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February 2008

Letters to the editor, February 2008

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 And, of course, anything marked not for publication is not for publication.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 February 2008.

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From: Ray Hanson
Date: 23 January 2008
Subj: Your web page

Great to hear back from you. On the subject of 'spare time', I'd have a lot more of it if I weren't addicted to golf. Our weather isn't as severe as yours so we attempt to play the year around. However, this morning it was 30 and frozen and a wedge shot to a frozen green bounced 30-40 ft. in the air and the green sounds like a big drum. Betty thinks I'm tuning up for the Senior Circuit. So far she's buying it so if you happen to see her please don't let on.

Oh, I shan't let on. Morris used to go out and play golf in the winter time. I'm not that much of an enthusiast - I am perfectly willing to let that family tradition die out. I think it works when the ground and the snow is frozen - the ball rolls practicaly forever - but I don't know about spring time when it's thawing. How do you play a ball mired in mud?
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From: Chip Hitchcock
Date: 31 January 2008
Subj: "Sexy Science Stories"?

Robin Gleaves's suggestion (Letters, 20 Dec) is mirrored by an Anderson story from somewhere around the Godwin's period; an unscrupulous liner officer causes a lifeboat to eject during a drill, and after landing informs the passengers (all selected females) that there is a regulation that castaways perpetuate the species. Since this was written for a family magazine, he does not get the desired reactions.

I seem to remember that story. Then again, I may be recalling a different story with the same author and plot. My take on this is that SF is still written for adolescent males, the difference being that in Godwin's period adolescent males were spooked by sex whereas now they are raunchy. There may be some small errors in this theory.
I find your reaction to Lewis somewhat changed (should I say matured?) from when we clashed in a Boston apa ~30 years ago -- although I wonder whether you were just poking a stick through the bars then. Seeing Lewis's attitude towards women, I'm reminded of a would-be apologist for Kingsley Amis who said the author was a misogynist rather than a sexist.
I don't recall the incident in question. It seems improbable to me that we would have ever clashed on any topic, though I suppose we might have expressed some trifling difference of opinion on some picayune matter - in the politest fashion of course. That said, and of course it should be said, it is not quite clear what you mean by my reaction to Lewis. Perhaps your comment is based on something that happened in a different space-time continuum. It happens, here, there, and then.
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From: ralphd aanderud
Date: 24 January 2008
Subj: hello

It's your girl. I got my cam on in my room and I'm in my panties:), lets finally see each other:)

But Ralphie, what kind of girl are you?
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From: Robert Lockett
Date: 27 January 2008
Subj: size of the genome...

Hello, I found your information very useful. Thank you...

I was talking with some friends (and we are average Joe's here) about this very issue, and thought you might be able to answer a question... So I have copied and pasted my last email on the subject.

Any contributions are welcome...


From what I understand, the human genome has about 30 MB of information in it's DNA sequence. That doesn't seem like a lot in computer terms, but in biology this information is expressed through a quaternary digital code. A quaternary code allows (at least poetentially) for much more complex sequences compared to the binary code we use as our analogy. So, with a quaternary code, more features and functions can be packed into a given system with less bits of information.

To put it simply, a quaternary code is exponentially more efficient at using a given number of bits of information to accomplish a given function. I haven't heard anyone explain what the equivilant number of bits would be for a binary system to accomlish the same result. I am not even sure the question is valid.

Would it be correct to say that a quaternary code is 16 times more efficient than a binary code?

I think that is right...

16 X 30 = 480

If my exponents are correct, the human genome would be the equivilent of 480 MB in binary terms. That's about .5 GB and it is found in each of our 100 trillion cells.

Even if it's only 4 X 30 MB we still have 120 MB (or .12 GB

Another point in terms of scale and perspective is the size of the information in the DNA code. Each of the 100 trillion cells in our bodies contains the 30 MB of DNA we are talking about, whether they are acutally the equivilant of .5 GB or not. In this sense it is still impressive.

For further clarification, I defer to Dean Kenyon:

[snip Kenyon quote]

I have some bad news; your numbers are a bit off the mark. First of all a quatenary code is equivalent to two bits. So if there are 30,000,000 sites in the effective genome the number of bits would be 60,000,000. However the B in MB is bytes, standardly 8 bits. The result is that the size of the effective genome is 7.5 MB. There are problems with this result. The "effective genome" is that part of the genome that codes for proteins plus those parts that are known to have a function. It is also known that large chunks of the genome are real junk. Still, the total genome is 750 MB; there is a lot of room for functional non-coding DNA in the genome.

Let's accept that 7.5 MB for the moment. That doesn't seem like very much, particularly compared to the amount of storage routinely used by commercial software. However the analogy between computer software and the genome that people often make. The cell itself corresponds to the modern operating system; the genome corresponds to system configuration files. Furthermore, the coding in the genome is more compact than the coding in configuration files, the reason being that such files have a high level of redundancy for the convenience of their human authors.

If we are thinking digitally, the number of bits required to describe the phase state of a cell is much larger than the number of bits contained in the genome. What this says the genome is not a descriptive genome; rather, the cell is, so to speak, its own definition. The genome modulates variations upon a theme.

I gather from the Kenyon quote that it dates well after he drank the kool-aid.

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From: Mark Isaak
Date: 27 January 2008
Subj: Origin of a Noah joke

I am curious about the origin of a joke. The version I am most familiar with, which appears in many places on the web, e.g. , deals with Noah's problems dealing with bureaucrats. Your version, at , has Noah dealing with more personal problems. Can you shed any light on when or where the joke originated and/or mutated? I gather "Personal Notes #7" was published in the mid- to late-1970s, which is, I vaguely remember, about when I first heard the joke. (My mother was working in county government at the time.) I would appreciate any information you can add.

I am shocked, sir, simply shocked that you do not have a copy of "Personal Notes #7". I would expect that anyone such as you who is famed for your outstanding scholarship would naturally have a copy of such a valuable resource in your files. I, of course, am not such a scholar, but it chances that I do have a copy in my files.

So much for snarky comments.

PN #7 was published in 1976. The anecdote in question appears on p62 and is attributed to:

ERA-Journal of Eastern Region of the
Royal Institute of British Architects
I can't testify to the legitimacy of the attribution - my recollection is that it was on one of those nearly illegible xeroxed documents that circulated in corporate America.

I've seen the bureaucratic version. My impression is that it is a separate production with a separate origin that dates twenty or so years later. I suspect that it actually first appeared in a Readers Digest humor section, but who knows.

... continued on next rock ...

Thanks. I shall have to ask some bureaucrats whether and when they remember the bureaucrat version. And I shall make a point of subscribing to "Personal Notes" next time I see one of those magazine subscription card inserts for it.

Or, if not a bureaucrat, someone who has dealt with bureaucrats. It wasn't me, but it all sounded familiar. You can't subscribe to "Personal Notes" - to get it you have to be beloved by the gods. Send me a certified copy of your petition of penitence to the gods and I will put in a good word for you.
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From: Arnaldo Blondel
Date: 24 January 2008
Subj: please change your background from black to light green...

Thanks for your reply, it is instructive to me.

You're welcome. I have an almost endless supply of cheap wisdom.
I can't see how elite Buddhists can go for nirvana without ever coming back to physiological existence, when such a life is the drive in all living forms, specially with man.
This is the sort of argument that suggests that there is something wrong with your premise, i.e., that "such a life is the drive in all living forms, specially with man". Man is a special case, because we are - as far as we know - the only species with a concept of our own mortality. Without that concept, the entire notion of a life after death is out of the picture.

If you mean merely that life forms act as though they want to continue living indefinitely, even that is not entirely true. In some species the very act of reproduction combines the "little death" and the final death. Among many animals, even humans, when the time for death comes and the body is tired of living, dying is welcomed as a comfort and a friend. That suicide is possible, even chosen, is evidence that the drive to continue living is not always paramount.

Be that as it may, there is no consensus among the schools of Buddhism about Nirvana and personal immortality. The extinct Buddha, i.e., the view that Nirvana is extinction of the self, is a minority view. More commonly, Nirvana is a unification with a universal (God in Christian thought, Brahma in Hindu thought, the Tao in Taoist thought). In some schools, the entire question is one that should be ignored, along with cosmogny and origins.

The thing to remember is that the core of Buddhism is this life, rather than future lives. The other thing to remember is that there are many variants of Buddhism. In a sense, Christianity and Islam are totalitarian and intolerant religions; Buddhism is not.

Nirvana, that is in effect extinction of being. and they go for that as an end, i.e., a good to aspire after and work for.
An extinction of self is not the same as extinction of being.
Terribly incomprehensible.

Now, with Christianity, whatever its flauws, it teaches the resurrection and the life ever after, that is physiologically enhanced but essentially physiological life, which is what everyone is longing for and striving to as long as they can at present and for the future, even with animals.

One can take the view, and I do, that the Christian resurrection and life ever after is a fantasy, and one that is a bit unsavory if one looks at it closely. Still, we are a species addicted to fantasy, particulaly when we use terms like "the real world", and it is unfair to fault Christianity for its fantasies. Be that as it may, focusing on a possible future life may not be the best thing to do in this life.
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From: David M Fisher
Date: 30 January 2008
Subj: Possibly something for your review


My daughter recently sent me a book: "The End of Faith", by Sam Harris. I am only on page 25, and am already impressed with the subject, as well as the clarity of the prose. I recommend reading this book, if you have not already done so, and posting your comments on your book review page.

FYI I am in agreement with the author so far.

Thanks for your time in this matter,

As it chances, I received a copy of "The End of Faith" as a belated Christmas present. I haven't had a chance to read it yet - too many things on my plate - but I have glanced through it and I am quite impressed. Per your request I will do a review when I get a chance.
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From: Miroslav Provod
Date: 27 January 2008
Subj: New conception of history

The great amount of unsuccessful trials to understand the reason of megalithic structures shows us that the right answer isn't anywhere in the region of known facts. I have found empirically that the "completion" isn't any little thing but some laws of nature that have been neglected by the present science. It sounds unbelievably but did men in the ancient history know about some natural laws better than the present science? Surely, they didn't but knew how to communicate between continents. I think that research in this field will be very interesting.

New theory of balanced rocks

The balanced rocks are rocks of great mass and in the same way as menhirs are located in places of great concentration of cosmic energy. They differ from menhirs by their more rounded shape and by their location on a small area. They may be swung by the wind due to their precise balancing. In my last article I'm describing an experiment, which shows that matter gains energy when being swung.

Further, I will be dealing with important information about balanced rocks, which could be deducted from information found at GOOGLE  pictures, after typing in "balanced rocks". "Balanced rocks"" are located in great amount on five continents. This fact eliminates any discussions whether ancient civilisations were able to communicate over great distances or not. We don't know the answer to the question how they were exchanging information in such a way. However, we have enough organisational experience to say that without communication and coordination it wouldn't be possible to built thousands of balanced rocks around the globe. The transport of rocks weighing more than hundreds of tons over a rough terrain, many times on top of mountains, and the difficult balancing enabling their swinging motion would be an unsolvable task for our technically advanced civilisation. If the ancient cultures solved this task, we can't doubt that they used some for us unknown technological progresses.

The usual reason for megalithic structures that they were built for ritual, calendar, agricultural and astronomical reasons wouldn't hold out for balanced rocks. We can approach the reason for balanced rocks only if we lay away the textbook thought about people with a stone axe and think in a way that we are dealing with a technically developed civilisation, which was ahead of our civilisation in some unknown direction. I will enlarge on these thoughts about the megaliths in this direction in connection with the findings of the empirical research about new properties of matter. I will try to explain how people exchanged information over great distances by the use of balanced rocks.

A menhir is a rock placed in a region of an energy source from which it spontaneously gains energy. At the times of building of menhirs there were only natural energy sources of cosmic energy on the Earth  underground springs, streams, rivers, large streams, sea currents, thunderclouds and others. The energetic value of these sources wasn't stable; it was affected by the change of flow of water streams and the changes of other sources. Menhirs were affected by this in a way that their energetic parts were in a constant movement by which the zones and inter zones changes their separation. At times of drought it's not possible to identify them. For the transport of energy it's necessary that the zones of the individual sources cross each other. This however can't be accomplished by menhirs due to the instability of their zones. It wasn't possible to use menhirs for the transport of energy due to the lability of their energetic parts.

The way in which people in the ancient times solved this problem deserves admiration. By the swinging motion they built a source into the rock, which compensated for the changes and disruptions to the external sources - it functioned as a stabilisation element. The energetic parts of balanced rocks became stationary and could be used for an uninterrupted transport of energy. If you visit , Chapters / 2003, NO, 6, there is a diagram of energetic parts of two trees which intersect. In the text attached I'm describing how the transport of energy is realized. Therefore, balanced rocks could have functioned as part in the transport energy process in a similar way as retranslation stations of our time. Balanced rocks could have transported energy in two ways. They could have had their own transport network or they could have been just an interconnection of zones of sea currents, great streams and other great sources in their common network, as it looks like at Nazca.

All the megalithic structures on the Earth have the same purpose. Cosmic energy is accumulated in their matter, which people than used for curative and also other reasons. The structures had to undergo one condition  they had to be situated into an energetic part of cosmic energy. The regional difference of the shapes of megalithic structures was usually accommodated to the local material sources and other conditions. In America, mounds were mostly built, which were from mud and no good workmanship was needed. More advanced civilizations built pyramids, ziggurats or other more difficult structures. Also, great structures with energetic regulation were built, such as Teotihuacán, San Lorenzo, Nazca Plain, Laos  stone jars, the pyramid of Acapan or Osireion.

Another category of megalithic structures are Easter Islands, Nan Madol, Zimbabwe and others. These probably ensured the connection and maybe even intensification of zones over great distances. In connection with previous results, we could await interesting results from further research.

I gather that the ancients communicated via megalithic rocks in their heads. Apparently the tradition continues.
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This page was last updated February 1, 2008.

Richard Harter's World
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February 2008