Aaron Swartz, scholar, activist, and Internet hero, is dead.
Aaron took his life yesterday. I am still finding it hard to believe.
His ongoing court case overshadows his death, so let me get that out of the way:
He was living through a two-year federal case which had only become more nightmarish since last year. (JSTOR stated it did not want a trial, and has steadily been releasing the PD articles in question and more for free public use; yet the prosecution, continuing its outrageous abuse of discretion, declined to settle and tripled their felony charges to cover up to 35 years in prison.)
Friends and family were helping him plan a campaign to spread the word about the unreasonableness and inequity of the trial. Its uncertainty was intensely stressful, even for those of us who lived only the tiniest fraction of it. As Lessig notes, the prosecutors – Stephen P. Heymann (and at times Scott L. Garland), working in Carmen M. Ortiz‘s Cybercrime unit – should be taking a long hard look in the mirror and asking themselves what they are doing with their lives.
Aaron was a dear friend, and one of the most decent men I have known. The only times I have seen him truly angry was in response to some social wrong; and he actively looked for ways to find and eliminate injustice. He always considered how to act morally – even when this meant being at odds with local social norms – and regularly paused at forks in his life to think about how to live so as to benefit society.
He kindled ideas from those nearby, and freely passed on his own. Made mistakes often and tried to learn from them, usually publicly. His transparency was a useful meterstick for me. Ages ago, when we first met, I remember him brainstorming ideas about community and wiki design with Zvi and me; about learning and unlearning, society and ideals, civics and collaboration. Once his curiosity was piqued about a subject he would pursue it until he could write about and explain it.
~ ~~~ ~
I spent last night with mutual friends who live now in his old apartment, in a room that was once his; remembering the many great projects he started and inspired – especially the little gems, the personal quirks and insights, the inspiring ideas that became single-purpose services, or calls to arms. (We never did start a dog-walking service for data, but the idea abides.) Rereading some of his writings, I remember the many opportunities missed for synthesis, reframing, and clarity – about how life works, and how to live it.
Everyone has idealized dreams — what would you do with an unlimited wish? — about long-term projects worth devoting one’s life to, to transform the world. Dreams cherished but rarely attempted. Aaron was the only person I felt completely comfortable sharing mine with. We had a little game: a couple times a year we would meet in a nameless cafe, and he would ask for ‘rabbinical’ advice on moral quandaries, and I would ask for ‘professional’ advice on realizing societal dreams. I don’t know that he needed my advice, but I always looked forward to his. There was usually at least one book suggestion from his endless reading list that answered an open question of mine. And no matter how grandiose the dream, he would understand, clarify, laugh, counterpoint, help tune mental models, and remind me to get to it. And we never had quite enough time.
I miss him very, very, very much. Part of my own future has gone missing too.
Somewhere, celestials are being taught to tune the cosmos.
Quinn. TBL. Grimm. Cory. Larry (^2). Cyrus Farivar.
The court case.
Alex Stamos (on the wrongness of the case).
New York Times (front page).
The Guardian (front page + 4 more articles)
In his own words:
How to work.
How we stopped SOPA.
On feeling low and key limes.
From the Boston Wikipedia Meetup on August 18, 2009, by Sage Ross:
Public Domain Day! Happy 2013 from 13 creators
Happy Public Domain Day! Today millions of works – everything made by people that died in 1942* and not previously public – enter the public domain in most of the world.**
See the Public Domain Review, which compiled this “class of 13″ collection of some of the best known authors and artists, and the related celebrations by hyperallergic, crackajack.
For a more US-centric view, with a heavy dose of “what were we thinking when we set up current copyright law?” activism, see the Public Domain Day summary by Duke’s insightful Center for the Public Domain. They also track the Alternate Universe Public Domain list for the simple alternate universe in which copyright laws remained as they were in 1976. This is a harder thing to visualize each year, since in this alternate universe so many other things (anything published between 1923 and 1955) would already also be free.
* in most countries
** but not in the US. The ‘Sonny Bono’ CTE Act created a backlog that will all enter the public domain in 2019.
Better knowledge graphs fit for Star Trek computers coming to Google
Last year Google acquired Metaweb, providing a reliable future to their many projects, including Refine and Freebase.
From earlier this year, here’s a quote from Amit Singhal, Google’s SVP responsible for their Knowledge Graph:
We hope this added intelligence will give you a more complete picture of your interest, provide smarter search results, and pique your curiosity on new topics. We’re proud of our first baby step—the Knowledge Graph—which will enable us to make search more intelligent, moving us closer to the “Star Trek computer” that I’ve always dreamt of building. Enjoy your lifelong journey of discovery, made easier by Google Search, so you can spend less time searching and more time doing what you love.
In the near future, I expect both Google’s knowledge graph, and the increasing awareness of the usefulness of such graphs, to change the structure and scope of industrial-scale knowledge processing. Thanks to all those working on these tools and solutions; see you in 2013!
Inviting readers to mercilessly edit Wikipedia
Wikipedia reader are being asked to edit as part of a banner campaign — for the first time since perhaps 2003.
This is being done as part of the Thank You message we send out at the end of a campaign – something we can do quite early this year thanks to a successful fundraiser.
I’ve been pushing for something like this for a couple of years – I think it’s the most important thing we can do to refresh our communities of editors and change the sense readers have of what is and isn’t welcome. I want to see us do this on every project, all throughout the year (eventually combined with the new visual editor, of course; which is truly beautiful).
What do you think?
Here’s what the draft message looks like; suggestions for better wording or other variations are welcome.
Dear Wikipedia Readers: Thank You! Overwhelming support from Wikipedia users let us end our annual fund drive early. Your donations pay for the tools, infrastructure and programs that empower thousands of editors. We would like to introduce you to some of the dedicated volunteers who you empower when you donate. It is our hope that after you read or hear a few of their stories, you’ll want to join them in sharing your knowledge with the world by editing Wikipedia.
You can edit Wikipedia!
- Create articles. After signing up, you’ll be able to help Wikipedia grow by starting new encyclopedia articles.
- Add photos and video. Register an account and you can upload your freely licensed images
- and other media.
- Become a part of the Wikipedia community. Logging in means all your contributions are attributed to your username, helping you connect with other Wikipedia contributors.
Wikipedia gets visual editor in time for Christmas
One small step for an editor…
Huge props to the team working on this and the underlying parsoid. It’s still in Alpha, so it’s only on the English Wikipedia this week. And you have to turn it on via user prefs; and it wants good feedback, but it makes the old heart-cockles sing.
A Free Market Fix for the Copyright Racket – Virginia Postrel
A crisp, thorough summary of recent proposals to fix copyright, from across the political and economic spectrum. Postrel makes some effort to put them in historical context, and links to other even more detailed overviews of past and present trends.
Three Copyright Myths and Where to Start to Fix it – a policy brief
Tuesday November 20th 2012, 5:41 pm
Filed under: citation needed
,Glory, glory, glory
,Not so popular
,Rogue content editor
A lovely short policy brief on designing a better copyright regime was published on Friday – before being quickly taken offline again. I’ve reposted it here with light cleanup of its section headings.
If you care at all about copyright and its quirks, this is short and worth reading in full.
The Six Symptoms of Pathological Science, by Irving Langmuir
This overview of pattern-creation in the guise of science and its mob effect on whole fields must be read and relished.
The Six Symptoms of Pathological Science:
- The maximum effect observed is produced by an agent of barely detectable intensity. The magnitude of the effect is largely independent of the intensity of the cause.
- The effect is of a magnitude close to the limit of detectability, or many measurements are necessary because of low statistical significance of individual results.
- There are claims of great, even extraordinary, accuracy
- Fantastic theories contrary to experience are suggested (with enthusiasm)
- Criticisms are met by ad hoc excuses thought up on the spur of the moment (this may be contagious)
- The ratio of supporters to critics rises to somewhere near 50%, then falls gradually to zero.
Also, note that the “Allison effect” and mechanism is the most amazing example given, and may show something different than standard pathological science: it was considered good science for over a decade, and by hundreds of practitioners.
From a talk famously given by Langmuir (1932 Chemistry N’Laureate) in 1953, transcribed by Robert Hall, illustrated by Physics Today, republished and promoted by professors and authors.
Recursive β-Metafunctions In the Case of Polypolice
I just finished reading about how bogus transmogrification conversion on an oscillating harmonic field of glass bells, with green gig and kerosene lamps for diversion, can be solved by beastly incarceration-concatenation. I was reminded of how much the great scienxplorers such as Watterson and others owe to this cloud of novel scientific inquiry from the ’60s and ’70s.
It makes me simultaneously want to immortalize Lem and Kandel in an eternally entangled quantum fringe, and to fire up a Trurlapaucius abstract-generator based on snarXiv code.
Bigipedia 2.0 – Britain sends up the wisdom of crowds
“At last, the long-awaited release of Bigipedia 2.0 – the infallible, ever-present cyberfriend is back! Now with all errors and mistakes.”
Every episode of Bigipedia is worth listening to. From David Tyler and #Pozzitive, via the UK wikivine.
“I want Happiness”
A man once said to Buddha: ”I want Happiness.”
Buddha said: “First remove ‘I‘, that is ego.
Then remove ‘want‘, that is desire.
Now you are left only with Happiness.”
“What Wroth Roth Wrought” by Virginia Hefferman and Oliver Keyes
We may have a national drought, but a bumper crop of brilliant essays of, by, and for Wikipedia are turning up this weekend.
Oliver Keyes / Ironholds turned out this gem of an essay deconstructing, line by line, how many claims and statements in the original New Yorker piece fell somewhere between confused and false. In particular, he highlights that Roth has already been cited in the article at the time as disputing the claims by many critics that Broyard’s life was an influence on his character.
And he points out how credulous our traditional media are, when dealing with respected authors: how few outlets made an effort to check statements Roth made before repeating them, and often assumed they were true in coming up with social and factual analyses.
But these are the institutions that we – Wikipedians an everyone else – look up to for fact-checking and peer review in the first place. How to make sense of this communication gap?
Enter Virginia Hefferman, stage right. She published an insightful piece, with stylish patter to match the subject matter, on how the Rothroversy illustrates a digital culture war. An excerpt:
At least two Americas, then. Each with its own civilizations, its own holy artifacts, its own shamans. For contrast: Wikipedia is an open-source encyclopedia, born in 2001; it has some 365 million readers in 265 languages. The New Yorker is an American general-interest weekly, born in 1925. It has a circulation of almost 1.05 million, in a single language. Wikipedia America and New Yorker America are so dug into their hierarchies of values that, really, they can only cultivate blindness about the other lest they implode in madness.
The East Coast establishment, for its part, is still so sure of itself that when Roth, one of its most esteemed denizens, finds himself narcissistically bugged in the usual way with something on Wikipedia, he doesn’t do what the rest of us do when Wikipedia narcissistically bugs us: learn the supremely learnable procedures for submitting changes to that populist and infinitely flexible document.
Roth doesn’t read enough on the site to learn that at Wikipedia, nothing is left “on author” (as we used to say of the very rare uncheckable fact when I did my own time at The New Yorker). Everything must be sourced…
“The Human Stain,” as a novel, might rise or fall on its status as a fictionalization of the life of this or that obscure intellectual. But Wikipedia, as the near-miraculous open-source document that defines knowledge on the Web, lives or dies on the strength of its traditions of anonymity, proceduralism, humility and collaboration. Once it knuckles under to power—literary, political, any kind—it cracks. Wikipedia as it stands is chaotic and error-ridden, although anything but soulless: It breathes with the intelligence of the hundreds of millions of people, around the world, who use it and contribute to it and take pride in it and maintain it.
Hefferman was recruited away from the New York Times to the increasingly impressive Yahoo! News earlier this year.
Open Letterer: Philip Roth hopes his op-ed will serve as a cite
Friday September 07th 2012, 5:59 pm
Filed under: wikipedia
As my father would say, goodness gracious. An overflowing and eloquent letter by Roth complaining about a Wikipedia article just appeared as a piece in the New Yorker, intentionally missing the point of neutral third-party synthesis.
From the Wikipedia discussion page for the article in question:
There was nothing wrong with the article whatsoever, nor with the way policy was applied in this case. The section in question was about the reception of the novel… It reported in an entirely NPOV manner the take of a critic [Michiko Kakutani] writing for the most respected newspaper in the country. If her speculations were unfounded, that is an issue for the New York Times, not wikipedia. For that matter, the fact that Roth contested the claim was already noted right there in the section.
We need to find a better way to let first-person sources contribute to or inform articles; they shouldn’t feel a need to generate external publications just to express a personal statement or opinion about their own life or work. At the same time, the sort of frustration he expressed in his op-ed should be rightly directed at the Times. And our society of knowledge, not to mention WP itself, does need a crisper way to support the challenge of a specific source or cite as poorly researched, untrustworthy, or otherwise undeserving of republication.