The Tex User Group 2019 conference was held between August 9-11, 2019 at Sheraton Palo Alto Hotel, in Palo Alto, California.


I wanted to attend TUG 2019 for two main reasons - to present my work on the “XeTeX Book Template”, and also to meet my favourite computer scientist, Prof. Donald Knuth. He does not travel much, so, it was one of those rare opportunities for me to meet him in person. His creation of the TeX computer typesetting system, where you can represent any character mathematically, and also be able to program and transform it is beautiful, powerful and the best typesetting software in the world. I have been using TeX extensively for my documentation and presentations over the years.

Day I

I reached the hotel venue only in the afternoon of Friday, August 9, 2019, as I was also visiting Mountain View/San Jose on official work. I quickly checked into the hotel and completed my conference registration formalities. When I entered the hall, Rishi T from STM Document Engineering Private Limited, Thiruvananthapuram was presenting a talk on “Neptune - a proofing framework for LaTeX authors”. His talk was followed by an excellent poetic narration by Pavneet Arora, who happened to be a Vim user, but, also mentioned that he was eager to listen to my talk on XeTeX and GNU Emacs.

After a short break, Shreevatsa R, shared his experiences on trying to understand the TeX source code, and the lessons learnt in the process. It was a very informative, user experience report on the challenges he faced in navigating and learning the TeX code. Petr Sojka, from Masaryk University, Czech Republic, shared his students’ experience in using TeX with a detailed field report. I then proceeded to give my talk on the “XeTeX Book Template” on creating multi-lingual books using GNU Emacs and XeTeX. It was well received by the audience. The final talk of the day was by Jim Hefferon, who analysed different LaTeX group questions from newbies and in StackExchange, and gave a wonderful summary of what newbies want. He is a professor of Mathematics at Saint Michael’s College, and is well-known for his book on Linear Algebra, prepared using LaTeX. It was good to meet him, as he is also a Free Software contributor.

The TUG Annual General Meeting followed with discussions on how to grow the TeX community, the challenges faced, membership fees, financial reports, and plan for the next TeX user group conference.

Day II

The second day of the conference began with Petr Sojka and Ondřej Sojka presenting on “The unreasonable effectiveness of pattern generation”. They discussed the Czech hyphenation patterns along with a pattern generation case study. This talk was followed by Arthur Reutenauer presenting on “Hyphenation patterns in TeX Live and beyond”. David Fuchs, a student who worked with Prof. Donald Knuth on the TeX project in 1978, then presented on “What six orders of magnitude of space-time buys you”, where he discussed the design trade-offs in TeX implementation between olden days and present day hardware.

After a short break, Tom Rokicki, who was also a student at Stanford and worked with Donald Knuth on TeX, gave an excellent presentation on searching and copying text in PDF documents generated by TeX for Type-3 bitmap fonts. This session was followed by Martin Ruckert’s talk on “The design of the HINT file format”, which is intended as a replacement of the DVI or PDF file format for on-screen reading of TeX output. He has also authored a book on the subject - “HINT: The File Format: Reflowable Output for TeX”. Doug McKenna had implemented an interactive iOS math book with his own TeX interpreter library. This allows you to dynamically interact with the typeset document in a PDF-free ebook format, and also export the same. We then took a group photo:

Group photo

I then had to go to Stanford, so missed the post-lunch sessions, but, returned for the banquet dinner in the evening. I was able to meet and talk with Prof. Donald E. Knuth in person. Here is a memorable photo!

With Prof. Donald Knuth

He was given a few gifts at the dinner, and he stood up and thanked everyone and said that “He stood on the shoulders of giants like Isaac Newton and Albert Einstein.”

Gift to Prof. Donald Knuth< />

I had a chance to meet a number of other people who valued the beauty, precision and usefulness of TeX. Douglas Johnson had come to the conference from Savannah, Georgia and is involved in the publishing industry. Rohit Khare, from Google, who is active in the Representational State Transfer (ReST) community shared his experiences with typesetting. Nathaniel Stemen is a software developer at Overleaf, which is used by a number of university students as an online, collaborative LaTeX editor. Joseph Weening, who was also once a student to Prof. Donald Knuth, and is at present a Research Staff member at the Institute for Defense Analyses Center for Communications Research in La Jolla, California (IDA/CCR-L) shared his experiences in working with the TeX project.


The final day of the event began with Antoine Bossard talking on “A glance at CJK support with XeTeX and LuaTeX”. He is an Associate Professor of the Graduate School of Science, Kanagawa University, Japan. He has been conducting research regarding Japanese characters and their memorisation. This session was followed by a talk by Jaeyoung Choi on “FreeType MF Module 2: Integration of Metafont and TeX-oriented bitmap fonts inside FreeType”. Jennifer Claudio then presented the challenges in improving Hangul to English translation.

After a short break, Rishi T presented “TeXFolio - a framework to typeset XML documents using TeX”. Boris Veytsman then presented the findings on research done at the College of Information and Computer Science, University of Massachusetts, Amherst on “BibTeX-based dataset generation for training citation parsers”. The last talk before lunch was by Didier Verna on “Quickref: A stress test for Texinfo”. He teaches at École Pour l’Informatique et les Techniques Avancées, and is a maintainer of XEmacs, Gnus and BBDB. He also an avid Lisper and one of the organizers of the European Lisp Symposium!

After lunch, Uwe Ziegenhagen demonstrated on using LaTeX to prepare and automate exams. This was followed by a field report by Yusuke Terada, on how they use TeX to develop a digital exam grading system at large scale in Japan. Chris Rowley, from the LaTeX project, then spoke on “Accessibility in the LaTeX kernel - experiments in tagged PDF”. Ross Moore joined remotely for the final session of the day to present on “LaTeX 508 - creating accessible PDFs”. The videos of both of these last two talks are available online.

A number of TeX books were made available for free for the participants, and I grabbed quite a few, including a LaTeX manual written by Leslie Lamport. Overall, it was a wonderful event, and it was nice to meet so many like-minded Free Software people.

A special thanks to Karl Berry, who put in a lot of effort in organizing the conference, but, could not make it to due to a car accident.

The TeX User Group Conference in 2020 is scheduled to be held at my alma mater, Rochester Institute of Technology.