Smuggling USB Sticks

"This Is Not A Film" by Iranian director Jafar Panahi, who is under house arrest in his country for alleged “propaganda against the regime,” will be screened under the Free Jafar Panahi Program of the 13th Cinemanila. The film was smuggled from Iran in a Flash-Drive hidden inside a cake to Cannes for screening a few months back.
Manila Bulletin

microSD Card
This is a microSD card. Currently on sale in the UK for under £14.
It can hold 32GB of information. That's a little abstract, so let me break it down in to more understandable units.

32GB is, roughly,

  • 30,000 minutes of music.
  • That's 21 days worth of listening. Or, if you prefer, 700 CDs.
  • 40 standard definition movies.
  • 20 high definition movies.
  • 35,000 novels.
  • Those books would take up over a kilometre of shelving.

What I'm trying to get at, is this. It's quicker to send a 32GB card through the post than it is to download its entire contents. The cards are small enough to hide anywhere.

This is what happens is countries like Cuba.

Only about 2% of Cubans can get online, but it doesn't matter. You don’t need the internet. The news may be a little stale by the time you read it, but it gets around. Whole stacks of HTML files from news websites are dumped onto USB drives.
James Scudamore in Intelligent Life

I don't know what will happen to the Internet. SOPA, DEA, and HADOPI all conspire to break the way we share knowledge - under the benign guise of copyright protection.

And yet all it takes is a dozen USB sticks, a few memory cards, and very little effort to break their embargo.

Ever since Gutenberg started the information revolution, vested interests have tried to burn books. We're just going to have to create more and more books until their efforts are overwhelmed.

Further discussion on HackerNews.

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23 thoughts on “Smuggling USB Sticks”

  1. Hem Sharma Acharya says:

    1CD=700MB in general
    so 32768/700=46.8 is ~47 CDs
    What made you write 32 GB is equivalent to 700 CDs?

    1. I was talking about length of musical content - not file size.
      MP3 compression is around 11:1.
      Most music CDs - based on a quick sample of my collection - seem to clock in around the 45 - 50 minute mark. Call it 500 MB.
      So, a 500MB album is compressed to a 45MB MP3.
      32000 / 45 is ~700 CDs worth of music.

      That is, if you were to take the top 700 albums of all time and turn them into MP3s, they would fit onto a 32GB microSD card.

      Sorry for the confusion.

    2. says:

      I think he counted the CD not as an mp3 CD, but an audio CD.

      A typical CD has a maximum of 80 minutes available to it, if you do that then

      1440 * 21 == 30,240 minutes

      using 80 minutes, you get 378 CDs.

      In his case, he used the average number of minutes to be 43.2 for a CD.

    3. Guy says:

      He's talking about minutes of music.
      And if audio CDs have an average length of 43 minutes we'll reach the (30000 minutes / 43 minutes/CD) = 698 CDs.
      Those are just approximate numbers.

  2. Eißer Klugsch says:

    20 high definition movies.
    more like 1 bluray or 3 cheap rips

    1. Indeed, it does rather depend on how you compress it, whether you want surround sound, if you care about extras, subtitles, etc.
      If you're going to fill up an microSD card to watch on your phone, then a 720p film with a stereo soundtrack will take up around 1.5GB.

  3. Iranian boy says:

    "The film was smuggled from Iran in a Flash-Drive hidden inside a cake to Cannes for screening a few months back.", you guys are just funny, I am iranian and I go there all the times, no one checks anything more than usual screening at airport, I wish internet had fact check, just like spell check, so you will get correction before post anything funny on internet

    1. says:

      if you have a lot to lose, and you don't want the risk, you smugle.
      I unwittingly found myself "smuggling" stuff (" ") on flights several times and did not get caught. but if its not just a customs issue where I pay a penalty and that's it - if I'm risking jail or worse, I would never do it intentionally without a really good reason (like the example above), and then also using the least risky method I can think of. given that, cake is kind of suspect... like baking contraband into a loaf of bread.

  4. William Tucker says:

    The math is all very interesting but rather trivial when you consider the much more important points of the post. So while the pedantic of you calculate the bits and bytes - the rest of us will focus on the importance of the control, ownership and flow of information around the world.

    Terence, you have my gratitude for your post.

  5. Johann says:

    You wrote:

    "SOPA, DEA, and HADOPI all conspire to break the way we share knowledge - under the benign guise of copyright protection."

    "Ever since Gutenberg started the information revolution, vested interests have tried to burn books."

    Are you saying that things like SOPA are really just efforts to "burn books" (i.e. censorship)? I don't get that impression. If anything, things like SOPA are attempts to protect creative works, or at least to keep publishers in business, which is the opposite of censorship.

    (I'm not saying I agree with things like SOPA, or that they'd work. I'm just saying that their motives are not censorship.)

    1. That's a good point. From my point of view, those laws are designed to protect a very specific way of creating and distributing media. While their overarching aim is probably the protection of their existing business models - the side effect is likely to be the shuttering of sites which distribute content not under the control of those who have purchased the laws.

      The other significant side effect is that, once governments have the power to shut down sites which break copyright laws, they will be able to more easily shut down sites with which they disagree.

      1. says:

        yours might be the best put argument I read on this.
        I always thought that if this is the direction things are going, worthwhile artists will have to adapt to what they should also see as a positive trend. think back on the 80's for a clearer perspective - I don't have much sympathy for a musician who got sore over kids passing around his tapes, or a film maker who has an issue with video recorders. Tour more, work with smaller labels for bigger cuts, cut the assholes out of the business completely. Be a little poorer. Use the internet. Louis C K made a million (in two weeks) and counting from users volunteering to pay $5 per unencrypted download when they could probably get it on and off a torrent tracker easy.

        Its simple for me: rent Cronenberg, download Cameron. then we see who gets more love.
        If digital information turned out to be a much freer medium than what studios and record companies had foresight to see, it shouldnt be anyone elses problem. They standardized the thing, then they get upset over what it does.
        The internet is a public library and there are copy machines in the basement. Just don't bind and sell the junk.


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