Boat Hacking and Gonzo Engineering

April 24, 2011

Much of what has driven my complex technomadic projects since 1983 is publishing the ongoing narrative, and there have been stories ranging from the insanely geeky to the deeply terrifying… with a whole spectrum in between. And this creates a challenge.

There are three clear extremes in this unfolding tale, and blending them into a single thread (like a blog) doesn’t work. We really need separate publishing vehicles:

  • The real-time technical narrative of the project with all its gonzo engineering, variations, puzzles, amusing interludes, geeky noodling, pointers to resources, and direct reader interaction. By definition, some of this is completely wrong, because we learn and make corrections as we go.
  • Technical monographs about completed systems, well documented as stand-alone publications, with enough detail to clone (or at least fully understand) a design or set of techniques. These should have a shelf life of many years, and not be cluttered with unrelated material. Depending on the subject, these can be eBooks or hard-copy publications.
  • A  friendly collection of stories that are of interest to a wide audience, covering everything from system integration to geek adventure… but not terribly detailed.

Over the past three decades, I’ve taken a variety of approaches to solving this problem… generally finding that email updates to a mailing list work well at one extreme, with books and articles at the others. About ten years ago, available publishing tools went through some major changes, so like everyone else, I started blogging.

The problem with that is that it is not what we used to call “push technology” – I don’t know about you, but I am constantly forgetting to read the latest blog posts from interesting friends (even with RSS; I’m just in constant information overload). Blogs are superb for parking stuff on the web with a nice graphic flow of photos and linky goodness, but… except for die-hard fans… they are not ideal for staying in touch with a community.

From 2011 to 2013, I produced what I thought was the perfect solution: a magazine-style PDF series that was available by subscription for $20/year. These were lovingly polished, and I ended up publishing 22 issues totaling about 200 pages of material (the 192-page compilation book is in my store). I am very happy with the results, though it was a LOT of work.

But deadlines came (and went!) without regard for the status of the projects, and dated issues don’t work well as stand-alone publications (single systems span multiple articles). I started to find them a burden, and announced an end to the series in April of 2013. Yet the readers are there, still just as curious, and a lot is going on at Nomadic Research Labs. What to do?

The answer is embedded in those bulleted points up the page a bit, so here’s what I now have to offer if you’re interested in following these adventures in geek expressionism:

  1. Free subscription to email Nomadness News updates (random intervals), with a relaxed technical style. These assume that the reader is pretty much on board with the ongoing project, and thus do not spend time on context-setting or attempts to be comprehensive. During the Microship era, I posted a couple hundred issues of something much like this, with a mailing list that reached 4,500 before the project wound down.
  2. Blog which is right here, and gets updates at random intervals presenting current projects, adventures, random tales, favorite bits of gizmology, noodlings, and all that other bloggy goodness.
  3. Boat Hacking Collection of stand-alone eBooks about single, well-defined projects or techniques. These are designed to be much more useful than “Issue #n of something,” and will include schematics, software listings, detailed parts lists, how-to material, and so on. A la carte prices will vary.

Publications are what keep this project going, so I will make sure to keep cranking out amusing nautical geekery as we build the starship Nomadness!

NOTE: As with any vintage forward-looking statements, some of that didn’t happen!


  1. wgm on June 5, 2011 at 5:18 pm

    I’m a long time fan of your endeavors and writing. I just subscribed to The Report – Issue #6 already being out – and wonder if you were selling back-issues as PDF’s. Thanks for all your work!

  2. Steve on June 5, 2011 at 5:26 pm

    Hello, and thanks for subscribing! At the moment, I’m sending all new subscribers the full set of back issues, effectively starting everyone at #1, but eventually that will become cumbersome. My plan is to pause every quarter (12-13 issues) and produce an eBook as well as a printed digest… then start all subsequent subscriptions as the next issue past the collection. I don’t know the pricing of those yet, though I think the hardcopy version (via MagCloud) will be around $20-ish… with the eBook much less.

    Cheers, and thanks again for helping fuel the boat hacking!


  3. Tom Winn on August 24, 2011 at 5:02 pm

    Hey Steve,
    The webcam seems to freeze up every couple of days. Any idea what’s causing that?
    So, you’re living at KokomoJoe’s old apartment? Maybe you’re off traveling, since I see no sign of your dinghy these days.
    Did see your note in Good Old Boat. Best magazine around on boating with sails.

  4. admin on August 24, 2011 at 5:06 pm

    HI Tom… Yah, weird on those freeze-ups! I have to restart the Pepwave Surf Mini sometimes, and other times just need to stop and re-start the process in the camera. Odd. I’ll go whack it….

    I’ve just been tucking the dink between other boats for security. Thanks for the comment on the Good Old Boat note… I’m thinking of changing the name of the publication to “Boat Hacking Journal” to give it broader appeal.


  5. admin on February 17, 2012 at 1:19 pm

    Update on the webcam – it’s fixed! No more freezing. The problem was the old version of Pepwave firmware; an update solved the problem.

  6. Hank on August 25, 2012 at 11:41 am

    Hi Steve,
    I was glad to see you get into sailing and have been following your progress with SV Nomadness. Congrats. We’ve just made the maiden voyage in our ‘final’ cruiser, and are looking forward to learning and applying much from your endeavours. I just subscribed to the Nomadness report – hoping you will catch me up to Issue 1? 🙂 Thanks for sharing your experience Steve. Fair winds.


Leave a Reply