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.
Dina Cappiello and Matt Apuzzo investigate the massive environmental impact on the land exacted by the United States' ethanol and green energy policies.
AP News: Dina Cappiello and Matt Apuzzo - The secret environmental cost of US ethanol policy
Five million acres of land set aside for conservation — more than Yellowstone, Everglades and Yosemite National Parks combined — have vanished on Obama's watch.
Landowners filled in wetlands. They plowed into pristine prairies, releasing carbon dioxide that had been locked in the soil.
On the Odón Device
Donald G. McNeil Jr. reports on inventor Jorge Odón's new birthing tool, an invention inspired by watching a YouTube video on removing a cork in a wine bottle.
The New York Times: Donald G. McNeil Jr. - Car Mechanic Dreams Up a Tool to Ease Births
Mr. Odón, 59, an Argentine car mechanic, built his first prototype in his kitchen, using a glass jar for a womb, his daughter’s doll for the trapped baby, and a fabric bag and sleeve sewn by his wife as his lifesaving device.
Unlikely as it seems, the idea that took shape on his counter has won the enthusiastic endorsement of the World Health Organization and major donors, and an American medical technology company has just licensed it for production.
On the chain letter
John Herrman writes about the new life of the chain letter on Facebook and sites like Upworthy and ViralNova.
FWD: John Herrman - How Internet Chain Letters Took Over The Media
At the fringes of the new chain-letter movement, however, is where you find the most explosive stories — where sentiment overpowers the concepts of fact and fiction. These manifest naturally as text-only Facebook image memes with inspirational sayings and powerful images reassigned, almost at random, a new, shareable frame of reference.
On the high life
Jason Fagone travels to Seattle's Hempfest to meet the "Willy Wonka of pot" DJ Short.
Grantland: Jason Fagone - The Willy Wonka of Pot
A few brave Internet commenters like to ask Short for growing tips, but most seem to keep a respectful and reverent distance. "I think many of us can agree DJ Short is quite iconic," one commenter wrote at thcfarmer.com in 2012. "But who the heck is this guy? Where does he live and what makes him tick? … Has he ever been interviewed? Is he still alive?" Another wrote in 2010, "As for who he is, I've looked everywhere … I dare not ask because I know better. From my research, he is to weed as Willy Wonka is to candy. Like Willy Wonka, he is hiding in his factory.
On Ryan Shapiro
Will Potter profiles Ryan Shapiro, a MIT PhD student who has developed a novel and effective approach to FOIA requests.
Mother Jones: Will Potter - Meet the Punk Rocker Who Can Liberate Your FBI File
Bit by bit, the black boxes began to go away. "Each response is a teeny little window opened into the backrooms of these deliberately byzantine FBI filing systems," Shapiro told me. "You get enough windows, and then you have the light you need to see what's back there." Soon Shapiro was submitting hundreds of requests, yielding tens of thousands of pages.
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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.