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The best writing of the week, January 13

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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 all of these as a Readlist here.

On HP

Businessweek writes about HP's deep history of trouble and what Meg Whitman faces in trying to turn it around, digging into infighting, CEO changes, and highlighting Steve Jobs' attempts to protect the company's legacy during the Mark Hurd sex scandal.

Bloomberg Businessweek: Ashlee Vance and Aaron Ricadela - Can Meg Whitman Reverse Hewlett-Packard's Free Fall?

Things are challenging at HP—more, perhaps, than at any time in its history. Customers are buying less of two of HP’s most important products—PCs and printers—while the company has amassed debt and laid out billions on acquisitions that haven’t worked out. Wall Street analysts have kicked off the New Year by saying that Whitman ought to break up the company. Since August 2010 the company has lost 70 percent of its share price and close to $68 billion in value.

On @dronestream

Joe Coscarelli interviews the Josh Begley, creator of @dronestream, a Twitter account that tweets every US drone strike.

New York: Joe Coscarelli - Tweeting Every U.S. Drone Strike Is Taking Way Longer Than Expected

When I started reading all the reports of drone strikes in Yemen, Pakistan, and Somalia, one thing stood out: the flatness of language. There are words like "militant" and "compound" and "hideout," which come to mean very little when you read them in such volume. I sincerely didn't know what the contours of our drone war looked like. So I wanted to dig into the data set about every reported U.S. drone attack and try to surface that information in a new way.

On hitmakers

James C. McKinley Jr. profiles Benny Blanco, the writer and musician between many modern pop music hits.

The New York Times: James C. McKinley Jr. - Benny Blanco, Hit Maker for Rihanna and Maroon 5

He shuns building music from scratch with computer-generated timbres. He instead seeks out traditional instruments and low-end keyboards, records them and then builds melodies and chords from the tones they yield. His studio is littered with peculiar instruments: rare guitars, ukuleles, a pump organ from Egypt, a Roland analog synthesizer from the 1970s, stacks of cheap Yamaha and Casio keyboards and assorted percussion instruments, toy pianos and accordions.

On the extraordinary

Kevin Kelly describes how the extremes of human experience are easier than ever to access and experience through the internet with the ubiquity of cameras and YouTube.

The Technium: Kevin Kelly - The Improbable is the New Normal

Every minute a new impossible thing is uploaded to the internet and that improbable event becomes just one of hundreds of extraordinary events that we'll see or hear about today. The internet is like a lens which focuses the extraordinary into a beam, and that beam has become our illumination. It compresses the unlikely into a small viewable band of everyday-ness. As long as we are online - which is almost all day many days -- we are illuminated by this compressed extraordinariness. It is the new normal.

On Aaron Swartz

Cory Doctorow remembers his friend Aaron Swartz, who committed suicide in New York on Friday. For additional reading on the JSTOR situation, don't miss Maria Bustillos on the RSS co-creator, former Reddit employee, and internet activist over at The Awl from a few few years ago. Lawrence Lessig, too.

BoingBoing: Cory Doctorow - RIP, Aaron Swartz

I met Aaron when he was 14 or 15. He was working on XML stuff (he co-wrote the RSS specification when he was 14) and came to San Francisco often, and would stay with Lisa Rein, a friend of mine who was also an XML person and who took care of him and assured his parents he had adult supervision. In so many ways, he was an adult, even then, with a kind of intense, fast intellect that really made me feel like he was part and parcel of the Internet society, like he belonged in the place where your thoughts are what matter, and not who you are or how old you are.

On social selling

The Mad Men era of Madison Avenue advertising may be long gone, but how effective is the metrics-heavy, new social marketing? Similarly, check out Kristen V. Brown's take on the quants taking over the ad business at AdWeek.

The New York Times: Stephen Baker - Can Social Media Sell Soap?

But advertising from social networks appeared to play only a supporting role. I.B.M. researchers found that on the pivotal opening day of the season, Black Friday, a scant 0.68 percent of online purchases came directly from Facebook. The number from Twitter was undetectable. Could it be that folks aren’t in a buying mood when hanging out digitally with their friends?

On cinematogrpahy and 'Les Mis'

Film Crit Hulk goes long on the basics of cinematography (with a bit of Gordon Willis thrown in) and the failings of Tom Hooper's 'Les Misérables.'

Badass Digest: Film Crit Hulk - Film Crit Hulk Smash: HULK VS. TOM HOOPER AND ART OF CINEMATIC AFFECTATION

AND HE FILMED IT IN A WAY THAT CONVEYS CHAOS AND DISCORD, OFF-KILTER WORLDS, SURREALISM, EVERYTHING-IS-GOING-TO-BE-OKAY-ROMANTIC-COMEDY-ISM, AND HE OVERUSED THE MOST POWERFUL TOOL OF CINEMATIC STORY CONTROL, CLOSE-UPS, BY DOING IT THE ENTIRE TIME, MEANWHILE EMPLOYING AN EQUAL METHOD THAT UNDOES THAT CLOSE-UP EFFECT BY HAVING THE CHARACTERS LOOK DIRECTLY AT THE CAMERA, WHICH HAS THE SOLE EFFECT OF BREAKING THE FOURTH WALL AND MAKING THE AUDIENCE UNCOMFORTABLE!?!??!?!?!?!?!?!?

On the smaller CES

Mat Honan takes a look at the smaller companies that come to CES every year.

Wired: Mat Honan - CES 2013: Land of the Dongle, Year of the Little Guy

He’s in the right spot. This is where you see the White Badge Holders. They’re the buyers for everyone from Sam’s Club to your local strip mall retailers. South Hall is swarming with them. They come to CES seeking bargains, and interesting products to stock their shelves. There are virtually no buyers to be found in Central Hall because all that stuff will end up in Best Buy and Walmart and Costco anyway. It’s preordained.

But for the little guys, the guys filling South Hall, CES is a make-or-break situation, and those buyers are their saviors. They have to get a buyers’ attention. And because there aren’t any must-see, gotta-have products from the giants from Korea and Japan and China this year, that attention is easier than ever to get.

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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