I love stories about gullible people duped by magic tricks. It makes me feel proud to be a skeptic.

A Florida newspaper is running a series about Madison Priest, a good ol’ boy who got millions of dollars from people who should have known better. He promised he was developing a box that could convert plain copper phone lines into high-speed pipelines for data and video, four times faster than the most advanced fiber-optic cables. “It was a magic box that would shock communications like the television had, transform technology like personal computers had, redefine entertainment like Nintendo had. It was a magic box he built from $100 worth of spare parts.”

He put on elaborate demonstrations and got money – lots of money! – and support from partners like Blockbuster, Intel, General Dynamics, US West, former U.S. Sen. Paula Hawkins, the son of Atlanta media czar Ted Turner, and many more.

Priest demonstrated instantaneous transmission of a streaming, full-screen movie from one computer to another, with only a phone cord connecting the two computers – no other wires except the power cords, plugged into a power strip. He put on demonstrations of two computers on either side of a river, no visible connection except the modem line, but spewing high-speed data at each other.

Now it’s unraveling. Hidden inside the power cords for the two “unconnected” computers – coax cable, same as the cable that brings movies and Internet to your house. Coiled up on the dock where the demonstrations were put on – enough coax cable to stretch across the river, safely hidden in the water. In other words, it was just magic tricks.

If you like this sort of thing, there’s lots of sources for more entertainment. Try An Encyclopedia of Claims, Frauds, and Hoaxes of the Occult and Supernatural or Flim-Flam! Psychics, ESP, Unicorns, and Other Delusions, both by James Randi. Also recommended: Science: Good, Bad and Bogus, by Martin Gardner.