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Humanist Archives: March 1, 2019, 7:07 a.m. Humanist 32.496 - editions, in print or in bytes

                  Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 32, No. 496.
            Department of Digital Humanities, King's College London
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        Date: 2019-02-28 20:08:19+00:00
        From: Desmond  Schmidt 
        Subject: Re: [Humanist] 32.491: editions, in print or in bytes

>> Nowhere in your extremely long postings do you provide any explanation
>> as to how elements, attributes and hierarchies arose. They did not
>> arrive magically one day on a cloud. They arose from print, and just
>> because the GML->SGML->XML textual model has been widely used for
>> digital text doesn't mean it was designed originally for that purpose.

On 26 Feb 2019 Hugh Cayless wrote:

> You keep hammering on this point, but I don't think it matters.
> Technologies are repurposable. Java was originally designed for embedded
> systems, but it found its home in server-side application development. The
> Java Virtual Machine was designed for Java (obviously), but plays host to>
> many languages (including Clojure, JavaScript, PHP, Python, Ruby, and
> Scala). Really, so what if XML's distant origins were focused on print?
> That wouldn't mean it can't be used elsewhere. Type and fonts were designed
> for print. Ought we to stop using them as well? It would put an end to this
> thread...

I don't accept this analogy. Since all computing languages break down
to the same operations in the end of course their effects are
identical. You need to give examples of data formats that have been
reused for different purposes. Not so many of those, are there?

I keep harping on this point because it is the nub of the problem.
Every decision we take in designing a data structure, like a marked-up
file, has powerful consequences on what we can do with that data
afterwards. Markup languages are one TINY part of the full breadth of
data structures available in computer science and you should
appreciate this. Robert Sedgwick in his popular book Algorithms said:

"data structures ... are central objects of study in computer science.
Thus algorithms and data structures go hand in hand; in this book we
take the view that data structures exist as the byproducts or
endproducts of algorithms"

What we can do with a text encoded in XML is thus already decided by
the designers of XML. I'm not saying that you can't do a variety of
things, but it is only within a restricted field of operation. It's
pretty close to the train and scooter analogy I used earlier. On a
train we can go faster or slower, we can stop or go on but we can only
follow in the tracks laid down by its builders. In one of our
presentations someone in the audience, after seeing what we could do
with the texts of Harpur admitted, reluctantly, that abandoning XML
freed us up to do more. That's how I feel about the straight-jacket
that XML has become.

Desmond Schmidt
Queensland University of Technology

Dr Desmond Schmidt
Mobile: 0481915868 Work: +61-7-31384036

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