No Time to Post, All the Time in the World

Okay, here’s something you won’t see in Newsweek. Or Slate. Or on Fox. Or Huffington Post. How it’s escaped the notice of io9, I have no idea. BoingBoing noted it in February, and I mentioned it shortly afterwards. Now it’s getting real.

What is it?

Nothing less than a group of crazy Danes shooting off a rocket capable of sending a human on a suborbital joyride, a la SpaceShip one.

Here’s the kicker: they are all amateurs, they all did this on their own time, and they did it for less than $100,000.

And they’re towing it out to launch on a hand-built pontoon gantry with the submarine they also built themselves.

Read that again: they’re launching a (potentially) manned suborbital spacecraft they built themselves from a floating gantry they built themselves, towed by a submarine they built themselves.

This, my friends, is human spirit.

This is what we’re so close to talking ourselves out of, forever, with every bit of pessimism we wallow in. Look at this, and think, What could we accomplish if everyone thought the way these guys do?

Here’s a link to their site.

Here’s a link to a thread with more photos, with information on the Open Space Movement, which is actively supporting Copenhagen Suborbitals.

If you can’t make your own spaceship, maybe you can help them out with a donation. I did.

August 22nd, 2010 / 1,553 Comments »

Ennui and Dark Nights

This is one of those days after an insane week, with a few glasses of wine and some introspection. So if you’re not interested in the blathering of an overworked writer/creative-type/engineer, push off now. You won’t find any interest in what I’m about to post.

But this is one of those days when I ask, “Why the hell do you do this?” Deep in the middle of a book (50k words in), deep in the middle of multiple client projects, deep in the middle of production issues that remind me why I got out of manufacturing in the first place, I have to ask: Why work so damn hard?

The top-level answer is simple: if you are not a trust-fund baby, or have the incredible good fortune to be early into a company with excellent stock options and liberal divestiture requirements that just happens to be successful and go public, this is how you become successful: through many, many years of hard work. Insanely hard work. You laugh at your friends when they complain they have to work a 10-hour day for the same salary, you laugh at people who carp and bitch about having their pension moved back from 50 to 55, you laugh at people who say they work hard, when they have the luxury to call you in the middle of the day and talk for an hour. And that’s all totally cool, that’s their choice, and that’s what they signed up for. I have signed myself up to far to0 many things, and now I’m paying the price.

And that is cool, too, in the long term. But now is not the long term. Now is when everything is so finely balanced that the smallest change in the schedule cascades through everything else, and jeopardizes every deadline. Now is when “time off to relax” means working on the house. Now is when the long days transform into long nights, and long weeks, until you can’t see the end.

So I sit and wonder: What can I let go of?

Writing? No. Much to the chagrin of the people who don’t like my stuff, I’m a compulsive writer. I have to write. If you read it, that’s great. If you love it, that’s even better. But even without an audience, I have to put words on the screen.

Marketing? No, that pays the bills. And it’s a lot of fun being a creative. I’d lie if I said I didn’t love it. And yes, perhaps that makes me a crass lapdog of the commercial interests, but it also makes me the willing lapdog of some very cool clients which include Albert’s Organics and The Garlic Company. I’m loving food. The lack of bullshit and politics and posturing is refreshing, and we’re doing some of our best work for food clients these days. Perhaps some day we’ll pick up some more tech accounts, which are a lot of fun on a totally different level. But both share the same lack of believing our own bullshit which is the hallmark of big corporate and entertainment. Good riddance to them; let someone else dance to your tune.

Engineering? No. Again. I love to make things. And the tiny company I started shows every signs of becoming larger. Not large. But larger. Hell, Wired and CrunchGear and Gizmodo picked us up. Thankfully, I have people to help with that one, or it would eat my life. Such that it is.

So, am I complaining? No. More than anything, this is probably an internal monologue, set to the rhythm of a blog. It’s me, reminding myself why I do things. Why I’m overworked. Why my life is a little crazy.

And there you go. If that helps you get where you’re going, so much the better. If not, tune out for a while, and I’ll have some more thoughts on writing, being positive, or other relevant stuff . . . in a while.

Until then, keep writing . . . and keep working hard. It will take you places. It is worth it.

Or at least I keep telling myself.

August 20th, 2010 / 1,770 Comments »


Hey all, you may have notice the lack of content here. The reasons are simple: first, I’m working on a new Project That Shall Not Be Named, AKA a new book. That’s eating up insane amounts of time. I should surface sometime in September from the first draft phase.

In the meantime, I have a couple of new stories I’m shopping, so you may see something on that front sooner than later.

The other reasons are simply more functional. I just launched another company, and I’m also busy taking care of business at the company I started 16 years ago. Call me an evil capitalist. Blame me for the destruction of all that is True and Right and Good. But hey, I like to make things.

I wish I had more time to write. Maybe someday . . .

August 7th, 2010 / 1,480 Comments »

Google and California: Two Ad Futures

In which I propose a new maxim: What is good for Google is not automatically good for the state.

In the right hands, advertising can change the world. Look at Google. A lot of us forget Google’s grand empire is built entirely on advertising. Those sponsored links, and text ads you see in blogs have brought in billions of dollars. Now, Google has expanded out into display ads, rich media ads, mobile ads, and even television ads (did you know you can buy a television ad campaign on Google?

And what has Google done with this revenue? Largely great stuff. Huge categories of stuff that we would consider costly a decade or so ago are now free. Office software. Unlimited phone number and voicemail. Mapping and turn-by-turn navigation. Mobile phone (and tablet) operating systems. Hell, Android is less than free. Manufacturers using it on their devices get to participate in Google’s ad revenue stream.

Yes, you read that right. Instead of paying a hefty Windows license, Google is paying manufacturers to use Android.

All from ads.

Now, of course, there’s always the chance that Google will turn truly evil in the future, turn into Skynet or something, and make us all live in slavery forever, for whatever twisted reason, but for the moment, the equation holds: Google + Ads = Good Free Stuff for People.

On the other hand, we have broke California. Eying Google’s success with ads (and perhaps taking a look at my tongue-in-cheek Outshine Twitter about advertising on paper money), they’ve come up with a brilliant idea: replace all the license plates in California with electronic license plates that can display ads.

And yes, you read that right. Electronic license plates that display ads.

“Well, hell, that’s gonna be distracting!” someone immediately says. “Going down the freeway and seeing a thousand blinking, screaming ads all flashing at you? How will that work?”

“No problem,” California confidently says. “They’ll only display when the car hasn’t moved for more than four seconds. And with the ability to buy ads at your friendly, helpful DMV, we’re sure to have customers lining up.”

Okay, let’s try some harder questions. Like: “What happens when the inevitable 14-year-old hacks the system and puts pictures of dicks on every license plate? Or worse?”

“Notgonnahappen,” California says. “We’ve designed the system with a bazillion gigabit security system, not hackable for . . . oh wait, it’s been hacked. Erghh, look at that.

Yeah, that’s what we thought. Or how about this: “Hey California buttheads, my car battery’s dead from your friggin ads. Pay up!”

“Well, of course there will be a failsafe system rendering this impossible, designed by NASA scientists . . . oh wait, you mean the real world is different than a lab?” California says. “You mean some people have cars they don’t drive for days at a time? Ah, wait . . .”

Or, the biggest question of all: “If you’re advertising on my car, where’s my cut? When I choose to let Google put ads on my blog, I get money.”

And that’s the point that California missed. Google works because it’s voluntary, and because there’s an incentive to use it. Ads on license plates . . . uh, not so much.

June 26th, 2010 / 1,403 Comments »

What’s Your “Why?”

Have you ever heard of Samuel Pierpont Langley?

At the turn of the century, when the quest for a “flying machine” was running like the first dot-com revolution, he was the person most favored to develop the airplane. He had boatloads of money from the US government, had a seat at Harvard and worked at the Smithsonian, hired the best people money could find, and everyone was rooting for him.

But, in the end, he lost to Orville and Wilbur Wright. Two guys with no college education, who funded their dream from the proceeds from their bicycle shop.

The TED talk above makes the case that this is because the Wright brothers were pursuing a central idea, a why, where Langley was pursuing, well, the cash.

It’s well-worth watching the TED talk, even if business isn’t your thing, and even if the Apple example at the fore might not be your cup of tea. This is about finding your why, and includes examples that include Martin Luther King.

So, what’s my why? Well, there are a ton of micro-whys. Why do I write? Why do I run my current business? Why do I launch new ones? These are important, but is there an overall why?

I think there is. And I think it’s why I’ve been called everything from a pro-business anarcho-capitalist to a raving socialist and everything in-between. I don’t wear my politics on my sleeve–and, indeed, much of the time politics seems like two children squabbling over equally wrong answers. I don’t address the crisis du jour, because, well, it’s du jour. It will be different in the future.

But I’ll take a shot at an overall why: Because we are each capable of grand things, despite the obstacles. Because imagination moves us forward, while second-guessing holds us back. Because we have never advanced by putting limits on our advancement.

Because we should dream grand dreams, and act to make them real.

What’s your why?

June 12th, 2010 / 1,489 Comments »