detexify: draw a symbol, get the LaTeX command

July 12th, 2009

The perfect document preparation system has yet to be invented, and I’ve tried many over the years, starting with TJ6. It’s surely impossible for any one system to be best, given the range of documents most of us have to produce: letters, memos, resumes, scientic papers, dissertations, books, etc. Microsoft Word is great for many of these, but like many, I’ve concluded that LaTeX is still the best for academic papers or large, complex documents. I think this graph attributed to Marko Pinteric says it elegantly.

Microsoft Word vs LaTeX

That LaTeX is so widely used is remarkable, given that it has been more that 25 years since it was first released and it was based on the somewhat arcane Tex. But LaTeX has its problems too, and one of them is remembering all of the commands to generate the many symbols that we like to use to make out papers seem more profound.

Detexify is a neat Web service that lets you draw a mathematical symbol with your mouse, interprets the result, and shows you what LaTeX command to use to generate it.

detexify readys your drawing and recommends a LaTeX command

It works pretty well! You can look at the source code — mostly in ruby — on github and contribute. Or you can volunteer to help train the system on new symbols.

(via Hacker News)