Here at HackCollege, we’re all about keeping our notes in “the cloud” (on the web) or on a thumb drive instead of on paper. It saves trees and it allows you to search your notes easily. Unfortunately, it’s nearly impossible to take notes in any advanced math course. Tablet PC’s don’t cut it, and let me know when you find a double-integral sign in the Microsoft Word symbol library. I’ll see you in a week.

A math professor and friend of mine, pointed out the LaTeX markup language to me a few months ago. LaTeX is a multipurpose markup language with some very powerful and extensive math symbols. Think HTML, the web markup language, on ‘roids and for word documents. And I have a pet theory: a student with a laptop could learn it so well they could take notes in math class. If you’ve ever punched in an equation to your TI-89, you can use LaTeX. This time you get a full keyboard. No more 300-page notebooks full of nearly indecipherable notes.

Getting Started

First, you’ll need to install something that can parse LaTeX. The TeX Users Group recommends the following:

Install the one corresponding to your operating system, then try entering this text. You may have to somehow build your LaTeX after you entered it. Read the documentation for your program or look at the page you downloaded it from.

Once you’ve got it installed and working, try entering in the following:

E &=& mc^2

This snippet of code prints that ubiquitous equation that Einstein figured out.

Learning LaTeX

Now all you have to do is learn how to use LaTeX, right? That might be easier said than done, especially speed wise. Some students may need to completely change their mindset. Everything in LaTeX, like just about any other markup language, is nested. Thankfully, math usually works this way, too.

This post is not about teaching you how to use LaTeX, just how to get started. Here are a few cheat sheets and starter guides:

Using LaTeX as a Student

I suppose I did promise that you’d be able to save your math notes into the cloud through a service like Google Docs. Well, as of now, there is no online word processor that has LaTeX support. But that’s okay, you can just use the LaTeX parser that you used.

Next, you need to tell your OS to keep track of the files. Make sure that you have your OS’s operating system set to index the folder you decide to keep the notes in. If you’re running Windows XP or Linux, try something like Google Desktop Search.

Voila, just like that you have searchable math notes.

Let us know what you guys think and how it works for you.