This seems pretty cool: this website allows you to draw a picture of the LaTeX symbol you would like, and then searches the popular “Comprehensive LaTeX Symbol List” for them. It’s far from perfect, but still seems worth bookmarking.

Also, it gets smarter as people use it, so be sure to tell the website when it finds the right symbol, so it gets smarter for other people.

9 thoughts on “Detexify

  1. this reminds me, I recently lost the source file for a paper I was working on, but I still have the PDF. Is there anyway to get some source file out of the PDF?

  2. Sam: not really.

    One thought — you didn’t happen to put it on the arxiv, did you? If you did, go to your paper, click “Other formats” and “download source”.

  3. The website does seem to learn (like HAL in 2001).
    I just taught it to pick \ltimes out of its very long list.
    It was way off the first time, though I tried to keep the
    lines reasonably straight. LaTeX has spawned an
    impressively long list of symbols by now, harder to
    organize linearly than Chinese characters.

    By the way, wasn’t there a line in “Casablanca” like
    “Type it again, Sam”?

  4. By the way, wasn’t there a line in “Casablanca” like
    “Type it again, Sam”?

    A common misconception. It was “Type it, Sam. Type ‘As Time Goes By’.”

  5. But my misquote works so much better here. (The
    misquote seems to originate with the Marx Brothers
    in their 1946 “A Night in Casablanca”, but then became
    the title of Woody Allen’s later play/movie “Play it Again,
    Sam”. Blame it all on him.

    The serious point David makes is that on most systems
    text deleted is text lost unless you consciously back it up.
    On the Unix system here, I seem to generate two files
    for my magnum opus: riemann.tex and the previously
    saved version riemann.tex~ (which might survive a casual
    deletion of the main file). But backing up is always good,
    even if my proof of the Riemann Hypothesis isn’t.

  6. I want a website that would take hand-drawn commutative diagrams as input, and output the appropriate code.

    When it comes to mitigating accidental deletions, version control software is almost as good as remote backups.

    I had a roommate who deleted his CS project instead of the executable file he wanted to remove, because ls put a * after the file name to show that it was executable.

  7. The xpdf suite of tools for PDF contains a command pdftotext which can convert a PDF to text. It’s not so great on mathematics, and doesn’t handle formatting, but will at least save you retyping everything.

    (It’s also useful in scripts for searching through documents, by the way).

    If this were a mathematical version of stackoverflow, I would vote up the “version control” posts and Ben’s “inkscape2tikz” post, though I’d add a couple of qualifiers:

    I query the “almost as good as” in Scott’s post; one great thing about distributed version control is that it makes it easier to have remote backups.

    And I’m not completely sure that the inscape2tikz addon is what Scott wants. That tries too hard to replicate the exact drawing whereas I imagine Scott would want something that straightens out the lines and aligns the nodes and stuff like that.

    (As for Scott’s roommate, well, words fail me)

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