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bug#3501: 23.0.94; Use Unicode in Info (?)

From: Alan Mackenzie
Subject: bug#3501: 23.0.94; Use Unicode in Info (?)
Date: Tue, 9 Jun 2009 21:10:41 +0000
User-agent: Mutt/1.5.9i

Hi, there!

On Tue, Jun 09, 2009 at 12:56:24PM -0700, Drew Adams wrote:
> > > Isn't Emacs capable of somehow knowing whether the current display
> > > can show non-ASCII chars?

> > Emacs is capable of anything, provided you put enough effort into
> > telling it.  Assuming you're running on a pure ASCII display, or one
> > running an ISO-8859 character set (as I do), how much effort must you
> > put into telling Emacs (and standalone Info) that you really, really
> > don't want random Unicode bytes cluttering up your screen?

> I meant Emacs, not the user. Can't Emacs itself tell whether to show
> Unicode or not? See my example regarding buff-menu.el. Emacs already
> decides whether to try to show you images and other display features.

> > Quite a lot of people want Unicode, but quite a lot don't. We
> > shouldn't force it upon them.

> If their Emacs supports Unicode, they would see the people's real
> names. If their Emacs does not support Unicode, they would see an
> ASCII-art version of the real names, like now. Where's the forcing? If
> they want to stick with ASCII, they'll see ASCII.

If you can do this, then great.  I don't think it can be done, in
general, without tarting up honest text files (like Info) with
un-displayed annotations.  UTF-8 isn't compatible with 8-bit codes like

> I agree that one should not need to have Unicode support to be able to
> use Info.  It does not follow that Info must present itself, by default
> and to everyone, using only the lowest common denominator for every
> possible user interaction.

For manuals written in English, it's a sensible optimisation.

> We've finally added font-locking by default, and we've gotten rid of
> vestigial limits due to 900-baud communication - by default, at least.
> And you can turn off font-locking.

> No one stops a user from wearing a hair shirt and sleeping on nails in
> a Siberian cabin without windows or running water. But that doesn't
> mean that the default should be to expect that most users have such
> preferences.

> Unicode is today's ASCII, like it or not.

No.  It's quite different.  ASCII was designed for elegance and ease of
use.  Unicode is a ghastly cludge, hacked together by some committee.
It's lacking in technical merit.  It's bodge nature is demonstrated by
the fact that people "have expertise" in it.  How many people "have
expertise" in ASCII?

The only thing in its favour is that it's used by "everybody", but then
so is Microsoft Windows.

We went through variable length encodings 30 years ago - George (the
operating system) had 6 bit characters, except some of them were the
equivalent of the <shift> key, or the <shift-lock> key.  It was such a
relief to get a sensible 7- or 8-bit uniform character set.  It's nice to
be able to count the number of characters in a string without needing a
finite state machine.

> And I notice that you said you use ISO 8859.  Why is that?

It's efficient for both English and German, and also does French and
Spanish (for the few times I need to write French and Spanish words).

> Did you get tired of using `$' to represent a pound or a euro? For you,
> I guess, whatever you use is OK for the default - ISO 8859 would be OK
> for Info, instead of ASCII? 

For me, personally, yes, but it would be a bad choice for Emacs users as
a whole - a bit like Unicode, really.

> Why don't you limit yourself to Extended ASCII, which has a pound sign
> and lots of other "fancy" stuff (http://www.asciitable.com/)? Why go
> all of the way to the wild side, to ISO 8859? Aren't you afraid that
> that will open the flood gates to using such fancy characters
> (including character graphics) all over the place? Who can trust users
> to behave themselves with such means in their hands?

You're not getting sarcastic here, are you, by any chance?  ;-)

> > > Jørgensen is more readable than J/orgensen, but J/orgensen 
> > > is fine for a card punch. ;-)

> > Possibly.  But I have just the _tiniest_ suspicion that this is the
> > thin end of the wedge, the crack in the dyke, the floodgates wanting
> > to burst open.  How long before people start using Xah's fancy 3-byte
> > quote marks, with associated dangly bits hanging off them?

> Fear can be a powerful motivator. But not necessarily a wise counselor.

> It's not because you _can_ make text proportional or italic or magenta
> or 23-point or blinking or boxed or gothic that you _will_ do so
> everywhere. 

I won't.  Many do, though.

> Your reaction reminds me of conservatives who try to deny access to
> information and new possibilities because of fear of the unknown.

That's unfair.  If I see somebody peddling something "new", I don't just
accept that it's automatically better.  Often, it's not.  Think of new
drugs which work no better than old ones.  That perl isn't better than
lisp, or MS Visual Studio better than Emacs, for example.  Unicode, with
its snakepit of variations, and coding schemas, and what have you,
certainly has its uses.  But just who was it that decided that Unicode is
the universal panacea?  I don't remember anybody asking me.  It was
stealthily foisted on us by somebody or other with interests different
from ours.  For the vast swathes of computer users, who use one single
language with possibly a bit of English on the side, something like
ISO-8859-n is technically far superior.

> Keep women at home or covered in black. No libraries, so we don't
> incite the unwashed masses with ideas they won't be able to handle
> responsibly. No voting for the ignorant or unpropertied. Close the box,
> quick!

> (How do you spell etidull?)

I don't.

Alan Mackenzie (Nuremberg, Germany).

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