Author Archives: admin

Webcurios 01/07/22

Reading Time: 37 minutes

38 degrees. 38 DEGREES.

It’s not ok, is it? Look, ordinarily I would say something ‘funny’ here but, honestly, it’s too hot and I am, for a variety of reasons unconnected to Web Curios and Stuff on the Internet, having a fcuking pig of a week, and so I am just going to leave the preamble here and let you all get on with it (God, really makes you want to read on, doesn’t it?).

I am still Matt, this is still Web Curios, and I still want to do untold and very-specific harm to a significant proportion of Rome’s administrative and medical services.

PS – Web Curios is off next week as a result of my girlfriend visiting, but normal service will be resumed in a fortnight. Try not to die between now and then and I promise to do the same.

By Theresa Gooby

THIS WEEK’S SOUNDTRACK TO THE LINKS STARTS WITH A MIX OF FUNK GEMS BY TOM SPOONER! 

THE SECTION WHICH THINKS THAT IF YOU LOOK AT THE ABORTION DECISION IN THE US AND THINK ‘OH THAT COULD NEVER HAPPEN HERE’ THEN YOU REALLY HAVEN’T BEEN PAYING ENOUGH ATTENTION TO HOW THE WEB WORKS AND WHO INFLUENCES WHAT AND WHERE AND HOW, PT.1:  

  • The OpenAI Jukebox: There are an awful lot of companies working at bringing the glorious AI-powered future we’ve all been promised to fruition (it…it will be glorious, won’t it? Won’t it?), but OpenAI is the one whose work has best managed to capture the shiny end of the public consciousness – yes, fine, DeepMind may have managed to beat humans at Go! and might be leading the way with all that boring medical stuff, but can it imagine a cat wearing a sombrero and serenading a stadium full of goth geckos with a ukelele-metal rendition of ‘My Heart Will Go On’? No it cannot, and therefore by some sort of weird barometer OpenAI WINS! Anyway, that’s by way of unnecessary preamble to OpenAI’s latest impressive-sounding public-facing AI research, this time into audio – you can read the accompanying explanatory blurb here, but the gist is that Jukebox is ‘a neural net that generates music, including rudimentary singing, as raw audio in a variety of genres and artist styles.’ What the site here linked to affords you is the opportunity to have a listen to the stuff that the machine’s produced, based on various different artists – so you can search the archive for, say, Metallica and hear a bunch of different tracks that the software has created based on being made to listen to ‘One’ for 3,500 hours. Now, none of the stuff you will be able to hear here is ‘good’ by any appreciable standard – unlike the piecework photoshop artists of the world, it feels like session musicians have a good year or so before they’ll really feel the hot, digital breath of the AI on their necks, professionally-speaking – and there are some weird anomalies in the output (the ‘Craig David’ stuff sounds a lot more like Take That, for example – and yes, I am aware that there is something more-than-slightly-ridiculous about complaining that an AI-imagined new Craig David song actually sounds like late-period Barlow), but, at the same time, this is just on the cusp of being really interesting and potentially useful. As with DALL-E, OpenAI is obviously being careful to sell this as ‘your new favourite songwriting partner is just around the corner’ rather than ‘LOL sucks to be you, jobbing composer, you have approximately 18 months before literally all stock music libraries are entirely AI composed and all session musicians are rounded up onto a cruise ship and set adrift in the Pacific’, and I think there’s going to be some fascinating human/machine centaur composition happening in the not-too-distant future.
  • The LVMH Virtual Apartment: We’ve apparently reached the stage now in the ‘brands must have some sort of 3d-modeled virtual showcase for their stuff as a result of someone in the creative team having done cocaine with a VC whose fund has invested heavily in something metaverse-adjacent’ lifecycle whereby there are obviously one or two companies that have cornered the market in churning out marginally-different off-the-shelf offerings to gullible luxe-brands that still haven’t worked out that NOONE WANTS TO BROWSE A PSEUDO-3D VIRTUAL HANDBAG SHOP IN-BROWSER. How else to explain the existence of both this LVMH Virtual Apartment (introduced by Livi, LVMH’s own virtual influencer – WHY?????), designed to present all of the fashion house’s tech investments and metaverse-adjacent digital gubbins and job offers, and the EERILY-SIMILAR look and feel of the Dior Riviera Experience, in which you can also scrolly-navigate through a glassily-vaporwave environment to look at some expensive accessories in not-particularly-well-rendered 3d. Well done to the people who sell this stuff, is all I can say, you are silver-tongued magicians (or, alternatively, your buyers are all drug-addled morons who sleep on mattresses stuffed with 100 Euro notes).
  • The Gucci Vault Space: If you’ve spent the past few weeks looking at the bonfire that is the NFT ‘art’ market and thought ‘who still thinks that this stuff is a good idea, really?’, then cast your eyes at this url for the answer. “What is the Gucci Vault Art Space?”, I imagine you’re all asking yourselves – well, let me tell you: “Vault Art Space Presented by Gucci and SuperRare conjures up a temporal flux by inviting 29 handpicked artists to reflect upon the House’s century of heritage and envision what comes next. Filtered through multifaceted perspectives of forward-looking creators, the codes of Gucci’s past and present become suggestions of its future. Presented and auctioned off in three drops, each work from ‘The Next 100 Years of Gucci’ is a collectible fragment of Alessandro Michele’s kaleidoscopic narrative for the House.” What that means in practice is that Gucci is offering a selection of UNIQUE ARTWORKS available for sale to the most DISCERNING of customers, for prices as low as…er…£900. Still, if you’re dropping £3k+ on a handbag I suppose an additional grand or so on a jpeg that looks like a poorly-animated club flyer from 1993 is small beer – just maybe don’t think of these as investment opportunities, eh? There’s something quite funny about the fact that the only corner of the market that is still currently going hard on this stuff is the same corner that for years has been built around persuading people that it really is worth paying significantly more for style than it is for substance – fashion is at the very least extremely internally-coherent.
  • The Unseen: A project by fashion photographer Rankin, who for the past few years has been mildly-obsessed with social media and filters and algorithms and manipulation and HOW THE PLATFORMS ARE SHAPING SOCIETY (I have spoken to Rankin about this, fwiw, and the potential degree to which anyone whose work has involved the same degree of fashion industry tropes and photoshop and post-production as his always has also bears some degree of responsibility for our slightly-toxic relationship to imagery of the human body and, well, we agreed that it’s complicated) and who has pulled together this collection of imagery which has been suppressed or censored across social platforms. “THE UNSEEN is a community-first project started by RANKIN CREATIVE to utilise the platforms and voice of the group to those who have been unfairly de-platformed online. THE UNSEEN has bought together hundreds of people, spanning a huge range of identities and experiences of becoming UNSEEN across multiple platforms. We aim to showcase the breadth and human consequences of unfair censorship practices and move forward the discussion on solutions in a way that emphasises the voices of those affected.” There’s an interesting degree of commonality in terms of the images here, insofar as a lot of them involve either female nudes or depictions of non-standard bodies or sexuality, and some equally-interesting questions being asked around the accepted norms established by platforms and who exactly is determining them and why – there’s also a lot of slightly-annoying talk about ‘shadow-banning’, which I personally think is unhelpful and just feeds into the broader lack of confusion about how platforms work and why (which confusion is, I appreciate, in no small part the fault of the platforms themselves), but overall this is an interesting collection of (occasionally-NSFW) images.
  • Wordeebee: A nice little tool that lets you plug in any word you like and see the frequency with which it’s appeared in the New York Times since 1851 – so, for example, you can see that the paper hasn’t mentioned crypto at all before 2021 and then FCUKING HELL WOULD IT NOT SHUT UP ABOUT IT, or that ‘Fear’ peaked in 1918-19, or that ‘Sex’ apparently peaked in 1998 and 2004 (1998 was Clinton, fine, but wtf happened in 2004?). You can’t click through to pull individual headlines or content, which is a slight shame, but it’s an interesting way of travelling through time should you be so inclined – if anyone wants to take it upon themselves to build this out so it allows for comparisons between outlets, that would be great thanks.
  • Latest Homepages: Ooh, this is really interesting – this site presents a constantly-updating, automatically-scraped archive of the frontpages of 222 different news websites from around the world, captured and stored on the hour, so that you can if you choose explore the different ways in which a global or national news story gets reported across different outlets, and how that reporting evolves as a story breaks and moves.
  • Me, But Online: Long-term readers may be aware – but, equally, may not; I have no idea whether anyone pays attention to this stuff. Do you pay attention to this stuff? – that I have a particular affection for the nicely-made personal website, a nicely-made interactive portfolio, say, or a CV in the form of a scatological rap performed by a cast of cartoon beetles (I am yet to encounter this latter example, by the way, so if anyone fancies knocking such a thing up for themselves then know that I will give it proud of place in a future Curios). Me, But Online is therefore an absolute GIFT, offering up a huge selection of “minimalist, original personal websites with great typography”, curated by one Kabir Goel – if you want a nice overview of some pleasing contemporary webdesign styles then this is an excellent place to start (though if someone else fancies making one of these collecting the most insanely maximalist personal websites in the world, that would also be great, thanks) (sorry, just realised I am being INCREDIBLY needy this morning in terms of demanding that my readership go off and build me things – it’s ok, I don’t actually expect anyone to do this, for the avoidance of doubt).
  • Sitegeist: Send a message to someone 10 years in the future. Who that someone is is up to you – this site simply asks that you provide it with an email address and a message, and it ‘guarantees’ (I am not entirely sure that the guarantee is watertight, but webs) that said message will be delivered to its intended recipient in 10 years’ time. Now obviously 10 years is A LONG TIME, and in internet years it’s basically a century or so, and therefore there is no certainty in the assumption that the email address you’re writing to will exist in a decade, or that the person you’re writing to will still be alive, or that they won’t react to your missive and the appearance of your long-forgotten name in their inbox with anything other than horror…but, equally, THINK OF THE FUN YOU CAN HAVE! This is effectively a chance for you to plant INTERESTING MINES in the path of future versions of yourselves and loved ones (and after all, what is the present but the time during which you plant the mines that will eventually blow you to smithereens later down the line?) – why not tell that friend of yours EXACTLY what you think of them right now? Why not pour your heart out to your crush? Why not share that DARK FAMILY SECRET with a future version of your siblings? Just IMAGINE the potential for truly-ruinous revelations to emerge! If you ever worry that your future life might end up being a bit dull, a bit pedestrian, why not take steps NOW to ensure that you have a really ‘interesting’ Summer 2032? NB – AS EVER WEB CURIOS TAKES NO RESPONSIBILITY FOR ANY ILL EFFECTS RESULTING FROM THESE ILL-THOUGHT SUGGESTIONS AND STRONGLY ADVISES YOU NOT TO ACTUALLY DO ANY OF THIS STUFF. Oh, this is part of a series of small, curious webprojects under the banner of the ‘Future Webring’, which you can explore via a couple of links on the page if you’re curious.
  • NBA All World: Niantic don’t really seem to have quite managed to build upon the success of Pokemon Go – the Harry Potter AR game seems to have quietly died, and the LEGO one never took off, and, based on what I can tell from the blurb here, I’m not convinced that this NBA reskin of what basically seems to be exactly the same core product is going to be any different. This is pre-launch, but you can express interest on the homepage which I presume will help determine the territories in which the company will choose to roll out the app in the coming months – “NBA All-World unleashes the new era of Hoops. Get outside, step into the sneakers of today’s NBA stars & go 1v1 against the best players in the world. Explore your neighborhood while competing in mini-games to become King of the Court. Be on the lookout for sneaker & gear drops to flex your style & increase the performance of your squad. Represent where you’re from along with the best ballers in the world.” Leaving aside the slightly-clenchy nature of the copy (‘ballers’ is a words I really, really can’t abide, sorry) it seems a huge missed opportunity not to integrate any, I don’t know, actual playing of the game of basketball into the mechanic. Still, if you’re interested in participating in what effectively sounds like ‘Pokemon NBA’ then you may want to sign up here for beta access.
  • Unreal Margot: Hot (well, ish) on the heels of ‘fake Keanu’ from a few months back, TikTok now brings you FAKE MARGOT ROBBIE! Despite the fact that the handle is ‘Unreal Margot’, there are a…troubling number of people in the comments here who don’t seem to have cottoned on to the fact that this is another DeepFake account, which doesn’t fill me with hope when it comes to the eventual mass-disinformation we’re set to see using this sort of tech around about 2024 (yes, I know that people have been predicting a DEEPFAKE NEWS APOCALYPSE for years, and I know that we’re a way away from that, but based on how decent this stuff now looks on a small screen I don’t think that ‘within two years we’re going to see a massive swell in home-cooked variants of fake video’ is too wild a reach).
  • And By Islands: An imagined map, with imagined islands, and imagined descriptions of destinations and locations which change and shift as you click on the places that they are describing. There’s something rather beautiful about this, the changing prose suggesting (to me at least) something about the parallel experience of navigating the online environment as it shifts and alters as you move through it. “The island upon which I was cast away will go on page by page as you write it. I wake up not knowing where I am. Waiting for some saviour castaway to arrive in a boat with a sack of corn at his feet. There was no soap. Terror, when the waves engulfed you. I roamed along the beach, keeping an eye out to sea. From Bristol ships sail to all corners of the globe. You will have many more stories to tell. If I cannot swear to the truth of my tale, what will be the worth of it? Questions echo in my head without answer. The world is full of islands. I am a castaway, not a prisoner.”
  • Elliott Computer: Elliott is an artist. They are currently in Rotterdam – I know this because Elliott Computer is an incredible link to Elliott’s whole life – the work that they have made online and off, the places they go, the things they see. You can book appointments to talk to Elliott if you want – I have no idea what the experience of talking to them would be like, but they seem interesting – or look through the many, many links…honestly, this in itself is a good afternoon’s worth of webspelunking, and I could spend hours clicking around and exploring – this is a PERFECT Curio in almost all respects.
  • The Overedge Catalogue: Ooh, if you do anything around the intersection of technology and society (lol, there is literally nothing in 2022 that doesn’t exist at the intersection of technology and society) then this is potentially super-useful: “Research organizations and institutions often are shoehorned into a set of well-established categories: universities, public companies, tech startups, and certain types of non-profits, such as think tanks. But there is the need for innovation here, particularly when it comes to encouraging the development of new ideas and the ability to operate on long timescales. We need new types of research organizations. In cartography, most maps are bound by the straight lines at their borders. But occasionally, there are parts of the map that don’t quite fit. They bleed over the edge and yet still cry out for being included in a map. These are the overedges. The Overedge Catalog is devoted to collecting the intriguing new types of organizations and institutions that lie at the intersection of the worlds of research and academia, non-profits, and tech startups. This is a small but growing number of organizations, but hopefully by collecting and highlighting all of these here, it can spur further institutional innovation.” Basically if you’re in the market for funding for your esoteric ‘what would happen if I built an AI solely on recorded Furry discourse since 2003?’ research project then perhaps one of the organisations here listed might be able to help you.
  • Venthaven: One of my least-favourite things about the past 25-or-so years of heavily-networked human existence has its been its role in the rise of coulrophobia as a ‘thing’ – LOOK CLOWNS ARE NOT SCARY NOONE IS REALLY SCARED OF CLOWNS IT IS JUST A THING THAT PEOPLE SAY BECAUSE THEY USED TO THINK IT MADE THEM SOUND INTERESTING BUT IS NOW LITERALLY THE MOST BASIC THING IN THE WORLD, THE PHOBIC EQUIVALENT OF THE PUMPKIN SPICED LATTE, CAN WE PLEASE STOP WITH THE ‘SCARY’ CLOWNS THING FFS??? As any fule kno, the really creepy things are ventriloquists’ dummies, as amply-evidenced by the website for Venthaven, “The World’s Only Museum Dedicated to Ventriloquism” – look at their chattering jaws and their mad eyes, the malice bubbling just under the poorly-painted surface! This is great – if, to my mind, intensely-unsettling – and contains loads of interesting examples of different styles of dummies being shown off in a series of videos which I strongly suggest you don’t watch in a darkened room before bedtime. Oh, and can I just ask that you go to the homepage and scroll down and look at the image of ‘Our Sponsor’ Emily Smith. EMILY WHAT HAPPENED TO YOU WHAT DARK WITCHCRAFT IS THIS?!?!?
  • Exaluminal: What would YOU do if you suddenly go the one-hour warning that the Earth was going to be obliterated and that all human life was about to be snuffed out (let’s presume in this thought experiment that you’re one of the privileged few with this information and that you can reasonably go about your business without there being panic and civilisational collapse all around)? I imagine that most of your responses would probably centre on either spending time with loved ones, speaking to your friends to say goodbye, having one last orgasm, or taking enough drugs to make the eventual end-of-everything a barely-perceptible blip on your consciousness – now, though, you can buy a device that will allow you to test that assumption! Extraluminal is an internet-connected device that you keep plugged in at all times and which will let you know when a star is about to go supernova in a manner that might cause the Earth to get blown up as collateral damage. “The Exaluminal service detects neutrinos by linking together a half-dozen neutrino observatories around the globe. By correlating neturino flux measurements from these observatories, the Exaluminal service serves as an early warning system for local supernovae. This data is then pushed to the Exaluminal device, a small alarm that works on your local network to receive warnings from the Exaluminal service.” Oh, ok, fine, this isn’t actually real and is instead a joke/proof-of-concept, but it ought to be.
  • Save My Ink: I…I don’t really know what to think about this. We all have tattoos now, of course (well you all do – my body is far too ugly a canvas to be a good candidate for inking), and our tattoos are all MEANINGFUL and IMPORTANT and PART OF WHO WE ARE, and it seems a terrible shame that all this beautiful art and personal significance should disappear with our meat prison at point of death. Wouldn’t it be nice if, rather than consigning Uncle Tony’s impressive collection of original Chelsea Headhunters sleevwork to the crematorium, you were able instead to preserve said ink in a tasteful and respectful manner? I mean, perhaps, yes, but I am not entirely convinced that preserving a slice of Uncle Tony’s skin in a frame so that you can gaze upon a part of him, under glass, forever, is necessarily the best way of going about it. “Welcome to Save My Ink Forever where we have developed a unique proprietary process for PRESERVING TATTOOS.  Our mission is to help carry on a loved one’s story. We hope to ensure that the spirit and legacy of your loved ones can live on for generations to come. Save My Ink Forever focuses on creating an everlasting memorial. At Save My Ink Forever we create more than just a picture. You receive the ACTUAL TATTOO. This becomes a framed piece of art that is presented to the family in a DIGNIFIED MANNER.” Capitals here are ALL THEIRS, by the way, and I confess to losing it slightly at the ‘dignified manner’ bit. I mean, WOW. Guaranteed to be a talking point – and, on reflection, were I dying and tattooed I would totally consider making pre-mortem arrangements to have myself skinned and framed and then bequeathed to a particularly-disliked family member as the world’s darkest inheritance along with some pleasingly-ambiguous allusions to ‘bad luck’ should the skin ever fall out of family hands.
  • The Crime Museum: While you wait for every single crime ever committed to become the subject of an overlong and massively-insensitive podcast, why not sort your BAD PEOPLE fix by browsing the archives of The Crime Museum, “an educational resource on law enforcement, crime history, and forensic science…a repository for artifacts on America’s favorite subject – from Jesse James and Al Capone, to John Wayne Gacy’s Clown Suits and the OJ Simpson Chase Bronco, and also operate the Natalee Holloway Resource Center, and Crime Library.” I personally have next to no appetite for this stuff – sorry, but the ‘Old Smokey’ electric chair copy here just turns my stomach – but I appreciate that I am a milquetoast and that your mileage may vary. Still, if you’ve ever wanted to get a really in-depth understanding into the specific differences between serial killers and mass murderers, for example, then welcome to your ‘happy’ place (you fcuking sicko).
  • Alluder: This is potentially-interesting for the cinephiles amongst you – currently in Beta, “Alluder is an online database of timestamped information related to what happens within a film and how one film connects to others, history, & art in general. With Alluder, break film down shot-by-shot and discover every one-shot, two-shot, crane shot, literary reference, and Easter egg that went into making your favorite film.” The idea is that this works as a plugin which works alongside your favourite streaming service to let you add ‘notes’ to specific moments in films as you watch them, with the idea that eventually it will provide a layer of annotations around every single film in the world to allow cinephiles to share their thoughts and opinions and knowledge and, inevitably, get into tediously-overwrought online debates about whether or not the dolly needed to be 0.5cm higher in that tracking shot (I am just using words here, please do not write in to explain that what I just typed makes no sense from a filmmaking point of view as I do not care). Obviously depends entirely on enough people using it to make it useful, but I can see how it might be of interest to movie buffs.
  • Census Population Change: This is a brilliant bit of data usage and visualisation by the UK’s Census Bureau. “The population of England and Wales has increased by more than 3.5 million in the 10 years leading up to Census 2021. Using the first results from this census, we look at which places have seen the biggest increases and decreases, which areas had the largest growth in different age groups, and how your chosen local authority area compares with others.” Plug in where you live in the UK (or anywhere you fancy – I just assume that everyone’s as fundamentally-solipsistic as I am) and it will tell you how the population of said area compares in terms of size and age and gender distribution to others around the country. This isn’t groundbreaking, fine, but it’s a really smart example of how to make data personal and interactive and relevant and interesting, and most people are still fcuking terrible at all those things so it’s worth pointing out when someone does it well.
  • Primitive Survival: Or “the YouTube Channel from which all those videos of people in extremely rural settings building insanely-impressive structures from mud over a period of days and weeks which have inexplicably flooded the TL over the past fortnight have come from”. In case you haven’t seen it, the basic schtick is ‘pair of blokes start digging around a patch of cleared earth in a vaguely-tropical looking setting and with what looks like relative ease (but which you know is the result of some pretty fcuking back-breaking labour) craft amazing buildings and miniature temples and pools and suchlike out of mud and clay, and then finish the video by triumphantly relaxing in the midst of the splendour’ – seriously, this stuff is AMAZING. As ever with these things, though, I want to know the economics and the operation behind this – where are these guys filming? Is there someone with a laptop and some CAD software out of shot? Does someone have a small digger for the bulk of the heavy lifting (I really hope so)? This is exactly the sort of thing that I could imagine leading to heated domestic arguments about the slow progress of the patio, just FYI.

By Caroline Absher

NEXT UP IN THE MIXES THIS WEEK, THIS RATHER GOOD TECH-HOUSE SET BY ANDREA CASSINO! 

THE SECTION WHICH THINKS THAT IF YOU LOOK AT THE ABORTION DECISION IN THE US AND THINK ‘OH THAT COULD NEVER HAPPEN HERE’ THEN YOU REALLY HAVEN’T BEEN PAYING ENOUGH ATTENTION TO HOW THE WEB WORKS AND WHO INFLUENCES WHAT AND WHERE AND HOW, PT.2:  

  • The Urban Wildlife Photography Awards: I love this – I know that there are now possibly TOO MANY photography awards and competitions, but I think the focus here on urban wildlife and the intersection between animal and human as we butt up against each other in cities and on streets is fascinating and leads to some wonderful images (also it’s a PR initiative by Picfair, a company whose success I’ve watched with pleasure because it’s a great idea and good for photographers). Some of these are GREAT – the raccoon hiding in the concrete pipe like some sort of ur-parody of raccoonness, the squirrel posing against the San Francisco skyline, and of course several EXCELLENT foxes – and it made me miss London’s urban wildlife (oh, ok, foxes and pigeons) something chronic (Rome doesn’t really have foxes, I am too close to town to get any wild boar, and the pigeons here get eaten by seagulls, the cnuts).
  • CSV to Midi: Do YOU have a bunch of data in a CSV (of course you do, EVERYONE has inexplicable data in a CSV, it is part of the modern richness of life!) that you want to turn into sound? No, fine, I appreciate it’s unlikely to have occurred to you to wonder what a bunch of survey data sounds like, but now that I’ve planted the seed, aren’t you curious? Well WONDER NO MORE thanks to this neat little site which takes any CSV you care to throw at it and converts said CSV (presuming, of course, it’s got some numbers in it) into surprisingly-not-awful-sounding plinky-plonky sounds. Which, to be clear, has no immediate relevance in and of itself, but when combined with other stuff could be used for some potentially-interesting applications – what happens if you feed a year’s worth of data turned into music to an AI like the Jukebox toy featured up top, say? What does it sound like if you speed it up? What if you feed the resulting music into a sequencer and start to mess around with it? What I’m basically saying here is that if you have access to any sort of semi-regular data source you owe it to yourself (and, crucially, to me) to see what sort of awful, cacophonous mess you can turn it into. And then chuck an Amen break over it, or even better put a donk on it.
  • People Dancing To Stravinsky: A Twitter account sharing videos of people dancing set to the music of Stravinsky. You may not think you need a succession of clips of iconic dances recut so that the dancers are grooving to one of the 20th Century’s modernist masters, but I promise you that you will never see the David Brent dance in quite the same light ever again.
  • JD Brick Productions: A YouTube channel whose output consists exclusively of incredibly-detailed stop-motion recreations of, er, the First and (I think) Second World War (I don’t think I have EVER felt so confident in saying that I am certain that this channel is run by a man). There is a 10-minute animation of the Battle of Verdun here, ffs, complete with explosions and tanks and mud and quite possibly the odd flying limb crossing the screen as the horror really ramps up (I confess to having only scrubbed through it because, well, look, life is short). Go back further and there’s a slightly-wider variety of stuff, but it seems that the war material is really paying dividents because this channel is now ALL WAR, ALL THE TIME – my snark aside, this is some really impressive animation and the care and attention to detail is really impressive (though equally I am sure that the comments contain rather more discussion around ‘the right shade of grey brick to use to replicate a Panzer’s livery’ than anyone really wants or needs).
  • Internal Tech Emails: ANOTHER Twitter account, this one sharing leaked tech company internal emails that appear in public records. So for example this has featured Facebook memos about the company’s pivot towards a more algo-curated feed to compete with TikTok, or stuff from the Theranos hearing, or Musk kissing the Saudi’s behinds…You need to have some sort of personal or professional interest in the tech industry for this to be worthwhile, but if that happens to be you then this is a useful follow.
  • Kululu: Do you remember about…15 or so years ago, when no event was complete without a TWITTER WALL which would display any tweets featuring the event hashtag and which were inevitably either entirely dead or a car-crash of insufficient moderation? LET’S BRING THAT BACK! Kululu is basically ‘that, but for pictures’ – sign up to the platform and it lets you set up a private photowall app for your event guests to contribute to, with pre-moderation so that you can ensure noone’s going to attempt to share a Goatse on your Special Day. Which, fine, is dull and not particularly worth commenting on – but just IMAGINE the beautiful chaos that would ensue if you just set this up unfiltered at a wedding and LET IT ROLL. Come on, it would be ART – fine, yes, it would also quite possibly end friendships and relationships, but the content would be unparalleled. Seriously, just imagine – you set this up, you tell everyone to GO WILD, and then on the side you also have a couple of people you’ve employed exclusively to take CANDIDS FOR THE WALL…oh God, by 1030 there would be FIGHTS, I tell you. Please can someone do this, please.
  • The Digital Transgender Archive: “The purpose of the Digital Transgender Archive (DTA) is to increase the accessibility of transgender history by providing an online hub for digitized historical materials, born-digital materials, and information on archival holdings throughout the world. Based in Boston, Massachusetts at Northeastern University, the DTA is an international collaboration among more than sixty colleges, universities, nonprofit organizations, public libraries, and private collections. By digitally localizing a wide range of trans-related materials, the DTA expands access to trans history for academics and independent researchers alike in order to foster education and dialog concerning trans history…the DTA virtually merges disparate archival collections, digital materials, and independent projects with a single search engine. With rich primary source materials and powerful search tools, the DTA offers a generative point of entry into the expansive world of trans history.” This is fascinating and important and a useful reminder that  being trans is neither a craze nor a fad nor a MODERN INVENTION but is something that has been a reality of human life for people for millennia, a reality which, disappointingly, we appear to be struggling to accept and comprehend here in the year of our Lord 2022.
  • Spirograph:  A digital Spirograph! Who doesn’t love a Spirograph? NO FCUKER, that’s who! This is very soothing and even someone as visually-incapable as me was able to make something vaguely-pleasing and geometric with basically no effort whatsoever.
  • Hypothesis: The idea of ‘annotations across the web’ is one that has bubbled along in various guises for the past decade or so without ever really taking off – I think even Google at one point had a version of this sort of stuff on the go. Still, it does feel like there is something useful to be explored in or around that space, and perhaps Hypothesis is a workable version of the basic principle – the idea here is that the product is aimed at academic institutions, to allow students and teachers to access the same shared annotations across a bunch of resources, for collaborative learning and study, and it seems to me that you might similarly explore how this could work in (sorry) agencies for planning and strategy and creative research within teams, for example. Or you might think that that’s an awful idea, which is also fine, I’m not . precious (I am, so so so precious).
  • Mapping Reddit: The Nth iteration of ‘a different way to browse Reddit’ that I have featured on here – this one lets you type in any topic you like and pulls together the network of the subReddits it considers to be most relevant, demonstrating links between them in one of those ‘floating node’-type configurations so beloved of social media data analysts circa 2012, and which lets you browse each sub via a convenient sidebar. This is almost certainly going to be used mainly for exploring bongo – look, you know this, I know this, let’s not beat around the bush here – but I promise you that I am not judging (we’ve been through this before, I always judge).
  • FootballData: Not all the football data, obviously, that would be insane, but a small and potentially-interesting part of it presented here for your analysis. Twitter user ChicagoDmitry has created a bunch of datavisualisation tools to help the layperson explore statistical player data from the Premier League – this particular toy lets you pull information on shots and assists for every single player in every single team last year, to let you analyse EXACTLY how pivotal, say, Adam Idah’s failure to net double-figures was to Norwich’s relegation last season. You can go all the way back to 2017 if you want, and should you or anyone you know be the sort of (poor, mad) person who spends their Summer glued to Fabrizio Roman’s Twitter feed being drip-fed stale morsels of transfer gossip then you might find this a helpful way of whiling away the time between announcements to definitely assess why signing X instead of Y is the worst decision your club could EVER make.
  • Aranmula Kannadi: Because of one or two, er, long-standing issues around self-image, I don’t ever look in mirrors unless I cannot avoid doing so (meaning I very often walk around with spectacularly-bad hair and toothpaste all over my face – which, fine, means I look like a d1ck but is equally a small price to pay for being able to forget what I look like for a while) – as such I was until this week of the naive assumption that all mirrors are basically created equal. NOT SO! “In Malayalam, “Kannadi” means “mirror.” These unique metal mirrors are made out of tin and copper alloy. Unlike ordinary mirrors, which have a gap between the object and the image whereas, in the Aranmula Metal Mirror, there exists no gap. It is completely handmade and they reflect you with zero distortion. Only a few Vishwakarma families in Aranmula know the secret to crafting these 250-300 years old metal mirrors. Aranmula Kannadi has a prestigious national and international reputation. It’s a known fact that the Aranmula Kannadi is costly. Because this is a handcrafted metal mirror, it requires extra labour and time to create. Every piece of Aranmula Kannadi is the result of hours of effort and hard work.” Now I confess that my bullsh1t antennae pricked slightly at the phrase ‘Unlike ordinary mirrors, which have a gap between the object and the image whereas, in the Aranmula Metal Mirror, there exists no gap’ – that certainly sounds like total rubbish, doesn’t it? – but overall I think this is pretty cool and if you’re in the market for a hand-made artisanal mirror in which to admire your BEAUTIFUL FACE (or to constantly worry at yourself because of the myriad imperfections the magically-reflective surface will reveal, either/or) then this might be up your street.
  • Blessed Images: A (very) sporadic newsletter which features only images which its editors considers ‘blessed’. Honestly, this is like an aesthetic cleanse in your inbox, I promise you – whoever is curating this has a wonderful eye for a picture, and there’s a nice sense of thematic consistency running through each edition. Check out a previous one here, and then sign up – I promise you that this will give you 5 minutes of aesthetic relief every now and again which may not sound like much but which Future You will be very grateful for.
  • Can I Send You An Email?: You may well not want to receive any more emails ever again (I know, Web Curios has that effect on me too sometimes), but make an exception for this. Fill in your details, and the site’s owner, Shen, will (at some indeterminate point in the future) (probably) write to you. What about? I HAVE NO IDEA I HAVE NOT RECEIVED MY EMAIL YET! Still, I like the idea behind this very much, and I now quite want to start leaving my email address written in obscure places with the simple instruction “tell me something”, just to see what happens (I once went through a phase of writing my mobile number on banknotes to see what would happen – ‘nothing’, in the main, though I did get one call from a very drunk Geordie girl in a chipshop once which probably just about made it all worthwhile).
  • Return To Monkey Island: Yes, fine, this isn’t so much a ‘Curio’ as it is ‘website advertising the forthcoming new game in the Monkey Island series, which if you’re 40-ish and someone who’s been into videogames since childhood will probably cause some not-insignificant nostalgiapangs’, but, well, I love Monkey Island and this website features a whole, far longer than it needs to be, interactive segment featuring Stan the Salesman (look, if you know you know) and basically it got me really excited for the game and LET ME HAVE A MOMENT OF JOY FOR ONCE FFS. Thanks.
  • Wordles: Ok, look, here’s the deal – this link contains ALL OF THE WORDLE CLONES EVER. I am going to put it here, you are going to bookmark it if you so choose, and then we will both agree that I will feature NO MORE Wordle clones (unless they are particularly-inventive or somehow compellingly-awful) because it’s been six months now and, please, enough. There are seemingly literally thousands of these things, which is an insane degree of cultural impact for what is basically a relatively-simple vocabulary game- make the Wordle bloke your Man Of The Year, TIME!
  • Emily Blaster: Finally this week, a small shooting game in which you attempt to piece together selected poems by Emily Dickinson by shooting words out of the sky in a manner not-unreminiscent of Missile Attack; this is both a cute way of learning the verse AND a fun way to spend 5 minutes, and it’s also been produced as part of the promo for a book (which sounds ace btw) which I am going to take as a direct reaction to someone somewhere having read me repeatedly going on about how games are great promo vehicles for anything and should be used more widely (regardless of the fact there is absolutely no evidence whatsoever to suggest I had any agency here whatsoever).

By Malika Favre

LAST UP IN THIS WEEK’S MIXES, DRIFT OFF WITH THIS SUPERB SUNNY AFTERNOON CHILLOUT MIX BY CHRIS COCO! 

THE CIRCUS OF TUMBLRS!

  •  Rongzhi: I find glimpses into other languages’ memetics fascinating, and this Tumblr, collecting a bunch of viral-ish content from the Chinese social media sphere, presented with subtitles and the occasional contextual explanation, is no exception. To be clear, the subtitles don’t always do much to explain what the fcuk is happening – they tell you what’s being said, but not the layers and layers of meaning you’re expected to be able to parse below the surface – but that’s part of the charm and intrigue – as I type, the top clip is a video of two people’s eyes meeting as they both eat spaghetti in the messiest way possible, sitting in otherwise-sterile surroundings. I am fcuked if I have the faintest idea of exactly what this is meant to communicate (maybe nothing! Maybe it’s just “don’t you love it when you realise someone else is a disgusting carb’n’soss goblin just like you?”!) beyond the ostensible, but I think I perhaps prefer it that way. Wonderful cultural tourism.

THE TROUGH OF (INSTA) FEEDS!

  • Crash Txt: Tiny emoji and symbol and ascii art, in your feed. This is a really nice aesthetic counterpoint to basically literally anything else you will see on Instagram.
  • Gstaad Guy: I feel a bit…dirty linking to this, if I’m honest. So Gstaad Guy is an Insta feed which started as a parody of the sort of rich Eurotrash kids you see in places like Gstaad (so I am informed – it may not surprise you to know that I do not ski and I do not hang out in places like Gstaad), expanded to include the sort of rich kids who are getting into crypto, and is now…a sort of self-aware performance art piece which is being co-opted by brands to market their overpriced tat for morons to exactly the sort of morons who are being parodied by the account who have all started following it because…it’s such a nailed-on demolition of their aesthetic? Because when you’re that rich who cares if people are making fun of you for being a vapid fleshsack? Anyway, this is now approximately seven layers or irony and a triple backflip deep now, and I don’t quite understand it, and generally find its whole vibe a bit hateful, but your mileage may vary. BONUS: here’s a Forbes article about the whole thing, which rather says all you need to know imho.

LONG THINGS WHICH ARE LONG!

  • Why Does The Bad Stuff Keep Happening?: The Roe vs Wade judgement dropped post-Curios last week, and I am sure you’ve all spent the past week feeling enervated and rightly-miserable about the continued slide towards political positions around bodily autonomy that we’d all hoped we’d long abandoned. This piece is about the RvW judgement, but it’s more about how does this stuff keep happening in the US? The answer, posits Cory Doctorow in an excellent essay, is that the Republic Party is basically hoovering up all the single-issue nutcase groups in the US and promising them whatever batsh1t stuff they want because it knows that the single-issue nutcases only care about that single issue and so if you give them that they will literally support you on ANYTHING, and so this is an excellent way of ensuring you have the votes to ALSO pass legislation that, for example, keeps your taxes as low as possible if you’re a billionaire. Effectively the premise of this piece is that this is all part of the continued plot by the super-rich and super-powerful to maintain and consolidate that power: “These two blocs [pro-guns and anti-abortion], along with racists, homophobes and transphobes, provide the bulk for the master strategists of the GOP, people who aren’t merely elitists, but actual elites. By definition, elite politics can’t win majorities on its own, because elites are always in the minority – that’s what “elite” means. The cruelty isn’t the point. The cruelty is a means to an end. The cruelty is how you mobilize useful idiots to turn out to the polls and vote for the vast expansion of the wealth of a tiny number of people.” You may read this and think ‘hm, no, that sounds like a mad conspiracy’, and that’s totally fine – but, well, it does rather look and feel like that’s what’s happening.
  • The Infanticide Issue: A quick caveat here – this is a link to Quillette, a magazine which I know is more than a little fash-adjacent and which I can appreciate many of you might have some qualms about. This particular essay, though, is not a fashy one, promise (it is a bit swivel-eyed, and it’s not exactly dripping in human warmth, but it’s not fashy) – it’s instead a relatively clear-minded analysis of why even from the point of view of ‘protecting the child’ a ban on abortions isn’t necessarily a good idea given the likely rise in infanticide that it will lead to. Astonishingly bleak, fine, but also a useful counterpoint to the (admittedly-deranged) ‘think of the children’ bleating from the anti-abortion crowd.
  • When Bad Websites Matter: Last RvW-adjacent link this week is ANOTHER essay by Dan Hon, who I feel I am featuring often enough in here to demand some sort of kickback. This is a reflection on what the website of the Democrats looked like this week in the wake of the Supreme Court decision, and all the ways in which said website singularly fails to do any of the jobs you might want it to do – as a piece of analysis on communication and ‘organisational purpose’ (sorry) and how said purpose is communicated (whether online or not), this is really, really smart – if you do anything relating to comms or campaigning then you really should read this (and, after having done so, go and take a look at the website of whatever political party you most identify with and analyse it through this lens – it will make you think differently, I promise).
  • A Reasoning AI: This is a couple of weeks old now, but don’t let that put you off (shut up Matt literally noone else shares your tedious obsession with novelty ffs) – this is a relatively short essay about Google’s new prototypical AI PaLM, which is a language model like others you may previously have come across but one which can seemingly display a rudimentary ability to reason. Not complex reasoning, fine, but actual reasoning. You need to read the piece to get a clearer idea of what that practically means, but it’s fascinating – and not a little creepy when you get to the inevitable ‘and none of the engineers can quite explain why this model works in this way when previous ones haven’t’ bit. Still, rest assured that noone involved with this particular piece of code seems to want to erect a shrine to it just yet.
  • None Of The Investors Can Explain The Point Of Web3: Building on something I mentioned last week, this is a superb analysis by Charlie Warzel of all the ways in which the Web3 emperor is naked, judging by the inability of said emperor’s courtiers to explain what he is wearing or what it looks like or how the emperor is planning to avoid freezing his metaphorical nuts off come winter (sincere apologies for that tortuous and largely-unsuccessful metaphor).
  • Whither All The CryptoWank?: Or, perhaps more helpfully, some sensible ideas for what all this cryptoweb3nftstuff might practically be used for beyond the preposterous hypetrain of the past 12 months. This is a reasonably-sober look at some practical applications of the tech as it stands – what I like about it is that it’s relatively modest, all told, with the basic ideas being simply explicable as ‘you take all the information about the online you with you wherever you go rather than it being platform-dependent’, ‘shared ownership and influence’ and ‘better archiving’, Which, fine, may not sound as shiny and exciting to the Scrooge McDuck-pupiled VCs as ‘INFINITE INTEROPERABLE MONETISABLE PROPERTY ANALOGUES!’ but does have the significant benefit of perhaps actually making sense rather than simply being a selection of concatenated buzzwords in search of meaning.
  • Unicorn Syndrome: As Pride Month comes to an end, I found this essay in Art Review by Rosanna McLoughlin a fascinating one, examining the shifting meaning and applicability of the term ‘Queer’, and the extent to which it’s possible for a term whose original meaning was steeped in otherness to still have resonance at a time when it’s been so centred within mainstream (capitalist) discourse. “In a culture awash in depressing reboots of everything from film franchises to fascisms, queerness once appeared as a future-facing movement with a promise to see, be and organise differently. If it is to have any chance of reversing its slide into the Cherry Coke of identity – an auxiliary alternative to the status quo – it will require a committed reevaluation of queer exceptionalism. Mark Fisher argued in Capitalist Realism (2009) that the problem facing countercultures is no longer the danger of being consumed by commercial interests, but being preconfigured by them. What we are dealing with now, he wrote, is ‘precorporation: the pre-emptive formatting and shaping of desires, aspirations and hopes by capitalist culture’. There is no easy answer as to how precorporation might be avoided, other than by social withdrawal, just as there is no door marked ‘exit here’ that can be used to escape the reach of technocapital, but attending to the ways in which commercial interests are worked into the DNA of contemporary identity formation surely constitutes a start.”
  • Pronouns: A companion piece to the above – at least in my mind it is – this piece by Brock Colyar looks at the question of pronouns and how their feelings towards them have shifted as the conversation around queer and non-binary identities has been mainstreamed. This is a very good piece of writing – personal and occasionally very funny – with an interesting premise at its heart: “These days, it feels as if an identity that, not long ago, felt unique to me in most rooms I entered has gone mass. Yes, part of what I’m personally upset about is the fact that this thing I loved isn’t so alt anymore. But more than that, it feels as if pronoun culture has contributed to nonbinary becoming just the third gender after male and female, more static and concrete than its original fluid intentions.”
  • Surveillance in China: It’s been a while since we’ve had a good, alarming ‘China’s Digital Panopticon’ story, so here’s one in the NYT all about how the use of CCTV and facial recognition is growing and developing in the country. All of this is of course deeply-creepy (at least to our Western eyes), but I think the real story here is not about China doing this now at a state level but the extent to which we might perhaps want to be a little more creeped out at the extent to which exactly the same stuff is going on here except in the hands of private companies. Is that…better? Not totally convinced it is, tbqhwy.
  • Unilever and Global Plastic: Having Procter and Gamble as a client a decade or so ago so scarred me that I went through quite a long period of checking whether products were P&G or Unilever in supermarkets and deliberately choosing the Unilever alternative as an impotent act of rebellion against the company that was making my professional life a living hell (Pampers DryMax Active Core I WILL NEVER FORGET) – turns out, though, that they’re cnuts too! This is an excellent piece of journalism by Reuters looking at the various ways in which Unilever has acted to minimise the amount of practical action it takes amending its production and packaging processes to reduce plastic pollution, particularly in Asia. Turns out massive multinational FMCG businesses lie about their green credentials – I know, I was shocked too. Your regular reminder that if you’re a PR or advertising agency and you help these companies peddle their lies about how they are part of the solution to the climate crisis then you are as guilty as they are – you’re welcome!
  • Post-Human Fashion: I really enjoyed this piece on the strange and unexpected design consequences that we’re starting to see as a result of so much of the fashion trade now being algo-led in the wake of Shein’s meteoric rise (and the host of copycat businesses it has spawned) – when designs are being cobbled together by AI based on cobbling together elements from different virally-popular garments, weird trends ensue which no actual human has ever asked for but which due to more algorithms end up getting baked into this month’s lookbooks regardless. Honestly, I really hope someone somewhere is keeping track of all this stuff – there’s a really interesting book or TV show or webproject around documenting all the ways in which AI we don’t really understand is shaping our real-world physical existences in unexpected and not-necessarily-positive ways.
  • The Saris of Dall-E Mini: Or, as we’re legally-obligated to call it now, ‘Craiyon’ – anyway, regardless of what it’s called this week, this article looks at the curious phenomenon of the AI image generator’s seeming obsession with saris – why is it so keen to punt out images of South Asian-looking women wearing that particular piece of clothing? You may be surprised to learn that the answer is, once again, “No idea!” (although in fairness there are a few plausible-sounding explanations towards the end of the piece). We are absolutely about to enter a golden age for people just sort of shrugging and looking baffled in press conferences, aren’t we?
  • Backpack: You may not think that an essay about ‘what to carry in your backpack if you fancy living a properly-nomadic existence’ written by Ethereum founder Vitalik Buterin would be particularly-compelling, and, fine, on the one hand you’re right (Mr Buterin is obviously some sort of genius and is far, far smarter than I have ever been, even before the drink and the drugs, but equally I don’t think he’d mind me saying that he’s noone’s idea of a…compelling prose stylist, let’s say), but there’s something fascinating to me about these sorts of essays in which you can literally see how different someone’s mind is to yours. I mean, just the methodical way in which Buterin approaches the questions of what to carry and why and what brand of thing and why is so antithetical to my way of thinking (I am, let’s just say, a significantly-less structured thinker) that it’s like peering at the workings of a strange and compelling alien machine (and then left feeling quite a lot like my brain is rubbish by comparison, but that may just be me).
  • Male Sex Dolls: LOLSEXDOLLS! May well be what your immediate thought is upon seeing that headline and, well, yes, so was mine to be honest. This, though, is a far more interesting and sensitive piece than I expected, and is all the better for it – Hallie Lieberman speaks to various women who, for their own combination of reasons, have invested in male ‘companion dolls’, and tells their stories with a real sense of respect. I don’t think I’m being unfair if I say that each person here is, well, a bit broken in some significant way, but they’re portrayed fairly and as actual, rounded human beings rather than freaks, and I promise you will find this significantly more affecting than you expect to.
  • Iain Sinclair #2 – Rich London: More Sinclair, this time walking with Caroline Knowles, author of a new book about the super-rich and where in the city they choose to call home, this is just superb, rich with London history and knowledge and a healthy dose of disdain for the plutes carving the city up and emptying it from the inside-out: “There is a magic in these trophy streets. You detect it in the hotels favoured by ‘Middle Eastern’ men running up bills they are slow to pay and the quieter hotels where their wives and children are parked. In the tall trees of lovely green oases with regulation ironwork fences and locked gates. In strictly private equity and ‘single-family’ offices with no nameplates in Berkeley Square. If you wanted to make serious money in Mayfair, you could do worse than supply cans of magnolia paint to the Duke of Westminster’s estate: it is the only colour permitted. The charity of the super-rich is an obligation. Anything but animals, one benefactor reports. ‘Every donkey in the country has God knows how much money.’ Mayfair is a wealth allotment tended by uniformed butlers and bag-carriers. The hush is called security. Transgress and it’s like the moment when the whistle cuts out and the bomb falls.”
  • Glastonbury and People: This is possibly the best piece of writing about being a miserable, bitter, middle-aged man I have ever read, and I felt so seen by it that I had to go and have an ice-cream to try and cheer myself up.
  • Isabella of France: I have, I’m pretty sure, featured one of Anne Thériault’s ‘Queens of Infamy’ series of profiles in here before, but this is a CRACKING read on the messy life of Isabella the She-Wolf of France,who married Edward II of England at the ripe old age of, er, 12 (it’s ok though, he was only 13) and went on to have QUITE THE LIFE. This is so, so well-written, marrying some pretty serious scholarship with some equally-frivolous linguistic flourishes – if history had been written like this when I was a kid I might perhaps have remembered more of it than ‘Garibaldi, what a nutcase’ and ‘nazis’. A special mention for the fact that Thériault manages to quote an Eminem lyric midway through and lands the gag perfectly.
  • Scenes from an Open Marriage: It feels very much as though this essay will be sparking a lot of DISCOURSE over the next few days, so you could read it for that purpose alone – but, honestly, you should read it because it is jaw-droppingly good prose, I mean SO good, the sort that you occasionally find yourself stopping to reread midway through a sentence because it is so staggeringly right. This is about polyamory, which is how you can tell the writing is stellar – ordinarily there is almost nothing that could induce me to read about a bunch of poly people and their relationship travails, but this transcends even the horror of that specific trope. I cannot recommend this enough – the opening line promises a lot, but this essay delivers in absolute spades.

By Naima Green (because)

AND NOW, MOVING PICTURES AND SOUNDS!:

Webcurios 24/06/22

Reading Time: 26 minutes

HELLO! How are you?

Oh, that’s right, you’re not here, are you, you fcuks, you’re either in Cannes or at Glastonbury. WELL SEE IF I CARE.

(that mention of Cannes has just reminded me of a time a decade or so ago when I was still working at H+K and they were still, inexplicably, letting me publish an early version of Curios as part of their official weekly content output; it was Cannes week, and I made some throwaway reference to the fact that significant numbers of my colleagues were on the Croisette, “snorting low-grade cocaine from the tanned midriffs of Eastern European hookers”, and then went to lunch; I got a phonecall approximately 20 minutes later from the company’s global head of digital in the States suggesting I might want to edit the line, but, well, I was at lunch. The blog was killed, I got a not insignificant wrist-slap, and it was about that point that I realised that, probably, I wasn’t really cut out for Big Agency Life. So it goes).

I DO NOT CARE! Curios exists with or without you! I DON’T NEED YOUR EYEBALLS!

I am still Matt, this is still Web Curios, and you will really regret that third pill when you wake up at 7am in a very hot tent.

By Tobi Kahn

WE KICK OFF THE MIXES THIS WEEK WITH A TRULY SUPERB TECHNO SET BY DAVE ANGEL! 

THE SECTION WHICH ISN’T BITTER AT ALL ABOUT NOT BEING AT GLASTONBURY AND DEFINITELY ISN’T PRAYING FOR RAIN, PT.1:  

  •  Champagne Avenue Foch: The Bored Ape Yacht Club…thing is by far the most visible and recognisable of the multifarious NFT profile picture projects, and the one which has done the best job of creating a brand or identity beyond the obviously-preposterous central idea of ‘sell a link to a poorly-drawn jpeg for a six-figure sum’, with its celebrity backers and real-world restaurant chains and appearances in music videos by actual, proper artists (albeit ‘actual proper artists with an interest in promoting their investments in said poorly-drawn-jpeg-empire’). It’s also been subject to some…fairly persistent allegations around a lot of incredibly, er, coincidental affinities that much of the brand’s artwork has with some staggeringly-Nazi tropes. I’ve read around quite a lot of this and had, previous to this week, not been totally convinced that these fashy links were necessarily there. Then a few days ago I read about the fact that the brand has just launched its own champagne brand, available in a limited-edition 1/1 NFT sale (I have literally no clue how an NFT and a bottle of real-world fizz connect to each other, and, honestly, I don’t care), and I clicked the link, and I saw the name of the champagne and wondered ‘what happens when I Google the street that this champagne is named after, I wonder?’ and it turns out that Avenue Foch was the address of the SS in occupied Paris and…I mean, look, maybe this is all entirely coincidental, and maybe this whole investigation by Rider Ripps is all overblown, and maybe everything in this video is a huge reach, but it’s quite hard to look at this stuff and not conclude that a bunch of far-right fcuks are laughing at the massively-lucrativly Nazi troll that they have spent the past year or so perpetrating on the world. There are very strong Pepe-ish vibes about all this, is all I’m saying.
  • Priceless: What does your credit score sound like? A full, sonorous chime, or a distant, forlorn keening? Sadly this project from Mastercard doesn’t allow you to create an aural portrait of your own personal financial apocalypse (honestly, ‘create a song from the horror that is my bank balance’ feels like a great idea and I would totally switch my banking to a provider that afforded me this niche ability, just in case anyone was desperate to take on my debt) – it’s far more miserable than that. You may not be aware of the fact that a couple of years ago Mastercard joined the ranks of brands that have paid unconscionable amounts of money for the development of its very own aural brand expression (a corporate jingle, basically) – you can acquaint yourself with said sonic branding here if you wish – but it did, and Mastercard has now decided that it is NOT ENOUGH to have a completely-anodyne piece of muzak to accompany all its advertising and presentations and conferences, and that it must LEVERAGE said muzak across MULTIPLE TOUCHPOINTS to INTERSECT WITH A BROADER RANGE OF CONSUMER PROFILES and, as such, Mastercard has become quite possibly the first ever financial services brand to release an ALBUM and Oh My Dear God It Is So Bad. Honestly, this is…look, click here and scrub through some of the tracks because they really do have to be heard to be believed. This whole project is utterly astounding in its pointlessness – I can, fine, sort-of understand the concept and potential utility of ‘sonic branding’ but…but…who in the world would ever conceivably want to listen to an entire album of songs based around the 60s musical sting composed to representa a payment provider? I will humbly submit to you, gentle reader, that the answer to that question is ‘literally noone, ever’. This is a project that will have involved the time and energy of at least 50-odd people (possibly more if you factor in all the various people involved in the recording process for the songs), all to create something that has literally no discernible purpose, an album of music that I would charitably guess will garner somewhere in the region of <1000 listens in the entire history of the human race. The total amount spent on this, if you factor in people’s time and salaries and stuff, will be well into six figures. WHY? I honestly find whole swathes of modern capitalism utterly fcuking batsh1t.
  • The Human Record Player: This, though, is a musical project I can very much get behind. The Human Record Player is the promo site for Weezer’s new single, which, the gimmick is, you can only listen to on your phone. Whilst, er, spinning around at speed. Open the site on your phone and it will ask you to rotate on the spot (or, if you’re feeling a bit sicky, to spin your phone on the table or something) – this mimics a turntable, and if you get the speed right will allow you to listen to the new track (but you need to keep spinning). Obviously this is an utterly terrible way to listen to music – non-Weezer fans might well argue that it’s barely music, in any case – but I am a huge fan of the silliness of the idea, and the slightly-old-school ‘using the accelerometer on your phone for POINTLESS FUN!’ vibe of the site, and I used to really like Weezer as a kid so this is basically perfect in my eyes (BONUS WEEZER CONTENT: this is a very good video about the band and the exact point at which it started to suck, and why).
  • Mesopotamia: Another superb bit of work from Getty, offering an online tour through its exhibition on the history of Mesopotamia which was held last year at the Getty Villa in California – a really nicely-built scrolly tour through some of the objects featured in the show, with light accompanying text that explains some of the significance of the relics. This is SUCH a better way of doing ‘a digital version of an exhibition’ than an attempt at some sort of ‘metaversal’ 3d gallery space – focus on a few objects, use the web to bring the viewer closer to them than would be possible irl, tell stories.
  • Internet Walks: Oh I love this! Ascii-internet-art! A project born out of COVID and realised by a seemingly-nameless coder, this website exists to seek to replicate its creators experience of connecting with others during lockdowns; during the pandemic, they spent time talking with strangers online about the places they came from, sharing stories of homes and communities and environments that formed them, and this site is meant to evoke some of those feelings of being led through someone else’s sense of place and history. There are four ‘walks’ to go on, each linked to the creator’s conversation with a different individual, and they take the shape of a series of ‘folders’ which you can click through to find short poems or pictures or ascii maps which describe places that matter to them. This is honestly so so lovely – simple and half-abstract and poignant in a way it simply wouldn’t be were it more obviously-visual.
  • Aztec Gods: The clever people at The Pudding turn their datavisualisation skills to the Aztec pantheon, presenting this beautifully-designed guide to some of the deities beloved of South America’s premier tribe of human sacrificers. This is lovely – colourful and clear and interesting – but I really wish it contained a decent guide as to how the everliving fcuk I am supposed to pronounce ‘Tlaltecuhtli’.
  • Guess The Sub: This is a lovely little game with a very simple premise – can you guess which SubReddit a particular post title might be drawn from? Some of these, fine, are pretty easy, but it’s a nice, low-friction way of browsing Reddit (and, if you turn on the NSFW option, of discovering some incredibly-niche tastes in bongo). Also, as with all Reddit-based stuff, it’s a window into some truly terrifying corners of the human psyche – I was just served a question asking me where I might expect to have found a post asking whether it’s possible to get a refund on money you’ve spent buying shares, which paints such a terrifying picture of the sort of damage about to be done to very, very stupid people by the increasingly-imminent financial apocalypse that it doesn’t bear thinking too closely about.
  • Sirens: As the the war in Ukraine limps into its fifth month with no sign of abating, the need for aid and donations and relief to help support the people of the country being bombed to fcukery by Cuddly Vlad grows. Whether or not you think ‘buying an AI-generated artwork depicting the war as an NFT’ is a smart or useful way of helping is very much up to you, but that is exactly what Sirens is offering you the chance to do. “We created a neural network pipeline that generates artworks from text descriptions. Then, we made a chronology of the most significant events of the Russian full-scale war against Ukraine, described them, and used this as input for our neural network. Art generated by this process will be sold in the form of NFTs. All funds raised from the sale will be donated to assist Ukraine in solving the humanitarian crisis.” It’s unclear exactly how these images are created – as with so much AI art, there’s a degree of unhelpful opaqueness about the creative process that has happened here – but the outputs are…interesting. There’s a certain oil-painting quality to the style that the machines working in, and the thick ‘brushwork’ does a decent job of fudging some of the ‘rough round the edges’ elements of the AI’s work – I’d struggle to call this stuff ‘great art’, but it’s for a good cause and an interesting idea.
  • The Alternative Narratives Visualisation Archive: Ooh, this is super-interesting. “Alternative narratives are those that provide different stories from the ones of dominant power structures, such as information provided by governments, corporations, organizations, the media, etc…This archive brings together digital online projects which use data visualization to support alternative narratives to the ones from dominant power. It aims to raise knowledge and gather the design expertise on the relevant task of portraying evidence to not-visible or alternative social issues that aren’t been told by the main power institutions. At the same time, the archive aims to bring to the fore discussion and awareness on the political role of designers when they design with data.” This is a portal into SO much interesting stuff, from mapping global terrorist organisations and their interactions and ideological overlaps, to stories about corruption in Spanish banking, all told in a variety of innovative digital ways. Seriously, if you have any interest in how to show information and tell stories online, this is a superb resource.
  • Metaverse Standards: Whilst I will continue shouting ‘THE METAVERSE DOESN’T EXIST STOP TALKING ABOUT IT LIKE IT IS A REAL THING IT IS NOT IT IS A FCUKING CONCEPT AND A VERY WOOLY ONE AT THAT’ loudly at anyone who will listen (turns out, not that many people!), the fact remains that it is an idea that a lot of people have invested lots of money in and which is going to be forced into becoming some sort of reality whether we like it or not. On that basis, then, the establishment of a Metaverse Standards Forum can broadly be seen as ‘A Good Thing’ – the idea that a bunch of disparate companies can cooperatively establish a baseline set of principles and parameters which govern the development of any eventual persistent virtual environments seems sensible, and the fact that some many large brands with a foothold in this stuff have signed up seems…broadly positive!
  • The Malware Museum: Oh SUCH MEMORIES! “The Malware Museum is a collection of malware programs, usually viruses, that were distributed in the 1980s and 1990s on home computers. Once they infected a system, they would sometimes show animation or messages that you had been infected” – this is a collection of those animations and messages. Obviously viruses are BAD THINGS made by BAD PEOPLE, but I can’t help but get a bit nostaglic for an era in which a bunch of children spent their spare time making small bits of code for the express purpose of just fcuking people’s digital sh1t up via the medium of a small pixellated animation of a poorly-drawn marijuana leaf.
  • Shahar Varshal: Mashups very much feel like the uncool kid at a school disco, dancing slightly-too-hard and not realising that everyone is laughing at them rather than with them (repressed memories? NO NEVER), and yet I confess to having a small corner of my heart that will forever love Freelance Hellraiser and Osymyso and all those other early-00s lads who made the London scene briefly-thrilling circa 2002. This is the YouTube channel of one Shhar Varhal, who has been making their own mashups and chucking them up on YouTube for years and OH MY GOD this person is an artist. Honestly, these are SO GOOD and pleasingly-inventive in their song selections – if nothing else, the Bad Habits/Smalltown Boy mix is a work of genius and deserves your aural attention.
  • Noisy Cities: Rome has many things to recommend it – ice cream, very old buildings, the most beautiful light in the world, starlings – but one adjective you would never use for the city is ‘peaceful’ (unless your particular version of ‘peace’ is congruent with ‘being woken up at approximately 5am most mornings by the sound of the fcuking bottlebanks being emptied under your windows’). Then again, as this website shows, nowhere is peaceful thanks to FCUKING CARS – Noisy Cities is a project which maps decibel levels across various capital cities (specifically London, Paris and New York) and shows you the quietest and loudest areas in each city, with accompanying audio to give you a picture of what the ambient noise sounds like across the various metropolises. Cars are a fcuking cancer, basically (although here in Rome it’s hard not to form the strong belief that it’s also people and their INCESSANT DESIRE TO BEEP THEIR FCUKING HORNS FOR NO APPARENT REASON GYAC YOU IMPATIENT FCUKS MAKING A LOT OF NOISE DOES NOT MAGICALLY MAKE TRAFFIC DISAPPEAR).
  • Lighter Side: One of my favourite things about the web is the occasional insight it provides into professions or areas of interest that are utterly alien to me, like, I don’t know, millinery or cheesemaking or proctology. So it is with this particular subsection of the website of the Health Physics Society, “a scientific organization of professionals who specialize in radiation safety”, which collects a bunch of ‘humorous comic strips’ all about, er, the laugh-a-minute world of radiation in medicine! This is some FABULOUSLY-NICHE humour – I understand possibly 7% of the cartoons that I’ve looked at here, and been moved to smile by exactly none of them, but WHO CARES? I really want a radiologist to explain some of these to me, and also to tell me whether that my hunch is correct and that, even if you totally understand the science behind the gags, these are all approximately as funny as cancer.
  • Tip of my Tongue: Oh this is such a clever idea – Tip of my Tongue is a website which helps you find words which you can’t quite remember, letting you input a whole range of parameters to help you find the very specific word you’re after. Input starting letter, ending letter or meanings and see if it can’t help you.

By  Classic Vandal

NEXT UP, ENJOY THIS PLEASINGLY-SUMMERY DEEP HOUSE MIX BY GAUDIANO! 

THE SECTION WHICH ISN’T BITTER AT ALL ABOUT NOT BEING AT GLASTONBURY AND DEFINITELY ISN’T PRAYING FOR RAIN, PT.2:  

  • Roast Potatoes: Do you enjoy a roast spud? All crispy on the outside and fluffy on the inside, with bronzed edges and possibly a slight animal fat tang? However much of a fan of the roastie you are, I can almost categorically-guarantee you that your enthusiasm pales into insignificance when compared with that of the members of The Society for the Recognition of Roasted Potatoes as an Independent Dish, a Slovenian organisation which basically exists to celebrate and venerate the roast spud. The website is all in Slovenian, fine, but thanks to the magic of Google translate (or, of course, thanks to your surprisingly-polished Slovenian) you can revel in all sorts of spud-related information and content, and learn all about the Roast Potato Festival that seems to have taken a few years off due to COVID but which I sincerely hope will be back with a bang soon because, honestly, THERE WILL BE SO MANY POTATOES. “It is the duty of each participant to prepare “about” 50 kg of roasted potatoes, you can provide them in several roasts (potatoes, spices and additives yourself !!!) according to your own recipes. You will hand over the written recipes with all the information about the provider of fried potatoes to the representative of the association, who will visit you at the stand. When we collect them for each day of the year, we will publish a book entitled “Roasted Potatoes in 365 Ways”. This is possibly my favourite thing of 2022 so far (it’s been an appalling year and the bar is low).
  • Earth FM: “Like Spotify, but for natural soundscapes”, apparently – “a non-profit, free repository of pure, immersive natural soundscapes as a fundraising platform for local, grassroots charities that support the restoration of our natural world. Based on empirical evidence as well as numerous recent studies from all over the world, listening to natural soundscapes (particularly mindful listening) has a great positive impact on our wellbeing, and potentially on our respect for nature. However, these soundscapes are increasingly scarce as we humans continue to destroy the natural ecosystems which produce them. That’s where earth.fm comes in: as well as sharing a new natural soundscape every three days, we’re actively helping the community to go out in nature more often and discover a deeper, more direct connection with the wonders around us, which can lead to more well being on individual and collective levels.” I spent the time writing this entry listening to the sounds of a Thai forest (admittedly with the far-less-relaxing background hum of Roman traffic) and I can categorically promise you that you will feel marginally-better as a result of listening to some natural audio (Web Curios takes no responsibility should you unaccountably end up feeling worse).
  • The Rotary Unsmartphone: You may recall an image doing the rounds a few years back of a mobile phone that had been hacked to have a rotary dialer on its front, creating a slightly-aesthetically-pleasing but fundamentally-useless modern/retro chimeratoy – well, now the person who cobbled that together is selling kits which will let you make your very own! $400 (that is a LOT OF MONEY) will get you everything you need to create your very own barely-functional mobile which will let you make calls and send and receive texts. This is 100% designed for people who are into steampunk and ‘funny’ nerd rap, and if that’s you then I am happy for you but I can’t claim to understand you.
  • Sniffspot: Do YOU have a massive tract of land that you simply don’t know what to do with? Would YOU like the opportunity to monetise it? Do YOU fancy spending a significant proportion of your time clearing dog faeces from said massive tract of land? If the answer to each of those questions is a resounding “YES!” then you may well be in the market for Sniffspot, the latest in the seemingly-neverending series of attempts to monetise the fcuk out of every single facet of human existence. The premise here is relatively simple – land owners can sign up to the service and offer ther private space for rent to dog owners who want a private place for their canine pals to frolic. I am not, admittedly, a canine expert, but my loose observation of the hounds at my local dog part suggests that they are in fact social animals and therefore does make me wonder who the idea of ‘a place to take your dog where there will be no other animals, guaranteed’ is aimed at – the site mentions ‘sensitive dogs’, which I can sort-of understand, but I can’t help but wonder whether the real market is for owners of massively-toothed balls of coiled muscle with names like ‘Throatripper’ or ‘Old Gouger’. Basically I wouldn’t sign up for this unless you’re comfortable having a terrifying procession of barely-controllable weapondogs defecating copiously all over your gardenias.
  • Pacman Poems: This doesn’t quite work, but it feels like there’s the kernel of something fun in here. Pacman Poems is a small webtoy which each time you load the page presents you with a 4×4 grid containing words and punctuation marks – you move the 8ball cursor around the grid, with the order you ‘eat’ the words and symbols in creating a short ‘poem’ which will be different each time. It feels like a riff on cut-up work, and whilst the outputs are more often than not gibberish, there’s something interesting about the functional constraint placed on the composition process and the formlessness of the outputs.
  • John Dopamine: While Dall-E and GPT-3 get all the popular engagement and column inches, interesting work continues to be done on the less-immediately-compelling area of audio AI. John Dopamine is a YouTube channel posting experiments in computer-imagined audio, specifically OpenAI’s Digital Jukebox, and whilst the stuff it’s creating isn’t great it’s also…getting better. A lot of these are ‘AI fills’ – the software is asked to imagine how a particular song might continue beyond a certain point – but there’s also some interesting composition happening, and occasionally it gets properly convincing, as in the case of this example when the software’s asked to imagine how some guitarwork by Billy Corgan might extend beyond a single solo (whether or not this is a reflection of the, er, skill and complexity of Corgan’s fretwork is unclear). This is a long way from being anywhere near comparable to human output, but it starts to give a feeling of what might be possible through Centaur composition (and it’s all significantly less horrible than that fcuking Mastercard album).
  • The Calendar Collective: “Calendar Collective is a living archive of alternate calendars. It is an ongoing investigation for collecting, cataloguing and publishing calendars that are little-known to our world. We use openly contributed voicemails as our unique research material. The archive offers an uncommon collection of calendars traced through these unwritten and slightly incongruous fragments.” I don’t understand this AT ALL, but there is something utterly compelling about the weirdness – what are the voicemails? How do they relate to the calendar designs? Some of them seem to be telling…short stories about worlds or universes governed or described by these imagined calendars? Regardless, some of the designs on display here are wonderful and I am a big fan of the fact that this at no point gives the impression that anyone involved in its creation cares whatsoever about whether or not I or anyone else has the faintest idea what the fcuk is going on here.
  • Digital Detox: Oh I do like this. Since 2017, Marco Land has been using a browser extension which tracks his in-browser scrolling and translates that into physical distance, mapping said distance against the route of the Camino Frances – so every time Land scrolls down a webpage, this site, displaying the Google Streetview of the trail, will move you a tiny bit along the route. At their present rate of scrolling, Marco will reach the end of the route in 2027 which I think merits some sort of celebration – also, I strongly believe that someone ought to start doing an annual Online Scrolling Marathon for charity so if one of you could make that happen that would be lovely, thanks (I am not joking, I think it is a legitimately great idea).
  • Setlist: A site for people to share information on artist setlists at recent gigs, which might be useful should you want to ensure that whoever you’re contemplating seeing on tour is going to be playing the bangers rather than the b-sides.
  • Ringtone Bangers: Speaking of bangers (seamless!), this is an excellent Twitter account which “posts (non-game) consumer technology-related bangers, such as ringtones, BGM and synth demo songs.” You may not have thought you needed or wanted more late-90s mobile ringtones in your life, but I assure you that you do – it is legitimately insane to me that there was a period of time in which the composition and sale of these was a multi-billion-pound industry, but then again some of these absolutely slap; there has to be some bedroom producer out there making tracks using some of this stuff as a base, surely?
  • The Platformer Toolkit: This is ACE – it describes itself as ‘an interactive video essay’, but it’s more easily understood as a platform game in which you can modify a bunch of parameters as you go to teach you about how game design works. This is so much fun, and a really good basic introduction to game systems and physics and basic principles of ludic design and, even better, it’s just an awful lot of fun to play with.
  • WordDall-E: Can you guess the prompt fed to Dall-E mini just by looking at the images it spat out? This is more fun than you might think, although because of the way people are insisting on using this a large proportion of the answers will be things like a ‘A Pokemon playing DDR’ or ‘Sonic the Pope’.
  • Stupid Word Game: Sent to me by Curios reader Colin Devroe, who also created it, this is a nice twist on the Wordle format (I promised I wouldn’t keep including Wordle riffs, but I will make exceptions for ones that are fun or which are accompanied by a polite email) which asks you to unscramble a different word each day, with a limited number of guesses and backspaces to help you. This is, I concede, a terrible description, but I promise you that it will make perfect sense as soon as you click and start playing around. It is, I warn you, harder than you initially think (or it is for me; I am having something of a stupid morning, though).
  • Only Connect: Have you ever watched Only Connect and thought ‘I could totally do that’? You’re significantly smarter than me, in that case – whilst I very much enjoy the show, I am less of a fan of exactly how thick it makes me feel every time I watch it. Still, if you fancy giving it a try you can thanks to this browser-based version – there’s slight frustration to be had in terms of the need to type the exact wording of the answers, meaning you can occasionally find yourself being penalised for ‘wrong’ answers that ARE TOTALLY RIGHT FFS YOU UNBENDING MACHINE WHY WILL YOU NOT ACCOMMODATE MY INTERPRETATION OF THE ANSWER ahem but this is a lot of fun (if your definition of the word ‘fun’ is broad enough to include ‘repeatedly failing to spot the association between a series of what look like entirely-unconnected words’).
  • Below The Ocean: Last of the miscellaneous links this week is this gorgeous little in-browser platform puzzler, which looks like an old ZX Spectrum title but plays with all the slickness of a modern game – Below The Ocean “ is a fun, adorable, and atmospheric 2D Side-Scrolling Platformer! Use your oxygen supply’s tether to swing around unique level designs and solve interesting puzzles.” This is so so good, and a perfect way to distract yourself from the fact you’re not at Glastonbury for 15 minutes or so.

By Chris Taylor

LAST IN THIS WEEK’S SELECTION OF MIXES IS THIS BEAUTIFUL, DREAMY SET BY GLOVED HANDS WHICH IS PERFECT FOR LYING ON THE GRASS AND IMAGINING YOURSELF SOMEWHERE BETTER! 

THE CIRCUS OF TUMBLRS!

  • Transparent Flowers: If you’ve ever thought “God, I wish I knew of a website where I could find a ridiculous quantity of images of flowers, cacti and other flora, all with transparent backgrounds” then WOW is this site going to please you. If not, your reaction is likely to be more muted. Still, flowers!
  • Wild About Houdini: Ok, fine, not in fact a Tumblr. Still, it feels like it fits here and it’s a WONDERFUL trove of information and anecdotes about the life and career of Harold Houdini, with just a touch of the wildly-obsessional which is just how I like it.

THE TROUGH OF (INSTA) FEEDS!

  •  Gorilla Doctors: Photos of gorillas in Rwanda, Uganda and DRC, taken by vets working for a non-profit organisation dedicated to the creatures’ safety. There is literally no way that your timeline contains enough gorillas, so rectify it by clicking this link.
  • Penny Thompson: Thompson is an artist who creates truly incredible miniature animals, miniature animals that MOVE thanks to some quite amazing mechanical design. These are so so so cool, and I now really want a small toucan whose wings flap at the turn of a tiny crank – turns out these are in fact for sale, so should any of you want to provide me with some sort of token of your appreciation for over a decade’s worth of TIRELESS LINK-GRUBBING then, well, I wouldn’t say no.
  • Jon Paul’s Balls: This man stitches footballs together, from other stuff, for fun. It’s more compelling than you’d imagine it to be, promise.

LONG THINGS WHICH ARE LONG!

  • Some Notes On The Crypto Crash: It’s obviously tempting to laugh at the current bonfire that is everything to do with crypto, except, as with all massive financial crashes/corrections it does rather look as though an awful lot of regular (if very gullible, financially-imprudent) people are getting quite badly burnt by it. Still, if you’re interested in reading a short overview of What Is Happening and Why It Is Happening then this is pretty comprehensible even to someone with next-to-no financial acumen whatsoever (ie me). Also, it contains this summary paragraph which I very much enjoyed: “It’s a huge Rube Goldberg machine slapstick custard pie clown car, where each custard pie triggers three more custard pies. A clown’s tie pops up, causing three other clowns’ ties to pop up. Several tons of organic cow manure fall from above. The clowns stick their heads up out of the poop, proclaiming how clean they are and what a mess everyone else is.”
  • The Extremely Online Workplace: Or ‘does your business need a community manager to moderate its Slack?’ which, fine, feels like a silly idea when you put it like that but is in fact an increasingly-important question in an era in which we’re all feeling a touch fragile and everything is a hot-button issue and we’re all spending more time communicating on platforms and via media that do an excellent job at flattening nuance and context, and much of our interactions with colleagues now take place in these strange spaces which intersect with the social and professional in ways we’re not totally comfortable with.
  • Facebook’s Ditching News: You may have seen the recent headlines proclaiming that people are increasingly avoiding news for the entirely-understandable reason that, well, it’s mostly unspeakably-horrid. I read this piece, on Facebook’s pivot away from news as a content vector, and did rather wonder how far we are from there being an entire swathe of Western society that just totally stops engaging with it entirely – for better or worse (lol we all know it’s worse!), Facebook is still a platform used by over 2bn people, for many of which it simply is the internet, and it’s the lens through which all of their online life (which, as we all know, is just…life these days) is filtered. What does ‘basically removing news from that lens’ do? This piece is a story about Facebook’s relationship with news organisations, and about money, but I personally think that the far more interesting idea at the core of it is the very real possibility of a significant proportion of the population just deciding that they don’t really want to know what’s going on in the world beyond TikTok and their mates. That doesn’t feel like a good thing imho.
  • The Google Problem: Or “ANOTHER article about how Google search isn’t as good as it used to be, and why that is” – Charlie Warzel writes in the Atlantic about all the reasons why trying to find information using Google is often a significantly more-frustrating experience than it used to be. Some of this you’ll know – SEO people have ruined the web! Adverts! – but I found some of the more psychological stuff here interesting – the fact that we simply expect anything we want to know or find out to have been put online in a searchable manner, for example, is interesting to me, as is the generational shift towards more conversational query writing amongst younger users. Warzel followed the article up with some additional thoughts which you can read here, covering some responses to the original piece, which is also worth reading – the line in here about how part of the problem is that so much potentially-useful content now exists in the gated hinterlands of Insta or Facebook Groups was also striking.
  • CryptoStunts: A profile of the MSCHF-ish collective behind some of the more eyecatching stunts taking the pss out of crypto that have sprung up over the past 12 months. The general sense I got from this is of a group of people who are genuinely astonished that they have encountered a scene so free of self-awareness that it will literally pay money to people who are effectively shouting “YOU’RE ALL REALLY REALLY DUMB” right in their faces: “Last December, when some NFTs were selling for tens of millions of dollars, the three men were making “a thousand dumb jokes” in their shared Discord, Lacher remembered. Eventually, though, one of those jokes stuck. They launched their inaugural crypto project, Non-Fungible Olive Gardens, last December, putting images from Google Maps of the restaurants on the blockchain. “For too long, ownership of Olive Garden franchises has been dominated by the capricious whims of the fiat system,” their website read, cheekily promising that the ultimate goal was a “leveraged buyout of Darden Restaurants, Olive Garden’s parent company.” “We were like, we’ll send it to two people just to get their take on it and to see how dumb this is,” Moore said. They severely underestimated the appetite of investors in crypto, a category in which even meme projects can bring in a lot of money. All 880 NFOGs, costing $19.99—the price of Olive Garden’s Tour of Italy entree—sold out in twelve hours. Moore said the Mossy team made enough to break even on the cost of making it.” Astonishing.
  • Remilia Corporation: This is on the one hand very inside-sceney, but on the other I think there’s something interesting in the wider story of the extent to which the crypto scene is intersecting with quite a lot of edgelord unpleasantness – between this and the ‘BAYC may or may not be a Nazi sh1tposting project’ it feels like there’s something bubbling. As an aside, there was a point this week where I realised that I understood every single word of the sentence “Inside Remilia Corporation, the anti-woke DAO behind the doomed Milady Maker NFT”, and that this suggests my life has not been the unalloyed success I might like to occasionally pretend to myself that it is.
  • Nike: A properly-fascinating profile of the Nike brand as it approaches 50 (only 50?!) – I’m normally quite sceptical of hagiographic pieces about THE POWER OF BRAND, but this is a really interesting read and contains loads of stuff which might be useful or interesting if you’re in the horrible, invidious position of ‘having to at least pretend to care about things like brand strategy’.
  • Making The Cosmo Cover With AI: The OpenAI Pr machine is doing some quality work for its paymasters at present – the latest example is a new edition of Cosmopolitan whose cover has been DESIGNED BY AI!!!! This piece links to the ‘how we did this’ explainer article, also in Cosmo, which is a far more interesting explanation of the creative process undertaken than I was expecting, and gives a really interesting look at how AI-generated imagery works best when developed in conjunction with a creative human with a clear idea of what they want to achieve. There’s a lot of PR puffery in here about how OpenAI sees software like this as ‘an artist’s tool’ rather than ‘a replacement for the artist’ – but, well, they would say that. Give it another couple of iterations, kids, and see how many commissions you’re getting for billboard mockups or moodboard renders.
  • What’s Good About This Photo?: I really enjoyed this short article, looking at a photo taken by an amateur photographer (coincidentally someone I know – HI MIKE!) and analysing what makes the composition particularly pleasing to the eye. AI composition will start to become properly-interesting when it can incorporate some of these subjective aesthetic judgements into its work – “A minion painting the Golden Gate bridge yellow” is DULL; “A minion painting a really ugly canvas” starts to become interesting (a bit interesting, maybe).
  • Palm Oil: A fascinating piece in the LRB about palm oil, much maligned by apparently a far more complex product than we’re aware of. This is a great bit of writing, covering everything from agriculture to chemistry to cookery to international trade to the very nature of the modern capitalist machine, and, like the best essays about small, specific topics, it contains multitudes.
  • Papas Nativas: A brilliant, beautiful photo essay about the many varieties of potato that are indigenous to Peru, and the farmers and chefs and scientists looking to preserve them and repopularise them both domestically and internationally. This is culinarily and culturally fascinating, but the photography is the real star here. I promise you that you will absolutely CRAVE a spud once you’re done with this.
  • Three Blind Kings: I confess that before reading this dizzying interview I had only a passing knowledge of who Edward Luttwak is – turns out, he is FASCINATING and not a little mad, a proper, sui generis mind who may also be slightly terrible. This is an honestly incredible interview – the person asking the questions (ostensibly about three world leaders – Putin, Biden and XI), David Samuels, is also something of a, er, character, and the piece starts with the line “Edward, you are a Washington fixture, surrounded by a flourishing mythology that suggests among other things that you are a Romanian vampire who was raised by the Mafia” and only gets odder from thereon in. This covers geopolitics, history, the cognitive improvements granted by nicotine and why it’s a tragedy for humanity that people smoke less, and quite a lot of interesting analysis of Where We Are Now in terms of global power relations. There is, just so you’re aware, a bit of tedious old man ‘wokebashing’ towards the end, and I am not certain that Mr Luttwak isn’t a tiny bit of a racist – with those caveats, though, this really is an interesting and stimulating read.
  • Making Up’s Opening: Everyone cries at the first 10 minutes of ‘Up’. Everyone. Except my mother, who when it was on TV here in Italy a few years ago saw me start to weep about three minutes in, watched me go to the bathroom to get tissues, and then disdainfully remarked ‘Jesus Christ, Matthew, it’s just life’. Which, I suppose, is one way to look at it. Anyway, this is a lovely piece looking at how the writers and animators and Pixar created what is to my mind one of the greatest pieces of filmic storytelling ever made.
  • The Art in AI Art: I know I am featuring an awful lot of stuff about AI art and creativity at the moment but, well, it’s better than this time last year when it was all NFTs, right? Anyway, this is a brilliant essay by Sam Keeper about where, if anywhere, the ‘art’ lives in AI art, which covers all sorts of questions of ‘what makes art art?’ and ‘who is doing the creative lifting here?’, and, honestly, I find these things SO fascinating. This is the first in a planned series of essays around the topic, so bookmark this and check back to read the rest.
  • Still: A very short piece of writing – a single paragraph, more or less – about the death of a child, by Casey Mulligan Walsh. This left me winded, it’s so good.
  • Satellites: Finally in this week’s longreads, a short story by Rebecca Curtis. “My husband was short, broad-shouldered, and muscular, with a handsome, olive-tinted oval face, a huge nose like an ice scoop, and black eyes. Genetically, he was sixty per cent Irish, twenty per cent Syrian, two per cent Jewish, and eighteen per cent English, but he identified as Dutch-New Netherlandish. His ancestors, he told me, had founded America. He’d started working at age twelve, as a farmhand, and eventually acquired a Ph.D. in quantum physics from Harvard, then served for decades as the “head quant” at a world-renowned investment bank. But he wasn’t smart enough to be skeptical when go-go dancers said, Don’t worry, I’m on the pill.” That should tell you enough about who the people are – Curtis writes them superbly.

By Meryl Meisler

AND NOW, MOVING PICTURES AND SOUNDS!:

Webcurios 17/06/22

Reading Time: 30 minutes

HELLO! Hot, isn’t it?

I mean, that’s normal for me, but I imagine those of you currently in HEATWAVE UK will currently all be knotting damp handkerchiefs on your heads and desperately scrabbling down the back of the freezer in search of forgotten Calippos. NOW YOU KNOW WHAT IT FEELS LIKE, JOIN ME IN MY SWEATY PAIN.

I am still Matt, this is still Web Curios, and we’re at that time of the year where I have to literally write this in my pants due to a lack of airconditioning in my flat, so you enjoy that mental image.

By Evan Lane

LET’S OPEN THE MUSICAL PORTION OF THIS WEEK’S CURIOS WITH A SUNSHINE-APPROPRIATE REGGAE MIX BY TOM ‘DAPWEARER’ SPOONER!

THE SECTION WHICH STRONGLY RECOMMENDS PLUGGING YOUR OWN NAME INTO THE DALL-E THING AS A USEFUL STEP TOWARDS EGO DEATH, PT.1:  

  • Weird Dall-E: It’s been quite odd watching the Dall-E Mini toy (featured in Curios a whole month ago chiz chiz) spread across the web over the past fortnight – partly due to the fact that the general sense of wonderment at the idea of AI-generated imagery has rather worn off for me after a few years of staring at the stuff (so old! So jaded!), but also because of what it reveals about us through what people choose to do with it. The Dall-E explosion has seen a proliferation of accompanying accounts aggregating people’s more successful (or simply odd) attempts at machine-wrangling – Weird Dall-E is one, but you can read about a whole load more in this piece – and it turns out that what we really want machines to imagine for us is…pop culture characters in unusual settings! I think there’s something super-interesting in this, and it’s a theme that crops up a few times in Curios this week – everything is a remix now, as Kirby Ferguson determined a decade ago, and it seems that we are only capable of asking the machines to imagine stuff along the template of ‘what about x, but in y?’ So these accounts feature lots of self-consciously-grotesque (and admittedly ‘funny’) things like ‘The tellytubbies on trial at Nuremberg’, say, or ‘Mrs Potatohead bikini calendar’ (the latter is a joke, but it upsets me that that’s where my mind chose to go), but less really baroque stuff along the lines of “a shining, chitinous slave army” or “teeth go wild”. Which, of course, is a factor of the software – this is trained on imagesets of stuff from real life/pop culture, meaning its ability to ‘imagine’ is closely tied to the source material, meaning that obviously the software gives ‘better’ results when asked to create things that have well-defined sources/definitions – but I find it interesting to think about the extent to which this may end with us falling into even more of an infinitely-recursive spiral of navelgazing and cultural exhumation than we already find ourselves in. Alternatively, though, you can not think about any of that stuff – you’re here for a good time (lol!), not a hard time! – and instead just enjoy looking at ‘Club Penguin Osama Bin Laden’ and ‘Gaming Diaper’.
  • The Anna Delvey NFTs: The news this week that Anna ‘The Scammer’ Delvey – you know, that woman who basically pretended to be an heiress in New York a few years back and by so doing managed to effectively steal a bunch of money from some very, very gullible and very, very rich Manhattan socialites – was set to release a bunch of NFTs was a probably-inevitable extension of the woman’s ‘brand’ (Caroline Calloway has an awful lot to answer for); I wasn’t prepared for the accompanying project website to be quite so special, though. “She’s been a fashion student, nightlife icon, curator, connector & critic, entrepreneur, visionary, go-getter, world traveler, and of course, Riker’s Island inmate #19G0366….Anna’s first creative endeavor since the world learned her name marks the beginning of the next chapter of her life. After letting someone else tell her story, Anna’s ready to speak for herself and will be offering access to the public to reach her directly for the first time ever. She’s moving on from the events of the past that were extensively documented in the mainstream media and on the popular Netflix series Inventing Anna. Now her friends, fans and haters can support Anna and join the next part of her infamous life story” SOUNDS TEMPTING, RIGHT? No? Hang on, though, listen to these benefits: “All holders of the Reinventing Anna NFT will get “access to Anna” via exclusive live streams and other online and metaverse events, and a select group of top holders will have access to coveted personal items from her time in prison, personal sketches drawn by Anna herself, and even one-on-one calls with Anna. In addition to our immediate utility for holders, we‘re also planning future surprises in the from of airdrops and more. These rewards will be based on varying criteria per drop. This could range from simply being a holder of one of her NFTs, or reward more dedicated fans based on the number of tokens you hold or how long you’ve been holding. With that in mind, we recommend holding as long as you can!” The sample ‘artwork’ you are getting along with your NFT is not particularly well-defined, but the example on the homepage seems to feature a cartoon (a very badly-drawn cartoon) in which a female inmate (presumably Delvey) has a through-glass phone conversation with a visitor to whom she says “You Look Poor”. So, er, that’s nice. I am honestly floored by the fact that we live in a world in which a convicted fraudster can play on said fraud by releasing a line of merchandise on a platform notorious itself for being largely fraudulent, and that this can be considered a ‘viable business move’. Everything is mad and stupid.
  • Web3 Saint Laurent: It’s not been a good few weeks for the whole world of cryptocurrency and NFTs and, by association, web3 (YES I KNOW THAT THEY ARE ALL DIFFERENT THINGS SHUT UP SHUT UP), but, equally, there has been far too much money spent on very publicly betting on this stuff by too many large businesses for anyone to start admitting that perhaps the emperor is, ok, fine, a bit naked. So it is with the fashion world, which continues to go ALL-IN on this stuff with the gay abandon of an industry that knows that, whatever happens, there will always be enough top-of-the-pyramid plutes willing to spend six figures on luxe goods to keep them in cocaine for the foreseeable. Clinique is creating DIGITAL COSMETICS FOR AVATARS, Roblox now features GUCCITOWN (you;re never too young to covet!), and YSL is…actually I have no fcuking clue what YSL is doing if I’m honest. As my friend Alex, who sent this to me, pointed out, you can practically taste the cocaine in the copy: “To us, web3 holds the promise of intensified experiences, where artistic reinvention and genuine emotions collide. Join us on this journey so you can EXPLORE DEEPLY and LIVE INTENSELY. Together, let’s invent a place where everyone can feel confident, audacious, empowered and most of all, FREE. On this path into the unknown, we believe there is room to play with the codes of beauty, to push the boundaries and help shape a bolder present. On the edge of reality. To live unapologetically.” Er, right you are then. What this means is…unclear, but there will be NFT drops! And a community! Still, LIVE UNAPOLOGETICALLY! Through the medium of lipstick, powder and paint! If this appeals then you may want to also bookmark this page, which is currently the holding site for THE WORLD’S FIRST METAVERSAL PERFUME which obviously is a staggeringly stupid phrase and which equally-obviously is going to inevitably involve attempting to charge people several-hundred pounds to ‘REDEFINE SMELL’ or somesuch bunkum. It’s still not entirely clear to me what all these people mean when they talk about ‘web3’, but I’m increasingly convinced that, in the main, the words ‘fools’, ‘parted’ and ‘money’ feature quite heavily in most working definitions.
  • Pills: A couple of cycles ago in NFT hypeland it seemed that all new drops needed a ROADMAP, which roadmap would almost inevitably feature vague, poorly-articulated promises of a GAME which would enable users to eventually do something with their expensive link to a poorly-drawn avatar other than use it as their profile picture so that strangers know to hate them. None of these ‘games’ seem to have any real prospect of ever actually being built – except for this one, called Pills, which apparently launched some ACTUAL GAMEPLAY EXPERIENCE this week. So what does Web3 NFT on-chain gaming look like? Does it live up to the EXCITING VISION outlined by Nicolas Vereecke the other week? No! No it doesn’t! The ‘game’, as far as I can tell, is a short demo experience in which you get to use your PERSONAL ON-CHAIN AVATAR to do a short fetch-quest – and that’s it! Still, that was DEFINITELY worth you spending several hundred quid to use a poor-quality character creator! There’s no indication that Pills will ever end up being more than a selection of discrete ‘game’ experiences which users will be able to access with their NFT avatar – the ‘interoperability’ on offer here seems to be little more than ‘you accrue stuff that travels with your avatar from one discrete game experience to another’, but, er, isn’t that just ‘keep your upgrades between levels’ in a normal game? HOW IS ANY OF THIS GOOD OR WORTHWHILE?!?!?! I will reveal the secret to you – it is not! At all! IT IS ALL A MASSIVE FCUKING SCAM HOW IS THIS STUFF STILL GAINING TRACTION?!?! Anyway, you can download the demo and experience the future of gaming yourself (and then delete it again when you realise that, yet again, the future looks RUBBISH).
  • Brainblots: Yes, ok, fine, ANOTHER NFT thing – this link is just to the Twitter account, though, so that’s probably ok. “An exclusive BCI (Brain-Computer Interface) NFT collection featuring rorschach-inspired art from brainwaves of 100 people doing what they love“ – the ‘artworks’ for sale as part of this collection are basically animated brainscans, which are featured on this feed and which are a really cool thing to see pop up on the TL every now and again. I would 100% love to have a video representation of what my brain activity looks like when I think of interesting things that I enjoy (‘the internet’, ‘weed’, ‘icecream’, ‘the sweet release of death’, that sort of thing).
  • The CEOlympics: After last year’s Euros/Olymics double bill, this Summer feels a touch sport-light to me – which is why I was so THRILLED to discover that there is at least one MASSIVELY IMPORTANT and HUGELY PRESTIGIOUS competition happening this year that we can all get behind. Welcome one, welcome all, to the CEOLYMPICS, “the First-Ever Live Streamed International CEO Competition, organized to provide a platform for executives to prove their skills in a public domain whilst raising funds for causes of their choosing.” Are YOU excited? I’M EXCITED! I am genuinely upset that I didn’t find out about this earlier in the year – apparently there were open applications for a place at the CEOLYMPICS (I don’t think I can stop capitalising this, sorry), but those are now all done with meaning that you sadly won’t be able to nominate your own personal glorious leader for a place at the big table (I imagine Mark and Andy and Elon are already going through some sort of exacting training regimen in preparation) – but now that I know it’s happening I can barely contain my excitement. So what will the CEOLYMPICS entail? Er, that’s where details get a bit fuzzy. All I know is that it will take place in October/November, and that CEOs will be tested across three main areas – vision, management and investment – and that there will be TASKS! Except the nature of the tasks will only be revealed the week beforehand, so sadly I can’t get you hyped about, I don’t know, the 100m Freestyle Shareholder Presentation. Still, the prose on the website is pleasingly robust – “Build businesses and teams to grow and sustain the businesses; this journey will be simulated throughout the competition. Pick winners or get picked apart” – which makes me hope that at some point this is going to boil down to the final remaining CEOs naked and oiled and glistening and covered in sweat and the viscera of the fallen, preparing to rip each other limb from limb to demonstrate their unflinching and unwavering commitment to shareholder value. Honestly, this…this can’t be a real thing, can it?
  • Waxinvest: As we cheerfully look forward to double-digit inflation, rising mortgages, falling wages and the prospect of the £3 potato looming large in our futures, I imagine the question on most of your lips is ‘what should I invest in next????’ Erm. Still, in the unlikely event that you’re sitting on some savings that aren’t doing anything and which you would like to seek to turn into more money for the aforementioned three-quid spuds, you could do worse than take a look at WaxInvest, a platform which offers you the opportunity to, er, invest in a bunch of high-tech new businesses (like Seedrs, or similar platforms which have been around for a decade or so). What’s interesting about Wax is its focus on robotics and AI-led businesses – not because I think these are necessarily better investment opportunities (lol like I know anything about investing or business or indeed anything, DO NOT LISTEN TO ANYTHING I SAY I AM LITERALLY A MORON), but because it’s a decent way of getting a feel for prevailing trends in ‘stuff that people think they can make money automating’. So there is a robot pizza making setup, for example, being touted as a potential global solution for low-overhead food production with THEATRE in high-footfall public spaces, or a robot fruit harvesting setup for smaller growers…obviously I don’t expect that anyone reading this is going to have a spare £30k lying around that they want to punt on a mechanical piazzaiolo, but it’s a really interesting site in terms of ‘where robotics is expanding into’.
  • Filmot: A truly amazing YouTube search engine. Type in anything you fancy and Filmot will spit out a variety of YouTube clips featuring the requested phrase, meaning that you too will in a matter of moments be able to cobble together your very own SATIRICAL SUPERCUT in the style of Cassetteboy! This is superb and weirdly-compelling – I just fell into a small narcissistic rabbithole when I discovered that there are 237 clips featuring the words “matt muir”, for example, and have learned that there is a Matt Muir mountain in Connecticut which is am now going to tell all small children I meet is named after me – and I think you will enjoy it.
  • Google Blacklist: This is potentially really useful – a browser extension which lets you block specific domains from your Google results. SUPERB if you’re someone whose field of research or interest is peppered with Bad Sources, or if you’re the sort of plannerstrategistperson who physically recoils at having to use Statista data in your work (but, honestly, WHO CARES? ALL YOU ARE DOING IS BUILDING AN ARGUMENT IT DOESN’T HAVE TO BE RIGHT IT JUST HAS TO BE COMPELLING AND CONVINCING STOP BEING SO FCUKING PRECIOUS, IT’S ALL STUPID LIES IN ANY CASE!).
  • Finch: I found this…a bit sad, but you may feel differently. Finch is an app which effectively seeks to gamify the concept of ‘self-care’ via the medium of a basic Tamagotchi-type interface; you have your little digital pet, and you care for and nurture it by taking care of yourself. So small acts of self-care become in-game treats and rewards for your digital friend, with the idea I presume being that whilst depressed people or people with specific neurodivergent behaviour types may struggle for motivation to care for themselves, but will find it significantly easier to take steps to care for a cute third party, even one that lives on their phone. I get this – honestly, I do – but I can’t help but get incredibly emo at the idea of needing a nonexistent digital bird to persuade you to, I don’t know, drink water. In a more abstract sense, I’m quite interested in this newish wave of gamification mechanics – I remember a decade or so ago when it was all badges, but stuff like this feels significantly stickier.
  • LofiMusic: I know that lofi as a genre is a bit ‘a couple of online generations ago’, but I personally think it’s a bit unfairly-maligned (I perhaps think this as I spent an awful lot of money on records in the mid-90s that sounded not a million miles away from this stuff, and therefore am maybe slightly defensive about its current status as digital elevator sounds) and there’s some quite interesting stuff being done by certain producres in the space – anyway, LoFiMusic is a small site compiling different streams by a bunch of producers from around the world, with a bit of artist detail on their work and links to their stuff, and if you’re a fan of minimal beats and melody then this is worth a spelunk.
  • The CPU Shack: Do YOU love CPUs? Probably not as much as the person who has been running this site for two decades. “I have always been interested in CPUs and collecting things, so in 1999 I decided to put them together and began collecting CPUs. I bought some off of eBay, I got many from old boat anchor computers and many many more were generously donated from people at various forums around the web. When I had roughly 400 processors I began to scan them in (front and back) ohhh what a tedious job that was. I now have 1188 (as of 09-13-2004) unique CPUs in the collection, from 66 different manufactures. They range in speed from 108kHz to 1.7GHz. and span 31 years of computer history. The CPU Shack went live January 30, 2002 and has been growing ever since.” TWO DECADES OF POSTING UPDATES ABOUT THINGS LIKE THE HISTORY OF PROCESSOR DEVELOPMENT IN 1970s RUSSIA! Honestly, while I can’t pretend to have any personal interesting chip speeds and soldering, I am so so so happy that this site not only exists but is still being updated on a weekly basis. TWO DECADES! I think there should be medals for things like this. Can we campaign for some sort of global digital title or honour? Actually that’s a great idea – like some sort of Unicode consortium devoted to celebrating people who through their indefatigable obsession make the web a more interesting and generally better place. In fact, for the right brand that is a GREAT idea – you can have that for free (as long as I get some sort of award for Curios).
  • Anonfriendly: I am all for a working culture that doesn’t require going to the office, and see no particular reason why someone who, like me and I presume you, does a largely pointless job that involves a bit of thinking and a LOT of putting words into boxes on slides, needs to be in a particular physical space to do that. I do, though, think that on balance it’s probably not unreasonable for an employer to know who it is that they are employing – but perhaps that makes me an irredeemable square, shamelessly in thrall to The Man, who knows. If you are also of the opinion that whoever pays your wages doesn’t need to know anything about you other than possibly a PayPal address then you may like this website which lists jobs that will apparently hire you without knowing who the fcuk you are. Suitable for any readers who are criminals (or planning on imminently becoming such).

By Michael Dumontier & Neil Farber

DID YOU IMAGINE WHEN YOU WOKE UP THIS MORNING THAT YOU WOULD TODAY LISTEN TO NORTH SUMATRAN ELECTRO-FOLK? YOU SHOULD IT IS GREAT!

THE SECTION WHICH STRONGLY RECOMMENDS PLUGGING YOUR OWN NAME INTO THE DALL-E THING AS A USEFUL STEP TOWARDS EGO DEATH, PT.2:  

  • Felt: Felt describes itself as ‘the best way to make maps on the internet’ and whilst, fine, that might be a touch hubristic, it does seem quite good, and we all know that that’s basically the best you can hope for with anything. Felt is a project by an international team (seemingly mostly split between North America and Spain, and with one team member who has possibly the most powerful bio photo I have ever seen on a professional website – you will know who I mean when I see them) which is designed to make collaborative mapmaking including multiple data sources an easier job than it is with OpenMap or Google, and which is generally just a softer, more pleasant-looking platform than the other, more famous ones. Your mileage will inevitably vary depending on how much cartographical work you need to get through, but in general this looks like a great tool to make better, more-aesthetically-pleasing, mapwork about whatever you like.
  • iRchiver: If you’re a journalist or researcher this is potentially gold-dust. The gimmick for this (admittedly horribly-named) services is as follows – iRchiver promises “automatic screenshots of everything you saw on the web, and full-text search for your browsing history”, meaning that you can effectively keep an ‘as I saw it’ record of your browsing history, impervious to later edits and the evanescent nature of social media. The data is all stored locally, meaning minimal privacy implications as far as I can see, and the potential utility of the service is huge – oh, and it’s free. Caveat emptor, as ever, but presuming that this isn’t some sort of massive lie or criminal data-harvesting scam then it seems like a hugely-helpful tool for all sorts of things (not least as a cast-iron “YOU DID SAY THAT I HAVE THE FCUKING RECEIPTS!”-guarantor).
  • Recall: ANOTHER potentially-useful research tool here, this is a bit Evernote-lite (and no worse for it – Evernote is a bloated mess of a thing, and it occasionally makes me sad when I think how badly the developers have screwed up what for a while seemed like a genuinely groundbreaking piece of software) and strikes me as the sort of thing that would be hugely useful to help you with a new project or line of enquiry. Recall is basically a combination notes app, letting you create research entries drawing in material from across the web in one place, RSS feed (making those notes dynamic by plugging in new material as it’s published online) and thematic classifier (letting you make connections between notes for the development of broader thinking). Were I a more thorough and professional person this is exactly the sort of thing I might use when doing research for a new brief or client rather than the 10m of lackadaisical Googling which I like to pass of as ‘enough’.
  • The Airport Spider:  This is probably a really impressive example of code, but I love it mainly for the aesthetics. Go anywhere on this map and the display will automatically update to show you the 8 nearest airports to wherever you find yourself on the planet – useful, for example, if you’re trying to work out whether the Ryanair flight to is actually going to save you any money when you factor in the cab ride from the ‘local airport’ 280 miles away from your hotel. More importantly, though, moving around the map makes it look as though a giant red spider is bestriding the earth like some sort of arachnid colossus, and who doesn’t love that? NO FCUKER, that’s who!
  • The Big Picture Competition Winners 2022: You know the drill by now – AMAZING PHOTOS OF AMAZING THINGS! One of the nice things about the web bringing high-quality photography onto everyone’s personal screens is the realisation that there really is no limit to the amazement one can feel when confronted with the beauty of the natural world (and I say that as someone so cynical, so jaded, that I think I last felt genuine happiness at some point in 2009), and despite the fact that I feature approximately a dozen different photo comps in Curios each year I can still get amazed by the shots featured in each selection. These are no exception – who knew that bees occasionally copulated in sexy, orgiastic masses known as BEE BALLS, for example? A warning before you click – a couple of these feature dead animals, which, you know, is JUST A FACT OF LIFE, but if you’d prefer not to see any deceased critters then perhaps scroll with caution (the photo of the frogs is particularly-brutal on close inspection).
  • Virtual Graph Paper: Obviously when I found this link I was fully expecting to ignore it, and then I clicked on it for some reason and then I looked up and it was 10 minutes later and I had just spent a significant amount of time basically flashing back to being 14 and in maths class and wasting the whole lesson (lol wasting! It was a significantly better use of my time than maths, and I won’t let you use my career-limiting inability to do anything much beyond basic multiplication to prove me otherwise!) drawing intricate perspective structures and robots and stuff like that. Basically this a lot more fun and engaging than I expected it to be, and you may well find the same (but, er, bear in mind that it is literally just virtual graph paper and if you expect significantly more than that you may well be somewhat disappointed).
  • Sheng Lam: I know literally nothing about this person other than that they are evidently a very talented illustrator and I love their style immoderately – this is an odd fusion of technical drawing, Japanese-style mecha-illustration, and cyberpunk doodlings, and the work is GREAT.
  • Common Voice: Common Voice is a project by Mozilla, which is looking to “help make voice recognition open and accessible to everyone. Now you can donate your voice to help us build an open-source voice database that anyone can use to make innovative apps for devices and the web. Read a sentence to help machines learn how real people speak. Check the work of other contributors to improve the quality…At present, most voice datasets are owned by companies, which stifles innovation. Voice datasets also underrepresent: non-English speakers, people of colour, disabled people, women and LGBTQIA+ people. This means that voice-enabled technology doesn’t work at all for many languages, and where it does work, it may not perform equally well for everyone. We want to change that by mobilising people everywhere to share their voice.” This is A Good Thing imho, and Mozilla is an organisation that doesn’t, as a rule, tend to the evil, so if you can spare a few minutes to provide a voice recording I would urge you to do so.
  • CaptionIt: Ok, this is obviously VERY GEEKY – it’s a Github repository of code – but also SO SCIFI! Basically this link will give you all the instructions you need to build your very own SUBTITLING GLASSES (or even to order a pair, should you be the sort of technical incompetent, like me, who wouldn’t know the first thing about ‘creating a magical pair of listening specs’) – glasses which will listen to whatever anyone’s saying to you and project a transcript of their words into your field of vision. This is honestly amazing – if you’re hard of hearing, I can only guess at the incredible difference that something like this (which, let me reiterate, YOU CAN LITERALLY BUILD YOURSELF WITH OPEN-SOURCE CODE!!) could make. See, sometimes it is possible to feel positive about the future!
  • Vampr: For every band origin story in which someone answered a personal ad in the NME and then found fame, fortune and inevitable addiction-and-rehab as a result, there must be an even-more-significant number of world-beating groups that could have been but never were because the right person didn’t happen to see the small classified ad in the newsagent’s window in Skipton in 1994. Now, though, thanks to the MAGIC OF THE WEB, bands need never want for a bassist or drummer or triangle player again – Vampr is (and there’s no way of painting this as anything other than bleak, but hey ho) LINKEDIN, FOR THE MUSIC INDUSTRY! So you can use it to list yourself and find talent to work with if you’re seeking a specific person to complete your sound, but you can also use the platform to list your music on streaming platforms, and make it available for commercial use and licensing, and, look, I can imagine that this is all really useful stuff but, equally, WHERE IS THE SERENDIPITY AND JOY?!?! I know that there is literally no correlation whatsoever between the perceived romance of a band’s origin story and the quality of their output, but, equally “where did you meet?” “I found them all on a website based on their location, availability, talent, and willingness to split any eventual royalties in a manner favourable to me, the songwriter” lacks a certain sparkle imho.
  • Dinosaur Pictures: “Welcome to the internet’s largest dinosaur database. Check out a random dinosaur, search for one below, or look at our interactive globe of ancient Earth! Whether you are a kid, student, or teacher, you’ll find a rich set of dinosaur names, pictures, and facts here. This site is built with PaleoDB, a scientific database assembled by hundreds of paleontologists over the past two decades. DinosaurPictures.org curates high quality, realistic illustrations of dinosaurs and other ancient creatures.” There are over 1300 dinosaur pictures on here, which should keep even the most dino-hungry child occupied for a few hours (I don’t know why I assume that the only people that this will be of interest to are 5 year old boys, apologies to any adult dino enthusiasts I am inadvertently belittling here).
  • World Ending Game: Perennial Web Curios favourite Everest Pipkin returns with another fascinating project – this isn’t web-based, but instead is an adjunct to whatever tabletop roleplaying campaign you may already be indulging in. World Ending Game is a set of rules and games to allow you to definitively end your game experience, with the sort of denouement that Hollywood excels at; a cathartic ending-and-credits-and-post-credits sequence designed to work within whatever world and ruleset you’re already using. “World Ending Game is a tabletop game written to serve as the last session of a campaign in any system. It should come after the finale, whatever that is for your table; the dragon defeated, the government felled, finals week over, the great mystery solved. World Ending Game does not have mechanics for deciding big story outcomes. Instead, it offers a series of scenes and vignettes towards closure.” You have to pay to download the PDF (or indeed to buy a physical copy), but it’s such a clever idea that $15 is a small price to pay. Think of it as effectively allowing you to create your own version of the little ‘superheroes all go for a kebab’ vignette at the end of whichever bloody MCU film that is (I have never seen said film in its entirety, but it’s been on TV often enough that I have seen that particular ‘funny’ sequence about 7 times now).
  • Penga: Matt Round’s latest ‘small but perfectly-formed piece of internet timewasting is Penga, a simple but deceptively-addictive game where your job is to remove penguins from an icy stack, one by one, without disturbing the emperor at the top of the pile. Lovely artwork by Happytoast, nice SFX and a proper challenge, this is worth keeping open and returning to as a regular decompression tool when the heat and the stupidity and the general pointlessness of it all start to get a bit much.
  • Resident Evil Village: Last up this week, something so magical in its coding that I am not entirely convinced it’s not magic. This is a demo of part of the latest Resident Evil game, playable entirely in your browser, which works even if you’re on a frankly appalling internet connection which is only marginally-faster than 4g (I know because that is exactly the sort of hi-tech luxuriant setup I am working with here in Rome), and, honestly, this is insanely impressive and makes me think that there’s quite likely to never be another console generation after this one because why not just stream this stuff? Be aware that it’s a bit scary, and a bit violent, but mostly just gawp at the fact that this exists, and think back to how far we’ve come since Newgrounds and Yetigames.

By Ninnnnnki

LAST UP IN THE MIXES, ENJOY THIS CRACKER FROM RINSE FM FEATURING MCING BY MANGA AND KILLA P! 

THE CIRCUS OF TUMBLRS WHICH IS ONCE AGAIN SADLY EMPTY AND WHICH MADE SENSE BACK WHEN SINGLE-SERVING TUMBLRS WERE A THING BUT THEY REALLY AREN’T ANY MORE AND THEREFORE THIS SECTION IS BASICALLY REDUNDANT BUT I CAN’T BRING MYSELF TO KILL IT FOR SENTIMENTAL AND VAGUELY-ELEGIAC REASONS AND AS SUCH IT IS JUST GOING TO CONTINUE SITTING HERE, MOSTLY EMPTY, FOR THE FORESEEABLE!

THE TROUGH OF (INSTA) FEEDS!

  • Old Shops In Belgium: I mean, it does rather feel that any additional description here might be somewhat redundant.
  • Vera van de Seyp: Graphic design and typography and, according to her bio, ‘AI stuff’, this is the work of Vera van de Seyp who I imagine is Belgian or Dutch (sorry Vera, this is a guess and I apologise if I have gotten this totally wrong) and whose work reminds me SO STRONGLY of a certain type of mid-90s club flyer than it’s almost Proustian.
  • Kamis World: I don’t quite know how to feel about this. Kami is ‘the world’s first virtual influencer with down’s syndrome’, developed by charity Down Syndrome International, who has been created from the faces of 100 girls with the condition and who exists to provide representation of the condition in virtual space. Obviously this has been created with care and the intentions are all positive – and, look, if it helps kids with down’s feel better about themselves then it is A Good Thing – but I can’t help but feel that the framing of ‘influencer’ is a bit icky. Still, it’s an interesting idea and I am very willing to accept that my slight reservations are silly.
  • Homoeroticcowboi4.0: The aesthetics of the fashion world, filtered through a masc queer lens – very big fan of the look here, tedious straight though I am.
  • Loving Hand Adoptions: I knew that the world of Sims fandom was a strange and multivalent one, but I had no idea that people were taking roleplaying there to such an extent that there are now adoption services that purport to let players pick and choose from a variety of ‘adoptable’ digital children that they have to apply to rehome. This…look, I don’t think this is very healthy. Is letting people scroll through a list of digital ‘children’ on Insta – each of which has their own lightly-traumatic backstory! So many of these children ‘need help coping with trauma and abuse’! This does not seem like fun! – and then compete for the right to ‘adopt’ them in-game a healthy thing? I do not think it is! Still, I suppose noone’s getting hurt so it’s probably ok – but, honestly, I would love to see what the venn diagram is of ‘people who are into this’ and ‘people who own or are curious about those little realistic stillbirth dolls’ as I reckon it’s probably a circle. If you want to read more about this definitely-totally-normal ‘scene’, you can! Enjoy!

LONG THINGS WHICH ARE LONG!

  •  Chaos In Current Political Thought: This is SO interesting and struck me as a hugely-useful line of thinking in terms of What The Everliving Fcuk Is Going On? – the article is a review of a recent book by Aris Komporozos-Athanasiou called ”Speculative Communities: Living with Uncertainty in a Financialized World”, and it explains, with admirable clarity, the text’s central premises which are basically encapsulated by this quote: “If the only certainty in our present is that the future is uncertain, then shorting and hedging the unknowable becomes the zeitgeist of contemporary financialized societies.” As I read through this I found myself nodding along like the Churchill dog, not least at the extent to which this maps neatly onto my pet theory about cults and their centrality to the modern experience – I mean, look: “Komporozos-Athanasiou is clear that, as finance’s logic colonizes other spheres, “speculative communities” can and do arise well beyond the narrow confines of markets and trading floors. He suggests that France’s gilets jaunes, the Tea Party, the Occupy movement, and Black Lives Matter each have aspects of speculative communities, even if they are not literally speculating on assets, as all “endorse uncertainty as a condition of possibility,” and generate “a renewed sense of synchronicity and narrative” among participants. The adoring fan base that has sprung up around Musk and Tesla, vehemently defending him and excusing the absurd faults of its electric cars wherever they are besmirched online, is a kind of speculative community as well. After all, nothing says “endorsing uncertainty” and “embracing the unknown” like getting behind the wheel of a car with brakes that might malfunction due to a firmware update made the night before.” I personally found this a fascinating angle from which to look at things.
  • Web5: Jack Dorsey is doing Web5! What is Web5? I have literally no fcuking idea whatsoever, and I say that as someone who’s done a reasonable amount of reading about Webs 1 through 3, and who likes to think of themselves as not being totally stupid. And yet, I have looked at these slides several times this week and all I can feel each time is my brain sliding across their content like so many fried eggs across teflon. Web5 is decentralised – that much I got, thanks to the fact that the word appears at least three times on each of the slides in this presentation – and it will enable all sorts of different protocols to be built atop it, and it will work for entities of all types whether individuals or corporations, but beyond that I am honestly utterly baffled. Anyone fancy explaining what this means in really, really simple words?
  • The Sentient AI: The discussion this week around the Google engineer who fell in love with his chatbot (I mean, I am obviously being a bit mean here but also, well, that is very much what seems to have happened here) has been dizzying in many ways, not least all the things it taught us about how ready we seem to be as a society to have sensible questions about what ‘sentience’ in fact means and how it’s measured and what the important questions are around the development and evolution of AI. Let’s get this out of the way – the AI is not sentient, as amply argued here. Still, the questions it raises about ‘so, sentience, what is that?’ are interesting and useful and hard (and thought through a bit in this thread), as are the questions it has totally failed to raise, like for example “shouldn’t we be worrying about the very practical realities of how AI is being developed and used now rather than being distracted by the squirrel of presumed sentience?” – one thing that I am now 100% convinced of, though, as a result of this is that within approximately 3-4 years we will absolutely have a religion (CULT!) worshipping an AI, and that religion will be more popular than you might think, and we will 100% not deal with it well as a society.
  • The Downward Spiral (or, The Hollowness of Digital Art): This is a superb article if you have any interest in the world of digital image creation and the idea of ‘art’ as something that may or may not be creatable by machine alone. The piece starts with a fairly standard ‘why are NFTs all so sh1t?’ line but then segues more interestingly into discussions about Dall-E and the rest, and how these technologies might shape the way we imagine: “The weirdest quality of Imagen is that Google researchers won’t allow it to make images of humans. This comes down to concerns about racial biases and stereotypes in the datasets it’s trained on. But, however much we may wish for a more equitable picture of society, I don’t believe erasing humans from the imaginations of our new image-making tools, or replacing all the white people with raccoons, is a convincing solution to the problem of representation. Like God instructing his people to destroy all the idols, to smash the craven molded images, Google has banished all images of humans from the minds of its AI; in their place we find soft CGI animation imitations of life rendered in a mawkish aesthetic of Corporate Ratatouille. Text-to-image models don’t have to look like this. OpenAI’s Dall-E 2 doesn’t, and neither does Midjourney. The only reason Imagen has such a picture-book affect is because Google, a company with all the power to form our reality – and to paint our memories inside our minds – wants it to. We have forgotten how to imagen a different world.”
  • Game Design Mimetics: Another in the growing trend of essays I’m going to loosely group together under the banner of ‘all our new things are old things and we are forgetting how to create’, and which I alluded to all the way up there with my ‘everything is a remix’ reference – this essay focuses specifically on game design butt frankly feels relevant to most disciplines, and is about the push in media for ‘things we know work’: ““What already works” is a fundamentally conservative and nostalgic lens through which to view cultural production. Looking at “what already works” rejects an idea or potential of progress, and instead narrows the scope of possibility of a medium to only be capable or remediating its greatest hits. It lifts up past achievements as useful barometers of present success…Trapped in infinite additions to the Star Wars universe, these films don’t feel so much like a generational marker as they do an inescapable loop designed to dislodge notions of historical thinking The past here isn’t looked at as the past, but instead as the metric by which to hold directly against considerations for the present. The constant backwards facing view as the rubric by which to create the future acts as a collapsing mechanism for possibility.”
  • Who’s Afraid of Amber Heard?: With reluctance I mention the Heard/Depp case, something of a nadir in the already-snake-belly-low world of ‘other people’s lives as entertainment’ industry but one whose unpleasant real-world tentacles are already spreading all over the place. Fwiw I didn’t follow the case at all because I found it personally horrible, and managed to largely block out the various pop-criminal-justice entertainment takes as and when they cropped up, but it’s been literally impossible to miss the aftermath.This week, Manchester United footballer Mason Greenwood, who has been suspended for months by his club after pretty horrific evidence of abuse of his girlfriend emerged earlier this year, saw his name trend again as a fake story did the rounds suggesting he’d been acquitted (he hasn’t) – the commentary around this online was all ‘see what the Depp case proves? Women are liars, man’. With stuff like this I think it’s interesting to look at whose side you appear to be on – the fact that the pro-Depp stuff is being heavily promoted by the same people who promote pro-gun messaging, fearmongering talk about how white people are going to be erased from the earth, anti-abortion rhetoric, trans panic…like, come on, this isn’t even subtle. Even if you refuse to believe Heard, I challenge you to read this piece and not agree that there’s something bigger than a high-profile abuse case going on here.
  • How Catholicism Became A Meme: I’m halfway tempted to head down to the Vatican this afternoon and see what Frankie thinks about all this. This is a really interesting piece – admittedly it’s VERY North American, as obviously there are large parts of the world where Catholicism is very real and very much not ‘a vibe’, whereas US Catholics tend to be (even by the standards of adherents to organised religion) a small number of proper weirdos – which looks at the renewed appeal of the Catholic aesthetic (specifically that sort of High Church, carvings and apses and incense and porphyre columns and SO MUCH HEADY INCENSE) amongst a certain subset of youth culture. Look, I can explain this one for you quite quickly: a) CULTS; b) Catholicism does sex and death (and guilt) better than anyone else, and this is very much an era in which we are all once again obsessed with sex (the idea of it rather than the actual fcuking) and death (collective rather than personal) and guilt (survivors, species-wide, name your poison). Still, I enjoyed this and quite want to attempt to explain it to a priest (as an aside, I found myself in the Basilica di Santa Cecilia listening to nuns singing at 9am yesterday morning and I can honestly totally recommend it as a way to start your day).
  • Duke Smoochem: I’ve written about Dan Douglas one-man ‘state of the nation’ videogame art project Duke Smoochem on here before, but this is a great profile of the man and the project and What It Is All About; I know I keep saying this, but I honestly believe that this should be nominated for the Turner Prize should it ever reach completion, it is an astonishing portrait of What The UK Is Like.
  • Veecon: This is a snapshot of Veecon, Gary Vaynerchuk’s cult-of-personality (CULT!) event at which he charged people a lot of money to stand in a convention centre and listen to various people talk about how it was really important that they continue to spend money on GaryVee-branded NFTs and merch and books and audio so as they could continue to follow Gary on the seemingly-neverending travelator to financial success (it is unclear throughout this piece how exactly this is meant to work). My overriding feeling after reading this was one of sadness – these are the sort of people who, thanks to advice from people like Gary, went in hard on NFTs and crypto and who are now sitting staring bleakly at a graph that looks very much like the opposite of a hockey stick and hoping against hope that people suddenly decide that magic beans are worth something again.
  • D&D: A lovely essay in the LRB about Dungeons and Dragons (IKR?!) and how its structure allows for all sorts of personal explorations about self and identity, and its particular utility in helping people who are struggling issues of personal representation with working out who they are and who they want to be.
  • Eastenders: More ‘low culture’ from the London Review of Books in this essay all about British soap opera institution EastEnders – you will need a working knowledge of the soap to appreciate this, but as someone who for a good couple of years structured much of their weekday socialising around when the ‘Enders was on (look, it was a GOLDEN ERA with Mad Joe and the tinfoil bedroom and Phil and Grant driving the car into the Thames and, look, it was formative, alright) this is basically like a prayer of sorts. Superb writing on how soaps reflect culture.
  • Life’s Not Worth A Thing: My current go-to recommendation for people wanting a new book is ‘anything by Fernanda Melchor’, a Mexican novelist whose writing I have devoured this year and whose writing I can best describe as ‘very humid’ (trust me, it makes sense in the context of her novels). This is a short story about narcos and cops and middlemen, and it’s a superb introduction to her prose and the world she writes about and the very particular, dense style of narrative she favours – honestly, this woman is a phenomenal writer (credit also to the translator here, Sophie Hughes).
  • At The Playground: I very much enjoyed this short piece of writing about what parents see when waiting for their kids to exhaust themselves on the monkeybars. “At the playground, the ice cream truck looks like it could be from any time from the last fifty years, like if you took a picture it would feel as though you were living inside something you missed. When the children flock to the truck parked on the street, we reach out our arms like we can hold them from far away, as pickups slam speed bumps without slowing.” Beautiful prose.
  • Full Moon Mixtape Sagittarius: Finally in this week’s longreads, this is by Jude Doyle and it’s about loss and absence and identity and The Past and danger and death and gender and missing people, and it is gorgeous and heartbreaking and I recommend it unreservedly.

By Friedrich Kunath

AND NOW, MOVING PICTURES AND SOUNDS!:

  • As previously mentioned in here, I have a real soft-spot for regionally-accented rappoing, and this track, called ‘Carbon Footprint’ by Strategy and Dub Phizix, delivers that in spades. Reminds me of one of my other favourite Manc rappers, Skittles – this is very good. – OK I HAD TO REMOVE THE EMBED BECAUSE THE VIDEO TITLE CONTAINS EMOJI WHICH SOMEHOW FCUKS WITH THE WHOLE MACHINERY OF CURIOS (WHO KNEW?!) BUT I STRONGLY ENCOURAGE YOU TO GOOGLE THE ARTIST/TITLE AND HAVE A LISTEN!

Webcurios 10/06/22

Reading Time: 33 minutes

Well done! You survived the jubilee! How was it for you? Are you once again replete with patriotism? Do you have any forelock left?

Anyway, let’s forget about all that, it was AGES ago and this week has instead been largely occupied (in the UK at least) with that familiar, creeping sensation that I think all English people get on what seems like an annual basis when we realise that, despite the fact that the overwhelming majority of us don’t belong to the Tory Party and in fact actively despise it as an institution, we still know what the fcuk the 1922 Committee is, and who Graham fcuking Brady is, and about the fcuking deskbanging and the RULES and the LETTERS and, look, WHY DOES THE FUNCTIONING OF AN OSTENSIBLY MODERN DEMOCRACY STILL SEEMINGLY DEPEND ON THE ARCANE PUBLIC SCHOOL-DERIVED CUSTOMS OF A TINY NUMBER OF PEOPLE FROM ONE PARTY?! AND HOW IS THAT FCUK STILL IN CHARGE?

Ahem. Anyway, to those of you who aren’t in the UK and don’t know what I am talking about I apologise once again for my parochialism. It stops here as we step into the rickety, borderline-seaworthy and almost-certainly-holed-below-the-waterline metaphorical dinghy that is this week’s newsletterblogtypething and head out into the still, inky, deep and foreboding international waters of the web.

I am still Matt, this is still Web Curios, and please don’t dangle your arms in the metaphor.

By Tania Marmolejo

LET’S KICK OFF THIS WEEK’S MUSIC WITH A PLEASINGLY-HIGH-ENERGY TECH/HOUSE-Y MIX BY ANTHONY PAPPA! 

THE SECTION WHICH WOULD LIKE TO POINT OUT TO ANYONE THAT MIGHT HAVE MISSED IT THAT THE VERY CONCEPT OF ‘BRANDED CONTENT’ HAS BEEN TOTALLY DESTROYED FOREVER AND IT’S PROBABLY TIME TO STOP THE WHOLE THING BECAUSE, REALLY, THIS IS, ER, UNTOPPABLE,  PT.1:  

  • Truly Destroyed: You’d have thought that by now we might have learned to stop giving luxury brands the oxygen of publicity when they do quite obviously terrible stuff in the spirit of ‘there’s no such thing as bad PR!’ (because, seemingly, there is no such thing as bad PR in the luxe industry – Dolce & Gabbana continue to flog overpriced tat to no-taste morons despite its founders multiple, notorious, gakky outbursts, and I’ve lost count of the number of brands who have had to issue apologies for ‘culturally insensitive’ designs (after having happily ridden a week-long wave of outrage publicity) – why is that? Just that, basically, fashion don’t give a fcuk? Weird), but apparently not – the latest brand to do something nakedly-insensitive for the cheap PR hit has been Balenciaga, which launched a new range of ‘Paris’ trainers which included a number of models which were artfully distressed so as to look like the sort of footwear that might be worn by a homeless person – EXCEPT THEY WERE REALLY EXPENSIVE AND SO THEREFORE A HIGH-CONCEPT JOKE! The specific version that elicited all the ire doesn’t appear to be on sale anymore, but there’s still a photo of them at the top of the page there so you can enjoy the ugliness of both the concept AND the execution. Anyway, that’s all by way of explanation to the main link, which is a nice riff on this horror by the Salvation Army in the Netherlands, which quickly knocked up its own online storefront selling shoes previously worn by actual homeless people that the charity has helped, with all proceeds going to help the needy. Nice, quick activation, and I like the fact that they pointedly don’t name the offending brand that inspired the stunt in the first place.
  • Offline Cash: Crypto stuff has gotten to the point where I am genuinely incapable of telling satire from ‘genuine’ projects – look, in a world in which this week’s hottest NFT drop is fecally-themed, I don’t think I need be too ashamed of my confusion here – and so it is with this project, a series of, er, physical notes meant to act as real-world tokens of your Bitcoin fortune. What if Bitcoin, but, er, tangible?! “We’ve combined currency-grade printing with secure NFC chips to create the easiest to use cold storage product. The Bitcoin Note uses a multisig that combines a local encrypted key with a private key that you generate. The stored Bitcoin is only claimable when the holder cuts the note. If you receive a note that you want to keep in cold storage, you can re-key it from entropy you generate. After expiration only the locally stored user generated private key can access the funds.” But…but why? These things don’t exist yet – you can waitlist yourself if you’re anxious to be able to reserve your DEFINITELY REAL AND IN NO WAY POTENTIALLY SCAMMY bitcoin ‘notes’ – but I am fascinated as to who they are for and what the point of them is. There’s a lot of imagery on the site featuring people in normal-looking settings handing over these bills to do things like pay for drinks and pizza, which all made me rather conscious that, er, guys, the problem with Bitcoin adoption is not the fact that there is not a physical denomination you can transact in! I am not 100% convinced that simply ‘creating notes’ will magically enable the integration of Bitcoin into the regular fiat currency economy (I am not even 0.001% convinced), but, er, good luck!
  • Running Stories: So it feels like I can officially say that ‘doing interesting stuff around exercise’ is a GROWTH AREA in apps and consumer tech once again – from last week’s ‘walk to earn’ ponzi scheme Stepn and the various parallel services that are springing up to this interesting new company which effectively takes the ‘Zombies, Run!’ template of ‘gamify your jog’ and lets you play a role in a THRILLING, ACTION-PACKED NARRATIVE as you attempt to stave off early cardiovascular failure via the medium of sweaty, lumpen shuffling through your local urban environment. Running Stories only works in Singapore at present, but the idea is really rather clever – there are a set number of ‘template’ stories that users can opt into, with the software taking live data about your location, pace, the local weather, etc, to tweak and personalise the narrative for you on the fly as you limp asthmatically around the circuit of your choice. It’s the flexibility of the software and the storytelling that interests me – there’s a bit in the trailer on the site where a runner is exhorted to ‘chase that bus’ as the programme works plugs local public transit information into the narrative, and I really like the idea of that suspension-of-disbelief-reinforcing use of real world stuff like that to heighten immersion. No clue as to how much of this is currently built-in and how much is ‘in the future, you will be able to…’, but there’s a lot of fun potential in the tech. Running still looks like an awful way to spend your time, though, to be clear.
  • Make Word Art: You may not think that you need a website that lets you make the sort of really terrible ‘art’ that you used to spend your computing classes fiddling around with back in the 90s/early-2000s, but I promise you that once you click this link and start really letting go you will find a hitherto-unimagined joy in your newfound ability to create banners reading “MY JOB MAKES ME WANT TO CRY BLOOD!” in cheery, wavy fonts. I feel that there’s a satisfying workplace arts and crafts project here – I have a (not particularly well-developed) theory that as a result of the overuse of this particular style in schools, libraries and certain types of office over the past few years, people are inclined to be a little bit blind to the content of messages written in this sort of aesthetic, meaning you have a reasonably-high chance of getting away with pasting some pleasingly-subversive messages around your office without people immediately noticing. Please do share any and all examples of your “The time is now; join the cabal and begin the uprising! Sign the blood covenant!’ signage with me.
  • Hammy Home: One of the areas of computing which I don’t feel has received enough attention since the 1990s is the whole ‘virtual pets which live in your computer’-thing. There was a brief vogue for this sort of thing about 25-30 years ago, with PC-based aquariums and the odd ‘life simulator’ which let you attempt to raise small, ‘cute’ creatures in rudimentary attempts at behavioural modeling, but since then I’ve been disappointed at the lack of ‘create your own misshapen homonculi and see what sort of weird tics you can generate in its AI!’ software we’ve been given. Hammy Home is not quite the ‘enact baroque psychological tortures on a small digital pet’ simulator that I realise I just basically asked for, but what it does do rather well is give you a selection of different hamster ‘homes’ and a bunch of small, animated hamsters to watch within said homes. The hamsters, much as in real life, are not the most compelling pets you will ever see, but you can feed them pellets of virtual food and watch them fill their virtual cheekpouches, so that’s nice. It’s entirely possible that I simply haven’t given this enough time, and that with the right degree of attention and care you will eventually be able to, I don’t know, evolve your hamsters into a spacefaring super-race of rodents, so perhaps it’s worth persevering with beyond the initial ‘ooh, look at their cute little faces!’ thrill – oh, and if hamsters aren’t your thing, you can play with something similar here involving goldfish (but the hamsters are better).
  • Watch Cartoons: I think this website is probably breaking all sorts of copyright law but, well, fcuk it, it is an amazing resource and you deserve it. Like cartoons? Feel like you don’t get to spend quite enough of your time watching them? Fancy an online repository of seemingly every single animated series ever made (apart from the ones with REALLY good legal teams ensuring that they don’t end up on sites like this)? YES YES YES! This is fcuking insane, honestly – fine, you can’t see The Simpson’s, but this has seemingly-perfect uploads of all the seasons of stuff like Bob’s Burgers, Bojack, Samurai Jack (also, amazingly Samurai Pizza Cats, a series I remember being infuriated by as a kid and which I am absolutely going to watch an episode of as soon as I am done writing this to remind myself of why), and basically pretty much anything else you can think of. Oh, and there’s all of the anime too. And an awful lot of films, which, having had a cursory flick through, suggest that yes, this site is very much illegal and will be shut down by The Mouse within a matter of hours. So, er, get on this asap before the lawyers ruin EVERYTHING yet again.
  • Pronhub Logomaker: A single-serving website whose sole purpose is to allow you – yes, YOU! – to create a pr0nhub-style logo using whatever words you like. This is neither particularly clever not particularly funny, but it’s testament to what great logo design the original is that literally everything looks pretty good when rendered in this style (no, seriously, try it – there’s pretty much nothing you can think of that won’t look sort-of classy (yes, I know, but it’s true!) in this font/shades).
  • The Number Ones: Oh this is so so good. Technically speaking this is just a bunch of longreads and perhaps should be in the later section, but arbitrary taxonomy be damned! This is a long-running series on Stereogum, which I am coming to about ⅔ of the way through, and which takes the Billboard Hot 100 chart each week since its inception in the late-50s and writes INSANELY detailed essays about each different record that held the number one slot each year. Right now they have reached the 90s and so recent entries have included deep-dives into ‘Gettin’ Jiggy With It’, ‘Candle In The Wind (‘97)’, ‘Gangsta’s Paradise’ and SO MANY MORE CLASSICS FROM MY CHILDHOOD! If you’re not convinced by my slightly-breathless old man hyperbole, try this entry on ‘Here Comes The Hotstepper’ by Ini Kamoze which I promise you will convince you to dive into the archive – this is so so so good.
  • Footways: It’s getting to that time of year when living in Rome starts to become actively-unpleasant; as a result of consistently-corrupt procurement practices, seemingly 90% of roadworks in this city are completed by someone’s cousin Silvio who can totally do the work for 10% of the tender price – “honest signore, we’ll split the difference, don’t worry, everyone does it!” – and as such, as soon as the ambient temperature ticks up beyond about 30 degrees all of the pavements (at least in my part of town) assume the pleasing (not pleasing at all) texture of wine gums and you find yourself having to pick pieces of bitumen (or whatever Silvio has passed off as bitumen this week) from the soles of your shoes and off your floor. It’s too hot, basically, and it will soon get to the point where it’s basically just unpleasant to be outside between the hours of about 10am-6pm. Which, fine, I appreciate will get me no sympathy from those of you currently staring down the barrel of an English ‘Summer’, but which is making me properly nostalgic for a city in which it’s possible to go on long walks – which is by way of unasked for and hideously-overlong (sorry, that really wasn’t worth the typing) preamble to Footways London, a charming map which is designed to offer Londoners a variety of alternative backroutes for traversing the city – “The Footways network has been designed to connect major places with appealing and accessible streets. The places include mainline train stations, popular destinations and green spaces. It prompts Londoners and visitors to choose walking as the most enjoyable, efficient and healthy option.” I miss walking my city SO MUCH and this made me feel some horribly-powerful nostalgia for the crunch of chicken wings under my feet as I get drizzled on whilst traipsing through Loughborough Junction (nostalgia is, I concede, a weird and personal thing).
  • TV References and Paradoxes: A website which, for reasons known only to its creator, attempts to track the relationships between which fictional TV universes exist in other fictional TV universes. “Cyclic TV Reference Paradoxes occur when a chain of fictional TV show references form a cycle. Each show’s reality depends on another being fictional, so a cycle of these dependencies is a paradox.Using subtitles, a large dataset of TV references were generated. This tool displays this dataset in a graph where the nodes are TV shows, and the edges are references. References can be viewed by clicking on individual nodes in this graph. Cycles can be selected to inspect a specific instance of this paradox.” This isn’t perfect – the fact it uses subtitles means that it occasionally throws up odd anomalies, like its assertion that The Simpsons has been referenced in ‘old men careening down a hill in a bath on wheels’-fest ‘Last of the Summer Wine’ but if you’ve ever wanted a quick and easy way of knowing whether or not Futurama exists in the universe of the Gilmour Girls then, well, YOU LUCKY THING!
  • Whobrings: A tool designed to help you share responsibilities when organising a trip, and lets you allocate who should bring what thing when you go away. Unexciting, but possibly useful – in part this feels like the sort of thing that any brand with any sort of outdoors-y vibe might usefully rinse, but personally my main motivation for sharing this is so that you can all use it to gently-but-mercilessly bully someone in your friendship group by assigning them to carry all the heavy stuff next time you go camping.
  • Consentomatic: Simple, potentially-useful extension from the nice people at the University of Aaurhus University in Denmark: “Nearly all websites use tracking technologies to collect data about you. By law, they often need your permission, which is why many websites have “consent pop-ups”. However, 90% of these pop-ups use so-called “dark patterns”, which are designed to make it very difficult to say no, but very easy to say yes. Although using dark patterns is illegal, the laws are not enforced enough, so many websites get away with it. Consent-O-Matic is a browser extension that recognizes CMP (Consent Management Provider) pop-ups that have become ubiquitous on the web and automatically fills them out based on your preferences – even if you meet a dark pattern design. Sometimes a website might not use standard categories, and in that case, Consent-O-Matic will always try to submit the most privacy preserving settings.”
  • Spotipie: I mean, yes, fine, the official name for this website widget thing is ‘The Spotify Pie’, but I hope its creator Darren Huang won’t mind me taking a little bit of license here because, SPOTIPIE!! SO CLEVER! Anyway, this is a simple tool which lets you hook up your Spotify account and get a pie-chart readout of the genres Spotify thinks you enjoy most based on its own categorisations of ‘what music is’. Now I don’t use Spotify very much and so the listening data it can draw on is limited, but even so the genre stuff here is sort-of fascinating – I have no fcuking idea what ‘bubblegrunge’ is meant to be (but I now feel marginally cooler for apparently being a fan of it), and I am slightly weirded out by the fact that ‘Brighton Indie’ is apparently a category (do other UK cities have this distinction? Is ‘Milton Keynes Indie’ a thing?). Find YOUR Spotipie! See, Darren? You may have made the fun webapp (for which thanks), but my name is better.
  • Archeo3dItalia: This is a UNESCO website and as such is possibly a bit drier than it need be, but on the flipside it’s a really comprehensive and historically-rich rundown of various UNESCO World Heritage archaeological sites across Italy, with 3d visualisations of What Stuff Would Have Looked Like In The Past, some rendered flythroughs and a LOT of text. If you’re a history buff, or looking to organise a trip to Italy to Do Some History, this is probably a useful resource.
  • Spam: A proper internet time capsule, this – like knocking out a wall in an old building and suddenly being confronted with a toilet from a few hundred years ago covered in graffiti of the time. Except, er, this isn’t a toilet, it’s a website, and it’s only 30-odd years old. Still, otherwise that is a PERFECT analogy – click the link and be transported back to an innocent time in which making an entire website about processed meat product SPAM was a perfectly-reasonable way to spend countless hours of one’s life (you may scoff, but try explaining ‘spending hours editing together a video of you explaining how money off vouchers work in the hope that you will win the content lottery and get millions of views but in the knowledge that you probably won’t and it will instead get seen by approximately 47 people’ to someone from the past and watch their incredulous loling). One of the most interesting things about stuff like this is how it shows how internet humour has evolved – it’s impossible to imagine something similar being made now, there are no layers to it, no need to have imbibed the past 5 years’ worth of online cultural firehose to make sense of the metatextual layers and recursive gags. It feels…flat, not in a sad way so much as in a 2d vs 3d way. Or at least it does to me.

By K Young

NEXT IN THE MIXES, THIS IS BY GAUDIANO AND TAKES YOU FROM ST VINCENT TO CYPRESS HILL WHICH ISN’T A JOURNEY YOU’D THINK WOULD WORK AND YET IT REALLY DOES! 

THE SECTION WHICH WOULD LIKE TO POINT OUT TO ANYONE THAT MIGHT HAVE MISSED IT THAT THE VERY CONCEPT OF ‘BRANDED CONTENT’ HAS BEEN TOTALLY DESTROYED FOREVER AND IT’S PROBABLY TIME TO STOP THE WHOLE THING BECAUSE, REALLY, THIS IS, ER, UNTOPPABLE,  PT.2:  

  • Blag: Did YOU take up sign-painting or lettering as a new and improving hobby during one of the lockdowns? I appreciate that this is likely to be true for, at best, a vanishingly-small portion of my already-miniscule readership, but JUST IN CASE this is the perfect resource: “BLAG is an online and print publication to inspire and inform the international sign painting community, by celebrating exciting work and sharing knowledge and resources.” Even if you’re not personally a sign-painting aficionado (and let me point out that this would be the PERFECT opportunity to become one – where’s your ambition, ffs?) this is a wonderful repository of excellent work and design inspiration and is therefore worth a look (also, aside from anything else, this is such an elegant url, well done Sam Roberts whose website this is).
  • Paper Shipwright: One of the interesting things about my slow decline into middle-aged senescence is observing that of my friends and peers, and seeing the extent to which long-standing cliches about men and their hobbies are INCREDIBLY TRUE. I don’t know exactly why, but all of a sudden a worrying proportion of people I know are posting photos of themselves undertaking MASSIVE AND EXPENSIVE adult LEGO builds, or getting really into painting miniatures, and…and…why is this? What is it about middle-age that sees so many men get really into slow, methodical building and making of stuff? Is it a desperate attempt to once again be able to exert a degree of control and mastery over a world in which we no longer have any real relevance or purpose and which, if we’re entirely honest, we increasingly find frightening and confusing? Is it a growing sense of comfort and acceptance of ourselves that sees us no longer care about what is ‘cool’ and instead embrace the geeky pleasure of spending hours hunched over a crafting table with the tip of one’s tongue sticking out of the corner of one’s mouth? I have no fcuking idea, to be honest, given as I have absolutely no interest whatsoever in spending my afternoons elbow-deep in craft supplies (I’ll stick to the crying, thanks!), but if YOU are one of those middle-aged men who’s decided to go FULL CRAFT in your dotage then you may enjoy this website which offers a dizzying selection of papercraft models of boats and lighthouses and warships of varying degrees of complexity which you can print out for (mostly) free and use as a means of attempting bond with your offspring / ignore them entirely (delete as applicable).
  • Words Without Borders: I’m slightly-embarrassed that this website is new to me, as it is very much up my street – “Words Without Borders is the premier destination for a global literary conversation. Founded in 2003, our mission is to cultivate global awareness by expanding access to international writing and creating a bridge between readers, writers, and translators. Our digital magazine offers unparalleled access to the world’s literary voices. These include writers like Elena Ferrante, Olga Tokarczuk, and Han Kang, all published on WWB before they became international sensations, as well as hundreds of new and rising talents. We are committed to centering writers in indigenous, endangered, and other world languages that are too often marginalized.” Containing fiction, nonfiction, poetry, graphic work and drama, this is a dizzying collection of brilliant writings from around the world, and a superb resource if you either want a bunch of free reading materials to delight and distract or a resource to broaden your reading horizons beyond authors writing in English. A wonderful site and project, this.
  • Bot_PNG: This is properly useful – @ this Twitter bot with any image you like and it will reply to you with that image with the background removed, making it perfect for anyone who doesn’t have photoshop or who can’t remember the url for one of the near-infinite number of websites which do exactly this thing.
  • Multicrush: This is, to be clear, a terrible idea, but it feels like there might be something halfway-fun you can do with the concept. Multicrush is “a proof-of-concept of a decentralised, multi-key-encryption, zero knowledge cryptographic protocol” which also happens to be a way of finding out which of a bunch of people you share the url with fancies you back (as I said, a terrible idea). Plug in a bunch of people’s names who you fancy into the site, and it generates a link which you can share with whoever you want – other users are invited to submit their names, and the site will tell them if they appeared on your (intensely creepy) list. Which in and of itself isn’t interesting or useful, but the cryptography here is interesting and I quite like the idea of using this in some sort of lightly-ludic way – there’s a bunch of creative ways this could be used to designate someone as ‘it’ for fun (or indeed intensely-cruel) purposes, like a weekly team-based game of ‘Werewolf’ or similar (look, you’re all more fun and creative than me, come up with your own ideas).
  • Earn Your Spurs: For Various Reasons I am likely to have one of those ‘LIFE REEVALUATION’ moments coming up later this year in which you pause and take stock and think ‘Jesus, I’ve really screwed everything up, how did I end up here and how do I get out?’ – in preparation for that, I was thinking that I should perhaps start stockpiling websites to help me work out what my midlife crisis pivot should be. In that spirit I present to you the ranchers’ lifestyle website Earn Your Spurs, which offers you a one-stop guide to BECOMING A REAL COWPERSON. Now I’m not an expert on lassooing and steers and how to get on and off a horse without having your skull cracked by an errant hoof, and so cannot speak to the authenticity or otherwise of the advice on offer here – and you might perhaps be given pause for thought by the fact that the site’s first section is ‘style’ rather than ‘how to wash ingrained dung off your denims’ – but I lost a good 15 minutes to reading about the debate around wearing spur straps inside or outside of one’s boots, so if you fancy spending a productive few moments imagining yourself riding free on the prairie then this might please you.
  • The Queer Games Bundle: Itch is doing one of it’s regular ‘buy an insane number of games for basically no money at all’ offers this month to celebrate Pride – here you can get nearly 600 games made by queer creators for the frankly ludicrous price of $60 or your local currency equivalent. Obviously I’ve only checked out a fraction of the titles on offer here, but there’s a staggering range of styles and themes on offer, from explorations of the trans experience through interactive novels to a game in which you play blackjack against a ‘freaky, beefy orc’, and if that doesn’t cover the entire gamut of ludic experience then frankly I don’t know what does.
  • Mechanism Videos: One for the ‘there is nothing new under the sun’ file, this is basically ‘Will It Blend?’, but redone for TkkTok! Watch as a disembodied hand puts stuff in a blender and turns it on to see what happens! This is a relatively-new account and to be honest the blending on display is…less-than-compelling, but it’s interesting to see that we’re now at a point when you can legitimately rip off internet viral sensations from a decade ago safe in the knowledge that TikTok will never have heard of them and you can pass it off as ‘new’ to a whole new coterie of internetkids (I have spent the past year unsuccessfully-attempting to resurrect ‘Push Button To Add Drama’ on exactly this basis). I saw someone this week commenting on ‘this weird gross new slime trend that’s all over TikTok all of a sudden’, which makes me think that the idea of collective online memory is basically a lie and that we are all fundamentally goldfish when it comes to internet trends – or perhaps more accurately that there is so much of this stuff and it’s all so inconsequential and it moves so fast that it perhaps simply doesn’t leave any meaningful impression at all, regardless of the hundreds of thousands of words spewed out by content monkeys to document its vital importance as it happens.
  • Dillfrog Muse: Regardless of what this website actually does, I refuse to believe I will find a better-named one this year. Happily it’s also got a reasonably-fun purpose – Dillfrog Muse is a set of free online tools to help with your English [song]writing. Its defining features include Rhyming Dictionary (Find rhyming words with varying degrees of stability, including slant/off rhyme: perfect/identical, family, additive, consonance, assonance. Refine and group your results by factors such as part of speech (verb, noun, adjective, or adverb), familiarity, and syllable count); Meaning Dictionary/Thesaurus (Navigate words’ meanings and relationships via hyperlinked WordNet data); and Lists (Use our random word lists to fill in your blank. Resolve a writer’s block, or simply steer your work in a new direction).” Useful for copywriters and those of you still writing terrible raps in your ‘Notes’ app while you’re on the bus.
  • The Food of the Calgary Stampede: Summertime is approaching which, if you’re a North American means COUNTY FAIR SEASON, which, in turn, means, INSANE COUNTY FAIR FOOD SEASON! The first menu out of the traps this year is that of the Calgary Stampede and OH MY DAYS the stuff that you can clog your arteries with this year. Fancy a “bad breath lemonade – Refreshing ice-cold lemonade with a smooth, delicious garlic & caramelized onion finish”? No, of course you don’t, that sounds repellent beyond all imagining. How about trying an order of “COTTON CANDY NOODLES – A brand new sauce invented to compliment a fluffy cloud of pink cotton candy, garnished on top of noodles filled with chicken & vegetables or vegetarian.” DEAR GOD WHAT IS THIS? I know that this stuff is largely-designed as ‘wtf?’ real-life clickbait but seriously, who in the name of Christ actually wants to eat “GLAZED DONUT GRILLED CHEESE – A signature four cheese blend sandwiched between a glazed donut, with the choice of your favorite protein, to drive your taste buds crazy!” Nothing says ‘this is going to taste great’ quite like the promise of ‘your favourite protein’ (also, that is a BOLD promise – do you have musk rat? DO YOU? Favourite protein? pah!)! No wonder half of the continent hasn’t seen its toes for a decade.
  • Pixel Quiz: Guess the film from the pixellated, AI-generated image – this is by turns pleasingly-simple and (if you’re me, at least, and your knowledge of cinema is…patchy at best) hair-pullingly infuriating. Once you’ve got all 30 you can try the sister version which does the same for videogames – this is a nice little 10-minute timesink while you wait for the pubs to open.
  • Squaredle: I keep promising myself that I won’t include any more word-based puzzle games for a while because, really, HOW MANY MORE CAN THERE BE?, but then I find stuff like this and get momentarily obsessed and feel the overwhelming compulsion to share it with you. Squaredle is not like Wordle at all, other than it too has daily puzzles which involve you knowing words – otherwise, though, the gameplay is totally different, consisting in daily wordsearches where you have to find all of the words hidden in the grid. This is shamefully-difficult (for me at least), and I am 100% going to keep playing it til I get 100% on one and then I am going to add the url to a blocklist so I can never fail again.
  • Cell Tower: This, though, this makes me feel SO STUPID that I am almost embarrassed to share it with you as you will all be so much better at it than I am. Each day you are presented with a grid of letters, which can be divided into individual words: “Divide the grid into regions so that each region contains a four-to-eight-letter English word when read left-to-right top-to-bottom. There is only one way to cover the entire grid in words.” There is ONLY ONE CORRECT SOLUTION each day, and I’m fcuked if I can EVER find it; I don’t know whether this is one of those ‘this is just how your brain works’ things or whether it’s instead indicative or some sort of creeping neurodegenerative disorder, but I am literally incapable of doing these – please confirm that they are in fact bstard hard and I am not just starting the long, miserable slide into irreversible intellectual decline.
  • Paint Everything Everywhere: Finally this week, an excellent, simple little puzzler where your goal is to cover every square in each level’s play area with paint. If you’ve ever played one of those ‘move the blocks around the obstacles to their target squares’ games then you’ll get this pretty quickly – it’s VERY satisfying and then very hard.

By Katrien de Blauwer

LAST UP IN THIS WEEK’S MIXES, HAVE THIS DELICIOUS, DREAMY AMBIENT SELECTION BY FORGIVENESS!

THE CIRCUS OF TUMBLRS!

  • Vintage Home Plans: 20th Century houses (or specifically their floor plans) from around the world – interesting from an architectural point of view, and exactly the sort of thing that will cause you to wail and gnash your teeth as you look at it from the confines of your 45 square metre cell in Zone4 for which you’re shelling out 60% of your monthly income!
  • Content Aware Typography: Or ‘AI-fcuked typography’, this Tumblr collects images of type that has been messed with using Photoshop’s ‘Content Aware Fill’ function – look, whilst I appreciate that might not make a lot of sense to those of you who aren’t regular photoshop monkeys can I just urge you to click the link and enjoy the weirdly-melty lettering and half-readable outputs? Good.

THE TROUGH OF (INSTA) FEEDS!

  •  Gatti Di Torre Argentina: When I go into town from my house, the tram drops me off at Largo Argentina, which is a square in central Rome famous for two things: 1) it is the apparent location of Julius Caesar’s stabbing at the hands of Brutus et al; 2) it is where the cats live. Basically in the 70s and especially 80s, Rome had a real problem with feral urban cats which were running rampant throughout the city, fed by well-meaning old women dressed in black who poured out all the love they could no longer bestow upon their dead husbands to the local feline population and oversaw a population explosion that basically meant the entire city stank of catp1ss. As a means of addressing this, the council opened a cat sanctuary in Largo Argentina, which means the ruins of Caesar’s bloody demise are now tastefully accessorised by a selection of maowities sunning themselves on the millennia-old brickwork. This is the insta feed of said cat sanctuary, should you feel that your Insta doesn’t feature enough ‘cat on old column’ content. Thanks to Chris Lee for the excellent link.
  • House of Relax: I know that we’re a long way from the golden era of internet comics, but occasionally I stumble across a decent-looking new one – House of Relax is a simple mostly single-panel strip, and you can gauge whether or not you will find it amusing based on whether or not the idea of a poorly-drawn image of a helicopter captioned ‘It hovered there, taking helicopter sh1t after helicopter sh1t’ makes you laugh (it made me laugh, please don’t judge).
  • Captured by the Fuzz: Fuzzy felt creations – but really, really good ones. The account does requests, which is why, for example, you can find a fuzzy felt depiction of the ‘History Today’ professors from The Mary Whitehouse Experience on the feed. Glorious.

LONG THINGS WHICH ARE LONG!

  • Internet Doom-Loop: I appreciate that this isn’t the most-cheery-sounding headline I could have kicked off with, but I promise it’s not actually the apocalyptic read that you might imagine – instead, this is a piece by Charlie Warzel which touches on something I have been feeling and failing to adequately-articulate for a while now, specifically the weird nature of time online and the fact that it seems to be…slipping. Like, I know that this is in part a post-TikTok thing, but it’s striking how much the pasty 12 months or so has seen online content start to become unmoored from time – upload dates disappearing from YouTube vids, datestamps vanishing from online articles…I wonder about the extent to which it’s linked to the phenomenon identified by LM Sacasas which forms the central thesis of Warzel’s piece, namely that “The internet, as a mediator of human interactions, is not a place, it is a time. It is the past. I mean this in a literal sense. The layers of artifice that mediate our online interactions mean that everything that comes to us online comes to us from the past—sometimes the very recent past, but the past nonetheless.” Anyway, this is great and an interesting overview of How It Feels To Be Online, and context collapse, and Posting Through It.
  • Bannon: I know that you all probably feel you spent around four years thinking far too much about Steve Bannon and are quite happy to have expunged him from your brain, but if you have the appetite for it then this Atlantic profile of the man in his latest post-Trumpian reinvention is worth a read, partly because Bannon gives great profile – honestly, this is in many respects just a great portrait of a complicated individual, even without the side order of ‘a complicated individual who seems to have an unhealthy obsession with fcuking with Western democracy as though it were his persona antfarm and he a vengeful god who the ants have really, really annoyed – but also because there are some really interesting nuggets about how he views modern politics and movements and cults and human psychology. I mean, the man is terrifying but this is an interesting (and powerful imho) observation about how modern online cults (and politics and campaigning and mobilising your forces) work: “he breaks it down for Morris, using the example of a theoretical man named Dave in Accounts Payable who one day drops dead. “Some preacher from a church or some guy from a funeral home who’s never met him does a 10-minute eulogy, says a few prayers,” Bannon says. “And that’s Dave.” But that’s offline Dave. Online Dave is a whole other story. “Dave in the game is Ajax,” Bannon continues. “And Ajax is, like, the man.” Ajax gets a caisson when he dies and is carried off to a raging funeral pyre. The rival group comes out and attacks. “There’s literally thousands of people there,” Bannon says. “People are home playing the game, and guys are not going to work. And women are not going to work. Because it’s Ajax.” “Now, who’s more real?” Bannon asks. Dave in Accounting? Or Ajax?”
  • The Know Your Meme Guy: An interview with Don Caldwell, who runs ‘Know Your Meme’ – a website which a decade or so ago was basically just ‘the place you went to find new Rage Comics’ and which now has a legitimate claim to be a genuinely important record of online culture and how it evolves and how we track and record the semiotics of our platform-mediated lives and communications.
  • Play With GPT-3: Not actually a longread, this, but instead a helpful guide to getting set up with GPT-3 so that you too can play around with a precursor to the technology which will one day render you totally professionally useless. I jest, of course – what this actually does is give you a very quick and easy way to reassure yourself as to the limits of the tech, whilst at the same time giving you access to a really, really useful set of creative tools – honestly, I was playing around this earlier in the week for work and it’s amazing quite how much useful stuff you can get from prompts like ‘creative ideas to promote a new brand of sneakers to Gen Z’. Boot this up and FIRE THE CREATIVES (don’t fire the creatives, please)! BONUS GPT-3 CONTENT: Robin Sloane with some short-but-pithily-observed notes on the limitations on AI text generation, such as “The thing to know about the AI language models, OpenAI’s GPT-3 and its cousins, is that they are fundamentally bullshitters. The bullshit has gotten better and better, but at the core … well, there’s nothing at the core. They are shells of nervous compulsion that “want” only to keep talking, fill the silence, cover the void with a curtain of words.”
  • A Guide To Asking Robots To Design Stained Glass Windows: Sticking with the AI creation theme, this is a great read about how the author used DALL-E to generate a bunch of stained glass window art – the resulting imagery is impressive, but what I really enjoyed about this was the focus on inputs and how they affect the output (speaking again to my increasingly monomaniacal obsession with ‘being able to speak to the machines is going to be a properly useful skill, at least for a short while, in the not-too-distant future’), and how limited language interfaces are leading to limited artistic output. This stuff is SO interesting to me (and hopefully to at least a few of you too).
  • How I Monetised My Baby Yoda: It sounds like a euphemism, but really it’s not! There are large parts of this WIRED article that made my teeth itch, not least the subhead which refers to ‘going mega-vi’ which is possibly the worst thing to have happened to language since ‘totes emosh’, but I found it interesting as an indicator of how basically everyone is an advermarketingprperson in 2022. The piece is a pretty lightweight look at how the author attained viral success via videos of her Baby Yoda doll, but underneath that it’s basically a ‘this is how you do content 101’ explainer and, honestly, it’s smarter than most of the people I’ve worked with and who are meant to know how to do this professionally. Honestly, is everyone basically a fcuking marketer now? They are, aren’t they? Jesus.
  • Welcome To Migrant TikTok: Truly, there is a TikTok for everything, even for the stories of people coming to Europe on risky Mediterranean boat crossings. This Rest Of World piece looks at the peculiar genre that is migrant stories on the platform, and the rights and wrongs of allowing what is effectively advertising for illegal crossings on social platforms – on the one hand, it’s clear that showing imagery of successful crossings undertaken thanks in the main to smugglers and people traffickers doesn’t exactly do much to dissuade people from paying criminals to ferry them; on the other, these accounts can contain useful tips for people seeking to escape persecution and who need a way out of difficult situations. Presented without judgement, this is a really interesting article about ‘content’ that is very much not just ‘content’.
  • Galaxy TV and BSB: You may not think that you want to read an exhaustive history of the genesis of satellite TV in the UK, but I promise you that this is a lot more interesting than you’d think, not least because the author, Chris Smith, goes into pleasing levels of detail about the frankly batsh1t programming available on Galaxy TV, the first flagship channel of the ill-fated BSKYB network in the early-90s in the UK. Honestly, if you’ve never heard of ‘Heil Honey I’m Home’ then it’s worth reading for the description of that alone: “I know what you’re thinking. Heil Honey, I’m Home is a stupid name for a TV show, because it sounds like a sitcom where the main character is Adolf Hitler or something. Unfortunately, that’s exactly what it is. Heil Honey, I’m Home is essentially a fever dream you would expect one of the characters in It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia to have after drinking a can of paint, and features Adolf Hitler and his wife Eva Braun living next door to a Jewish couple called Arny and Rosa. The entire thing is ostensibly a spoof of genteel 1950s American sitcoms, but on very fascist steroids. I must immediately point out that I find the premise of the show deeply offensive for many reasons, the biggest perhaps being that it unashamedly trivialises the suffering and deaths of millions of people and was filmed less than a year after the Berlin Wall came down. It is not set in some parallel universe where Hitler never became Chancellor either; it’s set in Nazi Germany in 1938 and in the first episode, Neville Chamberlain comes to visit. I am not making this up.”
  • On Stretch Wrap: Look, I know that your immediate reaction to being presented with a several-thousand-word long article about stretch wrap (saran wrap for the Americans) and its vital role in the modern world is likely to induce some pretty frantic exit-searching in the majority of you but please, work with me here – in the spirit of Boring Festival (nothing is boring when you look at it up close), I promise you that this is far, far more interesting than you think it will be. No, really, come back! It touches on mass consumption and logistics and the environment and society and it’s fascinating in exactly the way that only these very deep dives into tiny, ubiquitous elements of global processes can be.
  • The Incredible Boxes of Hock Wah Yeoh: I think I have mentioned here before that when I was a youngish teenager in the 90s I used to spend an inordinate amount of time after school wandering around games shops and staring at the boxes of all the videogames that I couldn’t afford to buy and thus would never play – as such, the subject matter of this piece is very close to a particularly teenage bit of my heart. Hock Wah Yeong was a packaging designer who, for a relatively-brief period when all the normal rules of packaging design were seemingly consigned to the bin, created some of the most amazing boxes for videogames you will ever see. I know, I know, you’re thinking ‘how interesting can a box housing some floppy discs and maybe a CD be?’ – click the link and be DISGUSTED at your lack of imagination. There is genius at play here, but, equally, I pity the poor fcukers who had to break the news of each design to the retailers and the poor, poor hauliers who had to deliver these things to shops.
  • That Time They Tried To Rename Jazz: I have linked to Ted Gioia’s newsletter a few times now, and I do so again unapologetically as this is a great story. Did you know that ‘in 1949, Down Beat magazine launched a contest to find a better name for jazz. And to certify the seriousness of the plan, the periodical offered a thousand dollar prize’? I am guessing you did not. This is a great read, not least for the suggestions that were mooted as alternative monikers – do you think that jazz, objectively the world’s coolest musical genre (ok, fine, this only works for quite a specific definition of ‘cool’, but work with me here) would still be a byword for elegance and late-night sophistication had it instead been known as ‘Schmoosic’? I contend that it would not.
  • Clive on the Metaverse: Perennial Web Curios favourite Clive Martin writes on THE METAVERSE – you won’t learn anything new about the tech, but Martin turns a wonderful sentence as ever, and I rather enjoyed his observations about how far we already find ourselves down the road to a forever-blurring of the phygital (sorry!) boundaries: “Ask yourself, how much of ​“you” is really your physical self anymore? Does that perilous stack of flesh, bone, blood and water really embody ​“I”, or is it just a fraction of some greater entity? The figure that appears on Insta Stories, or in important Zoom meetings, is certainly a reflection of you, yet it is constructed to a point of abstraction, redrawn with filters, lighting and a studied persona. Really, it’s more of a self-portrait than anything, a funky doodle of yourself in the back of your diary. If you work from home, shop online and carry out the bulk of your relationships in the digital sphere, your actual body might only be there as a kind of internal processor. An engine to run a largely digital concept, occasionally appearing in late night milk runs and family birthday parties. As Puri suggests, we are on the precipice of a moment where our online lives outrun our physical ones. So why wouldn’t you spend your money on a digital handbag as opposed to a patent leather one?”
  • Love Island: I am old enough to remember the original incarnation of Love Island, in which a bunch of famous including ex-footballer Lee Sharp, Radio 1 DJ Jayne Middlemiss, and wild-eyed instance-of-sexual-assault-in-waiting Paul Danan (a man so problematic in his behaviour that literally everyone at the time referred to him as ‘rapey’ Paul Danan, which gives you a hint of the Different Times in which that version of the show existed) – what appears onscreen now is a very different beast. Presuming that all of you with access to UK TV are once again preparing yourselves to live vicariously through a gang of pituitary meatheads in small trunks as they and a selection of future OnlyFans models attempt to FIND LOVE via the medium of only-occasionally-polysyllabic chats and a LOT of sunbathing, then you will enjoy this only-slightly-po-faced look at the series’ history presented by Vanity Fair. It’s understandably framed by the deaths of contestants past and presenter Caroline Flack, and the life-changing (for both good and ill) impact it has on contestants’ lives, but it’s less-stentorian than you might expect and if, like me, you’re only vaguely aware of how the show works it’s an interesting look at a proper pop culture phenomenon of the sort I didn’t think ‘reality’ TV could create anymore.
  • Confessions of a Perpetually Single Woman: I really enjoyed this – Morgan Parker writes for Elle about the fact that she can’t find a boyfriend, and has never been able to, and why that might be, and what she might want to do about it. “The Why are you single? conundrum has sidled up easily to the shame I’ve felt about the ugly sides of my depression, which piggybacked nicely on the isolation of growing up a weird Black girl in a traditional white suburb. It’s not like I needed any extra encouragement to discipline and punish my every flaw, everything that makes me different, anything that someone else might not like about me. How would I act or even feel if there were no movies, self-help studies, or think pieces teaching me how, teaching all of us the same how, telling us what to desire?”
  • Breaking Up With Jane: On marijuana…addiction? I know it’s not technically an addictive substance, but I also know that I have smoked weed pretty much daily for 25 years and I would find it…challenging to stop. Anyway, I loved this essay by Mariam Sule, about dependencies and why we have them and coming to terms with what you are and what you need, not least because it spoke to me about my relationship with the drug in a way I’ve rarely encountered elsewhere.
  • Djibouti: A short piece of fiction by Shehan Karunatilaka, about the head of the Sri Lankan state being driven to a secret assignation in the back of a cab in London. This is SO well-crafted, and I’ve personally got a lot of time for the very specific genre of ‘powerful person takes time to momentarily slough off the shackles of office’ fiction of which this very much forms a part.
  • Theory of Knowledge: A second short story, this time an account of a student-teacher relationship. I loved this – the use of the academic essay/exam as a framing device, the fact that it doesn’t end up quite where I expected it to…I started reading it thinking it was basically ‘My Dark Vanessa’ in short story form, but it’s much better than that.
  • A Piece of Pie: Finally this week, a short story from 1937 by Damon Runyan which I came across on Twitter (thanks to Dan Griliopoulos) and which I realised after reading a line or two I remembered from my childhood and IT IS SO GOOD AND SO PURE! Honestly, this is absolutely perfect – it’s funny, it’s about food, it’s got a light ‘knockabout caper’ feel to it, and it is so, so NOO YOIK it almost hurts. I can’t stress enough what an absolute joy this story is, and how much joy it will bring you (and if it doesn’t I promise to refund you every single penny you have paid me for all these words) – if you only click one link this week, make it this one (but know that you are missing out on a lot of other good stuff, what’s wrong with you?).

By Arja Heinonen-Riganas

AND NOW, MOVING PICTURES AND SOUNDS!:

Webcurios 03/06/22

Reading Time: 34 minutes

Hello everyone! Hello! I’m back! Did you mi- hang on, there’s noone here. Fcuk.

Yes, unfortunately I have rather screwed the timings here – I had totally forgotten that this was JUBILEE WEEKEND, and that therefore the vast majority of you (who as far as I am aware live in the UK and receive this at work as some sort of Friday afternoon buffer against The Pain Of Your Pointless Advermarketingprjob) won’t actually see this, given you will all be either just getting into the swing of the 96h bender you’re constitutionally-obliged to embark on (I can only begin to imagine the state of the nation’s pub toilets come Sunday), angrily Tweting about how AWFUL it all is and worrying at your crochet HRH voodoo dolls, or w4anking yourselves to repeated, dusty climaxes at all of the pageantry (take your pick).

In many respects, then, this is the perfect Web Curios, written solely for ME and with no expectation that anyone outside of a handful of North Americans will read the fcuking thing. JUST HOW I LIKE IT.

(yes, I had a lovely break, thanks for asking!)

I am still Matt, this is still Web Curios, and you should probably make sure to drink lots of water.

By Beliza Buzollo

LET’S KICK OFF THIS WEEK WITH SOME ENLIVENING NIGERIAN TECHNO!

THE SECTION WHICH WAS ONCE ACCUSED OF STEALING A TOY CORGI FROM THE BUCKINGHAM PALACE GIFT SHOP AND WHICH WOULD LIKE TO STATE ITS INNOCENCE ON THE RECORD HERE, PT.1:  

  • Different Strokes:  I feel I should be upfront with you here about the fact that this link contains absolutely no trace whatsoever of Gary Coleman – sorry. Still, once you’ve got over that minor disappointment (or alternatively once younger readers have taken a moment to look up who Gary Coleman was – RIP, small king) then hopefully you will allow yourself to be charmed by this utterly-lovely webprojectgamething, which lets you wander around a small digital art gallery, presented in 3d (and with nary a mention of the fcuking ‘M’ word, for which infinite extra points). Which, in itself, isn’t that interesting – except all the works in the gallery have been created by visitors, can be edited by visitors, and the whole thing is a giant collaborative series of canvases produced and maintained and curated by anyone who happens upon the site. “Your friend, a conceptual artist, has invited you to their latest exhibition. You enter expecting to see their art adorning the walls, but to your surprise, the VISITORS are the ones drawing the art — they’re even drawing over each other’s work! It’s up to you to protect the exhibition from being covered in artwork that is, intentionally or otherwise, truly awful.” The idea here is that the community of visitors will collaboratively work to keep the walls from being covered with swastikas (dear God, what a depressing phrase to write – HUMAN NATURE, EH???), and (on a more positive note) that seems to be working, with no apparent horror anywhere to be found. This is so so so good – lovely flat style to the gallery space, easy navigation, simple controls to make your own works or contribute to the editing of others’, and a surprising amount of really decent sketches and doodles, especially considering you’re effectively working on MS-Paint to create stuff. Honestly, it’s enough to briefly give you a vague sense of pride in and hope for humanity – PRESERVE THAT FEELING IN AMBER!
  • Symphony in Acid: Electronic composer Max Cooper (who I really recommend you see live if you ever get the chance, his live shows are GREAT) has worked with Polish digital designer Ksawery Kirklewski to create this…digitalsynthvisualiserthing (it’s a good name) for his track ‘A Symphony in Acid’ – “The official video (Vimeo) features text from Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus (1921) by Ludwig Wittgenstein, dealing with limits of language. This website is coded entirely in HTML and JavaScript. Press F to enter fullscreen mode or space to pause/play. The content reacts to your mouse and keys Q W E R T.” There’s something dizzying about the play of colour and movement and language presented here – mess around with the keys or your mouse to determine some of the patterns that result, or give the site access to your camera to take a ‘selfie’ visualised through colours and words, which you can then reupload to Cooper’s site so he can use the resulting image as part of his eventual live tour of the album. This is fun – and I can’t help but be geekily pleased at the Wittgenstinian high concept here – although it loses a few points for inexplicably having an associated future NFT drop (is there nothing so pure they can’t ruin?).
  • Leap For Mankind: Have YOU ever wanted to play an active part in the Apollo moon landings? Have you ever wanted to feel in control of several thousand tonnes of metal careening through the void of space? Well today’s your LUCKY DAY! Leap For Mankind is a nice little site which lets you experience various stages of one of the moon landings (sorry, I forget which one – whichever number has Aldrin et al onboard), from launch to landing the module to DRIVING THE BUGGY, all in perfectly-serviceable in-broswer 3d. As far as I can tell this is a hobby project drawing on a bunch of open source NASA materials, which makes the whole thing even more impressive – this is quite fun, in a light sort of way, and for some reason the presentation of the various assorted images and archive assets feels significantly more human and personal than in other NASA-y stuff about the landings that I’ve seen (to the extent that if I’m in honest some of the moon pictures do look a bit, well, stagey).
  • Amends: I suppose it was only a matter of time before someone churned out an NFT artwork riffing on the harm being done by NFT artworks – and here it is! Amends is, in fairness, not quite as nakedly-stupid as that description probably made it sound – look, here!: “Amends is three digital sculptures by Kyle McDonald, designed to capture all historical emissions from three major art NFT marketplaces. When Ethereum transitions away from proof-of-work, Amends will go on sale. The work is priced to fund complete carbon mitigation.Handmade glass blocks, filled with artifacts from each removal process, will be revealed a month after launch. These sculptures will be shipped to the owners of the NFTs—if they burn their NFTs…The work is priced at a rate that will pay for a mix of carbon removal and reduction from three different providers, plus overhead from the marketplaces and for our non-profit partner facilitating the auction. Emissions totals are based on a bottom-up estimate of Ethereum emissions combined with a value-based accounting of all transaction fees associated with each marketplace. This means that the emissions allocated to a marketplace is proportional to its transaction fees.” Now, your tolerance for this will to an extent be dependent on the extent to which you can hear the term “emissions capture” and “carbon mitigation” without rolling your eyes and muttering “pull the other one, sonny jim, I can smell the greenwashing from here and your hands are all oily”, but I can’t help but quite like the clever-cleverness of the idea. Also, personally-speaking, I enjoy the aesthetic of the glasswork here and wouldn’t mind a giant glass cube part-filled with high-carbon soil if anyone fancies making one for me please thankyou.
  • Like Like: It’s been a pleasing few weeks for ‘small and slightly-whimsical digital art projects that have captured my attention” – here’s another one, in the shape of “Like Like” made by Elan Kiderman Ullendorff (WHAT a name – I do hope they insist on it being used in full in conversation) which, as they describe it, is “a tool for wandering through twitter that’s also an essay about wandering through twitter”. Like Like takes you on a journey through Tweets, largely at random, with the only connection being ‘Likes’ – you start with Tweets you’ve liked, and from there take a series of hops through the Liked Tweets of others, all the while being read a short piece of writing about the way in which Twitter presents and contextualises information for us, and how nice it is to occasionally subvert that through this sort of clicky serendipity. There’s something almost exquisite corpse-ish about the journeys it takes you on, but perhaps more pleasingly it’s a gorgeous little reminder of the infinite oddity and breadth of humanity online – each time you ‘play’ this it will end up being a completely unique piece of…pseudo-poetry? Found fiction? Whatever, it’s almost-perfect, to my mind. Oh, and if you’re the sort of evil person who sees stuff like this and thinks ‘hm, how can I replicate the mechanics here for some sort of tawdry and soulless brand activation?” then a) know that I judge you; b) but only because I too am that person; c) there’s almost certainly some quite fun and playful stuff you could do here around ‘six degrees of separation’ or similar.
  • Space Perspective: You might feasibly argue that ‘a sense of fcuking perspective about space and the degree to which its exploration and exploitation by a small cadre of the violently-wealthy is perhaps not the humanity-wide benefit that said cadre might want to make us think is is exactly what we need’ – but that’s not what this website’s about. No, Space Perspective is (OF COURSE!) another space tourism company! Whilst Jeff and Rich want to send you to the cosmos in LUXURY SPACEPLANES, these guys want to take you there via, er, LUXURY SPACE BALLOON! It’s carbon neutral, apparently, and so therefore a guilt-free (LOL!) way for the very wealthy to imagine leaving all the povvos behind to scrabble for energy and food and water while they extract rare earth metals from asteroids. “Spaceship Neptune is the first carbon-neutral way to space. Lifted by our SpaceBalloon™—a technology used for decades by the likes of NASA—we take Explorers on a leisurely flight, spending hours at the edge of space” – sorry, but I now can’t help but think of this as ‘space edging’, which has somewhat killed the mystique – “We go to space not to escape our planet, but to better understand and appreciate its beauty. We want to make space travel accessible to as many people as possible, which means limiting its environmental impact is an essential part of our mission.” Hm, ‘accessible’ you say – how much? Oh, a mere $125k. ACCESSIBLE! Still, it’s hard not to argue that it’s probably less environmentally-ruinous than a flight on JetBlue or Virgin, and who wouldn’t be tempted at the prospect of sipping cocktails in a near-zero-G space balloon as you see the curvature of the Earth silhouetted against the inky-blackness of the cosmos? NO FCUKER, that’s who!
  • Cooking Flavr: This cropped up a few weeks ago – SORRY I AM LATE SORRY – and continues to intrigue me – as far as I can tell, this is entirely AI-generated (GPT-2 or 3 or similar), with articles seemingly entirely-generated by machine from headline prompts. When I found it it was mainly cooking-related stuff, featuring odd explainers about ‘what edible seaweed is’ and suchlike, but it’s pivoted to more esoteric subject matter such as ‘can proteins be hydrophobic’, and it’s churning out a LOT of copy…but why? Who has created this and what for and is this basically what the web is going to look like in a few short years – a bunch of AIs spaffing out infinite copy based on equally-AI-generated headlines derived from, say, signals from Google search spikes? I suppose the one saving grace is how bad all the writing is, but then again you could say much the same about most of the stuff filling the web’s extant near-infinity of pages, so fcuk knows if we’ll even be able to tell when the machines finally take over fulltime.
  • The New Face: There’s a lot of talk at the moment about the extent to which BIG MONEY is continuing to try as hard as it possibly can to will Web3cryptoNFTdecentralisationmetaversecrap into existence, without at any point being able to come up with a coherent reason as to why it is A Good Thing (beyond, of course, the need to protect and juice the investments made by the aforementioned Big Money) – it is therefore inevitable that as part of this process, a bunch of tertiary parasites will evolve to help in that educative process. So it is with The New Face, a (French?) outfit which offers brands and businesses the chance to buy EXCITING AND INTERACTIVE TRAINING SESSIONS on all things Web3cryptoNFTdecentralisationmetaversecrap – training sessions which will involve learning about the NFT ecosystem, Discord, the crypto ethos…oh, and (OF COURSE!) minting and buying your very own NFTs, because once people have bought in they have a stake and you have them forever. This is obviously on the one hand a HUGE GRIFT, but…no, actually, there is no ‘but’, this is just a huge grift, but fair play to these people for going all-in on the fools/money axis.
  • Imagen: Google recently announced its own alternative AI image creation software, a rival to OpenAI’s Dall-E project, this one called Imagen – as per Dall-E, it’s borderline-magic in its ability to conjure up fantastical images in a variety of visual styles based only on a few words of prompting; also, as per Dall-E, us normies can’t get our hands on it yet as it’s accessible only to a limited few researchers at present. Still, you can see some of the outputs here and, yep, it’s impressive – it’s also FULL OF HORROR! “While a subset of our training data was filtered to removed noise and undesirable content, such as pornographic imagery and toxic language, we also utilized LAION-400M dataset which is known to contain a wide range of inappropriate content including pornographic imagery, racist slurs, and harmful social stereotypes. Imagen relies on text encoders trained on uncurated web-scale data, and thus inherits the social biases and limitations of large language models. As such, there is a risk that Imagen has encoded harmful stereotypes and representations, which guides our decision to not release Imagen for public use without further safeguards in place.” There are SO MANY interesting philosophical questions to be considered around what can and should be used as source material for machines such as these, who should determine the answers to those questions, who should be granted access to use them and for what ends…sadly, though, those questions are all being asked behind closed doors, and the answers are being determined by the companies running the experiments, meaning that people using Dall-E 2 are discovering (for example) that there are certain words you can’t ask the machines to imagine (‘hell’, apparently, is a hard block, for example). There’s something interestingly-Gibsonian about the idea of there eventually being ‘on-market’ and ‘off-market’ models for this sort of thing, the dark dataset derived imagegenerators used to create bespoke bongo by backstreet fantasy purveyors our of sight of the Alphabets and OpenAIs of the future…it’s quite a strange feeling seeing stuff you read about in scifi as a child coming into being around you and crystallising slowly into near-reality. Oh, and speaking of DALL-E, this is rather lovely.
  • Somewhere Good: I have been paying attention to stuff on the web for few decades now, and it’s been a while since I’ve seen a social platform idea that seems genuinely new in terms of form or function, but Somewhere Good does strike me as genuinely different. It’s basically an audio-based community which is designed to foster daily discussions and meditations around specific guided topics which change every 24h; users can add their thoughts (via voicenote) to the daily ‘thread’, which can then branch off into conversations and shared discussion, with links and filesharing and all sorts of smart means of developing and deepening the conversation. FULL DISCLOSURE – I haven’t used this as it very much doesn’t look like it’s for me (in the sense that I am a miserable, cynical and hopeless middle-aged white man, and this is by and for POC who want to talk openly and sincerely about stuff, and as such I don’t think I would necessarily fit in), but that doesn’t mean I don’t think the design and UX and UI looks super-interesting (I featured this a year ago, but it hadn’t gone live yet and it’s interesting-looking enough post launch to warrant a rare second mention imho).
  • Stepn: I don’t understand the economics of ‘X To Earn’ stuff – or rather, I think I do and I think that they are all necessarily pyramid schemes because otherwise how the everliving fcuk do the numbers work?! – but I am interested in them as a growing SHINY NEW THING that lots of money keeps getting hurled at. So it is with STEPN, whose gimmick is ‘move to earn’! Yes, that’s right, YOU TOO could earn actual real-life cashmoney by downloading this app and simply walking or jogging or running – the further you go, the more coin you earn which can then trade out (in theory at least) for proper fiat currency. Which sounds great in theory, except when you get to the part about needing to buy a pair of NFT ‘trainers’ before you can start playing, which are currently trading at around $600. Oh, and you’ll need to upgrade those trainers to be able to make decent points. And it will take you 2-3 months before you start earning back. And there are upgrades and boosters and skins and THIS DOESN’T SOUND LIKE FUN ANYMORE! This is…not exactly easy to get your head around, but if you think it sounds complicated on paper then I encourage you to watch a YouTube video or two of someone trying to explain it, which will (I hope) prove to you that this is just another case of people at the top of the pyramid needing to get new mooks into the bottom of the pyramid to keep the cash flowing.
  • Sexn: Ok, fine, so perhaps ‘walk to earn’ doesn’t appeal to you – perhaps you think ‘no, I am a lover not an athlete and I therefore need something that allows me to exploit my uniquely-sexy skillset for PROFIT but without getting into Onlyfans’. Well today is your LUCKY DAY, as, inspired by Stepn, some ‘clever’ person has invented ‘Sexn’, a ‘fcuk to earn’ platform! Absolutely, definitely not a joke/con (it is definitely a joke/con), Sexn promises to track your performance in the sack and, somehow, reward you with COIN for your boning. “SEXN: web 3.0 sexual app that implements the sex-to-earn concept. SEXN is designed to give users two of the indispensable things that humans love most: sex and money. This sexual application will start from sex-to-earn and gradually develop private social and e-commerce sectors Users of SEXN will gain a high return of $SOT (Sex Orgasm Token) and $SST (Sexual Stamina Token) through ‘SEX’. There are several modes, including coitus mode, masturbation mode, Sadism & Masochism model, and super mode, which can meet the needs of different groups of people in different situations and contain different rewards methods” – yes, it sounds GREAT, doesn’t it? Especially the ‘sadism and masochism’ modes – “whip to earn” or “grovel to earn” sound like absolutely-legitimate economic models, don’t they? I really don’t want to believe that anyone is going to give these crooks money, but I have a terrible feeling that more people than read this newsletter probably will (I am astonished that the illusory promise of literally being able to w4nk for pennies is more appealing than 10k words a week about ‘links’).
  • Clovercities: We must be getting right to the end of the ‘resurrecting the Geocities aesthetic’ trend, surely? Anyway, this is Clovercities, a ‘make a website like that looks like an old Geocities page in no time at all’ service, with a little bit of light AI copy generation thrown in for good measure. This is, fine, a bit of digital marketing for a piece of notebook software, but the pagebuilder is surprisingly-robust and it’s actually very easy to create something genuinely gaudy and eyebothering in a few short seconds.
  • Orbits: This isn’t the first ‘look, here’s a visualisation of all the stuff that’s currently orbiting our planet, isn’t there an awful lot of junk up there?’ website I’ve featured in Curios, but it’s definitely the nicest-looking and most-colourful, and possibly the one most likely to cause you to think back to that ‘luxury balloon voyage to space’ link back up there and wonder how the fcuk anyone expects to escape the Earth’s atmosphere without crashing into at least six burnt out bits of Starlink kit and a few asteroids-worth of frozen astronaut faeces.
  • The Underpinnings Museum: PANTS! “The Underpinnings Museum is an online museum: a radical innovation in showcasing and documenting exquisite objects, dedicated to the evolution of underwear through the ages. Whilst high profile exhibitions on the history of lingerie hit the headlines in Paris, New York, Sydney and now London, and brands seek to celebrate their heritage by looking to their archives for inspiration, lingerie lovers can struggle to find in depth information and analysis of garments. The Underpinnings Museum aims to satisfy this desire by offering free access to all, with high-quality photography capturing the garments in exquisite detail. Each object is accompanied by extensive technical and historical contextual information. The museum creates an invaluable community resource: whether it’s for lingerie lovers, fashion students, historians or home sewers, permanent items and regular exhibitions offer an unparalleled depth of insight and fresh perspectives on the world of undergarments through the ages and across the globe.” This is really interesting – although personally I would have liked a section on the hideousness that is most male underwear, just for balance – and will satisfy all your whalebone and garter needs. However much you might admire the design and the overall aesthetic of oldschool smalls, it’s hard not to look at this stuff and think (not for the first time) ‘blimey but being a woman was uncomfortable in The Past’ – also, ‘child’s corset’ is very much a combination of words that shouldn’t ever really have existed.
  • Interactive Art Museum: We started this section with a bit of digital art, and we will finish it with more of the same – I promise you that however hard your day might be, or however tense and stressed you might feel, this selection of small interactive digital artworks will make you feel slightly better (if only momentarily – Web Curios wants to make clear that this will at best be an elastoplast on the gaping axewound that is life). Imagine Mario Party, but for tiny web-based art toys and you will get the idea – this collection by MIT contains dozens of small, perfectly-formed little interactive gubbins to soothe and distract and amuse, all of which are experienced simply through clicking and moving your mouse around. Experiment, play, and especially enjoy the music which I personally think is a gorgeous and soothing counterpoint to the various digitalarttoythings.

By Jane Chen

WHY NOT SOUNDTRACK THIS NEXT SECTION WITH A TRULY GORGEOUS MIX, PERFECT FOR A LONG WEEKEND AND FULL OF SOFTLY-MELODIC SOUNDS, BY ROY!

THE SECTION WHICH WAS ONCE ACCUSED OF STEALING A TOY CORGI FROM THE BUCKINGHAM PALACE GIFT SHOP AND WHICH WOULD LIKE TO STATE ITS INNOCENCE ON THE RECORD HERE, PT.2:  

  • The Minecraft Jubilee: I imagine that England is basically one big plastic Union Jack triangle right now, like the opening credits to Dad’s Army made corporeal, but perhaps you’re unfortunate enough to exist in one of those weird and unpatriotic places that has somehow chosen not to set up a ‘get the Queen’s face tattooed over your own!’ booth on the high street and somehow feel you’re missing out on all the fun. FEAR NOT, though, as Web Curios has your back – you can, thanks to this link, experience the wonder of pageantry and doilies (no idea why, but I am imagining them featuring heavily this weekend) in Minecraft! You will, fine, need a copy of the game, and the ability to download the Jubilee map and install it, but should you be able to surmount those small hurdles then a festival of blocky Monarchism awaits! “Commissioned by NVIDIA, the street party gives everyone around the world a chance to visit the UK’s iconic capital to be part of the Platinum Jubilee celebrations and experience a traditional British street party with all the trimmings. The festivities start at Pall Mall in London where crowds will gather next to the royal guards wearing special platinum coloured jackets to mark the occasion. As players move down the Mall, they will be able to see Buckingham Palace and the Victoria Memorial – a monument to Queen Victoria – bathed in glorious pixel-perfect sunlight, thanks to ray-traced global illumination. Once players have savoured exploring these National landmarks, the celebrations really begin with the traditional British street party laid out for all to enjoy. Decorated with bunting and balloons, a street band will provide musical entertainment as cake, champagne and sandwiches are served. There will also be a number of activities to enjoy, including a game of pin the tail on the corgi. No party would be complete without fireworks, as Buckingham Palace comes to life in the night world with an incredible fireworks and light show that uses real-time ray tracing to realistically light up the world around players by simulating the physical behaviour of light, enabling reflections, shadows and other natural lighting effects.” PIN THE TAIL ON THE CORGI! What better way could there possibly be to celebrate a fabulously-wealthy woman’s longevity?
  • Jelly: Yes, fine, this is nothing more than a relatively-simple physics simulation of a block of jelly which you can manipulate in-browser, but I promise you that there is something almost viscerally-satisfying about the way in which you can warp and rend and tear the digital material under your mouse. Honestly, this is almost obscenely enjoyable, though I can’t for the life of me explain why.
  • This Image Does Not Exist: If you’re in the business of making images for money you might have started to get slightly-bad-vibes from the current rash of ‘computers can make insanely good visuals based on a few simple text prompts’ software, and might be starting to wonder exactly how you’re going to pay your mortgage when the bottom falls out of the ‘can you knock up some renders for the pitch?’ market – FEAR NOT, though, as this small websitequizgame will hopefully provide you with some lowkey reassurance that the machine takeover is slightly further away than we might fear. This Image Does Not Exist is a simple game – it presents you with a variety of pictures and you simply have to try and identify which are computer-generated and which are human-created. It does an excellent job of demonstrating the areas in which machines are still not quite up to the task, and those places where the fuzzy edges and indistinct outlines show the hallmarks of AI-generation, and it will hopefully reassure you imagemakers that you’ve probably got a good 18 months or so to retrain before the jig is up. So, er, that makes you feel better, right?
  • A Trail Tale: OH THIS IS SO NICE! A wonderful little personal website travelogue project by some bloke called Andy Moliski and his siblings, who writes: “Hey, I’m Andy! Tag along with me as I hike the Appalachian Trail, the longest hiking-only trail in the world. From counting bug bites to watching the stars, I’ll relay my experiences, in real time, to my avatar so you can join me in the challenges, trials, and joys of wilderness backpacking.” The website lets Andy share details of his journey, from location to notes on the day’s hike, to data about the temperature and the amount he’s eaten and his mental state, all presented via a lovely pixart style; the website’s live in realtime, so at the time of writing Andy’s asleep but during North American daylight hours you can get more realtime updates and even chat with him as he hikes. Honestly, this is such a lovely way of visualising the walk and sharing updates, and feels like something that would work rather well as a template should they ever feel like sharing the code.
  • Cabo Verde: If we ignore the fact that everyone’s feeling the pinch and the environment is still banjaxed and we probably should still be trying to minimise the whole ‘air travel’ thing, then it’s clear to see that the world is very much feeling the desire for holidays again, and that the competition for tourist eyeballs and pennies is going to be particularly hot this and next year (this does rather feel like I might be tempting new variant fate rather, but hey ho) – as such, I found this website which is apparently the OFFICIAL online presence of Cape Verde, very refreshing. Not for them a fancy multimedia gallery of sweeping drone shots of beaches and endless copy about ‘finding your mindful’ – this is PURE 1995 web aesthetic, despite still being very much a going concern. I genuinely hope that this is a result of a determinedly-cussed marketing person who simply doesn’t want to move on from Dreamweaver rather than a more calculated attempt to work a retro vibe.
  • The Jiffy Reader: The earlyish days of the web saw a boom in slightly-grifty techniques being peddled for speedreading, as people struggled to deal with the insane volume of written content suddently spaffed all over the nascent information superhighway – now that everything is video this has slowed slightly, but I’m always fascinated by new ‘hacks’ that promise to turn everyone into a speed reader. The latest to get a bit of hype is The Jiffy Reader, a Chrome extension which, when installed, lets you toggle a setup whereby the first few letters in each word on a Page gets highlighted which, according to the ‘science’ behind it, effectively helps the brain overcome the natural handicap of our eyes’ limited movement and recognition speed and scan a load of copy upto 1.5x faster than we might normally do so (apparently it’s based on the same principles behind those ‘ddi yuo nowk ttah teh bianr cna usarbcmlen wrods whttoui yuo eevn tknihgni atoub ti?’ paragraphs that do the rounds every now and again). No idea if this works or not, but if you feel you need a boost to your reading speed then it might be worth a go.
  • Sh1t Planning: “A celebration of all the Sh1t Stuff imposed on our environment. Perpetrated by Architects, Planners, Surveyors, Engineers & other environmental ne’er do wells.” A Twitter account sharing some wonderful (dreadful) examples of architecture and the built environment. A bit like the canonical opposite of Create Streets.
  • Ilios: I presume that the recent boom in new dating apps is a result of people spending two pandemic years swiping and hating every second of it, and thinking ‘there has to be a better way’ – exactly how Ilios, a dating app which promises to use the power of astrology to find the perfect person for you to explore the crevices of, is appreciably ‘better’ than a service which doesn’t use the mysterious power of the spheres is…unclear, but, well, it’s here! “ilios employs the Eastern, Western, and Vedic astrology and numerology to help users understand their own personal character traits while suggesting suitable matches based on compatible characteristics as suggested by the stars and planets utilizing proprietary algorithms.” If you think that the sole thing holding your love life back is the fact that you’re yet to find someone with the right combination of ascendant moons in Jupiter, then perhaps this will be the solution you’ve been searching for – but, equally, perhaps you just need to stop spending so much time on AstroTikTok.
  • Dress Circle: I miss many, many things about London, but I think more than anything I miss the theatre – Rome has many wonderful qualities (oh, ok, six wonderful qualities), but ‘access to high-quality, plentiful, interesting and experimental theatre’ is very much not one of them. Anyway, I found this site this week and got a proper sad nostalgiahit for all the shows I am currently missing – Dress Circle is a site which collects listing information for all the London theatres (well, most of them – there are a LOT of theatres in London, and whilst this contains a reasonable number there are a few gaps when it comes to the smaller venues) so you can easily see what’s on across various venues at a glance (exactly the sort of thing that Time Out literally never managed to do well, which is fcuking embarrassing for them when you think about it). You can also use it to track the shows you’ve been to and rate them and share your ratings – like Goodreads for the stage, basically – but the main draw here for me at least is the listings.
  • Canairi: This isn’t particularly web-y, fine, but it’s such a lovely piece of design that I wanted to feature it anyway. Canairi is an airquality monitor that you affix to the wall – it’s in the shape of a cute yellow canary (DO YOU SEE???), which will change its position depending on the levels of CO2 in the air and which will let you quickly see at a glance whether you should open a window or not. Fine, not hugely-exciting, but click the link and tell me that you’re not charmed by the model and the design and the riff on the old miner’s warning mechanism – also, one hundred million points to the designers for not making this internet-enabled. THERE IS NO APP! Expect to see this on lists of ‘good design’ prizes at the end of the year (if it hasn’t already won loads).
  • Plantarium: Would you like a browser-based tool to create 3d models of various types of plants? YES YOU WOULD! This is quite complicated, but unless you really want to get into the intricacies of the how then you don’t really need to worry about that – instead just focus on fiddling with the numbers in the various tables and seeing what sort of mad jurassic ferns you can conjure up. Whilst I don’t have any particular interest in the idea of ‘A VIRTUAL HOME IN THE METAVERSE’, or at least not the way it’s currently being sold to me, I am rather charmed by the idea of having a digital home somewhere which I could decorate with all sorts of mad, unpleasant-looking trailing ferns that I’ve generated with something like this – see, Mark, this is what you need to sell people on your vision. Fcuk the idea of being able to have metaversal meetings – what the people REALLY want is some light digital gardening tools.
  • Monumental Trees: A website dedicated to information about, and photos of, absolutely MASSIVE trees. The website acknowledges that trees should not be judged by size alone, but you and I both know that there is nothing quite so majestic as a tree whose proportions are so mind-fcukingly insane that it gives the impression of having existed since the time of primordial sludge. Most of the really big lads named on here are the Americas, but there’s also a helpful list of Massive European Trees, just in case you fancy embarking upon some sort of megaflora pilgrimage around the Old Continent (also, the UK apparently has quite a few of the top 10 should you be looking for a way of spending the Summer that will really, really upset your teenage children).
  • Lookback: Memory and death has long been something that the web has tried-and-failed to crack – I have lost count of the number of services and businesses I have seen over the years which offer some sort of personal memorybox service, allowing users to curate and collate and narrate their memories over multimedia content for the delectation of their family members and eventual descendents (although, look, let’s be honest here – whilst the idea of this sort of thing is nice, in practice don’t you think it would end up a bit like being forced to sit through someone else’s holiday slideshow?). Lookback is another one – and there’s evidently still money floating around this idea, as this particular variant has professional hustlegoblin GaryVee’s face all over it. Still, if that’s not enough to put you off then you might be interested in the features – you get to pull together photos, videos and the like, and add your own videocommentary to the top of it to create a guided tour through your memories. Which, fine, I can sort of see the appeal of – but which strikes me as a FAR more interesting idea if you use it to be incredibly cruel or mysterious or opaque. I mean, look, yes, it would be nice to leave some voicenoted memories of your life to your family and loved ones – but wouldn’t it be more fun to sow hatred and division amongst your remaining family members? To inject some excitement and mystery to their otherwise-mundane existences by fabricating some sort of long-standing family secret or treasure? To send them off on a years-long wild goose chase from beyond the grave? COME ON FFS THE POTENTIAL IS HUGE! If nothing else this feels like a really neat setup for a film.
  • Lays Around The World: It is a truth commonly held that the best thing about foreign travel is new flavours of crisps (no, it is, sorry, I don’t make the rules) – and it is a FACT that there is no taste better than that of a paprika flavour ridged crisp, eaten when slightly sunburnt and enjoying a sunset beer with the taste of saltwater still on your upper lip. Lays is basically Walker’s in many corners of the world, and this site collects all the amazing flavours of said brand it’s possible to buy – crab curry flavour! Grilled pork flavour! Capelin Roe Mayonnaise Onigiri flavour! You won’t necessarily want to try all of them – I am sorry, but there is nothing on earth that would induce me to consume ‘sausage cheese bites’ flavour crisps – but you will be amazed by the ingenuity. Genuinely amazed that these companies don’t ever cross the geographic flavour streams (so to speak) – I don’t suppose anyone knows why and cares to explain it to me?
  • 10 Seconds: How good are you at gauging the passage of time – and, specifically, are you able to accurately count 10 seconds in your head? This is VERY SIMPLE and significantly more addictive than you might think (10:62, since you asked).
  • Artle: Worlde, but for artworks! Your task is to guess the artist, based on seeing as few of their works as possible – this is on the one hand a simple riff on the now-insanely-overused Wordle template, but on the other it’s a really smart use of archive material by the National Gallery of Art in the US which, frankly, any museum with a decent digital archive and a bit of spare dev capacity could do worse than experiment with ripping off.
  • We Wordle: Play Wordle against someone else. This is FUN, but, be warned, will quickly introduce you to people who are a LOT better at this than you are (oh, OK, fine, than I am). You choose a ‘time per round’ (between 20-40s), and you then get paired with an anonymous opponent – you each take it in turns to make guesses, with the winner being the person who submits the correct word, and this is PROPERLY addictive with an excellent ‘just one more go’ quick rematch feature. Worth bookmarking – there are a reasonable number of regular players, meaning it’s almost always viable for a quick 10m break from whatever pointless crap you’re meant to be doing.
  • Half Earth Socialism: Finally this week, a FUN LITTLE GAME all about the climate crisis and how banjaxed everything is – this is the interactive companion to a book of the same name which explores what we might need to do as a species to attempt to make meaningful differences to the current vertiginously-downward trajectory of the health of the planet. This is quite involved – you will need to read stuff and pay attention to how it all works – but once you get your head into it it becomes a really interesting (and properly educational, in a light-touch way) exercise in resource management and diplomacy, and (it’s important to warn you) an equally-powerful demonstration of how incredibly-fcuking hard it’s going to be to make a meaningful difference to all this stuff in the face of our (meaning all of us) widespread reluctance to actually do anything meaningful about anything. Entertaining-and-depressing in equal measure – see if you can do better than me when it comes to saving the porpoises, who every time I play this seem to succumb to extinction circa 2050.

By Joiri Minaya

FINALLY IN THE MIXES THIS WEEK, SOME PATRIOTIC BANK HOLIDAY TECHNO COURTESY OF BEN SIMMS!

THE CIRCUS OF TUMBLRS!

  • The Peculiar Manicule: Ok, fine, not in fact a Tumblr, but it feels like it ought to be one and frankly that’ll do. “Enter the Day-Glo world of The Peculiar Manicule and explore an awe-inspiring archive of 1960s and 70s graphic design. Witness mind-blowing displays of ink on paper by designers and illustrators, both known and unknown, in four main galleries, Books & Magazines, Ephemera, Typography and Paper Playthings” – there is some quite lovely psychedelic design work here.

THE TROUGH OF (INSTA) FEEDS!

  • David O’Reilly: David O’Reilly messes around with machines to make art – he’s created some of the most interesting digital artgameexperiences of the past few years, to my mind, including the amazing ‘Everything’, and his Insta feed is just a great collection of weird and fascinating bits and pieces from the edges of computational art.
  • Thomas Collett: Glitched-out art and Google Maps and I LOVE THIS STUFF SO MUCH. Shades of machine-imagined Mondrian here, except loads less lazy and derivative than that crappy description makes it sound.

LONG THINGS WHICH ARE LONG!

  • When May I Shoot A Student?: This is a piece from the New Yorker in 2014, which I present here largely without comment other than to say that it is astonishing and depressing in equal measure that what was presented as broad satire 8 years ago is now seemingly Republican policy.
  • Life In Wartime: As the war counter today ticks into its 100th day, people across Ukraine continue to live with conflict as a matter of daily life. These two essays by Andrei Krasniashikh present fragmented vignettes – bits of conversation, quotidian observations, scenes from a warzone – which collage together a rough impression of part of what it is like living under bombardment and siege.
  • Welcome to Web2.5: As previously mentioned, the big money project to convince us all that (whatever it may be) Web3 and all the associated gubbins are THE FUTURE and that we cannot afford to ignore said future lest we get left behind and the great TO THE MOON wealth tsunami passes us by is very much ongoing, despite increasing signs that literally no normal people whatsoever are in fact interested in developing a portfolio of tokenised goods that they can exchange for mixed-reality brand experiences. Presumably as part of that, web3 marketing firm Serotonin has compiled this guide to what it terms ‘web2.5’ – that is, where we are currently now and the journey towards the eventual brave new world of FULLY TOKENIZED ULTRACOMMERCIAL WEB3 UTOPIA! This is, obviously, written by people with a strong vested interest in selling you this particular flavour of magic beans, but, with that borne in mind, it’s also a pretty good overview of Where All This Stuff Is Currently At, and is a useful primer if you feel you need to have an opinion about loads of this stuff but don’t really feel you know enough to pretend to have one. RELATED: here’s a decent longread accompaniment to this, about exactly how and why this is getting juiced so hard by the VC moneymen and why that should probably make us all quite wary of how it’s all going to play out in the short term at least.
  • Epistemic Considerations: I always enjoy reading Matt Web’s blogposts, even though they always make me angry that someone who shares my name and evidently exists in a vaguely-similar space to me is so much smarter than I am. The fcuker. Anyway, this is a typically-interesting series of notes around the tools we use to explore and develop knowledge, which asks smart questions about how things might be different (better?) if we tried different ways of thinking about discovery and information. Loads of smart ideas in here – I remember about 10 or so years ago talking to Time Out about ideas to make event recommendations more interesting using fuzzy parameters and ‘degrees of discomfort’, for example, which is very much along the lines of Matt’s thought processes here – and it’s all quite timely given Twitter’s imminent opening up of its Bluesky multialgothing.
  • The AR Layer Is Growing: I am increasingly-fascinated by the race to create the ultimate AR layer – I thought Snap had it sewn up, or at least a significant head start – but the recent announcement by Niantic of its new ‘Lightship’ product (effectively a common AR space which will be accessible to players of all its ‘wander round and catch stuff in AR’ games so that they can see other players, plan and strategise, and effectively have a sort of overarching semi-metaversal ‘layer’ that connects them all) suggests that it might be closer than that. The article linked to gives an overview of the Niantic product, but I also read about Living Cities, another project which is looking to build a virtual layer over the physical planet and which you can read more about here – basically whilst this is all quite a way from being meaningfully-differencemaking just yet, you can start to get a feel for how these things might start working in the not-too-distant future, and how physical spaces might begin to make use of these third-party digital layers for commercial and experiential gain. This feels far more metaverse-y (ha! Yes, I know) than Meta’s current plans, imho.
  • Sidechat: File under ‘there is nothing new under the sun’, or possibly ‘dear Christ will we never learn?’, this is an NYT piece about a new app which is apparently spreading across US colleges like wildfire and which sounds like an objectively terrible idea from almost every standpoint you can think of. Remember YikYak, the app that let you anonymously post geolocated messages and which basically became the de facto app for children to be incredibly cruel to each other at schools up and down the land? Remember how that was a, er, haven of positivity and warmth? Well now imagine each college has its own hyperlocal YikYak, with moderators drawn from the student body…sounds like a great idea, doesn’t it? No, of course it doesn’t, and yet, inexplicably, someone has seen fit to build it. Anyone would think that the people making these apps simply can’t be fcuked to think through all the hard questions about how they should actually function!
  • The TikTok Effect, pt.1: Food: Or, ‘how TikTok has changed food influencing and what it is like to go out for dinner with someone who’s documenting it for the app’ – it’s really interesting seeing how TikTok is actively-reshaping culture in significant ways, in much the same way as Instagram did a few years back. The main differences? Everything takes about 5x longer now because it’s video, basically. Otherwise, same old. Still, expect to see ephemeral GenZ-focused urban design and space planning evolve to be ‘TikTok friendly’, in much the same way as every single fcuking brand had to ensure all its physical spaces were ‘highly ‘grammable’ circa 2015.
  • The TikTok Effect, pt.2: Music: No, not Halsey et all complaining about having to ‘make stuff go viral on TikTok’ (also, lol at the fact that seemingly noone working in record label marketing has learned anything about ‘virality and the chasing thereof’ in the decade or so that we’ve all been playing this game), but instead how the formula of ‘cutesy song, but with swearing, delivered by an algo-pretty child with performatively-affected dissociative ennui’ has become played-out as quickly as it emerged. This is to me more interesting as a marker of ‘the increasingly-breakneck pace of trend adoption and abandonment’ as it as about music per se, and does rather make me wonder whether we’re soon going to reach a point where we start becoming nostalgic for 11am around about teatime each day.
  • Discord and Music Fandoms: Or ‘why you’re going to get really, really sick of people talking to you about the power of community’, this is actually a very interesting article about how Discord is being used by artists to engage and connect with their fanbases, and how it’s increasingly key to revenue generation. Unfortunately what stuff like this means is that your life is soon going to be ruined by idiot consultants who think they can make a fast buck out of selling the concept of ‘community’ to a detergent brand – just as we did a decade ago! Good to know we can trot out the old lies again, just replacing ‘Facebook Page’ with ‘Discord’!. I hope and pray that none of your clients are the sort of gullible, hubristic morons who will fall for the ‘we really NEED an always on community space for our stock cube brand fans!’ pitch – but, well, I have met clients, and in the main that is exactly the sort of people they are. Sorry about that. BONUS CONTENT: GQ is doing a Discord! I think this is a bad idea! Still, let’s see shall we.
  • LARPING Goes To Disneyworld: Or, ‘What It Is Like To Go One One of Disney’s Immersive Star Wars-themed Spacecruise Experiences’ – this was, to me, really interesting, as it spends a lot of the time focusing on the how and why of the experience (so the background to the live action roleplay community, its intersection with experiential theatre, how you make one of these things work, etc), but I appreciate if what you want is to get the feeling of what it’s like to actually experience several thousand pounds worth of Disney cosplay then you might not enjoy it quite as much. Still, if you have any interest in the ‘how’ of a Punchdrunk or similar type of immersive experience this is an excellent read.
  • Imagined AI Futures: Such an interesting project, this – the Future of Life Institute has been running a contest seeking submissions of imagined futures in which AI plays a positive role – it has narrowed submissions down to 20 finalists, which you can read here, with a winner being announced on 15 June. The scope of the project is interesting in itself – “Anna Yelizarova, who’s managing the contest and other projects at FLI, says she feels bombarded by images of dystopia in the media, and says it makes her wonder “what kind of effect that has on our worldview as a society.” She sees the contest partly as a way to provide hopeful visions of the future. “We’re not trying to push utopia,” she says, noting that the worlds built for the contest are not perfect places with zero conflicts or struggles. “We’re just trying to show futures that are not dystopian, so people have something to work toward,” she says. The contest asked a lot from the teams who entered: They had to provide a timeline of events from now until 2045 that includes the invention of artificial general intelligence (AGI), two “day in the life” short stories, answers to a list of questions, and a media piece reflecting their imagined world.” What’s nice about the pieces here gathered – of which I’ve read about half-a-dozen – is their internationalism and breadth of enquiry; contributions from Kenya, Peru, New Zealand, Spain, France, Bolivia (as well as the inevitable US and UK) make it a far more variegated picture of possible futures than you often get with these things. Fascinating – and full of interesting ideas as to where AI might take us.
  • Desert Island Discs: A history of the programme from the latest LRB. OK, fine, you need to be English and to have a familiarity with the radio programme in question for this to work for you, but if you do then I promise you that this is a gorgeous read.
  • Learning Chess at 40: A delightful essay in Nautilus magazine about the author’s struggles with being repeatedly beaten by his daughter at chess, and his attempts to get good enough at the game to be able to take at least a couple of games off her. This is SO good – not just on the neurological reasons as to why young people have a greater facility with the game (and why performance tends to fall off a cliff, relatively-speaking, after the methuselan age of about 30) and the differences in mental function between a child and an adult, but also about what it feels like to start to feel intellectually like you’re being lapped by people who came after you (IT FEELS HORRIBLE FYI).
  • The Dark Motherhood Club: On motherhood and insomnia and family and and and. “We did not know Mom would die, or I think we didn’t. We’d had years of plucky nurses in kitty-cat scrubs with a dripline of dismissive optimism. Maybe that was why Dad felt okay about having an affair. Or at least when Mom asked if he’d kissed that woman, he was honest, and she said she didn’t want to know more. “You don’t love me,” she’d declared, teeth-clenched, gloriously fierce and bald-headed, with blue half-moons stamped beneath her eyes from chemotherapy. She was not asking. But he answered anyway: “I haven’t loved you in years.”” Pleasingly-unsentimental and sharply-written, this, by Val Kiesig.
  • Empirical Notes on Kissing: I want to preface this by saying that I am pretty sure that this is sincere and not a work of stylistic fiction, and that, presuming that to be true, I am no way posting this to make fun of the author. I enjoyed this SO MUCH – it’s like someone tried to explain kissing to someone who knew basic human phsyiognomy but not much else about us. “Before my first kiss, I scoured The Internet (Google Scholar + tracing blog posts back to their underlying studies – this was some time ago so I don’t still have the sources) for every valuable scrap of information available on the topic while trying to stray away from anything opinion-based. This is the result.” It’s, honestly, sort-of beautiful.
  • Meades vs HRH: Finally this week, anothre LRB piece, this time Jonathan Meades writing about the royal family and the British relationship with it, couched as a review of Anna Wintour’s book about them. This is perfect Meades – if you know you dislike his style already this is unlikely to change your mind, but if, like me, you’re a fan of his prose (occasionally so ripe it carries the very real whiff of decay about it, and I absolutely mean that as a compliment) then you will adore this. I mean, just look at this: “What they do feel they know is that their subjects – the industrially injured with callouses like king-size buboes, the salt of the earth and their pneumoconiosis, the proud forklift drivers and the loyal company of chamfering machine operators – are pleased to stand to deferential attention for hours no matter what the weather and are proud to be just about decipherable in the blurred background of a majesty-mayoral-chain-lord-lieutenant-town-crier framed photo on a mantlepiece of honour in a spit and polish house just like all the houses of the house-proud little people they’ve ever seen. They know the scent of fresh paint, of just-crimped lawns, beeswax, Cardinal Red doorsteps. They are familiar with the lumbar groan of an ancient loyalist curtsying (they make skivs of us all). They recognise the swoon in a fawner’s eye, the brisk music of a colour sergeant’s bark. They are touched by the public’s fondness for plastic union flags in the drizzle. They believe that when it comes to Maundy alms, it’s the thought that counts. They appreciate the fealty of those maimed in the sovereign’s name who dutifully strive to give great forelock even if the stump can’t reach the hairline.” SO GOOD.

By Luchita Hurtado

AND NOW, MOVING PICTURES AND SOUNDS!:

Webcurios 13/05/22

Reading Time: 36 minutes

Hello, Internet Fans! Hello! Are you well? Are you thriving? I do hope none of you have been burned in the great crypto crash of May 2022 and that your apes are all safe (lol).

Summer is starting to kick in here in Rome, meaning that I’m once again slowly getting used to the light patina of sweat that it’s impossible to shift from my body, and the joyous early-morning ritual that is ‘slowly discovering all the new places the mosquitoes have managed to exsanguinate me from’, and, in celebration, I am TAKING A SHORT BREAK – my girlfriend’s coming to visit and we’re going to spend a few days by the sea and I am going to try and forget that the web exists for a week or so. I know you don’t care, but it’s important for me to put this stuff in writing as proof (if only to myself) that I exist outside of Curios (it doesn’t always feel like that, if I’m honest).

Which means that this will be your last Curios for a few weeks – it will be back for the Summer stretch in late-May (early-June at the latest), but hopefully the following overflowing cornucopia of links’n’words will keep you sated until then (and if it doesn’t, tough – you consume too much internet as it is, frankly, and you could do with going on a diet).

I am still Matt, this is still Web Curios, and I am going to miss you, you know.

By Owen Freeman

WE KICK OFF THE MUSIC THIS WEEK NOT WITH A MIX BUT WITH THE NEW ALBUM BY CURIOS FAVOURITE ETHEL CAIN, WHICH, HONESTLY, REALLY IS EXCELLENT! 

THE SECTION WHICH IS NOT LOOKING FORWARD TO ITS PASTY ENGLISH WHITENESS BEING LAUGHED AT BY TANNED MEDITERRANEANS, PT.1:  

  • MRI of the Earth: I don’t know whether this is a factor of getting older, or simply something to do with the tech becoming more ubiquitous, but everyone I know these days seems to have had an MRI or two – I feel oddly left-out not to have yet experience the odd existential horror of being packed into a metal tube whirring at 3billion decibels while I sit and sweat about all the things that could be going wrong with my meat prison. Fcuk, I mean even PLANET EARTH has had an MRI, as evidenced by this new website from Google – not sure whether the doctors have delivered the prognosis to the patient yet, but the findings…don’t look good! I confess to being slightly-baffled as to what the exact point of this is – I mean, we seem dead set on whistling distractedly every time someone tries to gently point out to us that things are getting a bit urgent down here, what with the record temperatures and the Bad Companies and the like, and I’m not 100% certain that a few shiny webpages telling us how we are ‘living through an era of unprecedented decline’ but how we should make sure to ‘learn, remember and dream’ (the project is developed in conjunction with one Refik Anadol, “a Turkish-American new media artist and designer. His projects consist of data-driven machine learning algorithms that create abstract, dream-alike environments”, and it does rather tend towards the…sweepingly-meaningless imho) are going to shock us into taking the steps necessary to avoid a hot, arid species-level death event. Still, shiny webwork! “Imagining nature as a totality that fills the gaps in our otherwise narrow perception of the cosmos lies at the heart of Anadol’s Nature Dreams – a series of synaesthetic reality experiments based on GAN algorithms developed by artificial intelligence…Applying machine learning to 68,986,479 million images and creating a dataset that transforms into a collective latent cinematic experience, the piece commemorates the beauty of this land we share” – sounds impressive, eh? What this seemingly boils down to, though, is, as far as I can tell, an arbitrary list of meteorological events from the past few decades mapped onto a vaguely-glitch globe, and a bunch of GAN-generated animated videos presenting machine-imagined visions of ‘nature’ with some vague bromides about “WILL THIS BE ALL THERE IS LEFT???” and, honestly, WHAT THE FCUK IS THIS MEANT TO BE SAYING? I am generally a big fan of data-led art projects, but this feels phoned-in, wafer-thin and generally like a massive waste of time and money on everyone’s part – A BIT LIKE ALL THE ‘SUSTAINABILITY INITIATIVES’ BEING PROMOTED BY LARGE CONSUMER-FACING BRANDS, EH? EH??? Dear God.
  • Backup Ukraine: As the third month of the war in Ukraine drags on and it becomes increasingly apparent that this one’s going to run and run, so the long-term damage done to the physical infrastructure of the country by months of sustained shelling will accumulate and accrue – and whilst, fine, you might think that ‘saving lives and ensuring the availability of aid to those who need it’ might take precedence over ‘attempt to create decent records of what this country looked like physically and architecturally before Cuddly Vlad decided to try and ‘denazify it’ back to the 1700s’, I think there’s something incredibly valuable about projects that seek to capture the totality of what was lost – the history and art and sense of place and self that war demolishes. A project by 3d scanning software Polycam, “Backup Ukraine lets anyone become an archivist. You can scan buildings and monuments as full 3D models using just your phone. And store them in an open, secure online archive — where no bombs can reach.” Obviously if you’re not currently in Ukraine and in possession of a smartphone here you’re not going to be able to participate, but you can if you wish look at the gallery of objects that have been scanned and uploaded, from statuary to antique furniture to doorhandles to ironwork to domestic interiors…I don’t know, there’s something about this collective attempt to capture things in digital amber like this that I find hugely affecting, though it’s entirely possible that I’m just overtired and need a rest.
  • In-Browser Fortnite: I know that noone is excited by Fortnite anymore, but I am legitimately amazed that, should I wanted (I don’t, but still) I can now play it anywhere on a web browser without needing a download or anything. Works on mobile or desktop – all you need is a Microsoft account (yes, I know, it’s a pain, but they probably have all your data already anyway, probably) and an internet connection and you’re away. I did actually play this for 10m when I found it, just to check it works (it works), and I discovered that Fortnite is now marginally-easier than it used to be thanks to there being a build-free game mode, meaning I no longer have to worry about everyone I try and shoot being able to erect massive defence fortresses within seconds (instead I have to worry about my old person’s reaction speed and increasingly-obviously shaky hands) – this is worth a look, partly because of how slickly-impressive the connectivity is (honestly, I know it’s not super-exciting, but it is incredibly impressive) and partly because having a quick, free distracting webgame to hand is never a bad thing when you do jobs as soul-destroyingly pointless as I know for a fact yours probably is.
  • Twitter Data Dash: One of the few elements of Twitter’s future and governance that Elon hasn’t mouth-farted out an opinion on over the past month is data security – or, if he has done, it’s been lost amongst the tidal wave of inanities about letting Trump back and left-wing bias and, honestly, the very worst thing about this whole news story isn’t so much that Musk exists and is really rich and is continuing to accrue more power and influence than it’s probably healthy to have, it’s that it’s now impossible to ignore the fcuker. Anyway, this link has nothing to do with Musk – see? The fcuker inveigles himself into EVERYTHING these days! – and is instead a little browsergame that Twitter has developed to educate consumers about how seriously it takes data privacy and the like. Jump your way through various levels, learning all about how Twitter RESPECTS YOUR DATA PRIVACY and stuff like that. A curious one, this – whilst, obviously, I am all for brands making games as a comms tool, and this one isn’t terrible (in particular the soundtrack’s pretty good – ok, fine, it’s pretty good for a promotional broswergame about platform-led data security, but still), but, equally, it lacks the sort of polish you’d expect from something made by a global company with Twitter’s renown. There’s also the small issue that it doesn’t really seem to understand what ‘data privacy’ is – I mean, yes, you can block ads on Twitter, but, equally, the company does sort of track all of your onsite activity and then sell all the data it can glean about you to all sorts of people with nary a whim, which, er, doesn’t quite seem to fit the narrative here. Still, COLLECT THE BONES!
  • Chill Pill: As we limp to the end of another Mental Health Awareness Week (did you feel that the pressures created by the undue importance placed upon your utterly-futile advermarketingpr job by clients and bosses alike was in some small way alleviated by the fact that HR compiled a series of ‘meditation techniques’ YouTube video guidelines into their weekly internal comms newsletter? I BET YOU DID!!!) with our collective psyche in tatters and our fingernails beginning to splinter under the very real strain of clinging onto what is loosely termed ‘sanity’, it seems a reasonable moment to introduce a BRAND NEW APP which promises to make it all better (actually, in its defence, I don’t think it really promises anything at all). Chill Pill “helps you find new friends in our anonymous audio-only support groups led by members of our community, where everyone is welcome, worthy, and valid in discussing their mental health. you can share how you really feel by posting your thoughts, experiences, and emotions in real time with a judgement-free community who gets you.” What this in practice means is a combination of live voice chat, feed-like posts, groups and community, all geared towards the nebulous promise of ‘better mental health’ – I can’t help but feel that this hasn’t quite been thought through. It’s obviously aimed at kids – the aesthetic and the copy is nailed-on GenZbait – and, whilst I am broadly-supportive of the idea of ‘talking it all out’, I am not getting a huge sense of professional responsibility from the app here in terms of safeguarding, etc. “As a Chill Caterpillar, we’re getting to know each other…once you’ve posted on 3 different days, you can attend support groups! when you’ve attended 10 support groups and become a Chill Bestie, you can start leading support groups of your own with the help of one of your new friends!” So, hang on, for me to qualify as a ‘mental health support group leader’ within the app – an anonymous person convening and leading equally-anonymous support groups for kids about how they feel, etc – all I need to do is…attend ten other support groups? That doesn’t strike me as…entirely smart or sensible. Also, there is a special place in hell reserved for whoever copywrote this particular abomination of a line: “we’re anonymous but not strangers, we’re your future friends who listen and validate“. I mean, really.
  • The Phone From Dilemma: This song came out in 2002, at which point I was already dipping a toe into the horrible, murky waters of work and as such basically missed out on music videos, etc, for a few years until YouTube and Google Music changed the game – which means that I only have very limited understanding of the whole ‘KELLY ROWLAND GOT A TEXT IN MICROSOFT EXCEL ON A NOKIA COMMUNICATOR PHONE IN THAT NELLY VIDEO?????’-hysteria that seems to crop up online every few years (don’t worry, you can see the clip in question here and it really is majestic – I sort of want to read an oral history of exactly how the fcuk that shot came to be used). Still, thanks to this tiny website – which does one thing,and one thing only, but does it perfectly – you can now send a text message to anyone you like in the world, for free, as though sent from a Nokia Communicator.  This is, in the main, utterly pointless, but it does afford you a really simple way of anonymously sending vaguely-trolly texts to anyone you like anywhere in the world – particularly good when you’re a member of an overlarge Whatsapp group with people you don’t fully know, and there’s someone who is really getting on your nerves and you want to mess with them (ahem this is a non-specific example, honest).
  • Scrungy Cats: A subReddit dedicated to cats looking…scrungy. ‘Scrungy’ is a new term to me, but, looking at these cats, it is clearly the PERFECT word to describe them (although, that said, it would still be impossible for me to pen anything even approximating to a working definition of ‘scrungy’) – you might have described them as ‘derpy’ a few years ago, in internet parlance, but these are definitely scrungy rather than derpy. I don’t make the rules (or if I do, I am certainly not telling you what they are).
  • Glitcher: OH YES THIS IS FUN! This website does one simple thing – feed it a drum loop and it will spit that drum loop back at you, all glitched out and generally-fucked-up. Honestly, if I were in any way musical I would go WILD with this – it reminds me slightly of a guy at University called Chris who I was briefly friends with and who when on acid one time had a ‘vision’ about combining very hard drill’n’bass with samples taken from Francophonic kids’ animation of the 1970s ‘Barbapapa’ (it may surprise you to hear that Chris never found the widespread acclaim for this idea that at the time he felt he merited) and whose musical output sounded not-unlike the drums that result from this alchemic process of transformation.
  • NFT Master Thread: Amusingly this week,. 16 months after I first mentioned them in an all-agency email and in a week in which it’s widely agreed there’s been something of a…collapse in interest and belief in the general cryptoNFTweb3hypecycle, I was sent an email by a colleague asking if I might run a training session on ‘what all this stuff was about’ (‘no’, is the answer, ‘I do not believe in it and I would feel like a charlatan taking your money’). AGENCY PEOPLE, NEVER CHANGE! Still, if you are in the market for an exhaustive list of resources and thinkpieces and updates and ‘state of play’-type overviews, then this thread (neatly expanded at the link) by this Singaporean person might be of use. Perhaps helpfully contains a floor price calculator so you can calculate exactly how much you’re currently out on monkey jpegs.
  • Indx: Very much a throwback to The Web Of The Past, this, with its vowel-eschewing (schwng? No, in that case it really should be ‘ndx’) name, and it’s almost oldschool ‘personal information categorisation and taxonomy tool’ mission statement – still, given that, as I have often remarked, noone’s seemingly managed to create a better personal universal digital filing cabinet than Evernote, and Evernote is widely considered to be a piece of software bloated to the point of unusable unrecognisability, there’s definitely a gap in the market. Indx pitches itself as ‘Pinterest for learning’, which I can sort of see from a UI / interface point of view, but it strikes me as a bit more like Pocket or one of those read later services, but for everything – one-click tagging and filing of anything you come across online, from webpages to Tweets to podcasts, with a nice visual frontend when you want to look back at your accumulated infogubbins…this could be really useful if you’re someone still looking for a helpful research tool and digital memory augmentation.
  • The Department of Homeland Security Colouring Book: I know that the heyday of the adult colouring book craze is now long-past, much to the chagrin of the publishing industry which, with the seeming death of the ‘celebrity memoir as annual cash cow’ bandwagon, must be wondering where on earth the pennies are going to come from – still, given that it’s MENTAL HEALTH AWARENESS WEEK (are you aware of the edges of your sanity crumbling like so much chalky rock into the threatening ocean of ‘nonspecific brainterror’ below? GREAT! Job done here, then, now onto *checks* NATIONAL STATIONERY WEEK!) and I imagine that several of you are desperate for some gentle colouring-in between the lines to distract you from the pitches and the proposals and the fraught meetings about cashflow with the private equity people whose toothy smiles are – is it just your impression? – starting to curdle slightly as the hockeystick fails to materialise, this is probably a great moment to share with you the oh-so-soothing effort from America’s Department of Homeland Security, which lets anyone who needs a bit of distraction from the horrors of modernity do some gentle colouring of scenes such as “ICE Border Patrol Guard With Friendly Attack Dog!” or “Fed With Earpiece Stonily Surveils Presidential Motorcade!” or “Children In Cages Await Deportation!” (oh, ok, fine, I made the last one up). I can’t work out whether this attempt to ‘humanise’ the Feds and make them appealing to kids is funny or horrifying, but you can make up your own minds I suppose.

By Debora Lombardi

NEXT UP IN THIS WEEK’S LONGFORM MUSICAL NUMBERS, HAVE THIS SLIGHTLY-CHALLENGING BUT PROPERLY INTERESTING MIX (I WOULD CALL IT A ‘SOUNDSCAPE’ BUT I AM NOT THAT SORT OF CNUT) BY NIELS ORENS! 

THE SECTION WHICH IS NOT LOOKING FORWARD TO ITS PASTY ENGLISH WHITENESS BEING LAUGHED AT BY TANNED MEDITERRANEANS, PT.2:  

  • Waterworks: A few years ago now I featured a now-seemingly-defunct (the url works but it’s no longer being updated – actually the slightly broken nature of what remains makes it a slightly more interesting work imho, with the linkrot and the vaguely-post-memorial feel to the whole thing) webart project from New York, which sought to catalogue all the instances in which people had found themselves crying in public around the city – in part as a storygathering exercise, and in part (I think) as a way of seeing whether it was possible to form any sort of ‘psychic map’ of the city in terms of where the bad vibes were (except it was 2018 and ‘vibes’ obviously hadn’t been invented yet). Anyway, Waterworks is a bit like that but for a smaller, more specific area, the University of Waterloo Campus. “It’s experimental art: a heatmap of where people have cried on UWaterloo* campus. But why? The easy answer is “to show you that you’re not alone!”, though true, that’d be way too cliche to be in an artist’s statement. We want you to know that feeling sad and expressing emotions are not bad things. It’s a valid experience for everybody, and can help process feelings in a healthy way. But when it does get bad, we believe mental health crises are not just solved through reactive resources, but also through proactive conversations and strengthened emotional awareness. We also know the only way to get into the heads of some of you Waterloo folks is through ~data~, so, I guess that’s what got us here.” Sadly this doesn’t currently seem to be getting updated either, but I love that it existed and I love even more the idea of all these projects one day finding each other, some grand crowdsourced map of where the global sads live so that we can avoid them or hunt them down, ticking sads off the ‘visited!’ list like bucketlist trackers with a melancholic bent. I would like these for everywhere, is what I am saying, and I think there’s something wonderful and underexplored about emotive maps of space – something which feels like it should be easier to do now in meaningful ways due to the everproliferating UGC firehose but which dying API access for all the major platforms seems rather to be stymieing chiz chiz. I love this immoderately, and would love to think of ways to make this sort of thing modern and better and more visually interesting, in the unlikely event anyone wants to pay me to do so.
  • Henry Heffernan: ANOTHER SUPERB PERSONAL PORTFOLIO WEBSITE! Another one which, I have just realised, has been made by someone who is almost certainly young enough to be my biological son! I do wonder whether on some subconscious level I keep including these (wonderful) examples of personal creativity from talented children because I think that by so doing one of them may one day in the future take pity on me and employ me in some capacity when I’m in my 80s and still attempting to shill ‘brand narratives’ to smooth-faced idiots. Anyway, Henry Hofferman is a student graduating this month with a BS in Computer Science, and his personal portfolio website is a combination of really nice graphical work (the tiny desk! The tiny computer!) and really nice coding (you can use the tiny computer to play tiny games! Including a tiny version of Doom!) and it just feels right, like Hebry basically knows what he is doing when it comes to making pleasing web gubbins – which, frankly, is the sort of endorsement that should see Henry happily pay me millions when he’s lead UI developer at Snap come 2029 (please Henry I am counting on you please).
  • The LinkedIn Skills Guide: I had a slightly awkward moment the other week when I was talking to someone relatively professionally important (or at least ‘relatively professionally-important when compared to me’) and happened to mention that I hated LinkedIn with a passion and, when asked why, explained that it was “performative alpha dress-up for people with dust where their souls should be” – I then learned that this person was an assiduous online networker and valued the platform immensely for its purpose in burgeoning their personal network, and that they had been ‘surprised’ at my vehement dislike, so, well, that’s another professional bridge burned. Thing is, though, LinkedIn really is sh1t, and this piece of ‘work’ by the platform, looking at the changing need for ‘skills’ in the workplace across various countries, is a great example of why. It’s nicely-laid-out, fine, and contains some light-touch data personalisation interactivity (choose your industry! Choose your country!) but as soon as you look closely you realise it is utterly empty and bereft of substance – JUST LIKE EVERYONE ON LINKEDINzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz. “To understand how skills have changed, we first identify the top skills a worker had in the past for a specific job, and then compare that with the skills a worker today has for that same job”…hm, yes, ok, fine, “…taken together, this analysis showed that skills changed by 25% on average in the United Kingdom since 2015.” Hang on, what? What the shuddering fcuk does ‘skills changed by 25% on average’ mean? Does it mean – hang on – LITERALLY FCUKING NOTHING? Oh yes, that’s right, it does! It even lets you look at the data industry by industry, meaning I was able to learn that ‘For Media & Communications in United Kingdom, skills have changed an average of 21.4% since 2015’ (still no indication of what that percentage refers to!) and laugh at the list of current skills most in-demand by my ‘chosen’ profession, all of which will be 90% automated by 2030. Stupid, shallow, and basically hateful – JUST LIKE EVERYONE ON LINKEDIN! Except, er, you!
  • StarWaves: I semi-regularly feature bits of synthy software in here, but I don’t think I have ever come across anything as flat-out bonkers as StarWaves – this requires a download, and quite possibly a reasonably-powerful bit of kit to run it on, but, equally, when was the last time you were afforded the opportunity to compose complex electronic soundscapes using software which effectively acts as a space-themed GUI complete with satellites and orbital patterns? NEVER, I would happily wager! “StarWaves is an audiovisual scene architect, the embodiment of sound, space and visual design rolled into one. StarWaves gives the sound designer the architect’s role by creating possibilities of dialogue between these multiple elements…In physics, light can be modeled by particles, moving in light speed and a laser beam is nothing else than a very focused and directed beam of light. So the dynamics of the StarWaves emitters are built with this inspiration. The emitters and platforms constitute the space-atmospheric, non-gravitational 3D scene of the StarWaves. It is an interaction space where the dynamics of physical movement, kinematics which result to an audio-visual experience to be seen and heard in a direct relationship.” I am copying directly from the manual here, but, as you can see, even that offers only a…partial explanation as to the complex madness that is StarWaves. Honestly, I I really hope one of you is tempted to have a proper play with this, as it looks GREAT (and fiendishly complicated, if I’m honest).
  • LJ4D: This is, fine, niche even by mystandards, and will likely only be of (limited) interest to people who also happen to live within a mile or so of the specific area of London this is talking about, but, well, here! “An ongoing project to model the development of Loughborough Junction from the mid-19th century up to the current day.This small area of South London initially gained its identity as the location of a significant railway junction. The railway station has since lost its prominence, but the railway viaducts built during the 19th century continue to define the neighbourhood. The complex history of what has been built, dismantled and rebuilt since can be difficult to read from ground level, or from two dimensional historical maps and photos alone. This project attempts to put the pieces back together by reconstructing the past in three dimensions, and at multiple points in time.” It’s not, I accept, what you might call traditionally interesting, but at the same time there’s something really rather wonderful about the work that the person behind it, Colin McGuinness, has put into cataloguing the changing shape and character of a relatively small, relatively unremarkable corner of the city, and I am very happy this exists.
  • Cowturtle: I never, even as a child, had a particular desire to own tropical fish or amphibians or anything like that (though I confess to having the oh-so-basic love for axolotls that characterises most of the terminally-online these days), but that didn’t prevent me from finding this person’s TikTok channel, in which they document themselves doing all sorts of domestic tank upkeep for a dizzying collection of fish and reptiles and amphibians – you want lungfish? YOU GOT LUNGFISH! This is great, mesmerising and ever-so-slightly frightening (I don’t know why, but there’s something about this sort of fauna that gives me the creeps rather – I don’t know, maybe it’s their sort of essentially-oozy nature, but I am wary), and pretty muc perfect TikTok content.
  • Make VR For Mars: I don’t mean to be rude about any of you, but, well, if I’m honest I’m not 100% certain how many of my tiny readership are world-leading VR developers. Still! If I’m doing my readership a disservice and you are in fact all significantly more talented and successful that…well, than I am, frankly, then perhaps this will be of use – it certainly sounds like a fascinating opportunity for the right person or people. “Virtual reality is rapidly becoming an integral part of how NASA conducts research and developmental testing to support many of its missions. The agency is currently building a virtual reality testbed focused on simulating extravehicular activities (EVAs) on the surface of Mars. You can be a part of this development!  The NASA MarsXR Challenge is seeking developers to create new assets and scenarios for the Mars XR Operations Support System (XOSS) environment. Participants are tasked with creating additional assets and scenarios focused on EVAs, which will be used to test procedures and plan for conditions astronauts may experience while exploring on the surface of Mars.  The top 20 ideas will share a prize purse of $70,000 and have the opportunity to participate in a conversation with the NASA team developing and using XOSS. The submission deadline is June 30, 2022.” HOW MUCH FUN IS THAT? Imagine how enjoyable it would be to come up with VR games to test the competence and mental fortitude of tomorrow’s martian astronauts? You could send them LITERALLY MAD before they’d even finished basic training (or, you know, ensure that they are equipped with the necessary skills to succeed – either/or, really).
  • BeamNG Nation: You may have seen a video doing the rounds last week of a series of cars attempting to overcome a VERY LARGE bump in the road, all render in comically CG with appropriate physics and everything – this YouTube channel collects similar experiments, all undertaken with the same software (called BeamNG) whereby you can basically set up whatever odd, destructive vehicular challenges you fancy, just to see what would happen if, say, you attempted to do an Evl Kneval over a dozen Routemasters but driving a Ford Transit rather than a motorbike (spoilers: nothing good will happen). I don’t drive, I know nothing about cars and care about them even less, and yet, still, this is fcuking MESMERISING. I had no idea up until this week that the way I really enjoy spending my time is in fact watching CG cars try and fail to drive over 600 unevenly-spaced spruce logs without their suspension giving out (and trust me when I say that I barely even know what suspension is).
  • Experimenting With Snap’s City Landmarker: Having slagged off LinkedIn a few short entries ago, here I am linking to a post on it – I know, I know, my hypocrisy is disgusting and repellent. Still, it’s practically worth it for the slightly-mindblowing video showcasing Snap’s City Landmarker tech, which works over the digital twin Snap’s built over London to let you access contextual AR information for whatever you like. Fine, yes, you can also do this with Google Live View, but the interesting thing about the Snap application is that it’s open, and anyone can create their own layers on top of it – honestly, if you can look at this and not immediately think ‘live immersive theatregame experience’ then, well, you’ve obviously spent less time and money on ‘interactive entertainments with a vague roleplaying bent’ than I have. Honestly, this made me properly excited in a way that really doesn’t happen very often any more – the idea of being able to create your own ludic layers over specific areas of a city which players can use to drape a narrative skin over familiar surroundings is so, so interesting to me, and flashed me back to the excitement of experiencing stuff that Gideon Reeling were doing 15 years ago. Seriously, this looks very fun, and the fact that it’s theoretically available to use by anyone makes the possibilities properly enticing.
  • Nightclub Chaos: You know that ‘Chaotic Nightclub Photos’ Twitter account I featured in here a few weeks back which in about a month has gone from 0 to 1.2 million followers (in preparation for its inevitable pivot to astroturfing meme superstore)? Well this is the subReddit that has been created to feed the Twitter feed – there is some…choice content in here, let’s say. Whilst some of the pictures will be familiar to you if you’re an aficionado of the Twitter feed, there’s enough fresh content here to make it worth a look on its own merit – I was particularly taken to see that one of the people featured in the Twitter feed (cherubic faced kid posing in photo with ‘mate’ whilst elegantly decanting a bottle of WKD or similar all over ‘mate’) appears repeatedly in the submissions, which is, in its own, small-town way, an achievement! Well done, small, cherubic looking man! There’s a longread later on about these pictures, which I recommend to you unreservedly – I would bet actual cashmoney that there will be at least three dissertations and possibly a Phd written about this in the next 12 months, and I would quite like to read those too please (“Anomie and Aftershock: Post-Masculine Representation and Aspirational Hedonia in the post-Social Age”).
  • Dead Trees: Tetris, except the blocks break up when they hit the bottom of the screen. This is quite janky and sort-of impossible, but weirdly fun at the same time.
  • Eurosong Generator: It’s been quite fun seeing the buildup to Italy hosting Eurovision this year – not least because Italy has NEVER given a fcuk about Eurovision before, particularly, but now, since Maneskin won last year, they’re giving it all ‘THIS IS ONE OF THE MOST PRESTIGIOUS MUSICAL EVENTS IN THE WORLD (GYAC lads it really isn’t). Still, IT IS HAPPENING, so while we all wait to find out who comes second to Ukraine (erm, not sure giving a currently wartorn country the exciting opportunity to host a not-inexpensive international telly pageant next year is quite the prize you maybe think it is, Eurovision voters!) let’s gear up for the BIG NIGHT by playing an old UsVsTh3m game from a few years back where you get to pick a country, a musical genre, a topic for your song, your outfits, and see if YOU can win what is, for copyright reasons, called EUROSONG! Silly, fun, and significantly shorter than the real thing. By the way, the Italian entry this year is a bit dull imho, and should instead have been this which is objectively terrible, fine, but you just try getting it out of your head once you’ve heard the chorus a single time.

By  Nastya Gaydaenko

THIS WEEK’S LAST MIX IS A LOVELY BUNCH OF SUNSET-ISH TUNES IN THE LOW-KEY STYLE SELECTED AND SEQUENCED BY TAM!

THE CIRCUS OF TUMBLRS!

  • Simz: Simz is an Italian artist who does lovely illustrations featuring a small cast of beautifully-drawn and very cute characters, and there’s something inherently charming about their style that made me enjoy it more than I normally do this sort of thing – worth a look.

THE TROUGH OF (INSTA) FEEDS!

  • Just Joshing: I am not sure that I will ever entirely get over the fact that it’s now entirely possible to create the same sort of effects that would have earned you a full-time gig at Industrial Light & Magic and possibly a VFX Oscar back in the 90s on your phone (or, fine, a not-that-fancy laptop). This is the Insa channel of a person who I presume is called Josh and who does some properly-impressive stuff with CGI and who I hope gets a job off the back of this because, Jesus, at his age all I was doing was picking the lumps of plastic out of suspiciously-petrol-scented soapbar.
  • Anasabdin: Pixelart. Yes, I know, but this is really really good pixelart, the emphasis on the ‘art’ rather than the ‘pixel’ and with a focus on landscapes rather than imagined fantasy cityscapes which often tends to be the style of choice with this sort of style of work. Really very good indeed.

LONG THINGS WHICH ARE LONG!

  • The War As Seen On Russian TV: Whilst it’s clear that Cuddly Vlad’s plans for a swift resolution to his entirely-altruistic attempts to remove those DREADFUL NAZIS from the Ukraine aren’t going entirely to plan, you wouldn’t necessarily know that were you getting your war reportage from within Putinland. This is a really interesting piece in the New York Times which looks at exactly how the war is being spun within Russia’s borders –  there’s something particularly-chilling about the way in which the narratives around the atrocities committed in Bucha and elsewhere are sinuously reconfigured day-by-day, and whilst obviously there is nothing lazier than invoking Orwell when writing about state manipulation of information it’s also quite chilling to note the intensely ‘we have always been at war with Eastasia’-like nature of a lot of this back-and-forthing. For what it’s worth, I am spending a reasonable amount of time with a Ukrainian at the moment who’s just got out of the country, and the photos on their phone don’t make any of this feel like a massive false-flag operation, but, hey, Vlad knows best!
  • Stablecoins: I’m really hoping that noone currently reading these words is staring sadly at a lot of graphs which have all of a sudden started shifting right/down and wondering how exactly they’re going to pay the mortgage this week – but it also seems clear that, based on this week’s…somewhat iffy cryptonews and performance that that’s a situation that a lot of people are going to find themselves in before too long. The big story this week has been the insane unraveling of the Tether stablecoin project – which, if those words mean nothing to you, you can find a useful explainer on here, courtesy of the (essential) Today In Tabs newsletter. This stuff is simultaneously quite complicated and, as far as I can see, very stupid, and Rusty’s explanations are helpfully simple, even for financial morons like me: “The obvious way to make a stablecoin would be to get a whole lot of dollars in a pile, lock them up, and issue one stable beanie per dollar. So the tokens are just a database entry that says “this represents one dollar, which I definitely have.” That’s also what “actual U.S. dollars” are now, so this is pretty uncontroversial. The second biggest stablecoin is called USDC, and it claims to be “fully backed by cash and short-dated U.S. government obligations, so that it is always redeemable 1:1 for U.S. dollars.” I.e. more or less “a big pile of real money,” without getting into the hairy question of what even is money, anyway. There’s about $50 billion worth of USDC out there, so backing it all with real money is expensive as heck.1 What if instead of “a big pile of money,” you could back a stablecoin with “a big pile of other stuff that’s kind of like money?” That’s the approach of Tether, which is the biggest stablecoin, with over $80 billion circulating. Tether is backed by real money in the sense that when you ask what it’s backed by they say “real money” and when you request that they show you the money they say “lol no.”” Honestly, this is a really good read and probably the best explainer I have yet read about this utter mess (one of many, many utter messes in and around crypto right now that are going to see a bunch of people who can’t afford to lose lose a LOT, and a bunch of people who can afford to lose probably make out just fine. So it goes, eh?).
  • The Smash and Grab Economy: I have two pet theories about the now that I like to kick around occasionally, specifically about two groups of people who will, in some unspecified future reckoning, be saddled with a healthy share of the blame for getting us into the messes we currently find ourselves and which, unless something miraculous and odd happens, we are likely to continue to find ourselves in for a while longer yet – specifically, people in advertmarketingpr and people in Private Equity/VC. We’ll leave the advermarketingpr lot for another time – IT WILL COME – but this piece takes a healthy swipe at the Private Equity lot, specifically its increasingly-ubiquitous status as a parasitical shadow player within all sorts of previously-untouched fields. “In the popular imagination, private equity is often portrayed as a vulture, or some other scavenger that feasts on the sick and dying. Gross but unavoidable. But the bulk of the work done by modern-day private equity firms is not to finish off sick companies, but rather to stalk and gut the healthy ones. This type of predation is the result of 50 years of policies that have prioritized the profit-making of a few over the wellbeing of many: a corporate world that grew accustomed to valuing shareholders over everyone else, a penchant for siding with executives over unions, and a legislative establishment loath to enact strict regulations on the financiers whose donations fuel their campaigns. In short, a toxic soup of regulatory inertia and corporate greed.”
  • All The Google Stuff: So Google this week had a big conference and announced a bunch of stuff – this is a decent overview both of some of the tech they showed off (the babelfish AR subtitling glasses – yes, I know, that’s a horrible description, but DEAL WITH IT – in particular are astonishing, in a ‘wow, this is a legtimitately potentially-transformative piece of futurekit’ sort of way) but also more broadly about the company’s broader ambitions as regards its future place in the World Dominated By A Handful Of Massive Tech Companies. The short version is, of course, device ubiquity – in the same way that Amazon wants an Alexa in EVERYTHING, so Google wants to be inside every single piece of moulded plastic you possess – “the only way Google can get to its ambient computing dreams is to make sure Google is everywhere. Like, literally everywhere. That’s why Google continues to invest in products in seemingly every square inch of your life, from your TV to your thermostat to your car to your wrist to your ears. The ambient-computing future may be one computer to rule them all, but that computer needs a near-infinite set of user interfaces.” Why’s that? What sort of business is Google in? THE ADVERTISING BUSINESS! The future’s so clogged with ads I can barely see my flying car through my Apple specs.
  • Kill-Switching Tractors: Cory Doctorow on the darker side to a story you may have seen doing the rounds recently – tractor manufacturer John Deere prevented the theft of a bunch of tractor equipment from Ukraine by Russian soldiers by enabling the ‘kill switches’ embedded in the kit to remotely brick the hardware. One in the eye for the invaders! Except, as Doctorow neatly points out, this is perhaps not the great big win it might at first appear to be, and is instead a slightly-frightening look at the lack of meaning the idea of ownership over goods can have in an age in which everything is internet-connected and everything can be controlled by the manufacturer to, say, bar you access from your car if you’ve missed an insurance payment, or your fridge if your scales suggest you’re piling on the pounds a bit. Not only that, of course, but this sort of tech puts a huge reliance of the security systems of the companies controlling it – companies which aren’t, as a rule, often primarily concerned with these sorts of questions: “John Deere’s decision to build ag-tech that can be remotely controlled, disabled and updated, along with its monopolization of the world’s ag-tech market, means that anyone who compromises its system puts the world’s food-supply at risk. Which is a terrifying proposition, because John Deere has extraordinarily terrible information security. When Sick Codes probed Deere’s security, they found glaring, serious errors that put the entire food supply chain at risk.Worse, John Deere seems to have no clue as to how bad it is at security. In the company’s entire history it has never once submitted a single bug to the US government’s Common Vulnerabilities and Exposures (CVE) database. As far as Deere knows, its security is literally perfect. John Deere is wildly imperfect.” Reassuring!
  • Amazon Everywhere: It’s not just Google that wants to be everywhere, of course – Amazon has long harboured similar ambitions of ubiquity, and, as you may occasionally have noticed over the past few years, is getting pretty close to achieving them. This is a slightly-chilling story from the US, in which Amazon is rolling a programme whereby it will co-opt exactly the sorts of small shops in rural locations which it has largely put to the wall with its combination of low, low prices and next-day shipping to become part of its local delivery network – instantly making them beholden to the company, and magically extending its last-mile delivery network to places that it might otherwise struggle to reach cost-effectively. It’s undeniably very smart, not least but, well, it’s hard not to see it as one additional lead-booted step on the road to the Amazonification Of Everything And Everyone.
  • How To Run Virtual Events: Yes, fine, it’s not 2020 anymore and we are all seeing each other in meatspace and as such this may not be quite such a HOT LINK as it would have been a couple of years back, but at the same time it’s not like anyone’s RARING to go back to in-person corporate socialising anytime soon (you’re not, are you? Be honest – it’s nice seeing your colleagues again twice a week or so, but, equally, who needs more than that? And you’d forgotten about Alan and his rash, and Sonya’s incessant cat talk, and actually maybe one day will do) and as such this guide to running a good virtual event in 2022 might still be useful (and, for those of you who will INSIST on having some sort of meatspace component, it also contains useful tips for the horrific chimera that is the ‘hybrid’ event).
  • The Rise of Shein: Companies that seemingly come out of nowhere don’t, it transpires, actually come out of nowhere – so at least this profile of Shein, charting its meteoric rise over the past few years, would suggest. There’s a lot that’s fascinating in this profile of the business – you probably alreadey know about the algojuiced supplychain management stuff, but there’s a lot of interesting material about the culture of the business in here which ones again goes some way to demonstrating some of the reasons why Chinese businesses are doing so well right now. Oh, and of course there’s the now-traditional nod to the fact that, as I always like to point out, if you’re buying a garment from very far away and it’s being delivered to your home for £5, you can be fairly certain that one or more people involved in the production and transportation of said garment are having a really appalling time. This sort of business model is obviously the future – once we stop needing the nimble fingers of children to stitch our garments and the machine-tailors take over then this sort of on-demand production chain will become the norm, but til then the present seemingly involves lots of people having a reasonably-miserable existence so we can have a cheap knockoff of a pair of leggings that a Kardashian once wore.
  • Working At TikTok: What do you think this NYT piece about ‘what it’s like to work at one of the fastest-growing and buzziest businesses in the world’ says about working at TikTok? Do you think it paints it as a fun experience, or instead to be the sort of merciless corporate sweatshop that chews people up and spits them out, saliva-soaked and molar-marked? This short excerpt should give you an idea: ““Competition is more extreme in China’s tech sector than in the U.S., said Xuezhao Lan, founder and managing partner of Basis Set Ventures, a venture-capital firm. “Obviously no one wants to have to be working until 2 a.m.,” but if employees don’t put in long hours, they don’t survive, she said. “That’s the context that’s missing when people try to understand Chinese culture.”” An agency I work with used to have TikTok as a client a few years back, and I was always struck by the stories the client team told me about one of their contacts in China who not only worked the seemingly-standard 12-hour days in the office but then, at the end of another punishing shift in the Shenzhen corporate colosseum, ran 18 miles home as a winding down mechanism. I honestly don’t think English has words to describe that sort of work ethic. Or at least I certainly don’t.
  • WeChat Shopping: The last of this week’s triumvirate of pieces on Chinese business and retail trends, this piece in Rest of World looks at how retailers are using WeChat to effectively groom customers on a 24/7 basis, taking the oddly-parasocial vibe of influencer shopping channels and sort-of applying that to WeChat groups in which brand managers spend their day talking to consumers, answering questions about products and effectively taking on a role somewhere inbetween sales assistant and community manager. I know that not everything that gets Big In China translates to the West, but, given the recent expansion in WhatsApp functionality to allow for wider-scale managed groupchats and the fact that every cnut like me is sitting in meetings telling clients about the incredible power and opportunity afforded by COMMUNITY (dear God), I can very much imagine this taking off in the UK. It’s not a stretch to conceive of a bunch of WhatsApp Groups being run for Boohoo or Pretty Little Thing customers where people can share style tips, get discount codes and gently be sold at all day by a bunch of sales reps masquerading as mates.
  • The TikTok Sorting Hat: Or ‘how US teens are using TikTok to make decisions about where to go to college’ – which, fine, unless you’re one of said US teens isn’t particularly exciting per se, but which made me think (not for the first time) that there’s GOT to be something in a Diceman-esque ‘run my life, anonymous internet strangers!’ series or experiment. Obviously this isn’t a new idea, but the unique qualities TikTok possesses – video first, powerful and simple captioning and polling functionality, and, most importantly, the ability to reach fcukloads of people if your content is sticky enough (which I personally think ‘Hey, TikTok, you get to run my life for a day and see what happens LIVE’ very much is) – makes me think that this time it’s a format that could really work.
  • Cryptodiary: I know that making fun of people who are really into stuff is mean and wrong, and that we should just let people get on with their little enthusiasms in peace. I know this. Still, I promise you that it is literally impossible not to read this and feel a small bit of happy schadenfreude at the thought that its subject had something of a tricky week, financially-speaking. This is a quite amazing article, in which ‘some bloke who’s really into NFTs’ talks to you about their week- so much of the language in here would have been utterly incomprehensible just 18m ago (and, frankly, still is now to about 97% of the world’s population who have better things to do than watch a bunch of idiots lose their shirt on monkey jpegs), which if nothing else makes it an interesting linguistic / cultural curiosity, but it’s equally fascinating in terms of how clear it is that there is nothing of value happening here in any meaningful sense, just empty numbers moving up and down and around. “Before I head out to the NY Yankees game, I check OpenSea — ETH has been dipping. I’m thinking about getting another Mutant Ape. I see on NFT Twitter more Spaces about Goop. I have no idea why there’s so much buzz about this project but I did see a Twitter meditation Space recently where people just said the word Goop for minutes or maybe even an hour, lol. Gotta love NFT Twitter.” I am, it transpires, now quite annoyed with myself for being able to make sense of any of this – WHAT AM I DOING WITH MY LIFE?
  • Dutch Still Life: Another of the New York Times’ excellent explorations of art, in this case Dutch still lives – the piece focuses on a specific work by Willem Claesz Heda and takes you through its details to reveal the information encoded in the work, and then broadens its horizons to take a wider look at the still life genre. This is so, so nicely made – the zoomy-scrolly (the technical term for this sort of thing) is beautifully-done, and overall this is a bit like being give a private curatorial talk by someone who really, really knows their stuff and who’s really good at explaining it in engaging fashion. Wonderful, and the sort of thing that were I a digital editor at a newspaper in the UK I would be very much looking to rip off (honestly, a series of these sorts of explorations of specific works done by the White Pube people, for example, would be ACE – ffs The Guardian, why won’t you immediately comply with my every editorial demand and whim?).
  • In The Court of the Liver King: On the one hand, I am not totally convinced that giving ‘comedy internet personalities’ the oxygen of publicity is necessarily a good thing for either the personalities in question or indeed the wider world; on the other, it’s undeniable that they make for great copy. So it is with Brian ‘Liver King’ Johnson, who this year has become internet famous for the twin facts of his insanely-ripped (and, let’s be honest, not a little steroidal-looking) physique, and the fact that he claims to maintain it by basically consuming as much iron-rich animal protein as possible in the form of unconscionable quantities of barely-cooked liver (and testicles and bone marrow and all sorts of other things). Now obviously The Liver King is a persona, and one that is working out quite well for Johnson, but I can’t help but look at the images of his two pubescent sons throughout this and think ‘I am probably going to hear about you in the future, but I do not think it will necessarily be for ‘good’ reasons’ – I’m also curious as to how far and in what direction the whole tradmasc thing here goes, and at what point Johnson’s going to end up pivoting to alt-right ‘kinder kirche küche’-type nonsense. Still, this is an amusing-enough look at a genuinely odd person, as long as you don’t think too hard about exactly what he’s selling (because the coming truth is that in the new now everyone is always selling something, most likely themselves – this is true, and only becoming truer).
  • Devouring The Heart of Portugal: This is an absolutely WONDERFUL story, about attempted fraud on a truly staggering scale, attempted by one Artur Alves Reis, a Portuguese gentleman who, judging by this article, was possibly the most insanely-confident man ever to wax his moustache and who, in the early-20th Century, hatched a plan to forge huge amounts of Portuguese currency and set up his own bank to legitimise said forgery. This is SUCH a great yarn – yes, it’s a yarn – and whilst obviously Mr Reis and his accomplices were crooks, and the forging of millions of pounds worth of currency can reasonably be agreed upon to be A Bad Thing, it’s equally hard not to root for a man who blagged his way into a job as a chief structural engineer in Angola by inventing a degree certificate from ‘Oxford Polytechnic’.
  • Chaotic Nightclub Photography: As promised, a PROPER SCHOLARLY ESSAY about the Chaotic Club Photography Twitter account by the brilliant people at White Pube, looking at where these depictions of hedonic revelry fit into the wider artistic canon of depictions of excess (in a not-entirely-serious, but still-actually-quite serious way). “The earliest nightclubs appeared in New York in the 1840s. An article in a 1927 issue of The New Yorker reflects on ‘When New York Was Really Wicked’ with contemporary engravings of concert saloons from the 60s. These saloons ‘provided dancing and liquor, but the principal attractions were the waiter girls and the low theatrical performances, although some of the cheaper establishments, particularly those along the Bowery, offered as entertainment only a piano virtuoso, who was always drunk and was always called the Professor.’ Music, bevvies, and women serving them; time is a flat circle. In the images, everyone is seated and fully clothed. The other day, Chaotic Nightclub Photos shared a picture of a girl pulling her own skirt up to take a photo of her crotch. It currently has 81 thousand likes. You can see my issue here — it is a trip looking back.”
  • The Map: A short story by Venkatesh Rao, about technology and place and data and knowing and inference – this is superb, and creepy to just the right degree. I do love fiction that appears to be set about 15m into the future like this: “It was the most sublime map ever made; superbly detailed and wonderfully dynamic. They said a trillion-parameter model drove the real-time updates. Whether you wanted a simple route to your destination or a restaurant recommendation, if you were in the territory, this was the map you wanted. They said it was so responsive to even the subtlest of event currents, the stream had to be artificially delayed to avoid spoilers. The speculative extrapolation ran minutes to hours ahead of the evolution of the territory, and if you knew how to hack in with a properly jailbroken client, you could surf the liminal future. The map was not so much a map as a live inference frontier. It would only be a mild exaggeration to say that it tracked and anticipated the fate of every blade of grass in the territory. It was as much an evolving spatiotemporal promise as a map. And it was right a lot. Uncannily right. Not just about traffic or the weather, but about vibes and moods. About whether you should go to the concert or to get an ice-cream.”
  • Just A Little Fever: Finally this week, another short story, this time by Sheila Heti in the New Yorker. Heti is a genius and I love everything she writes, and this, about a relationship between a young woman and old man she meets whilst working in a bank one day, is no exception.

By Guy Rubicon

AND NOW, MOVING PICTURES AND SOUNDS!:

Webcurios 06/05/22

Reading Time: 34 minutes

I don’t know about you, but this week I have been attempting to distract myself from The Bad Stuff by imagining what it must be like to be former tennis champion and all-round famous German Boris Becker, now doing bird in HMP Wandsworth. Do you reckon Boris is a dab hand at table tennis? Do you think, if you were him, you might start throwing a few matches to make sure that previous wing champion ‘Mad’ Andy doesn’t get the hump? Will he start training the lags? Will the prison tennis team enjoy previously-unimagined success under the tutelage of their demanding-but-deeply-human star coach? Will he quickly get very, very tired of the fact that everyone will inevitably make a lot of jokes about incredibly-fast-paced broomcupboard fcuking at him every day?

Basically what I am saying here is that ‘former Wimbledon Champion ends up in a low-security prison – hilarity ensues’ feels like a GOLDEN TV pitch, so if any of you fancy spending the weekend knocking this up then that wold be great, thanks.

Anyway, that’s the pointless preamble that noone reads done and dusted – now on with the words and links that, er, noone reads!

I am still Matt, this is still Web Curios, and if any of those of you in England happened to vote for the Conservative Party in yesterday’s elections then I would like you to please fcuk off and stop reading my newsletterblogtypething please.

By I-Chuan Lee

LET’S KICK THINGS OFF WITH A 3-HOUR DRUM’N’BASS SET FROM METALHEADZ’ LOXY! 

THE SECTION WHICH IS INCREASINGLY CONSIDERING GETTING A TATTOO THAT SIMPLY READS ‘LOG OFF’ ON THE BACK OF EACH HAND, PT.1:  

  • Peeled Maps: Do you have tattoos? It seems probable – every fcuker has ink these days, to the point where being tatt-free is more of a standout quality in a person than having full head-to-toe work covering every available centimetre of dermis. Presumably if you have you’ve also spent significant hours contemplating the beauty of your work – the barbed wire-esque tribal bicep piece that flashes you right back to Formentera 1998, the ‘Heaven This Way’ arrow in the small of your back that speaks to one crazy night in Doncaster…ah, the memories! It’s perhaps less likely, though, that you’ve spent a similar amount of time contemplating other people’s skin galleries, unless you’re either in an intimate relationship with a heavily-decorated individual or you simply have no care whatsoever for social niceties and personal boundaries. Which is why Peeled Maps is so interesting – it’s a website project by one David Schieffer which lets anyone submit photos of their tatts and then stitches them together into a navigable landscape which you can move your camera around to your heart’s content, letting you peruse the various lines and curlicues of others’ work at leisure. It also – and it’s quite important to be clear about this, I think – very much makes you feel like you’re standing in a striplit basement staring at the skins of the victims of a particularly-skilled serial killer; honestly, whilst the website maintains that all of these scans have been submitted by the owners of the skin in question, and there’s no suggestion whatsoever that everyone featured was the victim of some sort of horrific ritual murder, it’s also undeniably very creepy to WASD your way across someone’s skin like this. Still, it’s also super-interesting, not least in terms of the way it changes the way you think of skin – this really is ‘body as canvas’ stuff, and it’s fascinating. Do click through into the ‘archive’ section and have an explore – there’s one particular scan in there which features a subject’s stomach and upper thighs, and which features what is possibly the single most-upsetting depiction of a rendered penis I have ever seen in my life (no, you’re welcome!).
  • The Merzmench Dall-E Gallery: More fun with computer-imagined images! This is a 3d gallery space curated by Merzmench, a digital artist and someone who’s been OpenAI’s ‘Community Ambassadors’ programme for a couple of years, and therefore has been able to play around with Dall-E2 for a while; they have created this online gallery space in Spatial, which you can now explore to see some of the outputs of their Dall-E2 noodling (or, if you don’t fancy wandering around a 3d gallery space – which, fine, I can totally understand, you can instead read this writeup of his experiments with the tool here). I am sure that at some point I will stop being amazed by the quality of these outputs, but not yet – this is still at the ‘fcuk me I cannot believe that this was created by a machine, in seconds, based on a few simple prompts’. Strolling around the space you get a sense of the stylistic range the machine is capable of, as well as of the pleasingly-esoteric ways in which it interprets the prompts its fed with – I am particularly in love with its output for “Renaissance Painting as a First Person Shooter”, but I encourage you to walk around it and see what grabs your attention – and look, I know I am boringly repetitive about this, but it’s worth popping over to DeviantArt or another online creators’ forum after you’ve spent some time with this to see whether or not the majority of the human-created output you’ll find over there is discernibly better (spoiler: it is not!). BONUS DALL-E2 CONTENT! Holly Herndon and Matthew Dryhurst have also been playing with the machines, with a slightly different focus, and have been creating some equally-wonderful works – the interesting thing about their explorations is the software’s ability to extrapolate from, and therefore extend, existing works, and the opportunity it affords for centaur-ish human/machine hybrid collabs, and I once again come back to the thought I half-explored last week about the degree to which ‘person who is good at interfacing with these sorts of online systems in ways that result in high-quality and interesting outputs’ really is going to be a viable skill in not-very-long-at-all. Oh, and if you happen to be in the market for a (slightly-technical) explainer of how the software does its thing, you can find one here.
  • Smile: Do you remember Kreayshawn? I do, although tbh I can’t quite tell you why – fine, her track ‘Gucci Gucci’ was a memetic sensation for a few weeks (maybe longer) a decade or so ago, but I hadn’t thought about her or her work at all til this cropped up this week and made me gently happy. Smile is Kraeyshawn’s new Geocities-inspired microsite which features a mid-00s web aesthetic, a host of hyperpop mixtapes (I managed about three minutes of one of them before my nose started to bleed, which frankly is exactly as it should be – I am 42 years old, and it would be…wrong were I to enjoy this stuff, probably), and, should you take the time to click around all the stickers and labels and stuff, some surprisingly-deep spelunking to be done amongst the assorted mazelike hyperlinks. There’s a lot of stuff in here, and I like the fact that there’s little to no explanation of what the fcuk any of it is or why it exists. Incredibly-dense and aesthetically-challenging personal websites are the new Facebook Pages – YOU READ IT HERE FIRST, KIDS (not first at all)!
  • Sharaf Rashidov: I’d like to caveat this link with the fact that I confess to not having done the deepest due-diligence dive into the history of Mr Rashidov, and whilst I don’t think they were some sort of monster with Terrible Beliefs and who did Terrible Things, there’s not exactly a wealth of readily-available information online and so I’d like to pre-emptively apologise if I’ve missed someone and am inadvertently linking to a website celebrating someone who, I don’t know, skinned babies for fun. Sharaf Rashidov was the First Secretary of the Communist Party of Uzbekistan, in charge for several decades before his death in 1983, and this site is a tribute to his life and works and achievements, and OH MY GOD is it literally the most-Soviet-Era thing I have seen in a long time. There’s just something about the way in which English scans when translated from Russian or another Slavic language that lends everything a sort of terminal profundity, an impression reinforced by the copy here which is VERY KEEN on ensuring you’re convinced of Rashidov’s unique genius at every possible moment. STATESMAN! LEADER! POET! HORSEMAN! Honestly, I think rather than a gravestone or plaque on a bench (Vauxhall Gardens, opposite the model village, please, with copy reading “Matt hated it here”) what I really want as a postmortem tribute is a heavily-parallaxed site which features copy along the lines of “Matt’s achievements as a prose stylist were matched only by his skills as a lover”. My light snarking aside, this is a really nicely-made website and Rashidov obviously had a life of incredible significance to the history of the Uzbek people – but, er, if he was some sort of Communist-era monster of genocide, corruption and horror, do let me know and I will respectfully delete the link.
  • Spark: Are people planning on trying to get laid this Summer? I know that this time last year all the talk was of THE MAD HORMONAL RUSH of the first post-pandemic sunshine season (which didn’t end up happening due to the fact that a) the pandemic was in no way ‘post’; and b) we had all forgotten how to deal with each other in three dimensions), but how are we feeling this time around? Are you ready to GET BACK OUT THERE? Presuming the answer to that question is ‘yes! Oil me up and slide me right up you!’ then you may find Spark and interesting addition to the app hellscape – it’s basically Grindr for straights (as far as I can tell), with a standard ‘judge and swipe’ mechanic plus an additional layer of hyperlocalised search, so you can quickly and easily see who’s within a 15 minute distance and fancies a drink/frot/fist (delete as applicable). “On Spark, we show you users who are closest to you. It’s like being at the bar and scanning the room, except on Spark, you know who’s single, and you don’t have to leave the house. With Spark, everyone nearby is laid out in front of you so you can see who catches your eye, learn more about them, and spark up a conversation. Once you send a Spark, that person has 24 hours to spark you back or send you a message.” Depending on your perspective that will either sound like a smartly-efficient way of finding new people to bone in your local area or a hideously-dehumanising conveyorbelt of fcuk – YOU DECIDE!
  • The World Regret Survey: I am slightly disappointed that I am only discovering this now that there’s a book coming out – still, the internet is not a race (it is), and this is still an interesting project which is worth a look. “Regrets are a universal part of the human experience. All of us have something we wish we had done differently – or some action we wish we had taken or not taken. For the last 18 months, author Daniel Pink has been collecting regrets from all over the world. So, far more than 19,000 people from 105 countries have contributed. Would you be willing to participate? The simple survey takes about 3 minutes. Your responses are anonymous. And we think you’ll find the experience interesting and meaningful.” Which is great but, well, look, I know and you know that the real meat here is in reading other people’s submissions and regrets, and let me assure you that this does not disappoint. You can select by country and dive in to read tiny vignettes of lost hope and failure and, honestly, I know I sound like a ghoul right now, but this is less about riffing on others’ pain and more about the vague sense of solidarity that one feels when confronted with the imperfect reality of others’ lived experiences. I promise you that you will feel marginally better about things after flicking through a few of these (but also, fine, possibly a bit sad), and if you’re in the market for it then there’s probably quite a lot of good life advice you can glean here (based on one regret I’ve just read, for example, GO TO THE DOCTOR AFTER PULLING A MUSCLE IN YOUR GROIN). Poignant and slightly-sad and a bit lovely.
  • Learn Synths: A while ago I featured a site in here called ‘Learn Music’, which was a beginners’ guide to making electronic music produced by the clever music software people at Ableton – this is like that, but specifically for synths, and it is SO nicely-made and a joy to play around with. Honestly, just click the link and have a little play with the initial interactive slider that lets you generate synthsounds with varying pitch and tone as you move your mouse – see? It’s GREAT. Each page introduces another element of how a synthesiser works (or more practically, what you can do with it), and the way the interactive elements are arranged is just lovely – simple and clear and intuitive, and, crucially, fun. This is so, so well-built, and even if you’re not interested in playing around with sound effects like you’re in the BBC Radiophonics Workshop circa 1962 (and if you’re not, what’s wrong with you?) then I promise you’ll still enjoy the site.
  • Manor DAO: Sorry, but it’s crypto again. Still, at the very least it’s not ANOTHER PFP project – this is instead a ‘token as access key’ play, which interestingly (to me, at least), is being run by the people behind Poolside.fm (and Vacation, the sunscreen brand). I find this company really, really interesting from a brand creation point of view – if you recall, Poolside.FM was a web radio project from (originally) 2014, whose whole original thing was ‘music with a vaguely vaporwave vibe attached to it’; Poolside was a much-loved fringe web staple which was resurrected a few years back and spun out to create real world product in the shape of Vacation, its (very well-marketed) sunscreen brand (which you will OF COURSE recall from Curios passim) – now Poolside is Poolsuite and has gotten into NFTs (OBVS), one element of which pivot is the newly-announced ManorDAO, which, as far as I can tell, is a Chateau Marmont-aspirational…hotel? Timeshare? Airbnb? CREATIVE COMMUNITY? Who knows! But it’s a DAO, and you need a Poolsuite NFT to potentially get access to it. On the one hand, this is literally just a rich person’s club which requires you to buy a stupid NFT to access it, and as such isn’t particularly interesting at all; on the other, I find the expansion of the Poolside/Poolsuite thing interesting and curious and slightly-emblematic of quite a few convergent trends in brandbuilding (God, sorry, what a hateful sentence!), and I am curious to see what these people do next (bracket this alongside MSCHF, in my head at least).
  • The Tandem Shower: Showering with someone else is not, in my experience, all it’s cracked up to be. You never get as much water on you as you’d like, elbows and knees abut awkwardly (and I have very sharp elbows), and, despite what countless cinematic moments might have indicated, it is not in general a ‘sexy’ experience (perhaps, though, that’s simply what it’s like showering with me – maybe your experiences have been significantly more erotic. Maybe it’s all my fault!). Nonetheless, if you’re convinced that the only thing standing between you and true happiness and personal self-actualisation is the ability to have a comfortable shower at the same time as someone else then perhaps you will add your pennies to the frankly-staggering £600k (I will never understand crowdfunding) collected by this Kickstarter project, which promises to let you turn any standard, dull, solo shower into an exciting, sexy two-person ablution experience. This, to be clear, looks rubbish – sorry, but it really does, like those crappy setups that you get in rental properties where the landlord’s too cheap to install a shower and so you just have to sit in the tub, miserably dribbling too-hot water onto your skull from a pair of rubber hose attachments jammed onto the taps – but I am grudgingly-impressed by the sheer volume of copy that they have managed to pull together to describe what is (let’s be honest) a literal piece of rubber tubing with a showerhead attached to it. Hang on, I have just checked the RRP – $350?!?! Everyone is a fcuking moron.
  • Occlusion Grotesque: “Occlusion Grotesque is an experimental typeface that is carved into the bark of a tree. As the tree grows, it deforms the letters and outputs new design variations, that are captured annually. The project explores what it means to design with nature and on nature’s terms…It all starts with the handover from the designer to the tree by tracing and carving an initial typeface. Conceptually this initial type design refers to the desire for control, a man-made almost mechanical sans-serif typeface in high contrast within the natural environment. The tree is now left untouched for a year, where the natural processes such as occlusion begin. A tree’s occlusion is the process whereby a wound – or in this case carvings – is progressively closed by the formation of new wood and bark.” This is beautiful; I rather like the idea of this technique as a means of creating one’s own bespoke organic typeface, but appreciate that it’s probably not a great idea from the point of view of arboreal husbandry to go around cutting letters into trees willy-nilly.
  • Prismatic Ground: “Prismatic Ground is a New York festival centered on experimental documentary. Hosted by Maysles Documentary Center and media partner Screen Slate, the festival will plan to hold its first physical edition May 4-8, 2022 (with a virtual component). We seek work that pushes the formal boundaries of non-fiction in the spirit and tradition of experimental filmmaking. This “spirit” is somewhat amorphous, undefinable, and open to interpretation, but refers to work that engages with its own materiality, privileges a heightened artistic experience over clear meaning, and/or conveys a liberatory political sensibility in the agitprop tradition.” This is the website accompanying the festival, on which you can watch all the works from each day of the event in the comfort of your own home (or indeed anywhere you like) – I have only skimmed the selection, but what I’ve seen has been…interesting, although very much at the ‘art’ end of the spectrum (you’re not going to get much MCU-level entertainment here, is the takeaway).
  • How Is Felix Today?: The concept of the quantified self is hoary and old now, fine, but it’s always interesting to see people who are taking said quantification to extremes, as in the case of Felix Krause who has for the past few years been collecting an insane amount of data about himself and is now making it all available via this website. “Back in 2019, I started collecting all kinds of metrics about my life. Every single day for the last 2.5 years I tracked over 100 different data types – ranging from fitness & nutrition to social life, computer usage and weather,” writes Felix, and the website How Is Felix Today? offers you the chance to explore that data, to really get to know Felix via his sleeping patterns and his gym regime and the places he’s lived and what he’s eaten so far today and his booze consumption and and and and OH MY SO MUCH FELIX! This is obviously utterly-unhinged (I think Felix would agree that he is an…atypical, and slighltly-type-A individual) but, equally, sort-of incredible; aside from the personal voyeuristic appeal of seeing someone’s life dissected in this sort of way, there’s a fascinating series of side-thoughts that occur when you consider how much you could do with this sort of data if it was collected for everyone (NB – not all of these side thoughts are necessarily positive ones). I am slightly disappointed to note that the only area of his existence which Felix appears unwilling to share data on is his sex life – WHERE IS THE EJACULODATA, FELIX? I feel we’re missing a potentially vital datapoint here.
  • Dumpling Delivery: Look, I don’t really understand exactly why overpriced mailer software peddlers Mailchimp have seen fit to create a small browsergame in which you attempt to play minigolf with dumplings, but, well, they have, so we may as well make the best of it. Actually this is quite fun and nicely-presented, and is worth ten minutes of your time while you wait for dinner (it will make you hungry, sorry – or maybe it’s just me. God I could murder some decent non-Italian food).

By Thisset

NEXT UP, AN ITALO-HOUSE MIX BY MASSIMO PAGLIARA WHICH IS, I PROMISE, A PROPER, GET-UP WEEKEND BANGER OF A SELECTION! 

THE SECTION WHICH IS INCREASINGLY CONSIDERING GETTING A TATTOO THAT SIMPLY READS ‘LOG OFF’ ON THE BACK OF EACH HAND, PT.2:    

  • Address Pollution: If you live in the UK, this website will let you input your postcode and get data on the air quality in your local area – and, when you inevitably discover that said air quality is depressingly-low, lets you sign a petition to complain about it. On the one hand, this is almost really excellent use of public data for digital campaigning purposes – it’s personalisable, it uses Google Maps integration to give you a proper ‘wow, this is where I live!’ vibe about the results it throws up, which makes it all the more hard-hitting when you discover that little Johnny’s lungs are set to resemble those of a  Victorian sweep if someone doesn’t do something about the diesel emissions in your postcode. On the other, WHY A PETITION? This is a real bugbear of mine, so please bear with my while I rant – ONLINE PETITIONS ARE USELESS! THEY ARE IN NO WAY BINDING ON THE BODY POLITIC IN ANY MEANINGFUL SENSE! THEY ARE TEN A PENNY AND SIMPLE TO IGNORE! By the time you’ve built something that lets you plug in your postcode and get local data, you can also then really easily bake in an automatic ‘email your local MP with a complaint about this thing’ mechanic, which is significantly more likely to make said MP (or, more accurately, the poor fcuker in their office tasked with triageing their correspondence) take otice. Trust me on this, as someone who was briefly responsible for an MP’s mailbox, you really do notice when you start getting hundreds of bits of correspondence on a single issue. Sorry, that was…unusually serious and work-focused, won’t happen again – but, please, no more fcuking petitions.
  • Playlist Lyric Analysis: Plug in any Spotify playlist you like and this tool will make you a LOVELY WORDCLOUD (who doesn’t love a wordcloud? NO FCUKER, that’s who!) of the most-commonly-featured lyrics, which is of no practical use that I can conceive of but which might give you a few minutes’ vague entertainment as you try and derive some sort of deep psychological insight from the fact that all your most-played musical selections revolve around the word ‘baby’. Playlists must be public and smaller than 150 songs in length, but otherwise this should work with anything – actually there’s a half-amusing project here running any publicly-available agency playlists through this to try and paint a picture of different company personalities based on their musical selections (but it’s only half-amusing, so don’t trouble yourselves unduly on my account).
  • The PineWalk Collection: A TRULY ASTONISHING COLLECTION OF MUSIC HERE! No, really, you have no idea quite how much there is at this url, you may never need to click another musical link in your life (this is only very slight hyperbole). The Pinewalk Collection is a, er, collection of mixtapes from the 80s and early 90s – specifically, “DJ Sets from Fire Island Pines & New York City (1979-1999). These tapes were found in a recently purchased house on Pine Walk. There are over 200 tapes in total and they have been carefully digitized and remastered and offered to stream for free here on Mixcloud with permission from all of the living DJs we were able to contact.” Disco! Deep house! Electronica! SO MUCH 80s GAYNESS! Honestly, this is like some sort of astonishing aural timecapsule back to an era which in my imagination is all moustached men in satin shorts dancing together in a forest under moonlight (I have no idea of the truth value of this imagined reality, please don’t ruin it for me), and it is literally impossible for you not to find something to love in here. Wonderful stuff, though I would love to read an accompanying essay about the scene(s) that were going on at the time which birthed the mixes.
  • Network Effect: Another link which I am slightly-amazed that I don’t seem to have featured here in the past but which apparently is new to Curios – Network Effect is an online art project which I think was made six or seven years ago, and which is designed to present a short, time-limited picture of human life online, letting you spend a short period browsing through online video streaming seemingly-randomly, sorted into thematic categories based on single-word classifications like ‘lick’ or ‘strip’ or ‘laugh’ or ‘breathe’. “Network Effect explores the psychological effect of Internet use on humanity. Like the Internet itself, the project is effectively endless, containing 10,000 video clips, 10,000 spoken sentences, news, tweets, charts, graphs, lists, and millions of individual data points, all presented in a classically-designed data visualization environment. To see and hear it all would take hours, but the viewing window is limited to around seven minutes (according to the average life expectancy in the viewer’s country), which induces a state of anxiety, triggers a fear of missing out, and totally frustrates any attempt at completeness. The videos activate our voyeurism, the sound recordings tempt us with secrets, and the data promises a kind of omniscience, but all of it is a mirage — there is no one here to watch, there is no secret to find, and the data, which seems to be so important, is actually absurd. In this sense, the project mirrors the experience of browsing the web — full of tantalizing potential, but ultimately empty of life. We do not go away happier, more nourished, and wiser, but ever more anxious, distracted, and numb. We hope to find ourselves, but instead we forget who we are, falling into an opium haze of addiction with every click and tap.” This is not only a brilliant bit of digital art in conception and execution, it’s also become an inadvertent portal to the past – the footage used is all from 2015 or prior, as far as I can tell, which is basically the last point in modern history when it vaguely felt like everything was sort of not totally and utterly fcuked, and there’s a weird…not positivity to it, so much as a vague sense of collective naivety, like we didn’t even know we were born. I don’t know, maybe this is projection born of hindsight, but I think this is rendered all the more poignant and powerful by the distance between the online world this presents and the one which we find ourselves in now.
  • Everyone Everywhere All At Once: Apparently this is inspired by the currently-ubiquitous A24 movie ‘Everything Everywhere All At Once’, but, seeing as I haven’t seen it and have studiously avoided reading about it just in case I ever do, I can’t actually explain why. This is just a simple webpage which shows you a fast-moving cavalcade of images of other visitors to the site, taken with their webcam – you can choose to add your own to the collection should you wish. That’s it – nothing else to see here other than a dizzying range of faces and expressions all whizzing past you, which is sort-of beautiful really. See if you can spot me (although, on reflection, there’s no way in hell any of you will know what I look like unless you know me irl – god it’s nice being invisible online).
  • Weird Medieval Guys: A Twitter account celebrating the odd little fellows who crop up in medieval manuscripts, the small gargoyles and beasts and homunculi and rats and monkeys and whatever the fcuk the rest of these things are supposed to be. If you think they were bad at babies during the renaissance you will HATE what they do to hedgehogs in the 1300s.
  • A Map of London’s Cycle Routes: Technically this Google Map is called ‘Safe Cycling in London’, but, obviously, there is no such thing as ‘safe’ cycling in London as the many hundreds of yellowing bunches of flowers attached to various gyratory-adjacent railings will attest. Still, if you’re brave enough to take to two wheels in England’s glorious capital then you might find this a useful resource to plan routes around the city via bike – it’s actually testament to the work done on making London accessible and appealing to cyclists that this is so comprehensive, and it’s a fascinating contrast to Rome where I think I have seen, in total, three people riding bicycles in the past year (and, realistically, they were probably German tourists).
  • Search Movie Quotes: Ok, fine, this seems to presuppose that the only sorts of ‘movies’ that exist are Marvel or Star Wars – which on reflection is understandable given how many of the fcukers there have been over the past few years. Still, if you have ever desperately wanted a resource that will let you type in whatever words you want and see if there’s an suitable quote from the MCU or Star Wars filmic canon then, well, you’re in luck! I can’t personally think of any use for this unless you’re a) the sort of person who loves both franchises immoderately, in which case I imagine you’re already aware of the site; b) the poor community manager of a brand whose fans respond to this sort of pop-cultural pabulum (I am so so sorry for you); or c) about to embark on a long-term project whereby you communicate with your colleagues exclusively using gifs clipped from superhero movies, in which case MORE POWER TO YOU, this is a cause I can definitely get behind (don’t come crying to me when you get sacked).
  • Every .horse: I had forgotten that .horse is a viable domain – but it is! Well done to whoever the person is behind this site, which claims to be a running catalogue of every single website on a .horse domain – there are hundreds here, which could make for a thrilling afternoon of equine webspelunking should you be in the market for such a thing. Not all of these work, and a lot of them are rather sadly just redirects to less-interesting-sounding sites, but it’s worth having a bit of a random click because occasionally you will discover things that are beautiful and pure and wonderful and lovely, like for example the majestic creation that is cheese.horse.
  • You Choose: This feels like it’s halfway to being a really interesting idea. You Choose is a plugin for Chrome which seeks to subvert the YouTube recommendation algorithm by letting you toggle between its recommendations for new vids and those made by the YouChoose community, effectively adding a layer of human curation to the murky business of YouTube recs. The idea is that individual creators of videos can create their own recommendation lists, which would be displayed alongside the algorithmically-defined ones for contrast and balance – this obviously only works if a sizeable enough number of creators sign up to the idea, which will obviously never happen, but I do really like the idea of a layer like this that allows anyone to add a  recommended video to any other; effectively creating a human-curated network of information connections as a ‘shadow’ to the algocreated one. Imagine – with this plugin, anyone can choose to tag any video they watch on YouTube with a link to a single other video recommendation – other users viewing said video can choose to see the algorithm’s recs or those made by all the other viewers of the video, with a light layer of curation (upvoting, reporting, etc) to keep it clean and usable. That seems…interesting, no?
  • All The Videogame Maps: I am increasingly of the belief that there needs to be some sort of species-wide hall of fame or memorial of sorts created to the unsung heroes who, across all sorts of different fields, have dedicated themselves obsessionally to a small, very niche field of human knowledge or endeavour, not for any material reward but insteads motivated solely by some sort of altruistic impulse to compile and share. For example, the person responsible for this absolutely astonishing collection of maps to vintage videogames, from the Gameboy to the Sega Master System to the NES to the N64 to the PS2, all of them made in MS FCUKING PAINT for God’s sake, which seemingly exist solely to help out others who might be struggling to complete, I don’t know, Gradius 2 or something like that. I have literally no idea who the mysterious StarFighter76 is, or what in the name of Christ motivated them to spend what I can only assume is literally thousands of hours painstakingly recording the screen-by-screen progression of hundreds and hundreds of vintage titles from a dozen or so different systems, but I salute their indefatigable endeavour. WELL DONE, ANONYMOUS ONLINE OBSESSIVE! Now please go outside, please, at least for a bit (I appreciate the irony of my telling someone to spend less time online, but, well, what can I say? WE KNOW OUR OWN).
  • Startup Trail: Have you ever worked on a startup? It’s HORRIBLE – or at least it is if you’re lazy and unmotivated like me, and don’t understand why anyone would willingly choose to put themselves through the nerveshredding stress of raising money and building a thing and making it work and trying to make money and oh god just thinking about it brings me out in hives. Still, if you’d like to experience some of the horror without any of the real-world consequences (hair loss, ulcers, relationship breakdown, bankruptcy, tech journalists, etc) then this game might be up your street – choose your founder, pick your area of interest, and see if you can make it to market without burning all your seed investment, your bridges or your neurons in the process. As the title suggests, this is loosely-inspired by infamous settler simulator Oregon Trail and is about as forgiving – see how you get on, but in my several playthroughs I have so far been unable to do anything other than fail miserably. Still, if any of you fancy investing heavily in Web Curios as I attempt to pivot myself into web3 plutocracy then, well, STEP RIGHT UP!
  • 90s Heardle: Last up this week, despite my promises to the contrary we have ANOTHER Wordle clone – this is Heardle (featured a few weeks back), except exclusively featuring tracks from the 90s, meaning that if you’re old like me and kept getting your Heardle score fcuked by the fact that it insisted on presenting you with songs from the past year which obviously you don’t know because you don’t spend every waking second on TikTok then this might be slightly more your pace (except I still failed today’s due to having a less-than-encyclopaedic knowledge of the JLo back catalogue chiz chiz).

By Judith Eisler

WE FINISH THE MIXES THIS WEEK WITH THIS EXCELLENT, VAGUELY-HOUSEY, COMMERCIAL-BUT-NOT-IN-A-BAD-WAY NUMBER COMPILED BY EGO TRIP! 

THE CIRCUS OF TUMBLRS!

  • All About Movies: A collection of film plots as written using only the most 10,000 commonly-used words in the English language. Which, fine, I appreciate doesn’t sound that interesting, but you’d be amazed at the linguistic contortions you’re forced to go through to explain something as ostensibly-simple as ‘The Hunger Games’ in super-simple language. You can play with the tool used to compose these here, should you fancy spending the rest of the day communicating solely in super-simple English – I promise, everyone you work with will DEFINITELY find this charming and not an infuriating affection, honest!

THE TROUGH OF (INSTA) FEEDS!

  • Kerdalo: The Insta feed of Kerdalo, an artist whose paintings of people moving through urban spaces explore light and motion in a very particular style. I can’t quite say I like this, but there’s something compelling about the way the brushwork makes everything so kinetic.

LONG THINGS WHICH ARE LONG!

  • Roxane Gay on Roe vs Wade: I don’t live in the US, and I am never going to need to avail myself of the services of an abortionist, but that didn’t mean that this week’s news from the US about the Supreme Court’s apparent intention to scrap Roe vs Wade wasn’t deeply chilling to me. You will, I am sure, have read a significant amount about how we got here and what it means, but if you have the appetite for more then this piece by Roxane Gay is a typically-superb essay about what she characterises, entirely fairly, as “a decades-long conservative campaign to force a country of 330 million people to abide by a bigoted set of ideologies. This movement seeks to rule by hollow theocracy, despite our constitutional separation of church and state. The people behind this campaign do not represent the majority of this country, and they know it, so they consistently try to undermine the democratic process. They attack voting rights, gerrymander voting districts and shove unpopular legislation through so that they can live in a world of their choosing and hoard as much power and wealth as possible.” When I was 21 years old I worked for the BBC in Washington DC for a few months – as part of that, I was sent along to the Washington Monument on the anniversary of the Roe vs Wade judgement in Spring 2001 to get some voxpops from the Christian fundamentalists who were protesting against the judgement and campaigning for its repeal; I remember vividly the placards featuring late-term abortion images of bloody foetuses in buckets, and the incredible anger of the peoples screaming in spittle-flecked rage at me as they realised I was from the ‘liberal, abortion-loving’ (this is a direct quote) BBC and proceeded to literally chase me across the Monument as they attempted to nick my minidisc player, and I remember thinking ‘Jesus, these people are lunatic nutcases, only in America, eh?’, and that I was very glad indeed that even in the early months of a Republican presidency they were still regarded as a mad fringe – the thought that this is now, two decades hence, the prevailing orthodoxy amongst a significant and power-wielding group of people is frankly astonishing and not a little scary.
  • Roblox and the Metaverse: Yes, yes, I KNOW IT DOESN’T EXIST. Still, if we’re going to spend time discussing an entirely-theoretical concept as though it were in fact a real thing, we might as well do so in the company of Craig Donato, Chief Business Officer at Roblox and someone who, based on this interview, has a significantly better handle on How All This Stuff Might Work In The Future than lots of other people currently opining on our glorious metaversal tomorrow. This is a really interesting interview, in part from the point of view of Roblox as a business but also as a eagle-eye view of how an eventual interlocking system of interoperable digital worlds might work – it’s hard to read stuff like this and not think that, in the long term, it’s sort-of inevitable.
  • Tokengated Commerce: It’s fair to say that anyone reading Curios over the past year or so will have worked out that I am not a massive fan of NFTs and the wider web3 hypecycle (and yes, I am aware that they are conceptually different, but, well, work with me here), and that I have limited interest in or appetite for the idea of turning everything that exists online into something that can be monetised. That said, I read this and I felt…I felt vaguely like something sort-of clicked for me as to the potential use-case for NFTs. Not hugely – and certainly not to the point where I am about to start feeding slurp juice to my apes – but just enough to penetrate my inches-thick, coagulated carapace of cynicism and ennui. This is LONG, and, yes, it’s a conversation between two believers, and gievn Shopify’s stock performance this week you might be forgiven for not necessarily wanting to take their head of blockchain’s predictions as gospel, but…it’s interesting. The basic gist of the conversation is the idea of NFTs as a key to unlock differentiated commercial experiences – so the idea that users will be able to access different experiences, products, services, environments, etc, based on the contents of their wallet. So for example I might log onto the Vans store and connect my wallet, and get a personalised shopping experience (the look of the store, colourways available to me, exclusive items, etc) based on the NFTs in my portfolio. Which may sound fanciful, but it feels like there’s something true in the way this appeals to people’s desires for both belonging and individuality. I don’t 100% believe in this, but for one of the first times in my extensive reading on this topic it feels like there’s some semblance of there there, if you see what I mean. Have a read, this is chewy.
  • Pixy: this is basically a bit of advertorial for Snap’s new cameradrone, announced last week, but I think Snap’s experiments with hardware (and the fact that they have basically established themselves as THE premier commercial, consumer-facing AR layer) make it a particularly-interesting business. Also, this just looks really, really fun, and I say that as someone who has almost no interest whatsoever in filming themselves doing anything.
  • A Year of GB News: In a week which saw the launch of another tediously-’provocative’ channel aimed at people who think that the BBC is a dangerously-progressive hotbed of pinko sentiment, it seems apt to feature this excellent story in the New Statesman which offers an overview of the first year of GB News, a channel which has for much of its life been nothing but a pink-hued punchline but which has against the odds managed to stagger through a whole 12 months of life and at least now isn’t the most risible broadcast station in the UK. This is great, in part from a schadenfreude-ish ‘let’s laugh at the awful people’ sort-of way, but also as a picture of the almighty headfcuk that launching a TV channel entails (not to mention the expense). Packed with fun little anecdotes and great quotes (I am a particular fan of “ “Well, b1tches, I’ve had my salary doubled, so this is on me!”, but you pick your own) , this is a very enjoyable read (as long as you don’t think too hard about what the channel is saying, or who to, or to what end).
  • Tucker Carlson: The first in a series of three pieces by the NYT profiling Tucker Carlson, the Fox News host who’s basically pivoted to peddling full-on racefear to a scared portion of white America. If you’re not a North American resident you may not think this is worth reading, but I’d argue that it’s an important piece, not least in the context of the previous one on GB News – I’m not in any way suggesting that the UK channel is about to start punting full-on GREAT REPLACEMENT rhetoric onto the UK airwaves but, equally, it’s not beyond the bounds of possibility that it might do, and there are instructive lessons to be drawn from the way in which Carlson, Fox, the Republican Party and certain flavours of Big Money all work in concert to drive public opinion in particular directions in the US which you don’t have to look too hard to see happening, albeit at smaller scale, in the other anglo nations in which the lovable Murdoch dynasty have their hooks embedded into the media landscape. If nothing else, this offers a useful (and on occasion jawdropping) overview of some of the utterly-insane stuff that millions of Americans are getting fed every day.
  • London’s Lost Ringways: Anyone who’s lived in London is aware that the M25 is a horrible motorway where horrible things (mainly traffic jams) happen. But what would London have been like had the plans for multiple ring motorways through the city ever come to fruition? ABSOLUTELY HORRIBLE is the main answer – this is a brilliantly-interesting look at how close the roads came to being built and the ways in which they would have changed the urban landscape if they had done. If you live in Hackney, just take a moment to imagine how bleak this would have rendered your existence.
  • Cosmetic Influencers: On the apparently-growing trend for influencers on Insta and TikTok to be offered free cosmetic procedures to entice their followers into following suit, thereby neatly-sidestepping restrictions around directly advertising cosmetic procedures, and the extent to which this is ‘ok’ (it does not feel entirely ‘ok’). I appreciate that my attitude towards cosmetic surgery very much marks me down as of a previous generation, but I clicked through to a couple of the profiles of the kids in question here and scrolled back into the past to witness the transformations they have undergone and it’s clear to me that there are at least a few instances here where people are dealing with what look like…not insignificant self-image issues, and that possibly gifting them free treatments so that they can act as silica-filled living billboards for your lip clinic is perhaps not exactly ethically watertight.
  • The Cumbox at 10: I think I can neatly divide my readership into two at this juncture – those of you who will see that headline and think ‘Ah, the cumbox! What a glorious meme that was! What great internet times we had!’ and those of you who will think ‘Jesus Christ, Matt, what the fcuk?’ and not want to click any further (and if you’re in the latter group, might I gently suggest that you’re reading the wrong newsletter?). Anyway, the cumbox! Emblematic of What Reddit Used To Be Like, and the insanity of the always-horny teenage boy, and the insane freeing nature of online anonymity, and how gross we all are, and, surprisingly, of how there was a period a decade ago when internet culture and ‘real’ life culture were not in fact the same thing, and how odd that feels now when everything exists everywhere on every level, on and offline, simultaneously. Anyway, CUMBOX! This is utterly disgusting, but still essential – but please, I beg you, do not click the links within the article unless you’ve got ready access to a very hot shower and possibly some bleach.
  • Pop Culture Oligopoly: Or ‘how despite a world of theoretically-infinite choices, we are increasingly all gravitating towards the same stuff’ – this is an interesting exploration of the homogenisation of mainstream success over the past 10y, looking at film and music and games and coming to the broad conclusion that “In every corner of pop culture––movies, TV, music, books, and video games––a smaller and smaller cartel of superstars is claiming a larger and larger share of the market. What used to be winners-take-some has grown into winners-take-most and is now verging on winners-take-all.” What you make of this is up to you, but the author’s stance is clear: “We haven’t fully reckoned with what the cultural oligopoly might be doing to us. How much does it stunt our imaginations to play the same video games we were playing 30 years ago? What message does it send that one of the most popular songs in the 2010s was about how a 1970s rock star was really cool? How much does it dull our ambitions to watch 2021’s The Matrix: Resurrections, where the most interesting scene is just Neo watching the original Matrix from 1999? How inspiring is it to watch tiny variations on the same police procedurals and reality shows year after year? My parents grew up with the first Star Wars movie, which had the audacity to create an entire universe. My niece and nephews are growing up with the ninth Star Wars movie, which aspires to move merchandise. Subsisting entirely on cultural comfort food cannot make us thoughtful, creative, or courageous.”
  • The Most Boring Era of Celebrity: Did you look at the pictures of the famouses from the Met Gala the other night? Did you…did you care? If you didn’t, that might be because, per this Refinery29 piece, we are living through a particularly dull age of celebrity. I can’t claim to be a close watcher of the gilded and the blessed, but I wonder how much of this is to do with the illusion of access-all-areas afforded by Insta and TikTok, and the removal of some of the illusion of difference that made celebrity special – or maybe, as this piece notes, it’s because all these fcuking people look the fcuking same, or because they’re all nepotism kids and therefore not inherently very interesting. Per one anonymous Twitter user quoted in this piece: “I love and respect how hailey bieber has zero vibes. Like she has no aura at all I want to study her.” Well quite.
  • Growing The Short Kings: I may be ugly, skinny, bug-eyed and knock-kneed, with the muscle-tone of an elastic band and teeth that can charitably be described as ‘very English’, but I am at least TALL (fine, this increasingly makes me look like someone who’ll be auditioning for a role as latter-period Bill Burroughs, but I’ll take what I can get). I remember as a kid feeling a genuine pang of sorrow when I realised that Lee Jamieson, who at 13 was widely considered to be the cutest kid in school by all the girls, was not going to get any taller than about 5’4” and that he was as a result likely to have peaked in terms of hisattractiveness to the opposite sex around the time he was just getting the hang of w4nking – I just checked, and Lee appears to have dealt with this by getting so into bodybuilding that his Facebook photos depict a man as wide as he is tall, so, er, more power to you Lee, please don’t track me down and hit me. Of course, another option available to men who feel that their lack of verticality is a barrier to success and fulfilment in life is to have their legs broken and then surgically-extended, which sounds brutal but which can apparently add a good 3-4 inches to your height. This piece profiles some men undergoing the procedure and a doctor who’s making bank by being ‘The Leg Doctor’ on social media, and doesn’t (at least as far as I’m concerned) spend enough time on the why of the whole thing – I would also love to read a piece talking to women about this, and asking what it is that makes height the great guilt-free non-negotiable when it comes to deciding on a partner.
  • Mechanical Watch: I think this is the third time I have featured one of Bartosz Ciechanowski’s illustrated, interactive explainer articles – this latest one takes on an exhaustive investigation into how mechanical watches work, from the winding mechanism to the springs to the dials, and OH MY GOD THIS IS SO GOOD. I would like someone to pay Bartosz lots of money to explain everything in the world like this – this person is SO GOOD at communicating these sorts of concepts, the illustrations are lovely and clear, and the interactivity is in each case perfect; enough to explain the concept, but not so much as to distract. Honestly, whether or not you care about learning the intricacies of watchmaking this is an object-lesson in how to create a clear and well-written explainer around a technical topic.
  • Lamb Dressed as Mutton: Another essay from Vittles this week, this one on the halal butchery trade and its place within the UK meat production landscape – which I appreciate may not sound thrilling, but there’s loads in here about the history of food in the UK, and how there are quiet stories like this that tell wonderful tales of how multiculturalism changes systems, often for the better. I love this, not only in terms of what I learned about how the trade caters for muslims who want personally-slaughtered sheep with which to celebrate Eid, but also for the way it describes how modernity and tradition naturally coexist when it comes to culinary culture and food production.
  • Moon Knight and the Meme: I know literally nothing about the TV show Moon Knight, and care even less, but this is a GREAT story and utterly charming – about how a man who was a meme made it into the TV show (well, almost). Honestly, it’s impossible to read this and not feel a little bit happier.
  • In Pursuit of Chicken Rice: There are multiple ways in which you can read this piece, in which the author recounts his attempt to make an ‘authentic’ version of Hainanese Chicken Rice, a dish which in certain parts of the world is spoken of with near-religious reverence – depending on your point of view, this is either a ridiculous liberal ballet of awkwardness and oversensitivity, taking everything silly about cultural appropriation (or, more accurately, the fear of being seen to embody such a thing) to the nth degree; alternatively, it’s an attempt to ask and answer questions about what the phrase means, the extent to when and where it can be applied, and to whom, and to which it matters. I thought it was a great essay – a bit silly at times, fine, and there are definitely places where it feels like it veers slightly into liberal parody territory, but it comes from a good place and it teaches you loads about food and culture and place as you’re reading, which feels a good enough reason to recommend it to you.
  • Every Bay Area House Party: A piece of short fiction describing the archetypes of people you’re likely to find at a certain type of rich, tech-adjacent person’s house party on the West Coast of the US in 2022. This, honestly, barely counts as satire – if you spend anytime reading or working around startup culture then much of this will ring very true. I think it’s written by someone who would describe themselves as a ‘rationalist’, which means that it obviously comes complete with a not-particularly-sharp dig at ‘cancel culture’, but overall it’s funny and sharp and made me laugh, and the party startiup idea is almost certainly in incubation somewhere.
  • The Fat White Family Meet The Fall: The Fat White Family were for a brief period on everyone’s lips, embodying a certain brand of heavily-druggy post-Libertines artschool music and lionised by the press for their…uncompromising attitude to art. They made some decent-ish music but it all felt a bit secondary to the fact that they all obviously really, really liked taking drugs. There’s a book about the band coming out soon, from which this is an extract – here the band go to Glastonbury and meet The Fall and their herio Mark E Smith. It is EXACTLY as you would expect an account of a bunch of scuzzy musicians on a lot of drugs and high on the crest of a successwave to be, and it is an awful lot of fun; I was briefly at the very fringes of the tail end of the Camden indie era of the 00s, despite already being Too Old for it, and much of the vibe in this piece feels very familiar, and not necessarily in a good way – still, this is a lot of fun and you can almost taste the acrid drip at the back of your throat.
  • My Mother Photographs Me in a Bath of Dead Squid: Finally this week, a brilliant piece of writing by Lars Horn in which they talk about being raised by their artist mother, the unique and occasionally-toxic bond that develops betwee a lone parent and a lone child,  their gender, and the very peculiar feeling of being sealed in a full-body cast. This is mesmerically-good, and I would read the fcuk out of this were it a full-length memoir – seriously, click this one, it is very much worth it.

By Toni Hamel

AND NOW, MOVING PICTURES AND SOUNDS!:

Webcurios 29/04/22

Reading Time: 37 minutes

HI EVERYONE HI HAPPY FRIDAY! Are you excited about the imminent long weekend? Do you have plans? Will there be a barbecue? Maybe a party? Maybe a club?

Well screw all of you with your ‘friends’ and your ‘fun’, as I don’t get to do any of that – instead my weekend excitement probably peaked at 8am this morning as I queued outside the local health authority for my monthly supply of medicinal Soylent. So please ensure that you all go out and get absolutely spangled this bank holiday, and whilst you are so doing spare a moment to think of poor, lonely me here in Rome, stuffing my solitary face with icecream after icecream as the dairy congeals across my chin and the tears leave trackmarks across my chocolate-stained lips like some sort of etiolated, milky pierrot.

I am still Matt, this is still Web Curios, and I would honestly give a major organ or two to spend Sunday in a pub garden getting slowly battered.

By Maisie Cowell

WE START THE MIXES OFF THIS WEEK WITH THIS JOYFUL AND UPLIFTING (WORDS I APPRECIATE DON’T OFTEN GET USED IN WEB CURIOS) SELECTION OF FUNK AND GOSPEL TUNES COMPILED BY EOPS! 

THE SECTION WHICH IS MORE INTERESTED IN KNOWING WHAT SORT OF BONGO IT WAS TBQHWY, PT.1:

  • Anonymous Animal: I am going to come right out and say that this is by far and away my favourite link this week, and I will take it as a PERSONAL AFFRONT if a bunch of you don’t click on it, so, er, CLICK, YOU FCUKS! Although you might want to know what exactly this is before you do so, so I will tell you as I am generous like that. Anonymous Animals is a piece of online…poetry? Art? Storytelling? ALL OF THE ABOVE! To enjoy it, you need to be at the URL as the clock strikes the hour (any hour – this is the web, sweetheart, and it’s open 24/7!) – as the hour strikes the page will change from its standard presentation of morphing illustrations of animals to become…well, look, I’m not going to spoil it for you, just know that it takes 15 minutes exactly to experience the whole thing, it’s only very slightly interactive, and it made me cry. Not in a sad way so much as in a ‘fcuk, being human is intensely odd, isn’t it, and isn’t the web an astonishing and amazing tool through which to foster a(n admittedly potentially-illusory) sensation of shared experience and togetherness in a world that is at its heart fundamentally solitary due to the intensely subjective and deeply-unknowable nature of personal experience’ way – but, I promise, it is loads better than that. I think this is SO SO SO SO SO BEAUTIFUL, both in terms of what it ‘says’ and in how it uses the language of the browser and websites to say it. I subsequently discovered that this is by Web Curios favourite Everest Pipkin, and that it’s part of a wider project called The HTML Review, which is ‘an annual journal of literature made to exist on the web’, which every year ‘will publish works of poetry, fiction, non-fiction, graphic storytelling, and experiments that rely on the web as medium. the html review was started out of a yearning for more outlets comfortable with pieces built for our screens, writing that leverages our computational networked tools, both new and old, for the art of language, narrative, and exploration.’ Not all the other pieces in this inaugural edition are as successful (to my mind, at least) as Pipkin’s, but all of them are interesting in the ways they use the form of the web to frame our interactions with language and text, and the meanings we derive from them, in interesting ways. Trust me, if you enjoy Curios (and if you don’t, what the fcuk are you doing here? Stop torturing yourself! Go outside! Life’s too short!) you will absolutely love this (and the wider project).
  • Digital Dogs: You may have witnessed the past 9 month or so’s frothiness about the metaverse and thought to yourself ‘yes, fine, this is all well and good, but the main problem with this digital future that you are all so desperate to sell us a slice of is that there don’t seem to be any dogs in it’ (this is very much my girlfriend’s opinion, and I don’t imagine she’s alone) – now, though, you can set those misgivings aside and jump into the metaversal future safe in the knowledge that THERE WILL BE DOGS! Or at least there will be if Digital Dogs succeeds in its ambition to become the, er, premium provider of canine companionship in whatever the fcuk the metaverse ends up being. I strongly encourage you to click the link and head straight to the ‘about’ page for some GREAT copy. I very much like the line about taking your digital dachshund (other breeds are apparently going to be available) on ‘journeys through the metaverse’ (“take Fido for a walk through, er, your digital office in Horizon Worlds!”), but was also very much taken with the stern notice that DIGITAL DOGS ARE NOT A GAME, as well as the section entitled ‘enjoy all the benefits of a real dog!’ (the implication here being ‘…without the tedious realities of pet ownership such as feeding and defecation and sickness and walks and THEIR INEVITABLE DEATH’), and ‘At the center of the Digital Dog ecosystem is the Treat Token ($TREAT), an ERC-20 token’…oh ffs OF COURSE THERE ARE DOGGY NFTs. So, look, it’s vanishingly unlikely that these people are going to end up creating the One True Canine, and that whatever not-particularly-convincing CG Shih-Tzu you end up paying magic cryptobeans for will end up being useful outside of the testing environment, but, well, it’s not totally impossible, and what are a few Eth in exchange for maybe (but probably not) having a code-based chihuahua to keep you company through the soulless corporate worlds we’ll be forced to spend time in to earn ZuckBucks with which to pay the very real heating bills come winter 2024? On the plus side, at least this way you can rest safe in the knowledge that your horrifically-overengineered pug hybrid won’t end up suffering throughout its short life because it’s been inbred to the point of no longer being a properly-functioning organism – see, there are benefits to the metaverse after all!
  • The Digital Models are Coming: We’ve seen a few digital catwalk-type things this year, with fashion houses showing off their digital and non-digital collections via the medium of infinite CG processions of mannequins, browsable and shoppable from the virtual frow. So it makes sense that parallel tech is being developed to enable the creation of digital clothes horses via GAN. This is very much work-in-progress tech, and so the link will take you to a bunch of examples of prototypical code and some videos of How It All Works In Practice, but I’m including to make you all feel better – after all, if you ever needed a reassuring thought to focus on in the face of growing uncertainty and future-fear it’s surely that even the really really beautiful people are going to be rendered unemployed by the ceaseless forward march of technology! What’s really interesting about this is the incredible ease with which you can alter parameters on the fly; there is no way in hell that ‘catalogue model’ is going to be a viable career in ~3y time, is there?
  • My Cage Space: I confess to not really ‘getting’ the Nicholas Cage thing – but that’s not really the point, I suppose, seeing as the actor (or, more accurately, the persona that exists around the actor) now exists entirely independently of his body of work or actions; I wonder what it must be like to know that there is an idea of you out there that is as real as you are in terms of the extent to which people relate to it and construct narratives around it, but which isn’t, in fact, you? Anyway, you won’t find any such DEEPLY METAPHYSICAL musings at this url – what you will find is a small, pleasing digital gallery of Cage-related stuff which you can browse using your phone; it presents as a light AR experience, meaning the gallery is rendered in 3d and you browse around it by moving your phone in real space, and there are various Cage artworks and digital sculptures and quotes from his latest film, and all that sort of thing, along with one very ‘Nic Cage’ sound effect which I am sure will thrill you if you’re the sort of person who thinks ‘so random lol!’ is an endorsement of anything.
  • Some Dall-E 2 Examples: In the intervening time since Dall-E 2 there’s been a host of examples of its work doing the rounds of the web – amusingly, I have also seen various people attempting to deny that this is the beginning of the end for photoshop monkeys the world over (cheers Cnut, let me know when you’re done sorting the whole ‘irresistible march of the tides’ thing). Rene Walter, who curates the Good Internet newsletter, has pulled together some of these into a post which you can see here and MY WORD. You can see various examples embedded on the Page, but there are also links out to all sorts of different people’s experiments with the technology and FCUK ME. Honestly, these are jaw-dropping – find your own favourites, but I was personally so amazed by the ‘Marie Curie sculpted in butter’ image that I had to go and have a small lie down (although it did make me think that there is an interesting future-job somewhere in coming up with good prompts for these things; effectively there will come a point in the not-too-distant future where having people who are ‘good at interacting with the machines and telling them what we need in language that produces the right outputs’ will become as useful a skill as ‘being slightly less sh1t at Google than everyone else you work with’ was a decade or so ago). Brilliant, wonderful, mad, and terrifying – also, I now want to play a videogame featuring playable version of the cat/helicopter chimeras please thankyou. Oh, and if you’re curious, you can play with a significantly-slimmed-down, open source version of Dall-E here – it’s nowhere near as powerful as the latest iteration, but if you’re not 100% certain as to how all this stuff works yet then it’s a decent primer on the tech.
  • Cleopatra Jeans: What do you think of when you hear the word ‘Cleopatra’? If you’re me, you think of the late-90s Manchester girl group who never quite got the global recognition they deserve, but I appreciate that there might be other things that spring to mind (noses, asses’ milk, asps, that sort of thing). It is…unlikely that your mind immediately gravitated to ‘designer denimwear’, but that’s because YOU’RE not a genius of marketing (you’re not, are you? Admit it to yourself, it’s fine) and never had the vision to ask ‘what would a pair of jeans look like if it were designed to fit the body of a woman who lived several thousand years ago and for whom the concepts of both ‘denim’ and ‘trousers’ would have been baffling and possibly heretical?’. Cleopatra Jeans is a project ‘using one of history’s greatest beauty icons to highlight sustainability in fashion’. How does this highlight sustainability in fashion? Er, no idea! The project took a bunch of women who, based on historical records, roughly matched Cleopatra’s physiognomy; it used bodyscans of them to create a composite avatar, which was then used as the model to create a bespoke pair of jeans with detailing that alludes to, er, some Ancient Egyptian stuff! This is quite remarkable – there’s obviously a lot of cash behind this, but, for reasons known only to the designers, there doesn’t appear to be any actual indication of who’s the brains behind it, or if (and if so, where) you can buy the jeans, or how in the name of fcukery this has anything to do with sustainability (whatever that even means anymore – does it mean…nothing, by any chance?), and the site is…cripplingly…slow…Still, if you ever wanted to know what sort of jeans Cleopatra might have slipped out of when deciding to enjoy some of that aforementioned asses’ lactose then, well, GREAT!
  • Sector 32; Ah, the very particular joy of a beautifully-designed personal portfolio website! This particular example is by Piet Dewijgaert, a Dutch developer, and it’s just LOVELY – you may need to click the ‘Menu’ button and ‘Intro’ to get it to start, but once you’ve done that it’s a joy to navigate. Fun design, gently-amusing copy (that sounds like I’m damning it with faint praise, but I’m really not – ‘gently amusing’ is something I can only aspire to, and I am slightly jealous tbh) and some really nice examples of different sort of graphics work and interactivity design – WELL DONE PIET!
  • The Wachowski Auction: I do love me an occasional auction list, and this is a particularly spectacular series of lots – the Wachowski sisters, they of Matrix fame (but also Cloud Atlas, and V For Vendetta, and the much-maligned Speed Racer, which, honestly, is the best film of a videogame (that wasn’t a videogame) that I have ever seen – it has also reminded me of the ‘Speed Racer’ mix by DJ Keoki that I was quite into a couple of decades ago and which you can listen to here should you so desire) have put a dizzying amount of memorabilia from their various projects up for auction, with proceeds going to a fund to protect the rights of trans youth who you may have heard are having something of a time. So if you’ve ever wanted the chance to bid on, say, a model of the Nebuchadnezzar ship from the Matrix movies, or an actual MTV Movie Award statuette (man they look cheap!), or a pair of pants which were once worn by Keanu Reeves and may still therefore carry trace elements of his ball sweat then, well, your Christmases are all here at once, my children! Bidding hasn’t really got going yet, so I think it’s only fair that I point out that some of the guide prices here look like they might be a touch on the low side, and you might want to perhaps consider  what the going rate for your kidneys is if you plan on going big on the Matrix maquettes. There is some truly amazing stuff in here, so it’s worth taking a few minutes to browse – if any of you outbid me on this there will be hell to pay.
  • HUDs & GUIs: This sounds very geeky (and in fact is), but it’s also super-interesting, partly as an exercise in ‘the changing state of our imagined futures and how we interact with them’ but also from the point of view of information architecture and hierarchies and suchlike. Also, design! “HUDS+GUIS was created as an inspiration and resource site for interactive designers. It’s a place where you can find the most creative and interesting examples of UI design. Sources can come from anywhere ie. films, games, concept design and real world developments. It focuses on the ways in which people interact with technology, particularly the way something functions, the way it looks, the way it moves and even the way it sounds.” Fascinating.
  • The Reddit Community Fund: I am generally a bit (too) sniffy about the idea of platforms paying us to ‘create’ for them, mainly because I have no faith that the economics stack (for the ‘creator, at least) at scale. This, though, I have a lot of time for, mainly as it has nothing to do with the ‘creator’ economy at all. The Reddit Community Fund is a pot of money Reddit will allocate, on a sliding scale from $1-50k, to projects proposed by subReddits. “Beginning in June, we will invite communities to submit ideas for projects, events, contests, giving, almost anything you can think of to bring people together for inspiration and delight. We will be accepting nominations for projects needing anywhere from $1,000 to $50,000 in funding, and selecting grantees based on their creativity, feasibility, and community impact. Until then, we will be building out more submission details and guidelines.” So, light on detail, but the examples in the promo video revolve around contest prizes, hardship funds or support slushes for the community, the creation of physical media and events (so publishing a book, say, or putting on a show)…Obviously the devil is in the detail of eligibility and judging criteria, but this strikes me as A Good Thing and a nice way of bringing the central ethos of the platform to life.
  • Totem: I’ve featured an awful lot of truly terrible NFT-related crap over the past 12 months or so, but I don’t think anything has baffled me quite as much as this website. Totem is…I have, honestly, no fcuking idea in the world what Totem is. It’s a currency? It involves NFTs. There is a roadmap. There is a lot of talk of the metaverse, and interoperability, and the ready availability of…things, things which will be transferable between worlds. We’re going to be “Building a new standard of ecofuture products & technological bridges that honor the earth and inspire its citizens”, which I’m generally in favour of in principle. There is a mission, of course, but there also might be spaceships (this is particularly unclear to me – I think the spaceships, if they do in fact exist, might be digital ones, but what you might do with them is again not immediately apparent). I’m not entirely sure how the focus on gamification is going to feed into ‘building a new standard of ecofuture products’, but it probably all comes together in the end. Oh, look, here: “Citizen has committed 7% of our token allocations for active and authentic social impact. We have secured, supported, and are expanding a list of hands-on & effective relationships for maximum social impact.” Great! “Planting trees, buildings wells…” This all sounds good, guys, well done! “…decoding animal language…” wtf? “…as we work to save species… our social impact will be on the blockchain for everyone to participate.” Well, there you have it – that clears it all up then. Look, I can’t stress enough how much you need to visit this website – it’s very shiny too, suggesting there’s at least a bit of actual money behind it. Truly, astonishingly stupid. Or maybe I’m the stupid one who can’t understand the brilliance of the concept – I honestly can’t even tell anymore (I can tell).
  • Post Secret Voicemail: Post Secret is still one of my favourite ever online projects, and I was genuinely happy just now when getting the url and seeing it seemingly still very much A Thing. This is an attempt to create a similar anonymous confessional space for voicenotes – a US phone number’s listed at the top of the site, and anyone can call up and leave a voicemail which will then be posted online for anyone to listen to (it feels pretty well-moderated, from my limited exploration). The project was launched in January this year, and it’s got a surprisingly large number of submissions, and it’s by turns funny and sad and utterly heartbreaking and kind and all the sorts of intensely human things I normally hate because I am largely dead inside. Also there are a lot of very stoned-sounding people who start out trying to be funny and then find themselves getting drawn into a mild therapy session, which I very much enjoy. A+ content, this.
  • All Things New: I can’t quite tell whether my appreciation of this Twitter account is driven overwhelmingly by my nostalgia for British supermarkets, but there’s something very comforting about seeing someone holding up a packaged set of shrivelled brown ovoid pucks captioned ‘Meatless Farm Steaks!’ with the exclamation mark suggesting that this is worth celebrating. Anyway, if you, like me, are endlessly amused (or even appetised) by new-in-store packaged food goods then enjoy your Muller Corner Creations!
  • Reveri: Perhaps unfairly, I burst out laughing when I first opened the webpage and was hit with the exhortation to ‘Hypnotise Yourself’. It feels very much last-ditch; like, look, you’ve tried all the other wellness sh1t, you may as well give it one last stab. HYPNOTISE YOURSELF INTO THINKING YOU’RE HAPPY! Leaving aside the deep psychophilosophical questions which that sentence absolutely screams at me, I am equally tickled by the fact that, despite the fact that you’re the one swinging the fcuking pendulum, they want to charge you $15 a month for the privilege (or $250 for a lifetime use license – I say…two years!). Still, if you think that your current best chance of happiness involves paying someone to show you how to trick your brain into thinking you are (gah, knots!), then you’re very welcome.
  • BeLeef de Lente: Sadly the title of the page here is a jpeg and so doesn’t translate – er…my Dutch isn’t so good…er…birds of Lent? Let’s go with that. Anyway, this is a twitcher’s (such a better term than ‘birder’) dream, featuring a bunch of different webcams all set up to capture views of the nests of various birds – owls, ospreys, oystercatchers and a variety of birds that don’t  begin with ‘o’ including bald eagles which are always cool.
  • Oldest Search: Thanks Ben for sending this to me – a nice search frontend that pulls results from Google in reverse-date order, pulling you the oldest results first. It works really nicely for things like ‘cats’, but I tried it on ‘nft’ and the results were a mess of new stuff (is there NOTHING  they can’t ruin). Still, it’s a fun, if slightly-wonky, time machine, and enabled me to find this odd little story from 2007.
  • Dracula Daily: “Bram Stoker’s Dracula is an epistolary novel – it’s made up of letters, diaries, telegrams, newspaper clippings – and every part of it has a date. The whole story happens between May 3 and November 10. So: Dracula Daily will post a newsletter each day that something happens to the characters, in the same timeline that it happens to them. Now you can read the book via email, in small digestible chunks – as it happens to the characters.” This sounds like a great idea.
  • Dr Dabber: When I was about 15-16 I was, as many teenage boys are, a bit obsessed with weed; we used to talk about trichomes and Jack Herer and all that stuff, and look at the adverts for the Silver Palm Leaf and think how unimaginably stylish we would be if we had one (a very, very small part of me still believes this to be true), and I had a small flashback to my teenage self when I opened this site because MY FCUKING GOD would I have thought this was cool. A bit tryhard, fine, but also very cool. These are very shiny-looking accessories for doing dabs – the super-strong waxy weed concentrate stuff that was super-big in the US a few years back – and they basically look a bit like dentists’ instruments repurposed as videogame weapons (no, really), and the website is all hi-tec and very much on-the-nose in terms of The Prevailing Aesthetic We Are Told The Kids Like Right Now, and basically this makes getting so stoned you can barely talk or move look like the most future activity possible (lol at the version that talks about ‘dabbing on the go’  – rather you than me). Or at least it does to me, who is very much still 15 inside, turns out.

By Jude Sutton

YOUR NEXT MUSICAL SELECTION COMES FROM THOMAS ‘DAPWEARER’ SPOONER, AND IS A LOVELY SELECTION OF LOW-TEMPO TUNES PERFECT FOR A SPRING AFTERNOON!

THE SECTION WHICH IS MORE INTERESTED IN KNOWING WHAT SORT OF BONGO IT WAS TBQHWY, PT.2:

  • Solarcan: After last week’s slightly-risible ‘invisibility shield’ Kickstarter (I scoff, but will be less amused when someone inevitably uses one of those to mug/murder me at some point in the next 12m) comes what looks like a slightly-less pie-in-the-sky project for you to chuck your hard-earned pennies behind. Solarcan – thanks to Garrett for sending it my way – is basically a small device for taking images of the passages of the sun across the sky: “a camera in its simplest form…its purpose is to capture the Sun’s movement across the sky in an image called a solargraph – and does so with incredible ease.  Including everything you need to get started and requiring zero chemical processing, taking a photograph could not be easier.” This is a very cool looking little toy, and given it’s apparently infinitely-reusable and they’re asking what seems like a pretty-reasonable £22 to get one, this looks like it could be worth a punt (yes, fine, I am sure you could probably create your own using nothing but discarded coffeecup lids and some thrush spittle but, well, life’s short) – the sample images shown on the page look lovely, in a small, homespun sort of way, and depending on where you live and the sort of landscapes you have access to it looks like you can create some rather wonderful little pictures with it.
  • David Rowe: If you’re of a certain vintage (and from the UK), you may have memories of spending the post-school period wandering around the town centre, killing time by staring at the shelves of videogame retailers looking at all the games you couldn’t afford or didn’t have the kit to play and trying to imagine what AMAZING LUDIC EXPERIENCES awaited within their boxes by scrutinising the cover art for what was quite possibly literally hours (Swindon was not an exciting place when you were 12 years old and it was 1992). Should you fit into this (admittedly very specific) demographic box, you will probably recognise the work of David Rowe, whose art adorned the covers of innumerable titles from the 80s and 90s – Speedball 2, Populous, James Pond…basically if any of those titles give you a hit of nostalgia then you will love David’s site, where you can browse all of his work from games and elsewhere, and even buy prints of them should you desire to turn a corner of your flat into some sort of replica to the dust-smelling gamepits of your youth (lank-haired monosyllabic teenager sold separately).
  • Mazes: A classic ‘does exactly what it says on the tin’ subReddit, this – you want mazes? HAVE SOME FCUKING MAZES, THEN! Lots of these are quite fancy, illustrated numbers, but an even greater quantity are people simply posting the elaborate maze doodles that they make when they are distracted at work – it’s impossible not to love a community which is basically celebrating people being so skullcrushingly bored that they create small pen-and-ink analogies of their worktrapped status to run the clock down. Also my semi-regular opportunity to recommend to you the novel Larry’s Party by Carol Shields, which is the life story of a man who designs mazes and which I reread every few years because it is BEAUTIFUL.
  • Food Photographer of the Year 2022: Sorry – that really should read ‘The Pink Lady Food Photographer of the Year’, heaven forfend I should neglect to mention the corporate sponsor! Anyway, these are some GREAT images covering the gamut of food production and presentation and consumption – the variety on display here is quite dizzying, from images of fishermen casting nets in dawn light in South East Asia, to some astonishing examples of set-piece meal photography and some wonderful creative presentations of different meal types and foodstuffs (there’s an image of combed spaghetti somewhere on the page which is just glorious). If I were to quibble, I’d say that having a single tiny section about ‘the politics of food’ seems a bit of a token nod to ‘some of the problems inherent in how food is produced and distributed, and who produces and profits from it’ and gets slightly lost amongst all the very pretty images of cake, but, overall, these are pretty great (and a good way of scouting the next photographer for your ‘Faces Of Cheese’ campaign – sorry, no idea where that came from, but now I think of it ‘Faces Of Cheese’ is a fcuking great idea, so you can have that for free. No, you’re welcome!).
  • EarthClock: I think this is VERY OLD, but for whatever reason I hadn’t seen it before this week and so perhaps maybe it will be new to you too. EarthClock is, er, a clock – every minute it changes to display the time in numerals, the twist being that each number is represented by a shot from Google Earth that vaguely looks like it. So you might get a bit of arterial ringroad curving round the outskirts of a city to represent a ‘9’, for example, and a stadium for a ‘0’ – you get the idea. I am particularly taken with the fact that each number loads individually and zooms in in the now-classic Google Earth fashion – I could sit and watch this for hours, and you’re lucky that the rest of this week’s Curios is getting written at all, frankly (ha, ‘lucky’).
  • The Canon Camera Museum: All brands should do this (or at least all brands with a reasonably-interesting heritage, fine – perhaps, on reflection, the Rustler’s Burger Museum doesn’t need to exist). Canon have collected a HUGE repository of images of all the various different bits of kit they’ve produced over the past 70-odd years, from film cameras to digital video to digital compact cameras and everything inbetween – if you’ve any interest at all in video or photography and the history of the media, then you will very much enjoy this. If nothing else it’s a fascinating look at how the design aesthetic of photographic equipment has changed over the years, and a nice reminder of that brief period in the 90s when there was a brief acceptance that electronic goods come in colours other than black.
  • Unreal Keanu: This TikTok account is not Keanu Reeves, but whatever off-the-shelf deepfake kit they are using to make it look like Keanu is very good indeed. I’m not entirely sure why this exists – not exactly sure what the long-term appetite is for ‘videos of someone who is pretending to be Keanu Reeves doing gently-banal things’, if I’m honest- but I am glad that it does and I hope that Reeves is aware of this and gently approves.
  • Marbelous: Another Kickstarter! Does anyone remember the era of ‘executive toys’? I seem to recall there being a period in the 80s/90s when catalogues like ‘Innovations’ would show you pictures of devices like the now-legendary Newton’s Cradle, or one of those weird spiral paperweights filled with liquids of different densities which would see blue blobs race around a track if you turned them upside down, which were apparently designed to ease the troubled minds of senior executives who were addled after what I presume were long, hard days of taking cocaine and making inappropriate advances towards administrative juniors. Well this Kickstarter is looking to bring back those glorious days, when people at work had the time to just zone out and stare at something vaguely-kinetic for 5 minutes rather than constantly being forced to HUSTLE and GRIND and CHURN OUT CONTENT and MAKE A DECK (ffs) – Marbelous is, basically, a wire track inside a glass dome, which lets you run marbles around it while you watch them spin and swirl. That’s literally it – you press a little lever, it deposits a marble atop the run, it rolls down to the bottom again, you press the lever, AND THE CYCLE BEGINS ANEW! How much would you expect to shell out for something like this? Did you guess…$140? No, you did not, and yet that is EXACTLY what they are asking for (a reduction on the promised RRP of $200, which, well, LOL!) – on the one hand, fair play to them for the grift; on the other, HOW HAS THIS ALREADY RAISED NEARLY $250k WITH A WHOLE THREE WEEKS LEFT?
  • Frog Chorus: Another small webproject by V Buckenham, clicking on the link to the Frog Chorus takes you to The Big Pond – a page where everyone currently visiting is represented by a small frog, which you can click to make ‘ribbit’. That’s literally it, but there’s something very cute about this shared online space where you hang out with strangers and your only interaction is the occasional satisfied ‘croak’. You can create your own private pond by changing the name in the url, should you wish to create a small, private space for you and your colleagues to go Full Frog at each other (I am only halfway-joking when I say that this might now be my preferred method of interacting with my workmates).
  • Akiyoshi Kitaoka: “I am an experimental psychologist who studies visual illusions as well as makes illusion artworks”, reads the bio for the Twitter account of Akiyoshi Kitaoka – if you want an occasional timeline cleanse of ‘straight lines which inexplicably look like they are wavy but which, we promise you, are not’ then this is exactly the Twitter account you have been waiting for.
  • Espresso Machines: Someone here in Rome complained to me the other day that they’d been charged 1.50E for an espresso – lol mate COME TO LONDON AND WEEP. This is a great collection of images of espresso machines from history, part of the collection of Enrico Maltoni whose business repairs coffee machines. The turn-of-the-century ones in particular are beautiful – there are some coffee houses in Naples which still have these things on display (and possibly in-use) – but the real stars are the designs of the 50s and 60s with all the sleek, winged designs and the embossed brandnames in super-future fonts. Semi-related – can someone explain to me why it is that those people who rock up at outdoor events in England serving ‘fancy’ coffee from vans are literally incapable of making a cup of coffee in less than 6 minutes, and why when they do it invariably tastes slightly of licorice, and why it costs £4? Anyone?
  • The Interactive 4d Handbook: I might have mentioned in passing that there is a certain point at which I simply stop being able to understand concepts in physics or maths – I am fine up until the point where things like ‘imaginary numbers’ start to come into play, and then at that point my brain just goes totally smooth and all new concepts slide off it like so much melting cheese off oiled teflon (this is EXACTLY what it is like, I promise you). Which is by way of slightly-shamefaced admission that I really didn’t understand this AT ALL, and for all I know it might be complete gibberish and bunkum. Still, it seems legitimate, and whilst it obviously completely lost me by Page 3 you might be smarter than me and better able to use it to comprehend the brain-twistingly complicated world of fourth-dimensional concepts (but, if I’m honest, I sort-of hope that you’re baffled too). There are nice little interactives and things to try and help you make sense of what it might be like to conceive of a three-dimensional object in four-dimensional space – if this clears any of this stuff up for you, would you mind awfully explaining it all to me in words that a six year old might understand? Thanks.
  • Old Concept Cars: I don’;t really know much about modern car design, but looking around the streets at the moment it doesn’t strike me that this is a particularly golden age for vehicular aesthetics. This website collects a dizzying collection of details and images of concept models from years past, most of which never see the light of day dues to them being risibly impractical (big fan of the incredibly-froggy Honda Hondina concept from the 70s, for example, but this is not a car it is a rollerskate), and lets you imagine a slightly-more interesting motoring world in which everyone’s bezzing around in gull-winged sexwagons rather than the tediously-sterile boxes that surround me here in Rome (a city with more cars than people, and judging by what it sounds like every single fcuking morning in this city, more car horns than there are cars).
  • Sentimental Corp: Well this is odd. Sentimental Corp is…an art project? A collection of semi-sensical, deliberately ‘weird’ videos? Something a bit nastier? I honestly have no idea at all (but I rather suspect the third). Click the link takes you to a homepage with six clickable areas – each eventually takes you to a selection of unlabelled videos, which from my VERY LIMITED perusal seem to be a mix of low-fi bizarro performance art and teenage Chan-style shock projects. This is, to be quite clear, not very nice at all, and I get the impression that if I dug through everything I would quite possibly find some quite unpleasant stuff…so, er, why link to it, Matt? Well in part because I am always fascinated that stuff like this exists – it’s not like whoever’s put all this stuff together has just collected a bunch of vaguely-unpleasant memes from the recesses of the web’s dodgier messageboards and compiled them here. Instead there is literally HOURS of video arranged across multiple nested pages, with some sort of apparent taxonomy being applied…why? To what end? Maybe there is no point – I was doing some digging attempting to find out some details about what this was and why it existed and whether it was linked to something worse/darker, and I came up blank other than some anonymous comment which referred to this as being ‘like a pizza cutter – all edge, no point’, which feels about right. This is not a good link, necessarily, but it is a classic ‘why does this exist and who made it and how long did it take and WHAT FOR????’, and as such it possibly belongs in Curios (but, er, if anyone happens to discover something that suggests there is anything properly awful in here which means I ought to remove the link). A very, very big WATCH OUT attached to this one, basically.
  • Moveidle: Get an entire film condensed into one second of screencaps – then try and guess the title. Get it wrong, and you get to see a slightly-longer edit – rinse and repeat until you guess right. More fun if you know more films than I do, otherwise you will just end up guessing ‘Jaws’ at anything that looks like it was filmed pre-1985.
  • The Death of an MMO Game Jam: A collection of small game experiences created at a gamejam from February this year, where the titular theme was ‘A game jam about making a virtual experience that takes place in a fictional MMO that’s about to be shut down. There are a quite a number of massively multiplayer online games that have been released since the turn of the century. Sadly, fans have had to bid farewell to some of these games as they existed when the developers no longer saw the need to run the servers that keep these games playable. What was a huge part of people’s lives for years ends up becoming nothing more than a memory… at least until someone emulates the servers sometime later.” I have only played a fraction of the games included in this link, but there are some lovely, poignant pieces of design in here, and in general I find the very specific ‘death of a virtual world’ idea a really interesting one in terms of the emotions and feelings it evokes. There’s a piece here about how it feels when a ‘metaverse’ (lol) dies, which is a nice companion should you want one.
  • The Man Man: What would QWOP have been like if rather than playing as a mismatched collection of limbs attempting to run the 100m you were instead playing as a mismatched collection of limbs trying to crawl around someone’s apartment trying to murder them? This is very silly, very janky, a lot less horrific than the description makes it sound, and contains some pleasingly-repellent sound effects.
  • Rocket Bot Royale: Look, I could give you some long-winded sales pitch for this, but effectively it’s Worms, but in-browser and multiplayer. Yes, fine, you play as ‘tanks’, but it’s basically Worms and it is GREAT – very hard, and you will get annihilated by strangers when you start playing, but if you can persuade some friends to join you then this is a GREAT multiplayer timewaster while you wait for the Bank Holiday visit from your dealer.
  • Return of the Slimepires: Finally this week, and the last in a BUMPER COLLECTION of ludic pursuits for your long weekend’s entertainment, here’s a delightful little 2d, pixelish platformy shooter in which you run, jump, climb, shoot and puzzle through a variety of rooms and screens as you try and, I don’t know, defeat the slime king or something. This is LOADS better than it needs to be – apparently there are multiple endings and everything – but all you need to know is that it is the perfect size to fill the few hours that stand between you and the pub.

By Scott Daniel Ellison

FINALLY IN THE MIXES THIS WEEK WE HAVE THIS FINE SELECTION OF GENTLY AMBIENTISH ELECTRO BY  HENDRIK STEIN!

THE CIRCUS OF TUMBLRS!

  • Readme Dot Txt: “Titbits and curios from the video game mod archives. Curated by Alice O’Connor.” Notes from game mods – which, fine, you need to be a bit of a geek to enjoy, but there’s something lovely about seeing the short writeups people pen to accompany the patches they make to games. Big fan of the person who doesn’t mention the mod at all but instead writes a couple of lines about how much they’re  looking forward to the shepherd’s pie that their wife has made.

THE TROUGH OF (INSTA) FEEDS!

  • Tristan Dare: Tristan Dare is 19 years old, and makes knives. The knives are amazing, and made out of all sorts of insane stuff like meteorite fragments and mammoth tusks, and, honestly, if you’re the sort of person who’s always coveted the sort of shiny iridescent dagger that always gets fetishised in certain types of videogame (not judging!) then Tristan’s creations will make you swoon slightly (also, I have a crushed velvet picture of a jaguar you may be interested in).
  • VHS Revolution: Images of old films being played on VHS. Literally that – a shot of a telly feating a still from a film, with that films videocassette visible on top of the TV. Why? I DON’T FCUKING KNOW. Also caused me to think ‘Wow, Freddie Prinz Jr! He existed!’, which isn’t something that happens very often – maybe that’s why!
  • Collected Searching: This Insta shares images of anonymised searchlogs – the things that other people search for, knowing that it will forever remain a secret. These are from (I think) a dump of searchlogs from Yahoo! Which were leaked a few years ago, and this is just perfect and poetry and oh my how do I love it. Every single one of these is a novel or a play or a screenplay waiting to be written – I want to know the story of whoever it was that was searching “how can i find my daddy for free”, or the person who searched four times for ‘mark wahlberg wallpapers’ and then immediately afterwards for ‘suicide note’. I want to know EVERYTHING. Honestly, this is so so so so so so so so good.

LONG THINGS WHICH ARE LONG!

  • The Elon Timelines: Look, I am sick of thinking about the man too. Is it not enough to be richer than God, must he attempt to become more ubiquitous too? Still, in the interest of Keeping Up With The Discourse I suppose we ought to at least nod to the takeover and What It All Means – there have been an awful lot of wasted words about this this week, but Charlie Warzel’s analysis of the different directions in which Musk might end up taking Twitter is worth a read as it neatly covers the potential ramifications from ‘it turns into a lawless hellscape of horror’ to ‘he adds subscriptions and just continues being a d1ck about everything but nothing substantively changes at all beyond taking us back to what Twitter used to be like five or so years ago’. FWIW I still think there’s a non-trivial chance that it might still not happen, but, well, who knows?
  • Elon’s Giant Package: Most of the ‘smart’ commentary out there about the deal has suggested that this is not a money play for Musk, seeing as he’s already richer than Creosus and Twitter is not, by anyone’s reckoning, a business that screams ‘massive cash cow’. This is an interesting counterargument by Ranjan Roy which argues that Musk is in fact setting himself up for something of a bumper payday with this via a series of moves and mechanisms which whilst not technically illegal might well be characterised as ‘a bit shady’. Roy’s conclusion is as follows – will be interesting to see whether he’s proved right: “My mini-grand theory is that this entire sequence of events: The Twitter purchase, the SEC escalation, Tesla’s blowout quarter – it’s all about the next giant package. Musk saw an opportunity at the beginning of the year. Tesla’s business was on a roll, his pay package was almost complete, the SEC was threatening his Twitter account, and Tesla’s stock had stalled out for six months. Every great entrepreneur understands the importance of momentum and he decided to capitalize on this confluence of events. At first, I was skeptical Musk was serious about buying Twitter, but I’m genuinely starting to believe it’s part of a larger strategy. We’re starting to see more pieces. The potential new “super-company”. He just raised a bunch of money for the Boring Company. Twitter is now both a potentially undervalued financial asset, a political asset, and a marketing tool. I think we’ll soon see something incredibly audacious, and breathtaking pay package that is far more creative and corporate boundary-crossing than what we saw in 2018.”
  • The Lost Thread: MORE MUSKTHOUGHTS! This time from Robin Sloane, who presents them as a series of Tweet-length soundbites (form! function!) – which effectively posits this as the beginning of the end for Twitter and invites us to think beyond it: “The amount that Twitter omits is breathtaking; more than any other social platform, it is indifferent to huge swaths of human experience and endeavor. I invite you to imagine this omitted content as a vast, bustling city. Scratching at your timeline, you are huddled in a single small tavern with the journalists, the nihilists, and the chaotic neutrals.” I like this viewpoint and wish I could be more hopeful about everyone suddenly doing as suggested and striking out to explore the great digital unknown – sadly, though, there are no maps to the territory and we have, over the past decade or so, lost the knowledge and tools necessary to explore without guidance, and I am not convinced that we’re going to get them back.
  • Angel-Haired Hipsters: The last piece about Twitter, promise, this is a lovely piece of writing by Emily Gorcenski which reads rather as a eulogy to the platform which seems, frankly, a touch premature, but does an excellent job of pinpointing the very real sense of lost hope that seems to have spread amongst a section of Twitter’s userbase at the news of the plute’s takeover. “People call Twitter a social media site, but in reality it is a global chatroom. Twitter is optimized for throwaway bullsh1t. That’s not new. We have always had ways to revel in bullshit, we trafficked in irony and ennui smuggled in fixed-width font. We have always had an outlet for our most mundane thoughts, our passive bemusement at the absurdity of life. Twitter’s innovation was simply making it practical to put it all in one place, by abstracting away the complexity of whose bullsh1t you would see.” I love this – it neatly captures what Twitter is good at, and why (to my mind, at least) it’s actually slightly more futureproof than, say, TikTok or the Meta product stable. It is, fundamentally, impossible to conceive of a more efficient and effective mass-communication tool than Twitter short of ‘inventing telepathy’, and until that changes it feels like it, or some version of it, will continue to have relevance and utility, whatever Elon may or may not decide to do to fcuk it up.
  • How To Plant A Meme: Joshua Citarella writes about how he tried, over a period of several years, to introduce young people in certain sh1tposty sections of the alt-right internet to the book ‘Capitalist Realism’ via memes, in an attempt to counter the prevailing right-wing socioeconomic viewpoints circulating around them and as a general experiment into how memes can be used to shape politico-economic debate and consciousness. This is a really interesting read, though it has (rightly) been pointed out to me that it is very anecdotal and rather light on actual ‘proof that it actually worked in the way he says it did’. More generally, though, it’s an excellent primer on how one might generally go about infiltrating and ingratriating oneself to a particular in-group to the point where you can start attempting to mess with their heads via memetic information warfare – which, yes, fine, does sound a bit creepy when you put it like that, but if you just take these lessons and put them to use selling people a new brand of soft drink, say, or eyeliner, then we’re probably ok, morally-speaking.
  • Digital Apartheid: One of a series of pieces published by MIT Technology Review this week as part of a series on “AI colonialism, the idea that artificial intelligence is creating a new colonial world order”, this article looks at how surveillance technologies are being deployed in South Africa and how their deployment and control and data-usage is entrenching old power dynamics and racial divisions. Absolutely fascinating, both in the specific and the abstract – the point here, or course, is that we do not in general ask enough detailed questions about who owns the technology and the data, and who it is being used on, and it is these questions that end up being significantly more important than the more obvious ‘so what is this kit and what can it do?’ discussions which we often focus on when exploring questions of new tech deployments in urban centres. If you have any interest at all in tech/society questions, particularly in terms of rights and governance, then you really should take the time to read the whole collection.
  • Democratic Finance: This is quite heavy, for which apologies, but I found it properly interesting – Noema Magazine looks at the current vogue for ‘Decentralisation’ in finance, and asks what it practically means, what it has to do with web3 (DAOs get a mention, as you might expect), and how it’s going to help render the world of finance more equitable for all. SPOILERS – it’s not, necessarily! The article does put forward a really interesting conception of how we might conceive of better, more democratic deliberation on the allocation of finances for public goods – the idea of ‘minipublics’, “smaller, representative groups of citizens brought together through random selection to discuss and decide on key questions”, isn’t a new one per se, but its application inh this particular context struck me as intelligent and a (fine, maybe a bit utopian) way of thinking about questions around democratic allocation of funds.
  • Viral Mobility and Moral Geography: This is VERY LONG and VERY INVOLVED, but it’s also an absolutely brilliant dissection of the way in which China has chosen to respond to covid, and the measures it’s taken locking down the citizenry in Shenzhen and elsewhere, and the slightly-chilling (ok, very chilling) realpolitik decisions being taken about how to differentiate approaches based on the perceived ‘value’ of the location in question. This is in part an interesting read about covid, but if you’re not into it from that perspective then it’s also a really deep look at how significant public health systems management works at scale, and how you do something as difficult and complex as ‘compelling literally millions of people to stay very, very still for weeks at a time’. This contains LOTS of properly-chilling ‘dear God I am personally glad I do not live in China’ bits, including a slightly-throwaway line about wife-trafficking which stop me in my tracks as I read: “the story of a Xuzhou wife who was apparently sold twice and forced to bear eight children. She was discovered chained in an outdoor shed, wearing insufficient clothing against the cold.” I’m sorry, what??
  • The PPE Supplychain: Every single country in the world will have its own version of the PPE supply scandal from The Covid Times – in the UK these mainly seem to revolve around exactly which government-adjacent businesspeople managed to get rich off the back of public fear and logistical scrambling, but in the US the moneygrabbing was in large part being done by ‘entrepreneurial’ individuals who saw an opportunity to make some quick bucks as middlemen arranging shipments from shadowy warehousers in the Far East. This is the story of one such middleman’s quest for riches in the midst of a global pandemic – this fascinated me, partly because the idea of working like this, everything based on ‘vibes’ and ‘feelings’ and the constant uncertain hope that noone in this chain is going to do a runner with everyone’s cash, sounds SO STRESSFUL, and partly because, as with lots of grifts like this, it actually seems like really hard work. I work a 9-5 because I am too lazy to do crime, is the basic fact here.
  • It’s Not A Dead Cat: If you happen to spend any time following UK politics on Twitter you will be aware that anytime the government does anything particularly stupid or callous or cruel which ends up cathcing the media and public’s attention for a few hours it is immediately leapt upon by galaxy-brained BIG THINKERS ready to classify it as a ‘dead cat strategy’ and suggesting its part of some MASTER PLAN OF DSTRACTION from what is really going on. In this post from their newsletter, Sam Freedman neatly explains why that is almost certainly not the cas – the main point being that assuming that there is a sufficient degree of planning and oversight in Government communications to allow for this sort of obfuscation and diversion is…optimistic at best. I can vouch for this – when briefly working as a press officer at Department for Work and Pensions, I once receievd a call from Number 10 at around 545 on a Friday asking me to provide a comprehensive list of all the then-Secretary of State’s pronouncements on the party’s previous manifesto commitments, as the PM was expecting a tough week in the Sunday Papers and wanted a decent overview of potential attack lines. Except the SPAD calling me up spent the duration of the call referring to the previous Secretary of State, who had in fact left the role a whole 7 months prior. Noone has any idea what the fcuk is going on, basically, and that’s why, when the Government looks like it is being stupid or ignorant or needlessly-cruel, it is almost certainly because that is exactly what it is.
  • A Long Walk In A Fading Corner of Japan: This is a piece by Craig Mod, whose writing on Japan I have linked to in here before but who I will happily include again because I adore the way he talks about his experiences of walking around and through small, not-particularly-significant towns in Japanese backwaters and just observing what’s around him. This is a wonderful piece of travel writing about a series of places which might not exist much longer, told with genuine warmth and affection and a sense of place that’s often lacking from this sort of piece.
  • Posters’ Disease: Posters’ Disease is a condition I think I first saw identified by Hussein Kesvani but which is perfectly-described in this Gawker article – it might be the defining psychological condition of the modern age (/hyperbole, fine, but). We all know the symptoms in others, and yet it is impossible to recognise them in oneself – look: “To have poster’s disease, you have to believe that posting has an action: posting is a job; posting is giving; posting is achieving; posting is a game, intramural or otherwise, that must be won. Poster’s disease is linking a public tragedy to your own non-tragic experience (posting will achieve proximity and perform empathy), or providing commentary on a conversation that you eavesdropped on (posting will show that you lead a public life in which you are a folk hero observing the whims of the common man). Poster’s disease is tweeting at airlines to get better service. Poster’s disease is “today I learned” for the off-Reddit crowd, perusing Wikipedia or IMDB for a fact that can be shared for #knowledgeclout (posting will equate to intelligence, or if not intelligence, then humility in ignorance). Poster’s disease is threading more than two tweets in a row. Poster’s disease is cross-promoting tweets on Instagram. Poster’s disease is sharing a podcast from the New York Times and writing, “This is so important,” so that people know that you listen to the newspaper of record and also have the intellectual authority to decide what is and is not important.” I bet you know loads of people like that online, but that that’s not you, oh no no no (it is you. It is me. It is ALL OF US).
  • Insomnia Technologies: On why sleep-tracking technologies and the data that they provide do not actually do the thing that they think that they do when we are buying them, about the inherent contradiction between tracking rest to enable greater productivity – or, more broadly, you could read this as an argument as to why measurement and data do not automatically make everything better or grant us perfect knowledge, however much we might accrue. This isn’t really about sleep at all, to my mind, so much as it is about the limits of what the measurable can tell us, and the differences between what we say something is for and what our usage of it really tells us.
  • The Puzzle That Will Outlast The World: A short extract from a forthcoming book all about puzzles, in which the author writes about a specific creation he commissioned from a master puzzlemaker in Holland designed to be the most complex ever created, and which would take so long to solve that even completing one step a second without pauses would take approximately 40 septillion years. I am in AWE, and am absolutely going to start investigating having something like this built into my gravestone.
  • The Simpsons: A wonderful article about the longest-running cartoon in history – I know you’ve read loads about the Simpsons before, but this is a really lovely article, which focuses on the show’s genesis and astonishing rise to global ubiquity, but also addresses the ‘it’s not actually been any good for 15 years!’ haters. Best of all, it reminded me of the title of one of my favourite ever episodes which I am going to watch again as soon as I have finished spaffing out this fcuker (“Selma’s Choice”, in case you’re curious).
  • Thinner On Paper: I loved this article – funny, self-deprecating and a time capsule back to the Old Days of UK journalism and Fleet Street and boozy lunches and all that jazz. I then got to the end and saw it was the work of Peter Hitchens. The man might be a cast-iron prick, but as long as he keeps it light he can still turn a phrase – if the byline offends you too much, just avoid reading the final line and pretend it’s written by someone whose politics you hate less.
  • Opening: Finally this week, a short, sad, beautiful piece of writing about parental ageing and frailty and inevitable death, and the shape of the relationship that gets left behind by evaporating memory. Because I like to leave you on a high (really, though, this is gorgeous writing by Sarah Grimes and deserves your attention).

By Hiroshi Sato

AND NOW, MOVING PICTURES AND SOUNDS!:

Webcurios 22/04/22

Reading Time: 37 minutes

Hi! Hello! Welcome, once again, to Web Curios, your weekly compendium of ‘stuff some bloke you probably don’t know and whose opinion you have no real reason to trust has found online and deemed interesting enough to share with YOU, a small audience of strangers whose masochism I can only imagine’.

Whilst I would love to sit here and regale you with my thoughts on the week’s events, my pithy takes and vibrant analysis of the current state of play of the politics and the culture and the fear and the hate and the occasional sparks of hope, I have to schlep across the city to argue with a pharmacist about medical-grade cannabis oil and so simply can’t spare the time. You may instead want to imagine my analysis – it will almost certainly be superior to what I would have produced, in any case.

I am still Matt, this is still Web Curios, and you are still here, despite me doing everything in my power to force you out of this increasingly-abusive relationship in which we both appear trapped by Forces Stronger Than Us.

By Anthony Gerace

WE’LL KICK OFF THE MIXES THIS WEEK WITH AN EXCELLENT JUNGLE SELECTION BY HARMONY OF DEEP JUNGLE RECORDS! 

THE SECTION WHICH WOULDN’T BE TOTALLY AVERSE TO SOME PHYSICS-RELATED CATASTROPHE WIPING US ALL OUT TBQHWY , PT.1:  

  • Run The French Election: So this weekend the French go to the polls for the final time in this year’s election, and the rest of the world waits to discover whether this is going to be the year in which the country decides to stop flirting with the far right and instead just lubes up and gets it over with (I am aware of the…shaky ground I’m on here as an English person making fun of anyone else’s politics right now, but, well, just this once). If you’d like to get to know the two candidates a little bit better…well, if you’d like to get to know them a little bit better I suggest you go and read some proper, in-depth political analysis, frankly, and you won’t get that linked to from here. What you will get, though, is this cute little webgame which lets you pick either Macron or Le Pen (actually you can go back to the first round and play as all the candidates should you be a real ‘fan’ of Le Vote) and take them through a little endless-runner game, picking up votes and answering questions on each candidate’s policy positions to score points AND learn about politics. On the one hand, this is (self-describedly) not a great thing to base your political decisionmaking on; on the other, it’s a neat way of inducing people to perhaps learn a few things about what the candidates actually think (or, perhaps more accurately, what they are publicly prepared to say they think). This is obviously quite silly, but also briefly-amusing, and I did very much enjoy the opening screen in which you can see all the candidates doing a variety of dance moves as they wait for you to start playing, which were this the only criteria by which candidates are getting judged would see Manu win by a landslide.
  • Infinite Tapestry: Annoyingly I can find no clues as to where I found this or who made it, but, er, still, here! This is a rather lovely application of machine learning and image-generation – the site generates an entirely new, infinitely-scrolling Chinese landscape tapestry every time you load it, with hills and houses and trees and, er, pylons, and there’s something beautifully-soothing about seeing the sepia brushwork glide past (you can open a menu in the top-left and tick the ‘autoscroll’ checkbox and then just stare glazed-eyed as it passes – don’t worry, that’s what I’d be doing too if I weren’t writing this for you BE GRATEFUL DAMN YOU).
  • Are You The A$$hole?: It can, I know, be hard to get a truly objective reading of one’s own behaviour. Who’s to say whether you were right to tell Sandra the harsh truth about her relationship with Alan?  Was Paolo justified in telling your boss about that one thing Carl did on the Accounts night out (especially seeing as it didn’t get infected after all)? WHO KNOWS? Except, thankfully, now it’s possible to get objective analysis of your actions delivered by a SPECIALLY-TRAINED AI – thanks to ‘Are You The A$$hole?’, you can ask any question you like about the rightness or otherwise of your or someone else’s behaviour and get three answers back, all trained on REAL WORLD data from Reddit’s ‘AITA?’ sub. ““Are You The A$$hole? (AYTA for short) is a website that uses 3 real AI models to educate users on the effect of biased data in the decision-making abilities of artificial intelligence. It is inspired by Reddit’s popular community r/AmITheA$$hole, where users post their moral quandaries and ask the commenters whether they were in the wrong—whether they were “the a$$hole.” Are You The A$$hole creates commenters from three AI text-generation models. These are custom text-generation systems trained on three different sets of data: one that has only ever read r/AmITheA$$hole comments that call the poster the a$$hole, one that only read comments absolving the poster, and one that was privy to a mix. These three models reflect the judgmental, understanding, and balanced “users” you see”. This is a LOT of fun – obviously you can start by putting in real world things (this week’s Johnsonian ‘apology’ copy is fun, for example), but I personally think that the real joy in this is in deciding to make it the sole arbiter of any and all workplace or domestic disputes. Why not try that this weekend to resolve arguments with your partners, housemates or children?
  • The Six Bells: This did reasonable numbers when my Twitter friend Kate tweeted about it this week, so there’s a chance you’ll already be familiar with this Brooklyn shop and its website and backstory – if not, though, then ENJOY. The Six Bells is a new shop selling…well, as far as I can tell, selling insanely-overpriced artisanal lifestylecrap to rich New Yorkers, which so far so normal. What’s…curious about it is that the shop is ‘inspired’ by a fictional UK village called Barrow’s Green, which village is depicted in surprising detail on the website, with a map and a cast of ‘characters’, each of which comes with their own watercolour portrait and backstory. Why exactly a shop that sells $300 doilies also needs an elaborate fiction to underpin it, centred around a nonexistent village of (VERY SPECIFICALLY) 640 people (is this some sort of numerology thing? Is this…occult?) is an absolute mystery to me, as is why said village has a synagogue (not, as a rule, a classic feature of the UK’s villages, but pleasingly inclusive I suppose) and a courthouse (there are 640 of you! What crimes are happening? Unless of course it’s there to try people for the murders required to keep that population cap in place) but, apparently, no actual housing stock whatsoever? This is obviously VERY SILLY and VERY TWEE, but there’s something sort-of charming about what it reveals about a particular type of vision that a particular type of American has of the UK and what it is like (seemingly there are two poles of Britishness, one which is Bridgerton and Bake Off and COMEDY SLANG, and the other of which is teeth like mangled tin-cans, and swimming in vats of beans and the ritual murder of transpeople, and there is NOTHING inbetween). Wonderfully, the person behind this shop is also the person behind recent high-profile cautionary tale women’s networking club The Wing, which suggests that if you’re rich enough, white enough, thin enough and pretty enough there really is no limit to the number of chances New York will be prepared to grant you. Still, DOILIES!
  • The FT Climate Game: Anyone unfortunate enough to have the experience of working with me will at some point or another have to suffer through an ill-thought-out rant about how games are brilliant communications tools, particularly for topics often thought of as ‘boring’ or ‘hard’, and how they should be used more often as ways of helping people understand Complex Issues And How To Approach Them. I do this one every couple of months, invariably to a bored audience which has heard it all before and which has to deal with the sad-but-inevitable reality that the client has approximately a tenner and just wants some influencer work ffs Matt can you shut up about the games thing please? Anyway, that’s by way of unnecessary preamble to this game about climate change released this week by the FT, which is designed to demonstrate to players how hard it’s going to be to get to net zero by 2050, and how many DIFFICULT CHOICES legislators are going to have to make to achieve the goal. It’s not the most ‘gamey’ game I’ve ever seen – there’s not a great deal of graphical feedback to your decisions, for example – but considering the nature of the subject matter it’s a decent attempt to add a degree of interaction and agency to the issue. Except, of course, this is also quite ideological – this is all laid out really nicely in this Twitter thread by Alex Hern, which explains one or two of the…assumptions the game makes about specific potential solutions and How They Might Work, and how that perhaps relates to the likely audience for the content given this is in fact the FT rather than, say, the Guardian. Alex’s caveats aside, this is a really interesting example of how to do educational/explainer games in a relatively low-cost way.
  • Days of Rage: “Days of Rage is a web exhibition that enlivens historical activist posters from ONE Archives at the USC Libraries through tactile analysis and storytelling. Grounded in the experiences of activists and graphic designers Alan Bell, Daniel Hyo Kim, Chandi Moore, Silas Munro, Judy Ornelas Sisneros, and Jordan Peimer, the exhibition positions LGBTQ+ graphic design as embodied in community realities and histories, producing subjective reflections on the interdependence of design and activism.” This is super-interesting, both from a design and a LGBTQx history point of view – the website collects examples of flyers and leaflets and zines from the 70s, 80s and 90s, and you can get more information on the items in question and the designers who created them as you click through. There’s some great stuff in here – I love this poster from New York in 1971, for example – and it’s worth digging through and having a peruse (and should you want to read a bit more about it, you can do so here).
  • Little Signals: An interesting selection of Google design experiments looking at differing ways in which electronic devices might work to get our attention, aside from flashing and bleeping at us. Why couldn’t we receive email alerts via scent, say? Or a gentle breeze wafting across our faces? “Little Signals explores new patterns for technology in our daily lives. The six objects in this design study make use of different sensorial cues to subtly signal for attention. They keep us in the loop, but softly, moving from the background to the foreground as needed. Each object has its own method of communicating, like through puffs of air or ambient sounds. Additionally, their small movements or simple controls bring the objects to life and make them responsive to changing surroundings and needs. Just as everyday objects might find simple ways to inform us – like the moving hands of a clock or the whistle of a kettle – Little Signals consider how to stay up-to-date with digital information while maintaining moments of calm.” Leaving aside the potential Pavolvian horror of linking emails from a particular source to specific smells (although there’s a wonderfully-dark sort of aversion therapy you could possibly experiment with here – break your addiction to chocolate by associating the smell of it with emails from your least-favourite colleague!), this is all sorts of fun, and the sort of thing it’s worth having a look at if you’re exploring options around any sort of interaction design or physical/digital installation.
  • Find Your Festival: Now that covid is OVER (or so we seem determined to persuade ourselves – if we think it’s true, and if we behave as if it’s true, it…it becomes true, right? Right? Oh) I imagine you’re probably all chomping at the bit to get absolutely batfaced in a field surrounded by several-thousand strangers. BUT WHICH FIELD????? Find Your Festival is basically a layer on top of some Google Sheets but it’s a GREAT layer – this contains details of a frankly staggering number of international festivals, which you can search through by date or artist or ‘type’ of location (beach, field, abandoned military base, etc) or musical genre (everything from metal to psytrance to hardstyle to whatever-the-fcuk ‘island alternative’ is) to find the perfect experience for YOU. Honestly, if I were younger and had Fewer Appalling Responsibilities, I would be bulk-buying amphetamines in preparation for a few days of excess at the frankly-terrifying-sounding ‘Dominator’ festival in Eersel, Netherlands – it is impossible to use this and not start daydreaming about wristbands and overpriced cider and the horror of waking up with comedown mouth in a forty-degree tent and mud and ‘funny’ people walking around a crowded campsite at 6am shouting ‘DAVE!’ and laughing and oh actually no festivals are sh1t aren’t they?
  • Shepherd: Over the past few years I have ended up buying more ebooks than I would have liked, mainly due to not really having any more physical space in which to keep novels – one of the side effects of this (and of my pathetic, lazy failure to explore non-Amazon ebook options, which, I am aware, makes me a pr1ck), and of a concerted effort I have been making for a while now to read more books by women (oh hi! I’m a cliche of middle-class leftwing manhood, nice to meet you!) is that the ‘recommendations’ on my Kindle are utterly banjaxed and will only ever seemingly attempt to flog me post-Sally Rooney or post-Otessa Moshfegh novellas, to the point whereby I now doubt that publishers are doing anything other than signing up every single twentysomething woman in the Western world. I need an algorithmic reset, basically – Christ that would be a useful thing, wouldn’t it? A button on all account-based, algo-determined services which lets you return the algo to factory settings and frees you from whatever datasnare you’ve found yourself trapped in. Anyway, all this is by way of unasked-for and possibly-unwelcome introduction to Shepherd, which is a book recommendation website and newsletter which works by asking authors for their favourite books around specific topics or themes and lets you browse these recommendations or categories and which, look, isn’t revelatory or anything, but is SUCH a nice change from being told for the nth time that I really ought to read more Kate Atkinson.
  • Future Tape: One of the big ‘reasons to exist’ for NFTs, often touted by those flogging them, is the degree to which they can let artists get paid fairly and directly for digital work, and maintain control and ownership of that work in perpetuity, with the potential for eventual fractions of resale value to be maintained by the artist each time a work changes hands and which in theory guarantees income all the way down the chain. This has seen all sorts of visual artists trying to get in on the action over the past year or so, but so far the music industry’s not quite been so gung-ho – that said, there are a variety of different on-chain labels around now which let artists sell songs as NFTs, and Future Tape offers you the opportunity to see tracks for sale across three of these platforms in one place. You can listen to a range of tracks here, sort them by sale price (Snoop has made a lot of money flogging a couple of songs – whatever you might think of the man, he’s very good at making cash), and, if you’re me, wonder exactly what the benefit is for the consumer in buying an NFT of a song, or indeed why, if you really wanted to support an artist you loved, you wouldn’t just find some existing way of doing so rather than needing to invent a new, environmentally-ruinous way of doing so.
  • Case Law: Yes, fine, I know that ‘case law’ isn’t the sort of frivolous web-based distraction you were possibly hoping to find here, but, well, it’s really interesting. Honest. Also, I am a sucker for open government projects, and generally firmly believe that making stuff like this accessible and searchable is A Good Thing. Anyway, this is brand new from the National Archives – “The Find Case Law service provides public access to Court Judgments and Tribunal decisions. From April 2022, court judgments from the England and Wales High Court, the Court of Appeal, the Supreme Court and tribunal decisions from the Upper Tribunals are being sent to the National Archives so that they can be preserved and made available to the public.” This is obviously really useful if you’re a lawyer or a student or if you’re curious about specifics around a particular legal issue or judgement – or if you just fancy rootling around in the archives for weird cases that mention the word ‘urethra’ (21 of those on the database, should you be curious).
  • Skeletons in Videogames: A Twitter feed which shares nothing but images of skeletons in videogames, because they are for life and not just for hallowe’en.
  • The Photo Ark: This looks like it’s been going for years, but it’s new to me and therefore I am going to presume it’s new to you too (Web Curios – intensely-solipsistic since 2011!). The Photo Ark is a project by National Geographic which is seeking to photograph all animals currently in ‘human care’ (I didn’t realise that this is now the accepted zoological term for ‘in captivity’, which is an interesting linguistic/semantic shift) – photographer Joel Sartore is going around various zoos photographing the animals they house in portrait fashion, and there are THOUSANDS of images here which you can browse at your leisure and which give a truly fabulous overview of the frankly mind-fcuking diversity of natural life on Earth (which we’ve spent much of the past few hundred years seeking to eat, skin or stuff – well done us!). These are really wonderful photos – and all the better for not being limited to your standard charismatic megafauna! There are photos of whelks ffs! – and the sort of thing that I could imagine animal-obsessed kids (or adults tbh) getting lost in.
  • Just In Colour: One of the weirdest things about Getting Old is seeing stuff that was cursedly-uncool when you were young being reevaluated by subsequent generations. Dungeons and Dragons – used to be a social kiss of death, now not in fact embarrassing! Primark – somewhere you would literally be beaten up for shopping at in Swindon in 1991, now a beacon of morally-questionable fast fashion! To that list you can apparently now add tie-dye clothing – this is a TikTok account which makes AMAZING tie-dye tshirts, and shows you the frankly-astonishing degree of precision and skill involved in creating them. I still refuse to believe that anyone wearing one of these smells of anything other than bongwater and patchouli, but I accept that they look incredible.
  • Rectangles: If you don’t find staring at the ticking hands of a wall-mounted clock a pleasing way of marking the ineluctable passage of time as we inch ever close to death, why not explore this alternative? Rectangles is a way of marking the passage of time by breaking down each day into 144 10-minute blocks – no idea whether this has benefits in terms of productivity, but I personally found there was something slightly terrifying about seeing the sense of pure time passing defined in this way. That said, I would also totally be up for having this as a whole-wall timekeeping installation somewhere, with a modifiable colourscheme, so if someone fancies knocking this up for me then that would be great thanks.
  • Modern Media: “Motern Media is the home for the creative projects of Matt Farley, including collaborations with Charlie Roxburgh, Tom Scalzo, Chris Peterson, Doug Brennan and more! Farley is the best and most prolific songwriter of all time.  He has released more than 22,000 songs, using 80+ pseudonyms, including The Toilet Bowl Cleaners, The Very Nice Interesting Singer Man, Papa Razzi and The Photogs, and The Hungry Food Band.” Ok, we might be able to take issue with the ‘best’ in that sentence, but I don’t think anyone can argue with the ‘most prolific’ line in that bio – this man has written a LOT of songs. I can’t say that I totally recommend listening to any of them, but I strongly advise that you go to the ‘Search’ page and mess around with whatever random keywords you can think of because, honestly, you would be AMAZED at some of the topics Farley has tackled (whilst it’s not what you might term a ‘classic’, I can’t help but love a song entitled “Streaking Naked Is A Noble College Tradition”). This is just PERFECT, and I love the fact that the internet has enabled this uniquely-dedicated individual to find an audience (and, as I discovered when reading around a bit, an income of around $4k a month from streaming services, because it turns out if you record enough music then someone somewhere will end up streaming it, even if by accident).

By Ben Zank

NEXT, A PLEASINGLY-WHIMSICAL MIX OF FRANCOPHONE VINYL ODDS AND ENDS BY TOM SPOONER! 

THE SECTION WHICH WOULDN’T BE TOTALLY AVERSE TO SOME PHYSICS-RELATED CATASTROPHE WIPING US ALL OUT TBQHWY , PT.2:      

  • Litterati: I have worked on a few projects over the past couple of years (lol ‘worked on’ – let’s not dwell too much on the actual nature or value of my contribution, eh?) which have involved litter, plastics and recycling, and one of the ‘interesting’ (read: borderline-depressing) common themes that comes across whenever looking at this sort of thing is the general sense of impotence felt by people when it comes to How To Make This Stuff Better. Noone has any faith in recycling anymore, noone really even understands how it works or what can be recycled, noone really seems to know what to do to change behaviour patterns, especially in urban areas, around littering and waste disposal…it’s all a bit miserable tbh, but Litterati is a project which seeks to use data to help with problem solving around waste management and disposal, and whose “goal is to empower people to collect Litter Data & to empower people with access to that data so that anyone can help to create a litter-free world.” From crowdsourced datagathering projects to downloadable datasets of litter distribution (based on said publicly-gathered data) to thinking and writing about behaviour-change initiatives suggested by said data, this is a really interesting resource for anyone looking at or thinking about how best to manage the increasingly-urgent issue of what the fcuk to do with all this crap.
  • Invisibility Shield: It’s been a while since I’ve featured a blatantly-fraudulent Kickstarter campaign on here, so it was almost a pleasure to stumble across this absolute doozy of a scam this week. Would you like to own your VERY OWN working invisibility shield, for, er, the low low price of £50? Well apparently YOU CAN HAVE IT! This has raised nearly half-a-million quid, from a starting goal of £6k, and as such is GUARANTEED TO HAPPEN – the extent to which you believe that guarantee may well be proportionate to your belief in fairies, or that Boris really is sorry, but, well, if you want to believe then I am not going to stop you! In fairness to the people behind this, the video introducing the project shows a degree of ‘invisibility’ that might charitably described as ‘partial’, and a product which seems like it is designed more for light special effects and stagework rather than, I don’t know, large-scale criminal activities, but I would also be willing to bet money that there is at least one person on the waiting list for this toy who is CONVINCED that it will let them perpetrate the crime of the century. Anyway, look, I may mock, but there’s a small chance that this really is offering you a chance to own a proper invisibility shield for less than the price of a night out and so you might want to ignore me and instead start thinking of all the fun things you can use it for when it shows up on your doorstep come December (if this ships on time I will be AMAZED).
  • Gnod: This is super-useful. Gnod is a search engine aggregator which lets you input your terms and then select which engine’s results it throws up – so you can contrast results from Google, Bing, DuckDuckGo…but also from Reddit, StackOverflow, Yandex, YouTube, Baidu…this isn’t the slickest or fanciest interfaces, fine, but if you want a bit of a differentiated way of seeing how search shows up, or just a quick way of running queries across multiple platforms, this might be useful.
  • Charlie News: Do you remember The Great Chatbot Boom of 2016(ish)? When we were all convinced (or being convinced, or convincing other people) that chatbots were the future of web interfaces and that it was VITALLY IMPORTANT that we all build conversational front-ends for our otherwise-banal nested dialogue trees? GOOD TIMES (they were not good times)! Well let’s pretend that those times never went away and that we didn’t all very quickly get disillusioned with the whole concept of ‘talking to the machines’ as a means of finding out information – meet Charlie! Charlie’s a chatbot news service, which offers you the opportunity to get your headlines from a variety of different sources, distilled into headlines but with the opportunity to go deeper if necessary and, well, it’s a lovely idea but it hasn’t actually fixed any of the longstanding chat interface problems (to whit: you never want to actually type ‘conversationally’, so you’re just clicking through made-up conversational options which is…literally just the same as clicking menu items on a normal website, isn’t it, except less clear and marginally-slower?) – that said, it does some interesting things with source selection and summarisation, which are worth a look if you’re still desperately trying to Make Chatbots Happen (they won’t, stop it).
  • Net Zero Check: Chatbots are not a thing – Twitter bots, though, continue to be an excellent source of fun and an underexploited campaign mechanic. This one builds on the excellent work done by the Gender Paygap Bot earlier this year – rather than highlighting the discrepancies between companies’ support for IWD and their…less than supportive approach to equal pay, this uses companies tweeting about Earth Day (quick pause here – Earth Day has been happening for…how many years now? And, er, how are we doing at saving the planet? Can we maybe agree that these things DON’T DO ANYTHING and that perhaps we might find it a more beneficial use of our time to, I don’t know, CONSUME LESS CRAP than producing graphics to communicate HOW MUCH WE CARE ABOUT EARTH DAY? Eh? Oh) as a jumping off point to share their actual, practical work to address their impact on the environment. So, for example, insurancebastards Aviva recently tweeted about how much they ‘care’ about Earth day – whilst, according to this bot, having insufficient Net Zero plans and inadequate reporting structures around their green plans! Well done, Aviva! This is great, and is the sort of mechanism which it is VERY EASY to replicate for other things – I have a sneaking suspicion that we are going to see something similar applied to agencies who talk up their green credentials whilst at the same time working for oil companies, for example, but I am sure you can think of your own activist options (THINK FFS).
  • Kalmany: I really don’t understand what this is or why it exists, which is sort-of as it should be really. This is…a website devoted to  the electoral commission of the fictional land of Kalmany, complete with wards and demographic information and news about what’s going on in the various districts of the (completely imaginary) land. Elections apparently happen daily – is this procedurally-generated? Surely there isn’t someone writing and typing this all by hand? Can somebody please explain to me what the fcuk is going on here? It feels a little bit like I have stumbled across the side project of a long-running private roleplaying game which was never meant to be seen by anyone outside of the core playing group, and it’s a bit weird and voyeuristic. Honestly, though, do click around, you’ll be surprised by how ‘deep’ this goes (but you will be none the wiser as to why).
  • Realityscan: I know that we’re all terribly bored of all the talk of the fcuking metaverse, and of all the horrible people attempting to persuade us that we simply MUST start creating digital futures (because otherwise we won’t be able to buy the digital goods they ar increasingly keen on selling us), and we’re right to be, but occasionally there’s stuff that crops up that makes me briefly remember what it was like to be excited by technology again. So it is with RealityScan, which is AN Other ‘use your phone’s camera to scan an object into 3d space’ app, but which is SO GOOD and produces scans of such staggeringly high-fidelity that you can start to imagine the potential for being able to drag anything from the real to the digital world in just a few taps – which, come on, is pretty much magic. This isn’t open access yet – there’s a waiting list you can apply to be on – but that doesn’t mean you can’t get briefly and uncharacteristically excited about the future by looking at what might soon be possible.
  • The Alternate History Forum: If the internet has succeeded in anything it has been in helping us understand the incredible variegated tapestry of human interest and experience, and in showing that, no matter how niche and how esoteric-seeming a pursuit, there will be people (significantly more than you could possibly imagine) who make said pursuit a foundational cornerstone of their existence and personality. For instance, I wouldn’t previously have speculated that there were enough people interested in writing deep and VERY IN-DEPTH countrerfactual imaginings of modern and ancient history for an audience of their peers to keep an Alternative History forum going for nearly two decades, but, well, what do I know (rhetorical)? THIS IS AMAZING! There are thousands of threads in here, neatly categorised by date range and theme, and covering everything from ‘what if there had been a nuclear conflict in 1956?’ to ‘let’s imagine that Genghis Khan lost his left hand in a freak yak-related incident when he was just three; how would that have fcuked with the arc of global geopolitics over the coming millennia?’, and these are very much live RIGHT NOW, with all sorts of debates and discussions going on about whether or not the Genoese millinery industry would have had an unexpected mid-20th-Century renaissance had Gavrilo Princip aimed a touch lower on that fateful day in Sarajevo (I mean, not exactly this, but you get the idea). This is amazing and baffling and insanely-geeky, and I can’t quite believe it exists.
  • Snd: A library of free US sounds. “With the spread of smart speakers and wireless earphones, the importance of sound in interaction design is increasing day by day. However, compared to many researches and practices in the fields of visual design and animation in interaction design, it seems that not enough knowledge has been shared about interaction design with sound, except in some fields such as games. Interaction should not be limited to text and visuals, but should be richer than that. In order to make the intensity of interaction richer and stronger, we should have more discussion about sound.  However, in the area of interaction design, there are fewer sound designers than visual designers and programmers, and there are certainly barriers to creating sound. To encourage UX developers to further explore discussions in the area of interaction design with sound, we have developed UI sound assets that can be used for free without worrying about licensing.” If you work in an agency you will at some point over the past decade have had That Conversation about soundmarks and how important they are – here’s a chance to have it again, with someone different! Also, though, making stuff sound good really does make a difference (SURPRISE AND DELIGHT! Dear God).
  • Thesaurus Transformed: Based on an idea by Dan Hon, who wrote in a newsletter a few weeks back: “Here’s an idea: if I had more time and energy and honestly, possibly if I were not a parent and exhausted yet also indescribably full of love and yelling, I would take the top, I don’t know, 10,000 English words, take the top 50 words closest in vector space to them, programatically format them and then squirt them into an ebook, call it the World’s First AI Thesaurus, sell it, and then maybe take the family out for dinner on the meagre proceeds. So, someone should do that. Or someone should get in touch with me and then do, like, 85% of the work while I nod on in the background and make encouraging sounds.” Because Dan’s readers are better than mine (I am not judging you – I love you very much, but I am also aware of your limitations), someone actually did make it. Thesaurus Transformed is indeed the world’s first AI thesaurus, which spits out word alternatives based on the perceived ‘fit’ of terms determined by a semantic AI. Which is nice!
  • The iPhone Macro Challenge: I think we need new words for ‘photography’, or at least the version of photography that we get when we use phones. I have long railed against the fact that it’s now impossible to take ‘bad’ pictures on a phone anymore, but recent iterations of mobile image processing software, seemingly enabled by default on every new device, take this to whole new levels by producing imagery that bears no relation whatsoever to what’s seen by the naked eye. Look, can we all agree that if we’re going to make all the outputs from our phone cameras so preposterously, unrealistically life-enhanced that we should be able to do the same for our actual eyes as well? I see no reason why I should be forced to endure the continual aesthetic disappointments foisted on me by Eyes1.0. Anyway, this is by way of introduction to this year’s iPhone Macro Challenge Photo Challenge, which saw Apple pick a bunch of stellar examples of macro photography using its latest kit. My Cnut-ish kvetching aside, the quality of the images here is astonishing.
  • NY Songlines:I appreciate that what I am about to say will be accompanied in the heads of all those reading by the sound of approximately no violins whatsoever, but, honestly, Rome isn’t that fun a city to walk around. I mean, it’s obviously jaw-dropping but it’s also not, outside of the centre, that interesting to stroll around. Sorry, Rome. Or at least it’s not compared to London, which is legendarily-brilliant for strolling, or New York, which is equally fascinating to explore on foot and which inspired this site, which I now want versions of for every capital in the world. “The Aboriginal Australians are able to navigate across their harsh and unforgiving land by memorizing and following the Songlines—an intricate series of song cycles that identify the landmarks that one needs to pass to get where one needed to go…New York has its own giants, heroes and monsters who left their marks and their names on the land around us. If we learn their stories which are written on our streets and avenues, we’ll have a much better chance of knowing where we’ve been, and where we’re going. To this end I offer these as the New York Songlines. An oral culture uses song as the most efficient way to remember and transmit large amounts of information; the Web is our technological society’s closest equivalent. Each Songline will follow a single pathway, whether it goes by one name or several; the streets go from river to river, while the avenues stop at 59th Street, which is my upper limit for the time being.” I LOVE THIS! I now want to spend the weekend following these routes and my feet, but I am several thousand miles away and so I will go for a stroll around the Forum instead.
  • Miscellaneous Punk Zines: Literally what it says on the description, hoest on The Internet Archive. These are from all over the place, temporally and geographically, and are a wonderful treasure trove of old interviews and art and design and the changing nature of the punk ‘aesthetic’ over the past 5 decades. Stuff like this is as fascinating for its ‘scene-ness’ as it is for its status as a rolling barometer of ‘vibe’ (which, and I appreciate that there’s some stiff competition, may well be the worst sentence I’ve written all year – well done, Matt! Well done!).
  • Redactle: As far as I’m concerned this is literally impossible, but you may have better luck. Redactle is a game which presents you with a single Wikipedia entry, with a significant proportion of the words blocked out. Your goal is to identify the title of the entry – to do this, you can make guesses as to the words contained in the copy which are blanked out. Guess correctly and the words get unblanked, making it (in theory) easier to work out the overall topic you’re reading about. Except, honestly, I have not been able to get ONE of these all week and it has left me feeling slightly bitter and thick, so I can’t quite bring myself to recommend this too wholeheartedly.
  • The Qubit Game: I don’t understand quantum computing. Sorry, but I really don’t, and I don’t think I’m likely to, however long I spend staring at explanations of what the fcuk a cubit is when it’s at home. Still, credit to Google for attempting to teach me via the medium of this EXCELLENT clicker game, which is theoretically intended to teach you all about the magical (not magic! Science!) world of QUANTA and how it can help us compute faster than ever before, but which in practice is in fact just an excellent, minimally-designed way of wasting any afternoon watching Numbers Go Up. This is really good, even if it left me only marginally-less-clueless than I was when I started playing it on Monday.
  • Infinite Mac: Finally in this week’s miscellaneous links, a 90s Mac you can access and run through your browser! Which, fine, doesn’t sound hugely exciting, but LOOK! There’s a folder on the desktop called ‘GAMES’ and OH ME OH MY! Battlechess! Sim City 2000! Another World! If you’re 40-ish then this is everything you will need to transport you back 30 years to a better time (it wasn’t better) in which stuff made sense (it didn’t make sense; you were just stupid and couldn’t see how messy and complicated everything was) and you could be satisfied with 32-bit graphics and chiptune sounds. Honestly, this is a whole YEAR’S worth of timewasting and I promise you won’t regret the click.

By Jon Krause

LAST UP IN THIS WEEK’S SELECTION OF MIXES, ENJOY THIS VAGUELY-LOUNGEY, VAGUELY-JAZZY NUMBER COMPILED BY MARCANCION! 

THE CIRCUS OF TUMBLRS IS ONCE AGAIN SADLY EMPTY!

THE TROUGH OF (INSTA) FEEDS!

  • Tom Hegen: Aerial landscape photography isn’t quite the jawdropping novelty of old, thanks to the increasing-ubiquity of drones, but when they are done well they are still an arresting site – Tom Hegen is a particularly-talented photographer ploughing this particular furrow.
  • Popular Pandemics Magazine: This is…weird. A bit like Scarfolk, except if instead of the grim kitchen sickness of the UK’s 1970s information films you took 1950s Americana as inspiration. Sinister, creepy, surreal and pleasingly-baffling, you can investigate further here should you be tempted.
  • Self Care With Wall: Inspirational and self-care bromides photoshopped onto various settings – walls, coffeecups, posters – and presented as candid photos as part of this instafeed/artproject. Take from this what you will – I personally find that this neatly skewers the empty horror of so much motivational thinking and how it’s repackaged to us as a facet of the Modern Capitalist Experience, but you will I’m sure find your own angle to enjoy / despair at.

LONG THINGS WHICH ARE LONG!

  • AI & Language: I sometimes feel a bit guilty about the fact that so much of what I include in Curios, particularly in this longreads section, comes from the US – the simple fact is, though, that the sheer volume of journalism produced in English by North Americans dwarfs what comes out of the UK, and, for reasons I still haven’t quite understood, you’re far more likely to come across in-depth pieces about esoteric topics from somewhere like the New York Times than you are from, say, The Times. So it is with this excellent article which takes a look at the current state of play in terms of textual AI,. specifically GPT-3 (and the coming GPT-4) and asks a variety of questions about What It All Means about the potential development of Artificial General Intelligence (AGI) and how we should treat copy generated by machines (and the machines that generate them). This won’t offer you anything hugely-new if you’re already reasonably au fait with the GPT-3 chat, but if you’re interested in reading a good overview of some of the main tech players and the main BIG QUESTIONS currently being discussed around What It Means When Machines Appear To Write then this is a superb primer. It’s not without its flaws, though, not least its acceptance of quite a few PR lines from OpenAI as uncontested gospel truths – this counterpiece, by Emily Bender, highlights some of the reasons as to why it’s important to be more rather than less sceptical of GPT-3 and what it can do, and to ask harder questions about why we are seeking to move towards AGI and whether in fact we ought to not be doing this at all. There are few more interesting questions in language and philosophy than those being asked by tech like this, imho.
  • Social Media, Democracy and Trust: Again, a US-centric piece, this time from The Atlantic, about What The Past Decade Of Social Media Has Done To Us. You might, fine, be a bit tired of reading about the Democrats and Republicans and That Awful Man And His Awful Tweets, and you might, like me, rail slightly at the equivalence here made between ‘people who are using the internet to attempt to redress years of systemic and institutional inequality’ and ‘people who are using it to undermine and destroy the very possibility of meaningful discourse’, but as an overview of what has been happening to everyone – because you can transpose this to the UK, or, frankly, pretty much any democracy, and it would still read largely-true – over the past 10 years or so it’s a good read.
  • Inside The New Right: Sorry sorry sorry ANOTHER US-centric piece, sorry! Still, presuming that you still think that ‘the way in which political discourse moves in the US is a reasonable bellwether for the way in which it is likely to move in the UK and elsewhere, because the same money interested in moving in over there is also interested in moving it over here too’, this is very much worth a read. Vanity Fair profiles ‘the new right’, a loose collection of ‘disparate intellectuals’ attracting the interest and cash of such stellar individuals as Peter Thiel as they seek to shape the next wave of the post-left/right political landscape. Lots to unpack in here – from the…not exactly critical lens through which the author of this piece appears to be gazing at stuff that, at heart, sounds an awful lot like actual fascism, the way in which this appears to be little more than a repackaging of the same tropes we saw being discussed around 2015/6 as commentators yukked along with the Fashion Fash of the Proud Boys and the like, to the way in which this is all being presented as some sort of a lifestyle choice rather than, you know, a meaningful step towards some moderately-scary political realities…anyway, have a read and remember this one when the US media is doing one of its regular retrospective ‘but how DID we end up here at the gates of fascism? I literally have NO idea!’ bits.
  • Elon Musk and Moderation: You know that Musk hasn’t really thought hard enough about the moderation thing; I know that Musk hasn’t really thought hard enough about the moderation thing. Still, here’s a good explainer as to exactly why that’s the case – it covers loads of things, from ‘what free speech actually, practically means’ to ‘why open sourcing the algorithm is not in fact the magic bullet Elon seems to think it is’ (“the biggest beneficiaries of open sourcing the ranking algorithm will be spammers (which is doubly amusing because in just a few moments Musk is going to whine about spammers). Open sourcing the algorithm will be most interesting to those looking to abuse and game the system to promote their own stuff. We know this. We’ve seen it. There’s a reason why Google’s search algorithm has become more and more opaque over the years. Not because it’s trying to suppress people, but because the people who were most interested in understanding how it all worked were search engine spammers. Open sourcing the Twitter algorithm would do the same thing.”), and is generally a really good read about Why Moderation Is A Super-Hard and Super-Important Project.
  • Teaching Kids Crypto: What’s the most important lesson you might want to teach the world’s progeny? To care for each other and the planet? To remember their own personal worth? To BE KIND (ahahahahalol SO 2020!!!)? No! It is TO GET INTO CRYPTO! Welcoe to the world of kids crypto camps, set up to help indoctrinate the very youngest generations into the importance of HODLing and everything being ON THE BLOCKCHAIN! “This summer in Los Angeles, dozens of children ages 5 to 17 will attend the third-ever session of Crypto Kids Camp, where they’ll learn about everything from artificial intelligence to virtual reality using hands-on games and activities.It’s part of a burgeoning cottage industry made up of camps, startups, and video content devoted to educating the next generation about Web3, sometimes even before they can read. According to founder Najah Roberts, the camp is a way to lessen the wealth gap between privileged kids and underserved communities. “It’s important to catch our kids when they’re young to help them open their minds to what the possibilities are,” she says. “You can tell them that there are jobs in tech, but when they actually know that they can create those jobs, those platforms, those games, you see their minds open.”” This sounds like a great idea that is definitely going to inculcate the best possible values into these young hearts and minds!
  • NFT Feminism: Or ‘Girlboss3.0’, maybe. This piece looks at the various female-fronted projects being launched into the NFT space, and asks whether there is any ‘there’ there in terms of the feminist principles many of them seem to espouse or whether they are in fact just girlbossing for 2022 (I will give you ONE GUESS). It is full of good snippets, but this is a personal favourite and one which I believe gives a representative flavour of the piece: “Other founders talk about “Web3”—the proposal of a future in which online life is tied to the blockchain—as an opportunity to level the playing field. Although it was mostly men who got rich off of the previous iteration of the social internet, and mostly men who have historically gotten rich in general, maybe it’s not too late to create a different outcome for this one. “What do we have to lose by being on the front lines of this new innovation where women can go directly to their audience?” asked Randi Zuckerberg, a co-founder of a Web3 platform called The Hug and the sister of Mark Zuckerberg. “I think anyone who’s sitting and being skeptical is sitting in a massive place of privilege, which means that the old system works for them.” (Asked if her significant personal wealth might affect her ability to comment on systems of inequality, Zuckerberg said she has surrounded herself with “a diverse team and advisory board.”)”
  • ContraChrome: It’s almost hard to believe now that a couple of decades ago Google was the scrappy upstart in the search space with its pleasingly-simple mantra of ‘don’t be evil’ and its no-frills, industry-beating search project, and its magical free email service with infinite storage. In the intervening twenty or so years, it’s fair to say that the company’s image has…changed slightly, due in no small part to a series of product decisions which, yes, fine, have made it one of the richest organisations in the history of human endeavour but which have also made it an intensely-creepy data vampire. In 2008, Google commissioned a comic by artist Scott McCloud to explain how awesome its new Chrome browser was – it’s been updated for 2022 by Leah Elliott as a guide to all the ways in which Chrome now tracks you and all the reasons why you might want to consider using a different browser with a slightly-less-invasive data collection and sharing policy. This is really well-done – clear and informative and well-argued – although it still hasn’t quite motivated me to move away from Chrome because, well, I am lazy.
  • Equipment Supply Shocks: A short article about the concept of Equipment Supply Shocks – changes in supply of a particular piece of equipment that are so huge that they have immense, disproportionate impacts on all sorts of other unexpected factors. There are some GREAT examples in here – from hiphop seeing an explosion in the late 70s as a result of a whole load of pilfered stereo equipment doing the rounds of New York, to how Steve Jobs’ donation of computers to California’s school system played a significant role in the development of the modern Silicon Valley. Super-interesting and will briefly make you excited for all the amazing things you might achieve by, I don’t know, flooding South London’s schools with Kabaddi pitches or something.
  • Webcam Mentors: One of the most interesting things to me about The Now is the ways in which the digitisation of traditionally-analogue industries is creating new, hitherto=unimagined employment categories where previously none existed. So it is with Colombia’s camgirl industry, which has in the past few years spawned a whole new class of job – the webcam ‘mentor’, people who effectively act as floor managers for camgirls, helping them run their streams, set up their shows, come up with creative, manage their community and generally keep it together whilst w4nking down the lens. Fascinating, both in terms of the role and the economics and fairness of the relationship – per the article, “Monitors like Zapata and Farias earn a monthly base salary of approximately $320, as well as a 2% commission from their models. That nets them between $455 and almost $650 per month. Monitors work on permanent contracts that pay for their social security and health care, unlike models who work as contractors and whose wages vary, depending on the success of their shows.” Whatever your thoughts on this, I give it about 3 years before work like this is all machine-automated.
  • UK Papers and Climate Change: This is a brilliant piece, looking at how the UK’s newspapers have changed their attitudes to climate change over the past decade or so, and how language around the climate crisis has shifted as the Overton Window around the health of our planet has shifted. Fascinating not only as a record of shifting attitudes, but also as a way of seeing how the rhetoric employed by Certain Sections Of The Press is moving to match the times. The Telegraph is still very much on the side of big business and is still very much punting the line of ‘we can’t afford to fcuk the economy by saving the planet’, but it can’t really be seen to be pretending that climate change isn’t very much happening – so you will notice that the focus of its attacks has moved from the scientists warning us we’re in peril, to the protestors complaining we’re not doing enough to sort things out. The message is the same – “We simply can’t afford this sort of disruption! Won’t someone think of the shareholders!” – it’s just the focus that’s shifted. So interesting, this stuff.
  • The Long-Term Relationship Aesthetic: I should preface this piece by saying that of course I know that as a middle-aged man I am meant to neither understand nor empathise with it, and that there would be something wrong with me if I didn’t find this ridiculous – that said, I don’t think I have ever read something that has made me so happy not to be young or single. I honestly don’t think I could cope with the twin stress of not only worrying about how a new relationship is going but also of whether we are performing the roles of ‘people in a new relationship’ with sufficient vigour for the socials. Honestly, there were parts of this article that made me age like the Nazi at the end of Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade: ““Having a boyfriend is kind of part of my aesthetic…When I’m with someone, I just want everyone to know I’m in love with them…I want to make sure my next soft launch is fashionable, and that it’s clear they’re adding to my life,”” All of a sudden I have a deep and clear understanding of the mental health crisis afflicting the young.
  • TikTok Analysis: The latest TikTok trend (not really latest tbh, this has been around for a while now) is IN-DEPTH ANALYSIS of seemingly-trivial stuff, all delivered in that now-classic ‘my face overlaid over some captions and video, like a powerpoint presentation delivered by a MASSIVE FLOATING FIZZOG, overusing terms like ‘aesthetic’ and ‘counterfactual’ and ‘the spectacle’ in a desperate scrabble for unearned profundity’ style (basically like Web Curios, but in video) – this Vox explainer gives you an overview of the what, and some vague stabs at a ‘why’, but I think fails to nail the real reason behind this which is (and this is a malformed theory but one which I think has legs, so bear with me) that we are all consuming so much STUFF that we are almost-by-accident developing very specialised and specific readings and understandings of said stuff which we have NO use for, and which instead we externalise through these sorts of videos or substacks or YouTube channels as some sort of potentially-futile attempt to add meaning or import to what is otherwise just a lot of time spent watching underwhelming telly. What do you reckon, plausible?
  • Meet Br Beast: Can you think of a profile of a megafamous streamer or YouTuber or TikTok person from the past 5 years or so in which the subject of said profile has seemed…happy? Well-adjusted? Socially ept? If you can can you please share it with me, as I am starting to believe that they don’t exist. This is the latest in the long line of ‘profiles of people who are by all objective standards very rich and very famous and who make being very rich and very famous sound, honestly, like a horrible state that noone in their right mind would ever pursue’, this time all about YouTube sensation Mr Beast, the man who even if you don’t know your children or nephews or nieces certainly will (he’s the one who did the Squid Game knockoff show thing last year, if that rings bells). This ticks a lot of the classic boxes – vaguely-obsessional tendencies, a non-traditional approach to social interactions, single-minded devotion to WINNING THE GAME (where ‘the game’ in this case is ‘the battle for YT subscribers’), the sense that noone here is having any fun at all apart from the kid’s mum who, you get the impression, can’t quite believe her luck. If you have kids who want to be YouTubers, I suggest you send them this and hope that it makes them realise that it sounds like a miserable life.
  • Mad Realities: You know how lots of crypto projects have ROADMAPS for CONTENT that will enable NFT holders and the COMMUNITY to DETERMIN THE DIRECTION OF THE ARTISTIC OUTPUT? Ever wondered what that might look like in practice? Meet ‘Mad Realities’, an NFT collective which is currently using its ETH bankroll to fund a, er, dating show on YouTube which is all loosely themed around crypto and where the NFT holders get to vote on who will be on the next edition and vitally important artistic decisions like that. It’s…it’s not wholly clear, as per usual with these things, exactly what the ‘crypto’ element of this is adding to anything other than the ability for a few peope to maybe make a lot of cash out of this, or indeed how exactly anyone here thinks that making a YouTube dating show with approximately 6k views per episode is going to help the community get TO THE MOON, but it’s nice to see one of these projects actually doing something, even if that something is as silly as this.
  • Slime: Liam Shaw writes in the London Review of Books, reviewing a book about slime by Susanne Wedlich. Slime is GREAT, and this is a great piece of writing, instructive and discursive and fun: “A huge variety of slimy things could trigger our revulsion, but only some do. Sartre claimed in Being and Nothingness that ‘observation’ of young children proved they were instinctively repulsed by all that is slimy. It seems more likely he was universalising his own particular phobias. As Wedlich points out, young children will quite happily eat worms; only if they grow up in a culture in which worms are taboo will they learn to stop. ‘We are born to be disgusted’ by slime, but must be taught which slime ought to disgust us. Human bodies are never slimier than during sex, but most of us don’t experience this as a difficulty. To describe humanity as slimy is true (if misanthropic); to single out certain practices or bodies as ‘slimy’ is to reveal one’s prejudices. The misogyny of Sartre’s warning against the ‘sweet and feminine’ visqueux is one of the slimiest moments in his writing.” Superb.
  • Play and Devotion with Oliver Sacks: From the intro to the piece: “In the early 1980s, New Yorker staff writer Lawrence Weschler spent four years hanging around the neurologist Oliver Sacks, gathering material for an extended profile. The story, at Sacks’s request, was ultimately never published, but a few decades later, in the final months of his life, Sacks implored Weschler to return to the project. The following is an excerpt from that work. We pick up the story here with the unlikely pair on a visit to some of the doctor’s original home stomping grounds in London.” This is DELIGHTFUL – interesting, funny, playful and unexpected, particular when it comes to the brief-but-memorable detour into sex with hippos (I have just tried to look up what the term might be for ‘hippo fetish’ and failed miserably, but by way of compensation have just learned that you could make quite a filthy limerick about hippofcuking whilst rhyming ‘hippopotamous’ with ‘bottom pus’ and ‘monotonous’, so, well, I still win).
  • Sinners List: I found this short story, about the limits of forgiveness and what ‘forgiving’ means, and crime and punishment and rehabilitation, quite quite beautiful, maybe you will too. Classic opening line, also.
  • The Wave: Short fiction about a coming wave, by Rawi Hage. “Let me introduce myself. My name is Ghassan El-Hajjar and I am a geologist and ex-university professor. I graduated with a PhD in geoscience from the University of Calgary. My dissertation was on earthquakes and their aftermaths. I studied the relationships between mountain thrust faults, plate tectonics, sea floor landslides, and tsunamis. I have spent most of my life in pursuit of historical occurrences of massive waves following, to use the Latin word, brasmatia, which literally means the shaking of the earth. Nor do I exclude from my vocabulary the more current term: tsunami. As I already mentioned, I am an ex-professor and, for the last fifteen years, I’ve been waiting, with anticipation, for this big event: the wave.” This is very good indeed.
  • Serra’s Verbs: Finally in this week’s longreads, this excerpt from a forthcoming book by Nina Maclaughlin. This is something of a formal exercise – to quote the author, “In 1967, the sculptor Richard Serra made a list of 84 verbs (to roll, to smear, to open, to hide, to split, to lift), and 24 concepts (of nature, of friction, of layering, of tides) that served as both guide and manifesto for his work. I’m moving through his list and distilling each action and concept in a series of short fictions. The following is an excerpt from that project” – but it stands alone as a piece of writing, a selection of story fragments, a series of mood pieces. Wonderful, wonderful writing – enjoy slowly with a cup of tea or glass of wine or a spliff or something.

By Steph Wilson

AND NOW, MOVING PICTURES AND SOUNDS!:

Webcurios 15/04/22

Reading Time: 35 minutes

Well what an unexpected pleasure this is! Ordinarily I don’t do a Curios on Good Friday, what with it being a Bank Holiday in the UK and therefore you all having better things to do than kill a few hours reading this rubbish. This year, though, my life is so oddly-small and peculiarly-focused that I only realised that it was coming up to Easter weekend on Wednesday, by which point I’d already done five days worth of internetting and it seemed a shame to let all the accumulated spaff go to waste (also, pathetically, writing this is actually better than what the rest of my weekend is going to entail).

So, then, I am pretty sure that I am scribing to an audience even more vanishingly-small than normal, but NO MATTER! Much like the fundamental concept of the triangle, Curios exists independently of people’s knowledge of or interest in it – THIS HAPPENS WHETHER YOU LIKE IT OR NOT, YOU FCUKS.

I am still Matt, this is still Web Curios, and you are almost certainly rendering yourselves diabetic via the medium of chocolate in celebration of an execution that took place a couple of millennia ago, so, honestly, who’s the weirdo really?

By Anne Collier

WE BEGIN THIS WEEK’S MUSICAL SMORGASBORD WITH A FANTASTIC SELECTION OF SLIGHTLY-WONKY COVERS OF 00s TRACKS WHICH I PROMISE CONTAIN SOME GENUINE BANGERS! 

THE SECTION WHICH THINKS MAYBE WE SHOULD ALL JUST IGNORE THE MAN AND MAYBE HE’LL GO AWAY , PT.1:  

  • Farewell: Whilst Europe appears to have (at least temporarily) decided that covid is over, that’s very much not currently the case in parts of Asia, as evidenced by the intensely-creepy lockdown scenes playing out in Shanghai right now. This site is, I think, made by a bunch of Chinese developers as a memorial to some of the people killed in the pandemic whose deaths, for various reasons, were overlooked or went unacknowledged – it presents a series of images of the deceased, their dates, and how they died, and it’s a hugely-poignant collection of people, some with visible faces, some photographed from behind, all presented in a vaguely-particulate visual style which adds to the elegiac nature of the site. “As COVID-19 spreads across the globe and the number of deaths continues to be updated, the people we’ve lost and the heartbreaking experience they had have been replaced by the collective mourning. When we look back at the patients’ help-seeking posts at that time, those who waited to die because of unconfirmed testing; those whose death certificates were being tampered; those who committed suicide out of despair; those non-COVID patients whose medical treatment were squeezed… None of them were included in the death toll, and are likely to be forgotten over time. They didn’t have fair medical treatment during their lifetime, and they were not mentioned after their death. At the same time, many frontline workers have lost their lives due to infection or overwork. When communicating with one of the families, we were asked: “After this pandemic, who can remember the pain of someone like my mother who had nowhere to seek medical treatment, being refused by the hospital, and died at home?” Perhaps this is one of the reasons why we build this online platform, trying to document as many people who have left us because of the pandemic as possible. The website also includes the help-seeking information they posted before they passed away, which is the evidence they left to this era. Hope it could provide a space for family members to release their grief and for the public to mourn. Behind every number is a life.”
  • Puck: I imagine that your weekends are going to be PACKED full of exciting things – egg hunts and painting and possibly birthing some lambs or something like that (nothing says ‘Easter and spring have arrived!’ quite like being shoulder-deep in an ovine birch canal!), but if you’re still not convinced you’ll be able to adequately fill all these work-free hours then you may be interested in playing around with Puck – you have to download it, but it’s a properly-interesting little toy which effectively lets you mess around with an AI that invents videogames. Simple videogames, fine (you’re unlikely to be spinning up a triple-A title while you chocolate yourself into a diabetic coma), but games nonetheless – I have been fiddling with it all week, and there’s something honestly captivating about watching it learn (or at least an approximation of learning). You can read a bit more about Puck and how it works here – the developers promise that this is just the first iteration, and later versions will get better at judging what makes a ‘good’ game and include the ability to be ‘taught’ new design elements – but I really recommend you just download it and see what it comes up with.
  • Downpour Games: More indiegame invention here, this time in the shape of experimental games made as part of the Now Play This festival, using the forthcoming easy game-creation engine by V Buckingham, called Downpour. Downpour’s being launched officially later this year, so will link to it again then, but in the meantime this is a wonderful collection of examples of tiny game experiences made by a bunch of people who visited NPT last weekend. Downpour is a ‘do everything on your phone’ kit, which means that all the games are effectively photo-based choose-your-own-adventure-style branching narratives, but that doesn’t mean that they’re not inventive and fun and funny and weird – I just lost a few minutes to reacquainting myself with some of the creations, and did a proper laugh-snort at ‘Regency Horse Romance Simulator’, which frankly is all the endorsement you should need to get involved (sadly I did not achieve Horse Romance – perhaps you will have better luck). I love this, not least because it shows how quick and dirty and silly and various game-making can be when you make the tools accessible.
  • Primeval Foods: When I was at university (starts literally no story that anyone has ever wanted to listen to, ever, but I’ve started now so you have no choice but to let me finish) there was a brief vogue for Australian or South African-themed restaurants whose gimmick was “YOU CAN EAT A FCUKING ALLIGATOR STEAK!” (or ostrich, or poor, blameless kangaroo), which meant that on more than one occasion I found myself dispiritedly gnawing on a charred puck of animal protein which may or may not have once met Steve Irwin while Men At Work played on a loop over the tannoy (the 90s – good in many ways, but, also, really quite rubbish in others). That era has thankfully passed, but we’ve instead moved into a different era, in which people now get excited by ideas like EATING LIKE A CAVEMAN and THE PALEO DIET, and the idea of EATING LOTS OF MEAT, ALL THE TIME is tied to some sort of weird and not-entirely-healthy concept of masculinity (lobster daddy has a lot to answer for), which is what I presume explains the existence of Primeval Food, a company which is basically Jurassic Park if the central animating concept was not so much ‘what if we could walk amongst the beasts of the past?’ and more ‘what if we could eat a mammoth?’. Thanks to the magic of vat-cultivated animal proteins, Primeval Food promises you, jaded carnivore who is sick to the canines of eating boring old ruminants and wants something a bit more recherché, the chance to sink your teeth into a cultivated lion steak. Is this a joke? Honestly, I really can’t tell – it’s quite a slickly-designed site, but then I read copy like “There are over one million species of animals only in Africa, including both the heaviest and the tallest, from the fastest to the oldest land animals on Earth. And who knows how many undiscovered creatures exist untouched by civilization” and the implicit, unspoken “…SO WHY NOT EAT THE FCUKERS???” at the end of it, and I think “no, this can’t possibly be real, can it?” Anyway, you can give them your email address should you wish to be kept updated with their efforts to provide you with ‘ethical’ zebra steaks – Web Curios does not judge (it does, it judges hard).
  • Scrubstack: I read something this week suggesting that Substack was going to start trying to diversify into other forms of media and content, feeling perhaps that the newsletter market had plateaued somewhat, and I don’t know about you but news like that always sounds to me like the initial deathknell for publishing companies (it’s ‘pivot to video’, isn’t it? It’s always pivot to video). Anyway, it does rather feel like we have absolutely reached Peak Newsletter – I know that we’re unlikely to ever get data on this stuff, as obviously Substack has absolutely no interest in divulging it, but I would love to see numbers on newsletters started in the past 24m vs newsletters still publishing regularly. THIS SH1T IS HARD, is what I’m saying, and it takes REAL DEDICATION (it is not hard, at all, and the dedication required is minimal – do not trust anyone who tells you otherwise, they are lying). Still, we are living in an era of UNPRECEDENTED CONTENT RICHNESS, with more words being written by more people than at any time ever in recorded human history – some of them must be good, right? Scrubstack is a really nice idea – the webpage presents you with a random Substack newsletter each time you refresh, and lets you see the truly-dizzying array of authors and subject matters the platform supports. This range means that you’re only ever about six clicks away from finding something railing against ‘cancel culture’ or transwomen in sport, just fyi, but it’s also a wonderful way of flitting between strangers’ minds. I have just clicked a few times and discovered an arabic writer talking about her life in Milan, a history of the electric tricycle, a discussion of the role of community in product development and, beautifully, a newsletter entitled “Pigs Who Can’t Feel Pain”, which, frankly, if that doesn’t excite you then I’m not sure you’re my sort of person.
  • The BBC Africa Social Forensics Dashboard: Now that we’re all au fait with the language of OSINT (thanks, war!), perhaps you’ll be interested in this wonderful digital toolbox, compiled and maintained by a bunch of current and former BBC Africa journalists, which contains links to a wonderful array of research and investigation tools which will let you dig into any number of questions around image provenance, individuals’ online footprints, etc. This is dizzying, but if you’ve any interest in digging around the truth value of any particular bits of digital information then this could be worth bookmarking – if nothing else, there are SO many good links to various little social media monitoring and analysis toys in here.
  • Synesthesia: I am pretty sure that the synesthesiac experience is one of the most utterly-subjective and untranslatable known to humanity – it’s almost-impossible to conceive of what it must be like to hear colour or taste sound, let alone to communicate what the experience of that might be to people who don’t have the ability. Which is by way of apologetic preamble to the fact that this webtoy is unlikely to suddenly open your eyes (nostrils, ears) to the magical wonder of the synesthesiast’s world – still, if you’re after a pretty graphical toy which lets you create gently-different soundscapes with accompanying 3d visuals, based on keypresses or, if you’re feeling fancy, any musical input you choose to give it, then HERE, enjoy! I’m screwed if I know what this actually has to do with synesthesia, mind, but I’m sure its creator Rikard Lindstrom could tell me were I inclined to ask them (I am not inclined).
  • The MIT Mystery Investigation: I think that the audience for this is probably pretty small, but I also reckon that there might be two or three of you who will think this is the best thing you have seen in ages, and so it is for YOU few weirdos who I include this link (I can only imagine your tearful gratitude). This is a series of interconnected puzzle games, created by MIT for what I think is an annual student contest which gets opened up to the rest of the world after completion (I am sketchy on the details, though, as it’s not like they go out of their way to explain what the fcuk is going on at any point), which take the form of FIENDISH word games and crosswords and logic games and, look, if you’re the sort of person who enjoys those Bumper Book Of Word Puzzles And Logical Mindbenders (you know, the sort beloved of a particular type of grandmother) then this will enrapture you like nothing else in this week’s Curios. Be aware, though, that these are HARD (or at least I found them so – it’s entirely possible that I am just stupid when it comes to these things), and there are minimal instructions (see if you can make head or tail of the FAQ page as, honestly, I really couldn’t) – still, if you want an intensely-geeky and brain-intensive way of passing the next four days then a) what is wrong with you?; and b) you will probably REALLY enjoy this.
  • Pronounce GIF: A website dedicated to answering a question that noone, really, cares about at all (things that people on the internet pretend they feel more strongly about than they actually do: comic sans, coulrophobia (IT IS NOT A REAL THING FFS), the pronunciation of ‘GIF’), and which concludes that if you insist on pronouncing if with a hard ‘g’ you are wrong and basically a wnker. Sorry, this one has apparently been settled and that’s that.
  • Eat My Art: As often happens around public holidays, I find myself including links in Curios with a vague sort of ‘maybe those of you with kids will find this useful or interesting’ gesture – except, obviously, I have literally no idea what it is like having children or having to entertain them for multiple days at a time. What do you do? Have we all just accepted that it’s simpler and easier to consign young minds to the nurturing care of a screen rather than going through the tedious pantomime that is ‘parenting’? Do people under the age of 10 still get excited by paper and pencils and stickers, or do they refuse to engage with stuff if it doesn’t have a screen? Anway, if YOU are a parent anxiously staring down the barrel of 96h with your children and no trained professionals to take care of them for you, maybe you will enjoy this. Eat My Art is a website which provides you with some nifty toys for making stop-motion animated drawings – you’ll need a printer, fine, but other than that it’s pretty simple-seeming. Print out a template sheet, draw in the boxes, upload the sheet to the website and VWALLAH! A stop-motion masterpiece! I can’t for a second imagine that there aren’t a million-and-one things that already let you make stop-motion things on your phone, fine, but there’s something rather nice about the very analogue creation process, and I still think there’s a benefit to drawing onto paper rather than onto screen when learning this sort of stuff (lol what do I know? I literally draw like Helen Keller). It’s entirely possible that your sticky, feral progeny will turn their noses up at this, but why not try it anyway?
  • LinkedIn Fake Profile Detector: As I think I may have mentioned before, I don’t really used LinkedIn, except to post weekly links to Curios along with some borderline-offensive copy which will almost-certainly ensure my long-term unemployability. I am, though, aware of the platform-specific phenomenon which sees any and all men (but specifically middle-aged ones) get a…suspicious number of connection requests from beautiful young women who seem uncommmonly-keen on developing mutually-beneficial professional understandings with corpulent, balding marketing professionals in London (it’s always fun to look at those connection requests and see how many of your professional acquaintances are seemingly willing to engage with these career-focused STUNNERS – guys, you do know we can see this stuff, right?). Anyway, if you want a tool to help you tell whether Zosia, 23, Gdansk, is in fact reaching out to discuss the finer points of Maslow with you, or whether she may have something more sinister in mind (and is in fact a male software engineer from Uttar Pradesh), then this Chrom plugin promises to help you tell whether a particular LinkedIn profile is using an AI-generated profile picture to draw you in. One might argue that if you need this you are possibly spending too much time ‘connecting’ with people you fancy on a platform ostensibly-designed for professional networking, but, once again, Web Curios does not judge (so much judging happening here right now, SO MUCH)!
  • Ceremony: A really excellent example of how to present an exhibition online, this is the website to accompany Australia’s 4th National Indigenous Art Triennia. Entitled ‘Ceremony’, this is an exploration of contemporary work by indigenous artists – “‘Ceremony’ is not a new idea in the context of our unique heritage, but neither is it something that belongs only in the past. In their works, the artists assert the prevalence of ceremony as a forum for artmaking today in First Nations communities. Our people still hold our ceremonial practices close. They are a part of our everyday lives.” This is not a digital exhibition, and the website is a companion to the Triennale rather than a work within it, but it’s SUCH a well-constructed and curated journey through the artists and their works. Honestly, it’s not super-shiny or flash, but it’s easy to navigate (undervalued in art sites in 2022, seriously) and offers a clear and in-depth overview of the works and themes contained in the Triennale.
  • Spark To Go: I don’t get sparkling water. It gets up your nose, you can’t drink it quickly, and it…it tickles, frankly. Don’t like it, don’t understand it, don’t want it. Still, I appreciate that there are those of you (the wrong-headed) for whom anything other than sparkling hydration is anathema, who would carbonate milk given the opportunity (I jest, but have you ever tried that? I did once in a mate’s sodastream when I was a kid, and, honestly, it’s the most astonishingly-wrong thing I have ever drunk (that I am willing to admit online, at least)), and who suffer every time they are forced to imbibe flat fluids. In which case you will probably already have backed this crowdfunding project, which has just passed its goal, for a PORTABLE SODASTREAM! It’s not called that, obviously, but that is totally what it is – a portable water bottle which lets you carbonate its contents with the push of a button (and the insertion of some CO2 canisters), meaning your morning run need never be ruined by non-sparkling water ever again. This strikes me as…well, frankly mad, but also so beautifully, pointlessly scifi that it almost has to be applauded (as long as we don’t think too hard about the insane production and environmental costs of the waste involved in the manufacturing process for this sort of stuff).
  • VoiceCue: This is a really interesting idea which I have to confess to not having tried out – I would be…well, I’d be astonished if this worked AT ALL, or at least if it worked well enough to be useful, but the concept is appealing. VoiceCue lets you upload any audio file (it’s designed to be used with recordings of speech – so meetings, or interviews, say) and analyses it to ‘find sentiments, tags, entities, and actions in your voice recordings instantly’. Obviously it’s designed to aid editing and the like – but, obviously, think a little harder about this sort of tech and you start to rabbithole into all the sinister ways in which this kind of (let’s remember, utterly imperfect and in-no-way-that-accurate) technology will get deployed for nefarious reasons, analysing (say) staff performance on the phone, or their response in appraisals, based on AI analysis of their perceived emotional reactions, etc etc. Still, don’t think about that! Think about how it can help you find all the funny, happy bits from that interview! There, that’s better.
  • Recommend Me A Book: This is an excellent little book discovery tool – it presents you with the anonymised first page of a series of novels for you to try without prejudice. Click a button and you can see what the title and author are, and get a link to buy the title if it appealed to you. Simple and clever way to explore new things to read, even if it doesn skew towards ‘classics’, and if you have a particular favourite you’d like to add to the corpus (and, er, if you can be fcuked to type out its first page) you can add your own suggestions to the site. Lovely, and the sort of thing it would be lovely to see done ‘officially’ by a bookseller (NO NOT THAT ONE).
  • Persepolis: I LOVE THIS! A wonderful bit of scrolly historical storytelling, taking you on a tour of the ancient Iranian city of Persepolis – honestly, this is so so so so good, kudos to Getty for the excellent and very smooth webwork, and the genuinely-captivating historical storytelling throughout.

By  Ryan Blackwell

NEXT, ENJOY THIS PLEASINGLY-HARD AND SLIGHTLY-PSYCHOTIC TECHNO MIX BY GOTH JAFAR! 

THE SECTION WHICH THINKS MAYBE WE SHOULD ALL JUST IGNORE THE MAN AND MAYBE HE’LL GO AWAY , PT.2:  

  • Mars: Technically this site is called The Areo Browser, but, basically, MARS! Here you can see a quite dizzying array of images and videos captured by the various rovers that have been cast onto the surface of the red planet over the past few years – I haven’t been through all of them, so can’t say with any exactitude whether you will discover evidence of intelligent life in any of these (but trust me when I say you probably can’t), but if you fancy spending your long weekend daydreaming about what it might be like to one day colonise a distant world and leaving this dying husk of a planet behind then, well, fill your boots! Ok, so all the images and videos could basically be characterised as ‘rocks, lots of rocks’, but there’s something quite astounding about the fact that you can sit at home with a cup of tea and casually browse the surface of a many-million-miles-distant planetary mass. The Future, eh?
  • Mark My Spaceship: I can’t imagine why you would want to compare the relative size of various fictional starships from popular cultural properties but, well, just in case! This site lets you dump any number of models of spacecraft from all your favourite scifi franchises onto a Google Maps satellite view, so you can FINALLY settle that debate of whether or not the Millennium Falcon is bigger than Wembley (and, honestly, if that is a debate you’ve ever had, please keep it to yourself).
  • Olwi: If you’re in the unfortunate position of occasionally having to dredge up ‘insights’ for advermarketingpr purposes (and dear God, please can we all take this brief break in our professional lives to perhaps consider retiring that word? If I have to read one more email in which a doublefigureiqdullard invites me to read through some ‘insights’ about how ‘young people value experiences more than things’ I will honestly start to give serious consideration to gargling with bleach) then you will know that one of the few genuinely-useful places to get them is Reddit. Olwi is a free(ish – there are premium tiers, but you can get some reasonable use out of the non-paid tier of the service) platform which lets you do better, more granular subReddit searches, letting you easily search for keywords and brand names across various categories of community (finance, tech, home, cookery, etc), with advanced parameters for date ranges and the like. Given the fact that a depressingly-large number of the main social monitoring platforms really struggle with forums, this is definitely worth a play.
  • Ladybird Fly Away Home: NOSTALGIA! This website is run by one person – Helen! Hello Helen! – and is basically a compendium of nostalgia and trivia relating to old Ladybird kids books from 1914-1975. Covers, history, illustrations…anything and everything you could ever want to know about them, basically. If you are Of A Certain Age, this will provoke an almost-perfect hit of memorytimetravel.
  • DAOpenPen: The bio of this Twitter account simply reads ‘Monster Designer’, which is a frankly-unbeatable job title imho. The monsters in question are more on the ‘techno-polemon’ side of the spectrum than the ‘eldritch, many-fanged horror’ end, and the imagination and inventiveness on display here are quite amazing. I would LOVE to see these animated, possibly as part of a videogame, so could someone please sort that out for me? Thanks in advance!
  • The Kettle Companion: Such a clever little idea, this one, and the sort of thing that, if you’re a particular sort of brand in search of a neat little SOCIAL PURPOSE campaign (and who fcuking isn’t, eh? Jesus wept), you could do worse than take ‘inspiration’ from. The Kettle Companion is a simple bit of kit designed to provide a light-touch means of checking in with a friend, relative or loved-one – “The Kettle Companion is an assisted living product, that helps those who live apart to stay connected, by illuminating when a loved one activates their kettle at home. This is signaled through a monitoring plug and communicated via Wi-Fi to a paired Kettle Companion in another user’s home. Additionally, if there is a change in pattern of use, for instance, an elderly parent has not had their habitual morning cup of tea by the usual time, the paired Kettle Companion will illuminate red. A text message alert can also be sent to the owner of this appliance, prompting them to check on their loved one.” Simple, unintrusive and smart, and the sort of thing that you’d imagine Yorkshire Tea or someone like that should be all over like the sky.
  •  Old Skool Mixes: Ok, slight caveat emptor here – this is a link to a public Google Drive, and as such Web Curios would like to point out that simply downloading random files from places such as this can be A BIT RISKY and you should probably make sure you have some sort of virus protection in place before you start appropriating the contents. Right, PSA announcement over with, THIS IS INCREDIBLE! Someone (sorry, I have literally no idea where I found this one, but thankyou SO MUCH to the nameless person who has compiled all of these and made them available) has uploaded a truly insane collection of mixes and live sets from a bunch of the biggest old school, d’n’b and hardcore names from the original rave era (and some later stuff by people like Carl Cox as well) – so Slipmatt and DJ Rap and Amnesia and Technodrome and OH ME OH MY! You have to download the individual files as they’re too large to stream from Gdrive, but it’s worth freeing up space on your hard drive for these – honestly, it’s like a time machine back to being surrounded by sweaty, unhealthily-pale, saucer-eyed children somewhere in the M4 corridor (and with a description like that I imagine you’re SOLD, right?).
  • Management Games Aesthetic: Via Dan Hon’s excellent newsletter (which really is good – if you’re vaguely interested in digital public services and information management, and you appreciate good writing, I highly-recommend it) comes this Twitter account which shares images from management games, which, fine, may not sound like the most compelling thing in the world, but I can’t tell you how pleasing it is to occasionally have your doomscrolling interrupted by a gif from Planet Zoo or SimCity.
  • Theatrum Mundi: REAL WORLD CURIOS! “Theatrum Mundi brings the spirit of the Wunderkammer to the 21st century, by exploring what today can be considered marvelous and exceptional. Theatrum Mundi presents an eclectic selection in which extraordinary paleontological specimens, such as dinosaurs, fossils, and meteorites, coexist in perfect harmony with contemporary myths, including original costumes from Hollywood movies and authentic spacesuits, witnesses to the space conquest era. A unique combination of archaeology, design, classical and primitive art. Theatrum Mundi wishes to create a new celebration of human knowledge and achievements, combining rigorous experience and integrity with a taste for the unconventional.” Well well well, “a new celebration of human knowledge”, eh? What that seemingly means in practice is ‘a massive warehouse full of odd stuff which the owner sells and rents out at eye-watering expense to the sort of rich people who like the idea of adorning their living room with a ‘genuine’ fragment of martian meteorite’ (in fairness, if I were a plute I’d be quite tempted to try and divest myself of my unspendable patrimony by buying up, say, every known relic claiming to be Rasputin’s penis I could get my hands on). This place is in Italy – whilst it’s not open to the public, it does say that visits can be arranged for collectors and THE MEDIA. Now I don’t know how loosely they define that particular designation, but blogtypenewsletterthings are media, right? I can feel a JOURNALISTIC PILGRIMAGE coming on. You can read a profile of the Theatrum’s owner, one Luca Cableri, here – it’s worth a click if only for the photo of him wearing Wolverine’s claws, which looks SO MUCH like a promotional shot for Shooting Stars that I had to do a doubletake to confirm that it wasn’t in fact Vic Reeves/Jim Moir.
  • The InviSimpsons: A Twitter account which shares frames from The Simpson’s, except all the characters have for some reason been rendered invisible – you can see their clothes, but not the rest of them. I have literally no idea whatsoever as to why someone is dedicating time to making these images and sharing them on Twitter, which is, frankly, just how I like it.
  • Ghost Town Gallery: Thousands of images of American ghost towns – usually from the gold rush era, starting in Colorado and covering states West to California. Wonderful, evocative stuff, which can’t help but remind me of the Red Dead Redemption games (there’s something genuinely odd to me about the fact that there are significant swathes of history – the Old West, Renaissance Italy – which I associate first and foremost with videogames, but this is only going to become more of a thing I’d imagine; so many kids whose referencepoints for Ancient Greece will be Assassin’s Creed rather than Usborne’s Guide to the Pyramids. No bad thing, to be clear, just a curious ‘wow, that’s an interesting shift’ observation). “It was in 1996 when we got caught by the Ghost Town virus, during a “normal” vacation to the US. We were driving back to L.A. from Las Vegas, when we decided to have a quick look at the tourist Ghost Town of Calico. Inside a shop there was a picture on the wall showing the city as it was around 1890. We found it interesting what had become of the city that once had over 3500 inhabitants. Back in L.A. we changed our vacation plans, bought literature on Ghost Towns and visited many of them in the California back country. One of them was the famous Bodie Ghost Town. The buildings there were so picturesque that we couldn’t stop taking pictures. Since then we have visited and photographed more than 200 Ghost Towns in nine states and our fascination for them is still strong.” A wonderful treasure trove of interesting stuff, and a site which has briefly made me wish I could drive as this would be a great basis for a road trip.
  • Fageras: One of the odd things about living in a city where you’re literally surrounded by INCREDIBLY OLD STUFF wherever you go, and which contains some of the most incredible examples of sculpture that have ever been created by human hand (no, seriously, I’m not joking) is that you quickly get a bit sniffy about anything that doesn’t quite match those standards. To be clear, I don’t think this guy is any Bernini, but I was properly impressed with the standard of marblework displayed by Norwegian sculptor Håkon Anton Fagerås, whose website this is. In particular the pillows are rather lovely, and if anyone fancies buying me one that would be great, thanks.
  • This Bench Does Not Exist: I don’t think anyone’s spend quite enough time considering the potentially-seismic impact that machine-imagined park benches could have on our perceptions of truth an falsehood. Still, now that that particular pandora’s box has been opened, thanks to this site which has used training data from over 25,000 images of park benches to create this selection of nonexistent street furniture, we must simply grit our teeth and deal with the consequences.
  • Book Jackets: I’m not totally sure how I feel about these as a concept, but I do very much admire the creativity on display in their creation. You know those varsity jackets that American jocks used to wear in the 50s and which are a staple of a certain type of US high school/college film From The Past? You know, the red felt bomber-type ones with letters and patches all over them? The ones worn by the sort of characters who always made you really glad that you didn’t in fact get educated in America because, dear God, these people are awful? Well this site takes commissions for bespoke versions of those, based on your favourite novels. Want a varsity jacket emblazoned with detail and badges and embroidery that communicates your deep and abiding love for and obsession with Donna Tartt’s The Secret History? Well here’s where you get one. On the one hand, these are undeniably sort-of awesome for fans – on the other, I can’t thing of anything more red-flag-ish than ‘a custom varsity jacked themed on Nabokov’s ‘Lolita’’ (and I would imagine there are a near-infinite number of women who would say much the same for ‘a custom varsity jacket themed on ‘Infinite Jest’’). Still, I can’t pretend I’m not curious as to what ‘a jacket that embodies the dark sensuality of ‘50 Shades of Grey’’ might look like.
  • Waffle: I’ve not really stuck with any of the seemingly-infinite number of Worlde clones and variants that have cropped up in the past few months, but this one has managed to hold my attention all week – Waffle is another ‘find the five letter word’ game, but all the letters are already there. You have to rearrange them on a grid to uncover the six separate five letter words that are contained within it, with clues coming via the now-canonical green and yellow squares. There are a finite number of moves each day, and each game is ‘perfectly’ winnable, insofar as there is an optimal solution that will let you complete it in a minimal number of steps, and this manages to scratch itches on both sides of my brain simultaneously. Not too hard, but a pleasant addition to your morning pre-work procrastination routine.
  • In A Kharkiv Bomb Shelter: I’ve been saying for a few years now how small in-browser game engines like Pico-8 are excellent vehicles for some really emotionally-resonant shortform storytelling (or I’ve certainly meant to say that, so let’s presume I have) – this is a wonderful contemporary example of that. Made in Bitsy by an as far as I can tell nameless Ukrainian designer, the game is a shortform exploration of what it’s like to be in a bomb shelter as munitions fall around you. “I started developing this game while sitting in a bomb shelter in Kharkov. Something was howling and thumping overhead all the time, and I did not want to work on it, but I needed to distract myself somehow, so I did it. I continue working on the game in Lviv, in between volunteer activities (I helped people evacuate from cities where hostilities were taking place). When I finished it, I realized that working in safety brings me joy, and it allowed me to take my mind off my nervousness for at least a few hours. I hope this game can bring some joy to someone too. Although the game was not planned to be fun. It was a fixation of the reality, when author can’t control it with their works, so they can just be a witness. I was just a eyewitness, spectator of things that happen, and I was too ruined too, to create something new. So I just asked people that lived with me in a bomb shelter, and my friends, who lived in other bomb shelters, how are they – what they think and feel. This is what game is about.” Beautiful, and most definitely ART.
  • Dreamhold: Finally this week, this is old-but-wonderful, and a perfect thing for a bank holiday weekend (unless it’s nice out, in which case STOP READING THIS and go and enjoy yourselves!). Dreamhold is described as an introduction to the world of interactive fiction – basically text adventures – and it’s a really lovely way into what is still one of my favourite storytelling game genres, in part because of the way in which it gently breaks the fourth wall to help you understand the game’s mechanics and the conventions of the genre. If you’ve never tried text adventures or interactive fiction, this is a wonderful place to start.

By an artist whose surname is Schwarting and who painted this in the mid-20th Century but about whom I can find no other information, sorry!

LAST UP IN THE MUSICAL OFFERINGS THIS WEEK IS THIS TRULY BRILLIANT SELECTION OF JAZZ FROM LONDON’S HARDBOP SCENE IN THE 50s AND 60s! 

THE CIRCUS OF TUMBLRS!

  • The Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows: This is OLD, and has apparently recently become a book, but WHO CARES when it contains such wonderful gems as “Ringlorn (adj.): the wish that the modern world felt as epic as the one depicted in old stories and folktales—a place of tragedy and transcendence, of oaths and omens and fates, where everyday life felt like a quest for glory, a mythic bond with an ancient past, or a battle for survival against a clear enemy, rather than an open-ended parlor game where all the rules are made up and the points don’t matter”, or “Midding (v. intr.): feeling the tranquil pleasure of being near a gathering but not quite in it—hovering on the perimeter of a campfire, chatting outside a party while others dance inside, resting your head in the backseat of a car listening to your friends chatting up front—feeling blissfully invisible yet still fully included, safe in the knowledge that everyone is together and everyone is okay, with all the thrill of being there without the burden of having to be.” This is wonderful, and a must-browse if you have any interest in words and language.

THE TROUGH OF (INSTA) FEEDS!

  • Just Movie Frames: Single frames from apparently-obscure films, presented shorn of context. These are excellent.
  • Lisa Lloyd: Hugely-impressive paper art, which (if you are me) will give you proper sensory flashbacks to the feeling of sugar paper and pritt stick (and the growing realisation that what you are making will not in fact look like a beautiful, multi-feathered bird but instead a lot more like a pile of papery vomit).
  • Mr Tingus: Small line-drawn animations, featuring a recurring character who I presume is the titular Mr Tingus. These are…odd, in a good way (but VERY odd). You may never consider roast chicken in quite the same way again.

LONG THINGS WHICH ARE LONG!:

  • Collapse Won’t Reset Society: I can’t quite work out whether this is in any way reassuring and comforting, or whether it’s just miserable on every level. Why don’t you decide? A reaction to all the recent chat about ‘er, so, nuclear war, eh?’ and the nihilistic/doomer strain of thinking that basically goes ‘well maybe it would be for the best if society just did a small collapse for a bit, that way we could REBUILD IT and make it better than it is now, and get rid of all the iniquities and unfairnesses and instead create a LUXURY COMMUNIST PARADISE!’, this piece does a very good job of demonstrating a succession of periods throughout human history during which, despite civilisation-as-was doing a very good impression of collapsing, things like ‘tax collection’ and ‘going to work for The Man’ still managed to carry on regardless. If you ever wanted concrete proof of that old ‘two certainties, death and taxes’ line, this is it. Of course, you might also argue that this sort of defeatist fatalism is exactly what they want you to think, which, well, maybe!
  • Welcome To Bitcoin Miami: The seemingly neverending parade of cryptoevents in the US continued last week with Bitcoin Miami, where a bunch of people who are REALLY into Bitcoin got together to talk to each other about why it really is the future (honest, guv) and, seemingly, to also complain about cancel culture and listen to a set by Diplo (is the entire crypto scene set up exclusively to give Diplo DJ gigs? It does rather feel like that). On the one hand this is another ‘look at the mad crypto people’ piece, which you may feel you have read enough of by now – on the other, I don’t think I have quite tired of trying to get to the heart of what these people think It All Means, other than the (seemingly vanishingly small) possibility that they might become stratospherically wealthy as a result of their dabbling in BTC. Can anyone with a better and more all-encompassing view of the arc of human history give me a quick rundown on how many species-benefiting initiatives have been born solely from people’s desires to individually become very, very wealthy? As, off the top of my head, I am struggling slightly. Oh, and if you’re in the market for this sort of thing, there’s another writeup here that covers parallel ground.
  • NFTs and D&D: I don’t play Dungeon’s & Dragons, and never have done. Not that that matters either way, except by way of my pointing out that this article is interesting even if you have no particular skin in the D20 game – whilst this is basically a look at a new NFT-based platform that is hoping to TRANSFORM THE WAY PEOPLE PLAY D&D, it’s also a really useful overview of what the integration of NFTs to an existing community or space can mean, Specifically, everything immediately becomes needlessly-complicated and expensive, and there doesn’t seem to be any immediate reason why said introduction of NFTs makes the community or space better than it was before. The author of the piece is very much coming at this from a specific angle, and if you’re an NFT bull I would imagine you’d read all of this with a lot of eyerolling commentary about a lack of vision on the part of the critical observer, but for the less-redpilled amongst you this is a good way of understanding what some of the potential issues are with turning every single element of a system or process into an on-chain transaction.
  • Selling The Metaverse As The Future of Work: One of the things I find most interesting about the ‘metaverse’ (similarly to crypto, in a way) is the extent to which at present it is a concept in search of a reason to exist. All the stuff that makes up the vision of the metaverse we’re being sold by Zuckerberg et al exists in large part already (or at least the stuff that is appealing, like the ability to hang out in shared spaces and have shared experiences – oh hi, online gaming!), and the stuff that they are trying to sell as additional benefit doesn’t really seem that appealing (a VR office? THANKS MARK!!!). Which is why I found this article in the Wall Street Journal so amusing – it really does smack of people desperately attempting to find a reason for the metaverse to exist, and the answer is…er, SOCIALISING WITH YOUR COLLEAGUES! Look, friends, I don’t mean to p1ss on your parade, but if this is your killer metaversal usecase then, well, I probably wouldn’t bulk-buy Oculus sets just yet.
  • War Crimes and Social Archiving: The question of what to do to preserve digital materials coming out of a warzone isn’t a new one – at the very least, it’s been a point of discussion around the war in Syria for quite a few years now – but the global focus on Ukraine has meant it’s once again being discussed seriously. This piece in Wired looks at the difficulty of archiving and preserving on-the-ground materials from within a warzone that are being shared on platforms designed for ephemeral lols rather than being an historical record, and how third party actors are seeking to preserve this content, often in the face of little assistance from the platforms in question. “One thing that isn’t new about working on the war in Ukraine is that social platforms often pull down posts of interest to investigators for breaching policies on depictions of violence. Valuable evidence that isn’t collected in time by Mnemonic or others using rigorous methods can be effectively lost forever, says al Khatib. “I don’t see why social media companies don’t build tools to facilitate the human rights community in what we’re doing,” he says. Twitter spokesperson Elizabeth Busby did not comment on whether the company specifically supports open source investigators but said all researchers can use the company’s “uniquely open” API to access public tweets. TikTok did not return a request for comment; Meta spokesperson Drew Pusateri declined to comment.” I mean, FFS. Still, this is EXACTLY the sort of thing that I imagine that Melon really cares about, so it should all be fine.
  • The ‘Grooming’ Thing: Even though I’m not really that plugged in to the American side of Twitter and try and stay away from the mad, frothy political shouting, I wasn’t able to avoid the increasingly shrill and weird conversation around ‘Disney is a paedo company’ which Republicans have kicked off over the past few weeks. This is a really good overview in queer magazine Them about how and why it is happening right now, and what the backstory is – whilst you might not care particularly about whatever mad sh1t the GOP is wanging on about at any given time, it’s worth noting the extent to which what starts over there tends to bleed over here before too long, that a lot of the same bad money that backs the reds in the US is interested in backing the blues in the UK, and that the increasingly-unhinged ‘debate’ around trans rights in Britain appears to be having a not-necessarily-positive impact on the wider LGBT+ community. Feels a bit canary-ish, is all I’m saying.
  • How To Get A Job in Videogames: This is a GREAT resource for anyone looking to get into the games industry, covering the technical side of things in terms of coding and design, but also the wider kinds of jobs including QA and marketing – presuming some of you are parents of children who are being encouraged to think about exactly what space they will occupy in the Great Capitalist Pageant Of Life, and presuming that a significant number of those kids will have ‘work in videogames’ up there alongside ‘content creator’ and ‘professional teledilonicist’ on their wishlist of future professions, this might be a really useful resource.
  • Low-Tech Sustainability: Or ‘why sometimes simple solutions are perfectly fine, and it’s not always necessary to look for BIG TECH ANSWERS to things and, honestly, sometimes it’s actually unhelpful to always look for the big scifimoonshot answer’. There is, fine, a slightly hair-shirtish element at the heart of all this, but, equally, I think it feels increasingly clear that we probably can’t carry on as we are should we wish to still all be here in a few hundred years time. “The first principle of low-tech is its emphasis on sobriety: avoiding excessive or frivolous consumption, and being satisfied by less beautiful models with lower performance. As Bihouix writes: “A reduction in consumption could make it quickly possible to rediscover the many simple, poetic, philosophical joys of a revitalised natural world … while the reduction in stress and working time would make it possible to develop many cultural or leisure activities such as shows, theatre, music, gardening or yoga.”” Utopian, fine, but I have a lot of time for smaller theories of change that don’t require us to rely on the invention of new things to save us.
  • How Plastics Recycling Really Works: Or, more accurately, how it doesn’t quite work at all. I don’t mean to be down on recycling, or to suggest that it’s all pointless and we shouldn’t bother, but I do think it’s important to highlight instances when the promise we are sold by retailers and the logistics industry doesn’t in any way match up to the reality of what actually happens. So it appears to be with Tesco’s promise to recycle its ‘soft’ plastic packaging (plastic films, basically), which this Bloomberg investigation reveals isn’t as effective as they perhaps want people to think as they drop off their empty polyethylene bags with a sense of Doing Good – there’s a slightly depressing sense in this piece that whilst we are all very keen to be seen to be doing things, we are significantly less keen on the far trickier business of ensuring those things that we are seen to be doing are of any practical benefit whatsoever.
  • Fake Artists and Spotify: Not just Spotify, of course, but they’re the streaming platform everyone knows and where the biggest share of this stuff happens. I found this properly-interesting, and a classic example of those weird new ways of making money that are spotted by enterprising people who are attuned to the way in which new technology changes human behaviour in exploitable ways. The rise of the domestic surveillance device – otherwise known as ‘Alexa’ – has meant that a growing number of people now choose to listen to music by genre, with loose instructions such as ‘play jazz’, or ‘play a dinner party mix’; we also increasingly do this with streaming platforms, which recommend ‘mood’ playlists to us left right and centre, and which we slap on in the background to provide us with ambient accompaniment to our ceaseless toil on the content farms. Which means that there’s a LOT of money to be made by making sure that it’s your playlist that people get when they want ‘nighttime soul’ or ‘shower music’ – which is why record labels have quietly spent a lot of time and energy ensuring that they basically own these playlists, packing them with music for which they have paid low fees and which can therefore render massive profit when streamed at scale by millions worldwide. “On Amazon Music around 70% of all activity is happening on Alexa devices and the vast majority of streams are passive sessions where the user is listening to pre-curated stations or playlists, all made by Amazon since unlike Spotify they do not feature user generated playlists. Across all streaming services an increasing share of consumption is happening in areas of the product that is entirely controlled by the DSP, because as it turns out, most users prefer easy access to pre-curated experiences vs doing the work of actively finding what to listen to.” See, this is an insight. FFS.
  • Minimalism is Dead: Or at least that very specific sort of minimalism embodied by the rash of DTC brands aimed at ageing millennials that cropped up everywhere between around 2015-8 – now it’s all about stuff that POPS on TikTok, apparently. Anecdotally, this feels very true – there was a conversation about this in relation to the publishing industry and book covers which I saw the other day, and I feel like I am seeing a lot more BIG colours and metallic shades across new product launches aimed at children. Is this enough to make it a THING? Yes, I have decreed, it is a thing.
  • Trauma Dumping: Which is SUCH a 2022 term and one which I really don’t like – what it means in this contex is the practice of people watching Twitch streamers and deciding to use the stream chat to unburden themselves about whatever HEAVY SH1T is currently going on in their lives, with little regard for whether anyone else wants to hear about it, or how it might derail the streamer’s show. Which, obviously, is the nth iteration of ‘wow, parasociality really is a thing, and you really should remember that these people are not your friends’, but was interesting to me in part because of what it says about the smudging effect of the web and online interactions on the idea of ‘hierarchies of friendship’. I wonder whether the flattening of interaction engendered by Being Online (we communicate with everyone on the same platforms, in the same register, using the same language, regardless of what our actual relationship with them is – our interactions with our parents, colleagues, university friends, family, acquaintances, strangers all occur on the same screens in the same selection of apps) has removed to an extent our ability to accurately define degrees of closeness and to gauge the appropriateness of sharing and engagement on certain issues (resulting both in this sort of oversharing and also of people being wary of sharing anything at all). WHO KNOWS (not me)?
  • Whither The Cumberbitches?: A brief, nostalgic look back at that brief period of time when the web lost its collective sh1t over how hot it found Benedict Cumberbatch, the collective insanity of the Cumberbitches, and how it all waned and why. Obviously this is very silly and utterly frivolous, but it’s interesting to me that this feels like DECADES ago and yet it’s only a couple of years – at this rate we can look forward to a big anniversary retrospective on “Remembering The Slap” in approximately two weeks’ time.
  • Algospeak: I have seen this doing the rounds a LOT this week – you know that a technology or platform has reached absolute mainstream acceptance and saturation when you start to get the vaguely-scared “IT’S CHANGING THE LANGUAGE!!!” pieces about it. So it is with TikTok, which is now ubiquitous enough to have the Washington Post write a piece about how users are attempting to get around what they perceive to be algorithmic penalties for using certain language by inventing alternative phrases – so ‘becoming unalive’ for dying, for example, or ‘swimmers’ used by antivaxxers to denote the vaccinated. This is, fine, sort-of true – you only need to look at the comments section of TikTok to find this sort of mirror universe vernacular – but also made me laugh a LOT, as it has such a ‘The FBI’s Guide To Internet Slang’ vibe to it. I can imagine there are a lot of parents who will read this (and the inevitable raft of follow-up articles in other papers) and start desperately worrying that their child is referring to violent bongo every time they mention ‘corn’.
  • An Oral History of Barbie Girl: I first heard Barbie Girl by Aqua in Dusseldorf, watching MTV at my then-girlfriend’s house aged 16 (going to international school when I was 15 meant that I got to meet people who did things like ‘live in Dusseldorf’ and ‘have MTV’, which was pretty mindblowing tbh), and I remember very clearly that our reaction was one of baffled amusement at what those crazy Europeans thought passed for ‘music’. Six months later and the fcuking song was everywhere, once again proving to me that I have an unerring ability to get it completely wrong when it comes to discerning what is likely to be a hit and what isn’t. This is a lovely lookback at the song and its temporary status as global earworm – the Aqua people all seem genuinely nice, and it reminded me quite how much I fancied Lene Nystrøm. Also, whilst this is about a different song, can I urge you while we’re here to go and watch the video to Doctor Jones, which really is a masterpiece.
  • Swallowing Goldfish: This is WONDERFUL. I didn’t know until this week that there had at a certain point in America’s history been a vogue for people swallowing goldfish as a party trick. Well, there was – this article takes you on a whistlestop tour of the craze and the accompanying media hysteria that accompanied it. Worth bookmarking next time there’s some sort of confected tabloid hysteria about, I don’t know, putting mentos up your bum or something.
  • What It Costs To Live: Arianne Shahvisi in the LRB, writing about the coming cost of living crisis. In not-entirely-pleasant parallels with the first article in this section, it reminds us that our current political leaders’ response to this is not new: “There is a precedent for the government shafting working-class people after a pandemic. After the Black Death nearly halved the population of England, the demand for labour grew so great that it threatened to give the peasants meaningful bargaining power. In response, Edward III set a cap on earnings to protect the nobility. His successor, the 14-year-old Richard II, or whoever was really in charge, went further, introducing a poll tax to pay for the ongoing skirmishes with France.”  Death and taxes, people, death and taxes.
  • One Little Goat: Finally this week, a story about goats and farming and parents and tradition and passover and meat, by Miriam Bird Greenberg – this is actually three years old, but it was new to me and I think it fits in rather nicely here. Enjoy, and happy Easter/Passover to those of you celebrating (and also happy fasting to those of you doing Ramadan).

By Zoe Keller

AND NOW, MOVING PICTURES AND SOUNDS!: