Making the wheels go round and round is kind of Corbin Dunn’s thing. A world-class unicyclist, a software engineer at Apple, and an all-around inventor, Corbin is incapable of stasis. He sat [and climbed and cycled and zip-lined] with Indoor Boys recently and we’re bringing you along for the ride. Catch up with Corbin and feel your heart race.
Introduce yourself. Who are you, where are you from, what makes you an Indoor Boy?
My name is Corbin, and I live in the Santa Cruz mountains. Put simply, I’m a maker and a do-er. I spend my work life playing with computers making software, and my home life making things I find interesting. When I’m not making things, I’m spending as much time as I can doing fun things. But fun can only be interpreted by the individual, and for me fun is something that is physically or intellectually challenging. Or even better when the two meet head on, which explains a lot of my esoteric hobbies.
I’m an Indoor Boy because I’m smarter than your average bear.
You are the nexus of high and low tech. A software engineer at Apple in Silicon Valley and a guy who owns a couple of acres and chickens in the Santa Cruz mountains. How did the twain meet?
From a young age I was introduced to computers, starting with an obscure but often loved system called the Amiga. I always liked playing with technology, but I thought my original calling was to become a professional pilot. Being an ambitious person, I got my private pilots license when I was 17 and set out for aviation school in Arizona as soon as I graduated high school. With a commercial pilot rating two years later, I realized I had mastered the airplane and it simply was not challenging anymore. But that technological draw was always there behind my mind, and I was spending my free time teaching myself to program until I suddenly realized my true passion was to do that professionally.
So, I moved back to my hometown of Santa Cruz, but didn’t want to live with my parents. So what’s a 20 year old to do? For me, the solution was clear: build my own fully functional treehouse forty feet in the air and live in it full time. I’ve always loved alternative things, and the treehouse fit me perfectly. As I grew older I grew more eco-conscious of the world. I was much more aware of the things I put into my body, and I really liked the notion of sustainability, self-sufficiency, and anything organic.
Roll forward a number of years, and when it came time for me to get my own place I wanted somewhere out in the redwoods where I could grow my own food and raise my own animals. There’s nothing more satisfying than walking down to the garden and picking your own veggies for dinner that night, or collecting your own eggs for breakfast. Or fresh blackberry pies made with hand picked berries from the not-so-secret patch off Summit road. Eventually I want to create a more closed-loop system, in particular something with an aquaponics setup for self fish-farming and automatic hydroponics that feeds off the fish waste.
What was it like working on the iPhone before it launched? [I take it you’re good at keeping a secret.]
Ah yes, the iPhone was a glorious project to work on and it was an experience I loved. I judiciously dedicated quite a bit of my life to it for a while, working away on the super-secret project. Now my friends weren’t so into it, as I was working a lot and missing quite a bit of unicycle rides and climbing trips. They came to call it “my mistress,” since I couldn’t talk about what I was doing, and I was staying at work late into the evening.
You have so many eclectic passions it’s hard to know where to start. I guess what first caught my attention was the mountain unicycling. Please explain.
What is there not to like about mountain unicycling? Take something that seems so preposterous to ride and place it in an environment that you can’t imagine going. Those are the types of situations I love! But what is it about unicycling that I really like? I think I enjoy the challenge. At first, it is hard to just to learn to ride the darn thing. And then later you move on to riding on fire roads. And then progress to single track trails…then hopping over logs..then riding down stairs…then riding mountain bike parks…then riding up stairs…then hopping off 5′ ledges…and the challenges never stop! There will always be something about unicycling I can’t do, and I absolutely love the challenge. It also stops to make you think. If you fall off, you can stop and contemplate, “Well, why did I fall off, and what can I do to prevent that from happening next time?”
I also like seeing people smile. I really enjoy riding my unicycle down the street and seeing people crack the biggest smile they may have had their whole day. Making other people happy brings me happiness.
At some point mountain unicycling led into longer distance unicycling on a large diameter wheel. This opened up the possibilities of touring on it, and since then I have toured on one wheel in some of the most amazing places: Africa, Vietnam, Madagascar, and New Zealand. I absolutely love traveling, and it is immensely enjoyable to travel at pace where you can really literally stop and smell the roses. Or, in my case, stop and watch a herd of zebras run in front of me with giraffes in the background.
Introduce us to your Plug Bug. What’s her story?
I’m not sure it is a him or a her; it’s more of a thing. I try to not get too attached to my things, since at any point in life if something happens to an object I own, I never want to be mad. Some people get really angry and pissed off at the world when their car gets a dent or scratch and I never want to be that way. Sure, I would be sad if my car got destroyed in a crash, but heck…it’s just a thing and not a person. So, I don’t truly associate my cars as having a people-personality.
Plug Bug is more the name of the project itself. I purchased a 1969 Volkswagen Beetle with about 300,000 miles and restored it to practically brand-new condition. But, of course, with me there is always a catch, and the catch is that I converted it to run 100% on electricity. A few years ago I realized that electric cars really are the wave of the future. But I have always had a strong passion and desire to own cool old cars. But old cars are horrible polluters for the environment. Actually, heck, so are most new cars too! So I wanted to convert a car to be an Electric Vehicle (EV) and have it be more eco-friendly. I did most of the work myself, and after about 9 months of labor, I ended up with a very adorable little car that I can commute to work in. It gets somewhere from 70-100 miles per charge and I enjoy every minute I spend driving it. It’s also a great conversation piece; many people come up to talk to me about my “cool old car,” and then get blown away when they realize it takes no gasoline.
You have a pretty extensive [and enviable] workshop. Whatcha been working on lately?A bit of everything! I’m a constant learner in life and I love acquiring new skills, so lately I’ve been teaching myself to TIG weld. My next rather hum-drum project is going to be remodeling my bathroom. The next cool project will be making an aerial cube to take to Burning Man this year and play on in my theme camp dubbed “Circus Boot Camp.”
Are you secretly training for life in the circus? [Say yes!]
Apparently I am! I sort of fell into it and really enjoy the physical challenges that circus provides. I will sometimes see a performance and think, “That looks cool; I bet I could make that apparatus and do it.” Last year I saw someone perform a Roue Cyr (aka: Simple Wheel), and decided I could make my own. So, lately I’ve been practicing on the Cyr wheel learning how to do basic spinning and maybe some day I will do a performance on it. It’s quite challenging, and my progress has been slow, but I do enjoy learning it. I’m also considering learning some basic aerial silk moves just as a fun side hobby, since I have one hanging from the ceiling in my house. It also makes an awesome indoor swing.
What does the future hold for you?
The future holds more traveling to cool places in the world, ideally on one wheel. My next fun trip will be to Italy in 2012 for the Unicycle World Championships; I want to attempt to maintain my world champion status for the 27 mile marathon unicycle race. South America is somewhere that’s always caught my eye, and I’m thinking of a prolonged trip there in a few years. I also love warm tropical places and have an affinity towards them, probably because I was born on Maui. Other than that, I will continue to make things and do things I find interesting in life.
Want to learn more about Corbin? Check out his website.