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 all of these as a Readlist.
Geoff Manaugh & Nicola Twilley met up with Mike Elizalde, CEO of Spectral Motion, the animatronics house behind films like Attack the Block, Hellboy, and the upcoming Pacific Rim. Also check out more at Venue.
The Atlantic: Geoff Manaugh & Nicola Twilley - Enter a Monster: How a Hollywood Effects Studio Builds Movie Creatures
And sometimes the monstrous defies definition. I guess it's more of a primal reaction--something you can't quite put your finger on or describe, but something that makes you feel uneasy. It makes you feel uncomfortable or frightened. A distortion of what is natural, or what you perceive as natural, something outside what you think is the order of things--or outside what you think is acceptable within what we've come to recognize as natural things--then that's a monster. That's a monstrous thing.
On computational creativity
Gary Marcus dropped by Manhattan's Institute of Culinary Education to check out I.B.M.'s efforts to build a model of how the human palate responds to flavor combinations.
The New Yorker: Gary Marcus - Cooking with I.B.M.: the Synthetic Gastronomist
Most work in computational creativity aims to replicate the styles of earlier masters; only rarely do machines reach for genuinely new territory. (David Cope’s famous computer program Emily, for example, tried to make ersatz Bach and faux Chopin, internalizing the greats but not daring to stray far from their well-trodden paths.) The goal here was different. “We’re not trying to solve the Turing test for cooking,” said Lav Varshney, one of the system’s designers. “We’re trying to invent new kinds of recipes.”
On synthetic drugs
Vanessa Grigoriadis explores the strange world of synthetic drugs and the new generation of "proto-Walter Whites" remixing the purest pleasures and highs.
New York: Vanessa Grigoriadis - Travels in the New Psychedelic Bazaar
Patents for these drugs are easy to find on Google Patents. That’s where many underground chemists and research-chemical vendors look for new drugs to synthesize, in hopes that their quasi-legal nature will help them get rich while staying out of jail. Once the drugs are on the market, gray-market tinkerers take them into their own labs or study them and make modifications — some members of the advanced-chemistry forums made variations on Huffman’s synthetic-pot group, for example, each with its own trip.
On the electrosensitive
Joseph Stromberg visits Green Bank, West Virginia, a town inside the US National Radio Quiet Zone, where a small group that claims to suffer from electromagnetic hypersensitivy is starting to grow.
Slate: future tense: Joseph Stromberg - Refugees of the Modern World
When you walk in the Schous’ two-story brick house, 4 miles up a forested road from the Green Bank post office, the first item you see might be a radiation meter they keep in their living room. She and her husband, Bert, moved here from Cedar Falls, Iowa, because they believe Diane is sensitive to very specific radio frequencies. She first began noticing her sensitivity in 2002, she says, when U.S. Cellular, a wireless provider based in the Midwest, built a tower near their farm. "I was extremely tired, but I couldn't sleep at night," she said. "I got a rash, I had hair loss, my skin was wrinkled, and I just thought it was something I ate, or getting older."
On Felix Baumgartner
William Langewiesche profiles Felix Baumgartner and the story behind his record-breaking jump.
Vanity Fair: William Langewiesche - The Man Who Pierced the Sky
Red Bull is an Austrian company, and a big deal in that town. It sells a form of intoxication like ultra-sobriety. In doing so it seems to have answered the old question about trees falling in forests when no one is around. The conclusion during energy-drink events, at least, is that nothing happens unless it happens on video—and that YouTube especially is the key. As a result Baumgartner’s capsule was hung with 15 cameras, and he himself was hung with 5.
On banner ads
Brian Morrissey tells the story of the birth of the baner ad, way back in the fall of 1994.
Digiday: Brian Morrissey - How the Banner Ad Was Born
Joe McCambley, a creative director at the shop, was enamored of the potential of the Web. What’s more, he had the perfect client, AT&T, which was in the midst of a campaign positioning itself as the facilitator of breakthrough tech under the tagline "You Will." Teaming with a techie named Craig Kanarick, who would go on to found seminal Internet agency Razorfish, McCambley set out to build the first banner. They holed up for four days to craft the execution.
On fictional interfaces
Finally, if you haven't been reading Make It So, a site building on the recent book, add it to your RSS reader now. The authors analyze on-screen interfaces in films ranging from The Fifth Element to Fritz Lang's classic Metropolis.
Make It So: Nathan Shedroff and Christopher Nossel - Make It So
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.