This is the home of Nomadness, the technomadic substrate of Nomadic Research Labs. Previous projects are scattered around the Microship site, but this one is focused on the boat and her embedded geekery… as well as voyaging adventures. Current news is in the blog.
The space imagery on this page is no accident. Nomadness is already a capable voyaging sailboat (brief walkthrough here), but the real intent of this project is much more in the realm of starships.
Full-time life aboard a vessel of this scale involves a huge learning curve and nonstop focus… with interacting systems from bow to stern that handle power, fresh water, sewage, navigation, communications, propulsion, refrigeration, life support, heating, safety, entertainment, information, and more. Historically, all these have been inscrutable clusters of machinery, non-interoperable, with boxes of spare parts and binders of manuals. Toss a geek like me into the mix, and there’s another layer of blinkenlights, Arduinos, servers, radios, lab equipment, audio, and perhaps even a few gratuitous bits of gizmology.
Obviously, this all translates into a huge mess if we’re not careful… and indeed, every few months I hear from another sailor who is exasperated by the whole idea, urging me to simplify and go now, reminding me that everything on a boat eventually fails. And they are right: life is short, complexity is insidious, water corrodes, and salt water corrodes absolutely. But rather than take this as a warning, I see it as seductive. And here’s why:
Imagine for a moment that you are captain of a self-sufficient mobile pod, capable of traveling anywhere you desire. Everything is at your fingertips; not only can you drill into all your ship’s subsystems via a browser (graphically integrating a thousand or more sensors and derived data points), but you can explore your immediate physical environment in detail, monitor the radio spectrum from “DC to daylight,” communicate globally via multiple independent paths ranging from ham radio to satellite internet, hunker inside while keeping watch via steerable cameras and microphones, secure your perimeter, remotely access ship systems from anywhere in the world, play the piano, produce podcasts and YouTube videos, design and fabricate new machines, generate power, scrounge heating fuel, grow food, and still enjoy all the benefits of a highly evolved toolset for marine navigation with chart plotters, radar, instruments, and other networked tools.
Obviously, the information side of this is an interesting challenge. Thanks to an always-on server backed by terabytes of data storage and a network of distributed nodes, every data point on the ship has a corresponding software object that dynamically reflects real-world changes, allowing disparate systems to be integrated into a single environment… accessible from any computer, tablet, or phone on board (or off). This goes far beyond replacing blinkies and gauges with pixels; once everything is integrated into an object model, it becomes possible to anticipate failures by observing aggregate behavior even if no single sensor is out of range. The database can be mined for historical analysis, and event triggers can be as simple or complex as needed.
All that is under the hood, of course; what’s more immediately sexy is the physical environment of our postulated water-borne starship. Once we accept that this is an exercise in gonzo engineering as much as physical comfort, it becomes possible to make a few changes from the traditional small voyaging craft with its saloon and dinette… why not incorporate a few additional consoles besides the basic navigation and power-management control surfaces in the pilothouse? How about adding an audio production studio, ham shack, electronics lab with hot-air rework tools, Internet alcove, computer workstation, a 3D printer, and a little space for machining and other jobs?
Somewhere in the imaginings above, you probably sensed the shift from essential sailing toolset to ultimate toy. The tricky part is making that leap without crushing the substrate or turning it into work; what we need here is a blend of art and engineering that retains the alluring beauty of a small sailing craft while overlaying an extravaganza of geek expressionism that ensures ongoing stimulation.
This website is about that. The project is long and arduous, beset by multiple simultaneous threads, feature bloat, mission creep, fast-moving technology, resource limitations, pain, and the Roberts Law of Fractal To-Do List Complexity (Each item on a list is merely the title of another list). This is thus not a typical cruising blog, although that meanders throughout the narrative like a recurring dream; nor is it pure geekery, for that would grow dry. It is more a slowly unfolding story of technomadic passion, especially with the added back-story of the Microship cobwebsite and its countless parallel tales of earlier, similar projects… grand dreams of ultimate bicycles and micro-trimarans parsed into detailed technical reports and surreal interludes of adventure.
Highlights as of April 27, 2013:
So, where to? This section is updated frequently, and offers pointers to current activity… the most current of which is usually the Nomadness blog.
Home base is Friday Harbor in the heart of the San Juan Islands, with the slip about 3 boat lengths away from open water… and shop space in town for my mobile lab, machine tools, R&D facilities, inventory, and the dormant Microship. I host an automated marine radio check system on VHF channel 28, as well as an AIS forwarding station that feeds local vessel transponder data to various servers around the world.
The design process is open, including a page devoted to tasks that are most urgent… and a nearby list of all the console devices aboard. This one has a photo of the recently completed upper helm panel, and details what’s next.
I published 22 issues (about 205 pages) of the Nomadness Report… A Compendium of Boat Hacking and Gonzo Engineering. This is a magazine-format PDF that was available by subscription, and back issues are in their own online store complete with shopping cart and “contact sheet” images of all the internal pages. I have recently decided to refactor the publication side of this, with three components:
- An informal email newsletter, approximately weekly
- Much more tech detail here in the Nomadness blog
- eBook technical monographs about single systems or techniques
The Nomadness blog where you can find reasonably current information. Posts generally focus on a single topic and are fairly “complete,” while the blog and newsletter include hacks, noodlings, experiments, schematics, quests, current sources, and changes of direction. The two are orthogonal, with occasional overlap, with finished systems documented in the Boat Hacking Collection. There will later be a series of hardcopy design packages in the form of lay-flat 11×17 working documented designs of ship systems…
The Library of Applied Technomadics & Gonzo Engineering has 146 entries… media coverage, design documents, my early articles, and other material. Recent additions include the piece from October 2001 describing the experience of being on-water for 132 miles with the newly minted Microship, the even crazier Fulmar adventure in 1994, and a piece in the SF Examiner written during the Bikelab epoch with BEHEMOTH.
The archive also contains Chapter 1 of my long-awaited audiobook production of Computing Across America, the book about my technomadic adventures around the US back in the 1980s. Chapter 1 is 14½ minutes long (with sound effects!) and is the first of nearly 100 that will roll out gradually over time.
Speaking of the Olden Days, here is a video of my presentation at the Computer History Museum in 2000… on the occasion of donating the BEHEMOTH bicycle to their wonderful collection:
We manufacture a product line of marine-grade Expedition Medical Chests: ER-grade supplies in gasketed Lexan cases that were featured last year at Three Sheets Northwest and more recently praised on Clif High’s Wujo of Feb 22, 2013 (MP3 link), resulting in a very busy month while not much else got done. We also produce kayak stand slings and paddle bags, and are the dealer for some industrial-grade stainless and aluminum Cleats that keep your boat attached to the dock. We also are distributors for Sparkfun and TecNec…
Now that I live aboard, tonnage-reduction is a huge priority. The Microship is for sale, and can be seen on Yachtworld… please contact me if you are interested!