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— Back in 1999, when he was still a grad student, Pompei went on Internet investor chat rooms to refute American Technology's scientific claims. It was hilarious colloquy. Pompei would cite scientific references and use technical jargon. Day traders would denounce him in ungrammatical bursts laced with four-letter words. Finally, the then-chief executive of American Technology answered Pompei with a letter that quoted Galileo, Einstein, and Stravinsky but didn't address the heart of the question.

American Technology has problems of different kinds. One is keeping straight books. Last year, the company confessed that it had "material weakness" in its financial controls. Last year, the outside accounting firm resigned in June, the president and chief operating officer left in October, and the chief financial officer departed in December, but the company still admits that there could be misstatements in its financial reports.

The company has manufacturing woes. In its most recent quarterly report, it set aside funds for potential warranty claims on a hypersonic product "as a result of discovering possible deficiencies in the manufacturing process." The company suffered similar problems in 2003.

The last two years, American Technology has spent the equivalent of half its sales on research and development. The average for high-tech industries is 8 to 12 percent of sales. No company can make a profit spending half its sales on research.

In previous years, Norris has been a board member and officer of two other San Diego companies: e.Digital and Patriot Scientific. The former has lost money every year for the past decade. But the stock ran up to $24.50 in 2000 while top executives were dumping it. It's now below 10 cents. Patriot Scientific also has a ten-year run of losses.

Norris is involved in a fourth public company, Las Vegas-based AirsScooter. It says it is developing a personal helicopter that doesn't require a license and that one can learn to fly in half an hour. Its stock can be purchased, but it doesn't report results publicly. You just have to take Woody's word.

Norris and the spokesman for American Technology did not return my calls requesting comment.

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