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The best writing of the week, December 30

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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 it all as a Readlist here.

On US broadband

In an excerpt from her new book Captive Audience: The Telecom Industry and Monopoly Power in the New Gilded Age, former special assistant to President Obama Susan Crawford looks at the sad, stagnating, and shortsighted goals for national US internet access.

Bloomberg View: Susan Crawford - U.S. Internet Users Pay More for Slower Service

In 2004, the Lafayette utilities system decided to provide a fiber-to-the-home service. The new network, called LUS Fiber, would give everyone in Lafayette a very fast Internet connection, enabling them to lower their electricity costs by monitoring and adjusting their usage. Push-back from the local telephone company, BellSouth Corp., and the local cable company, Cox Communications Inc., was immediate. They tried to get laws passed to stop the network, sued the city, even forced the town to hold a referendum on the project -- in which the people voted 62 percent in favor. Finally, in February 2007, after five civil lawsuits, the Louisiana Supreme Court voted, 7-0, to allow the network.

On different users

Talking to his younger sister in high school, Branch's Josh Miller finds some interesting differences in how generations use some of the biggest social networks. Similarly, check out Jordan Crook's take on Snapchat over at TechCrunch.

Medium: Josh Miller - Tenth Grade Tech Trends

My sister maintains that Snapchat is up there with Instagram, in terms of usage amongst her peers. Her exemplary use case was a moment that she captured in the airport of a funny looking man who was snoozing in an awkward position. It’s the type of thing that you want to share with somebody, but it’s insignificance would make it awkward in a text or status update. "It’s a way to connect with friends when you don’t really have anything to say."

On Jaron Lanier

Ron Rosenbaum profiles early internet pioneer Jaron Lanier and his break from the Silicon Valley mainstream.

Smithsonian Magazine: Author - What Turned Jaron Lanier Against the Web?

And then, shortly after the turn of the century, just when the rest of the world was turning on to Web 2.0, Lanier turned against it. With a broadside in Wired called "One-Half of a Manifesto," he attacked the idea that "the wisdom of the crowd" would result in ever-upward enlightenment. It was just as likely, he argued, that the crowd would devolve into an online lynch mob.

Lanier became the fiercest and weightiest critic of the new digital world precisely because he came from the Inside. He was a heretic, an apostate rebelling against the ideology, the culture (and the cult) he helped found, and in effect, turning against himself.

On robots

Kevin Kelly, with the aid of photographs of Jimmy Fallon fallen into Björk's "All is Full of Love" video, describes the paths forward for the oncoming robot revolution.

Wired: Kevin Kelly - Better Than Human

We have preconceptions about how an intelligent robot should look and act, and these can blind us to what is already happening around us. To demand that artificial intelligence be humanlike is the same flawed logic as demanding that artificial flying be birdlike, with flapping wings. Robots will think different. To see how far artificial intelligence has penetrated our lives, we need to shed the idea that they will be humanlike.

On Lebbeus Woods

The New York Times architecture critic Michael Kimmelman remembers Lebbeus Woods as part of the Magazine's The Lives They Lived series.

The New York Times: Author - Lebbeus Woods

His drawings, haunted and chockablock with weird machines and otherworldly vistas, meditated on destruction, poverty, science and afflicted cities like Sarajevo, Zagreb and Havana, where he imagined quasi-Cubist designs like bandages on open wounds. Accompanied by suggestive but often incomprehensible texts, the drawings mixed Piranesi with Ridley Scott: dystopian throwbacks, painstakingly handcrafted in an era of computer-generated modeling.

On big data

Andrew Hacker looks at Nate Silver's latest book and others on uncertainty and prediction to explore the advances and limitations in our abilities to make predictions.

The New York Review of Books: Andrew Hacker - How He Got It Right

Much is made of ours being an era of Big Data. Silver passes on an estimate from IBM that 2.5 quintillion (that’s seventeen zeros) new bytes (sequences of eight binary digits that each encode a single character of text in a computer) of data are being created every day, representing everything from the brand of toothpaste you bought yesterday to your location when you called a friend this morning. Such information can be put together to fashion personal profiles, which Amazon and Google are already doing in order to target advertisements more accurately. Obama’s tech-savvy workers did something similar, notably in identifying voters who needed extra prompting to go to the polls.

On John McAfee

Joshua Davis tells John McAfee's long, strange story from selling and snorting cocaine in California, to becoming a massively wealthy man via his successful McAfee Associates, to his recent exploits in Belize, Guatemala, and the US.

Wired: Joshua Davis - John McAfee’s Last Stand

When I tell him that the locals I spoke with can remember only two murders in the past three years, he argues that I’m not asking the right questions. To illustrate his point, he takes out his pistol.

"Let’s do this one more time," he says, and puts it to his head. Another round of Russian roulette. Just as before, he pulls the trigger repeatedly, the cylinder rotates, the hammer comes down, and nothing happens. "It is a real gun. It has a real bullet in one chamber," he says. And yet, he points out, my assumptions have somehow proven faulty. I’m missing something.

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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