Wednesday, May 14, 2008

A Nation of Mad Scientists

"I'm not a Mad Scientist, I'm an Angry Scientist!" (Young Frankenstein, I think) According to the Wikipedia article on "Mad Scientist," these guys "often work with fictional technology..." Hence the title here.

Just this week, I got a data call from a friend who needed a geek to tell him what was up with Brown's Gas, burning water and stuff to make a 10 Mpg pickup truck do 22 Mpg. OK, I looked it up, I reviewed it. There was even some heavyweight research done on it. But, in the end, it reminded me of "the secret carburetor," the "gas-enhancing packet," and X-Ray Vision glasses that every red-blooded pre-teen prayed would let him see his homeroom angel naked.

Wake up!!! For heaven's sake, people, why does it always come down to another episode of The Rain Maker? Only now, some clown in a plaid jacket comes to town and claims his secret invention will eliminate your reliance on the $4-a-gallon pump. Now, everyone is believing in perpetual motion machines and water-powered cars, every sort of nonsense that we were supposed to have outgrown oh, back in 1945???

So much for the Founding Fathers' dream of universal education making a strong Republic. It would seem that fact, scientific fact, may be conveniently ignored in the vain hope that the fuel we so wantonly wasted over the past 50 years may be returned to us (at 25 cents a gallon while you are at it, please, God?).

Wishing you can have unlimited sources of energy will not make it so. While Volkswagen may indeed have created a 70Mpg bio-diesel roller skate, your Ford 450 Megaton Pickup is not going to get 35 mpg without driving it off of the proverbial cliff.

There are certain laws of physics that dominate this game. Way back when the only conveyances were horses and sailboats, the "laws of physics" were discovered by homo sapiens and various simple experiments have proven them out year after year in high schools and even elementary schools throughout the nation. In much the same way as 2 + 2 is always equal to 4 (even for very large values of 2), the energy you can get from a system is always equal to or less than what you put in.

Yet, once again, in a manner similar to what occurred in the gas crisis of 1972, magic additives and pills abound. Engines that run on compressed air, engines that run on water, cars that run on gravity. Like drowning swimmers, we grasp every pointless bit of flotsam around us in hopes that it will somehow float both itself and us.

True energy efficiency comes from not wasting energy. I'm no Kung Fu master, but isn't this what the old guy says to "Writtow Gwasshoppah" every time The True Knowledge is being imparted to the young pip on the Path of Enlightenment? Apparently, we treat this knowledge as a fiction only for books and movies. We don't really buy it, do we?

Way back in 1962, Arthur C. Clarke postulated that "Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic." It seems there is an opposite (contrapositive?) effect at work here. Dave Lebling states that "Any sufficiently arcane magic is indistinguishable from technology." Strangely enough, this seems to be the more oft-repeated version. This must be why these scams never seem to go away.

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