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 crazy ants
Jon Mooallem writes about the 'crazy ants' invading Texas, terrifying people with their psychotic swarming and inability to be contained.
The New York Times: Jon Mooallem - There’s a Reason They Call Them ‘Crazy Ants’
Entomologists report that the crazy ants, like other ants, seem drawn to electronic devices — car stereos, circuit boxes, machinery. But with crazy ants, so many will stream inside a device that they form a single, squirming mass that completes a circuit and shorts it. Crazy ants have ruined laptops this way and, according to one exterminator, have also temporarily shut down chemical plants. They are most likely climbing into these cavities to investigate possible nesting sites. But as David Oi, a research entomologist at the Department of Agriculture, told me, the science-fiction-ish theory that the bugs are actually attracted to the electricity itself can’t be ruled out.
On sleeping pills
Ian Parker writes about the business and history of sleeping pills, the creation of Ambien, and suvorexant, a new medication from Merck that could be the next blockbuster insomnia drug.
The New Yorker: Ian Parker - The big sleep
Ambien can be disinhibiting and depersonalizing. Or, to quote from the label of a bottle of sleep medication used by Tina Fey’s character, Liz Lemon, on “30 Rock”: “May cause dizziness, sexual nightmares, and sleep crime.” Zolpidem enters the gut, passes into the bloodstream, squeezes through the liver, and then crosses the blood-brain barrier, to make gaba receptors more receptive to gaba. When the neurotransmitter sticks to its target, negatively charged chloride ions flow into cells, making the inside of the cells more negative, and less likely to fire. Traffic is interrupted, signals don’t reach their destinations, and the brain starts to quiet. Many people experience this as a contented swoon that silences inner chatter while giving a half glimpse of childhood; they are overtaken by sleep, like a three-year-old in a car seat.
Felix Gilette, Diane Brady, and Caroline Winter talk to RIM's board members, executives, managers, and other employees in their wide-ranging oral history of the downfall of the BlackBerry brand.
Bloomberg Businessweek: Felix Gilette, Diane Brady, and Caroline Winter - The Rise and Fall of BlackBerry: An Oral History
One thing we missed out on was that Justin Bieber wanted to rep BlackBerry. He said, “Give me $200,000 and 20 devices, and I’m your brand ambassador,” basically. And we pitched that to marketing: Here’s a Canadian kid, he grew up here, all the teeny-boppers will love that. They basically threw us out of the room. They said, “This kid is a fad. He’s not going to last.” I said at the meeting: “This kid might outlive RIM.” Everyone laughed.
Carole Cadwalladr went undercover inside an Amazon warehouse in the UK.
The Observer: Carole Cadwalladr - My week as an Amazon insider
The place might look like it's been stocked at 2am by a drunk shelf-filler: a typical shelf might have a set of razor blades, a packet of condoms and a My Little Pony DVD. And yet everything is systemised, because it has to be. It's what makes it all the more unlikely that at the heart of the operation, shuffling items from stowing to picking to packing to shipping, are those flesh-shaped, not-always-reliable, prone-to-malfunctioning things we know as people.
On snark and smarm
Tom Scocca defends snark.
Gawker: Tom Scocca - On Smarm
What is smarm, exactly? Smarm is a kind of performance—an assumption of the forms of seriousness, of virtue, of constructiveness, without the substance. Smarm is concerned with appropriateness and with tone. Smarm disapproves.
Smarm would rather talk about anything other than smarm. Why, smarm asks, can't everyone just be nicer?
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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.