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.
On backpack nukes
Adam Ransley and David Brown tell the chilling story of backpack tactical nukes that the US tested during the Cold War.
Foreign Policy: Adam Rawnsley and David Brown - The Littlest Boy
Cold War strategy was filled with oxymorons like "limited nuclear war," but the backpack nuke was perhaps the most darkly comic manifestation of an age struggling to deal with the all-too-real prospect of Armageddon. The SADM was a case of life imitating satire. After all, much like Slim Pickens1 in the iconic finale of Dr. Strangelove, American soldiers would strap on atomic bombs and jump out of airplanes as part of the opening act of World War III.
Adrian Chen profiles the Romanian hacker Guccifer who goes after the powerful and elite.
New York: Adrian Chen - The Hacker Graydon Carter
If Snowden perfectly fit the profile of geek crusader, Lehel, a stone-faced, disheveled man in a tight leather jacket, seemed an odd candidate for one of the world’s most notorious hackers. But Guccifer is to hacking what the Beatles are to rock and roll. He had predecessors, 4Chan cowboys like Anonymous and Sabu of LulzSec, but he’s changed the nature of hacking fame.
Kelsey Campbell-Dollaghan digs into the history of camouflage and the US military's pursuit of more effective stealth.
Gizmodo: Kelsey Campbell-Dollaghan - The History of Invisibility and the Future of Camouflage
Likewise, our brains are very good at recognizing patterns—if we see one shape twice, we're instantly aware that something's up. So it's incredibly important that a uniform's left and right sides don't ever match. "A lot of patterns will have this issue," says Cramer. "The brain will see an anomaly on the right part of the chest, and if it sees a very similar pattern on the left side of the chest, the brain immediately connects the dots and says, I now see the top part of a human body."
On the brain
Carl Zimmer reports on the new methods being developed to visualize the human brain.
National Geographic: Carl Zimmer - Secrets of the Brain
Wherever he looks—in the brains of humans, monkeys, rats—he finds the grid. He notes that the earliest nervous systems in Cambrian worms were simple grids—just a pair of nerve cords running from head to tail, with runglike links between them. In our own lineage the nerves at the head end exploded into billions but still retained that gridlike structure. It’s possible that our thoughts run like streetcars along these white matter tracks as signals travel from one region of the brain to another.
Casey Cep reflects on how MetaFilter helped decipher a coded prayer.
The New Yorker: Casey Cep - Prayers of the dead
Posting the card to the crowdsourcing site AskMetaFilter, Holm described her grandmother’s illness, transcribed the card’s long lines of letters, and explained how she thought that the letters might correspond to words in a song. Holm offered a few other clues: her grandmother was born in Minnesota, in 1927; she was the mother of three children, whose musical tastes spanned three decades; not even her grandfather could divine the meaning of the cards; no two cards were alike; and all the letters of the alphabet appeared, except for Z, X, and Q . “This is a crazy long shot,” she wrote, “but I’ve seen Mefites pull off some pretty impressive code-breaking before!”
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.