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.
On Media Van
In case you missed it earlier this week, Alexis Madrigal wrote about some of the early video collectives that inspire, in spirit if not directly, the YouTube sharing culture of today.
The Atlantic: Alexis Madrigal - Proto YouTube: How 1970s Video Collectives Anticipated Our Strange Internet
The new technology that arrived in their midst was the videocamera, and their approach was flavored by the countercultural milieu in which they placed themselves. Throughout the 1970s, video collectives like the one I'll focus on in this essay, Ant Farm, tried to break the three-channel tyranny of the broadcast media long before computer networks were commonly used.
On digital cinema
In the past decade, the world's cinemas have been rapidly transitioning to digital — there were only 30 commercial digital screens in late 2000, and they now account for nearly a third of screens worldwide — and it's been driven by film industry standards, hardware, and the Trojan Horse of 3D. Bordwell explores the larger trends and future of project, and offers a look behind the modern day projector's booth and its sneakernet distribution system.
Observations on film art: David Bordwell - Pandora’s digital box: In the multiplex
The fear of piracy has kept back one early aim of the digital cinema revolution: Delivery of content via satellite or the Net. These are too vulnerable to hacking or crashing. So the DCP is delivered the old-fashioned way, by courier services like UPS and FedEx. The decryption keys are sent by email or by a much older technology: the telephone. Often exhibitors and projectionists—sorry, Mr. or Ms. Screen Management System—has to phone somebody to learn the codes to tap.
While Skyrim's garnered well-earned praise with its endlessly explorable world, the game's terrible dialogue forces many gamers to skip through the mind-numbing narrative exposition. Tom Bissell suggests RPG makers move away from making NPCs "walking lore dumps."
Grantland: Tom Bissell - One Night in Skyrim Makes a Strong Man Crumble
When you combine high-fantasy characters with limited animation with affected writing and artificial performances, the quality of the material becomes irrelevant. It probably wouldn't matter if Skyrim's characters were working with a kilo of uncut Tolkien. Nothing framed in this way can be dramatically interesting. Why bother, then, with trying to generate drama in this very specialized way?
On Tumblr and music
Following Drake's rant about Tumblr a few weeks ago, Pitchfork Editor-in-chief Mark Richardson considers recent bands that effectively "re-blog" past sounds.
Pitchfork: Mark Richardson - Taking Pictures of Taking Pictures
Faithful covers of existing songs are as old as popular music, but something here felt new: It was part of what I heard as the subtle Tumblr-ization of indie; music-making as re-blog. They weren't just covering a song that they loved, they were essentially re-producing it, unchanged, and saying, "This is me."
MetaFilter founder Matt Haughey and Slashdot founder Rob "CmdrTaco" Malda reminisce about the history of Slashdot, and consider the future of community online.
The internet is simply not as free as it was when Slashdot began. Government is increasingly legislating away our rights and criminalizing actions that are impossible to regulate. I know it’s inevitable, but it’s still disappointing to witness. The joy of logging in to an IRC chat room in the early 90s, to talk to people who were innovating powerful technologies simply for the sake of it was absolutely intoxicating.
On airborne gadgets
Earlier this week, journalist and amateur pilot James Fallows talked to readers about the need to shut off electronic devices during takeoff and landing following Nick Bilton's New York Times piece on Monday. Don't miss the followup that lays out the four main theories.
The Atlantic: James Fallows - 'All Electronic Devices Must Now Be Powered Off'—But Why?
But here is the only, admittedly weak rationale behind the "turn all equipment off" diktat. If anything went wrong on a crowded airline flight, the flight crew would need everyone's full attention, now. The prevailing theory is that passengers are less likely to be distracted if they're not cocooned by their acoustic headsets or distracted by their iPads.
On Steve Jobs
Steven Levy remembers his first interview with Steve Jobs in 1983 before the launch of Apple's Macintosh.
Wired: Steven Levy - The Revolution According to Steve Jobs
I asked him if he feared the horrible consequences that would ensue if the much-hyped Mac failed, like the flawed Apple III recently had. "Yeah," he admitted. Not that the prospect intimidated him. "God, if you’re not willing to get out there and do it again, what’s the point?" he asked. "I’m not doing this for the money. I never have. I have more money than I can ever give away in my lifetime. I’m doing it because I love it. If it falls on its face and it’s another failure, I should question my work in this industry. I should write poetry or something, go climb a mountain."