All posts filed under “Entrepreneurial

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Privately-launched rockets = cool

In my last post lamenting the state of government activity in the space program, I mentioned SpaceX. Little did I know that shortly after I wrote that post, SpaceX made the first successful launch into orbit by a privately-funded company. WOW!

This is a landmark achievement, and I look forward to seeing more successes from them as they rollout increasingly bigger launch vehicles. (aka, Big-F’in Rockets) If they meet expectations, they will dramatically decrease the cost of launching satellites into space, which is a very good thing. (Dramatically = ~10-25% of current costs!)

Watch history in the making below. (My favorite part is hearing the employees in the background go nuts.)

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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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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.

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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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True Knowledge – Free invites to a different kind of search

I’ve been reading about True Knowledge for quite a while now. True Knowledge is a Cambridge (UK) based company that’s building a new search engine, but based on completely different techniques than Google. With their system, you literally type a question into the search box to get your answer. (There’s more behind the scenes, but this is the most obvious change.) I signed up on their list for a beta invite and got one a while back. I recently received 60 additional beta invites to pass along to others.

Why post this now? Well, True Knowledge just got a whole bunch more venture capital funding, so they are at least impressing their advisors. And when I’ve tried it their technology has impressed me, too. While right now it’s fairly specialised, as they scale up their back-end databases this should most certainly change.

You can read press about them here and here.

You if you’d like an invite, please just leave a comment below or get in touch with me directly.