Inventors WAS: My view of recent events

From: Olie Lamb (
Date: Sun Sep 03 2006 - 22:23:47 MDT

This is about inventors, "crackpot inventors" and inventions. It has little
to do with recent events on the mailing list, except perhaps by abstraction.

On 9/1/06, Russell Wallace <> wrote:
> On 8/31/06, Olie Lamb <> wrote:
> > I can think of several decent inventions that got to the stage of
> > aftermarket release, only to have the crackpot inventor collapse and
> > bankrupt the company - often through misleading with the test data.
> I'd be interested in case studies if you can point to them? Even names to
> Google on, if you don't have references to hand?

Well, the archetypal case of an Australian automotive invention getting
through several testing layers, only to flop, is the Orbital Engine. Ford
etc sunk well over $50 million into it, only to show that it was ahead of
what was available in 1972, but by 1980s, was obsolete.

Ralph Sarich, its inventor is, however, definitely NOT a "crackpot" in the
relevant sense. Aggressive, cunning, highly driven... he's not a "normal
guy", but he's very well qualified as an Engineer. Opinion on him
personally is still reasonably contentious.

Despite the losses on the testing, and huge accompanied paper losses,
Orbital Engine Company is still around, and has a strong reputation.

Similar but different is Arthur E Bishop, who, although thoroughly
qualified, is a true tinkerer. He designed the variable ratio rack & peanut
steering system that was on something like 25% of cars worldwide at one
Bishop Steering went through some rough patches early on (well before my
time). Arthur is now going around promoting this monorail


Actual crackpots: There was a guy from Sydney a short while back with an
idea for a crankshaft with a kink in it /articulation thingy. He had some
very convincing calculations and software models- enough to impress a number
of CSIRO <http:///> engineers, and enough for them to get him
a 3-way appointment with BMW... at the appointment, he was so defensive
about his invention ("the problem with the old system") and so insulting to
the OEMs ("the problem with you manufacturers") that the BMW engineers said
"stuff it - can't be arsed". The iconic crackpot element is that he was so
defensive about all this stuff, despite sending unsolicited details to the

There was a group who had some ideas about getting high power, high octane
fuel derived from gum leaves a while back. All theoretically sound. They
approached Ford, who kept saying "show us"... they would come back with a
different rig that demonstrated /an aspect/ of the theory...

There was something about valve lifters and performance enhancement a few
years ago, but I can't remember the details...

Then there was a recent debacle, with which I had direct contact. A
tinkerer, totally unqualified, came up with a theory about heated fuel
injection. He developed an aftermarket modification that allegedly improved
fuel economy. Drive cycle tests indicated that there might be something to
it. He was able to get funding from various channels and even had
Australia's top automotive-accessories retailer onboard. The inventor
decided that it would be better to shun the industry-standardised testing,
and instead went for on-road testing. Altohugh he managed to get
testimonials that certain drivers had experienced a 20% fuel-economy
benefit, such testimonials are worthless to the industry. *(I think there
are /just/ enough people out there who understand that the plural of
anecdote is "anecdotes", to keep everything from falling apart).* Anyway,
that company has gone belly-under, and I hear that one of the investors is
now trying to get the rights to pursue the testing regime that I had
proposed to them at least two years ago...

>> Olie: Crazy people come up with good ideas. Often.
Eliezer S Yudkowski Wrote:
> I admit that I'm skeptical of this assertion. If crazy people - not
> fun-crazy but unstable-crazy - are needed to come up with good ideas,
> then the so-called "sane" people are doing something wrong and probably
> have latched on to a mistaken idea of what sanity is all about, the way
> many people think that Mr. Spock is a rationality archetype. For myself
> I have oft seen gold mistaken for copper, and read of such cases in many
> books; but I have yet to see a flower grow from genuine gravel.

I'm not saying you /need/ crazies to come up with good ideas. I'm saying
that crazies can make worthwhile contributions.

Analogy: A similar principle was recently mentioned on Extropy-Chat: that
autism-spectrum types have strong leanings towards the sciences.

Is it the case that the sciences are full of autistic people? Not from my
experience. Probably a higher percentage than in other fields. But it is
true that whilst autism-y tendencies can have huge disadvantages in some
areas, they aren't a problem in others. Such leanings may make it easier to
deal with pertinent scientific issues, so there may be some sciency

Likewise with tinkerers- there seems to be a "syndrome" that could
potentially have physical causes that leads some kids to have a strong
predisposition to take apart toasters, microwaves, cars, etc.

 All of the people I've discussed in this post are perfectly lucid. They
are all entirely "sane". But, in speaking to them, they each appear
distinctly "abnormal". The tinkerers have a /systematic/ abnormality.
Their deviation from the human norm _is all about_ seeing the world in a
different way.

If people-who-see-the-world-differently are clever and lucky, their
"different view of the world" will allow them to create/do something that
can demonstrate their ideas. If they're left trying to describe their
viewpoint, they're in trouble, because for "success", they have to convey
their different view in a way that is palatable to the normal view,
which is rather awkward.

When somebody tries to describe how they see the world differently, the
natural low-success rate can lead to frustration. Frustration leads to
habitual anger and hang-ups, and underlying anger associated with an issue
can lead to a decrease in communication quality.

How is this an issue?

One of the areas that attracts inventive attention is
turbine-design/efficiency. Some of the "solutions" are perpetual motion
machines (PMM), but some things that look like PMMs are really just clever

Take a look at Energetech's reversing turbine design. (main site: www.*
energetech* seems to be down) When I first saw it, I immediately
thought "warning! Free Energy!" but it's _not_ a PMM. I can imagine that
many people would have blocked their ears before the prototype was built...

-- Olie

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