Russia's importance in the Balkans Regarding the opinion article "Russia's diplomatic playacting," (May 7): I was sorry to read Richard Hottelet's miscalculation of the vital role that the Russians can play in the peace negotiations with Yugoslavia. The late involvement of Russian peacekeeping troops in Bosnia was a turning point in that war as it gave the Serbs a point of contact with the West, which is so vital if true negotiations are to take place.

One would help a family cousin whose callous behavior had alienated his fellows, so it is understandable that the strong historic link of the Slavic nations and their religious affinity would encourage Russia to try to protect Serbia from the NATO onslaught. Far from play-acting, Viktor Chernomyrdin, who has already proven his diplomatic skills as a recent Russian prime minister, plays a major part in finding a point of agreement between two apparently irreconcilable forces. We owe it to the Yugoslav people, both Serbian and Kosovan, to find a peaceful solution.

David Barke Barnstaple, England

Apple vs. Microsoft Your article "New keys to driving your computer" (May 3) mentioned several advances Microsoft claims it will be making soon, but failed to recognize the advances Apple already has made. The article says that "Windows 2000 will include speech recognition and reproduction," but MacOS 8.0 already had both these features. The article says Internet phones are a thing of the future, but with a digital camera (some black-and-white ones as cheap as $30) and a wide variety of fairly cheap programs, it has been possible to do this on the Macintosh for years. Handwriting recognition is no "emerging technology." Apple first created this on the Newton more than four years ago. The article also says that "Dr Moore's theory [that chip size and price will be cut in half every 18 months] hasn't failed yet." On the contrary, the Pentium II was over four times the size of the original Pentium, and cost more, not less.

It seems that the main problem facing Apple isn't a lack of good products or software available for the Mac, but a simple lack of publicity. Every time Microsoft or Intel releases something Apple has had for months or even years, it's full-page news, with no mention of Apple in it. It's time for Apple to be taken out of the shadows that reporters have placed it in.

Dan LaLande Ashland, Ore.

Response to tornadoes applauded Once again, after the magnificent performance of citizens and relief agencies in Oklahoma City, I am proud to be an adopted Okie. But your articles ("Hit by havoc, Oklahoma responds" and "Oklahoma City's practiced response to second crisis," May 6) have reversed the sequence. The expectation of and preparation for tornadic storms was probably a major factor in the rapid and efficient relief work following the Oklahoma City bombing, while that experience fed back into outstanding services for victims of the recent tornadoes. Oklahoma has always been the world's bull's-eye for tornadoes. The government and media weather services are the best available and are backed up by a world-class government and university severe weather research center. The one thing that isn't up to speed, as pointed out in "When warning is not enough" (May 5), is building standards.

Builders, building regulators, and building insurers have failed to provide the kind of standards required in earthquake prone areas - or even "fraidy-hole" storm cellars, unless demanded by a property owner. Perhaps 40 lives and a billion dollar damage bill will force some reconsideration.

Douglas Lilly Norman, Okla.

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