TheSunnyMag: RIP Aaron Swartz. [Obituary]

This week’s SunnyMag is almost entirely dedicated to Aaron Swartz, the computer activist who committed suicide last week. Swartz was 26 when he died. He co-authored the RSS 1.0 specification at the age of 14. He was the co-founder of Reddit. He was a member of the Harvard University Center for Ethics, co-founded the online Group Demand Progress and has worked with many international organsiations. He was found dead in his apartment on Friday.

Swartz was facing trial in the US for mass downloading JSTOR documents. The charges against him leveled by the federal government include wire fraud, computer fraud, unlawfully obtaining information from a protected computer and damaging a protected computer. A conviction would mean many years in prison and more than a million dollars in fine. An evidentiary hearing was scheduled on January 25, following a trial on April 1.

MIT newspaper The Tech, which broke the news of his death, has a great collection of posts on Swartz. Read it here.

Aaron Swartz (Image: Wikipedia)
Aaron Swartz (Image: Wikipedia)

Canadian- British blogger, journalist, Cory Doctorow has written a piece oh his death. Doctrow, his friend, wrote: ” Aaron had an unbeatable combination of political insight, technical skill, and intelligence about people and issues. I think he could have revolutionized American (and worldwide) politics. His legacy may still yet do so.”

I met Aaron when he was 14 or 15. He was working on XML stuff (he co-wrote the RSS specification when he was 14) and came to San Francisco often, and would stay with Lisa Rein, a friend of mine who was also an XML person and who took care of him and assured his parents he had adult supervision. In so many ways, he was an adult, even then, with a kind of intense, fast intellect that really made me feel like he was part and parcel of the Internet society, like he belonged in the place where your thoughts are what matter, and not who you are or how old you are.

More here.

American Academic Larry Lessig wrote a piece titled “Prosecutor as bully,” after getting to know of the 26 year old’s death. Why did the government have to characterize him as a felon, as if he were a 9/11 terrorist caught red handed while he was not even close to one? Asks Lessig.

For in the 18 months of negotiations, that was what he was not willing to accept, and so that was the reason he was facing a million dollar trial in April — his wealth bled dry, yet unable to appeal openly to us for the financial help he needed to fund his defense, at least without risking the ire of a district court judge. And so as wrong and misguided and fucking sad as this is, I get how the prospect of this fight, defenseless, made it make sense to this brilliant but troubled boy to end it,” writes Lessig.

Read Lessig’s full post here.

John Schwartz and Robert Mackey of the New York Times writes about his run in with the digital pioneer after he wrote an article for the Times on PACER. Swartz wrote

I liked him. He was about the age of my daughter; I told him that my own father is Aaron Schwartz, so I felt funny talking with him. I then joked that if she hadn’t been in a committed relationship at the time of our interviews, I might have tried to set them up. He smiled awkwardly at my old-guy gaffe.

Full post here.

Wired writes:

We often say, upon the passing of a friend or loved one, that the world is a poorer place for the loss. But with the untimely death of programmer and activist Aaron Swartz, this isn’t just a sentiment; it’s literally true. Worthy, important causes will surface without a champion equal to their measure. Technological problems will go unsolved, or be solved a little less brilliantly than they might have been. And that’s just what we know. The world is robbed of a half-century of all the things we can’t even imagine Aaron would have accomplished with the remainder of his life.

Full story here.

Swartz used to write a blog called Raw Thought where he used to write long essays on many different things. Read the blog here.  Swartz had come to the National Institute of Technology in Calicut, India in 2007 to deliver a talk. Here, he spoke of the need to learn, try, talk and build. His advice at the talk? Be curious, read widely..Say yes to everything..Assume nobody else has any idea what they’re doing either. Read the full talk here.


A couple of stories that caught our attention last week are below.

New new world

The Dunbar Number, From the Guru of Social Networks: Bloomberg business week profiles Robin Dunbar, a technophobic Oxford primatologist who became Silicon Valley’s social networking sage.

A little more than 10 years ago, the evolutionary psychologist Robin Dunbar began a study of the Christmas-card-sending habits of the English. This was in the days before online social networks made friends and “likes” as countable as miles on an odometer, and Dunbar wanted a proxy for meaningful social connection. He was curious to see not only how many people a person knew, but also how many people he or she cared about. The best way to find those connections, he decided, was to follow holiday cards. After all, sending them is an investment: You either have to know the address or get it; you have to buy the card or have it made from exactly the right collage of adorable family photos; you have to write something, buy a stamp, and put the envelope in the mail. These are not huge costs, but most people won’t incur them for just anybody.

Read the full story here.

Big picture

Has the ideas machine broken down? asks The Economist. The idea that innovation and new technology have stopped driving growth is getting increasing attention. But it is not well founded, argues the newspaper.

BOOM times are back in Silicon Valley. Office parks along Highway 101 are once again adorned with the insignia of hopeful start-ups. Rents are soaring, as is the demand for fancy vacation homes in resort towns like Lake Tahoe, a sign of fortunes being amassed. The Bay Area was the birthplace of the semiconductor industry and the computer and internet companies that have grown up in its wake. Its wizards provided many of the marvels that make the world feel futuristic, from touch-screen phones to the instantaneous searching of great libraries to the power to pilot a drone thousands of miles away. The revival in its business activity since 2010 suggests progress is motoring on.

Read more here.

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