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GSOC: Getting started

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Why we need some books

As part of the Google Summer of Code (GSOC), I will be mentoring Christoph Hafmeister’s project to create an OnLine TeX Editor. This will be written in JavaScript, and will use the public MathTran server to provide TeX typesetting as a web service. It will offer something close to instant preview for mathematics (network connections permitting).

To help us learn the tricks of the trade, we’ve decided to buy some books. And to help us communicate, we’ll both have a copy of these books. That way, it’s easier for us to share our experiences, even though we’re not likely to meet during the project. (This is one of the big changes the rise of print made to learning, in the 16th century.)

So here are the books we’ll be sharing, and why.

JavaScript framework

I’ve some work to do on MathTran JavaScript between now and the end of May (and then Christoph will start coding). Previously MathTran has not used a JavaScript framework, but now it’s time. I’ve done some research, and heard good things about jQuery. I also like the thinking and coding style it encourages. So we’ll be using that as a starting point, and the goal is to write the OnLine TeX Editor (and some other goodies) in jQuery. A second goal is to develop a MathTran plugin for jQuery, so other jQuery users can make use of our work.

Here’s the jQuery books we’ll be using.

I’ve got them both already (by PDF download) and they’re pretty good. I prefer the Reference Guide, because I like understand the fundamentals (rather than getting on and doing something new).

JavaScript and DHTML reference

The jQuery framework is good at selecting items on the page and doing things with them. But we’ll need to build some custom widgets and controls, and for that we’ll need to know some low-level JavaScript and DHMTL. For this purpose I’ve chosen

Hacking into pages

There’s lots of pages out there that really need better support for mathematics, and whose users would welcome the OnLine TeX Editor. WordPress, for example, has amongst the best support for mathematics, but it does not provide anything like instant preview. Fortunately, add-ons and extensions, such as GreaseMonkey, allow users to provide JavaScript extras that run on selected pages.

Here’s an example. Every working day the arXiv publishes hundreds of new mathematics and physics preprints. Here’s the abstracts for the new maths items for today. Many of these abstracts contain TeX-encoded mathematics, displayed as text. Wouldn’t it be great is the user could click a button and see the rendered form of the mathematics. (And of course another button to unrender).

Well, that’s what GreaseMonkey extensions are all about. And here I’ve chosen

What I like about this book is that it tells us a lot about annoying things on web pages, and what can be done to fix them.


So we’ve got four books, with about 1600 pages in total, to use as reference, and to read when we’re stuck. I’m pleased with the jQuery books, and the GreaseMonkey book has some inspiring recipes. I’ve not yet seen Goodman’s DHTML Cookbook, but from the table of contents it deals with resizing of text, which is a key feature for the display of TeX-rendered mathematics.


Written by Jonathan Fine

April 25, 2008 at 12:02 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

3 Responses

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  1. […] for use with MathTran, and from past experience I know that I need a library. Elsewhere I explain why I’ve chosen jQuery. On Friday I started learning jQuery, mostly from the two Packt books, and yesterday and today […]

  2. Hi Jonathan,

    Glad to read your blog about learning JavaScript. It looks like you’ve picked up a couple of good books. I think there are three books that are absolutely required reading for anyone wanting to learn how to program JavaScript well:

    1. JavaScript: The Good Parts by Douglas Crockford
    2. Pro JavaScript by John Resig
    3. JavaScript: The Definitive Guide by David Flanagan

    If you only had those three, along with the online jQuery documentation, you’d be fine.

    Fluid has assembled a collection of JavaScript resources we found interesting. Many of these are web articles, including a few we wrote ourselves. Maybe this will be helpful:

    Colin Clark

    August 13, 2008 at 1:51 pm

  3. Thank your for these comments, Colin. I’ve started using Flanagan’s Rhino book now, and found it useful.

    I found the two jQuery books from Manning pretty good.


    August 14, 2008 at 7:10 pm

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