Wasted Potential

Aaron Swartz wan an open source advocate, helped write RSS and was a co founder of the site Reddit.  He released a “Guerilla Open Access Manifesto” in 2008 that called for resistance against academic papers and other information being held behind paywalls. (Schwartz 2011) Practicing what he preached got him in trouble.  Later that year he used a Python script to download over 20 million documents from PACER, an archive of federal judicial records.  Though what he did wasn’t illegal, which the FBI determined after an investigation, it did earn him the attention of federal authorities.   Swartz later filed a FOIA request for his FBI file, after it was granted he posted the contents of the file on his blog. (Amsden 2013)  In 2010 Swartz used similar scripts to download academic papers from the JSTOR archive using a laptop he hardwired to MIT’s network in an unlocked utility closet.  These downloads slowed and even overloaded some JSTOR servers causing JSTOR to shut down access from MIT.  Though the articles were free, access to JSTOR is not.  These downloads caused MIT to contact federal authorities and though Swartz turned over hardrives with the articles to JSTOR, federal prosecutors pursued felony charges and Swartz was faced with up to 35 years in prison.  (Amsden 2013) None of the plea deals offered offered by prosecutors carried anything less than felony charges and prison time, faced with this and battling depression Swartz ended his life January 11 2013.

The threat of nearly life in prison is a heavy weight for anyone to bear.  Though what he did is not on par with more violent crimes, the punishment is more severe than even that for murder.  Many believe he could have beaten the charges.  The network at MIT is extremely open, and agreements between MIT and JSTOR assured that this type of access was available.  Had either MIT or JSTOR wanted to limit the number of downloads a simple CAPTCHA could have been used, which makes it near impossible for scripts to continuously grab downloads.  The supposed hack that took place was using a guest account and hardwiring the laptop to an MIT terminal.  There was no firewall or password cracking or other security breach.  The network allowed for unlimited downloads and rather than sit there and manually access them Swartz wrote a script that essentially did the same thing. (Stamos 2013) The only real charges that should have stuck were unauthorized access to the utility closet, trespassing, which oddly enough did not appear in the federal indictment.

After getting away scott free with the PACER downloads and seemingly taunting the FBI posting his file on his blog it seems the authorities had it in for Swartz.  Also it seemed to serve as an example for other would be hackers.  If a millionaire, genius developer couldn’t beat these trumped up charges what chance would an average person have.  This dogged pursuit of a mass downloader seems to be part of what drove Swartz to suicide.

It seems to me that the government does not have it’s priorities in order.  It isn’t like Swartz was stealing credit card or bank info, or siphoning financial transactions.  He was downloading massive amounts of free information and posting it online without a paywall.  There was no money making scheme behind it.  The documents on question, both archived in PACER and JSTOR were partially funded by tax dollars.  Swartz was giving the public access to documents that their tax dollars helped pay to create.  It speaks to the ridiculousness of IP law in this country that people who didn’t author these documents were receiving money to access them.  The whole spirit behind IP law is that the creator can profit from their works, not some 3rd party aggregator.  It is mindboggling that Swartz was facing 35 years for stealing free information.  Sure accessing the utility closet may have been illegal but so are all those MP3s you have.


Amsden, David. 2013. The Brilliant Life and Tragic Death of Aaron Swartz. Rolling Stone.
Retrieved from http://www.rollingstone.com/culture/news/the-brilliant-life-and-tragic-death-of-aaron-swartz-20130215

Schwartz, John. 2011. Open-Access Avodcate Arrested for Huge Download. New York Times.
Retrieved from http://www.nytimes.com/2011/07/20/us/20compute.html

Stamos, Alex. 2013. The Truth About Aaron Swartz’s “Crime”.
Retrieved from http://unhandled.com/2013/01/12/the-truth-about-aaron-swartzs-crime/





I’ll be honest, I don’t really consider any information private.  Sure there are things about me that I wouldn’t want people to know, but realistically there isn’t really much that I could consider 100% private.  I’ve done a little reading into the Snowden leaks and there isn’t much about any American that is private.  Information about you may not be posted on the internet in a public place, but rest assured there is information in government and corporate data centers about you, your tastes, your job, your browsing habits and your contacts.  Anything that is “private” only takes a request, not even a warrant, for the government to gain access to.  So is anything really private?  Your own thoughts, as long as you don’t say them, write them act on them or otherwise express them.  Maybe.

Social media is an easy way for corporations and governments to obtain information about an individual’s life.  I’m not sure if it is a problem.  I own a tinfoil hat so I’ve always assumed it was a given that there could be someone or some organization watching.  I use aliases and don’t reveal personal information on the internet when possible.  Sure the dots could be connected eventually, but there is enough plausible deniability that it could be someone impersonating me or a troll account just as much as it could be me.
Having never been fired for posting about hating my job or political posts I think it is working out pretty well for me.  I’m surprised people believe that nobody pays attention to the treasure trove of information that they post about themselves on social media.  It almost seems like a no brainer to use the place where people share their lives over the internet to find out about people’s lives.  If you believe it is a problem then don’t post on the internet what you don’t want the world to know using your real name.


Code Academy Assignment Completed

Badges for modules 1-5


Code Academy Assignment Completed


New Media

So I’ve got to focus on Twitter and Instagram for this post because young people like them.  I personally don’t have an account for either.
I’m still stuck in the stone age of Facebook.  I’m old and my friends are old, so I guess it works.

I really can’t see how twitter would be a great source for world news.  A 140 character limit is barely enough to explain why a Russian soldier is taking over an army base in Crimea, let alone give enough space for any kind of background on the story.  It just seems like too small of a morsel to really fill someone up on world events.  I can see how it would be a decent primary source of information for things, but it takes someone to independently verify the facts, for example Elan Gale’s (imaginary) confrontation on an airplane. It does seem like a good place for news about celebrity meltdowns, Alec Baldwin, Jose Canseco, Amanda Bynes, Xbox and Phil Fish among others, have all freaked out very publicly on Twitter.

Instagram lets a user upload short videos or pictures that they can share on other social media sites.  Like a parasite that wouldn’t survive without a host.  Again I can see how this would be a decent source of primary information, showing protests, civilian casualties of war or police brutality as it happens.  Without having to go through other media organizations that may not report on some issues because of their allegiances to governments or their corporate agenda.  It shares a problem with Twitter though, no independent verification.  Any idiot with a phone and friends can stage a photo.  Even if it isn’t staged it could be taken out of context.  If an unruly drunk punches a police officer, and the police get filmed subduing the assailant (re: beating a perp), then it gets uploaded to Facebook through Instagram there are all kinds of repercussions for officers who were doing their job.  Just because they aren’t big conglomerates feeding people news doesn’t mean that stories can’t be manipulated in 140 character or a 15 second video.


Revolution The Only Solution

There have been many protests that have turned into revolutions in recent history.  The two I will focus on in this post are those that occurred in Syria and Ukraine.

The revolution in Syria started as part of the Arab Spring.  In 2011 protests erupted in the Middle East, taking down the regimes in Egypt and Tunisia and sparking protests in Syria and Iran.  Like other Arab Spring protests, the first protests were trying to establish a more democratic rule and release political prisoners in a region known mostly for strongarm dictators. (Iaccino 2014)  (Kaphle 2014) It has recently devolved into a civil war with three factions, President Assad refuses to step down and has the backing of Russian President Putin, The Free Syrian Army (FSA) is the secular faction backed by the west, and ISIS is the jihadist force backed by Al-Qaida in Iraq. (Abdul-Ahad 2013) The media has played a huge role in the Syrian civil war.  At the outset Anonymous and the splinter group Revolutionsec was using social media to help organize and educate protestors about how to successfully resist government crowd dispersal tactics. (Crypt0nymous 2012)  More recently, mainstream media has gathered world support against Bashir’s use of chemical weapons against its citizenry. (Kaphle 2014)

The more recent revolution in Ukraine was sparked by the Ukrainian president Yanukovych’s abandonment of an agreement strengthening ties to the European Union.  Instead Yanukovych wanted to intensify the relationship with Moscow and Russan President Putin.  Protestors wanted closer ties to the EU, and the President cracked down hard on them escalating the peaceful protest into full on riots.  (Associated Press 2014)  The media played a role here as well.  Gathering western support for the protestors and putting pressure on the Ukrainian President to resign, which is what ultimately occurred Friday, February 21st.  Not before drawing up plans to kill the protestors by the thousands.  (Reuters 2104)



Abdul-Ahad, Ghaith. (2013). “Syria is Not a Revolution Anymore-This is Civil War”.  Retrieved from

Associated Press. (2014). “Timeline of Key Events in Ukraine Protests”. Retrieved fromhttp://www.boston.com/news/world/europe/2014/02/20/timeline-key-events-ukraine-protests/33EvWQUtK9kE70pisaXUCM/story.html

Crypt0nymous. (2012). “Anonymous-#Operation Syria”.  Retrieved from

Iaccino, Ludovica. (2014). “Syria Conflict Timeline: 34 Months of Civil War”. Retrieved fromhttp://www.ibtimes.co.uk/syria-conflict-timeline-34-months-civil-war-1433301http://www.ibtimes.co.uk/syria-conflict-timeline-34-months-civil-war-1433301

Kaphle, Anup.(2014).  “Timeline: Unrest in Syria”. Retrieved from

Reuters (2014). “Viktor Yanukovych Was Ready to ‘Use Troops to Crush Ukraine Protrests'”. Retrieved from




code acad part 1


Python Code Academy

School, STEM


PayScale, Inc. (2014). [Chart showing the top 10  college majors by salary potential]. Top 10 Majors by Salary Potential. Retrieved from http://www.payscale.com/college-salary-report-2014/majors-that-pay-you-back

PayScale, Inc. (2014). [Chart showing the top 10 college majors by salary potential]. Top 10 Majors by Salary Potential. Retrieved from http://www.payscale.com/college-salary-report-2014/majors-that-pay-you-back

STEM stands for science, technology, engineering and math. According to most news reports and quite a few of my professors, there is a shortage of these kinds of workers in America. In part this is due to these subjects being known as more difficult, work intensive subjects. I can attest to that as I am majoring in computer science. My first programming class started with 22 students, 5 of us took the final. My first calculus class was much the same, 28 started 8 took the final. The fact that these aren’t generally popular majors combined with the difficulty of work that makes the retention rate of some classes as low as 10% explains the shortage of qualified STEM workers.

The shortage though has turned out to be great for the pay and benefits of STEM workers. According to the chart shown at payscale.com, all of the top 10 highest paying majors are STEM majors. The chart is based on 1,000 colleges and the statistics are from bachelors holders with no further education. The lowest entry level pay for the top 10 is in physics with an average starting salary of $50,000. All of these top 10 average over $100,000 a year after 15 years experience. I’m in one of the best jobs I’ve ever had and I’m grossing $30,000 a year. That is way more than I know what to do with. 40 of the top 50 on payscale.com are STEM degrees, and many of the 10 that aren’t have a huge amount of math involved. Any aspect of STEM definitely seems like it would pay off as a major.

I did my research before I went back to school and I wanted to make sure the degree I got was going to pay for the loans I would need to take out to pa for classes. A STEM degree was a no brainer.