Ars Technica's best #longreads of 2017 🚀

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2017 has been a year of returns. We got a new Blade Runner and a new Star Trek, a new Amiga and a new Tamagotchi, even Sonic and Mario showed up again. So before the calendar hits 2018, we’re also doing our part—welcome to the Ars Technica Newsletter Orbital Transmission 2.0.

If you’re reading this, you once subscribed to our old newsletter and we’d invite you to check out what’s in store on Fridays this time around. Up top, you’ll get a quick glimpse at one of the big stories of the week or news about major upcoming happenings at the site. And from there, we’ll always share some of what you may have missed and offer a variety of timely insight and observations (for instance, the best Ars #longreads this week for all your plane, train, and automobile [non-driver or autonomous] travel in the coming days).

So sit back and enjoy one more comeback before the new year comes around. If it’s ultimately not for you, no pressure (we won’t judge if you unsubscribe). But if you find yourself along for the ride, feel free to reach out and let us know what you like and would like to see in 2018.

The Longreads

The year-end list topic du jour tends to be longform feature stories that blend compelling narratives, extensive reporting, and fresh insight. If our penchant for publishing 10,000 word iOS reviews or investigations into Google’s human workers every other day didn’t give it away, this is an art form we’re passionate about. Here are a few of our favorites from 2017.

Orbital Transmission 12.22.2017
When beauty is in the eye of the (robo)beholder

BIZ & IT

When beauty is in the eye of the (robo)beholder

Artificial Intelligence is used for everything from organizing your social media photos to analyzing DNA, but even the most futuristic concepts still depend on humans for now. Noël Duan looks at the latest quest to try and quantify universal beauty and discovers the state of modern AI continues to mimic the state of society itself.

Hanging by a thread: How the online nerdy T-shirt economy exists in an IP world

GAMING & CULTURE

Hanging by a thread: How the online nerdy T-shirt economy exists in an IP world

In an era where companies clutch to their IP tighter than ever before, why can someone buy (let alone make) a Zelda-Batman crossover shirt so easily? Willie Clark digs into the fragile ecosystem catering to our pop culture obsessions.

History by lawsuit: After Gawker’s demise, the “inventor of e-mail” targets Techdirt

REPLY ALL

History by lawsuit: After Gawker’s demise, the “inventor of e-mail” targets Techdirt

Suing a media outlet you disagree with into oblivion, reframing history for your own gain, rising to prominence through discrediting your opponents... the story of "e-mail creator" Shiva Ayyadurai is the story of 2017 itself.

This is probably the worst US flood storm ever, and I’ll never be the same

Science

This is probably the worst US flood storm ever, and I’ll never be the same

For a large swath of the US, the impact of Hurricane Harvey will forever be the story of 2017. Long-time Houstonian and world-class meteorological journalist Eric Berger captures both the human and emotional element alongside the scientific and political aspects of the latest storm of the century.

The underground story of Cobra, the 1980s’ illicit handmade computer

Tech

The underground story of Cobra, the 1980s’ illicit handmade computer

How do you break out of an oppressive, Communist stronghold? Information. But how do you get information in a barren tech landscape? That takes upstart tinkerers unafraid to start an illegal, DIY computing revolution. Romanian journalist Andrada Fiscutean tells the story of her home country's 1980s underground technological revolution.