Thursday, May 3, 2018

Rocket N00b Update

Little N00b was born on April 5, 2018. He and Mrs. N00b are doing great, happy and healthy.

We're home now, and I've managed to secure a little time off work. And though it may sound surprising, as we have a newborn, I am now in the mood to get back to rocketry. Here are some random updates, thoughts, etc. to get me started writing again. It's probably going to ramble a bit, but once I'm done, I hope to get back to more informative posts.

First of all, if you're a longtime reader of the blog (and one of the few who've stuck around during my long dry periods with no new posts), I regret that I haven't updated the blog as often as I used to. I know that this isn't a job and I don't have subscribers or patrons to answer to, but I do feel a sense of responsibility to the blog.

At its peak, I was surprised by how many daily page views I was getting, and I would sometimes hear from rocketry beginners who'd found the blog and gotten some useful information from it. Those page views have diminished, as will happen when a blog, YouTube channel, or podcast stops creating regular content.

Actually, I've felt for some time that this blog has somewhat of an identity crisis.

A model rocket graveyard - Huntsville, AL

What am I trying to do with The Rocket N00b? I've always described it as a "model rocketry blog for beginners," but I don't always stick to that concept. Sometimes I've posted things which will only be relevant to more experienced rocketeers. Then sometimes I try to go back and write something really basic that I feel I skipped over when I was first publishing the blog. When I do that, I sometimes wonder if it's too late - or if what I'm writing is too basic at this point.

When I first started The Rocket N00b, the idea was to share information as I was learning it - so that other Rocket N00bs could learn along with me, as it were. I wanted to clearly spell out things so that anybody could understand them - whether or not they had any background in the science and engineering aspects that touch on model rocketry, or any experience using tools and paint and making things with their hands, or what have you. The idea was that I had discovered this thing which was really really fun, which was kind of science-y, had a crafty aspect to it, and I wanted to explain it to other people who might be looking for this kind of information on the Internet. Not that I expected anybody to ever even find the blog. But it was my attempt to convince the few friends I thought would be the only readers that this is pretty fun, it's just challenging enough to be interesting, but it's not too hard or expensive - and you should join me!

My ideal audience, actually, was my friend Paul.

Paul was a friend I met while acting in and directing plays at the Bloomington Playwrights Project in Bloomington, Indiana. It was through this theater that - oddly enough - I discovered an obsession with rocketry.

Like me, Paul was more of an artsy type than a technical one. He's a smart guy, but his field of work has nothing to do with science or technology, or building or painting things. But he has a young son, and since rocketry is a great hobby to pursue with kids, I figured he might be interested. In fact, he did express some interest. And while Paul and I now live in different parts of the country, he still serves as a good imaginary audience.

I figure if I can explain an aspect of the physics of rocketry in a way Paul would understand it, I'm hitting the right tone. If I can explain an aspect of model building or painting in a way that would make sense to him, then I'm doing what I set out to do.

This is why my blog posts tended to be rather long - I wanted to give the reader all the information I can, clearly and thoroughly, and leave them with no big questions.

But, of course, while I was writing the blog, I was also reading a ton about the various aspects of model rocketry. My knowledge was growing far faster than I could reasonably write about it. And sometimes I'd skip ahead.

Besides, maybe a blog format isn't the best way to organize information for beginners. Blogs may bounce from topic to topic. They're not books, with information neatly organized in chapters, to be consumed chronologically.

Of course, there already are books on model rocketry for beginners. The Handbook of Model Rocketry and Make: Rockets: Down-to-Earth Rocket Science are both great resources.

But no one book can tell you everything. And often beginners turn to the Internet first when trying to get into a new hobby. I guess when I started I was trying to write a comprehensive online beginner's guide to model rocketry, written by a fellow beginner, while in the process of learning everything - rather a large task to take on, and tough to accomplish in blog format if you're learning faster than you can write.

Perhaps what's more called for is an organized website - with organized pages of topics and subtopics - rather than a blog. I do own in case I want to do something like that, but I haven't decided what I want to do with that site yet.

The fact is, lately I've questioned what purpose this blog serves. Who is reading it? Who was reading it when I was publishing several times a week and it was getting lots of traffic? What were those readers getting from it, and what else would they like to see from the blog?

Despite the tag I've put at the bottom of every post the last few years, I almost never get any email asking me to cover a specific topic of rocketry. Perhaps that's because I haven't gone far enough in exploring certain topics for people to ask me for more information. Or perhaps it's simply because most people coming here just like reading about rocketry and don't really need more information from me.

The questions I've asked myself, plus the fact that it takes a lot of writing and good photos to illustrate a post and some double checking of my facts if I'm writing something about the physics of rocketry, have all led me to procrastinate on this blog for so long, it's no longer fair to call it "procrastination." For a while, I even considered quitting the blog.

But... well, I don't want to do that. I enjoy sharing my knowledge and passion for rocketry. I've got lots of ideas for topics, some of which I've been stewing on for some time.  And I think a few of them are pretty good.

I just haven't had the time or energy to write them up lately. In fact, I haven't built anything in months. I've barely touched a model rocket since last fall, with the possible exception of to move one of my models from one place to another. I've been in kind of a funk for some time, and haven't felt motivated to do much building.

The winter was long, and I think the weather got me down a little bit. Work had me tired. And, believe it or not, the Hobbico bankruptcy and the uncertainty surrounding it made me feel really depressed - more than it should have, I'm sure.

I decided to keep my thoughts to myself, of course. And a corporate bankruptcy doesn't usually mean the end of a business. Estes itself had been doing well. There were lots of people who wanted it to succeed. There were lots of reasons to think that this would just be a hiccup for Estes.

Then again, nothing lasts forever. Hobbico had taken on a shocking amount of debt, and who knew at the time if anybody with the means would see buying a model rocket company as a good financial investment? I'm no expert in corporate bankruptcy, but it sure didn't look good.

What I'm saying here is that sometimes I have a slightly pessimistic streak, and while there was plenty of reason for hope, I needed more than speculation to lift my spirits. While I tried my best to make myself believe everything would be just fine, I was having a hard time. Because I love this hobby! And if Estes had been shuttered due to its parent company's mismanagement, well... that would be very bad for the hobby.

So, I kept my mouth shut. I didn't want my worry to poison any groundwater. I'm really just another guy building model rockets, but because of my position as a member of The Rocketry Show podcast, I didn't want any doubts I may have had to be taken by anybody as somehow official. I didn't want my own private freak-out to lead to other people freaking out for no good reason.

Then... The Langford family purchased Estes! No longer a subsidiary of a large company who doesn't really care about model rocketry as anything more than a financial investment, the owners and new CEO care deeply about the hobby, and have a personal history with it!

I don't mean to sound glib. I know that some people under Hobbico most likely lost jobs due to what happened, and I feel for those people and hope that things work out for them. But as for Estes, what looked like a disaster may turn out to have been the best possible thing to happen. I cannot wait to see what happens next with Estes!

This good news really got me pumped up and ready to build. Of course, it all happened right before Little N00b was to be born - and then my mother came to visit for two weeks, sleeping in the Rocket Room. So until now, I haven't been able to get cracking on building again.

Now I'm ready, and pumped. I've got stuff I want to write about. I've got some time off work. I've got an empty Rocket Room, all set to be re-arranged for better space usage. I have a build pile which is out of control. And - most importantly - I know my supply of low power black powder motors isn't going to dry up forever.

* * *

So, what's this blog going to be from here on out? I don't know. I do know I want to get back into regular publication. And I want to have some stuff that's useful for n00bs. So you more experienced rocketeers may find some pretty basic stuff on here. I'm sure that's probably fine - most rocket people I know like reading about rocketry, even if they already know the information they're reading. Some things will be for absolute beginners, and some things won't.

Coming up in the near future - some stuff about different glues, some stuff about balsa wood grain filling techniques, and some stuff about protecting your parachute. Also, I've got some builds I'll be posting, because I know rocketeers enjoy seeing those, and I've got a couple I'm proud of.

OK, end of rambling. Back to rocketry.

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  1. Content has been a bit advanced for the beginner, in my estimation...but what do I know? ;)

  2. Hello Daniel!

    Congratulations on the new baby! Your life will never be the same.

    As for me , I too have been in a terrible funk of late. Sometimes this hobby seems like more of a burden than a blessing but every now and then the winds lay down, the sky turns deep blue and the urge returns. So do not get too discouraged and keep your N00b enthusiasm. It's infectious!

  3. Congrats on your newest rocketeer. Keep up the blog as time permits.