The Crime of Downloading Academic Articles

Aaron_swartz-660x440 Thanks to Henry, I've just learned that Aaron Swartz has been arrested for hacking into JSTOR and downloading a ton of articles. According to Wired, if convicted, Swartz faces up to 35 years in prison and a $1 million fine.

The grand jury indictment accuses Swartz of evading MIT’s attempts to kick his laptop off the network while downloading more than four million documents from JSTOR, a non-for-profit company that provides searchable, digitized copies of academic journals. The scraping, which took place from September 2010 to January 2011 via MIT’s network, was invasive enough to bring down JSTOR’s servers on several occasions.

Swartz is a co-founder of Reddit and is 24 years old. 

Henry writes in the comment section, 

There is a lot of messy debate here that is ready to explode. I wouldn’t be surprised if one of the reasons that JSTOR didn’t want to go ahead with this was precisely because it feared having a cause celebre, with an articulate, intellectually attractive and selfless defendant, explode out of it. And I confidently predict that there is going to be one very unhappy prosecutor who has no idea of the major political shitstorm that she is kicking up by doing this. Aaron is very rightly beloved by a whole lot of people – he’s spent the last several years providing unpaid help for a variety of good causes.

I have to think that one or two of the authors whose papers were downloaded are secretly happy that someone read their papers. 


News Corp. – A New Corpse

08profile-articleLarge I was just playing around with ideas for a title about Rupert Murdoch. As usual, I was typing too fast and wrote "New Corpse," instead of "News Corp." It's kinda fitting, so I left it. 

Today, Murdoch went before Parliament to answer questions about his knowledge of the phone tapping scandal by one of his papers, the News of the World. During his testimony, someone tried to attack him

I'm enjoying this scandal as much as the next person, for a number of reasons. 

Rebekah Brooks is a fascinating person (with very nice hair). She seems to have a habit of leaving her bags about and to have a very loose idea about journalistic integrity. This is my favorite Brooks story:

On another occasion in her early days, furious that the paper was about to be scooped by The Sunday Times’s serialization of a biography of Prince Charles, Ms. Brooks disguised herself as a Times cleaning woman and hid for two hours in a bathroom, according to Mr. Morgan. When the presses started rolling, she ran over, grabbed a newly printed copy of The Sunday Times, and brought it back to The News of the World — which proceeded to use the material, verbatim, in its own paper the next day.

The rich dinosaur with the media empire and a family dynasty angle is pulp fiction material. 

This story is so horrifically awful — phone tapping on the 9/11 victims!! — that the villains are unambiguously villains. The only question may be about whether the Murdoch knew about the phone taps. 

It will take some time to answer some bigger picture questions. Has the mainstream press been forced to resort to these desperate measures, because of competition with online news sources and financial pressures due to a dwindling audience? What will be the long term costs of this scandal on the broader News Corp industry and the newspaper industry in general?

Will News Corp be the next media corpse?

Social Networking Status

Yesterday afternoon, I started to panic. Jonah's stomach bus wouldn't quit. After six days of fluids shooting out of both ends, he was very weak. I worried that he was dehydrated or that he had picked up malaria during our vacation to tropical Cape Cod. I took him to the emergency room.

The doctor took blood and urine samples. After an hour, he returned to say that Jonah was fine. He had a super bad stomach virus. And, by the way, he has a heart murmur. 

What???? I did a little googling on my iPhone and learned that 30-50% of kids have benign heart murmurs. No big deal. We just need to do a couple of tests to monitor the situation, but it shouldn't affect him at all. 

So, I guess I was moderately alarmed at the news, but not all out freaking out. After I talked to my mom and Steve about the situation, I tweeted this information. 

Later, I thought about it. Was that really bizarre? I took a snippet of personal information and put it out on the web. I didn't even put it on Facebook, because many of my Facebook friends have my home phone number and I didn't feel like having hour long conversations about it. I wanted to talk about it, but very briefly, so I put it on Twitter. 

The New Yorker profiled Jaron Lanier in the July 11th edition. Lanier, who has written a number of popular video games, says that social networking harms real friendships. I know. Not ground-breaking. You know, there is a very low threshhold for technology gurus, aka "visionaries." Honestly, computer programmers should not be giving anyone advice on social interactions with friends and community. 

There may be people who have substituted social networking for real friendships, but they are very small in number and were never the sharpest tools in the drawer any way. 

Most people aren't confusing social networking with traditional friendships. They use Twitter and Facebook for branding, bursts of communication, a cathartic release, work-style networking. Maybe they use it to reconnect with old friends or for distributing kiddie pictures. 

I have almost stopped using Facebook entirely, because I can't write a status that is appropriate for my mother-in-law, the guy who sat next to me in sophomore English class, and my sarcastic neighbor. There are too many worlds colliding on Facebook, so I walk away exhausted. Twitter is simpler, because it's mostly my blog friends. (Hi everyone!) I don't have to filter myself. 

While I don't think that anyone has substituted real friends for fake friends on Twitter and Facebook, blogs are a different story. I have developed real friendships with people that I've met through the blogs. I have playdates with their kids. We have drinks. We meet up at conferences. Just got an invitation to a barbecue in Montclair with a friend that I've met through blogging. And, sadly, had to back out of plans for drinks with another blog friend a couple of weeks ago. 

Perhaps, blogging is the ultimate social network. 

Chaos Continues

I would really, really love to have the time to read the links on my Twitter feed and unfold my New York Times, instead of just dumping it, untouched, into the recycle pile. Maybe later.

On Tuesday night, Jonah's Boy Scout camp called. Jonah was at a week long overnight camp at the Delaware Water Gap – his first overnight camp experience. Well, on Monday night, Jonah came down with Ian's stomach virus. In the middle of the night, he threw up a spaghetti dinner all over his tent and passed out. When he and his roommate woke up in the morning, they were surprised to find puke everywhere. Jonah's tentmate did not take this news very magnanimously. 

All day Tuesday, Jonah tried to tough it out in the 90 degree heat, but kept returning to the infirmary to puke. By 7:00, the camp director decided it was time to go home. After a long day at work, Steve drove a couple hours away to get him. I've never seen a kid so happy to be home. 

After sixteen trips to the bathroom on Wednesday morning, I hauled Jonah out of the house and went to my mom's, because we had the inspector in our house. Then came about hundred phone calls with stupid questions.  Not a fan of that inspector. 

In five minutes, I have an IEP meeting at Ian's school. I'll break the news to the case manager that we moving out. I'm sure that she and the other school administrators will do a little jig when they hear that we're moving. My kid is expensive, and he lowers the standardized test scores. And our new town will be pissed off that we're arriving on their doorstep. Fuckers. 

A New Theory of Poverty: The Overtaxed Brain

Between a vacation and house selling, I've been in a bubble for a weeks and am just starting to emerge. Some of the following posts may not be the most timely. Oh, well. You know, it is really sad that information becomes stale after two weeks. 

I know that David Brooks has been writing some good stuff this month, because my Facebook friends have been furiously linking to them. I'm finally getting around to reading his last month's columns.

Last week, Brooks wrote about a new theory of poverty coming out of Harvard using behavioral research.

There are two traditional understandings about why poor people are poor. The first theory is that poor people are poor, because they are lazy and they would rather collect welfare than find a job. The second theory is that people are poor, because they grow up in a culture of poverty. They grew up in isolated and stressed families, and the bad habits of the mom are passed on to the child. 

Brooks describes the research of Eldar Shafir of Princeton and Sendhil Mullainathan of Harvard, which has created a whole new explanation for poverty. Shafir and Mullainathan believed that scarcity produces its own cognitive traits.

A quick question: What is the starting taxi fare in your city? If you are like most upper-middle-class people, you don’t know. If you are like many struggling people, you do know. Poorer people have to think hard about a million things that affluent people don’t. They have to make complicated trade-offs when buying a carton of milk: If I buy milk, I can’t afford orange juice. They have to decide which utility not to pay.

These questions impose enormous cognitive demands. The brain has limited capacities. If you increase demands on one sort of question, it performs less well on other sorts of questions.

So, people are poor, because they need to keep track of all sorts of stupid shit that you and I don't have to deal with. Because they must use up brain space remembering that beans are on sale, then they can't remember to do the bigger stuff that would actually help them get out of poverty. 

I like this theory in some ways. Because I remember the dumb shit, like birthday presents and shopping lists, Steve doesn't have to keep track of that stuff. He has the brain capacity to figure out mortgage rates and refinancing and all sorts of stuff that actually leads to a bigger financial return. The dumb shit in life really does wear you down.

When you're poor, you're not only keeping track of dumb shit, like I do, but you're also making tough and depressing decisions. If you haven't paid your phone bill, then you're not much in the mood to study for GEDs.  

On the other hand, I know some extremely poor grad students and writers who do actually produce books and dissertations, despite their poverty. Maybe they aren't poor enough to count. 

Weekend Journal – Moving Edition (Part Four)

We arrived at Town B at around 1:00. Town B was our first choice of towns. For Bergen County, it is quite big and has an extremely diverse population from contractors to Hollywood celebrities. The schools are top notch. We have friends in the town already. Steve's commute into the city would stay the same. We had tried to move to Town B when we first were looking for a home seven years ago, but couldn't afford it. 

We looked at a short sale with an underground oil tank, a charming tudor that was too small, and then ended up at another split level.

This split level was quite large. It had been expanded twice and, because the woman was an artist, there were sky lights everywhere. One of the family rooms was her art studio. Yeah, one of the family rooms. The house has a living room and two family rooms. We presently own one sofa and one arm chair. Three bathrooms! A walk-in closet! This is way too much luxury for me. I used to live an apartment with cockroaches in the kitchen and an illegal washing machine that vibrated across the floor. 

The house was in pristine condition for the most part. The kitchen was dated, but had high end, new appliances and was solidly built. Lots of built in bookcases. The place had good karma. The backyard wasn't huge, but it was big enough for us. 

The owners were retiring and moving to their second home. They could be out of the house at any time. The house had been on the market for three months, and the price had come down by a huge number.

At 9:00 that night, we signed a contract with a bid. As the agent left our house, I confessed that I was freaking out. I don't usually make life altering decisions in one afternoon. Before I buy a sweater, I go to three stores to compare prices. This happened way too fast for me. 

Between nursing Ian who was still puking, but with better aim now, and the demons of doubt, I couldn't sleep that night. Were we making the right decision? This decision would have a huge impact on my children. Would they make friends? Would they adjust? Would this afternoon decision put them on an entirely different path in life? Would it be a better path? Jonah is now Top Banana in his school. All the teachers know him. He's the captain of the Lego League and a starting player on his travel soccer team. Would he hate us for making him start all over again? 

Well, the die has been cast. Our bid was accepted. A new mortgage was approved. Next comes the home inspection step. Three families' lives are in the balance for the next six weeks: our hotel living buyers, us, and the 80-year old retired couple. 

Steve and I have taken turns freaking out. Right now, it's his turn. I'm calming down and picking out paint colors. (I'm thinking neutrals with cool colors. Furniture will be modern. Like this.)

Weekend Journal – Moving Edition (Part Three)

Thursday night, at 2 in the morning, Ian vomited. Ian vomited on his bed. On the rug in the hallway. And about one foot away from the toilet. Ian would continue to vomit for five days. 

On Friday, as Ian watched TV downstairs, I spent five hours making a list of all the houses that we wanted to see. And because it's no secret that I'm very neurotic, I did research on every houses using Zillow, Realtor.Com, and NJMLS. I wrote down notes on every house, including pros and and cons. I found out taxes, the time on the market, proximity to the center of town , original asking price, etc… I suppose that I did the work that an agent should do, but whatever. I like control. 

The agent looked through my list and crossed off a few and added one or two of her own. Then she made appointments. 

Steve, my dad, and I started off at 11:00. I left the puking kid and the increasingly suspicious and stressed out 12-year old with my mom. My mom packed up a sandwich and a coke for my dad. We started off at Town A. Town A is a super small community with no downtown. It has excellent schools with a range of middle class to super rich families. I think a few New York Giants live there. The agent had us look at three split levels in a 60s development. 

When we put the house on the market, I told the agent that I wanted a funky, older home. I didn't want a split level, because, really, I don't want to live in the suburbs at all. I want to pretend that I'm living in Brooklyn, but with a driveway and a washing machine. It's very hard to pretend that you live in Brooklyn, when you're in a split level. 

However, the older homes that were on the market that Saturday were either ready for the bulldozer or were way too expensive. The homes that were available that Saturday in our price range were split levels. We looked at one older home, but when we heard that it had an underground oil tank, we made a sharp U-turn out of the house.

The agent urged me not to buy one of those wrecks with the nice details. "They need so much work, Laura. You'll have to keep putting more and more money into it. I know you like them. Well, you have good taste in men." 

We looked at three split levels in Town A. Two were homes that I had chosen. She threw in a really bad one with a leaky basement in order to make the other two homes look better. Then we drove to Town B. 

Weekend Journal – Moving Edition (Part Two)

Two days later, we received our first offer on the house. It was a low ball offer, especially since we had already lowered our price twice and for a considerable amount. But the worst part was that they wanted us out in four weeks. The family had relocated for business and the woman in the black SUV was living in a hotel for $5,000 per month with two kids, while her husband was out of town on business. 

Four weeks is an extremely tight turn around in normal times. It was an impossibility in our case, because we didn't have a house that we wanted. In fact, we had only really looked at four houses so far. Our agent hadn't shown us houses, because she didn't think our house would sell. I had spent hours every day looking at houses online, but not actual, real houses. 

So, now we had an offer on the table. The thought of selling the house and having no place to go — homeless with two children — made me vomit. The agent played hardball with the buyer. We went back and forth on the price and went up to a reasonable number. The move-in date was pushed back by two weeks. The new date was August 26th.

We signed a contract, after the agent assured us that the contract wasn't legally binding until after attorney review. (It took hours for the agent to convince Steve that this was kosher.) We would stall on the attorney review for three days to give us time to find a house. She said that we would spend all day Saturday looking at houses, until we found something suitable to move into. 

After she left the house with the contracts in hand, Steve and I privately agreed that Saturday was D Day. If we found a house, then we would move. If we didn't find a house, then the Era of Prolonged Misery would end; we would take the house off the market.

I estimated that there was a 5 percent chance that we would find a house in one day. 

Weekend Journal – Moving Edition (Part One)

For a variety of really good reasons, we decided to move last January. We called over our gravelly voiced realtor, who said that there was no way that we could sell the house until we fixed the front steps, the upstairs bathroom, and various rough edges in the house. She also told us to get rid of asbestos in the basement. 

I spent four months getting that done, and by April, we had our house on the market. 

The trouble was that the estimated price for the house in December was no longer right once the house went officially on the market. Home values took a nose dive in a couple of months. 

Then came the Era of Long Misery. The last three months have been uber-sucky. The realtor would text me – "House viewing in three hours? TY" So, I would drop whatever I was working on and furiously clean. The last fifteen minutes usually involved pulling the dirty clothes out of the open hamper in the bathroom and shoving them under the bed. Every bed was made. Every light was left on. No crumbs on the stove. Jewelry box hidden. Then I would drive around the town for half an hour until the people  left the house. 

And the uncertainty was a killer. We were never really sure that the house would sell at all. With all the foreclosures on the market and the proximity to the train station, selling our house was never a sure thing. After a month on the market, I assumed that we were staying and signed the kids up for the town soccer league and the town social skills class. We told friends not to worry, and we all pretended that there wasn't a sign on our front lawn. 

Then last week, the agent called to say that a couple wanted to come by for a second look at 5:15. It wasn't a great time to get kicked out of one's house. Jonah gets off his camp bus at 5  and that's when I start making dinner. But we rallied and ran out of the house at 5:15. As I yelled at Jonah to get in the car, I spotted a woman in a SUV down the block watching me from behind sunglasses. 

Jonah and I did chores for an hour. We picked up Ian from speech therapy and went to Fairway to grab a rotisserie chicken for dinner. At 6 :30, Steve called to say that he couldn't go home, because there was a pile of cars outside of the house. I picked him up from a bench in town. With the kids complaining of hunger, we drove around for an hour and got some pizza. At 7:30, we pulled onto our block, as the woman in the black SUV drove off. Five seconds of eye contact. 


For all his problems with speech and language, Ian loves playing with words. He loves foreign languages and finds misspellings very funny. He also loves creating his own words. Sometimes the words are a mash-up of things that he's picked up from his video games and cartoons. Sometimes he dreams them up on his own. 

Lately, his favorite word is "invisi-gal," which basically means invisible. I suspect there must be a superhero called Invisi-Gal on some PBS show, but I'm not sure. 

He loves using the word, invisi-gal, and will use it whenever he can. I'll come down to the basement and ask, "Ian, where's Jonah? Is he down in the basement with you?" Ian will cock his head, look me in the eyes, and say with a smirk, "No, he's invisi-gal." 

Yesterday, I ran around the house doing last minute chores before Ian's bus showed up. We had a full afternoon.  I had already made dinner for my kids and their cousins. I had packed up Ian's equipment for swimming. I left a note for Jonah to grab a slice of leftover pizza when he got off his camp bus. 

At 3:00, Ian's bus wasn't there. No big deal, I thought. It's the first week of summer school, and there was a new driver. At 3:15, no Ian. I called his school to find out if the busses had left on time. The secretary advised to be patient, because it was only Day 2 of summer school. At 3:30, no Ian. I called the bus company. The dispatcher put me on hold and made some calls. She said that Ian would be there in two minutes. At 3:45, Ian showed up. 

What happened? The bus driver forgot Ian was on the school bus. The school bus aide knew he was there, but didn't know the new bus route and couldn't communicate with the driver, because they don't speak the same language. So, the driver drove Ian all the way back to the bus depot before she realized that there was a kid still on the bus. 

The real nightmare of a special ed mom is that her child will be forgotten in a school bus. There are several children that have died in the back of overheated school busses in bus depots. We're very aware that this can happen at any time to our kids.

As I cried to the school district's bus manager this morning about this incident, she said that no harm had been done. He hadn't been left alone in bus parking lot and died of heat exhaustion. I explained to the bus manager that harm had been done. My kid wasn't a bag of potatoes that was simply being taken from point A to point B. He's a human being. He trusted adults and they let him down. 

I'm really shaken by this incident. My son was invisi-gal on the school bus.