## Understanding that Syntax Doesn't Matter

People get distracted by syntax.  This is particularly true of XML syntax, it seems to me, because XML is fairly readable by humans.  Technical people seem to really enjoy funky looking syntax.  Personally, I don't like messing around with cryptic looking technical looking stuff.

Which do you prefer.  This nice looking table:

(Click to view PDF, might need to scroll down to see table)

Or this syntax which was used to generate the table:

\documentclass{article}
\usepackage{booktabs}
\begin{document}
\begin{table}
\centering
\begin{tabular}{l r r r r r}
\toprule
& \multicolumn{5}{c}{Information by Subsidiary} \\
\cmidrule(l){2-6}
 & Subsidiary 1 & Subsidiary 2 & Subsidiary 3 & Subsidiary 4 & Subsidiary 5\\
\midrule
North & 1,962 & 1,821 & 1,356 & 1,682 & 1,801\\
South & 1,981 & 1,891 & 1,527 & 1,574 & 1,984\\
East & 1,915 & 1,936 & 1,491 & 1,276 & 1,965\\
West & 1,828 & 1,827 & 1,528 & 1,518 & 1,926\\
Central & 1,916 & 1,933 & 1,482 & 1,644 & 1,937\\
\midrule % In-table horizontal line
\midrule % In-table horizontal line
Average & 1,920 & 1,882 & 1,477 & 1,539 & 1,923\\
\bottomrule
\end{tabular}
\caption{Information by Subsidiary}
\end{table}
\end{document}

Pretty ugly.  But a lot of people actually use that syntax for various reasons.  That syntax, many times, has advantages.  The syntax is LaTex.  Click hereand you can see the syntax and the resulting rendering in a LaTex editing tool.

What is good about these different technical syntax is that you can generate any of them fairly easily.  I have been doing experimentation of converting XBRL to PDF using XSLT, XSL-FO, and a thing called a FOP or Formatting Objects Processor.  Here is the XSLT which is used to convert XBRL instance into XSL-FO which is sent to a FOP to generate PDF.

Which is better: LaTex or XSL-FO?  I don't know that it really matters.  You could convert from XBRL to PDF, HTML, Word, Excel, or many other formats.

What matters is that the information is structured, or digital, so that you can get at the information and then work with it precisely.  The meaning of the information really matters a lot.  But the syntax, not so much. If the representation of the meaning is precise and consistently understood, software tools can be made to do amazing things.

Posted on Thursday, September 3, 2015 at 08:40AM by Charlie

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