Inventing trouble

Robert Henderson

Someone is trying to kill me. Or to be more precise a number  of people are trying to kill me. Or to be utterly exact  various professional killers employed by sundry powerful  men are trying to murder me.

Why are powerful men trying to kill me? Because  metaphorically speaking I invented a better mousetrap. Mark  Twain was right was right; the world does beat a path to  your door when you invent something useful. Unfortunately he  was under the misapprehension that the world beats a path to  the inventor’s door to make him rich. What the world actually does is beat a path to the inventor’s door to  kill, maim or cheat him. How did I get into this  predicament? I went to a patent lawyer who…no that’s moving  the story on too fast. Let’s get back to the why.

What have I discovered? Nothing less than the engineer’s  version of the philosopher’s stone, free energy. In  approximately two seconds of conscious thought I invented a  perpetual motion machine. You just set it off and it goes on  and on and on without any further power input until you want  to stop it. No fuel needed and precious few moving parts to  break.

Hell! the machine’s so neat it won’t even cause heartbreak  to the scientific gentry because it doesn’t transgress  the most biblical of scientific writs, that infuriating old  first law of thermodynamics which won’t allow more energy to  come out of system than goes into it. Bit of a shame that,  not outraging the boffins, but at least it means they won’t  be able to say in their canting obscurantist way that the idea’s nonsense because it breaks a scientific law.

The basic invention is such a damn simple thing. If you saw  the machine you would say how the devil didn’t anybody  think of that before! I did myself at first, but I got to  reflecting on how I was forty nine when I came up with the  idea and how that idea came out of nothing. Pure serendipity.

Happens every now and then. A young boy inadvertently  invented the centrifugal governor for Watt’s steam engine  by casually hooking up a lever to a valve and a distracted  Archimedes comprehended specific gravity whilst staring at  his bathwater. My idea was that easy and sudden.

Strange how people have these ideas. Watt’s boy did it to save himself the trouble of minding the steam engine so that  he could play with another lad; Archimedes did it to please a  king. Me? I don’t rightly know. I’ve always had a fascination  with the way things are, not why they exist you understand,  but how they’re made, how they function. But that’s not an  explanation in itself. Perhaps it’s because I’ve a mind which  works primarily on logic. That means I’m naturally inclined  to understand processes rather than cold data. Ask me to  memorise a list of names and I couldn’t do that to save my  life. Ask me to memorise a complicated process using the same  names and they would slip into my brain as easy as ABC. Come  to think of it, perhaps it’s the logical structure of my mind  which gives me my interest in the form and function of  things.

Anyway, whatever the reason, there I was one evening less  than a year ago, feeling old, flat broke, sitting in a  rented room with cheap furniture and even cheaper wallpaper,  staring blankly at a couple of common or garden objects  owned by the stranger who rented out the room. Suddenly I  thought you put this here and that there, join this to the other and bingo! there it was, an idea to turn the whole  world through eighty degrees. Suddenly I’m thinking that I’m no longer booked on a one way ticket to Palookaville with no  chance of a refund.

I’ve had a small model running nonstop for near on nine  months. As I write this I could hold out my hand and touch  it. I knew the machine must work when it was only an idea  in my head. But being intellectually convinced is only half  the battle, so I made the machine to pay heed to my emotions. I needed to see it working to believe.

It’s a very basic thing this model I’ve made, but in  principle it could go on for ever. However, parts will wear  out and materials deteriorate and accidents happen, so at  some point it will fail. As things stand I reckon that it  could take a thousand years or more to break down. With  better materials perhaps hundreds of thousands, perhaps  millions of years. Eventually who knows? Prevent the  materials deteriorating, avoid accidents, let the Earth  remain much the same and it’s forever. But even a thousand  years is as good as infinity for the individual man, so for  all practical purposes it’s a perpetual motion machine as it  stands. And the additional beauty of the thing is that it  takes precious little energy to start and next to no energy  to stop.

How does the machine work? It…well, that’s my big  problem, that’s why I’ve got all these people after me. I don’t dare tell anybody until I’ve got a few things right side up in my head, number one being how do I keep alive. But  I’ll describe it in general terms so someone reading this can understand what is making powerful men so angry and desperate that they want to kill a man without money, power or influential friends. Just hang onto your concentration for paragraph or two and you’ll get the general idea.

My miraculous engine uses a simple natural phenomenon to  produce motion which in turn is linked to another example of the selfsame phenomenon and the synchronised reciprocating action of these two phenomena sustains the motion of each other. Ergo, a self sustaining cycle is formed. Ergo it need  never stop. Now motion equals power, mechanical or electrical to your choice. So you can either use my machine  to drive something directly – a ship’s propeller say – or link it to a generator to produce electricity.

The power it generates is unusually stable. Because it  doesn’t use fuel, you need never worry that you’ll get an  irregular performance from supposedly similar fuel and it  isn’t overly dependent on the immediate weather conditions  like wind and solar power or naturally inconsistent in  strength like running water or wave power. My machine just  starts off at a pace and never changes unless gravity,  pressure or temperature alters.

Gravity and pressure aren’t a problem because neither vary  significantly on the Earth’s land surfaces, so that leaves  only temperature to fret about. That’s a theoretical problem  because the lowest natural land temperatures can make the  natural phenomenon impossible. In practice it’s no problem  because most places will never get cold enough most of the  time and, in those that do, the problem could be overcome  easily enough by insulation. Come to think of it, I could  overcome the difficulty by substituting the machine’s normal  primary material with one which reacts differently to heat.

At the worst, one of my machines might run a fraction faster or slower as the temperature goes up or down. In any case  if you want an absolutely stable power flow, all you need to do is put the machine into a pressure and temperature controlled environment which, of course, you can create  using power from the machine. Beautiful ain’t it!

Producing virtually free, stable power is recommendation  enough, but my machine has other flag waving advantages which say BUY BUY BUY ME. The materials needed to build it are plentiful and easy to work. It doesn’t use fuel. There is absolutely no pollution so there are no gas emissions, no chemical leaks, no nuclear waste, no interference with the  environment such as you get with wave power and no noise. You don’t even have the aesthetic problem of ugly equipment such as electricity pylons. In fact, my machines could be built in a way which made them part of the natural landscape.

Best of all the machine depletes no natural resources other  than those required to build the machines and is permanently sustainable. Sounds like fairy gold, don’t it? But there’s  more.

My machine could provide the power for most human needs at  the point of use. Imagine a world in which each building,  each home, each business, each factory had its own machine to  generate power. Out goes the great paraphernalia of  electricity lines and gas pipes we now have, out go the great  power generating plants. Even if a few public generators were required for undertakings such as the railways, they could be built using my machine.

The practical effects of the machine would have profound political consequences. All countries would have access to power so cheap as to be virtually free. No country could be utterly held to ransom by the oil and gas suppliers. Because pollution is zero, even the lowest tech economies could run it safely. In theory any country could industrialise.

If you’re thinking that the contraption sounds too good to be true, relax, no machine was ever built without a drawback or three. This one has two. The first comes from the stability of the natural process producing the motion. This stability means that power can only be generated at one rate by a particular machine.

Now that just goes to show the value of working things out on paper. Just after I wrote that last paragraph I thought of a novel way of gearing the machine to produce differential motion by restricting the opportunity for the motion producing phenomenon to occur. How easy it would be in practice is another matter, but as the gearing is a simple mechanical device I don’t foresee any great problem. A bit of tinkering here and there to discover the most efficient way f setting the gearing mechanism but that’s all. But even if the gearing did not work, all you need to do to produce differential power is store the electricity the machine produces and use it as required at what power level you want.

Goddamn! I’ve just thought of an even better way to gear the machine. I’ll use different materials to alter the rates of flow. So let’s say the machine has only one real drawback, size.

Even if I can make a machine which produces different levels of power, I am still constrained by its upper power limit. To alter its power I can only subtract from its maximum energy output. So what you say, the same applies to all powered engines. But with other machines you can improve their fuel or adapt their structure to gain greater power from the same size of mechanism. Unless I can find materials which act more efficiently than those I know of, I can’t make any significant improvements in power generation to my machine, because the natural phenomenon I utilise will only produce a given amount of motion in a given amount of space.

I could use greater pressures to speed the natural phenomenon, but that would be pointless because I would run into the old conservation of energy problem. The energy required to increase the pressure would cancel out any increased energy output from the machine. It really gets up my nose that conservation of energy law!

So the long and the short of it is that my machines will have to be on the large size for substantial power generation. Certainly too big to power a car or a plane because the power/weight ratio would be impractical. For the technically virginal, that’s just a fancy way of saying the machine would not generate enough energy to move its own and the vehicle’s mass.

But if my machine could not propel cars and planes directly, it might power a large ship. And even cars could be powered by it indirectly if electric propulsion becomes not merely possible, but at least as convenient and efficient as petrol driven engines.

How big can my machines be? In principle any size above the microscopic. The beauty of the machine is that it can be linked to any number of other machines or the process of the natural phenomenon could be replicated infinitely in a single machine. As for machines going the other way on the size scale, there is a limit because another natural phenomenon kicks in at the microscopic level to prevent the perpetual motion process happening. There’s probably a way round that as well, but I can’t think of it as yet, although I suspect the answer lies in using materials of different density.

Sounds like I’m a lucky man just waiting to coin as much money as a man could conceive of doesn’t it? Wrongity wrongity! There is a positive forest of stricken circumstantial oaks across the road to my fame and riches. After I had made my first machine and had it running for long enough to convince me that it was stable, I sat down to think about how I would bring the idea to the market. The trouble was that the more I thought about it the more impossible the business seemed.

To begin with I thought about patents. To patent an invention all over the world costs about thirty grand. I won’t keep you in suspense, I didn’t and don’t have thirty grand. But that thirty grand is only the beginning because you are bound to get pirating, and that’s particularly so when the machine is cheap and easy to produce. So you need more money for patent infringement law suits, lots and lots more money, boy! do you need money to keep lawyers happy. And the funny thing is it doesn’t matter where you go in the world, lawyers all have the same three principal character traits, greedy, greedy and greedy again. I was tempted to throw in idle, incompetent, dishonest, ignorant and cowardly before greedy, but that would be unfair to lawyers. Idle, incompetent, dishonest, ignorant and cowardly indubitably score just below greedy on the lawyer personality chart. And it’s been ever thus. First let us kill the lawyers! wrote old Will Shakespeare. I can’t say I’m utterly opposed to the idea.

Those are your legal problems with patents. Your other more pressing slings and arrows – let’s be polite and call them extra-legal difficulties – come from those countries which either don’t recognise patents for foreigners or do but don’t if you know what I mean. It’s a sorry truth that most countries don’t have a meaningful legal system, they being more than a little remiss in providing such things as due process and the right to independent legal representation.

And in any case I sincerely doubt whether a foreigner ever gets fair treatment before a foreign court anywhere. So legal action is not really a paying proposition anywhere unless your indecently rich.

Some wiseguys might tell you the way to deal with such unobliging states is to bribe their rulers. The wiseguys who tell you that will even offer to hand over your money to the  said rulers. You would be better employed donating the money to your favourite charity. If one thing is certain in this world, you never can trust a man who takes a bribe. Either he will be willing to take another one to betray you or he won’t have the power to deliver his promises.

When it comes down to it, your only real safeguards against having an idea stolen are technical sophistication and cost. You need to produce a product which is either too technically sophisticated for easy production or so expensive that bootleggers can’t afford to produce it.

Generally if you have the first you have the second. Sadly my machine doesn’t exactly fall into the category of technically sophisticated although it could utilise a lot of high tech stuff to maximise its effectiveness. In fact, my machine is so simple in principle that your average cackhanded technophobe bozo could construct a basic model in his kitchen and that basic machine could power a 60 watt bulb. So that makes effective patenting more than a mite difficult.

But patenting was just the beginning of my worries. I also had to find the money to either start up a company to manufacture the machines or persuade a big company to fund the project. Well, I sure as hell couldn’t do the first and I was damn sure that no big company was going to look at somebody they didn’t know from Adam. But hopeless as that seemed I played make believe to progress matters. I asked myself to suppose that I could get the money for the patenting and persuade a big company to finance me.

I could just about believe that some lawyer with an eye to the main chance might do the patenting work on a contingency basis. In the small hours I could even see some big business taking me under its wing. But what was there to stop either a lawyer or a company taking me for a ride? How could I trust the lawyers and businessmen with whom I would have to deal?

How could I protect my idea? In the end the answer I came up with was the only sane one: I had damn all ways of guaranteeing that I wouldn’t be shafted and the idea stolen. But before I got to that inescapable, indigestible conclusion I tied myself in knots trying to close down all the alleyways and thoroughfares which a lawyer or a business could scuttle down. I created positive sheepshanks of logical reasoning and half-hitches of practical actions to lash everything down. I’ll give you a taste of the way I went, twisting and turning till my head was near breaking. My mind would work something like this.

I need to prove that the idea was mine. Therefore I’m going to send myself a number of letters with the plans of the machine inside. The envelopes will have stamps over the sealing flap of envelope. That way the point of entry into the envelope is date stamped by the post office. A court will accept that as proof of my knowledge of the machine at the stamped date.

Damn! but that doesn’t prove that I invented the machine, it merely proves that I knew about it by a particular time. So I shall send a letter to the patent lawyer describing what the machine does in general terms but without describing the machine. This letter will be sent by recorded post so again I have a date stamp. But what if he says that he never received the letter? I shall send the letter to his home not his office. That will mean that either he or his wife signs for the letter. But that won’t prove that I sent the lawyer a particular letter. So I shall videotape myself putting the letter into envelope before I send it. But that still won’t prove that I sent that particular letter. Hell!

Or I might be thinking about meeting the patent lawyer. Then I would go along like this. What am I going to do about the meeting? The lawyer’s got to come to me. That way I can control the physical circumstances. Then I can record the meeting. But I mustn’t rely on just one record because that the recording might be faulty or the man’s face be turned from the camera so his lips can’t be seen. So I shall videotape the meeting with four video machines placed at 90 degrees to one another. Just for luck I shall run half a dozen tape recorders as well. I can’t afford to buy the video recorders but I can hire them.

Shall I tell the patent lawyer I am recording? Indubitably yes because if I don’t as sure as eggs are ovoid objects he will go scuttling off to the patent office or a manufacturer or both and sew up the patent for someone else. If I didn’t have the recordings I would…jeez you see what this sort of thing does, it signposts the way to a home for the barking.

Finally I got thinking about the practical effects my machine would have on the world. Just imagine what would happen if a source of energy was given to the world which required no more than the initial outlay for the machine. All right, you could factor in the costs of security for the biggest machines and there will be some piffling maintenance costs for the moving parts, but whichever way you look at it, the cost is minuscule compared with any current means of power generation.

The problem is that my invention is not like any other in the history. Other forms of power have come upon the scene. Windmills competed with watermills. Steam competed with wind and watermills. Oil superseded steam, electricity competes with oil and gas. Nuclear energy vies with all these. But in those cases the change was never immediate nor complete.

Steam may be almost dead as a serious primary power source but it took two centuries to become moribund. As for the others, they all have their niches. What I have is the means to make all of them, except petrol for vehicles and ships and planes, obsolete in a matter of a few years, perhaps as little as ten. And if decent batteries can be invented for cars, then most of the oil used in cars will become redundant.

Now sit down and think of all the powerful men whose place in the world is dependent on power generation. Think of the gas companies, the electricity generators and the oil companies.

Think of coal and gas. Think of the oil dependent cars. Think of all the people employed in all those industries. Think of all the other people who live off the general expenditure of the energy producing people. Think of the politicians who tax and spend. Think of the economic and social disruption a form of energy so cheap that its cost becomes negligible could cause. Think of what the likely response to the man who has invented the machine which creates virtually free power.

What do men do when they are threatened. They become either aggressive or submissive, the Uriah Heap syndrome. When they are powerful men, they invariably become aggressive. When they are really frightened they will kill. So I thought there would be more a fair chance that someone would want me dead if I tried to patent the machine.

After all that thinking and conjuring of demons, there I was sitting on this wonderful idea which could change the world and I couldn’t see a way of through the thicket to the open fields beyond.

I tried to shrug my shoulders and tell myself to forget about it. But the idea was so strong in my mind that I couldn’t leave the thing alone . However hard I pressed it down it kept clambering back to my frontal lobes until it became a mental sore.

I knew that it was Lombard Street to a china orange that I would be cheated. I knew that the machine could cause great social dislocation. I knew that the machine could threaten the security of the powerful. I knew that I was putting myself in danger. But it didn’t make a damn bit of difference, that’s the God’s honest truth. I didn’t care about anything but the machine.

It wasn’t even the prospect of money which was uppermost in my mind. What was sitting there was the sheer cleverness of the thing and the fact that I had invented it. If a philosopher ever made a more profound observation than David Hume when he said that the heart has its reasons that reason knows not of, I would sorely wish to know it.

Well that was six months ago. What did I do? I found a lawyer who agreed to apply for patents in Britain, the US, Japan and the EU. I reckoned that would cover enough of the countries who could not afford to be without the machine to make me a fortune.

True to form the lawyer just couldn’t resist the temptation to go to an oil company. Needless to say he didn’t register the patents. I know the lawyer went to the oil company because they tried to buy me out. But the trouble was they wanted to suppress the machine. And my trouble was that I couldn’t bear that. So I said no. The oil company offered more and more money but I kept on saying no. Eventually the oil company stopped offering.

I was just about to look out another patent lawyer when the first attempt to kill me happened. A car swerving up on the pavement. I just managed to get into a side alley in time. It could have been an accident but it looked deliberate and I don’t believe in coincidences. Another car tried to run me down the next day. Caught me a glancing blow and I ended up in hospital for a couple of weeks.

I can take hint so I didn’t go back to my room when I came out of hospital. I simply left everything I had and ran. Where am I now? Sitting in another rented room with cheap furniture and even cheaper wallpaper, feeling old and flat broke. I’m even staring blankly at a couple of common or garden objects owned by a stranger.

Any difference from a few months back? Yeah, I’m scared, but I’m even angrier and angry trumps scared any day. And I’ll tell you the damndest thing about my anger. I’m not  angry because I’m not making a fortune. I’m not even angry because people are trying to kill me. No, I’m angry because the machine’s a truly beautiful idea and if I’m killed it will be gone.

So what do I do? Shall I patent it as best I can? Shall I do what Alexander Fleming did with penicillin and give it to the world for free? Or shall I simply let the idea come silent with me to the grave? I can’t even console myself by thinking that if I don’t make the invention public then somebody else will soon discover it. The natural physical phenomenon I utilise for my machine has been known for at least three thousand years. We have had something approximating to a proper scientific method for at least four hundred years and a respectable technology for far longer. Yet in all that time no one sat down and looked at this phenomenon and put two and two together. So why should I believe that someone will discover what I have discovered? In fact, I reckon it’s even less likely now than it was three hundred years ago because our scientific erudition and technological brilliance has blinded men to simple processes.

One thing is for sure, when shove comes to push nobody can stop me from making the idea public knowledge. If all other roads come to dead ends, I can release the genie by uploading the details of the machine onto the Internet.

Well, I reckon shove has come to push so I put this lead here and that lead there, join this to the other, switch on, log on , upload and bingo! there it is, an idea to turn the world through eighty degrees, singing through the ether of the worldwide web. I wonder which big company will be the first to apply for a patent?

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  • UNF  On September 25, 2013 at 10:16 am

    Fascinating. What was the name of “the oil company” that tried to buy you out?

  • Robert Henderson  On September 25, 2013 at 9:22 pm

    If there was one I would not be telling.

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