how is the system going to convert it to Let $I$ be ...? – Joseph Wright Jun 12 '15 at 19:16
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    How should any reasonable robot distinguish between a as a literal and a as a math variable? You almost certainly will have to provide some way of indicating what you want rather than relying solely on some form of automation. – Werner Jun 12 '15 at 19:16

You could change the catcode of all symbols you want to reserve for math to \active and then let the characters replace themselves by your choice.

I hope, you see for yourself why this is a really bad idea…

\gdef R{\reals}%

Let (x,y)\in R^2 be a solution of x^2+bxy+x=0 y^4-yx=0

Right now, this is a really bad idea---for sure!


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  • 1
    I'm not sure if this “answer” deserves any upvotes… – Henri Menke Jun 12 '15 at 19:43
  • 3
    +1 Actually a very useful answer, as it so clearly illustrates the basic issue that math is fundamentally different in parsing, syntax, and semantics from text. Plus, the preamble makes it very clear that you in fact have to recreate all of math mode by hand. And the obvious conclusion to your answer is that if I want math mode without delimiters then I have to have delimiters for text. – R. Schumacher Jun 12 '15 at 20:29
  • Thanks. To be clear I am not fond of typing, I want to write math before all, as easily as possbile, I want to concentrate on other things than the output, just thinking about the math and having it readable in a standard way. It is not about texing it is about having tex-ike output with minimal effort. I don't want to control everything. All the better if I can't make a mathbb when I want to if in 99% times it wouldn't make sense mathematically. – plm Jun 14 '15 at 1:56

It isn't clear that dropping $ and explicit font changes really saves anything, it increases chance of error and when combined with the possibility of local macros saves very few keystrokes.

However there are plenty of different implementations of math markup that make less use of \ and {} notably asciimath and the Unicode nearly plain text encoding for math which is essentially the linear input syntax used in Microsoft Word.

  • Thanks alot for all the links. For people who delight in typesetting of course adding symbols and controlling everything as in tex is great pleasure but if you want to type as fast as possible it is a hassle. It adds pressing shift+4 each time you want $ and it cripples the text which is already not very readable with ASCII. – plm Jun 14 '15 at 1:41

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