Tuesday, May 30, 2017

guest article-post 2 of 2 today

GUEST ARTICLE-post 2 of 2 today

The BIC computer

I believe most survivalists are keeping old laptops as their SHTF computers, and some are venturing in experimental stuff like the raspberry Pi. I did both.

Following the latest WannaCry cyberattack, I realised both solutions were not adapted for a frugal/SHTF setup. Old laptops are power hogs, and I still haven't managed the Raspberry Pi to work on my small 12VDC parking-camera-screen. The Raspberry Pi looks inexpensive as such but then you have to purchase a screen, keyboard (preferably with an integrated mousepad) and various stuff, and you also need to learn a new programming language. The Raspberry Pi is actually a false good idea and a really bad one for our purposes.

1- Hardware

I experimented with two old Android smartphones from 2011, turning them into mini tablets without SIM cards. It works very well, and you can't beat the price, for 25 ? each I have a fully functional computer with screen and interface (keyboard + mouse) that will run on a solar charger or a 12VDC battery (though a cigarette lighter USB adaptator).

The microSD card is the smartphone's external Hard Drive equivalent, which is perfectly fine ; those come with an SD adaptator than itself can fit into an SD card reader that costs about 5 USD.

Both Android smartphones run on Android 2.1 OS, which is also why they are so cheap. That, and their 320x480 screen. Now this is actually an important point : because it's obsolete doesn't mean it can't do its job.

2- Install disk equivalent

If you search for software for the Android OS you will generally have to use Google Play, that will install these straight to your smartphone, but you won't get the install files, which have the suffix ? .APK ?

In order to have APK files for these apps, I used an app called ?MyBackup?. It saves your apps in APK form, on the microSD card if you choose so. This is how I got most of my apps, a few I had to obtain from shady sites that allow you to download straight to APK format. This whole gymnastic here is actually the difficult part in the whole setup.

Once you have searched, collected and tried all the apps you have yourself an ?install disk? for these. In case of trouble, you'll reset the smartphone to factory settings and re-install those apps. Now this is a very good antiviral option. Don't try to fix the virus, just delete everything. I don't know about Android viruses much, if they do nest in the devices' ROM then the device is ruined anyway :(

3- Software suite (for Android 2.1)

Most smartphones don't come with a files manager, but this is crucial. So I got the APK for an app called Total Commander. My smartphones all had an in-built browser, and you have to use this to install this first app. Change the (very complicated) file name to something short like totalco.apk and then type " file:///sdcard/totalco.apk " in the browser bar to install this. (Yes, three / )

The other apps I installed are :
- Jota text editor (for inventory I ditched any Excel sheet capability, I'll edit a text list instead.)
- an ePUB reader ( Nomad Reader ). Due to the small screens I complement this with a 5? hand-sized plastic fresnel lens for easier reading.
- a Talkie Walkie app (made by ACES Android Development - Bahia Blanca -Argentina) for local texting - I can't get the talkie function to work)
- A8 player video player, that is choosy regarding the files it wants to read. Together with the in-built video reader I could read most video files but not all.

These are programs that will run under Android 2.1. If you have Android 4.0 you can have much more choice and functionalities, but it will be a couple of years before these phones can become affordable. Also, those large screens smartphones prove to be somewhat flimsy, the more compact ones have less screen issues.

4- Useability

I think the key argument in favor of the smartphone solution is that it doesn't require knowledge of coding, it is quite easy to use and configure. This ties in with the Zero-Skill Approach : your average human in 2017 knows how to use these. Also, the Bluetooth local networking options are very simple to configure and use, albeit with limitations.

The downside of the smartphone solution is that one can't run external devices such as external hard drives. Either you build youself an extensive collection of large-capacity microSD cards with all you movies and e-books, or you still have an old laptop computer in order to access external HDs or DVD-Roms etc.

Why would we need a BIC computer ? Our first use is access to knowledge and entertainment.
You can also manage your inventory, when you don't want to use pen & paper, but with just a text editor you won't have a synthetic view.

A smartphone has many additional apps such as a calculator for instance, a motion camera alarm, some have an integrated compass, Android 4 allows you to scan documents etc. etc. This would make for another article, but I lack the information& experience to list all useable apps (that don't require connecting to Internet or a SIM card, that is...)


  1. No computers allowed in the apocalypse. Violators will be deprogrammed, suddenly.

  2. Every year, around December, you can find bundle deals for Tracfones on HSN, ebay, etc. Typically you get 1 year of Tracfone service and a relatively new Samsung or LG phone thrown in for nearly free. This year I got a Samsung S320VL with 5 inch amoled 1280x800 screen, 1.5GB RAM, 16GB flash, micro sd slot, 4G/LTE radio, etc. for $100 from QVC. I can browse the web with Firefox (with add-ons) or Opera or others. I can manage files with total commander or any of many other file managers. Map apps. Many file viewers, players, editors. This is a good solution to the problem of portable, low-power data processing. Don't forget your reading glasses ;-)

    1. I'm reading this only now, sorry if I'm late. Actually the critical feature in the setup I described is the version of Android. Most apps you find on Google Play are for Android 4, if you have older versions the choice is dramatically less.

  3. The vlc app plays everything. Audio and video.


    1. DM-computers have a place, but I'd focus on short term only and as back-up rather than primary. For instance, if your paper library burned down and you had e-book backup. Of course, be able to transfer back to paper.

    2. I have 8 GB of e-books (in french...), you can get tons of free ebooks on the internet. The Project Gutenberg page has all the books that used to be considered a classic education for the aristocracy when it wasn't only about cash and toupets.

      On a small microSD the size of a nail clipping we can store the equivalent of several bookshelves of books, if not entire rooms.

      This is the stuff of legends. This millenia only !

    3. Agreed Ave.
      But you need electricity and monitors to read the stuff.
      Get the paper versions if you can to back up the e-stuff.

  4. An option to retired and well worn smartphones might be new android tablet computers direct from China. 7" tablets running android 4.2 can be had for around $35. The extra $10 would probably be worth it, considering lack of wear, bigger screens, more advanced operating systems, and new batteries. I shop a number of Chinese sources, but a good starting point for tablets is dealsmachine dot com.

    If you want the phone function as well, dx dot com has smartphones for under $40 running recent android versions. They are currently selling a very powerful 5" smartphone (reliable Doogee brand) running android 6 for less than $50. A bit more pricey than a $25 junker, but you will have a state of the art smartphone to use till the apocalypse arrives. I mention dx dot com because they have free shipping.

    1. I'm just throwing idea's out there & not trying to rain on your parade but a tablet would require more power to run. Post "EVENT" a mobile phone sized device would be easier to power up via solar set up than a tablet.

      I don't know if the difference in difficulty is large or small.

  5. Nicus, good suggestion. I also have a 10' tablet (Android 4, no-name) I bought along with the two older smartphones, but it was not part of the article since it's just a regular smartphone.

    Maybe there's a difference in power consumption between the two solutions, this I'll have to investigate further.

    What I shall also consider is the necessary "old computer" needed to access external hard drives and DVD-ROMs. Since they are supposed to be disconnected from the internet, I can still run XP on them. Win 98 still needs the device's drivers to access them (that's mostly an issue with the USB sticks).

    The IT solutions for our purposes are mainly a factor of price (they must be cheap) and energy consumption (they must not hog energy), the technical specifications don't really matter past the OS issue of being able to access anything. What we do with Excel or Word is always quite modest and could already be done on a 386 computer 25 years ago.

    The price consideration is to be linked with the availablity factor. In fact, everybody seems to have a smartphone right now, the "mini-tablet" option seems to be interesting if we want to give these devices a second life after their main mission ends (or if the network crashes permanently). Smartphones will be everywhere, tablets less so (to a degree, it seems people have lots of this kind of stuff nowadays).

  6. https://fr.wikipedia.org/wiki/Consommation_%C3%A9nerg%C3%A9tique_d%27un_smartphone

    There is no english page on wikipedia on this. This article in french dissects the energy consumption in a smartphone vert thoroughly.