What if all your boot disks suddenly got wiped?

The other night, by a string of coincidences, I had an experience where every hard drive I tried to use would fail. I’ve since recovered most of them, but it got me thinking about how I would recover if all the unix boot disks in my house were mysteriously wiped.

In at least the last 5 years, I’ve barely spared a thought for CDs, let alone use one to install an operating system. Thus all my recent unix installs have involved dd-ing a disk image file onto a USB stick, booting off it, and installing from there. But dd is a unix program, so unix needs to be bootstrapped from something else.

My first ever unix install was in 2009 and it involved using PowerISO running on Windows 7 to burn a Ubuntu (Karmic Koala I think) install CD. At some point shortly after this, I started using Linux as a daily driver, and a few years later optical disks faded into irrelevance. From that point onwards, there’s an unbroken chain of using an existing unix installation to dd an install environment for my next unix installation, though I suppose it’s possible this chain was interrupted by a mac with pre-installed MacOS at some point.

In practice, at some point, probably around 2013, I stopped distro-hopping and settled on archlinux. I dd-ed myself an arch install thumb drive which I’ve carried on my keyring ever since, and I used it for all subsequent installs. If everything were wiped, and a situation were contrived that prevented me from using a computer at work, or a friend’s computer to download and dd an install image? Well I think I have an old DVD drive lying around, and a case of old CDs which I think includes a Ubuntu Karmic Koala boot disk.