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 action stars
Alex French looks at how Hollywood's year-round quest for blockbusters is changing how we find our action heroes.
The New York Times: Alex French - The Last, Disposable Action Hero
Once upon a time, a movie poster needed to have only two words on it: the star’s last name and the title. Stallone: Rambo. Schwarzenegger: Terminator. In the new action-hero economy, though, actors rarely carry the franchise; more often, the franchise carries the actor. Chris Hemsworth was little known before “Thor,” and no one outside the industry was too familiar with Henry Cavill before “Man of Steel.” Lorenzo di Bonaventura, who produced “Transformers” and this winter’s “Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit,” told me that studios were gambling on unproven actors for economic reasons.
On Julian Assange
Andrew O'Hagan's tell-all reveals his struggle to be the ghostwriter for Julian Assange's failed book.
The London Review of Books: Andrew O'Hagan - Ghosting
He said he’d hoped to have something that read like Hemingway. ‘When people have been put in prison who might never have had time to write, the thing they write can be galvanising and amazing. I wouldn’t say this publicly, but Hitler wrote Mein Kampf in prison.’ He admitted it wasn’t a great book but it wouldn’t have been written if Hitler had not been put away. He said that Tim Geithner, the US secretary of the Treasury, had been asked to look into ways to hinder companies that would profit from subversive organisations. That meant Knopf would come under fire for publishing the book.
Maria Bustillos digs into the recent Mt. Gox Bitcoin fiasco.
The Awl: Maria Bustillos - The Great Crypto Stagecoach Robbery
744,000 Bitcoins comes to around $400 million, and would rank as one of the biggest robberies in history (if you don't like to count business and government robberies). It's about 6% of the total coins mined so far (an estimate that does not account for the doubtless substantial number that have been lost since mining began in 2009, or the even larger number thought to have been retained by Satoshi Nakamoto, Bitcoin's founder(s)). Ideally, if they can't eventually be returned to their rightful owners, the coins stolen from Mt. Gox will be identified and blacklisted on the blockchain so that they can never be spent. Only a concerted and responsible effort to address the theft, if there is one, will persuade people that Bitcoin still has potential as a real medium of exchange.
On Ray Kurzweil
Carole Cadwalladr profiles Google's new Director of Engineering, Ray Kurzweil, and the company's focus on AI and robotics.
The Guardian: Carole Cadwalladr - Are the robots about to rise? Google's new director of engineering thinks so…
Bill Gates calls him "the best person I know at predicting the future of artificial intelligence". He's received 19 honorary doctorates, and he's been widely recognised as a genius. But he's the sort of genius, it turns out, who's not very good at boiling a kettle. He offers me a cup of coffee and when I accept he heads into the kitchen to make it, filling a kettle with water, putting a teaspoon of instant coffee into a cup, and then moments later, pouring the unboiled water on top of it. He stirs the undissolving lumps and I wonder whether to say anything but instead let him add almond milk – not eating dairy is just one of his multiple dietary rules – and politely say thank you as he hands it to me. It is, by quite some way, the worst cup of coffee I have ever tasted.
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.