An update on my book

I’ve been working on a book for about 2 months now with a working title “A New Kind of Hero”.
It was originally going to be entirely based on the Google Lunar X PRIZE but has been broadened in scope a little (okay, a lot) to include heroes outside of that particular competition.  This was necessary to keep the theme of the book in focus.

Answers to some FAQs that I’m getting:

  • I’m not sure if I’ll announce who the people who will be featured before the book is finished
  • I do not have a publisher.  I’m planning to be creative in publishing, but would certainly entertain talking to a traditional publisher.
  • The timeframe for the the manuscript to be complete is sometime in February 2011 with a target publish date of the end of March 2011.
  • If you’re a fan of Evadot, then you’ll be familiar with the feel of this book.  The book is really an extension of many of the ideas we’ve explored in writing and on the podcast.


The most important question you need to ask yourself: why not?

I’m already planning SpaceUp DC 2.0, but in case you missed how rediculous I’m willing to look in the name of Space Exploration:

(Photo credit: Chris Radcliff)

Haley Stephenson did a terrific writeup of her experience at SpaceUp DC here. I have two favorite quotes from it:

An important aspect of the unconference was the opportunity to have fun and enjoy the things that interested us in space in the first place. We fiddled with pipe cleaners (out of which one person constructed the space-time continuum), built spaceships and rovers out of Legos (our “green” ship was powered by Lego conifers), conducted a MoonPie eating contest (beware the banana flavor), and held what is probably the first Tribble war ever (they’re not as soft as they look). If this all seems quite silly, then take a moment to think on what sparked your interest in space and what fuels it now. When did you realize that space is cool?

and my favorite (and not just because that’s my son she’s talking about there):

While getting to Mars, global cooperation in space, or pushing the boundaries of space technology all come with technical, political, and budgetary challenges, space exploration is fueled by the imagination and enthusiasm of both fifty-year-old engineers and eleven-year-old kids like Caleb Doornbos, whose disarming intelligence and freedom from limitations made us all walk away asking, “Why not?” Why not inspire the next generation about space? Why not go to Mars and back in 80 days or less? Why not launch your own satellite? Why not?

I started Evadot one night after being frustrated with how boring NASA TV was that night.

I started SpaceUpDC when Chris Radcliff asked if it was something I thought was worth doing and if it was something I might want to do.

Both times I asked myself: why not me?

This morning, I had a delightful conversation about education 21st century style with Nancy Conrad.  Widow to the 3rd person to ever walk on the moon! Nancy really is a visionary in education. I can’t think of a better way to spend a friday morning.

Tomorrow, I leave for Isle of Man, to meet some of the people who will be in my upcoming book titled “A New Kind of Hero”.

It all started with asking myself: why not?

You know that thing you’ve been telling yourself needs to be done?  You know the one.  It’s time to ask yourself why not.

There is only this moment and the next one.  What are you going to do with it?

I’ll bet these people have names

The Google Lunar X PRIZE is a competition of 22 teams who are made of people from all over the world. Every so often the team leaders get together and meet in person. I’ve been invited to this meeting, but I need your help to get there.
I’m creating…

  • a series of Podcasts to chronicle these stories
  • a two part book, part 1 is from the prize conception to the middle of the competition (now). Part two will be the second half of the competition
  • A Web application so you can keep track of your favorite teams and keep up with their progress

There is A LOT of value in meeting people in person to get their stories. The people in this competition have hopes and dreams and fears and doubts. It’s all part of the story. We can get the technical information anywhere, but it’s their journey that’s really interesting.

I’m all ready half-way there. A super-awesome, anonymous donor has bought me a plane ticket from Washington DC to London… I’m so close! Help me get the rest of the way!

$600 will pay for a plane ticket from London to the Isle of Man and a hotel room to stay in. The X Prize folks are sure to thank you for providing me with a bed and a shower. Mostly the shower. Pee-ewe.

Why do you fish?

A few weeks ago, someone asked me why I fish in a way that went something like this:

“Why do you like fishing?  It’s sooo boring, and what did the fish do to you to deserve that anyway?  It’s really stupid.”

I don’t remember not knowing how to fish.  I may have learned to fish before I could speak in sentences.  I don’t know really, because I could fish before my brain was mature enough to remember before I knew how.

I’ve had an eventful life so far.  I’ve gallivanted around Norway in kindergarden with my crazy Grandmother and been blown to the deck at 3am in the pouring rain by jet blast on an aircraft carrier. I’ve been on CNN during a riot in Red Square, and watched my wife get whisked away when she and my son easily could have died during his birth only to be left alone in a hallway holding an empty blanket.

Like many people who don’t sit around watching TV and eating ice cream all day, I’ve got a list of these stories a mile long, but very few experiences I’ve had compare to what I get to do the first week in July every year.

My wife, two kids and I head to a tiny lake in the middle of nowhere that my family has been going to for 50 years. Every morning, unless it’s pouring down raining, my dad and I leave the dock at 6am to fish a lake that we know every inch of.  We’ve done this thousands of times together.  The same lake, the same person every year.  Until 1999 when he passed away, my Grandfather often joined us in this mini adventure.

In a boat, my dad and I know each other so well that we often communicate without words. He taught me to never ever take a thing like this for granted, and I don’t.

There is a smell on that lake at 6am while the first glimses of the sun start to burn off the morning mist that you cannot descibe to someone without actually being there.  I’m fairly certain it’s a tiny little glimpse of heaven.

The doves coo, the kingfishers screech, the bullfrogs croak.

Often on a lake that two seasoned fisherman could navigate in the dark, the morning quiet is interrupted by the sound of a 3 foot Northern Pike burning line off of one of our reels.  The Northern Pike as a surprising fish for such a tiny lake.  An aggressive predator with hundreds of razor sharp teeth, landing one with rod and reel is like trying to wrestle a mountain lion with butchers twine.

Out of a deep respect of this fish and it’s strange presence in such a small lake, we try to keep them in the water while we remove the hook to let it go, holding them with our hands instead of a net. In the water, they are the masters of their domain.  Out of water, they are like … well, fish out of water. At boatside, we often remark at how marvelous they are, note the general condition of the fish and check to see if it has any tags or clipped fins.

These fish are a sure sign of how the earth was not just created yesterday to me.  This is an ancient species of fish and it really feels ancient when you’re with one.  It makes me feel small in the same way that standing on the ocean shore does.  It makes our 80 years or so on earth seem like just a blip.

At 8am, we head back in for breakfast.  If my son hasn’t joined us that morning, he’s often waiting on the couch with my mom who is sipping a cup of coffee, waiting to ask how we did.

More often than not, I look back over my shoulder as I enter the house and in my memory I can see my Grandfather standing on the end of that same dock. His hands on his hips, with some goofy baseball cap on, and that’s when I remember how precious every moment is, and that every second counts if you make it count. I fish, because it’s the thing that helps me remember all of that.

If you think that’s stupid, then you probably need to put the ice cream away and get your butt off of the couch.  Life is so much more than what it seems like in our busy lives.  It’s all waiting there for you in what looks like ordinary places.

Inspiring kids by thinking big in space

The audio quality is shockingly bad in this video. This was on Feb 18th, at Ignite-DC.  I’d like to do a new spin on this talk soon.
This is an Ignite talk. If you’re not familiar with Ignite, the talks are all EXACTLY 5 mins. You get 20 slides that auto advance every 15 seconds. It’s a real challenge to not get behind on the slides.

Despite the challenge of giving a compelling talk in this format, I do really enjoy it.  It forces presenters to get the point in 5 minutes and you can get through quite a few really great ideas in a 90 minute session.

Is it just me or were several of those slides way shorter than 15 seconds? Hmm…

What do you mean you don’t know what your customers want?

I heard a form of this at least 6 times last week:

I just don’t know what my customers are having issues with.  I told them about all of these things they should be concerned about and then they stopped returning my phone calls.

What?  Really?

No one is more important than your existing customers.  They’ve made an investment in you.  Give back to them 10 fold.  Don’t know what they want?  Ask them! I bet they’ll tell you.

Stop selling what’s on your line card, pushing your agenda, trying to get reelected, and inventing things for problems you don’t even have.

  • If your customers distribute HVAC or cleaning supplies, ask them what their 3 pains are in our depressed economy.  Then help them actually solve them. Don’t push them whatever product you’re getting a spiff on this month.  Help them change what you would change, and buy what you would buy if you were in their position.  That’s not selling, that’s sharing expertise.
  • If you are a government agency and you need public support (I’m talking to you NASA), ask the people what they want for their kids.  Think 20 years out, not just about jobs next month.  You get support by actually being visionary, not by being a bunch of posers.
  • If you sell security software, give them a solution that will actually solve their problem instead of a feature list.  If you are in the middle of the pack in your field and can’t figure out why, it’s probably because you sell people features, they only sorta work, and then all of your customers bad mouth you behind your back every time they get the chance (that would be what all the snickering is about).
  • If you’re an inventor, cracking eggs is not a major societal issue.  It’s a pretend problem you’ve invented to basically steal $20 from people.  Coming up with a scam is hard work and takes brains.  Why don’t you help people in underdeveloped countries figure out how to have clean water?

Your relationship with your customers is not about what YOU need!

People want their pains to be easier and they want to grow.  Give them both.  You start by asking them what they need.

You’re an expert in what you do right?  Act like it.

Don’t wait for an expert to tell you what you already know

I spent much of my day yesterday at the doctor.  About a week ago, I pulled a tick off of my leg and now there’s a rash.  Yup, Lyme disease.  Awesome.  Gave me some antibiotics and now they are going to watch me closely.
This post is not about that…

While I was waiting to be seen, a nurse came by to take my vital signs.

My blood pressure was a little high.

Not really high, but a little.  This alarmed me more than the tick bite.

As the Doctor was writing my prescription, I mentioned that my blood pressure was a little high.

“Yes, a little.  You’re overweight, so that’s probably part of it”


I know I’m overweight.  I’m eating better, and swimming almost every day.  In fact, in 2010, I’m down almost 10 pounds.

But it took a doctor telling me something I already knew to REALLY put myself in gear about taking care of myself.

Why did I wait for that?  I’m a smart person.  I can look in the mirror and tell that I’ve got 30 pounds I don’t need at all.  I have a fused spine and that 30 pounds is making my back work harder than it should.

I knew all of that, but it wasn’t until a Doctor told me my blood pressure would go down if I lost 30 pounds to resolve to really change my life.

What are you waiting on some expert to tell you?

Some things are worth consulting an expert for.  My Lyme disease wasn’t going to go away on it’s own.  But the intelligent person in me already knew I’m not taking as good care of myself as I should.

  • Does your job suck and keep you from doing what you love?
  • Do you know you can make a difference in the world, but you’re afraid of failure so you don’t even try?
  • Has it been weeks since you told your wife how much she means to you?  What about your Dad?
  • Are you itching to do something that scares the crap out of you?

Don’t wait for an expert to tell you what you already know you need to do.  Consult with them when necessary, but don’t use the lack of one as an excuse to do nothing.