Friday, January 21 2011

“Y’see, software has layers

Just spent a merry, no wait, hellish few hours fighting to get a LaTeX distribution up and running for the sole purpose of running a single script that uses it to convert marked-up Japanese text to PDF in convenient ebook sizes.

I failed. Or, more precisely, I got all the way to a DVI file that could be displayed quite nicely on screen, with all the kanji and furigana intact, but then the PDF converter that was part of the same TeX package that had generated it started barfing all over my screen, and I refused to spend more time on the project. I simply have no desire to navigate the layers and layers and layers of crap that TeX has acquired in its hacked-together support for modern fonts and encodings.

Honestly, if I want to generate cleanly-formatted Japanese text as a PDF, with furigana and vertical layout and custom page sizes, it takes 10,000 times less effort to spit out bog-standard HTML+CSS and feed it to Microsoft Word.

[Note to the MS-allergic: performing the equivalent import into OpenOffice is possible, but not reasonable. Getting basic unstyled plaintext+furigana wasn’t too bad, but anything more complicated would be an exercise in tedious XML debugging.]

[Update: gave it another go, and eventually discovered that running dvipdfmx with KPATHSEA_DEBUG=-1 in the environment returned a completely different search path than the kpsewhich tool used. Copying share/texmf/web2c/texmf.cnf.ptex to etc/texmf/texmf.cnf made all the problems go away. At least until the next time I upgrade something in MacPorts that recursively depends on something that obsoletes a recursive dependency of pTeX and hoses half my tools.

And, no, I can’t use the self-contained and centrally-managed TeX Live distribution (or the matching GUI-enabled MacTeX). That was the first hour I wasted. Its version of pTeX is apparently incompatible with one of the style files I needed.]