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The Magic Box Hoax 481

Posted by michael
from the one-born-every-minute dept.
Rasvar writes "Here is an interesting article from The Florida Times-Union about a high tech hoax that managed to pull in the likes of Blockbuster Video, US West, Ted Turner, Sen Orrin Hatch and numerous others. I actually attended one of the "demonstrations" of this device years back. I came away cynical becuase of the way he presented stuff. Sometimes it is good to be a cynic. This is a very good article on an impressive high tech scam."
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The Magic Box Hoax

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  • Who's to blame? (Score:2, Informative)

    by Devil's BSD (562630)
    Madison Priest was a big con-artist, true, but if Ted Turner and the rest did their research, wouldn't they have realized that there are physical limitations to a POTS line's bandwidth?
    • Re:Who's to blame? (Score:4, Informative)

      by systemapex (118750) on Sunday May 05, 2002 @02:54PM (#3466335)
      This was the pre-DSL era. Everybody and their brother was supposed to be searching for this very thing - broadband-type bandwidth over standard old telephone lines. These investors wanted to believe in this magic box. When people actually want to believe in something, it becomes orders of magnitude easier to convince them of it. Even so, this guy went to great lengths to convince them. I'm sure there are other, smaller investors that were swindled from shadier, less-convincing con-men using this very same theme.
      • Re:Who's to blame? (Score:5, Informative)

        by jrp2 (458093) on Sunday May 05, 2002 @04:33PM (#3466692) Homepage
        This was the pre-DSL era. Everybody and their brother was supposed to be searching for this very thing

        Ain't that the truth! At the time that scam artist was operating I was an engineer at US Robotics. We had damn near a revolving door of these kinds of kooks coming in and out. Most never got in, but every now and then one would. As a fairly visible, and known very cynical, engineer, I often was invited to meetings with these types to try to flesh out if they were full of it, or had something interesting. I had 2 favorites, one a scam, the other became 56K.

        The one that was a scam was hysterical. Like the situation in this article, I am pretty sure the guys I met actually believed in it as I think they were too stupid (or too blinded by instant wealth) to know any better. Their "magic software" (yes, they called it just that) would magically give 2 to 5 times better throughput. Over the phone they would not give any details except that it was NOT compression. They would not give me a copy to eval, but offered to fly out to Chicago to give me a demo. So, what the heck, I invited them out to meet with me and the Product Management exec. It ended up being a waste of two hours, but worth it for a good laughable story.

        So, they come out and load their magic on one of our test PCs and demonstrate what was effectively 115 Kbps throughput. Now, remember, at the time the serial port driver that shipped with Windows was limited to 19.2 Kbps. So, when they compared it to a "normal" Windows PC, it was indeed way faster. BUT, we (as well as every other modem mfg) shipped a free driver along with our modem that fixed that problem. MS also fixed the problem in Win98. When I showed them the same type of t-put on another PC in our lab, with the updated driver, their faces dropped, they shook in disbelief that some other genious had discovered this before them. I escorted them out of the building. As a parting gift I gave them a copy of the driver we used, and told them my shortcut back to the airport and recommended a bar on the way.

        My other story is when we met a guy that had been thrown out of Rockwell and Lucent. They had basically told him his invention would never work outside the lab, and the real world phone network would kill it with all it's quirks. He was a Stanford math professor named Dr. Brent Townsend. Though not entirely incorrect, the goofy phone network did pose some serious challenges (particularly in US, Canada and Korea), and it took a couple years to really refine it. His invention was what became 56K (err, 54K, grin) modems. It significantly surpassed what "Shannon's Law" says was the max a voice channel could carry. From what I can tell (a very informed guess), a hair over 90% of the modem using populace (at least in industrialized nations) get at least a significant benefit (stable 42K+ speeds, most around 48K) out of this technology. A technology that almost never happened.

        I mention Dr. Townsend to remind folks that not all the kooks are really kooks. The former (and many other examples) show it pays to be skeptical (and MOST of the kooks really are kooks).
        • ...townsend didn't surpass it!

          The "classic" limitation on analogue dialup modems was the quantization error introduced by the analogue to digital conversion on both ends.

          However -- 56k depends on one end of the connection being DIGITAL . You're eliminating quant error on one side of the connection, thus you can get better downstream speeds. Upstream speeds, if you notice, are still limited to 33.6k due to quant error on the end user's modem.

          There is no magic here. No laws are being surpassed or violated here. Shannon is still safe.
          • The "classic" limitation on analogue dialup modems was the quantization error introduced by the analogue to digital conversion on both ends.

            Technically, you are quite correct, I will not argue with you on that fact from a technical perspective. From a perception perspective, he did indeed. Most folks thought, based on Shannon's statements, that we were done and could not squeeze any more data through using a voice channel. So, in many ways, he really did.

            However -- 56k depends on one end of the connection being DIGITAL . You're eliminating quant error on one side of the connection, thus you can get better downstream speeds. Upstream speeds, if you notice, are still limited to 33.6k due to quant error on the end user's modem

            Hmmm, tell that to the folks using V.92 modems with upstream PCM that claim up to 45K upstream. I have not been involved with them, so can't give you any figures, but I do know that it works for some percentage of the population. From what I understand, quantization is the issue that is keeping it down to 45K, but acquiring timing was the main issue preventing PCM modulation from working in the upstream (A to D) direction. That has now been broken as they figured how to do timing. Yes, this still requires digital on one end, plus I suspect not too many ISPs have installed gear to service it.

            Is this technically breaking Shannon's Law? I am not sure enough to make the bold statement that it is.
            • Is this technically breaking Shannon's Law? I am not sure enough to make the bold statement that it is.

              Nope, it's not breaking the Shannon limit, because nothing can break it. It's impossible. So if somebody does manage exceed the "Shannon limit" on some channel, it can only be because it was incorrectly calculated.

              The Shannon capacity in bits/sec of a noisy, band-limited channel is C = B*log2(1+SNR).

              So to compute the Shannon limit, you need to know both the bandwidth and the signal-to-noise ratio of the channel. Both numbers can vary quite a bit for plain copper pairs. The signal-to-noise ratio is affected by things like attenuation, crosstalk from other pairs and transmit power limitations to avoid crosstalk to other pairs. And bandwidth is affected by the length of the cable, its insulation and wire gauge, the presence of loading coils, etc.

              That's why DSL speeds vary so much from one place to another, and why it's no big deal to send at much faster rates than DSL over short (a few hundred meters max) twisted pairs that have been carefully constructed (i.e., Cat 5 cable).

    • Wanting to believe (Score:4, Interesting)

      by Alien54 (180860) on Sunday May 05, 2002 @03:04PM (#3466376) Journal
      wouldn't they have realized that there are physical limitations to a POTS line's bandwidth?

      I thought that the POTS line bandwidth was to some degree limited by other things like filtering.

      Otherwise things like DSL wouldn't really work.

      (off on a tangent) I recall many years (1970s?) ago how they did (and maybe still do) broadcasts in Boston of Boston Symphony concerts at TangleWood in the Berkshires, over 100 mile away. They had recordings of the original source, they had the signal at the end of the phone line, and they knew what the difference was. They merely amplified the signal at the source end to compensate for the losses, making sure to not clip the signals. Result at the end in Boston was a signal completely acceptable for FM Stereo broadcasts.

      So I can see if you are not completely expert in the technology, being able to make up your own examples, and talking yourself into believing that Certain Limitations had been exceeded.

      Heck, Look at the history of the dialup modem, going from teletype speeds to 56k, far exceeding original expectations.

      • by norton_I (64015) <hobbes@utrek.dhs.org> on Sunday May 05, 2002 @03:19PM (#3466425)
        POTS is, among other things, limited by the resoultion of the ADC at the telco. Since you telephone signal goes into a 64 kbps digital channel there, you cannot get any more than 64 kbps out of the analog end. DSL requires the telco to install new hardware that splits the high frequency and low freqency components, sends one to the phone connection and one to the DSL hardware.

        Even so, noise, loss, and crosstalk are all problems for DSL causing it to be limited range, especially for the high bandwidth versions. In addition, equipment installed to prevent ground loops and improve the quality of audio freqnecy transmission, especially in older or long distance phone runs wasn't designed to pass high frequency and can wreak havoc on DSL. None of these problems have to do with the wire itself, though. Copper has plenty of bandwidth, the purpose of coax and so forth is to decrease losses and interference.

        But it sounds like this guy was claiming to jam several megabits of data through the 64 kbit phone switch, which is obviously impossible.
        • But it sounds like this guy was claiming to jam several megabits of data through the 64 kbit phone switch, which is obviously impossible

          You obviously missed the fact that he was using zero point energy combined with low energy physics. These two symbiotic technologies use the 64 kbit switch as an multiplying amplifier, effectively increasing available bandwidth by a factor of 65536. That converts an ordinary DSL line from 1.5Mbps to 98.3Tbps.

      • The tanglewood "phone line" is most likely a "dry copper pair" (see Cringely's pulpit [pbs.org]) with no phone-company filtering done. This is just 100 miles of copper wire connecting the Berkshires to Boston. With enough amplification, etc, I'm sure radio-quality analog audio transmission is perfectly possible.

        That's very different from transmitting the signal over a "POTS line" or a phone call, though.

      • This was probably no more than a standard program line, common in radio for decades. In the past it was a series of amplifiers with adjustable equalization interconected with a few miles of unloaded (the filtering you mentioned, a passive resonant filter placed on the line to boost the voice presence range at the expense of higher frequencies) copper wire. On long hauls most telcos now convert to digital PCM at a nearby central office and use analogue amplification for the last mile either end. My guess is that the 70's Tanglewood circuit isn't a good example as it would have likely covered most of the distance by analogue microwave.
    • Re:Who's to blame? (Score:3, Interesting)

      by lostchicken (226656)
      Inventors make their livings breaking physical limitations. The 1903 Wright Flyer, the Bell X-1, ADSL, DOCSIS all are things designed to skirt around physical limitations.

      I remember someone proposing illuminating lines with an x-ray maser, in an attempt get very high speed transfer. It exceeded the limitations of the wire by not using it. The wire only contained the data.

      If I had "done my research" I would know I can't get 40gHz signals down an Aluminum wire, but waveguides work just fine.

      If we listen to all limitations, we won't get anywhere. You just have to ask how something works.
  • by dattaway (3088) on Sunday May 05, 2002 @02:53PM (#3466331) Homepage Journal
    He received a patent on his black box [jacksonville.com], so it must true and not a hoax, right?

    Another reason why patents are worthless pieces of paper.
  • patent (Score:5, Informative)

    by j09824 (572485) on Sunday May 05, 2002 @02:54PM (#3466337)
    You can find the patent here [uspto.gov]. It's completely bogus. Any patent examiner with a minimum background in electrical engineering should have thrown this out, and anybody investing millions of dollars in it should have had it checked out by someone who actually knows something about electrical engineering. This is really no different from the patent and investment follies of the Internet bubble.
    • This is really no different from the patent and investment follies of the Internet bubble.

      No kidding. It's just like emails that delete themselves, and all those companies with supposedly 'unbreakable' proprietary encryption. i remember when word of this guy first spread - i thought, he can magically compress video but he won't tell anyone how? Mmmhmm.

      Charisma really has to be the secret ingredient. i not only couldn't have pulled this scam, i can't even fast-talk my way to extended deadlines.
    • Its a shame the us patent system is becoming a rubber stamp factory.
      • Re:patent (Score:4, Funny)

        by psychosis (2579) on Sunday May 05, 2002 @03:42PM (#3466510)
        Makes you wish you had a patent on rubber stamps, eh?
    • Re:patent (Score:2, Informative)

      by phyxeld (558628)
      Persons responsible for approving this joke of a patent [uspto.gov]:
      Primary Examiner: Kuntz; Curtis A.
      Assistant Examiner: Eng; George
  • by pornaholic (242268) on Sunday May 05, 2002 @02:54PM (#3466339)
    I can move my data around at 100GB/s. Watch as I give you a live demonstration!

    &ltemote&gtpicks up computer and throws it&lt/emote&gt

    Did you see that? I'll sell you this system for a fraction of what it's worth, I just want society to benefit from it!
    • I don't know. I don't think we've hit the bottom with wireless technology investments.
    • My g/f once had the .sig
      "Never underestimate the bandwidth of a 747 loaded with CDs"

      I calculated it once, it's frightening.
      (And this was before the days of DVDs being common. I don't think it was an original .sig, but she liked it so nicked it.)

      Phil
      • It's a slight update of the original:

        "Never underestimate the bandwidth of a station wagon full of tapes hurtling down the highway."
        - Andrew Tannenbaum

        The fortune(6) program on your linux box should be able to spit that one out.

        --Blair
      • I've recalculated it for a 747-400 full of DVD's

        Volume of bounding box of a DVD: 21.6 ml
        Total cargo volume of 747-400: 7.03e8 ml
        Theoretical number of DVDs that will fit in rectangular packing: 3.25e7
        Bits per DVD: 3.76e10 (4.7 GB)
        Bits per 747: 1.22e18 (153 million GB)
        Longest reasonable flight: 24 hours, Minneapolis to Bombay (86400 seconds; yes, it's long, but bear with me).

        Effective bandwidth: 14200 Gbps.

        --Blair
        "Hell, I get that on my zero-point energy modem. Email me for plans to make your own."
        • Longest reasonable flight: 24 hours, Minneapolis to Bombay (86400 seconds; yes, it's long, but bear with me).

          You need to add a couple of years to write all the DVDs and read them back :-)
        • good one.. :)

          however, what does the time spent in the air have to do with it? by that reasoning if it flew for less time it'd have higher bandwidth. :) the distance flown (as well the time needed to burn/read all those DVDs) affects /latency/ not bitrate.

          i think the factor you want is how many 747s you can depart at any given time. let's say its 3 minutes between takeoffs, so actually your 747 has a bandwidth of:

          153Eb/180s ~= 850 Pb/s (850e15 b/s)

          now what about if we used seagate's 80GB ATA drives?

          80 GB for 26.1*101*147 mm^3 = 0.3860l = 386ml

          so number of drives/747: (7.03e8)/386 = 1821243
          drives
          bits per 747: 1821243*80*8 Gb
          bitrate: (1821243*80*8)Gb / 180s = 6475532 Gb/s

          ie 6.4755 Pb/s

          (now all those drives'd probably need packing in cardboard foam boxes, so lets for sake of argument assume the boxes add 50mm onto each dimension)

          volume: 0.076*0.151*0.197*1000 = 2.25l
          # drives: (7.03*10^8)/2250 = 312444
          bitrate: 312444*80*8 Gb / 180s = 1.11091 Pb/s

          now, say you work on the efficiency of your departure rate (get special compensation from JAA or FAA or whoever the governing authority in your area is) and you can get your departure interval down to 30s, that'd be a factor of 6 improvement. however, you're going to need redundancy, cause you're going to have a lot of bad drives, so make every 3rd drive a "parity" drive hence wasting two thirds of the "bandwidth":

          1.11*6Pb/s * 2/3 = 4.44 Pb/s

          latency, would of course suck :) but a latency of a week wouldnt be infeasible. but you're getting 4.44Pb/s!!!! :)

          costs:

          say operating cost of 747 is $7k/hour. departure every 30s, so one hour == 120 planes.

          cost/hour = 7k * 120 = $840k
          bitrate/$: (4.44*10^6) / (850*10^3) =
          5.28571Gb/s / $

          not bad... course that doesnt include the costs of the drive writing/reading/handling facilities, perhaps ignores capital costs and depreciation of the airplanes, maintenance, etc.. but feck it, i'm not an accountant.

          anyway, bugger ADSL, i'm waiting for broadbody to the curb. (chuckle chuckle).
  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday May 05, 2002 @02:55PM (#3466346)
    The article says that his new invention would decimate the speed limit for data over ordinary phone lines. Why anyone would invest millions of dollars in reducing the already slow speed by %10 is beyond me, but I guess they were all crazy rich people.

    You keep on using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.
    Inigo Montoya
  • huh? (Score:2, Insightful)

    by elchulopadre (466393)
    Is it just me, or is the "it got destroyed in a car accident / plane crash / flood / lightning bolt from Zeus" excuse the grown-up version of "my dog ate my homework"?
  • Bah (Score:3, Interesting)

    by delta407 (518868) <slashdot@nOSpaM.lerfjhax.com> on Sunday May 05, 2002 @03:03PM (#3466373) Homepage
    I can transmit video in realtime over a standard phone line -- it's called DSL. Additionally, I can even stream video over a modem, 512x512 @ 30 FPS as listed in the patent (even though TVs aren't square).

    How about solid black? I'm thinking a 9600 baud modem can do that, depending on the compression.
    • Re:Bah (Score:3, Insightful)

      by psaltes (9811)
      But could you do that in 1994, which is when he started showing his 'demonstrations' to people?
  • by wowbagger (69688) on Sunday May 05, 2002 @03:07PM (#3466388) Homepage Journal
    If anyone shows you a "magic box" but won't let you touch it, change the setup of the demonstration, or suggest other ways to test it, RUN !

    This is a classic bit of snake oil - "I have this wonderful thing, and you can get a piece of it, but DON'T GO BACK THERE!"

    That otherwise intelligent people fell for this just goes to show how most of us don't always act logically all the time.

    Besides - pushing video over CAT-3 isn't hard: you just need enough OOMPH to deal with the attenuation, which over a few feet is not so bad. I've seen little boxes you can buy that allow you to send a VCR's output to another room over 100 feet of little thin zip-cord - all they are is a balun (balanced to unbalanced transformer) that matches the 75 ohm output of the VCR to the wire.

    It's pushing that same signal over MILES of cable while somebody else is pushing a different signal over a different pair of wires in the same bundle without interfering with each other that's the tricky bit. Solve that with enough signal to noise ratio to allow multi-megabit transmission, and you will be rich. You also will be violating half a dozen laws of physics, but....
    • by Guppy06 (410832) on Sunday May 05, 2002 @06:35PM (#3467200)
      "If anyone shows you a "magic box" but won't let you touch it, change the setup of the demonstration, or suggest other ways to test it, RUN !"

      There was an interesting documentary on either A&E or Discovery (one of those two) based on the book Longitude. Somebody was talking about Harrison's apprehensiveness about letting others (ie. the Astronomer Royal) poke around inside of his invention and he made an interesting point: If you really did have a magic box and it did what you said it did, would you want potential competitors seeing its insides?
  • "Priest, a 40-something ex-con who dropped out of high school in rural Citra, had devised his invention just a year or so earlier."

    My respect for Intel just went down a notch for believing this guy who has a record like this.

    -Vic
  • Blockbuster? Intel? Wouldn't these companies be rich enough to hire engineers and physicists who could tell you flat out that it's impossible?

    So what's the real answer? Given a telephone wire and optimum conditions, what's the theoretical maxiumum speed that data can be transfered at?
    • Very few experts will say something is impossible. If they are truely experts they may have seen the impossible done repeatedly. Sure, they may be able to understand it after it is done, but people do come up with new things and most Experts acknowledge they don't know EVERYTHING about a subject.

      That said, I still can't believe people fell for it.
    • Given a telephone wire and optimum conditions, what's the theoretical maxiumum speed that data can be transfered at?

      The theoretical maximum would be more than enough to transfer all the digital files in existance in the blink of an eye. But in reality it depends, I'm pretty impressed by 1000-Base-T.

      The question I would ask is how much data can you send through a telephone wire that traverses the
      telephone network... Where it's in close proximity to other wires, bent at wacky angles, terminated improperly, etc, etc. Then my question would be when will our governments build a last mile fiber network?

      When can we begin worrying about sending 5 terabits/sec down that multimode fiber installed eveywhere, like we can with the newest single mode fiber? (or vice versa on the modes).

  • by Chasuk (62477) <chasuk@gmail.com> on Sunday May 05, 2002 @03:17PM (#3466416)
    Sometimes it is good to be a cynic.

    No, but sometimes it is good to be a skeptic. In fact, in my own experience, it is always good to be a skeptic.

    The cynics I've known were convinced that all human behavior was motivated wholly by self-interest, which, even if it is true in an ultimate sense, is an attitude guaranteed to close your mind. The skeptics, on the other hand, merely insist that all claims be testable and repeatable: they doubt, but their doubt is healthy and reasonable, and leave them with a mind-set that I think of as structured incredulity.

    If more people were skeptics, charlatans like John Edwards and James Van Praagh wouldn't be able to make a living, and this "Magic Box Hoax" could have never occurred.
    • by efuseekay (138418) on Sunday May 05, 2002 @04:44PM (#3466755)
      Great, now that we have somebody who calls himself a skeptic, but then went ahead and compartmentalized cynics and skeptics into nice little separate boxes.

      I'd like to see some testable, repeatable proof that being cynical is an attitude guaranteed to close minds.

      As you have claimed, of course.

  • by eagl (86459) on Sunday May 05, 2002 @03:27PM (#3466459) Journal
    I was a spectator to a similiar case, where a guy calling himself Paul "Voss" Hinds was trying to get money to start a flight simulator game company. That story has a LOT of parallels.

    He claims to be an Air Force Academy Graduate.
    His AF records cannot be found by ANYONE, and he claims this is because of his involvement in secret projects.

    He was out of sight for several months in 1997, and later claimed he was on death's door due to a scorpion sting under a fingernail.

    He had a "fall guy" who he claimed ran off with the $10,000 he managed to get from investors.

    He submitted as "proof" several SGI generated "screenshots", all of which used clearly typical demo features and openGL artifacts.

    He claimed to own a P-51 Mustang and even submitted a doctored photo of a P-51 with his head cut-n-pasted into the cockpit and his name written under the canopy. The font for the canopy matched an Adobe Photoshop default.

    He claimed to have shot down several Iraqi fighters in his F-16, yet no records of those shootdowns exist.

    The list goes on and on, and this guy finally resurfaced using his handle "voss" in an online simulation, and he verbally attacks anyone who brings the scam up, challenging them to talk to his "astronaut general buddy". Strangely enough, this astronaut guy actually exists although I have not contacted him personally.

    The parallels kept hitting me as I read the article, and I wonder if this was the same guy, or if (somehow) Paul Hinds had been set up by this same guy.
  • People never learn (Score:4, Informative)

    by qengho (54305) on Sunday May 05, 2002 @03:32PM (#3466475)
    Wired mag ran a story last year about a guy with a similar scam [wired.com]. P.T. Barnum rules!
  • the investors "made their decisions unhindered by the thought process". Sums it up I think.
  • Selling Yourself (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Fished (574624) <amphigory.gmail@com> on Sunday May 05, 2002 @03:39PM (#3466501)
    For all those who are outraged that the scam took in so many (i.e. "Why didn't they get some competent people to recview it before investing), the answer is that <b>they did</b>. The article talks about the way that many scientists reviewed the invention, but were never quite able to say that the invention was impossible. On this basis, the investor's said "it appears to work. I'll take the risk and assume it does actually work."
    <p>

    Why didn't the scientists say that this was completely absurd? A lot of reasons. First, they are being paid to review the invention. If they say that the invention doesn't work and it does, then they are liable for the massive losses incurred by the investor for a failed opportunity. If they say it doesn't work and it does, they get sued by the inventor. So, what do they do? They hedge their bets. They say that "more study" is needed, etc. To business types, this sounds like they are just being nerdy and cautious. Since they leave the question open, the investor (who wants to believe) goes ahead and goes for it, figuring that the 5 million dollars invested (or whatever) could well turn into billions.
    <p>
    In some respects, the scientiastws have failed them by not emphasizing their near-certainty that the idea was nonsense. And the businessmen failed themselves by not bothering to learn that, when a scientist says "quite improbable", he means "impossible."

    <p>

    sounds like everyday life to me, and should to most geeks.
    • by skwang (174902)

      Investment firms and corperations usually keep sums of money around specifically allocated for the use in high risk projects. The idea is based on Pascal's wager. In a nutshell Pascal's wager says that it is better to belive that God exists because if you are correct you gain everything, and if you are wrong you lose (almost) nothing. I won't go into the details of the philosphy or argue whether or not his line of thinking is/was right or wrong.

      VooDoo Science by Dr. Robert Park, which was reviewed here on slashdot, talks about how companies set aside money which they invest in inventions like this. The thinking is that if the invention really works, the company will win big. If you invention is a scam (in most cases it is) the company is only out a couple of million. You must remember that if you do "win," your company will make billions. It is the same (some would say misguided) logic that results in people playing the lottery.

      I am not going to debate whether or not this logic holds water. I do want to say that many times when (large) investors look into these scams, regardless of what a scientific study says, they are willing to invest because they are already predicting they will lose the money. Unfortunately, small and personal investors fall for the scam too.

  • by Boulder Geek (137307) <archer@goldenagewireless.net> on Sunday May 05, 2002 @03:44PM (#3466516)
    Here's a story about a similar scam [thestandard.com] from the dot com era. This guy raised $20M, and spent $16M of that on a party in Las Vegas with entertainment provided by the Dixie Chicks and The Who.
  • Wow (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Reality Master 101 (179095) <RealityMaster101.gmail@com> on Sunday May 05, 2002 @03:45PM (#3466518) Homepage Journal

    The most dumbfounding was at the Fort Gates Ferry, a ramshackle barge that crosses the St. Johns River near Welaka. Priest would often demonstrate the invention there, transmitting video from a computer on one side of the river to a partner on the other side. It seemed, the Zekko executives thought, an impossible test to fake.

    Then they saw more than a half-mile of coaxial cable coiled on the dock.

    "Madison had actually run co-ax under the St. Johns River there," Mons said.

    Man, it might be hoax, but this dude worked HARD to keep the hoax alive. It makes you wonder how far he would get in life he put all this energy into something worthwhile.

    I hate to admire someone who's basically a thief, but anyone who goes to that much trouble almost deserves to get away with it. :)

  • This sound familliar (Score:3, Interesting)

    by graveyhead (210996) <fletch@flet[ ]ronics.net ['cht' in gap]> on Sunday May 05, 2002 @03:47PM (#3466526)
    Anyone else remember pixelon [wired.com]? You'd think investers would learn from their past mistakes...
  • not Ted Turner (Score:5, Informative)

    by ruck (156392) on Sunday May 05, 2002 @03:47PM (#3466528)
    According to the article, it was Teddy Turner, Ted Turner's son.
  • by 3Suns (250606) on Sunday May 05, 2002 @03:47PM (#3466529) Homepage
    From the bottom of the patent:

    +--------------+
    | |
    Data | YHBT | Data
    =====+ YHL +=====
    In | HAND | Out
    | |
    +--------------+

  • by idonotexist (450877) on Sunday May 05, 2002 @03:51PM (#3466545)
    This article pisses me off, why? This scammer has an expensive home, a few cars such as a Jaguar (ok, Jaguar sucks but it is arguably better than his Eclipse), boats, and a couple of planes --- oh, and he still has a bundle of cash.

    I, or any number of us, could pull an evil-scheme like this off. But, for some reason we don't. For some reason we have ethics and values. And, for some reason, a guy like that has more money than he needs to live on. Obviously, the world is not fair.
    • And, for some reason, a guy like that has more money than he needs to live on. Obviously, the world is not fair.

      What makes you think money is everything?

      Just the fact that people with ethics often aren't the people with money, should tell you that ethics and money often don't go together.

      Me, I'd rather be an honest and ethical person, rather than a rich one. At least I enjoy whatever little money I have!

      • by kcbrown (7426) <slashdot@sysexperts.com> on Sunday May 05, 2002 @07:15PM (#3467326)
        Me, I'd rather be an honest and ethical person, rather than a rich one. At least I enjoy whatever little money I have!

        Are you really so naive as to believe that unethical people who have a lot of money don't enjoy it? That sounds to me like something that people without money tell themselves to console themselves, sort of like telling your kid that the school bully is actually miserable, when in fact he's probably having a great time picking on other people.

        Well, enjoy it while you can, because the people [microsoft.com] with [mpaa.org] money [riaa.org] and [wto.org] power [whitehouse.gov] are looking to make sure you have even less money to enjoy than you have now, so that they will have even more money and power to enjoy.

        Feel free to bury your head in the sand and tell yourself that it's okay, while legislation like the DMCA and SSSCA gets passed and enforced. Yes, it'll all be okay, even if you no longer have any money and are living in a corporate run police state. Because at least you'll still have your ethics!

        (And yes, I despise those people without ethics and am sickened at how they seem to be able to do so much better than people with ethics, but I'm not naive enough to believe that the fact that I have any ethics makes one damned bit of difference in the real world. In fact, I know it puts me at a significant disadvantage, and sometimes wish I didn't have these ethical beliefs that prevent me from doing something about that).

    • Although I agree the only way to get ahead in this world is to be a dishonest cheater, I'm not sure it was as easy as you might think to pull something like this off.

      You can make a lot of money by being dishonest in a much easier way - start a retail business. Well, at least this worked for Best Buy.
  • VCR? (Score:2, Interesting)

    by eander315 (448340)
    The investors were tricked using a VCR and lots of coax. I don't know about you, but investing hundreds of thousands of dollars (or even millions) without the chance to at least play quake over the super-fast "network" seems a little ignorant. Anyone who invested in this scam obviously let their greed get the better of them, and demonstrated that the rich are not always rich because they are extraordinarily smart.
  • by moankey (142715)
    Than anything that happened during the .com phase? Its just easier to blame one ex-con guy instead of small bands of Ivy League graduates who have rich mommy and daddy or politician parents. Just a smaller scale Enron.

    Same story different scale.
  • by JimBobJoe (2758) <swiftheart@gmail . c om> on Sunday May 05, 2002 @04:02PM (#3466592)
    I was deeply convinced and profoundly amazed by the magic box demonstration they have on their site.

    Now click here [jacksonville.com] or cliquez ici [jacksonville.com] for those who speak spanish in the audience, and, yes you must have flash...everybody must have flash!

    So, note, if you press the "compatibility test" you will see how the blue flows through the magic box far better than it flows through your 56k...box. Yes I know compatibility means how compatible something is, not how it compares to something else, but ignore the words...just watch the test. Again...see how the blue flooooows through the magic box box...but still crawls along on the T3!

    In fact, if you press the "test" button next to the magic box box, you will note that the blue comes through sharply, clearly, quickly every time! That's how reliable *your* customers will find the magic box every single time!

    [sorry...i couldn't help it...my parents were in Amway...i've seen it all before]
    • The speeds in the flash demo are wrong. The 56k modem 'demo' is almost 50% finished when the cable/T1 1.5Mbps bar finishes. Someone is either FoS or has no real idea how the data rates relate to each other.

    • > [sorry...i couldn't help it...my parents were in Amway...i've seen it all before]

      LOL, I had a couple of college roommates that fell into the Amway scheme. I've heard this bullshit before. They actually thought they were going to get rich with their "business", which I heard time and time again. Perhaps me making fun of them lead to their ultimate demise through a lack of self-confidence.

      Hmmmm, no wonder we can't find jobs. Apparently some of us forgot to attend How to Get a Clue 101. I'm sure it was an evening class on Friday or something...
  • Hal Puthoff (Score:5, Interesting)

    by buhr (97820) on Sunday May 05, 2002 @04:04PM (#3466598)
    Perhaps this is of interest. Hal Puthoff, the "Texas physicist considered an expert in the concepts Priest said he was using", is---I believe---also known as Harold Puthoff.

    Together with Russel Targ, this infamous team produced, let us say, somewhat credulous studies of spoon-bending psychic Uri Geller's remote viewing abilities. They also have the dubious distinction of having provided some of the best evidence that positive feedback improves ESP ability. Tragically, no skeptic who uses reasonable experimental controls seems to be able to duplicate their results.

    The fact that Priest's box has something to do with Puthoff's area of expertise is hilarious! I wonder if the author of the article was being *intentionally* ironic.
  • I remember reading some of the Anarchy text files from textfiles.com about 3-4 years back, and some of the stuff they came up with was ingenious. This was childs play. How could anyone just give money to someone without any proof or analysis of the equipement? There are litterally hundreds of communications companies out there developping technology. I am sure these investors were not techs themselves. Not one of them was skeptical enough to bring someone with a little insite to these presentations? I think perhaps these companies got what was comming to them. A wake up call to reality.

    Though I do remember reading a story about Cisco on slashdot, not too long ago, about a similar technology. Something about 10mbps over barb wire? Here is the previous link to that [slashdot.org]. Perhaps his so called "vision" was not completely out of the range of possibility.
  • by Restil (31903) on Sunday May 05, 2002 @04:33PM (#3466691) Homepage
    First of all, notice that there were actual experts that quoted that the invention was "implausable, but not impossible". At the same time, dsl, while not in widespread use, was definitely on the marketing tip of many a phone company. Broadband over regular phone lines was definitely possible, this guy just happened to be doing it faster. The experts weren't going to outright denounce it without at least LOOKING at the technology first.

    Secondly, this was the heyday of the dotcom era. Everyone was getting rich, and there seemed to be no end in sight. However, there were a lot of investors with a sizeable amount of cash that simply hadn't gotten their piece of the preverbial dotcom pie yet. And seeing how the phone companies were developing competing technology, the sense of urgency was real.

    As for criminal records, people are surprisingly lax about that sort of thing. Especially today, its so easy to run a criminal background check on someone, everyone assumes that someone has already done it, and doesn't bother. When other people are dumping multiple millions of $$$ into a company, and those people are well respected, intellegent people, it simply doesn't occur not to take the guy at his word. The only concern is getting in on it before its too late.

    Scam artists, despite the vulgarity of their profession, are actually very talented and very good at what they do. They are literally experts in the art of social engineering. Anyone can scam a gullible nobody. Just send them a flyer in the mail and you'll have checks flying into your PO box. But to convince someone who's worth millions to give you a blank check with no verification that you can actually do what you say you can do. That's genius. Or it speaks very poorly for the competancy of the multimillionaires, which might just go to show that you don't need to necessarily be smart to be rich. And you don't have to be honest to get rich. And people might be too embarrased to get back at you once you're done fleecing them. Its a strange world indeed.

    -Restil
    • by Sycraft-fu (314770) on Sunday May 05, 2002 @07:05PM (#3467296)
      Someone claims they can do something like that? Fine, make them come to YOU and demo it, and have your engineers look at the device. A full look, not a hands-off, across the room kind of thing.

      Cisco receantly had a new DSL technology they wanted to sell us on, they call it Long Range Eithernet. Allegedly, it gets 10mbps, both directions over regular phone lines at distances of around a mile. Now Cisco is a big, reputable company, not some small time con artist and we are friends with the engineer in this city. Doesn't matter, we STILL wanted to test it for ourselves. So they sent us an LRE switch and two remote units. We tested it, and indeed it does perform as advertised.

      Now we know for a fact that it works. This wasn't a smoke and mirrorrs test, it was conducted in our lab, by our people. They weren't even around (the just loaned it to us for a month and said have fun). We got to run all the tests we chose on it. All this, for a product from a reputable company. But you know what? That's how you need to do it. Don't rely on what the people who make something tell you, demand to test it yourself. See if it works as advertised in YOUR environment.

      This is doubly true for new technologies. Make the inventor bring his tech to your labs, demo it on your terms, and have your people run the tests. Then you know it isn't being rigged because you can check to make sure everything is on the level. I'm not talking looking at some poorly drawn semi-plausable circut diagrams, I'm talking about having the actual prototypes in your lab and under the gun.
  • "He had a Holy Grail that was the telecommunications equivalent of cold fusion," Mons said.

    I'm picturing a bunch of companies with copper networks led by King Arthur galloping with a bunch of coconuts up to a castle. The man (who somehow looks like John Cleese with a peculiar french accent) at the top of the castle says that this is a castle of people with fiber networks.

    King Arthur: If you give us food and shelter, you can join us on our quest for the Holy Grail.
    Frenchman: Well, I'll ask him, but I don't think he'll be very keen. He's already got one, you see?
    King Arthur: What? Are you sure you've got one?
    Frenchman: Oh yes, it's very nice.
    King Arthur: If you don't show us the grail, we shall take this castle by force!
    Frenchman: You don't frighten us you copper-based pigdogs! Go and boil your buttons you sons of silly person. I blow my nose at you so cold, Arthur King. You and all your Silly English Kniggits! I fart in your general direction.... etc

    At that point, the Fiber Optic French people catapult a gigantic light-based switch at them.

    King Arthur and his Men: Run Away! Run Away!

  • Huh? VisionTek? (Score:2, Interesting)

    by rainwalker (174354)
    Craichy and a friend gave Priest about $500,000 for a stake in VisionTek, the company the Priests formed to sell their invention.

    Not that I would accuse this article of being a hoax itself, but VisionTek is a company that makes [excellent] video cards....I use them in my boxes. Poking around Google yielded no companies with similiar names....what gives?
  • An acquaintance of mine is particularly susceptable to these. He's a real dreamer type who made lots of money on one gamble (purchased cellular telephone bandwidth rights shortly before cellular telephones took off) and then lost it all on two others.

    The scam that took most of it was a guy who was going to wire every stadium box in America with fiber and equip them with dual processor computers and 42" displays (in 1997 time frame). Basically, the idea was to let the rich simultaneously surf the Internet, see their email, get special game statistics, watch replays, etc while watching the game. Even if he did it, I never understood how he was going to make the millions of investment money back. This was an example of a scam that used plausible technology, but never had a sustainable business model. The investment capital was just being pocketed.

    The other was actually a perpetual energy scam. Yes, people still fall for that one. This was some sort of device with multiple rings made of just the right metals and spinning in different directions or something. Somehow, it supposedly extracted energy from the Earth's magnetic field. I researched it a couple of years ago and found that the guy has been running the scam for over 40 years. This guy's big hook was religious based at the time. He claimed to have died in a traffic accident with a ruptured aorta and been miraculously brought back to life. When he awoke, the schematics were in his head for this device. They had been given to him directly by God. He was giving this story from the pulpit at really conservative Christian churches across the SouthEast and attracting all sorts of investors.

    I wonder why there is no suspected scam site on the Internet? Maybe the legal risks would be too great...

  • Every time, he wore out his partners -- rich partners like Blockbuster and Intel, prominent partners like former U.S. Sen. Paula Hawkins and the son of Atlanta media czar Ted Turner, partners who brought him to Silicon Valley and partners who brought him to Capitol Hill.

    I'm crying, I'm really crying.

    "There's nothing to explain. You're trying to kidnap what I have rightfully stolen." [geocities.com]

  • by Sycraft-fu (314770) on Sunday May 05, 2002 @06:46PM (#3467236)
    Just a little while back there was a thread on ESP and the paranormal. Many people there were questioning as why that sort of stuff must be called pseudo science and why science demands such rigorus proofs. THIS is why. Rigged demonstrantions, people holding their own intrests over that of science and so on. For something amazing to be accepted as real it MUST be repeatable and independantly tested. Otherwsie you have things like this happen. Crooks show people something they WANT to be real, and they believe. It is important to have well defined methods for testing such claims.

    The psychics of the world are no different, they demonstrate their powers only on their own terms. They won't submit to a real scientific test because they are frauds, and they know it will fail. Anytime someone tries to sell you on something that you have no way of independantly verifying, be careful. They might be well meaning but more often than not, they are a con man.
  • by gotan (60103) on Sunday May 05, 2002 @07:49PM (#3467398) Homepage
    There's those computercompanies who tell us their "magic boxes" will make our lifes better, or their software. TV-broadcasters ensuring us we couldn't live without watching their Channels every day (makes one wonder what humankind did before the invention of TV), car companies convincing us that we need a car that can drive 150 MPH although there's only very few chances to do so, ...

    Also there's all these "get rich quick" schemes and whatnot, but what they all have in common: there needs to be someone gullible enough to believe all those smooth lies and greedy enough to act before thinking for the scheme to work. How's this one different from any big corporation selling their product with even bigger lies? Just because it's a single guy instead of a whole corporation thats selling hot air on lies?

    If that guy get's sued i'd like to sue all that corporations who told me i could get the hottest women in town just because i wear the right sneakers, drink the correct beverage or drive the right car. Then i have some serious issues with any companies selling XXX-light products because i didn't loose a single pound despite eating tons of the stuff. And then i want a free passage to my plot on the moon.

    Where exactly is the difference between a scam and "good advertising"?
    • Um..

      Where exactly is the difference between a scam and "good advertising"?

      Intent.

      The guy selling the "new technology" used coax-cable to transmit images from computer A to computer B - it was hidden in a power cable. He claimed to be able to do it over a simple phone line.

      Maybe corporations use the power of suggestion to get you to buy their products. BUT AT LEAST THEY HAVE PRODUCTS TO SELL.

      This guy was a crook. He took money for an invention that was (a) fictional, (b) had no chance of working, (c) and that he knew was fake.

      Nike, car companies, et all at least have a product.
  • It sounds like (Score:4, Interesting)

    by ahde (95143) on Sunday May 05, 2002 @09:09PM (#3467611) Homepage
    you know, from the article, it sounds more like that the "investors" were more interested in keeping his invention out of production. Particularly Blockbuster and Qwest had tremendenous motivation to supress the idea, whether legitimate or not. I seriously doubt Blockbuster was interested in obsoleting their own business model. And Qwest owns of the more miles of wire than anyone in the world. Whether they knew it was a hoax or not is kind of irrelevant, since the principle investors never intended the product to be developed anyway.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday May 05, 2002 @09:46PM (#3467699)
    I don't remember the exact year, probably like 1996 or so. I was working as an engineer for xxxxx. One of our VPs asked me to go with him to Jacksonville to see a demo of a device which could transport a DS-3 over a dialup line.

    In the demo, however, they were just going to do a DS-1. I took a t-berd DS-1 test set, a Navtel protocol analyzer, and some cables, including a DS-1 loopback plug (RJ-48). We met them at some hospital in Jacksonville, present were Madison Priest and Mark Strong. Mark video taped the whole thing, which made me kind of nervous.

    They took us down to the communications room in the basement of the hospital. There were two Packard Bell computers sitting on the floor. They were both plugged into the same powerstrip. The interesting part was there was not one power cable, but three for each computer. I think two of them ran into one of the ISA slot openings, and were "expoxied" in by what looked like latex caulking. It was a real mess.

    Each computer also had an RJ-45 for the T-1, and an internal analog modem. I plugged the t-1 test set into one computer, and a loopback plug into the other. Madison then used hyperterm or procom (I forget which) to dial from one computer to the other thru the Hospital's PBX. When the modems synced up, the T1 came up. I verified I was seeing the loopback, sent some different bit patterns, and errors. When he pulled the pots line, the T1 went down (loss of signal).

    Next, they wanted to show it ran over long distances. They used one computer to dial a number in my office in xxxx which was forwarded to the number of the other computer next to us. This worked just as expected. The T-1 came right up. We let the test set run awhile to make sure the line was error free. Mark Strong made it a point to videotape him asking me if it was working. About all I could say was that "It appears to be."

    We went to a conference room nearby to talk while the test ran. Madison was pretty strange. He got, what I would term, angry several times during the meeting. I stayed out of it pretty much till at what point our VP asked me what else I needed to verify to make sure that it was capable of carry a T-1. I said I wanted to put the protocol analyzer on the circuit and make a call through xxxx. Then I wanted to send frames and measure the latency of the circuit. I said I know about how much latency I should see, given that signals travel about 100 miles per millisecond.

    Then all hell broke loose. They refused to allow that test, or any others. They claimed I was trying to steal their technology. We ended up packing up and going home.

    Over the next several months, we heard from them about doing more tests. We wanted to do a long distance video feed, but the week that was supposed to happen, weather was not good (I think it was too icy) for their general aviation plane to make it. They started calling themselves VisionTek, and they informed us, of all things, that we wouldn't see the latency we expected because this thing could transfer a signal faster than the speed of light.

    I had suspected the power cords were the actual data path, and my latency test was going to test that theory, but they never allowed it to happen. I don't think they had come up with the "faster than light" story by that time, so I believe we caught them with their pants down.

    I don't think we ever invested any money in them. I always believed it to be a hoax, but was just doing my job to investiagate it. I also knew that Madison Priest was an ex-con, and after witnessing his temper, I didn't want to become any more involved than I had to. I certainly wasn't going to challenge him or do anything that would lead him to believe that I *personally* was the reason he didn't get money from my company.

    As a matter of fact, I think I should post this anonymously if you don't mind...

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