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The best tech writing of the week, December 16

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 all of these as a Readlist here.

On chemical warfare testing

Raffi Khatchadourian writes about the testing of psychoactive drugs on soldiers (and the scientists, doctors, and staff behind it) at the Army's Edgewood research facility during much of the Cold War.

The New Yorker: Raffi Khatchadourian - Operation Delirium

To demonstrate the effects of VX, he was known to dip his finger in a beaker containing the lethal agent, then rub it on the back of a shaved rabbit; as the animal convulsed and died, he would casually walk across the room and bathe his finger in a Martini to wash off the VX.

On the web

Anil Dash considers how much the web and its core values have changed, often for the worse, in the past decade.

Dashes: Anil Dash - The web we lost

We get bullshit turf battles like Tumblr not being able to find your Twitter friends or Facebook not letting Instagram photos show up on Twitter because of giant companies pursuing their agendas instead of collaborating in a way that would serve users. And we get a generation of entrepreneurs encouraged to make more narrow-minded, web-hostile products like these because it continues to make a small number of wealthy people even more wealthy, instead of letting lots of people build innovative new opportunities for themselves on top of the web itself.

On the 8-track

Collector's Weekly interviews Bucks Burnett, champion of the 8-track and founder several museums dedicated to the much-derided format.

Collector's Weekly: Hunter Oatman-Stanford - God Save the Eight-Track

In the mid-’60s, Bill Lear of Learjet wanted a format to play music in his airplanes, so he had his engineers develop a tape cartridge that they installed in the jets. Very quickly a light went off in his head. He’s like, "Wait, my jet customers love having music in the air. Why can’t I put this in cars?" Lear went out and lobbied all the big auto manufacturers in Detroit and got them to introduce a line of eight-track players in their 1966 cars.

On photography

Thomas Beller considers his photography habits, memory, and experience.

The New Yorker: Thomas Beller - Saying Goodbye to Now

I like action shots. I don’t use a flash. A little blur is O.K., as long as the flavor and mood of the light is there. I don’t ask for poses, in fact I actively discourage them. I still remember when my daughter, at the age of three or four, first displayed her fake camera smile. It was awful.

On emulation

Jason Scott talks about the trouble with strict, crisp recreation of video games via emulators, and the efforts to capture the "analog fog" of crappy monitors.

ASCII: Jason Scott - What a Wonder is a Terrible Monitor

"The vector lines, which are created by aiming a beam DIRECTLY AT YOUR EYES only to be stopped by a coated piece of glass, have a completely different feel. The phosphor glows, the shots look like small stars floating across the glass, and a raster line is not to be seen. It’s an entirely different experience, and the teenagers at MAGfest had never seen it before, and unfortunately, it is well on its way out."

On cable

Planet Money's Adam Davidson digs into the economics driving the current flood of great TV.

The New York Times: Adam Davidson - The ‘Mad Men’ Economic Miracle

At first, the cable industry’s ascendance into arguably America’s single-most-profitable big business makes almost no economic sense. Not long ago, three major networks controlled all of our viewing. Now dozens of channels reach a fraction of that audience. According to the basic rule of supply and demand, the revenue and profits should plummet. But those rules break down when an industry operates as a near monopoly.

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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