Thursday, October 30, 2008

Hans-Heinrich Reckeweg Prizes and Wormbush for Your Heart

The first of the heel.ca articles I read were the "Hans-Heinrich Reckeweg Prizes." The link points to a word document. It doesn't contain any actual research, but is a list of prizes awarded to people for research, generally involving products sold by heel.ca. One of the awards refers to the study being published in Cancer.

In sort, it's a catalog of back patting and self promotion by a homeopathic manufacturer.

The next link held more promise. It's to a PDF described as "Efficacy of a homeopathic Crataegus preparation compared with usual therapy for mild (NYHA II) cardiac insufficiency: results of an observational cohort study."

The first thing I noticed is that the PDF appeared to be a scan of a printed document and it wasn't put through OCR. This means the PDF contains an image file of each page instead of text that can be copied and pasted for quoting purposes. This also means the PDF can't be searched.

The study consisted of only 212 subjects. While 216 had been enrolled, four had to be disqualified. There was no placebo branch to the study. The lack of a placebo arm is in and of itself a major red flag. The tiny sample size relegates this study to being a "pilot study" the kind of thing pharmaceutical companies do to determine if further research is even warranted. Small sample sizes like this are problematic, as small to moderate effects are easily swallowed by the mathematical margin of error inherent to all research. The small sample size means one or two anomalies can skew the results in a significant way. I want to reiterate, Bayer doesn't release a drug to market based up a study with 212 participants and no placebo. Scientists wouldn't consider such a study to be proof of anything, other than the need for a better study.

The study was conducted across 27 different locations. As noted in the study "the principal investigator had no control over the treatment assignment and there might have been large differnces(sic) in observed co-variates between treatment groups." Emphasis mine. In other words, not even the researchers are pretending these 212 people were evaluated consistently across the 27 locations used for the study.

The first page claims the paper was published in the "European Journal of Heart Failure 5 (2003) 319-326." This appears to be a publication of the "European Society of Cardiology"

The URL at the top of the document, "elsevier.com/locate/heafei" results in a "Page not Found" error from elsevier.com. A search on elsevier.com revealed the full text of the article could be purchased from ScienceDirect.

The study compares 110 people given "a homeopathic Crataegus preparation" (wormbush) to 102 given "usual therapy". Doctors used their own discretion in the dosages used for the "usual therapy". How many variables did these guys want in their study?

What was the "usual therapy" used as a baseline? "ACE Inhibitor / diuretics". Here's where the study really falls apart. Of the 102 people given the "usual therapy" 52% were given one of 7 different ACE Inhibitors. 6% got one of 6 different diuretics and the remaining 41.2% got some combination of both. The homeopathic treatment was a bit better, with 80% getting the recommended dosage and 15.4% got half that. No word on what the remainder were given.

The study compared two different dosages of a homeopathic treatment against unknown cocktails of 13 possible drugs over which the study had no control. Doctors at 27 different locations chose the drugs and dosages.

All of the patents were medically stable but in need of treatment for mild cardiac insufficiency. None of them were receiving treatment before the study. All of them were enrolled in an outpatient treatment program for the duration of the study.

It's possible that the improvement seen by these subjects was the result not of a homeopathic treatment or an unknown cocktail of drugs, but from receiving regular advice and direction from a cardiac specialist. A placebo arm to the study would have let us see if this was a likely explanation. Of course, proving homeopathic treatment works wasn't the goal of the study, just that it wasn't inferior to "usual therapy."

The study abstract concluded homeopathy wasn't inferior by most measures, it did note the "usual treatment" was better at reducing blood pressure. A closer look at the actual study however reveals that they had to use a far looser criteria to reach that conclusion. Their original, more stringent "non-inferiority" requirements has homeopathy coming out as "non inferior" in only 7 of 15 tests, many of which were subjective reports by doctors or patients. The actual improvements were small overall. The study even noted that "Baseline BP, HR and performance test scores did not differ significantly between treatments." The study's "Table 2" shows that the bulk of the effects fall within what should have been considered the study's margin of error.

The study was small. The abstract's claims aren't supported by the study's data. There was no placebo group so it's entirely possible that the minimal improvements noted were the result of having a doctor pay closer attention to the patient's diet and exercise. All this study really demonstrated is that there may not be a need for drugs in mild cardiac insufficiency, but a larger, better designed study would be needed to make that conclusion.

Because there HAS to be some humor in all this.

Obama Pictures and McCain Pictures
see Sarah Palin pictures



Obama Pictures and McCain Pictures
see Sarah Palin pictures

Obama Pictures and McCain Pictures
see Sarah Palin pictures

Obama Pictures and McCain Pictures
see Sarah Palin pictures

Friday, September 26, 2008

Reckeweg Prices.doc

The first link on http://www.heel.ca/pub/library/studies.jsp is to word document listing the "Hans-Heinrich Reckeweg Prizes." It's just a list of awards, giving fragments of the abstracts for the "research" that justified the award. The awards were awarded by "The International Society for Homotoxicology".

It's important to note that the "research" involves products manufactured and marketed by heel.ca

The document gives no real numbers, just the grandiose claims of the researchers. Since I already have a lot of data to go over, I'm not going to go spelunking for studies for which very little data is given. If anyone has links to the studies below, please post them in the comments section.

From the document:
The first Hans-Heinrich Reckeweg Prize was awarded in 1995 to Professor Ryszard Matusiewicz, M.D., of the Department of Internal Medicine of Gorchowski Hospital, Warsaw. Dr. Matusiewicz conducted a double-blind, placebo-controlled study of 40 asthmatic patients, all of whom required corticosteroid therapy. In addition to their standard medication, some of the patients received Engystol N while others took a placebo. The Engystol group experienced improvements in pulmonary function and were able to reduce their corticosteroid dosages significantly.


No information on where the study may have been published was given.

In 1996 the prize was shared between two contestants. Dr. Karl-Heinz Ricken of Saarlouis received the award for successful use of a combination of antihomotoxic medications in treating not only digestive disorders but also Helicobacter pylori infections of the gastric mucosa. The other prizewinners, chemist and pharmacist Dr. Alessandro Orlandini of the University of Brescia (Italy) and his two coauthors, also demonstrated noteworthy achievement, clinically confirming the protective effect of Zeel on cartilage cells.


Again, no publication data was given.

The struts of Homeopathy

I recently stumbled across what amounts to an op-ed piece by
By Dr. Patrick Massey entitled Homeopathy a viable alternative ... sometimes. Massey describes himself as the "medical director for complementary and alternative medicine for Alexian Brothers Hospital Network."

Finding the article full of nonsense, I decided to sign up and post a reply. You can see my replies under then name "The Comet" at the linked page above. Not surprisingly I got some replies proponents of Homeopathy. One of those replies contained a list of links to studies that allegedly demonstrate the effectiveness of Homeopathy. As I have a full time job, a wife and infant son, my time is scarce, so it will take a few days, perhaps weeks to go through the studies and address each one. I decided to start off with this post listing the alleged proof of Homeopathy. This is a starting point into my journey of discovery about Homeopathy.

http://www.heel.ca/pub/library/studies.jsp

As I said in the comments on the original essay by Massey:

I should point out however that your first linked to heel.ca is the web site of a company that manufactures Homeopathic treatments. For years now, people claiming vaccines cause Autism have been claiming that all the studies done by pharmaceutical companies are "tainted" because they were done by people who profit from positive results. How then, do you justify the use of a Homeopathic "treatment" manufacturer as a source?


It's also necessary to point out that the page contains links to PDFs of the studies, NOT links to them on external sites. Were these studies even peer reviewed? I'll know more when I read them.

And the following presentation by Dr. Iris Bell, MD, PhD, in a presentation at a Homeopathy debate, gives a good overview of current Homeopathic research:
-- Citizen Jimserac

http://youtube.com/watch?v=wYO6nNQGe1M

http://laughingmysocksoff.wordpress.com/2007/12/07/lies-damn-lies

This last link is a blog post that has a LOT of links. I'll go through them one by one as time permits.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Homeopath hangs herself

Homeopath hangs self-Lucknow-Cities-The Times of India

The original article called her a "doctor" but then mentions her reliance upon Homeopathy. Anyone who thinks it's a bit heartless for me to comment on her suicide should take a look at the Homeopathy section of whatstheharm.net. I don't have much empathy for a woman whose profession involved giving people water and telling them it's medicine.

Doctor's diary

Doctor's diary - Telegraph

The "Doctor's Diary" linked above is a perfect example of the "Argument form Ignorance." The author, James Lefanu claims that:


it is unreasonable, given the oceans of medical ignorance, to dismiss the experience of those who have benefited from acupuncture or homeopathy simply because we don't know how they work.


Lefanu goes on to list a battery of things he considers unexplained, as if this list somehow justifies an interest in Homeopathy. What he leaves out, the little detail he ignores is that a lot of research has already been done into Homeopathy and all of it has concluded that homeopathy performs no better than placebo. Science has demonstrated that homeopathy is nothing more than wishful thinking. Thee is no medical evidence that it actually works. Questions of HOW it would work IF it actually worked become moot.

It's pretty clear that James Lefanu's knowledge of medicine is pretty outdated. In the same article he claims:


There must be a reason why someone gets any of thousands of diseases in the medical text book - but what it is, we know not.


It's sad when someone writing an article entitled "Doctor's Diary" is entirely ignorant of germ theory.

Science Meets Magic in Talent Pharmacy

MailTribune.com: East meets West in Talent pharmacy

The linked article above is a glowing review of a quack who mixes science based medicine with Homeopathy.

I don't think most people realize what a scam homeopathy really is. According to all the clinical research, it's no more effective than placebo. There aren't even any active ingredients in homeopathy. By the time you get a homeopathic "remedy" all you're getting is water. The Tribune should be investigating this quack for practicing what amounts to magic in treating patients, not lionizing him as if his fanciful "treatments" were considered valid by science based medicine.

Scam artists Offer Fake Flu "Immunization" and it's legal.

True Health Holistic Offers Oral Flu Immunization

I often wonder why these scam artist aren't arrested. A company named "True Health" is offering "homeopathic flu immunizations". Their press release makes it sound like this is a good thing.

"There are no dangerous chemicals used in the preparation of homeopathic immunizations"

Well, I suppose that's true. The thing is, all people are getting is water. The "medicine" has been diluted to the point where there's little to no chance of encountering even a single molecule of the alleged medicine. These "medications" flat out don't work. There has never been a properly constructed clinical trial that demonstrated any effect better than placebo. A placebo is, for anyone not familiar with the term, a substance used in trials so test subjects THINK they're getting an active component when they aren't. This means Homeopathy is, according to everything science can tell us, just as effective as taking a sugar pill.

Homeopathy degree suspended after criticism

The University of Central Lancashire has been offering undergrads a degree in homeopathic medicine. Now, thanks to the efforts of proponents of science based medicine the university has suspended the degree. While they'll process the poor saps who have already enrolled, they will not be accepting applicants for the 2009 school year.

Of course they haven't REALLY killed off the degree in magic, but have instead made it clear they're waiting to see how the climate changes with time. If interest in using distilled water that's been shaken properly as medicine increases then they'll not doubt resume accepting applications for the degree.

Personally, I think anyone with a degree from the University of Central Lancashire should be nervous. The adminsitration seems determined to turn the place into a diploma mill for random nonsense. No one wants to find their school reduced to a resume stain.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

2008 Sucks

What happened to all McCain's talk about Obama not having enough
experience to be President? If McCain's elected he'll be the oldest
first term president in US history and the VP will be a woman with a
few years experience as the mayor of a 3,000 person town and less than
two years running a state that doesn't even have a full time
legislature. Let's be honest here, the average University President
faces more leadership challenges than this woman has.

Was he REALLY that desperate to counter Obama's celebrity status? It's
as if the Republicans and Democrats are TRYING to make the election as
pathetic as possible.

The Republicans are offering us a man who claims to have been tortured
during Vietnam, but according to the Bush administration definition of
"torture" (A definition McCain endorses) none of what McCain experienced
was torture
. He jokes about bombing Iran when our military is already
occupying two countries with literally one tenth the troops the
Pentagon said they would need. He calls his opponent "elitist" when he
doesn't even know how many houses he owns.

His VP has never had to deal with political issues on the national,
let alone global scale. The entirety of her political experience is in
a state that describes itself as a "big small town."

The Democrats are offering a man who is being positioned as the next
coming of JFK, all the while completely ignoring the fact that JFK was
a terrible president who escalated the Vietnam war. JFK was
charismatic and handsome but incompetent and elitist. Obama's
political experience ventures onto the national scale but he hasn't
been in congress very long. His "Obama 08 World Tour" may have been a
nice photo op, but in the end I doubt he really learned a lot about
global diplomacy. At least he's willing to meet with other leaders,
instead of demanding concessions before talks even start. The
Democratic VP seems to have been picked for having a personality
diametrically opposed to Obama's. He's the anti-charisma. It's as if
they wanted a ticket that averaged out to a "normal" degree of
likability.

You know the country is in trouble when a friend jokes about a Nader /
Perot ticket and you both realize it's probably a better option than
what's already on the table.

Wondering what ever happened to the Whigs,

Matthew

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

A pedophile tried to contact me through MSN

This is the chat log:

The pedophile "Miranda" was using the address mirandakaboza@hotmail.com

(9:07:27 AM) Miranda Who is this?: Hi
(9:08:56 AM) DoubleM: Hello
(9:09:03 AM) Miranda Who is this?: hey, A/S/L?:)
(9:09:22 AM) DoubleM: So you don;t know who I am already?
(9:09:46 AM) Miranda Who is this?: hey whats up babe, U got a webcam? finally someone adds me, I am soo fuckin horny today for some reason lol
(9:10:09 AM) DoubleM: 12 / F / Texas
(9:10:26 AM) Miranda Who is this?: listen hun, I am just about to start my webcam show with jen, come chat me there in my chat room? We can cyber, I will get naked if u do..lol!
(9:10:59 AM) DoubleM: Dude, I'm 12. Do you realize you're propositioning a minor?
(9:11:18 AM) DoubleM: Have you HEARD of the FBI???
(9:11:29 AM) DoubleM: Or the TV show "To catch a predator"?
(9:11:31 AM) Miranda Who is this?: I can show u how to watch if u promise not to tell anyone else how to do it???PLEASE:-$
(9:12:15 AM) DoubleM: You;re a pedophile.
(9:12:31 AM) DoubleM: Do you even know what that word means?
(9:12:58 AM) Miranda Who is this?: well since its the law that u gotta be 18 (nudity involved), u have to sign up with a credit card for age verification! BUT.. Once you are inside, just clikc on "Webcams" let me know what name you use to sign in with so I know it is you babe! http://www.lovelocalgirls.com/janeroom fill out the bottom of the page then fill out the next page as well and u can see me live!


I'm not actually 12, but I decided to claim to be when I got an "A/S/L line from a stranger. Normally it just scares off random perverts.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Oh my stomach


I can't imagine this is good for you in any real way.

The prospect of cooked bacon being kept at room temperature in a candy bin is, by itself, a bit nauseating to start.

Thursday, July 31, 2008

Motor City Books, no book, no contact, I want a refund

I've recently taken up brewing beer. Being the geek that I am, research was part of the process. Sometimes I wonder if I take up a new hobby for the sake of the hobby or as an excuse to research something in absurd detail.

Anyway, I, like many before me, quickly became a fan of Charlie Papazian and "The Complete Joy of Homebrewing Third Edition. I learned that he'd written a sequel of sorts entitled "The Homebrewer's Companion." Having enjoyed the first book so much, I bought my own copy, I thought I'd order the second book.

I went to Amazon.com and found a used copy for one cent, plus $3.99 Shipping and Handling from Motor City Books. I placed the order on July 6, 2008, and got an estimated delivery window of July 15, 2008 - July 29, 2008. Given the price, I found this reasonable.

The evening of July 29 I sent the following to Motor City books using Amazon.com's "Contact Seller" feature. Amazon.com supposedly includes the order number with the message.

When will the book arrive? Has it even shipped yet?


As I write this on the 31st, I have not yet received a reply. I have, however, left the following feedback on amazon.com:

"Item did not arrive even though I waited for almost a month. I tried to contact the seller for information and received no response. I am filing a reimbursement claim through Amazon.com on this order. I would advise against ordering from this seller."


Since Amazon.com won't let you leave a zero star rating, I had to give them one star out of five.

The point of all this, is to advise others to not order from Motor City Books through Amazon.com. Based on my experience, they don't ship your order, don't respond to efforts to contact them and you're going to end up trying to get a refund.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Memory of a dumb teacher

My Jr high science teacher was the opposite of cool. He was an idiot. For example, we were supposed to dissect clams on parent's day. The night before, he laid out all the trays with their formaldehyde soaked specimens. This resulted in the room being saturated with the smell of formaldehyde. In the morning, he started the task of trying to open them.

These clams were prepped for use by students and had clear instructions on how to get them open.

1. Remove the piece of wood wedged between the two halves of the shell.
2. Slide a scalpel into the opening. (See diagram)
3. Slice the muscle holding the clam closed. (See diagram)

These were actually the directions the STUDENTS were supposed to follow, but Mr D told us he didn't want a classroom full of kids struggling to open clams on parents day.

This joker had trouble getting the first piece of wood out, so he decided to drill out the hinge on each clam. He got the drill and had it handy for the start of class. Mind you, he didn't test his cunning plan before the parents were lined up watching class in progress.

I'll spare you the clam by clam summary, but suffice it to say by the time class was half over he'd shattered three clams, drilled the hinge out on another before shattering half its shell, and destroyed two drill bits. The janitor had initially refused his request for a third bit.

While he was trying to drill open another clam I calmly walked up to the far end of the table, picked up a clam and followed the directions on opening it. The first one was kind of tough as the wood was stuck, but most of them came apart easily. I proceeded to open half the clams on the table before he noticed what was going on.

He looked up, stopped drilling and stared as I opened another clam.

I smiled in what was later described as a "Eat it sucker" grin and asked if I should start passing out the clams.

He glared for a moment and then reprimanded me for using a scalpel without permission.

I silently returned to my seat and watched him destroy the third bit. The bit bent and the clam shot out of his and and onto the table. He put the drill down and stood up. He grasped a piece of chalk and calmly said "Now, before we dissect clams tomorrow I want to run through what you'll be doing once you're presented with your specimens."

"Nice recovery" someone muttered.

He glared at me. I held up my hands in an "I didn't do it" gesture and said "That was a girl's voice. I'm a boy."

This time some of the snorting and chuckling came from the parents and not just the kids.

It was three days before we dissected the clams, and by that point they resembled stew ingredients more than a dissection project. The room stank of formaldehyde until the following Fall.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

McCain Campaign Enlisting Trolls to Spam the Internet

It appears that McCain is attempting to manufacture greater web presence through his "Blog Outreach" program. The general idea is to give them a list of talking points and a list of blogs, so they can flood various sites with lock-step posts about the topic McCain wants pimped that day.

read more | digg story

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Mongolian Yak Tea, for Americans

Mongolian Yak herders brew a pungent, buttery tea to keep them warm during the long, cold Winter months. Mongolian Tea has more in common with broth or soup than a proper British cup of tea. Despite the absence of sugar the cream adds a surprising amount of sweetness. The original uses raw yak milk, making it thick and a bit gamy. Since the key ingredient is just about impossible to find in the United States, it's also impractical. The following is an adaptation for American palates.

It's important to use a decent black tea. This means no instant, flavored or store brand tea. If you need to heavily sweeten the tea before drinking it, it's the wrong brand to use here.

You need to replace the unprocessed Yak milk. Raw milk straight from the cow is ideal, if you can find it. We're going to make a substitute using skim milk, heavy cream and a little butter. (It's good, but no one claimed it was low calorie.)

2 Cups Raw Milk OR:
1 cup milk (Skim, 1% or 2%)
1/2 cup Heavy Cream
4 Tablespoons unsalted butter

2 cups water
4 black tea bags (Don't use Lipton or Salada.)
Salt to taste, about 1/4 tsp (1/8 tsp if you used salted butter)
1/8 tsp Marjoram
1/8 tsp grated Ginger

1. Bring the water and milk to a low boil.
2. Add the tea bags and reduce to a low simmer.
3. Steep for 10 minutes
4. Remove and squeeze the tea bags
5. Add Heavy Cream, butter and spices.
6. Stir until butter and spices are incorporated.
7. Serve while hot.

Friday, May 16, 2008

10 Surprising Health Benefits of Sex

Sex does a body good in a number of ways, according to Davidson and other experts. The benefits aren't just anecdotal or hearsay -- each of these 10 health benefits of sex is backed by scientific scrutiny.

read more | digg story

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Why I use a Mac

Being able to list hundreds of shitty shareware apps that all do the same job is hardly proof of an OS being better. It just means there are hundreds of shitty programmers out there who are too stupid to see if an app that does the job already exists.

I like my Mac for a number of reasons:

1. Long term stability. I put my computers through the ringer, testing various applications and always looking to do things beyond the needs of the average user. When using Windows, I needed to reinstall the OS every six months or so as the registry decayed. The Mac hasn't need a reformat once in the year and a half I've owned it.

2. Unix Core. Most the good Unix apps have been ported to Mac OS X. While a few still need X11 loaded, this isn't much of an issue as it only adds a few seconds to load time.

3. Easy multi-boot. I have a Mac install on the internal drive and one on an external drive. I usually boot off the external drive, but if my OS ever gets hosed I can just boot to the internal drive. This trick needed Partition Magic and a boot manager to do when Windows was my primary OS.

4. It does what I want it to. With the exception of Mac drivers for my PlusDeck, which can be controlled from the front panel anyway, I've never hit a situation where the software I needed wasn't available for the Mac. True, there would only be one or two programs that performed the given task, but they did what I needed to, as opposed to slogging through a few dozen shitty versions of the same functionality as I slogged through Windows programs.

5. Applescript. Just about everything you can do can be automated with incredible ease. It's eve easier than using VBA to automate Windows programs, in part because most native Mac Apps support Applescript while few Windows programs support VBA.

6. Fewer security issues. Viruses are almost non existent. While this advantage will fade as the platform grows in popularity, it's a current advantage.

7. The centralized Address Book and Calendar. Instead of having dozens of different ways in which different applications store address book and calendar data, Mac OS has a central data store. Instead of having their own formats for storing data, various programs simply access this centralized data. This means once I get a phone number in the address book, it will, seamlessly, sync to any device or service that such data with my Mac. Getting my contacts onto my cell phone, iPod and so on was a matter of using the built in sync technology. I could even configure a specific subset of data to sync with my wife's phone.

There's more, but by and large, the Mac is easier to use, does everything I need and when I need to step beyond what Mac and iLife can do out of the box, I just turn to the Unix core and find what I need in the OSS community.

I freely admit however that before Mac OS X, I considered the Mac a cute toy.

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Wow: Crazy Teacher Accused of Branding Students

Students have come forward alleging that Freshwater had burned a cross into their arms using an “electrostatic device” which was apparently some kind of heat-based cutting tool used by the class. Apparently this occurred during some of his “healing” and purification rituals which he was known to have held.

read more | digg story

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Why can't I get Stevia in my breakfast cereal?

I've been using Stevia to sweeten coffee and tea for two or three years now. It's calorie free and because it's sweeter than table sugar, a dash can sweeten coffee as much as a few teaspoons of sugar. Recently, a friend casually mentioned that Stevia was not approved as a food additive. In the US it's only legal to sell it as a "Dietary Supplement." Having visions of the rumors about Aspartame side effects I did some research. Stevia wasn't really legal in the USA until the "1994 Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act" made it legal to sell as a "Dietary Supplement." I realized I was about to dive into a hotly contested issue rife with conspiracy theories, so I started with the FDA's web site. Specifically, I read the FDA guidelines for field operatives on handling Stevia. According to the FDA, it's been approved for years in Japan and Brazil.
The product is used in these countries as a table-top
sweetener in virtually all food commodities and as a
flavor enhancer in such products as teas. Stevioside
is reportedly 250-300 times sweeter than sugar and
contributes no calories to the diet.
It's use in Japan is so pervasive that it's sometimes necessary to test Japanese food imports for the presence of Stevia. In the US, if Stevia is being sold as a dietary supplement, an ingredient in a dietary supplement or for research purposes then it's legal as long as no mention of its sweetening properties is made. The hair splitting gets even stranger in this quote:
If stevia is to be used in a dietary supplement for a
technical effect, such as use as a sweetener or
flavoring agent, and is labeled as such, it is
considered an unsafe food additive.  However, in the
absence of labeling specifying that stevia is being or
will be used for a technical effect, use of stevia as
a dietary ingredient in a dietary supplement is not
subject to the food additive provisions of the FD&C Act.
This means if the labeling mentions Stevia as a sweetener, even in a "dietary supplement" it's suddenly something that has to be seized. An FDA article on Sugar Substitutes makes brief mention of Stevia. In it Martha Peiperl, a consumer safety officer in the FDA's Office of Premarket Approval is quoted as saying "The safety of stevia has been questioned by published studies." Both FDA articles state that the FDA has not received what they consider sufficient proof that Stevia is safe. Some say Stevia shouldn't even be under scrutiny because it's not a "new" compound, which has fueled conspiracy theories about why the FDA is interested in Stevia.

I decided to set aside the fact that at least one Stevia manufacturer has some tinfoil hat level paranoia about  Aspartame and focus on finding the studies showing Stevia can be dangerous. Cheerleading articles were easy to find. For example, I found one touting the blood sugar regulating benefits of Stevia. Simple logic would suggest that reducing sugar would have the bulk of the described benefits. I also found a site that pointed out the "200 to 300 times sweeter than sugar" claim is based on the liquid extract. The powdered form is only 10 to 15 times sweeter than sugar. This clarification was consistent with my own experience. I also found a site claiming the FDA ordered the destruction of Stevia cook books. According to the site the FDA later claimed that the publisher decided to destroy them on his own.

DiabetesMonitor.com has a page of quotes. From it I learned the World Health Organization (WHO) is also asking for more research to be done. The WHO and FDA are claiming more studies are needed before declaring Stevia "safe." A company claiming 65% of the world wide Stevia market has a chart listing Stevia's legal status in various countries. I found a lot of churn. Setting aside the alleged anti-Stevia lobbying by NutraSweet, the pro-Stevia arguments boiled down to a lack of evidence that it does harm, its long history of use and its popularity in many Asian countries. The anti-Stevia arguments seemed to boil down to a lack of evidence that it's safe. Hard Evidence took a little more digging.

Stevia.net lists a number of studies and their results, but given the URL, I was not surprised by the overwhelmingly positive nature of the listed results. Finally, I found the WHO Stevia report, a summary of the research the World Health Organization used to evaluate Stevia. At first I wondered why so many of the studies referenced were about the impact of Stevia on reproduction.

An Ebsco Health article on Stevia revealed that Stevia was traditionally used as a form of birth control. It also mentioned that "very high dosages of a stevia extract led to reductions in blood pressure". The problem is, they don't know how MUCH stevia you need to eat or how far it will cause your blood pressure to drop. According to the WHO conclusions, "Stevioside may also act as a calcium antagonist". The main chemicals studied were stevioside and steviol, compounds know to be produced when Stevia is metabolized. The claim that Stevia does not inhibit fertility are based on the tests done with Stevioside. The problem is, oral administration of S. rebaudiana "was reported to cause a severe, long-lasting reduction in fertility". This means eating the plant itself reduces fertility, but none of the compounds KNOWN to result from ingesting it are responsible. There's something else happening when rats are given Stevia and we don't know what it is. According to the WHO report:
In some studies, the material tested (stevioside or steviol) was poorly specified or of variable quality, and no information was available on other constituents or contaminants.
This means that even the "safe" dosage levels identified in the studies can't be correlated with real world products. The WHO report is kind enough to offer recommendations on what to do differently. Among them, "specifications must be developed to ensure that the material tested is representative of the material of commerce." The phrase "material of commerce" is commonly used to describe something similar to what will actually be sold to customers. You wouldn't, for example, declare a refined buffered aspirin derivative "safe" because of tests done with Willow Bark Tea. You want to test the pills that will actually be sold. Stevia's backers are glossing over the reproductive concerns by cherry picking which studies they want to quote. There's evidence that stevioside and steviol are NOT the only active compounds resulting from the ingestion of Stevia. The studies were inconsistently done and gave little information about the actual compounds being tested. Then there's the fact that stevia and it's resulting compounds can repress oxidative phosphorylation which impacts glucose absorption and how we extract energy from food. Is Stevia being held to a higher standard than well funded artificial sweeteners like Aspartame? Perhaps. Is Stevia being held to a standard I, as a consumer, would want want applied to it? Hell Yes.

Who is youtube.com/user/StaticOff ?

All my writing about StaticOff has been the result of a series of messages I received from the youtube.com user StaticOff. The abusive, hostile messages that sparked my blogging about Staticoff came from that account. These were not e-mail messages, but "General Messages" sent through the Youtube service. This includes the message I quoted on April 16.

The first comment to that April 16 post came from a blogger using the name Shalom. When you strip out the verbal abuse you get a single salient point.

The blogger account Shalom is claiming that the most recent Youtube message did NOT come from Shalom Wertsberger, the inventor of StaticOff.

If we assume the Blogger account is genuine then either the Youtube account is itself a fake, or the account is being used without the authorization of Shalom Wertsberger. This brings into question the authenticity of the original abusive messages I received on Mar 14, 2008, Mar 18, 2008, Mar 19, 2008 and Apr 16, 2008.

The blogger account offers only an automated e-mail responder as "Proof" of its authenticity. All this proves is access to the staticoff.com mail server. It does not prove Shalom Wertsberger is behind the blogger account.

We're left with limited options.
  • Some or all of the Youtube comments could be fakes
  • The blogger account could be fake, but created by someone with access to the staticoff.com mail server.
  • There could be multiple people using the Youtube account and they aren't keeping each other in the loop on what they're doing.
I would encourage anyone participating in Staticoff's $500 video contest to seriously consider how this contest would be impacted if the youtube.com user StaticOff is indeed a fake account.

If the StaticOff Youtube AND Shalom Blogger accounts are genuine and written entirely by Shalom Wertsberger, then the comment to my April 16 blog post would constitute a lie, a denial of what he had already written.

My interactions with people claiming to represent StaticOff have resulted in me receiving nothing but a string of verbal abuse. I've not benefited from this exchange in any way. I doubt any of this will influence anyone's decision to purchase or not purchase the StatifOff product.

If the blogger account Shalom is to be believed, everyone involved is tired of these exchanges. In the interest of putting this to bed I offer the following:

If I have made any factually inaccurate statements about StaticOff or those responsible for the product in any way, I apologize. Such errors were made without malice or intent to harm. According to the youtube.com user StaticOff my original Youtube comment about StaticOff was in error. I have posted a retraction to Youtube as a reply to the Youtube user StaticOff.

It has been claimed that at least one of the messages I've received from the StaticOff Youtube account were not from Shalom Wertsberger. If this is the case then Shalom Wertsberger needs to find out who is actually behind the Youtube account and why they're using it to send abusive messages in his name.

Given the doubts recently raised regarding the authenticity of the Shalom Blogger account and the Youtube StaticOff account, I am forced to conclude that someone somewhere is lying to me. This means I have no accurate data about the mind set or communication style of the REAL Shalom Wertsberger. I have only comments from a person or persons claiming to be him.

Any comments I've made about Shalom Wertsberger and StaticOff have been my own opinion, based upon messages I've received. If those messages were faked, then someone somewhere is trying to make him look unstable and abusive. I recommend Shalom Wertsberger look into who is really behind the StaticOff Youtube account.

If Shalom Wertsberger is indeed the creator of the StaticOff youtube account and someone else is using that account to send fake messages in his name, then he has my deepest sympathy. I wrote under the impression that the communications I received were genuine. If these messages were in fact faked then I apologize for any inaccurate impressions I formed and stated about Shalom Wertsberger.

My sincere hope is that this will be the end of my exchanges with anyone involved with StaticOff or Shalom Wertsberger. If Mr Wertsberger does indeed learn who has been using the Youtube StaticOff account to claim to be him, then I encourage him to let me know, so I can add that detail to this Blog.

God's speed Shalom Wertsberger.

Barukh ata Adonai Eloheinu melekh ha‑olam, ha‑gomel lahayavim tovot sheg'malani kol tov.

Amen. Mi sheg'malkha kol tov hu yigmalkha kol tov. Selah.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Sent a message to StaticOff's inventor

I just used Youtube's message feature to sent StaticOff's inventor a copy of the "Open Letter" I wrote in response to his latest fountain of paranoia.

Hopefully this will be that last I hear of him.

I'm reminded of my wife's advice about interacting with people on the Internet. "Don't talk to the crazies" she told me. If only I'd listened.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

StaticOff's inventor is now blaming me for all the negative feedback he's getting on the Internet

Due to a lot of major changes in my life lately, I've had minimal contact with my computer and my blog for the last two weeks. This morning I sat down and skimmed my e-mail to find I'd received notice of yet another youtube comment:

From: StaticOff
Sent: April 16, 2008
Subject: Blogs
Message:
It has been brought to our attention that you may be attempting to write to blogs using other bloggers names under different sign-ins in an attempt to discredit them and create the impression they are using the blogging world to attack you. If this is true I would suggest you not only cease doing this but also remove these fictitious blog entries otherwise we will look at legal actions that are available to us.
Thank You.


For the record, I have no idea what Shalom Wertsberger, the inventor of StaticOff, is talking about. He's placed his product on the Internet and appears to be attributing all the negative feedback he gets to me.

Here is my open letter to Shalom Wertsberger:

I have a newborn child in the house and a full time job. I do not have the time or the interest in you or your product to dedicate to attacking you. The last word I'd written about StaticOff was a March 31, 2008 post on my blog where I asked people to post their experiences with StaticOff. It received no constructive replies.

I don't know what blogs, "different sign-ins" or attempts to attack me you are referring to. From what you describe it sounds like someone is attacking me on your behalf. I'd like to remind you that there are a number of teenagers competing for a $500 prize to make the best "StaticOff" video. I find it more likely that one of them decided to rise to your defense. It's also entirely possible that people who happen to use names or logins similar to those of your bloggers are in fact responding.

You claim that someone is trying to discredit me and yet you immediately jump to the conclusion that it's me. To be honest if I were capable of such devious tactics I'd have gone into politics or corporate management. You clearly have some sort of persecution complex and I really don't want to be on the receiving end of your guile every time someone says something you don't like about your precious invention.

I'd exhausted my interest in you and your product in March of 2008. I don't know who is trying to attack me, nor do I really care. This is the Internet and I'm used to trolls and juvenile twits making rude comments. Kindly stop contacting me every time someone says something about StaticOff that didn't come from your marketing department.

Monday, March 31, 2008

Seeking StaticOff Reviews

Has anyone actually used the StaticOff?

It's a wall switch replacement. After a series of unpleasant exchanges with the StaticOff inventor, I find myself wondering if the product actually works. I have no proof either way, having never used one myself.

If you've used the StaticOff, please post your review, positive or negative, as a comment to this post or e-mail me at staticoff @ onlineconfessional dot com

Friday, March 21, 2008

StaticOff, again

Anyone reading my blog the last few days will know that there's been a few exchanges between myself and the inventor of StaticOff. I've now made the following Youtube comment:
halleyscomet March 21, 2008
I stand corrected. According to the user "StaticOff" the product will prevent an actual shock. I still think installing a bunch of custom light switch plates in your home is overkill, but if that's what you want to do about static electricity you're welcome to do so.
Hopefully, this will assuage Shalom Wertsberger. He clearly wasn't satisfied with "correcting" me with technical details about his product, but insisted upon getting me to acknowledge that, having never actually USED the StaticOff, I could not say with authority that it didn't work.

This started when I posted a Youtube comment that was based upon a misinterpretation of the commercial he'd posted. He, instead of realizing it was a simple error on my part, reacted as if I were some sort of psychopath out to destroy his business.

Shalom Wertsberger continued his hostile, aggressive tone throughout the subsequent exchanges, going so far as to equate an error about his product to lodging false accusations of child molestation.

I made a simple error. I thought the StaticOff was nothing more than a grounded metal plate. If Shalom Wertsberger has approached me in a friendly tone and explained the product's features in a calm manner, I'd have either deleted my Youtube comment or posted an apology. It could have been resolved in a fairly level headed manner.

Maybe he's been a lawyer too long and is just used to all human interaction being a contest of wills, a battle to the end. Even in his March 21, 2008 post to this blog he refuses to acknowledge that phrases like:

Your comment is 100.00% wrong, ahs(sic) nothing to do with reality, and I believe shows extremely poor judgment: You set up your mind with hardly a clue as to the facts.

Are a poor way to initiate any kind of communication.

Now, I could go though his last contact and write a detailed response but there really isn't much point. He's only going to respond with more hostility and anger. He thinks having invented the StaticOff gives some sort of moral high ground against anyone who criticizes it.

Despite the damning criticism of US Software Patents from actual experts and the fact that the patent office itself has responded by instituting changes to their procedures, despite the fact that the patent office is turning to peer review to reduce its use of internal "experts" Shalom Wertsberger still has an astounding level of confidence in the legitimacy of his software patents.

I wonder how Ron Popeil would react to a lone, apparently inaccurate, Youtube comment about one of his products?

If Shalom Wertsberger is going to continue advertising online, he really needs to brush up on his people skills and work on more level headed responses to Youtube comments. This time his ego and anger issues ticked off a computer Geek who decided to do a bit of research during lunch. Next time, he could start a flame war with someone like Tim Henson of Distorted View (NSFW) and God help him if he steps into that world.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

StaticOff's inventor is still making a nuisance of himself

I got another youtube message from the man claiming to be StaticOff's inventor.

Mar 19, 2008, 08:52 AM


staticoff bad mouthing.
I note with great interest that not only have you spent a great deal of time on your own website attempting to, for want of a better term, bad mouth static off, but you have started to visit other blog sites etc where Staticoff is mentioned to post anti-staticoff comments. I find this rather destructive on your part and somewhat rather cowardly and childish, especially considering you have not tried the product. I would hope that from now on, you find some other way to handle what appears to be too much free time on your hands - maybe you could invent and patent some product.
Thank you.


It would appear that Shalom Wertsberger's brief moment of clarity in his revised Youtube post was in fact an aberration. While his tone is far more muted than in past messages, he's still hostile and condescending.

I can't help but wonder why he's so interested in my Blog and what I had to say about his product. If he'd simply ignored my Youtube comment, or posted an articulate and hostility free technical response, that would have been the end of it. He still hasn't realized that this isn't about StaticOff, but about his disproportionately emotional response.

I'm not going to try StaticOff for two reasons:

1. I don't need it. I get a static shock at home about two to three times a year. Some of the rooms in my home have pull chains on the lights as opposed to light switches, meaning there's no convenient location in those rooms to install StaticOff. I'm not going to buy a few dozen $10.00 light switch plates and get in the habit of touching them when I enter a room to avoid a mild annoyance.

2. Trying the product would require I buy it and I have no interest in giving money to someone who is arrogant, hostile and condescending towards me because I made a critical comment.

My favorite line from his message is, "maybe you could invent and patent some product."

Perhaps he missed the fact that I consider his invention to be a silly, frivolous waste of time and money. I can painlessly discharge static electricity by tapping my wedding band to a grounded surface. My favorite watch has a metal band. Tapping THAT against a grounded surface will painlessly discharge any built up static.

I will admit while Shalom Wertsberger's product may be silly, he does have a decent marketing machine. The commercials are of typical "late night infomercial" quality and they manage to be amusing without being painfully annoying. The video contest he's running is another clever bit of marketing. For $500 and a little time, he'll get a lot of free advertising. Then there's the placebo effect that will work to his advantage. A lot of people will get in the habit of touching the StaticOff and just assume it worked if they don't get zapped, even if they didn't have enough of a charge to shock them anyway.

No, I have every reason to think Shalom Wertsberger will make plenty of money off StaticOff, even if it's a useless, pointless product. Just look at your local "As Seen on TV" store if you need proof that people will spend good money of junk they don't really need.

I'd really like Mr. Wertsberger to calm down. He has an advertising budget while I have a little time and a blog with a PageRank of 1. A few wiseass remarks on the Internet won't hurt his business, but his hostility and aggression will.

I also suggest that if he wants to advertise online he should develop a thicker skin. The Internet can be harsh and if he continues to react with this much anger to his critics he'll have a heart attack before the year is out.

Is StaticOff using Black Hat SEO?

Link farms are an old technique for artificially inflating your web site's search engine ranking. The general idea is to toss up a relatively useless site that consists of nothing but links to other sites, most of whom pay for inclusion in the link farm. This technique is part of the "Black Hat Search Engine Optimization (SEO)" toolkit. Google is constantly refining it's algorithm to reduce or eliminate the impact of Black Hat SEO techniques.

More refined versions will have shoddy articles or a line or two of ad copy about a product. Think of these sites as the web equivalent of a channel dedicated to showing nothing but commercials.

When doing research about StaticOff I noticed that a lot of the sites lining to StaticOff looked a lot like such link farms, or look like sham sites created just to link to StaticOff.

For example:

http://everything-network.weebly.com/
http://everything-network.quotaless.com/
http://www.everything-network.co.nr/

This site contains a link to www.staticoff.com and image to the product. All three URLS have similar content and they link to each other. All three URLS are based on free web site services, so the person who started this particular link farm didn't even need to spend much money on it. The site "Content" is little more than links to other pages, most of them just jumbled together under general headings, without so much as a comment on WHY a particular link is supposedly worthwhile.

everything-network looks like a textbook example of a link farm, offering little to nothing beyond pages of links.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

The inventor of StaticOff is mad at me and seems a bit unstable

Background

I was on Youtube, checking out a video a friend had sent me. One of the "related Videos" was a commercial for StaticOff Zapper Stopper. The StaticOff is a metal plate that you attach to your wall. You're supposed to touch the plate when you enter the room to discharge any static charge you've built up, thus avoiding a painful shock to friends and family. The commercial makes it look like the plate is grounded, which makes sense given it's intended function.

I found the product to be exceedingly silly for a few reasons.

It requires you to touch a specific object when you enter a room. This is inconvenient. I can see it making some sense if it's installed next to a light fixture, but even then, that only helps if you enter the room and happen to be flipping the light switch. My last apartment had pull chains in almost every room, so there was no location where it would make sense to install such a plate.

Static shocks aren't that hard to avoid. Your choice of clothing is a major factor. I tend to wear cotton around the house and will wear slippers or go barefoot. As a result I rarely get a static shock in the house, even during the Winter when the home is quite dry.

A properly humidified home will drastically reduce opportunities for static shocks.

Now, if you have shag carpeting throughout the house, wear rayon socks when walking about and wool sweaters with rayon undershirts, I can see the potential use of special plates installed throughout the house for you to discharge. That said, a good pair of house slippers and a few sweat shirts for wear in the home strikes me as a far more practical and economical method of avoiding static shock. This has the further advantage of leaving your walls intact.

It was with these, and many other thoughts, I made the following comment to the Youtube video:


Halleyscomet:

March 14, 2008

All this does is provide a grounded surface. You STILL get a static shock, it's just discharged on the plate instead of some other random object. Touching a metal doorknob will accomplish the same thing.


The Inventor Responds

I'd thought that was the end of it. Four days later I logged into my Youtube account again and found I had a couple messages from StaticOff.

Mar 14, 2008, 09:00 AM

Your comment regarding StaticOff

Sir,
Your comment is 100.00% wrong, ahs(sic) nothing to do with reality, and I believe shows extremely poor judgment: You set up your mind with hardly a clue as to the facts.

First, for the facts: Assuming you have sufficient technical background to understand the following:
The StaticOff touch points are electrodes are connected to an internal high impedance circuit that is in turn coupled to a non-linear device, which is connected to ground. The combination provide a slow, controlled discharge of the static charge. The RC constant of the circuit provides a very short but very important time delay, that allows you to get sufficiently close to the electrode without getting zapped, unless the charge level you carry exceeds 97 KV.
While this may happen, it is extremely rare -- it was the highest we were able to create and maintain on our bodies using a 150 KV source at extremely dry conditions. Normally, between 40% and 17% relative humidity a person does not collect more than 40-50 KV, and below 17% this number climbs to about 75-80 KV.
Therefore, when properly using the StaticOff device, YOU DO NOT GET A STATIC SHOCK. (using properly means touching the touch points, rather than the grounding screws).
The static shock you get when for example you touch a door knob, is due to the speed of discharge. The air ionizers and turns real fast from a good insulator to a good conducting path having but a few ohms. The charge of several thousand volts is discharge at a great rate, controlled by Ohm's law. While the amount of energy is small, the speed causes the pain.
When you use the StaticOff device, the speed of discharge is greatly reduced. The circuit characteristics allow you to get close and touch the electrode without a spark. Thus there is no static shock.

Now, I hope you will have the integrity to publicly admit your error outright, or buy the product, test it, and THEN admit your error.
And yes, I do take offence (sic) when someone who has no idea of the facts calls my invention and product a sham.

I wanted to give you a chance to correct things yourself, without humiliating you by exposing your ignorance. I expect that you will do so in the next 124 hours.
Regards
Shalom Wertsberger
Inventor, CEO, StaticOff


The first thing I noticed was the very hostile tone of the message. I'll admit, I was less than generous in my original post, but Shalom's response shows a considerable amount of aggression. It's been my experience that being polite generally gets better results. The overt hostility in phrases like "You set up your mind with hardly a clue as to the facts" leaves me disinterested in what he has to say. If he really had the facts on his side, would he REALLY be this hostile and angry in his reply?

The technical detail in his message certainly sounded plausible, at least to a layman such as myself. Touch the plate for a few seconds to painlessly discharge any built up static. Even if it works, I still consider it a silly, inconvenient waste of money, but I think the same of a lot of the products advertised on late night television.

It was the open hostility and challenges to my intelligence that caught my attention the most. I again wondered, if he really has the facts on his side, why would he bother stooping to such lowbrow tactics? I've dealt with some shady salesmen over the years and my gut reaction is to question the legitimacy of anyone using Shalom's tactics.

Another response from the Inventor

I'd like to point out that Shalom's 124 hour deadline gave me over 5 days to respond, but "Shalom Wertsberger" chose to post his next message in only 4:

Staticoff
Nobody's comet,

You have not found sufficient courage or decency to respond to my previous message inviting you to correct (or at least argue for) your ignorant and stupid remarks regarding my invention.

Since you failed to show basic integrity, I posted a comment, trying to correct the damage you caused by your irresponsible remark, and let the world set their opinion on you as the pompous, ignoramus and indecent coward that you are.
What a disgrace to Edmond Halley!
Shalom Wertsberger
Inventor and CEO, StaticOff.


Notice the greeting. My Youtube username is "HalleysComet" a reference to the stellar body named for Edmond Halley. Shalom Wertsberger starts off literally calling me a "nobody" because I hadn't responded to him quickly enough. That's hardly the way to get people to do what you want. Again, an issue that could have been resolved through patience and civility is instead approached with outright aggression. The entire message just berates me for not having responded to his post as quickly as he would have liked. He rants and raves and through the tone of his writing I can almost see him foaming at the mouth as he thinks of various ways to insult me.

More Youtube Posts

Finally he made a youtube post and I posted a reply:

March 18, 2008
StaticOff

Your comment is 100.00% wrong.
The StaticOff touchpoints are electrodes, connected to a high impedance circuit that includes a non-linear device. The combination provides a slow, controlled discharge of the static charge.
Therefore, YOU DO NOT GET A STATIC SHOCK USING STATICOFF.

I privately provided you with opportunity to withdraw your dumb comment. Since you did not, I hope everyone will see you what you are.

And yes, I took offense.

Shalom Wertsberger
Inventor, CEO, StaticOff


The above post was not actually posted as a reply to my comment, but as a reply to the video itself.

halleyscomet
No one is going to buy, or not buy, the "Static off" because of one lone Youtube comment, but your hostile tone in responding to my first post will leave people with the impression that you're trying to cover up a lack of facts with anger and aggression.

Why not just state where I'm supposedly wrong in a polite, educational tone? Why stoop to personal attacks? It hardly leaves the reader with confidence in you or your company. How do you respond if a customer wants to return a defective unit?

I start Digging

I can't help but wonder how such an angry, aggressive man runs his business and conducts himself with his family. He clearly thinks being a condescending jerk will get him his way. I decided to do a bit of digging.

I quickly found the StaticOff Blog. It only has a few posts, but it links to TheForecaster.net's review of the StaticOff The article contains two choice quotes from Wertsberger and his partner Shai Levite:

"It’s not snake oil," Wertsberger said. "It's a real solution and it works."

"It's just like any other medicine," added Levite, who used to suffer from static shock.


So, they're insisting it isn't snake oil and comparing a high tech grounded metal plate to medicine. Something tells me the folks over at The Skeptics' Guide To The Universe would join me in saying these quotes raise a few red flags.

One of the first Google hits for Shalom Wertsberger was a link to the "About Us" page on saltamar.com. The company name is Saltamar Innovations and their web site describes them as:

... a patent firm specializing in obtaining patent protection for the software and electronics industries. Our experience in those fields allows us to thoroughly understand the invention and provide you with the best possible protection.


The Patents

The Saltamar Innovations site mentions having 18 years of experience in software patents. Oddly, I didn't find any links on their site to patents that they'd filed. Patents DB however gave me a listing of patents filed by Saltamar Innovations.

Here are some examples:

Interacting augmented reality and virtual reality

A combination of interacting virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) system is provided where the system automatically switches from VR to AR when the user selected viewpoint coincides, within tolerance, with the observable AR viewpoint. The invention discloses an apparatus adapted to provide easy access and automatic switching between AR and VR, and method thehrefor.

Basically, this is a patent on situationally switching between virtual reality and a HUD. It was filed in 2001 and granted in 2006. Cyberpunk and computer gaming fans will notice that this boils down to a few drawings depicting an idea that's been around for at least a decade or two before the patent was filed. It even sounds suspiciously similar some of the technology described in the Sci-Fi classic Dune.

I wonder if anyone has patented "An immersion virtual reality (VR) environment attached to a life support system, allowing the subject to remain in VR indefinitely."

Call management via television

A telephone call management system and method are disclosed, allowing for call review where a voice mail message being recorded for a specific telephone may be played on a television associated therewith during the time it is being recorded. Optionally, the call may further be retrieved and rerouted to the user telephone responsive to a command entered via the television distribution gateway, and any call may be recorded responsive to commands entered via the gateway.

The patent was filed in Filed on 2002-07-02 and issued on 2007-10-02. The Jetsons depicted video phones decades before the filing. I wonder if the patent holder has tried to get royalties from the folks who make computer controlled conferencing and voice mail systems.

This is another patent that's not really an innovation. Playing a phone call through a Television and providing a video interface for managing and playing back phone calls are hardly innovative concepts, nor were they such in 2002.

While many of the patents were legitimately inventive, Saltamar Innovations filed a fair number of "inventions" that typify why so many developers want software patents abolished all together.

Return Volley from Shalom Wertsberger

An hour or two after I posted my response to his comment, Shalom Wertsberger made another Youtube post:

Your comment is 100.00% wrong.
The StaticOff touchpoints are electrodes, connected to a high impedance circuit that includes a non-linear device. The combination provides a slow, controlled discharge of the static charge.
Therefore, YOU DO NOT GET A STATIC SHOCK USING STATICOFF.

Shalom Wertsberger
Inventor, CEO, StaticOff


You'll notice that he rewrote his original response, taking into account my comments about his hostility. He also deleted his original post and my reply, removing the public evidence of his aggressive and condescending attitude. If I hadn't copied and pasted the comments into this Blog Post, they'd have vanished down the memory hole.

In the end, my brief encounter with the aggressive inventor of the StaticOff left me with the image of a hostile man in need of Anger Management therapy. I feel sorry for his family and business partners. I also find myself questioning the legitimacy of his product's claims, given the deranged attacks he used to defend the invention.

Monday, February 4, 2008

Athiest Eve

While I consider myself to be Christian, I do enjoy the Atheist Eve comic strip, a sample of which is listed below.

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Knitting for Psychopaths

I have to admit, most of these projects seem rather gruesome. I can only imagine the reaction would get working on one of these on the train.

For some reason, the knit monkey rowing on a giant banana seems out of place.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Paypal's itchy trigger finger

Paypal recently locked my account because I had the audacity to *GASP* make a purchase. They sent the merchant an e-mail claiming I was the one contesting the transaction and I've learned they;ve also locked HER account and are blocking her from retrieving her funds.

Paypal sent me a survey, asking for my feedback on this matter. One of the questions was along the lines of "What can Paypal do better?"

Below is the response I entered for that question.
Send the merchant a letter stating that Paypal is contesting the transaction. Don't hide behind my name, lie and claim I was the one contesting the bill.

Add a button to the site letting me cancel an investigation you morons initiated. The last time my credit card company suspected my card had been stolen, they put a hold on the card and cleared it up after a short phone call. They dind't make me wade through a useless web site for an hour, get sick of the USELESS interface and then use Google to hunt up a customer service number. Even then I had to spend 20 minutes on the phone to resolve Paypal's screw up.

The ONLY reason I didn't just mail the merchant a check was because of the customer service rep I spoke to. That person actually resolved the issue that baffled your web site. I appear to have been lucky and gotten the only competent Paypal employee.

In the future, I won't even use Paypal for ebay transactions. I'm going back to checks, or better yet, switch to an auction site that lets me use Google Checkout.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

1st Financial, the pain continues

Called 1st Financial, and they claimed that my credit card had a, get this, $0.28 balance. For a second I thought they might have left the finance charge on the card, but the finance charge was $0.50

I called their customer service line at 8:31 pm, EST, Jan 22, 2008 and was transferred to "Patrick".

When I described the problem he said "how about I zero that out for you sir?" I thanked him and said I also wanted to close the account. He said the account was already closed and I should get another statement on the 5th of Feb.

I await the next volley with baited breath.

No Power at the office

This is why nothing is getting done today. The power is out at the office and they are not sending us home (yet)

UPDATE: 1:00 pm

The owner decided to send everyone home at 10:00 AM. I was surprised that it took me close to two and a half hours to get hoe, thanks th the buses and trains switching from their rush hour schedules. The trip home was further aggravated when I made a quick stop at the grocery store, and the one bus that was going to arrive that hour decided to blow past me, despite the fact that I was sitting on the bench waiting patiently. When the same driver came by again an hour later I ended up running to the next stop to catch the bus.

His excuse?

"I never stop if someone is just sitting on the bench. People waiting for this bus stand up when I come by."

Thursday, January 17, 2008

First Financial Bank, Experts at Committing Credit Card Fraud

I've been trying to close my First Financial Credit card for three months now. It all started when I got a bill with a positive balance. As their customer service was closed when I opened the bill, and the card had carried a zero balance for a number of months, I reported an unauthorized transaction.

The charge was later revealed to be an "Annual membership fee."

Over the next couple months, despite repeated calls to cancel the account and promises that the charges would be reversed I got another bill for January, 2008.

I opened it on Jan 17, 2008. They claimed I not only owed them $10.00 but now owed a $37.00 late fee and a $0.50 finance charge.

They wanted me to pay $47.50 in charges for a credit card that had carried a zero balance for a prolonged period and which I had been trying to cancel for three months, all the while receiving promises that the charges were being reversed.

I called customer service and reached Joe, Rep ID # 354.

He said the account had been reviewed, had been reinstated and that while the account was closed the balance was still due. He refused to reverse the charges. Apparently one of the reps I spoke to in December when I was trying to cancel the account had decided to reinstate it, thus initiating the $10.00 charge.

Joe considered the matter resolved, and was telling me how I needed to pay the outstanding balance.

I informed him that I was NOT paying the bill, as First Financial was NOT entitled to the money, and that if the charges were not reversed and the account closed I would report credit card fraud to the three main credit reporting agencies.

He still insisted that "The account was already reviewed."

I asked how I escalated this issue. After several minutes on hold he Transferred me to the "After hours Service Department" at 800-733-1732.

I spoke with Patty. When I asked for her rep number she said it was "extension 2321." She said that she had credited the balance and the late fee and that my next bill, which would be cut on Feb 5, would reflect a zero balance.

I asked if there was a confirmation number she could give me, and she said there was none. I asked her when I would could call in to hear the zero balance on the automated phone line. She said she did not know, but said the credits would be processed before my next bill was cut.

I remain, understandably, dubious. I called in at 8:08 pm, about 15 minutes after the customer service calls finished and it still reported my account as "delinquent."

My plan from here on out is simple. I'm going to call their balance hotline, and if I don't hear a "Zero balance" by Monday, then Tuesday, I'm calling their customer service.

If I get another bill, I'm going to do the following:
  • Report the incident as credit card fraud to TransUnion, Equifax and Experian.
  • File a complaint with the BBB.
  • File a small claims case against First Financial.
  • Run a credit report. If this debacle is reflected in my credit score then the Small Claims case will be for the maximum allowable by Small Claims Court for the damage they're doing to my future financial solvency be attacking my credit rating. I'll also contest it on my credit report with TransUnion, Equifax and Experian.

I'm sick of this, I'm sick of these liars claiming the charges are being reversed when they aren't. All I wanted to do was cancel a credit card I no longer used or needed, and First Financial Bank seems to have taken umbrage to this notion.

1st Financial Bank USA
PO Box 1050
N Sioux City, SD 57049

Thursday, January 10, 2008

The pending election

The word 'politics' is derived from the word 'poly', meaning 'many', and the word 'ticks', meaning 'blood sucking parasites'.
Larry Hardiman

Violence is the last refuge of the incompetent.
Isaac Asimov (1920 - 1992), Salvor Hardin in "Foundation"

We have only two things to worry about: That things will never get
back to normal, and that they already have.
Unknown

An Open Letter to the Christian Entertainment Industry

background

My childhood exposure to Sci-Fi was spotty at best. While I got some of the classics, such as H. G. Wells and Jules Verne, a lot of science fiction was unavailable to me due to the confines of a religious upbringing. Fortunately I was lucky enough to hear Dimension X reruns on the radio, which exposed me to authors such as Ray Bradburry, further feeding my geekery and forging my current interest in Old Time Radio.

Christian Sci-Fi and Fantasy, 90% suck

Aside from those few isolated sources, most of the Sci-Fi I got to read was the sort you find in Christian book stores. Stephen Lawhead was the high water mark for living Christian Science Fiction and fantasy writers. The Christian market was so desperate for decent science fiction that the Dune series, as anti-Messianic and anti-religion as you can get, was sometimes sold at Christian book stores and Becka Book sales as an "Allegory".

Many of the Christian schools and Churches I attended banned things like The Lord of the Rings and even Narnia. LOTR I could understand, as one of the heroes is a wizard, but banning Naria and allowing Dune convinced me that whoever was making these decisions never actually READ any of the books.

Christian Computer Games, 100% Suck

Christian Computer games were as neglected and barren a landscape as Christian Science Fiction. I vividly remember a Nintendo cartridge that featured "Bible Heroes." The people who made these games never took inspiration from things like the epic battles to take and hold Canaan, or the political intrigue around the succession of Kings. No, all the really cool source material was left by the wayside.

The Bible games were not exciting or engaging, but insipid and boring. Yes, you got to play David, son of Jessee, but you didn't play a game where King David is going to war or fighting the rebellion lead by his own son. No, you played a 12 year old David running around collecting lost lambs and putting them in a pen. The game ENDED just before the battle with Goliath, where it really should have been starting.

All of this came flooding back to me courtesy of some podcasts. It seems the sidekick from "Charles in Charge" has gone as far to the right as Kirk Cameron and created the character "Bibleman."

Bibleman, an apparent staple in Christian themed superhero media now has a video game.



Why Christian Computer Games Suck

I want there to be something about this that surprises me. I want to see some progress in the media, but by and large even the GRAPHICS have failed to evolve much since my own high school days. The premise is insipid, the agenda onion-skin thin, the voice over work sub-par even for a video game. The game play looks dull, uninspired and repetitive.

The mentality behind this is all too obvious to me. These abominations are brought about by prejudice and misconception. This is not an attempt to create an engaging and interesting game. Bibleman is an attempt to graft in-your-face, Christian concepts onto a Christian parent's stereotype of a video game. The models for these games are not the ones that actually sell, but the cartoon image middle aged, highly offended, Evangelicals have of video games. They're an attempt to make a preachy game based on a stereotype and the result is sad, campy and pathetic.

I have some respect for the people who tried to counter the violence of Quake with a paint ball game. The implementation may have been poor, but the idea was sound. I have no respect for the people who created the Bibleman video game. If you're going to have a game where kids are running around killing people anyway then go all out and make a GOOD video game based on the Old Testament.

Fixing the Problems with Christian Computer Games

Anyone about to make a Christian Computer game needs to go out and PLAY SOME GAMES. Don't look at screen shots your pastor circulated in his last "Why Rockstar Software is evil" flier. Play some popular games for 5 to 10 hours each and talk to some enthusiastic gamers. Ask them what they like about games and what keeps them interested in a game.

Tone down the Cheese. Having crosses everywhere and the heroes calling out "In the Name of Christ" every 30 seconds gets real old real fast.

Jack Chick is not a role model. I hate to break it to you, but Jack Chick tracts never converted anyone. His over the top stereotypes only serve to annoy and offend the very people the tracts claim to target. All they really accomplish is allowing the Christians who distribute them to pretend they're evangelizing without requiring them to actually interact with human beings, you know, Witness.

Don't resort to stereotypes. Here are some examples from actual Christian media:
  • A main villain named "Wacky Protester" whose goal is to draw souls into Hell.
  • A supercomputer with an annoying voice that's easily recognizable as a bad stereotype of a new Jersey Jewish girl.
  • An "Evil teacher" out to spread "Humanist" values

None of these are credible villains. They won't be taken seriously by someone playing the game. Using them or characters like them just violates the next rule:

Don't use it to preach. The goal of a Christian game should be to create something that kids can play instead of the games you find objectionable. If you use it as a platform to constantly preach and teach moral lessons then the kids will get bored. A moral THEME is just fine. Take a look at the "Light Side / Dark Side" theme of "Knights of the Old Republic" as an example.

Fred Rogers was an ordained minster who went into television production because he hated what was already on the air. He set out to create something he approved of. His morality, humility and integrity permeates every second of the programming he produced and has reverberated through programs like "Daniel Tiger's Neighborhood" that are base upon what he created. At no point in anything he produced did he start preaching about Jesus on television, even though he started producing childrens' programming during a time period where he could have gotten away with it on PBS. He did not TALK ABOUT his faith, he simple LIVED HIS FAITH and the result has been a source of peace, love and acceptance that will hopefully reverberate for generations. Don't create Christian entertainment the way Jack Chick produces  comic books. Create it the way Fred Rogers produced television.

Use it as Inspiration, but don't force it to be the central theme.

You may think the people behind the Diablo games are trying to corrupt your children in some kind of demonic plot to bring more souls to Satan. It may come as a shock to you that they're not. Game designers are just using spooky and scary cultural source material to get a good adrenalin rush going. Do the same with the Bible. Isiah's actual description of what Angels look like is pretty far removed from the winged little nancy-girls in white we inherited from the Romans. The Old testament has two different descriptions of Angels, handsome messengers often robed in light and three story tall walking nightmares who look like they could use a city bus for a game of catch.

Medieval art gives us the fanciful notion of demons being bat winged freaks with Pan's legs and goat heads. It stands to reason they'd look a lot like their unfallen brethren. Depicting them as such would them a lot more frightening than the current Hollywood and comic book images.

Game ideas

Here are some ideas. If you use them I ask for a credit in the game and a small percentage donated to an animal shelter or rescue group. I'd prefer The House Rabbit Network, but I'm not picky. (Well, aside from ruling out those hypocrites at PETA and their 80% kill rate, but that's a different story)

A resource management game based on the conquest of Canaan.

You have all the elements for Starcraft style game play. You need to gather resources, fight enemies and keep a large civilian population in check. By this point God had stopped feeding the people with manna and Moses wasn't around to extract water from stones. The key is to keep divine intervention to a minimum. God is present in the game, but he's not making it easy for his chosen people. Read the Bible, he made them do most of the dirty work.

A Persistent Multi player Online game based on Judges I and II.

You have rampaging bands of invaders, no centralized government, false prophets and priests of Baal running around and the occasional "Judge" sent by God to clean things up, Samson being just the most famous of many.

If you MUST do the End Times...

Take a good long look at the book of Revelations. You'll notice that the whole "Twinkling of an Eye" event happens AFTER the fall of the Antichrist. The notion of "The Rapture" sparing all the good little Christians from the End Times is a deliberate misinterpretation of scripture. It's a tool for tempting Christians to be prideful and arrogant about their fate, when the reality is we're going to get just as much of a smack down as everyone else.

Suck it up and deal, then use it to make a survival game about Christians living in a dissolving civilization under totalitarian rule. Don't lay it on too thick though. Yes, have a few characters refuse to believe the Antichrist really is the Antichrist because "I would have been Raptured if he were" but if something like that gets referenced more than once every hour of game play you're laying it on too thick.

Thursday, January 3, 2008

Lenno accidentally breaks strike rules

Jay Lenno wrote his own monologue for the Jan 2, 2007 episode of his program. Blogger Nikki Finke however, is insisting that scabs or strike breaking WGA writers MUST have written it.

Based on what Lenno said, it sounds like he just misunderstood the contract, thinking he could write the monologue himself without violating the contract. The article seems to assume Lenno is incapable of writing his own material, despite the fact that he was an accomplished solo act long before he became the host of his current program. Given the quality of most of the writing on Television, I suspect the WGA should be more concerned that he'll decide he prefers writing his own material again.

I posted a comment to Ms. Finke's blog, but have not seen it on the page. It's possible that she just moderates her blog and the comment won't show up for a few hours / days / whatever. Given the tenor of most of the comments however, I suspect she's just filtering out comments that don't assume Lenno is some sort of union buster out to screw over the writers.

I'm tempted to make a jab at the quality level of most TV and film writers, but a few minutes with the average sitcom or soap opera says all that's really necessary.