A Record of Frustration in IT Industry; Disappearing FSF URLs, 2006

By Xah Lee. Date:

I just spend a few hours coding and had quite some frustration with the IT industry that are entailed by the activity. This report records a particular problem involving Free Software Foundation's documentation's websites.

Today, i was trying to write some Emacs Lisp function. Being not a elisp expert, after spending a couple of hours coding and learning, i thought that i wanted to perhaps take a more systematic reading on the elisp manual.

To my chagrin, the one-file-per-chapter version of elisp manual is still missing on the GNU's official site. For example, goto http://www.gnu.org/software/emacs/elisp-manual/html_chapter/elisp_3.html and you'll get HTTP Error 404. I have a on-going emacs tutorial on my website (For example, Elisp Tutorial: Elisp Basics), and it has many links to the elisp reference at appropriate sections. These broken links degrades my tutorial's quality.

(Side note: i made public reports to newsgroup comp.emacs several times since 2005-10-29, about 2 problems on the official GNU doc web site. One is that the chapterized HTML version of the elisp doc disappeared, and the other is about the calc doc with its broken links. The disappearance of the elisp doc got fixed after my report (with a Thank Me letter) but then disappeared again in a month or so, while the broken links of calc doc have never been fixed. Mr John Sullivan of GNU org has some insider detail on these. (a record of my reports is here: A Record of Frustration in IT Industry.))

Then, i thought perhaps i'll just goddamn make a mirror of the chapterized official elisp manual on my website xahlee.org, so that i can just make the reference links to my own site and not subjecting my site to the whims of FSF's document disappearances. So i tried to find a source i can download the chapterized HTML files. As expected, it is not on the official website http://www.gnu.org/software/emacs/elisp-manual/ .

gnu emacs lisp ref page 2006-09-02 cf2f8
Gnu Emacs Lisp Reference Manual Page 2006-09-02

(Side note: you'll note that on the official GNU doc site, they provide documentations of various provisions, for example: {HTML in single file, HTML single file compressed, plain text ASCII single file, ASCII compressed, TeX dvi, PostScript} — mentalities and moronicities that are about 1 to 2 decades out-of-date, yet the most critically needed online formats: {chapterized HTML, PDF}, are missing. (FSF do provide PDF versions for at least some of their other software. For example: GCC and Texinfo, so the missing PDF for Elisp is not intentional political behavior as FSF wont to do.))

The elisp manual as a single-file HTML is some whopping 4+ megabytes, too unwieldy for practical online browsing. I thought of splitting that file into chapters myself, but quickly decided that's gonna be too much work. (splitting the file at the right places, adding HTML code, generating Table Of Content etc.) Then, i thought perhaps i'll just get the texinfo source and use makeinfo to generate the HTML myself. That way it would be clean. So i did download the texinfo source. A quick reading of man makeinfo gets me to run makeinfo --html *texi but i get some goddamn “no ../info dir found”. Also, the bunch of *texi files has a index.texi which “symbolic links” to ./index.unperm which doesn't faaking exist.

Then i tried to create a info dir in the parent dir and tried makeinfo on a single file instead. … after a series of failures and errors, i though maybe i should read up on makeinfo instead of trying to feeling lucky by skimming the man.

The makeinfo doc itself is a whopping verbiage. ( http://www.gnu.org/software/texinfo/manual/texinfo/ ) I spend perhaps 15 minutes on it (and reading Wikipedia Texinfo) without being able find out how to resolve my problem. I'm sure i will if i goddamn sit down and spend a day to undertake Texinfo. The scanning of this doc and the elisp manual also gave me a sense just how the writings are out of touch with today's computing scene. (although GNU docs are in general good, but one major problem running thru them all is logorrhea and waxing philosophy from technical to political at every faaking chance.)

After giving up on trying to make a clean chapterized elisp manual from the Texinfo source myself, i gave a little thought that perhaps i can grab them somewhere on the web. After another 10 or 20 or so minutes, i found the (chapterized) latest edition of 2.8 to be at http://www.delorie.com/gnu/docs/elisp-manual-21/elisp_toc.html . I thought of wget it, then i'll have to deal with trimming the header and footer ad shit of that site, and it sure is gonna sprawl into hours of work.

Also, basically every file i put under xahlee.org is valid HTML. So, i took a look to see whether the elisp manual is valid HTML document (and in general FSF's HTML manuals generated by Texinfo), and see how much work i might have to do to fix them. As expected, it is invalid. (however, it doesn't light up like a Christmas tree as most other HTML documents produced by the Info Tech industry. (For example, HTML version docs from Perl, Python, Apache, etc. See: HTML Correctness and Validators.))

What a matherfaaking pain it is to work with the ways of the computing industry. Fuck the tech geekers. Every matherfaaking last one of you.


Addendum: With the help of Alfred M Szmidt in locating a clean, valid Texinfo source code and using makeinfo, i have eventually created a elisp doc mirror on my site. The doc's HTML and CSS have been completely scrutinized and edited and now they are valid HTML. It is about 850 pages. Here: GNU Emacs Lisp Reference Manual.

Texinfo generates invalid HTML. For a account documenting the detail, see Emacs GNU Texinfo Problems; Invalid HTML.

Addendum 2015-12-08

happened again. FSF GNU Emacs Link Dead Problem 2015

Emacs Modernization