On Tue, 23 Nov 2010 11:44:16 +0100, Jakob Voss wrote
> Edward C. Zimmermann wrote:
> > I personally do not like x. I see nothing to gain from using x.
> I summarized the arguments in my first mail. But arguments about 
> notation always depend on cultural background. We could also use 

Its about information processing and computers and not about "cultural

> random characters or codes instead of '~', '?', '(', ')' etc. It's

These characters are not random. 
> mostly about what you consider more convenient in which context.
> > 1) MARC21  (the harmonized US and Canadian MAchine-Readable Cataloguing
> > standard) uses u for uncertain or missing digits in its date fields. That
> > format is the North American standard. It won't go away and its significance
> > is not limited to North America. This means that many of us must already
> > support u in this function.
> So your context is MARC21, and in this context there is an argument 
> for using the letter 'u' in this place. But everywhere outside the 
> heavily outdated world of MARC, this practise is unknown and 'x'

And those books too in the old library.. all old and outdated... Who needs
them when one has Wikipedia and Google :-)

What alternative to you offer to MARC? 

> would be the more natural choice.

There is no wide practice of using 'x' represent an unknown cell or space to
fill. In fact, if one wants to appeal to cultural semantics... 'x' is really
the wrong character. 

The cultural information processing heritage of 'x' stems from typewriters and
overtyping: the act of "crossing out". Its to strike out or remove something.

There are other cultural semantics for 'x'. Our 'x' as taught in school
algebra--- and its not just x but also y, z, alpha, beta, delta and omega---
is not really a concrete object but in the sense of Descartes an
abstraction--- see also Arabic and Greek mathematics (of which the selection
of 'x' had its rooting). The symbol is also taught in school as concrete
multiplication: 10x5 (abstract multiplication given the common use of 'x' in
school textbooks for variable names demands the use of other notations for

'X' is also the symbol or enemy, ritual friend (Homer: xenos) but also
crucifixion, the spot on the map where the treasure is buried, a person's
signature. the number 10 and .... lets not forget XXX as ...

> > 2) Worse still is the observation that x is also commonly used in the first
> > position to represent hexadecimal codes.
> I don't see this as a problem, as we don't support hexadecimal codes 
> in the standard. Escape sequences do not use a single 'x' anyway,

If I announce that something is a date perhaps... But how do we teach
computers to recognize dates?

>  but some other escape character like backslash or ampersand,
>  combined with 'x' or some other characters.
> > What does 'x' deliver other than, at best, additional complication? Our
> > formats are, after all, primarily for computers. In library systems characters
> > such as '#', 'u' and '?' have been used. The character 'u' is not my
> > favorite--- but understandable in MARC21 given the heavy use of punctuation
> > characters for significant functions--- but clearly preferable to 'x'.
> >
> > In this context I think we might also want to consider the difference between
> > unknown digits and a placeholder for a date (fill characters such as | in
> Sorry, but arguing with special properties of MARC is like arguing 
> with special properties of EBCDIC, troff, or any other standards 

EDCDIC is a proprietary character encoding standard that was once advocated by
IBM. Its been widely replaced by other encodings and standardization of
keyboards--- back into the 1970s on many computers one needed a specific
proprietary keyboard to program them (this was one of the chief motivations
behind BCPL and why it grew with the ARPAnet).

MARC21 is a current accepted standard for the interchange of bibliographic

Fortran too is "old school" from the 1950s.. over 50 years old and with a vast
legacy. Its still the primary language for a large body of applications in the
scientific community!

> from the 1960s. I would even argue that having a special property in 
> MARC, it is a good indicator that you do not want it in any serious 
> current application. Or more drastically: MARC is a pest, that 
> current Date/Time standards should not be infected with.

You keep attacking MARC--- and MARC21 is where a lot of the MARCs are now
headed--- but what replacement have you suggested? 

> Jakob
> -- 
> Jakob Vo▀ <[log in to unmask]>, skype: nichtich
> Verbundzentrale des GBV (VZG) / Common Library Network
> Platz der Goettinger Sieben 1, 37073 G÷ttingen, Germany
> +49 (0)551 39-10242,


Edward C. Zimmermann, NONMONOTONIC LAB
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