I spend an inordinate amount of time explaining tech things to my friends. I get asked about this so often that the below is literally something I have written out as an email when people harass me.

A few people suggested I do a techie breakdown thing as a regular thing so I'm going to give it a go. If there are any topics that you want to know about but feel like you missed the boat on learning (or are too embarrassed to ask whoever has been troubleshooting things for you for the last decade), let me know.


OK OK OK so torrenting gets a bad wrap. It is roundly dismissed because people think it is some bastion of illegal activity. Which it can be. But there are also completely legal and just reasons to be using it. Despite that, your internet company is not distinguishing between legal and illegal downloads — it sees that you are using a torrent program and starts sending harshly worded letters. Not everyone gets caught in their web, but to avoid said letter entirely, you can use a VPN. When you are doing legal downloads because you should only do this legally.

What's a torrent?*

It's like a little file that contains data — but doesn't actually contain data yet. As an example, I'm going to use Beowulf because it's no longer under copyright so downloading the book would be legal and I like the name. Some dude decides to put Beowulf on the internet and so he does. He becomes what's called a seeder — someone who has the complete file. Then Tom, Dick, and Harry decide they want Beowulf too so they download the torrent and start downloading the file. They become leechers. Now communism rules the land - from each according to his ability, to each according to his need.

Seeders have the whole file and Leechers (or "peers") have bits and pieces (you don't download the whole thing page 1 - 300 in order. You download whatever you have access to, so page 2 than 53 then blah blah). You communicate with all these different people taking and giving bits of the files to them until you have a complete file and you cease to be a leech and become a seeder (theoretically...more on that in a minute). That's torrenting. With popular files you can have thousands of seeders and leechers. The more seeders, the faster a download will go.

Sounds groovy. How do I torrent?

Download utorrent — that's the app you are going to use to download files. Install that. Now you have to decide what you want to download. Let's try Pride and Prejudice because that's also legal and is a little more popular than Beowulf (also all girls love P&P, am I right?). There are a ton of different sites for torrenting. Personally I like kickass.to and http://thepiratebay.se/ — just type into the search box whatever your heart desires.

So try clicking on the P&P link above. It takes you to a downloading site. You have two options. "download torrent" will put a small file on your computer that you then open to download (useful if you want to have a bunch of torrents on hand for downloading in the future). The little magnet will directly open to utorrent (or your app of choice) without putting anything additional on your computer.

What is Torrenting and how do I do it?

Click whichever, tell it you want to launch your application and BOOM. You get this window. Under "save as" indicate whatever folder you want to download in to. Check "start torrent" (assuming you want to start now) and then OK. Now utorrent opens and it starts downloading. Good job! You're torrenting. Just for an example of how the IP works, if you click on the downloading file and look at "peers" below — all those IPs are people you are connected to and downloading from. Right now I have a friend in South Africa apparently. He thinks I'm in Canada.

Now there are all kinds of fun settings you can play with. Go to utorrent —> preferences.

Click Bandwidth. Here's where you decide if you're going to be a giver or a taker (get your mind out of the gutter). Your download should be at 0 so that you get files as fast as possible. Your upload is where the decision lies. If you choose to restrict upload it means you are sending a smaller amount of data out than you are receiving. Once the file is finished downloading, you become a seeder. You can be the kind of person who shuts off utorrent at that point — taking but not giving back — or you can keep it running and seed back to people. I'm sorry to say I frequently shut that shit down but I have my "up/down ratio" set to 1 (so that once I've broken even it shuts itself down if I forget). I also have my upload set to 5 kb/s which I legitimately feel terrible about. I am so sorry. It is especially douchey to behave like this if you are downloading a popular file because those can take forever because no one seeds.

Under "bitorrent" you can choose how many people you want to be able to connect to at once. I never really saw a reason to limit this so mine is set at 600? wildly arbitrary. You can also choose how many active things you want going at once. Mine is set to 5 because mentally I think it goes faster with less running (it doesn't in the long run but does in the short).

Directories is where you can dictate where files go.

And that's it. Go forth. Torrent legally permissible things.

[As a side note, epub is not compatible with kindles. You need to convert files to .mobi which you can do easily - and free - with calibre .]