Vintage Video: Computing Across America


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: 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. 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.

32 thoughts on “Vintage Video: Computing Across America

  1. 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!

  2. “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.

  3. 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!


  4. 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.

  5. 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.

  6. 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 :)

  7. 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.

  8. 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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