Rekka Bellum and Devine Lu Linvega, Hundred Rabbits – XOXO Festival (2019)

Rekka Bellum and Devine Lu Linvega, Hundred Rabbits – XOXO Festival (2019)


>>REKKA BELLUM: Hello!>>DEVINE LU LINVEGA: Comrades. [Laughter]>>Devine: My name is Devine.>>Rekka: And I’m Rekka.>>Devine: Before we get started, I have a
few things I’d like to say. First, our talk will be a little bit in line
with Tracy’s talk this morning about getting offline for a little bit. It just so happened that when Andy asked us
to come over, we were at sea and were reading Caitlin [Doughty]’s book, Smoke Gets In Your
Eyes, so when I saw her on the lineup, I was very excited. We are not professional speakers. We usually hide before our work, so this for
us is a first. And making slides like this is a first, and
having microphones stuck to our face is a first. [Laughter] We didn’t realize how to make a
slide show for this properly, so we have 60 slides. Everyone here has seven slides. [Laughter] Together, we make games,
books, and toys, and like Andy said, we live on a sailboat. In 2016, we left Vancouver and went down on
the coast to Mexico, all the way to New Zealand, and all the islands in between, and now we
have sailed all the way up to Japan, and right now we live on the coast of Japan on a boat. As we went, we experienced a long stretch
of non-internet activity. And for us, I think since we had been 13 or
12 years old, we had no length of time without connectivity. For instance, between Mexico and Marquesas
we had four weeks without it. So I don’t know how long you haven’t had internet
before, but four weeks is very dire. [Laughter] We’re going to cover some of
the things we’ve learned, but first, when all of this began, I was working in Shibuya
as an application developer and Rekka was working in Shinjuku as an illustrator. Together, we would make toys and publish books. But this taught us about one aspect of making
toys that we liked, which is that we would make toys that people could customize, and
they could change, and play with in that sense. When we made games, it told our story. We made a game called — oh, hmm. [Laughter] We made this game called Oquonie. It was strongly influenced by our life at
the time. When we lived in Japan, we had a hard time
sometimes communicating, we felt lost in a language we couldn’t quite understand. Oquonie reflected that, it was a game with
no English language in it. We were also, at the time, interested in food
and that taught us about some of the environmental problems we are facing today and how we can
address that. And all of this accumulated in the stumbling
on YouTube on people who lived on sailboats, and we thought this could be a possible option
for us as it aligned with a lot of our values.>>Rekka: So, following in the footsteps of
our heroes, we got a boat. This is Pino, our home office and spaceship,
as I like to say. It’s 33 feet long, 11 feet wide. It may not look that big, but with the scenery
changing outside of our window every day, it feels huge. It’s actually the biggest apartment we’ve
ever had. [Laughter] Pino is a house with wings. Wherever we are is our neighborhood at the
moment. This is us between New Zealand and Fiji. There was no wind that day, so we were just
waiting for it to return, just bobbing on the water. Moments like that are actually really precious. Doing nothing and being surrounded by no one—those
were our best times at sea. When people hear about us living on a sailboat,
they often ask what is the strongest storm you’ve ever had, they’re more interested
about that. But for me, the most interesting part is just
the silence and the calmness of it all. And most of the sails that we have are like
that. It’s just really, really calm and really
pleasant. Overall, very nice and very fun. When we sail, we don’t fight the weather. Like migratory birds, we follow the trade
winds and the seasons. Aboard Pino, we have our own work areas. This is where Devine works, where he writes
code and music. It’s actually on the navigation station
where sailors will pull out their paper charts and plan their travels. I work in the center of the boat in the main
saloon. It’s also where we eat and also sometimes
where I sleep. So in a small space, the use of every area
changes a lot, because you need to have that flexibility. Like, we have hidden compartments everywhere. Like food is everywhere on the boat, behind
every door there is something there. So often, we have to be pretty organized. If you want to get to one thing, you have
to move a thing to get to a thing. Being organized is a good thing. It’s your turn.>>Devine: Doing talks like this is new, as
well. [Laughter] To give you some context, when
we began, and now still, we don’t have a driving license. We heard of people that were sailing, but
personally, we had maybe just a handful of friends, who maybe knew someone that might
have been on the sailboat once. When we started, and started this whole thing,
we had no experience on a sailboat. We didn’t know if we would be sick, so we
had the opportunity to do a one-week sail just to make sure we wouldn’t be throwing
up all the time. And to really exemplify this, when we told
my father that we were going to do this, he basically asked me, he said, but you really
hate going outside. [Loud laughter] Do you know that sailing is
outdoors? [Laughter] And, even to this day, when people
ask us, why are we doing this, and so on, Andy was very adamant that we would explain why we were doing this… I don’t know. [Laughter] We’re still trying to figure
it out. Heh, yeah. We had no knowledge about batteries, we didn’t
know they had to be watered — most of you probably do not know you have to water batteries. We learned that too late, at least, we made
a lot of costly mistakes in the beginning. And not watering your batteries is a big one. We had to learn about navigation, we had to
learn about long-distance radio communication, we had to learn how to use a sextant, which
we didn’t because we had our iPhones and telephones to compensate, but just to make sure for resilience,
we packed two of all of the electronics we could think of. And all of this was kind of neat. As an adult, it’s really rare that you feel
bad at something. As you feel better at your craft, you forget
about the other things, and being bad at something again felt amazing. We had to learn about maintenance, and plumbing,
and toilet. Especially toilet. [Laughter] Toilet’s complicated, but when
toilet is under the water line, it’s even more complicated. We had to learn about fiberglass ceilings,
filters, all of this stuff we didn’t go about and didn’t care to know about living on land. But the more we learned, the more we could
kind of correlate with our work. In a way, plumbing is like programming, and
vice versa. So, for instance, this is how we went about
sailing. We basically went on YouTube, “how to sail.” [Laughter] We couldn’t afford to pay for classes,
but also we were — well, you know, that scene from The Matrix, when Neo learns Kung Fu? Well, that seemed ideal. [Laughter] And it’s crazy to think that
we actually have access to that technology. A hundred years ago, thinking about going
across the ocean on a sailboat, you would have had to be sponsored by a king. We are really privileged to have access to
this kind of stuff. And if you want, the talk scratches over a
lot of these things. If you are interested in the intricacies of
how we got about paying for all of this kind of stuff, come and talk to us, we will not
get into the details of some of the more complex things about this.>>Rekka: We have more than enough to say,
I think.>>Devine: Yeah, 25 minutes, chop chop! [Laughter]>>Rekka: We bought Pino in Vancouver, Canada. That’s where we started our trip. [Woo!] [Applause]>>Rekka: Yeah, nice place.>>Devine: We’re not from there. [Laughter]>>Rekka: Yeah, we’re actually French-Canadian from Montreal. So if any of you here… [Woo!] So back when we started, our plan was to stay
there, live there, stay a little bit and work a little bit, just spend time in the area,
I was like maybe we could open a floating bakery or something. I don’t know. But the thing is, when you’re on a boat, it’s
hard to not think about the ocean. Like, we kept reading stories, books, and
films. And we became curious. So we went. And the first time that we went at sea, we
didn’t have very ideal conditions. Like the first night, the wind died completely. We were trapped in fog, we couldn’t see past
the front of the boat or the sides, it’s very eerie. There were humpback whales surfacing around
us, and the sound of that is not pleasant, you don’t know how close they are. Neither of us wanted to be alone that night,
and we were both scared, it was nightmarish. And the next day, we had the worst weather,
the wind was back in full force. So we were riding up and down waves, I remember
thinking at the time, is this normal? Is this what being on the ocean is like? It is horrible. The ocean is just not for humans! [Laughter] It’s just not! So not knowing if it was normal, well, okay
we’ll just turn back. Because this is really, really bad. We went back to Vancouver. And we were feeling sad that we had failed
at this thing that we thought would be really great and we wanted to do. But then we met some — actually, a really
nice couple from Alaska who also have a boat. And they told us that, hey, look, we’re going
to Mexico for margaritas. All right! We want margaritas too. [Laughter] And we became good friends, and
just meeting them gave us the courage to try again. So we left together, and we had better weather
that time. It was actually really, really awesome. This is how we got sucked into a four-year
adventure. This is actually the path we did, all the
white spots are the stops we did. We passed through ten countries traveling
while working at the same time. The longest time that we spent at sea, like
Devine said earlier, was 28 consecutive days, sleeping three hours at a time, taking turns. At night on a sailboat, you don’t stop to
sleep, you don’t put the sails down, you keep going. It was the farthest we had been from shore
and the longest time without internet. And, yeah, life without internet, it’s pretty
okay! [Laughter] It is a forced vacation of sorts. We didn’t really open our computers, we used
that time to plan for and brainstorm projects. Or just spending hours just staring into the
distance, and getting excited whenever we’d see anything in the water, whether a bird,
a fish, a tiny tiny thing. Everything is amazing on the ocean. We arrived in Japan earlier this year, it
was actually our dream to go there, we used to live there and our goal was to return there
by sail. So I didn’t think that that could ever happen. The whole time when we started this, we thought,
this is not going to happen. It can’t happen. And I doubted it the entire way, until we
were actually there. And I’m like, okay, Mount Fuji is there,
so I guess we’re here. [Laughter] It was like coming back home. So we made it after three and a
half years of living off grid, and this experience really changed our work and living habits
in ways that we couldn’t have foreseen.>>Devine: Like Rekka said, the boat was probably one of our biggest apartments. In Japan, we lived in a very small place so
it was not a drastic change to migrate on a boat. We had to learn to live without tap water,
a refrigerator, and other things that you think are necessary for life, but in the end,
it’s like closing my Facebook account. I didn’t notice it was gone. When we stopped using the refrigerator, I
mean, we lived happily without it. And I guess our diet of — well, we have
a vegan diet. So a lot of our food is dried, the only thing
that was missing was cold beer. We managed to do without — I mean, room temperature wine is fine too. [Laughter] We only got to — we could only
pick a handful of things to bring with us, so we did. And we noticed all the junk we didn’t need. We started to notice this as a pattern in
our individual work, which I will cover a little bit later. I remember at one point, we had to — so when
we bought the boat, we had all of these systems we got rid of. Our approach to things is, if it breaks, we
just don’t repair it. So when the water pressure stopped working,
we didn’t have tap water. We were like, let’s see how long we can — actually, no, we didn’t know how to repair it. [Laughter] And the refrigerator, the same
thing. Over time, we were like, we — we could pay,
we could work more to get more money so we can repair, to address that issue, or not,
and try to live without. And a lot of the situation that we encountered,
it turns out it is a lot healthier for both of us to optimize, to need less, than trying
to optimize to make more money. And this lifestyle forced us into that mindset. Even though we would make some sacrifices
for all these different things, like refrigeration and so on, one thing that was very important
for us is the independence of travel. Even though we don’t have that much space,
half the boat is taken by our bikes. And this is the line that we will not cross.>>Rekka: Priorities. When it came time to shop for our
future office, we had a list of demands, many that professional sailors would argue aren’t
all that important. Hey, wouldn’t it be awesome to have a black
boat with black sails, all that stuff? [Laughter] As it turns out, that stuff is
really expensive! So we quickly realized we couldn’t get that. We instead focused on getting a boat that
is turnkey, which means a boat that is ready for sailing, that we don’t need to spend time
doing repairs. Because we’re not very manual people. We didn’t grow up using a hammer, or a drill,
I’d never done stuff like that before. Well, neither of us. We were in the same situation, sheltered city
kids. So spending time repairing anything was just
not an option, at least at first. We wanted to focus on learning how to sail,
because you want to be able to do that with a boat. And, as it turns out, the sailing part is
actually not that hard. It’s everything else, just — you will see
why. Things fail and break on boats all the time. A week after we moved in, Devine was talking
about toilet problems before, a week after we moved in, our toilet failed. When you imagine living on a boat, you have
fantasies about being anchored in a nice bay somewhere and you’re really relaxed. You don’t imagine being in a narrow space
removing stinky piping, it’s just not what I want. And over time, we developed problems with
the engine and the sails. The reality is that boats exist in a very
hostile environment, like that’s a mechanical keyboard that developed a bit of rust over
time.>>Devine: A little bit.>>Rekka: Yeah, that’s the reality. Electronics just don’t last, which is a big
problem for us, considering we depend on the electronics to work. But knowing nothing, we couldn’t prevent
those problems from happening. So we tackled electricity, plumbing, and engine
problems as they came. It is not the best route, but it’s all we
could do. So all this made it not easy to focus on creative
projects. We had to make time to solve problems with
the boat, especially the first year. That’s the issue of being the owners and carers
of a space, we’re our own drivers, our own janitors, electricians, and plumbers. It’s not something that we can offload to
others, because when we’re in remote places, we need to be able to do that ourselves. We need to be self-sufficient.>>Devine: This is the part of the slide where
I complain about things revolved around my work, development and so on. Yeah, so actually sailing is easy, you know. There’s four ropes, and so few things. But trying to maintain projects and push builds
and that kind of stuff, that gets really complicated. But luckily, there’s a lot of cool people
that gave us a hand. For instance, the Itch.io community was great
at making it possible to send builds from our sat phone and so on. So I want to thank Itch.io for that. We had this one time where, in Tahiti, I was
really frustrated trying to update Xcode, which is the iOS thing. [Laughter] I think the updates are 11GB each
or something, and in French Polynesia you buy these 2.5GB data cards, I was very frustrated. And also, I got bit and Dengue fever and so
on. [Groans] In front of me, I noticed somebody
else was pissed off and he was also an iOS developer. And I was like, what’s going on? And he is like, man, fuck Xcode! [Laughter] So maybe we have to rethink this
whole thing. It’s kind of like when you go abroad, and
you try to maintain your habits from home, it doesn’t really translate too well. In that case, this was not possible anymore for us to maintain. So to give you an example, usually we use
our iPhone to navigate between islands. We don’t have a chart plotter, it takes too
much battery, so we figured we’ll just use our phone with navigation software. We started meeting other sailors, they heard
we were programmers on sailboats, so they always came to us to fix their computers. [Laughter] So a lot of times, they would show
us their phone, and it looked like this. And our phone didn’t do that. But it I noticed, after searching it a little
bit, what happens is the phone is — it won’t let you turn it on again until it goes online. And that was scary. So my thinking at the time was, okay, we need
to re-think not only the type of work that we do, but also the tools that we use. And, I mean, this is just like one facet of
the thing, but with Adobe… [Laughter]>>Rekka: Subscription-based stuff. [Laughter] Working from a boat offers so many
challenges, productivity depends on the wind and the sun. Pino has solar panels on deck we use to power
everything on board, including our computers. We don’t have that many, because we don’t
have too much space. So that means that the sun dictates our work
hours. On cloudy days, sometimes we just can’t power
our laptops, or we find our use limited. For the first time ever, we had limited resources
to work with, which is not something that we were really used to. When you’re living on land, you have infinite,
seemingly infinite power, really. You don’t have to think about that stuff. We have to plan projects during the sunniest
moments at the day, and stop working at 4:00 because the sun is too low. We started to be more aware of our power usage,
but water usage as well. Because it is all stuff that we need to provide
for ourselves. It is nice to be aware of that, it forces
us to be more careful. The wind affects us in other ways, because
if the wind changes from an unfavorable direction, we have to move because we want our house
to be in a protected place. Like in Mexico, we are moving around every
3 to 4 days. Moving requires planning, it requires research,
because we need to figure out where we need to go, and it requires time, because we have
to make time to actually get there. So it was kind of sometimes pretty hard for
us, because — well, it’s a source of stress, because you always need to be, kind of, looking
every day, what the weather’s like today, and is it bad, is it good? And, yeah. It was exhausting, especially — well, I mentioned
Mexico, because the wind was just clocking around. And at times when we we’re in places when
waves would come at us unhindered, and we don’t want that. It’s not comfortable. We have to go on land for internet most times. Once in a while, we can get a signal from
the land to the boat. Like on Huahine, an island in French Polynesia,
we were anchored in a bay with hotel wifi nearby. Not to have to bring your laptop to shore,
it’s actually pretty nice to just stay in your home and be comfortable. We had good connectivity if we were close
to land, but sometimes the wind would push us far away from that. Which would mean close to land, five bars,
wind facing the other way, two bars. So we’d have to wait for the wind to push
us back towards land to upload content, that is a new thing for us. Temperature is another concern. [Laughter] Because when it’s really hot,
iPhones do shut down. It is the same thing, if you have been in
Montreal in the winter, that happens too. At -35, your iPhone is not going to stay open.>>Devine: Look, there’s… [Laughter]>>Rekka: I knew that would be distracting.>>Devine: The cat was warm.>>Rekka: So distracting! So when it is hot, our phones shut down, but
our bodies, they shut down, too. We lose our will to work, we become liquid
humans with illusions of productivity. So for the last three years, we broke a lot
of stuff, we learned a lot of hard lessons, especially about our tools.>>Devine: So one thing we did is optimize
the devices we use. So instead of relying on our laptops, and
sometimes at night we wanted to watch movies, because we heard that is really cool. So Raspberry Pi was a good option for us to
do that. It uses very little power and it runs even
when the sun is over. Not that it would allow us to work after hours, but just so we can play Final Fantasy Tactics after 5:00. But all these electronics, we keep them in
boxes. At the end of the day, we have to put them back. Otherwise it looks like my keyboard we saw earlier. This is Rekka’s writing station, it’s also
the Raspberry Pi, with the small screen, this runs forever on our battery that we use to
charge our cell phones. And in general, this is kind of cheating. When the sun sets, we just read or do other
things. We lived in places where — I mean, most places,
there is no Amazon or Aliexpress or any of that stuff, so we have to repair things ourselves. And that has been really, really interesting. That is one thing that, like, revealed to
us a world of rotten corporate interests. A lot of devices are not designed to be repaired,
and that is the scary thing for us. That’s what we are trying to fight against,
at this point, and the laptops — they’re gradually being more glued together, the phone
is the same, making it hard for people like us to repair them. If it fails at sea, you are stuck with a device
you cannot repair yourself, which you bought, which is scary. This is a cool thing we found. It is a Raspberry Pi running PiHole, essential
for both — what it does, it blocks ads coming inside the network for all devices connected
to the wifi network. The ads do not even get to your computer,
and it saves cycles. So a lot of the things, we throttle our processors. We make sure the computer runs as slowly as
possible to save energy, the opposite of where things are going.>>Rekka: So this whole thing was a lifestyle
experiment of sorts. It forced us to rethink how we live, what
is important to us. Reusing and repairing instead of buying, choosing
quality over disposability. Our goal is to continue to create stuff, but
to do it while trying to reduce our impact on the planet. We own less, want less, which translates into
working less — well, spending less and working less. Artists like us succumb to the lure of the
cult of productivity, we feel like we have to produce more and more. There’s nothing wrong with being productive,
but the problem occurs when our happiness is determined by it. Traveling around, it made us more adaptable. Being in different countries, where we had
different ingredients and materials to work with, so we had to make it work with what
was there. Trying to eat like we did in Canada was costly
to the environment. Like, in the Pacific Islands, it’s funny
to think it is the only time we can eat bananas sustainably. Not having exactly what we needed helped us
to learn about new stuff, new ingredients. That’s a taro root, which is really awesome
and they showed us how to prepare it and it was really great. It helps us to be more creative, because we
learn how to do things in a new way. This lifestyle reconciled us with nature,
too. As we said before, we didn’t really go outside
before. We realized that it is really, really important. Things that used to scare us, like sailing
at night, became our new favorite thing. When the moon is gone, you can see the stars. Living on a boat made us stop experiencing
the world through simulations, to go and see things ourselves, not through screens. It made us live in the moment. As someone with a tendency to worry about
the future, I’m the worrier of us two, having a mind space to just be there was really amazing. I was able to silence that voice in my head
and to just enjoy what was around me.>>Devine: It advised the work that we did. When we could not make games or processor-intensive
projects, we started to write books. This was one of them. When our software programs and tools start
to fail on us, we build our own. So this is my Illustrator. We were inspired by the tenets of development,
so for instance, I was inspired by three things in Linux development to apply on sailboat
travel. And these three things are: To write simple
modular parts connected with clean interfaces. When a program fails, it must fail as noisily
and as soon as possible. Design for the future because it will be there
sooner than you think. All these three things, it was interesting
that I could take these lessons and use them across other disciplines, like sailing. A lot of those things we know now, we’ve
learned from YouTube, blogs, and from people who write open source software and knowledge
bases –>>Rekka: Other sailors.>>Devine: Other sailors. The sailing community is super healthy, because
everyone is willing to share their trade secrets, which makes it very easy for anyone to jump
in and hack their way to being able to undock and travel. In return, we started to do the same. So everything we release now is open source,
everything we learn we keep in a knowledge base for others to learn from. And especially, I think we might be in a new
wave of nerds on sailboats. So the way we write, we target independent
artists and people who are just fed up with living in the city. Yeah, that’s — those are the four apps we
built as avatars, now. I could not not put this slide in. Do you want to do the last one, do you want
to close?>>Rekka: You’re a better speaker than me,
I’m sorry.>>Devine: Well, thank you XOXO for having
us. We would like to thank our Patreon who made
this possible. We are in a unique position of being able
to live off of open source, and I know right now it is very very hard. We don’t have a solution. It doesn’t scale, but hopefully what we showed
you today, you can apply in other fields and use that as a stepping stone to do other great
things, and in return, maybe you’ll inspire us as well. Thank you for coming and listening.>>Rekka: Thank you very much. [Applause]

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