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Letters to the editor, June 2007

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 And, of course, anything marked not for publication is not for publication.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 June 2007.

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From: Michael Wiles
Date: 6/13/2007
Subj: about’ the cold equations

Was reading your review of ‘the cold equations’. I was left to wonder if this was some kind of therapy on your part – practicing at being PC Nazi

Chortle. I’m left wondering what sort of mind would have thought the essay to practicing at being PC Nazi. I like your style, sir, I really do. It’s totally bonkers but I like it. Anyone who can leave me giggling with their first paragraph has my appreciation.
Regardless of your motives, and over-looking the part in your review where you, just assume, there were more work-place injuries in the past than there are today (per hour WORKED), I was drawn toward your insistance that the authorities in the story should have done more to keep stowaways off the ship. If such is your belief. . . wouldn’t it follow. . . that these same authorities would then have the moral obligation to privide the pilot with a blaster – in case – a stowaway does get on board somehow? Assuming there’s an obligation to keep the pilot and possibly some people on the ground and possibly some people who wont’ be resupplied and the spacecraft it’self from dying too when the stowaway dies in the crash. No matter how much security is in place, a stowaway getting on board somehow would always be a possibility. We’re trying to make a movie here. . . -er story.
Er, I didn’t just assume that there were more work-place injuries in the past than there are today. It’s a matter of history. People write books about that sort of thing, you know. Or perhaps you don’t know, but they do.

You raise an interesting point, though. Given the scenario of the story, should pilots be armed? If the authorities weren’t buffoons it would probably be a useless gesture. Consider: A competent stowaway would know that the pilot is armed and will shoot to kill. Ergo our hypothetical competent stowaway has no real option but take out the pilot and ditch him. Since the pilot, on the evidence of the story, is not immediately aware that there is a stowaway and is not overly competent in the use of weapons, the odds are in favor of our competent stowaway. Since competent stowaways will cost the authorities their pilot and probably their ship, competent authorities would provide better security. However, as we have seen, on the evidence of the story these authorities are buffoons.

Security? We don’t need no steenking security. We’ve got blasters.

I’ve read this story several times over the years. I still forgot what happened at the end. I always remember the plot of the story but I always think there’s a solution. I always forget that there’s no magic solution at the end. Guess I didn’t like the story that much. Perhaps the first time I read it, by the time I got to the end, I was bored or distracted. Maybe because the ending was so different. Not sure why I always forget what happens at the end. Perhaps I’m a really callous guy. It’s not a favorite of mind and I only every remember the plot, but never the ending. Don’t remember the story itself being good. Could be because the plot itself has become ‘famous’ (why I remember the plot/puzzle).
That’s interesting. I am inclined to agree that the story itself isn’t particularly good. What’s surprising is that you don’t recall the ending – it is the ending with no magic solution that everybody goes on about.
I’ve never noticed the moral of the story was ‘don’t be stupid’. Would be interesting to re-read again and try and see if there’s an effort to get that idea across. Thinking back, I think there was an idea to present the opposite idea, the idea that it would be really bad if the girl were to die – perhaps tho, just to make the ending more surprising. Not sure about ‘don’t be stupid’ but there were certainly a lot of ideas like self reliance promoted in a lot of old SF stories. You should be pleased with that.

I don’t think that the moral was ‘don’t be stupid’. However it seems that a lot of people who really like the story take that as the moral.

Anyway, thanks for writing. You made some interesting comments.

… continued on next rock …

Nice response. I’m really alive! Really here. No one ever writes back to me. . .

Fancy that. I can’t imagine why not.
As for these books you talk about. . they would impress me more – If I actually believed they made any kind of effort get at the truth. They don’t. Oh – they might reference ~other books~, selectively, sometimes, but then, consider the source? There’s a reason books are kept at the liebrary. . .
Well, you know, this is really quite bizarre. You, ah, go on and on about unnamed books and their contents. There is something for that viewpoint. If one is quite certain that nobody makes any kind of effort to get at the truth then we can dispense with books, scholarship, truth, and thought entirely.
Anyway I’d know more about the books people write. . . if you actually bothered to quote or site even one source of any kind while going on and on about workplace injuries -er. . while being a ‘PC Nazi’. . about workplace-injuries. . . really tho, I was actually ready to concede you’re opinion is right. . . but really. . . if you calculate the amount of injuries per the amount of actual physical labor performed, in the past, to the amount of injuires per the amount of actual physical laobr performed today. . who knows. . ? would be nigh impossible to calculate that actually. Perhaps comparing by the number of hours worked would be as close as one could get. Better yet, check workplace injuries in the past, to workplace injuries today in China. That’s where everything’s made. OK, so injuries have gone down. . .
Thank you.
OK, I will concede to you. However most people who do go on and on the way you were going on, I find that they usually aren’t just wrong about their beliefs, they believe that which is the exact opposite of the truth.
Oddly enough, I find that most people who use the term “PC Nazi” listen to too much right wing radio talk show hosts – present company excepted of course.
The world is still flat isn’t it?
PS I have some reviews of my own on the net. . Google magicsinglez with a z if you’d like. .

I might suggest ‘a medicine for melancholy’ by Ray Bradbury or ‘the winds twelve Quarters’ by Ursula Le Guin

What SF authors you sometimes read?

Oh Lordy, most of them, though these days I don’t make any great effort to keep up with the field. I’ve read a lot, I mean really a lot, of Science Fiction.
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From: Robert Eggleton
Date: 6/13/2007
Subj: Geekie things

I wanted to share the following and hope that you’ll publish it. Thanks.

“Give yourself a treat with something different next time you’re ready to read. Try Rarity from the Hollow. It is one of the most unusual novels I’ve read in a great while. Look in on a dysfunctional family, poverty, child abuse, and the thought processes of a young girl turning the corner from childhood to adolescence, then put them all together in a surreal setting that looks at our society from a distinctly different viewpoint. You’ll enjoy the ride with Lacy Dawn and friends and family, but don’t expect the ride to be without bumps and enough food for thought to last you a long time.”
Darrell Bain — 2005 Fictionwise eBook Author of the Year Double Eppie Award winner 2007 May 8, 2007
Sure thing. Thanks for writing.
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From: Anthony R. Lewis, PhD, FN
Date: 6/10/2007
Subj: Headstones

With the recent flurry of controversy about allowing a Wiccan pentacle on soldiers’ headstones, I thought you’d like to see what emblems are permitted


I missed the controversy; I didn’t miss it but I missed it. I see that the NESFA emblem is not on the permissable list. Until it is I refuse to be buried in a military cemetery. In fact it is just this sort of rank discrimination (1) that makes me reconsider the idea of dying at all.

(1) Not to be confused with separate cemeteries for officers and enlisted men.

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From: Derek Detjen
Date: 6/10/2007
Subj: The original “black box”

Hello Richard: What a nice surprise to get an answer to my email. I’m sure you are correct with your assertion that said boxes were marketed as Poynter Products. In any case, I thought it was a great example of individual entrepreneurship, to say the least. Too bad our football team wasn’t as good as the band – the entrance of the 300+ piece marching band, led by Don Poynter was usually the main highlight of Saturday afternoon.

For every winner there has to be a loser. Your team was doing its part to preserve the balance.
I’ve got another story you might enjoy, one related to the crazy Darwin Award winner who strapped a JATO bottle to the trunk lid of his Chevy convertible and then proceeded to bury his remains in the facing of a cliff at 300+mph.

This is a true story that I just got from my old SAC B-52 gunner, who got the story from an old B-47 pilot re an incident he survived while on a training mission that included an inflight refueling from a KC-135 tanker. It seems that the JATO bottles were notorious for failing when the crew attempted to activate them after reaching S-2 (committed) speed during their takeoff roll. This often resulted in a very long takeoff roll, crash or in the case of the Macdill AFB, FL squadron, their reputation as “one a day in Tampa Bay!” The JATO bottles were so unstable that they had individual circuit breakers on the co-pilot side panel that were not activated until after the aircraft began its actual takeoff roll.

On this particular occasion, the co-pilot failed to depress the circuit breakers, and the crew staggered aloft after an extended takeoff roll with a very heavy aircraft. Hours later, the crew arrived in the air refueling area to onload several thousand pounds of fuel from their SAC tanker. The crew pulled up into the “observation position,” a mile behind the tanker and a few hundred feet below them. Accomplishing the “before refueling checklist,” the co-pilot unthinkingly responded to the “all circuit breakers in” command by depressing the JATO circuit breakers also. The aircraft immediately leapt forward (at a much lighter weight), scaring the KC-135 boom operator, lying on his contour couch, half to death as he observed the B-47 climbing into them at a rapidly increasing speed. Our old pilot saved the day, immediately ramming the stick forward, pulling the throttles back and narrowly flashing under the tanker. The instant increase in airspeed was causing the aircraft to rapidly approach its maximum design inflight speed. As soon as they cleared the tanker, the pilot put the B-47 into a steep vertical climb, bleeding the airspeed off and now scaring the pilot and co-pilot of the tanker as they observed the huge bomber climbing directly in front of their nose!! I was always glad that I never got assigned to a B-47 squadron!

Around 1963, our crew had a serious air refueling mishap while flying over the Mediterranean Sea during the height of the cold war. We were within a minute of finishing our last (of three) refuelings on our 24hr mission, before departing the coast for our return to the U.S.. A sudden updraft caused us to nose upward towards the tanker and the boom reached its inner limit before the boom operator could dis-engage it, ramming the boom through the roof/refueling receptacle, and causing our aircraft to depressurize instantly to around 35,000ft. We had fuel leaking all over the cockpit inside, so we declared a “Mayday,” and were immediately cleared by Barcelona Approach Control for a straight-in emergency landing at Moron AB, just outside of Sevilla. Since our weight was almost max gross, we had to land with the flaps up, a nose-up attitude of about 25degrees and a final approach speed of around 235KTS (about 270mph). With guidance from the Chief Boeing Test Pilot and SAC HQ on the radios, we made a perfect “grease job” landing at Moron, burned up the brakes, shredded the drag chute and came to a stop at the beginning of the overrun at the far end of the runway. We exited the bird rapidly, fearing a fire or an explosion, as the fire trucks foamed down the aircraft. Our pilot received a DFC from the Air Force for making the heaviest recorded landing in the history of the B-52D model. All in a day’s work, but one of those “moments of stark terror” in the midst of the “endless hours of boredom” that characterized “flying the big ones.”

Anyway, I hope you enjoyed the stories.

I did. I hadn’t previously realized how much there is to be said for being a grunt. BTW I am quite taken with the notion of an AB named Moron. What I want to know is who it was named after.

… continued on next rock …

Thanks for the entertaining thoughts! I have no idea re the possible naming of Moron AB, Spain. I think there was a little community in the vicinity of the base which probably was similarly named. I have no idea what “moron” stands for en Espanol. Quien sabe?

As far as I know it is simply a name. The full name of the town is Morón de la Frontera which simply means Morón of the border. According to a tourism web site I found:
“Its ancient name of Arunci is attributed to the Romans, but it has been known as Moron since the third century.”
(I often look these things up on the web.)
Now c’mon and give us old flyboys a break – we always referred to a “grunt” being a ground foot soldier, particularly in the Army. I’d never consider calling any marine I’ve ever met by that moniker.
It’s an honorable title; all Marines are infantry troops regardless of rank, gender, or MOS. At least they were when I was in, and they made a big point of it. That was the old Corps though; I wouldn’t know what is going on in the new Corps.
Re landing in Spain, we had reason to land there on a couple of other occasions, involving less serious maintenance problems. On one occasion, we were fortunate enough to be there during La Feria week, the Spanish equivalent of Mardi Gras. We spent some time in downtown Sevilla, actually viewing the running of the bulls from pretty close range. I often wondered why the young, brave (?) Spanish men thought they were impressing their girl friends by running in front of a pack of big bulls? It was quite a site. Sevilla is a wonderful, picturesque city, almost immaculate downtown, with lovely parks, gardens, churches and many, many Carabineri (sp?) whom we were warned to give a wide berth to, similar to the Beefeater guards in London!
I am quite envious. I’ve been to Italy, France, Germany, England and Israel several times but I never made it to Spain.
Hope to chat with you again in the future.
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From: Peter Neilson
Date: 6/11/2007
Subj: ARL’s discoveries

The geekiest vacations can be safely ignored. They are merely things that you, ARL and I already have done, are still doing, or might do eventually, and generally are pretty much worthwhile, with the possible exception of the Star Trek conventions. I mean, why limit oneself to a single flavor of sf?

The best illo, by the way, was for the computer museum. It showed spacewar correctly on a correct rendition of a PDP-1 display. One gathers that the artist actually played spacewar, or cribbed the illo from someone who had.

Probably the latter. I never knew anybody who actually took a picture of the screen, though I suppose somebody must have. I, ahem, am one of the many people who played spacewar on the PDP-1. Back when I was working at AFCRL one of the other people employed there was Fuzzy Pink Wisowaty, nowadays known as Marilyn Niven. Her lab had a PDP-1 with, naturally, spacewar on it. One of the rules was that whenever the machine was moved, spacewar was the first program that was brought up on it.
The sheep are a different problem entirely. You are right not to speculate on how Dr. Lewis found that website, so instead I will make a stupid guess. He was looking for something else entirely, and Google (or some other compounder of URLs) presented him with the sheep. Being of a thrifty nature (you can tell from his appreciation of bagpipe music) Dr. Lewis realized that the opportunity gained must not be lost, and knew exactly who would have need for the information to be found by visiting that website. Hence he sent it to you, knowing you would not squander it. You wouldn’t, would you?
Oh, I deem it likely that he found it quite by accident whilst searching for something else. It is what that something else might be that is a candidate for speculation of the rankest sort. I for one propose to dismiss it as an instance of a search that dare not speak its name, and move on.

Of course I didn’t squander it. Waste not, want not, and all that sort of rot, you know. I deemed it a statistical certainty that there were those among my readership who were, ah, desirous of acquiring just this sort of information. Since the improvement of the minds of all of my readers is my chiefest concern I saw it as my duty to make sure that the information is available to my readers.

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From: Liviu Lalescu
Date: 6/12/2007
Subj: About your site

I have seen your web page https://richardhartersworld.com, while searching for an explanation of the longest increasing subsequence in O(n log n). I have now seen the jokes and puzzles and they are great. All the information is nice. Congratulations for such a great site! I think I shall place a link on my web page relating to your page.

I’m glad that you like the site and I very much appreciate the kind words. The virtue of the site, if there be such, is that readers can be amused and can improve their minds all at the same time.
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From: Anke Brinkmann
Date: 6/5/2007
Subj: spruce street philly

I have been living there in 1994 … had to laugh about your observations, the coffee pot, … J

I no longer remember where the pied-a-terre was and Silke has since moved to Ann Arbor. It’s a pity; Philadelphia is much more European in style insofar as any US city can be European in style. Ann Arbor is a ESU (Enormous State University) college town. It is filled with corn-fed blonde gods and godesses passing time in sanitized kitsch coffee shops. I suppose there might be a fur-lined pair of handcuffs or two in Ann Arbor, but if there are, you may be sure that they come in decorator colors.
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From: Anthony R. Lewis, PhD, FN
Date: 6/8/2007
Subj: Geekie things

Here’s another weird site for you.

The 15 Geekiest Vacations

But, but, but, …, they all seem perfectly reasonable to me. I will admit that I’ve had some difficulty convincing Our Lady of the Large Black Dog of that.
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From: Joseph Boxhorn
Date: 6/5/2007
Subj: Top ten signs that you’re a fundamentalist Christian


My wife came up with an explanation for number 6: The Bible gives no evidence that Mary enjoyed it. Truly a conception without sin or heavy breathing.

According to Luke 1:35, in the RSV, the angel Gabriel tells Mary that “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you;…”

There is a certain paucity of details but the process sounds a bit irregular. It seems to me that the record says nothing of her enjoyment one way or another.

Something that had previously escaped me comes to mind though. If it weren’t for the certified holiness of all parties involved one could read the passages as describing the actions of a procurer (the angel Gabriel) soliciting the favors of a young woman for a third party (the Holy Spirit).

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From: Michel Durinx
Date: 6/10/2007
Subj: zero based indexing

of course I want it to be a mess! There is no 1AD, 1BC mess if you kindly agree on the `sensible’ solution, in the same way there would be no 0AD, 0BC mess. But we know that didn’t happen, what with written reports of upheaval in the empire.

There are always reports of upheaval in every empire. It’s one of rules of writing history.
I’m pretty sure I read on a parchment somewhere that the entire economy went down in 16AD, when the 4-bit computers reached the end of the address space they assigned for years.
I believe there was such a parchment. If I recall correctly there was a major depression in 4AD for similar reasons. There may have been a time of troubles in 256 AD but I don’t have that parchment any more.
ps — your sig said: But the rhetoric of holistic harmony can generate
into a kind of dotty, Prince Charles-style mysticism. — Richard Dawkins
—–> I think you want an extra <de> in the word <generate>; I propose at the beginning.
An excellent change, but it reminds me that it is long past time to change signatures.
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From: Anthony R. Lewis, PhD, FN
Date: 6/8/2007
Subj: We’re not number one

Once again furriners have outpaced us.

adultsheepfinder.com – New Zealand’s #1 Internet Dating Site

I won’t even begin to speculate as to how you find these things. I can only hope that what happens in New Zealand stays in New Zealand.
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From: Derek Detjen
Date: 6/4/2007
Subj: The original “black box”

I was just reading some of your enjoyable treatises, and came upon the one about Darwin’s black box. It got me to thinking about the fellow college student who later invented the original black box. Don Poynter was a student at the U. of Cincinnati in the ’50s at the same time as I. He was also the drum major in the 300+ piece Cincy marching band, quite an impressive sight as he led the entourage down the closed end of the stadium and out onto the field for the pre-game festivities at each Cincy home game. I didn’t know Don personally, but often wondered at what point in his young career he decided to make a little black box and become a millionaire.

For at least two generations, every novelty store in the U.S. marketed the original little black box, which had a switch on top of it. Activating the switch caused the box to vibrate for a few seconds until a little green hand snapped into view, shutting the switch off. Later on, a piggybank version was made; putting a nickel, dime or quarter into a slot on the top activated an electric circuit which caused the little green hand to pop up, grab the coin and disappear back into the box!

As a college marketing and management prof for many years, I always told my marketing classes about Mr. Poynter, illustrating that there is always a way to find the gold at the end of the rainbow, if one is ingenious enough to come up with something new! Look at the bottom of any “black box” and it will say “Poynter Enterprises, Cincinnati, OH.”

Now that’s very interesting. I remember seeing those black boxes. I always thought they represented the true spirit of philosophy or something like that.

Are you sure, though, that it said “Poynter Enterprises?” I did a bit of searching on the web and all the references I found to his company were “Poynter Products”. I did turn up a nice link to his stuff from the U of C online magazine at


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From: Bill Boardman
Date: 6/9/2007
Subj: Face upon the floor

This also is one of my favorites. I have a copy of the poem that I acquired from the teller house in 1954 while attending the University of Colorado. My copy says “Face upon the floor”. I have been there a few times and there is indeed a face painted upon the floor, who knows when it was painted

I should add that I also have memorized the poem and you current version is the one that I have memorized.

Of course I have also recited it many times, sometimes better than others, seems that a few beers can impede the memory.

According to Alice Gates, then of the Gilpin County historical society, the origin was:
“It was painted there one summer evening in 1936 by two artists, Herndon Davis and Frank Gates, as they discussed methods of painting over a few beers in the bar. To illustrate their points they painted the face on the floor. Next morning they hurried back to the bar in order to remove their work done as a prank actually, but the attendant insisted they leave it, as he had already realized its appeal to the general public.”
I’ve never actually been to the Teller House to see the Face. If all goes well I may get there this summer.
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From: Prbolduc
Date: 6/3/2007
Subj: Tribute to Feghoot

Loved it!

Permission to send it as my weekly Feghoot to a couple of dozen friends, family, and co-workers? Since I sent out #50 a couple of weeks ago, it will still resonate!

But of course. I’ve always counted it as one of my finer efforts.
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From: Michel Durinx
Date: 6/1/2007
Subj: zero based indexing

“Just consider the confusion created by the 1 AD, 1 BC mess.”

Zero-based indexing is a false solution to the problem as it leaves you with a 0 AD, 0 BC mess!

This is a tricky issue. Without 0 you are necessarily in the 1 AD, 1 BC mess – if it is a mess. With the zero, however there is no problem – unless you want it to be a mess. After all, there is no 0 BC, or, if you like, 0 BC and 0 AD are the same date since zero years before the birth of Christ is the same thing as zero years after the birth of Christ.

It all depends upon whether you are into one’s complement arithmetic or two’s complement arithmetic. In one’s complement arithmetic there is a minus zero and a plus zero. In two’s complement arithmetic one gets by quite nicely with a single unsigned zero.

(I’m not sure this is relevant, but it could be profound if you don’t look too closely.)

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From: ùéìåç
Date: June/1/2007
Subj: ????

Always dreamed of

Always dreamed of what? I take it that you fell asleep while you were writing.
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This page was last updated June 15, 2007.
It was moved January 9, 2008

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June 2007 TOC
Archived letters
Hyde County, South Dakota is the Pin Tail Duck Capital of the world. Visit scenic Highmore, SD in 2007!