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April 2004 TOC
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Letters to the Editor, April 2004

This a traditional letter column. You are encouraged to write a letter of comment on anything that you find worthy of comment. It will (may) be published in this column along with my reply. As editor I reserve the right to delete material; however I will not alter the undeleted material. E-mail to me that solely references the contents of this site will be assumed to be publishable mail. All other e-mail is assumed to be private. And, of course, anything marked not for publication is not for publication. Oh yes, letters of appreciation for the scholarly resources provided by this site will be handled very discreetly. This page contains the correspondence for April 2004.

Some of it is a little ancient; I'm slowly catching up - very slowly.

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From: Dr. Bakare Tunde
Date: 4/17/2004
Subj: Nigerian Astronaut Wants To Come Home

Subject: Nigerian Astronaut Wants To Come Home
Dr. Bakare Tunde
Astronautics Project Manager
National Space Research and Development Agency (NASRDA)
Plot 555
Misau Street
PMB 437
Garki, Abuja, FCT NIGERIA

Dear Mr. Sir,


I am Dr. Bakare Tunde, the cousin of Nigerian Astronaut, Air Force Major Abacha Tunde. He was the first African in space when he made a secret flight to the Salyut 6 space station in 1979. He was on a later Soviet spaceflight, Soyuz T-16Z to the secret Soviet military space station Salyut 8T in 1989. He was stranded there in 1990 when the Soviet Union was dissolved. His other Soviet crew members returned to earth on the Soyuz T-16Z, but his place was taken up by return cargo. There have been occasional Progrez supply flights to keep him going since that time. He is in good humor, but wants to come home.

In the 14-years since he has been on the station, he has accumulated flight pay and interest amounting to almost $ 15,000,000 American Dollars. This is held in a trust at the Lagos National Savings and Trust Association. If we can obtain access to this money, we can place a down payment with the Russian Space Authorities for a Soyuz return flight to bring him back to Earth. I am told this will cost $ 3,000,000 American Dollars. In order to access the his trust fund we need your assistance.

Consequently, my colleagues and I are willing to transfer the total amount to your account or subsequent disbursement, since we as civil servants are prohibited by the Code of Conduct Bureau (Civil Service Laws) from opening and/ or operating foreign accounts in our names.

Needless to say, the trust reposed on you at this juncture is enormous. In return, we have agreed to offer you 20 percent of the transferred sum, while 10 percent shall be set aside for incidental expenses (internal and external) between the parties in the course of the transaction. You will be mandated to remit the balance 70 percent to other accounts in due course.

Kindly expedite action as we are behind schedule to enable us include downpayment in this financial quarter.

Please acknowledge the receipt of this message via my direct number 234 (0) 9-234-2220 only.

Yours Sincerely, Dr. Bakare Tunde
Astronautics Project Manager

I regret to say that Abacha Tunde is destined to spend a few more years in space as I am quite unable to assist him in his efforts to get down to Earth.

PS: This bit of spam was sent to someone else and forwarded to me; I thought it too charming to pass up.

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From: Alexey V. Melkikh
Date: 4/10/2004
Subj: new idea in evolution

Dear Dr. Richard Harter!

This paper presents new idea in evolution of life. I'll be grateful if you will tell your opinion on this paper to me.

With the best wishes,

Alexey V. Melkikh

Molecular physics chair, Ural State
Technical University, Mira Str. 19, 620002,
Ekaterinburg, Russia.

You have an interesting idea here, but I'm afraid that your analysis is quite unsound. It is unfortunate that you did not present a derivation for your first equation, which you rely upon to refute the possibility of Darwinian evolution. If there were a derivation one could point with more certainty as to where you went wrong. Here, however, are some thoughts.

As a subsidiary matter, there are other modes of mutation than nucleotide substitution, e.g., transposons, and chromosomal alterations. It may well be that nucleotide substitution, although important for genetic drift, is relatively unimportant as a mechanism for macroevolution. However the restriction to nucleotide substitution is not a critical source of error.

There is no appeciation of population dynamics and a misunderstanding of the nature of niches and their role in evolution.

The notion of a potential well as the maximum number of nucleotides that change before a species (or members of a species) become another species is interesting and may even be of some statistical utility. However the simple fact is that there is no such single numbers. In some cases different species can be separated by a handful of genomic differences. Contrariwise the members of a single species can have substantial differences in their genomes. It all depends on which genes are affected and in what way.

The crucial error may be a probability theory fallacy, that of calculating an a priori probability of some particular result and than claiming that the resulting small number means that the possibility of any change is remote. I suspect that the route that you took to get there is a belief that speciation and niche change are equivalent. This is not at all true. The number of potential species that could evolve from a given species is immense, and is vastly larger than the number of niches those potential species could occupy. For that matter it can happen that a given species can change niches.

That the paper's argument against the possibility of Darwinian evolution is fallacious is scarcely surprising. After all, Darwinian evolution has been exensively observed and studied both in the laboratory and in nature.

In the second part of your paper you introduce the idea of elementary particles having a complex inner structure. There is no particular experimental evidence for this notion, nor is there any place for such structures in current theory. Indeed, the experimental results that seem to rule out "no hidden variables" militate against the idea. Be that as it may, the idea is an interesting speculative possibility. More substance is required, however, for it to be more than handwaving. The notion of particle inner structure driving evolution is somewhat less plausible.

Sorry, nice try, but it doesn't fly.

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From: Marilyn Sprissler
Date: 4/10/2004
Subj: grackle wars

I loved your essay on "Grackle Wars" & laughed heartily!

I too am having similar problems with grackles & have closed my feeders numerous times because of the ##*&^%* Grackles.

I regret to say that the dreaded grackles have been holding their own and more than holding their own. It doesn't seem to bother the goldfinches though. I keep wistifully thinking of building a grackle and squirrel proof cage. I may even do it some day.
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From: Andrew D Coppock
Date: 4/5/2004
Subj: converting permutations to indices and vice versa

I was wondering where this algoritm came from. Your site says it was transcribed from a serious article, could you tell me where I could find that article and who wrote and whatnot. Im so curious because I developed this algorithm in highschool and I wanted to find out who was the first person to develop it

It was transcribed from a usenet article I wrote in reply to someone asking "how to". I invented the algorithm on the spot, but I'm quite sure that it has been frequently reinvented. It is, after all, the sort of thing that can be worked out by a bright high school student.

Incidentally, can you tell me where the page says that it was transcribed from a serious article? Offhand, I don't see any such statement.

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From: Henry Hanna
Date: 4/6/2004
Subj: fashionable nonsense, etc.

I liked your summary of the book fashionable nonsense.

Thank you.
Could you do a summary of Allan Bloom's "Closing of the American mind"?
Or, as I sometimes sarcastically refer to it, "The Closing of Allan Bloom's Mind". I am sure that there are many essays written about his book. It is that sort of book. Still, it would be an interesting project.
(maybe there is one already.)

Maybe we can try to do a summary of George Steiner's "No Passion Spent", a collection of essays.

I haven't read it. I would, save that my backlog of books to read has grown alarmingly.

... continued on next rock ...

Hi. Is there a page that describes what you do (did) in your life? Are you retiried? Were you an engineer?

I'm not sure I like the implications of that "what you did in your life." The question is whether to read it as "What did you do when you had a life?" or as "What did you do when were alive?"

Am I suspected of being one of the undead? I suppose it isn't the worst of fates - after all, being undead does give one a thirst for life. It occurs to me that the internet is a boon to vampires. Until now their prospects for a social life were limited by the peculiarities of their circumstances. These days, though, anybody can take part in a chat room.

Be that as it may, I am retired. My occupations have mostly been computer software related. At various times I have been a programmer, a senior numerical analyst, a lead investigator, and CEO of a small software company. When I was much younger I shoveled shit for a living, a vocation that gave me skills that have stood me in good stead ever since.

The master page for autobiographical trivia is at http://richardhartersworld.com/cri/personal.html . I doubt that any of it will be terribly meaningful, but you never know. You might consider reading "My Dinner At Andre's" at http://richardhartersworld.com/cri_b/fiction/andre.html, which is either a dreadful bit of autobiographical puffery, or an inovative and fascinating bit of fiction.

Having indulged myself I will now pose a question: Why an engineer. Why not, say, an accountant? I always fancied being a paleontologist. If I must have a career imputed to me, why couldn't it be that?

People who haven't read "Closing of the American mind" often trash the book, based on what they heard about the book, "anti-liberal", etc.
I dunno. I opine that most people who haven't read it don't say anything about it and don't give a damn about it. I suspect that when we restrict ourselves to those people who comment vigorously on books they haven't read we will find that most of the commentary is negative. It is much easier to condemn something you don't understand than to praise it.
(I guess such response proves A.Bloom's point about closed minds of American "liberals".)
Let your ears hear the wisdom of your mouth.
It's my favorite book and I'm a super-liberal.
Interesting. It is your favorite book and yet you ask for a critical analysis. Are you sure about this?

... continued on next rock ...

hi. thanks. somehow i thought you were some kind of an engineer -- i think you have a scientist/engineer's mind, like Sokal's. ("no BS wanted")

Chortle. Deal in stereotypes, do we?
most people who have big web pages tend to be computer-related.
That makes sense. The web is a medium; to work within a medium one usually needs familiarity and comfort with the medium. The besides of which, many computer types have creative urges and the means to express those urges. Polite folk do not speak about the nature and quality of that which is created.

Pedant point: They have big web sites, consisting of many pages. I grant that there are a few annoying eccentrics who actually have very large web pages.

re: Bloom.
a good critical summary (take) on the book and the man is in Susan Faludi's "Backlash".
Maybe I will pick up a copy and read it. I lost interest in gender and culture wars popology some time ago. Pity, that - there is much grist for the mill there. That's the trouble with life though - too much grist and not enough mill.
i just think it'd be nice to have a summary of the book online, like what you did for Sokal&B's book.
I may just do that. I don't know whether I would do a chapter by chapter precis. The structure of the work dictates the structure of the review.
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From: Terry Sykes
Date: 4/1/2004
Subj: Night Comes to the Cretaceous

Yes I was wondering if you had a full essay on "Night Comes to the Cretaceous".

I'm sorry, all I have is the book review at http://richardhartersworld.com/~cri/1998/powell.html. The latest in the ongoing saga is that there is some doubt as to whether the chixilub impact occurred at the right time. We shall see.
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From: mike s.
Date: 3/29/2004
Subj: rockerville

Am doing research on Rockerville sd. When did you do theatre there?

It would have been the summer of 1961. I can't supply much information about Rockerville or who was running. If I recall correctly (I have a newspaper clipping buried somewhere) Mark Moller was running the Mellerdrammer. I don't know where he is or if he is still alive. A few years ago I was in email contact with Carol Ries who was one of the players. She might know more than I do.
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From: Alicia Hall
Date: 3/23/2004
Subj: A Request from Ggreetingcards.com

I must congratulate you for having such a great site at http://richardhartersworld.com/ ~cri/2001/friendship.html . Your web-development team certainly has done a great job. We are a free e-cards site. You can go through our ecards at http://www.ggreetingcards.com/ .

Since our site compliments each other, I would be grateful to know, what you feel about a mutually beneficial link-exchange, for the benefit of the visitors, to both our sites.

I am not quite certain as to how two sites might compliment each another when neither site references the other. Could it be that you meant that they complement each other?

Our web development team would thank you, were it not for the fact that our web development team consists of me, myself, and I, and none of the lot of us have a high opinion of our collective talents or efforts. The besides of which the page that you refer to is but one page in a rather large site.

Persiflage aside, I have no great interest in promoting that page - it draws a distressingly large amount of traffic as it is. However feel free to add a link to it - seeing as how you either will or won't, just as you choose, without regard to me. If it matters to you, a reference to your site will appear in my correspondence pages. I doubt that this will do much to publicize your site, but one never knows. The internet works in strange ways.

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From: christina koester
Date: 3/25/2004
Subj: i am speachless about your document!

who the fuck is this and stop sending me these things im not dumb i know what they are ok

I'm sorry Christina, but I've never sent you any email and haven't the slightest idea what you're on about. At a guess, though, someone who has both your email address and mine in their address book has an virus infected computer.
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From: Chris (Trogdor)
Date: 3/25/2004
Subj: How To Catch Rabbits...

Thank You, I wanted to use your article on a website that I submit stories to call faux-newz.com

Faux-Newz is a satirical news paper that I write a semi-humorous column for.

I liked your article and would like to share it with the audience, but would prefer your permission first.

I will give you full credit for the article and will also have the webmaster add a link to your site.

Please let me know your thoughts and if I don't hear back from you i'll assume it is ok.

Sure, go ahead. It is always a pleasure to see my work recognized in the serious and august news institutions of the web.
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From: John Filiatreau
Date: 3/26/2004
Subj: random "culling"

I have a theoretical question I have been pondering, and I'm hoping you will give me your opinion/benefit of your expertise: What might the evolutionary effect be (if any) of removing a small percentage of individuals (5 percent, say) from a stable reproducing population of an organism, in a way truly random? (Affected individuals would not be killed or physically removed, but simply excluded from reproduction.) The effect would be to eliminate a percentage of the gene pool at every generation, in a process like "culling," but with no evident purpose or intent -- no subgroup having an advantage over any other (strong vs. weak, big vs. small, well vs. ill, quick vs. slow, high-producer vs. low-, etc.) I decided to put this question to you after stumbling across some of your material on the Internet. If you think the question is stupid or uninteresting, I apologize -- and thanks in any case for giving me these few seconds of your time.

The effect of culling is to reduce the effective size of the population. The result would an increase in the rate of genetic drift. The effect would be quite slight though, for it would be in addition to the chance culling that already goes on.
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This page was last updated April 17, 2004.

table of contents
April 2004 TOC
Archived letters
Index of Contributors