Ralf is in a wheel chair now. He’s an old guy, over 80 but still has a strong desire to do things like run his machine shop and invent stuff. His shop only consists of himself and one other guy though he’s not able to work in the shop any longer due to his age and failing health. He’s got this thick accent, as does the guy that works for him. Kind of a Pennsylvania Dutch accent I guess but maybe not. Something more European but I can’t place it. Ralf called me about 4 weeks ago and wanted me to help him with an idea he had for electrical power generation but he didn’t want to disclose it because he thought he had something really unique. He tried sending letters to executives at our company, but as you might imagine, he got no response. Knowing he probably had an idea that was basically a perpetual motion machine and therefore impossible to make work, I nevertheless told him I’d look at it and tell him what I thought. Friday morning Ralf finally got a nurse that was able to drive him to where I work. She wheeled him in and I took him into a small coffee shop to talk about his idea. As soon as he started in on it I could see it was a perpetual motion machine and my heart sank. I was really hoping he had something original but as an engineer, you can generally identify a perpetual motion machine as easily as a doctor can identify a broken leg. It might take all of a few minutes but it’s always as obvious as the back of your hand. I spent almost an hour listening carefully and talking with him, trying to get him to understand the energy balance of the system he was proposing. A few times I tried to remind him that we’ve known each other for a very long time and I honestly care about him and his business. You could see just how much work he had put into this and how much it meant to him. He had scale drawings made up and all sorts of details to describe how it would work. He really believed he’d come up with a way to make energy from a contraption that looked like a Ferris wheel that took water from the top to the bottom, hooked to a generator, and a pump that returned the water to the top which was powered by a battery charged by wind or solar energy. The whole thing was convoluted to say the least. To make it that much more difficult, he’s hard of hearing and I’d have to talk loudly to be heard. Eventually it all got through to him. He sat there staring at the plans he brought for his invention saying nothing for a very long time. Then he’d get up his courage and ask a few more things and try to point out how it could be made to work. Each time I’d try to explain as best I could how energy can’t be created out of thin air and where the energy had to come from. He slowly started catching on. I felt bad for the guy and sat with him there while he pondered how to make this thing work. Eventually he gave up. I know he realized I wasn’t trying to just shoot him down, I was trying the best I could to educate him and explain how his invention couldn’t work in technical detail sufficient for him to understand. Before he left he even apologized for taking up my time which I quickly brushed aside and thanked him for stopping by, shaking his hand before he packed up. I’ve seen this phenomena many times before. People come up with ideas for some invention that puts out more energy than it consumes. It’s hypnotic. When I was younger I had a friend at work who also has an engineering degree and realizes there’s no way to create a perpetual motion machine but he still thought about it all the time anyway and told me about the ideas he had. This went on for a year or two. He KNEW there was no way to make it work but he kept thinking about it anyway and constantly came up with new ideas. I think he’d tell me about these ideas to help him understand how they couldn’t work because he couldn’t quite figure it out himself. But there are a lot of people that seem to get caught up with the idea of creating energy out of nothing. They get totally wound around some idea and can’t let it go. So what do you call it, Perpetual Motion Disease (PMD)? Have you seen it too? I think the vast majority of people with PMD honestly believe in their ideas, they’re not just trying to scam anyone. Sure, there are scammers out there trying to take advantage but if there wasn’t anyone with PMD, there would be no one to scam! There seems to be a genuine belief, not unlike an unfounded religious belief, that grips people predisposed to PMD.