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Re: [Cif2-encoding] How we wrap this up

Dear all

In the event that CIF2 adopts the 'any encoding' approach, would there be any objections to
explicitly defining a default encoding in the specification, to be defaulted to when there were no indications
to the contrary. At worst this would give CIF2 service providers an excuse to interpret CIFs as e.g. UTF8 if they couldnt
determine the encoding by other means - but such intollerant service providers would soon find that their service is
not successful - while at best this might raise awareness of the issues regarding encoding once non-ASCII is used in
a CIF. Essentially, it does not require users to change there working practices, which is one of the main arguments for
'any encoding'.

So, CIF2 would remain 'any encoding', and specifications in terms of e.g. "Herbert's as for CIF1..."
might only require a single sentence to define the default after stating what the 'preferred' encoding was;
the proposal might be phrased as "Herbert's as for CIF1..." + "explicit default encoding"?

I do not wish to prolong this debate - if there are objections I will not launch into an endless round of exchanges
that cover the same ground that has led us this far.



From: SIMON WESTRIP <simonwestrip@btinternet.com>
To: Group for discussing encoding and content validation schemes for CIF2 <cif2-encoding@iucr.org>
Sent: Friday, 24 September, 2010 20:10:13
Subject: Re: [Cif2-encoding] How we wrap this up

Dear James

As you may have gathered I have been reconsidering my position on this issue.
Please forgive me, but I would like to change my vote if that is OK, in favour of the 'any encoding' camp.
This apparent U-turn is not a response to recent contributions; rather it is the outcome of a meeting I had this morning
where I demonstrated some new software to the Managing Editor of IUCr journals.

By way of explanation:

I have been developing a new docx template which the IUCr editorial office is shortly to release for use by
authors. The template will be packaged with some tools to extract data from CIFs
and tabulate them in the Word document, e.g. open an mmCIF, click a button, and standard
tables populated with data from the CIF will be included in the document, acting as
table templates for the author to edit as appropriate for their manuscript.

Inclusion of the mmCIF tools is part of an unofficial policy to 'coax' biologists to start using/accepting mmCIF
as a useful medium, rather than as a product of their deposition to the PDB, and to encourage them to become comfortable
with passing mmCIFs between applications, and even to edit the things (in the same way as the core-CIF community
treats CIFs). For example, our perception is that there is no reason why an author should not feel free to take an mmCIF
that has been created by e.g. pdb_extract and populate it using third-party software before uploading to the PDB for

This cause would not be furthered by effectively invalidating an mmCIF if it were not to be encoded in one of
the specified encodings.

So although I am uneasy about a specification that propogates uncertainty, I'm also uneasy about alienating users,
especially when we are struggling to change their mindset as in the case of the biological community
(my perception of the biological community's attitude to mmCIF is based on feedback from authors/coeditors to
IUCr journals).

Granted this may not be the most compelling argument in favour of 'any encoding', but recognizing the hurdles that
may have to be overcome once we move beyond ASCII whatever the CIF2 specification, I support 'any encoding'
as 'a means to an end'.

I will not provide my preferences in terms of the numbered options until you say so; afterall, I have already voted and
all this has to be signed off by COMCIFs in any case.



From: "Bollinger, John C" <John.Bollinger@STJUDE.ORG>
To: Group for discussing encoding and content validation schemes for CIF2 <cif2-encoding@iucr.org>
Sent: Friday, 24 September, 2010 14:50:57
Subject: Re: [Cif2-encoding] How we wrap this up

Dear Simon,

It is exactly this sort of issue that drove me to support more permissive encoding rules and ultimately to devise the UTF-8 + UTF-16 + local proposal.

Do please think about the considerations Herb raised.  As you reconsider your votes, I urge you also to ask yourself what, *precisely*, a "text file" is, and to consider whether your answer is functionally different from my "local".  If you decide not, then please consider what that answer implies about CIF2 support of UTF-8 and UTF-16 (which evidently you favor) under each option on the table, especially for CIFs containing non-ASCII characters.  Whatever you decide about the meaning of "text file", please consider whether reasonable people might reach a different conclusion, as I assert they might do, and to what extent the standard needs to address that.


John C. Bollinger, Ph.D.
Department of Structural Biology
St. Jude Children's Research Hospital

>From: cif2-encoding-bounces@iucr.org [mailto:cif2-encoding-bounces@iucr.org] On Behalf Of SIMON WESTRIP
>Sent: Friday, September 24, 2010 7:53 AM
>To: Group for discussing encoding and content validation schemes for CIF2
>Subject: Re: [Cif2-encoding] How we wrap this up. .
>Dear Herbert
>Not for the first time, I find your arguement persuasive. Brian's vote and explanation have also raised some
>questions that I would like to look into.
>I will confirm or otherwise my vote as soon as possible, assuming that is OK with James and assuming that
>this round of votes might wrap this up.
>From: Herbert J. Bernstein <yaya@bernstein-plus-sons.com>
>To: Group for discussing encoding and content validation schemes for CIF2 <cif2-encoding@iucr.org>
>Sent: Friday, 24 September, 2010 13:17:14
>Subject: Re: [Cif2-encoding] How we wrap this up
>If he ignores the standard, in most cases all he has to do to comply with CIF2 is to run whatever applications he currently runs to produce CIF1 and, perhaps, in some cases, run a minor edit pass at the end, to convert for the minor syntactive differences and/or changed tags required to comply with CIF2 and the new dictionaries, but he is unlikely to have to do anything to deal with the messy business of whether his encoding is really a proper UTF8 encoding or not.

>The punishment if he tries to comply, is that he has to totally uproot and reconfigure the environment in which he produces CIFs from whatever he is currently doing to create an enviroment in which he can reliably create and, more importantly, transmit compliant UTF8 files.  This can be very tricky if he does only a partial job, say fudging in one special application (yet to be written), because if he stays with his old system, all kinds of tools will keep trying to transcode whatever he has produced back to whatever his system considers a standard. Those of us who have files, applications and tools that have lived through several generations of macs are living proof of the problem. Macs now have excellent UTF8/16 unicode support, but every once in a while in working with a unicode file I find it has been strangely and unexpectedly converted to something else, and it can be really tricky to spot when the unaccented roman text part has been left untouched but just a few accen
ted letters have gotten different accents.

>Mandating UTF8 is simply trying to shift a serious software problem from the central handlers of CIF (IUCr, PDB, etc.) to the external users. Most users will probably have the good sense to simply ignore the demand and leave the burden just where it is now.  A few sophisticated users will probably adapt with no trouble, but the punishment for those users who blindly follow orders before we have a complete multiplatform supporting infrastructure in place by mandating UTF8 is severe, expensive and undeserved.  Until and unless we have developed solid support, we will just be alienating people from CIF.  I will continue to oppose such a move.


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