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

Steven K. Roberts, N4RVE

Settling into the New Nomadness Lab

I suppose it is ironic for a paleo-technomad to look at something as mundane as moving and note that it’s personally epic.

But epic it is, after 13 years in a place that was created for the high-energy Microship project… fabulous facilities that were perfect at time but are now too far from my nautical substrate du jour, haunted by the swirling ghosts of relationships past, and cluttered with the echoes of yesteryear’s hackage.

I’ve known this for a while, held captive by spacious digs that make geek friends envious, complete with an award-winning house nestled against a sylvan backdrop that outshines many a State Park. A few times over the years I went on quests for moorage and lab facilities integrated with a home base, but nothing ever pushed all the right buttons until this one.

We’re now ensconced in La Conner, with Nomadness parked at a dock just below our verandah, an upstairs apartment, a ground-floor lab of about 2000 square feet, and indoor parking very close for the mobile workshop for messy stuff. In the dinghy’s-eye view above, our building is just past the boom.

The move is gradual, and is a very effective filter. Tonnage that I haven’t felt the urge to haul must not be very important, so it’s getting easier to let dormant items go. And with tourist traffic past our “storefront” every day, a free cart is parked outside, laden with items irrelevant in the context of open-ended adventure: dead media, old books, dated electronics, kitchen clutter, cast-off gear, cruft, gewgaws, and minutiae. Every day, things magically disappear, leaving little breaths of fresh air in the dusty attic of my brain.

This isn’t a bad place to be. The Swinomish Channel is our front yard, always changing, reversing direction, carrying traffic ranging from drool-worthy yachts to doddering fishing boats. We even get out in our kayaks on occasion; here’s Kirsten enjoying the maiden voyage of Trinket:

Kirsten aboard Trinket on the Swinomish Channel


The Anarchivist

Speaking of yesteryear’s echoes, there is one category of stuff that has been weighing on me for some time: the mountain of bike-epoch media binders and video dubs of my various TV appearances over the years. Obviously I have to keep it all… but in the form of musty tearsheets and slowly degrading VHS tapes? I don’t think so.

I’ve started a new corner of the website: The Microship Anarchivist. This is another WordPress blog, but instead of random noodlings and project updates like this one, it is devoted to articles, historical records, project documentation, and media coverage. The fun thing is that each post carries the date of the original, so it’s forming a timeline that can be browsed sequentially.  At this writing, there are only about 20 posts there, but the mountain is high (and the process fun). 2018 Note: Now 660 and counting!

For print media, I use the Fujitsu ScanSnap to acquire page images direct to Searchable PDF. I thought I was going to have to do multiple scan passes to get this along with images and OCR’d text, but not so: the trick is to use Automator on the Macintosh to produce the secondary files. Whenever I have a new article PDF, it takes just a few moments to set the metadata, create a JPEG image of each page, and extract text to a vanilla file.

The most time-consuming part is stripping hard returns, removing end-of-line hyphens, and rearranging any stray captions or sidebars. When that’s done, I create a new blog post, write a quick intro, insert a magazine cover photo if appropriate, then paste in the text with page images as small insets down the left side.

Winnebiko II in the Bicycling Magazine 1988 calendar
Pulling some of these old documents out of the vault and getting them online is a hoot, and not just my own retro-geekery. One of my favorites is the 1939 recommendation letter by St. Clair McKelway, the editor of the New Yorker, helping my mother get accepted into the Barbizon.

The videos are another process, and it feels good to rescue these bits of history from slowly degrading VHS. I have a Panasonic digital camcorder that I chose a few years ago because it was capable of recording from an NTSC source, so I’m using it and an old VCR to dub the tapes. The video is then slurped into iMovie HD via Firewire, compressed appropriately (still twiddling those knobs in search of the size/quality sweet spot), and uploaded to YouTube. The first one, a CNN piece about Winnebiko II from 1988, can be viewed either there or embedded in the anarchive page.

All this will take a while, but it’s a nice short-attention-span background task. I’m already finding the resulting timeline (though still sparse) to be useful. One of the other highlights is the full set of schematics from my 1974 homebrew computer (now in the Computer History Museum).

The Nomadness Report

It is strange to think that current work will one day be just as quaintly anachronistic as all that, but we might as well enjoy the sparkle while it lasts. Boat project details are primarily covered in the Nomadness Report, subtitled “A Weekly Compendium of Boat Hacking and Gonzo Engineering.”

This is proving to be an interesting publishing venture, with lots of subscribers and 11 issues as of this date. Each one is a PDF of 5-10 pages, sometimes with a major technical feature, other times with more of a magazine flavor.  The fun thing about this is that the material can drop right into a compilation… the first of which will take place as soon as Issue 12 is completed.

These will be available as ebooks, of course, but I’m also going to use MagCloud to produce a glossy hardcopy edition.

I took August off due to real-estate adventures and other logistics, but am diving back in this week. As the new publication continues to unfold, I’ll be welcoming participation by other boat hackers and nautical geeks… please let me know if you’d like to contribute something about your work.

Current Nomadness Projects

All this writing is fine, but what about the real stuff? Time lost to logistics pretty well killed off this year’s vague cruising plans, but we’re looking toward a long season up the Inside Passage next year and a 2013 departure for open-ended voyaging. I’m not keen on paying rent forever, so there’s a strong sense of the clock ticking (not to mention the slow horror of growing irrevocably older and being reminded that we better get on with it).

There are two broad categories of projects. The first includes essential integrated systems, maintenance, plumbing, coatings, power, and all that other basic boat stuff. The second is the übergeekery, most of which is centered in the 8-foot wrap-around console assembly that will be staged in the new lab and then installed in place of the old dinette forward of the pilothouse.

The boat essentials are more critical for being able to get out there and enjoy life, of course, so they have priority… at the moment, I’m reverse-engineering the Yanmar engine control panels so I can debug the sudden-onset engine alarm that woke up everybody but me at about 5 AM a few weeks ago. The drawing will join others in my new 11×17 documentation binder, such as the one that I did recently for the Waterworks system (click to embiggen):

waterworks
Once this is done, I’ll turn my attention to the new integrated power console, which will convert the awful unserviceable area of the old AC panel into a pantry across from the galley while tightening power management into a single clean layout at the inside helm.

This Blog…

I’ll continue posting updates and adventure tales here… along with occasional details of the systems as they come together. The more substantial tech material will be in the Nomadness Report, but I’m keeping this blog alive for lighter geekery and sea stories. Thanks for hanging on during this long and turbulent tack; it should be getting fun again as soon as we come about!

Cheers and fair winds,
Steve

2 Comments

  1. James Schipper on September 4, 2011 at 6:37 pm

    I need to stop reading your blog. After watching that CNN video and hearing that back then you could pedal and type 30wpm in freaking binary, and knowing how much you’ve probably learned since then, has shown me that I am a blithering idiot by comparison 😀



  2. Steve on September 4, 2011 at 6:53 pm

    *grin*

    I enjoyed looking over your blog… have you become comfortable with Dragon Naturally Speaking? I tried a few times way back when to write via cassette recorder, but it was never comfortable… I ended up preferring typing even though it was painfully slow compared to a normal keyboard. Good skills and tools for capturing text with voice would have been helpful.

    Standing invitation to visit if you’re ever in the Pacific Northwest… we’re here until next summer, then off for points north.

    Cheers!
    Steve