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⚑ July 7, 2014

He Knew How to Learn ✏️

A photo of Aaron Swartz holding a knife at the camera.

A photo of Aaron Swartz holding a knife at the camera.

We’ve begun to watch a very troubling documentary about the brilliant Aaron Swartz. He could have taken over the world, literally, but instead he took his own life in 2013. This movie will touch your heart, no matter how small and raisiny your heart might be.

We could only get through the first third of it yesterday, and I can’t wait until dinnertime to watch some more. Absolutely everything I’ve been learning for the last many months was invented by this genius-child: RSS, Markdown, Creative Commons, and of course Reddit. He invented the Wiki before the wiki existed, when he was only 12.

I am currently struggling with RSS right now, working out a fine .xml file to go with this site, so far so good. And I wonder why this very clear thinker who could solve some really big problems couldn’t think of a single reason to stay alive. Did he see something ominous on the horizon?

And then I sort of stumble over a knot in the RSS-dom involving scraping some JavaScript and PHP together, so it’s time to start asking questions of Google and YouTube and working a different angle, which is how you untie a knot. The process is called worrying, oddly enough. Which is how I ended up finding the Adam Swartz tribute video, which is must-viewing.

If you have a conspiratorial bent, listen to Future Theater this evening as we sort out the pieces of this puzzle and try to see what fits into which conspiracy, and how. This one involves an overzealous state attorney general, and we’ve had personal experience with that sort of thing. Just ask our friend Jim Sanders, who has been on Future Theater many times.

My journey this particular night has taken me to the outer ring of Academia, where – for a minor exchange of privacy – I can still get my hands on a bit of scholarship at JSTOR, which is where Adam Swartz’s trouble began. The article I want is only available through a kludgy under-served window that snaps shut after a few pages like an old metal viewer at Coney Island. JSTOR dropped the charges against him, but the Feds decided to make an example of him in order to contain the airy fairy fabric of internet magic that he knew how to weave.

And speaking of magic, here is the diary of John Dee, embedded right here in the page, thanks to the all-powerful and wonderful Internet Archives. Check it out, virtually. πŸ”