Richard Harter’s World
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November 2009

Letters to the editor, November 2009

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 And, of course, anything marked not for publication is not for publication.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 November 2009.

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From: Suford
Date: 2 October 2009
Subj: Dancing on the edge of forever

Hey Harter!

I’m not sure you are right about it only being humans who have a theory of self or of mind. There is at least a rudimentary version of it in animals who worry about whether you are mad at them or not, whether they have done something you won’t approve of. They would have to model your reactions to something and integrate it with their experience with you. Sure sounds like theory of mind to me.

I would also think some sort of sense of having a self must occur in species who have hierarchies. In order to act distinctly to different members of their own specias a creature has to have a sense that these different members are distinct from each other in some way. Otherwise, why behave differently to each? And if they are all different and have their positions, one must oneself be different and have a position. This gets mammals and birds and the cetacians into the category of having a theory of mind and maybe of self.

There are subtleties beneath subtleties here. I will refer you to my review of “Theories of Theories of Mind” at, though I see that it somehow doesn’t have an important observation that I had been sure I had included.

A theory of mind in this context is the belief on the part of one animal that another animal has an independent mind that thinks and has its own knowledge of the world. Now this may seem like an obvious thing to us – we humans have theories of mind. That is, we can and do think about what other creatures are thinking. This ability is very useful to our species.

I wrote a story about this once called “Catching Rabbits”. The essence is that humans learned how to catch rabbits by learning how to think like a rabbit. Again, obvious, or is it?

As it turns out, it is not. Animals don’t need a theory of mind to interact with other animals. Bridger (the large black dog) loves me and in sensitive to my moods. He is keenly aware of which actions on his part get the responses from me that he wants. He doesn’t need to know that I have a mind.

I don’t think it extends to lizards and spiders, though, unless there is work I am unaware of. I think differential reactions between members of those creatures are more based on chance overlaps between the pheromones of one with the sensors and chance sensitivities of the other. Some interesting experiments are possible.

This reasoning leads to a distinction between societies of creatures where the members have emotional and or intellectual processing moderating their interactions with other members and groups of creatures where the interaction is based on physical sensations being stronger or weaker or the sensory apparatus of an individual being sensitive in this range or another. {So these aliens are experimenting with creatures from a primative world to see whether their interactions are physically based, emotionally based or intellectually based… Grafted onto a space-opera genre there could be some >great humor/social commentary possibilities.}

I think I’ve read that story.
Back to your “review,” I recall being very struck as a teen by all the desire the Renaissance writers had to “live forever in their work.” It seemed very logical to me. After all, the ones we were reading had done it for 400 to 600 years. I was also aware already of how some of my parents mannerisms and other patterns (most of them entirely trivial) lived on in me and how I felt I had a piece of them whenever I caught myself doing or saying something typical of them. So we pass on some of our habits of thought or action–subroutines–to those that come after.
Somewhere, I think it is in one of my texts on the philosophy of mathematics, or else in Mayr’s Philosophy of Biology, there is a remark about references. In the field in question, for the longest time commentaries went back to Aristotle. In effect, only the ancients had intellectual immortality. In the Renaissance thinkers started building on each other. All of a sudden it became possible to be like Aristotle, to become an intellectual immortal. The thought must have been very heady.
I’ve heard that the remake of Fame is not particularly good. However, only a teenager would think the fleeting fame of success in the performing arts was immortality. Then again, few of us even manage to reach the height of a brief comet across the sky. This leads to turning the question around: what might we do that would be memorable? Something possible within our talents… (something good, preferably).
Something interesting is going on with the internet. Time leaches away fame. Until recently the artifacts that support fame vanished as fame vanished. Now, however, the internet preserves everything. Most of the ocean of dross shall never be accessed again. Here and there, by chance and random selection, some it shall resurface. I suspect that our chances for memetic immortality lie with being a fortunate here and thereian.

Always stimulating talking to you,

— Suford

Likewise. My apologies for being remiss in replying but life has been quite overwhelming of late. I must speak to it about that.
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From: Anthony R. Lewis, PhD, FN
Date: 12 November 2009

It’s Elevator/Escalator Safety Awareness Week;=&year;=


Weeks come and go. They complained of Caligula that he had 200 holidays in a year. Nowadays we have perpetual awareness.

BTW, What or who is antoher?

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From: Jamie Landeg Jones
Date: 5 October 2009
Subj: kashka ‘all men must die’ page

just found your page – her site is still available on the internet archive site:

Haha, her site written when the bloke she cheated on ME with cheated on HER.

karmas a bitch, eh?


My apologies for not answering sooner – sometimes I get behind on my email. It’s some kind of karma thing. Thanks muchly for writing. You may be sure I will link to the archive page.

As you say, karma is a bitch.

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From: Brian Malcolm
Date: November 5, 2009
Subj: Sparks Toyota Welcomes You to The eVIP Program

Dear Richard,

I just wanted to email you a quick note to say thank you for becoming an eVIP customer at Sparks Toyota for your Toyota Corolla.

We will be sending you periodic emails regarding your Corolla. These emails will consist of service reminders, important safety/recall information, as well as special offers in our Service, Parts and Sales Departments. We are confident that you will find our eVIP program to be beneficial.

You can schedule your service appointment on our website by clicking here:

After scheduling, you will automatically be sent a confirmation email and a reminder email prior to your appointment date.

[snip sundry merchandisingoffers]

Dear Brian,

It is true that my name is Richard Harter and that I own a Toyota. However your customer lives in South Carolina whereas I live in South Dakota. I suppose it is easy enough to confuse the two states – they both start with “South” – they are really are quite different. For example, the climate in these parts is more extreme than that of South Carolina. On the other hand we never have hurricanes here. Then too, your Richard Harter owns a Corolla whereas I own a Prius. The folks at Capital Motors in Pierre, South Dakota take care of my maintenance. I suppose I could drive to Myrtle Beach to have my oil changes done, but by the time I got there and back it would be time for another oil change. I would like to avail myself of your excellent service, but as you can see, it just isn’t practical.

By the by, if you do locate your customer, you would do him a service if you would tell him to get in touch with me. You have my email address – it’s [email protected]. You aren’t the only ones that have us confused. Richard has a mortgage with Country Wide. They keep sending me emails telling me that he has paid his latest mortgage payment. I would forward them to him, but sadly I do not have his email address.

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From: Simon R. LaPlace
Date: 15 October 2009
Subj: Jim McBeth

I’m trying to locate Jim McBeth to get permission to reprint an article he wrote for the Scotsman. Any help you can provide would be greatly appreciated.

Thank you,
Simon R. LaPlace
Editor-in-Chief, Connecticut Freemasons I’m sorry, I don’t have any information about his whereabouts.

Amused refutation
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From: Peter O’Brien
Date: 2 November 2009
Subj: Geoffrianism???

Dear Mr., Dr. or Prof. Harter

                 I’ve just stumbled across your “Evolution Quiz” at and I admit that I don’t know as much as I should about the history of evolutionary theory; what, please, is Geoffrianism??? A Google search on the word produced four hits, one of them your original article at the URL above, and the other three, references to it! I’ve certainly heard of Lamark, but who was Geoffrey? And what was his theory or teaching?

Best regards
Peter O’Brien

The Geoffry/Geoffrey/Geoffroy (I’ve seen all three spellings) is Étienne Geoffroy Saint-Hilaire. Geoffroyism turns up some hits so the page probably should be changed accordingly. At this point in I don’t remember whether Geoffrianism is a typo, a neologism, or actual usage. If it is the latter I probably got it from Ernst Mayr. The wikipedia entry is

I hope this helps,
Richard Harter (Mr.)

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From: Michael James
Date: 10 October 2009

Hello, How’s your day going today, well my name is Michael James i work for an advertising company called MODELA INC in England.It is my duty to let you know that your portfolio has been randomly selected for a Coca Cola advert that would be used for the coming world cup in South Africa. This process is so simple because you are just getting paid for using your picture. I would be needing your Contact Info (E-mail addy) for further correspondence concerning this. Thanks for your time. Michael James,
Director: MODELA INC Croydon . England…

Dear Michael,

You must appreciate that I don’t believe any of this for a moment, but you’ve aroused my curiosity. What is the scam?

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From: Peter Neilson
Date: 14 oct 2009
Subj: Whatever

The cybernetic incarnation of Dr. Flynn is failing to pay proper attention to your webworks. In particular, it failed to notice this one:

<table cellpadding="5"><tr><td><strong>
<h3>Recent Issues</h3>
<a href="2009/toc09aug.html">August, 2009</a><br>
<a href="2009/toc09sep.html">October, 2009</a><br>
<a href="2009/toc09oct.html">October, 2009</a><br>

The reference for September is correct, but it is decorated badly. It is getting ready for Halloween? Will it remain until Christmas, on the principle that 31 OCT = 25 DEC?

Not at all. It was there on the principle that October has 61 days.
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From: Paul Morrison
Date: November 1, 2009
Subj: Whatever

Google just pointed me at the debate going on about Data Flow and FBP in Google Groups – it would be so great if even one of them had read my book.. I have sort of skimmed some of the discussion, and I don’t know whether to try to counter each of the posts (well, the more wrong-minded ones), or just cry… The whole discussion seems to be a capsule of what is wrong with the industry right now. Anyway, it’s good to see someone discussing FBP, and I liked the way you contrasted conventional and data flow programming, and the points you made summarizing its pros and cons. I also mean to read your argument about Fermi’s paradox – have you seen David Brin’s suggestion that most life develops on water worlds?

Maybe we can exchange ideas…

Thank you for writing and for the kind comments. They are appreciated.

I went back and read my Fermi article. It’s rather better than I had remembered it being. I remember Brin’s suggestion. Like many other suggestions it might be spot on or it might be totally off the mark. The difficulty with this sort of speculation is that we are more aware of our ignorance than we were when the world and science fiction were young. We blithely assumed that we represented the norm in so many ways. Be that as it may the URL for the article is

Actually the debate was in usenet news groups; Google carries them, adds their own, and sort of pretends that the whole affair is theirs.

I’m not particularly surprised at the varied responses, including the wrong-minded ones. Such is the nature of open fora, particularly when the ideas being presented are unfamiliar. Bester (or was it H.L. Gold) once characterized the ideas in SF as being like a conversation in a pub. The idea spinning is the kind of playing with ideas that goes on when the day’s work is done and you sitting with friends and having a cool one. There is another side to pub conversations; they get very heated at times and many have strong opinions about things about which they know very little.

There is another side to these discussion groups; when one is thinking out something one can use them as sounding boards. Amidst all the dross there will be some things to think about. More often than not the useful comments are misunderstandings rather than suggestions. In this case the comments tell me that the advantages were not well spelled out and that there should have been more about the different kinds of dataflow languages.

I expect that I will go on to do a part 2 that compares several languages. The ones that I have in mind are Hermes (now defunct but interesting), Erlang (an outlier but very much part of the scene), Axum (a new language being developed at Microsoft), and material drawn from your book. That would be from your on line pages; thank you very much for making them public.

The point of all of this is to clarify my own thinking. As might be evident I am (slowly) working on developing a new language. A while back I laid out a complete specification for a language. I expect that in the long run I will strip out most of the specification and end up with something else entirely.

One of the elements of that language is data flow programming. As it happens I took a rather different approach from the network model or the business data flow model. I did an implementation of the scheduler. That’s working and is reasonably efficient. The question I am dealing with now is “Did I Do The Right Thing?” To me, this involves research into other ideas and a lot of thinking about how programming actually works (if it does).

Perhaps we can even exchange a few ideas along the way.

Richard Harter

PS: Unless you prefer me not to, I will post a copy of this letter in the correspondence column of my website. Correspondence after that would be private, but I like my readers to get a taste of the email my site gets.

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This page was last updated November 16, 2009.

Richard Harter’s World
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November 2009