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 traveling with holograms
Joanne McNeil writes about the holograms that are popping up in our airports as virtual, projected assistants, able to work grueling shifts without tiring.
domus: Joanne McNeil - Prêt à travailler: workaholic holograms
Hardly anyone feels aversion to the life-size cardboard cut-outs of grinning employees that sometimes greet you in banks, pharmacies and post offices. Holographic announcers like Carla seem to fall somewhere in between. She may not reside in the uncanny valley, but for the time being, Carla’s presence among the living is definitely uncanny.
On the NSA's director
James Bamford profiles NSA director Keith Alexander, telling the story of his rise and how he built the United States' formidable cyberwar capabilities.
Wired: James Bamford - The Secret War
Inside the government, the general is regarded with a mixture of respect and fear, not unlike J. Edgar Hoover, another security figure whose tenure spanned multiple presidencies. "We jokingly referred to him as Emperor Alexander—with good cause, because whatever Keith wants, Keith gets," says one former senior CIA official who agreed to speak on condition of anonymity. "We would sit back literally in awe of what he was able to get from Congress, from the White House, and at the expense of everybody else."
With Kanye West's Yeezus leaking early, it's worth reading Sasha Frere-Jones's thoughts on music reviewing in the era of the ubiquitous leak.
The New Yorker: Sasha Frere-Jones - Random Access Denied
Again and again and again, the "free music is the devil" theory doesn’t play out. The most plausible explanation—not to downplay the Internet’s role—is that the album widget, historically, was wildly overpriced, and the labels were lucky they got people to pay close to twenty bucks a pop for so long. (This is not a spitball theory; music executives love to admit this, off the record, and laugh loudly.)
On iOS 7
John Maeda, president of RISD, weighs in on the problem with the "superficial conversation" about flat vs. skeuomorphic styles and how the debate can blind the future of design.
Wired: John Maeda - The Future of Design Is More Than Making Apple iOS Flat
Frankly, the reductionist view of design began with the dramatic Jobs vs. Ive framing and narrative around the Attack on Skeulandia: Steve Jobs, the liberal arts-y humanist, supposedly wanted the faux leather, felt, and wood-textured treatments of real-world objects applied to virtual ones. Jony Ive, the art-school modernist, supposedly didn’t want any of it. Not only is this framing overly simplified, it’s also irrelevant to design discourse.
On Silicon Valley
And finally, George Packer's fantastic exploration of Silicon Valley's wealth and focus on "changing the world" is available online in full.
The New Yorker: George Packer - Change the World
When financiers say that they’re doing God’s work by providing cheap credit, and oilmen claim to be patriots who are making the country energy-independent, no one takes them too seriously—it’s a given that their motivation is profit. But when technology entrepreneurs describe their lofty goals there’s no smirk or wink. "Many see their social responsibility fulfilled by their businesses, not by social or political action," one young entrepreneur said of his colleagues.
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.