Saturday, March 24, 2007

Writing as Therapy

Writing is a form of therapy for some people. Amy Chan has called her writing such. Right now, I’m waiting for a student to show up at his office so I can give him an English lesson. At least that’s the ostensible truth. In fact, all we’ve done for two years or so since we started having these lessons is top chat about various topics of mutual interest and occasional read something, also usually of mutual interest. We also have a cup of coffee together. This is the only cup of actual coffee I drink these days and it is always welcome. Today I’m particularly sleepy and would be happy to drink a cup with my friend Istvan. But he’s not here. He’s more than a half-hour late.

I’ve had a glass of juice, struggled to read a bit in Freakonomics, a book I just got and read some students’ test papers. I was falling asleep, so I reasoned that writing might just bring me around.

Monday night I was out at a St. Patrick’s Day party hosted by the Irish Embassy. Afterwards I was hanging out at a buddy’s place where I got a bit baked and found myself struggling to keep my wits. I managed to gather myself whenever I took up some far-out topics. Could this work now? What are some far-out topics? Sex on other planets? Sex between birds and hamsters? Money-making schemes based around sex between birds and hamsters on other planets? Perhaps those are too unrealistic.

I’ve got a good head for designing plans. The trouble I have is keeping myself together in order to implement them. There is a real chasm separating many ideas from their implementation. For example, I’ve had this idea lately to do a research study of Albania for business purposes. Real Estate development would seem to jump off the page as a place to start. After all, the population is not so large as to constitute a major market, hence limiting interest to foreign investors. But all that great Mediterranean coast is just begging for hotels and so forth. It occurred that what could be really interesting would be to set up something “hippy” along the lines of Butterfly Valley or Olympos; both on the south coast of Turkey. If a market study paid for by investors could feed the hippy project, then all the better. Folks could even be brought over from Turkey to get the hippy thing going.

Theres a woman here munching away on something very crunchy, rice cakes probably. There’s plasma TV in front of me with the sound down tuned to a business channel, playing “Squawk Box” a program about investment markets. In general, the people all looked spiked up on caffeine. Consciously putting on the right aggressively serious and optimistic face; the sort of face that says “Right. Here’s the way it is, aren’t we all important and cutting edge. Looking forward to golf at the weekend, but first the facts on the ground.”

I’ve got this idea that if large double-skinned geodesic domes were built the right way, they could make nifty spaceships. They could lift off without rockets and travel faster than the speed of light once out in space. Something like the deathstar only kinder and gentler.

Now Squawk Box is interviewing a German guy in Berlin, standing outside with chracteristic stone buildings and construction equipment behind him talking about “the EU at 50.” That’s an interesting number, no? It seems they’re tracing back the EU’s life to those post-war trade agreements stemming forward from Bretton Woods. But the entity known as the EU is, what, ten to fifteen years old?

Dude in a cream suit with a mustache sat down to wait for the same guy as me. He ordered a coffee from the receptionist.

I’m beginning to think I should photocopy my diploma, give it to the receptionist, pack and go.

Steve – Istvan – my student just arrived. He has a meeting with someone so I can chill for a bit. But just seeing him, knowing that a coffee and a chat is yet to come lifts my spirits quite a bit. The dull aspects of life – the papers I have to grade, money issues, the BBJ intelligence service; all this seems less significant and far less of a burden in light of Steve. Steve is a man who’s made things happen in his life by working with a team of devoted professionals. I, too, have made things happen. But my style has been different. I’ve worked with other people, but at a distance and under different terms than in an office. My life has had its complications, but with the help of Yoga and meditation and vegetarianism, all has taken shape so that all is well and I am grateful for it all and happy with the way it is.

I glanced up at the TV and saw a “house ad” for their midday show, “Power Lunch.” How sickening! If I ran the channel I’d have shows with names like “Eleventh Hour Briefing”, “Blind Greed,” and “The Follower’s Day-job”

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

The legend and promise of the Water Engine

There I was, racking my brains over what I was going to write in my energy column, The Energy Source in the Budapest Business Journal. For years I have followed the concept of the "water engine" - an idea that it could somehow be possible to build a device that could derive energy from water. Not by using water as an energy intermediary as in the steam engine or nuclear power plant, but by somehow splitting water into its component parts - hydrogen and oxygen - in such a manner that the hydrogen could be used as a fuel to produce more energy than was required to split the water beforehand.

A conversation in New Zealand in late 2000 introduced me to the story of Archie Blue, a New Zealand farmer who purportedly sorted out a way to do just this: power a vehicle using water as fuel. The man who told me the story said that Mr. Blue had used a method of splitting water not by ordinary electrolysis, but by feeding electricity into the water in specifically tuned pulses, thereby breaking the atomic bonds of the water using rather less energy than was generated by the hydrogen when used to power Blue's internal combustion engine.

I would later be told that this is physically impossible, that the physical nature of the Earth with its gravity, the composition of its atmosphere, etc., make the existence of hydrogen in its free state a rather untenable thing - which explains exactly why free hydrogen is so unstable and can be used as a fuel and, moreover, why energy is required to bring it to its free state from water - which is in turn created when hydrogen and oxygen atoms - physically in love with each other as they are - combine. The energy we get from the combustion of free hydrogen, I was told by two highly qualified scientists, is just a return of the energy that was used to liberate it in the first place. Therefore, a system such as the one allegedly employed by Mr. Blue could never produce more energy than was put in.

But ever since high school biology class when I learned that swamp vegetation produced hydrogen using the biological "electron transport chain" and then emitted it as combustible methane - the source of swamp fires - I had a penchant for finding a devious way to produce hydrogen, even it meant violating some physical laws. And the scientists who told me that a water engine was impossible - "just another hopeless attempt at a perpetual motion machine" - did so long after my first encounter with the story (or legend) of Archie Blue. So I pursued the topic on the Internet, which led me to a number of stories about men who had purportedly built successful water-powered contraptions. The most impressive appeared to be an American inventor named Stanley Meyer and a Filipino named Daniel Dingle. Both claimed to use an unconventional, low-energy method of water splitting that enable their vehicles - a dune buggy and a Honda respectively - to fill their tanks with water and drive around without the need for any other source of power. I also came across plans by other "inventors" such as Carl Cella and others that claimed to do essentially the same thing. Cella's plan basically laid out in detail how to build a water-powered car.

Both Meyer and Dingle have received mainstream media attention, including stories in newspapers and on TV stations, all of which did not question their claims.

For a time I was even in email correspondence with a man named Frank Roberts who claimed to have a water-powered car he used as his everyday transportation. He wrote me that he had been in contact with government officials who told him that it was OK to have a water car for personal use, but that it was illegal to sell it. Later he wrote that he was being harassed and that his mother had been either arrested or kidnapped (I forget which).

I also learned - from Internet sources - that Stanley Meyer, some time after driving his dune buggy across the country, was arrested and convicted of "egregious fraud." Prosecutors said he had taken investors' money on the basis of false claims about having invented a new low energy method of electrolysis to make his dune buggy run on just water. Online supporters of his claim he was railroaded and that he was harassed the rest of his life by dark forces that eventually murdered him. I read what was allegedly a scanned copy of a funereal home document stating that Meyer had died from "food poisoning." His brother, meanwhile, (again, according to Internet sources) carried on the marketing of his technology in a somewhat less aggressive manner. Stanley Meyer also appears to have successfully filed for a number of patents for his technology, many of which I have seen. There are several websites that talk about him and Dingle. There is at least one group of tinkers who appear to be working together to replicate this sort of technology.

Is all this water engine talk a load of bunk? Did Stanley Meyer, a relatively uneducated man, get it in his head that a water car was possible and so he set about building it, developing a battery-powered electrolysis device that produced enough hydrogen to power his dune buggy - but that his dune buggy would stop because his batteries ran down, not because he ran out of water? Perhaps he genuinely believed his water car could one day work as he hoped - or perhaps he was even convinced that it did, convinced enough to successfully sell the idea to others (including, a TV news report stated, a Pentagon colonel), but that in fact it was all just a hoax: a battery-powered car that simply used water as an energy intermediary.

The scientists I spoke with had me sufficiently convinced to leave any talk of a water engine out of my column - for now. But part of me wants badly for the water engine to really work. Perhaps the water-splitting developed by Dingle and Meyers works something like Joshua's horn, which brought down the walls of Jericho by finding just the right pitch and loudness. Perhaps our little arena of the universe is less stable than we think and that by cracking it just a bit we can unleash unknown - and hitherto thought impossible - forces for our own benefit? I did like what one of the professors told me after he denounced the water engine as a "perpetual motion machine."

"I won't say it's impossible," he said, raising his brow. "Never say never."