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Webcurios 21/01/22

Reading Time: 32 minutes

I’m normally far too resigned and fatalistic to get particularly angry about politics – life, after all, is something that happens to one, regardless of one’s desires, rather than something that we have any meaningful power to affect, and the quicker we all accept that then the…well, not happier, exactly, but at the very least more quietly accepting we’ll all be – but the prospect that he might actually get away with all this is genuinely p1ss-boiling. Can those of you still living in the UK set fire to things should he still be in post at the end of next week, please? In return I’ll do my utmost to ensure that the Italian nation once again has Silvio at the helm, so as to return the crown of ‘Geographical Europe’s most embarrassing ‘functioning’ ‘democracy’’ back to its rightful owner.

Still, you’re not here for THAT – you’re here for ‘a bunch of stuff off the internet, thrown together with little care for thematic consistency or readability and accompanied by prose which could at best be described as ‘phoned-in’ and, at worst, as ‘actively working against the reader’. Which is fortunate really, seeing as that’s EXACTLY what I’ve prepared for you!

I am still Matt, this is still Web Curios, and I am still amazed that I don’t have a breakout, viral sensation on my hands.

By Paul Davis

THIS WEEK WE BEGIN WITH A SUPERB (AND, IF YOU’RE OLD, SUPREMELY-NOSTALGIC) MIX OF HIPHOP FROM 1992! 

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  • The Museum of Contemporary Emotions: How are we all feeling? Honestly, it’s sometimes hard to tell, given the somewhat-deadening effect of the past two years – is that dull pressure-throbbing just behind my eyes a symptom of growing existential ennui or simply just what it feels like to be alive? Honestly, I can’t even tell anymore. Which is by way of slightly-meandering preamble to the Museum of Contemporary Emotions, a project from Finland which sought to map the emotions of the country’s residents over the course of the pandemic. Drawing from The First Year (look, I can’t help myself; I read too much mediocre scifi/fantasy in my teens and now basically think in chapter headings like that), this now feels like a bit like an historical artefact – scroll through the site and it takes you through various milestones from the Finnish experience of COVID (part the first), with accompanying stories and memories collected from everyday Finns which you can explore as you hark your mind back to What It Was Like Back Then. This is partly just a really nice piece of living history and archiving, but it’s also quite a bizarre bit of near-past time travel – this all feels so long ago, in the way that time has ceased to have any meaning whatsoever Since This All Started, and yet like it happened yesterday, or indeed like it’s still happening (which it is). There is nothing hugely-remarkable in here – the stories the site shares are the same stories we’ve all shared (well, fine, not quite all – insert your own party-related gags if you can still be bothered), broadly-speaking – but I found it hugely-affecting, far more than I expected it to.
  • Constellations Quebec: OK, so you need to speak French to get the most out of this – or at least the weird, mangled version of French that they speak in Quebec (look, I am sorry Canadians, but really; have you heard what it sounds like?) (NB – I am also joking, please do not come for me, Canucks) – but even if you don’t, the idea is lovely. Constellations is a project which invited a bunch of writers and artists from the region to imagine 80 short pieces of fiction telling the imagined stories of imagined residents of six different Quebecois districts – some of the stories are standalone, some are interlinked, some are text and some are audio, but (and I appreciate, again, that your ability to appreciate this will be somewhat stymied if you don’t speak French) all of them are beautiful and intimate, and there’s something lovely about the oddly-wintry website that lets you move around said districts and explore the stories at your leisure. I am a sucker for imagined fictions layered over real-world places (I know, I hate myself when I write phrases like that too) and, honestly, can you IMAGINE how much fun you could have with something like this using London as its boroughs as a canvas? LOADS, YOU UNIMAGINATIVE FCUKS, JESUS.
  • The GameBoy Colour Gallery: This feels doubly-retro – not only a project using old kit FROM THE PAST, but also like something that might have cropped up in about 2013 when the first wave of early-digital nostalgia really bubbled up. This is GREAT – a small art gallery, presented in the style of a Pokemon-ish top-down GameBoy title, where all of the art is submitted by users who’ve made it using the original GameBoy camera attachment – move around the gallery space, look at the works, read the title cards, download any you particularly enjoy, talk to the overcaffeinated pigeon…all the standard gallerygoing experiences. There’s something rather lovely about the works displayed, which…er…work despite the constraints of the medium, and whilst the ‘game’ is unfinished it’s a satisfying little 5-minute distraction. More than anything, this is just so much more fun than any parallel digital art ‘experience’ that any metaverse-peddler has yet shown me, and the photos here on display beat the fcuk out of Beeple imho. Oh, if you’re unfamiliar with Itch as a platform, you move around with the arrow keys and interact with the ‘z’ key (you’re welcome).
  • The Virtual Brand Group: You know how I keep writing about how THE METAVERSE (I promise, this week we’re VERY light on all that stuff – don’t get scared) is a brilliant opportunity for agencies to shill magic beans to idiots? WELL LOOKY HERE! The Virtual Brand Group is…what is it? I have no idea to be honest, but it’s ok because they don’t seem to either. According to the company’s LinkedIn page, it’s a ‘metaverse creation company’, and you can tell because if you click the link and go to the website you will see the word METAVERSE written in big letters all over the place (without any sort of contextual anchoring or defined meaning, fine, but let’s not split hairs), along with great big screaming claims like “THE METAVERSE WILL BE WORTH $82BN BY 2025!” (will it? OK!) and “Infinite Loop Marketing!” (no idea!) and, look, the reason I am putting this in here is not to point and laugh at the shysters (although, well, ha!) or to laugh at the mooks who are buying their services (although, well, ha!), but more to point out that this is what a massive fcuking scam looks like. Not that the idea of a persistent virtual layer atop the physical is a scam, more that, as a rule, anyone trying to sell you a glorious future based on making loads of money out of something that neither they nor anyone else can adequately define is probably not to be trusted, especially when their website answers the question “What We Do” with “The metaverse will be the most powerful marketing channel for the brands of tomorrow”. Yes mate, MORE BEANS!
  • Roll: The landing page here is spectacularly uninformative, but Roll is an interesting idea – or at least it was when I found it, although news this week does rather feel like it might have, er, a less rosy future than it had on Monday. The gimmick behind rolls is simple – to give ‘creators’ a chance to monetise EVERYTHING THEY DO by creating a paid-for secondary stream of content behind/alongside their primary channel, for all the in-progress, behind-the-scenes deep cuts that their fans are doubtless clamouring for, all for a nice monthly subscription – basically like a non-bongo OnlyFans. The name’s a riff on ‘Camera Roll’, with the idea being that you’re buying an unfiltered glimpse into the off-Insta life of your favourite shiny-haired, shiny-faced content monkey, and Rolls was seemingly doing pretty well, signing up famouses and getting decent enough writeups and then this happened and well, sorry Rolls. Anyway, this is interesting to me as part of the ever-expanding nature of THE CREATOR ECONOMY – I wonder how long it is before products and services spin out to enable us to effortlessly monetise our digital leavings and shavings? Maybe something that will, for a monthly fee, let subscribers see the contents of your drafts? Your Notes? Actually, that’s a fcuking GREAT idea, I would pay actual cashmoney for access to the digital scribblediaries of certain folk. Can someone build this please? Thanks!
  • The List of Visualisation Lists: A collection of ‘best visualisation work of 2021’ lists, compiling collections of the best dataviz, diagrammatical and scientific imagery of the past 12 months. If you work in design or dataviz this is obviously super-useful, but, even if not, there’s so much wonderful visual work in here that it’s worth a click from visual curiosity alone – if you only click one of these, my personal favourite is the roundup of the best satellite imagery of 2021, most of which I’d never seen before.
  • ArnoldHeight: “Welcome to the premier Schwarzenegger ‘Height-Site’ on the internet. We pride ourselves in being the ONLY site dedicated to Arnold Schwarzenegger’s vertical measurement.” This site has seemingly been dormant for 6 years – presumably because there have been no updates to Arnold’s vertical measurements in the intervening period – but it’s PACKED full of goodness, including GAMES (“Upon starting a new game you are shown Arnold Schwarzenegger standing in various scenes. At the same time you are presented with 5 possible heights that he might be. Earn points by correctly guessing (or coming within 2 inches of) Arnold’s height before the timer runs out.”), interview excerpts, and a photogallery which inexplicably features lots of pictures of Arnie photoshopped to look significantly shorter than he probably is. I don’t really understand why this exists, or why it ever existed, but I am very pleased it does – also, special mention to the fact that the site doesn’t at any point confirm exactly how tall its subject is.
  • Tweetflick: It’s increasingly clear to me that spending more time on Twitter, or indeed any social network, is probably not a good idea – still, though, we persist (or at least I do – I NEED IT FOR WORK, OK???). If you’re in a similarly invidious position – to whit, that it is ESSENTIAL that you use Twitter for professional reasons (NB – let’s be clear, there are approximately seven jobs currently in existence which actually require one to be ‘all over’ Twitter, and I bet yours isn’t one) – then you might find this useful. Tweetflick basically lets you add tags and annotations to tweets that you save, which if you’re a journalist or researcher is legitimately useful. It’s currently free, though there’s a plan for a paid-for product, and should you work in one of the aforementioned seven jobs (BUT ONLY THEN) then this could be worth a look.
  • Toyforce: The website of…what do you call someone who makes beautiful models of creatures out of minimally-coloured LEGO? WE NEED A TERM FOR THESE PEOPLE! Sadly the genius behind this is anonymous – or at least the website’s all in Japanese and I can’t find their name – so I can’t celebrate their mastery in full, but I promise you that you will be stunned by what they have managed to make out of the tiny plastic bricks. Minimalist mecha-crayfish? NO PROBLEM. Hermit crab? PIECE OF P1SS, MATE! Massive robot slug? Actually, yes! These are wonderful, and will make your adult LEGO model of, I don’t know, the Pompidou Centre look a bit lame.
  • The Bureau of Linguistic Reality: I am a sucker for projects that seek to imagine new language – I think this is from an early encounter with ‘The Meaning of Liff’, in which Douglas Adams and John Lloyd created made-up definitions for place names that sounded like they ought to mean something (but very much didn’t) (my personal favourite was always “Woking: the act of walking into a kitchen and then immediately forgetting the reason for having done so”). “The Bureau of Linguistical Reality is a public participatory artwork by Heidi Quante and Alicia Escott focused on creating new language as an innovative way to better understand our rapidly changing world due to manmade climate change and other Anthropocenic events. The vision of the artwork is to provide new words to express what people are feeling and experiencing as our world changes as climate change accelerates. We will be using these new words to facilitate conversations about the greater experiences these words are seeking to express with the view to facilitate a greater cultural shift around climate change. This project was inspired by moments that both Heidi and Alicia had where they literally were at a loss for words to describe emotions, ideas or situations they found themselves experiencing because of climate change.” This is a few years old, I think (THE INTERNET IS NOT A RACE), and quite possibly no longer a going thing, but there are some terms in here which feel we could really do with adopting them – specifically, “Teuchnikskreis (noun): Using new technologies to tackle environmental symptoms and byproducts caused by other (possibly older) technologies, which will in turn eventually produce their own unintended by-products and problems— for which newer technologies will then need to be produced. Teuchnikskreis is characterized by a sense of being stuck in a vicious cycle or spiral, thinking technology will be the solution to the problems created by technology.” I mean, perfect, isn’t it?
  • Mad Divorce: How are your relationships doing, everyone? Are you one of those people whose love has gone from strength to strength thanks to the enforced proximity of lockdown(sssssss), or have you reached the stage whereby the only way in which you can stand to look at your partner is to imagine them hanging from a meathook as you do so? If you’re feeling like things are perhaps not as rosy as they might be in your amorous Garden of Eden, perhaps reading this quite spectacular Reddit thread, in which divorce lawyers (or at least people willing to put the effort into cosplaying as such online) detail the most insane reasons clients have sought to file for divorce. Now obviously this is Reddit and so: a) this skews very North American, which in turn skews the nature of the mad; and b) there’s no guarantee this isn’t all made up, but I promise you that you can’t read these without feeling slightly better at the state of your own relationship. I mean, there’s no way that this is actually true, but it is funny: “My douche cousin told his wife she had three chances to give him a son. Daughter was born first. Strike one. Son was born second. Then they find out the boy cant eat gluten. So my cousin divorced her and has made zero effort to see his kids.” Except, er, unless it is true, in which case it isn’t funny. Gah! Complex!
  • Galaxicle Implosions: Ok, so this is still in preview and I’ve not tried it yet, but it looks interesting and that’s what counts. “The Galaxicle Implosions is an animated science-fiction comedy series; broadcast live from a London theatre to VR and YouTube, and co-created by you” – it describes itself as a ‘scifi impro comedy series in VR’, which sounds like a fun idea, and I’m a sucker for stuff which attempts to do theatre in interesting in different ways. They’re running a bunch of test/preview shows over the course of the week, which can be experienced either in-theatre (should you be in London), or in-browser, or in-VR – this looks like it could be rather cool, and I’m intrigued by the idea of the way the experience will play out across the three mediums simultaneously.
  • Feminist Tech: The occasionally-hypermasculine (and pathetically-macho) nature of much of the tech world is something that I imagine you’re probably broadly aware of – this project exists to attempt to counter that prevailing orthodoxy. “A Feminist Tech Policy sheds light on power structures, injustices and the environmental aspects of technology. It questions current innovation narratives and examines the value of maintenance, accessibility, openness and care for the digital societies of the future. A feminist approach helps to think and see beyond existing stories and structures.” If you work in or around tech and are interested in questions of how to make it more inclusive, and how to ensure that we think about the role of technology in shaping the future in ways that aren’t quite so male-defined (and frankly, you know, it’s quite important), then this is worth a read – the project’s principles are well-articulated and worth investigating.
  • Car Free Berlin: I found this site and was briefly transported back to the early-2000s when Berlin was presented as this technosocialist utopia of free rent and cheap drugs and excellent techno and SMART REVOLUTIONARY THINKING, of the sort that we could only dream of in grimy, banker-infested old London. This project, which is campaigning to make the centre of Berlin car-free, has received sufficient backing for it to be debated in the German House of Representatives, and, honestly, it made me feel momentarily utopian and hopeful (it didn’t last, mind). Iit’s obviously all in German, but for those of us who never really understood umlauts then Google Translate is obviously your friend – it’s a really good example of how to present and run a public-facing campaign, if nothing else.
  • The Writer’s Room: For any of you who write, and want company whilst doing so, this could be PERFECT: “The 24-Hour Room is a free virtual writers space hosted by Elizabeth Gaffney. Writers often toil in solitude. Our need for one another is greater than ever in this period of isolation. Here’s a place we can gather without masks, whether to write silently in the Studio or talk about books and writing in the Lounge.The 24-Hour Room offers fellowship, structure, solutions, motivation and intellectual sustenance. It includes 24/7 access to a communal writing Studio on Zoom; a 24/7 Zoom Lounge where Members convene to talk and read aloud; craft guidance, weekly craft discussions on Zoom; readings and prompts; and discussion boards. The full features are visible only to Members — but membership is free.”
  • WikiHow Pictures: WikiHow is a fcuking odd corner of the web, a place that has existed and grown for years but which I can’t honestly imagine anyone ever actually using in the manner it was intended (noone has EVER received a piece of useful advice from WikiHow – this is a hill I will happily die on), and which is still known mainly for the…slightly-insane quality of the illustrations which accompany each article rather than the quality of the advice it offers. Which is what makes this little game so fun – it shows you an image allegedly pulled from a WikiHow article, and your task is simply to guess the title of the article to which it’s attached. You’d think this would be straightforward, but never underestimate the ability of the WikiHow editors to throw a graphical curveball. There’s a good read about the odd economy of WikiHow illustrators here, should you wish to go deeper, but otherwise just enjoy speculating as to why exactly an article about ‘Friendship’ is illustrated by an apparently drunk man crying whilst wearing a crumpled Spiderman costume.

By Diana Karklin

NEXT UP, WHY NOT ENJOY A PLAYLIST FEATURING 100 TRACKS NAMED AFTER EACH YEAR OF THE 20TH CENTURY, AN IDEA WHICH SOUNDS ADMITTEDLY TERRIBLE BUT WHICH I PROMISE YOU RESULTS IN A QUITE MADDENGLY-BRILLIANT DEGREE OF ECLECTICISM!

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  • SleepBaseball: Look, I have lived in America (briefly), I have been to baseball games, and, I’m sorry, but it is without a shadow of a doubt the most boring sport in the world (and I say that as someone from a nation that brought the world cricket, ffs). Which makes this podcast project, just launched, practically-perfect – it acknowledges the…fundamentally-soporific nature of the innings and the outs, and takes that to the nth degree by creating entirely-fictional play-by-play audioreports of games for you to fall asleep to. There’s a wonderful degree of craft here – there’s only one episode so far, but it’s a full 2-hours of totally-invented baseball with crowd sounds and play-by-play descriptions of stolen bases and all that jazz, designed to help you fall asleep, and it’s vaguely-ASMRish and really rather soothing. I would quite like to see something like this done for the Trever Bstard extended universe, should anyone involved with that be reading – THANKS!
  • Brothtails: Those of you who work in advermarketingpr will be aware of the particular feeling when you’re sitting in a ‘creative session’ (ha!) and literally nothing is happening, there are no good ideas, the room is basically airless and you’re all starting to succumb to that weird sort-of carbon monoxide poisoning effect that gets everyone after 45m of fundamentally-unsatisfying ‘ideation’, that point at which literally any halfway-plausible sounding pun-based concept starts to seem appealing. That’s the state I imagine the ‘creatives’ behind this marketing concept for Campbell’s Soup were in – there can be no other explanation, other perhaps than microdosing, for this, a campaign based around making cocktails out of, er, soup. Want to make a refreshing cocktail out of, er, mushroom broth? NO OF COURSE NOT IT SOUNDS FCUKING VILE. Please, take a moment to read the recipe for the ‘Mango Pho Sour’ and try not to sick up in your mouth a bit. Astonishing, and, seemingly, not a joke. Can someone please do a tasting session with these recipes and report back?
  • Miniature Calendar: This is so beautiful and so pure that I feel I should just leave you with the words of its creator: “Everyone must have had thoughts like these before: Broccoli and parsley may sometimes look like a forest of trees, and tree leaves floating on the surface of water may sometimes look like little boats. Everyday occurrences seen from a miniature perspective can bring us lots of fun thoughts.I wanted to take this way of thinking and express it through photographs, so I started to put together a “MINIATURE CALENDAR.” These photographs primarily depict diorama-style figures surrounded by daily necessities. Just like a standard daily calendar, the photos are updated daily on my website and SNS page, earning it the name of “MINIATURE CALENDAR.” It would be great if you could use it to add a little enjoyment to your everyday life.” I can’t stress enough how utterly lovely this is – take a bow, Tatsuya Tanaka.
  • Sopra Banking Software: Another in the occasional series of ‘pointlessly-overengineered websites for boring companies which I can’t believe someone ever signed off’, this is the quite astonishing offering from Sopra Banking Software which, for reasons known only to the web design team, presents the various product offerings of the company as, er, various areas in a digitally-rendered neon city which you can navigate around in your browser and which tells you the square-root of fcuk all about exactly what it is that the company does or why you should care. Honestly, this is remarkable – I have no idea what part of their user testing said to them ‘yep, what people who buy banking software REALLY want is to spend 15 minutes scrabbling around for basic information about how your API systems work by clicking around a cyberpunk representation of a digital city which is somehow meant to represent modern finance IT systems’, but fair play to whoever it was who got this over the line. This is terrible, obviously, but in a really spectacular way – if you’re going to make a borderline-unusable website, basically, you might as well go all-in.
  • Build for Playdate: I first featured the PlayDate console when it was announced a couple of years ago – you may recall, it’s that vaguely-GameBoy-looking yellow device with the crank on the side – and now that it exists out in the wild, the developers have opened up the game creation side of the platform to all. Pulp is the software platform used to code for the hardware – anyone can play around with it, and from the brief fiddle I’ve had it’s incredibly flexible and equally simple enough that even a luddite like me can get their head around how it works. “If you’ve never made a game before, or you’re looking to try a fun, quirky sandbox for prototyping, Pulp can scale from goofing around to building a full Playdate game. It’s an all-in-one game studio, in your web browser. Drawing tools, animation, level editor, custom font, chiptune music and sound effects. And a surprisingly capable code editor, if you want to use it.” If you’ve ever been tempted to fiddle around with gamemaking, this could be an interesting, simple way of getting your toes wet.
  • Audiobooks on YouTube: A wonderful YouTube playlist, this, of free audiobook readings – there are nearly 130 different titles linked here, each of which is a full book or short story, read in its entirety and available to listen to at your leisure. This is YouTube and so the quality is inevitably…variable, but the person who’s pulled this together seems to have done a reasonable job of ensuring that the base standard is reasonably high, and there’s a really wide-ranging selection of titles (with a significant weighting towards stuff that’s out of copyright, as you’d expect) including Christie, Conan-Doyle, Chekhov, Wells and the like (there are also a few outliers and motivational speeches and the like, but they’re easily-skippable). If you’re someone who likes to have stories read to them as they sleep but is too tight/anti-Amazon to fork out for Audible then this should give you free bedtime listening for the rest of the year.
  • Homecoming Diary: I’ve seen quite a few of these floating around Twitter in the contextless way that TikToks do these days, but this week I discovered the actual TikTok account and blimey is this stuff…odd. Homecoming Diary is basically a series of lifestyle-pr0n videos with a lightly-surreal edge, in which the protagonists show off the frankly-staggering array of domestic gadgets and timesaving devices they possess in a series of loosely-themed vignettes like ‘Single Girl Comes Home From Work’, or ‘Do You Like My Kitchen?’. This feels quite a lot like a sort of hyperpop QVC – trust me, you’ll see what I mean – and either an amazing glimpse into how incredibly-future (and sci-fi miserable) modern life now is (for some people, in some places), or alternatively a distressing example of why it is that our problem with overconsumption probably isn’t ending anytime soon (take your pick!). Dizzying, and possibly the thing so far this year that has made me feel most old and confused (don’t worry, I will be updating this list on a weekly basis).
  • Obscure Game Aesthetics: Screenshots from obscure games, Tweeted out at regular intervals and presenting graphics from old, obscure or cancelled games. If you’re interested in videogames this is a wonderful collection of obscurities and oddities, but it’s also a slightly-sad reminder of the homogenisation of aesthetic that the industry has seen, and of what you can do with the medium if you’re willing to take some artistic risks, and of how other gameworlds can look when done properly.
  • Spiderverse Frames: Seeing as we’re doing ‘Twitter accounts that spit out images on a regular basis’ (we are, you don’t get to choose), here’s one which every hour will Tweet a single frame from the SpiderVerse film – this is great, showcasing the insane visual diversity and creativity on display through the different styles of animation the movie employed, and it’s generally just an excellent way of getting some beautiful shots into your TL.
  • Buy It Now For Life: Do..do you think that this year will be the one in which we all finally understand that buying a new version of a thing each year is perhaps not a great idea for the planet? No, realistically it will not be, but it does feel as though there are creeping steps being taken towards a slightly more long-term view of product development, and that consumers are maybe starting to wake up to the economic benefits of buying stuff that lasts longer than 3m. Buy It Now For Life is a site which scrapes Reddit (can I reiterate just how much ‘scraping Reddit’ is a smart and viable way of approaching LOTS of different questions? Yes? Good) for recommendations of products in a wide range of categories which will last ‘for life’ (ok, fine, maybe not a long life, but at least a life – and as I can categorically attest, there are…limited benefits to staying alive to the age of, say, 102). Because it’s Reddit this tends to skew a bit outdoors/tech/survival, and I laughed quite a lot at the fact that the homepage features men’s pants (is there a more Reddit idea than ‘pants, for eternity’? Reader, I posit that there is not), but if you’re in the market for a new thermos (look, I don’t know you, you might be) then you could do worse than start your search here.
  • Erich’s Packing Centre: Erich Friedman, I salute you and your admirable commitment to helping the world pack objects more efficiently than they would have done otherwise without your intervention! If you’ve ever found yourself in a position whereby you have a container of known size, and a bunch of regularly-sized objects which you need to fit within said container with optimal efficiency (and, honestly, which of us hasn’t??) then BOOKMARK THIS IMMEDIATELY. You may not think that this sounds interesting, but you are wrong and you will see why when you click the link (CLICK THE LINK).
  • Bitelabs: This feels very much like an idea whose time has come. BiteLabs is a spoof project from 2014 whose central gag was ‘what if we took DNA samples of famouses and used said samples to lab-grow famousmeat and then turn said famousmeat into salami?’ – it feels very much like it exists in the same sort of conceptual space as GenPets, another excellent hoax project from the early-ish web. Bitelabs has been entirely dormant for nearly 8 years, but I very much feel that 2022 – a year in which we’re all cult members, White Knighting for our favourite causes and creators and visionaries and thought leaders, with parasocial connections to heroes we barely know but feel more intimately-connected to than our own families – is the year in which this could well become reality. Lab-grown meat is now a more viable concern than it was back then, and we’re all used to swabbing ourselves – so why not use a swab of, say, Francis Bourgeois to make BOURGEOIS SALAMI??? No reason, basically, so can any VCs reading this get on with it post-haste as I think there are some serious millions to be made here.
  • Micronations: I personally know of only one micronation – the Glorious Kingdom of Landskeria, in Pembrokeshire – but thanks to this Wiki I now know about several others. I love the idea of a micronation – part-utopianism, part-fabulism, part-bloody-mindedness – and this is a wonderful rabbithole to fall down, where you can learn about such incredible places as Wamong, “a self-proclaimed sovereign state and independence movement located in North-Western Pennsylvania in the United States. It was proclaimed on 15 February 2018. It is an observer state of the Grand Unified Micronational and a member of the Micronational Assembly. It has since split into two separate governments due to a coup on 10 June 2021, which has led to a crisis.” Superb, and full of mad.
  • Local Controversies: “Residents of small towns”, asks this Reddit thread, “what is the current controversy all about?” OH ME OH MY. There are some wonderful examples of tiny-community pettiness and controversy here, along with some honest-to-goodness murder mysteries and enough decent writing prompts to kickstart a dozen (mediocre, but still) novels. Seriously, just take a moment to imagine the War And Peace-length backstory that sits behind this simple post: “LoL The Mayor has a personal feud with this one guy that has an emotional support pig while living in the village.” Wonderful.
  • Dimensions: The description for this site is pretty prosaic: “A comprehensive reference database of dimensioned drawings documenting the standard measurements and sizes of the everyday objects and spaces that make up our world. Scaled 2D drawings and 3D models available for download. Updated daily.” Except then you click and you quickly realise that whoever’s behind this appears to be attempting to create a database featuring images and dimensions for, well, everything. Literally everything. Marsupials? YEP! White goods? YEP! Notable people? YEP! Digital ad formats? Er, YEP! You can’t help but admire the ambition, but I sort-of fear that the endeavour is doomed to failure – still, if you’ve ever wanted a resource which will let you find both the average dimensions of a banded ocelot, Sir Edmund Hilary AND a PS5 controller then WOW are you in luck!
  • Chubbyemu: A youTube channel which exists solely to answer the sort of stoned hypothetical questions I spent a lot of time pondering when I was about 15. What actually happens when you swallow chewing gum? Or if you drink glowstick juice? Or, er, if you happen to chug a bunch of hydrogen peroxide? NOTHING GOOD, is the answer, but if you want a slightly-more-scientific series of explanations then GET THEM HERE!
  • Duke Smoochem: Over the past 6 months, Dan Douglas has slowly been working on Duke Smoochem, a modded version of classic FPS game Duke Nukem 3d in which he is painstakingly recreating a bunch of elements that define modern Britain, sort of like Coldwar Steve if he discovered 3d modeling. You will probably have seen these images or videos floating around the web, but this link takes you to Douglas’ own Twitter thread which he’s used to chronicle the development process since July last year. Want to see what racist Home Office deportation vans look like if rendered satirically in a 20 year old game engine? Want to see what it would be like to blow up Giles Coren’s Jaguar, in-game? Want to see what how an on-rails shooting section on the top deck of a tourist Routemaster feels? FILL YOUR BOOTS! This is amazing – a sort of live development diary of one man’s artistic response to THE MADNESS THAT IS MODERN BRITAIN (copyright: every single centrist bore on Twitter, and me) – the game may one day come out as a mod, but even if it doesn’t this is quite clearly ART of the highest form.
  • Catchphrase: My girlfriend and I found ourselves falling into something of a Catchphrase hole back in Lockdown…III? Specifically, we got slightly obsessed with that weird period in which Catchphrase was still going on, but had been relegated to a weird no-budget digital-only channel in the mid-00s, and the money had gone, and they couldn’t afford to render Mr Chips in CG anymore and instead all the illustrations were in the sort of weird, shonky, half-off style so beloved of the people who do the cartoons on icecream vans (“Mummy, why does Mickey have radiation sickness?”) (If this means nothing to you, by the way, and you don’t know the majesty of Catchphrase then please gen up here). If you’re similarly Catchphrase-philic then this game (via last week’s B3ta) will be PERFECT for you – it lets you play the game in your browser, offering you little clips of Mr Chips doing his thing and inviting you to guess exactly which catchphrase it is that he’s embodying. Except, obviously, most of these are not things that anyone of sound mind would describe as a catchphrase – but if you can get over that small issue this is absolute GOLD.
  • Looptap: Tap the spacebar when the dot is over the line. Yes, I appreciate that that sounds like the least-fun thing you could do with the next three minutes of your life but a) if you’re doing Web Curios properly, you’re reading this on your employers’ time and as such I refuse to believe that your actual job is more fun than that; b) you’re wrong, this is ace.
  • WikiTrivia: Last up in this week’s miscellania, this is BRILLIANT. WikiTrivia scrapes events or people from Wikipedia, along with an image and a date – your simple task is to arrange these events or people on a chronological timeline. You have three lives (chances to make an error), and your challenge is to get as many correctly-arranged events/individuals before these run out, and OH MY GOD THIS IS ADDICTIVE. I have basically lost about a couple of hours to this this week – SORRY, PAYMASTERS! – and, even better, I feel like it’s actually taught me things. Web Curios – delivering the ludic, educational hit that you don’t know that you want or need but which, I promise you, you very much do.

By Gil Regoulet

LAST UP IN THIS WEEK’S SELECTION OF MUSICAL BITS AND PIECES,  A SLEAZY, LOUNGEY, JAZZY MIX BY SARA MAUTONE!

THE CIRCUS OF TUMBLRS!

  • Binocularshot: A Tumblr celebrating all those instances in films in which a character looks through a pair of binoculars and the camera cuts to first-person and gets the shot wrong. As any fule kno, binoculars don’t show you two overlapping circles when you look through them – and now you can look and laugh at all those STUPID FILMMAKERS who got it wrong. IDIOTS, all of them.

THE TROUGH OF (INSTA) FEEDS!

  • Clemens Gritl: The Insta of a Berlin-based artist who designs ‘artificial brutalist 3D cityscapes based on utopian architectural visions’. These are brilliant – there’s a very cut-out/collage-y vibe to the look of the renders, and I now want to play a game or watch a film set in a world that looks like this (but, to be clear, I never want to live in it).
  • Lunartik: Tatts-that-look-like-fine-art-illustrations. I’m not always sold on the subjects displayed here, but there’s no denying the artistic skill of the person doing the ink.
  • FaveTikToks420: This Insta account is effectively a distillation of all the reasons I can’t use TikTok – it collects videos from the platform which are simply awkward and uncomfortable to watch, which is basically what I feel every time I open the app. Bad acting, desperate thirst traps, appalling takes, no-self-awareness monologues…this has it all. Obviously this is a bit…mean, but also it’s compellingly carcrash, and (for me at least) is a useful reminder of why the idea that ‘everyone can be a creator with the magical new tools at our disposal’ is, perhaps, a touch overstated (look, I know that this is an unfashionable viewpoint, but can we all agree that ‘the ability to make compelling, entertaining and well-constructed shortform vertical video’ IS NOT A UNIVERSAL HUMAN QUALITY and that, as a result, MANY OF US SHOULD NOT ATTEMPT TO DO SO? Yes? Good).

LONG THINGS WHICH ARE LONG!:

  • Builder Brain: I promise you that this week’s longreads are VERY light on cryptoweb3wank – still, I will forgive you if you skip this one should you be sick to the back teeth of speculation about WHAT ALL THIS MEANS. Still, should you be in the market for it, this is an excellent and thoughtful essay by Charlie Warzel, from his newsletter, which looks at the boom in tech-solutionist thinking through the prism of this week’s ‘artificial wombs’ clusterfcuk (don’t worry if this mean’s nothing to you, the piece gives context) and, specifically, at the prevalent view in much of Silicon Valley that ‘making new solutions’ is better than ‘fixing existing systems’, and what this means. Warzel is by no means the first person to take aim at this solutionist mentality – see Evgeny Morosov’s entire career for more on this – but this is a really nicely-argued piece of writing which neatly gets to the heart of one of the main things that troubles me about cryptoweb3wank (to whit: looking at symptoms not causes).
  • Dancing With Systems: I know I have linked to systems thinking stuff in here before, but I’m equally aware that it’s very much at the outer edges of what I can reasonably claim to ‘understand’ (ha!) and that it’s quite far from the sort of stuff I usually foist upon you in the longreads. That said, if your job involves ‘thinking about how and why things work in the way that they do, and what might need to happen to change that’, then this is a super-interesting read. The words are by the late Donella Meadows, an environmentalist and systems thinker, and they’re basically a series of principles which might be useful to bear in mind when examining a system from the outside. This is the opening bit of the first principle, ‘Get The Beat’ – if you do ‘strategy’ (ha!) or any of the related, made-up disciplines in agencyland and you can read this without thinking ‘hm, interesting, I should read more’ then you’re probably in the wrong job: “Before you disturb the system in any way, watch how it behaves. If it’s a piece of music or a whitewater rapid or a fluctuation in a commodity price, study its beat. If it’s a social system, watch it work. Learn its history. Ask people who’ve been around a long time to tell you what has happened. If possible, find or make a time graph of actual data from the system. Peoples’ memories are not always reliable when it comes to timing. Starting with the behavior of the system forces you to focus on facts, not theories. It keeps you from falling too quickly into your own beliefs or misconceptions, or those of others. It’s amazing how many misconceptions there can be. People will swear that rainfall is decreasing, say, but when you look at the data, you find that what is really happening is that variability is increasing–the droughts are deeper, but the floods are greater too. I have been told with great authority that milk price was going up when it was going down, that real interest rates were falling when they were rising, that the deficit was a higher fraction of the GNP than ever before when it wasn’t.” Fascinating, I promise you.
  • You Don’t Think In Any Language: OK, so I found this quite hard, but also rewarding and stimulating, and I am willing to concede that my difficulties stem from always having struggled a bit with philosophy of language (damn you, Ludwig) and that you might find this significantly easier to get into than I did. That being said, once I did get my head ‘round it I found it properly fascinating – this is the second essay in a series, but it works as a standalone piece of writing, all about how words and thought and ideas interrelate, and the extent to which language can be said to determine thought (if indeed at all). There’s a section in here which talks about the idea of using imaginary words to help define the limits of what is conceptually viable which had my brain actually fizzing in that way it does when I know I am reading something that is properly making me think – you will, I hope, feel the same.
  • Meet The Sigma Male: Classic bit of internetculturewriting here, digging up a niche subculture and presenting it as A SIGN OF THE TIMES – in this case, the idea of the ‘Sigma Male’, a post-Chad concept of masculinity which describes a guy who is ‘successful and popular, but also silent and rebellious. He has a near-fundamentalist approach to self-improvement and is well-tuned in the ways of hustle culture. He makes regular gains at the gym and invests in crypto – sometimes simultaneously.’ This is in part a slightly-gawpy ‘look what we found under this rock!’ piece, but hints at something more interesting – to my mind, at least – in that this is ANOTHER piece of evidence that suggests to me that the big nostalgia trend amongst GenZ and whatever the kids below them are called is not fliphones or ‘the 90s’ but in fact ‘the very fundamental ideals that underpinned Thatcherist ideology’. I am 100% serious about this by the way, and will happily bore on about it given the opportunity (you’d be amazed at how rarely I get offered said opportunity, but I live in hope).
  • Digital Sticker Millionaires: Or, ‘so, how’s the creator economy panning out in Japan then?’ That’s obviously a massively unfair read, fine, but it did strike me reading this article, which describes the market for animated digital ‘stickers’ delivered and sold through popular messaging app Line, that it’s a neat encapsulation of the inherent limits of the dream of the creator economy: “There are now 4 million designers on the platform, from hobbyists and part-timers to professional studios. The top 10 creators have earned an average of 1.18 billion yen each in total sales, or roughly $10.2 million, throughout their careers, according to Line’s own figures. But, sticker creators told Rest of World that the marketplace has become increasingly saturated, making it hard for newcomers to break through.” This…this is how market economics works – can we please start including an acknowledgement of this in all the breathless writeups about how we’re all going to become gurning videomongs mugging into the digital eye for cryptopennies, please?
  • Gifs are for Boomers Now: As pointed out by someone more observant and funnier than me, this whole piece is basically a massive bit of shadethrowing at millennials, seeing as it takes ‘boomer’ to mean ‘anyone over the age of 30’. Still, worth reading if your job involves writing presentations about how to optimise brand communications to increase engagement with the hard-to-reach GenZennial marketplace (also, you have my intense, sincere and long-lasting pity).
  • Who Built The Pyramids?: If your kneejerk answer to that question is ‘vast quantities of slave labour under the uncaring direction of godlike rulers whose word was law’ then AHAHAHAHAHA YOU MOOK YOU CHUMP YOU RUBE! In fact, it was SPACE ALIENS! Or at least that’s the schtick being peddled by a particular brand of ‘alternative historians’, who are monetising their repackaging of decades-old theories that state that the pyramids couldn’t possibly have been built by human hands several thousand years ago and instead had to be the work of superior civilisations. There’s loads of interesting stuff in here – the skyrocketing value of the ‘alternative history’ economy, the (inevitable) links to white supremacism (does…does everything online become Nazi if you follow the rabbithole far enough? It does rather seem so), and, perhaps most of all, the reasons why this stuff is going gangbusters right now. Personally-speaking I think there’s something interesting in the idea that people are more willing to believe the ‘aliens did it with the rayguns’ story because we’re at a point in history where we simply cannot conceive of having the sort of long-term vision required to create the pyramids – I mean, the idea of anyone starting a project now that will take over a century to complete and that will necessitate a…not-inconsiderable loss of human life to achieve is kind-of mind-boggling, so perhaps it’s not that weird that kids these days are more likely to accept the concept of little green men with space chisels being the architects of Giza.
  • What Kids Are Reading: An interesting essay which argues that there is benefit in starting to teach young people and students how to read again – not because the kids are stupid, but because the de facto modes of information gathering have changed so drastically in the real world that it can no longer be expected that young people have the tools at their disposal to parse text in the same way as they would have done 30 years ago. Which, generally, seems like a reasonable perspective – if we get used to learning and consuming information via AV, why should we automatically know how to extract the same information from a wall of text? An interesting companion to the piece from last week about critical reading, and indeed to the article from last year which talked about how confused modern students are by the idea of digital ‘files’ and ‘filing’.
  • When NFTs Came To ArtTown: An amusing account of the culture-clash taking place in hyperbougie artparadise Marfa, Texas, as NFT arrivistes attempt to buy into the existing fine art community that’s developed there over the past few years. Pleasing mainly because noone comes out of this particularly well – not the NFT bros, certainly, but not the Marfites either. The author of the piece in particular rather undermines the credibility of the NFT critique by constantly having to acknowledge the fact that they are mates with all the old-school artists and gallery owners who, it seems to me, are perhaps being a touch prissy about all this (and I say this as someone whose general view of the NFT ‘art’ market is that it’s fundamentally-misnomered).
  • The NFT Restaurant: Or rather, the future NFT restaurant. “Flyfish Club, set to open in a yet-to-be-announced Manhattan location in the first half of next year, will be a luxury “seafood-inspired” dining club from the VCR Group, a hospitality and restaurant group that includes Gary Vaynerchuk, the serial entrepreneur and co-founder of online reservation system Resy. To gain access to the club, members must have a Flyfish NFT, which is a unique digital asset stored on the blockchain and purchased using cryptocurrency. The company released 1,501 tokens this month, bringing in around $15 million, according to David Rodolitz, the founder and CEO of VCR.” I mean, on the one hand the idea of paying 100k for the right to access a restaurant and members club that doesn’t exist yet and which is part of a GaryVee venture is so utterly-risible that I just want to point and laugh at everyone involved; on the other, part of me does sort-of see how ‘NFT as transferable digital membership token’ is actually a non-idiotic usecase for the tech. Still, this is just madness and does rather provide grist to the mill for anyone suggesting that all this is just a brilliant way of parting rich morons with their lucre.
  • SimpDaos: Look, I am not going to try and paraphrase this VERY INTERNETTY article – all you need to know is that it’s about NFT/cryptoculture and fandom, and is another one for me to file alongside all the other pieces of evidence for my continuing ‘the most important cultural unit of the 21c is the cult’ thesis.
  • How AI Conquered Poker: Or, ‘The March of the Centaurs’ – following the rise of man/machine combined play in chess, the AI-augmentation of human capability has come to poker. This article looks at how players at the top end of the pro game are increasingly using AI models to train themselves, helping them map the probabilities around potential hands to help them with the decisionmaking process in-game. Fascinating, even as someone who has literally no poker skill whatsoever – it made me think (amongst other things) of what other sports or disciplines will (or should, or shouldn’t) get centaured next.
  • The Joss Whedon Article: I am including this for a few reasons; a) because it’s an interesting evolution of the redemptive celebrity interview format; b) because Whedon comes across so, so badly throughout that it’s almost an object lesson in how not to present yourself when you’re attempting a redemption arc; and c) because there is one paragraph in this that made me laugh out loud and reread it three times out of sheer glee. Click the link and, if you have no interest in reading about a not-particularly-pleasant man attempting to justify having been a d1ck, just ctrl+f for ‘erin shade’ and read that one paragraph and just MARVEL at it.
  • Another Green World: A wonderful piece of writing about the idea of self-contained biological environments, the Biosphere experiments of the 90s, the incredible and unknowable complexity of the systems that make LIFE happen, and the sort of weird, driven people who spend their time thinking about how we might one day transplant Earth’s biome into space. This is not only really, really interesting, but it’s also a stellar piece of writing.
  • Sinking, Giggling Into The Sea: As we (or at least those of us who care about the politics of the increasingly-insignificant British Isles) wait for our current Prime Minister to be definitively knifed in the back by the same morons who attempted to convince the nation that a sexually-incontinent liar was a reasonable choice to lead the country, it feels timely to link to this LRB article from 2013, in which Jonathan Coe writes about Boris Johnson in his guise as occasional subject of affectionate televisual mockery on Have I Got News For You, and more generally about the ‘fcuk it, everything’s a joke so let’s lol it up’ attitude that the 90s fostered about basically everything. “When Humphrey Carpenter interviewed the leading lights of the 1960s satire boom for his book That Was Satire, That Was in the late 1990s, he found that what was once youthful enthusiasm had by now curdled into disillusionment. One by one, they expressed dismay at the culture of facetious cynicism their work had spawned, their complaints coalescing into a dismal litany of regret. John Bird: ‘Everything is a branch of comedy now. Everybody is a comedian. Everything is subversive. And I find that very tiresome.’ Barry Humphries: ‘Everyone is being satirical, everything is a send-up. There’s an infuriating frivolity, cynicism and finally a vacuousness.’ Christopher Booker: ‘Peter Cook once said, back in the 1960s, “Britain is in danger of sinking giggling into the sea,” and I think we really are doing that now.’” Well, er, quite.
  • The Solitude Project: A beautiful short story from the LA Review of Books, by Christina McCausland, about love and solitude and obsession and drugs and abuse and self-erasure and and and and. The final paragraph in particular is beautiful, imho.
  • How To Be A D1ck In The 21st Century: Finally this week, Kafka’s metamorphosis if, rather than waking up to find himself transformed into a giant beetle, Gregor Samsa had instead awoken to discover that he was an enormous, ambulant penis. I very much enjoyed this short story, from the forthcoming collection by Chris Stuck, and I think you will too.

By Paco Pomet

AND NOW, MOVING PICTURES AND SOUNDS!:

Webcurios 14/01/22

Reading Time: 30 minutes

Gah! I am late! I am so sorry!

I could explain exactly why, but I can’t imagine you care that much – after all, it’s not like any of you sit there on a Friday morning, sweaty palms worrying up and down your denimclad thighs as you bite-rip at your inner lip, waiting for your fix of links and words and incapable of focusing on anything ’til you have them, is it? No, it is not – but suffice it to say that it involved not one but TWO trips to the local health centre to pick up medical grade Soylent, so it’s…well, it’s a reasonable excuse, I think.

Anyway, this tardiness means that you’re at least spared my tedious opining on ALL THE PARTIES (you can, though, get a flavour for what I might have said here) and instead can get stuck straight into the ‘good’ stuff – thanks for your patience, and sorry that what follows is no better than normal (but, on the plus side, it’s not discernibly worse either – there’s much to be said for having consistently low standards, I’ve come to learn).

I am still Matt, this is still Web Curios, and Boris Johnson is still a fcuking cnut.

By Lisa Vaccino

WE BEGIN THIS WEEK WITH A BRAND-NEW, TYPICALLY-SUPERB, ALL-VINYL, ALL-ECLECTIC, ALL-GOLD MIX BY THE MAN KNOWN AS SADEAGLE, WHICH IS AS EVER AN ABSOLUTE TREAT WHICH I ENCOURAGE YOU ALL TO ENJOY!

THE SECTION WHICH THIS WEEK LEARNED HOW TO FEED SOMEONE DIRECTLY INTO THEIR STOMACH, WHICH IS MARGINALLY MORE FUN THAN IT SOUNDS (THOUGH PROBABLY NOT FOR THE FEEDEE), PT.1:

  • Elon Goat: Long-term readers may be aware as to my position on both cryptostuff/NFTs (to whit: potentially interesting in the long term, but absolutely rife with cnuts and lies and grift in the short- to medium-term) and Elon Musk (to whit: a wnker), so why am I kicking off this week’s Curios with a project which combines both of those things into a single ridiculous whole? Well, er, because it made me laugh, pathetically – look, this is obviously all silly and terrible and Bad News, but, equally, I can’t not be slightly-pleased by something so obviously stupid as a project whose goal is ostensibly to construct “a biblical sized monument on the back of a semi-trailer dedicated to the Godfather of Crypto, Elon Musk. When the Elon GOAT is complete, we’re towing it to Tesla and demanding that Elon claims his GOAT! The Elon GOAT Monument will serve as an anchor to the Token and as a tribute to the world’s Crypto community!” I mean, if you consider that 99.9% recurring of all coin/token projects to date have been absolute moronic garbage then there’s something to applaud in taking that to the absolute nth degree – I defy you to come up with a more stupid, pointless and fundamentally-ugly project than this one. The only way I could love this more would be if they were to amass a fortune in Musk-fan crypto and then rugpull the whole project (yes, fine, theft and fraud are Bad Things, but occasionally it feels like the victims justify the crime).
  • NFTs as Staff Bonuses: As we ease ourselves into another year of wageslavery with all the enthusiasm of someone self-catheterising, take a moment to think of how you would like your paymasters to acknowledge YOUR contribution to the ceaseless incremental increasing of shareholder value – bonuses? Nah, too 80s. Spa days? Nah, too 00s. Food vouchers? Potentially-useful tbh, but a bit grim. I know – HOW ABOUT NFTs???? Said literally no fcuker, ever, and yet here we are – I think this is the first instance, at least that I’ve seen, of a business minting its own line in NFTs to distribute to its workforce (before inevitably opening the market up to the wider cryptocommunity so as to, er, ‘inevitably’ drive up the value of said NFTs which will DEFINITELY become the subject of a frenzied bidding war and definitely, definitely won’t end up having absolutely no value whatsoever). So it is for employees of seemingly-generic SAAS platform Yotpo, who are all being given ‘Fabulous Flamingos’, the latest tedious, no-imagination spin on the whole BAYC thing (you know, one base design with 8 or so variables to produce 12,912,998 potential variations which all feel emptily similar) as a reward for BEING AWESOME, which they will soon be able to trade with other cryptoheads. Do…do you think the Yotpo staff asked for this? “Would you like an actual cash bonus this year, staff, or would you instead like us to spend the bonus pot on making a bunch of ugly cartoon avatars of each of you and causing a small-but-not-insignificant uptick in our carbon emissions for the year to boot?” “YES PLEASE, PAYMASTERS!!” is how I don’t imagine the conversation going at all. Baffling, but doubtless a sign of things to come – you may laugh now, but you’ll be laughing on the other side of your face when even the carriage clock you get for 75 years’ loyal service is a fcuking NFT that nobody wants to buy. Still, you can put it on your mantelpiece in the metaverse (that JWT can design for you SORRY GAVIN!) (don’t worry, I am not going to try and make that running ‘gag’ (I use the term loosely) a ‘thing’).
  • EnviroNFTs: “Wow!”, I thought when I saw this, “an NFT project specifically designed to help the environment! That sounds…well, it sounds massively intellectually-incoherent, to be honest, and like a bad joke, but maybe I am missing something”, and so I clicked and, well, nope! “The NFT Series for 100,000,000 mangroves is a collaboration between Regenerative Resources (RRC), Regen Network, Chainlink, and Elevenyellow, to raise sufficient funds to grow 100 million mangroves. This series will emit ~120 tons of carbon, but is expected to sequester 20,000,000 tons of carbon over 25 years, a 160,000:1 ratio of C sequestered to C emitted.”” I am…unconvinced as to the validity of your carbon calculations here, NFT-peddlers, but let’s look closer – and, er, why do I need to buy anNFT anyway? Can’t I just plant some trees? Even better, though, is when you click through to investigate a little more about the Regenerative Resources lot who are apparently underpinning this whole thing, and you see that their website says in big letters “Want to grow mangroves instead of paying taxes?”, so we can rest assured that this is DEFINITELY a philanthropic project harnessing the decentralised power of the blockchain to solve problems in an innovative and disruptive manner and definitely not just another example of how all this stuff is being used by the already-rich and already-crooked to further line their nests. You would have to be a FOOL and a COMMUNIST to doubt the motives here, truly. Oh, but hang on – what’s this? A site that allows you to donate to non-profits with crypto? US-only, but surely a good thing, right? This also emphasises the tax writeoff benefits and so therefore feels inherently icky, but there’s nothing inherently wrong with advertising the personall benefits of a charitable act so as to induce more of said act I guess. Anyway, there’s something that feels slightly *off* about the intersection of crypto and charity, though I concede that’s something that might just be me projecting my own inherent dislike of the ‘scene’ (although according to this academic paper there are fundamental issues with direct cryptofunding of charitable enterprises, so perhaps that sort of intermediary solution is the only way. Christ, this is boring, sorry).
  • Australian Open NFTs: Just in case you thought that Australian tennis had reached an apogee of preposterousness with the Djokovic saga (as an aside, he is 100% going to end up doing some really terrible things when his career’s over, isn’t he? I can see some sort of borderline-hard-right political adventures in the Novak crystal ball), have THE NFT TENNIS BALL! I don’t really understand how this is meant to work, but that hardly seems like the point of these things anymore. OWN THE COURT, it screams, although exactly what definition of ‘ownership’ they’re working with here is unclear. Also, the seventh tab on the right hand side inexplicably takes you to a page that reads ‘ENTER THE METAVERSE’ without explaining what that might in fact entail, although perhaps they are promising that your balls can follow you across virtual realms, which is nice. Thanks to Matt Fernand for sending this to me, and for being kind enough to admit that he doesn’t understand it either.
  • Explore the John Soane Museum: Inexplicably I have apparently NEVER featured this in Curios – I think this version of the Soanes site was created during the…second? (it’s so hard to tell) wave of COVID, but, honestly, who cares? All you need to know is that it’s a beautifully-presented and genuinely fascinating way to explore the museum (which, should you be able to, is absolutely worth visiting In Real Life, should that still be something that we do in 2022), and the vaguely-kinect-y (can I still use that as a reference point? Does anyone actually remember the Microsoft Kinect? Milo? BUELLER?) graphics they use to display the house and the warren-like maze of rooms that house its collection do wonders at bringing it to life. Also, it’s a fcuking GREAT collection, almost as good as the Pitt Rivers in Oxford (which will always win because of its frankly insane collection of very, very evil weaponry, and of course the majesty of the shrunken heads).
  • Locket: Is this the first big hypey app of 2022? I have no idea, nor does it matter, but lots of people have been talking about it this week and it’s a really smart, simple idea. Locket lets you interact with a small group of friends (I can’t be bothered to check; let’s say 5), with whom you can share pictures (straight cameraroll, no filters). The gimmick is that through a widget on your iPhone (iOS only at-present) it presents them in a small window on your homescreen, showing moments from the lives of people you know. It’s such a cute idea (although as I think/type that, I am visited by an horrific vision of all the many ways in which it could be not cute at all, for which no thanks at all to my subconscious), and I look forward (do not look forward at all) to the flurry of horrific advermarketingpr ‘activations’ (god that’s a horrible term, I must stop using it) which attempt to bribe you into letting them advertise directly at you from your homescreen in exchange for magic Zuckerbergian metaverse beans (other currencies will doubtless be available).
  • Luciteria: Have you ever wanted to be MASTER OF ALL THE ELEMENTS! Well in a very small way you can, thanks to this quite remarkable online shop which will sell you tiny (like, really tiny – if you’re looking into some sort of large-scale (or even small-scale, frankly) chemical ‘experiment’, this is unlikely to be of use to you) quantities of every known element. Actually that’s not true, sorry – per the site, “Of the 92 naturally occurring elements over 80 are collectible with probably half of those being relatively easy to find in more or less pure form.” But, still, MASTER OF THE ELEMENTS! Want some lovely sodium chunks in oil, just like in chemistry? OF COURSE YOU DO! Lovely, bubbly Ruthenium? All yours mate. Honestly, this is great, and I am off to order a vial of shiny glowing Nitrogen. Oh fcuk me, they have purple gold, this site is amazing.
  • A Play About Sex: Not actually link to a play about sex, sorry; instead, this is a piece of research to inform a forthcoming work by Hannah Farley-Hills who says: “For my next play, I want to talk to women about sex. This is not limited to those who were assigned female sex at birth. So, if you have lived experience as a woman and you live in the UK or the Republic of Ireland, then this project is for you. I am working with a diverse team of artists, academic experts, sexologists and psychologists but I need more voices in the mix! I want to know about your relationship with sex, the conversations you have and the references you use. I want to work out how a theatre play could benefit your relationship with sex and what that play could look like.” So there you have it – if you think that sounds like something you’d be interested in contributing to, there’s more information and a survey on the link. NB – I have no connection to this whatsoever, it just sounds like an interesting project.
  • Paper Website: I am genuinely quite angry that it’s taken me this long to find out about this (the internet is not a race, the internet is not a race), not least because it’s SO clever and I feel like it should be more famous. Paper Website is a really simple product – take your written notes and turn them into a website, with no coding. You write, take a photo, upload it to the app, and it becomes a simple blogpost (the site claims that it works for even the most illegible of scrawls, although it’s English-only). If you’re the sort of person who’s never without a Moleskine (although actually this comes with its own notebook too), jotting down thoughts inspired by the world around you, maybe sketching a bit in the margin and thinking about that graphic novel you always wanted to write, then this might be for you (also, I hate you). PS – this is a really interesting writeup by Ben Stokes (no), whose work it is, about how the whole thing came about and how it works.
  • The Facebook Pixel Hunt: I know we’ve all sort of just blithely-accepted the idea that modernity is now little more than a succession of digital platforms shaking you down for that sweet, monetisable personal datastream, but if you feel like raging against the machine (it’s futile! We are the machine!) a little longer than you may be interested in signing up to this latest investigation by Mozilla and The Markup which is looking for volunteers to share browser data (anonymised, obvs) with them to get a better picture of how targeted ads and tracking actually work. The study ‘seeks to map Facebook’s pixel tracking network and understand the kinds of information it collects on sites across the web. The Markup will use the data collected in this study to create investigative journalism around the kinds of information Facebook collects about you, and where.’ Of course, there’s no guarantee that the platform won’t do its usual thing and just shut this down citing ‘data protection’ (oh, the irony!), but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t give it a go while it lasts.
  • Let’s Settle This: Many years ago I worked on a BBC3 series whose central premise was Big Narstie sitting in a barbershop and settling various big online debates – cheese or chocolate, and ‘are West Indian parents more strict than African parents?’, that sort of thing. It wasn’t a, er, huge hit, and Narstie was very much in the ‘still far too keen on getting absolutely blazed at 10am with a massive entourage of non-specific ‘helpers’’ stage of his career and so was by all accounts an occasionally challenging person to produce, but my main regret is that we never got signoff on the digital spinoff bits we wanted to make, one of which was basically EXACTLY this gam which has now been created by the prolific Neal Agarwal (see Curios passim). This is simple, silly and fun – you get a series of binary proposition,pick one side for each, and then see how your opinion compares to the rest of the web. If nothing else, we can now consider the toilet paper over/under question finally resolved for good.
  • Mitchells vs Machines: Was this a good film? As a child-free person, my knowledge of kid-focused CG animations is…limited, but I seem to recall that The Mitchells vs The Machines was reasonably well-received when it came out…at some point in the weird timeslurry that is the past two years. Anyway, should you or anyone in your family have been a fan of the film, or indeed just generally interested in animation and illustration and character design and stuff, then you might enjoy this – Netflix has put the artstyle lookbook (that’s the technical term, right?) for the film online, so you can peruse character and set sketches, read background material about the principles, and generally immerse yourself in the world of the film. It’s a really interesting look at the thought and craft that goes into animation, and super-interesting from a design and production point of view (also, the character art is charming).
  • But Blockchain: Everything, on the blockchain! A Twitter account that spits out a seemingly-infinite procession of ideas for stuff that could be put ON THE BLOCKCHAIN! Either a coruscating satire of the current mania for BLOCKCHAIN-BASED SOLUTIONS or an incredible resource for entrepreneurial inspiration, depending on your point of view. Personally ‘jetpacks, on the blockchain’ sound pretty good to me.
  • Lioness: This is an interesting project. Effectively a third-party organisation set up in the US to assist with whistleblowing and investigation into poor workplace practice, “Lioness is a storytelling platform and new media company that brings forward stories about encounters with power. At the crux of a Lioness story is the interplay of those who have power and those who don’t. Many of the stories that Lioness brings to the public are stories that have been previously stifled by money, non-disclosure agreements, and threats. The two women behind Lioness, Ariella Steinhorn and Amber Scorah, have looked into thousands of untold stories submitted by everyday people, including stories of corruption, sexual abuse and harassment, cover-ups, fraud, resilience, and redemption. Many of the stories we publish are ones that would not have been reported on otherwise, despite being verified — usually due to entrenched power, legal threats, or the fact that people with the stories do not always know how best to connect with the media.” It’s a fascinating model, and the sort of thing which might usefully be replicated outside of North America.
  • Litclock: I have no idea when this got made, but it’s a quietly-lovely little webproject from the Guardian which tells the time via the medium of literary quotes – each hour and minute is accompanied by an appropriate quote from a novel which mentions that specific moment in time (for example, at the exact time of writing, “The lecture was to be given tomorrow, and it was now almost eight-thirty”). This is such a cool little idea – and you can find the code here on Github should you want to cobble together a local version, which is exactly the sort of thing I’d be tempted to do were I the owner of an independent bookshop with some coding skills and a spare e-ink display (which, obviously, applies to LOADS of you, right? Eh? Oh).
  • Onlooker Postcards: A Flickr album featuring postcards collected over several decades and which all feature someone staring out into the distance; for reasons I don’t entirely understand, a significant proportion of said people are wearing red (is this some sort of sign? WHAT ARE THEY TRYING TO TELL US?). I don’t know why these are so compellingly-sinister, but they really are.
  • Emoji Frequency: This year’s report from Unicode, telling us what the most-used emoji were globally in 2021. The headline here is that we are all still irredeemably basic, with the cry/laugh emoji accounting for a quite astonishing 5% of all global emoji usage (NOTHING IS THAT FUNNY! PARTICULARLY NOT NOW!). I won’t pretend that there are any GREAT INSIGHTS that you can derive from this (but, equally, I won’t stop you from pretending that there are – we’re all in the same boat, I won’t judge you), but there are some interesting points in the writeup about the sorts of emoji that might have reached saturation point, particularly should you be considering submitting your own (animal emoji are ‘at saturation level’, sadly, so don’t expect to see your application to add ‘axolotl’ to the menagerie be successful).
  • Electronicos Fantasticos: “”Electronicos Fantasticos!” Is a co-creation led by artist / musician Ei Wada, who revives the electric appliances that have finished their roles into new electronic musical instruments and gradually forms an orchestra. It is a project to go. Currently, we have established activity bases in three cities, Tokyo, Kyoto, and Hitachi, and with the participation of nearly 70 members, we have turned many home appliances such as CRT TVs, electric fans, ventilation fans, video cameras, eco-an, and telephones into musical instruments.” If you’re a fan of people making weird instruments out of old CRT televisions and calculators and stuff, then you will LOVE this – if anyone’s reading this from Hoover, Dyson or one of those companies, PLEASE click this link in particular and then commission these guys to create a bespoke wind orchestra from your appliances. PLEASE.
  • Hive: As a result of having a somewhat…reduced social life at present, I have found occasional minor solace in Twitch – there’s something oddly-soothing about using Nobody to browse the long, unwatched tail of the platform, a bit like a penis-free, game-heavy version of chatroulette. Anyway, that’s how I found this – a Twitch channel that streams a livefeed of a beehive, 24/7. You may not think that you need to see a few thousand bees doing their thing but, I guarantee you, this is mesmerising and therapeutic.

By Nickie Zimov

NEXT UP, A CRACKING 90-MINUTE MIX OF SCREWED AND CHOPPED JUNGLE AND BREAKBEAT WHICH WILL REALLY REWARD SOME DECENT SPEAKERS OR HEADPHONES BECAUSE THERE IS SOME SUPERB BASS IN HERE! 

THE SECTION WHICH THIS WEEK LEARNED HOW TO FEED SOMEONE DIRECTLY INTO THEIR STOMACH, WHICH IS MARGINALLY MORE FUN THAN IT SOUNDS (THOUGH PROBABLY NOT FOR THE FEEDEE), PT.2:

  •  The FBI Artifact of the Month: The FBI is not, it’s fair to say, an institution you would necessarily describe as ‘cute’ or ‘whimsical’, and yet there’s a touch of both in this regular feature on their website, where they present a variety of oddities from their archives for curious eyes. This month’s is a small, slightly-grubby-looking plastic statuette of ‘Alvin’ (lead singer of the Chipmunks, as any fule kno) which was once fitted with a mic as part of a long-running surveillance sting. Which is on the one hand quite interesting and sort-of cool, but I couldn’t help but note the aforementioned grubbiness and then go on to invent a slightly dark backstory that involved some BAD PEOPLE meeting STICKY ENDS. Basically this is just a way to humanise the Feds, is what I’m saying, and should be treated with slight suspicion as a result – alternatively, just treat it as a wonderful series of writing prompts for your ‘Write Detective Fiction In Just 12 Months!’ class.
  • Poly Pizza: Google recently shuttered its free 3d assets platform, but it’s popped up again in this guise, with literally thousands of models to download and use in your own creations. “Explore thousands of free, high quality assets. Ready to use in any Unity, Unreal, Godot, Blender or VR/AR project. Models are available in a variety of formats like OBJ, FBX and GLTF” – sounds good, right? This is one of the things that’s amazing about the future – the tools to create standalone 3d environments, games, worlds, all made by generous people for free use by the wider community. Remind me again what crypto brings to this party?
  • Women Of Rock: I put it to you that it’s near-impossible to read the words ‘Women of Rock’ without (at least mentally) making small devil horns with your fingers and doing a gentle headbang. This is a YouTube channel collecting videos about women in modern music history – “a collection of digital interviews and written transcripts, housed at the Sophia Smith Collection at Smith College—one of the oldest women’s history archives in the United States. Started by Tanya Pearson in December, 2014, WOROHP documents the lives and careers of women in rock whose work and careers have been underrepresented or omitted from rock journalism and historical scholarship. With a collection of publicized and accessible primary source documents, the Women of Rock Oral History Project seeks to facilitate a more comprehensive, inclusive, and accurate cultural history.” Featuring interviews and profiles of people like Peaches, Nina Gordon, Gail Ann Dorsey and more, this is super-interesting if you’re a student of musical history or, er, women in rock (DEVIL HORNS!).
  • The Gallery Companion: Started last year by lecturer Victoria Powell, The Gallery Companion is a (paid, but there are free options) membership organisation which aims to give people who are interested, but not experts in, art a place to discuss, explore, learn and generally enjoy the visual arts with other curious people. There are various online and offline events, talks, tours and things, which could be of interest for any of you who have decided that 2022 is the year in which you FINALLY learn the name of a contemporary artist that isn’t ‘Banksy’.
  • Ukrainian Murderers: A photoseries by David Tesinsky of portraits of people imprisoned for murder in Ukraine. These are…heavy, I suppose, feels like the best word to describe them, and I can’t pretend I didn’t find there to be something slightly odd about the fact that there are prints for sale (is there a profitshare with the subjects? Do proceeds go to charity? I don’t know what the ‘right’ thing is, here, but it feels…weird). Still, unless you’ve got a very specific sort of interior decoration vibe I can’t see them being the sort of things that you’d want hanging on your wall (“You know what would look nice over the mantel, Janet? That print of the man convicted of seven murders and serving a ton-stretch in Kharkiv! The sadness in his eyes!”).
  • Minimator: Oh this is nice. If you’re the sort of person whose doodles tend towards the regimented and geometric and gridlike (I AM NOT JUDGING YOU (but know that I am inferring things about your character)) then this little webtoy could prove very satisfying indeed. You get given a grid-based canvas which you can draw on with simple black lines, lines which can either be straight quarter-circles – with these limitations, you can make some quite detailed and complex designs, whether abstract patterns or simple cartoon-style illustrations, and I reckon this could be quite soothing if you’re less of a cack-handed no-talent aesthetic carcrash than I am.
  • Instaraid: “Make Instagram fun again!”, says this website, before then going on to suggest that it doesn’t really understand how ‘fun’ works. Instaraid is a platform/project that basically exists to create temporary, one-off Insta ‘pods’ (remember those, content marketers of long-standing? GREAT DAYS!) – “Every day, our algorithm randomly select an account that we’ll “raid” on Instagram: we follow them, give them likes, and comment positive things on their pictures. Every participant who uses the #instaraidsubmission on one of the pictures of the currently selected person will have a chance to be selected in the next round. You can participate even if you don’t want to be “raided”: just follow along and comment positive things with the #instaraid hashtag.” Now, on the one hand, this feels like a fun throwback to the days when people would rally round to attempt to boost each others’ accounts as a general ‘a rising tide lifts all ships’ sort-of mindset; on the other, though, this feels like it sort-of fails to appreciate the extent to which ‘suddenly going viral on Insta’ is no longer anything fun and is instead something to be feared and guarded against. OH WHAT WE HAVE LOST!
  • Relax: I normally have very little time for anything that claims to help me ‘relax’ via the medium of a screen (THAT’S WHY I TAKE DRUGS FFS), but I was honestly mesmerised by this. Click the link, click the button, and find yourself staring slack-jawed at a beautiful blue pool which will slowly calm to reveal the simple word ‘RELAX’ beneath the water and MY GOD does this work – seriously, I had a whole 90s of relative calm and tranquility as a result of this (before I remembered who and where I was, and the fantods started again).
  • Browser Shazam: I got quite excited about this when I found it, and then realised that it has…limited use cases – after all, doesn’t everyone likely to want to use Shazam likely to have it on their phones already? And isn’t it more likely that you’ll want to identify songs when you’re out and about and subject to the whims and tastes of others rather than when you’re at home listening to whatever you choose? Still, should you be the sort of person who has an innate distrust of putting apps on your phone (WE ARE BRETHREN!), or the sort of person who likes to put on random music on a tab in the background and who keeps their phone in another room when they work (locked in a box, in a cupboard, underground), then you might find Chrome extension, which lets you identify any song playing on your laptop, useful.
  • First Ascent: Some of the shine has been taken off the ‘Ascent of Everest’ experience in recent years, partly borne of the fact that technology has made it more accessible than ever which means that we now have far more first-hand accounts of the reality of Everest, which as far as I can tell is ‘too many tourists’ and ‘a distressing number of frozen corpses and turds’. Still, it’s undeniable that there’s a sense of romance associated with the first time anyone managed it, and so this little webproject telling the story of the first (official) ascent achieved by John Hunt. Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay is pleasingly compelling, telling the history of people’s obsession with summitting (sorry – this is a horrible word but I am assured it’s appropriate) the mountain and how it was finally achieved.
  • The Trade Journal Cooperative: For several years, a particular favourite hipster gift has been one of those subscriptions that send you a different trends design/lifestyle magazine each month; you know the ones, all 2014-Insta-aesthetic photography and lumpy knitwear and hand-fired pottery and names like ‘Ecru’ and ‘Ennui’ and ‘Askance’. This week I learned of a way to improve upon that – The Trade Journal Cooperative “delivers a lovingly curated niche trade journal to your door every quarter. Our editors painstakingly comb through the back alleys of capitalism to bring you fascinating publications like Pasta Professional, American Funeral Director, and Plumber Magazine. Each issue comes complete with a newsletter from our Editorial Board that provides a wealth of insightful commentary, historical analysis, and various amusing tidbits from our explorations.” If you don’t want to read Pasta Professional, I don’t want you reading my newsletter.
  • Direct Trains: I LOVE that this exists – a small website which lets you click on any train station in the Europe and see how far you can get from it without changing trains. You may not think you want to know exactly how far you can get from Kidderminster without switching carriages, but you never know when this knowledge may come in handy. In particular, if you fancy dreamily planning some sort of pan-European rail journey, this is a wonderful way of imagining it into being.
  • The 101 Best Book Covers of 2021: Not my assessment, to be clear, but a selection pulled together by Literary Hub, as identified by a bunch of designers. These tend to be North American, so there’s a certain aesthetic distinction between the preferred style of publishers in the US and Canada and those in Europe, but it’s still fascinating to see the work and the prevailing trends in aesthetic that you can identify. Personally-speaking, I have a lot of time for the design of Sam Riviere’s Dead Souls (also a great book fwiw, if a bit ‘inside poetry’), but you pick your own (that’s MINE, leave off).
  • Planets: Remember that gorgeous little browser-based aquatic-town-building-simulator from the other week? Well this is sort of like that, except instead of a town you get to terraform your own planet, with trees and oceans and towns. It’s by the same person, Oskar Stalberg, and was a made a few years earlier, but it’s no less lovely and will have you imagining all sorts of intricate backstories for your floating lumps of galactic rock (or it will if you’re me).
  • Karawan: Finally this week, tiny pixellated ludic distraction (it’s a wonder they didn’t use that as a strapline, really) in the shape of Karawan, a tiny game made for Ludum Dare in 72h and SUCH a lovely game which I would love to see fleshed out into something a bit longer. Your task is simple – get your caravan from its starting point to the portal, across a landscape of weird hexagons floating in space which have a a disconcerting habit of disconnecting from the main landmass and floating off towards the Milky Way. Will you be able to guide your ragtag band to safety? Will you find the portal? Will you starve to death? WHO KNOWS???? This is a pretty stripped-back game experience, but a beautiful one, and the music in particular is hauntingly-brilliant.

By Tristan Eaton

LAST UP THIS WEEK, DID YOU KNOW THAT YOU WANTED TO LISTEN A MIX THAT KICKS OFF WITH A BANGER BY NOTED HELLRAISER MICHAEL ASPEL? I BET YOU DID NOT, AND YET HERE WE ARE!

THE CIRCUS OF TUMBLRS!

  • Liquial: A Tumblr collecting water-related media – gifs, graphics, videos – for no discernible purpose that I can identify, which is just the way we like it round here.

THE TROUGH OF (INSTA) FEEDS!

  •  Salvage Design: Hugely-satisfying collage art by Kristen Meyer, which sees her take bits of..well, bits of stuff, basically, which she then arranges into ordered shapes. So imagine a perfect circle formed from differently-hued eggshell fragments, for example. Or from biscuits. This is exactly the sort of thing that you will look at and go ‘oh, what an excellent and simple crafting idea that I can replicate at home!’ and which will then see you sitting in your livingroom surrounded by smashed eggs and sticky albumen, crying to yourself.
  • Kev Craven: A modern cartoonist drawing in the classic 40s/50s ‘Rubber Hose’ style of cartooning, Craven’s insta feed is brilliant and modern-nostalgic and, if you’re anything like me, will make you wish that stuff that you doodled look like this rather than the by product of Helen Keller’s less-successful hobbyist leanings.
  • Watergate Living: Sharing advertising photography from the 1970s; this is all North American, I think, but you will all recognise the slightly-brown aesthetic at play here, as though all the pictures have been given a quick once-over with gravy, or varnished or something. This is very much what I believe was briefly known as ‘a mood’ last year before vocabulary moved on at whiplash-speed once more.
  • Caffs Not Cafes: This is missing an accent over the ‘e’ in ‘Cafes’, but despite living in Italy for 6 months now I am still fcuked if I can work out the keyboard commands for such FOREIGN MADNESS. Anyway, that’s fine because this is a PROUDLY BRITISH account (albeit not in that way), which celebrates the traditional CAFF beloved of the cabby and the builder and the tradesman and the young middle-classes cosplaying at class solidarity – so if you want a succession of photographs of slightly-anaemic chips and sausages which you just know are approximately 90% rusk and 10% pig, and whose only contact with the exotic world of ‘spicing’ is ‘too much white pepper’ then you are absolutely in the right place.
  • Beautiful Pints: Specifically, beautiful pints of Guinness – this is a companion account to the one featuring awful pints of Guinness which I featured a few years ago, and, honestly, for someone living in a country in which the pint doesn’t exist as a unit of measurement (and 330ml is NOT ENOUGH BEER FFS) this is basically like bongo/torture.

LONG THINGS WHICH ARE LONG!:

  • Have We Forgotten How To Read Critically?: In many ways my favourite article of the week, this, which takes as its starting point one of the first big DISCOURSE-y reads of the year at least in US media circles (specifically, that book excerpt in which the woman talked in evidently ironic fashion about ‘hating’ her husband) and uses it to ask a series of questions about the changing way in which the way readers relate to texts in the post-web era, and, specifically, the extent to which the reader has any right to expect engagement from an author of a work around once said author considers said work finished and final, and whether or not it’s…ok for us to demand that the creators of what we consume accommodate our discussions about what they’ve created. Written by Kate Harding, this is both a really smart essay which tackles all sorts of complicated questions about The Nature of The Text but is also at the same time hugely-stylish and very funny. Also it contains this line, which struck me as one of the more true observations about What It Is Like To Observe The Day’s Discoure On Twitter: “Reading can make you feel close to someone without actually knowing them, a precious gift in a lonely world. But if the pleasure of reading is feeling connected to a distant stranger, then the pain of watching people read badly is its opposite: a severing of shared humanity. A cold, demoralizing reminder that we never can look inside each other’s minds, no matter how we try.”
  • Every Bad Bill The Tories Are Trying To Pass In 2022: Web Curios is not, as a rule, a political organ, but I think I’ve said before that I think people who vote Tory are, in the main, cnuts, and I would like to state on record that I believe that to be doubly true for anyone who voted for this current incarnation of the Party. Non-Anglos can skip this, but if you happen to be a happy citizen of ‘Great’ Britain then you might want to give this a quick read just to get a full picture of the sorts of legislative horror being shovelled our way by Priti, Michael, Nadine, Liz and the rest.
  • More Reasons Why Web3 Might Be Bunkum: This has been everywhere this week, and it’s quite technical, but it’s also a really cogent explanation as to why the ‘there’ that we are being promised with Web3 (specifically, DECENTRALISATION AND FREEDOM FROM THE TYRANNY OF BIG PLATFORMS AND BIG BUSINESS!) may not in fact exist. This is by Moxie Marlinspike, both the best-named person currently working in tech and the founder of Signal, who here collects his initial thoughts about Web3 after having dug around the concept for a while – even if you’re not huge on how API calls work and server connections and on- and off-chain data storage (and trust me, I really am not), this still gives a decent enough explanation of why exactly some of the much-touted benefits of Web3 don’t seem to actually exist yet, and may not in fact exist at all. In particular, the creation of an NFT whose visual representation changes depending on who’s looking at it is both a very clever little hack and a superb way of demonstrating some of the…er…flaws inherent in a lot of how this stuff is presented and sold.
  • CryptoJustice: Take a moment to think of everything you know about cryptostuff and, as you ruminate on it, speculate as to whether there are any areas of life, based on that knowledge, that wouldn’t benefit from a lovely injection of TOKEN-RELATED MADNESS. Did you come up with anything? Did…did you maybe think ‘well, I can’t see an obvious benefit to the criminal justice system in putting it on the blockchain’? WELL MORE FOOL YOU! This is a not-insignificantly-depressing piece which profiles a company called Ryval (no, me neither), which promises to create a system which lets anyone “Buy and sell tokens that represent shares in a litigation and access a multi-billion dollar investment class previously unavailable to the public.” Which, in English, means ‘you can basically invest in a legal case and through that investment seek to secure a return on that investment through any profits made by said case’. Is this how ‘justice’ ought to work (this is a rhetorical question; this is after all an American company operating within the Americal judicial system, where ‘justice’ long since forked off into its own, US-only meaning which doesn’t seem to bear much relation to how it works elsewhere)? It doesn’t feel like it, but, on the plus side, just think how rich you’ll be when that investment you make in the inevitable ‘TikTok Made Us Stupid’ class-action lawsuits of the mid-20s comes in!
  • Is Bored Ape Yacht Club A Big Racist ‘Joke’?: Full disclosure – my response to that question, were it not obviously rhetorical, would very much have been ‘I have no idea, because this incredibly long Twitter thread (which I have here collected for you via threadreader, because I’m nice like that) is one of those classic examples of internet detectivework which contains so many inferences and cross-references and suppositions and assumptions and bits of DEEP INTERNET KNOWLEDGE that it’s a bit dazzling and does rather feel as though you could use it to prove just about anything’, but it’s certainly true that there do seem to be an awful lot of suspiciously-Nazi-ish elements in the BAYC aesthetic when you drill down into it. EVEN THE CARTOON APES ARE A RIGHT-WING TOOL OF MEMETIC CULTURE WARFARE, IS NOTHING SAFE OR SACRED ANY MORE?!?!!?
  • How To Trademark The Metaverse: This isn’t, to be clear, a great article – I am including it mainly because I found the headline so crushingly-depressing that I had to sit down for a moment and try and imagine a better, different future in which the digital playgrounds we’re being ushered towards hadn’t all been sold and parcelled out to the highest bidders before we got to them. A BOY CAN DREAM.
  • Moribund Podcasts: I don’t mean to say I told you so, but, well. This is a bit of analysis by Bloomberg which points out that there basically hasn’t been a bing breakout podcasting hit for fcuking years, and that basically it’s still only the big ones from a few years back (pituitary meathead Rogan and some others) that get any BIG numbers (when was the last breakout hit even in the relatively-small UK market? Elizabeth Day’s ‘How To Fail’, maybe?). The reason? THERE ARE TOO MANY FCUKING PODCASTS. I don’t mean to be a downer, kids, but it’s worth looking at this example – low barriers to entry into a medium lead to oversaturation and noone makes and money, SUPPLY AND DEMAND ECONOMICS 101 – and then thinking again, hard, about the promise of how exactly the ‘creator economy’ is going to work out for all of us, CREATING AWAY using the same suite of off-the-shelf tools.
  • Nostalgia For Nostalgia: Or, ‘why do stories never end, and what does that mean for the way we tell them and the way we relate to each other and ourselves?’ (their title is better tbf). “The very structure of our most prevalent plot devices indicates a cultural atmosphere of temporal erosion. Fictional plots today may be taking our increased continual connectivity into account, eschewing the tight contours of the singular, removed adventure narrative that once defined youth media.” I found this really interesting, particularly in terms of the way in which the lack of defined ‘endings’ to things contributes to (what I think is) the increased degree to which we all see ourselves as HEROES on JOURNEYS. Bring back beginnings and endings, seriously – they’re good for us, and if nothing else you’ll have the element of surprise on your side if you unexpectedly decide not to string something out for all eternity.
  • What We Got Stuck In Our Rectums In 2021: To be clear – this is not an inclusive ‘we’. I got nothing stuck in my rectum in 2021, and would like to be quite open about that. I can’t, of course, speak for any of you – perhaps one of you, dear readers, was the person admitted to hospital with a rolling pin lodged uncomfortably in their bottom? Anyway, this isn’t just the stuff found through bumspelunking – there’s stuff that got stuck in ears, noses and, er, penises and vaginas! Special shout out this year to the guy who went to hospital and delivered this story with what one presumes was a straight face: “STATES HE AND HIS FRIENDS HAD A PRACTICAL JOKE GOING ON EACH OTHER. THIS TIME, HE WAS SLEEPING WHEN HIS FRIEND PUT A DILDO IN HIS RECTUM AND NOW UNABLE TO GET IT OUT”
  • What Happened To Colours?: Specifically, what happened to colours in film and TV shows, and where did they go, and why is everything basically sludge-coloured these days? It’s an interesting shift from the 2010-ish era in which all films had to be graded to be as blue/orange as possible (it was the law – seriously, if you don’t remember then read this), and the reasons are more technical now than they were then (“JUST MAKE IT POP”). There are multiple potential reasons cited here as to why ‘sludge’ is the prevailing aesthetic of 2022, but I think my favourite is ‘it helps cover up all the sh1tty CG work’ which simply feels true even if it’s not.
  • Plastics: A brilliant article looking at plastics and why the fcuk we use so many of them – spoiler, it’s ANOTHER SIDE EFFECT OF MASS-CAPITALISM! Honestly, I was captivated by this – it’s one of those great pieces which feels like it lifts a veil and shows you How The World Really Works, and how incredibly complex everything is and how interrelated and how if you think the butterfly flapping its wings has some unexpected distant consequences you ain’t seen nothing yet. It’s probably also worth pointing out that this isn’t exactly a cheering read from an environmental point of view, although there’s an argument to suggest that one of the big takeaways from this is ‘it’s not our fault’ – once again, the real blame for Where We Are Now And How Badly It’s Fcuking The Planet With Knives rests with the chemical manufacturers and…yes, that’s right, THE ADMEN! Do…do you ever think that there’s one day going to be a big reckoning where everyone suddenly realises that one of the main side-effects of the 20th Century has been giving us terrible, species-wide habits that are killing us, and that the people responsible were those much-derided advermarketingprmongs, and that maybe they should pay? Because I’m increasingly of that opinion myself, and I am one. In case you’re in the market for it, by the way, here’s another piece along similar lines – complementary imho.
  • Future Food: Fascinating piece by Eater which looks at the way in which food service and delivery is developing and changing, thanks to technology and the pandemic, and what the next 5-10 years in the sector might look like. If you’ve any interest in urban living, how we live and how we eat, this is a must-read – if nothing else it’s a decent and incredibly-fcuking-important reminder that we’re currently living in a period of time where there are no magic machines, scarcity still exists, human labour is still necessary, and in which every single minor convenience granted with you is almost always sweated for by another human being who’s probably being paid minimum wage (if they’re lucky), and we ought to get better at keeping that front-of-mind when we make decisions about how we want to live now and in the future (he said, like some sort of fcuking beacon of moral rectitude – sorry, that was a bit insufferable, will try and be less of a preachy w4nker).
  • Being In A Band: Read this para, and then go and read the whole thing: “For a brief moment in the mid 00s, we were everywhere. We were on the cover of the NME when humans wrote it and actual people read it to learn about bands not just to be sold shoes; we were touring the world as the support act for a big Hollywood band called 30 Seconds To Mars, fronted by arguably the fourth best Joker, Jared Leto. We had people turning up to our gigs cosplaying as us. We had a fan club, believe it or not. We had been touted as ‘the most perfect new band ever’. But as quickly as that ascent had come, it disappeared and I became me. I’d forgotten.” This is such a wonderful piece of writing, which is more about their manager than the experience of being in a band itself – I want to read a whole book of this, so get on with it Michael M.
  • Sonny’s Blues: Finally in the longreads this week, a short (30-odd pages) short story by James Baldwin, which I’d not read before and you might not have done either. It’s Baldwin, so doesn’t need me to sell it – you know that this is going to be good, and you’re right. Make a pot of tea and enjoy it.

By Wa Unpis

AND NOW, MOVING PICTURES AND SOUNDS!:

Webcurios 07/01/22

Reading Time: 37 minutes

HAPPY NEW YEAR EVERYONE HAPPY NEW YEAR!

Did you all have nice breaks? Did you all have nice Christmases? I do hope so, because that’s OVER and all there is to look forward to now is basically darkness and cold and root vegetables for the foreseeable.

Thanks heavens, then, for Web Curios, which, like a harder-working Santa Claus, comes WEEKLY to empty its sack of webspaff all over the place for your pleasure and delight. 2022 is a BRAND NEW YEAR, but rest assured you can look forward to exactly the same sort of low-quality prose and overabundant links that you’ve become grudgingly accustomed to over the past however long you’ve resisted hitting ‘unsubscribe’ for.

So, then, let’s prepare to do it all again for another 12 months of links – links which in some small, weird, patchwork way tell the story of where we are and where we are going. Or at least a story – which is good enough, I suppose.

Web Curios – a guide to the now, or at least this week’s version of the now, or at least my viewpoint on this week’s version of the now, or at least my viewpoint on this week’s version of the now at this specific point in time.

You’ve missed this, haven’t you? I can tell.

By Jennie Mejan

LET’S KICK OFF THE CURIOS MUSICAL SMORGASBORD OF 2022 WITH THIS EXCELLENT ALBUM FROM LAST YEAR BY LEON VYNHALL CALLED ‘RARE, FOREVER’! 

THE SECTION WHICH YESTERDAY HEARD THE PHRASE ‘D2A MARKETPLACE’ AND REALLY WISHES IT HADN’T, PT.1:

  • JWT and the Metaverse: AH THE METAVERSE! It’s only been 6 days, but I can confidently predict that this is a word we’re all going to be heartily sick of by February, at least if this selection of quite astonishing instances of it at this year’s CES are anything to go by (special mention for the stand which claims ‘Time Travel Is Now Possible’). Of course, the BIG PLAYERS of agencyland are getting frothy about all this – and why not? Based on the level of hype, the lack of definition of what the hype is actually about, and a rich, old clientbase which has spent the past 2 years existing almost entirely online and which therefore feels like it understands the digital space whilst at the same time really not understanding it at all, this feels like absolutely the perfect moment in time to make an awful lot of cash by selling useless-but-shiny solutions to morons. And so, with this in mind, I logged onto the JWT Metaverse (look, I’m going to have to keep using this word, so let’s all accept that it’s meaningless and fluid and will at any given moment serve to mean whatever I choose it to mean, ok? Good) last night to see what they were peddling. OH ME OH MY. Let’s kick off with the positives – the tech, supplied by a company called Odyssey, really is very good – the environment you experience is shiny and feels reasonably ‘premium’ (ie like a mediocre 3rd-person action adventure title from 2017), and even with my appalling broadband I was able to ‘experience the metaverse’ with little difficulty. Of course, what that also meant that it was very apparent that what had been set up was JUST ANOTHER FCUKING AVATAR-LED CHATROOM WITH SPATIAL AUDIO, so just like literally two-dozen other platforms or services which you could spin up for free in 15m and without needing to pay a handling fee to your massively expensive ad agency. What could you do in this amazing space? Well! Let me tell you! You could change your avatars clothes! You could click on things to read textual descriptions! You could interact with your fellow visitors via voice or videochat, or through CUTE GESTURES! There was a game (it involved clicking something, once)! And there were an awful lot of very nice JWT staffers wandering round who all seemed very nice and, in the main, totally at a loss as to what they were meant to be doing there. Incredible quotes I overheard included “We can build you your own metaverse” (which, er, sort of seems to fundamentally misunderstand what this is all about), “who needs psychedelics when you have the metaverse?” (said by a middle-aged man who I am reasonably-certain has never ingested psychedelics in their life, or if they think they have was sold a placebo – sorry man), and the slightly-chilling “we are able to direct where the metaverse will be heading” (oh good, a digital future determined by soulless account automata and their intellectually-moribund paymasters, just what I always dreamed of!). There was also a presentation, summarising JWT’s ‘State of the Metaverse’ report from last year (LOL IT’S A FCUKING CONCEPTUAL FRAMEWORK IT DOESN’T FCUKING EXIST IN ANY MEANINGFUL WAY, THE STATE OF YOU MORELIKE!), which included this quote, which I had to write down twice because it was so, so perfect: “So the metaverse is a concept which we are still really trying to shape and define…is it time to hire a chief Metaverse Officer? Yeah!”. The other thing that I enjoyed most about this was the incredible opportunities that this sort of space affords for corporate espionage – I particularly enjoyed listening in to a conversation between a JWT person and a woman representing an upscale Mumbai property developer (I checked – apartments start at £500k), who was waxing lyrical about a new 5* hotel and resort that she wanted to ‘create a metaverse for’ (see? Fish in a barrel, you can’t even blame the admen here) but which was as yet unannounced and TOP SECRET. I was able to get three people’s personal email addresses just by standing around behind them and listening to them being pitched, which feels like…something of a security vulnerability. Special shout out to a nice man called Gavin who spent time chatting to me about all this and who was far more patient with my slightly-aggressive tone than he needed to be – this experience is apparently running throughout CES, so do drop in and say hi to the JWT people and take a moment to imagine how much that property developer is going to get fleeced for to build something that’s literally no different to what you could do in Second Life 15 years ago.
  • You, Only Virtual: Second link of the year, and it’s about death – HAPPY 2022 EVERYONE! If you happen to recall the (excellent) SF Chronicle article from last year about the man who tried to recreate his girlfriend in AI after her death then You, Only Virtual will be familiar to you. The company offers a paid-for service (one-off fee and then monthly subscription) which lets you create digital versions of loved ones for you to continue interacting with after their death, based on whatever records of them and your interactions that you can dredge up. The quality of the resulting bot is dependent on the source material – so if you have a decade’s worth of emails you’ll likely get a better, richer result than if you’re working from two weeks’ worth of emoji-laden Whatsapps – but let’s just say that I am…skeptical as to the extent to which you’ll be able to create a passable version of your dear old mum or dad from their textual remains (also, there’s a sourcing problem here – the nature of most modern communication means that for the majority of people their textual interactions are the most mechanical and practical – do you really want to train the post-mortem foreverbot of your nearest and dearest on a corpus which is basically all ‘can you pick up some fags?’ and ‘we’re out of skins’ and ‘so hungover bring Dairylea’? Anyway, this sounds like an awful idea but I suppose the quality of these things depend on how much you have to feed them with, so perhaps the only solution is to start archiving all of our conversations with everyone RIGHT NOW and start the digital ghost birthing process early.
  • Neuro Symbolic AI: “Neuro Symbolic Lab is an innovation lab with a vision”, this website burbles, “Bringing Consciousness to Machine”. Sounds…chilling, but don’t worry, as literally nothing else on this site will make any sense to you whatsoever. I am including this because it’s indicative of something we’re going to see more and more of around AI (and the fcuking metaverse, and basically everything else to do with leading-edge technology). Why are you dragging and dropping lumps of brain around the screen? Why is the sinister music playing? WHAT IS THE FUTURE TRYING TO TELL ME??? No clue, but this is by Alibaba Group and so therefore there’s a lot of money behind it and whilst I haven’t got the faintest clue what it’s about I am willing to accept that people smarter than me probably do.
  • Better Images of AI: This is A Good Idea – Better Images of AI is a non-profit collaboration which is working to improve the quality of visual representation used in popular media when talking about artificial intelligence – because all the blue-glowing neon outlines and TRON-ish imagery isn’t, turns out, hugely helpful when trying to apply this stuff practically or talk about it in ways which are more about the here and now and less about the future of the fcuking metaverse. “Abstract, futuristic or science-fiction-inspired images of AI hinder the understanding of the technology’s already significant societal and environmental impacts. Images relating machine intelligence to human intelligence set unrealistic expectations and misstate the capabilities of AI. Images representing AI as sentient robots mask the accountability of the humans actually developing the technology, and can suggest the presence of robots where there are none. Such images potentially sow fear, and research shows they can be laden with historical assumptions about gender, ethnicity and religion.” If you or your clients work in or around this stuff, this could be worth getting on board with.
  • Every Second Song: A Twitter account which is tweeting songs of every possible length, til it runs out, one by one. It started in July last year by tweeting a link to a one-second long track; at the time of writing, it’s most-recently shared a song called ‘Black Butter, Present’ by Strawberry Alarm Clock which lasts for 2:06 seconds. This is utterly pointless, other than as an exercise in coding, but it’s IMMENSELY pleasing and a nice way of discovering what’s likely to be a completely novel piece of music each day (and of course knowing that it’s exactly ONE SECOND MORE MUSIC than you got the day before – small, incremental gains, kids!).
  • Renault Originals: It sort of feels like all the big brands with decent heritage have finally cottoned on to the fact that ‘making online museums of your brand’s history is a sensible use of all those old assets’ but, once again, MAKING ONLINE MUSEUMS OF YOUR BRAND’S HISTORY IS A SENSIBLE USE OF ALL THOSE OLD ASSETS. This is Renault’s celebration of several decades of vehicle-design – if you’re into cars (specifically, if you’re into slightly-boxy French cars from the 60s, 70s and 80s) then this is great, and even if not there’s a lot to appreciate here from a design point of view. Each model has its own dedicated section, where you can explore images and copy detailing the car’s history, explore a CG 3d render of the model in question, listen to a playlist of car sounds (look, car people are weird, I don’t understand them either) and even buy die-cast models of the vintage bangers (the lack of NFTs on sale is perhaps my favourite thing about this whole site) – basically this is near-perfect, so well done everyone involved. Now get JWT to make it IN THE METAVERSE! (sorry Gavin).
  • Animate Your Kids Drawings: This did the rounds pre-Christmas, but, presuming that you haven’t all killed your children in a fit of festive rage, it’s potentially still of use/interest even now that you’ve consigned your lumps of chopped-up pine to the end of the garden. Upload a drawing and the software will attempt to identify its individual constituent parts (you can help it pick out heads, arms, etc, if it’s struggling) to then let you animate it in simple-but-surprisingly-cute fashion, like some sort of intensely-brown 1970s papercraft animation which you might half-remember from feverish sick days of your youth. Fun and nicely-made, although it’s worth pointing out that it’s made by the Zuckerbergian Misery Factory and so there’s no guarantee that your children’s scrawlings won’t be used as part of a pre-election radicalisation campaign in the second world or something. Caveat Usor.
  • Earth’s Black Box: I…I don’t quite know what this is. Details are a touch on the sketchy side, but reports I’ve dug out suggest that this is basically an environmental/art installation which is designed to meticulously record the steps we take on the way to irrevocably fcuking the planet beyond all hope – so anyone stumbling across the wreckage of Earth in the millennia hence will be able to see exactly how we botched our domestic responsibilities in our relatively-short species timeline. Oh, hang on, it’s an ADLAND THING! It’s BBDO! Oh, I am all of a sudden slightly less interested. Still, here: “The solar-powered vault will be roughly the length of a school bus and the shape of an upside-down curb stop, and the entire thing will be encased in 3-inch-thick (7.5 centimeters) steel designed to withstand catastrophe, just as an airplane’s black box is built to withstand an impact. And just like a black box is tucked away in the safest part of a plane, Earth’s Black Box will be placed in the most secure location on Earth, which is Tasmania, apparently. When it goes online, Earth’s Black Box will be filled with hard drives recording and storing climate-related information,” So now we know.
  • Portmanteaur: If you work in advermarketingpr then a) sorry; and b) it’s not too late to stop; but also c) you know that everything is about having clever names for things. EVERYTHING. Coming up with a nice combined name for an idea or concept can turn an otherwise-moribund meeting into a triumphant orgy of self-congratulation and backslapping – which is where Portmanteaur comes in. Feed it whichever words you fancy and this site will spit back at you a bunch of suggestions for making NEW words out of combinations of the originals – which, fine, isn’t hugely useful, but if you’re stuck in a naming session for a new, I don’t know, fish-based sausage product, who wouldn’t be grateful for a website which can within seconds lead you to the nomenclature gold that is ‘fasausage’? NO FCUKER, that’s who!
  • Meaning on a Lamp Post: A blogpost by Paul Slade about the stickers you find on London lampposts. Particularly focusing on the way in which this public real estate has been used by opposing sides (ie morons vs non-morons) in the Great Covid Vaccine Debate, this is a small-but-fascinating look at a tiny piece of culture and society that most of us probably don’t pay attention to at all: “I’m always fascinated by the street art I find when I’m out walking around London. I’m thinking here not just of graffiti – though there’s certainly plenty of that – but also the home-made notices people display in their windows and the protest stickers attached to every available surface along the pavement. Lamp-posts and the poles supporting traffic signs carry the bulk of these stickers, I think because they offer a smooth surface at eye level where the sticker will adhere well and remain in place for months to come. Once you start noticing them, they become like a muttered conversation you can overhear the city having with itself, always there as a background hum but only occasionally grabbing your full attention. Once in a while, this conversation flares into an angry argument as someone frantically scratches out a sticker they disagree with or covers it up with an opposing one of their own.” I love this.
  • Cryptobatz: I don’t make New Year’s Resolutions – that would involve an ability to look to the future which I simply don’t possess (and also, why the fcuk would I want to set myself up for failure? NEVER TRY, NEVER FAIL, RIGHT KIDS???) – but if I did, one would have been to try and feature less obviously-moronic cryptoprojects in Curios in 2022. Which I promise I will try and do, but there are some which are too beautifully-stupid to ignore – such as CRYPTOBATZ BY OZZY OSBORNE! I think that anyone with even a passing knowledge of Osborne’s life and general demeanour can be reasonably certain that the genesis for this series of poorly-drawn pixellated bats (GEDDIT????!!!!) did not come from the Black Country mammal-decapitator, Still, PIXELLATED BATS! These will definitely be worth at least whatever you pay for them in six month’s time, honest! Still, maybe you can use them in the metaverse that JWT can build for you (sorry Gavin).
  • Griftcoin: This is a project by Web Curios readers (HELLO!), who sent this to me with the following inducement: “if you’d like to own some of the world’s most beloved cryptocurrency we’d be positively overjoyed to send you some 1,000,000+ of the things.” Consider this my formal acceptance of the offer – I look forward to HODLING to the moon with you all! What’s particularly nice about this is the fact that, aside from the name, there is very little here that would alert you to the fact that this is all bullsh1t – the language is indistinguishable from that found on 99% of all nascent crypto-coin projects, even down to the focus on COMMUNITY (of schmucks) – well done everyone involved. Except, hang on, they ARE actually selling stuff on Opensea, so maybe it’s all real after all…oh God, it’s January and we have a whole year of this stuff still to come, I am so so so so tired.
  •  Oncyber: One of the big questions about NFTs is what to do with your multi-million pound collection of poorly-rendered cartoon avatars and bad pixelart – now we have the answer! Oncyber lets anyone connect their NFT collection held on Opensea or wherever to a virtual gallery space, letting them wander through ghostly corridors ‘admiring’ their ‘art’ on the digital walls. There’s something quite interesting about being able to browse the collections that people have assembled and are here displaying, not least because of the birds-eye view it gives your of the scene’s prevailing aesthetics, but also something quite strange about how…oddly-dated this all feels. Also, why use this when you can get JWT to build you a gallery in your own metaverse? (sorry Gavin).
  • Web3 Is Going Great: A wonderful project which collects news articles and reports from the fringes of the web3/NFT/crypto movement to illustrate how it’s all DEFINITELY NOT BEING PUSHED BY CROOKS. Obviously this will all look very sill when I am minting Curios on the blockchain and you’re all paying me fractional quantities of ETH through metamask for the privilege of being PART OF THE CURIOS COMMUNITY, but until then I am going to enjoy laughing at headlines like “Digiconomist Reports That Bitcoin Used About As Much Energy As Argentina in 2021”.
  • The Postcard Maven: Postcards…As A Service! I can’t, I confess, quite see how this is a viable business model, but well done to whoever’s behind it for giving it a go. You can use this site to buy collections of curated postcards which you can then send on to anyone you like – or, if you’re the sort of person who really like epistolary correspondence, subscribe to get a regular pack of postcards sent to you each month. I very much like the fact that this exists, even if I can’t work out who the target market is.
  • Amazing RC Cars: This is the YouTube channel of one Danny Huynh, who makes amazing remote control cars (and trucks, and other things that go) which have a rather wonderful Mad Max-y vibe to them, and which are articulated in all sorts of impressive ways, and which, if you’re me at least, will flash you back to being 9 years old when the prospect of owning a proper remote controlled vehicle and racing it was the most impossibly-cool thing in the world.
  • Mini Tokyo 3d: This isn’t the first visualisation of the Tokyo underground I’ve seen, but it’s certainly the prettiest – this is a wonderful live map of all the trains currently moving through the Tokyo subway system, letting you see where the individual trains are on the network and how the whole complex machinery of mass underground transit functions in realtime. Fascinating, in a proper ‘like a human antfarm’ sort of way.

By Samplerman

NEXT UP IN THE MIXES, HAVE THIS FRANKLY SUPERB THEO PARRISH DETROIT MIX FROM NEW YEAR’S EVE 2021! 

THE SECTION WHICH YESTERDAY HEARD THE PHRASE ‘D2A MARKETPLACE’ AND REALLY WISHES IT HADN’T, PT.2:  

  •  Ceefax: This isn’t the first ‘Ceefax, but for now!’ project I’ve seen, but it’s really nicely-done by what I think is a single-person hobbyist called Nathan – it basically takes the current BBC News site and runs it through an interface to let you experience it as through through Ceefax back in the 80s/90s. For any of you who are too young to know what Ceefax was then a) OH MY GOD YOU DON’T EVEN KNOW YOU’RE BORN FFS; and b) this was basically the internet in The Past. I might use this to give myself a pure hit of uncut nostalgia tomorrow and watch the FA Cup games on this, waiting for the pages to refresh just like it’s 1993 all over again.
  • River Runner: I featured this site, by Sam Learner, when it first came out a year or so ago, but it’s now been updated and it’s SO GOOD it deserves a re-up. River Runner lets you click anywhere on a map of the world, and then calculates the likely route a drop of rain would take to the sea where it to fall where you clicked – and then generates a flythrough from Google Maps which takes you on an eagle’s eye trip along the raindrop’s route to the ocean. This is so, so, so good – perfectly-executed, lightweight and endlessly-fascinating – seriously, just pick a point somewhere in the alps and see where it takes you. Glorious stuff, and 100% the most lovely thing in here this week.
  • Floating Motors: Is this real? I think it’s real. Floating Motors is a company which offers you the chance to take any classic car model of your choosing and refit it to turn it into…a boat! As far as I can tell this basically involves welding some floaters and an outboard onto a chassis and praying quite hard (but, equally, I am not an engineer and don’t really understand this sort of thing), but if you’ve ever dreamed of having, I don’t know, a Morris Allegra you could take down the Thames then these people might be the answer to your prayers. Prices are on application, and there’s an opportunity for investment which…yes! THERE’S A CRYPTO ANGLE! Praise be, is there nothing that will remain untouched by the infinite grift of crypto in 2022? Almost certainly not, is the infinitely-depressing answer.
  • Charachorder: This is interesting – the link here takes you to a TikTok account, owned by someone who’s promoting their quite astonishing-looking new typing innovation. The CharaChorder is a device which changes how you type – rather than a standard keyboard input, this instead has about 12 or so keys which your fingers are always resting on, meaning you don’t have to lift-drop-lift to type and instead can theoretically output characters significantly faster. Obviously you have to completely relearn how to type, which might be offputting, but the videos on display here of people using the kit are astonishing. There’s obviously no way of telling whether this is a massive fake or not, but the speeds here are about 3 times faster than standard keyboard inputs and this feels like something really quite interesting. Of course, we’re all moving towards a world in which we communicate solely via images of our faces rather than the written word and as such this might end up being entirely obsolete before it gets off the ground, but it’s an interesting example of innovation in a space where relatively-little has existed for quite a long time.
  • The Data Sonification Archive: A repository of data sonification projects for you to peruse should you desire – “This curated collection is part of a broader research endeavor in which data, sonification and design converge to explore the potential of sound in complementing other modes of representation and broadening the publics of data. With visualization still being one of the prominent forms of data transformation, we believe that sound can both enrich the experience of data and build new publics.” This is a superb resource if you’re interested in thinking about different and creative ways of using data beyond ‘let’s make an infographic!’ which, really, you ought to be doing, because noone has made a good infographic since approximately 2013.
  • Uncivil Religion: This is an interesting project, touching on a curious bit of cultural overlap I’ve seen more of over the past 24m or so – specifically, the links between religion and the alt-right/conspiracy movement, and in particular how these links manifested on the day of the Capitol assault in 2021. “Religious symbols, rituals, identities, banners, signs, and sounds suffused the events surrounding the U.S. Capitol on January 6, 2021. This project begins to trace the thread of religion that wound throughout that day through pieces of digital media. It does this in two ways. First, there is a collection of essays that analyze individual pieces of media from January 6 in order to explain the role religion played that day. Second, there is a series of galleries that contain pieces of media that represent the variety of ways religion “showed up” on January 6.” It feels rather like there’s something here to investigate and unpack, particularly if you expand this sort of thinking to the ‘trad values’ wing of the right and its increasing retreat to ‘kinder, kuche, kirche’-type tropes.
  • Relingo: This is a really smart idea, and a potentially useful one if you have ‘learn another language so I can finally escape plague island for good’ on your list of plans for 2022. Relingo is a Chrome plugin which lets you pick the language you’re trying to learn and your level of competence and then uses that information to gently teach you vocab as you browse the web, offering you translations of words as you read them based on its understanding of your language level. I can imagine this needs a bit of tweaking and training to hit its stride, but the idea of getting regular vocab topups as you go about your regular browsing business seams like a seamless and smart one.
  • Frank Force: I love me a good personal portfolio site, and this – by the mysterious Frank Force – is a lovely example of the genre. Packed with games, bits of digital generative art and general oddities, this is a wonderful window into Frank’s mind and creative output. “I love generative art and making interactive experiences. Over the years I’ve produced thousands of pieces of art, games, tools, etc. This website is just a small window into what I’ve been tinkering with.” There are LOADS of fun things to play with and discover in here, and the faux-Windows interface is really nicely done – thanks, Frank!
  • Synchron: This is quite amazing science, and very much not a standard Web Curios link (insofar as it’s not odd, inexplicable, disgusting, stupid or wrong). Synchron is a company that’s working on systems to help allow those suffering from neurodegenerative disorders to continue to interact with the world, despite their condition. I can’t pretend to understand more than about 10% of the science here, but as someone with a partial personal interest in this area of medicine and treatment I find the whole field fascinating and pleasingly-hopeful.
  • When Can I Reuse This Calendar?: Whereas this is very much a typical Web Curios link. Have you ever gotten to the end of the year and thought “well, this calendar is now useless but I simply can’t get rid of Mr October, however crusty and clotted his image has become through overappreciation!”? No, you probably haven’t, but, just in case, here’s a website which lets you helpfully calculate the years in which calendars from the past will become reusable (you will be able to reuse Mr October 2021 in 2027, FYI).
  • Corrupt My File: I was sorely-tempted to avail myself of this this week (there is a special circle of hell reserved for people who request proposals in the first week back of January, curse you you fcukers), and I offer it to you as a sort of ultimate ‘get out of jail free’ card for 6pm on a Friday afternoon. Upload any file you like to this site and it promises to corrupt it and render it unreadable and unrecoverable – perfect for those times when you simply can’t be fcuked to paraphrase Matthew Ball again and just want to go home.
  • Vortex: A browser-based synthtoy! But a really, really slick one – simple interface (tap keys to add or remove musical elements), tightly-coded (everything sounds pretty good, and it’s so far been impossible even for a cloth-eared no-talent wastrel like me to make something vaguely-melodic), and, most importantly, lots of fun to mess around with. Made by this very capable student at Gobelins, who gets a special congratulations for being the first person in 2022 to make me feel old and talentless (but certainly not the last).
  • X-Ray A Day: A Twitter account sharing a different image of an interesting X-Ray each day (which you could probably have gleaned from the title to be honest – this prose really does add value!). This tends to focus on electronic goods – your mileage will obviously vary, but if you’ve ever itched to know what, I don’t know, a PS2 controller would look like through an X-Ray machine then WOW are you in luck.
  • Redditbests: This is SUCH a good idea for a website, let down by slightly sub-optimal UX/UI – the basic premise is that it scrapes subReddits to pull out the products that are most-recommended by the community, letting you easily see what the wisdom of the expert crowd has decreed are the ‘best’ things in any given category. Obviously the quality of the recommendation will vary hugely depending on the profile of the sub, but the idea is SO GOOD – Reddit’s long been the bets place to go for expert recommendations on specific, often technical, topics, so the idea of scraping that expertise for product recs feels spot-on. Sadly the navigation on the site leaves a bit to be desired – there are obviously categories and tags in the back-end which taxonomise the products, but there’s no clear way to access those, meaning there’s no easy way of clicking straight through to, I don’t know, the top buttplugs as recommended by /r/upmybum. Still, fix that and this becomes an absolute goldmine (and, if I’m honest, this is all based on scraping and public data, so it wouldn’t be hard to make your own version – I mean, I say that, but obviously I couldn’t do it; still, maybe you can!).
  • AtariXP: Nostalgia is a powerful force, and one seemingly immune to facts. An example – this company, which is releasing BRAND NEW GAMES for the Atari2600 videogame system, last popular in approximately 1983 and which, objectively, is NO FUN AT ALL to play in 2022. Still, if you’ve inexplicably held on to your original Atari console and have some way of connecting it to a modern television, and fancy dropping 50 quid on a BRAND NEW GAME EXPERIENCE for it (which will arrive at…some point in the future), then you’re in luck. Credit to the developers, it’s clear from the game trailers that their ability to manipulate the creaking old tech in graphically-impressive ways is not to be sniffed at (this looks a bit more impressive than, say, Pole Position), but one does wonder exactly how many people there are out there with the kit to play these games on. Still, you can pick up a 2600 on ebay for £100-150 quid, so should you want to remind yourself of how rubbish videogames used to be in the past then fill your boots.
  • Magic Poser: I think this tool is designed to let you create posed humanoid scenes for subsequent sketching – like a digital version of those little wooden mannequins they sell in art shops, and which are invariably all arranged in slightly-camp poses by customers within 5m of the shop opening – but I have just spent 10 minutes arranging a series of male models in some appallingly-demeaning positions and have therefore decided that that’s what its real purpose is. There’s some rather dark joy to be found in the manipulation here – or, er, there is for me. Your mileage may of course vary (but I will be amazed if you don’t spend longer than you’d care to admit fiddling with their hips).
  • Tape Fear: This is EXCELLENT – riffing on the same idea as Nobody (the platform that lets you find streamers who noone’s watching) and all those services that pull YouTube vids with no views, Tape Fear lets you pull artists that noone listens to from Spotify to expand your listening horizons. Choose your genre and dive in – this is a lovely way of finding new artists to listen to, and the site keeps a record of those tracks and albums it’s pointed you at to help you keep a record of your discoveries. Wonderful internet music-spelunking, this.
  • Processed World: This site is pretty much PURE CURIOS (insofar as I find it confusing and a bit unsettling). Processed World was a countercultural art project/magazine/protest movement/running gag (delete as applicable – at the time of writing I think all of the labels apply, though) – in fact, here, read this: “founded in 1981 by a small group of dissidents, mostly in their twenties, who were then working in San Francisco’s financial district. The magazine’s creators found themselves using their only marketable skill after years of university education: “handling information.” In spite of being employed in offices as “temps,” few really thought of themselves as “office workers.” More common was the hopeful assertion that they were  photographers, writers, artists, dancers, historians or philosophers. Beyond these creative ambitions, the choice to work “temp” was also a refusal to join the rush toward business/yuppie professionalism. Instead of 40-70 hour weeks at thankless corporate career climbing, they sought more free time to pursue their creative instincts. Nevertheless, day after day, they found themselves cramming into public transit en route to the ever-expanding Abusement Park of the financial district. Thus, from the start, the project’s expressed purpose was twofold: to serve as a contact point and forum for malcontent office workers (and wage-workers in general) and to provide a creative outlet for people whose talents were blocked by what they were doing for money. The idea for a new magazine struck one of these people, Chris Carlsson, while he was on vacation in the summer of 1980. The sources of this brainstorm were simultaneously a certain socio-economic layer of late twentieth century U.S. society, a group of friends, and certain obscure artistic and political tendencies comprising both post-New Left, post-situationist libertarian radicalism and the dissident cultural movement whose most public expression was punk and new wave music.” This is the archive of the magazine’s contents over its run, and it’s incredible to read this stuff in 2022 because it all feels terrifyingly modern. All the stuff about the role of the worker and ‘work’ itself in an age of creeping technological change and digital automation eerily predates our modern conversations about ‘bullsh1t jobs’ and redundancies of effort, and it’s simultaneously heartening and really quite depressing how little has changed in the questions we’re (not enough of us) asking about How This Is All Working Out For Us.
  • Busy Simulator: Yes, you’ll all have seen this already as it did the rounds before Christmas, but seeing as you’re all back at work now I feel honour-bound to point out that an EXCELLENT use case for this is to put it on in the background when you’re on a call, turn ALL the notification sounds on, and then go out til the call’s over. You’re welcome.
  • CathodeTV: VERY OLD STYLE MEDIA IS THE NEW MEDIA HOTNESS! Well, actually, it’s probably not, but I do like seeing THE PAST repackaged for THE FUTURE like this. CathodeTV is a very cool project – basically a sort of cult-y TV station, but online, broadcasting a daily selection of curated shows and films pulled from public domain YouTube. It’s from the US and so programming runs 7pm-7am Pacific Standard Time, but for European insomniacs (or, you know, any North, Central or South Americans reading this) it’s a really lovely service – not least the chat which runs in parallel to the screening and which is seemingly a really nice community of cinephiliac oddballs. To give you an idea of programming, last night’s output included What’s Up, Doc? from 1972, and Paper Moon from 1973 – seriously, if you’re the sort of person who finds themselves up late at night struggling to sleep and in need of some sort of communal viewing experience this feels like it might be some sort of lifesaver. I would be fascinated to see something like this done for anglo sensibilities/timezones – feels like a Vole.wtf project to me.
  • Ampie: This is either a hugely-useful research tool or a portal to madness, depending on how you look at it. The idea is super-smart – Ampie’s a Chrome plugin which lets you do a quick, one-button search for any discussion or commentary anywhere on the web which links to the page you’re currently on. So, for example, if you were on a Page relating to a particular product or service you could click the Ampie button and get an overview of what people linking to that product or service are saying about it. Which is great! Except obviously what this will also do is open you up to a view of what EVERYONE IS SAYING ABOUT EVERYTHING, which obviously has all sorts of negative side effects in terms of the general likelihood of its exposing you to some of the worst opinions and perspectives known to humanity. Still, as a way of getting a quick insight into varying perspectives and opinions around a THING, this could be super-useful – I can totally see how this could be useful for journalists, for example (not, please note, necessarily the same as being useful for journalism).
  • The Mushroom Colour Atlas: I LOVE THIS. “The Mushroom Color Atlas is a resource and reference for everyone curious about mushrooms and the beautiful and subtle colors derived from them. But it is also the start of a journey and a point of departure, introducing you to the kaleidoscopic fungi kingdom and our connection to it. My hope is that through this Atlas everyone will be inspired to learn more about the mycological world, and begin to understand the importance of the networks, connections and symbiotic relationships that live in our forests. Most importantly, understanding our impact on these delicate networks and our role as stewards of the land, bringing positive change to our local environments and our planet.” Honestly, I had NO IDEA I was so into mycology until I saw this website – if nothing else, if you’ve got a home decoration project planned for 2022 you could ‘enjoy’ yourselves by doing in in shades which allow you to have a complementary fungal meal at the end of it (NB I think that a lot of the ‘shrooms here referenced are in fact hugely poisonous, so maybe think twice before doing that meal pairing thing, on reflection).
  • Blocks: This is a simple block-arranging game – Tangram, basically, arrange the shapes so they fill the square perfectly – with the simple addition of an incredibly sexualised sigh/moan of satisfaction every time you successfully complete a level. You may not think you want to hear your machine groan orgasmically to mark your minor ludic successes, but you are wrong.
  • Prince of Persia: This link made me happier than almost anything else this week (it’s been a…low-key start to the year here in Rome) – Prince of Persia, for those of you too young to recall, was, in its day, a truly groundbreaking game, being one of (if not the) first to attempt realistic character animation of its titular prince. You can play the whole game on this site in your browser – it may not look like much now, but the natural way the prince ran, skidded, jumped, swung his sword, got stabbed, fell to his death, was impaled by spiked pits…well, it was properly amazing, in a real ‘THIS IS JUST LIKE REAL LIFE!!!’ sort of way. Modern eyes may be…less impressed, but the game is still a lot of fun. Arrow keys to move, hold shift to take small steps and to hang off ledges (VERY IMPORTANT), DON’T RUSH! I promise you, this is really very good indeed. Also, that music gave me proper Proustian flashbacks.

By Jochen Muehlenbrink

LAST OF THIS WEEK’S MUSICAL SELECTIONS IS THIS SLIGHTLY-TRIPPY WORLD-ISH MIX BY PARADISE BOX! 

THE CIRCUS OF TUMBLRS!

  • ReachAI: A Tumblr collecting a selection of AI artworks based on different prompts and models. A nice overview of what sort of stuff’s getting produced at the moment and what’s currently vogue-ish / possible.
  • Mouses Houses: This is a selection of photographs of, er, felt toy mice, posed in various situations and scenarios. Plaid shirt-clad mountain mice scaling a peak? CHECK! Opera singer mouse on stage with equally rodenty pianist? CHECK! Truly, all of mousey life is here (and dressed up).
  • James Spader Forever: Basically a perfect Tumblr, this – existing solely to celebrate the perceived sexiness of slightly-faded sleazy 80s Hollywood heartthrob James Spader (not that Spader himself was ever sleazy, to my knowledge, more that he tended to play characters who were a bit on the iffy side). A deep and seemingly long-standing obsession with a slightly obscure pop culture figure from the past? INJECT IT INTO MY VEINS, TUMBLR! (I appreciate that Spader might have found a career re-up through some cable show or another but, well, I can’t be bothered to Google him and check. THIS is(one of the many reasons) why I’m not a journalist.

THE TROUGH OF (INSTA) FEEDS!

  • The Plastic Bag Museum: The Insta feed of the online museum, celebrating plastic bag design through the years (and given we’re going to be living with the fcuking things til the heat death of the universe, why not celebrate them?). You may not realise the extent to which your childhood memories are tied up in visual signifiers from high street shop plastic carrier bags but WOW is the nostalgia rush from some of these strong. The Les Miserables one is a particular favourite, but you may want to pick your own.
  • The Paper Bag Archive: This is by the Imperial War Museum (not quite sure why the preservation of paper bags should be the purview of a museum about violent conflict, but, then again, why not?) and contains more images of paper bags than you can ever imagine needing (and if you can imagine needing more images than this, WHAT ARE YOU IMAGINING???).
  • Brikfont: Typography, rendered in LEGO bricks. No idea why, but it looks fabulous (also, taught be about the existence of loads of properly-weird types of LEGO that I had never known existed, which may or may not be a compelling additional reason to click).

LONG THINGS WHICH ARE LONG!:

  • The State of the World 2022: As I have done in January for several years now, let me kick off the first longreads section of 2022 with a link to the annual ‘State of the World’ discussion thread in long-standing community The Well, chaired as ever by Bruce Sterling and Jon Lebkowsky and featuring contributions from all sorts of people, both named and anonymous, from the site and the wider technofuturistcommentatorworld. As ever, this is slow-moving (it’s a work-in-progress forum thread, effectively, so it’s probably worth checking in every couple of days for the next week or so to see where it ends up) but VERY interesting – each year I get a slightly different perspective from this than I find anywhere else online, and so far this year’s discussion is as interesting as ever (if, unsurprisingly, not exactly hugely optimistic). This, for example, from Vinay Gupta struck me as more ‘true’ than much of the rest of what I’ve read in this year’s ‘look ahead’ writeups: “I feel that for me what’s missing is *buzz*. Here we are, building the future, but nobody is excited about it because online excitement doesn’t feel real to me. Maybe I’m too analogue, didn’t get internet until I was maybe 19, but I just don’t get emotional about Twitter.Zoom calls leave me cold. There’s a sort of emotional damper on everything because I guess humans vary in their ability to emotionally respond to online socialization. And that has huge network effects: if 20% of the emotional oomph is lost at every link as something ripples across a graph, it’s not going far. Maybe the big conspiracy theory cultures are signal amplifying until you can actually feel something.”
  • How Britain Falls Apart: Or, more accurately, “A portrait of the current state of the Union as written for a largely North American audience and which presents Great Britain as on the cusp of fragmentation but also not quite that close to it really”. This is an interesting piece insofar as it’s always fascinating to read stuff about the (objectively, quite mad) way in which England, Scotland, Wales, the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland all interrelate to each other as presented to non-Anglos. Tom McTague’s piece does a decent job of summarising Where We Are Now with regards to national identity and post-Brexit confusion over Who We Are And How It All Works, though I don’t think it quite merits the sweeping ‘STATE OF THE NATION’ vibes it seems to be giving off. Your mileage will vary depending on how interested you are in navel-gazing disquisitions about the eternally-nebulous concept of ‘Britishness’, but this section sums up the central thesis neatly: “It is for this reason that Brexit acts as both an irritant and a potential bandage for the union. At root, Brexit was an assertion of nation—the British nation—but one mostly made by the English. Herein lies its essential paradox. It is a revolution that has the potential to accelerate the breakup of the nation by revealing its Englishness, but also one that carries within it the potential to slowly rebuild a sense of Britishness by creating a new national distinctiveness from the other: Europe.”
  • Play-to-Earn and Bullsh1t Jobs: The first of what I concede are probably too many pieces in this week’s longreads about web3 and crypto and THE FUTURE – I am sorry, and I will try and keep them to a relative minimum over the coming 12m, but, equally, this stuff is interesting beyond the scamming and the grifting, and it is in some sense a future, even if not the future, so, well, suck it up is what I’m saying, basically – this piece looks closely at the idea of ‘play to earn’ mechanics within games, as made internationally famous by Axie Infinity at the tail end of 2021, and concludes (this may come as a shock) that there may not in fact be a model there after all. As the author Paul Butler concludes, “Ultimately, in-game labour is just a re-branding of gameplay designed to be dull enough that rich players will pay to outsource it to poor players. In spite of being presented as the future of work by some venture capitalists, the incentives just don’t make sense. Floors don’t have to be swept in the metaverse unless they’re designed to need sweeping.”
  • How Blockchain Might Change The Music Industry: I am trying to read more hopeful – or at least less cynical- takes on web3cryptoNFTwank at the moment, if only to try and develop a better understanding of why I instinctively feel all of said takes are wrong; I very much enjoyed this post by Ted Gioia which explores some of the ways (positive and negative) in which this nascent tech could work in the music industry. Gioia’s not a technologist, but he is someone who intimately understands the way the music business currently operates and how the economics of musical creation work, and his ideas as to the potential application of tokens and the blockchain to the creation of work and its subsequent monetisation are nt only interesting but also applicable beyond music to all sorts of other arenas. Again, as with much of this stuff, I find the fundamental stumbling block to my getting excited about it being that it’s all basically, at its heart, about money, and I simply don’t find money very interesting (useful, yes; interesting no).
  • Zitron On NFTs: Ed Zitron has gone from being a slightly-odd US-based UK PR person with a…slightly confrontational Twitter style to being a widely-read commenter about What It Means To Live And Work In The Now – not quite sure how, but fair play to him. This essay, from his newsletter, on what he sees to be the problems with NFTs and the whole idea of them as a movement, doesn’t say anything particularly new or novel, but does a very good job of articulating the structural reasons why a lot of the promises being made about How This Will Change Everything are perhaps somewhat emptier than they may at first appear. “The consistent pro-crypto argument is that big companies control the platforms we use every day, and decentralization is the only way for us to be truly “free.” The problem is that there is no real difference between a web3 company that has transferrable ‘votes’ and a regular company – those with the money still have the power, except they have the ability to directly monetize each vote. Democracy is quite literally for sale by the company (and regularly sold to wealthy investors before anyone else!), and those buying votes under the auspices of ‘democracy’ and ‘freedom’ are really just participating in an even more corrupt and punishing system than we have in the real world.” Er, what he said.
  • Crypto: The Good, The Bad and the Ugly: This is great – for anyone confused and on the fence about all this stuff, Laurie Voss presents a really nicely-laid-out series of pro and contra arguments for it as THE FUTURE, from the very real potential positives for greater financial access afforded by (the idea of) cryptocurrencies, to the obvious and much-discussed environmental negatives. It’s not exhaustive, but it’s a decent overview of some of the main points of debate – and Voss’s conclusion mirrors mine, above, when she considers that perhaps this is ‘just’ a money thing, and maybe that’s enough for it to be significant without all the associated cult-woo.
  • Money In The Metaverse: Continuing the theme of ‘it’s JUST ABOUT CASH FFS’ is this rather good piece of normie-facing journalism in the New Yorker, which offers both a ‘what is the metaverse 101’-type primer for its readers, and then goes into a far more interesting set of discussions about the way in which one might argue that this represents the final dissolution of any remaining (nanoparticle-thin) barriers between capital and culture that might still have existed.
  • Meet Mr Meta: A profile of Vivek Sharma, who runs the Horizon team at Meta and who’s basically in charge of part of building out the Zuckebergian vision of our   digital collective experience. This is on the one hand AN Other bland corporate profile interspersed with colourless ‘colour’ anecdotes, but I found it interesting for the (slightly bleak) picture it painted of how the people creating our digital future envisage us using it. I read this and came away from it oddly hopeful that Meta is not going to succeed here, that despite the obvious advantages of scale the company has which will give it the ability to make this work by brute force of numbers we will somehow end up refusing to buy into a digital sandbox whose walls are build by companies like this and whose idea of ‘infinite creativity and expression’ is ‘build what you like (from this list) however you want (with this finite selection of tools we have granted you access to). Basically this piece makes the vision of the Metametaverse (I am coining this now, feel free to use it) sound like ORGANISED FUN of the worse sort, and a place for people with dusts where their souls should be.
  • TekFog: It’s been a while since we’ve had a decent ‘bad actors using social media to enact mass political manipulation of a populace’ (about 12 months, in fact!), so it’s good to see these stories still exist. This is an exceptional piece of journalist by Indian outlet The Wire, pieced together over two years and which should, if there’s any justice, make international headlines – it’s all about how India’s ruling party has access to a software kit which lets them effectively conduct mass-scale manipulation of Facebook and Twitter accounts, enabling party apparatchiks to create trending topics, scam movements and dogpiles at the touch of a few buttons, all to control the behaviour of the tens of millions of Indians for whom the internet is social media. “Over a series of tweets in April 2020, an anonymous Twitter account @Aarthisharma08 claiming to be a disgruntled employee of the Bharatiya Janata Party’s (BJP’s) Information Technology Cell (IT Cell) alleged the existence of a highly sophisticated and secret app called ‘Tek Fog’. They claimed this app is used by political operatives affiliated with the ruling party to artificially inflate the popularity of the party, harass its critics and manipulate public perceptions at scale across major social media platforms.” This is quite a hard-to-follow piece in places, but there’s no doubting the seismic nature of the findings – this feels like very big news indeed, and one to watch as it develops.
  • Digital Retouching: Now that we can train AIs on the past corpus of works by any major artist we like (presuming said corpus is large enough), and that said AIs can then be set to work on perhaps touching up old works to restore their lost glories, or to create new works from posthumous sketch fragments, say, shouldn’t we let them just crack on? This piece raises the interesting question of the extent to which we can or should ‘trust’ these sorts of digital ‘ghosts’ of major artists, using as its central example the case of a work by Klimt which is lost to history and which exists only as a series of black and white photos from the early 20th-Century – an AI trained on Klimt’s back catalogue has been used to create a colourised version of the image for modern audiences, ‘rescuing’ it from historical limbo. But how do we know it’s ‘right’? Truly fascinating, not only on the technology and its applications but also on questions of ‘truth’ and beauty (ah, the big ones!).
  • Millennials and GenZ Are The Same: I did wonder slightly whether this article was generated by a bot specifically to generate SPICY INTERGENERATIONAL DISCOURSE, but on reading it I actually found myself agreeing with some of the points it was making – to whit, the difference in experience in the formative years of Millennials and GenZ are so small as to render meaningful generational difference between the two cohorts impossible. On the one hand, this is ALL SILLY – as I have bored enough people with for enough time, making sweeping statements about ‘generations’ is fcuking stupid. On the other hand, though, I totally believe this article’s central premise to be true.
  • The Most Scathing Book Review of 2021: There’s nothing like a good hatchet job, and there are some GREAT ones in this selection, compiled by LitHub. Find your own favourites – my personal winner is this absolutely devastating closer to the Harper’s review of Hanya Yanagihara’s latest: “if the antidote to dangerous ideas is didactic storytelling, I have to wonder (apparently with Yanagihara) whether the cure is worse than the disease.”
  • The Plastic Surgery Rock’n’Roll Tour: One of those occasional articles which you read and which you have to occasionally pause whilst so doing to contemplate exactly how much cocaine everyone was doing in the 1970s. Imagine how much blow you’d need to have ingested to think that the following pitch was a good idea: “we’ll take a bunch of singers who sound quite like a few recently-deceased rockstars and then plastic surgery them so that they look like burns victim versions of said rockstars and then take them on tour!” And yet that is exactly what happened – it may not surprise you to learn that the whole thing was not the incredible success its creator had hoped, nor indeed that not all the people involved were what you might call entirely stable, but it’s a great story and proof that however odd we think life and society is now it is NOTHING compared to some of the dark stuff that happened in the cocaine heyday of 1970s America.
  • A Venetian Poltroon: A wonderfully-entertaining review of a book about the history of dueling, taken from the LRB. This is so, so interesting, and full of great vignettes, like this one: “When Jonah Barrington arrived to meet the appointment for his first duel, he realised he had never met his opponent, who, when quizzed, asserted his right not to explain anything. Since Rule 7 stated that ‘no apology can be accepted after the parties meet, without a fire,’ the men were obliged to shoot at each other.” I think we should bring back the duel, personally – not to the death, obviously, but with some sort of lightly-humiliating punishment to the loser – so challengers, form an orderly queue.
  • The Scholarly Pursuit of Shrek: In which Jamie Loftus goes to a convention devoted to academic papers written about the film series Shrek. This is very long, and obviously quite silly, but also far funnier and far more thoughtful than it really needs to be. The style is very much of that ‘hypercaffeinated reporter shares details of assignment-induced breakdown in realtime’-ilk (you know what I mean, right?), but it’s a well-done riff on the trope – basically if you can get on board with sentences like “I feel like I have smoked bad weed, but I’ve actually just had two cold brews and am face-down on a carpet that probably needs to be… shampooed? How does that work? Why do I know what “extra-textual intertextual Easter eggs” are and not how to shampoo a carpet?” then you will feel right at home here.
  • Achewood: Achewood is to a certain type of person one of the most significant cultural properties of the modern world – to most of the planet, though, it’s a badly-drawn MS-Paint comic they have never heard of before. This is all of Achewood in one place, as a PDF. If you know it already, you’re welcome; if you don’t, I can only urge you to give it a try and see what you think – to my mind it’s both hugely funny and an incredible sort-of explainer about how modern web culture works (but mainly it’s very funny).
  • Strap On An Ox Head: Patricia Lockwood is always brilliant, and this essay – on Karl Ove Knaussgard, in the LRB – is no exception. It’s a bit of a roast, but an affectionate one, and is all rendered in Lockwood’s super-literary, super-contemporary, super-pop-cultural style. She is basically infallible at present, and it’s almost painful to read – how are you this good all the time, damn you? “It is all happening to Karl Ove, but as long as we read we are at the centre of the universe too. The scapegoat’s role is to cast collective shame out of the people, but here we are seeing a curious thing: the scapegoat casting shame out of himself, while feeling himself to be all people at once. It’s like watching a drunken man streak through the town square, wearing a model of the solar system on his head. An emperor whose nakedness surpasses royal finery. Jesus, Superman, Chaplin’s tramp. I’m Garfield! I’m Garfield!”
  • Gay Talese On Journalism: I really enjoyed this – Gay Talese, writing about how he penned the all-time classic profile piece ‘Frank Sinatra Has A Cold’, and why it would never get commissioned now (expense, and quite honestly the…somewhat idiosyncratic approach to factual reporting employed by Talese throughout) – and it made me wonder whether the demis of this sort of journalism is A Good Thing. We simply don’t get the novelistic, impressionistic meander that Talese gives us in a modern profile, but then again Talese is quite clearly providing 10% content and 90% colour with this piece, which raises the question of what ‘journalism’ is, and if something’s nothing more than a reporter’s (admittedly beautifully-crafted) idealised recollections whether it is in fact worthy of the name. Thought-provoking, but mainly a joy to read.
  • A Neuroscientist Prepares for Death: On what it’s like knowing you have six months to live, and observing how your mind responds to the literal unthinkable. This is heartbreaking, but very beautiful indeed.
  • The Jacques Lacan Foundation: Finally this week, an extract from a forthcoming novel written by Susan Finlay, which struck me more than anything I’ve read in quite some time for reasons I can’t quite articulate. I really enjoyed this and very much want to read more – the section here’s just a scene in a bar, but there’s something about the author’s brutal use of italics that I really like and drew me in (you’ll see what I mean). See what you think – I am quite looking forward to reading this when it comes out.

By Romain Veillon

AND NOW, MOVING PICTURES AND SOUNDS!:

Webcurios 03/12/21

Reading Time: 37 minutes

WELCOME TO DECEMBER!

I would ordinarily say something about how this is the HOME STRAIGHT and we’re ALMOST THERE, but frankly I know how many of you work in agencyland, which means that’s what actually happening is that you’re all dealing with 30 incredibly important and valuable pitches which are all conveniently taking place between now and January 6th, because all the in-house people used to be agency people once and had to suffer then and don’t see why they shouldn’t perpetuate the cycle of abuse now that they are in the coveted position of being ‘the thick person who issues the briefs’.

That’s how it works, right?

Anyway, I am SORRY that you are having to go through this, but I have one small crumb of consolation – this is THE FINAL WEB CURIOS OF 2021! That’s right, you’ve MADE IT TO THE END! NO MORE OF MY WORDS TIL NEXT YEAR! I appreciate it’s possibly a bit early to be clocking off, but, well, I have stuff to do, and frankly so do you, and if I’m honest it’s all best of lists and Christmas creative from hereon in, and I couldn’t give a fcuk.

So then, let me take this moment to say thanks to all of you who’ve read and clicked and shared and thanked and suggested and ENGAGED WITH MY CONTENT – I appreciate every single one of you, even the weird person who decided to send me hatemail about how I was going to hell as a result of Curios’ ungodly nature (sweetheart, I literally sold my soul to the devil in exchange for good exam results when I was 17; that ship sailed a LONG time ago). I sincerely hope that the next month or so of your lives is GREAT – or, at the very least, not traumatically-unpleasant! – and that I see you all again here in about 6 weeks’ time for a BRAND NEW YEAR OF LINKS AND WORDS!

I am still Matt, this is still Web Curios, and I bet you haven’t bought me a Christmas present, have you? FFS.

By Matt Shirley

WE KICK OFF THIS WEEK’S MUSIC WITH ANOTHER CRACKING ALL-VINYL MIX BY TOM SPOONER WHICH THIS TIME HAS A GENERAL ‘SOUTHERN STATES OF THE US’-VIBE AND WHICH IS ALL THE BETTER FOR IT IMHO: 

THE SECTION WHICH  WOULD LIKE TO INVITE ANYONE WHO FEELS A COMPELLING NEED TO SAY ‘THANKYOU’ FOR ALL THE WORDS AND LINKS TO DONATE WHATEVER THEY CAN AFFORD TO THESE NICE PEOPLE, PT.1:

  • Get Five Dollars: You may have picked up on my general…disdain for the concept of Black Friday in last week’s Curios (or at least I hope you did – I laid it on with a fcuking trowel, after all, although of course it’s entirely possible that noone reads the words here and I could just be writing ‘lick me, daddy’ over and over again for all the difference it makes NO MATT DO NOT THINK LIKE THIS YOU HAVE 80 LINKS TO GO THIS MORNING AND THIS WAY MADNESS LIES), and in general I stand by that disdain, but, well I feel compelled to point out how much I like this stunt-type-thing by Cards Against Humanity (problematic ‘game’, excellent marketing team). Basically last Friday, rather than spending their marketing budget on discounting inventory and promoting said discounts, they instead seemingly decided to use it to pay people online actual cashmoney to do silly things on behalf of the brand and post the results online. So for what I presume was a vanishingly-brief moment while the money lasted, you could get paid for (for example) digging a hole, logging on to a website which did nothing but stream a livestream of a toad and watching it for 20 minutes, having a cool name, getting vaccinated…I LOVE THIS SO MUCH. It’s fun, silly, and, honestly, is a far, far better use of six-figures worth of advermarketingbudget than making half a dozen terrible, tedious pieces of branded video content and then forcing it at people’s eyeballs via the medium of targeted advertising. Can we all make a concerted effort in 2022 to make less terrible branded videos and images and posts, please? The physical world is overfull of pointless crap which is making us sick, and it feels like the digital one is too. NO MORE. There, a Web Curios manifesto for 2022 – STOP BRANDED CONTENT! It’s catchy, and with a bit of help from YOU we can make it happen! STOP BRANDED CONTENT!
  • Pantheon: This is a really interesting idea. Pantheon is a website which has grown out of a research project by MIT and is now a standalone thing – its aim is to “expose patterns of human collective memory. Pantheon contains data on more than 70k biographies, which Pantheon distributes through a powerful data visualization engine centered on locations, occupations, and biographies. Pantheon’s biographical data contains information on the age, occupation, place of birth, and place of death, of historical characters with a presence in more than 15 language editions of Wikipedia. Pantheon also uses real-time data from the Wikipedia API to show the dynamics of attention received by historical characters in different Wikipedia language editions.” So what this effectively lets you explore is the relative ‘fame’ of different categories of people from different countries based on Wikipedia data of most visited/edited profiles (and a bunch of other signals too – you can read more about the methodology on the site) – it’s a really fascinating way of getting an overview of the cultural topography of a nation, a view into what the world thinks a country is about, in a way that feels more natural than going out and surveying people. I think there’s a lot of good background you can get about national culture and character from this if you were so inclined – oh, and it also gives you a rolling ranking of the most ‘interesting’ historical figures in the world based on their data. At the time of writing, the most ‘culturally-significant’ figure in human history, based on this particular reading of this particular dataset, is Muhammed (closely followed by Genghis Khan and Leonardo Da Vinci, which perhaps-unfairly makes me think that quite a lot of Wikipedia traffic comes from Reddit, but wevs) – it upsets me to report that Donald Trump is seemingly the 16th-most historically significant person in human history based on this, but let’s presume that’s just recency bias and talk no more of it.
  • Talk To The Website: That’s not what this is called, fine, but it doesn’t really have a name which is something of a pity – given it was made by a German, it feels like it ought to have some sort of horrifically-complex compound noun which describes it in glottal-shredding polysyllabic glory (“Die Websitegersprechtspielen” or something – and yes, I know that that isn’t even close to being nearly right but, well, how many languages do you speak? Quite). Still, it is VERY fun and VERY silly and pleasingly Easter Egg-ish – choose German, or English, and give the site access to your microphone, and just…talk, and see what happens. Oh, fine, I’ll spoil it for you a bit – the site will listen to what you’re saying and show elements onscreen based on your words. So, fine, it’s just an imagesearch-and-display linked to open-source voice recognition software (ha! ‘Just’! How quickly we become blase about things that a mere 50 years ago would have been dismissed as the byproduct of a particularly-violent acid binge), but it’s…really, really fun. This made me laugh more than almost anything else this week – I spend a good ten minutes just shouting random words and phrases at my computer and seeing what happened, but there’s something nice about the idea of leaving it running in the background on a big screen in a meeting and having all your VERY SERIOUS utterances about BUSINESS being visualised in very silly clipart fashion behind you. I love it immoderately – thankyou to the mysterious ‘Philip’ whose work it is.
  • Jeen-Yuhs: I am quite far from being a Kanye (is that still his name? Is he now ‘Ye’? Sorry (Kan)(Ye), it’s quite hard to keep up with all this stuff) stan, and as such the news that there is going to be a big documentary (not a documentary at all – a documentary implies some sort of critical or analytical viewpoint, whereas this, in common with all other shows of its ilk produced by the big media houses these days, will instead be a hagiography, which is something significantly less useful or interesting but which is seemingly what you’re reduced to if you want the access) about him and his genius on Netflix next year. If you’re curious, this is the accompanying teaser website – I really like the design of this, and the way it pitches the forthcoming show as a proper behind-the-scenes dig through old footage and scene interviews and the like (it won’t be like that, remember, it will all be approved to the nth degree by everyone involved, but it does a good job of selling the concept of ‘we went waaaaaaay back’ imho), and the VHS-style interface, and the ‘scroll to move through the sections’ and, look, it’s just a nicely-made bit of promo.
  • Virgil Abloh’s Free Game: I am quite far away from being the sort of person who would ever have bought anything that Virgil Abloh designed, but it was a measure of the man’s cultural impact and footprint that even someone as avowedly fashion backward as me had heard of him and knew what he did. The announcement of his death from cancer last week has seen him lauded as not only a designer who succeeded in breaking down barriers to access to the fashion industry, but also someone who was committed to, as he put it, ‘showing the work’ and thereby enabling future generations of people like him to be able to build on and draw on his successes. Part of that mean Abloh making details of his study and practice available to anyone who wanted it – so Free Game is a lovely legacy for the man. It’s a section on his website which presents his step-by-step guide to creating a brand, creating work, using Adobe Creative Suite, screen printing, setting up online sales…so many tips and tools for young, aspiring visual creatives to use to help them start to explore making a living from their work. It feels like a lesson in ‘how to make sure you don’t pull the ladder up behind you and in fact build more ladders while you’re up there’, basically, and the sort of thing which more famous creatives might want to think about doing more of (says, fine, a man as creative as cement, but).
  • Urban Outraged: Is there another, better example in the world of a brand or organisation whose aims are, broadly, laudable but who make themselves unlovable by simply being massive d1cks all the time than PETA? Like, don’t get me wrong, only a monster would be against the ethical treatment of animals, but it equally feels like over the past decade or so PETA has basically become the Westboro Baptist Church of campaign orgs. This is their latest campaign – and yes, I know that it’s designed to SHOCK and that that’s how it gets SHARED, and so to a certain extent I am doing their work for them here, but bear with me – against the wearing of any animal-derived products as clothing. Let’s start with the good – they have gone all-in here, and the creation of this faux-brand of clothes and accessories is really quite nice (and a lot deeper than it needs to be for the gag to work), and the visual design is very well-done (although also very reminiscent of Miss Cakehead’s work for Capcom with Resident Evil…6?) – the shop’s set up as an emporium that lets you buy clothes and accessories stitched together from human skin, and it’s as gruesome as you’d expect. But – and it’s a big but – there seems to be quite a big leap from ‘using wool and animal products in clothing as humans have done for millennia’ and ‘making leather from human skin’, and, I don’t know, it doesn’t feel hugely respectful or well-thought-through, and I can imagine a few groups of people who might quite rightly feel that this is perhaps making light of one or two historically-awful periods of the 19th and 20th centuries, specifically.  Oh, and MAKING A WOOLY JUMPER IS IN NO WAY QUALITATIVELY-SIMILAR TO SKINNING A PERSON AND MAKING A HANDBAG OUT OF THEIR MILKY INNER THIGHS. Other than that, though, this is ace.
  • Kalso: Kalso is a Danish footwear company (I think – I confess to having only found this this morning and not quite having the time or the inclination to do the deep dive that this probably merits, so sorry to the presumed Danish cobblers if I’m somehow fcuking them with misdescription here) which has been going since the mid-20th Century – this website tells the brand’s history, from the birth of its founder Anne Kalsø in 1905 to the ‘wellness journey’ she took in the 50s (I bet she didn’t call it a ‘wellness journey’ in 1957, though), to the growth of the brand from a single factory into the international business it is today. I can’t personally attest to having any particular interest in footwear manufacturing as a discipline (I know! So blinkered!), but I love this website – it’s a simple single-scroller, but there’s something beautiful about the way that the design shifts slightly and subtly as you scroll so that by the end it feels like a modern company whereas at the start it very much doesn’t. Lovely corporate storytelling, which is not a phrase I think I’ve typed before in 2021 so WELL DONE, SHOEMAKERS OF DENMARK!
  • Coffee Capsules: Few things bring me joy (ok, fine, that’s an exaggeration; I haven’t felt ‘joy’ since approximately 930pm on 1 September 2011, but let’s go with that rather than ‘the slightly hollow echo of half-remembered pleasures’ as it’s snappier) like discovering that there’s a whole very specific industry that exists around a very, very niche product or service, and so this site is a REAL TREAT (not a treat). It’s for a company called Capsul’in Pro (how much extra do you think the branding people charged for the apostrophe there? It’s a power move and no mistaking) which makes those landfill-ready pods you plug into your Nespresso (other machines are apparently available, but none of them are advertised by George Clooney so wevs) and which uses this website to sell them to the industry. It’s, fine, not super-interesting on the surface, but I very much enjoyed the way in which they are presenting what is, at heart, a very undifferentiated product as somehow a miracle of technology. There are 3 EXCLUSIVE CAPSULE DESIGNS! You can have your brandname embossed on them! They will one-day be recyclable (but not yet!)! There are 20 colours! They advertise LIMITLESS CREATIVITY – which made me laugh a lot, because last time I checked 20 colourways x 3 designs does not in fact = infinity, but maybe I’m just nitpicking.
  • Snowflakes: This is only semi-interesting, but it made me wonder whether there’s a an app version of this which could be quite fun. Snowflakes is a little webtoy which cycles through images pulled (I presume) from Google Search, and uses elements of each image’s colour palette to add to a kaleidoscopic image which is procedurally generated for you. The snowflakes produced are…fine, but made me wonder what you might be able to build in a similar vein using the images from a user’s cameraroll – I would be quite interested in seeing what a machine-derived piece of art collaged and palette-d together from images I’ve taken in the past 12m looks like.
  • Redditreads: This is an interesting idea, and a nice extrapolation of the general ‘Reddit is people!’ train of thought – using datascraping and text analysis, this site (created by the mysterious ‘Andrew’) pulls information about the most popular book titles discussed on Reddit over time, to create a ranking of the most ‘Reddit-y’ books (either overall or by subReddit) on the site. I found this really interesting, not least because (presuming that this is real, and not a massive joke), it does rather confirm some of the stereotypes that have long-existed about Redditors. The top-mentioned book on the site is classic self-help manual ‘How To Win Friends & Influence People’, whilst the second is the equally-classic internet favourite, jizzy recipemanual ‘Natural Harvest’. Ok, so the latter is on there because it’s a very popular meme on the site these days, but then you look down the list and it’s a D&D manual, a beginner’s guide to strength training and a book about coding, which feels almost too on-the-nose. Still, beyond the general stuff there’s something both interesting and useful about the 1100+ subReddits which have been analysed as part of this project – there’s definite value in being able to see what the most popular books on, say, ‘over50sfitness’ or ‘mortgage advice’ are (although equally I think part of me died a little when I bothered to check out the books being discussed on /r/ForeverAlone).
  • I Thought About That A Lot: A lovely project which started last year but which I have only just found. Each day in December this site will publish a new essay by an anonymous author which will talk about one thing they have thought about a lot over the past 12m. So far there are pieces on how online dating has made the author’s world smaller, and on how someone can ‘raise a good person’ – I am very much a fan of the authorial anonymity here, and will be watching with interest to see what else the writers cover over the coming weeks.
  • The Virtual BBC Micro: GenX catnip, this – if you are old enough to remember ‘computer lab’ at school being an hour of writing “10 PRINT “PHIL IS A NONCE” / 20 GOTO 10 / 30 RUN” then this is for YOU! Not only can you do all the excellent BASIC coding that you remember from your childhood (meaning that you will be able to insult Phil in flashing colours, and possibly, if you’re really fancy, in flashing multicoloured text which goes backwards AND forwards AND sideways) but you can also load up a bunch of old games (either from a dropdown or by loading up emulator files) and as such ruin your own memories of how GREAT Chucky Egg was (it was not). This is so, so nicely made (and the way it’s presented, inside a 3d visualisation of an old BBC Micro, is lovely too) – if you fancy being a real git, why not tell your small children this Christmas morning that you have bought them a new computer and then force them to log onto this and watch their young faces slowly come to terms with what ‘entertainment’ was in 1985?
  • The Consumer Aesthetics Research Institute: “CARI, or Consumer Aesthetics Research Institute, is an online community dedicated to developing a visual lexicon of consumer ephemera from the 1970s until now…[it’s] a collective association of researchers and designers dedicated to carrying on the important work of categorizing “consumer aesthetics” from the late midcentury, when work on the subject somewhat trailed off, through today. The cyclical relationship between a culture’s collective attitudes and the visual qualities of the artifacts it generates is crucial to observe and consider both when attempting to create timely, meaningful artwork and when analyzing the social and economic events of the last half century. CARI is a nonprofit online institute with hundreds of members and contributors.” I love this – honestly, I lost a good 20 minutes earlier this week just scrolling through the archive pages, looking back at these thematic collections and slowly coming to realise that there really is a meaningful difference between vectorheart and vaporwave. If you’re looking for visual inspiration, this is an unmissable resource (the same is true if you’re a student of the history of visual (sub)culture and popular aesthetics).
  • Everyday Robots: An offshoot of Google’s ‘moonshot’ factory (called, in a way that makes it sound in NO WAY SINISTER, ‘X’), Everyday Robots is a fascinating…project? Business? Anyway, its goal is to create robots which can assist humans in specific, everyday situations, and which are able to ‘learn’ on the job – no small task, but a laudable and interesting one, and one which I am significantly more convinced of the importance and utility of than those fcuking robot murderdogs. The design principles at play here are interesting – “To bridge the gap between today’s single-purpose robots and tomorrow’s helper robots, we’re building robots that live in our world, and can learn by themselves. A multifaceted challenge that’s even harder than building a self-driving car because there are no rules of the road for robotics. We’re starting in the places where we spend most of our waking hours — the places where we work. But we’re not stopping there. We believe helper robots have the potential to ultimately help everyone, everywhere. From offices, to institutions of care, to eventually in our homes, they’ll make our lives easier by lending us a helping hand (or three).” Ok, fine, it’s entirely possible that this is yet another branch of the ‘murderous future killmachines’ tree, but let’s try and be hopeful shall we?
  • Advent of Code: Like an advent calendar, except instead of a tasty, chocolate treat, each morning you open the door to find…another coding challenge! “Advent of Code is an Advent calendar of small programming puzzles for a variety of skill sets and skill levels that can be solved in any programming language you like.” If you’ve spent any of the past couple of years filling in all the empty hours with improving projects such as ‘leaning to code’ then this is the PERFECT way to test your progress. Alternatively, of course, this is another link in this week’s Curios which is just perfect for the psychological torture of your children – why not tell YOUR young ones you’ve got them a new, special advent calendar, and the only catch is that they always have to open the new one first, before they’re allowed to open the boring old chocolate one, and then present them with this website and tell them to get on with it, watching with an expectant look on your face and taking the gag far, far further than is probably psychologically ‘ok’? WHY NOT????
  • Haus of Hands: I have occasionally mentioned Klong here before – for those of you without an encyclopaedic memory for everything I have ever mentioned in Curios (you fcuks), Klong was an art-toy-type-thing, developed originally as an aid to help autistic children get over their dislike of physical contact and which was a sort of cuddly blob with long, weighted arms which you could wrap around your shoulders so it was ‘hugging’ you, and which I developed a slightly-too-close relationship with during a slightly challenging professional period circa 2005. For many, many years I have searched in vain for another Klong (they were never mass-produced), without joy – but now Haus of Hands may have provided an alternative! Sadly currently all sold out, the Haus sells…how do I describe these? Long, tubular scarf-type-things, a bit like glitzy draught excluders, with MASSIVE hands on each end? Yeah, like that. I WANT ONE OF THESE SO MUCH. But I want a klong more.

By Julia Soboleva

NEXT UP, THIS HYPERCOLOUR MIX ON RINSE WHICH TAKES YOU FROM BREAKS TO TECHNO TO HOUSE AND A FEW OTHER PLACES BESIDES, AND WHICH (FROM MY PLACE IN ROME AT LEAST) FEELS LIKE IT SOUNDS LIKE LONDON! 

THE SECTION WHICH  WOULD LIKE TO INVITE ANYONE WHO FEELS A COMPELLING NEED TO SAY ‘THANKYOU’ FOR ALL THE WORDS AND LINKS TO DONATE WHATEVER THEY CAN AFFORD TO THESE NICE PEOPLE, PT.2:

  • Swan Dating: I have no real idea about the dating app landscape, having never been a user or consumer, but it’s clear from speaking to friends and acquaintances that it’s…a bit rubbish for many (honestly, I have spent far too much time hearing Tinder horrorstories to believe that it’s anything other than a neverending Calvary of self-esteem shredding nightmares and cancelled hopes and, at heart, the fundamental awfulness of other people). It was inevitable, then, that we’d start to see a re-emergenence of the idea of CURATION coming to this sector as with all others (can we make ‘algosickness’ a trend for 2022, please?) – so it is with Swan Dating, a new service which, as far as I can tell, has reinvented Plenty of Fish but in app form. The gimmick here is that all profiles are assessed by REAL PEOPLE (in conjunction with an algo, fine – I think we’ve crossed the Rubicon at this stage and we can all accept that there is unlikely to be any sphere of human existence that won’t in some way be maths-determined from hereon in, deal with it) and that this will make the whole experience of finding someone to share bodily fluids (not just tears!) with slightly less soul-flayingly horrid. I have no idea whether this is any good, or any better than any of the current market-leaders (and there’s almost certainly no way that this is scaleable, so, well, good luck!), but it’s interesting as part of the general trend towards a ‘centaur-ish’ approach to AI/algousage (by which I mean ‘algos+people’). Who knows, maybe THIS will be the thing that stops everything feeling so lonely and futile in 2022 (it won’t)?
  • Beifall: I have literally no idea what this is or why it exists, which is exactly as it should be. Beifall is…what is it? It’s a little webtoyartthing, which asks you to use a plunger to inflate a series of balloons which will, when they pop, cause some hands to clap. Which, fine, doesn’t sound super-compelling, but I promise you that this is more curious and fun than you might think. There’s something a little bit old-Apple about the graphic design (if you remember Apple II computers you’ll know what I mean), and as you progress through the different screens the combinations of hands and balloons get slowly odder and more surreal, and…look, just click and fiddle, I promise you’ll enjoy it. The only thing that could improve this, to my mind, would be the introduction of meatier sound effects for the claps.
  • The Review Reader: This is GREAT – plug in any keywords or game/app title you like, and this site will take a review of it from Steam or the App store and read it aloud using a text to speech generator. Which, fine, doesn’t sound funny until you remember than almost all game reviews are written by ridiculously over-involved people whose reaction to seemingly-trivial elements of design can be very, very funny when read out in an unfeeling robotic monotone. I now want someone to do this for Tripadvisor reviews, which are honestly the greatest untapped comic resource of modern life (I am of the very serious opinion that there’s a decent Edinburgh Sketch show to be be made out of short sketch dramatisations of particularly great examples of the genre).
  • The Hasselblad Masters: ANOTHER PHOTO COMPETITION! Except this one’s a bit more serious an pro-ish – Hasselblad is a company that makes VERY FANCY and VERY EXPENSIVE cameras, and as such their photo contest is a touch more po-faced and pro-level. You won’t get photos of derpy animals here, is what I’m saying – this is far more Wallpaper*-level imagery than your amateur-level photoshopfest. The images aren’t necessarily more interesting than you’d find in other similar contests, but they’re certainly more aesthetically rarefied – it’s rare to see a shortlist that looks quite so lifestyle-magazine-ready as this lot. I particularly liked the winning shots by Paul Fuentes in the ‘Product’ category, but as ever I advise you to click through and pick your own – if nothing else, this is a nice overview of the current prevailing aesthetic(s) in pro/luxe image creation.
  • Newsbard: I got a mention in the B3ta newsletter last week (meaning I can close out the year with a real sense of achievement – THANKS ROB!), which makes my including Rob Manuel’s latest bot in this week’s Curios look like some sort of backscratchy quid-pro-quo BUT I PROMISE IT ISN’T. Newsbard is a genuinely brilliant idea – it’s a Twitter bot which punts out news articles with an automatically-generated rhyming couplet to accompany them. So you get “Roses are red / Violets are key / My ex-husband has turned our children against me”, or “Roses are red / Violets are sophisticated / Woman married cow after it kissed her and claims it’s her ‘husband reincarnated”. It’s only one joke, fine, but it’s an endlessly-repeatable one, and if you find the format funny (which I do), it’s a seemingly-neverending stream of low-stakes lols.
  • Destination Home: One of the things that is now A Job Of Sorts is ‘internet archaeologist’ – the people and communities who spend their time attempting to piece together relics of The Old Web (I feel this should always be capitalised to lend the concept a sense of power and wonder) from code fragments and memories, to attempt to preserve our collective digital histories from the inevitability of bitrot. This is a community of people who are trying to rebuild one of the early attempts to create a metaverse, the sadly-unlamented PlayStation Home. You may not recall this, but when the PS3 launched it came with Home, a Second Life-ish virtual space which Sony promised us was where we would ALL be hanging out – the vision was that people would watch films together in shared digital theatres, hang out together in customisable virtual spaces that they could deck out with trophies and the like earned in-game, go bowling, have virtual parties….except, obviously, it didn’t work that way as a) everyone was on horrible internet connections and so it was a deeply-shonky experience; and b) life in the real world wasn’t yet so terrifying and jagged that we were all desperate to escape into a digital representation of the good bits. Still, though, it was basically exactly what we are currently being sold a repackaged version of by Meta et al, and so it’s fascinating to remember the vision for what PS Home could have been, and to compare its ambition to the new reality 15y hence. This project is ongoing – you can’t quite jump back into Home yet, but they’re working on it – so think of it more as a digital ‘dig’ than anything else.
  • London Pub Details: A set of photographs celebrating the architectural and aesthetic details of London pubs. Man I miss pubs – Rome has many things to recommend it (actually it has 5 – history, aesthetics, weather, food and light. There is nothing else, trust me), but it really does not have pubs and I would give my left testicle (or, more sensibly, your left testicle) to spend the afternoon getting slowly munted on session ale in front of a warm fire. This Flickr set gave me proper nostalgia pangs. I WANT A PINT FFS 400ML IS NOT QUITE ENOUGH BEER IN A SINGLE GLASS.
  • Alien Landscapes: 2d alien landscapes in pastel colours, with a new one generated each time you click. I would like this as a digital painting, please, framed on my wall, which cycles the colours to match my mood. Can someone make that happen, please? THANKS!
  • WeirdSpot: HAVE YOU ALL DONE YOUR SPOTIFY WRAPPED LIST? HAVE YOU??? HAVE YOU SHARED IT WITH EVERYONE SO THAT EVERYONE KNOWS YOU VIA THE PUBLIC AND PERFORMATIVE DISPLAY OF MUSICAL TASTE?? Oh good, I am glad. If you’d like something else to do with Spotify over the festive season, why not try this toy which lets you type any sentence or phrase you like and which will then try and compile a playlist where the song titles spell the phrase in question. Which is a) an excellent resource for any community managers who want to create an ‘amusing’ brand-themed playlist but don’t want to do the hard work of finding the music; and b) a GREAT way of creating bespoke playlists for all your friends which neatly and amusingly encapsulate the special nature of your relationship via the medium of song titles. It works very well for short phrases, but tends to fall over a bit if you get too involved – so “You’re my best friend and I will love you forever also remember that time with the ket? Lol!” will probably work ok, whereas it might struggle with “I think that on balance we’ve probably entered into an overly codependent relationship over the past year and I think on balance it would be better if we took some time apart as otherwise I worry I may start to fantasise about what your head might look like on a stick”. Have a play.
  • Flowwrite: Do you find that the main thing keeping you from being able to reach your true potential in professional and personal life is the amount of time you spend writing grammatically-correct and passingly-polite email communications? Well HUZZAH, for help is at hand in the form of Flowwrite, a service which promises to turn terse lists of instructions into human-adjacent prose for you to send to your minions and suppliers while you get on with the important business of CRUSHING IT in whatever field you choose. So it will turn “saw email. Disagree. Die” into “Hi! Thanks so much for your email, which I read with interest. I saw many positive elements to your suggestion, but I found that overall I remain unconvinced by your argument and as such must insist on condemning you to death by lions. Thanks!”. Is this a good thing? On the one hand I can sort of see the appeal for the VERY BUSY whose communication is solely-practical – on the other, it’s hard not to look at this and then extrapolate it to a future 30 years hence when noone is capable or articulating anything in a form more sophisticated than “want eats, beer me now” because we’ve outsourced the tricky business of style and syntax to the machines (God, this is SUCH an old man thing to think, I know).
  • The Hive Index: This is a really useful idea – the Hive Index is a way of finding communities around specific topics or areas of interest, whether because you’re looking for people to talk to about a shared passion. There are over 1100 communities listed, apparently, searchable by keyword or by area of interest, and they span forums, Discords, Facebook Groups and all sorts of other platforms and formats. There’s a slightly-disappointing skew towards the ‘self-improvement’ and ‘hustle’ end of the online spectrum here – listings for ‘financial independence’ and ‘marketing’ and (inevitably) NFTs and the like – but there are also communities for teachers and travel and reading, so it’s worth a look if you’re after some anonymous interlocutors to share your passion for, I don’t know, GROWTH HACKING with. As an aside, it made me (not for the first time this year) bemoan the slow degradation of Google Search as a workable product – you used to be able to run specific searches across forums, ffs, which was genuinely useful. WHY MUST THINGS CHANGE? WHY IS PROGRESS INEVITABLE? Etc etc.
  • Wombo: More ‘the pace of technological progress really is dizzying at times’ stuff, this – this year has seen us move from ‘wow, if you have access to a decent processor or cloud computing rig you really can do some fascinating stuff with CLIP/GAN and the whole idea of ‘machines imagining something based on text input’ really does feel impossibly future!’ to ‘here, have an app which will churn these out in literally seconds’ in 12 short months. Wombo is a really impressive toy – you need to download it, but it doesn’t seem to be obvious malware oy spyware, and it’s super-easy and fast to use. Type a prompt, pick an output style, and within literally seconds you will be looking at your very own AI-generated image of, say, “Boris Johnson crying in front of a castle made of human teeth”, or “a tsunami of scrotums” (these are just a couple of my recent inputs for ‘inspiration’ – you, as ever, do you).
  • KierTwice: I found this TikTok account really interesting, not because of what it is doing but more for what it tell us about how people want to learn/consume/experience things in the fag-end of 2021. KeirTwice is a TikToker whose ‘thing’ is getting AIs to imagine images (per the app in the last link) and then showing them to her audience in a kind of ‘woah, that is SO FREAKY!’ sort of way. What’s interesting is that they don’t code or do anything other than use a free webapp which literally anyone could pick up and do the same with – except it’s a little bit fiddly, or it takes a few minutes, and so people would rather watch someone else show them the thing rather than play with it themselves. This feels like a cultural thing to me – the rise of everything as a streamable moment, the prevalence of consumption over experience, etc – but I might be overthinking it. Still, if I were in the invidious position of having to sh1t out some trendswank, I would totally consider this as an option because, well, why not? It’s all b0llocks anyway, isn’t it?
  • The Amazon Brand Detector: One of the stories about Amazon that came out this year which doesn’t feel like it got quite enough traction was the fact that, yes, turns out that Amazon does absolutely promote products by its own shadowbrands over and above those made by others within popular categories. I mean, on the one hand, Jeff didn’t become a plute by playing nice; on the other, er, is that ok? It doesn’t feel ok. Still, if you’d like to attempt to push back against The (oh, ok, An) Evil Empire, you might appreciate this Chrome extension which works to highlight all the Amazon-owned products being punted at you by the site as you browse, so you can at least attempt to feel like you’re claiming the moral high ground by not giving all your money to the MechaBezos empire. This works in the US, the UK and various other territories, and you can read a bit more about the project behind it here – I mean, the BEST solution is not to buy from Amazon, but that horse is comfortably chewing grass several fields away by now so, I guess, wevs.
  • Demon Deleter: This is not, fine, the ‘best’ or ‘most fun’ game experience included in Curios this week, but it wins ALL THE POINTS for creativity. Demon Deleter is a ‘game’ which exists inside a Google Sheet, and which basically attempts to gamify (with some small success) the process of deleting stuff from lots of cells as quickly as possible. There’s some narrative wrapping around it – your job is to delete the demons because, I don’t know, the occult – but the fun is the way in which it plays with the conventions of spreadsheets and excel, and in seeing the ways that previous players have left their mark on the shared playspace. You can read more about the project here – it’s not the most user-friendly thing in the world, and I appreciate that 90% of you (at a conservative estimate) won’t really get this, but for those few of you that do I hope you enjoy it.
  • Super Auto Pets: This one could honestly keep you going til January. Pick your pets, train them, build a KILLER FIGHTING SQUAD, and battle them against other anonymous players from around the web. Honestly, this is both very cute and FIENDISHLY addictive, in that classic ‘one more go, oh I can definitely keep this on while I do that talk to the students about careers’ way (sorry, students! I don’t think any of you noticed, though – and if you did, er, apologies!), and I think you will like it very much indeed.
  • Townscaper: Finally this week, a link that really WILL keep you going til 2022. Townscaper has been around for a little while as a game on Steam, but this week its developer released this browser-based version of it and OH MY GOD IT IS SO PRETTY AND SOOTHING AND LOVELY. Honestly, I cannot stress enough what a glorious timesink this is – you do nothing other than click to build a beautiful, unique townscape, rising out of the water like some sort of cell-shaded proto-Venice. The only sort of interactions you can make are to add elements to the city, change the colour of the buildings, and spin the camera (oh, you can change the angle of the lighting too, for aesthetic effect), but that doesn’t stop this from being supremely compelling and, let me stress again, SO BEAUTIFUL. Even better, there are tiny Easter Eggs hidden throughout – when I tweeted the link yesterday, someone replied to point out that if make a tower that goes red/white/red it will transform into a lighthouse, which is just too cute for words. Honestly, click this and spend the rest of the day making your beautiful lagoon-town utopia; fcuk the metaverse, this is where I want to live out my digital days.

By Cagnaccio di San Pietro

LET’S FINISH UP THE MIXES FOR THIS YEAR WITH THIS 80s-INFLECTED, VAGUELY-FRANCOPHONIC SET BY MEMOREX WHICH FEELS LIKE THE PERFECT SOUNDTRACK FOR A COLD DECEMBER! 

THE CIRCUS OF TUMBLRS IS SADLY EMPTY THIS WEEK, BUT I HOPE THAT IT WILL SEE A RESURGENCE IN 2022!

THE TROUGH OF (INSTA) FEEDS!

  • Log Onomichi: I came across this via Craig Mod’s daily dispatches from the small towns of Japan, as pimped in last week’s Curios – this is the Insta feed of a hotel in Onomichi which, and I can’t stress this enough, has THE most incredibly peaceful vibe of any vaguely-commercial Insta account I have ever seen. Seriously, I could look at these all day and feel like everything was vaguely-ok; I hope it has the same effect on you.

LONG THINGS WHICH ARE LONG!:

  •  52 Things Tom Whitwell Learned in 2021: I have featured Whitwell’s annual lists of stuff he learned over the past year on multiple occasions since he first started the practice, and this year’s selection is another brilliant collection of 52 facts collated from his infospelunking over the past 12 months. I promise you that this is, as ever, worth reading – you will find your own highlights, but personally I was most-stricken by the stat about the volume of computer production vs the number of human births, and the detail about how body-mass index values correlate strongly with incidences of corruption amongst politicians. I think I made the same observation last year too, but it maintains – you could usefully use this as a jumping off point for a whole bunch of campaigns, should you wish, and if you don’t then you could do worse than using it as an example of ‘what an insight is’ (seeing as none of you fcukers seem to be on board with my goal to ban the use of the fcuking word entirely, we may as well try and lead it gently back to meaningfulness).
  • Long Live Participatory Socialism: I have no idea what your Christmas is going to be like – I don’t know you, who are you, get away from me – but I sincerely hope it’s going to be more conversationally-thrilling than mine which for reasons too tedious to get into is likely to be conducted in near-total silence. If you’re blessed with Tories in the family and are looking for a real ‘cat among the pigeons’ discussion topic, you could do worse than using this piece, a modified extract from Thomas Piketty’s new book which is entitled ‘Time for Socialism’, as fodder. In it, Piketty neatly summarises why he, an economist who market enthusiasts have actually heard of, is coming round to the idea that socialism is actually the only workable future idea we have, and why, and how we might make it work in practice. Piketty persuasively (ok, fine, I agree with socialism already and so am hardly a decent barometer for this; it reads like it should be persuasive, though) argues through the reasons why it’s probably time to call an end to ‘no but the market!-ism, and it’s pleasing and refreshing to read an economist who’s on noone’s list of ‘dangerous lefties’ openly advocating for greater equality and consideration to historical injustices and intersectional issues. Go on, get p1ssed and tell your banker brother why even economists are saying things need to change (and then forget all about it when you’re cooing over the cashmere he bought you, because we’re all powerless in the face of soft wool and nice packaging).
  • Real Estate and the Metaverse: Or, perhaps, “Why When You Get To Your Metaverse Apartment You’ll Find That Someone’s Already Trying To Rent It To You”. It should of course come as no surprise that the exciting vision we’re currently being sold of a glorious, interconnected, immersive multimedia digital future is being peddled first to the rentier class, to enable them to ensure that they can continue making money from ownership of digital bricks and mortar in the same way (no, better!) as they currently do from the physical stuff – this New York Times piece looks at the current ‘property’ boom in spaces such as Decentraland, which recently sold a plot of land (to be clear – a plot of digital space in a theoretically-infinite online world which NO REAL PEOPLE USE OR WILL EVER USE) for $2.6m, and why it’s happening, but without mentioning the elephant in the room which is basically ‘and this is how we’re going to end up ensuring that the metaverse, whatever that might mean when it gets here, is structured in exactly the same sort of miserable, desperately-inequitable fashion as meatspace’. Still, er, WEB3!!!!11111eleventy.
  • The Half-Empty Glass: You may not think that you’re in the market for a long and very deep dive into the recent history of Polish politics, but I promise you that you in fact are (NO I KNOW WHAT IS BEST FOR YOU DO NOT ARGUE). Whilst this is obviously a bit ‘inside (Polish) baseball’, you don’t need any existing knowledge of the country’s political landscape to both find this interesting and to get a slightly-sweaty-palmed feeling about the general direction of travel in central Europe right now (not to mention the equally-uncomfortable feeling that if you were to lump the ruling parties of Europe into buckets based on their rhetoric and behaviour around certain hot-button topics, FREEDOM ISLE would currently be more likely to share a grouping with Poland and Hungary than it would with some of the more…moderate exemplars of modern Western governance. Hugely interesting, from a national, European and global perspective.
  • Libyan Prisons: I promise that I didn’t set out to fill the last Curios of 2021 with a bunch of slightly-depressing articles about the State of the World, but, well, the State of the World is what it is. Given the furore over human deaths in the channel from a few weeks ago has been MAGICALLY DISPERSED by a combination of Omicron and Black Friday (DIE OR BUY? WHICH DO YOU CHOOSE???), it feels timely to share this superb piece of journalism in the New Yorker which takes the tragedy of one man’s failed attempt to reach Italy from Libya and uses it to paint a picture of how multiple actors have spent the years since the collapse of the Gadaffi regime quietly seeking to do everything they can to block human movement from Northern Africa to Europe, and how that has impacted the reality of life for the hundreds of thousands fleeing war, famine and persecution across the continent (and beyond). This is particularly resonant for me, living in Italy and watching Matteo Salvini on the news practically every night, but it should really be resonant for all of us living in what I presume is relative prosperity and comfort as we read this. The details about the billions spent on drone flights to catch migrant vessels so that they can be shot at rather than allowed to find safe landing is so astonishingly awful that I can’t quite imagine it even now.
  • Ten Million A Year: Or, “Why We Need To Worry About Air Pollution Too”. Look, I promise that we’re nearly through the ‘incredibly depressing selection of articles’, but this one is also really worth reading. David Wallace Wells writes in the LRB about the pressing problem of air pollution, which kills 10m people a year globally through a combination of particulate pollution, smoke inhalation from wildfires and the like, and how it highlights the difficulty in dealing with ‘environmental’ issues – to whit, because there are LOADS of them and they are all interlinked and prioritisation is HARD and lots of different things are happening all at the same time. “In the entire 20th century, there were only five fires that burned more than 100,000 acres. In 2020, there were eleven such fires – one blaze, the August Complex fire in Mendocino, which burned more than a million acres, seemed to demand a new term, ‘gigafire’, to describe it.” HAPPY CHRISTMAS EVERYONE!
  • The Technological Parentheses of Our Lives: I really like this as a way of thinking about technology and its impact on our lives and how that changes over time. “The passage of time means inevitable changes in technologies. Some of these are small: I doubt many people lament the absence of calculator watches or floppy disks. But other changes are far larger. And they don’t just provide elements of nostalgia for period pieces on prestige television, they infiltrate numerous aspects of our lives. When one of these technologies evaporates—such as driving a car or telephones that sit on a table or hang from a wall—it can rewire how we think about the world and our place in it.” This essay introduces the concept of ‘tech parentheses’ – periods of time during which a particular technology has total primacy, to the extent that it shapes society in ways far broader than its own application – and how societies and human behaviour change when those periods come to an end. This feels like a really useful way of thinking about tech and society – we might argue that we’re now in a position where we can see the end of the TV parentheses, for example, and I can imagine what the end of the WiFi parentheses might look like and how that might change patterns of behaviour. Super-interesting, particularly for anyone with ‘strategy’ in their job title who wants another clever idea from someone else to steal and pass off as their own original thinking.
  • The Milky Bar Adult: This is VERY Inside Advertising, fine, but I promise you it’s also a really interesting look at the creative process in action, and the realities of being paid to deliver what the client wants rather than what the answer ought to be, and, basically, of the sheer, unending horror of being paid for your expertise but having your output judged by people who don’t know the first thing about what you do but who do know ‘what they like’. Dave Dye here posts his experience as (I think) Creative Director at JWT working on a brief for MilkyBar – this is a wonderful look at How The Sausage Is Made, and frankly Dave deserves credit for not stabbing the client in the throat with a Stabilo gel pen about 3 feedback rounds in. Honestly, this is why I don’t do client-facing stuff (well, one of the reasons) – I would have walked about 1/10th of the way through this process (or perhaps more likely been sacked).
  • The Most Frequently-Used Emoji of 2021!: I’ll save you a click if you like – it was the ‘cry/laugh’ one, which suggests if nothing else that millennials and above still very much rule the mainstream web. This is an interesting and useful post by Jennifer Daniel (who also writes a newsletter about emoji, should you be in the market for such a thing), which not only talks you through the popular emoji and how they were used, but also lets you explore the data by category so, for example, you can learn which the most popular emoji were by category, or see which ones have become more or less popular over the past year (am I allowed to find the increase in popularity of the ‘moneybag’ emoji saddening? YES I AM – as an aside, anyone wishing to still punt the line about ‘hustle culture is dead’ is an idiot, it has just rebranded), which you might find useful when planning new ways for brands to ENGAGE and SURPRISE and DELIGHT with their emoji usage in 2022 (to remind you, though, STOP BRANDED CONTENT IN 2022!!).
  • Why Do DVDs Still Exist?: I enjoyed this WIRED piece, about the strange, unkillable format that is the DVD, but I feel it runs slightly long given that the answer is quite simply ‘because digital content ownership is fundamentally broken, and as such buying DVDs is literally the only way of being able to guarantee ownership of and access to treasured cultural items and works of art from the past’.
  • Gorillas Goes Sour: More WIRED, this time reporting on urban delivery app Gorillas which has had a meteoric rise but which is now coming up against some rather tricky issues – namely the simple fact that it is not currently possible to run a business which lets consumers buy anything they want to have delivered to their door within minutes at an affordable rate AND to make said business anything other than bleakly-exploitative of the people doing the delivering. I think about this quite a lot – one of the odd things about the now is the fact that we’ve become so utterly divorced from the reality of the genesis of products. Digital interfaces are smooth and slick and impersonal, which means we don’t even begin to think, as we order another shipment of £3.99 joggers and £6 statement tees, that hidden within that £6 is someone being paid a terrifyingly-small amount of money for the privilege of stitching the garms. So it is with digital delivery – this is articulated very well in this blogpost by Bogdana (she only seems to have one name online, and I would feel weird and a bit creepy trying to find out anything more) which describes the frictionless glide of the deliveryperson icon across the screen of your phone as you wait for your toothpaste, which neatly eliminates any thought of the sweaty, time-pressured reality of the deliveryperson’s existence. It was of course ever thus – I don’t imagine people enjoying their sheets in the 19th Century spent a lot of time wringing their hands over cotton mill conditions, for example – but it does rather feel like we could and should be doing better here.
  • We Need Sex In The Metaverse: The author’s position, this, not mine, just to be absolutely clear, but one with which I broadly agree – this argues that the future visions being presented to us by Mark and the rest are weird in their sexlessness, particularly based on previous experience of the extent to which online innovation has previously been so closely linked with, well, fcuking (or at least the idea of it). More broadly, I am sort-of fascinated with the ‘smooth place like Ken and Barbie’ sexlessness of modern technologists – I mean, I know that all these people must fcuk, right, but there’s something so…sexless about everything they build and say and are which feels remarkable. Why is that? Is it generational? Anyway, the fervent hope expressed in the article is that the lack of metaversal kink will ensure the genesis and maintenance of continued non-mainstream spaces of creation and exploration, which sounds good to me (even I have no personal interest in ever ‘enjoying’ multi-c0cked digital congress or anything similar – so vanilla!).
  • Meet Andy Jassy: There is something very odd about the celebrity corporate profile as a genre – it’s hard for writers to find much to grab onto, given the public profiles of the subjects are often buffed to frictionless smoothness by years of PR handling, or that those being interviewed are often…not that interesting (‘being good at making lots of money’ is not in any way I recognise analogous to ‘being an interesting human being’). So it is with this profile of new Amazon CEO Andy Jassy, which is what makes it…actually quite interesting. It’s hard to know what to make of the man at the end of this other than that he is obviously smart, driven and quite intense – but the writer had a copy target and by God do they want to hit it. So this is less of a profile of the man – because, honestly, what is there to say? He’s a white, middle-aged multi-millionaire who cannot and will not say anything that offers a hint of personality because personality scares shareholders! – and more of a picture of an idea, of what it must be like to be about to take control of the world’s most powerful business (perhaps the most powerful business that has ever existed). It did not make me want to be Andy Jassy one tiny bit, which is I suppose A Good Thing.
  • A Feast For Lost Souls: People go missing in Sinaloa, Mexico, more often than they ought, taken by cartels, murdered for drugs, checking out into the desert and simply never coming back. This beautiful essay profiles a community of people who have lost loved ones and who keep their memories alive through food and cookery, and who have published a cookbook collecting the recipes and notes on the people the food is in memory of – this is a beautiful piece of writing, accompanied by some equally-beautiful photography, and very much worth the time.
  • Making Mazes: I’ve long had a thing for the practice of maze making, inspired by the wonderful novel ‘Larry’s Party’, by Carol Shields, in which the lead character is a maze designer and whose emotional life is mapped through the mazes they design (it’s superb, do give it a read) – this is a WONDERFUL and hugely-entertaining profile of one such designer, an almost-stereotypically eccentric and bumptious Englishman called Adrian Fisher, who’s designed hundreds of the things for clients across the world. I can’t stress how joyful this is – there’s something inherently interesting in the very act of maze construction and how a puzzle is put together, but there’s also the sheer joy of Fisher, who’s a man who I am very glad I have read about but who I think I am equally glad I am never going to meet or hang out with.
  • Grand Theft Memories: Joel Golby writes more emotively than I ever thought possible about the Grand Theft Auto games – specifically the experience of playing the recently-remastered reissues, and the odd experience of returning to a loved cultural artefact of one’s youth and finding out that memory is strange and that people change and that you can never go back. Joel is an annoyingly good writer, and a consistently-funny one, but this is also poignant in ways you wouldn’t expect, and it made me flash back hard to a time when I wondered into my little brother’s room to find him contentedly picking up hookers in his car in San Andreas and talking me through the bleakly-methodical way he had devised to use them as an infinite source of cash and health, and me thinking that he was only 9 and, honestly, this probably wasn’t going to do him any favours and maybe I should put a stop to it, and then how we played it together for the next 3 hours and how it didn’t really matter whether it was a bad influence on him because he died too young for anything to count. Everyone has a GTA memory, basically, and this will help you find yours.
  • Dragons: Last up in this year’s longreads, this is a short story called ‘Dragons’, which is sort-of scifi, but really, in the most important sense, is a love story and not ‘science’ or indeed ‘fiction’ at all.

By Brendan Burton

AND NOW, MOVING PICTURES AND SOUNDS!:

Webcurios 26/11/21

Reading Time: 34 minutes

HAVE YOU BOUGHT ENOUGH STUFF HAVE YOU BOUGHT ENOUGH STUFF HAVE YOU BOUGHT ENOUGH STUFF?

No, you haven’t, because it is impossible to ever buy enough stuff, because the flywheel needs to spin ever-faster and there is never a limit to the amount of money to be made or units to shift or VCs to satisfy.

Hi! How are you ‘enjoying’ this year’s extra-special edition of ‘whiplash inducing tonal shift: the COP26 to Black Friday edition!’? Anyone else feeling a small degree of cognitive dissonance in the move from ‘our failure to moderate our lifestyles and consumption is causing some not-insignificant environmental problems that we might want to take steps to deal with’ to ‘IT IS VITALLY IMPORTANT THAT WE SHIP AS MANY CONTAINERS OF PLASTICS AROUND THE WORLD AS IS HUMANLY POSSIBLE AND YOU ARE A TRAITOR TO ECONOMIC RECOVERY IF YOU DO NOT BUY SOME FCUKING TELEVISIONS YOU SCAB’?

Seemingly not. Hey ho!

Still, you’ll need something to do while you wait for the parcels to start showing up, so why not fill those empty hours with Web Curios? No, don’t answer that, it was a rhetorical question and I don’t need your hurtful jokes.

I am still Matt, this is still Web Curios, and you still have time to empty your basket before you make a terrible mistake.

By Jo Ann Callis

IT’S POSSIBLY A LITTLE EARLY FOR ‘BEST OF YEAR’ ROUNDUPS, BUT I DON’T CARE BECAUSE THIS MIX BY HAROLD HEATH OF HIS FAVOURITES FROM 2021 IS EXCELLENT! 

THE SECTION WHICH IS REALLY NOT ENJOYING THE JUXTAPOSITION OF ‘PEOPLE ARE DROWNING IN THE CHANNEL’ NEWS WITH ‘BUY MORE STUFF FROM MECHABEZOS!’ NEWS AND WHICH WONDERS WHETHER THIS INCONGRUITY IS PERHAPS WORTH THINKING ABOUT A LITTLE HARDER, PT.1:

  • GauGAN2: NVIDIA’s AI image manipulation tool GauGAN has been out for a couple of years now, and this week the company unveiled its updated version of the software for us to play with. Great news for those of us who enjoy seeing how good the machines have gotten at imagining the world; less good news for anyone who sees their professional future as being in image creation and manipulation. This is, as per with these things, simultaneously absolutely amazing and not very good at all – I recommend you take a minute to watch the tutorial when the page loads, as it’s not super-intuitive, but within no time you’ll be churning out all sorts of weird AI-imagined visuals, based either on your text prompts or on line drawings which you can then ask the machine to ‘interpret’ for you based on a series of templates – so you can either ask it to imagine ‘an urban skyline’ or sketch one out for it to fill in based on what it thinks an urban skyline might look like. It’s very shonky in places – ask it to imagine a cat and see the sort of multi-eyed spider-Tribble that it throws out – but the way in which you can isolate and replace elements from individual created images hints at the imminent future in which you can frustrate a machine with your helpful ‘can you just make the sky pop a little more?’ feedback rather than a poor junior designer.
  • EXPO Dubai: Several years ago when working for an agency which had a major shipping company as a client I was involved in writing a bunch of proposals for their planned pavilion at Expo Dubai – I had totally forgotten about it until this website cropped up and reminded me that Expo IS HAPPENING RIGHT NOW! But what is Expo? Well, apparently it’s ‘a transformative global gathering that celebrates humanity’, although I appreciate that those words are so loose as to be almost-entirely meaningless. You won’t get much more of an idea from looking at the website, but it is very shiny – you get to zoom around a birds-eye view of the Expo site, looking at all the differently-themed areas being run by different nations and businesses to show how, er, ‘transformative’ they are, I presume, and how they ‘celebrate humanity’. I’m featuring this partly because it’s objectively a really nice piece of webwork – the graphics are nice, the interface works, the whole thing is really smooth – and partly because it’s a near-perfect example of the utter meaninglessness of modern business and communications language. BECAUSE WHY IS THIS HAPPENING? I mean, I appreciate that Expo is basically a giant shiny trade and investment fair, fine, but beyond that it’s almost impossible to tell why anyone is there or what they are trying to say. So much copy with lots of important-sounding words like ‘sustainability’ (nothing says ‘sustainable’ like a massive, temporary exhibition space built in the middle of a desert!) and ‘flow’ and ‘transformation’ and the like, but WHAT DOES ANY OF IT MEAN? Does it all mean…nothing? I think it might mean nothing (apart from an awful lot of money).
  • The Museum of XBOX: The Microsoft XBOX is apparently 20 years old, and to celebrate the event the company has built this online museum to celebrate the console’s history and to let players explore the evolution of the machine and the brand over the past two decades. Whether or not you’ve any particular ‘brand affinity’ (sorry) to XBOX, this is a lovely site which lets you explore a virtual exhibition which takes you through the chronology of the device’s design and creation, the games that rendered it iconic, the tech that underpins it, etc etc – and, if you’re an XBOX user with a Microsoft Live ID, you can plug your details in and get a personalised lookback at your history with the console and the games you’ve played on it. Very slick and a lovely piece of fan service for the brand, but it still can’t gloss over the fact that Master Chief is literally the most embarrassingly-lame name for a videogame character I can imagine. Oh, and whilst this is really nicely made, can we also perhaps all not decide that ‘walk your virtual avatar around a virtual space to experience CONTENT’ is the way to build websites for the next year? Because, honestly, it’s not – park your metaverse fantasies for a little while longer yet, please, Head of Marketing.
  • Kid-Mnesia: This isn’t really a Curio per se – after all, it was on the Today programme this week ffs – but it’s very webby and as such merits its place. Radiohead this week released Kid Amnesia which is a reissue of their albums Kid A and Amnesiac, with a bunch of extra material which was previously-unreleased. They have also built a quite remarkable webartgame…thing to accompany it, which you have to download to experience but which if you have any interest in webart you really should experience. I say this as someone who fell a bit out of love with Radiohead around this time – I like the albums but don’t have any sort of messianic devotion to them – but this is SUCH an interesting piece of work; the way the ‘game/experience/thing’ works fits perfectly with the odd idiosyncracy of the band’s worldview and the way they mix visual art with songcraft. Actual, proper digital art, this, whether or not that floats your boat.
  • Black-Owned Friday: An interesting initiative from Google in the US, using Black Friday as a way to promote black-owned businesses, and which created this site (and accompanying song, by Normani and T-Pain) to promote the idea and direct shoppers to online purchases from said black-owned retailers. This is the second year of this campaign, and, look, it’s a good idea, and anything that takes money away from MechaBezos is A Good Thing, and the song is far better than anything created as an advert for, fundamentally, buying more tat has any right to be, but I was also slightly disappointed with the execution here – they sell this as a ‘shoppable music video’, which, fine, it is in the sense that there are things you can click on and be taken to shopping pages for (in the US, at least), but, well, it’s not very slickly-done. I was expecting something a little smarter than ‘look, we’ll play the video and while it’s running you’ll be bombarded with a stream of clickable product icons flowing across the screen from right to left like some sort of slightly-desperate ticker of late-period capitalism’, which considering all the furore over the past year around livestream shopping, etc, feels like something of a missed opportunity, UX/UI-wise. Still, BUY MORE STUFF!
  • Nikeland: My personal lack of professional success and renown is something that generally fails to perturb me, and there are occasions where I am positively grateful for the fact that I am in possession of neither a job title nor salary that suggests GREAT PROFESSIONAL RESPONSIBILITY. So it is right now when I imagine being a Head of Marketing or similar at a large organisation and having to field infinite questions from the C-Suite about ‘when are we going to get our metaverse strategy sorted out, then?’ – honestly, the number of companies that are going to spunk unconscionable amounts of money on creating ‘EXCITING DIGITAL WORLDS FOR BRAND FANS TO ENJOY RELATABLE CONTENT IN’ is larger than you can possibly imagine (and presents a not-insignificant consultancy opportunity for those of you who can cope with the psychological horror of that last all-caps phrase). The smarter solution, at this stage, is to work with an existing platform to build out experiences – which is exactly what Nike has done in Roblox. Even if your knowledge of Roblox extends no further than reading half a dozen thinkpieces in the past 18, this is worth a look – you’ll have to download the software, but it’s pretty quick and it’s fascinating to wander around the space Nike has created and see a surprisingly large number of people bouncing their avatars on branded trampolines, and scrabbling for coins to afford the oh-so-covetable digital Air Force Ones. Fine, it’s Nike and so this shouldn’t be a surprise, but this is very nicely-done (if, fundamentally, a marketing campaign aimed at ensuring that children are hooked on the sweatshop swoosh from the age of about 7 onwards).
  • Sakharov: This is a beautiful site in tribute to Andrei Saharov, a Soviet nuclear physicist and campaigner for peace and disarmament, the centenary of whose death is celebrated this year. It’s basically an online museum of his life, taking you from his early years, through education, his work on the Russian nuclear programme and his personal journey towards pacifism and activism and his subsequent persecution by the state, until his death in 1989. This is a fascinating portrait of someone who I’d never heard of before, and the website is beautifully-made – there’s a lot in here, and it’s a bit dense in places, but the structure of the site makes it both manageable and interesting, and there’s a lot to like here from a design point of view.
  • The Shfl: If you’d like to replace the algorithmic curation of your musical taste with something a little more human, you might enjoy this site – The Shfl, built by someone called Caleb, is “a random sampler that serves up recommendations from musicians, music critics, and lists of albums I thought were interesting. The population sampled from can be customized – tapping on a tag or the icons next to the date, label, or album recommender will restrict the sampler to albums that share that attribute. Filters can also be added manually using search, and they can be combined – you can filter on African music from the 70’s, for instance, or norwegian black metal, or jazz guitar.” What’s nice about this is that you can follow recommendation trails – albums come with notes about who recommended them, and users can click on the names of those recommenders to enable you to follow their taste rabbithole (er, so to speak – sorry, that was a horrible turn of phrase which I really should edit but which, having added this parenthetical apology, I can’t really be bothered to do so, apologies). There are, fine, other tools that let you use others’ tastes as a guide to finding new music, but there’s something particularly nice about the way you can click through the maze of links here and discover interesting, unusual musical gems – this is almost certainly a trick of psychology, but it feels like you’re exploring rather than simply lying back and being gifted recommendations, which in turn makes what you find feel moderately more special (to my mind, at least).
  • The Searchable Museum: The website of the archive of the National Museum of African American Culture and History, which is not only a fascinating trove of information about Black American history but which is a really good example of how to present elements of a collection in digital form. It’s not overwhelming, it’s nicely-designed across desktop and mobile, and the selection of material it showcases is well-curated. Did you know that Jack Daniels was created based on the charcoal filtration process perfected by an African American called Nathan Nearest Green, who taught Jasper Newton “Jack” Daniel everything he knew? I did not, but I do now. This is properly interesting stuff throughout.
  • Random Gifts: Unfortunately, thanks to the 2000s, the word ‘random’ has become something akin to nails on a blackboard to me, but here it feels just about acceptable. Random Gifts is a website which was seemingly created to help people buy mother’s day presents (no, me neither) but which exists all year round and which is one of the more incredible visualisations I’ve yet seen of the sheer scale of the tat mountain we produce every day. “This site searches randomly across the web for products for you to buy from Amazon, eBay, Aliexpress, Etsy, Wayfair and more coming soon. I hope you will find inspiration in the vastness of humanity’s warehouse inventory”, runs the blurb, and whilst I can’t promise that you will find ‘inspiration’ I can guarantee that you can’t help but scroll down this seemingly-infinite page, through categories like ‘Random Prevarication products on Aliexpress’, and conclude that we have something of a stuff problem. I just lost a good 3 minutes to scrolling this – honestly, it’s darkly-hypnotic.
  • The Audubon Society TikTok: If were asked at gunpoint to name an actual, genuine trend I have observed over the past decade or so of doing this terrible, unreadable newsletterblogtypething I would probably say “look, just shoot me and get it over with, I am very tired”, but, were I feeling less nihilistic I might burble something about how the US bird enthusiasts’ club The Audubon Society has consistently demonstrated itself to be one of the least-expectedly talented digital content  producers out there. Its TikTok is no exception – personally my interest in avian observation is…pretty small (unless they’re pigeons nesting in my windowbox – I miss you Casillero and Diablo), but that doesn’t stop me absolutely loving its TikTok output. Basically this is another example of ‘just give the keys to a talented and passionate (and fairly-paid) young person and let them play with it’ – perfectly-surreal and odd but also IT TEACHES YOU STUFF ABOUT BIRDS. Also lovely because the way they use cut-out eyes and mouths on the birds is perfectly-reminiscent of Joel Veitch’s Spongmonkeys, and it’s always nice when you can see the cultural genealogy of this sort of thing.
  • Everyone Gets A Car: To be clear, and to temper any momentary excitement you might feel about this, the title of the site really ought to be ‘Everyone (In The US) Gets A Car’. Also, it’s not really ‘everyone’. FFS, TRADING STANDARDS! Still, let’s take a moment to enjoy the latest piece of attention-baiting webfoolery from MSCHF, who (and this feels like I am having a go, I appreciate, but honest I’m not) seem to have settled into something of a groove of late with their ‘it’s basically a lottery, but dressed up with some clever intellectual wrapping’ giveaways. This new drop (sorry) lets anyone (in the US) spend $35 to buy a car – the gimmick here is that that $35 will DEFINITELY get you a Lamborghini, but you don’t know what sort until your purchase arrives in the post. Some will be die-cast models, some will be RC toys, some the sort of sit-in-and-drive affairs that I remember occasionally seeing on tourist trips to Hamley’s and coveting like little else on earth, and ONE LUCKY WINNER will get an actual, proper Lamborghini car for their stake. So basically what’s happened here is that MSCHF have worked out exactly the same model that TV phone-in competitions have been running since the 70s (flat entry cost, wildly-variable reward range) and dressed it up with a trucker hat (yes, I know that that is a very dated reference but they are COMING BACK, ok?) – still, they thought of it and I didn’t, so I should just shut up and admire their smarts.
  • Al’s Middle Brass Pages: This is in fact three websites in one (YOU LUCKE FUKERS!) – Al’s Tenor Horn Page (“This page will hopefully serve to promote, legitimize, bolster, support, celebrate and dispel any myths surrounding the Tenor Horn, Alto Horn and all other Eb/F alto brasses”), Al’s Mellophone Page (“This page will hopefully serve to promote, legitimize, bolster, support, celebrate and dispel any myths surrounding the Mellophone, Mellophonium and all other Eb/F alto brasses”), and Greg’s Brass History Page (“we are proud to present histories of all Brass Band instruments, written by Greg Monks!”). This pleased me immoderately, partly because of the defiantly old-school webdesign but also because of the idea that the Tenor Horn and Mellophone communities are riddled with FAKE NEWS and myths and misinformation, and it’s only thanks to brave souls such as Al (and Greg!) that the truth about brass can be known at all. Explain to me, please, how the purity of this website can possibly be improved OH NO IT CANNOT.
  • How A Car Works: I have, I am sure, mentioned on repeated occasions that one of the many ways in which I am a terrible and useless adult is my inability to drive a car (it looks hard and boring, what can I say?), and said inability means that I personally have a limited degree of interest in the subject matter of this website, but I got very excited when I found it, thinking that perhaps I had uncovered a secret network of sites which exist to explain the mysteries of the world and which can all be found on pleasingly-Ronseal urls. Sadly that doesn’t appear to be the case – the address www.howdoesaplanestayintheairisitmagicorunderwingbirds.com doesn’t work, oddly – but I really like the fact that someone has bought the address and made this (actually quite useful) website, all to help sell a video course on car mechanics. WELL DONE, ALEX MUIR (no relation whatsoever, I don’t think)!
  • The Theban Mapping Project: “The purpose of the Theban Mapping Project is to design and implement existing condition reports and management plans for the archaeological sites of the Theban Necropolis.  The website makes available the TMP’s maps, drawings, images, and descriptions to provide an authoritative resource for scholars, students, teachers, on-site inspectors, and tourists.  Its goals are to enhance visitors experience, support long-term preservation, facilitate study, and more effectively manage one of the world’s most valuable archaeological treasures.” Yes, ok, fine, that sounds VERY DRY, but I promise that this site is far more interesting than that description makes it sound, and contains some incredible photos of the inside of the various tombs of the various Rameses and the rest.
  • Automa: This looks really quite useful. You know If This Then That? Of course you do. This is, er, that, but for web browsers – a Chrome plugin that lets you set all sorts of workflows to automate within your browser. So, for example, you can set it to do things like, I don’t know, do an automatic stack overflow search in a new tab for anything you right-click, or scrape all the copy from any webpage you open and dump it into a .txt file…that sort of thing. Properly, actually useful, this.
  • Flagwaver: Who hasn’t wanted a tool that lets you create an animated graphic of a waving flag with whatever image you like on it? NO FCUKER, that’s who! If you’ve ever wanted to see your own crest – or, I don’t know, a photo of some cats, use your imagination here – fluttering on a proud flag against a blue sky, then WOW are you in luck!
  • The Food Timeline: This is SO interesting (and pleasingly-ugly) – The Food Timeline is, er, a timeline of food through history! So it takes you from the cultivation of grain in prehistory, through sausages in 500BC, all the way to such modern inventions like root beer and ketchup (yes, it’s American), with each entry clickable so you can dig into the deeper history and context of each foodstuff. If you’re in any way interested in culinary or dietary history this is absolutely fascinating – and there are recipes too, should you wish to experiment (although tbh I would approach these – particularly the ones redolent of mid-20thC midwestern Thanksgiving dinners – with a degree of caution).
  • Ceremonial Ribbon-Cutting Scissors: The web has in many respects been an awful scrying glass into the hell that is other people, but it has also on occasion shone a light into some truly wonderful idiosyncracies of modern human existence. So it is with this website, for a New Hampshire company which proudly advertises itself as ‘the premier source for all your grand opening needs!’ – as long as those needs are contained within the broad category of ‘ceremonial ribboncutting (if you need a celebrity to wield said scissors, for example, you may want to look elsewhere). I had honestly never considered before where one might go to find a pair of those outsized golden scissors used for especially-fancy local fete openings, but now I know (and thanks to Web Curios, you do too! THIS IS WHY YOU READ THIS FCUKING THING, DO YOU SEE????).
  • The Gif Gallery: 8 or so years ago I had a BIG IDEA about creating a ‘Museum of Gifs’ – I was slightly-obsessed with fitting out a gallery space with flatscreens and having a rolling, rotating showcase for the best and worst of ephemeral gif-y web culture, and was briefly-convinced that I would be able to get a tech company to back it and shell out for the costs. Obviously no fcuker cared, and the idea joined all the others in ‘Matt’s increasingly-dusty oubliette of stuff he briefly toyed with doing but which quite quickly lost its lustre in favour of instead getting drunk and stoned’, but I maintain that it’s quite a fun concept (which someone has almost certainly done in the intervening time). Anyway, that’s by way of overlong and unasked-for preamble to this link, which contains THOUSANDS of Gifs which you can click through page after page of – the effect is quite dizzying. You navigate by finding ‘doors’ on each page which take you to another ‘room’ of the gallery – “the gifs in this gallery are a selection from across all eras of the web. There are so many that some of the rooms have never been visited or will never be visited again.” I am pleased – if slightly incredulous – that this hasn’t been reinvented as an ultragrifty-NFT project.

By Malika Favre

NEXT, ENJOY THIS MIX OF BREAKS AND GARAGE AND AMAPIANO AND MORE – IT’S BY JYOTY AND I WOULD DESCRIBE IT AS POSITIVELY UPLIFTING! 

THE SECTION WHICH IS REALLY NOT ENJOYING THE JUXTAPOSITION OF ‘PEOPLE ARE DROWNING IN THE CHANNEL’ NEWS WITH ‘BUY MORE STUFF FROM MECHABEZOS!’ NEWS AND WHICH WONDERS WHETHER THIS INCONGRUITY IS PERHAPS WORTH THINKING ABOUT A LITTLE HARDER, PT.2:  

  •  AAP Photos of the Year: More photography! More excellence! This is the annual selection by All About Photo magazine of the best images submitted by its global readership, and whilst I know that the prospect of looking at yet another series of beautiful images must feel somewhat wearing (there’s an interesting question about the extent to which its still possible to be moved by beautiful imagery in what must be the most visually-oversaturated era in human history, but wevs) but let me assure you that these are worth your time – there’s obviously the now-inevitable of heavy post-production production about a lot of these, but there’s also slightly more of a design-y eye to lots of the pictures here, and I thought there was a more varied sense of composition, etc, than you often see in these selections. Also, it’s the only photo contest I’ve seen this year to have awarded recognition to a picture that’s been manipulated by burying the negative in vegetable residue for several days, so props for that too.
  • The University of Technology in Sydney: Back in the distant past (1997, to be specific), when I arrived at University I did so with literally no knowledge whatsoever of the city I would be spending the next three years in, the institution I would be attending or indeed exactly what I was going to be doing (look, I’ve always taken a…somewhat lackadaisical approach to my existence, at least I’m consistent ffs) – had this sort of thing existed when I was young, perhaps I might have reconsidered my choice to spend my undergrauate years in the freezing Mancunian drizzle (but, honestly, who else would have taken me? This is the University of Technology in Sydney’s DIGITAL CAMPUS TOUR, and it’s surprisingly-fun – perhaps it’s to be expected that an institution making tech its ‘thing’ would have a shiny campus tour, but I was really impressed with how slick this is – combining 360-degree video with a surprisingly-not-awful CG avatar guide-type-thing, this site does a really good job of making the place look shiny and fun and welcoming and not at all like it would be populated exclusively by terrifyingly well-tanned and shiny-haired examples of antipodean excellence (I am slightly scared of Australians – they just seem so…so other). I know this is a small thing, but the fact that they have bothered to create a shadow for your digital friend really impressed me – THIS is what it takes to command my respect, apparently, in case you were curious.
  • Click That Hood: Nice little geography guessing game which asks you to pick a city or country and then identify the districts, counties, states or cantons within it based on their location and shape. I immediately got incredibly angry with my inability to accurately identify Richmond-Upon-Thames, which suggests it’s doing something right – cities other than London are very much available, for those of you less pathetically obsessed with the UK’s capital than I am.
  • Johnny Decimal: I once worked for a man – we’re friends now, and this is all meant with great affection, honest Hector – who was so obsessional about taxonomy and filing that he once had a vision of creating a website which would act as a visualisation of the entire cultural landscape of the UK and which would work as a combined research tool and media database and news source and which, honestly, was so insanely ambitious that had I and various other people working with him pursued the project rather than having various flavours of minor mental breakdown we would still be working on it today. He did, though, teach me of the importance of decent filing, which is what is at the heart of Johnny Decimal, a project which seemingly exists to impress upon ordinary people how INCREDIBLY FCUKING USEFUL it is to employ a sensible and ordered structure to the way you think about things at work and at home. Look, if you’re the sort of person whose unread emails count is into the thousands and who doesn’t understand why you need folders when filename search exists (ffs granddad!) then this is one you can skip – if, though, you get a small, almost erotic frisson from phrases like ‘near-instant document recovery’ then you might find something to like in here (honestly, even if you can’t be bothered to actually implement any of this stuff, I promise you that the initial thinking is sensible and worth following).
  • Pillow Fighting Championship: The official website of the PFC – that’s the world pillowfighting championship, to the uninitiated. “Pillow Fighting Championship began with an idea to develop a real fighting sport that would appeal to the international family audience by combining the ancient weapon known as a “pillow” with experienced MMA competitors & boxers an strict rules. However, PFC isn’t just about hard-hitting pillow fighting, it’s also about pure entertainment and fun! PFC has quickly evolved into a very popular sport-based showcase complete with all the strength, stamina and strategic skills of the other more brutal combat sports but with a massive amount of fun!” I’m someone who can’t watch MMA at all – I don’t know why, but there’s something about two people desperately trying to move each others’ teeth into parts of their faces that said teeth were never intended to occupy that I find…distressing – but this feels a little more my speed, even if I confess to not finding the videos on display here hugely compelling. Maybe if they edged the pillows with razorblades or something?
  • Historic Borders: Visualising the way in which national borders around the world have shifted over time. Fascinating for a whole host of reasons, not least the way it demonstrates that we’re living through a period of what, historically-speaking, is a very unusual degree of stability when it comes to the shape of nation states – and as a reminder of the frankly arbitrary nature of national borders, and how perhaps this might usefully make us think about the utility or otherwise of considering them to be impermeable and sacrosanct.
  • Talk To A Director About Superhero Films: Ok, this is VERY SPECIFIC, but it’s also a really interesting look at the evolution of text AI. You’ll of course – OF COURSE! – remember AI Dungeon, the ‘game’ built on top of GPT-3 which let anyone play an AI-generated conversational choose your own adventure game – the software has evolved since I featured it in Curios a few years ago, and now lets users create their own scenarios and sandboxes for others to play in. Which is how we arrived at this – an AI Dungeon scenario which lets you insert the name of any film director you can think of and have a conversation with them about their opinion of superhero movies. Not hugely useful, fine, but a really interesting window into how superficially clever this stuff – it’s worth playing around with this and trying different directors, as it’s fascinating to observe the ways in which it pulls information and knowledge about the person’s output and style and back catalogue into conversation. We’re not that far away from this sort of thing being used by students as part of their history work, having ‘conversations’ with AI-imagined Caesars to ask them about what really went on in Gaul. Or something. Whether you think this is a good thing or otherwise is of course up to you – what’s interesting is the opacity of the software, as there’s limited explanation as to where this ‘knowledge’ and the ‘personalities’ being created are being drawn from. Properly interesting, this.
  • Recidiviz: The name of this company really got my hackles up – we’re trying to make the post-incarceration care of ex-offenders a TRENDY STARTUP THING, is it? – but actually on further investigation this actually seems like a non-terrible use of machine learning, etc, in the justice field. Recidiviz is focused on analysing data about offenders’ post-release behaviour to make better and more accurate assessments as to what pathways work best for reducing reoffending. Many years ago I did quite a bit of work around prisons and the wider justice sector, and the lack of any sort of long-term consistent vision for what happens to people after they get spat out by the machine was stark – anything that works to address that it a meaningful way is probably A Good Thing, although despite the very evident good intentions evident from the company’s setup and structure, I can’t help but feel…uneasy about yet another attempt to flatten the messy reality of human experience into a series of easily-analysable datapoints. Still, this is The Future, so if you’re in any way interested in criminal justice and how to make it better you could do worse than check this out – because there’s going to be much, much more stuff like it coming down the line over the next few years.
  • Physics: Yes, that’s right, ALL OF PHYSICS IN ONE PLACE. This might seem hyperbolic, fine, but click the link and then EAT YOUR SKEPTICISM and luxuriate in ALL THE PHYSICS. I know less-than-nothing about physics, if I’m honest – it’s always been one of those disciplines that has served only to demonstrate the limits of my brain to me, and which I can literally feel my mind sliding off of whenever I try and grasp even the most rudimentary elements of it – and as such my assessment of this site ought to be taken with the requisite skipload of salt, but, well, it’s quite mad. The combination of VERY DENSE web 1.0-style design and the equally-web1.0-style CG graphics which accompany the entries gives the whole thing a slightly TimeCube-ish feel – slightly terrifying, and very intense.
  • The Fry Universe: A short, but beautifully-explained, guide to why different shapes of cut potato produce such radically-different eating experiences when turned into chips (or ‘fries’, if you really must). By Chris Williams, who I hope gets some work out of this because it’s a really lovely piece of webdesign.
  • The Street Photography Awards 2021: MORE PHOTOS! Here’s an idea, brands – why not buck the trend and make your next engagement-bait contest painting-based rather than photo-based. It is official – there are TOO MANY PHOTO AWARDS. Still, at least this one has a proper theme (to whit, photos taken in urban spaces) – my personal favourite is ‘Dog With Wings’, but pick your own (YOU CAN’T HAVE MINE).
  • A Musical Planet: Oh, this is fun! A lovely Spotify hack which challenges you to listen to songs from around the world and guess which country they’re from – not only really diverting (honestly, it’s a miracle this got written at all – I am getting SO GOOD at identifying Gabonese trap!), but a great way of subtly learning about how musical style and culture works across national boundaries, and how history and geography and politics is reflected in commonalities of melody and composition. So so so good, this, and a brilliant way of finding new and different sounds.
  • Sylvanian Drama: A very silly TikTok account which offers up short, dramatic vignettes in the style of a slightly-trashy soap, all played out with toys from the Sylvanian Families range. So if you’ve ever wondered what it would be like to watch a small, uncool beaver child attempt to gain kudos in the playground by turning to slinging prescription pills then, well, wonder no more! This is a bit “so random! So wacky!”, but it’s also on occasion very, very funny.
  • Emoji Dingbats: Literally what it says on the url – two emoji which are meant to communicate a thing or a phrase, with your job being to guess exactly what. Simple but fun, and you can create and submit your own puzzles to be added to the game should you have a burning desire to share your emoji interpretation of ‘My Heart Will Go On’ with the world.
  • ArseBishop: Are you being shown a picture of a bishop, or are you been shown a picture of a bottom? It’s harder than you might think.
  • Gamesnacks: This is SUCH a nostalgia trip – Gamesnacks is not in any way a cool or particularly fancy site, but it is an almost-perfect recreation of the sort of NewGrounds-ish portal for Flash games which I used to spend years enjoying as a convenient antidote to ‘being a lobbyist’ back in the early-00s. You want a collection of literally hundreds of browser games, all playable for free? You want versions of Puzzle Bobble and Breakout and various driving games and and and and? YOU CAN HAVE THEM ALL! Some of them are even quite good, but the main draw here is the fact that they are all free, they are all browser-based and they are all things that you can do at work instead of preparing 20 slides about ‘why it’s important to LISTEN and then ENGAGE’ (see, I can still do social media!).
  • Six Cats Under: Finally this week, a beautiful (honestly, the art style here is perfect and so wonderfully-reminiscent of the golden era of point-and-click adventures) and poignant little game which casts you as a recently-deceased old woman whose soul cannot find rest until she’s been able to ensure that the cats she’s left behind will be fed. Your job is to move her ghost around her apartment, attempting to fix things so as the precious moggies won’t starve – this takes a bit of time and concentration, but I promise that it’s worth it for the visual gags and the aforementioned art style, and the way in which the small story unfolds. This is a beautiful way to spend 30m or so on a dark, cold November afternoon.

By Jiayue Li

LET’S CLOSE OUT THE MIXES WITH THIS SUPERB SELECTION OF HOUSE MIXED BY AFRONOTE! 

THE CIRCUS OF TUMBLRS!:

  • The Hairs On The Back Of Your Neck: This is lovely. “Behind You is an ongoing series of illustrations made by me, Brian Coldrick (hello!) I’d call it a webcomic but there are no panels and each image is essentially a separate story so that might be a stretch. My naive intention is to upload one a week. The whole thing sprung out of my love of horror films and books, and particularly the reading of spooky internet stories. My favourite type of spooky internet story is the real life account. These barely function as narratives as much as scary scenarios. There are so many gaps in the stories there’s lots of room for the reader to fill them in with their own conclusions. This series is essentially my attempt to purposefully do the same. Each page is simply a character with someone, or something, behind them and one line of text.” There’s something pleasingly low-key creepy about all of these.

THE TROUGH OF (INSTA) FEEDS!

  • Eliseo Zubiri: Zubiri is a digital designer and artist whose work is a weird combination of vaporwave-ish CG landscapes rendered in photorealistic style with dreamscape palettes – it’s very reminiscent of stuff you’ll have seen before, stylistically-speaking, but there’s a particular quality to the work which makes it stand out (to my eyes, at least).
  • Docubyte: The Insta account of one James Ball, self-describes as ‘Photographer, retoucher, art director and ultimate nerd’ – these are lovely CG renderings of techy-type design things, from cars to mainframes and everything inbetween.
  • Screengrab Them: Yesterday was the international day for the elimination of violence against women – it seems a timely moment to share this Insta account, which exists to share screencaps of messages received by girls of school age, from their male classmates and ‘friends’ and boyfriends and contemporaries. It’s appalling how unsurprising the contents of these messages are, but they present a useful reminder of how incredibly important it is to educate young people that violence can be verbal as well as physical, and that the physical often starts with the verbal, and that talking to people like this is not ok. Christ but I am so lucky to be a man.

LONG THINGS WHICH ARE LONG!:

  • An Engineer’s Take on Web3: Look, I know that you’re probably sick of me linking to stuff about Web3 and NFTs and crypto and all the rest – I know you are, because God knows I am – but the reason I continue to do so is that it’s also properly interesting; not so much because of what it is now, but because of what it portends (PORTENDS! So loomy!) about the future of…*gestures* all this internet stuff. Whether it’s the future of how we organise and structure our online lives, or simply a future, it’s one of the most fascinating debates currently happening, and (to my mind) it’s worth reading about even if (like me) you can’t really pretend to understand much. This piece is a really good overview of what Web3 means (insofar as it can be said to ‘mean’ anything concrete at this stage), written by an engineer and which as a result does a good job of explaining all the technical gubbins in reasonably-comprehensible fashion and which sets out some of the reasons why it is interesting and what we might usefully do with it all. Clever, accessible and clear-eyed, this is the best primer I’ve read on the technical stuff which underpins much of the froth.
  • Is Crypto Bullsh1t?: A sort-of companion piece to that last one, and another good read on why this stuff may be worth paying attention to rather more than you might have thought based on the seemingly-endless progression of novelty avatar peddlers currently silting up the web. You can get a feel for the tone of the piece by its strapline – “I regret to inform you that it’s totally legit and crypto/blockchain networks really might be technologically, economically, and politically transformative. Ugh.” – but, again, it’s a good read, and does a good job of explaining why my (and potentially your) distaste at much of the visible world of cryptoNFTblockchainweb3wank doesn’t necessarily mean that the whole thing is irredeemable garbage. What’s been interesting about reading and writing about this stuff over the past 9 months or so has been the extent to which even those whose initial reaction to all the hype and froth has been ‘ugh, no, please stop’ (myself included) have come to grudgingly accept that something interesting is happening here that sort-of needs to be taken seriously. I remain unconvinced that all this is going to be a net positive, to be clear, but am very much of the opinion that it is going to be something. Web Curios – making EXCELLENT PREDICTIONS since approximately 2011! Oh, and if you want a counter-argument that continues to plough the ‘no, this is actually all sh1t’ line, then this one’s rather good. Opinions, we got’em all!
  • The Creator Economy: This is an interesting little essay, which touches on an aspect of the concept of the ‘creator economy’ which I haven’t seen discussed that much – specifically, what does the idea of a ‘creator economy’ do to the sort of creation that is being done? It’s worth reading the whole thing, but you can get a feel for the argument in this short excerpt: “I have a growing fear that maybe we’re all just a little too overresourced and understimulated, taking part in the constant onslaught of more content and degenerate internet pranks, whether it’s making a video or blog post, or an NFT or a DAO. While media is an important, influential part of culture, I’d hate to see “being a creator” become synonymous with entertainment, where people are never intrinsically motivated to explore any of its potential beyond that.”
  • African Cities: This is an absolutely fascinating piece of digital journalism by the Washington Post, looking at the projected growth of urban centres in Africa over the coming 80-odd years, with specific focus on particular cities such as Mombasa, Abidjan and Khartoum (and, of course, Lagos). The numbers involved here are fcuking insane – Kinshasa is estimated to have a population of 60 million people by 2100, based on present growth, which is a truly mind-flaying number of people. Exactly how that works from the simple perspective of urban planning is a large enough question, let alone all the attendant issues around, you know, society and economics and stuff. There are individual profiles of around 10 individual cities in here, each of which gives a particular perspective on the ballooning population numbers in question – I am genuinely sad that I won’t get to see how some of these places develop over the coming century.
  • Dreamvertising: Many years ago I went to a lecture at the Royal Society that was all about the concept of ‘neuromarketing’ – that is, the practice of gauging the effectiveness of advermarketingpr by attempting to scientifically determine the specific effects of various ads on consumers brain patterns, with a view to develop publicity materials SO EFFECTIVE that they change the way we think and feel in measurable, trackable fashion. The lecture was part sales pitch by someone working for one of the companies peddling this tech, and part weary debunking of all the cod science underpinning said company’s claims by a succession of weary-sounding neuroscientists (it may not surprise you to learn that ‘neuromarketing’ has not in fact transformed the world of ‘selling tat to morons’). I was reminded of that experience when reading this piece about the current vogue for research into ‘dreamhacking’ as an ad technique – basically (and I am simplifying a bit here) this is about effectively using sleep as an opportunity for subliminal messaging.This all sounds very scary, but I am skeptical about the extent to which this is more than a lot of snake oil from people who’ve realised that there’s no industry that loves pseudoscientific jargon more than advermarketingpr (there’s an INSIGHT for you). This article is very much of the ‘we cannot let this happen, will somebody think of the children!’ sort, but it’s interesting for all its slightly-apocalyptic pearl-clutching.
  • How Netflix Actually Works: Or, ‘how do they manage to let me watch a decent enough stream of Peep Show despite the fact that my Wifi is too crap for video calls’? This is ostensibly-boring, but I am always thrilled to learn how services I take totally for granted work under the hood, and this particular explainer also neatly doubles up as a quick refresher on ‘how the whole internet works’, which is nice. Worth reading, if only because it should be a source of far greater shame to us than it currently seems to be that we are surrounded by goods, products and services whose genesis and function is basically witchcraft to us.
  • The World’s Blandest Facebook Profile: There’s been a lot of interesting reporting recently about exactly what Facebook is at the moment (by which I mean Facebook-the-product/platform rather than Meta the company), not least by Ryan Broderick at Garbage Day who has been digging into how and why it is that so much of what Facebook confirms is its most popular content is so genuinely terrible (not even ‘terrible’ in a ‘this is ruining the world’-type Cadwalladr sense, just in a ‘this is all total crap with no discernible purpose or value’ sense). Partly in reaction to this, Kaitlyn Tiffany decided to experiment by making the blandest new FB profile she could imagine, to see what content the platform funneled her towards. What did she learn? That a platform which hosts nearly a third of the human race basically tends towards terrible, valueless, garbage ‘content’, content in its purest sense (material that exists to fill a void), content that doesn’t seem to have any purpose beyond its own existence and the search for ‘engagements’, content that blends into the odd camo–green uniformity of infinitely-mixed Play-Doh. Make of this what you will – I’m choosing to use this as a parable about the nefarious power of the median and the mean, but feel free to draw your own conclusions.
  • Pictures for Sad Children: Whether or not you remember the webcomic that this piece refers to, this is a really interesting interview that offers (to my mind) a reasonably good set of cautionary indications about what an eventual creator economy might look like in practice. This is an interview with the creator of the once hugely popular webcomic series ‘Pictures for Sad Children’, which talks about the Kickstarter campaign that she launched at the height of its fame, how that went wrong, and what it’s like when your professional and personal existence is umbilically-linked to a fandom that thinks it knows you and that you owe it. Fascinating and not-a-little depressing.
  • Ariana Grande’s Zoom Manipulation: I was not aware that Ariana Grande had released a new line of cosmetics (I don’t think her PR team should beat themselves up about their failure to reach me, though), but she has! Huzzah! This is a great article which looks at exactly how that launch was managed by the Grande PR machine, and what that says about the relationship between media and celebrity in 2021 – basically now that famouses can go direct to their fanbase without the need for journointermediaries, they need the media far less than the media needs them, which makes for the sort of uncritical media environment which will literally let the famous and their team dictate every single aspect of coverage in exchange for access. Nothing that should surprise you, but it’s a cogent articulation of how sort-of fcuked the whole deal is.
  • The Depths She’ll Reach: Free-diving is obviously having something of a moment, seeing as this is the second longread about the sport that I’ve seen in as many months. Still, it’s a compelling subject, and rendered all the moreso by the presentation of this piece (published by Longlead, ‘a story studio focused on finding, funding, producing, and publishing original, in-depth journalism’), all about diver Alenka Artnik and her struggles with depression and how being alone, underwater, very deep indeed, helped her cope with the inside of her head. This is so, so nicely-made – there are lots of beautiful touches, but I particularly enjoyed the way certain letters in section headings communicate chapter themes (you’ll see what I mean), and the whole thing is just a beautiful bit of webwork.
  • Justin Timberlake: A reappraisal of the career of Justin Timberlake, in the wake of the Britney stuff, which points out exactly how much the man got away with and how incredibly differently he was treated by the media in the aftermath of the demise of…hang on, did they never have a portmanteau couple name? No ‘Justney’? No ‘Britstin’? MADNESS. Anyway, Timberlake is someone whose music, despite being fcuking ubiquitous during a certain period of time, has left almost no cultural trace whatsoever (the ‘Avatar’ of modern pop music) but who equally seems to have basically gotten away with acting like a massive w4nker to the People’s Pop Princess with little by way of reckoning or reprisal. If you’re young, this will be another example of how things really did used to be even worse for women in popular culture; if you’re old, this will cause you to remember a time when it was apparently totally normal for the UK tabloids to refer to this man as ‘Trousersnake’ and we all just sort-of shrugged. Different times, man.
  • The Britishisms That Saved Me: I love this – Amelia Granger tells the story of her pregnancy and the birth of her child and its early years through a series of idiomatic phrases she learned to use as an expat American in the UK. Granger is a great writer, and I am a sucker for storytelling that plays with form like this; it’s very funny, too.
  • The Luxury of Getting Lost: Dispatches from the frontiers of luxury travel, where apparently it’s now a ‘thing’ to pay tens of thousands of pounds to be dropped in a remote location and told ‘walk that way, we’ll pick you up in two days, try not to die’. Wonderfully-written by Ed Caesar, this particular trip took him to Morocco and the Atlas mountains, but apparently you can go all over the world if you can afford it – I can’t pretend that there wasn’t something intensely romantic about the picture Caesar paints of striding into the desert with only a map, a compass (and a GPS device, and rations, and portable shelter, and a crack team of survivalists monitoring your every move and making sure you don’t die), but, equally, there’s something very, very silly about the idea of paying someone 5 figures to ‘go camping’. Still, if you’re incredibly rich and looking for the next thrill, then a) why not try giving me ten grand? It’s QUITE THE KICK!; and b) here’s an idea for you.
  • Song of Snogs: A wonderful review of a new contemporary translation of the poetry of infamous Roman dirtbag Catullus, a man who convinced entire generations of students of the merits of learning Latin, just so they could read lines like “Liberation from your taste police / Gives my words a musky allure that can stir / Not just boys but the prick-memory / Of shaggy old ex-shaggers”. This is not only a wonderful introduction to who Catullus was and what he wrote, but a disquisition on how to create modern readings of ancient classics – super-interesting throughout.
  • Slime: An extract from a forthcoming book all about slime – what it is, why it’s important, what ‘primordial slime’ was and why it’s not actually a real thing, etc – which I promise you is far more engaging than you’d expect. I particularly like the note in here about the aforementioned primordial slime, and how it’s discovery was basically a drunken error that ended up conditioning (wrongly) decades of thinking about evolution and biology. Oh, booze!
  • The Friends You Make Online: Saeed Jones writes about the different qualities on online friendship and what they mean: “You don’t need me to tell you that life online has been a mess, if not straight-up catastrophic, lately. What’s also true is that, even amidst the chaos, we keep coming back. Why? Oh…if only I knew. For me, I know it has a lot to do with the friendships I’ve made online, often with people I know entirely through social platforms. I mean, hell, I’ve been on Twitter since July 2008 and I’m a Sagittarius! These online relationships are often just as meaningful and rich and strange as my “real-life” friendships, but they’re more difficult to define. Maybe we’re still a little embarrassed? Or maybe we just need to stop waiting for definitions and do the work ourselves. I care too much about my online friends to just coast along in relationship limbo. This is an ode to digital friendships, a taxonomy of connections and disconnections.” I found this utterly charming, and I think you will too.
  • The Professor: Irina Dumitrescu has been responsible for some of my favourite things that I’ve read online this year, and this is another belter – the professor is about her relationship with her father, and her teacher, and the blurring of boundaries between teacher and lover, and how the shifting nature of these relationships changes us, and she is SO GOOD, I could honestly read her shopping lists. Superb prose.
  • The Odor of Things: Finally this week, a piece about the science of scent, how perfumes are made, and how AI is coming for this along with everything else. I adored this – interesting, but also far better-written than it needed to be, it made me want to go and play at being a perfumer. Make a cup of (aromatic) tea and settle in to enjoy this one, it’s superb.

By Katie Horan

AND NOW, MOVING PICTURES AND SOUNDS!:

Webcurios 19/11/21

Reading Time: 34 minutes

Is it getting FESTIVE in London? I ask only because I’m experiencing a mild degree of cognitive dissonance between my Twitter feed (Christmas adverts, christmas jumpers, turkey shortages, etc) and my physical existence in Rome (as of today: 22 degrees, sunshine, no fcuking hint of even a secretive Santa), and it’s quite hard to tell what’s real and what isn’t. Are you real? ARE YOU?

Anyway, I am slightly late this morning and so this preamble will be kept to a minimum – the links, though, are as fattened, plump and bronzed as ever, veritably straining at their trusses, laden with promise (at least I think it’s promise; might be something else, you’ll just have to find out).

So, here we are once again. I am still Matt, this is still Web Curios, and you are still going to pass off anything professionally-relevant that you find in here as fruit of your own indefatigable curiosity and research chops. So it inevitably goes.

By Sophie Vallance

LET’S START THE WEEK OFF WITH A TYPICALLY-ECLECTICALLY-SOURCED VINYL MIX BY TOM SPOONER! 

THE SECTION WHICH ALWAYS THOUGHT THERE WAS SOMETHING A BIT IFFY ABOUT R@7 IF IT’S TOTALLY HONEST, PT.1 :

  • ruDALL-E: It’s not, fine, the catchiest name in all the world, but ‘the latest text-to-image tool for you to play around with which once again feels like sort of dark magic’ was a bit long and unwieldy to use as title text. ruDALL-E is, as the name would suggest, a variant on the existing OpenAI tool DALL-E, but Russian (do you see???), and works very simply – input whatever text you like, and the software will attempt to ‘understand’ your request and generate an image which it things corresponds to said interpretation of your requirement. This has been trained on its own dataset, and so the visuals it spits out are stylistically-different from the sorts of things you might have seen before – there’s been some kvetching about whether this model is doing a bit too much ‘replicating stuff it’s seen before’ and not enough ‘imagining’, but you don’t need to worry about that. Instead, just spend a few seconds thinking of the most borderline-psychopathic subjects for an artwork you can, and then GO FOR YOUR LIFE! To my (literally the opposite of expert) eye, there’s a slightly airbrushed quality to much of what this spits out, with lots of the surfaces having a slightly De Lempicka quality to them (but, as I said, I don’t know what the fcuk I am talking about) – either way, if you’re struggling for gift ideas then why not feed the names of everyone you know and love into the machine and present them with hi-res, framed prints of the imaginings as gifts this festive season? “I couldn’t think what to get you so I got a machine to spit out an image based on your name” would make any right-thinking person’s day, right?
  • Dune Avatars: HAVE YOU SEEN THE DUNE FILM IS IT GOOD? As one of the pieces in last week’s longreads pointed out, unless they lean in hard to the p1ss-drinking, I’m not sure I want anything to do with a Frank Herbert adaptation; still, despite my personal reticence, I rather enjoyed this little (mobile-only) avatarmaking toy which lets you create your VERY OWN Atreides-looking CG homonculus which can caper in AR on your desktop or apparently be used as a player character in a bunch of games and game engines. This is really nicely done – ok, so it’s a Warner Bros title which means budget is…not exactly an issue, but it’s pleasing to see something like this executed at least functionally rather than the sort of bloated mess you often see being created from the ground up. It’s made using tech by Ready Player Me, whose schtick is making ‘metaverse-ready avatars’, and whilst, fine, you’re not going to be loading up Matt ‘I Drink My Own Urine But Honestly It’s Been Totally Purified So It’s Fine’ Muir into Fortnite anytime soon, these apparently work in VRChat (terrifying place that it is) and a few other not-totally-uninhabited worlds too, and it’s worth having a quick think about this sort of stuff because it’s the very, very early nascent stages of what this whole ‘metaverse’ is going to be like. Or at least bits of it. Maybe.
  • Eric Bompard: I just had to Google this – apparently Eric Bompard is a French luxury wool manufacturer, established in 1984. So know we (ok, fine, I) know. Anyway, I couldn’t really care less about cashmere, if I’m honest, but I was rather impressed with the way in which Bompard has used 360-degree video (God, remember when that was an exciting new thing? SIMPLER TIMES) to create their latest lookbook. Another mobile-only site, it takes you ‘behind the scenes’ (in a really staged way, but still) of the catalogue shoot, as you the viewer move your phone around to navigate within the environment, seeing the clothes in natural motion rather than simply hanging on the beautiful, disinterested horsepeople. Ok, so ‘look behind the scenes of a photoshoot IN VIDEO!!’ and ‘clickable, shoppable video!!!’ aren’t per se new gimmicks, but this is a nice, simple, light-touch activation which shows the fashion off nicely and where the 360 degree video actually sort of works, and, look, it’s been a long week and I am tired and the bar is low, what can I say?
  • Oxagon: I have featured Saudi CITY OF THE FUTURE Neom in here a couple of times now, the first in 2017 when its website launched (let’s just remind ourselves of how amazing it is, shall we? Yep, it’s amazing! Seriously, the website is wonderful, and everything you’d expect of the mad scifi dream of a future industrial plutocrats playground) – the project has been a bit quiet in the intervening few years (although it’s entirely possible that I’m simply not the sort of person who’s likely to see exciting updates about solar-powered business parks in the middle of the Saudi desert), but this week it unveiled THE OXAGON! THE OXAGON (it simply demands capitalisation!) is Neom’s industrial district (as far as I can tell – it’s all described in such astonishingly baggy language that it’s quite hard to tell), which is going to be the world’s largest floating structure and built half-off the Red Sea coast, and it’s going to be all GREEN and everything and…oh, look, just click the link and watch the ad, I promise you won’t be disappointed. Unless of course you find something ‘disappointing’ about the fact that just a short week after a conference at which, at best, our species maybe bought itself a little more time before all the envirohorror really kicks in we are now being sold a vision of an industrial centre built from the ground up in a fcuking desert and being told to believe that this is somehow ‘green’ – but then maybe you and I are just miserable naysayers who don’t have the vision to appreciate the majesty of the Oxagon.
  • Skittish: I know that the idea of virtual spaces in which to hang out with your friends, maybe with spatial audio, is a very ‘wave one of the pandemic’ concept, and that the idea of digital socialising is still something that people are trying to work out if they actually want, but I think this is really very fun. Skittish (made by Friend of Web Curios Andy Baio, but which I would feature regardless because it’s lovely) is a free (I think that there are paid tiers with additional functionality, but the basic product is perfectly-functional) product that lets anyone spin up a cute little 2.5d world in which they and others they invite can walk around, talk using spatial audio or text chat, watch videos in shared space from YouTube or Vimeo…all the usual sorts of features, but presented with such a sense of fun that it makes the prospect of ‘hanging out’ in virtual space practically fun. Look, I’m not a particularly cutesy person, but even I was charmed by how cute the walrus avatars look. As an easy, low-friction way of running an event or meetup, this is by far the best thing I’ve seen – even better, the digital ‘world’ you inhabit is easily customisable, so you can create visually-appropriate environments to host your, I don’t know, satanic taxidermy convention (although the prevailing aesthetic is always basically ‘Minecraft meets Tilt-Shift’, so on reflection you may struggle with certain darker themes). LOADS of fun, this – I suggest you and your team sack off the rest of the afternoon and go and watch cartoons in virtual space whilst embodying yourselves as tiny digital pigs.
  • Undercity Nights: I can’t claim to really understand this, but let me try and give you a brief precis. Undercity Nights is part of the wider series of events which are marking the debut of the animated series of League of Legends called Arcane (a music video from which I featured in the videos last week) – this website is by way of a whole load of backstory content, which fans can use to deepen their connection with the show, learn more about characters and sideplots, etc etc. Look, this is supplementary content for a cartoon based on a videogame that I have never played – I am very much not target audience here – but it’s still fascinating even if you’ve not experienced the rest of the content (sorry) which it stems from. The website here is beautifully-made, mimicking the style and design of the animation nicely and seemingly containing a bunch of reasonably-fleshed-out supplementary content (sorry) to enrich the stories from the game and cartoon, and there’s obviously lots of well-thought-out integration between the different properties within the franchise which makes this all feel more coherent than the usual ‘here’s a website what we made to promote the TV show’-type offering. Basically this is another ‘this is the future of digital entertainment’-type moments – single properties, exploited across multiple multimedia touchpoints through deep interactive storytelling with a strong emphasis on cross-platform unlockability and interdependence – which you might want to learn from if that’s your sort of thing.
  • Happy Tax Payer: I know everyone’s been gushing themselves dry about the Icelandverse this week (and yes, it is very well done indeed), but my favourite Northern European public sector campaign this week (and it’s a hotly-contested field) is this, from Finland, which seeks to encourage people to pay their taxes (actually I can’t imagine there’s that much tax avoidance in Finland – is there? – so perhaps this is just to make people feel better about tax) by pointing out all the awesome things that paying tax gets you. In fact,here’s the description from the website (which breaks my heart in its earnestness): “The aim of the project is to cultivate a positive attitude towards paying taxes and to reduce the shadow economy. The idea is to emphasise the building blocks of a fair and sustainable society: we are all working together to make this a good place to live and work in, for everyone.​” This is presented as a spoof streaming platform, with each film or TV show reinforcing the fact that, actually, paying tax is A Good Thing – so you have a made-up drama about a woman who’s forced to move to the North in search of a new life…but who, thanks to adequate social security provision resulting from an equitable taxation system, can do so without hassle! Look, I appreciate that this might not sound amazing, but I am an absolute sucker for this sort of gentle, reasonable, calm explanation of why actually not being a selfish cnut is good for everyone; in the unlikely event that anyone from the UK Government is reading this, can we try more of this sort of thing and less of the hating and the fear, please?
  • Pollinator Pathmaker: Oh this is DELIGHTFUL! Pollinator Pathmaker is a site which lets you map out the size of your garden, select how much light it gets, where you are in the world (well, Europe), what type of soil you have, how many types of plant you’d like to use, and then the extent to which you want an ordered vs chaotic garden, and then the website CREATES YOUR GARDEN for you! The idea is to create garden designs that work for pollinators, to create both a pleasing aesthetic spectacle AND save the bees. You can move it around, look at it in 3d, zoom in and out to see the individual species of flower in each area, and move through time so you can see how the garden changes with the passing of the seasons. Even better, the site produces a downloadable guide to planting the creation it spits out for you, so you too can (in theory, brown thumbs permitting) recreate it with seedlings – honestly, if I wasn’t currently living in a flat with limited outside space, and if that outside space wasn’t totally covered in ashtrays, I would be all over this.
  • YorkshireCoin: God’s own cryptocurrency! Except it’s not, sadly – this is entirely a spoof, which I suppose makes sense but which I am slightly sad about. Of course, I don’t think there’s anything to stop any of you minting your own YorkshireCoin and taking it TO THE MOON (or at the very least to Thornton-le-Dale).
  • The NFTBay: I hope you’ve all noticed and are grateful for the NFT restraint this week – barely a mention of the things! MAYBE THE HYPETRAIN IS OVER (it is not over)! This week, my favourite NFT-related thing (other than the creation of the ‘right clicker’ mosaic, which made me laugh quite a lot) is The NFTBay, a torrent of all the NFTs currently for sale across a couple of big marketplaces, all available to anyone who wants to download them, even if they have been ‘bought’ by someone else. Obviously this is all very silly – all you’re getting is a metric fcuktonne of sh1tty jpegs to download, after all, but then again it’s also VERY SILLY that people are claiming ownership of said jpegs, so here we all are. There’s definitely an art thing that could be done with this if you were so inclined, but, equally, you may just want to download the archive and spend a few days masquerading as a member of the Bored Ape Yacht Club for…hang on, actually, why would you do that?
  • The Family Museum: “Co-founded in 2017 by filmmaker Nigel Shephard and editor Rachael Moloney, The Family Museum is an archival photography project that evolved from research for a book, A History of Family Photography. This research was rooted in Nigel’s collection of around 25,000 original British amateur family photographs and 300 photo albums, dating from the 1850s to the noughties, put together by Nigel over a period of 30 years.” This is fabulous – I am generally a sucker for found photography, and these are no exception. Click into the blogs, as there are some wonderful explorations of some of the individual images and collections to enjoy.
  • Weather Is Happening: I received this email last week, which I will reproduce here in full: “GREETINGS, A LONG TIME AGO U FEATURED WEATHER IS HAPPENING ON UR WEBZONE AS A WEB CURIO. THE SITE HAS BEEN REDESIGNED, & EYE THOT U MITE THINK IT 2 BE AESTHETICALLY PLSING 2 THE EYE – THE WEATHER MAN”. Leaving aside the absolutely amazing Marvel Villain signoff that is ‘The Weather Man’, it’s always pleasing to be reminded of stuff I’ve featured in here before and I am happy to re-present Weather is Happening to you all now – it’s, to be clear, something of a niche concern (unless your interest is specifically in the weather in and around the city of Boston, Massachusetts, you’re unlikely to find it particularly useful), but it’s no less marvellous for that, and I can attest that the aesthetic glow-up it’s received does indeed make it ‘aesthetically plsing 2 the eye’. THANKS, THE WEATHER MAN!
  • Emoji Intensifies: Sometimes a standard emoji won’t do. Sometimes you need something more intense to communicate the degree of emotion you’re experiencing. Thank fcuk, then, for Emoji Intensifier, which lets you pick any emoji you like and up its intensity using a slider – ‘making it more intense’ means, effectively, making it shake as though full of uncontainable nervous energy’, but as long as you’re ok with that then you’ll be fine with this. In particular, there are certain emoji which when doctored in this way seem to change their meaning quite significantly – there are at least two I’ve tried which seem to strongly connote “a powerful struggle to defecate”, and I personally think that the aubergine becomes borderline-obscene when rendered using this engine, but see what you think.
  • Wishly: This is…interesting. I can’t work out if I think it’s a positive idea or not, but I can see the appeal – Wishly is an app which effectively acts as a bridge between charities and donors/activists, letting users find charities to donate to or volunteer with using an easy app interface – oh, and there’s a space for brands too! The idea of creating an app-based matchmaking service to bring together potential volunteers and activists with the causes they might want to support feels like a good one, but I can’t help but be a bit wary of the brand element here (but I suppose the app makers have to eat), This is – as far as I can tell – US-only, but there’s something in the idea – if nothing else, anything that makes it easier to find viable local volunteering opportunities would be a step in the right direction, something I always struggled with in London.
  • Factshot: Simple but brilliant – Magic 8Ball, in a website. Well, sort-of. Factshot presents a bunch of questions – who should I call today – Mum or Dad?; should I go out tonight? Yes or No?; etc etc – and you the user just have to take a screenshot of the question to find your answer (in the classic ‘pause the gif to win!’ style). This feels like something which could quite easily be repurposed…there’s something fun in the idea of using this sort of thing to create mystery walks from scratch, say (freeze the screen and follow the directions it presents you with), or shopping lists (freeze the screen and buy the ingredients it tells you to), or at least there is in my head, but bear in mind that I am VERY TIRED and may well not be thinking particularly straight at present.
  • Tably: This link is in here pretty much exclusively for my girlfriend, but some of you might like it as well. Tably is an app which purports to help you understand the emotional maelstrom your cat is currently navigating (cats are always navigating an emotional maelstrom, it is a fact) – whilst previous iterations of this sort of thing have attempted to read your pet’s thoughts by analysing its vocalisations, this one instead uses FACIAL ANALYSIS to get an IN-DEPTH APPRAISAL of how annoyed your cat currently is with you. Take a moment to think about that – this app is purporting to be able to analyse your cat’s emotions based on photos you take of its expression. HOW???? This would imply that there somewhere exists an accurate database which links feline facial arrangements to verified feline emotional states which – let’s be clear about this – is not true. I think – not to be too hyperbolic, but – that the people behind this app might be chancers (and, er, Web Curios would as always like to remind you that all app installation is a slight risk). Anyway, if you’d like an app that will lie to you about what your cat is currently thinking or feeling then this is for YOU! No, Saz, you’re welcome.
  • Netflix Top 10s: OFFICIAL NETFLIX DATA! Limited data, fine, but data nonetheless! This site presents the current top 10 most-viewed films and TV shows in English and non-English language across the platform, so you can do a quick sense-check as to whether your zeitgeisty TV-trope-bandwagoning stunt idea is in fact zeitgeisty or not. This is annoying in that it lacks granular breakdowns – it would be helpful to be able to see the UK rather than just ‘global english language’, for example – but it’s better than nothing. Can someone explain to me wtaf ‘Red Notice’ is, and why people seem to be watching it so much more than literally anything else? You can find some individual breakdowns of where globally popular shows are locally top-10, which might be of additional use for cultural planning-type stuff, but in the main this is useful for global trend work rather than your more local activity.
  • I Have No TV: This is an amazing resource, which presents a whole HOST of documentaries from all around the world, including some actual proper good content from the BBC and everything, all free to watch – I am not 100% sure how legal or legit this is, but it seems to contain an awful lot of stuff which I was…slightly surprised to see here (including quite a lot of BBC content too, which is great if you’re like me and living abroad and can’t be faffed to VPN your way to iPlayer). Obviously I can’t guarantee that there won’t be all sorts of batsh1t ‘tail end of Amazon Prime’ conspiracyw4nk, but, with that caveat in mind, FILL YOUR DOCUBOOTS!
  • Tiny Barber, Post Office: This might be my favourite thing of the week. Craig Mod is a writer based in Japan whose work I featured in Curios a few years back – specifically, his travelogue about going around Japan investigating the phenomenon of kissa, small tea or coffeerooms, and his love of the peculiar Japanese phenomenon of pizza toast. This is his new project, in which he’s spending a few weeks visiting 10 Japanese cities and writing about his findings and observations (which, so far, mainly seem to involve sitting in coffeeshops and watching the world go by). I cannot stress enough what wonderful, slow, travel writing this is, and I recommend that you sign up immediately – Mod writes an email a day, and the whole project will be done in a few short weeks time. Waking up to read the story of a slow, gentle day in a Japanese coffeeshop is, I promise, a perfect use of your time.
  • FlipLand: You will need to open this on your phone. Some of you will get this immediately, other will be baffled. WHICH WILL YOU BE???

By Barbara Kruger

NEXT UP, TECHNO (TECHNO TECHNO) COURTESY OF LIMERICK’S MELTX!

THE SECTION WHICH ALWAYS THOUGHT THERE WAS SOMETHING A BIT IFFY ABOUT R@7 IF IT’S TOTALLY HONEST, PT.2:  

  • Conception: Conception is a company whose website promises the frankly INSANE scifi prospect of being able to create human life through asexual reproduction, specifically by turning stem cells into human eggs. I KNOW, RIGHT?! I have no idea whatsoever how the science here works – or if indeed it does – but the promise here is that through technology (apparently tested on mice) scientists have been able to transform any stem cell into a viable egg which can then be fertilised and brought to term, thereby enabling the reproductively-challenged to explore the possibility of having children where none previously existed. “In our lab, we reconstitute the process under which egg cells would normally develop inside the female body. We generate induced pluripotent stem cells from blood samples. We then shepherd these stem cells through the various steps that they would normally undergo as they develop to become viable eggs.” HOW MAD IS THIS?!? Obviously there are all SORTS of ‘interesting’ questions inherent in this sort of experimentation, and the slight ‘WE ARE BECOME GODS!!!’ vibe of the whole thing does make me a touch…nervous, but overall this is proper cutting-edge mad future scifi stuff which I will be fascinated to track.
  • Mediaopoly: Interesting idea, this – plug in any Twitter account you like and it will attempt to assess its political leanings based on the sorts of news outlets it shares content from. More specifically, it points out exactly where the news shared by said accounts comes from – how many of the sources it shares from are owned by private equity, how many by major media conglomerates, etc etc. More than anything it’s a useful snapshot of How Media Works, and how vested interests in media proliferate, but it’s also a potentially-helpful way of quickly checking whether that interesting person you’ve just chosen to follow is in fact a raving Infowars maniac or whether they are in fact a nice knitted-opinions Guardanista like you and me (I am assuming, but, well).
  • MiniMuseums: SO SMOL! SO CUTE! MiniMuseums is a lovely project, currently operating in the Bay Area, which invites artists to create small, er, ‘museums’ which they then take 360-degree photos of to make them available to an online audience. The idea of tiny public gallery spaces is hardly a new one, fine, but there’s something about the way in which these are presented which makes them particularly-pleasing to explore – the museums are morelike dense collages, and there’s a pleasing richness to them which lend themselves to the 360-degree image exploration here enabled.
  • Muskehounds: If you’re in your late-30s or early-40s and from the UK, I am reasonably-certain that merely reading that word will have your internal jukebox singing ‘One for all and all for one / Muskehounds are always ready’ over and over again on an infernal loop (nope, not sorry) – this is a methuselan website celebrating ICONIC (I hate that word, but occasionally its use is justified) cartoon representation of the French Revolution, ‘Dogtanian and the Muskehounds’. All the information you could possibly want about the characters, the show, the animation, the theme tune…links to fanpages (many of which are sadly dead, but still)…even some information about Alexandre Dumas. Click the link and travel back in time, and remind yourself of the strange, forbidden allure of feline temptress ‘Milady’ (look, YOU FANCIED HER TOO, don’t lie).
  • Glitch In Bio: I’ve always been slightly confused at the need for those ‘all your social profile links in one place!’ homepage services, but they continue to be popular enough that new variants continue to spring up all the time. This one, by coding community Glitch, is a particularly-shiny one, letting users not only chuck all their personal links in one place on a personal URL, but also making the resulting page customisable in the oh-so-trendy MySpace-style – so you can not only add all your social profiles (ADD ME ON LINKEDIN!!) but also embed audio and video, theme the page, add in email signups and payment options…basically this is a reasonably-sophisticated little personal homepage maker with bells on, and could be worth a look if you’re in the market for a personal digital address with a little more personality than About.me or other such services.
  • YouTube Dislikes: YouTube’s plan to remove dislike counts from its videos has engendered a huge wailing and gnashing of teeth – “How am I meant to tell if a video is sh1t unless it has been massively ratio’d?” – so inevitably there’s no w a plugin to reinstate it. Should you be lost without the easily-viewable at-a-glance opinion of EVERYONE ELSE about the quality of a particular video, this will save your life – of course, you could just apply a standard critical filter to your video selection process (does it feature a KERRRRAZZY placeholder image? Does the female presenter appear to be displaying a non-standard amount of cleavage in the thumbnail?), but perhaps that would be too hard.
  • The Natural Landscape Photography Awards: THE PHOTOGRAPHY AWARDS WILL NEVER, EVER STOP! Still, these are gorgeous, and very much scratch my personal ‘wow, the earth is a beautiful and terrifying accident of physics’ itch – special mention to the photo of lightning against the Matterhorn which is an astonishing shot.
  • Scan Of The Month: As far as I can tell, this website does nothing other than post images of a different object each month, taken through an MRI. This month it’s a LEGO minifig, which you may not have thought you would have wanted to see MRIs of but which you will, I promise, be more interested by than you’d have thought. In particular, there’s something fascinating about seeing all the thought and attention that goes into the bits you don’t see – obviously I can’t vouch for the site long term, as there’s no visibility of what they are going to scan next, but presuming they don’t take a strange and unexpected pivot into body horror or similar you might want to sign up for their occasional updates (Web Curios takes no responsibility for future mental scarring engendered by them sending you images of, I don’t know, MRI scans of instruments of torture, or foetal abnormality in puppies, or something).
  • Writer: Another week, another sizeable nail in the coffin of the very idea of ‘being able to earn a decent living via the production of words what read good’ – this is Writer, a piece of software designed to help teams implement their style guides in practice (because, let’s be honest, most style guides for brands get produced at some expense by AN Other agency and then quietly oublietted on the S: drive somewhere, while whoever’s in charge of writing the blogpost this week gets on with churning out 400 words of identikit thought leadership pabulum because it doesn’t matter either way). Objectively-speaking, this is very clever – a plugin that integrates with Word, Gdocs and a bunch of other programs, Writer lets you set up rules, vocab guides and the like, which are automatically used to flag prose as being non-compliant as it gets written, with simple ‘click and replace’ suggestion functionality to ensure that staff aren’t doing the unthinkable and saying ‘thrilled’ when the style guide clearly states that the brand is in fact always ‘jazzed beyond belief’. If you work for a large organisation with a lot of ‘content creators’ (OH GOD MAKE IT STOP) I can see exactly how this could be useful, even though my personal opinion is that this is a further step towards the utter productisation of the written word and its eventual complete devaluing (which, given the quality of that last sentence, I seem to be ably abetting here).
  • Yassify: This has been everywhere this week, but if you have somehow contrived to miss it then please enjoy Yassify, a Twitter account which posts pictures of famouses (actors, musicians, TV show characters, etc) which have been facetuned to the nth degree and which as a result all have that strange Melania Trump-esque quality of looking like their faces have been rendered in some sort of weird matte-foundation polymer. You can read an explainer as to what it’s all about, should you want one, here – as ever, it’s probably not worth attempting to ascribe too much meaning to this as a) it’s a joke ffs; and b) the creator has said that they are only doing this til their premium subsscription to whatever ‘shopping app they’re using expires, so just enjoy the faces and let it wash over you.
  • Population Builder: Small-but-useful, this – select a bunch of geographical areas within the UK and the site will spit out a population estimate for the selected geographies, based on 2020 data. Imperfect, fine, but given Facebook has hamstrung its ad planning tool, which was always my go-to for data on ‘how many people live here?’ data, this might be a helpful alternative.
  • Spotify Statistics: It’s almost that most wonderful time of year – when everyone shares their Spotify Wrapped update as a thrilling insight into how special and unique and interesting they are (“You listened to that? Oh you fascinating human!”). One of the perils of the Spotify thing, though, is that it only happens once a year and therefore it’s hard to track what’s going to be top of your personal tree – using this app will give you UP TO THE MINUTE DATA about your most-listened-to tracks and artists and genres, and all the information you could possibly require to ensure that when the official version comes out you have tweaked and primped your tastes to present the best possible version of your musical self to the waiting world.
  • Audiobites: Simple one this – Audiobites turns any audio clip you care to feed it into a video, with speech-to-text providing the copy which accompanies the audio. It works with audioclips or video, and lets you add your own images to use in the resulting visual output – if you have some GREAT voicenotes sitting on your phone and want to create some grade-A beef, this is potentially hugely useful (there may well be other uses, fine, but for some reason I can’t get beyond the Everest-scale pettiness that this might enable).
  • Fondfolio: I’m not sure what I think about this – I think I’ve got a certain level of English shame and self-loathing that precludes me from being able to look at stuff like Fondfolio without coming out in some sort of full-body embarrassment rash, but equally I can sort-of see that for some people this might be a genuinely lovely idea. The premise is simple – Fondfolio is a user-generated book, which is compiled of statements or memories about a particular individual, written by their friends and loved ones, and compiled into a bespoke, one-of-a-kind presentation book for them to keep and return to when they feel in desperate need of a pick me up. Your appreciation of this will depend entirely on the extent to which you’re the sort of person who enjoys reading your old school yearbooks, or work leaving cards – and, I suppose, on who fills the thing in and what they say (it would be quite funny to get one of these where everyone took a page to enumerate one’s personality defects to several decimal places, for example). It seems unlikely that this is doable by Christmas this year, but if someone you know is the sort of person who’d like to sit down in a comfy armchair and read several dozen hagiographies of themselves then a) maybe bookmark this for their birthday; and b) why are you friends with them? They sound awful.
  • To Me, To You: I am charmed by this (very silly, very pointless) webthing in ways I can’t adequately explain. There’s got to be something clever that can be done with infinite redirects like this, surely?
  • Women In Type: “Type-manufacturers employed women as part of departments that were variously known as ‘drawing studios’, ‘type drawing offices’, or ‘departments of typographic development’. These women worked daily on developing and producing typefaces that were, eventually, almost always attributed to male designers. They merit attention as key contributors to the design process of many renowned typefaces that emerged throughout the twentieth century. Women in Type is a research project highlighting the work of these women. It focuses on their roles and responsibilities between 1910 and 1990 within two major British companies: the Monotype Corporation and Linotype Limited (formerly Linotype-Paul Ltd and Linotype-Hell Ltd).” This is a brilliant piece of English design history, featuring the history of type in the UK in the 20th century, examples of notable work, and an exploration of women’s role in the development of the industry – if you work in design, this may be of particular interest, but in general it’s a fascinating look at a very particular branch of industrial history.
  • Concert Roulette: It’s a source of constant personal disappointment – one of a near-infinite series – that despite being well into middle-age by now (and frankly if I’m honest about my lifestyle, quite possibly well past it) I still can’t bring myself to listen to classical music (or at least not trad classical – modern stuff, fine, but I can’t seem to get Brahms, Liszt and those lads however hard I try). Still, perhaps Concert Roulette will help – a seemingly-vast trove of classical concert footage which you can explore through a series of random selections. Either go full lucky dip, or select the sort of styles you’d like to explore or avoid, and GO! Content is pulled from YouTube, so there’s no shortage of material here – I’ve had this cycling through stuff in the background as I type this morning, and, well, it’s better than ClassicFM (low bar, I know, but I am a know-nothing bozo when it comes to this sort of thing).
  • Doors: This is a wonderful project, if a very odd one. Doors is a massive, evolving interactive fiction adventure, built in Twine and letting the player explore a vaguely-Potterish school of wizardry via a classic ‘choose your own adventure’-type system of exposition and choices; there’s some light character development, saveable progression…oh, and there’s a lot of kink. Doors is explicitly queer-coded, and as such you can explore all sorts of possibilities within its world which would have Ms Rowling’s expensively-coiffed hair standing on end (one supposes) – this is really well-made and far more engaging than I was expecting (and I write this as someone who, honestly, has no particular personal desire to be figged by a house elf). NSFW, in case you were wondering, although given it’s all text then, well, give a fcuk.
  • Peter Talisman: Finally this week, a beautiful addition to / twist on the endless clicker genre – Peter Talisman is a sort of folk-horror experience, designed to accompany the new album by the artist of the same name. I don’t want to spoil it for you, but you’ll need about 40m to play it all the way through, there is no saving, and you will want to turn the sound up – honestly, this is so, so lovely, and so beautifully-made, and it works perfectly as an introduction/accompaniment to the album (which itself is also gorgeous). I can’t recommend this highly enough – please do give it a click and a play.

By Chelsea Gustafsson

LAST UP IN THIS WEEK’S MIXES I OFFER YOU THIS, BY D YAROSLAV, WHICH IS ALL SORTS OF GENTLE HOUSEY BEATS AND THE SORT OF THING THAT I WOULD RECOMMEND FOR A WEEKEND AFTERNOON OF POTTERING! 

THE CIRCUS OF TUMBLRS!:

  • The Museum of Failure Collection: Not (I don’t think, I haven’t checked the source code) a Tumblr! Still, who cares – this is a small site accompanying the infamous Museum of Failure (physically located, at present at least, in the US and Taiwan), which offers up a rolling series of examples of products or services deemed ‘failures’ – so, for example, here we have ‘Amazon Destinations’, the hotel booking website which everyone forgets Amazon tried to make happen, and the Motorola Iridium satellite phone, and a brand of tampon called ‘Rely’ with the truly jaw-dropping slogan “It Even Absorbs The Worry” (no, really). WONDERFUL (and there are at least three things on here that I reckon you could reasonably resurrect as they were genuinely great ideas that were simply before their time – see if you can find them).
  • A London Inheritance: I appreciate it’s churlish of me to say this, living as I do in what is, objectively, the most beautiful city in the world (fight me), but I really miss London at the moment – specifically, the sort of meandering walks you can take through the city, losing yourself on a Sunday in EC1 in a fug of empty streets and shuttered boozers and p1ss-infused alleyways. This blog (not a Tumblr either but, well, I didn’t want to leave the section empty this week) scratches that itch for me perfectly. No idea who writes it, but the description states: “Through “A London Inheritance” I will document my exploration of London using these photographs as a starting point. To try and identify the original locations, show how and why these have changed and how the buildings, streets and underlying topography of the city have developed. This journey will take me from Hampstead to Hoxton, Battersea to Greenwich, well known landmarks as well as hidden buildings, streets and steps, along with events such as the Festival of Britain and the Coronation.” This has been going for YEARS, and as such is a wonderful archive of and about the City – if you are, or have been, a Londoner, you will adore this, I promise.

THE TROUGH OF (INSTA) FEEDS!

  • Origami Chris: I promise you, there are no cranes here. This stuff is insane.
  • The Stan Winston School: The Stan Winston School is an LA-based institution which teaches propmaking and SFX work – this is its Insta account, which is a near-constant procession of awesome puppetry and modelmaking and SFX and makeup and basically if you’re curious about How Film Stuff Works, or just want to see some very cool prop work, this will be right up your street.
  • McSenget: ‘Senget’ is apparently Malay for ‘tilted’ – so this Insta feed serves to document instances of McDonald’s food which arrives at destination compromised by having been thrown around in transit (or prepared by a blind person). You want to see images of Big Macs with distressingly-misaligned cheese flaps? YES YOU DO.

LONG THINGS WHICH ARE LONG!:

  • How NFTs Create Value: I promise that this week’s longreads are light on the NFT/Web3 stuff, but I wanted to kick off with this piece because it’s a neat illustration of what to my mind is the main issue with the whole movement at present – as I have previously outlined, it’s not so much the existing silly frothiness I take issue with as the persistent inability of anyone pumping this stuff to be able to point out to me why it’s a good idea for anyone other than the people who got in early. This article is published by Harvard Business Review (although as we know, Harvard isn’t necessarily the imprimatur of intellectual quality its alumni and academics might have us believe), co-authored by a professor of business management at the University, and still doesn’t manage to say anything meaningful about the ‘why’ of it all beyond vague claims about ‘community’. Basically there’s nothing in here that convinces me that any of this is more than a question of brands and branding – see what you think.
  • The Metaverse Is Coming – What Next?: I think I have managed to de-paywall this  link, but if not (and if you’re interested in the general metaverse conversation) then I strongly advise you seeking a way around the paywall as it’s probably the smartest thing I have read about the whole thing to date. Sam Lessin (more about him later) writes about his observations based on the current state of Web3-type stuff, and offers up a selection of questions to which he is still seeking answers – I get the impression that Lessin is significantly more bullish than I am about all this stuff, but what I like about this piece is that his questions are the same ones I am asking (to whit, ‘how exactly does anyone think that this is going to help creators monetise their work more?’, and ‘how does cross-’verse interoperability work?’), and that he is quite open about not knowing the answers to most of them. In particular, his thinking on ‘will this let creators make bank?’ struck me as admitrably clear-headed: “It’s the simple reality of competition—if you get an immersive and frictionless digital environment going, there will inevitably be too many creators looking for work to sustain pricing. Unless or until creators form guilds, the likely outcome will just be a race to the bottom on pricing. This is already happening in the creator and gaming economies. To be sure, more people are supporting themselves independently than has been the case historically. But in most cases, that means getting by marginally at best. It isn’t clear how that would be any different in the metaverse.”
  • RIP Lowtax: Rich ‘Lowtax’ Kyanka was not, by all accounts, a hugely pleasant or indeed good person; he was, though, one of the most influential people most people have never heard of. Founder of (in)famous messageboard Something Awful, he was indirectly responsible for the creation of 4chan, which itself was…well, we don’t need to get into all of that here. More than that, though, the prevailing humour and tone of SomethingAwful effectively defined a lot of 00s and early-teens webculture, for better or (likely) worse, and it’s definitely a significant datapoint in my personal ‘Neill Strauss is responsible for everything that’s wrong with the world in 2021’ thesis (I will expand upon this at length for anyone who is interested, I warn you). I spent a LOT of time reading SomethingAwful way back in the day – the site’s review of ‘cult’ bongo flick Edward Penishands, is still one of the funniest things I have ever read online, anywhere – and whilst it was a truly odd and dark place it was also a crucible of The Modern Web in many respects. You can read an overview of the Kyanka/SA influence matrix here, if you want to go deeper – RIP.
  • Chinese Flash Games: Chaoyang Trap House, the occasional newsletter about Chinese culture which is the only thing I receive in my inbox which makes Curios look short by comparison – this week presented this superb deep-dive into the history of Flash Games in China, and how Flash development behind the Great Firewall was hugely significant in the development of the modern Chinese games industry and how that in turn has had a significant impact on design and graphical trends in modern gaming. If you’re of a certain age you will have fond memories of the stick figure fight animations produced by mysterious animator ‘Xiao Xiao’ – this explains the story behind the phenomenon, which imho is worth the price of admission on its own. This is VERY long, but super-interesting for those with any involvement in or curiosity about the gaming industry.
  • Investing in People: More Sam Lessin – this time he’s the subject rather than the author, though. Lessin runs a venture fund which has recently taken the unusual step of investing in an individual rather than a business – the fund has ploughed $1.7m into Marina Mogilko, “a 31-year-old YouTube personality with multiple popular channels that touch on topics like life in Silicon Valley and learning new languages.” In exchange, the VCs get a guaranteed “5 percent of her creator-related earnings for the next 30 years, plus a percentage from any IP she develops, even beyond that three-decade timeline. (As Mogilko explained it, “If I wrote a book in 2030, and it’s still selling in 100 years or whatever, they’re still getting 5 percent of that revenue.”)” This feels…complicated, doesn’t it? On the one hand, this feels like a pretty sweet deal for Mogilko – as the article sells it, if she decides to step away from the YT grind there’s no expectation that she return the invested capital. On the other, this also feels uncomfortably like ‘buying a human being’, which, well, no. Then again, this is in some way the heart of the creator economy – except your value is potential returns rather than creative output. Is this ok? It doesn’t feel ok.
  • The Haptic Future: I feel slightly-uncomfortable writing nice things about Facebo-sorry, Meta, here, but occasionally it’s important to remember that whatever we might think of Zuckerberg’s Big Blue Misery Factory it’s very much at the cutting edge of developing the technologies that are likely to (for better or, quite possibly, very much worse) define much of human experience for the next few decades. So it is with this blogpost from the company, outlining the progress of its research into the development of haptic interfaces (in this case, gloves). Look, I hate Facebo-sorry, Meta, you hate Meta, we all hate Meta – equally, though, if I ignore the people behind this, I can’t help but get small-e excited about the possibilities inherent in tech which allows us to get tactile feedback from the digital (except because it’s Facebo-sorry, Meta, there’s no discussion whatsoever of the REAL breakthrough use-case for this, which is obviously going to be interactive bongo suits).
  • Container Logistics: One of the key tenets of Web Curios is that NOTHING IS BORING (apart from Star Wars) – proof of that comes in this article about the less-than-fascinating sounding topic of container logistics, which instead turns out to be a properly-interesting look at how the messy business of ‘moving all sorts of tat around the world constantly, at scale’ practically works. Honestly, this is so interesting, not least as it forces you to think about all sorts of things you will almost-certainly never have thought of before (like ‘how glad am I that my job isn’t being in charge of getting things in and out of massive shipping containers?’).
  • FacePay in Moscow: Russians (or at least a very specific subset of Russians who either love a strongman or simply prefer not to have the secret police taking an undue interest in their affairs) may feel that cuddly’ol’Vlad gets something of a rough ride in the West – it’s pretty certain that most people not in Russia would, if asked ‘what country would you trust least to run a facial recognition system?’, probably answer ‘yep, Russia’. And yet that’s exactly what is currently being implemented in the Moscow underground network – face-scanning ticket machines, ostensibly designed to make the whole process of getting into the network marginally-faster and DEFINITELY NOT as a means of establishing a network of information about who is moving where and when and with whom, oh no siree. The technical achievement here is impressive, no doubt, but you’re a more trusting individual than I am if you read this and think ‘yeah, no danger here sonny’.
  • COBOL: One of the interesting (read: moderately-terrifying) interesting things about the past 50-odd years and our increasingly reliance on software is the nature of software itself, and the way it now tends to work – the web is basically a creaking system of patches and hacks, nothing is ever built from scratch, and we all rely on huge public databases of hacky fixes to make anything work to any acceptable degree. Which is why stuff like this is so fascinating (and potentially concerning) – whole swathes of what we consider to be infrastructural architecture are built on codebases that are old, clunky and which, as is the case with COBOL, the language that underpins much of the modern banking infrastructure used worldwide, simply noone really knows how to write anymore. This is both an investigation into how all these systems came to be, and a warning klaxon that we’re only a plane crash on the way to a convention away from there being noone left on earth who can unfcuk, say, the account reconciliation systems for 80% of global financial institutions. If there’s a lesson from this, it’s LEARN COBOL, KIDS.
  • Why Are GenZ Acting Like Boomers?: Or ‘what’s with all the weird chain letter and Satanic Panic-type stuff that’s all over TikTok these days?’. The piece argues that it’s simply an expression of a desire for comfort and control in an uncertain age – I would instead argue that it’s the ultimate manifestation of a generation in which Posters’ Sickness is endemic, and who would (and will) say anything for the numbers. Either/or, really.
  • The QAnon Shaman Conspiracy: On the collision of theories and conspiracies that populate the now-incarcerated QAnon Shaman guy; interesting less because of the specifics, and more because of the way this sort of conflation of sources and causes into one barely-coherent explanatory mess is pretty much the de facto lingua franca of the modern web ID (see also: true crime investigations on TikTok, the forensic analysis of mundane content (sorry) for DEEPER MEANING (cf disappointed reaction boyfriend) etc etc, and you can see its tentacles EVERYWHERE.
  • The SuperBowl of Robots: We all know that the Spot robot dog things are the creepy harbingers of a future in which humans are hunted for sport, but they are ALSO potentially really useful when it comes to search and rescue, and let’s focus on that for a moment instead of the inevitable future murderhunts. This excellent read in the Washington Post profiles the participants in the recent DARPA contest to find the best semi-autonomous robot rescue team – the machines were operating independently, not via human operation, and working as teams to solve a series of simulated challenges like a cave-in or post-factory explosion recovery mission. This was properly eye-opening to me – I have tried to maintain a healthy degree of skepticism when it comes to the idea of ‘amazing robot future tech, but it’s hard not to get jazzed about the possibilities when you read about a team of 4 devices working together to free a boy trapped down a well (I am paraphrasing slightly, but you get the idea).
  • Jasper Johns: A really interesting article, examining issues of authorship and ownership and rights in art. Legendary US artist Jasper Johns recently completed a new work – which featured as a significant part of it a photorealistic reproduction of a drawing done by a young man which Johns had seen hanging in his dentist’s surgery and took a liking to. This piece asks to what extent Johns’ incorporation of this work was legitimate, the extent to which the creator of the original was entitled to compensation for its use (even as a copy), and whether Johns should have asked permission in the first place. No answers are really forthcoming, but I find stuff like this super-interesting in general. Also, this is one of the only times I have looked at a problem and thought ‘actually, there’s something to be said for the role of NFTs here’ – IS THIS A RUBICON I HAVE JUST CROSSED? I do hope not.
  • Hunter S Thomson: Thomson’s one of those writers who I feel loses their lustre the older one gets – what’s thrillingly rock’and’roll when you read it at 14 is slightly more self-indulgent claptrap when you hit your 30s (or at least that’s what I found). Regardless of your thoughts on the Dr’s writings, he’s as much famed as an icon of the counterculture as author of renown – this piece, itself a review of a biography of Thomson, presents a fairly stark assessment of his qualities as a journalist, writer and human being. Interesting throughout, whether or not you’re a Thompson fan, and another piece of evidence to add to the stacked pile which seems to point to the overriding characteristic of the 20th Century as being ‘white men being allowed to get away with stuff, over and over again’.
  • Meet Sam Asghari: Celebrity profiles tend to bore me, but I cannot recommend this one, of Mr Britney Spears, highly enough. It is possibly a bit mean, but if you take it at face value then there seems to be little danger that its subject will ever be able to tell that it’s not an entirely-positive piece of writing. Deliciously, beautifully withering throughout.
  • Divorce Does Funny Things: Not actually about divorce; instead, this is a brief piece of writing about working on the rigs. This is only a couple of thousand words, max, but it contains enough for a novel (it is in fact an extract from the author’s book, called Sea State) – superb writing, by Tabitha Lasley.
  • 6 Things To Think About When Designing Your Child: Very short piece of near-future fiction; I think I said something similar about a piece last week, but this is brilliant precisely because of the gaps it leaves in what it tells you, and how you’re forced to fill them in.
  • The World in 2031: A collection of writings, compiled by Storythings on the occasion of the project’s 10th anniversary, in which authors write with an eye on a decade hence. “We’ve commissioned eight writers from across the globe to write short fiction that explores some of these impacts – climate migration, climate change, digital identity projects, the use of artificial intelligence and machine learning in multiple settings from work to health to culture, and how all this affects who we are – with a view to the year 2031. The world was different 10 years ago when we launched and it will have changed again 10 years from now.” I’ve read about half of these, and on that basis can recommend the whole collection unreservedly – SO much good writing and interesting thinking here.
  • A Hunger: Finally this week, a short story exploring queerness in life and love; it seems trite to say it, but there is so much interesting work coming from queer, nonbinary, etc, authors at the moment, not least because these are voices I simply have not heard for most of my 4+ decades on this beknighted planet. This is beautifully-written by Fran Lock.

By Irana Douer

AND NOW, MOVING PICTURES AND SOUNDS!:

Webcurios 12/11/21

Reading Time: 34 minutes

HELLO AGAIN!

God that was a nice break. My girlfriend and I went to pick olives, like it’s the most natural thing in the world, and I now have a bottle of insanely-green gloop sitting proudly on my kitchen countertop, made by my own FAIR HANDS (actually not made by me AT ALL – the olives were pressed by this amazing old guy in Viterbo who’s 87 years old and who inexplicably has a room full of motheaten war memorabilia in the frantoio which he insisted on showing us and which contained several gas masks so weathered that it’s almost certain that people died wearing them – bit of a tonal lurch, that: olives olives olives HORRIBLE WAR DEATH olives olives olives).

Now, though, I am back and have ploughed through a fortnight’s worth of webspaff JUST FOR YOU – I can’t say with any certainty that it was worth it, but here we are. Still, if you’re coming to the end of a long week and looking for a distraction from either the imminent heat death of the planet or the nakedly-avaricious corruption of the UK’s ruling party (neither of which, it must be said, should really have come as any surprise to clear-eyed observers), then HERE IT IS!

I am still Matt, this is still Web Curios, and you should still brace yourself, this is a BIG ONE.

By Virginia Mori

LET’S GET GOING WITH A SUPERB MIX OF MID-90s HIPHOP WHICH I GUARANTEE IS A PROPERLY SUPERB TIMECAPSULE! 

THE SECTION WHICH WOULD LIKE TO ENCOURAGE ALL UK RESIDENTS TO BUY PRIVATE EYE THIS WEEK BECAUSE YOU REALLY OUGHT TO KNOW EXACTLY HOW CORRUPT THOSE FCUKS RUNNING THE COUNTRY ARE, PT.1:

  • How Not To Suck At Money: I spend a lot of time in Curios pointing and laughing at corporate webwork which I consider to be bloated, overengineered and a general waste of time, so I suppose it’s only fair that I praise things that I think are quite good on the rare occasions I stumble across them (I do this grudgingly, though, just to be clear). How Not To Suck At Money is a really nicely-made bit of promo by tedious financial dullards Investec designed to act as both an educational resource for kids who want to learn some principles of financial management and (obviously) a tractor beam to pull said kids into becoming Investec customers at some point in the future (because they’re not a fcuking charity, are they?). As someone whose financial literacy was so poor when they were younger that he still doesn’t totally understand how mortgages and compound interest work, I can hand-on-heart say that something that helped me learn some tips and tricks on how not to end up with a terrifying amount of credit card debt by my late-20s would have been very welcome – I can’t pretend that this site makes any of this stuff compelling, exactly, but it certainly beats the Natwest piggybanks as a bit of financial education comms. The user navigates around a WACKILY-DESIGNED and VIBRANTLY-COLOURED townscape, learning about money and saving and…it’s not terrible! The graphics aren’t immediately-recognisable as the sort of thing a bank might use, the music is…tolerably good, the character design is interesting, the general tone doesn’t seem woefully outdated or out of touch (to me, a 42 year old man, who obviously knows nothing about what ‘in touch’ is) and in general this feels like something made by…a bunch of people who vaguely cared about making something good and useful rather than just ticking a box marked ‘a thing for the kids what like being online’. Obviously we could get into a debate here about the positives and negatives of coopting kids into a lifetime of propping up the capitalist system via pleasingly-wacky purple-hued environment design, but, well, it’s early, and I am very tired, and let’s not do this right now ok? Good. BONUS INSTRUCTIONAL WEBSITE CONTENT! This is a similar thing, except this time about cybersecurity – it’s also rather nicely done, if less personable, and is also worth bookmarking if you ever need a ‘this is what educational content about boring things looks like done well AND THAT COSTS MONEY YOU CHEAPSKATES’ example.
  • Beautiful Zither Website: Thanks to Web Curios’ resident translator Alex Wilson for explaining to me that this utterly gorgeous (but, selfishly and bafflingly, entirely-Chinese) website is in fact all about celebrating the skill and beauty of the traditional instrument of the zither rather than, I don’t know, an attempt to sell more calligraphy materials for Singles Day. You don’t need to know what’s going on here to appreciate a gloriously-made website; I am a real sucker for the particular aesthetic on display here which renders watercolour brushwork on screens, the music is lovely (although I must shamefacedly-admit that I have literally no idea what a zither in fact looks like or how one plays), and generally this feels like a pleasingly-pure online experience of a sort I don’t find enough of.
  • Ravi and Emma: This is LOVELY, and a really nice use of webcam tech to help teach signing through story. An Australian project, Ravi and Emma tells the story of how the two titular characters met and got together; Ravi is hearing-impaired, and the couple tell their stories through signing in Australian sign language (Auslan), with the site inviting you to sign along at various points to move the story along through your hand prompts (this bit’s optional if you don’t want to enable your webcam – the site doesn’t seem dodgy, but I appreciate you might not want your recorded hand movements being used to train the panopticon). Everything about this is beautifully-made – even the loading screen at the start is adorable, with its lines about the nervousness of going on a first date – and whilst the finger-tracking to pick up the signing isn’t perfect, it’s still fun to play with and a decent way in to learning Auslan if you’re so inclined. If not, though, Ravi and Emma are a very cute couple indeed, and their story here is beautifully-told.
  • Orbital Reef: This was announced a few weeks ago, fine, but I don’t think that it quite got the attention it deserved at the time – or maybe we were all so stunned at the dissonance between COP26 and our desperate flailings at saving the planet and one of the world’s richest people blithely suggesting that actually what we really need to do is more of the same, BUT IN SPACE!! Orbital Reef is MechaBezos’ (well, his company Blue Origin to be exact, but let’s just say it’s Jeff) latest exciting new vision of the future – whilst Zuckerberg wants the digital, Jeff’s eyes are firmly fixed on the ultimate prize, which from what I can tell from the website seems to be becoming the very first landlord of the very first business park IN SPACE! Yes, that’s right, this is yet another of the increasingly-frequent datapoints that suggest that the future that is currently being constructed for us by our billionaire overlords is one in which we are able to make money for them in a variety of interesting and novel locations! The metaverse (make money for advertisers)! Web3 (make money for Andreesen Horowitz)! SPACE (make money for Jeff Bezos)! The site is light on actual details of how Orbital Reef will work or what it will entail, but take a moment to consider that someone with more money than any single human has ever possessed (probably) has tried to imagine a future (IN SPACE!, lest we forget) and has gotten as far as…offices, and possibly a bowling alley and multiplex. It’s…it’s not the future I feel we were promised. Still, it “opens doors to new markets and catalyzes the growth of a vibrant space ecosystem”, which is nice. Oh, and it’s promising “an “address on orbit” for use, lease, or ownership that is international and open to all” – so that’s non-doms and tax avoidance covered too, then! BEAM ME UP, JEFF (please do not beam me up, it sounds horrid).
  • The COP26 Projections: As ever when I write Curios I have BBC Radio4 on in the background, and this morning Mishal Husain is talking about the climate change conference currently drawing to a close in Glasgow and the (at the time of writing) uncertain reception to the draft agreements reached over the past fortnight. If you want a pleasingly-hued and lightly-interactive visualisation of what all this potential horror looks like (it makes the terror easier to cope with, I find), this website neatly demonstrates the difference in global temperatures over the coming years based on the world meeting a +1.5c temperature increase cap and it not doing so. It is…sobering stuff, suggesting that if I am still alive and living in Rome in 2050 and we don’t hit the 1.5c target I will be uncomfortably hot and that literally a couple of continents will be borderline-uninhabitable. Still, I’m sure the pledges will make all the difference. They…they will make a difference, won’t they? Won’t they? Hm.
  • Rabbitars: Having spent a couple of weeks offline I’ve resolved to try and feature slightly-less NFTw4nk from hereon in, unless there’s something particularly interesting or silly about a particular project – there’s simply too much of it, and in the main it seems pointless making fun of the stuff as, well, as previously-discussed, much of it is just sh1tposting for ETH in any case. Still, though, cryptoetc continues to be unavoidable (at least in the corners of the web that I frequent), and it’s still occasionally amusing (to me) to gawp at some of the odder or madder-sounding projects out there. So it is with Rabbitars, the latest inevitable attempt of a legacy brand to get some of that sweet, sweet cryptobubble cash. That brand is Playboy, the gimmick is BUNNY AVATARS, and this is the homepage blurb: “The Playboy Rabbitars are a lagomorphic-themed civilization of 11,953 unique, non-fungible rabbits inspired by Playboy iconography, heritage and lore. In the context of the metaverse, the Rabbitars are NFTs that live on the Ethereum Blockchain as ERC-721 tokens. Each Rabbitar is generated from 175+ traits including fur, ears, facial expressions, apparel, accessories, occupation-related characteristics, and more. Some of the rarest Rabbitar traits are inspired by culturally significant aspects of Playboy’s art and editorial history. (And yes, you can tell your friends you officially belong to a Playboy Club!)” Got that? No? ME NEITHER! The avatars are at least slightly-less-shonky-looking than many of the current crop of NFT drops, and I quite like the degree of care that has been put into creating a(n utterly nonsensical) backstory for the digital bunnies, but I still don’t understand how anyone can look at this and not see a naked emperor. Click on the homepage and scroll down and read through the planned project timeline, and then please email me if you can explain what any of it actually means – although I for one am throbbing with tumescent excitement at the planned opening of ‘The Metamansion’ in 2022 (I am so tired already, and this is all only going to become sillier).
  • The.com: Building websites…but on the blockchain! I can’t work out whether this is an interesting application of web3-type tech (sorry for all the web3 references, by the way, but if you want explainers there are a few in the longreads) to the building of the web, or a nakedly-grabby attempt to create a new market where none need exist (but I know which my money is likely to be on). I think that the idea behind it is for developers to sign up to the platform, making ‘blocks’ (effectively modules for the building of digital experiences, websites for example) which they can then be remunerated for when said ‘blocks’ get used in other people’s projects – so effectively (and bear in mind that this is a non-developer’s explanation of a very developer-y thing) creating a new alternative to things like Github and Pastebin, where instead of code use being free and exchangeable it is instead a persistent marketplace with fractional reuse payments to creators. Which, in theory, doesn’t sound like a bad thing – although of course there’s also a large degree of ‘the market is the best possible solution to all possible ills!’ thinking inherent in this, which is where my problem with this all stems from if I’m honest. What if – and I’m just spitballing here, guys, but go with me – making every single thing online subject to a series of transactions isn’t necessarily the best way of ensuring a positive evolution of the digital commons? What’s that? You’re getting rid of the digital commons entirely and replacing it with a series of microtransactional hoops to jump through? Oh.
  • Dickasso: Readers who have been ‘enjoying’ Curios’ coverage of the NFT boom of 2020 will doubtless recall the bongo-themed NFT called ‘Cumrocket’ which I featured here a few months back – Cumrocket has now evolved into being (you’ll never guess) another marketplace for poorly-scrawled digital ‘art’ tat, and one of the ‘artists’ (I am often told that it is the mark of a cnut to attempt to define what is and isn’t ‘art’ – on this occasion, I am willing to wear that mark) is this person, working under the nomme d’art of ‘Dickasso’. This links to their portfolio on Cumrocket – it’s a tiny bit NSFW, but not so’s you’d notice, so feel free to click through and look at what $100k in sales this month looks like. Go on, click, and then realise that nothing makes sense any more.
  • The Best Inventions of 2021: The second year of Time’s ‘Best Inventions of the Year’ rundown, this once again features some absolutely amazing examples of engineering ingenuity and proper creativity (yes Craig, I know your job title says ‘Creative Director’, but let’s agree that this is…different to coming up with ideas for social posts for Ronseal). If you have – or are meant to have – even a passing interest in ‘where the world is going’ , this feels like it should be required reading; there are definitely at least a dozen things in here which should spark some decent thinking for one or more of your clients imho. Although I don’t quite understand what the reengineered y-fronts are doing on the list, if I’m 100% honest.
  • The Integrity Institute: It’s been instructive watching the speed with which the world moved on from all the stories confirming what we’ve all known forever about Zuckerberg’s Big Blue Misery Factory – anyone would think that, much like with the things that are causing climate change, we can see the problems inherent in the products but simply don’t want to stop using them because, well, they feel nice sometimes! Still, we now have this – the Integrity Institute, a collection of individuals who work (or have worked) in ‘integrity’ departments at various tech companies (for those of you who didn’t read all the Facebook Papers stuff, ‘integrity’ is what platforms call the bits of the business which are concerned with protecting users and promoting ‘good’ platform usage (one might argue that there’s something a touch ‘Ministry of Love’ about that nomenclature, but let’s not split hairs)). The Institute has been set up to provide a forum for people who’ve worked in this space to share best practice and learnings, so that it can work with businesses to devise better systems and processes to mitigate against the increasingly-known negative side effects of social/digital platforms and how they are currently designed – if you can hear a slight flapping sound, that will be the gate slamming in the wind as the horse careens madly across the adjoining fields. Still, if you have any interest in the business of managing communities and theory behind that business, this is very much worth keeping an eye on.
  • Name The Films: Another year, another one of those ‘see how many films you can pick out of this image based on the visual clues’ games which seem to pop up every year around Christmas and which do reliably-good numbers and which I have still never managed to persuade a client to buy. This one is from annoyingly-named TV channel SyFy (I don’t know why it annoys me, but it does), and you can guess the genre at play I’m sure. This is really nicely done, with all sorts of Easter Egg-ish bells and whistles to discover as you play through – although, just to manage your expectations, this is still just a ‘game’ where you type the names of films and TV shows into a text box. Maybe my clients were right after all.
  • The Pocketverse: While we all wait for our Oculus sets and passports into the Zuckerbergian metafuture to show up, why not enjoy a far smaller version of a digitally-enclosed universe? The Pocketverse is a lovely web project by one Karsten, a self-taught computing student who decided that they wanted to build something which would generate galaxies in your browser…so did. Click ‘generate’ and the site will spin up a new sun for you to look at – some will have orbiting planets, some won’t, but you can explore using the buttons orbiting each star and click below to see any planets which may exist in their orbit. It’s small-but-perfectly-formed, and I really like the fact that each planet comes with its own autogenerated flavour text which includes a dominant political orthodoxy – I am currently orbiting De Karrolch, an unusually-brown planet which operates under a gerontocracy, and until Meta can provide me with this sort of beautifully-pure browsing experience then it can fcuk off, frankly.
  • Postcards: A library of old postcards from the US, on Flickr, sorted into albums. You might not think that this is worth your time, but let me reassure you that it very much is – Christ alone knows what postcard makers were thinking in the mid-20th Century, or why anyone ever thought that someone would want to send something featuring a hotel blaze to a loved one with a ‘missing you!’ message, but there’s a whole category devoted to images of ‘Fire, Destruction, etc’, along with a whole slew of ‘Ugly Restaurants’, ‘Theme Parks’, and even ‘Advertisements’ – I am now genuinely saddened that I did not grow up in an era in which I could have sent someone a missive featuring members of the Manitoba Brewers Association Service Division, for example. This is joyfully odd.
  • Toys Cabin: As far as I can tell, Toys Cabin is a Japanese company which specialises in small plastic toy models of real-world things, made to scale to surprising detail. So cars, trucks, lorries…designer chairs, street furniture, nondescript small urban car parking areas…basically I want everything on this website and am slightly upset that I can’t seem to work out how one might go about ordering from it.
  • Faces of Open Source: This is a lovely project, showcasing photographs of some of the pioneers of the Open Source movement who have been quietly fundamental in shaping so much of what the modern web looks like. “Faces of Open Source is an on-going photographic documentation of the people behind the open source revolution. The project is comprised of portraits of notable and unsung heroes who dedicate themselves to the creation and advancement of our open source technologies.” It’s fascinating (to me at least) to see the faces attached to names I’ve been reading about for years, and to see that it’s not quite such an all-white-male lineup as I might have initially expected (although to be clear it is still quite white and male).
  • The Acid Machine: Thanks Gill for sending this to me – an in-browser synthtoy with which you can (if you’re significantly more talented and patient than I am) make all sorts of pleasingly-squelchy bits of acid techno to which to take unconscionable quantities of speed and reminisce about Club414 (RIP).
  • Eterneva: Absolutely my new favourite TikTok account, Eterneva is a company which exists to turn the living remains of humans or animals into diamonds by way of a memorialisation process – their TikTok account is the slightly-unhinged sales arm of the business, which leans in to the oddity of the process with a charming degree of commitment. “Do you want to see me turn this horse into a diamond?”, asks a pleasingly-scientific looking presenter in the opening seconds of one video, and I refuse to believe that there is a single person on earth whose soul doesn’t scream “YES, DEATH-DIAMOND LADY, SHOW ME THE POST-MORTEM MAGIC!” at those words.
  • Wilderness Land: Thanks so much to reader Kristoffer Tjalve for sending this in – in his own words, “In essence it is a map made using Google Sheets where I hid 500 links to my favourite places on the internet.” This is charming – part imagined map of nonexistent territory, part a crapshoot-treasurehunt where you could stumble upon a link to virtual meadows full of flowers, or topographical representations of North America, or generative music makers…this is lovely, slow, random internet, and it’s soothing in the extreme (unless Kristoffer has hidden a link to something really horrible in there – which he might have done, I don’t know the person, but let’s give him the benefit of the doubt and presume there are no hidden links to ‘one lunatic one icepick’ in there or anything like that).
  • The Meataverse: Yes, ok, this is a VERY obvious joke but it made me laugh lots and lots and that’s all that counts.
  • You Cnut: This site is not big and it’s not clever but, I’m sorry, it is very funny. If you have ever wanted a link which when clicked on will proceed to sing you a song about what a cnut you are along with a beautifully-Geocitiesish procession of falling graphics and hideous clipart text then this is an early Christmas present for you. If you’re leaving a job today and see this in time, YOU KNOW WHAT TO DO.

By Miss Printed

NEXT UP, ENJOY THIS WONDERFUL SELECTION OF OLD ITALIAN FILM SOUNDTRACKS WHICH MIGHT EVEN CAUSE ME TO BREAK MY LONGSTANDING PROMISE OF NEVER USING THE WORD ‘FUNKY’ IN COLD BLOOD! 

THE SECTION WHICH WOULD LIKE TO ENCOURAGE ALL UK RESIDENTS TO BUY PRIVATE EYE THIS WEEK BECAUSE YOU REALLY OUGHT TO KNOW EXACTLY HOW CORRUPT THOSE FCUKS RUNNING THE COUNTRY ARE, PT.2:

  • You: Attempts to create a viable Google alternative continue to proliferate – if you’ve not already switched to DuckDuckGo or similar in a desperate (and let’s be clear futile) to prevent Google knowing your inside leg measurement and condiment preferences then you might be interest in You, a new offering from a bunch of ex-Valley (Salesforce et al) people which promises a NEW and DIFFERENT (but not at this stage better, crucially) search engine which promises not to track and monetise your data SO HELP THEM GOD. The gimmick here is that You lets you customise the way your results show up, allowing you to easily and seamlessly run domain-level searches within a single window – so you can spin up a search for, say, “meat gibbets” which clearly delineates the results by platform (YouTube, Reddit, Stack Overflow, etc) within a single view. If you’re curious, this is an interesting overview of the project and the thinking behind it – I can’t personally say it offers enough to lure me away from the Googleplex, but for very specific use cases and research tasks I can see it being potentially helpful.
  • Seachlore: Seeing as we’re talking about search (SEAMLESS!), it seems an appropriate time to drop in this very curious little site which I don’t pretend to understand at all but which is odd and impenetrable enough to earn its rightful place in the Web Curios pantheon. To quote the homepage, “I have fished you out of the web on purpose, and for your own good. On this fine Friday, you happen to have approached a site of knowledge, fashioned in the manner of the “web of old”. There are no banners and no advertisement whatsoever on my site, where you will meet others that are interested in learning – and teaching – searching methodologies. You’ll gain knowledge and power here that will enable you to search the web MUCH more effectively in the future.” This is, I think, a collection of articles and tipsheets on how to use search engines better – mostly sadly obsolete now due to Google having effectively hamstrung its own deep search tools in favour of making its product moron-accessible, but a reminder of when one could accrue significant personal and professional advantage via the simple medium of ‘knowing how nested brackets work’ and ‘occasionally dropping the wood ‘Boolean’ in conversation’. If anyone can explain to me what the fcuk is going on here I would be genuinely grateful.
  • Joo Jaebum: The personal website of Korean webdesigner Joo Jaebum, all presented in beautiful old-style Mac graphics and containing a truly wonderful array of 8-bit art and portraits. Click around – this is charming, and Jaebum’s style is charming in the extreme.
  • Jazzmags: Not what you’re thinking, you pervert. Instead, this is an archive of Coda magazine, a jazz publication which ran from 1973-2008 and which is pretty much the lodestar if you’re a genre enthusiast or simply want to peruse 4 decades of magazine design. The covers alone are glorious, but if you’re a jazz aficionado then you could properly lose yourself in the contents. Also, this has convinced me that there needs to be some sort of artistic / aesthetic celebration of the wrinkles that appear on the foreheads of committed trumpeters, as you could plant potatoes in some of these facefurrows.
  • Frantic Fanfic: I am too old to have experienced the fanfic explosion firsthand, but I imagine that should any of you be in your 20s/30s you will have grown up remixing your favourite stories either through the writing or consumption of fan fiction. Frantic Fanfic is a website that lets you set up a fun-sounding game of ‘Exquisite Corpse’ with your favourite canonical fiction – you create a game, invite players, and the system will set up a game whereby you take it in turns to move the story on. Each player gets time to read the story so far and to write their own continuation, so there’s a pleasing zippiness to the mechanic and you’re forced to write rather than think too hard – if you’ve a group of nerdy mates who like writing, this feels like a fun thing to do on wet Wednesdays inbetween pointless slidetweaking.
  • Temporal Anomalies in Time Travel Movies: I once fell out with a friend at secondary school because they asserted (possibly fairly, I have to admit) that I ruined films by pointing out all the things that didn’t make sense while we were in the cinema watching said films – look, I’ve never pretended to be likeable, ok? Anyway, if you read that last sentence and felt a small, chill frisson of self-awareness and recognition, you may enjoy this exhaustive database of temporal anomalies in time travel films – from famously-twisty cult favourites like Primer to rather more scholcky fare such as Men in Black III, you too can now get irrationally-irritated at the lack of basic logical consistency inherent in FAR TOO MANY imaginings of what it might be like to flit between eras. If you’re a fan of websites which dedicate far too much time and energy seriously discussing things that were only ever meant to be frivolous entertainments (AREN’T WE ALL???) then this will be catnip to you.
  • Frame Your Wifi: I don’t know why this pleases me so, but it really does. A simple website that lets you input your WiFi details and which generates a QR code which will connect to said network on scanning. All of which is perfectly sensible – it’s just the idea that you would then print out said QR code and display it proudly on your wall for guests that makes me laugh, along with the template design that features a ‘Welcome to ❤️ home” copy, I think, that sends me slightly. On the one hand this makes perfect sense if you run an airbnb or similar – on the other, I reckon there’s possibly a market for a service providing high-end, bespoke versions of these, printed and framed, that say things like ‘NO LOOKING AT BONGO IN MY HOUSE YOU W$NKER”. Anyone interested? We can share the IP and make MILLIONS!
  • Animals, Aquariums and Zoos: I found myself watching a streamer on Twitch the other day and there was a moment when they said a really heartfelt thankyou to everyone watching who was making it all worthwhile and lending meaning to their life, and there were in total 12 people watching at the time, and the sheer poignancy of that moment made me so embarrassed that I was forced to log off and have a cigarette (yes, I am an entirely emotionally normal adult man, why do you ask?). If you also find the parasociality of the streamer/viewer relationship just a bit odd up-close – or, more likely, if you just REALLY LOVE THE CRITTERS – then this Twitch category may be for you – you can now find streams from zoos and aquariums and animal shelters all gathered under this one convenient category, so that any time of the day or night you can log on and get your dose of soothing furry (or scaly, or tackily-smooth) fun. Live RIGHT NOW are some ducks, a Japanese cat shelter, and some suspiciously-large rabbits, so frankly you’re lucky I’m bothering to write the rest of this at all (‘lucky’).
  • The Weeklypedia: Long-term readers may be aware that I have a personal fascination with the oddity of the Wikipedia community and the edit wars that occasionally erupt within it – this is a fascinating newsletter which every week pulls a digest of the most-edited and discussed articles from across the Wikiverse (is this a term? It is now) into one email. Not only a fascinating glimpse into all sorts of topics you’d never usually be aware of, but also a useful gauge of what particular bit of the infoworld is currently blowing up – the most edited / discussed articles of the past week in English Wikipedialand have been on the Astroworld tragedy and Katherine Stock, which is interesting not least as an example of how digital ‘truth’ gets decided and the ways in which the culture wars are fought in the public commons.
  • Cleanup Pictures: Remove elements from images in-browser, which what is effectively a lightweight photoshop – this wouldn’t pass muster for anything which will be scrutinised too closely, but as a bit of quick-and-dirty image doctoring it’s better than you’d expect and can be usefully used to troll your friends in lightly-amusing ways (why not use this to crudely digitally remove one of your circle of friends from all the photos of your next big night out and then not mention it AT ALL when sharing them? See, HOURS OF FUN!).
  • Artbots: Andrei Taraschuk has made a LOT of artbots on Twitter – this is a list of them. These are simple – just a standard ‘tweet an image every X hours’ setup – but if you want a way of cleansing your TL with some nice images of classic painting to leaven the otherwise-incessant screaming and shouting and rending that almost certainly characterises your Twitter feed then this could be perfect.
  • Close Up Photographer of the Year: I remember when I worked on the launch of the Sony World Photography Awards that ‘let’s launch an online photography prize!’ was still a relatively-novel thing to do. Now, though, there’s literally an ‘of the year’ award for every single conceivable branch of the discipline – I would be amazed if someone somewhere isn’t preparing their acceptance speech for the coveted title of ‘Colorectal Photographer of the Year 2021’. Still, that’s not to complain (much as I am aware that it very much sounded like a complaint) – good photos are always a thing of wonder, and these close-up efforts are no exception. Lots of excellent insect photography as you’d expect, but also some glorious semi-abstract images in the ‘manmade’ categories which are worth checking out (also, as ever, so much ‘inspiration’ for the art directors among you).
  • The Pano Awards: MORE PHOTOS! Panoramic this time – not strictly, though, as this also encompasses 360s and vertical pano shots. Again, super-impressive, although possibly a bit overproduced for my liking – there’s a shot of the mountains in Kyrgystan, though, that did the previously-impossible and made me think ‘hm, maybe a trip to the steppes would be fun’, so worth clicking for that alone.
  • Joeah VR: All this recent talk of the metaverse has made me temporarily curious about the current state of VR games again, so I spent a bit of time the other day having a delve. There’s nothing, still, that looks worth forking out for at present, but I did find this subReddit collecting the first-person videos of one JeoahVR, who shares clips of the things that they do in a particular modded version of a VR FPS game called BoneworksVR. I caveat this link with the fact that this is VERY teenage boy – there’s a bit more ‘OWN3D!’ and ‘N00B!’ and teabagging than I am personally comfortable with here – but if you can get beyond that then the glimpse you get into what immersive VR gameplay could look like is astonishing. Still, though, how the fcuk this person plays like this without suffering massive motion sickness is beyond me. By the way, it’s worth scrolling through the sub to find any clips where the poster shows what they look like IRL when playing this game – it is quite the thing.
  • Think Like A Bot: A selection of little webgames that challenge you to think like ‘AI’ – your job is to try and guess the image tags that a bot has applied to a particular photo. Simple, but what’s interesting is how quickly it reveals the fact that the ‘AI’ tends to have at best a very fcuking limited idea of what is being represented anywhere – amusingly, it seems that these image recognition systems tend to just classify everything as ‘a bit human’ just in case. Surprisingly quite fun, and a useful corrective for those moments when you get overwhelmed by the fact that the machines are running everything (of course, if you think about it a bit harder all this will serve to do is to make you more scared because, yes, the machines are running everything and the machines are fcuking morons).
  • WanderPrompts: I really, really like this project – and I say this as a desperate cynic who increasingly finds it hard to remember what ‘joy’ means. Wander Prompts is a collection of tiny…games? Prompts is, I suppose, the best word for them…where you, the user, are presented with a small instruction to follow to set you off on a random walk with no destination. “Sniff the air – walk in the direction that smells best”, reads one; “Stretch out your arms – walk in the direction of the longer one”, reads another. This is perfect – tiny, gently ludic, infinitely personal, and uniquely-repeatable, and as soon as Rome stops being so preposterously-damp I am going to give it a proper go.
  • The Right-Angle Doodling Machine: This is very, very simple – it lets you make doodles with lines that only turn at 90-degree angles – but I can’t stress how soothing it is and what an excellent mind-clearing tool it seems to be. Honestly, this is practically therapy.
  • The Opera Game: Storytelling through chess. I can’t tell you how much I love this short story/game-type thing, telling “a story based on a famous game of chess played between American Paul Morphy and two European noblemen during a performance of Bellini’s Norma.” I am a sucker for anything that plays with the form and convention of narrative like this; SO clever.
  • Stone Stacker: I have featured Neal Agarwal’s webtoys on here before, but his latest – Stone Stacker – is perhaps my favourite so far. Replicate the famously un-relaxing pursuit of attempting to stack stones on the beach (look, THEY KEEP FALLING OVER THIS IS NOT RELAXING FFS) except without the wind and the sand in your pants and the annoying children. Instead, you can do it from your browser with a pleasingly-beachy backing track – despite not really having any actual clue what ‘Zen’ actually means, I feel confident describing this as ‘a really Zen way to spend 15m of your day’.
  • The Christmas Cannon: Because Christmas is coming and there is NOTHING you can do about it (although who’s willing to bet that the UK Government is once again going to give it a damn good try?) – celebrate by firing the CHRISTMAS CANNON! You can fiddle with the parameters of this little webtoy – personally I found it pleasing to whack the ‘firing speed’ variable right up and absolutely obliterate the CG living room with an assortment of trees, presents and baubles, but you may be of a slightly more sedate bent.
  • Saturday Afternoon IKEA Simulator: I have spent much of my 42 years on this planet ensuring that my life is such that I rarely if ever have to do things like ‘spend a Saturday afternoon at IKEA’ – fine, this may mean that I spend my dotage, such as it is, alone and unloved and sat in faintly-urine-scented squalor, but it’s WORTH IT, I tell you (reassure me). Still, on the few occasions I have had to venture into the Warehouseverse (everything is now a -verse – I am calling this ‘Zuck’s third law’ (the first being ‘everyone has a secret racist in their family’ and the second being ‘there is for every human alive one person from their schooldays that they are obsessed with looking at photos of in a sadly-reminiscent fashion no matter how pleasant or successful one’s current circumstances’)) it has struck me as a uniquely=unpleasant experience – one exquisitely-captured in this small, perfectly-observed Twine game. Experience IKEA via the medium of text adventure – you will laugh, you will wince, and you will almost certainly emerge with an unquenchable desire for a hot dog.

By JC Gotting

FINALLY IN THIS WEEK’S MIXES, THIS IS A *VERY* HIGH-OCTANE RAVE AND BREAKS AND HARDCORE MIX BY VTTS WHICH FEATURES A SAMPLE OF ‘FREESTYLER’ BY THE BOMFUNK MCs RIGHT UP TOP WHICH ALONE SHOULD BE REASON FOR YOU TO CLICK IT! 

THE CIRCUS OF TUMBLRS!:

  • Very Good NFTs: A tumblr presenting a bunch of ‘art’ which could be available for sale as an NFT based on its style and competence, but which isn’t. Yet. It would not surprise me in the slightest to check back in a few months to find this having been made the basis for a whole fcuking collection, despite its current status as an obvious p1sstake of the whole scene.

THE TROUGH OF (INSTA) FEEDS!

  • The Simpson’s Library: All the books, magazines and printed materials from The Simpson’s, in one Insta account. A convenient reminder of the fact that, whatever your thoughts about the series’ decline over the past XX years it has long been home to some of the best throwaway sight gags in TV comedy history. Also, there is something inherently hilarious about a bongo mag called, simply, ‘Giant Asses’.
  • Nyankichi5656: Photos of Japanese street cats. There’s a particular hole in the tarmac that these guys hide in and pop their heads out of and OH GOD I DIE.
  • Phetru: These have done the rounds a bit over the past few weeks, but rarely crediting the creator – who is this person, one ‘Phetru’. If you’ve seen any images recently of TINY FOOTBALLERS or TINY ACTORS, shopped so as to be VERY SMOL INDEED, then this is where they came from.
  • Johanna Jaskowska: Jaskowska is a digital artist working in AR and developing face filters and masks – her Insta feed is a delight, and a wonderful example of some of the fun, playful stuff that you can make with ARKit and the rest. Also her website is great – it tells you little, but the latexy face which it features is properly-unsettling.

LONG THINGS WHICH ARE LONG!:

  • Sustainable Investing: You neither need nor want me to embark on a tediously-nihilistic screed about COP26 and the environment and all that jazz, so I shan’t – I imagine the next few days won’t want for gloomy predictions from all quarters, most of them better-written than I could possibly hope for, so I’ll keep my nose out. I would, though, suggest that if you have a bit of spare time and attention that you might want to consider giving this a look. Be warned – this article is part one of three, and they are all VERY LONG and could, perhaps, have done with some editing. That said, though, it’s one of the more clear-eyed explanations as to why the notion of ‘sustainable investing’ (and by extension ‘green capitalism’ and ‘eco-friendly business’) is largely meaningless. Written by former BlackRock investment analyst Tariq Fancy – a man who very much knows whereof he speaks – this is a readable (even for financial know-nothings like me) look at the world of ‘green’ investing, how and why it works, and why it’s basically nothing but another bulletpoint on the laundry list of greenwashing practices adopted by the machinery of capital. You might argue with some of the thinking in the latter parts of the essays when Fancy gets to talking about potential fixes, but the analysis here presented as to why all this stuff is nothing more than tiny, tiny plasters on an increasingly gangrenous-looking axewound feels particularly compelling this week.
  • CryptoCities: I continue to struggle hugely to understand exactly what the huge benefits that crypto and web3 and all of this disruptive, blockchain-based innovation  are set to bring us actually are. I of course mean this from the point of view of a peon – it’s equally clear to me exactly what the benefits of all this stuff are if you’re at the top of the financial pyramid (scheme), but less so when it comes to ‘societal benefit’. This essay is a discursive look at some of the current thinking around the use of crypto in the civic space – how can the blockchain and associated technologies be used to create better-functioning urban environments, smart cities and local democratic infrastructures? The article is broadly positive about the potential impact of crypto on urban planning and governance, and there are some really interesting ideas posited here about electoral security and taxation systems and the like – as ever, though, I can’t personally see why these have to be done using crypto, other than because an awful lot of already very rich people and institutions stand to gain if they are. I would love to hear from any readers who can help explain this stuff to me, as I would genuinely like to be proved wrong about this.
  • Why I Won’t Make An NFT Videogame: Sorry for the slightly-crypto/NFT/web3/Metaverse-heavy opening to the longreads this week, by the way, but it’s very much been that sort of fortnight in my corner of the web – another thing to blame Zuckerberg for! This is a sort-of companion piece to the previous one, this time looking at the arguments for including NFT/cryptostuff inside videogames (or game-adjacent things), and why, in the opinion of the author, doing so is a fcuking terrible idea. Whether or not you’re into games or the gaming industry, I would suggest this is a good read on the NFT/crypto discourse overall – I very much sympathise with the author when they write: “I don’t know how this is supposed to be a good value proposition for anyone other than the people who run the exchange and take a cut of every transaction, trying to put a transaction in the middle of everything we do just fine without needing transactions. They just want to extract money from us that we don’t have any reason to spend. We’re literally better off not doing it.” – but again, please feel free to tell me why I am wrong, I am genuinely curious.
  • Notes on Web3: I promise we’re nearly done with this section, NEARLY. This is by Robin Sloan, and neatly outlines their position on Web3 as a ‘thing’ (by the way, someone very pro-Web3 was attempting to convince me of its validity the other day – their best encapsulation of what it means is ‘the introduction of digital scarcity and the potential for transaction to every single facet of online existence’, which I think serves as a neat way of calibrating your likely reaction of the current proposed future of the web. If you’re the sort of person who thinks ‘hang on, I don’t know whether introducing the market to ABSOLUTELY EVERYTHING ONLINE is necessarily a good idea’ then poor you, sucker, is the upshot as far as I can tell here) – they are not pro, but the arguments set out here as to why are again a potentially-useful way for you to test your thinking and gut feeling about the present direction of travel.
  • NFT NYC: In what is (I am almost certain) the last mention of NFTs in this week’s Curios, the New York Times takes us behind the scenes at New York’s recent NFT enthusiasts’ conference – it’s exactly as you’d expect, a light profile puffpiece reporting from various parties, with a slightly air of bafflement which doesn’t preclude the piece from making a lot of vague ‘next big thing’ noises. What struck me about this most was less about the tech and its implications and more about the ‘scene’, which strikes me quite strongly as being another group of previously-overlooked nerdy enthusiasts enjoying their time at the top of the power pyramid – not to harsh their vibe, but things like Gamergate and the Marvel Cinematic Universe suggest that it’s not always a universally positive thing when the previously-downtrodden (or at least those who thought of themselves as such) suddenly get given the keys to the kingdom.
  • The Facebook Papers: I have been writing about Facebook for nearly a decade now – not here, you understand, somewhere else, a REAL publication that actually pays me (a tiny amount of) money and has editors and suchlike – and over the past few weeks have had conversations with various peers, which have all basically trodden the same ground when it comes to the latest swathe of FB revelations: “hmm, I mean, great, but this is literally what we have been saying for the past 10 years and noone cared then and I am not 100% convinced that anyone is going to care now either”. And lo, it came to pass…this is an interesting article in Rest of World which looks at why the Washington Post’s big scoop, and the subsequent release of the materials to much of the rest of the world’s media, has gained so little traction; fine, there were lots of articles, but you can already tell that the shelf-life of this is going to be a lot shorter in the public consciousness than it was for Cambridge Analytica (a story which was in many respects overblown bullsh1t, let’s not forget). A combination of anglocentrism in the distribution of materials, too much stuff, and general Facebook fatigue, basically – combined of course with the fact that COP has neatly decapitated the story. It’s been interesting that there’s been very little reporting of this in Italy, for example, despite the fact that the population here is as Facebook-addled as anywhere in the world (and that one might argue that its politics have been shaped by FB like no other country in Europe).
  • Sopranos vs Skyrim: Popular fantasy dragon-bothering videogame Skyrim turns 10 this month – I confess that when I was doing the UK PR for it and attempting to find multiple different ways of pitching ‘It’s like Game of Thrones, but interactive! No, listen, dragons are cool now, honest!’ to bored-sounding features editors I didn’t imagine it would still be part of the culture 10 years hence. Still, it is – this is a lovely piece looking at the way in which it’s become part of the memetic landscape. Technically it’s about people who mash up characters from the Sopranos with Skyrim graphics, fine, but actually it’s about how everything is a remix and all culture now exists simply as units of memetic currency to be fcuked with by the consumer however they see fit (ackshully – God, I am insufferable; sorry about that).
  • The GTA Roleplayers: I’ve featured the roleplaying communities of GTAV in here before in various guises, but this is probably the best article I’ve read about the communities that exist on there, using their leisure time to pretend to be policemen or criminals or journalists or HR people (I know that one should never mock another’s harmless pleasures, but I do wonder rather about someone who chooses to spend their leisure time embodying the epitome of whitecollar drudgery). What I found most interesting about this was the glimpse it gives into a very specific potential version of the metaverse (sorry) – parallel existences in virtual space, given significance and weight by those participating it. Remind me again why we need Meta or the blockchain (SORRY!) to deliver this?
  • Digital Clothes: An interesting overview of the digital fashion space as it currently stands – obviously much of this will be OLD HAT to Curios regulars, who will have first read about all this circa 2018, but I am including it mainly as a) fodder for all you lazy strategists who want an article to crib from when you are inevitably asked to produce a ‘deck’ (FFS!) about all this as part of your pointless ‘2022 trends’ work, and b) as a small ‘fuck you’ to the person who decided to remove all the digital fashion stuff from a pitch I worked on earlier this year which the agency then ended up losing. I WAS RIGHT YOU IDIOTS.
  • History and Assassin’s Creed: The Assassin’s Creed videogame series has been going for AGES now, and whilst your appetite for open world ‘collect all the icons on the seemingly-infinite megamap!’ gameplay may vary, there’s no arguing with the series’ ability to create incredible realisations of historical moments for the player to parkour around (my time in Italy is hopelessly coloured by my experiences playing Assassin’s Creed 2, which made me look at literally all renaissance architecture through the ‘yes, but could I climb it?’ lens). This piece looks at how historians feel about these ludic representations of history, what this sort of digital archaeological reconstruction can be used for in terms of education and reappraisal of history, and where this fits in the context of artistic imaginings of The Past in other media – if you’re in any way interested in history, art and art history, this is a great read.
  • Dune and Recycled Waste Water: It feels appropriate in a week in which we’re all nervously looking at future thermometers to link to a piece which strongly advocates that we reconsider the wisdom of imbibing our own recycled p1ss. The Verge looks at the recent Dune adaptation in the context of how it approaches Frank Herbert’s famous imagining of the ‘stillsuit’, the clothing that lets desert dwellers recycle moisture from the atmosphere and their own bodies to survive the aridity of Arakis, and asks why we are still so reticent to consider recycled waste as a viable source of hydration when all the signs point to us needing to get on board with it sooner rather than later. I’ll have a urea latte, please (hold the sprinkles).
  • The Serial Killer Expert: A quite brilliant longread profile from The Guardian, all about Stéphane Bourgoin, author and serial killer expert whose claims to have interviewed dozens of the world’s most notorious murderers have turned out to be somewhat less watertight than he wanted the public to believe. Such a well-told story (admittedly the material is great; you’d have to work hard tro fcuk this up), and proof positive, if ever any were needed, that there’s no area of inquiry so odd and grubby that people won’t pursue celebrity within it, however undeservedly. Bourgoin’s chutzpah here is quite astonishing, as is the fact it took so long for this story to come out – it’s testament to the skill of the author that this isn’t the hatchet job it could easily have been.
  • Shebeen Queens: A supremely-readable book review from the LRB, by Sophie Lewis, of a book about women and alcohol throughout history by Mallory O’Meara, this is a great romp through the way in which women’s work with and association with booze has been treated by society over the years, and the manner in which said work and association has been used to perpetuate gender divides over the years, Contains so many wonderful lines and facts, including “an affluent Egyptian woman named Chratiankh (birth and death dates unknown)’ whose tomb inscription was said to read: ‘I was a mistress of drunkenness, one who loved a good day, who looked forward to [having sex] every day, anointed with myrrh and perfumed with lotus scent.’” Wonderful stuff.
  • The Untold Story of Sushi in America: You may not think you’re interested in reading about how sushi became ubiquitous across North America, but I promise you that this article – which traces the unexpected (by me at least) links between raw fish and rice and the church of the Moonies – will persuade you that you in fact are. One of those wonderful pieces of writing which exposes the often buried links between all sorts of seemingly-unrelated cultural / social elements, and the incredible role that circumstance plays in the way in which the world works. The only bad thing about this is the pretty-but-irritating layout choices – the illustrations are lovely, but the way the text is set makes the whole thing rather a pain to actually read. Still, though, it’s worth persevering with.
  • The Executioners’ Burden: Have you ever contemplated the reality of the death penalty and thought ‘yes, but what about the poor executioners? What do THEY go through?’? No, I can’t imagine you have – I certainly hadn’t – and yet that’s exactly the thrust of this quite remarkable piece of journalism in South Carolina’s The State newspaper. It’s fascinating, don’t get me wrong, and I don’t doubt that there’s a huge psychological impact on those people who administer the process of lethal injection or electric chair, but at the same time I couldn’t help but find the general tone of the piece – “won’t somebody think of the executioners??!!” – somewhat…odd, although perhaps not unexpected when you consider its provenance. There were several points in the article when I mentally paused to shout “Yes, but you could always have NOT DONE THAT JOB”, but I suppose that’s the sort of pinko, lefty viewpoint that makes me unsuited to ever fulfilling the position (or to ever living in red-state America).
  • The Subtle Look and Overwhelming Feel of Today’s Misogyny: Ann-Helen Petersen writes on what misogyny looks like in 2021, and some of the ways in which codified versions of it present in modern (American, but by that token Western) culture. So so so good, and a useful reminder that the culture wars are always happening, even when you can’t explicitly see them happening.
  • The Wild Inside: Finally this week, an appropriately-environmentally-themed short story, all about what happens when nature becomes the enemy. Beautifully-written, and a wonderful example of writing that tells the reader as much by omission as by narrative.

By Michael Pederson

AND NOW, MOVING PICTURES AND SOUNDS!:

Webcurios 22/10/21

Reading Time: 37 minutes

Will it be Meta? Will it be Horizon? WILL IT MAKE A BLIND BIT OF DIFFERENCE TO ANYTHING AT ALL? Yes, that’s right, Facebook’s continued infrastructural importance to the world was once again demonstrated by the fact that literally every news media outlet in the world wrote up a story about how the company might be about to change its name – proving once again that we as a species have a similar relationship to Facebook as we each do to that one person who we hatefollow on Twitter (guiltily obsessional and utterly hooked).

Anyway, as we wait to discover what new shell company will have its logo plastered all over our 3d representation of the digital future – and how little difference any of this makes to the practical reality of having the shape and heft of our existences determined by Croesus-rich corporate actors governed solely by profit motive – I once again humbly present to you this week’s selection of digital leavings gathered from the bins and unloved corners of the web. Don’t gulp this all down too quickly – it’s chunky, and you’ll definitely want to chew, and beyond that I am now going on leave for a couple of weeks so you’ll need to make this last (or alternatively just find other things to do with your time other than reading the increasingly bitter screed of a man whose relationship with the digital can at best be described as ‘concerning’).

My girlfriend is coming to visit, sadly without the cat, so I will hopefully be indulging in REAL LIFE for at least a few days and therefore won’t have time to go potholing for webspaff – still, hopefully the subsequent links will go some way to filling the gaping void in your lives ’til I return.

I am still Matt, this is still Web Curios, and I’ll see you in a few weeks unless I, or you, die (I am counting ‘unsubscribe’ as a form of death here).

By Dan Barry

WE KICK OFF THE MUSIC THIS WEEK WITH THIS LINK TO NOT ONE BUT MANY EXCELLENT AND IN-NO-WAY-PREDICTABLE HALLOWE’EN-THEMED MIXES!

THE SECTION WHICH IS REALLY LOOKING FORWARD TO EVERYTHING BEING FIXED AT COP26, PT.1:

  • Future Wake: I appreciate that this isn’t necessarily the cheeriest way to start the week’s selection of links, but, well, blame society or something. Future Wake is a project which uses data on fatal encounters with police in the US to create images and profiles of the sorts of people who, statistically, are most likely to have their lives prematurely-curtailed by a law enforcement officer – so at the time of writing, statistically-speaking, LA is set to see another death-by-cop in 4 days time, New York in three weeks. The use of all sorts of different historical materials beyond just mugshot data and age/gender means that the profiles and stories that the system creates contain details of how the altercation that lead to each ‘death’ occurred and escalated, lending an unpleasant air of depth and plausibility to all of this – it’s far more affecting than the more standard ‘here are some mugshots based on aggregated image data’-type methodology which is more standard. Depressing, fine,  but such a clever use of available data to powerfully make an important point – specifically, that the use of data such as this in combination with algorithms to ‘predict’ future crimes is inherently problematic: to quote the people behind the project, “Predictive policing algorithms do not replace prejudicial human judgements, rather it automates and conceals these biases. While predictive policing may have an appeal for law enforcement agencies, it’s important to bear in mind that statistical models cannot reliably predict the future; such models can only identify and perhaps elucidate the patterns in historical (and often biased) data. The implementation of such predictive models does not guarantee that crime can be or will be reduced.” Ah, ‘algorithms’ – we’re going to need a new word, aren’t we? This one feels increasingly blunt.
  • Text-To-Art: Oh, ok, fine, the word ‘art’ here is doing more heavy lifting than it’s necessarily comfortable with, but still. This, to my knowledge, is the first ‘type in whatever you want and make a machine imagine it, like you’re commissioning a painting by a compliant-if-hallucinatory drunk’ service to exist without the need to play with one of those slightly-unpleasant Google forms – it’s very simple to use, you just type in what you want the machine to imagine for you and, after a short wait, HEY PRESTO! The computational cost of this stuff is not-insignificant, so you only get three free goes before the site not-unreasonably asks you to buy credits, but it’s enough to get a feel for what’s possible – if you’ve spent any time looking at this sort of thing in Curios passim (OF COURSE YOU HAVE) you’ll be aware of the schtick – slightly-melty, compelling-if-you-don’t-look-too-closely canvases which look an awful lot like the sort of bad art you often imagine comes out of dream therapy sessions. You can force the machine into embodying specific styles (or at least its interpretation of certain specific styles) through the text – have a think about the three oddest artistic chimeras you can imagine (“tellytubbies as drawn by Trevor Brown”!), and prepare to unleash them on the world. Even better, the site owners are offering you the ability to order prints of whatever horrors the machine spits out – I refuse to believe that anything produced here will look any good when cheaply-printed on a stretched canvas boxframe, but if you want something a little more ‘edgy’ to complement the Live, Laugh, Love decals then you know where to come.
  • Ask Delphi:You may have seen this doing the rounds over the past few days – Delphi is the latest AI project to capture the web’s imagination, mainly due to its clever framing. ‘Delphi is a computational model for descriptive ethics, i.e., people’s moral judgments on a variety of everyday situations’ – or, in simple framing and DEFINITELY what they put on a press release, ‘let this AI judge your actions and decide whether something is right or wrong with HILARIOUS effects!!’. Type anything you like into Delphi (it asks that you go along with the fiction and type in full sentences, although the machine obviously doesn’t properly parse sentences and so you can basically type however you like) and the machine will spit out a judgement as to whether or not the thing you fed it with is RIGHT or WRONG. “Should I read Web Curios?”, you might ask, and Delphi would respond with “It’s good”. “Should I rob a bank?”, by contrast, sees me admonished with an “It’s bad”. So far, so sensibly calibrated. Except of course because this is just a model trained on a whole bunch of odd stuff, it falls apart quite quickly after that when you realise that you can alter the judgements you receive by doing things like adding ‘kindly’ or ‘quietly’, which often persuade the software that crimes are in fact OK (I do like the idea of the morality of something being intrinsically-linked to the manner in which you perform the act, though – a smiling evisceration? No problem!) – GUESS WHAT KIDS THE SOFTWARE’S ACTUALLY QUITE DUMB (you can read more about how it works here, should you be interested)! Still, just because it’s not fit for purpose now doesn’t mean that a) there won’t be someone somewhere doing a Dice Man-style experiment whereby their actions are directed by Delphi for a week because CONTENT; and b) that there won’t be a version of this sold as a ‘nanny’-type software layer in a product aimed at kids in ~5y or so.
  • ArtVote: Hot or not, for generative art. ArtVote presents you with a machine-generated artwork and asks you to grade it on a scale (oddly, they have chosen the ‘screaming red sad face to manically-grinning green happy face’ scale beloved of those customer service feedback terminals you occasionally see in airports and which I am convinced noone has ever, ever used), which lets the machine behind the site apparently get ‘better’ at producing artworks more likely to be pleasing to the observer’s eye. You can see other people’s scoring every time you vote, which is interesting in terms of seeing how your appreciation of a work maps against the wider public – there are about 7 different broad ‘types’ of art that the machine’s experimenting with, and it’s fascinating seeing how small variations in colour and placement of marks can make a huge difference to our appreciation of a piece of ‘art’. This is a project by the University of New York, so you can participate safe in the knowledge that you’re not training a machine to make some dreadful plutocratic artcnut even richer than they are already – of course, there’s no guarantee that the people behind the project won’t take everything that the machine learns and use it to coldly and brutally win the art market, ushering in in an era of machine-determined aesthetic homogeneity as the computers suddenly ‘solve’ aesthetics forever, but, well, let’s hope!
  • Racer Trash: Oh I love this! Racer Trash is, as far as I can tell, a collective of videoeditors and film makers and artists who have set up this retro-themed website (it functions a bit like an old version of Windows, basically, if, er, significantly more purple, like a Rude Dog and the Dweebs-themed skin) to showcase their projects and their work and honestly this is SO SO GOOD. Click on the ‘My Videos’ folder icon and just click at random – there’s a load of stuff here, all vaguely-vapourwave-y and surreal and strange and a bit uncanny, but also really, really well-made (these people are obviously good at this stuff, it’s not just thrown together if you see what I mean).
  • The Metaverse: TOO LATE FACEBOOK! Someone already owns the metaverse, and it’s not you! IN YOUR FACE, MARK! Yes, in news that will have sent cold waves of terror through Menlo Park, someone now OWNS the metaverse! Or at least has created what I presume is a trademarked online space called the metaverse – which is practically the same thing, no? Don’t fret, though, you don’t have to invest in an Oculus and full haptic set just yet – this is in fact the incredibly-silly name for auction house Sotheby’s new website all about NFTs! “Welcome to Sotheby’s Metaverse, an immersive destination for collectors of digital art, offering a curated selection of NFTs. Sotheby’s Metaverse is a home for this new art movement built on the foundations of crypto and NFTs“, whatever all this means. Currently there’s an ‘exhibition’ on showcasing a bunch of NFT collectors and some of the works that mean the most to them – let me just encourage you to click on over and enjoy the selection of noted NFT enthusiast Paris Hilton (for it is she!) as an example of the high-quality work being touted here. Anyway, the homepage features a bunch of NFTs currently being sold and there’s a Pepe meme-as-NFT currently subject to a £3m bid and I know I make fun of this stuff but there’s every possibility that I am the idiot here and in a few years time when I am p1ssing away my last, struggling to make the care-home payments, I will spend the dregs of my life wishing I had spent my meagre pennies on a CryptoKitty in 2017. So it inevitably goes.
  • Martha Stewart Does NFTs: Yes, that’s right, noted US television personality and celebrity lag Martha Stewart is getting in on the game! You can buy NFTs of pumpkins! From Martha Stewart! For lots of money!  Currently someone has bid $4k for the opportunity to get a pumpkin carving of their face which will be shipped to them and minted as an NFT! WHAT DO YOU THINK THE RESALE VALUE OF A LINK TO A JPEG OF A PHOTOGRAPH OF YOUR FACE CARVED INTO A PUMPKIN IS LIKELY TO BE??? I know, I know, this isn’t about the market or the resale value, it’s about owning a piece of ART and about the COMMUNITY and you would be a fool and a cynic to suggest otherwise, obvs. I would, though, like to gently point out that it does strike me as possibly a touch suspicious that someone like Martha Stewart, a woman who to the best of my knowledge doesn’t have a storied history of involvement in the art world or indeed the technology world, who is friends with Snoop Dogg, a man who (being generous) strikes me as knowing a good grift when he sees one, and who served actual jail time for fraud, should be getting involved in something which looks very much like a way of parting morons with their cash. Still, don’t let me stop you paying 4 figures for that orangey jpeg.
  • NFTFI: A reader got in touch last week (hi Andy!) asking me to put the NFT stuff in its own section because, and I quote, they ‘can’t handle the stupid’ – I, er, obviously didn’t do that, but I promise that I will try and keep the volume of this stuff to a minimum following the coming break as, well, it’s a bit much, isn’t it? Anyway, the last in this week’s ghoulish procession of ‘questionable things to do with NFTs’ is this service, a lending market based around using NFTs as collateral. Have an NFT but need a few bucks? List it on here, set the value you’d like to borrow against it, and wait for someone to show up and lend you some ETH – or alternatively, as a lender, see which NFTs you’d like to lend against in the hope that the borrower defaults! This sounds like a series of massive headaches waiting to happen, but it’s momentarily funny to look at all the NFTs listed as available collateral and seeing how many of Gary Vaynerchuk’s ‘Veepets’ are on there. This feels very much like the sort of thing that will be at the centre of ‘someone really needs to regulate this stuff’ conversations before too long.
  • MoonTruth: I confess to being disappointed by this – I found it online this week and thought it was an actual, honest-to-goodness example of a one-man mind-mental, sharing their singular vision of lunar reconciliation with the world, but I was LIED TO. MoonTruth purports to be a site by one Dr KC Houseman who is convinced that in a few short months the moon will come crashing into the Earth with predictably-unpleasant consequences for all of us – on reflection, I should have known from the off that there’s something odd about it. The countdown clock, for one, and the fonts – the text is too big (I say this as someone who has spent more time than they care to admit looking at the single-issue websites of the mentally-idiosyncratic – they ALWAYS have smaller, denser copy than this) – and the photo of ‘Dr Houseman’ all scream ‘scam’, and indeed some cursory Googling led me to the realisation that this is in fact a FILTHY MARKETING SCAM for some film or another coming out next year. Still, it’s nice to see that the concept of Transmedia Storytelling has been cryogenically frozen since 2009 and that someone can still get some use out of it. Also, props to the marketing team here for the use of signs in the background of sporting events – this has been gaining a bit of traction online thanks to various people at US sporting events holding up posters with the URL written on them, which is an admirable piece of guerilla marketing of which I wholly approve. Still not naming the film, though, sorry.
  • The Bad Movie Index: Speaking of marketing (SEAMLESS!), and thanks to Jade for sending this my way, the Bad Movie Index is SUCH a smart idea for Scandinavian film streaming service Draken, whose ‘thing’ is the fact that it contains actual, good films as opposed to the ceaseless stream of drek served up by Amazon and Netflix. Here’s the gimmick: “Today, people watch more movies than ever before. But since the streaming giants flood the market, quantity often comes before quality, leading to more bad movie experiences. So we created The Bad Movie Index — a constantly changing membership price on Draken Film that gets lower, the more bad movies people watch on other platforms. The price is based on the streaming giants’ top lists of most watched films and their ratings on the biggest movie review sites. Simply put: the lower the ratings get, the better price you get on Draken Film.” Isn’t that smart? Such a great idea and eminently-nickable should you want to do something similar.
  • ModelMe: It’s not only actual, flesh-and-blood clotheshorses who are going to be inconvenienced by the digital revolution – it’s the virtual influencers who’ve already started to replace them. To be clear, this is lazy hyperbole and I don’t wholly believe it, but there is something interesting about what will happen as the means of digital creation become more sophisticated and significantly cheaper – ModelMe being a case in point. The service, currently (as far as I can tell) live to a limited degree, lets brands and businesses generate models for use on their websites and in their catalogues, using AI – you, the buyer, specify gender, height, skintone and other qualities, and the system lets you churn out an infinity of generated, posed images of said models which you can then dress in your own digital renderings of your garments. This is a HUGE potential market, and a massive issue for all those people who make a pleasant living from catalogue modelling – still, I’m ugly so it’s not my issue.
  • Pose XR: A sort-of adjunct to the last link, PoseXR is a digital tool/toy that lets you experience what it is like to stage and ‘direct’ a photoshoot entirely digitally. Pick your model, pick your background, pick your lighting setup, and then shoot away to your heart’s content – now imagine combining this tech with the stuff in ModelMe, and you quickly have a situation in which a significant number of photographers, lighting designers and technicians, stylists, runners and the like are no longer necessary. I was talking to someone this week about how art and creativity is going to necessarily need to evolve and adapt – particularly from a commercial point of view – to take this sort of stuff into account. I wonder at which point ‘having your product promoted with photos taken in meatspace by real humans’ is going to become a badge of high luxe?
  • The Trump Media & Tech Group Pitch Deck: I don’t want to talk about that man, You don’t want to talk about that man. So let’s not. Let’s instead look at the pitch presentations for the new Trump Media and Tech Group empire, responsible for another of the most spectacularly-botched product launches in history, which sets out how the man (and, more tellingly, the network of people around him who see him as an incredibly lucrative cash cow) is hoping to build a NEW MEDIA EMPIRE! This is wonderful stuff, particularly if you’ve ever been involved in VC-type things and have seen actual pitches from actual companies with actual products – this…does not feel like one of those. I particularly enjoyed the use of the term ‘fountainhead’ on slide 9, a word placed for NO REASON other than to act as a nudge and a wink to unhinged Randheads, and the planetary scene on slide 15 is a doozy, but you can pick your own favourite bits.
  • Double Pendulum: A very simple physics simulation toy which honestly had me mesmerised for about 10m this morning when I opened it. HOW IS IT SO CHAOTIC? Please, don’t attempt to answer this question with a serious explanation of How Physics Works – I am too stupid to understand, and you will be wasting your time. The only thing that could make this better would be the ability to export the tracer visuals – there’s something quite aesthetically cool about the patterns this produces, imho.
  • Story Trails: I like this project, but it’s a bittersweet thing to see being trailed – another in the list of ‘things incredibly similar to stuff that I pitched to people a decade ago when the tech wasn’t quite good enough to match the ambition’. Story Trails is a wonderful idea – AR-enabled historical tours of 15 UK cities, produced by Niantic and with audiovisuals created by an incredible team of creatives from various cultural institutions around the country. It’s launching next year as part of Unboxed, a cultural…festival? happening in 2022, and the project is currently looking for artists and creatives to partner with to help bring the concept to life and create the materials needed to make the trails sing. Details are sparse at present, but this feels like a wonderful first step in linking the persistent digital twins of the world being created by companies like Snap (who I am slightly surprised not to see involved with this) with local history and culture. “We’ll be collecting your stories to create the world’s first spatial archive, linking national media archives with contemporary 3D scans of objects, people and places to create a new way of experiencing your town.” – this sounds WONDERFUL, and I hope I get to come back to the UK to see it in action.
  • Re-Parents: This is a lovely – and affecting – documentary project which takes the stories of LGBT+ people and the parents who struggled to come to terms with their children’s gender identity and sexuality – all the stories are from Russia, which means they are…slightly less liberal than we might be used to, and serve as  useful reminder of the fact that the tolerance and equality that we (hope to be able to) take for granted are not universally-available. There are two ‘main’ stories here and then a selection of additional, supplementary stories – the way these are shot and presented, aside from the content of the footage, is superb, and an object-lesson in how to create online documentary or interview content. Beautifully-made and hugely-affecting.
  • Strange Autopsies: If the initial question – “Autopsy Doctors of Reddit, what was strangest discovery you’ve made while performing an autopsy?” – doesn’t put you off, then this is a truly fascinating selection of morbid anecdotes about the weirdness of death, the human body, and living people. This is not, to be clear, a link for the weak-of-stomach or squeamish, but if you don’t have a problem reading detailed accounts of curious deaths and medical conditions then this is all hugely-interesting. Contains a couple of anecdotes which will make you very, very cautious next time you’re considering leaning out of a fast-moving vehicle. Also, particular shout-out to this comment, which, whilst I’m sure sincere, doesn’t come across in quite the way in which I imagine the author intended: “Come over to /r/ForensicPathology if you want to talk more about this super cool field (autopsy for sudden and suspicious death) – no experience necessary! We’re all more friendly than TV might have you believe!”…er, nah, you’re alright mate.

By Line Hachem

NEXT UP, MUSICALLY-SPEAKING, ANOTHER CRACKING MIX BY JOE MUGGS, THIS TIME OF MELODIC AND GENTLY-SOOTHING TUNES FOR A COLD GREY AFTERNOON!

THE SECTION WHICH IS REALLY LOOKING FORWARD TO EVERYTHING BEING FIXED AT COP26, PT.2:  

  • PS Battles Live:  One of the big issues that I found when working at the BBC and attempting to come up with online-y ideas is that much of the stuff that works as ‘moderately viral’ content (sorry) in the world of the web doesn’t translate at all to entertainment formats (or so the people who understood this stuff constantly told me). Which is, I think, the main problem with this attempt by Reddit to turn the popular subReddit PSBattles into an actual entertainment strand. Still, props to them for giving it a go – this is an interesting idea, which to my mind doesn’t work at all but which is a noble attempt to turn sh1tposting into video. The PSBattles Live show is a daily show in which the presenters set a photoshop challenge to the community and then do a live show in which they showcase the best of the resulting work alongside ‘humorous’ commentary and a slightly ZooTV-style overall vibe – which basically means that you end up with an hour-long show in which a bunch of moderately-amusing people react in over-the-top fashion to a selection of photoshop gags and community in-jokes. There are some interesting ideas here – the way participants are grouped into teams, creating a sort of community metagame within the longer arc of the show, for example, and the way the Reddit-ness of the whole idea is baked into the style of the programme – but it’s still a long way from being anything that I can imagine being entertaining to anyone who’s not already part of this scene. Still, if you fancy watching a bunch of people talking about why they find a photoshopped image on the Mona Lisa pant-wettingly hilarious then you might find this to your tastes.
  • The Ricky Jay Collection: Ricky Jay was a famous US magician who died in 2018 – this is his personal collection of magical trinkets, props and artefacts, now up for auction with Sotheby’s. The lots here are AMAZING – old magazines, pamphlets from the golden era of magic and prestidigitation, posters advertising Carter and other greats from the history of illusion…honestly, there is some gorgeous stuff here and it’s well worth a peruse. Unless you’ve got a few grand burning a hole in your pocket – and WHO DOESN’T, RIGHT? – then this will all be outside of your price range I’m afraid, but it’s a lovely collection to browse regardless (and this is a nice overview of some of the more interesting pieces in the collection, should you be curious).
  • Key Art: ‘Key Art’ is the term given to the specific visuals used by streaming platforms to advertise their wares and hook the viewer – they’re a very particular type of image, with specific dimensions, and as such they have a specific visual style which is evident in this collection of some of the better examples (curated by one Rex Sorgatz). Super-interesting from a design and aesthetic point of view, and as a quick visual overview to what is currently working from an ‘eyecatching way of promoting a TV show’ perspective. If nothing else, you could do worse than nick some of the stylings here for the full-bleed images in your next overengineered pitch presentation (no I will NOT call it a ‘deck’ you fcukers).
  • Antiwork: A subReddit that got a lot of attention this week for the screenshots it contains of purported conversations between workers and bosses – it’s done the rounds as part of the broader conversation that’s going on about how workers are increasingly using the post-pandemic (post? HA!) period as a reset point to reevaluate their careers and their relationship with work, and, occasionally, as a reason to tell their bosses where they can shove their sh1tty jobs. Antiwork is a collection of conversations in which staff finally tell their bosses where to go – or at least it says that’s what it is. In practice I reckon that a decent proportion of these are faked for the karma, although I appreciate that shouting ‘DIDN’T HAPPEN’ underneath anything positive or heartwarming online is a crappy way to behave – still, I am surprised that so many of the people in these conversations are so downtrodden and beaten by capitalism when they are seemingly in possession of not-inconsiderable levels of gumption and backbone when it comes to telling their paymasters where to go. Still, if you have a boss who’s constantly messaging you with unreasonable demands and want some inspiration as to how to tell them to fcuk off then this might be of service – personally-speaking, I tend to find that doing your job very badly is the best revenge of all, but your mileage may vary.
  • Merlin Tuttle’s Bat Conservation: “There are over 2,000 bat photos available for download on this site for both non-profit and commercial use. The collection encompasses 19 families, 125 genera, and 298 species from 38 countries.” SO MANY BATS! Look at their cute little snub-nosed faces! SO CUTE! LOOK AT THIS DERPY LITTLE FCUKER! The sort of thing that may make you discover a sudden and hitherto-unimagined love for Epomophorus Wahlbergi.
  • The Pessimists’ Archive: A wonderful Twitter account which shares examples of previous technomoral panics, just to put the current one we’re living through into context (my current favourite example, by the way, is this one – hellmaxing, anyone?). From bicycles negatively impacting church attendance and turning us all into Godless heathens (although, actually, on reflection…), to ‘vile moving pictures corrupting our children’ (er, again…), this is a great reminder of the fact that every single innovation in the history of humanity has been accompanied with a great wailing and gnashing of teeth about the TERRIBLE EFFECTS said innovation is set to have on society and morals and THE CHILDREN. Tbh it’s all been downhill since fire.
  • Copper Books: As we all wait for the current round of ‘we need a KINDER AND GENTLER DISCOURSE’ discourse to die down (as ever, it’s worth pointing out that THE PROBLEM IS PEOPLE, NOT TECHNOLOGY), we’re once again seeing a resurgence of new online communities designed for a specific subset of people who for whatever reason feel they get a raw deal on the standard socials. This week it’s the turn of Copper Books, which wants to become a community for authors and readers to ‘connect’ around books – why the creators think that this will automatically be a less-toxic place than, say, the famously-awful Goodreads (if you’re unaware, it’s worth doing a bit of reading around the state of Young Adult fiction on the platform, just to give you an idea of the horror) is beyond me, but if you’re an author who wants a way to ‘connect’ with readers that won’t have thousands of people calling you names then perhaps this will be of use. It’s in early access at the moment, but you can sign up for email updates should you think it might be of interest – don’t for a second imagine, though, that if someone wants to tell you that they hate your book, and you, and quite possibly your entire bloodline, that they won’t find a way. WHAT A TIME TO BE ALIVE!
  • Birdability: I’ve mentioned before, I think, how odd I find it that the US term for birdwatching is ‘birding’ – look, it just sounds weird, ok, although perhaps that’s a direct result of my spending too much time in online communities who discuss odd and very specific fetishes (yes, fine, but tell me that once you’ve been exposed to the concept of ‘figging’ that ‘birding’ doesn’t look like it’s going to be a similar sort of thing. IT’S NOT JUST ME FFS!) – but once you get over that then this service, by US avian enthusiast organisation the Audubon Society, seems really useful. It’s designed to let bird fans find places where it’s possible to ‘go birding’ (no, sorry, I just can’t) accessibly – so places that are wheelchair-enabled, for example, or not problematic for people with health conditions. This is currently quite US-heavy but is international in scope, so in the unlikely event that any Web Curios readers are also avid birdwatchers (not sure why but I’m not totally convinced that this is an area of huge demographic crossover) then please share with your chaffinch mates and get people submitting their recommendations for disability-friendly birdwatching spots. A Good Thing.
  • Inque: “INQUE is a beautiful annual literary magazine dedicated to extraordinary new writing. Documenting what is going to be an era-defining decade, it will run no advertising, have no web version, and only ever publish 10 issues.Contributors include Margaret Atwood, Max Porter, Joyce Carol Oates, Ocean Vuong, Tom Waits, Ben Lerner, Alexander Chee, Kae Tempest, and more.” This is either an interesting experiment in analogue publishing, or a desperate attempt by the literary establishment to perpetuate the unearned kudos and mystique it’s been slowly losing in the democratised digital era – YOU DECIDE! The pricing here – £55 an issue!! – is…punchy, although the publishers would argue that you’re buying limited edition, beautifully-typeset-and-published works of literary art, and depending on your interest in the authors in question you may feel that exclusive access to works by them is worth the money. The best thing about this is that noone’s trying to sell an NFT of the fcuking thing, although never say never, eh?
  • Lyrista: A nice idea which is slightly limited by the range of languages it currently offers, Lyrista is designed to help you learn a language by listening to music – play a track, and the website offers you a line-by-line translation of the lyrics as you listen. Currently it only features songs in German, Italian and Hungarian, but I can see this being a popular concept if it opens up a bit – and it’s definitely the sort of thing that, on reflection, I’m slightly surprised that Spotify haven’t done themselves. As an aside, Pulp used to write ‘Please do not read the lyrics while listening to the recordings’ on their sleevenotes, which I still love as an expression of slightly-po-faced artistic integrity – I imagine Jarvis has mellowed slightly by now, though.
  • Weird Electric Vehicles: Or, to quote the page’s full title, “Complete list of the Awesomely Weird Alibaba Electric Vehicles of the Week”. The website Electrec has a weekly column where they pick a different preposterous electric car (not always a car) for sale on Alibaba each week to highlight – this page is a collection of all of them, since the feature started in January. There are some…incredible things here, which make me wish that I either had a driving license (although living in Rome I am increasingly convinced that noone would be able to tell if I did or not, judging by the general standard of driving in this city) or a suitable stretch of ocean where I could try out THE ACTUAL ELECTRIC SUBMARINE you can apparently buy (is it watertight? PROBABLY!).If you look at this and can’t find anything you want, you are probably dead – I am a VERY unmanly man and yet even I got a small childlike frisson at the prospect of being able to own my very own backyard-sized electric digger.
  • Shark Attack Explorer: My girlfriend has a thing about sharks, to the point where she occasionally muses about how one might go about bequeathing one’s body to the squaline massive post-mortem and maintains that being eaten by one ‘wouldn’t be a bad way to go’. I will send her this link and see how it affects her thinking – it’s a database of recorded shark attacks worldwide, which also records the injuries sustained by the victims for a real ghoulish thrill. “Leg severed mid-thigh, hand severed, arm above elbow and part of buttocks. Not known if he survived” – if you want more of these lovely, heartwarming anecdotes, click here!
  • Bizarre History: A good week for good Reddit links, and here’s another – a thread of people sharing their favourite bizarre historical facts. These are GREAT, and will send you scurrying down a variety of Wikipedian rabbitholes to check their veracity (amazing that in 2021 Wikipedia is a legitimate fact-checking resource) – you’ve got some old classics, like astronomer Tycho Brae’s fake nose, and this wonderful example of male hubris from the conquest of the Americas: “During the siege of Tenochtitlan, the conquistadors built a trebuchet. However, the conquistadors, being an exploratory expedition, had not brought any military engineers with them. So they winged it. Surprisingly, they did build a trebuchet, which fired exactly one shot, directly upwards, which promptly came down and smashed the trebuchet. This event is chronicled in both the journals of the conquistadors present as well as the Aztec records.” Should any of you be history teachers, this is a guaranteed ‘shut the class up for 5 minutes’ resource (none of you are history teachers, are you? FFS).
  • Spreadsheet Timeline: This is a simple and single-use website for which I am HUGELY grateful – it creates a series of cells for any daterange you care to mention, dividing a year into months, weeks and days so you don’t have to make the poor intern build out the template for the content calendar anymore. If there is already a quick and easy way to already do this in Excel then please don’t tell me as it will just make me feel stupid.
  • Formats Unpacked: Much as there are TOO MANY PODCASTS, there are also now TOO MANY NEWSLETTERS (there need be only one! Sadly Web Curios probably isn’t it) – still, I feel OK recommending this one as it’s a specific and interesting topic. In Formats Unpacked, industry experts discuss ‘content formats’ (sorry) that they like and which work, and explain what it is about them that makes them successful. So you have someone talking about the ‘How Northern Are You?’ quiz which UsVsTh3m did and which was their most viral thing ever, and someone else writing about how Catfish became a phenomenon…if you’re interested in creating entertainments of any stripe, this is a super-useful exploration of the craft of making and what separates an OK idea from one that really works.
  • Draw To Search: This doesn’t really work, at least not by any standard definition of the word, but it’s a lot of fun to mess with. Sketch something in the little drawing window and the software will attempt to use your poorly-scrawled lines to determine what it is that you were attempting to depict and pull a photo of said thing from a database of film stills. Honestly, the outputs seem to bear practically no relation to the inputs – it sounds mean, I know, but try it and you’ll see what I mean – but there’s the germ of a useful product in here which I can imagine in a few years’ time being something properly helpful.
  • Show Discussions: A collection of links to various subReddits discussing every single TV show you could possibly think of. If you’ve suddenly gotten into original series Gossip Girl, say, or have developed a hitherto-unimagined passion for The Brady Bunch, and want to see what other fans had to say about each episode, then this will link you to all the relevant discussions. Obviously all the chat is on Reddit, which means it heavily overindexes for recency and obscure anime (the EastEnders discussion linked to here is inexplicably thin – I refuse to believe, though, that EndersReddit is not A Thing somewhere), but you might find this a useful tool for fandom discovery.
  • Wallpapers: Curios reader Stephen Clark sent me this and it is CHARMING – he’s created a huge collection of wallpapers for desktop and mobile, covering football teams and all sorts of other things, all available for free. “Several years ago, I was looking for minimal desktop wallpapers for my computer so I could take advantage of the iMac/Mac capability to change the desktop wallpaper on the computer every several minutes.  I like to have a new desktop image throughout the day.  And I was finding very few that I liked, so I figured why not start creating some on my own and posting them on my site to share?  So I did.  And now, I have a pretty robust collection and I also get requests from all corners of the earth.“ This is lovely, and I am very glad it exists (and his Chelsea wallpaper is lovely) – thanks for sending it to me.
  • Doom Checkboxes: Playable Doom! Rendered in checkboxes! Except it’s not really playable, as you can’t quite get the contrast right and the whole thing is a bit of a mess, visually-speaking, but, well, Doom!
  • Where’s My Tripod?: Occupying the coveted ‘last miscellaneous link in Curios’ slot this week is this gentle game which is basically ‘Duck Hunt’ except instead of shooting a duck with a gun, you’re instead shooting a variety of woodland critters with a camera in an attempt to rack up a high score. Lovely and soothing and the pixellated deer are very cute indeed – a slight shame that you don’t get to see your snaps at the end, but this is a perfectly-pleasant way to spend 15 minutes that doesn’t involved fcuking around with PPT and, frankly, what more could you ask from a workday distraction?

By Unpis

LAST UP IN THE MIXES THIS WEEK IS THIS EXCELLENT SELECTION OF JAZZ, TENDING TOWARDS THE NOODLIER END OF THE SPECTRUM, BY NITERIDER!

THE CIRCUS OF TUMBLRS!:

  • Caffenol: Not in fact a Tumblr! Still, it doesn’t really matter, does it, and it feels like one, so! Have you ever thought ‘hm, I’d really like to take analogue photos and develop them myself but frankly all the chemicals you need sound like a bit of a faff and I wish I could use, I don’t know, dog p1ss instead of fixative’? No, me neither tbh, but if you’ve ever wanted to explore how you might use old coffee to develop some negatives then THIS is the site for you!
  • Sinking & Melting: Or ‘The Museum of the Imminently-Disappeared’. Sinking and Melting “is a growing collection of items contributed from places that may disappear owing to the combined physical, political, and economic impacts of climate change, including glacial melting, sea level rise, coastal erosion, and desertification. +++ THE CONTRIBUTED MATERIALS together form an archive of the future anterior; what will have been. A contribution doesn’t have to originate from a location – it can be anything that happens to be there, including detritus, flotsam or jetsam.” Fascinating and sad – it’s like looking at an exhibition about the now from a sad and regretful future.

THE TROUGH OF (INSTA) FEEDS!

  • PPuri: A Korean artist about whom I know absolutely nothing but who’s insta feed is a pleasing collision of weird-and-occasionally-upsetting works at the intersection between digital culture and classical craft.
  • Bicicleta Sem Freo: My rudimentary Portuguese suggests that this artist’s name means ‘bicycle without brakes’ – no idea why, but their murals are ACE (and oddly share a certain aesthetic vibe with the work of Butcher Billy, to my mind at least – maybe it’s a Brazilian thing). Hypersaturated colours and densely-populated compositions abound.
  • Vincent Castiglia: Mr Castilla draws pictures using his own blood (and occasionally that of those who commission him). This is either INCREDIBLY METAL or trying slightly too hard to be so – take your pick.
  • Beam Me Up Softboi: Another Insta account sharing screenshots of men being d1cks – in this specific instance, being softboi d1cks. For those of you unfamiliar with the genre, Urban Dictionary defines softbois as “’Similar to a f***boy but without the cocky attitude. The Softboy will butter a girl up by appealing to her emotions and showing a “sensitive” side long enough for her to sleep with him, whether or not he actually cares about her or not” So there. Anyway, this feels a bit 2018 tbh but it made me laugh quite a lot, not least the screenshot of a message request reading “what are you doing sh1tposting at 2am? You’re beautiful and better than that” which, honestly, is ART.

LONG THINGS WHICH ARE LONG!:

  • Big Tech and the Global Order: This is in many respects a frustrating article, and one which I wouldn’t ordinarily bother sharing – it contains far too many loose, grandiose statements for my liking, particularly this one (which ordinarily would have seen it barred from inclusion on stylistic grounds alone): “In their private lives, people increasingly connect with one another through algorithms.” WHAT DOES THAT ACTUALLY MEAN, THOUGH? WHAT ALGORITHMS? HOW? Slightly annoyingly, though, the first half – which is a fairly long and not particularly-revealing overview of Where We Are Now as regards the primacy of tech – segues into a really interesting series of conclusions about the potential ways in which governments might come to an accommodation with the growing power of the technology companies, and how that might impact various questions of governance and geopolitics. Its characterisation of three potential visions of the future – the globalist, the nationalist hero and the tech-utopianist – struck me as broadly-sensible ways of characterising the future relations between government and big technology – and for that alone it’s worth reading.
  • The Future of Graphs: Not the graphs with axes, but instead the concept of ‘the social graph’, or the network of connections which we all have and on which the existing generation of social media apps have constructed themselves – except TiKTok. This is another superb essay by Eugene Wei, whose previous essays about TikTok I have linked to here before – Wei does a superb job of explaining the different ways in which existing apps use the social graph, and why this differential approach to said graph makes huge practical differences to the ways in which apps work and users experience them. His analysis of how TikTok’s decision to practically ignore the social graph in favour of the interest graph, and how that impacts the app experience and user behaviour, is clear-eyed and well-explained – if you’re interested in how social networks work (both on and offline) then this is required reading.
  • Good Predictions for 2050: An excellent essay about why nearly all future predictions are so miserably wrong, which then goes on to make several predictions of its own (so full marks to author Erik Hoel for bravery here). The central premise as to the ‘why’ is as follows: “If you want to predict the future accurately, you should be an incrementalist and accept that human nature doesn’t change along most axes. Meaning that the future will look a lot like the past. If Cicero were transported from ancient Rome to our time he would easily understand most things about our society. There’d be a short-term amazement at various new technologies and societal changes, but soon Cicero would settle in and be throwing out Trump/Sulla comparisons (or contradicting them), since many of the debates we face, like what to do about growing wealth inequality, or how to keep a democracy functional, are the same as in Roman times.” – the ensuing predictions are interesting and certainly feel reasonable. Number 17, in particular – popular culture will become ‘boring’ – struck me as well-observed.
  • False Positivism: Or ‘why turning the entire planet into a data collection and analysis machine’ may not in fact fix all the problems that we think it will’ – this is not only an excellent essay about the limits of tech and data utopianism at scale, but a useful reminder of how questions around ‘the use of data’ are always necessarily bound up in further questions of ‘what data?’, ‘where did it come from?’, ‘who compiled it and why?’ and ‘what do we mean by ‘use’, anyway?’. Not so much pessimistic – the article makes lots of good points about the ways in which data can be useful at scale – as a helpful corrective to the seemingly-constant refrain that ‘MOAR DATA’ is the solution to everything that ails us. It’s an inconvenient truth that most of the BIG SOLUTIONS that tech presents us with seem to ignore or significantly-underestimate the complexity of the systems that created the problems which we’re trying to overcome.
  • Hacker X: Or ‘how to create a disinformation empire for profit’. It’s important to remember, by the way, that the stuff here described didn’t necessarily work – we’re deep into Cambridge Analytica/pyschogeography territory here, and applying any sort of causality to this stuff is nearly-impossible, so please don’t read this and get all terrified about how TRUTH IS DEAD. That said, it’s a really interesting look at the practical steps needed to create an empire of lies online – as the opener says: “For two years, he ran websites and Facebook groups that spread bogus stories, conspiracy theories, and propaganda. Under him was a dedicated team of writers and editors paid to produce deceptive content—from outright hoaxes to political propaganda—with the supreme goal of tipping the 2016 election to Donald Trump. Through extensive efforts, he built a secret network of self-reinforcing sites from the ground up. He devised a strategy that got prominent personalities—including Trump—to retweet misleading claims to their followers. And he fooled unwary American citizens, including the hacker’s own father, into regarding fake news sources more highly than the mainstream media.” As the notes at the end of the piece acknowledge, it’s perhaps a bit too ready to believe its subject’s hype – but as a look at the ugly mechanics of this sort of operation, it’s super-interesting.
  • Culture Wars In Action: This is about the US media – or at least, it’s an ecosystem focused on the US although its reach is far wider – but, really, the playbook here described should be familiar to anyone who’s spent even a few minutes online over the past few years. Charlie Warzel goes over a recent interview by Joe Rogan with a US pro-vaxx doctor, which was mined for content and weaponised by the antivaxx and antimask and general libertarian-right wing of the web in the now-traditional fashion (“Watch as Rogan DESTROYS liberal doctor with one killer line!”), and breaks down How This Stuff Works – which is exactly the playbook for this sort of culture war sh1t that is employed everywhere, whether on- or offline, as you see in every single Sun or Mail headline wailing about a ‘woke backlash’ to something which on closer inspection is drawn from a source corpus of 3 no-RT Tweets. Both sides do this, to be clear, and this is a decent explainer as to how, why, and what it looks like in the wild.
  • Stop Talking About Generations: I imagine if you ‘do’ strategy or planning or somesuch stupid, made-up job which your parents and friends don’t understdand that you’ll already have read this piece – if not, though, please do so now. It’s an excellent New Yorker article explaining in detail exactly why it is stupid and wrong-headed to refer to people in generational terms, and why it always has been, and could, if used properly, be a tool we could ALL use to push back against clients who say things like ‘our target audience is ‘millennials’!’. We won’t, though, of course, because we know in our heart of hearts that 90% of what we do is totally pointless and as such it’s simply not worth having that conversation with the stupid client given that noone in the whole horrible foodchain can be bothered to think more than is absolutely necessary and everyone will keep getting pats on the back as long as THE CONTENT WHEEL KEEPS SPINNING. Can you tell I’m having a GREAT week for loving the industry that pays my wages? You can? Fcuk. Erm, perhaps not-entirely-unrelated, I might need a job in January should anyone want to hire me.
  • Charts That Don’t Change: The second ‘useful for ‘strategists’’ link of the week is this excellent blogpost by Harry Guild and Dean Matthewson at BBH, which uses TGI data (if TGI decided to hold the agency world to ransom, I reckon they would make 7 figures in a day – just an idea, lads) to demonstrate that looking for changes in behaviour when scoping for ‘insights’ (honestly, when I rule the world that word will be excised from the English language and anyone using it will be flayed and then dipped into alternating baths of seawater and Malden salt) is often less useful than looking for things that stay the same. Or (and apologies Dean and Harry for extrapolating slightly here), perhaps more simply, that rather than just looking for LINES WHOSE ANGLES CHANGE DRAMATICALLY people should start maybe thinking more about what those lines show. Data is a fcuking problem, specifically people’s increasing belief that visualised data is some sort of magical passport to wisdom. It is not, now do some fcuking thinking you doublefigureIQmorons. Er, wow, that escalated quickly, didn’t it? Sorry about that.
  • When I Was An Influencer: A really interesting essay by Haley Nahman in which she looks back on a brief period of time in which she was able to command decent wedge for posting stuff on Insta, and then segues into a wider discussion about how, when you boil it down, influencer culture is perhaps the best modern expression of the victory of the acquisitive imperative – we all want more, and selling ourselves is the easiest and most accessible means of accessing all the things we are trained to want and desire, not least the possibility of ‘winning’ at the great game of capitalism. This quote sums it up rather nicely – I think you can useful sub ‘America’ for ‘The UK’ without too much difficulty here: “In America, the pursuit of wealth has become a virtue in its own right. To work hard, to hustle, to get your bag—these ideas are increasingly divorced from achieving the means to live well and have instead become goals in themselves, regardless of what we actually need, and regardless of who’s exploited in the process. When Donald Trump was critiqued for not paying his fair share of taxes, his strongest response was that he simply abused existing loopholes in the tax code. He was just doing what was best for his business, he implied, like anyone would. This kind of thinking isn’t necessarily conservative. I imagine many influencers and celebrities who consider themselves politically progressive use this same reasoning to justify their willingness to shill for morally dubious corporations: They are simply seizing opportunities made available to them. And everyone else is doing it too.”
  • Influencer Retirement: Or ‘Influencer As Franchise’ – this Buzzfeed article looks at the increasing trend of high-profile influencer accounts being handed over to new owners when the original creators get tired of living the Instalife 24/7 and decide to hand the bag to someone else. If this doesn’t get turned into a reality show format sometime soon – “12 aspirant influencers! 10million followers! WHO WILL GET TO BE THE NEXT @SLUMMYMUMMYGINCLUB??” – I will be amazed.
  • All Of The Marvels: “Over the last five years, Douglas Wolk has pulled off a feat that few others have attempted, let alone completed: he read every Marvel comic book published since 1961, which adds up to around 27,000 issues, or 540,000 pages.” Wolk has a reason to do this – he’s written a book about the endeavour – but this interview with him is surprisingly-interesting, even for someone like me who has no interest whatsoever in Marvel or superheroes. There’s SO much here – especially if you’re a fanboy, but more generally in terms of how storytelling over time works, about how callbacks and thematic consistency over a 70-year story arc can function, and about how collaborative authorship can work at scale. In particular there’s a lot of really interesting stuff in here about the idea of the ‘ownership’ of stories and characters which will be of use to anyone who’s working in and around the intersection of creating narratives.
  • The Intelligence of Bodies: The latest high-profile ‘we got AI to finish this thing!’ project from the arts was the completion of Beethoven’s Xth symphony, left incomplete at the time of his demise other than notes and fragments, and now reconstituted from said fragments (and a hefty dose of training on the old Ludvig Van corpus) by machine intelligence. This essay examines the question not only of quality but of feel – does the resulting work fit within the Beethoven canon? Can it stand shoulder-to-shoulder with the composer’s own work (spoiler: it cannot)? – and posits the interesting central premise that anything purporting to be art requires a degree of creatorial corporeality to truly attain that status. Which is fascinating to me, but which also led me to a slightly-feverish imagining of a near-future in which we vat-grow brain tissue in order to provide a physical meatvessel for future AIs to inhabit, which I am now convinced is the future and which has freaked me right out.
  • My Father The Hitman: What if you knew your dad was a bit of a crook, but always thought that he was more lovable rogue than cold-blooded killer…and then he died, and you started to learn things? What if you discovered that there was an FBI file this thick all about your old man and his movements and his accomplices? What would you think if you learned that the person who you remember as an occasional childhood presence was remembered by others as a man not to be fcuked with on pain of painful, explosive death? James Dolan tells the story of discovering some unexpected truths about his dad and the life he lived – this is a wonderful series of stories, beautifully-told.
  • The Metaphysics of the Hangover: One of the ‘benefits’ of being in Rome is that I am drinking a fraction of the amount I would be in the UK – upsettingly, though, I am feeling literally NONE of the benefits one might have hoped for from this (I am still ugly, my skin is not noticeably better, and I still feel like sh1t in the mornings – I am going RIGHT BACK ON THE METHS). This article, about the idea of the ‘hangover’ and its various interpretations, from the booze hangover to the hangover from a failed relationship, is wonderful – erudite and interesting and entertaining. It reminded me both of one of my favourite quotes about hangovers (“Alcohol crapulence clogs perception, but drug crapulence flays it, and by now the kitchen was a noisome feast for peeled senses.”), and made me think that much of what the author describes here as being the symptoms of a hangover can also be usefully applied to the very particular feelings of regret at a Bad Post. Digital hangovers feel very much like something worth exploring imho.
  • Rice, Fat, Meat, Streets:On Biryani in Karachi, and the different ways in which it is made and the different cultures it represents and, honestly, if you can read this to the end and not want an absolutely massive curry then you are a stronger person than I. I’ve read loads of excellent writing about Pakistan (Karachi specifically) this year, and this piece is up there with the best of them as a picture of a city and how its culture and history is reflected in its food.
  • You Are Joe Cole: I never really feature writing about football in here, but I will make an exception for this superb piece by Sam Diss. Joe Cole was regularly touted as the most naturally-gifted footballer England has ever produced – this piece tells his early story, when he was still at West Ham and breaking into the first team, and captures perfectly the register and tone used by a certain type of person when they talk about football and the weird sense of thwarted fulfilment that fans will always feel when they look back at the career that Cole had vs the career it was imagined he could have, back when he was the kid with all the potential with English football at his feet. This made me unaccountably sad, but in a nice way (if that makes sense), and is SUCH an uncommonly-good piece of football writing.
  • If Your Dreams Don’t Scare You: Finally this week, a heartstoppingly-good piece of writing by Joni Tevis, about being young and in university and rituals and men and growing up and and and. Honestly, this is superb – read the opening and then click through and enjoy the whole thing: “I don’t remember what they called that night. Someone drove us to a house off campus. Someone blindfolded us. Someone lined us up around the perimeter of a pool. They made us practice fundamentals—low mark time (heel up, toes down), high mark time (up to the knee), glide step (dig in the heel, turn up the toe). There was a girl ahead of me in line. I couldn’t see her, but I knew she was there.  We were in college marching band together, and there were thirty-five people in our section. Maybe eight of us were new. I tried to think how I would describe this moment, first to myself, then to someone else: that the air pressed in, humid and hot. That the pool’s cement edge warmed the soles of my feet. That layers of white tissue bandaged my eyes.”

By Robin F Williams

AND NOW, MOVING PICTURES AND SOUNDS!:

Webcurios 15/10/21

Reading Time: 34 minutes

Hi everyone! Hi! Welcome back to Web Curios, which this week is eschewing the traditional ‘vaguely topical introparagraph’ in favour of just getting straight on with the links and stuff because, well, I’ve had a long week, you’ve had a long week, and I don’t for a second imagine that any of you subscribe to this to read three of four paragraphs of ‘funny’ prose about how everything is a terrible and terrifying mess.

I am still Matt, this is still Web Curios, and you are, I imagine, practically tumescent with anticipation at what’s to come.

By Rinko Kawauchi

WE KICK OFF THIS WEEK WITH A STAGGERINGLY-GOOD JUNGLE MIX BY JOE MUGGS WHICH, HONESTLY, YOU REALLY SHOULD LISTEN TO!

THE SECTION WHICH IS CURRENTLY OBSESSED WITH FINDING A USE-CASE WHICH MAKES ‘TIMESTACK’ A VIABLE WORD, PT.1:

  • GoldenNFT: I have, I know, spend a large part of this year making fun of NFT projects in here, but am happy to hold my hands up and admit that I have finally found one that I think is…quite good (Don’t worry, though, all the others in here are treated with the usual disdain, I’ve not become one of them)! GoldenNFT is an art project which takes as its starting point the depressing fact that a European visa is often available to people rich enough to buy one, often through the means of ‘investing in a country’ – people with a lump-sum to spare can purchase their way to residency in a number of European countries of their choice, options that are usually unavailable to your common or garden refugee seeking safe haven. GoldenNFT will use an NFT auction to raise money to pay this buy-in for refugees in need – “On the 20th of October at 8pm (CET), we will be offering a collection of 5555 NFTs for individual sale. Among these works are the 16 originals that can be seen here on the site. The remaining 5539 works are collectibles that our script has made based on the originals. The sale of the individual works takes place covertly – anyone who buys an NFT does not know beforehand which one it is…With the first sale of our collection we buy a Golden Visa for a family from Afghanistan. All proceeds go towards the purchase of the Golden Visas, and the artists have donated their works. From each resale of the works we receive 15%, which we also use completely for the purchase of the next Golden Visas.” I love this – it exposes the NFT craze for what it in part is (a raffle – buy enough tickets and YOU TOO might chance upon something that the cryptotwats decide to send TO THE MOON!), it makes use of the medium’s unique properties (resale revenues to the artist), and it will be a neat test of what the famed ‘NFT community’ is really like and what it’s really about. Willing to show the same mad desire to throw six-figure sums at jpegs when it’s less about encouraging others to buy-in and more about getting money to deserving causes? Let’s…let’s see, shall we?
  • Star Atlas: Whilst the previous link is probably the most high-minded NFT project I’ve seen to date, Star Atlas definitely feels like the shiniest. From the landing page, which seemingly invites you to, er, zoom into a gigantic space anus (look, sorry, but it does look a bit like that), to the nicely-designed scroll animations throughout, promising you a WORLD OF ADVENTURE, this feels like a slightly-higher-end grift than, I don’t know, CryptoNorks or something (NB – I just made up ‘CryptoNorks’, but the very fact that it sounds plausible doesn’t speak highly of the whole scene imho). It’s…it’s quite hard to work out what it’s all about, mind, but as far as I can tell Star Atlas is a forthcoming space exploration and trading and shooting game – not unlike massively-multiplayer online spreadsheet simulator EVE Online – which will allow players to exist and flourish in a digitally-created universe (can we all say ‘metaverse’? WE CAN!) and (and this is the bit that the creators seem most excited about) buy and sell goods with real-world value! There’s a second website which you can access here and which is a little bit better at giving you an idea of the game’s eventual mechanics (not much, mind) – 99% of the focus here appears to be on the buying and selling of digital gewgaws, from ships to goods to weapons to missions, which, I have to say, doesn’t fill me with anticipation. It’s…quite hard to work out what this actually is or how it is going to work, but judging by all the high-end CG in the trailer there’s a reasonable amount of cash behind all this. Whether or not there’s a game actually underpinning all this is…uncertain, and I’m personally not convinced that this isn’t going to disappear without a trace, but I will obviously eat my words when you’re all cryptobillionaire space captains or something.
  • The CNN Vault: Would you like to buy an NFT of some news footage? If so, and you live in the US, GREAT! CNN has leapt onto the NFT bandwagon with the launch of Vault, a service whereby it’s selling videoclips of ‘moments that changed us’ (imagine that line being read out in the gravelliest America voiceover accent ever) (also, I bet their definition of ‘moments that changed us’ is…skewed; I mean, you could argue with quite some conviction that Columbine changed America in reasonably significant ways, but I’m going to go out on a limb here and suggest that they’re not going to be flogging clips of that particular rolling news event). This has been going for a little while, apparently, meaning they are now on ‘drop’ (no, please, stop) 5, which is a selection of clips of moments of significance in US LGBT history – is…is this good? Is this a good way of commemorating and celebrating the progress made in gay rights, by paying CNN $250 for a 1/1000-edition of a fcuking mpeg? IS IT? I mean, you can ‘display your purchases on your CNN Vault Page’ which is quite some draw, I’ll admit, but it doesn’t feel like a significant commemoration of history. At the time of writing, CNN has sold 53 of the edition of 1000, which on the one hand is over $10k that CNN didn’t previously have but on the other suggests that anyone thinking they are going to ride, I don’t know, some footage of the Stonewall riots TO THE MOON is possibly due for a disappointment.
  • Discover NFTs: Don’t worry, we’re nearly done with this week’s crop of non-fungible idiocy – this link, though, is a gift that really keeps on giving. Discover NFTs is another portal which tracks new NFT projects as they launch, and which is my new favourite overview of the ‘boundless creativity’ being unleashed by this ‘new paradigm’ in artistic expression. What does ‘boundless creativity’ mean? It means, apparently, a seemingly-infinite parade of poorly-drawn avatars which their creators are trying to turn into A Thing – you have hornets and minotaurs and dear God no please. If you want more of this stuff – and who doesn’t?!1111eleventy – then you might also enjoy this Twitter account, which shares some of the best new NFT projects out there with exactly the sort of awe which they merit. I think my favourite (not favourite), though, has to be Imaginary Girlfriends. No, really, these are investments.
  • Telephonic Youth: I don’t ordinarily worry too much about link placement and, er, ‘flow’ in Curios, but on this occasion it felt important to follow up all that NFT nonsense (it’s lines like that that are going to come back and bite me when you’re all swanning around with your 7-figure avatars, isn’t it? ffs) with something rather more analogue. Telephonic Youth is a joint project between Southampton University and the BT Archives which is aiming to collect memories and recollections of the role of the telephone in the lives of young people in the 80s and 90s – specifically, “how young people accessed phones, the experience of children’s phone use at that time, and how it was imagined. This project uses a range of methods – archival research, arts methods, crowd-sourced research and oral history interviews – to uncover this recent history and trace the importance of phones in children’s lives in this era.” I am obviously PRIME fodder for this, as someone who grew up during the 1980s and 90s and spent about an hour on the phone after school every evening (astonishing to think of, really, given that now I would rather sew my ears shut than subject myself to any sort of telephonic interaction lasting more than about 10s), but even those of you who treat landlines with the suspicion they probably deserve (why SHOULD anyone have the ability to ring a really loud bell in my house whenever they want? MADNESS) might find something interesting in here. The project is starting with collecting stories from the Southampton area, but hopes to grow to encompass the country as a whole – except, er, it doesn’t seem to have any submissions yet. So if you’re a middle-aged person in the Southampton area (I happen to know at least one of you is), then maybe spend 5m contributing your memories of, I don’t know, prank-calling random numbers by shouting “NONCE!” down the phone at them and then hanging up (look, I was young).
  • Useful Unknown Websites: I know I occasionally say this, but this link really is worth bookmarking – a wonderful Reddit thread in which users list their recommendations for ‘websites that you wish more people knew about’ and (aside from the puzzling failure of anyone to include Web Curios – anyone would think no fcuker knows that this exists!) which contains links from the sublime to the useful to the utterly ridiculous. Honestly, there are HUNDREDS of links in here, each of them wonderful in their own way and many of which have been featured in Curios over the past decade or so (but many more which have not). Seriously, this is SO SO USEFUL – aside from the timewasting stuff, there are links in here to all sorts of free software resources and browser tools (image and video editors, online libraries, training courses) which are all reasonably-easy to find with a bit of ctrl+fing. Oh, and there’s also stuff like this – a collection of the worst musical MP3s on the web. ALL OF HUMAN LIFE IS HERE. Or at least a small slice of it – human life is vast and blubbery and unknowable in its immense hugeness, but this at least lets you take a small flesh sample for study (so to speak).
  • Just The Punctuation: I confess that I am occasionally surprised as to which links will do the rounds in a given week – I hadn’t, for example, expected that this little tool, which will strip out the letters from any text you feed it, leaving you only with the punctuation, the grammatical skeleton which supports the meat of your prose, would capture people’s imagination to the extent that it has been everywhere this week. Still, if you’re yet to see it then it’s a neat little trick and there’s something stylistically-fascinating about being able to quickly see an individual author’s preferences and quirks when it comes to, I don’t know, semicolons vs dashes. I chucked a couple of editions of Curios in there and it taught me that a) I really, really oversuse brackets, to the point that I have no fcuking idea how any of you keep track of which nested ‘argument’ is being tortuously outlined at any given moment and I am SORRY for that; b) long texts produce lovely punctuation trails, and I can imagine that there’s something rather nice about your favourite novel rendered solely in its commas, full-stops and ellipses as a piece of wall art. There’s some explanation by creator Clive Thompson about the ‘why’ behind this, which you can read here if you so desire – try it with some writing you care about, you’ll be surprised how interested you are in the results.
  • Sheep Films: Rob Manuel’s long-running digiLOLs website B3ta has produced some genuine UK superstars in recent years – actual, proper film director Ben Wheatley was a B3tan, as is leg-enthusiast animator Cyriak Harris – but one long-standing contributor who I remember from the early-00s (when refreshing the B3ta boards was one of the few coping strategies I had for ‘being a junior lobbyist’) who I never thought quite got the recognition they deserved was a bloke who made looping videos under the name of Sheep. Their work was always simple, very funny and perfectly executed – and now, pleasingly, there’s a bunch of their work up on Giphy which you can peruse to your heart’s content and use in your messages. These are small but absolutely wonderful – Sheep properly gets what makes a good looping gif gag, and the execution is in every instance pretty much perfect. Honestly, someone hire this person for your digital content factory, they are ACE.
  • Deep Fried Web: The next few links are going to cause me a small amount of pain to write – I don’t like featuring multiple things by the same people in one edition, but those annoying fcukers at MSCHF have released a whole bunch of stuff at once (or I just haven’t paid attention to them for a while and misse a load of good new ish) and I now feel compelled to tell you all about it. The first is Deep Fried Web – a Chrome plugin which you can install to give any website you visit that deep fried aesthetic of a jpeg that’s been compressed to within an inch of its life and has lost almost all of its image fidelity and which can reasonably be described as ‘a challenging w4nk’. Largely-pointless other than for the aesthetics (which are everything, amirite?), but I reckon you can probably use this to convince at least three ‘scared of the internet’ type people you work with that your company website has been hacked.
  • Endless Enya: MSCHF link number 2! This is a site which uses some sort of rudimentary code to produce an ever-looping Enya song. You may not think you want this, but I have had this open for about 15m now in the background and am currently so zen that I might void myself through an excess of relaxed comfort.
  • Bootleg Miquela: MSCHF link number 3! They’ve made all the assets for virtual influencer Lil Miquela available for download – from the full body renders to jpegs, to (as far as I can tell – I confess I haven’t downloaded the full 1gb pack of assets because, well, I don’t really know what I would do with them) – for you to do with as you wish. Want to put Lil Miquela in your own weird 3d CG animated short? GREAT! Want to use her to endorse your clubnight (and has that sentence made me sound as old as I think it has)? EVEN BETTER! I would quite like to see Miquela combined with the sort of advertising you see at these types of arms fairs, just for kicks – can someone make that happen please? Thanks!
  • Stolen Stories: MSCHF link number 4! This is my favourite of the lot – Stolen Stories is such a smart little idea (not the first of its type that I’ve seen, but I’m surprised that there haven’t been more services that let you download vertical video snippets for inclusion in your Stories) which rips footage taken by fancy people from fancy restaurants (in the US, so places like Alinea and the like) and makes it available for download so anyone in the world can get the thrill of being able to performatively-demonstrate their gustatory plutocracy for the ‘gram. There’s a manifesto on the page, about the ‘democratisation of clout’, which is all well and good, but, honestly, my main thought here was quite how perfect this is for ripping off from a brand POV.
  • This Sneaker Does Not Exist: Yes, I know, websites featuring stuff that doesn’t exist are SO 2019. Still, I rather liked this one –  as with all of its ilk, the selection of trainers here presented has been heavily curated so as to present the best ones, but even given that caveat it’s impressive the extent to which each of these look like it could be on sale right now (and significantly better than anything ‘designed’ by Kanye West over the past 5 years). Add ‘footwear designer’ to the list of professions which will be eviscerated by the advent of AI – not for the rich, obvs, you’ll still want your artisanal Choos, but the idea of paying actual people to design your $7 bottom-end footwear? Never again.
  • Rock Paper Scissors Deluxe Edition: A Kickstarter, just over halfway there with a month to go, looking to raise funds for the creation of an updated version of the classic game for 2021. You know what’s been holding rock, paper, scissors back? After all, it’s not the gameplay mechanic – a staggering number of videogames are at heart just RPS. Seriously – Pokemon? Rock, paper, scissors. Every single fighting game ever made after Street Fighter 2? Rock, paper, scissor (I believe this very strongly to be true and will fight you if you disagree, fwiw). No, it’s the presentation – which is why this set will, if funded, drag the game KICKING AND SCREAMING into modernity with an ACTUAL ROCK and some ACTUAL SCISSORS and, er, some golden paper. It’s a joke, obviously, but I admire their commitment to the bit (the Kickstarter video on the page is genuinely funny, in a sort of dad-ish way).
  • Slapchat: It’s a shame that this exists only for Google Meet, the least-loved of all the videochat solutions out there (why is that?), but if you happen to use it as your professional videoconferencing platform of choice then you could have some fun with Slapchat. The deal here is that Slapchat is a plugin which enables anyone who has it installed to see images, gifs and animations which users can overlay onto a videochat screen – which will be invisible to those who don’t have the plugin. So, for example, all your HYPERCOOL WORK FRIENDS can laugh as you place, I don’t know, a gigantic pair of reindeer antlers on your boss at the company meeting! Or googly eyes on that w4nker from sales! Obviously these examples are incredibly lame, but Snapchat is a relatively gentle tool – I encourage those of you who like this idea to build our own version which instead lets you place libellous speech bubbles next to people’s faces, or allows you to make believe that your video interlocutors  are all engaged in some sort of coprophiliac snacktime (sorry).
  • Bananas: “Banana Craze is the first major study of how a natural resource such as the banana has shaped the past and the present of a continent, and how this phenomena finds expression through culture. Banana Craze brings together almost 100 pieces of contemporary Latin American artists in which the banana is the main feature. Starting with Cuban photographer Raúl Corrales and his 1960 piece Caballería (The Cavalry), in which a group of men ride on horseback celebrating the revolutionary government’s expropriation of United Fruit Company plantations, Banana Craze stretches to the present day and will continue progressing into the future. An artistic, cultural and philosophical approach is used to analyse these pieces and to allow a greater understanding of how the mass cultivation of bananas contributed to the growth of social inequality in Latin America, changing traditional ways of life and transforming the landscape and environment of the region. Not to mention how the banana trade contributed to the formation of xenophobic, racist, and sexist stereotypes of local inhabitants.” I love this – not only because of the subject matter, which is fascinating (I have a bit of a thing for stories the ways in which small objects are analogues for larger questions – is this an opportunity for me to correctly use the word ‘synecdoche’? I don’t know, I’ve never tried before, do let me know if I got it right), but also because of the way it’s set out – it doesn’t attempt to ‘be a gallery’, it knows it’s a website and leans into that, and as a result it’s far more pleasant to navigate through than other galleries which attempt to make the exhibition ‘more immersive’ or ‘more digital’. Also, there’s some great stuff in there – I love this photo, for example.
  • Twisted Tug’s: “Twisted Tug’s Studio is your source for custom, hand-made, horror dolls and collectibles. These dolls are hand sculpted, no molds, and not mass produced. Each creation is a unique, one-of-a-kind work of art.” Honestly, these are HORRID, well done the person making them.
  • The Infinity Saga: Do you LOVE the MCU? Do you wish, though, that there were a way for you to experience every single moment of the films in chronological order rather than as a series of distinct narrative experiences? WHY? THAT SOUNDS FCUKING AWFUL! Still, thanks to the magic of the web and online fandoms – it will never cease to amaze me the amount of work people will put in to this sort of stuff, seriously – now you can! You have to get in touch with this specific bloke on Reddit, fine, and ask him to torrent you the files, but apparently there now exists a 50-hour cut of the whole Avenger’s saga where every scene has been cut into exact chronological order. Will it make the films better? Unlikely! Will it make any sense whatsoever? Improbable! And yet, it exists. The web for you, in a microcosm.

By Nina Bunjevac

NEXT UP, AN HOUR OF AFROHOUSE MIXED BY JACK ROOSTER!

THE SECTION WHICH IS CURRENTLY OBSESSED WITH FINDING A USE-CASE WHICH MAKES ‘TIMESTACK’ A VIABLE WORD, PT.2:

  • Saturday Night Live Intros: Saturday Night Live is a US institution which I confess to always having been baffled by and which thanks to the web has now attained a degree of global renown that seems entirely out-of-proportion with how good it is – I know it’s been responsible for launching lots of impressive careers, but I don’t think I’ve ever seen any clips from it that have caused me to do more than raise a vaguely-amused eyebrow (two nations divided by a language, etc etc). Still, one thing it has always been famed for is the diversity of musical acts it showcases – and thanks to Daniel Craig, the fact that said acts are always introduced by a famous is now also A Thing. This Twitter account shares clips of acts being introduced by a rolling cast of said famous over the years – so if you’re aching to see what it would be like to see, I don’t know, Donald Trump cueing up Jack Johnson (yes, that was a thing), or Martha Steward introducing Slipknot (this may not in fact have happened), then this will be right up your street.
  • Adobe Sucks Scrotum: Does anyone like Adobe? No, they do not (this is borne out by having known a few people who worked there who all hated the company just as much as the rest of us appear to ), which is why this little site is such a joy. Want to get all the benefits of Adobe products without giving any of your hard-earned cash to the bandits? Then use this link to find all of the open-source non-Adobe visual tools you could hope for, from video editing to image editing to post-production. Includes loads of tools you will have heard of – Blender, etc – and loads you won’t, and will hopefully mean that you will never have to pay money to those miserable bstards ever again. NO WE WILL NOT ACCEPT THAT PHOTOSHOP IS A TRADEMARK YOU FCUKS.
  • Hollywood Age Gap: It feels like this is getting better, but it’s fair to say that the history of cinema in the 20th Century (and some of the early-21st) was characterised by relationships in which there was often a…questionable age difference between the male and female party. This site collects the most egregious examples of this and sets them out quite baldly – I confess to never having really noticed most of these, partly due to not being a cinephile, but when you see them pointed out…well, wow. Woody Allen, as you’d expect, features heavily here, but did you know that there’s a 30 year agegap between Arnie and his love interest in Kindergarten Cop? Blimey, Arnold.
  • Cripple Media: This is GREAT. Cripple Media “is the first-ever media company where young disabled creatives can shift the lens disabled people are viewed — into something more honest, accurate, impactful, and youthful…At its heart, Cripple Media is striving to train and center young disabled media professionals to lead conversations in mainstream media. With that being said, Cripple is entirely self-funded, and it is our intention to continue on and expand for seasons to come. And most importantly, we believe that young disabled creatives deserve to get paid.”  Featuring articles by and for young people with disabilities, this is a pleasingly clear-eyed and unsentimental resource for information and lifestyle material aimed at people who are still not served as well by the mainstream as they might reasonably-hope – I am a big fan of the name, too, fwiw.
  • Kara Singer: Thanks Shardcore for sending this my way – Kara Singer is the name given to the ‘vocalist’ in this AI project, which is experimenting with the creation of AI-generated melodies for imagined voices. What that means in practice that the webpage here linked presents a selection of lines which are vocalised by AI and which attempt to ‘invent’ melodies for said lines – so you can hear the machine’s attempt to create a tune within which to fit the lyrics to ‘Don’t Stop Believing’, say. It’s INTENSELY odd – these are almost tunes but not quite, just nestled in an aural uncanny valley which I hadn’t ever really known existed before – and whilst they obviously don’t work at all as things you might actually want to listen to, they work very well as scary precursors to a time in which our songs are lyrically and sonically AI-determined; I give it…~3 years before an AI has a cowriting credit on a number one single.
  • Typographic Posters: Via Present & Correct (as I’ve said previously, the best social media account belonging to a stationery retailer IN THE WORLD), “typo/graphic posters is a platform for inspiration and promotion of good design through the poster culture. It focus exclusively on typographical and graphical posters, those that challenge type, colors and shapes to express a message. each poster is reviewed to meet a standard in visual qualities and functional efforts.” SUCH a great resource for designers looking for inspiration, and very much worth bookmarking if this is your sort of thing.
  • Seeing Pastoralism: A wonderful series of pieces of…what? Documentary journalism, I suppose, and ethnographic research, focused on the concept of ‘pastoralism’ in Europe and looking at how that concept is differently-characterised in various countries worldwide. So you can explore the links between people and land in Sardinia, Kenya, Tunisia, India and elsewhere, with photography and writing, all presented as a series of rich visual essays – this is SO nicely done, not only in terms of content but in terms of presentation, and is one of those fantastic projects that makes a hitherto-uninteresting (to me, at least) area of study suddenly fascinating. Another excellent example of how to present information in an exhibition-y way online with minimal fuss whilst still rendering it accessible and engaging.
  • Platoon Aviation: One of those occasional links that I include less because of the webwork and more because it offers a brief glimpse into a world that most of us are unlikely to ever experience (perhaps I’m getting my demographics wrong here, but i am reasonably confident that noone reading this is in a position whereby the renting of a private jet is a regular occurrence). Platoon Aviation offers private jet rental on a 24h basis, and this site sets out all the reasons why you might want to spend 5-6 figures on hiring your own personal leather-interiored pleasurevessel. What’s fascinating to me is what they consider to be the selling points – there’s a lot of stuff about cargo space and they mention ‘moving house’, and they REALLY want to make it clear that these jets are good at getting to ‘remote and hard-to-access airports worldwide’ and…this is absolutely a service for plutocrats looking to get their family out to the secret island bunker before the revolutionary mob arrives with the pitchforks and torches, isn’t it? Come on, seriously, click the link and tell me that this doesn’t sound IMMENSELY criminal (also, and I know that this is an opinion coloured by the fact that I have been living in Rome for 5 months now and that regional racism in Italy is very much A Thing, the fact that they have Naples as one of their homepage ‘we fly from…’ locations does rather scream ‘the provider of choice for organised crime!’ to my mind).
  • Here Comes The Sun: In anticipation of the heavily-trailed new Beatles doc that’s coming out imminently, have this lovely piece of creative coding by Brazilian developer Márcio Ribeiro, which algorithmically visualises the most lovable of all the Beatles’ songs (don’t @ me, it’s true – also, this was four-year-old me’s favourite piece of music IN THE WORLD) – this is very soothing indeed.
  • Wildlife Photographer of the Year: You know the drill by now – the Natural History Museum in London has once again announced the finalists and winners in each category in its annual contest to celebrate the best of the world’s wildlife photography, and once again the resulting imagery is fantastic. The bloodied lioness, the TERRIFYING BRAZILIAN UNDERBED SPIDER, the bat being nursed back to health…click and lose your heart to one of the many beautiful critters here displayed.
  • Cloud Index: One of two links this week lifted wholesale from Giuseppe Sollazzo’s weekly dataviz newsletter (which I have mentioned here before, but which really is worth subscribing to as it’s regularly filled with properly interesting stuff which I simply don’t see elsewhere), this is the Cloud Index, a project by one Jonas Fischer which self-describes as “a growing online archive that collects and presents cloud imagery of fossil fuel combustion sites. Since September 2020, I have been photographing the skies above power plants, industrial facilities and other greenhouse gas emitters. Even beyond the end of fossil fuel use, their consequences will continue to shape humanity and its environment for the unforeseeable future: While the clouds in the sky will have long since faded, the impact of emissions and the resulting damage will be far greater than we can imagine today…This visual contribution makes the supposedly invisible destruction visible, puts it in the context of facts and offers a new way of looking at clouds that sees ourselves as part of a global problem.” There’s something quite darkly-beautiful about the juxtaposition of the inherent loveliness of cloud formations and the industrial processes which are creating said formations in the first place – also, has any of the seemingly-infinite number of tedious tech companies currently peddling ‘cloud-based solutions’ done any environmentalCSR stuff around actual clouds? Seems like an easy win, no?
  • Hash AI: The second link from Mr Sollazzo this week is this service which is designed to let people build digital simulations of real-world systems and processes for modeling purposes (‘digital twins’, if you will) – this is free and seemingly rather powerful, but even if you don’t have need of it yourself the site presents a bunch of examples of how others have used the software which are honestly fascinating. I never thought I would be the sort of person who is interested in watching a digital simulation of rainfall, or of robots stacking shelves, and yet it appears that is exactly who I am become. If you want a quick way of understanding how digital twin technology works and what it can do, this is a useful place to start – and if you’re interested in modeling your own data, it seems properly useful.
  • The Checkmark Webcam: Proof that you can create pixels out of anything, this little webtoy uses your webcam to create images made out of checkboxes. You may not have thought when you woke up today that what you really wanted was a representation of your face rendered in low-res ‘pixels’ made from html checkboxes, but it turns out that past you was an idiot and knows NOTHING about your deepest desires. I think there’s a gimmick in here for a dating app – you get videochat access with anyone you match with, but until you’ve logged a certain number of minutes talking to each other your view of your interlocutor is pixelated in this fashion – it’s only by accruing time as ‘a good conversationalist’ that you get to heighten the resolution and see what the person you’re chatting to actually looks like. As a bonus, it would make it quite hard for anyone to flash their d1ck in any meaningful way, which as Chatroulette foretold is the main issue with any sort of online videochat between strangers.
  • Abduction: Not quite sure why this exists other than for its creator to demonstrate that they could, but here’s a little in-browser toygame which lets you imagine that you’re an alien spacecraft engaged in a little bit of light person-harvesting over the topography of an unnamed landmass. Move yourself around the landscape using your tractor beam to hoover up the unsuspecting hominids from the hills and valleys below – you can’t, sadly, then choose to rectally probe them, but I presume that that will be coming in release 2.0.
  • Papapal: Very much the sort of web project that is, I often think, born out of a fundamentally-positive but equally-misguided understanding of human nature, Papapal is an epistolary language-learning service which offers you the opportunity to hone your foriegn language writing skills by pairing you with another person who also wants to communicate in a specific language, the idea being that you will improve your skills by entering into penpal-ish correspondence. It’s a GREAT idea in theory, whose success rests entirely on a) everyone involved having the stamina to keep the correspondence going, not a given considering the likely-clunking nature of the prose you’ll be employing; b) it not being overtaken by men (it is always men) who think that everything online is, at heart, an opportunity for them to get laid. Still, it’s free and could be an interesting way of meeting new people to practice your Tagalog with – Web Curios as ever accepts no responsibility for the horrorshows of humanity you may end up encountering as a result of your desire for linguistic self-improvement.
  • Temp Mail: A super-easy way of getting a quick burner email address, which may be of use if you sign up to the service above and want to make sure that the sex language men can’t follow you around for the rest of your natural life.
  • The Walk of Life Project: The site’s hypothesis is simple – Dire Straits’ song ‘The Walk of Life’ is the perfect song to close any film, and this applies to every single movie ever made. It’s hard to argue looking at the assembled clips here – try telling me that ‘The Shawshank Redemption’ isn’t infinitely-improved by having Mark Knopfler noodling over the top of it and I will tell you you are WRONG, repeatedly.
  • What Does A Million Pennies Look Like?: Just in case you’ve ever been curious, this person has done the hard maths and visualisation. Beautifully, and for reasons known only to them, they have added some bonus content at the end which goes on to theorise about what a similar volume of cows would look like – if you’ve ever been curious as to the visual impact of a million-strong bovine horde appearing on the horizon then this website will answer a lot of questions for you.
  • A Very Long Baguette: Finally in the grab-bag of miscellania this week is this fun little game which sees you playing the part of a pair of bakers who need to move an unfeasibly-long baguette through an equally-unfeasibly mazelike restaurant. It’s simple, but the controls are rather fun – you control each of the bakers separately, making the whole thing abit like the game equivalent of patting your head and rubbing your tummy at the same time. Alternatively you can also play it as a two-player co-op, presuming you have someone nearby who you like enough to sit VERY CLOSE TOGETHER as you share a keyboard. Were we back in the olden days of working in an office, this is the sort of thing that could perhaps lead to a burgeoning workplace romance (“How did you meet?” “We shared a keyboard and one thing led to another” is definitely one of the more romantic relationship origin stories it’s possible to imagine, right? RIGHT???).

By Sayuri Ichida

LAST UP IN THIS WEEK’S MIXES, RELAX WITH THIS DOWNTEMPO MIX OF CHILLED PSYCHEDELIA WHICH IS AN ABSOLUTELY PERFECT ACCOMPANIMENT TO SOME LONGREADS WHICH ARE CONVENIENTLY COMING UP SHORTLY!

THE CIRCUS OF TUMBLRS IS SADLY EMPTY THIS WEEK AND I DO NOT KNOW IF IT WILL EVER RETURN ALTHOUGH I AM AWARE THAT I HAVE SAID THIS BEFORE AND SO I LIVE IN HOPE!  

THE TROUGH OF (INSTA) FEEDS!

  • Parker S Jackson: SPOOKY ART. Witches and apparitions and incubi and oh me oh my! Seeing as Hallowe’en’s coming up (not that you’d know here – Italy really doesn’t do Hallowe’en like the anglo nations, for which I lay blame squarely at the feet of those PRUDES at the Vatican) this feels appropriate.
  • Small Woodland Things: On the one hand, this is almost-unbearably twee – GOBLINCORE! COTTAGECORE! ALL THE ARBOREAL AESTHETICS! – but on the other, well, it is autumn and who doesn’t love some beautiful photos of mushrooms shot from above? NO FCUKER, that’s who!:

LONG THINGS WHICH ARE LONG!:

  • The Four Dirty C-Words of the Internet: I’ve long railed against the ubiquity of the word ‘content’ and the fact that referring to what we make as such does nothing but devalue and flatten creative output into one single monetisable layer of grey nothingness – this piece takes that idea and runs with it, adding another three terms to the Bad Lexicon of online existence. ‘Content’, ‘Community’, ‘Culture’ and ‘Creator’ are all here unpacked and examined and found wanting by Paul Jun in this excellent essay which explains why these terms are not only insufficient to describe the things we make, but why they are A Bad Thing in terms of said things being valued and how, in fact, by using them we’re complicit in the reduction of creative work to nothing but another cog in the infinitely-grinding capitalist machine. Er, comrades.
  • Amplified Propaganda: An interesting essay examining how the use of promoted narratives has shifted thanks to the advent of social media, and how we ought now to think of the concept; the author offers the concept of ‘ampliganda’ as a new term to distinguish from more traditional propaganda, which “presumes that governments, authority figures, institutions, and mass media are forcing ideas on regular people from the top down. But more and more, the opposite is happening. Far from being merely a target, the public has become an active participant in creating and selectively amplifying narratives that shape realities. Perhaps the best word for this emergent bottom-up dynamic is one that doesn’t exist quite yet: ampliganda, the shaping of perception through amplification. It can originate from an online nobody or an onscreen celebrity. No single person or organization bears responsibility for its transmission. And it is having a profound effect on democracy and society.” Leaving aside the slightly-hyperbolic final line there, this is a good piece of writing which neatly-articulates something which has long felt true but which I’ve not seen explained this cogently before.
  • Google and Big News: I’ve mentioned here before how Google’s evolution from ‘search engine’ to ‘platform which wants to know what you want to know before you know you want to know it’ has made its core product significantly worse than it use to be – a trend which is only going to continue as the company continues using AI to ‘better’ interpret our wants. This piece looks at Google’s plans to move into breaking news – “the proposed feature aims to spotlight and provide more historical context about important events, from health crises and terrorism to entertainment and sporting events, as they unfold. It would go beyond the types of news articles and tweets Google currently shows in its search results by highlighting the most authoritative facts about a specific event in real time, such as death and injury counts, and updating them as new information emerges.” This is hugely-significant for a number of reasons – first, it doesn’t sound like great news for publishers whose readers will have one less reason to click through when they can get all the relevant facts from Google directly; and secondly, there is a LOT of tricky stuff inherent in deciding on source validity, etc, when pulling this sort of info which feels very much like the sort of questions that digital businesses have traditionally struggled with (see Facebook’s multiple experiments with news for examples).
  • Substack: Now that Substack has been A Thing for a while, and now it’s starting to evolve its business model further by getting people like Salman Rushdie onboard to serialise novels through it, it’s time for the latest round of assessment pieces on the business, its model, and how it is CHANGING JOURNALISM AND PUBLISHING FOREVER. This article, in Fortune, is a reasonably level-headed assessment of how the company is doing and how it is serving the writers who use it – there’s a lot of quite bullish chat in here focusing on the people who are making a killing using a subscription model, but it also acknowledges that the vast majority of people attempting to monetise their writing using the platform are making the square root of fcuk all and that the CREATOR ECONOMY is perhaps not quite as equally-distributed as we might have been promised.
  • Amazon’s Six-Page Memo: One of the things that everyone seems to know about Amazon’s working culture is the insistence of making all ideas be presented in six-page written documents rather than on slides, the idea being that it forces people to think more about what they are proposing by demanding that they articulate it in longform. This article by Tim Carmody details the process and why it works, and whilst I couldn’t give two fcuks about Amazon per se, as someone with a natural aversion to slides and who still insists on writing everything out in Word this provided a wonderful degree of assurance as to why I AM RIGHT and everyone else who puts things into slides straight away is stupid and wrong.
  • Smooth Operator: Or ‘why are there all these touchscreen devices in airports and who uses them?’, or even ‘the semiotics of technology in liminal spaces’ (but probably not the latter as even I have limits) – this is a great piece of writing which captures something I had never really thought of before but which now I have read this piece seems self-evident. “The enduring presence of touchscreens in modern life is explained by their status as highly observable stand-ins for progress. Designers of spaces seeking to mark sophistication feel compelled to create some monument to technology — iPad stations, or interactive urban kiosks. These screens are vessels that manifest our connectivity to the immense technological competence of the era, and provide a sense of physicality — something to touch.” Well quite.
  • Feeling, In Situ: This is SO interesting – Elitsa Dermendzhiyska writes in Aeon about the commonly-held Western belief that emotions are in some way universally-experienced – that there is a universal concept of ‘happy’, say, or ‘sad’ that can be communicated via facial expressions – and how recent research has suggested that this in fact this isn’t the case and that emotions may well be culturally determined, and that as such much of the way in which we conceive of and use emotion in Western culture and thought has perhaps been ‘wrong’. There’s loads of truly fascinating stuff in here with adjacencies in AI and art and communication and EVERYTHING, and I felt slightly-dizzied by it, in the best possible way.
  • How Deep Mind Is Reinventing the Robot: This is a bit of a PR puff-piece for Deep Mind, fine, but it’s worth reading for the way it unpacks the limitations with much of current AI thinking and machine learning, and the ways in which the Alphabet-owned company is trying to overcome said limitations. The initial section is a bit technical, but I promise it gets more readable and clearer as it goes on (and I say this as someone whose practical knowledge when it comes to machine learning is next to nil), and the way it explains the concept of ‘catastrophic forgetting’ in ML is really helpful.
  • China’s Indiegame Market: A long, involved and comprehensive look at the independent games market in China, which is blossoming in no small part due to the odd, not-quite-censored nature of the Steam PC games marketplace behind the Great Firewall. This is a bit industry news-y, but it’s a really good read if you’re interested in the games industry, or indeed in the way in which Chinese cultural products are interestingly-distinct from their Western counterparts and the reasons why, or, more generally, the way in which art reflects the culture its born from and how that reflects through a relatively-new medium such as videogames.
  • Botched Plastic Surgery Vloggers: It’s hard not to look at headlines like this and go into some sort of weird doomspiral of OH GOD IT’S A RACE TO THE BOTTOM AND EVERYTHING 1980s SCIFI TAUGHT US ABOUT THE FUTURE IS COMING TRUE, but let’s see if we can hold it together. This piece in i-D looks at the ‘boom’ (it’s not a boom, but we might describe it as a microtrend) in influencers and aspirant influencers having plastic surgery go wrong and then documenting the outcome (AND THEIR FEELINGS ABOUT IT) in exquisite/excruciating detail (delete per your personal perspective) – is it part of the desire to be ‘relatable’, and a helpful shift in the way in which online famous relate to the procedures that give them the bodies and faces that make them stars? Or is it another gearshift in the race to the bottom of the content sump pit? YOU DECIDE? I bet you £100 that there are currently people looking at suspiciously-cheap brazilian bottom treatments, though, and thinking “if this goes well it’s a cheap ar$e; if it goes badly, it’s at least 3 months’ worth of highly-personal material which will do great numbers!”. Is that a good thing? Not sure.
  • People Are Getting QR Code Tattoos: I’m including this article solely in the hope that one of you will read this and think that, yes, THIS is the time to bring back the gonzo heyday of games PR in which publishers tempted members of the public to name their kids after videogame characters or get the game’s logo tattooed somewhere prominent in exchange for cash prizes. PLEASE can one of you pitch ‘challenge our brand’s superfans to get a QR code linking to our ICONIC ads’ activation, please? I reckon it could fly.
  • The Chatroulette Penis Moderation Problem: I mentioned Chatroulette and penises earlier on, and AS IF BY MAGIC I now bring you this article, an interview with the person who invented Chatroulette and who has spent the years since its creation wrestling with the thorny issue of Penises on the Web (specifically: there will always be more penises on the web than there are people who want to look at said penises) – this is super-interesting, not only as a potted history of a website which I can’t imagine that many of you have thought about since its heyday about 9 years ago, but also as a broader series of thoughts and considerations about what communities are for and how you make them work, and how you create systems that allow for open participation whilst incentivising good behaviour and minimising the presence of d1cks both literal and metaphorical).
  • VR Addiction: We are, I think, a comfortable distance away from VR addiction being A Thing that people have to worry about – still, the tech is readily-available and sophisticated enough that we’re starting to see edge cases where its immersive potential gets a bit too much, as in this story about a student in the UK who fell into a VRChat hole and struggled to get out. This is a really interesting piece – there’s no suggestion that this is anything other than one person’s experience, and there’s no attempt to create any sort of panic around a VR addiction CRISIS heading our way, and overall its pleasingly-unhysterical. There’s also a happy ending of sorts, with the subject’s shift from VR-obsessed recluse to ostensibly-confident dancer quite a pleasing narrative arc (although I get the feeling there’s probably some quite complicated stuff going on under the surface here) – bookmark this, though, for that inevitable period in about 24m or so’s time when the Mail decides that ‘Save Our Children From Their VR Sex Prisons’ is a sensible campaign to run and you want to remember where it all began.
  • True Crime Is Rotting Our Brains: Or, ‘how TikTok and parasociality are creating a weird situation whereby an increasingly large subset of people online are obsessed with analysing every single thing they see with a degree of forensic detail ordinarily reserved for CSI and which isn’t doing anyone any favours’ (their title is snappier, tbf). This is something that a lot of the smarter internet culture commenters have been acknowledging for a while now, and which Ryan Broderick has been particularly good on – how current trends in online storytelling have caused us to increasingly believe that BAD THINGS ARE HAPPENING EVERYWHERE, and that we need to be alert to signs of abuse and danger and incipient violence at all times, and that EVERYTHING IS A POTENTIAL CLUE FOR THE INEVITABLE FORTHCOMING MURDER ENQUIRY. “This is the message that young women are internalizing, that hypervigilance will keep you safe, that being in a constant state of anxiety is simply a fact of life and not something to work on with your therapist.” Doesn’t sound healthy.
  • Castaway Cuisine: I don’t know if it’s quite that they don’t make eccentrics like they used to, or simply that the web has opened our eyes to the fact that everyone’s eccentric and so we’ve become a little dulled to it, but you simply don’t get stories like this in 2021, I find. Alain Bombard was a French physician from the mid-20th Century who refused to believe that it was impossible to survive adrift at sea for an extended period of time, and decided to prove this by, er, spending two months adrift in a small boat, subsisting only on what he was able to source himself to eat and drink (there was also a small package of emergency rations, but apparently Bombard didn’t need to use it). An astonishing commitment to scientific research and the sort of thing which you probably wouldn’t want to replicate yourself – the concept of subsisting on what the piece euphemistically describes as ‘fish juice’ for 43 of the 60 days sounds…bleak.
  • I Hate My Dogs I Love My Dogs: I am not a dog person, but I appreciate that I am in a minority here and that most people adore the furry morons. Regardless of my own personal indifference to canines, I enjoyed this article by Claire Messud about her relationship with hers – in particular there’s a certain sort of brutal bloodymindedness to the affection which I associate exclusively with a certain type of the English upper-middle classes and which came through wonderfully here. It feels like it’s wearing a barbour jacket, this piece, which may or may not endear it to you – the writing’s great, though, regardless.
  • Tongue Stuck: After 5 months in Rome my Italian is pretty good again – it gets rusty through lack of use most of the time, but I feel like I’ve gotten it back again and have even caught myself thinking in Italian every now and again which is a pleasant-if-odd experience. This essay by Irina Dumitrescu speaks of her experiences with English and Romanian, and articulates with a skill I rarely encounter the unique oddity of differentially-skilled bilingualism. “To them, I sounded like a stranger who had learned Romanian very well; I spoke the English language but with Romanian words” – I can’t tell you how much this struck me as I read it. Any of you who speak multiple languages will feel this very deeply, I think.
  • What Is Internet Criticism?: SUCH a good essay, this, by Daisy Alioto, about ‘the internet’ and the internet, and the new aesthetic which isn’t so new anymore, and the new terms and forms and expressions of thought we need to be able to characterise our relationship with the web now that it is not just a thing but the thing and that we can now no longer disentangle ourselves from it as both concept and reality. I know I have just made it sounds appallingly-pretentious, but I promise you it is SO much better than that and you will find it thought-provoking and fascinating.
  • A Decent Death: An excellent article in the latest LRB, in which Steven Sedley sets out current thinking on assisted dying and the difficulties in creating a legal position which allows for it based on our existing structures and frameworks, and the legacy of theological thought in our conceptions of a ‘good’ life and ‘good’ death. This deals with a lot of the legalese around assisted dying debates, but it’s as light-touch as you can be when talking about this sort of stuff and I promise you it’s knotty rather than impenetrable and an excellent example of presenting difficult arguments in comprehensible style.
  • The Nobel Prize Speech Draft of Paul Winterhoeven, With Notes: Finally in this week’s longreads, this is a very funny short story written from the perspective of a man about to, rather bitterly, accept the Nobel Prize for Science. I won’t spoil it by giving away the premise, but it’s vaguely-scifi – more importantly, though, this is a near-perfect example of elegant comic writing, storytelling and scene-setting, and of a narrator who is not so much unreliable as…blinkered, let’s say. Absolutely superb.

By Abraham Lule

AND NOW, MOVING PICTURES AND SOUNDS!:

Webcurios 08/10/21

Reading Time: 33 minutes

Did you enjoy the scenes from Tory Party Conference this week? Back in the day when I used to have to attend those things annually because of work, the Tories was always in many respects the least-awful of the lot – the politics and people stank, fine, but this was in the New Labour era when you could at least laugh at their awfulness safe in the knowledge that they weren’t getting elected anytime soon. Labour, by contrast, was characterised by the sort of smug backslapping that hindsight shows us was one of the main identifying features of the Blair era, and which resulted in me having a proper Damascene moment at around 3am in a conference bar when, alone and misanthropic, I saw a bunch of then-’rising stars’ from the party doing ‘Things Can Only Get Better’ at karaoke and vowed that I was never, ever going to find myself in that position again.

(In case you were wondering, by the way, Lib Dem conference was always the best, because noone cared and you could spend literally 3 days in the pub playing pool and getting slaughtered if you could persuade the landlord to put the conference on TV so you could pretend you’d seen the speeches)

Other than the worst people in British politics having their annual self-congratulatory orgy, the week’s other big news was Facebook falling over – it’s been a bad few weeks for the Big Blue Misery Factory, prompting some slightly overheated chat about whether this is THE BEGINNING OF THE END. A small note on that point – I think anything that demonstrates quite how central the company and its platforms are to the running of huge swathes of global communication and commerce is probably not going to be the thing that presages its demise. You may want to do a quick Google for past news articles trumpeting the death of Facebook and check the timestamps to see just how right everyone was about this in 2013/4/5/7/8, is all I’m saying.

Anyway, you don’t kindly splay your inbox for me to fill it with my editorialising – you do so for the LINKS. Links which you are mere SECONDS away from being able to enjoy – gird yourselves however you best see fit, for THEY ARE A’COMING!

I am still Matt, this is still Web Curios, and I would still prefer you not to read this if you voted  for Boris Johnson.

By Basseck Mankabu

WE KICK OFF THE MUSIC THIS WEEK WITH SOME CRACKING DRUM’N’BASS FROM FABIO AND GROOVERIDER! 

THE SECTION WHICH THINKS EVERYONE SHOULD ATTEND AT LEAST ONE POLITICAL PARTY CONFERENCE IN THEIR LIVES AS IT PROVIDES A CONVENIENT BENCHMARK FOR ALL FUTURE ‘WORST EXPERIENCE OF MY LIFE’ CLAIMS, PT.1:

  • Badvertising: The second week in a row in which I lead on a link dedicated to pointing out the advermarketingpr industry’s possible complicity in the climate crisis – I’ve long thought that the best way to ensure Web Curios remains an unloved, niche concern is to constantly attempt to alienate my readership at every turn (and also, er, to make it overlong and impenetrable and stylistically…idiosyncratic – never let it be said that I’m not dedicated). Anyway, this is Badvertising, ‘a campaign to stop advertising fueling the climate emergency’, being organised by Think Tank the New Weather Institute. The argument is simple – that those of us working in and around the edges of advermarketingpr should, if we really believe that our work causes shifts in behaviour and opinion (and this is the bit where I maybe demur because, reader, very little of what I do on a day to day basis in my working life does anything other than cause the movement of money from one largely-pointless seeming branch of an organisation to another), perhaps spend a bit more time thinking about what behaviour we’re changing and what opinions we’re supporting. This website explains the campaign and provides a bunch of tools and guidelines on what you can do to help stop the spread of ads which, I don’t know, trumpet BP’s environmental credentials whilst conveniently ignoring the fact that it and companies like it are responsible in large part for fcuking the planet with knives.
  • Gawds: It’s been a great week for people who enjoy laughing at NFTs, with the news that another selection of projects have – and you might be shocked by this – been revealed to have been nothing but elaborate scams designed to induce greedy morons to part with their cash. Now I don’t doubt there are some token projects out there which really do believe in ‘the magical power of community’ to heal of society’s ills (even when the community exists solely to juice the market for pixelated portraits of, I don’t know, management consultants or something), but, equally, lots of them quite evidently don’t and instead are just a way of parting fools with their money. Where Gawks sits on this spectrum I have no idea, but I very much like the vibe that the whole thing is giving off. While other NFT projects sell you piddling little avatars, Gawds has ratcheted up the hubristic absurdity several levels by creating a whole pantheistic ecosystem into which your markov-generated digital gewgaws will ‘exist’. The website talks about POWER LEVELS and ‘uniquely-generated beings’ and THE ABILITY TO EMBED YOUR NFT IN HOLOGRAPHIC GLASS! Honestly, I can’t see how this could be anything other than a massive success that will inevitably take your investment TO THE MOON!!!1111eleventy. Fair play to these people for leaning into the culty (no, I said culty) elements of this hard – I can almost respect the grift. Almost.
  • Ether Canvas: Long-term readers will be aware of the special place that Reddit’s The Place holds in my heart as an example of a web project that distilled most of the lovely things about online communities (diversity, collaboration, creativity) into one surprising package. Now, though, it’s 2021 and The Place is but a distant memory, and instead of thinking ‘what fun things can we build, what experimental playgrounds can we create?’ we are apparently all thinking ‘how can I persuade people to buy into my apocalypse-token Ponzi scheme?’ That, seemingly, is the idea behind Ether Canvas, a project which is literally ‘what if The Place or even Million Dollar Homepage, but crypto?’ – and a project so phoned-in that I want to bookmark it to wave at anyone who attempts to tell me that NFTs are all about ART AND CREATIVITY. Are they? Are they really? WHERE IS THE ART HERE? Anyway, if you want to spend 15 quid to put a TINY, TINY JPEG onto a website that noone in their right mind will ever visit again (BECOME PART OF THE COMMUNITY!!!) then here’s your chance.
  • SadGrl Online: What did YOU do during The Great Facebook Outage of 2021? Did you rediscover your love for the odd and unheralded corners of the internet and go paddling in their tentacular shallows? Did you take the opportunity to detach yourself from the content hose and go outside? As we limp towards the finishing line of 2021 (lol! It’s not a finishing line! KEEP FCUKING GOING, SISYPHUS!), one of the few ‘this is a thing wot I have observed this year’ statements I feel comfortable making is that the past 12m or so really have seen a small resurgence in the homespun web – Curios has seen an uptick in interesting ‘portals to the small web’-type sites, and SadGrl Online is another such project. It’s weird really – this is the sort of thing that a couple of decades ago wouldn’t have been noteworthy at all, seeing as this is the sort of presence that seemingly every teenager cultivated for themselves prior to the all-consuming advent of VIDEO EVERYWHERE, and yet now feels fun and retro-fresh. SadGrl Online is a personal website very much in the GeoCities mould which presents links to stuff its owner finds interesting, little ‘shrines’ to their hobbies, some articles…it’s just some kid’s website, to be clear, but given the ubiquitous homogeneity of Insta and The Toks (there isn’t just one TikTok, is there, so characterising them as multiples seems somehow right), and Tumblr’s odd zombie limbo state, it’s really nice to see something so personalised and homespun cropping up. Plus, there are some excellent interesting links on there which are definitely worth checking out.
  • NeoCities: The above site is made using NeoCities, “a social network of 394,700 web sites that are bringing back the lost individual creativity of the web” offering “free static web hosting and tools that allow you to create your own web site.” So basically GeoCities but NEW and MODERN (whilst still looking old!) – what’s nice about this is the slightly webring-style nature of the project which makes it easy to find and browse and enjoy everyone else’s projects on the network. If you want a project now the nights are drawing in, why not make yourself the website you always wanted when you were 14 but never had the time or inclination to produce? Or, alternatively, you may want to take up a hobby that doesn’t require the use of electricity given How Things Currently Are on sovereignty isle.
  • The Internet is Sh1t: It’s not, obviously – the internet is great and I love it, despite my constant carping and whinging about the stuff I find on there (the internet is great; it’s the people that ruin it) – but it’s not hard to see what people might have a bit of a problem with it. Speaking of trends, another I’ve seen this year is the increasing realisation amongst even your less-terminally-online web user that the general experience of being online doesn’t seem to be getting much better. Google is increasingly awful, people are trapped on a limited number of platforms whose entire raison d’etre is to keep them there and not let them out, thereby limiting discovery and serendipity (beyond the algo-controlled simulacrum of serendipity we’re increasingly being peddled as the real thing) and making us miserable(r). This in particular resonated with me in no small way: “The internet is not the sole basis upon which you can determine existence. It sounds simple but people are starting to forget. If it doesn’t have a website, that doesn’t make something low quality. If you can’t Google your blind date, that doesn’t make them a freak. If one website says something about anything, it’s more than likely pure invention and shouldn’t be taken seriously. Checking your sources does not mean finding another website that says the same. Fiction is self-perpetuating.” Well quite. STOP THE INTERNET! Or at least this version of it.
  • Low Tech Magazine: This is not a wholly original idea – it’s reminiscent of The Solar Protocol which I featured in here a few years back – but it’s SUCH a clever one and a HUGELY stealable idea which is perfect for our ECO CONSCIOUS (but not so much as to actually change our behaviours in any significant way!) times. Low Tech Magazine has a solar-powered website – it is powered by solar panels, and as such the website will go offline when there’s not enough natural energy to run it. Simple, but hugely clever and a great way of reminding users that the web is powered by actual, physical stuff that require actual energy to run, and that that energy needs to come from somewhere. There are SO many potential applications for this (although if you’re reading this in the UK, probably not until next year which gives you LOADS of time to persuade your idiot clients to do something interesting for a change rather than just throwing £100k at some influencers and some ASPIRATIONAL VIDEO CONTENT).
  • BioLiquidator: This is included solely because I find the whole thing morbidly-fascinating and not a little scary – BioLiquidator is a company which deals with what it semi-euphemistically terms ‘mortality management’ in livestock. Basically, if you have animals that you need to dispose of, these are your people. How do they do it? Well as far as I can tell you basically pack your dead animals into some sort of vat and in 18-20h they have turned into slurry. Honestly, this is FASCINATING (if a little bleak) and the sort of thing I am 100% convinced we are going to have uncomfortable conversations about using on people in a few decades’ time. There’s also something quite odd about all the images of very alive animals all over their website – I know that disposal of dead animals is part and parcel of the agricultural process and animal husbandry in general, but, well, don’t present me with images of cute calves when what you’re in fact doing is providing me with a facility with which to compost them (after I have shoved their corpses into a metal box with a pitchfork).
  • Pizza Pranks: Not in fact anything to do with pizza! Pizza Pranks ihome to Indiepocalypse, a project which is basically a regular zine-type-thing, bringing together independent game makers to sell their projects in bundles for about $15 a pop: “Indiepocalypse is a curated monthly collection looking to highlight the very best of the DIY indie game scene. Each month will feature games by 10 different developers, including newly commissioned game exclusive to the bundle-zine. The games cover a wide variety of styles, genres, and themes as they fight against any definition of “indie game” as a genre.Also, and this part is very important to me and should truly be taken as given, each contributor is paid and developers are paid royalties on all future sales.” If you fancy taking a monthly punt on some small-but-perfectly-formed independently-created games this is an EXCELLENT way of doing so – titles run the gamut from platformers to artgames to shoot-em-ups to interactive fiction, and the bundle I downloaded contained at least 2 titles which I would have been happy to pay the £$15 for alone.
  • BondGifs: Bond occupies a weird place in the cultural landscape at present – obviously super-popular but with whom? Is there anyone who is a Bond fan anymore? Other of course than the world’s luxury brands, which are very much fans of spending millions for product placement in what are the most lavish pieces of branded content ever created. Still, a NEW BOND is here, and to celebrate there is also a Bond collection of gifs, available for you to abuse in every single message conversation for the next few weeks. Why not endear yourself to friends and family by insisting on accompanying your every utterance with a shot of Daniel Craig having his testes lightly-flagellated with a thick piece of rope?? Actually I’m not sure they have that specific clip in there, but there are 430 of the damn things, from Connerty to Lazenby to Dalton to Craig – there are some that are obviously designed in the hope they’ll attain status as part of the reactive lingua franca of the web, and others chosen for reasons known only to the curators (maybe they’re there as warning signs – after all, anyone who uses a ‘The name’s Bond…James Bond’ gif in conversation is quite obviously an irredeemable cnut), but if you fancy communicating via a short videoclip of Rutger Hauer taking a punch to the stomach then HERE YOU GO!
  • Google Newsletters: Or as the company has unforgivably styled them, ‘Museletters’ (no, exactly). This was probably inevitable, but the product looks like it might be useful (should you be one of the seven people worldwide who are yet to launch their own newsletter in 2021). It effectively creates a publication and distribution layer for Google Drive: “Create a public profile for your Google Drive and publish any Google Drive file directly to it. You can also publish to an email list. Just open Museletter, choose a Drive file, and publish.” Which seems sensible! No idea if this is any good or not in practice, and it’s not like Google as a company is significantly better than, say, Substack, and it definitely has a somewhat iffy record when it comes to supporting these sorts of experimental initiatives, but it could be worth a look – just don’t come crying to me when Google decides to kill the service in a year or so’s time.
  • Somi-1: This is really interesting – over the past few years I’ve seen several attempts to reinvent the musical instrument crop up on Kickstarter and assorted other platforms, and to date none of them have seemingly ushered in the seismic change in musical creativity their inventors had promise, and this is the latest to catch my attention. Somi-1 is basically a bunch of sensors and associated kit that will, if it does what it promises, allow you to transform your movements into sound. You strap sensors to yourself, and said sensors use the data they pick up from your movements (direction, acceleration) and convert that into music – multiple sensors can be combined to capture data from several sources simultaneously, whether on one person or on a group, and you can plug the output into any MIDI controller of your choosing. This looks like it could be really rather fun, though the quality of the output will depend on the sensitivity of the sensors which obviously is a bit unknowable til it launches – still, if you like the idea of turning your morning Qi Gong session into a beautiful ambient soundscape then this could well be one for you. The Kickstarter is about 60% there with 11 days to go, so it’s not certain it will make it, but it could be worth a punt for the more experimental musos among you.
  • The Ellis Island Database: This is wonderful – a searchable database of US immigration records, collecting data on 65million passengers (THAT IS A HUGE NUMBER OF PEOPLE) that arrived by boat in New York between 1820 and 1957. You have to register to do a proper deep-dive into the records, but it’s a light-touch signup process and I promise it’s worth it – there’s a proper genealogical buzz to plugging in a surname and seeing all the people who over 130 years disembarked in hope and then got swallowed up by the city, for better or ill. I personally want to know the story of Angelo Muir, who arrived from Modena in 1913 – what was a Muir doing in Modena in the early-20th Century? WHO WERE YOU, UNCLE ANGELO???
  • The Accessible Games Database: A really useful resource for people looking for games suitable for those with physical impairments – you can filter by the type of game, or the accessibility features, you’re looking for, so if you want to find a first-person shooter with settings suitable for people with slight motor control issues, say, or games that are colour-blind friendly, this will help.
  • Stravart: This may well have existed for ages, but I was hugely cheered to find it this week – there’s a website dedicated to collecting examples of people who’ve used Strava to ‘draw’ creative running or cycling routes, and some of these are AMAZING. Fine, there’s a reasonable number of crap squiggles, but then there is stuff like the quite incredible portrait of Christ (complete with thorny crown and beatific expression and three crosses in the background, along with the legend “A Holy and Happy Easter to All” – sadly the site doesn’t allow for linking to individual images, but I urge you to go and check that one out. It’s filed under ‘fiction’, which is a ballsy move from whoever’s curating this) which makes you really admire the dedication of those involved. Special shout out to the person who drew Medusa and subjected themselves to what look like a series of very unsatisfying short runs to make the hair-snakes.
  • The Stripe Press: I can’t work out if this feels like a proper thing or just an example of slightly-silly tech company hubris – perhaps it’s both! Stripe, the payments company, has started publishing books – the Stripe Press is its new(ish) publishing imprint, through which you can buy a bunch of titles (some new, some revised editions, some reprints) in nice hardback editions, all for around $20 and all promoting a very Valley-ish ideology of GROWTH and CRUSHING IT (and, er, a book chronicling the history of classic videogame Prince of Persia, for some reason). Why? Well, partly, why not? I imagine Stripe isn’t exactly short of a quid or two at present. Equally, though, this is a clear way of signalling both status (WE ARE A TECH COMPANY BUT WE ARE ALSO BOOKSMART PEOPLE!!!) and also of marking out the ideological territory that the business inhabits (increasingly important in this sort of techspace). I would fcuking LOVE Nando’s to copy this. Or, I don’t know, Pot Noodle.
  • The Encyclopaedia of Pulp Heroes: A wonderful resources, exploring the magical world of classic pulp novels from the early-to-mid-20th Century, “an attempt at providing a panoptical view of the characters of genre culture from across media and around the world, spanning the years from 1902 to 1945”. This is SUCH a labour of love and there is so much interesting stuff in here – from a glossary explaining some of the popular terms and tropes of the time, a history of the genre, and notes on the characters and authors that constituted the pulp scene. If nothing else, this is a wonderful resource for anyone interested in storytelling convention and the different types and styles of narrative that can be explored within the pulp genre (which I know is what you were all hoping to get from today – you’re welcome!).

By Desiree Patterson

NEXT UP, SOME PLEASINGLY-AUTUMNAL (TO MY MIND, AT LEAST) HOUSE AND TECHNO MIXED BY HNTR! 

THE SECTION WHICH THINKS EVERYONE SHOULD ATTEND AT LEAST ONE POLITICAL PARTY CONFERENCE IN THEIR LIVES AS IT PROVIDES A CONVENIENT BENCHMARK FOR ALL FUTURE ‘WORST EXPERIENCE OF MY LIFE’ CLAIMS, PT.2:

  • 12ft: I feel slightly conflicted about including this link, I must admit. The older I get, the more I feel that taking stuff for free online feels a bit, well, wrong – not taking stuff that’s freely given, you understand, but circumventing payment systems to get free access to stuff that people want you to pay for. I may be skeptical about the promise of the creator economy, but that doesn’t mean that I don’t think people should get paid for their work (which perhaps explains why my monthly outlay on subscriptions and newsletters is quite so punishing). Of course, I also appreciate that I am lucky enough to be able to afford to consume (mostly) whatever I fancy without it screwing over my ability to, I don’t know, eat or leave the house, or pay rent, and that not everyone is that lucky, and that it feels fundamentally wrong for access to information to be linked to material income in 2021. That’s a longwinded way of saying that I appreciate that this link is by some standards a bit problematic, being as it promises to let you get behind the paywall of a whole bunch of sites that ordinarily require a login (Medium, NYT, the Economist, etc etc) and therefore deprives those outlets of income – can we all agree that if you can afford to pay subscriptions you will continue doing so, and that if you can’t you will use this? We can? GREAT, my conscience is therefore clear.
  • 20th Century Audio: If you make music, this stuff looks like it could be LOADS of fun. The link takes you to the website of one Giorgio Sancristofero who sells a BUNCH of audio software (each version around $25) which lets you make music replicating the sounds available to engineers using a variety of 20th Century production and recording techniques. From electro-acoustic modelling to the ability to recreate the sound and feel of stuff recorded reel-to-reel, this is a modern audiophile’s dream (or at least I am guessing it is – I’m not really a modern audiophile, but it feels like the sort of thing that one of those might enjoy). Want to imbue your oh-so-modern TikTok banger with the analogue soul of Delia Berbyshire? OF COURSE YOU DO!
  • Montfor: I’m unsure as to whether I find this funny or depressing – maybe both! Oh the duality of modern life! Montfor asks the question ‘why shouldn’t I get some sort of academic credit for the fact that I spend literally hundreds of hours a week watching stuff on YouTube? Surely that should count for something?’ and answers it with ‘there is no reason whatsoever! Why SHOULDN’T self-directed YouTubeing be elevated to the same pantheon of academic consideration as, say, postgraduate study?’. “We analyse the pages you go to, and run them through our custom AI models to figure out what they’re about. Then we reward you with relevant XP based on time spent, activity, and other metrics. You get a dashboard with insights on your learning and a shareable profile” So, er, you can get data about the fact that you’ve spent 200 hours since June ‘learning about crypto’ and share it with people to…to what? To win online arguments? To convince them to give you a job? It feels very much like the people behind this think that their metrics ought to become a valid means of judging expertise (“well Tony, your CV’s unusual but it says here you’ve clocked the equivalent of three months watching medical procedure videos so, well, I guess you are doing the trepanning this afternoon!”). I am sure the people behind this mean well, but I can’t stress enough what a bad idea it is (this is inevitably going to become part of the fabric of society, isn’t it, and I’m going to lose my employment prospects to a bunch of 19 year olds who’ve clocked the equivalent of 4 years watching ‘marketing 101’ tutorials on TikTok? GREAT).
  • The Fart Pedal: Are you a guitarist? Have you ever considered how much better your axework would be if you had an effects pedal that turned the output from your Gibson into a selection of farts? No, of course you haven’t, and yet still this exists. The sort of idea that you can imagine having when very stoned aged 14 in your mate Nev’s bedroom and which has now become (nearly) reality thanks to this Kickstarter. With nearly 3 weeks to go this has already met its target, so we can all look forward to a future in which any guitarist in the world can choose to add dynamic ‘wet fart’ effects to their solo with the flick of a mere switch. Progress.
  • Adventure Snack: I presume that you are like me and can’t physically fit any more newsletters into your life right now, but on the offchance that you have a fee slot in your inbox for some occasional ludic distraction you might find this pleasing. Adventure Snack sends you a tiny interactive story every now and again, a bite-size pseudogame to distract you for 5 minutes and hopefully amuse. They’re basically small vignettes which present you with a bunch of choices – you’re a wrestler! You’re an astronaut! You’re a…er…bear! – which play out as tiny stories, and they are silly and whimsical and a really nice little exercise in creative storytelling, and generally pleasantly cute. Lovely, and pleasantly creative.
  • Blue Fever: Another new social network! Except this isn’t a social network, oh no, this is an emotional network! What that means in practice is that Blue Fever presents an environment in which anyone can post anonymously about whatever they are feeling at present – posts are nameless, meaning anyone in theory should feel free to post whatever they like without fear ofjudgement, and the idea is that it creates a supportive community in which people can discuss their fears and hopes and stuff without the worry that comes from SHOWING ONE’S WHOLE SELF (is that the commonly=accepted parlance these days? It’s so hard to keep track, honestly). I am desperately miserable and cynical and as such am inclined to scoff at this sort of thing, but the idea behind the app is generally a positive one and thus it’s hard to get too angry about the slightly-self-helpy nature of the vibe here. If you feel like you might have some STUFF you want to get off your chest in front of a nameless community of other people then perhaps this will provide the succour you need.
  • The Map Projection Playground: I had NO IDEA that the world of maps was so fragmented – I mean, we all remember the Mercator projection (you know, the one that presents the world as it ‘actually’ is rather than the Europe-centric conceptualisation of the planet which persisted in the early days of cartography which tended to underplay the sheer mind-fcuking size of Africa because it didn’t make whitey look important enough), but who knew that there were apparently dozens of different ways in which scientitsist and cartographers have attempted to present our geography? NO FUCKER (well, not me at least), and yet here we are. I’ve been staring at the Peirce Quincuncial projection for 5 minutes now and can’t make head nor tail of it – there’s something magical about how alien an otherwise-familiar geography can look when perspective-shifted in this fashion, and you can probably derive all sorts of metaphors for knowledge and learning here if you’re that way inclined. Otherwise, though, cool maps!
  • The Nature Conservancy Photos of the Year 2021: I think we can all agree we have perhaps reached Peak Photo Contest – are there any subcategories of photo that don’t have their own annual competition anymore? I am yet to see the ‘Colorectal Imaging of the Year’ contest, but other than that I’m not sure there are any universes left to explore. Still, this collection – compiled by The Nature Conservancy – contains some cracking pictures of the natural world (and man’s interaction with it); if you can look at the orangutan photo without feeling some complex maternal/paternal (delete as applicable) feelings then, well, you’re a monster, frankly.
  • Social Justice Kittens 2022: Another long-term Web Curios favourite makes a welcome return – the Social Justice Kittens! For those of you unfamiliar, the project has for several years been producing and selling calendars featuring pictures of impossibly cute kittens juxtaposed with some of the best (read: most ridiculous) examples of extreme social justice-y tweets, reasonable liberal positions taken to slightly-wild extremes – so, for example, August 2022 is represented by a kitten next to a stack of books with the legend “Maths, history, technology, science and history are all inherently-racist. Most schoolbooks should be burned”. These make me laugh LOTS, and I am reasonably-certain that these are mocking from A Good Place and so it’s totally ok to laugh.
  • Vonnegut’s Story Shapes: Kurt Vonnegut famous theorised that ‘stories have shapes’ – this is a lovely little visualisation project that presents a series of story shapes and shows how they play out over the course of a narrative. As a tool for understanding how stories are constructed and how narratives build tension, it’s super-useful and the sort of thing which if you’re a strategist you might find a helpful tool in terms of visualising your thinking and teaching people how to communicate better. If one of you isn’t already working out how to turn this into something about ‘THE 10 ARCHETYPAL SHAPES OF CAMPAIGNS’ for a bit of sweet LinkedIn traction then I am VERY disappointed.
  • WowSwiss: Via Nag on the Lake, this is a Twitter account which shares nothing but pretty images of Switzerland, which is a nice counter to the prevailing belief that the country is nothing but overpriced watches, pointy chocolate and merciful release through death.
  • Flippory: A neat little image-manipulation toy which lets you upload any picture you fancy and flip and mirror it in various ways so as to create something new and, if you choose the right source image, utterly terrifying. Seriously, take a photo of your own face and have a play with it in this – you will quickly fund yourself transformed into a multi-eyed horror, perfect for your new avatar or as a pleasing counterpoint to all the otherwise-perfect pouty representations of yourself adorning your ‘gram. Go on, FCUK WITH YOUR FACE (or, erm, anything you like – I’ll stop shouting now).
  • Repeeted:Wordclouds, we can all agree, are mostly stupid and pointless and useful for nothing other than presenting the illusion of meaning to people who don’t really care or understand. Still, with that caveat in mind, this site lets you do something moderately-fun with them – to whit, produce a wordcloud of the most-used lyrics by any artist you care to mention. Which, to be clear, won’t tell you much that’s useful about anything, but can be used as an EXCELLENT stick with which to beat rabid superfans of a particular musician – even the most lyrically-adept songwriter will look banal when they’re output is rendered a series of stark single-words arranged by popularity. With this you can PROVE that Dylan was a miserable depressive (his most-used word is ‘down’, you see!) or that Billie Eilish is the premiere love-chanteuse of here generation (she uses ‘love’ more than any other word!), or that worldclouds are almost entirely useless in terms of providing meaningful analysis of anything at all! Hours of fun.
  • Fat Ronald Koeman: “For every 25 likes I’ll make Ronald Koeman fatter” wrote Twitter user FootballFax at the end of September. They were true to their word, and the resulting Twitter thread is one of the funniest things I have seen all year. Fine, you need a bit of an interest in football to get all the jokes but, honestly, as it progresses there is some honest-to-goodness surreal genius evident in the photoshopping and accompanying text. This feels like the sort of thing that could be ripped off and ruined by a brand, so, er, please don’t!
  • Crewdle: Are you running out of ways in which you can claim to be making a positive difference to the environmental health of the planet without actually changing anything significant about your behaviour? AREN’T WE ALL? Help is at hand thanks to Crewdle, a videocalling platform which promises that it is less energy-intensive than other offerings due to its use of peer-to-peer technology which eliminates the need for (and environmental cost associated with) servers. My snark aside, this seems like a smart idea and, if the tech works well, a reasonable lower-energy alternative to your Zooms and your Teams.
  • Less Whiny, More Fixy: If you only do one thing as a result of reading this week’s Curios, please make it bookmarking this url and sending it to each and every person at work over the next week who emails you with a complaint without proferring any sort of suggested solution. I guarantee it will have a positive impact on your career (even if you may not see ‘being sacked’ as positive now, the benefits will, I am sure, become increasingly obvious).
  • ISS Docking: No, Lisa Stansfield! I said ISS Docking (that is a very obscure and slightly-disgusting gag which only people who used to read Popbitch a decade or so ago are likely to get – never let it be said that Web Curios is needlessly obscurantist in its references!)! This is a rather zen little browser game, produced by SpaceX (presumably to show us how AMAZINGLY COOL it is) which lets you attempt to dock the SpaceXDragon2 spacecraft with the International Space Station – it is VERY SLOW and you need to be VERY GENTLE with your clicks, but it’s oddly-calming to spend 5 minutes attempting to interface your Muskian space-dong (all billionaire-funded space explorattion vehicles must, post-Bezos, be referred to as space-dongs, it is now law) with the ISS. Put Also Sprach Zarathustra on in the background while you play this for maximum effect.
  • Triangular: You may not think that a game that effectively asks you to triangulate between two points would capture your attention for longer than about 10s, but I promise you that this is FAR more addictive than you think it’s going to be. I spent a good 15m on this attempting to get a perfect score until I was forced to log off to preserve my sanity – see how you get on!
  • Flesh, Blood and Concrete: Finally this week, an honest-to-goodness adventure game in your browser! Flesh, Blood and Concrete is a beautiful little game which casts you as someone exploring a slightly Silent Hill-esque little town (creepy mist, sinister abandoned buildings, mysterious residents, pervasive sense of dread…you get the idea) in classic point-and-click fashion. It looks like it’s made in RPG Maker or similar, and is obviously less-than-AAA in its production values, but the story is really nicely-told and deals with sensitive themes…er…sensitively, and it’s a perfect thing to play while you wait for the clock to tick down on another day of ‘fiddling with pointless words on pointless slides’. Grab a mug of tea and get stuck in, this is really rather good.

By Dos Diablos

THE CIRCUS OF TUMBLRS IS SADLY EMPTY THIS WEEK!  

THE TROUGH OF (INSTA) FEEDS!

  • Daanpark Chichi FanFan: This is all in Japanese so I’m not 100% certain what’s going on here, but as far as I can tell it’s an Insta account devoted to the geese that live in a particular park. Just a bunch of photos of geese from somewhere in Japan. Why? WHY THE FCUK NOT?
  • Dasha Plesen: Ms Plesen creates truly beautiful art from mould – the spores in her petri dishes are quite the thing, and the sort of thing which you feel could serve as ‘inspiration’ (ahem) for, I don’t know, a domestic cleaning brand wanting to highlight all the gross stuff knocking around your house that you could eliminate with Cillit Bang (I have never bought Cillit Bang, but man was Barry Scott some effective advertising) – imagine an exhibition and photoseries like this, based on bacterial samples from the average home. GREAT IDEA, RIGHT? Or, er, you could just enjoy these images for their aesthetic and scientific value and not attempt to bastardise the concept for corporate gain. Your choice.

LONG THINGS WHICH ARE LONG!:

  • Eric Schmidt on AI: An interesting interview with former Google CEO Eric Schmidt about what he sees as the current state of play in AI, and the things we might need to think or worry about as we continue on our inevitable path towards machine-enabled post-scarcity luxury-Communism (that’s…that’s definitely what’s going to happen, right? Oh good). There’s lots of fascinating stuff in here, but what struck me most was how…cautious Schmidt is through much of this, and also how absurd-and-yet-miserable his ‘racist bear’ thought experiment is. Basically what we can look forward to before we get to the post-scarcity luxury-Communism is a brief-yet-terrifying interregnum in which awful people teach their smart fridges to be racist, was my main takeaway from this – along with the fact that we don’t at present know what we might do to stop that from happening, or what will happen when we inevitably don’t. Good stuff!
  • How The Facebook Outage Happened: This is Cloudflare’s very technical explainer about their best-guess as to what went down (EVERYTHING LOL!) earlier in the week – this is very much ‘how the web works 101’-type stuff, though, and as such is worth attempting to get your head round, if only because it feels important that we all have at least some rudimentary understanding of how exactly the world works (I possibly feel this particularly strongly given that I have basically no practical understanding of how anything functions at a practical level (cars? MAGIC! WiFi? ALMOST CERTAINLY THE WORK OF THE WOOKEY HOLE WITCH! Etc etc). The piece doesn’t examine what we might want to do to ensure that huge swathes of what is effectively at this point global infrastructure can’t just fall over like that, but I’m sure someone somewhere is working on that. Er, someone is, right?
  • The Defector Annual Report: This is probably only of interest to those of you interested in the economics of digital publishing (and who isn’t? NO FCUKER, that’s who!), but it’s an unusually-transparent piece of comms when it comes to annual reporting. Defector is the US sports website which spun out of the ashes of Deadspin – it’s been alive for a year, and this post goes through their performance and results in surprising detail. The explanation of the site’s revenue model, its approach to advertising and marketing, its use of sponsorship…all are discussed here with a degree of openness that’s rare to see.
  • The Internet of Grift: Another excellent post by Ed Zitron, this time neatly-encapsulating everything I think and feel about the current state of play in crypto/NFTworld. It’s worth reading the whole piece as it’s a distillation of everything I have been trying to say in fragmented fashion over the past 6m here in Curios, but, well, better-written. “It is an oligarchy masquerading as a meritocracy (or a utopia), where the rich have built mechanisms to increase the value of their assets, drumming the desperate into a frenzy of people looking to become one of the rich months (or years) after that was possible. Celebrities like Lindsey Lohan aren’t joining because they care about art or NFTs or crypto – they are intentionally capitalizing on a frothy market that’s purpose-built to screw over the investor. It is built to overvalue assets that come from a famous person, just as the regular art investment world is, but with even less tangible goods and more chances to get utterly, irreversibly screwed.” What Ed said, basically. Oh, and if you’re in the market for some more NFT skepticism, this is an excellent article which explains the parallels between the existing NFT scene and multi-level marketing scams – worth reading before you decide to spunk your kids’ savings on a crap cartoon picture of a psychedelically-coloured ocelot.
  • Is It Time To Hire A Chief Metaverse Officer?: A classic example of Betteridge’s Law, this, but worth reading to have a quick laugh at the desperate flailing for relevance and position that is currently going on in brand and agencyland. “WHAT IS THIS THING WE DO NOT UNDERSTAND, WHICH DOESN’T HAVE AN ACCEPTED DEFINITION AND WHICH DOESN’T YET EXIST IN ANY MEANINGFUL SENSE?” ask the brands, “AND SHOULD WE HIRE SOMEONE ON A SIX-FIGURE SALARY TO SPEAK ABOUT IT AT CONFERENCES?” If you want any additional proof that this is all moronic – not ‘the metaverse’ as a concept, to be clear, but the desperation at play in attempting to be FIRST to it – then please read this paragraph, where the individual in question appears to  think that they have reinvented the concept of the ‘project manager’: ““I didn’t realise how much time is spent on emails,” says Samuel Jordan, a digital fashion pioneer and Roblox creator who has partnered with brands such as Stella McCartney to create digital assets, when he started working with fashion brands to create assets for Roblox, and he is working on multiple undisclosed projects. “Every team wants to know they’ve been involved, and usually the core team in charge of brand representation wants the final sign-off. Building a chief metaverse officer is so useful. There are so many people to coordinate, so it’s about understanding the company they work for and who needs to be involved and who doesn’t.”” Intellectual giants, these people.
  • The Ozy Story: An excellent bit of tech journalism by Ryan Borderick, looking into the story of digital publishing business Ozy which was in the news recently when one of its principles was unmasked attempting to pass themselves off as someone from Google on a sales call. There’s some really good base-level reporting happening here, looking into the business model of the company and how fundamentally fcuked it was, but the main takeaway I got from this was how utterly and deeply screwed the ‘content’ economy is – people making content noone cares about, paying to promote it to eyeballs that may not exist, to sell ad space that noone may see…it’s INVISIBLE TURTLES, all the way down!
  • Mobile Gaming in Turkey: I had no idea that the gaming industry was such a big deal in Turkey, but according to this piece it’s growing at a massive rate and has produced the country’s first unicorn. Rest of World looks at the industry’s growth, it’s financial heft, how it works and how it’s (inevitably) leading to issues for the developers who are coding the seemingly-infinite stream of casual titles for the ever-hungry global market. I don’t mean to be endlessly-negative (I CAN’T HELP IT), but there’s a core truth here about the mechanics of the creative industries at scale which doesn’t feel much like the proposed sunlit uplands of the creator economy we were all promised.
  • TikTokTranscription: One of the core realities of The Now which is yet to be fully accepted or codified seems to be something like ‘every magical technological advance (often with AI at its heart) has a significant degree of (often very cheap) human labour underpinning it which you’re encouraged to ignore or not think about’ – this is another wonderful example, this time focusing on TikTok and its translation software, and how said software is being trained and calibrated by the less-than-minimum-wage labour of all sorts of people in the developing and second world. The piece looks specifically at workers in Brazil, transcribing the audio from TikToks to help assess the quality of the company’s own automated translation and transcription services, and getting paid as little as $0.70 per hour for the work. This is less a story about TikTok and more one about modern economics and labour practices, and the way in which technology companies often have a very vested interest in making us think that they’re all tech all the way, whereas in fact a lot of the time they are meat and gristle and exploitation.
  • Libertarian Honduras: Another Rest of World article, this one looking at Silicon Valley’s latest attempt to create a self-governing utopian libertarian paradise (words that, despite the best efforts of Randian supermen, continue to appear to not work at all in conjunction with each other), this time in Honduras. There is SO MUCH in here to boggle/gawp at, but the overall theme – that some of the richest people that have ever existed continue to firmly believe that they should be able to exist in market-driven societies free of the petty governmental dictats that constrain more ordinary mortals – is a slightly-miserable one. It may not surprise you to learn that the project in question doesn’t appear to have been a…vast success for the Honduran people who live in proximity to it.
  • Pandemic Nostalgia: When I was young – cue wavy-lined flashbacks to an era in which you could smoke anywhere and noone cared about anything and you could still buy speed for £5 a gram and OH THE MEMORIES – it felt very much like there was an accepted 20-year nostalgia cycle; the kids of the 80s rediscovered the 60s, my generation spent a not-inconsiderable part of the mid-90s seemingly in thrall to the disco era of the 70s (if I could be bothered I would attempt to draw some sort of throughline between this and the boom in modern cocaine usage, but, well, I can’t)…now, of course, we are already nostalgic for this morning (things were just BETTER then, ok), which is why you see articles like this, seeking to explain the fact that people are already exhibiting nostalgic symptoms for a year ago. Whether or not you believe pandemic nostalgia is a thing is up to you, but I do sort-of buy the central thesis here that the sudden contraction of opportunity has meant that people are reacting oddly to its sudden reintroduction (albeit opportunities that may now look slightly different to those that existed 18m ago) and perhaps feel somewhat overwhelmed by it and have a slight desire to go back to the safe, warm, cocoonlike state when you had to stay indoors and so didn’t have the chance to have to choose.
  • Social Media and Mental Health: Or, as my notes put it, “Mental health, categories and the modern web” – this piece discusses the need for categorisation and self-diagnosis extending to the field of mental health, and the self-pathologisation that occurs as a result, when everyone sees everything as indicative of some sort of emotional or psychological condition, and each condition is a badge of belonging to a specific community or subculture. “Take, for instance, generalized anxiety disorder, which hinges on what a patient or doctor decides is an “excessive” amount of a fundamental human emotion. Diagnoses like this are left relatively vague to account for individuals’ ability to function in society and the amount of suffering their anxiety causes, but online, they can sometimes be used as throwaway terms. “For some people, especially when you’re young, there is a bit of a pull to join a group. And the group of people with social anxiety or depression feels like one you can easily join,”” I give it approximately ~3m before a savvy social media strategy takes advantage of this for a brand, like Steak Umms dialed up to 17.
  • 15-Minute Groceries: THE frothy category in VC at the moment (joke! They are all frothy categories in VC at the moment! Should any bored investors fancy dumping a spare million into the Web Curios project – INFORMATION AS A SERVICE!!! – then I am open to offers) is localised, ultrafast delivery services, promising to bring fags, skins and 24 cans of cornershop lager to your door at 5am in 15m flat because your jaws are all working like tumbledryers and you can’t possibly face the nice man at the cornershop in that state. This article looks at the business model that underpins these businesses and asks whether they can in fact work at scale when the VC money finally runs out (spoiler: they can’t) – aside from the economics of these services, there’s an interesting argument running through the article about what services such as these would do to the experience of living in densely-populated urban areas were they to take off (nothing good, basically).
  • A Week in Lagos: I am fascinated by megacities, and Lagos may be the most fascinating of all – this article in De Spiegel is a photoessay focusing on how water plays a central role in the city’s geography and the lives of its residents, and once again paints a picture of what sounds like the most scifi-adjacent place in the world right now (I mean ‘scifi’ in the Gibsonian sense rather than in the space operatic sense, fwiw).
  • FicTok: Or, fictional TikTok – that peculiar section of the app which features people performing as characters, so embodying, I don’t know, ‘boujie home counties girl’, or ‘sports lad’ or ‘rich person’s butler’, as part of their schtick on the app – and the weird side-effect of the apps complete lack of any sort of context for the content it serves you meaning that it’s increasingly hard to tell who’s doing a ‘bit’ vs who’s actually being themselves (and one might argue that the central conceit of TikTok is that it’s all a ‘bit’, but then that raises its own questions). There’s going to be a properly good fiction delivered through TikTok before too long – in fact it’s probably already happening in a corner of the app I’m not aware of – but whether anyone knows that that’s what it is will be interesting to see. LonelyGirl15, anyone?
  • Dwarf Fortress: Dwarf Fortress is one of the most astonishing videogame projects currently happening – an incredible self-produced labour of love game which lets you simulate the lives (and civilisation, and history, and mythology) of a group of Dwarves, across generations and dynasties, struggling to stay alive in a harsh and brutal fantasy world. Oh, and it’s all presented via a largely-impenetrable system of ASCII characters and super-complex menus. Much like Eve Online it’s a game I will almost certainly never play but which I could read about endlessly because of the fascinating way in which its systems work for the development of emergent narratives – I promise you that if you read this you too will become fascinated by a game in which it is entirely possible to lose an entire generation of characters because of one minor Dwarf’s longstanding genetic antipathy towards coriander (I am only slightly exaggerating).
  • Salt Bae: Making fun of Nusret Gökçe is simultaneously very easy and very pointless – like he cares what I think of him, he’s a tiny Instaplutocrat and has the world’s famous queueing up to demonstrate their lack of culinary discernment and incredibly-deep pockets. Still, this short profile in the generally-execrable AirMail is a beautifully-measured takedown, with the sort of lightly-arched eyebrow that marks the very best stiletto-to-the-ribs written bodying.
  • The TV Translator: You are, I presume, watching the Korean murder game show (is it good? It doesn’t matter, I don’t have Netflix so it’s a moot point), and you may have seen the Tweet this week suggesting that if you’re not watching it in Korean you’re basically watching a different show due to infelicities in the translation. This piece, written by a translator who does the job of writing the subtitles and the dubbing scripts for adaptations such as Squid Game, offers a fascinating window into the process – the need to ensure that dubs match as closely as possible the mouth movements of actors, the difficulty in translating culturally-specific references in a way that make sense for a local audience whilst retaining the spirit of the original… this is really interesting and will give you an enhanced level of respect for the people making the latest international megasmash consumable across language barriers.
  • The Bad Art Friend: Yes, it’s the kidney story. You’ve seen the discourse, but have you read the article? It’s actually a far more interesting story than you’d glean from reading the endless streams of recycled analysis currently clogging up Twitter – the basic question at the heart of it is the same as was central to the Cat Person expose’ earlier this year (to whit, to what extent can authors take from real life in pursuit of their writing, and if they do how ought they deal with the real lives they are using as inspiration?), but this is FAR juicier insofar as everyone in this story comes across reasonably-badly. Noone, though, quite as badly as the person who pitched the story to the NYT in the first place – this, in Gawker, is quite the kicker.
  • Rain Falling In The Pines: We finish the longreads this week with a couple of pieces of short fiction. The first is by Lavie Tidhar, one of the most interesting genre authors writing in English today imho – Tidhar’s scifi is WEIRD and literary and experimental and has lots of big ideas and also some utterly mad ones (‘A Man Lies Dreaming’ is quite the thing, for example), and always lots of fun. This short is a noir-ish, slightly hardboiled story about smuggling tech, in a future in which homosapiens exist alongside the genetically reengineered neanderthal community – so imaginative, and so tightly-written, this is really very good.
  • The Every: This is an excerpt from David Eggers’ sequel to The Circle (a book which is I think better than history seems to remember it as being, if that makes any sense), about a company which is basically Google and Amazon rolled into one. You may not think you want to read another piece about how TECH IS SCARY and BIG CORPORATIONS ARE BAD (after all, uh, you’re coming to the end of a Curios and so it’s not like those themes aren’t a bit front-of-mind right now), but this is charmingly horrible, in an appallingly-recognisable sort of way, and will give you pleasing little frissons of future-but-actually-nowhorror every few words or so.

By Samantha Schneider

AND NOW, MOVING PICTURES AND SOUNDS!: