But first . . .
THE ‘TICK SCAM’ SCAM
Several of you wrote to tell me that the scam alert Roger sent in Monday is actually bogus. People are not really ringing your doorbell and asking you to dance around naked to shake the deer ticks off so they can see you naked.
I find it a little scary that anyone could have imagined this was not simply a joke (bulletin: a guy didn’t really walk into a bar with a talking dog, and the dog didn’t really order a gin and tonic), but I know at least two of you who wrote in, and you are very, very bright people. So it just goes to show.
And now (while we’re talking about seeing people naked) . . .
Do you know the old Saturday Night Live sketch, ‘It’s Pat’? Where the long-running joke was that . . . well, you didn’t want to come right out and ask, but – and this is really embarrassing – you just for the life of you couldn’t figure out whether Pat was a man or a woman. Pat claimed to be dating Chris, for example – what kind of clue is that? The Pat sketch developed such a following they even made it into a movie. (‘So dreadfully bad it’s good,’ wrote one viewer.)
Not that it mattered what gender Pat was, but it just annoyed the heck out of you that you couldn’t figure it out. Was Pat played by an actor or an actress?
Now, imagine this same frustration multiplied, oh, maybe a thousand fold, because you happen to have some cash riding on the outcome.
This is how I feel about Borealis, the stock I first introduced as ‘surely going to zero’ when it was $3.50 or so five years ago, and that – disclosing each time that I own a ton of it, and cautioning you not to risk even a penny on it that you cannot truly and cheerfully afford to lose – I have been writing about ever since.
The stock these days is around $8.
This week they were issued yet two more patents. (‘Mesh Connected Electrical Rotating Machine with Span Changing,’ #6,838,791, and ‘Polyphase Hydraulic Drive System,’ #6,837,141.)
Is Borealis real? Not real? How hard, by now, should it be to be able to tell?
As regular readers of this column know, the company claims to have, among other things, a revolutionary electric motor that delivers far more oomph (I’m sorry, but technical terms can sometimes not be avoided) than traditional motors. If true, the implications are huge (Boeing, for one, is testing whether its 767s could drive around the tarmac like golf carts) – and it would suggest that Borealis’s other claimed bonanzas should be taken seriously as well (a chip with no moving parts that converts heat to electricity; one of the world’s richest iron ore deposits conveniently located near a deep water Canadian dock-site; and more).
Indeed, one of the reddest of many red flags with Borealis (a company with no debt and a market cap so small that if it were real, it could easily explode a hundredfold) is that it has not one astonishing, undiscovered bonanza, but several.
So I continue to assume that this can’t be real . . . and then noises are made about how Boeing or Rolls Royce or Semikron have not dismissed it out of hand . . . and, well, FOR GOD’S SAKE, PAT, TAKE OFF YOUR CLOTHES!
(As David8733 put it in his October 27, 2003, post on the imdb message board: ‘is pat a man or a woman? i need to know cause its bugging the hell out of me.’)
Now that they have a prototype 1.5 horsepower Chorus Motor, why can’t they just have it tested side-by-side against a regular motor? Is this an astonishing breakthrough or isn’t it? If I claimed to be able to make myself invisible, and you were skeptical, wouldn’t it make sense for me to grab your arm and then – while still gripping it firmly – disappear?
I called an old, trusted friend who works with these folks and – despite having no technical background himself – believes it’s all real.
‘Have you ever actually seen one of these motors,’ I ask him.
‘Yes. We have prototypes. You can go see one of them yourself.’
‘But I wouldn’t know what I’m looking at – and neither do you. Can’t you just get them tested by some independent lab?’
Well, it’s not that simple, he tells me. Which is one more reason I’m all but certain Pat is a man (or a woman) and that I will lose all my money.
Apparently, electric motor technology is so stodgy, so established, so set in its ways, he tells me, that virtually no one even studies it any more. There are only two real experts that he knows of, one at M.I.T. . . . who won’t even go look at what they’re doing because he’s sure it’s impossible (so why don’t you take it to him, I ask) . . . and another at a well known university in the heartland, who has seen it.
‘What’s his name,’ I want to know. My friend tells me a name, not exactly sure how to spell it.
‘Can I call him?’
So now, after five years of this nonsense, I finally get to disrobe Pat.
One way or the other.
I Google my best approximation of the spelling of this guy’s name and university, and darned if it doesn’t come right up – he is vice chairman of the electrical engineering department. (I am being vague about who he is because I called him as a private investor, not to be interviewed on the record.)
I e-mail asking whether I can call and he e-mails back to try him before lunch.
I call and get his machine.
I call 15 minutes later – again, the machine. (I’m not sure what time heartland professors have lunch, but I know it’s an hour earlier there – have I missed him?)
I call 15 minutes later – and there he is!
Forgive the melodrama, but I’ve been waiting a long, long time for this, and, well, a small fortune is at stake – namely, the one I would make if Borealis really can turn base metals into gold, or whatever they will announce next.
Yes, said the professor, he knows these people. (Score one!) They are very sharp and serious about their work. (Score two! Score three! Score six!)
But academics are pretty conservative, he says, and he hasn’t been in touch with them for quite a while (he did not know about the Boeing developments, for example), and it would cost a modest – but not a trivial – amount (something less than $100,000) to test the motor in a thorough way, which he has offered to do, but they did not have the budget for.
My worry, of course, is that if any of this were real, the company would have been falling all over itself to get him to test and verify it. And the only reason I can think of that they haven’t is that, well, they know deep down that this is all a dream.
But is it? The professor says he understands the technology and believes that it has merit. So – if he’s right – Borealis is not a scam scam (in the sense of actors pretending to be scientists or scientists consciously faking results). And that would mean they could have some very valuable patents.
So Pat remains clothed – probably a woman, but almost surely a man.
Could it be like television? An astonishing and legitimate technology that did eventually change the world . . . but that made no one a dime from the year of its invention (1926, I think) to sometime after the end of World War II?
Boeing’s test is scheduled for April. At that point, the Boeing 767 will either tool jauntily along the tarmac powered by one of our Chorus Motors – or it won’t. And we will finally know.
Or not. My assumption is that the test will be postponed or – somehow – inconclusive.
How could it be inconclusive? The writers from Saturday Night Live could come up with a dozen different scenarios.
And so I continue to believe that this is an all but irresistible gamble – but only to the extent you could accept a total loss without the slightest hardship or remorse.