A number of years ago I fielded a phone call from a fellow who had purchased a piece of land in the middle of nowhere.  His intent was to build a hunting cabin.  The problem was that he wanted electricity and the nearest power lines were a mile away.

“They want to charge me $15,000 to bring power in”, he said.

“Yes, I know.  It’s very expensive to clear a trail through the woods and install poles and run a line”, I replied.

“So I was thinking”, he said, “That I could get a generator and have it run a motor that drives the generator.  Do you know where I could get something like that?”

I was agape for several seconds.  “You understand that what you are describing is a perpetual motion machine?”

“A what?”

I patiently explained that the laws of physics prevent you from creating energy out of nothing.  All real-world processes are lossy, and the universe is slowly running downhill.  In the end I suggested he get a gasoline-powered generator and be done with it.

This incident was eye-opening to me.  As an engineer, I assume that every person has some innate sense of how the world works – of what is and isn’t possible.  Apparently not.

So with that realization, I offer the following suggestion to anyone that wants to take up my proposal.  You and I should each take $20 from our respective pockets and put it in a box.  I will then sell you the box for $30.

Since you will be paying $30 for a box with $40 in it, you will make a $10 profit.  Since I originally put in $20 but am getting $30 back, I will make a $10 profit.  Win-win.  We can do this over and over until we both get rich!


AuthorMalcolm McClure