Storing Valuable “How to” Digital Data, by Slate Creek

I am constantly collecting data from the web and I save it to several USB memory sticks that I carry with me daily. If I’m in the office and happen to run across something of value I often pull the USB stick out of my pocket and save a copy. I have sub-directories organized on my stick such as “Food Storage”, “Water Supply”, “Topo Maps” or “Ham radio related” and then sub-category that into say “Antenna Builds”, “Local Repeaters” or “Radio Manuals”. I’m not advocating saving everything on a USB stick because nothing beats having the piece of paper in your hand explaining what to do. I still will hard copy print important papers like  radio manuals, the AmRRON SOP manual, recipes, engine manuals, and medical manuals.

I typically create USB archives of good books I have run across online such as one that I recently read about “The Great Taking”, or The Modern Survival Retreat by Ragnar Benson (which both can be found for no cost on the web) or just any good prepper books. If you web search the phrase: “Good Prepper Manuals PDF” the search results will give you a plethora of free manuals such as Nuclear survival, first aid, and military survival guides. Once you begin finding and saving PDF references and files you will be surprised by all of the resources available on the web for your library.

I never store personal information or data records on this device, it’s an everyday carry USB stick to grab something that might be useful in the future. Every week or two I copy its contents up to a backup drive at home in case it gets lost and all of that hard work is gone. Believe me, I’ve done it as I had a small hole in my pocket and one slipped out of my pants to be lost forever. Luckily I had backed it up two months earlier. But since then back up more often. I now mini-carabiner clip it to my key chain so it’s no longer a small object in my pocket.

Once a month, I take my memory stick and download the data off of my storage drive and duplicate it to a second memory stick that is EMP-safe. These are sticks that are typically shielded in a metal case with a metal cap — like the ones sold by SurvivalBlog each year with a full archive of blog files and hundreds of books and manuals. These types of waterproof USB sticks are often hard to acquire or require ordering a large quantity of them, to purchase. An alternative to this type of USB storage is to use a couple of static type bags used for electronics, and store them in your Faraday container. Another method is to wrap the memory stick in a nonconductive foam and place it in a small tin in essence creating a mini Faraday cage. Do a web search and study how to safely store electronics in an EMP / CME for suggestions because it will be needed for your reading device as well as your memory stick. SurvivalBlog has posted plans for building a simple Faraday container available at for an idea how to construct your own.

Dealing with Data formats and web pages

When it comes to the issue of format, PDF files are great, they are small, fast to page through and open without any effort provided you have a PDF viewer installed. But much of the information I glean from the internet is a web page format which isn’t as friendly to use. I have found several websites that will convert a web page into a PDF. The product I use is: Web-to-PDF.  It is free but as I recall there is about a 20 conversion limit per day. Simply copy the complete web address you wish to copy, paste it in the window and click “convert”. After waiting several seconds, the web page is converted into a PDF, then click on the “download file now” box and the file is copied into your “download” directory. After you have accumulated several web converted files move them to your USB memory stick. Be sure to include a copy of a PDF viewer (such as Adobe) on your memory stick and test its ability to open files on whatever device you choose.

In addition to collecting your own data files, I am a proponent of purchasing USB data sticks from publishers loaded with published material. On USB thumb drives, I have purchased Backwoods Home magazine (which I subscribe to and is awesome), The Mother Earth News, and SurvivalBlog which contains a lot of additional material besides the blog archive.  While I am discussing magazines, I’ll mention that subscribed to Home Power for many years. It is no longer published but still provides an archive of all of the magazines free for download. It contains many great articles on simple small solar or wind power projects independent of the grid.

Saving “How To” Videos

Sometimes reading a manual just doesn’t explain how to do something well enough that you need a video. I recently began saving YouTube videos on how to fix this or that, namely rebuilding several small one-cylinder diesel engines to build into a generator. I found a whole series where someone had gone step by step from tear-down to cleaning, fitting, and reassembling the engine back together, bleeding the lines, timing it, and starting it. I have several manuals on performing the same function but nothing can beat these videos. I had never saved YouTube videos before and after some quick research found several free websites that offer a YouTube conversion into a format that can be saved.

There are several formats for videos (just like several audio formats as well). The ones I am familiar with are MP4, MOV, WMV, AVI and MPEG-2. I don’t profess to be a video file expert. I’m only posting what I found and have not tried all of these formats. I saved my YouTube videos in the MP4 format but there may be a better format to save these in, but the MP4 worked for me.

A YouTube Video conversion program

The program I used is Y2Mate. Open up the Y2Mate program in one window and open YouTube in another window. Go to the YouTube video you wish to save and copy the URL ( highlight the address and click “Ctrl” and “C keys to copy). Click back to the other window with Y2Mate and paste the YouTube address into the red box (click “Ctrl” and “P” to paste the address). Once the YouTube URL is pasted you have a choice of video formats to choose from. I use 32 GB memory sticks so I have plenty of space so I choose the slightly better resolution of 720p video. Click “Download” and a new window will open showing the beginning of whatever YouTube video you selected. This program will also tend to open other pop-ups trying to sell you something, kind of the cost of getting a free converter. Your file will convert and below the YouTube image will be a download button. Click that and your file will be saved in your download directory.

After you have your file downloaded, open up that directory and try to run it. Your device may or may not automatically run the video depending on if you have the software installed for videos. The most common is the Windows media player if you are running a Windows OS device. If you have a tablet or cell phone or running Linux, you will have to research and find a suitable player for your device.

There are many YouTube video converter programs and Video / Media players and I have only given one example here of the one I choose to use. More than likely there are better products, usually free, to accomplish the same task.

Accessing the data in the future

So the day comes that you actually need to access this information with some type of device because we are in a grid-down situation or the Internet is gone. How do you do it and will it work? The first question is what device do you have: Are you willing to store that device away in a Faraday cage for the day you need it? Will it be an older cellular phone, a spare tablet, or an old laptop computer? Regardless you will have to keep in mind powering this device in the future if there is no grid. Will you have a small solar USB charger or other charging means stored away with these items? Will the laptop require a 120volt power to run or can it charge on 12 volt DC battery power? Will the USB memory stick plug into your old Apple phone or tablet keeping in mind a way to charge it.

Whatever device you choose to do your future reading on, you should have everything available on hand to read, charge, and access your data. In our house, we store a couple old tablets in our Faraday cage with a DC charger and interface cable. When I speak of interface cable, I am talking about the cable that plugs into the tablet and allows the memory stick to plug into the cable. Here is the USB example: and the Apple lightning example: . These interface cables have a female USB to accept the memory stick and the other end will plug into your device. We have both cables for Apple lighting and mini USB for our tablets and old Android phones. I never get rid of my old cell phones when we upgrade because they can be used as PDF readers, among other uses.

One word of caution: Memory USB sticks are not forever devices. They are designed to be written and read only a certain number times. That might be thousands of times, but not an infinite number. The day may come that you see your stick is acting flaky or very slow to respond and show data. That’s a sign that that stick may have reached its end of life and that it is time to replace it. This isn’t common for the typical user, but I have only had maybe two failures in 20 years with various USB sticks that I used while traveling. Mine probably get abused more than most in my work pants working near high voltage, welding, dirt, garden work, etc.

Test, Charge, Practice, Safely Store

Once you have your memory stick with data, test it, pull it out of your Faraday cage, with all supporting equipment, and test it. If you don’t have an alternate means to charge do you have a solar charger? Is all of the cables stored with the cell phone or tablet? Do you pull the device out every few months and test it? Charge it and is the data is still accessible?

Hopefully, this will help those out there to collect data that will be valuable in the future in the event our normal world goes away and provide a personal library to many.

“A Prudent man foreseeth the evil, and hideth himself: But the simple pass on, and are punished.” – Proverbs 22:3