Tag Archive: download


Breaking (and Using!) the Chains That Bind Us

Due to my recent Internet connection issues, I won’t be able to publish any sort of podcast for the next couple of months. Naturally, this stalls the progress of this podcast, but I’ll try to capture my thoughts with a few more regular blogposts (and concentrate on the other work I need to get done!).

In this case, I’ve become acutely aware of the fragility of receiving and uploading podcasts, given that both aspects of it are being blocked by the fascist administrators running the IT department of my lodgings (in the name of “bandwidth management”; lots of bandwidth available when no content is delivered!).

(I’ll try to keep the vitriol to a minimum, but this issue has my dial cranked up to “really annoyed”. Hey: if I weren’t passionate, I would be less worthy of listening to, right? ;))

So, back on topic: fragility. When libsyn.com got blocked, I was aghast: suddenly, I realized how much dependence I had on a single company, both for receiving podcasts and for producing them. When apple.com got blocked, I realized I depended on them for finding podcasts, or at least for finding out more information about podcasts.

This is a problem of single point of failure, an appalling heavy dependence that computer science graduates are very aware is a distinct form of sin.

Imagine if the power to your home were dependant on a single, easily-interruptable wire? It seems that way, ultimately, but it’s not easy to interrupt. And anyone who’s had a simple power outage knows that, while there might be temporary interruption, power is usually restored in short order, automatically, as the network reorganizes.

There are other podcast hosting providers out there, and podcast directories, too, but the market is still small. Rather, the ability to easily choke off the consumption or production of podcasts from a few rules seems improper — maybe even illegal.

I’ve tried to suggest that the blocking policies are incorrect and inappropriate, but I’ve met with no sympathy and no movement. Not knowing what avenues I have for recourse, I decided to think of it differently.

Is there a technological solution to this?

Some podcasts can be delivered by Bittorrent, which decentralizes the source, meaning that delivery is no longer dependant on a single place.

But Bittorrent can be blocked, and fairly easily. So we are dependant on a single protocol, as well! And while it can be used to bring podcasts in, it doesn’t (as far as I know) do anything for uploading podcasts.

It’s not just to defeat petty and/or moronic adminstrators that we need to think of this, either, but as a general robustness problem. A plurality of solutions is the way that the web survives — it is built into the very fabric of the Internet, in fact — and we should embrace that in every facet in order to fully be modern.

One method of avoiding these sorts of blocks is through proxies. Since HTTP is the only sort of general-use protocol that seems to be allowed on almost every Internet service, we should consider it our carrier. Since it is easy to block any given name or IP address by rule, we have to have the capacity for a large number of sites — both direct and indirect — that will simply be too big to block.

Alternatively, of course, we could “simply” have so much money that we pay the administrators not to block it, or find the political power to make such blocking illegal. (I, for one, would welcome a “Universal Internet Bill of Rights”, which properly casts it as the immoral act that I feel it is, and┬ámakes such blocking internationally illegal.)

But, short of that, consider this: what if your podcast host or web host participated? The power of podcasting seems to be in the community that it builds. What if we can make this not a problem of individuals, but a solution from the collective?

If every podcaster put up a proxy — somehow specifically for podcast transmission (up and down), at least in this initial context — then the number of avenues would grow immensely, and the blocking lists would not be able to keep up.

We would take the community to a whole new — and meaningful — level.

What do you think?

  • Am I just acting out of my own bitterness in my local situation?
  • Is this sort of thing feasible?
  • Is there a better solution?
  • Should the communication of podcasting be considered important enough that blocking it is immoral?
  • Are there technical reasons why this cannot be done?
  • Was I too emotional? I admit, having this particular problem has infuriated me, but also highlighted what must be — or could be — a very big problem.
  • Was this article meaningful? Have I strayed too far from my topic?
  • In case you are wondering, I’m looking into solutions like proxytunnel as a potential avenue for relief.

I’ve struggled to define podcasting properly before. I’ve seen people (including me) use an enormous number of words, but I seem to have hit upon most of the key elements with this startingly short definition: “automated digital downloaded media”.

Let’s look at that definition in detail — in reverse.

  • “media”: We’ll be throwing this term around quite frequently. The basic meaning is one of conveyance: “media” is the truck on which our information is delivered. We could get that information in other ways (newspaper, TV, web site), but each medium tends to shape its content, sometimes subtly, sometimes explicitly. The question of how podcasting shapes its content will be a separate discussion on its own — perhaps many. Note that “media” doesn’t really imply that much about content. Podcasts are typically used to deliver video or audio content — although some occasionally deliver PDF texts — but might conceivably deliver any kind of media. This, too, will also get (at least) a post of its own.
  • “downloaded”: There are two different facets described by the term “downloaded”: method and asynchronicity. When we use the word “downloaded”, we silently add “from the Internet”. (At one point — and on rare occasions — we also talk about “downloading” from a computer, but most often we really meant “sync”.) We don’t talk of our newspaper being “downloaded” to our doorstep in the morning, or the act of transporting a DVD box-set from the store to our home as “downloading”. There’s also a sense that we initiated the action — we went and got the content, it was not delivered to us. The other facet, asynchronicity, gets implied by the past-tense of the word “downloaded”. It was an act we already did, a precursor to consumption. It implies that the time at which we get a podcast is different from when we consume it. I think this is a pretty important distinction: it pretty quickly separates podcasts from streaming media, where you consume it while it is coming to you, like live TV or uStream or radio.
  • “digital”: As a computer scientist (and what does that term mean, anyway?), I find the widespread use of the word digital to be somewhat amusing. The origins of the word are meaningless here — who really cares that it relates to fingers? — but it has become a catch-all term for anything which is not analog. There’s not much that really is an analog experience — not much besides real life, that is! — so this distinction isn’t quite as big as it once was. Primarily, it ties us back to the computer again, and suggests that it isn’t exactly part of real life, in a way. Digital media live in an imaginary, virtual world that isn’t exactly here or there, but somewhere else. (Or maybe this is really a definition fitting of the content of all media: it doesn’t exist unless it is experienced.)
  • “automated”: Downloading digital files (media) predates podcasting. I remember downloading and listening to episodes of some Internet-only shows long before podcasting, but it was a pain. When a new episode came out, I had to go check myself (or hopefully catch a notice in my churning email, if they sent one out), then find the link, download it, copy it to my portable device, then listen. When it was finished, I had to then take it off the device manually. The automation and streamlining of these tasks was a fundamental and tremendously important step in making podcasting important and widespread. Before, it was akin to having to tune a TV manually to a station, rather than just flipping between known channels and telling the PVR to “get me that program when it comes out”.

Whew! This definition contained a lot more information than I expected. What’s your definition?

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