(If Mr Putin himself turns out to have invested even one thin rouble in Firepower, I don’t think it’s likely that any other creditors, no matter how destitute, will object to Vlad getting paid back before them.)
January 30, 2010
January 27, 2010
I'll try to keep this brief.
A reader has brought the melodiously-titled "Shot In The Gas" to my attention.
Shot In The Gas's "Test Reports" page tells us that a truck achieved a massive 56% fuel-economy improvement when its fuel was treated with their liquid additive.
They say the truck was driven by a man called Brian.
And that's about all they say, as far as information about how well the test was controlled goes.
(There is, of course, also a page of testimonials. I don't see why they didn't put all of those on the Test Reports page, since they're all equally untraceable, and equally don't even pretend to be a properly controlled test.)
Apparently Shot In The Gas's products "have been tested for millions of driven miles" (emphasis theirs). But, as usual, nobody has at any point done any proper independent rolling-road, or even ad-hoc blinded, tests.
Such tests could unlock literally billions of dollars a year of income for whichever of the dozens, if not hundreds, of these miracle-fuel-additive companies actually turns out to be telling the truth.
But none of them ever do the tests.
The USA alone consumes about 380 million gallons of gasoline per day. That adds up to about a billion US dollars per day, even at the USA's low petrol prices, a bit more than $US2.50 per gallon at the moment.
If some miracle fuel additive reduced this consumption by a mere ten per cent, it'd be saving about a hundred million dollars a day, or around thirty-five billion US dollars per year.
(And this is just in the USA, and just gasoline. World petrol plus diesel consumption is of course quite a lot higher.)
But wait - Shot In The Gas have an explanation!
"This is not new technology. It has been around for 30 to 40 years". But "it wasn't cost effective to use the product until gasoline reached $2.00 a gallon".
Oooh, nice dodge!
Except... petrol has cost more than $US2 a gallon in most of the civilised world for, oh, a decade or three, right? I think petrol prices in the UK have, if you correct for inflation, never been below two US dollars per gallon. They've definitely almost never been below two inflation-adjusted UK pounds per gallon (PDF).
So even if Shot In The Gas hadn't been around to make a mountain of money in Europe for the last "30 to 40 years", one would presume someone would have.
January 21, 2010
Nothing much was going on in the riveting Firepower imbroglio, until yesterday.
Before then, the wife of Firepower former-business-partner Warren Anderson said he attacked her, during an argument about a missing computer (there do indeed seem to be a lot of missing computers in this story…). She hauled Warren into court to face those charges, and then he said he didn’t do it. Whoopee.
Now, though, Tim Johnston has said that Firepower - uh, well, the Firepower company that was selling possibly-illegal shares to Australian investors, anyway - never actually owned the intellectual rights to their products. See, it was one of the several other Firepower companies that owned the IP rights. That other company was run by a guy called Trevor Nairn, and Tim says he wouldn’t give up the rights.
So, according to Tim, the abovementioned Warren Anderson rounded up some blokes to remonstrate with Mr Nairn, by taking him on one of those stimulating little day-trips that involve one or more large gentlemen with weapons, one unwilling participant, a shovel, and an isolated area.
You may have seen this procedure in a movie.
(If you haven’t, allow me to recommend “The Magician“!)
Mr Nairn says that nothing of the sort ever happened.
This is all almost as mystifying to me as Mr Nairn says it is to him, since the Firepower fuel additives, just like the umpteen other such additives hucksters have sold over the years - and including of course the other additives that Tim Johnston himself previously sold in New Zealand - were and are completely worthless.
(Well, either that, or the people selling these things invariably try really really hard to make all of their “supporting evidence” look like a crock of crap. A product that did what their countless products are always said to do would be worth billions of dollars a year, but they never bother to take a lazy week to properly prove their claims and thus uncork the money-fountain.)
Who gives a damn if you’ve got the world rights to manufacture your placebo? Just make a new one, to a different formula, and go on with your upstanding legitimate business. No grave-digging, real or fictional, required!
Perhaps Johnston is just still trying to keep up the front that he believes his products actually work, and it’s all a giant conspiracy by the oil companies and the Freemasons and Jehovah to make him look bad, or something.
It would still, of course, be simplicity itself to hand a couple of packs of Firepower pills - I think whoever’s currently sitting on the cardboard box containing Firepower’s surviving assets might be persuaded to give ‘em up - to one of the dozens, if not hundreds, of organisations in Australia who could see if the claims were true.
I’ll hold my breath for that, if you will!
December 16, 2009
I’m sure you’ve all been waiting with bated breath to see what’s happened since my last Firepower update.
Tim has duly been frogmarched into a hearing in Perth, to answer a few questions.
According to Tim, he’s pulling down ten thousand UK pounds a month for “consultancy” work for Green Power Corporation, the London-based reincarnation of Firepower that will repay all of the investors and actually have products that work and give every child in the world an adorable puppy and so on.
(You may recall Green Power Corporation, and its unimpeachable principal Frank Timis, from last year. You may also recall The Australian’s description of Timis as “a colourful Romanian-Australian businessman”. Everybody involved with Firepower is so darn colourful it’s like some kind of Pride Parade.)
Tim Johnston also alleges that he has been assaulted, and his daughter intimidated (by “cars driving around her house”), since he started giving evidence to the hearing. According to Tim, the people menacing him now are associated with his former business partner, one Warren Anderson.
Anderson has previously denied making any threats, and I presume will also deny sending the boys round (and round, and round). According to Johnston, Anderson demanded many millions of dollars of Firepower money with menaces; according to Anderson, that money was just payment for shares in Firepower, which Tim was buying from Warren, or something. (According to the ancient fuel-pill-company template, the shares probably weren’t legal to sell in the first place, but were nonetheless hungrily snapped up by numerous people who now find themselves without a nest-egg.)
Oh, and Tim says that the fact that Warren pitched in to help Tim buy an 8.5-million-dollar house one day after Tim gave Warren four million dollars is not fishy in any way.
Hmm, what else… Oh yeah: “Firepower spent millions on travel, hotels and sponsorship“. Astonishingly, the recipients of the free air tickets included Tim’s kids.
And Tim also, in a completely straightforward and non-fishy way, handed an extra two million dollars and a hatful of soon-to-be-worthless shares, on top of a settlement payment, to the former chief executive officer of one of the numerous Firepower entities after some sort of court dispute.
After revealing this, Tim suddenly found himself struck by that most terrible of afflictions, Courtroom-Related Amnesia Syndrome, regarding exactly how the various Firepower business entities interacted. The syndrome is following its usual course; the larger the amount of money involved, the more difficult the sufferer finds it to remember where it went.
According to Tim, Firepower also appeared to have a less-than-thorough data backup policy. A server containing vital information was in someone’s house, and then may have been pawned, perhaps, but Tim’s not sure, his Courtroom-Related Amnesia Syndrome’s playing up again…
December 7, 2009
This one is obviously going to run and run. If you found the 2008 US Presidential campaigns to be far too full of intelligent nuance and over much to soon, I’m sure you’ll be delighted by this Firepower court case, and then the next one, and then the one after that…
December 3, 2009
Recent developments in the soap opera that is legal authorities’ attempts to get Firepower principal Tim Johnston to show up in court:
Firepower boss delusional, court told (”I’m sorry, m’lud, but it’s entirely impossible for my client to attend these proceedings. He’s hopelessly delusional, don’t you know. The man actually believes himself to be innocent.”)
I presume there’s somebody, somewhere in the world, who had a business relationship with Firepower and wasn’t in some way crooked. But I don’t, off the top of my head, know who that somebody might be.
UPDATE: Tim’s (finally) been arrested.
November 26, 2009
1: For some reason, Tim came back to Australia, under his own name.
2: The authorities immediately took his passport away.
3: He went to court to ask for his passport back, so he could “travel for business purposes”, whereupon…
4: …the Firepower liquidators served him with papers ordering him to appear at a Federal-court civil hearing launched by the Australian Securities and Investments Commission, which body has been following Tim around for a while now, bolting each door behind him after he has galloped through.
Perhaps we’ll eventually know why it was that Tim came back under his own name and then decided to appear in public to try to get his passport back; on the surface, these seem to be the actions of a crazy man. But it would appear that he’s had another moment of clarity, because now he’s decided to not turn up at the hearing.
(On the grounds that he’s suddenly too ill to travel, which isn’t very original.)
Johnston is also apparently headed for personal bankruptcy, an event that punctuates the lives of entrepreneurial scam artists with metronomic regularity.
But I like these weird, unexplained deviations from the standard scam-artist script that Johnston keeps coming up with. I wonder what he’ll do next?
UPDATE: The liquidator has now applied for an arrest warrant, to encourage the suddenly-taken-ill Johnston to actually turn up in court. Oh, and apparently Mr Johnston is currently being legally represented by a man who says he’s a lawyer, but does not appear to actually be one. I wonder what qualifications the doctor who wrote Johnston’s sick note will turn out to have?
In a further shocking development, some bloke who gave Tim $450,000 and was “confident he would get a good return” is now a bit upset. This guy made his “investment” in 2007. I could see that Firepower was obviously a scam in 2006, and Gerard Ryle’s first Sydney Morning Herald feature story about Firepower, which explained just how loudly the whole operation screamed “scam”, came out at the very beginning of ‘07.
I can kind of understand the “mum and dad” investors who sink their life savings of $5000 or so into some charlatan’s scheme without looking into it adequately. But what kind of person who doesn’t own his own Middle Eastern nation would invest almost half a million bucks in something that five minutes with Google would show him is very similar to a long line of previous products, some sold by the same guy who’s selling this newest one, that all turned out to be scams?
November 7, 2009
As a number of readers, Gerard Ryle’s blog and my saved Google News search have informed me, Tim Johnston, former proprietor of the dramatically-failed magic-fuel-pill pseudo-company Firepower, recently flew back into Australia.
I am not alone in being entirely unable to figure out why he did this. Tim was quite successfully hiding from his creditors overseas, but then decided to waltz back into the country using his own passport. ASIC then told all of the airports to not let him out again. And then he surrendered his passport. But then, last night, he went for a little drive, evading process servers.
Don’t worry - I’m sure we’ll catch him soon. I mean, it’s not as if there are many places to hide around here.
UPDATE: And now we hear that Johnston allegedly used a forged letter from ASIC to assure potential investors that he was not in fact being investigated, and had only fled to London for a holiday, or something. Which is kind of like discovering that John Dillinger was also guilty of failing to pay his council rates, but the more charges the merrier, I suppose.
UPDATE 2: The process servers managed to locate Tim and give him the order to appear at a civil hearing, which the Firepower liquidator hopes will lead to criminal charges. He actually turned out to be pretty easy to find, because he obligingly turned up in another court to ask for his passport back.
September 7, 2009
Gerard Ryle is the Sydney Morning Herald journalist who did most of the work of exposing the Firepower fiasco (it was linking to Ryle’s SMH articles about Firepower that got me tangled up in the whole thing).
Ryle was on the Radio National mini-show Ockham’s Razor the other day; Robyn Williams called his book “riveting”. (Unfortunately for Gerard’s bank balance, that’s Robyn Williams the Australian science journalist and host of Ockham’s Razor, not Robin Williams the comedian and movie star.)
Ryle’s paraphrasing his book in the Ockham’s Razor piece (available as a text transcript and a less-than-15-minute podcast), but he hardly talks about Firepower at all, and isn’t just trying to get you to buy the book. Instead, he gives some highlights of the long and miserable history of fuel-saving gadgets here in Australia. Even in just this one country, there have been several stops on this particular railway to nowhere.
It’s not all pills, magnets and crystals, either. There’s also that hardy perennial, the Miracle Engine.
Miracle Engines share with perpetual motion machines - and ordinary everyday automotive technology, come to think of it - the handy quality of being difficult for laypeople to understand. Especially if you make ‘em complicated enough. There are plenty of unusual engine designs that actually do work quite well, after all; those workable engines provide useful cover under which bogus Miracle Engines can sneak up on the consumer. The Miracle Engines often don’t look any less plausible to the average Joe, or even to the experienced mechanic, than a Wankel rotary - but they often don’t work at all, let alone actually have the potential to revolutionise the whole field of automotive blah blah blah.
As with perpetual motion machines, Miracle Engines have been devised that contain every conceivable combination of rotors, pistons, opposed pistons, free pistons, swing pistons, shape-changing combustion chambers, exhaust turbines, planetary gears and a whole Victorian engineering textbook worth of other mechanisms and linkages.
Miracle Engines have the great advantage that, if a misguided-engineer or plain-old-scam-artist goes to the trouble of making a not-quite-working model of one, nobody can easily test his claims and show them to be bollocks. Sellers of magic fuel pills have to make sure people never actually test their products, but Miracle Engine inventors can just keep sucking up “development” money from investors and quite plausibly string said investors along, explaining that there’s still a niggling little problem with the panendermic semi-boloid stator slots, but that’s all that still stands in the way of the 500-horsepower 200-mile-per-gallon automobile you’ve been promised, and it’s nothing another hundred thousand dollars can’t solve!
First in Ryle’s short-list of Aussie fuel-saving ventures is the essentially useless Sarich orbital engine (I was going to edit in some links from one or both of those little Wikipedia articles to the radio-show transcript, but then I detected a certain similarity between the two already, which suggests that such a reference would be circular…). The Orbital company still exists, selling a fuel-injection system that seems to have been the only part of the Sarich engine that actually worked. (Ralph Sarich himself cashed out years ago, but the legend of his engineering genius and the automotive-industry conspiracy that kept the poor man down will never die. Note that the definition of “poor man” here includes “a personal worth of several hundred million dollars”. Almost makes me wish I could invent an engine that doesn’t work.)
And then there was Rick Mayne’s “Split-Cycle Technology”, another miracle engine that amounted to nothing. Mayne had the balls to enlist Great Train Robber Ronnie Biggs to help promote his technology; this sort of grand cheeky gesture seems to be common in the automotive miracle business.
Splitcycle.com.au has been around for more than ten years now; it was promising great things in 1999, then passed to the ownership of someone unimpressed with Rick Mayne who promised a “Re-Emergence of SplitCycle Engine Technology” in 2005. But now the site is sadly reduced, to what appears to be an empty server.
(Is the Michael Papp who wrote that splitcycle.com.au editorial the same Michael Papp who went on to sell “Spark EV” electric vehicles that didn’t, if you want to get all nitpicky and technical about it, exist? Apparently, as of June this year, the Spark EV story was due to “get very interesting in the next month or so”, and the electric cars did too exist, and all the mean kids who made fun of Michael Papp and Spark EV would be so, so sorry. As of September ‘09, spark-ev.com is completely gone.)
A little bit further into Ryle’s tale of woe we encounter “Save The World Air Inc”, which offered a little fuel-saving nasty-emission-eliminating gizmo allegedly invented by Pro Hart, of all people.
Regular readers may remember Save The World Air from this post, in which I started out thinking that a new “electrorheology” fuel-saver idea actually didn’t look like just another textbook scam, since it was plainly presented with all the information necessary for other researchers to attempt to replicate the alleged findings. But then I noticed that the gadget had been licensed to Save The World Air, which dropped it straight back into the “obvious scam” category, if you ask me. And lo, here we are a year later, and electrorheological combustion enhancement ain’t changed the world yet.
Ryle couldn’t do a piece like this without mentioning Aussie racing legend Peter Brock and his religious belief - maintained right up until his 2006 death in a racing accident - in the “Energy Polarizer”. The Polarizer added crystals to magnets, to allegedly achieve the usual wonderful things. (The only measurable effect the Energy Polarizer ever actually had was on Brock’s relationship with Holden.)
Perhaps, one day, all this nonsense will have faded away like patent medicines - but I doubt it’ll happen soon. Even if we’re all driving electric cars that’re charged by too-cheap-to-meter solar or fusion power - or being driven around in autonomous electric cars - there’ll still be carpetbaggers selling magnetic crystals that’re meant to improve motor power.
With any luck, though, the sheer size of the stinking jet of bloody phlegm that sprayed all over Australia when the Firepower boil was finally lanced will at least slightly dampen enthusiasm for the next couple of fuel-pill scams.
In other Firepower-related news which I have shamelessly scraped from Gerard Ryle’s blog, there’s been some pleasing developments in the life of the delectable John Finnin, former Austrade official, former CEO of Firepower, et cetera.
One, the fact that this gentleman’s full name is “John Cornelius Alphonsus Finnin” has become public knowledge.
I actually think eight years, followed by the usual Registered Sex Offender life-ruining, is a bit of a rough sentence for someone who’s only been found guilty of having a consensual relationship with a 15-year-old rent boy. But Finnin played a big, and it seems to me obviously knowing, role in the shovelling of taxpayers’ and naïve investors’ money into his own, and Tim Johnston’s, pockets.
So, you know, screw that guy.
August 12, 2009
The major focus of attention since the collapse of magic-fuel-pill company Firepower, with which I had such fun, has been the scam artist in charge, one Tim Johnston. Tim’s lavish lifestyle was as unsustainable as the rest of the Firepower debacle, so he dragged his carpet-bag full of cash off into the night some time ago.
Now, another Firepower collaborator has bobbed to the surface of the treatment pond. His name is John Finnin.
John Finnin was the guy who gave Austrade grants to Firepower. Then, as is traditional among the parasitic worms who’ve burrowed their way through the vital organs of the world economy for so many years, Finnin became Firepower’s CEO on a $AU500,000-a-year salary, while still greasing the wheels for taxpayers’ money to flow from Austrade to Firepower.
(Well, I think he greased them. It might actually have been some sort of mucus. Lab tests are ongoing.)
Shortly after golden-parachuting into Firepower, though, Finnin was accused of child sex offences, and quit the CEO job.
Given that modern society seems to be pretty sure that inappropriately touching one small boy is a worse crime than burning down a hundred fully-occupied hospitals, I’m not crazy about the publicity that child-sex accusations always attract. If you baselessly accuse someone of having interfered with children, then even if they’re found as Not Guilty as anybody ever has been, the smell of the accusation will follow them around until they die.
But wouldn’t you know it - Finnin’s been found guilty of a total of 23 charges, which include repeatedly molesting a 15-year-old-boy. His lawyer has courageously asserted that there’s an “element of entrapment” to the case, since the boy concerned was - he says - perfectly happy with prostituting himself. That’s not what entrapment means, of course, but I’m sure the court will give this argument all the consideration it deserves.
This prosecution all kicked off after some different child-sex claims, which were allegedly what caused Austrade to allow Finnin to “resign quietly and return home”, and thereby stop - again, allegedly - using Australian embassy privileges to help him participate in an international child-sex ring. Austrade are adamant that they didn’t actually tip Finnin off about the investigation, and that their previous internal investigation of Finnin’s activities did not in fact involve a “child sex ring”. Austrade just allowed Finnin to give lots of public money to a man with a previous career of fuel-pill scams who then hired him as CEO of his new fuel-pill scam. So that’s all right, then.
There’d been a bit of a lull in Firepower-related news before this delectable little detail came along. Gerard Ryle, the Sydney Morning Herald journalist most likely to be depicted on Tim Johnston’s dartboard, published an unassumingly-titled…
It’s possible that, a mere year and a bit after Tim Johnston skipped the country, the Australian Securities and Investments Commission will actually, finally, file criminal charges against Johnston. Don’t hold your breath, though; it’s got to take a while to figure out how to bust Johnston without bothering the various governmental worthies who were so proud to be associated with him a couple of years ago.
(There’s been a civil case against whatever-remains-of-Firepower crawling along for more than a year now. ASIC has also awarded an eight-year ban to one of the several financial planners who told their clients Firepower shares were a great investment, when the shares weren’t actually even legal to sell. The investors who ended up holding Firepower’s toilet-paper shares continue, hopelessly, to try to get their money back.)
You can expect official regulatory bodies to take this long to dot all the i’s and cross all the t’s, and taking a while to do so certainly doesn’t mean such bodies are useless. But it does serve as a reminder that you shouldn’t expect the government to prevent rip-offs from being perpetrated, even large-scale and immensely audacious ones. Indeed, the bigger a scam is, the more likely it is to have some government officials actively helping it, either knowingly - as, I presume, was the case with Finnin - or as gullible marks - which I suppose the fresh-faced Stephen Moss might have been. (I bet Stephen’s dad knew what was going on, though; Stephen claims he ended up being owed money by the vanished Mr Johnston, but his father cleared a 1.6-million-dollar profit when he sold the soon-to-be-bankrupt Sydney Kings to Firepower.)
The State government here in New South Wales has also recently banned four more bogus fuel-saving devices, not including the previously-mentioned Moletech thingy which is I think still technically legal to sell in NSW.
Among the now-banned gadgets are the “FuelMAX” and “Super FuelMAX”, which are magnet devices, banned by the US FTC in 2005, but still apparently on sale from some Australian dealers. Then there’s the “Magnoflow”, another magnet, which the manufacturers say breaks down “fuel clusters” to allow more complete combustion, for a claimed “20% or more” mileage improvement. Which is of course BS, because modern engines burn 98% or more of their fuel already. The Magnoflow people seem to have given up on Australia, which is a terrible shame, since this gadget’s US list price appears to be $US159 or more, but it was only $AU129 here in Australia.
Also now-banned-in-NSW is the “Prozone Fuelsaver” - which allegedly gives lucky buyers a magnet and a “catalyst“! (Astonishingly enough, the Prozone Fuelsaver never seems to have been tested by the catalyst enthusiasts at “California Environmental Engineering“.)
Four down; only several dozen more to go.
In Australia alone.