Friday Reading #8

Last weekend a 26 year old took his own life. I did not know him and I was not familiar with his work but plenty of people did know him and they have written some wonderful things about him that made me wish I did. His name was Aaron Swartz.

‘When I was a kid, I thought a lot about what made me different from the other kids. I don’t think I was smarter than them and I certainly wasn’t more talented. And I definitely can’t claim I was a harder worker — I’ve never worked particularly hard, I’ve always just tried doing things I find fun. Instead, what I concluded was that I was more curious — but not because I had been born that way. If you watch little kids, they are intensely curious, always exploring and trying to figure out how things work. The problem is that school drives all that curiosity out. Instead of letting you explore things for yourself, it tells you that you have to read these particular books and answer these particular questions. And if you try to do something else instead, you’ll get in trouble. Very few people’s curiosity can survive that. But, due to some accident, mine did. I kept being curious and just followed my curiosity.’

Wise words to live by from a 26 year old. He was facing 35 years in jeal for the heinous crime of downloading academic journals and publishing them on the web. He was setting knowledge free. Some things are very broken in this world.


Prosecutor as Bully

“Aaron had literally done nothing in his life “to make money.” He was fortunate Reddit turned out as it did, but from his work building the RSS standard, to his work architecting Creative Commons, to his work liberating public records, to his work building a free public library, to his work supporting Change Congress/FixCongressFirst/Rootstrikers, and then Demand Progress, Aaron was always and only working for (at least his conception of) the public good. He was brilliant, and funny. A kid genius. A soul, a conscience, the source of a question I have asked myself a million times: What would Aaron think? That person is gone today, driven to the edge by what a decent society would only call bullying. I get wrong. But I also get proportionality. And if you don’t get both, you don’t deserve to have the power of the United States government behind you.”


Why companies fail – the rise and fall of HMV

“For some time we had felt the tides of change coming for HMV and here was our perfect opportunity to unambiguously say what we felt. The relevant chart went up and I said, “The three greatest threats to HMV are, online retailers, downloadable music and supermarkets discounting loss leader product”. Suddenly I realised the MD had stopped the meeting and was visibly angry. “I have never heard such rubbish”, he said, “I accept that supermarkets are a thorn in our side but not for the serious music, games or film buyer and as for the other two, I don’t ever see them being a real threat, downloadable music is just a fad and people will always want the atmosphere and experience of a music store rather than online shopping”.”


Senior Management and the web. A lost cause?

“I certainly feel his pain and associate with his frustration. What is more, I know we are not alone. Most web teams working within large organisations are frustrated by how out of touch their superiors are and how little they value the web. However, moaning about the problem does not solve it. Surely there must be a way to help senior managers “get it.” After all it is not there fault. Senior management tends to be from a pre-web generation that has only come online grudgingly and often doesn’t feel overly comfortable with technology.”


Santander and Barclays Bank disclose the value of the customer experience

“By not thinking through the joining process Barclays made the already cumbersome online banking process even harder.  By allowing the job of online security swamp my need to easily/quickly access my account Barclays made it hard for me to access the core service that I had hired Barclays to provide.  By making it harder Barclays forced me to use the more costly Customer Services (call-centre) channel that I did not want to use.  So a poorly designed customer experience drove up costs for me (time and effort) and costs for Barclays (unnecessary calls coming into the call centres).”


Official – Much Modern Innovation Isn’t

“What the BBC article points out is that the problem with this ‘short-term intellectual gratification’ model of Innovation is that despite an illusion of progress every year, there is an inevitable “decrease in returns”, as continuously imptroving the existing will reach a point of no further benefit. People like Capecchi “look like they are failing” – until of course they succeed and hit the new idea, As the BBC points out, some researchers never do hit the new things all their lives, but the piece shows that places that do follow the harder path, and go after radical Innovation, despite not being able to show a year on year progress, are the ones that hit the home runs – and measured over a longer timeframe of several decades, that is what makes all the difference – they are the more effective.”


Case Study: Pro-active Log Review Might Be A Good Idea

“As it turns out, Bob had simply outsourced his own job to a Chinese consulting firm. Bob spent less that one fifth of his six-figure salary for a Chinese firm to do his job for him. Authentication was no problem, he physically FedExed his RSA token to China so that the third-party contractor could log-in under his credentials during the workday.”


The Panasonic Toughbook Conference

“Like most journalists everywhere, I am hungover.

I am sat in the basement of a hotel on the outskirts of Munich; the sort of hotel that must have sprung up fully-formed overnight, a massive swelling of glittering commerce emerging from the abandoned building sites and car parks and motorways that ring the city.

I am here for the launch of a new tablet. Panasonic are launching a new tablet computer for the business market. I am not a tech journalist. I have never done this before. I don’t know what’s going on.”


Not content with copying Martin Belam‘s excellent Friday Reading post, which he has now seemingly stopped, I have decided to also flatteringly immitate (rippoff) Roo Reynolds and his weekly letter i.e. You can now subscribe to these posts via email (assuming I have set it up correctly). You can also download the articles in a handy reading device friendly format.

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