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Re: [xml-dev] What is text?

I would like to appreciate different points mentioned by Rick, in response to thoughts by Roger and have few things to say as below about this topic,

[1] I think users of computing devices i.e we humans are adept and trained in learning and remembering words and text. Keeping this characters of us humans in mind, I think its natural for us to be expected of providing algorithmic instructions to computers as a set of textual lexemes (which traditionally we think as providing programs to computers for execution). Its upto the computer hardware then, to store our provided text in the best optimized way they can, which we know from our experiences as Roger has also said, is an encoded stream of numerals. This is how we're taught to interact with computing devices, and how they will process our textual instructions.

This process [1] is an abstraction in itself pioneered by computer scientists, and today we cannot just get away with these.

While on the other hand, Roger says another point which is orthogonal to consumption of text by computers, which is computers treating numerals as primitive entities rather that our textual alhorithms. Ofcourse, as Roger rightly thinks, numerals have limited uses than text as a medium of algorithms (rather low-level storage) for computers. Another thing which comes to my mind just now is, an abstraction of electric signals which computers use which is closer to the machine than numerals..

On 12 June 2015 at 23:05, Costello, Roger L. <costello@mitre.org> 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.


Mukul Gandhi

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