All posts filed under “Business

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Hazards in pushing the envelope

Pushing the envelope can be a very dangerous business. This is even more true in the aerospace industry.

There is a company in California that I have always admired: Scaled Composites. Burt Rutan and his team have built some of the most interesting aircraft ever. (My favorite being the Boomerang.)

Their most high profile project to date was SpaceShipOne, which won the Ansari X Prize. Scaled made two flights in excess of 100km above the earth (past the edge of space) within two weeks using the same vehicle. It was an amazing feat, and Virgin partnered with them soon after to license the technology and build a space tourism business with Virgin Galactic.

Unfortunately, last summer during rocket motor testing in the development of SpaceShipTwo, an explosion occurred. Three Scaled employees died, and more were seriously hurt in the explosion, including a good friend of mine from University.

Scaled recently posted an update on the accident investigation [PDF] which was quite revealing:

After doing our best to take care of the families and each other, the first order of business was to work with Cal OSHA in its investigation of the accident. Cal OSHA took through the end of January this year to complete its investigation. The agency did not determine a cause for the accident. We are continuing to work with Cal OSHA. In doing so, we hope to support Scaled’s needs as well as the ongoing efforts of others in this developing industry.

You are truly working on the edge of the envelope when such an event occurs and months later no one knows the reason why it happened. Scaled was working with Nitrous Oxide, which is probably one of the safest substances you could use and still turn it into a rocket motor. I’m amazed that the cause wasn’t determined, and hope that the many actions Scaled has taken to prevent future accidents will prove effective.

As I wrote above, pushing the edges of the envelope can be a very hazardous business; unfortunately it’s the only way to truly grow.

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Heading to Cambridge to get my MBA

JBSlogo.jpgI’m very happy to announce that I’m off to Cambridge to get my MBA, starting in just a few short weeks. And not Cambridge, Massachusetts; I’m off to the original Cambridge, in the UK.

As a bit of background, the University of Cambridge is the second-oldest English speaking university in the world, having been founded shortly after Oxford in 1209. (Which means that next year is it’s 800th anniversary… wow!)

In October I will start the one-year Cambridge MBA programme. Clearly, fitting an MBA curriculum into just one year, with two consulting projects and an individual project means that I’m going to be really busy in the coming year. But from everything I’ve seen and everyone I’ve met there it’s going to be an invigorating experience.

I’m going back to school for a number of reasons, which I will explain in further posts. But when I chose a school, I wanted to stay in the UK, and I wanted to go to a school that would provide me the tools and connections to get me where I want to go in my career. Though it was only founded in the last 20 years or so, the Judge Business School already has a skyrocketing reputation. It’s ranked 10th in the world according to the Financial Times, though MBA rankings are of course highly subjective. Not only that, but it’s reputation in science and technology is unparalleled anywhere. (81 Nobel Prize winners, concentrated in Physics, Medicine and Chemistry) And who can forget Sir Isaac Newton, Charles Darwin, Keynes, Alan Turing, and Hugh Laurie? (Well, maybe Hugh doesn’t quite fit in with the others…) I plan on getting back in touch with my engineering/tech roots as I prepare for my post-MBA career.

Each Cambridge student is also a member of one of Cambridge’s 31 colleges; I’ll be associated with Jesus College which was founded in 1496. The majority of sports happen on the college level, and I plan to continue my rowing with the Jesus College Boat Club, which has historical links back to Thames Rowing Club.

For anyone that’s interested, I plan on blogging about my MBA experience as much as I can in the coming year. If you’re interested in these posts specifically, I’ll be setting up a separate “feed”, which you can also subscribe to via e-mail.

It’s going to be an exciting twelve months!

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Creation versus Consumption

I’ve been thinking a lot recently about this topic: Creation versus Consumption.

It’s been on my mind recently as I’ve gotten back from a fairly long holiday to Beijing and the Olympics. Particularly as I looked at the VERY large number of unread items in my RSS Reader. I could certainly knuckle down and catch up with all of those articles, and my e-mail inbox, and everything else, but where would that leave me? A week or two of pure Consumption (in this case news and information) would leave me satiated and “caught up” but with little to show for it.

Creation is the harder part to focus on. This may be a bit of the nature of my job as a consultant and my current projects. Back when I was Project Manager of the University of Michigan Solar Car Team, Creation meant actually designing and building things, which was fun and very rewarding. Standing in front of a mill and machining steel and titanium blocks into suspension parts, taking sheets of carbon fiber and honeycomb and creating the chassis and body of our car, et cetera. As a consultant so much of my job is about analysis, communicating and coordinating; while it’s very valuable to the client it’s a different sense of Creation than physically building something. (Of course, it might be different if I was working for clients that actually were creating something tangible themselves.)

Creation is Hard Work! Consumption is usually fun and interesting. But while Consumption can get to about 5 on the interesting scale, Creation goes all the way up to 11. While the day-to-day of Creation stays around 2-4, there is an unlimited potential for satisfaction when creating something new.


I really enjoy creating. And what’s more, the excitement builds on itself. With each thing I build or project I complete, I get more excited (and have more knowledge) when it comes to building the next new thing. This is what really draws me to become an entrepreneur.

But on a day-to-day, minute-to-minute basis, it’s been difficult to break the Consumption habits that have been the focus of my last couple of years. My free time each day comes in small bursts, so it’s much easier to Consume than Create on that kind of schedule.

Soon that’s going to change, and I’ll have a lot more freedom about how I arrange my days, and this is going to be something I will be focusing on more often.

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Day and a half left…

So the countdown to our departure to Beijing is getting very short. Tomorrow we do the online checking and pray for decent seats, and finish the day by packing. (I’ve made our list, but haven’t packed a thing yet.) That should be straightforward, though. It’s damn hot, and we aren’t doing anything fancy, so mainly t-shirts, shorts and sandals.

But before we go, here are a couple of cool links/stories I wanted to pass on:

  • Checklists for Doctors (from the New Yorker): A simple four-step checklist managed to reduce infection rates in intensive care units by 66%! In eighteen months, the group of hospitals saved 1500 lives and $175million.

    No matter how good someone thinks they are, and how much study they’ve done of complex procedures, checklists are absolutely necessary. After three years running a nuclear reactor, I can say this with certainty. While we were trained to be able to do everything without instructions, we failed any procedure where we didn’t use them.

    I really hope this is something that actually catches on in the medical community. It’s long overdue

  • Looking for a quick laugh? I keep forgetting to check McSweeney’s. This feature is great: “Corrections to last month’s letters to Penthouse Forum.” (via kottke)
  • If you like politics, and don’t mind a little math, you have to check out Developed by Nate Silver, who’s a pioneer in sabermetrics (aka baseball statistics), it’s a really deep look into the state of the Presidential and Senate races for this election. Very light punditry, very heavy math.

And to end this post, photos of Elise and Sarah’s bronze in Athens 2004, as well as Elise and Anna’s World Cup gold in June of this year.