Archive | February 2013

Lena and Anne

A few weeks ago I ran across articles discussing whether Lena Dunham was pretty enough to appear naked on Girls – a show she created, acts in, writes and directs.

… over on HBO Lena Dunham, star and creator of the acclaimed series Girls, was busy baring it all with impunity. Well, nearly all. The top half of all. Yes, for in no way the first time, Dunham’s character Hannah was seen topless throughout the episode, in situations both sexual and, well, ping-pong-related. Hannah and a new guy in her life, played by known dreamboat Patrick Wilson, spent a sexy and intimate pair of days together in Wilson’s character’s gorgeous Brooklyn brownstone, and in one scene they played ping-pong together, Hannah without her shirt on. And the Internet went crazy!

We don’t get HBO, and I’ve never seen Girls, so I didn’t have much to go on, but it seemed like an odd complaint. I have seen a few stills of Dunham. She’s cuter than some of the girls I was really stuck on in my youth, but she doesn’t have one of the body types we’re taught to expect in an actress.

It is my pet theory that we are wired to find beauty in people we love or want or admire or even share good experiences with, and that the entertainment industry knows and exploits that wiring. Even though you can find girls as pretty as most actresses in any shopping mall, we allow ourselves to be trained to think that starlets are exceptionally desirable. One fellow I read was complaining about the selling of Sarah Jessica Parker as a sex symbol – he didn’t find her all that attractive. I might complain about the Kardashians.

I expect that Dunham is already being accepted, and that her audience is finding the beauty in her – though some critics aren’t.

But this week seems to be all about hating Anne Hathaway, who has already been marketed as attractive. I’ve seen Hathaway in the Devil Wears Prada, Brokeback Mountain, Rachel Getting Married, and as the White Queen in Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. My impression is that she works hard and always does a good job. And Hathaway has one of the allowable body types – she’s very thin. But some people hate her anyway, claiming she acts so nice that she must be faking it.

Hathaway is the subject of more vituperative, angry scrutiny than perhaps any actress working today. “Shut up. Shut up, Anne Hathaway. I honestly don’t know what it is. Maybe I’m jealous, but I don’t feel jealousy. I watch her in outtakes, and I feel like she’s not a real person,” wrote a blogger for women’s-interest site Crushable. ”I don’t find her perfection charming. I find it annoying.”

“She always seems like she’s performing, and her favorite act is this overstated humility and graciousness,” said a blogger quoted by Brian Moylan in a piece for

The Oscars this year, far from an opportunity for Hathaway to overcome her deficit with the audience, just gave the so-called Hathahaters more ammunition — from her apparently revealing dress to her awed acceptance speech, which Hathaway began by whispering, “It came true.”

“Deep down, we loathe celebrities,”

I think we, in this case, is the media who will fan any flame to keep our attention. It says a lot that Dunham spoke out, or maybe tweeted out, for Hathaway:

On the day post-Oscars, the only person who had Hathaway’s back was Lena Dunham, actor and star of HBO’s Girls, who herself generated harsh feedback for her support of the actress.

NASA, Widom-Larsen and LENR Infighting

In a rambling article about low energy nuclear reaction politics and infighting, New Energy Times Publisher and Senior Editor Steven Krivit discussed the PR video by NASA physicist Joe Zawodny, the possible involvement of the Naval Research Laboratories and interviewed Lewis Larsen, the entrepreneur whose name is on the Widom-Larsen version of LENR theories.

“[NASA] weren’t interested in doing transmutations; they were only interested in commercially relevant information related to heat production.” “What proves that is that NASA filed a competing patent on top of ours in March 2010, with Zawodny as the inventor.” …  “NASA is not behaving like a government agency that is trying to pursue basic science research for the public good. They’re acting like a commercial competitor,”

NASA Mechanical Engineer Dennis Bushnell has also written in support of Widom-Larsen theory, and had obliquely mentioned some accidents, with few details:

“Several labs have blown up studying LENR, and windows have melted, indicating that, when the conditions are ‘right,’ prodigious amounts of energy can be produced and released,” …

I thought LENR was supposed to be very low power and safe, and had never heard mention of accidents. Krivit challenges the melted windows, but confirms that people have been injured and killed:

The explosions are difficult to keep secret. Most people who have been around the field know of them: Fleischmann and Pons in Utah, unidentified researchers at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, a group at SRI International, Tadahiko Mizuno in Japan, Jean-Paul Biberian in France, and another situation in a Russian lab a few years ago.

The only lab that may have blown up was the one in Russia. In the other situations, the experiment, not the lab, blew up. SRI International researcher Andy Riley was killed, and Michael McKubre was wounded. Mizuno lost his hearing for a week and came very close to sustaining severe injuries.

Krivit himself wrote a report on accidents for SciScoop in 2005, and gives credit to Jed Rothwell for assistance with the article. Rothwell seems to be banned from Wikipedia for wielding an array of sock puppets in defense of LENR. Krivit, for his part, has tangled with Cambridge Professor Brian Josephson, who shows interest in LENR and parapsychology, but has little use for New Energy Times. So I wonder.

This amusing sort of fighting and character assassination is certainly not unknown in science and technology. At least no one has electrocuted any stray dogs or cats (or elephants) yet, as happened when companies run by Edison and Westinghouse were competing over whether America would adopt DC or AC electric power.

Update 2013.03.07: I searched on Youtube for LENR Nasa, and ran across this eight minute conference clip in which James Martinez, a cold fusion promoter among many other pursuits, claims that he called NASA’s Dennis Bushnell expecting to talk to a fellow enthusiast, but was threatened instead. Martinez goes on to talk about meeting a man connected with film version of The Saint. That was significant to him because the MacGuffin in the plot was a formula for cold fusion. I went to Martinez’ website, and the lead story was How To Get More Traffic & Leads For Your MLM Network Marketing business.

We Don’t Need No Stinkin’ Filters

In, Post-Fukushima, Arguments for Nuclear Safety Bog Down, the NY Times discusses legislating nuclear safety in a post-Fukushima world:

Ever since the nuclear accident in Japan released radiation into the atmosphere, regulators in the United States have been studying whether to require filters, costing as much as $45 million, on the vents of each of the country’s 31 boiling water reactors.

The filters, which have been recommended by the staff of the regulatory commission, are supposed to prevent radioactive particles from escaping into the atmosphere. They are required in Japan and much of Europe, but the American utilities say they are unnecessary and expensive. …

The debate over the filters reflects a simmering tension that has been building inside the regulatory agency since the Fukushima accident in Japan. A tug of war among commissioners and between some commissioners and staff members has produced repeated votes that reject staff safety recommendations.

The pro-regulatory chairman resigned in protest, and further reading implies that votes are more correlated with campaign contributions than safety:

“It’s not the time to be rash with hasty new rules,” wrote Senator David Vitter of Louisiana, the ranking Republican on the Senate committee that oversees the industry, in a letter signed by six other senators. (Twelve senators — 11 Democrats and an independent — signed a letter supporting filtered vents.)

Representative John Barrow, Democrat of Georgia, in a letter signed by 25 other House Democrats, argued that the filtered vent “is not justified on a cost-benefit basis,” a fact the commission staff acknowledges. The commission must “achieve the regulatory goal in the safest, most effective, and least costly manner,” the letter said.

Many of these lawmakers, both Democrats and Republicans, have received significant campaign contributions from the industry.

Nuclear plants themselves are not cost-effective, and require boatloads of public money to even exist, but the least we can do is try to make them safe. Vitter was able to quell his last scandal when two of his prostitutes were found dead at the end of nooses. If we have a Fukushima-type meltdown in America, it may be him and the other filter opponents that are dangling.

The Not OK Corral

Bike-Corral Debate Exposes Tension in a Brooklyn Community

BEE’postrophe, KAY no’postrophe, ELL WYE ENN … First they opened a little cafe, then:

… they did what a handful of other small-business owners in New York had started to do: ask the city to install a bike corral, a new style of rack that accommodates multiple bicycles and is installed in the street, taking the place of a parked car. …

But … the bike corral set off backlash among many longtime residents and merchants in Crown Heights, who say that they were not consulted and that their parking needs were disregarded.

The Transportation Department says bike corrals alleviate sidewalk congestion and attract more business to a neighborhood, at the expense of only one car parking spot. …

But far from being a welcome addition, the corral has led to a petition seeking its removal, a counter-petition in support, heated community-board discussions and acrimonious debates on local blogs. How a 24-foot-by-7 foot rectangle of public outdoor space has provoked such controversy is a question that has many in the neighborhood puzzled.

Last night I watched shows set in England, Italy and Monte Carlo. There were bikes parked everywhere along narrow, medieval roads. But in NYC where roads are wide and built for autos, they can’t spare even one space.

Too Soon, Too Late

Seth MacFarlane gave us something to argue about instead of shootings, frackings, pipelines, sequesters, the erosion of the middle class and climate change. So naturally he should be shot.

Academy Award Show Raises Ratings and Hackles

“It is offensive, even though comedians have great latitude,” said Rabbi Marvin Hier, speaking of a skit in which Mr. MacFarlane, in character as the trash-talking teddy bear from his movie “Ted,” counseled Mark Wahlberg that it’s best to become Jewish and donate to Israel if you want to work in Hollywood. Rabbi Hier, an Academy member and dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Center here, was seconding an opinion offered earlier in a statement by Abraham H. Foxman, the national director of the Anti-Defamation League. Speaking by telephone Mr. Foxman said he was particularly troubled by the “duration and intensity” of a skit that was likely, in his opinion, to be seen as reinforcing anti-Jewish stereotypes among Oscar viewers around the world.

“It wasn’t funny,” Mr. Foxman said. “It was ugly.”

I only tuned in between 9PM and 10PM, so I missed that sketch, but I enjoy the discomfiture that has resulted.

I caught the Lincoln joke, but it wasn’t entirely new to me. A few days before, in his monologue, Conan O’Brien said something about presidents attending theatre and joked that Lincoln wasn’t known for staying for the whole show. The audience groaned and Conan complained, “150 years and it’s too soon for that joke?” MacFarlane went farther, alluding to Lincoln being shot in the head. Also getting a groan, he asked the same question. For people my age it was too soon, but I suspect that for a generation that has grown up mostly seeing Lincoln and Washington dancing in February car commercials, the Presidency isn’t exactly shrouded in dignity and reverence.

Last night I found a video clip of the Shatner bit, which included, “We saw your boobs,” the Radcliffe/Gordon-Levitt soft shoe, the LA gay men’s choir, the Tatum/Theron dance, the sock puppet version of Flight and Be Our Guest. MacFarlane is a more talented singer and dancer than I would have expected, but he is just as irreverent as I would expect from The Family Guy, which my daughter loves, but which I often find too reliant on puerile humor.

Frankly, Hollywood has been playing peek-a-boob for a century, so it was funny to see someone call them on it. It would be even more interesting to see someone get up there and call the industry on defending Roman Polanski and the casting couch culture – but that’s not gonna happen.

As the dominant culture, the Mandarins as Megan McArdle now calls them, become ever more remote and clueless, expect a younger generation of comedians to tap ever richer and more sensitive mines of humor in skewering them.

Driving Stupid

Autoblog Green embeds a 14 minute video of Micah Muzio, managing editor of Kelley Blue Books, and a cameraman driving a Tesla Model S from Las Vegas to Los Angeles. They deal with a bolt in one tire, eat yuppie food while charging at both fast and slow stations and worry about range. After Tesla advises them to keep the speed down to extend range, there are lots of shots of them driving only 58 while trucks and even (horrors) a Prius pass them up. Muzio appears happiest with the car near the end when he has plenty of charge for a short distance and can punch it as if conserving energy is not an issue. He admits this is their chance to “drive stupid.”

In the long term, though, conserving energy is the issue driving the very existence of electric vehicles, not showing off.

Academy Awards RIP

In an effort to make their Academy Awards seem more relevant, or popular, or something, the Academy is now calling them the Oscars like almost everyone else already did. They need to do something more to keep me awake past ten PM.

It used to be that I had seen many of the nominated films. Today, I have not seen a single one. Why?

Partially because we prefer spending money on live theatre. Partially because we don’t have a lot to spend now, and we know that films will be out on DVD or Netflix or cable TV eventually. Partially because my wife believes that we’ll bring home bedbugs. Partially because going to a noisy theatre often isn’t as satisfying as watching at home with a pause button. And finally, partially because we have so many other entertainment options at this point in history.

I’ll have to see Lincoln and the Life of Pi some day. Argo and Zero Dark Thirty are supposed to be very well made films, but Argo credits the CIA with rescuing hostages when in fact the Canadians were more instrumental. There is some debate over whether Zero Dark Thirty credits torture with leading to the killing of Osama Bin Laden, or simply relates that torture was in the quiver during the Bush-Cheney era. I’ll probably see Django Unchained on Spike TV in a few years, Silver Linings Playbook on Lifetime, and Les Miserables on A&E.

Vacation Village Resort Con

A relentless telemarketer has been calling me about every fifteen minutes since Thursday. They leave messages that are just noise. The phone said “vac vil resort 757-952-0237” so I looked up the number on 800Notes:

They called tonight, claiming that two people (whom I’ve never heard of) thought enough of me to give me a free gift of a 3 day, 2 night stay at Vacation Village Resort, Willaimsburg Plantation. That business does exist, but I don’t think these people are actually affiliated with them. The first woman I spoke with had a bad attitude and acted like I was stupid for not wanting my free gift. I convinced her to call me back after I checked with someone about these two people who she said gave me the gift. When she called back, she said that both my husband and I had to be able to hear and answer on the phone. They said that we would get the vacation plus a $100 Visa gift card, and just had to go on a Time Share tour. My husband then asked who these people are who gave us this “gift,” and the person agreed to call them and find out how they know us. We have not yet gotten a call back, but judging from the other reports here, I’m sure we will.

Congrats! You’ve won a 5 day 4 night stay at one of our premiere resorts in orlando fl. Also included in the package is a 2 day pass for two to universal studios, dinner for two at araibian night. All for a heavily discounted $398, normally $1400!!

Oh wait, I forgot to mention that this is a part of the Vacation Village CON!!! The woman kept asking right after she would answer a question “so which credit card company would you like to use?” I googled the company and at first things looked good. They even have a four out of five rating on yahoo. Then I saw “vacation village resort con”

Googling a bit more got me to

In the last 9 days that I’ve been tracking the calls, I have received calls from 9am-10pm from this telemarketer representing the Williamsburg Plantation. Over 45 calls to this point in time. They said a friend had given them my name. Doubt it. When asked to stop calling – they persist. Virginia Attorney General’s Office won’t take the complaint. No email contact on their website. They call by using this number (757-952-0237) and by blocking their ID.

I suspect that they want people to call them back to avoid falling afoul of the FCC Do Not Call rules. I simply unplug the phone line until I need to call someone.

Debt Mediation Scam 2

I’ve gotten several unsolicited mailings from American Debt Mediators (ADM).

One was a white business letter, with “Activation Notice” and an 800 number in the upper right corner. Below that are a Reference Number, Est Creditor Balances and Projected Settlement Offers. In bold type, the letter warns that my credit card balance mediation program has not been activated. That’s not a surprise, since I’ve never heard of it or them before. They try to add pressure by writing that my open enrollment will expire on 2/1/2013. My estimated payment was $335.00 per month. There was an illegible signature.

I also received a four-color, two-page folded Winter 2013 brochure. The colors and layout of the brochure resembles ADM’s website, except that it also includes ads for magicJack, health plans, identity theft protection, roadside assistance, legal care, tax help, a caller ID blocker, a stainless steel wallet, a magnifying glass (for reading the fine print), a trunk organizer, a coin counter, and wall safes disguised as clocks. Is this debt mediation or a mail order house?

Several weeks later I got a pink business letter, a 2nd Activation Notice, almost identical to the first, except that the deadline had been extended to 2/15/2013.

As I noted in an update to Debt Mediation Scam, I got a second notice (made to resemble an overdaft notice) from Credit Relief Associates/CRV with the same address as shown on the ADM mailings. So I assume CRA and ADM are actually the same outfit.

The Better Business Bureau for Dallas and NorthEast Texas notes that ADM has not even applied for accreditation. Corporationwiki lists Chris Elliot as an officer. Bizapedia indicates that ADM is only four months old. LinkedIn lists Scott Pugsley, with a picture of Albert Einstein, as an employee, with a varied resume:

Owner at My Burning Design Past: Senior Credit Specialist at CreditArbitraitors, Training Manager at Anderson, Crenshaw & Associates, Program Director / Marketing Coordinater at Hudson Valley Karate, Training Manager at Professional Recovery Services, Senior Claims Adjuster at Allied Bond and Collection Agency, BMSAR at US Navy

Commenters on Get Out of Debt note that Credit Resolution Advisors used to be Credit Arbitrators LLC and were CreditAnswers before that. They were AutoAssure at some point, which sells bogus auto warrantys. The owner and CEO might be Bill Loughborough, though his LinkedIn account is sparse. Commenter Steve claims he used to work there:

i left after 2 years because i could no longer wash the stink off. Changed name 3 times while i was there. don’t forget about their sister company, The Jensen Legal Group or Credit Relief Advocates. Same company, same sales people, same scam. they teach you to tippy toe around the rules and regulations and to say anything to get the client to sign. terrible place, drinking on the job, former criminals work there. just terrible. so to recap…Credit Answers, Credit Arbitrators, Credit Resolution Advisors, Jensen Legal Group, Credit Relief Advocates, same company, same scam artists. 5 names in 2 1/2 years same crooks.

Update 2013-04-15: I’m now getting the same pitch from Debt Arbitrators.

NASA, Widom-Larsen and Weak Interactions

Low Energy Nuclear Reaction (LENR) advocates love to drop names. Andrea Rossi invoked Underwriter’s Laboratories and Siemens to pump up his ephemeral E-Cat. Rossi once tried to involve the physics department of the University of Bologna in his research, but when he didn’t pay them, they wisely disengaged themselves from Rossi’s Universe of Baloney.

When, a few years ago, NASA released a video explaining a patent application for an LENR process, the alt energy community went hog-wild, some claiming that NASA had validated cold fusion, others claiming that NASA had been sandbagging Pons and Fleischmann all along. About a year ago, on his own blog, NASA scientist Joe Zawodny attempted to clarify what was real and what wasn’t:

If a patent application is filed, a video may be produced to inform the general public of the nature of the invention or innovation.  It may be a non-technical piece that communicates what this invention is about and why people might care. … There have been many attempts to twist the release of this video into NASA’s support for LENR or as proof that Rossi’s e-cat really works. Many extraordinary claims have been made in 2010. In my scientific opinion, extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence. I find a distinct absence of the latter. So let me be very clear here. While I personally find sufficient demonstration that LENR effects warrant further investigation, I remain skeptical. Furthermore, I am unaware of any clear and convincing demonstrations of any viable commercial device producing useful amounts of net energy.

Sebastian Anthony has written not-too-skeptically about hydrogen fusion for Extreme Tech before, so when I saw the headline, NASA’s cold fusion tech could put a nuclear reactor in every home, car, and plane, I thought, “Here we go again”:

So far, NASA’s best effort involves a nickel lattice and hydrogen ions. The hydrogen ions are sucked into the nickel lattice, and then the lattice is oscillated at a very high frequency (between 5 and 30 terahertz). This oscillation excites the nickel’s electrons, which are forced into the hydrogen ions (protons), forming slow-moving neutrons. The nickel immediately absorbs these neutrons, making it unstable. To regain its stability, the nickel strips a neutron of its electron so that it becomes a proton — a reaction that turns the nickel into copper and creates a lot of energy in the process.

The key to LENR’s cleanliness and safety seems to be the slow-moving neutrons. Whereas fission creates fast neutrons (neutrons with energies over 1 megaelectron volt), LENR utilizes neutrons with an energy below 1eV — less than a millionth of the energy of a fast neutron. Whereas fast neutrons create one hell of a mess, LENR’s slow neutrons don’t generate ionizing radiation or radioactive waste. It is because of this sedate gentility that LENR lends itself very well to vehicular and at-home nuclear reactors that provide both heat and electricity.

Why is NASA now spending time on, and risking its reputation with, LENR? According to a NASA News Item, The nuclear reactor in your basement,  it is because the LENR patent app that NASA was asked to review wasn’t based on Pons-Fleischmann, it was based on Widom-Larsen:

“For NASA Langley,… the epiphany moment on LENR was the publication of the Widom-Larsen Weak Interaction LENR Theory,” which was published in 2006. According to Zawodny and Bushnell, this theory provides a better explanation than “cold fusion” for the results which researchers have obtained over the last couple of decades. And it might explain much more than that. At a meeting of the American Nuclear Society in November 2012, the theory’s co-developer, Lewis Larsen, speculated that LENR may occur naturally in lightning — not only on present-day Earth, but also in the primordial cloud of gas and dust that became our solar system. If true, LENR might solve a mystery uncovered by NASA’s Genesis mission, that the pattern of oxygen isotopes on the sun differs greatly from that of Earth.

Zawodny seems downright enthusiastic compared to last January, but notes that Widom-Larsen is still theoretical:

So what’s the hitch?  It’s creating the right oscillation. “It turns out that the frequencies that we have to work at are in what I call a valley of inaccessibility,” Zawodny said. “Between, say, 5 or 7 THz and 30 THz, we don’t have any really good sources to make our own controlled frequency.”

But solving that problem can wait until the theory is better understood. “From my perspective, this is still a physics experiment,” Zawodny said. “I’m interested in understanding whether the phenomenon is real, what it’s all about. Then the next step is to develop the rules for engineering. Once you have that, I’m going to let the engineers have all the fun.”

And he is sure that if the Widom-Larsen theory is shown to be correct, resources to support the necessary technological breakthroughs will come flooding in. “All we really need is that one bit of irrefutable, reproducible proof that we have a system that works,” Zawodny said. “As soon as you have that, everybody is going to throw their assets at it. And then I want to buy one of these things and put it in my house.”

From what I can glean, the process theorized by Widom-Larsen is low-energy, and nuclear, but neither fission nor fusion. Larsen is an entrepreneur, president of Lattice Energy LLC, and Widom is a theoretical physicist from Northeastern University. They claim that the absorption of a neutron relies on the weak force, and requires no new physics to explain.

That’s all well and good, but I recall that not too long ago, CERN researchers claimed that  a beam of neutrinos had traveled faster than the speed of light. For a few days there was rampant speculation, but the claim was eventually withdrawn after further testing. So I won’t be clearing out a space in my basement just yet.