NO DEATH THIS WEEK! Or, to be more specific, no death in my family this week (death, I am led to believe, continued happening all over the shop)!
Not exactly cause for wild celebration, fine, more the sort of thing you’d hope would be the status quo, but I’ll take any reason to celebrate that I possibly can (and by ‘celebrate’ I mean ‘spend lonely evenings online, spelunking for links in the spaffmines’) – so come one, come all, and enjoy the ‘fruits’ (links) of my ‘celebrations’ (tearful hours staring at a screen in the hope that something, anything, will distract me from Everthing That Is Happening).
I am still Matt, this is still Web Curios, and the web continues to provide because, honestly, otherwise I don’t know what else I’d do.
NB – a small promotional message before we start, which I have been meaning to write for weeks and keep forgetting; if you need some email newsletter software and don’t want to pay the horrible people at Substack then why not check out the lovely Kris Marsh, who runs all the mailing stuff for Curios, and for B3ta, and for some other people too I expect. He’s nice, the product works perfectly, it’s not expensive, and you can rest safe in the knowledge that your money is not going to, I don’t know, pay Bari Weiss and Glen Greenwald to be hateful for an audience of cnuts. Kris has not paid me for this endorsement, fyi, because Curios is a proudly advertising-free endeavour (though, er, if we’re talking thousands then I could be persuaded).
THE SECTION WHICH IS INCREASINGLY OF THE OPINION THAT BRITISH POLITICS RESEMBLES NOTHING MORE THAN A MIDDLING 80s ITV SITCOM, SORT OF LIKE ‘THE UPPER HAND’ BUT WITH FEWER LAUGHS, PT.1:
- Burds: I don’t know whether any of you notice (and if you don’t, WHY NOT?!?!), but there tends to be a light bit of curatorial direction to the order in which links appear here – I tend to try and kick off with the more ‘this is an interesting and occasionally-shiny bit of webwork’ to attempt to ‘engage’ the more ‘casual’ reader (ha! Like anyone can read this ‘casually’! GOOD LUCK WITH THAT YOU FCUKS!) before delving into the more, er, esoteric and niche stuff as the links progress. Not so this week – if you’re anything like me (and pray God you’re not) then you’ll be in need of something gently-soothing to smooth your brain at the end of a week during which it’s ended up feeling even more craggily-crenellated than normal. So, then, to Burds, which is a webpage which does nothing more than generate a bunch of small, monochromatic cartoony birds which jump around your screen. That’s it. Think of it as an emotional reset, a timeline cleanse, if you will, before we accelerate into the odd once again (oh, and I know that for many people spellings such as ‘burds’ are unforgivable crimes against linguistic taste – I can only ask that you indulge me just this once).
- The Bookcase of Tolerance: I need to be quite careful about this – on the one hand, this is a really nicely-done bit of AR work, and should be applauded as such. It’s a collaborative work between a bunch of agencies and (I presume) the Anne Frank House museum itself, which exists to present stories of people, including Anne and her family but also experiences from the modern world, who have faced prejudice and discrimination, as an educational tool to teach younger people about the importance of tolerance (and a warning as to where intolerance leads if allowed to flourish unchecked). The site here is basically an infopage – you need to download the app to get the full experience, and once you’ve done so you get to place a bookshelf in AR and then, by pulling various tomes off its shelves, you are able to step into various dioramas and explore the personal stories they contain. So, for example, you can explore the attic room in which Anne spend so many months, or the rooms of four other people whose stories speak to the dangers of racism, or gender prejudice, or antisemitism. The AR here is really very well-done indeed; hi-res and detailed, and, whilst a bit janky like all AR fundamentally is, immersive enough to make the stories and the people telling them come to life, and overall this is really well-made. The caveat? Look, I can’t be the only person to see the title ‘The Bookcase of Tolerance’ and, well, laugh a bit – I don’t know, I expect to see a title like that in a spoof series alongside other volumes such as ‘The Spoon of Diversity’ or ‘The Wainscotting of Empathy’, but perhaps I’m just a terminally miserable and joyless fcuk whose terminal cynicism has ruined any vestigial sense of wonder they may have once experienced. Maybe.
- A Year of Cartier: OH THE POINTLESSLY-LUXE WORLD OF FASHION WEBSITES! Here we are, back at it again with this latest offering from Cartier, which is basically a glossy, coffee-table magazine rendered as (what feels like) an infinite-scroll website taking you though (I think) Cartier’s 2021. It is SO slick and smooth – honestly, whilst the design’s not new per se in terms of what it does, it all fits together so beautifully, and the ‘wow, I really am hurtling into the world of Cartier, face-first!’ aesthetic doesn’t render the copy or content unreadable (which isn’t always the case with this stuff). So if you want to see BEAUTIFUL PHOTOGRAPHY of some very expensive gewgaws, read some ‘heartwarming’ stories about how the ultra-rich propose (I am very happy for the Spanish gentleman who proposed to his long-term partner using a platinum Cartier ring from the late-19thC, but I don’t necessarily find it relatable, is what I am saying – should my girlfriend be reading this, Saz, we’re going 20thC or nothing, babes) and generally immerse yourself in spangly excess then this will fill you with joy. Oh, and as ever, the copy here is to die for: “Ballon Bleu Cartier challenges all perceptions of time and space [NB – Ballon Bleu, for the avoidance of doubt, is a watch]…Blue on one side, a circle on the other!” Yep, that’s my perceptions of time and space utterly fcuked, thanks Cartier! God I love this stuff – can someone pay me to copywrite one of these bstard things? I promise I will only take the p1ss a bit.
- IDZ: Remarkably though, the Cartier Ballon Bleu is not the most preposterously-oversold timepiece I came across this week. Prepare to have your tiny little mind FCUKED INTO SMITHEREENS by the amazing majesty of IDZ. What is IDZ? I mean, in all honesty I have only the vaguest hint of a clue, but let’s see if we can’t work it out together. “The most valuable thing you own…A smart watch? A classic watch? It’s neither…introducing a new category, THE IDENTITY WATCH!” Does that make sense to you? Unfortunately if the answer’s no then I probably can’t help you – this only gets more nonsensical from there. “Z CLOUD TECHNOLOGY”, burbles the copy, “It is not fiat or crypto asset, it is identity asset!”. Er, good, well I’m glad that’s cleared up. Honestly, I have literally no idea what this practically is, but as far as I can tell the people behind it are trying to peddle it as some sort of universal, skeleton-key-type…smart contracts thingy? Whatever it is, apparently you can ‘send assets and laws’ (SEND LAWS? WHAT THE FCUK ARE YOU TALKING ABOUT?!?!) and ‘sign them on the spot’, and, God, I am so confused. If anyone reads this and thinks they understand, can they please explain it to me? As I want to make sure I know what I’ve bought before mine shows up.
- Sea Launch: We all know that the vast majority of ‘art’ NFT drops are bullsh1t, but in case you needed yet another reason not to believe then SeaLaunch is probably it. Ostensibly a means of keeping track of new drops on OpenSea, this currently acts as the best example I’ve yet seen of Why This Is Not In Fact A Massive Market Opportunity – look at all the projects featuring poorly-drawn avatars! See how many there are! Do some basic maths and realise that based solely on the projects visible on first landing there are millions and millions of these EXTREMELY VALUABLE AND RARE jpegs (to which you’re buying a link, remember?) currently doing the rounds, and that there are more being minted every day, and, for an ecosystem that is at its heart about the introduction of scarcity to the digital world, it, er, this sh1t is now ten a penny. Resale market go…not so much. My personal favourite is the range of NFT avatars that manifest as a, er, series of cartoonified condom personae (what do you want to be represented by in the glorious Zuckerbergian metaversal future? A latex jizzbag? YES MATE SIGN ME UP!).
- 0XMusic: This, though, this is (and I am shocked to find myself saying this) an NFT project I can sort of get behind. 0XMusic is interesting because of what the things you’re buying do (although I confess to being slightly confused as to whether the clever stuff going on here under the hood is actually on-chain or off) – “0xmusic is a collection of generative audiovisual DJs – which are called 0xDJs. Each 0xDJ can create an infinite number of music pieces in real time. All code is stored on the Ethereum blockchain. When the Play button is touched, a brand new song is created, and the image comes alive. The song will continue playing until you either hit Play again or the DJ moves to the next track. At this time, all memory of the prior piece is destroyed, and the new song is created. This march of creation and destruction will continue as long as 0xmusic exists on the blockchain. In this sense, each piece is both eternal and ephemeral, living in a state of superposition until it is ‘observed’.” So basically (and I had to get someone to explain this to me in normie language), each piece is its own infinite jukebox, able to churn out infinite original compositions based on the numbers encoded in it. What’s nice about this is a) the marriage of form and function inherent in the work; and b) the fact that the musical outputs are seemingly a couple of rungs above the usual ‘clever, but I want to turn it off yesterday please’ outputs of procgen music. If I had a spare 2k, and if I could be bothered to go through the tedious rigmarole to enable me to buy one of the fcuking things, I might almost be tempted. Almost.
- Fcukball: I love this. From the copy on the landing page (“You can buy an idea of a thing!”) to the idea itself, this is perfect. It’s a project by artist Polly Superstar, which I should probably let them introduce in their own words: “I have created THE FCUKBALL, a 6 ft tall inflatable latex ball covered in penetrable pink vulvas. We’re going to fcuk it, then I’m going to exhibit it at an art show. To raise some money to take the Fcukball on the road, I am selling a set of collectible NFTs of secret Fcukball diddlings. Check out the GALLERY. Each one is a unique gif of an erotic moment with the Fcukball. You will “own” that moment”. I STRONGLY ADVISE that you click through and go and enjoy the videogallery of said-Fcukball vulvadiddling (not a sentence, I am reasonably confident, that has ever been committed to digital print, well done Matt!), as they are very unsettling but also sort-of great (although I might personally have picked people with less…creepy fingers). Continues Polly Superstar: “The Fcukball is the first in a series of installations/sculptures that I am creating for my upcoming one-woman show. It’s voluptuous and bouncy and full of joy, and it’s also a serious commentary on eroticism, objectification, gender, and consent. It will raise more questions than it answers. I’m using NFTs to satirize the question: How does culture value feminine sexuality? (I understand that NFTs are controversial. Read more about my intentions here.)” I like everything about this, and I hope you will too.
- Bauhaus@Future London Academy: As I think I’ve previously mentioned, I don’t really know who reads this outside of a few people I know in meatspace – I presume, though, that a reasonable number work in The Creative Industries (lol you make adverts for cheese, get the fcuk over yourselves) and that a significantly-smaller number have attained a degree of seniority that means that they are allowed to wear those square-cut artists’ trousers in black, and perhaps a pair of those techno-functional rubberised clogs that are all the rage amongst a certain subset of stick-tatted, bearded, Hackney-dwelling CD (I SEE YOU). If you’re blessed with Big Job Title, and you’ve got a…healthy sense of your own worth to your employer, why not consider asking your paymasters to sign you up for this? “Imagine”, it asks you, “that you could learn from business leaders from Apple, Google, Nike, Virgin and Pentagram, all in one place” This is basically a training course designed to make you a CREATIVE LEADERGURU: “This programme is specially designed for creative leaders with 15+ years of experience. These are usually CEOs, Creative Directors, Design Directors, Heads of UX, Product Owners and Innovation Managers who want to be better leaders and take their career to a new level.” Sounds great, right? There is, though, a small catch in the shape of the pricetag, which is a cool £35,000 for the full 10-week experience. Still, if you think your employer values you enough to drop a whole mid-level staffer’s annual salary on ‘being better at flogging expensive concept films to brands’ then by all means feel free to ask them. Oh, and if any of you reading this are in a position whereby you could fund this yourselves, then can I ask that you make a donation to charity before reading any further? Thanks. By the way, this isn’t just about business: the site promises that this course will help you create a ‘better world’, which is…nice.
- 36 Days of Type: This is nice – “Created by the Reflektor Digital Team, 36 Days of Type is a collection of 36 interactive webGL experiences. Explore each letter and number, and find your favourite”. These are really satisfying and chunky – admittedly I’m a slight sucker for this sort of shiny 3d render work, but I really enjoyed some of the fond design on display here and how the examples work as 3-dimensional assets. Hang on, there’s something else here…”…and claim it as an NFT on the Polygon blockchain!” OH FFS.
- Low Earth Orbit: I have a small-but-recurrent obsession with the thin (I mean this on a planetary scale, obvs – it is not, by any human scale, ‘thin’) layer of spinning detritus which we’re slowly establishing between the surface of the earth and the cosmos – the satellites and the probes and all the space junk, just sitting up there, spinning through the graveyard orbit until the end of time (or at least, the end of time as far as we’re concerned). This site uses available data on what is up there to give you a visualisation of what’s going on the Great Satellite Motorwy in the Sky – whilst you can’t get information on what the satellites are being used for (on the one hand, s shame; on the other, there’s no way in hell that that information would be anything other than deeply-unsettling – there are how many murdersurveillancedrones up there? Etc etc), it gives an excellent idea of how, well, crowded it is in low Earth orbit, a situation that’s only going to be exacerbated as the boom in private satellite deployment continues apace, and India and China start to catch up to the US. I don’t know why, and hopefully I’m wrong, but I can’t help but get a vague sense of ominous foreshadowing from all this floating metal (on the other hand, wevs, I’ll be LONG gone by the time this is likely to become problematic, so MORE SATELLITES FOR ALL!).
- These Things Do Not Exist: Web Curios reader Paul Macko (HI PAUL MACKO HELLO!) sent me this, which is a post collecting ALL OF THE LINKS to the various ‘this x does not exist’ sites that have cropped up over the past 24m or so. Which,fine, you might not have imagined you needed, but which I suggest you bookmark anyway because you never know. Contains several that have been featured here over the past few years, but quite a few that I had never seen before – for example, this one, collecting AI-generated eyes (AIYES, AMIRITE???), which is genuinely impressive.
- The Ted Polhemus Gallery: “For more than thirty years Ted Polhemus has explored and celebrated the extraordinary ways that popular culture opens a window onto a broader understanding of the world we live in. Never judgemental, never the ‘style guru’ some have erroneously labelled him, he scrupulously avoids distinguishing between the good, the bad and the ugly – while always thrilled by the creativity of all those ‘real people’ who, decade after decade, have given constant impetus to music, style, design, dance and so many of the things which made and make our age that unique period in human history when Culture went pop! and became truly democratic.” The site’s not the clearest, so if you just want to get straight to the pics then click here and dive in – honestly, I’m not particularly interested in the 60s and 70s (FFS THERE ARE OTHER THINGS WORTHY OF DISCUSSION IN 20THC POPULAR CULTURE BEYOND THE FCUKING BEATLES AND THE FCUKING STONES AND FCUKING PUNK, SEMINAL AS ALL THESE THINGS WERE) but Ted’s work covers SO MUCH and so many eras and subcultures and wow, you really can lose yourself in this if you have any affinity with or interest in youth culture and music and urbanity and LONDON.
- The Meddleverse: Technically this is a link to the website of legendary art-prankster-provacateurs The Yes Men, who for decades have been cocking a snook at the ugliness and hypocrisy and venality of mass-corporate-consumer culture and the CAPITALIST MACHINE (if this were Popbitch in 2003 I would include the Rik Mayall ‘Right Kids?’ gif here, but it’s not so I won’t) and who have now decided to make their learnings about how they do what they do public, for other art pranksters and culture jammers to use as they see fit. This is a really, really interesting set of writings and videos and almost instructions on how to put together protest art happenings and undermine The Man. It is also, though, quite a good resource for people on the other side of the coin, so if you work in advermarketingpr then you could do worse than dig through the materials here as there’s a lot of good thinking about how to grab attention and run campaigns and engage people. Am I doing A Bad Thing by sharing this with a bunch of people whose dayjobs involve selling more pointless tat to mooks to enrich shareholders and holding companies? I..I probably am, aren’t I? Ffs.
- The LA Public Library: The digital collection of the LA Public Library, which, even if you’re not personally-interested in the works on display on the website, is basically a near-perfect example of how you can and should think of digital curation as a public institution. Nicely arranged, with exhibits thematically sorted as collections and exhibits, telling stories of the peoples of LA through history, from the city’s establishment to the past two years of COVID. This is a wonderful way of travelling through space and time – I have very little time for modern LA (it is horrible, and anyone who tells you otherwise is delusional or is trying to sell you something), but its history is remarkable and this is such a nice way of exploring it. Also, in a lovely touch, the site is named after Tessa Kalso, who was the “sixth City Librarian of Los Angeles. Tessa was a true maverick with moxie. During the brief six years of her tenure, she transformed LAPL from a small reading room into a truly modern metropolitan library. In her first year, she oversaw the tremendous move to City Hall, and by the end of her tenure, the library’s collection had grown sevenfold and circulation soared from 12,000 to 330,000. She abolished membership fees and agitated for open stacks at a time when both of these now-common ideas were radical. She also established the first systematic training of any type for library employees.” Just great, basically.
- The Lofi Generator: Lofi hiphop is basically the cockroach or rhododendron of the modern age, sonically-speaking – ubiquitous, will fill any space available, and will never die. Still, if you’re not already sick of having your every waking moment in front of a screen soundtracked by simple, often slightly scratchy, loping beats then you will LOVE this – the Lofi Generator creates procedurally-generated lofi that you can stream FOREVER, for free, and you can even download specific tracks as the machine generates them, should you find something that particularly tickles your inner-ear. Add ‘bedroom producer of lofi’ to your list of ‘jobs that the machines have decided that they can do better than most people’.
- Free Your Music: My friend Luke recently started a job at Spotify (TIMING!) and so I feel a bit bad sharing this – still, he’ll probably never read this, so NO HARM DONE. Should you want to take your music and playlists from one monolithic streaming provider to another, slightly-less monolithic streaming provider then this service will let you do just that – I can’t vouch for exactly how well it will port everything across from, say, Spotify to YouTube Music (YEAH! STICK IT TO THE MAN!), but see how you get on.
- Brutalita: Clever little in-browser font editing toy, letting to meddle with the design of the font in a sort-of WYSIWYG interface and then download your resulting creation for free use. Everything you create will serve only to demonstrate how very, very hard creating a readable font in fact is, but you’ll enjoy the learning experience, promise.
By Kai Wai Wong
(BY THE WAY, THAT LAST LINK WAS RECOMMENDED TO ME BY ADAM HOYLE, WHO MAKES REALLY COOL POTS THAT YOU CAN CHECK OUT HERE IF YOU FANCY SOME NICELY-GLAZED ARTISANAL VASES!)
THE SECTION WHICH IS INCREASINGLY OF THE OPINION THAT BRITISH POLITICS RESEMBLES NOTHING MORE THAN A MIDDLING 80s ITV SITCOM, SORT OF LIKE ‘THE UPPER HAND’ BUT WITH FEWER LAUGHS, PT.2:
- Atronomic Comics: These are great – pixelart-ish scifi comic panels, all generated by code, which present as pieces of weird, semi-abstract art, simultaneously entirely-reminiscent of the sort of scene-setting you see in your classic space opera-type genre comics but which equally channel some of the microart stylings of Chris Ware (seriously, you’ll see what I mean when you click). These really are lovely, and I can almost forgive the fact that they are all (inevitably) being flogged as NFTs (we can, seemingly, do nothing to prevent the inevitable tokenisation of everything). I would totally hang one of these, though I appreciate you may not share my taste (you fool, my taste is superb).
- RNG FM: Absolutely nothing to do with Amazon’s increasingly-ubiquitous portfolio of products for the Jaffeyian surveillance panopticon, and instead a radio station of sorts, which rather than streaming music instead cycles through a random selection of podcasts, letting you hear what is basically an infinite selection of talk radio from around the world. Except, of course, what that really means is ‘America’, seeing as the US absolutey dominates in terms of podcast production – still, as a means of finding interesting and different podcasts to attempt to cram into your already-chock-full listening schedule this is potentially-interesting, though I can’t obviously guarantee that you won’t end up getting served up something ear-shreddingly terrible as you listen. Caveat, er, auditor (is that right? I can’t be bothered to look up the Latin here, sorry).
- Moon AI: I am not, and have never been, in possession of a uterus, and so I am in no way qualified to opine on the efficacy or otherwise of this service, but if you’re in the market for something that lessens the potential physical discomfort of menses via the medium of soothing sounds then DO I HAVE A TREAT FOR YOU! “Our goal is to transform, for the better, the way we experience menstruation and period pain. We believe all humans deserve to live pain free, and our vision is to provide more options, more choice, and more effective solutions for millions of people with menstrual cycles…Certain sounds, frequencies and rhythms can impact the central nervous system and help reduce the perception of menstrual pain. This is why we are partnering with neuroscientists, gynaecologists, and psychoacoustic experts to provide the most effective sounds for period pain relief.” This might be bunkum or it might be transformative – I honestly have no idea – but on the offchance that some of you might find it helpful then, well, here it is!
- Blockpaper: A silly joke, but equally quite a ‘clever’ one. “Backed by real-world assets (paper links), BlockPaper is a revolutionary, centralized blockchain value store that defies all preconceptions you might have about blockchain” – this is basically a lightly-satirical riff on THE BLOCKCHAIN, with the gag here being that this (to an extent) offers all the same utility and protections, simply by ‘writing stuff down on bits of paper’. It doesn’t, obviously, but if you really want to annoy blockchain advocates I would suggest bookmarking this and then forwarding the link to anyone who tries to sell you any solutions based THE BLOCKCHAIN with a note saying “but why can’t I just do this instead?”.
- The Internet Sacred Text Archive: Oh wow, this is PROPER INTERNET HISTORY! This site is 23 years old. 23! Methuselan (spellcheck is telling me this is not in fact a word, but spellcheck can get bent, frankly), in internet terms! “This site is a freely available archive of electronic texts about religion, mythology, legends and folklore, and occult and esoteric topics. Texts are presented in English translation and, where possible, in the original language.” Also, this is an incredible resource if you want to dig around the various writings that underpin the world’s major (and minor) religions, whether for academic or personal reasons – fine, the site design is a touch retro, and it’s not the shiniest corner of the web, but I can’t tell you how wonderful it is to stumble across bits of the internet like this, maintained just because someone thinks it might be useful, and with no profit motive or desire for virality. At present there is no indication that anyone’s tried to tokenise the Koran on here, so enjoy it before someone tries to create the Non Fungible Testament or something.
- Old-School PC Fonts: “The world’s biggest collection of classic text mode fonts, system fonts and BIOS fonts from DOS-era IBM PCs and compatibles – preserving raster typography from pre-GUI times”. Just clicking on this link flashed me right back to my bedroom in Swindon in approximately 1993, desperately trying to make something work on DOS-Shell and wishing secretly that my mum had been able to afford an Amiga instead of the reconditioned work PC I was fiddling with. FORMATIVE TIMES AND MISTY-EYED NOSTALGIA, basically (if, er, you’re a 40something who used PCs several decades ago).
- Razzlekhan: This week’s slightly-insane story from cryptoland was this one, about Ilya Lichtenstein and Heather Morgan being done for laundering $1bn of crypto they got hold of illicitly in the 2016 Bitfinance hack (you remember that, right? OF COURSE YOU DO!). Which, fine, so tediously cryptocriminal. Except, it transpired after the story broke, Morgan had also spent a lot of the past few years making truly terrible cryptobling-themed rap music, under the name Razzlekhan, where she rapped about, er, being a massive cryptocrimmo. Which is all sorts of wonderful, and makes this an absolute shoo-in for ‘news story most likely to become a Netflix documentary adaptation within the next 12m or so’. The Razzlekhan site is predictably awful (“The infamous Crocodile of Wall Street strikes again! More fearless and more shameless than ever before, she’s taking on everyone from big software companies to healthcare to finance bros”), but sadly all the YouTube videos have been scrubbed in the aftermath of Morgan’s indictment, but thankfully you can still listen to the ‘music’ on her Soundcloud, and some of the videos have been clipped in this Twitter thread, and the TikTok’s still up at the time of writing, and…and…wow, if you ever want something to give lie to the idea that you need to be some sort of genius to engage in cryptofraud then this is it. These people…these people are morons, aren’t they? This whole thing feels so painfully OF THE NOW that it almost hurts.
- LoveCloud: This is not, strictly, an internet ‘thing’, but it has a website and it is awful, so it fits the bill I think. What do you think the most romantic thing you could do for someone is? Go on, take a moment to close your eyes and really imagine the acme of romance, whether for you or someone you care for…what would you do if you wanted to express the depth and breadth of your love and passion to a significant other? Now, did any of you think ‘hm, well, I think the most romantic thing I could do would be to arrange for a flight in a small plane fitted out with a bed so that my significant and other might get intimate with each other at 25,000 feet, in a cramped cabin, with that slightly-weird hearing effect that you get at altitude, on a bed which you really hope has been well-fumigated since the last flight, with a pilot sitting ahead of you separated from your lovemaking only by a fabric curtain’? I would wager that none of you did, which is why you’re probably not the sort of wild, romanic visionaries that are likely to be queueing up to avail themselves of a sticky ending (‘happy’ seems like a stretch, frankly) at altitude. I have SO many questions about this, many of which revolve around the cleaning arrangements (I am not a particularly germophobic person, but, frankly, I can imagine that the interior of this plane involves a lot of velour-like surfaces and, well, I have concerns) but the main one is basically ‘WHO IN THEIR RIGHT MIND WOULD VOLUNTEER TO FLY THE BONEING 747?!?!?! (I am legitimately proud of that gag, by the way, and am slightly disappointed that I’m just throwing it away mid-para like that). I contend that there is literally not one pilot in the world who would take that gig who is the sort of person you would want to take that gig, if you see what I mean. Sadly the booking system seems to be on the fritz, but, well, good things come to those who wait, I guess.
- Unique Food: A brilliant resource from Atlas Obscura, collecting information about around 1500 unique foodstuffs from around the world, with images and historical info – basically if you’re curious about ‘weird stuff that people eat in places where you are not’, this is practically-perfect. I now really want to try Mad Honey.
- Starforge: One of those occasional links whose main purpose is to make you feel small and insignificant in the face of the infinite, ineffable majesty of the cosmos (and who doesn’t need one of those every now and again to cut-through the specieshubris? NO FCUKER, etc), Starforge is a project which seeks to visualise star formations through computer-visualisation, and, honestly, were it not for the fact that I still have about half a newsletter to type (this is not writing, it is very much just typing) i would totally lose myself in the kaleidoscopic galactic soup of stellar genesis. Honestly, if you have a teenage kid who you suspect is getting into weed, send them this and know that they will secretly thank you for your understanding.
- Atomic Rockets: This is a website which will most likely only be of interest to a very small, very specific audience of people (an audience which, I suspect, will never have heard of Web Curios and who as such is unlikely to ever find it – AND THIS IS WHY EVERYONE SHOULD READ MY FCUKING NEWSLETTER, DO YOU SEE?!?!) – those who are looking to write some hard-ish science fiction and would like to ensure that their speculative depictions of atomic spaceflight are as ‘accurate’ as possible. So if you want a bunch of information not only on the technical aspects of achieving escape velocity through nuclear fusion, but also on the practical realities of maintaining living conditions in off-planet communities (and who amongst us can honestly say they don’t?), you will be extremely well-catered for here.
- Squirrel Dialogues: A TikTok account whose ‘thing’ is ‘a weird mishmash of leftist political discourse and self-care bromides delivered, for reasons I really don’t quite understand, by a cuddly toy squirrel’. I neither like or dislike this – I am presenting more as a general ‘why?’-type link, but if you want to overanalyse it then I might question the increasingly-odd conjunction I am tending to find between ‘serious’ consciousness-raising stuff and incredibly non-serious presentation; I wouldn’t be hugely surprised to find that by 2025, the world’s greatest authority on, say, Central European economic policy in the post-web age is someone who posts explainer videos on TikTok whilst manifesting as a megacocked dragon avatar with a glittery tail. Would that be a bad thing? I’m going to say ‘no’.
- We’re Not Really Strangers: God, just looking at this made me get the sincerityfearsweats (they are very much a thing) – We’re Not Really Strangers is a card ‘game’ (not really a game) designed to help you ‘explore deeper conversations’ with people. So the cards function as conversational prompts designed to help you get to know each other differently / better, with questions and statements designed to elicit self-reflection amongst all parties and to lead to, I don’t know, some sort of emotional reckoning along the way. Which, fine, great, might be lovely if you’re less emotionally-stunted (read: male and English) than me, but the idea of sitting in front of someone (whether a friend, acquaintance or stranger) and saying things like “what do you think my strength is?” makes my skin want to turn itself inside out. “What does my style tell you about me?” ARE YOU TRYING TO MAKE ME CRY, CARD GAME?? Look, your mileage may vary, but this is akin to psychological warfare as far as I’m concerned.
- Physics Simulations: Tiny simulations of How Physics Work, in simple, web1.0-styled animations. You may not find this impressive, but I could watch these things for hours, like a dog in front of a washing machine.
- Animated Engines: A bit like the last link, but with animations of How Engines Work (which is of course a subset of physics – SCIENCE! BRANCH OF MATHS! Probably. I’m slightly-unclear, tbh). Amazingly this site contains a link in the sidebar which simply reads “You’ll also like our sister site, 507 Mechanical Movements”, which has made me happier than almost anything else so far this morning.
- Hearing Birdsong: I think this is such a lovely project. Hearing Birdsong attempts to make the experience of having one’s hearing tested more human and less…robotic than it usually is (no idea if you’ve ever had a proper medical hearing test, but it basically involves listening to a series of mechanical bleeps at varying volumes for about 30m at a time, and is…not a lot of fun), by using an installation which plays various types of birdsong from different speakers, and invites people to wander through the installation noting what they can and can’t hear at various points. The avian warbles (#secondmentions) selected have been chosen based on their pitch and frequency to assess the health of one’s hearing in much the same way as the aforementioned mechanical bleeps, but they create a test which feels more natural and organic and more ‘real’, and therefore which create a more intimate experience for the person being tested, bringing this into the weird liminal intersection between art and science that I personally am a total sucker for. SUCH an interesting project, and a wonderful example of creative problem solving and implementation.
- Nerdle: Are YOU a maths nerd? Are YOU someone for whom numbers are clear and simple and comprehensible and CLEAN, but for whom words are dirty and messy and confusing? Have you seen the world lose its collective sh1t over Wordle in 2022 and wished that there was something that YOU could enjoy, with your pointy, numbers-loving brain (NB – for the avoidance of doubt, Web Curios welcomes ALL readers (ish), regardless of brain shape)? Welcome, then, to Nerdle, which is Wordle but with numbers, and which each day asks you what calculation it’s thinking of. It’s simple but fiendish, not least because if you’re used to playing Wordle you can literally feel this working on a slightly different bit of your brain to that which you’re used to exercising with these puzzles (I mean it, seriously, there’s an almost physical itch/tug, or at least there is if you’re me – what do you mean my experience isn’t universal?).
- Semantle: No thanks whatsoever to Josh for sharing this with me and making me feel VERY THICK as a result. Semantle is SO clever, and absolutely infuriating, and will be absolute catnip to you if you like words and meaning and like to think of yourself as having a reasonable grasp of both. Here’s how it works: “Each guess must be a word (of any length) or short phrase. The game will tell you how semantically similar it thinks your word is to the secret word. Unlike that other word game, it’s not about the spelling; it’s about the meaning. The similarity value comes from Word2vec. The highest possible similarity is 100 (indicating that the words are identical and you have won). For today’s secret word, the nearest word has a similarity of 81.81, the tenth-nearest has a similarity of 46.58 and the one thousandth nearest word has a similarity of 25.58. The “Getting close” indicator tells you how close you are –if your word is one of the 1,000 nearest normal words to the target word, the rank will be given (1000 is the target word itself). If your word is not one of the nearest 1000, you’re “cold”. (By “normal” words”, I mean non-capitalized words that appears in a very large English word list; there are lots of capitalized, misspelled, or obscure words that might be close but that won’t get a ranking. Those get marked with “????”). You will need more than six guesses. You will probably need dozens of guesses. There’s a new word every day, where a day starts at midnight UTC. Yesterday’s word was “patent”.” You will not feel as though this is solvable, but I promise you that it is. Eventually. After a LOT of swearing. FCUK’S SAKE, JOSH.
- M Dot Strange: A selection of very odd little browsergames by oldschool web oddity M Dot Strange. These are ART, I promise – all of them (that I have tried, at least) require small downloads to play, but there’s such an astonishing range of creative executions and interfaces and ideas here that you will find at least one thing that inspires you, I promise.
- Touch for Luck: Mobile-only, this, and frankly baffling. The ‘game’ is to keep touching the screen. You can move your finger around a bit – the little fish you ‘play’ as will move around as you do so – and the longer you keep touching the screen, the more ‘upgrades’ your fish will get (but they’re only cosmetic as far as I can tell), but I don’t think anything ‘happens’ beyond that – although, full disclosure, I only ‘played’ for about a minute or so, so let me know what happens when you’re been doing it for an hour, ok? Deal? GREAT!
- Zigzag: I think this may be the hardest browsergame I have ever played. If you can last more than 10s then you are some sort of incredible brain supergod and I salute you (or, more accurately, you just have significantly better spatial awareness than I do – calm yourself, Iago, YOU’RE NOTHING SPECIAL).
- The Night Spoke Our Names: Finally this week, a game sent my way by Curios reader Jorge (HI JORGE!) in which your goal is to amass enough resources to survive through the night. It’s not hugely well-explained, but you basically need to assign dice to various activities, choosing to manage your resources in such a way to give you the best chance of not getting gobbled up by the eldritch horrors. This is really rather good, and the music’s a nice touch too – THANKS JORGE!
By Lynn Saville
THE SECTION WHICH IS INCREASINGLY OF THE OPINION THAT BRITISH POLITICS RESEMBLES NOTHING MORE THAN A MIDDLING 80s ITV SITCOM, SORT OF LIKE ‘THE UPPER HAND’ BUT WITH FEWER LAUGHS, PT.1:
THE CIRCUS OF TUMBLRS!
- WatHiFi: I don’t really understand the world of high-end audiophilia AT ALL, but this Tumblr, collecting what it terms “Pseudoscientific w4nk from the pages of audiophile magazines”, suggests that I am right not to as it is all total fcuking claptrap.
THE TROUGH OF (INSTA) FEEDS!
- Braun Collector: In the unlikely event that you’ve ever thought ‘Hm, what my Insta feed is really missing is the occasional picture of classically-designed Braun products, and a general celebration of the genius of Dieter Rams then this is for YOU.
- Ilya Stallone: Ilya Stallone is an illustrator and graphic designer whose current schtick is making medieval-style drawings of modern-ish stuff. On their Insta feed you’ll find an excellent selection of brand logos redesigned as though from the pages of an illuminated manuscript and medieval reimaginings of the signs of the zodiac – this is a really nice conceit, well-executed.
- #NoMansSkyPhotography: A hashtag, not an actual Insta account – SORRY! – which collects ‘photographs’ taken within the space exploration videogame No Man’s Sky, which has been out for…what, 6 years now, and has over a series of updates become the most incredible exploratory playground for all your 70s-styled scifi imaginings. Honestly, these are so so so so so beautiful, redolent of all those Aldiss covers from the golden age of British science fiction and, honestly, I could quite happily sack off the next two sections of this newsletter and just gaze at these for the rest of the day (but it’s 10:22am and I am making good time, so ONWARDS!).
LONG THINGS WHICH ARE LONG!:
- Ideas Want To Be Shared: I found this piece fascinating – I will, though, caveat this with the admission that I haven’t spent anywhere near long enough thinking about the practical implications of what’s being suggested here, and that it’s entirely possible that this is all very utopian and silly and fails to take into account all sorts of questions of power and embedded privilege and the like. THAT SAID, this piece argues that the way we think about rights at the moment is stupid, and that (basically) no idea or invention should ever have ‘exclusive’ creators’ rights attached to it for longer than, at most, a few decades, at which point rights revert to the commons to allow for public exploration and exploitation of intellectual goods. I find this perspective SO appealing, though am willing to accept that that’s because I have never actually created anything in my miserable life. “A better way of accounting is to admit that all ideas and intellectual goodness is actually born from the commons and into the commons, from the pool of all that is known. That is, ideas arise from the commonwealth of all knowledge and current ideas. Without this commonwealth of knowledge, there would be no new ideas. However, if no one is rewarded for working on bringing new ideas to life, then far few would try. So even though the reward for originality is arbitrary, it is still useful. My proposal then is that we continue to award monopolies briefly on those who claim first rights (while acknowledging it is basically arbitrary). So for a brief period of time we remove this idea from the commons and bestow a monopoly upon it. The “owner” has exclusive rights for that monopoly period. But as soon as possible it is returned to the commons where great things can happen. A novel thing is born from the commons, and it is returned to the commons as soon as possible. In the meantime to encourage future creation we give it a temporarily limited monopoly. In my model, the natural home of intangibles is in the commons, as a default.” SO interesting to think about, even if you disagree entirely with the theory.
- Crime In The Metaverse: Except not really – this would better be titled ‘morality, ethics and law in the metaverse. Still, it’s a really interesting piece that looks at how we will need to start reconceiving of ethical and moral principles, and the laws and rules which arise from them, as we start spending more time in virtual-first environments. This gains extra points for including references to seminal work of digital cultural/ethical investigation My Tiny Life, a book which I recommend on average about once every two years or so on here, and which is still, honestly, the best and most important thing you can (and should) read about ‘how stuff like the metaverse will practically function on a human/social level when you take away all the horrible grifty moneychat’.
- Hanging NFTs: A quite spectacular piece in the WSJ, profiling some of the people who have spent big on NFT artworks and are now spending equally big (if not bigger) on ways to display said NFT art in their home via massive digital screens and displays and bespoke installations in soapstone. This is quite amusing, in a general ‘excesses of the rich and very much not famous’ sort-of way, but it also raises one or two interesting questions about what you own and how you display it – so are these digital frames displaying the works displaying the downloaded file to which the NFT links? Isn’t that a bit, well, right-clicky? And if not, could you ruin someone’s home art display by just redirecting all the URLs they bought to point at, I don’t know, clipart instead (but how would they tell the differencezzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz?)? Anyway, well done to everyone involved in the global art market for absolutely confirming my existing opinion that they are some of the biggest crooks and scammers on the planet – much as you might not like the idea, if Dali and Warhol were around now (two men who knew their way around a grift) they would TOTALLY be NFT bros. Make of that what you will (I make it ‘Dali was a hack, and Warhol is one of the worst things to happen to the 20thC’, but your mileage may vary).
- Why Brands Are Burning NFTs: This isn’t a particularly glittering piece of prose – it’s a pretty functional explainer of how the ‘burn’ system works in NFTland and what the point of it is – but it’s a useful 101 primer on the how digital scarcity can be maintained and increased, and how brands are using this to maximise perceived rarity and, therefore, profit.
- Gaming, Meet Crypto: If you pay any attention to the world of videogames, you’ll be aware that the industry’s attempt to ADD MORE CRYPTO to your gaming mix has largely gone down like a cup of cold sick with the people who play said games, who as yet don’t appear to have been thrilled at the prospect of the already-nakedly-avaricious publishing industry attempting eke even more pennies out of its playerbase by microtransacting every aspect of the ludic experience with FCUKING NFTs. This little piece on gaming site Rock, Paper Shotgun is a really interesting look at a ‘game’ called Mir4, which masquerades as some sort of MMORPG but which in fact is…basically just a front for a cryptomining operation? Very weird, but worth considering in the context of the 2021 buzz around Axie Infinity and the idea of ‘paid to play’ gaming (clue: there is very little ‘play’ involved).
- Money As A Hobby: This piece in Vox neatly articulates something I have been trying and failing to articulate for much of the past few weeks about crypto – specifically, the idea of ‘money or the act of making it as a substitute for a personality’ being basically the underpinning credo of the whole scene. It’s not just crypto, of course – it’s sports betting, and slots – but whatever flavour of ‘fun’ you choose, the base-level reality is the same, and that is that it is just about the money, money as an end in itself, money as scorecounter for…bragging rights? Club membership? Belonging? If I were of the generation that grew up with Pokemon, I would probably try and make some sort of lame ‘capitalism is evolving’-type gag – imagine that I did, and imagine that it succeeded better than my allusion to it did.
- Supreme Is Dead: Or at least, according to this piece, it’s dying. An interesting look at how to kill a brand through overexposure, which I was reminded of yesterday when my girlfriend sent me a picture of the outside of ‘Gordon Ramsey Street Burger’ somewhere in London, covered in scaffolding and looking like the sort of place where hope goes to have its last, miserable meal before topping itself.
- Tech and the Winter Olympics: A look at five of the technologies being used to deliver the Winter Olympics in China – the angle here in Rest of World is predictably dystopian (and, you know, they’re right! A lot of this is really bleak!), but it’s more interesting to me to imagine what versions of this stuff we’re going to see repackaged and sold to us as ‘convenient modern innovations’ when delivered by the private sector, as opposed to the intrusive apparatus of state control we’re currently seeing them described as. Perspectives, perspectives.
- Gender and Language: A fascinating piece of dataviz reporting by Reuters, which looks at how different languages use gender in different ways, and how the gender of the speaker or subject changes words and sentence structure, and how that in turn shapes thought and social mores. Honestly brilliant, not only presentationally but in the way it makes you think about how language is EVERYTHING (thanks Ludwig).
- When Everything Is Trauma: Or ‘why pathologising everything that happens to us is perhaps not 100% healthy’. I appreciate that there is a massive generational divide here – one I first remember observing back in the day when I still had living siblings and I heard them referring to ‘my depression’, which as I think I have mentioned before struck me as a spectacularly-unhealthy way of thinking about one’s mental health, your neuroses like pets or familiars – and that for a whole swathe of young people the language of therapy has been a particularly important tool for dealing with and understanding What They Feel and What Life Has Done To Them, but, equally, I also firmly believe that attempting to define everything that you experience as evidence of a specific BAD THING as a means of making yourself look special and worthy of attention is, perhaps, not great. As a sort-of companion article, I found this – on the website of the British Psychological Society, all about how the current vogue for mental health campaigning that raise awareness without mentioning complexity is perhaps not 100% helpful – similarly thought-provoking.
- Salsa Inglesa: A lovely essay from Vittles, about Salsa Inglesa – Worcestershire Sauce, if you’re not Mexican, which has inexplicably become an immensely-popular condiment in Mexico, sold under a number of non Lea & Perrins brandnames. This piece looks at how this came to pass, the different recipes that have flourished as Mexico has made it its own, and is in general just a great read about the ways in which food travels and culture subsumes. Vittles is 100% one of the best magazines in the world right now, and a proper modern publishing success story – I would call it heartwarming were mine not so icy.
- Uploading: You may remember a wonderful piece of short fiction I featured last year, called ‘Lena’, which used the stylings of an academic paper to tell the (incredibly fcuking bleak) story about what happened to the first ever human consciousness to be successfully uploaded and made replicable – if you don’t, go and read it now. GO ON. Right, now you’ve done that, click the main link and read this explainer/reappraisal by its author, which reflects on some of the reactions to the piece and which takes the trouble to explain the light allegory at the heart of the original – “The reason “Lena” is a concerning story isn’t that one day we may be able to upload one another and when that happens we will do terrible things to those uploads. This isn’t a discussion about what if, about whether an upload is a human being or should have rights. (I want to be abundantly clear: within the fictional context of “Lena”, uploads definitely are human beings, and therefore automatically, inalienably, have rights.) This is about appetites which, as we are all uncomfortably aware, already exist within human nature. Upload technology is not the last missing piece of this.”
- After Me Too: This is a fascinating and slightly-depressing article. You may not remember the story of Eric Schneiderman, one of the flagship US ‘me too’ cases – he was New York’s attorney general, and he also enjoyed having not-particularly-consensual rough sex with women – but this piece looks at what happened when his friend, Anna Graham Hunter, sought to take him to task for his actions and make him really, properly take responsibility for his actions. It’s likely that, whoever you are, this will make you quite annoyed – the endless therapytalk, for me, set my teeth on edge, but for you it might be Schneiderman’s wholly-unsatisfying ‘redemption ark’, or the question of who this is all being done for – but you will also find it raising interesting considerations about restorative justice and how it can or should work, and whether it’s even appropriate for stuff like this, and whether, frankly, this is all just rich, white person stuff (the ‘redemption’ bit, to be clear, not the idea of ‘me too’) and these people should all just fcuk off a bit. Hard to tell.
- Joel Goes To The Brit Awards: Joel Golby gets a K-list experience at the Brit Awards. Look, I’ll just repeat what I said on Twitter: “It feels pointless sharing Joel’s stuff as you all read it anyway, but this is excellent, partly because it’s in the second person (which I am a sucker for) and partly because it could double as the dictionary definition of ‘premium mediocre’” Annoyingly good, as ever, the bstard.
- How It Works When You’re A Woman: I can’t pretend this wasn’t an intensely horrible read, but Aubrey Hirsch writes brilliantly about all the different terrifying, awful ways in which she and billions of others have had to just sort of…accept? being treated in their day-to-day lives online (and obviously offline too). This is really unpleasant, but essential. If you want a ‘hey look, misogyny!’ chaser, you might also find this breakdown of newspaper headlines by gender interesting (read: dispiriting) – the Pudding analyses headlines from English language websites from across the world to demonstrate what you probably already knew about how we talk and write about women vs how we talk and write about men.
- Happy Hour of the Wolf: A short vignette about a guy cruising another guy at a bar in New York, and what happens next, by Michael Narkunski. I really, really like the style here, maybe you will too.
- She Used to Sing Opera: A beautiful and heartbreaking essay about what it’s like letting go of something that you have used to define who you are for so long you’ve forgotten what shape you used to be (if you see what I mean). Imogen Crimp used to want to be a professional opera singer, but she’s no longer trying – this is so, so good, all about failure and acceptance and self-awareness and how we use the idea of vocations to build a space for ourselves and and and and. Superb.
- AI Oblique Strategies: Finally this week, something that is almost PERFECT (to me, at least). “A free pdf (included as a bonus item after you download the audio, which is simply a minute of silence) of A.I. generated texts I derived from the Oblique Strategies card deck by Brian Eno and Peter Schmidt. I took each Oblique Strategies instruction and fed it as a prompt into two different auto text-generation models, EleutherAI and DeepAI, and each model triggered texts in response. Juxtaposed with the original Oblique Strategy, the results constitute a kind of surrealist, virtual automatic writing, more like poetry than something intended to guide the recording process as the cards were meant to do. They’re admittedly somewhat subversive, albeit in an intriguing way; but at the same time, the A.I. Oblique Strategies also parallel the generative music pioneered by Eno, only using text rather than audio.” This is by one Alan Licht and, honestly, this is so so so so so beautiful and magical and poetic and weird and nonsensical, and I urge you to download the PDF and check it out. Honestly, it could function as a fcuking I-Ching it’s that good.
AND NOW, MOVING PICTURES AND SOUNDS!:
- First up, a READER SUBMISSION! Writes Kid Carpet (for it is he): “I’ve just dropped the first of a three part punk puppetry kids/family tv thing on youtube. kind’ve bagpuss meets the young ones. please give it a scan if you like.” Well, it would have been rude of me not to – and, honestly, I was sort-of watching from between my fingers initially, because, well, you never know, do you? – but, honestly, this is actually pretty good! It’s definitely for kids, but it’s got a pleasingly-anarchic vibe to it which is feels vaguely 80s/90sish, and were I not sensible enough to have long-ago forsworn progeny I would absolutely sit my children down in front of this for a brief six-minute respite from the shouting and the sticky-faced screaming. WELL DONE, KID CARPET!
- Pass The Ball is one of those ‘a bunch of animators collaborate to create a sort of exquisite corpse-y sort of thing where one animation links to the next without anyone ever having seen anyone else’s work’ things, which in this particular instance features a load of animations of, er, a ball. These are great, and as usual the creativity on display from what is a pretty dry prompt is amazing.
- About a year or so ago, Shardcore started playing around with doing videos for songs based on AI imaginings of what the lyrics ‘meant’. A full year after his early experiments, someone else has done this for a whole song. It’s…pretty good! Well, the video is, at least, (I confess to not being hugely taken with the track, but your mileage may vary) offering up pleasing interpretations of the imagery in the words with some nice transitions – advermarketingprscum! You have about 2 months to use this sort of thing before it becomes appallingly old-hat and yesterdayish, so get on it!
- Finally this week, this is…what is it? Poetry, sort of, or maybe more just a sort of vaguely-poetical collection of fragments arranged to music (I’m selling this, aren’t I?)…anyway, it’s by Negativland, and it’s called ‘Anything Else?’, and it fits neatly into the category of ‘art about the weird disconnection of the now’ of which I am so enamoured and OH LOOK THAT’S IT THAT’S YOUR LOT THERE IS NO MORE YOU HAVE REACHED THE END OF THE WEB STOP SCRABBLING AT THE BOTTOM OF THE BARREL YOU WILL HURT YOUR LOVELY FINGERPIECES BUT DO NOT WORRY THIS ALL STARTS AGAIN FROM THE TOP NEXT WEEK AND I WILL BE HERE TO GUIDE YOU AND HOLD YOUR HAND BECAUSE I LOVE YOU AND I CARE ABOUT YOU AND I WANT YOU TO BE OK I LOVE YOU I LOVE YOU I NEED YOU DON’T LEAVE ME BYE!