We all know the feeling. You're sleepless in the sad hours of the night or stumbling around early on a hazy weekend morning in need of something to read, and that pile of unread books just isn't cutting it. Why not take a break from the fire hose of Twitter and RSS and check out our weekly roundup of essential writing from around the web about technology, culture, media, and the future? Sure, it's one more thing you can feel guilty about sitting in your Instapaper queue, but it's better than pulling in vain on your Twitter list again.
On making 'Madden'
Tom Bissell visits John Madden's California man cave to explore how the legendary sports franchise is made and its odd relationship with how we experience "real" football.
Grantland: Tom Bissell - Kickoff: Madden NFL and the Future of Video Game Sports
"David Hill, the president of Fox Sports at the time, had a meeting with a bunch of us, and he said, 'What we want to do is make our game on television look like the video game.'" Hill didn't have to say which video game he was referring to. The visible lines of scrimmage floating beneath players' feet? The forward-pointing yardage arrows? This is visual language drawn directly from Madden. How professional football is played from year to year is reflected in Madden, and how Madden is experienced is reflected in how professional football is watched. That cannot really be said about any other sports-game franchise.
On Neil deGrasse Tyson
Carl Zimmer profiles astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson in this month's Playboy, tracing his history from growing up in the Bronx to his upcoming remake of Cosmos, and exploring Tyson's efforts to revitalize science in America.
Carl Zimmer: Carl Zimmer - King of the Cosmos (A Profile of Neil deGrasse Tyson)
"Everything we know and love—electrons, protons, neutrons, light, black holes, planets, stars, everything we know and understand—occupies four percent of the universe. Dark matter and dark energy is everything else. So we’re just dumb—stupid about what’s driving this cosmos."
More isn't always more, especially when it comes to adapting 'The Great Gatsby' to 3-D — thanks, Baz Luhrmann — and Ta-Nehisi Coates considers whether advances in film technology can help capture F. Scott Fitzgerald's classic.
The Atlantic: Ta-Nehisi Coates - Supersizing 'The Great Gatsby'
I think this starts in the right place. Whereas much of Hollywood's big-budget work is plot-centric, Gatsby's plot is thin, its love story banal (that's the point,) and its magic rather subtle. It works marvelously on the level of character, and acting would have to be key. So I think Luhrmann has it right when he says the special effect is the actors.
On being the brand
Susannah recalls her experience of being the disembodied social voice of a billion dollar brand on Facebook and Twitter.
Forbes: Susannah Breslin - I Am the Facebook Whisperer
So, what was I good at? I had an undergraduate degree from U.C. Berkeley, a graduate degree in writing, and years of journalism experience, but, it turned out, my real gift, in this case, was pretending to be an inanimate object that, regardless of the fact that it had no hands or mouth, was able to talk to the world through its Facebook page.
On psychology and design
How is Facebook using behavioral economics to hook more advertisers? Just take a look at how different ways of thinking are integrated into the Timeline design.
Jeff DeChambeau: Jeff DeChambeau - Behavioral economics and facebook conspiracy theories
People recognize that advertising is about psychology, and the bible of psychological decision making was just published. Why wouldn’t these smart people try to use these new tools to make more money? Timeline is just awful, but these people are too smart and skilled to make something so bad accidentally.
On modern heroes
And a gem from McSweeney's to finish:
McSweeney's: Mike Lacher - In which I fix my girlfriend's grandparents' WiFi and am hailed as a conquering hero
The warrior closed his eyes, summoning the power of his ancestors, long departed but watchful still. And then with the echoing beep of his digital watch, he moved with deadly speed, wrapping his battle-hardened hands around the power cord at the back of the Router.
Have any favorites that you'd like to see included in next week's edition? Send them along to @thomashouston or share in the comments below.