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The best writing of the week, February 9

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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 Tyrone Hayes

Rachel Aviv reports on herbicide maker Syngenta's attempts to discredit biologist Tyrone Hayes.

The New Yorker: Rachel Aviv - A valuable reputation

Hayes has devoted the past fifteen years to studying atrazine, and during that time scientists around the world have expanded on his findings, suggesting that the herbicide is associated with birth defects in humans as well as in animals. The company documents show that, while Hayes was studying atrazine, Syngenta was studying him, as he had long suspected. Syngenta’s public-relations team had drafted a list of four goals. The first was “discredit Hayes.”

On Microsoft

Following the announcement of new Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella, John Gruber offers fantastic perspective on what went wrong at the software giant.

Daring Fireball: John Gruber - Microsoft, Past and Future

The Microsoft of 1984, a decade away from industry dominance, wrote software for the original Mac, and learned from it. When Bill Gates first saw a Mac, he didn’t laugh — he wanted to know how it worked, right down to specific details, like the smooth animation of its mouse cursor.

On Philip Seymour Hoffman

Paul Ford and Matt Buchanan consider the way we deal with celebrity deaths now, racing to crowdsource a rough eulogy of photos, videos, quotes spread across Tumblr, Twitter, Facebook, and more.

Elements: Paul Ford and Matt Buchanan - Death in a crowd

Finding the right image meant more attention, more favorites, and more influence. In the currency of social media, black and white trumped color; pensive, vulnerable expressions won out; content about Hoffman’s addiction was more relevant than that without; and a scene from “Almost Famous,” in which Hoffman’s character dispenses practical wisdom about being “uncool,” became the video clip considered the most illustrative of his life.

On transcription

Matt Seidel writes about what it's like to create closed captions.

The Morning News: Matt Seidel - Tale of the Transcription Tape

I do freelance editing work for a captioning and transcription company. On my worst days as a transcriber, I’m an unthinking drone, a Bartleby who doesn’t even have a curious narrator to speculate over his inner workings. On my best days, I consider myself something of a medium, a modern-day oracle who crafts a garbled mess spit out by the voice-recognition software gods into a signifying whole.

On 'Flappy Bird'

Ian Bogost regards the popularity and appeal of brutally hard App Store gaming sensation Flappy Bird.

The Atlantic: Ian Bogost - The Squalid Grace of Flappy Bird

Flappy Bird is not difficult to challenge you, nor even to teach the institution of videogames a thing or two. Rather, Flappy Bird is difficult because that’s how it is. It is a game that is indifferent, like an iron gate rusted shut, like the ice that shuts down a city. It’s not hard for the sake of your experience; it’s just hard because that’s the way it is. Where masocore games want nothing more than to please their players with pain and humiliation (thus their appropriation of the term “masochism”), Flappy Bird just exists. It wants nothing and expects even less.

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.