Category Archives: sakai

MathML vs LaTeX

So I was trying out some stuff in Sakai, pretending to write an assessment (quiz, to the uninitiated) with complicated equations. I ran into a few problems like you can’t do fractions, there is no square root symbol, no multiplication symbol, etc. Perhaps I will write a full review once I figure out if these limitations are real, or if I’m just missing something.

Anyway, I remember seeing complicated equations on Wikipedia, so I decided to investigate how they do it. It looks like the equations on there were generated by LaTeX, but they are just ugly png files with a lot of jaggies. I was thinking it would have been cool if they had used SVG. But, they had some info on possible future direction, which led me to the MathML entry, which is supposedly going to be implemented in next gen web browsers.

One of the more annoying aspects of what you can do with Sakai (and Microsoft’s Equation Editor I might add) is that you have to do tons of highlighting and clicking to format things. Like, if I want a chemical equation like HC2H3O2, it requires highlighting 3 things and clicking 3 buttons. That back and forth of the mouse gets quite frustrating. In LaTeX, things are much simpler. You would just write:


and you would be done. MathML, on the other hand, is a terribly verbose XML format (check out the quadratic equation example in the Wikipedia entry), so it’s not much better than the point and click method. I realize that LaTeX is a little intimidating to write by hand, and a program could easily generate either LaTeX or MathML, but I have yet to see a program that is as efficient at building equations as hand-coding LaTeX markup is. With that in mind, I think allowing a subset of LaTeX is probably the best way to allow people to enter equations. There is some interesting work out there, like this JavaScript library. It would be cool to see something like that integrated into one of Sakai’s rich text editors.

Sakai and the App Builder plugin

So, I am trying to jump into Sakai development by writing a tool that can keep a log of email conversations between instructors and students. Since I’m new to Sakai, I will probably end up starting over a few times before I figure out the best way to develop. I decided, at the advice of a coworker to start using RSF and the App Builder plugin. So far, it’s pretty intimidating. I started by doing a full CRUD framework, since that is one of the options for the plugin. I think digesting RSF and the way they set up their Hibernate stuff at the same time is a bit much, so I’ve gone backwards to starting with their hello world app, which I’m going to try to convert into a number guessing game to give me a handle on session management, RSF, etc. It seems like there is a pretty serious lack of any tutorials that go beyond modifying the hello world to say something different. The whole video tutorial thing is pretty cool, so maybe I’ll make one if I get far enough along. But for now, I can recommend starting with hello world if you don’t know RSF already. I can also say that RSF looks pretty nice so far. Much simpler than JSF but some of the same good ideas.