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The best tech writing of the week, November 18

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 this week's reads as a Readlist.

On scaling

Paul Ford writes about the Occupy Wall Street offshoot Rolling Jubilee, which proposes to buy up consumer debt for cheap, and the problems of scaling as it applies to politics, recovery, and more.

New York: Paul Ford - Big Problems, Little Solutions: For the New Occupy, Size Is Everything

Scaling is everything. A site that works perfectly for a hundred people fails catastrophically with a hundred thousand. If you expect traffic you can’t just hope for the best. There are dials to turn, files to configure, variables to tweak. For big companies like Twitter, Facebook, and Google, a huge portion of their annual effort is in scaling—ferreting out weak links and choke points and replacing them with finely tuned code on finely tuned hardware.

On passwords

Mat Honan's back with a deep dive into security, this time looking at the past, present, and future of passwords.

Wired: Mat Honan - Kill the Password: Why a String of Characters Can’t Protect Us Anymore

Eventually, as the number of epic hacks increased, we started to lean on a curious psychological crutch: the notion of the "strong" password. It’s the compromise that growing web companies came up with to keep people signing up and entrusting data to their sites. It’s the Band-Aid that’s now being washed away in a river of blood.

On election tech

Alexis Madrigal writes about the stress and success of the digital efforts behind Obama's campaign for reelection, ranging from Harper Reed and his tech team to the social front.

The Atlantic: Alexis Madrigal - When the Nerds Go Marching In

For all the hoopla surrounding the digital savvy of President Obama's 2008 campaign, and as much as everyone I spoke with loved it, it was not as heavily digital or technological as it is now remembered. "Facebook was about one-tenth of the size that it is now. Twitter was a nothing burger for the campaign. It wasn't a core or even peripheral part of our strategy," said Teddy Goff, Digital Director of Obama for America and a veteran of both campaigns. Think about the killer tool of that campaign, my.barackobama.com; It borrowed the my from MySpace.

On payment

Pitchfork: Damon Krukowski - Making Cents

Damon Krukowski, of alt rock band Galaxie 500, digs into payments from Spotify and Pandora to provide some perspective on royalties and streaming music.

As businesses, Pandora and Spotify are divorced from music. To me, it's a short logical step to observe that they are doing nothing for the business of music-- except undermining the simple cottage industry of pressing ideas onto vinyl, and selling them for more than they cost to manufacture. I am no Luddite-- I am not smashing iPhones or sabotaging software. In fact, I subscribe to Spotify for $9.99 a month (the equivalent of 680,462 annual plays of "Tugboat") because I love music, and the access it gives me to music of all kinds is incredible.

On Syria

Stephan Faris investigates the ongoing hacks, online disinformation, and more used in the midst of the Syrian conflict.

Bloomberg Businessweek: Stephan Faris - The Hackers of Damascus

The cyberwar in Syria began with a feint. On Feb. 8, 2011, just as the Arab Spring was reaching a crescendo, the government in Damascus suddenly reversed a long-standing ban on websites such as Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and the Arabic version of Wikipedia. It was an odd move for a regime known for heavy-handed censorship; before the uprising, police regularly arrested bloggers and raided Internet cafes. And it came at an odd time.

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.

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