APL Characters in Email
APL has been dogged by problems (both real and perceived) stemming from the
character set - ironic, given APL's original design goal of improving
communication between people.
An aspect of this has been the tyranny of the 7-bit ASCII character set (and
this still obstructs UseNet APL posting) But for regular Internet email the
problem has really gone away, although you might not realise it from the
messages regularly posted by the APL hardcore.
This document summarises my experiences to data, it is not exhaustive and is
restricted to use with Dyalog APL (although there seems to be no reason why it
shouldn't also apply to other APLs).
The Advantages of APL-embedded Email
- Readability - APL "jumps off the page" in a way that
transliterations do not
- Transfer to/from an APL session - cut-and-paste works both ways
- Consequently, message composition is simple (just cut-paste from the
session to the message being composed.
The Problems of APL-embedded Email
- Both sender and receiver need to use an adequate email client.
- Mail format is HTML rather than text-only
- Messages take a little longer to compose
- A few APL characters are mangled
Selecting an Email Client
We need to use an email client which is comfortable with HTML mail, some of
those tried are:
- Microsoft Outlook 2000 seemed pretty hopeless; it tended to paste APL as a
graphic, and imposed its own decisions about whether messages were to be
sent as text or HTML (resulting in vital font information being lost and
messages reverting to gibberish).
- Pegasus was better (and free), but seemed a little marooned in the
- Mozilla Thunderbird has provided me with functionality I can use, and
messages others can read. It is also free.
- Others have reported some success with Microsoft Outlook Express and
There are some APL characters which seem to have a rendering problem in HTML,
those identified are:
They don't render very well here either, but the good news is that they do
transfer back from the email body into an APL session quite successfully.
Using Mozilla Thunderbird
Composing and sending a message containing APL using Mozilla Thunderbird is
- Compose the body of the message
- When you need some APL cut-and-paste it from an APL session
- Apply fonts as required (I use Dyalog Std in my APL session and Dyalog Std
TT in messages)
- Include any really important APL as an attachment, as a belts-and-braces
- When prompted for how to send the message, select Text and HTML (because
that makes sure that anyone not using an HTML-enabled email client gets to
- Some people have said "just use Unicode", and that advice is
either so simple that I don't understand it, or useless. I've no idea
how "use Unicode" is supposed to help - maybe it's a Unix thing.
- Others have tried embedding APL snippets as graphics, which solves the
character set problem but doesn't do anything for recipients with text-only
email clients and doesn't seem to make the APL pastable into an APL session.
- Transliteration (especially by people who invent their own) just plain
- Since HTML email is increasingly the norm it seems reasonable to use it to
cast APL's character set problems into the compost bin where they belong.
- A cost is that people may need to change their email client software (and
those controlled by the IT Mafia may find this hard to do).
- Better results means spending more time composing messages, rather than
just typing a stream of consciousness.
- I suspect that the APL vendors may need to address the HTML
character-mangling that persists for a small minority of characters.
Copyright ฉ Dogon Research 2003;
Latest Update: 10 December 2003 10:38