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Letters to the editor, August 2006

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 And, of course, anything marked not for publication is not for publication.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 August 2006.

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From: Strojnys
Date: 8/12/2006
Subj: Lucifers Hammer

I read you review and commentary concerning Lucifers Hammer.

Your complaining about bigotry is unwarranted. Imagine how street gangs who survived in metro areas of this country would react in the event of such disaster, be it natural or man made.

Think New Orleans for example.

You are of course entitled to an opinion. I ask what you base it upon.

Just as a side note, may I commend to you the thought that you would do well to make an effort to correct your grammar and your spelling when writing a letter of complaint. Thus it’s “I read your review”, “Lucifer’s Hammer”, and “based it upon”. Don’t be afraid to use commas. Mind you, these minor infelicities of style do not in any way invalidate your thesis; rather they create an off impression and lead people to take you less seriously. I hope that you take this as friendly advice.

That said, I based my opinion on my ability to read, to comprehend what I am reading, and to notice the sub-text, i.e., the attitudes and presumptions present in the text that I am reading. Really, it only takes a bit of common sense.

The story line in Lucifer’s Hammer is not a simple matter of street gangs running wild. The origin and subsequent politicalization of the “Angels” is bizarre and filled with racial and political stereotypes. In my rather well justified opinion, any reader who cannot see this has some serious blind spots in their thinking.

This does not mean that one can’t enjoy the book despite its moral flaws. If it was just your cup of tea then I am happy for you.

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From: Peter Neilson
Date: 8/10/2006
Subj: Fiduciary sex change discovered in Ghana

Mr. Harter,
After a moment of consideration, following the death of various people who need not be mentioned, as they are now dead, it occurs to me that a change is needed in the way that elections are conducted.

The difficulty is that after an election several of the voters in that election pass away, sooner or later. At that point, their opinions no longer matter, because they are dead. Dead and gone. Non Compost Mantis, to borrow a phrase from the Ancients. They have gone and bugged out.

Let us suppose that B defeats G by 10,000 votes out of 60 million total. A slim margin. Moreover, let us assume that in a certain region, let’s call it Wrinkle City, an overwhelming proportion of the population were on Death’s door, but voted for B. One year later most of them were dead. THERE SHOULD BE A RECOUNT! Anyone who died should have his (or her, or its) vote rescinded.

This method could be applied immediately in Cook County, Illinois, where so many voters are already dead, and (after further research) in other places, including Wrinkle City.

There are technical difficulties, such as how to determine which votes were cast by dead people and which not, but that surely can be solved by application of Modern Technology. Perhaps an RFID chip on each ballot, and a matching one for each coffin. A simple algorithm, a linear search perhaps, would suffice to find the votes to be eliminated. An annual or even monthly reconsideration would show the new results, and the losers could become winners!

Indeed, if this method were to become widespread, or even the Law Of The Land, it would become fashionable for many of the losers to act almost precisely as if they had won, and establish shadow offices. There could be a President-In-Case and a corresponding Vice-President. There could be almost-Senators of varying degrees of possibility or improbability.

Dr. Flynn once wrote an algorithm for implementing the preferential or so-called Australian ballot. Laurie Mann keeps an up-to-date list of dead people. Now it’s up to you and me to develop the Wrinkle Ballot and its algorithms. How shall we start?

You present an interesting proposal, but I see some difficulties. The conventional theory about elections is that it records the electorate’s opinion (modulo the usual manipulations) at the time of the election. The election is taken as being definitive – the composition of the electorate and the varying of its collective mind (if any) is ignored until the next election. This is neither fair nor just, but, then, elections are not about fairness and justice. They are a practical matter, intended to provide for the selection of officers in a way that has a semblence of fairness and justice.

If we ignore the requirements of practicality (always a good thing) then I think I see an approach. Each voter has an ID. His or her ballot also has an identifier. The voters ID is encoded into the ballot ID with a one-way encryption (think RSA). When the death of the voter is recorded a second key is generated that deletes the ballot. The point of this scheme is that the ballot is secret, i.e., we can’t determine which ballot the voter cast, nor can we determine from the ballot which voter cast it.

I envisage this scheme operating continuously. That is, the electoral counts keeps changing as electors keep dying. When the result changes then the current office holder is kicked out and the new winner is installed.

Another possibility, one that would be popular with many disgusted voters, would be to allow people to change their vote at any time. No doubt this would make for a great deal of instability in government, but, then, stability in government is probably not consistent with true democracy.

In any event, I believe we should move forward on this project with all of the haste that it deserves.

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From: Anthony R. Lewis, PhD, FN
Date: 8/5/2006
Subj: Cookie recipe

At 09:38 PM 8/5/2006 -0400, you wrote: Here is a page with a cookie recipe your readers will appreciate.


I particularly liked the bit about bringing them to him to be graded. I don’t think, however, that I would request that for many of the recipes I post.
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From: Beryl Streff
Date: 8/6/2006
Subj: Which is heavier?

Which is heavier a pound of lead or a pound of gold?

The traditional answer is that a pound of lead is heavier. There are three different sets of weights in traditional English/American units – troy weights, apothecar weights, and avoirdupois, the latter being what Americans use in everyday work. The common unit between the three systems is the grain. Troy and apothecary weights have 5760 grains to the pound, whereas avoirdupois weights have 7000 grains to the pound.

Traditionally troy weights are used for precious metals. So one pound of gold weighs 5760 grains whereas one pound of lead (or feathers) weighs 7000 grains. Lead is heavier.

This old trick question isn’t quite fair. Then again, life isn’t fair, so that’s fair.

… continued on next rock …

Good for you, you got the question right. Please take two gold stars from petty cash. Most individuals would say they are the same, including those belonging to another organization that I will not mention.

Oh goody, I get two gold stars. I dunno, though, the only thing in the petty cash drawer is a rather yellowed IOU. I wager though that you didn’t expect quite so much detail.
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From: Lene Palshøj
Date: 8/6/2006
Subj: greetings from Denmark….

Dear Richard Harter,

I’ve just visited your homepage, by accident I might add, and I have enjoyed the visit immensely (and I appologize for spelling and grammar..as Danish is my native tongue, my English isn’t perfect…)

I don’t understand why your friend told you not to tell jokes in public, I think they (those I’ve read so far anyway) are hilarious!!! Post turtle indeed!!!

The “not to tell jokes” thing is itself a joke, stolen from a Georgette Heyer novel. The punchline is “A joke in your mouth is no laughing matter.”
I came about your homepage while searching Google for a restaurant in Rome with singing nuns, and for some reason Google meant that your Italien Journey was just the thing. Which it then turned out to be, though I never found the restaurant I was looking for. However, I had lots of fun reading about your journey and I am definately going to re-visit your homepage!
Google (and other search engines) have some strange notions. I am pleased though that their misdirection turned out to be just what you didn’t know you were looking for.
Here I am, indoors while I should be outside enjoying the Danish summer, but for now I seem to be having more fun indoors, on your homepage….
Read away. There is much to be read, something for every taste. Well, not quite every taste – I run a respectable web site, though I’m not a fanatic about it.
Anyway, thanks again for the very entertaining homepage.
You’re welcome.
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From: Anthony R. Lewis, PhD, FN
Date: 8/6/2006

The angels come to God after he has finished with creation and ask why he has favored the Jews so heavily. They say, “You’ve given them a land of milk and honey, of olives, barley, dates and pomegranates. They have Nobel Prize winners, artists and scientists. Their greatest minds contribute to the media, the banks and world politics. Is this fair?”

God responds, “You’re right. But wait till you see the neighbors I gave them.”

Just so. Judging by that, I must be one of the chosen people myself – you should see the neighbours I have.
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Date: 8/5/2006
Subj: Pregnancy


The simple answer is almost immediately and as long as five days.
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From: Anthony R. Lewis, PhD, FN
Date: 7/31/2006
Subj: Diana Moon Glampers

Mr Harter,

I call your attention to


Now that’s sad. There are so many people who would have qualified. These days I suck at the government sugar tit but if I were a taxpayer I would be delighted to help fund the incompetent.

PS: The August issue will review a book you are going to write.

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From: Peter Neilson
Date: 7/31/2006
Subj: Books needing reviews

In an alternate universe consisting mostly of my sell-you-our phone on a hot day, I may have accidentally commissioned ARL to write me a book called Door Into Winter.

Hey, it was a hot day, and I had to sit out in the bright sun running pony rides, or mostly waiting for little 90-pound toddlers to approach and maybe want to ride. So I called upon the Evil One’s answering machine, and left an inane message about why didn’t he write “The Door Into Winter” because I really needed something like instant transport to Antarctica for maybe ten minutes. More than that and my anatomies would freeze off.

Before he can write it, he’ll need a book review. I understand that you are skilled at providing reviews for unwritten books. Go to it! Oops, I forgot that Go To may be considered harmful. Oh well…

No sooner asked than done. The requested review will have appeared in the August issue.
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From: Vivien Santana
Date: 7/31/2006
Subj: fire hydrant integration

[delete spam]

What I want to know is where these spammeisters get these wonderful titles. I wish that some kind reader would speculate on whatever fire hydrant integration might be.
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From: Peter Neilson
Date: 7/31/2006
Subj: Fiduciary sex change discovered in Ghana

My Dear Harter,
I quote to you with excitement from a missive that was aimed in my general direction from one Mr. Mark Olusegun of Ghana:


Somehow Mr. William Barnes has transmogrified into a female (“HER FUNDS”) with no assistance other than a document from a purported banker. Unfortunately Barnes is deceased and unable to enjoy the results of Mr. Olusegun’s work.

I have the feeling that this banking transaction needs to be sent to the proprietors of the famous PO Box in Schenectady, to be held in reserve for some worthy author. Do you happen to have the contact information?

Yr obt svt and all that,

Quite right. Never having been a recipient of missives from that infamous PO Box I am not quite certain as to how much detail they contain. Would “A dead man has his gender changed in Ghana by the internet” suffice?

I don’t have the contact info but you might check with Phil Foglio and Freff.

(The PO Box in Schenectady: SF authors are often asked where they get those crazy ideas. Someone, perhaps Harlan Ellison, said that he got them from a PO Box in Schenectady. You send $2 and a SASE to the PO Box and they send you back a crazy idea. The catch is that you have to be a published author or they won’t deal with you.

Phil Foglio and Freff wrote “That P.O. Box in Schenectady That You’ve All Heard So Much About”)

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From: Don Crowder
Date: 7/23/2006
Subj: A nice surprise

I normally get one or two new ezine subscribers a month so I was surprised a couple of weeks ago when I got two or three new subscribers a day for several days in a row. The mystery was solved when I learned that Mark L. Donaldson had mentioned me in his ezine. Here’s Mark’s site. http://luem42.com/default.aspx

A few days ago it happened again; I got two or three new subscribers a day for several days so I assumed Mark had given me another plug. By way of confirmation I tried to check his online current issue but he hadn’t posted it yet so I simply wrote him a quick thank you note and dismissed it from my mind. Then I got a letter from a fellow named Peter Neilson which began “You may recognize me as the person who sends Mr. Harter (Richard Harter’s World, https://richardhartersworld.com/cri/) a plethora of corrections that only the most anal nitpicker would want to analyze.” and went on to point out some spelling errors I’d made in a page of my site. That was, for me, a nice windfall. Not only was I able to correct some spelling errors but, following the trail of how he got to my site lead me to your site and I learned where the additional subscribers had come from.

Thank you, kind sir, for reproducing my last email on your website. More subscribers are always welcome, most especially when they come from a source of such inimitable quality.

By the way, what are your most common spelling errors? mine are “surprize” and “recognise”

I once endeared myself to an “English as a Second Language” class by explaining to them that learning would be easier once they accepted that “inglés es estúpido”. That was my only experience as a substitute teacher but the students and I enjoyed it very much. Sadly, while I was merely trying to get a laugh, I was all too accurate in my assessment. English is, indeed, stupid. Ah but so is my wife’s sister; life goes on.

I see that I have been remiss about including typoes in my website. Peter has had to go abroad for material on which to practice his arcane dark arts.

I wouldn’t say that English is stupid. Rather it is like biology – inordinately messy and irregular, clever in a bizarre way, and surprisingly successful. I have a theory (which I just made up) that nations with messy languages tend to be more successful, the reason being that the minds of the young get more exercise when they learn to speak. There is probably nothing to this theory but it would explain so much, including many things that are not so.

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From: Michelle R. Francois
Date: 7/23/2006
Subj: a variation

Dear Mr. Harter, I found your website today for the first time and am having a great time exploring it. This is a variation on the recipe for “Elephant Stew.” It was published over 20 years ago in “Pots, Pans and Pioneers,” a cookbook published by employees of the telephone company (when there was only ONE telephone company).

1 elephant, cut into bite-sized pieces
Brown gravy to cover
Salt and pepper to taste
2 rabbits (optional)

Sauté elephant pieces to brown. Cover with gravy and cook slowly until tender, about 3-4 weeks. Add salt and pepper to taste. Serves 2,000. If more people are expected add the rabbits, but do this only if necessary as most people do not like having hare in their stew.

Michelle, you are an evil woman. I like that in a woman. Still, I have a question – would that be an African elephant or an Indian elephant?

… continued on next rock …

The recipe does not specify the elephant subspecies; however, I suspect that the African elephant is preferred. After all, the recipe does not call for curry.

Now that is an entirely adequate explanation.
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From: Akiko Morrison
Date: 7/27/2006
Subj: Thompson’s Turkey

Hello, I’d like to reprint the recipe of the Thompson Turkey when sending out my gift baskets this coming Thanksgiving. I had a friend, a Brit, naturally. Every year on Boxing Day my friend, Don Chaffee would, with great ceremony and smoke, charcoal broil a Turkey what he called “Thompson’s Turkey”. Don himself was the essence of British eloquence and story and to prove it you can glimpse his screen credits as director on the cult TV Series “The Prisoner”, “Vegas” and….

Of course you may. Maybe someone will take the hint and prepare a Thompson Turkey. “The Prisoner” was one of my favorite TV programs. It’s nice to know that its director and I share recipes.

… continued on next rock …

Thank you so much for your permission. Nothing like being prepared then to begin working on Thanksgiving in July.

Indeed. I will get right on it.
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From: Leon Digby
Date: 7/26/2006
Subj: Link request from RPGJunction.com

My name is Leon Digby and I am from http://www.RPGJunction.com .

While visiting your site I have noticed that you are collaborated with other games sites and I wish to invite you to work with my website as well.

If you can support RPGJunction.com by adding a link to our site, I’ll be happy to link back from my site.

Please let me know your thoughts in the matter or if you have any questions. I’d also be happy to get your writing on my forum.

Description : The Role Play Game Forum, WhiteWolf, D&D;, Gurps and more.

I wouldn’t say that I was a collaborator – that term has unpleasant associations with the Nazis and World War II. Mostly, if people send me email asking for a link I publish their email including a link to their site. Oddly enough this usually gets them some hits. I hope this suffices.

BTW, although your backgrounds are striking (striking is a mini-version of spectacular) the readability of the prose suffers.

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From: Peter Neilson
Date: 7/7/2006
Subj: lazy spelling errrors

In a letter to CACM, not far in time from Dijkstra’s famous letter(1) that was harmful to the GOTO statement, Ershov wrote, “Finding errors in a computer program is like finding mushrooms in the forest. Having found one, look for others in the same place.”

You undoubtedly have a full collection of CACM going back all the way. If you were to scan them for on-line readability, a simple linear search for the word mushrooms, perhaps limited to the period from 1967 to 1970, would find the quote.

If, on the other hand, your scanning equipment is not up to capturing text correctly, you may need to search for muaniooma and all the other possible combinations of mis-scanations.

On the third hand, you could simply read CACM from that period. The extra hand may be acquired by having an infinite number of arms, as detailed in numerous websites. (The proof of an infinite number of arms relies on infinity being the only number that is both even and odd, which I find odd. I had always imagined it to be odd or even as required, but not both simultaneously. What say you?)

(1) http://www.acm.org/classics/oct95/

I recall that letter. Indeed I urged Dijkstra not to publish it on the grounds that it would irretrievably damage the art and science of programming. He did and the results today are what you see. In protest I burned all of my copies of the CACM and turned his picture to the wall.

… continued on next rock …

What was that language that has the “come-from” statement? Ah yes, I remember, it’s INTERCAL. Have you been keeping up with your anti-Dijkstra feelings, and writing programs in INTERCAL?

Do you think Dijkstra also considered the come-from statement to be “harmful”?

I don’t really know about Dijkstra, but I understand that they have a microphone over his grave that keeps muttering, “come-from, come-from, intercal”. They have a generator hooked up and they get power from the grave as he spins.

There is a plethora of material about the come-from construct and its relationship to continuation passing style on the internet. I understand that they added come-from to PERL, but nobody noticed.

I once invented a quite different variant of come-from, to wit: Any time we have a return statement within a procedure it goes to where the invocation came from. In my version of the come-from statement you could change where you came from. Every procedure has a current continuation including a default continuation if it had not been currently invoked. There are certain technical difficulties that I never quite worked out (though I am sure you could) but it would enable an “interesting” style of programming.

… continued on next rock …

This kind of stuff used to be exceptionally common in programming, where it existed as one item in an expandable bag of tricks that all astute programmers used. Because everything was done in assembler or in machine language, the concepts we know today were only badly recognized and not fully formed. As a cow-orker, ignorant of high-level languages, said in 1970, upon hearing of Dijkstra’s disdain for the GOTO, “How can you program without using a JMP instruction?” The same programmer had, of course, no difficulty with the idea of writing self-modifying code, or of fiddling with the stored return address of a subroutine. (This was PDP-8 work, where the first location of a subroutine held the 12-bit PC+1. Nasty if you inadvertently or stupidly tried recursion or concurrent processes.) Having an address space of only 4096 12-bit words forces an evil sort on ingenuity upon the programmer.

But you know all that already.

Even so. Someone, Fred Isaacs IIRC, worked for a company that had a product with embedded assembly code. In one page of code there was but one comment. It was attached to an apparently innocuous instruction and read “DO NOT MOVE THIS INSTRUCTION”.

I miss the old days when we programmed right down to the bare iron. I know, it’s so last century, but still …

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This page was last updated August 14, 2006.
It was moved January 9, 2008

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Hyde County, South Dakota is the Pin Tail Duck Capital of the world. Visit scenic Highmore, SD in 2006!