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 the Utah Data Center
Wired's cover story this month describes how the NSA is building the nation's largest data center to store and analyze everything from Google searches and online receipts to billions of emails and intercepted phone calls.
Wired: James Bamford - The NSA Is Building the Country’s Biggest Spy Center (Watch What You Say)
Flowing through its servers and routers and stored in near-bottomless databases will be all forms of communication, including the complete contents of private emails, cell phone calls, and Google searches, as well as all sorts of personal data trails—parking receipts, travel itineraries, bookstore purchases, and other digital "pocket litter." It is, in some measure, the realization of the "total information awareness" program created during the first term of the Bush administration—an effort that was killed by Congress in 2003 after it caused an outcry over its potential for invading Americans’ privacy.
On making The Clock
This week's New Yorker offers a look at how Christian Marclay made The Clock, a 24-hour film that mines film history to present tens of thousands of onscreen references to the current time, from Lost in Translation to Repulsion. While you're at it, Zadie Smith also wrote about the experience of viewing the film last April for The New York Review of Books.
The New Yorker: Daniel Zalewski - The Hours
A techie intern was enlisted to scour the Internet for clocks. After embedding a clip—a boy in bed, checking his watch at 4:20 A.M.—in the opening bars of "Screen Play," Marclay had a dangerous thought: "Wow, wouldn’t it be great to find clips with clocks for every minute of all twenty-four hours?"
A SXSW panel with David Carr, Maria Popova, Max Linksy, Mia Quagliarello, and Noah Brier — and Curator's Codefollowup launch — kicked off a lot of hand wringing this week about curation, proper linking, and attribution awareness. Matt Langer provides some perspective, and furthermore, ↬.
Matt Langer: Matt Langer - Stop Calling it Curation
First, let’s just get clear on the terminology here: "Curation" is an act performed by people with PhDs in art history; the business in which we’re all engaged when we’re tossing links around on the internet is simple "sharing." And some of us are very good at that! (At least if we accept "very good" to mean "has a large audience.")
Michael Lopp weaves '90s barbarians, Facebook, and Apple's consistent ability to innovate together to discuss the why health companies embrace "hacking."
Rands in Repose: Michael Lopp - Hacking is Important
Facebook is worried about the growth paradox, which goes something like this: The end result of successful hacking is product, and that product needs to grow by building more things. The more you grow, the more things you have, and the more you need people whose job is simply to coordinate the increasingly interdependent building activities. These people, called managers, don’t create product, they create process.
Alexis Madrigal digs into Harper's Magzine publisher John R. MacArthur's recent editorial on the magazine's online presence, or (lack thereof).
The Atlantic: Alexis Madrigal - Paper Con Man Ravages the Internet
I want to work with my community to break stories and tell jokes, to highlight injustice and find better ways of solving problems. That means reaching readers where they are. People's lives aren't divided into "offline life" and "online life," even if we'd like to pretend that's the case. People on Capitol Hill use the Internet. People on Main Street use the Internet. People on Wall Street use the Internet. The Internet is where the action is: it's where all the elegant, dirty, pretty, lowbrow, brilliant ideas come together to commingle and evolve.
Wall-E director Andrew Stanton's John Carter, which cost nearly nearly $250 million to make, is in its second weekend of subpar performance at the box office, and Vulture's got the scoop on where the film — and its advertising campaign — went wrong.
Vulture: Claude Brodesser-Akner - The Inside Story of How John Carter Was Doomed by Its First Trailer
This more frantic trailer reveals the most problematic part of John Carter, and possibly why it was doomed to underperform no matter what happened: Because the Barsoom books were so influential to cinema's greatest sci-fi auteurs, just about everything in it had already been plundered and reused by other hits. And as a result, the more that was revealed of John Carter, the more derivative it looked, even if its source had originated these ideas.
Annie Lowrey details her efforts learning to code and exploration of the odd disappearance ("infosuicide") of _why, a popular programmer and writer in the Ruby community.
Slate: Annie Lowrey - Where’s _why?
On Aug. 19, 2009, his personal site stopped loading. He stopped answering email. A public repository of his code disappeared. His Twitter account—gone. Hackety Hack—gone. Dozens of other projects—gone.
Professor Ian Bogost (of Cow Clicker fame) uses the games of thatgamecompany and its most recent success Journey to talk about the evolution of artists' works. Note: spoilers near the end. Don't miss the Vox Games crew review.
The Atlantic: Ian Bogost - A Portrait of the Artist as a Game Studio
Journey's anonymous multiplayer interactions are touching, but they are also tragic, like a Beckett novel with characters in red robes mumbling, "I can't go on, I'll go on" in inscrutable pictograms. At one point in the deep scarlet shadow of the caves, I swear I saw my companion crumble to dust.
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.