Or a 404 or the "captcha" image.

To go with our amazing new design, we need some amazing pictures to go on the error page, the 404 page, and the captcha page. They should have a lighthearted theme, vaguely related to the purpose of the page, and - of course - be TeX-related (the TeX-purists would say that it has to be actually generated by TeX).

For a couple of examples from other sites, see this post on meta by our amazing designer.

So ... keyboards at the ready ... and ... go!

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    Notes: this is on the main site to garner a greater range of suggestions. It's CW so that people are encouraged to put up weird and wacky suggestions without fear of being voted down into oblivion. Of course, only post images that we can legally (ethically, morally, technically,...) use on the site. If suggestions don't flood in, I'll consider putting a bonus up for grabs (assuming I can do so on a CW question..). – Andrew Stacey Nov 12 '10 at 9:04
  • You can put bounties on CW qns. See meta.stackexchange.com/questions/20931/… – Charles Stewart Nov 12 '10 at 11:02
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    I sense some TikZ-fu would be appropriate... – Seamus Nov 12 '10 at 11:11

12 Answers 12


What about asking Duane Bibby to contribute some art? His drawings are iconic, and would help associate the site with the TeX "brand" (if an open source project can be said to have a brand). New users would be more inclined to trust the site.

TeX Lion

CTAN lion drawing by Duane Bibby courtesy of CTAN.org.

We could get the lion scratching his head for the 404 page, or squinting at a screen for the captcha page, etc.


(with apologies to Don Knuth)

My error page

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  • 1
    Haha, good one! – ℝaphink Aug 23 '11 at 20:49

I actually liked @Juan's idea for using typesetting pieces to spell "Not Found". Being keen on 3D art, here's a quick mockup I put together just now:

Not found

Please excuse the shoddy appearance, I wanted just to give an idea. The final thing will be rendered photorealistically, so all the usual stuff like materials, textures, reflections, etc. will be in place. Also, no problem to use any typeface (that I have installed), or comes as OTF, TrueType or what have you. I think something serif-y would look great, with different typeface for each letter (combining thin and thick letters of different sizes, etc. For added appearance, the typeface bits could be of different "materials", and discernible difference in height, so that it's obvious they come from different typographical sets.

I'm expecting comments, suggestions and critiques, and if enough people think this is a good idea, I'll proceed and create something more finished.

P.S. For the curious, the software is SolidWorks 2009 (no affiliation).

Update: If this gets into double-digit upvotes, I promise a new draft rendered in full glory until Monday.

Now I notice that the letters are actually in the wrong order. Oh well.

Update 2. Here's a second (rendered) version. Quite bland at the moment, I need some extra textures for the floor, I'm thinking of something paper-like, non-reflective, maybe with the printed output of the typography set. The light certainly needs adjustments. The typographic sorts are probably a bit too thick (couldn't find correct measures so I improvised from images). Now, enjoy (or be appalled):

alt text

Typeface list upon request. Font suggestions welcome. Comments highly appreciated.

Update 3: Yet another version, with softer tints. But that's not a big deal, those kind of things can be handled with some post-processing, and I'm sure Jin would help with some final touches. alt text

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    Looks really nice! Nice job ! – mpg Nov 12 '10 at 13:48
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    Am I alone in thinking that it ought to be the correct way around? At the moment, that would typeset "DNUOF TON". Can we see it the other way around for comparison? That's making my head spin as it is. (But I like the idea very much) – Andrew Stacey Nov 12 '10 at 14:15
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    This is cool but I don't think it jibes with the current design of the site. – Matthew Leingang Nov 12 '10 at 16:10
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    @Matthew: I think it does, or could. The error pages should be a bit jarring. Martin's idea of making the texture paper-like should reduce the design distance... – Charles Stewart Nov 12 '10 at 18:10
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    I like it, but I agree with @Matthew that it looks a bit out of place with the site design. Maybe less 3D rendering, more illustration like? – Jin Nov 12 '10 at 19:12

For me, something like $n_{0}(t) f_{0}(u^{n}d) = 404$ or 404 = \frac{n_{0}(t)}{f_{0}(u^{n}d)}, or even a commutative diagram like (using the old amscd package)

\dots @>>> N_{0}(T) @>{f_{0}}>> U_{n}(D) @>>> \dots \\
@. @VVV @VVV \\
\dots @>>> E_{r}(r) @>{o}>> R_{404} @>>> \dots 

or this one (using xypic)

& N \ar@{->}[rr] \ar@{-}'[d][dd]
& & o \ar@{-}[dd]
F \ar@{-}[ur] \ar@{<-}[rr] \ar@{->}[dd]
& & T \ar@{<-}[ur] \ar@{-}[dd]
& u \ar@{->}'[r][rr]
& & n
o \ar@{-}[rr] \ar@{->}[ur]
& & d \ar@{<-}[ur]

captures at least some of the essence of TeX...

Edit: These produce the following:

Not Found

  • @Juan, thanks for posting the pictures. I've since changed the second diagram so that most of the "arrows" are just line segments, and the remaining ones form a path spelling "NotFound". It also looks nice with the line segments "\ar@{-}" replaced by "\ar@{..}". – John Palmieri Nov 12 '10 at 22:39
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    I updated the picture. (Btw, code like this is why I love TikZ.) – Caramdir Nov 15 '10 at 2:34
  • @Caramdir: Amen on the superiority of TikZ syntax. – Matthew Leingang Nov 15 '10 at 14:50
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    While these are certainly clever, I suspect they're a bit too cryptic for most people. (I'll admit, when I first saw them, I didn't notice that it spelled things. I just saw commutative diagrams.) – TH. Dec 28 '10 at 17:20

I already posted a suggestion on meta, but will repeat it here as well:

For a 404, there could be a play on some of most common TeX error messages. I think the Undefined control sequence is most appropriate.

As for an image, something simple like this:

\404{Page not found}

! Undefined control sequence.
l.6 \404

Or some variation thereof. Probably rendered in different styles, to distinguish user input from TeX complaints.

No time for a mockup today, but I'll try to post update later with an actual image.

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    By the way, \404 is not a valid control sequence (at least, it will not be parsed so with the usual catcodes). Not sure if this is a problem. I like the idea anyway. – mpg Nov 12 '10 at 13:51
  • @mpg of course not! It's like meta-404 (btw LaTeX does produce the same error message when I tried it in code). – Martin Tapankov Nov 12 '10 at 13:54
  • @mpg: To revive a joke best left alone, if you \catcode`\4=11, then \def\4#14#2{\undefined} works. It won't give exactly that message, but that could be arranged... – Charles Stewart Nov 12 '10 at 22:34
  • @Martin: Sure, but it wasn't clear to me whether this was intended. – mpg Nov 13 '10 at 1:28
  • @Charles: No need for the catcode. \def\404 works just fine (for reasons that might not be totally clear). Give pdftex '\def\404{Hi!}\404\bye' a shot. – TH. Nov 15 '10 at 15:00

For the 404/captcha/error images, I think their appearances should compliment the overall site design. This way, the TeX site looks more "complete." I think what'd work great with the site design, is a combination of TeX related insider joke/lingo, and old school illustration artwork. Since I know nothing about TeX I can only contribute to the visuals. As for old book illustrations, here are two great resources with public domain images:



For example, the rabbit from Alice in Wonderland makes a good Captcha image IMO.

alt text

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    To me, this just screams for a Duane Bibby cartoon – Taco Hoekwater Nov 14 '10 at 10:10
  • @Taco I had to google who Duane bibby is. After seeing his work, I agree with you. – Jin Nov 14 '10 at 10:16

Is there anything to defining 404 as \TeX is defined for something like ...

alt text

Obviously it could be enlarged and repeated or whatever, but I think its a fun start. The TeX is just:


Error \my404\ Not Found

Someone run with it if you like

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ERROR: Undefined control sequence.

--- TeX said ---
l.4 \404 (Page not found)

--- HELP ---
TeX encountered an unknown page name. You probably misspelled the
url. If this message occurs when a LaTeX command is being processed,
the command is probably in the wrong place---for example, the error
can be produced by an \item command that's not inside a list-making
environment. The error can also be caused by a missing \documentclass
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  • 1
    Hmm, no. The aim is to be witty, not informative. – Charles Stewart Nov 12 '10 at 11:30
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    It doesn't match the light-hearted tone of Knuth's error messages well. For an example, run tex '\relax}' and press h <RETURN> twice. – Philipp Nov 12 '10 at 14:16

Here's a vague idea that floated into my head regarding the captcha page. This is (I'm told) meant to have something robotic about it, so I thought about something referring to the fact that TeX is Turing complete.

Either a terminal with a standard TeX initial output ending with some error message reading: "I'm Turing complete, are you?". Or the TeX lion sitting at a terminal with some relevant output on it (some Turing problem or other) with that phrase as a caption.

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I think that giving TeX error messages for 404 could be confusing, specially because there already is a description of why the error is happening, see for example our current 404 page, so I would stay away from that.

Now an idea I have, continuing with the letter pressed effects (like the current “TeX” logo in the header), is to have a letter pressed “404” with the last “4” missing or fallen. Like if one was trying to “press” the “4” into place but somehow the type piece failed to properly print the image and is just lying there in defeat.

Hope that makes some sense to someone. :P

Edit: Along similar lines, how about a scrambled box of typesetting pieces spelling “Not Found” or “404” like some of the pictures here. I don't know, though, how could we create such a photo.

  • I see no problem with a TeX-like error message (that also plays on the 404/Page not found theme). Not less confusing than a bunch of eggs with numbers on it (see the meta post Andrew linked to in the question). And cooking enthusiasts are most likely less knowledgeable on what 404 is than TeX users... – Martin Tapankov Nov 12 '10 at 12:42
  • I like the idea of the typesetting pieces. Liek Martin, I see no problem with a TeX error messages, and we can even combine both. – mpg Nov 12 '10 at 13:44

Theme: The LaTeX-ing Robot

alt text

  {\typeout{***Successfully patched \protect\SX@codeInput***}}
  {\typeout{***ERROR! Failed to patch \protect\SX@codeInput***}}
$$\boldsymbol{\lim_{x\to 8}\frac{1}{(x-8)^2}=+\;\rotatebox{90}{$8$}}$$
$$\boldsymbol{\lim_{x\to 7}\frac{1}{(x-7)^2}=+\;\rotatebox{90}{$7$}}$$
$$\boldsymbol{\lim_{x\to 6}\frac{1}{(x-6)^2}=+\;\rotatebox{90}{$6$}}$$

Abridged version, since this answer is unpopular and clearly inferior to Martin's "hot metal" answer, and shouldn't take up so much HTML screen estate in this thread — look at the revisions page to see the original answer in all of its gruesome glory.

One could have some Tex-resembling error message written with a vertical orientation, and typeset it with the kind of digital rain effect one sey, for instance, in the Matrix credits. Is there a font suitable for such a digital rain effect? Cf. Zawinski's GLmatrix and xmatrix from xscreensaver.

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