Vintage Video: Computing Across America

roberts

in 1983, [Steve Roberts] packed up a Tandy 100 laptop and a 5-watt solar panel, fleeing suburbia on his recumbent bicycle on what would become a 17,000 mile journey that forever cemented his place in the geek pantheon…not just as a technology hacker, but as one of the preeminent “life hackers,” pursuing his own dreams on his own terms and inspiring others to do the same.

In this 1989 video, recently unearthed by Hack a Day, [Roberts] reflects on the first 16,000 miles of his voyage, detailing some of the technology that went into his then-current ride, the Winnebiko II.

Next time you’re comfortably working from the local park with your laptop tethered to a 3G connection, raise your latte in toast to [Roberts], who was pioneering the “mobile professional lifestyle” more than two decades ago. There was no Google Maps, no mainstream consumer internet, no 3G wireless. It was all packet radio and acoustic couplers on pay phones. Where he casually speaks of “living in the computer networks,” he’s referring to CompuServe, GEnie and UUCPNET. And next time you’re trapped at a green light while the driver ahead of you is distracted by text messaging, you can curse thank [Steve] for that, too…with his handgrip-integrated keyboard, he may well have invented texting while driving.

[Roberts] is still blazing trails…tinkering, writing, and living the “technomad” lifestyle, now by sea instead of land. You can follow along with his adventures on two web sites: microship.com is now primarily a retrospective of the past quarter century…the Winnebiko/BEHEMOTH bike projects and subsequent Microship trimaran, along with archives of his writings. nomadness.com looks ahead to “open-ended global voyaging” on his new vessel, the Nomadness. The site contains articles and reviews, photos, and his blog with current status updates. There’s also the Nomadic Research Labs Store, where you’ll find [Roberts’] own books, project surplus, and boating and electronic parts.

Comments

  1. emperor says:

    GAH.

    THIS was before i was born. 8 bit ascii keyboard? AWESOME.

    ‘i have to stop and deploy the retractable antenna’ for the satelite link.

    So much awesome

  2. tsmith says:

    Wow … talk about pushing the envelope.

  3. Erik says:

    This absolutely blows my mind. I love this guy!

  4. Greg says:

    Absolutely incredible stuff there. The voice at the end…just plain awesome

  5. Robo says:

    Win

  6. Shadyman says:

    This video is made from 100% pure Awesomesauce.

  7. Polaczek says:

    Incredible, this guy talks as if he the master of the electronics/hacking universe.. “Yea I tried your idea, and it sucked so I did this which is a millions times better.”
    This guy is wicked!

  8. icebrain says:

    Amazing!

    The BEHEMOTH is great too, but with a weight of 580 pounds, it’s harder to cross larges distances…

  9. mars says:

    This is awesome.

  10. Mike Szczys says:

    “There’s four buttons on each handlebar so I type now in binary.”

    And the crowds who just a few minutes before had risen to their feet, sunk to their knees in deference to a great man.

  11. DrFyzziks says:

    I remember reading ’bout Steve Mann & his BEHEMOTH bike back when I was a kid, hacking around with a Commodore 128. He’s still at it BTW: http://www.microship.com

    I bought a copy of his book “Miles with Maggie” from his online store awhile back & it’s a great read.

  12. brem says:

    Speechless

  13. That is actually a Model 200. I had a Model 100, which had only an eight-line, non-flip screen.
    I’m so nit-picky, eh?

  14. Seth says:

    Ramsey: I was just about to post that!

    Yup, I had a Model 100 too. A great machine…

  15. miked says:

    I think this man is my real father.

  16. Wow – thanks for the post and the comments! It is an honor to be here.

    Jonathan – the console machine in the video really is a Model 100, but with the added Traveling Software “Booster Pak” that layered all sorts of extra magic (file manager, ROM apps, more RAM) onto the basic box. I carried the stock 100 on the first 10K miles, then hacked it into the console with the Booster Pak while using an HP Portable for the laptop.

    DrFyzziks – minor detail: Steve Mann was a pioneer of wearable computing, the fellow with the “Wearcam” (also a ham, and in the news around the same time).

    Cheers from the nomadhouse!

    Steve

  17. zandor says:

    This is seriously the most awesome thing I’ve seen! As probably one of the young ones here, born in 89, this is just incredible.

  18. dorki says:

    Great to see these videos. I first saw him written up in the July 1984 “Portable 100″ magazine. He was uploading a file to Compuserve via acoustic coupled modem when a local man asked “Are yew with NASA?”.

    Do check out his websites.

  19. Nick says:

    This hack is actually responsible for inspiring me to try a much lamer version of his trip. Of course instead of all the time this guy invested, I planned for about a week and headed out. Needless to say, it didn’t go very well.

  20. DrFyzziks says:

    Steve: *LOL* wjoops, sorry about that typo! I was actually composing an email to a client w/the last name “Mann” when I saw this article & my fingers did their own thinking.

    Funny coincidence: at one point I was considering studying w/Dr. Mann @ the University of Toronto :)

  21. Erik says:

    That’s a flip-up screen which means it’s a Tandy 200. That is all :)

  22. Very long trip indeed. What would be if he had a better laptop ;-)

  23. Louis II says:

    sweet.

  24. Mister E says:

    Unless they’ve changed things around, the Behemoth is on display at the Computer History Museum on Mtn. View:

    http://www.computerhistory.org/exhibits

  25. Scott G says:

    It was great to see these old videos. I have been a fan of Steve’s since I first read Computing Across America several years ago. If you like his conversational style of presenting, you will also love his writing. I highly recommend Computing Across America, From Behemoth to Microship, and his newest book Reaching Escape Velocity. The last two are available signed from his web site. I’m proud to have these in my collection, and every time I get a bit of wanderlust I pull one of them down and live vicariously through Steve.

  26. robert says:

    A long time ago in a galaxy far away…

  27. sM10 says:

    @Mike Szczys

    My thoughts exactly. This is without a doubt the single greatest project completed by one man alone that I have ever seen.

  28. Arty Om says:

    Amazing!

  29. Carter F. says:

    I suppose I should be pretty lucky to have met the man himself, and received a signed and dedicated copy of Steven’s newest book.

  30. Anon says:

    About a decade more than 2 decades ago. :)

  31. gabriel says:

    I see that and his boat projects mostly as I see someone buying a ferrari. nice, but way out of my price range, so, meh.

  32. Galane says:

    ISTR an article about this in Popular Science or Popular Mechanics, or possibly Mechanix Illustrated.

    Or it could’ve been someone else because I also recall something about a guy lugging along a Kaypro.

    I was 12 in 1983.

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