The Library of Technomadics
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.
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...
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.
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.
This column showcases new additions with current dates, and may include articles about the boat project, dives with the ROV, photography, new toys, or other real-time content.
It is often said that cruising is the art of fixing your boat in exotic ports, and indeed, a large percentage of the epic to-do list is about repairs and maintenance… not shiny new things. That’s the curse of a used boat. A few months ago I was alarmed to discover salt water in the…
It happens every year. Suddenly the sun is sparkling on the water, I realize another orbit has passed, and I peer critically at the epic project list with an eye toward culling non-essentials. One of my favorite kinds of progress involves getting new gizmology off the shelf and into actual use; it’s easy to get…
Things are about to get a lot more active in this blog… for the past year, I’ve been chipping away at the project, but have only rarely posted here. I’m happy to report that I’ve just decided to take a different approach to publishing this sprawling narrative of gonzo engineering, and there is suddenly a…
It is nice to be able to report that the first Nomadness pilothouse helm control surface has been completed, fabricated with King Starboard material and carrying a basic suite of instruments: network displays, AIS transponder, autopilot, and weather monitor… flanked by VHF, clock, and spotlight remote control. The operating position shown here is becoming the home…
Updated July 3, 2022: The system is no longer available. For a while it was on the Port of Friday Harbor office building, with the antenna at the peak of the roof (after 3 years aboard my boat). This was a 50-watt station with high-gain collinear antenna about 60 feet above mean sea level in…
Time for an update! But first, a word from Isabelle, who has delicate sensibilities and prefers not to walk on the cabin sole when it needs to be vacuumed (although, like nature, she abhors a vacuum). SSB Radio Installation Now that we’ve dealt with feline matters, let’s talk tech. This first section is adapted from…
Recent Archive News
Changes to the library are automatically shown here... whether newly scanned articles, digitized videos and movies, historical documents, or edits to existing material. March 23, 2023 item count: 1,080
by Phil Coale Tallahassee Democrat March 22, 1984 Steve Roberts, a 31-year-old writer from Ohio, arrived in Tallahassee Wednesday aboard his well-equipped bicycle — complete with word processor. Since Sept. 28, Roberts has travelled 3,788 miles from his home state. Throughout his trip, he writes regular columns for Online Today, a computer magazine. He plans to…
This article has always stuck in my mind because the photo is excellent… and the photographer, John Delzell, was kind enough to give me an 8×10 glossy. Most newspaper images are forever lost to me, and I’m grateful to have this perfect shot of the original Winnebiko. by Jennifer Thomas and John Delzell Palatka Daily…
It is stunning to contemplate the cultural changes that have taken place in the decades since publication of this beautifully written story in the Key West newspaper. I had arrived in town via computerized bicycle… which was odd enough. But what captured the writer’s imagination was the rendezvous in progress, as I was spending a…
This was Christmas Day, and I was making the trek south to Key West to meet a network friend in what came to be known as “the ultimate blind date.” I was fortunate to have old friends in Titusville, and it was sweet to spend the holiday in their company before returning to the madness…
Conducted by Eolake Stobblehouse The Mac Observer April, 2001 Steven K. Roberts is famous for being the computer geek (sorry, genius) on a bicycle. In the eighties and nineties he travelled America on three heavily computerized and communicating bicycles, culminating in the technically impressive BEHEMOTH (Big Electronic Human-Energized Machine Only Too Heavy). After that Steven…
Computing Across America, Chapter 16 by Steven K. Roberts Gainesville, Florida December 15, 1983 A variety of nothing is superior to a monotony of something.— Jean Paul Richter There it was at last: Florida. I could see the green sign far ahead on the last long stretch of Highway 17 in Georgia, and steeled myself…
Panel-Mounting the Home Patrol Scanner
Keeping my ear to the ground… by Steven K. Roberts One of the central themes aboard this geeky ship is expanding the sensorium. I’ve always been fascinated by data collection in all its forms… not just sensors that reveal system health or the state of the environment, but real-time information that shifts my awareness into a much larger…Read More
Building a Feline Outhouse
Take it Outside, Kitty… Building a Boat Cat Litter Boxby 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 lives…Read More
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…Read More
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…Read More
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 the drawer…Read More
The Shacktopus Portable Power Cart
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…Read More
I have an online store linked above for technomadic publications and cards, along with a few special items of historical interest. (This is in addition to the Microship eBay store offering an eclectic mix of gizmology, nautical geekery, and antiquities.)
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.
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.
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