Dan's Data letters #200Publication date: 20-Jul-2008.
Last modified 03-Jul-2012.
A family friend came back from a convention about a small business opportunity regarding a way for companies and families to save 25 per cent on their electric bill with some piece of technology.
While I like the guy, I don't think this can possibly be legit. The adage of "if something sounds too good to be true, it probably is" kept ringing in my head as he talked about all this.
In brief, small plug-in power factor correctors just can't do much of anything (the very idea is ludicrous), and domestic users aren't billed by power factor anyway (traditional spinning-disc electricity meters can't even measure it).
So there is no reason for a domestic user to install a corrector, even one of the big heavy expensive breaker-box ones that actually, you know, works.
There's a plague of these things at the moment; dozens are on the market. None work. I'm sure many people who've bought one think that it works, for much the same reason why people who buy worthless "mileage booster" potions and talismans for their cars think those work, too.
Speaking of which...
A previously excellent NZ company has just announced it is selling Pulstar spark plugs.
Flashcards.co.nz, with whom I have dealt with complete satisfaction, announce the product thus:
In this age of skyrocketing fuel prices (up another 6c/L today), we have been searching for ways to help consumers save money at the pump. Of all the products and initiatives that came across our desks, one stood out far above the rest as a genuine product that was ready NOW to bring to consumers. That product is the Pulstar pulse plug. We have tested them in house and we have found them to work as advertised to recognisably increase the overall performance of vehicle engines.
The pulse plug is a totally engine safe spark plug replacement that has PROVEN (in U.S. EPA Tests) to increase fuel economy, torque and horsepower. Sound too good to be true? We assure you it is not. In fact, exhaustive testing has shown fuel economy improvements of between 2% and 13% depending on vehicle and engine type. For some hard numbers see the manufacturers test results page here: http://www.pulstarplug.com/testresults.html Your overall driving experience will also be improved with a smoother running, more powerful engine with fewer mis-fires.
They don't actually claim the usual "more complete combustion", which you have so successfully debunked, but I can't think of any other way it could produce this effect. I must say I haven't been noticing many misfires up to now in my quaint little Toyota Spacio.
On the site, they link to a description of a testing procedure which is designed to look kosher, but I see it's one they carried out themselves. I assume that they may just have cherry-picked the most favourable of a series of runs, assuming they aren't simply lying.
I won't buy them anyway, because I don't do enough distance to make it worthwhile ("remember, Pulstars are an investment" they say ominously in the test .PDF), but I hope you'll enjoy investigating.
I wrote a bit about the Pulstar plugs a while ago.
I see no reason to suppose that they do anything in particular, or indeed that a device which did what they promise to do would in fact be desirable.
The tests they now allege they've performed are, at least, properly controlled rolling-road tests. There are a couple of magazine tests among the press releases on their news page, too. But, as you say, we have to take their word for it that their own tests - which seem to give better results than any of the independent ones - were actually performed and gave the stated results. When they say they've been "PROVEN (in U.S. EPA Tests)", what they mean is that they, apparently, ran a standard EPA test on the plugs, and got great results. I don't believe that the EPA themselves have ever laid eyes on a Pulstar.
No reputable third party, as far as I know, has ever replicated Pulstar's own very impressive results.
Once again, if the claims are true then they've created a product that could be making them hundreds of billions of dollars a year... and yet they only seem to sell plugs directly to end users, rather than take over the entire spark-plug industry.
Plenty of people who aren't working for Pulstar (...or keen to get Pulstar to advertise in their magazine...) actually have now taken it upon themselves to dyno-test cars equipped with Pulstar plugs, though:
(Result: A small power and torque improvement, but only compared with old normal plugs.)
(Result: No improvement.)
(Result: No horsepower or torque change. Some minor technical differences, though, which might indicate that the plugs do something, but which could also be experimental error.)
(Result: Slightly more torque, slightly less horsepower. And a lot of radio interference.)
(Result: No improvement.)
(Result: A tiny improvement over slightly-used conventional plugs. Then the Pulstars fell apart in a very annoying way when the tester tried to remove them. This tester would appear to not be of the opinion that Pulstar plugs are "an investment".)
(A big test of several special expensive spark plugs, including the Pulstars. Result: The Pulstars actually did give more peak AND average horsepower than the best conventional plug! The margin, though, was a whole 0.21 and 0.13 per cent, respectively.)
You should be very careful about any car tweak that claims improvements down in the single-digit horsepower or pound-feet range. I strongly doubt most dynamometers actually have hundredth-of-a-horsepower accuracy, which was needed to get the results in that last test. I think dynos with only eight-bit A/D resolution are still pretty easy to find. And, as that article also points out, it's also not hard to find tweak shops that have dynos that're (deliberately or accidentally) set up to sell product, not give accurate results.
UPDATE: In the Four Corners show about Firepower, a professional engine tester said that the accuracy of their top-of-the-line dyno test rig is about plus or minus 1.5%. He's tested miracle-cure fuel treatments that showed a sub-1.5% improvement - but when it's smaller than the margin of accuracy of the test rig, an effect may be entirely illusory. You could test the exact same car again without changing anything at all and get a "difference" just as large.
Even if some gadget or fuel additive does give you 0.5% more power or fuel economy, of course, there's little reason to bother with it.
If you drive 15,000 kilometres in a year, a 0.5% fuel saving will give you a grand total of 75 "free" kilometres.
I saw an banner ad for making easy cash. The link took me to dataentrymadeeasy.com, which was spruiking sites like dataentrybusiness.com.
The sites were claiming that one could make easy cash by filling out Pay Per Click forms...
...for like $30 a form.
Surely this is a scam.
You have to pony up $50-$100 to "join" these ventures. Perhaps they are ripping off your credit card? I dunno - it sounds so suspicious. Do you know what the deal is with these guys?
I thought I'd ask since you seem to be pretty good at exposing scams and the like on your site.
As you suspect, this is, indeed, a rip-off.
I think the way most of these companies make money is by the very advanced strategy of taking the signup money and then... keeping it.
There may or may not even be any actual data entry for applicants to do (or "unclaimed judicial judgements" for them to collect, or envelopes for them to stuff, or whatever the heck the particular scam is - see this page about "Work at Home scams" for a few more).
The kind of data entry "job" in which you're asked to place zillions of online ads via Google AdWords or something is a peculiar little mutant. I'm not entirely sure how it works, but at least some of these arrangements are plain old pyramid schemes.
The idea is, you set up a site which invites people to pay $50 to join your incredible money-making program.
When they join, the instruction package they've "bought" for their fifty bucks tells them that you'll pay them to make ads which direct more people to your money-making site.
Now, if more and more people come to your site and pay $50, that'll give you enough money to pay the previous "employees", and the business will keep on trucking very nicely.
But this is at heart just a Ponzi scheme, which does not actually generate any money of its own. The only place the money comes from is new people joining, who all have to be paid, and sooner or later you run out of new hires. And then the recent joiners (at the very least) get screwed.
It's possible for this sort of scheme to be fleshed out into a real business, where the signup fee actually buys you something of value. But the overwhelming majority of such schemes were and are pure rip-offs. This is why Google no longer accepts ads for "data entry affiliate programs". They're one of many dodgy products that Google don't want in the AdSense system. They do a pretty good job of keeping them out, and will terminate the account of anyone who manages to sneak such ads by them.
If someone sets up such a program, but gets their (probably unpaid) employees to create ads which all point to some site(s) other than the one that's selling those same data entry "jobs", I presume they could still get away with it.
But that doesn't make it a good idea to sign up. There's just not that much real money to be made by making yet more Google ads connected to every keyword under the sun. Even if you want to advertise a legitimate business, a couple of dozen Google ads will probably work 90% as well as 20,000 ads.
You could still make a real business out of it if your ad-typers are workers in Bangladesh who're happy to be paid two bucks a day. But there's no way this "$300 an hour" stuff can be real.
So how do you, the aspiring scam artist, make money out of this idea anyway?
You get your workers to pay a fee for the privilege of working for you!
(And then you either give them no work to do, or let them work, but don't pay them.)
As a general rule of thumb, any "job" that requires you to pay money to start doing it is likely to be a scam. There are thousands of permutations of these "pay to play" scams; sometimes the signup fee is supposed to buy you "educational materials" and/or the first box of stuff you're meant to be selling in a multi-level marketing scheme. Or perhaps you're allegedly paying to get the local "franchise" for whatever this amazing mystery shopper opportunity, or whatever, happens to be.
Real data entry jobs generally involve entering information from handwritten forms into computers. The classic example is "medical transcription", where people are paid to turn illegible doctor scrawls into nice clean database records. Those kinds of jobs certainly can be farmed out to zillions of work-at-home employees, including the stay-at-home mothers, not too savvy about the way the Internet works, who're the classic victims of work-at-home scams.
I'm sure there are some legitimate jobs of this type available. But a large portion of the transcription market has been outsourced to places like India these days. It's cheaper that way, even if it means you have to ship crates of documents internationally.
Of course, nothing's cheaper than an employee you do not pay!
While strolling through the BBC's content I came across this article on a hydrogen generation station you too could own in the comfort of your own garage.
A follow-up video article suggests the company, ITM Power, has come up with a new ruthenium-based catalytic polymer which apparently uses UV to enhance electrolysis, enabling you to make enough gas to power a 25 mile road trip overnight.
A few back-of-a-beermat chemistry Faraday's Law calculations suggested that if I used the maximum current available in the UK via a mains socket (13A) for eight hours continuously I'd make a whopping 3.9g of hydrogen gas.
I searched for some data on miles per gram for hydrogen cars, and the BMW that trotted round the news a few years back is quoting 3.6 kg for 100km. According to my finger wiggling, 3.9g would therefore take you perhaps down to the local shop and back if you were very lucky.
Wondering, perhaps things have moved on since the BMW was knocked together (although a tad doubtful that a 1000 fold improvement is charging over the horizon), I found this LLNL page, which doesn't do much to add credit to ITM's claims.
Amusingly, the enthalpy of combustion of hydrogen (max energy available in ideal-chemistry-world after the bang) is 286kJ/mol, or in more useful units 143kJ/g. I can't put my finger on a figure of energy consumption per mile, but I find it amusing that about 557kJ would take you 25 miles. Unless that's a mind-buggeringly (thanks, the late and sadly missed D. Adams) tall cliff you've just fallen off.
This all leads me to the conclusion that ITM may well be, to use the scientific terminology, full of shite.
I've no idea whether there's actually anything special about the ITM hydrogen generator - and the example house with electricity being turned into hydrogen and then used to do various household tasks that could be done just as well by the electricity in the first place kind of makes my head hurt. I suppose they're showing how hydrogen could be used like a battery bank in a solar-powered house, or something.
(I also haven't watched the video, because it wouldn't start loading for me so I couldn't even download a FLV file.)
That aside, I don't think it's at all physically ridiculous for a fairly high-powered electrolyser to give you a useful-in-a-car amount of hydrogen from a night of operation.
Let's presume the electrolyser consumes a thousand watts; eight hours of run time will give 8000 watt-hours, enough for half an hour of 20-horsepower driving in lossless Physics Experiment Land, and probably quite enough for a 25-mile trip even when the losses at all of the stages are taken into account (though not, as is mentioned at the end of the article, if you power an internal-combustion engine with your hydrogen - it's got to be a fuel-cell car, or efficiency takes a big hit).
Even if electricity costs 20 pence per kilowatt-hour, that's still only one pound sixty for your 25 miles. The numbers don't look stupid.
The devil is, of course, in the details. If every house in the land starts drawing another thousand non-stop watts every night, if fuel cells don't come down a LOT in price, if the electrolyser turns out to only have a two-year lifespan, et cetera et cetera. It does seem like a rather overcomplicated alternative to just using electric cars in the first place.