How did the Hundredrabbits ecosystem come into being? It's a long story, but here's a summary.
What is the Hundredrabbits tools ecosystem?
It is the set of tools that we've made, and that we use on a daily basis to do art, music and writing.
ORCA — an experimental livecoding environment.
Dotgrid — a simple vector line tool
Left — a simple minimalist text editor.
Ronin — a graphic design terminal
A story of repeated failures.
In 2016, we left Canada with our iPhones, MacBooks, Photoshops, Xcodes etc. We didn't know what to expect, many of the things that work on land — we learnt — do not apply to sailboat/off-grid living.
As weeks and months passed, we experienced frequent failures with our devices and apps. In Mexico, My (Rekka) Macbook had logic board issues. We had few options for repair, and we couldn't afford to replace it. We carried a Chromebook aboard Pino, a laptop we bought to use as a media station. Since we were a laptop short, Devine decided to try and use Chrome OS for development. During this transition, the first version of Ronin came into being. I didn't have Photoshop to work with, and for a while we wondered if we could fashion a replacement for it ourselves. Can't be that hard, we thought. As it turns out, it is quite tricky. While the early version of Ronin was functional, it could not serve as a replacement for Photoshop, not yet.
A charitable soul heard about our problems and sent me an old disused 17" Macbook. I could use in the meantime, while we worked at improving Ronin. This new setup worked for a while, but then the battery stopped holding its charge (had to be plugged in at all times) and our house batteries and solar couldn't keep up with it. I could only use it when the sun was highest in the sky, for short periods of time. It proved to be impractical.
Devine couldn't run X code, because of the size of the updates (our limited bandwidth couldn't handle it). This software, along with Photoshop, were incredible power-suckers.
While in Nuku Hiva, Devine often went to sit at an outdoor cafe, a place with bananas hanging from the ceiling, the air thick with flies and the floor covered in sleeping hounds. On a hot and sunny day at the cafe, sitting across the table was Herbert.
Herbert, sweat at his brow, glared at the screen of his laptop. Little did they know, that they shared a problem. Herbert was a developer/sailor too, agonizing, struggling to download X Code updates. The cafe had a slow connection, made worse when the tourists piled out of the cruise ship to Skype to their families. Both bonded over this struggle, which persisted throughout the South Pacific.
This was one of many realizations...
One night in Tahiti, we were sitting on deck, watching the Island of Moorea in the distance. We talked about expectations & reality, and began to make a list of things we wish we'd done differently. I wasn't working very much, due to my laptop's faulty battery, but this wasn't all bad... it allowed for more swimming, and to dive back into former interests, like writing. I began to write more during that time, using the Chromebook because it was low-power (yet another laptop we had on board, originally purchased as a media station). The Chromebook only had Caret as a writing tool, and Devine wasn't having it. "That's no good, I'll make you a simple tool you can use to write with." The next day, Devine was hard at work making a minimalist writing tool for me. This is how Left came into being, out of necessity.
When we arrived in New Zealand, even if we were near a big city, with resources, we still didn't have access to power. We would have to continue to rely completely on solar. We invested in Raspberry Pi hardware, to replace the ChromeBook as a low-power and low-cost computer. The Pi was perfect for writing. I decided to no longer use the 17" Macbook, even with a replacement 3rd-party battery (which also failed us later on), the device was still a crazy power-hungry beast . Devices like that, we decided, could not be used on Pino. It was at that time that we received yet another disused Macbook to add to our growing collection. This 2010 model was less power-demanding, and would help keep me working.
We knew then already, that we didn't want to buy anything new from Apple ever again. Combining parts to create a good-working computer was, at the time, our only viable option. We would keep using these laptops, repairing them any way we can until we could find them suitable homes. An estimated 130,000 computers end up in the garbage annually, we didn't want to add to those statistics.
Greenhouse emissions in production are far higher than from several years worth of usage by customers. This is why we've been holding off on purchasing new devices (in an attempt at reducing our broader environmental impact). In today's climate, it is far better to re-use, than to buy.
After these events, we became aware — and concerned — over our power consumption. Just like how we calculate our water intake with a foot pump (1/4 cup per push), we would start to monitor our power usage, and to try and find ways to lessen it. This, was beneficial to the environment, but also, our situation required it. With limitations comes creativity.
We too, began talking about our vision of the future, about what working on Pino could be like if we could lessen our dependence on software and hardware we couldn't fix ourselves.
As we pushed further and further west with Pino, we accumulated both miles and problems, strengthening our desire to be self-sufficient.
Another downside we discovered, that re-enforced this desire, was that many tools and operating software need to call home eventually. It isn't uncommon for an iPhone to lock up, due to a prolonged period of no-internet. Many sailors we met also had that same problem. It's dangerous. Especially considering that many, like us, navigate using their phones. It's how we get our weather and communicate with others (we can view messages and weather downloaded with the SAT phone via an app on our cellphones).
We had a clear view of what we wanted then...
We had to adapt, to change our workflow. One big decision, was to scale our projects to the amount of energy we had available on the boat. This translates to shorter work hours and smaller projects (books, music etc).
We also thought it necessary to make our own tools. Tools that work offline, that use little power and that are good at doing one thing (not bloated).
Another important detail, is that we wanted them to be open-source, so that if something breaks, we can easily fix it. If someone else has an issue, they can also fix the tool themselves.
In an ideal world, we'd also have devices of our own design which follow these same rules. We are thinking about this a lot, but this requires more resources and planning. This is an insight of what we have planned for the future!
Ronin, our graphic design terminal, is almost ready for release, we'll announce it here once it's out. In the meantime, enjoy this concept of these rabbit-like characters that Rekka designed to personify each tool! You'll be seeing a lot more of these guys around~
Rek & Dev