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BEST OF THE WEB: The myth of the paperless city

It’s become a 21st century dream for a business to go paperless. Stationery costs make up a huge amount of a company’s budget, and getting rid of that in favour of a digital solution would be not only a cost saver, but more convenient for everyone involved.

The City of Chicago tried to implement this strategy – and failed. This story over at The Verge chronicles how and why the experiment went sour.

When Rahm Emanuel became the city’s mayor in 2011, he asked constituents what he should do to clean up the city. One man, community organiser and political consultant Kyle Hillman, suggested the city should digitise itself.

“Set a goal to go completely paperless by 2015 in every department and every aspect of city government,” he wrote.

There was plenty of argument on this side, with Hillman citing a 2010 study showing that a million tons of the city’s garbage production – about a third – came from paper.

Going digital sounds great. But of course, there are problems, as an historian working at the city’s archives, John Reinhardt, points out. He represents a group of people – archivists – who have a problem with digitising documents.

One problem is the fact technology continually changes.

“The last 20 years, we’ve gone from those huge 5 1/4-inch floppy disks to the small floppies to CDs to DVDs to thumb drives. And if you’re not continually migrating all of this information to a format that’s usable, at some point you’re not going to be able to use it.”

As it turns out, paper can often just be easier to use – that’s the argument used by many, including Abigail Sellen and Richard Harper in their book, The Myth of the Paperless Office.

The other problem here is the cost benefit. It’s not immediate, they appear over time.

“You'd be naive to think that there's not going to be some initial expense involved in going paperless,” Kyle Hillman admits. “But you're not just talking about saving money on paper. You’re looking at secondary costs, storage, printing, transporting, technology failure. When you look at the long term cost, it’s clear you're saving money by reducing reliance on paper.”

Ultimately, Hillman says, “you need a paradigm shift”.

“You have entire departments — the fire department, the Department of Revenue — that run with their paper. This is how they do things. So when you shift to a paperless government, you have major staffing changes. You have people saying, ‘Well this is not how we do this.’ So that’s going to be the biggest hangup.”

Paperless offices sound great. But, for now, they may just be out of reach.

Catching a digital criminal

In December 2011, the hacker known as “sup_g” thought he was invincible. He and his group of fellow hackers were targeting an intelligence company called Strategic Forecasting – known to supply information to the US federal government.

Sup_g had been able to gain access to the company’s infrastructure, and found a treasure trove of information including passwords and credit card data, along with incredibly confidential client lists.

He had worked with this group for weeks to gain access. But it didn’t last long – in March 2012, a dozen officers broke into his house and arrested one Jeremy Hammond, believed to be the man behind the sup_g name.

Now he’s in prison.

This story in Rolling Stone is a fascinating look at one of the world’s most powerful cyber-criminals. With an IQ of 168, Hammond is incredibly intelligent and devoured books. But what’s even more interesting is that he was dragged into hacking while on probation for other illegal activities.

In June 2011 he joined a splinter group of Anonymous known as Antisec, and started using the group’s name to promote radical left-wing causes – he apparently rubbed fellow hackers the wrong way when he advocated the killing of police officers.

Even more interesting is a description of how Anonymous members work together.

"He gave very little personal information, was very adamant, even in private chats, about keeping stuff locked down until it was meant to be public – if it was ever meant to be public,” one said.

The story is a fascinating and extensive insight into the hacking community. Ultimately, Hammond’s story is ongoing – he was denied bail last month by a Manhattan judge.

Not that Anonymous cared. It responded to that verdict by releasing personal documents relating to the judge and her husband, which revealed some connections to Strategic Forecasting – obviously raising questions about the judge’s appointment.

Hammond’s attorneys responded thusly:

"This personal connection to the damage allegedly inflicted by Mr. Hammond is more than enough to raise the possibility in the mind of an objective observer that this Court could not possibly be impartial in this case."

The big tech stories of the year

It’s been a huge year in technology, with advances and controversies from minor to global. What better time to sit back and look at the stories that made the year?

Over at The Atlantic, the publication has put together a list of some of the biggest stories of the year.

One key point to note is that this year wasn’t like 2011, where a few stories dominated the entire year, but as The Atlantic points out, there were several: the arrival of more tablets, SOPA in the United States, and how the use of big data helped win Obama an election.

This is a good time to reflect on the year that was. Check out some of 2012’s biggest tech stories – who knows, you may learn something.

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