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The best writing of the week, February 23

Your Sunday reading

read leads new
read leads new

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 WhatsApp

Parmy Olson tells the story of WhatsApp and its founder Jan Koum.

Forbes: Parmy Olson - The Rags-To-Riches Tale Of How Jan Koum Built WhatsApp Into Facebook's New $19 Billion Baby

With Koum and Acton working for free for the first few years, their biggest early cost was sending verification texts to users. Koum and Acton were using cutthroat SMS brokers like Click-A-Tell, who’d send an SMS to the U.S. for 2 cents, but to the Middle East for 65 cents. Today SMS verification runs the company about $500,000 a month. The costs weren’t so steep back then, but high enough to drain Koum’s bank account.

On space tunes

Alex Ross talks to composer and musician Laurie Spiegel about copyright law and the Voyager spacecraft's Golden Record.

The New Yorker: Alex Ross - The interstellar contract

Yes, it is an amazing accomplishment for us humans, but it can also generate a feeling that a small part of us, the accumulated living habitation of this planet, has been propelled farther away from its home than anything ever should be. The rational part of my mind knows that I shouldn’t anthropomorphize, and see the Voyager as a being in exile or even as an extension of our own organic sensory systems. Possibly, my doing so is a carryover reaction from my horror and sadness when I learned of the Soviet dog, Laika, who died on the Muttnik (Sputnik 2) space mission that launched when I was twelve. We know all too well what a double-edged sword our technological and information-structuring brilliance can be.”

On Krebs on Security

Nicole Perlroth profiles cybersecurity writer and researcher Brian Krebs.

The New York Times: Nicole Perlroth - Reporting From the Web’s Underbelly

Mr. Krebs — a former reporter at The Washington Post who taught himself to read Russian while jogging on his treadmill and who blogs with a 12-gauge shotgun by his side — is so entrenched in the digital underground that he is on a first-name basis with some of Russia’s major cybercriminals. Many call him regularly, leak him documents about their rivals, and try to bribe and threaten him to keep their names and dealings off his blog.

On the center of the world

Jon Mooallem writes about Jacques-André Istel, the idiosyncratic dreamer and mayor of Felicity, California.

The New York Times Magazine: Jon Mooallem - A Journey to the Center of the World

Arguably, any point on the surface of the globe could be considered the center of the world — the globe being almost a perfect sphere — and Istel doesn’t argue with that. “The center of the world could be in your pocket!” he told me. And yet, he has managed to make his center of the world the Official Center of the World: In May of 1985, Istel cajoled the Imperial County Board of Supervisors to join in his absurdist joke and designate that point in Felicity as the middle of everything. A plaque now marks the spot; visitors who pay a $3 fee can enter the pyramid and stand there.

On 'Noah'

Kim Masters reports on Paramount and director Darren Aronofsky's struggle to market his biblical epic Noah to Christian audiences.

The Hollywood Reporter: Kim Masters - Rough Seas on 'Noah': Darren Aronofsky Opens Up on the Biblical Battle to Woo Christians (and Everyone Else)

But as anyone who has seen Aronofsky's hallucinatory Black Swan or Requiem for a Dream might have guessed, his Noah was never going to be the white-bearded figure of popular imagination. "We wanted to smash expectations of who Noah is," says Aronofsky during a break from finishing the picture. "The first thing I told Russell is, 'I will never shoot you on a houseboat with two giraffes behind you.' ... You're going to see Russell Crowe as a superhero, a guy who has this incredibly difficult challenge put in front of him and has to overcome it."

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.