WASHINGTON -- I'm on the phone with Stanford physics professor Robert B. Laughlin, a Nobel laureate.
Me: I want to offer you a business partnership. Itll make us incalculably wealthy and save mankind from extinction as a result of global warfare over dwindling energy reserves.
Robert: I'm interested. I would love to save mankind.
Me: I recently bought a drinking duck from eBay. Im not sure what it costs to manufacture, but it cant be much: The retail price was $6.45, and that included shipping from China.
Robert: I have one!
Me: Excellent. As you know, its a duck-shaped hollow glass barbell with a plastic top hat, a butt feather, a felt head and a body filled with pink fluid, all balanced on a crossbar. Its head bobs up and down into a glass of water. Seven weeks ago, I started it bobbing, and it hasn't stopped. The only energy I put into it was a single poke to start the process, plus I occasionally top off the water. I think you, as a scientist, see where I am going.
Robert: I think so! Keep going!
Me: I envision giant drinking ducks, colossuses on the scale of the Hoover Dam, standing over every lake, river and reservoir in America, generating enough power for every American to operate hair dryers, toasters and circular saws 24-7. With your pedigree and my ability to generate publicity, we attract investors and become international drinking duck tycoons.
Me: You have doubts. I can tell. But don't worry, the patent has expired. Were free to make them.
Copyright 2012 Washington Post Writers Group