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The best tech writing of the week, April 22nd

The best tech writing of the week, April 22nd


The best tech writing of the week, for the week ending April 22nd, 2012.

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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 Facebook

Alexis Madrigal argues that it's time for startups to think differently. Everyone wants to build the next Facebook or the next Twitter, while using badges and "leveraging your social graph," but what's missing is real innovation, and real invention. We have the tools, Madrigal says, and we need to give them something new to do.

The Atlantic: Alexis Madrigal - The Jig Is Up: Time to Get Past Facebook and Invent a New Future

Decades ago, the answer was, "Build the Internet." Fifteen years ago, it was, "Build the Web." Five years ago, the answers were probably, "Build the social network" or "Build the mobile web." And it was in around that time in 2007 that Facebook emerged as the social networking leader, Twitter got known at SXSW, and we saw the release of the first Kindle and the first iPhone. There are a lot of new phones that look like the iPhone, plenty of e-readers that look like the Kindle, and countless social networks that look like Facebook and Twitter. In other words, we can cross that task off the list. It happened.On drones

Michael Hastings looks at the Pentagon's fleet of 19,000 drones, and how it's changing the way the US fights wars, conducts surveillance, and executes important and sensitive missions — all without the need for a single person to be present.

Rolling Stone: Michael Hastings - The Rise of the Killer Drones: How America Goes to War in Secret

Over the past decade, the military has tested a wide variety of unmanned aircraft – from microdrones that run on tiny batteries to those with 200-foot wingspans, powered by jet fuel or solar energy. The drones used in Iraq and Afghanistan – the Predator and the Reaper – look like large model planes and cost $13 million apiece. A drone the size of a 727, the Global Hawk, was used after the tsunami in Japan and the earthquake in Haiti to provide rescue operations with a bird's-eye view of the disasters. One of the largest drones in development today is the SolarEagle, designed by Boeing and DARPA, the experimental research wing of the Defense Department. With a wingspan of more than 400 feet, the SolarEagle will be able to stay in the air for five years at a time, essentially replacing surveillance satellites, which are costly to put into orbit.On Steve Jobs' years outside Apple

Brent Schlender interviewed Steve Jobs many times over the course of his life and career. Now, Schlender goes back through the recordings of their discussions to find out what Jobs did, and who he became, in the 11 years between his Apple stints.

Fast Company: Brent Schlender - The Lost Steve Jobs Tapes

Steve Jobs did not wander aimlessly into the wilderness after being ousted from Apple in 1985. No happy camper, he was loaded for bear; burning to wreak revenge upon those who had spuriously shoved him into exile, and obsessed with proving to the world that he was no one-trick pony. Within days, he abruptly sold off all but one share of his Apple stock and, flush with a small fortune of about $70 million, set about creating another computer company, this one called NeXT. The startup ostensibly was a vehicle for revolutionizing higher education with powerful, beautiful computers. In reality, it was a bet that one day he would get the better of Apple.On Fez

Even as game graphics have continued to improve, a community of indie developers has continued to develop retro, pixel-based games that recall games and systems from the 90's. Simon Parkin looks at Fez in this light, and sees a backlash against the backlash.

HookShot Inc: Simon Parkin - Fez and the death of the pixel

Nevertheless, Fez feels like something of a full stop to the pixel art homage movement. What started out as a rebellion has become a cliché and, while Fez is too smart and assured in its own identity to slip into cliché, it feels as though this default fashion has run its course.As new generation of indie game makers rises, one born in the 90s whose formative game experiences were found on PlayStation, Sega Saturn and Nintendo 64, one wonders where the next underground aesthetic in games is headed.On flying

If you've flown at all in the last few years, you'll probably agree with Kip Hawley's thesis that airport security is both incredibly technical and optimized, and horribly broken. The former head of the Transportation Security Administration offers a clear look at how the system operates now, and a handful of simple ways to improve it.

The Wall Street Journal: Kip Hawley - Why Airport Security Is Broken—And How To Fix It

As a confidence boost, Gary gave me a series of images with guns and knives in various positions. Knives lying flat were giveaways, but when viewed lengthwise, they had very little visible surface. Explosives were a whole different story. A plastic explosive like C4 is organic and dense. It appears as a heavy orange mass. Unfortunately, a block of cheddar cheese looks roughly the same. As we started testing with a moving scanner, Gary warned me that too many false positives would be a big problem. A "hair-trigger" strategy would get me flunked. Images with guns took about one second to identify. Clear bags took roughly five seconds to double check for blade edges. It was cluttered bags—with their multihued oranges, blues, greens and grays jumbled together—that were the killers.On Music Writing

Listening to music is no longer a solitary process. We constantly share what we're listening to, and write infinitely about how we feel about it — how is that changing how we experience music?

Pitchfork: Mark Richardson - Follow People if You Like Their Music

In the online circles in which I travel, there have been three big waves of music writing this year-- one about Grimes, one about Fiona Apple, and one about Nicki Minaj. With Minaj's new album, Pink Friday: Roman Reloaded, it felt like everyone had to have an opinion, and my favorite music writers were all elbowing each other to get to the front of the line with their review or thinkpiece. And while I'm impressed by a handful of songs from Roman Reloaded and will return to at least two ("Beez in the Trap" and "Come on a Cone") regularly, if I'm honest, I've enjoyed reading about the record much more than listening to it.On Nathan Myhrvold

Nathan Myhrvold is Microsoft's former CTO, started a company that's been called a patent troll, and wrote a 2,400-page cookbook called Modernist Cuisine. Oh, and he has a T-Rex skeleton in his house. Joe Hagan tracks Myhrvold and his many interests.

Men's Journal: Joe Hagan - How a Geek Grills a Burger

In 1991, Myhrvold predicted the emergence of the iPhone down to the smallest detail, describing a "digital wallet" that would consolidate all personal communication — telephone, schedule manager, notepad, contacts, and a library of music and books, all in one. It would record and archive everything you asked it to, he surmised. "The cost will not be very high," he wrote. "It is pretty easy to imagine a $400 to $1,000 retail price." Microsoft, however, was too cost conscious and risk averse to execute Myhrvold’s vision.On Aliens

The movie, not the extraterrestrial creature. From 1992, James Cameron responds to critics of his film.

Starlog Magazine: James Cameron - James Cameron's responses to Aliens critics

Please bear in mind the difficulty of communicating a life cycle this complex to a mass audience, which, seven years later, may barely recall that there was an Alien in ALIEN, let alone the specifics of its physical development. I had a great deal of story to tell, and a thorough re-education would have relegated ALIENS to a pedantic reprise of Ridley Scott's film. The audience seems to have a deepseated faith in the Aliens' basic nastiness and drive to reproduce which requires little logical rationale. That leaves only hardcore fans such as myself and a majority of this readership to ponder the technical specifics and construct a plausible scenario. 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.