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Humanist Archives: June 13, 2020, 8:38 a.m. Humanist 34.105 - notation, software and mathematics

                  Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 34, No. 105.
            Department of Digital Humanities, King's College London
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        Date: 2020-06-12 09:20:34+00:00
        From: Desmond  Schmidt 
        Subject: Re: [Humanist] 34.93: notation, software and mathematics


I share your sentiments on OCP. I had the good fortune to use it once
many years ago when computers looked rather different than now. It was
thrilling to have that much power at a time when everything to do with
digital texts was exiting and new.

I have no experience with XQuery though I have used XPath which is
pretty similar. So what I say may be wrong. But since it provides a
way to search a hierarchy of elements it must be rather bad at
performing the kinds of tasks you mention below. In XML pages are
usually represented as empty milestone tags embedded in a
hierarchically organised document. So recovering anything *between*
page references must be pretty difficult. But in a language like COCOA
where *all* the tags were milestones, and you move through the text
linearly and not hierarchically, the contents of any page can be
easily retrieved.

Your other comment about JSON replacing XML in many applications makes
a similar point. JSON is winning (has won already?) the battle of web
application formats because it has a fraction of the complexity of XML
and its myriad standards.

In the end simplicity wins. What is lost when we try too hard to do a
few specific tasks too well is the ability to turn our tools to other
uses. Less is truly more.


       Date: 2020-06-08 20:05:57+00:00
       From: Peter Robinson 
       Subject: Re: [Humanist] 34.89: notation, software and mathematics


3. OCP actually did ONE important thing far better than did XQuery and all the
rest. It understood and gleefully processed multiple overlapping hierarchies.
You could output (as I did) a concordance of the Merchant of Venice which
located every word according to its speaker, scene and act AND according to the
page of the edition. You can (as Michael will tell you) indeed do the same with
XQuery. But it is an order of magnitude more difficult in XQuery etc.  And the
orders of magnitude escalate if you want (for example) to do things such as:
tell me the range of act/scene/line numbers on each page; or give me a list of
the pages in which Solanio speaks; or get me all the text between two page
breaks; or create a hypertext link that takes me to a particular page and tells
the user just what is on it,  and so on.

This does lead me into a little bit of alternative reality speculation. Around
1987, the godparents of what became the TEI (Susan Hockey, Nancy Ide, Lou
Burnard, Michael himself — and others of course who were in the conversation,
which I was not) had to make a critical decision. What document modelling
architecture would the TEI choose as the base for its encoding? Of course, they
chose SGML, and not OCP. There are many excellent reasons why they made that
choice. (Interestingly at almost exactly the same moment I chose differently, to
use OCP as the basis for the transcriptions I was then making, and the first
versions of Collate were built on this markup. I recall David Robey making a
similar choice for the work he was doing on Italian verse). But still: one
wonders what might have happened if they had decided to build on OCP and not go
down the SGML (and then XML) route. As an aside: yes, SGML (and later XML) had
the immense advantage of document validation, and I think every one of us
involved in those early TEI years (and still now) saw that as critical. Perhaps
it is not as critical as we thought. JSON is sweeping the world, and has no
document validation facility.

Just some heretical thoughts.


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