Sneaking Equations into Gmail


Here’s one I’ve been meaning to post for a while. Last month I figured out how to sneak equations into the text of email messages in gmail. It’s not ideal – ideal would be an equation editor built in to Gmail, but it does work and I’ve verified that the equations show up as intended on the receiving end of the emails in various programs (Outlook, Yahoo, Hotmail, etc.).

Here’s the principle: You know how companies are able to send you email that has lots of pictures and clickable text – just like a webpage? This is HTML-based email, and you can create it too using Google Page Creator as your editor.

If you already have a gmail account, you can use Google Page Creator to do the same things that these companies do when they build active HTML pages for email.

Create your equations with an equation editor (like MathType) and then use a screen-capture program (like Snagit or Jing) to create small image files of the equations you want in your email. Remember where you save the images, because you will have to find them again!

In Google Page Creator, create what you’d like to have in the email. One way to do it is to write the text in Page Creator and insert the images between the text lines.

A more efficient way to do it would be to write the text and equations in your equation editor, and insert the whole thing as an image in Page Creator.

When your document looks as you desire, copy the material in Google Page Creator, then paste the material (Ctrl-V) into a new email in Gmail. It should appear in the email exactly as it appeared on the page in Google Page Creator.

The reason this works (I think) is that both editors are WYSIWYG (what you see is what you get) editors built by Google and they are both writing the same back-end HTML code for everything you create.

Google Page Creator hosts the image files on the google servers, even if you never publish the web page. However, you can’t delete the images out of Google Page Creator, or they will disappear from the emails. I just have an unpublished page in Page Creator called “Sneaking Equations into Gmail” and I just keep adding new material to at the top.

Like I said at the beginning, it’s not ideal. Google should either build an equation editor that is compatible with all of its applications or integrate an existing equation editor into its applications. Google searching is optimized by mathematicians … you’d think that they’d be all over this!

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12 Responses to “Sneaking Equations into Gmail”

  • Robert says:

    Another way Google could enable this sort of thing is just to allow image insertion in GMail. You can insert images in Google Documents, so why not in GMail messages?

    Or, Google could enable automatic LaTeX compiling in GMail and Google Docs. WordPress.com blogs and WikiSpaces wikis do this. In WordPress, if you want to insert LaTeX, you just type $latex [latex code]$ and when you publish, the LaTeX is compiled for you.

    Also, just a note for Mac users — the program LaTeX-iT (http://www.apple.com/downloads/macosx/math_science/latexit.html) allows you to typeset single blocks of LaTeX code and then export them as PDF, JPG, or PNG. That would let you skip the steps involving managing the graphics files.

  • Bob Mathews says:

    Good suggestions Maria. Of course, if MathType is your choice of equation editors (and naturally we hope it will be), there’s no need for the extra step of taking a screen shot with SnagIt or Jing. MathType can save the equation directly as a GIF, which you can then import into Google Page Creator.

  • MathMagic says:

    MathMagic is also another equation editor that you might want to check out.

    http://www.mathmagic.com

    MathMagic equation editor Mac version has much more feature than that of Windows for now, unlike MathType.

  • zac says:

    I agree with Robert’s suggestion – LaTeX is the way Google should go. MathType outputs as LaTeX as well and it is great if you don;t have to fiddle with images.

    But it would be nice if gmail allowed images…

  • Maria H. Andersen says:

    I respectfully disagree that LaTeX is the answer. For those that know how to use LaTeX (most who have completed a graduate degree in math), LaTeX would work fine. Consider, though, the plight of the typical undergraduate, or K-12 math teacher. These folks are not taught how to use LaTeX and if you’ve never done any coding, it is roughly the equivalent of writing all your web communications in HTML. If we really want mathematics to join Web 2.0, there will need to be an easy to use iterface that allows any student, parent, or instructor to ask mathematical questions.

    LaTeX might be the back-end coding of these systems, but it should not be the front-end, any more than HTML should be the front-end editor for email programs.

  • Robert says:

    @Maria: There are lots of good LaTeX IDE’s that use buttons and icons and so forth to insert code into the editor, so it’s pretty close to point-and-click.

    I teach LaTeX to all my students in our sophomore “transition to higher math” course, and all of them have learned how to use LaTeX with decent proficiency, so I don’t see why a typical K-12 teacher can’t learn enough to do what they need to do. 90% of the things that most teachers need to do with LaTeX is easy. The remaining 10% can get mind-numbingly hard. But I think it’s important that math teachers use the industry standard for math typesetting.

  • Maria H. Andersen says:

    A “transition to higher math” course would be an appropriate level to teach LaTeX. Consider, though, that those of us teaching at the community college are teaching beginning algebra, intermediate algebra, precalculus, and, on occasion, calculus.

    I can’t seriously expect a beginning algebra student to learn LaTeX coding. If there is not a point & click editor, it is not an option.

    As far as the “industry standard” goes … there’s a big difference between math journals and math textbooks. Every textbook project I’ve worked on (and I’ve been doing it for 10 years) has required files in MathType, not LaTeX. It was specified in the contract.

  • Anonymous says:

    doggone it. you are deeply wrong.
    it’s just flat-out *much easier*
    to learn a little bit about code–
    be it HTML or TeX–and get on
    with your project than it is to be
    the slave of whatever fad some
    crazy capitalist comes up with
    in the name of “point-and-click”.

    nobody believes me when i tell them
    stuff like this and at some level
    that even makes sense: math teachers
    keep on lying about what’s hard
    and what’s easy. computer-heads
    are worse. why should they take
    me seriously just because i’ve made it
    my life’s work to find these things out?

  • Maria H. Andersen says:

    Maybe we should all still be using DOS too? I mean, it wasn’t that hard to use, was it?

  • Anonymous says:

    in the ways that matter to me
    DOS was indeed easier to use.
    specifically, any task i found
    myself performing over and over
    could *easily* be written up
    as a little program (a “BAT file”)
    and run at the stroke of a few keys.
    whenever, for example, i have to
    upload the latest version of my blog,
    i have to run through a series of
    half a dozen move-the-mouse-&-click
    moves–the same half dozen,
    often several times a day.
    it’s maddening. examples could
    easily be multiplied easily.
    i use an early 90′s DOS box
    to this day for text editing.

    the *real* loss to us as teachers
    in the windows hegemony, though,
    was surely wiping out BASIC.
    evidently it’s bad for business
    if there’s a programming interface
    that can easily be learned by any
    user of algebra in a single session.

    go ahead and mock me some more.
    i’m used to it and it shows that
    you actually haven’t got an argument.

  • Maria H. Andersen says:

    Hey, if YOU find it easier to use DOS and LaTeX, then far be it from me to stop you.

    I find it easier to use MathType and Windows … I’ve got about 10,000 pages of text written with MathType and Word.

    The WYSIWYG editor in Blackboard 8 is broken and I’ve been writing all my new assignments for HTML for two weeks now. It is not faster. I am leaving out diagrams, uploaded files, and other addendums to the assignments simply because it’s too much of a pain to go through the extra work of uploading those files to a separate server and then writing the links to them.

    With the WYSIWYG editor, I could click once to upload and that was that. What did take one click is now a 10-minute process involving ftp-ing files to servers.

    So, for exactly the same reason as you (it wastes a lot of time) I would rather NOT use the non-WYSIWYG editor in these cases.

    That’s not to say I can’t, if I have to, but that is another issue.

  • K1 Monfared says:

    Hi,
    I'm new and I use both windows and Latex! I think there is not any conflict between them!!
    about MathType I should say that it's nice and user friendly but not as standard as Latex.
    In my opinion every one who wants to publish a page should know some HTML and also every one who wants to publish math equations has to know some Latex.
    By the way, the point & click editors are ways to increase our laziness and making us dependent to newer versions of themselves!

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