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.
Noam Scheiber looks at the rampant ageism of Silicon Valley.
The New Republic: Noam Scheiber - The Brutal Ageism of Tech
Consider a fortysomething engineer who was recently up for a job at a company whose product he suspected I use daily. The engineer believes he aced all his technical interviews, then he Skyped with a young programmer he would be working with. "He basically tried to explain to me that it’s a college mentality. People bring their college buddies in. They run around the office, which is a big converted factory, running after each other with Nerf guns," says the engineer. "He mentioned the word ‘culture’ several times." The engineer quickly deduced that his chances were roughly nil. "I think that was him saying, not in so many words, ‘Dude, you’re too old for us.’ "
Nitsuh Abebe goes behind the scenes at Upworthy to explore how the company churns out its viral, feel-good stories.
Upworthy takes that old binary—earnest versus cynical, fair versus manipulative, righteous versus self-interested—and twists it into meaninglessness, from the mission statement on down. It turns out that if your noble goal is to "draw massive amounts of attention to the topics that really matter," then the success of that mission (i.e., driving eyes toward meaningful content) and the short-term success of your company (i.e., attracting visitors to your for-profit, investment-backed website) are precisely identical.
Lev Grossman has the inside story on Facebook's purchase this week of Oculus VR.
Time: Lev Grossman - The Virtual Genius of Oculus Rift
Iribe mentions virtual vacations and a 3-D VR encyclopedia as future possibilities. Mitchell describes a "magic school bus" that could take a bunch of kids on an instant field trip to Florence to look at Michelangelo’s David. But the really big opportunity, the mainstream, billion-user opportunity, was in virtual reality as a next-next-generation communications medium. "When you add other people to it," Iribe says, "and you can actually see somebody in that place and you can make eye contact, and you can look at them and they can look around, you can now have this shared sense of presence in this new gaming experience, entertainment experience or just social experience that really starts to define what virtual reality is all about."
David A. Fahrenthold reports on government workers in a Pennsylvania mine still processing retirement paperwork by hand.
The Washington Post: David A. Fahrenthold - Sinkhole of bureaucracy
The employees here pass thousands of case files from cavern to cavern and then key in retirees’ personal data, one line at a time. They work underground not for secrecy but for space. The old mine’s tunnels have room for more than 28,000 file cabinets of paper records.
This odd place is an example of how hard it is to get a time-wasting bug out of a big bureaucratic system.
Held up by all that paper, work in the mine runs as slowly now as it did in 1977.
On the Zetas
Damon Tabor tells the story of how the Zetas Cartel built its communication network with a mix of high and low tech.
Popular Science: Damon Tabor - Radio Tecnico: How The Zetas Cartel Took Over Mexico With Walkie-Talkies
This system enabled the cartel to smuggle narcotics by the ton into the U.S., as well as billions of dollars in drug money back into Mexico. Most remarkably, it had provided The Company with a Gorgon-like omniscience or, according to Pike, the ability to track everything related to its narcotics distribution: drug loads but also Mexican police, military, even U.S. border-patrol agents. That a cartel had begun employing communications experts was likely news to most of law enforcement. That it had pulled off a massive engineering project spanning most of Mexico—and done so largely in secret—was unparalleled in the annals of criminal enterprise.
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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.