what this has to do with markdown

Sherwood Botsford sgbotsford at gmail.com
Sun Jul 7 23:00:56 EDT 2013

Bowerbird, after this epistle, I promise to read you more thoroughly.
Nicely put.


Sherwood of Sherwood's Forests

Sherwood Botsford
Sherwood's Forests -- http://Sherwoods-Forests.com
50042 Range Rd 31
Warburg, Alberta T0C 2T0

On 7 July 2013 20:21, bowerbird <bowerbird at aol.com> wrote:

> first, i'm sorry for the expletive in your in-box. really.


> i also apologize for the smell from those dead skunks.


> ***


> as to "what this has to do with markdown", it's simple.


> if i remember correctly -- i might not, but who cares? --

> "fan_f*ck*ng_tastic" was the word gruber used to justify

> his choice that his version of markdown would recognize

> intraword italics. so that's why _i_ used that one as well.


> now, the reason i followed it up with my reference to the

> dead-skunk problem is because it's almost perfect as a

> demonstration of the full range of problems these days...


> a person comes in and says, "hey, i noticed this glitch".


> somebody else says "here's a workaround you can use."


> which -- first -- ignores the fact that it's after-the-fact.


> but, in this particular case, the suggestion was actually

> better than most. to remind you, the workaround was to

> surround filename_withanunderbar.txt with `backticks`,

> which marks it as `code`, and thus short-circuits italics.


> because, as the suggester pointed out, it is the case that

> you probably _want_ filenames to be marked as `code`,

> so they will display in a different typeface, and stand out.


> the problem with that tactic, however, is that it does not

> address the situation where you would want the word to

> be rendered with the same typeface as surrounding text.

> you wouldn't want "fan_f*ck*ng_tastic" marked as code.


> so... sticking with the problem in regard to filenames...


> another workaround would be to backslash/escape the

> underbar in the filename, which will also nix the italics,

> but that presents a different problem, which is that now

> we've gummed up the plain-text version of the filename

> with an unwanted backslash, with unknown side-effects.

> (since you just know somebody is going to end up using

> that now-improper filename, and they will suffer for it.)


> that same type of problem would likely manifest with the

> "just use raw .html" workaround, even if you can find the

> way to concoct that. (it hurts my brain to think about it;

> i'm using light-markup so i'm not forced to do raw html.)


> the fact is, we really want to leave a filename untouched.

> but we also don't want its underbars to be italic triggers.


> and remember that when an underbar is misrecognized

> as an italic-trigger, it's dropped from .html output, so

> we now have _another_ wrong version of that filename,

> in addition to the difficult problem of the runaway italics.


> and, just to remind y'all that this is even _more_ thorny,

> this underbar problem also happens regularly with urls.


> (there are other instances too, but i do not intend to

> share all of the results from my hard-fought research;

> since url's have the problem, it is significant enough.)


> this is not a thing we can casually sweep under the rug.


> which is why some markdown script-writers have just

> decided that they will _disallow_ intraword underbars.


> and, in defense of that decision, it is the absolute truth

> that browsers make a sad tragedy with intraword italics.

> go look at some, take a hard look, and you _will_ see it:

> the italic characters either slant into the upright ones, or

> lean far too far away from them. either side, it's _awful_.


> so yes, many markdown scripters do an outright ban...


> which is fine if you are god, and you make the decisions.


> but if you are beholden to users, it might not be so good.


> and if you consider yourself to be a _servant_of_writers_,

> then you really need to do a bit of research (or lots of it)

> to discern if writers actually do ever use intraword italics.


> that was what i did, as i was developing my light-markup.


> so i can tell you that, yes, indeed, writers _do_ use them.


> not a lot, of course, but they're not that infrequent either,

> and it is a sizable percentage of writers that do use them.


> so that's probably why about _half_ of the implementations

> ban 'em, and half _allow_ them. it's split down the middle.


> so if you really want to know if it's acceptable to ban them,

> my advice would be "no".


> ***


> now, let's go back and look what the original poster said.


> > Why not to ignore all "_"

> > which are not followed or preceded

> > either by a whitespace or by a newline?


> just for the record, a newline _is_ whitespace, so we can

> strike the "or by a newline" phrase; just use "whitespace".


> as a first pass in thinking about that issue, that's not bad.

> i'd say it's the "solution" most people would come up with.


> i wouldn't even be surprised if some implementations do

> indeed use exactly that rule to govern their conversions...


> but if you actually go look at where italics markup is used,

> you'll find many people put italics _inside_ any punctuation.

> (most typically, you can find this with double-quote marks,

> but any terminal-punctuation will present the same issue.)


> now i wouldn't recommend that, because -- as i just said --

> browsers do a lousy job when italics are next to un-italics,

> and that's true for punctuation as much as other characters.


> but the fact remains that a lot of people use italics like that,

> so if you use "whitespace" as the rule, you'll screw them up.


> (of course, by putting your underbars _outside_ quotemarks,

> you can screw up some conversion routines for curly-quotes,

> because _they_ are using whitespace to make their decisions;

> but that's why you need to decide things in a systematic way.)


> again, back to the original poster:


> > It would be nice to make

> > a part of the official Markdown definition

> > then all implementation will display this in the same way.


> as gruber put it, years ago and very recently, people _say_

> they wanna have an "official" version of markdown -- but

> what they _mean_ is that they want _their_ pet desires to

> receive his stamp of approval as "the official markdown".


> but if gruber _were_ to make an "official version", he says

> that it would make those people very unhappy, because he

> will instantiate _his_ pet desires as the canonical standard.


> so, let me say to the original poster, gruber _did_ make the

> closest thing to an official version, and it specifically _allows_

> intraword italics. so you wouldn't get what you want anyway.


> which is not to say that other implementations, which do it

> _differently_ are "wrong", because gruber likes it "flexible".


> in other words, he doesn't _want_ all implementations to

> "display in the same way". which could be well and good,

> if not for all these dead skunks in the middle of the road.


> you can call it "flexiblity", or you can call it "inconsistencies".


> whether you, or i, or anyone else for that matter, considers

> all this to be "right" or "wrong" is entirely beside the point...


> since gruber ain't gonna change his ways, and neither are

> the many developers, whose stubborn insistence has also

> been equally-well documented, there is no resolution here.


> which is why most people have stopped thinking long ago.


> ***


> and _that_, my friends, is another one of the problems here.


> because that refusal to do any more thinking on the matters

> -- the disinclination to remove dead skunks from the road --

> means that the situation really has become totally hopeless.


> as fletcher put it, in his reply to the original poster:


> > Stick around. You'll learn. ;)


> hey, at least he put a winkey-smiley after it... ;+)


> ***


> so, just to do a follow-through as a for-example for you,

> let me run you through the thinking that i did when i was

> working about the aspects of this intraword italics issue.


> one part, which i mentioned above, was to survey books

> -- as my system focuses on books -- to see if authors

> actually use intraword italics. and they occasionally do.


> on the other hand, more research revealed quite readily

> that there was a problem with both filenames and urls,

> as they often contain underbars. (and, so i note it, yes,

> a url _is_ a filename, but sometimes it's a symbolic one

> -- in the sense that the "file" does not actually exist --

> so both for purposes of clarity and to remind us of the

> full range of the problem, i mention them specifically.)


> so, both use-cases do exist. we have intraword italics,

> and intraword underbars that must be taken as literals.


> thus, we need a way to differentiate them.


> the key here, to which i have already given one big hint,

> is that the literal-underbars occur in specific situations,

> namely for filenames and urls. intraword italics, on the

> other hand, occur (by definition) in the middle of words.


> so when my system encounters an underbar in a string,

> it decides whether the string is a filename/url or a word.

> in the former, the underbar is seen as a literal character;

> in the latter, the underbar is considered an italic trigger.


> it's relatively simple to determine if something is a url;

> e.g., an "http" or a "www" or a ".com" is a dead giveway.

> and an internal period is a good indicator of a filename,

> especially if it's followed by a known filename extension.


> likewise, it's relatively easy to tell if something is a word,

> or is not, once you have removed the underbars inside it.

> if it's in the dictionary, or if it's repeated (sans underbars)

> elsewhere in the document, odds are that the underbars

> in this version of the string are intended as italic triggers.


> so, in my testing, this decision-rule has been pretty solid.


> it's not something that i would recommend for markdown,

> because of factors i will discuss later, but it works for me.


> and, more to the point i'm trying to make here, it's what

> can happen if you really try hard to resolve a discrepancy,

> rather than simply just throwing your hands up in the air.

> (like you just don't care. hu-hum, hu-hum, baby-cakes.)


> i mean, i understand the paralysis that _will_ result when

> you're mired in a standoff situation, like this has become,

> but i think you markdown developers need to fight that.

> instead, you've all let yourself become complacent about

> the edge-cases and inconsistencies that dog the format.


> a little elbow-grease might go a long way, is what i say.


> but you're going to have to apply it. i had to work a lot

> to come to the easy understanding of intraword italics

> that i have just imparted to you. you need to work too.


> and, for me, the italics situation was actually less sticky

> than the asterisk problem, because asterisk-overload is

> much, much worse. asterisks -- which i use for *bold*

> (and i didn't take the easy way out and require two) --

> _also_ represent bullets in unordered lists, _and_ occur

> in equations where they are the sign for multiplication.

> writing the routines to sort through all that was a pain.


> further, curly-quote conversion isn't as easy as it seems.

> a single round of thinking (like microsoft did) will create

> a converter that makes some very embarassing mistakes.


> even a couple more rounds of thinking might not give

> you a routine that correctly gives straight-quotes in the

> cases where the marks are referring to feet and inches,

> or the minutes-and-seconds part of lattitude/longitude.


> again, this is the kind of intense thinking you have to do

> if you wanna sort through these types of difficulties, but

> nobody here that i can see is doing much thinking at all.

> and for sure you don't share any thinking you are doing,

> or bounce ideas off of each other in a collaborative way.


> and that's really sad.


> ***


> so, anyway, this is what i'd recommend for markdown,

> as your general solution to the underbar/italic problem.


> (and, yes, i am chuckling as i write this, because i know

> darn well that nobody even wants "a general solution",

> and even though some implementations already do it,

> the rest -- including gruber -- will never, ever, follow,

> so any such proposal is an exercise in mere folly, but...)


> anyway, here it is:


> ban intraword italics, outright, with full notice, _but_

> make it clear that the workaround is to use raw .html

> to obtain the necessary italics for any intraword needs.


> (and if you're curious why i don't use this in my system,

> the reason is because i do not permit raw .html at all.)


> ***


> and, finally, hey, let's put this all into perspective, ok?


> the kind of standoff we have here is relatively minor.

> and the problems we see border on the most trivial...


> we see the same type of stubborness at a larger level

> as the big corporations continue lobbying for d.r.m.,

> and the big tech companies up their lock-in tactics.


> and unlike here, in little old markdown land, where

> there is no money to be made one way or the other,

> the dollars from d.r.m. and lock-in could be _huge_.

> so those companies are gonna be firm, intransigent,

> and persistent in their stubbornness and their greed.


> and, on a bigger level still, look at global warming,

> and the way that we are rapidly polluting our planet.


> again, the standoff there is so much more dangerous,

> as the money is _staggering_, so don't even bother to

> wonder if any of the big corporations will ever change.


> and once humans go extinct, it will not really matter if,

> once upon a time, somewhere along the line, someone

> had their italics messed up because of a stray underbar.


> so, just so you know, if it was _just_ markdown that this

> was relevant to, i probably wouldn't care nearly so much.


> but the problem of stubborn standoffs is much bigger,

> and applies to arenas far larger than this little molehill,

> causing problems worse than the smell of dead skunks,

> and _that_ is why i care, and why i choose to speak up...


> now i will ask you: why do you sit and suffer in silence?


> -bowerbird


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