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The best tech writing of the week, March 4th

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The best tech writing of the week

long reads
long reads

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 tracking

Alexis Madrigal's excellent essay unpacks the world of online display advertising where hundreds of firms are tracking and serving ads based on your movements online.

The Atlantic: Alexis Madrigal - I'm Being Followed: How Google — and 104 Other Companies — Are Tracking Me on the Web (don't miss Rob Horning's response at Marginal Utility)

These are phenomena of our time and while there are many antecedent forms of advertising, never before in the history of human existence has so much data been gathered about so many people for the sole purpose of selling them ads.

On pulse

Dan Baum profiles Billy Cohn and Bud Frazier, two doctors that bypassed decades of artificial heart development — and millions of years of evolution — by creating a turbine-powered heart that leaves animal and human recipients living, but without a pulse.

Popular Science: Dan Baum - No Pulse: How Doctors Reinvented The Human Heart

After 500 million years of evolution accustoming the human body to blood moving through us in spurts, a pulse may not be necessary. That, in any case, is the point of view of the 50-odd calves, and no fewer than three human beings, who have gotten along just fine with their blood coursing through them as evenly as Freon through an air conditioner.

On foraging

While YouTube's automated Content ID system intends to help copyright holders identify infringing uses of audio and video, a bizarre mixup between a music-free YouTube video of a salad forager and licensing company Rumblefish suggests the power has shifted to the Content ID claimants. Andy Baio - YouTube's Content ID Disputes Are Judged by the Accuser

But the last couple years have seen a dramatic rise in Content ID abuse, using it for purposes that it was never intended. Scammers are using Content ID to steal ad revenue from YouTube video creators en masse, with some companies claiming content they don't own, deliberately or not. The inability to understand context and parody regularly leads to "fair use" videos getting blocked, muted or monetized.

On ebooks

Robert Moor looks at the history of electronic literature, ranging from the experimental "author programmer" hypertextualists of the '80s to the more recent Kindle Touch X-Ray feature that Amazon claims will show you "the bones of the book."

n+1: Robert Moor - Bones of the Book

The e-book is usually said to have been invented in 1971, when an undergrad at the University of Illinois, Michael S. Hart, decided to upload The Declaration of Independence onto an ARPAnet server. Sitting in the Materials Research Lab among hulking, warmly breathing Xerox Sigma V processors, Hart went on to input and share, with a quixotic singularity of purpose, text after text, from Peter Pan to The Tempest. Few saw the revolutionary implications of his actions until years later, when his Project Gutenberg—which by then had uploaded thousands of books—began to attract copyright lawsuits and became a figurehead for the fledgling hacktivist and open source movements.

On Beyond Oblivion traces the rise and fall of Boinc, a promising music service, that failed spectacularly at the end of 2011 after it sank millions into branding consultation ("Boinc your device" lacks the Silicon Valley verbing charm of "Googling"), parties, designs for Linux-based set-top prototypes, and more. Eliot Van Buskirk - Beyond Oblivion: How a Promising Music Startup Imploded

At CES 2011, he already hired a Steve Jobs impersonator to interrupt business meetings between himself and would-be partners "as a joke." The Steve Jobs look-alike also apparently "roamed the show floor to fool attendees, while an employee filmed the whole thing" — a film that may have been meant for promotional purposes somehow, but which was only seen by employees.

On enforcement

Apple's App Store has an odd relationship with apps that contain offensive material and those that are capable of accessing offensive material (e.g. a game rated 17+ and Twitter). Instapaper's Marco Arment calls out Apple's long inconsistent App Store ratings policies. Marco Arment - Frequent, Intense Mature and Suggestive Themes

But the current solution is inconsistent, arbitrary, unfair, and ineffective: entire categories of web-browsing and web-content apps are still permitted to bear 4+ ratings. Teenagers who can’t look at porn in Safari or Atomic Web Browser can just get there from Google Search or Twitter instead.

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.