Reza, a 20-something mechanical engineer working at an automotive parts factory in the northeastern Iranian city of Sabzevar, takes his web videos seriously. He’s watched the TED talk of amputee snowboarding champion Amy Purdy“over and over again.” The YouTube videos of Boston Dynamics robots Big Dog and Cheetah, which most of us find creepy, he describes as inspirational.

“I was mesmerized by those videos,” he writes in an email, asking that WIRED not use his real name. “I wonder what would happen if I had the chance to watch [them] when I was a teenager. I might have studied harder in college.”

If those viral clips mean more to Reza than to the average American, it’s probably because he has to work so much harder to see them. YouTube is blocked in Iran. The TED site isn’t, but Iran’s trickling internet speeds make its videos virtually unwatchable anyway. So every couple of days, Reza plugs a USB drive into his satellite TV’s set-top box receiver and changes the channel to a certain unchanging green and white screen that shows only fixed text instructions. He sets the receiver to record to the USB. Then a few hours later he takes the resulting MPEG file on the USB over to his computer, where he decodes it with a piece of software called Toosheh. The result, each time, is more than a gigabyte of compressed, fresh digital contraband pulled directly from space, past both Iran’s infrastructure bottlenecks and its draconian censors.

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