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.
Ben Crair considers the awkwardness and anxiety caused by the typing indicators in chat and texting programs.
The New Republic: Ben Crair - I Can See You Typing
It makes visible the care with which we pick our words. And the more visible this care becomes, the more the reader distrusts the message. Conversation is supposed to feel natural, after all. The quip is less funny if it’s not offhanded. Flirtation is not so flattering if it appears to require labor. And the apology can seem less heartfelt when you know it’s been self-lawyered.
Simon Parkin writes about Kurt J. Mac's 3-year-long quest (he has 22 years left) to reach the edge of Minecraft, an end enabled by a glitch in the 'infinitely' game.
The New Yorker: Simon Parkin - A journey to the end of the world (of Minecraft)
But, at extreme distances from a player’s starting point, a glitch in the underlying mathematics causes the landscape to fracture into illogical shapes and patterns. “Pretty early on, when implementing the ‘infinite’ worlds, I knew the game would start to bug out at long distances,” Persson told me. “But I did the math on how likely it was people would ever reach it, and I decided it was far away enough that the bugs didn’t matter.”
Dune Lawrence looks at the history of anonymity software Tor and how the NSA's been thwarted in its attempts to defeat its encryption.
Businessweek: Dune Lawrence - The Inside Story of Tor, the Best Internet Anonymity Tool the Government Ever Built
Countering Tor is clearly frustrating for the NSA, and Internet users have taken note. Hits to Tor’s download page almost quadrupled last year, to 139 million. “Encryption works,” Bruce Schneier, a cybersecurity expert who helped the Guardian analyze the Snowden documents, said at a talk in New York in January. “That’s the lesson of Tor. The NSA can’t break Tor, and it pisses them off.”
On hacking love
Kevin Poulsen tells the story of how mathematician Chris McKinlay data mined OkCupid to find his perfect match.
Wired: Kevin Poulsen - How a Math Genius Hacked OkCupid to Find True Love
For McKinlay’s plan to work, he’d have to find a pattern in the survey data—a way to roughly group the women according to their similarities. The breakthrough came when he coded up a modified Bell Labs algorithm called K-Modes. First used in 1998 to analyze diseased soybean crops, it takes categorical data and clumps it like the colored wax swimming in a Lava Lamp. With some fine-tuning he could adjust the viscosity of the results, thinning it into a slick or coagulating it into a single, solid glob.
On Ross Ulbricht
David Segal profiles Ross Ulbricht, the alleged Dread Pirate Roberts and mastermind of the online black market Silk Road.
The New York Times: David Segal - Eagle Scout. Idealist. Drug Trafficker?
It could also be a coincidence that neither man nor pseudonym seemed motivated by greed. Mr. Ulbricht’s lifestyle was one notch above that of urban couch surfer. And the primary goal that D.P.R. professed was to unshackle humanity from what he regarded as economic tyranny. If a handful of miscreants — and yes, a few of their unfortunate roommates — were killed along the way, that is a shame. But Silk Road was like a tunnel under the gulag, and D.P.R. was digging for the sake of humanity.
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.