Daniel Mark Lewin (1970-2001) was born in Denver, Colorado. He spent his early childhood there, playing sports and the violin, and programming his first Apple II computer when he was just nine years old. His family made aliyah to Israel when he was 14. Living near Jerusalem, Lewin found school of little challenge and often skipped class to work out at a gym. It wasn’t long before he won the Mr. Teenage Israel bodybuilding competition. Not surprisingly, he joined the IDF’s elite Sayeret Matkal commando unit. After four years as an officer – attaining the rank of captain – Lewin went to study at Technion, while also working for IBM. From there, he got a full scholarship to MIT and studied towards a PhD in computer science. During this time, he came up with a new algorithm that had the potential to revolutionize the nascent internet. Others didn’t see it that way, and felt his concept wouldn’t go very far. Despite the opposition, he teamed up with one of his professors and started a new company, Akamai Technologies. In March of 1999, a series of events caused a surge in internet activity that crashed many websites. It appeared that only the sites served by Akamai had survived. Akamai Technologies became an overnight sensation. A successful IPO shortly after made Lewin a billionaire. On September 11, 2001, Lewin boarded American Airlines flight 11. According to air traffic control recordings, Lewin attacked two of the terrorists on board, but was surprised by a third knife-wielding terrorist from behind. He was killed about 30 minutes before the plane struck the North Tower of the World Trade Center. Lewin therefore carries the tragic distinction of being the first victim of 9/11. He left behind a wife and two small children. At just 31 years of age, he was expected to make big waves, with some predicting he could have become an Israeli prime minister (like fellow Sayeret Matkal graduates Barak and Netanyahu), or one of the world’s true tech titans. His Akamai Technologies is still a multi-billion dollar internet giant today. In his honour, Cambridge, Massachusetts has a Danny Lewin Square and Park, and the annual award for best student paper on computing is named after him, too.
Words of the Week
Long after we have forgiven you for killing our sons, we will be working to forgive you for turning our sons into killers. – Golda Meir
The son of a software company owner, Aaron Swartz (1986-2013) grew up immersed in computer programming. At 13, he won the ArtsDigita Prize, awarded to websites deemed most useful and educational. At just 14, he was part of the team that developed RSS, the now-ubiquitous web syndication tool. Shortly after, he worked for W3C, the World Wide Web Consortium, where he authored RFC 3870, a program for web resource management that is part of the complex framework of the web that very few understand (and less appreciate). After trying Stanford University for a year, Swartz left to start the wiki-site called Infogami. It later merged with Reddit, and Swartz elevated Reddit to one of the world’s most popular social news sites, with millions of visitors every month. Reddit has also become well-known for being a platform to quickly raise awareness (and funds) for important causes around the world.
Swartz was angered by the steady destruction of online freedoms, and focused his attention on fighting back. His work made him a champion of online freedom. He helped defeat the SOPA bill, and through his online hacks and activities, became the face of the “open access” movement. However, this activity got him into hot water. After downloading articles from JSTOR to the point of crashing their servers, Swartz was arrested and put on trial. The allegations were silly, The New York Times reporting “A respected Harvard researcher who also is an Internet folk hero has been arrested in Boston on charges related to computer hacking, which are based on allegations that he downloaded articles that he was entitled to get free.” The prosecutors wanted to make Swartz an example, and pushed unjustly harsh penalties including up to 35 years in prison and $1 million in fines. Tragically, unable to cope with the legal onslaught, Swartz took his own life last week; found dead in his Brooklyn apartment at the young age of 26.
Words of the Week
A nation of sheep will beget a government of wolves. – Edward R. Murrow