[Humanist] 26.195 uppercaselessness

Humanist Discussion Group willard.mccarty at mccarty.org.uk
Sat Jul 28 01:53:24 CEST 2012


                 Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 26, No. 195.
            Department of Digital Humanities, King's College London
                       www.digitalhumanities.org/humanist
                Submit to: humanist at lists.digitalhumanities.org

  [1]   From:    "Totosy de Zepetnek, Steven" <clcweb at purdue.edu>          (21)
        Subject: totosy Re: [Humanist] 26.191 uppercaselessness

  [2]   From:    Norman Gray <norman at astro.gla.ac.uk>                      (21)
        Subject: Re: [Humanist] 26.191 uppercaselessness


--[1]------------------------------------------------------------------------
        Date: Thu, 26 Jul 2012 20:26:08 -0400
        From: "Totosy de Zepetnek, Steven" <clcweb at purdue.edu>
        Subject: totosy Re: [Humanist] 26.191 uppercaselessness
        In-Reply-To: <20120726232550.D1E8528686C at woodward.joyent.us>


well, while i use all lower case in whateve languages i speak and write in on email, i do not do so, of course, anywhere else! as to diacritics: i like such whether in french, german, hungarian, etc., and it appears slowly but surely such are getting into the digital even in newspapers (although when one uses an english-based computer one can do them only if one switches the keyboard and that is too much trouble for me); best, steven totosy 

On Jul 26, 2012, at 7:25 pm, Humanist Discussion Group wrote:

>                 Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 26, No. 191.
>            Department of Digital Humanities, King's College London
>                       www.digitalhumanities.org/humanist
>                Submit to: humanist at lists.digitalhumanities.org
> 
> 
> 
>        Date: Thu, 26 Jul 2012 02:28:17 -0500 (CDT)
>        From: Alan Corre <corre at uwm.edu>
>        Subject: a comment prompted by steven totosy de zepetnek's uppercaseless contribution
>        In-Reply-To: <1316603556.7035.1343286973001.JavaMail.root at mail12.pantherlink.uwm.edu>
> 
> steven:
> 
> i wish i had your courage to eschew almost totally the upper case. in my years of study of hebrew and arabic i never saw any problem in not having an upper case. but of course hebrew has five rather useless "final" letters, (english has a remnant in the "Rx" of medical prescriptions) and arabic has a complicated alphabet, really being a cursive, so humans seem determined to punish themselves.
> 
> the opportunity was lost when people realized that computers could handle strings, and the upper case was chosen for initial use. this was a mistake because caps look like SHOUTING, but those folk never realized how important strings would become in the digital world. when ASCII effectively pushed out FIELDATA, and a double set of the alphabet came in, upper and lower, the battle was lost, if indeed it was ever fought. interesting to speculate what might have happened if the early developments had been among speakers of a language with diacritical marks which english happily lacks.
> 
> alan


--[2]------------------------------------------------------------------------
        Date: Fri, 27 Jul 2012 09:50:28 +0100
        From: Norman Gray <norman at astro.gla.ac.uk>
        Subject: Re: [Humanist] 26.191 uppercaselessness
        In-Reply-To: <20120726232550.D1E8528686C at woodward.joyent.us>


Greetings,

On 2012 Jul 27, at 00:25, Humanist Discussion Group wrote:

>        Date: Thu, 26 Jul 2012 02:28:17 -0500 (CDT)
>        From: Alan Corre <corre at uwm.edu>
>        Subject: a comment prompted by steven totosy de zepetnek's uppercaseless contribution
[...]
> the opportunity was lost when people realized that computers could handle strings, and the upper case was chosen for initial use. this was a mistake because caps look like SHOUTING, but those folk never realized how important strings would become in the digital world. when ASCII effectively pushed out FIELDATA, and a double set of the alphabet came in, upper and lower, the battle was lost, if indeed it was ever fought. 
I don't know, but I strongly suspect that the underlying reason was that, from the point when computers became commercial until the necessity finally in the course of the 70s, programs were largely handwritten on 'coding sheets', and then secretary-typed up onto punch cards before loading onto the machine..  The need for these sheets to be legible would strongly push everyone towards block capitals, and so indirectly create the expectation that 'programs are written in capitals'.

That expectation took a long time to disappear, and many people still expect to see Fortran or COBOL programs typed in capitals (in the sense they feel mildly vexed otherwise), although the compilers have long been able to accept both upper- and lower-case letters as input.

That's not the only atavism of punched cards.  The cards were generally 80 columns wide (because the coding sheets were, or vice versa?), and this led to the language Fortran being designed with particular significance to particular columns in the program source code; this is a practice which is bizarre and irritating to anyone writing Fortran in a now-conventional way, and though very few Fortran compilers still impose this restriction, it's not unusual to see programmers and their (programming) editors automatically respecting it.

A lot of the world's astronomical data is first written into 'FITS' files.  This is an image format which, though the format was developed while  punched cards had essentially disappeared, still has 80-character 'records' throughout it.

If you open up a shell/terminal/console on your computer, it'll probably be 80 characters wide.

Of course, 80 characters is a fairly natural line width (most printed texts average something like that number of characters per line), but the rigidity of that particular number has a technical lineage that stretches back to when writing neatly was an important programming skill.

----

Separately, ASCII isn't just the two cases of letters.  If you look at your keyboard, nearly all of the characters engraved there, with only a few exception, are there because they're in ASCII.  Hands up anyone who had heard of 'backslash' before they found it in a crevice of their keyboard, and would you have thought it obviously necessary to have _three_ different types of brackets within ready reach?

There are millions of characters defined in Unicode, including a rich assortment of punctuation characters , but sitting in front of my keyboard I'm having difficulty thinking of any of them, and the ones which I find when I look at  http://unicode.org/charts/#symbols  or  http://unicode.org/charts/PDF/U2000.pdf  just look ... weird.

Best wishes,

Norman

-- 
Norman Gray  :  http://nxg.me.uk
SUPA School of Physics and Astronomy, University of Glasgow, UK





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