[BlindMath] Typing Math and Science Quickly and Understandably

John G Heim jheim at math.wisc.edu
Fri May 4 19:16:06 UTC 2018

Yeah, the original question was how to quickly and understandably type
math. I guess that depends on whether you are taking notes or writing a
paper.

I work for the Math department at the University Of Wisconsin and almost
everybody around here uses Linux and therefore doesn't even have access
to Microsoft Word. I have been here for 13 years and while there are
some people who were here before I came who use Windows, in the 13 years
I have been here, not a single new grad student or instructor has asked
me to set them up with a Windows computer. A lot have asked for
Macintoshes but not Windows. But this is a math department and I just
asked my colleague at the Botany department what they use and he said
they all use Windows. I have to admit, I was shocked to hear it. I'd
have thought that by now linux had taken over all of STEM education.

I know that a knowledge of latex is considered absolutely essential for
math grad students. But it seems to me that taking class notes in latex
would be difficult. Maybe not as difficult as what I did which was to
take notes in braille with a slate & stylus. The main problem wasn't
taking notes, it was that the instructors didn't explain their lectures
so a blind person could understand. I mostly just paid really close
attention and didn't take notes. I always thought that paying attention
in class and then actually reading the text book was like my personal
secret weapon to out do my fellow students.  They would take copious
notes, not remember what they meant 5 minutes later, and never bother to
open the text book if they could manage it.

On 05/03/2018 06:09 PM, Godfrey, Jonathan via BlindMath wrote:
> Hello,
>
> Lucasz: Let me remind you that this is a list for discussing issues in mathematics and related fields with respect to blind people. To suggest that the experiences of sighted people should direct a young blind person wanting to get into a STEM discipline is flawed unless it addresses the myriad access challenges that we face.
>
> As it happens, I am not a mathematician. I accept that an academic  mathematician who lacks skill in document preparation using LaTeX is often the victim of derision, but mathematical content is not just found in documents written by mathematicians. All of my colleagues are skilled in writing documents using MS Word; most are similarly competent in LaTeX, and a small number know they can use markdown, while many others are just unaware they could do so if the need arose. As a statistician, I work with mathematicians (Fullard et al. 2018), ecologists (Minards et al. 2014; Bulgarella et al. 2015; Fitness et al. 2015), agriculturalists (Giltrap and Godfrey 2016), medical doctors (Prisk et al. 2016) and even some other statisticians (Premarathna et al. 2016;2017). Only the first and last of these collaborations was LaTeX based, while the others were MS Word. In all the meetings I have ever had for these collaborations, the primary tool for note-taking for the sighted people was pen and paper. I am strange in these sighted contexts for my use of a laptop.
>
> All my notes for these collaborations are written in text files with content easily transferred into the primary author's preferred tool as required. I am able to create content for myself and then for sharing without inflicting my collaborators with the access issues their preferred tools create for me. As it happens, MS Word is the last software tool I would use for writing up notes. My advice is not saying that what I do is universally best for everyone on this list.
>
> I write from personal experience of a blind person using all the tools that get mentioned on this list and others. It is in my best interests as a blind person wanting to stay at the top of my game to do so. I have worked with numerous blind students over the years who want solutions that are within their grasp, not false hopes. I often find myself saying that this is the best we can do now, but work in certain areas shows promise. So while I might use command line tools all the time, I seldom advise their use by young people struggling with the tools they already have because my experience shows that most of them do not have any command-line experience, and nor do the support people around them. I'd like that to change.
>
> Cheers,
> Jonathan
>
> -----Original Message-----
> From: BlindMath <blindmath-bounces at nfbnet.org> On Behalf Of Lukasz Grabowski via BlindMath
> Sent: Friday, 4 May 2018 9:48 a.m.
> To: blindmath at nfbnet.org
> Cc: Lukasz Grabowski <graboluk at gmail.com>
> Subject: Re: [BlindMath] Typing Math and Science Quickly and Understandably
>
> Jonathan,
>
> Your statement about comparable efficiency is, in my humble opinion of a professional pure mathematicians with many years of experience at lecturing, research, taking notes, etc., completely false. While we will not settle it here directly, a strong indirect argument is that if they were of comparable efficiency then more professional mathematicians would use it for preparing lecture notes, articles, etc. As I'm sure you know, the amount of professional pure mathematicians using word is absolutely negligible (to the extent that people who use it are subjects of anecdotes passed around during conference dinners, etc.).
>
> As for specifically taking notes in pure maths lectures, I have absolutely never seen anyone who'd use word for this purpose, only either latex or markdown.
>
> (There are also of course other issues, of interoperability and so on, which are also important, and if one consider these, then obviously using word for anything at all is, for lack of a better word,
> irresponsible)
>
> Best,
> Lukasz
>
> P.S. As for usage of \ in markdown, I can't agree with you: the example of Brandon was a transcription, and it was mildly important to distinguish between newlines and paragraphs. But even in markdown for say taking notes, if you want to produce material which works both for you and for sighted users then the cleanest way to write say multiline equation is with explicit \
>
> On Thu, 3 May 2018 21:18:36 +0000
> "Godfrey, Jonathan via BlindMath" <blindmath at nfbnet.org> wrote:
>
>> I quite obviously disagree with Lucasz's statement that markdown is
>> more efficient than MS Word for note-taking.
>>
>> They can be totally equivalent in that the content of the markdown
>> document can be copy and pasted into a MS Word document and converted
>> to quite readable content as quickly inside Word.
>>
>> In fact, I can see how a good MS Word user who knows the necessary
>> keystrokes could get to the same endpoint in about the same time.
>>
>> Different solutions will work better for different people. I think
>> that outright statements are risky at best and are often leading
>> people astray.
>>
>> Jonathan
>>
>>
>>
>> -----Original Message-----
>> From: BlindMath <blindmath-bounces at nfbnet.org> On Behalf Of Lukasz
>> Grabowski via BlindMath Sent: Friday, 4 May 2018 9:00 a.m.
>> To: blindmath at nfbnet.org
>> Cc: Lukasz Grabowski <graboluk at gmail.com>
>> Subject: Re: [BlindMath] Typing Math and Science Quickly and
>> Understandably
>>
>> Hello,
>>
>> Yes I can confirm it is fundamentally incorrect, to say the least
>> ("not even wrong", as the saying goes). In order to understand that it
>> is so, you would have to compare both methods at, say,  taking notes
>> for an advanced university-level mathematics course, in which case you
>> would realize that the efficiency of using markdown with latex is
>> orders of magnitude higher than using word with mathtype.
>>
>>
>> Best,
>> Lukasz
>>
>>
>>
>> On Fri, 4 May 2018 01:35:01 +0530
>> Bhavya shah via BlindMath <blindmath at nfbnet.org> wrote:
>>
>>> Hi Brandon,
>>>
>>> In essence, this method is very similar to how I used to use LaTeX
>>> of MathType to generate Math ML content that was visually readible
>>> and screen reader firnedly with the help of NVDA and Math Player.
>>> However, my only two concerns are that using LaTeX or any other
>>> standardized Math code to type would almost invariably mean (1)
>>> slightly longer and stricter syntax that would need to be
>>> mandatorily followed, and (2) there are several reasons, some of
>>> which include lack of customization in pronunciation and excessive
>>> pausing, why I found reading Math ML with the help of Math Player
>>> and NVDA somewhat cumbersome in my past experiences. If I come to
>>> think of it, it is quite certain that at some point in time, either
>>> for typing my own Math&Science or for reading my transcribed course
>>> material, I will need to deal with Math ML using Math Player and
>>> NVDA, so in a day at most, I will be retrying Math ML and sharing
>>> some of the more significant concerns and issues I have with
>>> interacting with Math ML.
>>>
>>> Kindly let me know if my present understanding of the method you
>>> described that this is just Pandoc instead of MathType and
>>> commandline instead of Word for using LaTeX to generate Math ML
>>> content is fundamentally incorrect.
>>>
>>> Thanks.
>>>
>>> On 5/3/18, Brandon Keith Biggs via BlindMath <blindmath at nfbnet.org>
>>> wrote:
>>>> Hello,
>>>> Markdown with LaTeX is perfect for you. Here is an example that
>>>> Lukasz (from this list wrote):
>>>>
>>>> ## Parametric Forms
>>>>
>>>> *transcriber: system of two equations, each one has an extra
>>>> information after comma* \ $x = t^2 -2t$, $dx = 2t-2$ \ $y= t+1$,
>>>> minimum at $t=1$ \
>>>> *transcriber: end of the system*
>>>>
>>>> For window:
>>>> \
>>>> $t$ from $[-2,4]$, $t$ step $= 0.1$ \ $x$ from $[-1,10]$ \ $y$
>>>> from $[-1,5]$
>>>>
>>>> # something easier
>>>>
>>>> $3x + y = 10$
>>>> \
>>>> $9 * 5 = 45$
>>>> \
>>>> Fractions
>>>> \
>>>> $\frac{1}{2} + \frac{1}{2} = 1$
>>>>
>>>>
>>>> This converts perfectly to MathML using pandoc:
>>>> https://pandoc.org/
>>>>
>>>> You install pandoc, open a command line where you have the math
>>>> content and type:
>>>>
>>>> pandoc my_math_file.md --mathml -s -o my_html_output_file.html
>>>>
>>>> You can give your professor the html file and they can read it in
>>>> print just fine. If you have a Braille display, the MathML shows
>>>> up just fine and it is also read by the screen reader. NVDA
>>>> requires Math player (see the user guide under reading math
>>>>
>>>>
>>>> Brandon Keith Biggs <http://brandonkeithbiggs.com/>
>>>>
>>>> On Wed, May 2, 2018 at 11:00 AM, Sean Tikkun via BlindMath <
>>>> blindmath at nfbnet.org> wrote:
>>>>
>>>>> Bhavya Shah,
>>>>>
>>>>>     I am assembling a team to generate 3D models to assist in
>>>>> learning. The team leaders are a former math teacher fluent in
>>>>> Braille (me) and a Fabrication lab director that teaches
>>>>> Biological and Chemical Sciences at the University level. If you
>>>>> have access to 3D printing I would love to know what you may
>>>>> need. Files are easy to send. If not, perhaps there is a
>>>>> fabrication lab at a university in Mumbai that would be
>>>>> interested in some collaboration? Feel free to reach out.
>>>>> stikkun at nccu.edu.
>>>>>
>>>>>
>>>>> Sean Tikkun
>>>>> Apple Distinguished Educator
>>>>> class of 2007
>>>>>
>>>>> On May 01, 2018, at 08:51 PM, Sabra Ewing via BlindMath <
>>>>> blindmath at nfbnet.org> wrote:
>>>>>
>>>>> I typed most of my math using the first method. You might be able
>>>>> to type more quickly if you had a braille keyboard. Also note
>>>>> that you can use parentheses and brackets. The Pearce in equation
>>>>> editor can produce math in a visual format. It is free.
>>>>> The braille note touch can do this as well although it is very
>>>>> expensive. I would definitely say to use a keyboard. Do not type
>>>>> on your phone as I am doing now because it is much slower.
>>>>> Another
>>>>> thing you can do is use copy and paste. You do not have to type
>>>>> everything from scratch. You can copy previous steps to your
>>>>> clipboard, paste them, and then modify them to create your future
>>>>> steps. Like for example, you might write a chemical equation that
>>>>> is not balanced. Paste this equation underneath it so you have
>>>>> two copies of the same equation. Then, take the first step toward
>>>>> balancing that equation and make those changes to your second
>>>>> copy. Now you have your equation and underneath it, you have the
>>>>> modified version with step one completed, so copied the version
>>>>> with step one completed to your clipboard and paste it
>>>>> underneath. Now you have the original equation, and you have two
>>>>> copies of step one. Modified the second copy of step one based on
>>>>> what you plan to do in step two. Continue this method until you
>>>>> have finished the problem. With a braille keyboard, you should be
>>>>> able to type as fast as someone can speak and even faster. If you
>>>>> cannot or a braille keyboard is not an option, you can record
>>>>> what is being said with a phone or other recording device and you
>>>>> can then go back over it. Another thing you can do is request
>>>>> things in electronic format. Mini American professors do not know
>>>>> how to create accessible math when it is really very easy as you
>>>>> described. You do not have to know any markup languages. You can
>>>>> create accessible math just by using your computer keyboard, and
>>>>> in many cases, if you are a computer science student, your math
>>>>> is in the perfect format to just paste right over into your ide.
>>>>> Maybe Indian professors would be better at creating accessible.
>>>>> If not, you might be able to find someone who can do it. This
>>>>> will be especially easy if you can find some funding. I was not
>>>>> lucky in this regard because other than professors, I never found
>>>>> a dedicated person who knew how to produce accessible math. I
>>>>> finally got to a position where I could no longer receive
>>>>> accessible math because I moved on to a four-year university
>>>>> where the professors did not know how to produce it. It is very
>>>>> ironic that when I started out at a two year university, the
>>>>> professors did know how to produce it. I approach programmers,
>>>>> professors, deans, and department head. No one actually knew how
>>>>> including the programmers who produce accessible math every day.
>>>>> I finally had to end up listening to my math on recordings and
>>>>> writing everything down. It was very difficult. If you want to
>>>>> get math in braille, there is software that can do it called
>>>>> Duxberry.
>>>>> Ironically, my university actually had this software, but no one
>>>>> knew how to use it including the people who worked at disability
>>>>> services. Getting it for yourself will not be helpful. If you get
>>>>> this software, you will need someone who can modify the equations
>>>>> for you. If your professor has files that were generated from a
>>>>> markup language, you could try asking for those source files.
>>>>> Even if you do not know the markup language, math is written very
>>>>> similarly when you are programming computers, so you could
>>>>> probably pick up how to read it. Unfortunately, my professors
>>>>> used PDFs that they got from other sources or pictures of hand
>>>>> written documents so I could not do this.
>>>>> People will try to tell you that Matt cannot be produced
>>>>> excessively on the computer. This simply is not true. Every
>>>>> mathematical formula, function, and number known to humankind can
>>>>> be programmed into a computer using a text based programming
>>>>> language. Also, many of these functions and formulas can be put
>>>>> into XL. If you can put these formulas into XL, then you can
>>>>> produce them accessibly in a word document. If someone is trying
>>>>> to tell you that they can't, then just tell them to put it in a
>>>>> spreadsheet, press F2 on the cells, and read the formulas that
>>>>> way. XL is very good because you can use it to organize data, you
>>>>> can use it as a calculator, and you can use it to create tables
>>>>> and graphs. You can put these documents in your dropbox and you
>>>>> can get the pictures of the graphs. You can then import these
>>>>> pictures into the voice app on your phone and you can listen to
>>>>> them. If you are going to listen to pie charts, to make it easier
>>>>> on yourself to read, use the 3-D exploding pie charts. This may
>>>>> sound counterintuitive, but when you listen to them, there is a
>>>>> bit more separation between each piece. I don't know how you
>>>>> would get training to listen to grass. I just automatically was
>>>>> born knowing how to do it. No one ever taught me. I could always
>>>>> listen to graphs very easily and I could never read tactile
>>>>> graphics. There is also a program called math tracks where you
>>>>> can create audio graphs by entering in equations.However, it is
>>>>> really best to have both the equation and the data because what
>>>>> if you created a graph using any equation, and you need to make
>>>>> some changes to the data? Well, you don't have the data, so what
>>>>> are you going to do? You could probably generate the data from
>>>>> the equation in some cases, but that will take forever. I like to
>>>>> listen to a graph and have the spreadsheet in front of me at the
>>>>> same time. There is also a blind chemist named Dr. sapalo. I'm
>>>>> not sure how to spell his name. I have his card somewhere but I
>>>>> just have to find it. I really wish people would start using
>>>>> those barcode Cards where I can scan the contact information into
>>>>> my phone, but I only know one person who uses those. Anyways, You
>>>>> may want to get in touch with him. He has all of these probes.
>>>>> They do all different things. They connect to a computer and they
>>>>> can measure chemical reactions and make graphs and do all this
>>>>> stuff depending on what probe you use. For example, you could use
>>>>> one probe to graph the color changes that occur during an
>>>>> experiment. You could use another probe to track temperature
>>>>> changes like ice melting. I don't really do chemistry, but if I
>>>>> did, I imagine I would want this thing, but I can't remember what
>>>>> it is called.
>>>>> But he is actually a chemistry professor at a university. He is
>>>>> totally blind and he teaches classes and runs labs and does all
>>>>> sorts of things. There are plenty of blind computer scientists,
>>>>> but he struck my interest in particular because I have not heard
>>>>> of mini blind chemists. He also had some good advice for 3-D
>>>>> printing that would work in the United States, but I am not sure
>>>>> if it would work in India. If possible though, you may want to
>>>>> get some 3-D models printed. Another thing is that you want to
>>>>> stay consistent. You want to make sure that you are doing things
>>>>> in the classroom the same way you will do them during testing.
>>>>> In my chemistry class, I did not have access to a lot of 3-D
>>>>> models, but for testing purposes, they made me a 3-D model. This
>>>>> really was not fair because it was made out of a lot of cups and
>>>>> straws. I did not know what it was, and it is not fair to use
>>>>> models for testing purposes that you did not use in the classroom
>>>>> or to use a different method for testing purposes that you did
>>>>> not use in the classroom because this will skew the results. If
>>>>> you use certain accommodations in the classroom, insist on the
>>>>> same accommodations for testing.
>>>>>
>>>>> Sabra Ewing
>>>>>
>>>>> On May 1, 2018, at 5:22 PM, Bhavya shah via BlindMath <
>>>>> blindmath at nfbnet.org> wrote:
>>>>>
>>>>> Dear all,
>>>>>
>>>>> I am Bhavya Shah, a totally blind 16-year-old student from
>>>>> Mumbai, India. Having just completed my tenth grade with the same
>>>>> Mathematics and Science syllabus as my sighted peers in a
>>>>> mainstream school, I intend to take up the Science stream
>>>>> according to the Indian education system for Classes 11 and 12
>>>>> with the subject combination of Physics+Chemistry+Mathematics,
>>>>> and probably take up something along the lines of Computer
>>>>> Science for my undergraduate studies after that (although I
>>>>> suppose). Additionally, I shall be enrolling into coaching for a
>>>>> very competitive pan-India engineering entrance examination over
>>>>> the next two years where I will be delving into particularly
>>>>> advanced topics in to the three afore-mentioned subjects.
>>>>>
>>>>> Till Class 10, I managed an overwhelming chunk of Math either
>>>>> orally or mentally, and from what I have been informed, have
>>>>> dealt with relatively very simple organic structures, general
>>>>> numericals and chemical equations which I have been handling
>>>>> mostly via plain text. It has become increasingly clear to me
>>>>> that this makeshift method will be extremely inefficient and
>>>>> consequently infeasible for the kind of syllabus I am
>>>>> transitioning to. Hence, I am looking for different techniques,
>>>>> tools or methods of typing Math and Science that will allow me to
>>>>> be as rapid a Math&Science typist as I am of the English language
>>>>> (at its peak, my fingers have achieved about 100 WPM) so that I
>>>>> can cope with the daily rigor this coaching demands. I need to be
>>>>> able to type mathematical and scientific content accurately and
>>>>> swiftly not necessarily such that it is visually readable by a
>>>>> sighted professor but more so for my own reference, understanding
>>>>> and purposes of review and revision.
>>>>>
>>>>> So far, I am versed only with two options – ASCII Math, where I
>>>>> would just type Math and Science using standard symbols present
>>>>> on any keyboard such as /, *, ^ and so on to denote different
>>>>> things (perhaps (x+2)/x-1)) in chiefly plain text, or type things
>>>>> in LaTeX using MathType ($\frac{x+2}{x-1}$) and employ Math
>>>>> Player and NVDA to read it. From my basic understanding of this
>>>>> and limited past experience with each of these methods, the
>>>>> former sounds much faster and more efficient to me, but I am open
>>>>> to evidence and experiences suggesting otherwise. There are
>>>>> various other Math typing tools I have heard about over the years
>>>>> such as Infty Reader and Lean Math, but have never adequately
>>>>> researched them let alone used them to any extent.
>>>>> Any information or instructional material on these and other
>>>>> potential alternatives you would recommend would be of great help
>>>>> too.
>>>>>
>>>>> I would truly appreciate any assistance on different strategies
>>>>> you may have used to math your sighted counterparts’ speed in
>>>>> terms of writing and solving mathematical and scientific
>>>>> material, questions and problem sets.
>>>>>
>>>>> Thanks.
>>>>>
>>>>> --
>>>>> Best Regards
>>>>> Bhavya Shah
>>>>>
>>>>> Blogger at Hiking Across Horizons:
>>>>> https://bhavyashah125.wordpress.com/
>>>>>
>>>>> Contacting Me
>>>>> E-mail Address: bhavya.shah125 at gmail.com
>>>>> Skype: bhavya.09
>>>>>
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>>>>>
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>>
>>
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