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22 DECEMBER, 2010

2010’s Best Long Reads: Science & Technology

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Longreads and Brain Pickings have teamed up to highlight the most fascinating in-depth stories published on the web this year. Earlier, we featured the best of Business and Art, Design, Film & Music. Our final spotlight shines on Science, Medicine & Technology.

FOR THE LOVE OF CULTURE

Google, Copyright and Our Future (Lawrence Lessig, The New Republic, Jan. 26, 2010)

Time to read: 26 minutes (6,454 words)

In the wake of the Google Books project—and the subsequent settlement with publishers — Lessig calls for a new approach that untangles copyright law and helps keep information accessible to all.

What are the rules that will govern culture for the next hundred years? Are we building an ecology of access that demands a lawyer at every turn of the page?”

For more on this complex and controversial subject, see our continuous coverage of remix culture.

SEARCH FOR A STRESS VACCINE

Under Pressure: The Search for a Stress Vaccine (Jonah Lehrer, Wired, July 28, 2010)

Time to read: 23 minutes (5,700 words)

Lehrer profiles Robert Sapolsky, a scientist researching ways to create a vaccine-like treatment to protect people against stress. (In early research he’s injected a modified herpes virus into rodents’ brains.)

Sometimes it’s not enough just to tell people, ‘Jeez, you should really learn to relax.’ If stress is half as bad for you as we currently think it is, then it’s time to stop treating the side effects. It’s time to go after stress itself.”

NEW DRUGS AND CLINICAL TRIALS

New Drugs Stir Debate on Rules of Clinical Trials (Amy Harmon, New York Times, Sept. 19, 2010)

Time to read: 17 minutes (4,173 words)

A heartbreaking story from Harmon’s “Target Cancer” series about two cousins with skin cancer enrolled in the same clinical trial — but only one of them received the powerful new drug.

At times beseeching and belligerent, Mr. McLaughlin argued his cousin’s case to get the new drug with anyone he could find at U.C.L.A. ‘Hey, put him on it, he needs it,’ he pleaded. And then: ‘Who the hell is making these decisions?'”

THE STATUS QUO OF ELECTRIC CARS

The Status Quo of Electric Cars: Better Batteries, Same Range (Gail E. Tverberg, The Oil Drum, May 19, 2010)

Time to read: 16 minutes (3,940 words)

The Chevy Volt is Motor Trend‘s Car of the Year, but Tverberg argues that, in many ways, we’re no better off with electric cars than we were a century ago.

Weight, comfort, speed and performance have eaten up any real progress. We don’t need better batteries, we need better cars.”

AUTISM’S FIRST CHILD

Autism’s First Child (John Donvan and Caren Zucker, The Atlantic, October 2010)

Time to read: 33 minutes (8,165 words)

While there is quite a bit of attention on autism as it relates to children, what happens when they grow up? Donvan and Zucker track down Donald Gray Triplett, 77, the first person ever diagnosed with autism.

Perhaps the most remarkable aspect of Donald’s life is that he grew up to be an avid traveler. He has been to Germany, Tunisia, Hungary, Dubai, Spain, Portugal, France, Bulgaria, and Colombia—some 36 foreign countries and 28 U.S. states in all.”

THE GOLDEN BOY AND THE INVISIBLE ARMY

The Golden Boy and the Invisible Army (Thomas Lake, Atlanta Magazine, June 2010)

Time to read: 19 minutes (4,777 words)

Writer Thomas Lake puts the H1N1 virus in human terms with this story of John Behnken, a 27-year-old Atlanta man who seemed an unlikely target for swine flu.

Dr. Stauffenberg had done close to 1,600 autopsies, and this was the first time she had seen an otherwise healthy person die from the unaided influenza virus.”

SHOULD WE CLONE NEANDERTHALS?

Should We Clone Neanderthals? (Zach Zorich, Archaeology, March/April 2010)

Time to read: 17 minutes (4,274 words)

An examination of the scientific, legal and ethical questions raised by the possibility that scientists may one day be able to clone neanderthals. At least one paleoanthropologist predicts: It’s going to happen.

If your experiment succeeds and you generate a Neanderthal who talks, you have violated every ethical rule we have, and if your experiment fails…well. It’s a lose-lose.”

THE PEANUT SOLUTION

The Peanut Solution (Andrew Rice, New York Times, Sept. 2, 2010)

Time to read: 21 minutes (5,258 words)

A peanut-buttery paste called Plumpy’nut is praised for its potential to help end malnutrition across the globe. Patents, intellectual property and competing interests make distribution more complicated.

I wouldn’t want to see a new world order where poor people are dependent on packaged supplementary foods that are manufactured in Europe or the United States.”

SHOOTING FOR THE SUN

Shooting for the Sun (Logan Ward, The Atlantic, November 2010)

Time to read: 13 minutes (3,149 words)

The story of Lonnie Johnson, an inventor with some 100 patents who is best-known for creating the Super Soaker squirt gun. His latest obsession: Bringing affordable solar power to the world.

Johnson is a member of what seems to be a vanishing breed: the self-invented inventor.”

THE PLASTIC PANIC

The Plastic Panic (Jerome Groopman, The New Yorker, May 31, 2010)

Time to read: 19 minutes (4,788 words)

Is the BPA found in plastic bottles actually harmful to us? And if so, why isn’t it banned in the United States? A look at the regulatory issues that keep potentially toxic chemicals in the marketplace.

The Toxic Substances Control Act, passed in 1976, does not require manufacturers to show that chemicals used in their products are safe before they go on the market.”

See more Longreads 2010 “best-of” lists here.

Mark Armstrong is a digital strategist, writer and founder of Longreads, a community and Twitter service highlighting the best long-form stories on the web. His thoughts about the future of publishing and content can be found here.

We’ve got a free weekly newsletter and people say it’s cool. It comes out on Sundays, offers the week’s main articles, and features short-form interestingness from our PICKED series. Here’s an example. Like? Sign up.

17 DECEMBER, 2010

2010’s Best Long Reads: Business

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Longreads and Brain Pickings have teamed up to highlight the most compelling in-depth stories published on the web this year. Earlier, we featured the best of Art, Design, Film & Music. Next up: Business. Here are 10 must-reads from 2010, from “wrongness” as a business strategy to procrastination to how culture can make (and break) a company.

Don’t miss our related selection of the year’s best books in Business, Life & Mind.

ON BEING WRONG

Error Message: Google Research Director Peter Norvig on Being Wrong (Kathryn Schulz, Slate, Aug. 3, 2010)

Time to read: 16 minutes (4,050 words)

Norvig explains what happens when a company (in this case Google) takes an engineering-centric approach to its products and business. First, it means that errors are actually a good thing.

“If you’re an engineer, you essentially want to be wrong half the time. If you do experiments and you’re always right, then you aren’t getting enough information out of those experiments.”

COCKTAIL PARTY IN THE STREET

A Cocktail Party in the Street: An Interview with TGI Friday’s Founder Alan Stillman (Nicola Twilley & Krista Ninivaggi, Edible Geography, Nov. 15, 2010)

Time to read: 17 minutes (4,193 words)

Before it arrived in strip malls around the country, TGI Friday’s was the first “singles bar” in New York City. Alan Stillman reflects on his transition from “looking to meet girls” to running a business.

“The restaurant business does come down to real estate … A restaurant owner is renting or sub-letting you a piece of real estate for the evening.”

WHAT AMAZON FEARS MOST: DIAPERS

What Amazon Fears Most: Diapers (Bryant Urstadt, Businessweek, Oct. 7, 2010)

Time to read: 14 minutes (3,468 words)

That which one fears… one buys. Just before Amazon plunked down $540 million for Diapers.com, Businessweek profiled co-founders Marc Lore and Vinit Bharara, whose company studied Amazon’s every move.

“We’re obsessed with Amazon … Recently I read every 10-K since 1996. It’s interesting to read all those 10-Ks in a row. They were doing so many things so soon.”

LATER

Later: What Does Procrastination Tell Us About Ourselves? (James Surowiecki, The New Yorker, Oct. 11, 2010)

Time to read: 14 minutes (3,574 words)

Take comfort in this exploration of the “basic human impulse” of putting work off.

“The idea of the divided self, though discomfiting to some, can be liberating in practical terms, because it encourages you to stop thinking about procrastination as something you can beat by just trying harder.”

THE NEW GAWKER MEDIA

The New Gawker Media (Felix Salmon, Reuters, Dec. 1, 2010)

Time to read: 25 minutes (6155 words)

There were almost as many Gawker long reads this year as there were Insane Clown Posse stories. None revealed more about the business of Nick Denton’s blogging empire than Felix Salmon’s breakdown of the company’s operations.

“The problem with Gawker Media’s current model—and this is true of many other sites, too, including the Huffington Post—is that it’s based on pageviews and those tyrannical CPMs. It’s essentially a junk-mail direct marketing model.”

A Q&A WITH A VACUUM CLEANER SALESMAN

A Q&A with a Vacuum Cleaner Salesman (Mike Riggs, The Awl, Nov. 24, 2010)

Time to read: 25 minutes (6,342 words)

Tense, depressing, and sometimes very funny, interview with “Darrell,” a door-to-door salesman in Florida whose specialty is selling elderly people on products they don’t need.

“I was like, ‘Ma’am, it’s called a referral. We’re gonna call them, and we’re gonna tell them you referred us. I’m just being honest with you.’ She was like, ‘No, no.’ And I was like, ‘Ok, just write down their name,’ because we are going to f—ing do this.”

WHAT HAPPENED TO YAHOO

What Happened to Yahoo (Paul Graham, August 2010)

Time to read: 8 minutes (1,935 words)

Was it all that banner-ad money being thrown at them? Or their ambivalence about technology? Paul Graham offers theories as to why Yahoo has struggled.

“The company felt prematurely old. Most technology companies eventually get taken over by suits and middle managers. At Yahoo it felt as if they’d deliberately accelerated this process.”

TALES OF A BANKRUPT CULTURE

At Flagging Tribune, Tales of a Bankrupt Culture (David Carr, The New York Times, Oct. 5, 2010)

Time to read: 16 minutes (4,081 words)

An archived Times piece from the swinging, inappropriate 1970s? No, a stunning present-day account of eyebrow-raising behavior by executives at the troubled Tribune Company. (CEO Randy Michaels resigned soon after.)

“After CEO Randy Michaels arrived, according to two people at the bar that night, he sat down and said, ‘watch this,’ and offered the waitress $100 to show him her breasts. The group sat dumbfounded.”

WHY I SOLD ZAPPOS

Why I Sold Zappos (Tony Hsieh, Inc., June 1, 2010)

Time to read: 9 minutes (2,271 words)

The Zappos CEO reveals the events leading up to his company’s purchase by Amazon, and the internal tensions over preserving its famously familial corporate culture.

“The board wanted me, or whoever was CEO, to spend less time on worrying about employee happiness and more time selling shoes.”

A BULLY FINDS A PULPIT ON THE WEB

A Bully Finds a Pulpit on the Web (David Segal, The New York Times, Nov. 28, 2010)

Time to read: 24 minutes (5,881 words)

The story that introduced us to the term “utterly noxious retail.” Online retailer DecorMyEyes cheated, threatened and stalked its customers — and then claimed to earn better Google rankings because of it.

“He might also be a pioneer of a new brand of anti-salesmanship that is facilitated by the quirks and shortcomings of Internet commerce and that tramples long-cherished traditions of customer service, like deference and charm.”

See more Longreads 2010 “best-of” lists here.

Mark Armstrong is a digital strategist, writer and founder of Longreads, a community and Twitter service highlighting the best long-form stories on the web. His thoughts about the future of publishing and content can be found here.

We’ve got a free weekly newsletter and people say it’s cool. It comes out on Sundays, offers the week’s main articles, and features short-form interestingness from our PICKED series. Here’s an example. Like? Sign up.

14 DECEMBER, 2010

2010’s Best Long Reads: Art, Design, Film & Music

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Longreads and Brain Pickings have teamed up to highlight the most fascinating in-depth stories published on the web this year, starting with Art, Design, Film & Music. Below are 10 must-reads from 2010, exploring everything from the beauty of trash to the manipulation of a TV game show to the personal and professional relationships that are forged — and shattered — in the name of art.

PLEASE ALLOW ME TO CORRECT A FEW THINGS

Please Allow Me to Correct a Few Things (Bill Wyman, Slate, Nov. 5, 2010)

Time to read: 20 minutes (5,103 words)

Not an actual letter written by Mick Jagger, responding point-by-point to offending passages in Keith Richards’ autobiography, Life. It’s better: Music critic Bill Wyman created this fictional correspondence to construct an in-depth history of Mick and Keith’s relationship.

“He’s just trying to get my attention, I think, in the end. The remaining part of the rancor comes from the fact that he knows he lost me, many years ago.”

CRIMES OF ART?

Crimes of the Art? (Michael Shnayerson, Vanity Fair, Dec. 1, 2010, 7062 words)

Time to read: 28 minutes (7,062 words)

A disturbing and heartbreaking portrait of a family grappling with its late father’s legacy: Was artist Larry Rivers a genius, an abuser, or both?

“Emma declares her father guilty of nothing less than child pornography, over a period of six years, with herself and Gwynne as his unwilling subjects.”

NEW YORK’S GARBAGE ANTHROPOLOGIST

New York’s Garbage Anthropologist (Alex Carp, The Believer, September 2010, 4009 words)

Time to read: 16 minutes (4,009 words)

There’s art in everything, even garbage. The Believer interviews Robin Nagle, the resident “garbage anthropologist” for New York City’s Department of Sanitation.

“Every single thing you see is future trash. Everything. So we are surrounded by ephemera, but we can’t acknowledge that, because it’s kind of scary.”

THE MARK OF A MASTERPIECE

The Mark of a Masterpiece (David Grann, The New Yorker, July 12, 2010, 16034 words)

Time to read: 64 minutes (16,034 words)

Peter Paul Biro uses fingerprint technology to help authenticate works of art–and writer David Grann puts the entire process under a microscope.

“When I asked Biro if he worried that his method might be flawed, he said that during nearly two decades of fingerprint examinations he had ‘not made one mistake.’ He added, ‘I take a long time and I don’t allow myself to be rushed.'”

STEPHEN TOBOLOWSKY: THE X FACTOR

Stephen Tobolowsky: The X Factor, Part One (Stephen Tobolowsky, The Awl, Aug. 2010, 4021 words)

Time to read: 16 minutes (4,021 words)

Character actor Stephen Tobolowsky is probably best known as Ned Ryerson from the movie Groundhog Day, and as Sandy Ryerson on the Fox show Glee. Few stories offer a more realistic glimpse of an actor’s life and what it’s like to audition in Hollywood. (Read part two here.)

“Message to young actors: When you first come to L.A. and you start to despair, remember the X-Factor. Hollywood is not like school. There is no syllabus and there are no grades-here you can succeed by complete failure.”

TV’S CROWNING MOMENT OF AWESOME

TV’s Crowning Moment of Awesome (Chris Jones, Esquire, Aug. 1, 2010, 5085 words)

Time to read: 20 minutes (5,085 words)

Esquire’s Chris Jones is on many Longreads best-of lists for his incredible profile of Roger Ebert (Click here to read it), but let’s not forget his investigation into a mysterious win on TV’s The Price Is Right. How, exactly, did Terry Kneiss make history by guessing the exact value of his Showcase Showdown?

“Terry believed that his brain and his eyes and his strong, deep voice made him the perfect vessel for exploiting weakness, for capitalizing on the imperfections of others — for seeing in their patterns an opportunity, a chance for him to break the game.”

AND GOD CREATED CONTROVERSY

And God Created Controversy (Jon Ronson, The Guardian, Oct. 9, 2010, 3141 words)

Time to read: 13 minutes (3,141 words)

If you aren’t a hardcore Juggalo, you can at least thank the Insane Clown Posse for inspiring some of the most bizarre stories of the past year. This one supposedly outs them as evangelical Christians. (See also: Inside the Gathering of the Juggalos, by Camille Dodero, Village Voice.)

“I suddenly wonder, halfway through our interview, if I am looking at two men in clown make-up who are suffering from depression.”

THE MAN WHO MAKES YOUR iPHONE

Apple & Design: The Man Who Makes Your iPhone (Frederik Balfour and Tim Culpan, Businessweek, Sept. 9, 2010, 5204 words)

Time to read: 21 minutes (5,204 words)

… paired with …

INTERVIEW WITH JOHN SCULLEY

Interview with John Sculley (Leander Kahney, Cult of Mac, Oct. 14, 2010, 8322 words)

Time to read: 33 minutes (8,322 words)

Two men who have worked close to Steve Jobs, in different ways: The first is a profile of Terry Gou, CEO of Foxconn, the China-based manufacturer whose 300,000 employees build the iPhone and other products. The second is an interview with former Apple CEO John Sculley, who looks back on his time working with Jobs and the mistakes he made.

“[Steve Jobs] was a person of huge vision. But he was also a person that believed in the precise detail of every step. He was methodical and careful about everything — a perfectionist to the end.”

CHERAYLA DAVIS: AMATEUR

Cherayla Davis: Amateur (Paul Hiebert, The Awl, Oct. 26, 2010, 2477 words)

Time to read: 10 minutes (2,477 words)

One aspiring singer’s story of near-misses and changing priorities–culminating in a performance at the Apollo Theater’s Amateur Night.

“‘I was tired of being poor, and a lot of people have to be poor before they make it, but I’m just not willing to do that,’ Cherayla said. ‘You know how someone says “You’re so talented, you’re going to be the next _______!” I don’t receive that anymore from people, and I don’t want that.'”

See more Longreads 2010 “best-of” lists here.

Mark Armstrong is a digital strategist, writer and founder of Longreads, a community and Twitter service highlighting the best long-form stories on the web. His thoughts about the future of publishing and content can be found here.

We’ve got a free weekly newsletter and people say it’s cool. It comes out on Sundays, offers the week’s main articles, and features short-form interestingness from our PICKED series. Here’s an example. Like? Sign up.