Sorry for all the ups and downs of the web site in recent days. The way I understand it, freakish accumulations of ice weigh down the branches of the Internet and trucks carrying packets of information skid all over the place. I blame Canada.

FORTUNE-STEALING III

Steven E Rubin, MD: ‘Ben Franklin had Sheryl Crow and the rabbi both beat: ‘Wealth is not his that has it, but his that enjoys it.”

Yaakov Har-Oz: ‘And Rabbi Schachtel was merely paraphrasing a famous mishna in the tractate Pirkei Avot (Ethics of the Fathers), 4:1: ‘Who is rich? He who is happy with what he has.’ See here. The individual quoted, Ben Zoma, lived early in the second century C.E.’

THE HERTZ FRAU

From Yahoo! And Reuters:

A 46-year-old German motorist driving along a busy road suddenly veered to the left and ended up stuck on a railway track – because his satellite navigation system told him to, police said Sunday. The motorist was heading into the north German city of Bremen “when the friendly voice from his satnav told him to turn left,” a spokesman said. “He did what he was ordered to do and turned his Audi left up over the curb and onto the track of a local streetcar line. He tried to back up off the track but got completely stuck.” The police spokesman said about a dozen trams were held up until a tow truck arrived to clear the car off the track. Several German motorists have crashed their cars in recent months, later telling police they were only obeying orders from their satnavs.

LAB DIAMONDS

Wayne Arczynski: ‘The real value to lab diamonds and their raison d’être is in electronic circuits. The diamond’s density allows it to conduct heat away from transistors very effectively. This will allow higher performance computer chips to be made. They grow diamond ingots and slice them into wafers and then deposit the transistors onto the wafers. This also drives the need for zero impurities in the diamond ingots. Lab diamonds may pressure jewelry prices, but I think it will take a while. I think it will be difficult to overcome De Beers marketing. Plus you don’t just go down the street and buy the equipment you need to start an ingot production plant. Although, it is tempting – with high quality 1 carat diamonds going for $5,000 or so a pop, you’d only need to sell 20,000 or so to recoup your investment. Then you could buy the rest of BOREF.”

BOREF

Did you have to mention BOREF? My bottom line is that this remains a great lottery ticket. Is there a good chance we will lose our money? I think we have to assume so. But I haven’t sold a share.

It seems to me we have three big elements here.

One is the giant iron ore deposit. Core samples were drilled this summer and are being analyzed now. I expect the results to be highly encouraging but inconclusive. (When has Borealis ever not been highly encouraged by its progress? When has it ever conclusively succeeded at anything?)

Two is a portfolio of alleged cutting edge technologies that I am not remotely qualified to assess – except we have the tangible example, confirmed by Boeing more than a year ago, of a 767 at full weight being powered around a tarmac by an electric motor the size of a watermelon.

And three is a CEO who – while I am perfectly prepared to grant he is brilliant and honest and well-meaning – seems (how to put this kindly?) never, ever, to make his dreams come true. (He has been pursuing the value of the iron ore for 41 years now.) In a speech he gave two-and-a-half years ago, he told IBM: “The Borealis Family of Companies have made scientific advances that will transform the basic science that underlies some of our oldest, biggest, and most important industries of which electronics is only a small part.”

So how do you value that? Do you discount all the assets to zero because the CEO rejects conventional business practice? (When I threw out the hypothetical of recruiting “a Jack Welch” to head the company, he told me he would not hire a Jack Welch, and had his doubts about the health of GE.) Do you discount them to zero because nothing ever seems to happen on the timetable he expects? (When the results of this summer’s aerial iron ore tests were disclosed and the stock was around 10 – it’s more like 5 now – he called to urge that I not sell my shares at the paltry $30- or $50-a-share tender offer he felt certain was imminent, now that the world could see the results.) Do you discount them to zero because someone so headstrong is unlikely ever to give up control? Or because he has never, to my knowledge, run a business that sold a single commercial product?

Or do you figure that, with the entire company commanding a market cap these days south of $30 million – I have friends whose planes cost more – it’s a place to put some fraction of the money you can truly afford to lose?

Here’s a recent article describing the activities of the company. (“Tom Shelley reports on the imminent commercialisation of a solid-state technology set to revolutionise the direct conversion of heat to electricity.”) If you read it closely, you’ll notice that the Borealis spokesman on whose briefing the article was based refused to give his name. This company is nothing if not unique.

CBH

Who knows? But my guru is hanging on.

CFLs

Andrew Klossner: “Compact fluorescent bulbs are NOT damaged by use in lamp fixtures with three-way switches. A standard CFL bulb will work just like a non-three-way incandescent bulb: you’ll get only one lighting level, not three. Dimmers, however, do require special bulbs.”

Brian S. Kimerer: “A couple of years ago I installed about eight compact fluorescents. Four have failed. Now I am faced with their disposal. They are full of mercury. Even though these bulbs should be treated as hazmat, only businesses are required by law to dispose of them properly. When people start tossing them into the landfills (which I will not do), we will have a problem that is perhaps worse than the small additional power consumption incurred by the use of incandescents.”

☞ Well, according to this, discarding 100 of them would, in terms of mercury, be like discarding a single household thermometer. But I’m all for collecting them until a convenient way to recycle them has been developed. The energy saving, if America replaced a significant fraction of its most-used incandescents (the ones left burning a lot), would be tremendous.

 

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