1. As many of you probably know, this week my EECS colleague Hal Abelson released his 180-page report on MIT’s involvement in the Aaron Swartz case. I read the whole thing, and I recommend it if you have any interest in the case. My take is that, far from being the “whitewash” that some people described it as, the report (if you delve into it) clearly and eloquently explains how MIT failed to live up to its own standards, even as it formally followed the rules. The central insight here is that the world expects MIT to behave, not like some other organization would behave if someone hid a laptop in its supply closet to download the whole JSTOR database, insulted and then tried to flee from its security officers when questioned, etc. etc., but rather with perspective and imagination—worrying less about the security of its facilities than about the future of the world. People expect MIT, of all places, to realize that the sorts of people who pull these sorts of shenanigans in their twenties sometimes become Steve Jobs or Richard Feynman (or for that matter, MIT professor Robert Morris) later in their lives, and therefore to speak up in their defense. In retrospect, I wish Swartz’s arrest had sparked a debate about the wider issues among MIT’s students, faculty, and staff. I think it’s likely that such a debate would have led to pressure on the administration to issue a statement in Swartz’s support. As it was (and as I pointed out in this interview), most people at MIT, even if they’d read about the arrest, weren’t even aware of the issue’s continued existence, let alone of MIT’s continued role in it, until after Swartz had already committed suicide. For the MIT community—which includes some prominent supporters of open access—to have played such a passive role is one of the many tragedies that’s obvious with hindsight.
2. Shafi Goldwasser has asked me to announce that the fifth Innovations in Theoretical Computer Science (ITCS) conference will be held in Princeton, a town technically in New Jersey, on January 12-14, 2014. Here’s the conference website; if you want to submit a paper, the deadline is coming up soon, on Thursday, August 22.
3. As the summer winds to a close, I’m proud to announce my main goals for the upcoming academic year. Those goals are the following:
(a) Take care of Lily.
(b) Finish writing up old papers.
It feels liberating to have no higher aspirations for an entire year—and for the aspirations I have to seem so modest and so achievable. On the other hand, it will be all the more embarrassing if I fail to achieve even these goals.