Monday, May 29, 2006

Kool-Aid lessons from South Park

A truly classic South Park episode, aired a few years back, still offers valuable lessons for investors, not just in space, but really any industry.

In this episode, the boy's teacher assigns a report on current events. Being totally unschooled in such, they instead decide to write about mysterious "underpants gnomes" that have been spied stealing underwear from their dressers.

The boys followed the gnomes to a huge cavern, which was filled to the top with purloined undergarments and gnomes busily processing them. When questioned about their activity, the gnomes produced a business plan:

Gnome 1: Collecting underpants is just phase one. Phase one: collect underpants.

Kyle: So what's phase two?


Gnome 1: Hey, what's phase two?!

Gnome 2: Phase one: we collect underpants.

Gnome 1: Ya, ya, ya. But what about phase two?


Gnome 2: Well, phase three is profit. Get it?

Stan: I don't get it.

Gnome 2: (Goes over to a chart on the wall) You see, Phase one: collect underpants, phase two-

Gnome 2: Phase three: profit.

Cartman: Oh I get it.

Stan: No you don't.

Kyle: Do you guys know anything about corporations?

Gnome 2: You bet we do.

Gnome 1: Us gnomes are geniuses at corporations.

Does this sound familiar to readers of this column? It could be argued that the gnomes' underpants business is a lot like the way many firm's business concepts are expressed:

Phase 1: Develop cool new launch system for passengers or freight in Year 20xx

Phase 2: [intentionally left blank]

Phase 3: Make oodles of money (in Year 20xx + 2) flying 50-100 flights a year in a fully mature industry with lots of market demand.

This is where I see the greatest disconnect in the community. They skip Phase 2 - which is actually the hardest part - developing and following a realistic roadmap from engineering prototype to 50 flights a year. That market demand cannot be demonstrated to exist at present - one has to create it. Large serious investors are going to want to know precisely how that is going to be accomplished - and within that 2-3 year time frame that always seems to be part and parcel of the business plan.

For a decade or more I've seen a lot folks who say they'll be up and running in a couple of years - and they're still out there, and it's still only a couple more years down the road. One company, for example, made a big splash in 2004, coinciding with the Aldridge hearings, claiming they'd be flying by 2006. 2006 is almost half over, and I haven't seen any more press releases of late. Not that I was expecting any.

Point is, when you're doing due diligence on a company - and that could be any company, not just - make sure they've got all three phases nailed down. You don't want to lose your shorts.

Saturday, May 27, 2006

Professor L Speaks Out On The Space Radiation Issue

I've been following the discussion on this site and others regarding two recent articles on space radiation. The first article appeared in the March 2006 edition of Scientific American. This article was written by Eugene N. Parker. The second article appeared in the June 2006 issue of Discover Magazine and was written by M.G. Lord. This article is titled "Are We Trapped On Earth? Impossible Journey."

While I have my own thoughts on what is valid about the issue of cosmic radiation and its effect on long term space flight participants, I won't share them with you at this time. Instead, I want to urge those interested in this discussion to do your own checking of the sources and make up your own mind as to which side of the discussion you believe to be more valid or completely valid. Since I have in front of me the two articles referenced above, I can easily list the sources from both articles and the URLs where readers can find out more about the radiation issue directly from the sources used for the articles.

Clark, because I do not have any sources handy for the information you cite, can you please post a comment to this message and list some sources and URLs for interested readers to find out more about what your are talking about and suggesting? Even a mini-literature search would suffice.

Again, those of you interested in this subject, check out the sources used by the writers of the articles and by Clark. Then make up your own mind as to the validity of the arguments on either side of the issue regarding cosmic rays and humans in space. Remember, a key component in critical thinking and discernment is that you compel yourself to step outside your own point view, your own prejudice and your own agenda. You want to be as unbiased as possible and open minded as possible so your critical thinking and discernment skills can kick in.

If you do check out the source material on this topic, which by the way is an important topic and this is an important discussion, please post your thought, analysis, and conclusions here on Space-Cynic.

Thanks. Happy researching to each of you.

Sources: These sources are not meant to be the final word on this subject. They are simply starters for your research and were cited by the magazine articles. Obviously to do proper research and due diligence, your own source investigation should include additional sources on both sides of the issue. But this is a good list for starters.

Scientific America:
Eugene N. Parker:

Office of Aerospace Medicine Civil Aerospace Medical Institute, FAA:

Dr. Wallace Friedberg::
Into fencing? Meet ‘The Wall.’Radiation biologist thrust of awardBy Mike WaydaWhile he may appear mild-mannered to his colleagues at the Civil Aeromedical Institute, Dr. Wallace Friedberg, FAA radiation biologist, is known as "The Wall" to his fencing competitors. 'The Wall': CAMI's Dr. Friedberg in fencing gear.Friedberg, a long-time devotee of the sport of fencing, was recently honored by the Redlands Fencing Club with a lifetime achievement award for his 30-plus years of participating in and promoting the sport.

Before participating in an Oklahoma-wide tournament on March 24, Friedberg was presented with the award, which came as a "big surprise" to him. When asked what one would need to do to win a lifetime achievement trophy, he said, "You have to be able to survive and to persevere."

In one of his very early matches, Friedberg was somehow wounded and needed a few stitches in his hand. He survived that, as well as other challenges in his life, including a bout with cancer, and he has persevered in his pursuit of excellence in the sport -- and at work.
In 1960, Friedberg joined the staff of the Civil Aeromedical Research Institute, as it was known then. He was among a group of researchers and scientists who were hired first to work at the FAA institute. He and two other CAMI employees are now the only ones of the original "dinosaurs," as they referred to themselves, still working after 41 years.
Friedberg says he takes fencing "very seriously," practicing and taking lessons on a regular basis. He is expert in the épée, a time-honored weapon wielded in fencing competitions, and he has won the state championship several times.
As a competitor, the 73-year-old Friedberg is acknowledged as being anything other than mild-mannered. ###(Wayda is editor of The Federal Air Surgeon’s Medical Bulletin, his report appears in the Spring, 2001 ed.)

Space Radiation Shielding Program at Marshall Space Flight Center:

Radiation Shielding for Human Interplanetary Exploration and Discovery, a NASA sponsored workshop for the Univ. of Michigan:

Samuel C.C. Ting, MIT:

National Space Radiation Lab at Brookhaven National Laboratory:

Discover Magazine:
Francis Cucinotta, Chief Scientist at NASA's radiation program:

Jacob Bloomberg, Neuroscientist at Johnson Space Center

Dr. Marcelo Vazquez, Brookhaven National Labs

Duane Pierson, NASA Microbiologist: scroll to the bottom of this page for a brief biography of Dr. Pierson. His papers on radiation topics can be found on the web using Google.

John Charles, NASA Space Life Sciences Division:

Shannon Lucid:

Mike Fincke:

Dr. Lakshmi Putcha: Pharmacotherapeturics researcher at Life Sciences Lab at Johnson.

Friday, May 26, 2006

The 5% solution

Hasty generalization

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Hasty generalization, also known as "fallacy of insufficient statistics", "fallacy of insufficient sample", "fallacy of the lonely fact", "leaping to a conclusion", "hasty induction", "law of small numbers" or "secundum quid", is the logical fallacy of reaching an inductive generalization based on too little evidence.

Examples with contradictions
"I loved the hit song, therefore I'll love the album it's on": Fallacious because the album might have one good song and lots of filler.
"This Web site looks OK to me on my computer; therefore, it will look OK on your computer, too": Fallacious because many computers present content differently.


So why did I post this seemingly random snippet from Wikipedia?

This comment was made in an earlier post, and i thought it deserved to be highlighted as a separate posting:

That's why over ninety percent of such startups fail. And that just doesn't apply to or In the early 80s, it was personal computers. Anyone remember the Osbourn?

Of course even knowing how to run a business is no guaruntee of success. Andy Beal is a great banker. His launch company failed when the market collapsed on the late 90s.

In the great scheme of things it doesn't matter. The five or so percent of companies that succeed will change the course of history.

So here is the issue i have with statements like this - it is the same fallacy that many VCs (and everyday investors who followed the investments of those VCs) made during the dot com bubble.

In the traditional VC world (you know, the guys who were around in the 70s and 80s, long before it was "hip" to be a VC and all you needed was an MBA from the right east coast school...), the venture capitalist was someone who had built and run one or more successful businesses, made a decent pile of money, and was looking to help the next generation of entrepreneurs build more great businesses.

These "Old School VCs" (OSVCs) would do incredible due diligence in the process of deciding whom to invest in - it was about more than JUST the business, it was about the management, too. But good management and a BS market was still BS. This due diligence was NOT, unlike today's New School VC (NSVCs) model, about waiting until another VC came in and then jumping in too, pretending to do proper analysis while blindly chucking in millions of dollars into a venture because "Benchmark Capital" or (insert big name VC here) had already agreed to invest.


It's betting that someone ELSE has done the homework, and just copying their answers.

So, back to the OSVCs. What they found, over time, was that if they were to invest in 20 companies, ALL of which had been grilled through the harsh cold logic of the OSVC due diligence machine, the performance would be something sort of like this:

  • 10 failed

  • 6 muddled along

  • 2-3 did ok

  • 1-2 were home runs

So out of 20 seemingly sound investments, 5-10% actually became winners. The rest were dead, walking dead, or just poor performers.

This statistic was regularly abused by the NSVCs (and still is) - in that they first deluded themselves, and then the larger investment community (including individual shareholders) that they actually understood how this model works.

It's not enough to just make 20 investments. you have to make 20 SOUND investments, and even then you can only hope to get a 5-10% hit rate. But if you invest in stupid businesses like and 19 similar ventures that show a fundamental inability to grasp what the WWW actually was (a distribution channel, not a manna from heaven), then you are likely to have a 0% success rate. 20 bad bets won't get you the distribution of wins/losses that 20 good investments will.

So, in the context - in isn't simply enough that there are lots of startup companies out there all seeking funding. There have to be lots of OSVC-ready companies - and even then, if we're lucky, 5% of them will be successes.

My other little quibble with the comment from above that i used to start this blog is regarding Andy Beal. His rocket company didn't fail because the market collapsed in the late 90s. That "market" was a paper one, based on fictitious satellites that would never see the light of day and the VAST majority of which were never funded. Building a rocket company on the late 90s launch industry market forecasts for satellite demand was a recipe for failure. As he found.

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Why Slam?

Dan Schrimpsher asked a perfectly reasonable question after I recently slammed a blogger for pooh-poohing the radiation hazards of manned space flight to Mars, although I believe he over-reacted. Dan wonders why I would slam a blogger for his opinion if he isn't asking for money.

There are 2 reasons:

First, anyone is entitled to his or her opinions whether supported by fact, fantasy, or floating in Kool-Aid. Unfortunately, many of the opinions floating in the blogosphere are not supported by fact, but by speculation or ignorance. When such speculation or ignorant opining is repeated sufficiently, it starts assuming the aura of fact with other people who do not have the time to examine primary sources in detail or the knowledge base to discriminate. That eventually leads to Lysenkoism, people who believe that the Earth is the center of the universe, and (my personal favorite) people who believe that the USA never put men on the Moon. Therefore, errors of fact and of interpretation need to be identified and exposed. That is one goal of The Space Cynic. Unfortunately, taking down the blog in question about space-flight radiation biohazards in detail, with references to well-documented sources, would take far more time and space than I am willing to consume with a point by point rebuttal that would be understood by an average, but interested, reader. Instead, the interested person should reread the critical blog, then reread the Scientific American article carefully, and then do whatever research he or she needs to conduct within the primary literature in order for form a conclusion what would stand up to careful review. I do believe that the blogger in question, while sincere, grossly oversimplifies the ability of our current technology and knowledge base to deal with the radiation hazards of transporting people to Mars. That seems to be a common occurrence with space flight enthusiasts coming from the physical sciences when considering biomedical risks. It is easy to postulate surrounding a crew cabin with fuel for shielding. What happens when the fuel is consumed for the return trip? In the abstract, you may be willing to take on an additional risk of 50% of dying from a radiation-induced cancer in exchange for a trip to Mars, but would the NRC permit you to assume that risk? Are you willing to damage your future children for the ride? Quit dismissing the problem out of hand and consider the ramifications of high dose radiation exposure -- especially since dose levels have not been precisely defined.

Second, with one exception, I do not care what people do with their own money. They are perfectly free to earn it and spend it as they wish. (I do -- I am currently invested in three start-ups and had been but no longer am invested in another.) They can even burn it in their front yards for all I care. Elon Musk is a case in point. He is spending his own money to pursue his goals. Good luck to him. I do care when people start asking for other people's money to do great things rather than using their own. That comes about when apparently sincere people say they can give the human race cheap access to space for (insert your number here) dollars, but their proposals do not stand up to careful examination. We are not likely to be taking tourists to Mars or Venus within a decade or two with Apollo-era technology. That is especially true with a company that has yet to get anything into even suborbital space. That some people are ignorant enough to "buy a ticket" is a sad commentary on them, but the people accepting the money for that purpose are, in my opinion, skirting fraud at worst and exploiting ignorance and dreams at best. They are dispensing Kool-Aid. What is the exception I mentioned above? Using one's own money to deliberately misinform the public.

Kool-Aid Filter for Alt.Space

Space Cynic

There seems to be some confusion about defining what is and is not Kool-Aid in The following, reprinted with permission, can be used as a Kool-Aid filter when applied to your favorite start-up:

If you see any of the following, run away --

1. The principals cannot understand why the coolness factor is not enough to get capital.
2. The principals adhere to the “build it and they will come philosophy” instead of specifically defining their market by depth and size in their business plan.
3. The principals do not carefully adhere to securities rules and fail to give at least quarterly financial reports to their investors.
4. The principals aspire to increase capitalization by orders of magnitude, as in having raised and spent $500 Thousand, they now want to raise $50 Million without a track record or a clear implementation plan.
5. The principals dismiss other disciplinary contributions – “We are great engineers and don’t need a finance person’s help (by the way, what does ‘present value’ mean?).”
6. The principals casually talk about staff expansion by orders of magnitude – “There are 2 of us, but we will hire 50 engineers and technicians the month after we raise the money and fly within 2 years.” Yet, none of the principals have ever run a group of 50 engineers and technicians.
7. The principals display a casual attitude about angel investors and shareholders in a closely held corporation – “It is my playground, don’t bother me.”
8. The principals don’t have adequate tracking and business systems in place – “We will implement them when we need them.”
9. The web site uses the present tense to describe concepts without associated hardware – “We offer cheap access to LEO.” This is akin to vaporware in the software industry.
10. The announced corporate goals expand faster than milestone achievements. For example, the first announced goal of achieving LEO is renounced in favor of the goal of rescuing the Hubble telescope without ever achieving LEO.
11. Logos and logo shirts from Lands End cost more than the rockets they have built.
12. The principals cannot convincingly demonstrate an annual ROI of at least 20 percent.
13. The organization displays obsessive secrecy about plans, markets, progress, etc.
14. A balance sheet with intellectual property dominating the asset list.
15. There is no realistic budget allocation for regulatory compliance, licensing, etc.
16. The principals appear to be more interested in talking to CNN about future dreams than in working to make those dreams happen.

More on Dreams, Fantasies, and Kool-aid

I have to agree with Shubber that indeed this humble little blog appears to have ruffled some feathers here and there. Some offline criticisms - gleaned via internal e-mail threads passed around among ourselves - indicates we're still not being clear enough in our definitions of what constitutes a "dream" company, versus that of a "fantasy" or "kool-aid" firm. Allow me a chance to effect some clarification.

Over a year ago, I, my business partner Paul Contursi, and the good "Professor L" on these pages joint-published an article in The Space Review entitled "The 'signal-to-noise ratio' in financing new space startups". Within that piece were some succinct "gotcha" bullet points making our arguments - what we think of as the "top eight warning signals" of a fantasy or kool-aid enterprise. There are no doubt more...but I'll list the abbreviated version here, and direct you to the original piece for further explanation. You are probably a kool-aid company if you exhibit one or more of the following characteristics:

1. Unwillingness or inability to identify the team. Most often, a serious space enterprise needs technical experts, managers, financial specialists, marketing people, and other skilled professionals to succeed. That team is essential, and any space entrepreneur who won’t discuss the identity of their team or the skills that its members bring to the table is suspect.

2. Nebulous funding sources. Be wary of space enterprises that rely on exotic sources of capital that they try to explain away with unintelligible legalese, or, even worse, refuse to specify their sources of capital or guidelines for obtaining it at all. Make sure their fundraising mechanisms are in line with federal and state securities regulations, when necessary, before going any further.

3. Any combined mention of the words “billion” and “dollars” with a straight face. Startups looking for eight- or nine-figure capitalizations in the currently embryonic state of the commercial space sector are extremely questionable. The reality is that the total private capitalization in the “New Space” companies to date is probably somewhere close to $200–300 million. This is a nascent industry with little to show so far in the way of an overall track record.

4. Rampant cluelessness about the target market. Constantly ask the questions, “Who are your customers? How much are they willing to pay for your product or service? How do you plan to attract and retain those customers? What are the opportunities for repeat business?” For example, we certainly look forward to the day when solar power satellites are a viable enterprise, but not while customers can easily today acquire electricity at a fourth of the kilowatt/hour rate suggested by the current promoters of space-based systems.

5. Large quantities of “unobtainium” in the business plan. Dependence upon technologies or exotic materials that do not yet exist is often a sign of trouble. The same is true for speculative propulsion claims that fly in the face of the laws of physics or “get around” the rocket equation.

6. Dismissal or denial of regulatory considerations. If entrepreneurs dodge the question of how they will deal with the constraints of federal and/or state regulatory requirements they are at best naïve, and at worst might have something serious to hide.

7. Playing the conspiracy card. Be wary of people who claim that their business plans have been impeded in the past by a grand conspiracy on the part of Big Business, Big Government, etc. “Evil forces” working in the background are far too convenient scapegoats, as opposed to poor planning, unachievable goals, and lack of research.

8. A tendency for monomania. Be cautious of anyone who tries to convince you that his or her proposed product or service is “the only way” to solve a particular space business or technology problem. Common sense alone suggests that is a false premise.

I hope this sheds some light.

Belated ISDC Notes

My own experiences at ISDC - kool-aid or otherwise - were mixed.

The first presentation I attended was a bit haunting - it was by Klaus Heiss, seeking apparently to purge some personal demons from his own early involvement in development of the Shuttle. At one point, when reminiscing over a key engine decision in the early 70's, the bullet point on the slide said, in bold letters: "I SHOULD HAVE LIED". His belief was had key decisions gone in a different direction, the history of the last 30+ years would have been very different. (He told me later, "The truth is sometimes painful.")

I spent a lot of time in Mike Mealling's business track. There were some very valuable presentations there, including a "seminar" from Art Dula that was a classic, and I highly recommend as a "must-see", if you can get hold of the tape.

But...there was also a guy who wanted $4 Billion to set up mining ops and bases on the moon, along with the ubiquitous lunar mass driver to feed a fuel dump in LEO - the unobtainium, of course, being paid for by an unnamed consortium of 10 large corporations who would kick in $400M each for the development costs. I must admit I snapped like a rubber band at this guy, to the great delight and entertainment of the 6 or so people in attendance that afternoon.

Earlier, I had spent the morning in a track on space medicine, much of which was very enlightening. But then there was the Brit architect who showed off his design for a Mars base, apparently on a grant from the British Interplanetary Society. It had six discrete modules, each simulating a different earthly environment (from the mountains to the prairies to the oceans white with foam, etc. etc.). They would be launched separately, land in the same place, and built-in robotics would assemble them before the first human crews set out. However, there was no thought to actual program planning, costs, or real-world contingencies.

Clearly billions of public dollars would have to be committed to a project like this, and there was no failure factor. So I asked him, "What if one of the modules fails to land properly and is destroyed on impact? Can you make do with 5 or even 4 of the modules and save the mission?" He clearly did not expect a question such as this, and replied nervously, "Well, we just wouldn't launch the crew." $100+ billion project on the line and you just "wouldn't launch". I kept thinking of Robert Scott and the ill fated British Antarctic Expedition, with their stockpiles of sherry and fine china, in contrast to all the things Roald Amundsen did right, and on half the budget. I wished at that moment Bob Zubrin had been in the room to give the guy an earful. The BIS should ask for its money back.

"If I were a rich man..."

I also got 2nd-hand flack at ISDC from some people who were apparently offended and shocked by my assertion that, if serious funding (i.e., $500M+) were raised tomorrow, via a mutual fund mechanism or something similar, that there weren't sufficient investment opportunities in alone to justify a major commitment of VC dollars. There would have to be serious diversification of investments in technologies 'around the margins' of space to ensure a good return. The criticisms were of the type "He doesn't know what he's talking about - I know how I'D invest...blah-blah-de-blah, huff-huff-huff", followed by a laundry list of either fantasy/kool-aid firms, or firms that may have some customers and an income stream, but whose financial dealings and/or business ethics may be mildly suspect.

Right now, truth be told, I would only put money down on three or four firms if I had it available to me - and I don't recall hearing any of their names on the critic's lists.

What my critics fail to appreciate is a very important term to those of us who have ever passed a Series 7 exam, and that is "fiduciary responsibility". When you take other people's money to invest on their behalf, you become responsible for doing proper due diligence and performing your utmost to give those investors the best possible return in exchange for their trust. This is how investment managers earn their living. And the hard raw truth of it is that there are too few realistic, feet-on-the-ground, businesses to justify potentially tens of millions in VC dollars. Remember also that VCs don't pay for R&D - they pay only to get developed products to market. Also, the supply of investment capital is limited, and therefore very competitive. Alt.spacers need to be able to show a strong value proposition, a path to profitability, and workable exit strategies that are competitive with nanotech, biotech, and It doesn't happen very often.

Now, if I was independently wealthy, with lots of $$ to burn, and no one to answer to but myself, my standards might be a little more relaxed. I would be able to afford the additional extreme risk levels - but make no mistake, that's considered "angel investment", not VC. There may even be a success or two, by total serendipity. But realistically, I would probably lose most of it in failed ventures. This is why the number of angels and deep-pocket independent startups are limited.

But hey, the critics can always put their own cash where their beliefs are, can't they? And boast to me later about the great returns they're getting. Oh, but that's right, you have to be a "qualified investor". Oops.

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

The Space Cynic Challenge to Alt.Space


It appears we seem to have ruffled a few feathers out in the community by creating this blog.

We've been accused of being snarky, condescending, and judgemental.


But here's a chance to prove to us that you (and you know who you are) have an business that is a "dream" business (which we DO like) as opposed to a "kool-aid" business (which we, um... don't like).

Space Cynics will gladly review your business plan/case/whatever, and post our findings on our website. We will allow you room for rebuttal, and will respond to any substantive criticisms (but this will not become an open-ended he said/she said - we will stop the dialog if it becomes unresolvable).

The cost? $2500.

We all have paying jobs and families/friends (no, i mean we have families and friends, not that they pay us), so if we're going to take time out of our schedules to do a due diligence of sorts, you have to put some skin in the game.

If we DO like your business - and I daresay I am personally a big fan of quite a few companies, believe it or not - we will be happy to endorse your project when you go to talk to other investors. We may even make some introductions for you, free of charge - and/or invest ourselves in your business.

Operators are standing by.
Dreams, Fantasy, and Kool Aid: Exploring The
Meaning and Use For These Terms in
by Professor L on May 23, 2006


Dreams, fantasy and Kool Aid are terms often used to describe various projects in the, entrepreneurial or New Space developing industries. Each term actually has a unique definition, however, as used by many spacers (spacers are those advocating an and related agenda), often the exact meaning of the term(s) are blurred leading to an incorrect usage of the word. Confusing a dream for a fantasy or saying that one person’s Kool Aid is another’s dream is not only wrong, it is misleading it helps to dumb down the industry (which by the way, needs no additional help) when instead the use of language should work to uplift this industry.


Let’s start with formal definitions for each term, then demonstrate the correct use and application of the term as applied to And remember, it does matter how we use the terms, not just among ourselves but to the world at large. So please understand that this is not just another professorial lecture. This paper is designed to move mountains and shake the world so hang on tightly for an illuminating ride through the tunnel of enlightenment.

Let’s start with the word dream. The formal definition includes many uses for and ways of understanding the word. The definition I want to zero in on is #5, “a condition or achievement that is longed for; an aspiration: a dream of owning their own business.” ( This definition carries with it the implication that the dream is actually doable, that whatever is being dreamed, it can be achieved. It is plausible. This is fundamental to understanding the proper way to use this term. The dream must be plausible. For example, if I say I have a dream to play quarterback for the San Francisco 49’ers in the fall of 2006 (I am near 60, not a football player and replete with knee and shoulder injuries among other qualities), that would hardly qualify as a dream. Some might say it qualifies me for the institution and I would not disagree though I refuse to commit myself voluntarily. Rather than a dream, it would be correct to say that I was expressing a fantasy based on the SF 49er example.

So let’s investigate the term fantasy. Again, referring to, the formal definition for fantasy that I want to focus on is #6, “an unrealistic or improbable supposition.” The formal definitions go on to include an obsolete definition but this one certainly still rings true for This obsolete definition is “hallucination.” ( Implied in the definition of the word fantasy is the fact that it is not doable, it is not something that can be achieved. This is just the opposite of a dream. These words, these concepts, well, they are hardly interchangeable.

Now let’s check out Kool-Aid. We all know that Kool-Aid is a flavored drink that took on a new definition and impact with the Jonestown mass suicides in 1978 when then Peoples Temple leader Jim Jones brought new meaning to the sentence, “drink the Kool-Aid.” To discover the proper way to use the term, I have drawn definitions from two reputable online sources.

First, let’s check Here we find the following for the use of the term Kool-Aid for

The idiomatic expression "drinking the Kool-Aid" is a reference to the 1978 cult mass-suicide in Jonestown, Guyana. Jim Jones, the leader of the Peoples Temple, convinced his followers to move to Jonestown. Late in the year he then ordered his flock to commit suicide by drinking grape-flavored Flavor Aid laced with potassium cyanide. In what is now commonly called the "Jonestown Massacre," 913 of the 1100 Jonestown residents drank the brew and died. (The discrepancy between the idiom and the actual occurrence is likely due to Flavor Aid's relative obscurity versus the easily recognizable Kool-Aid.)
One lasting legacy of the Jonestown tragedy is the saying, "Don’t drink the Kool- Aid." This has come to mean, "Don’t trust any group you find to be a little on the kooky side," or "Whatever they tell you, don't believe it too strongly."

The phrase can also be used in the opposite sense to indicate that one has blindly embraced a particular philosophy or perspective (a "Kool-Aid drinker"). This usage is generally limited to those in or commenting on United States politics, but also appears in discussions on computer technology, where someone who is a staunch advocate for a particular technology is described as having "drunk the Kool-Aid". This is also frequently used in discussions about sports; when a fan makes an overly-optimistic prediction or hopeful statement, usually about a traditionally woeful team or franchise, others may comment that he is "drinking the Kool-Aid" This is the only usage of "Kool-Aid" that non-American speakers of English are likely to recognize. (

Kool-Aid is described this way by
"Drinking the Kool-Aid"

In 1978, 900 followers of cult leader Jim Jones committed suicide by drinking a grape-flavored drink laced with cyanide at their commune in Jonestown, Guyana. Although the drink was actually Flavor Aid (a Kool-Aid knockoff and competitor), it is often thought to have been Kool-Aid. "Drinking the Kool-Aid" has since arisen as a darkly humorous slang term, meaning that someone believes or follows the statements of another person (often a charismatic leader) without question, often to their own detriment. The term usually applies in much less drastic cases than the Jones example (such as when discussing the reality distortion field of Apple Computer head Steve Jobs). Often, the phrase is used as a pejorative comment on effective marketing or public relations campaigns, or on zealous fans of movies, books, bands, or even computer operating systems. (
Now that we are clear on what these words and terms actually mean, let’s take the next step. All together now…..

Who Cares About Any Of This Anyway?

This of course is the bottom line question to this peer reviewed paper. Who cares, why should anyone care, what value does this paper bring to humanity, how does it further space development and low cost space access, suborbital tourism, or a romp in zero-g with your partner. These are all good questions and I must say, the peers reviewing this conference paper got it immediately. I hope you do as well but in case you don’t get it, just trust me, I am a university PhD professor. OK?

Now I will tell you why you should care but alas, remember, peer reviewers are sworn to secrecy. Its sort of an NDA thing that alt.spacers will appreciate so while I really don’t know who the peers were that did this exceptional review, I just know that this paper was accepted, along with the grape flavored Kool-Aid packs I gave the peers. Their only comments on the paper when I got it back were “Thank You. The Kool-Aid was great!” Ah, back to the topic at hand. Sorry for this little digression but we all know how important peer review and NDA’s are in our community.

People should care because it is absolutely wrong to say that one’s Kool Aid is another’s slim hope for the future. Saying this means the person making the comment does not understand the words, as simple as they are, has no critical thinking, and probably has yet to be weaned from Kool Aid used extensively during childhood. If language cannot be used correctly to express an idea or concept, how can those misusing the language possibly help us access space at a lower cost, or get to space to do whatever we want to do once we get there. Look, if we don’t know the difference between a dream, a fantasy, and Kool-Aid, how the hell are we going to build, develop, manage, run a company to take us to space and bring us back alive? Just ask Frank Buck about this as he always brought ‘em back alive and he never misused language. If we think we are hoping for the future but instead are actually nurturing an hallucination, well, we got some big problems, right? If one thinks my dream to build a business with quality partners, good financing, a solid business plan and a potentially outstanding market is Kool-Aid, then they might certainly miss out on a great investment opportunity well grounded with a solid foundation. Instead, they may invest in a fantasy, in the hallucination, fed by Kool-Aid all the way. Both are risky, but risk is not the issue for this paper. Risk always needs to be weight to the most rational and logical, but this paper is already too long so risk will be covered in another paper, if there is another paper.

The Difference Does Matter:

Knowing a dream from a fantasy from Kool Aid is important. Knowing which companies have real dreams that are attainable, from fantasies that are ludicrous, fueled by Kool Aid rather and Lox and Bagels is important, not just to help you protect your hard earned money from being squandered, but from being embarrassed, humiliated, and doing in the industry all of us would like to see succeed. Lacking reality is not constructive. And its not subjective!

The Role of Serendipity:

This author clearly understands the significance of serendipity in the history of American inventions and creativity. Progress does result from luck, from chance, by accident, through serendipity, maybe even through prayer. I do not discount any of these sources for progress. But one cannot plan on progress emanating from these sources. Progress is not about chance or luck. Progress usually involves incremental, progressive steps along a recognizable path toward a goal or objective. Along the way, it helps if the researcher is open to information and even progress coming from unknown sources or clear out in left field. If the developer is not that open or misses the signs, in a free economy, there is usually someone around that will see the sign and act on it to move things forward or bypass the stated path for a completely different path to the goal, objective, or solution. Planning and developing the action plan and the steps to take is important and it is often the implementation of the action plan that enables the breakthrough even if it comes about as a result of serendipity. So the fact that serendipity is important does not mean that rational and logical paths are to be discounted or discarded. In simple language, you don’t get a free pass by leaving your brains behind.

Alt.Space and Dreams:

Dreams for the industry are absolutely crucial to its development as an industry, to its someday reaching maturity as an industry. Dreams translate nicely to hardware, to new businesses, to employment, tax revenues resulting from profits, and to great accomplishments. must dream to be successful. But must not squander finite resources on fantasy or Kool-Aid. Know the difference. It may just make your day and your business.

Critical Thinking and Discernment:

Just because space is the subject or the business, its not an excuse to abandon critical thinking and discernment for Kool-Aid and fantasy. Yet this happens all too often. And then when this is pointed out, the reply usually goes something this: “What is Kool Aid to you is serious business to me and to others.” Nope, not true. When you hear or read that response, start wondering if the person had to take dumbbell English their first year in college (assuming they went to college) or if they some how avoided it, as in the modern world when they test out of it. If they are bending metal or making hardware, start wondering about what is being bent or made. If they are writers, question their perspective because they have already demonstrated that they have a problem in properly expressing themselves. And if they get bent out of shape for your having dared to reference this article, just smile, wish them well, tell them you will be happy to buy them a Kool-Aid and put down a quarter on the table, then politely exit to an environment that is more supportive of turning dreams into reality than chasing fantasy and Kool-Aid until death do them part. Whatever you do, don’t hang out with them. Remember the old saying, “you are known by the company you keep?” Well, think about it and act appropriately. This is the start of critical thinking and discernment.

The professor says never ever abandon critical thinking and discernment. Especially not when space or is concerned. If you want to see us become space-faring, if you want to get into space, if you want to open space up as a frontier for all of us, step up and be accountable. Know the differences in a dream, a fantasy, and Kool-Aid. Now in case you want to know how to do critical thinking and apply discernment to your business plan, investment decision, or space advocacy, Google the terms as there is plenty of quality information on the subject. As I said, this paper is already too long so a lecture on critical thinking and discernment may come about in the future but not now.

One last comment for this section. Assumption building for the business is vitally important but at least one variable in the assumption has to be based on something solid, something grounded. If all the assumptions are based on unknowns, you don’t have much. Assumption building and understanding are part and parcel of critical thinking. One of the best papers I’ve seen on explaining what I have just said comes from a speech given by Dr. Michael Crichton before a Cal Tech audience on Jan. 17, 2003. Check it out at

This paper has explained how to properly use the words dream, fantasy and Kool-Aid for the and actually the full space industry. Critical thinking and discernment are key components that must always be present and must never be abandoned or surrendered, especially for that which appears cool, sexy, romantic, fun, maybe profitable, or maybe possible followed by a dozen or so “ifs.” If you are not able to appropriately assess something, get help from someone who can make an objective assessment and who does know the proper use of the terms discussed in this paper. Become accountable for creating the type of space industry you want and you DREAM about. I don’t think its possible to create a space-faring world on fantasy, Kool-Aid, or Bay Mud. Solid foundations are important, just as they for a house or building. Maybe in time a space-faring culture/world can be created from a DREAM. Remember, the DREAM is plausible. And yes, you can learn what makes something plausible or not. Or you can get help until you learn it. But if you don’t ask the question and you don’t understand the difference in the terms, you might spend your energy chasing fantasy and Kool-Aid and none of us want that. None of us will profit from that chase.

Signed….Professor L.

Sunday, May 21, 2006

Notes on a Monday Morning

It's monday morning, i've got heaps on my desk to take care of as the week begins, and so of course i start off by a quick surf through Cyberspace.

War still on in Iraq? Check.
War drums beating for Iran? Check
Chinese IPO flying off the shelves? Check
Immigration friends/foes fighting over the border troops? Check
DaVinci code still front page news? Check

So, not much has changed.

Except... what's this? Space Cynic, and myself, were mentioned in another blog (not too flatteringly, i might add) and I totally missed it.

I, of course, had to go read what was written by Mr. Goff.

I think Jonathan was being a bit unfair, to be frank. First off - why should we be held to higher standards than the average cracksmoker's website that promises fantasy technologies are just over the horizon? At least we aren't trying to sell something - in fact, we're trying to get people to be LESS gullible before their good money is lost to another BS cause.

Still, some valid criticisms.

Yes, this blog can be a stand-out contrarian voice to the echo-chamber that normally defines the kool-aid drinking community.

Yes - i will accept that sometimes we are flippant and shallow in our commentary on specific concepts/projects. But the 23rd or 145th time i have to explain in great detail why a particular concept is flawed, i get lazy and just slam the project.

Yes - we will try to write more substantive posts, or maybe just answer questions posed by interested readers.

No - i will not give up on the occasional bit of humour. If i think it's funny, and others don't - well, it's my blog. Get your own.

The truth, though, as with all things, is really somewhere in the middle.

All of the bloggers on the Space Cynic have regular jobs that are VERY time consuming. What this means is that we don't have the luxury or bandwidth in many cases to write out the full extent of what we'd like to on a particular subject. Does this mean we shouldn't mention something unless we can put out a dissertation on the subject?

Of course not.

If that were in fact the case, this blog would end up like the book on space commerce i've been attempting to complete for 2 years now - half finished and therefore unread by anyone.

Some of these posts will be longer, some will be shorter. Some will be content rich, some will be vacuous. I make no promises otherwise.

But, in the spirit that all discourse is positive, i will even add a link to Jonathan's blog on the Space Cynic blog.

Calling all REAL Journalists

So one of the great things about living here in Sydney is that life is a lot more civlised and less rat-race like than the normal big city i'm used to from the US. This Sunday morning, around 9 am, i heard the usual shrill whistling sound that comes every sunday morning, blasted out from the little metal whistle that our local paperboy uses to let us know he's walking down the block, in case you want to buy a newspaper ($1.60).

Shuffling back into the house, coffee mug in one hand, newspaper under my arm, i looked forward to a few leisurely hours of reading what passes for news in the Sunday Herald (Australia has a different view of the world than I'm used to getting from the LA times or Washington Post...).

So imagine my surprise when I opened to the COVER page of the travel section.

Big picture of planet Earth, as seen through the window of a 747, with the caption "3... 2... 1... the Countdown to Tourism in Space"

"Oh, no," i thought to myself. The Kool-Aid has made it to Australia.

Now, granted, this is not the first Kool-Aid inspired project to get support in Australia (the Christmas Island Spaceport/Internment Centre comes to mind).

So, with a bit of trepidation, i plowed into the article. After flipping past the intervening pages filled with the requisite ads for exotic travel destinations (as if Australia isn't exotic enough...) and articles about real tourism features, i found it:

"Dawn of Tourism's Final Frontier: Notch up your frequent flyer points, because suborbital tourism is the next chapter of the space age."

What really gets me is that people get paid for writing this drivel. The article, first off, had factual errors - three (not two) people have paid to go to ISS (and the fourth, Dice-K, is getting ready, with a backup/fifth candidate, from the Ansari family, next in line). Second, the author lumped together a whole range of companies that aren't all in space tourism, a notable example being Space X. Last I checked, the Falcon 1 is for satellites, not tourists.

While i'm tempted to go paragraph by paragraph through this overly long article (i'm fairly certain the author was paid by the length of the article, which would explain why she filled it with such enjoyable fodder as "Canadian company PlanetSpace is developing craft based on the World War II German V2 rocket." - does the autopilot attempt all autolandings in London, i wonder?) the article just pisses me off so much i have to put it away.

I've got better things to do with what's left of my Sunday.

Friday, May 19, 2006

Space Cynic

Space Cynic A market!! There is a need right now for regular (monthly?) launches of 50-100 Kg to LEO by big pharma. There is a smaller market for such launches with recovery after days to weeks.

Thursday, May 18, 2006

No Love in an Elevator

Sorry for the short hiatus in posting, folks....

(cue Maxwell Smart voice) would you believe, I was trapped in an elevator waiting for the technicians to get the doors unstuck and me back safely on terra firma. (uncue voice)

Actually, i was just traveling to Japan and Hong Kong and am now back in Sydney and will begin catching up with all of the easy pickings that came out of the ISDC. Man am I sorry i missed that!

(apologies to aerosmith for the title of this posting)

Sunday, May 07, 2006

NASA Announces Plan To Launch $700 Million Into Space

In the Art Imitatating Life Category (courtesy of The Onion - because i'm not that funny):

CAPE CANAVERAL, FL—Officials at the Kennedy Space Center announced Tuesday that they have set Aug. 6 as the date for launching $700 million from the Denarius IV spacecraft, the largest and most expensive mission to date in NASA's unmanned monetary-ejection program.

"This is an exciting opportunity to study the effect of a hard-vacuum, zero-gravity environment on $50 and $100 bills," said NASA Administrator Michael Griffin, who noted that prior Project Denarius missions only studied space's effect on fives and singles. "Whether the money is immediately incinerated because of hard radiation, or freezes in the near-absolute-zero temperature and shatters into infinitesimal pieces, or drifts aimlessly through the cosmos before being sucked through a black hole into another dimension, it will provide crucial information for our next series of launches, which will consist of even greater sums of money, in larger denominations."

Friday, May 05, 2006

Breaking News From ISDC!

Virgin Galactic announced yesterday that they will not, repeat, will not, have hostesses on their flights when they are inaugurated. Richard Branson is firm on this.

More breaking news will be reported in this space as it happens, live, from the International Space Development Conference, Los Angeles, CA.

Thursday, May 04, 2006

Logos on the Moon?

Yes, I know Heinlein wrote about it. Now it appears to have made CNet News:

"Logos to Replace Man In The Moon, Ad Man Predicts"

I wonder how long until the moon is "tagged"?

On a serious note, however, this does open up a whole range of issues related to space property rights, etc. After all, who gets to decide which ad(s) get placed on the moon? What's to stop someone from superimposing their ad over a rival's ad?

For example, imagine Microsoft pays to have the Windows 2044 (codename "Vaporware") logo beamed onto the moon for everyone on Earth to see. Then imagine Google pays to have a big red circle and slash beamed over it...

What is a Cynic?

Source: Roget's New Millennium™ Thesaurus, First Edition (v 1.2.1)

Main Entry: doubter

Part of Speech: noun

Definition: nonbeliever

Synonyms: agnostic, cynic, disbeliever, doubting Thomas, headshaker*, questioner, skeptic, unbeliever, zetetic

Antonyms: believer, worshipper

Copyright © 2006 by Lexico Publishing Group, LLC. All rights reserved.

* = informal or slang

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Asteroid Mining vs. Cloud Mining

Many of you already know my views on the claims of asteroid mining proponents - in particular the "I've never taken an Econ 101 class and don't know the most fundamental concepts of supply, demand, and market-clearing prices" claim that many asteroids have TRILLIONS of dollars of precious metals just waiting for a smart VC to fund Company X to go extract.

Well, i've found a much more achievable mining opportunity, courtesy of this brilliant website:

Cloud Mining

Because, you know, every cloud has a silver lining...

...and that silver has a market value.

Monday, May 01, 2006

Stupid Space Tricks

Thanks (i think) to Monte for forwarding the link to this website. Hours of endless fun filling in the sign in the astronaut's hand.

Just a shame they can't spell outer space...