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The Journal of High-Tech Nomadness

Stephen Roberts has an affliction he doesn't want to cure. He is addicted to traveling. In 1983, Steve gave up his job, sold his assets, bought a recumbent (reclining) bicycle and took to the highways. Unlike other nomads who sever their ties to friends, telephones, and day-to-day jobs, Steve has built an array of high-tech communication devices on his bike that keep him in constant contact with the world. Using his technical expertise, he was able to design a mind boggling computerized and pedal- powered vehicle. The latest version of his 350 lb. bike sports a cellular phone, a FAX machine, several ham radios, a solar power panel, and seven on-board computers! Steve continues to do computer research, write books, and put out "The Journal of High-Tech Nomadness," all while pedaling the highways and byways of America. Cycling and writing at the same time is made possible by what Roberts calls "chord keyboards" mounted on the handlebars of his bike. Different combinations of the keys along each handlebar produce the desired letters of the alphabet. Roberts wrote the popular book "Computing Across America" while peddling over 16,000 miles. While many people might write Steve off as a crank, over 150 computer, sports, and electronics companies have chosen to support his adventures. His roster of sponsors includes Apple Computers, Atari, Hewlett- Packard, and General Electric. Ultimately, Roberts' dream is to attract a whole community of high-tech nomads who will live and work on the road. Given his past successes in inspiring people and in demonstrating his commitment to this unique lifestyle, such a nomadic community might not be so far down the road.

"The Journal of High-Tech Nomadness" chronicles Roberts adventures and outlines, in technical detail, all the bike's systems and the various technologies he is innovating out of necessity. The mag is a high-quality production with good writing, plenty of photos and drawings, and a lively letters column. The beauty of Steve's project is his balancing of technical virtuosity with his deep passion for people, places, and new experiences. There's a very robust ghost in this machine.

Steve also puts out an electronic journal called "Notes from the Bike Lab. It is available on the Internet by sending a message to: nomadness@caliban.Corp.

(G. Branwyn)


The Journal of High-Tech Nomadness
Nomadics Research
PO Box 2390
Santa Cruz, CA 95063.

Here is the TEXT POPUP for The Journal of High-Tech Nomadness:

Comfort is dangerous when the objective is adventure.

- Steve Roberts, Issue #9

The "big three" manufacturers of high-quality VHF and UHF ham transceivers are Icom, Yaesu, and Kenwood. Your best bet is to pick up a few recent ham magazines like "73" and "QST," hook up with a local radio club for info on license classes and testing dates, and dive in. There is also a fledgling organization devoted entirely to bicycle- mobile radio, organized by Hartley Alley, NAOA. He can be reached at P.O. Box 4009, Boulder, CO 80306.

Speaking of country lanes, Wisconsin has to take the prize for excellent roads. There is a whole network of "letter roads" here, with names like Y and BB, and for the most part they are smooth and free of traffic. Aided by the DeLorme Atlas of the state, we've been meandering up along Lake Michigan with hardly any moments of panic except in towns big enough to be painted in orange on the map (indicating places where people are stressed and in a hurry).

This all calls to mind another musical metaphor that struck me on the first trip... Mussorgsky's "Pictures at an Exhibition." If you're familiar with this, you know what I mean; if not, check it out. A "promenade" theme recurs throughout the work, interspersed with musical sketches suggestive of browsing an art museum. Life on the road is like that... the undercurrent of pedaling merely the thread that binds a diverse succession of experiences ranging from hot romance to high science.

- "The Rhythms of the Road" from "Notes from the Bike Lab" 9/20/1991

Basic Bike Systems:

The basic goal was to design the bike in such a way that there would be no difference (in any practical sense) between movement and stasis. It's important that this design goal be understood otherwise all the technology sounds really crazy. None of it is there as a gimmick or just to be nifty. I have some interesting toys, but I have some real objectives too which mostly have to do with erasing the difference between moving and not moving. I want to be able to do R&D work, writing, consulting without having to stop and set up an entire lifestyle someplace.

Now, what that means in essence is that I want maximum autonomy in terms of computing power, electrical power generation and communications capability and maintainability anywhere in the world. That creates all kinds of really specific requirements like power, for example, which has to be very autonomous. I have 82 watts of solar panels, regenerative braking, the ability to charge off of any publicly available grid, and the ability to charge off of somebody's car. All of those things are integrated into a power management system with distributed batteries and redundant systems and power management and so on, so that I have a pretty good chance of always having power.

Computing power is the most obvious component. The high-level graphic interface is a Mac portable. The screen is mounted on the console on the front of the bike, and there's a cursor positioning device on the helmet so I can move the mouse around while I'm traveling. HyperTalk, running under MultiFinder on the Mac, is sort
of the control supervisor for the entire bike. The graphic user
interface sits on top of a suite of embedded micros which handle
network management, configuration of audio devices, data collection, etc. The Mac interface presents me with pretty pictures of all this stuff. The Mac also runs an X window server to the SPARCstation (back behind the seat there is a Sun SPARCstation, an IPC, which I use as a mapping work station and a communications node, so I have a 24 hour a day Internet presence via a Cellblazer modem). I can use all this while mobile, and if I stop, I can flip
down a little door and there is a high resolution LCD back there
which is essentially its own work station. Underneath the Mac
screen there is also a VGA display in a DOS environment. I'm using that for CAD (both OrCAD and AUTOCAD), a lot of my mapping stuff, and satellite tracking for the ham radio satellites, and my big
database, and so on. I don't like to use that screen while I'm mobile because it washes out in the sun, so I use another DOS machine, a tiny one, right behind the seat that runs a Private Eye heads-up display from Reflection Technologies that's mounted on my helmet. What that means is that, while mobile, I've got access to DOS, Mac and SPARC environments, each of which has a large hard disk, and each of which is networked via cellular phone modems and packet radio to the rest of the world.

In terms of communications, the main business conduit is a cellular phone with 2 modems and a FAX. One is a Spectrum Cellular bridge which lets me connect to relatively traditional servers like calling up networks. GEnie, for example, is one of my home networks. I'm on it two or three times a day to communicate with my base offices. I now have this Cellblazer which will run at 10 kilobytes per second with a nifty protocol called NetBlazer. It can essentially put me on the Internet 24-hours a day but only turn on the cellular link when I have to move data. I'm also a very active ham radio operator. I have packet data, and data communication via long distance. I can be out in the middle of Asia or something and still send and receive E-mail. I have access to the new Microsats which are ham radio satellites, and to HF, VHF UHF multimode. I can do this all while mobile with my flip-up antennas. And there's a small amateur television station
too that I use with my little Sony CCD camera.

- Steve Roberts

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Gareth Branwyn -

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