In advance, sorry for the wall of text. I wrote this up in a text editor (too large and important for the web interface). Also too large to fit into a single post. I divided it in about half and posted each portion separately.
One day I was obsessing over how technology might cross over from our civilized world into a world of an apocalypse.
One of our most important inventions is the computer. It allows us to store massive amounts of data, communicate over long distances, and calculate very quickly.
Without advanced (not to mention computer assisted) fabrication labs, there's no chance of fabricating a modern CPU. There's also no real way to reverse engineer them, as they're way to small and complex to analyze.
There is a CPU that's not as complex: MyCPU! http://www.mycpu.eu/
There is an advantage to this in a post apocalyptic world. It's possible to build one entirely from discrete components. Possibly components salvaged from broken electronics that we find strewn all over the world.
There is, however, disadvantages. Chiefly of which, is it is very large. We cannot be sure how we will live in a post apocalyptic world. If the Fallout series is any indication, many of us will be nomads, constantly in danger. At a moment's notice we might have to grab what we can and flee. MyCPU, in addition to a monitor and all, will not be taken with you.
We need something portable. Somthing that can fit in your hand. Something that's durable and can possibly be replaced.
I stumbled upon this: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EBeTXPaewMo
As you can see, gameboys are made from a material known as Nintendium (lol) and are indestructible.
It also has other advantages. For a computer to be useful, you need a way to communicate with it and it a way to communicate with you. Also, a way to communicate with other computers (the Gameboy link cable). The Gameboy integrates a screen and user input. However, the most useful input device is a keyboard. A PS2 keyboard can be hacked with an appropriate connector to interface with the gameboy.
According to wikipedia, there have been 200 million units produced in the Game Boy Line (including GBA, etc.): http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Game_Boy_line
It's also low power. In fact, it can be hacked to charge via solar power: http://hackaday.com/2011/04/04/solar-powered-gameboy-color-never-runs-out-of-juice/
To be useful in the future, a computer must be reprogrammable. Preferably self-hosting (even more important in postapocalyptia). A simple flash cart will not do.
The arduino is a very flexible platform. It offers endless nights of hackery. Unfortunately, video is not trivial for an arduino. I also don't fancy carrying around a CRT with me in post apocalyptia, unless it's integrated into an armband like the Pip-Boy.
The advantage of a cartridge is that you can put whatever performance enhancing thing you want into them. You can even stick another processor in them. This has been done in many old game consoles that use cartriges. Like how yoshi's island has the SuperFX processor to do sprite transformations. Unfortunately, we cannot fit an arduino into a gameboy cartridge. Luckily, we can fit an AVR processor in there. Well, some of them. Just for kicks, I opened up an old gameboy game I didn't care too much about (I wouldn't touch my pokemon like I did this), removed the PCB, and put the ATMega from my arduino into the cartridge. Unfortunately, the DIP package is too tall, so we need to use a surface mount version.
Also, in post-apocalyptia, hacking will be even more important than it is today. I envision a row of female headers on the top of the cartrige like on each side of an arduino.
It's also essential that it has a mass storage device. SD(HC) cards can solve this problem quite handily. I think there should be at least two slots for SD cards in the cartridge. It would be preferable if one could be an external port. I say at least two SD card slots so you can have your programs on one and deal with removable storage. At least one should be full size SD if possible, because miniSD and MicroSD have their adapters. There should also be a FAT32 driver so we won't be limited to 2GB (alot of data in the world is stored on SDHC cards). I think data recovery would be an essential function of rebuilding the world. So much literature, art, history, and science is stored on computers.
It should have a way to interface with a keyboard. I think the most common way would be to use a PS2 keyboard. You could cut off the connector and plug the wires into the top ports or you could rip a PS2 socket out of an old motherboard, solder wires to it, and plug those into the top port. Then you can plug in your keyboard or any other PS2 device. I'm sure a number of legacy connectors could be used in this way.
Today, there are billions of USB device. That's not a made up statistic: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Usb
"As of 2008, approximately 6 billion USB devices had been sold in total, and about 2 billion were being sold each year."
I'd kill myself if I didn't at least try to put a USB host on this board.
Anyways, a little research turns up this: http://www.circuitsathome.com/products-page/arduino-shields/usb-host-shield-2-0-for-arduino/
There's also a smaller version: http://www.circuitsathome.com/products-page/arduino-shields/usb-host-shield-for-arduino-pro-mini/
Integrating the circutry into the PCB containing the ATMega further shrinks the size down. As I said before, there are billions of USB devices. Plenty of them store massive amounts of data, including flashdrives and even USB harddrives. The harddrives are particularly advantageous because they don't have limited write cycles. However, a standard USB plug is too big to fit on top, especially if we want the top to be filled with female pins like on the arduino. One method would be to wire two of those pins as USB data port. Two of the pins already need to go to 5V and GND and can be reused. You could pick up any old USB hub and cut off the male end and have it plug into your cartridge. It might also be possible to mount a USB port on the front of the cartridge where it says "Nintendo GAME BOY TM" and has that indention. This also allows the possibility of USB keyboard and mouse, bluetooth or wifi dongles, etc. in addition to your flashdrives (maybe at the same time, but our ATMega wouldn't have much bandwidth for each item). One especially exciting notion is that there are IDE and/or SATA to USB devices. I have an IDE to USB device (for netbooks). Using this you can access desktop harddrives and use IDE CD/DVD/BluRay drives. This would be especially useful for recovering movies and music from the past. Seriously, look at ANY suburban home. You'll find a rack, a closet, or some other place that's PACKED with the stuff.
Continuing the subject of post-apocalyptic data recovery, and more specifically art, why? Well, obviously, I don't think any of us care to carry Justin Bieber with us into the next era (post-apocalyptic or not), but art is an integral part of culture. There's also documentaries that explain how technology works, about specific times and places in history, and other useful things. The art also captures the mood of the day.
Continuing the subject of media, the Gameboy is not a media device. Especially true on the original Gameboy (where you have four shades of green), the gameboy has a small resolution, low color screen.
Even pushing the limits of the Gameboy color you can get only about 2000 colors: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Game_Boy_Color#Hi-Color_Mode
Things get a bit more bright on the GBA. It has a screen resolution of 240 × 160 (original gameboy is 160x144) and can reach 15-bit color.
Because we're using a microprocessor instead of a ROM or flash chip, we can program it to work in Gameboy, Color, or GBA mode. The GBA also offers a 32-bit ARM processor. I'm not sure if the cartridge can autodetect the system, though. We might need a switch or two on the cartridge to tell it what to be. Also, in additon to GBAs not being as durable (especially the remakes), there are less of them. 81.51 million worldwide says wikipedia.
Now, even with those impressive specs, it still isn't HDTV (or even SDTV). However the focus of this project is rebuilding. There are numerous projects that output more impressive video TVs and VGA monitors using an AVR processor. Like...
Arduino's own TVOut (not better than the gameboy, but worth a mention).
Uzebox (and its derivatives. It even features a mode where it runs full screen video and audio directly from the SD card): http://belogic.com/uzebox/index.asp
RBox (not an AVR processor, but still worth a mention): http://rossum.posterous.com/20131601
MyCPU (has a VGA "card" as a sub-project): http://www.mycpu.eu/
And many more I didn't mention or don't know about.
Also, the sound on a Gameboy is limited. Thankfully it provides for an "audio through" link from the cartridge. There's nigh infinite audio demos on AVR processors. Hook up a DAC (or use PWM) and you're ready to go. Because you're using PCM audio you can write new games for the APPASC/ARPASC that run on gameboys and have exciting audio options. On the GBA this isn't as important because most games already do software audio generation.
I'd also like to feature some sort of wireless link inside the cartridge. Preferably this would be bluetooth, but some other radio protocol might be simpler, more useful, and easier to re-engineer.
For a wired link you can use I2C or some other serial protocol. You can also make use of the gameboy link port.
Back to self-hosting (it's way up there), one unfortunate side effect of having two processors, one AVR and the other almost Z80, you need two compilers. Three, I think, if we can support the GBA. I'm not sure about the GB vs. GBC, but if they need different compilers, then we have four compilers. Two languages will be essential, assembly and C. I think it'd be nice to include BASIC that'll work bewteen the two (and with the two).
To remove this burden, we could simply remove the original processor from the gameboy and use an ATMega to modulate the screen and audio. While this is certainly feasible, it removes the replaceability and accessability for many users. With our SoC (System in a Cartridge, lol), you can carry your small, low profile computer with you at all times. It'll fit easily into any bomb suit you may have. When you need it for general purpose use, simply plug it into any gameboy system. This includes the SuperGameboy (SNES) and Gameboy Player (GC) for use on a TV.
Also, there's the possibility of using the cartridge as a standalone system. Simply provide approptiate power to the cartridge pins, and you have an arduino sheathed in nintendium. This has applications of robotics, science (where we don't need UI at the time of the experiment), and many more.
The processor in each Gameboy also has a few advantages over the ATMega line. In additon to video and audio logic, there's also more RAM than on most ATMega processors. The original has 8KB of RAM (8KB VRAM). Color has 32KB (16KB VRAM). The GBA line has 32KB again (but 96KB VRAM) plus 256KB of "external" RAM. The Arduino Mega256 (using the ATMega2560) has 8KB.
One last major feature of the modern computer is a real time clock. One notable game that features this is Pokemon Gold/Silver/Crystal. I figure we can feature it too. Preferably we should do standard Unix time encapsulated in a signed 64-bit integer. I'm not sure what is required in hardware to accomplish this.
The Gameboy line has many peripherals (gameboy link port). It would be especially advantageous to have drivers for most of them.
One last thing, I haven't mentioned the clock speed of the ATMega in our cartridge yet. I'm not sure about this one at this point. The part is rated for 20MHz. The arduino, however, runs at 16MHz. If we do that, we could program it the same way we do an arduino. It would also offer power savings. However, the extra processing speed would be nice to have at 20MHz. Especially so because it would remain faster than even the GBA (it runs at 16.8MHz. Original gameboy is ~4MHz, and Color is ~8MHz).
And I think that's it. To recap:
-What platform to choose? Gameboy: Availability, durability and ease of use. Augmented with ATMega (in a cartridge): Hackery and flexibilty.
-What must a computer do? Mass storage, UI, interoperability, self hosting, networking, time tracking.
-Mass storage: primarily SD(HC) cards.
-UI: Gameboy provides basic user input and output. PS2 keyboard can be used easily with an ATMega.
-Interoperability: USB host. Also hackery via external pins.
-Self hosting: Compilers for both processors. At least two languages, Assembler and C. Possibly BASIC.
-Networking: Wireless with bluetooth or some other radio. Wired via gameboy link port, I2C, or other serial.
-Time tracking: Real Time Clock. Preferably using a 64-bit time value.
-Media storage. This is important for rebuilding society including history, literature, and other art. Full quality should be stored for future, better media device.
-Multiplatform support. Each newer Gameboy platform is more powerful. The cartridge should not be limited to older system modes.
Also, I didn't mention it, but I have two name ideas. APPASC and ARPASC. If you're british, I guess it doesn't matter which is chosen.
APPASC stands for Apocalypse Proof Personal And Scientific Computer. ARPASC stands for Apocalypse Resistant Personal And Scientific Computer. ARPASC has less repetition.
A sub project to this is gathering together a compact but useful encyclopedia that contains some history and mostly information on how alot of modern technology works. Computers will obviously take a large portion of the space in the database. I think including the plans on how to build MyCPU would be a very important detail.
This is all well and good as a "thought experiment", and from a learning perspective. That said, my guess is that in a truly "apocalyptic" scenario, computers will be the last thing anybody would be thinking of (also - have you seen the relay-based machines a few people have built? unfortunately, all of these designs have the fatal flaw that in order to have enough useful memory, they have to have an interface to regular RAM of some sort)...
Interesting all the same!
Oh, I also forgot to mention, what happens when December 21, 2012 goes by uneventfully? Well, then, you're ready for the NEXT apocalypse.
Also, there are plenty of things to do with it while you're waiting for the apocalypse.
-Use it as an interface for an Arduino project.
-Play ROMs on it. You can use it as a GBA and a GB/GBC flash cart. There's also the possibilty of the ATMega emulating advanced features a normal flash cart can't have.
-Write and play new games. You can even do it without another PC. There's also the extra power from your ATMega.
-Write new music. The ATMega can provide extra and different channels.
-DIY music player. It's way cooler than an iPod.
-Solar powered PC on the go, if you hack your Gameboy that way.
-On the go hackery!
-Calculator. Even graphing functions. No expensive TI calculators for me!
-Field programmable robots (just add gameboy).
-Other things I haven't thought of.
On the RAM, I'm not planning to run Windows 8 or even X11 on it. With the GBA (256KB RAM) there's plenty of space to do basic multitasking. I'm not talking about 65 tabs in firefox plus M$ Word or OpenOffice type multitasking. Especially with two CPU's, the AVR can play background music and interface with SD cards and keyboard, while you edit text with the Gameboy running the text editor and a CLI calculator. Obviously, older models are more restrictive.
Another limiting factor is the screen size: 160x144 on GB and GBC. All applications are going to be full screen.
Also, the mindshare of the people. It is true that most people won't be thinking about computers. Most people have too limited of a mindset, where even a smartphone or a PS3 "isn't" a computer.
So it'll be on us hackers to carry technology through to that era.
Also, while I am writing these specifications seriously, it's also a bit tounge-in-cheek. I don't expect any apocalypse. Notice that I said "when Dec. 21, 2012 goes by uneventfully" up at the top of this post. Still, like I said, you can use it for non-apocalyptic reasons as well.
What sort of apocalypse worth having is going to leave behind a functioning electrical power distribution system so that you can hack all night long?
That's why I posted the link for the solar powered gameboy: http://hackaday.com/2011/04/04/solar-powered-gameboy-color-never-runs-out-of-juice/
Ah yes, I missed that. The sun will be still be shining after the smoke clears :D
There are also apocalyptic or disaster situations that the ARPASC isn't quite useful.
The first of which is a scenario where everybody is dead. Nobody to carry on the tradition of computing, much less living.
The second would be some sort of scenario that results in all current languages to die out. The primary interface for a computer of these specs would be a text prompt.
These two are situations where people can't use it.
There's also situations where ARPASC remains obselete. Situations where our current standard of computing survives or a better one thrives. At this point, there's no loss, ARPASC is primarily intended to keep computing alive. If it is still alive, there's no need. However, there may be some other future apocalypse or disaster scenario beyond that one where it or a similar project may be useful.
You may have noticed that at this point, I prefer ARPASC to APPASC. I think it just has a better ring to it.
constantly in danger. At a moment's notice we might have to grab what we can and flee.
And you'd grab a f***ing computer :smiley-eek:
Trust me, if the excrement comes into contact with the rotating cooling device the last thing you'll be worried about is computers. I'd be brushing up on your bow hunting and skinning techniques.
My line of thought is if the computer fits in your pocket or even a backpack, you don't have to grab it. It's already there. In such a world it'd be advantagous have at least one bag that has your most valuable possessions. When not in use, simply put it in that bag.
Other things you might have in there would be compass/map, a knife, a day or two drinking water, a small amount of food, water filter, edible plants guide, and other valuable possesions. I think the future of technology is important enough to put in there. If you were extremely paranoid, you'd wear the bag on you at all times, including when asleep. In extreme danger, you don't have to do anything besides run.
Anyways, this is all very speculative. Whatever happens, we will adapt to survive. I'm thinking a computer like this will most easily adapt to a variety of situations. Anything too modern is way too proprietary, complex, and unweildy to adapt. It's all designed for our modern civilization. A land of massive consumerism. You can always buy a new computer during this era. The ARPASC concept is designed for an era where consumerism is dead. Everything you have, you made, traded for, stole, or salvaged.
This is really neat from a sci-fi apocalypse point of view at worst. Since some have knowledge of computers and electronics, why wouldn't they take advantage of those things to survive? I am a chemist by trade, and one of my favorite things to play with is apocalypse chemistry. Things like making gunpowder from scratch and how to extract medicines and how to make electricity with chemistry. You don't think gunpowder would give a man the upper hand when the world goes all Mad Max? Imagine one of those guys in Mad Max had a processor and knew how to build a robot? And I don't need a power distribution system. I know a ton of different ways to get my own electricity from solar, to hacking car parts to build a generator, to sticking pennies and nails into saltwater. If you build it, I will power it in myriad different ways.
That brings us to another important feature it must have. If electricity is going to be at a premium, it must be extremely low power consumption. We must make every effort to save every milliamp we can.
I also think that the idea of a gameboy hack that I can use to interface with or even program an atmega is a really neat idea apocalypse or no. I can imagine a host of plug and play type projects using the gameboy as an interface. It would allow a person to take multiple arduino platforms into the field, say to control several different robots, and use a single interface by simply changing out cartridges. I mean you get a display, a direction pad, and a few momentary contact buttons. What more do you need to run a robot?
I've been doing some research on the hardware aspect of this project. Here's a list of what the cartridge needs to have inside it (to my understanding and based on previous posts):
-ATMega of some sort.
-Possibly a voltage step-up. I'm not sure of the voltage the gameboy provides to the cartridge.
-Voltage regulator, 16MHz oscillator, and whatever else is required to make the ATMega work (probably using some version of an arduino as a reference).
-ISP header, possibly internal, requiring you to open the cartridge to reprogram the ATMega. After the firmware is finalized to load programs off of the SD card and interface with the gameboy initially, it shouldn't require further reprogramming like this.
-2 SDHC card slots. One should preferably have external access and be full sized if possible. The other one can be micro and internal (have to open the cart to get into it).
-Some sort of radio communications device.
-Real time clock.
-RTC backup battery.
-Analog audio output.
-Female pin headers on top of the cart.
-Two switches on the front to select modes (stand alone, gameboy, color, and GBA).
-Possibly shift registers or some other multiplexing device if necessary.
Right, the research:
To my understanding, the SD card is basically connected to the uC and everything else is done in software. All that's required is the proper receptacle. Possibly a shift register in between to free up other I/O to the uC.
For the USB host, we use the same hardware as the USB host shield, just directly on the PCB instead of trying to stick a shield inside the cart. http://www.circuitsathome.com/products-page/arduino-shields/usb-host-shield-for-arduino-pro-mini/
The wireless networking is a bit more complicated. There's wifi, bluetooth, ZigBee, more generic radio, and possibly IR.
there's always the XBee modules, but they're pretty large in comparison with the cartridge. I'm thinking radio is the best choice. It's simpler has a greater possibilty to be hacked or reverse engineered. Here's a couple links from sparkfun:
Obviously, the parts would be integrated into the PCB of the cart.
The first link is purpose built for the task. It operates on a single frequency. However, looking at the board, it has alot of components (making soldering a chore) and it also takes up alot of physical space on the PCB. That would take about half the surface of the PCB. It supports SPI.
The second one is just an oscillator. This could be used for amateur radio, possibly. Add antenna and you have radio. Appropriate programming and an acoustic transducer (or even a microphone, lol) and you have a voice-to-voice emergency radio in your pocket.
Another option is using the audio DAC as a radio. An ATMega can modulate certain radio frequencies in software. Rig an antenna into a headphone plug and stick it into your gameboy. Unless, of course, the gameboy features a low pass filter to filter out possible interference or noisy signal coming from the cart, which it might. If cartridge pinout provides for stereo sound, you could have radio on one channel, and mono audio in the other (the gameboy sound chip has selective stereo sound. You can do left, right, or both).
-The third link there is an AM/FM/etc. audio radio receiver. It supports I2C and SPI.
Now for the real time clock. Again some sparkfun:
Both of them are about equivalent. The'll track time to the year 2100. That's 88 years. By that time, I don't expect this version of ARPASC to be useful (or even working).
The first one is a bit larger and supports SPI. It's also advertised on the page to be extremely accurate. The oscillator is internal to the chip. It also features temperature compensation and two programable alarms.
The second one is tiny. But it also requires an external oscillator at 32.andsome KHz. The accuracy of the clock depends on the oscillator.
Redbook (CD-quality) audio is stereo signed 16-bit sampled at 44100Hz. That's the standard I hope to achieve. However, making two R2R ladders from discrete (even surface mount) resistors is both impractical and way too large to fit in the cartridge. The PCB in gameboy carts lay flat on the bottom of the case, so there's only the top for components. So the cart needs a couple of 16-bit DAC ICs. I looked at sparkfun and found only these:
The first one is just an 8-bit DAC. The second one is a 12-bit DAC with I2C. If two 16-bit DACs are infeasible, I'd go with the 12-bit DAC.
One other thing is, I don't know if the cart's audio out is stereo or not. I'm looking at the PCB for the Gameboy game "Tamagotchi." It has only 2 pins that aren't connected. I know this game doesn't have cart based audio. I'm hoping those are stereo out pins. They're pins 1 and 30 on a scale from 0-31 with pin 0 being power and 31 being ground. This game makes use of all other pins, and has a save data RAM chip in addtion to the ROM chip.
Three other links might be useful from sparkfun:
EDIT: Also, we've apparently been moved to Bar Sport.
we've apparently been moved to Bar Sport.
That's probably because the moderators don't believe this is a serious project :)
We cannot be sure how we will live in a post apocalyptic world. If the Fallout series is any indication, many of us will be nomads, constantly in danger. At a moment's notice we might have to grab what we can and flee. MyCPU, in addition to a monitor and all, will not be taken with you.
I think the power grid will be damaged and since most people have electric tools instead of hand tools, the electric tools will be worthless unless they perhaps own personal generators and then you will run out of fuel. I suppose you could make friends with the Amish and buy some hand tools.
The problem is outsourcing and that what you need will be produced in a part of the world that may be hostile or non-existant. You can't buy from a company that isn't here anymore.
I think making computer chips is beyond the capabilities of most people and can only be done by companies or a select few.
You are going to need a computer for what? If most of the civilization is gone, there isn't going to be a way to power a computer and there won't be a need for it.
I don't plan to be here of course during an apocalypse so I don't care but even the gameboy you are counting on could be destroyed by an Electric Pulse Weapon. You could build a Farraday cage but no one could tell you what the specs for it must be in order to protect your electronic devices for the same reason that no power protector in the world can stop lightning from a direct hit.
Well, like I said above, there's the option of powering your Gameboy with solar power.
One of the main uses for a computer is storing information. Assuming a society will eventually be rebuilt, there's alot of useful information that we have access to now that they might not later. Like history, art, technology, science, etc.
There are, however, other methods of storing information. The most obvious is written down in a book. However, there are some disadvantages to that format. Paper has a tendancy to degrade over time. It's susceptible to fading from the sun, water damage, mold, and fire. It also takes a large amount of space.
Let's go back to fire. Over the course of history, there have been book burnings as a form of censorship: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Book_burning
For instance, in ye olde Dark Ages, Catholics banned all books, including their own bible, from the public. Burning the confiscated books was an efficient way to destroy the information.
Before paper, there's been other media to write language onto. There's been clay tablets and even solid stone. These both last much longer than paper, but they have their own disadvantages. The most important of them is that they require significant work to write upon. A wet clay tablet is fairly easy to push a stylus into it to write, but it must be baked to be finalized. Stone should be obvious. Both are also extremely immobile. In addition to both of those, they stand no chance to human hands. Just add hammer and you have some useless gravel.
Computers are also susceptible to damage including from water, fire, and plain old humans. However, there are some advantages they have in these areas. There is the possibility of water proofing your gameboy, especially if it's solar powered. You could wrap it in clear plastic/rubber/latex like a condom. You still have access to the buttons, the screen and the solar panel has access to light. If there are radio communications, you could make a wireless keyboard. The keyboard might be susceptible to water, though. As for fire, the gameboy is made of nintendium which has documented cases of surviving fire situations. Like the gameboy from the gulf war. This doesn't make it indestructible though. As for resisting humans, this is where the compact size comes in. A gameboy is small enough to be held in your bag so you can flee with it. It's also small enough to hide. This is further increased when you take the cartridge out of the gameboy, and even further still when you take the SD or microSD card out of the system. Take slave-era USA. The underground railroad hid entire humans.
There's also personal advantages you have on day one of the apocalypse. It can store guides to survival including pictures and descriptions of edible plants and fungi. Although the pictures wouldn't be as useful on an original 4-tone gameboy screen. If you have free time, it can keep you sane by providing entertainment in the form of books, music, "video," and also games (you know, what the GAME boy was designed for).
And that's why a computer might be useful in post apocalyptic or other disaster situations.
Well, like I said above, there's the option of powering your Gameboy with solar power.
I don't believe in solar power because of the experience we had with them. My parents would buy solar powered lights and put them in the back yard. They would work with a season and stop working because the sun and the elements destroyed them through heat. The point is, you put solar power into the sunlight to charge things and it takes time to charge batteries so if you don't want them to get hot then don't charge them in the sun. Even if they last, you will have a degregation of power. Batteries need to be replaced every three to five years so basically you have a system that would wear out. Your best bet would be to invest in steam engines to pull a pulley and operate a generator so long as you had a source of wood or coal.
Arstechnica.com had a good forum post against solar power and I might have it in old email once I restore my email but basically solar panels can start growing algae and collecting living organisms once it rains and it isn't too much different than a rock with a lot of growing plants on them.. So there is a degregation of the materials. Even my central air unit starts to rust once they are put outside.
If you want really apocalypse proof you might want one of those http://www.abacus.ca/abacus-images.php (http://www.abacus.ca/abacus-images.php). If you need higher math maybe also one of those http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Slide_rule (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Slide_rule). Anything else will never last even close as long.
solar powered lights
Usually cheap crap from a hardware stores, they never do last.
I've been living off solar for 11 years and haven't seen a spec of mould yet. I built an entire motorhome (well 98% of it), welding, power tools the lot using just solar.
it takes time to charge batteries so if you don't want them to get hot then don't charge them in the sun.
Eh? You don't put the batteries in the sun, just the panels.
Batteries need to be replaced every three to five years
That's the conventional wisdom but I have friends still on their first set after 12 years.
Solar isn't perfect and we have a backup generator, but it does work and should do for 20 years or more.
solar powered lights
Usually cheap crap from a hardware stores, they never do last.
Nobody else sells it unless it is expensive and the units from department stores don't last. Even some of the kits being sold online are fragile because the glass plates are thin and can crack.
I have sandbags that come with a UV rating and the manufacturer says the sun will destroy them which it has done.
If it was viable, more people would be using Solar but there are problems with it which is why most people don't get / use it unless they are subsidized by an electric company in California where they get the most sun and it still is very expensive to outfit a house. It is not viable when you can spend $40,000 to $80,000 a house and to know that you might get degraded power after 85% of the life of the unit.
My school got it and they were still relying off the power grid.
Continuing with power, you can mod your gameboy however you like. As long as you have a functional gameboy, ARPASC should run the same.
You make your own batter with chemicals. Here's a water battery that get's pretty small: http://www.instructables.com/id/Water-Powered-Calculator/
Although at that size, it might not be able to drive your gameboy properly.
Here's a beer battery or a "microbial fuel cell": http://lifehacker.com/307756/how-to-make-a-beer-battery
Unless something freak happens and there are no microbes around (a situation we'll probably die in too) you can bet there'll be plenty of microbes on earth for however long we hang around.
You can also recharge your batteries with an electric generator. You can turn it yourself, or you can have some sort of engine run it. You could hook up a generator to a water wheel or a windmill. Windmill might not be the best, lol.
Anyways, there's plenty of ways we can hack life for our daily fix of electricity.
Yeah none of the alternative power options can be relied on 100%, hence my need for a generator and your school's need for the grid.
It's dubious economics to install solar on a house in town that has power available, you would never get your money back I'm sure, even with today's cheaper prices for the panels.
In the context of this thread I would have solar because it's quiet and mechanically reliable plus a donkey/external combustion/steam engine to pick up the slack.
Emergency preparedness is good. Apocalypse preparedness is simply large companies want your money for their stuff in quantities and hope they all expire so you buy them again. Anyway, I hope the apocalypse starts sometime after MS releases their win8 and PC tablets have win8 preinstalled (win7 on tablets sucks). You will have a more powerful machine and install arduino IDE on it. Power is really not the issue here since tablets only consume 10W range of power. If you have food, you can generate that electrical power. If not, abandon computers and search for food first.
You don't need solar panels to harvest solar energy. Burn stuff up and boil water to push turbines. You can also generate electricity with temperature differentials. Maybe paint a drum black and expose it in the sun. Then keep another drum out of sun. Fill both with water. Have the right parts though:
It's same as any other engines except you may use the sun to heat up water instead of burning fuel. Of course the efficiency is lower than solar panels but may need less maintenance and is sturdier.