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.
Michael Moynihan visits Las Vegas to attend The Amazing Meeting convention, an annual gathering of the skepticism movement. He tells the story of its founder James Randi, a man dedicated to undermining "woo-woo," his term for spoon bending, mind reading, and paranormal activity.
Newsweek: Michael Moynihan - The Bullshit Police
Randi proved to be a relentless proselytizer and prosecutor, attacking a wide range of targets—from the homeopathy industry, which he mocked by consuming an entire bottle of homeopathic "sleeping pills" on stage, to Sniffex, a nonfunctioning bomb-detecting device used by the Iraqi military. When I called him a "debunker," he replied that he prefers to think of himself as an "investigator" of supernatural claims. But when I asked him if he had ever investigated a psychic phenomenon without debunking it, he chuckled, and said, "That has not happened, no."
On the music industry
Sasha Frere-Jones conducts a wide-ranging conversation on the state of the music industry, touring, and promotion.
The New Yorker: Sasha Frere-Jones - Cash on the pinhead
More broadly, while everyone’s listening habits are increasingly eclectic, our going-out habits tend to be less so. The Internet overvalues newness, and live-show attendance follows suit. The deluge of music in our digital lives means that discovery is sped up alongside digestion—Oh, I streamed their single, saw their video clip, can extrapolate the live show. Scenes become useful insofar as they are patient organisms, interested in slow changes and small differences, less enmeshed in online attention cycles—but you need to reach across them to be able to tour.
On the Silk Road
Andy Greenberg writes about the Silk Road, the burgeoning online drug marketplace, its "center of trust" Dread Pirate Roberts, and the new black market competitors popping up.
Forbes: Andy Greenberg - Meet The Dread Pirate Roberts, The Man Behind Booming Black Market Drug Website Silk Road
"As far as my monetary net worth is concerned, the future value of Silk Road as an organization dwarfs its and my liquid assets. … I wouldn’t sell out for less than 10 figures, maybe 11," he writes with a dash of vainglory. "At some point you’re going to have to put Dread Pirate Roberts on that list you all keep over at Forbes. ;)"
On Warby Parker
Jessica Pressler profiles Warby Parker, the earnest New York online glasses startup.
New York Magazine: Jessica Pressler - 20/30 Vision
Blumenthal was the only one who didn’t wear glasses, but through VisionSpring, he’d learned a few things about the optical industry. Most significant, that it was controlled by one giant company, Luxottica, which owns everything from Ray-Bans to Oliver Peoples and runs outfits like Pearle Vision and LensCrafters. Its near-monopoly status enables the company to charge high prices and enjoy high profit margins. VisionSpring had managed to circumvent this by manufacturing its own frames … and if they had done it for people in the developing world, why couldn’t four business students do the same thing for people like, well, them? "At that moment, the lightbulb went off," says Blumenthal. "But then, of course, we all had to go to class."
On Project Loon
Steven Levy goes behind the scenes of Google X's balloon-powered effort to bring broadband to the entire world.
As DeVaul began spreadsheeting the possibilities, he came up with another concept. Rather than a behemoth that required massive amounts of energy to fight stratospheric winds to stay in place, he found himself drawn to the idea of smaller, cheaper weather balloons that sometimes stay aloft for 40 days or more, circling the globe. "I thought, why not have a bunch of these things, covering a whole area? How crazy would that be?" he says.
For more great longreads, visit our friends at Longreads.
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.