Alchemy Lives!

Wired has published its Vaporware 2007 awards. Coming in at number 10 is the Orbo, a device that, according to the developer’s Web site:

…produces free, clean and constant energy – that is our claim. By free we mean that the energy produced is done so without recourse to external source. By clean we mean that during operation the technology produces no emissions. By constant we mean that with the exception of mechanical failure the technology will continue to operate indefinitely.

The secret behind this amazing device? From  the company’s Web site: "Orbo is based upon the principle of time variant magneto-mechanical interactions."

I don’t know what that means, but I wouldn’t be surprised if dilithium crystals are involved.

image Reading the claims and the The Steorn Validation Process, I was immediately reminded of Charles Mackay’s wonderful book, Memoirs of Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds.

First published in 1851 and later issued under the title Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds, it remains in print today, a Plutarch’s Lives of "astrologers, necromancers, sorcerers, geomancers, and all those who pretended to discover futurity; and…dealers in charms, amulets, philters, universal-panacea mongers…."

Chapter 4, "The Alchymists," is most relevant to this topic. Among the many case studies Mackay describes is one George Ripley, the canon of Bridlington, in Yorkshire.

He studied for twenty years in the universities of Italy, and was a great favourite with Pope Innocent VIII, who made him one of his domestic chaplains, and master of the ceremonies in his household. Returning to England in 1477, he dedicated to King Edward IV his famous work, The Compound of Alchymy; or, the Twelve Gates leading to the Discovery of the Philosopher’s Stone. These gates he described to be calcination, solution, separation, conjunction, putrefaction, congelation, cibation, sublimation, fermentation, exaltation, multiplication, and projection; to which he might have added botheration, the most important process of all (4.36)

"Congelation, cibation, sublimation, fermentation, exaltation, multiplication, and projection"? Might as well be "time variant magneto-mechanical interactions." (According to the OED, congelation is "the action of congealing or freezing"; cibation is "feeding the matter; taking food.")

Alas, it appears that Orbo’s public debut did not go well:

Further to Steorn’s announcement yesterday (5th July) regarding the technical difficulties experienced during the installation of its “Orbo” technology at the Kinentica [sic] Museum in London, Steorn has decided to postpone the demonstration until further notice.

Sean McCarthy CEO stated that “technical problems arose during the installation of the demonstration unit in the display case on Wednesday evening. These problems were primarily due to excessive heat from the lighting in the main display area. Attempts to replace those parts affected by the heat led to further failures and as a result we have to postpone the public demonstration until a future date.”

He continued that “we apologise for the inconvenience caused to all the people who had made arrangements to visit the demonstration or were planning on viewing the demonstration online.”

Over the next few weeks the company will explore alternative dates for the public demonstration.

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