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The best writing of the week, August 4

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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 entire list as a Readlist.

On Marissa Mayer

Brad Stone looks back on CEO Marissa Mayer's first year at Yahoo.

Businessweek: Brad Stone - Can Marissa Mayer Save Yahoo?

Mayer had pursued the position in total secrecy. She had to say the code words "project cardinal" to a limo driver waiting outside her Palo Alto home, who then drove her to a Silicon Valley law firm for a meeting with Yahoo’s board. The board was supposed to call with its decision by 8 p.m. When the hour arrived, she and her husband, investor Zachary Bogue, were at a dinner party, and Mayer was battling the urge to keep checking her phone. "I saw such an opportunity here," she says, "and felt like I had so many ideas." She also felt that after 10-plus years at Google, it was time to leave.

On the machine zone

Alexis Madrigal considers the designs behind apps and services that create a psychological state similar to the addictive nature of slot machines. Should apps and services really be optimized to keep people playing?

The Atlantic: Alexis Madrigal - The Machine Zone: This Is Where You Go When You Just Can't Stop Looking at Pictures on Facebook

What is the machine zone? It’s a rhythm. It’s a response to a fine-tuned feedback loop. It’s a powerful space-time distortion. You hit a button. Something happens. You hit it again. Something similar, but not exactly the same happens. Maybe you win, maybe you don’t. Repeat. Repeat. Repeat. Repeat. Repeat. It’s the pleasure of the repeat, the security of the loop.

On fire ants

Justin Nobel writes about the rapid spread of fire ants across the United States and the challenge of keeping them contained. Once you're done, check out this video that shows how fire ants can form a floating raft out of themselves.

Nautilus: Justin Nobel - Ants Go Marching

The problem with poison was that ants often simply moved into the neighbor’s yard, requiring neighborhood-wide poisoning efforts—in other words, it took a village to rid itself of the pests. Another trick involved two people shoveling ants from separate mounds into one another—according to Richard, the ants will assassinate the foreign queens. And then there is gasoline, apparently Alabama’s preferred eradication method. "Take a broom handle, stick it down the mound, pour gas on it, and I know it’s gonna burn whatever is in there," Richard said excitedly.

On justice

Ariel Levy reports on the Steubenville rape case and the online vigilantes that chased justice through public shaming.

The New Yorker: Ariel Levy - Trial by Twitter

There was no physical evidence of a crime, and the victim had no memory of one occurring. Fifteen years ago, Richmond and Mays would have escaped suspicion: before smartphones and Twitter, rumors floated around high schools and then dissipated, often before adults knew what was real and what was adolescent imagination. As it was, the evidence was limited to tweets, the photograph of Richmond and Mays carrying the girl, and a cell-phone video recorded late on the night of the parties and then uploaded to YouTube.

On guns

Terry Greene Sterling heads out to Arizona for the Big Sandy Shoot, the United States' biggest machine gun shoot where millions of rounds of ammunition are fired.

Slate: Terry Greene Sterling - Fire in the Hole!

I join several ear-protected onlookers staring at the cannon. Someone says it was built in 1942. We're careful not to stand directly behind, in case it backfires.

The cannon guy is oblivious to the attention. He's a graceful, slender man with a cryptic smile. He looks to be in his 40s and wears a Panama hat, an immaculate sports shirt and tailored slacks, as though he'll soon be heading off to a golf game at the club. He's in a cannon-firing Zen trance, mechanically loading and shooting, loading and shooting, loading and shooting. Later, I ask him his name. He won't give it. He doesn't want to be photographed. He looks rich.

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.