Archive | February 2013

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.

Our Self-Driving Future

As technology firms debate the imminent arrival of the self-driving car:

Google: Self-driving cars in 3-5 years. Feds: Not so fast

The self-driving car could be available to consumers in 3-5 years, the head of Google’s autonomous driving project says. That’s the most optimistic timeframe yet. Other projections have been for 2020 and beyond, which still beats “probably not in our lifetime.” The timeline came from Anthony Levandowski, Google’s product manager for autonomous driving, … “I can’t tell you you’ll be able to have a Google car in your garage next year,”… “We expect to release the technology in the next five years. In what form it gets released is still to be determined.”

Take that, Google: Oxford University sees self-driving as a $150 option in future cars

The Oxford concept, then, takes a more cost-conscious route to self-driving. It wouldn’t work all the time, but it could work for the bulk of long drives, especially limited-access highways. At the same time, the scanner and 3D maps go far beyond what are likely to be the first so-called self-driving cars that would stitch together existing technologies: adaptive cruise control, lane keep assist, and blind spot detection. That would be enough to self-drive on limited access roads but it would still need a hands-on driver to take back the wheel if a deer or pedestrian darted onto the highway, or if a box fell off a truck. And it’s a reminder that we have to work out liability issues.

… the universe demonstrated that after billions of years, the self-driving meteorite still has yet to resolve a few liability issues:

The Universe Just Keeps Trying to Kill Us

Q: How long before the big one strikes, and all of humanity dies?

Believe it or not, an event like the one that caused the mass extinction of the dinosaurs is thought to occur only every few hundred million years. These events occur at random, which means — like getting struck by lightning — there’s no way to predict it, not with our current state of knowledge.

But we could know this, what we’d have to do is find and start tracking each one of these potential Earth-killers, or any asteroid larger than a few kilometers in size. And we could do it with our current technology, too; all we’d have to do is invest in it.

SemiAuto Insurance

Latest Front in the Gun Debate Is Mandatory Insurance

Lawmakers in at least half a dozen states, including California, Connecticut, Maryland, Massachusetts, New York and Pennsylvania, have proposed legislation this year that would require gun owners to buy liability insurance — much as car owners are required to buy auto insurance. Doing so would give a financial incentive for safe behavior, they hope, as people with less dangerous weapons or safety locks could qualify for lower rates.

That idea has been kicking around the blogs for some time, and since the Sandy Hook shooting, the idea of mandatory firearm insurance seems to be gaining traction. The idea is that a fellow who takes Joe Biden’s advice and buys a Mossberg shotgun to defend his home would pay a lower rate than a fellow that might go postal with an AR-15. How it works out, of course, depends on the actuarial tables. Based on crime stats, it may turn out that a Raven semiauto costs more to insure than a much more expensive Smith & Wesson, because cheap handguns figure in so many crimes. But they may go strictly by firepower.

The insurance industry is wary of some of the proposals to require gun owners to buy liability coverage — and particularly of bills, like one that was filed in New York, that would require coverage for damages resulting not only from negligence but also from “willful acts.”

Robert P. Hartwig, the president of the Insurance Information Institute, said that insurance generally covered accidents and unintentional acts — not intentional or illegal ones. “Insurance will cover you if your home burns down in an electrical fire, but it will not cover you if you burn down your own house, and you cannot insure yourself for arson,” he said.

That sounds true, but drivers in urban areas often must carry coverage for uninsured people that are driving illegally — so insurance does sometimes cover illegal acts, just not illegal acts by the insured party. I suppose a parallel would be licensed firearm owners having to pay higher premiums if they live in an area where there is a lot of illegal gun violence.

… the problem with most liability insurance is that it promises coverage only in cases of a gun owner’s negligence, or an accidental shooting — and not if the gun owner shoots someone intentionally in self-defense. “A negligent act is covered by your liability policy, but if you intentionally shoot somebody, it could be excluded,” he said.

I would call intentionally shooting an innocent person in a misguided sense of self-defense a kind of negligence of training. Perhaps insurance companies would have to require that gun owners take courses that clearly define when they can and cannot shoot.

Antisocial Media

Four days ago, The NY times reported that 20 year-old tennis player Rebecca Marino had overcome cyber-bullying and online harassment to return to professional tennis, making the WTA final in Memphis.

She acknowledged that it was often her own searching of online comments that hurt her. But what bothered her most were messages to her Twitter account sent by people who had lost money betting on her matches.

“They’ll say, ‘You gave that match away, you cost me such-and-such amount of money, you should go burn in hell,’ or ‘You should go die,’ ” Marino said. “And oh, my gosh, that is really scary.”

Today, she’s quitting again: Weary Marino Bids Farewell to WTA and Cyber-Bullies

Although she refused to call her decision a retirement, Marino’s tone and words indicated there was little chance of a return.

Marino also doubted she would ever return to social media after shutting down her Twitter and Facebook accounts on Tuesday before making her announcement.

“At this point I can’t really see myself going back onto social media but who knows,” said Marino. “I don’t really find it something I really need in my life at this moment.

“In a way I wish I hadn’t joined social media because of the criticism I received but I can’t really go about regretting what I’ve done.”

Having spent a lot of time on, I know that even without the impetus of gambling, tennis fans develop outrageous likes and dislikes for players they barely know at all.

After Pete Sampras appeared very dehydrated, even threw up, then aced Albert Corretja in a US Open match, some fans accused him of playacting the “dying dog” and cheered his losses for years afterwards. Steffi Graf was admired for her forehand and her legs, but heckled over avoiding Catholic tithes. After Andre Agassi heckled an opponent’s errant ball toss in a windy match, he became the ugly American – until he won the French Open and the career slam. Martina Hingis was both admired and scorned for her prolific love life and comments she later denied about lesbian player Amelie Mauresmo being, “ein halber Mann.” But probably no one endured as much outright hatred as the Williams sisters and their father, who were black, poor, bucked both junior and professional tennis, but were successful anyway.

Having spent time online, I know that admitting that cyber-bullying bothers you is only asking for even more of it.

Update: More on Marino’s depression as a factor in her leaving tennis in the Straight Sets blog.


I ran across this Technorati article, Are People Leaving Facebook Already?

Recently, Pew Research Center conducted a survey of people’s time on and usage of Facebook. The survey basically discovered that the current trend is for people to either take a break from Facebook or leave the social network site altogether. It is the online version of “stale party syndrome”. When a party begins to wind down and get lame, the partygoers are likely to head to the next big party or simply go home. This is what appears to be happening on Facebook, according to the Pew study.

I keep in touch with — or think I keep in touch with — family, extended family, childhood friends, some girls from college, some guys from high school, one girl from elementary school, some former coworkers, several former theater cast-mates, refugees from various blogging communities … even an ex-wife. Last week I went to a play in my former haunts, saw old cast-mates and realized that even commenting back and forth on Facebook, the connection is not as strong as when I was active in the theater group. I still want to feel connected, but without face-to-face contact there are limits to how well we can know and understand one another.

Participants in the survey named too much drama and not enough time as the two main reasons for leaving Facebook en masse. … Survey participants made mention of issues, such as idiotic posts, insane friends, and useless and ridiculous posts.

I endure more from family and old friends, but I’ve dropped several people that can’t resist posting racist rants, hateful rants, endless posts on the same subject and endless invitations to online games.