Imagine you have two choices. You can either...

Do nothing, or... 

Do something simple that has a 1% chance of helping billions of low income people live substantially better lives, but it comes with a 99% chance that the only outcome is your own permanent embarrassment. 

Here I'm talking about the kind of embarrassment that follows you around forever. If you have a Wikipedia page, your embarrassment will end up on it. Every time you go to a party, someone will bring it up. When your obituary is written, it will be mentioned. Your credibility will forever be defined by this embarrassment.

Do you take that 1% chance?

This isn't a thought experiment. I'm dealing with that decision right now. Luckily for the world (maybe), I don't feel embarrassment like normal people. So I'm all in for the 1% chance of helping the world. I live for this sort of thing.

Here's my story.

About a decade ago I got an email from an engineer/inventor who claimed he could make electricity out of air. It had something to do with harvesting ions or some such blah, blah, blah. I was interested because I have a nerdy curiosity about green energy projects, but I assumed that this would be like most ideas in that realm and it wouldn't pan out.

The inventor formed a tiny company and the company stayed in touch with me by email as they filed their patents and worked on their prototypes. Patents were granted. Bigger and better prototypes were built. I've seen their videos of the prototypes powering household appliances.

If the videos are to be believed, the prototypes are harvesting useful amounts of electricity directly from the atmosphere, day or night, rain or shine. What the company doesn't yet know is how well it scales up, and whether or not normal engineering improvements in the process can make this economically feasible. The company thinks the odds are good.

If it scales up, and proves to be economical, the world will be transformed.

I like to think my bullshit filter is better than average. After ten years of following this project, I have concluded that the people are real, the patents are real, and the prototype does create electricity from the atmosphere. I could be wrong, so you should be skeptical. And I'm encouraged by the fact that the company doesn't claim to know it can scale up; they are looking for funds to find out.

And just to be super-clear, things that are in the "too good to be true" category turn out to be bullshit 99% of the time. That's our context.

But I'm going to take the 99% chance of embarrassing myself along with the 1% chance of helping the world by giving some attention to this technology.

I give you the company's crowd funding link.

I don't have a financial interest in the company.

The company has offered to fly me out to their tiny field laboratory in some godforsaken Florida cow field to see the prototype myself. I said they should spend their money showing it to atmospheric physicists (to further validate the potential) or investors in the green energy field.

If you are one of those types, I can put you in touch with the company. Depending on your credentials, I might even pay for your trip to see it. Contact me at dilbertcartoonist@gmail.com if you're interested.

Here are the patent links:

Patent 1

Patent 2

Patent 3

[Update: Read all of the comments before forming an opinion. And keep in mind that this is in the class of things that are bullshit 99% of the time.]

[Update 2: I'll forward to the company for response any simply-stated question you have about the technology or the economics of scaling up.]

[Update 3: And please stop categorizing me as gung-ho for an idea I have described as being in the class of things that are 99% likely to be bullshit. It's going to be hard enough to keep "Cartoonist involved in scam" off my Wikipedia page.]

[Update 3: For some reason there are comments I can see on my CMS that aren't getting posted. If you put a phone number in your comment, that might be why. Try an email address. The comments getting omitted include an alleged eyewitness to the prototype. And there are a few comments I can't comment on because my CMS doesn't work. -- Scott]


Scott Adams

Co-founder of CalendarTree.com

This book explains why I do things like this





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May 23, 2014
My !$%*!$%* detector is off the scale.

And my MILF detector found their president interesting. With only one low resolution picture, it might as well be a false positive. A GILF detector might be more appropriate, I don't have one of those.
+5 Rank Up Rank Down
May 23, 2014
Scott, you also have to remember ...

By writing books like "how to fail ..." and telling everyone that you are immune to humiliation, you've also opened the door to con artists. You've basically said "I am so open minded that I will consider anything, no matter how far-fetched, and with little chance of success as long as the potential success makes for good pot-odds". That makes you an attractive target.

You know those phishing emails about the Nigerian Princesses? Have you noticed how poorly written they are? How bad the grammar is? How easy they are to see as fake? This provides a filter for the con-artist. Anyone who actually responds to the email is an easier target. If the email was well-written, more people would respond who would eventually realize it was a scam, and this would waste the scam artist's time. The bad grammar reduces the potential candidates down to the ones that can't detect even obvious BS.

Similarly, this is why womanizers often will hit on girls with REALLY bad pickup lines. If you introduce yourself to a girl with a really awful pickup line, and she still talks to you, she's an easier lay than someone who is unimpressed.

You're obviously very intelligent, but you're also rich. You're open-minded, make yourself available to regular folks, and are willing to take a loss on an investment if you think the odds were good enough. All these factors balance out against your intelligence, making you a more attractive target despite the intelligence. You've just said that you're willing to gamble for a 1% chance ... if I were a con-artist, I'd be salivating right now, exactly as much as if I were a legit businessman looking for an investment.

[Thank you, Captain Obvious. Now please explain why air is necessary for breathing because I haven't figured out the connection yet. -- Scott]
May 23, 2014
Isn't this what Tesla was working on 100 years ago? Well, when he was taking a break from his earthquake machine, I mean...
+11 Rank Up Rank Down
May 23, 2014
Yeah ... I think you're going to need a stronger BS filter on this one. If ionized particles provided as much energy as we are meant to believe from this invention, then sometime in a past 4.5 billion years, a plant would have evolved to harness ionized particles just like the sun's rays.

The problem with funding something like this isn't just the humiliation, but the fact that it encourages this kind of nonsense.

He might be on to something interesting, but I seriously doubt it. If he was, he would already be showing this to atmospheric scientists instead of you.

[You forgot to add "GET OFF MY LAWN!" -- Scott]
May 23, 2014
Who cares if it scales up?

The only reason to "scale it up" is if you think that you're going to build a power-plant for the whole town -- or if the cost of building a small single-use unit is so high that no one will buy it.

If this thing actually works and could (for example) be used to power a refrigerator or air-conditioner, then build it and sell it. If all it requires is maybe a weird box or funny-looking poles on your roof-top and it cuts your electric bill by 25%, then build it and sell it!

People talk about switching to wind or solar or whatever to reduce greenhouse gases, etc. But if everyone could simply reducing power consumption by 25%, that would cut CO2 emissions by far more than windmills. If a machine exists that can generate some electricity out of nothing, then build it and sell it!
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