Être fort pour être utile
Luxagraf is written and published by Scott Nathan Gilbertson.
For the past five years my wife, our 3 children, and I
have lived mostly outdoors, in a 26-ft long 1969 Dodge Travco motorhome. We call it the big blue bus, or home, for short.
About The Big Blue Bus
The big blue bus gets its own about page, but what a lot of people want to know is, what engine does it have? So I’ll save you a click: it’s a Chrysler 318 LA. Yes, it’s a little slow on hills.
I’m a freelance writer. I like writing about life on the road, engines, cooking, birds, and my personal, somewhat eccentric, ideas about life and how to live it. Unfortunately I have thus far not figured out how to pay the bills writing about just those topics.
To pay the bills I mostly end up writing about technology. Over the years I’ve written extensively for Wired (where I’ve even been on staff for some years), Budget Travel, Consumer Digest, Ars Technica, GQ, Epicurious, Longshot Magazine, and other magazines, newspapers, and websites.
I used to have a section in here about editors because I would not be nearly as good a writer if it weren’t for the editors I’ve worked with. To keep things shorter, I’m reducing it to just say thanks to my wife Corrinne, who gets first pass at everything I do (whether she wants it or not), William Brandon, Laura Solomon, Michael Calore, Jeffery Van Camp, Nathan Mattisse, Leander Kahney, Alexis Madrigal, Evan Hansen, Gavin Clarke, Ashley Vance, and Paul Kunert.
And extra special thanks to Maria Streshinsky, Executive Editor at Wired Magazine, and Adam Davies, my one and only formal writing teacher.
If you’re thinking there’s no way freelance writing pays the bills, you’re right. My wife also works. She’s a reading specialist, teaching structured word inquiry to children age 6-15. You can visit her website, Cumulus Learning for more details.
I get emails about stuff. What _____ do you use to ______. A lot of this is my fault, I have written a lot of product reviews for Wired. People believe I am a stuff expert. Here’s a secret about product reviewers: we hate stuff. There’s nothing we love more than sending stuff back to the people who made it. And thankfully everything I’ve ever tested went either to back to the company that made it or to Wired’s end of the year charity auction. Still, because people email me find out which stuff I actually buy, I wrote a whole page about the stuff I use.
The essential stuff I use every day to create luxagraf include, a ballpoint pen, notebook, Sony A7RII camera, and Minolta 50mm f/2 lens. On my laptop I main use Darktable, my favorite app for developing digital images, and Vim for writing.
The Luxagraf website is created by hand, with a lot of tools loosely joined. Most of these tools are free software that you too can use and modify as you see fit. Without these amazing tools I wouldn’t be able to do this — many thanks to the people who created and maintain them.
- GeoDjango framework — Behind the scenes this handles a few things, like geographic queries and putting everything on a map. If you have any interest in working with geographic data, this is by far the best tool I’ve used.
- Python — GeoDjango is written in Python (a full list of modules used is the README, which I in turn run on a Linux server. Nginx serves the HTML files you’re looking at here.
- OpenStreetMap — I use OpenStreetMap data for all the maps on this site. OpenStreetMap is like the Wikipedia of maps, except that it isn’t wrong half the time. Whenever I feel skeptical about the so-called collective power of people on the internet, I remember OpenStreetMap and feel a little better.
Être fort pour être utile
Beautiful is better than ugly.
Explicit is better than implicit.
Simple is better than complex
Complex is better than complicated
Design with failure in mind
Avoid single points of failure
Fail gracefully when possible (e.g. broken escalator is still stairs)
The energy of chaos is required to change the existing order.
Extended about (updated 2022)
Lordy, you’re still here? Okay, well, then you’re either past the whole why should I care who the fuck you are thing or you’re frothing at the mouth with hatred, but for some reason loving that hatred, which is odd. If that’s you, here’s a simple solution: stop visiting. You’ll feel better, and I won’t miss you because I never knew you existed. Good? Good. Let’s get to the interesting things. Why write all this? I dunno, I guess it’s the kind of stuff I enjoy reading about other people. I thought I’d return the favor for someone else.
Why make this site? Why write things down at all? I think about this all the time and honestly, I’m not sure. It takes a tremendous amount of time to write, edit photos and think about what we’ve experienced and then put it up here — I must get something out of it, I’m just not sure what. I think maybe I do it to find out what I think about things. I rarely know what I’m going to say about anything until I start look at photos and thinking about experiences, organizing them in my head into stories. I could do all that without posting it here I guess though, so I’m back at I don’t know… the people I get to interact with?
Tim Berners-Lee, creator of the web as we know it, once said, “for me the fundamental Web is the Web of people. It’s not the Web of machines talking to each other… [the] machines are talking on behalf of two people.”
Unless you’re reading this from the same town I wrote it in, for most of history, up until the mid 20th century, it would have been impossible for you and I to connect in any way. Until the 21st century the best I could have hoped for was to reach you via a magazine, newspaper, etc, or you to reach me the same way, but there would be no way for us to reach each other in return (maybe via a letter to editor?). I suspect in the future this will be true again. But right now we have this moment, with these tools we can reach each other and I think that’s pretty wonderful. How could you not want to participate in that? So I do.
What to Write
For the most part I write about what interests me, but I’ve noticed over the years that I am drawn to the people I meet, and the parts of a place that don’t make sense at first or even repeated glances. The details that feel out of place are usually the interesting things. Why does this bird only come to this place? Why are there petroglyphs in this canyon and not this one? Why does this trail cross this ridge? What are those boulders doing up there? Why are there paintings of bunnies in a museum? Why does Wall Drug have 5 cent coffee? What is this island of rock and tree doing in a sea corn?
Those are the more creative posts, but I aim for at least one post a week so sometimes I just write about whatever we’ve been doing. I think of those posts as posts for the grandparents and friends, but everyone gets to read them.
How We Explore
The word travel has a lot of baggage, I avoid it. I think of what we do as more like itinerant living. I suppose you could call it nomadic living, but nomadic people typically live within a fixed area and move around in it seasonally. We don’t say in a fixed area. We do move seasonally though.
Because so much of our lives are spent outdoors, we necessarily follow the seasons. To some degree anyway. As I write this we’re sitting out an ice storm in South Carolina so it’s not like we avoid winter, but at the same time we head of the UP in summer, not winter, and we’re looking at the coast of Mexico for the winter, not the summer. When you spend as much time off-grid as we do you have no climate control. That means you sweat (and shiver), but it also means you pay attention to the weather and try to find places where the weather suits your clothes.
We’ve traveled several different ways and eventually settled on what I call the turtle method of travel: slow, and carrying our home with us. This way of living allows us to avoid hotels, AirBnBs, restaurants and other places that exist primarily to extract money from tourists. Not that there’s anything wrong with tourists. We’re tourists too. I try not to turn up my nose at tourists, but I don’t want to spend all my time with fellow tourists and I don’t want to participate in the tourist industry when there’s real people out there I could be paying instead.
Having your house parked nearby allows us to spend more time in places we wouldn’t otherwise get to see, and in some cases to get closer to the local people. Not only does it keep you out of the tourist traps like hotels, it gives you a place to invite people into. You aren’t just invading people’s place in the world, you have a way to let them invade yours. It’s been my experience that this creates an entirely different dynamic and relationship (not universally for the better, but often enough).
Having your home with you gives other people a reason to approach you, especially if your home happens to be, say, a bright blue 1969 Dodge Travco, which it seems to afford a certain amount of unearned goodwill no matter where we park it. So there’s that too.