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Re: [xml-dev] What is text?
• From: James Fuller <james.fuller.2007@gmail.com>
• To: "Costello, Roger L." <costello@mitre.org>
• Date: Tue, 16 Jun 2015 10:18:11 +0200

I would contend that self selection and the first principles of underlying systems naturally constrain our choices to 1, which is the one we have eg. a stream of bytes representing text.

petitio principii ('which begs the question' nod to Aristotle) and showing my linguistic ignorance what other alternatives to a stream of bytes representing text do we have ?

J

On Fri, Jun 12, 2015 at 7:35 PM, Costello, Roger L. wrote:

Hi Folks,

What is text?

"Well, it's words. It's how we express ourselves. It's the majesty of life."

When text is given to a computer, it is not words. It's just numbers. For example, here's how the text Hello is typically stored in a computer (the numbers in the boxes denote hex values):

Whatever text you enter from the keyboard eventually gets converted to numbers inside the computer.

The notion that there are words or sentences or poetry in the computer is purely a fiction.

That's pretty astonishing, but even more astonishing is how little the computer can do with text:

If you input a number into the computer you can at least perform arithmetic on it. Not so with text.

With text you can only do mind-blowingly trivial things like:

-          Check to see if the first character equals H? Er, rather, is the first byte equal to hex 48?

-          Check to see if the string equals Hello? Er, rather, do the five bytes match hex 48, 65, 6C, 6C, 6F, respectively?

-          Request a substring: the first three characters. Er, rather, give me the first three bytes.

That is an appalling limited set of things that computers can do with text. This set of operations is not impressive: compare bytes, retrieve bytes, insert more bytes.

Yet, it is remarkable how much we humans have accomplished using such a simple, mindless system.

/Roger

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