Zofia Walczak

[completed 2020-02-14]

Zofia Walczak has been active in GUST since 1993. In recent years she has been doing the translation to Polish of the TeX Live documentation.



Dave Walden, interviewer:     Please tell me a bit about yourself.

Zofia Walczak, interviewee:     I was born in Lodz (Łódź in Polish) in the year of the founding of the Polish United Workers' Party (PZPR). The city is situated in the central part of Poland and of Europe. At that time Łódź was called “the city of 1000 chimneys”.

My parents moved to Łódź from southeast of Poland (Gorlice) after the Second World War. My father was an economist and got the job there. My mother took care of us (me and my older brother) at home. She entered the university in Lviv (Lwów) before the war, but she didn't complete her studies.

In primary school I started to take piano lessons; and, at the age of 11, I went to a music school. After finishing first level of education (6 years), I decided not to continue, but I still play from time to time.

As a music school student I used to go to the Filharmonia for concerts. I also sang with the school choir and the philharmonic orchestra — Felix Mendelssohn's concert overture “A Midsummer Night's Dream” by W. Shakespeare. I was very proud, and I remember it as a very nice event.

During my high school years I used to help my father with correction of his documents, and that was my first meeting with the typesetting.

I got a master's degree in mathematics in 1971, and I started to work as a teacher of mathematics in a high school in Łódź. After four years, I moved to the Technical University of Łódź and became a math teacher there. After a few years (and a third child), I returned to secondary school. In 1989 I began to work at the University of Łódź, and I am still working there.

I like traveling, meeting new people, other cultures, and enjoying the beauty of nature. And now I travel a lot. I also do cross country skiing, mainly in Austria but also in Poland in Jakuszyce. I took part twice (in 2017 and 2018) in the Bieg Piastów competition in Jakuszyce.

DW:     How did you come in contact with (La)TeX and for what purpose?

ZW:     I had no possibility to use TeX during my university studies because it didn't exist yet. My first meeting with TeX was in 1991 when my husband got the professor position at the Washington University, Missouri, and our family moved to USA for one year. The children went to school and my husband lectured at the university, so I had free time. At that time the university publisher was looking for people to typeset math articles in AMS-TeX, and I decided to work for them. It was the first time I used AMS-TeX.

DW:     Was this a Polish publisher or a publisher in the United States?

ZW:     It was a Washington University publisher which published a mathematical journal (I don't remember the name).

DW:     What was your husband teaching at Washington University?

ZW:     My husband is a professor of mathematics so he taught mathematics.

DW:     Once you knew about TeX, how did you go about learning to use it, and what TeX distribution did you use initially?

ZW:     I learned how to use TeX (AMS-TeX) reading Spivak's book The Joy of TeX and rewriting my husband's articles. The distribution was PCTeX.

DW:     Lance Carnes, creator of PCTeX, was the second person interviewed in this interview series. How did you come to know about and choose PCTeX?

ZW:     The PCTeX distribution was the one available at the Washington University, and I got it when I decided to work as a typesetter.

DW:     If you had need for TeX-like capability before you learned of TeX, what did you use instead?

ZW:     At that time in Poland (early 1990s) only very poor text editors existed. I used an editor called ChiWriter because there were possibility to write math equations. TeX was not widely known.

DW:     Speaking of ChiWriter, are you aware of the paper on Polish Text Editors by Piotr Gawrysiak of Warsaw University of Technology that appeared in the IEEE Annals of the History of Computing in 2019 (volume 41, number 2, pp. 6--21)? I am attaching a copy.

ZW:     This article is very interesting and I found there detailed information about the past. At that time, there was a problem with encoding for Polish language on different computers; but for writing papers with math equations, I found ChiWriter the best (at that time). In fact, math articles generally are written and published in English, so there was no problem with encoding.

DW:     Once you returned to Poland after your year in the United States, did you continue to use TeX and, if so, for what?

ZW:     I returned at the beginning of 1992 and started to look for people familiar with TeX, AMS-TeX, or LaTeX within our faculty. At that time my husband started to write a book and he decided to use AMS-TeX. We were both interested in developing our AMS-TeX skills.

I talked with our university colleagues about AMS-TeX, and I realised that they knew almost nothing about it. At the beginning of 1993, I found an announcement in a computer journal that the first Polish TeX conference was being organized in Bachotek. Bachotek is a lake located north of the city of Brodnica. GUST conferences are held each year at the recreation center, also called Bachotek, of the Nicolaus Copernicus University in Toruń by that lake. Ever since the conferences have been “BachoTeX”.

I began my TeX adventure with AMS-TeX and after few years I changed to LaTeX. I never used plain TeX for typeseting.

DW:     Please say a bit more about coming in contact with other people in Poland who were using TeX or LaTeX, either in GUST (Polska Grupa Użytkowników Systemu TeX) or independent of it?

ZW:     During BachoTeX 1993 I met for the first time people such as Bogusław Jackowski, Marek Ryćko, Staszek Wawrykiewicz and many others. Two years later I become a member of GUST. During my first meeting, I presented a talk about AMS-TeX. At that time the most of participants of that conference were familiar mainly with plain TeX.

Thanks to participating in conferences in Bachotek, my understanding of TeX and LaTeX increased. Until 2015 I skipped only two conferences. Everything I know about TeX and LaTeX I owe the people I met at the conferences.

DW:     In the online archive of TUGboat, I find the following papers and presentation you have written or co-authord:

I presume that each is sort of a summary of work you were doing with (La)TeX. Please tell me a bit about these activities and any other activities you want to mention.

ZW:     The presentations and articles you cited represent those areas of TeX and LaTeX which I dealt with at that time. When you want to go for the conference, you have to ask the Dean for money. When you will give a lecture, getting money is easier. So, that was a reason of preparing presentations, but not the only reason. Starting in 2004, I began to teach university students how to write documents in LaTeX. For creation of graphics we used MetaPost and then TikZ and the standard LaTeX “picture” environment, and I wanted to share my observation from the TeX teaching process.

In 1994 in Japan, I worked with Japanese colleagues in preparing the proceedings of a conference held in Tokyo in November 1993. The proceedings was published by World Scientific. Later I prepared conference proceedings for several conferences organized in Łódź by my husband. Two of them were also published by World Scientific.

After 8 years of teaching, I decided to write a script for students containing materials that I was preparing for classes. The book was in Polish and led the student step by step through the secrets of LaTeX.

The title of the book is LaTeX dla niecierpliwych – I (LaTeX for impatient – I). Some time ago I started to write the second part of that book. I decided to publish it on the web because students look for informations only on the Internet.

DW:     My understanding is that after Staszek Wawrykiewicz died, you volunteered to take over updating the Polish translation of TeX Live documentation. How did that come about; did someone in GUST suggest you would be a good person for the job, or did the TeX Live team seek you out?

ZW:     All my knowledge about installation of TeX Live I owe Staszek. He had lectures at BachoTeX on how to install TeX system also before TeX Live starts. He explained to me how the system is built, and now I can understand new changes. So when Staszek passed away suddenly, it was natural for me to take over the translation of TeX Live documentation.

At the beginning of March 2018, Jurek Ludwichowski asked at GUST mailing list for someone to volunteer to do updating of the Polish translation of TeX Live documentation. I answered that “I can do it”, and my colleagues agreed.

DW:     Can you tell me about what the process is for working with TeX Live?

ZW:     I look for differences between old and new additions and translate them to Polish. In case of problems, I can ask Polish colleagues whether my translation is okay or not. Also my children, who are a mathematician (Szymon) and informaticians (Blazej and Maria) can help me to understand changes. They all know (La)TeX, however only Szymon uses it permanently (for writing math papers).

The first year was very hard because the 2017 translation made by Staszek was written in ISO 8859-2 encoding. I have changed it to utf8 for the next year. Because I am not familiar with new technologies and tools, every time I have to ask Karl Berry about updating my translations. That is all. I hope I will do translation also next year but, who knows.

DW:     Thank you, Zofia, for participating in our interview series.

Interview pages regenerated March 2, 2020;
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