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July 2003 TOC
Archived letters

Letters to the Editor, July 2003

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 And, of course, anything marked not for publication is not for publication.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 July 2003.

Some of it is a little ancient; I’m slowly catching up – very slowly.

Index of contributors

Other Correspondence Pages

From: Levi Sauerbrei
Date: 7/17/2003
Subj: Advice for the novice


I have been reading your website for a few years now and have often recommended you to friends. I am continually amazed at the level of content you continually post.

Thank you for the kind words.
A few friends and I have begun a web site (http://green-scissors.com) where we hope to collect odd bits of ideas and thoughts that we can’t seem to find any outlet for elsewhere. The Green Scissors name comes from those oddly out of place scissors in elementary school. They were built for left handers at a time when the school systems still thought it was acceptable for second graders to have sharp pointed implements in the classroom.
I love the title. It really is a much better title than “Richard Harter’s World” (too pedestrian) or “Slum City of the Mind” (trite and pretentious.) It reflects, when you know the origin, an idiosyncratic and pleasantly quirky view of life.
I was curious as to how you began your website and how you acquire some of the articles there? We are hoping to slowly gather together a core group of contributors for Green Scissors and other than college english students, I am not sure where to look for people who have an interest in things that are not on TV.
As far as a material goes, I have an advantage over you – I write my own stuff and consequently am not dependent on a core group of contributors. The disadvantage, of course, is that I have to write my own material.

That’s not entirely true; most of the jokes come from various mailing lists. Of those I read I pick about one out of twenty as meeting my high standards. From time to time I run guest articles; see the “guest material” page for a probably incomplete listing. Of these, only a small handful were submitted. I solicited the rest of them; most of them originally appeared as usenet postings.

This, by the way, is one of the little secrets of this sort of thing. You don’t wait for people to come to you; you go to them. One source for material is usenet. As you read newsgroups you find every once in a while that people write something amusing and interesting, something that tickles your fancy. Ask them if you can reprint it. Violet, you have some material.

Then there is the matter of getting a readership. It turns out that I solved that, albeit by accident. The trick is to have a few pages that people are going to find via the search engines, e.g., a recipe for whole roast camel. Once people find your site via a portal page (a page that gets them into your site) they will often look around a bit to see if there is anything else interesting. Over time you will build up a readership IF YOU KEEP ADDING NEW MATERIAL. Anyway, that is how it worked for me.

Thank you for continuing to host such a thought provoking and entertaining site.
You’re welcome.
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From: Charles Hitchcock
Date: 7/17/2003
Subj: Engineering Recipe

typical engineering sloppiness. You don’t say which of the many isomers of C12H22O11 to use, “albumen-coated protein” is an oxymoron, and tallow comes fully hydrogenated.

And when did you last have instruments that could measure a substance to five significant figures? (The last one I had sat on a 500-pound stone table in sandboxes on rubber pads — try putting that/ in your lady-friend’s kitchen!) Reminds me of the later Riverworld books, in which somebody converted the round numbers of feet into exact numbers of meters.

I know. Dreadful isn’t it, the quality of engineers one gets these days. You should have seen the work they did on the Ringworld.

… continued on next rock …

Or the “Harvard” bridge, or the Hancock building….

Ah yes, the Hancock building. Does it still shed windows as though they were dandruff?
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From: Charles Hitchcock
Date: 7/17/2003
Subj: 5 Secrets…

Rent The Harrad Experiment — it’s mostly pretty lame, but the Ace Trucking Company skit on group marriage is fun.

I read the book long ago but I’ve never seen the movie. An oddity is that when the book was written colleges segregated men and women as much as possible, whereas nowadays dorms tend to be integrated sexually. True, they don’t make opposite sex room assignments, but the students manage that on their own quite well, thank you.

… continued on next rock …

They managed it quite well thirty years ago. I remember being asked how another cast member’s phone number could be one digit off mine when her address was at the other end of the campus; I found out how at a fire alarm a couple of weeks later.

Perhaps she was just visiting a friend and just happened to be doing her laundry whilst visiting said friend, and perhaps she trusted said friend to be gentlemanly and not take advantage of her while she got all of her laundry done. Could this not have been an explanation?
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From: Deborah Shaull
Date: 7/11/2003
Subj: Old Fart Hat

My Dearest Richard,

Yes I do immensly dislike that cap. Burning it would be too kind. Blowing it up would be much better. At 59 you are much too young to wear that cap.

Yours, Deborah

Blowing it up it shall be. If you had but expressed your desire a week and a day earlier we could have filled it with firecrackers, put a bucket over the cap, and lit the whole thing from a distance. The gun powder encrusted fragments could then go on the fire and blaze merrily. As it is we shall have to wait another year unless …

… I do know how to make nitroglycerine. If we soaked the cap in nitro it could pass for gun cotton.

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From: Nathan Childers
Date: 7/9/2003
Subj: Contributor is incorrect!

To Whom It May Concern:

I was recently informed by a friend that your site had a negative and false portrayal of me as an artist. A Mark A. Harris wrote to you regarding the article posted on http://www.jazzreview.com/articleprint.cfm?ID=1538 . I have to inform you that Mr. Harris is entirely wrong about this article. In fact, I’d be happy to send both of you a copy of the Rutland Herald so you can see for yourself. Or I can have Caleb Kenna contact you personally. I am amazed that you would post such a comment without even researching its validity. If you go to www.nathanchilders.com you will quickly see that I am not a fake! Also, feel free to email or call me from the numbers on the site so we can discuss this mistake. I work VERY hard as an artist and educator and I do not appreciate false claims. Thank you for your time.

I gather that you have not actually read the letter that you are complaining about. The URL of the letter is:


Perhaps you can explain what you are objecting to once you have read the letter.

Be that as it may I surmise that you are not familiar with your namesake, that inimitable man of letters, Nathan Childers, author, poet, gourmet, adventurer, lover, and fabrication. A home page of sorts for him can be found at


Your namesake, you see, does not exist, at least as flesh and blood, although he has existed within the pages of print and on the web for some decades. To many of my readers he may be more real than you yourself, even though you have the advantage of having more worldly substance. Google evidently thinks so, giving his “home page” pride of place if you search on “Nathan Childers”.

I wish you the best, of course, in your musical career.

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From: Doug Riddle
Date: 7/9/2003
Subj: You are still one of the most interesting alleys on the web!


I haven’t written in a while, OK a year or two. I recommended your site to a friend recently though, and decided to pop in for a perusal.

That would have been in 1998. I keep records on these things. Mind you, it’s not for myself. The FBI pays me to keep track of these things.
You, my friend, are a complete nut case. One day I hope to share a ward with you at the nutters webmaster old folks home. I really hope they have an open bar too!
My dear sir, nut case is so declasse. I prefer to think of myself as a practicing eclectic eccentric reflecting the essence of idiosyncratic reality. Have another pecan?
I enjoy your site every time I drop by. BTW, Bailey’s or Stolie provide equal enlightenment.

I saw your pictures “brown vs. white” I may give it a shot. I did the died hair thing when I was interviewing for a position last year and I got the position. Why look old if you don’t have to? I don’t feel as old as I look. Hell, I’d have to be dead to feel that old!

You should definitely work on looking younger. One of the tricks to looking younger is to be more active. Change channels once in a while; give that thumb a workout.
Love your site.
Thank you.
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From: Anthony R. Lewis
Date: 7/4/2003
Subj: Before and after

The cap makes all the difference.

Deborah agrees. She wants me to burn it.
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From: Bob Tischendorf
Date: 6/4/2003
Subj: grackle-proof feeder

Hello…. Enjoyed your grackle story and would like to know if the “fortress” is commercially available or did your Mother build it?

My apologies for not answering more quickly. My life has been complicated by large black dogs, rock walks, baking bread, designing computer languages, building walls, and attacks of conscience for not replying to my email expeditiously.

The fortress is defunct. It was commercially available, but I have not been able to find the original. I have acquired a replacement, also called the fortress, that stops squirrels but not, alas, grackles.

My next try shall be to build a cage around the feeders using lattice work open enough for the finches but small enough so the grackles can’t get in.

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From: Miriam Taylor
Date: 6/20/2003
Subj: Grackles

Where do I find this fortress???? I am tired of battleing the grackles! They are eating everything I put out! Thanks for any help……….

The bad news is that the fortress doesn’t stop them; it stops squirrels but not grackles. Grackles are smart birds – they figured out how to beat the fortress and passed it on to the next generation.

I am not defeated though. I am going to build the cage. The cage will have lattice work around it with holes large enough for finches to get through but not grackles.

Can it possibly fail?

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From: Ron Baer
Date: 6/23/2003
Subj: IS liked your Geezer Exam

Fun site – IS www.immaculatestroke.com – the quirky golf site, will link to your Geezer Exam from our whim link.

I’m not overly quick about answering email, so I suspect that I missed my moment of glory. When I checked the whim link I got caught up in Martha Stewart doing doily time.

Nice site you have there.

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From: pet
Date: 6/18/2003
Subj: Joke


and results 🙂


Thanks for the link. Still, why do I need the Jerry Springer show when I have my neighbours.
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From: Adam White
Date: 6/11/2003
Subj: Secant Search

Hi ,

I came across the page http://www.nist.gov/dads/HTML/secantSearch.html

Do you know where I can find the original paper for this algorithm, or at least the contact of the author that developed it??

Thanks Alot,

My apologies for not answering sooner. The secant algorithm and the closely related interpolation algorithm in their root finding form (i.e., algorithms for finding a root x of the equation f(x)=0) are quite old, dating back to Newton’s time. In Iterative methods for the Solution of Equations Traub remarks (p109) (I.F. = iteration formula)
The secant I.F., together with slight modifications thereof, must share with Halley’s I.F. (Section 5.2) the distinction of being the most often rediscovered I.F. in the literature.
He goes on to list texts where the secant I.F. is discussed, e.g. Bachmann, Collatz, Hsu, Jeeves, Ostrowski, and Putzer. He says that the order seems to have first been given by Bachmann (1954).

The secant I.F. for y = f(x) is

x_n+1 = x_n – y_n * d_n
d_n = (x_n – x_n-1)/(y_n – y_n-1)
The interpolation I.F. uses two points x_left, x_right such that y_left and y_right are of opposite signs. A value of x is computed using the secant I.F. formula. The corresponding value of y is computed. Then the new (x,y) replaces one of the old (x,y) pairs, the pair such that the new y has the same sign as the one it replaces, i.e., the zero is always bracketed.

Although the two algorithms appear to be the same the convergence rates are quite different. The interpolation I.F. has geometric convergence, and the rate is often quite bad. The secant I.F. has a convergence rate of 1.62 (err_n = err_n-1**1.62).

Root finding algorithms can be used as table search algorithms. In this reformulation the independent variable is the table index, i, and the dependent variable is the array value, a[i], with the obvious qualification that the independent variable is quantized.

In vol 3, Sorting and Searching, Knuth meantions interpolation search (p 416-417) and gives a 1957 reference within the computer literature. Knuth remarks that the general experience with interpolation search is that for internal searches the cost of the arithmetic more than offsets the savings due to a reduced number of probes. The situation can be quite different for external searches.

There is no indication that I can see in Knuth’s text that he distinguishes between secant search and interpolation search.

All of that said, I don’t know of a specific reference in the computer literature for the secant search. I myself have used it twenty years ago or so, but I don’t imagine that I was the first.

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From: Daniel Yang
Date: 6/15/2003
Subj: Human brain software

“Human brain software” can completely solve the question as follows:

  1. The motive force of human evolution;
  2. Human clock system;
  3. Human Intellectual Genes;
  4. DOS system and Windows system about human brain;
  5. Origin and prodiction of human talent;
  6. How to monopolize world soccer markets in the future.
Does it work for cricket? My readers would not be interested unless it worked for cricket.
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From: anne tarte
Date: 6/22/2003
Subj: information

Would you know what “CAIN” means? You gave me an answer for AWOL a few days ago, and I’m presently surfing on your pages, from the French Riviera. I do appreciate them. BYE, and thanks anyway Anne

CAIN means all sorts of things, depending on the context. Could you give a heads up as to where the term is being used?
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From: kryssie
Date: 7/01/2003
Subj: Can you help answer a question please?

I wonder if you can help me? Someone said recently to me that he thought that I was a “keeper”. I did not understand what he was meaning and have therefore looked on your site in the hope that I would get an answer but although I have read The Keeper of Her Soul I am still perplexed.

Can you give me any idea what he may have meant?

I thank you.

It was a compliment to you. The word “keeper” in this context may come from fishing. If you catch a fish that is too small or otherwise undesirable you throw it back in the water – you don’t keep it. If it is a desirable fish, one you wish to keep, then it is a keeper.

In my poem the word “keeper” is used in a different sense, that as of being a custodian.

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From: Tom Lankart
Date: 7/1/03
Subj: additional link trade?

I came across your website a while ago and was wondering if you would like to trade links with my new real estate website http://www.reguideusa.com

If you would, simply visit http://www.reguideusa.com and select the state you serve. Then follow the linking instructions on that page. If your site is international or more general simply use the “Other Sites” category.

Or you can just add a link to http://www.reguideusa.com with the text “Real Estate Guide USA” and I will add your site as soon as you email me back.

I’m not quite certain why you think that a link to a real estate website would be appropriate for me. For that matter are you really sure that you want potential customers looking at my site? Inquiring minds are moderately interested.
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This page was last updated July 18, 2003.
It was reformatted and moved February 20, 2006

table of contents
July 2003 TOC
Archived letters