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If Paris Hilton Can Have an Energy Policy, Why Can't I? (Read on to win a million dollars)

(Posted by guest blogger Steve Hendrix) This is a serious (Friday) question: Why can't we use Happy Drinking Birds to solve our energy needs for centuries to come?

You know the Happy Drinking Bird (see one here). Some call it a dippy bird, that glass tube thingee filled with red liquid, a feather glued to its tail and, inexplicably, a top hat glued to its head. It sits on a plastic stand and when put it next to a glass of water, the creature pivots forward, dipping its beak in the water then righting itself. It does this...forever. As long as you top off the glass of water every few days the thing never stops.

If perpetual motion is the holy grails of energy generation, why haven't we seized on the Happy Drinking Bird? It is, after all, based on actual physics. I won't confuse you with a lot of technical talk I'd have to make up anyway. But it works like this: As long as the head stays wet, it's evaporating, which cools down the head bulb, which lowers the pressure in the head bulb, which draws fluid up from the tail bulb, which causes the whole thing to tip over into the water. When it tips, the pressure equalizes, the liquid falls back down and the bird pops upright...its beak newly soaked in water, which begins to evaporate, etc, etc, etc.

The one on my kitchen counter has been going non-stop for a month, constant motion with no other input than a few ounces of water. This is more powerful than plutonium (as evidenced by unconfirmed reports that Iranian agents have been trying to purchase industrial quantities of plastic top hats and googly eyes from mainland China).

Honestly, if Joel Achenbach is reading, maybe he can tell us why these basic principles wouldn't work on a massive scale, with heavily geared Happy Drinking Birds large enough to move a turbine and gen up some juice. I supposed the industrial designers will want to create aerodynamic versions of the technology, the way they've done with modern windmills. But I prefer the idea of actual 100-foot tall Happy Drinking Birds, top hats and all, lining the horizon, dipping and bowing against the sunset. I foresee huge Happy Drinking Bird farms dotting the Texas plains, lining the Great Lakes, sipping away and freeing us from foreign oil.

I'm so serious about this that I hereby announce the Raw Fisher Prize, a standing $1 million* bounty that this blog will pay to the first university team that constructs a working Happy Bird Generator capable of powering one electric blender long enough to produce one reasonably palatable margarita.

Gentlemen, start your Happy Drinking Birds!

*pending the consent of the vacationing Marc Fisher, who did not approve this message.

By Steve Hendrix |  August 7, 2008; 6:21 PM ET
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Is it possible to get a photo or perhaps a video? I am unfamiliar with this kitsch, I mean, technology.

Posted by: pgpinmd | August 8, 2008 10:01 AM

Well, this plus inflating our tires should about do it!

Posted by: Eureka! | August 8, 2008 11:47 AM


Can you picture the space aliens going home to tell their friends about life here on Earth?

Posted by: SoMD | August 8, 2008 12:08 PM

Don't worry about the tires.

Buy a few carbon offsets like Al Gore and the pollution you are generating all goes away, right? Or are carbon offsets a rich mans way to make other people stop polluting that enables the rich man to continue? Is that the inconvenient truth that Al didn't want us to know?

Posted by: DC Voter | August 8, 2008 12:12 PM

Everyone knows that you ALWAYS wear a top hat with feathers.

Posted by: reader12 | August 8, 2008 2:46 PM

pginmd: check out the wikipedia page at

Bad at Science: The bird is a heat engine, taking advantage of a temperature differential between bulb and butt to convert ambient heat to kinetic energy. 2nd law of thermodynamics reminds us that maintaining temperature differential requires more energy than you can get out of that differential.

But on a small scale you can get some energy out of the thing. There's an article summarized and referenced in the wikipedia article that measures the likely electrical power generation from a small drinking bird @ 1 microwatt. The current U.S. generating capacity is 1 million megawatts. So you'd need roughly 1 quintillion drinking birds to replace our electricity needs. That's about 100 for every square inch in the U.S.

Posted by: Gary | August 8, 2008 4:03 PM

As far as the blender prize goes - a 500 watt blender would take 500 million drinking birds - even at a discounted retail price of $5 each, that $1 million bounty isn't going to give much incentive.

Posted by: Gary | August 8, 2008 4:09 PM

Homer Simpson used one to do his work, with disastrous results!

Posted by: johng | August 10, 2008 4:19 PM

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