Ed Pegg Jr., April 26, 2004
I wasn't told of TeX in college. Since most published mathematical
papers use TeX, that knowledge would have helped. Various
geniuses created arxiv.org
documents with TeX. All the successful people I know use
TeX. So, I had to learn it. A history of TeX is at the TeX users group. TeX (which rhymes with
blecch) was invented by Donald Knuth,
who has the world's most fascinating faculty
One difficulty with TeX is getting it. On Windows, I
obtained MiKTeX first, then WinEdt as the front end. This took
me a few days due to the size of all the packages, and some amount of
floundering around. WinEdt isn't free, so be aware of that, but I
feel it is well worth its price.
Another handy program I was slow to find was Ghostview. On a lot
of faculty pages, or on arxiv,
papers are in PS (postscript) format.
Many programs deserved recommendation in a column
(cygwin, to name one),
but I worried about the amount of time required for people to download
all of them. Buying them on CD seemed expensive. For
getting TeX on five CDs from CTAN
A short time ago, I found a solution that made a TeX demo a
breeze. A solution based on
the Debian distribution, and
which includes over 1200 Debian packages.
A solution with half a gigabyte of scientific software.
A solution that was easy to use, and which wouldn't touch a
computer's hard drive. I wanted a solution that was
simple, powerful, and free.
I found the Quantian distribution. The free
download (800 Meg) is available at the
of Washington. European download sites include RedIRIS (in Spain),
T. Boegenielsen's site
(in Denmark). To get it on CD, visit ulnx.com
($5.50 AUD), or bsdiso.de (3.95
Quantian is a math-intensive
Linux distribution for Intel-based systems. Get Quantian, then
reboot your system
from the CD. A Knoppix
screen will come up, with boot: at the
bottom. Press enter, and wait 4 minutes as your computer setup is
detected automatically. You'll then
be looking at Quantian Linux. When done,
log-off, eject the disk, and reboot to your usual system.
"That's unbelievable!" is comment from a friend I showed this to.
Figure 1. Screenshot of Quantian
(Click image for
The screenshot above is from my Windows computer. Quantian does not touch the hard drive
-- indeed, hard drive writes are by default impossible.
Read access is automatic, allowing file-reading from the hard
drive. Quantian makes a great emergency boot disk. For this
I wanted to write to my flash memory card, so I
right-clicked on that drive and changed the write access, then
I brought up Konqueror (the KDE browser), connected to the
and paid a visit to Donald Knuth's site
for a TeX file to play
with. I chose his excellent paper on Leaper
Graphs, and saved it
to the flash memory card. (lg.tex in the lower left). I then
brought up a Linux Shell, so I could have access to the command line
(upper left). I typed tex to
invoke the program, then
to give the location (your location may vary).
TeX went to work, and saved "lg.dvi" to the ramdisk Quantian had
automatically set up
(lower right). I clicked on that, and read the marvelous paper
(upper right). A free online resource for learning TeX is at Making TeX Work.
Figure 2. A step by step demonstration of viewing a TeX file
using Quantian. (click image for full size)
That was easy. Next, I decided to peek at one
of the postscript
pre-fascicles available for The Art of Computer Programming,
Volume 4. With a click, I opened it and read it with ghostview (fascinating
There are many, many more mathematics tools available in Quantian.
Pieces of various screenshots can be seen below. Quantian contains many
more things, but this column is not long enough to contain them all.
Figure 3. Some of the programs available in the Quantian
Here is a brief run down of links, programs, and
other goodies in Quantian.
Quantian does all this by a remastering of Knoppix.
It is the first math-specific Live CD (a list of Live CDs is maintained
- R, including several
packages (such as tseries,
coda, mcmcpack, gtkdevice,
qtl, dbi, rmysql),
out-of-the box support for the powerful ESS modes
for XEmacs as well as the Ggobi visualisation program;
- A complete teTeX, TeX, and LaTeX setup for scientific
along with TeXmacs and LyX for wysiwyg editing;
- Perl and Python with loads of add-ons, plus ruby, tcl, Lua,
and Numeric Python;
- The Emacs
and Vim editors, as well as Gnumeric, kate, Koffice, jed, joe, nedit and zile;
- Octave, with add-on packages
- Computer-algebra systems Maxima,
Pari/GP, GAP, GiNaC and YaCaS;
- the QuantLib quantitative
library including its Python
- GSL, the Gnu
Library (GSL) including example binaries;
- The GNU compiler suite comprising gcc,
- the OpenDX, Plotmtv,
and Mayavi data visualisation
- it includes apcalc, aribas, autoclass,
DrGeo, euler, evolver, freefem, ftnchek, gambit, geg, geomview, ghemical, glpk, gnuplot, gperiodic, gri, gmt, gretl, ImageMagick, IPE, lam, lp-solve, mcl, mpich, mpqc, multimix,
rasmol, plotutils, pgapack,
pspp, pdl, rcalc, SQLite, Tclsh, yorick, xaos, XLisp-Stat,
- a detailed
list is available, as well as a changelog,
pages, and a set of short howtos for
If you'd like to know more, a paper
Quantian was printed in the DSC 2003
Proceedings, or you can visit the Quantian site.
If you have a software package that could support Quantian, get it into
a Debian package first, then request a push into Quantian. If you
are an artist, custom background images for Quantian are needed.
If you like math, this is a present.
Dirk Eddelbuettel. The Quantian Scientific Computing
Comments are welcome. Please send comments to Ed Pegg Jr. at
Ed Pegg Jr. is the webmaster for mathpuzzle.com.
He works at Wolfram Research, Inc. as the administrator of the