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This week in Tech Reads: coal, animal actors, wasteful government spending, and more!

  • Coal provides 40% of the world's electricity. It's also a killer, whether by dangerous mining conditions or the toxic pollution it produces. Michelle Nijhuis takes a long look at how coal is produced and consumed, and asks, can it ever be clean? [National Geographic]
  • Oliver Morton examines how robots have "evolved" as the tasks we give them have changed. What can they tell us about ourselves, and the future we envision? [The Economist]
  • Rebecca Boyle ponders long about the spread of 24-hour artificial light. We know that electric light messes with our circadian rhythms, but just how badly will we function in a world without night? [Aeon Magazine]
  • Gregory Korte reports on the National Technical Information Service, an office of the U.S. federal government that exists solely to print and sell government documents. An astounding number of these documents are available online, for free, which prompted Sen. Tom Coburn to suggest closing down the agency with the impeccably named Let Me Google That For You Act of 2014. [USA Today]
  • Over at Businessweek, Michael Riley and Dorothy Gambrell devised a fantastic, interactive infographic explaining everything we know so far about the NSA and how it works. [BloombergBusinessweek]
  • Bruce Newman shows how the movie Noah was filmed without a single real-life animal, and asks whether animal actors will become extinct in the future of filmmaking. [National Geographic]

Image: The Left Coast Lifter sits docked in Hudson Harbor after its trip through the Panama Canal, coming to New York from San Francisco. Nearly 30 stories tall and able to lift up to 1,900 tons, the Left Coast Lifter now waits for construction work on The New NY Bridge to begin. Photo by Nicholas Stango