Surviving The Apocalypse With A Briefcase Full Of Pi

Let’s imagine that you’ve spent most of your life indoors tinkering with electronic gadgets and that you don’t have a lot of practical survival experience. Since you’re currently reading Hackaday, it shouldn’t be much of a stretch for you. Let’s further imagine that our entire civilization gets upended by an ecological disaster, nuclear war, invaders from Zeta Reticuli, that sort of thing. What do you do?

If you’re [Evan Meaney], you might start by retrieving the Crash Recovery Device from its EMP shielded storage nook. This mobile digital library is designed to serve as a backup copy of all the information we’d lose in a post-Internet world. It holds detailed geological maps, a library of survival manuals, agriculture guides, and should you get bored, the entirety of Wikipedia.

Of course, having all that information in a digital format is no good if you can’t access it. Rather than designing a device from scratch, [Evan] based his rugged command center on the Raspberry Pi Recovery Kit by [Jay Doscher].

He deleted the more esoteric components such as the mil-spec connectors on the front panel, and improved the ability to switch between different power sources with a capacitor bank big enough to smooth out any momentary interruptions. There’s also added circuitry so the device can be run on a wider range of voltages, allowing the use of whatever batteries or power sources can be scrounged up. [Evan] even thought to use automotive style fuses that could be pilfered from abandoned vehicles if necessary.

We know what you’re probably thinking; a better way to hone your survival skills and prepare for a disaster would be to just go camping a few times a year. Fair enough. But if you’re a city dweller who might not have the option, it’s hard to argue that you wouldn’t be better off having a mobile repository of survival information to consult should you need it. Doubly so if it looks this cool.

58 thoughts on “Surviving The Apocalypse With A Briefcase Full Of Pi

        1. Sounds like standard Lucas electrics to me… Were they the normal Lucas the position switches? (Off, dim, and flicker?) I mean, you DO know why Brits drink warm beer right? They have Lucas refrigerators.

    1. Especially with that squared up key layout!
      I never officially learned touch typing, but put a standard 104 in front of me and I have the usual keys down to reflex only needing to look for functions off to the side.
      This layout nearly guarantees mental whiplash for I O P and any punctuation even if one does know how to type.

  1. Could pair this with a BGAN or iridium terminal and if the apocalypse still permits credit card transactions you lift the phone and call in the satellite plan and have data almost anywhere in the world irrespective of terrestrial comms which may be wiped out or corrupted. ;)

    1. I was going to say one of othernet’s receivers but they seem to be changing the hardware and mission statement every time I check on them, wait another 6 months to a year then just get a starlink plan and terminal.

    2. So whose going to take CC transactions during the end times when the power grid is down and people are just trying to live to the end of the day? No one. All you have is a box with useless c**p in it.

      Get some books and a box of hand tools.

      1. You’ve got a good point, but both Iridium and Inmarsat are primarily (multi) governmental LEO / GEO suppliers which have very reliable and globally diverse networks. Inmarsat provides the extremely hardened safety of life at sea (SOLAS) networks.
        If we’re talking about an apocalypse it might be regional at first like Randy Newman’s “Political Science”. If that’s the case then when “boom goes London” maybe credit card transactions are routed through Sydney via satellite which according to Randy would be spared. An apocalypse is truly difficult to plan ahead for. The one thing that’s likely is that cellular service would be gone and that regional data hotels would likely be attacked and destroyed. Satellites could be gone too. Without a network, computers are somewhat limited to being calculators and document readers unless the documents are in the cloud and then not even that.
        In any case with politics today it might be that some political moron decides to “drop the big one and see what happens” (re: Randy Newman) . We might need the apocalypse box more than we think. Maybe ham radio. I can go global with that…

  2. Hang on people, we are talking apocalypse here…. Forget the phone bit – gonna be no one left to call except the zombies and everyone knows they never answer…. And starlink? how long after the crunch is that gonna survive without anyone left alive (well not many) to keep it all happening…. Mate! Rather a box full of meat pies….. And a couple of rolls of dunny paper… And a bottle of shiraz (or 2)

  3. The basic needs arranged in priority are water, food, shelter, medicine, weapons, power source, transportation etc… Technology would be on the bottom and only after establishing a stablilzed society of some sort, then you would worry about it.

    For smaller localized disasters, you would want a radio to figure what had happened and made decisions to hide or make contact for help. Cellphones aren’t too useful if/when everyone an tried to call for help all at once. It also gives away your location if you are in a bunker in case of an organized invasion force.

    1. Just checking here to make sure nobody said it already…

      No? OK.

      (Tounge firmly in cheek)

      How about buying a couple books? Farming, survival, basic mechanics an a couple others would do quite nicely.

      But I know, it’s all about the thrill and challenge of the build.

      1. I have a few college texts (EE, calc, algebra). I really like the fact that they keep working as long as you keep them dry and the sun keeps rising. But even now it would be nice if they were PDFs because they are heavy and, after the fire, smelly. So I’m gonna go with “all of the above” ;)

      2. Having them as PDF files on this device would allow you to “CTRL + F” when you’re looking for that one piece of information in the 3rd sentence of the 2nd paragraph on the 145th page. But was that in volume 2 or 5 of the 10 volume compendium?

      3. Chances are “money” without an actual government to back it up would have no values. So the other thing you can only barter with is your skills or things you have. Water/food/shelter come first for your survival before buying books.

        Farming has long time frame, so you can’t rely on books and learn by trial and error if your next meal depends on it. People with framing equipment – tractors, horses can farm better than you would. It is okay as a supplement. You’ll still need your day job.

      4. The problem with books is that they are printed on wrong paper that degrades over time. Paper made from hemp is better, as is papyrus…

        The problem with digital books is that they will be unreadable if stored on magnetic or solid-state media after 5-10 years without powering up the storage device. The same goes for recordable and re-writable disks – they rot over time. Even magnetic tape used for long-term data storage has limited shelf life. So I’d stick with paper, especially one of the older types that can last for ages. And some decent ink that would last just as long…

        1. Not all books, some books. Effort has been made to print books on acid free paper, some of them even mention it on the flyleaf. Also older, higher quality papers were pretty good, it’s the stuff always known to be cheap and nasty known as “pulp” as in the rough paperback stuff, as in “pulp” fiction, that’s the worst. So if you try to obtain any particularly valuable to you titles in hard back, you should be set for a couple of hundred years at least.

    2. Technology can help get that stabilized society going though. Many scenarios that could collapse civilization might not destroy our existing technology. But the lack of supply chains means we’ll have scrounge together the resources to keep technology running. Being able to hack a tractor(like those right-to-repair farmers have to do now) might come in handy.

      1. They might be better served by ripping out the better understood ECUs like EEC-VI (MAF) or SBECs (MAP) from junkyard cars and using those to get the motors running.

    3. “The basic needs arranged in priority are water, food, shelter, medicine, weapons, power source, transportation etc… Technology would be on the bottom”

      I think weapons and ammo should be first on the list. How are you going to protect your water, food, shelter, etc. from someone who is armed and wants to take it away from you? It is SHTF scenario so anything goes. :P

      1. You need to be able feed yourself and somewhere to hide and survive first. Time frame for water is 3 days and may be a few weeks for food. Without access to water or food, you are going to be weak. Even if you can fight off others, you are not going to last in the long run.

        Without a base, where are you going to defend yourself or to hide your loot? It’ll take a while for the raiders to go door to door (or bunker to bunker).

        After that, you can plan where to raid with your guns and ammo. I think it would be the Mad Max type of society where the strong and the ones with water/food/gas would rule. The ones with weapons would be running around raiding.

        Your knowledge of technology would not put you too high on the hierarchy just like in real life. It is the rich, powerful, the TV movies star, the celebs, the sports types first before the geeks. You would be kept as slaves and become goods during raids.

      2. One of the scenarios is that your paramilitary groups (and gangs?) are likely the ones that become war lords and they are the ones doing the raids. Under that situation, your puny weapons is no match for their military grade weapons and training. Already seen what can happen when the local police turned against their own citizens.

        Without a large quantity of water and food, you are not that high priority for a raid. i.e. stores, main warehouses first, before going door to door.

  4. Could be a nice PSK31 terminal to hook up to a ham radio set for emergency communication.
    I have an old lenovo in a stormcase with a 12V adapter and an extra battery for that.

    1. Yeah, personally, I think older hardware with larger traces/processes are going to be the gear more likely to survive, as long as there aren’t old leaking batteries and electrolytic caps involved. Not a custom built fantasy item like this. Set it on the shelf next to your “MRE”s. Looks cool as hell for sure though.

  5. >> Why not books?
    This is books. It’s books in digital form and the hardware to read them. Are dead-tree books better? It depends. Can he find power to run the thing? How many books? One or two books would probably be easier to carry. Three might break even. The equivalent to all the information he has in that box is probably a warehouse full of books.

    >> Why not tools or survival gear?
    Who says he doesn’t have those things? What he seems to be implying is that he does not have the knowledge to use them. That’s what this is for.

    >> Why not water and food?
    Those things run out. I think the point was to have the information necessary to obtain those things indefinitely.

    1. I’m going to steal and adapt Sam Kinison’s advice: MOVE TO WHERE THE WATER IS!

      Everyone who’s read Boy’s Life magazine or the Whole Earth Catalog knows how to make a solar still but there’s no need to have every issue electronically.

      Money is whatever people agree on. Even gold is only valuable because other people agree it is. What good would gold be in this scenario? Other than a medium of exchange what could you use it for?

      One thing’s for sure, there’s plenty of “wood” in this post-apocalyptic world.

  6. Great work, reminds me of Fallout’s G.E.C.K.

    Mechanically adding some more padding/rubber would help with vibration/drop resistance.

    Electrically adding a sat modem (maybe into the router’s compartment?), ESD protection/reverse protection/fuses on ALL pins, thermal protection to the battery pack, a conductive gasket to ensure that the faraday cage is completely closed in would help.

    Aesthetically maybe add some diagrams and indications of how to use the device (especially that barrell jack port, assuming the pin is positive). Think Voyagers’ Golden Records.

  7. Offline Wikipedia is really handy and discovering Wikivoyage and its offline version I can only wonder about this project !

    The only thing that are missing nowadays is an offline iFixit version and a well formatted book of all connector’s pinouts (I wonder if one can scrape all pinouts website and format them in a standard layout (1 page = 1 connector/pinout)?)

    1. you might want to take a look around at repairfaq.org for text docs of such. There was a huge ascii file of pinouts around a while back that pinouts dot ru seemed based off.

  8. While the hardware is mildly interesting, I’d be FAR more interested in what EXACTLY is in the library… To use a 20+ years old phrase, content is king. I’d at the very minimum put in the Gingery series and Plant’s Primitive Technology.

    I can’t really see wikipedia and it’s multimedia stuff

    1. Might also want to get MIT OCW videos downloaded. 8.01-8.05, all of the math courses, electronics, biology. ALso UC davis has chemistry courses online. I hear that there is a webpage that has all of the textbooks online, but that would be unethical so, definitely don’t find all of the textbooks for those courses and download them. Murdercube has a nice collection of interesting books as well.

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