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 Elon Musk
Ashlee Vance profiles the man who inspired Jon Favreau's Iron Man movies, Elon Musk.
Businessweek: Ashlee Vance - Elon Musk, the 21st Century Industrialist
Bryn Mooser, co-director of Baseball in the Time of Cholera, confirms the trip to Haiti. Musk showed up with 450 toys and 35 MacBook Airs for an orphanage. He taught the kids how to fire rockets into the sky during a barbecue, and then set off into the country to visit a village. Did Musk bring all of those presents on his private jet? "Yes, but we don’t mention that," Mooser says with a wink.
On Kim's video
Karina Longworth explores the history of legendary New York City rental store Mondo Kim's.
The Village Voice: Karina Longworth - The Strange Fate of Kim's Video
The closing of a video store is not news. With Web streaming, the vanishing DVD sales market, and Netflix, it's an inevitability. Usually, the fate of the physical videos after the store's closing isn't news, either. Maybe there's a dollar sale. Maybe employees smuggle home the dead stock. The customers adapt. They find another video store. They use BitTorrent and YouPorn.
This is how it happens. If you've ever had a video-store membership, this has probably happened to you.
This is not how it happened with Mondo Kim's.
On being Sims
Ben Makuch discusses the theory that we're all living inside a simulation with NASA's Rich Terrile.
Vice: Ben Makuch - Whoa, dude, are we inside a computer right now?
It tells me that we’re at the threshold of being able to create a universe—a simulation—and that we in turn could be living inside a simulation, which could be in turn yet another simulation. And our simulated beings could also create simulations. What I find intriguing is, if there is a creator, and there will be a creator in the future and it will be us, this also means if there’s a creator for our world, here, it’s also us. This means we are both God and servants of God, and that we made it all. What I find inspiring is that, even if we are in a simulation or many orders of magnitude down in levels of simulation, somewhere along the line something escaped the primordial ooze to become us and to result in simulations that made us. And that’s cool.
On Y Combinator
Randall Stross documents the tag-line heavy, "we're this successful startup you know of for that" pivot-filled tale of a startup competing for Y Combinator Demo Day glory in summer 2011.
Vanity Fair: Randall Stross - Who Wants to Be a Billionaire?
"We pivoted the idea a little bit," says one Kalvin—Jason Shen in this case, but in the eyes of the Y.C. partners, the finalists are a blurry succession of faces without names. "We’re going to be the Mint.com for photo books. We organize and rank your Facebook content, allowing you to easily create a printed photo book, featuring the best photos of you, your friends."
Mat Honan talks to Cosmo the God, a 15-year-old hacker known, about how he and UGNazi hijacked 4Chan's DNS, swiped credit cards, and uncovered huge security holes in Amazon, PayPal, Netflix, and AOL.
Wired: Mat Honan - Cosmo, the Hacker ‘God’ Who Fell to Earth
As he did with Prince and CloudFlare, Cosmo accomplished many of his feats by going after individuals associated with organizations UG Nazi was targeting. He would gather little bits of information here and there, collecting dox data from various online services, like addresses and credit card numbers, until he had what he needed to launch an attack. Often, he did that by calling a company’s tech support system and pretending to be a worker in another department. Sometimes he was able to pull that off by learning intimate details of a company’s back-end systems.
On Great White Wonder
Eric Harvey recalls the underground music bootlegging and leaking scene that existed long before torrents and Mediafire.
Pitchfork: Eric Harvey - Bob Dylan's Great White Wonder: The Story of the World's First Album Leak
Fans had been trading magnetic tapes of already-released albums for years by this point, but Wonder was different: It was the first time that unheard recordings of a superstar’s new compositions had leaked to the public, and were being sold. It’s easy to take such a thing for granted today, when leaks circulate freely online, but Wonder represented the earliest moment when advancing technologies combined with popular demand and illicit entrepreneurship to create cracks in the record industry’s otherwise firm facade.
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.