May 052015

I had occasion to look over some old dissertation-related files from twenty-years ago to this month… The directory was an odd mix of half-baked [latexpage]$\LaTeX$ and $\textsc{Bib}\TeX $, readable but clearly incomplete *.RTF, *.DOC, and, of course *.SAM. *.SAM files were created by Ami Pro word processor from Lotus that I had running under windows 3.1 on my almost state-of-the-art Dell i486DX2-S. The *.SAM files were what were printed for submission, the $\LaTeX$ stuff was just for giggles, but I *did* maintain my bibliographies in $\textsc{Bib}\TeX $ format.

More on those *.SAM files in another post, when I have time to look at the content of this ancient work; for now some bib. stuff.

*New* essay3.tex file has in the preamble:

} %no .bib extension if backend=bibtex

and the last six lines of essay3.tex read:

Typeset in \href{}{\LaTeX}

So, there are no great shakes to get this file to start using biber under $\textsc{Bib}\LaTeX $. And biber is the way to go forward… Unicode support, ease of style editing, and so forth. (The student of things archival will wonder if I am now messing with the *record* here. Err, sure, but then I was doing that as soon as the files were moved from those 3.5″ floppies. And, anyway, is not *every* representation different?)

BUT… essay3.tex would not compile! Now I expected *not* to be able to read the olde Ami Pro files after twenty years, but I expected more from these arcane plain text files. I bashed (pun intended) around for a couple of hours, tearing hair, wondering if anyone _really_ understands $*\TeX$ anyway, went for a bike ride, and thought about the last twenty years. What had changed? Blair, obviously. Married to a decent, smart, sometimes funny woman. Two lovely boys. Unicode! Unicode happened. Nope. All files UTF-8.

I start going over the *.bib file (which validates using all the usual tools) entry by entry until:

    Author = {---},
    Location = {Liverpool},
    Title = {Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine: Historic Record, 1898-1920},
    Year = {1920}

Here I have an “—”, an m-dash (three hyphens), and I suddenly recall that biber is written in Perl. In PCREs the hyphen “-” is a non-letter character, and in the bowels of biber somewhere there is prolly a regexp checking the contents of the “author” field. Quickfix?

Author = {\textemdash},

Dice! So there you go…. looking stupid so you don’t have to!

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