Aaron Swartz took his own life on the 11th of January. Like most hackers of my generation, I knew who he was and took a keen but passing interest in his work and his writing. I’m sad he died because he was a virtuous, selfless hacker, endlessly working on big things to make everyone else’s lives better, not his own.

It’s made me have a think about what I do with my truly spare hacker time. I have tattoos on my arms, words written in an old Aramaic script. Only those closest to me know the literal words, but the message is, “don’t waste your life, Rys, because there’s nothing else after you die”.

I try my best to live by the message. If I catch myself procrastinating, more often than not I’ll glance at my arms and see a permanent reminder to give it a rest and get back to work, no matter what that work is.

Reflecting, the thing I find hardest to achieve in life, when working on those things in my spare time that I’m passionate about, is momentum. I have these bursts of activity on things, but they truly are just bursts. Frenzied activity, programming or designing or whatever at a pace I used to have in my early 20s, followed by longer lulls where I do precious little.

The graph of activity over time would look like what I imagine a dying person’s last heartbeats to be: erratic, peaky and with too long between them.

If there’s one good thing I take from Aaron’s passing, it’s that his momentum when working on his passions is an inspiration, something else to add to the message of my tattoos to help me keep my own momentum up and change the shape of that graph.