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"Portable documents: Acrobat, SGML and TeX"
Bridewell Theatre, London, 19 Jan 95
Response to report posted by Lou Burnard to TEI list.
 
As well as being a speaker at this meeting I was also an organiser,
and I also lurk on the TEI list.  Needless to say, I too was at the
meeting Lou described.  I am most pleased that Lou found the meeting
worth reporting on, and that his general tone was positive.  However
and without going into details, I find myself disagreeing with most
of his negative remarks.  I do accept that the lunch was "somewhat
spartan" and apologise, and Lou's promotion of the DynaText version
of the TEI guidelines was indeed "shameless".  The attendance was
nearly 130.
 
On my own initiative I arranged for information about the TEI
guidelines to be placed in the delegate pack, one of which I
personally gave to Lou.  The letter I sent inviting him to the
meeting mentioned the delegate pack, and solicited contributions.
If he had asked, it could have happened that the delegate pack
contained up-to-date information about the TEI guidelines on CD-ROM.
 
It is with Lou's reporting of my talk that I have the greatest
difficulty.  I will repeat this part, but with my own comments
added.
 
>  The third speaker of the morning, Jonathan Fine, began by insisting
>  that the spaces between words were almost as important as the words
>  themselves.
The title of my talk was
        FORMATTING SGML MANUSCRITPS
        - or -
        MUCH ADO ABOUT NOTHING
and I did not make the statement claimed of me.  The focus of the
first part of my talk was typographic quality, and when the spaces
between the words are wrong, nothing can be done to make the result
good.  As far as typographic quality if concerned, the spaces between
the words are *more important* than the words.  Indeed, in display
text the words may be altered to get the spaces right!  Headlines are
a case in point.
 
>  I felt that he wasted rather a lot of his time on this point,
and indeed as my main idea was not successfully communicated my
effort was, at least as far as Lou is concerned, wasted.  I wanted to
drive home the point that no matter what else your formatting
software might do, if it does not get the spaces rights, it is
incapable of high quality.  Just look at the "SGML Handbook".  Does
it get the spaces right?  Do we live in an age when this basic idea
of typography is well understood and universally mastered?  No, and
especially no for pages produced from SGML manuscripts.
 
>  as he did later on explaining how to pronounce "TeX"
>  (surely unnecessary for this audience)
Because I was a co-organiser (responsible for publicity) I got to
speak with many people who were making booking enquiries, and so I got
to hear first hand that many of them did not know how to pronounce
TeX nor, presumably, what it really was.
 
>  before finally describing a product he is developing called
>  "Simsim"
I did not want to give a sales talk.  That would have been an abuse
of my position.
 
>  (Arabic for sesame, which is a trademark of British
>  Petroleum we learned).
This I indeed said.  My slides pointed out that the word goes back
4500 year to the Akkadian language spoken in Mesopotamia.
 
>  This appears to be a set of TeX macros for formatting
>  SGML documents directly,
In my slides I wrote
        SIMSIM is a TeX macro package which understands SGML.  It is
        a platform upon which style files for formatting SGML
        manuscripts can be developed.
and it would have been better if Lou had quoted this statement.
 
>  using components of the ESIS to drive the formatter,
But what else could the formatter use, and yet be SGML compliant.
 
>  but I did not come away with any clear sense of how his approach
>  differed from that already fairly widely used elsewhere.
Well, there was time to ask questions, and Lou asked the first, and
the answer was "Yes", SIMSIM could do what he asked so again, I did
my best to give a clear idea to Lou and I regret that I failed.  One
reason why I might have failed is that Lou does not have a strong
understanding of TeX.  One could at least expect that SIMSIM will
on its own get the spaces between word right.  If the SGML
        <line> Apple and <bf> plum </> trees </line>
is translated in a simple-minded manner to the (plain) TeX
        \line{ Apple and {\bf plum } trees }
the result will have an extra-large space between "plum" and "trees"
whereas
        <line> Apple and <bf> plum</>trees </line>
will have no space between them.  SIMSIM will get this sort of thing
"right", if that is what you want it to do with the content.  The
usual ways of using TeX do not give such control.
 
On my second slide I wrote
        The words belong to the author.
        The spaces between the words belong to the formatter
and a key point I made during my talk was that the author should not
by any means be able to change the spaces between the words, because
the spaces belong to the formatter.  This point is important for
typographic quality, which although of no immediate concern to the
TEI is important to publishers.  Later Lou wrote that Geeti
Granger had difficulty
>       in getting good quality typeset output
which is precisely the point my talk was addressing.
 
A copy of the slides of my talk was in the delegate pack, and a copy
of the source SGML document instance from which the slides were
produced was made available to participants.  Lou had both.
 
The goals the TEI has set itself are important, and I wish you good
fortune.  As a software developer, I would like to know what the
formatting requirements of the TEI users are.  You may wish to
communicate with me directly, rather than through the list.
 
yours sincerely
Jonathan Fine
 
Mailing Address:  203 Coldhams Lane, Cambridge, CB1 3HY,  England.