Roger invited this.
> Rants and Raves
> Is there something about the teaching of language and literacy
> that just drives you nuts? Come on, we know it drives you nuts
> when students come to writing centre appointments without the
> assignment. What else is bugging you?
I don't know whether it's appropriate for the Newsletter, but
I'd really appreciate hearing from Inkshedders who can answer
any of the three questions at the end of this . . .
A Plague on Both Your Houses
I don't know how many Inkshedders there are out there who will
have confronted this, either as writers or teachers, but it has
become increasingly apparent to me that we're dealing with an
industry that wants us to go back to about the fifties in terms
of composition theory. Word processors and HTML text editors are
increasingly, and inexorably, becoming text display manipulators
rather than text processors. Editing something produced in any
of the current version is more difficult by a factor of about
five than it was five years ago.
I've got students creating assignments (lesson plans,
essentially) for an eighteenth century literature course,
posting them on a Web site so that the rest of the class can
read them ahead of the meeting. One of them just posted a page
which includes text that doesn't wrap. Text is displayed out two
or three hundred characters to the right of the screen.
She achieved this, she says, by composing the page in M$Word,
and then saving it "as a Web page" -- M$Speak for HTML. This
happened at the end of class Monday night, and I casually said,
oh, don't bother; I'll copy the file and fix it for you.
I spent over an hour yesterday trying to fix it without copying
the entire text to a new file and reformatting everything
manually in some different editor -- and failed. I can't find
the code that means the text wraps in M$Word but not in a
browser. I wound up converting the text to plain ASCII and re-
introducing the formatting with Netscape Composer.
The problem is that the sheer amount of useless code that M$Word
pours over the text makes it impossible to edit manually, and
also -- and this is my main concern -- really makes it damn near
impossible to edit within M$Word itself. Every change you make
has amazing, unexpected consequences: there's a bulleted list in
the file, for example, and any attempt to modify it simply
screws up the formatting entirely.
I can't find an editor that doesn't make it damn near impossible
for someone who doesn't already know what she's doing -- and can
avoid formatting tricks and all the other bells and whistles
that the damn programs shove in her face -- to go back and
revisit a text in any way other than spell checking. Both Word
and WordPerfect, which seem to be the two default word
processors around these days, and all the HTML editors available
as well (though to a lesser extent), have been migrated to, or
have evolved to be, text _display_ editors. It's _all_ about how
the text looks. And from my perspective as someone trying to
help students learn to write, that makes them all next to
When a student wants to produce is not a snappy graphic displayi
but a text which can then be revised? I can't find an editor
that doesn't make it damn near impossible for someone who
doesn't already know what she's doing -- and can avoid
formatting tricks and all the other bells and whistles that the
damn programs shove in her face -- to go back and revisit a text
in any way other than spell checking.
We spend half my career getting past surface error fixing as the
default mode for editing . . . and Bill Gates & Co. wipe out all
that progress in five years of "improving" their word
So I guess I have three questions:
(1) has anybody else encountered this, or is this just a
function of the fact that I'm a fossil and still want text
markup to be comprehensible?
(2) does anyone know about publications or resources on the
migration of word processors toward text display and away from,
well, word processing?
(3) does anybody know about a program that'll strip out the
useless code from a M$Word-created HTML file? (as a plain ascii
file the text in question is about 17K; in its full
flower, as published to HTML by Word, it's 48K). (By the way,
I've tried M$Word's "filtered" HTML and Dreamweaver's HTML
cleanup. Neither touch the mess.)
St. Thomas University
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