LaTeXing the mind...

Federico Gobbo photo

Guest blog post by Federico Gobbo

It was the year 2004 and I had just taken a big and compelling decision in my professional life: doing research in an academic setting. I had worked for three years in the Research & Development of Web 1.0 in different start-ups in Milan, Italy and after collaborations with local Universities I decided it was time for a change.

By that time I was already well trained in linguistics, while my knowledge of ICT was more in informatics (the practical stuff) than in computer science (the theoretical foundations). And I needed to be educated in research: what is a poster in a conference? which journals are good to send a paper? why? Marco Benini was my mentor in computer science, and soon we addressed the problem of writing a scientific paper.

A conceptual framework for producing texts

My first web site (coded in pure HTML) was in 1994. No editors, no facilities. So I knew that the WYSIWYG is not the only option. "LaTeX is a typesetting language, in principle similar to HTML, only damned more powerful and expressive," Marco told me.

"You'll like it, as you are fond of good-looking books. It is the defacto standard language for submitting papers in almost every peer-reviewed journal in computer science and in hard sciences in general. When I started, I had to deal with TeX, LaTeX came out when I was writing my PhD thesis on a NeXT cube -- the same machine on which Tim Berners-Lee invented HTML and henceforth the web. With LaTeX the first step in learning how to typeset a paper is far easier."

Today I have been LaTeXing for almost 10 years, almost every working day of my life (Marco almost 20, and I still perceive the difference, because of the 'TeX factor' in his early days). LaTeX changed my mind. Really. When I'm forced to use a so-called word processor, my thinking is not clear, I feel distracted by futile details, while LaTeX lets me separate clearly the content from its presentation.

Why zombies can’t write significant source code

What does it mean to know a computer program? What kind of knowledge does a programmer needs to write the source code of a program? We've recently analysed the knowledge needed to understand a computer program within the Philosophy of Information, using L. Floridi’s method of Levels of Abstraction. In what will hopefully be a relief to fellow computer scientists, we show that non-conscious agents have no hope to write significant programs. Visit this page on my site to find out more, or contact me to discuss.

About the author: Federico Gobbo is a postdoctoral research fellow in Computer Science at the DISIM, Department of Engineering, Computer Science and Mathematics, University of L'Aquila, Italy.