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How To Enter Equations Quickly In Class? 823

AdmiralXyz writes "I'm a university student, and I like to take notes on my (non-tablet) computer whenever possible, so it's easier to sort, categorize, and search through them later. Trouble is, I'm going into higher and higher math classes, and typing "f_X(x) = integral(-infinity, infinity, f(x,y) dy)" just isn't cutting it anymore: I need a way to get real-looking equations into my notes. I'm not particular about the details, the only requirement is that I need to keep up with the lecture, so it has to be fast, fast, fast. Straight LaTeX is way too slow, and Microsoft's Equation Editor isn't even worth mentioning. The platform is not a concern (I'm on a MacBook Pro and can run either Windows or Ubuntu in a virtual box if need be), but the less of a hit to battery life, the better. I've looked at several dedicated equation editing programs, but none of them, or their reviews, make any mention of speed. I've even thought about investing in a low-end Wacom tablet (does anyone know if there are ultra-cheap graphics tablets designed for non-artists?), but I figured I'd see if anyone at Slashdot has a better solution."
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How To Enter Equations Quickly In Class?

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  • LyX (Score:5, Informative)

    by sl3xd ( 111641 ) * on Thursday October 29, 2009 @04:37PM (#29915847) Journal

    I used LyX quite a bit; the equation editor is pretty quick to work with (better than MS Equation Editor or similar addons).

    LyX is generally much faster than straight LaTeX - and there's a much shallower learning curve.

    Additionally, LyX works on pretty much whatever platform you want to use.

    • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday October 29, 2009 @04:47PM (#29916061)

      Create keyboard macros for all your math stuff.

      CONTROL + SHIFT + F would be
        f() [LEFT ARROW to put your cursor between the parenthesis]

      You're in college, so I'm sure you can figure it out...

    • Re:LyX (Score:5, Funny)

      by Anonymous Coward on Thursday October 29, 2009 @04:49PM (#29916105)

      Claim you have a disability and get the university to pay someone to write all of your notes.

    • Re:LyX (Score:5, Interesting)

      by Anonymous Coward on Thursday October 29, 2009 @05:20PM (#29916633)

      I have used LyX in advanced mathematical courses such as quantum mechanics and relativistic electrodynamics. With the help of the copy-paste function I found that I could type the equations faster into my laptop than my classmates could write them onto paper and so had a little more time to think about them and ask questions.

      LyX is very easy to learn for note taking as you type stuff like:
      CNTL-M \int_{-\infty}^{\infty} \alpha(x) dx
      and get instant pretty graphical equations.

      If you need to draw pictures, however, you will need a tablet or pen and paper.

      Hope this helps...

      • Re:LyX (Score:4, Insightful)

        by dgatwood ( 11270 ) on Thursday October 29, 2009 @05:29PM (#29916805) Homepage Journal

        I've found that, assuming your professor is okay with it, bringing a digital camera with a good zoom lens and shooting pictures of the board as the professor writes on it is the fastest way to take notes. We do this in meetings at work for the same reason. Alternatively, professors who use electronic slides can provide a copy of them electronically, removing the need to waste a lot of the students' time hand-writing copies of the same content unnecessarily. We don't live in ancient times; we aren't training scribes here.

        • Re:LyX (Score:3, Informative)

          by dgatwood ( 11270 ) on Thursday October 29, 2009 @05:36PM (#29916919) Homepage Journal

          And if you want a specific recommendation that works very well, any of the Canon Digital Rebel series with an 18-85mm lens are great choices for that. Pricey, but priceless.

        • Re:LyX (Score:5, Insightful)

          by Mikkeles ( 698461 ) on Thursday October 29, 2009 @06:21PM (#29917595)

          The muscle memory of (hand)writing notes (which are not necessarily verbatum copies of the presentation) is an excellant aid to learning.

          In addition, it helps one learn how to filtre out the less relevant part of copious information; that is, to recognise what's important.

          • Re:LyX (Score:5, Insightful)

            by Ahnteis ( 746045 ) on Thursday October 29, 2009 @07:03PM (#29918041)

            AND when you copy those onto your computer later, you'll be even MORE likely to remember it.

          • Re:LyX (Score:4, Insightful)

            by Eskarel ( 565631 ) on Friday October 30, 2009 @12:33AM (#29920627)

            That is entirely dependent on the individual and their learning style.

            Some people do learn that way, some people do not, some people learn better by reading, or speaking or listening, or teaching others. Back in high school I used to program my calculator to do the problems on the homework and while I couldn't use those programs in class, explaining how to do something to the calculator generally gave me a pretty good understanding of it myself.

    • Re:LyX (Score:3, Informative)

      by lithis ( 5679 ) <> on Thursday October 29, 2009 @05:36PM (#29916913) Homepage

      I second this. If you don't know TeX math commands, there are toolbar buttons, menus, and dialog boxes for everything. But once you do learn the commands (and the TeX commands are listed in the menus and appear as tooltips over the buttons), you can just type them. So instead of pressing the subscript button, you press _ and the display switches to subscript mode. Instead of clicking the sine function, you type \sin. Instead of clicking the fraction button, you can type \frac.

      Also, text entry is pretty easy. For example, after creating a fraction two empty blue squares appear--the numerator and the denomerator. Focus is in the numerator, and you can press Tab to switch to the denomerator. Pressing the spacebar exits the fraction, putting the cursor just after it.

    • Re:LyX (Score:4, Interesting)

      by wall0159 ( 881759 ) on Friday October 30, 2009 @04:31AM (#29921507)

      I wrote my thesis in LyX, and it was basically a good experience with few problems. However, if I was doing it again I'd probably use straight LaTeX via a nice editor (gedit has a nice LaTeX plugin, for example). The reason for this is that I think LaTeX is in someways a bit simpler than LyX because it is always clear what is happening, whereas LyX has a second markup stage. I had a bit of difficulty doing some document-wide formatting in LyX that I think would've been more straight-forward in LaTeX.

      I'm certainly not being heavily critical of LyX, and think that if you stick to their bundled document formats, you should be fine.

      (this is a little off-topic, because the article is about taking equation notes in class, which would be a cinch in LyX, I reckon.)

  • What's old is new (Score:5, Informative)

    by 404 Clue Not Found ( 763556 ) * on Thursday October 29, 2009 @04:38PM (#29915863)

    Wacom's low-end Bamboo Pen [] ($69) tablet should be more than you need. Amazon has it for $60. [] Combine it with Microsoft OneNote or similar and you'll have recreated the fabulous 2-buck pen-and-paper experience. Go you!

    • Pulse Smart Pen (Score:4, Informative)

      by Roger W Moore ( 538166 ) on Thursday October 29, 2009 @05:21PM (#29916673) Journal
      The pulse smart pen is far better. I tried the Wacom bluetooth tablet but the problem is that you cannot see what you write. If you use the Pulse Smartpen [] then it acts like a real pen - so you can see exactly what you have written - and as well as recording exactly what you wrote it records audio as well so you end up with a document that you can click on to hear what was being said at the time that you wrote that bit of text.

      The only downside is that it needs special paper which you can buy in notebook form or which you can print yourself using a laser printer. The windows version has some extra software you can buy to perform OCR on your handwriting but since I have a Mac I have no idea how good it is. There is even an open SDK for you to develop your own applications for it but it unfortunately only supports Java.
      • by 7 digits ( 986730 ) on Friday October 30, 2009 @03:57AM (#29921357)

        There is another issue with the Pulse Smartpen: the software is a steaming piece of shit. For instance, if anybody draws a huge penis on the first page of your notebook, you'll stare at it until the end of the year, because you can't delete pages.

        And that is just one among many many many issues.

        Great hardware. Failed software execution.

    • by 0100010001010011 ( 652467 ) on Thursday October 29, 2009 @05:37PM (#29916943)

      you'll have recreated the fabulous 2-buck pen-and-paper experience. Go you!

      The question I don't understand is WHY. The quoted statement outline the end result pretty clearly. I understand slashdot loves to use fancy technology to solve simple problems, but sometimes simpler is better. I already have a HUGE set of properly formatted equations all nicely written out, it's called the Book.

      Note taking, for me, was to summarize what the teacher said, in MY words so that I could understand it later. I just learn by writing it down, there were some classes that I never kept the notes. I'd grab what ever scratch paper was by the printers, write on it, and toss it after class. (Statics. F=0, how hard is it?). I still have quite a few of both textbooks AND notes for a class. I have the hard equations and then I have how I learned it. Heaven forbid ever become an engineer, where the teacher is drawing simply supported beams on the board, the teacher is drawing feedback control systems.

      Anything worth writing is worth writing once. If someone already wrote it in the text book. Then that is good enough for me. In some classes we'd photocopy the problems out of the book, cut them out and paste them on the homework. It was better looking than my drawing and clearer than my handwriting... and I can guarantee I never made any transcribing errors.

      Instantly digitized notes seem like they'd be great for classes where the content will never exist again outside of that class. Philosophy debates, taking notes as a reporter, etc. You're going to spend more of your time trying to figure out how to make that '2' go subscript of that '4' in the numerator with the summation block than you will learning the content. Put down the computer. Grab a good mechanical pencil and a $.50 notebook from walmart and quit worrying about it.

      If you HAVE to have a digital copy. Take notes on something that can easily be separated into individual sheets (3 ring binder and 8x11s with 3 holes). When the semester is over take it to any decent multifunction machine, put it in the top and let it scan everything for you.

    • Re:What's old is new (Score:3, Interesting)

      by fm6 ( 162816 ) on Thursday October 29, 2009 @08:11PM (#29918699) Homepage Journal

      I've been using OneNote for a couple of years, and I'm pretty disgusted with it. Too complicated, too limited. too unreliable, too many "what were they thinking" gotchas.

      Right now, I'm giving Evernote a try. Not as many snazzy features of OneNote, but the features it does have work well and are easy to access. And it's free, if you don't mind a few non-obnoxious ads. If it continues to bear the strain, I'm transferring all my data from OneNote and deleting the sucker.

  • pencil/paper (Score:5, Informative)

    by jschen ( 1249578 ) on Thursday October 29, 2009 @04:38PM (#29915865)
    Pencil/paper and digitizing later should be fine.
    • Re:pencil/paper (Score:5, Informative)

      by Reeses ( 5069 ) on Thursday October 29, 2009 @04:39PM (#29915891)

      Pen and paper got me through my math classes in school. Then I'd transcribe the equations later into digital form.

      • Re:pencil/paper (Score:5, Insightful)

        by zolltron ( 863074 ) on Thursday October 29, 2009 @05:26PM (#29916765)

        Absolutely! I have students that take notes on computer, and I think it's a terrible idea. First there is the problem of equations. In the class I teach we introduce a lot of symbols, so even if you have a fast system you would have to find the symbols in a big list. By the time you do, you're probably behind.

        Second, note taking is a tool which helps you learn the material better. Transcribing the notes later helps significantly more, because now you get to revisit the material with fresh eyes. Something that may have seemed obvious initially may seem less so when you transcribe them. Now you can go to the next lecture an ask questions from the previous class. (As a professor, I'm *very* impressed when students do this, because it proves to me that they did something other than drink beer between the end of the last class and the beginning of the next.)

        Finally taking notes on a computer provides you with many distractions. I know lots of students who claim "I don't get distracted from using a computer", but then my grader or another student informs me the were surfing the web, reading email, IMing, etc. Save yourself from having to avoid these and just use paper.

        • Re:pencil/paper (Score:3, Informative)

          by The_Wilschon ( 782534 ) on Thursday October 29, 2009 @06:25PM (#29917647) Homepage
          As far as typing odd symbols goes, here's my .xmodmaprc for anyone who wants it. It lets me type in greek symbols, and a few other things, by making the caps lock (original function: worthless) into a new shift key:
          ! first set caps lock to be a group shift key
          keycode 66 = Mode_switch

          ! Now set up all the keys: first two are the normal qwerty en_US keys, 3rd and 4th are greek characters (or others)
          keysym a = a A Greek_alpha Greek_ALPHA
          keysym b = b B Greek_beta Greek_BETA
          keysym c = c C Greek_psi Greek_PSI
          keysym d = d D Greek_delta Greek_DELTA

          ! there exists
          keysym e = e E Greek_epsilon 0x01002203
          keysym f = f F Greek_phi Greek_PHI
          keysym g = g G Greek_gamma Greek_GAMMA

          keysym h = h H Greek_eta 0x0100210F

          ! set ownership
          keysym i = i I Greek_iota 0x01002208
          keysym j = j J Greek_xi Greek_XI
          keysym k = k K Greek_kappa Greek_KAPPA
          keysym l = l L Greek_lamda Greek_LAMDA
          keysym m = m M Greek_mu Greek_MU
          keysym n = n N Greek_nu Greek_NU
          keysym o = o O Greek_omicron Greek_OMICRON
          keysym p = p P Greek_pi Greek_PI

          ! partial, del
          keysym q = q Q 0x01002202 0x01002207
          keysym r = r R Greek_rho Greek_RHO
          keysym s = s S Greek_sigma Greek_SIGMA

          ! dagger
          keysym t = t T Greek_tau 0x01002020
          keysym u = u U Greek_theta Greek_THETA
          keysym v = v V Greek_omega Greek_OMEGA

          ! times
          keysym x = x X Greek_chi 0x010000D7
          keysym y = y Y Greek_upsilon Greek_UPSILON
          keysym w = w W Greek_finalsmallsigma Greek_SIGMA

          ! cdot
          keysym period = period greater 0x010022C5

          keysym 8 = 8 asterisk 0x0100221E

          ! equiv
          keysym equal = equal plus 0x01002261
          Maybe you don't need as much greek, and instead need more random mathematical symbols. Easy to change things out. The hex codes are 0x01######, where ###### is the unicode hex code for the symbol. In general, with the ucs package, LaTeX understands these.
    • Re:pencil/paper (Score:5, Insightful)

      by arthurpaliden ( 939626 ) on Thursday October 29, 2009 @04:41PM (#29915941)
      Pencil/paper and transcription. That way the knowlage is refreshed after the lecture and you hve a better chance of correcting what you took down if it was initially taken down in error because the content is fresh in your mind.
      • Re:pencil/paper (Score:5, Interesting)

        by chrisb33 ( 964639 ) on Thursday October 29, 2009 @05:21PM (#29916661) Homepage
        If you're just interested in organization and searching, I'd highly recommend the LiveScribe Pulse smartpen - all the smarts are in the pen, which isn't too expensive compared to a tablet, and you can buy the compatible notebooks cheaply. All your notes get backed up to your computer when you dock your pen, it does a great job searching for a specific piece of text. My handwriting is a disaster, and I have never seen a search fail so far - I believe that it actually uses the sequence of pen motions (not just OCR on the final result) and it can tolerate some of the letters being unreadable. It has other features as well, such as recording audio (the mic has a decent gain) and syncing it with your notes. They also have an SDK and are launching an app store, so in the future you should be able to make good use of the ARM processor in the pen.
    • Re:pencil/paper (Score:4, Informative)

      by ocean_soul ( 1019086 ) <tobias.verhulst@ ... m minus language> on Thursday October 29, 2009 @04:49PM (#29916099) Homepage
      I agree. You should not be taking notes on the computer. It's much better to do it on paper and, if you really need it, digitize them later. This coming from a former mathematical physics student, now teaching mathematical physics. So I do have (a lot of) experience with it.
    • Re:pencil/paper (Score:2, Interesting)

      by Anonymous Coward on Thursday October 29, 2009 @04:52PM (#29916169)

      I have been an engineer for 30 years and have tried over and over to take digital notes. I have never found an efficient solution. You're right - equations and drawings / sketches make digital note-taking a mess. OCR technology pukes on my handwriting.

      Here is the work flow that I have used for the last 5 years, or so:

      1. Handwritten notes in black pen.
      2. Scan according to your preference (200 dpi grayscale for me). Save as tiff.
      3. Import into Paperport.
      4. Use Paperport's annotation function to add searchable text boxes.

      It sux, but I have about 2,500 pages of notes that I can search by my added keywords, and can back up in case of catastrophe.

      I continuously try to improve this workflow, and Paperport's ability to search on text boxes is unique. Most software needs/wants to OCR and and make a linked text file in order to search.

    • Re:pencil/paper (Score:3, Informative)

      by budhaboy ( 717823 ) on Thursday October 29, 2009 @04:58PM (#29916277)
      totally agree. The best editing software for equations I've ever seen is latex, and I suspect it's still too slow for taking notes in class. There used to be these crazy pens that could capture notes (and doodles) to image files... But it'd probrably be easier just to scan them later, as it'd give you a chance to review them anyway.
    • by mctk ( 840035 ) on Thursday October 29, 2009 @05:09PM (#29916487) Homepage
      Other solutions that solve poster's problem without answering his quesiton:

      1. Memorize as you go.
      2. Screw lecture, just watch Square One.
      3. Have friend audio-record lectures then have other friend convert them to notes then photocopy friend's notes and use OCR.
      4. Drop out of school.
      5. Prove the Reimann Hypothesis and skip right to that PhD.
      6. Hire a plant to continually ask inane questions during lecture, giving you more time to input those equations in LaTeX.
      7. Code up a Math Module for Dragon Naturally speaking.
      8. ???
      9. Dear aunt, let's set so double the killer delete select all

      Wait... What were we talking about?
  • ASCIIMathML (Score:5, Interesting)

    by anidiot ( 821082 ) on Thursday October 29, 2009 @04:39PM (#29915877) Homepage
  • Old school (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Darth Maul ( 19860 ) on Thursday October 29, 2009 @04:39PM (#29915883) Homepage

    Keep it simple - pen and paper.

  • paint (Score:5, Funny)

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday October 29, 2009 @04:39PM (#29915897)

    microsoft paint

  • by SashaM ( 520334 ) <> on Thursday October 29, 2009 @04:40PM (#29915925) Homepage

    LyX []

    With some practice (and appropriate shortcuts), you can enter formulas faster than you can write them down with a pen.

    • Re:LyX (Score:3, Informative)

      by BetterSense ( 1398915 ) on Thursday October 29, 2009 @05:00PM (#29916311)
      I'm a graduate student in physics and my friend started using started using LyX to do class notes and even homework. I've used it too and still do for very math-heavy homework and so on. It's very readable compared to handwriting, you can cut and paste, and it's not significantly slower. I still do a lot of analysis on paper with a good fountain pen, but I always have to rewrite a final, legible version anyway, and LyX is very easy and my professors love it.
  • by abigor ( 540274 ) on Thursday October 29, 2009 @04:41PM (#29915927)

    Apparently as of Snow Leopard, the touchpad can now do handwriting recognition. So you may already have all the tools you need with your MacBook. I've never tried this particular functionality, though it sounds cool.

  • Windows 7 (Score:4, Informative)

    by thefogger ( 455551 ) on Thursday October 29, 2009 @04:41PM (#29915929)

    If you do choose to invest in a Wacom tablet, Windows 7 comes with a math input panel:

    It's not very usable with a mouse, though.

  • by damn_registrars ( 1103043 ) <> on Thursday October 29, 2009 @04:41PM (#29915931) Homepage Journal
    Meets your criteria:
    • Cheap
    • Doesn't take up much space
    • Excellent battery life
    • Expandable

    If you really want to get fancy you could write with erasable ink or (gasp) a pencil in case you make mistakes in your notes.

    Then invest a little money in a scanner with a sheet feeder so you can digitize your notes quickly after every lecture.

  • by jimktrains ( 838227 ) on Thursday October 29, 2009 @04:42PM (#29915949) Homepage

    Pencil and paper. I had this issue in both my math and chemistry classes. It was defiantly worth it to just do it on paper and then translate them into teX later.

  • Analog (Score:2, Informative)

    by Pete Venkman ( 1659965 ) on Thursday October 29, 2009 @04:42PM (#29915951) Journal
    I encountered this problem too during my last year and a half in uni, so I used a low-tech solution. When I needed to put an equation in my notes, I would type "See EQ. 1-1" and fill up a piece of paper with equations. Later on (that day or the next), while reviewing my notes I would look up the eq on my sheet and type it into my notes the correct way.
  • by jsac ( 71558 ) on Thursday October 29, 2009 @04:42PM (#29915957) Journal
    Windows 7 now features a math input panel, which converts handwritten mathematics to MathML. You can see screenshots at this link: []
    • by Chryana ( 708485 ) on Thursday October 29, 2009 @04:54PM (#29916209)

      I was a math major not so long ago, and I used a tablet pc at the time... It worked fairly well, although I never digitized what I wrote down, and didn't really look into it either. I'm not sure you would get good results with a Wacom tablet though. I know another student in a class (computer, this time) I took tried that, and he could not even read what he wrote. So if you decide to try it, you may want to keep your receipt. Good luck.

  • Mathematica (Score:2, Informative)

    by raybob ( 203381 ) on Thursday October 29, 2009 @04:42PM (#29915965) []

    is a lot of fun to play with, does computation & all kinds of neat tricks in addition to typesetting.

    $139 for the student version, available for the Mac.

  • by Carik ( 205890 ) on Thursday October 29, 2009 @04:43PM (#29915969)

    Why not use a paper notebook in class, and just enter the equations into the computer later?

    If you absolutely insist on a technical solution, how about:

    - using macros. Use something like OO.o's auto expand feature (whatever they call it), so that when you type exp-1 it translates to ^-1, or intl expands to integral.

    - using shorthand. Find a set of shorthand layouts that work for you, then run search and replace later to make them what they're actually supposed to be. The same examples as above work -- just without the macros.

    To be honest, though, you're probably best off either using pencil and paper or just improving your typing speed.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday October 29, 2009 @04:43PM (#29915971)
    There's this amazing new technology that utilizes droplets of colored pigmentation that adhere via cohesion to sheets of a fibrous cellulose material. Ask your chemistry professor about it.
  • by Florian Weimer ( 88405 ) <> on Thursday October 29, 2009 @04:43PM (#29915981) Homepage

    f_X(x) = integral(-infinity, infinity, f(x,y) dy)

    Just type $$f_X(x) = \int_\infty^\infty f(x,y) dy$$ instead.

  • Pen, paper, TeX. (Score:3, Insightful)

    by zunger ( 17731 ) on Thursday October 29, 2009 @04:44PM (#29915991)

    I had this issue for years. Ultimately I never found anything within a factor of 5 for speed of simple pen and paper. The next best thing was LaTeX; with practice you can type that remarkably fast. (Especially if you pre-define macros relevant to whatever you're doing) The GUI-based solutions uniformly stank.

    I've never found any system for digitizing handwritten equations; for a long time, my hope was that such software (preferably with LaTeX output) and a tablet would be a good solution. But the market for such things is small, and a few minutes of design work convinced me that implementing it was a lot more trouble than it would ever be worth.

  • by thePsychologist ( 1062886 ) on Thursday October 29, 2009 @04:45PM (#29916013) Journal

    Pencil and paper.

    Forget the computer for mathematics classes. You will never get as fast with any sort of computer technology as you will with paper. If you want to jot down a quick calculation, or more importantly, draw a diagram, paper and pencil are painless and easy, and as a result you'll spend more time focusing on what's really important: what the professor is saying and doing on the board.

    I'm a math major just graduated and taking graduate courses in mathematics currently so I've had much experience here. I've tried to take notes with a computer. I am very quick with LaTeX. You can even define your own macros specific to what the professor is likely to write and even then I think a computer for taking notes in a math course is useless.

  • I remember using... (Score:2, Informative)

    by CannedTurkey ( 920516 ) on Thursday October 29, 2009 @04:45PM (#29916017)
    ... a product called MathCad 15 years ago. I seem to recall they had a free student version. Looks like they have a 30 day trial, and a $60 student version if it suits your purposes.
  • by demachina ( 71715 ) on Thursday October 29, 2009 @04:45PM (#29916025)

    AMaya is the only one I've used. Doubt it would be fast enough for note taking though it outputs MathML so you can drop it straight in to HTML and a browser. It is open source so you can optimize it if you desire.

  • by frovingslosh ( 582462 ) on Thursday October 29, 2009 @04:47PM (#29916053)
    You know, I already have a touch tablet on my notebook, as many others do too. The problem is that the software is programmed to make it act as a mouse (and I also always carry a small wireless mouse with my notebook). So the ideal solution would seem to be a piece of software that lets one use this touch sensitive surface for what it really is rather than forcing it to be a mouse. Has no one written and released such software?
  • by shdragon ( 1797 ) on Thursday October 29, 2009 @04:48PM (#29916067) Homepage Journal

    I work in the education industry. For all of our test & test prep materials, we use a program called MathType. It's quick, easy and supports advanced mathematical formulas. []

  • LyX? (Score:3, Informative)

    by steveha ( 103154 ) on Thursday October 29, 2009 @04:48PM (#29916087) Homepage

    I don't know if it is up to the speed you need, but the equation editor in LyX is pretty darn cool. []


  • by idiot900 ( 166952 ) * on Thursday October 29, 2009 @04:50PM (#29916119)

    You have evaluate what this is really worth to you. You can learn just fine with notes you hand-wrote. Will all the effort you'd put into making this electronic really mean you'll learn the material in less time? And you're not seriously going to bring a Wacom tablet to class, are you? You'll look ridiculous.

    If you really must, scan and OCR your (neatly) hand-written notes. You'll get enough of the words to be able to search for the concept you need later.

    Or, if you don't believe me, just learn TeX markup for equations, and don't worry about getting the syntax 100% right during class. Fix syntax errors and render your notes after class.

  • by mcmonkey ( 96054 ) on Thursday October 29, 2009 @04:50PM (#29916123) Homepage

    Seriously, take a picture of the board/screen/whatever, and import the image in to your notes.

    More seriously, right tool for the right job. Leave the expensive hardware at home and invest in a pad of paper and a pen.

  • by DomNF15 ( 1529309 ) on Thursday October 29, 2009 @04:51PM (#29916133)
    I used this in college, albeit not while I was attending a lecture. Still, you should be able to click the various special formula buttons at least as fast as some prof is either talking through slides or writing them on a board. By the way, it is also a good tool for checking whether or not you solved an equation correctly. I've used it up to and including multivariate calculus, so it should take you quite a ways. My memory of matrix algebra is kind of fuzzy so don't remember how good it was there, but overall it should work for you.
  • by lkcl ( 517947 ) <> on Thursday October 29, 2009 @04:52PM (#29916165) Homepage

    Installed linux on it: i got an Acer C112 i'm not using, battery's stuffed but the keyboard is almost brand-new, replaced it only a couple of months before getting a new one :) ... but seriously, i'm not here to sell you my old laptop, but to recommend that you look up any 2nd hand smartphone or touchscreen PDA, and use the "drawing" program, simple as that.

    you can then insert the images into your notes, afterwards. pay attention _do_ try to get a linux-based one: not only do my natural instincts abhor proprietary software but you may find it inconvenient to convert from proprietary PDA / Wince image formats into something you can actually use.

    of course, when you've got a "real" job you can afford $1000+ on a decent tablet PC, but then you'll not be needing to take maths notes from lecturers :)

  • by frankmu ( 68782 ) on Thursday October 29, 2009 @04:55PM (#29916221) Homepage sells the Pulse Smart Pen. It can also record the lecture while transcribing your handwriting. the best thing however, is to get last years notes, and bring it with you. then you can read along. professors usually have the same script year after year.
  • by zentechno ( 800941 ) on Thursday October 29, 2009 @05:00PM (#29916321)
    Firstly, the Mac has an incredibly rich simple character set. This is NOT coincidental, as Apple copied their editing capabilities from the publishing industry decades ago. E.g. in TextEdit type alt-b and you'll see a '' integral symbol (looks correct as I type it, hopefully the post wont change it). If you can learn these keyboard shortcuts (learning-curve arguments aside), you *may* be able to type these directly into your mac in class, BUT... If you take notes by hand, then transcribe them into your mac using these short cuts, or simply via the Mac's Font (e.g. TextEdit --> commant-T) and characters (e.g. via the gear drop-down in the Font) pane, you're doing yourself a much bigger favor.
  • (Score:3, Informative)

    by carluva ( 963158 ) on Thursday October 29, 2009 @05:11PM (#29916505)
    I took all of my notes throughout university (including engineering courses) using The equation editor in OpenOffice is easy-to-learn, fast (as in, no mouse use required and the keystrokes are all sane), and the completed equations look great. (By default, there isn't a keyboard shortcut for inserting a new equation, so you'll need to manually assign one—I used Ctrl-Shift-F, if I remember correctly.

    Your example would almost work as is; it would be entered as:

    f_x (x) = int from -infinity to infinity f (x, y) dy

    Or, if you prefer your parentheses to stretch (in case you have fractions inside, or what have you):

    f_x left ( x right ) = int from -infinity to infinity f left ( x, y right ) dy

    Either way, it comes out looking very nice. The one thing that takes some getting used to is that you need to make liberal use of whitespace (e.g. between f and the opening parenthesis of the function), otherwise things will occasionally come out looking a little strange. The best part is, when you don't know what you need to type for a particular symbol, you can select it from the menu and OO will insert the plaintext code, which makes it very easy to learn the code for new items.
    • (Score:3, Insightful)

      by niiler ( 716140 ) on Thursday October 29, 2009 @07:41PM (#29918393) Journal

      My physics class turns in their labs digitally. Some of them have really struggled trying to insert equations. Some of them had scanned their notes and then cropped various equations out. Some had tried building equations via manual formatting supplemented via underlining and super/subscripting. To a person, they seem to hate MS Office's equation editor as it takes too long to point and click your way through (and if there's another way with their editor, enlighten me).

      Yesterday, I popped up OpenOffice's equation editor (ALT-I-O-F -> for ALT-Insert-Object-Formula) and started typing. As we were doing parallel and series circuits, I took an equation from the recent lab: R_net = 1 over { 1 over R_1 + 1 over R_2} + R_3. Almost to a person, they were agog that I could type it as fast as I could write it on the board. I did suggest alternates such as MathType, MathML, and LaTeX, but I don't think they heard me after that.

      While I am able to quickly produce copious amounts of equations using's editor, the usual disclaimer applies: use what works for you.

    • (Score:3, Informative)

      by level_headed_midwest ( 888889 ) on Thursday October 29, 2009 @08:24PM (#29918875)

      I second using to enter equations. I liked to take notes on the computer in classes that had much of any written text in the notes (I took notes in a notebook for calculus, statics/strengths, physics and such that had almost all equations as notes). Since I was an engineering major, just about every class had at least some equations as part of the notes and I could bang out equations pretty easy with the text math symbol input in Writer. One other neat trick is to do the Ctrl-Shift-U + Unicode key code or key code + Alt-X shortcut to quickly put Greek symbols in notes.

  • Remap the keystrokes (Score:5, Informative)

    by wfstanle ( 1188751 ) on Thursday October 29, 2009 @05:12PM (#29916523)

    I was disabled and taking notes was VERY slow for me if I tried writing. I used a word processor WP or MS Word (I don't remember which one) to take notes. I had a similar problem until I discovered that I could map an entire phrase into a single keystroke. For example: "ALT + CTRL + F " could be "f(X) = " You could even be more elaborate because certain phrases are used time and time again in lectures. My longest remapping was 20 characters. For different classes, I had completely different keystroke mappings. Just be careful not to remap the standard keystrokes.

    This technique worked for me all though grad school. I also used a tape recorder (get the professors permission first) and reviewed my notes after class to make sure I got it all.

  • by KK ( 4704 ) on Thursday October 29, 2009 @05:30PM (#29916819) Homepage

    This is not the old Equation Editor 3.0 from Word 2003, which is a crippled version of MathType, but rather a brand new equation facility in Word 2007, which is also the basis for the new equation support in the OneNote 2010 beta another poster has referred to.

    The Word 2007 equation editor supports a "linear format" for completely keyboard-based input, which is based on TeX-like commands like "\sum" and "\int" and is documented in this Unicode technical note: Unicode Nearly Plain-Text Encoding of Mathematics []

    I've been using this for my math classes since last semester, with great success. Once you master the linear format, it's not difficult to keep up if you have a reasonable typing rate to begin with.

  • Stop Taking Notes (Score:3, Insightful)

    by DynaSoar ( 714234 ) on Thursday October 29, 2009 @05:32PM (#29916849) Journal

    [This is a non-answer to your question. But it's a good non-answer if my success and student and teacher is any measure.]

    Don't take notes in class. Seriously. I've forbidden note taking in some of my classes. I hand out copies of material not in the book. But when I lecture, I do so with the intention that what I say be listened and paid attention to. If someone's trying to write what I say, their attention and working memory is so divided that they can't be picking up much of anything.

    This is especially true for maths. Of what purpose is it for you to have to watch someone write out equations? Of what purpose to write them down at the same time? Is the content of so little importance that they can waste their time and yours with speed writing exercises? The writing/rewriting is important for memory. That being so, why tax the memory with the process, reducing the result?

    Ask your instructors for copies of their class notes. Explain why. If they feel it's somehow cheating, ask to record their lecture. If they're not saying the equations out loud, record in video. Then whether paper copies, audio or video, transcribe. More than once if need be. Work with them on this. It'll be to everyone's benefit. If they can't believe that, prove it by recording a class with them writing stuff as usual and people copying, and calculate how much more time it takes for them to write, you to write, you to ask what that wiggly thing is, them to tell you, them to write, them to ask if everyone is caught up, on and on; vs. hand out a paper copy, them lecture, you listen (and add just tiny clarifications if necessary on their notes).

    I really am serious about this, and pushing this agenda has made me a favorite of students (who get better grades; I've tracked that too) but gotten me all kids of grief from other instructors. They see the process as one of confrontation, forcing students to do things a certain way and any other is 'cheating', or could be used for cheating, and frankly very little rational explanations are forthcoming. I picked it up from instructors who were more concerned their students learn than jump through hoops like speed writing as the sole means to collect material covered in class. I hated hoops as a student and refused to use them as a teacher. Instructors that can't get away from hoops are using them as a crutch. Help them learn to do better.

    • by Overzeetop ( 214511 ) on Thursday October 29, 2009 @06:31PM (#29917723) Journal


      If find that the process of writing down class notes is what (a) keeps my mind focused on the lecture and (b) aids in review when I have the notes in _my_ order with my side notes. I've taken classes lately with professors using your method (their notes, sometimes with blanks to simplify class participation) - and it didn't "stick." Sure, I did well, but it was all short term memory - in a year the knowledge was nearly as foreign as if I hadn't taken it.

      It sounds more like you prefer to provide more material than normally covered, and that's fine. I'd prefer to cover a little less and have it stick with me. As for recording notes and recopying later - I'll admit I'm a bad student. My time is limited and the hour I spend in a lecture is the hour I devote to that material - I don't want to spend an extra 1-2 hours relistening to a lecture - it wastes my time if I've done the in-class routinge correctly. Sample problems (aka homework) cements the lesson and identifies areas I don't understand so I can review them at the next opportunity.

      What really cements the knowledge are the tests where I get to use a formula/summary sheet (preferably multiple for later, cumulative exams). I have notes from a decade ago that I use regularly in my office because I copied carefully in class, then when studying for the exams prepared "summary" sheets. Those sheets are - to this day - my professional references. A quick glance for the right formula, back to the notes I took (with my side points) if it's been a while, and into the textbook if I need to really brush up or have to expand on a subject.

      Of course, this is primarily for engineering; math can be different, as can other topics.

    • by rahvin112 ( 446269 ) on Thursday October 29, 2009 @07:26PM (#29918245)

      I would drop any class you did that in and ensure that I reward you with a terrible recommendation and report, if I was your dean I would fire you. I learn best by writing what is said, take away my ability to write and I won't learn it all. Your policy is beyond stupid because everyone learns differently. By forcing everyone to learn the way you learn, or the way you believe people should learn, you are guaranteeing that a minority of your classes won't learn anything. You should rethink your insistence that you know how to learn better than the students you are teaching because not only is your policy downright discriminatory for those with learning disorders such as dyslexia, but your arrogant belief that you know better demonstrates a superiority complex that's prevalent in higher education and a first order indicator of a bad teacher.

  • 1968? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Tablizer ( 95088 ) on Thursday October 29, 2009 @05:33PM (#29916859) Journal

    I once took a class in AI in which the professor showed us a film from the late 1960's that demonstrated just such a tool. You wrote an equation in math notation with a light-pen (or something similar) on to a screen, and it translated your marks (pen movements) into an internal representation and then displayed a formatted version on the screen. (Professor Blackwell, I think was his name, and he worked on part of that project before teaching.)

    If it could be done for a research project in the late 60's, then surely it's still technically possible and could probably do better. It's amazing that much of the UI technology we take for granted now existed in the 60's (as expensive research projects). Graphical GUI's, dragging, mice, light-pens, stroke character recognition, etc. Sutherland's great work included. Much of it was funded by the military for use in radar analysis, interactive flight planning, etc. Xerox extended these by using the overlapping paper metaphor in the 70's.

    • Re:1968? (Score:3, Funny)

      by vrmlguy ( 120854 ) < minus punct> on Thursday October 29, 2009 @05:52PM (#29917161) Homepage Journal

      I once took a class in AI in which the professor showed us a film from the late 1960's that demonstrated just such a tool. You wrote an equation in math notation with a light-pen (or something similar) on to a screen, and it translated your marks (pen movements) into an internal representation and then displayed a formatted version on the screen.

      If it could be done for a research project in the late 60's, then surely it's still technically possible and could probably do better.

      I remember that project. As I recall, it was all well and good up to the moment the software went sentient and tried to kill the researchers. DARPA dropped funding and began a campaign to convince everyone that AI would never be practical.

  • by goodmanj ( 234846 ) on Thursday October 29, 2009 @05:47PM (#29917079)

    Hi, I'm a physics professor. I say, take your notes on paper. Math is the most computer-incompatible writing system ever designed. You'll never ever be able to type equations fast enough to keep up with me on the blackboard.

    And even if you manage to find a math entry system that's fast enough, it won't help you with the diagrams, graphs, and sketches.

    Of course, I don't practice what I preach: my own lecture notes are in text files. But that's because to me, "block ramp friction mu=0.2, 1 kg 30deg 1m long, find final v. U=4.9 Wf=1.7 v=2.5" is a complete set of notes for a 20-minute segment of lecture.

    Oh, also: write in pencil. I guarantee you that whenever you bring a pen, I will spend the entire lecture correcting minor mistakes by erasing with the heel of my hand, changing variable notations, and editing diagrams and drawings halfway through working a problem.

    • by bockelboy ( 824282 ) on Thursday October 29, 2009 @06:19PM (#29917549)

      I got my PhD in math and took a few grad-level physics class since.

      TeX-based notes in many math classes is very doable. I got to the point during my math degree that I could type equations way faster than the professor could write in the board. I still type faster than I write on the board when I teach. Functional analysis and algebra were the best for typewritten notes; numerical analysis was the worst due to the number of matrices.

      TeX-based notes in a physics class (especially less theoretical ones) is a slow-moving disaster. Visualization and diagrams (at least for me) are way more important in physics than they were for my math classes.

  • by gestalt_n_pepper ( 991155 ) on Thursday October 29, 2009 @05:47PM (#29917081)

    Used to work there. Honestly, you can't beat it for mathematics editing, graphing, etc. Saves in Latex if you want. Free trial downloads too if you want to give the tires a kick. []

  • My experience (Score:3, Interesting)

    by ledow ( 319597 ) on Thursday October 29, 2009 @05:48PM (#29917103) Homepage

    - I hate writing, and always have and avoid it wherever possible - it hurts my hand and my handwriting is awful.
    - I was using computers way before anyone else in my school, I even took some of the lessons that I was supposed to be taught in (the teacher found it easier that way).
    - I went to university to study Mathematics and Computing and had already had five years (at least) of proper exposure to things like Maple, Matlab, etc. (I was doing my A-level projects in Maple when nobody else, including my teachers, had even heard of it) through my brother who attended the same university.

    Every single mathematics-based lecture, for three entire years, I hand-wrote notes. It's the only sensible way to do so. There isn't a notation or shorthand that can cope with rapidly sketching down formulae (especially integrals, sums of series, etc.) and diagrams. In some subjects, a simple diagram showing an angle, or a particular piece of geometry is invaluable and could takes hours to reproduce properly on a computer. I know, because for the last ten years, I've worked for tuition centres, state and private schools and I'm often asked to professionally produce an electronic version of their course materials (99% of the time mathematics because that's my speciality).

    Don't waste your time, memory, money and brainpower - just take pad and pen, or use a touchscreen/tablet PC if you *insist* on using a computer. When you're taking notes the last thing you want to be doing is taking down the mathematics like it's some kind of gospel. There will be a million books on the subject where you can find the nuts and bolts of the process, but if you lose that "feel" of the mathematics that you can only get by watching someone apply it in front of your eyes, you'll never truly understand it.

    The point of a lecture is to demonstrate and explain and give opportunity for questions (yes, ask questions... why does *nobody* ask questions in lectures? It isn't forbidden, just don't waste everyone's time with trivialities!), you learn more in a ten minute lecture on a particular subject than you ever will by studying the materials from that lecture. *Being* there, with the enthusiastic tutor, and the commentary they give, is what makes the mathematics explain itself. Everything else is just paper-based memoranda of that lecture. Someone, somewhere will be selling notes from that lecture. I've taken copies of complete stranger's notes (with their permission) when I missed lectures for reasons beyond my control. Notes are memory-aids only. Wasting an immense amount of time recording them in such a fashion is to focus on the aesthetics of the tool, not the job you're doing with that tool. All you're actually doing is writing the book that your lecturer learned from, you're not learning anything, and doing so at great expense. Your concentration should be on the mathematics happening in front of you, not the paper in your hand or the computer under your fingers.

    I often just sat in awe when I was in a lecture and watched the mathematics unfold in front of me, sketching only notes on the specifics.

    Scribble notes. If you have special needs, ask to video/record the lectures or for the lecturers to provide assistance afterwards (and complain to the highest authorities if they don't let you). Then, study, study, study from your notes, your memory, your skills, and the vast wealth of materials on every subject imaginable. Anyone can find out how to apply equation X to input Y, or read a book on graph theory or calculus, but advanced mathematics is more about the patterns and the art of being able to discover, use and apply that knowledge, not copy from rote from two-year-old notes.

    I graduated. Not a great grade but I was hitting a wall in my abilities in even the first year, a wall I've never been able to pass in the years since. Some courses ran like water through my sieve of a brain, and some were just second nature (and still are). But at no point did the actual taking of my notes interfere with

  • Infty Editor (Score:3, Informative)

    by UltraAyla ( 828879 ) on Thursday October 29, 2009 @05:58PM (#29917251) Homepage
    I used Infty Editor in my classes - I think it's based on LaTeX but, it was pretty quick. I didn't use it to take notes in realtime though, so I can't tell you how successful that would be. []
  • Webcam (Score:3, Interesting)

    by CopaceticOpus ( 965603 ) on Thursday October 29, 2009 @06:48PM (#29917905)

    What about getting a small, good quality webcam, preferably with a zoom feature? When your professor writes out an equation, point the camera at it, take a quick screen capture, and paste it into your notes.

  • by gordguide ( 307383 ) on Thursday October 29, 2009 @09:30PM (#29919457)

    Get an inexpensive drawing tablet, turn on Ink in OSX (10.5 and up; at: System Preferences: but note that the preference pane will not show unless you have a graphics tablet plugged in). Write the formulas on the tablet.

    You can take screenshots (Command-Option-3 full screen; Command-Option-4 select an area to capture) to save what you write/draw and use Ink's character recognition to convert it to formulas with a check via the saved screenshots to make sure it didn't make errors. You can turn the character recognition off or on anytime via the Ink preference pane.
    You will want to enable the Character Palette (at: System Preferences: Keyboard & Mouse) so you have quick access to the mathematical symbols in your chosen fonts for your saved notes.

  • Mathematica (Score:3, Interesting)

    by CoolQ ( 31072 ) <> on Thursday October 29, 2009 @10:08PM (#29919765) Homepage

    I love how everyone here is telling you to just pencil and paper. For the past 7 years (through both college and high school), I have taken all of my math notes in Mathematica. Every symbol, even the most esoteric ones, is at most four or five keystrokes. For example, an integral like integral x=0 to inf (x^2)/xbar is quick to enter:

    integral template -- ESC i n t t ESC
    bound -- x = 0 TAB ESC inf ESC
    value -- x C-6 2 RIGHT C-/ x C-5 UNDERSCORE

    it's really quick to type, and you'll quickly learn the keystrokes from the character palette. I haven't taken a single note on paper in any of my math classes since about sophomore year of high school.


  • Digital Pen? (Score:3, Interesting)

    by clickclickdrone ( 964164 ) on Friday October 30, 2009 @05:56AM (#29921769)
    Unless I've missed it, I can't believe no one has suggested a digital pen such as the e-Pen ones? []

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