Shortref [was: Re: Super and Subscripts]

lee@sq.com
Fri, 20 Jan 95 11:45:21 EST

I am not at all convinced about a supposed need for SHORTREF in HTML.
This is one of thse Dangerous Areas of SGML that is not widely supported,
and has, as we have seen, some unintuitive aspects.

I think that although <math>e <sup><group>e <sup>2</sup></group></sup></math>
may seem more cumbersome than @e sup { 2 sup n }%, this is like arguing for
macro substitution in RTF...

As HTML gets more sophisticated, the demands on HTML creation and editing
software become greater, and the motivation for using them increases.
Typing HTML tables and mathematics in vi or xedit or Windows notepad is
going to lead to increased sales of alcohol :-)

I'd much rather see a simpler language that may be a little more cumbersome,
and if there turns out to be a need to provide shortcuts, add them later.

I look at maths as being split into
* arithmetic, tht you can evaluate easily
4 + 12
TextFields.YourAge.Value + 20 . 5 - 65 (where 65 is six and a half, in
case the 8-bit character doesn't make it)

* engineering mathematics, that can in principle be evaluated and can in
practice be manipulated, but not all of the parameters may be available.
V = IR
calculus, matrix arithmetic

* research mathematics (could also be called `pure' or `abstract')
can be manipulated, but may define its own rules for doing so.

Let [] be a Reimann 12-manifold Epstein Z-group with Penner topology, as
defined in [Thurston92]. We shall show that the set of train-track
transformations on this group in turn define a Ring.
(sorry for the random keywords)

HTML mathematics can reasonably be expected to support the display of (1),
and probably most of (2), where the semantics and presentation are well
defined. For case (3), where new operators and symbols are introduced,
one can have an extensible layout mechanism (as supported by,
for example, troff/eqn or TeX), or one can allow embedded images.

The business world isn't very interested in abstract mathematics, although
that doesn't mean it isn't important! I don't see that supporting it is
any more important than supporting chemical notations for allotropes (or
whatever they're called, sorry) with a <benzine-ring> tag... I don't see
it as any less important either.

So to revise the issues as I see them:
* don't make the language more complex with SHORTREF
* don't use the murkier features of SGML
* support arithmetic and engineering/concrete maths directly
* don't worry too much about supporting full TeX functionality, but instead
consider other areas (such as Chemistry) as well. We already have escapes
into included images, and downloaded fonts are coming.

Lee

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