Michal Migurski's notebook, listening post, and soapbox. Subscribe to this blog. Check out the rest of my site as well.

Mar 25, 2005 6:14am

bits on wheels - a fan letter

Bits On Wheels is a Mac-only Bittorrent client. It's freeware (but not open source or public domain) and it looks like this:

It has the usual Bittorrent features, and runs a little faster than my other client, Azureus.

The neat thing that sets it apart is the 3D swarm view, shown above. Bittorrent works by enabling participants to self-organize into a swarm: a group of machines group-hosting a particular file at a given time. When you connect to a Bittorrent tracker, your client can coordinate with others also connected to that tracker. Machines with the entire file are called seeders; they share pieces of the file with machines seeking the file. It's akin to book printing through coordinated xeroxing: I'll do the first ten pages, you do the next, then we trade. Easy.

The 3D swarm view shows yourself in the center. Hosts you are connected to lie around the periphery: although a Bittorrent swarm can be a complex graph, the swarm view is self-centered. Hosts around the edges may be connected to each other, but that is not shown.

Each host is represented by a translucent box, whose filling represents the percentage of the file that host has. As you obtain more pieces of the file, your box slowly fills up to 100%. Connections to those hosts are shown as spokes on the wheel, along which data packets travel. Links are bidirectional (you can be sending pieces to a host that you are also grabbing pieces from), and data travels along the spoke at a rate representative of your connection speed. Speedy connections are immediately apparent, as are stalled ones.

The colored circular rail fills up with green as you get more of the file. The screen shown above shows how much of the file I have, and which parts. Each host-box also has a little pie-chart above it, for which I haven't yet found a satisfactory explanation. I'm guessing it shows a host's share ratio, the relative amount of data uploaded vs. downloaded.

The hosts are divided into seeders and leechers: seeders have a red background, and they are completely full. These are hosts that already have the entire file, but are continuing to share more. Leechers are on the blue background, and they are hosts seeking pieces of the file. When your client has successfully downloaded 100% of the file, the background becomes solid-blue: you no longer need to be connected to other seeds, because you yourself are now sharing the entire file.

The beautiful thing about Bits on Wheels is the way in which it makes this process visually coherent. The first few times I tried it, I was mesmerized for up to twenty minutes at a time, watching the connections speed up or slow down as hosts came and went.

I don't think I really grokked Bittorrent until I used this app.

The one thing I would change about it would be to add RSS awareness. Or, to remove the mandatory "where do I save this?" dialog at open-time so I can add my own commandline RSS parser onto it, without having to learn AppleScript.


Sorry, no new comments on old posts.

August 2018
Su M Tu W Th F Sa

Recent Entries

  1. planscore: a project to score gerrymandered district plans
  2. blog all dog-eared pages: human transit
  3. the levity of serverlessness
  4. three open data projects: openstreetmap, openaddresses, and who’s on first
  5. building up redistricting data for North Carolina
  6. district plans by the hundredweight
  7. baby steps towards measuring the efficiency gap
  8. things I’ve recently learned about legislative redistricting
  9. oh no
  10. landsat satellite imagery is easy to use
  11. openstreetmap: robots, crisis, and craft mappers
  12. quoted in the news
  13. dockering address data
  14. blog all dog-eared pages: the best and the brightest
  15. five-minute geocoder for openaddresses
  16. notes on debian packaging for ubuntu
  17. guyana trip report
  18. openaddresses population comparison
  19. blog all oft-played tracks VII
  20. week 1,984: back to the map