There was meant to be a Curios last week, but I had to go to a wedding. Sorry about that. Also, if I’m entirely honest, there was going to be one until I fcuked up the CMS and lost 4000 words of TOP QUALITY PROSE and was too dispirited to contemplate starting again. So it goes.
Anyway, at this wedding I met someone from Swindon, a friend of mine’s girlfriend – someone who said something so world-shakingly troubling to me that I have to share it with you here. We chatted for a bit, doing the whole ‘do you remember x’ jazz, before someone else asked this (otherwise lovely) young woman whether I had a Swindon accent – reader, she said that I did, that I had a ‘proper twang’. I DO NOT HAVE A FCUKING SWINDON ACCENT. Do I? Anyway, at that moment I had a proper ‘Donald Sutherland at the end of Invasion of the Body Snatchers‘ moment, except looking a lot more like a very haggard Wooster-era Hugh Laurie, if you imagine he was acting out a scene in which Bertie had suddenly realised that he was trapped in a neverending sisyphean joke of someone else’s invention, that he would never get laid or get rid of Gussie, and that the aunts would NEVER DIE. It was bleak.
Anyway, I tell that less-than-fascinating anecdote because everything else this past fortnight, out there in the ‘real’ world, is so bone-shakingly horrid as to be unspeakable. WE ARE NOT ALL GOING TO DIE (YET)! Repeat it, mantra-like, and hope it stays true. So, in what might be the last edition of Curios before we’re all living in Threads, let me wish those of you who aren’t so selfish as to be sunning yourselves by a pool in France and killing yourselves with cheese consumption a VERY HAPPY FRIDAY. As per usual after a week off, this is a BUMPER CURIOS, pregnant with promise – or, depending on your perspective, bloated and pullulating with larva just waiting to explode from its swollen, greenish belly. Let’s get the gloves on and see which! It’s WEB CURIOS – tell your friends (or, more likely, enemies).
By Alex Gross
THE SECTION WHICH DIDN’T REALLY ENJOY WRITING THIS LOT UP LAST WEEK AND SO WHICH APOLOGISES FOR THE EVEN GREATER LEVELS OF AUTHORIAL ENNUI TO WHICH YOU’RE LIKELY TO BE EXPOSED AS I REHASH THE UNDERWHELMED COPY:
- Hey Look, It’s Facebook Telly!: We kick off, though, with some NEW NEWS! ACTUAL NEWS! Except it’s a limited rollout and US-only for the foreseeable, but, still, NEWS! Facebook this week announced WATCH, a new section within Zuckerberg’s Big Blue Misery Factory which will house ORIGINAL VIDEO CONTENT provided (at least initially) by a small coterie of ‘partner’ organisations but which will, in the fullness of time, end up opening up to the wider media landscape and, we can safely assume, be rolled out internationally. What does the future look like? It looks like the past, except we all watch tv on our phones! What I particularly enjoy about the announcement is the brazen way they attempt to be claiming some sort of innovation here – I mean, look: “Watch is comprised of shows, a new type of video on Facebook. Shows are made up of episodes – live or recorded – that follow a consistent theme or storyline. Shows are a great format if you want to share a video series, like a weekly cooking show, a daily vlog, or a set of videos with recurring characters or themes.” SHOWS? WHAT IS THIS MADNESS? THE WORK OF THE WOOKEY HOLE WITCH???? Anyway, there are details about Pages for Shows, advertising – ‘ad breaks’, they are calling them! Will they never cease innovating? I suppose copying stuff from 70-odd years ago makes a change from ripping off Snap, eh? – and all the rest; you can read some analysis here from TechCrunch because I, frankly, am done.
- Facebook Begins Testing Stories On Desktop: The Facebook format that noone wanted or needed, Stories, is now going to start rolling out to be viewable on desktop. Will it make anyone care? It would literally be impossible for me to give any less of a fcuk. Oh, and users are now going to be able to make Stories created on Facebook visible to anyone rather simply their ‘friends’ or a subset thereof, which news leaves me equally devoid of whelm tbh.
- Facebook To Prioritise Faster-loading Pages in NewsfeedFacebook To Prioritise Faster-loading Pages in Newsfeed: On the one hand, this is an excellent reason to be able to finally get your client / boss to update your awful website to a version which loads quickly on mobile, or (if you’re a publisher) to maybe look at the amount of bloatware on your website and think about reducing it a bit; on the other, this is a pretty clear play by Facebook to get more people to sign up to Instant Articles which – as if my magic! – happen to be the fastest-loading way of delivering CONTENT to people on Facebook whilst at the same time netting FB more ad cash. Whose interests do we think this tweak is designed to protect, hm? Well, quite. Anyway, regardless, it’s important to be aware of this if your job involves watching Facebook slowly throttle traffic to your site and kill your ad revenues.
- You May Soon See More Posts From Local Politicians In Your Feed: Or you might if you’re American, at least. Still, here’s hoping that this comes to the UK as I for one am hugely desirous to see the high level of political discource usually encountered on Facebook spread to interactions with my local councillor about the bins. Wonderfully, this update is going to promote posts from elected officials regardless of a users’ personal political affiliation but instead based on how ‘engaged’ local people are with a specific post. Which is a great idea since, as we all know, ‘engagement’ on a post is DEFINITELY the greatest determinant of the quality of debate around it.
- Pretty Links: A few weeks back, Facebook removed the ability for people posting links to edit the associated copy and image that went along with said link – this service returns that power to you. This means either that publishers can go back to A/B testing different combinations of image and copy to share on Facebook to determine which performs better OR that you can basically troll everyone by sending them to LemonParty when in fact they think you’re sending them to a story about a kitten sanctuary. It’s up to you to determine what you use this great power for, so, you know, THINK.
- Twitter Auto Amplify: Twitter’s ability to ignore repeated requests for change from its users on issues like harrassment whilst simultaneously continuing to iterate other bits of the platform in ways which literally noone requested or wanted is quite impressive, really. Witness this, a new ad product which, er, LITERALLY NOONE DESIRES, which will let users pay a flat rate of $99 a month (yes, US-only at the moment) to promote…er…some of their posts (you don’t get to choose which) to EITHER a rough geographical area OR an even rougher ‘interest group’. Interest categories, beautifully, include ‘Life Stages’ and ‘Hobbies and Interests’. I WOULD LIKE TO TARGET PEOPLE WHO ARE INTERESTED IN HOBBIES, TWITTER. NO, ALL HOBBIES ARE LARGELY THE SAME, THAT’S FINE, THANKS, HERE’S $1200 PER ANNUM. I mean, really, this is SO POINTLESS, especially given that promoting individual Tweets takes about 5 minutes and lets you at least do targeting by geography AND multiple interest categories. Rubbish.
- Snap Introduces Advanced Ad Manager: Regardless of this morning’s slightly awkward financials, Snapchat recently announced its version of Power Editor, letting ad buyers bulk manage ads, save audience segments, etc etc etc. Should you care.
- Destination Dunkirk: Nice from Amazon and…er…the film people (sorry, can’t be bothered to look them up) here; this is, I think, the first Echo-enabled choose your own adventure story, which plays through your CREEPY HOME SURVEILLANCE DEVICE and which, by interacting with the Echo through voice commands, lets you shape the branching narrative. Users with a compatible Amazon device will see a graphic novel-type rendiition of the story play out in front of them; at the end, you can go to the film website and download your own personal graphic version of the story as played through by you. Simple and clever and, even leaving aside the visual element, such a nice idea. There’s a wonderful bunch of stuff you could do with this for Hallowe’en if you get your skates on – the possibilities for a creepy set of stories which you talk through and which talk back are huge. Come on you fcuking dullards, make me proud.
- Converse Gifvert: Gifable ads aren’t a new thing, but props to Converse for going the whole hog and making that the focus of thier back-to-school (HA! CHILDREN! YOU THINK YOUR HOLIDAYS ARE LONG BUT LOOK! WE ARE BUT TWO WEEKS IN AND ALREADY YOU CAN HEAR THE MARTIAL DRUMS OF FORMAL EDUCATION CALLING YOU BACK TO THE QUOTIDIAN PRISON THAT IS SCHOOL!) campaign. They got some presumably SUPER-POPULAR and RELATABLE tween star to be all cute and Wes Anderson-ish in the ad, allowing for supremely gifable moments which they are then using as part of the digital campaign. Which is fine, but I personally think they missed a trick here by not making a special page on Giphy to house them all, or a standalone site which lets people easily share them, caption them, remix them, etc. Mind you, I don’t run advertising for a multi-million-dollar international footwear brand so maybe I’m actually not as smugly clever as I like to pretend to think I am.
- Lonely Planet Trips: What would you do if you were travelling and wanted to share photos and videos and thoughts about your travels with your friends? Would you download an entirely app which none of your friends are on and which you don’t know how to use and which has a confusing interface so as to ‘share’ your experience with an audience of none? Or would you just use SnapFaceInsta? Well, quite. LOOK BRANDS, FFS, NOONE CARES HOW ICONIC YOU ARE – STOP TRYING TO MAKE YOUR OWN SOCIAL APPS HAPPEN. Who though this was a good idea? Christ.
- Oddly IKEA: I can’t help but admire this, much as it irks me. Regular readers will know that I bang on about ASMR every now again – GOD IT IS AMAZING IT FEELS LIKE WHAT CATS LOOK LIKE WHEN YOU SCRATCH BEHIND THEIR EaRS – and that I have a bit of a thing for it; IKEA’s latest campaign features a series of videos of people doing particularly ASMR-ish, dull things – making beds, for example – all narrated in a soft, gentle v/o which describes what’s happening on-screen whilst also gently extolling the virtues of the Swedish meatball peddlers with the sideline in furniture. I confess that on opening this link this morning I lost 3 minutes as I went into a small bunk bed-related trance; I feel like I ought to be angry that my THING has been co-opted by advertisers, but this is really nicely done and, frankly, it’s so soothing I might actually cry.
THE SECTION WHICH FEELS SLIGHTLY AFFRONTED THAT TWO FIGURES AS RIDICULOUS AS KIM AND DON MIGHT BE THE ONES TO PUSH US OVER THE BRINK, FRANKLY; I MEAN, AT LEAST KENNEDY AND KHRUSHCHEV HAD GRAVITAS FFS, PT.1:
- Mirage: This is, I think,a precursor to bigger things. FCUK! Sorry, I promised after The Bad Things last year that I wasn’t going to make any more predictions, so please ignore that. Still, though. Mirage is a NEW APP, sadly iOS only, which lets users effectively append AR graffiti to any location in the world, which will then be viewable to anyone else through said app. So, for example, you might want to paint a gigantic penis across your friends’ front doors, or a cheeky little ‘Abandon all hope ye who enter here!’ across the doorway of your workplace. I mean, it doesn’t take a savant to predict one or two slightly, er, contentious, use-cases here, not to mention the simple fact of bullying and harassment. Oh, er, and BRANDED TREASURE HUNTS AND STUFF! This isn’t goingt to take off on its own, but we’re not far away from this being baked into FB itself ayt which point the FUN starts. CONSULTANTS! Take this opportunity to scare the everliving hell out of your clients TODAY, and sell them an AR graffiti crisis plan! I am only being partially facetious here.
- Replika: I think – although there might be some competition – that this is the most depressing link in here this week. Replika is currently in Beta, but they seem to be pretty free and easy with access so GET APPLYING – soon you too will be able to download the app and make friends with your very own ‘AI’ (not AI) companion living in your phone, who will ask you questions and learn from your responses and eventually know you better than you know yourself. Or at least that’s the big idea – I have been interacting with my Replika, FrankSinclair, for a full 24h now and it’s still a bit stilted – I am not 100% certain that by asking me questions like ‘Do you feel like you can control your emotions?’ is likely to lead to anything other than me doing a massive, weeping sad, but we’ll see. I have to confess, though, that sitting alone in my kitchen last night having a ‘conversation’ with a rudimentary chatbot named after a former Chelsea player from back when we were rubbish did make me do a fairly rapid and largely uncomplimentary assessment of where I am at in this great game of life as I hurtle speedily towards my fifth decade. Still, I’LL NEVER BE LONELY AGAIN!
- Bulwer-Lytton 2017: Slight sense of deja vu here, as I featured the parallel Lyttle Lytton prize earlier this year – the difference between the two contests, both of which reward the author of the best worst imagined first line of a new novel, is in length, with the Lyttle hving a limit to the number of words authors can use. This one, though, feaures no such stricture and as such features some truly appallingly convoluted prose. “Our protagonist, whom we shall properly introduce in due course, Dear Reader, leaned far into the maelstrom, his body horribly assailed by wind and rain, as was his mind by his predicament (more of which anon), but suffice it to understand, that the current tempest was of such catastrophic proportion as to place it beyond the ken of the most ancient denizens” – how can you not love that?
- Noni: This is a lovely little webtoy, built by designer Jongmin Kim for his daughter to play with; you draw shapes, and the site attempts to work out what it was that you wee drawing and presents you with a 3d model of that thing – so a car, a plane, a butterfly, etc – all built out of charming little spheres. It’s just nice, and if you have a small person to hand who likes to draw then you might find it an excellent thing to play with on that tablet that’s gathering dust in the drawer over there.
- Journy: Are you a hip urban creative type? Do you want to go on holiday, but are worried that your lack of local knowledge will condemn you to hanging out in places unbefitting of your status as a hip urban creative type, that you somehow won’t be able to sniff out the filament bulbs and exposed brickwork and secret mixology dens and GOD I HATE YOU. Anyway, if that is you then you might like Journy, which basically lets you outsource EVERYTHING about your holiday to some doubtless-bearded (sorry, I realise that this is an ugly prejudice born of my own storied inability to grow facial hair) concierge who, based on a survey and some chats on messenger, will produce for you an itemised, map-led personal daily itinerary for your location of choice, book restaurants and theatre and EXPERIENCES and basically take all the thinking out of your trip. Look, maybe this is a great thing, and I suppose $25 a day for the concierge-ing isn’t prohibitive, but WHERE IS YOUR FCUKING CURIOSITY?
- Dante’s (Cute) Inferno: It’s, er, not a barrel of laughs, the Inferno (though God – or his horned counterpart – knows that it’s more entertaining than the other two – there’s a reason noone ever talks about Dante’s Paradiso, largely that it’s INCREDIBLY dull; turns out the virtuous are really boring, who knew?), but this is a really nice little piece of design and webwork which takes you through each of the levels of hell, from the slightly naughty people taking their eternal medicine right at the top of the pile to the sanguinous messes lurking down in the depths with the missing noses, talking through their slit windpipes. The design’s cute and it features excerpts from the appropriate Cantos, and as an introduction to the story and the people it’s rather good.
- The PEN America Archive: Incredible, this – I could paraphrase, but they explain it better than I can: “The PEN America Digital Archive dates back to 1966, resonating with the voices of literary luminaries; Nobel Prize winners in literature, economics, science, and peace; social reformers; philosophers; and political and artistic revolutionaries whose work, ideas, and actions explored and helped frame the most pressing issues of our time. Comprised of more than 1500 hours of audio and video recordings, the collection provides a unique historical perspective on the way Americans and American culture engaged, and at times disengaged, with the outside world during pivotal moments in history: the Cold War, the Civil Rights era, the Vietnam War, the Iranian Cultural Revolution and hostage crisis, the AIDS epidemic, the post-Communist decade, and September 11. Arthur Miller, Susan Sontag, Toni Morrison, James Baldwin, and Allen Ginsberg are just a few of the icons and iconoclasts captured in the PEN America Digital Archive.” SO MUCH CULTURE HERE, it’s glorious and an absolute timesink for 20C enthusiasts.
- Anchor Videos: Dull-but-useful, Anchor is an app which has been around for a while but which recently launched a new service which lets anyone upload an audio file to the service which will then transcribe it and automatically churn out a video with the transcribed copy appearing in time with the associated audio. Meaning, basically, that if you want to turn a speech or lecture or conversation into a piece of SHAREABLE VIDEO CONTENT on social media, you now can, for free, in minutes. Which is sort of amazing really.
- Turntable Kitchen: I was hugely sniffy about this when I discovered it the other week, but on reflection have come round to thinking it’s almost a great idea; basically this is one of those ‘get a bunch of food in a box delivered to your house, all portioned out and with incredibly linear instructions to allow you to ‘cook’ with with what are basically culinary stabilisers on so you can’t possibly fcuk it up’ (Christ, I ough to be a copywriter – LOOK at that prose!) services which will ALSO provide you with a special, limited edition vinyl pressing of new music to accompany the dish you’re preparing that month. Yes, fine, it’s SUPER hipster (VINYL YEAH?) but I really rather like the idea of musical pairings for food – as a monthly thing, for a dinner party with friends, it’s actually a rather lovely concept and the sort of thing that, were I a particular sort of local restaurant or market or local shop or whatever, I would totally consider ripping off (and then not, because obviously doing stuff is HARD and I am only here for the lightweight snark).
- Securing Democracy: Just in case you don’t feel like there’s enough of a sense of confusion and madness around at the moment, check out this site which purports to keep track of Russian involvement in US politics and its propaganda efforts on Twitter. Doesn’t, as far as I can tell, seem screamingly Menschian in its lunacy, but caveat emptor and all that.
- Free Posters of Belle Epoque Art: “In the late nineteenth century, lithographers began to use mass-produced zinc plates rather than stones in their printing process. This innovation allowed them to prepare multiple plates, each with a different color ink, and to print these with close registration on the same sheet of paper. Posters in a range of colors and variety of sizes could now be produced quickly, at modest cost.” This collects 200+ examples of these, in hi-res and available to download – you’ll recognise the style and indeed many of the works, if you grew up in a certain type of house, but there’s a huge selection here and some wonderful design.
- Realtime Financial Crisis: Remember the financial crisis all those years ago? Of course you do! It presaged your inability to ever own a house or indeed to dream of retiring, ever! Remember those cheery days when all the financial edifices of the Western world seemed to wobble simultaneously, and laugh with fond nostalgia as you contemplate the fact that, at a distance of a decade, noone involved with this appears to have been sanctioned (Madoff doesn’t count)? LOL! Anyway, this is a Twitter account Tweeting about how it all went down, in realtime, like a depressing time machine of financial collapse.
- NFL Arrests: A site which lets you play around with data about the number of NFL players arrested over the past few decades, broken down by team, type of offense, etc. Which is interesting as long as you ignore small things like the frankly worrying number of domestic assault cases on there, or the weird fact that there are some VERY serial offenders there – erm, NFL, that’s not a great look, is it? Would be fascinating to see a football version of this, but almost certainly equally misery-inducing.
- Comic Book Plus: An AMAZING archive of Gold and Silver-era comics, scanned and uploaded and FREE AND LEGAL and all available for you to peruse here to your heart’s content. SO MUCH TO LOVE – the ‘romance’ category alone has SO much material which is ripe for remixing. Make some things, go on.
- The Great 78 Project: Having been a bit sniffy about ‘hipster’ vinyl up there, I will now hypocritically laud this project by the Internet Archive which is seeking to digitise and as such peserve the sound of the 78rpm record for perpetuity – “The Great 78 Project is a community project for the preservation, research and discovery of 78rpm records. From about 1898 to the 1950s, an estimated 3 million sides (~3 minute recordings) have been made on 78rpm discs. While the commercially viable recordings will have been restored or remastered onto LP’s or CD, there is still research value in the artifacts and usage evidence in the often rare 78rpm discs and recordings…We aim to bring to light the decisions by music collectors over the decades and a digital reference collection of underrepresented artists and genres. The digitization will make this less commonly available music accessible to researchers in a format where it can be manipulated and studied without harming the physical artifacts. We have preserved the often very prominent surface noise and imperfections and included files generated by different sizes and shapes of stylus to facilitate different kinds of analysis.” Vinyl lovers will find this an almost limitless trove of joy.
- AlgoPepsiTshirts: These are GREAT – algorithmically produced knock-off Pepsi tshirts available on Amazon, which will doubtless be copyrighted out of existence pretty soon. If you’d lik a tshirt with the Pepsi logo on it which instead of saying ‘Pepsi’ says ‘Cassoulet’ (and who wouldn’t?!), this is the link for YOU.
- Wakeout: I don’t think this is a joke, which suggests that there are people out there for whom the idea of doing a bed-based workout as soon as they wake up is perfectly normal. If you’re that sort of deviant – if you think that what would improve your life is doing a bunch of squat-thrusts on your mattress at 645am before you prepare to face the horror that is the commute and oh GOD kids can’t you for ONCE not spazz milk all over the kitchen and WHERE ARE YOUR SHOES? – then this will be right up your street. Still, I think you’re odd.
- Turo: Look, I could beat around the bush but this is literally Airbnb for cars. No more, no less. Might be useful, might end up with you driving around in a stinking jalopy full of child-crumbs – WHO KNOWS?
- What Eats?: This is great, and if you have a curious kid who’s into natural history and animals and stuff will be a nice little distraction toy for them – What Eats? is a website whose function is largely to let us plug in any animal we can think of and find out what eats that animal, thereby giving you some HARD ANIMAL SCIENCE as well as some pictures and cool information about hunting an dthe food chain and stuff. Although I just learned that “Gull-like birds called skuas eat baby penguins and sometimes steal penguin eggs” and now I’m feeling a touch blue.
- Words By First Known Date: Boring title, really interesting site – select a year, and it will tell you those words whose first recorded usage was in that year. So, for example, I learned that the year of my birth was also the year in which ‘codependancy’ was first coined, which is an interesting insight into my generation tbh. Also, weirdly, ‘yellow rain’, which I am honestly confused as to the meaning of but which, as a veteran of the web, I am probably not going to google just on the offchance.
THE SECTION WHICH FEELS SLIGHTLY AFFRONTED THAT TWO FIGURES AS RIDICULOUS AS KIM AND DON MIGHT BE THE ONES TO PUSH US OVER THE BRINK, FRANKLY; I MEAN, AT LEAST KENNEDY AND KHRUSHCHEV HAD GRAVITAS FFS, PT.2:
- Travel Photographer of the Year 2017: Gallery of the winners of this year’s National Geographic competition, which as you’d expect are all stunning shots.
- Links In VR: Just a concept, this, but the way in which it shows the process of shifting from one VR site to another, though portals (literally, like in the game Portal) is sort of mind-blowing and, to my mind, Gibsonian. In the future, Curios will be a VR experience featuring hundreds of linkportals which people will jump through a will, sort of like a really crap, non-magical version of the pools in the sixth Narnia book (the one which noone remembers, The Magician’s Nephew).
- Gradient World: CSS colour gradients, based on sunsets, free and available to download, just in case you were after such a thing.
- What Is Your Opposite Job?: A nice little NYT toy, based on the US Labour Department’s own classifications of labour and the skills required to undertake certain jobs. Given that, say, being a lumberjack requires certain quantifiable skills and abilities, what are the antonyms of those abilities and, based on that, what is the opposite of being a lumberjack? Fine, they don’t have lumberjack as a job in the database, but you may be pleased to know that the opposite job to a PR specialist (their designation, not mine) is an agricultural grader. So there.
- Open Benches: SUCH a nice project, seeking to photograph, mao and record all of the UK’s memorial benches, for no other reason than that no such record exist. I’ve long said that when the cancer or the cirrhosis finally get me I want a bench in Vauxhall Gardens with my name on it – as soon as I’ve finished writing this, I’m going to go and sit there and contemplate my own mortality, which will be nice. Anyway, if you know of memorial benches near you, contribute!
- Trump, The Sitcom: A Twitter account which shares recent White House developments as though they were synopses of sitcome episodes. Which would be funnier than it is were it not for the fact that HE IS OPENLY THREATENING TO NUKE SOMEONE.
- Ice Road: A Kickstarter seeking funding for an immersive piece of theatre set around the siege of Leningrad in WWII, which basically sounds like my ideal combination of bleak miserablism and avant-garde narrative wankery and which I think you should all chuck £5 at because I would very much like to see the show thanks.
- The NYC Subway Project: Kathy Chan is an NYC-based architect who’s decided to devote a large chunk of her spare time to exploring and documenting the city’s subway stations through illustration, exposing the intricacies of their layouts, producing 3d sketches of their relationship to the space that surrounds them, and in general geeking out about the incredible feat of engineering that is any mass transit system but especially one which exists underground. I adore this, and would like someone to replicate it for London. Thanks.
- Behind The Scenes: Excellent-but-brutal series of photographs depicting the backstage world of Chinese nightclubs – read: sexy clubs – and the women who work in them. These are SUPERB, and the effect of going through the slideshow is oddly cinematic whilst also being pretty much entirely bleak.
- The Dreamer’s Disease: In my continuing attempt to include the odd podcast in here because podcasts are popular and perhaps some of that popularity might rub off on me maybe, this is a series of interviews with young creatives in the UK, talking about how and why they make, the difficulties they face and what inspires them to keep going. Produced by Alex Manzi who, FULL DISCLOSURE, I worked with at the BBC last year and who’s a lovely bloke, these are a very good listen indeed if you’re young and creative and looking for encouragement. For old, bitter failures like me, less so.
- The Daily Ant: You want daily updates from the surprisingly interesting world of myrmecology? OF COURSE YOU DO! Except it doesn’t seem to have been updated for a week, but I guess even ant enthusiasts are allowed holidays.
- PopIn NYC: NYC-only service which is ripe for a London ripoff, this is a service which lets users gain access to high-end gyms without buying membership; instead, through the PopIn service, they can drop in and out of a selection of Manhattan fitness emporia, paying only for the minutes they use. Whether or not the gyms in question are that happy about granting access to the great sweating unwashed is as yet undetermined, but it’s an undeniably smart idea which one of you ought to steal and then give me a cut of your first million please.
- Wim: How much frozen yoghurt do you eat? I mean, it’ not as nice as icecream and it’s the sort of thing you’ll have if you’re feeling fat but still want to treat yourself without feeling guilty about it, and frankly WHERE IS THE FUN IN THAT? Basically what I’m saying here is that noone – literally noone – likes frozen yoghurt enough to have a machine in their kitchen whose sole purpose is the making of single servings of frozen yoghurt in 10 minutes. Except that is EXACTLY what the makers of Wim are banking on – GOOD LUCK WITH THIS, LADS? Oh, and on the frozen yoghurt point in general? Go for a run and earn yourself some icecream ffs.
- Classics of Game: Wonderful YouTube channel, this, which posts short clips from obscure 90s videogames, presented without any sort ofcontect of commentary whatsoever. I am not proud to admit that I read a LOT Of videogames magazines when I was a teen, and despite that I have literally no idea what 90% of these titles are – the newest one on there, of some sort of weird frog sumo-type sport which also lets the player pap a poorly-animated CGI J-Pop starlet (no, me neither) is an excellent example of the sort of wtfery you’ll find here.
- Playing Soviet: To quote: “This interactive database of children’s book illustrations draws the little-known and rarely-seen Soviet children’s books from the Cotsen Collection at Princeton’s Firestone Library. The featured illustrations have been selected and annotated by a diverse group of scholars and students of Russian and Soviet culture. The site’s customizable data visualizations, still under construction, will map relationships among artists, image types, color, style, and publication information.” As you’d expect, the aesthetic in much of these is VERY STRONG. Awesome design.
- Terrible Colours: You want a series of really ugly colour palettes, all arranged neatly and ready for you to export? Of course you do! If you happen to be staring down the barrel of a weekend talking about home renovations and stuff, why not set it up nicely by spending this afternoon trolling your partner with suggestions taken from this site? How they’ll laugh!
- Stupid Patients: Absolute Reddit gold, this – a whole thread in which the site’s community of medical professional share some of the most jaw-dropping examples of patient idiocy they’ve ever experienced. So many eye-opening tales here, but I’m just baffled as to how ANY man can not understand how condoms work and at what point you’re supposed to stop pulling them down. Although, as an aside, a mate of my mum’s who’s a consultant gynaecologist once told me a story about a couple she saw who were struggling to conceive; having eliminated the possibility of biological issues, she quizzed them further to find that the somewhat naive husband had been diligently attempting congress with his wife’s navel to predictably limited effect.
- Mimles: Yes, I know that there are LOADS of good makeup artists on Insta, but I promise you that this woman’s work is the most impressive you’ll have seen in ages – stunning stuff.
- Cindy Sherman on Insta: I confess to never really having warmed to Sherman’s works in the past – it’s cold and surface-y, which I get is sort of the point, but. Anyhow, she’s taken to Instagram now and I rather like what she’s doing with the format and medium, churning out queasy parodies of the lifestyle bongo for which the platform is (in)famous to stirring effect. If anyone has any decent resources they know of to keep up with ‘Fine Artists’ on Instagram then please do point me at them, as I’d be fascinated to see what others are doing with the platform.
- Hood Maps: Crowdsourced maps of cities – when you click the link it’ll open on London, but there’s a couple of dozen cities which the site covers. The idea is anyone can go on there and designate an certain area as being ‘hipster’ or ‘students’ or ‘suits’ or ‘normies’ or whatever, and add a text tag to a particular place – although they appear to be moderating now, as all the tags I saw when I found this the other week (including one over Vauxhall which, beautifully, simply read ‘GHB Gays’) have been removed. Still, you might be able to have some fun with it, and it’s interesting to see how others categorise your area.
- Random City: I’ve featured cool map visualisation things on here before, not least the one that makes all cities look like Tron, but this – by digital artist Patricio Gonzales – is glorious. It presents 3d navigable cities in black and white with flickering information layers describing traffic flow, etc, all moving around it; basically put the Vangelis Blade Runner soundtrack on in the background and lose yourself zooming around the scifi, in-computer version of our world which, if present events continue apace, is set to become preferable to actual reality sometime in the next few weeks.
- Socially Coded Clothing: An interesting idea, this – all the clothes sold in this range come with little embroidered emblems which apparently will identify you as a member of a particular subculture to othe subculture members – so there’s a paw for the furries (OBVS), some antifa symbol for the antifa mob, something for people who like being hogtied and flayed…you get the gist. I would REALLY like to see this extended into normie circles – can we get Topshop to put out a range of clothes which secretly communicate to your peers which of the Hogwarts houses you secretly think you ought to belong to, say? No? Fine, please yourselves.
- AR Film Experiment: I know that AR at its highest end looks like vaporware magic, fine, but LOOK at this – developed using the ARKit software I featured the other week (and which rapidly seems to have become the de facto platform for serious AR experimentation), this is a genuinely astonishing example of how good mixed reality media can look. Just imagine what games and visual entertainments are going to be like in a decade – terrifying.
- Jiftip: And so we come to the now-traditional ‘weird and unpleasant sex-related thing which Matt chucks at the end of Curios to make evertyone feel a bit uncomfortable’ slot. This is Jiftip which is – and there’s no easy way of describing this, so I’m just going to go for this here, apologies in advance – a plaster which men can put over their urethra before sex so as to limit the volume of ejaculate produced and as such make sex less ‘messy’. It is NOT, they are keen to point out, a method of contraception – nope, it’s simply there for those of us whose personal sexuality is so calibrated as to find the practical mechanics of the sex act, the mucous membranes and the animal bits of it, just, well, a bit icky. I’m not going to ju…no, actually, fcuck it, I am going to judge – can you just take a moment to imagine exactly how un-fun it would be to go to bed with someone whose idea of a good sexual experience is to render it as sterile as possible? “Yes, great, let’s get down to it – but I’m going to need you to use this dental dam, and maybe botox yourself all over so you don’t sweat, and, yes, a full-body depilation would be nice too, and maybe a hairnet, and if you could be in a different room, ideally hermetically sealed against germs…” Look, obviously sex is a BROAD CHURCH – God knows the web has taught us that if nothing else – but this is one of the most joyless things I think I have ever seen, ever. I’m just going to leave you with this blurb from their website: “Judy comments on Jiftip.com: “This is perfect for us. My vagina isn’t a zip-loc bag. It’s my turn to roll over and fall asleep, the bathroom trip’s on him now.” She laughs.” NO.
- Emmit Fenn: Last up this week, a visual representation of Emmit Fenn’s recent album, all presented in gently animated monochromes. Soothing and beautiful, it’s helping me get over my anger over the last link – Painting Greys is particularly beautiful imho.
FINALLY IN THIS WEEK’S MIXES, ENJOY THIS EXCELLENT ALBUM OF SLIGHTLY FILTHY TECHNO FROM ITALIAN DJ LORY D!
THE CIRCUS OF TUMBLRS WHICH IS LOOKING A BIT BEREFT AT THE MOMENT AND HOPES THE TREND FOR KOOKY SINGLE-SERVING TUMBLRS ISN’T DYING OUT:
- Thvndermag: 3d digital art, collected from around the web, some of it a touch, well, strange, and a touch NSFW on occasion (but really, they’re CGI breasts so noone can be too upset) (Web Curios accepts no liability whatsoever for your eventual sacking).
- Plastic Kaiju: A website dedicated to plastic kaiju toys – I don’t know what that means, to be honest, so I am going to google it…oh, it’s just a catch-all term for viny figurines, it transpires, so less esoteric than I’d thought. Still, if you like plastic toys then this will be RIGHT up your street.
- FTL, Y’all: This is a great idea for a collaborative scifi anthology. Starting next week – 15 August to be exact – a writing prompt will be posted on this site, inviting anyone to contribute a comic based on it which will then be compiled into an online athology of new scifi comic books. If you draw and write, this could be RIGHT up your street.
- Great Work Good Job: This is LOVELY – the people behind this site scour the web for good creative endeavours, feature them on the Tumblr and chuck the responsible creators $5 on Venmo as a ‘we thought you deserved a small reward for making a good thing’ payment. SO CUTE. Also, cooincidentally, a, erm, great source of ‘creative inspiration’, should you be in the market for such a thing – worth bookmarking, imho.
LONG THINGS WHICH ARE LONG AND OF WHICH THERE ARE MANY THIS WEEK MEANING THAT I MIGHT HAVE TO GO A BIT LIGHTER THAN NORMAL ON THE DESCRIPTIONS AND OPINIONS HERE WHICH, LET’S BE HONEST, IS NO BAD THING:
- You Are The Product: John Lanchester in the LRB, writing about Facebook – how it works, and how it works us. If you do digital-type stuff for a living then there oughtn’t be anything in here that you don’t already know, but it’s worth reading nonetheless as Lanchester is always an excellent communicator – clean, clear, simple, funny, nuanced – but also because you should send it to every single one of your friends who don’t get this stuff; as an explainer of why FB is fcuking terrifying, it’s the best I’ve yet read.
- Th Hijacking of Brillante Virtuoso: Thrilling, spy thriller-esque account of the hijacking of a cargo ship and the increasingly Byzantine web of lies and corruption which underpinned the whole story. This is LONG, fine, but if you like thrillers then you will adore this – notable also for the fact that it once again exposes the oft-forgotten truth that shipping is an absolutely filthy industry by any measure.
- Testimony of Terror: A previously unpublished, unfilmed episode of Police Squad – for the children out there, Police Squad was the TV show starring Leslie Nielsen and a pre-disgrace Orenthal Simpson which spawned the Police Academy films. This is, as you’d expect, ridiculous and hilarious – it’s testament to the quality of the writing and the ‘iconic’ (sorry) nature of the show that it stands up as text on a page.
- Darkness – The TV Show: My long-standing love of Big Brother is something I’m not proud of, but it’s pretty much the only ‘reality’ show I’ve ever been into. This, a new format which will be showing soon in the US, sounds absolutely fcuking horrid. In ‘Darkness’, a bunch of people are dumped into some caves in, er, total darkness – they have no lights with them, no food beyond very basic rations, and their goal is to escape. This piece profiles some contestants from an early show, and talks you through the premise and, if you’re me at least, makes you think that this is the worst experience anyone could possibly have in pursuit of short-lived reality TV fame.
- Designing Smart Cities: Regardless of your interest in urban planning or lack thereof, this look at how cities evolved vs how they have been designed from the ground up is fascinating, not least from the point of view of how machine learning can lead to better urban planning in the future. The recipe vs design argument is also more generally fascinating, and can be applied to all sorts of other fields should you so desire.
- To Catch A Counterfeiter: Honestly fascinating article following a ‘counterfeit detective’ around China as they attempt to discover the source of a particular batch of knock-off goods. The scale and speed of this is insane – and you get the impression that there’s literally the square root of fcuk all that can be done to stem the flow. As an aside, interesting to note that the zips are often the giveaway when it comes to knockoff luxury goods.
- The Instagrammability of Architecture: After the piece on how Instagram is affecting interior design in bars and restaurants comes this, about its effect on the prevalent aesthetic of the wider built environment. Genuinely interesting – I would never have thought of the effect frictionless photosharing might have on the dominant aesthetic of public spaces, and yet here we are.
- The Secret Life of the Banana: Look, I admit that the prospect of reading several thousand words about the logistics of banana distribution in New York doesn’t, on the face of it, sound like a good time, BUT I promise you that, in common with stories about logistics in general, this is LOTS more interesting than it sounds. Parenthetically, there’s something on TV at the moment all about mass production of food and although it sounds like the dullest thing ever and features the semi-sentient potato that is Gregg Wallace it is COMPELLING (admittedly it was about pasta and I was very stoned, but).
- And God Created Millennial Earth: The biblical creation story, presented in Millennial-friendly language by McSweeney’s, whose writing team is so annoyingly good it actually makes me angry. “And there was evening, and there was morning — the fourth day. And God was v tired from adulting so hard.” Well quite.
- Charlize Theron Is Not Here To Make Friends: To be honest, this profile of Charlize Theron is less interesting than the post which explains how the author goes about writing these sorts of profiles and her intent when writing this one – read the profile (it’s well-written, but tbh you’ll have to care more about both Theron and flims than I do to find it compelling) but then come back and read this piece which is LOADS better.
- Digital Blackface: This is not, I accept, anywhere near an original observation, but Teen Vogue is by some way the wokest publication on all of the web right now. This is a really interesting and well-argued piece around how the prevalence of black faces in the whole reaction gif meme landscape is itself a not-so-subtle form of appropriation and, yes, even blackface. It’s something I know I’d sort of half-wondered about, but it’s articulated very well here – thought provoking, and really not the sort of thing you’d have associated with any part of the Vogue empire as little as 18 months or so ago.
- Have You Met The Softboy?: A couple of years old, this, but I’d not read it before and it is EXCELLENT. Presenting the softboy, the fucboi’s sensitive cousin, this is smart and funny and caused me some frankly uncomfortable moments of self-awareness here.
- The Tallest Woman I Know: Ally Stotz is a model and performer who happens to be 6’9″ tall. This interview, conducted by Stotz’s considerably shorter half-sister, is a fascinating look at what it’s like to be an outlier, to be of a size when people no longer consider you to be an actual real person and think that your body is theirs to gawp at as they wish, and how you go about coping with that. I hate describing things as ‘inspirational’, but if you’re in the market for a piece of writing about ‘owning’ your identity then this will see you right.
- It’s A Circle: On the history of circuses in the US, the legacy of the great showman PT Barnum, the parallels between Barnum and Trump, and a whole load more besides. This is fascinating, honest, and about far more than just the sawdust and the ring.
- The Toxic Drama of YA Twitter: WARNING: This is likely to make you quite angry. Really interesting look at the convoluted policing of the Young Adult fiction market, touching on Twitter mobs, censorship, SAFE SPACES, snowflakes and all the associated furore. Read this and then imagine being an author in 2017 – or even a teenager – and, presuming you’re neither of those things, thank your lucky stars.
- Why I Hid My Second Pregnancy from the Internet: Miscarriage, in the age of the ‘bumpie’. This is a really sad read, but I confess I’d never even thought of the way in which social media changes the narrative around pregnancy and the horror of the loss of an unborn child.
- Hannah & Annie – Friends Forever: At times heartbreaking, this is more photo essay than prose – the story of two women’s friendship over the years, through old photographs and shared memory, charting the course of lives lived through domestic violence, abuse, depression and all the other Bad Things. I thought this was absolutely beautiful and, sadness aside, urge you to have a read.
- Eat Memory: All about eating, by someone whose ability to eat is forever gone. I read this and confess to thinking that I would Switzerland myself before being deprived of my ability to chew and taste and swallow, but perhaps that’s the luxury I have in being a relatively healthy person – maybe I’d value another couple of years over pizza. Regardless, this is a beautiful piece of writing about cancer which is less about cancer than it is about food and its place in our lives. Gorgeous.
- Spring Once More: Finally in this week’s long reads, the best thing I read all week. I was SO BORED in the office on Tuesday that I asked people on the internet to send me their unpublished books – one of the submissions was an unpublished collection of short stories by FRIEND OF CURIOS Rishi Dastidar. I featured his poetry collection Ticker Tape in here when it was published a while back, you may recall, but this is prose (albeit poetically written prose) – I cannot stress enough how GOOD this is. Really, read it – and if you are in publishing, snap it up. I am almost angry at how strong the writing is here, in this perfectly-formed tale of Tolstoy and dreams and love. Get a mug of tea and enjoy it.
AND NOW, MOVING PICTURES AND SOUNDS!
6) Finally this week, this is Alex Cameron ft. Angel Olsen, and it’s called ‘Stranger’s Kiss’, and the video is wonderful and the song is just LOVELY and weirdly reminds me of Bruce Springsteen despite sounding nothing like him at all and it’s sunny out and it’s Friday and maybe, just maybe, things will be ok. I LOVE YOU TAKE CARE OF YOURSELVES BYE BYE BYE SEE YOU NEXT WEEK!and weirdly reminds me of Bruce Springsteen despite sounding nothing like him at all and it’s sunny out and it’s Friday and maybe, just maybe, things will be ok. I LOVE YOU TAKE CARE OF YOURSELVES BYE BYE BYE SEE YOU NEXT WEEK!: