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The best writing of the week, July 28

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Your Sunday reading

read lead 1020
read lead 1020

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 full list as a Readlist.

On oranges

Amy Harmon reports on Rick Kresse, the president of Southern Garden Citrus, and his quest to save the orange through genetic engineering.

The New York Times: Amy Harmon - A Race to Save the Orange by Altering Its DNA

An emerging scientific consensus held that genetic engineering would be required to defeat citrus greening. "People are either going to drink transgenic orange juice or they’re going to drink apple juice," one University of Florida scientist told Mr. Kress.

And if the presence of a new gene in citrus trees prevented juice from becoming scarcer and more expensive, Mr. Kress believed, the American public would embrace it. "The consumer will support us if it’s the only way," Mr. Kress assured his boss.

On Silicon Valley

Alexis Madrigal maps the origins of Silicon Valley, finding the geographical center of its old industrial roots.

The Atlantic: Alexis Madrigal - Not Even Silicon Valley Escapes History

In our Internet-happy present, it’s easy to forget that up until the mid-1980s, Silicon Valley was an industrial landscape. Hundreds of manufacturers lined the streets of Sunnyvale, Palo Alto, Cupertino, Mountain View, and San Jose. This is the Silicon Valley when AMD, Apple, Applied Materials, Atari, Fairchild, Hewlett-Packard, Intel, National Semiconductor, Varian Associates, Xerox, and hundreds of other companies made their products right here in the Bay.

On Sunil Tripathi

Jay Caspian Kang reports on the misidentification of Sunil Tripathi as the Boston Bomber, Reddit, and the evolving nature of breaking news.

The New York Times: Jay Caspian Kang - Should Reddit Be Blamed for the Spreading of a Smear?

"Almost every news outlet that came to us said the same three things," Sangeeta added. "The first was, ‘How was that night?’ The second was, ‘Is Sunny still missing?’ And the third was, ‘This is a silver lining because now you’re getting his name out.’ It was interesting to see how formulaically they processed that arc. The costs to somebody who is in a fragile state are immense and not undone by a casual apology," she said. "This is precedent-setting for what will happen for other individuals."

On growth

Benjamin Wallace-Wells profiles Robert Gordon, an economist who argues the incredible growth and improvement in standard of living over the past three centuries as a historical fluke.

New York Magazine: Benjamin Wallace-Wells - The Blip

It meant that during the whole modern era from 1750 onward—which contains, not coincidentally, the full life span of the United States—human well-being accelerated at a rate that could barely have been contemplated before. Instead of permanent stagnation, growth became so rapid and so seemingly automatic that by the fifties and sixties the average American would roughly double his or her parents’ standard of living. In the space of a single generation, for most everybody, life was getting twice as good.

At some point in the late sixties or early seventies, this great acceleration began to taper off.

On Hall H

Todd VanDerWerff does a fantastic job over at Grantland of conveying the crazy spectacle of Comic-Con's massive Hall H.

Grantland: Todd VanDerWerff - A Day Inside Comic-Con's Hall H: Worshiping in the Ultimate Movie Church

Hall H itself is basically a hamster habitat for humans. The room itself is a vast cavern, filled with mazes of chairs. It’s cold — horrifically so when only a handful of people are inside — and dry. Once you enter Hall H, you’re generally not allowed to leave, except under extraordinary circumstances. You’re trapped, kept in the habitat by the fact that if you leave, you’ll surely never survive that long line again. The whole experience is not exactly, how shall I say this, aesthetically pleasing. It’s a utilitarian public space, meant to placate the most people as quickly as possible, not unlike many of the films shown there.

On ideas

Using the examples of anaesthesia, antisepsis, and cholera rehydration solutions, Atul Gawande explores why some innovations catch on almost immediately while others lag for years. With more recent studies, he looks at the decidedly non-technological solutions that can help life-saving ideas spread faster.

The New Yorker: Atul Gawande - Slow Ideas

In the era of the iPhone, Facebook, and Twitter, we’ve become enamored of ideas that spread as effortlessly as ether. We want frictionless, "turnkey" solutions to the major difficulties of the world—hunger, disease, poverty. We prefer instructional videos to teachers, drones to troops, incentives to institutions. People and institutions can feel messy and anachronistic. They introduce, as the engineers put it, uncontrolled variability.

On restaurant bots

John Herrman reports on the rise of bots in San Francisco designed to swoop in to online reservation sites with superhuman speeds.

BuzzFeed FWD: John Herrman - Why Robots Are Stealing Your Dinner Reservations

"In under a minute, all the reservations were being taken," he says. The bots had taken over.

Who exactly was running these bots was unclear, but Mónica quickly put together a reservation bot of his own. Asked if he knew anyone else who was using one, he responded: "Every single engineer in SF that is also a foodie. Starting [with] my co-workers here at Square."

For more great reads, 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.