"The Markup Barrier"

From: Patrick Rourke (ptrourke@methymna.com)
Date: Fri Jun 28 2002 - 17:08:44 EDT

<q>There is at present a barrier, which I feel might be called the markup
barrier, which is acting as a barrier to progress. I wonder whether the
markup barrier is some absolute barrier or whether it is just a temporary
thing which exists in people's minds because in ASCII there were only 128
code points and so the character < was used as a clever way to allow greater
meaning to be incorporated into plain text files because the few direct
markup characters in ASCII were not sufficient for emerging needs.</q>

Markup is not merely a kludge to deal with the limitations of ASCII. Markup
is a system, based upon relatively simple rules (especially simple for XML),
for providing complex metainformation about a text. I suggest that you
investigate some professional-grade markup schemes, such as TEI
(http://www.tei-c.org/) or DocBook
(http://www.oasis-open.org/committees/docbook/), before you continue on with
your speculations on how Unicode can replace markup. Unicode could not
possibly encode all possible markup element identifiers, because the
possible range of values of markup delimiters is nearly infinite (encoding
the possible range of markup values is a Library of Babel problem). What is
more, the best markup is human readable.

> Aviation still uses subsonic flight, yet also
> uses supersonic flight in appropriate
> circumstances.

This is an invalid metaphor, as you are comparing a merely quantitative
difference with a difference which is both quantitative and qualitative.

On the issue of chromatic fonts themselves, the use of a bichromatic glyph
to represent a holly berry seems to me to be completely inapropriate to an
encoding scheme. The holly berry is not a text symbol (as e.g. the various
crosses, etc. used in Unicode could be called), but rather a kind of emblem.
When used in texts, emblems should be treated as illustrations. When they
are referenced as emblems (rather than displayed), they should be referenced
using a local scheme, rather than an encoding.

Patrick Rourke

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