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March 2004 TOC
Archived letters
Index of Contributors

Letters to the Editor, March 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 And, of course, anything marked not for publication is not for publication.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 March 2004.

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

Index of contributors

Other Correspondence Pages

From: Fritz
Date: 3/221/2004
Subj: thanks

The Encyclopedia Britannica states the following:

The first solid evidence regarding the identity of the perpetrator emerged in 1996, two decades after a trunk marked with the initials M.A.C.H. had been discovered in storage at the British Museum in 1975. Upon analyzing bones found in the trunk, the British paleontologists Brian Gardiner and Andrew Currant found that they had been stained in the exact same way as the Piltdown fossils. The trunk apparently had belonged to Martin A.C. Hinton, who became keeper of zoology at the British Museum in 1936. Hinton, who in 1912 was working as a volunteer at the museum, may have treated and planted the Piltdown bones as a hoax in order to ensnare and embarrass A.S. Woodward, who had rebuffed Hinton's request for a weekly wage. Hinton presumably used the bones in the steamer trunk for practice before treating the bones used in the actual hoax.
According to you and your colleagues' research, the evidence against Hinton is not so "solid" after all... thanks for keeping us informed. Your efforts have not been in vain.
You are welcome. There is a natural tendency to take encyclopedias as being accuarate and authoritative sources of knowledge. This is far from being the case. Encyclopedias are compilations drawn from a wide variety of sources of varying quality. Thus the encyclopedia article is little more than a slight reworking of newspaper articles that appeared when Gardiner made his claim.

Over the course of the years there have been many who have positively identified (at least so they claim) the perpetrator(s) of the Piltdown hoax. Oddly enough these solvers disagree on who the perpetrator was and what the evidence might be. Gardiner is just another scholar who has succumbed to the urge to inflate the certainty of a line of argument.

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From: Jason Bontrager
Date: 3/18/2004
Subj: Unobtanium

I found your definition of Unobtanium while doing a Google search and I thought I'd see if you can help me. I'm trying to determine if there exists a Periodic Table of Fictitious Elements (Unobtanium, Handwavium, Fictionite, Thiotimoline, etc). Do you know of any such thing?


I wouldn't imagine that there would be a periodic table - many of these things aren't elements in the ordinary sense. Unobtanium and collapsium are states of matter, thiotimoline is an ordinary chemical with an odd structure, and so on. What we want here is a CRC handbook of fictitious materials. I don't know of such a thing but I will ask around. Let me get back to you on this one when I have more results.
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From: Larry
Date: 3/11/2004
Subj: help in finding a five year diary

I have not had any luck in my search for a five year diary for my mother. She has faithfully written in her diaries for decades and has ask me for help in locating one for her. Do they still make them? Are they available in a dated fomat? The type she uses are of a size that would measure less than 4" x 6" (I am guessing) and have a lock on them. Any direction that you could point me would be very helpful.

Do a google search on "5 year diary" - it turns up a lot of listings of places selling five year diaries. Let me know how you make out.
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From: Dhruv Matani
Date: 3/18/2004
Subj: Help reqd. divide by 10.

At 03:12 PM 3/18/04 +0530, you wrote: >Hello, Well, I was visiting your page, and chanced upon the dividing by 100 algorithm. I was wondering whether you had something like that for divide by 10. Currently, I have been using this thing:

template <typename Int>
inline Int divide_by_10(register Int Num)
  register Int temp = Num;
  Num <<= 1;
  Num += temp;
  Num += temp >> 2;
  Num >>= 5;
  return Num;
Do you know of anything more accurate with possibly only slightly more overhead?
Sure. Try the following (forgive any syntax errors) for 16 bit accuracy.
template <typename Int>
inline Int divide_by_10(register Int Num)
	Num -= Num >>2;	// Num * 3/4
	Num += Num >>4;	// Num * 51/64
	Num += Num >>8;	// Num * 13107/16384
	Num >>= 3;		// Num * 13107/131072
For 32 bit accuracy use:
template <typename Int>
inline Int divide_by_10(register Int Num)
	Num -= Num >>2;	        // Num * 3/4
	Num += Num >>4;	        // Num * 51/64
	Num += Num >>8;	        // Num * 13107/16384
	Num += Num >>16;	// Num * 858993459/1073741824
	Num >>= 3;		// Num * 858993459/8589934592
... continued on next rock ...

Great! Thanks! Is there some sort of sequence that boils down to the code above? I can see some sort of repetition, like >> 2, >> 4, >> 8, etc... What is the basic theory behind it? Or is this a hit-and-trial method? (Doesn't seem so though).

In this case I am using a general formula, to wit:

1/(1-x) = (1+x)*(1+x^2)(1+x^4)*(1+x^8)....

where the exponent doubles in each successive term. In this case x = -1/4

so we get

4/5 = (3/4)*(17/16)*(257/256)*(65537/65536)...

As long as x is a power of two the powers of x are just shifts.

Like for example, divide by 3 can be done by repeatedly dividing intervals by 2, etc...
By setting x = +1/4 we get

4/3 = (5/4)*(17/16)*(257/256)...

Using the formula you can get compact code for 1/7, 1/9, 1/15, 1/17, etc. AFAIK getting compact code for a an arbitrary reciprocal is a matter of trial and error.

Also one more thing: My compiler generates code for a divide by 10 instruction as a multiply by -(1024^3 * 8 / 10), ie: 858993459. What is the reason behind this, and how does this work?
Dividing by 10 is the same thing as multiplying by .1. The idea is to replace division by multiplying by the reciprocal.
Do you mind if I use this in my code?
Of course you may use it in your code.
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From: David M Fisher
Date: 3/14/2004
Subj: website

While a frequent browser at your site, this is the first attempt at communication. The reason for this missive: I was listening to the radio tonight while driving to get a pizza and the station aired an astronomer/physicist named Ross. The subject was about creation, the universe, UFO's, little green men, etc. (I think you get the drift!). A web site was mentioned, qv, reasons.org. I visited and was on line for about an hour. As with your site, this one is too encompassing to cover in an hour, but I thought of you almost constantly while I was there, hence this e-mail.

I found reasons.org fairly well done. Being joe-six-pack, with only an high school education (but a curious mind), I can not find it to either agree or disagree with the propositions set forth on the pages.

I think you will be interested in reasons.org because of some of the things you have on your site. If you wish let me know how it turns out. I will check back on your web pages from time to time and see if there is any comment about the site.

I don't have much of an argument with Ross. He is an Old Earth Creationist who doesn't argue with science. His view is that the scientific reconstruction of the history of life and universe is consistent with God playing a role in the process. I don't agree, but he has a defensible position. One of his merits is that as a creationist he can argue with the wild-eyed loonies that infest the creationist movement. Be that as it may, thank you for the kind words about my site.
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From: Peter Neilson
Date: 3/15/2004
Subj: Inflation

Mister Harter, Sir!

Dear Mister,

Was reading your piece on the Marines. A "former" Marine? My Marine buddies, such as they may be, tell me there is no such thing. Hair or no hair, so it seems, your head is always somewhat ajar.

Are you saying that it is a taint for which there is no absolution?
The bit with the bananas is a very old situation. You were in Panama maybe around 1957? When my father went through the Canal in the thirties his crew experienced the same thing. "Banana boys" would sell bananas from small boats, two for a nickel, three for a dime. The crew were really into cheating the stupid Panamaniacs. My father asked them, "How many bananas would have bought if you didn't think you were cheating them?" "Oh, NO!" said the crew.

By your time there, the price of a nickel had gone up to three bananas. I wonder what it is now?

Further afield, I wonder if this genius technique could be put to work elsewhere? Sinus Friction bookstores, maybe?

Dr. Lewis insists that when I first told the story the price of a nickel was two bananas. He may be right - over time I may have embroidered it a bit. Pfui to that, I say. All good stories need a bit of embroidery.

I fear that Bananas are not entirely suitable for currency - with bananas delayed gratification tends to be on the rank side. Fruitcake, on the other hand, has many of those properties that would qualify it as a standard of exchange. It is indestructible, etc. There is one exception. People desire to acquire currency; there desire to get rid of fruitcakes. All this means, however, is that it provides for a monetary system with a negative base, unlike our present system which has an imaginary base.

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From: John Clague
Date: 3/11/2004
Subj: you are gay

i was just looking at your marsupial page and i think that before you make assumptions you should learn a bit more about what you are assuming, you are an ignorant christian idiot

You're putting me on, right? I mean, nobody is that gullible. I take that back. I used to know a guy named Fred who was that gullible. Poor fellow, three year olds would swindle him out of his candy bars. Are you sure your name didn't used to be Fred?
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From: Lorisha Lekezoto
Date: 3/11/2004
Subj: Question on mutation for my assignment

To any body who can help me with assignment. I have a question that I want to ask, and that is,' explain why most or all mutation are deleterious?' And the next is, 'could you list any mutation that are said to be beneficial and state whether they are beneficial or not beneficial?' Could I have your answers as soon as possible before next week? Your help will be much appreciated.

You should look at my web page Are mutations harmful?. It has straightforward answers to your questions. Your first question, though, assumes something that is not true, namely that most or all mutations ae deleterious. Most mutations are neither deleterious nor beneficial. See the section entitled "Aren't most mutations harmful" for a discussion. The next section, "Are there any favorable mutations?", lists some examples and discusses them.
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From: Chris Anderson - Webmaster
Date: 3/8/2004
Subj: Link Exchange

Hi Cri,

My Name is Chris Anderson and I'm the webmaster of a http://leisuremax.us website. I saw your website and was wondering if you might like to exchange website links to increase both our site rankings within the search engines ?

I've already placed links to your web site along with a description at.


Also we added it to:

I'd appreciate if you'd place a link back to my site using the following link and description:


Spas Grills Patios Billiards LeisureMax

Catagory: "Optional"

Please let me know where you posted it so I can review.

I took a look at your site and discovered that you don't have a link to my site. My site is at http://richardhartersworld.com/cri whereas your link is to http://richardhartersworld.com which takes you to the ISP page.

Be that as it may, I am not exactly enthusiastic about increasing my site's ranking in the search engines. I get an absurd amount of traffic as it is.

Be that as it may (I acquired a stock of "be that as it may's" at a closeout sale at K-Mart) your site will be mentioned in my correspondence column for March, located at http://richardhartersworld.com/cri/2004/let04mar.html .

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From: karla
Date: 3/8/2004
Subj: Your Ryan's story.....

......was one of the funniest stories, if not THE funniest I have ever read. And here I thought I would find a coupon for a Ryan's restaurant somewhere on the "net"..and not the funniest story I have ever read in my life.
What a hoot!

It's a great story, although perhaps not for those who are into intensive couth.
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From: Peter Neilson
Date: 3/9/2004
Subj: Piltdown in Mr. Harter's World

You have neglected to have yourself listed as one of the possible perpetrators of the Piltdown Hoax. Is this from modesty or from ineptitude?

Neither. For obvious reasons I would prefer that speculations about my possible involvement receive as little publicity as possible.
Additionally, there should be a web site devoted to Trofim Lysenko. I have neither the time nor the inclination, but you are in one of the Dakotas, where there is nothing to do, and where the geology is sufficiently different. How about it?
The idea is good and perhaps I shall act upon it. You are deceived about there being nothing to do in the Dakotas. It is true that there is very little to do in the Dakotas. South Dakota, however, is a third world country. In third world countries (at least those found in central North America) it takes a great deal of effort to get very little done.
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From: Wie-Ming Ang
Date: 3/6/2004
Subj: Error in Code

I tried your code for finding sliding MIN sliding-window. I think there is an error in the code when the ring is initialized. There should be a line to set the high = stop. I found the error when testing this code for MAX- sliding window.

You are quite right, although you have inserted the line in the wrong place; it should follow the line "low = start" so that high is initialized properly; see the quoted fragment below. I am correcting it in the web page; many thanks for catching this and mentioning it.
        ring[0] = 0        
        begin loop i = 1,...,k-1
            low  = start
RH -------->high = stop            
            begin while (low .le. high)
                mid = (low+high)/2
                if (v[i] .le. v[ring[mid]) high = mid-1
                else                       low  = mid+1   
            end while
            stop = low
WMA-------->high = stop
            ring[stop] = i
        end loop
        begin loop i = k,...,n-1
            if (ring[start] .eq. i-k) start = mod(start+1,ring_size)
            low  = start
            if (stop .lt. start) high = stop + ring_size
            else                 high = stop
            begin while (low .le. high)
                mid = (low+high)/2
                index = mod(mid,ring_size)
                if (v[i] .le. v[ring[index]]) high = mid-1
                else                          low  = mid+1   
            end while
            stop = mod(low,ring_size)
            ring[stop] = i
            r[i-k] = v[ring[start]]
        end loop
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From: Elizabeth Wall
Date: 3/7/2004
Subj: website

I ran a google search for poetry/verse re sunflowers. The page linked to your website, but I could not find the verse as posted in google -- "shapeless flowers strangely grown...". Can you direct me to that piece?

Google seems to have conflated two different poems. The URL's and poems are:


Visions from a private Hell,
Hid in stories poets tell -
Shapeless flowers strangely grown,
Rusty trash from Reason's throne,
Symbols rampant without sense
Caught in verse, layered dense,
Hid in stories poets tell,
Visions from a private Hell.



When sunflowers fail
They do not fail
In the manner of wheat and corn;
For fields of grain wither to brown
And sunflower fields blacken instead.
The great green leaves fall away;
Each plant becomes a stick.
The yellow eyes that once
So proudly followed the sun
Are humbled;
They bow their heads in ebony.
Row upon row the sunflowers stand
Like candy canes awaiting Halloween

I assume that the latter one is the one you were looking for. I hope this helps.

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From: Elizabeth Doncaster
Date: 3/7/2004
Subj: bus schedule

March 20th returning March 21. I was told there is a bus out of Logan that will take me to Salem is this correct. If so please give me the times. Sincerely Elizabeth Doncaster

I don't have an immediate answer, but I shall make enquiries on your behalf. I doubt that I am the person (or organization) that you were attempting to reach, but I shall do my humble best to help.

... continued on next rock

Thank you for your response.

I keep running into a stone wall where ever I turn for help regarding the bus to Salem MA. You are the fist person to respond and I thank you for that.

Whatever you can do to help would be most appreciated. It is imperative I get to Salem on the 20th of March, returning to Logan or close proximity on March 21 as I will be flying out that day.

Thank you again.

I relayed your question to the good folks at the New England Science Fiction Association which is chock full of people who know things. The following two replies should set you on the right track. Do let me know if this isn't enough information.

Lisa Hertel:
There's a bus line that runs out of the Cape (Peter Pan? Grey Line?) to South Station. From there, you can take the orange line to North Station. MBTA commuter rail trains leave regularly for Salem. As an alternate, there are water shuttles out of Falmouth & Hyannis to Boston's Long Wharf, which is a long but doable walk to the train station (6-8 blocks).

Schedules for the trains are on www.mbta.com.

Peter Grace:,b. Plymouth and Brockon Bus: http://www.p-b.com/BUSwe.htm would seem to be a way to get to Boston from Barnstable.

~From Haymarket Square, the #450 or #455 bus goes to downtown Salem. http://www.mbta.com

You should be able to take the T subway between Haymarket and Logan.

The massport site http://www.massport.com/logan/getti_typeo_buses.html does not list a bus between logan and salem.MA. There seems to be one to ~ Salem NH though.

There is also commuter rail from Boston North Station to Salem MA. See http://www.mbta.com

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From: Bobby Nichols
Date: 3/4/2004
Subj: Your Website is fantastic!

I am musician with a broken ankle. I have the next six to eight weeks off from work. Daytime TV has gotten to be a drag, and it's only Thursday of week number two of those six to eight weeks off from work. Work is, by the way, working for the delightful beverage of choice to millions... "Pepsi-Cola." You probably will find it strange to see the "cola" after the "Pepsi" because we stopped doing that in the "mid-80s." I consider myself a "musician" even though most of my life is spent being what the "higher ups" would call "an employee." Although right now I'm probably known as "that guy that broke his leg... or something like that."

It's still Pepsi-Cola to me, although the truth is that I very seldom drink soft drinks, so I wouldn't notice. Good wine, on the other hand, ....

Musician, poet, actor, writer, they are all the same in that your true vocation takes precedence over whatever it is that you have to do in the mean time to make a living.

I was just doing a "Google search" on the words "One Good Thing Leading to Another." This is the title of a song that I have manifesting in my brain. Like most good songs, it needs content and subject matter, and not just a catchy phrase for a chorus followed by a bunch of "da-da-das" where words should be. I came across your Website in my quest for words to fill the hollow of my new melody; I'm impressed and intrigued. The wealth of subject matter and information you have is both interesting and exciting. I love your personal insights intertwined throughout each paragraph; I have bookmarked your sight and will return to feed off your writings.
That's very flattering, even though it is heartfelt and honest on your part. I should warn you that not all of the information on my site is of the utmost reliability. For example, I wouldn't place any great confidence in the Jane Austin biographical material.
I run (or ruin) the Website for my band, City Limits. www.citylimits.netfirms.com. I'm not sure why I put that there, but I thought you might want to let curiosity get the best of you, and check it out.
I took a look at your site, and quite a nice little site it is too. It's always interesting to see what people who write actually look like.
I basically wanted to let you know that your work is appreciated. Although I doubt that anything is truly "typical," this is the "typical" story of how one "typical" person stumbled upon your Website; I thought you might find it interesting.
You appreciation is appreciated.

Apparently I have a variety of typical readers. I have every confidence, however, that you are typical of my typical readers.

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From: John Chadwick
Date: 3/3/2004
Subj: Darwin Awards

Love the stories. Where is the one about the 2 guys in the pick-up. Fuse went out, they substituted a 22 bullet instead. Great one, 2002 I think. This was an award winner I remember.

I'm pleased that you like the stories. I missed getting up the 2001 and 2002 awards. Pity. Using a 22 bullet as a fuse is right up there.
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From: Shera Arango
Date: 3/2/2004
Subj: website

you see Mr., I am a 4th grade student and I'm looking for info for my science fair project but I couldn't find any.

I'm probably not the person you meant to write but I do have a suggestion. Last year I was a judge at a science fair. In one of the experiments a girl tested how quickly bread became moldy in different environments. As I recall she tried storing it in a refrigerator, storing it in a plastic bag, and storing it in the open. It's an easy experiment and the results might be surprising.
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From: cindy v
Date: 3/1/2004
Subj: email

how do i e-mail my friends certain stuff i find on your web site? when i see a certain page how do i send it through e-mail

That is not as simple as it ought to be. The following should work, although it is a little cumbersome:

Highlight the material on the page with the mouse. Press the control key (it is labelled Crtl on most keyboards) and the C key together at the same time; this will make a copy of the highlighted material in your computer. (This is known as cutting)

Click on the email link at the top of the page; this will bring up the email form. Point the mouse to the message field and click on it. Press the control key and the V key together at the same time; this will put a copy of the material in the message field. (This is known as pasting.)

Point the mouse to the address field and click on it. Type in the email address of your friend(s).

Click on the send button and it should all work. Let me know if you have problems.

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From: Taylor Kelley
Date: 2/19/2004
Subj: Next Contestant

A friend of mine suggested that I'd be a great candidate for Survivor; however, not the next show since I am a woman and as the web suggests it will be a 12 man show. Therefore, I would like to know about the application process for a Survivor production.

I'm sure that you would be a great candidate for Survivor. Alas I have nothing to do with the Survivor show. Since you are ready for a challenge I have one for you; figure out where the Survivor show website is and how to apply. If you find out, please let me know. In the meantime you might look around at my web site. It won't transport you to the Amazon but it will definitely mess with your head.
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From: Jim Cathcart
Date: 2/17/2004
Subj: Cold Equations

For some reason as I was walking in the house today that story popped into my mind. I googled it and found your most interesting discussion. I grinned at seeing your comment about interpretation and criticism not being limited by the author's intent - when I was in honors English in college I was doing miserably until I just started throwing out foolish and ridiculous interpretations not possibly intended by the author and the instructor nearly passed out with pleasure.

I was 10 when I read the orignial story and I have to say that I was one of the many who wrote (my only SF fan leter of my life) demanding that the damned machina get back from deus ex or wherever it was and save the girl. This was before, of course, I realized the dispositive power of warnings. Since every day I read of sobbing plaintiffs saying that if the can of sulfuric acid had only had a warning against drinking it they would never have used it for margarita mixer, I have to assume that if the sign had said "Unauthorized Persons entering will be shot, stabbed, broiled alive and spaced" that the little cutie would never have ventured beyond.

How would the pilot's reaction to the interloper have changed if there had been such a sign and she had stowed away anyway? Shoot her in her tracks and toss her out the disposal?

Good question. Given the axioms of the story, he would have had no alternative but to shoot her and toss her out the disposal. However that would ruin the story, which gains its strength from her being an innocent. If she had pushed her way in past signs and guards the theme would have been one of a stupid bitch getting her comeuppance. Now that would have been a popular story - SF is littered with stories indulging fantasies of uber competence. It would have been a much weaker story, though. The existing story makes Campbell's point - that sometimes the universe screws you to the wall, not because you are bad, but because the universe is not a kindly place. The comfortable places that we live are (under that way of thinking) never for away from doors that lead to chaos and death.

My point about the story is that it illustrates how good people end up having to do evil things because of the way bureaurcratic systems work, and because they never question the rules and regulations they live under.

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From: Jennifer Duffy
Date: 2/24/2004
Subj: Useless Platitudes

I have been reading your jokes from the "Well, I thought it was funny page," and have been enjoying myself all day. As I was reading the useless platitudes, I had a couple to add that my uncle always told me as I was growing up.

  1. If the cat is at play, the mouse is alone.
  2. Don't count your eggs if they are not yours.
  3. Don't talk to strangers with your mouth full.
These are excellent advice indeed. I shall add them to the list forthwith. Perhaps even thirdwith.
I hope you enjoy these, as I always thought they were funny. I love your website! Keep up the good work.
I shall. I was saying to myself the other day, "Self, that Jennifer Duffy woman is a woman of rare and astute judgment. If she says that I do good work, then it must be so." This is, after all, the dawning of a new millennium (millenium is a rare earth metal, atomic number 1000) and there is a great work in hand, the establishment of a giant encyclopedia of useless platitudes, so that the generations to come in the new millennium may look back upon our times, read our works, and realize, "Back then, they really had their heads wedged on sideways, didn't they?"
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This page was last updated March 23, 2004.

table of contents
March 2004 TOC
Archived letters
Index of Contributors