Rossi and The E-cat: Haven’t we been down this path before?

The online world is alive with amazement over the “cold fusion” being currently trumpeted (with very little evidence) by Andrea Rossi.

It is in fact very likely bad science at best, or outright fraud, and the fact that the alternative energy community has leaped upon it with such uncritical (one might even say, fanatical) joy, says very poor things about the state of critical thinking among many alternative energy advocates.

The Energy Catalyzer supposedly fuses protons to copper atoms in a low temperature reaction, producing heat with no (or very little radiation).  Or at least that’s what it is supposed to do.  As yet, nobody has seen it actually work.  Oh there have been shows, but that’s all they were– shows.  No proof was shown.

And that’s the first strike against this rather strange story.  At no point have any outside scientists been allowed to examine the unit.  Much like the mythical 200 MPG carburetor, or any one of a dozen (or hundred) other advances to science that briefly entice the gullible, before vanishing, the secret is so important that nobody can be allowed to view it.

In fact, it would be wise to note some common unifying factors about the various scientific scams that have existed throughout history:

1.  The discovery is something that is beyond the current ken of mainstream science.

Also, it suddenly produces real and impressive results.  This is usually something you can contrast with the fact that most scientists tend to, if anything, underplay their results, preferring to avoid the risk of individuals getting the wrong idea.

Rossi here of course is claiming that he will be shipping out one megawatt units, “Very soon.”  (Very soon has changed, as we will see below).

2. There are demonstrations, but they are controlled demonstrations and not peer reviewed.

If you’re running a scientific scam, the last thing you want is real scientists free to examine your discovery.  They tend to ask inconvenient questions and are far more capable of poking holes in the demonstration than a reporter, even a science reporter is.  At no point has the E-cat had anything like a rigorous review by qualified scientists.

3.  But that’s okay, because the inventor needs to protect his invention!

The only patent issued for the E-cat is currently Italian– a European patent application was rejected due to the deficiencies in description, but much of the concern held is that if anyone looks inside the magic box they will suddenly steal the invention.

Well yes– one can look inside a car and steal that invention, because it is very difficult to patent a natural process, and in any case when the magic box goes on sale, all one will have to do is purchase it, open it up and get a look. Contrary to many pulp novels, there are very few reactions that are dependent on a truly “Secret” ingredient that cannot be detected and duplicated. Of course as you’ll see below we have an answer to that…

But… Once again it serves the scam artist well– because obviously it has to be real, otherwise, why would he be concerned about it?

4.  Anonymous  customers.

This is an old one.  You have someone who is just about ready to purchase, or who has signed a letter of intent, or is about to get in on the ground floor.  They’re always secret, and they somehow never materialize.  A very old scam is pointing to some group who won’t say anything or who you can say  “are involved.”  In Rossi’s case, we’ve heard that anonymous buyers have purchased, or are in the process of purchasing or are very, very serious about purchasing the 1 MW “e-cat” units.

Now, Let’s hold up here.  Everyone has seen shows on TV about how important the environment it, and how many companies are making attempts to reduce their carbon and environmental footprints.  A fusion generator, especially one that mysteriously produces neither gamma radiation nor neutrons, or for that matter any dangerous ionizing radiation isn’t just a holy grail for power, it’s a PR win of the first magnitude.

And yet all the purchasers are secret.  They want to ah, keep their energy lights hidden under a bushel.

Let’s also point out that at this point  Rossi is claiming that he will be selling units or has already sold units.  That means, that if this is real, the design is either finalized or very close to it.

And yet we have a few “Secret” clients.

Remember, a buyer means its real and a secret buyer means its even more real– best get in on the ground floor.

The other possibility, mind you one that only comes to nasty suspicious sorts, is that their are no buyers– what their are are people who are pretending to be buyers– if you’ve been involved in Ebay you’ve probably ran in to them, phantom bidders who turn out to be the very same people who put the item up for auction, trying to drive the price up.

5.  The qualifications of the scientist do not stand up to close examination.

There are many scammers out there with so many letters behind their names that you have to wonder how they found time to go to all those schools, often schools that are quite prestigious sounding– say the Oxford Institute for Genetic studies or some such. Sounds almost like Oxford, doesn’t it?  Well, it isn’t.  That’s something called a “Diploma Mill” or a school where you can get a degree without the hard work in actually going through the effort. Rossi has a degree in engineering from Kensington University.

Rossi is an engineer, right?

Well, no. While he has an earlier degree from The University of Milan, his work isn’t exactly what one expects, and in fact his earlier biography states that he appears to have been self taught.

But he got a later degree from the University of Kensington, in Engineering. Unfortunately, the University of Kensington is a diploma mill, or was, since it was shut down by both California and Hawaii.

6.  Somehow, units never get sold– the great day of unveiling is always just in the future.

Two companies have claimed to be just about to purchase the Ecat, yet both have backed out.  The first company was Defkalion, a Greek company which was supposed to start production in 2011.  Now, note this, it was supposed to start production. However, in August, this announcement was made:

EFA – Energia da Fonti Alternative S.r.l., the Italian company through which the rights for the production of Andrea Rossi’s E-CAT were granted to PRAXEN Defkalion Green Technologies LTD, publicly announces that the License and Technology Transfer Agreement between the two companies has been recently terminated. All business relationships with PRAXEN, the Cyprus based company that owns the Greek company DEFKALION Green Technologies S.A., have been cancelled and as of today neither PRAXEN nor DEFKALION, nor any other Greek company whatsoever holds any rights for the production of the E-CAT of for any other exploitation of Andrea Rossi’s technology.
Furthermore Andrea Rossi and EFA announce that no information, nor industrial secret nor any technology whatsoever has been neither transferred nor disclosed neither to PRAXEN nor to DEFKALION, nor to any other Greek Company whatsoever and currently Andrea Rossi and EFA are not planning to deal with any other project in Greece.

Now Defkalion claims to be creating their own ecat based devices…with a similar lack of proof, but regardless, lets look at this announcement. This company which was theoretically almost to the point of producing E-cats, had no information?  No technology? Starting production lines doesn’t work that way, but…it’s another excellent case where the E-cat– our magic box, is suddenly a no show at the party.

Another company, AmpEnergo supposedly obtained the rights to make use of the technology in May, but due to ” Contractual difficulties” the magic box wasn’t shipped to them. Now note, this is all happening before the demonstrations in October–in other words, the claim is that production level units actually exist– yet nobody has seen them.  Their website is also sparse, very sparse in fact.  They appear to have no factory, no large employee list– no nothing in fact.  An oddly small group for a company that was supposedly ramping up to produce these E-cats.   The claim from Rossi was:

“We had a preliminary agreement with a very important party in the U.S., but when we received the final draft, it included conditions that our lawyers said that we should not accept”, Rossi told Ny Teknik.

Shipment of the plant was then blocked; according to Rossi, however, the launch will still take place in October as earlier promised, though he could not yet disclose where this will take place.

Again, a very convenient controversy– one that effectively puts the “put up or shut up” point in the future.  The technology is working, but, horror of horrors, those kill joy lawyers aren’t letting things go through.

7.  A previous history of …unusual events.

Many scammers have a long history of great developments that somehow didn’t happen–and like cobra commander, they chose to never revisit their last “world changing invention” in favor of finding new world changing inventions.  In Rossi’s case it was thermoelectric generators. His company Leonardo Technologies, Inc., was contracted to produce these generators to convert heat to power for the Department of Defense in order to reduce the use of other fuels.  What happened?  The test unit produced vast amounts of power at a very high efficiency.  Rossi in fact claimed that full up units would produce 800-1000 watts.  The actual units, those that worked, produced 1 watt of power.

The entire story is here:

LTI was incorporated as a response to the thermoelectric power generation research
by Dr. Andre Rossi. Dr. Rossi indicated that his devices would produce 20
percent efficiencies, a vast increase from the current science of 4 percent conversion
of waste heat to electrical power. Dr. Rossi believed that he could increase
the physical size of the TE Devices and maintain superior power generation. In
furtherance of his research, in early 2000, LTI had tests conducted at the University
of New Hampshire (UNH), Durham, NH, using a small scale LTI TE Device.
Over a period of 7 days, the UNH power plant staff recorded voltage and
amperage readings every 1/2 hr. The TE Device produced approximately 100
volts and 1 ampere of current, providing 100 watts of power. After this initial
success, and a fire that destroyed his Manchester, NH location, Dr. Rossi returned
to Italy to continue the manufacture of the TE Devices. In Italy, Dr. Rossi
believed that LTI could manufacture more cost-effective TE generating devices
with lower labor and assembly costs. Accordingly, Dr. Rossi engaged a subcontractor
to fulfill the requirements of manufacturing and assembly.

Unfortunately, the Italian subcontractor was unable to provide secondgeneration
TE Devices with satisfactory power generation. Nineteen of 27 TE
Devices shipped to CTC, Johnstown, PA, were incapable of generating electricity
for a variety of reasons, from mechanical failure to poor workmanship. The remaining
eight produced less than 1 watt of power each, significantly less than
the expected 800–1000 watts each.

There is no information on the ultimate disposition of the prototype that did so well, but well, suffice to say the promises of incredibly efficient TE devices has remained unfilled.

8. Bizarre claims and excuses for not deploying the technology.

Evidently another problem with the E-cat is that as yet,  Rossi hasn’t figured out a way to put an effective self destruct device in it.

No. I’m not kidding.

Dear Mr Riccardo:
I think that the household targeted items will arrive later. We have to resolve the problem to make them self-destructive in case of opening the reactors. Otherwise, with few thousands of dollars anybody has access to the confidential aspects of the technology. In industrial plants this issue is more easy to afford and has been resolved.
Warm Regards,
A.R.

Now, there are two problems to this.  First of all, Marvel comics has already done this plot, and so you can’t sell it.  But more importantly, such devices are fantasies.  If you can open a device to maintain it, you can get it open to have a look inside it.  The Chinese, Russians, Americans, etc, will all have it open.

But there are some other problems with this, ones that make this even more insane.

First of all, nobody is going to buy a reactor that they can’t look into.  Beyond safety issues, only a madman would tie himself to a single supplier.  Secondly, a self destruct device would be illegal in just about any jurisdiction outside of oh, say, Somalia.

Thirdly, even if you could invent a fool proof self destruct device, no government would let you ship it without looking at it. And that means a serious look, especially if they believe the magic box involves any form of nuclear reaction.  OSHA, EPA, FCC (because they do check for things like EM interference), many agencies are going have it opened and look at  it.  That’s not negotiable, because they’re not going to trust your good word that your seeeecreeet machine isn’t going to explode, or start spraying ionizing radiation, or just suddenly decide to catch fire.   They sure as shooting aren’t going to accept your word that a self destruct device is perfectly safe and friendly.

But…and here we come to the brilliant part– maybe that’s the point.  After all, if that mean ‘ol government is keeping you from sharing your bounty with the world, save for wise investors who will pay you, it’s not your fault.  You can’t possibly be expected to do what every other corporation on the planet does, now can you?  And so, once again, outside factors intervene to prevent that simplest method of proving your system of all– putting up a unit, away from the lab, away from any ability to play with the readings, and running it, for days and weeks, well beyond the point that any chemical reaction could explain it.

How…convenient.

Finally, for those interested, Steven Krivits has an appendix with a time-line and link to the Rossi affair.

And who says the era of the mad scientist is over?

Certainly not I!

 

The HIV virus may be about to become a new weapon in the fight against cancer as initial tests have shown it can drastically minimize and even help cure the most common form of leukemia.

A research team, led by Dr. Carl June working out of the Abramson Cancer Center at the University of Pennsylvania, has been experimenting with using a harmless version of the HIV virus combined with genetically modified white blood cells as a new way to fight cancer. The cells are taken from patients and modified with new genes that make them target cancer cells, but just as importantly, they can also multiply once injected allowing them to scale up as a small army inside the body.

 

Don’t start writing the epitaph for Cancer just yet– this has a long, long way to go.  But even so, it’s an example as to why having an educated workforce, backing up a strong culture of R&D in all areas, is absolutely vital to the growth of a nation.

 

The 372 million dollar paperweight

Over at the Polywell Blog, we have the story of a fusion system that was designed, built…and never turned on.

    It seems the DOE funded the idea without being totally sure it would work.  John Clarke remembers his boss – the head of the U.S. fusion energy program – saying: “’they are good people at Livermore, they will figure something out.'”[6]   The closing of the project marked a major fall in magnetic mirror machines and the rise of the tokamak as the premier fusion reactor idea.  This was not inevitable.  Many voices, both inside and outside the science community, kept pressing for an alternative idea – in case the tokamak proved unworkable.  “All kinds of ideas were bouncing around: solar, ocean, thermal, wind, synfuels.  And we had only one for a fusion reactor, the tokamak.  What we wanted was a strong design to be number two” said Stephen Dean former director of magnetic confinement at DOE [6].  This implies that at the outset, the funding managers were not sure the tokamak was the only path to fusion.  They authorized 372 million dollars to a promising fusion idea without being certain it would work.  Today, we could test the Polywells’ viability with just 1/5th of those funds.

So what does this mean for the Polywell?  Well for one thing, it means that make no mistake, being cheap may not save it– in fact often, esepcially during budget cutting periods, such as we’re in right now, the cheap projects go first– they don’t have enough of a lobby to be saved.  The suggestions for helping the Polywell along via private investment are good, but maybe don’t go far enough. If the US fails to pursue the polywell, then another possibility is seeking foreign investment– or foreign partners.  India for example spends over 80 percent of her energy budget important material. Japan is in the process of giving up fission powered reactors, or at least claiming she will.

It is unfortunate, but if the US decides to cut funding, then it might be wise to seek out other regions for investment, however painful it will be to see the US having to buy a reactor design that we pioneered– but did not finish.

Anonymous and scoring an “own goal” in the fight over internet freedom.

Well, Anonymous has done it again:

Nestled within the data dump, posted as both a BitTorrent release and posted on sites accessible via the Tor anonymity network, are more than 300 different email accounts from 56 law enforcement websites. Details from the ransacked Missouri Sherriff’s Association website also appear in the release, including user names and passwords as well as users’ home addresses, phone numbers, and social security numbers – a move that’s sure to infuriate law enforcement officials even before they note the actual name of the hackers’ release, “Shooting Sheriffs Saturday.”

Also found within the release are various police training files, a list of users who have submitted information to an online “anonymous” crime tip system, and various server-related information and login credentials.

“We have no sympathy for any of the officers or informants who may be endangered by the release of their personal information. For too long they have been using and abusing our personal information, spying on us, arresting us, beating us, and thinking that they can get away with oppressing us in secrecy,” reads the hackers’ Pastebin-posted manifesto. “Well it’s retribution time: we want them to experience just a taste of the kind of misery and suffering they inflict upon us on an everyday basis.”

Like a band of poo flinging monkeys, they once again cheer their ability to strike at that man.

Forgetting that the Man has guns.  Much like the Anarchist bombers of the 19th century managed to drastically harm the very goals they claimed to be fighting for, what Anonymous has done is nothing less than provide those pointing to the fact that the internet needs more, not less control with concrete examples as to why they’re right.  We’ve already seen, in Bahrain, and other nations that yes, it’s possible for a national government to make fairly big strides to restricting the internet.

The biggest barrier, in fact is not technological, but social and political– our own courts have routinely struck down laws seen as too restrictive and the population itself remains hostile to the idea, at least in general. But releasing the names and identities of police?  Potentially endangering tipsters?

That’s a great way to lose this war, especially if there’s no incriminating material as part of the dump– people were willing to accept that a “Technical” violation occured in the release of the Abu Ghraib photo’s because it was plain that the acts being photographed were illegal, violations of both civil law and the UCMJ which those witnessing were obligated to report.  But this, if it’s just the identifying information of police, absent any other information, or criminal files with identifying information of suspects or witnesses, this will have no such defense. What it will do is to back the hand of those arguing that the internet is now as vital as any public utility and that groups like Anonymous must now be treated like terrorists, bringing the full weight of governmental power to bear on them– and that as a part of that, the internet itself must be more strictly regulated.

Such would require great effort– which to date has been an advantage, but the more acts like this, the more the real powers– the corporations and govenrments that actually make the internet work, will start to decide that the extra cost is worth the security.  And worse, so will the people, who rather than hearing about genuine abuses of government authority brought down by hackers, will see cases of latter day infants throwing temper tantrums because some of their associates were put in prison. That does not produce a sense of injustice on the part of the bystanders, merely a hope that the government has enough cells for all.

Anonymous is not the friend of internet freedom– Anonymous is the enemy and its members are working very hard to strengthen the hand of those who wish to end internet freedom.

Biofuels and food supply, redux.

This interesting story may be of relevance to my earlier biofuels blogpost.

 

CNN has noted rising food prices:

 

NEW YORK (CNNMoney) — Food prices have been rising worldwide, as the cost of raw materials and agricultural products surge, contributing to political unrest around the globe.

In December, international food prices broke an all-time high when they rose 25% for the year, led by rising costs for staples like rice, wheat, and maize, the United Nations reported.

The sharp rise in food prices, in particular, has become “a source of political instability,” New York University economist Nouriel Roubini, told CNNMoney’s Poppy Harlow, at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland this week.

Roubini, nicknamed “Dr. Doom” for his famously bearish predictions, said spiking energy and food prices pose one of the greatest global threats — especially to emerging market economies.

Why prices are rising: Bad weather in Australia and Russia over the summer severely diminished wheat crops, partially fueling the latest commodities surge.

Rising incomes in emerging markets like China and India also play a role, analysts at the Eurasia Group say. The growing middle class in those countries has prompted a shift from a grain-based diet to one consisting of more meat.

And a push toward biofuels has also led to rising demand for corn and sugar, pushing up commodity prices.

 

Now we can’t blame Biofuels for all of this, of course, but if biofuels become a primary source of fuel oil, then the impact will become radically greater as biofuels become as, or more profitable than staple crops.

And that’s a major,  major disaster just waiting to happen, as it will put food prices, especially for the third world, on a direct collision course with fuel prices.

“Let them eat cake” was never said in reality, but the fact that it has become so resonant with the idea of short sighted leaders marching towards disaster should make it apparent just how bad the modern biofuel version of that would be: “Let them Drink fuel.”

 

Amazon: Ebooks now outselling paperbacks.

Well, this is very interesting news.

NEW YORK (CNNMoney) — OK, bookworms, now you can declare Armageddon: Kindle e-books have overtaken paperback books as the bestselling type of content in Amazon’s bookstore.

Amazon made waves when it announced in July that Kindle content was outselling hardcover books. But industry analysts quickly dismissed that milestone, pointing out that paperback books sell far more copies than pricier hardcovers.

E-books have now vanquished their paperback rivals as well.

 

So, what does this mean?  Well for one thing, it means that rumors of the demise of the written word have been very exxagerated.  Rather, it was the difficulty of getting the written word to the user in an economy where ecommerce is increasingly the rule of thumb.  But now that we have the growing number of cheap ereaders, it’s apparent that if anything, the demand for books is growing.

Now there are a few things this doesn’t mean– first of all, the price may not drop as much as some think it will– remember that many books (those published through traditional publishers) get copy edit, have an editor, cover designer, etc, etc.  That will still increase the price a bit, even if you discount the cost of ink and paper.

Secondly, and I’ll talk about this in another post, it likely doesn’t mean the era of the self published novel is here– oh, it’s easier to get on board, as you can see from createspace and smashwords— but you can also do the same thing with fanfiction. You will get some good books, but I think, and have seen a lot more books who did not receive that absolutely vital go over by an editor.

In terms of book collections, it likely means that more and more people will start to accumulate BIG collections. Why not?  A Nook Color, with just that on board 8 gigabytes can probably store tens of thousands of books before you even have to think about getting rid of them.  Us Bibliophiles no longer have to make that soul tearing choice between our beloved books (some of which we haven’t read for years) and the fact that we no longer have room to sleep on the bed.  This might be especially important for the new generation of Manga readers, since “clean your room” will no longer be a codeword for “Get rid of that stuff!”

So, who might be losing from this?

Well first of all, in the long run, it’s likely use book stores will lose.  Fewer books, and fewer people seeking them out means less in the way of an inflow of books. On the other hand, there are likely to be far more in the way of “old” books that will only be available in Used bookstores– because the original publishing contract made no mention of electronic distribution and the copyright holder cannot be found, or is unwilling to renegotiate.

Secondly, and this is a question that I will expect will sooner or later hit the Supreme Court, just how much control can the IP holder maintain over your book?  Are you buying it, or renting it. The recent Kindle incidents of Amazon removing books from kindles, even with compensation for the purchasers, open some interesting property rights questions that I don’t believe have yet been addressed. (Amazon saying, “they won’t do it again” isn’t addressing the larger issue of digital rights.)

But regardless, the market for the written word has changed more in the last several years than in the last several decades before that– maybe more.  And yet, even when confronted by streaming video, music, etc, the old fashioned “words on the page” way of getting information out seems to be doing just fine…

 

 

 

Wikileaks– active spying?

Claim: WikiLeaks Published Documents Siphoned Over File Sharing Software

Music and movie pirates may not be the only ones trolling peer-to-peer networks for booty. The secret-spilling site WikiLeaks may also have used file sharing networks to obtain some of the documents it has published, according to a computer-security firm.

The allegations come from Tiversa, a Pennsylvania peer-to-peer investigations firm, that claims it passed information of WikiLeaks’ file sharing activity to U.S. government officials, according to Bloomberg.

Tiversa asserts that on Feb. 7, 2009 it monitored four computers based in Sweden, where WikiLeaks’ primary servers were based, as they conducted 413 searches on peer-to-peer networks seeking Microsoft Excel files and other data-heavy documents, some of which were subsequently published online by WikiLeaks.

If the allegations are true, it would not be the first time that WikiLeaks published documents that were obtained through hacking or online surveillance rather than from a whistleblower or other insiders.

The site published data in 2008 that a hacker obtained from the private e-mail account of then vice-presidential candidate Sarah Palin. And, according to a New Yorker story published last year, the site also possesses a cache of more than a million documents that were grabbed by a WikiLeaks activist in 2006 after they traveled through the Tor anonymizing network. At least one of these documents was published on the WikiLeaks site, according to the magazine.

So why should we care? Whether you like Wikileaks, don’t like them, or think they should die in a fire, does it really make a difference in how they distribute and gather information?

Well yes, it does and it could be a very serious difference.

News organizations by and large, seek out tips, sources, whistleblowers– but they always have that intermediate link between them and the original source material.  When gathering the Pentagon Papers, The New York Times didn’t go and get them themselves, they received them from Daniel Ellsberg, rather than a crack team of reporter ninja’s who stole documents from the Pentagon before engaging in a running gun battle with MP’s on their way to New York.   The crime if there was one, was Ellsberg’s– and by long standing tradition, later codified in New York Times Co. v. United States, the standards for prior restraint were placed high enough that today it’s unusual for a serious attempt to even be made to stop publication of such information– no matter how embaressing.

But, we need to note that Ellsberg wasn’t found innocent of violations of the Espionage Act and the act itself was not ruled unconstitutional– the case was simply fatally flawed by governmental misdeeds.  That act is still out there, and it has never been ruled unconstitutional. 

So if Wikileaks, is engaging in independent efforts to gather information, trolling p2p files, and such, they’ve removed a very important barrier between them and possible legal trouble– because now it’s no longer a matter of gathering information from whistleblowers, but directly obtaining the information.

This doesn’t only apply to Wikileaks, of course– as the ability to individual gather information from the net, the difference between reporter and source will increasingly blur.  For example, it’s known that in many cases these documents were released inadvertently.  But does their release to a public p2p network immunize Wikileaks or any other reporting agency?  You can argue that by being on a public network, for whatever reason, they are no longer covered by the Espionage Act– but that hasn’t actually been argued in a court yet.

This is going to be an increasingly important factor– the growth of new blogs, and even private citizens making use of capabilities which simply didn’t exist as little as 15 years ago to also engage in news (or gossip) gathering is forcing changes in the way both nations and individuals view the law as it applies to the news media.