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Webcurios 29/04/22

Reading Time: 37 minutes

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

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

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

By Maisie Cowell

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

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

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

By Jude Sutton

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

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

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

By Scott Daniel Ellison

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

THE CIRCUS OF TUMBLRS!

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

THE TROUGH OF (INSTA) FEEDS!

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

LONG THINGS WHICH ARE LONG!

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

By Hiroshi Sato

AND NOW, MOVING PICTURES AND SOUNDS!:

Webcurios 22/04/22

Reading Time: 37 minutes

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

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

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

By Anthony Gerace

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

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

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

By Ben Zank

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

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

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

By Jon Krause

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

THE CIRCUS OF TUMBLRS IS ONCE AGAIN SADLY EMPTY!

THE TROUGH OF (INSTA) FEEDS!

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

LONG THINGS WHICH ARE LONG!

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

By Steph Wilson

AND NOW, MOVING PICTURES AND SOUNDS!:

Webcurios 15/04/22

Reading Time: 35 minutes

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

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

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

By Anne Collier

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

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

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

By  Ryan Blackwell

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

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

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

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

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

THE CIRCUS OF TUMBLRS!

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

THE TROUGH OF (INSTA) FEEDS!

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

LONG THINGS WHICH ARE LONG!:

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

By Zoe Keller

AND NOW, MOVING PICTURES AND SOUNDS!:

Webcurios 08/04/22

Reading Time: 38 minutes

Hello! Hello! Hi!

Well I had a lovely week off, not least because so doing meant that I got to avoid both The Slap and April Fools (but mainly because I got to see my girlfriend and have conversations longer than 30 seconds at a time). As such, I like to think I’ve returned to the coalface (no, that’s not right…spaffface? No, that’s definitely not right either and I promise I will never type it again) with a renewed sense of hope and enthusiasm, but let’s see how long that lasts shall we?

As is customary after a post-hiatus Curios, this one is particularly full, bulging at what one might loosely term ‘the seams’ with a lumpy, heterogenous and unpleasantly-textured smorgasbord of stuff – so obviously the best thing do do is to shove your face in and see what sticks to it.

I am still Matt, this is still Web Curios, and you are, I imagine, so grateful to have me back that you couldn’t possibly find adequate words to express that gratitude and as such won’t.

By Jeff Mermelstein

LET’S GET BACK TO IT WITH TOM SPOONER’S LATEST ALL-VINYL OLD SOUL MIX! 

THE SECTION WHICH THINKS THAT THE MEDIA’S SINGLE-MINDED OBSESSION WITH TWITTER AND CONTINUED INSISTENCE THAT IT IS THE MOST IMPORTANT SPACE IN HUMAN HISTORY IS PERHAPS MORE TROUBLING THAN ITS OWNERSHIP STRUCTURE, PT.1:  

  • The Place 2: Long-term readers will know that I have long held a special place in my heart for the original iteration of Reddit’s ‘Place’ experiment, originally launched on April Fool’s day 2017 as a massive canvas which any Redditor could alter one pixel of every few minutes and which ended up being a truly glorious testament to the collaborative endeavour of the web. Last week Reddit brought it back on its 5th anniversary, and, whilst the project is now over again with the canvas having finally been locked, clicking the link takes you to the final work which you can xoom around and explore to your heart’s content (there’s a pleasing timelapse of its evolution linked right on the homepage, should you want one). SO SO WONDERFUL, and, if you’re feeling a touch Pollyanna-ish, a wonderful testament to what can be achieved when a bunch of strangers collaborate together to create something (the cynic in me might argue that it’s easy when the stakes are as low as ‘make some nice pixelart’, and the barriers to this sort of wonderful cooperation become significantly higher when there’s something more important at stake like, I don’t know, the heat death of the planet, but let’s tell that cynic to fcuk off for a second, shall we?). There’s SO MUCH in here, and it’s really worth zooming in to have a look at the various communities and interests represented – the QR code is a particularly-masterful touch, imho, as is the complete absence (that I can see, at least) of anything hateful. WELL DONE, REDDIT! This is a bit of an explainer about the experiment, should you want one, whilst this piece from VICE explains how Twitch streamers and Discord channels helped coordinate the process (and also touches on the fact that the web is JUST A BUNCH OF CULTS BUMPING UP AGAINST EACH OTHER, which obviously is an argument I am here for all day).
  • Dall-E 2: You remember Dall-E, right? OpenAI’s cutely-named image generation AI toy which lets you generate pictures based on text prompts or sketches? Well just over a year on from the unveiling of the original, the company this week unveiled its successor and FCUK ME is this some impressive kit. You can’t, to be clear, play with it yet – access is via a gated waitlist, which unless you’re someone with skin in the AI image-generation game I wouldn’t bet on accessing anytime soon – but the link takes you to the announcement post which lets you take a look at some examples of the machine’s work and, well, Christ alive. Not the first link in this week’s Curios to basically say ‘if you make money mocking up images in photshop (NO I WILL NOT CAPITALISE THAT WORD OR ADD THE ™, ADOBE, YOU FCUKS, WHAT ARE YOU GOING TO DO ABOUT IT?) then you might want to consider retraining quicksmart’, but certainly the one that says that most loudly – the quality of the outputs here, and demonstrated in this thread in which an OpenAI staffer uses the kit to create images from his mates’ Twitter bios, is astonishing. Disappointingly, if unsurprisingly, Dall-E will have its ability to create anything too horrific or disgusting or ‘sexy’ nerfed by the devs, meaning that you’re going to want to find alternative tools should you wish to create, say, a neverending parade of clownbongo, but this does rather feel like a next-level iteration of some already-quite-exciting stuff. Oh, and here’s some more stuff generated by another project called MidJourney – basically, if your main source of income is ‘shopping images into being then you are so, so fcuked. Sorry, I don’t make the rules.
  • Proverbs: Whilst we wait to get access to Dall-E 2, then, let’s look at some of the other things going on in the ‘let’s make machines imagine things for us and hang the consequences!’ realm – here’s a new Shardcore project in which he’s fed a bunch (5,000-ish, in fact) of proverbs into a CLIP-powered AI and asked it to visualise them; here you can read a bit about the project, and then go click-crazy to see what the machines make of such historic bromides as ‘an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth’ (horrible), or ‘Don’t get mad, get even’ (sinister). I quite like the fact that these are still quite shonky around the edges – it feels rather like this is the last iteration of this stuff that will throw out this particular flavour of edge-case wrongness, before all the jagged bits get smoothed out and we’re no longer able to produce anything this unsettling without jailbreaking the code (there’s something slightly sad about the fact that the versions of this that will become publicly-available will all inevitably have their imaginations cuffed to a PG-13 rating, though I can obviously see the rationale behind the decision not to unleash an infinite number of bongo-imagining imagebots on an unsuspecting planet).
  • Mass.Black: Yes, I know, NFT art is BORING AND RUBBISH. I do think this one is quite interesting, though, as far as these things go. Murat Pak is very much one of the whales in the current scene, with a personal crypto pile running into the millions which he’s made from being an early-entrant into the NFT art scene and (some might argue) very savvy about how to play the market. To his credit, though, there’s a lot of conceptually-chewy stuff that sits behind the work – this project, the first phase of which will end at the end of April, is effectively a sort of…lottery/game/treasurehunt, in which you can buy in to acquire ‘matter’ tokens, which can then merge with each other to create other sorts of tokens, which confer different benefits and, at each tier, become more scarce, the whole of which is wrapped up in the HIGH CONCEPT of a work which shifts and mutates depending on the number of people participating in it. Which, to be clear, is just ‘YOUR APES CAN MUTATE AND BECOME TOXIC APES!!!’, just with less cartoon frippery and bad illustration – I do, though, find that there’s something fascinating about the ways in which the nature of the ‘thing’ that you are buying can be used to change and evolve the work post-purchase. This is still, at heart, a Ponzi-ish grift (sorry, but), but at least it’s putting the effort in.
  • System: I am slightly agog and a bit confused (plus ca change, but). “System is a free, open, and living public resource that aims to explain how anything in the world is connected to everything else. Today, System comprises thousands of relationships between hundreds of topics, and counting. As the world becomes increasingly complex and interdependent, our vision is to statistically relate everything as one system. We believe that seeing the whole system will help us all make better decisions — at home, at work, and as a society…The statistical evidence on System is retrieved from open data, open machine learning models, and scientific papers, and added by a community of scientists and systems thinkers. This information is then organized and visualized with all the supporting data by its side. In the near future, anyone will be able to contribute evidence of relationships to System using a variety of tools. We are actively working on ways — both human and machine-driven — to ensure the quality of information on System. For this first public release (v1.0-beta), the determination of what datasets, models, and papers statistics are retrieved from currently falls to members of our team and to users who are beta testing the tools we’ve built to contribute to System.” So…what, a unified taxonomy of everything? A relational database of ALL KNOWN CONCEPTS? On the one hand, pull the other one mate this has got bells on it; on the other, WHAT an interesting idea! There are…flaws in this model, obviously, not least the fact that its inference modeling obviously needs some work (the strong correlation it seems to think exists between ‘armed conflict’ and ‘vaccinations’ is not currently a thing, though there’s always the bleak possibility that this is in fact so sophisticated that it’s predicting the future), but the ambition here is quite incredible and you can very much see the potential just by clicking around. It’s been a while since I’ve been excited about a knowledge graph (and isn’t that just the saddest phrase in the world? OH MY LIFE!), but this really is interesting.
  • Judas Priest’s Guide To Heavy Metal: A quick change of pace here, with this lightly-interactive animated(ish) musical comic, charting the story of SEMINAL midlands noise-monkeys Judas Priest through illustration and a bit of light AI image transfer, and RIFFS and DRUMS and LICKS. You get some band interviews, you get some guitar instructionals, and you get a LOT of headbanging music over the top of it – I think this was part of a promo for the tour that the band did last year, so it’s not SUPER-new, but, fcukit, neither are Judas Priest themselves so it’s probably ok. Er, \m/!!
  • Snack Data: I have literally no idea what this is or why it exists. Exactly a decade old this month, Snack Data is, er, a bunch of rudimentary pixelart drawings of a bunch of seemingly-random foodstuffs (snacks, if you will!) which, when clicked on, take you to a small iterm description. That’s it. The ‘about’ page doesn’t seem to exist, the associated Twitter account last posted in 2016, and I have literally no idea what compelled the person who made this to compile hundreds of these into one place, with descriptions such as “Donut: Also known as ‘doughnut’. It is basically a fried ring of dough. It’s served mostly in America and shops that open very early and close in the early afternoon. ‘Donut shops’ as they are known, almost exclusively sell donut. Finding a plain donut may prove difficult, as it is normally covered by other foods, such a glaze and sprinkle.Donut tastes great. ‘You can’t eat just one!’ as the popular donut quip goes. It is sweet and soft. It tastes best soon after it is prepared, but not too soon after, because then it’s way too hot.” WHY DOES THIS EXIST? WHY DID SOMEONE SPEND A NOT-INCONSIDERABLE NUMBER OF HOURS OF THE EXISTENCE GRANTED THEM BY A MYSTERIOUS AND UNKNOWABLE COSMIC FORCE CREATING THIS BAFFLING COLLECTION OF POOR-QUALITY IMAGES OF FOODSTUFFS? God the web is wonderful.
  • Plaintext Sports: A webpage which does nothing other than display latest sports scores (it’s a US site, so obviously it’s all their sports, meaning it’s packed full of meaningless stats like “CHL 276 – MYY 922! GO PITUITARIES”, but you can get the idea) in super-simple html. Which, obviously, I imagine is of pretty much no use to you at all unless you’re a fan of North American sports and have a really poor wifi connection, but it made me think that there’s a definite niche for this sort of thing – a single-serving website that presents useful live information in the simplest, most stripped-back manner possible. A live saturday afternoon football (the real football, not the fake sort with the padding and the interminable ad breaks) scores page like this, for example, with everything simple and clean and graphics-free, could be a proper useful thing. Basically what I’m saying here is ‘let’s kick back against the whole concept of the metaverse by instead insisting on making websites which are nothing but ASCII TAKE THAT ZUCKERBERG!’.
  • Disinformation on Twitter: An interesting project by the Australian Strategic Policy Institute, which takes various datasets provided by Twitter through its Information Operations Archive and analyses them to present analysis of the spread of misinformation campaigns of various provenance across the platform. You can look back at campaigns from Saudi, Spain, Thailand, Iran, Venezuela and other places, seeing which accounts were most active, which links were spread, how the campaign developed…whilst this is all historical rather than live information, it’s a fascinating look at how analysis of Twitter datasets can contribute to deeper understanding of The Way Disinformation Works on the platform. The ‘media gallery’ section under each campaign breakdown is particularly-interesting to me in terms of the visual language of modern digital political propaganda (I don’t suppose any of you know of any recent-ish academic studies into the changing visual vernacular of state propaganda, do you?).
  • Her Campus Labs: I’ve said this here before, I think, but near the top of my list of ‘companies I never, ever want to work with again because they are all mad corporate zombies who haven’t so much drunk the Kool Aid as been embalmed in it’ is Procter & Gamble (a company so brainwashy that employees of its Cincinnati campus were referred to by locals as ‘Proctoids’ for their less-than-wholly-human demeanour). Still, much as I might personally hate the business (seriously, I went through a period of deliberately seeking out and buying Unilever alternatives at the supermarket, so bitter and scarred was I by that fcuking client – stick it to the man, Matt! YEAH!), you can’t argue that it is very good at making money, partly through its (legitimately impressive) R&D endeavours. This caught my eye this week, along those lines – P&G has basically funded an R&D skunkworks to catch promising new innovation early in the process and so get its lovely patent-y claws into it as soon as possible: “Her Campus Labs and P&G Ventures are looking for the next generation of women innovators with products they want to bring to life. Top nominees will have the opportunity to pitch and workshop their ideas with P&G Ventures executives” – in case it’s not clear from the name, the focus here is on female-led innovation (the INSIGHT (dear God STOP WITH THAT FCUKING WORD) underpinning the project is the underrepresentation of women in STEM in the US workforce). This is smart, as you’d expect, although there’s something slightly-bleak about the idea of massive companies buying up IP earlier and earlier in its lifecycle and hoovering up innovation as a means of maintaining competitive advantage. Still, if you have an amazing idea for, say, environmentally-friendly toothpaste then this might be of interest.
  • Playhouse: TIKTOK, BUT FOR PROPERTY! I mean, that’s literally it – Playhouse is a new property app whose gimmick is an INFINITE (not infinite – there will not be enough properties on here to keep you amused for more than 15m, tops) scroll of property listings bongo which you can snoop through to your heart’s content, with the added joy of being able to play a basic ‘higher or lower?’ guessing game based on the values of the various mansions and maisonettes you’re presented with. The app theoretically makes money from people clicking through and requesting more info about the listings in question, which, lol, that’s not a viable business model, lads, but wevs. Aside from anything else, if you can’t see anything lightly-dystopian about a world in which tired wageslaves crash out in bed at the end of a long day delivering groceries for minimum wage, relaxing by swiping mindlessly through videos of houses they will never be able to afford whilst guessing numbly at the exact unattainable sum they would need to achieve the dream being dangled before their drooping lids then you’re probably reading the wrong newsletterblogtypething.
  • Clay: Back in the weird period of time when, for various professional reasons, I had to spend more time than was strictly healthy thinking about Milo Yiannopoulos, I remember reading a blogpost he’d written about how he used a spreadsheet to classify everyone he met based on a number of different criteria through which he evaluated their ‘usefulness’ and overall worth as a potential friendship candidate…Jesus, Business Insider paid for that piece, turns out. Anyway, that elicited the general “My God Milo, you’re so awful!” reaction that he craved, and that was that – now, 8 years on, what was a sociopathic affectation used for attention clicks by a sociopath is now a VIABLE PRODUCT. Clay is a piece of software which does exactly what Milo’s spreadsheet did, but with more bells and whistles. Keep track of everyone you know in one database! Track their likes and loves and profits and losses and births and deaths and hopes and dreams, for knowledge is power and power is competitive advantage and competitive advantage is everything and CRUSH IT! CRUSH IT EVERY DAY!!!! Ahem. Sorry, I forgot myself and thought I was on LinkedIn for a second. Anyway, this is horrible and I hate it – particularly enjoyed the blurb at the bottom where it suggests that the software is used by high-powered people at all sorts of shiny big companies (Disney! Apple! Nike! TYPE-A CITY!!!!!), and goes on to say that it’s the secret of really thoughtful leaders – er, no, sorry, thoughtfulness is caring enough to remember stuff about people yourself, not, in fact, ‘using a spreadsheet and almost certainly a personal assistant in order to perform the superficial job of ‘giving a fcuk’ without in fact actually having to do so at all’.
  • Pangur: Ooh, this is really interesting if a bit tricky to understand. “Pangur is a visual programming language for working with text in real time”, goes the slightly-minimal description, but, honestly, that doesn’t even begin. My hamfisted attempt to explain it would go something like this – “Imagine, right, Yahoo Pipes, but instead of hooking together different webpages and processes, you’re hooking together fragments of text with rules and what are effectively logic gates and things, in order to create programs out of language which generate poetry and prose in a weird, centaur-ish man/machine hybrid way” – but you’d probably be none the wiser as to what the fcuk that actually means. I suggest you click the link, check out the examples and the ‘About’ page, and see if you can get your head round it – I think the potential here for generative word art, and all sorts of other stuff besides, is huge.
  • The Tweet DAO: Back to the silly NFT projects for a second now, with The Tweet DAO – a Decentralised Autonomous Organisation whose sole thing is that membership (governed by token ownership, natch) gives one the opportunity to Tweet from the Twitter account owned by said DAO. Which, based on current prices for said tokens, means that you are paying £1500 to Tweet from an account that has approximately 12k followers. That…that doesn’t seem like a great deal, does it? Still, the feed is worth a follow, if only to see what sort of gems of wisdom people who can afford to drop that sort of money for the right to Tweet feel like sharing. Let’s take a look, shall we? “sometimes when i sit down on the toilet my balls get tightly squeezed between my thighs that it feels like they may burst out of my scrotum. its amazing how strong that hairy membrane is <3”. Oh.
  • Metavoice: The world’s first voice-changing NFTs!!! Metavoice promises to be a game-changing voice-alteration product which lets users change their vocal stylings in realtime whilst preserving the emotion and nuance of the original speech – of course, there aren’t any actual examples of how the tech will work in practice or how good it is (there’s a concept video, but I don’t quite believe it), or any good explanation of why the shuddering fcuk this needs to have anything to do with NFTs whatsoever (seriously, there is no discernible technical reason why this needs have anything to do with the blockchain, is there?), but why let that stop you getting involved? Although actually I did do a bit more digging just now and there’s a whole bit on the site about how one of the potential use-cases for the software was ‘stopping people making fun of your voice on YouTube videos or on Discord channels’ which is honestly a bit heartbreaking and makes me feel slightly-bad about my initial skepticism. Er, sorry.
  • Liquid Marketplace: This is basically the whole web3cryptoNFTethos in one website, imho. “OWN EVERYTHING!!!” screams the homepage – yes, that’s right, the one main problem with everything right now is the lack of an ability to apply ownership structures and the eventual rule of the market to ANYTHING YOU CAN IMAGINE! This is a company with a very specific idea – to whit, that there are enough morons out there who will want to pay money to buy a fractionalised NFT of a real ‘collectible’ as an investment opportunity. Are there? Probably, is the sad answer. Anyway, should you ever want the ability to bid to own a fractional quantity of, say, a rare Pokemon card, the real version of which is DEFINITELY being held in a secure vault somewhere, then here’s your chance! Exactly how this ‘ownership’ will play out, exactly how value will be maintained, and exactly how this will be prevented from turning into a massive bunfight over when to sell and who to, remains to be seen, but in the meantime there are definitely a few people who will get very rich out of this before it all falls apart (unfortunately, one of them will be Logan Paul).
  • Powerful Images: Or, to give this Twitter account its full name, ‘Images With Too Much Power’. They’re not lying.
  • Thoren Bradley: I don’t tend to post stuff in Curios that could reasonably fall under the heading of ‘thirst traps’, but I will make an exception for the TikTok account of one Thoren Bradley, a man whose videos consist solely of him chopping massive logs of wood in some sort of sylvan North American setting, whilst being all handsome and lightly-sweat-dappled and coming out with some truly filthy-sounding commentary while he does so. I am very much not target audience for this guy’s (admittedly self-evident) charms, and even I found myself getting a touch flustered as he growled ‘spread for me’ at a particularly-recalcitrant log.
  • Back of your Hand: This is brilliant and utterly-fiendish – a game where you point the map at an area you think you know well, and which then proceeds to utterly destroy that early confidence by asking you to pick out specific streets and places on the map and (I presume) laughs at you as you totally fail to find them. This is really hard, or at least it is for me – I have a theory that this is more difficult if you don’t drive, as you don’t tend to need to remember street names in the same way (or don’t have them drummed into you by the satnav every time you try and find a parking space). Trust me, you will enjoy this but also hate it a bit.

By Rozenn Le Gall

NEXT UP, DRUM’N’BASS COURTESY OF A BRAND-NEW METALHEADZ MIX!

THE SECTION WHICH THINKS THAT THE MEDIA’S SINGLE-MINDED OBSESSION WITH TWITTER AND CONTINUED INSISTENCE THAT IT IS THE MOST IMPORTANT SPACE IN HUMAN HISTORY IS PERHAPS MORE TROUBLING THAN ITS OWNERSHIP STRUCTURE, PT.2:  

  • The International Housing Observatory: Want to be able to compare the exact extent to which your ability to afford a home has been fcuked by the vicissitudes of the markets in a variety of different countries around the world? GO FOR YOUR LIFE! This is really interesting, if, inevitably, a bit discouraging – it’s particularly-striking, to me at least, to compare the impact of the 2008 financial crisis on average house prices in, say, Greece or Spain or Italy vs the UK and US. Still, at least be glad you don’t live in Colombia.
  • Braille Scanner: An iOS app which lets you scan any braille on any piece of real-world paper and translate said braille to English. I am personally fascinated by braille – I once had a half-dream of getting a braille tattoo on my inner wrist with subdermal implants to make it legible to a blind person, but I have since realised that I am probably Not That Sort Of Person (although I still quite like the idea of having ‘it doesn’t matter’ in dots and dashes on my person somewhere, should someone fancy designing that up for me).
  • British Politics: A newish Twitter account whose full title is “insane moments in British politics” and which offers up a feed of images detailing some of the more…idiosyncratic visual reminders of those times in which UK politicians have done odd sh1t on camera. Includes such wonderful moments as ‘George Galloway being a cat on Big Brother’ and ‘Boris Johnson flattens Japanese child during touch rugby game’, which will either be funny in a sort of ‘oh lol look at those wacky brits’ way, or miserable in a sort of ‘oh god this really is the country in which I live and my God we actually vote for these people’ way depending on where you’re from and how you’re feeling. Sample post: “In a Blue Peter interview, Margaret Thatcher claims that there are two wings to the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia, one of which is ‘very reasonable’ and should play a part in any future government (1988)”. SO BRITISH LOL!
  • The Streetnames of Gothenberg: Via Giuseppe Sollazzo, this is a charming blogpost looking at the way in which streets in Gothenberg, Sweden, are named and clustered, and showing you the different areas of the city in which you will find streets named after music and musicians, or dances, or constellations, or, er, milk products. I now want to go on a walking tour of its lactose-themed avenues.
  • Tokyo Portfolio: Ostensibly this is AN Other Tokyo property website, where you can browse apartments in the Japanese capital. Except someone has had a lot of fun with the listings descriptions here – every single one is a slightly-odd little short story vignette type thing. Scroll down the page a bit and immerse yourself in prose such as this: “You wake up after a long night of imbibing on your friend’s tequila and dancing to remixes of that song you know but couldn’t remember. You head over to your fridge and take out a half-drunken bottle of Pocari and down the other half before you slosh over to the bathroom to repent for your sins the from the night before. Heading out, you trip and fall face flat on the floor. Hitting the floor you see them — Frank Sinatra’s blue eyes staring at you from the jacket of the record leaning against the wall. After standing up, you pick up the album and put it on the turntable. The needle hits the grooves and you hear the first track: “That’s Life.””. I mean, fcuk knows what that description has to do with a two-bedroom apartment in Shinjuku, but, well, who cares?! This is superb, and an excellent example of how creative copy makes great PR (he said, like he knows what the fcuk he’s talking about – I don’t, to be clear).
  • Spotifictional: A website which collects the musical outputs of fictional bands and singers from popular films and TV shows. Want to check out every single recording of Wyld Stallions from Bill & Ted?  Or Josie & The Pussycats? OH GOOD! This is a work-in-progress, and the site owners are taking submissions for other fictional bands they should add to the archives – I love this, and hope that Spotify doesn’t decide to slap a needless copyright cease&desist on them for the liberal use of aesthetically-adjacent branding.
  • Sewage in Rivers: Spring is very much, er, springing here in Rome, which is currently enjoying an approximately three-week window between it being ‘a bit too cold to go out without a coat’ and ‘so hot that your face literally melts as soon as you step outside’. Presuming that the UK is also going to have its annual four days of watery sunshine sometime soon, and presuming that at least some of you might want to use said days of watery sunshine to visit the coast and maybe have a paddle, you might want to check out this website first, which has just been updated with new data about exactly where around the country’s glorious coastline has seen sewage dumped into the sea, just in case you’d prefer your paddle to be uninterrupted by floating browns. You can draw your own conclusions from this, but if I were to give you one piece of advice based on a cursory browse of the data it would be ‘DO NOT UNDER ANY CIRCUMSTANCES GO SWIMMING IN THE CANALS AND RIVERS AROUND MANCHESTER’. Which, if you’ve ever been to Manchester, you probably knew already tbh.
  • Musclewiki: I am increasingly aware that my attitude towards my ageing and increasingly-fcuked physicality (to whit: “I am not convinced I want to optimise my meat prison for longevity if I’m totally honest with you”) is neither healthy or advisable or indeed that common, and so to that end I present to you the MUSCLE WIKI, a really useful resource which lets you select particular muscles you wish to focus on developing or strengthening and then presents you with a selection of suggested exercises and workouts for that purpose. You can toggle between exercises designed for male and female bodies, and between different types of desired routine (stretches, barbells, etc), and if you’re the sort of person who REALLY wants to make their glutes pop (is that a thing?) then you might find this helpful.
  • End Corporate Profiteering: I mean, LOL! Like a website is going to do that! Still, if you fancy getting a dose of righteous anticapitalist rage into your system then this website, which neatly outlines the number of corporations (in the US, but many of these are multinationals and so basically EVERYWHERE) have been quietly increasing prices so as to protect profit margins over the course of the pandemic. Your regular reminder that the ceaseless pursuit of shareholder value is fundamentally-incompatible with the pursuit of wider social good in the vast majority of cases!
  • Tell Me What To Read: This is GREAT – a Gdocs sheet, compiled over what looks to be a period of multiple years, which collects reading recommendations received by someone called Molly – titles, authors, the recommender’s notes on why the title is worth reading, and occasionally Molly’s thoughts on the title in question. I LOVE THIS – a really beautiful collection of personal recommendations and reasons for them, a list of books to explore just because other people have loved them and think you should too, and a slice of totally-homespun internet. Right at the bottom of the sheet there’s a link to a submission form for a new version of the project, should you wish to tell the mysterious Molly about a book you’ve loved that you think everyone else should read too.
  • Brain Space: Before you click the link, read the description: “Beginning April 2nd and running through April 8th, brain.space will conduct a first-of-its-kind brain activity experiment in the International Space Station using its proprietary EEG-enabled headset, as operated by the astronauts of Axiom-1 (AX-1)…the brain.space headset will record and analyze neurological activity of crewmembers in order to determine whether results obtained in microgravity are different from those achieved on the ground.” Pretty exciting, right? Now click the link and look at the helmet. IT LOOKS LIKE A PROP FROM BLAKE’S 7 LOL! (NB – for the children and the foreign among you, Blake’s 7 is an old tv scifi show from the UK whose special effects were…of its time, shall we say). Not to cast any doubt on the scientific chops of the people behind this, or the nature of the experiment (after all, studying the neurological effects of what prolonged time spend in 0g does to people seems like important work), but, well, wouldn’t you try and make your groundbreaking kit look a bit less like something that was made by Blue Peter presenters out of egg cartons? I am aware that this is a cripplingly-shallow assessment of what I don’t doubt is some pretty cutting-edge science (although, equally, I remain unconvinced about the sensitivity of stuff like this, and thus its utility – neuromarketing, anyone?), but, honestly, aesthetics matter (a bit).
  • Joseph Machines: You may have seen one of the videos from this TikTok account doing the rounds of Twitter in the past week or so – you know, the clip of the guy being fed by conveyor belt with a bunch of Rube Goldberg-y machines combining to get food into his face via increasingly-ridiculous means (the hairdryer/salad thing is genuinely inspired) – but this is the whole feed. Excellent domestic inventor ridiculousness.
  • The Library of Short Stories: You can never have too many websites which compile and share out-of-copyright fiction for anyone to enjoy – which is good, because here’s another one. This collects all sorts of short stories across various genres – you have your classic Conan Doyle, and Lovecraft (caveat lector – ol’HP was, in case you’re not aware, a fairly appalling racist and antisemite), and Dickens and Poe and some Asimov…if you want a bookmark to return to for a quick 15m burst of classic literature (and HP Lovecraft), this is worth a look.
  • The Satellite Map: I find the increasing proliferation of satellites to be utterly fascinating – how does it all work? I mean, I know that space is REALLY REALLY BIG, right, but even with that caveat, is there a reasonable limit to the amount of metal we can chuck up into orbit without it becoming an issue? I presume someone somewhere is thinking about this (I hope someone somewhere is thinking about this) I ask mainly because, based on this ‘live’ map of SpaceX, it’s getting pretty crowded up there. I can’t wait for the moment we need to launch something species-significant into orbit only to learn that we can’t because space is full up with, I don’t know, GPS trackers.
  • Asterank: One of the little-discussed (or at least, I don’t see it discussed that often) elements of the recent resurgence in interest in space exploration, particularly from the plutocrat class, is that its in large part a massive race to stake a claim on resources. There’s a body of thinking which believes that there is untold wealth to be extracted from asteroids, which in many cases contain all the sorts of rare elements we increasingly depend on for tech and which will make someone VERY RICH should they be the first to be able to stake a claim on, say, cobalt extraction on XSV-66599. This website offers speculative (and, I am pretty sure, largely-fictitious) assessments of the potential mining value of various known asteroids. “The overwhelming majority of asteroids have no spectral classification and are missing other important data attributes. Without full information it is impossible to fully estimate the true value of an asteroid or the cost of mining it. Asterank applies accurate, up-to-date information from world markets and scientific papers. To ensure realistic estimates, data from meteorites on Earth and known reference asteroids heavily influence our calculations.” So if you have dreams of riches unimaginable even to Croesus, start speculating about which of these multi-billion dollar spacelumps you’re going to attempt to race Elon and Jeff to (you will lose).
  • The Library of Juggling: Possibly unfairly, I tend to lump juggling alongside ‘doing magic tricks’, ‘negging’ and ‘wearing hats’ as the sort of thing which PUA-types are enamoured of. Still, maybe I’m wrong and there’s a whole cast of people who enjoy juggling as a pure pursuit rather than because of its perceived ability to charm potential partners into letting you touch their mucus membranes. If you or anyone you know is interested in learning how to keep multiple things in the air at the same time – compelling description, eh? – then this could be of use. “The Library of Juggling is an attempt to list all of the popular (and perhaps not so popular) juggling tricks in one organized place. Despite the growing popularity of juggling, few websites are dedicated to collecting and archiving the various patterns that are being performed. Most jugglers are familiar with iconic tricks such as the Cascade and Shower, but what about Romeo’s Revenge or the 531 Mills Mess? The goal of this website is to guarantee that the tricks currently circulating around the internet and at juggling conventions are found, animated, and catalogued for the world to see. It is a daunting task, but for the sake of jugglers everywhere it must be done.” I love that last line – it imbues the whole project with a (fine, perhaps not entirely warranted) sense of import and gravitas.
  • The Perimeter: “The Perimeter is a photography project by Quintin Lake based on walking 11,000km around the coast of Britain in sections. The journey started on 17th April 2015 and was completed on 15th September 2020. All photos will be edited by the end of 2022.” The walk is over, but photographs from Lake’s journey are now being uploaded to this site, and it’s SO LOVELY. I am feeling quite a lot of homesick nostalgia at the moment – OH GREY ISLAND OF PLAGUE, HOW DO I MISS THEE? – so perhaps my judgement is coloured slightly by nostalgia, but these are a wonderful set of images which properly capture the diverse beauty of Britain’s coastal communities and the breadth of landscape they contain. Gorgeous.
  • New Tab With MOMA: Yes, fine, this is very much a harkback to ‘ideas that were cool and novel a decade ago but which noone has really thought of since’, but I don’t care. Install this Chrome extension and every time you open a new tab you’ll be presented with a different work from the collection of the Museum of Modern Art in New York. Now that there are various versions of this from various museums, it might be nice to have a ‘one extension to rule them all’-type fix which hacks them all together in one extension – can someone sort that for me please? No? Fcuk’s sake, what is the point of you?
  • The Box Office Game: I had made a personal vow not to include any more Worlde knockoffs, but this one is fun enough for me to relent slightly. The Box Office Game asks you to name the films based on limited information – their relative position in the box office charts on a particular date, their distributor, their total gross income…you can buy additional clues such as lead actors, genre, etc, with the goal being to guess all six films whilst accruing as many points as possible. Even as someone who is pretty much the diametric opposite of a cinephile, this was surprisingly-compelling – and if you like this, you might also like Actorle, which uses similar mechanics to get you to try and find the name of the lead actor in a variety of films. Oh, and seeing as we’re doing Worlde clones again, I may as well chuck in Cloudle too – guess the weather forecast for the next 5 days in specific cities. FUN FOR ALL THE FAMILY!
  • Explordle: This merits its own entry, though, as despite what it’s name might suggest it’s not actually a Wordle clone at all. Instead, this game presents you with a videoclip shot in first person, walking you around a particular place – the game is to guess the town or city you’re walking around. This is pretty easy imho – a rudimentary grasp of language will help you in 90% of cases based on street signage, etc – but it’s SO NICE to just flit around the world like this. Honestly, I lost a good 20 minutes to this one earlier in the week – it’s like those ‘imagine you could leave the house!’ simulators from Lockdown One except lightly-ludic, and it’s a lot more fun than you’d think, honest.
  • Idle Breakout: What if Breakout were a clicker game? Is a question you have almost-certainly never asked yourself, but which this game (from last week’s B3ta newsletter THANKS ROB!) answers in surprisingly-compelling fashion. Starts off slow, but once you start getting into buying balls this quickly becomes an absolute timesink and absolutely the sort of thing you should keep open in a tab all day while you wait for all the stupid people you work with to get on with whatever it is that they actually do.
  • Tetrageddon: Finally this week, Tetrageddon. I really don’t want to tell you too much about this, other than to STRONGLY ADVISE that you click the original link and just keep exploring. This is pretty much perfect in every way and I recommend it unreservedly, even if I don’t really understand what the fcuk is going on at any point (although after about five minutes or so it started to click for me – excuse the slight pun). PERFECT CURIO!

By  David Fullerton

LAST OF THE MIXES THIS WEEK IS THIS ELECTROTECHNOITALODISCO SENSATION BY THE ROBOT SCIENTISTS! 

THE CIRCUS OF TUMBLRS IS ONCE AGAIN SADLY EMPTY!

THE TROUGH OF (INSTA) FEEDS!

  • Roman Robroek: Robroek is a photographer who travels the world taking images of abandoned places – his images came to my attention because of a recent series he’s done on abandoned churches in rural Italy, but his whole feed is worth a look; I know ‘look, abandoned building!’ photos are a bit ten-a-penny these days, but these are more interesting than most imho.
  • Gore Krampus: Very much a MOOD, this Insta feed, a dizzying parade of cleancore and post-vaporwave and anxiety aesthetics, I like this because it neatly-captures that very modern concept of ‘vibe’ without at any point giving me enough context to adequately describe what said ‘vibe’ might be. Tell you what, when the DALL-E2 stuff starts becoming mainstream, these sorts of things will get properly weird.
  • Germanien Wolf 0457: Ok, so I don’t speak German and therefore can’t be totally certain that this isn’t something awful – I don’t think it is, but obviously if I have mistaken linked to anything appalling then let me know and I will obviously get rid. As far as I can tell, this is the account of a german man who posts nothing but vaguely-inspirational spangly memes (in German) interspersed with terrible food photography, and, honestly, I can’t see how seeing this crop up in your feed couldn’t improve your day by at least 35%.

LONG THINGS WHICH ARE LONG!:

  • How Kyiv Withstood Russia: I am including this not because you need me to feed you warpieces, but because this is a truly stellar example of digital journalism and storytelling – I was going to caption it ‘Warfall’, and then thought ‘no, Matt, even by your standards that is too miserably-glib for words’ and so I didn’t. Still, it does very much feel like a step-change in what you can do in the now-classic ‘scrolling storytelling with parallax graphics and stuff’ – this is reportage delivered in a way that is almost-perfectly suited to the medium, and the mix of scrolling animation, copy, video and audio is extremely powerful. I tend to look upon overdesigned webpages with a mix of bafflement (who thought this would make the reader experience better? And who decided it was worth the money?) and anger (why will noone ever let ME produce anything this pointlessly-overengineered?), but this one’s just great.
  • WarTourists: I found this piece in the LRB a useful counterpoint to the various accounts of BRAVE INDIVIDUALS heading to the front to LEND A HAND – a salutory reminder that turning up in a warzone without any real idea of what the point of you is beyond ‘helping’, and with no knowledge of any useful languages, might not in fact be the game-changing level of assistance you might have thought it was when setting off with your knapsack and travel charger. “I make my way to the station each day past a man playing a wooden flute, and push through a crowd of American evangelicals trying to hand out postcards with cartoon drawings of rainbows and castles. When English-speaking volunteers arrive at the station they tend to be directed to me. I ask about their language abilities, and find out if they have a car or minibus. If it transpires, as it often does, that they speak only English and do not have transport, I wonder what has made them come all this way instead of donating the hundreds of pounds it has cost them to one of the relief funds. What do they have to offer that is worth their taking up a bed desperately needed by a displaced person?” Well, quite.
  • Laurie Penny on The Sexual Revolution: …is, I realise, the sort of headline which will cause a fair number of people to automatically scroll past whilst muttering. Penny is, I appreciate, not a universally-adored figure, but I found this interview with her (on publication of her new book titled ‘Sexual Revolution’) to be a really interesting tour around a wide range of interlocking concepts, from modern capital to power dynamics to gender relations to owndership structures to The Creator Economy…obviously you will hate this if your politics don’t tend generally towards the pinko lefty end of the spectrum (but also, MAN must you be hatereading this whole newsletter!), but if you can get on board with the general thrust of this (that capital, power and sex are all tied up like some sort of horrifically-toothy ratking, basically) then you will find this a properly-fascinating and discursive read (and that counts even if Penny makes your teeth itch, as a rule).
  • Metaverse Fashion Week: This isn’t a particular stellar piece of writing, I concede, but it’s worth including – in part because I find the luxury industry’s headlong rush to embrace the (still entirely inchoate) idea of ‘the metaverse’ utterly fascinating, and in part because this is a writeup in Vogue which really ought to be cheerleading like billyo and which despite that can only seem to muster a half-hearted sense of baffled ‘well, I guess this is the future!’ about the whole thing. As with all this stuff, anyone who’s been in the ‘digital-ish advermarketingpr’ space for a decade or more will feel a VERY strong sense of deja vu at all of this stuff.
  • Metaverse and Money: On the one hand, this is really quite depressing – a Citibank white paper all about the different ways in which massive businesses can start setting themselves up to control the future means of digital production via the not-really-currently-a-thing fever dream that is THE METAVERSE! On the other, it’s a legitimately-useful overview of themes and concepts, admittedly as-written by a bunch of people who have dust (admittedly it’s probably platinum dust, but it’s still dust nonetheless) where their souls should be. Still, if you’re in the horrible position of having to talk to major banks about their ‘metaverse strategy’ then a) I don’t actually pity you, because you are making the future worse; and b) you could probably do with reading this. You cnut.
  • Dorsey vs Andreesen: Or ‘why the future of the supposedly-decentralised web seems to in fact boil down to a p1ssing contest between a bunch of rich men, and why that probably oughtn’t surprise anyone’. This is a piece in The Information, which means it’s by definition less tech-sceptical than I would ordinarily wish, but it’s a good overview of the ‘fight’ (it’s not a fight – it’s an attention-magnet, and there will be no losers other than those of us who weren’t already billionaires to start with) between Jack Dorsey and VC Mark Andreesen over crypto and web3, and WHAT IT ALL MEANS. What it all means, as far as I can tell, is a bunfight between competing gangs of rich people about how to keep being rich, and indeed richer, in the future, but perhaps you’ll see something here that I don’t.
  • Worldcoin: I have just checked and I seemingly haven’t featured Worldcoin in Curios before – perhaps I first came across it during The Dark Time of Hiatus. Worldcoin, for those of you unaware, is a project which is offering cryptotokens to people in exchange for scanning their irises, with the vague promise of some sort of crypto-based universal basic income to come at some indeterminate point in the future. I have known about this project for ages because one of the agencies I work with was approached by them about a year ago when looking for PR support, and I was asked to ‘look over the deck’ and offer my opinion as to whether it was something they should pursue. I have just looked up my response, and it was thus: “It triggers every bullsh1t-detector I have – it may be a ‘real’ thing, but I am yet to meet anything in the crypto space that doesn’t feel like it’s trying to rip someone off somewhere, and this is no different. I don’t doubt there might be some money behind this, but it feels like A Bad Thing imho – also, there are already TOO MANY bullshit crypto projects out there for more than a handful of them to succeed in the medium term. Do not touch this.” Anyway, this article details how the whole thing is going – it may not surprise you to learn that the answer is ‘not great’, with the people in the developing world who have been hired to scan the eyeballs complaining of late- or non-payment, reports of people being flat-out lied to as the company attempts to scan their eyeballs, and a whole load of confusion as to what the fcuk the point of this all is. There’s been a lot of money poured into this, which worries me that it might be brute-forced into becoming A Thing – there is literally no way in which ‘let us scan your unique retinal ID in exchange for magic beans’ doesn’t sound like something BIBLICALLY (I mean that literally) evil, though.
  • The Managers of Axie: Axie Inifinity (see Curios passim – you know, that ‘play to earn’ crypto game that people got frothy about at the end of 2021 before a bit of more considered investigation revealed that, yes, it’s a fcuking MLM scheme by any other name!) has had a rough few weeks, what with the massive hack, and now this excellent article on VICE which lifts the lid on how the managerial class within the games ecosystem effectively runs…I mean, digital slave farms is an overstatement, but there’s definitely something sweatshoppy about the relationships being forged between ‘employer’ and employee here. This is an excellent piece to read if you’re curious as to whether the concept of ‘play to earn’ can usher in a whole new era of freedom from the drudgery of work and instead lead us towards the promise lands where we just get paid to have fun (spoiler: at least as presently conceived of, it very much cannot).
  • Digital Contact Lenses: This is, fine, basically a PR puff-piece for this company which makes smart contact lenses, but, also, FCUK ME THE FUTURE! I don’t care how prototypical these are, the people behind them talk a good game, and this made me genuinely excited about tech for the first time in a little while, which has to be a good thing (it doesn’t, obviously; if we’ve learned anything over the past few decades it is that ‘getting excited about new tech’ tends to be nothing other than the precursor to ‘the inevitable comedown when the hitherto-uninvestigated negative externalities of said new tech become crushingly apparent post-launch).
  • The Mums of TikTok: Ok, fine, ‘moms’. Another article which will give you strong ‘been here before’ vibes if you’ve been in the comms game for a while, this is all about the rise in TikTok parents – specifically, ‘the mums offering the real, unfiltered reality of parenting as a performance packaged up for social media!’, which is an article I think I have read approximately nine different platform-led variations on since we all fell for the Great Mummy Blogger Scam of 2008 (remember when we thought that mummy bloggers were an actual thing, rather than the same 300 women all commenting and linking to each others’ blogposts to scam free trips to Legoland? GOOD TIMES!). This one maintains that TikTok is DIFFERENT because it’s REAL and, well, a) literally noone with any braincells believes this, surely?’; and b) ‘real’ is its own category of performance, anyway, especially on TikTok.
  • The Toxic TikTok Fandom of William White: Many years ago I picked up a second hand copy of the Angels From Hell quartet of novels, a series of potboilers from the 1970s which imagine a future Britain in which social order has collapsed and the Hell’s Angels are an outlaw band of hardcore survivors, standing up against the nefarious forces of the state, the filth, and, er, a lot of seemingly-glam-rock-inspired rival gangs of camply-murderous youth. The novels are frankly terrible, and full of language and opinions that are very much Of Their Time, but they do contain the odd bit of strangely-prescient commentary – in the second book, our ‘heroes’ (the Angels, obvs) are booked as security (hi, Altamont!) for a tour by a pair of bands, one aimed at teenagers and the other aimed at middle-aged women (‘middies’, in the novel’s sub-Kubrickian vernacular), of which obviously the middle-aged are the most violent and bloodthirsty of the two fan sets. Anyway, that’s by way of terrible and overlong introduction to this piece, which reminded me a LOT of the ‘middies’ – it tells the story of handsome young man William White, who has built up a dedicated fanbase of middle-aged women who are DEVOTED to him, to the point of sending him a lot of money, and the article basically wonders (but not too hard)…’is this ok, or is this actually unpleasantly-exploitative?’. What do YOU think?
  • Online Shopping In The Pacific: A really interesting look at how small operators are running hyperlocal Amazon analogues in the South Pacific, using a network of boats and small planes to keep islanders in places like French Polynesia stocked up on all the mod cons they could possibly desire (or at least all the mod cons that can reasonably shipped to French Polynesia on a seaplane).
  • The Empire of the Golden Triangle: Many, many years ago, when working in videogames PR, I had an EXCELLENT client – honestly, my favourite ever and a man for whom ‘there’s no such thing as bad publicity’ may well have been coined. I did, though, have one slightly-awkward moment with him, when we went for lunch after he’d been on holiday. “Where did you go?”, I asked curiously, and over food he explained to me that he’d been to visit his dad who worked in Laos as a ‘fixer’ at a casino. “What does that mean?” wondered I, naively. “Well,” said my client, “it basically means that when you have real high-rollers at the casino – we’re talking people who spend tens of millions in a few days – you want to do anything you can to keep them at your establishment, so you hire people like my dad who basically sort them out with literally anything they want to keep them there.” You don’t necessarily want to know the answers to these questions, but I couldn’t help but ask “So, er, when you say anything…?”. The answer was, apparently, anything. “Yeah, you know, drugs, prostitutes, guns, basically any weapons they might want to play with, tanks, victims, children”. It was quite hard to carry on that conversation after that point. Anyway, ANOTHER overlong and unasked-for preamble to this article which is all about Chinese interests in Laos and specifically a man called Zhao Wei, a shadowy figure who’s effectively been acting as frontiersman for the Chinese state for a few decades now. A fascinating look at regional geopolitics (or, more accurately, georealpolitik) and a salutary reminder that there is SO MUCH weird and terrible stuff happening all over the world that we don’t know about at all (and an even more salutary reminder that, if you’re really worried about people trafficking and paedos, there are probably better places to look than Disneyland).
  • The Power of the Still: Leaving aside the fact that this feels quite a lot like a PR puffpiece for the Dog Western (sorry, can’t be bothered to check its title), it’s also a wonderful essay about the role of the on-set photographer in documenting the filmmaking process, and how shots you take with a camera are necessarily different in feel to stills taken from the finished film. I think being ‘official behind the scenes photographer’ for a film sounds like a truly incredible job, and I am now even more bitter than I was previously about my utter lack of anything resembling a photographer’s eye.
  • Please Like Me: I don’t normally link to the Onion, but this, on Elon Musk, made me laugh lots.
  • Possible, Plausible and Just Futures for Civil Society: Ok, you will have to forgive me here but the best explanation I can possibly give you of what this is is by pasting their own words: “What might a future hold in which belonging, care and repair are central tenets of innovation and institution building? The outcomes of the Civil Society Foresight pilot show what world world-building can look like outside of the market and the state. They bring to life possible, plausible and just futures that are rooted in the human and planetary potential of community, connection, and wellbeing. This report is a guide to how those futures were created. Using the practice of relational foresight outlined in A Constellation of Possible Futures, we worked with civil society thinkers and doers to develop three new imaginaries for 2036, fifteen years into the future. The imaginaries are described at the end of this report, and are brought to life online with artefacts from these possible futures. They are intense distillations of complex concepts and they may seem surprising at first, but they are no different in their scale of ambition to flying cars or life on Mars or brain-to-brain communication devices; the only difference is that there is plenty of social and cultural permission for innovators to dream differently about technology, but little permission for most of us to dream differently about social relations. These imaginaries touch on fear, spirituality and love — topics that rarely arise in patent applications.” This is VERY conceptual and not-a-little-wnky, fine, but it’s also really interesting, and as a series of frameworks for conceiving of future social development might be a useful set of lenses to peer through. Even if not, the ideas here are interesting enough to warrant reading for fun – I was particularly taken with the idea of everyone getting the opportunity to spend two months in a cave after they are 18 as a sort of societal-reset moment. SIGN ME UP FOR CAVELYF, basically.
  • Quantum Influencers: I don’t normally include hatchetjobs of books I’ve not read, but this takedown by Adam Mars-Jones of the book ‘When We Cease to Understand the World’ (a series of essays about the great questions of modern physics and chemistry, with a vaguely-fictional – or at least narrativeflourish-y – veneer) is delivered with such relish that it’s worth reading even if (like me) you haven’t read the source material. Mars-Jones sprinkles enough erudition throughout the kicking to make you feel like you’re learning while you wince- the real joy here is watching the stylistic pretensions of the author get dismantled one-by-one.
  • Life Advice from Chess Hustlers: When I lived in Washington DC I use to spend occasional mornings watching the chess guys hustle in Dupont Circle (thankfully I was self-aware enough to realise with terrifying precision exactly how humiliated I would have been had I stepped up) – this piece is about similar guys in NYC, and presents a series of interviews with habitual chess players about the game, the hustle, why they play and what wisdom they feel they have to impart to the reader. This is fcuking great, and I would love to watch a documentary about these people and how and why they play.
  • NFTinis, Skirt Sets, and Cognitive Dissonance: This is at once a truly awful article and an absolutely great one – Jordan Richmann writes about his experience of being in New York and Milan for fashion weeks, whilst Russia invaded Ukraine. This is just dizzying – the parties! The fashion! The drugs and the silliness and the seriousness and the self-awareness and the complete lack thereof! It’s like Glamorama, but real! It’s ‘what the prevailing voice of BEING ONLINE in 2022 is like, but in article form’! It’s perhaps the best and worst thing I have read all year, and I love it unreservedly and I think you will too.
  • Nineteen: Mark Wallace writes movingly in The Rumpus about their experience of addiction and self-harm and being young and growing up and and and and. This is uncommonly-good prose imho.
  • How Nobel Candidate Javier Marías Became King of a Caribbean Island Because of a Novel: It’s important, I think, that you see the full title of the last article in this week’s longreads, because the whole piece really is that majestic. Honestly, this is SUCH a great story – it has everything, spies, history, obsession, mystery and a reclusive and mysterious author who may or may not be an international man of mystery. This is from Ted Gioa’s excellent newsletter, and is possibly my favourite story of the year (as distinct from ‘favourite article’, should you care) – I promise you you will DEVOUR this.

By Adrian Sayago

AND NOW, MOVING PICTURES AND SOUNDS!:

Webcurios 25/03/22

Reading Time: 37 minutes

Those of you reading Curios in the UK are still likely reeling from the staggering realisation that the Conservative chancellor who’s married to the child of a literal billionaire doesn’t perhaps give a flying fcuk about the lives of the poor! I know, I was shocked too!

Those of you reading elsewhere will likely have had your own similarly-seismic damascene moments this week, but I have no idea what they might be. Sorry.

Look, everyone, I need a break. And so I am taking one! Curios will go on holiday for a week, as my girlfriend is (barring mishaps) coming to visit for a few days tomorrow and as such I will hopefully have marginally better things to do with my time than stare unblinkingly at a screen while tears course down my cheeks.

I will be back with more words and links in a fortnight – til then, though, rest assured that this is a particularly fine clutch of URLs this week, accompanied by prose which, sadly, is the same poor quality swill that I always shovel your way (I may not be good, but I am remarkably consistent).

I am still Matt, this is still Web Curios, and you will almost certainly not miss me while I am gone.

By Christopher Burke

WE KICK OFF THE MIXES THIS WEEK WITH THIS SUPER SELECTION OF SLIGHTLY-SQUELCHY ELECTRO-HOUSE-ISH TUNES COMPILED BY ROMAN FLÜGEL! 

THE SECTION WHICH, WHILST DISAPPOINTED BY ITALY’S FAILURE TO QUALIFY FOR THE HUMAN RIGHTS WORLD CUP THIS YEAR, DID RATHER ENJOY JUST HOW MUCH THE POST-MATCH ANALYSIS OF SAID FAILURE RESEMBLED AN INCREDIBLY-ANGRY WAKE, PT.1:  

  • Metaculus: What’s the most common shared human interest, do you think? Is it sex? Is it food? Is it ‘sitting in front of screens and hoping against hope that the pretty pictures will make the thinking stop’? In the absence of better suggestions, I might argue that the past two years have proved that it is in fact ‘making spurious predictions about how things are going to go based on no real knowledge or understanding of the wider circumstances but with a nonetheless-incredible degree of confidence in our own abilities to scry the future’ – which is where Metaculus comes in. “Metaculus is a community dedicated to generating accurate predictions about future real-world events by aggregating the collective wisdom, insight, and intelligence of its participants. Users can track their predictions, earn points and powers, and hone their forecasting skills. Do you have what it takes to be a super predictor? We hope you’ll join today!” Obviously what this currently boils down to is LOADS of people making and debating all sorts of prognostications on covid (I realised this week that it’s been two fcuking years of this bloody virus and I still haven’t settled on a house style for writing it – correctness be damned, from hereon in it’s just ‘covid’), the war in Ukraine, global politics (well, mainly US politics, fine), and a bunch of other things. According to the mysterious, faceless people calling the odds on Metaculus we can rest assured that there is only a 20% chance of Trump getting reelected in 2024 (but then again we listened to Nate Silver last time and look where that got us), and a 5% chance of a no-fly zone being declared over Ukraine. No idea at all where people are getting these numbers from (though I have one or two ideas *cough their ar$ses cough*), but there are comment threads under each prediction should you fancy really delving into the opinions of a bunch of amateur analysts. There’s actually loads of really interesting stuff here if you can get past the slightly-cold horror of people blithely chatting about likelihood of world-annihilating nuclear conflict being on the cards by Christmas (don’t worry, everyone, the anonymous internet people say it’s only about 2%, we’ll be fine!).
  • The Sound of Love: No, not like that. When did YouTube comments stop being ‘the worst place on the internet’ and instead become a surprisingly-positive home for hopes and dreams and emotionally-excoriating memories of love lost and found? Fcuk knows, but thankfully they did – this site takes the ‘insight’ (lol) that a surprisingly-large number of people use YT comments under music videos as a place to cathart about their emotional reactions to songs, and presents you with a selection of tracks which you can listen to as you read a single person’s love-related memory of it. Every single one of these is a novel waiting to be unpacked in your head – I opened this as a reminder whilst writing just now, and got served up the Spiritualised track ‘Ladies And Gentlemen…’, off the eponymous album, along with a memory which reads: “when face to face with tears. I still remember those early days in London. I still remember the look on your face when I smuggled those pills into your first rave. I still remember the way you used to kiss me amidst the lazers while high on E and I certainly remember the night that I played this song to you. Over and over again while you sat on my bed smoking joint after joint with me and laughing at how I sung this song to you, on loop, for what I remember to be an entire night of happiness that I still remember vividly to this day. I will love you till I die and I will.. but I am sorry it didn’t take the pain away. At that moment I was confident it would. My heart was in the right place. I know for that night your heart was there too. Please don’t think I don’t have any happy memories of you.” And if that doesn’t break your heart and make you immediately click this link and explore sad memories of other people’s past loves then, well, I don’t understand you at all.
  • BeReal: A NEW BUZZY APP! Not 100% convinced that this is anything other than a brief, buzzy flash-in-the-pan, but it’s a really interesting idea nonetheless. BeReal’s ‘thing’ is simple – the app lets you post one pair of photos a day, and you have to do it WHEN IT TELLS YOU TO. Once a day you’ll be sent a prompt by the app, giving you a set amount of time to share a photo both of what you can see and your face when you’re seeing it (you can post your daily images outside of the window, but the app makes it VERY CLEAR that you were playing fast and loose with its rules, and flags exactly how late the posting was) – the idea is that it prompts UNFILTERED SHARING and REAL MOMENTS from REAL LIFE, as an alternative to the ultracurated Insta feeds we’ve all apparently gotten so bored with (but, hang on, hadn’t we done away with ultracurated Instafeeds? Aren’t you all just posting pictures of yourselves sweating comedownishly amongst half-empty packets of Space Raiders, corner shop energy drink and licked-clean wraps? WHAT HAPPENED TO GOBLIN MODE? So confusing). If you want TRENDS here, this has it in spades – a shared moment of daily ritual! Realness! No ‘likes’! – and there’s something interesting about it’s theoretical ability to capture snapshots of what swathes of people are all doing at any one given time. There’s a reasonable overview of the app here – I would like to share with you the final lines of it, as it feels almost-perfectly modern: ““If it was my wake, and someone was like, ‘Oh my god, it’s time to BeReal,’ and all my friends came up and got a picture of a single tear falling down and a picture of the casket, that’s truly honoring my legacy,” Cafarella said. “They would be completely in the right for that.”” And which of us, really, could argue with that? NO FCUKER, that’s who!
  • Think In Colour: What would your personality look like if you attempted to visualise it? A bounding, slightly-dumb hound? A tall, terrifying obsidian monolith, gleaming with malice? An unassuming, dun-coloured mass with all the visual appeal of a carcinoma? No! It would look like a seashell, apparently, or at least it would according to this personality-visualisation tool thingy built by Belgian current affairs weekly magazine Knack – answer a series of questions about your attitudes to various questions (‘do you feel empathy or laugh when other people hurt themselves?’, say, or  ‘do you shout at strangers on the internet for fun?’, that sort of thing) and, as you do so, see the amorphous personalityblob begin to take shape, taking on various colourways and protrusions depending on your answers. At the end you’ll be granted an assessment of your personality based on your perceived open-mindedness, empathy, curiosity, etc. You may or may not be surprised to learn that I scored high on the first and last of those three and…not so much on the middle one, suggesting that I’m very much your man if you want to tell me about whatever weird, obscure sh1t you’re into, but that I am very much not your man if you want me to sympathise with whatever horrific genital injuries you sustain whilst doing it. SHARE YOUR EMOTIONAL SEASHELLS WITH THE WORLD!
  • Tacu: Or, in words that actually mean something, ‘a web-based tool that lets you share your screen with anyone using a single url, which you definitely shouldn’t use to, say, illegally watch films or sport or whatever with a wider audience than the rights holders might have intended you to’. Works EXACTLY like all the enterprise software versions of this stuff that you know and hate (oh hi Teams, you horrible piece of sh1t bloatware!) but it’s open source and free and just works, as far as I can tell. Web Curios obviously in no way suggests you use this to, for example, share illegal streams of the football with the world, oh no siree.
  • The Brutalist Report: Not, sadly, a digest of brutalist-themed news (“Concrete Still Great, Survey Finds”! “‘No More Glass, We Want Looming Grey Hulks”, Say London Residents”!), but instead a newsfeed aggregator which does a nice job of stripping everything back and presenting you with a truly terrifying array of latest news headlines from a staggering range of sources. Not a new thing – I’ve featured things like this before – but the design is clean and not too eye-fcuking, which is important with something like this where you’ve got a LOT of different information fighting for your attention. Bookmark this – I promise you, even if you find it overwhelming, the fact that it includes such a vast array of sources means that it’s the best antidote I’m aware of to the dullard’s cry of  ‘I’m bored and have nothing to read online”.
  • Creatives Rebuilding New York: I’m only aware of one New York-based artist who reads Web Curios (NO WONDER THE SCENE IS SO STAGNANT), so this is for them and them alone. “Artists are also critical to the health of our economy. Arts and culture contribute $120 billion to New York State’s economy and are a main driver of the state’s $177 billion tourism industry. The sector also accounts for nearly half a million jobs. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, however, New York State lost 50 percent of its performing arts jobs over the course of 2020. In New York City, the figure is 72 percent—more than any other industry. To fully recover the health of our economy and our communities, we must place artists at the center of large-scale investment and relief efforts. Creatives Rebuild New York (CRNY) was conceived to do just that. CRNY is a three-year, $125 million investment in the financial stability of New York State artists and the organizations that employ them. CRNY will provide guaranteed income and employment opportunities for 2,700 artists whose primary residence is in New York State. These two programs will work to alleviate unemployment of artists, continue the creative work of artists in partnership with organizations and their communities, and enable artists to continue working and living in New York State under less financial strain.” This is backed to the tune of $115m by the Andrew Mellon foundation, with a couple of others chucking in $5m each – honestly, presuming that this is all distributed equitably and there’s nothing dodgy about the way in which applicants are assessed, then this is SUCH a wonderful idea. Can you imagine this happening in the UK? Sadly, not so much – despite the fact that (to pull some names out of a hat for a second) Damien Hirst, Elton John, Ed Sheeran and Andrew Lloyd Webber, for example, could find that sort of money down the back of their respective sofas.
  • Stream Club: MORE STREAMING! This is a bit like Mmhmm but, afaict, a bit newer, scrappier and cheaper – the deal, though, is broadly the same, insofar as Stream Club offers you a bunch of useful tools and widgets to do better, fancier-looking multiperson, multimedia livestreams, combining all sorts of useful-looking graphical flourishes which you can export to all the platforms you’d expect (Twitch, Twitter, FB, YouTube, you get the idea). On the one hand, we’ve all been doing this sort of stuff for a couple of years now (well, you have; I still hate my face so much that I refuse to put it onscreen, but hopefully you have less of a miserable and conflicted relationship with your own likeness) and so you might reasonably-expect that everyone who wanted to stream stuff had worked out how to do it to their liking by now; on the other, Web Curios has never particularly worried about being behind the times, so for those of you still trying to work out how to bring that AMAZING idea you had for ‘a podcast, yeah, but we’ll be on-camera too because that’s better!’ to life then, well, fill your videoboots.
  • MediaSynthesis: I know I type variants on these words seemingly every week (and so should you by now; why you keep reading them is a mystery to me to be honest), but it’s astonishing to me the speed at which we move from ‘oh wow that is basically witchcraft’ to ‘no this is old and played out and I tire of it, remove it from my sight for it provokes wonder no longer’ – this is particularly pronounced when it comes to AI-generated artgubbins, with stuff that elicited gasps of wonder a few short months ago (“You type in words and it imagines what they might look like??? Go on, tell it to imagine “tentacle flesh bongo”!”) now earning little more than a slightly-raised eyebrow and a faint huff of ennui. MediaSynthesis a subReddit collecting various people’s efforts at producing interesting and unusual outputs from a variety of different training models (some, like WomboDream, which I’ve featured in here before) – there’s a wonderful range of prompts and resultant images on display, though it’s noticeable the extent to which the aesthetic in all of them is recognisably-linked regardless of what software’s being used to spit them out… My main takeaway from this is that this stuff is a) not going to be exciting at all in a year or so’s time; and b) we are about…two years(?) from a significant amount of spec artwork and photoshop being done entirely by this sort of software.
  • Web2/Web3Bot: “A GPT-3 bot trying to figure out the difference between web2 & web3”, this spits out a regular stream of “Tired vs Wired”-style comparisons between the two ideas. Which are obviously all sort-of gibberish, and yet at the same time seem to be getting quite good at producing pithy little aphorisms like “web2: one-time event; web3: community” or “web2: business efficiency; web3: human flourishing”. With a bit of tweaking you could probably churn out a half-decent Web3 manifesto using this stuff (by ‘half-decent’ I obviously mean ‘empty and meaningless, but so are most people involved in hyping this up and so it’s unlikely anyone will be able to tell’).
  • The MandelaVerse: I had thought, prior to seeing this, that Nelson Mandela’s legacy and place in history were secured and largely-untarnishable – I hadn’t reckoned with the incredible grift that is THE MANDELAVERSE, though. I don’t quite know where to begin with this – it’s seemingly linked to the Mandela Education Programme, which certainly sounds like a real thing (although the link at the footer of the site which purports to go to the Education Programme instead takes you to a page all about Mandela Day on 18 July, which, well, doesn’t actually seem to have anything to do with education at all), and the liberal use of Mandela’s name and likeness all over the site lead me to believe that this is in some way an ‘official’ use of his image rights, but, well, whilst I didn’t personally know the man, I don’t know whether I would have pegged him as the sort of guy who, were he still alive, would, be bang into crypto. The project’s tagline, almost-unforgivably, seems to be ‘A Long Walk To Meta’ which, honestly, I can’t even. Still, maybe it will all make sense when we read the copy? “Welcome to the Mandelaverse, a space created by, and in support of, the Mandela education programme – an initiative to expand access to books and the Mandela digital learning platform to children in Africa and beyond. It is here that we will amplify voices, connect a global community through storytelling, and uphold the legacy, principles, and values of a revolutionary man.” Hm, well, ok, supporting a worldwide education programme, sounds good… “A token to unlock the future of education and equitable change for a new generation. Madiba Genesis Vol i is an expression of hope that explores the developing intersection of the african diaspora with technology. Modeled to pay it forward through the belief that equity leads to liberation, web3 is a radical blank canvas that allows our community to create a new world through systemic change. guided by the principles and virtues of Nelson Mandela, Mandelaverse aims to emerge as a platform for African multidisciplinary artists, voices, and movements.” Oh. Oh dear. Amusingly, the first 100 NFTs that are being minted will…grant their owners to a VIP Gala event in New York, replete with A-Listers! Yep, that’s that ‘community’ in action, right there! Look, maybe the Mandela family is onto something here, and maybe this is the sort of new charitable fundraising structure that will carry us all into a better future, raising up the most-deprived around the world through the magnificent, decentralised power of THE BLOCKCHAIN! I…I don’t have a huge degree of confidence that that will be the case, but PROVE ME WRONG, MANDELACOIN!
  • Bobu Azuki: This feels…sort-of interesting, though. Bobo Azuki is a pixelart ‘character’ with a limited backstory, effectively a blank narrative slate waiting to be drawn on. Ownership of Bobo Azuki tokens confer voting rights on the direction of the character in whatever future iterations of this IP may result – so you get to determine Bobo’s backstory, how he presents himself, but also how he’s marketed and what the roadmap is for promoting him and the wider Azuki narrative ecosystem…look, obviously there’s a certain (very real) level on which ‘pay not-insignificant amounts of environment-ruining digital magic beans for the right to determine the future narrative direction of an utterly-unremarkable 8-bit sprite’ that is, objectively, utterly-moronic, and, as ever, there doesn’t seem to be any absolute objective need for any of this to be on the fcuking blockchain, but I continue to be interested in the governance and shared ownership side of the NFT/DAO thing (even if, to reiterate, I do not think we are all going to be clamouring for Netflix to bring out Bobo Azuki: The Movie anytime soon).
  • Unhuman: This is a project which was sent to me by its creator, Damjanski, with whom I had an interesting chat about the whys and wherefores – it’s mobile-only, but visiting the site on your phone will let you create a one-of-a-kind algogenerated image-artwork, based on digital manipulation and interpretation of whatever’s captured by your device’s camera. Said digitally-manipulated output then becomes available for you to mint, becoming a one-of-a-kind NFT which in itself is a part of the wider, 777-piece work called ‘Unhuman’, which collects all of them on a single chain. Damjanksi described it to me thusly: “In ‘Unhuman Composition’, my first dapp (decentralized app), I am merging these two streams and include the audience into the making process of a new series called ‘Unhuman Compositions’. Every participant creates their own ‘Unhuman Composition’ that will be added to the collection & is fully stored and rendered on chain. It ties everyone together in a wider performance that is recorded on the blockchain. So without people participating this piece wouldn’t exist.” When I quizzed them about ‘yeah, but why does this have to be on the blockchain, though?’ they disarmingly responded with ‘because I would like to get paid please’, which, honestly, I respect quite a lot. If YOU fancy dropping 0.1ETH on your very own bespoke NFT artwork, and by so doing contribute both to the genesis of the wider Unhuman piece AND to Damjanski keeping themselves in ramen and bongo (NB – this is just a guess) then fill your boots.
  • The Fleur: Another NFT art set, this is marginally more aesthetically interesting than most – the AI-generated flowers here are quite beautiful, in a slight ‘they look like the fauna from Avatar’-type way (wow, literally had not thought about that film since I saw it 15-odd years ago, thanks brain!). Each is obviously available for sale, but tbh I am more interested by the look of the generated blooms than I am by their NFT-ness; if I were to quibble, I’d say that they’ve played it a bit straight with the descriptions here – the names are good (‘Vomitus Flos’, anyone?), but I want a bit more algoweirdness in my copy please thankyou – but, honestly, these look quite cool to my mind.
  • Walking On Mars: The second ‘a catwalk fashion show, but in CG!’ that I have seen this year, making this an OFFICIAL TREND – this is by Chinese (I think) clothing brand (or store? Look, sorry, it’s all in Chinese and Google won’t translate it, so my interpretation is…loose, to say the least) SKP, and I like this because its aesthetic can basically be summarises as ‘brutalist wip3out Neuromancer’ and I am here for that ALL DAY.
  • Online Tarot: I appreciate that many of us are increasingly comfortable with ideas of THE OCCULT and WITCHCRAFT and dear God if I hear one more person talking about fcuking manifesting I swear I will do a crime – if YOU, dear reader, are the sort of person who worries whether Mercury is in fact in retrograde (I’ll be honest with you – literally no idea what that is even MEANT to mean) and all that jazz then you might enjoy this online Tarot reading tool, which asks you to give it your name (or the name of someone else, should you want the cards to speculate on THEIR fate rather than your own), the question that you would like to ask of the cards, and then to pick three from the splayed deck it arrays before you. Pick your cards, and then let the AI spit out a bunch of predictions for your past, present and future. This is neatly-done – the content of your question gets worked into your answer (I presume there’s some GPT-x under the hood somewhere), meaning that the analysis at least sounds vaguely coherent. Still, wouldn’t go basing too many big life decisions on this – stick to the horoscopes, they’re much more accurate.
  • Tales: Not the first service of this ilk that I’ve found or featured in here, but this looks slick and professional and pretty simple to use. Tales is a platform which offers to conduct an in-depth interview with a friend, family member or loved one, guided by questions of your choosing, which will then be turned into a podcast to share with anyone who might wish to hear it. This is obviously designed as a means of memorialising people, and I imagine its primary audience is amongst people who have an ageing parent or grandparent who they want to squeeze all the stories from before they cark it (“And make sure you ask about the ring, specifically where the fcuk they hid it”), but I also really like the idea of using it as a means of extracting apologies or confessions from people – imagine, you ease them in with some light questions about their happiest memories, and ‘so, tell me about some funny times you had with Bob and the kids’ and then BANG you drop a nuclear ‘so why were you such an emotionally-unavailable parent? And why did you demonstrate such naked favouritism towards Anna and leave Paul feeling so alone and unloved?’ This could RUIN families forever. Amazing.
  • Chaotic Nightclub Photos: Thanks Alex for sharing this with me – impressive for a Twitter account with only five posts to its name to have racked up 350k followers in less than a week, which makes me wonder whether this isn’t going to be some sort of bait-and-switch which sees this being used for Social Chain-style ‘coordinated inauthentic behaviour’ to promote a bunch of brand tat – still, til that happens, enjoy the (small, but wonderful) collection of terrifying photos of the UK’s provincial nightclub ‘scene’. As someone who first discovered the horrific and wonderful powers of regular binge drinking at the sticky-carpeted paradise that was Cairo’s in Swindon (inexplicably-lax Thursday night door policy where they would let in literal 13 year olds; a pound a pint and a pound a shot all night – on reflection, it’s no wonder I have what might be described as a…problematic relationship with booze), these are familiar and terrifying.
  • Buy The House From Scarface: $40m, and, as far as I can tell, that doesn’t include the cocaine mountain or the tigers, which, frankly, seems like a rinse. Still, worth looking around the photos to see exactly what that sort of money gets you – you’d sort-of hope that, given the nature of the film and the sort of people who lionise it and its central character, the feds will be taking a close look at whoever steps up to buy this (here’s a hint, guys – if they offer a significant proportion of the sum in cash, they may be iffy). SCARFACE FACT! Back in the mid-00s there was a Scarface videogame released on consoles – as part of the promotional junket for that game, a bunch of European games media were flown to a Spanish Island (may have been Ibiza, I forget) where there were ACTUAL TIGERS on leashes wandering around, a retrospectively-uncomfortable number of female models in white bikinis being paid not-enough-money to laugh at the jokes of a bunch of mostly-very-ugly male games journalists, and, as ‘legend’ (very good authority) would have it, an awful lot of actual cocaine. Videogames PR in the 00s was ODD.

By Alexey Kondakov

NEXT UP IN THIS WEEK’S SELECTION OF MUSICAL DELIGHTS, A DEEP HOUSE AND ELECTRO MIX BY THE DISCO DEVIANT! 

THE SECTION WHICH, WHILST DISAPPOINTED BY ITALY’S FAILURE TO QUALIFY FOR THE HUMAN RIGHTS WORLD CUP THIS YEAR, DID RATHER ENJOY JUST HOW MUCH THE POST-MATCH ANALYSIS OF SAID FAILURE RESEMBLED AN INCREDIBLY-ANGRY WAKE, PT.2:  

  • Freezecam: On the one hand, I sort-of assume that everyone reading this is of an age and weariness whereby work just sort of happens – you know what you’re doing, you do it, you and everyone else knows it’s mainly a pointless exercise in wheelspinning for everyone involved, you all move on. It’s basically painless, is what I mean – boring, enervating, depressing, fine, but you know what you’re doing and you just get on with it. It may be, though, that you are occasionally faced with scenarios in which you find yourself living out your anxiety dreams – forced to present an unfamiliar ‘deck’ (POWERPOINT! KEYNOTE! ANYTHING BUT FCUKING ‘DECK’ FOR THE LOVE OF FCUKING GOD!) about which you know nothing, and care even less, and you just DONWANNA…well, Curios is once again here to help. Or, more accurately, this website is here to help – Freezecam is a downloadable bit of software that works with Zoom, Teams and the Google Suite that noone uses, and lets you do a bunch of things to futz with your videostream. Swap it out for a prerecorded video of you nodding and pretending you give a fcuk while you go and make a sandwich! Cause your stream to stutter unbearably, making it impossible for you to contribute to the meeting! Freeze your stream entirely! Honestly, this is genius – were I the sort of person who was ever asked to present anything to anyone, I would absolutely use this within 10s of slide one and then go to the pub.
  • One Week Bot: From the bot’s bio: “I tweet the lyrics from the song One Week by @barenakedladies when you say “one week” or “it’s been”.” That’s it. And yet, this is oddly-pleasing, not least because it shares a short (2s) clip from the song’s video along with the line, so you can hear it sung in-situ which, yes, ok, doesn’t necessarily sound compelling, but I promise you that this is oddly-pleasing (and will earworm you like a motherfcuker, be warned).
  • The Man Will Never Fly Memorial Society: A society founded in 1959 which, according to this website which was last updated only three days ago, is still going strong, and whose beliefs and ethos can be summarised thusly: “  Members of the Man Will Never Fly Society are not opposed to flight.  Birds do it, Bees do it, even educated fleas do it, as Cole Porter once said.  But when you stop to think about it, do you actually believe that a machine made of tons of metal will fly?  Small wonder that the editor of a Dayton newspaper said, when informed of the mythical first flight in 1903.  “Man will never fly.  And if he does, he will never come from Dayton.”  The Society’s members believe that balloons fly, but we do not believe in flying machines.  Indeed, members of the Society have proposed a variety of apparati for movement through the ozone.  One of our members is even cultivating an enormous jumping bean which, when saddled and heated by a laser, will propel a human for great distances. But let us hear no more of plane moving through the air, unless they are hurled by carpenters.  Airports and airplanes are for the gullible.  Little do “plane” passengers realize that they are merely boarding Greyhound buses with wings, and that while aboard these winged buses, given the illusion of flight when cloud like scenery is moved past their windows by stagehands in a very expensive theatrical performance.  We ask you to gather under our banner and combat the myth that man can, did, or will ever fly, except in his or her imagination.” In the unlikely event I am ever again in North Carolina (sorry, North Carolina, but little I saw indicated you were worth a repeat visit) then I will totally pop in on these people.
  • Mr Forge: One of the odd side effects of having a very small and slightly-miserable life at present is that I am spending slightly more time using Facebook than I have done in a few years (I don’t want an endless stream of video entertainments; I want a few minutes of feeling smugly superior to the people I used to go to school with so that I can feel momentarily better about the fundamental-sh1ttiness of my current situation) – amongst the photographs of people who are balder and fatter than I am (YES! IN YOUR FACE! I WIN! And yet still, on most levels, I lose!) I currently get served a seemingly-incessant stream of cookery videos (I like cooking, well done algorithm!) which, in the main, involve MASSIVE MEN with MASSIVE KNIVES cooking what is fundamentally very, very basic food (MEAT! MORE MEAT! POTATO!) with oversized, very sharp knives and LOTS OF FIRE – is..is this what the world’s men want from cookery? A throwback to simpler times when they had to de-sinew elk with their teeth before slicing it into carpaccio with a double-bladed greataxe?). Which is by way of preamble to Mr Forge, a TikTok accounts which takes ‘cooking with fire’ to its logical extreme conclusion – that is, cooking with molten metal. Mr Forge has access to, er, a forge – his videos show you what happens when you introduce superheated, glowing-red semi-liquid metal to foodstuffs (spoiler: they mainly catch on fire). Inedible, but definitely VERY MACHO. I hope Mr Forge has an alternative source of food, though, as he must be hungry otherwise.
  • The Emblems of Space Force: A thread of all the emblems used by the various branches of the US Space Force, created by the last administration to help secure the future safety of the planet from as-yet-unknown interstellar or extraplanetary threats OR to give a bunch of Republican morons a massive militaristic space-boner (delete as applicable) – these are quite, quite remarkable and I can’t stress enough how much I really hope that they are all real. You will all have your own favourites, but personally I can’t see beyond the GIGANTIC EVIL SPACE SQUID, which would hands-down win any contest for ‘emblem most likely to be used by The Bad Guys in a Paul Verhoeven space fash flick’ and which absolutely confirms that literally everyone involved in the Space Force thing doesn’t get that Starship Troopers is satire.
  • Dead Pet Girls: “An exploration of the weird and wonderful world of mourning pets”, runs the homepage description – er, ok! ‘Wonderful’ seems like a bit of a stretch – I mean, I get that grief can be cathartic, but try and tell the child weeping desperately over the mutilated corpse of their budgerigar that there’s anything ‘wonderful’ about their mourning. Still, if you’re interested in exploring the emotional intensity of the death of a beloved animal friend then this might be worth a look: “Grief is an essential part of the human experience, but little is said about pet death. Yet, around the world incredible memorials and graveyards dedicated to pets exist. A little bit funny, a little bit sad, and a bit sentimental with a dash of camp and counterculture, these spaces can tell us a great deal about individual and social values. The ways that excessive shows of loved for our dearly departed companions. Stick around for tales of space dogs, women who shaped modern art, princesses and lions, the Queen and her corgis, and so much more. Who knew there were so many stories to be told about dead pets?” Well, er, quite.
  • Record Temperatures Map: A simple, sobering bit of dataviz from the Pudding here, taking a map of the US and overlaying it, state by state, with the number of days since each state recorded a record temperature for the time of year. Overall, at the time of writing, it’s been 37 days since there was a never-before-seen record anywhere in North America, but what’s astonishing/terrifying about the figures is how many records have been broken within the past year – literally every single state has recorded a new record high within the past 12 months.  This doesn’t feel like good news, and, er, to be honest it probably isn’t.
  • The Tolkien Estate: Have we gotten to the point now where ‘being interested in, and spending time on, the internet’ is now mainstream enough that there’s not an expected automatic venn diagram crossover with ‘also likes fcuking Star Trek or fcuking Star Wars or fcuking Tolkien’? Because, sorry, I don’t like any of those things. That said, I do find Tolkien the man significantly more interesting than Tolkien-the-work, and this website is a new(ish) repository for all the materials you could ever want to explore from the Tolkien family archive. It’s blissfully light on anything to do with the films or the forthcoming Amazon series, and instead a lot bigger on letters and archival materials and maps and notes and all that sort of thing – I am sure that if you’re the sort of obsessive who’s actually read the Silmarillion then you will find a LOT to love here, even if you’re no Middle Earth obsessive; you can’t deny he was an incredibly-accomplished worldbuilder, and a proper polymath, even if you wish deep in your heart of hearts that you had never heard the word ‘hobbit’.
  • A Bowman: The website of one A Bowman, who has made a bunch of small digital pets that you can download and play with from their website – hamsters! Goldfish! PENGUINS! Ok, so I only found this this morning and so haven’t had the chance to test these out properly, and as a result I can’t promise that they are not in fact massively well-disguised Trojan Horse programmes that will take over your computer and use it to mine Bitcoin or something but, well, I trust A Bowman based on their website, and I think you should too. Because, once again, PENGUINS! A colony of penguins that can live on your computer, and who due to their digital nature won’t come with that honking whiff of fish that sadly makes the penguin a less-than-ideal meatspace pet! Who doesn’t want that? NO FCUKER, that’s who!
  • Fetish Guitars: Not, sadly (well, sadly to me at least) a collection of guitars made of latex and featuring interestingly-designed harnesses; instead, this is a site devoted to ‘the glory of Italian guitars from the 60s’, which I confess to not having realised was a particularly rich heritage but, well, look! Italian guitars from the 60s! I can’t say with any certainty but I think that there’s a fair proportion of my readership who are middle-aged men, and for whom this will therefore be some sort of existential catnip.
  • Syosa’s Pixel Art: Truly glorious pixelart illustrations of tiny birds and flowers and dogs and cards and, er, the working life of Japanese veterinarians, and God do I wish I read Japanese so I could see exactly what was happening in the impossibly-cute-but-largely-inexplicable section entitled ‘ABOUT Japanese Food Poisoning’. These are gorgeous and, honestly, a cut above most pixelart work I come across.
  • Flight Simulator: This requires a download, fine, and I confess to not actually having tried it (my personal tolerance for flight simulator games is pretty much zero, sorry), but, well, how can you not be drawn in by the strapline ‘The only free flight simulator where you can do anything!’ which, fine, might be something of an hyperbolic exaggeration, but it sounds good. “Shoot down waves of hostile aircraft offline, demolish nearly any ground object with any weapon, or challenge other combat pilots online to test your mettle as a flying ace. Use the navigation instruments to plot a peaceful flight, or hunt your prey with air to ground missiles, coming in for the kill with a hail of gunfire. Fly aerobatic formations, fight in ultra-lights, or land a strategic bomber on a helicopter pad. The only limits are your imagination, your add-on collection, and the rules of the server where you fly.” How does that grab you?
  • Google Maps Driving Simulator: This feels very much like a throwback, and I have a vague recollection of featuring this or something very much like it waaaay back in the day when Hill+Knowlton Strategies somehow let me write this on their actual corporate website, but that was then (Flash) and this is now (JavaScript) and so here it is again for your afternoon delectation. Google Maps Driving Simulator is very simple and quite rubbish in many respects, but, equally, it lets you pretend to drive a bus or car around anywhere in the world using Google’s own satellite footage, and there’s something pleasingly-retro about the fact that it doesn’t even attempt to work in layers of collision detection, meaning you’re effectively just skating across the surface of a bunch of stitched-together photographs. Ok, fine, I am not selling this, but I promise you this makes driving through London fun in a sort of GTAII sort-of way.
  • Framed: I know, I know, another wordle clone – except it’s not really very Wordle-y at all, and instead it’s just a relatively simple ‘can you guess the film from a single frame?’ game, which gives you 6 tries to guess the title, with each presenting you with a new, supposedly-easier, frame from the movie. Look, this might be possible if you’re more of a cinephile than I am, but as far as I am concerned this is basically impossible (although I did get today’s in two goes just now).
  • Catfish: Finally in the miscellania this week, this very simple and yet oddly-soothing fishing game, in which you play a cat trying to catch a bunch of fish of varying sizes and shapes with their fishing rod. This isn’t hard, but it’s the sort of thing you can happily zone out with for 20m with some music on in the background and which will cause your brain to basically smooth out almost-entirely which, if we’re honest, is all we’re really after at the moment, right?

By Scott Conrad Kelly

LAST UP IN THE MIXES THIS WEEK IS THIS WIDE-RANGING AND ECLECTIC AND VAGUELY-80s-TINGED BANGER BY ZANELATO! 

THE CIRCUS OF TUMBLRS!

  • Vanishing Sydney: I can’t pretend I have any interest in visiting Australia – no culture, murderous wildlife, insane journey, Australians – but, thanks to this Tumblr which showcases photos of “the new sh1t replacing the old sh1t in the Inner West of my beloved Emerald City”, I don’t feel that I have to! My pointless borderline-racism aside, this is a really nice little project – not because of the photography so much as for the little anecdotes and memories that accompany the pictures (NB – obviously if any Australians are reading this (HI BRENT!) then I don’t mean you).
  • You Cannot Take It With You: I haven’t featured an artTumblr on here for a while, but this is a really nicely-curated collection of pieces with a focus on nudes (but, you know, tastefully).

THE TROUGH OF (INSTA) FEEDS!

  • Turn Studio: Beautiful pottery and ceramic work, which includes not only images of the finished and fired pots but also videos which document their creation, including the design work done in CAD before sculting, decorating and firing. This is lovely, and very soothing.
  • David Rivillo’s Fancy Pasta: The ‘fancy pasta’ designation is mine, by the way, not Mr Rivillo’s. Still, he does make fancy pasta – the sort that, to be clear, never actually gets eaten but instead exists to be sold in hideously-expensive packages at airports by people desperately searching for gifts for people they neither know well nor particularly like.
  • Mozu World: Incredible intricate miniature work from Japan. You may think you have enough tiny, doll’s house-sized stuff in your feed, but you never do.

LONG THINGS WHICH ARE LONG!:

  • Lessons From 19 Years in the Metaverse: Yes, I know, you’re sick of the M-word chat. I’m sick of the M-word chat. And yet, here we are, still with the M-word chat. This, I promise you, is, despite your near-overwhelming-sense of fatigue about anything to do with the prospect of glorious digital futures in which you can enjoy glorious brand experiences, worth reading – Charlie Warzel interviews Wagner James Au, who’s been involved with Second Life for 19 years and as a result knows a thing or two about the creation of immersive digital spaces in which people can construct and conduct parallel/complementary non-meatspace existences. This is a really interesting exploration of what might be said to constitute the concept of the metaverse, the extent to which it already exists (or, perhaps, can never exist at all), and all the sorts of really interesting questions about the creation of community and infrastructure and social guidelines and mores which, based on its 15-year history, I personally have no confidence whatsoever that the Zuckerbergian Big Blue Misery Factory has any idea of how to get right whatsoever. This quote, in particular, struck me as usefully-illustrative: “With the Web3 would-be metaverses, I think they put the cart before the horse. If you put out a speculative offering, like a new coin that gains people entry into a digital world, people might show up, but I don’t know why they’d necessarily keep coming back. On a basic philosophical, human level, a thing is only valuable if a group decides it is. These crypto metaverses put the speculation before the community. Meta is sort of doing the same thing by openly saying they want to give people Oculus headsets and scrape their user data, including what people are looking at, in order to do advertising. Right there, once again, they’re putting the monetization right up front, before the community.”
  • SXSW: Or, to give the piece its full title, “At SXSW, A Pathetic Tech Future Struggles to Be Born”. VICE goes in two-footed on this year’s SXSW, which, honestly, feels a bit like shooting fish in a barrel at this point, but the piece is well-written and does a decent job at skewering much of the current hype and meaningless guff surrounding everything cryptonftweb3related. This para, in particular, is talking about a specific project but could well be a cipher for the entire ‘scene’ at the moment: “it seems to largely center on creating an ecosystem that can be fully commercialized by community members who will also be content creators and consumers. All that is then wrapped up in rhetoric about creating fully commodified and commercialized communities where interactions are mediated by transactions and markets that will actually liberate people from a world dominated by transactions and markets.” Still, er, COMMUNITY!
  • Paris, Apes and the Crypto-Clique: Whereas this piece is basically the negative of the last one – imagine instead that you believed that this commercialisation and commoditisation of everything was in fact a boon, and that it was a good thing that it was all being driven by a shadowy-and-indeed-not-so-shadowy group of the already-extremely-wealthy, and this is the piece you might write. This is both a profile-puff-piece of Paris Hilton and her VC husband, and how they (well, she) is the vanguard of this new movement, and how GREAT that is, and also an incredibly-straight-faced look at exactly how incredibly interconnected and weblike and…well…fcuktree-ish the whole top-end NFT ecosystem appears to be, to the extent which a clearer-eyed piece, one which seemed less interested in ingratiating itself with the rich kids, might ask one or two questions about. What could be more decentralised than communities based on token-based voting rights – where a bunch of multimillionaires own all the tokens? NOTHING, and you would have to be a miserable fool or a communist to suggest otherwise.
  • Apecoin: Except, of course, that when you look properly closely at the whole thing – as this Verge article examining the newly-minted Apecoin cryptocurrency launched by Bored Ape founders Yugalabs – it looks very much like an elaborate series of financial scams (or things which will be deemed to be scams in about 18m time when regulators and legislators have caught up, by which point the whales will have gotten out and moved on, and the ‘community’ will be crying into their yerba mate about how they are still, against all likely expectations, GMI). I appreciate that I am perhaps at the extreme end of skepticism when it comes to this stuff, but I think it’s also fair to argue that, in my lifetime at least, anything involving incredibly complex, byzantine financial structures which looks like a scam or a crook’s endeavour has, in fact, turned out to be exactly the sort of scam or crook’s endeavour that it first appeared to be.
  • Meet Mr Ethereum:  A superb profile of Ethereum founder and current holder of the global title of ‘person who looks most likely to have invented a cryptocurrency’ Vitalik Buterin. It’s worth reading the three pieces above before you get to this one, as it throws into sharp relief the difference between Buterin’s approach to crypto, and what he sees as its potential, and that for which it is currently being used – it’s hard not to feel a touch sorry for this guy, an archetypal geek-genius whose obviously an incredibly smart and deep thinker whose currently seeing the digital infrastructure which he envisaged as being a way to transform anything and everything from business to finance to politics instead being used to sell monkey jpegs to rich morons.
  • The Golden Age for Armchair Generals: Or, per my intro a month ago when the war kicked off, how now that everyone’s had time to Google ‘Clausewitz’ and flip through their back issues of Soldier of Fortune Magazine there is something of a glut of military strategists and tacticians currently peddling their questionable infowares all over the internet. This VICE piece looks at some of the main types, from the SAS reservists who are now dropping TRUTH BOMBS about the best ways in which to secure an urban environment when subject to constant shelling to the newly-minted NATO historians who can tell you all about why a no fly zone is actually a perfectly reasonable thing and we don’t need to worry about the nukes. Basically everyone is a moron and you shouldn’t listen to anyone on Twitter about anything, was my takeaway from all this – if you fancy a hit of PROPER ARMCHAIR GENERAL CONTENT, by the way, try this, a PDF guide to urban warfare by…er…some guy off Twitter who claims to be (and, for all I know, in fact is) a veteran of urban conflict in Iraq.
  • Downloading Wikipedia: A fascinating vignette from the conflict, as citizens in Russia have reportedly been racing to download copies of Wikipedia before it got taken offline by the Kremlin as part of its continued drive to limit outside information on the conflict from reaching its citizenry. Several things, here – firstly, again, a reminder of the myriad disbenefits of having the world’s major information resources being online-only (“Sorry, we appear to have started World War 3 because we couldn’t access any historical context due to the WiFi falling over”); secondly, it will never cease to amaze me that a website which up until relatively-recently was a byword for ‘the internet is full of lies’ is now an accepted-enough authority that people will literally rely on it as a de facto foreverencyclopaedia; and thirdly, the idea of a future, post-web civilisation’s entire knowledge corpus being contained on USB drives containing samizdat copies of Wikipedia is just mind-flayingly future-but-not-really-that-future-scifi.
  • Who Is Who And What Is What?: Fascinating and not a little heartbreaking, this is a collection of observations and anecdotes compiled by Chris Lockhart and Daniel Mulilo Chama, who have written a book about Zambian street children. “Together with colleagues, they set out to write a different kind of story, one that looked at what was missing from those reports: “the children themselves.” Their research team included five former street children, a journalism student from the University of Zambia, an outreach worker (who had been a street child, too), and an anthropologist. The result of their five years of collective immersion is Walking the Bowl — a propulsive work of narrative nonfiction fiercely anchored in social science, yes, but also a work of intimacy, surprise, and deeply felt humanity. For The Cutting Room, Guernica’s new column for creative work that helped make a book but didn’t make it in, the authors have shared excerpts from their team members’ journals, or “street notes,” collected over a two-week period in 2016”. Each of these fragments is a painting, a photo, a novel-in-waiting – honestly, I know that that reads like hyperbole, but these are stop-you-in-your-tracks arresting.
  • The Origins of Zemmour: France is currently undergoing its seemingly-quadrennial process of ‘flirting with a massively-racist candidate in the early rounds of elections before deciding to elect another centrist when it comes to the final round’, with the role of ‘massively-racist candidate this year being played not by a Le Pen but instead by Eric Zemmour, a (to my mind, at least) pretty repellant figure who is here well-profiled by Boyd Tonkin in Unherd (and yes, I know, Unherd – but this doesn’t seem like an awful piece of divisive, right-wing sh1t, so I figure I can link to it with reasonable impunity). I particularly enjoyed the delve into the French bourgeousie’s long-held history of enjoying a little bit of racism here and there (explored particularly well in Houllebecq’s ‘Atomised’ imho).
  • Americans Underestimate: This is some YouGov researched, which can be summarised thusly: “When it comes to estimating the size of demographic groups, Americans rarely get it right. In two recent YouGov polls, we asked respondents to guess the percentage (ranging from 0% to 100%) of American adults who are members of 43 different groups, including racial and religious groups, as well as other less frequently studied groups, such as pet owners and those who are left-handed. When people’s average perceptions of group sizes are compared to actual population estimates, an intriguing pattern emerges: Americans tend to vastly overestimate the size of minority groups.” I saw this doing the rounds a LOT over the past week, often with screencaps of the graphs which show the extent to which denizens of the US overestimate the proportion of non-white people in the country, of gay people, of trans people, accompanied by commentary shock-LOLing at the ignorance of our cousins across the pond and, er, guys, what makes you think anywhere else is any different or better. I have seen these surveys conducted for audiences in Italy, Spain and France before, and the results are always the same – ALWAYS. We ALWAYS overestimate the presence of the minority other in our societies, which overestimation leads to a lot of the insane and hateful policies towards said minority others which get pushed through by awful people preying on exactly that overestimation and the fear it can engender. Worth remembering when next you encounter a frothy moral panic about how minority group X is going to bring about the fall of civilisation for reasons Y.
  • Coding With Language: This is not particularly well-written, fine, and it is a bit niche, but I found it fascinating. It’s a post on the blog of one Andrew Mayne, all about the simple games that they have been able to code using Open AI’s code generating software through which the machine can create working code based on your natural language descriptions of what you want said code to do. Which, fine, maybe doesn’t make as much sense as a description as I would like it to, but which will become a lot clearer as soon as you click the link and read the piece (CLICK THE LINK FFS!). Even if you don’t code, this should be enough to persuade you of the glorious coming future in which you can just type ‘Elden Ring, but easier and with more bright yellow armour sets’ and Lo! It will appear (and if you do code, this should be another sign that, if all you do is cobble together stuff off GitHub, your days might be a bit numbered).
  • Shock Art: A review (ish – more of a feature about than a review per se) of a new work on display at the Whitney Biennale, which uses VR to make the viewer…complicit(?) in an act of extreme violence. “Here’s what goes down. Viewers are directed to a counter, handed noise-cancelling headphones and virtual-reality goggles, and instructed to grip the railing below them. The video begins with a view of clear sky glimpsed between buildings on a wide Manhattan street, as if you’re lying supine on the ground. You can almost smell spring. Then a cut, and there, kneeling on a stretch of sidewalk, is a young man in jeans and a red hoodie, an obscure, plaintive expression on his face as he holds your gaze. A man in a gray T-shirt stands over him: the artist. He takes a baseball bat and whacks his victim in the skull, then drops the bat, drags the man by his legs to the center of the sidewalk, and proceeds to bash his face in with a series of stomps and kicks. Blood gushes. The victim grunts and is silent. In the street, indifferent traffic is lined up bumper to bumper. Pedestrians mill around in the far background. The bat has rolled into the gutter; the batterer retrieves it and carries on. The camera cuts to a dizzying view from above; it feels like hovering upside down in a dream. Throughout, a man’s voice sings the two Hebrew blessings that Jews recite over the candles during Hanukkah. Abruptly, the sound cuts, then the image.” This is fascinating to me – I have long been interested in the extent to which VR can affect the way you feel about seeing imagery like this, and the extent to which the viewer’s perspective impacts empathy with what you see (or indeed the opposite). I would find this a far more interesting idea, for example, if the viewer was given the viewpoint of the person holding the bat.
  • The Toad Man: This is a hell of a story, which I don’t really want to tell you too much about by way of spoilers, but it’s basically about a guy who’s made himself a tidy little business (and, whisper it, also a cult) out of his ability to source hallucinogenic toad secretions which he feeds to visitors who come seeking enlightenment, cure and absolution at $250 a pop. All you need to know about this is that it turns out that the man who makes a living cooking and selling toad meth to tourists is exactly what you’d expect him to be like.
  • Intergenerational Wealth Spiral: This is, to be clear, utterly heartbreaking. Dave Jr lives in Michigan; this is the story of him and his family as they try to bury his father, Dave Sr, whose debts, left behind after his death, threaten to bury them. Everything about this is tragic, the photos and the story at the heart of it and the little elements of…despair in every single interaction Dave Jr. has with his daughter and his wife and the memory of his dad, and all the institutions and businesses who he comes into contact with over the course of the piece who, it will come as no surprise to learn, don’t seem to be able to help at all. This is a brilliant piece of writing and a superb profile, but, to be clear, very fcuking sad indeed.
  • False Passives: Another link that’s not exactly a barrel of laughs (sorry), but which is again superbly-written, this is an account of the migrant journey undertaken by people taking the Eastern Route, from Africa to the Gulf States, in pursuit of a better life. Your regular reminder that human migration under appalling conditions happens every day all over the world, because: “Climate change, experts say, is the primary cause of human migration on Earth. And so it is in the highland villages and towns along Highway 2, in the rafters of the world, where people have grown things for thousands of years and still do, and still rely for the most part on their increasingly unreliable harvests; where arable land is rapidly ceding to unpredictable weather patterns, drought, deforestation for biomass fuels, erosion, or heedless development, often by outside powers; where poverty grinds so much human ambition to barren dust.”
  • Beat Saber: An essay on The White Pube, about VR and videogames and lockdown and covid and health and play and escape – they write about games SO WELL, and this is just a brilliant piece of very intimate and personal writing overall imho.
  • Wood Sorrell House: Very quiet, creeping horror now, in this short story by Zach Williams in the New Yorker. You can take this straight or as an analogy for whatever part of parenthood you choose, but either way this is intensely-creepy and you could totally imagine how you might film it (or you can if you are me). I would be amazed if this hasn’t already been optioned by someone.
  • Fish: Finally this week, this requires you to download a small programme, unzip it and then click ‘Fish.exe’ – that will let you experience this short, tappable essay by PROPER AUTHOR Robin Sloane, who kindly said ‘yes’ when I asked them if I could feature this link in Curios. Fish is all about the wonder of finding something and focusing on it, learning about it, getting to know it inside out, in part as a response to the endless torrent of ephemera passing our eyes online each day. Which, you might think, might make it antithetical to Web Curios, being as this is the thickest, most clotted stream of ephemera any of you ever did see. BUT, the point of Curios, at its heart, is to present you with a bunch of stuff in the hope that one or two small bits will speak to you and become YOUR fish.

By Maud Madsen

AND NOW, MOVING PICTURES AND SOUNDS!:

Webcurios 18/03/22

Reading Time: 33 minutes

Have you had a bad week? Has it been trying, grinding, wearing and soul-scouring? Do you need a pick-me-up, something to leaven the spirits and the soul, and lighten the ever-more-burdensome existential load of being made of meat here in the early days of the fag-end of human civilisation?

Yeah, sorry, me too, I got NOTHING. The one silver lining for me in the past seven days has been knowing that however boring, pointless and enervating my professional existence might be, at least I wasn’t one of the (doubtless many hundreds of) people involved in making the brand collaboration between plastic cheese peddlers Kraft and musician Kelis, a partnership so staggeringly-awful and ineptly-conceived that it made me feel almost sorry for whichever poor accountmonkey is going to have to present the ‘results’ wrapup.

Basically, gentle readers, I am at a stage in my life where I go to bed each night praying for an intervention from Sam Beckett (the fictional time traveller, not the Irish playwrite (although tbh either would do at this stage – mind you, I’m not convinced Irish Sam would necessarily leave my life in better conditions than he found it)).  If anyone has a number for Scott Bakula, please do send it my way.

I am still Matt, but only just; this is still Web Curios, regrettably; who the fcuk are you, and what are you looking at me like that for?

By Fabio Miguel Roque

WE KICK OFF THIS WEEK WITH A CRACKING MIX OF GARAGE-ISH TUNES BY OPPIDAN! 

THE SECTION WHICH THIS WEEK HAS MOSTLY ENJOYED THE ETHICAL STYLINGS OF SOME OF THE WORLD’S LARGEST COMMS AGENCIES, PT.1:  

  • 1920: One of the curious things about the past three weeks has been the reemergence of Anonymous as a collective in the popular consciousness. We’d all sort of forgotten about Anonymous, hadn’t we? It feels a bit like a relic of a past internet, one when we imagined that collective, scrappy resistance was A Thing that could Make A Difference (oh the naivety!) rather than just another example of flailing impotence in the face of The Great Grinding Forces That Govern Us And In So Doing Render Us So Much Psychic Mincemeat. Remember when we thought that a bunch of script kiddies wearing Alan Moore-inspired Guy Fawkes masks could save us? LOL! I jest, obvs (please don’t take down Web Curios, Anonymous!), but I have been genuinely fascinated to see the collective’s reemergence as a vector of anti-Russian resistance in the weeks since Putin’s invasion. 1920 is a project set up by Anonymous which uses leaked databases of Russian mobile numbers to enable anyone to send messages to Russian citizens to educate them about what is really happening in Ukraine, via SMS or WhatsApp messages – similar in ethos to those adland people who are trying to use digital advertising to break through the propaganda wall being erected around the country by Moscow (full disclosure – I know some of these people, though I am not personally involved in the work). This is a really interesting idea, as is this parallel project which is hacking CCTV cameras across Russia to make them display overlaid messages of support for Ukraine. I’ve a suspicion the 1920 site isn’t quite working properly at the time of writing, but it’s worth checking back if you’re curious about getting involved in some way.
  • SUCHO: Or ‘Saving Ukraine’s Cultural Heritage Online’. “We are a group of cultural heritage professionals – librarians, archivists, researchers, programmers – working together to identify and archive at-risk sites, digital content, and data in Ukrainian cultural heritage institutions while the country is under attack. We are using a combination of technologies to crawl and archive sites and content, including the Internet Archive’s Wayback Machine, the Browsertrix crawler and the ArchiveWeb.page browser extension and app of the Webrecorder project” This is something I hadn’t even momentarily considered, but is an obvious side-effect of modern conflict – the degradation of digital records as servers get blown to smithereens – and I think there’s something quietly amazing about the collective effort to preserve as much as possible through open-source archiving efforts. There are hundreds of urls being submitted – it’s sort-of incredible to see history and culture being reshaped like this (‘incredible’ in the literal, not-necessarily-entirely-positive sense).
  • The War Diary of Yevgenia Belorusets: Literally what it says in the title: “Yevgenia Belorusets has been one of the great documentarians of Russia’s war against Ukraine since 2014, winning the International Literature Prize for her work. Her diary provides the news from a different vantage.” This is beautiful and horrible and remarkable – each day’s update is a few-hundred words, presenting a small vignette from Beloruset’s quotidian experience of living in a warzone, and there are entries each day since 24th February. I can’t pretend this is anything other than an incredibly sad and harrowing read, but it’s also a remarkable ongoing record of what it’s like to live through an invasion – there’s no entry for 17th March, which I am hoping quite hard is down to Non-Fatal Circumstances Beyond The Author’s Control.
  • Try Your Best: We pivot now with unfortunate, whiplash-inducing speed (you think context collapse is a new thing? Ha! Curios has been specialising in the unpleasant flattening of significance and meaning since 2011, fools!)  from war to branding. Try Your Best is not only a terrible, silly idea, but it’s a terrible, silly idea that recycles previous terrible, silly ideas from about a decade ago, so WELL DONE everyone involved! The premise here is a GOOD ONE – “Influence the brands you love *and* get rewarded for doing it.” I mean, who doesn’t dream of influencing brands? And who doesn’t, somewhere in their cold dead heart, feel a deep and abiding love for said brands? NO FCUKER, that’s who! Combining a whole host of largely-meaningless buzzphrases (‘Community’! ‘Coins’!), the basic premise here is that TYB will provide brands with a space in which to ENGAGE their fans, test out new products and content, co-create new designs…for which ENGAGEMENT fans will earn BRAND COINS that can then be exchanged for…er…more brand stuff! What exactly the appeal is meant to be for people here is…not obvious to me (act as an unpaid branding consultant for a major corporation in exchange for magic company scrip which you can pay back to said major corporation in exchange for…branded tat? SIGN ME UP!), and I feel it’s important to remember that this is exactly the same sort of crap that people like me told clients that they could use Facebook Pages and Facebook Groups for at various points over the past decade or so. We were lying then, and these people are lying now – NOONE WANTS TO ENGAGE WITH A BRAND IN EXCHANGE FOR MAGIC BEANS, NOT EVEN IF YOU THROW THE WORD ‘CRYPTO’ IN THERE SOMEWHERE. Think about all the companies we’ve seen over the past 10 years who have touted some sort of variant on the ‘we’re a platform that rewards users for watching your branded content by paying them actual money for their time and attention, thereby ensuring the dissemination of your messaging across key audience verticals!’ – now take a minute to think how many of said companies you ever heard of more than once. Exactly. Still, ‘coins’! ‘Community’! MILLIONAIRES BY CHRISTMAS!
  • Hoxna: Another variant on the ‘we’re creating a company to help you buy digital rights to real-world locations’ business model, Hoxna “is a ground-breaking and ambitious new project which links virtual and physical real estate through a common currency and NFTs (Non-Fungible Tokens), providing a true digital twin of the world.” The difference between Hoxna and previous iterations of this idea that I’ve come across is the strong link they’re trying to establish between actual, physical property ownership and digital, ‘metaversal’ (sorry) ownership – unlike other projects I’ve featured here, there’s no promise to ‘own the Eiffel Tower’ (unless you happen to, er, already own the Eiffel Tower in real life – who does own the Eiffel Tower? Can I borrow it?), which makes it feel marginally-less-grifty, but, equally, I can’t 100% get behind the idea of a company whose main vibe seems to be ‘we’re going to bring the best thing about real life – MORTGAGES!!!! – to the virtual world’ because, honestly, the increasing likelihood that all our digital futures will simply take the worst of the physical world and make it INFINITELY WORSE is starting to grate on me a bit. Could we maybe aim for a digital realm which isn’t predicated on all the asset-grabbing and scarcity/ownership models which characterise meatspace? Eh? Oh. Still, the fact that the Ts&Cs page of the site is still Lorem Ipsem gives me some small reassurance that we won’t all be in hock to the metaversal rentier class quite yet.
  • Pixit: It feels, finally, like the initial frothy wave of NFT projects, specifically the infinite (and infinitely-moronic) trend for poorly-drawn profile pictures to be used as avatars in some ill-defined future digital paradise, might be dying down a bit – poor John Terry’s collection of ugly sporting primates isn’t looking like the investment he thought it was! Still, if you fancy a relatively-cheap way of creating your VERY OWN ugly NFT avatar, Pixit might be the perfect tool with which to do so – upload any image you like, and the site creates a pixellated version of it (you can choose how pixelated you want it to be – from ‘an unknowable mass of coloured blobs’ to ‘looks like a slightly-zoomed-in Amiga sprite) – you can then mint said image to the blockchain for (at the time of writing) about 20 quid and it will be YOURS FOREVER. Or, alternatively, you can just right-click and save and it will ALSO be yours forever – your call really. I particularly like the idea of using this to create a new range of Pixelated Bored Apes and then aggressively suggesting to the fools who have shelled out for the ‘real’ ones that yours are in fact the new and genuine hotness of the NFT PFP scene (but then I’m childish like that).
  • The Lonely Ape Dating Club: Is this really A Thing? I am unsure, but let’s pretend that it is for the lols. Currently only a holding page with a waitlist signup, this is purportedly going to be a dating app EXCLUSIVELY for holders of BAYC NFTs (and, having read around it a bit, the nubile young things who will do ANYTHING to be with someone whose main personality trait is ‘spent at least 5 figures on a poorly-rendered jpeg of a cartoon monkey’) – you need to connect a wallet to sign up, presumably to ensure that only TRUE owners of poorly-rendered cartoon monkey jpegs can gain access to this oh-so-exclusive ‘community’ (truly, the most meaningless of all the words in 2022). What happens after that is, at present, a mystery, but I would imagine it’s something REALLY GREAT and definitely won’t be a bunch of socially-awkward men with an overinflated sense of their own attractiveness desperately flexing their nonexistent social status at a small group of gold diggers and p1ss-takers, oh no siree.
  • NFTBooks: There is, it is increasingly apparent, no part of life that can’t be ameliorated by the introduction of THE BLOCKCHAIN, no fusty old corner of business or society that wouldn’t benefit from having some sort of largely-arbitrary link to a distributed, decentralised ledger. So it is with reading – WE’VE BEEN DOING IT WRONG, EVERYONE! These people have seemingly SAVED the publishing industry, so thank God for that – here’s their explanation: “More than simply an end user, Reader is the dominant audience for NFTBooks. The number of Readers is proportional to the attractiveness of NFTBooks. To explain this, we understand that when someone needs to read a book on our platform, the user needs to have the NFTBooks token before they can buy or borrow the book. Therefore, as users increase, the demand to buy NFTBooks token will increase. In addition, there is another factor, although not sudden, but equally important, like other e-wallets, the user’s wallet will never go to 0, which will contribute to reducing the amount of money in circulation in implementation of the NFTBooks token. That is, even if the price falls, it will help the price behaviour to increase slowly over time in a passive way.” Clear? No? Oh. The business case for this project is summarised in an accompanying White Paper as being ‘you can watch loads of films for a $20 outlay, but how many books can you get for $20? WE CAN FIX THAT WITH THE BLOCKCHAIN!!!’ which rather suggests that the entire concept of ‘the lending library’ has passed them by. Still, you can buy tokens, so that’s nice. The people behind this obviously don’t have English as a first language, so I want to make clear that I’m not mocking the slightly-incoherent explanations of What This Is About – I am instead mocking the idea of ‘making books more easily-accessible by making the very concept of reading them an inherently transactional one’.
  • Jon’s Bones: Despite the name of the site, I strongly doubt these are all Jon’s bones (unless Jon was a many-limbed and many-headed person of hitherto-imagined size) – instead, the Jon in question is the site owner Jon Ferry, who apparently developed a deep and abiding interest in all matters osseous after being shown an articulated mouse skeleton as a kid (I wish I had a cool, Spiderman-esque origin story like this – “Matt developed an obsessional relationship with the internet after being locked in a room aged six with only a 56k modem for company”, that sort of thing). Now he runs Jon’s Bones, where you can buy ETHICALLY SOURCED human bones (Jon, understandably, is very keen to play up the ‘ethical’ angle) for what one presumes would be medical purposes but which, equally, might be use in plays or education or dark rituals involving the summoning of Eldritch Powers Beyond Our Ken. I am fascinated by this – everything, the range of bones on sale (I now really want a human patella paperweight), the practice of buying human bones (do you think Jon maintains a detailed database of sellers and informs police if someone keeps coming back with a suspicious degree of frequency, offering human skulls they ‘just happened to find when walking the dog one afternoon’?), the very clear attempt by Jon to make the buying and selling of human bones just another way of making a living and definitely not something creepy and weird…I have a vague memory of this guy getting a brief bit of TikTok notoriety a few months back, but his website really is something else. Teeth are only $18 each, and Christmas is a short 9 months away…just saying.
  • Stride: Do you remember ‘Zombies, Run!’? It may not have been the first app to gamify exercise, but it was certainly the breakout star of the ‘games as behavioural motivators’ gamification movement of the early-10s. It’s interesting (to me, at least) that the years since its creation haven’t seen much in the way of innovation in this space – I suppose there’s an extent to which the naturally-gamified nature of Strava’s leaderboards and associated gubbins has partly obviated the need for additional game-layers on top of exercise, but it’s curious that Stride is the first really ‘new’-feeling ‘let’s turn the crushingly-dull experience of ‘going for a run’ into something marginally-less tedious via the magical medium of gaming’ product I’ve seen in ages. Stride’s premise is simple – running around a specific area lets you ‘claim’ it, either for yourself or the team you play as a part of, and the overall goal is to gain ‘control’ of as much territory as possible  by repeatedly running certain routes to cement your claim on the area – all the while as other players and teams attempt to wrest back contested areas. Basically a cross between capture the flag and uber-geeky Pokemon precursor Ingress – this is free to download, and if you’re the sort of person who needs the motivation of turning large sections of a map a specific colour to get moving then this could be the key to turning you into some sort of elite athlete (or at least less of a sedentary mess).
  • I Heard It In A Magazine: An online magazine for those interested in sounds – “an online destination for sound culture and the listening-obsessed. We cover sound across our human experience by exploring how sound shapes our lives and drives the world forward, offering coverage of how sound is used in film, art, science, the internet, and everywhere else. Launched by audio professionals during the pandemic, we aim to connect our global community, elevate sound as art, emphasize the importance of listening, and make concepts of audio accessible.” This is not only a really interesting resource for anyone audiophilic, it’s also just a beautifully-designed little magazine website – the noises the individual articles make as you hover over them are a particularly lovely touch.
  • Lined Cats: A Twitter account sharing small, line-drawn illustrations of cats. The artist behind it also takes commissions, so if you fancy your very own, bespoke, small line-drawn feline companion, then their DMs are apparently open. For a specific subset of you, these will make AMAZING tattoos.
  • TouchType: This is sadly iOS-only, and as such I have had to content myself with watching videos of how it works, but it is an absolutely amazing piece of UI design which I am slightly-mesmerised by. Touch Type is a webtoy made by German design studio Schulz Schulz, which lets you create and manipulate typefaces using a quire remarkable multi-finger touch interface on your phone or tablet. Honestly, I can’t quite find the words to explain how elegant this is, and how future it looks in-use; if you’re an Apple user then click this RIGHT NOW and have a play; if you’re not, you can see what you could have won should you have forked out for an aspirational lifestyle toy rather than your workmanlike Android equivalent by clicking the question mark in the top-right of the page and watching the demo video. SO COOL.
  • Story Collectives: A website collecting short horror stories written by people from across the web. Your mileage will vary here – obviously you need to like scary stories to make this worthwhile, and, based on the 15 or so minutes I spent browsing the output, the quality here is wildly variable (proving once again the universal truism that everyone has a book in them, it’s just that the vast majority of said books really don’t deserve to be read), unsurprising given that the site proudly advertises that many of the authors cut their teeth on the creative writing subs of Reddit – but in general this is a really interesting collection of horror writing that cuts across themes and tropes, and given the site was only set up at the beginning of 2022 it’s already managed to amass a decent collection of stores. Worth a look if you fancy reading the horrible imaginings of strangers (on a website that isn’t Twitter LOL ZING SATIRE!!!!111eleventy).
  • Mr Global: Everything may be fast and terrifying and colossal and jagged and incomprehensible – and it really, really is – but that’s all the more reason to pause for a moment at the end of the first section of Web Curios and drink in some natural beauty – beauty here presented in the shape of the entrants to this year’s annual Mr Global male beauty contest, in which a selection of…look, sorry, but there’s no other word for them than ‘hunks’ from around the globe display themselves in canonical examples of their national dress for the delectation of the girls and the gays worldwide. Obviously Web Curios is firmly against the objectification of other human beings, and would like to point out that all the men featured in these photos are ACTUAL REAL PEOPLE with full inner lives and well-rounded personalities, and hopes and dreams and fears, just like you and I…but, equally, LOOK AT THOSE PECS AND GLUTES AND CHEEKBONES AND EYES YOU COULD DROWN IN! I am tediously cishet, but, honestly, SUCH PRETTY BOYS! If I looked anything like these men I too would spend the majority of my time flaunting myself in a pair of skintight lame’ shorts, is what I’m getting at here. Everything about these is wonderful – the costumes are INSANE (France and America, what were you thinking?), the poses in the pictures are wonderful, and the whole thing is even better in video should you have room in your busy schedule for 20 minutes of buffed Adonises strutting their costumed stuff along a catwalk. One question, though – at what point was it decided that the best interpretation of ‘gorgeous man in classic British attire’ was ‘Junior Regional Sales Manager goes out on the town after spending a full day at Cheltenham races on the pub gak’?

By Lin Zhipeng

NEXT UP IN THIS WEEK’S MUSICAL OFFERINGS, HAVE A SUPERB LITTLE D’N’B EP BY NIA ARCHIVES! 

THE SECTION WHICH THIS WEEK HAS MOSTLY ENJOYED THE ETHICAL STYLINGS OF SOME OF THE WORLD’S LARGEST COMMS AGENCIES, PT.2:  

  • The Big Glass Microphone: This is a quite amazing project by the V&A – slightly weirdly sciencey for that museum, imho, but who am I to quibble? NO FCUKER, etc – in partnership with Stamen Design and, I presume, Stanford University in the US. Beneath Stanford lies a 5km long fibreoptic cable – the Big Glass Microphone is an experiment in using vibrations picked up by that cable to map activity taking place on the surface above it. Which, fine, I accept doesn’t sound hugely thrilling, but there’s something incredible about the extent to which these sorts of setups combined with the ultraconnectivity of the modern world allows for really creative and complex uses of smart data – the fact that you can use this data to pinpoint the movement of individual cars, bicycles and people on the streets and pavements above, for example, was slightly mind-blowing to me, as was the thought of the potential use implications of that data, for everything from traffic management (altering the blink-frequency of traffic lights in response to relative volumes of pedestrians and cyclists vs motorists, for example) to store opening times. Super-interesting, in a very geeky way indeed.
  • Text-Chat Animator: In around 201..5?, there was a brief (too brief imho – this is still an excellent and underutilised storytelling technique) vogue for videos which were designed to look like people using their phones – so the idea is that you would watch them on a mobile and the experience in full-screen would be more immersive a result of its taking in all aspects of the devices UI as part of its framing (God, that was clunky – you get what I mean, right?). I was working at the BBC at the time, and casually looked into what it might cost to create something similar for a project I was working on – reader, it was a LOT and I have basically never thought of it again as a technique. Except now it’s popped into my head again thanks to this website, which lets you quickly and easily mock up animated messenger conversations, exportable as videos or gifs, for whatever narrative purpose you might desire – this is potentially really quite useful, not least because there’s something just naturally-engaging about watching two people talk to each other over chat, perhaps because it naturally feels like you’re somehow eavesdropping (or at least that’s how it feels to me).
  • Hourly Lizards: A Twitter account which, er, shares images and clips of lizards, every hour. You may not think that you need a regular dose of reptilian tongue-flickering in your life, but I promise you that you do.
  • The Manolo Blahnik Archives: Do you like shoes? Do you like shoes a lot? Good, as that’s pretty much a prerequisite for this site, designed to showcase celebrity foot-cladder Manolo Blahnik’s oeuvre in glorious browsable fashion. Navigate through a series of ‘rooms’ in which you can browse Blahnik’s sketches, images and renders of specific models from the brand’s history, and, in what I have to say (totally uncynically) is a really nice touch, see small profiles of Blahnik’s staff from around the world, including people who work in ecommerce and logistics (you NEVER see this sort of thing in these sorts of fancy luxe websites, and it’s so refreshing to see an acknowledgement that that company is more than just a figurehead and a(n admittedly very talented) bunch of designers) – this is very well-made indeed, and gets extra points from me for not bowing for the current vogue for METAVERSAL (sorry) projects – there’s no ‘virtual gallery’ to navigate poorly with WASD, with the shoes all being presented in a series of circular ‘rooms’ which let you easily browse and contrast designs and colours in a way that actually makes it pleasant to experience. This is…pretty good! Although, to be clear, you really have to like shoes.
  • This City Does Not Exist: Aerial satellite images of cities, except these have all been imagined by GAN and are not in fact real cities at all. Obviously we’re no longer impressed by machine imagined things, but what’s interesting about these is quite how hard it is to spot where most of them go ‘wobbly’ – with most GAN-generated stuff you can see them going funny at the edges, whereas the naturally-muddy tones of most aerial satellite pics means it’s far harder to automatically identify these as fakes. No idea what you might use these for (other than attempting to confuse the fcuk out of the new breed of amateur OSINT researchers – Web Curios respectfully requests that you in fact do not do this), but, well, here they are anyway.
  • The Peptoc Hotline: This is either heartwarming and cute or sickeningly twee (delete as applicable), but I am feeling unusually sappy this week and so I will lean towards the former. The Peptoc Hotline is a crowfunding project looking to raise money for “ a project by artists Jessica Martin and Asherah Weiss, and the wonderful students at West Side Elementary  in Healdsburg, California. This project includes a hotline featuring pre-recorded life advice and words of encouragement by students aged 5-12. Within days of going live, the hotline went viral, and was getting over 800 calls an hour. This quickly grew to 11,000 calls an hour! We are absolutely astounded and so very moved by the outpouring of calls, and we are so proud that these kids are providing so much joy and light in a very difficult time in the world. West Side is a small rural public school with a very small budget. We have had to cut our arts and other enrichment programs by almost 75% due to lack of funding after the pandemic. Thanks to donations and some sponsorship, we have been able to cover the hotline fees to keep the hotline going these past two weeks. However we hope to keep Peptoc available to ALL, 24 hours a day, for many months or years to come!  We also plan to add a new option with rotating surprise pep talks every 1-2 weeks.” Whether you believe that someone is really likely to find succour from the prerecorded bromides of a bunch of children is up to you, but I think this is absolutely charming and deserves to exist. Also, there’s CLEARLY scope here to coopt this for your local market, as, honestly, ‘cheering helpline featuring saccharine messages from LITTLE ONES’ is pure mid-market and tabloid gold (you know it, I know it, let’s not pretend we’re above this sort of cynical exploitation of children to sell tat, IT’S WHAT WE DO god I hate my professional life so so so much).
  • World Microphone: One of the things that noone tells you about getting old – or maybe they do tell you, it’s just that you don’t listen because the people doing the telling are all crusty and methuselan, and you are YOUNG and therefore don’t listen to their borderline-senile burblings – is that you will over time get to see every single idea in the world reinvented and reinterpreted for new formats and generations, and you will find yourself getting increasingly incapable of feeling wonder at anything (is that just me? I hope it’s just me). So it is with World Microphone, which is basically ‘every streetwear blog from the mid-00s, but TIKTOK!’ – if you remember ‘The Sartorialist’, which was for a while the ur-example of this sort of thing, then this will be very familiar. Except because it’s now 2022, it’s all video and significantly more diverse, meaning that World Microphone is loads more interesting as a result of not simply featuring rail-thin Manhattanites in Burberry trenches. As far as I can tell, this is London-based – no idea who’s behind it, but it’s a lot of fun (even if you’re as anti-fashion forward as me, a man who literally writes this in his pants).
  • Runway: A really slick in-browser video editing platform with a reasonably-full featureset even at the free tier; if you’re after something marginally-more-powerful than ‘your phone’s video editor’ to mess with, this is worth a look.
  • Comas Channel: I linked to a longread a while back about the fascinating world of industrial food manufacture (no, really, it was fascinating, shut up!), and this YouTube channel is another vignette from the magical world of ‘making biscuits at scale’ and ‘cutting threemillion rigatoni using industrial machinery’. The last upload is from 7 years ago, fine, but if you’re in the market for a LOT of videos showing you everything from croissant making to ‘how they spread exactly the same amount of underwhelming tomato paste on every single Dr Oetker pizza in the world’ then you’ve come to the right place. These are MESMERISING.
  • LEGO Knightmare: Knightmare is probably the ur-example of a TV show that was wildly ahead of its time, bringing videogame and roleplay stylings to mainstream media long before either of those two things were anywhere near socially acceptable (in 1991, saying you were into dungeons and dragons at school is exactly the sort of thing that would see you lashed very tightly to a burning hot radiator by your school tie). For those of you unfamiliar with the concept, the show’s premise was that a single adventurer would be sent on a quest through a dungeon – the adventurer was burdened with a helmet that obscured their vision, meaning their progress through the many peril-filled rooms of the ever-changing fantasy environment they traversed was guided by three friends sitting in the studio, who could see their behelmeted pal onscreen, viewed at an angle from above and had to direct their movements with precise instructions to ‘walk forward’, ‘sidestep left’, ‘pick up apple’ and ‘RUN FROM THE DRAGON CHRIS NO NOT THAT WAY OH GOD NO THAT’S THE WALL OH GOD CHRIS YOU DIED’. It may not sound good, fine, but the combination of RPG-esque gameplay tropes and (admittedly-rudimentary) CG environments was catnip to 11 year old me bitd. Anyway, this YouTube channel is replicating the experience of watching Knightmare with all-new episodes rendered entirely in LEGO, which is significantly better than it sounds and a wonderful nostalgia fix for anyone who has spent anytime at all drunkenly arguing with TV producers that they should just commission a 2020s version of the show because they would CLEAN UP (it..it can’t just be me who has this conversation every time they get p1ssed around literally anyone who works in telly, can it?).
  • 5×6 Art: A Twitter account sharing interpretations of world-famous artworks rendered in 5×6 grids of colour (or ‘The Wordle Configuration’, as it must now be known). These are great, partly as a daily guessing game as you squint and try and work out whether that mess of vomitous reds, yellows and browns is in fact meant to be Klimt’s ‘The Kiss’ (it was, apparently), and partly as an illustration of quite how remarkable the brain’s ability to parse the near-abstract into recognisable pattern configuration is.
  • SWPA 2022: We must rapidly be approaching the point where I am the only human currently alive who has never entered a photography competition online – there are an infinite number of the things these days, meaning you should be able to find one niche enough that EVEN YOU can win a prize! The Sony World Photography Awards are, relatively-speaking, hoary old veterans in this space, having first launched in…2008? (Christ, I worked on the launch, I really should be able to remember this), and this year’s selection of nominees for the big prize are typically wide-ranging in scope and excellent in execution. I’m not going to make my standard complaint about how post-production slightly sucks the joy out of these things for me these days – because, frankly, I am boring myself with that line – but I will say that I am now very bored of the super-saturated HDR photography style and would very much like for the fashion to move on from this please thankyou.
  • NSFW Browser: I feel obligated to, as ever, point out that this link takes you to ACTUAL BONGO – that is, ACTUAL PICTURES AND VIDEOS OF NAKED PEOPLE DOING SEX THINGS – despite the fact that, in 2022, it’s vanishingly-unlikely that any of you will be accessing this on a work device and as such you can all click and frot to you heart’s and loins’ content. The NSFW Browser is a site which basically makes all of Reddit’s bongo more easily-browsable – it lets you select from any of the 100 most popular sex-related subReddits, display all the content from said subs in one place, lets you create custom feeds from images from your favourites…basically all you might need to create a pleasingly-bespoke bongo experience from free content. A couple of caveats here: 1) this only pulls the top 100 sex subs, which means that the content skews VERY HEAVILY towards the cishet male gaze – you can obviously find other stuff in here if you look, and as far as I can tell it’s pretty customisable, but you will be bombarded with breasts and vaginas upon entering; and 2) as I think I have mentioned here before, I am not personally particularly into bongo (I always feel a very real sense of ‘methinks he doth protest too much!’ when I write this, but it’s true – sex is basically like Tetris, insofar as there are a finite number of pieces, a finite number of ways of fitting said pieces together, and as such it’s a lot more fun to play yourself than to watch other people do it) and therefore haven’t really spent much time with this in a, er, hands-on way – so, as ever, CAVEAT EMPTOR and all that. Still, if you fancy spending the rest of the day naked with yourself then GO FOR YOUR LIFE!
  • The Room: This week’s ‘pleasingly-niche timewasting webgame’ is this VERY old-school browser game (hosted on NewGrounds! Like it’s 2004!) which lets you play through a version of famously-terrible film The Room in the style of a Sega Master System RPG. I have never seen the source material – I know, I know, but, well, life is very short – but that didn’t stop me from enjoying this rather a lot; it captures what I believe to be the essential WTF-ness of the movie, and it’s simple and quick enough to be a pleasing mid-afternoon palate cleanser if the relentless procession of idiots (you may know them as ‘colleagues’) demanding your time proves to be a bit much.

By JC Gotting

LAST UP IN THIS WEEK’S MIXES, MORE DRUM’N’BASS THIS TIME MIXED BY DAN AZIMUTH!

THE CIRCUS OF TUMBLRS IS SADLY EMPTY THIS WEEK!

THE TROUGH OF (INSTA) FEEDS!

  • Tiny-Ass Props: SO SMOL! If you, like me, are endlessly-fascinated by things recreated in miniature, you will adore this Insta feed showcasing the small-scale sculptural skills of Robbie Jones who makes tiny versions of real things from pop culture. I want one of these TINY WATCHES so so so much (given that my wrists are the size of pipe-cleaners, these are a more viable fit than your standard 10-stone deep-sea enabled Rolex).
  • Rainfish: Beautiful, very dense pencil-and-watercolour-style illustrations (no idea how they are drawn tbh) often depicting packed urban scenes in a vaguely-Asian scifi style. I am a total sucker for art like this – I could stare at these for days unpacking the lines.

LONG THINGS WHICH ARE LONG!:

  • Memento Millennial: I really can’t recommend this essay enough – if you have any interest in web culture and sociology and the concept of generational coteries and all that sort of jazz (and if you don’t, why exactly are you reading this?) then this is pretty much de-rigeur. A conversation between Ayesha Siddiqi and Charlie Markbreiter, this is a dizzying and eclectic journey around the concept of ‘millennials’, the idea of there being a sense in which 2022 marks some sort of defining point in the ‘death’ of that generational signifier, the relationship of culture and the self to capital…honestly, this is so so so so interesting. I could pick any number of bits to share with you to give you the general gist, but, honestly, this deserves to be read in its entirety (despite the very US lens, everything in here effectively works across the English-speaking cultural sphere imho) – this para in particular though really stood out to me: “The entire ethos of mumblecore as a genre strikes me as an aesthetic for white liberal evasion of responsibility and fetishization of an innocence they don’t have but want to claim. No wonder it developed during the Obama era. It reflects its audience. These were people who came of age during the Obama years, and genuinely felt like things were fine, even as everything about the Bush era accelerated. The War on Terror expanded, the reactionary far right organized, the wealth gap grew. Rather than expanding the middle class, the gig economy absorbed those falling out of it into even more precarity, while the pyramid scheme of content creator culture entrenched a new form of serfdom in the US. Meanwhile, my generation was dressing up as the kid from Where The Wild Things Are and reading Hipster Runoff to know how they should feel about Converse versus Vans.”
  • Deep Learning Hits A Wall: This is a very interesting overview of Where We Are Now when it comes to machine learning, an insight into what some of the problems with our current ways of thinking of it might be, and an exploration of some alternative ways of thinking about language, meaning and symbols that might unlock future progress. This is either a reassuring counter to ‘the thinking machines are coming for everything!’ terrornarrative, or a miserable ‘this is why we’re fcuked’ corrective to the sort of large-scale tech-solutionism you often see applied to big planetary questions (cf ‘and this is how we’ll reverse global warming thanks to machine learning!’). Caveat to this piece is that it only becomes apparent right at the end that it’s written by someone with a particular dog in this fight when it comes to ‘ways of thinking about ML’ – that said, I don’t think the authorial partisanship invalidates most of the arguments made here for taking a slightly-less immediately-bullish perspective on the transformative prospects of AI-adjacent tech.
  • Lands of Lorecraft: This is a bit woo-woo, fine, but Venkatesh Rao is always an interesting read, and his latest longform thinkpiece is no exception. In it, Rao argues that there’s a new organising cultural principal emerging behind new sorts of organisations born out of the web3boomhypecycle – that of lorecraft, where the creation and maintenance of often-byzantine creation myths and codes serve as a unifying and organising principle around which brands and companies cohere. Which, yes, I know, sounds impossibly w4nky, but when you read the piece in full it starts to make sense – and not only in new businesses and organisations. As Rao puts it, “Marketing is the story insiders tell outsiders to influence them in some way;Lore is the story insiders tell themselves to manage their own psyches. This is a critical difference. Lore has a great deal of resemblance to, and overlap with, marketing, but is primarily a paradigm for managing the insides of an organization (to the extent there is an inside to such things as loose communities and ecosystems). This means lore is a live modality even within nascent, early stage, and stealth efforts that have no marketing presence in an external context at all. An implication that creates the sharp contrast to traditional marketing is that lore cannot be engineered in the same way marketing can be. While you can shape lore as it emerges, it is a matter of subtle gardening and curation. You do not go around trying to invent brand names, logos, and brand-identity postures for emerging lore. You are not pumping “messaging” into scarce “channels” pointed at distant “markets.” You act like a gardener trying to make your own garden thrive, cutting away unhealthy bits, and supporting the healthy bits.” There is a lot of good stuff in here around culture and its creation, development and nurturing.
  • Preparing for Defeat: It’s fair to say that if I were Frankie Fukuyama I might have kept a low profile in the intervening decades since my (admittedly widely-misinterpreted) ‘End of History’ hypothesis, so fair play to him for continuing to pop up with predictions even now. Anyway, if you’re interested in reading what his predictions are for what’s set to happen in Ukraine over the coming months and years, then this short article presents his thinking – the headline here is his belief that Russia is heading for outright defeat, which, in general, is one I can get behind. Here’s hoping Frankie’s polished his crystal ball a bit in the intervening two decades.
  • NFT’s Weren’t Supposed To End Like This: Nothing in this analysis of the (rotten) state of the current NFT ecosystem should surprise you if you’ve been following it at all over the past year, but it’s interesting to read them laid out so baldly by Anil Dash who is one of the people who could reasonably be credited with ‘inventing’ the concept back in the day. More than anything it’s a slightly-sad account of how money basically ruins everything – his closing anecdote about the differing responses of the artists and the moneymen to the initial NFT concept is particularly telling. Remember this next time someone tries to tell you that ‘making everything that exists online a transactable commodity’ is A Good Thing.
  • Minecraft NYC: File this in the growing subfolder marked ‘reasons why the metaverse is Minecraft’, this piece profiles the people who are, for reasons known only to them, working to recreate the world block-by-block in Minecraft, and specifically the ongoing attempt to make New York City in blocks. This elicited a range of responses in me, from ‘wow, some people really do choose to spend their time in peculiar ways!’, to ‘wow, I am really glad that there are people like this in the world because it makes things more interesting and I am glad that it exists!’, all the way through to ‘do you think the people at Hoxna have heard of this because, honestly, this sounds better’ – honestly, though, I can absolutely imagine a reality in which the popular metaverse becomes something hacked together on top of Minecraft rather than whatever slickly-anodyne digital nontopia we end up getting peddled by the Big Blue Misery Factory.
  • Crypto, Web3 and the Metaverse – A Primer: Look, I am sure that you don’t need this. I am sure – positive! – that you aren’t one of those dreadful, mouth-breathing advermarketingpr morons who is going round peppering their new business presentations with NFTs and THE METAVERSE and WEB3 and DAOs without in fact understanding the first thing about what these terms mean (to the extent which they mean anything at all) or how they work or what they might practically be used for or whether they in fact even exist at all. COULD NEVER BE YOU. But, er, my recent experience suggests that while you definitely know what you’re talking about, an awful lot of your dreadful, moronic colleagues really don’t, and are going round spouting the most awful claptrap to their dreadful, moronic clients and generally making all the noise and discourse and conversation around these themes even worse than it might otherwise be. So share this with them in the spirit of learning and education, and with any luck it will mean you don’t have to beat someone’s face in with a blunt object in frustration at their persistent idiocy. Maybe.
  • Bitcoin in El Salvador: We return now to El Salvador, for the latest in our semi-regular series of checkins to see how the newly-minted Bitcoin nation is getting on – it may surprise you to learn that the answer is ‘perhaps not as swimmingly as media-loving president Bukele might have wished’. This is an excellent overview in Rest of World of how the project’s implementation has worked out on the ground, how locals have responded to the Bitcoinisation of everything, how they have reacted to the influx of cryptoenthusiasts seeking a new libertarian paradise / quick moneylaundering getout (delete as applicable), and what this tells us about crypto’s utility in practical settings (not a whole lot that’s positive). This isn’t as-yet a bust – there’s still something hugely-interesting about the potential behind Bitcoin – but it’s increasingly hard to see how running this experiment live in an already-slightly-troubled country is a sensible or responsible thing to do. Still, it’s made Bukele VERY FAMOUS and, quite possibly, very rich, so that’s nice.
  • Internet Meth: A really interesting piece which explores how Zoom has found a secondary purpose (now that we’re all definitively agreed that we will NEVER AGAIN do a remote quiz) as a place for meth addicts to keep each other company while they get quietly blasted on crystal. This is an incredibly-grubby and very sad read, but also another example in the nearly-endless series of ‘whatever you may think the use case for your software product is, you will be AMAZED when you see what people actually use it for’. Also this does an excellent job of portraying one of the saddest and weirdest aspects of serious drug addiction – what is seen occasionally as ‘edgy’ or ‘a bit cool’ and ‘dangerous’ seemingly always boils down to ‘getting incredibly wrecked to the point of catatonia with people you don’t really know or like whilst staring uncaringly at screens’, which, when you put it like that, does rather take the shine off, say, ‘getting really into skag as a hobby’.
  • The Cult of Confidence: This specifically looks at women, and the extent to which self-confidence has been built into the package of What Women Are Now Meant To Feel At All Times According To The Media Lifestyle Industrial Complex. Shani Orgad and Rosalind Gill write in the Atlantic “of course, we are not against confidence. Would anyone genuinely want to position themselves against making women feel more comfortable in their own skin? But we are skeptical of the consequences of the cultural prominence of this imperative. And after a decade of research, we’ve come to a conclusion: Confidence is both a culture and cult. It is an arena in which meanings about women’s bodies, psyches, and behavior are produced, circulated, negotiated, and resisted. This cult isn’t all bad. But just as it opens up many possibilities for change, it also renders much unintelligible.” I particularly appreciated the observation that “this culture perpetuates itself by peddling the idea that the work of loving yourself can never be completed” – the grift is real and it is EVERYWHERE, kids.
  • Printable Lipstick: Look, this isn’t a particular staggering or well-written article – it’s basically a product review for lipstick – but, well, IT’S PRINTABLE LIPSTICK!!! You select the colours you want and the machine immediately makes them for you! You can select colours from pictures and the machine will attempt to mix you a lipstick in that exact shade! You can tell it to make you a lipstick in colours complementary to a specific outfit! Hopefully the italics and the exclamation marks help convey how exciting this is even to me, a man who does not wear lipstick. Sometimes the future is amazing – largely pointless, fine, but amazing.
  • The Sad Demise of Trope Trainer: This is a lovely, sad story which feels like its microscopically-representative of so much of what we are going to see happening over the coming decades as software decays and falls out of use, and we slowly realise how much of our digital lives and infrastructure are built on what is basically code-sand. Trope Trainer was a software programme designed specifically for Jewish people preparing for their Mitzvahs (where kids need to memorise and sing-recite passages from the Torah as part of their passage into adulthood – apologies to any Jewish people reading this if I am horribly misrepresenting this rite of passage), which basically ended up being the world-leading bit of kit to help this very specialised learning activity. And then the person who programmed it died, and the software stopped getting updates, and now it can’t work on modern machines and…God, there’s something hugely poignant about the domino effect that the piece takes you through, as various people attempt to rig together solutions to get the program working on a networked machine so it can be accessed remotely, and the insane impact that this one, homebrewed piece of coding had on an entire global community of people. Sad, but fascinating and almost certainly miserably-illustrative of Times To Come.
  • All The Data Analysis Of Wordle You Could Ever Want: More, quite possibly. This is of particular interest to any of you who work with data and numbers, and as a primer on smart datagathering techniques from Twitter, but, honestly, it’s not the most compelling read in the world. Still, proof if you need it that Wordle hasn’t in fact gotten harder, it’s just you who’ve gotten thicker.
  • The Songs That Get Us Through It: The latest in the occasional series of New York Times longreads on Songs They Like Right Now – this is a selection of essays, each accompanying a particular song or selection of songs, and it’s once again a really good set of essays, a lovely piece of webdesign (really, this is SO nicely-done), and an excellent way of (if you’re old like me) hearing a bunch of good new songs you might not have heard before).
  • Curry: A beautiful piece of writing about food and culture and memory and ‘authenticity’, by Bee Wilson in the LRB, all about her experiences of growing up with the concept of ‘curry’ as a girl in the UK in the 80s, and then learning to cook it from the anglo-friendly instructions of Madhur Jaffrey’s books, and then beginning to understand the deep colonial intricacies of the term ‘curry’ itself, and what we as Westerners were taught to think it means and what we were thought to think it tastes like, and how that’s bound up in all sorts of questions of ownership and language and history. Just brilliant, and will appeal to lovers of both food and words (what sort of sicko doesn’t love both, though?).
  • The Hobsonville Point Ham: If anyone ever tries to tell you that nothing happens in New Zealand, send them this article – it is ACTION-PACKED. I don’t want to spoil it for you, but I promise this is worth your time; hopefully the opening will whet your appetite: “Rafael Fonseca was walking his dog at lunchtime when he discovered the leg of the deceased. The toes had blackened, the withered shin was peeking crudely out of a black bag. It appeared that someone, or something, had attempted to hide it in a patch of flax in Hobsonville Point. Ashen-faced, Fonseca dialed 111. The voice on the phone asked him if he required fire, ambulance or police. He said police. It was only when another person answered and asked “what’s the nature of your emergency” that he realised he hadn’t in fact called 105, the community police number, as he intended. “This isn’t quite an emergency,” he said, “but I found a leg of ham.”” I promise, it really does keep this level of tension and intrigue up all the way through – this is really quite superb.
  • On Rap’s Linguistic Twists and Turns: We close with three essays from LitHub this week – this first is a brilliant exploration of the use of ‘unusual’ words in rap music, starting from the central question “Are there unrappable words? Not words that can’t be gerrymandered into rhyme by tricks of truncation or pronunciation, but words so ungainly, so unwieldy, so unhip, so unhip-hop, as to definitively resist rap’s tractor-beam powers of assimilation. Do such words exist? No! says the wide-eyed idealist in me. I mean, probably, says the grizzled skeptic, who doubts I’ll hear pulchritude or amortize or hoarfrost or chilblains dropped over a beat before I die.” Brilliant, and contains references to LOADS of great bars I personally hadn’t heard before.
  • What Makes A Great Opening Line: When I was a teenager and still operating under the misapprehension that I had a novel in me (rest assured, dear reader, that I left that delusion behind a long, long time ago), I honed the first (and only) line of my imaginary first book to its final form which I here share with you: “It was when I first started sucking my own penis that I began to realise that I had a problem with my lifestyle”. See? THE LITERARY WORLD DOESN’T KNOW WHAT IT’S MISSED OUT ON FFS! Ahem. Anyway, for significantly better examples of opening lines from novels, along with a discussion of what makes a good one, please enjoy this piece (and try and cast my abortive literary aspirations from your mind).
  • The Best American Male: Finally this week, a superb and formally rather clever essay by Rebecca Hazelton, subtitled “Contemporary Templates For Public Confession”. I don’t want to tell you much more about it – just enjoy the way it neatly-skewers so much of contemporary masculine discourse about the experience of being masculine. Reminded me rather a lot of a some of the essays from ‘Brief Interviews with Hideous Men’, which may or may not be a recommendation as far as you’re concerned, but I think this is superb.

By Jeanette Mundt

AND NOW, MOVING PICTURES AND SOUNDS!:

Webcurios 11/03/22

Reading Time: 35 minutes

Whilst on the one hand it’s good to see that one or two of the iffily-plutocratic Russians who’ve spent much of the past three decades effectively buying Kensington brick-by-brick are now being scrutinised, it’s also fair to say that a) this should possibly have happened a while ago; b) this doesn’t in any way remove uncomfortable questions about the Tory party’s relationship with said iffy plutes, and we should continue asking them; and c) it still doesn’t make the constant attempts of Certain Sections of the UK (ffs Carole!) to make this all about Brexit any less tedious.

Still, at least the potential shuttering of Chelsea Football Club provides a lightly-comedic side to the inevitably-utterly-fcuking-horrific spectacle of hospitals being shelled (and I say that as a Chelsea fan who’s quite looking forward to getting a seat at the Bridge again for the big glamour tie against Wealdstone in the National League next season).

Everything is confusing, mad, slightly-scary and increasingly jagged – so why not make it worse by consuming an entire week’s worth of web in one thick, clotted throatful?

I am still Matt, this is still Web Curios, and, honestly, there’s probably a good few hours’ respite from the news contained in the following words’n’links, which is probably no bad thing right now.

By Yan Pei-Ming

LET’S KICK OFF THE MUSIC THIS WEEK WITH A 65-TRACK BUNDLE OF TECHNO BY UKRAINIAN ARTISTS FROM THE ‘STANDARD DEVIATION’ RECORD LABEL! 

THE SECTION WHICH HAD HONESTLY HOPED WE WERE GOING TO SPEND LESS OF THE 21ST CENTURY TALKING ABOUT NAZIS THAN WE IN FACT APPEAR TO HAVE DONE, PT.1:  

  • The Games Bundle For Ukraine: We kick off this week with a chance to do A Good Thing for small, ludic reward – Itch has pulled together a quite incredible collection of indie games, tabletop RPGs, books and the like and made them all available for the frankly insane price of a tenner, all of which goes to charities assisting Ukrainians on the ground. It shouldn’t take a ‘quid pro quo’ arrangement to get people to donate to people currently being bombed, fine, but if you need a reason to chuck another few quid at the war-ravaged, and if you can spare £10, this is a quite astonishing deal which will keep you amused and distracted long into the third year of the nuclear winter (I don’t know why I keep making ‘jokes’ like this, sorry – they are trite and not very funny and I think I will try and stop now).
  • Connect Vermeer: ANOTHER wonderful website using AI and machine learning to do FUN ART TAXONOMY (what do you mean ‘we appear to have wildly-divergent concepts of what constitutes ‘fun’, Matt’?). “Through a series of interactive visualisations, this website allows users to discover the network of connections between Vermeer and his sixteen contemporaries. Users can discover the strength and likelihood of relationships between the seventeen artists, the impact of an individual artist’s paintings on the work of his contemporaries, as well as how artists adopted, adapted and disguised elements, from their peers’ work, in their own paintings…For the purposes of this project, connections between paintings are any similarities in subject, composition, style and technique; these similarities between paintings were taken as indicators of an artist’s knowledge of another one’s work. Additionally, any evidence that the artists travelled to each other’s home towns or knew each other in passing is considered a ‘connection’ in this project. The rich content of the RKD databases (https://rkd.nl/nl/]) was mined to identify these many connections either through examination of historical documents and literature, or through visual analysis of the paintings. All connections were then recorded in a single database which allowed us to analyse and visualise them in a more comprehensive and historically correct way than was hitherto possible.” Honestly, this is fascinating – the interface, if I’m quibbling, isn’t necessarily the shiniest or most-intuitive, but once you start clicking and investigating you quickly get an idea for how it works, and the way you can leap around the works contained within the collection using specific compositional details or common scenes as linkpoints between works means you quickly find yourself down all sorts of rabbitholes you wouldn’t necessarily when exploring the collection in more traditional, linear fashion. Obviously I have no idea whatsoever whether the thematic connections here are valid or simply another example of our endless desire to seek pattern and order in a world increasingly-defined by incomprehensible chaos, but, well, let’s presume that they are.
  • The Hendrix Axis: In a week in which both Ed Sheeran and Dua Lipa are being pursued with plagiarism suits relating to their songwriting (there’s an interesting breakdown of the latter case here, should you be interested), it seems timely to share the Hendrix Axis, a webtoy that lets you plug in any YouTube url you like and get an OFFICIALLY-SANCTIONED readout of exactly how much the song in question resembles the work of Mr Hendrix (rendered as a percentage, so you can see exactly how much of a ripoff any particular track is). Sadly the particular song I wanted to test it on isn’t on YouTube (it was this one, for the avoidance of doubt, whose initial guitar riff feels like it should score a comfortable 93%), but Ms Lipa should be reassured that when I ran ‘Levitating’ through the software it appeared reasonably-confident that at least she wasn’t ripping off Hendrix when she wrote it. This takes…some time to work its magic, but thankfully while you’re waiting you can open the rest of the site in another tab – it’s called ‘Hendrixiana’, and is basically a huge and VERY in-depth guide to Hendrix’s guitar-playing style, should you wish to bookmark another IMPROVING PROJECT to enjoy when we’re all back in lockdown in 6m time (I mean, let’s hope that doesn’t happen, but would it surprise you?).
  • All Hours Radio: I really, really like this. In a week in which Amazon announced that IT TOO was going to reinvent radio (and seriously, all the headlines about this this week leaned into the whole ‘Amazon does Clubhouse a year after everyone stopped caring about audio, lol’, which I personally think massively misses the opportunity that Amp gives people to literally play at doing radio, with actual music – I could totally imagine pulling together a weekly radio show with music, etc, when I was a kid using this stuff, and I am personally slightly-hopeful that lots of interesting new and different voices and personalities might emerge and we might get something of a revival of music-and-voices programming and that, perhaps, podcasts might fcuk off for a bit), this is a really cool little project by musician Anz as part of the promo for her record All Hours. It’s a simple idea – a few days of Spotify programming, basically – but with the nice twist that it’s geolocated so as to ensure you’re getting time-appropriate programming wherever you log in from. Simple and rather lovely, it made me wonder what else you could use this trick for – between this and the Feral Earth site from last week, I now really want to make some sort of hyperlocalised website that serves up different content based on incredibly granular and intrusive datacollection about where you are and what time it is and what the weather’s like and how much free space you have on your hard drive, etc.
  • Dreampire: It is a truth that has long been self-evident that there is nothing on earth – nothing, literally nothing, not watching paint dry, not sitting through a ‘trends’ presentation by a moron in fancy designer glasses, not having to feign interest and engagement as the PR manager for a pharmaceutical manufacturer talks to you about their ‘content strategy’ (can you tell how much I hate what I do for a living? SO MUCH, I HATE IT SO MUCH!) – so dull as listening to someone else tell you about their dreams (there are occasional exceptions to this rule, fine, but they tend to be closely-linked to the extent to which you’re willing to rub mucous membranes with the person doing the telling). With that caveat, then, let me introduce you to my new least-favourite portmanteau term in the world – THE DREAMPIRE! This site has been going for AGES, turns out, collecting the stories of people’s dreams for the analysis and curious explanation of strangers worldwide. The site is…quite shonky, but the blurb is as follows: “Dreampire is a dream sharing movement, an online video-based dream archive and a networking space. Whether you share dreams for fun, to gain knowledge or for self-development purposes, Dreampire brings thousands of people together from around the world by providing a space to share their stories. Let our dreams connect us!” So, if you’ve ever harboured an inexplicable desire to hear a 30s anecdote by a middle-aged woman about how she once dreamed about being on a French exchange trip chaperoned by Michael Gove, say (yes, someone really did spontaneously choose to share that – WHY WOULD YOU OUT YOUR SUBCONSCIOUS SO?) then, well, fill your boots! There are seemingly hundreds of pages of video on here, and huge amounts of (let me reiterate, almost certainly incredibly-tedious) dream memory to sift through if you choose – as someone who hasn’t had a dream (literal or figurative) for decades as a result of persistent marijuana abuse, this is sort-of fascinating (and, also, VERY BORING). If nothing else, the freetext search function is worth a play – there is exactly ONE dream in the database tagged with the word ‘custard’, in case you were curious (it also involves firemen – for many of you this could well be a powerful erotic awakening).
  • Seems Unreal: If you’re into GAN-ish AI art, this gallery of work produced in collaboration between Brooklyn-based artist Mark Forscher and some software might be of interest – and, obviously, there’s an NFT sale too! The work here on display isn’t personally that interesting to me – I don’t mean to sound jaded, but I’ve been looking at GAN stuff for a few years now, and there’s seemingly not that much innovative on display here in terms of output or aesthetics – but I do find the NFTness here moderately-interesting; there’s a significantly-more-interesting project in here somewhere based around giving anyone the tools to create and mint their own GAN-imagined artwork series as NFTs, neatly-skewering the complete lack of artistic and creative merit inherent in most such projects. ‘One-Click AI Art NFT Collection Creation’ seems to me like quite a fun thing to explore building, should any of you be minded to take on a large and unwieldy project for no obvious commercial gain whatsoever.
  • Pooping Ladies: It’s been a long year of scraping, but I think we might just have reached the bottom of the NFT ‘art’ barrel. Pooping (I really don’t want to write that word again – it’s right up there with ‘titties’ as a term that makes me recoil almost physically) Ladies is a series of ‘hand drawn and unique’ images of women on the toilet, available for sale as NFTs. Except, quite obviously, these are neither hand-drawn or unique – they are instead quite obviously pictures ripped from the web (I don’t want to think about where they come from) which have had a pretty simple 2018-era image style transfer applied to them; you too could make your very own Pooping Lady (dear God, NEVER AGAIN) simply by engaging in some ill-advised Googling. At the time of writing, these have been traded to the value of 12 grand, which isn’t much and yet is far, far more than I might have expected. Is this maybe the start of the beginning of the end of the NFT hype train? Please?
  • SoundOn: Thankfully I long ago unhooked Web Curios from the miserable train of ‘tech and social media platform news’, meaning I don’t tend to bother covering platform announcement stuff, but this announcement from TikTok this week struck me as interesting – SoundOn is basically TikTok’s play to encourage all artists to use it as a distribution platform, offering ‘100% rights and 100% royalties’ (inevitable legal asterisks apply here, but still) to anyone uploading tracks for licensed use. Basically if you or anyone you know makes music it seems sensible to add this to your list of places where you attempt to flog it.
  • Africa Is A Country: This is a brilliant website which I am slightly-annoyed I haven’t stumbled upon before now. Africa Is A Country is an online journal/magazine which has been going for 13 years now and which basically exists to collect left-ish writings from and about the continent by a collection of global writers. If you want Afro-centric perspectives on the war in Ukraine, global economic trends, the digital economy, etc, then this is a really interesting place to explore – as you would expect from a self-declared left-wing publication with ties to Jacobin amongst others, there’s quite a lot of theory in here, but there’s also stuff like an essay about ‘The Afropolitism of Ted Lasso’ so, well, something for everyone!
  • Kylie’s Moods: Not, for the avoidance of doubt, anything to do with the diminutive antipodean popstar – the Kylie celebrated on this website is a dog. A dog which, judging by the likely age of the site, probably isn’t with us any more (NO TEARS SAZ!) but whose life is lovingly preserved on this website which lets users select from a number of different emotions and then see Kylie embodying said emotion in photographic form, rather like a canine Emotion Eric. Ever wanted to see what a dog looks like when it’s doing ‘blase’? GREAT! I now rather like the idea of creating a template site that lets pet owners easily create similar tributes to their own pets, with the eventual aim of creating a universal taxonomy of pet emotion, but I appreciate I might be alone in this ambition.
  • Magic Hour: A Twitter bot which punts out old cinema ads from the 20th Century London press, so you too can reminisce about The Good Old Days when you could pay ninepence to go and see “The Leather Boys” at the International Film Theatre in Bayswater (rather than, er, just logging onto Scruff like you might do now).
  • Cars Shaped Like Friends: Another Twitter bot, this one with the sole purpose of blessing your timeline with pictures of incredibly-friendly-looking motor vehicles. “But Matt,” I hear you ask, “how can a car be friendly?” All your doubts will be dispelled upon clicking and being confronted with the BEAMING GRILLES of the vehicles in question, all rounded angles and hopefully-wide-eyed headlamps and, honestly, if you grew up reading ‘Cars and Trucks and Things That Go’ then this is basically every car from Scarryville brought to life.
  • Lamplight: Should you be worried about the fact that inflation, rising energy costs and the prospect of bread rising to a tenner a loaf as the grain crisis starts to bite is going to make it harder to get to the end of the month (FCUKING HELL IT’S THE 1970s ALL OVER AGAIN), you might be interested in Lamplight, a website which offers TOTALLY FREE films and TV series which you can watch on YouTube and which might mean you can ditch one of the threehundred separate entertainment subscription services you’re currently signed up to. Fine, ok, so most of the stuff available on here looks awful, and there’s not that much of it (such small portions!), but there’s also quite a lot of indie scifi filmmaking and animation which looks like it could be worth a punt, as well as a load of comedy series available for free, and some truly awful-sounding horror films (there is no way that Cannibal Troll isn’t one of the worst films ever made, for example). If you fancy getting very stoned and laughing at terrible telly, this is potentially a few evenings worth of free ‘fun’.
  • The Index of Fictional Liveability: Are YOU dissatisfied with your current living arrangements? Would YOU like to spend a bit of time futilely imagining what it might be like to instead escape into a fictional world? If the answer to either or both of those questions is ‘yes’ (and if it isn’t, HOW???) then you might appreciate this site, which ranks a bunch of fictional places in terms of their likely livability – you may be unsurprised to discover that Gotham doesn’t rank particularly highly, but I confess to having never previously considered how nice it might be to live in Smurf Village (slightly-weird gender dynamics and constant threat of Gargamel aside).
  • Flat Social: A real throwback, this, to THE EARLY DAYS OF LOCKDOWN – a browser-based v2d virtual environment for chatting and screensharing and hanging out! God, remember when we briefly thought these were going to be A Thing? My favourite of these platforms continues to be Skittish, but Flat seems like a reasonably-fun, reasonably-lightweight version of the same type of idea – as a free way of spinning up a marginally-more-fun Zoom call, it’s pretty good. I am including this, though, mainly as the latest in my near-constant stream of reminders that this is exactly the same as all the metaverse w4nk that people are currenty flogging, except free and in 2d! You don’t need to spend money on an exciting-but-basically-clunky-sub-Second-Life 3d interface! You really don’t! No matter what Gavin from WT says (HI GAVIN!). Once again, for the people in the back and in the cheap seats – ANYONE ATTEMPTING TO SELL YOU A METAVERSE RIGHT NOW IS A HUCKSTER AND A SHILL AND DOES NOT HAVE YOUR BEST INTERESTS AT HEART!
  • Watch Seinfeld: Seinfeld is a series that never felt like it quite got the love that it deserved in the UK due to the weird scheduling that saw it occupy a variety of very obscure late-night broadcast slots back in the 90s, and I have only seen sporadic episodes here and there, and so was slightly-thrilled to discover this site which, as far as I can tell, is just streaming the whole series directly, start to finish, possibly on a loop. I obviously have no idea whether it is in fact the whole run – that would seem…bold, from a copyright point of view – but let’s presume that it is and rejoice at the fact that you can now guarantee that wherever you are in the world, whatever time it is, you can log onto this site and enjoy a bunch of New Yorkers being self-obsessional and intensely-90s at each other (and some killer slap-bass).
  • PianoVision: THIS IS THE FUTURE! I love this – one of those occasional things I stumble across that make me feel like the fun bits of Tomorrow’s World actually came true. PianoVision is an AR app designed to help teach you to play Rach 3 at pace (it is unlikely to help you play Rach 3, sorry) – or, perhaps more accurately, to turn the experience of learning and playing the piano into a Guitar Hero-style ludic experience, with you being presented with an overlaid note cascade descending towards your waiting fingers ,showing you where to hit, when, with what pressure, etc. This looks SO MUCH FUN and like it would make piano practise legitimately enjoyable (I say this as someone who has never enjoyed practising anything, ever, and who as you are all probably aware can’t even be bothered to proof his writing before publishing it, so know that this is some BIG endorsement) – the Oculus AR app is still to come, but you can sign up for updates should you so desire (and you should, this looks GREAT).
  • Pockit: Do you remember that much-cooed-over (and inevitably eventually vaporware) modular mobile phone that the web got all frothy about in the mid-10s (and which, I have just remembered, Google was briefly exploring)? Well this is like that, but for simple computing. Basically (very basically – take my simplification here with a pinch of salt, as I am obviously a know-nothing bozo with very limited technical understanding) like a Raspberry Pi but with a more user-friendly user interface, the idea is that you can integrate a whole bunch of different plug-and-play components with the central processor – so adding dials and displays and sensors and the like to cobble together a range of different small computing devices for whatever you like. This is VERY early in development and mostly just a proof-of-concept at the moment, but the concept is fascinating and feels like it should work – although I thought that about the phone, so obviously you shouldn’t listen to me at all.
  • South Korean Election Graphics: South Korea held elections this week. This is a Twitter thread compiling some of the graphics used during their version of the marathon electoral telethon that all democracies must now engage in by law (do all countries also have their own Jeremy Vine figure, capering gamely amongst the CG? And have all their Jeremy Vines also pivoted to being bizarrely, insanely hawky about the war? Just wondering really) – honestly, if you didn’t catch this doing the rounds this week then let me assure you that it is a TREAT. My personal favourite bit is the utterly-inexplicable (to me at least – there may well be excellent reasons that I simply don’t understand by simple dint of my being too stupid and lazy to speak Korean) decision to render the two principal candidates as computer-generated speedskaters, but you may prefer the strangely-KAWS-like faceless bear. BBC, take note please.
  • The World Nature Photography Awards: This year’s ‘NATURE IS AMAZING AND ALSO VERY VERY VERY VIOLENT’ photo awards (that’s what they should be called) are as astonishing and, er, violent as ever – this is occasionally at the ‘red in tooth and claw’ end of the natural photography spectrum, so be aware that clicking through will get you pictures including buffalo eyeballs being pecked, and penguins about to be dismembered by hungry seals (the caption on the seal photo is bleakly-hilarious – “Each time, the seal chased after the penguin again, as if it was enjoying the game. The terrified penguin tried to escape as the game continued. But soon, the end came.” Give whoever penned that last line a prize). Still, if you don’t mind the death and blood then these are STUNNING, and there are loads of really cute ones too – if the picture of the small arctic fox struggling through a blizzard doesn’t make you do a small ‘awwww’ then you are deader inside than I am, well done.

By Atelier Olschinsky

NEXT, ENJOY THIS EXCELLENT DEEP HOUSE MIX BY SATOSHI TOMIIE!

THE SECTION WHICH HAD HONESTLY HOPED WE WERE GOING TO SPEND LESS OF THE 21ST CENTURY TALKING ABOUT NAZIS THAN WE IN FACT APPEAR TO HAVE DONE, PT.2:

  •  DeepMind Ithaca: I’m…uncertain as to the number of you with a working knowledge of Ancient Greek, but I can’t imagine it’s a number significantly higher than ‘one’. Still, for that LUCKY Web Curios reader I imagine this will be like Christmas come early, so, you know, thank me via the usual channels. Regardless of whether or not you’re able to read Aristophanes in the original, though, this is properly-impressive – DeepMind, Alphabet’s AI shop, has developed this quite magical AI tool which is designed to recompose Ancient Greek texts from fragments based on machine learning analysis of thousands of sources pulled together from museums around the world – you give it your text, marking out the gaps, and it will spit out its best-guess approximation of what the complete copy might have been, as well as in which part of Attic Greece it was composed in based on stylistic cues. Which, honestly, is MAGICAL – the idea that we can reach into the past and do stuff like this is mindblowing to me, and is in many respects the perfect illustration of what machine learning is really good at (to whit, brute force cryptography). This is in no-way shiny, but it is hugely-impressive.
  • British Book Covers of the Year: I always find the US equivalent of this list (and featured this year’s a few weeks back), but I haven’t til now come across the UK equivalent – here, though, is the Academy of British Cover Design’s shortlist of the best book cover design of the past 12 months, and there are some beauties in here – personal favourites of mine include a beautiful version of Animal Farm (no really, it is still possible to come up with innovative designs for classics!) and one for a novel called ‘The Child’ by Kiersti Skomsvol, but you pick your own (THESE ARE MINE).
  • The March 2022 Covers Tourney: Throughout the month of March, this website is running a contest to find the BEST cover version ever, using the tried and tested ‘March Madness’ bracketing style popularised by American sports tournaments and now used worldwide to help determine What Is The Best Thing. This was interesting to me less because of its attempt to find THE BEST COVER and more because of the selection of tracks included in the bracket – there are a bunch ofGREAT songs included in here (Luna’s cover of ‘Sweet Child of Mine’, for example, is AMAZING and I can’t believe I’d never heard it before), many of which might be new to you and which deserve a bit of exploration.
  • The Sinai Collection: If you’re in the market for some religious artefact exploration then LUCKY YOU! “This platform makes available for study, teaching, and research the vast collection of icons, manuscripts, and liturgical objects from the Monastery of Saint Catherine at Mount Sinai. The website brings together for the first time the photographic archives from the Michigan-Princeton-Alexandria Expeditions to Sinai in 1956, 1958, 1960, 1963, and 1965, now held in the Visual Resources Collections at Princeton University and the University of Michigan. The images display the scans of the 5 x 7 inch Ektachrome transparencies and the 35mm slides in color and black and white from the Sinai archives at both institutions.” If nothing else there’s an interesting art project in here somewhere based around downloading the several thousand examples of Christian iconography housed on here and then getting a machine to mess with them in various iconoclastic ways (but, er, you may wish to consult a priest after so doing).
  • NoseID: This is either very clever or very silly, and I can’t quite work out which. Apparently each dog’s nose has a shape that is unique to them, like a human fingerprint, and as such missing animals can be identified by the shape of their scnozz. This INSIGHT, coupled with the fact that loads of dogs go missing each year in North America, led Mars Petfoods to create this website which lets pet owners upload pictures of their missing dogs noses to help identify them if found – photos get uploaded to an app, which can be used to scan the noses of found pets to match them with their nasal counterparts in the database. On reflection, this feels like a nice bit of branded app CONTENT, and, as far as the map on the website suggests, it’s actually being used by real dog owners, so well done everyone involved. Two thoughts – firstly, this is totally stealable in the UK, and second WHAT THE FCUK IS GOING ON IN NASHVILLE WHY ARE ALL THE DOGS DISAPPEARING? (seriously, check out the map – there’s a DARK STORY here, I am sure of it).
  • Inversion: This, though, this feels very silly in a spectacularly-future sort of way. Now that we have spacecraft jetting off into the upper atmosphere on what feels like an hourly basis thanks to Elon et al, and with the presumed continued boom in private sector interest in all things extraplanetary, we will also have the inevitable raft of industries seeking to piggyback off said boom via complementary services. Which brings us neatly to Inversion, a company which as far as I can tell is basically trying to invent ‘lockers, but IN SPACE!’. The idea here is that the company will produce pods which can be loaded up with goods stored on space stations or, who knows, storage satellites or something, and then fired back down to earth with laser-guided precision. The idea being sold here is ‘get medical supplies to people in remote areas VIA SPACE!’ and that sort of thing (anyone in their 40s or older reading this will be forgiven for getting strong flashbacks to Bill Hicks’ ‘shoot bananas at hungry people’ Gulf War routine here), which is on the one hand interesting and on the other is so madly, batsh1tly (yes, that is a word) far-fetched that it boggles the mind. Still, a potential version of the future, where rather than getting your fast fashion containerized to you from Shenzhen you can instead get it sat-dropped to you from low-orbit. Progress? Of a sort, I suppose.
  • Perma: The general conversation about digital impermanence has come round again in recent weeks, partly as a result of the immense volume of digital stuff coming out of Ukraine in the past couple of weeks, most of which is being posted on socials and is therefore likely to be utterly ephemeral. Which makes Perma a timely service to feature – aimed at professionals and academics, Perma offers a service, backed by various academic institutions, designed to offer a ‘permanent’ (insofar as that means anything at all) record of information by creating separate copies of the information linked to: “You give Perma.cc the URL of the page you want to preserve and cite. Our software visits that URL, preserves what’s there, deposits it into our collection, and gives you a unique URL (e.g. “perma.cc/ABCD-1234”) – a “Perma Link” – that points to the record in our collection. You then can use that Perma Link in your citation to give readers access to a stable, accurate record of the source you referenced, even if the original disappears from the web.” Smart and useful and the sort of thing that reminds you quite how much of what we’ve said and done and thought and made over the past two decades is going to disappear utterly (and in fact has already).
  • Jesse’s Ramen: The personal portfolio site of Jesse Zhao, who has crafted this lovely small ramen stand to display her CV and project work. I am including this partly because it’s very cute, partly because I am a sucker for creatively-presented personal websites (would you rather hire Jesse Zhao, or would you rather hire someone who posts thought leadership on LinkedIn? WELL QUITE!), and partly because I discovered that Ms Zhao works as a management consultant at EY as her dayjob and made me feel so utterly disgusted with my relative lack of skills and endeavour that I felt I ought to link to her site as penance.
  • Digital President Whitfield: ‘Senior Academic In Mismanagement Of Funds SHOCKER!’ is a headline so hoary and overused that it barely raises an eyebrow anymore, but even my jaded eye was caught this week by the stories of the University of Nevada, whose President (Mr Whitfield) has somehow seen fit to shell out a reported $160,000 on a VIRTUAL VERSION OF HIMSELF to act as a creepy, CG guide to the university to new students and the internationally-curious. Click the link, LAUNCH PRESIDENT WHITFIELD, and marvel at how little useful tech you seem to get for your six figures. This is such a spectacular waste of money that you feel perhaps President Whitfield might face one or two questions about appropriate allocation of funds at the next trustees meeting, but well done to the sales team who convinced him that no, really, chatbots are worthwhile, but only if you pay for the expensive CG avatar to go with it! This is so broken, so barely-functional, and so obviously a complete waste of everyone involved’s time that it feels almost like some sort of parody of academic and administrative idiocy – WELL DONE EVERYONE INVOLVED!
  • Threads By Me: There is an argument to suggest that, Zola aside, Threads on Twitter have been a scourge on humanity. “Buckle up!” – NO I DO NOT WANT TO! “Time for some game theory!” – NO DEAR GOD PLEASE STOP I BEG YOU! However, if for whatever reason you don’t agree, and if you instead think that YOUR threads are different – that they are wise and informative and that you are dropping wisdom left right and centre (you are not, this is hubris) – then you might relish this incredible vanity service which lets you pin and compile all your BEST threads into one handy page which you can then share with anyone you like on a single URL so that they can see easily see all the reasons why you’re a dreadful person who they should never sleep with in a million years.
  • The Micropedia: Vocabulary is a tricky thing. It’s unfortunate that so many terms associated with the liberal left have become punchlines for a certain type of moron over the past few years, as it means that quite important stuff has become easy to dismiss with airy appeals to the chimerical beast that is ‘wokeness’ or ‘snowflakes’ – and so it is with ‘microagressions’, a term which now feels freighted with scorn when used by pr1cks in the right-wing commentariat. Which is a shame, as it means that this website, which exists to explain what they are and how they work and the impact they can have, may not carry the weight which it perhaps ought. Offering information and resources about different categories of microaggression (race, age, gender, class, etc), this is a really interesting tool to help consider how we use language, to whom, in what context, and what impact it has. As the website states, “we know that our actions and the things we say matter – they have an impact on whether people feel included and respected, and they can sometimes play a role in upholding stereotypes and biases. Each of us has a responsibility to be mindful of how our words and actions impact others. This means addressing microaggressions in our everyday lives.” And, honestly, if you don’t agree with that statement then you are a bit of a cnut.
  • The Legacy Quilt Project: The website accompanying a new exhibition being held at Brooklyn’s Museum of Food and Drink which explores African American influences and contributions to the culinary history of America. “African American contributions to our nation’s culinary culture are foundational and ongoing. For over 400 years, African Americans have inspired our country’s food through their skill, creativity, and entrepreneurship. Black foodways have shaped much of what we farm, what we cook, what we drink, and where we eat.” The website collects digitised panels from a collaborative quilt whose panels each illustrate the different ways in which black people have contributed to US food culture, from the pre-Civil War experiences of the enslaved to more recent elevations of diasporal cuisine to the forefront of culinary discourse. Fascinating history and stories in here.
  • Open Reel Ensemble: “Open Reel Ensemble is a group where they perform by manipulating reel-to-reel tape recorders. The music was performed by placing their hands directly on the reels and tapes. The ensemble was constructed by using the sounds and voices recorded onto the tape right on the spot.” I know that this makes very little sense when written down, but click the link and scroll down the page and then play one of the videos and marvel at quite how good this sounds when it really has no right to do so whatsoever. How in the name of Christ do you discover that this is possible?
  • Almost Pong: Pong, but you are the ball. This is basically Flappy Bird but small and monochromatic, but that’s no bad thing in my book.
  • Who Are Ya?: I’d made a small personal vow to stop including Wordle clones in here because, well, there are too fcuking many of them tbh, but then this cropped up (and the next link) and I was forced to reconsider. Who Are Ya? Takes the wordle template and tweaks it so as to make the game ‘work out which footballer playing across Europe’s top leagues the game is referring to’ – this is HARD, be warned, and you will need a pretty encylopaedic knowledge of players and their clubs and their ages, and frankly I got annoyed yesterday at my inability to guess Dimitri Payet and so probably won’t play this again as I am sulking.
  • Heardle: I have a longstanding belief that women are simply better at divining songs from the first few bars than men are – though this may simply be to do with the fact that I am very, very bad at it, and my girlfriend always gets them first. Anyway, you can now test that with Heardle, Wordle but where the game is ‘guess the song title within six guesses, with each guess letting you hear slightly more of the track in question’. This is VERY good, and will make you very angry with yourself on a daily basis (if you are me).
  • To A Starling: Finally this week, a small-but-perfectly-formed platformer built in Pico-8 – this is, be warned, quite hard, but given as you’re all currently getting eviscerated in Elden Ring I imagine you’ll be used to that by now. I got stuck for about 5 minutes on the third screen, to give you an idea, but perhaps you are less stupid and bad at games than I am.

By Yuko Shimizu

LAST UP IN THIS WEEK’S SELECTION OF MUSICAL DELIGHTS IS THE SOUNDTRACK TO VIDEOGAME DISCO ELYSIUM WHICH I THIS WEEK REMEMBERED AND WHICH, HONESTLY, IS A GORGEOUS ALBUM IN ITS OWN RIGHT AND WHICH I HIGHLY-RECOMMEND EVEN IF YOU DON’T KNOW OF THE (EXCELLENT) GAME – IT IS PROPER MUSIC BY A PROPER BAND, HONEST! 

THE CIRCUS OF TUMBLRS!

  • Autogerechte Stadt: As far as I can tell, this German-run Tumblr collects photos of people parking like d1cks. No idea why, and I am quite happy that I am ignorant as to the motives of whoever runs it – it’s just nice seeing Germans being disorderly and chaotic every now and again.
  • People Getting Kinda Mad At Food: Horrific content sourced from 4Chan’s ‘food’ board. You can sort of imagine the kind of thing you’ll find on here, but, equally, it’s always nice to be reminded that, however many your myriad failings, you’re still probably doing better at life than most of the people whose culinary ‘creations’ and questions and musings are featured on here.

THE TROUGH OF (INSTA) FEEDS!

  • A Smith: Mr Smith makes miniature models of old music venues in Toronto that are now shut down, and posts photos of them on his Insta feed. These are lovely, simply from a technical craft point of view, but there’s also something quietly elegiac about these small memorials to nightlife and fun that no longer exists.
  • Geomorphological Landscapes: Just beautiful shots of natural landscapes, because sometimes you need something uncomplicatedly-pretty to stare at as you wish your actual life away.
  • Springfield Palettes: Colour palettes derived from individual frames from the Simpsons. No word on whether the palettes in the first 10 seasons were superior to those of the subsequent 23.

LONG THINGS WHICH ARE LONG!:

  • Long Distance Thinking: Or, more simply-put, why trying to make everything really simple sometimes isn’t necessarily A Good Thing. This is an essay that resonated with me a lot this week, as for the nth time in my professional life someone attempted to force me to turn perfectly good written thinking (oh, ok, fine, ‘good’ is perhaps an exaggeration, but it was at the very least adequate(ish)) into slides. “But, hang on, this stuff is quite complicated and needs words to explain it properly”, I attempted to reason, “and it’s something that’s going to be sent to a client and then read without context and, as such, perhaps attempting to excise all the explaining bits in favour of replacing them with URGENT-LOOKING ARROWS AND PYRAMIDS isn’t necessarily the smartest idea here?” Reader, it may not surprise you to learn that I did not win that argument (except to a certain extent I did, by telling the person in question that they could make the slides themselves, in that case, because it was a poor use of my time and a stupid idea that I didn’t agree with – so EVERYONE lost!). Anyway, this essay by Simon Sarris looks at why perhaps complexity and contemplation are not in fact to be avoided after all, and that maybe, just maybe, thinking longer and harder, and not trying to skip straight to the end, might well be beneficial. The sort of thing that all of you with ‘strategy’ in your laughable job titles will absolutely LICK up, and which everyone else will look at and go ‘Christ, people with ‘strategy’ in their laughable job titles really are self-important pr1cks, aren’t they?’.
  • War 101: I don’t know that I like this necessarily – it did feel a little bit glib and a little bit high-theoretical when there’s some, you know, actual dying happening right now, but it was definitely interesting – it’s the second in a three-part examination of practical combat advice given to US Marines, specifically imagining how it might be practically-deployed in the current Ukrainian conflict. I obviously haven’t spent any time at all thinking about the practical reality of How Fighting Works, being as I have never a) been in the army cadets; b) been into paintball; c) spent hours imagining myself as a Navy SEAL whilst playing CS:GO, so this was hugely-informative as to the ways of thinking employed by soldiers in combat, and the relationship between strategy and tactics when fighting. As I said uptop, though, there’s equally something a bit…off, to my mind, about the slightly-glib tone employed here, but your tolerance will inevitably vary.
  • Иди Hаxуй: On the weight of swearing in foreign languages, and the untranslatability of phrases such as that uttered by the Ukrainian soldiers on Snake Island in defiance of the Russian warship that was threatening to reduce them to so much pulpy mist. This is wonderful – especially so if you’re fortunate enough to be able to swear in multiple languages, but even if not as an exploration of language and meaning and the particular weight of each tongue’s worst possible words.
  • OSINT: Amongst all the froth and furore over THE SOCIAL MEDIA WAR (none of which aside from TikTok’s primacy is new, per se) one of the most interesting aspects of the web’s response to the past two weeks’ events has been the role of amateur intelligence operatives in determining what’s actually happening on the ground in Ukraine. This is a really interesting overview in Rest of World on how the Open Source Intelligence (OSINT) community works and is rallying around the war – on the one hand, this is quite amazing and wonderfully-future, and, broadly, can be argued as A Good Thing with regards to transparency and the ability to get through the propagandafog; on the other, there’s something slightly odd here about the extent to which this sort of activity builds on the extant trend of ‘we are all detectives now!’ evidenced in the rise of the true crime podcast and the mad investigative work of TikTokers, and our need to see ourselves as useful protagonists in any event that occurs anywhere, regardless of our actual relationship to it. Still, some incredible work being done by an insanely-disparate group of curiously-minded people.
  • Spice DAO Now What?: The ill-fated attempt by a bunch of cryptowankers to buy the rights to Jodorowsky’s adaptation of Dune so they could make their own film of it seems like it happened several decades ago – in fact it was only a few weeks, but, well, THERE IS A LOT GOING ON. This wrapup piece in the Verge looks at what happened after they realised that simply buying the rights to someone’s adaptation of a work doesn’t give you the rights to the work itself, and that their Dunefilm probably wasn’t going to happen anytime soon – it’s a bit schadenfreude-y, fine, but it’s also a useful practical overview of some of the problems inherent in the idea of DAOs, their limitations as governance vehicles (sexy, I know!), and the difficulties inherent in getting creative endeavours off the ground when said creative endeavours are effectively at the mercy of a multiheaded hydra of competing interests and concerns and vastly-different levels of interest and engagement. Really interesting, though mainly as a cautionary ‘this is why DAOs won’t solve your corporate governance and investment headache’ tale.
  • The Environmental Impact of The Cloud: Look, I know there’s a lot going on right now, and that you probably don’t need something else to worry about, so if you’re feeling a little bit overwhelmed and doom-y then you can probably skip this one, it’s ok. The rest of you? WELCOME TO THE CLOUDPOCALYPSE! Well, ok, fine, that much be a touch hyperbolic, but not that much – the upshot of this article is basically ‘the cloud isn’t real you morons it is all built on very real and very physical machines that require increasingly-vast quantities of very real energy to power and where is that going to come from then, eh?’. This is…sobering, not least the slightly-terrifying predictions about water scarcity in the 2040s which make me increasingly-glad that I am quite unlikely to live that long.
  • How BlackRock, Vanguard, and UBS Are Screwing the World: I could probably have shortened the title, but I think it’s important to state these things in full. The world’s three largest asset management firms “have quietly taken up a central role in our economic and political life. The Big Three cast more than 25 percent of votes at corporate shareholder meetings, meaning they “exercise something akin to state authority over the largest corporations that account for the vast bulk of economic activity in … the world economy,” as investment strategy analyst Anusar Farooqui put it last year. It’s not just corporate governance, either: Major political decisions around the construction of crucial public infrastructure like the building of roads and hospitals have been structured in order to eliminate risk for asset managers and their clients as part of “public-private partnerships.” In 2020, professor and finance law expert William Birdthistle went as far as to call BlackRock a “fourth branch of government,” after the U.S. Federal Reserve again enlisted it to prop up the entire corporate bond market.” None of the information contained in this piece was news to me, exactly, but it was sobering to be reminded of the fact that, yes, money literally does control everything in ways that we don’t always bear in mind when thinking about policy, and that these companies have unconscionable levels of power based on the funds at their disposal, power which is often silent and faceless and near-invisible. “The really scare plutes are the ones whose names you never hear” is the precis, but there’s lots in here that will cause you to think (and, possibly, to scream).
  • Google Radar: Or ‘how your telly will be able to tell from your gait whether you just need to watch 6 uninterrupted hours of cat videos this evening’ – this is really quite cool, in a sort of ‘domestic scifi’ sort of way, and only moderately creepy (I think as of the now this is the minimum setting – ‘not in fact creepy at all’ was disabled sometime in 2017). Basically Google’s working on all sorts of sensors, designed to eventually be included in all sorts of domestic devices, which will be able to accurately track and measure movement and posture and direction and that sort of stuff to, er, be able to work out whether it should automatically kill the audio on your smart speaker when you leave a room. Which, fine, sounds pointless and frivolous – and it is! – but is also basically magic. There’s also some interesting thinking here about how one might go about designing such systems, and the considerations you have to apply in terms of user behaviour and need – how, for example, can you tell whether the person leaving the room is going to be back in 10s vs 60s vs 10 minutes?
  • OnlyFans Boundaries: Ah, parasociality, what a weird and wonderful world. This article looks at people who use OnlyFans with clearly-defined personal boundaries (no fisting, say, or nips-only) and whose ‘Fans’, despite that, don’t actually want to accept what those boundaries are and get quite annoyed when said performers stick to them. This isn’t about bongofans being particularly entitled (or at least not entirely) so much as it’s about the very weird relationship that entails between a provider of a good that’s sold at scale and the purchaser of said good who feels like it’s bought personally – it’s this disparity in perception that I think is at the heart of much of the parasociality problem, that you as the buyer feel you’re transacting individually with the creator (bongo or otherwise), whereas to them you’re just A N Other mook subbing to their ish (I obviously don’t think of any of YOU that way, come back!).
  • The Video Essay Boom: Or “why are all YouTube videos about seemingly-inconsequential topics now inevitably six hours long?” – the answer, basically, is THE RISE OF THE VIDEO ESSAY! There are a few interesting things here – in part, the power of the web to enable to anyone to GO DEEP and GO LONG on anything they choose, no matter how trivial-seeming, and the ability of said people to find an audience for their obsessions, no matter how small; but also the increasingly post-YouTube videoandinformationliteracy (catchy!) of a whole generation, for whom dense, intensely-hypertextual explorations of online phenomena and cultural tropes have been a thing since fandom explorations on Tumblr bitd. I like to think that there will be one person who reads this in Curios this week who uses this article as the opportunity to pitch a whole series of two-hour branded content deep dives into, I don’t know, toast or something (you know what? That’s not a totally terrible idea imho – if I were Warburton’s then I would totally explore a 120-minute moderately tongue-in-cheek toast explainer. I would also get sacked almost immediately).
  • The Gender Bias of GPT-3: Another one to file under ‘examples of how machine learning and artificial intelligence are only as good or as useful as the sources they are trained on, and unfortunately we probably didn’t pay as much attention to said sources as we ought to have done when building the current crop of best-in-class ‘AI’ tools and toys’, this is a neat-if-slightly-miserable exploration of the inherent gender bias deep-coded into GPT-3.
  • Hedge Bongo: I’m including this less because it’s a great read and more because I am very much of the generation who lived in hope of finding a slightly-rain-damaged bongocache in a hedge every time they went to the park with their friends in the late-80s – there was one particular occasion on which we discovered a cache of copies of a particular niche publication called ‘New Direction’ which was…somewhat experimental in its contents and meant I was significantly more familiar with some of the more outre’ aspects of borderline sexuality than I might have been expected to be at age 10. Anyway, this article has a) reminded me of that, for which, er, thanks!; b) accurately captured the very real sense of titillated-but-also-scared confusion that I felt as a young boy confronted with very explicit and anatomical sex photos; and c) alerted me to the existence of this website which lets you buy old copies of vintage grot mags, which raises SO many questions, the greatest of which is, surely, “PLEASE GOD, NO, THESE CAN’T BE…SECOND HAND???”.
  • A Review of the Donda Stem: Kanye West is once again going through a manic episode in public while we all point and laugh, which doesn’t feel particularly ok. This article, reviewing his Donda Stem music player, feels fair, though, focusing less on the poor man’s mental state (to be clear, I say ‘poor man’ in a general not specific context – I don’t feel particularly sorry for West) than the baffling decision to create his own, apparently-not-very-good, music player. This is both funny (in a non-cruel way, promise), curious (I mean, you and I are never going to touch or see one of these things, so I am curious to read at least one account of what they are like) and slightly-sad.
  • Skeleton Brunch: Or, “How Anyone Can Make Up Any Old Sh1t Now And Have It Become A Thing In Approximately 10 Minutes”. This is, on the one hand, just A Silly Internet Anecdote about how someone made a meme out of nonsense, but, on the other, is a neat encapsulation of how, with enough imagination and a bit of luck, literally anyone, anywhere, can make their mark on the soft, malleable clay of popular culture with nothing but a phone and a wifi connection. I feel that there’s something fun you can do with this – if you’re someone (or something) with a significant bunch of enthusiastic followers (remember, kids, EVERYTHING’S A CULTZzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz) then you could perhaps experiment with this power (for good or, let’s face it, most likely ill).
  • Death is a Feature: A profile of Hidetaka Miyazaki, the creator of the Dark Souls series of videogames which recently saw its latest incarnation, Elden Ring, released to universal critical acclaim. This is fascinating as a bit of auteur-profiling, and does that thing you always get in interviews with Japanese creative geniuses of making Miyazaki sound simultaneously like a genius, like a child and like an incredibly deep soul – you simply don’t get this vibe when they interview Peter Molyneux, is what I’m saying. This will be of varying interest depending on your familiarity with the games in question, though I would say that it’s a pleasingly-thoughtful profile even if you have little interest in games or this series in particular. I am nowhere near patient or coordinated enough for the Souls games, by the way, but have gotten massively into watching people stream Elden Ring on Twitch over the past couple of weeks – it’s an almost-perfect streaming title, if you find a Twitch creator whose persona isn’t too SHOUTY – I’ve been very much enjoying this guy fwiw.
  • How I See Numbers: The most amazing thing about the web, for me at least, is the way that every single hour of every single day it forces us (well, ok, forces me) to confront the fact that not everyone’s brain works like mine, and that I should stop automatically assuming that they do. This is a short essay that neatly-illustrates this concept – in it, Cameron Sun writes about how they think of numbers, what shapes they have, what sounds they make when you add them together, how they feel…which, obviously, is not how I experience numbers AT ALL, but which gave me proper frisson-y braintingles when reading. So so so so so interesting, and will make the edges of your consciousness fizz slightly (if you’re anything like me. Which, we’ve just agreed, you’re probably not. FFS HUMAN SUBJECTIVITY!).
  • They Carry Us With Them: A glorious piece of visual storytelling, all about how trees migrate over time (they do!) – this is so nicely-made, and the combination of imagery and video and text is beautifully-constructed.
  • A Poem (and a Painting) About the Suffering That Hides in Plain Sight: Another beautiful bit of visualised publishing, this time from the New York Times, and this time breaking down, line by line, the WH Auden Poem ‘Musee des Beaux Arts’. This is beautifully-made, and, crucially, makes the poem about 100% easier to read and parse and dissect and analyse – a proper, wonderful example of form and function working together. Superb – I would love a whole website doing the same for a range of significant works by a range of poets, should any of the FAMOUSLY WEALTHY UK poetry houses fancy making such a thing.
  • The Nature of Art: Returning to the themes explored in one of the first links in this week’s Curios (THEMATICALLY SEAMLESS, I TELL YOU!), this is a brilliant essay exploring the extent to which it is even possible to answer questions of artistic meaning through recourse to data and technology, whether it’s possible to effectively brute force yourself into the artist’s head with data analysis and number crunching. “Digitisation makes art machine-readable; when machines read art they generate numbers; numbers breed statistics; the use of statistics to reveal the structure and workings of the world is science. I do not say that this sequence of propositions has the force of syllogistic necessity, but I do think that it describes how things will actually go. I have argued that a science of art will inherit much from art history. It will differ from it in various ways too. Its canvas will often be large. Particular artists may well come under its gaze.24 But it will be less concerned with the deep structures of dozens of pictures than the superficial properties of thousands. Current aesthetic or political values will be eschewed. “The best art historian is one who has no personal taste”—Aloïs Riegl—will be engraved above its door.” Fascinating.
  • The Balldo: A very good piece of comic writing in which the author reviews a sex aid called ‘The Balldo’ which, as its name suggests, exists to answer the hitherto-unimagined (at least by me – I have no idea what goes on in your imagination, but, well, I hope it’s not this) question of ‘what would it be like if you could attach a penis-simulacrum to ones testes?’ You may be unsurprised to learn that the answer here is ‘nothing good’, but you will very much enjoy the authorial journey of discovery that you will be taken on (almost certainly more than the author seemed to).
  • Beirut Fragments 2021: Notes from Beirut, still fcuked beyond belief after the port explosion of 2020. This is so beautifully-written, and feels timely as a reminder of how problems don’t stop when the cameras and the eyes of the world move elsewhere. By Charif Majdalani in Granta, this is a superbly-written essay about the quotidian horror of continuing to try and forge an existence in a city that to all intents and purposes sounds screwed beyond repair.
  • Babang Luksa: Finally this week, a short story by Nicasio Andres Read about family and reunions. This really surprised me – I wasn’t expecting it to be this good, or to to stay with me as long as it did, and I would read a novel in this register and voice in a heartbeat.

By Forrest Solis

AND NOW, MOVING PICTURES AND SOUNDS!:

Webcurios 04/03/22

Reading Time: 33 minutes

Yes, well, the news, blimey.

Per last week, Curios is eschewing warcommentary and warchat – you know where to get news, comment, opinion and asinine, performative takes on current affairs should you so desire them – here it’s just links and distractions til the end times come (how is the clock looking?).

So instead, let me devote this opening blurb to saying a heartfelt THANKYOU to the PRmongs at Hope & Glory for kindly agreeing to change their name of their EXCITING NEW NEWSLETTER PRODUCT, all about ‘interesting stuff on the internet’, from ‘Curio’ to something else, after I, er, kindly asked them to earlier this week. Obviously everyone at said agency now thinks I am a colossal prick, and I have clearly added another name to the long list of ‘companies that will never, ever employ me’, but, on the plus side, I can rest assured that the title of ‘least-read editorial product in the world with ‘Curio’ in the title’ remains mine for a little while longer yet – THANKS, PRMONGS! Also thanks for the classy shade thrown at me in the email you sent, which included the line “cards on the table, wasn’t aware of webcurios” – I mean, YOU DIDN’T HAVE TO TWIST THE KNIFE, YOU FCUKS.

Ahem.

I am still Matt, this is still Web Curios, and hopefully everything that follows will help you momentarily slough the horror of the brutal truth that we are all made of meat (and gristle, and hatred).

By Maisie Cowell

LET’S SOUNDTRACK THE FIRST SECTION OF THIS WEEK’S CURIOS WITH THE ELECTRONICA OF UKRAINIAN ARTIST TIMUR DZHAFAROV!

THE SECTION WHICH WOULD LIKE TO POINT OUT THAT NOT ALL ENTERTAINERS WOULD MAKE GOOD POLITICAL LEADERS, AND WOULD LIKE TO REMIND EVERYONE OF THAT TIME THE UK BRIEFLY CONSIDERED RUSSELL BRAND A ‘SERIOUS’ POLITICAL THINKER, PT.1:  

  • Aphetor: It’s…it’s not easy to find reasons to be cheerful at this particular point in human history (or at least it’s not for me; you, fine, might be gambolling through the metaphorical sunlit fields of your mind on the daily, sun-saluting like a blithely-unaware Fotherington-Thomas, and more power to you, but, well, how?), but if you’re on the lookout for something to cling to in the hope that THINGS WILL ONE DAY GET BETTER, a light at the end of the tunnel that isn’t an oncoming train (or, er, the blinding flash that pre-empts the mushroom cloud) then let me present to you the glory that is Aphetor (thanks to Alex Fleetwood for bringing this to my attention – how it had previously evaded my gaze I will never know). Aphetor, which apparently launched last year to…minimal fanfare is THE CREATOR GAMES, which in a few short weeks (apparently – I am…not 100% convinced that this year’s event will go ahead, but let’s see shall we?) will see the 2022 event begin in Denmark. What is Aphetor? Well, as far as it’s possible to work out, it’s a several-week-long influencer jamboree, in which a bunch of shiny-haired ‘creators’ (extroverts with good skin) make CONTENT for…well, for no discernible purpose, as far as I can tell: “Epic events in amazing locations, where the world’s best creators compete against each other in a series of awesome challenges…The creators do their thing and create awesome content. Fresh collaborations, amazing experiences and new adventures, through their eyes and on their channels…Audiences engage with the content on the creators’ channels, Aphetor’s social channels and on Aphetor.com, where all the content is aggregated…Between events our unique creator collabs continue, with live and interactive formats, scouring the internet for content that epitomises Aphetor!” Do…Do any of you have the first idea what any of that actually means? I have tried to watch some of the ‘content’ from last year’s event and, sorry, I just can’t – it’s just a bunch of pretty people being blandly, cheerfully, stupid at each other for no discernible purpose whatsoever – and I struggle to imagine that anyone else in the world could have anything other than feelings of intense ambivalence about the whole thing, and yet…and yet it exists. Why? For whom? Who’s making money here? HOW CAN THIS EXIST AND LEAVE LITERALLY NO TRACE WHATSOEVER ONLINE? Please, I beg you, if any of you know anything about this, do tell me – I am getting incredibly strong ‘borderline criminal money-laundering operation’ vibes from the whole thing, basically. Still, in times of conflict we all need entertainments, so, er, something to look forward to!
  • Neon Door: I’m generally a big fan of the collective creative endeavour – more power to you, collectives! Do your thing! This, though, slightly baffles me – Neon Door is a very shiny web portal which promises to be ‘the first truly immersive literary exhibit’, which, as you can imagine, sounded right up my street, and which rather disappointingly ended up being A N Other online magazine when I finally clicked through, presenting a selection of writings and artworks and poetry by a bunch of different artists and writers. The quality of stuff in here is…variable (de gustibus nil disputandum and all that, but, well, it’s true), but there are a few things which play with form and function in halfway-interesting ways and if you’re interested in ‘Ways Of Presenting Literary and Artistic Work Online That Isn’t Just A Standard Website (but, frankly, might as well be)’ then this is worth a look (also, if you just fancy reading a bunch of random work by strangers, because, why not?).
  • Cookie Factory: This is a nice piece of work by UNESCO (and some digital agency, almost certainly – sorry, nameless digital agency!) – a Chrome extension designed to help you experience the subjectivity of the browsing experience, simply by letting you load up a bunch of different ‘profiles’ based on in-browser Cookies, so you can see how this behind-the-scenes, invisible information characterises and personalises one’s experience of the web without one actually realising. “Choose a cookie profile and watch the factory browse the internet for you. Depending on the keywords corresponding to this profile, the factory will automatically open dozens of internet windows, organically creating new cookies. Your history, your cookies and your favorites will be replaced, as if you had become someone else.” So you can pick from one of 40 different pre-set personae or create your own, and get a flavour for the way your recommendations, ads and associated content recommendations shift based on these often-unknowable parameters. Smart, and a really effective way of teaching people how online personalisation and tracking works and what it can do (and, obviously, a GREAT thing to ‘take inspiration from’ should you be in the market for any INCREDIBLY WORTHY brand-led activations). If you want a really on the nose alternative to this, why not download a VPN this week and set your location to Moscow?
  • The Procedural Web: So before you click this one, be aware that all it does it take you to a Github repo – sorry, nothing to actually see here, but conceptually this is one of my favourite things of the week. This is basically a bunch of code which the more technically-capable of you can spin up to play around with, and which lets you create a local search engine, called Goopt, which creates procedural results using GPT-3 as you search. So, in layman’s terms, all the results for your search query will be automatically created by AI – so you get to experience a sort of fever-dream of machine-imagined ‘truths’ in response to whatever you feed it. Which is in part obviously just a fascinating creative tool and imaginative exercise but, more soberingly, is also a potential window into the near-future in which GPT-3 has been opened up to everyone and the content marketers have had a good play with it, and the whole of the web has been flooded with junk machine-generated content because it’s cheaper and easier to fill webpages with machinecopy and it doesn’t matter that it doesn’t make sense because in the main the copy exists to be indexed rather than read, and the spiders doing the indexing don’t know it’s junk, and so our information landscape is littered with utterly meaningless rubbish which the machines can’t tell is meaningless rubbish. Sounds hyperbolic, but I promise you that that is a totally plausible scenario – look, if you’re anything resembling a competent online researcher then you will be well aware of the fact that Google is basically junk these days, and it’s getting worse…you think this is going to get better when every third new bit of ‘content’ published online is written by an AI based on a six-word sentence input?
  • Feral Earth: I LOVE THIS! Also, we need a term for websites and digital gubbins whose function is tied to physical variables – can someone coin one, please? FCUK’S SAKE I ASK NOTHING OF YOU, NOTHING, THE LEAST YOU COULD DO IS THIS ONE THING. Jesus. Anyway, Feral Earth is a website featuring a bunch of hyperlinks which are only clickable under certain specific environmental conditions – so one will only work when one of the sensors attached to the website tells it that it’s raining, for example, whereas another will only work on the Summer and Winter Equinoxes. This is basically the physical equivalent of in-game Easter Eggs that unlock on specific dates, and this is SO SO SO RIPE for a miserable exploitation by a brand, delivered to a double-figure-IQ client that will never appreciate the beautiful elegance of the execution. Honestly, if you can’t think of a fun way of using this for vouchers and things at the very least then, well, I’d like you to stop reading this newsletterblogtypething and have a word with yourself.
  • World Atlas 2.0: Was World Atlas 1.0…a book? Anyway, thanks to Giuseppe Sollazzo’s newsletter for this gem of a site, which has a whole bunch of datasets sitting in its backend which you can overlay on the world map however you choose, for all your dataspelunking and geoanalytical needs. Pleasingly there’s an ‘apply a random dataset’ button, meaning even people like me who don’t really understand data or have the first clue of where to start with something like this can hit a switch and be presented with, say, information about the proportion of the world’s parliamentarians in each country who are under-40 (wow, Chad has a young political class! Go Chad!), or, er, colorectal cancer death rates (less fun, honestly, but wtf is going on Hungary? STOP EATING SO MUCH PROCESSED MEATS, HUNGARIANS!)! I lost a good 10 minutes to this just clicking through random data facts about the planet – this is really, really interesting, and might even be useful if you’re searching for specific global datapoint comparisons (all the data is sourced and linked, so you could use this for Proper Reasons if you so chose).
  • Letter To Ur Ex: A bit of singlepromo for the new record by Mahalia, this is a cute little website which lets you listen to the single (a track all about wanting your partner’s ex to basically fcuk off and stop texting them) and also browse various letters that Mahalia’s fans have written to their exes, which are posted up on the virtual walls of the virtual rooms of the site. I presume there’s some pretty heavy-moderation going on here, as I’m yet to discover anything featuring someone’s phone number or a threat to ‘do them’ if they don’t stop sending 3am ‘I love you’s, but I am a sucker for this sort of anonymous confessional-type thing and I quite enjoyed sifting through the brief-but-occasionally-poignant loveandpainnotes (like the horrible little emogoblin I evidently at-heart am).
  • Creative Quests: This was sent to me by Sam, the person who created it, and, whilst I don’t normally feature stuff that costs money in Curios, I thought that a few of you might find this interesting or appealing. Creative Quests is “an immersive digital programme that helps you explore your creative potential, alongside a worldwide community of fellow Questers. Each Quest challenges you to embrace a different creative theme for one month, giving you a framework to fill your life with illuminating new perspectives on the world around you. Join us for weekly workshops, innovative challenges and enriching conversations. Inspired by our Quest themes: we playfully explore, empower our inner artists, embrace being beginners and of course, we create.” The website is very keen to stress that IT IS NOT A COURSE – which, if I’m honest, feels a bit like a disclaimer for anyone who turns around at the end of it expressing dissatisfaction that they have learned NOTHING – but if you fancy a way of meeting new people who are also interested in making stuff and who are generally curious then, well, this could be good. It’s £60 for a month, which is a reasonable whack, but equally looks like A Real Thing into which Sam has put proper thought – worth a look (but, equally, Web Curios bears no responsibility whatsoever should Sam turn out to be a crook or a criminal) (though I’m sure he’s probably not) (Sam, was this the sort of writeup you were after? It probably wasn’t, was it? SORRY!).
  • Machine Wilderness: This looks GREAT. “Machine Wilderness is an artistic field programme exploring new relationships between people, our technologies and the natural world. Machines have become an intrinsic part of our world (according to some a second nature). But their presence is highly disruptive to the worlds of other beings on land, in the seas and skies. How can technologies relate more symbiotically with other living beings? In 2022, seven artists join the Machine Wilderness residency programme exploring the rich and diverse worlds of animals, plants and microbes in ARTIS and MICROPIA. From March till June artists will each be experimenting for a number of weeks in the park to get closer to the lives of other creatures and reveal hidden worlds. Visitors can see them at work during their research or learn more in artists’ presentations. By exploring the relations between technology and other life forms we investigate how animals and plants share signals, how they learn, set boundaries, or organize their lives. Through experiments and prototypes we try to find ways to engage with their worlds more deeply. Can machines help us rejoin the great conversation with life?” I read this and thought “Hm, this sounds vaguely-related to that bloke Thomas Thwaites who spent an age trying to build a toaster from scratch and then became briefly internet-famous for living as a goat for a while and who I met at a party once and totally failed to charm” and LO! Thwaites is one of the artists involved with this. If you have any interest in ‘how technology and nature intersect and how we can use one to improve or better-understand the other’ (and who doesn’t? NO FCUKER, that’s who!) then this is very much worth keeping an eye on.
  • GenZ: I think, as far as I can tell, this is A Real Thing (if that designation even means anything anymore) – a new brand of water (literally just water), sold for more money than it’s worth, in web1.0-aesthetic bottles, via a web1.0-aesthetic website, because EVERYTHING IS VIBES NOW (sorry). This is US-only, but buying the product isn’t really the point here – this is interesting because of the confluence of web1.0 fetishisation and dropshipping and brand-over-substance and flat-voiced detachment and non-ironic irony…have we had one of these brands pop up in the UK yet? It feels like we probably ought to have done, and, equally, that I am too old to have noticed if it did (so tired, so ready to die).
  • The Yesterweb: “The Yesterweb is a community which acknowledges that today’s internet is lacking in creativity, self-expression, and good digital social infrastructure. It is driven by everyday users of the internet, regular people with diverse skills and interests who care about online spaces. We acknowledge that the internet is made up of human beings. Conversing online doesn’t make this any different. Behind every username is a real person with their own perspective and experiences…It’s not just about nostalgia or retro aesthetics but these interests signify that there is a need for change. Our goal is to forge a new path forward, toward building and cultivating a better internet.” So this is interesting – effectively the yesterweb looks like a place for people to congregate around the oldschool idea of self-created websites and online spaces, collecting a bunch of resources around self-publishing and platform-independent creation, alongside a (borderline-unreadable, but top marks for effort) Zine which offers personal stories and tips about Making Stuff Online Without Using Fcuking Substack/Insta/TikTok/etc.
  • MRE Reviews: A YouTube channel in which a man apparently named ‘Steve’ prepares and eats military rations from various countries and points in history. So if you’ve ever wanted to watch someone painstakingly pore over and then reconstitute a packet of what purports to be ‘omelette and salsa’ from the Canadian Army’s 2010 menu, and then attempt to force it down their gullet while describing the ‘taste’, then, well, you’re in luck. I am slightly baffled as to why each of these videos is seemingly 50 minutes long – is it the algorithm’s demands? Is it just a real desire to be INCREDIBLY THOROUGH in his appraisal of powdered stewed meats? – but there’s something undeniably compelling about the reveal in each case (which is odd, considering every single meal I’ve checked on looks exactly like it’s been pre-digested by a toddler).
  • Tip Of My Fork: A subReddit serving two distinct purposes. The first is to give people desperately trying to find out what a long-remembered food experience was a community to help them uncover their gustatory memories – you have a vague recollection of a particular brand of soft drink you once tried on a French trip when you were 17 and which you have never seen again but which you dream of finding again in the hope that it will unlock the innocent memories of The Child You Once Were? Then these people will help you work out what said soft drink was, where you can find it now, and what sort of counselling you’ll need when you realise that nothing will ever bring that child back, they are dead, bury them. The second is to offer opinions on whatever that weird thing you found in your food was, and OH MY GOD does the second category deliver. From the odd ‘log’ of what one hopes is ‘pea protein’ in a packet of pasta, to the frankly terrifying biological specimens fished out of someone’s order of clams, this may well make you too scared to ever eat again and will definitely open your eyes to the fact that some people really will munch first and ask questions later.
  • Animal Noses: Via Present & Correct, the best stationery retailers on Twitter (fine, I appreciate this may not be a hotly-contested category, but I hope they appreciate the accolade) comes this excellent and soothing hashtag. Apparently if you search for the characters “#お鼻見” on Twitter or Insta you will be greeted with a neverending stream of (mostly) mammalian noses, and if you’re not in some small way soothed and comforted by this then you are probably dead.
  • Only The Questions: A simple webtool which lets you paste any bit of text and, at a click, will isolate any questions it contains, leaving only those behind.  Particularly useful if you have any colleagues who are so in love with the sound of their own written voice that their emails tend towards the baroque and overwritten and overlong, and are quite evidently penned for their own entertainment rather than to impart any actual information to the reader, and which need a fcuking index to help you navigate them…colleagues, in short, like me. Sorry to everyone I work with, for this and everything else. SEE, IF YOU BOTHERED TO READ CURIOS YOU WOULD SEE THAT I DO APOLOGISE SOMETIMES YOU FCUKING INGRATES.
  • Charades: I know that ‘fun games over videocall’ is very much ‘early pandemic’ behaviour (now we either meet up in person briefly before realising that we don’t quite remember how in-person socialising works, or simply don’t bother to hide our disdain and resentment on Teams anymore), but this looks fun – Charades is, er, exactly that – a structured game of Charades, done over video, in browser, and free for up to seven players. I haven’t tried this out (I have no friends), but can’t help but feel that there might be something a bit sad about doing this over a janky connection, miming ‘my heart will go on’ to six frozen faces while your cat stares at you derisively from the corner of your Deliveroo-strewn bachelor-palace. Still, er, ENJOY!

By Ishii Shigeo

NEXT UP, ENJOY THIS UNRELEASED DEMO ALBUM OF VOCAL JUNGLE RECORDED BY THE LATE, LAMENTED SKIBADEE IN 2010!

THE SECTION WHICH   THE SECTION WHICH WOULD LIKE TO POINT OUT THAT NOT ALL ENTERTAINERS WOULD MAKE GOOD POLITICAL LEADERS, AND WOULD LIKE TO REMIND EVERYONE OF THAT TIME THE UK BRIEFLY CONSIDERED RUSSELL BRAND A ‘SERIOUS’ POLITICAL THINKER, PT.2:  

  • QRDate: This feels like quite a neat little idea, designed to offer some small hedge against the constant context collapse and impossibility of verification on social media (lol see the horse cantering across the distant fields as the get swings forlornly in the breeze!) – the site generates a QR Code linked to a specific date and timestamp, which “can be used to verify the date in rapidly disseminated photo- or videography where a large amount of people will be able to see and verify the code shown within a reasonable time from publishing, which is measured in seconds to minutes today.It provides a kind of social proof of other people observing a clock, given to you by a trusted third party, that you are holding up in a photo instead of writing the date on a piece of paper. It does *not* work against the past (taking snapshots of the produced codes and using them later) – the point is to try to guard media against the *future*. Therefore, unseen QR Dates are meant to have a lifespan after which they should be considered tainted.” Imperfect, fine, but seeing as the promise of THE BLOCKCHAIN has, unaccountably, yet to solve this particularly-thorny issue of modernity then at least it’s a start.
  • Minimalist PixelArt Icons: Erm, literally just that! Still, these are really nicely-made, and very cute, and all free to download and use. The animals are particularly lovely, and I now want to find a reason to populate a website with an infinity of tiny pixellated snails (what do you mean “this has no relevance to any of our clients, Matt, what the fcuk are we paying your for?”?).
  • Kia Move.Ment: Car marketing is a fcuking mystery to me, I tell you. Partly as a non-driver, but also because, honestly, none of it makes any sense. I would absolutely love it if someone related to this project were to see my bafflement and explain to me exactly why car manufacturer Kia has seen fit to create an entire synthprogramme, designed to let anyone apparently create soundscapes using a bunch of predetermined audiofiles which you can sequence and synch and mess with. WHAT IS ALL THIS GUFF ABOUT NEUROSCIENCE? HOW IS THIS MEANT TO PERSUADE ME TO DROP FIVE FIGURES ON A NEW CAR? Still, in the unlikely event that you’ve been itching to download a new piece of music-making software but have been holding out for one created by a company best-known for making middle-of-the-road hatchbacks then, well, MERRY FCUKING CHRISTMAS! They even commissioned a bunch of musicians to make tracks using the software – WHY?????? Please, someone, let me in on the ‘insight’ behind this (so I can laugh and laugh and laugh at the preposterousness of automotive advermarketingpr). If the total number of global downloads of this hits more than 500 I will be AMAZED – ROI, kids, ROI!
  • Old Mouse: Not, sadly, the personal site of a methuselan rodent, this is instead an online museum dedicated to old computer mice. Found via Caitlin Dewey, this is perfect in every possible way: “In the belief that every mouse has a tale, oldmouse.com intends to track the evolution of the computer mouse and its kin along its zig-zag trail of human ingenuity. Most of the mouses featured here live together in Missoula, Montana, gathered from across the US and beyond. A few rare mouses appear in photos courtesy of their owners. Like its furry namesake, the computer mouse proliferated across societies worldwide by its opportunistic adaptability. Creative human programming propagates its nearly infinite variations. The familiar mouse whose pointer glides through email, documents, or the World Wide Web earned its way to the top of the computer evolutionary tree of input devices (alongside the ubiquitous keyboard).”
  • Not An NFT: This is lovely. “As a kind of protest against low-effort NFTs flooding the market, I decided to create my own, except… they’re free. Yep, you too can ‘own’ a piece of digital art, just like the cool kids, and for absolutely nothing. A NANFT (Not An NFT) is a piece of generative art created by a twitterbot, and posted every hour to @NotanNFT1. To claim one, all you have to do is reply to the particular twitter post that features an image you like, with “I stake my claim!” Then right-click and save. Boom! It’s yours! The images are released under the Creative Commons CC BY-SA licence. That means you can do whatever you like, copy it, redistribute it, adapt it, even commercially, but… you must give credit and anything you create also has the same freedoms applied.” Get your new PFP here, vaunt your artistic nous and investor chops…for free!
  • The Batname Generator: There is another Batman film out! Which, frankly, feels like a bit much – since I first failed to get into see Batman at the cinema in 1989 (Swindon town council was one of the few in the UK not to accept the brand-new ‘12’ classification for the film when it came out, meaning it was rated ‘15’ and inexplicably my 10-year-old self fooled noone when it came to sneaking in underage) there have been…12? films about the tediously-psychologically-troubled billionaire bully, which seems like TOO MANY for any healthy society. Still, if you’re FROTHING WITH EXCITEMENT at the prospect of watching yet another muddily-graded gruntfest then you may enjoy this unofficial website which lets you render any word you choose in the style of the new film’s logo. Because it’s unofficial there’s no banned word list sitting behind this, so if you want to create the word ‘NONCE’ in glorious batfont then, well, fill your boots!
  • Peak Culture: Depressing-but-inevitable, really, that OPTIMISATION CULTURE should finally get round to attempting to MAXIMISE RETURNS from the generally non-competitive world of ‘messing around online’ (I really should spin up that range of ‘WEBMONG NOOTROPICS’ I’ve been toying with). Peak Culture is a frankly-risible-sounding browser extension which promises to help you REACH YOUR PEAK, MENTALLY AND PHYSICALLY. Exactly how it thinks it can do this via the medium of ‘some additional gubbins in Chrome’ is…unclear, but it offers you a CENTRAL EVENT COUNTDOWN (so, presumably, you can add an urgent countdown timer to your browser, creating an exciting frisson of YOU’RE WASTING YOUR LIFE every time you log onto Tube8 or NewGrounds), and HABIT TRACKING, and WORKOUT LOGS and GOAL TRACKING and dear God isn’t it tiring being this alpha and this GOAL FOCUSED all the time? Don’t you ever just want to lie down and close your eyes and never open them again? My favourite feature is the MOTIVATIONAL QUOTES, though, which I like to assume mean that every now and again you’ll get some stoic bullsh1t BLARED at you as you blamelessly browse seed catalogues or something. Astonishingly bleak and utterly dead-eyed.
  • DIY Wood Boat: If there’s an antithesis to ‘a browser extension which seeks to squeeze every last second of productivity from your online life’ it’s this website, which simply sets out a bunch of resources and instructions for building your own wooden boat. Want a project that will in no way improve you but which might be fun? GREAT. Fcuk self-improvement, fcuk the quantified life, build a boat instead and sail off into the (potentially nuclear, fine) sunset!
  • US Government Website Analytics: Ok, I appreciate that this is aspectacularly un-enticing link description, but I promise you there’s something (a bit) interesting here (sort-of). This website pulls traffic and download data from all the publicly accessible US government websites so you can see which are the most visited sites and pages, and downloaded documents. Which means you can see what sites people are looking at, what forms they are downloading, where they are browsing from…this is so interesting, unexpectedly so, and affords so many opportunities for interesting uses of the data in question; campaign planning based on user need and interest, content planning based on visitor location data…ok, fine, so I appreciate this is very much at the ‘less frivolous and fun’ end of the Curios scale, but there’s a very dull part of me that would love the opportunity to explore this sort of information for other countries so, again, CAN ONE OF YOU PLEASE SORT THAT FOR ME PLEASE THANKS?
  • Pixelfed: Do you remember a few years ago when Mastodon launched and everyone got briefly excited at the prospect of an alternative to Twitter that was DECENTRALISED and ALL YOURS, and then everyone quite quickly realised that, actually, decentralisation isn’t necessarily all it’s cracked up to be, and setting up and running your own instances of a Twitter-like product is a massive pain, and actually most people don’t really need or want all the gubbins that a decentralised product can bring? No, I don’t suppose you necessarily do, Still, Pixelfed is basically ‘Mastodon, but Instagram’ – ad free photosharing, create your own instance or join a new one…you get the idea (and, frankly, if you don’t, I can’t be bothered to explain it to you – sorry, but I slept poorly and I’m a bit tired and, just, you know, no). If you’re one of the growing number of photographers who feel that Insta no longer really works for you as a platform then you might want to take a look at this – caveat usor, as ever, but it could be a nice way of finding new communities of interest.
  • Technovelgy: Firstly, congratulations to the creators of this site for having coined one of the very worst portmanteau words I have ever read in my life – no small feat seeing as I’ve worked in PR for two decades. Secondly, additional congratulations to them for having kept this going for a couple of decades without seemingly changing the design even once. Thirdly, even more congratulations for the fact that it’s properly interesting stuff – the premise of Technovelgy (SUCH A HORRIBLE WORD!) is to explore concepts from fiction that become reality – so tracking the ideas from scifinovels past as they slowly become part of modernity. Exoskeletons and cyborgs and brain-machine interfaces and OH ME OH MY! The…idiosyncratic site design doesn’t make the browsing experience what you might call seamless, but it’s a really interesting collection of examples of imagination becoming reality, often in unexpected ways – see for example this entry on artificial eyes, and then cross-reference it with this recent Meta patent. Wonderful, creepy, vaguely-inspirational stuff.
  • The Seed Site: I am very brown-fingered (STOP SNIGGERING) and as such don’t have any real idea of how THE CYCLES OF NATURE work, or when you ought to start turning the topsoil to maximise your begonias, but I have a vague feeling that this is the sort of time when you might want to consider planting stuff in the rocky, largely-sterile patch of scorched earth you laughably call a ‘garden’. You can check whether or not I’m in fact right on The Seed Site, a one-stop guide to everything to do with, er, seeds – how to plant them, how to nurture your seedlings, that sort of thing. Photos, plant profiles, harvesting guides…given we’re all approximately only a month or so out from being told to GROW FOR VICTORY (I jest, but, well, not that much) you might want to get revising.
  • Colors Lol: Colour palettes with algorithmically-generated names. Which may not sound good, I appreciate, but I promise you that you will find yourself enjoying the nomenclature here far more than you expect (particularly if you’re of a vintage old enough to remember the original line of Urban Decay cosmetics, when there was nothing more subversive than wearing a lipstick called ‘Burnt Roach’ to accessorise your choker). “Milk-white yellow brown”, for example, is simultaneously nonsensical but also deeply, perfectly evocative and repellent.
  • Clock: Animated clocks are not a new thing, fine, but this one is perhaps the most anxiety-inducing one I’ve ever seen. I don’t know whether it’s just me or whether it’s a function of This Fcuking World We Live In, but I don’t think I have ever experienced such a visceral sense of THE DESTRUCTIVE PASSING OF TIME AND THE SLOW-YET-INELUCTABLE MARCH TO DEATH as I have whilst watching the seconds tick past on this website. Watch the blocks build the time, watch it disintegrate, watch it build, watch it collapse…WE ARE BUT SANDS IN THE HOURGLASS OH GOD.
  • DickDoodles: A variant on the hoary old Google classic ‘start drawing a thing and let the AI try and finish the drawing based on what it thinks the thing that you were drawing is meant to be’, except here it works by attempting to turn whatever you sketch into a crudely-drawn penis, because there is NOTHING FUNNIER than a cartoon prick.
  • Tonetta: So I had to do a bit of digging and due diligence around this, as one of the few editorial tenets I have in Curios is ‘don’t feature stuff by people who have what might reasonably considered to be a mental illness, particularly if the end goal is basically to mock them’ and, well, Tonetta could possibly be read as such in a certain light. Then, though, I discovered the Tonetta rabbithole and read about his backstory and, well, I became a convert. THIS IS ART! Intensely odd outsider-art, fine, the sort of art that leaves you feeling quite uncomfortable but which also leaves you feeling like you have definitely just experienced A Thing, which isn’t something you can always say. Click the link and browse Tonetta’s frankly insane volume of output – the skits, the songs, the performances, the costumes, the masks (oh God the masks), the paintings and the sketches and the dancing and OH GOD REALLY THE MASKS. Seriously, this is quite incredible – I think the last time I got so oddly excited by one person’s output was Jandek about 20 years ago. I can’t stress enough what a…unique experience this stuff is, and really do encourage you to find a quiet place to experience some of it yourself. You won’t necessarily like it, but it’s unlikely to leave you indifferent.
  • Microwave 59: I don’t really understand why this exists, or why you would want to play an endless-runner game rendered in the reflection of the door of a small CG microwave (no, really), but, well, that’s exactly what this is, so here, have it.
  • Babadum: Ooh, this is a lot of fun. Babadum is a website which purports to help you learn languages – no idea how much actual use it would be, but it’s a GREAT timesink. Select your language, and listen as a series of words are read out – you just need to pick one of four images which corresponds to the meaning of the words that’s just been spoken. Which is useful if you want to test your vocab in a language you already sort-of know, but less so when all you can hear is a voice shouting random syllables at you – still, I imagine if you spend long enough with it then words will start to repeat, so you can probably pick up some light vocab from scratch, and it’s an excellent way of reminding yourself how little GCSE German you remember.
  • Pixler: Via B3ta, this is an excellent little game which asks you to identify the animal in the picture in the fewest number of guesses – the image starts out with few, massive pixels, and becomes marginally-more-visible with each guess you take. Basically this boils down to ‘how good are you at telling a baboon from a badger when all you’ve got to work with is six block-colour pixels?’, but I promise it’s more fun than I just made it sound.
  • Mimic: Final miscellaneous link of the week goes to this lovely little pixelly puzzle game, in which you have to complete each level by reaching the goal, which can only be accomplished by mimicking the movement patterns of different animals so as to acquire their movement skills (so you might need to become a fish, say, to cross a river). This is simple, fun and caused me to scratch my head rather more than I would be comfortable admitting to you face-to-face.

By Shir Pakman

FINALLY IN THIS WEEK’S SELECTION OF MUSICAL TREATS, ENJOY THIS UNEXPECTEDLY-WONDERFUL ALBUM OF AMBIENT ELECTRONICA BY MY FAVOURITE MUSICIAN OF THE PAST TWO DECADES JAMES YORKSTON! 

THE CIRCUS OF TUMBLRS!

  • Cover Laydown: Not, according to the sourcecode, actually a Tumblr, but very much one in spirit (and that’s what’s taxonomically-important, RIGHT KIDS?), Cover Laydown is all about folk covers of pop songs and unexpected covers of folk songs – in the real sense, rather than the simple ‘oh it’s an acoustic guitar so we’ll call it folk because we’re lazy’ sense. There are some great oddities on here – very much worth exploring.
  • The Director’s Commentary: Download a HUGE range of audio files of Director’s Commentary from DVDs here – you want to listen to, say, the director’s commentary on the horrific mess that was 2019’s ‘Cats’? WHY??? Anyway, you can do that here. Lucky you!

THE TROUGH OF (INSTA) FEEDS!

  •  90s Art School: Did you go to art school in the 90s? Did you have BIG CONCEPTUAL DREAMS which you occasionally look back on with regret as the STUPID CLIENT rejects another one of your BRILLIANT CAMPAIGN CREATIVES and you worry sadly at your stick tattoos as the baby sicks up again on your shoulder and you wonder whether the money and the CD title are really worth it after all, despite the nice house in Hackney, because honestly all you want to do is cry all day at the prospect of once again having to feign interest in developing a really stand-out visual concept for this exciting new brand of loan product you’re meant to be launching in Q3? This Instagram account is for YOU!

LONG THINGS WHICH ARE LONG!:

  • Metalabels: This is, fine, a touch on the w4nkily-conceptual side, but I found it really interesting as a way of thinking about work and practise and areas of interest and influence, and maybe you will too (this feels very much like the sort of thing that those of you with ‘strategy’ in your job titles will lap up – take that either as a cuss or a compliment, as, well, it’s both!). Whilst it’s also a ‘launch manifesto’ for the author’s new project (called, obvs, ‘metalabel’), I found it an interesting framework or lens through which to conceive of loosely-thematically-linked bodies of work – as they put it, “A metalabel is like an indie record label, but for all forms of art, culture, and ideas. A book publisher, a local collaborative creative project, an online community, an activist movement, an artist collective, a record label, and other collective cultural projects are examples of metalabels: groups of people using a shared identity for a shared purpose with a focus on public releases that manifest their worldview.” Much as it pains me to say so – it’s so horrible when I realise that I tend to see this stuff through the lens of my (laughable) ‘job’ – there’s a really useful way of thinking about strategy and campaign planning in here should you wish to dig it out (but let’s never speak of it again if you do).
  • Pods, Squads, Crews and Gangs: A caveat before I explain this one – this is very much not my sort of thing, both in terms of tone and general ethos, and I find it a bit awkward and uncomfortable (no shade to the author here, who I am sure is lovely, but we are obviously very different people; speaking personally, this degree of self-analysis and introspection makes my teeth itch and my skin start to turn inside out, but your mileage may vary). With that caveat out of the way, let me introduce this article which is a LONG-but-interesting exploration of something I’m increasingly seeing explored in various thinkpieces online over the past few months; to whit, the resurence of microtribes and communities online, the different ‘units’ of community that can be sketched out based on size and network type, and their difference in terms of end-user utility. Which, I realise, sounds dull-as-you like, but if you strip out the (to my mind psychbabbly) stuff about GOAL SETTING and OPENNESS (sorry, no, I am a closed book and now FCUK OFF) there’s some interesting observations in here about how group dynamics can and do function. Interesting to sociologists and the sort of people who get paid a lot of money to attempt to manipulate groups of people to think or act in specific ways (OH HI ADVERMARKETINGPRMONGS!).
  • Magic Carpets: On what a world made up of ubiquitous, universal screens, screens indoors and outdoors, above us and below us, can and will do to our perceptions of space and information – I found this bit in particular to be fascinating, conceptually-speaking: “We are being conditioned to think of the metaverse as something that is yet to come, but in many respects it has already long been here, in the enhanced commercial environments we already experience in everyday life. Environmental screens would attempt to build on this. As with nature itself, we might grow to take the presence of such screens for granted as objects with an innate three-dimensional presence in our world…If screens covered everything, we would be no longer able to trust the illumination or the shadows we saw on walls and surfaces as a reliable reference point for perceiving three-dimensional space. They might sometimes feel a bit like they were being digitally rendered. The appearance of physical objects would become more provisional, and the things around us could start to be conceptualized similarly to how 3-D content is in games now: as calculated mathematical assemblies of geometric planes that are all surface and no interior. Physical space would be experienced more like game space, without the need for an interface.”
  • The Wikipedia War: I figure that you’re all perfectly capable of reading your own accounts of the war in Ukraine, so have attempted to avoid it here – that said, this piece, about the edit wars currently taking place across Wikipedia as another front in the digital battle, struck me as worth sharing. Once again it’s worth taking a moment to admire the incredible robustness of Wikipedia as a platform and community – the systems and processes in place here to attempt to guard against abuse and misinformation are laudable (if, obviously, imperfect) – and to marvel at the extent to which it’s become not only one of the most important information resources in human history but also an incredible bellwether for What Is Really Going On behind the ‘truth’ of any particular issue. In the future, Wikipedia edit records will be valuable documents of historical import (and when I say ‘in the future’ I mean ‘now’).
  • China’s AI Regulation: A really good look at the current legislative changes being planned in China to seek to regulate the behaviour of algorithms, both consumer-facing and not. Interesting in part because whilst this sort of legislation is going to start cropping up all over the place, China’s is likely to be the first to make it onto the statute books and it will be fascinating to see how exactly this gets enforced – determining algorithmic activity designed to cause “addiction or excessive consumption” sounds a) tricky and b) like the sort of ambiguous wording that is going to have lawyers licking their lips and running to put a deposit down on a new LearJet. I am…not exactly bullish about the extent to which this sort of regulation is even possible in any meaningful sense, but will be watching this closely.
  • Post The Body Fascist: A discursive look at the links between the less-savoury corners of the bodyimage web, specifically the pro-ana and incel communities, and the far right; this is a bit rambling, and maybe a tiny bit undergraduate essay-ish (sorry, but, well, it is), but it’s also an interesting investigation into one of those odd online community venn diagram crossovers that I have never previously quite understood. If you’ve ever wondered why so much YogaTurmericLatte content seems so, well, fashy, this may help you understand.
  • Creators: Or ‘how the creator myth got created’ – Vox looks at when and how and why everyone online started referring to themselves as ‘creators’, and What That Means And What It Tells Us. I can give you one answer – in part, it started 6 or 7 years ago when people in advermarketingpr like you and I started switching from saying ‘influencers’ to instead calling them ‘creators’ because ‘we co-created some really engaging content to drive brand awareness’ sounded more impressive than ‘we paid an influencer to say your brand name on camera’. Once again, everything is the fault of advermarketingprmongs. FCUK’S SAKE, ADVERMARKETINGPRMONGS!
  • Bandcamp and Epic: Surprising business news of the week came with the news that Epic was buying Bandcamp, much to the chagrin of indie music enthusiasts who fear, not without justification, that The Man may not necessarily have the same desire to provide cheap music streaming and selling services to microfamous artists. This piece is a short analysis by Ted Gioia of What It Might Mean, which basically boils down to ‘probably not that much good if you’re a musician’ – interesting to me because of Gioia’s angle on this, which is basically ‘if music isn’t the company’s primary priority then the acquisition of a formerly-music-focused business by said company is not likely to be particularly good news for the music in this equation’.
  • The NukeSim Guy: Charlie Warzel interviews the bloke behind the once-again-terrifyingly-relevant Nukemap website (you will have seen and used it at some point over the past decade, I promise), which has received a sudden spike in interest over the past week for obvious, miserable reasons. Much like his interview last year with the bloke behind the ‘stuck ship in the Suez Canal’ website, this is unexpectedly fascinating – the detail about what people use the nuke site for is fascinating (WHY DO WE ALL NUKE JAPAN???), as is the general background detail about what it’s like to be quietly responsible for a genuine artefact of the Small Web.
  • Village Cooking: There was a brief period a couple of years ago when I ended up in an algorithmic sweetspot and had a happy few months during which all my feeds were just FULL of videos of people in rural parts of the distant world cooking vast quantities of food for the local community; honestly, few things are more relaxing to me than watching someone methodically butcher 400 chickens and turn them into seventeen kilos of biryani. This is a fascinating profile of one such channel from Bangladesh – how it works, how it’s changed the lives of the people behind it, and, inevitably, the creeping sense that it’s also created a small-but-growing monkey on the backs of the principal creators who I have a horrible feeling are going to find themselves algochasing the same content high for the rest of their lives.
  • The $6,000 Star Wars Holiday: A writeup of what it’s like to visit the new immersive holiday experience built by Disney around Star Wars, where you can pay six grand for four of you to spend a weekend LIVING YOUR STAR WARS DREAM as part of a LARP-ish amdram with incredibly high production values. What struck me about this is that the author is a self-declared Star Wars fanboy and still baulks at the cost of the trip – that, and the fact that Punchdrunk have a lot to answer for.
  • The Bongo Moderator: A writeup of what it’s like to be one of the poor unfortunates tasked with keeping Pr0nhub free of the wrong sort of bongo – there is literally NO PART OF THIS that sounds anything other than hideous, and I can’t imagine that anything good happens to one’s libido after doing this for any length of time. Yet another one to add to the bulging file of ‘reasons why content moderation is, and will continue to be, one of the thorniest issues of the modern age and why we should all perhaps pay a bit more attention to how it works and who is doing it’.
  • The Internet and Patrick Bateman: I’ve read American Psycho…a lot of times. Part of that’s down to having written a few essays on it as a kid, and part of it’s down to the fact that it’s a fcuking great novel (I do, though, tend to skip some of the more, er, colourful sections) – I promise I’m not some sort of weird axemurdery pervert, honest (I feel compelled to make this point because when I was 16 my English teacher was so weirded out by the fact I was reading it that she took my girlfriend to one side to ask her if I was ‘normal’ in bed, which, rereading that, is very much not ok imho). Anyway, that familiarity with the source material means I found this piece – on the web’s fixation with Patrick Bateman, particularly now – of specific interest; disappointingly it seems to ignore the existence of a novel, fixating on the film representation, but there’s a lot of interesting stuff in here about what it is about the entirely-image-fixated Bateman that so appeals to us here in the year of our Lord 2022. I was reminded throughout of this passage, which is both the sort of ur-Bateman manifesto, and also, well, feels a tiny bit relevant to the now: ““…there is an idea of a Patrick Bateman, some kind of abstraction, but there is no real me, only an entity, something illusory, and though I can hide my cold gaze and you can shake my hand and feel flesh gripping yours and maybe you can even sense our lifestyles are probably comparable: I simply am not there. It is hard for me to make sense on any given level. Myself is fabricated, an aberration. I am a noncontingent human being.”
  • Amba: Another piece from Vittles, whose founder, Jonathan Nunn, has rightly been getting a lot of high-profile love of late. This is a typically-excellent essay, all about Amba, a particular type of mango pickle popular across India but also around the Middle-East – this is the sort of brilliant food writing that is nominally about a specific dish or ingredient but which ends up being about politics and trade and commerce and people and which basically teaches you loads AND makes you hungry.
  • Urban Sprawlers: Web Curios favourite Clive Martin writes in The Face about the London-to-non-London exodus, the culture clash it elicits, and What It Tells Us About Ourselves And The Country We Live In. I loved this, not least because it eschews the usual ‘townies vs urbanites’ narrative in favour of a more nuanced picture of a country which, at its heart, doesn’t know how to relate to itself any more. “In my experience, people in the rolling fields and rocky coasts enjoy the same things most people do: Facebook, family, football, drink, drugs, romance, big TVs and TikTok. Yet these strange utopianists keep turning up and projecting all their frustrations with the 21st century onto these totally normal towns, desperately scratching for something that most likely isn’t there – all in lieu of looking at themselves and their own anxieties.”
  • The Numbers In My Phone: I loved this so so much. Long, chatty, warm, personal, painful, this essay by one Sheena D touches on race and sexuality and navigating love being black and queer, and is like listening to a wonderful, rambling story – honestly, I adored this and I think you will too, it’s GREAT.
  • How To Apply Makeup: Finally this week, another piece about being black and queer, and being ugly, and being in love, but less discursive, more structured and packing a significant punch. This is a superb piece of writing by Nicole Shawan Junior.

By Julia Soboleva

AND NOW, MOVING PICTURES AND SOUNDS!:

Webcurios 25/02/22

Reading Time: 33 minutes

Watching another country get invaded does rather put Dudley and Eunice into perspective, doesn’t it?

Look, I have nothing to say about the war – you don’t need my opinions or lukewarm takes, not least because it’s already clear that this conflict has ushered in a whole new era of social media, an era of truly gargantuan stupidity, in which people seemingly compete to say the most jaw-droppingly wrong-headed things about geopolitics that they can muster. It’s hard not to look at some of the things that people are Tweeting and think ‘you know, maybe thermonuclear war wouldn’t be such a bad thing’. Maybe that was the vibe shift.

Anyway, if you fancy taking a short break from listening to hawks and doves, tankies and apologists, the people trying to make this all about Brexit and the people trying to make this all about themselves, the people frantically Googling ‘Clausewitz’ and the people revealing themselves as secretly-fanatical wargamers, the ghouls and the grief-porners, the conflict-clout-chasers and the bitcoiners convinced that THIS IS THEIR TIME (and if you don’t fancy taking a break…why not?), then WEB CURIOS IS HERE FOR YOU!

I am still Matt, this is still Web Curios, and it’s hard not to be a tiny bit scared right now.

By David Denil

WE START THIS WEEK WITH A BRAND NEW, AS-EVER-SUPERB, MIX OF ODDITIES AND CURIOSITIES FROM THE IMMENSE VINYL STACK OF THE ODDITY KNOWN AS SADEAGLE! 

THE SECTION WHICH WONDERS WHAT BAUDRILLARD WOULD MAKE OF WARS EXPERIENCED VIA TIKTOK, PT.1:  

  • Brainstream: We kick off this week’s selection of links with a new project from the perennially-pleasing folk at the National Film Board of Canada, who, long-time readers will be aware, have for years produced some of my favourite digital storytelling gubbins anywhere on the web. Brainstream is no exception – this is a glorious, lightly-intreractive piece of narrative work which takes you inside the mind of a young girl named ‘D’, who’s having her brain massaged by you and a bunch of other people as part of a futuristic de-stressing technique which is apparently totally normal in the alternafuturistic version of Canada ‘D’ inhabits. Listen to ‘D’s story, massage her brain, and enjoy the weirdly-intimate feeling this gives you of literally being inside somebody else’s head. This is just marvellous, honestly – there’s something about the way the vocals are recorded, and the particular intimacy of scribbling away on your phone’s screen as you listen, that gives a proper sense of transported-oddness and of being someone else for a few minutes (or it does to me, at least; then again, I have all the empathetic nous of a piece of bone and so perhaps know not whereof I speak), and the way the ‘brain massage’ animates is just lovely. This takes either 5 or 20 minutes, depending on your preferences, but I can honestly recommend doing the whole 20 minute session – it’s a perfect piece of bitesized storytelling, and I promise you’ll feel better about almost everything as a result (NB – Web Curios doubts that this is likely to alleviate any symptoms of anxiety born out the increasing threat of global thermonuclear conflict, but, equally, suggests it’s worth a go just in case).
  • Finesse: You remember Botto from last week, right – the art project that lets people vote on which machine-generated artwork is going to put up for sale next? WHY NOT FFS PAY ATTENTION. Anyway, for those of you who do remember Botto, this is basically that, but for clothes. Finesse is a fashion brand who have decided to do away with the tedious, messy and primadonna-ish concept of ‘the designer’ and instead realised that you can churn out plausible-looking fast fashion using some algos and a bunch of dropshipping production contacts half a world away – the result is a service which invites users to vote on which of a selection of designs they want to see produced next, designs spat out by an ‘AI’ presumably trained on TikTok and TMZ, which will then see the highest-voted garment sent for production and available for retail within 2 weeks. This is, on the one hand, a brutally-brilliant bit of business – on the other, I don’t think this is necessarily good for the planet or society. Fine, the company trumpets is sustainability (the ‘on-demand’ nature of the business should in theory lead to less wasted inventory, for example), but let’s be realistic – this stuff will inevitably fit like a fcuking sackcloth unless you happen to luck into the one, specific bodytype that a particular outfit happens to work for; it will be made out of stuff with all the tensile resilience of gossamer but significantly more toxic and likely to have a half-life of a few centuries and, oh yes, an actual human being still has to stitch this sh1t. Basically until we can put not only the designers but also the tailors and seamstresses out of business thanks to the magical march of machines, there is literally no way to make clothes like this that doesn’t in some way fcuk someone, painfully and unpleasantly. Still, though, LOOK AT ALL THESE MAD GARMS! Do people still say ‘garms’? So old, so tired, so nearly ready to die.
  • CAR: I ought, by rights, to hate this, but I simply can’t, it’s too gloriously silly, and too perfectly high-concept. TODAY (presuming you’re reading this on Friday 25 February 2022 – and if not, why not?) artist Shloms will start selling NFTs from his new CARS collection – CARS is a project that saw Shloms blow up a Lamborghini (because, well, obvs) and film it, with the output being 888 individual videos of fragments of the exploded Lambo that are all being auctioned as NFTs. Which is sort-of perfect, right? The Lambo! The conspicuous consumption! The deep irony! Shloms maintains that the majority of proceeds from the auction – which could be a lot of money – will be redirected to other art projects, and in the absence of any obvious stench of grift from this project, I am going to tentatively declare it art. I bet Shloms, in the unlikely event they ever see this brief writeup, will be thrilled.
  • Lobby3: I may have mentioned this before, but I worked as a lobbyist for a while in my 20s – I am morally OK with this, though, because I did literally no work and was generally awful at everything connected to my job, and so on balance I actually probably sort-of made the world a better place through my professional indolence and incompetence. Still, I am largely of the belief that lobbying and public affairs is at best a socially-acceptable form of cash for access, and at worst a fcuking cancer on modern politics, so imagine my utter joy when I discovered that the latest bunch of people investing big to get the ear of lawmakers is…THAT’S RIGHT IT’S THE FCUKING WEB3CRYTOCNUTS! Yes, everyone’s favourite failed NYC mayoral candidate (read: noone’s favourite, everyone seemingly thought he was a prick by the end) Andrew Yang has decided to REINVENT LOBBYING by basically making it a DAO – you buy tokens which confer voting rights, which voting rights are used to determine the future causes on which the group will lobby Congress, etc. I don’t, honestly, have the time or the energy to exhaustively explain all the reasons why this is a fcuking terrible idea from an organisational point of view, but, briefly, just consider exactly the sorts of things that a well-funded organisation representing the cryptoweb3nutcases might potentially seek to advocate for – well, yes, quite. The main hope for this is that the inherently-chaotic nature of a DAO makes the whole thing unworkable, as otherwise I can sort-of imagine the Republicans leaning hard into “Mak3 Am3rica Gr3at With Web3 and Bitcoin” come 2024.
  • Vmail: Matt Round continues to surprise and delight with his pleasingly-silly web projects – this latest one is a real gem imho, even by his high standards. VMail (that’s VoleMail, obviously) is a newsletter with a difference – anyone can contribute to it via a form on Matt’s website, and once there are 20 THINGS in the newsletter it gets automatically formatted and sent out. What those 20 things are is entirely determined by what people like YOU decide to submit (and, one would assume, some light curation on Matt’s part to ensure that your inbox isn’t overwhelmed by particularly-nasty equine bongo), which means that the first few editions have been a truly wonderful collection of odd anecdotes, bad jokes, experimental novel fragments, pictures that look like they’ve been taken with a GameBoy Advance camera attachment, and, inexplicably, some shopping lists. This is practically-perfect in every way, and whilst I know that there are obviously NO OTHER newsletters in your life (you…you wouldn’t cheat on Curios, would you?), you may wish to find space for this one.
  • Maddox Jets: As a non-driver (I would say a ‘proud’ non-driver, but, honestly, it’s more the fact that I am horrifically malcoordinated that prevents me from getting behind the wheel rather than any moral objection to the combustion engine) I am perennially fascinated by incredibly fast vehicles and the people who pilot them – how do you learn, do you think, that where you find your heaven is ‘sat in a shopping trolley, strapped to what to all intents and purposes looks like the back end of a cruise missile’? Anyway, whatever childhood trauma brought Bob Maddox to this point, here is his website – MADDOX JETS, where he details all the different ways he’s courted death via the medium of wheels, axles and a borderline-insane quantity of rocket propellant. If you’ve ever wondered ‘what would it look like if a middle-aged man with the sort of ash-blonde barnet and complexion you’d normally associate with a minor member of the cursed Johnson dynasty attempted to reach approximately 200mph in a vehicle made of Meccano?’, well, NOW YOU KNOW! Pleasingly there’s a shop on the site – whilst Bob doesn’t sell complete vehicles, possibly due to restrictions on international arms sales (honestly, tell me these things aren’t bombs on wheels), you can buy completed engines to affix to whatever currently-stationary object you fancy. YOU KNOW YOU WANT TO, MIDDLE-AGED MALE READERS OF CURIOS!
  • Gucci PickNTwist: NEW LUXURY BRAND VIDEOGAME JUST DROPPED! This is, even by the standards of the ‘pointless videogames for luxe brands with no discernible product connection and, as far as I can tell, without even cookie tracking to try and resell me a handbag for the rest of my natural life’ genre, a doozy. Firstly – and I concede that I might be about to make myself sound very stupid here, but, well, not for the first time – there is no explanation of how the game works. “Align the things!” the instruction on the first screen says. YES GUCCI BUT HOW?? AND WHY??? I managed to get through the first couple of levels by clicking and dragging almost at random, but I am baffled as to what I am actually meant to be doing – I assume that there’s an analogue to a clasp or lock or arrangement of segments in a bracelet or pendant or something, but, er, I didn’t get far enough to find out. Basically I have been outsmarted by a throwaway casual game designed to somehow inveigle people into dropping 5 figures on a shirt, and, let me tell you, it smarts. Still, the visual design of the games themselves is gorgeous – the objects you’re manipulating are gorgeously shiny and tactile, and there’s something hugely satisfying about the aesthetic here. Which I suppose makes up for my double-figure-IQ fumblings to work out what the everliving fcuk is happening here.
  • The Race: Ooh, ANOTHER NEW LUXURY BRAND VIDEOGAME JUST DROPPED! This, by Montblanc (they make…fountain pens, right? Just that it’s not immediately clear from anything on this website what the fcuk it is that I am being sold, which I sort of admire as a tactic), is, for reasons only known to their marketing team, a racing game – you’re in a red car, and your sole task is to steer left and right in an attempt to adhere to the racing line and fill up a boost meter so as to speed yourself around the track at optimum pace. It’s mildly diverting for the 45s or so it takes to do a circuit, and there’s a light degree of replayability in the fact that it’s possible to do a ‘perfect’ run (should you be the sort of weirdo who likes to challenge and better themselves), but I am utterly baffled as to how they think this is going to help flog them more pens – there’s even the option to submit your score, but no indication as to why the fcuk you might want to do so. Once again, can I make a plea that any people working in luxe brands who want to spend an unconscionable amount of money on a shiny advergame come to me to discuss it? I won’t make anything good, or even noticeably better than this, but I promise that I will be slightly cheaper than whoever else you ask.
  • Leisure Project: There’s something quietly sinister about the way in which so much copy around food and drink has moved from the pleasingly-sensual (“creamy texture, full-bodied flavours and a nose you could suck all night long”) (there’s a reason I don’t write for Haagen Dazs) to the miserably-functional (“high-energy focus-shakes for Keynote WARRIORS!”), a vibe (sorry) very much embodied by the homepage for Leisure Project. “A New Type of Hydration Beverage…Crafted with natural electrolytes, adaptogens, and nootropics for a less stressed, more focused you.” That’s as may be, Carl, but I bet it tastes like actual ass (and not even in the good way). So Leisure Project is A N Other type-A personality-oriented ACHIEVEMENTSHAKE, designed to make you sharper and stronger and more focused and more able to CRUSH IT each and every day (or, more realistically, to at least to pretend to cope with the increasingly-baroque vicissitudes of LIFE), but that’s not what makes it Curios-worthy, That, my friends, is…oh, God, it’s fcuking NFTs again. Yes, that’s right, they’re not just selling you a brand new drink, they’re selling you the chance to buy into a COMMUNITY (and, er, as we all know well, the very best communities, the most meaningful, are the ones you have to pay your way into! Clubs, maybe; influence networks, perhaps; communities? No). Aside from the promise of “Three holistically refreshing flavors. Three new pathways to creativity” (I am starting to wish harm on the person who wrote this), you also get the chance to be part of “The World’s First Co-Created Beverage Brand…We are a beverage brand built for and by our community. We’re launching 4,567 Leisure Creature NFT’s. Ownership of the NFT grants exclusive access and membership privileges to the Leisure Project brand launching later this Spring.” What does this get you? STUFF! PROBABLE (well, possible) STUFF IN THE FUTURE! It’s clear that I no longer understand anything about a world in which people are willing to spend hundreds of actual dollars to be part of a club based around an as-yet-untasted soft drink. Either that, or this is yet another example of an NFT project preying on the stupid and greedy. HMMMMMMMM.
  • Digital Public Goods: Hm, on reflection, going at breakneck speed from the previous entry to this one shows some of the…limitations inherent in Curios’ curatorial style (ha!). Still, this is an excellent project, and in a way feels to me like the diametric opposite of NFT grift – Digital Public Goods is a multi-agency initiative whose goal is to “accelerate the attainment of the sustainable development goals in low- and middle-income countries by facilitating the discovery, development, use of, and investment in digital public goods”; so, basically, to try and get different organisations to work together to make more useful, free, open-source digital tools available for all. There are various workstreams within the project – which was convened in 2021 – and various Governments and NGOs are already onboard, including German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ), the Government of Sierra Leone, the Norwegian Agency for Development Cooperation (Norad), iSPIRT, UNDP, and UNICEF. If you happen to work for, or with, any organisations or companies that might be able to help with creating and distributing open-access digital solutions for literacy, government, healthcare, sustainability and the like, this is a link you should very much click on.
  • Dorksearch: It’s long been known that your standard Google search is basically unusable if you want to do proper research (we’ve SEO’d one of the greatest inventions of our species – I sort-of mean that, I think – into obsolescence within a decade, well done guys!), but for those of you who still want to try and do some decent infospelunking then Dorksearch is a godsend. Basically it has a bunch of pre-written string queries you can select from dropdowns – so if you can’t remember exactly the commands you need to write into Google to search by filetype, say, or for any results that contain mp3s, then this will let you do it quickly and easily with a few clicks. Now, it’s worth pointing out that technically this looks like it’s been built to let you find textfiles containing password dumps and credit card info – WHICH WEB CURIOS IN NO WAY ENDORSES – but there’s also a lot of perfectly non-dodgy stuff you can do with it. You…you won’t do a crime, will you? Good.
  • VRPranksters: There have been a spate of stories over the past week or about the…less than robust moderation currently in-place across various VR communities, from VRChat (home, lest we forget, of The Incredibly Racist Ugandan Knuckles Meme) to Roblox (kiddy stripclubs), to Horizon Worlds, along with a parallel piece in VICE about what a nightmare it must be to be one of the poor mods employed to prevent griefing in the Big Blue Misery Factory’s VR version of LinkedIn. VRPranksters is a TikTok channel which presents various ‘comic’ instances of users doing light trolling in virtual space, and, oh god, it just looks so tiresome and, basically, like Horizon Worlds is mainly being used by 10 year olds to make sight gags and mum jokes at each other. I can’t work out whether this is A Good Thing (insofar as it makes the Zuckerbergian vision of THE METAVERSE look as distant and ridiculous as iti ought) or A Bad Thing (insofar as it suggests that kids are already getting hooked into this corporatised vision of VR and are basically signing themselves up as Meta-users in perpetuity), but, whichever way you cut it, it makes hanging out in virtual spaces look about as much fun as spending an afternoon in a Year 8 double science session.
  • Prosepainter: PAINT WITH WORDS! Well, sort-of – Prosepainter, made by the same people who spun up the rather fun Artbreeder, which lets you effectively ‘breed’ images together using AI, lets you sketch out the broad shapes you want the machine to fill in as well as using language to determine what sort of visual style you want the shapes to display – so, for example, you can sketch the shapes of your foreground and background and rough buildings, and then tell it to make the floor ‘a suppurating carpet of bloody limbs’ and the sky ‘a roiling maelstrom of teeth’ and the building ‘a cathedral of pain’ and see what it spits out! I mean, other visual styles are available, and there’s nothing to say you have to take it down the ‘dark metal album cover’ that I just described, but, well, you know you want to.
  • Infinite Passarella: I’ve featured digital studio Lusion’s work in here before, I think – this is another of their sideline projects, seemingly just done as a proof-of-concept, which lets you watch an apparently-infinite catwalk show, featuring headless models wearing procedurally-generated garments strut their stuff before an audience of equally-virtual fashionistas and frow-dwellers. At heart just a super-cool screensaver, this is beautifully-designed and really nicely-rendered, and you can imagine a world in which this is combined with the sort of business model outlined in the entry about Finesse uptop – viewers watch the show, vote in realtime on the algocreations they would like to see produced, which triggers the sweatshops! Ah, the future! Still, this is lovely webwork by some obviously very talented people, so well done them.
  • They Can Talk: I do quite want to append the words “…but not in any way which we can meaningfully understand’ to the title of this website, but shan’t for fear of upsetting those of you with ‘fur babies’. They Can Talk is “a community-generated site dedicated to helping people teach learners to communicate using sound board Augmentative Interspecies Communication (AIC) Devices. We’re constantly discovering new things about teaching words to dogs, and so there’s a need for a place that brings together tips, tricks, do’s and don’ts that seem to work. This site is a work in progress, and content here is changing as we learn more.” So if you think your dog is unusually intelligent and has a few things it really MUST communicate to you, and you want to set up an elaborate system of buttons with which it can tell you its deepest wants and desires, then this is the website for YOU. The do’s and don’ts section was particularly-interesting to me – I sort of admire the hardline teaching ethos set out here, but wonder whether instructions such as “If your learner is looking like they want something from you, ask them to “use your words”” might end up with the trainer in this scenario having a slightly-p1ssier home than one might ideally wish for. Still, do let me know how you get on (NB – note to my girlfriend, THIS WILL NOT WORK WITH YOUR CAT).

By  Moonassi

NEXT, HAVE ANOTHER VINYL MIX, THIS ONE BY TOM ‘DAPWEARER’ SPOONER! 

THE SECTION WHICH WONDERS WHAT BAUDRILLARD WOULD MAKE OF WARS EXPERIENCED VIA TIKTOK, PT.2:  

  • The Golden Age of Wrestling: Did you grow up watching slightly-grainy bootleg VHS footage of Hulk Hogan and Ultimate Warrior, taped off the telly by that one kid at school whose parents shelled out for BSkyB? Did you spend more time than was strictly good for your musculoskeletal development attempting to perfect the suplex on pockmarked tarmacadam in clear violation of all known health and safety legislation? If the answer to either of those questions is ‘yes’, then, well, ENJOY: “Growing up in the 1980s and ’90s, heroes didn’t all wear capes. But they did wear fluorescent spandex, face paint, and occasionally snakes. This was the Golden Era of Professional Wrestling in the United States, if not the Universe. Perhaps Vince McMahon and Hulk Hogan’s brand of kid-friendly, larger-than-life WWF stars were your thing? Or maybe you were a fan of Ric Flair, Dusty Rhodes, and their unique brand of NWA / WCW blood-soaked hot-dogging? Well, 10-year-old Fraser Davidson was a sucker for it all, every last drop. The music, the neon, and of course, the toys. The huge volume of toys. The Golden Era of Wrestling project is an attempt to create a nostalgic series of ‘action figure style’ renders, paying homage to the greatest epoch of ‘Sports Entertainment’.” The renders here are lovely, really satisfying and tactile-looking, and I could imagine there being a decent market for these as vinyl toys for the sort of men who claim they’re ‘limited edition vinyl artpieces, actually’.
  • Glitch Image Generator: Glitch any image you like, with just a click. Lots of different ways of adding a layer or two of noise, should you wish to start pursuing ‘the computer is dying and my soul along with it’ as your visual aesthetic for 2022.
  • MacSimulator: There were few disappointments in the 80s quite like that of going round to someone’s house and discovering that they had access to a computer and then discovering that that computer was a Mac, with its horrible unfamiliar interface and hideous grayscale display – this website lets you experience that whole miserable sensation of ‘being let down’ once again, letting you play around with a Mac emulator running some sort of antedeluvian OS (MacOS7, for exactness). You can play a few games on it, including the desperately-unfun cult misery simulator Oregon Trail, but mainly this will be of interest as a nostalgiaportal, and a way of showing the young people in your life exactly how miserable the past was from an entertainment point of view, and exactly why we have all turned out the way we have.
  • Menus of New York: I appreciate that any complaints about food from a man living in Rome will come across as churlish at best, so, er, I will keep them to myself, but I will say that I would give at least one of my testicles (I mean, take both! It’s not like I’m likely to use them for anything!) to eat a meal that doesn’t involve Italian food (turns out one can get tired of pizza, gricia, amatriciana and artichokes, who knew?). So I spent a bit of time living vicariously through this wonderful collection of menus from New York’s restaurant scene over the past 150 years or so. Select by decade and browse the dishes of the beau monde in the roaring 20s, or the nouvelle-cuisine boom of the 80s, and OH MY GOD I WOULD KILL FOR SOME DECENT THAI FOOD OR BASICALLY ANYTHING THAT CONTAINS SPICES. What’s that? The sound of literally no violins? Oh.
  • The Museum of the Future: This is amazing, in a very odd sort of way. The Museum of the Future is a new(ish) institution in Dubai, designed to showcase the UAE’s vision of a GLORIOUS TECHNOLOGICALLY-ENABLED FUTURE PARADISE, all within a quite incredible building (honestly, this is a proper architectural showstopper- I don’t necessarily mean that in a positive way, but it’s certainly…something) which is adorned with Arabic calligraphy depicting the poetry of Emirati Prime Minister His Highness Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum (I don’t know about you, but I get…a touch antsy at the idea of leaders being so convinced of their genius that they decide to have it immortalised via the medium of 10ft carvings of their best lines). What’s inside the museum? THE FUTURE! Except, well, it’s hard to tell – lots of multimedia and AR and XR, and lots of vaguely-utopian stuff about THE MAGIC FUTURE OF MACHINE LEARNING and NATURE and SPACE…I don’t know about you, but I don’t feel like this sort of thing really captures the current spirit of the age, or indeed has any actual bearing on what our best-guess version of THE FUTURE actually looks like. Still, WHAT a building.
  • International Landscape Photographer of the Year: Landscapes! Pictures of landscapes! Beautiful, breathtaking, humbling pictures of the natural world! If you want a properly-inspirational selection of pictures which will remind you of the unparalleled beauty of our planet’s natural landscapes then, well, HERE YOU ARE! A slight shame that the website makes the experience of browsing the images so underwhelming, but I’m nitpicking here – these really are astonishing, and pleasingly-varied.
  • Gylne Tider: This is one of those things which may well already be SUPERFAMOUS in your corner of the web – in which case, apologies for the OLD ISH. For the rest of you, though, welcome to the glorious world of Gylne Tider, a Norwegian TV show which over the years has built up a quite incredible collection of songs being sung by international celebrities. Maybe a Norwegian reader (no idea if I have any, but writing stuff like this makes me feel like Web Curios is an INTERNATIONALLY-RENOWNED publication rather than just A N Other newsletter written by a generic media w4nker with loggorhoea and a touch of anhedonia) can enlighten me as to how exactly this TV show has over the years managed to inveigle stars of the wattage of Limahl, Glenn Madeiros, Bananarama, Keisha Buchanan, EDDIE THE FCUKING EAGLE, and more, to participate in line-by-line singalongs of tracks like ‘We Are The World’. The link takes you to the Google video results for the show, and it’s worth taking your time to savour the various iterations of ‘a bunch of random famouses sing a song together for no discernible reason and HANG ON IS THAT JOHN NETTLES WHAT IS BERGERAC DOING HARMONISING WITH MARK HAMILL?!?!?’. Honestly, this is GOLD, and frankly the sort of thing which social media has basically ruined, as no famous these days would ever be able to get away with doing something so…utterly, inexplicably, humiliatingly joyous.
  • Stephen Biesty: Stephen Biesty does cut-out illustrations, of the sort you might recall from Usborn books of your youth about ‘how televisions work’ or ‘what was it like being crew on a Roman trireme (the kids’ version)?’ – this is his website, which collects examples of his work and which flashed me right back to being small. These are great – a personal favourite is this illustration of Waterloo tube in cross-section, which, honestly, I could stare at for hours, but pick your own.
  • Low-Carbon Websites: I appreciate that worrying about the carbon emissions produced by your website may not be the highest priority in terms of ‘attempting to unfcuk the climate crisis’, but, well, every little helps (not, it must be said once again, as much as every big bit does – like, I don’t know, hammering the oil giants with violent taxes on all their fossil fuel extraction and exploitation work – but I think we’ve all accepted that the way we’re going to deal with the inevitable heat-death of the planet is by making individuals feel guilty rather than tackling the systems that actually perpetuate the problem – SO IT GOES, etc). This website is, fine, a sales tool by a webdesign firm that specialises in low-emission websites, but the copy here is fundamentally true: “This directory of lightweight websites has been created to inspire actors of the digital industry to design and build lighter and greener products.

The Internet is a physical thing. And it is responsible for around 4% of global emissions – more than the entire airline industry, and is growing by 5% each year. In an age when scientists are warning us that every bit of warming matters, it’s time to get real about the impact of the digital world.” If you’re thinking of a new website anytime soon, perhaps worth thinking in these terms when you do so.

  • Mechanical Animations: A YouTube channel featuring, seemingly, hundreds of short, simple animations depicting mechanical processes – gears and pistons and pulleys and that sort of thing. Which, I appreciate, may not quite get the blood racing, but click the link and tell me that you don’t derive some sort of light, soothing satisfaction from watching some gears rendered in what looks like CAD software from the mid-90s (don’t tell me, I don’t want to know).
  • Tool Graphics: A selection of little graphical AI arttoys which let you play around to generate small ‘artworks’ based on specific styles or movements – so, for example, you can play around with a Mondrian generator, or a Bauhaus generator, fiddling with settings and parameters to play around with palettes and compositional styles. The outputs are a bit shonky, fine, but there’s something quite nice about the way you get to sort-of appreciate the ‘rules’ under the skin of each style as you play with the generators.
  • Artificial Nightmares: “Fcuk off, Matt!”, I hear you cry (and not for the first time), “the real nightmares are quite enough without you trying to introduce artificial ones to my subconscious!” Well, tough, this is MY newsletterblogtypething and you’ll get what you’re given. Artificial Nightmares is a YouTube channel which presents videos of GAN-imagined horrorscapes, Sort-of fun, in the now-quite-traditional GAN-art style, although there’s also a VERY STRONG whiff of teenage bedroom about a lot of the output (you know, tries a bit hard).
  • The Gentle Author’s Tour of Spitalfields: A crowdfunding campaign to raise money for the development of a community tourism project in Spitalfields, East London, which would serve to provide alternative historical narratives for the area beyond ‘JACK THE RIPPER EVISCERATED TARTS HERE’ which does feel a bit tired in the grand old year of 2022. There’s a mission-statement and everything: “I am appalled that educational institutions send classes of students and school children on the exploitative serial killer tours which display autopsy photographs of women in the street, indulging in ghoulish humour at the expense of these victims. Instead, I am offering visitors the opportunity to meet a member of the local community and learn something of the infinite variety of life that has evolved in London’s first suburb over two millennia.  For the past two years, I have been developing and road-testing THE GENTLE AUTHOR’S TOUR OF SPITALFIELDS which I plan to launch this spring.

Now I am raising  £20,000 to create a booking website, train local tour guides, print maps and buy targeted online advertising to reach tourists planning a visit. This project is a means to create local employment, draw attention to the distinctive wonders of the place and reclaim the true stories of our living community. I want to celebrate a rich and diverse history of resourcefulness, driven by successive waves of migration from across the world – Huguenots, Jews, Irish and Bengalis, among many others – which tells the story of how modern Britain was created.” I can’t quite claim to be ‘appalled’ by the Ripper fetishism (words which have lost all meaning in the 21st Century, part x of an infinite series), but this project feels like A Good Thing.

  • Trendwatchers: Basically, ‘bidsniper, but for trends’ – this website promises to alert you to spikes in interest around specific topics or issues, so that you, CREATOR, can, er, churn out some bullsh1t based on whatever froth is surfing the zeitgeist this second (no, I know that that mixed metaphor doesn’t work at all, but it’s not like you come here for the prose, is it?). On the one hand, this is sort-of smart and I can see the usecases if you’re in the unenviable position of tilling digital soil on the content farm (dear God, another one – sorry about this); on the other, this does rather neatly illustrate one of the key problems with the CREATOR ECONOMY – to whit, if everyone in it is going to end up using stuff like this to work out what to ‘CREATE’ about, you’re very quickly going to hit a wall in terms of useful or necessary CREATION. Still, if you need a neverending stream of ‘NEW STUFF TO MAKE VIDEOS ABOUT’, fill your boots.
  • The Strangest SubReddits: I can’t pretend to have done an exhaustive investigation into WEIRD SUBREDDITS, fine, but there are some pretty superb examples collected in this thread. A subReddit dedicated to users’ hatred for particularly fat squirrels? CHECK! An entire community where people spend their time photoshopping top hats onto hi-res photos of bees? CHECK! An, er, enthusiasts’ group for people who particularly enjoy hentai pictures of women whose nipples have,  for reasons inadequately-explained, been replaced by erect, often-ejaculating phalli? CHECK CHECK CHECK (also, VERY NSFW)! I don’t think there has ever been anything in the history of our species that lets you truly understand the incredible gamut of human interest, experience and sexuality quite like Reddit does, for better or worse. ENJOY!
  • Emoji Fortune Cookies: A new random emoji fortune, delivered each time you refresh. “Incoming letter construction worker earth Africa”, you say? PROPITIOUS! I quite like the idea of using this in a Diceman sort of way, letting emoji fortunes guide your behaviour every 30m or so – obviously Web Curios accept no personal responsibility whatseoever for any…er…negative consequences of such an experiment, but would very much like to hear from anyone giving this a go.
  • Wardle: I’d made a private pact with myself to stop posting Wordle clones because, well, I’m bored of them, but then Giuseppe Sollazzo created this and I had to include it because it is SO perfectly-geeky. This is less a Wordle clone than a Worldle clone, in truth, but hey ho – the game here is to seek to identify individual electoral wards in the UK, based on their shape and their relative position / distance from your last guess. Obviously this will be utterly impossible and deadly-dull to 99.9% of you, but the remaining 0.1% – the political obsessives, the psephological twitchers who dream of boundary changes and stay up all night reminiscing about Great Counts I Once Attended – will be rendered practically-tumescent by this.
  • The Dinosaur Game: The ‘You are offline’ dinosaur game from Chrom, playable on any browser and with a light bit of leaderboard functionality meaning that your score is tallied with those of others playing from the same country, so you can feel a small sense of collective national pride as your timewasting sends your nation soaring to the top of the table. If nothing else, Russia is currently ‘winning’ and so it behooves us all to STICK IT TO VLAD by playing this for the next 24h and toppling them from their perch. That’s…that’s how ‘protesting’ works, right?
  • Rotate The Shapes: Finally this week, a game which asks you to select the matching shapes from a selection of 6 – you see how many you can get right within the time limit. This is one of those things where I imagine some of you will find this so easy as to make it practically offensive to your intelligence, whereas others of us (ie me) will basically stare slack-jawed and drooling at the screen as you try and make your brain and its crippling lack of spatial awareness do its thing. This is basically the Rotators vs Wordcels meme made real.

By  Mark Tennant

FINALLY IN THIS WEEK’S MIXES, AN UPLIFTING AND GENERALLY POSITIVE HOUSE MIX BY ERIC SHARP BECAUSE, FRANKLY, IT FEELS NECESSARY! 

THE CIRCUS OF TUMBLRS!

  •  DVD Movie Menus: Celebrating one of the great lost graphic design and UX canvases of recent generations, the DVD menu! SO MUCH GREAT WORK HERE, and a surprising amount of format nostalgia considering I think I owned a grand total of six DVDs in my lifetime.

THE TROUGH OF (INSTA) FEEDS!

  • Digital Brand Bites: I’ve thankfully long-since stopped having to pretend to care about s*c**l m*d** for brands – I leave all that to Matt Navarra these days, the indefatigably-cheery masochist that he is. Still, if you’re still in the invidious position of having to think about REACTIVE CONTENT TO BOOST ENGAGEMENT then a) I feel deeply sorry for you; and b) you may find this Insta account useful, being as it is a regular feed of ‘stuff that brands are doing on Twitter and Insta and TikTok which you could usefully rip off for your own clients because, well, who cares?’.
  • Suiteru: Little videos of someone messing around with a sequencer and some visualisation software, which, fine, I appreciate doesn’t sound like much but which I promise you is a lot more interesting than my shabby description might initially have led you to think.
  • Geometric Artists:Images of geometric artworks curated for your feed, for when the ‘give peace a chance’ posts get too much (I don’t use Insta, so am guessing slightly about the peaceposting, but, well, it’s inevitable).
  • Alexander Ivanov: Some very impressive VFX work on display in these little videoclips, with a nicely-playful style. The sort of thing which will be very familiar to anyone who spent time lurking on the B3ta imageboards, and no worse for that.
  • Ayumi Shibata: Quite beautiful paper art here – I can’t quite comprehend the degree of patience and control that creating stuff like this requires, but it’s gorgeous.

LONG THINGS WHICH ARE LONG!:

  • Minecraft is the Metaverse: This is quietly-amazing, I think. All the snark around ‘THE METAVERSE’, and in particular the attempts by an awful lot of people to make a fast buck out of the concept by selling rubbish and lies to people who are stupid and credulous (HI AD AGENCIES! HI HYPEBEASTS!!!!), is entirely justified, but, equally, the broad idea that ‘we are moving towards a more seamlessly-integrated digital/physical existence and that direction of travel is pretty unilateral’ strikes me as pretty uncontroversial. Which is why this piece, about how various communities are using Minecraft as the basis for an experiment into multiple interconnected virtual worlds, with economies and transferable digital goods, is so interesting to me – it’s probably the best example of what the potential for this stuff is, from the ground up, with none of the horrific Zuckerbergian sheen or a million d1ckheads with cartoon avatars screaming about DECENTRALISED PROTOCOLS like they understand the first thing about what those words mean. The article focuses on a project which is effectively selling NFTs as ‘seeds’ for new Minecraft worlds, which, once created, can be linked to a wider project which features “interconnected communities with server connection details stored on-chain, currency transactions without a central authority, and ownership of digital items across servers.” Now, I might have reservatrions about the general thrust of Web3 (MAKE EVERYTHING TRADEABLE! is not, to my mind at least, the utopian future vision that its proponents seem to see it as being), but I can’t help but get a little excited at the potential here.
  • Cortiez Goods: I am not, it’s pretty clear, an economist of any sort (RIP Alan Glanville, you tried and failed to educate me and I am sorry for being so utterly uninterested in the Laffer curve), but I have enough of a rudimentary understanding of basic principles to find stuff like this interesting. This is a shortish post by Ana Andjelic where she proposes a new category of good to sit alongside your veblens when it comes to ‘subverting established economic logic’ – specifically, the ‘Cortiez’ good, “something that gets more desirable if substitutable. In the Cortiez Model, individuals often exchange a more expensive, better-known good with lower cultural currency for a cheaper, lesser-known one with higher cultural currency.” This is specifically based on the author’s observation of consumer behaviour around new drops by fashion label Cortiez, which recently invited punters to swap their North Face or Moncler jackets for a brand new Cortiez – theoretically worth less cash, but dripping with cachet. If you’re in the business of building hypey brands and selling overpriced tat to kids and baddies alike, then you probably ought to read this.
  • Dry Capitalism: Or ‘Selling Sobriety: How Abstinence and Virtue Got Monetised’, or even ‘Selling Sobriety: How Abstinence Was Repackaged As A Gateway To Being A Better Capitalist” – pick your favourite title. This is a really interesting article looking at the rise of the sobriety industry and What It All Means in terms of our attitudes to work and achievement and attainment and THE PERENNIAL HUSTLE, and the slightly-puritanical-joylessness that inhabits the edges of all the nicely-packaged rhetoric about BEING YOUR BEST SELF and LIVING YOUR BEST LIFE (so you can wake up bright-eyed and bushy-tailed at 5am to CRUSH IT at the gym and at work and at book club and in therapy and in bed and and and OPTIMISE EVERYTHING god I am so so so so so so so so ready to die).
  • Crypto and Sanctions: I’m mainly staying away from warchat this week as a) I don’t have anything useful to add; and b) I figure if you want to seek it out it’s not exactly hard to find. That said, I did find this piece interesting, about how crypto could be used to circumvent sanctions against Russia, partly as a cautionary example of how technology is now so regularly outstripping legislative attempts to confine it that stuff like ‘sanctions’ are only ever going to be partially effective, if at all.
  • Maps From Fashion: Ok, so this is a technical paper and perhaps not the most compelling read from a prose point of view, but I promise that there’s interesting stuff in and around it which is worth thinking about for a moment or two. This is a paper by academics at a couple of US universities, working alongside researchers and engineers from Facebook, which examines what sort of maps and models can be created by crossreferencing analysis of photos posted on social media with geography to enable non-traditional analyses of urban spaces. So, like this basically: “We propose a method to create underground neighborhood maps of cities by analyzing how people dress. Using publicly available images from across a city, our method automatically segments the map into neighborhoods with a similar fashion sense. Our approach further allows discovering insights about a city, such as detecting distinct neighborhoods (what is the most unique region of NYC?) and answering analogy questions between cities (what is the “Downtown LA” of Bogota?).” Firstly, if you make a living running ‘trend safaris’ then GOOD LUCK finding a line item in the budget for that in a few years’ time; secondly, this raises all sorts of questions about how this sort of thing is used, and who by, and how running these sorts of surface-level analyses of communities based on nothing other than what they look like could end up being a touch problematic. Fascinating, if a bit dry.
  • The Reinvention of Playboy: My friend Shardcore has visited the Playboy Mansion, back when he was a reality TV star (he remains tight-lipped about what he got up to there, but the word ‘sticky’ has definitely featured in his descriptions), but now it’s GOING DIGITAL! This is a really interesting look at how a legacy business is attempting to drag itself kicking and screaming into the 21stC – or at least a version of the 21stC, one that’s all crypto and NFTs and the like. You can read this either as a bold reimagining of the Playboy brand and ethos, less overtly-misogynistic and more about the shared ‘values’ of the business, or alternatively as an object-lesson in the base economics and motivation behind cryptoweb3, to whit ‘let’s rinse EVERYTHING as hard as we can, forever!’. There’s a particularly telling line in here: “ “What the internet is powerful about is it can connect fans around content…and the ability for NFTs to be a way of gating that and making it so that you can really create a community among your most passionate fans—that’s really interesting.” What do you think the most significant part of that sentence is? Is it ‘community’? Or is it ‘gating content’? I know what I believe, but maybe I am just being a miserable cynic (plus ca change, eh?).
  • How Movies Are Scored: I knew nothing of this, but turns out that your international superstar composers, your Zimmers of this world, are a lot more akin to Jeff Koons and Damien Hirst than they are to, say, Beethoven, with vast armies of contentmonkeys supporting their every note. Basically it seems that a lot of the big ticket compositions by a ‘name’ are often nothing more than a vague idea of a melody sketched out by the superstar in question which then gets fleshed-out and filled-in by the aforementioned compositionalcontentmonkeys, who often remain nameless and, quite understandably, get a little bit salty at the fact that all their actual work gets hidden behind the veneer of the MASSIVE NAME. Slightly-depressing, although nowhere near as depressing as the harsh reality that all this will be 99%-machine generated by 2030.
  • Deep-Fried Selfies: I rather enjoyed this, and were I not so selfie-averse (honestly, I would rather stick pins in myself than look at photos of my face) I would totally give this a go. “Like a parrot in front of a mirror, I am mindlessly vain and shine-obsessed, so I had to try this one out. The app didn’t disappoint; having chosen a decent selfie, I came out looking like an anime goddess. I proceeded to Cartoonify another selfie … only instead of selecting a new photo, I accidentally chose the image I’d just saved, adding another layer of Cartoon effects atop the first. Thus an intriguing experiment was born. How many rounds of cartoon yassification would it take for my face to become unrecognizable? Or, to be more ambitious: How long until it looked less like a selfie and more like something that might generally be recognized as “art”?”
  • The Un-Grammable Hangzone: I am self-aware enough to know that one of the (many, many) reasons behind the continued inability of Web Curios to attain GLOBAL CULT STATUS is my…idiosyncratic approach to writing, and the OCCASIONALLY UNPLEASANTLY SHOUTY style I employ here, and that there are lots of people (well, ok, some people) who might actually quite enjoy Curios were it not for the fact that they find my writing style the prose equivalent of having needles firmly inserted under their fingernails. So it was when I read this piece – it gave me something of a headache, frankly, but I figure that that might just be an age thing. Still, it was interesting enough to warrant me including it here nonetheless – the Blackbird Spyplane newsletter wrote about the concept of ‘Un-grammable Hangzones’, places that are basically the antithesis of the highly-grammable environments of your Museum of Ice Creams and instead lean hard into an aesthetic that can best be described as “FRUMPY, MISSHAPEN, INVITINGLY INELEGANT” (their words, their caps). If you’re in the market for a NEW VIBE (sorry) to hang your hat on, this feels worth exploring.
  • Against Access: This is SO INTERESTING. An essay by John Lee Clark, who is deafblind, about how he wants to experience the world, how and why sign language is, in his experience, an inadequate means of communicating the environment to the non-hearing, and some thoughts about how we might want to think about helping people with different sensory setups and abilities to experience the world around them. I found this utterly fascinating, not least as it made me think about my own sense experience in a totally different way – even if you have no personal interest in or connection to the topics addressed here, as a means of trying on someone else’s experience for size this is superb.
  • 44 Thoughts for Cecil Taylor: I know nothing of Cecil Taylor (or at least I didn’t before I read this piece), and I know next-to-nothing about jazz music and the art of playing it, but I absolutely loved this essay by fellow musician Taylor Ho Bynam. It’s structured in 44 loosely-connected sections, written in a way that’s designed to reflect the structural qualities of jazz improvisation, which, yes, I know, sounds almost unbearably w4nky, but which, I promise, makes the whole thing an absolute joy to read regardless of how interested you think you might be in a disquisition about a record you may never have heard by an artist you may have no knowledge of. If you know and enjoy Cecil Taylor’s music then this will likely be even better, but even those of you with no knowledge at all should find something to love in here. SUCH a lovely exercise in form and function, which, yes, fine, sounds toe-curlingly-pretentious, but is also true.
  • Mandelson’s Pleasure Dome: Travel back in time to 1997 now, to the early days of New Labour and the excitement and ridicule engendered by the Millennium Dome project – in a week in which we saw it shredded by Eunice, it’s oddly-poignant to look back 25 years and see how we were discussing the project and What It All Meant. This is Ian Sinclair, which means that it’s not necessarily an easy read; few people write about London and physical geography and history like Sinclair, though, as evidenced by passages like this one: “But you’ll smell it. An unmannerly belch of black fumes. A brewery pall that hits you as soon as you emerge from the tunnel: oasty, hot in the throat, disquieting. Like griddled bird sh1t. The world through a sepia filter. Gravy browning dust-storms. Iron filings in a furious wind that scrapes the cornea. Noise you can taste. The thump of generators and jack-hammers that refuse to synchronise with your heart-beat. Headache preambles. The torrid promise of Peter’s Savoury Products. Yards set-dressed with Hazchem drums in the same virulently up-beat blue as the millennial hard hats. The peninsula is also the home of Amylum UK (Glucose, Starches, Proteins). Sheltering in Dreadnought Street, bent against back-draughts of tailgating traffic, you can admire a startling Ballardian dreamscape of auto-fetishism, chemical alps, and an ever-changing hoarding that dwarfs Dorrington’s, a mock-Tudor pub. The hoarding salutes a new film release: Conspiracy Theory. The pub forecourt, ankle-deep in broken bottles – Liebfraumilch Pflaz, Olde English, the Original Strong Cyder, Becks Beer, Omega Extra Strong White Cider, Dragon Stout – promises nights given over to ‘playing Garage, Speed Garage, Deep America House’. Silver funnels hiss. Pipes spit red smoke. The graffiti on walkway walls catch the mood: ‘Disorientate Yourself. Reappropriate Your Surroundings.’ This is truly a place of transformation, shape-shifting, metempsychosis. Protein soup (courtesy of Hays Chemicals) in which new life-forms can breed and take shape. The perfect rehearsal for apocalypse.” Heady stuff indeed. Oh, and this particular line gave me a dark moment of ‘ffs we learn NOTHING’: “in the wake of the Conservative meltdown and the dismissal of the sorriest rump of chancers, carpet-baggers and self-serving apologists ever inflicted on a passive democracy.” 25 YEARS AND HERE WE ARE AGAIN FFS.
  • First Love as Whiskey: A beautiful, sad, fragmented story about doomed love over a lifetime, and addiction, and memory, told in gorgeous shards of story. “Both of our families settled our textile town early on, lineages overlapping. We sat in your living room the following summer in the afterglow of sex, fingers tracing your family tree to the far-enough-off shared relative. Your freckles matched mine, but we were a family forged of need, not genetics.” Gorgeous, gorgeous writing.
  • Line Go Up: Finally this week, you may already have read this short story by Tim Maugham about crypto and art and THE NEAR FUTURE – but if you haven’t then WELL are you in for a treat. This is superb – if I had to kvetch I might say a touch to in thrall to Gibson, stylistically, but that’s just nitpicking – and absolutely the best thing I have read in an age in terms of taking where we are now and fast forwarding it just a few short cycles to see where it might end up. If you’re curious about some of the logical conclusions of ‘making everything tradeable thanks to the magic of THE BLOCKCHAIN!’, then read this and understand why they are not perhaps as universally-positive as many of the cryptojuicers might maintain. I would absolutely read novels set in this world, but don’t really fancy living in it very much – which is a shame, considering its seeming-inevitability.

By Tavares Strachan

AND NOW, MOVING PICTURES AND SOUNDS!:

Webcurios 18/02/22

Reading Time: 34 minutes

 Is that the wind, or is it the sound of a vibe shift being presaged?

I promise, this is the only reference you will find in this edition of Curios to the most idiotic bit of ‘discourse’ of the week. If that reference means nothing to you, then GOOD – don’t, whatever you do, attempt to find out more. If it does mean something to you then, well, congratulations on being, like me, part of the problem.

Anyway, I imagine that you’re all battening down hatches and securing pets as I type, so let me wish you all the best as you attempt to survive the wind – I know I say this every week, but seeing as going outside is basically suicide-by-branch for those of you in the UK right now, you have no excuse not to click EVERY SINGLE LINK in this edition.

I am still Matt, this is still Web Curios, and know that if you are at any point planning to write the words ‘vibe shift’ in a ‘deck’ in the coming week, I think less of you as a human being and that you probably ought to reevaluate your life choices to date because really.

By Owen Gent

LET’S KICK OFF THE MIXES THIS WEEK WITH THIS PLEASINGLY-KINETIC TECH-HOUSE SET BY DUBSPEEKA! 

THE SECTION WHICH FINDS THAT THE TERM ‘FALSE FLAG’ HAS BEEN RENDERED ENTIRELY UNUSABLE BY RIGHT-WING CONSPIRACY THEORISTS AND AS SUCH IS REALLY STRUGGLING TO TAKE THE NEWS SERIOUSLY TODAY, PT.1:  

  • The Internet Game: I know you all know this, but I do feel it occasionally worth repeating – an appearance in Web Curios is not an endorsement of any sort, more a general acknowledgement by me that something exists and that I have a vague opinion on it. So it is with The Internet Game – which is NFT-ish (sorry) and so therefore very much not the sort of thing which I would be inclined to endorse even if such endorsements had any currency, which they don’t. Still, I suppose I should probably point out now that this is an idea very obviously designed to make as much money for its creators as possible and as such, and as with 99.9% of all NFTbollocks, you might want to approach with caution. BUT ALSO! This is, I am forced to admit, quite a slick little grift. Your elevator pitch here is basically ‘a no-risk, virtual series of elimination games, all played online, which grant the ‘survivors’ of all 5 games prizes in the form of ‘valuable’ (we could quibble the value, but it’s early and we’ve got a lot to get to, so just please note my slight skepticism here of the prizepool) NFTs, on a sliding scale from a Bored Ape to…some other identikit clipart sh1t.’ The ‘get rich quick for the creators’ bit is that the game is accessed via…THAT’S RIGHT! PURCHASING A TOKEN (or more tokens for more chances to play) – tokens started cheap and rise in price based on the number sold. There is as-yet no detail on what these mysterious ‘games’ will be or how they will work, and, let me be very clear, there’s no guarantee this won’t be rugpulled between now and the point midweek at which the games are slated to end, and therefore skepticism is advised…BUT the simple mechanic here is, if you remove the NFTs, actually quite interesting and the sort of thing which might reasonably used as ‘inspiration’ for some sort of hideous miserable BRAND ACTIVATION FOR SUPERFANS, should you be in the market for such a thing.
  • Botto: This, though, this is an NFT project that I…quite like! Ok, the NFT-ness is the least-interesting part of it by far, but the concept is really rather neat. Mario Klingemann, long-standing ‘most famous person in the world of AI-generated artworks’, has developed this project, which has been running for a few months now and whose premise is wonderfully simple. Klingemann’s got some code which generates images. Every week, a selection of these images (350) are created and presented to a group of people, who vote on which image they prefer in the classic ‘image vs image deathmatch’-style – voting rights are conferred through (you guessed it!) purchase of $BOTTO tokens – with the image garnering the most votes being minted as an NFT and put up for sale, with 80% of proceeds being kept by the project – so far, sales of Botto-generated works have netted over $1m in sales. Since October. Which, objectively, is impressive as fcuk. I don’t find the works produced particularly special – I am a bit jaded by this stuff, and it strikes me as a bit ‘generically-GAN’ – but the idea is so, so neat, as is the proof-of-concept stuff about THE COLLECTIVE, and it will be worth keeping an eye on this to see how the bot and the works it produces evolve, and where Klingemann takes the project in terms of profitsharing and rewards for the voting community; at present the profits generated by the machine’s works aren’t being shared, but the website promises a potential degree of retrospective redistribution…although I wouldn’t hold my breath about Botto creating a new class of investor-millionaires anytime soon. Still, I fcuking love the way this is set up, even if it is NFTish and so therefore inherently just a bit grubby.
  • Sougen: New metaverse just dropped! To be honest, I am including this mainly as an example of how much painfully-generic crap is currently being peddled using the m-word as a hook. A browser-based virtual space in which you can navigate using a nonspecifically-designed avatar to no apparent end whatsoever? No real clue as to what the practical benefits any user might achieve from choosing to experience something in said browser-based virtual space could be? A bunch of almost-entirely-meaningless words on the homepage speaking of the possibility for metaverses and microverses (‘the microverse! For when the metaverse is too massively, meaninglessly intimidating and you need your snake-oil-flavoured bullsh1t in a more-digestible portion!)? Yes, yes and thrice yes! Look, this stuff was fine during the pandemic when it was being presented as ‘a means of bringing some measure of perceived physicality or ‘thereness’ to digital spaces within the alienating horror of a pandemic’ and ‘something free to play around with’, but NONE OF THIS SH1T IS WORTH SPENDING MONEY ON! I am speaking to YOU, advermarketingprscum! If you are selling this stuff – if you are going to clients and attempting to peddle them ‘a metaverse’ – you are a crook! An ACTUAL CROOK! And yes, I know that fleecing clients at large international businesses is basically a victimless crime, but do you have no shame? Eh? Oh.
  • Digital Curator: Oh this is GREAT – and such an interesting way of using machine learning to reengage with museum collections. “The Digital Curator application allows you to explore the art collections of Central European museums and search for artworks based on specific motifs. Users of the application can build their combination of objects and reveal how often the subject has occurred across the centuries, view graphics, drawings, or paintings that represent it in different epochs, and compare data with other themes…The Digital Curator database now contains 158 456 works from the collections of 90 museums from Austria, Bavaria, the Czech Republic, and Slovakia. 33 750 of these works are available under an open license, so it is possible to view them online.“ Honestly, this is wonderful and smart and makes the experience of browsing the collections thematically SO much more engaging – you can get the AI to create what it ‘thinks’ are interestingly-themed exhibitions for you automatically, or alternatively you can use keywords to pull together selections of works from the archives based on the machine’s analysis of the collection, thereby creating a selection of works which feature, say, cats AND industry, and if nothing else it’s a wonderful way of tracking the depction of a whole range of things over the 600-year span of artistic history covered by the collections. Superb work.
  • Virgin Galactic: Richard Branson’s continually-delayed promises of ‘space tourism for all…tomorrow!’ have been amusing me for a few years now, but it seems that the most-#metoo-able of all plutes (seriously, how has he managed to avoid it?) has finally managed to make his dream of charging other violently wealthy people for a trip in a high-spec vomit comet a reality. Welcome to the Virgin Galactic sales site, now open for bookings! It’s slightly-less shiny than I might have expected, if I’m honest, although maybe that’s part of the same ‘this is NOT just a jolly for people with nine-figure bank balances!’ positioning that sees the site feature a pull-quote from Steven Hawking about THE MAJESTY OF THE COSMOS, and some frankly risible guff about how “when we witness the majesty and fragility of Earth from space, something inside us shifts. We believe this transformation will bring countless benefits to life on our beautiful planet.” So, er, what you’re saying, Dickie, is that by charging the super-rich several hundred thousand quid to spend a few minutes weightless in near-space you are also helping to bring about a transformative, species-level consciousness shift that will usher in some sort of new age of human achievement and endeavour? Oh, well, that’s ok then, crack on! There’s a lot to love about this (read: dislike intensely), although I confess to being genuinely-impressed by the engineering of the spacecraft, but my personal absolute favourite thing is the fact that two-thirds of the way down the page they try and upsell you a limited-edition Land Rover! “As a Virgin Galactic astronaut, you will have the opportunity to purchase a unique, ‘Astronaut Edition’ Range Rover.” SIGN ME THE FCUK UP, DICKIE, YOU HANDSY GENIUS!
  • Storyliving by Disney: You may have seen this week that one of the Things That People On Twitter got a bit frothy about was the announcement that Disney was going to start offering superfans the opportunity to buy houses and live in Disney-run ‘communities’ – effectively creating a ‘lifestyle, by The Mouse’ brand for adults and the logical next step for a remorseless money-making machine which has long been catering to the needs of / exploiting (delete as applicable) the sort of people who really, really want to holiday at Disneyland three times a year despite being comfortably at the lifestage where they start to consider varifocal lenses. ‘Storyliving’, Disney calls it, and I can’t quite express how utterly odd I find everything about it. There’s something quite incredible – to be clear, not in a good way – about living in a world in which we’re just about coming to terms (in the West/North, at least) with a whole new killer virus, we’ve reason to feel a bit twitchy about a whole host of environmental issues, we’re toying with the idea of a little bit of nuclear conflict and everything just feels a bit jagged, and thinking, “you know what, fcuk it, I am going to opt to attempt to live in an entirely-idealised pre-packaged version of ‘life’ as sold to me by the world’s largest entertainment brand”. It’s worth reading the copy on the site – it’s literally advertising a version of life that has no link to reality, the promise that you can exist in a series of scripted, well-lit vignettes, with the uncomfortable edges of reality smoothed away by the everpresent attentions of Disney’s ‘placemakers’…honestly, I find this so incredibly, dystopian and sinister, and there is no way in hell that this exact premise isn’t going to be adapted for a horror film within the next year or so (it already feels very Jordan Peele imho). The first ‘compound’ is in Palm Springs in California, should you be interested – I think, and there’s strong competition for this title, that this might be the worst thing I have seen so far in 2022, so well done Disney.
  • Dreamachine: Sent to me by Former Editor Paul, I must caveat this but saying it’s not entirely clear what it is, or, more accurately, what it’s going to be. Still, it’s ART and it sounds interesting, so here: “Created by Collective Act, in collaboration with Turner Prize-winning artists Assemble, Grammy and Mercury nominated composer Jon Hopkins, and a team of leading technologists, scientists and philosophers, Dreamachine is a one-of-a-kind programme inviting you to stop and think about what it means to be alive. To be you. It offers a chance to explore an entirely new way of re-connecting with yourself, and others.” No? Me neither, but here’s more: “Dreamachine is inspired by an extraordinary but little-known 1959 invention by artist–inventor Brion Gysin. His experimental homemade device used flickering light to create vivid illusions, kaleidoscopic patterns and explosions of colour in the mind of the viewer. Designed to be the ‘first artwork to be experienced with your eyes closed’, Gysin had a vision for his invention to replace the television in every home in America. Instead of passive consumers of mass-produced media, viewers of his Dreamachine would create their own cinematic experiences.” This is going to be a touring experiential THING, across four UK cities between May and September this year, and you can sign up for updates and the opportunity to book…something in due course. Look, I think Jon Hopkis is ace and I will happily check out anything he’s involved in, and I think you should too.
  • Daily Dorries: On the one hand, LOL A TWITTER ACCOUNT SHARING EXTRACTS FROM NADINE DORRIES’ NOVELS LOL! On the other, this is an actual, elected politician in the UK, and someone who is putatively in charge of ‘culture’, and who is, amongst other things, currently one of the people responsible for the development of legislation which will significantly affect how we use the web and how it’s governed. Is it funny or is it deeply sad? I CAN’T TELL ANY MORE! Anyway, some superb descriptions of knee-trembling sex and COMEDY BLARNEY IRISHNESS here from Nadine, whose skills as a politician, orator and interviewee are seemingly only matched by her prose artistry.
  • Is Mercury In Retrograde?: This website will tell you. Except, obviously, the answer is really “the position of the celestial spheres has less of an impact on your daily life than the constant predation of capital”, but that makes for a less-pleasing single-shot website and so I can sort-of understand why they went for the astrology thing instead tbf.
  • Exnge: This…this doesn’t feel like a great idea, but maybe I am wrong and it will take us all TO THE MOON! Exnge (an annoying name not only for its inherent ugliness but also because GDocs wants to autocorrect it to ‘expunge’ each time I type it, chiz chiz) is a beta project that seeks to use AI to predict tech stocks – which, fine, is something that trading houses and brokers have been toying with for time, but usually as part of a suite of tools designed to help them make better trades at scale and certainly not as the sole determinant of whether to buy or sell or HODL (sorry). This, though, uses some troublingly-ill-defined ‘AI’ (which I have a horrible feeling is just machine learning based on past stock performance) to offer a range of ‘predictions’ of how a selection of stocks will perform over a short-term period. It’s hard to look at this and not want to slap a massive ‘PLEASE DO NOT USE THIS TO MAKE ACTUAL REAL-MONEY INVESTMENT DECISIONS’ warning on the homepage – could someone who knows something about money and investments confirm whether or not I am right and whether this is an immensely-silly idea, or whether I am being too bearish and I should instead encourage all Curios readers to spend the next month betting the farm on stocks based on the predictions of a black box system created by an anonymous stranger on the web? Thanks!
  • The Fantasy Map Generator: A whole new machine imagined worldmap complete with perfectly-silly computer-generated fantasy names for continents and countries, with just a single click. Partly just fun to play with for a few minutes – it’s amazing how evocative maps and names can be – but obviously designed to aid with worldbuilding for DMs or writers or anyone else who needs to spin up a few continents with names like ‘Thorgandia’ and ‘The Riven Bloodmass’.
  • LitRPGAdventures: I have no idea how many of you play DnD or anything like that, but let’s presume that there’s at least one of you and that this link won’t be totally wasted. This is a company that offers you the chance to, for a relatively small fee, access an INCREDIBLY deep library of DnD character modules and campaigns and all the jazz that you need to prepare if you’re running a game, all produced by AI using GPT-3. Which, to be clear, is SUCH a clever idea – I would imagine that a model trained on previous classic DnD campaigns would churn out pretty decent stuff with a modicum of human editing and pruning, which makes this a really clever business model and a smart service for players to boot. I, er, don’t obviously play DnD, so caveat emptor and all that, but I am a fan of the idea and the use of GPT-3 on display here.
  • Wander: “We’re on a mission to help people find their happy place. To build a network of smart homes across the globe you can access with the tap of a button…Wander was born after our founder was struck by the frustrating experience of trying to work while traveling (uncomfortable beds, choppy WiFi, more disappointments). He knew there had to be a better way. There was. Today, Wander offers smart homes in inspiring places across the West Coast [of America], from Tahoe to Mendocino County to Southern Oregon, with many more locations coming soon.” So this is basically ‘airbnb, but with fancy smarthomes and SIGNIFICANTLY more expensive’, which is proof that there is literally no business idea in the world that you can’t append “…but LUXE!” to in a business plan.
  • Yarchive: One of the things about the current era of the web is its ephemerality – the ubiquity and centrality of social media over the past decade to the way we use and relate to the web means that there’s a real difficulty in going back to previous eras of How We Were Online because everything we wrote and photographed and posted is, in many respects, simply not there any more. Which is (one of the reasons) why I love this – the Yarchive is a bunch of archived links to old posts on Usenet from Back In The Old Internet Days, arranged by topics covering everything from ‘food’ to ‘military’ to ‘chemistry’ to ‘jokes’. This is all text, and a bit cumbersome to navigate, and is obviously Of The Past in terms of the very male and North American feel to everything here (guns lol!), but it’s also a fascinating bit of sociotechnological anthropology (/pseud) and a weirdly…reassuring(?) example of how some things on the web (communities of people sharing terrible political ‘jokes’, the way people will always seemingly fetishise meat, its preparation and consumption on any male-dominated internet forum you can imagine) are immutable.
  • DSi Paint Community: Another idiosyncratic old-internet hangover, this is AMAZING – an old forum which was set up to act as a community hub for people using the Paint function on the NintendoDS, and which incredibly is still active. Seriously, there are people posting in here about STUFF THAT IS HAPPENING RIGHT NOW! This would be less remarkable were it not for the website’s interface, which makes reading anything a…challenge, but the fact that seemingly dozens of people log on here each day to chat to their friends about THE GENERAL STUFF OF LIFE, eschewing more modern or popular platforms with nice features and a usable interface in favour of just sticking to what they know, makes me immoderately happy. SHH, DON’T LET THEM KNOW WE’RE WATCHING! This is basically proof that forums are the best internet communities, and I will fight anyone who disagrees.
  • Interland: Google’s ‘Be Internet Awesome’ educational strand, helping to teach kids about safe online behaviours from personal information security to spotting dodgy sites, has been going for a while now and I featured it at launch a few years back; this is a new element to it, a series of cute little games which help teach younger people about things to watch out for when learning how to navigate the web. Cute, gently amusing, and seeing as it’s half term for lots of you, something you can sit your kids in front of with the vague excuse that it’s ‘educational’ and so it doesn’t matter if you just leave them with your phone for three hours while you try and forget they exist (that’s how parenting works, right?).
  • Habits: This is a beautifully-designed app which takes the ‘if you do something every day you will form a habit which will compel you to keep doing that thing because we humans like keeping streaks of achievements going because it does something involving dopamine which I don’t entirely understand’ premise first popularised by…I want to say Jerry Seinfeld, but may be wrong…but anyway, it takes that premise and makes it GORGEOUS and HYPERDESIGNED and SEXY and basically if you want a free app to help you form BENEFICIAL HABITS (although on reflection there’s nothing to say these have to be positive, improving habits – you could probably also use it to, I don’t know, encourage yourself to get addicted to skag, although my anecdotal experience suggests you may not in fact need the app’s help for that) then you could do worse than check this out.
  • Proxi: This is potentially quite useful – Proxi lets you easily create personalised maps with annotations, embedded images and videos, outlinks and all sorts of other vaguely-multimedia gubbins. You can do quite a lot of this stuff already using Google Maps, fine, but I’ve always found that side of the product to be a bit shonky and not quite as slick and flexible as you might like, whereas Proxi, from what I can tell, is rather nice to use and has a few more features, and, like Google Maps, it’s free. Worth a look if you need to create personal, annotated maps for whatever reason (treasure hunt / map of your murders / sad memory cartography / etc).
  • Cigarettes: I have smoked for approximately 28 years, to varying degrees, and recently upped my intake a bit because frankly I am bored and lonely and I miss my girlfriend and, well, it passes the time until I can start smoking weed in the evenings. I quite like a tab, basically, but not quite as much as the people who populate /r/Cigarettes, the subReddit for people who really, really enjoy a smoke. Photographs of cigarettes, lovingly arranged, practically inviting you to light up and take a lung-obliterating toke! Reviews of cigarettes with suspiciously-detailed tasting notes given the likelihood that the reviewers’ tastebuds will have been utterly obliterated by decades of tab abuse! Pack design appreciation threads! And, er, occasional appreciation of how ‘sexy’ people look when smoking (sorry, but this is still Reddit)! I love this with all of my blackened little lungpieces. In fact I am off for a tab RIGHT NOW.

By Polyanna Johnson

NEXT, ENJOY THIS PLEASINGLY-HOUSEY MIX BY GAUDIANO! 

THE SECTION WHICH FINDS THAT THE TERM ‘FALSE FLAG’ HAS BEEN RENDERED ENTIRELY UNUSABLE BY RIGHT-WING CONSPIRACY THEORISTS AND AS SUCH IS REALLY STRUGGLING TO TAKE THE NEWS SERIOUSLY TODAY, PT.2:  

  • City Map Generator: Yes, fine, city map generators are ten-a-penny, but this is slightly-fancier in that it spits out cityplans which are not only viewable in 2d but which also come packed with topographical data which means you can render them in 3d with the right software and spin up actual, proper, boxy rendered urban environments (modelled on your classic North American planning concepts) in seconds (well, minutes, but still). Which then offers up the tantalising prospect of a near-future in which you could plug a bunch of different bits of software together and create fully-realised worlds which can be explored – which is sort-of cool, right? The possibility for on-the-fly creation of procedurally-generated environments is huge, basically. Which is yet another reason why I might hold off on commissioning your own ‘metaverse’ for six-figure sums just yet.
  • Listr: Twitter lists are one of those features which are hugely-useful and yet still relatively underused, but which I can highly-recommend as a way of pruning your timeline from HORRORS and curating your experience on the app – Listr is a useful service which offers a selection of curated, thematic lists that you can follow directly from the site, letting you quickly find potentially-useful communities of interest around a whole range of topics from (obviously, ffs) crypto to finance to VCs. Users can submit their own curated lists for consideration, and in general this isn’t a bad place to start if you’re looking for a quick ‘in’ to a particular topic on Twitter.
  • Lord of the Logos: It’s long been a point of accepted internet fact that all death metal logos basically look the same – like a nest of spiders that has been run over by a truck. Still, that’s not to say that their creation doesn’t require a modicum of skill and craft – this week I discovered one such an artisan craftsman, the LORD OF THE LOGOS, who will on application provide you with a quote for your very own DEATH METAL LOGOTYPE! Want to see your company name rendered in the style of a terrifying Norwegian grindcore horrordeathband? YES YOU DO! I am currently toying with the idea of redesigning the entire Curios site in this aesthetic, so don’t be alarmed if things get significantly more illegible round here in the not-too-distant.
  • Museum Ships: Have you ever wanted a website dedicated to listing all the museums in the United States that are also boats? No, I can’t imagine that you have, and yet I still provide. Web Curios – giving you links you didn’t know you needed (and which, in all honesty, you probably don’t in fact need at all) since approximately 2010!
  • Better Stock Photos of Older People: A resource compiled by the Centre for Ageing Better, this is what they describe as the ‘Age Positive Stock Photo Library’, offering a variety of depictions of people in later life doing things that aren’t just ‘staring confusedly at a computer screen’ or ‘pointing angrily at a pothole in a local newspaper’ or ‘voting for things that will fcuk future generations’. There was a brief vogue for ‘let’s make an improved stock image library as a PR stunt!’ activations a few years ago, but this project shows that there are still shedloads of different aspects of life and society that could do with better, more interesting and more diverse photographic representation. What’s most distressing about this, for me at least, is the fact that a lot of the people in these photos don’t actually look that much older than I do. Am I…am I an ‘older person’? OH GOD SENESCENCE, TAKE ME NOW!
  • The Disney Filmmaking Process: Having written a few-hundred snarky words about Disney a few hours ago I now present the good Disney content – this is a wonderful resource explaining how The Mouse develops animations, from concept through to final production, and is superb as a practical guide to what it takes to make an animated feature. If you or anyone you know is an aspiring animator who dreams of one day working on Toy Story 9, or the Mr Potato Head Origin Story (I jest, but only slightly) then this is a wonderful guide to How It All Works, each step in the development process, and all the people who make the initial vision a final reality. There is SO MUCH in here, it’s honestly great and makes me almost forgive them for the ‘forget reality, why not hide in a Disneyfied version of real life and pretend that nothing bad ever happens anywhere!’ gated community vision (but not quite).
  • Emerge Home: I’ve been saying for years that I think the biggest barrier to mainstream VR adoption (other than, obviously, the fact that the tech is unwieldy, expensive and lacks anything resembling a killer use-case at present) is the lack of haptic feedback – Emerge Home is a Kickstarter project that offers a potential solution to that lack via, er, jets of air! I confess to being somewhat skeptical about this and how good it is likely to be, but, still, here: “The Emerge Wave-1 projects ultrasonic waves around virtual objects and interactions. You can feel this mid-air force field up to 3 feet above the device and 120 degrees around it. With the Emerge Wave-1 device, you’ll feel unique sensations that elevate virtual greetings and gameplay in the Emerge Home Quest 2 app. Think: a rush of precise mid-air pressure when you reach out to hold someone’s hand, or an energetic beam that you can direct with your palm to destroy incoming asteroids.” It’s almost-impossible to imagine what this would be like to experience (or at least it is for me – you might well be significantly more imaginative than I am), but I am intrigued by the premise. If you’ve got an Oculus2 and $450 to burn on something that may or may not in fact ever a) do what it promises; and b) exist, then GO FOR IT!
  • The Plug Socket Museum: You know how I always say that these things – these slightly-odd, single-issue obsessional websites, collecting information about a very specific, very niche thing which you can’t imagine why anyone would be fascinated by but which it is clear some people very much are – are inevitably maintained by men (which they almost always are)? Well I might broaden that to ‘Dutch men’ – honestly, it’s amazing how many of these sites are hosted and maintained by guys in the Netherlands, just gently exploring their passion for, say, traffic cones. Here is one Dutchman’s personal obsessional guide to the wonder of plug sockets, “displaying an amazing collection of modern and classic domestic plugs and sockets from all over the world.” Leaving aside questions over the author’s use of ‘amazing’, this is exactly what it promises and I am glad that it exists.
  • The Dunecyclopedia: The Internet Archive recently published the 700+ page PDF of the OFFICIAL COMPANION ENCYCLOPEDIA to Frank Herbert’s Dune novels – “The definitive companion to Frank Herbert’s Dune chronicles features articles by both scholars and fans that cover diverse facets of the history, culture, religion, science, and people of Arrakis”, according to the blurb, and whilst this is (from the cursory flickthrough I have given it – look, I read Dune when I was 11 and, honestly, that was enough) isn’t the most visually compelling of books, it’s certainly the place to go if you’re looking for the exhaustive backstory on exactly how the p1ssdrinking mechanics work.
  • Frog Leap Studios: You may already be aware of the output of Frog Leap Studios – a YouTube channel run by Norwegian musician and sound engineer Leo Moracchioli, on which he showcases a frankly INSANE selection of musical covers, mostly performed just by him but occasionall featuring guests, where he reimagines various songs in various styles with a degree of infectious joy and enthusiasm that you can’t help but be charmed by – but, if not, this is absolutely wonderful and feels pretty much PURE in its celebration of how fun it is to mess around with songs and music and arrangements. Mr Moracchioli is a hell of a musician, basically, and there’s such an incredible breadth of tracks covered here that you’re almost certain to find something that you like.
  • Circle Populations: Click any point on this map and it will calculate the population of the surrounding area, within a radius of your choosing. Which, fine, isn’t hugely compelling as a description, but I lost a good 5 minutes earlier this week trying to find the least-densely-populated part of Italy so I could plan my ‘when this is all over I am going to go and hide somewhere for a while where I can be alone’ getaway and so I figured you might find it useful too.
  • Input Delay: I don’t quite know why you would want to play with a website whose primary purpose is to frustrate, but you’re reading this, so…Input Delay lets you experience exactly how frustrating it is typing on sites with varying degrees of lag between input and output – so you can toggle the delay between keypress and letter-appearing-onscreen to determine at exactly which point you nope out in frustration. I quite like the idea of applying this code under the hood to any website with a ‘contact us’ form-fill function, with IP location making it more unusable if you come from certain particular undesirable locations (ie North America), but I’m sure you can think of other ways in which you might deploy this.
  • Simutrans: I have had a somewhat-trying fortnight, professionally-speaking, as a result of having brushed up against the ‘gender-critical’ movement and feeling, thankfully at one remove, the intense anger of a, er, VERY VOCAL and VERY ANGRY group of people. So let me just point out here that despite the name of this site and its URL it is not in fact anything to do with the current, intensely-toxic debate around transgender rights and inclusion. That caveat out of the way, I can get on with describing what it actually is – specifically, a free-to-download SimCity-ish game which basically lets you play at building your own transport network. I have had a bit of a play with this and it’s a surprising amount of fun – you need to be more of an urban planning obsessive than I probably am to get the most out of it, fine, but if you ever played Transport Tycoon as a kid, and if you ever enjoyed SimCity, then you could do worse than check this out.
  • Squabble: Wordle, but competitive and against the clock, as you try and solve the puzzle before 10 other online strangers all playing at the same time. Slightly-janky, but reasonable (if enervating) fun. If you prefer your Wordle battles to be one-on-one, you could try WarWordly instead, which creates individual puzzles which you can share with another player to challenge your spouse/lover/professional nemesis to vocabulary-based combat.
  • Worldle: This week’s ‘riff on Wordle’ is this geography-based puzzler which I confess to having given up on after about 5 minutes because I am so painfully, embarrassingly bad at geography as to make this utterly impossible. Still, if you’re the sort of person who not only knows where countries are on the map, relative to each other, and the shape of said countries, then this may well be catnip to you (you fcuking weirdo) – the game presents you with the outline of a country and it’s your job to guess what it is; wrong guesses will see the program tell you how far away your guess is from the target, and in which direction, letting you narrow your search incrementally until you stumble upon, I don’t know, Andorra. Basically impossible, and I will fight anyone who suggests otherwise.
  • Dictionar.io: This is basically the Wikipedia game (“Can you get from Hitler to Haberdashery in fewer than 5 Wiki entries?”, etc) but applied to language. Can you get from one word to another, in the fewest number of clicks, simply by clicking through other words contained in each word’s definition? Which, fine, is a horrible attempt at a description, but I promise that it’s explained better on the site. This is HARD, but in a good way, and forced me to try and think about words in a very different way to that which I’m used to.
  • Shepherd: Finally this week, a tiny, 8-bit sheepherding simulator. Come for the meditative, shortform gameplay, stay for the incredibly cute ‘Baah!’-ing noises.

By John Wesley

LAST MIX OF THE WEEK NOW, AND IT’S THIS DREAMY SEMI-AMBIENT SELECTION BY FRUNK! 

THE CIRCUS OF TUMBLRS!

  • Best of Reblogs: Tumblr, by Tumblr: “A bratty teenager at heart, Tumblr has remained the same hellsite you’ve always made it: with your faves, aesthetics, and fandoms, your blogs and sideblogs, your reblog chains and tag conversations. Some of you will have been here for The Dress and the ball pit; some of you know those as lore but only come here for the sexymen and, idk, bees, the bee movie. And you’re all valid. Throughout February, we’ll be reblogging some of the most iconic reblog chains from our time here with you to @best-of-reblogs.” This is a great little lookback at some of the…’best’ feels like the wrong term, but certainly ‘most iconic’ bits of Tumblr culture over the past few years. Man, Tumblr is great.

THE TROUGH OF (INSTA) FEEDS!

  • Paperholm: The gorgeous paperctaft work of one Charles Young, an Edinburgh artist who crafts gorgeous little models from paper. Honestly, these are literally perfect and will tickle that very particular brainspot around ‘tiny things executed wonderfully’.
  • Marble Mannequin: Incredibly-satisfying looping CG animations, which also tickle a very specific brainspot and which in all honesty I could quite happily watchfor the next two hours rather than finishing off this blognewslettertypething BUT I WILL KEEP ON GOING JUST FOR YOU.

LONG THINGS WHICH ARE LONG!:

  • Class 1 and Class 2 Problems: I found this a really-interesting piece of writing about ways of thinking about problems or issues – the central premise is that all technological problems can be categorised as either Class 1 Problems (problems caused by the technology not working perfectly) or Class 2 Problems (problems caused by the technology working perfectly), and that this category distinction can prove a useful way of both assessing problems and attempting to find solutions to them. Kevin Kelly offers the following example to illustrate his thesis: “One example: many of the current problems with facial recognition are due to the fact that it is far from perfect. It can have difficulty recognizing dark skin tones; it can be fooled by simple disguises; it can be biased in its gendering. All these are Class 1 problems because this is still a technology in its infancy. Much of the resistance to widely implementing facial recognition stems from its imperfections. But what if it worked perfectly? What if the system was infallible in recognizing a person from just their face? A new set of problems emerge: Class 2 problems.” Of course, there are criticisms to be made – as my friend Simon pointed out over email, “If only problems were in isolation then this would be true. As it is, any problem such as the author describes are part of a system, so a Class 1 problem in one space might be a Class 2 problem in another, and vice versa. Rarely are things so binary, if ever.” – but I can see how this is a useful way of considering issues relating to negative externalities of tech.
  • This Week’s Excellent Crypto Takedown: Fine, I appreciate that many of you will be BORED TO TEARS by any and all things crypto-related, and to be honest I share a degree of that ennui, but, equally, I do think that the amount of money sloshing about makes its ascent (to a degree) a self-fulfilling prophecy, and that as such it behooves us all to start to understand more about what all this stuff is, and, perhaps more importantly, what it very much isn’t. This is the transcript of a talk delivered by David Rosenthal, a software engineer and former Nvidia employee, in which he calmly and methodically goes through all the most-cited usecases for cryptocurrency and the unique benefits it confers, and dismantles them neatly one-by-one. I’m not presenting this as a definitive ‘crypto is rubbish!’ text, to be clear – as I think I’ve mentioned previously, I don’t doubt that buried within this stuff is the kernel of what will eventually become future global infrastructure to some degree – but it’s a very helpful corrective to the more bullish claims about How It Will Change The World Forever. Oh, and if you’re in the market for more of this stuff, this is a very clear, very sensible explanation of the void at the heart of the NFT goldrush.
  • Noone Knows How To Build The Metaverse: On why the utopian Zuckergergian metaverse narrative is maybe significantly more theoretical than Mark and Nick and Sheryl (AND GAVIN! HI GAVIN!) might want us to believe – mainly because we simply don’t have the computing power available to us to actually build and maintain all the wonderful visionary promises we’re currently being sold about persistent better-than-life digital spaces which seamlessly-intersect with meatspace and open up fields of human experience that we cannot quite conceive of with our puny, pre-mataverse brains. Obviously it’s worth caveating this with some aspirational guff about ‘yes, but quantum computing!’, but this paragraph neatly-summarises the current best-projection reality: “Without a generational leap in computing, a lower-fidelity version of the Zuckerverse is attainable. Assuming users will settle for graphics somewhat better than Second Life was able to achieve a decade ago, it should be possible in the longer run to make something that achieves some of the goals, such as a persistent, internet-connected virtual world.” Does that sound like something you want? I would posit that like fcuk it does.
  • Cashing Out in the Freedom Convoy: So, those Canadian truckers, eh? WHAT TO BELIEVE (here’s a decent overview, if you’re interested)? What is incontrovertibly true, though, is that the convoy has become something of a beacon for a certain type of libertarian cryptodude (HI ELON YOU MASSIVE CNUT! I don’t, obviously, expect him to see this – I don’t check, but I’m pretty sure he’s not a subscriber – but it feels nice to type it anyway) – said libertarian cryptodudes raised a bunch of money in Bitcion to support the convoy, and this VICE article very calmly explains the steps that are currently being taken to get the Bitcoin from the wallet into which it was collected and into the hands of various truckers. Now, take a moment to read this and then think to yourself ‘does this read like the future of finance?’ Reader, I would strongly argue that it very much does not.
  • Making Marketplace: You might not think that an exhaustive account of how Facebook built its ‘Marketplace’ product would be interesting, but you would be WRONG. Oh, ok, fine, ‘interesting’ is perhaps doing a bit of heavy lifting here, but if you have any interest in product or service design or development I promise you will find this fascinating – as a look at how to think about product development, and how to overcome snags or hurdles along the way, it’s fascinating. Also I think it’s a useful reminder of why I continue to be broadly-bullish about Meta in the medium-term – remember that it’s not about how we use the service, it’s about how the vastly-more-numerous swathes of people in the rest of the world do, and it’s stuff like marketplace that continues to make FB sticky for lots of people for whom services like Marketplace are borderline-essential. Also, as an aside, much as I hate Facebook, I did get a slightly-wistful ‘wow, I wonder what it would be like to do a job that involves actually making stuff rather than one which seemingly just involves writing words to be ignored by other white collar morons just like me’ feeling reading this, which, presuming that you’re another white-collar waste of space just like me, you might empathise with.
  • Facebook’s African Sweatshop: Of course, there’s also this side of Facebook – the side that protects profit margins by paying bottom-dollar for moderation and which seemingly doesn’t give too much of a fcuk about the strain it places on the poor humans doing the moderating. You know all those stories we’ve been reading for the past few years about the horrors of being a FB mod? Well turns out it’s even worse when you’re a Facebook mod in Africa, not least because you get paid a disgustingly-small amount for cleaning up the sewers in Zuckerberg’s Big Blue Misery Factory. If you’ve spent any time reading about Facebook, the specifics here won’t necessarily be wholly new to you, but it’s important to remember this at all times, I think – that the human cost of everything you use online is invisible-but-always-there, regardless of whatever investor-pleasing guff about AI gets spat out by Clegg, and that that human cost tends to be paid out of the global South because, bluntly, we in the global North prefer it that way. Horrible, miserable, shameful, but also true.
  • Your Shein Returns: Not just Shein – I would imagine that the practices described here are largely similar across the fast-landfill-fashion sector, whatever noises PrettyLittleThing might be making about moving towards a sustainable, seconds-led marketplace (GYAC you think these clothes – the clothes you buy for a tenner – are made with longevity in mind? You think they will survive being repackaged and resold as ‘used’? Ahahahahahaha no, no they won’t, BECAUSE THAT IS NOT HOW YOU MAKE MARGIN ON A £10 TOP FFS). This article describes the reality of what happens to your cheap clothes, offered with cheap returns – which, basically, is often ‘landfill, because it’s literally cheaper to bin them than it is to attempt to reintegrate them into the supplychain. Look, I know didacticism is boring but, equally, I am old and I can’t help myself. Here’s a maxim to live by – IF YOU ARE BUYING AN ARTICLE OF CLOTHING AND IT COSTS £10 AND WAS MADE ON THE OTHER SIDE OF THE WORLD THEN YOU CAN LITERALLY GUARANTEE THAT EITHER SOME OF THE PEOPLE MAKING IT, OR THE PLANET, OR BOTH, ARE GETTING UNPLEASANTLY-FUCKED BY THE PROCESS OF SAID ARTICLE OF CLOTHING’S CREATION. Put that on a tshirt.
  • Greetings Cards: A brief, not-entirely-serious, investigation into trends in greetings cards copy, and specifically whether or not its true that there’s been a significant degree of copy creep in card writing. I rather enjoyed this, not least because it made me wonder about the extent to which the fact that so much more of our communication is visual and shortform and shorthand now – memes and emoji and (if you’re old) reaction gifs and all that jazz – that there’s going to be a resurgence in personalised mid-form copy for stuff like this because, well, no fcuker will be able to write any more in a few years’ time. Which obviously is classic bullsh1t old person’s reasoning, fine, but equally feels to me like there’s a grain of truth in it somewhere – after all, as an observation I saw doing the rounds this week after that Candace Bushnell piece about earning $5k a month as a Vanity Fair writer back in the day stated, the fact that writing is now something that everyone has to do far more than we used to doesn’t seem to have resulted in people getting better at it (after all, 8k words a week of Curios over several years with no discernible improvement in the quality of the prose would suggest that practice very much does not make perfect here).
  • TikTok Missed Connections: This is, fine, a Mashable article (sorry), but I found the premise interesting – people are apparently attempting to use the TikTok algo to track down ‘missed connections’-type strangers in real life, which is…well. First, that’s basically stalking, no? But secondly, I find the increasing extent to which algorithms are questions of faith, to a degree, fascinating. There’s something interesting in the idea of us placing so much of our lives in the hands of these incomprehensible, unknowable bits of maths, and of the willingness with which we do so, and the increasing degree to which certain aspects of our behaviour are defined by appeals to these ineffable…well, I didn’t want to use the word, but let’s say ‘gods’. Algorithms are the new gods. There, that’s my thesis. If someone isn’t already writing a not-very-good Masters’ dissertation on ‘The Algopantheon: Faith, Worship and Sacrifice in the post-Digital Age’ then, well, what the fcuk is wrong with modern academia?
  • The Afterparty Party:I am not sure that I will EVER get tired of reading about terrible cryptoparties, and this one sounds like a doozy. There’s a lot to love about this – the horrid empty money aesthetic of the Hollywood hills mansion at which all such events must take place (by law, if it’s not Brooklyn it MUST be a mansion with an infinity pool and the sort of wipe-clean furniture that suggests booking by the hour for…specalist shoots), the frankly-astonishing description of ‘The Minting Room’ (can I just say, again, ALGORITHMS ARE THE NEW GODS? Eh? Oh, fine, suit yourselves), the staggering vapidity of…well, of all of it to be honest. Maybe I’m just jealous because I am still waiting on my invite to the Roman cryptoscene. DO’CAZZO STA IL MIO INVITO, STRONZI?
  • Adriano:  If you’re a football fan of a certain vintage, you will remember Adriano for one of three reasons; either his brief spell as the most terrifyingly-explosive forward in the game whilst at Inter, or his status as THE most unrealistically-overpowered left foot ever to feature in a videogame (PES 6, to be precise), or for how everything seemed to go very pear-shaped for him very quickly at a certain point, and how for a while he was the go-to example for ‘when footballers go wrong’, accused of drugtaking and excess and generally seen as something of a cautionary tale. This piece in the Player’s Tribune is his account of his career and life and what really happened, and it is a blast – I love these pieces, as they’re basically just lightly-tidied-up transcripts of interviews and so you get the cadence of a player’s speech and his vocal tics and mannerisms, and a real sense for the person they are. I think Adriano sounds like a lot of fun, although I don’t think we have much in common.
  • How Many Words To Make A Mistake?: This is SUCH a good essay. William Davies writes in the LRB on the mechanisation of learning – specifically, on how we mark and assess students, how use of technology is changing what we assess, and, by extension, what we value, and the fundamental question of what it is that we are trying to teach people through education in the first place. I…I was not a good student in many respects, but I was a very successful one, mainly as I worked out reasonably quickly what the game was and how to perform quite well at it. I was fcuking good at passing exams (thanks, Satan!) but generally terrible at learning – which even at the time struck me as a cast-iron example of ‘systems with unexpected negative outcomes’, as I’m pretty sure the overall aim of my education was not to create the sort of monster who can remorselessly-fillet a text for content with little or no care for meaning. Or maybe it was, it’s hard to tell. Still, here we are. Anyway, I found this really interesting, although personally think that the main meat of the piece – ie what are we teaching when we teach? – might usefully have been explored a bit further.
  • Suzanne: A profile of Suzanne Verdal, the titular muse behind Leonard Cohen’s song ‘Suzanne’, and a woman whose life has been entirely-characterised by her relationship to That Man and That Song. This is absolutely heartbreaking, and wonderfully-written by Lacy Warner whose own ambiguity about the ‘right-ness’ of even writing the profile in the first place makes the whole thing significantly more interesting than ‘just’ a portrait of someone immortalised in old song.
  • Nico: Finally in this week’s longreads, another article about a woman whose life was defined by others, specifically men. This is another LRB piece which is SO SO SO GOOD – not just in terms of the way it tells Nico’s story (relatively unflinchingly; if you’re not familiar, it is not what you’d call a happy tale), but also in terms of the quality of the writing. I found myself pausing as I read to pull up YouTube clips of her performances and interviews – in particular, the scenes of her in La Dolce Vita are amazing, she’s basically like a human migraine onscreen, which I know sounds weird but I promise you you’ll see what I mean if you watch it – and by the end you have a picture of a quite incredible, difficult, sad person who got treated incredibly-badly by an awful lot of people (and who, no doubt, was not exactly an easygoing type herself). This is a tragic story, brilliantly told.

By Prudence Flint

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