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.
Author Michael Stutz remembers disconnecting from the web for a full year back in the mid-'90s.
The Bygone Bureau: Michael Stutz - My Lost Year: A Brief Memoir of Disconnection and Return
Exactly in the middle of the 1990s, overnight and with no warning, I unplugged completely from the net. The action was as desperate as it was precisely literal — there was no wireless, no wi-fi, nothing portable; just a modem line plugged into the back of the machine. I pulled it out.
The New Republic's March 15th cover story uses Walter Isaacson's Steve Jobs to frame an exhaustive look at Steve Jobs's philosophy towards design and how it came to shape one of the world's biggest companies.
The New Republic: Evgeny Morozov - Form and Fortune (subscription required)
Just as we recognized many of the important civic functions of the sidewalk only after it had been replaced by the highway, so we may currently be blind to those virtues of the Internet — its inefficiency, its unpredictability, its disorder — that may ultimately produce a civic and aesthetic experience that is superior to the "automatic, effortless, and seamless" (one of Apple’s advertising slogans) world of the app.
Adrien Chen continues John Herrman's work in tracking down the man behind @horse_ebooks. (spoilers)
Gawker: Adrien Chen - How I Found the Human Being Behind Horse_ebooks, The Internet’s Favorite Spambot
As Horse_ebooks has tweeted its way to fame, the human behind the account has remained an enigma. The most any one knew was the vaguely menacing fact that a Russian spammer named "Alexei" had supposedly set up Horse_ebooks. On the internet, that could mean anything. Who Alexei really was was a mystery, until now.
Staples, Verizon, Microsoft, and Facebook using GitHub for storing and tracking their code, and Wired profiles the fast growing startup.
Wired: Robert McMillan - Lord of the Files: How GitHub Tamed Free Software (And More)
GitHub’s geektastic 14,000-square-foot loft mirrors its mission: to democratize computer programming. GitHub.com is best thought of as Facebook for geeks. Instead of uploading videos of your cat, you upload software. Anyone can comment on your code and add to it and build it into something better. The trick is that it decentralizes programming, giving everyone a new kind of control.
Professor Timothy Messer-Kruse bumps up against Wikipedia's take on truth.
The Chronicle for Higher Education: Timothy Messer-Kruse - The 'Undue Weight' of Truth on Wikipedia
Explain to me, then, how a ‘minority’ source with facts on its side would ever appear against a wrong ‘majority’ one?" I asked the Wiki-gatekeeper. He responded, "You’re more than welcome to discuss reliable sources here, that’s what the talk page is for. However, you might want to have a quick look at Wikipedia’s civility policy.
Chris Foresman looks at the difficulties of optimizing digital audio for Apple's iTunes Music Store.
Ars technica: Chris Foresman - Mastered for iTunes: how audio engineers tweak music for the iPod age
The problem? The AAC compression algorithm is "quite quirky." Without compressing a song, and carefully listening to it, then comparing to the uncompressed master, there's no way to predict how the sound will change. Vlado Meller, another engineer at Masterdisk, described mastering for iTunes "like polishing your Bentley in total darkness, then turning on the lights to see where you missed."
Following Marshall McLuhan's idea that "we shape our tools, and thereafter our tools shape us," Megan Garber considers how our digital spaces affect us..
The Atlantic: Megan Garber - Just Thinking About Your Cell Phone Makes You More Selfish
The point being: Spaces matter. They don't merely contain us; they guide our behavior. And that goes for our digital surroundings, too: the environments we're building for ourselves, brick by portable brick, psychic spaces mortared and mediated by our cell phones and tablets. But what are those digital environments doing to us?
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.