18.536 plain text

From: Humanist Discussion Group (by way of Willard McCarty willard.mccarty_at_kcl.ac.uk>
Date: Fri, 28 Jan 2005 09:48:37 +0000

               Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 18, No. 536.
       Centre for Computing in the Humanities, King's College London
                     Submit to: humanist_at_princeton.edu

   [1] From: "Dr. David Harrison" <prospero_at_PNCL.CO.UK> (17)
         Subject: Word/Text/HTML processors.

   [2] From: Michael Hart <hart_at_pglaf.org> (58)
         Subject: Re: 18.532 !@! more failure of plain text

   [3] From: Willard McCarty <willard.mccarty_at_kcl.ac.uk> (26)
         Subject: a plain text story

         Date: Fri, 28 Jan 2005 09:33:31 +0000
         From: "Dr. David Harrison" <prospero_at_PNCL.CO.UK>
         Subject: Word/Text/HTML processors.


Defaulting to a commercial product by Microsoft, Adobe or anyone else is
hardly best practice when there are acceptable alternatives and leaves one
open to the planned obsolesence of file formats and to the hidden delights
of macro viruses and other malware. For text, unicode-capable (.txt) text
editors exist (if you need more than ASCII), and rich text format (.rtf) is
cross platform. Windows comes with a free word processor (WordPad) which is
good enough to write a novel with, never mind a simple essay. NoteTab Light
is a good freeware HTML editor <http://www.notetab.com>, although NotePad
(free in Windows) accounts for a large number of webpages and entire
websites. If you want to put text on the web, you only need to teach a few
basic bits of mark-up. It is easy to expect DTP luxury when your software
is bloated with features, but I'm sure we can all get by with simpler
software if we try. However pretty you want it to look, it's what you say
that matters. The medium is not the message, but the context.

Best wishes,

         Date: Fri, 28 Jan 2005 09:34:35 +0000
         From: Michael Hart <hart_at_pglaf.org>
         Subject: Re: 18.532 !@! more failure of plain text

The Failure of Plain Text has been announced repeatedly for well
over a decade now, but I notice it has little to do with reality.

If there were much truth in this, I would be receiving the major
portion of my email in .pdf, .html, and other markup formats.

Not to mention that our Project Gutenberg .pdf and .html files
would be downloaded more often than their .txt counterparts.

I recall the Library of Congress eText Workshop from the early
1990's [1993?] refusing to even mention that plain text existed.

This "Workshop" turned out to be simply a propaganda tool for
various markup languages, much as other government officials
are now reporting their jobs were as such propaganda tools.

BUT. . .in the end the laugh was on them!!!

They released the proceedings ONLY as a .pdf file, hoping to
stack the response deck with pro-pdf people, the only people
who could read it, and then invited the general audiences of
several of the listservers I was on to engage in conversation
about the workshop.

HOWEVER. . .not a single reply came in to any listserv group.

Not one. . . .

It is simply too difficult to cut and paste from a .pdf file
into an email reply concerning the .pdf file.

People are still trying similar things today, and failing as
demonstrably today as they did over 10 years ago.

.pdf is still being proposed in every session of Congress as
the official document format for all government documents,
and is still failing, since "Portable Document Format" [PDF]
seems to be exactly what it isn't.

Meanwhile, there are 100,000 plain text eBooks out there for
use in nearly any hardware/software combination, search engine,
word processor, email, text reader, editing program, etc.,
and Project Gutenberg, that failed producer of eBooks from
the pre-history of the Internet has produced and distributed
as many eBooks as anyone. Google, Yahoo, and Microsoft,
along with the Internet Archive, the Million Book Project,
the Online Books Page, and the Internet Public Library,
are all a guarantee that "the failure of plain text"
will continue long into the future.

Michael S. Hart

Give FreeBooks!!!
In 39 Languages!!!

As of January 27, 2005
~15,180 FreeBooks at:
~ 4,820 to go to 20,000

We are ~52% of the way
from 10,000 to 20,000.

We are ~4% of the way
from 15,000 to 20,000.

Now even more PG eBooks

In 104 Languages!!!

Michael S. Hart
Project Gutenberg
Executive Coordinator^M
"*Internet User ~#100*"

         Date: Fri, 28 Jan 2005 09:36:25 +0000
         From: Willard McCarty <willard.mccarty_at_kcl.ac.uk>
         Subject: a plain text story

Once, in the late 1980s, I was at a conference in Toronto whose audience
was largely bilingual, French and English. During this conference a young
assistant professor (from Ohio, as I recall) gave a paper about a
text-based system he had devised. Explaining how this system had been
crafted -- in those days memory was precious, so one had to be quite clever
-- he noted that since accented characters were unnecessary, his system did
everything with a 7-bit byte. When he said this, I noticed a strong but
silent reaction from a couple of senior Francophone scholars in the back of
the room. One of them told me later that the two of them had tossed a coin
to decide who was going to respond. After the speaker finished, the
Francophone who had won the toss stood up, praised the cleverness of the
speaker and suggested, in the manner of a helpful comment, that since we
really didn't need to distinguish minuscules from majuscules, the system
could actually be designed to use a 6-bit byte. In fact, he went on, since,
really, punctuation marks could be done away with, all could be
accomplished with 5 bits. Then he proposed we eliminate the vowels, and so
on. Gradually there were titters of laughter, and finally applause and open
delight at the wit of the assassination. A wonderful reductio ad absurdum.
What happened to the poor speaker I cannot say.


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Received on Fri Jan 28 2005 - 04:59:06 EST

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