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The best tech writing of the week, November 11

long reads

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 these stories as a Readlist.

On Star Wars

Drawing on a childhood spent with Star Wars, Brian Phillips talks about problems of self-awareness and pleasing the fans that the upcoming Disney sequels face.

Grantland: Brian Phillips - Return of the Jedi

There's no moment when a genre convention is fulfilled, or subverted, and the filmmakers insert a little quip or beat or one-liner to let us know they're in on the joke. The second Star Wars trilogy, the prequels, is particularly bad about telegraphing its awareness of our awareness of the first Star Wars trilogy; there's so much stuff (Boba Fett's backstory!) that only remotely matters because of held-over feelings from the first three movies.

On choice

Mike Spies considers how music discovery and appreciation have changed in the instant gratification era of Rdio and Spotify. Thanks, Simon Reynolds.

The New Yorker: Mike Spies - Spotify and its discontents

We seem to have created an environment in which wonderful music, newly discovered, is difficult to treasure. For treasures, as the fugitive salesman in the flea market was implying, are hard to come by—you have to work to find them. And the function of fugitive salesmen is to slow the endless deluge, drawing our attention to one album at a time, creating demand not for what we need to survive but for what we yearn for.

On celebrity engagement

Brooks Barnes digs into one of the companies behind the online presence of celebrities like Jack Black, Hugh Jackman, Eddie Murphy, and many more.

The New York Times: Brooks Barnes - A-Listers, Meet Your Online Megaphone

To agents, the metrics of theAudience offer crucial leverage: If you cast Ms. Theron in a movie, she comes with an ability to fill seats through her social network, and we can prove it with data. Oh, and she needs to be paid more because of that. The same leverage holds true for sealing endorsement deals, which is where celebrities, and their agency backers, increasingly make their real money.

On fact-checking

David Carr looks at the growth of the online fact checking "cottage industry" and its effectiveness — or lack thereof — during this year's elections.

The New York Times: David Carr - A Last Fact Check: It Didn’t Work

Half-truths are now fully baked into political discourse and the public is inured to the growing forest of fibs, but people certainly seem to like watching the fact-check spanking machine at full speed. Fact checking, as it turns out, is more of a cottage industry than a civic corrective.

On Politico

In case you missed it last week, check out Alex Pareene's critique on the rise of Politico

The Baffler: Alex Pareene - Come On, Feel the Buzz

In debuting a minute-by-minute chronicle of the permanent campaign by, for, and about terminal Hill insiders, VandeHei and Harris went all in on the enabling fiction that the seamiest features of human nature—which would find full expression in Politico’s quest to discredit rivals, to distort simple political aims and ideas with drive-by caricatures, and to float personality-based digital memes across the gossip-driven agoras of social media—were themselves somehow news, and therefore newsworthy.

On power

Following hurricane Sandy and the massive power outages throughout the northeast, Tim Wu highlights an alternative system, rooted in the ideas of the internet.

The New Republic: Tim Wu - Power Is Finally Back in Manhattan. Here's How to Make Sure It Never Goes Out Again

There's a better system. It goes by various names, including "microgrid" and "distributed generating." The basic idea is to make the electric network more like the Internet. If well implemented, a better topology would make power failures less likely, and shorter when they happen. The key is to decentralize: to turn a regional electric network into a network of smaller, neighborhood networks, that no single points of failure, so no one substation can take down half a million homes.

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.

The Verge
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