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.
Grab the entire list as a Readlist.
On Douglas Hofstadter
James Somers profiles Douglas Hofstadter, the man known for Gödel Escher Bach, and his quest to understand how humans think.
The Atlantic: James Somers - The Man Who Would Teach Machines to Think
Hofstadter wanted to ask: Why conquer a task if there’s no insight to be had from the victory? “Okay,” he says, “Deep Blue plays very good chess—so what? Does that tell you something about how we play chess? No. Does it tell you about how Kasparov envisions, understands a chessboard?” A brand of AI that didn’t try to answer such questions—however impressive it might have been—was, in Hofstadter’s mind, a diversion.
On indie horror
Amy Nicholson looks at the new crop of filmmakers creating the next wave of low-budget, indie horror movies.
LA Weekly: Amy Nicholson - Mumblegore
“This is the new drive-in era,” says Devin Faraci, editor in chief of BadassDigest.com. “Kids just need something to make out to, and the easiest stuff to make and sell is going to be horror. It goes back to the way that weird, old exploitation movies used to happen. There’d be the money guy who would say, ‘We want to make a movie. It’s going to be called 10,000 Virgins Go to Hell. You have seven days to do it, I need seven tits and two decapitations for the trailer — go.’ And then the guy who made it would put whatever he wanted in between those tits and the decapitations, and we’d get some really weird, arty and strange films.”
Johsua Rothman writes about the strange history of storage company Iron Mountain.
The New Yorker: Joshua Rothman - The many lives of Iron Mountain
Knaust moved into the storage business only when, after the Second World War, American mushroom growers started losing ground to scrappy competitors from Europe and Asia. He brought a flair for publicity to his new company, which he called Iron Mountain Atomic Storage. Knaust purchased the twenty-eight-ton bank-vault door from a bankrupt bank in Ohio—he paid a dollar for the door, and twenty thousand to ship it—because he thought it gave the mine a Fort Knox atmosphere. He hired a dozen ex-cops, armed them with Colt .45s, and stationed them as guards. He put in an underground generator because, he told the Wall Street Journal, “If we got into an atomic war, we might need that power.”
Tom Simonite reports on Wikipedia's shrinking base of editors and contributors, and how the Wikimedia Foundation is trying to fix it.
MIT Technology Review: Tom Simonite - The Decline of Wikipedia
The volunteer workforce that built the project’s flagship, the English-language Wikipedia—and must defend it against vandalism, hoaxes, and manipulation—has shrunk by more than a third since 2007 and is still shrinking. Those participants left seem incapable of fixing the flaws that keep Wikipedia from becoming a high-quality encyclopedia by any standard, including the project’s own. Among the significant problems that aren’t getting resolved is the site’s skewed coverage: its entries on Pokemon and female porn stars are comprehensive, but its pages on female novelists or places in sub-Saharan Africa are sketchy. Authoritative entries remain elusive.
On disaster response
About a year after Hurricane Sandy pummeled the northeast, Robert Sullivan describes how New York City's M.T.A. protected and fixed a century-old transit system.
The New York Times Magazine: Robert Sullivan - Could New York City Subways Survive Another Hurricane?
The area was a lake, the subway stairs at the South Ferry entrance a small cascade. As Leader was imagining all-new worst cases in his head, another engineer shouted at him. “He said to me, ‘I just got a call from Con Ed, and there’s like a 26-foot surge or wave that’s coming into the bay that they got alerted of, and they are shutting down the 14th Street plant.’ And before we could absorb that, we could see power shutting down in the city. So that was a moment when you started to say, ‘Oh [expletive].’ ”
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