Tech Support: October
What is BitTorrent, and how does it work?
by Hewlett Packard
The HP 12C is my all-time favorite calculator. I love its simplicity and size, I love the touch of its keys, I love reverse Polish notation (RPN) … Did I lose you there? RPN is a more natural way of entering equations on a calculator (see examples at calculator.org). The HP 12C can also calculate stuff like interest rates and depreciation–perfect for a finance dummy like me. —Joi Ito, founder of tech venture-capital firm Neoteny.
(For more on why Joi loves the 12C, see his stuff blog at http://joi.typepad.com/.)
THE TIP SHEET
Ever wonder how Dr. Pepper is made? How about 747s? Kona coffee? Factory Tours USA (factorytoursusa.com) lists information on guided tours for more than 450 factories, searchable by location or industry.–H2.0 Staff
You don’t need to shell out $100 for Adobe Photoshop Elements to edit digital photos. Instead download The GIMP (GNU Image Manipulation Program), a free, open-source image-editing program that’s powerful and easy to use. Mac, Windows and Unix versions at gimp.org.–Jon Wilson
THIS IS BROKEN
See more examples of things broken at thisisbroken.com.
ASK A GEEK: Cory Doctorow
Q: What is BitTorrent, and how does it work?
A: One critical difference between the Web and TV is how they scale. TV scales nicely–it costs the same to air a show to 10 viewers as it does to a million. On the Web, distributing a file to a million users at once is nearly a million times as costly (and slower) as delivering it to one.
BitTorrent, an open-source peer-to-peer parallel downloading tool written by Bram Cohen, changes the equation: The more popular a file is, the easier it becomes to fetch and the cheaper it becomes to serve.
When you download a BitTorrented file, you’re actually downloading it in chunks from every other computer also downloading that file. The BitTorrent server, called a tracker, gives each requester a piece of the file, then introduces them to one another so that they can download pieces from each other. (Your BitTorrent software reassembles the file, so all of this is invisible to you.) The more people who are downloading a file, the more computers that are available to shoulder the load of distributing copies, and thus, the faster everyone’s download.
BitTorrent’s primary use is sharing hellishly large files– including full-length movies and entire operating systems–in ways that are challenging current copyright laws, just as the VCR challenged copyright laws of yore. Learn more at BitTorrent’s home page, bitconjurer.org.
Cory Doctorow is an editor of the blog boingboing.net and the author of the sci-fi novel Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom. In his day job, he lectures on social and political tech issues for the Electronic Frontier Foundation (eff.org).