2005/12/19

Bootable CDs for Emergency Computing

You won't hear me arguing that computers and technology are more reliable than good old hard copy any time soon, but they are useful tools. In an emergency situation, a working computer could be the difference between life and death. I'm planning to cover the hardware side of things sometime in the future, but let's look at what we can do today.

Since the late 1990s, pretty much every computer in existence has been capable of booting off of CD. For most, this utility is used for installing your operating system or performing diagnostics. In an environment where every computer is an island and you may not have the parts or software you need to make a computer useful, it can be a lifesaver.

Today, there are several Linux distributions that fit on one CD (or even one DVD). They contain everything you need for general purpose computing: operating system, drivers, office software, communications software, etc. Some of these distributions are Knoppix, Slax, and DSL. There is also one based on Windows XP / Server 2003 called BartPE.

In an emergency, you could boot off of pretty much any computer you can make work (PC, tablet, laptop, thin client) and know exactly where everything is. You can have all of those FAQs, ebooks, engineering references, and medical references that you downloaded, but never bothered to print.

I've been working on composing such a CD for a year or so know. I was intending on using DSL, but I think I'm going to stick with Slax for now. What would you like to see on such a CD? Here's what I have or intend to have:
  • Army Field Manuals for useful topics
  • Firearm maintenance manuals
  • Radio equipment maintenance manuals
  • PSK31 software
  • Office software w/printer drivers (got to have freedom of the press!)
  • Medical documentation
  • Encryption software (GPG)
For the geeks:
  • Server apps (mail server, http server, IRC server, etc)
  • Traffic sniffers
  • War driving software
I certainly wouldn't want to bet my life on finding a computer in an emergency, but a CD such as this could be a useful tool.

12/20: Edited for clarity. I shouldn't post when I'm sleepy.

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