Richard Harter’s World
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October 2009

Letters to the editor, October 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 And, of course, anything marked not for publication is not for publication.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 October 2009.

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From: Bron C Nelson
Date: 13 October 2009
Subj: Sorting “almost sorted” data

I was working on the problem of sorting an array of “nearly-sorted” data, and had come up with a couple of interesting ideas, which I then implemented. In considering whether or not to publish something, I did a web-search, and was more than a little deflated to find that you had already come up with essentially exactly the same ideas already. The only difference is that you considered the case where a element is displaced from its correct sort order by no more than k positions, while I am interested in the case where the value of the sort key has >changed by no more than some delta.

I hadn’t thought of delta variants. It comes to much the same thing if the sorted data is approximately linear. However the impact does depend upon whether delta is additive or multiplicative.
Looking at your web page ( I get the impression that you never actually implemented code for these ideas, nor was ever published about it (other than on your web page of course). Yes/no?
The material in the website is a repris of an answer I gave in a discussion in the usenet comp.theory newsgroup. I’ve never published it, nor have I implemented code for them. I suppose I should have but the algorithms and analysis are quite straightforward, and I didn’t see a need to do more.
It turns out this case of nearly sorted data can arise in rendering computer graphics, and so is of some interest. For the data set I’m currently looking at, doing a “delta sort” is about twice as fast as simply doing a full re-sort, although clearly this is strongly dependent on the data and on the size of the delta (and of course, on the quality of the implementation :-)).
That sounds about right. Tightly coded comparison sorts use n*log(n) operations whereas the delta sort would use n*log(k) operations which gives an estimated speedup factor of log(n)/log(k). Given the extra complexity a factor of two is not surprising. The real complication is that the problem is probably one of those situations where specialized sorts have real advantages.
I welcome anything you might have to say on the topic; thanks for your time.
You’re welcome. It might be worth publishing. I had supposed that it was obvious and well known, but sometimes the obvious is overlooked. If you want to take a shot at publishing let me know if I can be of any help.
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From: panos kehagiopoulos
Date: 2 October 2009
Subj: Can we change the “flatness” of technology?

Dear Mr Harter,

I would like to thank you very very much for taking the time and reply to my mail.

I must say that I am delighted to hear from you.
I would like to tell you that i have nothing to do with “mysticism”, “conspiracies” and all this charming stuff. The idea i have about myself is that i am one of the most fanatical users of logical (not reasonable-from Reason that is) thinking, hating jumping to conclusions that will satisfy my various “egos”. Instead, I prefer reaching by touching any conclusion. My conscious pursue in life is through the angle of trying never to identify reality with my wishes.
This is all very well, but it suffices to do the thing; talking about doing it can be frosting on a non-existent cake.
Anyway, what i am going to ask you- based on your reply – would require from you to you (rhetorical that is) first, 3 answers:

1) Do you think it is the right thing to pursue something that may not exist?

We may as well call it the right thing since life imposes such pursuits upon us – it’s a side effect of imperfection.
2) Do you think that if somehow you crossed your road with the “Point”, you will be able to recognize it? How do you know? What makes you sure about it?
I’m not sure what you mean by crossing my road with the “point”. If you mean recognizing the inflection point of the rate of change – no. No one will be able to recognize it at the time. People will make statements, some proclaiming the moment has arrive, others that it has already passed, and still other that it has yet to come. All will be blowing smoke. The difficulty is that there won’t be a single sharp point – technological change is a diffuse process with large scope. Until time is well past the inflection point we won’t know enough to know what happened.
3) Would you be prepared to search for something that seems to turn 180 degrees the idea you have about the world and yourself around you?
Maybe. It depends on what I’m asked to do. For example, I don’t think I’m willing to take LSD to expand my consciousness.
If your answers are yes and wish to search further please allow me to put the problem in a different view.

Let’s say our problem here is to find the technology that will allow us to make matter ourselves.

Is this a typo? What does do you mean by “make matter”?
Based on your reply “The answer is almost certainly no.” I will try and appeal to your “almost”. The new “perspective” that i am proposing is this:

What if survival and evolution is not an end in itself as we all for ages think and act upon.

What is this we all and these ages you mention? Evolution as a theory is barely 200 years old, if we count Lamarck. Finding God or Allah or Samadhi or Nirvana as ends in themselves have been popular for ages.
What if (all) life is a running of a problem solving mechanism simply with a 0, an 1 and “motion” that produces- while it solves problems- “evolution” and we call it “survival”. That what we see is nothing more than the solutions to various problems that conditions set to “life” to start solving. (think about it: what kind of wisdom produces mechanisms in order to survive that only 1% manage to survive. How could one trust this as mechanism for “survival”?)
Okay, we can think of life as a problem solving mechanism. Life solves the problem of keeping the world populated with life. It’s quite good at that; the world has been populated by life for upwards of three and a half billion years. Life survives; organisms don’t.
If the above hypothesis is correct then instead of looking for the answer to the unknown and undiscovered infinite it would make sense to look at the smallest dot of our existence.
But you haven’t said what the question is, so what does it mean to look for the answer? Or are you proposing that we first find “the answer” and use the answer to discover what the question is? That’s actually a fairly common human activity, particularly in the high tech world. People create things and then ask, now that I’ve made it, what is it good for? That said I don’t much like your infinite and smallest dot. Infinity is one of those things that keep philosophers busy when they could be more profitably spending their time weeding their garden. You don’t even want to know what physicists think of your smallest dot of existence.
Based on that and using your example my question would be: Is it possible to find the “mother” of pairs of genomes that contain in capsule all that is found to all other billions pairs. Can we identify the lowest common denominator of all pairs of genomes down to one pair of genome? (since all of them were the “solutions” that this first pair started to produce). I based that on your… “only an infinitesimal percentage are viable.”
In a word, no. It is not possible. In fact, it would be a good question in a biology quiz to present your proposition and ask: What is wrong with this idea?
You say “science and technology research is much more efficient”. Is it because the questions we ask to solve are different to the ones that “real” nature asks giving us the impression of efficiency? (since we ask ourselves questions that we know where to look for answers-self vindicating that is. Or as you put it, “viability is idiosyncratic”)
Science and technology research is more efficient these days than it once was because we have a lot more tools than we once did and the tools we have now are a lot more efficient.

That said, you are nibbling on the edge of an interesting question. Is our search for scientific knowledge fundamentally limited because of what we are, that, so to speak, we are blind to the really important questions.

Finally as you say “I suspect that it will remain flat indefinitely until there is some random change in circumstances that jogs us into another state. It isn’t the problem solving software that is the problem, it is us humans.

I hope that with your last paragraph you could make sense of my 3 rhetoric questions to you. If you honestly believe that it is you, me and all humans, do you think that we can solve our own problem for good? Is it in our hands or are we doomed? Cares anybody to find out?

I don’t think there is a well defined “our own problem” to be solved. As to our existence after the projected flattening, if we continue to exist, then we have solved the problem of existing. That is all that life asks of us. Everything else we do is what we do to fill the time while existing.

Can we can continue to exist as a species? Oh yes, I think so. That doesn’t require much effort on our part. I grant that we are an insane species, one badly equipped to live in a civilized society, and one prone to spasms of self destruction, but we do manage to get on with it, none-the-less.

Finally, i have accidentally followed some logical “dots” that led me to believe (cant double check it yet), that it is not the electrons that go around like mad cows but us. The electron is stable and vibrating and all else around it are going like nuts including earth, each of which has its own “natural laws”.

Needless to say that i -let’s use the word- “saw” the above by researching something else, based on the problem solving hypothesis as the basic mechanism of life.

We look like the man who have painted the whole floor apart from the point on where he stands and now needs to reach a solution quickly to get out. Cant wait for the paint to dry because he will be late for his meeting. Is McGuyver only in Hollywood?

It turns out that Mc Guyver was only for Hollywood – the Mythbusters went through his filmed exploits and almost none of them actually work.

I like your analogy. So the guy misses his meeting. Maybe he loses his job, maybe missing it was the best thing that ever happened to him. In either case he gets on with the rest of his life.

If you find the above “one of the insane things” you are used to, please accept my sincere apologies for stealing your time in reading this.

I wish you all the best for the future

And you also,
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From: Joe Fisher
Date: 8 October 2009
Subj: Peruvian economy argument

I don’t know who wrote that piece on how to argue, but I could top it! I would include this line:( referring to your opponent’s argument:”Yes; I see where you’re coming from( false agreement); that opinion was widely held in some circles( you just believe what others tell you), not that many years ago” ( i.e., you’re opinion is out of date)

Now that is wonderful. Thank you for the suggestion.
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From: Anthony R. Lewis, PhD, FN
Date: 25 Sep 2009
Subj: The Hazards of the Job

That indeed is a real concern. This is Posse Comitatus territory to say nothing of being Outlaw County. We were advised to take seriously signs that say “Trespassers will be shot! If you can read this you are trespassing!”.
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From: panos kehagiopoulos
Date: 22 Sep 2009
Subj: Can we change the “flatness” of technology?

Dear Mr Harter,

Having read your article on your website i stood in front of the following:

“If we translate this out of the mathematics what this says is that the rate of change of technology increases steadily until it reaches a critical level. At that point it goes pseudo-asymptotic and increases very rapidly for a short period of time. At the end of this short period it flattens out drastically and for all practical purposes the era of substantive change is over.”

At this stage is it possible to find the Archimedian point by human intervention and by “unlocking it” to discover all science and all technology?

I assume that by “the Archimedian point” you mean the point of maximum rate of change. The answer is almost certainly no. The difficulty is two fold; firstly the universe is much larger than we and our technology are, and much more intricate; secondly the possibility space of techology is enormous.

Let me give you an example. Our genome has about three billion base pairs. There are about 2**6000000000 different possible genomes of that size. Of that huge number only an infinitesimal percentage are viable. Which ones are they? There is no way of knowing – viability is idiosyncratic.

Evolution doesn’t find optimal genomes; life begins with viable genomes and tinkers with them to find better ones. Evolution uses an inefficient and wasteful algorithm; science and technology research is much more efficient. In the end, however, we are still tinkering, scractching in a small subspace of the enormous space of possibility.

If we see the process of “the rate of change of technology” as a “problem solving” mechanical process that reaches as you described the “flatness”. Can we say that it reached the “problem that cannot solve” and die? Is it theoretically possible to swift the “problem solving software” of the process? or is it doomed to stay flat?
I suspect that it will remain flat indefinitely until there is some random change in circumstances that jogs us into another state. It isn’t the problem solving software that is the problem, it is us humans.

Thanks very much for writing. You have raised some interesting questions.

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From: jaxtr
Date: 26 Sep 2009
Subj: Your invitation from Kael Loftus is about to expire

Hello Richard,

On May 26, 2009, Kael Loftus sent you an invitation to check out jaxtr, the service that lets you call anyone, anywhere for free using your phone.

On Monday (Jun 15), this invitation will expire. To get started, click the following link:;=joininvite&tId;=460711755_18_450&cat;=r2

Sign up is free and takes less than a minute.

This is a one-time courtesy notification from jaxtr about the expiration of this invitation from Kael Loftus

Gee, it sounds wonderful. Too bad my email didn’t arrive in time. I guess I won’t make any more sarcastic comments about snail mail.
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From: Suford
Date: 22 September 2009
Subj: Dancing on the edge of forever

Wow! What an article! It makes us ponder whoever considered other dreams than the ones we ended up living. Having dreamt of being, variously, the next Madame Curie (that is, a great physicist not a woman who married her department head), the next Renata Tebaldi, another Katherine Hepburn, or another C.L. Moore, I know about the distance between dreams and abilities. I also know I could have become third rate imitations of these people–well maybe fifth rate for a few–if I had had the stubbornness. It greatly reduced the pressure and chaos that might have characterized my life to discover what a huge number of people have acting or singing talent and what an incredible amount of luck and persistance (and pure physical energy) it takes to pursue those fields! Isaac Asimov’s advice applies: don’t do this if you can possibly do something else! He meant writing, but I would also apply it to the performing arts, possibly all the arts.

It also causes me to contemplate the lives of people who did persevere but who are relatively unknown, though somewhat successful. For instance, becoming a poet is a particularly heavy load in this day and age, but I know two who have had that ambition from their youth. Both have persevered and written a great deal of poetry and published it. Jim Dorr you know; Google finds him as appearing in the International Who’s Who in Poetry for 2005 (and probably following years) and also notes:

James Dorr’s latest book, Darker Loves: Tales Of Mystery And Regret, was released December 2007 by Dark Regions Press as a companion to his earlier collection, Strange Mistresses: Tales Of Wonder And Romance. Dorr is an Active Member of SFWA and HWA, an Anthony (mystery) and Darrell (fiction set in the US Mid-South) finalist, a Pushcart Prize nominee, and has had work listed in The Year’s Best Fantasy And Horror eleven of the past sixteen years.

The other is a classmate of mine from high school who lives in Berkeley. She supports herself by performing readings and selling her self-published volumes of poetry. On a webpage for Zeitgeist Press, 21 of her books appear and the description:

Julia Vinograd is a Berkeley street poet. She has published 50 books of poetry, and won the American Book Award of The Before Columbus Foundation. She has three poetry CD collections: Bubbles and Bones, Eye of the Hand, and The Book Of Jerusalem. She received a BA. from the University of California at Berkeley and an M.F.A. from the University of Iowa. She received the 2004 Poetry Lifetime Achievement Award from the City of Berkeley. (see )

I knew to look for these people, but I have never heard a peep from any news or cultural media mentioning them. Ten years ago Googling Julia got very little, only references to her by other people on personal pages, so I am glad to see her stuff more widely available. A number of years ago Dorr gave me a copy of his bibliography which ran to many pages then and included magazines that paid in issues.

As with Nathan Childers’ Roger, we will see what becomes known and then endures. Nor should we feel it is too late for us to yet accomplish our own dreams. A few years ago, I sent my only completed novel to a publisher. It was (rightly, I fear) rejected, but I have not given up hope that one day I may yet manage to get it all together. Persuing one’s dreams is hard enough but there was no way I could persue four, not with my lazy temperament! We’ll see what happens – good luck with yours…


As usual, many thanks for the kind words and the lengthy commentary. With all due obeisance to the gods of modesty, I do think it is one of my better efforts. I remember James quite well. He and I were once dating the same young woman at the same time, sometimes even on the same day. (The lady in question had a date with one of us in the afternoon and the other in the evening.) Quite enterprising on her part and demanding too – in these matters one has to be quite careful with one’s endearments. Alas, I am constrained to confess that I cannot recall her name.

I googled on James and on Julia. If I can bring myself to find the time I may read something from both of them. Time seems to be in short supply these days.

The article/book review/essay/ficcione maneuvers in the territory defined by that most terrible of questions: What are we to make of our lives? This, in distinction to that other question that is asked in the end game: Whatever did you make of your life? In our youth we are – perhaps – possessed by dreams and ambitions. The article (for lack of a better word) does not really ask where they come from and why we should care about them.

I see they are remaking Fame. (That is what historians do, they remake fame.) Why fame? The song answers, “I want to live forever” (if I have the quote right). There are times in our lives when we face the prospect of (for us) the end of all things. That, I think, is the root of why we humans are so obsessed with death and immortality. Part of our very nature is a continuing concern for the future. To deny the future is to deny our selves, and we humans are very much taken with our selves.

It is not that way with other species. A bacterium goes with the flow. A spider follows its genetic programming – no existential questions needed here. An asocial reptile born from an egg needs more than genetic programming – it needs a mind that can learn from experience. And mammals need still more – they need to be able to learn from their own kind, even if it is only their mother. They don’t need a concept of self for that – only the programming that tells them how to interact and manipulate their own kind. A dog has no self and no theory of self.

When it comes to we humans, though, there is an added element – we have selves. Apparently there is an area of the brain that is concerned with a sense of self and a sense of others having selves. There is an interesting form of brain damage in which a person feels that someone else is not there, that the other persons body is there but there is, so to speak, no one inside the body, only a robot that is acting like the other person. Then too there are depersonalization experiences when one feels that one’s own self has vanished.

One of thelmost unique features of our species is that our minds have an actual theory of mind, an understanding that others have minds like our own, and a fully realized sense of self. It is one of my crochets that the theory of mind preceded the sense of self – that is, we learn that we have a self by realizing that others have selves.

But where is our self? Is is just in our heads? Oddly enough, no. Without others recognizing that we have a self and understanding something of the nature of that self, we are missing an essential element of selfhood. So there it is – our selfhood is not ours alone, it is distributed. We may be captains of our souls, but the crew has a say too.

And that is one of the things fame does for us, it preserves an element of our selfhood beyond our personal end of all things. Whether this makes sense is another matter. Reason suggests it is not, but reason is a poor guide to the heart. Reason says:

    The living seek to cheat the grave
    To leave their names on book and stone
    The immortality that they crave
    Is of the living and not their own.
    The dead, they feel no human want
    All mortal hunger is at an end
    It is eternity the dead confront
    The endless dark without a friend.
    The dead will never hear their name.
    Their ears are stuffed with mortal clay.
    They have no need for human fame;
    They never see the light of day.
    So reputation matters not
    For in the grave you only rot.
But the heart cries: “Remember me! Remember my name when I am gone.”

No doubt I have babbled far too long so I will close. I only ask Remember me! Remember my name when I am gone.

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From: mike Nolan
Date: October/1/2009
Subj: Order Jigsaw Puzzle Table

Hello Customer,

my name is Mike Nolan and i live in Utah,i want to know if you have Jigsaw Puzzle Table in stock and let me know wht you have in stock and if you do accept Credit card as method of payment so i may go aheard with my order.

I don’t exactly have one in stock but I can make one for you. It may take a little while, depending on the size and the number of pieces. I charge extra for more than three pieces. As for payment, I take cold hard cash – gold coinage (and lots of it) preferred.
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From: SilkWise Team
Date: How to argue effectively?

Dear Sir/Madam, is a popular question answer website. Some of our users asked the above question, and we think you are the domain expert who can provide a great answer to it. Can you help to answer the question or improve the current answer at the following link?,13606

SilkWise is the place to share your wisdom, build your networks, and market yourself!

SilkWise Team

I would be glad to answer the question – I am of course the world’s greatest authority on effective argument or, if not, I can play one in a community theatre – but unfortunately I cannot make heads or tails of your interface. I may be wise but I am not silkwise.
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This page was last updated October 14, 2009.

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