[Taxacom] The 'X' factor

Curtis Clark lists at curtisclark.org
Thu May 20 00:00:23 CDT 2010

On 5/19/2010 5:18 PM, Frederick W. Schueler wrote:
> * and more importantly, the character that one computer program
> interprets as the "multiplication thingy" will be interpreted as a black
> blot or a musical instrument by another program.

That's why there are interoperability standards. ASCII is one. Unicode 
is another. Part of interoperability is the use of default encodings, 
and the proper tagging of non-default ones.

By default, every XML file, including RDF/RSS and XHTML web pages, is 
encoded in UTF-8, one of the Unicode encodings. In such a file, × is 
always represented by the same byte sequence. In a properly made font, 
it will display either as the "times" sign, or else as the font's 
"missing character" glyph, often a box or question mark. If it displays 
as a musical instrument, something is broken, either the font or the 
program displaying the text.

Microsoft Word is always substituting "curly quotes" (“ and ”) for 
straight ASCII quotes, and m- and n-dashes (— and –) for doubled 
hyphens; these are also non-ASCII characters, as are § section marks, 
†extinct species, degree° signs, and µm. It's true that × looks like x, 
just as µ looks like u (a decade ago I saw so many "um" in scientific 
presentations that I started calling my colleagues "uicrobiologists).

In ancient times, you could type _Encelia_ x _laciniata_, and the 
typesetter for the journal would set /Encelia/ × /laciniata/. Now we can 
make our own italics. It's an artifact of technology that it's somewhat 
less easy to produce our own times signs.

Curtis Clark                  http://www.csupomona.edu/~jcclark/
Director, I&IT Web Development                   +1 909 979 6371
University Web Coordinator, Cal Poly Pomona

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