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12-01-13 RIP, Aaron Swartz

12-01-13 RIP, Aaron Swartz

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Published by William J Greenberg

Aaron Swartz, a wizardly programmer who as a teenager helped develop code that delivered ever-changing Web content to users and who later became a steadfast crusader to make that information freely available, was found dead on Friday in his New York apartment.

Aaron Swartz, a wizardly programmer who as a teenager helped develop code that delivered ever-changing Web content to users and who later became a steadfast crusader to make that information freely available, was found dead on Friday in his New York apartment.

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Published by: William J Greenberg on Jan 14, 2013
Copyright:Attribution Non-commercial


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 To the extent possible under law,Cory Doctorowhas waived all copyright and related orneighboring rights to "RIP, Aaron Swartz."
: Go readLessig: "He was brilliant, and funny. A kid genius. A soul, aconscience, the source of a question I have asked myself a million times: What wouldAaron think? That person is gone today, driven to the edge by what a decent societywould only call bullying. I get wrong. But I also get proportionality. And if you don’t getboth, you don’t deserve to have the power of the United States government behindyou."My friend Aaron Swartz committed suicide yesterday, Jan 11. He was 26. I got wokenup with the news about an hour ago. I'm still digesting it -- I suspect I'll be digesting it fora long time -- but I thought it was important to put something public up so that we couldtalk about it. Aaron was a public guy.I met Aaron when he was 14 or 15. He was working on XML stuff (he co-wrote the RSSspecification when he was 14) and came to San Francisco often, and would stay withLisa Rein, a friend of mine who was also an XML person and who took care of him andassured his parents he had adult supervision. In so many ways, he was an adult, eventhen, with a kind of intense, fast intellect that really made me feel like he was part andparcel of the Internet society, like he belonged in the place where your thoughts arewhat matter, and not who you are or how old you are.
But he was also unmistakably a kid then, too. He would only eat white food. We'd go toa Chinese restaurant and he'd order steamed rice. I suggested that he might be asupertaster and told him how to check it out, and he did, and decided that he was. Wehad a good talk about the stomach problems he faced and about how he would need tobe careful because supertasters have a tendency to avoid "bitter" vegetables and endup deficient in fibre and vitamins. He immediately researched the hell out of the subject,figured out a strategy for eating better, and sorted it. The next time I saw him (inChicago, where he lived -- he took the El a long way from the suburbs to sit down andchat with me about distributed hash caching), he had a whole program in place.I introduced him to Larry Lessig, and he was active in the original Creative Commonstechnical team, and became very involved in technology-freedom issues. Aaron hadpowerful, deeply felt ideals, but he was also always an impressionable young man,someone who often found himself moved by new passions. He always seemedsomehow in search of mentors, and none of those mentors ever seemed to match theimpossible standards he held them (and himself) to.This was cause for real pain and distress for Aaron, and it was the root of his reallyunfortunate pattern of making high-profile, public denunciations of his friends and
mentors. And it's a testament to Aaron's intellect, heart, and friendship that he wasalways forgiven for this. Many of us "grown ups" in Aaron's life have, over the years, satdown to talk about this, and about our protective feelings for him, and to check in withone another and make sure that no one was too stung by Aaron's disappointment in us.I think we all knew that, whatever the disappointment that Aaron expressed about us, italso reflected a disappointment in himself and the world.Aaron accomplished some incredible things in his life. He was one of the early buildersof Reddit (someone always turns up to point out that he was technically not a co-founder, but he was close enough as makes no damn), got bought by Wired/CondeNast, engineered his own dismissal and got cashed out, and then became a full-time,uncompromising, reckless and delightful shit-disturber.The post-Reddit era in Aaron's life was really his coming of age. His stunts werebreathtaking. At one point, he singlehandedly liberated 20 percent of US law. PACER,the system that gives Americans access to their own (public domain) case-law, chargeda fee for each such access. After activists built RECAP (which allowed its users to putany caselaw they paid for into a free/public repository), Aaron spent a small fortunefetching a titanic amount of data and putting it into the public domain. The feds hatedthis. They smeared him, the FBI investigated him, and for a while, it looked like he'd beon the pointy end of some bad legal stuff, but he escaped it all, and emergedtriumphant.He also founded a group calledDemandProgress, which used his technological savvy,money and passion to leverage victories in huge public policy fights. DemandProgress'swork was one of the decisive factors in last year's victory over SOPA/PIPA, and thatwas only the start of his ambition.I wrote to Aaron for help with
, the sequel to
Little Brother 
to get his ideas ona next-generation electioneering tool that could be used by committed, passionatecandidates who didn't want to end up beholden to monied interests and power-brokers.Here's what he wrote back:
First he decides to take over the whole California Senate, so he can do things atscale. He finds a friend in each Senate district to run and plugs them into a webapp he's made for managing their campaigns. It has a database of all the localreporters, so there's lots of local coverage for each of their campaignannouncements.Then it's just a vote-finding machine. First it goes through your contacts list (viaFacebook, twitter, IM, email, etc.) and lets you go down the list and try to recruiteveryone to be a supporter. Every supporter is then asked to do the same thing

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