What Is It About Rockets?

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Those familiar with my blog know of my fondness of model rockets. I'm not quite sure what business a middle-aged man has running around shooting off propellant-laced toys, but there you have it – – I'm a model rocket addict.

My interest in this started back in Louisiana when I was perhaps ten years old. I had very little money, but what I did have I typically gave to the local hobby shop in exchange for Estes kits and engines. My friends and I would always look forward to traipsing off to the elementary school playground and shooting them off.

Back then, I hungrily eyed one rocket with a built-in camera (with 35mm film, I think). The box shows the snapshot the rocket took from way up high. Of course, I imagine those who actually bought the rocket wound up with inscrutable blurs (after waiting a week for processing), but I confess I really longed for such a thing.

These days, I've got more money for playthings and better technology for taking videos. The problem is that, unlike Louisiana, the Bay Area doesn't have a single place where you can legally fire off rockets. Thus, I lead the life of a scofflaw, managing to fire off one or maybe two rockets before a pickup truck with Ranger Rick arrives to inform me that such doings are not allowed. Gosh, officer, I didn't know. Sorry.

It's particular ironic that I get such a charge out of seeing things zoom higher when in my trading life I like to see things plummeting (although one or two of my rockets have managed that as well). I've often pondered what the "draw" is to these things. Like the movie RoboCop, I think it's pretty much a guy thing. Women seem to conclude – too swiftly, I think- that men are nuts to be involved in such activities.

There's also the suspense; it's actually kind of exciting to set things up and see if the damned thing is even going to work or not. And, of course, watching your creation zoom into the sky is a thrill, particularly if it's a rocket that you've designed and built totally on your own. (Some of my more spectacular flame-outs have been with custom jobs).

Below is one of my latest efforts – a four-rocket cluster with a video camera mounted to its side. The first part of the video shows me doing a test in my back yard with the rocket taped multiple times to its launch rod. Having had some recent wrecks, I wanted to put this rocket through the paces to make sure everything was OK. The second clip shows the actual launch of the rocket, which I did yesterday evening (and, sure enough, Ranger Rick rolled up before I could even fire off my second rocket).


Sadly, even though my new digital video camera was supposedly on and recording, it didn't have any file available when it came back to earth. I've never had a rocket go as high as this one (literally "out of sight"), and I was eager to see the footage. Ah, well. I'll have to wait until next time.

I felt a little less immature when I saw famed venture capitalist Steve Jurvetson has the same affliction I do. Some similarities are that he's had plenty of rocket troubles and his young son loves participating; some differences are that his rocket budget is, shall we say, a lot bigger than mine, and he's famous enough that people actually listen to him speak about it. Here's a quick clip of him talking about model rockets at TED: 

And here is his oh-so-awesome video of his rocket with the equivalent of 4,000 Estes "A" engines:

What about the stock market, you ask? Well, I have pretty much nothing to add beyond what I've been saying recently. In the most general sense, my game plan is:

(a) stay short and stay paranoid and get the hell out once we get to around 1300;

(b) play the long side for the big bounce, most probably in battered commodities;

(c) waiting for some QE-ish blow-out rally to key resistance levels and then short the everloving bejesus out of everything in sight, pushing as deeply into margin as I can.