sean heaLy on Fri, 26 Jul 2002 15:15:17 +0200 (CEST)

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<nettime> Nomadic Research Labs Interview

I was impressed enough when i saw Steve's site and that he maintained it
from his recumbent ( sit-down stylee ) bicycle while travelling... but a
solar powered linux server on a small catamaran??!! And of course he
answered my interview email request within 10 minutes of me sending it!

ciao from oz
aka jp

Nomadic Research Labs

Beyond ants born on a merry-go-round, beyond yourself being born on the
back of a galloping horse, lies the question of whether you choose to be
born - or if it just happens to you. Not sure which side of that fence
long-time pedaller and tech-nomad Steven Roberts sits. As you can see at, he's certainly mobile though.

>How hard was your transition to becoming nomadic?

Pretty easy; Central Ohio inspires long-distance travel.  As this
coincided with my somewhat antisocial desire to combine all my passions
into a lifestyle (which can be a bit rough on relationships), the
pre-launch phase was 6 months of exuberant stress.  Departure was
something of a relief, and since I actually *moved* to the bicycle, there
was no easy way to quit when my knees hurt.  After a while, the road
became home... or, more accurately, the Network did, and I spent my time
wandering around my huge neighborhood, dropping in on friends.

>Why did u choose a recumbent bicycle, instead of say a skateboard? 

I don't like pain.

>What are some of the benefits / pitfalls of being a tech-nomad?

Well, when you're a technomad, your physical location is irrelevant. These
days, that's a pretty easy concept to grasp, since a growing percentage of
the population more or less "lives" online anyway, but back then it was a
bit of a shock to people.  A technomadic lifestyle is immensely
liberating, of course, though it's hard to accumulate vast quantities of

>Presume u must meet many online friends while travelling. Do many of them
join you for a while on the road?

In the bike era, it seemed to be a sort of all-or-none situation:  I did
the first 10,000 miles solo (with occasional friends joining me for a day
or two).  The next 6,000 was with a girlfriend, then the last little trip
with BEHEMOTH was more or less solo but for an unforgettable on-the-road
3-week romance. I am approaching the Microship project quite differently.  
Two boats (canoe-based amphibian pedal/solar/sail micro-trimarans) are
under development here in the lab, but the plan is to travel as a
technomadic flotilla of 4-8 travelers, with other nomads joining the group
for varying periods over the 2+ year expedition.  We are building the
wireless network and other toolsets to accommodate a variable number of
participants in the community.

>Strangest encounter u'v had on the road / waters?

The band of convicts in the woods who plied me with pastries from a truck
wreck is right up there...

>Why a solar powered linux server on a boat?

Well, how else would I manage pier-to-pier networking?  Solar because I
don't have a big diesel engine to crank up whenever I need power, and
Linux because it's wonderful what you can do with commodity hardware when
you install a decent operating system. Besides, the open source community
is a rich resource of clever people who like to build interesting tools.  
(My personal productivity machine is a Macintosh 14" iBook running OS X.)

>What sort of environmental data-collection are you doing in your
expedition around North American waterways?

I'm collecting dozens of time- and location-stamped telemetry channels,
streaming them to a publicly accessible server, and publishing all the
tools and protocols with the hope of inducing other travelers to do
likewise.  Some of this is purely pragmatic (system diagnostics and the
like), but the real goal is creating a huge amorphous archive of
environmental data.  Think of it as corporate urinalysis.  In the current
political climate, it's more important than ever for us to use our
technology to expose environmental abuses and keep people suspicious.
That's not the central theme of the expedition, though:  I'm actually
doing this for fun.

>How nomadic was your partner b4 u coaxed her to join u travelling?

Well, the partner you are probably referring to split in December... a
10-year development project is rough on relationships.  There is a
position vacant...

>What would bring u back to the city?

Hmmmm.  Free symmetrical broadband?  A geek commune?  Actually, it would
be very hard to get me back to the city... my development lab is on a
forested island in Puget Sound, and I only make it to Seattle about twice
a year.  I like calm places, one of the reasons I've migrated from road to

>The best 3 pieces of hard earned advice you'd give someone wanting to
become a pedalling nomad?

1.  If you think too much about where you're going, you'll lose respect
for where you are. 2.  The greatest risk of all is taking no risk. 3.  
Don't underestimate the importance of your hospitality database.

>  Future plans?

I'm currently working on a book about the Microship project for O'Reilly &
Associates, and expect to launch the expedition in the Spring of 2003. I
welcome flotilla participants, project volunteers, and other input... see for a new photo and short
text update almost every day.

article also up at
along with war games & udder bitz...

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