18.485 computing and composition theory

From: Willard McCarty <willard.mccarty_at_KCL.AC.UK>
Date: Wed, 19 Jan 2005 22:14:42 +0000

               Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 18, No. 485.
       Centre for Computing in the Humanities, King's College London
                     Submit to: humanist_at_princeton.edu

         Date: Mon, 29 Nov 2004 07:31:53 +0000
         From: Katharine Patterson <katpatte_at_interchange.ubc.ca>
         Subject: forwarded message from the CASLL list to Humanist

>Date: Fri, 26 Nov 2004 08:25:51 -0400
>From: Russ Hunt <hunt_at_stu.ca>
> >To: Katharine Patterson <katpatte_at_interchange.ubc.ca>
>Katharine --
>This better? Feel free to cut further.
>-- Russ
>A Plague on Both Your Houses
>I don't know how many folks there are out there who will have
>confronted this, either as writers or teachers, but it has
>become increasingly apparent to me that we're dealing with an
>industry that wants us to go back to about the fifties in terms
>of composition theory. Word processors and HTML text editors are
>increasingly, and inexorably, becoming text display manipulators
>rather than text processors. Editing something produced in any
>of the current version is more difficult by a factor of about
>five than it was five years ago.
>I've got students creating assignments (lesson plans,
>essentially) for an eighteenth century literature course,
>posting them on a Web site so that the rest of the class can
>read them ahead of the meeting. One of them just posted a page
>which includes text that doesn't wrap. Text is displayed out two
>or three hundred characters to the right of the screen.
>She achieved this, she says, by composing the page in M$Word,
>and then saving it "as a Web page" -- M$Speak for HTML. This
>happened at the end of class Monday night, and I casually said,
>oh, don't bother; I'll copy the file and fix it for you.
>I spent over an hour yesterday trying to fix it without copying
>the entire text to a new file and reformatting everything
>manually in some different editor -- and failed. I can't find
>the code that means the text wraps in M$Word but not in a
>browser. I wound up converting the text to plain ASCII and re-
>introducing the formatting with Netscape Composer.
>The problem is that the sheer amount of useless code that M$Word
>pours over the text makes it impossible to edit manually, and
>also -- and this is my main concern -- really makes it damn near
>impossible to edit within M$Word itself. Every change you make
>has amazing, unexpected consequences: there's a bulleted list in
>the file, for example, and any attempt to modify it simply
>screws up the formatting entirely.
>I can't find an editor that doesn't make it damn near impossible
>for someone who doesn't already know what she's doing -- and can
>avoid formatting tricks and all the other bells and whistles
>that the damn programs shove in her face -- to go back and
>revisit a text in any way other than spell checking. Both Word
>and WordPerfect, which seem to be the two default word
>processors around these days, and all the HTML editors available
>as well (though to a lesser extent), have been migrated to, or
>have evolved to be, text _display_ editors. It's _all_ about how
>the text looks. And from my perspective as someone trying to
>help students learn to write, that makes them all next to
>When what a student wants to produce is not a snappy graphic
>display, but a text which can then be revised, she's out of
>luck. I can't find an editor that doesn't make it damn near
>impossible for someone who doesn't already know what she's doing
>-- and can avoid formatting tricks and all the other bells and
>whistles that the damn programs shove in her face -- to go back
>and revisit a text in any way other than spell checking.
>Composition theory and pedagogy spend half my career getting
>past surface error fixing as the default mode for editing . . .
>and Bill Gates & Co. wipe out all that progress in five years of
>"improving" their word processors.
>So I guess I have three questions:
>(1) has anybody else encountered this, or is this just a
>function of the fact that I'm a fossil and still want text
>markup to be comprehensible?
>(2) does anyone know about publications or resources on the
>migration of word processors toward text display and away from,
>well, word processing?
>(3) does anybody know about a program that'll strip out the
>useless code from a M$Word-created HTML file? (as a plain ascii
>file the text in question is about 17K; in its full flower, as
>published to HTML by Word, it's 48K). (By the way, I've tried
>M$Word's "filtered" HTML and Dreamweaver's HTML cleanup.
>Neither touch the mess.)
>-- Russ Hunt
>St. Thomas University

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Dr Willard McCarty | Senior Lecturer | Centre for Computing in the
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Received on Wed Jan 19 2005 - 17:30:48 EST

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