Herb Schulz

[completed 2011-02-01]

Herb Schulz is well known for the support he gives to users in the MacTeX world.



Dave Walden, interviewer:     Please tell me a bit about yourself.

Herb Schulz, interviewee:     Born in Brooklyn, NY. Lived in Brooklyn, Queens and the Bronx and went to High School in Manhattan. Got my BA in Physics from NYU and moved to Chicago to obtain my MS and PhD from the University of Chicago. I enjoyed living in Chicago and stayed. All this in the days when high-tech meant using an IBM Selectric typewriter with interchangeable type balls.

During my PhD thesis work I started teaching Physics at College of DuPage (C/D), a Community College in the Western Suburbs of Chicago. I was there for 32 years until I retired in 2001.

I got an Apple in 1979 and that started a love affair with micro-computers that hasn't subsided. Over the years I've worked with UCSD Pascal (on my old Apple), BSD UNIX (PDP-10 — a stint as a C-programmer/Project Software Manager at a local telecom hardware manufacturer), DOS 6 (on a 286 powered PC), MacOS 7–9 (on a Mac Quadra 650 and later a 68020 based Tower) and finally MacOSX 10.1–10.6 (PPC and Intel).

DW:     How did you first get involved with TeX?

HS:     Hmmmgetting the dates all right might be difficult. My life with TeX can be broken into three phases: a bright beginning, dark ages and the ultimate renaissance.

A Bright Beginning: When I first started teaching at C/D I would type my Physics exams on ditto paper, leaving space for hand drawn figures and equations. Once the price of Xerox copies dropped below that of running a ditto machine I continued but simply typed on plain paper, hand wrote any maths, and could cut and paste graphics onto the sheets of paper before submission for copying. When I finally had access to a PC at school the process only changed as far as using a Word Processor instead of a typewriter to produce the hard copy.

In the mid- to late-1980s I heard about TeX and was able to have the school order a copy of PCTeX. For the next several years I learned a bit about Plain TeX (I consider myself a TeXpatzer, certainly not a TeXnician or TeXpert) and built a format based on Plain TeX, with some of the structure but not the wordiness of LaTeX and modelled a bit after the memorandum macros (mm) used with troff. Got just far enough to make it useful for my production of exams (now only leaving blank space for graphics) and other daily paperwork like letters and memos. Once I got a Mac on my desk I had the school purchase a copy of TeXtures, moved my macros over and kept using them, and TeX, into the early 90's.

The Dark Ages: I got fascinated with using FrameMaker in the mid-90's and, for a period of 6–7 years, abandoned TeX. When I finally got my first laptop running MacOSX 10.1 in 2001 it was clear that Adobe, which purchased FrameMaker, was not going to support it on the Mac and wouldn't make a native OSX version of the software. For a short period of time I tried to tame MS Word but gave up in frustration.

The Renaissance: I then started to look at the possibility of using TeX under OSX and found Gerben Wierda's re-distribution of teTeX with useful additions and I've been using that and the following version based on TeX Live, when Thomas Esser stopped support for teTeX, which was distributed as MacTeX-2005 and finally the full TeX Live distributed with MacTeX in 2007 and later. The wonderful support I received from the folks on the MacOSX TeX list over the years has helped me get over stumbling blocks.

I now use LaTeX, with some dabbling into XeLaTeX, for all my needs and use TeXShop as my editor of choice.

DW:     You said you created your own format based on Plain TeX; it sounds to me like you may be a little more capable than the TeXpatzer you claim to be. In any case, it sounds like you make good use of what you know: for instance, I have heard that you answer lots of the mactex-support questions (http://www.tug.org/mactex/support/emailform/).

For us TeX users who live in the PC rather than Mac world, please sketch from your point of observation over the years how MacTeX and TeXShop came into being and evolved to be so popular in the Mac part of the TeX world.

HS:     Giving Back. When the renaissance came I decided to start to use LaTeX rather than my old macro set because it was amazingly complete, allowing for easy graphics inclusion, etc., and I could create a personal class based on article.cls that used spacing and font sizes that I preferred. Once that was done I no longer had to do anything special to get all the extras I was missing in my old macro package.

As usual when learning something new there were lots of questions about using and maintaining the new TeX Distribution as well as all the wonderful packages to make things work the way I wanted them to work. Books were a tremendous help; especially Kopka & Daly Guide to LaTeX and Mittelbach et al.'s The LaTeX Companion. But for distribution help as well as more general LaTeX help I turned to the MacOSX TeX list. The folks there gave freely of their time and knowledge and were quite nonjudgmental of my naivete.

Once I started to understand how the distribution was organized and got a handle on some of LaTeX I felt obligated to help pay back the list for their generosity to me over the earlier years. As time went by and I learned more I found I could also answer more questions from others. That list is wonderful and a perfect example of how we help each other. As time has gone on, and I've gained more experience, I started to help out on the mactex-support list and others.

A Little Greedybut only a little: When my renaissance into TeX started I used Jerome Laurens' iTeXMac as a front end because I could write a customized “engine” to still compile my old files once I built that old format. Once TeXShop introduced the ability to do the same I moved over to using it since its interface was even simpler and, I felt, cleaner than that of iTeXMac. I considered re-learning emacs or AlphaX, an emacs-look-alike but more Mac oriented, but I was spoiled by the simple interface of TeXShop.

The two things I longed for: a way to make it easier to insert the rather wordy LaTeX markup; and a way to automate typesetting so that the complete cycle needed when you had cross-references, a bibliography and/or index, would be completed at one stroke.

To solve the first problem I ended up taking advantage of a little-used feature of TeXShop, Command Completion. The original intent of Command Completion was to complete small snippets of text or for expansion of short abbreviations. I simply created a completion list that contained complete LaTeX command and environment skeletons for those substitutions. I then added a bullet in each argument and got help on the MacOSX TeX list creating macros to search for and select those bullet marks; this made it easier to jump from one argument to another. I started creating personal builds of TeXShop when I was given some code by Hugh Neary that added built-in commands to TeXShop to move between those bullet marks. Will Robertson suggested an addition that allowed small comments, as memory joggers, in the arguments and I was able to change the code and build a TeXShop version that allowed for that. Eventually this code was added to TeXShop by Dick Koch so my days of creating personal builds of TeXShop are over for now. Since I'm not a very creative programmer I really appreciate the help I've gotten for others and I made my personal builds available on-line for others to use. I was actually amazed when I got e-mails thanking me and telling me about bugs, etc.

The second problem was solved when Will Robertson (do you see a theme here?) suggested that I take a look at several make-like programs aimed at typesetting using TeX. I settled on using latexmk, maintained by John Collins, and was able to build some “engines” for TeXShop to use latexmk to typeset using (xe/pdf)latex, etc. The latexmk program takes care of all the necessary runs of (xe/pdf)latex along with bibtex (and now automatically determining if biber is to be used) and/or makeindex to create a final typeset document. I've gotten into the habit of just using these “engines” for all of my typesetting. Again, I put these on-line and appreciated it when I discovered that others were using them. Dick Koch has made them available as part of TeXShop for a while now.

The MacTeX distribution: Best ask Wendy McKay how she roped me into being the moderator for an on-line meeting of the newly formed MacTeX Technical Working Group (TWG) at the Practical TeX 2004 meeting in San Francisco. That is especially true since I only attended that meeting online. It was at that meeting that I was “elected” Editor for a proposed MacTeX Distribution.

The following year Jonathan Kew produced the MacTeX Installer package at the Practical TeX meeting at Chapel Hill, NC. The full distribution is really two parts that are put together on the TeX Collection but available separately online. The first and most important part is the MacTeX Installer Package, assembled by Dick Koch, that provides a one click install of a TeX Distribution along with support software and GUI applications. The second part, MacTeXtras, is a set of applications and documentation that folks might be interested in having. I keep that up to date and add/delete applications with the agreement of the MacTeX-TWG. You can get more detailed information about the history of the MacTeX-TWG and the MacTeX Distribution itself at http://www.tug.org/twg/mactex/ and http://www.tug.org/mactex/2010/acknowledgments.html respectively.

DW:     Speaking of Jonathan, are you in touch at all with the TeXworks effort?

HS:     Jonathan Kew created TeXworks as a multi-platform front end (Editor/TeX Distribution Interface/Previewer) with a simple user interface similar to that of TeXShop which is Mac only. I have no connection to TeXworks but I do know that my original Command Completion file is used for that purpose within TeXworks.

DW:     It occurs to me to ask: In those “Bright Beginning” days, how did you go about learning TeX — just by reading The TeXbook or in some other way?

HS:     Since I was building upon Plain TeX I learned mostly by using The TeXbook and especially supplemented by Appendix B which is a nicely commented section about Plain TeX and Appendix D on Dirty Tricks. I'm not a very good programmer but, given enough time, I can read about and figure out what a bit of code does and then I can adapt it to my needs.

DW:     I've seen you in person at a couple of TeX conferences, and I believe I've seen your name in the participants list of others. As someone who takes the trouble to attend (at least those in the U.S.), please give me your impressions of them.

HS:     Meeting people via the Mac OS X TeX list and others is a wonderful experience but meeting them face to face has always drawn me closer to those I've been interacting with. Each meeting I've attended has brought me into direct contact with so many folks and I think we've gotten to know each other better.

One of the best ways to stretch my understanding of anything is to discover all the things I don't really know or understand. That gives me something to read more about and, maybe, add something to my knowledge base. The most interesting thing is that as time goes on I can understand more and more of the discussion so I feel as though I'm learning more all the time.

DW:     I've seen your wife, Chris, with you at a couple of conferences. Has she been on her own to find things to do while you were in sessions, or have conference organizers provided guidance for things spouses could be doing during conferences?

HS:     Most of the time Chris has been on her own but the conferences we've been to have always been close to places that she wants to visit anyway. We also have friends and relatives in or reasonably near many of the conferences in the U.S. Finally, there have always been other spouses at the meetings and they've managed to arrange for things to do together.

DW:     Thank you for taking the time to participate in this interview. I look forward to seeing you in person at a future conference. And, who knows, maybe I'll try TeX on a Mac someday and have questions for you.

Interview pages regenerated January 26, 2017;
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