21st Century Skipdiving

Recycling usable stuff online with Freecycle

Like many punks and other proles with limited income, I’ve often been found rummaging through skips to see if there’s anything useful to blag. Over the years I’ve managed to find things that I needed (sometimes quite desperately but which I couldn’t afford to buy), often because others were so wealthy they could just afford to throw away perfectly decent shit, or the stuff was no longer needed but the owners simply didn’t think about any alternative to ditching it.

It has to be said that skipdiving, for all the ‘treasure’ that can be found, can also be a deeply unplesant experience (says the man who once found himself elbow deep in old nappies).

Nowadays, there’s a far more humane alternative called Freecycle. The premise is very simple: you have something you don’t need anymore that someone else may potentially need, you advertise that fact via an online list and, hopefully, that someone else will reply and say ‘hell, yeah, that’s exactly the shit I’ve been looking for’. Or some such thing. The worst-case scenario is that no-one else will want your old tat, and you’ll have to do a little bit more than typing on your keyboard to try and find a sound way of getting rid of it. But you’re a punk, you’re resourceful and you know a lot of shit that others don’t, right? So you’ll find a way. All I’m doing is showing you another option to add to your arsenal.

Freecycle logo

Does it work? In a word, yes. So far I’ve managed to find a home for everything I’ve put up on my local group’s list. Today, for example, a referee for a local commie netball team gladly took the black plastic whistle (traditional style in perfect working order) that I’d found in a box, the remnants of a demo from years back, and which I really no longer felt I needed. After all, shouting like fuck is far more cathartic than blowing a whistle, especially if you just do it for no reason whatsoever other than you can. And I went and collected a foot spa, complete with bubbles, massage capability and spinny things for getting the hard crud off. Which is just about perfect for tired Old Punk feet.

There’s a reasonable chance you’re close to a Freecycle group and, if you’re not, then the means to set one up are freely available. Of course, where you live there may be no need for such a thing. When I was a kid, recycling between friends, family and neighbours was taken for granted. But like I say, Freecycle is just another tool.

Mind you, I still do a bit of skipdiving on occasion – in fact, it’s where I’ve found one or two things that I’ve then Freecycled. Old Punk habits die hard.

Torrent-tastic, Punk-pickers!

Getting to grips with file-sharing technology

Note: since writing this, Punktorrents has closed its registration. However, registration is often re-opened for a day or two (usually on the weekend) so I’ll post up the details if that happens.

Despite the fact that I ventured into the world of the hairless head many moons ago (more recently by nature rather than design), I still try and keep the grey matter inside up to date and modern. So I decided to try and fathom out a bit more about torrents and trackers or, more precisely, what they are and how I, an Old Punk, can use them. For all the other Old Punks out there, here’s what I discovered.

Before I get into the details, a word of warning: the sharing of copyrighted material using torrent sotware is technically illegal (the software itself is not). But, if what you are sharing is long-deleted or as rare as hen’s teeth and not from a label or group affiliated to the music industry’s police force (check out the RIAA Radar for starters), then you really shouldn’t be afraid of using the software to share music. Remember, too, that there are some bands and labels who actively encourage the sharing of their music, or who at least recognise the advantages of exposure that file-sharing brings and don’t prosecute those who are sharing what they create. Be smart and you should be safe.

On with the show…

BitTorrent is a type of peer-to-peer (P2P) network (Napster was a famous P2P network, although it worked in a slightly different way to BitTorrent). P2P networks allow people to share files with each other over the internet. To be able to use the BitTorrent network, you first need to install torrent client software on your computer.

A torrent client is the program you use to upload and download files. It does two things: it chops the file(s) you want to share up into lots of little pieces, creating an additional torrent file in the process, and makes them available for sharing; and, if there are files you want to download, it connects to all the other computers containing pieces of those files (providing they’ve all used the same torrent file) that it can find via the tracker and re-assembles them in one place on your computer.

A torrent file is a small ‘signature’ file that contains some basic information about the file (or, more usually, a set of files in a folder) that you want to share, most commonly mp3 files (although you can also share other content, such as video files, using torrents).

A tracker is in effect an online database of files that people like you want to share with each other. But rather than upload megabytes and megabytes of audio (or whatever) files to the tracker, the small torrent file is uploaded instead. The tracker makes the torrent file available for download to other users, which then enables them to download the main file(s) directly from your computer. The tracker also uses the torrent file to keep track of who has downloaded all or part of the files that are being shared.

A seeder is someone who makes a file or files available for sharing and uploads the relevant torrent file to a tracker.

A leecher is someone who uses the torrent file on the tracker to link to other peoples computers so that they can download the files being shared.

PT banner

This is the clever bit that differentiates BitTorrent networks from other P2P networks: firstly, more than one person can be downloading the same file from you at the same time, as they each download different bits of your file; secondly, because the tracker know which computers have which bits of the file, it allows the leechers’ computers to immediately seed the bits of files they’ve just downloaded to others who still need them, and vice versa. It’s like a big simultaneous file swap shop that continues until all users have downloaded all of the bits they need from everyone else until everyone has a complete set.

So, that’s the basics explained (any questions, just raise your hand). On to the practicals.

Before you do anything, you need to install a client. I’ve used two torrent clients, Azureus and uTorrent, and found both easy to install, set up and use thanks to a couple of great walkthroughs at Punk Torrents. Azureus has a bigger install footprint and is more complex (if you want it to be), but is open source, very configurable and (apparently) Mac-friendly (Mac users could also try Transmission, although it may need a simple fix to work properly). uTorrent is much smaller after installation and the configuration options less scary looking, but it is closed source, PC-only and now owned by a commercial company, so future versions may not be free of spyware or other things the owners may also wish to install on your machine without your knowledge.

Once you’ve got the client installed, you’ll need to find a tracker where you can upload and download torrents. There are some big trackers out there, with hundreds of thousands of users and files and requiring no registration (with all the security risks that entails), but for virtually all of my torrent needs I head straight to Punk Torrents. You’ll need to sign up to be able to share files but it’s free and quick to do this. Since joining I’ve managed to track down some great old albums from my past, ones that have either gone walkabouts or have suffered as a result of my rather hectic lifestyle in years gone by, as well as check out some cool new stuff that I’ve not heard before. I’ve also had the chance to share a lot of my old collection with those keen to add to or fill the gaps in theirs, and share tracks from bands who I think are worth listening to. Personally, I don’t share whole albums from bands or labels that are genuinely independent and could do with the cash (although some on PT do), as I personally prefer to spend a few of my hard-earned readies supporting these people directly. It sits well with my conscience.

There is much debate about file-sharing at the moment but, with common sense, I can’t see any problem with it. Unless, of course, you happen to be a capitalist whore who sees music as just one more product to be milked for every last drop of profit. In which case – A BIG PUNK ROCK ‘FUCK YOU!’

Never Mind The Burqas

Dead Police Story Music is a DIY anarcho label based in Ottawa, Canada, another malevolently-governed part of North America. To highlight the dirty pies that Canuckian Prime Minister Stephen Harper has his fingers in, DPS have released a benefit CD to raise awareness and funds for the Revolutionary Association of the Women of Afghanistan and the Canada – Haiti Action Network.

30 bands from across the land of the loon have contributed a track each to the project. There’s also a 60-page booklet covering a wide spectrum of political discourse accompanying the disc. At only $8 (that’s Canadian not Yankee) including postage if you live in the country, and only a couple of dollars more if you don’t, it won’t break the bank balance. But it will give you a great collection of music and an education all in one handy package and the satisfaction of knowing that you’re helping undermine everything that you hate.