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Webcurios 31/07/20

Reading Time: 39 minutes

Well that was a fortni…actually, no, fcuk it, I can’t be bothered.

IT’S ALL OVER. I wrote my first Web Curios for Imperica on 8 February 2013, a few short months after binning off a reasonably-good job with an email that, even now, is the single piece of writing that people most remember me for and, in all likelihood, the only one which will outlive me. And now, here we are, for what Editor Paul assures me is the pleasingly-appropriate 300th edition of Web Curios to appear here.

It’s also the last day that the Imperica’s going to be active as a website, which is why Web Curios is stopping (for a bit, maybe longer, who knows?). I am going to do some slightly sentimental stuff now, so if you just want the links then feel free to skip this (but, you know, the least you fcuks can do is indulge me here, right? I mean, 7 years of FREE WEBSPAFF I’ve given you ffs, at least pretend to care, etc etc grumble grumble).

300 Curios, which probably equates to, at a guess, 2,500,000 words (a number that, when I write it down, does seem to sort of indicate I might have something of a problem with the logorrhoea), and roughly 21,000 links and 1,500 artworks featured and far, far too many broken links and typos (my grammar really is better than it sometimes appears, I promise; you try writing this much stream of consciousness and error free, ok?) and UNNECESSARY CAPITALISATIONS and bowdlerised swears (in case you were curious, by the way, it’s to get around firewalls given I know a few of you get this to your work emails). It’s been A LOT.

I know I always say this, but I genuinely don’t look at the subscriber numbers or the open rates or how many people look at it on the website; I would have written this stuff even if it were just for me. We’re all cyborgs now, obviously, and in a way Curios has, for the past 90 months, been an extension of my memory (that might explain the, er, uniquely self-indulgent nature of the house style), and it’s going to be quite weird not having anywhere to put large parts of the inside of my head.

Anyway, to all of you who’ve read this (even those of you – and I am sure there are a few – who absolutely fcking hate my writing style and read it through gritted teeth), thankyou. Thanks for taking the time, fighting with the density and the length and the tone and the cynicism and the bitterness and the ennui. I hope, at the very least, you’ve been able to put some bits of it to good use.

Curios will probably come back in some form at some point – I need to find somewhere to put it, though, and Substack doesn’t really appeal (also, there aren’t that many off-the-shelf mailers that can cope with this sort of thing, turns out). Til then, though, I really do mean it – thankyou for bothering to click the link and open the email.

Most of all, though, thanks to Paul, who has been running Imperica out of his own pocket for nearly 10 years now, over a period where publishing anything independently online has only got harder, particularly when you operate on a budget of what I have always assumed to be roughly no pennies. Paul contacted me when I left H+K and asked if I’d like to write this for him; he even paid me for a while, til we both realised that that was a stupid idea and that he should stop. Over the time I’ve worked with him he has published thousands of articles online by people who might not have otherwise had their voices heard, he’s run events, he’s been supportive of interesting people and projects, and, latterly, through the magazine, he’s given dozens of young aspirant writers their first paid byline. It’s no small feat, particularly when he also has a mysterious dayjob (seriously, man, what the fcuk do you do for a living?), and it’s a shame that financial realities mean it’s no longer feasible to continue. The homogenisation of the web – stylistic, tonal, cultural – is a saddening thing, and Imperica’s demise is part of that sadness.

Anyway, none of you fcuks care about this, so, for the final time, on with the (TOO MANY) links and (TOO MANY) words.

I have been Matt, this has been Web Curios, and you have been…what have you been? What’s the point of you? Go on, fcuk off out of it.

By Luciano Cian

LET’S KICK OFF WITH THE HOOD INTERNET’S COMPLETE SET OF 80s MEGAMIXES WHICH REALLY DO HAVE TO BE HEARD TO BE BELIEVED THEY’RE SO GOOD!

THE SECTION WHICH WOULD LIKE YOU ALL TO TAKE A LOOK AT THE AMAZON NUMBERS AND TAKE A SMALL MOMENT TO ONCE AGAIN THINK ABOUT WHAT A COMPLETE, TOTAL AND UTTER FCUKING CNUT MECHABEZOS IS AND YET HOW NONE OF US CAN ACTUALLY AVOID GIVING HIM MONEY ANY MORE:

  • Big Tech Loves A Pandemic: Whilst this isn’t surprising in any way – people stuck inside sure love the web, their devices, scrolling endlessly through feeds and occasionally opening the door to minimum-wage parcel couriers whilst sending each other messages about how bored they are of the web, their devices and scrolling endlessly through feeds whilst occasionally opening the door to minimum-wage parcel couriers! – the numbers are quite staggering. LOOK AT THE AMAZON FIGURES! No, seriously, look. Revenue up by a third, per-share earnings up by about 800%…it’s enough to make Jeff Bezos decide to end world hu…oh. And Facebook and Apple, with only POOR OLD ALPHABET (basically Google) flatlining slightly. Oh, and for those of you thinking that this doesn’t take into account the Facebook ad boycott which is SHAKING THE INDUSTRY, please note that the company has publicly stated that it fully expects its Q3 earnings – the period which includes the ad boycott – to match this 10% YOY growth in revenue. Do you ever feel impotent in the face of the relentless march of global capitalism? Well you should. Although spare a thought for Twitter, which despite piling on the users failed to grow its ad revenue (possibly because the product is, comparatively, junk). POOR THE TWITTER! POOR THE JACK!
  • Facebook Announces Personal Fundraising On Insta: Yes, anyone and everyone will soon be able to use Insta as their own personal OnlyFans! I mean, that’s not what this explicitly says – the feature will let anyone set up a personal fundraiser for a number of causes, including charities and sick pets and medical bills, much as you already can on Facebook, subject to platform approval and a laundry-list of restrictions and caveats – but at no point does it say anywhere that you can’t monetise your noodz through this, so expect to see a large number of young men and women ‘fundraising for their modelling careers’ in creative and interesting ways on the platform. As an aside, does anyone else find something a bit…off about a platform as large and plutocratic as Facebook setting us all up to grift off each other whilst making vig off the top? No? FFS.
  • Facebook Testing Likeless Page Design: This is only being tested, but is surely in the works – it’s being presented as a simplification measure to eliminate the increasingly-otiose overlap between the ‘Like’ and ‘Follow’ Page functions, but is also the final death-knell of the ‘Like’ as a meaningful metric of anything at all and an acknowledgement that THIS IS AN ADVERTISING PLATFORM FFS. Although it won’t stop moronic people in communications insisting that Pagelikes still matter (gyac love, you work in comms and therefore NOTHING you do matters! God, Matt, self-hatred is such an ugly look ffs).
  • Go Live From FB Messenger Rooms: I can’t be bothered to get into the detail of the increasingly overcomplicated relationship between all the different moving parts of the Facebook empire; all you really need to know about this is that it’s now possible to take a mass videochat of upto 50 people and use it as a livestream, effectively meaning anyone at all can create a FASCINATING broadcast experience out of their awkward, stilted multiparty videocalls. There’s an obvious play here for any brands with multiple famouses as ambassadors, say, or making certain elements of conferences, etc, publicly visible. Really interesting and full of potential, although it will also lead to a lot of performative shouty groupchat broadcasts from people who really aren’t as interesting or funny as they think they are (stick to podcasts, lads!!).
  • WhatsApp Pilots What Is Basically Banking In India: There’s something in the longreads that basically touches on a similar point, but it’s stuff like this – the slow, tentacular creep of the Facebook empire into the social and practical infrastructure of the most populous nations in the world – that means we’re not getting rid of it anytime soon. It’s a very smart move, and, leaving aside my personal disdain (no, let’s be clear, visceral hatred) for Zuckerberg’s Big Blue Misery Factory, a potentially useful service for all the millions of smartphone-enabled people across India who might not otherwise be able to access the sort of credit, insurance and pension services here mooted. Still, try getting rid of Facebook when it’s providing essential financial services infrastructure for half a billion people.
  • TikTok Launches ‘Game’ Effects: This is basically the same schtick as you’ve been able to do on Snapchat for a while now – to whit, TikTok will let brands buy interactive ‘effects’, which will enable ‘brands to prompt people on TikTok to use facial expressions, body postures or other motions in order to control and interact with branded elements, and the experience is sound-on. There are over 20 formats that brands can customize for their campaigns, including having users juggle a ball on their eyebrows, match poses in a catch beat and use their heads to control submarines.’ So there. Given the platform’s focus on kinetic action – dancing, physical comedy, etc – this is a perfect fit, and it’s not hard to think of some interesting and potentially quite fun activations you could build around this; sports teams encouraging people to mimic celebrations by star players, new music releases training people on how to do The Dance accompanying the song, and, inevitably, a bunch of attempts to make something from an ad campaign A THING amongst young people (‘Hey kids, why not use our new BRANDED EFFECT to mimic this ‘cool’/’funny’ bit from our TV spot?!’). Not sure if this is entirely open to all yet or whether it’s gated to top advertisers at present, but who cares? Tell your clients and let the ripe stench of ZEITGEIST engulf you all.
  • The TikTok Creator Fund: Hugely interesting from a FUTURE OF MEDIA point of view, this – TikTok has announced a $200m fund for creators on the platform, which basically means that it’s going to pay popular people on the platform to make videos like it’s their actual job. If you have kids, it is possibly quite important that they don’t find out about this, lest you lose them forever to complex dance routines performed into the mirror in the hope of turning it into a career. This makes perfect sense, of course, and is the natural extension of platforms like Twitch, etc, paying popular streamers for exclusivity. Click the link and read the first paragraph and do a small boggle at the commitment to expand this to a $1bn fund within three years. Can you imagine a future in which we all earn a living being paid by content platforms to do FUNNY DANCES and share our HOT TAKES to our personal audiences of 50 people, all of us forever caught in a constant and neverending loop of creation and consumption and ad-watching and buying and oh my god I am so, so, so tired.
  • TikTok Will Make Its Algo Public: I’m going to go out on a limb here and suggest that this step towards radical transparency may not in fact end up being quite as radically transparent as the company wants us to think it is – I mean, there are one or two commercial considerations that might come into play here, not to mention the nagging doubt that anyone knows exactly how their black boxes actually work any more – but it’s quite funny in a ‘kick sand in Facebook’s face’ sort of way; the shade here is real (is a phrase I am suddenly very conscious I am too old to use).
  • Snap Launches Brand Profiles: I actually put Snap in a pitch the other week – it felt so retro! (it was the AR tech rather than the ‘social network’ bit, mind, I’m not a moron) (also, we didn’t win, so, well, IN MY FACE) – but, honestly, it feels a bit like yesterday’s news (although the Q2 results suggest that I’m possibly being a bit premature). Still, for those of you interested, “The profile may comprise any of the brand’s augmented-reality Lenses that have been created and saved into an archive or “showcase” and a native store through which users can buy products directly (powered by Shopify). There are also profile elements that are familiar to brand pages on other social media, such as enabling companies to create “highlights” (a collection of favoured content, such as Snaps, Stories and pictures) and Story posts.” Happy? Oh.
  • Amazon Opens Livestreaming To Influencers: I joked up there about how the future is all of us dancing like monkeys for each other to earn that sweet, sweet platform cash – of course, the other potential option in a future in which the concept of ‘rewarding labour’ has been largely gutted is ‘we all become one-person QVC channels’, which is exactly what this development from Amazon is pointing towards. It’s basically – look, there’s quite a lot of detail in here that I simply don’t care about but which you’re welcome to click through and learn about – an extension of the Amazon Associates program that lets influencers earn off their recommendations, except with LIVESTREAMING VIDEO!! I have literally no idea who in their right mind would want to watch someone shilling products to them on Amaz…oh, no, hang on, that’s right, QVC actually exists and people actually watch it, and the presenters on there aren’t even shiny-faced internet-famouses. This is the sort of thing that I reckon probably won’t take off in the West but which will end up being violently popular in other markets.
  • Twitch Launches Dedicated Sports Streaming Category: For actual sports! The idea is that this will become another channel for sports brands and broadcasters to share content on, with the opportunity to deliver archive material and behind the scenes stuff, as well as live events, on Amazon’s increasingly-monolithic streaming service. Smart, sensible, and the sort of thing which if you have anything to do with sports marketing you should be all over like the sky.
  • Medium Becomes More Personalisable: It doesn’t have to be longform anymore! It can be, er, medium-form! Or short! And there are loads of new look and feel templates, and, basically, this feels like Medium once again trying to sell itself as ‘the Blogger you never knew you missed’ (one for the old online publishing heads, there). I’ve never liked Medium – it’s always felt quite smug, and I don’t like the paywalling, and it’s far too full of self-important VC types for my personal liking – and I don’t personally recommend putting your words on a platform that you don’t own, what with their being no guarantee that said platform won’t decide to up and vanish at a moment’s notice (AHEM), but if you’re after a publishing solution then you could, I concede grudgingly, do worse than look here.
  • Oatly and Branding and Stuff: An unusually-interesting Twitter thread all about how Oatly – the bafflingly-popular faux-milk slurry – did its rebrand way back when, and how it manages its brand communications, etc, overall. Honestly, this is a good read regardless of whether you know anything about design at all (I really don’t), and is worth a look if only for a glimpse at the old Oatly branding. It’s no exaggeration to say that their previous chocolate oat milk packaging was unpleasantly reminiscent of a cross between 28 Days Later and an explosion in a sewage factory, which makes its current near-ubiquity even more impressive in terms of turnaround.

By Forrest Kirk

NEXT, ENJOY SOME RATHER WONDERFUL JAPANESE AMBIENT AND CHILLOUT SENT TO ME BY INTERNET ODDITY SADEAGLE!

THE SECTION WHICH WOULD LIKE TO THANK EACH AND EVERY PERSON WHO HAS MADE SOMETHING FEATURED IN WEB CURIOS OVER THE PAST 7 YEARS (EXCEPT THE PEOPLE WHO MAKE THE WEIRD TELEDILDONICS STUFF WHICH I HAVE NEVER REALLY ENTIRELY UNDERSTOOD THE APPEAL OF), PT.1:

  • Electric Dreams Festival: Do you remember the start of lockdown all those many months ago, and how excited we all were at the prospect of the arts moving online and the amazing, ingenious examples of authorial creativity which was set to be unleashed by makers the world over? Seems like a long time ago, eh? Still, if you’re hankering from some of that OLD SCHOOL 2020 VIBE, then I urge you to check out the excellent Electric Dreams Festival – it started last week, but runs for another fortnight and is a collection of some excellent (and excellent-sounding) interactive online shows that cover a staggering range of themes and executions. I’ve seen quite a few of these, whether over the past months or previously, and I can vouch for the quality; personal recommendations include casino-come-theatre-come-allegorical-experience ‘The House Never Wins’, and ‘The Believers Are But Brothers’, a super-smart exploration of online radicalisation, but there are so many more things to enjoy here. At a time when theatre is wildly, spectacularly fcuked, if you have any love for the medium and a few quid to spare, splash out on some tickets.
  • Vicariously: This is really interesting, and potentially very useful indeed for social media research (or indeed if you just want to snoop on people and you don’t mind the fact that they will know you’re snooping). Vicariously basically resurrects an old Twitter feature whereby you could experience the platform as any other user of your choice, seeing the timeline of their follows rather than your own. Vicariously does exactly that, through some quite clever use of lists, and then lets you go further, mixing two people’s feeds or seeing a feed of the two different users’ mutuals…if you’re interested in mapping chains of influence, this is hugely helpful (if you’re willing to put the reading time in); equally, if you want to experience the very, very weird Twitter that is most politicians’ experience then this is an excellent way to do it. Oh, and if you’re job involves something horrific like ‘creating marketing personas’, this is a really useful additional toy you can use to build up an idea of ‘Savvy Urbanites’ and what their Twitter looks like (kill me now, please). The caveat to all of this, though, is that, due to the fact that this basically involves the creation of lists, people who you’re interested in surveilling are likely to get notifications telling them that they have been added to a list, which may potentially arouse some suspicion (but probably won’t – like fcuk do any politicians know what Twitter lists are imho). Go on, go and spend some time in Kanye’s Twitter shoes.
  • Storyline: I imagine we’re all bored of reading coronastories now, right? I’m bored of my own coronastory ffs, I can’t bring myself to care about yours too. Still, this project by Australian broadcaster SBS is a lovely one – they solicited voicemails from people across the country, asking them to leave messages describing how they were coping and what was happening to them as the country retreated into itself, and these are presented in an unusual, slightly-floaty way, letting you move around a ‘canvas’ and explore the different stories as you see fit. There are a few guided routes through the narratives if you fancy them, but otherwise you can just scroll around and listen to the various tales of people’s time spent in the grip of the pandemic. It’s amazing how much more affecting and emotive these are than simple words on a page – I could write some guff here about THE POWER OF VOICE, but, well, I don’t want to. This feels like an art installation coming to a museum near you in 2021, in a good way.
  • Above, Below, Beyond: Thanks Paul for sending this my way – it is ACE. Part of an Arts Council project exploring the stories and heritage of the North East of England, this site takes a bunch of audio taken from the region’s mines and makes them available for you to mess with; it’s effectively a synthtoy built from recordings made inside the mineshafts and caves of the area around Durham, letting you create an aural collage from the sounds of spades, shovels, dynamite, the works. It’s a wonderful, glorious cacophonous mess – or at least it is when I used it, cloth-eared, no talent bozo that I am – but even then there’s something sort-of brilliant about the aural soup that results. I love this.
  • The At Home Club: I confess that I am including this slightly because it made me laugh quite a lot – but, at the same time, it’s a really nicely-put-together project and the principle behind it is laudable. The site asks the central question ‘how are makers responding to the global pandemic’ – “in the wake of Covid-19, the world has changed in ways that no one could have expected. From months spent in quarantine grew a global movement for justice and equality. Each of us has processed and adapted to the events of the last few months in our own way. In an effort to stay connected and support one another through these unprecedented times, we created At Home: a series of stories documenting the experience”. It presents creators – in the real-world rather than ‘I make videos on TikTok’ sense – from cities around the world, including London, Berlin and SF, and shares the stories of how COVID has affected their practice and, in turn, how their work has reflected the social and cultural environment of the pandemic, and there’s genuinely loads of really interesting stuff in here, nice photography and interesting writing. But, well, I also couldn’t help but snigger quite a lot at the entries headed ‘making candles for self-care’ and ‘activating another wheel of consciousness’. “What did you do during lockdown?” “well, I mainly played videogames and cooked and learned that I can’t bake bread for sh1t and spent a lot of time very, very stoned indeed; how about you?” “oh, I activated another wheel of consciousness”. I know, I have dust where my soul should be.
  • Endless Doomscroller: A surprisingly accurate rendition of what it’s like scrolling through Twitter at the moment.
  • Restream: This is potentially really useful – fine, it’s been a while since I’ve had to worry about running livestreams across multiple platforms simultaneously, but I remember it being a massive and slightly-unpleasant pain in the ar$e, whereas this service promises to make it SUPER EASY. You can, so the service promises, stream to multiple platforms from one device with nary a care, for FREE – although if you want to include Facebook you’ll need to pony up for the subscription service, so caveat emptor and all that.
  • The World Carrot Museum: To the list of ‘superb museums that I love’ (currently at the top of said list – the pencil museum in Keswick, still the high watermark for excellent-yet-crushingly-mundane days out) let me add this one. “The first virtual museum in the world entirely devoted to the history, evolution, science, sociology and art of Carrots. The mission is to educate, inform and amuse visitors through the discovery, collection, preservation, interpretation and exhibition of objects relating to the Carrot. This site provides lots of interesting and useful information about the humble carrot.” As with all sites of this ilk, I am pretty certain that this is created and maintained by a man, an impression reinforced by the section on carrots helping alleviate menstrual pains, which is something I am pretty sure no woman would give much credence to. Still, CARROTS!!
  • Their Tube: Such a clever site, and such an interesting (and slightly depressing) project. Built by Tomo Kihara, this site offers you the opportunity to experience YouTube as it would be seen by a variety of different personas – the fruitarian, say, or the lefty, or the conservative, or, er, the conspiracy theorist or climate denier. Each persona has been built up from a clean YouTube profile and seeded by watching a few videos on a particular topic and then following rabbitholes, and if you’re one of the (many, many) people who knows someone who’s gone a bit funny in terms of what they believe over the course of the past few months, this might help understand how (if not why). It’s astonishing to see just how unique each is – obviously the idea of individuals consuming only media that they decide fits with the worldview they wish to believe and support is nothing new, but it’s useful to be reminded the extent to which digital media takes that concept and basically pumps it full of steroids; it’s very easy to imagine how one might start to have one’s worldview coloured when every single video you’re served on YouTube – which means everywhere on the web, remember, thanks to embeds and autoplays – tells you that, I don’t know, the adrenochrome vampires took Maddie (if you don’t know what the word ‘adrenochrome’ refers to then count yourself lucky and DON’T GOOGLE IT).
  • E.gg: ANOTHER new project from the insanely prolific New Projects people at Facebook – this is waitlisted at the moment, meaning that as far as I know noone’s gotten a good look at it yet, but everything on the website suggests that it’s basically Facebook’s attempt to recreate Geocities for 2020. For those of you who are too young to remember, or whose memories have been irrevocably screwed by the consumption of 15s videos of dancing teenagers, Geocities was an early web platform which enabled anyone to have their own little corner of the internet which they could decorate however they wanted and fill with whatever content they liked – which, in practice, amounted to sparkly text and LOTS OF GIFS; effectively a precursor to the MySpace aesthetic of the new rave era, if you will. There’s a certain irony in the fact that this is exactly the sort of aesthetic that Facebook helped to kill with its standardised page layouts and uniform look-and-feel, but, well, who cares? The promise here is that E.gg will become a place where anyone and everyone can ‘express themselves creatively’, though why they seem to think we all need to do that via the medium of spangly webfonts is a mystery to me. Worth signing up for, though, out of curiosity – and let’s be honest, Facebook’s already got all your data, so what does it matter? As an aside, I am convinced that there’s a really interesting essay to be written about the direct links between the aesthetics of ‘zine culture, the asthetics of Geocities/MySpace and the modern aesthetic of Stories as a medium, but I’m fcuked if I know what it is (one of the many, many reasons I’m not a journalist).
  • Defector: I wouldn’t ordinarily bother commenting on the launch of a new US sports website, but the concept behind this is really interesting. Defector has been set up as a collective by a bunch of writers who have been laid off from other sites such as Deadspin and the like; basically a bunch of these writers have gotten together, set up this site as a place to aggregate the stuff they want to write about, and are offering subs at a range of rates to anyone who wants to read their stuff and support them. That’s it – simple, and potentially really effective. Who needs a publisher when you can just effectively combine a bunch of substacks, chuck them up on a cobbled-together frontend and set up subs through existing platforms? This is really interesting, and I genuinely hope it works out – there’s the kernel of a really promising model for a small, self-sufficient media business here, the sort of thing that could work pretty much anywhere, and I would love to see a bunch of the UK’s young writers try something similar. Go on, young writers (he said, patronisingly)!
  • AI Myths: There was another pitch I was involved with recently which we didn’t win – I am so good at my job!!! – for one of the worst companies I have seen in a long time (I had said that I wouldn’t work on it had we won, for avoidance of doubt), an AI business which could at best be described as ‘a bit shady’ and at worst as ‘an (alleged) bunch of snake-oil selling conmen engaged in borderline-fraudulent activity’. They were basically guilty of everything that this site – which exists to debunk some of the most commonly propagated myths about AI – talks about, from claims about the power of AI to its objectivity and safety and universal applicability. Can you guess who I’m talking about, out of interest? Go on, try! Anyway, this is a great site which I encourage you to read and then to bookmark and send to anyone who you hear blithely and glibly throwing around the term without the faintest idea of what it actually, practically means; this is a clear and cogent explanation of all the ways in which people tend to misspeak about the sector/concept, and which does rather a good job in particular of outlining the limitations of the technology as it currently stands.
  • Smartipresence: OH THIS IS FUN! This is an already-backed Kickstarter, running for another month (so annoyingly you won’t get your hands on the kit for a while, chiz chiz chiz), which will let you build your own little telepresence robot out of cardboard, meaning (basically) that you can let anyone you like manoeuver a little cardboard robot around your home while you videochat with them, allowing them to effectively ‘be’ in your space. Gah, that’s an awful description, hang on, let me try again. You know those weird ‘ipad on wheels’ things that people got a bit excited about a few years back and that were heralded as a new way of remote working, whereby you could ‘see’ through the ipad’s camera whilst moving around the office, going into meeting rooms and all the while being unaware that colleagues had put a dunce’s cap on your digital representative? Well, it’s like that, but very smol and made of cardboard. Honestly, this looks like so much fun and an excellent little engineering-type craft project for a particular type of kid; it’s also the sort of thing that if you use it in a home that has cats will drive your pets absolutely mental, which to my mind is a significant additional bonus.
  • Bob Basset: Seeing as we’re all cool with the concept of masks now, why not check out these which are by far and away the most amazing ones I’ve ever seen. I’m not sure whether Bob Basset is the name of the designer or just of the company that makes these, but WOW are they amazing in a sort of fetish/horror sort of way. Tooled leather and metal and glass and piping and oh me oh my. You will very much be the most popular person at Torture Garden should you get yourself one of these, should the ‘rona ever allow that sort of close mixing of bodily fluids with strangers again. In the unlikely event that any long-term readers fancy clubbing together and getting me a ‘thanks for seven years of doing this for no money’ present, I’ll have this one please!
  • Vilmari: Interesting business idea, this – it seems to have been around for about a year, but this is the first I’ve heard of it. Vilmari effectively lets you hire out your car for short periods of time, letting you maximise its use and defray its cost at the same time; on the flipside, it offers a potential pool of cars to rent for short journeys on the cheap. Obviously there are all sorts of reasons why this might be less-than-appealing; whilst all users have to prove they are insured, provide verified real names and contact details and generally promise to behave, I can’t say I’m totally convinced that you won’t get your car back covered in vomit, weed crumbs, suspicious baggies and with parts of a person bundled into the boot. Caveat emptor and all that.
  • Fawkes: Well done, University of Chicago, for this excellent initiative which effectively lets you cloak your face from image recognition devices in photos with no obvious loss of image quality to the human eye. “At a high level, Fawkes takes your personal images and makes tiny, pixel-level changes that are invisible to the human eye, in a process we call image cloaking. You can then use these “cloaked” photos as you normally would, sharing them on social media, sending them to friends, printing them or displaying them on digital devices, the same way you would any other photo. The difference, however, is that if and when someone tries to use these photos to build a facial recognition model, “cloaked” images will teach the model an highly distorted version of what makes you look like you.” Only an academic paper at the moment, but I am very glad that this is being researched so successfully.
  • Sourceful: This is potentially hugely useful – there’s been a boom in the use of GDocs as a means of creating open resources for all sorts of purposes, from the Coronavirus Tech Handbook to sector-specific guides to various disciplines, and Sourceful acts as a single search engine for such documents. If you want to see whether there are any public resources available offering guidance and community-collated information on any given topic, this is a great place to start.
  • Alexagate: Another week, another MSCHF drop – this one, though, is perhaps my favourite yet, and the closest to an actual, proper product that really ought to be mass-produced, The Alexa Gate is a piece of kit that you sit on top of your Amazon Domestic Surveillance Device which will block it from hearing anything at all – unless you clap three times to deactivate it, at which point Alexa will work as normal. Three more claps recloaks it, letting you go about your daily business safe in the knowledge that your every word isn’t being communicated back to Mechabezos’ server farms and used to sell your more stuff that you neither want nor need, packed by exploited workers and delivered by the often-marginalised. There’s an article in the longreads about MSCHF which made me dislike them quite a lot (read: I am immensely jealous), but this is great and I applaud (ha!) it.
  • Shnap: Visual search and shop – as in, take a photo of something and an app will throw up options to buy it and similar things instantaneously – is one of those innovations that has been bubbling around for years without ever really quite taking off; I presume because that degree of image recognition is actually very hard in the real world, with its imperfect lighting and dirty objects and the like. Still, Shnap is the latest iteration of this tech and if it works anywhere near as well as the website suggests it does (it won’t) it could well be a gamechanging. Interestingly, it also exists as a chrome extension – so you can use it while browsing to instantly search shoppable products from images anywhere online which, if it works, is potentially very useful indeed (for someone with more fashion sense than I have). Worth a look, this, I think.
  • Kathe Memorial: Käthe Kollwitz was a German artist working in the late-19th and early-20th Century; this site is a beautifully-designed and built tribute to her work. Honestly, I had never heard of Kollwitz before, but as a way of telling her life story, her place in the European modernist pantheon, it’s superb. Lovely, lovely webwork.
  • Vocodes: I know that it’s getting better all the time, but audio deepfakes – at least the ones that I have been able to get my hands on and play with – really aren’t very good, an impression that this site did absolutely nothing to dispel. You can choose from a range of pre-set fakes and put whatever words you want in their mouth, but there’s no way in hell that this would fool anyone apart from someone who’s got very waxy ears indeed. Still, if you ever wanted to listen to a poorly-mimicked David Attenborough say “get the ket in you little sesh gremlins, I’ve got a right thirst for powder” then, well, MERRY FCUKING CHRISTMAS.
  • 1 Second Paintings: Abstract art, generated by AI, at the click of a button. Whilst this isn’t entirely successful – you can always tell what the training set was, to my mind, which rather ruins the effect – it’s indisputably true that the majority of the outputs are far, far better than most of the stuff that you see in offices worldwide. Actually, here’s a fcuking GREAT idea – see if you can get the budget for the art buy on the next corporate refurb (presuming we’ll ever go back to an office ever again), trouser the cash and then just do it on the cheap by printing out a bunch of these on reasonably high-stock paper with IKEA framing. Honestly, this is a great idea and I really hope one of you bothers to steal it for once.
  • Heritage Photogrammetry: David Fletcher is a very talented graphics person who works in games; in his spare time, he creates these 3d models of heritage landmarks, many in London, using photogrammetry (more on that technique in the longreads). These are rather lovely, and it’s nice to imagine a future in which all major architectural landmarks are available to explore through this sort of tech.
  • Magic Sky: Apply vaguely psychedelic effects to the skies in your photos, in a desperate-yet-doomed attempt to make your stuff stand out on the ‘gram (I’m being unnecessarily snarky here, these are quite fun and I imagine would look pretty cool dropped into a Story or two).
  • Winning The Internet: When I first started writing this for Imperica, seven and a half long years ago, no fcuker had a newsletter and I felt SPECIAL and DIFFERENT. Now, though, every cnut in the world has one and I am one of several million self-important pr1cks arrogant enough to think that anyone cares what they have to say about anything on a weekly basis. So it goes. This feels like something of a zenith/nadir – the clever people at dataviz bible The Pudding have just launched ‘Winning The Internet’, their very own ‘newsletter of newsletters’ (HA! They know NOTHING!) which analyses the content of (at the time of writing) 86 different newsletters and sends out a digest compiling the most popular links from across that selection each week. The selection they pick from is US-heavy and their selection tends (so far) towards the thinky/takey end of the spectrum rather that ‘weird stuff from the corners of the web’, which is basically my way of saying YOU WILL NEVER REPLACE CURIOS YOU CNUTS (you will, this sh1t is ten a penny these days).

By Klaus Kremmerz

NEXT, ENJOY A SELECTION OF MUSIC THAT I REALLY LIKED BACK IN THE DAY WHEN ‘THIS IS MY JAM!’ WAS A THING (GOD THAT WAS A NICE LITTLE WEBSITE)!

THE SECTION WHICH WOULD LIKE TO THANK EACH AND EVERY PERSON WHO HAS MADE SOMETHING FEATURED IN WEB CURIOS OVER THE PAST 7 YEARS (EXCEPT THE PEOPLE WHO MAKE THE WEIRD TELEDILDONICS STUFF WHICH I HAVE NEVER REALLY ENTIRELY UNDERSTOOD THE APPEAL OF), PT.2:

  • Trendstastic: A really useful Chrome plugin, this, which does one simple thing – each time you search Google, it will add a Google Trends graph for that search term to the top of the results. That’s it. Still, having had it installed for a fortnight now I can absolutely vouch for the fact that, even if I probably haven’t found it practically useful once, I have found it oddly-interesting about 90% of the time, which is pretty much all one can hope for really.
  • Facetracking: Ok, this requires you to be able to do a bit of codewrangling, but if you’re that sort of person then it’s quite fun. This lets you use facetracking to control any simple web program you like – ideally games – that has wasd-type controls. So, for example, if you want to hook up iOS classic Temple Runner to be controlled by the movement of your chin, NOW YOU CAN! God, I really am treating you here as we get to about halfway down the fagend of the final Imperica Curios. You’re going to miss this, aren’t you? AREN’T YOU, YOU FCUKS? Hm, that might be the problem, on reflection.
  • Liverpool, A 15-Minute City: This isn’t the most compelling of sites, visually-speaking, but it’s a really interesting project, designed to see whether the concept of the ‘15-minute city’ – that is, an urban environment in which residents can have all of their major needs met (green space, food shopping, employment, etc) within a 15 minute distance of their home. As we adjust to the NEW NORMAL (oh come on, I’ve been really good about not using that phrase over the past few months, I’m entitled to a bit of laziness, surely?), this sort of consideration in urban planning will, one hopes, form the bedrock of civic development over the next few years. I think there’s a lot of potential for ideas that explore this in greater depth, and, for those of you who read Curios solely for concepts that you can take an apply to your dreadful clients, there are opportunities for smart thinking for certain large-scale businesses around retail, property and the like.
  • Objection!: Why not try responding to every work email you receive today with images from this Phoenix Wright ‘Objection!’ generator and seeing how long it takes you to get a talking to? Like this!
  • This Girl Makes: A project promoting craft and making amongst young women, which seems to have been on hiatus a bit during lockdown but which is A Good Thing and deserves a look, offering “practical workshops and DIY kits, as well as inspirational and informative talks. It cultivates a sense of community that offers skill sharing, confidence building and a sense of empowerment. We provide women and girls with therapeutic, but also constructive opportunities that nurture resilience and offer financial liberation.”
  • Lonely Mascots: The Atlantic, celebrating the happysadness of mascots in empty sports stadia, cavorting for an audience of precisely no fans. Although tbh I would imagine that plenty of mascots are quite happy not to have to deal with the drunken groping of several thousand p1ssheads who have all had the ENTIRELY UNIQUE idea that it would be hilarious to molest the man in the big dinosaur costume.
  • Suitbusters: This stuff – this is the very pulsing heart of Web Curios, maybe even its soul. Suitbusters is a YouTube channel whose sole purpose and concern is the desecration of suits. A man – it is always a man – with a beard wears a suit in a variety of scenarios, and the suit gets dirty. Sometimes with gunge, sometimes with mud, sometimes with ketchup and various other foodstuffs – but the suit always comes off worse. THIS HAS BEEN GOING ON FOR 8 YEARS. THERE ARE 51,000 SUBSCRIBERS. WHY??? I mean, let’s be clear, we all know why – this is a fetish corner of YouTube, one of those weird bits where the avowedly non-sexual content policy of the site gets circumvented by people whose tastes are so niche that they barely even qualify as sexual; I mean, I never really understood ‘sploshing’ as a thing, but I always assumed that participants were at least nude, but this? HOW DO YOU GET OFF ON THIS? I am not judging, to be clear – whatever floats your boat, especially when it seems as harmless (well, except to the threads) as this – but I am honestly incapable of understanding how one might experience an erotic frisson from watching an unremarkable-looking man wipe mustard on the lapels of a three-piece. God I love the web sometimes.
  • Potato News Today: Who wouldn’t want the ability to keep up with all of the world’s spud-facts? NO FCUKER, THAT’S WHO! You may not think that COVID has had an impact on the potato world, but you would be wrong – is there NO part of human life that it hasn’t affected. Damn virus.
  • Access Dots: There was a recent iOS update which added a feature whereby if apps access your phone’s camera or microphone, your phone alerts you to the fact; this does the same thing, but for Android devices. If you’re worried that THEY are spying on you, well, you’re probably right, but at least this way you can be certain.
  • The iPhone Photography Awards 2020: In previous years I’ve kvetched about phone photography awards being basically a bit of a swizz, what with all the automatic image enhancement jiggerypokery that all phones do these days (my Chinese surveillance device makes it practically impossible for me to take a bad photo, which makes me unaccountably really, really annoyed – I LIKE BEING SH1T AT PHOTOGRAPHY FFS, IT’S MY ‘THING’), but there are enough images in here that show genuine talent in terms of composition, etc, that means I will just shut my mouth and enjoy them. My favourite’s the one by Ekaterina Varzar, but they’re all wonderful.
  • The Fuzzies: Three weeks left on this one and it’s super-funded already, so you’re guaranteed to get the goods – The Fuzzies is a really simple, portable game that involves stacking up small, fuzzy, sticky balls until they all topple over. Which now I write it out sounds like the sh1ttest game ever, but I promise you that it looks like wholesome fun for all the family. Also, it reminded me an awful lot of this very old videogame, which is reason enough to recommend it.
  • Linkdrop: This is really, really useful, particularly if you’re the sort of internet browser who has a tendency to open 10million tabs and then just sort of get overwhelmed by them and decide to just abandon any attempt at reading the bloody things. Linkdrop lets you collate all your unread tabs into an email that will be sent to you at the time of your choosing, ideally when you have time to read the fcuking things. The added bonus of this is that you can use it to make Web Curios an infinitely-recursive experience which I am sure is what you are all crying out for.
  • Audiomass: This is a really, really good in-browser audio-editing tool. Seriously, it’s ace – I haven’t done audio editing since working at the BBC for the first time two decades ago (OH GOD SO MUCH PROMISE AND ALL FOR NAUGHT), but this enabled me to slip right back into it and create a sub-Cassetteboy clip of Boris Johnson promising to fist the nation with only a few minutes of clumsy dragging-and-dropping.
  • Hasbro’s YouTube Channel: THERE IS A LIVESTREAM OF THE GI JOE CARTOONS ON 24/7!! If that’s not enough to compel you to click, there is Transformers and My Little Pony and all sorts of other cartoons that you know you are far too old to enjoy without feeling a bit weird but which at the same time will provide the kind of emotional comfort blanket that you know that you increasingly can’t live without and which will go some way (but not quite enough) towards guarding against the increasingly sharp and jagged edges of reality.
  • Flight Simulator History: Microsoft Flight Simulator is one of the longest-running ‘games’ series in history – if you count ‘a meticulously-recreated realtime flight from London to Sydney’ as worthy of the term ‘game’. There’s a new version out now, apparently, with ULTRA-REALISTIC CLOUDS and quite possibly some spanking new tannoy announcements, but if you prefer your simulations slightly more blocky you might well like this site which offers the opportunity to play seemingly full versions of not one but FOUR past versions of Flight Simulator, specifically the ones from 1982/4/8/9. Being simulators, these are…quite hard; I spent 10m yesterday trying to do anything other than take off and then crash again immediately with no success whatsoever, but you may be a more committed pilot than I. Going back to 1982 is quite the thing – 40 years really is a lifetime in videogames.
  • Six Cats Under: This is gorgeous and whimsical and lovely, and you MUST play it. The premise is simple; you’re the ghost of an old lady, who must try and get the cats that she lived with to leave the house that she’s vacated. You do this by making things happen with your GHOSTLY PRESENCE – make clocks chime, apples fall off shelves, that sort of thing – but the joy here is in the animation and the way the puzzles stack to create lovely consequences. It’s not easy – you’ll need to do a lot of clicking around – but there are guides online if you get stuck, and it’s worth playing all the way through to enjoy the little gags and vignettes scattered throughout. Absolutely charming.
  • 5d Chess: Finally this week, this is a proper game which costs money, but I defy you to read the description and not be a little bit intrigued as to how ‘chess plus multidimensional time travel’ works as a game. Honestly, read the reviews, it is mind-melting – for less then a tenner, this will make you feel very, very stupid indeed (if you’re anything like me; if it doesn’t make you feel stupid, please keep it to yourself you disgusting genii).

By Paul Heyer

THE FINAL MUSICAL SELECTION OF WEB CURIOS ON IMPERICA IS ONE OF MY FAVOURITE ALBUMS – IT’S A WONDERFUL LIFE BY SPARKLEHORSE – WHICH I HOPE YOU ENJOY IF YOU DON’T KNOW IT ALREADY!

THE CIRCUS OF TUMBLRS!:

  • Maori Sakai: Only one Tumblr this week, but it’s a beauty – Maori Sakai is an artist who creates beautiful, hand-drawn animated gifs, like sketchbook elements come to life. I know this is an unspeakably-twee comparison, but do you remember how on early seasons of Bake Off they had these illustrations of what the cakes were meant to look like when they were being described at the beginning? Well they look like those. A bit.

THE TROUGH OF (INSTA) FEEDS!:

  • The Story Seed: I love this project; such a lovely idea. “Each week, three people are selected to write a ‘seed’ in less than 100 words, inspired by one image. In other words, three people are asked to interpret the story within the frame. Who are the characters? Where is the story set? What is the bigger picture? The image is then shared three times on Seed’s Instagram and website, captioned with the different interpretations, alongside crediting the three writers and the photographer.” The quality of the writing accompanying the images is…variable, but it’s always interesting to see the ways in which different imaginations take a single image.
  • Ross McSweeney: Hand-made kinetic wooden sculptures. I could watch these videos all day, SO SOOTHING.
  • Men in Gilets: Drawings of men in gilets. These are, artistically, far, far better than they need to be, and the sort of things which I could imagine being ironically displayed in exactly the sort of restaurant or pub that is frequented by the selfsame begileted men. I have one specific colleague who I hope reads this and feels very, very seen.

LONG THINGS WHICH ARE LONG (AND WHICH BY THE WAY THIS WEEK IS A PARTICULARLY STRONG SELECTION EVEN IF I DO SAY SO MYSELF)!:

  • Social Darwinism and Disease: Subtitled ‘From AIDS to COVID-19’, this is a superb essay which starts by looking back at the story of evolutionary biologist Bill Hamilton, and his attempt to prove the (since debunked) theory that the AIDS virus was first propagated amongst humans as a result of organ harvesting of chimpanzees in pursuit of a polio vaccine; it goes on to look at how Hamilton’s theories and writings were in many respects Trojan Horses for his other unsavoury, racist beliefs about eugenics and the like, and how his work effectively advocated for the systematic winnowing out of the ‘weak and undesirable’, masquerading as concern for the potential Malthusian side-effects of improvements in disease control in the developing world. The article goes on to draw parallels between this and the laissez-faire reactions to COVID advocated by notable right-wingers worldwide (ring any bells); honestly, this is SUCH a good piece of writing, packed with erudition, and worth showing to anyone who believes that wearing a mask is somehow an attack on one’s liberties and freedoms. It’s quite possible that they’re focusing their conspiracising in the wrong place.
  • Show Me How To Say No: As Elon Musk burbles on nonsensically about how his embryonic Neuralink technology will be able to mess with our brains in exciting and fun and emotion-inducing ways, a useful corrector in Nautilus magazine which looks at some of the actual science behind the way in which attraction, love and the like actually work (insofar as we’re able to determine this; of all the black boxes we are so obsessed with, the brain continues to be one of the more inscrutable). The piece examines current cutting-edge therapies designed to help patients get over (personal, romantic) trauma, and argues that there is benefit in exploring neuropharmacological routes to therapy in specific areas relating to romantic attachment; I don’t know if I like this, but it’s certainly fascinating.
  • Everything I Googled In a Week: Caity Weaver is a Style reporter at the NYT; this GDoc is her record of all the things that she looked up on Google or Wikipedia over a one-week period, in part annotated with explanations as to what she was looking for, along with anecdotes and memories that each search and resultant piece(s) of information threw up. This is quite, quite wonderful, both just in terms of being properly interesting but also as an exploration of the way Google works with our brains; the sort of cyborg-y augmentation that we now all have access to, and how that works to make connections and unearth memories and develop thoughts and throughlines and theories that couldn’t possibly have existed without the semi-serendipitous magic of The Algo. I would read this every week without fail; honestly, in the unlikely event that anyone who’s in any way important at a newspaper ever sees this, this is such a superb idea for a weekly column, rotating between contributors (you can have that for free).
  • Virtual Hajj: Pilgrims around the world are this year having to find alternative ways of completing the journey to Mecca – this article takes a (largely factual) look at some of the means that are being deployed, and the people building virtual pilgrimage experiences for the faithful to express their devotion safely in the time of COVID. To be honest, I’m including it mainly for this line, which in a particularly Gibsonian year is SUCH a Gibsonian concept: “The iUmrah.World app lets users find and pay for proxies in Saudi Arabia who under Islamic law can complete umrah on their behalf, said founder and Chief Executive Ahmed Alhaddad. The proxies live stream their journeys and the tasks they complete in Mecca to iUmrah customers.”
  • The Bangladesh Economy Runs on Facebook: Or, “Why you can’t escape Facebook and Zuckerberg’s Not Going Anywhere Yet”. It’s always slightly annoying to me that people in the US and UK forget that Facebook’s main markets are no longer these territories – far more important to the company are the millions of people in second-world markets, for whom Facebook provides the base-level infrastructure for things like e-commerce that simply didn’t exist before it arrived and which might not still exist without it. This article (from the increasingly-essential ‘Rest of World’ magazine, which has been consistently excellent since launching and you really ought to sub to) looks at the specific case of how essential Facebook is (Pages, Groups, streaming, Messenger, the whole package) to individual small businesses in Bangladesh; there’s some vague noise in there about the potential threat posed by Amazon to Facebook’s dominance in markets such as these, but I’m not 100% certain than Amazon can compete with the hugely personal presence that Facebook affords, which I get the feeling might be culturally significant. Fascinating (even if you don’t do advermarketingpr for a living).
  • Digital Currency in Brazil: Another ‘Rest of World’ piece, this time looking at how digital currency Mumbuca is being used in Brazil to support local economies at a district / neighbourhood level, and how it’s effectively being deployed as a trial run for a degree of Universal Basic Income for the poorest in society. I get the impression that there are probably a few more counterarguments to this than the piece makes clear, but it’s hard to read this and not think that it sounds like a system worth investigating.
  • Photogrammetry in Journalism: An NYT piece which explores how 3d models of interiors could be used for improved storytelling. This is basically your next Snowfall trend; no bad thing, as the article demonstrates. There’s a LOT you can do with this sort of stuff, and it’s worth reading if you’ve any interest (professional or otherwise) in how you can tell better stories set in a defined physical space.
  • MSCHF: As regular readers will know, I’ve had something of a crush on MSCHF since I first became aware of their work a couple of years ago (ish), not least because their job literally just seems to be ‘let’s come up with ideas for stuff that the internet will like, some of which we will sell for actual cashmoney’. I have always wondered, though, how they subsist, and how the whole thing works, and, well, where some of the money has come from. This piece explains some of that – it’s a bit of a hagiography, though in fairness their performance (at least in hype terms) has earned it, and doesn’t seem to ask the questions that spring immediately to mind. Like, for example, HOW THE HELL DID YOU RAISE VC MONEY FOR THIS?!?! Don’t get me wrong – I appreciate that this stuff is not easy, and there’s no way in hell I would have been able to come up with 99% of the stuff they’ve done – but I’ve also got no idea how you manage to go into a VC (I’ve met and worked with VCs – they are…not sentimental, in the main) with a pitch that basically amounts to ‘yeah, we’ll just make cool hypey stuff and sell some of it’ and give them the 10x exit erection that they so crave. What I’m basically saying here is that there’s a whiff of ‘someone else’s money from the outset’ about this. Does that make me bitter and jealous? It does, doesn’t it? FFS.
  • YouTube’s Psychic Wounds: Nicholson Baker was very much a feted novelist a few decades back and then, well, he wasn’t; I can’t remember what it was that set the court of public opinion against him, though it might have been some quite creepy sex in a lot of his novels (infamous ‘freeze time for secret w4nks’ extravaganza ‘The Fermata’, I’m looking at YOU!), but I’ve not seen him commissioned by a glossy for years before this piece. Which is a shame, because he’s an excellent writer, and this essay, about the beauty and wonder and horror of YouTube in all its many manifestations, is quite wonderful. Someone should show him TikTok, he will die.
  • The 40 Hottest Women In Tech: Brilliant essay by Luke Winkie, who many years ago back on the content farms wrote a piece he knew was skeezy, titled, ‘The 40 Hottest Women in Tech’. The internet reacted predictably, and Luke had quite the time of it; this essay looks back at that from a safe distance, and reflects on what it’s like to be the author of something objectively terrible that everyone hates. It’s funny and honest, and it’s funny(ish) to look back at a particular era of the web when people thought they could still get away with this stuff. It’s also instructive in the context of ‘CANCEL CULTURE’ – Luke was a pariah for a while, but wasn’t in fact ‘cancelled’ at all for writing the rubbish he did, and it’s worth reflecting on next time someone’s screeching about having their ‘freedom of speech’ curtailed; nah mate, it’s just that you’re enjoying other people exercising their freedom of speech and calling you a cnut and telling you your opinions stink.
  • The History of Big Mouth Billy Bass: This is so, so much better than it needed to be – an oral history of the world’s favourite (er, only?) singing, plastic, wall-mounted fish. So many great, great lines – the guy from the Soprano nakedly hoping this article’s going to be a passport back to relevance is one, but also this particular detail just slew me for some reason: “My dad had one. He had it engraved. He was so proud of it. He ordered it off a late-night infomercial because he was an insomniac. The engraving said, “Mamoo Booz killed me. Ho ho ho.” Mamoo was his nickname because his brother couldn’t pronounce his name when he was a kid. That was also his stage name when he was a clown, “Mamoo the Clown.” He passed when I was 17 and I had the fish for a while, but I just recently threw it out.” Poetry.
  • I Hold A Wolf By The Ears: An extract from the forthcoming collection of the same title, this short story is set against the backdrop of last year’s Bret Kavanaugh hearings in the US, telling the story of a husband and wife and their relationship and…oh, look, just read it, it’s really good.
  • Revision is my God: If you’ve read Web Curios for any length of time, it’s probably occurred to you that I don’t really (read: at all) edit my writing – it’s not so much writing as typing (thanks, Truman!), top to bottom and then fired off into the digital ether. It’s always been this way, from school to university and even now at work; I have an aversion to rereading my own prose, at least critically, which is why I have singularly failed to improve or develop as a writer despite a frankly prodigious output (in wordcount at least). This is a wonderful essay by Meaghan O’Connell, in which she writes about the painful beauty of revision and how polishing, reshaping and occasionally amputating chunks of your prose can be as satisfying as the act of writing it in the first place. Maybe one day I’ll learn (I won’t, I am far too lazy and self-satisfied).
  • Who Am I Prepared To Kill?: READ THIS PLEASE. An absolutely superb piece of writing, on the danger of binary reductivism in politics and life in general, and on the consequences of a society that has flattened debate and question into a ‘like’ or ‘dislike’ either/or. William Davies writes beautifully; this is such a well-argued, well-structured piece of writing which is, to my mind, the smartest summary of what is wrong with how we approach ‘debate’ or the concept of ‘sides’ in the online era.
  • Waste Away: An essay about modern Lebanon, and poverty and class and money and development and, well, sh1t. The best piece of writing you will read all year, by Lina Mounser, that features faeces as a central theme (but please don’t let that put you off).
  • Lacework: This is part essay, part artwork; on opening the page, you’ll want to minimise the video on the right-hand side of the screen and read the copy; you can then reopen the artwork by clicking ‘maximise’ in the bottom right (or, you know, you can do what you like, I’m not the boss of you, etc etc). Both the essay and the art are beautiful – Lacework “is a project by Everest Pipkin that uses artificial neural networks to reinscribe the videos of MIT’s Moments in Time Dataset. Using algorithms that stretch time and add details to images, Pipkin creates a series of hallucinatory slow-motion vignettes from the videos of everyday actions that form the collection.” The essay describes Pipkin’s experience of watching this seemingly-infinite stream of humanity, possibly the first human ever to pay such close attention to imagery that was collated first and foremost to train machines, and how we should characterise such imagery and…look, just read and watch, this is quite, quite beautiful.
  • Feeling Bullish: Last up in the long reads, this is very long but is by quite some way the best piece of the week and possibly the best thing I have read all year. Rebekah Frumkin writes about her Great Uncle Sidney, an American who became a matador and befriended Hemingway. Sidney was also gay, and the essay, which starts as a biography of her (remarkable, charismatic, fascinating) uncle, becomes much more than that, a meditation on queerness and identity and a surprising rereading of Hemingway, and, look, this is the best way you can possibly spend an hour this afternoon other than maybe taking drugs and having sex, so if those aren’t options available to you then please, please read this, it is spectacularly good.

By Matt Bollinger

AND NOW, MOVING PICTURES AND SOUNDS!:

  1. Rob Manuel’s Longwave project has a video! If, per the last link, you are in fact able to take some drugs now, I suggest doing so and settling down in front of this; the music is genuinely great, and the visuals – compiled from all over the place – fit perfectly. Get yourself a beanbag and skin up, go on (it probably won’t go so well with gak, if I’m honest):

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  1. This reminded me quite a lot of the Boo Radleys and other bands of that time / ilk, and the video is pleasingly sunshiney – this is The Magic Gang, with ‘Make Time For Change’:

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  1. Future Islands, now, with ‘For Sure’ – this is a cracking song (and the video is animated, which blew my mind slightly):

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  1. This is ‘Ferris Wheel’ by Sylvan Esso, which reminds me an awful lot of Moloko which is no bad thing at all:

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  1. I’m not generally in the market for Yo Yo Ma – I’m just not really a cello kind of person, turns out – but this track, by Rhiannon Giddens with Ma accompanying, is a brilliant record and I quite want to listen to it all the time. Beautiful, beautiful song – it’s called ‘Build A House’:

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  1. Chuck the resolution on this up to 4k, put it on the biggest screen you can find and ENJOY – oh, and listen to the audio too, the foley work here is astonishingly good. It’s called ‘Transfiguration’:

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  1. Finally this week – and THE LAST EVER VIDEO TO BE INCLUDED IN THIS PARTICULAR INCARNATION OF WEB CURIOS!! – this feels like an appropriate note to end on. When I started doing this here in 2013, I genuinely couldn;t have imagined where we’d be in 2020. And yet, here we are. This is called ‘I Will Not Cease From Mental Fight’, by Shardcore – enjoy, but, most of all, thankyou so, so much for reading this rubbish, if ever you did. I hope to be back doing it again at some point, somewhere. I LOVE YOU ALL SO MUCH:

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Webcurios 17/07/20

Reading Time: 16 minutes

Blah blah blah week blah blah blah.

We have some HOUSEKEEPING to take care of.

Point the first: I am off next week due to having STUFF TO DO that is going to keep me offline for two whole days (unconscionable, I know). You will have to find a way of consoling yourselves in my absence; I am told PCP is ‘similarly engaging’.

Point the second: there is a BRAND NEW issue of Imperica Magazine out RIGHT NOW, featuring the usual smorgasbord of new writing from often-previously-unheard-voices, on a range of topics as diverse as they are. Interesting, erudite and CHEAP at just three quid for an awful lot of reading material.

Point the third – AS OF 31 JULY THIS IS ALL OVER. Publisher Paul has decided, as is well within his right, that he can no longer shoulder the burden of *gestures at the infrastructure* all this, and as such the website and magazine will shut down at the end of the month. You can read more about that here, should you so wish. All of which means that I currently have NO IDEA what is happening with Curios, so, er, anyone who wants to offer me an unconscionable sum to do this with YOUR branding all over it (or, perhaps more sensibly, with your competitors’ branding all over it!) then do hit me up.

Anyway, for the PENULTIMATE EVER TIME ON THIS URL, I am Matt, this is Web Curios, and I neither know nor care who you are because this has always, exclusively, been for me. See you in two weeks for what I imagine might be a slightly emotional last ever Imperica.

By Felicia Chiao

LET’S KICK OFF THIS WEEK WITH A NEW ALL-VINYL MIX BY WESTCOUNTRY CRATEDIGGER THOMAS ‘DAPWEARER’ SPOONER, FULL OF OLD BLUES AND SOUL AND OTHER STUFF!

THE SECTION WHICH WOULD LIKE TO SUGGEST THAT IF YOU’RE IN THE UNFORTUNATE POSITION OF HAVING TO CARE ABOUT THE STUFF ABOUT S*C**L M*D** THAT SITS AT THE TOP OF CURIOS YOU MIGHT WANT TO SIGN UP TO MATT NAVARRA’S WEEKLY UPDATE OF NEWS AS IT’S MARGINALLY MORE COMPREHENSIVE AND CONTAINS LESS OF A SUBTEXTUAL IMPLICATION THAT YOUR JOB IS POINTLESS AND THAT YOUR EMPLOYER AND CLIENTS ARE MORONS (IT IS AND THEY ARE):

  • Facebook To Add Licensed Music Videos (In US) (Soon): Artists on Facebook in the US will as of next month be able to add official music videos to their profile JUST LIKE IT’S YOUTUBE! Except it won’t be, it will be Facebook, and thus in all likelihood it will be horrible and a bit unfun; that, though, won’t stop this probably doing quite well. Why? DATA! SO MUCH DATA! Given the fact that all music now is generated by an algorithm which determines its suitability for TikToks (probably), it seems likely that layering the rich, deep, mulchy datasets that Facebook has on each and every one of us over the types of music we like to consume (and how, and where), it’s not surprising that record labels, artists and brands would welcome the opportunity to learn more about exactly the sort of music that, say, 22 year old meme fans from Carlisle like to listen to at 11am. Coming to the rest of the world with tedious predictability…soonish, I’d imagine, though there’s no information beyond this broad speculation available at present.
  • Gmail’s Going To Become Slack (Basically): Oh God it’s a SLOW news week and, honestly, I don’t really care about the fact that Gmail’s going to integrate all sorts of existing GSuite gubbins into its next update. All you need to know is that there’s an update coming, it will let you do a bunch of stuff that you can already do in Slack, Teams et al, and it’s yet another nail in the coffin of the idea that work might one day stop rather than just following you around wherever you go, ‘efficiently’ insinuating itself into every spare waking second of your life like so much evil grouting inbetween the tiles of your soul.
  • It’s Now Easier To Add Multiple Photos To Reddit Posts: “Reddit’s new image galleries will now allow you to post up to 20 images or GIFs on a single post with support for multiple videos in a post coming “soon after launch,” according to Reddit. Any community can enable the Image Gallery feature, but community moderators will need to opt in to allow their members to use it.” There is going to be a lot more bongo, is my HOT TAKE on this.
  • A Guide To Marketing On Pinterest: I have, for several years now, been writing stuff like ‘you really ought to be doing more stuff on Pinterest if you sell domestic-type goods to people’; finally, some practical guidance as to what that might in fact mean! This is a guide to Pinterest by Pinterest, and as such it’s possibly a touch more convinced of the innate benefits of the platform than a more objective assessment might be; still, as an overview of what you can do on the platform and to what end, it’s pretty decent. As a general point, it’s really nice to see a platform produce its own, high-quality how-to guides in simple, readable fashion – more of this stuff, please.
  • Spotify Launches Podcast Charts: To be honest, there aren’t even any real brand implications for this (other than ‘this makes it easier for people to find podcasts by topic, and means that you really should ensure that you put your podcasts on Spotify as well as all the other places’), but I’m including it mainly as my friend Rich always complains he never knows where to find new podcasts and I thought he might find this useful (personal service, right there).
  • The State of Public Relations: Feel free to read this headline out with whichever emphasis you think best fits the context (for the avoidance of doubt, though, I am placing the stress very much on the second word here). This report – the annual one by one of the industry trade bodies, examining the industry’s navel and picking out the malodorous lint from it so we can all have a good old gawp – floated across my field of vision this week and made me quite annoyed, specifically the statistic about the lack of ethnic diversity in the profession. For those of you unaware, I nominally ‘earn’ my living working at the edges of PR; I have worked in/with quite a few PR agencies, small and THE BIGGEST IN THE WORLDZzzzzzzz, I know lots of people who work in the industry, and, look, let’s be honest – PR’s not where the world’s best and brightest end up (nb – which is why I ended up there; I’m under no illusions on this score, trust me). It’s mainly the home for middle-class arts graduates who don’t really know what they want to do with themselves but have a vague idea that ‘the media’ or ‘entertainment’ or ‘the creative industries’ is a fun bucket to end up in and so TO THE PRESS RELEASES, THOMAS!! CAN EVERYONE STOP HIRING MEDIOCRE WHITE PEOPLE PLEASE? Given we can all see that current hiring practices – to whit, ‘hiring people who look and sound exactly like the people doing the hiring’ – isn’t exactly creating hives of brilliance and intellectual acuity, why not try making an effort not to hire blond people from West London who have decided to get into PR because ‘after three years of being a playwright, it’s just not working out and I need to start earning some money’ (this is, I promise, an example drawn from life FFS)? Did you know that before working in comms I had never met anyone who wore a signet ring, and didn’t even know what one was? Do you know how many I’ve met in the past 20 years? CAN EVERYONE IN PR STOP BEING A POSH, SLIGHTLY-STUPID WASTE OF FLESH PLEASE? Thanks everyone!
  • The Roger: This is childish, fine, but I am including a link to this site partly because it’s quite slick and shiny but mainly because it is called The Roger. It’s the launch site for some new footwear collab between everyone’s favourite Swiss tennis machine Roger Federer and…some Swiss brand, and it’s VERY swish (unintentional), featuring all sorts of multimedia content about The Roger (for that is the name of both the man and the shoe, DO YOU SEE??) including lots of soft-focus interview content about his life, some slightly-inexplicable chat about design and creativity between Federer and KAWS, a bit of hi-tech remote tennis play, and lots of stuff about how amazing this shoe is. But, well, it’s called ‘The Roger’, and there is no way in hell you can make that sound cool, I’m sorry, no matter how much of Federer’s massive alpine face you feature throughout.
  • The Museum of Tires: As I laboured (ha! ‘Laboured’! Like I did anything other than phone in the work as per usual!) this week on a piece of new business that, as per usual, demanded that you achieve what is practically alchemy in exchange for some slightly-ropey looking beans, I stumbled across this site and, as often happens in cases such as this, wondered who the fcuk it was that signed off the dev cost on this. Vredestein is a brand which you may well be familiar with but which I had never encountered before – they make tires! Performance tires! And they really like them, so much so that they have created this virtual museum of, er, tires! There’s a COUNTDOWN TO THE EXPERIENCE, and then BAM! You’re immersed in a world of, er, tires! There’s some CG and some stirring music, and then you’re taken through what is basically a 3d representation of a not particularly exciting museum that tells you about, er, tires! All with a bloodless voiceover delivered in a tone one can imagine accompanying your organs being harvested for testing by a sinister team of alien biologists. As ever with these things, I am baffled at who thought this was a good use of money but also very, very glad that it exists and that someone got paid to make it.

By Jesse Howard

NEXT, PRETEND YOU ARE 14 AGAIN WITH THIS ANTHOLOGY COLLECTION OF CLASSIC EMO (BUT NO SELF-HARMING PLEASE!)!

THE SECTION WHICH WOULD LIKE TO REMIND YOU ALL THAT IF YOU LIKE SOMETHING IN THE MEDIA THEN YOU PROBABLY OUGHT TO PAY FOR IT IN SOME WAY IF YOU WOULD LIKE IT TO CONTINUE EXISTING, PT.1:

  • You Need Iceland: This is very good indeed, and I like it a lot, but it’s also a rehash of at least one, possibly two, projects from about ten years ago which I have repeatedly used as examples of stuff which clients ought to steal and which noone has ever listened to me about, and therefore I can’t help but be slightly bitter about the fact that I FOUND THE CONCH (or something). You Need Iceland is a project by the Iceland tourist board, part of the same activation which saw them do the ‘Google Streetview but powered by real people’ stunt at the top of lockdown (SO LONG AGO) – the central conceit is that everyone is stressed out and needs some sort of release after 5 months of ALL THIS, and what better way to achieve that than by screaming into your laptop or phone and then having that scream broadcast across the Icelandic landscape from a series of speakers placed around the island? Choose where you want to scream, tap the button and CATHART YOUR LUNGS OUT whilst looking out over the fjords! This is such a nice idea – simple, cheap, speaks to a simple emotional truth (we are all miserable and frustrated) and clearly demonstrates the product benefit (Iceland is massive and there’s noone there and if you want to scream into the void then PLEASE COME AND VISIT US!), and it’s a lot of fun. If nothing else it’s worth keeping it open somewhere in the background, as I am currently doing – having your work interrupted at random by someone yodelling, as happened approximately 90s ago, is surprisingly pleasant.
  • Super You: This is hugely-reminiscent of a piece of CG that did really good numbers a few years back, in which an animator presented a series of humanoid figures composed of various materials and shapes, all running and walking across the screen – effectively this is an AR toy (for iOS) which does the same thing; point it at a human figure, tell it which effect you want it to apply, and BANG! Your subject is transformed from person into, er, a pile of ambulant boxes, say, or a weird echidna-robot. You can, obviously, export all of this for use in other apps, so grab this now before everyone else does and we all get bored of the FX; with the right editing I think there are quite a few decent visual gags you can do here, not least the potential for novel spins on TikTok memes featuring post-drop transformations and the like.
  • Lipsync With Google: Or, ‘Train The AI To Lipread’! Still, this is fun, so let’s ignore the fact that we’re once again working for free to train a multi-billion dollar business’ software. Lipsync is a new Google experiment thingy, which aims to track your mouth movements to see how well you’re delivering the lyrics to a bunch of contemporary(ish) tracks. This is really smart – it’s fun, it’s simple, it taps into the contemporary obsession with lipsync performance…oh, and, yes, it’s all adding data to the machine to make it better at interpreting the different ways in which people shape sounds with their mouths. I was absolutely terrible at this, but I’m putting that down to the fact that I was so discomfited by seeing my own slightly-too-plastic face contorting itself whilst ‘singing’ (and the fact that, er, I didn’t know any of the songs); have a go and see how you get on.
  • Acute Art: I’m surprised that I’ve not featured this before; Acute Art is the inevitable shiny, high-end artworld take on AR for the visual arts; whilst you have Snap democratising the whole thing, this is very much at the other end of the spectrum, with bespoke creations in conjunction with some of the fine art world’s biggest names. “Acute Art collaborates with the world’s leading contemporary artists, providing access to cutting-edge technologies that allow them to translate their creative vision into new digital mediums – including virtual, augmented and mixed realities.” So you get Eliasson, Christo (RIP), that cnut Anish Kapoor…you get the idea, it’s very much a smorgasbord of Frieze-class talent, all of whom have created bespoke experiences to be enjoyed within the Acute Art app. The thing is, though, that all the work is…not particularly interesting; there’s a slight issue, to my mind, with this AR stuff, in that the output isn’t actually that impressive. Once you’ve got over the initial excitement of ‘here’s a CG depiction of something which is hovering as a digital layer over the real world as seen through the screen of my device!’, there’s not a fat lot else left other than some sub-videogame CG and animation which clips awkwardly through the furniture, and I struggle to see much in the way of high concept in any of this other than ‘hey, wouldn’t it be neat if you could have a digital…thing floating in the sky?’. Oh, I don’t know, maybe I’m being grumpy, see what you think.
  • The Bitcoin Address: Silly and pointless, but also quite instructive – this is a website set up at the url of the Bitcoin wallet address used by the hackers that took over blue tick Twitter this week (it’s totally legit, despite the dodgy-looking url, promise), using the wallet string as the address (you’ll see what I mean when you click). On landing on the page you get a little PSA telling you that the wallet thing was a scam, but you can also see the Page’s analytics – at the time of writing, 7,500 people have visited this site in around 72h, which may not sound a lot but, honestly, to get that many people to a dodgy-looking url with no publicity and nothing to do when they get there is…impressive, to my mind. It made me think that there’s actually not a terrible play here in terms of buying news-adjacent urls and using them to drop cookies on people or collect email addresses. Christ, I hate myself.
  • Unwoke: Bit conflicted about including this one, but fcuk it. ‘Unwoke’ is a site which appeared this week as a jobs board for people who are sick of what they perceive to be the STALINIST THOUGHT POLICING of the modern left, and the insistence of some sections of society to look down on others for such perfectly normal, healthy and blameless behaviours like, I don’t know, casual racism and sexism and misogyny and stuff. Do YOU feel that modern society has gone TOO FAR in its demands that you treat others with base-level kindness and respect and consideration? Are YOU feeling marginalised in your current place of employment because of colleagues’ insistence that you not demonstrate obvious disdain for specific groups or categories of people? POOR YOU! Get on Unwoke, then, and advertise yourself as a dreadful cnut who wants a new job! I don’t think this is entirely serious – I mean, the site works and all the rest, but it feels to me more like someone MAKING A THING as part of the culture wars rather than an actual site anyone actually thinks will get traction (I mean, look: “Hire courageous, free thinking and freedom loving individuals. Not ideologues whose only agenda is to weaponize your brand and business to further a radical cause.” – that can’t be serious, can it?) – but it’s a touch miserable nonetheless. It wouldn’t 100% surprise me if this turned out to be a marketing thing by Alex Jones or somesuch fcuker, using this as a means to find more people to attempt to shill Brain Force to.
  • This Pony Does Not Exist: My Little Ponies, as imagined by GAN! Even better, none of them appear to be Nazis! This is A N Other variant on all those other ‘this X does not exist’ sites that you’ve all seen before, but this is particularly nicely-done in that it allows you to fiddle with the parameters a bit and see how that affects the sorts of faces the machine generates. Chuck the sliders all the way up to ‘chaotic’ and witness some very sketchy creations indeed.
  • Cubechat: I don’t think that there’s any point me trying to come up with a better one-line description for this service than that which the website offers: “You are a cube, and you can move around and talk with other cubes like at an in-person party.” Who doesn’t want to be a cube? NO FCUKER, that’s who! This is not 100% unlike something I featured in March, which let you wander round ‘rooms’ in a top-down view, with voicechat options determined by your proximity in digital space to other users; there are lots of fun features, though, including conversation ‘bubbles’ to allow for closed chat, the ability for all-user screensharing, and, er, jumping and lasers. Honestly, it’s unlikely to ever be something you use professionally, but as a way of making your team meeting (for upto 16 people) marginally-less soul-destroying, this isn’t bad at all.
  • Download and Save Your TikToks: It’s fair to say that TikTok’s not having a great month, what with the ban in India and the ban-ish noises coming from the US, and the fact that it’s a proxy in a much bigger international conversation about East/West power and control, and Facebook about to launch its TikTok clone Reels to audiences around the world (probably). I’m still pretty bullish on TikTok, which almost certainly dooms it to near-future obsolescence, but if you’re a little more scared that it might vanish without warning at some point soon then you might want to get involved with this site, which rips and saves all your TikToks as video files so they don’t go the way of all the Vines (RIP).
  • The Atlas of Surveillance: “The Atlas of Surveillance is a database of the surveillance technologies deployed by law enforcement in communities across the United States. This includes drones, body-worn camera, automated license plate readers, facial recognition, and more. This research was compiled by more than 500 students and volunteers and incorporates datasets from a variety of public and non-profit sources…Through a combination of crowdsourcing and data journalism, we are creating the largest-ever repository of information on which law enforcement agencies are using what surveillance technologies. The aim is to generate a resource for journalists, academics, and, most importantly, members of the public to check what’s been purchased locally and how technologies are spreading across the country.” This is quite incredible, not only as a resource for journalists and academics but as a visualisation of the extent of surveillance tech across the US. Check out the map, have a bit of an explore, and then remember that the UK is by many measures quite a way out in front as one of the most surveilled nations in the world, outside of China. SMILE!!
  • Docs Plus: This is – FULL DISCLOSURE – a project by a friend of mine, but it’s very smart and I would include it even if it weren’t, so there. Docs Plus is basically a bit like Google Docs, insofar as it’s a collaborative, cloud-based document writing platform with all the usual gubbins; what makes it HUGELY interesting is the integration of videochat into the document. Any doc created within docs plus can have a multiple number of video chats going on within it – any piece of text assigned as a ‘Heading’ will offer users the opportunity to jump into a discrete, isolated chat instance attached to that heading – so, for example, if you were working collaboratively on a document you could have separate, concurrent video/voice chats on each chapter to discuss structure, contents, etc. It’s still a bit rough, and you’ll need to get in touch with the creators for full access, but it’s SO clever – as a tool for meetings, brainstorms, events, it’s got huge potential. Simple, clean and easy to use, this is really worth a look if my hamfisted description made any sense to you.
  • Reddit Title Scraper: A little tool that lets you analyse individual subReddits to see which words tend to appear most frequently in the post popular threads. If nothing else it’s interesting to point this at some of the more bongo-oriented subs to see just how unoriginal language can get.
  • Gatitos Gorditos: Ordinarily ‘it has cats in it!’ is not a strong enough argument for inclusion in Curios, however much my girlfriend might protest; on this occasion, though, I am including this Twitter feed (which is basically just cat photos) entirely because of its name (basically, ‘fat little cats’ in Spanish) and the fact that reading out the captions in (what if I interrogate myself properly is probably a moderately-offensive) cod-spanish has made me laugh more than almost anything else I’ve seen this week (I am so tired).
  • Kickback: Or, Pyramid Shopping! This is the latest app to employ the waitlist trick of artificially building buzz around its launch; you can download it, but access is via an invite code only and those appear to be in short supply. Still, the premise is easy enough to understand; you sign up and you can shop through the app with big name brands much as you can do elsewhere; the gimmick, though, is that you can earn cashback on your purchases (seemingly easy to access and cash out on via PayPal) when your ‘friends’ sign up to the app and make purchases on it – LITERALLY A PYRAMID SCHEME! Still, in an era in which I have seen SO MUCH scam-selling on Facebook – seriously, there was a fcuking black garlic pyramid scam the other day, which strikes me as…niche – this feels like it might be destined to do rather well. DON’T FALL FOR IT IT IS A FCUKING TRAP, is my advice.
  • Just For Fun: This is a lovely little site, collecting a bunch of small codegames, a few of which have been in Curios before but lots of which were new to me. Lots of fun, and the sort of thing which is definitely worth bookmarking under ‘stuff to click on when I simply can’t feign interest in whichever made-up version of ‘strategy’ we’re currently pretending is the right one’.
  • The Promo for Sneakers: This is a brilliant time capsule. Sneakers was a 92 film that was about crime and HACKING and which, as part of its press kit, featured a FLOPPY DISC which contained all sorts of information for hacks about the film, delivered in a way which in 1992 was basically one step removed from playing the entire movie on a Cray Supercomputer or something. The press kit itself is a bit rudimentary – there wasn’t a lot of multimedia in 1992 – but it’s a wonderful bit of storytelling/worldbuilding creativity.
  • Too Long, Didn’t Listen: Podcasts are GREAT (so I am told), but, also, a cripplingly-inefficient way of finding out anything at all; I DON’T HAVE TIME TO LISTEN TO YOU FFS JUST TELL ME THE USEFUL STUFF. This app aims to solve that problem, offering you the audio equivalent of those services which used to exist in the 90s and offered you the chance to imbibe the timeless wisdom of the latest business guru tomes in handy five-page summaries (IMAGINE what the modern-day equivalent would be like! Take a moment to contemplate the majesty of ‘GaryVee for Dummies’ – it’s quite the astonishing mental image) – instead of summary pamphlets, though, this is basically a podcast discovery and sharing service, with the added benefit of being able to ‘bookmark’ the podcasts so you can effectively create highlight reels of the best/most ‘inspiring’ content. This is almost certainly hugely useful if you’re a heavy listener, and probably doesn’t deserve to be described as poorly as I just have.
  • Comet Neowise: It’s nice every now and again just to pause for a moment and take a look at some photographs of nature being spectacular; although at the same time, given the progress of 2020 to date, it’s hard not to look at these and in the back of one’s mind flash back to Day of the Triffids and other such novels of comet-y horror. Still, probably all fine and this is very unlikely to be a harbinger of alien deathinvaders!

By Alex Colville


Webcurios 10/07/20

Reading Time: 36 minutes

CAN EVERYONE STOP SHOUTING AT EACH OTHER PLEASE?

Sorry, I appreciate that typing that in all caps does rather render me a crushing hypocrite, but, well, really. Could we all just please be quiet please and accept the fact that the overriding principle of life ought to be something along the lines of ‘do not be a cnut’ and that as long as you stick that – whatever side of whatever argument you’re on, in the main – you’ll probably be fine?

What? That’s not something we can all do? WHY THE FCUK NOT? WHAT’S SO HARD ABOUT NOT BEING A CNUT? God, it’s enough to make me all angry and shouty, I tell you.

Anyway, it’s been another week is about the best I can say. The sun is now shining, so I’m off to try and get some of it on my increasingly papery and tired-looking skin before it disappears beneath the steel-grey cloudcover once again, perhaps forever; you, though, stay right here and read the words and click the links like you’re supposed to (I will know if you don’t).

I am still Matt, this is still Web Curios, and the worst thing about almost everything in the world is still people.

***NB THERE IS GOING TO BE A NEW IMPERICA MAGAZINE OUT SOON FEATURING YET MORE BRAND NEW CUTTING EDGE CONTEMPORARY WRITING FROM NEW VOICES ABOUT ALL SORTS OF INTERESTING THINGS AND IF YOU WOULD LIKE TO SUPPOTR THIS SORT OF SMALL PUBLISHING ENDEAVOUR THEN YOU COULD DO WORSE THAN CHECKING OUT THE CURRENT EDITION OF THE MAGAZINE WHICH YOU CAN BUY HERE FOR WHAT IS LITERALLY THE PRICE OF A FROTHY COFFEE!***

Part of The Mask Project

LET’S KICK OFF WITH AN HOUR OF ENNIO MORRICONE, RIP!

THE SECTION WHICH IS QUITE LOOKING FORWARD TO THE FORTHCOMING SLEW OF ADVERTS FOR, SAY, YOUR LOCAL KEBAB SHOP ON TIKTOK AND GENUINELY FEELS THIS COULD USHER IN A NEW GOLDEN AGE FOR WEIRD ADS (OR THAT IT WILL ALTERNATIVELY SIMPLY LEAD TO A LOT OF POORLY-SHOT VERTICAL PROMOS FOR LOCAL BUSINESSES WHICH DRIP WITH WHAT I BELIEVE THE CHILDREN THESE DAYS CALL ‘CHAOTIC ENERGY’):

  • TikTok Ads For Everyone!: Conveniently-timed to coincide with the Facebook ads boycott (on which note, want to know how much that’s hurting Facebook at present? Checked its share price recently?), TikTok this week has finally made its self-serve ad platform available to everyone. You don’t need a TikTok account to buy ads, the interface looks and feels an awful lot like LinkedIn’s ad manager crossed with an early version of Facebook’s, and it’s a bit clunky overall, but it works perfectly well. The targeting options aren’t a patch on Facebook’s granularity, obvs, but it’s worth digging in and seeing what’s available; there’s lots of stuff around app-based targeting based on the types of app people like, similar options around sport and gaming, but very little on things like life-stage status, etc. Also, targeting at the moment in the UK is restricted to a broad nation-level range of options, with no city-level granularity as yet. Custom and lookalike audiences are all up and running, though, which strikes me as the best use of this given the slightly wooly targeting available at present, but your mileage, as ever, will vary. It’s actually not that easy to find the link to the actual ad buying interface from the link, so it’s here in case you need it – now go and ‘enjoy’ the whole new challenge of having to get clients to understand the particular vibe and aesthetic of a whole new platform which they instinctively understand is important but of which they have no practical knowledge or experience whatsoever (not that that lack of knowledge or experience will prevent them from having VERY STRONG OPINIONS on how whatever you make should look or feel and how it should feature the logo front-and-centre and how it should be 60s long so you can fit all the key messages in and oh god this is just professional life isn’t it it’s just this over and over and over again and only the names of the clients and the platforms change but the ceaseless, neverending, onanistic circle of pointless rhetoric and needless creative interference will never, ever stop oh god)!
  • Instagram Now Lets You Pin Three Comments To Your Posts: It’s…it’s not exactly what I might call a big news announcement, but there may be some of you for whom this is in some way interesting. The idea here is presumably to help surface particularly funny or helpful comments beneath particular posts – and, actually, there’s a semi-nice fan service thing you can do here if you’re a brand that gets decent engagement (sorry) on its posts; picking three fans to have their comments pinned and who get a prize for contributing positively for the discourse sounds like a not-entirely-terrible idea, and a small incentive to people to perhaps treat the comments less like, I don’t know, a UK beach on the first weekend after lockdown.
  • Instagram Continues To Expand Reels: You remember Instagram Reels, don’t you? OF COURSE YOU DO! First mentioned in Curios on 15 November 2019 (God that was a GREAT DAY – I remember it yesterday, as should you!), Reels is Instagram’s beta TikTok clone, which had previously only been live in Brazil; coinciding with TikTok getting yeeted from the Indian market, the platform’s now expanded to the Indian app store. Of minimal relevance to most of you reading this (unless you’re responsible for social strategy for a major brand in India, obvs, but then if you are I’d sort of expect you to be all over this already – PULL YOUR FINGER OUT!), but worth keeping half an eye on, just in case the TikTok banhammer starts falling more widely and Reels starts gaining traction as a replacement. https://techcrunch.com/2020/07/09/whatsapp-business-now-with-50m-maus-adds-qr-code-and-catalog-sharing/
  • Whatsapp for Business Launches QR Codes and Catalogue Sharing: BIG FEW WEEKS FOR QR CODES! After last week’s EXCITING QR CODE ANNOUNCEMENT (also on Whatsapp) comes another HUGE announcement (actually I am still reasonably bullish on QR codes, ignore my irritatingly insincere tone) – this time users of Whatsapp’s business service will be able to add QR codes to connect users to them on the platform. “If you need to reach a business for customer support, to ask a question or order something, instead of manually entering a business phone number, you can scan a QR code from a receipt, a business display at the storefront, a product or even posted on the web, in order to connect with the company. Businesses that are using these can also set up welcome messages to start conversations once they’ve been added by a user.” I mean, you might still have to explain to customers how to actually scan the fcuking things in a meaningful way, but still. The catalogue stuff is basically just an expansion of the existing service, just that it’s now possible to share links to product catalogues outside of Whatsapp. Still, USEFUL.
  • Some New LinkedIn Stuff: I’ve had the slightly awkward experience this week of having some slightly-awkward interactions with a colleague in another office in another country; basically these interactions will have resulted in this colleague thinking – quite possibly entirely rightly – that I am a complete w4nker. This colleague also for some reason looked me up on LinkedIn this week (I presume as part of the general ‘who is this w4nker?’ thought process that people often go through when encountering me professionally for the first time), and attempted to add me, and now I am really slightly regretting the running gag I started a while back when first posting links to Curios on LinkedIn whereby I refer to everyone on the platform as basically a shambling mass of work-fcuked undead, lurching from bed to workstation and back again, fixated solely on the pursuit of professional success at the cost of everything else. Basically, LinkedIn is a vile hellhole and it’s awful and I hate it, which is why I can’t be bothered to tell you anything else about this update beyond the following: “new Follower analytics for company pages, a new audio option for pronunciation on user profiles, and an alternative process for limiting company page invites.” There.
  • Google Adds 3d Display Ads Options: Or rather, it’s taking something that it announced last year, called ‘Swirl’, and making it available to everyone – basically these are interactive 3d ads which means you can create games and reactive graphical experiences inside the previously-limiting canvas of a display ad. See? EASY!
  • YouTube Letting Mid-Roll Ads Into 8min Vids: Do you remember the BAD OLD DAYS, when only videos that ran a minimum of 10 minutes long were eligible for midroll ad monetisation, constraining ‘creators’ into lengthening their content to that magic point in order to maximise their profitability and leading to an awful lot of wooly editing and padding to hit the magical 600s mark? THEY ARE NO MORE! Now you can get away with a mere 480s of video and STILL squeeze and ad break into the middle. Good news for the monetisation of content, less good news from the point of view of the user – so it goes, eh?
  • Mav Farm: What does this company do? Well, according to the little spinning graphic on landing, they “build new network and alternate reality”. I don’t really know what that means, but MAN do they make it look exciting and future; as far as I can tell it’s a shop selling analytics software for websites and ecommerce..but also augmented reality? Is there some sort of virtual assistant thing going on here? And what the everliving fcuk does “show is the virtual black hole of the camera, the factory of the future’ mean? Honestly, I am so, so confused but also slightly convinced that maybe my confusion means that this is the future and I am just too old and broken to understand it. Or is that just what they want me to think? Honestly, please, if you work in digital could you please take a quick look at this and let me know what is going on here because I have literally no clue at all. Hell of a shiny website, mind.
  • B Surf: Burberry has made a surfing game! I don’t really know why! Still, pick a character (vaguely koala-ish, for reasons I don’t quite get) and GO SURFING in a little browsergame which pits you against a bunch of other surfing koalas in a race to win…oh, Christ alone knows why you’re doing it, but who cares? It’ll pass some time and that’s all your here for, right? Look, ordinarily I don’t feature work on here I don’t think is very good, but this is…quite phoned in, isn’t it? I know that Burberry isn’t short of a quid or two, and so I can’t work out whether this is the result of a digital agency seeing them coming from quite a long way of and making a LOT of margin on what is a poorly-reskinned NewGrounds clone, or instead whether the creative director’s nephew got the gig to build it as a family favour. Either way, this is the very definition of a premium mediocre webgame – DO BETTER PLEASE, MASSIVE AND PLUTOCRATIC FASHION HOUSES.

By Ado Vabbe

NEXT, ENJOY THIS ALL-VINYL GOSPEL SELECTION BY OCCASIONAL CURIOS MIX PROVIDER TOM (USED TO LIVE OPPOSITE ME) SPOONER!

THE SECTION WHICH THIS WEEK WOULD LIKE TO STRONGLY RECOMMEND THAT IF YOU ONLY CLICK ONE LINK IN THIS SECTION YOU MAKE IT THE VERY FIRST ONE AS IT IS HONESTLY ONE OF THE BEST THINGS I HAVE SEEN THIS YEAR IN ANY MEDIUM, HANDS DOWN, PT.1:

  • Motto: Honestly, if I had a more sensible approach to curating stuff I found interesting I would limit this week’s Curios to this site and be done with it. Motto is a mobile-only…web experience? Story? Play? Artwork? No idea, to be honest, it could be accurately described as each of those things and yet it’s something quite entirely sui generis. You’ll need to dedicate some time to this, but one of the beautiful things about it is that it’s designed in such a way that it’s pick-up and put-downable at will; you’ll need a few hours to do it all – but, honestly, think of this like a novel or a film rather than a throwaway piece of ephemeral webspaff, I promise it deserves that sort of consideration. It uses the visual language of Stories – short fragments of text and image and video, stitched together with the standard ‘tap to advance through the screens’ interface we’re all comfortable with here in 2020 – to gently guide you through a series of reflections and observations that over the course of the experience coalesce into something much bigger and more considered and beautiful. Seriously, there is so, so much to enjoy in this – the way in integrates anonymous video fragments from other users – the experience asks to use your camera and for you to take photos and videos throughout, which will then become part of the experience for other people, but you don’t have to engage with this part of it if you don’t want to (but please, if you can, do so – it adds a layer of participatory complicity and engagement that I think really adds to the whole thing). I don’t really want to say much else about it – just try it. Also, this really is the sort of thing to share with people who are curious about visual arts and theatre and storytelling and stuff but who aren’t convinced that digital platforms can add much – it’s JUST SO PERFECT, and so much of mobile, if you see what I mean. I’ll shut up now, just promise me you’ll try this please. Thanks to Andy for sharing it on his site – best thing I’ve seen this year, hands down.
  • AI Writer: I have always wondered how the ‘estate of’ thing works in fiction – you know, how a modern writer is occasionally given the rights to continue producing works in the style of the now-deceased creator or a particular character or franchise, in the way that Anthony Horowitz gets to write Bond books, say, or that someone else carried on the Stieg Larsson books after Mr Larsson found that death was interfering with his daily word output. Anyway, one way it might work in the future is like this – AI Writer is a really interesting project by Andrew Mayne, using OpenAI frameworks to see if it’s possible to replicate the voice of old authors when basing an AI on their corpus. There are a few examples on here, but the way the project works is that users can sign up to be added to the mailing list and then get access to an email address which you can use to address specific questions to specific historical literary figures – Mayne will then generate a response from the corpus and mail it back to you (I presume attempting to run this live on a website would be computationally…challenging). I only got the email address overnight so am yet to have my question answered, but the examples on the site look interesting, and I am slightly in love with the idea of being able to enter into an extended epistolary correspondence with a long-dead Arthur Conan Doyle, say. Really, really interesting.
  • Randonautica: This has gone mental this week as a result of a couple of kids on TikTok finding a dead body as a result of using it; of COURSE, though, all you long-term Curios readers will have long been bored of Randonautica, having been onto it since I wrote about ‘randonauts’ (and, er, the strange obsession with bottles of p1ss) way back in August last year (Web Curios – very much the definition of the ‘if you throw enough sh1t at the wall then some of it will stick!’ approach to trendspotting and futurology). Randonauts, for those of you who for some reason have better things to do with your brain than catalogue webpages from Curios past, is the collective name for a particular class of urban explorers who are drawn to seek out ‘places with weird energy’ in otherwise banal areas, and believe that there’s a certain sort of meditative effect to, er, going to unusual places. Look, there’s a whole load of stuff on the site about ‘quantum energy’ if you choose to engage with it, but I prefer to think of this as a manifestation of the simple fact that the world is generally quite interesting if you just bother to look at it for a while. Anyway, the Randonautica app is basically a means of sending you to new, unusual places (based on something QUANTUM, don’t forget), and if you’re desperate for a new walk after having exhausted every single route around your local estates over the course of the past 4 months then this could be a godsend. But, er, STAY SAFE.
  • NextMind: “Let Your Brain Take Control!”, parps the website, immediately raising the twin questions “I thought it was already in control, Descartes?” and “Hang on, of what?” NextMind is a frankly slightly sinister looking piece of early-development kit which is (I appreciate I am probably simplifying this quite a bit, but) designed to allow developers to code brain/software interfaces via its ability to…hm, it’s a bit vague here. “NextMind combines deep neural networks and neural signals from the brain to transform a user’s intention into direct brain commands, creating a symbiotic connection with the digital world.” So it’s effectively just tracking electrical impulses, and translating them into a series of rudimentary commands, right? It’s frustratingly opaque about exactly how it works and what it can do – there’s a line on here about how it has ‘AI-based Algorithms’ and ‘artificial neural networks’, which very much feels like classic AI snake oil bullsh1t, but maybe I’m being unfair. Developer kits are available for pre-order, so if you fancy getting your hands on some tech that will enable you to possibly play a slightly-crap version of Frogger WITH YOUR BRAIN then this could be for you.
  • AI Sandals: Does it feel to you like you might still get a beach holiday this year (by this I mean a beach on which you might conceivably expect to wear shorts and a tshirt on two consecutive days, to whit not one in the UK)? I am theoretically meant to be going somewhere for a fortnight in September, and I am starting to become almost tentatively hopeful – which, obviously, means that it will all be scuppered by the UK being forced back into lockdown come the end of August. Still, if you’re feeling optimistic about getting to wear your BRITS ON THE P1SS MAGALUF 1999 tshirt one last time, why not consider purchasing a pair of these one-of-a-kind AI designed sandals to accompany you – each is printed with an entirely artificially-imagined sunset-type design, guaranteed to be one of a kind. Is there a good reason why a major clothing retailer isn’t doing this sort of thing at scale with huge swathes of their range? Other than perhaps the fact that we humans are, just about, still better at design.
  • Voice: A NEW SOCIAL NETWORK! ALL ABOUT THE BLOCKCHAIN!! No, wait, come back! Voice is a just-launched new social platform whose gimmick is that you get rewarded for posting GOOD STUFF with micropayments in some cryptocurrenc…no, sorry, I just can’t. There is literally NOTHING I have ever seen that involves social media and crypto that doesn’t look like either a massive fcuking pyramid scheme or a repository for some of the very worst people on the internet – why is everyone who’s into Bitcoin and related-issues such a colossal bore about it? IS IT BECAUSE IT’S INCREASINGLY TURNING INTO A PONZI SCHEME??? Anyone would think so. Whatever, if you’re finding Twitter too toxic but Parler just too…well…boring (honestly, Arendt really was right; if you want an insight into the true banality of evil (I don’t really believe in evil, I just think they’re cnuts), spend 20m on Parler looking at the ‘I AM BEING CENSORED’ racists and realise that there is nothing more tedious than internet edgelords dangerw4nking their CONTROVERSIAL TRUTHS at each other in a place of perceived safety), why not give Voice a go? You could be rewarded with £0.004p worth of largely-imaginary currency for posting a good dog photo; what’s not to love?
  • New Stuff From Gary Larson: AKA The Far Side, which in the 80s was the most popular (or at least the most popularly-lauded) comic strip in the world, and whose wise cows and idiot people were, to me at least, some of the funniest things in the world and SO sophisticated (I was around 5 years old when I first encountered Larson and I was living in Swindon – the bar for sophistication was LOW). Larson’s been on hiatus for…ages, but this week relaunched his website with three new strips and the promise of more to come. I don’t know that this will convert anyone who doesn’t have a nostalgic draw to his stuff already, but this has made me very nostalgic and rather happy.
  • Web Desktops: Links lifted from last week’s B3ta, #1: this, by Simone Marzulli, which collects websites which recreate old web desktop interfaces. You may not think you wanted or needed a bunch of links to sites which remind you of using a PC in 1998, but this will prove to you that you really, really did and that I actually know you better than you know yourself.
  • The 90s Festival Generator: Links lifted from last week’s B3ta, #2: Click the link and generate your very own made-up 90s festival lineup which you can use to pretend that a) festivals are still happening this year, and b) that you’re young enough to recognise any of the acts on the lineup (I am aware that there are some people who read this who are under the age of 30 but know that this is not for you, children). Really nicely done, with some cute touches – the bands’ placing on the bill is directly linked to the number of streams they have on Spotify, adding a nice, accurate layer to the game, and you can click on any of the artists to get footage of them from festivals past ripped off YouTube. Really fun, and really nicely made.
  • Mmhmm: HYPED APP / WEBSITE OF THE WEEK! Tediously, it’s all about DOING BETTER PRESENTATIONS, which I know isn’t the sort of thing I normally get all frothy about, but this really does look quite impressive. You should click the link and watch the video to get the full idea, but the basic premise is that it allows for smart use of windows and video and animated backgrounds and all sorts of other things to be integrated into livestreamed video – so, for example, you could run training sessions for people which feature a bunch of videos running in the same screen as your livestream, so you can talk to a process that’s being shown onscreen. Effectively it allows you to do all the sorts of editing and presentational tricks that the YouTube Industrial Complex has basically injected into the visual lingua franca but which have til now been the sort of thing you need a modicum of expertise to do, except now it’s an out-of-the-box software solution. It’s an invite list thing, of course, and there’s no telling when they’ll open it up, but you may as well join the 5million other Twittertechpeople who’ve signed up this week – this sort of thing is very much going to become the norm, though, whether using this or new features baked into other existing platforms, so worth thinking now about now you might make use of this sort of stuff.
  • Michael Cthulhu: Michael Cthulhu (not, I don’t think, their real name; though if I’m wrong I’d suggest maybe not delving too hard into the genealogy databases) makes swords. This is his YouTube channel, in which they makes increasingly massive, preposterous swords that are bigger than they are. That’s all it is, fine, but Cthulhu’s pretty charismatic and the swords are VERY SILLY. Quick caveat here – I have only taken a cursory look at this one, and whilst it seems fine I also get a slightly ‘might be a bit adjacent to some possibly iffy stuff’ vibe off this (sorry Mr Chulhu, I’m sure you’re perfectly nice but I guess I’m just innately suspicious of any corner of the web that deals with things like bladed weapons, naked fire, celtic or Lovecraftian mythology and beards) so caveat emptor and all that.
  • Cyberpunk Culture: This is a two-day digital festival which has been taking place yesterday and today (9/10 July 2020, readers from the future!) – whilst you’ve missed most of the live stuff (or will have by the time it’s three hours into the future and I’ve finished typing and am resting my fingers in the warm saline recovery bath), it looks like lots of it will be archived on the site for posterity, meaning if you’d like to check out the talks and lectures on cyberpunk as a literary genre and art/design aesthetic (amongst other things, but that seems to be the main focus of things) then you can do so – also, it’s a pay-what-you-can thing, which is a nice touch.
  • AAVE Gone Wrong: AAVE here stands for ‘African American Vernacular English’, and this is a Twitter feed sharing examples of when brands or generally clueless individuals attempt to make use of AAVE online and get it…a bit wrong. Genuinely wonderful, and the sort of thing you ought to keep on file next time the client decides that they want the tone of voice to be rewritten to be more ‘urban’ (please don’t tell me I’m the only person to whom this request has come in).
  • Soundtrack Your Workout: Seeing as you’ll all be allowed to go back to the gym in a few short days time, this site by Spotify is perfectly-timed (yes, I know it’s just a piece of marketing and so it should be in the first section but, well, it’s MY FCUKING NEWSLETTERBLOGTHING) – answer a few questions, give it access to your account to scry your tastes and it will produce the PERFECT PLAYLIST FOR PERT PECS or somesuch. Will we EVER get bored of digital executions that purport to use data to give us a TRULY PERSONAL EXPERIENCE whilst at the same time doing nothing more than dropping us into one of five predefined buckets? Will we fcuk, and THANK GOD say all us lazy digital strategists!
  • The 2020 Audubon Photo Award Winners: The Audubon Society – as previously noted in Curios, an organisation of whose existence I had been entirely unaware of until approximately 2018 and which since then has been everywhere; excellent work by the commsmongs here, or alternatively evidence of a species-level shift towards a greater appreciation of birds – is the US birdwatcher’s club (basically); this is their annual photo contest, and if you’re looking for some excellent pictures of birds then, well, GREAT! Pick your favourite – mine, by some distance, is the Tiger Heron, mainly because I can’t look at the picture without making a sort of weird, involuntary ‘BAAAAARGH!’ sound which is what I imagine the bird is about to do as soon as the shutter clicks.
  • Remote Cheerer: I have watched no football since its return, but I hear the crowd noise is working pretty well. Still, here’s another option, as presented by Remote Cheerer – the idea being that everyone watching along at home can use an app to create one of a range of sounds within the stadium at any given time, meaning that the system can recreate the unique properties of multi-person audio (to whit, the fragmented nature of crowd sound, and the way it ebbs and flows and coalesces). Which is a lovely idea, but one which I can imagine getting immediately derailed by people just mercilessly trolling the software by exultantly cheering 2m passes on the halfway line and booing goals, that sort of thing. I’m not sure this is going to catch on, but it’s a really nice idea in theory.

By Kathe Kollwitz

YOU MAY NOT THINK YOU WANT TO LISTEN TO THE HAMILTON SOUNDTRACK AS PERFORMED BY THE MUPPETS, BUT KNOW THAT IT IS STRONG AND PURE AND BEAUTIFUL!

THE SECTION WHICH THIS WEEK WOULD LIKE TO STRONGLY RECOMMEND THAT IF YOU ONLY CLICK ONE LINK IN THIS SECTION YOU MAKE IT THE VERY FIRST ONE AS IT IS HONESTLY ONE OF THE BEST THINGS I HAVE SEEN THIS YEAR IN ANY MEDIUM, HANDS DOWN, PT.2:

  • Insects of LA: LA is in many respects a sh1thole of a city – the traffic is horrible, noone walks anywhere, 90% of everyone you speak to is better looking than anyone you have ever seen before in your life, which is just dispiriting, and everyone goes to bed at 10pm – but its insects are REALLY interesting, or at least that’s what I’ve learned thanks to this excellent digital exhibition of West Coast entomology. It features some excellent close-up photos of some very cool-looking bugs, along with stuff to read about how they work and what they do, and some audio of them…well, buzzing, mainly, but who doesn’t love some multimedia? Basically I’m a sucker for macro photos of shiny, chitinous exoskeletons and so this ticks quite a few of my boxes.
  • Talossa: Thanks to Alexander Burley for sending this my way – this is FASCINATING and not a little mad. I’ll let Alexander introduce it to you as he did to me: “I discovered recently that one of the boardgame designers I really like made up his own country when he was a teenager in 1979 from his Milwaukee bedroom – the Kingdom of Talossa. He even created his own language, laws etc. It’s quite a sweet story because at first it was just a small community of people locally in on it, but then he set up a website and people on the internet started to get involved and shape it. It looks like he’s kind of exiled from it now with his grandson “ruling” as the current King of Talossa.” Honestly, it really is worth having a bit of a nose around the website – there is a lot of slightly obsessive detail, but also a lot of stuff that is genuinely really, really charming: “At any given moment, you can find citizens of the Kingdom actively exercising their linguistic skills to learn, use, and nurture the beautiful Talossan language, honing their skills in the ancient arts of heraldry, putting on pompous airs to serve the nation in its legislative, judicial, executive, or royal offices, enjoying the performing arts, planning and running political parties (and the other kind of parties, too!), delving into the rich history of the nation, and doing any number of other things that they haven’t found themselves able to do for any “real” nation.” OK, it’s basically someone’s model railway project that’s gotten REALLY out of hand, but it seems generally benign and as such I am happy to give it the Web Curios seal of endorsement – should any Talossians happen to read this, I’m quite happy to get one designed up if you’d like to feature it on your site.
  • YoMoji: A series of alternate emoji stickers for iOS. This isn’t particularly novel or special, but I like the design style and I realised this week quite how much I fcuking hate the flattening, deadening, stultifying aesthetic of emoji and how I really, really want it to change or at least get a bit of fcuking variety.
  • The Volume Channel: I was chatting to Rishi the other week about music journalism and how the NME has always been quite cnuty and about the various merits of Melody Maker, Select and all these other things called ‘music magazines’ which used to be printed on paper and sold in shops for £4 and had stapl…oh, don’t worry, you wouldn’t understand, they were different times. Anyway, we agreed that the best magazine was Volume, which was printed in a really weird format and which came with a mixtape each week, and which was clever and funny and introduced me to so many bands I still love today and which, as Rishi found this week, has had all the aforementioned mixtapes uploaded to YouTube. If you want an excellent repository of 90s indiepop and a snapshot of slightly-alternative music from 25 years ago then this is it.
  • Plutoview: This is really, really interesting. Plutoview is software for collaborative web browsing, basically; it lets you have multiple shared browsing instances across different tabs, that you can dip in and out of. So, say, you could be looking for something online, find it, and then invite everyone else working on the same project to view the same page as you, in realtime, through a browser tab on each of your individual devices. How this works with the interactive bits of a webpage I find slightly baffling, I have to say, but in theory at least this is something that could be quite interesting to have a play with, particularly when doing collaborative research around a theme.
  • Invite Rick: Do you remember about three months ago when doing ‘fun’ things on Zoom and in video calls was, briefly, something that people got excited about? Doesn’t it feel like that ship has sailed rather (as I said to the colleague who this week responded positively to an idea I had sent them along these lines in April, “we might have missed the boat on this one”)? Still, no matter – it’s RICK ASTLEY and everyone loves Rick Astley! This…oh, no, it’s been shut down as it was in violation of Zoom’s Terms of Service. BOO ZOOM. Oh well, it was a service that let you Rickroll people within a Zoom call – the fact that it got shut down is interesting and should be a challenge to find a workaround, GO!
  • Loaf:: Matthew Carrozo is a Portuguese man who worked in advermarketingpr in London for a while and then moved back to Portugal a few years ago; he writes a rather nice newsletter you should subscribe to. He’s recently been writing about his ‘coming out’ as an artist, and about how creative practice can and should be pursued and encouraged regardless of one’s self-described (or externally-validated) status as a ‘creator’, and has put this on his website, which I think is a rather nice set of constraints/thematic processes for ‘doing’ creative. In Matthew’s words, “In my time working for the marketing industrial complex, I’ve made good use of strategic frameworks: analytical tools that easily distinguish and distill multiple inputs and often create actionable outputs and measurable outcomes. I wanted to find a way to create ideas for experimental films that resisted typical narrative structures, but still had the essence of a good story. After a couple of iterations, I decided that the most basic, necessary components for that were: Location, Object, Action, Feeling (LOAF).” There’s a simple tool on his website for sketching this out, but as a framework it’s perfect; you can carry it in your head, and it works WONDERFULLY in a surprising number of situations. Honestly, I am never normally interesting in ‘THINKING HACKS FOR YOUR BRAIN’ (mainly because I spend most of my waking life trying to make my brain wonky and less whirry and I don’t need anything to achieve the opposite thankyouverymuch), but this is really rather good.
  • Vikings Are Gay!: Look, I don’t normally include stuff in here that I haven’t personally consumed at least a bit of, but this is a podcast and you know how I feel about them. Still, the title – SO GOOD – and the subject matter – an exploration of all the reasons why Vikings, despite often being held up by unpleasant morons as paragons of some sort of ur-masculine ideal and an exemplar of the strength and purity of a certain type of white person, were actually VERY, VERY GAY – make me pretty sure it would be worth at least a cursory listen.
  • Threatening Cake: Or, to give this Twitter account its full name, ‘Cakes With Threatening Auras’. On the one hand, the overuse of terms such as ‘aura’, ‘vibe’ and ‘energy’ is causing me a not-insignificant intergenerational migraine; on the other, these cakes have some very dark chaotic energy indeed.
  • The Smell of Space: A Kickstarter which has raised the truly astonishing sum of £330k off a £1500 goal, with over a month left (out of interest, is there something inherently suspicious in Kickstarters with what seems like an unfeasibly-low funding goal? Like, is this an obvious grifting technique that I’m missing, or is it simply a trick to hit the goal earlier thereby attracting more funds from people who are more likely to buy in at a point of ‘guaranteed’ delivery? Genuinely curious) and which is promising to provide a fragrance that SMELLS OF SPACE! What does space smell like? Slightly burnt carbon, basically, or at least so the stories go – still, that hasn’t stopped lots of people getting very excited about what, let’s be clear, is very much the 21C equivalent of buying a bottle of “DiCulo’s – The Fragrance for the Sensual Woman” from the man out back of Debenhams who’s selling them off an unfolded cardboard box at 3 for a tenner. Remember, this is Kickstarter – if what you end up getting is 50ml of fag-scented rainwater then, well, a) GOOD LUCK WITH YOUR CONSUMER RIGHTS!!, and b) Who are YOU to say that that’s not what space smells like? Honestly, I am very impressed with this grift – not least the fact that you have to scrub almost RIGHT to the end of the Kickstarter video to see the disclaimer, in very small letters, that this is in no way affiliated with NASA.
  • Shuffle: ANOTHER attempt to fix the seemingly-intractable problem of podcast discovery (is this so hard because of the lack of a proper audio knowledge graph?), this offers you the option to browse podcast recommendations and hear preview snippets in a seemingly-user-friendly interface that mimics all your favourite dating apps. It looks…fine, but as with all these things it’s dependent on the quality of the content curation that sits behind it.
  • D’n’D Map Sketcher: No webgames this week – seriously, that Moot link uptop is all you need, just click it already – but if you’re someone who plays tabletop games (but online) then this is a superb tool to help with map sketching and creation in the absence of pen and spotty paper.
  • The Socially Distanced Strap-on: I am including this Indiegogo campaign not because I think it is clever or funny – no Mr Lee James Allen, it is neither of those two things – but more because it’s an idea that has been floating around a groupchat I am in since approximately March, and which I know Firebox almost bought, and which this destined-to-fail crowdfunding campaign has now proven was genuinely fcuking terrible. We should be ashamed of ourselves, lads. Having said that it’s destined to fail, it would be quite funny were we all to back this and then leave Mr Allen with the contractual obligation to produce and ship several hundred foot-long sex aids around the world. Shall we?
  • The Automoblow: On the one hand, this latest piece of semiteledildonic horrortat is almost certainly not actually real and is instead just designed to provide some SEO juice to the appalling company behind it (which, er, my linking to it is helping succeed – FFS MATT!); on the other, it lets me make the tired-but-still-pleasing ‘joke’ about all Tesla fans being w4nkers so I think we can all agree that the benefits are increasingly obvious. Yes, it’s an attachment that theoretically allows your car to fellate you whilst it drives itself. No, I don’t know why, were you so erotically transported by the prospect of vehicular autonomy, you couldn’t just use your hands. Nothing about this makes sense, which is why it is perhaps the perfect note on which to end this week’s miscellenea.

By Tina Berning

LAST UP IN THE MIXES THIS WEEK, ENJOY THIS TRULY BEAUTIFUL SELECTION OF SUMMERY JAZZ-TYPE SOUNDS WHICH WILL HOPEFULLY PRESAGE SOME MARGINALLY LESS AWFUL WEATHER!

THE CIRCUS OF TUMBLRS!:

  • Anime User Interface: User interfaces! In anime films! Courtesy of the nice people at Twitter’s premier stationery and office supplies purveyors, Present & Correct!
  • Always Judge A Book By Its Cover: I’ve said this before and I will say it again – judging books by their covers is entirely legitimate and to pretend its not is to ignore the important role visual design plays in the marketing process! Don’t you wish I’d stop saying that, though, as it’s quite dull! Anyway, this is a great Tumblr that presents books that are exactly as weird as the titles/covers suggest – all books are real, with links to buy, so if you want your very own copy of ‘Learning To Play With A Lion’s Testicles’ then you know where to go.

THE TROUGH OF (INSTA) FEEDS!:

  • Kiszkiloszki: Only one Insta worth featuring this week, but I very much like this one. In the artist’s own words: “Hi. I create animations about my love to the mankind. My name is @kajetanobarski and I’m a deadly serious person. Join me. We can be serious together.” There’s a slight Terry Gilliam sensibility to a lot of this, which I personally am a great fan of.

LONG THINGS WHICH ARE LONG:

  • Whining About Being Silenced: As is evidently THE LAW this week, all blognewsletterwriters must include at least ONE link about that Harper’s letter and WHAT IT MEANS and why IT IS WRONG (not seen anyone trying to defend it so far, which is a rare case of the web generally seeming to be in agreement on what is still a largely contentious topic). You may well have read lots of words on the topic already this week, and I wouldn’t blame you for skipping this one – if you’re still in the market, though, this is my favourite of the MAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAANY pieces of commentary about why the open letter by the great and the good about ‘cancel culture’ and what they see as the pernicious restriction of the field of popular debate is, well, flawed. This is readable, clear and funny, and at its heart has the central premise that “the only ones trying to silence anyone here are those in this letter, saying that public shaming is somehow beyond the pale. It’s almost as if they don’t really want “argument and persuasion” while pretending that’s exactly what they do want. If they believe that the public shaming (counterspeech) is bad, then they should go right ahead and use argument and persuasion to show why it’s actually bad, without claiming it’s an unfair attack on their speech. Inasmuch as this letter attempts to do so, it fails. They should recognize that if their arguments suck — as they often do — people nowadays are less afraid to call that out.” As an aside – and as an acknowledgement that there’s a lot of the hysterical side of this that is obviously performative and awful and kayfabe-y that really ought to be stamped out, regardless of what you think about this letter – I read a thread somewhere on this topic, obviously railing against the Harper’s letter and its signatories; one of the comments was, simply, “I AM DONE WITH CHOMSKY AFTER THIS!”, which I thought was actually a far more effective point on the signatories’ side than anything they’d actually put their names to in the letter itself.
  • What Big Tech Does To Discourse: One of two pieces by Cory Doctorow this week, for which apologies – but they are both interesting in different ways and different topics, so I promise it’s justified. This first is a transcript of a talk he recently gave via video to the Oxford Internet Institute, and it (or at least the first half, which is the speech part – the Q&A is also interesting, but more divergent in scope) on how technology platforms and the web have affected (some might say warped) the manner in which discourse happens on- and offline. This ties into a lot of the stuff that I’ve been linking to of late around conspiracy theorising and culture war and related issues, and Doctorow’s typically smart and readable on all of it.
  • FulL Employment: Doctorow #2! This time it’s about full employment, or, more practically, why Keynesianism is basically the only correct economic approach to take post-pandemic. Now I would like this, what with being a committedly pro-Keynes person, but even if you’re not a fan or even hugely familiar (have you been skipping all the Keynesy links all these years? FIE ON YOU!) with the theory, this is again a clear articulation of some of the questions and problems we will have to deal with as a global, connected economy and at a national level in the coming years. You may not agree with the author’s assessment of the required solutions, but as an articulation of the situation it’s a useful summary.
  • Turning Malls Into Houses: This is a VERY DRY article, but I am increasingly fascinated by the recontextualisation of urban and commercial spaces that is going to happen over the coming 12-24 months (I saw a friend this week whose partner works in architecture as a lighting specialist who said he’s never been busier, as huge developments and building projects are pivoting to new use cases at a crazy pace and this requires respec and redesigning of windows and internal lighting sources to accommodate the new purpose); this article looks at the way in which old mall space, particularly in the US but theoretically everywhere, might be reused as domestic space in the future. Anyone fancy moving into Boots on Swindon High Street?
  • The Virtual Open House: A look at how estate agents in Dubai are turning to shiny 3d tours of properties to sell the ridiculously expensive, punishingly-sterile, air-conditioned coffins that pass for living space in the expat zoos of the middle east (Dubai – There’s No ‘There’ There!); this is obviously very high end, fine, but I think there’s a definite short-term PR win to be gained if you’re the first estate agent to offer house tours in Minecraft (come on, it would be quite funny).
  • Outsource Your Insta For £5: A look at the world of piecemeal social content work, specifically at the kids in India or the Philippines or other places half a world away who will use their excellent English and knowledge of internet vernacular to gloss your Insta copy for a few quid a time. Struggling to write the perfect ‘aspirational but inspirational but vibey’ caption to accompany this morning’s arty skyline-with-coffee-and-a-book shot? Why not get a kid in Jakarta to do it for £0.30? Quite a lot of this made me think – partly that it says something (not particularly great) about writing standards in this country that in many cases people for whom English is their second or even third language are better Insta copywriters than you, partly that this is a bleak precursor to the jobs market of the future, but mainly that if you do social content for a brand and you’re not outsourcing literally all of the work to the second world via Fiverr then, well, you’re a moron.
  • Light and Shadows: This is SCIENCE and it’s QUITE HARD (oh, ok, fine, it’s just too hard for me – you might totally understand all this, but personally speaking it very much falls into the category of ‘stuff which my mind slides right off, as though it were made of teflon and my brain were a fried egg’), but it’s also really interesting (on how light works, and how the particle physics behind how we experience it works) and an excellent example of using on-page interactive elements as a means of explaining and illustrating difficult concepts in visual fashion.
  • Is Anyone Watching Quibi?: I should probably go back and collate all the things I’ve written abouT Quibi since I discovered it was coming about 10 months ago; I would imagine my tone would mirror the platform’s lifecycle quite closely (surprise that it’s coming so quickly, awe at the names and the money involved, curiosity about the platform and the programming, skepticism about public appetite for premium, episodic mobile-only entertainments, and then a sort of horrified schadenfreude as COVID happened and it all went to tits quite hard). This piece is very much a ‘state of play’ article, but it equally reads a little like an early obituary – there’s a lot of detail in here that I’ve not seen before about the thinking behind the platform which makes me less-than-positive about its prospects. I fcuking hate the slavish adherence to THE PRIMACY OF DATA that now maintains in every single aspect of my fcuking professional life, ever (LOOK YOU FCUKING DOUBLE-FIGURE IQ MORONS, MERELY FINDING A DATAPOINT THAT SAYS SOMETHING DOESN’T IN AND OF ITSELF MEAN ANYTHING SIGNIFICANT AND JUST BECAUSE YOU CAN BASE AN ASSERTION ON IT DOES NOT MEAN THAT THAT ASSERTION IS CORRECT OR INDEED THAT YOU SHOULD DO SO FFS SO ANGRY), and yet even I can see that Katzenberg’s insistence on going with his gut on some of this stuff seems a touch on the madly hubristic side.
  • Meet China’s Most Popular Livestreamer: This is really interesting for two reasons; partly because it does a decent job of explaining the way in which Chinese streamer culture functions, from the point of view of the performer, partner brands and the audience, but also because of the interesting way its presented. The piece profiles Viya, who apparently dominates the live shopping/streaming scene in China, as though they are A N Other breakout star of a booming new economy; it’s only as you get to the latter half of the piece that you learn that Viya has been a star in China for a while now and that she won a reality show years back, and has been popular on multiple other platforms , and actually this new, transformative form of celebrity is remarkably close, tech aside, to the old forms of celebrity. I do wonder to what extent this is going to become universally true – that to attain truly mass-market appeal one still needs the wide bandwidth push of old media – or whether this is the last hurrah of television as a relevance driver in modern media economies.
  • The Computer Prophet: I’ve been fascinated by the idea of digital prayer and digital-as-an-extension-of-faith-based-practice for ages now – this piece is a semi-academic paper presented by a student at UCLA which sought to create artificially-generated pseudo-profound statements from a ‘digital prophet’. “Time and time again, we fail to find universal answers to the greatest questions we ask ourselves. Yet, metaphors can offer answers. Conceptual metaphors work by associating one metaphorical domain in terms of another: equating a broad-ranging target domain to a particular source domain. Target domains are the spheres we attempt to explain and grasp through concrete source domains. Target domains are so incredibly pervasive and all-encompassing that, for any given target domain, there is no sole perspective or single paradigm of understanding. Therefore, to attempt to understand an individual target domain, numerous source domains must be equated to said target domain. The more source domains we can invoke to clarify a target domain, the better our understanding of that target. By applying machine learning to synthesize, or create, novel metaphors, a new field of computer generated metaphors emerges: Artificially Generative Metaphor. Unique to this process, Artificially Generative Metaphor critically eliminates the various constraints that prevent novel metaphors from being created. If each conceptual metaphor oers a unique perspective towards a given target domain, a system that can produce limitless profound and novel metaphors has the potential to enhance the understanding of a target domain deeply.” The article collects some of the generated wisdom at the end – honestly, you could put these on nicely-designed backgrounds and have a moderately-successful Inspo-gram account in minutes.
  • Algos Can’t Do My Job: A piece by one of the journalists who recently lost their jobs at MSN after being famously replaced by an entirely-algorithmic journalistic and editorial team, all about what it felt like working as a fact-checker and safety net for the machines as they populated the (inexplicably popular) MSN News pages, and why the removal of human editorial oversight is unlikely to have positive consequences for the quality of information consumed by the millions who still seem to use MSN as a source of information on a daily basis. As with everything in modernity, it seems, behind this story is a possibly more interesting series of questions about who is likely to be most impacted by this sort of thing. I appreciate that I might be assuming something about the level of critical thinking and online ‘savviness’ of people who get their information about the world from MSN and Yahoo!, but it does feel quite a lot like we’re sort-of condemning a large slice of the world to getting what can only be described as pretty-low-quality input about the world in which they exist, the informational equivalent of a diet composed entirely of Richmond sausages.
  • Writing With The Algo: Not the first piece about what it’s like writing with a bit of GPT-2 based assistance, but one of the more revealing; Stephen Marche writes about his experience of writing short stories in close collaboration with an AI, with the machine offering suggestions on individual words as well as overall tone, style and theme. This is SO INTERESTING, not least as it goes into proper practical detail about how the process worked; I think that we’re about two years away from the first proper critically-acclaimed novel that might reasonably said to be cowritten by human and machine – but we’re about one year away from a slew of really fcuking bad attempts.
  • Watching Hamilton Onscreen: I HATE MUSICAL THEATRE AND I HAVEN’T SEEN HAMILTON I AM SORRY. Nevertheless I still found this interesting, which should mean that if you like musical theatre and have in fact seen Hamilton you will find this fascinating. The piece takes a really close look at the way in which the production translates the stage show to the screen, with particular attention to framing and the way in which the camera substitutes for the audience’s gaze; if you’re in any way interested in how to show live performance onscreen, this should be really quite useful (even if only as food for thought).
  • Thandie Newton: A rare, brilliant interview with an actor, not least because Newton has obviously decided that she can say what she likes now and so, well, does. Obviously all interviews are performance and so talking about them as being ‘honest’ always feels slightly disingenuous, but it’s a candid conversation that covers many topics including racism in the industry, her own sexual assault, the Me Too movement and why Tom Cruise is, as you’d probably expected, a bit of a tool when it comes to work.
  • Starship Troopers: On why Paul Verhoeven’s Starship Troopers is the perfect film for right now (it specifically looks at this through American eyes, but there’s also a sort of thematic similarity in the dumb, macho way so many nations – and, frankly, much of the global right – seem to be behaving in 2020). “Everyone is beautiful and selfish and mostly awful to each other, both in the thoughtless ways that teen-agers are and because their society is designed to channel them toward awfulness.” I mean, it doesn’t sound like a million miles from here, does it?
  • How Neapolitan Cookery Took Over The World: SUCH a good piece of writing, and not just because I’m a foodie wop. This is a wonderful portrait of Neapolitan gourmand Vincenzo Corrado, who was responsible for first chronicling in formalised fashion the cuisine of his city, and how these chronicles spread to have huge influence not only on global perceptions of Italian cuisine but also on certain perceptions of Italy as a whole – there’s a wonderful sense of Corrado being a precursor to the sort of modern culinary diplomacy popularised in recent years by the Thai and Peruvian governments’ exporting of their cuisine as a means of building broader cultural and economic connections with other nations. Also, LOOK AT HIS JOB TITLE: “At the court of Michele Imperiali, Prince of Francavilla, he was given the magnificent title of Capo dei Servizi di Bocca, literally translated as “Head of Mouth Services,”” SO GOOD.
  • 10 Years: Bit of an unusual one, this – this is the ten year look-back of independent game developer Nico Tuason, of the Philippines, who took a moment last month to consider the past decade of his life, what he had achieved, and how his aspiration to be a game designer had, objectively, gone. This is…well, to me it is fascinating – partly because I know about the games industry a bit and so this sort of slightly-inside-baseball thing is generally of interest to me, partly because Nico seems like a genuinely honest person, and he has a likeable style, but mainly because it is SO rare to see someone take this sort of forensic look back at any period of their life with so much frankness and honesty. I think this is objectively interesting, but even if the subject matter doesn’t grab you there might be something here from a ‘personal learning and reflection’ point of view (sorry, don’t know what came over me then, ‘personal learning and reflection’ indeed, HA!).
  • Auctioneer School: I got to this late, so it’s quite possible you’ll have read it already; in case not, though, this is a WONDERFUL account of what it’s like to train to become a cattle auctioneer, one of those people who talks the audience through the fast-paced, high-octane world of, er, livestock auctions, and who have that superfast, oddly-soothing, highly-rhythmical speaking style that’s a joy to listen to but VERY HARD to perform. This is an almost-perfect bit of ‘reporter goes to do weird thing, learns some wonderful things along the way’ writing.
  • Nature’s Revenge: This is very long, but I enjoyed it lots and it made me think quite differently about several things, which is always a pleasant surprise to someone as tediously entrenched in their views as I am. The author looks at man’s relationship to nature, specifically the lies we tell ourselves about the nature of that relationship, and the doublethink inherent in the concept of ‘nature’ as both natural force and something that exists only in opposition to humanity (and, as such, an entirely constructed concept). Far more interesting than I just made it sound, I promise you.
  • Seeing Things: I don’t quite know how to describe this piece, by Emily LaBarge, but it’s one of the most dizzyingly-erudite pieces of writing (specifically its erudition is London-centric, which I personally adore) I’ve read since the start of the pandemic, covering history and modernity and THE NEWS and FEELINGS – whilst noone could say it wears its knowledge lightly, it’s consistently fascinating and it made me want to walk around my city again SO MUCH. Honestly, this is long and takes a bit of effort but it’s a beautifully-constructed and deeply-intelligent piece of writing.
  • An Ordinary Woman: An Alan Bennett monologue in the LRB. This is SO PERFECT, to the extent that after about 3 minutes I found myself acting it out. Just read it, please.
  • The Decameron Project: I confess – this landed overnight and so I haven’t had a chance to read ANY of these. That said, this reinterpretation of the Decameron, with various world-renowned authors contributing an original piece of fiction born of the pandemic, to mimic the ‘multiple narrators telling stories outside a plague-ridden medieval city’ vibe of Boccaccio’s original, contains enough stellar names (Atwood! Slimani! Mitchell! Fuks!) to make me pretty confident that most of these are going to be pretty good.

By James O’Hanlon

AND FINALLY, MOVING PICTURES AND SOUNDS!:

  1. Thanks Alex for sending me this – 14 minutes on why everything is Kayfabe (an argument I have been making for several years now, since the aforementioned Alex taught me the term). Do watch this, it is a useful way of looking at the world I think (and may make you marginally less annoyed by the media – or it might make it worse, not quite sure):
  1. I love it when ‘people who I’ve known of online for years’ suddenly start getting proper gigs; it’s also rather nice how many people who started on B3ta have gone on to really quite big things. This is internet animation person Cyriak, bringing his unique brand of multi-limbed oddness to the video for the latest track from moustache-enthusiasts Sparks; the song’s called ‘The Existential Threat’ and it’s all rather fun:
  1. Nice little vision of our horrible present from Shardcore here, tweaking the intro to War of the World’s to accompany some sinister animation experiments in Unity – Pan’s Opticon:
  1. This is by Moses Boyd, it’s called ‘Stranger Than Fiction’ and I LOVE IT; it’s all weirdly filmic and jazzy and a bit electronic-y and, honestly, I would like a whole album of this:
  1. This is called ‘The Mind Sang’, and is one of the best examples of slightly-trippy, optical illusion-y animation I’ve seen in ages, This is really, really slick:
  1. To quote the producer, “Over the past 8 months, I’ve been putting this animation together with 60 amazing animators (under the code name Project Manticore 2020.) Each artist produced a 36 frame animation on the theme of “Love.”” These are wonderful, and the range of styles on display is dizzying:
  1. Last up this week, this is very silly but, equally, sort-of bangs. It’s called ‘Hoe Trip’ – enjoy and OH THAT’S IT THAT’S THE LAST THING THIS WEEK I AM OFF TO SHOWER AND SHAVE AND DO ALL THE USUAL POST-CURIOS THINGS BUT I HOPE YOU CONTINUE HAVING WHAT I HOPE IS A GREAT DAY AND THAT THE REST OF THE WEEKEND CONTINUES ALONG SIMILAR LINES BECAUSE YOU ALMOST CERTAINLY DESERVE TO HAVE FUN AFTER THE WEEK YOU’VE HAD SO RELAX AND TAKE CARE AND ENJOY YOURSELF IN MODERATION AND I WILL SEE YOU NEXT WEEK AND NEVER FORGET I LOVE YOU I LOVE YOU I LOVE YOU THANKS FOR READING I LOVE YOU BYE!

Webcurios 03/07/20

Reading Time: 35 minutes

ARE YOU ALL READY???? It feels a little bit like that moment at the start of Gladiators where that little bloke is doing his rolling Rs and getting the crowd all gee’d up, and the current crop of pituitary meatheads are all pawing at the ground and flexing their lumps in anticipation as they look forward to TAKING DOWN the latest foolish civvies who think they can compete. Except, of course, in this case the little bloke doing the gee’ing is Boris ‘literally the worst communicator I think I have ever seen; seriously, who the fcuk ever paid this cnut to do speeches?!’ Johnson, and the pituitary meatheads are US, the ‘great’ British public, all ready to go out and wreak revenge on the poor town centres whose only crime has been being shut for a few months due to a spot of pandemic.

That’s right, kids, it’s PUBOGEDDON!! If you’re anything like me you’ll be avoiding anywhere within 500m of a Wetherspoons as though your life depended on it over the weekend (which if you look and talk like me, it often does) – still, if you’re on the other side of this particular equation and are looking forward to doing yourself some serious damage on the pub gak and the pints then, well, er, take care!

Here’s hoping that this is all quite benign and that famed spirit of British common sense, so easily-discernible at other such mass-gatherings of drunk, red-faced men in polo shirts as ‘football tours’ and ‘Kasabian concerts’, comes to the fore.

I am still Matt, this is still Web Curios, and you probably want to line your stomach with some good, hearty webspaff as it’s liable to be a long weekend.

By Antoine D’Agata

LET’S KICK THIS OFF WITH SOME PROPERLY GOOD TECHNO WHILE I VAGUELY TRY AND REMEMBER WHAT GOING CLUBBING WAS LIKE!

THE SECTION WHICH IS BEGINNING TO HAVE DOUBTS AS TO WHETHER NICK CLEGG REALLY IS THE RIGHT MAN TO PERSUADE THE WORLD THAT MARK ZUCKERBERG HAS ITS BEST INTERESTS AT HEART:

  • Facebook Hates Hate!: I read Nick Clegg’s piece in Ad Age this week, reproduced here on one of Facebook’s myriad blogs, all about how Facebook’s really, honestly, not all about fomenting hate and misery, and it was impossible to take it in any way seriously. Not just because there’s quite a lot of what he said which I don’t think is true, but also because it’s now impossible for me to imagine him delivering any information whatsoever without that very specific, very post-Blair style of diction in which your interlocutor’s only goal is / to / enunciate / in / such a way / as / to make themselves / sound, above all / reasonable. Still, the substance here’s a bit iffy too – as more advertisers jump on the ‘boycott Facebook ads (for a month! In the US! During a period when they might actually have stopped social media advertising anyway because literally everything with comments is going to be an absolute political horrorshow between now and November!), Facebook’s come over all emollient – Zuckerberg’s going to be meeting with civil rights groups to…well, it’s not clear what it’s for, but I imagine there will be some listening and nodding – and Facebook announced a series of tweaks to some of its policies to attempt to address some (more) of the more egregious oversights when it comes to BAD STUFF on its platform. Specifically, the big announcements were on the labelling of content which is only being allowed onto Facebook due to its ‘newsworthy’ status (ie we would have banned anyone else for this, but it’s Trump, so), and on a tweak to ad rules which now means that Facebook will from now on “prohibit claims that people from a specific race, ethnicity, national origin, religious affiliation, caste, sexual orientation, gender identity or immigration status are a threat to the physical safety, health or survival of others.” Take a moment to consider the fact that up until last week it was therefore apparently totally ok to run adverts saying “Jews are dangerous”. Madness. Briefly, to touch on some of the other stuff, Clegg’s article pointed out that Facebook’s really good at removing most bad stuff – 99% of Al Qaeda (remember them??) stuff is taken down before anyone sees it, as is 90% of hate speech…which is fine, til you remember that the scale of Facebook means that that means literally hundreds of thousands of awful things aren’t being seen and stopped. Which, fine, is in many respects a human problem, but also is an indicator of how your responsibilities are slightly different and more onerous when you are basically the de facto communications platform for large swathes of the entire world. Also, and this is the really crucial bit, Clegg’s central statement here – “Facebook does not profit from hate” – is…contentious. Does stuff that makes people frothy and angry and shouty and conspiratorial and more inclined to spend all their time in groups on Facebook discussing their anger make Facebook more money, simply by dint of the way the platform works? Why yes, yes it does! Does people having arguments in the comments boost engagement rates and keep people on the platform longer and mean that the all-important metrics for shareholders and advertisers stay healthy-looking? Why, yes it does! I could go on, but you get the idea. Oh, Nick!
  • Better Monetisation Options for FB Video Creators: Whilst I have a not-insignificant degree of hatred for the term ‘creators’, at least it means we’ve finally hammered the final nail into the coffin of ‘vloggers’. Small mercies, I suppose. Anyway, if you are such a person, churning out video to feed the ever-ravening content maw that is humanity, Facebook’s expanding monetisation options – from more advertising options for their channel (including in-livestream spots), to the expansion of Facebook’s Patreon-a-like setup to more creators (though still not to everyone), and the expansion of Facebook’s payment-gated live events to more users. Expect a significant number of Facebook Dads to start attempting to pivot from ‘having arguments about the pubs opening on the Thanet Cat Club Facebook Page’ to ‘attempting to monetise their 5G theories through a regular straight-to-camera rant via Facebook live’ over the next 6m, basically.
  • A Guide to FB Newsfeed for Publishers: Literally that. If you’re a publisher, this is a useful guide to ‘how the Newsfeed works and how it judges what to prioritise and how you can make sure your content doesn’t get deranked [make it original, give it a byline, etc etc], and why you’re still fcuked without a healthy advertising budget’.
  • Some New WhatsApp Stuff That I Don’t Really Care About: Oh, OK, fine, if I were to pick one thing to pull out from this I’d suggest it’s the introduction of QR codes within WhatsApp as a means of sharing your details with someone (scan someone else’s code from within the app and it will automatically add them to your WhatsApp contacts, a la Snap), mainly as it’s this sort of thing which will normalise them a bit to your mum and therefore might lead to them finally becoming the useful day-to-day link between physical and digital that they’ve been for years in Asia. Oh, and there’s some stuff about animated stickers and DARK MODE (why do people get so excited by this? Genuinely baffled), and slightly-improved group video calling but, honestly, the QR code thing’s the main news here (actually, now I think of it, there’s a use case here to give people an easy way to sign up to your broadcast WhatsApp channel should that apply).
  • Some New LinkedIn Features: I do wonder at what point I’m next going to have to try and find work again, and whether the fact that my LinkedIn profile features no photo, minimal career history and a series of posts calling people ‘businessmongs’ and suggesting they have dust where their souls should be is going to be in some way limiting to my prospects of ever making the boardroom. Anyway, if you’re less inclined than I am to limit your employability and instead would like to use LinkedIn to ‘enhance your professional network’, there are now a few new features you can ‘enjoy’ – you can share that you’re ‘open to work’ on your profile, which will make it more visible in job searches; users can append specific ‘offers to help’ to their posts, again helping to connect them with users who need a hand with, I don’t know, glossing over the mysteriously-blank five years in their CV; and there’s now a new ‘support’ emoji reaction to show that you, er, ‘support’ someone else’s post – perfect for when you want to indicate you really care about something without actually making any practical effort to do anything beyond the purely cosmetic.
  • New Direct Response Solutions on YouTube: Here,look: “we’re experimenting with a new way to make your actionable video ads more shoppable—complementing your ad with browsable product imagery to inspire the next purchase. All you need to do is sync your Google Merchant Center feed to your video ads, and you can visually expand your call-to-action button with the best-sellers you want to feature and drive traffic to the product pages that matter.” Basically this is the option to add specific images of specific products, linked to purchase, below your YouTube ads. Excited? ME TOO!
  • Smartreply for Creators: There’s something a bit…sad about this. YouTube’s expanding its automated response feature, as seen on Gmail for a while now, to YouTube comments, in a way intended to make it easier for people who get LOADS of comments on their content to give the impression of fan engagement without actually having to put any effort into said engagement whatsoever. YouTube will start to suggest responses to comments – “Thanks so much for watching!”, “Glad you liked it, stay tuned for more!” – and other such life-affirming fan interactions. Nothing that odd there – aside from the fact that YouTube has for a while now also offered creators the ability to turn on a sort of ‘superdonation’ feature where users can buy the right for their comments to appear higher up in the creators’ feed, thereby making it more likely that their hero will see their ‘pick me, senpai!’ message and bestow a small crumb of attention on them. Which small crumb of attention may now end up being a machine-generated platitude about how much the creator ‘values’ their fans. People paying actual money to send a message to a YouTuber which gets responded to by AI. WONDERFUL TIMES!!
  • Reddit’s New Content Policy: After the big bonfire of the subReddits this week, in which The_Donald finally got shut down along with a bunch of other (mostly tiny) subs, Reddit updated its terms around what is and isn’t acceptable. Whether or not you use Reddit, it’s worth taking a look at the text of this – it’s not perfect, obviously (we don’t know what ‘perfect’ looks like here, fair to say), but as an open, honest and broadly-clear statement of what the site wants to achieve, I think it’s a good one. I particularly like the stuff about ‘these are our rules, this is our platform, we have tried to make them as clear as possible, and if you break them you are out’; it’s the best angle against the ‘BUT YOU’RE CENSORING ME’ whinging (ie ‘no I’m not, it’s not my fault you can’t follow this clearly-articulated set of rules as to what you can and can’t do on the platform that I control’).

By Patrick Morales Lee

NEXT, ENJOY THIS NOSEBLEED-COOL MINIMAL TECHNO SET BY CABANNE!

THE SECTION WHICH IS FULLY EXPECTING SOME CRACKING ‘BRITAIN GOT ITS PUBS BACK AND YOU WON’T BELIEVE THE SCENES!’ PHOTOGALLERIES OVER THE COMING DAYS, PT.1:

  • EXPTV: To be honest I could just give you this, tell you to call someone up and get a reasonably-sized bag of ketamine and leave you to it this week – it contains multitudes (NB Web Curios would like to point out that ketamine is NO JOKE and that you definitely shouldn’t do that; why don’t you not forget that you have legs and go for a nice walk instead?). EXPTV is from the same corner of the web as long-running counterculturezinething Dangerous Minds – they’re not linked, but there’s a similar bizarrofetishism vibe to the whole thing. The website’s basically a TV channel, programming the sort of content which you might have had running on a telly in a slightly counterculturally-themed bar in the late-90s – you want an idea of the sort of stuff? OK! “Ventriloquist dummy sales demos, Filipino Pinocchios, LSD trip-induced talking hot dogs, Liberace’s recipe tips, French synth punk, primal scream therapy seminars, Deadhead parking lots, empty parking lots, Israeli sci-fi, scary animatronics, teenage girls’ homemade art films, Belgian hard techno dance instructions, Czech children’s films about UFOs…” – and that’s only the daytime shift. Nights will feature “Bigfoot, underground 80s culture, Italo disco, cults, Halloween hijinks, pre-revolutionary Iranian pop culture, midnight movies, ‘ye ye’ promo films, Soviet sci-fi, reggae rarities, psychedelic animation and local news calamities. On any given night you could watch something like our Incredibly Strange Metal show followed by a conceptual video essay like Pixel Power—our exploration of early CGI art.” Sounds good, doesn’t it? Honestly, don’t go out and attempt to navigate the Stygian p1ss rivers that will be your local town centre’s streets come approximately 11:39am tomorrow morning – tune into EXPTV instead, and enjoy… as I type it’s playing a live performance by Black Sabbath, this is GREAT! More interesting than Netflix, I promise you.
  • The Deep State Mapping Project: I feel a bit weird about linking this, I confess. Look, I know that lockdown’s been long and we’re all feeling a bit…odd, and the world seems to be spinning that little bit faster and more frantically again…but I still don’t think that’s a good reason for the slightly troubling rise in vaguely-satanic fringe conspiracymongering by seemingly one in seven people online right now (based on the Maxwell news, we can look forward to this one running and running – remember, kids, it is entirely possible that there are appalling people out there and they do terrible things and that they are very rich; it doesn’t necessarily follow that they are running the world as part of some sort of gigantic ritualised conspiracy! When you start getting Icke-adjacent, maybe check yourself!), Still, it’s FASCINATING, although I am slightly fuzzy about its status – is it an art project, is it something that started as an art project and now isn’t really any more…? Dylan Louis Monroe is a US artist who a few years ago started investigating the QAnon phenomenon – he did one of the early maps of the conspiracy which you may have seen doing the rounds – and this is the website collecting…oh God, what is this? Some of the mapping stuff looks like an artistic response to the oddity of Q, but then there are the massive text files which I think are just transcripts of all the Q ‘breadcrumbs’ left around the web for disciples to pore over, and then there’s the artist’s statement which doesn’t read like an artist’s statement so much as someone who’s slightly losing it. Is this part of the performance? Oh, no, hang on, I just followed the rabbithole to a YouTube video in which Mr Monroe spends over two hours talking to a channel called ‘New Templars’ about the symptoms of 5G poisoning – if this is performance then man is he committed. Look, I can’t tell you what to think or what to click on – I find this stuff fascinating (not least as it speaks to something I was talking to Rob about last night, to whit that the web has given us the tools to see and create paths and patterns between concepts and ideas like never before, which obviously opens up the fields of art and analysis and conceptualisation in spectacular and wonderful fashion, but which also allows us to indulge in the sort of pattern-creation that is also the preserve of the genuinely-unhinged) but, equally, it’s a very sticky rabbithole of occasionally-pernicious odd. Caveat emptor.
  • Brain Nursery Egg TV: The 1950s: Watch With Mother. The 1980s: Playschool. The 1990s: TellyTubbies: The 00s: In The Night Garden. The 2010s: Jonny Papa (the dates here may be wrong; I don’t have kids, leave me alone, I’m guessing here). The 2020s? BRAIN NURSERY EGG TV! If you think you’ve seen every single low-rent, slightly-shonky bedroom CG for kids project there is to endure on YouTube and that they can’t get any more idiotic and brain-melty than they already are, think again. Brain Nursery Egg TV (even the channel name is wonderfully-mad) features literally dozens (maybe even hundreds) of videos, none of which have more than double-digit views, all of which are seemingly scripted and rendered in poor-quality surreal CG by AI. The videos have that slightly-melty, half-imagined aesthetic of a neural net trying and failing to render recognisable shapes, with the voice-overs being utterly nonsensical copy read out by a text-to-speech generator, with occasionally coherent and occasionally very disturbing backing music consisting of tinny instrumentation, baby gurgles and, inexplicably, what sounds very much like the occasional burst of gunfire. I think this is incredible – like, PROPER ART kids – but at the same time I am terrified by it; from what little I’ve seen of very small kids, they’re not exactly critical when it comes to sitting in front of the telly, and it wouldn’t surprise me if this stuff was exactly as effective at keeping a proto-toddler mesmerised as something vaguely-pedagogic. What would happen to a kid if you fed it an entertainment diet composed solely of this for the first couple of years of its life? Anyone want to find out?
  • Trash: First they came for the photoshoppers, then they came for the graphic designers, and now the AI gremlins are coming for the video editors too. Trash is an app that basically outsources the tedious process of cobbling together your videoreel into a VIBE or a MOOD; give it your clips and it will automatically edit them into a thematically-consistent whole, with filters and music – this is all thanks to a new feature called VIBE CHECK (dear God I feel so old and near to death) that it launched this week, specifically to let children effortlessly create the sort of largely-meaningless but very vibey sort of content that requires minimal engagement in response but which performs the oh-so-important function of anchoring the subject’s aesthetic within the culture (/pseud). You can read more about VIBE CHECK in this piece – I think there’s something really interesting lurking at the edges of this, a sort of semi-expansion of visual semiotics happening through Stories culture, but it’s very early and I’m very tired and I’m already pretty certain I sound like an unforgivable ponce here so I think I’ll stop.
  • The Alps: The actual name of this project is ‘Un Printemps Suspendu’, but it’s basically about the alps – this is a beautiful website which, through voice over and photography and video and CG, takes you across several of the most spectacular peaks. The use of screen real estate here is exemplary; the documentary-making is far, far better than most things of this ilk I’ve seen, particularly in the way it combines diagrammatic representations of the route with video in split-screen fashion. It doesn’t sound like much, fine, but I’ve been looking at stuff like this for over a decade now and it’s still remarkable how little work there is out there that’s this effective. Really, really good webwork (and climbing, but I don’t really pretend to understand that side of it).
  • Anything World: OK, I’m a little iffy as to exactly what this is, but as far as I can make out its a beta version of an AR platform which lets you create and then program rudimentary 3d models in AR, complete with voice-responsiveness and some other gubbins. It’s VERY early days, but the blurb suggests that you get “~500 animated 3D models, thousands more static ones, a multitude of behaviours and a plethora of environments to engage with, thereby easing the creative process by providing core elements to utilise in developing game and immersive experiences.” If you’re interested in having a bit of a play with AR and seeing what off-the-shelf solutions can do these days, this strikes me as a decent way into the space.
  • AR Copy/Paste: I think I featured the prototype video of this a few months back – now the app is available for beta access (you have to sacrifice your email address in exchange for a place on the waitlist). As a reminder should you not have the photographic memory for ‘stuff that was in Web Curios ages ago’ that I seem to expect of my readership, this is an app which will let you use AR to effectively take photos of stuff that exists in real life and then AR it into digital things without any barriers at all. Look, just click the link, pick your jaw up off the floor when you realise what that p1ss-poor explanation was meant to tell you, and then sign up for the waitlist. If nothing else, just think how fun it will be to be able to pepper all your documents with the faces of your colleagues, taken as they give you feedback on the various preceding drafts.
  • LiveGuide: Can someone please make one of these for the UK, or at least non-US timezones, please? Such a useful website (if you’re over the other side of the world), LiveGuide is the Boston Globe’s curated selection of good online stuff happening each hour of each day. It’s literally like an EPG; scroll through the channels, scroll across time, find stuff you want to watch, click, enjoy. Obviously the upkeep of this is an absolute editorial headfcuk and relies on submissions or someone being so extremely online there may be no room in their life for anything else, which might kill it over time, but the idea is a useful and necessary one.
  • Explore The Last Supper: Google Atrs brings us Da Vinci’s Last Supper, in REALLY HI RES DETAIL. This is another beautiful use of hi-res scanning combined with good editorialising, taking you through particular details of the canvas that you might have missed when looking at a tiny picture of it in a textbook – I am a sucker for webstuff like this that takes you slowly and clearly, step-by-step, through the minutiae of a topic or image, and this is rather like that NYT explainer from a few weeks back in that it uses the medium wonderfully to peel back layers of meaning. If that doesn’t do it for you, though, take a moment to click and notice that the person to Jesus’ left appears to be some sort of early descendent of Dustin Diamond (aka Screech from Saved by the Bell).
  • Pitch To Netflix!: Are YOU young and creative and do YOU have opinions about telly (specifically, telly that is on Netflix)? GREAT! This is actually quite a cool-sounding opportunity: “We want to showcase a wider range of perspectives on Netflix UK social media channels. To that end, we’re inviting people to pitch ideas for video essays on Netflix titles. We especially encourage Black creatives and those from under-represented groups, as well as those who live outside London, to submit ideas…We’re not looking exclusively for pieces about Black or minority experience. This is about opening up our platform to distinctive voices regardless of subject matter. If we like your idea we’ll ask you to write the full essay. We’ll send you a legal agreement to sign and then you can get started! Once the script is finalised, we will edit the video for you, with your input – for example, we can help you record the voiceover remotely from home. We pay £800 per essay upon publication.” Apply! Share with your friends! £800 is a decent whack, and Netflix is a hell of a platform to put on your portfolio.
  • The Bee Bed: In traditional mobster parlance, to invite someone to sleep with the fishes is generally considered to indicate that their future involves slightly more concrete and less oxygen than they might ordinarily hope. Imagine how much more sinister it would be, though, to invite someone to sleep with the bees! Well, now you can, although the people behind this design maintain that it’s in fact a lovely, soothing way of getting closer to nature rather than a spectacularly-inventive and borderline-psychopathic method of execution. Hm. I remain skeptical. The Bee Bed is literally that – a setup for a hive which also doubles as a (very, very uncomfortable-looking) bed, which you can lie down on and then pull another wooden cover over your supine form to enable you to have a lovely, relaxing sleep, lulled by the sound of apian buzzing as the hive-dwellers dance away just centimetres below you. “You are separated from the bees by thin planks and can bathe in their warmth and vibration and smells without any danger of being stung. It will change your life forever once you experience how relaxing and soothing and healing it is. It surely changed ours!” You can’t tell me that that doesn’t sound sinister as all fcuk.
  • Terrifying Disney Faceswap Tech: Watch this and get scared about deepfakes all over again. LOOK AT HOW GOOD THIS STUFF IS!! I wonder how long it will be before there’s a commercially-available version of this stuff that’s good enough – and lightweight enough – to allow anyone to fool anyone else over Zoom? Two years?
  • Julian Bass: I think I first featured ‘the terrifyingly-talented child video editors of TikTok’ a few years ago when it was still Musical.ly – this is basically the next evolution of that. Julian Bass has all the typical attributes of a TikTokTeen – great teeth, good looks, nice voice, easy on-camera-style – but MY GOD can this person edit his way around a video. There’s stuff on here I have never seen on TikTok before – though I appreciate that might not mean much – and you will not fail to be amazed at a few of the effects that he’s able to create using his phone. SO much talent.
  • Lunar Loo: There are some engineering challenges that are…oversubscribed. There are lots of people with lots of money competing to win the ‘flying car’ race; similarly, the battle to be the first to develop a truly viable autonomous road vehicle is hitting its stride nicely with some BIG names in the running. Others, though, are a bit more niche and as a result you might have a slightly better chance of being the person whose skill and talent ends up finding the solution that changes humanity’s future forever. Such a challenge is Lunar Loo, NASA’s contest to uncover a design for a toilet that will work in both microgravity and lunar-gravity. Yes, fine, it might not be the same as revolutionising human transport forever, but there will be multiple generations of children thanking you as they learn how to void themselves in the arid, joyless landscape of MUSKVILLE III come 2117.
  • Aporee: This is…odd. Aporee appears to have been around for a while – as far as I can tell, it’s a website and project designed to collect sounds from all around the world, no matter how banal. “Thanks to a broad community of artists, phonographers and individuals working with sound and field recording, radio aporee has collected a comprehensive corpus of sounds from all around the world, and has provided many collaborative tools for artistic practices and research in the field.” You can look at a world map and see sounds from literally ALL over the globe – mostly utterly unremarkable, but all the better for it. What’s lovely – and odd – is the dawning realisation that there are some people who are uploading recordings of the sounds of their lives and landscapes multiple times a day, a kind of auditory diary keeping which I find a bit wonderful; why are they doing this? For whom? Who is Tsan-Cheng Wu, of Wufeng township, and why have they uploaded literally thousands of audiofiles and what is their life like and and and. Honestly, this is quite perfect though I couldn’t for the life of me tell you why.
  • The New Icelandic Football Crest: This is how you communicate a rebrand – honestly, it’s clear, it makes sense, it’s as unwanky as it’s possible for this stuff to be, and it looks good too.
  • Ynaas: Make websites that simply say ‘yes’ or ‘no’, with custom URLs. Seems totally pointless, but once you realise that you can start responding to all colleague requests using this format (“Matt, would you mind reworking the strategy for the travel pitch, please?” “http://willmattreworkthestrategy.ynaas.com/”) then your working life will never be the same again.

By Jerome Lagarrigue

NEXT, HAVE A SHORT-BUT-SWEET SET OF TECH-HOUSE-ISH STUFF BY REDUCTIO!

THE SECTION WHICH IS FULLY EXPECTING SOME CRACKING ‘BRITAIN GOT ITS PUBS BACK AND YOU WON’T BELIEVE THE SCENES!’ PHOTOGALLERIES OVER THE COMING DAYS, PT.2:

  • The Whimsical Web: This is lovely – this site collects websites that are basically more fun than they necessarily need to be, mainly the personal portfolio websites of artists or designers, or the frivolous side projects that they often append to their portfolios. Playable guitar strings in the header? A selection of cartoon heads of the artist that you can sort through in search of the complete set? A site with the ability to engage ‘lobster mode’? CHECK CHECK CHECK! As the people behind this collection rightly point out, one of the joys of coding is the ability for people to use it in surprising, pleasing and, yes, whimsical ways (I am not as a rule a fan of ‘whimsy’ – FCUK OF CATH KIDSTON AND FCUK OFF BUNTING – but I’ll make an exception here), and it’s worth celebrating when people do something other than making A N Other website that adheres strictly to whatever this week’s aesthetic of choice is (as an aside, I saw a branding project yesterday for a MAJOR THING which, when I had a vague sense of deja vu and did a bit of a Google, looked literally EXACTLY like what you get when you chuck ‘90s aesthetic’ into image search, just in case you want an early peek into what you’re going to be really, really bored of by Q2 2021).
  • Checkboxland: Render anything you like as HTML animated checkboxes. Why? WHY THE FCUK NOT FFS REMEMBER WHIMSY??????
  • Arabic Game Logos: This is actually the second set of these that designer Ibrahim Hamdi has made (the link takes you to his Behance page so you can easily find the originals should you so desire) – he’s taken famous game logos and typography and rendered them in Arabic, and this page showcases the designs alongside the originals. Aside from the fact that Hamdi’s obviously a hugely talented graphic designer and typographer, some of these look so much cooler – Cyberpunk in particular is SUCH a good logo they should adopt it wholesale.
  • The Hump Film Fest: I had no idea this was a thing, but I am SO glad it is. Hump is a film festival for amateur pornographers which was started by Dan Savage a decade or so ago (15y in fact); it was always a live event, with the films being submitted from all over the world by people who fancied showing off their home-made bongo to an audience of strangers for ONE NIGHT ONLY (screenings were no-phone-zones to make it safe for the filmmakers to let themselves go a bit). Now, though, given that the idea of sitting in a crowded cinema is…unappealing (let alone sitting in one surrounded by a bunch of people who are quite possibly having a surreptitious dangerwank), the festival’s gone virtual, presenting a selection of highlights from its history as limited-availability screenings. I think this is LOVELY: “The festival features short dirty movies—each less than five minutes—all created by people who aren’t porn stars but want to be one for a weekend. The filmmakers and stars show us what they think is hot and sexy, creative and kinky, their ultimate turn-ons and their craziest fantasies. Our carefully curated program is a cornucopia of body types, shapes, ages, colors, sexualities, genders, kinks, and fetishes—all united by a shared spirit of sex-positivity. HUMP! is a celebration of creative sexual expression. You will see films at HUMP! that shock you. You will see films at HUMP! that make you laugh. And you will see films at HUMP! that turn you on. You will also be touched by the sincerity and vulnerability with which these films are lovingly made.” Go on, check out the amateurbongo, I promise you it will make you genuinely happy (not in a sex way, necessarily).
  • Make Your Own Anti Face Touching Necklace: You will need quite a lot of technical prowess here, and a 3d printer, but should you be in possession of the requisite materials then this is all you’ll need to create your own, NASA-endorsed antifacetouching necklace pendant thingy which will vibrate at you when you get too close to stroking your hideous countenance.
  • Fontikon: A Kickstarter, mostly there with a couple of weeks to go, by Michela Graziani, which is seeking funds to create new fonts from ancient ones. Fontikon will be “a Worldwide Type Foundry of Ethno-Esoteric-Mystic-Magical fonts for creatives, graphic designers and game designers. It contains a set of 8 ancient fonts from historical cultures and civilizations around the world, designed in modern style. The collection is inspired and brings together: Alchemy, Adinkra, Aztec, Celtic, Lovecraftian, Japan Samurai, Viking Norse, Slavian.” It’s a lovely project and you can read more about it here should you be so inclined.
  • Artvee: Classical art, in high-res, rights free for you to use as you please. If nothing else, can all web designers please start using this stuff as placeholder imagery? It is SO much better than AN Other set of stock pictures of people standing in front of whiteboards and smiling as though their families are being held hostage but they mustn’t let on.
  • Digital Mycenae: “Archives relating to the British excavations of one of the most celebrated and famous cities of the ancient world, Mycenae in Greece, have been digitised on the Cambridge Digital Library to celebrate the centenary of the British archaeological dig.” If you’re interested in archaeology and ancient civilisations, or if you just miss being able to potter around dusty digs around Europe as a result of lockdown, you will like this very much indeed.
  • Fifty: A photoproject from the Atlantic, presenting photo essays of each of the 50 US states. I know that as a Brit – and, frankly, as any other nationality over the past 50-100 years – you might feel that you’ve had enough of America and Americana, and usually I’d probably agree with you, but these photos highlight what an astonishing continent it is, geographically at least, and the incredible range of landscape and space that it encompasses. Honestly, these really are quite wonderful and might make you dust off those old memories of renting a massively wide car that steers like a cow and driving coast-to-coastm – or at least until you remember what America is actually like right now.
  • Macroinvertebrates: You might not think that you want a website devoted to insects, but, well, you do! Or, if you have kids who are into creepy crawlies, they might instead. LOADS of insects with pleasingly close-up pictures you can zoom in on to see mandibles, legs, antennae, KILLING PINCERS, that sort of thing. If you’re a touch on the phobic side about chitinous things that scuttle, you might want to give this one a swerve.
  • Jobs That Are Less Fun Than People Think: Videogames PR! Music PR! Festival PR! PR for anything that might be fun or enjoyable as a punter but, when you get close to it, turns out to be no fun AT ALL to actually work in and which is almost inevitably populated entirely by the dreadful, the stupid, the evil or the drugfcuked! BASICALLY THE WHOLE OF PR!! (actually, noone thinks PR is ‘fun’ any more, do they?) Those are my picks, but what are yours? This is a Reddit thread compiling stories of quotidian professional misery from professions that are significantly less glamorous and exciting than they sound on paper. Chef? HORRIBLE. Zookeeper? OTTERS STINK. Bongo cameraman? GROSS. Whilst it might not make you feel better about your current pointless, demeaning professional existence, it will at least serve to reassure you that, rather than being greener over there, the grass is in fact a uniform shade of brown on both sides of the fence!
  • The Public Domain Songs Anthology: I have no idea if any of these are any good, but if you’re bored of whoever the learner guitarist in your house is butchering the same 7 songs then download this collection of 500-odd free American folk songs for them to murder instead.
  • Bad Stock Photos of my Job: Not my job, you understand – Shutterstock doesn’t appear to have commissioned the ‘webmong’ set as yet – but rather everyone’s job. This is an Imgur library culled from a Twitter thread in which a bunch of professionals spent a pleasing 24h finding the worst, silliest stock photo depictions of their profession possible. The one about lawyers made me genuinely spit my tea; find your own favourites.
  • Unminus: A royalty-free music library, with all tracks cleared for use on YouTube – this is something it would have been very, very useful for me to find about three weeks ago before I made an agency spend £800 on library rights, but here’s hoping that none of the people there see this and realise I wasted their cash.
  • Uffizzi TikTok: ever since Adam Koszary REVOLUTIONISED museum comms by bringing ‘the absolute unit’ to the Museum of English Rural Life, it’s now been decided that public sector social media accounts need to have PERSONALITY and SASS and VERVE – which is fine when you’re (I mean this nicely) a two-bit museum in the middle of the countryside which mainly deals in hoes and which doesn’t have the eyes of the world on it, and a bit harder when you’re one of the big, world-renowned institutions that have something of a reputation for seriousness and stuffiness. Which is why the Uffizzi Gallery’s TiKTok feed is so ace – it gets memes, it’s silly (occasionally very silly), and it’s fun. Well done, gallerinae!
  • Poppyseed Pets: Adopt a virtual pet! Feed it! Entertain it! Make it love you! Honestly, you might think this looks simple but it goes VERY DEEP, and you can find far more to occupy yourself – and in far more interesting ways – than the rudimentary interface and graphics suggest. This is one of those slightly-odd one-person labour of love projects that has obviously sprawled slightly – it feels charmingly ramshackle but also pleasantly and regularly surprising, and there some really nice feature touches which wouldn’t feel out of place in a far bigger and more expensive/expansive project. If you’re the sort of person who’s ever enjoyed a Tamagotchi (a phrase which, on typing, really doesn’t sound ok at all) then you may well enjoy this.
  • Townscaper: Finally in this week’s ‘selection of stuff with no real consistent thematic link between it whatsoever’ is this game – unusually for Curios, this is an actual, paid-for thing that will require you to shell out some money; it is, though, I promise, worth every single penny of the price of a cup of coffee which it will cost you. Townscaper is a simple, gentle, BEAUTIFUL townbuilding game – there’s little challenge to speak of (at least in this very early build), with the game instead encouraging you to build the prettiest or most interesting or most complex town you can, jutting out of a digital lagoon like some sort of tiny Venetian principality. Everything about this is glorious, and if you’re the sort of person who likes colouring in or that sort of thing then I promise that this will be perfect for you. Seriously, do take a look, it is charming and delightful in every possible way.

By Margaret Lansink

LAST UP IN THIS WEEK’S MIXES, HAVE THIS LOVELY RELAXING GENERALLY-SLIGHTLY-LOUNGEY SET WHICH IS PERFECT FOR THE GARDEN!

THE CIRCUS OF TUMBLRS!:

  • We Love Lo-Fi: Picked up via the excellent Things Magazine, this is a Tumblr collecting good new lofi music. Loads of good recommendations, and updated regularly enough to make it worth bookmarking if it ticks your boxes, genrewise.
  • Architectural Models in Films: You don’t really need an ulterior description for this, do you?
  • Socialist Modernist: “FOCUSED ON PROTECTION OF BUILT HERITAGE BUILT BETWEEN 1955-1991, AND THE RESEARCH WITHIN THE BORDERS OF THE FORMER EASTERN BLOC COUNTRIES AND OTHER REGIONS.” It feels that the caps are appropriate here. You can guess the aesthetic here, but this is a lovely and well-curated collection of photography.

THE TROUGH OF (INSTA) FEEDS!:

  • Greenbelt Sidewalk Chalk: Someone, probably in the US judging by the use of the term ‘sidewalk’, has been doing chalk drawings on the pavements during lockdown. This is a feed of those drawings.
  • Crudely Drawn Store: Thanks to Rich for drawing this to my attention. It is a great Insta feed, not least because of all the excellent drawings of famous men depicted with breasts. The Cummings one will haunt me for years.

LONG THINGS WHICH ARE LONG!:

  • Riots: We kick off the longreads this week with this blogpost by the people at ‘the arts are for everyone not just middle-aged white people and by the way why do none of the curators look like us?’-agitators The White Pube, which is a brilliant, angry articulation of a lot of the trouble with institutional support for Black Lives Matter and the wider debate around rights and access and representation and race and prejudice currently taking place – to whit, unless institutions and organisations take steps to address the systemic and structural racism and inequality that defines their existence and their practice, any discussion of ‘change’ or attempt to engage with the debate around race in good faith is undermined. This is about the arts – and, fine, might be slightly tough going if you’re not au fait with the world and some of the lingo – but is broadly applicable to any industry or area of work in which there are problems with fairness, diversity and equality (so, er, most of them).
  • The Problem With BIPOC: Or, for the UK, read ‘BAME’. This piece looks at how the catch-all designation for non-white people (whether BIPOC in North America or Australia, or BAME in the UK) tends towards an erasure of individual identity and differential struggle.
  • Eye Mouth Eye: Last week as I was waking up and brushing the remnants of cat biscuits from my barely-vertical form and doing my pre-Curios morning webscan, I noticed that 👁👄👁 was all over the place, along with a website offering you the chance of EARLY ACCESS to…something if you gave them your email, along with a promise that Tweeting the link would bump you up the queue. It was too ambiguous and not quite interesting enough for me to put it in last week – this week, though, it was revealed as being nothing more than a few Silicon Valley engineers playing around with growth-hacking and viral launch marketing techniques, who then used that momentum to pivot to soliciting donations for Black Lives Matter causes and who managed to raise 6 figures from people thinking that chucking a few quid to charity would get them quicker access to the HOT NEW SOCIAL THING of the week. This article explains how it all happens – I know that it might not seem like the sort of thing that deserves a couple of thousand words of writeup, but it’s interesting both in terms of an object-lesson in hype building and as regards its perception as a fundraising vehicle; there’s been significant pushback against its use as a BLM vehicle, not least as many saw it as effectively making the movement a footnote to a gag. It’s very now, basically, for better or worse.
  • Labour’s Short-term Thinking: Jude Wanga is Twitter-famous, certainly on UK political Twitter, for being a very smart analytical thinker who absolutely takes no sh1t. She’s also very much on the left of the party, which gives you an idea of where this piece about the sacking of Rebecca Long-Bailey is coming from and going. Regardless of your thoughts on the rightness or wrongness of the sacking itself, or on the relative merits of Jezzus and Sir Haircut, this is a well-written and well-argued piece that illustrates quite how spectacularly-fcuked the left is in this country, again, at a time when it really ought to be sharpening an entire kitchen’s worth of knives in preparation for the filleting of one of the most incompetent Government’s in recent memory (Christ, imagine predicting being able to say that about successive Tory administrations. It’s enough to put one off this fcuking ‘democracy’ lark altogether) (it’s not really, though, honest).
  • Chatbots at the End of the World: Or, ‘Thanks For Nothing, TechBro Geniuses!’ Look, I know that poking fun at – or throwing rocks at – VCs and Silicon Valley types is a bit cliche now (to the point where they are starting to get REALLY defensive about it), but it’s equally true that all these incredible, talented, visionary disruptors who MOVE FAST and BREAK THINGS and CHANGE THE WORLD THROUGH PRODUCT whilst pursuing Ketosis and having tantric onan binges thrice-weekly, have done the square-root of fcuk all for the great mass of humanity over the past quarter of the year. Why? “Maybe, though, “innovations” like the executive networking app, Musk’s rocket, or Blender the chatbot, are just pointless vanity projects for wealthy narcissists. Maybe these things seem at odds with what is going on in the world now because the people who decided they wanted them decided this a little while ago, when everything seemed different—or because enormous wealth is, currently, an effective insulator against almost any imaginable disaster, and it’s hard to conceive of a future when this won’t be the case.”
  • Knockoff AOC: On how Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’ now-iconic campaign branding – angled fonts! Chunky typography! Bold colours and shading! – is being coopted by other politicians around the world. Is all you need an off-the-shelf-typeface and some BOLD PORTRAITURE to become the iconic political pin-up for a generation? Let’s see how this lot get on…
  • Why Are Rich People So Mean?: Wired takes a look at what happens to people psychologically when they get VERY RICH, and what it is that makes people who have more money basically a little bit cnutier and more selfish than they were when they had less money. There’s lots of really interesting stuff in here about the psychology of success and how we rank ourselves in the context of peer communities and what have you; I wonder, also, how much of this is tied to a society in which we have for a long time accepted that market value is right. If I am rich, by this reasoning it’s because the market – the ultimate, rational measure of success – has determined that that is my value; therefore I should be rich because I am therefore worth that money, and, by extension, those who are less rich than me are such due to the market (again, remember, dispassionate and rational) determining that they are worth less, and this is fair and as it should be. This is fascinating and made me think quite a lot.
  • The Credit Card for Influencers: Meet Karat, a company which spotted a genuine gap in the financial services market – to whit, lots of products and services in the FS space are still designed for people whose income model is very much a Mon-Fri, 5 days a week, 20 days’ holiday a year, fixed monthly salary-type thing; now though it’s far more common for perfectly legitimate people to have the sort of irregular income flows that would previously only have been the preserve of people who dealt exclusively in cash in dark alleyways. So far, so sensible – a provider offering easier-to-obtain loans or mortgages to this group of people has a legitimate audience to aim at. Sadly, though, the people behind Karat – for that is the name of this new thing – then decided to ruin it all by tying it to the concept of ‘influencers’ and offering credit cards to people with over 250,000 followers, suggesting that the whole thing is being run either by morons or by people who are more interested in the PR than the product (the two are not, you may be unsurprised to learn, mutually exclusive). Horrid and destined to fail, I think, but there’s definitely a good idea buried in here under the horror.
  • Films in Fortnite: Did any of you check this out last week? I confess I tried for about three minutes but, well, it’s not for me. This is a reasonable writeup of the experience – this writer’s more bullish about the longer-term prospects for all this stuff than I probably am, and I’ve seen other reviews of the experience that landed firmly more on the side of ‘total mess’ than ‘the future of shared entertainments!’, but there’s no denying that there’s going to be a mass-level tipping point with something along these lines sooner rather than later, whether within Fortnite or elsewhere.
  • Prisoners on TikTok: It was inevitable, really, that the combination of ready access to mobile phones, lots of time on their hands and some BIG personalities would lead to lockdown TikTok becoming a THING – and so, here it is, the first story about lags making it BIG on the TikTok TL with their ‘real’ portrayals of life behind bars. A couple of observations here: 1) ‘real’? Hm; 2) At least one backing dancer on a high-profile pop tour in 2021 will have been recruited from Prison TikTok, I reckon; 3) Whatever happened to the hot felon bloke? Did he give on the modeling after knocking up Phil Green’s daughter?
  • I Tried to be Twitter Famous: I think this is a brilliant essay. Excerpted from a forthcoming memoir, this piece by Shayla Lawson talks about her attempts to become big on Twitter – specifically, Black Twitter, where, as she puts it, marketers know the audience is 95% smart African Americans. There’s so much interesting stuff in here, from here astute dissection of the way in which Black culture, filtered by Twitter, is then coopted and recycled and fed back by mainstream consumer culture, and how in itself the performative aspects of Black Twitter – to whit, wanting to be part of that 95% of ‘smart’ people – leads to performative elements which in and of themselves have potentially problematic undertones. So, so good, and so interesting.
  • SouthEast Asian Cliches: A Twitter thread – sorry – in which Amirul Ruslan looks at how Western writers repeatedly recycle the same cliches and tropes around the fruit and food of South East Asia – he focuses on the Durian, but the issue goes wider than that and it’s good to have these things unpicked to understand exactly how and why these stereotypes and tired caricatures serve to perpetuate unhelpful, offensive stereotypes that extend well beyond the plate.
  • Ask A Fentanyl Salesperson: This feels like a piece of theatre in workshop (or it does to me, at least). Ben Westhoff, who’s written about the boom in synthetic opioids and Fentanyl in particular, shares transcripts of some of the conversations he had with sellers of the raw chemical compounds which are imported and then combined to produce the drug in the US. There’s something so novelistic about the conversations – a particular type of novel, perhaps, fine, but feels almost like a perfectly-drawn fiction, with the cubicle worker answering questions to smooth the sale, waiting to go home to their apartment and their life and their dreams of maybe becoming a teacher, while on the other side of the world the reporter is up in the small hours, bathed in blue light, tapping away to discover how the other person feels about their small-but-not-insignificant role in killing people half a world away.
  • We Are The World: This has been everywhere this week, and with good reason – the story of the night in January 1985 when some of the biggest musical talents in the world came together in a studio to record charity single ‘We Are The World’. This is just SO much fun throughout, though almost certainly doesn’t do justice to the industrial quantities of cocaine that you just know were consumed throughout the whole process. Great details about – Michael Jackson’s nose falling off, Dylan being all insecure – but it’s the overall impression it gives of all these people being sort-of halfway normal (which obviously they are not – see the aforementioned cocaine, and the 80s, and the money) is what makes it joyous.
  • The Onion on 9/11: It’s widely accepted that satirical website The Onion came of age after the attacks on the Twin Towers – certainly it was the first time I’d heard of it, when the spoof headlines started doing the rounds in the week after the event and we were all forced to confront the fact that Americans really were good at dark humour, occasionally maybe better than we are. This is a brilliant look back about how that edition came together, and how the writers managed to find the perfect note between sentimentality, grief, anger and fear that made all the gags sing. The story about the cake in the shape of the American Flag is an almost perfect piece of headline writing imho.
  • Charles Webb Enters Heaven: Charles Webb wrote the novel The Graduate, famously then turned into the film starring Dustin Hoffman. He died recently; this piece is a short tribute to his life. Part of me wants to check how much of what is written in here is true, but most of me doesn’t – I would be DEVASTATED to discover that some of the detail is fabricated. There is so much to love here, but I guarantee that you will do at least one double-take as you read through, and by the end you will have vowed to do at least one more truly preposterous thing before you die.
  • The Secret History of Rick Wakeman: When I was a kid growing up, Rick Wakeman would regularly appear on TV panel shows and things – I never had any clue who he was, as it seems as though much of the history of UK prog in the 1970s had basically been scrubbed from pop culture memory by that point, possibly as a result of collective embarrassment. All I remember is a vaguely genial man with appalling teeth and hair who seemed to be revered beyond all proportion by a sizeable proportion of the other famous. Now, though, I understand – what a MAD career. I imagine this only skims the sides of the oddness, but it’s a wonderful story, taking in prog rock, maverick career choices and the (still utterly incomprehensible) decision to stage a rock opera about King Arthur, on ice. I have never knowingly listened to prog, but I am almost tempted to start now.
  • GPT-3 Examples: GPT-3, as I am sure you all know by now, is the next great AI text generator, following on from GPT-2 which is the current gold-standard. GPT-3 is only accessible to a few, due largely to the fact that it requires an inordinate amount of processing juice to do anything meaningful with at present, but the person behind this website whose name I can’t seem to discern (sorry, person!) has done a lot of playing and published some of the more interesting examples here. There are a LOT of words, and it’s of varying quality, but here’s an example – this is…pretty good (I am particularly impressed by its ability to loop back to previous events, something GPT-2 could only do by getting stuck): “In ancient Egypt, there was once a king who was told by an oracle that a great danger was to come to his country. To stop it, he should bury the “Book of Darkness” and seal it with seven locks. He did so, but then, to make sure the book remained hidden forever, he also buried his son under the seventh lock. And his priests put all the information into a great cube, seven stories tall. But when the sun grew weak, crops died and people became ill. They believed the “Book of Darkness” was responsible. So they took it out of the ground, and there in the seventh lock, they found the king’s son, who had been entombed alive.”
  • Soul Power: Visiting a music festival in Pakistan. This is superb; it reads like a half-stoned, slightly hippyish account, with a touch of Gonzo in the styling, but author HM Naqvi laces it with enough erudition that you emerge knowing marginally more about the music that compels literally millions of people to congregate in the mountains each year than you did previously. Will absolutely make you want to cling onto the outside of a ramshackle VW camper and embark upon some sort of distressingly-cliched adventure tourism..
  • Journey to the Centre of North America: I love this piece SO MUCH. It’s not really about the centre of North America, except when it is – it’s about the concept of a ‘centre’ as a thing, and about place and identity and belonging and community and stories and family and history and honestly it is a really, really great piece of writing that you should read even if you don’t care a jot about what might or might not be the most centrally-located town in the US.
  • Poetry for Sale: Finally this week, Rishi Dastidar with his poem, written to accompany a BBC radio documentary about poetry and advertising, all about the art and the pain and the whoredom of writing copy to sell tat. If you work in advermarketingpr but you wish you didn’t, if you hate yourself every time you waste a perfectly-turned, well-metered sentence on an empty strategic promise for the latest hot podiatry brand to hit the streets, or if you simply enjoy good writing, this is a must. Honestly, even if you don’t normally ‘do’ poetry, Rishi’s will convert you – I would say this even if he wasn’t a friend of mine, honest, his writing really is that good.

By Mark Tansey

AND NOW, MOVING PICTURES AND SOUNDS!:

  1. Rob Manuel’s ‘Longwave’ project – as featured on here a few weeks ago – gets its first single and video. This is ‘The Tripping Forecast’ – enjoy, it’s far, far better than it needs to be:
  1. Actually there are only two videos this week, mainly as I didn’t see anything that interesting. This, though, I really rather enjoyed, and made me wish I was young and beautiful (I would say ‘again’, but honesty and a painful recollection as to the harsh reality of my adolescence compels me not to) – if I were going out this weekend to get all fcuked up and end up spangled in a park at 7am, this is what I might want that night to feel like. It’s by Prospa and it’s called ‘Ecstasy’ and that’s it for this week so BYE BYE TAKE CARE I LOVE YOU BYE PLEASE DON’T GET SO CNUTED THIS WEEKEND THAT YOU DIE PLEASE TAKE CARE AND REMEMBER TO DRINK WATER AND PLEASE DON’T GET INTO ANY FIGHTS NOT THAT I IMAGINE READERS OF WEB CURIOS TO BE PARTICULARLY BELLICOSE IF I’M HONEST WITH YOU ANYWAY TAKE CARE AND SEE YOU NEXT WEEK I LOVE YOU TAKE CARE HAVE FUN I LOVE YOU BYE!:

Webcurios 26/06/20

Reading Time: 32 minutes

It is TOO HOT and I am slightly hungover and, honestly, all I want to do is get into a bed made of ice and possibly never wake up.

Because I’m really fcuking nice, though – or, alternatively, because writing this rubbish has now become the sort of weekly compulsion that I couldn’t stop even if I tried – I still got up at 6am to type all of the below. The words are no better than usual, fine, but the links are a pretty good crop this week – don’t go out and irresponsibly celebrate the heatwave by drinking your bodyweight in cans and then voiding yourself off a pier (no, seriously, please don’t), stay in and celebrate it by clicking the lovely, cooling links instead!

I am still Matt, this is still Web Curios, and you’re still not going to tell your colleagues where the ‘interesting links you share on a Friday afternoon’ come from, are you, you ingrates?

By Alice Moxlin

LET’S KICK OFF THE MUSIC WITH THE LATEST VINYL THROWDOWN BY INTERNET ODDITY SADEAGLE, ONCE AGAIN A SUPREMELY-ECLECTIC MIX OF STUFF HE BOUGHT AT CHARITY SHOPS FOR ABOUT 10p BUT WHICH SOUND LIKE A MILLION DOLLARS!

THE SECTION WHICH IS INCREASINGLY OF THE OPINION THAT PEOPLE OUGHT TO BE FORCED TO FILL OUT A BASIC QUESTIONNAIRE ABOUT THE HOW THE FCUKING WEB WORKS BEFORE BEING ALLOWED ONTO SAID FCUKING WEB:

  • Facebook on Supporting Black Communities: I can’t imagine anyone reading this being surprised at the startling revelation that I am…not a massive fan of Facebook, either as a platform or a company, but credit where it’s due, this is an impressive set of commitments to supporting black communities worldwide. Actual financial investment, the creation of new sections in their app dedicated to promoting black content, a commitment to addressing the continued lack of diversity in leadership positions…fine, this would all be better were Facebook not one of the single biggest vectors for the transmission of racist garbage in the world, but, well, baby steps. Also, ‘garbage’? FFS, I promise I will revert to non-American English as soon as I wake up a bit.
  • Facebook Launches Forecast: ANOTHER new app from Facebook’s experimental new products people – and another not-particularly-successfully-disguised attempt to get even more of your sweet, sweet data! Forecast – it’s waitlist only at the moment, but you can ask to be added to the list here if you like (good luck if you’re outside North America, though) – is ‘a community for crowdsourced predictions and collective insights’, which is basically a fancy way of saying ‘people post questions about whether stuff will happen or not, and other people vote on whether they think said stuff will or won’t end up in fact happening’. Questions will be moderated for ‘clarity’ (ahahaha not clarity, obvs), there will be profiles for all users so you can see someone’s predictions track record (although there’s nothing in the blurb about how you’ll keep track of this; if they’re expecting users to voluntarily admit that their predictions ended up being wrong then, well, good luck with that), there’s the possibility of discussing the questions being speculated upon…but, look, mainly this is a really good way of getting lots of quite useful data about individuals’ beliefs that can then be used to target ads at them more effectively BECAUSE THAT’S WHAT FACEBOOK IS FOR. I can’t, personally, ever see this taking off, not least because the burden of moderation to prevent most of the app becoming a cesspit of hate feels like it would be too onerous, and expensive, to ever make sense from a business point of view (so expect all polling to be conducted via Forecast by this time in 2022).
  • Facebook Debuts More Ads in Creators’ Livestreams: This applies to creators in Facebook’s gaming vertical – look, here, it’s too boring for me to bother to try and paraphrase: “First, Level Up creators who have reached at least 250 “returning weekly viewers” will now be able to access Fan Subscriptions, a feature that allows fans to pledge a monthly donation to their favorite creators in exchange for certain perks, like access to custom stickers and emoji. The Level Up program was designed to help creators grow their audiences on Facebook. Next, partnered gaming creators now have access to Live Ads. When a partnered creator is streaming, a viewer may see a preroll ad before the livestream, an image ad below the livestream video or a new midroll ad that plays in the main video window while the actual stream plays in a smaller one.” This is bigger news than it might have been a few months ago due to the news this week that Microsoft was shutting down its ‘Mixer’ streaming platform (making all the money it spent on enticing streamers from Twitch seem even more nonsensical – honestly, I had no idea quite how much even the non-Ninja level guys are getting at this point, but I had dinner last night (DISTANCED!) with a friend who works at A Very Big Games Company and fcuk me some of the numbers being quoted) and shunting everyone onto Facebook Gaming, a move that has gone down about as well as you might expect.
  • Facebook To Inform Users When They Are Sharing Content Older Than 90 Days: On the one hand, good! On the other, the regularity with which stories from several years ago appear amongst the ‘most read’ selection on the Guardian suggests that this might not have the transformative effect on the quality of discourse that Facebook seems to hope.
  • Everyone Gets To Sell Stuff On Insta As Of 9 July!: This ties into a link a little further down, but if you want a reason as to why ‘some brands pulling Facebook and Insta ads in July’ is not going to have the crippling effect on the companies revenues that they might be hoping, this is a decent one. Instagram’s opening up direct sales from the platform to everyone (or at least everyone in territories where Insta shopping is available for partner brands at present) meaning literally anyone with any sort of business can chuck a picture of a think on Insta and make it buyable through the platform. Which iss fcuking transformative, honestly – all of a sudden every single business in the major markets around the world has the ability to sell to anyone else on Instagram (so literally a theoretical market of 1bn+ people) for free. I don’t think it’s possible to overstate what a power move this is and quite how much I think this is going to do to (further) cement Facebook/Insta as a de facto necessity for any business that flogs stuff to ordinary people – and how much richer this is going to make the business. Whilst North Face pulling ads might be a big news story, it’s literally meaningless in terms of income – the long tail of small businesses who can’t afford to stop paying Facebook’s ad vig because it’s literally their primary means of driving income is what actually makes them the cash.
  • TikTok Business: Not that much of what’s on this page is new, but TikTok this week launched a dedicated ‘Business’ webpage, collecting information for brands on how they can best use the platform, how advertising on it works, resources for ad creation and all sorts of other useful gubbins all in one place. This is all quite standard, but the language is quite interesting – I was struck by the line ‘Turn culture into a cult-like following’ which is both slightly sinister and something of a stretch if you’re a company that makes, I don’t know, industrial cladding.
  • Ofcom’s Online Nation Report 2020: The headlines on publication of the latest Digital Nation stats from Ofcom focused on the fact that as a nation we’re now spending 4h a day online as a result of lockdown – a figure which, as ever, seems to me to be a woeful underestimation. I know that I’m basically connected to the web by some sort of stretchy cord and that as such my impression of what constitutes ‘normal’ online behaviour is somewhat skewed, but like fcuk are people only online for 4h a day; I guarantee this is being skewed by people who don’t want to admit that a good 45% of their ‘working’ day is spent browsing ASOS and Mail Online. The most interesting part of this, to me at least, were the stats buried in here about the woeful degree of knowledge that people seem to have about how the web works. “When it comes to recognising ads online and understanding the role advertising plays in online business models, only about half (53%) of all adults identified advertising as the main source of funding for search engines, while 43% were aware that YouTube’s main source of funding is advertising. These figures have remained broadly stable since 2018, and are broadly in line with understanding among 12-15 year old users of these platforms (54%).” HOW??? HOW IS THIS STILL POSSIBLE???? Honestly, I fcuking despair.
  • Slides for Strategists: My friend Rob’s GroupThink conference the other week was very good, so I’m told; these are the slides summarising the event’s sessions which have kindly been chucked online for you all to gawp at. There’s some good stuff in here about the theory and practise of strategy development, which is worth a read if you spend your professional life doing the first ten slides of a new business presentation over and over and over again, like some sort of miserable Powerpoint Sisyphus.
  • Corn Revolution: This week’s instalment of the occasional, long-running Web Curios feature ‘websites that are far shinier than their ostensibly-tedious subject matter might ordinarily require’ features a real beauty – you might not think that a business which (as far as I can tell) genetically engineers seeds to produce terrifyingly-robust mutant strains of corn requires a website with full-bleed video and lovely scrolling effects but FIE ON YOU for your lack of ambition. Fine, I imagine that the GM corn business is probably pretty lucrative and therefore they can afford the parallax, but I applaud the extra mile that they seem to have gone here to make the very limited degree of interactivity on display here look as groundbreakingly-hi-tech as possible.

By Granville Carroll

NEXT, ENJOY THE EXCELLENT MIX FROM LAST WEEK’S ‘LOVE WILL SAVE THE DAY’ NEWSLETTER!

THE SECTION WHICH THINKS THAT DRIVING 200 MILES TO GET TANKED UP AND SUNBURNT AND THEN TO SUBSEQUENTLY TAKE A SH1T ON A BEACH IS IN MANY RESPECTS QUINTESSENTIALLY ENGLISH BEHAVIOUR, PT.1:

  • Shared Piano: Well isn’t this lovely. Brand new from Google’s Chrome Experiments people, Shared Piano is exactly that – click the link and it generates a unique url which you can share with others, enabling you all to play piano together on a shared keyboard. As far as I can tell you get an octave each to play with, enabling some rather nifty multi-person tinkling of ivories; even if all you can play is chopsticks, get three other people on this and play THE BEST AND MOST COMPLEX version of chopsticks you can! Honestly, this is gorgeous – so simple, but just really fun and playful and generally wholesome, and a reminder of quite how lovely shared online experiences like this can be. Oh, and even better you can change the sound just like on those old Casio synths, meaning that you too can play chopsticks BUT ON THE MARIMBA! Does anyone know what a ‘marimba’ is? I obviously could look it up but I fear that the reality would be less immediately exciting than what I am currently imagining in my head.
  • Aquarium: To assuage any disappointment right off the bat here, let me just let you down gently – this is not in fact anything to do with tropical fish. COME BACK THOUGH! I don’t really understand what it in fact is – the whole site being very Russian, and my ability to read cyrillic not being what it was – but I’d hazard a guess that Aquarium is a Russian record label and this site is a promo-y type thing for their roster of artists. Frankly, though, I don’t really care – this is a GREAT throwback to a web aesthetic from about 7 or 8 years ago, all long scroll and parallax and slightly-vertiginous first-person rollercoastery effects, all accompanied by a soundtrack of varied (and occasionally slightly unnerving) Russian pop-rock bangers. I think that the different visual styles that you cycle through each correspond to a different artist, but to be honest I think it’s probably best not to interrogate this one too hard and just enjoy the 3d rainbow unicorns and the, er, descent down the ruined staircase, and the oddly-martial feel to a lot of the songs. Can anyone explain to me what the actual fcuk is going on here?
  • AI Snake Oil: My very favourite type of snake oil! This is an interesting project compiled by students at the University of Vienna, as part of their Design Investigations course; AI Snake Oil is an exploration of the different ways in which ‘AI’ (my inverted commas) is presented in popular culture, business, science and beyond, with a variety of projects each taking a slightly different angle on the question ‘what is AI, and what is it for, and what can it be for’. There are lots of interesting bits and pieces in here; I particularly like the project looking at AI-imagined single-cell organisms in a digital ‘ocean’, and momentarily got quite excited at the possibility of an entirely-digital primordial soup, living in the cloud somewhere, which we could all prod and poke to create an entirely new digitally-imagined pseudo-biological ecosystem. Is this how ‘the world as simulation’ starts? With bored webmongs prodding at GAN-generated amoeba? It’s not the most compelling origin story, but it may have to do.
  • Finger On The App: Not for the first time I am here featuring something by MSCHF whilst angrily seething about the fact that I didn’t think of it (you’d think I’d have come to terms by now with the fact that I am not and never will be creative but, well, seems not!). Do you remember the local commercial radio boom of the 80s and 90s, in which seemingly every single town had three or four equally-appalling stations with names like “The Dragon 106.3” or “Pirate FM” or “Hertfordshire Sound”, and which were distinguishable only by which local car dealerships bought advertising on them? No? FFS. Anyway, it very much was a thing, along with competitions run by said stations where you could win a car if you were the person who managed to spend the most time continuously touching said car (these usually took place in local shopping centres, surveilled by a group of bored teenagers hoping against hope that someone would wet themselves in pursuit or vehicular nirvana) – now MSCHF have made a virtual version and it is GENIUS. Download the app and on Tuesday 30 June you and everyone else will be challenged to keep your finger on your phone’s screen for as long as possible – the person who does so for the longest will, potentially, win $25k. Honestly, this is SO SIMPLE and so clever and the sort of thing that is just about niche enough that you could rip it off wholesale and probably get away with it.
  • The Air Force Puzzle: I think this is an official US Air Force site, which makes me wonder whether it’s not in fact some sort of sneaky recruitment thing; still, seeing as I am in the UK, am slightly short-sighted and have the muscletone of an elastic band, I think I can be relatively sure I won’t be receiving a call from an aggressively-moustached staff sergeant requesting my presence at flight school anytime soon. Another smart idea, this, and another one you can probably lift without too much hassle (and given it’s the US Air Force, probably not too much guilt either) – this is a GIANT COLLABORATIVE PUZZLE! The site presents a very hi-res, wide angle shot of a big hanger full of planes and stuff; this is broken down into a series of smaller images, each of which is a collaborative puzzle to be completed with the goal of eventually filling in the whole picture, at which point…actually, I have no idea what happens then, but given the site is tracking the percentage completion to date and displaying that prominently in the bottom-left I’d suggest there’s some sort of reveal or something planned for when they hit 100%. Maybe they’ll declare war on space or something, or announce plans to solve the pandemic by shooting COVID into space – honestly, very little coming out of America has the capacity to shock or surprise anymore.
  • Katalog: This came via Andy Baio at Waxy and I love it. Katalog is a project by photographer Barbara Iweins, reflecting on the possessions she’s accumulated through her life, whereby she spent two years meticulously photographing every single object she owned. They are presented on this website, catalogued and categorised by colour, material, the room they exist in, whether Iweins would save them in a fire…you can filter the objects by a range of categories, which does a wonderful job of communicating the multiple roles objects fulfil in a home and in a life, but also of the beauty and joy inherent in classification and taxonomy. Really, really soothing although I couldn’t accurately explain to you why.
  • Hereafter: Long-term readers may be aware that I have something of a ‘thing’ about digital legacy and the way in which our selves can increasingly be said to have an online life which extends well beyond the physical; it’s something that we’re increasingly having to confront as a society, but which equally is oddly, in many respects woefully, underexplored in popular culture and mainstream discourse. Hereafter is the latest attempt I’ve come across to create some sort of digitally-enhanced memorial for the deceased, using voice recordings and ‘AI’ (my inverted commas – I am, as you might expect, very skeptical about the amount of heavy lifting those two letters are doing here) to create a sort of Alexabot of someone which will exist after their death as a moderately-interactive sort of voicenote or something (this is not how they sell it on the website). This is definitely a future, if not necessarily the future – our hubris as a species mean there’s no way in hell that there won’t be a significant market for digital immortality in some shape or form – and the base-level idea of being able to access a version of a friend or loved one even after they’ve died is innately appealing; it reminded me a bit of this story from a few years back about creating a chatbot out of a your chatlogs with an old friend. There’s also, though, something pretty joyless and horrid about the way its described – the first groups of people it suggests as being valuable to preserve beyond biological life are ‘CEOs, founders and philanthropists’, which reeks of the fcuking VC community, and, whilst it’s obviously a business, there’s something particularly bleak about the pricing structure on the site and the fact that the entry level bracket gives you a legacy AI based on a single hour of conversations with the person in question. There’s a (slightly derivative, fine, but) scifi novel in this somewhere, about the question of differential legacy options being determined by income and how this might end up having interesting – and unpleasant – effects on how society develops in the future, but I’m far too lazy and untalented to write it.
  • Keen: Keen is basically Pinterest but made by Google; it’s BRAND NEW and doesn’t look like it will ever be anything other than A N Other of Google’s failed experiments, but if you’re interested in seeing how they approach the question of online curation and scrapbooking it could be worth a peek.
  • Mapping Future Karens: I can’t tell whether this is a side effect of being appallingly online and therefore having been exposed to an absolute tsunami of Karen-related content over the past 18m or so, or simply the fact that it’s yet another example of the fact that‘everyone is shouting at everyone else all the time and it’s VERY NOISY and a bit tiring, but I am very, very bored of the whole thing – still, this is another excellent piece of research and datawork by The Pudding and so I’ll put aside my Karen disdain for a moment to bring it to you. The site has analysed trends in child naming in the US over the past few decades to track those which most closely map trends for the name ‘Karen’, to determine those names which are most appropriate to use as alternatives to this hugely-played-out-non-slur (I don’t know why, but my personal favourite option is ‘Pamela’ – I think it’s to do with exactly how dismissive you can make the opening syllable sound if you put your mind to it); they also go on to use the data to attempt to predict which names will in the future be an equally-acceptable analogue for the mixture of white privilege and irritating entitlement currently represented by the K-name. Julie – your time will, apparently, come.
  • The Evolution of Stock Photography: This is, I think, a piece of promo by a stock photo business, but it’s really nicely done and deserves its place in the non-branded-crap section this week; the site takes you back through the past 10 years to show how the aesthetics of what’s considered appealing and ‘normal’ in stock libraries has changed, and how that reflects wider shifts in social and cultural mores. Interesting, particularly if you work in advermarketingpr, and a nicely-made site to boot.
  • The Electric Zine Maker: This is ACE. I’ve been of the opinion for a few years now that zine culture and the general aesthetic associated with it has been slowly coming back into the mainstream; in many respects, Stories are modern zines with the cut-out aesthetic of the stickers, the mismatched fonts and their use as a means of personal creative expression for millions of kids worldwide. The Electric Zine Maker ‘ is a printshop and art tool for easily making and printing zines. Art, writing, and image tools are included. This is freeware made with collaboration in mind.’ You need to download the programme, but once you have it’s surprisingly powerful; you can do a lot with what seems at first quite a limited toolset, and it’s amazing quite how quickly I flashed back to making comics as a kid with pritt stick and scissors and literally no artistic talent whatsoever. Honestly, if you’ve got kids who are halfway-creatively-incllined, this is PERFECT for them.
  • Chris Nolan in Fortnite: This is happening TODAY (Friday 26 June), so if you happen to be reading this in the future then, well, SORRY. Still, if you see this in time then I would heartily recommend giving this a look; as part of the promo for whatever his new film is, three of Christopher Nolan’s films are being shown in Fortnite’s Party Royale non-shooty game environment (the film you get to watch depends, for various legal reasons, on the region you’re in; UK users get the Prestige, re it only being rated 12); even if you don’t have any particular interest in watching the movie, how it works and how people engage with it will be fascinating to see; this is a genuine world first, I think, at least in terms of the scale of the event; whilst you might well have had film screenings in Second Life before, those will have been attended by approximately 300 people, whereas this is going to get a 6-7 figure audience. Once again, this may not be the future of entertainment, but it’s certainly a future.
  • Goal Click Refugees: I have featured Goal Click in here before (and I should point out that it’s made by some lovely people who I used to work with many years ago), but I have no problem doing so again; the project, which captures the different faces of football around the world through analogue photography, recently partnered with UNHCR to document the ways in which refugee communities worldwide find solace through sport and football in particular. There are some beautiful photosets here, and some wonderful stories, and whilst I am obviously a horrible, cynical vacuum of misanthropy, I was also quite moved by a lot of this.
  • Train The Mars Rover: Want to do something more useful with your time than whatever pointless charade you undertake Monday to Friday to stave off penury? Well why not join in this project to help train the Mars Rover to recognise different terrain types, to minimise the likelihood that future missions don’t get stymied by the plucky little vehicle getting stuck on a rock or something. It’s not, fine, the most compelling job in the world – you’re literally just looking at photos and determining whether or not they contain rocks or not, basically – but at least you can say that you’re in some small fashion contributing to something moderately-useful, which is significantly more than you can probably say about ‘writing a communications strategy for a major high street bank’.
  • Link To Text Fragment: Thanks to Paddy for this – a HUGELY useful Chrome extension that lets you hyperlink to specific bits of text on a webpage. It’s not interesting, fine, but it is incredibly useful indeed.
  • Chiara Luzzana: The professional website of apparently world-renowned sound designer Chiara Luzzana, which I am featuring because a) fcuk me does this sound lika a cool job – how does it work? Do people come to her and say ‘Chiara, I would like some sounds please!’ and Chiara says “ok, I will design you some sounds!’?; and b) honestly, the music that plays across the site is SO, SO GOOD that I would legitimately pay money to hear it. Honestly, your tolerance for bullsh1t ‘lo-fi beats’ will be absolutely decimated after hearing this.

By Alex Void

FOR ALL THOSE OF YOU WHO ARE MEANT TO BE AT GLASTONBURY THIS WEEKEND BUT OBVIOUSLY AREN’T, THE BBC’S FESTIVAL HOMEPAGE HAS AN ABSOLUTE MOTHERLODE OF CLASSIC SETS FROM THE FARM WITHOUT THE HORROR OF OTHER PEOPLE AND BEING CHARGED NINE QUID FOR CIDER AND WITHOUT ALL THE HILARIOUS FUNSTERS WHO ENJOY WANDERING THE CAMPSITES SHOUTING ‘DAVE!’ AT 8AM!

THE SECTION WHICH THINKS THAT DRIVING 200 MILES TO GET TANKED UP AND SUNBURNT AND THEN TO SUBSEQUENTLY TAKE A SH1T ON A BEACH IS IN MANY RESPECTS QUINTESSENTIALLY ENGLISH BEHAVIOUR, PT.2:

  • Read The Plaque: Stuff I learned when we were all still bothering with lockdown – Vincent van Gogh once lived near me in London (shamefully, despite there being a school and a cafe and several streets within spitting distance of my flat which bear his name, I had, er, never paused to consider why) and there’s a blue plaque and EVERYTHING. Who doesn’t love a plaque? NO FCUKER, that’s who! This website celebrates, er, plaques, in all their glorious commemorative wonder; it’s a remarkably comprehensive database of, er, plaques (fcuk me it’s impossible to work out how else to refer to these; ‘enamel memorystamps’? ‘embossed recollection aides’? No idea) from across the world which you can browse on a map should you so desire. Honestly, you might not think this is going to prove a compelling way to spend your time, but I found myself spending longer than I might have expected exploring the commemorative metalwork (that’ll do!) of Central Europe. Did you know that there’s a plaque commemorating the visit of problematic racist Winston Churchill to Hrad Veveri in the Czech Republic? You do now, and I bet you’re grateful.
  • Project Shakespear: I am quite curious to see what happens with this; fine, there’s every likelihood that it will never come to anything and that its creator will get bored, or that people will stop discovering it, but, equally, it’s entirely possible that a (completely nonsensical, almost-certainly vastly scatological) novel will emerge. Project Shakespear (the spelling upsets me too, but here we are) is another collaborative writing project, but more ambitious than others I’ve featured here previously. Rather than simply attempting to create an Exquisite Corpse-type game to cobble together short stories, this is seeking to crowdwrite an entire novel; the project’s yet to officially kick off, but visitors are invited to submit a 100-word paragraph to the site and to vote on other people’s submissions; Every hour, on the hour, the site will pick out the paragraph with the most upvotes and add it to the novel. It’s such a fascinating idea, and pleasingly hopeful – I can’t help but think that this is condemned to end up full of horror because, well, we’ve all been online for a while now and we know how this stuff works, but I am going to make a note to check back on it at the end of July and see how it’s doing just in case it’s somehow managed to create something that doesn’t feature Nazis violating Shrek.
  • What Is The Stupidest Thing That You’ve Done?: Reddit is amazing for many, many reasons – it showcases the full gamut of (Western, very online) life in its multifaceted glory and horror, and is one of the rare sites which within the span of minutes can make you feel both hugely inadequate and hugely superior. This link definitely falls into the latter category – the full title of the thread is ‘what is the stupidest thing that you’ve done just to show you could?’ and MY GOD there are some cracking entries. If I tell you that at the time of writing the top response is ‘let a friend taser me in the butt for 1000 pesos (approximately $0.30)’ you’ll get a feel for the tenor of the responses; you will all find your favourites, but my personal pick is the simple purity of ‘i ate a bar of soap’.
  • Photographs of the Solstice Eclipse: So it turns out the world didn’t end this time either – surely one of these predictions will have to be right someday, though? Whilst it’s obviously miserable that we’re all still here, console yourself with this selection of photographs of both the eclipse and people across the world enjoying it.
  • Analog: On the one hand, this made me quite angry (my girlfriend just wandered in, peeked at the site over my shoulder and was irritated within five seconds, so I’m slightly-reassured that it’s not just me); on the other, it’s hard not to admire the chutzpah and grift on display here. Analog is a Kickstarter project which has raised 100k with over a month left to go – what is it? It’s…hang on, here’s the short blurb…it’s ‘a physical companion for your digital tools that helps you prioritize and focus on your most important tasks.’ What that actually means – and bear with me here, this is pretty fcuking revolutionary – is that Analog is…a notepad! A notepad whose creator suggests ought to be used for you to copy out all the stuff in your digital planning and project management tools like Trello and the like, so as to make you MORE EFFICIENT AND PRODUCTIVE. Now anyone who’s worked with me can attest to the fact that I have a personal and idiosyncratic approach to ‘getting stuff done’ (mainly involving resentment and profanity), but even I can see that spending time not only entering tasks into a digital task management system and then writing exactly the same information down on little cards is not a hugely productive use of one’s time. Also, and this bears repeating, IT’S A FCUKING NOTEPAD! Oh and EVEN BETTER, it’s a subscription-based service! Yes, that’s right, you can subscribe to PAPER! Honestly, I take it all back, the person behind this is a genius and I admire them unreservedly.
  • Mount Trumpmore: This doesn’t seem to be a joke, but equally it doesn’t seem to be affiliated with the Trump campaign in any way, so it’s entirely possible it’s a joke or just someone looking to take advantage of the idiocy of his base to make a few quid; that said, the site claims that a proportion of the price of each one of these monstrosities goes to Trump’s coffers, so maybe not worth buying one even as a joke. It’s definitely worth clicking, though, if only to test the veracity of the claim that it’s “modeled after Mount Rushmore and made in the USA, each piece is unique and handcrafted by skilled artisans”; I would put money on this being 3d-printed and the artisans not in fact being skilled in any way at all.
  • Fold’n’Fly: Quite possibly the greatest collection of paper aeroplane designs that you will ever come across; if you live anywhere vaguely-high-rise, I would urge you to spend the weekend making these and seeing how far you can get them to go – ideally with the addition of small, plaintive and vaguely-unsettling messages written on them, like “please bring real toilet paper” or “timecube is real don’t let them stifle the truth.”
  • Mowned: Possibly the most baffling web project I’ve seen all week, Mowned seemingly exists to provide a service that I don’t think anyone, anywhere, ever, has asked for – to whit, the ability to create an online record of all the mobile phones you’ve ever owned (hence m-owned DO YOU SEE??). I have literally no idea at all why you might want to do this, but should you be in the market for a new project then perhaps creating a loving tribute to all the exciting and esoteric devices you used to own before all phones became largely-indistinguishable black rectangles of misery.
  • Fishes Get Stitches: A TikTok account owned by someone called Kate but where the real star is Kate’s possum, Pablo. LOOK AT HIS LITTLE TOES!!
  • Welcome Dream: Found via Kicks Condor (who continues to be one of the best I know at finding genuinely interesting, borderline outsider art webstuff), this is a fascinating, labyrinthine project whose aim I can’t even begin to speculate at but is basically some sort of massively-interlinked surrealist hypertext maze thingy. Yes, I know that’s an absolute horrorshow of a description, but click the link and have a wander through a few of the pages and then imagine how you might go about explaining it to someone. NOT SO SMUG NOW EH?? I honestly can’t describe this – it’s like a weird mix of cut-up fiction and poetry and disconnected fragments of someone’s half-finished psychedelic scifi novel – but I can recommend spending a while getting the measure of it.
  • Stinkymeat: A genuine relic of the old web, this – Stinkymeat is about 20 years old now, and is still, I promise, a classic. The site description tells you all you really need to know – “This is what happened in the summer of 2000 when I took 3 kinds of meat, 19 days, and 1,000,000 maggots, and stuck them in the yard of my unwitting neighbor.” – but it’s the commitment to the gag, and the photography, that really makes this. I know that this is a VERY old man thing to type, but this just wouldn’t be the same as a story on Insta, and I am sad that all the stupid stuff that people are doing for fun in 2020 is unlikely to be recorded for posterity in the same way as a plate of rotting protein from two decades past.
  • A Twitter Thread of Sampled Songs: If you didn’t see this doing the rounds earlier this week, then ENJOY – you will, I promise, learn LOADS from this, even if you’re generally quite good at the ‘what obscure sample was used in which popular song?’ game. BONUS FACT – I also learned this week that Chas and Dave technically appear on the Eminem track ‘My Name Is’, by dint of the fact that they were session musicians on the Labi Siffre song that it samples. I know, I know, you all find me incredibly attractive right now.
  • Hard Lads: I think I’ve featured the work of Robert Yang in here before, but, in case you’re not familiar, Yang is a digital artist and game designer who makes small, technically-impressive games which explore questions of masculine identity and sexuality (you may know him from such works as ‘The Tearoom’, all about cottaging and the police and urinals). This is Hard Lads, a game inspired by that iconic video of those incredibly fcuked northern lads hitting each other with chairs in a back yard somewhere, where you get to play a surprisingly-robust physicsy game of ‘hit the lads with the chairs’ whilst at the same time exploring questions of modern masculinity. I think this is GREAT; if nothing else, you definitely won’t see anything else like this this week.
  • A Better World: Last in the miscellanea this week, a wonderfully-ambitious little text game in which you change elements in past history and see what the unexpected and complex ramifications might be for the subsequent future. How would history have been different had Mesopotamia held power for longer, or had Jesus escaped crucifixion? It’s simple, and there is (obviously) a pretty hard limit to how much stuff you can change, and there are a limited number of scenarios predicted for how this plays out, but I really, really enjoyed the way it lets you tweak seemingly small things and envisage the wider knock-on implications. There’s the seed of something really, really interesting here.

By Angela Deane

LAST UP IN THIS WEEK’S MIXES, THIS IS A BRILLIANT HOUR OF CUT-UP OLD-SCHOOL HIPHOP BY THE PLEASINGLY-NAMED ‘SKRATCH BASTID’!

THE CIRCUS OF TUMBLRS!:

  • Mildly Interesting: Not in fact a Tumblr! Still, it feels like it ought to be and that’ll do. This page collects some of the best and most interesting of the posts from the ‘Mildly Interesting’ subreddit and, well, it’s mildly interesting. Don’t say I don’t deliver on the promises made in these descriptions.

THE TROUGH OF (INSTA) FEEDS!:

  • Sasha Gordon: There are a bunch of good artist feeds in here this week, Sasha Gordon’s is one of them. Her work portrays women in pleasingly-atypical fashion, both in terms of the style of the work and the way in which her subjects are presented; this is really striking and rather wonderful.
  • Jan’s Postcard Stories: OH THIS IS SO LOVELY! “A daily dose of microfiction with bespoke illustrations by amazing little artists” – each day this account posts a kid’s drawing and a story to accompany it. Honestly, this is charming in the best way,.
  • VR Rosie: Rosie Summers is an artist working mainly in tiltbrush in VR; this feed collects her work, and whilst it’s not the same as experiencing it in the medium in which it was constructed, it gives a good idea of her considerable talent.
  • Sarah Selby: A digital artist working around the intersection of digital technology and sociocultural enquiry, Selby’s work asks “How does digital culture contribute to the development and implementation of new and pervasive technologies? How many of our online trends can be explained by emergent social phenomena, and how many have much more orchestrated origins?” Helpfully, it’s also really good.
  • Tomoya Sakai: I am a sucker for beautiful ceramics, and these really are beautiful ceramics.
  • William Cobbing: Massively odd, very tactile sculptural performance art. And yes, I know, but you try describing this stuff.

LONG THINGS WHICH ARE LONG!:

  • A Guide To Allyship: I like this a lot – partly because it presents itself as a guide rather than the guide, partly because it wears its open sourcing on its sleeve and is free with the credits to those who’ve contributed to its genesis, and partly because it’s designed to be a guide to allyship in general rather than for a particular group of people. Whether it’s being a better ally to black, queer, trans or any other marginalised group, this is a decent set of principles to read and generally abide by. Oh, and if the term ‘ally’ for some reason gets your back up – language is hard – then perhaps consider an alternative title for this to be ‘a guide to not behaving like a selfish cnut’, because in many respects, stripped of the language of social activism, that’s just what this is.
  • The Long Con of Britishness: I know that Laurie Pennie’s very much persona non grata in some circles, for a variety of reasons, but her writing is nearly always interesting, whether or not you agree with her. It just so happens that I do agree with her about the central premise of this essay – that the idea of ‘Britishness’ and the qualities the rest of the world seems to ascribe to us as a nation, sits quite at odds with the reality of our role in world history and the way in which our country has behaved for centuries. “The plain truth is that Britain had, until quite recently, the largest and most powerful empire the world had ever known. We don’t have it anymore, and we miss it. Of course we miss it. It made us rich, it made us important, and all the ugly violent parts happened terribly far away and could be ignored with a little rewriting of our history.” Quite.
  • On Finding Your Heroes Are Monsters: The videogame and comic book industries are currently having their own reckoning with sexual harassment and inappropriate behaviour, and there are an awful lot of people being outed as having done some fairly awful things. In comics, one of those who’s come to light as having behaved in questionable fashion is Warren Ellis, whose recommendation I know quite a few of you read Curios as a result of. This article, by Harris O’Malley, is a good overview of what Ellis did, but also (and more interestingly) an exploration of the culture that existed whereby it was possible for him to treat women the way he did. It’s staggering how many people, particularly in games and comics but in many, many other disciplines besides, don’t seem willing to acknowledge the fact that in lots of cases these are less stories about sex (though they very often are) and more stories about entrenched power dynamics and the culture they foster and create.
  • The Verification Handbook: This is hugely useful for any journalists who might be reading this – but, equally, for anyone at all who’s interested in general questions around social media and data and what you can unwittingly reveal about yourself via seemingly innocuous use of apps. “This book equips journalists with the knowledge to investigate social media accounts, bots, private messaging apps, information operations, deep fakes, as well as other forms of disinformation and media manipulation”, runs the blurb, and whilst I’ve not read all of it, the bits I’ve explored look like a decent primer for the layman.
  • Investigate TikTok Like A Pro: A fairly natural segue (RIP) from the last link, this is Bellingcat once again doing God’s work and explaining how you can find stuff on TikTok using the app’s own search and some clever little Google tricks. Seriously, you might not think you need this but you’ll be grateful for it next time a client asks you for an overview of who’s big on Fiat500 TikTok and you have no idea.
  • How Uber Ruined Jump: I promise, you don’t need to have a deep interest in the bikesharing market to find this interesting – whilst it does a decent job of explaining the various players and how it all works, it’s far more a piece about how the rapacious nature of modern business funding – O HAI VCs! – contributed to the gutting of a business and, quite possibly, sort-of fcuked the market for bikesharing overall. By the time you reach the end of this piece you will think even less of Uber as a business, impossible as that might seem.
  • The Conquest of Bread: Or, if you’d like an alternative title, ‘why food absolutely is a political issue you moron’. Jonathan Nunn is on good form here for Tribune Magazine, but as with everything he writes your enjoyment is likely to be determined by where exactly on the left-right spectrum you sit. I personally agree with every word of this, but if you don’t then you probably won’t enjoy the rest of the essay either (also, fcuk off Tory scumzzzzzz): “Food writing blithely acknowledges inequality but offers nonsensical solutions. If only we bought meat from high street butchers rather than supermarkets then animal welfare would be better; if only we stopped buying sugary and processed foods our diets would be healthier; if only we ate locally and ate British, the flaws in our farming systems would be ironed out. There is a reluctance to admit that not only are all these things caused by a capitalist food system that will always put profit margin over any duty of social care, but that they are also characteristics of the system itself rather than defects that can be eventually ironed out.”
  • My Little Pony vs Nazis: Fair play to whoever wrote the headline on this one, as it guaranteed its virality this week – “My Little Pony fans confront their Nazi problem’ is pretty much a 2020 buzzword bullseye – but it was a shame seeing it shared so widely by people who’d obviously not taken the time to read it, as the LOLing over the title obscures the fact that this is actually a really good piece of journalism, on both the history of how MLP became an unexpected haven for some pretty nasty right-wing propaganda and, more broadly, how that’s progression is increasingly characteristic of the normalisation of hard-right ideology amongst subcultures. There’s a line in here that is the best articulation of How This Stuff works that I’ve ever read – about the creation of environments “where racial slurs are just jokes but anti-racism makes you a “social justice warrior”, and how that acts to normalise hatespeech and prejudice, and penalise and exclude any attempt to reject it.
  • The Social Media Cult: I know that I am unusually attuned to this sort of thing what with the terrifying amount of INTERNET STUFF I consume, but I swear I’m seeing a significant uptick in cult-related stuff in recent weeks. This, though, is using ‘cult’ in the very literal sense – this is a quite mental story of how two common-or-garden-seeming pyramid scheme grifters ended up basically creating some sort of web-based alien-worshipping doomsday cult. It’s interesting in a slightly-depressing way, but it’s also quite easy to imagine how you could effectively employ a lot of these sorts of techniques amongst some of the more committed fandoms to quite scary, large-scale effect.
  • Games As Work: Specifically, why do so many videogames now feature gameplay elements which are effectively rote tasks which require regular completion, just like a job? ‘Control and agency’, basically – there’s something really interesting about the growth in entertainments like this and the parallel sensation (which I don’t think is a massive reach to suggest is shared by many here in 2k2k) that our lives are in fact largely without any sort of meaningful agency whatsoever and the world is a slightly-terrifying runaway train complete with sparking wheels and a frantically-galloping cowboy alongside attempting vainly to lasso their way onto the engine to wrest back control.
  • Changing Your Name To Turok: As I often bang on about, I used to work in videogames PR – videogames PR was at the time a very sketchy gig in the UK, dominated by one agency with slightly-less-than-ethical connections to the games press and where games were still not taken seriously AT ALL meaning that getting coverage beyond a review required some…creative thinking (or, if you were me at the time, chucking the Daily Star on Sunday a grand every time we had a launch in exchange for them dressing up Amii Grove as a topless version of whatever female character was in whatever game we were peddling at the time. Amii and I had some nice chats, and I do hope she was successful in setting up her own modelling agency I should have warned her that Jermaine Pennant was a wrong’un, though). One INFAMOUS stunt involved the publishers of a game called Turok offering cash prizes to anyone who changed their name by deedpoll to that of the titular character – coverage was GREAT, as you’d expect, but as this excellent little piece of investigative journalism goes, it was all lies. I love this story, not least as it proves that a certain UK agency person, renowned for being a thieving cnut who bolsters his own reputation for being funny and clever and creative by nicking other people’s material wholesale, has always been an ethically-dubious chancer.
  • The ‘Don’t Leave Me Challenge’: I was very grateful for this piece as it explained some of the context behind the otherwise-baffling flood of videos I’ve seen all over the place this week or people making really, really bad puns and then running away. It’s nice to see someone bothering to find the originator of the meme and crediting them for it – there’s an increasing backlash from young black people on TikTok seeing their dances, memes and gags get appropriated by other, more famous ‘stars’ without attribution, so it’s good to see this being at leats in some part reversed. I still don’t find it funny, though – I think this is very much my ‘old’ Rubicon.
  • The Virtual Pub Quiz: God I would LOVE to do a proper pub quiz in a proper pub – I don’t, though, ever need to do one on videocall ever again (a sentiment I imagine shared by every single reader of this newsletterblogtypething); still, however sick of them you might be, I challenge not to have your cockles warmed by the story of how one bloke accidentally ended up creating the most popular quiz of the pandemic, and how it’s changed his life for the better. Honestly, this is REALLY NICE.
  • Jellyfish Are Ace: An excellent essay detailing all the reasons that jellyfish are far, far cooler and more important than you might previously have thought; I found the fact that they are basically floating forests for small marine creatures quite wonderful, and this piece is peppered with lovely facts about how we should probably pay more attention to jellies and their health than we currently do. Also, jellyfish is fcuking delicious – I mean it, slice it up and serve with sesame and chili and soy, it’s oddly like biting into your own gums but in a good way.
  • Eyes in the Sky: I think I stumbled across the website Rest of World about a month ago; since then I’ve included a piece from their every week in Curios. The writing’s uniformly excellent, and the range of pieces and places from which they report is a wonderful antidote to the painfully West-centric media diet I mostly consume. This article, about how Indian authorities have brought in high-tech surveillance techniques to help manage the crowds of literally millions of people which descend on the Ganges to take a cleansing bath each year. Honestly, I love this so much – aside from anything else, it’s such a weirdly Gibsonian fusion of ancient practice and very, very ‘now’ tech.
  • The Rise of Alt-Black Girls: A really interesting piece at the broadening of ‘accepted’ identities for black women in the UK and beyond. The rise of Afropuk over the past few years is one of the more obvious examples of this, but the article explores how the UK’s alternative scene in particular has become (slightly) more diverse in recent years. “For many, recent representation and reappraisal of history have played a big part in reconciling blackness with cultures they were taught were opposed to it. Much of alternative culture has black roots: many forms of body modification derive from African culture, for instance. ​“Once I discovered rock ​‘n’ roll was invented by black people – Big Mama Thornton, Sister Rosetta Tharpe, and therefore anything that branched off and came after wouldn’t have existed without African Americans who created that sound – I was at peace. But regardless of the connection, I’m old enough and wise enough to know the music I listen to doesn’t impact my blackness.””
  • A History of Reddit: This is a Mashable article (sorry), so it’s not particularly well-written or insightful; it’s worth reading, though, if only for the appreciation it gives of quite how influential Reddit has been across several different distinct eras of online culture.
  • My Kid Could Do That: Superb bit of near-future scifi writing, exploring the coming world of augmentation and asking questions about the extent to which talents and the outputs they result in can be considered to be ‘ours’ when they are plugged into us as software updates. It may seem fanciful, but this is only a small step away from the current reality whereby everyone’s a prizewinning photographer thanks to the magic AI photoenhancing software in their phone.
  • The Blacker The Berry, The Quicker They Shoot: Brilliant, beautiful writing by Shamecca Harris, on growing up black in the US over the past three decades. Honestly, this is wonderful.
  • Someone Is Wrong On The Internet: Finally this week, Irina Dumitrescu with hands-down the best piece of writing about what the inside of my head feels like right now, and quite possibly about how yours feels too, capturing the mental effects of four months of low-level pandemic panic like noone else I have read. It might not help, but you will at least feel like someone understands.

By Christine Buchsbaum

AND NOW, MOVING PICTURES AND SOUNDS!:

  1. Jaws. On YouTube. Except it’s fan-made. Honestly, the dedication here is IMMENSE:
  1. And if that’s not enough, The Artist formerly known as Sadeagle sent me this – a full-length, terrible, 70s sword’n’sorcery EPIC called ‘Hawk The Slayer’. It really is as good as you hope (by which I mean very, very bad):
  1. This is a heavy-metal version of ‘We’re Going On A Bear Hunt’ performed in Animal Crossing by heavy metal kids TV crossover pioneers ‘Slay Duggee’. It is both everything you expect and far, far better:
  1. I was never a fan of CarterUSM, but this song – by former Carter frontman Jimbob – absolutely blew me away; it’s called ‘Jo’s Got Papercuts’ and, fine, it’s not musically groundbreaking but it is a CRACKING tune and it’s tells a story in that beautiful way that reminds me of Squeeze and those sorts of people, and, whilst it’s obviously a bit of a throwback in terms of the way it sounds, everything it talks about is very, very now. Honestly, this is great:
  1. HIPHOP CORNER! Last up this week, new Public Enemy – Chuck D might be getting on a bit, but there are few people in rap who can do righteous indignation as well. This is called ‘State of the Union’ and OH THAT’S IT LAST LINK I’M DONE TAKE CARE HAVE FUN AND WEAR SUNSCREEN AND TRY NOT TO SH1T ON ANY BEACHES IF YOU CAN PLEASE HELP IT I LOVE YOU AND WILL BE BACK SOON BUT TIL THEN PLEASE BE NICE TO EACH OTHER AND INDEED YOURSELVES I LOVE YOU TAKE CARE I LOVE YOU I LOVE YOU BYE I LOVE YOU BYE!:

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Webcurios 19/06/20

Reading Time: 33 minutes

Has the optimism persisted, I know you’re all dying to know? Is Web Curios once again going to be suffused with the sunny glow of potentially-better-tomorrow?

Yeah, why not?! Come on, it’s Friday and I’ve spent the vast majority of the week at a point of just-simmering rage at the seeming incompetence of almost everyone I’m forced to deal with professionally (in the unlikely even that anyone I know reads this, rest assured I don’t mean you – I mean the other ones, honest) – let’s cheer it up a bit! The weather’s going to be…ok! We’re down a threat level! It’s all going to be ok!

And even if it’s not, frankly, there’s fcuk all we can do about it, so who cares? It’s time once again to dislocate your metaphorical jaw and chug down this week’s thick, mealy infosoylent – all of the content, none of the joy, but there’s just so much!!!!

I am still Matt, this is still Web Curios – who, if you don’t me asking, the fuck are you?

***PUBLIC SERVICE ANNOUNCEMENT – IMPERICA MAGAZINE ISSUE FIVE (NO SMALL FEAT FOR A TINY PUBLISHER WHOSE BUDGET IS LITERALLY WHAT EDITOR PAUL MANAGES TO SCRAPE TOGETHER BUSKING ON THE COWLEY ROAD (HE CALLS IT BUSKING, YOU MIGHT HAVE ANOTHER NAME FOR IT)), IS OUT NOW!! IT’S ONLY £3, AND TO MY MIND IS THE BEST YET, WITH SOME REALLY INTERESTING ESSAYS ON TIKTOK, CUMMINGS, MUSICAL HUMOUR, BLM AND MORE BESIDES, FROM A GENUINELY FRESH AND DIVERSE RANGE OF YOUNG VOICES. IT IS A BARGAIN, YOU SHOULD BUY IT, IT IS LESS THAN A PACKET OF FAGS FFS AND WILL PROBABLY DO LESS DAMAGE IN THE LONG RUN!***

By Myra Yi

LET’S KICK OFF WITH A SELECTION OF QUEER COUNTRY TRACKS WHICH I ENJOYED FAR MORE THAN I WAS EXPECTING AS I USUALLY FCUKING HATE COUNTRY MUSIC!

THE SECTION WHICH THINKS THAT THE ABILITY TO OPT OUT OF POLITICAL ADVERTISING WOULD MAKE MORE SENSE IF THERE WAS A USEFUL, WORKING DEFINITION THAT DETERMINES EXACTLY WHAT IS ‘POLITICAL’, OR INDEED IF THE BEST WAY TO GET AROUND THIS OPT-OUT WASN’T TO MAKE POLITICAL CONTENT SO FROTH-MAKINGLY PUNCHY THAT IT GETS ORGANIC REACH FROM THE RAGE-SHARES:

  • FB and Voting: Obviously the section heading above is a bit of an easy kick to give Facebook – I am broadly of the opinion that the steps announced this week in the US (to whit, the ability for voters to opt out of all ‘political’ advertising should they so desiree and a degree of improved transparency on ad funding and total campaign spend) are good-if-insufficient – but at the same time (and I know that I am boring about this, and I am sorry, and I will keep this short) it once again highlights the absolute impossibility of regulating the spread of political content on a platform of 2+billion people during an era in which it’s fair to say that seemingly everything in the world is, as it happens, a deeply political question. There’s also something a bit troubling to me about the combined drive to get as many people to vote as possible – again, A Good Thing – and the rollout of these measures; feels a bit like encouraging people to play a high-stakes game whilst simultaneously making it easier than ever for them to do so without actually knowing the rules, the stakes, or the punitively-high vig the House charges on its loaned-out chips (so to speak). Still, at least we now now where the bar is for Presidential ads getting removed on the platform – nazis!
  • FB Adds New Features to its Portal Home Videochatboxthing: Apparently the Facebook Portal is a legitimately good piece of kit if you’re in the market for a little counter-based video-and-voice assistant thing; it’s also, obviously, creepy by nature by dint of the fact it’s made by Facebook. This latest slew of updates, though, do all sound quite useful, in particular the updates to videocalling; you can now launch Rooms direct from a Portal device, making it a decent potential option for small (
  • FB Testing Ability To Share ‘Collections’ More Widely: I tend to try not to comment on stuff that hasn’t actually happened yet, but this caught my eye mainly as it’s not so much parking its tanks on Pinterest’s lawn as it is building a tank factory next door and starting to aggressively crank up production. Facebook’s ‘Collections’ feature was its AN Other scrapbooking functionality launched 18m ago; apparently you’ll soon be able to share these Collections more widely than just your Facebook network, making them public and collaborative with the wider world. File under ‘more evidence (if you still needed any, because, well, it’s not like this should be news now’) that Facebook really, really doesn’t think any other platforms need to exist’.
  • How The Insta Algo Works: This is reasonably-interesting, if you happen to want a partial-explanation of the factors that go into content weighting within the Instagram algorithm. The post’s not on an official Insta page, but the content’s all culled from a Story that was posted by Instagram and so is seemingly legitimate; this won’t, to be clear, give you the secret keys to the even-more-secret VIRAL KINGDOM OF CONTENT, but it will give you something you can point to when your idiot clients and colleagues make spurious claims about ‘how Insta works’ (unless you are that idiot client or colleague, in which case I’m not really sure how to help you).
  • Audiotweets: I think I put a longread in here about three or four years ago about the particular cultural phenomenon that is the Whatsapp voicenote in Brazil, and how people there had fallen into the (to my mind inexplicable, but wevs) habit of leaving each other what were basically call-and-response voicemails rather than typing; basically I don’t understand voice messages on social media, but Twitter’s decided that that’s the next feature update we need and so here it is (for some users, on iOS only). Leaving aside the question of ‘BUT WHY??’, there are some generally sensible measures in here; you can’t reply to a Tweet with a voicenote or quote-RT with a voicenote, which will limit some of the most obvious opportunities for trolling and abuse; that said, it remains to be seen how a platform that already struggles with moderation (1500 MODERATORS!!!) deals with keeping tabs on all this new audio content (this will have to be automated, no? And in which case, using whose software?). It’s also abundantly clear even at this early stage that 99% of all of these will never, ever be worth clicking on or listening to, and that anyone who chooses to communicate on Twitter by posting 140s of audio is a narcissistic sociopath who has no care for the value of your time.
  • The TikTok Algo: Surprisingly transparent post by TikTok, detailing the factors that are taken into account when determining what content is shown to users on their personalised ‘For You’ section of the app. There’s nothing in here that’s particularly startling – although I am interested in the classification systems they apply when analysing the videos users create – but, per the Insta link a few back, this is the sort of thing it’s useful to read to stave off the morons.
  • The 2020 Digital News Report: This is by Reuters and Oxford University and made headlines this week for finding that trust in UK media is at an all-time low, especially amongst left-wingers who still haven’t forgiven the largely-right-wing-owned press for unaccountably not backing Jezzus. There’s more interesting stuff in here, though, around online news sources used by consumers worldwide; play with the drop-downs and you can find quite a lot of helpful data. A few observations/questions: 1) this does rather highlight the problem in determining what ‘news’ content is; 2) more people than you’d think, in the UK at least, still consume local media; and 3) HOW ARE PEOPLE STILL LOOKING AT YAHOO! AND MSN?? (as it happens I asked people about this and my friend Scott suggested it might have something to do with where Yahoo! and MSN mail dump you when you logout of your inbox, which seems plausible so thanks Scott).
  • A Guide To Social Media In China in 2020: I am not an expert in Chinese social media – to me, this was hugely interesting and useful, but that might be because I’m a know-nothing bozo. Still, if you’re after a seemingly-comprehensive overview as to what platforms do what stuff for whom, this is nothing if not girthy.
  • Lions Live: Thanks to Alice for sharing this with me; whilst obviously none of you will be blowing the client’s budget at Cannes this year having instead blown it on endless, tedious, repetitious ‘webinars’ (can we kill that word now please?) in which you speculate in ever-decreasing-circles about WHAT IS TO COME IN THE NEW NORMAL AND HOW THAT AFFECTS OUR STRATEGY?, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t still get to enjoy it. Here, then, is the website for this year’s virtual Cannes – all of the talks that noone gets any real value from, with none of the sunshine, pink wine and cocaine left over from MIPIM. As far as I can tell this is all free, and probably doesn’t really deserve my tedious snark – there might well be some genuinely interesting talks and discussions which you could find properly useful. That said, the first thing I saw on the page was a session entitled ‘Agile Storytelling: Creating Beyond The Jargon’ and, well, OH CANNES!!! You could, though, play a wonderful-if-suicidal game of Cannes Drinking Bingo around the words ‘ally’, ‘representation’,’diversity’, ‘change’, ‘purpose’, ‘new normal’ and the like.
  • Creative Industry Freelance Dayrates: A spreadsheet collecting dayrates being charged by ‘creative’ freelancers (this is mainly an adland thing, so photographers, CDs, strategists, planners, etc), with details about their location, years’ experience and ethnicity, etc. Useful to see whether you’re pitching yourself broadly within the right range for your market position, but also to laugh at some of the sums being quoted in here – social strategist, whose cost varies, inexplicably, from £200-950 a day, may you always find the morons willing to pay that topline rate!
  • Everyday Experiments: This is a really nice piece of branded content work. The site asks the open question ‘how will tomorrow’s technologies shape the way we live at home?’, and then presents various interesting digital design experiments which answer the question in different ways. It’s interesting, well-designed, contains lots of things I hadn’t seen or thought about before, and were it not for the fact that the design is so perfect I would have had no idea that it was promo for IKEA. There’s no brandname anywhere unless you click RIGHT through, but at the same time the way they have used colour and space and type throughout the site makes it abundantly clear who it’s by without needing to check. I am sure people who are actually good at branding and design could talk about why this works with far more clout and clarity than I, but personally I was hugely impressed by this.
  • Light Is Time: Then, there is this – a VERY shiny website by Citizen watches about, er…physics? Watches? “A chronicle of Citizen’s pursuit of the essence of time”, apparently. Honestly, this is so pretty and so utterly, utterly nonsensical (although I concede that this may be an effect of translation and there is possibly a purity and clarity to this in the original Japanese that I am totally ignoring) – look, just read the ‘About’ section for a taste: “Time is light and light is time. The universe began with the Big Bang, creating both time and light in an instant. The sun rose up from beyond the horizon, flooding our planet with light and human beings created the concept of time by observing the cycles of the moon shining down in the dark of night.” Hang on, though, did the Big Bang create time or did humans? I AM ALREADY CONFUSED, CITIZEN WATCHES!! Beautiful.

By Coco Bergholm

NEXT, WHY NOT ENJOY THIS VERY WEEKEND-Y HOUSE MIX BY ROB TIREA!

THE SECTION WHICH HOPES NOONE IS PLANNING ‘WE’RE DOWN TO LEVEL 3’ STREET PARTIES PLEASE, PT.1:

  • Their Names: Another powerful memorial to black lives lost to police across the US in the past 20 years, this site compiles the names of all those African Americans who have died as a result of interactions with the US police force – not just their names but details of their deaths taken from news and police reports.
  • BIPOC-Owned Studios: A Google sheet compiling details on black, indigenous or people of colour-owned design studios. It’s international in scope, though currently skews US; there are currently 14 on here in London, for those of you reading this in the UK, so worth remembering next time you’re looking for external support and thinking about how you can support diversity in all aspects of your industry including procurement. There’s a submission form here as well to contribute other names and details of studios should you know of instances that should be included but aren’t – this is a great resource, bookmark and share it.
  • No Paint: This is, I promise, the lovely, soothing, patient art toy you need at the end of a loooong week. No Paint is a bit hard to describe (and, much as I love it, its creators don’t do a significantly better job of it than I’m about to), but effectively it’s a small, in-browser art toy which creates random patterns on canvas in a variety of different styles. You, the controller, have only two options – click ‘no paint’ to cancel the current effect and try a new one, or click ‘paint’ to accept the current effect’s visual and apply a new one. Through this simple, binary interface you can, with patience, create some really quite lovely, surreal, 8-bit-ish pieces of random…’art’? It’s worth popping over to Reddit and checking out the associated thread for some examples of the types of things people have been able to wring out of this – honestly, I love the web but equally it’s awful for making you realise quite how bad you are at something compared to a lot of preternaturally-talented strangers, but it really is worth playing with and making your own.
  • Algonuts: A new Shardcore joint, at least unless the famously-litigious estate of Mr Shulz come in with the cease-and-desists: “Charles Shulz, the creator and artist of the Peanuts comic strip, produced thousands of comics over 50 years. As a result, he is one of the few artists who have enough ‘content’ to train a styleGAN2 model. By extracting each frame from nearly 18,000 comic strips I was able to harvest 63,800 distinct images featuring Charlie, Snoopy, Peppermint Patty and the rest of the gang – plenty of food for the network to chew on. Several hundred hours of computational time later, a network containing the ‘visual DNA’ of Peanuts emerged.” The results are wonderful – surreal, Dali-esque (sorry, but it’s a bit true) half-dreamed imaginings of Snoopy and the rest, spitting out words that, if you squint, might halfway resemble actual letters…as an exploration of the nature of artistic intent and creation its excellent, and even if you don’t care about the high-concept it’s quite mesmerising watching the vaguely-Pepperminty Patty-esque shapes coalesce and evanesce before your eyes.
  • Makespaces: Another week, ANOTHER experimental foray into spatial digital environments which let you have ROOMS and COWORKING and are JUST LIKE AN OFFICE except with none of the tedious viral load or anyone cooking fish in the microwave. The website for Makespaces, unfortunately, contains a videofile so fcuking heavy that it’s making my laptop wheeze like a tubercular urchin from times past, hence this is going to be a relatively quick writeup – basically it’s a combined shared browsing videochat experience, with the ability to have easily-grouped conversations and with the now-so-trendy addition of spatial audio so that you can hear people more or less clearly based on their proximity to you in what seems to be basically an infinite browser canvas. Look, I am making a dog’s dinner of explaining this so I suggest you have a look yourselves; I’m not joking about the video up top, though.
  • Job Title Heroes: My friend Ed apparently inadvertently led to the creation of this subReddit this week, and now it exists and it is glorious. Its purpose is solely to collect examples of excellent job titles seen in the wild – many of them come as screencaps of astons from TV documentaries, and many of them have a whiff of the peerless ‘Daytime Snaps’ about them (see a recent BBC Breakfast guest, introduced solely as ‘Rick and Morty Expert’). The cynic in me suspects photoshop in a few of them, but suspend your disbelief and enjoy speculating as to which of these professions is the BEST (personal shout out here for the ‘Coffee Cake Expert’, a role I now absolutely aspire to).
  • Basher: This is a great site which is sadly not as good as it could be because, well, there are people involved. Basher’s premise is simple – you sign up and you get to play a simple game where you’re presented with stories collaboratively written by other users. Anyone can suggest the next word in a sequence, the idea being that you can collaboratively-create nonsensical collaborative stories in the classic Exquisite Corpse fashion – these submissions then get voted on, so that there’s an element of peer review, and you only get the chance to start adding your own new word suggestions once you’ve earned some baseline moderation chops. Which is a really fun idea that I was quite excited to try, and then I did, and every third word was ‘anime’ or ‘tiddies’ (I am sorry, but it was – I know that this is the worst word in the English language and I promise not to use it in here ever again) or ‘butt’ or ‘poop’ or, and I will never understand the popularity of this meme, ‘Shrek’. It might be more fun when the children have gotten bored, but sadly in its present state it’s more of an interesting idea than anything actually fun (unless of course you want to collaborate on scatalogical short stories about Shrek and what is his seemingly chronic IBS, in which case you will love this).
  • Will Hulsey: A rare instance of a WONDERFUL Twitter thread. Many, many years ago I reckon circa 2011) I included an image of a pulp magazine cover which featured a man being attacked by what seemed to be a pack of ravening mustelids with the accompanying copy ‘WEASELS RIPPED MY FLESH!’; now, 9 years(ish) later, this thread appears, by the excellent Pulp Librarian Twitter account, which details the work of the artist behind that and many more such covers of a very similar nature, one Will Hulsey, a man who knew what he could and couldn’t draw (could: animals, men, blood, barely-constrained breasts, TERROR; couldn’t: seemingly, legs). This is JOYOUS, and surprisingly educational when it comes to the art of magazine cover illustration.
  • Bird Library: Absolutely the purest and gentlest link in Curios this week, this is the BIRD LIBRARY – a birdhouse built in the shape of, er, a small library! With a webcam! Basically if you like the idea of watching the birds of North America occasionally popping into a VERY SMOL library and sitting at (well, on) a desk whilst eating seed and generally just doing their avian thing, you will adore this. There’s also a gallery of photos with gentle grandparent-humour captions, and generally this is so, so lovely I might cry (please can noone out the seemingly-nice individuals behind this as nazis, at least not for a little while?).
  • Hey: I like email as a rule – I am a fan of asynchronous communication, I like the fact that it accommodates longform or shortform, and it beats the fcuk out of having to actually talk to people. That said, it’s fair to say that much if not all webmail is a mess; Gmail’s conversation threading is a mess, as is Outlook’s (don’t get me started on the way they do fcuking attachments), and there’s a whole load of stuff that you feel should be there but, well, isn’t. Hey is a new email product launched this week which is designed to eliminate at least some of those frustrations with a host of seemingly really rather good features, such as a bulk ‘reply later’ feature, three-teir email triage, automatic gating of first-time correspondence and a whole host of thoer stuff besides. It’s a paid-for service, which might be a barrier for some, but it’s also $99 a year which seems fair should this work as promised. There’s some tedious argument with Apple going on at the moment which means that it might not be as easy to get on iOS as you’d hope, but for desktop and Android it could be a solution worth looking at.
  • 68 to 05: Cracking personal music project (which I discovered via Lauren’s increasingly-essential newsletter; ask to be added to the subs list by emailing her at superlau77 AT Gmail DOT com) – “In January of 2020, I found myself continuing a nearly two-year run of being on the road nonstop, touring in support of my books. This left me with endless time in hotel rooms, or on airplanes. I began to think about my lifetime of loving music, and wanted to make a family tree, of sorts. A tree of influence, attempting to pinpoint the arc of years that made me the music listener and lover I became today. Drawing on music that my parents and their parents listened to, the music my older siblings brought into the house, and the music my crew and I united over when I finally had the money to buy my own albums. I went from some of the first songs I remembered hearing, and traced influence, and lineage, both forward and backwards. What I landed on was a long stretch of years: 1968 to 2005.” Comprising playlists (they’re not complete for every year, so worth checking back periodically), photos, albums, magazine covers, each year is a look back through someone else’s eyes at musical culture from the past. I LOVE this idea – the concept of being taken on a personal journey through someone else’s version of 1999, say – and I would love to see it explored further; in my head now there’s a really interesting branching narrative series bringing together personal stories about people’s pasts, year by year, with points of commonality and intersection and divergence marked on some sort of massive, interactive visual timeline…it’s a real shame I can’t actually make anything and I’m too old and lazy to learn, really.
  • The Horny Census: Also from Lauren (see, you really should sign up) comes The Horny Census, a project by someone named Allison (probably not the LFC goalkeeper but you never know) which is exploring female sexuality and desire for a forthcoming book. In their words: “horny explores the personal/political/cultural moments and events that have reshaped women’s attitudes towards sex/dating/their own horniness. i’ll be telling a lot of my own stories of horn and i want to hear all of yours, too. i’ve created this fun thing called The Horny Census, to collect stories/opinions/thoughts from as many women as possible.” It’s all anonymous, so if you fancy venting a bit about sex, desire and your conception of both then go right ahead.
  • Auto-uprezzing Photos: This is an academic papre rather than an actual product, but it’s basically going to make the CSI-style ‘zoom in! Upgrade resolution!’ computer bits reality. The research describes how academics at Duke University in the US have been working on an AI-based visual enhancement system which will allow for the, er, enhancement of pixellated faces in photographs so as to enable identification of individuals even in circumstances where they’ve been photographed at distance or low res. Is this a good thing? Will it solely be used for GOOD THINGS? What do you think?
  • Neon Signs: Via the world’s best stationery and design supplies shop in the world (or at least the one with the best Twitter feed) Present & Correct comes this lovely site, an online exhibition of the history of neon signs in Hong Kong with a wonderfully-comprehensive selection of photographs of the city’s illuminated signage through history alongside explanations of the role of the medium in the city’s iconic visual style, tours of the city showing off some of the best examples, alongside content around their design and construction. Neon is ace, you’ll love this.
  • You Can Now Book Zoom Calls With Famouses: You might not want to, though, given they’re all Americans you’ve probably never heard of, but still – Cameo is now giving you the option to book someone of the calibre of, say, Lance Bass of NSync fame to appear on your Zoom call for 10 minutes! It’s only for calls of upto 4 people, so no trying to get around the standard booking fees and trying to get him to appear at your virtual conference for $200; still, if you’ve ever wanted to spend 10 minutes grilling Perez Hilton as to whether he feels guilty for being instrumental in birthing some of the worst elements of today’s popular culture sump pit then GET INVOLVED (disappointingly I am almost certain that the famous reserve the right to terminate the call at any time, meaning Mr Hilton is unlikely to get the carpeting he so richly deserves via this platform). The absence of UK celebrities here is galling – DAVE BENSON PHILIPS, THIS IS YOUR TIME TO SHINE!
  • The Quarantine Cat Film Festival: OH YES! This goes live in a few short hours and I imagine the excitement globally is already at fever pitch – if you though that NOTHING good has come out of lockdown and pandemic and associated horrors, think again – a whole FILM has been compiled of clips of cats in quarantine! OH MAOW! It’s seemingly a proper film, with plans for a theatrical release(!) at least across the US, but it’s screening virtually as of mid-afternoon UK time. There’s a pay-what-you-want mechanic attached to it, but I figure if you’re a cat fan then chucking a few quid to the people behind this won’t cause you too much misery.

By Fabio Viale

NEXT, ENJOY THIS TRULY SPECTACULAR D’N’B SELECTION BY DLR!

THE SECTION WHICH HOPES NOONE IS PLANNING ‘WE’RE DOWN TO LEVEL 3’ STREET PARTIES PLEASE, PT.2:

  • Buy Spot: The moment is finally here! After many years of gawping in terrified awe at the quadripedal murderdogs of the future, the clever-if-potentially-insane people at Boston Dynamics have decided to make Spot The Terrifying Robot Dog (not its official name) available for purchase on application, to any corporation that wants one (some of you may recall some past chat about ‘not making this available to any buyer willy nilly’ – turns out Boston Dynamics changed CEO recently and this one seems a little more immediately-concerned with the immediate monetisation of their most-famous roboson and are suddenly a lot more relaxed about what AN Other private corporation might choose to do with its all-terrain indestructible camerabot)! Sadly (or not, depending on how relaxed or otherwise you might be about corporate armies of these things skipping gaily across London Fields policing one’s can consumption of a Friday night) they are only selling to businesses in the US at the moment, but I reckon it can’t be long before someone figures out a loophole. The price? $75k. I have no idea what the Imperica coffers are looking like (though tbh I can hazard a guess), but rest assured my campaign to get Editor Paul to buy one and call it ‘Matt’ starts here.
  • Divebomber Dave: Dave is a bird. Dave doesn’t like it when people encroach upon his (we don’t know the gender of the bird but someone’s called it Dave and, honestly, I’m fine with that) patch, and Dave expresses this via the medium of aggressively flying at their heads, beak-first. Which, on reflection, makes it sound more like Dave’s a female protecting her nest – DAVINA! Anyway, this is a TikTok account and it’s quite funny.
  • The NYC Traffic Archive: Not interesting interesting, fine, but the sort of civic digital project which I always think is indicative of the very best of open, public data – this is an initiative by New York Mesh (itself an excellent project designed to extend low-cost, high-quality broadband access to all residents of NYC, regardless of income) which works to archive and make searchable footage from the city’s traffic cameras, meaning they can be accessed by anyone for any purpose – most likely, America being what it is, for those seeking support from a legal perspective. Not flashy or exciting, but a reminder of why public information sets are important and why open access civic data is a boon.
  • Quament: Or, more accurately, Redditalerts – the site seems to promise that it will eventually open itself up to a wider range of sources, but at present its functionality is limited to Reddit. Still, though, it’s potentially really useful for anyone looking to keep track of themes and topics across the site and who don’t have the money to pay for a proper digital monitoring product a la Brandwatch. You simply type in your keywords, either for the whole of Reddit or for individual subs, and Robert is your father’s brother – notifications get sent to your platform of choice. It’s simple, but equally seemingly effective and crucially free.
  • The International Grizzly Bear Committee: Sadly not a committee composed of the world’s grizzly bears, but instead instead one comprised of humans which “formed in 1983 to help ensure recovery of viable grizzly bear populations and their habitat in the Lower 48 states through interagency coordination of policy, planning, management, and research.” To be honest it was the name more than anythingt that tickled me about this, and then I got into the section about bear resistant products and now I want to only dress in anti-grizzly kevlar til the day I die (not by bear).
  • Ampled: This is a really interesting idea; Ampled is basically ‘Patreon, but specifically for musicians’, with the idea that it’s a community and artist-owned endeavour rather than one spawned from the horror of VC. I am torn with things like this – on the one hand I think it’s a good initiative and that artists should absolutely be paid for their work; on the other, I am not totally convinced that the world’s relationship with cultural content hasn’t shifted somewhat irrevocably over the past three decades, to the extent to which we simply do not ascribe the same material value to cultural output as we used to and as such there simply isn’t the same potential market for artists to monetise themselves as they used to. I hope I’m wrong, though – regardless, if you make music and think you have a fanbase that might want to support you on a regular basis, this could be worth a look.
  • That Thread About Bees: You probably saw this already this week – it has done NUMBERS – but in case not then I highly recommend this thread (again, not something I say that often) which takes as its starting point a photograph of a beehive which has been something of an internet staple for a while now but which inexplicably got a new lease of life in recent weeks; the author, Steve Byrne, takes you on his journey as he tries to get to the bottom of where the original image came from, and when, and who made it, and why, and in so doing tells a very modern story about information and provenance and truth and collective mythology and how it’s getting harder and harder and harder to determine provenance online, and how fewer and fewer people care. As an aside, when I saw this picture doing the rounds again I tried to research when I’d first seen it, but was entirely incapable of doing so because of the accreted layer of clickbait history that accumulates each time it resurfaces on Facebook again – this is a frivolous example but something which I think is going to become an interesting and increasingly-knotty problem over the next decade or so (I feel this is the point at which an infinity of bearded men shout ‘BLOCKCHAIN!’ at me until I kill myself).
  • Toy Faces: Diverse, 3d CG renders of cartoony people, free to download and use however you see fit, created by Amrit Pal. Not only is this a useful thing, but these are far better pieces of design than they needed to be.
  • EZbiolink: On the one hand, this is yet another one of those ‘hey, let us make you an easy one-stop homepage for all your various social links that you can use as a universal profile’ and as such of no interest at all; on the other hand, this lets you do all sorts of clever retargeting stuff with FB and other pixels, etc, which I’ve not seen before in this sort of shovelware and which therefore makes it potentially worth a look.
  • Flipo Flip: I feel that someone somewhere must already have done the job of scraping all Kickstarter listings to work out which combination of keywords guarantees you the biggest multiplier on your initial goal – I would imagine ‘stress relieving’ and ‘toy’ would both feature quite large in the eventual wordcloud. So it is with Flipo Flip, a simple executive toy which uses clever weighting and potential energy to basically become an infinitely-flipping metal dominothing (here I am laying bare before you my lack of understanding of either physics or object design!) and which has had £250,000 punted at it with nearly a fortnight to go. What I love about this – other than the fact that these people have raised more money than many people will earn in a lifetime for what is effectively a nicely-milled piece of weighted steel – is the lengths that they go to in the description to position it as a FUN TOY that is worth your investment. Look! You can spin it! You can race them! I feel they missed a trick here by not repurposing the Ren & Stimpy classic ‘Log!’ as part of their campaign.
  • Fcuk Trump: On the one hand, one might argue that the past four years have shown up the artworld’s inability to land a glove on the truly powerful, and the paucity of the artistic response to political horror here in Q121C. On the other, fcuk Trump. This website is collecting works by artists from across the world who want to express their inevitable distaste for the sitting President and who are posting their work here to be shared, promoted, distributed and used as protest work in election year. Is it depressively defeatist to ask whether the culture wars have rendered all this moot, and to wonder whether the capacity for culture to change minds rather than simply stoke division and argument has diminished beyond saving? Yes, it probably is; fcuk Trump. Oh, and Johnson and Bolsonaro and Orban and Salvini and the rest.
  • Travel Local: SO CLEVER by the people at The Pudding, this time using data from review sites to compile lists of the best visitor attractions across the US as judged by the people who know best, those who live in the local area. Not only is this (as always with their work) an excellent piece of datavisualisation and webwork, it’s also an object-lesson in smart use of datasets borne of a GENUINE INSIGHT (you don’t get many of those these days, do you? STOP USING IT AS A WORD THAT JUST MEANS ’INFORMATION’ YOU FCUKING CRETINS THIS IS THE REASON I AM SO UNBEARABLY ANGRY WITH YOU ALL THE TIME ahem sorry) to create useful content with an original slant. Another one of those links that will make you want to circulate it to a specific list of people you work with a note that simply reads ‘learn ffs’.
  • The Ross Spiral Curriculum: This is either a legitimately interesting and conceptually novel way of displaying hierarchies and taxonomies of concepts within an educational framework, or it’s Timecube but for learning. I will leave it up to you to decide, but I really hope it’s the former mainly as I like the idea of parents having to navigate the learning spiral to work out what their kids ought to be doing for homework that week.
  • The TRK Wage Calculator: I’ve had a couple of conversations with people over recent weeks around the possibility of more professions moving to a piecemeal working model; I personally think it’s quite likely as we normalise online working and the building blocks of jobs get more granular. If we’re not together in an office, why shouldn’t I go online to find someone cheap-but-well-reviewed to, say, write my press release, or chase the journalists, or do the scamps, or whatever? There’s literally no reason at all this couldn’t equally be applied to traditionally more ‘valuable’ work like ‘strategy’ or ‘planning’ either, to my mind, but maybe that shows how little I know about anything. Anyway, that’s all by way of a longwinded preamble to this site, which lets you calculate exactly how fast you’d need to work and how much you’d have to charge to be able to earn anything even approaching a living wage through Amazon’s piecemeal work marketplace Mechanical Turk – the answers will, unsurprisingly, not fill you with joy at the prospect of a future in which many more jobs have been reduced to this sort of system.
  • Folding in CSS: This may not mean much to lots of you, but as I think I’ve mentioned before I have long had a soft spot for MAD magazine – its (I think) longest-serving artist Al Jaffee retired recently, he who was responsible among other things for the mag’s infamous and infinitely-inventive folding-gag covers (click the link, you’ll see what I mean). In tribute, Thomas Park has created some code in CSS that mimics the particular folding action of the page that was required to make the gags work – honestly, there’s something so lovely about this (and it’s a nice piece of code too).
  • Free Textbooks From Springer: There is a LOT of stuff here, across a wide range of disciplines; no idea how much of this is relevant to UK curricula, but, hey, even if it’s not it might still be worth looking at. LEARNING FOR ITS OWN SAKE!!
  • Lee Carballos Putting Challenge: My girlfriend is the world’s biggest Simpson’s fan (even recent series, she’s that undiscerning) – even if you’re not, though, you’ll quite possibly enjoy this small game, based on a throwaway gag from an old episode and which lets you play LEE CARBALLOS PUTTING CHALLENGE in all its retro glory (it’s not very glorious, if you don’t mind a tiny spoiler).
  • September 2020: Obviously what I am about to say is coloured by the fact that I live in the UK and that I am being governed by people whose unique (but OH SO BRITISH!) combination of hubris, ignorance, venality and entitlement has contributed to us staring down the barrel of some pretty iffy outcomes from Phase 1 of the COVIDhorror, but it does feel very much like we’re done with lockdown now, and that the distancing thing’s not really hanging around for much longer either (the fact that I can go to a themepark with 300 strangers but not to a party with 8 friends and other legal idiosyncrasies of that ilk may be contributing a touch). This little interactive fiction game is a useful reminder of why it’s important to remember it’s not actually about most of us at all – its from the perspective of a student in the US who’s back at college in September; they are, your told at the outset, in a high-risk category as a result of a congenital medical condition which is currently flaring up. You play through the student’s day, and very quickly realise the extent to which you are dependent on the consideration of others for your personal safety, and the extent to which the absence of that consideration is a frightening and dangerous thing. One of the best empathy simulators I’ve played in an age, and that’s a compliment I promise.
  • A New Life: You’ll need to download this, but it’s worth it. A beautiful love story game, with gorgeous illustrations and multiple endings – it may not have escaped your attention, but I’m not exactly overburdened with emotion and I’m hardly what might be described as ‘sentimental’; still, this captivated me like few other things this week, and I’d urge you to give it a try even if you don’t normally fcuk with games at all.

By Al Mefer

LAST IN THIS WEEK’S SELECTION OF MUSICAL PICK-ME-UPS, ENJOY THIS BALEARIC SUNSRISE MIX BY COLE MEDINA!

THE CIRCUS OF TUMBLRS IS ONCE AGAIN SADLY EMPTY!

THE TROUGH OF (INSTA) FEEDS!:

  • Pull Up For Change: An Insta feed documenting the progress or lack thereof of business in increasing and improving black representation within their organisation. Given we’ve spent much of the past three weeks talking about practical things one can do to start to make systemic change around racism and diversity representation, thinking more carefully about the companies we buy things from seems like a fairly low-level bar to start at.
  • The International Eraser Museum: Rubbers, but not the ‘sexy’ kind.
  • Trash Metal Fabrications: The Insta account of a business that makes all sorts of metal garden furniture, primarily for the purpose of burning things inside. If you ever wanted a fire chimney in the shape of Darth Vader’s head then a) FFS grow up man; and b) here!
  • Fcuk Mushrooms: Thanks Rina, for pointing me at this Insta feed of a person who really dislikes mushrooms and seems to have made it their mission to communicate that dislike via the medium of a middle finger to as many mycological examples as possible.

LONG THINGS WHICH ARE LONG!:

  • White Fragility: The piece’s title is specifically about Portland’s white fragility – the author anchors the piece in her experience of living in the bastion of white, West Coast US liberalism – but the geography is unimportant, and the essay’s themes are relevant and important whether you’re in Portland, Portsmouth or Palermo. Please do read it – it’s really great writing, aside from anything else, but also is a remarkably clear articulation of how this stuff works: “White people, understand that this country was built for no one but you. Everything that you know and enjoy today is a byproduct of white supremacist patriarchal capitalism. Everything.” It’s sort of fundamental really.
  • The Case for Reparations: This essay by Jason Hickel is a couple of years old now, but it’s worth reading now in the wake of the statements made by Lloyd’s of London, Greene King and others, acknowledging their roots in the slave trade and offering to make financial reparations to seek to make some (small, distant) amends. The question of how reparations ought to be organised is inevitably hugely-complex, but it feels like the argument that regardless, they very much ought has now seemingly been won; Hickel here makes a cogent case as to why; as the essay is taken from the text of a debate in the Durham Union, it contains a nice back-and-forth dismantling the arguments from the other side as to why reparations are not in fact appropriate; SO many good lines in here, of which “colonization is not a necessary vector for the transfer of knowledge and infrastructure” is a particular favourite. Really recommend this one; if nothing else it’s a good example of how to arrange, structure and, well, argue an argument.
  • Race is an Ad Campaign: On black representation in ad(vermarketingpr)land, or more accurately the lack thereof. So much good stuff in here about what people in agencies can and should practically do to make a positive difference, including this: “For two weeks, I’ve seen dozens of industry leaders wax poetic about justice, equality, listening—and above all, love. Some responses were truly energizing. Many were the liberal equivalent of Thoughts & Prayers. Love is not the answer. The answer is bodies, talent, money, research, media strategies, earned-media ideas, KPIs to measure real wins and losses, deadlines to hold ourselves accountable, and everything else we use to get people to change behaviors. Instead of using all the creativity and data that those same industry leaders brag about to sell consumers yet another brand of soap, what if it was harnessed to get the knee off your neighbor’s neck?”
  • Racism and Bongo: It seems odd to me that bongo as an industry hasn’t gotten more flak for some of the more, er, problematic tropes which it perpetuates, but it seems there’s perhaps something of a reckoning coming. This Rolling Stone article looks at how black workers in the industry have responded to the recent upsurge in focus on racial equality, and how the industry itself is, slowly, seeking to address some of its more egregious missteps. It’s tricky though when so many of the elements and themes that are considered ‘standard’ in bongo here in 2020 are rooted in some staggeringly old-fashioned and outright racist conceptions including the base-level objectification of black bodies, the ‘mandingo’ myth, etc etc.
  • Coronavirus and Kids: This is really, really interesting, but also the sort of thing which I can read objectively as a childless man and think, vaguely, ‘there but for the grace of God’; those of you with children might find this a little more harrowing to read. Still, it’s a great piece of reporting in Buzzfeed US, interviewing over 40 kids of varying ages across the country to find how they have been coping with pandemic life. The headline screams that a generation of kids is being ‘shattered’ by the virus; what’s perhaps a more accurate assessment is that a generation of poor kids is going to be screwed whilst the rich kids will probably be fine. It was ever thus, but if you can read this and not feel for the children in the bottom tercile in this country and elsewhere whose prospects are being fcuked by this, even harder than they were by fate, then, well, you’re harder-hearted than even I.
  • Reeducation in North-West China: A chilling and comprehensive account of the development of the Chinese state’s surveillance and internment infrastructure which over the past 5 years has systematically instituted racially-based controls over the Muslim population in the area. There’s so much of this that is genuinely a bit scary, and quite a few others that are just a bit jaw-dropping – the detail that the Chinese got the idea for a lot of the anti-Uighur stuff from the Snowden transcripts and then basically built their own kit off the back of that in a couple of years is mind-fcukingly impressive-and-horrible (ah, that early-21C doublethink!).
  • I’m a Political Adviser, Ask Me Anything: HUGELY interesting thread on Reddit in which an evidently mid-tier UK govt adviser does an AMA; there are no official secrets spilled here, and you won’t get in the inside scoop on what the backroom staff really think is going on, but if you want a reasonable explanation of the role of advisers in government, the relationship between SPADS, MPs and civil servants, and a slightly-better comprehension of how the machinery of government works then this is very useful indeed. Also contains the truest statement I have ever read about politics in this or any other country, based on my interactions with a reasonable number of politicians from all parties of varying degrees of seniority: “The overwhelming majority of politicians genuinely want to do good things and would pour their heart and soul into fighting for their constituents and the causes they believe in. I think the uncomfortable truth is that a fair chunk of that number, through no failing or fault of their own, just don’t have the ability to do that job well.”
  • The Boogaloo Boys: You know about this lot by now – the latest ‘is it a memey joke or is it a gateway to fash?’ shi1tposters club, with the Hawai’an shirts and the overtly pro-gun attitude, currently blowing up all over TikTok and coming soon to Facebook and Instagram near YOU (if you live in the US at least). This is a reasonable primer as to what it’s all about, insofar as it’s ever possible to tell with this stuff, though my main feeling on reading this was the extent to which you could have written the same article 4 years ago substituting references to Boogaloo Boys with ‘Pepe’. Plus ca fcuking change, eh kids?
  • The Bumblebee Effect: Almost a companion piece of content to the thread up there about the beehives – this one, though, is all about how a photo of a happily dancing middle-aged man at Pride in Brazil has over the course of about 10 years become indelibly associated across Central and Eastern Europe with a particular type of pro-Russian propaganda. It’s an object lesson in communication and semiotics and memetics and all those good things which I imagine all those of you who’ve actually studied critical theory will understand far better than I do.
  • That Mental eBay Stalking Story: The story of how a bunch of guys at eBay started taking a website’s criticism of them a little too personally, to the point of then running a targeted and increasingly-unpleasant campaign of harassment against its owners. If you work in PR and you are honest with yourself you will know of clients you’ve had who would ABSOLUTELY have done this stuff, no questions asked; when I worked with Rockstar Games, they used to have an actual proper list of journalist that had ‘wronged’ them in some way (that could range from perhaps indicating in an oblique way that the Houser brothers were maybe a bit fond of the chang, to something as innocuous as ‘not giving Midnight Club: LA five stars’) who they would refuse review access to and who, I know for a fact, they would totally have menaced had they thought they could get away with it. WE’RE ALL JUST A STEP AWAY FROM THIS, is all I’m saying.
  • Reclaiming Keynes: I studied Economics as part of my IB, and did pretty well in it as it happens; sadly my teacher was 100% accurate in his assessment of me when he wrote in my final report “It is entirely possible that Matt will go on to do exceptionally well at University; it is also entirely possible that he will do this without in fact learning anything at all” – pretty much my whole life there, thanks Alan (RIP)! Anyway, this is a brilliant and fascinating revisiting of everyone’s favourite Bloomsbury set shagger John Maynard Keynes, and why now might be a good time to reconsider his supplyside ideas as we seek ways out of the loooong economic valley (I’m being optimistic, still; OLD Matt would have called it a morass or something similarly bleak. SO MUCH PROGRESS!). Even if you’re not familiar with Keynes or particularly au fait with economic theory, this is accessible enough to be worth a read; I don’t, personally, understand how you can look at this and not go ‘yep, lefty economics simply make more sense’ but I guess that’s my pinko bias talking again.
  • Hello Again Rebecca Black: I can’t imagine that many of you were clamouring for an update on Rebecca Black, former ‘most hated kid on the internet’ from about 2010 (dammit, 2011) – this isn’t a great article or THAT interesting, but I am including it because it was genuinely nice to see that Ms Black appears to have come out the other side of internetfamehorror and ended up quite happy and seemingly well-adjusted, and occasionally it’s nice just to celebrate that sort of thing. Also, in retrospect, Friday sort-of bangs.
  • An Evening of Carnal Delights (As Imagine By My 10yo Self): McSweeney’s on magisterial form. I have never been a 10 year old girl, but for those of you have this might prove the prosey flashback you’ve been waiting for.
  • Wuhan After Lockdown: Beautiful reportung in the San Francisico Chromicle, reporting stories from a variety of residents of Wuhan about their experiences of the pandemic and since. Reads far more like an acclaimed multivoice novel than the sort of thing you’d expect to read in a supplement, and honestly I could have read double the number of these anecdotes. What’s remarkable about it – possibly to do with a certain lack of affect that can sometimes characterise Chinese in translation – is how much it reads like modern Chinese near-future short fiction in passages.
  • Pursuit as Happiness: A confession – I have never really enjoyed Hemingway. Possibly (and excuse the insane hubris of the comparison I’m about to make here, and know that it is not really intended to be a comparison at all) because my writing ‘style’ (ha) is pretty much antithetically opposed to his famously minimal, pared-back prose (what’s wrong with words, Ernie? Come on, play a little!). Still, I enjoyed this newly-published short story – apparently never-before seen – in the New Yorker, which features all the classic Hemingway tropes of the time. Rum, fishing, machismo, THE POWER OF THE OCEAN AND THE MAJESTY OF THE FISH, and some women for ballast. The writing is obviously excellent and if you can deal with the sent of cigar smoke and Bay Rum aftershave and ego then it’s a good read.
  • How We Drink Now: Eight writers discuss their relationship with booze during lockdown, in Guernica. Honest and unashamed, these are lovely, varied vignettes which will hopefully make you feel a bit better about the empties mountain which rattles the neighbourhood every bin-day.
  • The Season of Children: Finally this week, also in Guernica, Emilio Carrero writes a short story about childhood and masculinity and race. This is so, so, so good, proper catch-your-breath writing, and deserves your attention and maybe a drink too. Superb – and it’s a really good week for the longreads, so that’s no little recommendation.

By Jang Koal

AND NOW, MOVING PICTURES AND SOUNDS!:

  1. Let’s be clear – it is NOT POSSIBLE to listen to this mix of all the best bits from 1989’s musical releases and stiill be in a bad mood. The Hood Internet does it again:
  1. This is the second of Donato Sansone’s insane editing masterclasses I’ve featured in here now; why the fcuk all you ad agency types haven’t bought his skills yet is beyond me, this is again an incredible piece of work:
  1. What happens if you get GAN-imagined faces to read William Blake? This! I think the potential for this stuff is huge – we’re just on the cusp of being able to make things at home with this kit that look really, really impressive:
  1. ‘Icebergs’ is ‘an existential, dark comedy consisting of 14 short vignettes, ranging from the mundane to the absurd.’ It’s based on a book of shorts by everyone’s favourite surrealist-du-jour Efthymis Filippou, and really is very good indeed, from the animation to the direction to the material:
  1. Hiphop corner! This is 5-6 weeks old now, but I only found it this week and it made me very happy indeed; I think you will enjoy it. Tevin Studdard is a rapper whose local bakery shut because of COVID; when it reopened, he was so happy he made a song about how ace it is. Honestly, this is far, far better than it has any right to be:
  1. MORE HIPHOP CORNER (thanks Shardcore for the tip)! I think this is from Ghana – it’s by Ay Poyoo and it’s called ‘GOAT’ and whilst it is about him being in typical rapping braggadocio fashion ‘the greatest of all time’, it’s also very much about actual goats:
  1. Finally this week, you may not think you want to watch a video about Advanced Studio Recording Techniques, specifically “Building an Echo Chamber”, but I promise you will not be able to look away and OH LOOK IS THAT THE TIME I REALLY MUST BE OFF AS I HAVE A NOT INSIGNIFICANT AMOUNT OF CLEANING AND GENERAL LIFE ADMIN TO DO BEFORE I ALLOW MYSELF TO GET UNCONSCIONABLY STONED AND PLAY MY NEW VIDEOGAME BUT YOU DON’T NEED TO KNOW ABOUT THAT ALL YOU NEED TO KNOW IS THAT I LOVE YOU AND THAT I CARE ABOUT YOU AND THAT I WANT YOU TO HAVE FUN AND STAY SAFE UNTIL NEXT WE MEET AGAIN AND THAT I THANK EACH AND EVERY ONE OF YOU FOR READING AND I LOVE YOU TAKE CARE I LOVE YOU TAKE CARE I LOVE YOU BYE

Webcurios 12/06/20

Reading Time: 32 minutes

I can’t speak for you, but I feel almost optimistic this week. It does feel a bit like there might be change happening – and, unusually for the past few years, it doesn’t feel like the sort of change that’s going to have us whimpering in terror!

Yes, obviously this is all very previous and obviously nothing has actually practically happened yet, but it does rather feel like there might be some positive momentum in the air. So, for once, there will be no doom and gloom, no Cassandra-like prophecies, no miserable cant about how everything is fundamentally pointing towards the slow, ineluctable death of the universe and entropy and vanishing and the void! NO MORE!

Instead I’ll just wish you all a happy Friday and leave you with this week’s selection of links, the product of the sort of loving, personal curation that you’d probably find slightly awkward and uncomfortable to watch happening in person but which I hope you can enjoy the fruits of.

I am still Matt, this is still Web Curios, and you still evidently haven’t found anything better to do with your time.

By Elyse Dodge

LET’S KICK THIS OFF WITH ROB MANUEL’S GENUINELY GREAT RADIO4 CHILLOUT MIX WHICH IS FAR, FAR MORE MUSICALLY-ACCOMPLISHED THAN IT HAS ANY REAL RIGHT TO BE!

THE SECTION WHICH THINKS THE SNAP STUFF IS GENUINELY INTERESTING AND A RARE EXAMPLE OF 2020 DELIVERING A GLIMPSE AT A FUTURE WHICH IS MARGINALLY LESS OBVIOUSLY DYSTOPIAN THAN THAT WHICH WE’VE SO FAR HAD TO BECOME USED TO THIS YEAR:

  • Facebook Guidance to Community Managers: Facebook is very much doing the right thing here – or at least something which, with a charitable squint looks like the right thing – but this does sort of highlight some of the inherent difficulties in creating a platform shared by ⅓ of the global population and also then having to take responsibility for it not being a toxic hatepit. Facebook’s published some (short but moderately-sensible) guidance for community managers on navigating the current conversation over current and historical social racism, and all the tips are reasonable; learn about the topic before attempting to moderate discussion, ensure the moderation team includes representation from impacted communities, etc. Equally, though, it doesn’t answer the question of ‘how do we enable people to have sensible, healthy, productive conversations around these difficult issues?’, mainly because NOBODY KNOWS. This speaks to the macrocosmic issue here – it’s VERY HARD to do this stuff well even in communities that are contained and reasonably civil and in which there are already bonds of connection between members; doing this stuff at scale in the everyperson wasteland that is The Main Feed is just mind-bogglingly hard at scale, and noone really knows what they are doing (I think I’ve said this before, but it’s quite interesting watching us as a species come to terms with having invented systems and processes and tools and then realising that wow did they come with some not-insignificant negative externalities and how the fcuk are we going to nail that stable door shut, anyone got a hammer?). Apropos nothing, I was looking this stuff up for something else yesterday; know how many full-time moderation staff FB has? 15k. YouTube? 10k. Twitter? 1500.
  • LinkedIn Adds New Retargeting Options: You can now retarget ads on LinkedIn based on %age video views (so, you can target people based on their having watched x% of whatever soul-flayingly dry THOUGHT LEADERSHIP you’ve added to the content sump-pit this week) and on their engagement with LinkedIn Lead Gen ads (so you can target people with ads on LinkedIn if they have opened-but-not-filled-in one of those email capture ad units). This might be useful – and even if it’s not, it gives you one additional way of making your clients’ digital marketing plans marginally more complicated, which is a reason to up the monthly fee requirement if ever I heard one.
  • ALL The New Snap Updates: Annoyingly this dropped overnight, so basically I’ve had about 10 mins to digest this and am going to give you only the most cursory of overviews (it was ever thus). Still, there’s LOADS of stuff in here – honestly, this is a BIG list of interesting additional features – with a few obvious standouts. The trailed WeChat-style mini-apps are here (called ‘Minis’); this will let developers build apps for use inside Snap, much as you used to be able to build apps to use within Facebook (that sound you hear is a lot of older agency digital folk happily flashing back to 2011, when you could with no effort whatsoever build a £500k pipeline simply by building Facebook quiz apps and knock-off Flash games for FMCG brands with more money than sense), which will also allow you to integrate your business’ API directly with Snap so users can avail themselves of your services from within the app (they launch with Headspace, the meditation people, and some others). There’s an announcement of new Lens partnerships, bringing things like plant and animal recognition into the app; new integration with third-party AI for the integration of your own neural nets into the Snap Lens experience, the promise of a ‘local lens’, which will enable users to interact on a persistent AR ‘virtual world’ canvas (honestly, this bit is the most frivolous but one of the more oddly enticing), new original commissions through its ‘Discover’ feature…honestly, this is SO much cool stuff, and further cements my belief that the future of mass-market AR in the short/medium term is very much in Snap’s hands.
  • Snap Launches Dynamic Product Ads in the UK: Oh, yes, and they announced this too (but this was last week and I missed it and tbh I have spunked all my Snap enthusiasm on all the new announcements, so that’s all your getting on this one).
  • Reddit Announces New Content Policy: I was impressed with Ellen Pao’s line about Reddit having to face its responsibilities for acting as a seedbed for the normalisation of racist rhetoric on the mainstream web over the past few years; I was equally quite impressed with the company’s response, which saw Ohanian step back from the board in favour of increasing black representation. I thought this in particular was a good stance, well-expressed: “We will update our content policy to include a vision for Reddit and its communities to aspire to, a statement on hate, the context for the rules, and a principle that Reddit isn’t to be used as a weapon. We have details to work through, and while we will move quickly, I do want to be thoughtful and also gather feedback from our moderators (through our Mod Councils). With more moderator engagement, the timeline is weeks, not months.”
  • New Google Maps Safety Features: Google maps will now show you whether your intended travel route requires you to legally wear a mask during the journey, as well as letting users give an indication of how crowded the route is so as to help others avoid contributing to overcrowding. It’s funny how this is in many respects a very, very future little update, buried underneath the continuing morbid horror of lots of people worldwide dying (not actually funny at all).
  • Brand Responses to Black Lives Matter: Thanks Joey for sharing this with me; this Google Slides doc compiles a host of corporate responses to the murder of George Floyd and subsequent protests, along with the public response each received. It’s worth flicking through these – they’re reasonably international, though with an obvious US focus, and it’s astonishing quite how many companies seem to think that saying something platitudinous on a black background constitutes action. Special shout outs to Amazon, for making a statement about standing in solidarity with black people and against racism but for also sharing camera footage from its Ring systems with over 1300 separate police forces worldwide in partnerships that have been shown to increase racial profiling in communities where they exist, as well as selling its facial recognition tech to state security apparatus in various countries (also, let’s be clear, the company’s moratorium on this, announced yesterday, is for 12 months only; check back in July 2021 and see whether it’s still in force, please); and to L’Oreal, who this week donated a whole 50,000 Euros to anti-racism causes from its pot of $5.5bn recorded profits in 2019. THAT’S THE COMMITMENT TO CHANGE WE ALL WANT TO SEE.

By Samar Baiomy

NEXT, HAVE A RATHER GOOD AND VERY ECLECTIC ALL-VINYL MIX FROM OCCASIONAL CURIOS GUEST DJ TOM SPOONER WHO USED TO LIVE ACROSS THE ROAD FROM ME AND WHO I HAVEN’T SEEN IN 20 YEARS!

THE SECTION WHICH RATHER WISHES THIS DEBATE ABOUT OFFENSIVE STATUES HAD TAKEN PLACE WHEN IT WAS YOUNG SO IT COULD HAVE PETITIONED TO GET THIS ABSOLUTE MONSTROSITY REMOVED, PT.1:

  • Resources For Helping: A Google Doc of resources (specifically, for white people) who want to help address racial inequality and injustice – not, to be clear, a reading list, but instead a selection of causes and charities and initiatives that people can sign up to help out with, whether through charitable donations or offers of practical assistance, volunteering, etc. Look, it’s not my place to tell you what to do or how to do it, and so I shan’t; I’m just leaving this list of things here because I have honestly felt moderately-hopeful this week about the possibility that this time, maybe, there might be some actual practical real change in the manner in which we as a country deal with and talk about race and inequality, and that will only happen if we do stuff that isn’t just on the internet.
  • Mentor Black Businesses: A crowdfunding campaign established by Akil Benjamin, who works with the M&C Saatchi Sunday School, to raise money to offer mentoring to black-owned businesses in the UK. You can either donate, if you can afford it, or apply to offer your time as a mentor; this is a small thing but if you can spare the time (and, er, if unlike me you have some sort of helpful, tangible business advice you can impart) then it could be a useful one.
  • Incalculable Loss: Another excellent and powerful piece of digital design, this website takes the format of the NYT’s frontpage listing the names of Americans lost to COVID-19 and replaces those names with those of African Americans who have lost their lives as a result of police violence: “For months the media has been focused on Covid-19, which data shows has disproportionately killed Black Americans. And due to systemic injustice, Black Americans also continue to die at higher rates from a different public health crisis: police violence. We took the iconic New York Times cover from Memorial Day and featured just some of the names of Black lives lost to police violence alongside the status of their case. Because one day, a vaccine will prevent Covid-19. But without police accountability, this disease will continue to ravage America.”
  • Stranger Fruit: Jon Henry takes portraits of black American mothers and sons. “Stranger Fruit was created in response to the senseless murders of black men across the nation by police violence. Even with smart phones and dash cams recording the actions, more lives get cut short due to unnecessary and excessive violence.”
  • Black Lives Matter Protests 2020: See, it’s this stuff that makes me feel vaguely-hopeful; this map details the BLM protests that have taken place in the US so far (it tracks since 25 May). As of yesterday, it had recorded over 3000, and seeing the spread it’s noteworthy the extent to which it feels like a properly national (and based on what we’ve seen globally, international) movement. Fine, the American midwest’s coverage is still a bit sparse but, well, baby steps and all that.
  • Images of a Global Protest: See above. Look, honestly, if you’ve spent 2020 feeling a bit like everything is just going a bit horribly wrong, this is a wonderful moment to use as something of a small optimism springboard. We might not be able to get rid of this appalling shower of incompetent cnuts who seem to be in charge of the country, fine, but we can possibly do some collective work to address racism, and the volume of people demonstrating this sort of strength of feeling suggests that maybe some sort of change might be achieved.
  • Topple The Racists: Ah, the statues! Statuary does feel like a particularly appropriate vehicle in the Culture Wars, doesn’t it? Yes, I know, fine, the term ‘culture war’ is an invented one used by w4nkers like me to connote some sort of sniffy eagle’s eye moral perspective on whatever social more is the subject of white hot online debate this week and which isn’t necessarily always helpful; equally though, if you can look at any moderately-contentious issue IN THE WORLD and work out within <1s on which side of it that dreadful Hopkins creature, Farage, Darren Grimes and Stephen Yaxley-Lennon will be on (and, by contrast, where you’ll find Owen Jones and Laurie Pennie and James O’Brien and all the lefty avatars) then, well, that feels a bit like a culture war, being waged by proxy, to me. Anyway, STATUES! Look, I get that for many people tearing down statues willy-nilly is ERASING HISTORY; except that doesn’t seem to be what people are suggesting. Just remove them from plinths, put them in museums, record the fact that they were once celebrated but are so no longer and why, preserve the history and move on. WE CAN COMMEMORATE PEOPLE’s ACHIEVEMENTS AND IMPACT AND ALSO ACKNOWLEDGE THE FACT THAT THEY WERE IN MANY RESPECTS CNUTS!!!! PEOPLE AND HISTORY ARE COMPLEX!!!! A NUANCED APPRECIATION OF THIS IS HELPFUL!!! Also, and this isn’t my observation so apologies from whoever I’m nicking it off, if these statues were so important to our conception of national history and identity and if removing them would ERASE THE PAST in some way, then why did literally NO FCUKER know who the subject of the statues were before we all started noticing them this week? IS IT BECAUSE STATUES DON’T ACTUALLY TEACH THE VAST MAJORITY OF PEOPLE ANYTHING??? Yes, yes it is. Anyway, this is a link to a bunch of UK statues whose plinthiness is currently the subject of debate – the site helpfully offers information and historical context around each to let you learn who the person was and why their commemoration is contentious; you’ll learn more about colonial-era history reading these than you ever did at school, without a doubt.
  • Donate 2x: I have featured the US marketingpunkcollectivethingy MSCHF almost every week in here for the past 6 months, and offer no apologies (well, maybe some small ones); almost everything I’ve seen them do has been clever and fun and creatively distinct. This is another example of their skill, this time to proper, positive ends; they’ve observed that many large companies in the US offer 1:1 charitable donation matching to staff, and so have decided to create a national fundraising drive in support of racial justice organisations. The idea is that anyone can donate money; donations then get siphoned through anonymous employees of companies which offer donation matching so as to take advantage of this corporate munificence and thereby getting big companies to donate significant sums to good causes. SO SMART, and a great ur-example of real creativity; using tools and systems and processes in novel ways to achieve different, better outcomes (this is my tinpot definition that I have just written off the top of my head; PLEASE do not feel that you need to tell me why it’s wrong, I promise I almost certainly agree with you).
  • Give Monthly: Smart-if-depressing little bit of design work, which takes the observation that we are all seemingly happy to pay endless <£10 a month subscription fees for digital services (cf Netflix, Prime (DON’T GET PRIME), etc etc) but are far less likely to sign up to give charitable donations on a regular, monthly basis and runs with it. The project imagines reframing charitable causes as monthly streaming subscription services, with a little app-style logo, and invites you to consider a subscription to these alongside your monthly feed of digital Soma. Clever, and neat design, and makes me think that there’s still so much that can and should be done to enable lower-friction charitable giving by digital means (hey, Biz, where’s that donate button on Tweets?).
  • 100,000 Faces: A clever use of ‘This Face Does Not Exist’ – this website presents the faces of 100,000 imaginary Americans, all generated by machine, to give an idea of the scale of actual human loss of the COVID-19 pandemic so far. By the way, the reason I feature so much US stuff around the pandemic is quite simply that I don’t see as much UK digiwork on the subject; let’s be clear, though, as we hurtle towards a 50k death total ourselves, that we have it very bad indeed here too and that the current Tory administration is full of incompetent, self-aggrandising, stupid, arrogant, cruel, self-interested cnuts that noone with half a heart should have voted for in the first place.
  • Antibodies: Sorry, got a little bit angry there. Here, have a FUN WEBTOY by way of a palate-cleanser! Antibodies is a webcamartprojectthing…oh, here: “Antibodies is an interactive experience in the form of a never-ending video call. Participants only show up and do not have to say anything. Anyone can join at any time and all contributions are accepted. The experience uses the webcam to track the face of participants and record their face gestures. It was commissioned by la maison de la culture ahuntsic, in montréal (canada), to replace an exhibition of 3 interactive installations by the same artist.” There’s something nice about being able to switch between the view of your own face, being lightly tracked an manipulated, and that of other, previous visitors, who you get to see mugging and gurning kaleidoscopically as they pass.
  • Window Swap: This is your dose of soothing digital panacea for the week. Window Swap is a project that’s been ongoing through lockdown but which I unaccountably missed (seriously, I will be flagellating myself SO HARD later, and only partly for fun); it’s very simple, you click the button and are presented with a video view (complete with audio) of what someone else sees from their window (or saw at the point when they recorded the video and shared it with the site); you can cycle through different views, or settle on one and experience 10m of being transported to somewhere completely other. Honestly, this really is mesmerising; I recently read Little Eyes by Samanta Schweblin (highly recommended fwiw), whose premise is all about seeing other parts of other people’s worlds through digital eyes, and this very much gives me that feeling; honestly, I lost a good hour to this when I first found it, and I can’t encourage you enough to have a play and see where you end up.
  • Human IPO: Do you think now is a good time to attempt to launch and promote a business based on what is effectively an ownership model for other human beings? I would wager that your immediate answer to that was ‘no, Jesus, of course not, what’s wrong with you Matt?’, which is exactly why you’re not the sort of business visionary who can invent something like HumanIPO, a new service which promises to give you the opportunity to buy shares in people! Just like companies! “Issue, trade and redeem human equity backed by time”, says the homepage, without at any point really explaining what this in fact means. I Tweeted about this yesterday, and got some (admittedly friendly and good-natured) pushback from some cryptolads suggesting it was actually an incredibly-empowering system which enabled anyone to make bank against their future success. Basically the premise is that anyone can offer shares in themselves, which effectively equate to hours of their time; these shares can then be either redeemed or retraded by the original buyers, thereby creating a secondary market which is where, I presume, the people behind this see the money being (“I bought shares in Matt when he was just some pissant newslettermong; now he’s the Benedict Evans of webspaff, though, his value’s rocketed so I’m cashing out; want to pay £3million for two hours of his precious, precious braintime?”). Still, I can’t shake the impression that the most likely value arc for shares in most people will be, well, quite flat at best, and that this whole thing really doesn’t actually work AT ALL when you start thinking about it at a level beyond that of ‘stoned teenager’.
  • PhotoshApp: SORRY I AM SORRY. Still, you don’t expect me to pass up the opportunity for that sort of great pun when I get to bring you the news that there is now a photoshop camera app (as is now traditional in Curios, FCUK YOU ADOBE I WILL NEITHER CAPITALISE NOR TRADEMARK YOUR BRAND NAME) – here it is! It’s basically A N Other lenses’n’filters app, but by all accounts it’s quite a whizzy one and will for a few days at least give your Insta game the edge. I do like the line in the description “Show off your unique style with tons of Insta-worthy lenses and filters inspired by your favorite artists and influencers.” YES THAT’S RIGHT SHOW OFF YOUR UNIQUE STYLE VIA THE MEDIUM OF THE SAME SELECTION OF PRESET VISUAL AUGMENTATION FILTERS AVAILABLE TO LITERALLY EVERY OTHER SMARTPHONE-OWNING HUMAN ON THE PLANET. Still, if you’re bored of all the Snap Camera effects then this is almost certainly worth a look.
  • Mixaba: This is potentially interesting; Mixaba is another videochat app, but one which appreciates that one of the drawbacks of the medium is its fixed status and the removal of serendipitous connections from events. Mixaba addresses that by allowing users to create group chats and then dividing that group chat into random sub-groups; every now again these will get rearranged so everyone gets MIXED UP (hence the name). This is, in theory, a really smart idea; you’d want to be able to institute some sort of light controls, maybe, to be able to define the speed at which these random mixings happen, or to ensure that certain people don’t ever get put in a group together (or, more interestingly, to create the sort of brilliantly-awkward petri dish-type situations that true social engineers live for). There’s definitely quite a few applications for this in improv, theatre and games; if nothing else this could be quite a fun way to run a virtual murder mystery event, if anyone still has the enthusiasm for that sort of thing after 4 months of FCUKING VIDEOCALLS.
  • OspreyCam: As I type there is an Osprey feeding its chicks some excellent looking fresh corpse. LIVE OSPREYS FFS!!!
  • Global Pride 2020: In a move which will obviously come as a surprise to literally noone, Pride this year is going virtual. This is the site for the BIG main event, Global Pride 2020, which takes place on June 27 for 24h across the world. Details are sketchy still, but you can sign up here for updates or to apply to participate as a volunteer or performer (and, I assume, should you want to get involved from the a sponsorship or support point of view). Slightly disappointed they’re not doing it in Fortnite, but wevs.

by Quentin Monge

NEXT, WHY NOT TRY THIS EXCELLENT SELECTION OF DOWNTEMPO HOUSE AND ELECTRONICA MIXED BY THE MYSTERIOUS AND IMPOSSIBLE-TO-IDENTIFY ‘JAVIER’?

THE SECTION WHICH RATHER WISHES THIS DEBATE ABOUT OFFENSIVE STATUES HAD TAKEN PLACE WHEN IT WAS YOUNG SO IT COULD HAVE PETITIONED TO GET THIS ABSOLUTE MONSTROSITY REMOVED, PT.2:

  • The OpenAI API Beta: This is the GPT-2 texty AI (you know, the Talk To Transformer one), now available as an API so that you can integrate it into whatever you want. Or at least you can if you’re a reasonably-competent code-wrangler, and if you apply to get access; you can read a bit about how it works and what you can do with it here, written by Janelle Shane of AI Weirdness fame – even if you can’t get your hands on it now, it’s worth reading the longer piece and having a think about the potential applications; if nothing else, the potential for the creation of rudimentary AI characters in digital performance using this stuff is very interesting indeed (to me).
  • Ragya: Things I learned this week – that Ragas (the term, I have also learned this week, basically means ‘melodic framework for improvisation’ in Indian music) change based on what time of the day they are played at, with certain instrumental arrangements being considered more suitable for different times in the solar cycle. This site (or app) presents you with a time-appropriate piece depending on when you log on; you may not think your day will be improved by some time-appropriate sitar noodling, but WOW are you wrong.
  • Rebecca Irwin’s YouTube Channel: Sometimes in Web Curios it’s nice to link to something that’s not shiny or clever or exciting or important but which instead captures the perfect madness of humanity and all its multifarious interests and modes of expression. So it is with the YouTube channel of Rebecca Irwin, an INCREDIBLY-prolific videomaker whose output is all the more impressive and surprising when you consider that none of what appear to be her literally hundreds of videos have over 100 views. Her oeuvre, such as it is, consists of music videos cobbled together from either MS Paint art or old TV clips from Futurama and Frasier and a few other shows – there’s something just a little bit off about them, a touch of the deep-fried aesthetic that makes me think that Mx Irwin is poking at the fringes of weird webart here, but maybe this is all entirely sincere. Who knows, and who cares – Mx Irwin, Web Curios salutes your for your indefatigable (and, to me, almost entirely baffling) dedication to your art.
  • IRL Smurfing: I know this sounds like a weird sex thing, but I promise you that it’s not, really. Smurfing is the practice in gaming communities of people who are very good at the game going and playing whack-a-mole with people who are less good, often for streaming LOLs; the sort of thing that’s probably quite fun for the person doing the Smurfing and probably significantly less so for the Smurfee (that really sounds wrong). The IRL version, as celebrated in this subReddit, is all about people who are really good at something in real life pretending to be an ordinary schlub to the massed amazement of watching onlookers. The absolute classic of this genre is the oldschool US advertising trick of ‘get a pro athlete made up to look like an old person and then film them as they absolutely destroy all the local pr1cks at the public basketball courts’, but you’d be surprised how many variants there are (my favourite are the the ones where famous go busking and inevitably earn about 50p – my friend Mo did this with Nile Rogers in Hyde Park once and he is apparently lovely, in case you wondered).
  • Musical Instrument Brochures: Yes, I know this sounds boring but if you’re desperate to find out how you can turn the volume off forever on that Yamaha keyboard your kids have been ‘enjoying’ for the past few months then I promise you that this will be a godsend.
  • High Fidelity: Another interesting take on the virtual space idea; this is vaguely-reminiscent of that thing I featured in here months ago all the way at the beginning of lockdown which let you move around a 2d virtual space with conversations getting louder or quieter based on your digital proximity to your interlocutors…anyway, this is like that but different, evidently intended as a more professional version of the same sort of concept for enterprise. This is VERY much in beta and I’m yet to have a proper play around with it, so caveats apply, but it sounds like a properly interesting idea; even if this doesn’t nail it, I very strongly feel that there’s something workable in this idea of proximity-as-a-factor-in-conversational-facility-in-digital-environments (though very much not in that description of it).
  • Get an AntiFa Card: Fine, it might get you banned from entering the US, but it’s a small price to pay for declaring your proud membership of everyone’s favourite centrally-coordinated left-wing terror group on your credit card (NB – for the avoidance of doubt, AntiFa is not a centrally-coordinated left-wing terror group). The bank is German and as a result the website doesn’t even have the COMMON DECENCY to be in English, but Google Translate is your friend.
  • Buttystock 2.0: Matt Round’s Vole website is rapidly becoming one of my favourite webprojects – his work is always playful, always fun, and always surprisingly-robust when it comes to functionality; there’s a special place in digital heaven reserved for people who not only make excellent internet gags but who really follow through on them, so to speak. This is the second iteration of Buttystock, the world’s premier (and possibly only) repository of stock imagery of crisp sandwiches; this update offers additional images, video and, excitingly, 3d renders of all the potato-shard sangers (nice second mention there Matt, well done) one could ever possibly need or want. I reckon there’s a low-cost, low-risk PR idea here for almost any incredibly dull brand in the world; if you make staplers, STOCK PHOTO LIBRARY OF STAPLERS! If you make bricks, STOCK PHOTO LIBRARY OF BRICKS! I promise you, this will run and run.
  • Classic GTA Sites: One of the most amazing things about the GTA series was always the depth that it went into with the worldbuilding; from Lazlo on the radio with the fake ads for fake businesses, to the real standup shows recorded in 4 and 5, to the (admittedly not very funny) parody social networks…Much of the associated online content to the games was built in Flash, meaning its soon set to fade into tech obsolescence, but this fan-made site’s seeking to preserve a lot of the elements in HTML instead. The site’s obviously not a pro job, but it’s lovely to see it all collected and memorialised like this.
  • Paramount Unproduced: I think this is real, though it’s quite hard to tell these days. This Twitter account claims to have access to documentation covering around 1000 films which Paramount owned the rights to but never made, throughout the late-80s, and is Tweeting details about them one-by-one. Regardless of whether these are actual bona-fide scripts for which money changed hands or whether they’re elaborate little fictional vignettes, some of these are GREAT – don’t you want to watch ‘Bad’? “When a mad and his middle-aged father both vie for the affections of a gorgeous but kooky woman, they’re forced to contend with her violently possessive boyfriend, but they finally manage to deal with him.” HOW? AND HOW IS THIS A ‘COMEDY’???
  • Can You Dethrone: You might need the context as to why this Twitter account has just sprung up (here you go); its purpose is to catalogue all the videogames that let you ‘attack and dethrone God’ as part of the gameplay experience. Important, epochal work, this.
  • Political Compasses in Odd Topologies: Ok, the sweet spot for this series of gags is very much at the intersection of political nerdery, dataviz nerdery and mathematical nerdery, but I promise you that if you happen to fall anywhere near at least two of these categories then you will love this immoderately.
  • Urban Henges: I was slightly annoyed that this was just the codebase rather than a fully-worked-up website that let you search for ‘Henges’ worldwide and then told you their location and optimate date/time, but then I remembered I was being selfish and entitled so I got over myself. This is code that, when plugged into the appropriate mapping software, will help you identify locations of sunset ‘henges’ – that is, that effect when urban streets align with the angle of the rising or setting sun throughout the year and which produces that effect whereby the sunset (or rise) is framed by urban architecture as seen most famously in the ‘Manhattanhenge’ effect. Lovely, and now that I have described it I’d politely like to ask one of you to make the website I initially wished this was, please. Thanks!
  • Deepfake Drawings: Prototypical tech from the University of Hong Kong, but worth a look because, well, IT’S LIKE MAGIC! This is software that does the ‘sketch the outline of a thing and we’ll get AI to imagine what it thinks that thing is and create a photo of it’ game that we’ve seen before with the NVIDIA kit, but this time applies it to faces. So you, the user, can sketch an outline of a face with particular physiognomical traits – a long jawline, say, or widely-spaced eyes – and the kit will generate a computer-imagined human face that broadly matches your sketch. If you want an idea of how this works in practice, scrub through to about the 40s mark on the video and let your jaw go slack in amazement. WOW, basically.
  • Nodesign: “A collection of tools for developers who have little to no artistic talent.” I am presenting this without judgement – I too have little-to-no artistic talent and I can’t even code ffs (what is the point of me? You know, someone asked me recently if, when I obviously hate the world of advermarketingpr so much, I don’t find something else to do with myself instead, and I was forced to admit it’s because I have no talents; I can’t draw or paint or do maths or make things or teach people or do rigorous, intellectually-significant work…basically the pathetically-limited world of advermarketingpr almost perfectly matches my pathetically-limited skillset. SAD!).
  • Awesome Threads: Is there any word more ominous, more indicative of an almost-certainly irritating experience to come, than the word ‘THREAD’, delivered in block caps? No, there is not. Still, if for some reason you feel compelled to read the long, poorly-edited ramblings of a self-important bloviator (and you’re reading Curios, so you’re evidently the target market, RIGHT KIDZZZZZZzzzzzzzzzzzz?) then you might like this, which aims to collect the BEST threads, arranged thematically, for you to peruse. Except this has been created and curated by tech people, so it’s literally ALL stuff about software engineering and stuff – which, actually, makes it marginally less insufferable than some bloke spending 40 tweets detailing exactly what he thinks about the ‘R’ number despite his having only achieved a pass degree in Geography way back in 2004.
  • Dan McPharlin’s Excellent Flickr: For some reason there’s been something of a resurgence in links to people’s Flickr accounts doing the rounds in the past few weeks, a development of which I heartily approve; this is the collection of Dan McPharlin, whose identity beyond this is a total mystery to me but who has curated a wonderful selection of vaguely tech-and-scifi-ish imagery from all over the place which I urge to take a look at; there’s some really good stuff here from a visual / stylistic inspiration point of view if nothing else.
  • Silliwillis: THIS IS A TWITTER FEED THAT POSTS PHOTOGRAPHS OF WHAT I PRESUME IS ONE MAN’S PENIS DRESSED UP IN FUNNY OUTFITS AND THEREFORE IS VERY MUCH NSFW, NOT THAT ANY OF YOU ARE IN AN OFFICE RIGHT NOW. What is wonderful about this – apart from the photos of a cock dressed as the Phantom of the Opera, to be clear, is that there seems to be a real person behind this who’s interspersing the penile photography with some occasionally-poignant observations about their life and how they feel. Anyway, I am presenting this to you in the spirit of kindness – WELL DONE to this person, they don’t seem to be doing anyone any harm and if they want to share photos of their dong wearing a cat costume made out of pipecleaners then who are we to tell them no? NO FCUKERS, that’s who!
  • The (Games) Bundle for Racial Justice and Equality: There is currently a bundle of over 1500 (1637) actual videogames (for PC) available for download for a donation of $5 to racial justice and equality causes. Honestly, this is an INCREDIBLE offer and one that it’s worth getting involved with even if you’ll only ever play one of the games you’ll receive.
  • Titlerun: The SMOLEST videogame you ever will see. Open this up in a new window, otherwise it won’t work properly; this is less ‘fun’ than it is a truly impressive(ly pointless) proof of concept coding.
  • Project Madison: Finally this week, one of the best browser games I’ve played in ages; this is really, really good fun, and a properly good way of wasting 45 minutes this afternoon while you still technically have to be available but you absolutely know that you have mentally clocked off and there’s nothing anyone can do about it. This is basically Hitman, but instead of plotting to assassinate a target you need to plot to ruin a rival’s career; this is clever and smart and funny and surprisingly complex considering its simple graphics and the fact it’s just open in a tab. SO clever and SO fun – enjoy.

By Percy Fortini Right

LAST UP IN THE MIXES, HAVE THIS LOVELY, SOOTHING SMORGASBORD OF VINTAGE PSYCHEDELIA BY HATCHBACK!

THE CIRCUS OF TUMBLRS!:

  • Not Pulp Covers: “Pin-up, Illustrations, Advertisments, and Other Things that are Not Pulp Covers” – superb collections of retroweird.
  • Keite’s Urban Adventures: Keite’s seemingly one of that breed of vertical urban explorers, looking to scale publicly accessible structures partly for bragging rights and partly for the photoopportunities. This Tumblr just collects pictures from their climbs; these are SO impressive and will make your palms sweat as you look at them.

THE TROUGH OF (INSTA) FEEDS!:

  • Simon De Thuilleries: There’s been a bunch of ‘music, but medieval’ links doing the rounds this week which I’ve not featured as I personally don’t think rerecording something in harpsichord is fundamentally that interesting (and I am a miserable sod); this, though, possibly inconsistently, makes the grade. Simon De Thuilleries is a made-up character – a monk making film posters in the style of illuminated manuscripts from THE PAST. These are all in French, but none of them are hard to guess and the fact that all the copy’s in foreign does rather reinforce the aesthetic.
  • Insecthaus Adi: Adrian Kozakiewicz has access to a lot of massive insects; this is his Insta feed, on which he shows them off. Entomophobes probably want to give this one a miss tbh.
  • Adrian Brandon: Adrian Brandon is a Brooklyn artist whose work is generally striking enough to be featured here; his most recent posts have featured incomplete portraits of black people who’ve been killed by police, each portrait drawn in the time the person in question was alive in the hands of the authorities.

LONG THINGS WHICH ARE LONG!:

  • The Inequality Engine: Excellent – but necessarily long and involved – analysis of Thomas Piketty’s latest exploration of the history of economics (and, in particular, capitalism) in the London Review of Books. This is a timely and well-summarised account of the historical reasons as to why the present version of capitalism we find ourselves in hock to came about and why it persisted and why, try as the right might attempt to convince you, it is not fair and never will be. There are multitudes within this – it speaks to structural racism and entrenched inequalities and elites and systems and processes, and whilst it’s quite a chewy read it’s never less than well-explained and clearly-articulated. This article could equally as well been entitled ‘The Progress Lie’, its fundamental argument being that 20th century postwar economic claims that the growth and ‘progress’ would raise the water level for all were unfounded; this feels like an important moment for this argument to be examined in more detail and deployed more widely.
  • Brave Corporations and the Communities They Exploit: A longer articulation of what I said uptop about the pathetic, cosmetic attempts brands have been making to align themselves with causes of social justice whilst at the same time happily getting very, very rich off the back of the exact systems which exploit and often entrench these inequalities in the first place. You can imagine the arguments, but it’s worth thinking about more deeply. Is it possible for a sugar company which relies on the cheap labour of manual workers in the second and third world to be able to turn a profit to at the same time declare itself a supporter of black rights and progressive causes? As the piece goes on to ask, “can you really stand in solidarity if you rely on child laborers in the Democratic Republic of Congo, have censored Black creators, or empower the police to abuse surveillance powers on your platform, as they do on others?” Can you?
  • Is This The Moment Advertisers Leave Facebook?: Look, we all know the answer here is ‘no’, but it’s worth taking a look at this NYT article regardless as I find the fact that they are even asking this question rather interesting. Its headline stems from the fact that there are apparent voices circulating in adland about brands feeling that it’s ‘not right’ to advertise on a platform which is seemingly increasingly obviously aligning itself with The Wrong Side on a lot of current issues; it is, though, worth remembering a few things. ONE: brands care more about money than they do about doing the right thing. If it is more expensive to reach customers using other ad networks, they will not do so unless they perceive the cost of continuing to use FB ads as being greater than that of changing platform (which at present it really isn’t); TWO: brands, as has been amply proven over the past week or so, are far more keen on saying than doing; THREE: there is simply no better ad network than Facebook at the moment; FOUR: the vast majority of Facebook’s ad revenue doesn’t come from P&G and Nike, it comes from all the billions of people on their doing their own hustle and chucking them a tenner a week to promote their bakery or florist or prostate milking parlour.
  • Google Docs Is The Resistance: An interesting piece about how the GSuite of tools has become the de facto home of social justice content and online organisation; what I think is most significant here is that the reason behind this is that the software works and is flexible. That’s it. Never underestimate the power of a robust, stable, flexible-if-unshiny toolset; there’s an interesting line in there about the misconception that all activists are obsessed with privacy and anonymity, whereas in fact what they are most concerned with is having tools that are cheap, that work, and which are good for dissemination. There are quite a few more general lessons for life in here should you choose to find them, but I figure you’ve had enough of my homily-ing here.
  • Did Colston Deserve His Watery Grave?: I’m sure you’re sick to death of statuechat, but this is an interesting read – highlighting, amongst other things, the statue’s historic unpopularity at the time of its commissioning and eventual unveiling. You should read the whole thing, it’s interesting, but if you aren’t in the market for it then these two paragraphs are worth extracting: “The statue of Edward Colston is not a pure object upon which later generations have imposed an anachronistic argument. The statue is an argument. About the relationship between the individual and the state, about employers and workers, about civic responsibility and Britain’s place in the world. Its construction was a political gesture. So is pushing it into the River Avon. The protesters of Black Lives Matter did not drag Colston’s figure out of the city and smash it to pieces. When they submerged it in the docks, they were making a decision about its proper place in the environment — a decision accepted, tacitly, by the officers present on the scene. Perhaps this was not an act of destruction, but a form of endowment.”
  • TikTok Pivots From Dance To Racial Justice: The other thing that’s made me vaguely hopeful this past week or so has been the sheer volume of stuff from kids in their teens and twenties decrying racism and inequality – this piece looks at how TikTok has become the de facto platform for this self-expression, offering a platform for kids to share their impassioned views with others. The piece acknowledges th platform’s…er…patchy history with sensitive content and issues of race, but this is less about TikTok and more about the way in which young people are using the platform to find a generational voice on issue that matter to them. I wonder to what extent TikTok will shape Gen-Z sociallly and emotionally – it very much feels to me like Millennials carry the ‘scars’ (positive and negative) of Tumblr, for example.
  • The Messengers: A really interesting profile of Indian political magazine Caravan, a relatively tiny organ of the free press which has found itself being what seems to be one of the sole bastions of critical, investigative reporting on the Modi government. This is a pretty classic story of ‘brave newsmen battle the odds to deliver scoops about the corrupt regime seeking to shut them down’, but it’s also (another) troubling picture of the increasingly close control being applied to the world’s second-most populous nation by an increasingly autocratic ruler and of the unpleasant similarity in the responses of followers of Modi, Trump, Bolsonaro, Orban and others to anyone asking awkward questions of their idols.
  • Will Trump Leave?: I remember a couple of years ago, when we were all (the non-Americans, at least; I imagine if you lived there you were perhaps a touch more personally-invested) watching the early days of the Trump Presidency and thinking ‘will he make 100 days? And how will they get him out of the building if he doesn’t?’ in semi-appalled fascination; now, though, at the fag end of the first term and with the country consumed by protest and virus and quite a lot of rage and hate, the question seems a touch more pressing. This article doesn’t offer any answers – of course it doesn’t! There aren’t any! – but is a fascinating-if-a-little-worrying play-by-play account of what might happen if everything gets REALLY crazy in the US come November.
  • Jared Kushner: I appreciate that kicking Kushner is pretty much entry-level Trump bashing at this stage, but I really enjoyed this piece – the author, David Roth, takes evident relish in giving Jared a good shoeing in prose, and there are some really good lines throughout. The observation that “in the absence of actual discernment or real consideration, a rich person simply defaulted to the most luxurious option” (when discussing Jared Trump’s approach to his role in COVID-preparedness and response) is a depressingly-clear-eyed line on much of what has passed for governance in the US over the past few years (and also, recently, the UK – for what else was all the posturing around GREAT BRITISH BRANDS helping the pandemic relief effort, all of which coming to naught? “Dyson!”, thought Boris, “that’s that lovely chap who makes the designer vacuums! He’s a billionaire, he’ll do!”).
  • Meet Zelf: I promise, I’m not really personally interested in online banking at all, honest, although I appreciate that two articles in two weeks on the subject might suggest otherwise. Zelf, though, is really interesting – a new digital bank which doesn’t even offer a physical card and does it’s onboarding via messaging apps and which generally makes Monzo and Starling and those loads sound old hat. It’s launching in France and Spain soon, and this is worth a read if you’re vaguely-interested in DISRUPTION and NEW PRODUCT INNOVATION and stuff like that.
  • Doomscrolling: I’m including this less because I think the piece is particularly brilliant and more because it feels very much like a word that is going to get used a lot in the next few months; ‘doomscrolling’ refers to the very 2020 practice of just scrolling through a seemingly-endless litany of low-level horror as a sort of mindless pastime, unheeding of the fact that it’s not doing us any good at all. TOP TIP: next time you have some bullsh1t campaign idea riffing on the concept of mindfulness or self-care, chuck the word ‘doomscrolling’ into the copy to give clients the vicarious frisson of being ON THE PULSE!!
  • Avocado Toast: I love Vi Hart – I featured one of her early videos in one of the first EVER editions of Curios, and I’ve enjoyed following her career from enjoyably-geeky maths-obsessed vlogger to someone who’s recognised as a genuinely brilliant communicator and educator and activist. Avocado Toast is a post on her website all about how she tried to train a machine learning system to recognise photographs of avocado toast; it’s very long (but there are lots of photos of avocado toast to break it up), but it’s also absolutely the best explanation I’ve ever read of how, exactly, machine learning and visual classification systems function, and it very gently but SO smartly makes lots of excellent points about how bias in training data, and base-level assumptions in code, can have all sorts of unintended consequences in the real world when the software’s applied. So, so smart – I have the biggest mindcrush on this person and I am unashamed to admit it.
  • The Gospel According to Thiel: If you’re a connoisseur of profiles of Billionaire Tech Weirdo’s Billionaire Tech Weirdo Peter Thiel then you can probably skip this one; if you’re not, though, this is a wonderful profile of one of the most influential people of modern times and a man who, were you to cut him open, would seemingly have Ayn Rand’s face running through him as though through a particularly-fleshy stick of rock. If there’s one thing that SCREAMS from this is the classic white man’s failing – one that I am increasingly aware of succumbing to myself, to my eternal humiliation – of thinking that you can turn your hand to ANYTHING. “Reform education? Well, I created a digital payments system that earned me more money than God, so I bet I can do that too!”.
  • Tinder’s CEO on Pandemic Dating: That’s actually doing this a disservice – whatever you might think of Tinder and its CEO Elie Siedmann, this is a really fascinating interview, touching on what he’s observed about the shifts in human online behaviour and courtship over the past few months and, more broadly, since Tinder was born a decade or so ago. There’s lots of really, really interesting stuff here – it’s a touch futurology-y, fine, and as such you might want to take some of the more blue-sky pronouncements with a pinch of salt, but I found the observation that we might be moving to a point when people can conceive of romantic relationships as being solely digital as a fascinating one. I have plenty of online friends who I like and who I care for and who I wish well who I have never met physically and who I have no particular interest in ever so doing; is it that much of a stretch to conceive of a coterie of romantic partners where we share conversation and ideas and feelings and just occasionally have a distanced w4nk together? Er, yes, I think it is actually, but younger readers may beg to differ.
  • Bernardine Evaristo: This is a month old but I missed it the first time; a wonderful profile of Bernardine Evaristo in Prospect, in which she tells her life story but also the story of being a female black novelist in the UK at a time when there were literally no black female English novelists getting published. As an aside, if you didn’t catch it this week/last week, the Radio4 adaptation of “Girl, Woman, Other” is superb and reminded me what a great novel it is; give it a listen if you have a moment.
  • What Didn’t Kill Her: finally in this week’s longreads, Bernice L McFadden tells the story of her mother’s life and the events that brought her to 2020, seeing race protests and a pandemic sweeping the US. This is SUCH great writing, spanning eight decades of US history and the scope – and limitations of – the civil rights movement along the way.

By Patrick Joust

AND NOW, MOVING PICTURES AND SOUNDS!:

  1. This is a short film called ‘Dust’ – “In the near future, a woman comes across a VR film where she will experience a tense encounter with a pair of policemen…through the eyes of a black man.” An excellent piece by Nosa Igbinedion:
  1. This came via Simon – thanks Simon! – and is a few years old now, but I saw it this week and thought it was absolutely beautiful. It’s called ‘My Turtle Dove’ – seriously, it’s glorious:
  1. I didn’t think I’d enjoy this, but it grew on my and by the end it had me convinced that this is an absolute lazy Summer afternoon banger; it’s called ‘Salty’, and it’s by Olivia Swann, ft. Jane Handcock:
  1. Laraaji, I learned this week, is a legendary New York musician and poet and sort-of-guru and incredibly prolific outsider artist; this is a very simple piano tune, but for some reason it properly stuck with me this week, maybe it will do the same for you. Regardless, it’s a lovely, light, hopeful tune and it’s called ‘This Too Shall Pass’:
  1. Last up this week, another short film. This is called Stop & Search – “If you’re black in the UK, the police are 10 times more likely to stop and search you. How would they feel if it was the other way around?”. Well directed and with an excellent cast, this is feels like an appropriate thing to close with UNTIL NEXT WEEK BYE I LOVE YOU TAKE CARE BYE STAY SAFE AND TRY AND RELAX AND JUST HAVE SOME GOOD CLEAN GENTLE FUN BUT DIRTY FUN WILL DO AT A PINCH IF THERE’S NO CLEAN FUN LEFT BUT WHATEVER YOU DO ENJOY YOURSELF AND HAVE FUN AND I’LL SEE YOU NEXT WEEK AND I LOVE YOU I LOVE YOU I LOVE YOU BYE!:

Webcurios 29/05/20

Reading Time: 33 minutes

Jesus, that was a week. It started with a national feeding frenzy over the minutiae of a series of car journeys, mutated into one of the biggest ‘fcuk you’s I can remember seeing a government giving an electorate since basically Italy in the 80s and 90s (and, er, 00s), segued into another series of demonstrations of how horrifically broken race relations is in the US (and let’s not lie to ourselves, everywhere else too), and has ended with a totally edifying spat between the President of the United States of America and the…what, sixth-most-popular social network in the world? AND FRIDAY’S NOT EVEN OVER YET!!

I imagine what you really need after such a febrile, jittery, spiky week of creeping enervation and mounting incredulous impotence is something comfy and soothing to take the pain away; instead, what I’m giving you as per usual is far too many words and links, delivered in a style which might best be described as ‘loose-but-relentless’. Sorry about that. 

Still, phase one of lockdown is ALMOST OVER! A BIT! So ‘celebrate’ the last weekend indoors until we all start ill-advisedly rubbing up against each other again with Web Curios – who knows, maybe when this is all over you’ll have found a better way to pass these empty hours between birth and death than this. The sad truth, of course, is that I will not. 

I am still Matt, this is still Web Curios, and if you voted for this shower of cnuts then you’re still a cnut yourself.

gucci

(NB I have tried really hard to find a credit for the above photo but with no success, so if anyone knows then please let me know and I’ll add one in)

WHY NOT ACCOMPANY THIS FIRST BIT WITH SOME PHILIP GLASS?

THE SECTION WHICH WOULD ENJOY SEEING TWITTER SUSPEND TRUMP’S ACCOUNT FOR A WEEK AS A PETTY, TIT-FOR-TAT RESPONSE:

  • Facebook Launches Catchup: Ok, OK, fine, ‘launches’ is perhaps an exaggeration; this is another project by Facebook’s new projects division, meaning it’s got a super-limited release and may never see the light of day caveat caveat caveat. Regardless, it exists! Though, er, I’m not sure why. The best explanation is ‘houseparty, but for phonecalls!’; the idea is that the app gives anyone the ability to advertise the fact they are AVAILABLE FOR CALLS; any of their friends can then join said call, in multiple numbers, for a marvellous free-talking phone jamboree! This basically reminds me of the feature that phone companies developed in the 80s or 90s where if you paid them money you could patch multiple phonecalls together for ‘party calling’ or similar, and I’m not 100% certain why people would want to bring that back, but someone over in Menlo Park obviously thought this was taking a punt on. Literally nothing you can do with this information other than drop it into a few client-facing documents as a vague indication of your being ON THE PULSE – don’t worry, the client will be vaguely-impressed by your zeirgeistyness and then never mention it again, meaning it won’t matter that this is both the first and last time you will ever here about this doubtless-doomed-to-irrelevance failure (feel free to remind me of this when all social media has gone voice-only by 2027).
  • Facebook Launches Collab: TWO THINGS IN ONE WEEK! Collab is another experiment by FB, but one with (I think) significantly more potential, and which looks like quite an interesting spin on TikTok’s ‘make videos out of other people’s videos’ schtick. Collab is…oh, here: “Collabs are three independent videos that are playing in sync. With the app, you can create your own arrangement by adding in your own recording or by swiping and discovering an arrangement to complete your composition. No musical experience is required.” Now, I can’t play with this as it’s waitlist-only, but it looks as though it’s effectively an infinite-remix kit, the idea being that you’ll be able to splice together any combination of existing ‘Collabs’ with your own; there’s some detail in here about crediting original creators in here, which is interesting in terms of potentially enticing makers to the platform, and the sharing functionality (to whit, it bugs you to share its output ALL THE TIME, apparently) is a clever leaf from TikTok’s book. Worth keeping an ear out for this, I think.
  • Updates To The Facebook Creators’ Studio: I don’t care, this is very boring. Here: “The Creator Studio app is starting to roll out a brand-new experience for creators who want to manage their content on the go. With this update, you can now publish and schedule Facebook posts within the same Creator Studio app where you check content insights and respond to your fans’ messages and comments.” Happy? No, of course you’re not.
  • Instagram Makes It Easier For Creators To Earn: It feels ever so slightly like that point in the film in which all those portentous stones with all the carvings and the knife marks and the bloodstains that have been heavily trailed as being of MASSIVE SIGNIFICANCE since the first act start to slowly, grindingly turn on their axes as they move to some sort of universe-shattering alignment. Or at least that’s how it feels to me – ‘it’ in this case being ‘all the stuff Facebook is doing to bring money for individuals and businesses inside of the Big Blue Misery Factory’, which very much looks like the culmination of a lot of long-thought-out bits and pieces starting to coalesce into a very, very solid set of business reasons as to why basically everyone in the world who would like to make money online ought to be on at least one of the company’s apps. This update is about ads coming to Insta TV, with a limited number of creators on the platform getting said ads inserted into their content as 15s ‘swipe up for more content’ promo clips; there’s also some stuff in here about IG Live giving streamers the ability to sell stickers to fans, which work in much the same way as similar systems on Twitch and YouTube (stickers give you special status in the comments, basically, functioning as a massive, glowing ‘PICK ME, SENPAI!’ to whichever blandly-attractive FIAT500 identikit sportswear-endorsing cut-out they happen to be watching at the time.
  • Updated Guidelines for Music on IG: Worth a read if you do lots of livestreaming and want to know exactly how much music you can have on in the background before the copyright police take you down.
  • YouTube Adds ‘Chapters’ Feature for Easy Timestamping: Not really sure what to add here, but it’s now LOADS easier to add little timestamps to your YT uploads so that viewers can easily find the bits they want to watch. Which, if you think about it, you could probably use for some moderately-clever gags within a video if you could be bothered, but which, now I think about it, almost certainly won’t be funny or smart enough to warrant the time it’ll take you to come up with them in the first place.
  • Pinterest Launches Curated Highlights: Have YOU been after a feature on Pinterest which will “bring the expert recommendations of influential fashion and home tastemakers as well as publishers directly to you”? I imagine you have! And now it’s here! This very similar to the Insta announcement from last week – effectively it’s curated editorial by influencers, but potentially makes Pinterest a more appealing platform for publishers than it might have been otherwise. As per, there are literally no details about how this will practically function, but maybe use your imagination and think really hard and you might be able to develop a rough idea.
  • The Adobe 99 Conference: Adobe are a company I deeply dislike – not least as I briefly had a pleasantly-lucrative little gig with them where I basically repackaged about 3% of Curios every couple of weeks for the handsome some of £500 a pop, a task which took me approximately 7 minutes and which I would happily have carried on doing forever but which fell victim to some managerial musical chairs at their end (oh, and I hate them for trying to stop us from using photoshop as a verb NO I WILL NOT ADD A ™ AT THE END OF THAT FCUK YOU ADOBE FCUK YOU!!!) – but this year they are offering a virtual version of their annual 99 creativity conference, attendance at which is normally about a grand, for FREE! It’s all about ‘creativity’, apparently, and features keynotes and workshops and might be useful; if nothing else, though, given that it’s free there’s practically no reason why your employer shouldn’t be happy for you to take two days for some personal and professional growth, leaving you free to sack the whole thing off and go and spend 48h drinking 20/20 in a park.
  • The Reddit Advertising School: Also free! You are all probably FAR TOO SENIOR to need any of this, but for any more junior advermarketingpr folk, or any students reading this, you might find this genuinely useful: “r/Advertising School is a free portfolio school hosted in Reddit’s r/Advertising community. The 12-week program features courses from industry professionals alongside real assignments to promote diversity in the ad industry.” It looks quite formal and structured, which might be a particular appeal, and given the breadth of what it covers – art direction to copywriting to brief writing to the relationship between advertising and PR – it’s definitely worth sharing with any kids curious about the industry if nothing else.
  • Nana by IKEA: If you don’t ordinarily read ‘the boring section at the top about a hateful industry which the world would be better off without’ but just happen to catch this out of the corner of your eye as you scroll past then WAIT STOP WAIT STOP COME BACK! This is, I concede, just a promotional website for furniture from Sweden, but it is SO FUN! Nana is a site created for IKEA Spain (I think), as part of competition to win the perfect bedroom or somesuch; that’s not the important bit. The important bit is that the site is also a competition mechanic, which requires you to sing along to a Swedish lullaby to register your entry; the better you sing the lullaby, the more sleepy your digital neighbours become, with ‘victory’ coming when you successfully lull them to sleep. Look, maybe it’s just a lowering of standards as we reach the fag-end of quarantine (ha! WE’LL ALL BE DOING THIS AGAIN IN A FEW MONTHS!!) but I found this properly charming, and absolutely belted this out when I played it earlier this week. Seriously joyful.

By Flora Yukhnovich

NEXT, ENJOY THIS SUPERB, HIPHOP-HEAVY MIX COMPILED BY THE SUPERB B DOLAN!

THE SECTION WHICH WONDERS WHETHER PEOPLE INCREDULOUSLY MOUTHING “IT’S LIKE THERE’S ONE RULE FOR THEM AND ANOTHER FOR US” THIS WEEK HAVE EVER STUDIED THE HISTORY OF THE CONSERVATIVE PARTY OR INDEED READ ONE OF ITS ELECTORAL MANIFESTOS, PT.1:

  • Jazz Keys: There was a part of me when I found this that really wanted to see what would happen if I wrote all of Curios in it; the answer, it turns out, as I found when typing this paragraph through the interface, is that I would find it almost impossible to stop typing, as the free-flowing piano does rather encourage the sort of preposterous run-on sentences of which I know I am already too fond for your liking. Right – back to the GDoc in which this is normally composed. WOW THIS IS SO MUCH FUN CLICK THE LINK RIGHT AWAY! Jazz Keys is very simple – you type, and the site turns your keystrokes into jazz piano. That’s it – except, seemingly-miraculously, whatever you type sounds sort-of…ok? I don’t know whether it’s a peculiar characteristic of jazz piano that you can basically cobble any notes together in a vaguely-syncopated rhythm and it’s just-about-listenable, or whether (more likely) there’s something under the hood here that prevents you from creating anything too cacophonic, but, regardless, the sounds this produces are lovely. I promise you, it’s nearly-impossible to feel stressed or annoyed when typing on this website – why not keep it open in a tab and use it as your new Tweet composer? I guarantee all your communications will be 17% cooler as a result.
  • It’s Me: I do wonder whether the recent boom in popularity of videocalling will in any way alter our relationship with the concept of the ‘avatar’ in online interactions; whereas a degree of anonymity was an expected and often mandatory part of online life back in the day, are we all becoming generally more accepting of revealing our real identities online? If your immediate answer to that is ‘dear god no, give me all the digital masks to hide behind so I can mask my hideous, disfigured countenance’ then a) hello kindred spirit; and b) you might like It’s Me, a new ‘friend finding’ service whose gimmick is that all interactions by default take place from behind an avatar. It’s designed as a layer on top of Snapchat, with users being able to autogenerate an avatar and jump into chats, which the idea being that if you like people you can move to Snapchat to take the conversation to the next level. I don’t know if I’m just being a bit middle-aged about this, but this does rather scream ‘beware of the paedos’ imho – also, there is something SO SAD about the App Store page featuring an image that reads ‘don’t get judged by your face’. I know that that’s how the world works, but, God.
  • Alethea: My boss got the ‘rona, so to cheer him up during his convalescence I popped on Cameo and spent 30 whole quid getting Duncan from Blue to record him a ‘get well soon’ message. Fair play to Duncan from Blue, he delivered within 24h and gave a good 90s of straight-down-the-camera, bronzed, beautiful, cheering inanity – he also, though, saw fit to share some slightly-bizarre and probably-not-totally-medically-accurate bits of wisdom about the importance of fighting COVID-19 with ‘plenty of vitamin C’, which did rather make me wonder whether if I logged onto his Insta I’d see him grifting for some sort of orange juice-based miracle cure. Anyway, that’s by way of pointless, unasked-for preamble to Alethea, which is ‘Cameo, but with people who aren’t real and have been generated by computer’ – basically a sort of deepfake factory, churning out custom content which you script and they render for $50 and upwards. There are some stock models to choose from – a baby Barack Obama (I really don’t want to think about some of the things I worry that baby Barack might have been made to say), a weird mashup of Trump and that bloke off that Netflix programme about the tigers you were all shouting about 11 weeks ago – and all you have to do is send them a script and they’ll do the rest (costs are per 200 words). This is really interesting; the models are ok, but very obviously CG-generated and I can’t imagine why you would ever want a video of a fake person saying made-up stuff straight to camera, but the potential is huge.
  • Manova: This is one of the…bolder ideas I’ve seen in a while. Undeterred by the fact that VR worlds haven’t exactly been setting the world alight of late, and the fact that Second Life creators Linden Labs last year shuttered their own planned version of a new digital universe, and the additional and probably more significant fact that Fortnite looks like by far and away the best bet for any sort of persistent metaverse-type-thing right now, a former HTC boss this week announced a standalone VR headset with its own standalone virtual world called Manova. So, er, they are gambling on a VR headset from a brand-new maker that noone has heard of, and a brand-new virtual world with no IP that can only be accessed by the aforementioned headset…no, sorry, this is absolutely never going to be anything other than a colossal failure. Even the website looks like it was cobbled together from unused CG renders from previous versions of the Sims, or by someone who remembers Playstation Home, complete with generic ‘watch films with friends!’ and ‘play games!’ exhortations with no actual detail about how these things will work, and why they will work better than previous versions of this sort of thing that literally noone wanted to use, ever. Still, fair play to whoever’s getting rich off this – someone DEFINITELY is.
  • This MP Does Not Exist: Insert your own, lame, moderately-topical gag here about whether the website name refers to members of the cabinet with a sense of shame or integrity. This is the latest project by Matt Round, whose trained a GAN on all the MP’s portraits and trained it to spit out new, imaginary ones at the push of a button – brilliantly, it does names and constituencies too (these must have been edited a bit, they are TOO perfect – I am sure Sir Edward Mole MP, Westworth and Dulsea, is a real person). I presume that these are all pre-generated and hosted somewhere in the background and that you would eventually run out of new, imaginary MPs to generate if you clicked long enough, but there are enough in here that you can keep going for quite a while. I feel there’s a pointless-but-fun bot you could make with this which automatically replies to people complaining about petty local matters on Twitter with one of these, along with a made-up .parliament.uk email address exhortation for the complainant to contact their MP and really vent.
  • Teooh: One thing I’ve learned about WORKING LIFE since it’s all gone virtual is that people really love having events. Love them. “We must do a webinar!”, they say, “we must do this conference!” Why, though? Be honest, how many work events or conferences have you ever been to that were anything other than, at best, a marginally-less painful way of wasting your time than being at work? Has anyone, ever, said anything useful or interesting on stage at an industry event (I talk specifically about advermarketingpr here – you may well do something less hatefully stupid for a living, and your conferences may be shining beacons of worth and meaning)? Yes, that’s right, I really am this much of a hateful misanthrope and a pleasure to have as a colleague! Now, imagine the horror of attending an event, but now it’s happening VIRTUALLY in what looks like a cross between The Sims circa 2005 and Habbo Hotel – yes, that’s right, it’s a VIRTUAL EVENTS SPACE! You can have a DIGITAL STAGE and everyone can have their OWN AVATAR and there will be little emotes you can do, and…NOOONE WANTS THIS! Noone, literally noone, wants to have to learn a whole new series of inputs and a new UI and to customise their own avatar using totally unfamiliar settings and controls and to be dumped into a virtual space with a few dozen other avatars all flailing spastically and shouting things like “DOES ANYONE KNOW HOW TO PUT MYSELF ON MUTE???”. Look, a small piece of advice – JUST MAKE STUFF WORK PROPERLY IT IS ALL THE USER ASKS DO NOT TRY AND MAKE IT SHINY AND FUN WHEN IT DOESN’T EVEN DO THE BASICS RIGHT.
  • The Lost Horizon Festival: Thanks to Gill for sending this to me; I have literally no idea how this will work, but Lost Horizon is a festival happening virtually next month, run by the people behind Shangri-La which many of you won’t remember very clearly at all from Glastonburys past. It’s presenting itself as ‘the world’s largest festival in virtual reality’, but details on exactly what flavour of VR or what the experience will be like or who’s playing are…nonexistent. Still, they’ve got til 3-4 July to sort it all out – you can sign up for updates and, doubtless, aggressively-consistent Instagram advertising.
  • Stayk: This is a sweepstake generator, of which there are myriad on the web; the neat twist here is that you can use Stayk to create your very own deathpool tournament with friends, which is kept automatically up-to-date with regular Wikipedia data pulls – the site basically checks the Wikipedia entries of the famouses in question and alerts the players when one of them carks it and ends the game. Obviously this is VERY TASTELESS but I’ve always found the prospect of celebrity deathpools sort-of funny (blame it on all my time on Popbitch bitd) and the Wikipedia scraping is a smart little hack so WELL DONE Niall Beard for making it.
  • Vera Sebert: Vera Sebert is a digital artist; this link takes you to her online portfolio, which itself then links out to a range of small projects she’s built across the web over the years and which are all (well, the ones I’ve tried at least) interesting and engaging and interactive in inventive ways. Some of them are also in German, but, well, nothing’s perfect.
  • GTA Bike: THIS is the future of exercise. Honestly, if open world games don’t start coming with official ways of connecting your now-connected exercise equipment to them in some way, I will be amazed. This is a very technical set of instructions on how to link your domestic training bike to your computer so that you can PEDAL YOUR WAY THROUGH GTA!! This looks SO much fun – I know that there are various systems that let you ride digital races, etc, but I guarantee none of them will be anywhere near as fun as that bit in GTAV when you go careening down the hill from the observatory on the dirtbike. Seriously, this looks brilliant, to the extent that I could almost imagine wanting to get on an exercise bike were I able to give it a go (though I am not sure I could deal with the humiliation of dying of cardiac arrest whilst effectively playing a videogame).
  • Birds Taking The Train: A subReddit devoted to photographs of birds – mainly pigeons, as you might expect, on trains. Fare-dodging little fcukers.
  • Eight360: I know I’ve been a bit bear-ish about VR on here of late – I still think I’m right, by the way, it still lacks a killer reason to buy – but there really are some interesting developments coming up. This is onesuch thing – Eight360 is basically a real-life version of every single one of those ‘360-degree simulator-type immersive control systems for VR’ things that you’ve seen in every single VR film ever, from Lawnmower Man to Ready Player One, and it looks AMAZING. It also looks like it would make you incredibly ill very quickly, but in a fun way if that makes sense. Finally, it appears to be designed and developed by a pair of kids from New Zealand, which makes me want it to succeed quite a lot – GOOD LUCK, KIDS FROM NEW ZEALAND!
  • Extreme Mercator: A little toy which uses Google Earth (I think) to create weird-looking perspectives based on Mercator map projections – you know the ones, they’re all elongated at the poles. Plug in any location you want and it will create this weird, stretched, slightly-abstract but equally almost-recognisable aerial landscape. It’s…quite hard to describe, so I suggest you click the link and point it at the city of your choosing and see what happens.
  • Radio Recliner: This is a BRILLIANT idea, and exactly the sort of thing that literally ALL of you can almost certainly steal as an idea for a project you’re working on – it’s so good you can probably bend it to fit any client you like, with a bit of work. Radio Recliner is a US initiative, creating a ‘pirate’ radio station run by residents at old people’s homes across the country, each getting a ‘slot’ each day which are stitched together into continuous programming and OH MY WORD what a great project. Can someone please, please do this in the UK, in conjunction with Age UK or similar; I would totally tune in to a station playing old music and with some top-quality nana-reminiscence thrown in as between-tracks banter. Let’s resurrect the concept of Zoo Radio but with a zoo populated by venerable, elegant animals rather than the sh1t-flinging chimps of the Chris Evans era (this is a VERY old gag/reference which probably didn’t need to go in here, sorry).
  • The Ickabog: I am sure you all know that JK Rowling’s releasing a new, non-Potter story called The Ickabog; it’s being released chapter-by-chapter online, and they’re upto part 7 now (which, if you’re reading this via the Twitter bot next week, will be hopelessly out-of-date, sorry).
  • Global Hypercolour: In Swindon in 1992 there was literally NOTHING cooler than Global Hypercolour; a range of clothing which came in light pastel shades, was sold at M&S (I think) and which was MIND-MELTINGLY able to change colour based on temperature. Teenagers were seemingly unbothered by the fact that what this practically resulted in was your armpits standing out as massive colourbeacons of hormonal heat production and bought this stuff like there was no tomorrow (or at least their parents did, except my mum who wanted no truck with it, leaving me very bitter for a good few weeks), until everyone realised that the tshirts were terrible quality and the heat reactive qualities of the fabric sort of stopped working after a bit, after which you were simply left with a tshirt with weird blue sweat stains. MEMORIES! Anyway, for those of you for whom the preceding 100 words were a pleasing time machine of nostalgia – or for those of you to whom they meant nothing but who quite like the idea of having really standout armpits – there’s now someone selling them right here in 2020. Except the name’s now ‘Shadow Shifter’ (I presume someone somewhere still has the oh-so-valuable ‘global hypercolour’ trademark) and you have to buy them on Amazon (sorry) – I imagine the appalling quality and short-lived quality of the colour change will be EXACTLY the same, though.

By Christine Twang

NEXT UP, HAVE THIS MIX OF AFRO/LATINATE BEATS WHICH IS LITERALLY PERFECT FOR A SUNNY WEEKEND!!

THE SECTION WHICH WONDERS WHETHER PEOPLE INCREDULOUSLY MOUTHING “IT’S LIKE THERE’S ONE RULE FOR THEM AND ANOTHER FOR US” THIS WEEK HAVE EVER STUDIED THE HISTORY OF THE CONSERVATIVE PARTY OR INDEED READ ONE OF ITS ELECTORAL MANIFESTOS, PT.2:

  • Soviet Design: This is a lovely site, by a Ukrainian digital agency, which presents a history of design from the Soviet era (specifically from 1922-1991). This contains all the elements you’d expect – Communist-era typographical styles, profiles of the architects and designers whose work characterised the aesthetic of the era, and some really nice webwork alongside it, which manages to elevate rather than confuse the overall content and which is designed in such a way as to reinforce all the themes you’re discovering as you read. This is genuinely lovely, and I would absolutely hire these people based on this, were I ever able to work on something more interesting than sub-£10k ephemeral content repositories.
  • You Shall Not Pass: Reminiscent in theme of that nightmare UX website from last year which I can’t be bothered to dig out bu- see, I was typing that and I found myself compelled to dig out the link and put it in here for you – JESUS I HAVE A PROBLEM) except more limited in scope, this site asks you to do one simple thing and choose a password. This is funny partly because of how accurate it is, and neatly highlights one of my personal pet hates when it comes to webform UI – PLEASE IF THERE ARE NECESSARY CONDITIONS REQUIRED FOR MY PASSWORD TO BE ACCEPTABLE THEN TELL ME WHAT THOSE ARE BEFORE I TRY AND CREATE ONE YOU FCUKING CNUTS. It’s…a bugbear.
  • MS Dos in VR: It’s astonishing to me how much I still remember of MS Dos commands, born of the JOYFUL (not joyful at all) process that one used to have to go through when one wanted to play a game on a PC in the days before Windows – this is a brilliant little browsertoy (not VR at all, in fact) which lets you play around with an actual old PC on a virtual desktop, complete with several completely-playable games, and the ability to root around in all the subfolders. If you want a time machine back to the early-90s (there’s a lot of early-90s nostalgia in here this week, it seems – sorry, I promise I’ll stop fetishising the pre-web past soon, it’s just, well, IT WAS A BETTER TIME (I know it wasn’t a better time)) then this will scratch that itch perfectly.
  • Black Photo Booth: A found photo project collecting images of black people taken in photo booths through the 20th century, composed of found imagery. “I’ve been collecting found images of Black people for many years. Some of my favorites are photo booth portraits. They often show Black people of different ages, genders, classes in serious and also playful poses. Usually, there are no names listed so these anonymous people invite the viewer to use their imagination in crafting a story about their lives.” This is a beautiful project, and if you click the ‘download’ button in the top-right you can get the images as a PDF booklet for ease-of-viewing.
  • Choose Your Plant: Have you gotten REALLY into caring for plants over the course of the past few months indoors? Are they now more real to you than those half-remembered fleshy shapes you used to refer to as ‘friends’ and ‘family’? Would you like to meet a community of fellow plant enthusiasts, ready to discuss all things flora with you and offer you support when the Cyclamen just won’t take? If so, welcome to your new favourite place on the internet. There’s also LOADS of useful information on helping the bloody things stay alive – always the problem I have – along with a useful tool to help you choose appropriate greeney for whatever domestic setup you might have with regard to light, humidity, etc. I would hope that the associated community pages are a wonderful, nurturing community where your love for your vegetal friends can blossom (sorry), but obviously Web Curios takes no responsibility whatsoever should you discover that it’s been taken over by actual Nazis or something.
  • Dancing Horse Friends: It was suggested to me last year that I might want to swap out the sadly dying ‘Tumblrs’ mini-section of Curios with one dedicated to TikToks – the problem with that is that I would have to spend more time on TikTok, and I don’t really want to. Occasionally though I find an account that really is worth sharing with you – such an account is Dancing Horse Friends, which is pretty much the apogee of ‘weird meme TikTok’; ‘relatable’ content about horses, all of it made through what looks like some sort of godawful free-to-play game about grooming ponies. I have no idea, basically, which I imagine is sort of the point (I also imagine that whoever makes these would be devastated if a 40 year old man did understand tbh).
  • What Sylvia Ate: The juxtaposition between this and the previous link is sort of the ur-example of the difference between TikTok and Twitter – TikTok, a series of videos of poor-quality CG horses to Lorde about their living conditions; Twitter, a series of Tweets listing stuff that Sylvia Plath ate based on her diary entries. There’s a reason why one is significantly more popular than the other, isn’t there?
  • Toledo Miniatures: I once read a really good an involved article that explained exactly what it was about miniaturism that exerted such a strong and powerful hold over the human psyche – there’s something quite primal it awakens in us, apparently, which is why we all to a greater or lesser degree find VERY SMOL things fascinating and, occasionally, a bit unsettling. Sadly I’ve forgotten everything about the article other than the fact I once read it, so I can’t explain what that something is – know, though, that that is what is causing you to react to this site. Toledo Miniatures is, I think, just one very talented craftsperson, Chris Toledo, who makes these INSANELY high-quality, high-detail models of individual rooms. Honestly these are INCREDIBLE, although I don’t really understand why anyone would want to commission a tiny, perfectly-formed model of a very, very nice bathroom for approximately $6k.
  • If I Knew Then: This is interesting, in part for its banality; If I Knew Then is a project collecting ‘wisdom’ and life lessons from the Harvard Business School’s class of 1963, with the idea being that this generation of graduates lived and worked through so much significant change that their perspectives will doubtless be invaluable. The site acknowledges the fact that a bunch of old white blokes might not seem like the most intriguingly-relevant spokespeople to educate current generations, but then goes on to present a bunch of reasonably-boring bromides as noteworthy fact. There’s nothing bad about this per se, it’s just it’s slightly depressing to find that all the ‘advice’ these people can impart basically boils down to things like ‘don’t make rash decisions’ and ‘don’t be a cnut’ (actually these are scions of American business – they probably don’t even believe the latter, let alone say it) – I find the whole project more interesting as a potential training source for a neural net tbh, to create a bot that will automatically spit out some hoary, old-timey business and life chat at the press of a button. Or, and here’s a project for one of you, why not take this and make it your entire LinkedIn persona for the coming year? Why not live your digital business life as an HBS alumni? Actually, that would be quite fun – I bet those dead-eyed no-soul cnuts on LinkedIn would lap this up.
  • Icon Rewind: ANOTHER MSCHF project, this time letting you download old versions of all the app icons on your (i)phone so you can pretend it’s still a simpler, kinder time, when the Snapchat ghost had a face and Insta was still a camera and we’d never even heard the term ‘social distancing’.
  • Hey JTree: A website for you to find and befriend a Joshua Tree. “Hey JTree is an ongoing participatory art research project that utilizes social media, and an on-line dating site for meeting Joshua trees. The goal of Hey JTree is to actively enhance interaction between research, visitors to Joshua Tree National Park, and on-line audiences with collected data from individual trees using text, photographs, art, and short video clips of charismatic Joshua trees set to music.” Let me repeat that last line – CHARISMATIC JOSHUA TREES SET TO MUSIC. Never let it be said that Web Curios doesn’t provide the very finest entertainment content to be found online.
  • Unfun Facts: This is a genuinely GREAT Reddit thread which I must at the same time offer you quite a stern warning about – this contains quite a few upsetting truths which once learned can’t be unknown. It also, though, contains SO MANY AMAZING FACTS, like one about the exploding corpse of Henry VIII, and the fact that scallops have TWO HUNDRED TINY EYES and, er, a whole load of really horrible ones about death and stuff. Still, if you want a seemingly neverending supply of things to horrify and amaze teenage boys, this is pretty much perfect.
  • Constancia: A small web game all about the value of perseverence, playable in Spanish or English. This is lovely, and despite the slightly nose/pointy nature of the theme and message I found it rather beautiful.
  • Zelda Sudoku: I don’t do SuDoku, but I am informed by people who do that this is both a very good example of the genre and one which becomes pleasingly-tricky around about level 3 – basically it’s SuDoku with chests and powerups and a simple Zelda-style theming, if you’d like a little bit of additional scene-setting with your numbers.
  • All Things Equal: To give it its full title, “all things equal i would prefer it if we were safe & lonely instead of together & afraid but i cannot deny that it is hard” – this is a small game about loneliness and lockdown and fear and it is very, very lovely indeed.
  • Out For Delivery: Finally in the miscellania this week, this is something you’ll have to download but I promise it’s worth it; all filmed in first person, and presented as an interactive 3d video which is part-documentary, part-game, this is “an interactive documentary in 360 degree video following a slice-of-life story of a food delivery courier in Beijing on Jan 23, 2020. It was filmed the day before Lunar New Year and the same day when Wuhan City shut down due to COVID-19.” SO interesting, so well-made, and so much something that I feel ought to spawn a whole new genre of interactive entertainment. This is really, really good.

By Liu Ye

FINALLY IN THIS WEEK’S MIXES, HAVE THIS DOWNTEMPO, AMBIENT, LOUNGE-Y SET BY ROMAIN FX!

THE CIRCUS OF TUMBLRS!:

  • The Museum of Ridiculously Interesting Things: OH I LOVE THIS! Fine, it’s not technically a Tumblr, but it absolutely could be, which makes it taxonomically fine, right? Right! “For those with a taste for the peculiar (AUTHORIAL NOTE: IT ME!), The Museum of Ridiculously Interesting Things is an imaginary museum that explores the strange place between art and curiosities. The museum celebrates the odd, the creative, the spooky and the eccentric. We value the special magic that draws people toward weird and wonderful things, and we believe it can be used to foster more creativity, compassion and curiosity in the world.” Curated by Dr Chelsea Nichols, this is just FULL of great stuff and incredibly creepy victoriana in particular.
  • Pacific Voyages: This, though, really is a Tumblr! Pacific Voyages is an odd site which collects the writings of one Jamis Macniven, all about his opinions on various places around the Pacific. It’s…very odd. I can’t quite tell whether this is fiction and Macniven is a construct being used as some sort of creative writing project or if they really exist and are really like this; both are quite appealing prospects. I suggest you jump in and have a nose around – there are a few entries on there covering a variety of places, so see if it grabs you.

THE TROUGH OF (INSTA) FEEDS!:

  • The New Museum: The New Museum in Manhattan’s Insta feed is currently posting a story a day, read by various artists as part of a project by Maurizio Cattelan; they range from poetry to novel fragments to short stories, but there’s something lovely about getting a three-minute auditory pause in your feed (the rest of it’s good too, but the stories are why I’m linking).
  • Karens Going Wild: Repeat after me: KAREN. IS. NOT. A. SLUR. KAREN. IS. NOT. HATESPEECH. (now take a moment to imagine that this edition of Web Curios slips through a wormhole and ends up in 2016, and how you’d explain this opening to someone – four years is a LONG time in The Culture). Anyway, you’re probably one of the 1.7m people who’s already followed this since it launched a week or so ago; you know what the score is. I imagine the comments on these posts are quite the thing.
  • David Allen: David Allen is a tattoo artist who specialises in work on women who’ve had mastectomies, and much of his feed features body art used as part of the process of recovery from surgery. This is BEAUTIFUL.
  • Igor Sandimirov: 3d animation IN YOUR FEED. Lovely work, this.
  • Kathleen Roberts: I can only leave you the description – you will have to then decide whether you want this in your life: “I am a physical medium and wife of Michael Jackson the ghost. I am also an adult model on Only Fans. I put my ghost channelings on there as well.” IT IS ABSOLUTELY AS GOOD AS YOU WOULD EXPECT.

LONG THINGS WHICH ARE LONG!:

  • The NYT’s Cover Story From Last Weekend: You will, I am sure, have seen images of the cover – which the NYT on Sunday dedicated to listing names of those killed by COVID-19 in the US, along with a single line of biography to humanise and render them real – but it’s also worth looking at the online version, which manages to pack a similar punch to the gut but in a way that uses the properties of a webpage to make its point rather than the confines of a printed sheet. Such superb design, totally in service of the story it’s telling. The Guardian this week launched an adjacent project to commemorate some of those who’ve lost their lives to the pandemic in the UK, which lives here should you wish to take a look – this feels unnecessary to say, but, well, it’s obviously heartbreakingly sad, just f your i.
  • COVID in Mongolia: I met up with my friend Fat Bob for SOCIALLY DISTANCED PARK BEERS yesterday afternoon, along with what seemed like everyone else in SW9 (seriously, there is no way in HELL everyone is going to go back to being stuck in the office all summer now that we’ve realised that we can slack off whenever we want and NOONE WILL EVER BE ABLE TO TELL), and we were having a conversation about how one of the most infuriating aspects of the UK’s response to the pandemic has been the weird, clunky sense of British snobbery and exceptionalism and superiority that’s imbued much of our response. We won’t just have an app – we’ll have a WORLD LEADING app (we won’t); we won’t just collaborate on finding a vaccine – it will be BORN AND BRED IN WORLD-BEATING BRITISH LABS (it won’t); we will follow our own path because WE KNOW BEST (we don’t)…it’s hard for me to disentangle this attitude from the fact we’re being run by a bunch of Etonian Conservatives, frankly. Contrast this with Mongolia, as profiled in this piece – noone’s idea of a top-tier nation, least of all Mongolia’s, the country has quietly and sensibly gone about the business of protecting itself from the pandemic with staggering success so far, to the point of having NO deaths at all at the time of the article’s writing. The piece looks at what steps Mongolia took, when it took them, and what other countries could have learned – the lesson to us at least seems very much to be ‘not to be such crushingly arrogant relics of a colonial past that no longer exists and a world order that no longer maintains’.
  • Cocaine In A Time of Pandemic: A fascinating look at how cartels in South America are working to ensure that London’s favourite pick-me-up continues to be available in the industrial quantities to which so many seem to be accustomed. Mainly interesting to me as an object-lesson in the importance of maintaining a relatively-flexible logistics operation, but also a useful reminder of exactly how the cocaine you take at the weekend gets to you and how many people it’s killing along the way (I should probably point out here that whilst I don’t buy coke I do buy other drugs and therefore have literally no moral high ground here whatsoever, nor indeed am I trying to claim any).
  • The Restaurant Reopening Guide: This is fascinating. Black Sheep Restaurants in Hong Kong have made their guidance on how they are going about reopening their establishments publicly available online – this links to a PDF of their guidelines for restaurants on how to operate, communicate and administer themselves as they attempt to work out a viable business model alongside social distancing. Worth reading if you have any interest at all in how, practically, we might go about restoring some semblance of pre-COVID normalcy to life.
  • Will Corona Save Facebook?: Forums are basically the cockroaches of online life – THEY WILL NEVER DIE. This is evidenced by the fact that, as this article points out as its central point, Facebook has basically pivoted HARD to forums in the past few years (what are Groups? Forums! Facebook is basically Reddit but for stuff from Past Reddit), and its that functionality that has seen its usage amongst younger demographics – the ones, don’t forget, that we were assured a few years ago would NEVER use Facebook – soar over the past three months. Fundamentally-speaking, Facebook has attained a size and scale that makes it part of human infrastructure, infrastructure which becomes significantly more important at times of crisis; as plenty of people are finding out, for better or worse, life is simply easier for many people with Facebook plugged into it, which is why it’s not going anywhere anytime soon.
  • Return of the Drive-In: This is a news article about Keith Urban doing a gig at a drive-in in the US and it’s not hugely interesting beyond that, but I’m including it as I became convinced this week that in-car group socialising could be a temporary thing and I want someone at NCP to see this and pay me a fat consultancy fee to make it reality.
  • Coronagrifting: This is a superb essay, but one that made me feel a but guitility queasy, as it probably should you too – if you work in advermarketingpr and have been lucky enough to still have a job over the past few months, chances are you’ve been involved in a brainstorm or some other meeting in which you’ve ‘thrown around some ideas’ (or, perhaps ‘th’rona round’ ahahahahazzzzzzzzzzzzz) pertaining to the pandemic and stuff that clients could do do get attention as a result of it. You might have used the phrase ‘thought leadership’ or ‘futurology’ (don’t worry, don’t worry, I have to demean myself like this too. Although to my credit, at least I don’t try and hide my self-loathing as I do so), or even considered ‘getting some CG mockups of what it might look like’. Well done, you’ve been ‘coronagrifting’ – the term, coined by Kate Wagner to cover the sort of made-up, obviously-just-bullsh1t COVID-related stuff you’ve seen all over the web; the Burger King social distancing crown, for example, or those preposterous hanging perspex ceiling domes that no restaurant will ever install, or anything else that masquerades as a solution to a corona problem but which is self-evidently just, well, bullsh1t. So, so true. This made me feel quite bad, both about myself and the sh1t I choose to do to pay my mortgage, so I thought I’d share!
  • Lessons From Record Labels: A really interesting essay, this, by Jarrod Dicker, in which he argues that social media platforms should take a leaf from record companies’ books by seeing themselves effectively as talent agencies rather than content platforms. It’s a smart argument that makes sense, and which you can see happening RIGHT NOW, with Spotify paying all that money for the thinking troglodyte’s thinking troglodyte Joe Rogan, and Twitch, Facebook and YouTube (and a few others) squabbling over Ninja et al; it’s also the sort of thing which, I worry, would probably have negative repercussions in terms of the barriers to entry that this sort of setup seemingly inevitably engenders. Remember what it was like attempting to make a career in music pre-web? Whilst it might make sense for the platforms, I’m not 100% sure that the consumer would benefit from this – artists, I’m unsure.
  • Meth In Afghanistan: You’d think Afghanistan might catch a break one of these decades, but seemingly not – next on the looong list of things deciding they are going to mess with the country is meth addiction! This is a fascinating article examining how Afghan drug cartels have relatively-recently discovered that they can extract ephedrine from the locally-abundant plant ephedra, meaning they can start cooking a LOT of meth; the piece gives an overview of the history of the drug’s entry into the country, and gives an idea of how quickly it could become a very popular export commodity.
  • Design Notes on Tactics Games: If you’re not into videogames or games design, skip this one. If you are, though, it’s a really interesting series of observations on design choices made in a pair of tactical shooter games, how they work, why some choices are better than others, how they impact player choice and overall gameplay…basically this is an object lesson on how to think critically about systems and processes, which is something I find really interesting but am yet to find a way to communicate about without sounding crushingly, biblically dull.
  • The TikTok Cult: This is very, very odd, and it’s hard not to end up imagining the episode of Black Mirror that takes the overall conceit of this piece and runs with it as far as it can. The Step Chickens is the name given to fans of TikTok star Melissa Ong, who’s basically discovered that she can get thousands and thousands of kids to go and do stuff on her behalf online, and is mobilising them to do just that. It’s a bit like the old-school habit of messageboard drivebys, where a forum would decide to ‘invade’ another community for lulz (there was a period when Popbitch had a pleasingly-antagonistic beef with an online community for residents of Liphook, iirc), except with SO MANY MORE PEOPLE. So far it’s all been quite benign, and there was even someone smart enough to use this as part of marketing for an app launch, but it doesn’t take an imagination as miserably inclined towards disaster as mine is to see how this could go quite wrong quite quickly. Still, ABSOLUTELY one to add to your marketing trends presentation under the heading ‘INFLUENCERS – THE NEXT EVOLUTION’ or some other awful, hyperbolic guff.
  • The Many Faces of Housekeeping: This is a brilliant piece of journalism by Ed Gillett in The Quietus, ostensibly a review of the new album by house purveyors Housekeeping which then pivots to become an excellent discussion and critique of the extent to which quite a lot of aspects of mainstream dance culture have been coopted by the rich, and how a culture born out of black and queer experience is being repackaged as something to sell to middle-class white ‘creatives’ alongside the Cowshed cosmetics and a Soho Farmhouse weekend. Good writing, and pleasingly angry about the whole thing.
  • The Coffee Grounds Fortune Telling App: Sorry, I really can’t think of a decent heading for this one. Still, it’s a fascinating story – I love reading about popular digital stuff that is HUGE in a particular part of the world but utterly unknown (oh, ok, utterly unknown to me) outside of it. The ‘digital stuff’ in question here is the hugely-popular Turkish app Faladdin, which takes the centuries-old practise of divining one’s fortune by reading coffee grounds and makes it an app – users snap a photo of the bottom of their coffee, upload it to the app and are rewarded with a personal reading, conducted by ‘AI’, within 15 minutes. To be clear how big this is, let me quote you this line: “In Turkey, it ranks first in the Google Play store’s Lifestyle category, ahead of Tinder.” BIG BUSINESS. This is a genuinely interesting piece, telling a familiar story – disruption! Privacy concerns! The dismantling of heritage by modernity! – in an unfamiliar setting.
  • Ate My Balls: This is a piece from 1997 – 1997! LITERALLY 23 YEARS AGO – in Salon Magazine, all about the trend for webpages that were all about a certain pop culture figure or celebrity and their love of EATING BALLS. Mickey Mouse, Elmo, Captain Planet…anyone and everyone in the mid-90s had a site where it was claimed that they love to EAT BALLS. It was a meme, basically, and this article tries to explain it to readers – what’s wonderful about this is that it is EXACTLY the same article you have read 100 times, in which a ‘serious’ publication interviews a meme creator only to find that there is nothing whatsoever to say about their creation other than ‘yeah, it’s sort-of funny how big it got’. When it seems that internet culture moves at a pace just a shade over lightspeed, it’s nice to occasionally be reminded that some things don’t change at all.
  • Pr0n and the Pandemic: Taking as its starting point the explosion in popularity of OnlyFans and the growing number of people seemingly considering taking up some form of sex work as an income generator, this piece looks at how quarantine and the limitations it’s imposed are seeing a possible shift in the model for the industry away from studio shoots towards a preponderance of self-shot content. I am personally fascinated about what this might mean for human sexual appetites, particularly amongst the young; as we all know, bongo shapes desire as much as desire shapes bongo, and I do wonder what a new emphasis to cracking one off to images of other people cracking one off are going to do for people’s attitudes to sex featuring more than one person.
  • The 9 Year Old Who Dreams of Grandmasterdom: I don’t normally, if ever, feature anything on Curios that could be described as ‘heartwarming’, but I’ll make an exception for this piece, which only a dead person could fail to be cheered by. Meet Tani Adewume, a refugee from Nigeria to the US, formerly homeless, who’s one of the most exciting minds in US chess right now and whose entire story will honestly make you do a small, happy weep it’s so sweet.
  • Food, Culture and Gatekeeping: The ‘extremely online’ amongst you – ha, like anyone other than the extremely online would EVER look at this – will probably be aware of the Alison Roman / Marie Kondo / Chrissy Teigen thing (those of you who aren’t, it’s explained in the piece); this is a superb essay in Eater by Navneet Alang, which does a better job of almost anything I’ve read at explaining the importance of conversations about cultural appropriation in food, the whiteness of food media and culture, and how the two interrelate. Really, really well-written, and probably the best explanation I’ve read about why this stuff matters.
  • Steve Buscemi: It is impossible to read this profile of Steve Buscemi without falling slightly in love with him. Try it, you won’t succeed.
  • Eels: The highest compliment I can pay this piece is that it’s an extract from a book all about eels whose title is ‘The Book of Eels’ and which talks exclusively about eels, their lives and their general…eeliness, and yet despite that it is SO GOOD that it has led me to pre-order the thing. Honestly, this is superb writing; the language is wonderful (credit to both author and translator) and, er, it really, really made me want to eat some smoked eel. Sorry lads.
  • The Lie of One Last Time With My Ex: Finally this week, I absolutely adored this essay, which is all about the different times the author had the last ever sex they would ever have with their ex, and captures absolutely perfectly the very specific, intense self-absorbtion of relationships in ones teens and twenties. Beautiful, beautiful writing by Ella Dawson; read this with a glass of wine.

By Kelly Beeman

AND NOW, MOVING PICTURES AND SOUNDS!:

  1. This is called ‘Selfies’; it’s done the rounds a bit this week, but if you’ve not yet seen it it’s beautifully grotesque:

  1. Oh this is JOYOUS. It is by South Sudanese musician Gordon Koang, remixed by Ginoli, and it’s called ‘Mal Mi Goa’, and it is PERFECT for this weather:

  1. Beautiful, Feist-ish vocal on this track by Lucy Rose, called ‘Question It All’:

  1. Let’s be honest – the song here’s not really the draw, unless you REALLY like Liam Lynch. It’s by Scott Lavene and it’s called ‘Lover’, but the real draw here is the video. I want to see lots more by this person:

  1. UK HIPHOP CORNER! New Manga, predictably ace, this is ‘Turning in my Grave’ feat. Blay Vision:

  1. Finally this week, this is a few weeks old now but it fcuking BANGS. This is Cupcakke, the song is called ‘Grilling N****s’, and there are SO many killer lines in this, it’s worth paying particular attention; the Shrek one’s lovely, but it gets better from thereon in and OH HANG ON THAT’S IT THAT’S THE END I AM DONE AND I HOPE YOU ENJOYED IT AND I HOPE YOU FELT IT AT LEAST IN SOME WAY WORTHWHILE AND I HOPE YOU HAVE A NICE WEEKEND PLANNED AND THAT YOU KEEP STAYING SAFE AND DON’T TAKE ANY UNNECESSARY RISKS AND THAT YOU GET TO ENJOY THE SUNSHINE BECAUSE I CARE ABOUT YOU AND I LOVE YOU AND I WANT YOU TO BE HAPPY TAKE CARE SEE YOU NEXT WEEK I LOVE YOU BYE SEE YOU NEXT WEEK BYE!:

Webcurios 22/05/20

Reading Time: 36 minutes

How are we? I mean, how are we all really?

I’ll start – I’m…I’m quite tired of this, I think it’s fair to say, and it’s starting to make me fray at the edges slightly. I was approximately 15 seconds away from committing professional suicide on a client call yesterday; it was honestly so, so tempting to interrupt the people briefing me to say “Look, sorry, I’ve actually just realised that there is no amount of money available in the known universe, no sum of which I can possibly conceive, that would induce me to spend another second feigning interest in your stupid, pointless non-problem or indeed the pathetic, made-up reasons you have invented to convince yourself that any of this matters; I would honestly rather die in penury than spend another second listening to your voice, you double-figure-IQ waste-of-cells.” 

I didn’t, though, mainly as I worry with that sort of speech that I’ll just flub it halfway through, like making an attempted dramatic exit by turning sharply on one’s heel and, by so doing, walking straight into a doorjamb. 

Basically what I’m saying is that I could do with a bit of a break and I’m sure you could too. THANK GOD, THEN, FOR THE BANK HOLIDAY! Let’s enjoy our apparently-restored freedoms while we still can – but, inbetween, why not take the extra time to do a really deep dive into this week’s Curios? Go spelunking in my infocaves, my pretties, there is SO MUCH TO DISCOVER. 

I am still Matt, this is still Web Curios, and you really ought to know better by now. 

By Subhelic

LET’S KICK OFF THIS WEEK WITH MY LOVELY COLLEAGUE JULES’ EXCELLENT MIX OF DIRTY DISCO, WHICH IS PRETTY MUCH PERFECT FOR A FRIDAY!

THE SECTION WHICH THINKS FACEBOOK’S PIVOT TOWARDS BECOMING E-COMMERCE FOR EVERY SINGLE SMALL SHOP IN THE WORLD IS, MISERABLY, A VERY SMART BUSINESS DECISION AND THE SORT OF THING THAT MEANS THAT THE FCUKING COMPANY ISN’T GOING ANYWHERE ANYTIME SOON:

  • Facebook Shops: It’s remarkable it’s taken so long really, but, finally, the long-awaited ‘Facebook turns itself into what is effectively an ecommerce platform for every single one-person business in the world’ move is here. Announced this week, and accompanied by quite a bullish Zuckerbergian media tour (there’s a piece in the longreads later about Nick Clegg’s first 18-24m in the comms gig there, by the way, which is very much worth reading in the context of all this), this is rolling out in the US now and spreading globally as soon as the poor little localisation peons can manage. It will work as you’d expect; ‘Shop’ becomes an additional tab on a business’ Page, through which they can display inventory and pricing and with inbuilt-checkout via Facebook Pay for merchants who’ve signed up. And, given then alternative is having to manage payments via a third-party site and making users do ONE MORE CLICK, it makes perfect sense for everyone who signs up to use Facebook Pay – thereby making room for one more Zuckerbergian hook in their soft, soft flesh. It adds a bunch of customer service features to enable transaction-specific queries via chat across platforms, and this will eventually expand to work within Messenger. Oh, and there’s object-recognition AI built in (or at least their will be), to enable businesses to upload images and have available products in said images identified and linked for purchase directly. Even better, “soon, sellers, brands and creators will be able to tag products from their Facebook Shop or catalog before going live and those products will be shown at the bottom of the video so people can easily tap to learn more and purchase.” Look, obviously if you’re a small business somewhere, this is wonderful stuff – FB’s charging (I think) 5% fees on transactions over $5, and a flat $0.40 fee on transactions under, which I think is comparable, and obviously all of this will work seamlessly with the already-superb ad product, and it’s probably useful for consumers too…I get it, I get it, I just really don’t like the increasingly obvious slicing up of life into neat parcels clearly labeled ‘Jeff’ and ‘Mark’ and ‘Sunder’ and ‘whoever runs Epic’. So it goes.
  • Updates to Facebook Workplace: I really don’t get on with FB Workplace, but for those of you who do and who use it regularly (or who don’t, but are forced to by your employers’ caprices) then this might be useful – basically the big thing here is the integration of videocalling gubbins ‘Rooms’ into the Workplace platform, meaning it’s easy to create Workplace videomeetings which anyone can access via a url, but there’s also updated functionality for better and more interactive livestreams with Q&As, etc, and some quite interesting stuff about increased Oculus integration for any companies that want to experiment with VR as part of the working environment. There’s something a bit prosaically-bleak about that, isn’t there? There’s a part of me that still likes to imagine VR as the doorway to magical playground of the imagination, so the idea of being told to ‘strap on this headset and do the filing, but, er, in VR!’ is a bit of a buzzkill.
  • Facebook Buys Giphy: This came in last week just after Curios dropped, hence the week delay, and frankly it’s been rather superseded by all the Shop stuff; still, Facebook bought Giphy! For $400m! Which is interesting mainly if you’d like another datapoint to add to the increasingly mad-looking red string map on your wall (I know you’ve ALL got one) depicting all the different pies in which Mark has his increasingly berry-stained fingers, or if you’re Facebook and you want some wide-ranging and potentially useful data about how users across a very, very wide range of platforms are using gifs and in what context. IT’S ALL ABOUT FEEDING THE AI, HAVE WE NOT REALISED YET??
  • FB Expands Brand Safety Controls for Advertisers: Basically this is just an expansion of whitelisting for FB advertisers. If you care about this more than I do, click the link.
  • Instagram Launches Guides: This is interesting, and I’m not 100% certain how it will work; Instagram Guides is (I think – there’s a more detailed explanation here if you want one) a new feature which will present curated content selections from various users on the platform, “a way to more easily discover recommendations, tips and other content from your favorite creators, public figures, organizations and publishers on Instagram…When viewing a Guide, you can see posts and videos that the creator has curated, paired with helpful tips and advice. If you want to learn more about a specific post, you can tap on the image or video to view the original Instagram post. You can also share a Guide to your story or in Direct by tapping on the share button in the upper right corner.”. They’re kicking off with mental health stuff, because a) it’s been mental health awareness week; and b) they have to be seen to do this stuff first and then move onto the more fun and nakedly-commercial stuff later on – the long-term play here, though, will almost certainly be more frivolous, lifestyle-y type stuff, centred around music and hobbies and fashion and whatever, and the sort of thing that there will almost certainly be an influencer market for in short order as brands work out that they can get their stuff featured in highly-eyeballed sections of the app if they can only get the famous du jour to extol their products or service’s virtues in a Guide. Add it to your influencer marketing ‘deck’ today! Or don’t, and make a small contribution towards ameliorating society for a change, go on.
  • TikTok Introduces Youth Portal: It’s a whole load of other stuff about safety and privacy in the app, basically, as the company does an impressive job of staying just ahead of what I get the impression is a tsunami of very iffy stories about its app. The Youth Portal will exist “to give teens and parents a single destination for safety resources, best practices and guides to the video-creation application’s tools. The new Youth Portal will roll out globally in over 15 languages, including English, French, German, Hindi, Italian, Japanese, Korean, Portuguese, Russian and Thai, and more educational resources will be added in the coming months.” It’s exactly the sort of stuff you’d expect – explaining password security, privacy controls, etc – and is all well and good, but, as ever, seems a touch disingenuous from a company whose expansion strategy is quite clearly ‘we want everyone, yesterday, and we will pay whatever it takes’.
  • A List of Publishers and Journos on TikTok: More for curiosity than anything else, though don’t be surprised if you see a guide to pitching media on TikTok at some point in the next 6m. These are very odd – the Daily Mail’s account is just them reposting other people’s moderately-viral videos for no immediately-apparent reason, whilst the Daily Star’s is…just some bloke in his house, which makes me think that these accounts haven’t been vetted quite as assiduously as one might hope (this doesn’t look like the official account of a national newspaper, does it? Not even one as risible as the Star). Interesting mainly as proof that very few publishers or journalists have the first inkling as to why they ought to be using TikTok, just that it’s VERY IMPORTANT that they do.
  • Google Maps Adds Wheelchair Accessibility Information: No brand angle for this at all I don’t think, but it’s a really good addition that it might be useful for some of you to know about.
  • Microsoft Updates Teams: I think that this is the first time I’ve had an update about Teams – how miserable that I’ve had to break this duck. Still, now that more and more of us are being forced to use Microsoft’s (surprisingly good) online coworking and videocalling platform, I figured it might be useful to include this update – it’s all quite dull and I can’t really be fcuked to enumerate the various bits, but the most interesting thing is the improved ability to livestream from Teams out to other platforms (via third-party software), which might be of interest to those of you who work at companies who mistakenly think anyone wants to watch a bunch of small talking heads wanging on about their jobs from their home offices, LIVE.
  • Dropbox Care Packages: This is a really nice bit of work by Dropbox – useful and ON-BRAND. The platform commissioned a bunch of ‘influencers’ to create their own Dropbox folders full of things that they think are interesting, fun, useful, etc, all made open to the public – it’s nothing more inventive than ‘hey, why don’t we get famous X to curate something??’, but the fact that it heroes the product they are flogging so perfectly is a rare example of execution working almost perfectly; not only that, but the lineup of curators really is strong, with some really impressive names from a wide-ranging variety of fields. I was sold at Roxanne Gay’s involvement, but there are big names from dance, music, design, visual art, food…honestly, these are really good and I would probably have featured them in the actual proper bit of Curios too.
  • GroupThink Fest: I imagine quite a few of those of you who bother to read this initial bit – and, in fact, the rest of this bstard thing – work in advermarketingpr and probably suffer under the dubious, ambiguous job title of ‘planner’ or ‘strategist’ or ‘how the fcuk do they manage to get away with spending all their time on the internet looking at stuff? And why are they always crying at PowerPoint slides?’. If so, you might like this – my (FULL DISCLOSURE) friend Rob is involved with GroupThink, which is a community for planners and strategists and people like that – they are running a VIRTUAL EVENT on June 4th, with speakers from across the agency spectrum talking about…er…planning and strategy and stuff like that. If I were less biliously-inclined towards the ‘profession’ I ‘work’ in right now I would be tempted to take a look – it’s £25 (or £15 for students, grads and interns) and I reckon is the sort of thing you really ought to be able to swing the afternoon off for under the guise of ‘personal and professional development’.

By Espen Kluge

NEXT, WHY NOT ENJOY THIS ALL-VINYL MIX OF SOUL AND JAZZ AND R’N’B PUT TOGETHER BY TOM SPOONER WHO USED TO LIVE ACROSS THE ROAD FROM ME WHEN I WAS SMALL AND WHO I HAVEN’T SEEN IN LITERALLY TWO DECADES!

THE SECTION WHICH REALLY WISHES IT HAD GOT IN ON SOME OF THAT HOT COVID-TRACKING-APP-DEVELOPMENT ACTION BASED ON SOME OF THE MONEY BEING QUOTED TODAY, PT.1:

  • People of the Pandemic: Not the first of these I’ve seen, but it’s the prettiest and that what counts. People of the Pandemic (it sounds a lot more grandiose than it is, trust me) is an interactive simulator letting you – yes YOU! – play around with policy to see how taking different personal approaches to the easing lockdown conditions might affect viral transmission, SECOND WAVES and all that jazz. The nice touch here is that you can choose to see how your choices work in concert with the choices of other, previous players, giving you a cumulative impression of the impact of decisions taken in isolation on the overall levels of infection, etc. A CAVEAT – I don’t know what science this is based on because I DON’T CARE.
  • The New Normal: I am breaking my personal ban on that phrase to introduce this website – not least as that’s what it’s called and it would be quite hard to introduce it were I to ban myself from typing its name. The New Normal (imagine me typing this through the most gritted of teeth) is a digiart project by Tobias Revell collecting Tweets from around the world which use the term and presenting them as one, unbroken screed. It’s sort of wonderful – I would love a realtime feed of this, updating a la Twitterfall at a conference circa 2011 – but also a slightly-miserable indication of the crushing banality of almost everyone’s observations about all this (and those that aren’t banal are often hateful or just staggeringly stupid). Also, there’s quite a lot of this sort of stuff – “’The new normal’ is the same old control model used to subjugate and conquer, with fear and persistent media broadcast repeating the same msg ..over and over until imprinted on your brains. break the cycle and switch off the media!? Your futures are being destroyed. Your choice.” – which is quite interesting and makes me think we’ve not seen the end (or even the beginning of the end) of the mad ‘WE WANT TO BE FREE TO EAT ICECREAM!’ protests quite yet.
  • Outside Simulator: This is great, and a really interesting demonstration of quite how much the enforced inside-ness might have altered your attitude towards public spaces. Reminiscent of the ‘ride around a foreign city in a taxi’ site from a few weeks ago, this instead simulates the experience of walking around various cities, which you can select from a menu. The link I’ve included here defaults to London, but there’s a wide range – Amsterdam, Rome, NYS, San Francisco… – and each offers you a first-person view of someone wandering through the streets of your chosen destination. The London one was obviously shot at Oxford Circus in the runup to Christmas, meaning that it’s dark and there are festive illuminations suspended from t the buildings and FUCK ME THAT’S A LOT OF PEOPLE AND WHY ARE THEY ALL SO CLOSE?!?!?! I found this over the weekend, and was honestly sweaty-palmed and moderately-nervous after watching about 15s of this; I think it’s the fact that I’ve not experienced a stranger brushing past me for nearly three months, and there’s something quite jarring about the invasion of personal space (or at least the illusion of said invasion) that this experience presents. Try it out, I promise you that you’ll either find it quite amazing and a bit freeing or, at worst, interestingly-uncomfortable.
  • Stream Informer: Courtesy of Jed, this is a great Twitter feed which keeps followers updated as to which livestreams are coming up, by which artists, where and when. It’s literally just a Tweet every day offering listings of who’s playing on which platform. There’s an accompanying newsletter too, which might be worth a look, and if you’re in the market for a more varied selection of tunes to accompany you as you stare desultorily out of the window and wonder what the point of making another 70-slide horrorshow really is.
  • Tree Talk: Occasionally I learn something about myself when writing Curios – not often, though, as I don’t really believe in self-reflection or self-improvement – such as this week, when I realised that I obviously have something of an arboreal fetish, what with all the repeated times I feature things like ‘tree of the year’ or ‘trees which you can attach personal stories to via geotagging’ and stuff like that. Hence my inclusion here of Tree Talk, a website which not only will generate walks for you at random based on your postcode or your intended starting point/destination but which will also provide you with a guide to ALL THE TREES you are likely to pass on the way. Honestly, I am SO BORED of walking out of my front door and having nothing to think about other than the growing mountain fly-tipped detritus – next time I’m going to fire this up and learn about my local EXTREMELY RARE Pineapple Guava, of which there are apparently only 10 or so in the whole of London. So pure, so beautiful.
  • Friends and Astronauts: This is lovely and perhaps just the sort of thing you might be needing now as this whole thing starts to drag rather. Friends and Astronauts is a project which offers FREE teaching on how to do magic tricks, presented in a series of bundles which are released on a regular basis – each bundle is up for a short while before being retired forever, thereby doing a small bit to preserve the mystery of magic whilst at the same time helping you learn some sleight of hand. They’re on to bundle #2 at the time of writing, which features various card tricks being taught to you by ACTUAL MAGICIANS, and the whole thing is presented in a really nice, accessible, friendly tone. You’re encouraged to donate some money to charity – or, where applicable, to the magicians in question – but this is all free and a pretty good way of spending an hour or so this weekend as you try and stop the walls from closing in again.
  • Follow The Butterfly: This is more conceptually impressive than it is practically impressive, but still – the site uses eye-tracking within your browser to let you move a digital butterfly across your screen ONLY USING THE POWER OF YOUR EYES!! Except, well, I don’t actually think it’s eye-tracking at all, I think it’s a bit of a fudge based on tracking the end of your nose or similar, but perhaps I’m wrong. Regardless, it’s impressive that this can be done on the fly, in Chrome, on my underpowered laptop, and makes me wonder when this stuff will be good enough that it’s worth building actual experiences/interfaces based on it (‘a while’, is my ignorant half-guess – if you hire me, you too can gain access to this sort of trenchant analysis and insight!). Oh, and seeing as we’re here, why not try this too – it’s a similar proof-of-concept thing which demonstrates facemapping and meshing in-browser in relatime (it’s a bit chunkier, this one, so perhaps close a few tabs first).
  • Hawkeye: Nothing to do with either tennis or nobody’s favorite MCU character – instead, this is an app for Macs that lets you implement headtracking as an additional interface. It’s easier to watch in action than to explain, but basically it allows you to use small head movements to do simple actions like scrolling, dragging, etc, within your standard Mac interface – obviously it looks seamless in all the promo videos, but I guarantee you’ll be gurning like Christie Brown (I sort-of hope noone gets this, on reflection) when you try and move files around your desktop with your chin.
  • BYOM: Or, ‘masks, but design’! “BYOM is a project initiated by HyperAktiv.li. The goal of this project is to propose a design that goes in the direction of excellence, to exhibit our Swiss know-how in terms of innovation while combining cutting-edge aesthetics, avant-garde support and ingenious functionality. The brief was completely open and the interpretations were free, the aim is above all to offer a showcase for our Swiss designers. There were no technical, material or industrial reality constraints. Despite the sensitive subject, the invited designers were able to restore strong values and overcome the anxiety-provoking connotation of the object by the force of the design, the poetry of the aesthetics and the beauty of the concepts.” Some of these are great – many are totally impractical, but that’s not really the point – and I am slightly amazed that I’ve not seen any actual design competitions for masks by anyone yet – ‘get your design mass-produced and a cut of the proceeds go to you or the charity of your choice’ seems like something of an obvious one, no? This one’s my favourite, fwiw, but you pick your own.
  • Music Taste: This is SO clever, and not as far as I can tell an official Spotify thing – Music Taste is built by Australian Computer Science and Marketing student Kalana Vithana, and is a site which takes your listening history, analyses it, and then lets you compare it to that of other Spotify users to help determine your musical compatibility based on which artists, tracks or genres you have a shared affinity for. So simple and so nicely-executed, this is the sort of thing that I feel ought to be baked into dating apps as standard and which, if any of them have any sense, will be before too long.
  • The Yes: This is potentially really interesting – The Yes is a new shopping app, launched this week (or practically this week – look, it’s new, leave it at that) whose gimmick is that it ‘learns’ your taste by asking you a series of yes or no questions about fashion and then determining the sort of stuff you’re likely to want to buy based on this (and a bunch of other signals from elsewhere, I don’t doubt). The lineup of brands onboard at the start seems impressive, and one of the people behind it has a hell of a pedigree in clothes (Nordstrom, Urban Outfitters, etc), but I do wonder whether there’s currently room for A N Other way of buying clothes, even one with a slightly-Tinder-y mechanic behind it. This is iOS and US-only at the moment, but it’s worth taking a look at the interface as it’s reasonably-interesting from a conceptual and UI point of view.
  • The Most Incredible Minecraft City Ever: No, really, just look at this. Clicking on it takes you to a reasonably-zoomed-out view that looks quite a lot like SimCity – zoom in, though, and it quickly becomes clear that this has all been built in Minecraft. All of it. LOOK HOW MASSIVE IT IS!! It’s at something insane like 1:1 scale, and is some sort of crazy collective labour of love by literally hundreds of builders; what’s even more incredible is when you scroll to the edges of the extant built-up environment and realise that they’re not finished yet. Seriously, I know that ‘Minecraft is digital LEGO’ is a simplistic explanation, but this is effectively the greatest collaborative LEGO building project I have ever seen, ever. Wonderful, mad, and the product of almost a decade of building, you can read more about the project here – apparently regular players will be able to get access to it ‘soon’, so you can wander around these empty, virtual streets to your heart’s content, which feels like a Frieze exhibit waiting to happen.
  • North Korean Telly: Is this real, or is it some sort of sophisticated misdirection propaganda by that madman in Pyongyang? WHO KNOWS? Still, if we take it at face value then this site is offering visitors a window into life inside the dictatorship – or, more accurately, the televisual version of life inside the dictatorship. Broadcasts run from approximately 8am-330pm UK time, with news bulletins at 10am, 1pm and last thing, so should you want to check in on the version of reality currently being peddled to the poor denizens of North Korea then this is your chance. I only found this this morning so haven’t been able to investigate properly, but as I type they’re playing a football match, complete with crowd and featuring enough non-Korean players that it makes me think it’s the Malaysian league or something; does NK have COVID-19? Do North Koreans have any idea? ARE THEY PLAYING OLD REPLAYS OF FOOTBALL WITH SPECTATORS AND PRETENDING IT’S CURRENT? Honestly, I have so many questions – this really is quite odd, and I would like someone to do a proper analysis of it that I can read at my leisure later on. Ok? GREAT!
  • Drive Me Insane: I was convinced this had been in Curios before, but apparently not – Drive Me Insane is something of a classic of the old web which I was reminded of this week, and which I think someone really ought to update for 2020. The premise is very simple – it’s a webcam, set up to film a room in a house somewhere in the US which can be controlled almost entirely remotely by anyone logged on to the url. So you can change the lighting, the music, the text displayed on the computer screen, all in realtime…I really want to play with this idea a bit, as I reckon there’s LOTS you could do with it, not least (this might be a terrible idea, so bear with me) creating giant, real-world Tower Defence-type games using Nerfs or water guns or similar, or alternatively some sort of massively-masochistic performance art in which someone does actually live in a house like this whilst being tormented by the web…honestly, I am captivated by the (almost entirely slightly dark) possibilities here, can someone put some thought into what might be done with it? Again, GREAT!
  • The Best COVID-19 Tattoos: It may not surprise you to learn that these are not, in fact, universally-recognisable as ‘the best’ anything. To all those of you who’ve marked this unique occasion in modern human history by having a toilet roll tattooed on yourselves – really?
  • Share Your Dream: This is actually a small part of a wider initiative raising money for COVID initiatives worldwide and which is having some big livestream gig on 29 May featuring ubiquity’s Dua Lipa and girth’s Jason Derulo and a bunch of other kid-friendly names, but this particular bit was sent to me by Rina (hi Rina!) and amused me for a second. For some reason, this organisation has the following mission: “We believe that everyone on this planet has the right to dream. And now more than ever we need the dreams of humanity to be heard. Our mission at Constellation is to connect 1 billion shared and collective dreams and use this as the context to reshape the future of our planet.” No real idea what that means in practice, but you go, kids! As part of this, anyone can write down their own personal dream and the website will add it to the global collection – there’s some code in here which takes the text of your dream and turns it into some sort of sub-Kandinsky abstract based on the words and spacing and stuff, meaning everyone gets their own unique dreamart based on what they type. You can browse other people’s submissions on the site and, whilst obviously I don’t want to slag off anyone’s INNER HOPES, WOW are there some amazing bromides on here. Well done everyone who ‘dreams of a better and more peaceful humanity’ and seeks to achieve that by, er, posting these words on a website!
  • The Old Timey Computer Show: Twitch as Telly, part x of y – this is a Twitch stream which broadcasts three times a day and which shows a selection of old (90s, mainly, insofar as I can tell) TV shows about videogames. A lot of the stuff I’ve seen on here seem to be Japanese, but if you’re at all interested in the history of gaming then there’s almost certainly something to interest you here; the streams are compiled by people rather than pulled from YT using an algo, so there should be a decent, continual stream of interesting stuff over time; worth bookmarking if you’re a particular sort of old geek.
  • Textmoji: Create your own text-based emoji that you can then export and use in Slack or anywhere else that you care to. Small, but if you’ve always wanted to have a special character that says, I don’t know, “Darren Is A Nonce” that you can use in the groupchat, then well isn’t this your lucky day!
  • The Drinking Game Zone: I think I’m one of the few people in the UK who can reasonably be said to be drinking less in lockdown; this isn’t down to anything other than my spectacularly-dipso pre-pandemic habits, and certainly isn’t a result of abstemiousness, but it does mean that I think I’m probably not quite as well-equipped to cope with A SESH as I might have been a few months back. If you’re itching to get back into the swing of PROPER AGGRESSIVE BOOZING, though, then you might enjoy this site which collects drinking games from around the world and offers instructions on how to play them. From the relatively-benign to things like this, which I honestly think might kill you, if you’re looking for a way to up your chances of cirrhosis then this is the site for YOU.
  • Gravity: I love this site. Create planets and asteroids with your mouse, flick them around space, create orbits and solar systems and learn, gently, about interplanetary physics while you’re there. This is a lot of fun, in a slightly-godlike power trip sort of fashion, and is pleasingly-rendered and generally a bit like one of those 80s executive toys except digital and ALL ABOUT SPACE.

By Ina Jang

THIS IS THE COMPLETE SELECTION OF ALL OF QUESTLOVE’S LOCKDOWN DJ SETS SO FAR AND THEY ARE ALL EXCELLENT SO WHY NOT JUST PICK ONE?

THE SECTION WHICH REALLY WISHES IT HAD GOT IN ON SOME OF THAT HOT COVID-TRACKING-APP-DEVELOPMENT ACTION BASED ON SOME OF THE MONEY BEING QUOTED TODAY, PT.2:

  • Crossword Hobbyist: I think I’ve mentioned here before that I simply cannot do cryptic crosswords at all, despite very much wishing I could – they are TOO HARD, basically, which means I’m reduced to only being able to do simple crosswords for thickies (and even then I often fail – back in the day when I used to get the Sun and the Guardian for maximum contrast, I would regularly do the Guardian’s quick crossword in about 10m and then find myself utterly banjaxed by the Sun’s, whose clues were inevitably things like “dog (3)”). If you like yourself a cruciverb, this site will be a GODSEND – not only does it feature loads of puzzles for you to complete, which is a pretty good way of passing the time while you wait for the allocated ‘pretending to work’ time to be over with, but it also lets you MAKE YOUR OWN CROSSWORDS! Yep, you just type in the clues and the answers you want to include and the website will MAGICALLY turn them into a puzzle for you that you can share with whoever you like. Which means that you have NO EXCUSE for either hiding an elaborate proposal in a crossword and sending it to your partner, or alternatively creating one that starts out relatively benign but which slowly reveals itself to be a full-on evisceration of the intended recipient’s character as it develops.
  • UK Rave Comments: Thankyou Paul for this EXCELLENT Twitter account which does nothing other than post comments from oldschool rave videos on YouTube. I think there needs to be a special, extremely-online name for this specific class of person: “Wish i could go back to 92 with a bag of snowballs from back then, absolutely savage E’s, for all those that were there, we had something pretty special, we almost changed this world for the better, so fcuking close”. I mean, you’ve met him, right?
  • Squadded: Picked this up from Paddy’s newsletter this morning – Squadded (horrid name) is an interesting group-online-shopping platform which, as far as I can make out, lets retailers add an additional layer to their sites which enables visitors to enjoy a ‘collaborative’ shopping experience including chat around specific items, ‘community’, etc etc. It’s interesting – the site’s blurb suggests that the reason that online conversion rates are lower than in-store is because real-life shopping is a social event which results in a more fulfilling retail experience and which thereby encourages purchase which, honestly, sounds like bunkum to me – surely a large part of this is the opportunity cost of real-world shopping (time, effort, energy) meaning that you’re more likely to feel you ought to buy something, whereas digital browsing is frictionless and costs you no time/effort, and as such makes it easier to ‘waste’ time browsing without in fact feeling you’ve wasted anything? Anyway, those of you working in and around fashion and retail might find this of interest (or, more likely, probably know about it already).
  • Uncertain Times New Roman: THE CORONAFONT! It’s distanced, and all the letters are wearing masks!
  • Malicious Masks: Facemasks! But fashion! And horror! Malicious is a Japanese company that makes accessories and which is currently retailing a bunch of masks accessorised with slightly-scary horror teeth. If you’re after a mask which demonstrates your EDGY credentials whilst at the same time being actual proper fashion then these might be up your street – in fact, everything on here is sort-of wonderful, including the superb eye-in-the-pyramid necklaces in which the pyramid is…fleshy. So unpleasant, so good!
  • Drawn to Sex: I’ve featured the comics of Oh Joy Sex Toy before – they’re cutely-drawn but wonderfully matter-of-fact guides to various aspects of sex, particularly focusing on queer and fringe/fetish stuff but covering the whole wide gaunt of sexuality in a pleasingly-down-to-earth fashion. This Kickstarter – fully funded with a month to go – is for their second sex-ed book, this one designed to educate people about ther biology and health when it comes to fcuking the way they want; honestly, I can’t recommend these people’s work enough. This is absolutely the sort of sex-positive guidance that kids need but don’t get ANYWHERE, and exactly the sort of antidote to growing up getting all your sex-ed from bongo that I would imagine kids could probably do with.
  • Buzzfeed Quiz Party: There’s something very sad about Buzzfeed having launched this shortly after shuttering their UK journalistic operation – the site had quietly become one of the UK’s best investigative reporting outlets over the past few years, surprisingly so, and (in my head at least) was no longer associated with clickbait and quizzes as it had been a decade or so ago. Sadly, though, Jonah Peretti joins the long list of people who have as yet failed to solve the ‘so, what’s the future of journalism then?’ question, so Buzzfeed UK is left as a repository for the sort of content that noone really cares about anymore and which is available everywhere else now because it’s 2020 and the whole internet is basically the same. Still, at least now you can pretend it’s 2011 all over again and get really excited by QUIZZES on Buzzfeed – quizzes which you can now play along with your mates! So if you want to simultaneously answer 33 questions about all the times Joey said “Heyyyy!” in Friends then WOW is it your lucky day! I wonder if one of the quizzes is ‘how do you burn through half-a-billion dollars of VC funding in a decade?”?
  • Asian Cinema Streaming Repository: That’s obviously not what this site is called – instead it’s AMP, the Asian Movie Project, which is here collecting links to a HUGE collection of Asian cinema from across the web. Some of these are freely available on YouTube whilst others might not be available depending on where you are in the world, but all are in theory free to stream; there are 100-or-so films here, skewing Japanese, mainly from the past couple of decades but with a reasonable selection of stuff from the 70s and 80s thrown in. I have no idea how good these are – I have heard of about 3 of them, and that’s being generous – but they can’t be worse than what you’re left with on Netflix and the rest.
  • The Big Box Collection: Back in the olden days (the 80s and 90s) videogames on PC were sold in massive, overly-elaborate cardboard boxes, which featured occasionally-excellent cover art and design. The person behind this site, Benjamin Wimmer, is meticulously cataloguing these boxes, putting up 3d scans of his collection as it grows over time; you can browse ALL of them, and, if you’re me, transport yourself back in time to being 13 or 14 and going into town after school and spending time in the one games shop that didn’t chase you out after 5 minutes and just looking at all the boxes and reading the blurb on the back and staring at the screenshots and imagining what it would be like to play them (and then never doing so, because £50? You’re having a laugh).
  • Deaf Power: I love this. Why shouldn’t the auditorily-impaired have their own symbol of power and pride and defiance? This is it: <0/ – “The symbol is based on the written form of Deaf Power, which is signed with an open palm over an ear and with other hand forming a closed fist in the air.” Were I a graffiti artist (which I am definitely, definitely not) I would totally take to tagging this EVERYWHERE, not least because I quite like the idea of the police being slightly confused as to why there were a lot of militant deaf people suddenly deciding to come out of the woodwork.
  • Memex: I ought to find bookmarking and information organisation software useful, but I never really do; I think it’s because the inside of my head is reasonably good at the taxonomy and recall bits on its own, and I can’t really be fcuked to corral it into a more user-friendly interface (basically, as anyone who’s ever worked with me will (un)happily attest, I am far too lazy and arrogant to bother changing the way that I do things for other people, which is yet another reason I am expecting to be pretty much unemployable once I hit about 45). If you’re different, though (and I do hope you are), you might find Memex useful – it’s a service that effectively creates a local, searchable log of every single webpage you visit, meaning you can keyword search your browsing history, which, judging by the number of you who get in touch asking ‘do you remember that site on Curios once, that one with the pictures?’ you could all sort-of do with a bit.
  • DAF Beirut: “The Ramzi and Saeda Dalloul Art Foundation (DAF) is a Beirut-based visual arts institution dedicated to making modern and contemporary Arab art accessible to local and international audiences through archiving, exhibitions, education, publications, public programs, and research. Its aim is to preserve and disseminate its permanent collection which includes works in drawing, installation, mixed-media, painting, photography, ceramics, and sculpture.” The museum has recently put its collection online to browse, and there’s a wonderful breadth to the work they feature; I would love to visit Beirut, and almost certainly never will, so this is a pleasing opportunity to visit a superbly-curated gallery with some genuinely interesting artists from countries one doesn’t ordinarily see much work from in the West – honestly, select ‘browse by country’, it’s fascinating to be able to browse work by Alegrian artists, or Sudanese, and see thematic similarities that emerge.
  • Titonic Fishermen: A N Other musical browsertoy, this one enlivened by the interface which is presented as a digitised drawing – cute in style, like a kid’s book illustration – which you can interact with elements of to create your song. If you’ve a kid of around 5, I reckon they will LOVE this – but, er, you might want to put headphones on them as it will doubtless sound atrocious.
  • The Tank Museum: A YouTube channel that is nothing but videos about tanks. This is for all the dads, who might just want something incredibly boring and history-focused to zone out in front of whilst drinking the nth bottle of Spitfire and failing to pull their weight around the house.
  • RoboArcade: This is GREAT – a bit clunky, fine, but it’s FUN and it sort of taps into the ‘drive me insane’ thing from a few dozen links ago. This is an arcade machine that anyone can play via a web interface – you wait your turn and eventually get control of the cabinet, moving around and playing a slightly-crap but very-colourful version of Space Invaders, complete with power-ups and a big boss ship and everything. I am not 100% certain exactly how this setup runs, but I really, really want to see more of these things now, please. If nothing else, we’ve all got the bandwidth to make it sort-of work properly, so why not?
  • Gotta Eat The Plums: A very smol, gently funny, slightly arch game about William Carlos Williams’ Twitter-iconic poem about the plums in the icebox (you know the one).
  • JSTRIS: OH YES. Competitive Tetris (except they obviously can’t call it that for legal reasons). Play against strangers in an attempt to survive the longest; you’re matched against strangers of wildly-varying skills, meaning you’ll often only last a few seconds, but this is an active community and there are always people playing, so you never have to wait too long to get a new game. Or you can play against bots, or in 1v1 games against anyone you like; this is really, really good fun, and the best way of wasting the rest of your afternoon that I’ve found all week.
  • Orb Farm: Last up in the miscellanea, Orb Farm is a beautiful little browsertoygamething which lets you create your own bespoke little aquatic ecosystem – pour in water and sand and vegetation, add algae and Daphnia and bacteria and goldfish, and try and create a self-sustaining waterworld, watching it evolve and change as you go. This is SO SOOTHING and very satisfying and, best of all, is persistent – close the tab and then open it again and your little world is saved, making it something you can totally keep open in a tab to check on once or twice a day. I promise you, this is significantly more appealing than you might imagine from my description – give it a try, it will charm you.

By Irini Karayannapoulou

LAST UP IN THE MIXES THIS WEEK, ENJOY THIS DARK, TRAP-ISH SELECTION BY UGANDA’S SLIKBACK!

THE CIRCUS OF TUMBLRS IS CLOSED THIS WEEK, POSSIBLY DUE TO THE ‘RONA!

THE TROUGH OF (INSTA) FEEDS!:

  • The Shelter in Place Gallery: Oh, this is glorious: “Shelter In Place is a miniature gallery, measuring 20 by 30 inches and exhibiting scaled-down works in a model structure created using foam core, mat board, balsa wood, and plexiglass. Artists can submit works at a 1:12 or one inch to the foot scale, allowing them to create and show even ambitious, seemingly large-scale pieces — a romantic, suspended latex installation by Mary Pedicini; wall-to-wall canvases by B. Chehayeb — while traditional exhibition spaces remain closed. With high ceilings and skylights that flood the space with sunshine, the condensed gallery is impressively lifelike, giving artists room to get particularly creative. In some photographs, it is nearly impossible to tell apart from larger galleries.” Beautiful, and a nice antidote to all the people making smol pseudo-galleries for their totally disinterested pets because they think it will get them 100+ likes on Insta.
  • Yatzil Elizalde: These are some quite remarkable tattoos – the ones giving the illusion of blurred vision are the most striking, but the line work overall is superb.
  • Robert Hodgin: The artist’s Insta feed presents their works, much cartographical and featuring maps that have been slightly altered, digitally or otherwise, to make new pieces. I really, really like this stuff, and I would love to buy some if I knew how and if it were anywhere near affordable.
  • Glamour Shots: The Insta feed of a South Korean photographic studio, showcasing some of the ‘glamour’ shots that its patrons pay for. Not, to be clear, ‘glamour’ in the British tabloid sense, but instead ‘glamour’ in the ‘weirdly acid-tinged photoshop and greenscreen fantasy’ sense. Are…are all the cross-eyed people in these photos doing it on purpose, or does South Korea have some sort of strabismus epidemic that they’ve been keeping hidden? Regardless, these are JOYFUL.
  • Ines Alpha: Ines Alpha is a digital makeup artist making weird aesthetic filters for Insta. Honestly, these are amazing and I would totally be exploring this sort of thing were I particular type of brand.

LONG THINGS WHICH ARE LONG!:

  • Mumbai In Lockdown: As we’re all encouraged to move towards a mindset whereby ‘we’re over the worst!’ and we all get back to work like the good oil in the filthy economic machine we at heart we know we are, it’s interesting to look at other nations whose experience with the virus is at a slightly different stage. This NYT photoessay looks at how Mumbai – ‘Maximum City’, as defined by its inhabitants and the truly excellent book of the same name on the city, its people and its history – is attempting to manage the pandemic. It’s…it’s a mind-fcukingly big place, and a mind-fcukingly big task, and it amused me momentarily to imagine how Mr Johnson and his friends might have coped with that scenario given their stellar performance in what really can only be described as the comparative shallow end of disaster mitigation.
  • Doordash and Pizza Arbitrage: OK, this is a bit financially knotty, but you don’t need to have a working knowledge of the term ‘arbitrage’ to get what it’s about and what it’s saying – which is basically that VC money is SO STUPID in many respects that it’s technically possible for restaurant owners who are new to delivery platform Doordash in the US to order food from their own restaurants and make reasonable profit. If you ever needed a decent explanation of why there’s a massive, throbbing digital business bubble at the moment, and why and how it might pop, this is worth reading.
  • Fandoms on Zoom: If one of the accepted truths of the web is ‘bongo comes first’ (apologies for the unintended pun), surely one of the others is ‘fan communities will absolutely define and determine platform usage’ – admittedly it’s not catchy, but. This piece looks at how various fandoms are using Zoom to host listening parties of their favourite stars’ music, shared viewings of music videos, and generally integrating videochat into the extant panoply of fan community comms. This is fascinating to me, partly as a natural extension of ‘this is what people want to do and they will bend/tweak any platform they find to fit that desire’ and ‘why the fcuk is video being employed here, what does it add to the experience, and will it persist once the relative novelty has worn off?’ Anecdotally I’m finding that there’s been a significant dropoff in people using video on work calls as they realise that it adds very little, and that it’s tiring to have to contort your face into a simulacrum of interest and maintain that for 45m x8 per day; I don’t know whether I quite buy into the idea of a universal videochat revolution just yet, but we shall see.
  • The Virtual Economy: Another thanks to Rina (THANKS RINA) for this piece – if you’re after a decent overview of WHERE WE ALL ARE with regards to digital goods and virtual spaces and monetisation of the virtual and people becoming professional skin designers for Fortnite as an actual job, then this is worth reading. Two points to note – if you’re reasonably up on this stuff there won’t be anything in here that you don’t already know, and, secondly, it’s been dressed up with SO much unnecessary parallax that it’s borderline-headache-inducing. Still, give it to an intern to summarise in more sober format.
  • When SimCity Got Serious: This is a great piece of minor software history that I had no idea about whatsoever. Apparently when SimCity got famous, developers Maxis were inundated with enquiries from large organisations asking ‘could you make SimCity, but for tedious-but-complex-field X?’ – so, for a few years at least, they tried to do just that. Thanks to this, the world of oil got SimRefinery, a training tool designed to help greenhorns get to grips with the running of an oil refinery safe in the knowledge that they wouldn’t in fact be able to dump 3m litres of crude into the Western Seaboard, however badly they messed up; the world of energy production got SimPower; and, inexplicably, everyone was offered Think2000, which would allow them to simulate the effects of the Millennium Bug on their systems. Unsurprisingly that last example killed the offshoot professional-Sim-building business, but this is a really interesting look at a niche which I reckon you could probably resurrect with far greater success in 2020 (which, as I regularly remind readers, is why I am not in charge of businesses or budgets or people or, really much of anything at all).
  • Meet Nick Clegg: Wow, ok, so I just checked some dates and I really have been doing Web Curios in some capacity for over a decade now. WELL DONE ME! Also, Christ what a waste of time! I remember one of the first ones I did at H+K made reference to the surprise advent of the coalition government in the UK back in May 2010, and made reference to the imaginary beast called ‘The Cleggeron’ which would now be leading our country. And now look at us – I am a pseudo-freelancer typing from his pants in the midst of a global pandemic, still doing jobs I largely despise for clients I disdain, writing a newsletter for God knows what reason; Clegg is running comms for Facebook. Clegg, it’s fair to say, has done more with the past decade than I have. Anyway, this is a really interesting read, which is partly about Clegg as a person and partly about the role he’s undertaken at Facebook and how his influence has manifested itself in the 18m or so since he took up the position. I know it’s unfashionable to say so, but I quite like Nick Clegg and I think he comes across pretty well here; also, imagine what a fascinating job it is. I mean, I couldn’t do it – I would be terrible, and also I would hate myself so much – but, objectively, it’s one of the most interesting comms gigs on the planet, no question. One thing, though – that photoshoot! Oh Nick!
  • Inside The TikTok Hype Houses: A look at the proliferation of TikTok community houses for CONTENT CREATORS in LA – this isn’t particularly insightful, and you won’t learn much about the kids or the life that you won’t have seen in a dozen other similar articles – but I found the photos interesting; I have said this before, and I am not the only one to mention it, but LOOK HOW WHITE THESE KIDS ARE! In the US in 2020 this is quite weird, and speaks (I think) to the platform’s clear strategy to embed itself in affluent communities first by promoting content from affluent, attractive, young people. Look at all these kids – they’re all the bland pretty of Abercrombie models, which is the sort of aesthetic I honestly thought youth culture had broadly decided to repudiate. I would be interested to read something about what this all means, if anyone has any links; I am genuinely fascinated about what the renewed popularity of this look amongst young people means/presages, should anyone have any ideas.
  • What Were Sports?: Imagining people of the future looking back at the strange, largely-pointless, often-inexplicable pastime that was ‘sports’. Funny, unless you really like and miss sport, in which case this might still be TOO SOON.
  • TikTok Fame In Quarantine: Less about TikTok per se and more about how ‘being a creator’ works in 2020; this piece profiles a bunch of people who’ve gone a bit viral on TikTok since the pandemic began, and who are now finding that they have been pigeonholed and that their only chance of recapturing that highpoint is to double-down on their particular ‘thing’, whether or not they want to or otherwise. It’s interesting to me what this says about the platform – if you accept that TikTok, YT et al are TV (you know what I mean), then in the same way that you would be annoyed if you tuned into Hollyoaks to discover it had one day pivoted hard to political analysis you might well be annoyed if your favourite TikToker who always uses that EXCELLENT catchphrase attempts to, I don’t know, do a dance or something. Basically, the crowd is a tyrant and the massive disbenefit in being a DIRECT-TO-FANS-CREATOR is that, as with all human beings, many of your ‘fans’ will be selfish, demanding cnuts who don’t care that you are an actual human being or indeed that this is actual labour and instead just expect you to DO THAT THING and will actively abuse you if you don’t. GOOD TIMES! EVERYONE IS A CREATOR! FAMOUS FOR 15 PEOPLE!!!
  • Oops, I Did It Again: You may not have thought that the red catsuit video warranted a 20-year retrospective, but this piece will convince you of its necessity. Takes a very wide-ranging look at the song and the time into which it was born – take a moment to imagine 2000, a new millennium, no 9/11 or war on terror or all-consuming fear of The Other sweeping across the Western world…no large-scale mainstream web to speak of… – as well as offering interesting commentary on the Swedish hit factory Cheiron and the whole slightly-iffy-even-at-the-time-but-definitely-feels-very-wrong-now presentation of Spears as an actual, bona-fide jailbait sexkitten. Brilliant, especially if you’re old enough to remember it first time around.
  • Paris Hilton, Left Behind: I wouldn’t ordinarily point you at a Buzzfeed article about Paris Hilton and contrasting her fame with that of friend and protegee Kim Kardashian but this is surprisingly interesting in terms of its analysis of the changing nature of the celebrity industrial complex and the way in which the Kardashians, with their obsessive and steely-eyed focus on The Dollar and The Brand, changed the game forever.
  • Botch on the Rhine: The New York Review of Books reviews a history of the Battle of Arnhem in WWII, one of the great British humiliations of the war despite occurring at a point when the conflict had been largely decided in the Allies’ favour. This is a brilliant article – I have limited interest in the history of battles, but it manages to impart knowledge without feeling like a tedious Boy’s Own fantasy of warfare, instead managing to communicate the very peculiar and very British reasons why it all went so wrong. As we stare down the barrel of 40,000 dead here in the UK, this is full of absolutely wonderful quotes which could as well be applied today as 80 years ago – this in particular struck me as miserably apt after two months of ‘blitz spirit’ and ‘pull together’ and ‘we’re a world-leader’ and ‘our app will be the best’ rhetoric: “The idea that Britain remained a first-rate power was a fantasy which Churchill desperately tried to promote, even though he knew in his heart that it was not the case…. One could argue that September 1944 was the origin of that disastrous cliché which lingers on even today about the country punching above its weight.” Quite.
  • Ignoring The Internet In Fiction: An excellent essay by Joyce Hinnefeld on why, in the main, the internet tends to remain unrendered in fiction (or at least ‘literature’). I don’t know why it is that novelistic descriptions of online life feel to me flat and dissatisfying – and I wonder whether it’s the same for younger readers, or whether it’s just a function of my not being used to it meaning that writing about being online feeling rather like dancing about architecture. Regardless, this is very well-written and asks interesting questions about the relationship of the written to the internal and, in turn, to the real.
  • Facetime With Lipstick: On being at home, and being online, and makeup and self-image and ‘self-care’ and how in this as in so many other things there is a significant gender differential that we’re perhaps not thinking about enough. I loved this, although it made me feel, guiltily, grateful that I am a bloke.
  • 36,000 Feet Under The Sea: Oh oh oh this is SO GOOD. It’s also super-long, but it’s worth every moment, I promise you – this is all about a reclusive millionaire’s attempts to build a vessel that will enable him to reach the lowest points in the ocean. It features peril and incredible characters, an exhibition crewed by a classic ‘cast of misfits’, and so much casual, throwaway derring do that you could have written seven articles and had material left over. Honestly, even if you don’t normally care about ACTION and EXPEDITIONS, this is superbly-written and compelling on a human level rather than just in terms of adventure. Also contains this anecdote, which I would very much like to apply to certain rich businessmen seeking government bailouts right about now: “But every age of exploration runs its course. “When Shackleton sailed for the Antarctic in 1914, he could still be a hero. When he returned in 1917 he could not,” Fergus Fleming writes, in his introduction to “South,” Ernest Shackleton’s diary. “The concept of heroism evaporated in the trenches of the First World War.” While Shackleton was missing in Antarctica, a member of his expedition cabled for help. Winston Churchill responded, “When all the sick and wounded have been tended, when all their impoverished & broken hearted homes have been restored, when every hospital is gorged with money, & every charitable subscription is closed, then & not till then wd. I concern myself with these penguins.””
  • Self-Portrait With iPhone: Finally in the longreads, this is truly wonderful and I urge you to click. Pam Mendel, in her 50s, discusses online dating and quarantine and getting older and looking older and feeling older and, honestly, this is beautiful.

By JC Gotting

AND NOW, MOVING PICTURES AND SOUNDS!:

  1. First up, a new Shardcore joint – what happens if you use Avatarify (that realtime deepgfake-y facemapping toy I put in Curios a few weeks back, do keep up!) to get a bunch of people and things to sing ‘Kiss’ by Prince? THIS IS WHAT HAPPENS:

  1. I have literally NO IDEA why this exists or how long it can possibly have taken to create, but I found out this week that someone made the whole of Titanic – really, all of it – in The Sims. Look, here it is!:

  1. I don’t think I’ve ever featured a song sung in Hebrew here before; this is called ‘Pni’nim’ (apparently it means ‘pearls’) and it’s by Daniela Spector, and “is a multi-dimensional piece: about a dream, a memory and departure. Elusive and fluid, time functions as the fourth element, allowing the transitioning between the other dimensions. The music video tries to capture time, not by stopping it, rather than placing the character on the timeline, emphasizing its constant flow” Er, so there. Regardless, I think that this is beautiful and you might do too:

  1. A quarantine music video! This is Carseat Headrest, with their new song ‘Martin’ (on which – is it just me who finds that there’s something inherently sinister about the name ‘martin’? No? Oh), which is something of a jangly little earworm and I like rather a lot:

  1. OH THIS IS SO GOOD! Another of NPR’s Tiny Desk Concerts, this is a group called Cimafunk from Cuba – this is a couple of months old, but I don’t care; open the windows and turn this right up, it is fcuking GREAT:

  1. This is, hands-down, the most amazing drone-shot thing I have ever seen. JUST LOOK AT IT. Seriously, I promise you, however jaded you are, you will be in awe:

  1. This is called The Encounter. I saw it several years ago at the Barbican, and it remains one of the most incredible pieces of theatre I’ve seen in recent years. If you’ve got a spare couple of hours and a good pair of headphones – I mean it about the headphones – then I really can’t recommend this enough. I have honestly never experienced anything quite like it – it’s available til Monday, so watch it while you have the chance:

  1. Last up this week, you might have seen this doing the rounds over the past few days; if you’re yet to watch it, though, please do. It is literally a video of a man completing a Sudoku – but it is the most mind-flayingly difficult Sudoku you will ever have seen, and going on the journey of completion with the presenter is, I promise, the sweetest and most wholesome thing I’ve seen in months. This will, I guarantee, make everything marginally better for a little while. Oh, and THAT’S IT THAT’S ALL WE’VE GOT TIME FOR HAVE A LOVELY BANK HOLIDAY WEEKEND AND ENJOY THE WEATHER PRESUMING IT’S OK AND TAKE CARE OF YOURSELVES AND BE NICE TO EACH OTHER AND GENERALLY JUST TRY AND SORT OF NOT WORRY TOO MUCH BECAUSE, HONESTLY, THERE’S NO POINT AS THERE’S LITERALLY FCUK ALL YOU CAN DO ABOUT MOST THINGS SO WHY NOT JUST LIE BACK AND EMBRACE FATALISM AND I’LL SEE YOU ALL NEXT WEEK OK THEN BYE I LOVE YOU I LOVE YOU TAKE CARE BYE I LOVE YOU BYE!:

Webcurios 15/05/20

Reading Time: 35 minutes

Gah! I am late, and, look, it’s nice outside and now that it’s ok to be outside – OR IS IT? – and go to the park and shout at someone I know from a distance of 2m – IS IT THOUGH? IS IT??? – then that’s what I think I am going to do. 

I am Matt, this is Web Curios, you know what to do by now (but don’t do that; why not change the habit of a lifetime and read this week’s edition instead?). 

 

By Ahn Jun

LET’S START WITH SOME PLEASINGLY INDUSTRIAL TECHNO FROM JULIANA HUXTABLE!

THE SECTION WHICH DOES RATHER WISH FACEBOOK HAD BROUGHT OUT AN ‘I FEEL ALERT!’ REACTION JUST TO REALLY HELP CLARIFY MATTERS:

  • FB & Insta Add New Local Business Features: Nothing hugely exciting here, if I’m honest, but you don’t come here for excitement these days – you come here for the banal reassurance that even in the fluxy swell of A WORLD GONE MAD there are some constants, such as Facebook making small, incremental feature tweaks to make it even easier and more advantageous for literally every company in the world, however small, to give them that sweet, sweet admoney nectar. This time it’s a bunch of (reasonably minimal) tweaks to functionality which will let users ‘find businesses nearby’ when searching for local services, setting a radius up to 150m (Americans have a…different concept of proximity, turns out), allows them to use hashtags and stickers in support of small businesses which pulls aggregated content under that hashtag, lets local influencers tag their support for specific small businesses in their posts and Stories, and..oh, look, here, it will “make it easier for businesses to communicate with customers by adding a dedicated Business Inbox in the Messenger app — allowing them to use Messenger to answer questions sent to their Facebook Page — and by allowing businesses to tag all their COVID-19-related posts from the Page composer.” I hope all the doubtless dozens of small business owners who I know come here each week in search of the nugget of information which will give them that longed-for hockey-stick-shaped growth-erection find that useful.
  • Do Facebook’s Anti-Hatespeech Work For It, Win $100k: Obviously there’s nothing wrong with giving talented engineers the ability to demonstrate their chops solving hard problems in exchange for cash prizes. When you’re Facebook, though, and you’ve spent a couple of years quite explicitly ‘fessing up to the fact that your AI systems really aren’t up to the task of dealing with all the horror on your platform (including again this week, when the company admitted it its moderation update that the tech at its disposal is “far from perfect”, and acknowledging that “the adversarial nature of these challenges means the work will never be done”), I personally think that you might want to be a bit more generous with the carrot here. Anyway, if you think you’re up to the challenge of developing a bit of code that can identify ‘hateful’ memes, then step right up and try your chances. I might suggest, though, that you bargain a bit harder considering the spectacular amounts of cash that something like this would save Facebook in both staff salaries and legal/therapeutic fees.
  • It’s Now Easier To Bulk-Delete Nasty Comments from Insta: “Good” is basically the only comment I can bring myself to make here.
  • Twitter Updates Misleading Policy Information: As per usual, this bit of news isn’t aimed at people like you, people who Tweet only the truth and who would never in a million years mislead people for commercial or personal gain (ha! PSYCH! If you’re reading this section I have a reasonable idea of what you probably do for a living, which means that you obviously mislead people for personal gain ALL THE TIME, because that’s what you get paid to do! Live with the whoredom, it gets easier). To quote the update: “Earlier this year, we introduced a new label for Tweets containing synthetic and manipulated media. Similar labels will now appear on Tweets containing potentially harmful, misleading information related to COVID-19. This will also apply to Tweets sent before today.” Again, sensible.
  • Reddit Goes Crypto: This is very much something I have only got half-a-handle on at the time of writing, but in my defence it’s 706am and I only saw this 20-odd minutes ago, and it’s about cryptocurrency which is a topic I find has that uniquely difficult combination of boring and complicated and the preserve of really, really dull people that makes me sort-of incapable of ever really getting it. Still, let’s try – Reddit is experimenting with offering a new ‘rewards’ type system, a-la Reddit Gold, called ‘Community Points’…which will be on the blockchain! It’s only a small trial on a couple of specific subs, but it will be fascinating to see whether this works, and whether there develops a small crypto marketplace alongside Reddit; the site’s scale and ubiquity amongst a certain demographic of younger web users means that if you’re interested in the INEVITABLE RISE OF THE BITCOIN then a) you’re insufferably tedious, please don’t talk to me about it; and b) you might want to keep an eye on how this progresses.
  • Twitch Launches Safety Advisory Council: Impressive, this, from Twitch; Facebook only launched its version of something similar this year, so for Twitch to set it up so quickly is fast-paced governance. The idea is that the Council, made up of online experts and Twitch creators, will work to establish policies and feature updates for the platform designed to foster safe growth and community – this is of interest mainly to those of you who want to try and pitch things on Twitch to terrified clients, as a way of reassuring them that it’s BRAND SAFE (ish).
  • Tinder Testing Trivia: I don’t normally write about dating apps in this section, but I find Tinder’s increasing move towards CONTENT an interesting one; this story suggests it’s looking at trialing live video trivia games to help match users and also help them test their videochat features; if you’re a particular sort of brand, though (a REALLY rich one), this is the sort of thing it might be worth tentatively approaching them about with partnership ideas. Tinder games with a bit of light sponsorship sounds…well, it sounds hideous to me, but, as is increasingly apparent from every passing day, I am a know-nothing bozo whose advice and opinions should be ignored wherever possible.
  • LinkedIn Adds Polls and Live Video Events: Polls! You can ask the rest of your PROFESSIONAL NETWORK questions! Just like on other platforms! But four years later! Oh, and there’s a live event feature which is being trialed with a few invite-only users and businesses, so speak to your dead-eyed sales rep if you’d like access to this doubtless-thrilling new featureset. Actually, my miserable cynicism aside, I think the ‘live events’ thing is a smart idea – if nothing else the LinkedIn brand is probably something of a kitemark (I know, ridiculous, but) and so running an event through it might confer a small degree of professional gloss compared to, say, Facebook Rooms.
  • Google Chrome Launches Better Tab Organisation: Yes, ok, this is incredibly fcuking boring, but if you are me then it is also something that will absolutely improve the quality of my life for the approximately 10 hours a day of it I spend online.
  • Snacks Dot Com: Stuff that THE RONA has changed – our ability to just pop to the shops and pick up a dozen packets of Skips on a whim. Still, as part of the growing direct-to-consumer boom brought about by the quarantine, there’s a solution (or at least there is in the states) – SNACKS DOT COM! Honestly, the sheer power of that url! SNACKS DOT COM (sorry, but it’s hard for me not to read it in my head in the voice of one of those US sports announcers with the gravel-gargling tones) lets you buy snacks from the Frito-Lay Group (massive junkfood company outside the UK) delivered directly to your home, for the low, low minimum order of $15. Leaving aside that $15 seems like a LOT of corn snacks – I have just done the maths on the site and it buys you ONE FCUKING KILOGRAMME of Cheetos; dear God, THAT IS WHY YOU ARE ALL FCUKING OBESE FFS!! – this seems like a huge move. I know Heinz started doing something similar in the UK a month or so back, but this feels significantly more likely to catch on – crisps get eaten faster, and more regularly, and it’s far easier to imagine signing up to a fortnightly delivery of Quavers than it is to receiving a crate of ketchup every six months. I would personally be very surprised if Walkers or KP weren’t exploring something very similar about now.
  • A True Statement: I don’t ordinarily link to ‘funny things people said about the field I sort-of work in on Twitter’, but I’ll make an exception for this as it made me feel very seen.

By Fitacola

NEXT, TRY AN HOUR OF AMAPIANO, WHICH IS APPARENTLY A SORT OF AFRICAN HOUSE AND WHICH IS ABSOLUTELY ACE, TURNS OUT!

THE SECTION WHICH IS GLAD WE’VE NOW FOUND AN ANSWER TO THE PERENNIAL QUESTION ‘WHAT TYPE OF BONGO WOULD MACHINES IMAGINE IF MACHINES WERE ABLE TO IMAGINE BONGO?’, PT.1:

  • Appeasement: I got quite bored of Led by Donkeys’ stuff during Brexit, I confess; whilst I agreed broadly with their point of view that the people in charge of it were dreadful, lying cnuts, I was increasingly of the impression that using giant printouts of Tweets to make that point was possibly not broadening that message as much as they thought it was (turns out that using a platform that most normal people think is the sole preserve of a vanishingly-small proportion of weirdos in media and politics to tell said normal people that what they think is wrong doesn’t do much to persuade said normal people that everyone telling them that what they think is wrong isn’t just a member of a whinging Westminster liberal elite). This is their latest thing, though, and it’s rather good imho. Appeasement presents a simple timeline of known facts about the spread of COVID internationally, contrasting the events taking place and other governments’ response to them with the steps taken by our own. Regardless of whether you think our leaders have made a massive mess of this – and, if you don’t, HA!! – this is, objectively, a really good piece of communications; simple, effective and clear.
  • The Machine Gaze: This is, no contest, my favourite website of the week – FULL DISCLOSURE, though, that I was in-part involved with its creation. Over the past year or so, Shardcore’s been messing around with GANs (you know them by now – that form of AI whereby you train a machine on a set of visuals and then use what it ‘learns’ to seed new images) and bongo, with the idea of seeing what would happen if you trained a machine just on pr0n and asked it to ‘imagine’ new stuff. Well, this is it. The Machine Gaze is a website collecting images and video from the collection – everything you see on there was created by a machine which had previously been exposed to hundreds of thousands of pictures of naked people, either alone or together. The results are…honestly, they’re not quite like anything I’ve seen before, part Bacon, part Zoo Magazine, and wholly unerotic. They are, it goes without saying, not entirely kid-friendly, and they are on occasion a bit…disturbing, but there’s also something weirdly beautiful about them and the questions they ask – about what machines ‘see’, and what we are training them on – are interesting and pertinent. Oh, we tried doing this with male-centric bongo, by the way, but it turns out that for quite a few reasons it’s significantly harder (ahem) to get decent results, not least because of the fact that it tends to be a little more aesthetically varied and therefore the machines have real trouble imagining where the cocks ought to go (no, really). Please, please do take a look at this – I think it’s amazing, and you might too (or you might think it’s honestly horrid, for which sincere apologies).
  • This Word Does Not Exist: My second favourite website of the week, this is another AI-generated…thing-repository, which rather than presenting imaginary people or cats or anima girlfriends that have all been imagined by machine instead offers up a selection of words and their definitions that have been generated by a machine (in this case, it’s the GPT-2 code underpinning it). Honestly, I could sit here all day and click refresh and be happy. So far it’s offered me ‘slipsub: a short burst of light on a surface’ and ‘gaière: a small goose raised for protection by its owner or a keeper’, and ‘tripship: a person who travels through space on specially designed rides’ and each of them is wonderful. So, so pleasing for any of you who are into words for their own sake.
  • The Houseparty Festival: I am very much not the target demographic for this, as evidenced by the fact that I think I recognise approximately six of the named artists performing over the course of the upcoming three-day festival. Taking place inside the titular app, this is a really interesting idea which I am fascinated to see in action (whilst at the same time having no real desire whatsoever to actually participate in); the deal is that from this evening (Friday 15 May) til Sunday night over 40 artists will be appearing live on the app, doing…no idea, actually, and given the mix of people (there are musicians like Doja Cat and Dua Lipa and Katy Perry and others, but also people like Zooey Deschanel and Neil Patrick Harris and the bafflingly-ubiquitous Chef Mike who I presume will…I don’t know, just be famous and hope that that’s entertaining enough? Anyway, the idea is that these streams will all exist for a set amount of time; Houseparty users can jump on calls with their friends, per the app’s standard mechanic, and then watch these famousstreams together as a shared experience. Which strikes me as a really decent way of running these things – no mass-instances, with your friends, but with the opportunity to mix with strangers if you feel like it…honestly, whilst I honestly couldn’t think of much I’d like to do less than watch a jerky, pixellated stream of Katy Perry gurning her way through one of her ‘hits’ while wearing a ‘comedy’ lockdown outfit, the way they are running the whole thing seems very future indeed.
  • Wongle: ANOTHER excellent website (I really am spoiling you today), this needs to be launched on a phone or on a tablet to work – once you do, though, prepare to be slightly-amazed (well, if you’re me). Wongle is a really simple game that plays through your mobile browser and camera; it simply tasks you with finding things around you that you can photograph which begin with the letter the site’s suggesting – so just now, for example, it asked me to take a picture of something beginning with an ‘a’, so I snapped a wrinkled, shrivelled apple and felt momentarily-guilty about my fruit intake. That’s literally it – it doesn’t get more complicated than this – but it’s honestly a bit magical how good the image recognition is, and as a game for kids who are learning the alphabet it’s a possibly perfect distraction (honestly, you could just give them a tablet with this loaded on it and go to sleep for an hour! JUST IMAGINE). Lots of fun, and nicely-made to boot by agency Hello Monday.
  • Twitch Roulette: I’ve featured things in here before looking at the slightly odd loneliness of the streaming experience for the vast majority of people on platforms like Twitch, performing nightly for an audience of, well, often literally noone. Twitch Roulette takes that concept and makes it a feature, promising to match you with a random streamer from the site, at random, at the click of a button. The particular nature of Twitch makes this surprisingly fun – whilst the quality of the streamers varies enormously, the fact that you’re never going to end up being confronted by a naked man worrying at his disappointing foreskin makes the whole experience an interesting journey of discovery rather than a more penile variant on ‘Pop Up Pirate’. You can choose to limit streamers to particular games, should you simply want to browse within a category, but otherwise this is a wonderful way of dipping your toe into the odd multiverse that is the streaming ecosystem. I just popped in now and had a few Animal Crossing streamers on in the background whilst typing – there’s something fascinating to me about the sort of person who can maintain a measured, constant descriptive monologue about their virtual farming activities at 3am on a Friday morning to an audience of literally two people.
  • The Office (On Slack): Blah blah blah anothe MSCHF project blah blah. You know the drill by now – this is the latest in NYC creative funsters MSCHF’s series of mysterious experimental digiprojects, and to my mind one of the more interesting ones they’ve done lately. Because we’re all now experiencing the office digitally rather than physically, MSCHF made the sensible decision to take the entirety of the US series of The Office and play it out on Slack, in realtime, between the hours of 9-5 (US time). So you can sign up and join the channels to see the scripts being played out between the characters, dip in and out to see how the plotlines are developing, and genreally experience the show as a sort-of minimalist readthrough. This is such a clever idea – as far as I’m aware, this isn’t actually that hard to build; all it needs is the script of the office split between characters and uploaded to a series of Slack bots built to spit out the dialogue in turn, which, fine, I couldn’t personally build but which I know is possible. I really think there’s something interesting about the idea of making stuff like this available as Easter Eggs – could owners of creative properties not license Slack bots for purchase, so you could buy characters from your favourite shows to live in your virtual chats? Is that an appealing idea or just really, really sad? I honestly have no idea any more.
  • ISS Docking: I’m not proud of what I’m about to type, but I feel we’ve known each other for long enough that I can be honest with you. This has been in the notes for Curios since Monday, and every time I have opened it up to add a new link I have giggled to myself at the fact that it reads like the term ‘ice docking’ – long-term readers of Popbitch (and, if she’s reading this, Lisa Stansfield) will know what I am talking about here, but can I please encourage those of you that don’t to please not google the term? Thanks! Anyway, that largely-pointless digression done with, this is a newly-released in-broswer simulation of what it’s like to dock with the International Space Station – YOU are in control! YOU are piloting thousands of tonnes of space vehicle as it attempts to connect with another massive hunk of metal somewhere out in the cosmos! This is VERY hard – although I appreciate that the fact I can’t drive a car, let alone a massive spaceboi might count against me here – but it’s also very slow and quite meditative and possibly the sort of thing that you might want to have on while you deal with the latest round of pointless calls with stupid people about things that don’t matter (ie your job).
  • Life In Quarantine: Another project collecting people’s personal thoughts and experiences of their time in lockdown; the project is being run by Stanford University’s Poetic Media Lab, and anyone can contribute their words – they want contributions in multiple languages from across the world, so please do add your own and share this with anyone you know who might be minded to contribute; I know I’ve mentioned this before, but I would hate for the majority record of…all this to be nothing but TikTok dances and Stories about how much you need a haircut.
  • COVID and You: In fact, while we’re doing this sort of thing, COVID and You is a similar project being conducted by The Young Foundation and the Open University, specifically to track the emotional impact of the lockdown on people in the UK. Again, collecting this sort of stuff is important I think, so do consider getting involved if you have a spare 5 minutes to tell them how you’re doing.
  • Pose Animator: Another week, another piece of technology that should make animators look nervously over their shoulders and possibly start to consider alternative careers. Pose Animator is a little proof-of-concept toy which users your webcam to identify your face and limbs and then maps those to a small, simple cartoon character, which tracks your movements and facial expressions with a remarkable degree of fidelity considering quite how homebrew the whole thing is. You wouldn’t, fine, expect Pixar to be using this stuff anytime soon, but it’s not beyond the bounds of possibility to imagine this sort of thing being used quite widely to create a welcoming, non-threatening digital onboarding assistant for A N Other software, or to allow for realtime avatar creation for live digital events – in fact (and bear with me here), a combination of this sort of stuff and virtual clubbing starts to feel really interesting to me.
  • Mojo: “Meet Mojo Lens, a smart contact lens with a built-in display that gives you timely information without interrupting your focus. By understanding your real-world context, Mojo Lens provides relevant, eyes-up notifications and answers. Designed by optometrists, technologists, and medical experts, Mojo Lens gives you the knowledge you need—exactly when it’s needed.” Or so speaks the blurb – the reality is that this stuff is nowhere near ready, and the website is basically a collection of stock photos of people looking a bit future and a couple of videos of how it might work in the future, which are very much all ‘hey, look, it’s like Minority Report but significantly more benign!’ Interesting less for what it is now, and more for how it’s being sold as what will be; when this stuff really does come to market – a decade or so? – expect the really interesting questions to be around who gets all that LOVELY VISION TRACKING DATA.
  • I’m Back 35: I am a truly terrible photographer – annoyingly, mobile telephony has now reached the point where software corrects my nonexistent eye to such an extent that my phone now won’t let me take bad pictures anymore, altering everything I snap into some sort of borderline-CGI improved-simulacrum of real life. STOP LYING TO ME ABOUT MY PROWESS, MOBILE PHONE! This is how Brooklyn Beckham ended up believing he was a photographer, isn’t it? Anyway, if you’re someone who still enjoys the CRAFT and PRECISION of manual photography but who also quite likes the convenience and photoshop of digital, then you may want to chuck some money at this (already-funded) Kickstarter (an update to a previous iteration of similar tech), which lets you augment your analogue machine with all sorts of digital photos. “The main innovation…is the software, that gives now the possibility to take photos with the MANUAL mode, leaving the user full control of the shutter speed and the diaphragm aperture of the camera. I’m Back 35 will then record the images as it was set through the analog camera!” I don’t, I confess, totally understand what this means, but I imagine that those of you who actually own cameras might be able to make more sense of it than I can.
  • Stream: I’ve seen a lot of people in and around the hiphop community getting annoyed that there aren’t currently any decent solutions in place to allow them to monetise their Insta Lives during lockdown, which is a fair point; this software, a plugin for Zoom, does exactly that (except, er, not for Insta) – it basically lets a users set up a stream with a paywall, requiring a fee before users are able to access it. You can add tip donations too should you so desire – is it terrible of me that the first thing I thought of was that this would enjoy a brief, not-quite-legal life as an Onlyfans equivalent for people who wanted to avoid platform charges? Who knows! Anyway, if you’re looking for a way to monetise your digital streams, events, etc, this is a potential way of doing that very thing.
  • The Big Picture Competition 2020 Winners: The competition’s ethos is, I am told, to “celebrate and illustrate the rich diversity of life on Earth and inspire action to protect and conserve it through the power of imagery.” Judging by the selection of winning pictures this year, they’ve succeeded admirably – LOOK AT THE BAT! Honestly, it really is worth clicking through to see the finalists from each category, these are spectacular (and, weirdly, more pleasing than usual after 7 weeks of being stuck in a very urban environment indeed).

By Miriam Tolke 

NOW HAVE SOME DRUM’N’BASS WHICH IS LITERALLY PERFECT MUSIC TO DO JUST ABOUT ANYTHING TO!

THE SECTION WHICH IS GLAD WE’VE NOW FOUND AN ANSWER TO THE PERENNIAL QUESTION ‘WHAT TYPE OF BONGO WOULD MACHINES IMAGINE IF MACHINES WERE ABLE TO IMAGINE BONGO?’, PT.22:

  • Postcards from Isolation: Beautiful collection of small interactive digital art experiences designed to communicate in a series of tiny ways some of the changes brought about by quarantine and the pandemic. Pulled together by (I think) one-person design outfit Studio Sabato, these black and white digital experiments each feature a toggle allowing you to experience them from a ‘before’ and ‘after’ perspective, and each offering a very small artistic response to an aspect of the change in our circumstances. I love everything about this, not least the self-contained nature of each of the works which nonetheless cohere quite wonderfully.
  • This Long Century: This is a wonderful, long-runnning project which, at the time of writing, has collected nearly 400 of these…things. It’s almost-indescribable, but let’s try: This Long Century is “an ever-evolving collection of personal insights from artists, authors, filmmakers, musicians and cultural icons the world over. Bringing together such intimate work as sketchbooks, personal memorabilia, annotated typescripts, short essays, home movies and near impossible to find archival work, THIS LONG CENTURY serves as a direct line to the contributors themselves.” The best articulation I can give is that it feels quite a lot like browsing through an exhibition catalogue, except one where the catalogue is the exhibition (I’m not doing this very well, am I?). You could absolutely get lost in here, as I did the other afternoon; the sheer breadth of material and perspective and subject and work is a little dizzying.
  • Live Rave In Half-Life: This is really very inventive indeed. Graham Dunning (I think) has modded the game Half Life and replaced all the game’s audio files with samples from 90s rave tracks; in this video, he uses these modified sounds to effectively play a live gig on Twitch by playing his altered version of the game; every action he takes, every environmental reaction, is accompanied by whatever synth stab or 404 he’s appended to it in the code, making the whole thing like some sort of live electro improv rave-type-thing. If you ever happened to see dance improv troupe The Bays play back in the day (and if you didn’t, check them out here), it’s not a million miles away from that (but totally different). I could imagine something like this done by a famous DJ/producer in a bigger game engine – imagine, I don’t know, this but my Deadmau5 (or someone the kids actually like), in Fortnite. See? HUGE.
  • Ogmios: I don’t know who this person is; they have had this YouTube Channel for 8 years, but with minimal output and certainly no breakout hits. I think Marcus might have pointed me at this – thanks Marcus – but, whoever it was, I am very grateful indeed. Ogmios’ last two videos have been entitled ‘School of Zen Motoring’ and, honestly, they are the most relaxing and gently hilarious things I have seen in an age. Ogmios (for I presume it is he) drives around doing very gentle, very slow commentary on his route around (I think) East London. It’s perfect, I promise you, and is definitely worth 20 minutes of your time; he is SO NICE AND SO PURE.
  • TV Chart: I presume the majority of you are at the point of quarantine now where you’ve exhausted all the ‘quality’ entertainments on the major streaming platforms and are now looking nervously at the more ‘niche’ series, the ones that have seemingly managed to rack up six seasons without you or anyone you know having ever watched an episode, or knowing anyone who’s watched an episode. If you are looking through the unknown dregs to find the next medium through which to avoid thinking or talking, you might find TV Chart useful – type in the title of any (no idea how comprehensive it actually is, but let’s just say ‘very’) series and it will pull data on its episode-by-episode rating on IMDB, thereby offering you a useful overview of its perceived quality trajectory so you can decided whether or not to watch a show that falls off a quality cliff come season 4 (like you care – this is literally just chewing gum for the eyes and brain and you know it).
  • 36 Cinema: Another interesting idea – 36 Cinema is a new project offering you the opportunity to pay to watch a livestream of a classic film along with key principles involved in its making. The first they did was Shaolin Vs Wu Tang, which was live commented by (as you might expect) RZA from the Wu and some guy from the Hollywood Theatre which is also involved; that’s being rerun again tomorrow night for UK audiences, but there will doubtless be other similar screenings as time progresses. The price for the initial one was $10, which on the one hand isn’t super-cheap, but on the other hand what the fcuk else are you going to spend your funmonies on?
  • The Saul Steinberg Foundation: You might recognise the art style but not the name – Saul Steinberg, I learned this week, was a hugely-influential 20thC artist and designer whose style basically became the de facto blueprint for the New Yorker’s cover art style, but who was also an acclaimed and respected fine artist beyond that. This website presents his life and work, and is SO full of wonderful history and drawings and sketches that you could happily lose a few hours in the New York art scene of the 50s, 60s and 70s.
  • Birdsound Finder: Now that we’re allowed outside again – ALONE! NO TOUCHING! – we all need to remember what it’s like being surrounded by the cacophonous sounds of nature. If you’d like some help reacclimatising yourself to the terrifying racket that is birdsong (something I don’t need, what with the fcuking cnuts deciding to start shouting on my roof every morning from about 6am, unbidden), this site might help – pulling data from a bunch of different places, it will find your location and, at the push of a button, give you information on locally-prevalent bird species as well as an aduiofile of what those combined birdsongs might sound like. It’s really quite lovely, not least zooming around London to see how the birds of Tooting differ from the birds of, say, Hammersmith (the birds of Hammersmith are probably a touch more emphysemic, I’d guess).
  • MegaNighwatch: Rembrandt’s Nightwatch has been SUPERDIGITISED by the Rijksmuseum and put online for you to gawp at up-close-and-personal. This is quite, quite remarkable – the extent to which you can magnify the image is such that even individual brushstrokes are clearly visible, and you can get so intimate with the work that you can literally see the whites of the patrol’s eyes. Wonderful, particularly if you’re experience of the painting has previously been the classic museum-y one of being surrounded by 200 w4nkers attempting to take poor-quality digital photos.
  • Shutdown Gallery: After a bit of a hiatus in recent years, it’s really been a boom period for 3d representations of physical galleries in digital space. Shutdown Gallery is the latest version to cross my field of vision; Patrick Hubner has created this space which he intends to act as a rotating showcase for the work of international artists and designers over the coming months as real-world gallery space continues to be impossible to access: “The digital gallery adapts to the physical situation of the viewer and is freely accessible: On mobile devices such as telephones or tablets, the visitor can view the room directly and from all perspectives by tilting the device or moving it freely in the room – the boundaries between the physical and the digital disappear suddenly and intuitively. As a web-based project, the gallery is publicly accessible worldwide. Every week there will be a new exhibition with works that move the world of art and design, thus maintaining the fertile environment of constant change. A growing list of world-renowned designers and artists has already confirmed their participation in what is the start of a new chapter for galleries.” I rather like the explicitly-game-y interface, and the way the works are arranged with proper notes, etc, gives this an air of legitimacy that many of these projects lack; on the other hand, it’s (at present, at least) not doing anything hugely innovative with the concept of ‘virtual white cube’. Still, worth a look for those interested in how digital art presents in 2020.
  • Spamflix: One of the miserable things about the way media ownership has worked out is that it’s nigh-on impossible to find decent, obscure, old, arthouse cinema on any of the streaming platforms. You want any number of straight-to-DVD 4.8*IMDB abortions? GREAT! You want anything from pre-2000 that isn’t super=famous? LITERALLY IMPOSSIBLE! Which is why Spamflix appeals so much – it’s a pay-per-rental site rather than a streaming subscription offer, but it’s promise is that it provides access to the obscure, the weird, the indie and the offbeat, all the stuff that Netflix and Amazon won’t necessarily have. A cursory glance suggests that, yes, there is a lot of odd and obscure – it also suggests that ‘odd’ and ‘obscure’ doesn’t necessarily mean ‘worth watching’, as evidenced by the inclusion of 2006 ‘classic’ Italian comedy romp ‘Fascists on Mars’, which is noone’s idea of good in any country. Still, this will still be better than approximately 90% of what you see after three right-side-scrolls on Netflix.
  • Bimble Space: Small, digital toys built by Amy Goodchild which are small, colourful and very pleasing indeed.
  • The Psy Trance Guide: I think I might have alluded in here before to having spent a not-insignificant chunk of my youth being very into psytrance, the least-cool of all the dance music genres (although personally I think that title rests with happy hardcore, but wevs) and the one most-indelibly-associated with white men with dreadlocks, dogs on strings, UV paint and aggressively-skeletal men with very, very blue eyes dancing at you at around 180 BPM (they were GOOD TIMES, man). This website – Christ knows why it’s still live given the only two places where psytrance is still a thing are seemingly Oxford and Tel Aviv – seeks to provide a deep taxonomical guide to all the different subgenres of wibbly 404-and-pounding-beats and MY GOD did I just fall into a hole and do some hard reminiscing. You probably won’t like what most of this sounds like – it’s fair to say that most people don’t, and I had some…robust conversations with housemates at university about the exact volume at which it was acceptable to play this stuff at when drying oneself off of a morning – but please have a listen as it is THE SOUND OF MY YOUTH. I know I am too old, but I am absolutely getting boxed off my tits on cheap speed and going to one more of these before I die (it might kill me tbh).
  • All The Peel Sessions: This may be the best lockdown link yet. Every single Peel Session, linked from this one webpage. Except it’s not every single session – there are a few missing, as seemingly dozens of massively joyless pr1cks from around the web have seemingly decided to tell the kind stranger who bothered pulling this together. Imagine – you find this, an incredible labour of love put together for the general enjoyment of music fans worldwide, and your sole desire is to inform its creator that they missed a bit over there. People, Jesus Christ. Anyway, this is a truly spectacular resource for anyone who’s into any sort of music from about 1960-2000, and if you can’t find anything to enjoy in this list then you are basically dead or deaf.
  • Have You Seen This Dog?: You have now. You’ll get the joke when you click – it’s not a very sophisticated joke, fine, but I think you could probably keep a five year old amused with this for approximately three minutes or so, which is probably enough to pop out for a fag or to get a swift drink down you if you hurry.
  • Dinos Tomato Pie: Old-school websites are one of Web Curios’ favourite things, and this one, for Dino’s, a VERY trad-sounding pizza pie joint in Seattle, is SO LOVABLE. Look, just read this from the homepage and try not to fall in Love: “The truth is people sometimes wanna have a good time with their friends and family. And to tell the truth, pizza and drinks can help with that! Most of my friends agree that Dino’s is the right place to enjoy these things.” YES DINO THAT IS THE TRUTH! Can we all make a collective agreement that we’re going to enter into a sustained period where this is the accepted standard of webdesign again? Please?
  • The Bug’s Life Fleshlight: Does anyone remember Pixar’s ‘A Bug’s Life’ fondly? No, they don’t, do they? That and ‘Antz’ are both largely forgotten by audiences – which is perhaps why this STELLAR bit of tie-in merch is still unsold on eBay, despite being listed for the low, low price of $2,000. Would YOU like to own a wanktorch (aka a fleshlight) which has been fashioned to resemble cuddly German worm-creature Heimlich from the 1998 cartoon? Would YOU like to bring yourself to sticky completion betwixt the rubberised lips of an anthropomorphic grub? I really, really hope not, for your sake. This is horrible, but, equally, almost entirely perfect – such is the dichotomy of the web.
  • Hideous Cave: This is quite astonishingly clever. Pico-8 is the 8-bit games creation engine that I often feature stuff built in; someone has used it to create a pseudo-3d adventure game, and the skill and scope here is quite remarkable. Honestly, I am agog at what they have managed to achieve here with such basic code and kit.
  • The World Was Sad Since Tuesday: Also built in Pico-8, this is a far-more-traditional piece of top-down interactive storytelling, but I loved the story it tells and the manner in which it’s delivered. This is very beautiful indeed.
  • Deathtrap Dungeon: Finally in this week’s miscellany, something that is PEAK DAD. Are you of an age where you remember Ian Livingstone and Peter Jackson and Fighting Fantasy adventure books, and staying up late under the covers with a torch and a pencil trying to work out how the fcuk to find the ending in that bloody space one that I never, ever managed to complete? Do you miss the storytelling and comforting familiarity of the interface? Would you basically like a version of it that’s modern and a bit interactive and also a bit like Jackanory? WELL GREAT! This is a demo, fine, but it gives you enough of an idea and is long enough to be fun to play – the idea is that it’s a standard Fighting Fantasy setup, with a quest and branching narratives and a bit of light-RPGing, but the gimmick is that the whole thing is played as though you’re being read a story, with the game narrated by Actual Proper Actor Eddie Marsan. The whole thing works superbly, and if I have ⅞ year old kids I would absolutely be preordering the fcuk out of this as I think it would captivate them. Also, it would captivate me. I want this to come out now, SO MUCH, and I am too excited to be ashamed.

By Vicki Ling

LAST UP IN THE MIXES, HAVE THIS SET OF SLOW TRACKS MIXED BY DJ SUPERMKT, PERFECT FOR A SUMMER EVENING!

THE CIRCUS OF TUMBLRS!:

  • Gatos Y Respeto: Cats and respect? The blog’s named after Albert Schweizer, apparently a byword for respect to animals and indeed all living things, and basically exists to celebrate animals, especially cats, in Spanish. WHY THE FCUK NOT, EH?
  • Topher Chris: This came to me via the genuinely superb Garbage Day newsletter, which I almost want to keep to myself it’s so godd but which I will generously recommend to you because I am nice like that. Garbage Day is written by Ryan Broderick and each week it finds awful meme-type stuff from around the web, and this week it included this Tumblr and my God these memes my GOD. So cursed.

THE TROUGH OF (INSTA) FEEDS!:

  • Sunset Selfies: Look, this isn’t really my sort of thing at all, but I accept that whilst everything’s a bit crap you might be in the market for something a bit Hallmark and twee; these are silhouetted cutout artworks photographed against pretty sunsets, which is very Fiat500 Insta but, well, sometimes that’s ok.
  • Mouse Magic: ‘The art of Victorian taxidermy, with a modern twist’. SO MANY CUTE LITTLE STUFFED MICE OH ME OH MY THAT ONE LOOKS LIKE SUPERMAN!
  • Fashion Can Drag: I fcuking love Insta accounts like this one; I have no interest in or understanding of fashion, but reading this feed – which takes images from queer and high fashion and explains their significance in the context of the wider fashion world, the history of the catwalk, etc – is fascinating and informative in a way I could never have imagined.
  • Vic Lee London: Via Simon, this might be my favourite quarantine record to date; Vic Lee is recording their experiences of lockdown via illustrations in their notebook, and is sharing said illustrations via Instagram. I would LOVE to be able to buy a copy of these when this is all over; as a personal illustrated history I find this fascinating.

LONG THINGS WHICH ARE LONG!:

  • 162 Benefits of Coronavirus: No, don’t worry, I haven’t suddenly gone all moron-Pollyanna and bought into the canard that ‘this is the greatest time in the history of all human endeavour to be alive’ (DO YOU NOT UNDERSTAND THAT CANDIDE WAS A SATIRICAL EXERCISE YOU FCUKING IDIOTS???); I’m just presenting this as a potential corrective to some of the more doom-ish commentary doing the round at present. This list has been pulled together by Ben Finn, who’ss a VC-type person and (I think) violently rich – as such, a lot of what is in here is, I would respectfully-argue, rubbish, or at the very least based on a worldview that isn’t exactly anchored in reality (his assertion in a footnote that the growth in online shopping is a net positive because he doesn’t believe that conditions for workers are as bad as people say is…well, give me the confidence to make assertions about minimum wage work like a multi-millionaire does, is all I can say). Still, though, it’s interesting in an intellectual-exercise sort-of-way to try and think of things that you could reasonably categorise as ‘good’ about this situation, and there are a few things in here that made me pause for reflection; it’s worth reading through, if only to force yourself to consider things from a cost/benefit point of view.
  • I Just Flew: This account of what it was like for the author taking a flight across the US the other week is an excellent series of reasons to believe we won’t be going on mass holidays anytime soon, whatever Mr O’Leary might want the market to believe. It sounds…horrible, frankly, and even less pleasant than flying currently feels. Every single element of this seems miserable, most of all the interaction with other people; I firmly believe that remembering how messy and unpleasant dealing with actual meatsacks is on a day-to-day basis is going to be one of the hardest and most jarring and, over time, most problematic elements of any reduction in quarantine measures; we are awful, and, frankly, maybe we should all just hide away and be alone.
  • How The Pandemic Is Messing With AI: Or, how building systems which work based on the evaluation of data and predictive models based on said evaluations tends not to work perfectly when confronted with instances where behaviour or need changes significantly and at pace. Another one of these pieces – alongside the one about supplychains from a week or two back – which indicates that one of the main shifts we might end up making as a result of COVID is around the way in which we try and govern systems; I wouldn’t be surprised to see a significant rise in interest in ‘fuzzy’-type systems (blast from 25 years ago there) to attempt to hedge against stuff like this.
  • Sometimes A Bot Is Just A Bot: I love this story. The basic thrust here is that all the people who regularly get upset at seeing multiple versions of the same pro-Government text on Twitter and start frothily screaming COORDINATED BOT ACTIVITY BY THE EVIL MEKON GENIUS CUMMINGS DID YOU SEE THE GREAT HACK CAROLE CAROLE COME QUICKLY are perhaps being a bit too quick to jump to conclusions, and that in fact a lot of these duplicate messages are just being posted by normal people who really do just want to c&p a pro-Johnson bit of copy into a status update and share it, and who don’t want to write their own. There’s just such a wonderful rabbithole here – firstly in terms of the fact that this sort-of proves that, by certain measures, the disinformation campaigns have absolutely achieved their goal, leaving us all totally confused as to what is real and what isn’t; secondly, in terms of the fact that you should never overestimate the British people; and thirdly, around the fact that there’s another explanation whereby these people are totally real but are also being paid to act as organic bots. I appreciate that this is on some level a sad expression of defeat, but I have totally stopped caring about this in any meaningful sense beyond just sort of rubbernecking from the sidelines – at this stage it’s just another layer of pomo ‘entertainment’.
  • Experiencing Online Experiences: Nora Caplan-Bricker explores some of the ‘experiences’ available to enjoy through Airbnb as part of its lockdown offering, where you can pay a set amount of money to join a virtual event with a host in which they’ll tell you about their world-leading collection of echidna phalluses, say, or show you some sleight-of-hand over webcam. The article opens as a sort-of investigation as to whether these offerings will ‘work’ for the company, but it becomes a wider meditation on what a virtual guided experience can give you in a time of isolation.
  • Squad Shopping: A trend coming from China but which I could see gaining popularity here, as the prospect of being able to go shopping for stuff, with friends, as a leisure activity, grows more remote by the day. The gimmick here is Chinese shops and platforms creating opportunities for virtual shopping in groups; so vouchers for multi-person online discounts, say, or interfaces which allow for groups of multiple users to browse, chat, etc, together; add this to the growing trend for livestreamed shopping assistance and there’s a really interesting intersection; I can imagine a Houseparty-type app whereby a limited number of attentive assistants guide a group of well-heeled virtual buyers through an empty Hermes concessionary, talking them through next-season’s must-have tooled leathers.
  • The VR Winter: I presume you all read Benedict Evans’ newsletter (I can’t bring myself to; it’s not that it’s not good, it’s more that the idea of someone making that much money just from writing a newsletter does something so caustic to my own sense of self-worth that it takes me literally days to recover) and so you might have seen this already; if not, though, it’s a very good piece looking at why this might still not be the age for VR as a mainstream entertainment, despite the lockin and the isolation and the boredom. Evans’ main assertion is a compelling one – that all the stuff people talk about when they discuss the killer use-case for VR as a mainstream thing is predicated on an idea of VR tech which is practically a couple of decades away, and that that sort of barrier is too big for it to make the leap to normies just yet.
  • 2014 Nostalgia: When I was at school and university, it was seemingly a fact that nostalgia ran at about a twenty-year lag; so by the time I was finishing my undergrad, the most-popular terrible student disco was a late-70s disco revival night called ‘Carwash’; now, though, it seems that nostalgia’s on about a 5-year delay, meaning all the GenZers are apparently waxing wistful about those halcyon days around 2014 when everything was SO MUCH SIMPLER. This piece looks at exactly what cultural artefacts and tropes are most-affectionately recalled – if you’re old, you will find this utterly risible, but know that we were ALL like this once and that it is a beautiful and blessed state to be in; old enough to know that there is stuff worth missing, but not old enough to know that everything really does tend to entropy and that it really is all downhill. I did get a genuine moment of rage when I read the author describing the ‘twee as fcuk’ pop of the 2000s, though – DEAR GOD DO YOU HAVE NO FCUKING HISTORY OR CULTURE GO AND LEARN ABOUT C86 YOU PRICK etc etc.
  • Memers & TikTok: The slow, inevitable loss of TikTok’s innocence continues apace, this time with the news that it’s being invaded by meme accounts, which is basically the point at which the content=stealing and grifting starts in earnest, if Insta’s anything to go by. Another step in the platform’s evolution, but I found it interesting mainly as a sign that being conversant with online culture is now going to require me to keep up with a whole load of NEW, video-based visual signifiers whose semiotics I need to internalise if I’mn going to be able to keep up and OH GOD SO TIRED. There’s a Tweet that’s been doing the rounds recently in which some woman tries to explain a meme to a guy and, after she does so, he asks ‘so what, I’m expected to memorise all these pictures you keep in your phone so we can communicate?’ and, well, I FEEL THIS VERY STRONGLY.
  • Ways We Are Annoying Each Other: I think this is quite a useful piece for you and anyone you are living with at the moment to read together, or possibly to each other; in it, a selection of individuals share the small things that are annoying them about their partner during isolation; these are small, benign and mostly said with love, but might afford you the opportunity to broach ‘the fcuking way you make tea every seven minutes’, say, or, if my girlfriend’s cat was capable of reasoned argument, ‘the 6am morning wakeupcall during which you demand treats with increasingly-frenzied howls of despair and occasional assaults on the toes’. It’s full of stuff like this, and it’s very, very pleasing: “My boyfriend eats almonds by slowly nibbling on the end of one, then shoving it gently into the side of his cheek until his face is bursting with them like a cartoon squirrel. I hate it! I hate him! It’s driving me insane.”
  • 50 Ideas That Changed My Life: I don’t, as a rule, go in for stuff that might be considered ‘improving’ or ‘self-reflective’ or ‘instructional’ – as I think I’ve previously alluded to, I simply don’t care enough about my life to want to expend any effort optimising it – but I thought I might make an exception for this; it’s by a David Perrell (no idea), and whilst some of it set my teeth on edge slightly (I get the sense that Mr Perrell is somewhat more of a ‘go-getter’ than I am, and that he and I probably wouldn’t have an awful lot in common) there is enough in here which struck me as common sense as to be worth sharing. In particular, this is my personal lodestone and I will stand by it forever: “Avoid competition. Stop copying what everybody else is doing. If you work at a for-profit company, work on problems that would not otherwise be solved. If you’re at a non-profit, fix unpopular problems. Life is easier when you don’t compete. (Hint: don’t start another bottled water company).”
  • The Fascinating Origins of Greyhound Racing: A wonderful history of how greyhound racing in its modern form came to be – I loved, in particular, the detail that the mechanical hare was invented because the cries of an actual hare being dismembered by hounds is too upsetting for audiences by dint of its uncanny resemblance to the sounds made by a small child undergoing a similar fate. Also, the newspapermens’ description of the new sport – ‘the hounds of the endless oval’ – is pure poetry and I love it.
  • Don’t Fear The Robot: For complicated reasons, I have an unusually-emotional response to the Roomba; this piece is by its inventor, and explains how they came to invent and perfect the machine that is still by far and away the most successful domestic robot in history. Unlikely to be surpassed for quite a few years yet, Roomba’s success is its simplicity; this piece offers practical recollections of how it came together as a project, but is more enjoyable for the simple-but-pleasing prose, and the more general teachings it can impart about focusing on simplicity and easily-solvable/improvable problems.
  • Reading James Joyce: I read Portrait of the Artist for my IB and, honestly, even as a kid who’d spent most of his life to that point at Catholic school staffed and attended by mostly-Irish people, it was a fcuking slog; I have never attempted Ulysses, and as for Finnegan’s Wake…still, this essay Brianna Rennix is a lovely ode to the pleasure of reading Ulysses in particular, and Joyce more generally, and how one might go about it, and how Joyce himself viewed readers’ responses to his work during his lifetime. I didn’t realise that Nora refused to read Ulysses, which does go some way to explaining some of Joyce’s…particular obsessions.
  • Party in GDocs: The author of this piece, Marie Foulston, curated the V&A’s videogames exhibition last year and is a supremely creative individual; in this piece,she describes holding a houseparty in Google Docs one weekend recently, from the setup to how it went, and in so doing tells a series of beautiful small stories about how the social impulse finds a way to express itself regardless of medium. I love this very much indeed – it’s beautiful writing and I love the playfulness of the subject – but I can’t help but feel sad when I read stuff like this, that I lack the creativity and imagination to either create or participate in the same way. Still, I write a massive thing on the internet that noone reads, so I am special in my own way.
  • The Paternoster: My colleagues and I were discussing office space recently, and how it might change, and lifts came up; I mentioned a Paternoster as a possibly viable replacement for current lift setups and NOONE knew what I was talking about, which is frankly a terrible indictment of the education received by the youth of today. If you don’t know what a paternoster is, read this NOW and then look up videos of them on YouTube and start lobbing your employer to get them installed as post-pandemic antiviral transportation devices. This is a lovely read, which teaches you more about the history of design and architecture than you might realise.
  • Carrot Bread: This is a very short piece of writing about what it feels like when your brain stops working the way you feel like it ought to; it’s beautifully-written, and, as someone who’s discussed what having brain cancer feels like with someone with brain cancer, incredibly reminiscent of some very sad, very distant conversations.
  • My Appetites: Finally this week, a triumphant piece of writing and a weird callback to a piece I featured in here a month or so ago. You may recall I featured a very funny, slightly-ranty piece by some guy in New York getting incredibly annoyed at the way in which NYT art critic Jerry Saltz consumed coffee, and going into forensic detail about why Saltz was not only wrong to drink coffee like that but was in fact an ar$ehole for so doing. I have no idea whether this article is in response to that piece or just a coincidence, but here Saltz explains in long detail exactly how he has arrived at his peculiar, individual attitude to food, and how it works within the context of his life and his marriage. I am not ashamed to say that I stopped reading this at various points to have what I believe is known as a good old cry – honestly, this is beautiful and if I read a better piece of prose about love this year I will be amazed. Please, please take the time, this is utterly sublime.

By Gideon Rubin

AND NOW, MOVING PICTURES AND SOUNDS!:

  1. ART VIDEO! This is very good, and I normally hate videoart: “Employing the method of single frame editing, primarily focused on sound, the realistic film image transforms into a surreal, structuralist and finally even abstract film. It creates a musical composition while experimenting with the human voice and transforming language into sound and music. DONT KNOW WHAT questions classical rules of different film genres by combining elements of avant-garde film / video art and entertainment cinema.”:

  1. My notes for this just say ‘french’, which shows you some of the curatorial rigour being employed here these days. Still, a re-listen suggests I included it because it’s a glorious bit of French loungepop called ‘Les Choses Invisibles’ by Alfa Rococo – the video’s a beautiful combination of animation and art styles, and the whole is very stylish in a ‘play with the windows open to the sunny streets below’ kind of way:

  1. It’s meant to be Eurovision this weekend I think – is it happening? Is it not? Regardless, if you’re in the market for something that is both Eurovision AND very Curios, why not enjoy the AI Eurovision Song Contest, which took place this week and which presented AI-penned tracks by a variety of countries competing for the coveted title of Europe’s Best AI songsmith. The songs are of questionable quality, fine, but at least the whole thing’s over in 30m:

  1. I love the way this is animated, and the song’s not bad at all. This is Manhorse (also, GREAT NAME) with ‘Husbands’:

  1. Finally this week, this was just made live on YouTube and you should all spend the afternoon blasting it LOUD – it’s Prince, in concert in the early 90s, for the first time ever available online. It went up overnight and I’ve had it on in the background for much of this morning, and it’s as good as you’d expect – turn it up LOUD and dance around your house and play air guitar and HAVE FUN SEE YOU NEXT WEEK WE’RE OUT OF TIME AND MORE IMPORTANTLY LINKS BUT I WILL BE BACK AND THERE WILL BE MORE AND IN THE MEANTIME TAKE CARE OF YOURSELVES AND STAY SAFE AND TRY NOT TO WORRY AND INSTEAD JUST RELAX AND TRUST IN THE FACT THAT IT WILL ALL BE FINE AND, IN ANY CASE, IT’S ALL OUT OF YOUR CONTROL ANYWAY SO YOU MAY AS WELL JUST SEE WHAT HAPPENS THAT’S RIGHT KIDS LET’S EMBRACE FATALISM I LOVE YOU SEE YOU NEXT TIME I LOVE YOU I LOVE YOU SEE YOU NEXT TIME BYE!: