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 Plants vs. Zombies
Chris Dahlen's concocted a delightful lie to keep his son from obsessing over Plants vs. Zombies.
Unwinnable: Chris Dahlen - Oceans Away!
Before I tell you the story of how I tricked and deceived my son, an innocent 7-year-old who trusts me with his life, his happiness and his dignity, let me first explain how much I hate Plants vs. Zombies. I cringe just typing the name. A clip of the music or a piece of the art is enough to make my gut shrink. I don’t blame the game, which is a perfectly great, smartphone-friendly tower defense title. I hate it because of my son.
David Auerbach digs into why understanding human language and Jeopardy questions prove so difficult for our silicon-based brethren, and how Amazon, Google, and others have dealt with these troubles of categorization and meaning.
n+1: David Auerbach - The Stupidity of Computers
IBM’s Watson supercomputer defeated two top Jeopardy! players last year, but for the clue "What grasshoppers eat," Watson answered: "Kosher." For all the data he could access within a fraction of a second—one of the greatest corpuses ever assembled—Watson looked awfully dumb.
Rob Walker profiles the "YouTubers" that are garnering millions of views on YouTube and building careers in the process.
The New York Times: Rob Walker - On YouTube, Amateur Is the New Pro
Busyness serves as a kind of existential reassurance, a hedge against emptiness; obviously your life cannot possibly be silly or trivial or meaningless if you are so busy, completely booked, in demand every hour of the day.
On the WELL
With news this week that the WELL is up for sale, Howard Rheingold remembers the nearly three-decade-old online community thriving long before the advent of Facebook and Twitter.
The Atlantic: Howard Rheingold - What the WELL's Rise and Fall Tell Us About Online Community
PLATO, Usenet, and BBSs all pre-dated the WELL. But what happened in this one particular online enclave in the 1980s had repercussions we would hardly have dreamed of when we started mixing online and face-to-face lives at WELL gatherings. Steve Case lurked on the WELL before he founded AOL and so did Craig Newmark, a decade before he started Craigslist.
On mining for viral
Adrien Chen explores the darker side of viral success on YouTube, bound to happen wherever there's cash to be made.
Viral Spiral attempts to monetize their clients' videos like a traditional agent might try to sell a screenwriter's Hollywood film project. The company employs a full-time researcher to scour the internet for the next lucrative viral hit, and they thought the bus monitor video might be it.
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.