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.
Grab the entire list as a Readlist.
On self-driving cars
Burkhard Bilger visits the experimental Google X lab and engineer Anthony Levandowski to explore the history of self-driving cars.
The New Yorker: Burkhard Bilger - Auto correct
While other drivers are gawking at him, he is observing them: recording their maneuvers in his car’s sensor logs, analyzing traffic flow, and flagging any problems for future review. The only tiresome part is when there’s roadwork or an accident ahead and the Lexus insists that he take the wheel. A chime sounds, pleasant yet insistent, then a warning appears on his dashboard screen: "In one mile, prepare to resume manual control."
Tom Junod and Mark Warren write about Eric Shadt and new ways of fighting cancer.
Esquire: Tom Junod and Mark Warren - Patient Zero
When Stephanie went to the Internet to find out about colon cancer, she said, she was surprised at what she discovered—she had a cancer often described as an "old man's disease." She was not an old man. Why did she have a cancer that in many cases develops slowly over time, from an accumulation of cellular insults? She not only had to wonder why she had cancer; she had to wonder why she had this kind of cancer. The question of whether she inherited a predisposition for colon cancer made her realize how little control she had over her future. It was one of the reasons she was so driven to find out what was happening to her. She had to know. Knowledge might not save her, but it could save her daughters, who would be able to get tested and, possibly, treated preemptively. It would be her gift to them.
On C&A Marketing
Like a plot detail out of a William Gibson novel, C&A Marketing mines Amazon reviews for complaints and insight to inform what real-world products it should make next.
Fast Company: Jason Feifer - The Amazon Whisperer
This is the heart of C&A: Each buyer has a specialty--beach products, cellular accessories, and so on. Their job is to scour the web to learn all the features people wish a product had, and hire a manufacturer, often in China, to make the desired version. Pikarski lets each buyer create their own Hipe-style brand name, and order anywhere from a dozen to a truckload of units. If they sell well, the product is renewed. Otherwise, it's junked
On conspiracy theories
New York magazine looks at half a century on government coverups, hoaxes, inside jobs, and more. Start with Benjamin Wallace-Wells' introduction.
The seduction of conspiracy is the way it orders chaos. In the summer of 1964, the English philosopher and logician Bertrand Russell—past 90 years old then and possibly the most famously rational person on the planet—read the early accounts of the Warren Commission Report with mounting alarm. None of the important questions, he thought, were being answered. There was the matter of the parade route being changed without explanation at the last minute, so that the motorcade passed Lee Harvey Oswald’s workplace; the geometrically confounding arrangement of entry and exit wounds; the curious fact that an alibi witness who helped get an alternate suspect released from custody turned out to be a stripper at Jack Ruby’s club.
On lucid dreaming
Dorian Rolston profiles Stephen LaBerge, a scientist studying lucid dreaming on the fringes of the scientific community.
Matter: Dorian Rolston - Why the world’s most talented dreamers may hold the secret to a new state of consciousness
The very existence of lucid dreams has been widely debated. According to prevailing theory, areas of the brain that generate self-reflection and govern rational thought throttle down as dreams start up. As our slumber deepens, we lose our short-term memory and self-awareness and, as a consequence, can’t spot the non sequiturs that fill our dreams, or even locate the actual position of our bodies. Only in the cold light of day, when executive functions come back online, do we realize how outlandish our dream plots are.
For more great longreads, visit our friends at Longreads.
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.