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[ISN] Traveling Terabyte - The ultimate digital care package for overseas Marines
By Humphrey Cheung
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
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
"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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