Aaron Swartz Obituary


Aaron Swartz (1986-2013) speaking against SOPA.
Software developer, Internet activist.
Photo by Daniel J. Sieradski (Source: Vintage Computing).

“His suicide was “the product of a criminal justice system rife with intimidation and prosecutorial overreach”, his family said in a statement on 12 January. A tragedy, with a powerful moral.”

Marth Gill in The Newstatesman.

“His aim was to download as many pages as possible from an archive of academic journals called JSTOR, which was available by paid subscription only to libraries and institutions. That was morally wrong, he thought; the knowledge contained in it (often obtained with public funding, after all) had to be made available, free, to everyone. And it was absurdly simple to do that. He already had access to the library network; no need to hack into the system. He just ran a script, called keepgrabbing.py, which liberated 4.8m articles at almost dangerous speed. MIT tried to block him, but time after time he outwitted them; and then, as a last resort, he plugged in the laptop in the cupboard.”

The Economist.

“The web programmer and open-data crusader Aaron Swartz has been found dead in his New York apartment, having apparently taken his own life at the age of 26. Swartz made a notable impact on the web: when he was 12, he wrote his first serious programs, and at 13 won an ArsDigita prize for creating a non- commercial website. He co-authored the RSS internet syndication standard, an automated system for distributing blogposts, at 14, and then contributed to the development of Lawrence Lessig’s Creative Commons copyright system.

Later, he was a prime mover in halting the US government’s Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA), which could well have led to widespread censorship of the internet. He co-founded the DemandProgress organisation to continue the fight for internet freedom and openness.”

Jack Schofield in The Guardian.

Christmas and the Homeless

Whilst reading the New Statesman and The Guardian recently I came across two articles of interest.  Firstly there is the Guardian article by a young man who experienced homelessness throughout the past few years, and questions what the government are doing to help those who are homeless into getting back into education.  It is an interesting and educational article, full of important points and views.  In it he defines homelessness itself-

‘Homelessness does not necessarily entail living on the streets. In fact a comparatively low number of young people, on any given night, sleep rough. Many live in temporary accommodation, stay in hostels, or simply travel between sofas: all are forms of homelessness.’

In particular is the mention of the current UK governments benefit cutbacks for people aged under 25 years old, and in particular the impact of the cutting of the EMA, Educational Maintenance Grant, in 2010 on people in his position.

Over at The New Statesman a column by Jim White caught my attention.  The article centered on the rise of StreetLink going national, across the UK.  StreetLink is a charity which is designed to be a first port of call that helps homeless people.  It encourages the public to phone a dedicated phone line to report people who are sleeping rough so that they can get some immediate help.  The quote below details the exact mechanism-

“The idea is simple: save the number (0300 500 0914) in your phone, and call it when you see a rough sleeper. You give the telephone worker a description of the person and their location. They will then get in touch with the council or a local homeless service to visit the person and provide support. If requested, StreetLink will give the person who made the call an update on what’s happening 10 days later.”

The article nicely outlines some of the major issues faceless homeless people in general, as well as some of the tedious barrier hopping they have to do to gain benefits and help to put them back on their feet again.  In particular both of the articles above highlight the fact that many people are homeless due to a variety of reasons.  In this relatively harsh economic climate the number of people sleeping rough is generally increasing-

“After years of decline, the problem of homelessness is getting worse. According to Homeless Link, the number of people sleeping rough grew by more than a fifth last year. There has also been an increase in the number housed in temporary accommodation and in B&Bs, and as I wrote about recently, a 34 per cent increase in people housed in a different local authority.”

This includes both males and females, old and young.  It can be hard to conceive of being homeless, but you can never know what is going to happen in the future.

Whilst I was living in the cities of Hull and Sheffield I often encountered homeless people begging for money.  It is a hard choice, and a personal choice, whether you decide to give them money, buy them a hot drink, and/or stop to chat with them.

Christmas is a time of a thinking about other people, and you can do nothing better than to save the above number in your phone, and call it if you come across a homeless person.  Have a safe and a happy Christmas.