Aaron Swartz’s suicide over the weekend is a tragedy. His death has affected many people very deeply, including many of my friends who were very close with Aaron.

Personally, I did not know Aaron well, but I regard him as an inspiration – as much for his quiet thoughtfulness and kindness as for his amazing achievements, intellect, projects, and democratic (small “d”) ideals.

I don’t have much to add to some of the heartfelt responses many people (including Cory Doctorow, Larry Lessig, and Matt Stoller) have posted elsewhere; however, as I have thought and read about Aaron over the past couple of days, I have decided that I want to commemorate his life and work through some concrete actions. Specifically, I have made some vows to myself about how I want to live, work, and relate to people in the future. Most of these vows are fundamentally democratic in spirit, which was part of what I find so inspiring about so much Aaron’s work. Not all of my commitments are coherent enough or sensible enough to list here, but I will put one out there as a public tribute to Aaron:

I will promote access to knowledge by ensuring that as much of my work as possible is always available at no cost and under minimally restrictive licenses that ensure ongoing access for as many people in as many forms as possible. I will also work to convince my colleagues, students, publishers, and elected or appointed representatives that they should embrace and promote a similar position.

This is a very small and inadequate act given the circumstances.


 Use ODF Today!

Liberate your documents today for Document Freedom Day. It’s a great time to make the switch away from software that only saves your files in proprietary formats. After all, you never know when that next software update might suddenly render all your old work “incompatible” with that shiny new word processor you just got.

Instead of risking the high costs and wasted time of converting those old files to the new proprietary format (that will probably screw up their formatting anyway), take the chance to learn about document formats that embrace open standards like ODF.

I liberated my own documents about two years ago and never looked back. These days, I use a combination of NeoOffice, TextEdit, and Google Docs to meet all of my office productivity needs.