Re: Electronic File Transfer

Subject: Re: Electronic File Transfer
From: Chet Ensign <Chet_Ensign%LDS -at- NOTES -dot- WORLDCOM -dot- COM>
Date: Tue, 5 Mar 1996 09:09:39 -0600

Bruce WHITE writes:

> In this day and age I expect that every format has a converter to any other
> converter. So why SGML? :)

Converters work for the simple stuff. As soon as your content starts to get
interesting -- just the place you most want converters to work for you -- they
start to break down. Typical problems are that some formatting effect in
program 1 is not supported in program 2, so the converter mangles the input, or
the formatting effect in program 1 was achieved through some novel combination
of commands that confuse the daylights out of the converter thus mangling the
result in program 2 (not as uncommon as you would think, really), or the
converter doesn't yet understand the *new* data format of your upgraded program
1, or the converter doesn't understand anymore the *very old* data format of
your not-so-recently upgraded program 1.

And, of course, the **real** problem is that, because you are going from one
ambiguous, format-oriented data type to another, there is absolutely no way for
you to be certain that the conversion worked correctly except to inspect the
converted document from page 1 all the way through page 2001. I'd rather spend
my time doing something creative.

Converters are translators, and there's a great story that I read somewhere
about the first auto-translation program that converted English into Russian.
The proud project leader gave it the phrase "The flesh is willing, but the
spirit is weak." and out came something that looked like Russian. So they
tranlslated that back to English and got "The meat's ok, but the vodka is
watered down." Sheepishly, they tried again, translating "See no evil, hear no
evil." The retranslated result was "Blind, deaf and stupid."

The point is, translation is an art because its object is fraught with
ambiguity. The reason for SGML is that it removes the ambiguity from a document
by making the meaning of all content explicit. Once that is done, you can let
your computers do the walking.



Chet Ensign
Logical Design Solutions
571 Central Avenue
Murray Hill, NJ 07974 censign -at- lds -dot- com [email]
908-771-9221 [Phone] 908-771-0430 [FAX]

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