Re: support for 'macro' formatting languages

Subject: Re: support for 'macro' formatting languages
From: "Sebastian Rahtz" <sebastian.rahtz@xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx>
Date: Mon, 20 Dec 1999 21:51:33 +0000 (GMT)
Norman Gray writes:

 > > and when you have to revise the paper? 2nd edition of your book in 3
 > > years time? that way madness lies...
 > Exactly my point: the publisher normalises the LaTeX as the first step
 > in _their_ processing, but retains the LaTeX-notation document as the
 > master, so that the author can have a fighting chance of making sense
 > of it when and if they have to revise it.

If "normalizing LaTeX" was a reliable process, fine. But in practice
one almost _never_ sees a well-behaved LaTeX paper. Send me the last
paper you wrote in LaTeX and I betcha I'll find 5 reasons why it won't 
autotranslate into rich XML.

 > >  - you don't ever want to search or analyze it
 > Neither I nor any of the folk I've asked about this can think of an
 > advantage in being able to search the maths content of a paper, or of
 > being able to suck the maths content into a computer-algebra package.

If you say so. I know nothing. I just believe what the MathML people say...

 > it ought to be.  I would go as far as to wonder if the maths might be
 > as opaque, structurally, as an included graphic.

so include gif images of photos of the blackboard....

 > >  - you don't want to mix it with graphics or text 
 > I don't see how MathML would be any better or worse than TeX.

so, you want a complete typesetting system lurking permanently behind
the scenes, duplicating all the functionality of the system doing the
main text and graphics? you never box, shade, or color your maths?

who is going to render your embedded TeX notation? TeX itself? in
every browser?

 > I know that I've never
 > met this putative horde of folk wanting to `search and symbolically
 > manipulate their formula', and the folk to whom I've mentioned the
 > advantages of authoring in MathML have recoiled in horror.

I have never met them either, if I must be honest.


 > problem, and I'm sure the structuring MathML allows would indeed allow you
 > to generate a half-decent heuristic to do the line-breaking automatically.
 > However, I'm sure that exactly the same heuristic could be driven,
 > if necessary, by subtly extended syntax in the TeX maths.

but this is Betamax vs VHS. Do you realistically see anyone extending
TeX like this? I don't.


 > An answer might be for publishers to support LaTeX maths environments
 > which differ from the standard ones in supporting more structure.  Such a
 > development would cause much muttering and grumbling amongst authors,
 > but would be sellable because there actually is a problem to be solved
 > here, significant enough that authors will put up with some inconvenience,
 > in the expectation that it will make their papers more usable.

In my experience,t very few authors take any notice of what
publishers say, they just go their own sweet way....

 > MathML as author syntax is _not_ a solution here because, alignment
 > and line-breaking
 > issues aside, it seems to provide solutions to non-existent problems,
 > putting authors to considerable inconvenience for no apparent benefit
 > to themselves or anyone else.

I like this epigraph. You may well be right.

Coming back to VHS and Betamax, the problem to my mind is that the
number of people for whom LaTeX is the best solution is dropping
rapidly. The mathematicians and physicists, sure, but Joe Computer 
Scientist (once relied upon to author in TeX) is increasingly going
either to the nether hell of Microsoft Word, or to the sunlit uploads
of *ML. 

You can make very persuasive arguments that TeX is an excellent
notation to write math, but where is the incentive to teach students
the increasingly clunky rest of the system? So, if you dont teach you
students to use LaTeX, but to author in XML with TeX as a notation,
where is the software to process that notation? Where is the work
being done to make fragments of TeX useable without recourse to
`header files' or duplicated resources like font metrics? Its easy for 
me, in JadeTeX or PassiveTeX, because I use TeX as my formatting
engine, so I can just pass your notation through, but what the devil
is Framemaker supposed to do?

I hope you can see that I *do* actually have plenty of sympathy with
your views, but I am pessimistic that what is `right' will win. Ask
again in a year's time and lets see if the UK relief  of third world
debt has actually worked.


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