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[ISN] Traveling Terabyte - The ultimate digital care package for overseas Marines


By Humphrey Cheung
TG Daily
September 20, 2007

Dushanbe (Tajikistan) A New Jersey network engineer is on a mission to 
send some love and care of the digital kind to Americans stationed 
overseas.  Going by his hacker handle Deviant Ollam, hes been sending 
out hard drives filled with popular movies, television shows and music 
for over a year.  Dubbed the Traveling Terabyte Project (TTB), the 
drives have seen action in war-torn countries and one set is now making 
a small contingent of Marines very happy in the former Soviet republic 
of Tajikistan.

Like many projects, the TTB was created almost accidentally after 
Deviant lost many of his files from a catastrophic hard drive crash.  
He bought replacement drives and members of the Defcon hacking community 
came together to help replace some of the lost files.  Deviant ended up 
with some drives and came up with an idea.

  "I've got this extra storage and thought what could I do with it?.  
  It didnt really make sense to put the disks into my already hugely 
  ridiculous raid array."

In a flash of inspiration, he copied gigabytes of media files to the 
extra drives, packaged them inside an olive-drab Pelican case and 
shipped the whole thing out to a close group of friends stationed 
overseas.  You cant really put the drives in bubble wrap and throw them 
in the mail, said Deviant.  And since the drives are going to war zones, 
it seemed appropriate to paint the hard drive enclosures olive drab 
green as well.

You can think of the drives, along with international power adapters and 
USB cables, as the ultimate care package.  Some would consider it the 
modern day equivalent of what Atari 2600 and Commodore 64 owners used to 
do by swapping cartridges and disks through the mail.  Its like sneaker 
net, combined with air transport, said Deviant.

Deviant encourages users of the TTB to share their own pictures, music 
and other files by filling up the empty space on the drives.  I have a 
very open door policy about sharing.  If theres something interesting, 
and theres room, feel free to share, said Deviant.  He adds that once 
people receive the drives they often have an overwhelming and second 
nature desire to add files.

But all that sharing has its price because Deviant will sometimes find 
horribly disorganized folders when the TTB eventually makes it back 

  "I tend to be and always have been big about data structure and 
  arrangement.  Sometimes the drives come back with a folder just called 
  Bobs stuff, with everything crammed into it.  Ill spend all night 
  categorizing all the extra content."

All the extra files eventually filled up the drives, so Deviant procured 
some more drives and made a 2nd Travelling Terabyte box.  He also split 
up the content into an educational and an entertainment drive.

At first it was an even 50/50 split between entertainment and 
educational, but now the entertainment drive is more popular, said 
Deviant.  With all the new file donations, he might even have to split 
the entertainment box into drives containing television episodes, music 
and other videos.

One of those drives has made it all the way to the Marines stationed at 
the American embassy in Dushanbe Tajikistan.  US Army Master Sergeant 
Robert McLaughlin delivered the drives to the embassy just to prove that 
the TTB project was real.  McLaughlin, who is also the embassys Deputy 
Chief in the Office of Defense Cooperation, told us, The guys here 
thought it was an urban legend.

Despite the home-made nature of the project, the Marines at the embassy 
have been impressed with its construction.  It looks professional, like 
something from a company, Marine Staff Sergent Jerel Swain told us 
during a crackly, two-second delayed, telephone conversation.

Unlike the United States where fast Internet connections and good phone 
service are almost universal, the technology infrastructure in 
Tajikistan leaves much to be desired.  The Marines must deal with spotty 
phone connections that can cost up to five dollars a minute along with 
extremely slow Internet transfers. If I wanted to download my favorite 
album, like the Red Hot Chilli Peppers, I would just let the computer 
sit overnight, said Swain.

Along with the slow Internet, embassy personnel have to deal with slow 
postal mail and an almost non-existent local electronics market.  Swain 
told us that Amazon.com will deliver books and movies, but that its 
incredibly expensive and packages take about three weeks to arrive.  
There are no Costcos, Wal-Marts or Best Buy stores around and the one 
movie store in town only sells Russian language movies.

Compared to the slow Internet, the speed and convenience of the drives 
have proven to be a big morale booster.  There must be a couple thousand 
shows and movies on these drives.  My favorites are all the classic 
James Bond movies, Swain said, but he adds that hes now become a big fan 
of Japanese anime cartoons that are also on the drives.

  "Its absolutely great, everything is all in one place and its 
  unbelievably easy to use.  I dont have to go through the Internet.  
  Everything is just a quick cut and paste away."

Eventually, Deviant would like to deploy dozens of Traveling Terabyte 
boxes around the world.  He also would like to set up a website and 
forum where people could put in file requests and even vote on material 
to add or delete.  In true geek fashion, he thinks some type of routing 
system or protocol would be needed to give priority to people who want 
to upload files.

Sending out that many boxes would obviously require extra hard drives 
and cases and so far Deviant hasnt asked any of the drive makers for 
help.  Im not sure how they would react to this project, but I wouldnt 
turn down free hardware, he said.

Staff Sergeant Swain and his fellow Marines plan on keeping the TTB for 
a few more months and then they will send it off to another service 
member.  Speaking on behalf of his team, he told us that the drives have 
made an insane place, just a little more bearable.  He hopes that TTB 
concept takes off and that more people start making and sending their 
own versions.

  "Some of these countries there's not a whole lot of technology and we 
  dont get many care packages.  I think the majority of people do 
  understand our situation, but theres not a lot of action and not 
  enough people doing something about it."

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