This question could sound weird. I'm reading through a computer science book which is the only reference I personally have about an algorithm, and I'd like to get in touch with the author of the book, which is quite famous in the field. I don't understand some of the conditions stated in order to make the algorithm work. I have another book which implements the algorithm, but some of the key aspects are not actually explained, and somehow I don't find the correspondence with some of theoretic aspect.

Just to clarify the algorithm is a long division algorithm for which I've tried to work out the theoretic aspect exposed in the book by myself. Some of them are fine other instead aren't clear enough, at least to me. I've tried to ask in math exchange for some help I didn't get much information XD.

The issue is that apparently this professor has no longer an e-mail address, and he suggests that if someone wants to get in touch with him it's for the best if you use the "old fashion" mail post service... which I mean... it's not that handy...

Do you have any suggestions?

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    He says himself "old fashion" - so, that's your best bet. You are not going to argue with a famous author how he is supposed to interact with people, are you? Jan 30, 2017 at 16:43
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    I think I can guess who you mean. Honestly, there isn't anything to discuss. If your question is important enough to be worth the time for you to write a letter, then write a letter. If not, then don't. Jan 30, 2017 at 16:48
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    Indeed, the question does sound weird, but maybe for reasons other than you think. The professor appears to give clears instructions how to contact them. If you want to get in touch with them, I suggest you follow the instructions whether you find it handy or not.
    – quid
    Jan 30, 2017 at 17:01
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    I'm not sure how multiple people saying "write the man a letter" translates into "let it go". The professor says if you want to contact him, write him a letter, so ... write him a letter! As in, either type one up and print it on real paper, or find a pen or pencil and hand-write one using neat penmanship that should be legible by an 80-year-old emeritus professor.
    – shoover
    Jan 30, 2017 at 17:13
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    @user8469759 Ok, grant that you didn't want to argue about communication modalities. Now look at his point of view: he is famous and probably would get 1000 emails a day? (Much less famous people get a not far from that order of magnitude). No chance of being responded to. But, if people indeed have to think thrice before writing to him and make it worthwhile, not only will the letters be more relevant and meaningful, you have actually a real chance of getting a response. If one is too comfortable to actually go down and write a proper letter, the question might probably not be that urgent. Jan 30, 2017 at 17:34

2 Answers 2


Write the letter. You might not even have to mail it.

I think you will find that the effort of expressing your questions in writing may actually help you find the answers. For those who object that the same is true of email, I doubt it. With an actual, on paper, letter, things move more slowly, leaving more time for reflection, than with electronic communication.

  • That's what I thought actually. Out of curiosity what do you mean by "leaving more time for reflection"? Is that a "benefit" that you're pointing out? Jan 30, 2017 at 17:35
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    @user8469759 For many of us, email is "compose, hit 'send,' and move on." It is not unusual to find errors and other indications of haste in email. A postal letter has to be printed, maybe even proofread, put into an addressed envelope, and mailed. The very process leaves time to think. And, until the letter carrier picks it up, it's not "sent." You can actually stop a postal letter and revise it for some period of time. Yes, that's a benefit.
    – Bob Brown
    Jan 30, 2017 at 18:28

Do you have any suggestions?

My suggestion is for you to get some perspective. If the person you are referring to is who I (and everyone else here) think it is, you need to understand that this is a person who has reached an extraordinary level of celebrity in the scientific community. Saying he is "quite famous" doesn't begin to describe the situation accurately -- I'm talking about a level of fame where (I have seen this with my own eyes) when he gives a talk at another institution, star-struck graduate students and postdocs approach him one after the other asking to have their pictures taken with him. Moreover, this person famously dedicates his life to thinking, writing, and speaking at public events in various places. Being in close touch with his very large fan base is quite at odds with his lifestyle and his legendary dedication to his work.

In other words, there is a very good reason why he does not have a publicly listed email address.

For the same reason, I expect that even if you go to the small trouble of writing him a letter (which, amusingly and for a reason I can't quite understand, you seem to think is an incredibly onerous thing to do), the chances that you will get a reply seem rather low -- I wouldn't expect that he can spare the time to explain long division algorithms to random people asking for more details than he already put into his books. But in any case do give it a shot, in the event that you do get a reply you will have something to brag about to your friends. And maybe it will help free you from your psychological inhibition against writing old-fashioned letters, which is something that could be of independent benefit.

  • +1 Better put into words than I could have dreamt of doing. Jan 31, 2017 at 0:27
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    @CaptainEmacs thank you ☺️. FWIW your answers have on occasion given me the exact same feeling...
    – Dan Romik
    Jan 31, 2017 at 1:59
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    If you include an email address in your snail-mail letter, you might even get an email back — he does know how to send them; what he doesn't know how to do is read all the email he gets without taking 24 hours a day. Jan 31, 2017 at 2:34

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