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 all of these as a Readlist.
On urban hacking
Matthew Power profiles Bradley L. Garrett and tags along with him and his urban explorer friends as they explore London's off-limits, underground infrastructure.
GQ: Matthew Power - Excuse Us While We Kiss The Sky
Garrett was handcuffed and led through passport control, where his ID was seized. Fingerprints, mug shots, and DNA swabs followed. He was eventually led to a holding cell and then an interrogation room. There he was not formally charged but was informed that he was being investigated for burglary, property destruction, and criminal trespass, among numerous other possible charges. He was told he had been the subject of a manhunt by the British Transport Police. His alleged crimes were a blatant affront to the image of a high-tech security state London had constructed for itself. And yet, during his interrogation, an investigator leaned across the table and whispered: "Off the record, Bradley, I love the work that you do."
Following Facebook's recent redesign event, John Herrman takes a look at the midlife woes the social network has largely brought on itself.
Buzzfeed: John Herrman - Welcome To Facebook's Midlife Crisis
Facebook needs to make maintaining a Facebook account as compelling as creating one. And it’s not clear how Facebook can incentivize people to update their accounts — to trim old friends, to add new ones, to adjust all the various sliders and dials that power Facebook today. This is labor; it feels like doing repairs, not creating something exciting and new.
Brent Cox writes about the history of the groundbreaking sci-fi magazine Omni by taking a look back at the 1981 issue featuring William Gibson's "Johnny Mnemonic" short story. Peruse the entire run for free at Internet Archive.
The Awl: Brent Cox - The Future According To 1981: An 'Omni' Appreciation
At some point, and I reckon this was more towards the middle of high school, I realized that the layout of Omni resembled that of another magazine—Penthouse. There was a reason for that. Omni, launched in 1978, was the brainchild of Kathy Keeton. Keeton, was a South African, trained in ballet, who, in her 20s, became an exotic dancer in Europe (an AP story would later say she'd been one of the highest-paid strippers on the Continent). She met a young Bob Guccione when he noticed her reading the Financial Times between sets. Together they launched their intended competitor to Playboy, Penthouse. Keeton also wanted to start a magazine that was not just a science-fiction magazine, but also a science magazine.
On useless machines
Abigail Pesta looks at the history of the useless machine.
The Wall Street Journal: Author - Looking for Something Useful to Do With Your Time? Don't Try This
He also dreamed up the useless machine, although the name he gave it was the "ultimate machine." His mentor at Bell Labs, Claude Shannon, built one and kept it on his desk, where the science-fiction writer Arthur C. Clarke spotted it one day. "There is something unspeakably sinister about a machine that does nothing—absolutely nothing—except switch itself off," Mr. Clarke later wrote, saying he had been haunted by the device.
And in case you missed it a few weeks ago, check out Nathaniel Rich's fantastic piece on the new generation of divers working for oil companies in need of humans following the destruction wrought by Hurricanes Katrina and Rita.
The New York Review of Books: Nathaniel Rich - Diving Deep into Danger
Not everybody is cut out for the job. A diver cannot be claustrophobic or antisocial, because he must spend much of his time in a tiny sealed capsule with several other divers. He must be well-disciplined and perceptive, for he is likely to encounter a variety of unexpected hazards on the job. Many divers are military veterans, or have worked as roofers or mechanics. "The best are those who have a great deal of confidence in themselves and their abilities," one former diver, Phil Newsum, told me. "You have to be willing to adapt to any situation. Philosophically, when you go out on a dive job, you’re expecting something is going to go wrong."
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.