Of the days of the day

Open letter of the day: Dear Exergen Corporation, If you're going to market a device called a "temporal scanner," I will expect it to tell me my kid's age, not his temperature.

Follow-up of the day: Well, okay, now we know -- two days of brilliance, then back to normal excellence. On the other hand, the full interview with Senator DeMint is very worthwhile. thedailyshow.com

Fraud of the day: Taking segments from "Man v. Food" and rearranging them does not make "Amazing Eats" a new show. Adam Richman, you deserve better.

CC oops of the day: That's "penchant," not "pension" (last night's L&O:SVU).

Entertainment diary of the day

After enduring an exceptionally misguided Seth Rogan movie, I watched "A Dog's Breakfast," which landed in my Netflix queue for reasons I've long since forgotten. But what a treat. Made for about a buck three-eighty, it's very dark and funny, and the DVD extras added to the pleasure. It helps to be a "Stargate" (TV) fan, since most of the cast is drawn from that group, but that's not required. I'm so glad I found this one.

And then on to the Kennedy Center Honors, as reliably surreal as ever. "Let's celebrate five artistic geniuses by presenting extremely brief performances [edited for TV?] and often absurdly irrelevant tributes, pretending that this dim sum approach really does justice to any of them." And by the way, can anyone explain the significance to Barbara Cook of "Everybody Says Don't" and a Vegas-y arrangement of "Come Rain or Come Shine"? Not knowing this, I may have been projecting when I interpreted the look on her face in the reaction shots during those as her wondering why they were being sung.

One story, two sides

Played auditions today. During a lull, the director told a story about the time years before when an actress handed her music to the pianist and started explaining it. The pianist cut her off, and said (with attitude), "I was in the pit for this show." The director thought this was very funny.

Here's how I imagine that actress tells that story:


I went to an audition this morning, and I brought a song that's really great for me, but a lot of piano players screw it up. So I go into the room, and I don't recognize the piano player, so I start explaining it. She stops me, and basically tells me she doesn't need my help and I should go fuck myself. I was completely rattled. I hope I never see her at the piano ever again.


(Me again.) And even if it's not all that hard a piece of music, how does the pianist know that the actress isn't personalizing the song in some way? Different tempo, a ritard, a cut, whatever?

Shame on the pianist, and shame on the director for his own mean streak.

Skepticism of the day, cell phone edition

WHAT’S NEW Robert L. Park Friday, 3 Jun 2011 Washington, DC

My science-reporter friend, Naif, called this week about cell phones. Here's how it went.
Naif: "Who said there’s no evidence that radiation from cell phones causes brain cancer?"
BP: "WHO did, but that was about a year ago."
Naif: "That's what I asked, who did? The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) says cell phone radiation ‘may be carcinogenic’."
BP: "IARC is WHO."
Naif: "Why ask me? I don't know who. Besides, shouldn't that be ‘whom’?"
BP: Last year they said that no adverse health effects have been established for mobile phone use."
Naif: "That's still true, but who said it?"
BP: "I told you; WHO said it after a $14 million epidemiological study of cell phone use in 13 countries."
Naif: "Then who is IARC?”
BP: "Strictly speaking IARC is part of WHO."
Naif: "I don't know who it’s part of. That‘s why I asked."

Let's be open with the public. A Working Group of 31 scientists from 14 countries met at the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) in Lyon, France from May 24–31 to assess the potential carcinogenic hazards from exposure to radiofrequency electromagnetic fields. The Working Group conducted no further study, and gathered no additional evidence. Nevertheless, based on an increased risk for glioma, a usually fatal brain cancer, they voted to classify radiofrequency electromagnetic fields as, "possibly carcinogenic to humans." Let's do a little epidemiology of our own. There are 5 billion cell phones distributed among the 7 billion people on Earth. But, as the New York Times reported this morning, brain cancer rates in the US have been declining for two decades. Does this tell us that cell phones prevent brain cancer? Alas, no. The increase in cell phone use only started one decade ago. It tells us is that epidemiology alone is a lousy guide for making policy. There is far too much "noise" in the data. So far, only photons more energetic than visible light have been shown to create mutant strands of DNA. "Maybe it's a multi-photon process," I'm told. A two-photon process is possible, even a three-photon process, but it would take 1 million microwave photons working in tandem to overcome the work function. So find a mechanism. But please don't inflict more case-control epidemiology on a paranoid public.

Why would it be such a big deal to use earphones? No big deal. I already use an amplifier in each ear so I can hear the birds outside my office. Let me ask why would it be such a big deal to let people know how electromagnetic radiation causes cancer? Bullshit is dangerous. In 1998 in London, Andrew Wakefield a British gastroenterologist, warned that the MMR vaccine causes autism. In the following months the papers daily carried stories of the tragedy of autism and the heroic doctor who had found the cause. In the months following, MMR vaccinations of children dropped from 90% to 70%. In 2006, the first child in more than a decade died of measles in London. In the first four months of 2011, the HPA reported 334 cases of measles, a 10 fold increase over the same period a year earlier. In France, 7000 cases have been reported this year. Autism was unaffected. http://bobpark.physics.umd.edu/WN11/wn010711.html

Some days we seek virtue, some days virtue is forced upon us

I'm not a big fan of fast food chains. (My motto: You can always do better.) But every now and then, I indulge a craving for a Wendy's Frosty or an Arby's roast beef. And by "every now and then," I mean "less often than the census is counted."

There's a McDonald's around the corner that I walk past regularly. And I do walk past it, without hesitation. Somebody gave me a McD gift card a few months ago, and I passed it along.

But that egg-bacon-cheese-biscuit sign in the window finally got to me. After several days of contemplation, this morning I headed out the door at 8:00 with three dollars and a mission. Turning the corner, I saw a few people loitering near the door, which was odd. Getting closer, I found a sign taped up: Closed temporarily, sorry for the inconvenience.

My Cheerios streak continues.

Techno poop

I've set up my gmail.com account to grab all of the nyc.rr.com e-mail, but I continue to log on to Road Runner Web Mail once or twice a day to make sure nothing gets overlooked.

Just about every day, there's something there from Classmates or MyLife or some German company that sends messages I cannot read. And for the past several months, I have been clicking in the box and using the "Report SPAM" button, thinking that RR would divert these to the Junk box, as Gmail does.


The other day, I wrote to RR's Mail Help Desk, asking if perhaps I was doing something wrong. They replied with instructions on how to set up my parental controls -- basically, I would have to enter all of the domains manually into the Block Senders box. Hmm. I wrote back, asking if this meant that the Report SPAM button didn't actually do anything.

This generated a response with a *different* set of instructions on how to block the spammers. It also called for individual attention to each one. So, I replied, you're saying that the Report SPAM button really is a useless, broken waste of time?

Now I have three distinct methods of blocking spam. All require me to navigate through multiple steps for each sender.

Given the quality of the cable television service and DVR software, I was foolish to expect that they might know how to make e-mail work.

Debunkery of the day

From this week's "What's New" (http://www.bobpark.org)

Several readers of this column urged me to read "Disconnect: the truth about cell phone radiation, what the industry has done to hide it, and how to protect your family” by Devra Davis. The author’s name was not familiar to me, but I picked up a copy on my way to the campus health center for my annual flu shot.

I opened it in the waiting room. At the top of page 1 was a quote from the Talmud that appealed to me: "Who can protest and does not, is an accomplice in the act."

I hereby protest this book.

By the time my name was called. I had reached page 21. The author was explaining that the background level of microwave radiation to which we are all exposed is billions of times greater than the natural background level.

Should we be worried? She doesn't say. But I recalled another book that started with the same statistics. Paul Brodeur, The Zapping of America: Microwaves, their deadly risk, and the cover-up (Norton, 1977). Devra Davis has given us a rewrite of a 33-year-old book. It was wrong then too. I explained why in my 2001 editorial in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute.
Robert L Park, JNCI, Volume 93, Issue 3, Pp. 166-167.

My IKEA weekend

Started off great. Borrowed my nephew and his car and headed to Brooklyn. Found everything I wanted, got it home and assembled. Discovered that the Besta Shelf Unit requires one more extra shelf than the two I bought for efficient DVD storage. Went online this morning, figuring I'd have one mailed.

$21 shipping to mail a $3 item that fits in a Jiffy bag? Wow. Tried to call to vent a little. Noticed the call center times are "E.S.T.," which is sloppy. It said the center was open after 9; called at 9:10. Electronic voice explained that rotary phone users could hold for an agent. I did that, and at the end of the announcement, the machine hung up on me.


Acknowledgment of the day

Just turned on my phone and received a voicemail left this morning. Mostly inaudible. Couldn't make out the woman's name or phone number, but was able to piece together parts of the story. Sometime in the past, I bailed her out of a musical jam and subbed in on ... something. She just unearthed the tape of that, and wanted to let me know she was thinking of me, and how helpful and talented I am. And that she's putting together a new show. With some other pianist.

So, whoever you are: Really, don't mention it.

From Bob Parks' What's New

The Hubbert Peak, IPCC reports, melting ice caps, does all this foretell a disaster? Maybe for polar bears, but for alternative energy pitchmen it's the mother lode.

The free-energy scams such as Joe Newman's Energy Machine and Dennis Lee’s Hummingbird motor will still find mom-and-pop investors hoping to stretch their meager retirements, but the big money awaits a more sophisticated pitch. Consider the Bloom Box. The pitchman, K.R. Sridhar, CEO of Bloom Energy in Sunnyvale, is not your typical scam artist, but an artfully understated business executive. He can go on 60 Minutes or Good Morning America and never make a slip.

But there are warning signs. What is it he’s selling? "It starts with beach sand” he says, opening a box of the stuff. It's like saying a diamond is a lump of carbon. Silicon dioxide is the most abundant mineral on Earth, and essential to modern electronics. With the help of animation, he explains that plates made of the stuff enable hydrocarbon gases to react with oxygen, producing an electric potential. It's a fuel cell. He never says so, maintaining the fiction that this is something really new. It’s not.

Fuel cells date back to 1838, but have found little application. The magic calls for painting the two sides of the plate with secret green and black ink respectively. Well there's a little more to it, but CEOs don't worry about details. Oh, and the Bloom Box is not cheap. However, Google, FedEx and Wel-Mart can afford to test the Bloom Box. Everybody loves the idea of distributed energy production, where we have our own power plant in the backyard. But a Bloom Box is not totally isolated; it needs to be tied to a gas pipeline. Is this the future? Probably not.

Archives of What's New can be found at http://www.bobpark.org (subscription link is there)