Secret projects & long shots


My primary laptop is getting a cheap tune up at a local shop this week, that’s why posting has been light the last few days. For now, I’m using an old Dell netbook, with a teeny-tiny screen, that acts more like an obstacle between me and writing than a conduit. Hopefully I’ll have a new desktop, built out of donated parts, soon that will blow doors on currently available gear. I could use some DDR3 RAM for that project or any small contribs anyone can spare to the Paypal or a snail mail address linked above.

I’m flying into DC on Sunday, just in time for the kind of big storm that this Texas boy hasn’t seen in years. The risk of being stranded is real, but it’s also kind of exciting: we southerners so rarely see snow in any form, much less accumulations on the ground or trees laced in delicate fractals of ice. I’m doing some tourist stuff while there, but I’m also working/pitching a project I’ve been working on for years.

I have what was once a book on Newspace, commercial space exploration. But the publisher went belly up and, in no small part due to the economy and changing technology, I couldn’t get another one interested. Many of the people behind the Newspace movement are Silicon Valley moguls, Elon Musk, Paul Allen, Esther Dyson, Jeff Bezos, those kinds of folks. They’re not easy to get to know, but over the years I’ve managed to build bridges and gain the notice of some of them. Along the way I started to wonder if a dead tree book is really the way I want to go. I’m now leaning more toward some kind of CD and digital download that would work more like a video game code.

It happens there are some people involved in Newspace that would also be very helpful in pointing me in the right direction to develop that idea. Some of them are secretive, some are eccentric, all of them are hounded by people trying to get money formn them. I don’t need any money for my diea form them, but one of the things I hope to do while in DC is get an introduction to a few of those people to get some technical advice, initiate some buzz for the project, and maybe even enlist one or two in helping me put together a successful Kick-starter effort to raiseseveral thousand dollars to see it through. I call this project “Spacebook” just for reference.

I’m not sure exactly what Spacebook would end up looking like or be able to do. I only have the text written, about 70,000 words, and some still images. But there are huge advantages to an e-book approach. For starters, real books have to have a certain number of pages or they just look like a pamphlet. But in the blogging world where I operate, shorter is better, even though shorter can be harder. Word count is to an author what altitude is to a pilot; there’s all kinds of room to screw up and still recover. Writing well about a complex subject using the least number of words required is learned skill for traditional novelists, but it’s a fundamental requirement for bloggers and columnists. An e-book side steps the need to needlessly fill out page after page to make the book properly thick.

Real books have to be physically printed and shipped, meaning trees lost and fossil fuels burned. Ebooks can be bought and received online, even a video game CD these days usually comes with an alphanumeric code that can be burned, i.e., used to download the material directly online complete with all the latest updates or patches, while protecting buyer and seller from pirated copies. Printing and shipping is also expensive; 10,000 copies of the book I have in mind would cost me at least $15,000 to print and distribute, and that’s with me doing a ton of the work. I’m thinking I can sell the CD or digital download for just a few dollars and still make at least some money, even if only a few hundred sell.

Lastly, there are some features I can include in an Ebook that can’t be in a real one. Simple diagrams can move for example, browser can be opened for embedded links, there can be language options, and that’s all stuff I need to talk about with some people who know what they’re doing. And, in the unlikely event an Ebook does exceptionally well, the dead tree publishers will be way more interested.

I’ll talk more about the content of Spacebook later, snippets have quietly been posted here over the years, for now it’s good enough to say it’s not very political or partisan, it will be real science-y and (Hopefully) fun to read, a great intro to Newspace, and a heads up for a developing venture capital or IPO market to come. As far as I know, no one else is working on this exact idea — as far as I know.

Everything written above is all highly speculative, a real long shot. I have no illusions about how likely it is to succeed or even see the light of day. And yet … I’m not sure why or how to explain this, it’s ineffable and irrational, but I just know it can work.


  1. johnb says

    Good luck with this Steve. There have certainly been a lot of exciting developments in the field over the past several years. Hope that you can pull it off. Please alert through the column if you get a Kickstarter project launched.

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