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    The Steorn Exploit and its Spin Doktors, or "Synergie ist der name of das Spiel, my boy!"

    John Freeman
    University of Detroit Mercy

    © 2008 John Freeman.
    All rights reserved.

    ex.ploit (ĕk´ sploit, ĭk-sploit´) n. An act or deed, especially a brilliant or heroic one. See Synonyms at feat.

    tr.v. (ĭk-sploit´, ĕk´ sploit) ex.ploit.ed,, ex.ploits

    1. To employ to the greatest possible advantage: exploit one's talents.
    2. To make use of selfishly or unethically: a country that exploited peasant labor.
    3. See Synonyms at manipulate.
    4. To advertise; promote.

    Middle English, from Old French esploit, from Latin explicitum, neuter past participle of explicāre, to unfold; see explicate.


  1. Given the long, inglorious history of alleged perpetual motion devices, the failure of the Irish technology company Steorn to demonstrate its heavily self-promoted device, the Orbo, might seem to warrant little fanfare. Whatever excuses offered for Orbo's no-show, it was clear no laws of thermodynamics on the conservation of energy (CoE) were to be broken that day (or any other day, for that matter). If anything, a long-standing but informal law was upheld. As Popular Mechanics editor Clifford B. Hicks noted almost a century ago concerning proofs offered of perpetual motion devices: "There never was . . . indeed there never is, a convenient examination for such devices. This is almost another law of physics" (Ord-Hume 181). Several elements of the Steorn saga suggest, however, that some profit might yet be derived from writing on Steorn rather than from simply writing it off as a complete loss. The Steorn enterprise, in every sense an exploit, began in July 2007 with a £75,000 ad in the Economist.[1] Here, the company claimed to have discovered an anomaly in magnetic properties that allowed it to exploit the laws of thermodynamics and derive more energy from the system than it had put in. Steorn's CEO, Sean McCarthy, claimed several unnamed universities had privately tested its device, but the testing was "always behind closed doors, always off the record, and [the device] always proven to work." Steorn positioned itself as a guerilla corporation involved in an asymmetrical battle with establishment institutions. Alexander Galloway and Eugene Thacker characterize such resistance as an "exploit," a viral intrusion into the interstices of various systems as "a resonant flaw designed to resist, threaten, and ultimately desert the dominant political [and, I would add, scientific and economic] diagram" (21). Enlisting the aid of what Tiziana Terranova labels the "outernet," Steorn challenged the traditional business model. Selecting its own jury to test the Orbo, the company also resisted the normal scientific validation process.

  2. The Steorn Exploit has become a textbook case study for viral marketing techniques. Of course, exploitation cuts both ways, and viruses not only spread but also mutate. In noting that on-line social networks often originate in "techno-events," Geert Lovink cites Alain Badiou's contention in Ethics that "There must be an encounter, there must be something which cannot be calculated, predicted or managed" (Recession 9). True to form, Steorn's failed quest has resulted in some unexpected encounters, not all of them favorable to the company. Its on-line forum has morphed into a webmind that evidences some of the emergent properties of a loosely collective consciousness. Increasingly unmanageable, this forum displays a mind of its own, at times even working to hack into and deprogram its host's agenda. Moreover, both Steorn and its forum have had to do battle with another counter-exploitive element, this time appearing in the inhuman machinations of Herr Doktor Mabuse, a nightmarish perversion of Steorn's original vision. Weathering the elements that have brought down similar social network enterprises, the forum has thus far managed to be self-sustaining. Whether or not it endures depends paradoxically on the very spirit of contestation that often drives its operations.
  3. The Business Exploit (Mixing it Up with Science)

    The process of valorization (the production of monetary value) happens by foregrounding the quality of the labor that literally animates the commodity. . . In particular, the Internet is about the extraction of value out of continuous, updateable work, and it is extremely labor intensive.

    --Terranova (47)

    The "killer apps" of tomorrow won't be hardware devices or software programs but social practices. The most far-reaching changes will come, as they often do, from the kinds of relationships, enterprises, communities, and markets that the infrastructure makes possible.

    --Rheingold (qtd. Lovink, Recession 9)

  4. As both a business concern and an ersatz scientific enterprise, Steorn constitutes what Terranova describes as a "mutation," a term she applies to free labor and its own ambiguous standing between such oppositions as "the Internet as capital and the Internet as anticapital" (53). Although Steorn's challenge was physics-oriented, it is telling that it was published in a respected business journal. Exploits such as Steorn's generally occur in the gaps between or within disciplines. Our current techno-event arose when the Economist published a claim usually reserved for the pages of the National Enquirer. In an age that Jodi Dean characterizes as distrusting traditional authority, the conspiracy of silence alleged by Steorn against the scientific establishment banked on people's willingness to believe in the improbable, to have distrust for the arbiters of what Kuhn labels "normal science." Steorn portrayed itself as a campaigner against modern day absolutism in all its forms: the absolutism of the State, Big Oil, Capitalism and even the absolutisms of Thermodynamic Laws and experimental procedure, foundational elements of traditional science. Steorn offered in the form of a world-altering perpetual motion device a "fantasy of a powerful, unifying knowledge" (Secret 31). As a business exploit, Steorn succeeded in the pre-demo days in perpetuating the fantasy by persuading many to suspend their disbelief. Of course, a stroll through the virtual Museum of Unworkable Devices demonstrates just how long-running a fantasy perpetual motion has been.
  5. Even in the face of its failed demo, Steorn has succeeded in establishing what Terranova describes as an "outernet," that "network of social, cultural, and economic relationships that crisscrosses and exceeds the Internet–--surrounds and connects the latter to larger flows of labor, culture, and power" (53). A small company with modest resources, Steorn has set up an unorthodox business model in the very middle of this internet/outernet divide. The Steorn Private Developers Club (SPDC, or SPUD in some members' parlance) was established as a means for some members to investigate the "Orbo-effect" and find applications. Steorn thus took advantage of the testing and development skills of various subsets of members, again with a very modest outlay of investment. Interest in the initial SPDC was so great that a second one was established to accommodate the surplus. In its recruitment and enlistment of the free labor of its forum members, Steorn worked within the digital economy to create its own version of what the Italian autonomists label "the social factory." Terranova describes this post-Fordist phenomenon as "a process whereby 'work processes have shifted from the factory to society, thereby setting in motion a truly complex machine'" (33). Citing Facebook, Google, and Yahoo! as examples, John Palfrey and Urs Gasser demonstrate the growth of "interoperability," the willingness of internet entities to open up their "service to third-party developers" (229).
  6. Purportedly established as a means of educating interested parties and disseminating news about the Orbo, the forum, according to McCarthy, was opposed by many in the company as an unnecessary distraction. Still, in plugging so many people into the company's development, advertising, and marketing strategies, McCarthy has taken advantage of a labor force that has been indefatigable in the energy it has expended on behalf of the enterprise. Some forum members offer highly technical discussions of magnetic properties, describing openly their own experiments with magnetic properties as well as their speculations about what constitutes the Orbo effect (if anything at all!). Other threads are populated with people very knowledgeable about the Free Energy movement and its various claimants; when Steorn released images of its Orbo, they were able to speculate about how closely it resembled earlier so-called "free energy" devices such as the Perendev motor. Still other threads deal with related issues such as global warming, alternative energies, and breaking news stories concerning all manner of technological innovation. A net trolling through the vast dataspace of the cybersphere, the forum gathers into itself information. Terranova points out that such capturing of knowledge goes beyond enlisting the free and voluntary services of web-designers and multi-media specialists--and even inventors--to include "forms of labor we do not immediately recognize as such: chat, real-life stories, mailing lists, amateur newsletters, and so on" (33). While members do not design Steorn's website, they have kept the forum going by spinning an impressive number of threads. Alive with energy, the forum threads proliferate, giving proof positive of Steven Johnson's analogy of the web to "an information ecosystem, where data circulate like nutrients in a rain forest" (97).
  7. Particularly in reference to the technologically savvy members of the forum, Steorn has enlisted a cadre of specialists in what Lawrence M. Sanger characterizes as "shopwork." Within the context of software design, Sanger defines shopwork as "any strongly collaborative, open source/open content work." The word is a portmanteau constructed from "shared open work, and it arguably has the advantages of suggesting collaboration in both the original meaning of 'shopwork' (which implies something constructed or fixed in a shop, perhaps by several workers together) and, with its parts reversed, 'workshop' (which implies participatory learning)" (89). Some have speculated that Steorn had not been able to explain purported anomalies in the Orbo's operation and had set up the forum and jury panel in the hopes someone "out there" might come up with an answer. If some conjectures about the company's incomplete understanding of the Orbo effect are correct, then this enlisting of experts has allowed McCarthy & Company to tap into--at bargain basement prices--the expertise of knowledgeable forum members and the pool of jurors in coming to understand the alleged effect. Perhaps now that the Orbo is apparently at a dead end, Steorn is maintaining the forum in the hope it can claim proprietory ownership of any members' discovery. This restriction holds especially true for jurors and members of the SPDC, who have had to sign Non-Disclosure Agreements (NDA's) and to allot Steorn a proprietory interest in any discoveries stemming from their investigations of the Orbo.
  8. While Terranova and Sanger characterize what is a virtual "factory," Steorn's own factory model exists not only in the cybersphere but also in scores of the basements or garages of various tinkers and committed inventors who have applied an impressive array of skills either to replicate Steorn's experiments or to set up their own versions of a perpetual motion device. Moreover, the compartmentalization that often separates the designer from the engineer or, more generally, management from labor in the typical business venture does not hold sway here. Steorn's own social factory, a "truly complex machine," converts the traditional production line into an impressive array of production links that users can employ in their investigations. A designer tinkering in his or her home workshop may post a display of the magnetic configuration in question on YouTube, other forum members giving instant feedback, critiques, and suggestions for improvement. Discussion is often wide ranging. Participants give engineering advice on the placement of magnets, stators, and rotors and offer formulae for momentum, rate of attraction, etc. This shopwork has been a natural progression from the early days of the forum, when videos of Steorn's own set-ups were displayed and members worked collaboratively to figure out their design features, construction, and operation as well as to speculate about the theoretical limits to their operations. All in all, Steorn has created a basement mechanic chic, particularly among members of the SPDC, by promising to allow them to experiment with Orbo technology. As Arthur W.J.G. Ord-Hume attests from personal experience in Perpetual Motion: The History of an Obsession, there is magnetic drawing power to perpetual motion as a generative master narrative: "Talk perpetual motion for a while to the ordinary person and, sooner or later, the chances are that he will come up with a scheme of his own" (222). Ord-Hume writes that the quest for perpetual motion holds a particular appeal to the American sense of individualism and the ethic of DIY--"Thousands may have tried and failed, but I want to see for myself."
  9. Although Sanger characterizes shopworks as "perpetual; they have no endpoint" (90), one might have predicted the forum's demise with the advent of the failed demo. Surely the idea of staying around to rearrange the deck chairs on the S.ean S.teorn Titanic would not appeal to many forum members. But the forum and SPDC persist. Against the expectations of many, Steorn still maintains both. Steorn may have discovered one of what Terranova describes as "new mechanisms of extraction of value" in a gift economy. After all, why not keep the complex mechanism it has set going in perpetual motion? Although forum "workers" have been alienated from the company itself, many remain active in the forum. As Terranova writes, in such situations "the worker achieves fulfillment through work and finds in her brain her own, unalienated means of production" (36). Forum member alsetalokin, for example, has garnered a great deal of interest from forum members with his own device, the whipmag. Left to its own devices, the forum has proven to be self-sustaining. Even were Steorn to close up this part of its shop, many members are prepared to set up their own shopworking/workshopping site. Alienation, once the bane of the worker, here takes on a new meaning as the workers' "alienation" leads to a self-sustaining mode in which workers have the power to "disincorporate" themselves from the sponsoring institution and strike out elsewhere in the cybersphere.
  10. This disaffection and striking out on one's own are not always the fate of the "peer production" model that Don Tapscott and Anthony D. Williams investigate in Wikinomics. Calling such infrastructures "weapons of mass collaboration," these authors point out the benefits of the innovation and value such enterprises can produce (11). This "uberconnected, amorphous mass of self-organized individuals" has the potential to allow a company to enlarge its operations even as it downsizes its core labor force. Tapscott and Williams argue traditional companies that fail to tap into these virtual "Ideagoras" will suffer an increasing competitive disadvantage. Citing Coase's law that corporations will keep operations in-house as long as the transaction costs for outsourcing them are unfavorable, they point out that the internet allows corporations not only to outsource a growing number of their operations but also to invert this law: the internet makes outsourcing transaction costs much more favorable than sustaining in-house costs. In a striking example of the returns to be made here, Tapscott and Williams tell the story of Rob McEwen, CEO of Goldcorp, Inc. When it seemed that his company had prospected all the gold from a field in Red Lake, Ontario, he directed his head geologist, in essence, to open-source all the company's geologic data--a seemingly insane idea in a highly secretive, highly competitive industry. Enlisting the aid of over a thousand "virtual prospectors," he catapulted "his underperforming $100 million company into a $9 billion juggernaut" (9). Of course, such outsourcing requires letting go of proprietary knowledge. The authors cite Wind-up Records as one innovative company that initially created an outernet workforce of music fans who used their home computers "to synchronize Japanese animé art with popular music tracks." Unwisely, the company later "squandered a brilliant opportunity to engage their customers as evangelists for their artists" by removing all their meticulously wrought videos from its site (53).
  11. From Tapscott and Williams's viewpoint, Steorn's creation of an SPDC falls somewhere between the models devised by Goldcorp and by Wind-up Records. Certainly there has been an enlisting of experts, although the SPDC is not fully open-sourced (thus, the "Private" in its title). There have been hints, vaguely set forth because of NDAs, that the company has not been entirely forthcoming in sharing its proprietary knowledge. While the forum itself has remained open, moderators have on occasion used their power of censoring/"sinking" threads and banning members. If the bane of dot-coms is poor business planning, the bane of network societies is a failure of moderation, whether that failure is expressed as under- or over-restrictive moderation. Hybrid enterprises like the one the forum is based upon run particular risks. Monetary capital and human capital are not always easily synchronized. Commenting on the failure of his Electric Minds magazine/web conferencing site, Rheingold sums up his own "dotgone" experience: "Venture capital, I concluded, might be a good way to ramp up a Yahoo or create a market for a kind of technology product that never existed before. But perhaps it isn't a healthy way to grow a social enterprise" (qtd. Lovink, Dark 7).
  12. Steorn has pursued "a kind of technology product that never existed before" at the same time it has sponsored a decidedly lively social enterprise. Indeed, now that the commodity is in suspense, social interactions have become far more operative than magnetic ones. To reverse the old General Electric motto, process may be Steorn's most important product. In this vein, a more skeptical analyst might conclude that Steorn's goal all along was not to perfect a perpetual motion device but to achieve a different form of "overunity." Thus, as a website-producer, Steorn has found the perfect means to keep its product in play, a product that may be nothing more than an advertising of its ability to garner hits and participation from a worldwide audience. As Terranova indicates, the liveliest sites are those that create multifunctional modalities: "Users keep a site alive through their labor, the cumulative hours of accessing the site (thus generating advertising), writing messages, participating in conversations, and sometimes making the jump to collaborators. The objective is to have you consume bandwidth" (49). Harnessing the desire and drive of the forum, the Steorn Exploit draws on it to provide, in Terranova's terms, "the labor that literally animates the commodity" in a post-Fordist world.
  13. This animation takes a variety of forms, some of them parodic.[2] Shortly after the demo fiasco, the forum broke out in a chorus of limericks concerning the Orbo and the Steorn Exploit. These limericks operated like viral intrusions upon the Steorn Exploit, serving as running, gunning commentaries on issues, controversies, claims, and arguments that have arisen in the forum threads. At times, they have also functioned as micronarratives of the forum experience (such as The Schrödinger Cat Cycle and The Adventures of Orby Cycle). That Steorn by and large allows such postings on its website might seem surprising; however, they serve in their own way to keep Orbo in play. After all, if forum members' amusing "theory" about the London demo failure is valid, Steorn may very well need a replacement for its "power source failure":

    	Now Orby was the hamster ideal,
    	The best of his breed on the wheel.
    	     To London he went
    	      For the Steorn event
    	But escaped out the door with a squeal. 

    The proliferation of limericks on the forum supplies yet one more level to the social enterprise. They keep their numerous writers occupied, the human equivalent of a hard-driving "hamster work force" supplying Orbo and the Steorn Exploit new spins. As long as there is buzz, the source of generation is no great matter; indeed, as long as they're caged, they're engaged. Terranova characterizes late capitalism as "the field that both sustains free labor and exhausts it" (50). As McKenzie Wark might note, the company can harness this energy as long as it maintains "a surplus of desire and the scarcity of the desired object" (para. 309). Paradoxically, even suspicions about the company's motives have served to drive the system along. As equal opportunity "co-conspirators," forum members are encouraged to create threads and spin out queries. "Make links, search for truth," as Dean would put it (Secret 54). The production of linkages, moreover, is perpetual: "Action is postponed until a thorough study is undertaken, until all facts are known" (162-63). For Dean, such postponement "is a permanent deferral," a depoliticizing, de-activating strategy, since the search for facts is endless and, worse yet, generates even more facts (163). For Steorn, it is exactly the kind of spin-doctoring that keeps the Orbo a going concern. No word from Steorn's anonymous and sequestered Jury? There's the consolation of a "memo" intercepted from one of its members and forwarded to us:

    	We're reporting in this memo, Sean,
    	On Orbo's bizarre stop/go motion
    	     We've found only pre-Copernican
    	     Models capable of furnishin'
    	Steorn's eccentric and retrograde notion. 

  14. Lest one get the notion that forum members simply serve as an ant-colony of dispensable laborers for the Steorn Exploit or spend all their time crafting limericks, we should note several members have turned into financial analysts and investigative reporters in researching the company, particularly since its failed demo. In a blog entry entitled "Steorn and free energy: the plot thickens," Eric Berger points out that Steorn started out as an e-business company "that saw its market vanish during the bust." He speculates that Steorn's current campaign is simply a "re-tooling" of itself as a Web-marketing company. In this scenario, Steorn is "using the 'free energy' promotion as a platform to show future clients how it can leverage print advertising and a slick Web site to promote its products and ideas. If so, it's a brilliant strategy." Steorn may have thus avoided the fate of what Lovink describes as "Dotgone entrepreneurs [who] lacked patience to work on sustainable models . . . . The rule was: become a first mover, spend a lot of money, build traffic, get a customer base, and then figure out how to make money" (Dark 355). The company can certainly show potential clients it has the ability to create a buzz, garner endless hits, generate an impressive e-mailing list, and engage a virtual workforce to do its bidding (and even unbidding). As many firms realized in the waning of the dot-com boom, there is a "hard-core logic of the digital age: attract users, or become toast" (Dark 161). As Terranova indicates, "the best Web site, the best way to stay visible and thriving on the Web, is to turn your site into a space that is not only accessed, but somehow built by its users" (48). Generative, the forum weaves discussion thread after discussion thread in building up its own elaborate, labyrinthine structure. While many might object to the ethics of the Exploit, from the perspective of bandwidth consumption and the advertising of its own personalized widget, Steorn has proven a remarkable success.
  15. Quoting an IBM billboard--"Bad ideas don't get better online" (Dark 348), Lovink observes that "The Internet has been a gift to charlatans, hypemeisters, and merchants of vapors" (350). Initially, at least, Steorn evaded such characterizations, as it seemed to be "marketing" altruism more than any product, particularly since the Orbo was as yet unnamed. All we knew until shortly before the demo was that its dimensions measured "bigger than a breadbox." Steorn's promise to allow Third World countries unlimited access to its technology (and others to employ it at a modest licensing fee) situates it firmly in the gift economy, the realm of "nonmarket relations" existing outside the neo-liberal state and its vested interest in the capitalist enterprise.[3] Client companies desirous of a strong web presence might be impressed by Steorn's legerdemain. Protean, Steorn has simply resurrected its former self as "an expert in the field of technology risk management." Thus, in its 2001 website, Steorn noted how many companies in this field suffer cost overruns, "with almost a third of projects being cancelled before completion." Steorn offered its services to those who do not want "to fall prey to a combination of poor management, unrealistic expectations, unclear objectives, technology incompetence and lack of planning." What greater risk to manage than an enterprise promising a technological breakthrough supplying an endless source of energy? Given the millions of Euros invested thus far in the company, an advertising budget of ₤75,000 is certainly modest, considering the amount of publicity and interest it has generated for the company. When one throws in whatever value-added profit Steorn has garnered from the free labor of SPDC members, cost management appears in an even more positive light.
  16. Speculations about what might be going on in the company add further spins to the Exploit. Alsetalokin,[4] for one, has speculated that the company may be a victim of an internal scam. However some forum members had a problem imagining the whole company falling under the spell of one person. Wouldn't one whistleblower have stepped forward during these four years of "development," if only to save the company from ignominious demise? (especially given that the whole project had been spun off Steorn's efforts to develop a micro power source for an ATM fraud-detection device). As csblinky queried: "If the ship was sinking don't you think one of the employees would have come public? How could a whole organization suffer from mass psychosis?" An answer from popular culture comes to mind. Janine, the Ghostbusters' secretary, is interviewing a job candidate for the much overworked team:

    JANINE: Do you believe in U.F.O's, astral projection, mental telepathy, ESP, clairvoyance, spirit photography, full-trance mediums, telekinetic movement, black and/or white magic, pyramidology, the theory of Atlantis, the Loch Ness Monster, or in general in spooks, specters, wraiths, geists and ghosts?
    WINSTON: Not really. However, if there's a semi-regular paycheck in it I'll believe anything you say. (Ramis and Aykroyd)

    Still other members, following alsetalokin's Hamsters-on-a-Wheel Theory, explored the possibility that Steorn's enterprise has all along been a disguised social experiment, the forum members mere unwitting subjects for a future documentary (or, more likely, a mockumentary). Csblinky, however, pointed out some drawbacks to this theory: "If the subjects are the forum members, and who else is there, nobody that I know of has been questioned to find out how his socio-economic level and psycho-sexual Kinsey Index correlates with his reaction to each misstep, or whatever it is they look for in such studies; so it's hard for me to see how that works." Actually, one does not need a psycho-sexual Kinsey Index to delve into the psyches of many forum members, as they display few inhibitions. For example, shunyacetas writes:

    	My darling, I want you to see
    	A way to surpass Unity:
    	     We'll just thrash about
    	     Slow in and fast out
    	We're two--in nine months we'll be three! 

    Even the more risqué examples probably would not register all that high on the Kinsey Index, as only someone whose daily work attire includes double-breasted pocket-protectors would fully appreciate the eroticism of "object relations" entailed in this limerick from Evolvealready:

    	Said Orbo to diode array
    	"You're fun and a very good lay.
    	     The sex was so hot
    	     That my sticky spot[5] 
    	Won't be sticky the rest of the day."     

  17. Whether scientific breakthrough or social documentary, the Steorn Exploit will never want for spin doktors to keep it going full tilt. Of course, there is even an outside chance McCarthy & Company might still win validation and fame; after all, as cloud camper points out:

    Sean McC has nothing to worry about. Thomas Edison and the celebrated British physicist Lord Kelvin both agreed that Nikola Tesla's ideas were the work of the devil himself. They later apologized after AC electricity was proven and practical.

    Rumors have even surfaced that members of the SPDC have been shown a video of a famous physicist extolling the virtues of Steorn's device. In one thread, "Could MIT's Walter Lewin be a Juror?" fatspidr links the forum to one of his lectures, in which he gives both a mathematical and practical demonstration of some spooky effects that seem to defy the logic of CoE. To complicate matters, Steorn seems to have attracted millions more in Euros from several new investors. This fact immediately lit up several query nodes on the forum, which resulted in several investigations into who was investing in Steorn and what might have led people to make such investments in the face of Orbo's failure.
  18. Even the worst-case scenario, utter and ignominious disgrace, may not require any "face-saving" gesture, at least in cstru4's estimation:

    They don't have to skip town weighed down by bags of ill gotten booty and book in for a long and arduous session of Brazilian plastic surgery. They can say sorry, but it was a legitimate endeavour and anyway, we virtually TOLD you not to believe us.

    Indeed, even utter and ignominious disgrace may have been part of Steorn's long-range plan. For example, in a thread entitled "When was the last thing you saw/heard from Steorn?" Big Oil Rep advances the theory that the Steorn Exploit may have been all along a "'Producers' type tax relief scam . . . . The Orbo could be the equivalent of 'Spring Time for Hitler'--something that's so ridiculous it's bound to fail (or so the plan goes) and still leave investors better off."
  19. The Psychological Exploit: Cogito ergo sum(us)

    Reduce the grandest type of man hitherto known to an abstract statement of his qualities and efforts, and he appears in dangerous company: say that, like Copernicus and Galileo, he was immovably convinced in the face of hissing incredulity; but so is the contriver of perpetual motion. We cannot fairly try the spirits by this sort of test . . . . Shall we say, "Let the ages try the spirits, and see what they are worth"? Why, we are the beginning of the ages, which can only be just by virtue of just judgments in separate human breasts--separate yet combined. Even steam-engines could not have got made without that condition, but must have stayed in the mind of James Watt.

    --George Eliot (Daniel Deronda 451)

    In this house, we obey the laws of thermodynamics.

    --Homer Simpson

  20. In Aliens in America, Dean finds that alternative sciences such as Ufology and paranormal investigations "insert themselves into the interstices of medicine, psychology, biology, religion, astronomy, and ecology" (to name just a few realms; 6). Not surprisingly, Steorn's own alternative science, its challenge to the status quo, initially was inserted into the interstices of the scientific and business enterprises. Inadvertently, Steorn's Exploit has unfolded within yet another interstice: that gap between the technological and the biological. The forum has taken on a life of its own, a hybrid existence, as it were. In the course of the last few years, Steorn's forum has begun to operate like the psynet described by Ben Goertzel in "World Wide Brain: Self-Organizing Internet Intelligence as the Actualization of the Collective Unconscious." Part of the larger webmind system, psynet "is a self-organizing network of information-carrying agents" (314). An artificial information storage and processing system linking servers on the Internet, the psynet manages "mobile agents" whose job is to create new links and provide feedback. It thereby fills in gaps in its own knowledge base and attains to a sense of introspection by "querying itself" about its deficiencies and even swapping sections of its memory with other servers (316). For example, not long after one forum member thought that s/he remembered Sean making a particular claim about Orbo at some point in the past, other members became activated, supplying a link to the comment and thereby initiating a new connection in the communal cyber-neural circuitry. At one point, members feared that Steorn might erase the hundreds of threads constituting the forum's "past," the hardware of its archival memory. Not to worry--one forum member already had designed a bot to make its way through the forum's labyrinthine archive so that it would be recorded for easy recall and placed elsewhere on the web, out of Steorn's proprietory reach. Like any biological entity, the mindshare composing the forum operates in ways to maximize its survival.
  21. The psynet can be flexible and adaptive because, as a stochastic system, it "is allowed to discover its own structure, within given constraints, rather than having structure imposed on it by rigid, preconceived rules" (314). Cross-referencing its own processing of information with that of other psynet units, a particular psynet operates by "an algorithm drawn by mathematical models of human social interaction" (316). Because of the relatively random nature of these operations, psynet displays the emergent properties of self-organization associated with the operations of "chaotic" systems. Traditional divisions of communication--human to human; human to machine--are breached here. Within the larger Webmind system, Goertzel finds a "gradation between 'social' and 'intra-brain' interaction . . . opposed to the rigid division between individual and society that we experience as humans" (316). Describing a "symbiosis" between humans and machines, Goertzel demonstrates how the system's ready access to nonproprietory information allows it "to nudge the information at the readiest disposal of individual humans and divisions in certain directions, based on its inferences and its own emergent understanding" (317). As Marc A. Smith explains to information society sociologist Howard Rheingold, such arrangements--like that of text messaging--make it "possible for more people to pool resources. And 'more people pooling resources in new ways' is the history of civilization in...' Pause. ' words'" (Smart Mobs 31).
  22. A massive parallel processing center, the forum has evolved in some respects into the Webmind described by Goertzel. An important proviso: This single brain does not operate like a Cartesian theater, with some localized operator managing its inputs, a model Robert Hassan opposes in associating it with "'the school of guru interpretation'" (46):

    The idea of the network as a "global brain," even as analogy, does not work because it suggests a centrality, a unity and an overall coherence, that simply does not exist. Nevertheless, the notion that the network represents in some new way the living, technologized expression of hundreds of millions of people is useful as a framework of analysis. (46-47)

    As Ray Kurzweil explains, such "singularity" is comparable to the "apparently intelligent design of termite and ant colonies . . . [which] Despite their clever and intricate design . . . have no master architects" (151). Admittedly, "what fires together wires together," in both neurological, entymological, and computer models. The result is far more interesting and adaptive than some Cartesian "ghost-in-the-machine" working from a central command center. Roger Beaumont, author of War, Chaos, and History, criticizes similar "big picture," rigid command-control-communications models that "create a false sense of the high echelon's ability to exercise rational control over a vast range of complex combat dynamics" (9). Confronted with what William James described as the "blooming, buzzing" confusion of the world, the human brain can never exercise full control over so much constantly shifting input, no matter how much it prides itself on its "high echelon" status. In Consciousness Explained, Daniel Dennett maintains that the single brain processes information more along the lines of a Multiple Drafts Model: "at any point in time there are multiple 'drafts' of narrative fragments at various stages in various places in the brain" (113). These drafts keep the brain in what William Calvin labels a "scenario-spinning" mode (Dennett 114). The individual "mobile agents" of the forum, linked through discussion threads constituting query nodes, their connections boosted and enriched by the electronic medium, have begun to display properties of Dennett's multiple drafts model. This webmind tries to make sense of reality through a narrative it must continually draft and re-draft: "Information entering the nervous system is under continuous 'editorial revision'" (111).
  23. The information that Steorn's Exploit was a failure at the physics level caused the forum to coalesce more than ever into that complex pattern of query nodes and specialty neural circuits that Dennett uses to describe the brain's functioning:

    In our brains there is a cobbled-together collection of specialist brain circuits, which, thanks to a family of habits inculcated partly by culture and partly by individual self-exploration, conspire together to produce a more or less orderly, more or less effective, more or less well-designed virtual machine, the Joycean machine. By yoking these independently evolved specialist organs together in common cause, and thereby giving their union vastly enhanced powers, this virtual machine, this software of the brain, performs a sort of internal political miracle: It creates a virtual captain of the crew, without elevating any one of them to long-term dictatorial power. Who's in charge? First one coalition then another, shifting in ways that are not chaotic thanks to good meta-habits that tend to entrain coherent, purposeful sequences rather than an interminable helter-skelter power grab. (228)

    These coalitions consider almost every topic imaginable, including the possibility of their own singularity. In a thread entitled "Will you live to witness the singularity?" this Webmind considers the possibility of immortality. Evolvealready argues "it won't be possible to sustain life, because even the electron / neutron / proton won't hold together." Even assuming we can overcome the entropy problem, he notes: "With finite mass in the universe there's only a finite number of states. I'm not sure living forever really counts if you're caught up in a giant loop." Conceding that entropy might be reversible, he points out that unfortunately "the other side has an old gravy stain and is in an ugly plaid." Mr. Flora thinks he has found a way out of dissolution: "The solution is for us to create a new universe via the Big Bang principle, then figure out some way to transfer ourselves (or our consciousness, anyway) into this new universe." Evolvealready quickly responds, "We'll get a man right on it!"
  24. The crisis brought on by the failure of the Orbo has served to accelerate the forum's multi-track editorial processing functions. Thus, in its efforts to make sense of its situation in a post-Orbo reality, the forum has begun a process of scenario-spinning to reorient itself to this changed reality that no longer answers to its expectations. This process is reminiscent of Francis Crick's "searchlight" function for the thalamus, which works by "differentially arousing or enhancing particular specialist areas [of the brain], recruiting them to current purposes" (Dennett 274). For the collective of the forum, incoming data and "sense impressions" now have to be processed and reality tested. When faced with feedback contradicting its sense of the world out there, the forum can rely on various internal and external agents to reassess its position. For example, Dr. Mike, the eyes, ears, and even legs of the forum, was delegated to go to London to inspect the Orbo during its July 5th demo at the Kinetica Museum. Supposedly, Dr. Mike would have the opportunity to test the Orbo and "hit it with a hammer" if he wanted, as per the promise of unlimited access from Sean McCarthy, Steorn's leading spokesman.[6] Like a savvy fight promoter, McCarthy had been spotted just a day or two earlier sporting a t-shirt boldly announcing the upcoming bout between his company and the laws of physics--"CEO vs. CoE." Members of the forum were worked up to a fever pitch. It seemed that the secret truly would be made public. Translucency at last!
  25. Dr. Mike returned without having had a chance to inspect the device. After the hype about Orbo stopped and the lights went out, forum members were left with nothing but a "container for the fantasy of [over]unity" (Dean, Secret 48). HedyL, invoking the decoherence principle of quantum theory, suggested a scientific explanation for Orbo's no-show:

    They say Orbo owes half its existence
    To a function of quantum resistance.
    From a cloud it appears
    When anyone nears--
    Whereupon it spins nobody knows whence!

    Without reference to the quantum realm, Dr. Mike summed up his own findings in this Final Report:

    My conclusion after going through all this is that Steorn is neither hoax nor scam. It is delusion. The reason it seems surreal is because it is surreal--we are the real part of someone else's imagination.

    External (in)validation soon came from another source. Reporting for the BBC, Professor Sir Eric Ash was able to interview McCarthy soon after the failed demo. McCarthy, he argued, had convinced himself that scientific "dogma" such as the First Law of Thermodynamics could be challenged and overturned in the same fashion as religious or political dogmas. Sir Ash's diagnosis? "I believe that Mr. McCarthy is truly convinced of the validity of his invention. It is, in my view, a case of prolonged self-deception."
  26. While some members criticized Dr. Mike for weighing in beyond his expertise by offering a psychological rather than a physics diagnosis of Steorn's failure, his linking of McCarthy's state of mind to the forum's own collective consciousness merits consideration. If nothing else, the demo's failure has led to a focusing of the forum's attention both on McCarthy's motivations and on its own role in the unfolding of the Steorn Exploit. As the most salient spokesperson for Steorn, the pre-demo McCarthy was the locus of the forum's attention; he was ever-present, loquacious, a mentor and guide in our deliberations. (The word "Steorn" translates as "mentor.") The post-demo McCarthy has all but disappeared from the forum, driving its members to question both his motives and their own complicity as "the real part of someone else's imagination." One might ask, for example, "Why have we followed--and many of us still follow--the stop/start 'progress' of Steorn's fantastic story?" But, then, how does one emerge from a narrative that has incorporated one as a character in its script? To be written voluntarily out of that script is a form of suicide or at least a difficult withdrawal from an addiction. Several members discuss the difficulties of such withdrawal. Speccy remarks: "I 'quit' this forum last year after asking Crank [a moderator] to disable my account. Within an hour I emailed her to reinstate it, I couldn't help myself." Crastney admits: "I've tried to quit before as well . . . soon as I'm having my first coffee at work I end up back though." Maryyugo, another "quitter," sums up the attraction: "How's that old saying go? Everyone likes a train wreck?"
  27. Under stress, the forum's communally oriented mind threatens to break down, showing itself subject to the individual psyche's lapses into paranoia, as when Grimer speculates that mrsean2k might be "a Steorn employee, and if there is some kind of scam or deception you could be part of it." With its own captain having "jumped ship," the forum has had to fall back on its own resources to chart a new course on now unfamiliar waters. Threads initiated by any one of numerous "virtual captains" attempt to reframe the Steorn narrative to coincide with the new data and "impressions" that contradict the earlier worldview. The consensus has veered toward the notion that McCarthy was well meaning but self-deluded into thinking Steorn had discovered the Holy Grail of Overunity. As one forum member observed, the closer any perpetual motionist comes to 99.9% efficiency, the easier it is to convince oneself that just a little tweaking here and there will push the mechanism over the hump. Cyrilsmith has come forth with a step-by-step scenario as to why the demo failed, suggesting that what had been presented as tangible and real might have more properly qualified as a thought-experiment all along. He concedes that Steorn believes what it has is real, but it "doesn't exist as a product, merely as a number of curious scientific experiments." Steorn's claims of efficiency are merely "extrapolations" for an as-yet-to-be-built working device. Rather than display the early models, which "all used intermittent motion, stop-start, fast-in slow-out" principles, Steorn decided to use a more transparent, "lash up" device designed by the SPDC. While this device allegedly ran for eight hours in the lab, Steorn did not test it long enough to be rigorous. Once Steorn's engineers arrived in London and set up their equipment, they could not get the device to operate continuously. Against McCarthy's expectations, it failed. "Irreplicable" damage was done. Predictable disarray ensued. Statistical anomalies that seemed to favor the device's output earlier now turned against it with the inevitability of friction and gravity. Citing forum member Paul Lowrance, cyrilsmith sums up: "'If you don't know why it works you don't know why it fails.'"
  28. For some, haunted and undaunted, the forum has become a psychic staging place for their own efforts to replicate Steorn's "results" or perhaps to succeed at their own formulations. Overconfident offers a Sleepwalkers version of how he spent a few months working from "a couple of blurry photos appearing on the net," as he tried to understand McCarthy's discussions of "magnetic viscosity, mumetal, fast in/slow out" principles:

    So I started gathering a bunch of these little puzzle pieces and attempted to fit them together into a bigger picture that might make sense. Still the skeptic, but I was determined to figure out what was behind all this. I even signed up as a forum user so I could start interacting. One day, waking from an afternoon nap, I had a vision (dream, daydream, hallucination, whatever you want to call it). I saw 2 magnets, and could visualize their interacting fields as they approached each other in a variety of configurations. In light of this vision, I went back over some of the puzzle pieces (clues) and several of them suddenly seemed to fall into place. I posted a couple scenarios here, back in the January timeframe. I had a couple positive comments, but mostly I was criticised or ignored. But that was OK. I was still pretty skeptical myself.

    Factuurexpress responded to Overconfident's thought-experiment in blunter terms: "The problem with your vision Overc. is that you fail to see the difference between things you move around in your head and things generated by the VR logic engine." These distinctions overlap VR logic with the logic of a perpetual VR machine where, as Dean suggests, one can escape a dubious "reality" many times over by "don[ning] the glove and goggles" (Aliens 109). Although "cobbled together," the forum does exercise a self-correcting function, a reality principle in a sense. Overconfident can find consolation in the fact that "Devil's sonatas," the snake-tailed benzene ring, and new printing processes have all emerged from the respective dreams of Giuseppe Tartini, August Kekule, and William Blake.
  29. While the forum Webmind is self-generating in many respects, Steorn has had a hand in determining elements of its overall parameters. One could find no better instruction manual for diagramming the Steorn Exploit than Dean's Publicity's Secret. Arguing that publicity "requires the secret," Dean cites Slavoj Žižek's identification of ideology as the "'generative matrix that regulates the relationship between the visible and the non-visible, between imaginable and non-imaginable, as well as changes in this relationship'" (qtd. 17). There is almost a quantum dimension here. As one forum member, loreman, opines in a thread devoted to limericks:

    			The Orbo exists like the cat
    			of Schrödinger, its stunning éclat
    			     lies betwixt and between
    			     the unseen and the seen
    			So Sean keeps it tucked under his hat!

    In retrospect, it is clear that Steorn has been exploiting elements of Žižek's generative matrix. For example, Steorn published its "findings" in a business journal, findings that should have more properly been submitted with documentation to a peer-review science journal. Here, Steorn invoked the visible/non-visible dimensions of that matrix. Strangely enough, a company that claimed no academic would risk his or her career by publicly affirming the existence of a perpetual motion device then proceeded to select a pool of twenty-two jurors from over one thousand qualified applicants, refused to identify who they were, and then required them to sign Non-Disclosure Agreements concerning any observations, favorable or unfavorable, made in the course of what has turned out to be a lengthy, no-end-in-sight investigation. Thus, after the initial splash of publicity, apparently designed to draw in the maximum number of forum participants, Steorn imposed a veil of secrecy on the project. Jury deliberations were supposed to be released by the end of 2007, but the "perpetual" element of the Orbo seems to refer more to a perpetual deferment than to any sort of motion towards an end.
  30. The "sutured" social network that Steorn created evidences an ambivalence arising in the gap that Dean locates between publicity and the secret. Citing Bentham, she finds three social divisions operating here. The lower two are a public-supposed-to-believe and a public-supposed-to-know. What props up these two classes is a "judging class" whose judgment is "constant and certain, but . . . suspended" (Secret 20). This judging class allows the other two classes to indulge in the amusement that arises from publicity. True to Dean's instruction manual, Steorn has split its audience into three more or less similar divisions. The anonymous jurors, working in sequestration, constitute Dean's all-important judging class, and while we are assured they are highly credentialed and impartial, we know little of whatever (if any) judging process they have undertaken; in fact we might very well qualify their judgment as suspended. Certain Steorn insiders and censors, such as babcat, Magnatrix, and crank, claim to have seen Steorn's device in operation, thereby occupying the position of a public-supposed-to-know. We should include here as well the SPDC, whose members allegedly have been given information about Orbo but who also have signed NDAs not to reveal what, if anything, they have found out in the process. Beyond and below the twenty-two jurors, two hundred or so SPDC members, and a handful of censors and sympathizers, is the public-supposed-to-believe. Cobbled-together, the elements of Steorn's forum not only perform the continuous "multiple drafts" of Dennett's model of the brain, they also try to arrive at Eliot's "just judgments [made] in separate human breasts--separate yet combined."
  31. Steorn has followed Dean's instruction manual almost to the letter. Focusing on Reinhart Kosselleck's discussion of Masons and their lodges, Dean notes that "lodges were secret inner spaces within the absolutist state, spaces that were separated from the political by the very mysteries whose protections enabled the lodges to serve indirectly as a counter to the state." Practicing "ritualized enactments of nonfamilial, nonmarket relations outside of the state," the lodges "provided forms of association and experiences of connection beyond those delimited by absolutism" (25). As in Dean's discussion of the Enlightenment novel's engendering of reading circles and salons, the internet has allowed for "new forms of association and experiences of connection" among forum members eager to discuss their views. The SPDC has an aura of Freemasonry, where "Private people came together as a public in secret" (30), here as a challenge to the "absolutism" of thermodynamic laws. Those who have pursued Steorn's Orbo narrative would recognize their quest in Žižek's description of drive, which

    stands for the paradoxical possibility that the subject, forever prevented from achieving his Goal (and thus fully satisfying his desire), can nevertheless find satisfaction in the very circular movement of repeatedly missing its object, of circulating around it. (Dean 116)

    Even the company's CEO became caught up in a logical entanglement of his own devising. In a follow-up report on the failed demo, Physics World describes McCarthy & Company as

    Undaunted . . . Steorn plans to rebuild and defeat physics another day, although McCarthy does take one consolation from this apparent setback. "If I were in the business of doing tricks," he says, "then the demonstration would have worked." (Schirber 9)

    In a system of twisted logic, the proof of Orbo's authenticity can only be evidenced by its failure! Like Polonius trying to figure out Hamlet, McCarthy has created an endless tautological loop, leaving his audience somewhere between "Suspend" and "Perpend":

    Mad let us grant him then, and now remains
    That we find out the cause of this effect,
    Or rather say, the cause of this defect,
    For this effect defective comes by cause:
    Thus it remains, and the remainder thus.

    --Hamlet (Act 2.2: 100-105)

    As the myth of perpetual motion historically has stirred up the desire for power and control, it was only a matter of time before one of the most malevolent of spirits was summoned forth from the depths of the forum's collective unconscious.

  32. The Abduction Exploit: Enter Herr Doktor Mabuse

    The interesting question for me is not whether a global brain is developing. It clearly is. But will this growing global brain turn out to be sane or insane?

    --Peter Russell (qtd. Goertzel, 321)

    Dr. Mabuse recommends that you seek medical attention at his offices soon. You have delusions of competence!

    --Doktor Mabuse (resident forum shrink and advice columnist)

  33. If the Webmind would troll long enough, there is no telling what it might catch. Witness, in the world of fisheries, the occasional capture of the "extinct" coelacanth. No doubt, the virtual world is populated by a congeries of creatures whose activities at times defy all description. Paul D. Miller, alias DJ Spooky, notes the positive elements of the breakdown of prescribed social identity boundaries on the net: "creating this identity allowed me to spin narratives on several fronts at the same time and to produce persona as shareware" (13). In many ways, such "shareware" guarantees a free flow of information and anonymous risk-taking that make internet communication exhilarating. Sometimes, however, one of these identities becomes so disinhibited as to spin out of all control.
  34. In late April of 2007, at the height of the forum's enthusiasm for Steorn's project, a vile, malevolent avatar appeared in the figure of Herr Doktor Mabuse. Actually, we can more properly speak of the reappearance of Dr. Mabuse, as he was originally the creation of novelist Norbert Jacques, whose pulp-villain was later taken up by Fritz Lang in his very popular film Dr. Mabuse, der Spieler or "the Gambler" (1920). A master of manipulation bent upon world conquest, Mabuse has powers of hypnosis, often duping his victims into unwillingly doing his bidding. As his Wikipedia entry explains, his "plans are foiled only because he himself interferes with them, as if he is trying to bring about his own downfall." This self-destructiveness confirms the opinion of those who see his name as a pun on je m'abuse. Like some contemporary film villains, Dr. Mabuse seems indestructible, often turning up in new contexts and a disguised form, but with the same modus operandi and goals. Exploiting Steorn's own Exploit, Mabuse is both viral and alien in his operations. He represents a contemporary refinement on the concept of the exploit in that he seeks to exploit the exploiter's own vulnerability:

    exploit n. [originally cracker slang] 1. A vulnerability in software that can be used for breaking security or otherwise attacking an Internet host over the network. The Ping O' Death is a famous exploit. 2. More grammatically, a program that exploits an exploit in sense 1.

    --Jargon File (4.3.1, 29 Jun 2001)

    Like the threads of viral, parodic limericks and reprogrammed folk and pop songs occasioned by Orbo's failure, Doktor Mabuse attacks his host, deprogramming its agenda and its code. The Orbo has been stolen, replaced by a fake. Dr. Mike has been abducted. Steorn itself suffers an identity theft, reprogrammed from world savior to world conqueror and annihilator.
  35. The forum's own reincarnation of Mabuse plays remarkably true both to Jacques's and Lang's realizations. An oracle on the scale of a small-town newspaper advice columnist mixed in with a megalomaniacal dictator, Dr. Mabuse began by firing off a dire threat against Dr. Mike:

    Dr. Mike. . .
    . . . this is Dr. Mabuse. ARCH CRIMINAL!
    Do you not recognize one of my brethren? Sean McCarthy is the PIED PIPER OF FREE ENERGY!
    He shall destroy your mind!
    You are forbidden TO GO TO IRELAND OR THE U.K.!
    Remain in your country . . . remain in your OBJECTIVE SCIENTIFIC PARADISE!
    Or you will face my WRATH!

    Initial responses to the appearance of Dr. Mabuse were quite negative, as when Skeptical exclaimed: "Oh no... the loonies have started to arrive!" or when MassiveAttack lamented: "This is a physics issue? What a waste of bandwidth." Of course, consumption of bandwidth, as Terranova points out, is essential to maintaining a website as a going concern. Babcat, the most loyal of Steorn's believers (and the most naïve according to some), fired off an immediate reply to Mabuse's megalomaniacal ramblings:

    Dr. Ma-Screw-Loose,
    Well, Steorn already knows that after Validation Day there will almost certainly be competition with other companies that will produce overunity devices. However, I have a feeling the collective intelligence of you and your associates could not figure out how to put together a model plane much less a free energy device.

    Steorn has nothing to worry about from your effort to "corner" the free energy market!

    Soon, however, other members began to find themselves ineluctably written into Mabuse's twisted narrative. In a thread that appeared shortly after the failed Demo ominously entitled "Mabuse, you soulless evil bastiche!" N4Apounding revealed that s/he had been hot on the nefarious Mabuse's trail:

    Once again, you have orchestrated an incomprehensibly complex plan designed to cause maximum pain and suffering to people everywhere.
    I nearly caught up with you in Chile last week, when you were draining that lake (<>). But of course that was only a diversion for your main plan in London executed the last couple of days! The candle goes to you this time, Herr Doktor, but one day...
    (BTW, I demand that you release Dr. Mike and allow him to make his report. And no replacing him with a robot/clone either! The net is closing in on you Mabuse, cooperate while you still can.)

    Later, in a reply addressed to "Meine Kinder," Dr. Mabuse claimed that it is he alone who controls "das Orbo." Asserting that he had pilfered the real Orbo, the malevolent Doktor indicated that the July 5th failed demo had been a plot of his all along:

    My demo was an earth-shattering success, the likes of which will haunt the nightmares of the dear American Pudding Head Herr Doktor Mike for all eternity. He is so warped from the experience that he actually believes my stooge McCarthy is the sick one. Speaking of which, pay no attention to my Capo McCarthy. . . he merely did as he was told.

    Calling the Doktor's perceived bluff, Overconfident asked if he would "kindly send me that Orbo you pilfered from Kinetica last week? There are a couple tests I want to run." Not to be outdone, Mabuse replied: "Certainly, herr confident. How many supermodel whores have you for collateral? And it shall be a loan signed with a contract in blood, you understand."
  36. Mabuse may well serve as a necessary corrective to our private technotopia, drawn as we have been into what Arthur Kroker and Michael Weinstein describe as cyberspace's "seduction of empowerment" (123). Like the prize-winning, frenzied shopper filling up a cart on a seemingly endless free-shopping spree, the members had taken Steorn's offer of a blank free-energy cheque at face value. Doktor Mabuse provides an extreme example of that Other, a Morlock preventing the forum from descending into an Eloi-like love-fest. The totalizing vision of a world without scarcity powered by perpetually functioning generators threatened to abstract our virtual community from stubbornly persistent real world conditions (although some speculated that the heat generated from such devices would become a serious problem in itself). Michele Willson identifies a tendency for virtual communities to suffer "a 'thinning' of the complexities of human engagement to the level of one-dimensional transactions and a detaching of the user from the political and social responsibilities of the 'real space' environment" (655). Too many forum members had bought into Steorn's branding of itself as another instance of the Irish saving civilization. Mabuse reminded us that Prometheus could just as well be a megalomaniac, and the Orbo just one more product in the long product line of philosopher stones. Now we are forced to face the possibility that utopian fantasies in the virtual domain may simply express the desire to get something for nothing. Perhaps we too must submit ourselves to the principle of the Conservation of Psychic Energy.
  37. Apart from being the fly in the ointment, Mabuse offered the forum some humorous diversion, a kind of tragicomic relief. In a new development, forum member breter started a thread entitled "Ask Dr. Mabuse: Unauthorized." He argued that Mabuse was one of the more interesting recent phenomena appearing on the forum, someone whose "views on world domination and social upheaval can bring us insight upon the human condition." More adept at addressing inhuman conditions, Doktor Mabuse dispensed advice with the tenderness and empathy of someone sprinkling cayenne pepper on an open wound. For example, 007 asked: "Can you do something about Ellen DeGeneres?"--only to receive the following response: "Du Dumme Sau. Your fragile MI6 ego could not get past this man-woman who refused your bangers und masch." When Dirty Teeth asked "What should/can I do to reduce future stupid acts? . . . . . Other than visiting this thread I mean," Mabuse's reply was "Swallowing a cyanide capsule works just fine." Threatening to employ a cheese grater to rap repeatedly the knuckles of one forum member, Mabuse scoffs at any forum member's expression of morality: "I assure you, lust and desire for power transcend all your petit bourgeois so-called moral spectrums." He signs off, "My best wishes on your suburban prison existence."
  38. Forum members began to speculate about the identity of Herr Doktor Mabuse. Was he a past member, perhaps banned from the forum, resurfacing now in the guise of a deranged avatar? Was he a rogue Steorn engineer thrown off-kilter after realizing the "magnetude" of Orbo's upcoming failure? Was he a mere proxy for Steorn, already preparing the forum for the Orbo's failure and beginning to plant the idea in their minds months before the demo? At least one forum member, gaby de wilde, had earlier felt the ocular influence of Mabuse, noting: "I couldn't help but feel under your influence while watching camera 4 and the spinning London Eye prior to the demo. What subliminal message did you program into me? I've had several lapses in memory lately and can't account for my time." Denying nothing, the Doktor reveled in his method: "Mabuse's hobby is to break down the so-called 'reason' of der volk. You should know this, Herr Gaby. Especially since yours was gone long, long ago. Mabuse begrudgingly gives his respects." In retrospect, the four cameras trained upon the no-show Orbo recall the last version of the Mabuse saga: The 1000 Eyes of Dr. Mabuse (1959), in which the reconstituted villain employs four cameras to spy on his prey. The movie's locale is the Hotel Luxor "built by the Nazis in 1944 as a potential stopping place for foreign diplomats, and . . . equipped with hidden television cameras in every public and private room" (Greenspun). The penetrating, hypnotic gaze of Dr. Mabuse is everywhere.
  39. Perhaps Doktor Mabuse can be explained as an upwelling of the darkest part of the forum's collective unconscious. For example, in a thread entitled "How many of you have had dreams of Steorn/'Orbo'?" Zante discusses an excursion into dreamland in which s/he saw a tank and a tractor, both bearing the Orbo logo: "I saw the tractor as a symbol for the potential of agricultural use and the tank for one of war." Sadly, the perpetual motion device that members turned over in their heads and dreamed about for a good year seems to have faltered, slowed down, and congealed into an idée fixe now darkly manifested in the baleful figure of Doktor Mabuse. At any rate, members soon learned that any attempt to probe the psyche of this Teutonic Marat Sade should only be undertaken while wearing a hazmat suit. Baiting him only stirred up the muck, as when Probus asked: "How was the malorca koma-trinken, herr doktor? had some fun? how many not-so-innocent teens did you vernaschen there?" Never at a loss for words, Mabuse was quick with a rejoinder: "Meine dear probus, please, Mabuse has better things to do. There are Orbos to counterfeit, Republicans to have coffee with, Spice Girls to reunite and iPhones to program with malicious subsonic instructions. Mabuse is a very busy evil genius! Hedonism is far down meine list at the moment." Efforts to solicit the Doktor's help in contacting McCarthy have not borne fruit. Exasperated, MassiveAttack asks: "Why will Sean not give us a video. At this point I would accept home movies from the last time he went on vacation. Anything!!!!!" Mabuse apparently confiscated some materials from the missing McCarthy: "If only you knew what was in the footage McCarthy surrendered to Mabuse, Herr Attack. Leather features prominently, I assure you." Passing up a golden opportunity, MassiveAttack, demurred: "ok I changed my mind. You can keep those videos." Calling himself "the Raskolnikov of der frei energie!" the Nietzschean Mabuse is beyond both good and evil: "as I have explained 'evil' ceases to have any meaning when all that is left is a pure lust of will to control and despoil the Earth and its vermin humanity." After a few weeks' absence, when asked to explain the "oddity" that he, the Doktor, is more missed on the forum than is McCarthy, he replied:

    What oddity?
    McCarthy is meine stooge, toadie...Herr Doktor Mabuse lets him out to further torment the denizens of this accursed forum when they begin salivating again about the so-called "frei energie," while I keep the one and only true Orbo and fleece the world!
    Of course you will not miss McCarthy as much as meine bad self. This is only natural.
    Breter, I know you are deficient in many ways, but even with your broccoli-brain you must notice how this forum has diarrhea and spastic fits whenever McCarthy makes an appearance. Herr Doktor sits back, watches this chaos, and then swoops in to offer my own delicious remedies, akin to strychnine. Synergie ist der name of das Spiel, my boy.

    Some have speculated that Mabuse and McCarthy are one and the same. In this scenario, Doktor Mabuse is McCarthy's literal brain-child, the dark side of a short-circuiting psyche pushed over the edge in its thwarted quest for perpetual motion. At this stage at least, McCarthy's ill-advised public demonstration of the Orbo fits Dr. Mabuse's profile as someone contributing to his own downfall. As one critic points out, "The master of illusion becomes the dupe of his technique as soon as he stops producing the show" (Greenspun). The failed demo was certainly a show-stopper. Moreover, Ord-Hume indicates many failed perpetual motionists "underwent changes of character as a result of their unfulfilled dreams" (14). A few even went mad. Thus, the thwarted desire to save humanity by harnessing the energy of perpetual motion may have devolved into its flip side: Mabuse's view of humanity as vermin to be destroyed. In this scenario, like the Forbidden Planet's Dr. Morbius, Mabuse/McCarthy haunts and stalks himself (as well as us). Perpetual motion, the ungraspable, tantalizing object of his quest, plays itself out in familiar cinematic terms:

    The pathos of Mabuse's position is like the pathos of every mad impotent movie genius who cannot hope to possess the girl anesthetized on his diabolical operating table, or embrace the world whose future bubbles ominously in his laboratory retorts. (Greenspun)

    McCarthy has not been the only victim of Mabuse's efforts at manipulation and mind-control. Forum member HedyL also fell into his clutches, a story for another time.[7] In order to sort out the complexities of McCarthy's psyche, Spanky attempted to demarcate the borderline between delusion and insanity. In a thread entitled "What Does It Mean for Us?" he muses:

    I was thinking about the difference between delusion and insanity this morning. Dr. Mike has insisted that a person can be delusional without being crazy, and that this is SMcS's case. But I think there is an important distinction which makes the Steorn-delusion theory problematic.
    When a person is delusional about something, it tends to be about something that can not be immediately tested. Say, for instance, one is deluded about one's ability to become a popstar, the testability of which lies in the future; or about oneself being dead sexy, which would only be testable by being able to see through other's eyes...
    But here we are talking about something more fundamental: it is a case of whether something exists or not. Sean asserts that an apparent magnetically powered over-unity device has been in existence in his recent experience. He has touched and seen it. To be deluded about that is to be deluded about material reality, which I think really would come under the definition of hallucinatory mental illness.
    And yet everything else about SMcS bespeaks an objective and genial intelligence that just doesn't jibe with this. It's the tension in this and other apparent contradictions that makes the Steorn show the best show in town right now. One doesn't need to believe anything one way or the other. My advice is to groove with the uncertainty and wait and see what happens next.

  40. Here, Spanky describes McCarthy in terms not all that different from those employed by Harvard psychiatrist John Mack in describing UFO abductees' fervent accounts of their experiences. Mack comments on the subjects' genuine belief, their seeming sanity and normalcy in all other areas. All this bewilderment is compounded by our current state of affairs that Dean sums up in another context as "the problem of judgment . . . if the knowledge we need to make a judgment stems from shared experiences, what do we do when experiences are reconstituted so radically that we can't tell if we, or anyone else, actually has them or not?" (Aliens 109). (Recall gaby de wilde's attribution of lapses in memory to the machinations of Doktor Mabuse.) Infiltrating the normally staid pages of the Economist, McCarthy is offered as an "abductee" with an extraordinary tale to relate. Undecidability, the postmodern condition, reigns. Are we delving into fact or fiction? Sightings/citings on both fronts come to mind. For example, in Yesterday's Tomorrows, science fiction writer Fred Hoyle describes "a young Cambridge mathematician of 1970 [who] investigates the activities of an industrial group in Southern Ireland, I.C.E. (Industrial Corporation of Eire), based on a new prime mover which enables industrial material to be obtained from water, air, and fairly common rocks" (qtd. Armytage 113). They turn out to be aliens!
  41. Perpetual Notion, or "Hoax Springs Eternal"

    "Community" is then produced as an ideal rather than as a reality, or else it is abandoned altogether.

    --Willson (645)

    This would appear to me to be nothing more than a deserted fairground from which the hucksters have long since departed.

    --ex-forum member Basil

  42. Our long wait has taken its toll even on the most hardy. The language of optimism and the philanthropic impulses that once flourished on the forum now must contend with the cynicism and vulgarities spewed by this mad scientist. Failed utopian idealism, a sense of technological breakdown and betrayal, the rantings of Dr. Mabuse--it is a wonder the forum is still halfway afloat at this point. Postmodern versions of Vladimir and Estragon, we put in our time, Waiting for Orbo. Ananda Mitra identifies the lack of closure of the Internet text as a problematic feature in the analysis of text-based virtual communities. In the face of such lack of closure, how does one come to conclusions? Worse yet, how does one live through such a lack of closure?
  43. With a lot of time on our hands recently, the forum has been discussing the notion that the universe is itself a simulation controlled by some joy-stick-toggling deity. We are simply avatars, unwittingly going through the motions of a carefully scripted "reality." And yet, some members of the forum are still holding out hope. Admittedly, with the failure of the Orbo we've entered a long pause in its stop/start mode. Having been swept up in the Steorn-sponsored dataspace, an information state DJ Spooky well might describe as "a delirium of saturation" (29), we wonder now what is keeping us going. But, as this master of rhythm science proclaims, "Once you get into the flow of things, you're always haunted by the way that things could have turned out. This outcome, that conclusion. You get my drift. The uncertainty is what holds the story together..." Just as Stoppard's Rosencrantz and Guildenstern amuse themselves by tossing coins and playing word games, so forum members while away their own time, with threads such as "Last Poster Wins" (with over 16,000 entries) and "The Thinking Man's Word Association." Fondly referred to as "Orbituaries," the forum limerick thread has ballooned into several hundred five-liners on a number of topics. At the very least, such mental exercises keep us in continual practice; after all, as in Stoppard's play, "someone might come in," although McCarthy's one comment, "Brilliant," is about all that we have had to go on these last several months.
  44. Other diversions occupy forum members' time and keep up the spirits of those remaining. As Emily Noelle Ignacio observes concerning similar network societies, even humor serves as a bonding mechanism in establishing for them "a common underlying history" (182). Indeed, the ability of the forum to laugh at itself and satirize its host is also essential. In a thread announcing the founding of the Overunitarian Church, HedyL expostulated:

    Since faith revolves around the substance of things not seen, it seems high time to dedicate a church denomination to the Steorn enterprise. I don't mean this to be in competition with Knuckles' Church of Orbology, although any schism is welcome at this point. We already have our Doubting Thomases and zealots such as Granthodges and babcat as a core group of disciples.

    Forum members made up their own commandments, such as "Thou shalt not witness false bearings." Evolvealready added a Hebrew Bible twist: "And the forum readers became impatient of Moses McArthy coming down from Mt. Innovation and built themselves a golden diode array which they did worship." To which HedyL added:

    And Moses McCarthy, coming down from the mountain, saw his people engaging in much idolatry and revelry, whereby he did break the Orbo and the tablets whereupon were written instructions for its operations, saying: "Thou art a wicked people with no faith. Thou deservest not my innovation. Thou art a stiff-necked generation, not worth a quaff of my Guinness!"

    We even have time to set to memory the simplified versions of the Three Laws of Thermodynamics, as known to most second-year physics majors. Bob Pease summarizes them as "the gambler's lament":

    Rule 1: You can't win.
    Rule 2: You can't break even.
    Rule 3: You can't get out of the game.

  45. Even contestation does not necessarily equate to failure in such enterprises. Willson emphasizes "the importance of the Other for self-constitution, and the importance of relations between self and Other for the functioning of community" (653). In order for individuals to define themselves in the virtual community, a certain amount of "rubbing against each other" is necessary to make things real, a quantum decoherence principle on the human social scale. Cogitamus ergo sum/Cogito ergo sumus. And round and round it goes. Citing Jean-Luc Nancy, Willson valorizes the relational aspect of the virtual community:

    Nancy argues instead for community to be understood as the incomplete sharing of the relation between beings. For him, being is in common: it is the in where community 'resides'. Community is to be 'found' at the limit where singular beings meet. The danger is in prescribing or categorizing an essence or form for both community and the beings that it involves. (651)

    Galloway and Thatcher point out that the networks most vulnerable to viruses (electronic ones) and disease epidemics (biological ones) are those that are overly standardized. Paradoxically, they "work too well." One thinks of genetic engineers striving to create forests of lignin-free cloned trees for ethanol production but not considering how such lack of diversity leaves them particularly vulnerable to massive die-outs. Situating networks somewhere between our ability to control them and their operations beyond our control, Galloway and Thatcher find them both "entirely coincident with social life" but also carrying "with them the most nonhuman and misanthropic tendencies" (Exploit 6). The Steorn forum encompasses this range of tendencies. Thus far, it has managed to maintain a balance among them. In that respect, it constitutes Dean's "zero institution," that is, "a paradoxical combination of singularity and collectivity, collision and convergence" (Secret 167). This fairground will not close as long as the bumper cars careen against each other in perpetual overdrive.
  46. Postscrypt: Back from the Dead?

    Orbo is based upon time variant magnetic interactions, i.e. magnetic interactions whose efficiency varies as a function of transaction timeframes.

    --"How Orbo Works," Steorn website

    3. Apparatus and method for generating a time variant non-electromagnetic force field due to the dynamic interaction of relatively moving bodies.

    --Luke Fortune, "UFO How-To"

    Time variance is the ability to remember historic perspectives.

    --"Time Variance," Wikipedia

    An Update on the Steorn Exploit.

  47. For a month or so in mid-2008, Steorn actually shut down public, non-member access to the forum. Some forum members predicted its/their imminent demise. Against such an eventuality, many members now share time between Steorn's site and another, "shadow" site: FizzX. Lately, reassurance about the survival of the forum has come from McCarthy himself, who emphatically noted the forum would continue: "Close this forum - never!!!! That would be like getting rid of an itch that you can never quite scratch...☺ Lately, things have been heating up in the forum, with a feisty McCarthy turning up on a number of fronts. In a thread started by ebswift and entitled "Steorn Forum Future (given latest events)?" forum members apparently got McCarthy's Irish up by speculating Steorn only had enough funds left to last two months or so. Responding to forum member calculations, McCarthy replied: "Well if he['s] right I guess that I will be turning off the lights in here pretty soon ... wait and see big fella." To which blueletter responded: "You still pay for lights?" Howling with virtual laughter, Big Oil Rep promptly nominated blueletter for the Poster of the Month Award, his prize being "a billion dollars worth of Steorn futures." Never one to be outdone, Dr. Mabuse popped in with his own assurances: "Fear not. I shall continue to subsidize der forum through meine blood money. Mabuse gets far too much enjoyment watching you wretches squirm.☹" To McCarthy's credit, exchanges such as this demonstrate that Steorn has by and large kept its promise to maintain the forum for "the open, unregulated exchange of ideas, thoughts and opinions about Steorn and Orbo." Websurfers entering the forum site are warned, though, that "There may be threads concerning pseudo-science and suppositions on conspiracies and deceptions relating to the company." Fair enough. After all, visitors should be put on notice that there are a lot of wild claims in the cybersphere by people whose inventions have been suppressed by traditional science and thus have had to be advertised and marketed in unconventional ways!
  48. True to the stop/start motion of its Orbo device, Steorn has started up again recently after a long hiatus. In late January of 2009, having promised a major announcement by February, Steorn replaced its website with an image of a curtain with the following written below: "February 4, 2009." When the curtain was lifted on this date, the public was treated to a slick ten-minute video/infomercial. It began with a printed disclaimer: "All views and opinions expressed by participants who are not Steorn employees are their own and do not represent Steorn, its management or employees." Since the views of the three non-Steorn engineers testifying here all support Steorn's claims in one fashion or another, it is strange that the company would have felt the need for such a disclaimer, particularly since it has complained all along of not being able to induce anyone from university engineering and physics departments to go public with their own (alleged) positive findings. The video also features CEO McCarthy, who states that the company has brought the technology along "as far as a business can bring it." Noting that Steorn is in "the licensing business" anyway, he is now seeking to enlist three hundred engineering companies and/or individual engineers whose task will be to figure out how to implement the technology. They will be given the necessary tools to do so, as well as access to "learning modules." McCarthy goes on to announce the formation of the SKDB (Steorn Knowledge Data Base): "a learning and knowledge base designed to explain, employ and expand the science, engineering and intellectual property comprising Orbo technology." This "suite of video and flash e-learning modules," Steorn claims, will provide "the key steps and skills required to test, build prototypes and utilise Orbo technology." There is no mention of the fate of the two SPDCs--rather peculiar, as many of these were the very opportunities promised to them long ago. McCarthy also announces that Steorn will be touring university engineering departments around the world to enlist engineers on a global scale. First stop on the tour? The Middle East. Advertisements for Steorn's ZeroF (Zero Friction) bearings, USB Hall Probe, and Magnetic Torque Measurement System are also prominently displayed. Interested readers can visit Steorn's site to hear the testimonials given by Phil Watson (electrical engineer), Liam Fennelly (instrumentation engineer), and John A.M. Rice (consultant). None appears to be a Jury member. All appear level-headed and claim to have approached the project with a healthy initial skepticism.
  49. Not long after the appearance of this re-invigorated homepage, forum members began weighing in on the presentation. Babcat, 007, and Crastney--long-time defenders of Steorn-- responded with "We told you so!" Many members, however, were less than impressed. Big Oil Rep pointed out that none of the "Three Wise Men" were "physicists or from universities." On the way to hoisting them on their own petard, he quoted their own words:

    [for] the experiment that we saw, in the scale that we saw, there appears to be more energy coming out of the system than is actually being put in. They [Steorn] apparently have a way of producing mechanical energy, a rotational energy which will drive something else, which will be able to generate electricity.

    Big Oil Rep rejoined: "'for the experiment that we saw' is the key phrase. They didn't even set up the experiment...appears...apparently." My_pen_is_stuck added: "I think all 23 Steorn hand picked jurors coming to the same conclusion would be more convincing than 3 unknown bozos picked out of a pool of how many?"[8] Josh points out that no test procedure is described and no results displayed. He sums up: "The video is nothing but promotion. It contains no science." Knuckles O'Toole delves into the psychology of what he has come to view as one more shuffle in a confidence game:

    All of this is just confidence boosting without data. Nice guys, testimonials, sincerity: all the hallmark of cons. You have to ask yourself this question: If Steorn were a con how would they act differently than they already do? And if they are not a con why would they act like they are?

  50. What Steorn has accomplished here with an admirable adroitness is to shift the onus of testing, building prototypes, and product development to an anticipated three hundred engineering concerns. The company will even be kind enough to sell those engineers equipment for such purposes. On the off-chance anything comes from their efforts, Steorn will still hold intellectual property rights. In the event of failure, a graceful exit awaits. How could a small company with modest resources have succeeded where three hundred engineers failed? Remember the video's disclaimer, which already established some distance between the company and any non-Steorn employees.
  51. In the absence of any news of the two SPDCs and the Jury, the establishment of the SKDB, and the recruitment of a cadre of engineers, Steorn is looking more and more like Dean's description of freemasons and cabals, where "Private people [come] together as a public in secret" (Secret 30). Cult-like behaviors and language have been appearing lately among die-hard Steorn supporters like Crastney, babcat, and 007. By their testimony, the second SPDC has been granted more privileged information than that accorded to the first one (causing some members to label them Spud-Lite and Spud-Deluxe respectively). These staunch supporters of Steorn have taken lately to referring to the second SPDC as "the Other Side," claiming there is even more convincing proof of Steorn's claims there, proof withheld from all but the privileged few initiates. Ironically, they may be closer to the truth of perpetual motion than even they realize. As Dean puts it in the context of publicity: "The answer is the secret, or more precisely, the secret is the answer" (Secret 21). For the believers, the rest of the world lies outside of their tautological loop, where even Orbo's failure can be explained as a deliberate feint to protect intellectual property rights or--with paranoia setting in--to throw those Men-in-Black off Steorn's trail.
  52. Listed as Number 10 in Wired Magazine's "Top Ten Vaporware Products for 2007," the Orbo is indeed the most translucent of "products" (Calore). Even its image suggests pure translucency.[9] Rather than evaporating or vanishing, however, the Orbo presents with quantum properties uniquely its own. Vacillating between "the unseen and the seen," it resists all proof, all logic. Steorn could profitably market Orbo on the basis of its quantum properties alone, as a truly twenty-first century novelty item. Providing information overload in the form of USB Hall probes and magnetic torque measurement systems, e-learning modules and infomercials, Steorn nonetheless leaves us--or hopes to leave us--with "the paradoxical sense that everything we need to know is right in front of us, but still we don't know" (Dean, Secret 48). A modern physics version of the classic shell-game, this one is conducted with "time variant magnetic interactions" amid shifting timeframes. Steorn's gambit is a sleight-of-hand trick to shuffle past the invariance principle enshrined in Noether's Theorem. But time variance also entails "an ability to remember historic perspectives." Those who forget are in for a long night at the table.
  53. Department of English
    University of Detroit Mercy

    Talk Back




    1. Steorn has made three claims for its technology:

    1. The technology has a coefficient of performance greater than 100%.
    2. The operation of the technology (i.e. the creation of energy) is not derived from the degradation of its component parts.
    3. There is no identifiable environmental source of the energy (as might be witnessed by a cooling of ambient air temperature).

    2. For on-line parodies of Steorn, go to the following by derricka: <>. For a feature on Orby, go to the following (supplied by Trim): <ttp://>. A more exhaustive display of parodic materials is found at <>.

    3. Insinuations were made that Orbo-powered pumps were already being installed somewhere in Africa to supply water to drought-stricken villages. Forum member qqqq "forwards" the following company statement of its business methodology:

    Our company runs in reverse.
    What others do last, we do first.
         That's how we got the jump
         On our African pump
    (Though the concept is still in the works).

    4. An anagram of the famous inventor's name: Nikola Tesla.

    5. In physics, the "sticky spot" is the point of resistance that a perpetual motion device must overcome in achieving overunity.

    6. Dr. Mike's predicament was summed up in the limerick below:

    Dr. Mike left the demo with nary
    A clue from Steorn's chief visionary.
         What gives him night terrors?
         Steorn sealed Orbo's errors
    And marked them: "Proprietary."

    7. I have been writing another article on this issue: "'Bearings and Nothingness': The Viral Unmarketing of Steorn." The first part of the title comes from an exchange between two forum members after the failed demo. In a thread optimistically entitled "Next Demo," Knuckles O'Toole finds solace in Steorn's sponsoring of a demo; however, another forum member, Tilde, caustically responds:

    Yeah Knuckles, it [the Orbo] was there, but it 'failed'. 'Failed', as if they just have to fix a small issue. It didn't fail, it wasn't at all.
    The word 'failure' was used by Sean to reduce the having of nothingness into having a broken machine. Good marketing 'newspeak'.

    Knuckles chimed in: "Didn't Jean Paul Sartre write about Bearings and Nothingness?" Tilde then suggested this as the title of a documentary/exposé on Steorn. My own mockumentary deals with such events as HedyL's abduction by Dr. Mabuse and her later banishment from the forum. The first event began when, suffering from the sheer mental exhaustion of keeping up with the wildly proliferating nature of the forum, she dropped out of the forum, checking into Limericks Anonymous for a cure. Unfortunately, she fell into the hands of Dr. Mabuse. He made a botched attempt to cure her of her rhyming propensities. His Report on HedyL, forwarded by an assistant sympathetic to her plight, reads as follows:

    	While excising her rhyme from her reason,
    	My surgeon's hand started seizin'.
    	     There's many a slip
    	     'Twixt the Broca and the hip-
    	pocampal medial regions!
    	The procedure's now over, and I'm
    	Sure we've zapped her penchant for rhyme.
    	     There's just one small matter:
    	     Brain scan read-outs, though flatter,
    	Show neurons still firing to limerick time:
             ̆́  ̆̆́ ̆̆́
             ̆̆́ ̆̆́ ̆̆́   
                     ̆́  ̆̆́
                     ̆́  ̆̆́  
             ̆̆́ ̆̆́ ̆̆́

    Fortunately, with the help of this assistant, she was able to escape Mabuse's clutches. She quickly recovered the relatively few faculties required for composing limericks (although demonstrating with a few personality disorder traits, doubtless the result of Mabuse's incompetence). Returning to her former antics, she was soon banned from the forum by the moderator Crank for writing limericks in the guise of McCarthy's therapist. In her defense, and in defense of free speech and unfettered critique, several members protested. Unfortunately, Crank's wrath was not to be appeased, as reflected in the limerick below:

    	Hot blood through Crank's veins surged and coursed.
    	"Hedy's banned!  All verses will now be outsourced!
        	  Our software censors in China
              Will reprogram line-by-line a
    	New limerick code--Strictly Enforced!"

    8. Actually, there are 22 jurors--somewhere!

    9. In a leaked "memo" from Steorn to its investors, Sean explains Orbo's delays:

    Our product development line Has fallen a bit behind. We'll still market Orbo And a new Irish Bordeaux, Premiering 2039.

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