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The Inexplicable Pirate Box


I’m still on the long climb back to functionality and can’t do much computing because the current bug has hugely irritated my eyes. However, I did want to call quick attention to one more thing in the pirate universe before going back to bed: David Dart’s Pirate Box. I got the tip from the Jolly Pirate a couple of days ago, and most of the gadget blogs have now picked up the story. It’s a make-it-yourself wireless filesharing node in a pirate lunchbox.

Lesse here: You carry this into a crowded coffee shop so that people can connect from their laptops and smartphones and download whatever pirate goodies are in the box, at least until somebody calls the Bomb Squad.

Ok, I’m just funny that way. But read through the DIY, and ask what I’m asking: Isn’t this a lot of fooling around just to create a wireless file-sharing node? Even a five-year-old beater of a laptop can run Debian and a file server, and software router apps are routine. Furthermore, a laptop looks like a laptop, and when there’s a dozen people at Panera running laptops, it’s a little less easy to tell who’s the pirate.

Unless that’s the idea. This certainly seems to be more about cachet than practical piracy. I’m reminded of warchalking, a silly near-hoax that was getting people’s twickers in a nist back in 2002 or so: marking the locations of wi-fi networks on the sidewalk in chalk, god help us, as though there were no other way to know something was there.

I have the late Harry Helms’ books about pirate radio and I think I understand the psychology. It’s about being a Merry Prankster more than actually getting anything accomplished. And I’m good with that, especially since the 17 people on Earth who will actually build this thing and hang out with it are unlikely to do much damage. (I do grant them points for creativity.)

The Pirate Box reminds me a little of AirStash, which has the advantage of being able to hide in your pocket. The notion of hidden local physical filesharing is an interesting one, and I’m sure that there are better concepts for it hiding out there somewhere. (A USB thumb drive mortared into a brick wall is just one of the gonzo notions I’ve seen recently; something like geocaching with data.) If you know of any more, send me links.

And now it’s back to bed for me.


  1. ZWELITHINI says:

    so how does the wireless signal spread to different users of the piratebox such that they are able to share files?

    1. I don’t know for sure, but I’m guessing that it creates a peer-to-peer Wi-Fi connection when it senses other pirateboxes nearby. This was a stunt more than anything else, and I think you could do the same sort of thing with smartphones or “pocket file servers” like AirStash and keep the device in your pocket where no one can see it.

  2. Dave says:

    You’re thinking too small. Using a PirateBox for “file sharing” is just silly if you ask me, but you can use it for much more useful (and fun) things. Setting up a PirateBox is like setting up your own little portable Intranet. The interface is just web pages, so edit the web pages! Create something. An open anonymous blog or web site. A portable Internet radio station. An IRC server. A social network. Use your imagination. If you think the only use for a PirateBox is for sharing stolen music and stolen software, you’re missing the point.

    1. Well, the creator of the Pirate Box named it the Pirate Box, after all, and the clear implication was that it was a portable content file server. There’s nothing necessarily illegal about that, true. But if it wasn’t really about piracy (or at least the cachet of piracy) what’s the point of calling it The Pirate Box? And why not just jigger a laptop to do the same thing?

  3. The concept of the PirateBox goes a little more deeper then what I think you are seeing. It has to do with file sharing, and the way the word “piracy” is thrown around when that happens.

    It’s like when you loan a DVD to a friend, or back in the day when you loaned a cassette tape. You find something cool and you want to share it with a friend. It’s not about making copies of your DVDs and then going out on the street and selling them for $5 a disc.

    Using the name PirateBox is a joke on those people that are willing to sue you for $30,000 for sharing a track of of a CD that they like and want to encourage others to listen and support that artist.

    And chances are, the files that get shared on a PirateBox won’t be a blueray rip of a movie, as these are mostly small capacity storage solutions. Plus the ad hoc networks these devices create locally, can’t hold very many users, much less sharing many large files. Most likely you’ll find a few mp3s, an ebook or pdf file, and maybe some pictures. The default setup for a Piratebox also has a chat box but it can be modified to have a local forum where people could post longer discussions.

    1. True enough, but my biggest question remains: What does the Pirate Box do that can’t be done by custom configuration of a reasonably gutsy laptop?

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