When tech mirrors life

I have a mate called Marts who I’ve known for 25 years. Marts is always completely bloody minded and the stories about him are legend.


  • He was fired from his first job two weeks in because he altered the artwork on his business cards to get a job title he felt was more amusing.
  • His ex-wife was driven mad by his values, including the “sorry I’m two hours late to take you to the ball, but it was my shout and I couldn’t let the boys down”.
  • His position in negotiations: “Decide, don’t decide; I don’t give a fig as I’m paid to be here regardless.”

Anyway, Marts emailed me last week with “how do I get movies off the internet?”.

He was referring to what’s called bit torrent sites, which I have been thinking about a bit lately. Bit torrent is a clever protocol that allows people to download large amounts of data, but shares the load over lots of computers, rather than just one server having to bear the brunt (and cost). This is especially useful when dealing with large files such as a movie, where a compressed file could be the size of a full CD.

The way bit torrent works is that one person makes a file available for download (known as the seed) and then others start to download bits of it (known as peers). The trick is that each of these peers also allows other peers to download the part of the file they have already got. All this is co-ordinated by one or more tracker files.

The tracker files normally sit on a website where they are searchable, allowing for new users (soon to be peers) to find and download content.

To access the torrents you normally need to use a client such as uTorrent and go to a torrent search website such as ISOHunt.

The technology is great for downloading popular large files as its efficiency increases exponentially with the number of “peers in the cloud”. Providers of content that don’t use this technology such as LibriVox can be really slow to download from (note that LibriVox has a couple of thousand audio books which are in the public domain and are free and legal to download – my wife loves them).

The problem with bit torrent is that people have a tendency to share copyrighted music, movie and TV files, which tends to piss off greatly the production houses that make a buck from the content. (And they haven’t figured out that consumers want this service, but pirates have.)

Anyway the reason I have been thinking about bit torrent is that I thought the model was fascinating and I wanted to find a real life use for it.

Eventually I realised that a real life version of it had existed basically forever. It’s called conversation.

One person has some information (the seed) and he shares it with others (the peers). Each person (peer) then shares the pieces they know with others until eventually everyone has all the information.

Disappointingly I had things back to front. Bit torrent wasn’t an elegant model that I could apply in real life, it was a real life learning model that had been applied to the internet.

Marts of course didn’t care.



Brendan Lewis is a serial technology entrepreneur having founded : Ideas Lighting, Carradale Media, Edion, Verve IT, The Churchill Club, Flinders Pacific and L2i Technology Advisory. He has set up businesses for others in Romania, Indonesia and Vietnam. Qualified in IT and Accounting, he has also spent time running an Advertising agency and as a Cavalry Officer with the Australian Army Reserve.

To read more Brendan Lewis blogs, click here


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