Art without engineering is dreaming;
Engineering without art is calculating.

Steven K. Roberts, N4RVE

The Library of Technomadics

(Photo by Mel Lindstrom)

BEHEMOTH

In 1983, I left Ohio on a "computerized recumbent bicycle" named Winnebiko to begin a career of technomadic publishing, then after the first 10,000 miles built a new machine that would let me write while riding. After another 6,000 miles, it was time for the mega-cycle... a 580-pound monster named BEHEMOTH. All three bike versions are described here.

Microship

After 9 years of pedaling around the US on geeky bicycles, it was time to port the whole adventure to water. The Microship project spanned a decade, with three different labs and multiple design revisions... at last yielding an amphibian pedal/solar/sail micro-trimaran. This massive project was fueled by about 160 corporate sponsors and a team of brilliant geeks...

Nomadness

By the time the Microship was "done" in 2003, I wanted something more practical... large enough to live aboard with crew, piano, and lab. After a year with a rocketship 36-foot trimaran, I bought an Amazon 44 — a steel pilothouse cutter. With the intent of preparing for open-ended global voyaging, I cruised and lived aboard for 6 years while immersed in nautical geekery.

Datawake

In my sixties, it was time to move to the Dark Side... so I found a new owner for Nomadness and acquired a Vic Franck Delta 50. I now live aboard this floating lab in the San Juan Islands, with communications, virtual reality, underwater vehicle, piano, audio studio, data collection, machine shop, and deployable micro-trimaran for local exploration.

Building a Feline Outhouse

Take it Outside, Kitty… Building a Boat Cat Litter Box by Steven K. Roberts, aboard Datawake OK, so I admit it… I love this cat. Isabelle lives aboard with me, and her tubby cuddly awesomeness increases the quality of life in lots of ways. But even a quirky Russian Blue who pushes all the right feline buttons but…

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The Datawake ADS-B PiAware Receiver

One of my obsessions over the years has been collecting data, probing the radio spectrum, sensing outside my limited visual and hearing range, and deploying probes to expand my awareness of the environment. This leads to recognition of patterns, better understanding of how things work, and the voyeuristic thrill of peeking behind the curtains of technology or human activity. Tracking…

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Cat Scratching Posts for Boats

I can’t imagine living aboard without a cat, and Isabelle moved with me to Datawake after three years aboard Nomadness. She’s a constant joy, but there are still feline realities that have to be considered: dining, elimination, and scratching. All are challenging on a boat, given space constraints and the need to handle dynamic conditions. Telling a cat…

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Building a Heavy-Duty Piano Drawer

by Steven K. Roberts Nomadic Research Labs A key requirement for my floating lab/studio was to have a digital piano aboard, but limited space dictates a deployment system that lets it stow away when not in use. I designed the console around this, and built a piano drawer that can handle a quarter-ton. It was important that it not…

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The Shacktopus Portable Power Beast

These are the voyages of the hand truck, Shacktopus. Her continuing mission… to seek out new loads and strange environments… to boldly blink where no one has blinked before. On a voyaging sailboat, stable power goes with the territory: a huge battery bank charged by isolated shore cable and solar panels, diesel genset with a…

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1974 Homebrew 8008 System

In 1974, six months of geek obsession led to one of the first personal computers... a homebrew 8008 that is now on display in the Computer History Museum. The story of that machine is here, including complete schematics. This predated the computer kits that kicked off the personal computer revolution, and it was in daily use for years.

The Polaris Mobile Lab

I have occasionally needed a capable laboratory that is not constrained to a fixed location, so I built one into a 24-foot utility trailer. Featured in MAKE: Magazine, this is a detailed description that includes preparing the space, inventory storage, furniture, fixturing, and power.

Isabelle

I live aboard Datawake with this magical being, and have a massive backlog of photos and stories. In the meantime, this is just a teaser... this 7-year-old Russian Blue has a lot to do with my quality of life. Here's her high-tech litter box, with carbon filter and webcam:

The Shacktopus Power Cart

A universal power system, built into a collapsible hand truck for use in emergencies.

Services

I live aboard in Friday Harbor, and offer a variety of services using some of the exquisite tools that have become part of the ship: 8 & 16mm film digitizing, thermal imaging, 360 photography, ROV exploration, 3D printing, and system design...

Microship Store

I have an online store for my technomadic publications, along with a few special items of historical interest. (This is in addition to the Microship eBay store offering an eclectic mix of gizmology, collectibles, and antiquities.)

New Posts

This column shows new material as it is added, and may include articles about the Datawake boat project, dives with the ROV, photography, and other real-time content.

Maritime Mobile FT8 Amateur Radio

I’ve recently been enjoying immersion in a sort of ham radio for introverts… a new digital mode called FT8 that allows weak-signal communication on all the HF bands from 160 to 6 meters via tiny 50Hz-wide signals exchanged by time-synchronized computers running WSJT-X. A complete exchange takes a minute and a half, with the connected machines…

Using a FLIR ONE Thermal Camera Aboard

A driving force in my years of building technomadic machines has been a toolset for seeing the world beyond the limitations of my usual senses… something that is not only intrinsically fascinating, but essential for diagnostics. The latest addition is a FLIR ONE thermal imaging camera (the Gen-3 USB-C model for Android; there is also…

Datawake in Journal of the San Juan Islands

During my years in Friday Harbor, mostly living aboard Nomadness and Datawake, I have kept a low profile in the local media. This was an exception, with an enjoyable interview with Hayley Day that became a front-page piece in the weekly paper… along with a related editorial. Here’s a photo of the front page, with…

The Boat Bidet

(photo above: the heated seat of the bidet, as viewed by the FLIR ONE thermal camera) This is the new control console for my toilet aboard Datawake, which has just had a major upgrade. Although most of my attention in the last year and a half has been on the übergeeky systems in the lab, there…

Lifestyle Geekery Aboard Ship

Most of my posts about the starship Datawake focus on the geeky components… console systems, the holodeck, exotic digital radio, studio-grade audio processing, and so on. But this boat is home as well as lab, and many of my projects are unglamorous, non-blinking tools for simply improving the quality of life aboard. This post covers a few…

The Ship Weather Station

Datawake was named for a central theme of this project: slurping information from a wide variety of sensors, presenting it on a console, then leaving a wake of data astern. “Sensors” come in many flavors, and I use the term to include status bits, temperatures, radio traffic, video, navigation data, network and server logs, motion detectors, and anything else that conveys…

Recent Additions to Archives

Any changes to the library will be briefly featured here... whether newly scanned articles, digitized videos and movies, historical documents, or edits to existing material.

High-tech nomad visits Brunswick, Georgia

by Carolyn O’Quinn, Community Life Writer Brunswick News — December 18, 1987 What has five computers, 54 gears, 2 wheels, 136 feet of zippers, two solar panels, 108 square feet of tent space, a motion-sensitive security system, more than a million bytes of memory, a speech synthesizer, a tiny T.V. set, shortwave radio, a telephone…

Pedaling high technology – Seattle Times

This article was particularly well-timed and pivotal. We were on Bainbridge Island, cranking hard on the Winnebiko II with a departure date about 3 weeks away, and having a front-page color feature in the Seattle Times was a wonderful boost of energy.   Cyclist hitting road on a Winnebiko by Lisa Konick Seattle Times — September 22, 1986…

VIP Visit – MIT Media Lab FRAMES

VIP-visit - MIT Media Lab FRAMES

When I was schmoozing around academia in 1992 on a quest for Microship development facilities (eventually landing at UCSD), I was sorely tempted by the MIT Media Lab. Although open Cube workspace in an urban environment was a bit overwhelming to contemplate, I’ll always wonder if it would have indeed been the wiser choice… the…

BEHEMOTH in CQ Amateur Radio 1998 Calendar

CQ Calendar, 1998 - cover

I got to be a “calendar boy” twice with the bike – first in the Bicycling Magazine calendar of 1988, and then a decade later in this one by CQ Magazine. I was in the Microship lab in Santa Clara at the time, not on the road… I remember riding BEHEMOTH to a nearby park…

Nomad Wheels in on High-Tech Vehicle – Florida Flambeau

by Lisa Photos, Staff Writer Florida Flambeau — March 16, 1988 Steve Roberts can type up to 30 words a minute while riding his bicycle up to 50 miles per hour. In fact, Roberts—who has a complex computer system rigged up in a sort of cockpit at the front of the unique bike—has whipped up an…

Roamin’ Free, but Plugged Into the Job – USA Today

Meet a high-tech nomad - USA Today

During the primitive beginning of my paleo-technomadic bicycle travels, the media was still unfamiliar with the implications of the technology that was making it possible… even though vibrant communities were developing in the various pre-Internet online services. After a small article about me appeared in USA Today (May 1, 1984), I got a contract with…