Give the (free) gift of The Secret Life of Machines!

A quick update on the subject of the Secret Life of Machines series...

From series 2, episode 1

...which, for the information of newcomers, is

1: fantastic,
2: legal to download for free, and
3: large.

A couple of years ago, I made a torrent of a high-video-quality version of this excellent science series, which total 3.3 gigabytes.

Of late there have usually only been one or two seeds for the torrent, though, and one of them is me, and my little home DSL account can only upload at a peak speed of about 25 kilobytes per second. So it takes me a couple of days to send the whole bulk of the three series to someone (technically, it's two six-episode series of The Secret Life of Machines, plus one six-episode series of The Secret Life of The Office). And when the transfer finally completes, the recipient will then usually not bloody seed it.

So if you've still got that torrent sitting in your BitTorrent client, I'd be grateful if you force-seeded it for a while.

(A reminder for readers who're dubious about this, or protection-racketeers from one or another content company who're champing at the bit to send me a nastygram: Tim Hunkin, the creator and principal presenter of this show, wants people to download it for free. He makes this clear in many places, like for example his pages for the three series of the show. The shows are still copyrighted, but free distribution is expressly permitted.)

As I've mentioned before, you can help out with seeding even if you don't have the torrent in your BitTorrent client any more, provided you still have the files. (Which, by the way, are in the "M4V" iPhone format, are not nasty VHS rips, and are playable on all platforms; use VLC if you have problems.)

To seed if you've got the files but not the torrent, just get the torrent started as if you were going to download it again (so your BitTorrent client creates the appropriate download directory and empty files), immediately stop it again, copy the video files from wherever you've put them into the new download directory over the top of the new empty files, and then restart or "Force Re-Check" the download (depending on which BitTorrent client you have). Provided the files are the right ones for this iPhone-format version of the series, and have the right names, the download will now be 100% complete and you can force-seed it for a while.

Oh, and don't worry if your BitTorrent client says the download is only something like 99.8% complete, and it has to download a bit of data before it's "finished". That just means your computer has modified some header data in one or more of the files, so that tiny bit needs to be re-downloaded to overwrite the changes. It doesn't mean the files are corrupt.

(If you don't have a BitTorrent client at all but do have the files, perhaps because someone gave them to you on a thumb drive or something, you can also help out. You just need to install a client - µTorrent, for Windows and Mac, is excellent - and then do the starting-stopping-copying-and-then-seeding thing. The default settings for a freshly-installed BitTorrent client may stop it seeding after it's uploaded 200% of the data size of a torrent, or something; upload-ratio checking goes weird when you do the stop-copy-and-seed thing, too, because you'll have the whole download but won't have actually downloaded anything. Just right-click the torrent and select "Force Start" or "Force Seed" or whatever it's called in your client, to ignore upload limits.)

Here's a magnet link for the Secret Life of Machines torrent. (You may need to associate your BitTorrent program with magnet:... links to make this work, or manually copy and paste the link into an "Open Torrent..." dialog.)

You can also download the torrent file from isoHunt or The Pirate Bay - it was on Mininova, too, but they decided to go legit the other day and removed pretty much all of their torrents, including legal ones like this.

The BitTorrent community is moving away from .torrent files, just as it's moving away from trackers - The Pirate Bay have actually shut their trackers down altogether now. If you've got the little magnet URI for the download you want - it's ?xt=urn:btih:D62CLPSEYNRN74FRZDUC5GYVKTOOUKGE for the Secret Life of Machines torrent - then your BitTorrent client can use it to get other people who're downloading the same thing to send you the data that a .torrent file would have given you. This may take a little longer than downloading a torrent file would have, but it shouldn't actually fail unless there's nobody seeding the torrent, in which case you obviously wouldn't be able to download it anyway.

Once you've got the torrent info, the distributed hash table (DHT) system that all modern BitTorrent clients support can go on to give you the rest of the data from other users, without needing a central "tracker" system to keep everything organised.

And then, before you know it, you're watching Tim stand on the accelerator and the brake at the same time, and Rex brutalising that poor innocent refrigerator.

Tim Hunkin has done a lot of stuff since The Secret Life of Machines. Here's...

Whack A Banker machine by Tim Hunkin

...some posh bird enjoying the latest in Tim's long and inimitable line of penny-arcade amusement machines, "Whack A Banker".

24 Responses to “Give the (free) gift of The Secret Life of Machines!”

  1. EugeneKay Says:

    What is the resolution on the 3.3GB of m4v files? I have a set of 544x352 AVI rips I got off of this torrent saved locally, but if the m4v's are of a higher quality/ better encoding, I'll get them instead.

    I went ahead and added your torrent to my webserver's list of (entirely perfectly legal) torrents to seed. I keeep it throttled down to only 8mb/s on a regular basis, to avoid hitting my bandwidth cap, but I shoould be able to help out.

  2. CraigE Says:

    The M4V files are 480X360.

  3. Will Says:

    Added the torrent to both my servers (100Mbit).

    For some reason though uTorrent won't push more than 2MB/sec per connection, even though I know I can push significantly higher than that.

  4. corinoco Says:

    Oh, there goes 45 minutes - Tim's site is nearly as bad as TVtropes.

    One for the fuel scammers out there: Cylinder Bricks about halfway down the page. Classic.

  5. EugeneKay Says:

    I took a look, and it's just my untrained eye, but the M4Vs do appear to be quite better quality than the AVI torrent I linked to above, so I'm sticking with your torrent, Dan.

  6. dr_w00t Says:

    Dan, what do you mean by

    The BitTorrent community is moving away from .torrent files, just as it’s moving away from trackers


  7. Ziggyinc Says:

    Ditto Corinoco time just vanishes when I follow dans links.
    I will seed on my domestic cable connection (only manages ~112kB/sec up) till I've uploaded 10 copies or I reinstall.

    Thnaks Dan

  8. bbot Says:

    I could have sworn that I had downloaded the torrent, since that seems like something I would do, and indeed I had, but it was stuck at a 2.54:1 ratio, and was no longer uploading.

    This is probably because I'm still using rtorrent 0.6.2, a phat twenty releases out of date, and which may not be hep to the latest data structures jazz.

  9. Ziggyinc Says:

    Um Dan? All the praise that you have heaped on this series is actually rather inadequate. The secret life of machines is now enshrined next to all three series of James Burke's Connections. Thanks again.

  10. Chazzozz Says:

    If you already have all the files and you're running a recent version of µTorrent then there's no need to actually start the torrent up and go through the process you describe above. This is what I did:

    1. Moved all the files into my torrents directory tree.
    2. Downloaded the .torrent file.
    3. Added it to my list of active ones, and when the 'Add New Torrent' dialogue appeared I unchecked the 'Start torrent' box.
    4. Once it appeared in my list of active torrents, I right-clicked and selected 'Force Re-check' to verify the integrity of the files.
    5. Lastly, I clicked on the Start button and away it went.

    I've only got a weedy ADSL1 connection, and it has to share bandwidth with all my other perfectly legal torrents, so I can't promise stellar upload speeds. At least I'm now part of the swarm and seeding from 100%.

  11. Bern Says:

    Hmm, I'm pretty sure I uploaded at least 100% when I downloaded that last time you featured it, but not sure. I'm with the oh-so-generous folks at Bigpond, though, on cable, so my uploads are limited to 32kB/s theoretical max, but in reality I rarely do better than 8 or 9kB/s up. And it gets charged against my download quota... but I'll fire up Azureus & see if it's still listed.

  12. Bern Says:

    BTW: I agree with the original review, and the other commenters above. Even my missus thinks it's an interesting show, and she's usually bored witless by technology stuff!

  13. Navillus Says:

    Grabbing it now and will seed from 100mbit too :)

  14. Navillus Says:

    (note: anyone on Comcen, set the ipfilter for the torrent to and .31 - 100% free traffic: it doesn't leave Comcen's internal network so it's unmetered)

  15. Changes Says:

    One thing: for me, doing what you suggest in uTorrent (start, stop, copy, resume) causes it to cheerfully obliterate everything and start from zero. You do not want to know the words that came out of my mouth when I discovered that by wiping out a 5GB iso that had taken a week to download to 95%.
    On the other hand, if I start the torrent and input as the download directory the one where I have the files, it'll check them and then seed/resume properly.

  16. EugeneKay Says:

    There's yet another way to get uTorrent to recognize the already downloaded files - load the torrent, mash the Stop button, then go to the "Files" tab at the bottom. Right click each file and pick "Relocate", then find where you've moved the completed files to. It's a bit tedious, as you have to do each file in turn, but you can find out immediately if it's going to munge your files. Just push Start (after doing only ONE file) wait for it to finish the hash check, and then see if your file is still there, or has been truncated to 0 bytes. If it has sat on the file, use Relocate and point uTorrent back to the original download directory, delete the 0 byte file, and rename the backup copy you made beforehand.

    The likeliest cause for uTorrent obliterating your pre-downloaded files is that something (likely Windows Media Player), in an attempt to service you better, added metadata to the beginning of the file, which then changed the hash for the entire thing. uTorrent does a hash check, finds that it's a COMPLETELY different file, and throws it all out. iTunes is notorious for this with MP3s..... Players like Winamp, Media Player Classic, and VLC don't do this.

  17. iworm Says:

    We've got some well-fast seeders on this! I grabbed it yesterday - whole thing in just under 1 hour.

    I'm seeding back at a more modest 50K bytes/s (still not bad!) and am currently at 120%. I taketh and I giveth back many times over.

  18. iworm Says:

    Just noticed: if you Spooner-ise "Whack a Banker" you get exactly what the various governments have done with our taxes in response to the "crisis".

  19. TwoHedWlf Says:

    Haha, What'd you say it was? 1-2 seeds? Just started it now and it's 135 seeds, 159 peers. I can only conclude there are a lot of lurkers about.

  20. Coderer Says:

    I have a small problem -- I downloaded them from the Exploratorium mirror (linked to from Tim Hunkin's pages for each series), and I'm pretty sure it's the "m4v" files you talked about. BUT. Longtime TVersity users may be aware that either a) TVersity does not want to stream m4v files to the Xbox 360 and/or PS3, or b) the 360 and PS3 do not want to play files that are identified as being m4v. Either way, I had to rename all the files to use the .mp4 extension to get them to stream properly. I'd be happy to help seed the torrents, but I'm not sure how to convince my client that yes, the contents are in fact the same, though the names are (slightly) different.

  21. Chazzozz Says:


    That's 1 or 2 seeds to the Power of Dan. Or, in mathematical terms, 2Dan.

  22. Chazzozz Says:

    Bugger...the comment system stripped out the 'sup' tags in my last comment. Oh well, let's try this: 2^Dan.

  23. OrgAdam Says:

    Could Whack a Banker be a spoonerism?

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