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Computer use for survival

Computers are an everyday item now for most of us in the western world, and are a rapidly growing area in the third world, where they are used for communication, information management and data analysis.

Communication in as much as emails, IM, VOIP type calls as well as feedback via comments on blogs and web based articles.

Information management in where we keep data such as PDFs, Video files and data reference tables such as safety data sheets.

Data analysis in where we use conversion programs from ft to m or similar, stress analysis and flow rates and databases of stock, training experience, etc.

Basically, computers just work on data. The programs, also data, tell them what to do and they do that on other pieces of data and output data to the screens. Even in a survival situation that capability is desired. It may not be essential but having it will make our lives so much easier and enable a much easier life.

So what can we do to ensure that we have computers in the event of a total meltdown of society? What is it we actually need? Went don’t need communication as the Internet as we know it will be gone. We need information management; we want to get access to all those informative PDFs and videos. We also want analysis for conversions, specific applications such as stress analysis and databases for things like stock control.

All we really need to do what we want is a computer and the programs and data, PDFs, Videos, databases etc. No communications. Plus, the main issue in a survival situation, power to make it work.

I’ve thought about this a lot. I believe iPhones and their clones such as the Samsung Galaxy are going to replace computers but they have several disadvantages such as small size, easily lost, stolen or damaged. There is not as many professional applications and the keyboards and screens are small and difficult to read while the storage available is small compared to standard computers. In a few years these PDA type devices will be the tool of choice but at the moment I’m sticking with laptops and notebooks. The reasoning behind this is that all the software I have runs on PCs. Each PC comes with a viable OS. The screen is large enough to do everything I need, a full sized keyboard and the ability to plug in a USB drive.

Now, I don’t know about you but I don’t have the funds to go out and buy several computers to put aside for a survival situation. I have to make do with what I can do with what I have. I have computers at home and in addition I work in an IT position and sometimes have access to obsolete items of kit. What I do is take the obsolete laptops, rebuild them and store them away.

If the system is working fine, no issues, blue screens and the like I am happy just to store it away as it is. I do a virus scan and then a backup to USB stick. Shut it down and it is ready to be stored. Ensure the original backup made when it was new is available. If not then make another USB backup.

If it is behaving strangely or doesn’t have a working OS I like to rebuild it in a specific way. I wipe the system, rebuild the OS, including the million and one patches downloaded from the Internet until the system is fully functional, up to date and can be used stand alone. Word, Excel and Access are usually installed as part of the SOE as well as a copy of Adobe Reader. I simply install the latest versions of my PDF readers, Adobe Reader , Foxit PDF reader and DjVu and for my videos I also add VLC and for my zipped files I use 7-Zip. This gives me a fully licensed system and fully working. Install any other applications that you specifically use at this point. Check that the USB ports are working but plugging a USB stick into all the ports and checking that you can read it. Make sure it reboots fine, do it a couple of times and use shutdown to shut it down properly. If everything is OK backup the entire hard drive to two separate USB sticks and label them as a backup OS.

Finally, copy the latest version of Adobe reader, Foxit, 7-Zip and VLC on to your backup USBs. Copy any reference or instructional DVDs or CDs you have that you want to keep. Even if you have them in the previous package. The previous versions may have deteriorated.

As well as upgrading my system I take the opportunity to upgrade my storage as well. It is basically a SAN drive with a USB capability. I purchase a new one and copy everything on the old one to it. Making the new, bigger better, one live and making the old one obsolete.

Taking a snapshot of working data now is good for two reasons. The first is that you know you have a working system. The second is you know that the data on it is at a version that is working with your software.

At this point shut down the laptop in a controlled manner and pack it up for storage. I put every part in their own Mylar bags, the laptop, the power unit, the mouse, the USB backup and the old storage drive with everything I need on it. Thus packing a complete working system away just in case. I then put the whole thing in a padded bag, a laptop bag is ideal depending on the storage drive you have, wrap it all in tinfoil and put in a metal container. Hopefully this will protect from all eventualities including EMP. This ends up being smaller than a suitcase size package. I don’t replace the previous stored system, I just put it alongside. Even though the old version is now archaic in a survival situation it may be all you have at some point.

When storage gets smaller and PDAs are more in use. The space required will be much smaller. Although the large screen will still be a major selling point to me.

One big issue I am concerned about is the way PDF, video files and compression algorithms keep changing, all to save space from a file stored in a cheap rapidly expanding medium. In the meantime the compression utilities won’t all recognise it. I usually unzip all my files as I receive them so I store little compressed but converting all the word, PDF and video files to old versions is not practical. Just hope your latest system lasts as long as you need it. If it doesn’t the chances are you will lose access to some files because your older systems won’t recognise the format and you can’t upgrade because the latest version will not run on that OS or needs another application that won’t upgrade to run. You do your best and that is why I archive data as well as a working system.

That is my solution to the issue. There are alternatives but this is relatively cheap. It is using your old kit which makes it cheaper but the storage option makes upgrading more expensive. You could do it different ways with DVDs and USB sticks and spend more time than money.

If at any time you think your setup is perfect, you have all your files, everything is working properly then if you are flush you can archive that unit and upgrade before you need to for technical reasons. No matter how you do it. The chances are your latest system sitting on your desktop will be unusable if anything really goes wrong. An EMP will take it out. You need a fallback if you want to stay computing.

I’m ignoring power for this article. How you generate it is up to your individual situation but remember all you have done above will be wasted if you do not have any power when you need it.

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