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 stories as a Readlist.
Michael Pollan writes about the trillions of bacteria living inside of us, specifically the ones in our guts, and what we're learning about this "second genome" and how it's changing our understanding of the human body. Similarly, don't miss Richard Conniff's piece from Smithsonian last month on microbiomes.
The New York Times: Michael Pollan - Some of My Best Friends Are Germs
In sheer numbers, these microbes and their genes dwarf us. It turns out that we are only 10 percent human: for every human cell that is intrinsic to our body, there are about 10 resident microbes.
On Daft Punk
With Random Access Memories now available to stream online and officially getting released later this week, Simon Reynolds writes about Daft Punk and the band's strong knowledge and connections to history.
New York Times: Simon Reynolds - Daft Punk Gets Human With a New Album
Albums by megabands like Fleetwood Mac and the Eagles, with their no-expense-spared attention to detail, served as the model for the album’s intricately layered production. “The late ‘70s and early ‘80s is the zenith of a certain craftsmanship in sound recording,” Mr. Bangalter said. For Daft Punk there is a subtle but crucial distinction between perfection pursued through human effort and the perfection easily achieved through digital means.
On on-screen UIs
David Young interviews designer Jorge Almeida (you may know his work from The Dark Knight Rises and the latest Mission Impossible film), about creating the on-screen interfaces powering the latest Star Trek movie.
Inventing Interactive: David Young - Interview: Jorge Almeida (Star Trek Into Darkness)
In practical UI, you are trying to give the user an elegant way to make choices. With film UI, I am trying to give the viewer the illusion of choice. I am trying to deliberately direct the viewers eye to whatever story point the director wants revealed at the time he wants it revealed. The job becomes more about illustration, especially in post where we can see how the interface is framed within the shot. We paint a small part of a much bigger picture, and our work needs to visually support what’s on screen so that we don’t disrupt the rhythm of the viewing experience.
On synthetic meat
Henry Fountain digs into the history and current state of growing meat in a lab.
The New York Times: Henry Fountain - Building a $325,000 Burger
His burger consists of about 20,000 thin strips of cultured muscle tissue. Dr. Post, who has conducted some informal taste tests, said that even without any fat, the tissue "tastes reasonably good." For the London event he plans to add only salt and pepper.
Paul Ford traces the curious history of audio, recording, and early computing technology.
The New Yorker: Paul Ford - How Bing Crosby and the Nazis helped to create Silicon Valley
Meanwhile, engineers interested in tape, having learned what they could from what the Nazis left behind, made their way to Crosby and showed him what the new magnetic technology could do. His interest was more than piqued; he handed fifty thousand dollars to the men from the Ampex corporation, which at that time was just a half-dozen people. The machines they delivered went into use in 1947, and a new Crosby show, edited by tape splicing, was broadcast—the first radio show to use the new technology. Suddenly audio—recorded media—was flexible. It could be cut and pasted, rearranged, and edited.
Mat Honan washes onto the magical shores of Google Island.
Wired: Mat Honan - Welcome to Google Island
“My Google Being anticipates everything I would think, everything I would want to say or do or feel,” Larry explained. “Everywhere I would go. Years of research have gone into this. It is in every way the same as me. So much so that my physical form is no longer necessary. It was just getting in the way, so we removed it. Keep in mind that for now at least, Google Being is just a developer product.”
On robot learning
Luke Darby tells the story of Lyndon Baty, a 17-year-old with the life-threatening polycystic kidney disease (PKD), who has used a robot to attend school and socialize with friends.
Dallas Observer News: Luke Darby - Lyndon Baty and the Robot That Saved Him
It was supposed to go to his office, but here it was at their house, the $6,000 UPS delivery sitting on the mercifully dry concrete. Worried that Chance would get to it and do Lord knows what, Louis didn't let anyone open the box. He trucked it to his office, to wait out the winter before being transported to the copy room. Then, on the day after winter break, out it rolled, into the hallway to find a crowd waiting for it. The kids gathered around, to welcome Lyndon back and to see the robot in action.
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.