HI! HI EVERYONE! It’s…it’s been a bit of a struggle this week, I’ll admit, mainly as a result of my having been out three nights on the bounce for the first time in over a year and having slightly lost the hang of hangovers rather; still, in a way it’s slightly-comforting to be sitting here in my pants with a three-day-cumulative-seven-pint-fug swirling around my slightly-swollen frontal lobes – welcome back, poisonous residue of the excesses of the night before!
Anyway, that’s by way of a pre-emptive excuse for any obvious drop in quality (ha) – sorry, sorry about that. Oh, and I’m also sorry about the fact that those of you receiving this on Applemail might not in fact be able to make the bloody thing scroll – we’re working on it, but, honestly, we’re sort of fcuked if we know why.
Here, then, is your reward for another week of HARD GRAFT and EXISTENTIAL DOUBT and FUTURE HORROR and MEAT SADNESS – a metric fcuktonne of links and words, some of which might even make the pain go away for a second or two.
I am still Matt, this is still Web Curios, and I still have no idea who any of you are or what you’re doing here.
By Azwar Ipank
THE SECTION WHICH IS REASONABLY CERTAIN THAT 80% OF US WILL BE WORKING FOR AMAZON BY 2035, PT.1:
- Skate With Carolina Herrera: Have you ever wanted to embody the essence of a skateboard, rolling unfettered down a virtual street, inexplicably against the flow of traffic, accompanied by a slightly-hipster cover version of ‘Forever Young’, all the while collecting tokens which will enable you to…maybe do something unspecified, all so that at the end of the briefly-unsatisfying experience you can possibly get a free 10cl sachet of eau de parfum mailed to you? No! Of course you haven’t! You’re not a moron (you’re…you’re not, are you?)! And yet luxury brand Carolina Herrera has created this website so you can do JUST THAT! There’s a storied history of me enjoying the preposterous web experiences of fashion houses over the years here in Curios, and this is a fabulous example of the genre – no ostensible link whatsoever to the product being flogged (a new variant of the titular designer’s 212 perfume, apparently), a janky-but-momentarily-fun game experience, and, at the end, a broken ‘claim your reward’ token, meaning that I wasted 3 minutes of my life playing this and haven’t even been able to get a token for some free celebrity stinkwater. LIFE IS PAIN.
- The Metropolitan Enigma: Seeing as we’re doing ‘pointless luxe websites’, this one by Ferragamo is also quite silly (and a pleasing contrast to the Herrera one – this might all be very silly and quite pointless, but never let it be said that the brand’s individuality doesn’t really shine through here). The fashion house has had its lookbook filmed by Luca Guadagnino, but for some reason decided that that wasn’t a fancy enough flex and so has decided to also make…er…’The Metropolitan Enigma’, a rather shiny series of little puzzlegames, themed around being a detective but which don’t involve any detecting and instead are based on a selection of vaguely-unsatisfying ‘slide the blocks together’ puzzles, tile-matching games and, er, wordsearches. HOW DOES A WORDSEARCH CONNECT TO SELLING ME SOME VERY EXPENSIVE HAND-STITCHED LOAFERS?! Honestly, I don’t understand this at all – can someone who either works in luxe or is very rich and therefore the target market for this explain?
- SK-II City: Digitaladvermarketingpr goes in waves – a decade ago, people like me (albeit more professional and at the time significantly better-paid) spent an awful lot of time persuading brands that they really needed to be on Facebook and Twitter, leading to the creation of an infinity of utterly pointless corporate social media presences (if you do this sort of thing for a living, why not ask your more stupid clients why they do Twitter, and watch the look of panic spread across their faces), the development of an entirely new, utterly pointless and increasingly beleaguered professional class, the digital content and community monkey, and helping build the social advertising monster that we all feel surveilled by every second we spend online (you’re welcome!). Right now, the empty grift of much crypto and NFT is being supported by brands desperately clutching for zeitgeisty relevance – and at some point or another we’ll all decide that the best way to bleed our fat, stupid clients dry is to convince them that what they REALLY need is to get into virtual worlds, stat. So it is with SK-II City – a P&G skincare brand which is apparently going to move much of its online presence to this rendered cityscape, housing shopping, content and…some other stuff, which will eventually all be navigable in VR. Except it’s not yet, so at the moment it’s literally just a place to house a bunch of content that no normal people will care about, designed with an interface that’s slightly less convenient than an ordinary series of menus. Still, though, aren’t you excited about the future in which you can take your virtual self wandering through a branded series of content-viewing opportunities? No? NO OF COURSE YOU’RE NOT THIS IS YET ANOTHER THING THAT NO REAL HUMAN BEINGS WILL EVER WANT TO EXPERIENCE. On the other hand, though, there’s something about the bleak optimism of the virtual cinema space here ‘opening soon’ that rather tickled me – I can only imagine the febrile anticipation in the hearts and minds of skincare enthusiasts at the prospect of being able to watch some advertising in a pretend auditorium.
- Revisualiser:This is a very fun little music toy – works best with headphones, and in fullscreen; use your keyboard to make sounds, and see what happens when you click and drag the visuals around. Really, really nicely-done, and the graphical elements are all really nicely put together.
- Mmm: You probably don’t recall, but a few years ago there was a Facebook Labs project that was meant to enable people to make ‘fun, quirky, personality-filled’ websites with the slightly collage-y, ziney vibe of old Geocities things – the reason you don’t recall it is that literally noone gave anything resembling a fcuk, and the whole thing almost certainly got quietly shelved. Mmm is a similar sort of idea – it’s designed to make it super-easy for anyone to create their own, er, ‘fun, quirky, personality-filled websites with the slightly collage-y, ziney vibe of old Geocities things’, with an easy drag-and-drop interface and responsive design, and all the sort of modern stuff you’d expect with a self-consciously Web1.0 aesthetic. Which is nice! The whole thing feels a little bit like what I imagine a teenage girl’s ‘my first website’ project might look like (seriously, I’ve looked at a few of the examples made by the community and they all have very strong ‘BECCA’S SECRET DIARY’ energy about them – seriously, look), in a good way – but I do wonder how much appetite there is for this sort of stuff when we all already have online spaces which we use for self-identification and self-expression, or at the very least what we tell ourselves is self-identification and self-expression. When everyone has an Insta and TikTok (and Snap, and Tumblr, and and and) as spaces through which to SHOW THEIR SELVES online, where’s the incentive to create another one?
- DeepDAO: As ever with this sort of stuff, the concept of DAOs was largely alien to me a few months ago and now I can’t move for seeing the bastard things referenced everywhere. DeepDAO is a directory of current DAOs, which over time promises to track their membership and activity to provide an overview of the organisations’ activity and behaviour. At present a lot of that stuff’s not there yet, but what this site does do is offer a snapshot of the amount of money floating around these things, and once again I was slightly floored by the volume of cash. THERE IS A BILLION DOLLARS IN THESE THINGS. AN ACTUAL BILLION. Fine, I know that’s chickenfeed on a global scale, but equally it’s a hell of a lot of cash to be sunk into things that are, charitably, not quite a known quantity yet. Whose is this money and what are they doing with it?
- Finely-Crafted: If you’ve worked in advermarketingpr for any degree of time you’ll be well aware of the ‘cultural crossover’ brief, in which a brand decides that it wants a bit of associated cool and kudos and some agency or another inevitably lands on a MIND-BLOWING, ORIGINAL AND CREATIVE activation which involves pairing one of brand X’s ‘artisan experts’ with some creative person with a tangential connection to brand X’s ‘narrative truth’. So you get hedge fund managers working with Ryuchi Sakamoto to compose minimalist soundscapes based on the heights from which financiers have thrown themselves during various crises, say, or a high-end watch brand collaborating with J.Kenji Lopez-Alt to create a bao bun that represents time (I have made both of these up, but admit it, you weren’t sure) – here, Jack Daniels does some collaboration with a bloke who fiddles with trainers. CAN PEOPLE STOP DOING THIS PLEASE? It is boring and lazy and literally NOONE wants to see talented people phoning it in for brand pennies.
- The Beeple Museum: The Beeple work bought at Christie’s earlier this year was purchased by an investment fund – the same investment fund, Metapurse, a few months earlier spent a smaller (but still not-insignificant) sum on buy some other Beeple stuff, which they decided to create a digital museum for in those odd crypto-based virtual worlds we’ve covered in here before (Decentraland was one, you may recall). This particular one is built in CryptoVoxels – the principal of which is that users can ‘buy’ digital real estate secured on the blockchain (of course!) for real money, and build whatever they want on it which they can then use for whatever ends they choose. Click the link, and MARVEL at the exciting future world we too could be a part of if only we boarded the cryptotrain! This is so staggeringly janky – the ‘museum’ is a series of 90s-shooter style corridors, with Beeple’s characteristically Reddit-y images occasionally tacked onto the walls, spread across a series of eerie, empty floors, and surrounded ‘outside’ by a series of screaming adverts exhorting you to buy into Metapurse’s own B20 coins, which will effectively let you invest in the fund’s Beeple hoard with the idea that you’ll profit from its eventual resale. Everything about this feels like something designed to screw stupid people who don’t realise they are stupid out of money – in a weird way, this horrible gallery is a better artwork than the horrible crap it houses.
- The Best Piece Of PR By A Toilet Paper Brand I Have Ever Seen: I don’t want to spoil this, but I promise you this is worth a click.
- The UFO Sightings Database: While we wait for Tom DeLonge of Blink-182 fame to finally sort out the mystery of extraterrestrial life once and for all, we can amuse ourselves by searching through this database of UFO sightings. Using data from the National UFO Reporting Centre, you can search by keyword, sighting type, duration…typing in ‘London’ serves up over 300 sightings over the past century, which given the light pollution is no small feat. I particularly like the entry that reads ‘Too big to be a balloon – I haven’t been able to completely forget it. Would really like an explanation’ – well, yes, wouldn’t we all?
- Cony Hawk: The TikTok account of some kid called Tim who realised at…some point this year that there was a very funny gag in imagining a skateboarding plastic cone called ‘Cony Hawk’ and just ran with it. This is very pure and very good.
- The Impossible Checkbox: This is a lovely, frivolous bit of code which I would like to see implemented on as many websites as possible please. Try and flip the switch.
- Vintage Maps: A small webproject that lets you create vintage style maps of wherever you like in the world, selecting the period in history you’d the national boundaries to represent; there are a variety of visual styles available, you can export the in portrait or landscape, and you can even order prints if you so desire. If you have a child who is unaccountably-obsessed with, I don’t know, Europe immediately prior to German unification, then why not get them a lovely map? Or therapy.
- Forust: Do you remember that period around 2010, when 3d printing was very much a thing and there was a sense that they were going to change EVERYTHING and we’d all have them at home and print ourselves bowls and mugs and underpants out of exciting biodegradable polymer compounds? Oddly enough that never quite happened – which is a shame, as I could do with some new pants – and the 3d printing revolution didn’t quite pan out as touted (I imagine that a proper futurologist could explain to me exactly at which point on the Gartner cycle we’re currently at – but please don’t), but occasionally you still see new, exciting things happening at the edges. Like Forust, for example, which is basically 3d printing with sawdust (I am sorry to the very clever people behind the technology, should they ever see this – I know that I have almost certainly done you a terrible disservices, but, well, this is the quickest short explanation I can come up with and I’m too lazy to try harder) – using waste material from existing wood processing combined with…some other stuff?, you can now print a Billy bookcase in just a few short hours. Probably. This is really very cool indeed.
- Clubhouse on Android: Noone cares! But here it is anyway! It’s obviously far too soon to suggest that Clubhouse has had its moment – and those of you who missed the first wave of hype might be interested in checking it out now all the more obviously-awful hustlegoblins have departed – but equally the lack of any real visible interest about the launch this week of its long-awaited Android version rather suggests that the zeitgeist has rather moved on.
- Cut and Obscure Videogame Content: Another Twitter account, this time dedicated to sharing screenshots and other elements that are either little-known or were edited out of past games pre-release. Except they’re all made up. If you’re into games and gaming culture, some of these are surreally-funny enough to make the account worth a follow; if you’re not, this will do nothing to alter your deeply-held conviction that that games are for children, morons and especially moronic children.
- Sound Cities: This is a lovely old webart project (thanks Rina for pointing me at it) by digital artist Stanza, which collects audioclips from cities around the world and lets you play them either singly or simultaneously to create your own virtual soundscape of wherever you like in the world. The beauty here lies in the variety of clips, and the ways in which combining them can transport you to very different corners of the planet.
- The Last Gameboard: Not the first ‘digital boardgames solution’ I’ve featured in Curios, but certainly one of the slickest – the Last Gameboard is basically a tablet (they don’t like you calling it that, though) which has been designed from the ground up to allow for what looks like pretty sophisticated digital/physical boardgaming, with zoomable screens, mobile integration, the ability to combine multiple boards into one seamless playing area…I’m not really a boardgames person, but this looks rather exciting – although if you’re the sort of person who really likes the grain of cardboard against your thumbs you might find this all a bit slick and soulless. Oh, and obviously there’s the possibility that the developers will lose interest in a few years and you’ll be stuck with what’s effectively a very expensive, outsized plastic and glass coaster – but then again that’s basically the future, isn’t it, in which we buy stuff and then have to hope that it doesn’t stop getting firmware updates so we’re not left in a position where we can’t, I don’t know, run the tap because they’ve discontinued that particular brand of Internet of Things washer.
- Explained From First Principles: This is a very particular site, but I am very much a fan. Kaspar Etter is a Swiss person living in Zurich – I hope they don’t mind me saying, but this is a very Swiss website – who has decided that they want to explore and explain a selection of concepts in exhaustive detail. “The goal of this website is to provide the best introduction available to the covered subjects. After doing a lot of research about a particular topic, I write the articles for my past self in the hope they are useful to the present you. Each article is intended to be the first one that you should read about a given topic and also the last — unless you want to become a real expert on the subject matter. I try to explain all concepts as much as possible from first principles, which means that all your “why” questions should be answered by the end of an article. I strive to make the explanations comprehensible with no prior knowledge beyond a high-school education.” So far it’s covered Email and ‘The Internet’ and, honestly, this is SO well-done – clear and logical and simply-written, and the sort of thing that makes me feel simultaneously very stupid and a lot cleverer than I was before I read it.
- Inhabit: This is a Hackney-based company that basically offers to green your business – for a fee! Yes, that’s right kids, it’s Greenwashing As A Service!! I am obviously being unfair – there’s nothing to suggest that Inhabit’s motives are anything other than pure, or indeed that they’re not sincere in their attempts to assist companies in minimising their environmental impact – but then again they’re quite opaque about how the fcuk any of this actually works, and there’s the slightly-funky whiff of ‘carbon offsetting’ about it, which is absolute fcuking hogwash when it comes to making a practical difference to the climate crisis, as any fule kno. Still, if you want to outsource ‘giving a sh1t about the planet’ to a third party this could be right up your street.
- The Cambridge Cyber Gardening Club: I LOVE THIS SO MUCH! The Cambridge Cyber Gardening Club is a messageboard with a very special feature – all posts are submitted in analogue fashion, via letters or postcards sent to the Club’s postal address in Massachusetts. Messages range from the banal to the surreal – the last one’s from a couple of months ago, meaning it’s still very much live and active, and I am 100% joining in with this and sending them a postcard as soon as I’m in a position to visit somewhere more aesthetically-pleasing than the Vauxhall gyratory.
By Sue Coe
THE SECTION WHICH IS REASONABLY CERTAIN THAT 80% OF US WILL BE WORKING FOR AMAZON BY 2035, PT.2:
- Blokdust: If I had a quid for every single browser-based synthtoy of varying quality I’ve featured in here over the years I’d…probably have somewhere in the region of enough money for a packet of fags, if I’m honest, which doesn’t sound that impressive but suggests that this is very much a genre of thing that has been done to death rather. Or at least I thought so, but Blokdust is an impressively-different take on a browser-based compositional interface – any by ‘impressively different’, I mean ‘far too complicated for me to be able to make any reasonable use of whatsoever’. Basically you make music by dragging a series of different types of ‘blocks’ onto the composition screen – some blocks are types of SFX, others power the first type of block, others modify the function and effect of certain blocks when connected in certain ways…look, I’m sure you can make something quite amazing with this, but it’s way over my head. If you understand how electronics work and are the sort of person who thinks nothing of hacking together your own gaming PC, I get the impression you might have more luck – or maybe I’m just subnormal. Either/or.
- Mazette: Lifted from last week’s B3ta (along with a few other things this week – THANKS ROB!), this is an incredibly-soothing site which lets you watch as it solves mazes autonomously. You might not think that watching as a computer puzzles out whether it should turn left or right at an intersection would lend you a feeling of zenlike calm, but there’s honestly something SO compelling and gently-reassuring about the fact that it will get solved in the end. Not quite sure what it says about my state of mind at present that I lost about 25 minutes on this earlier this week, but it’s almost certainly something good.
- Thatching: Literally EVERYTHING you could possibly want to know about thatched roofs. You might, admittedly, not know that you want to know loads about thatching – and, fine, perhaps you don’t – but this site is a real labour of love, written by someone who used to thatch for a living and now just maintains it for passion. Also contains guides to thatching your own roof, which is exactly the sort of project you’ll be desperate to embark on come the next lockdown (and HOW COOL would a thatched flat in London look? Eh? Oh).
- Just Use Email: Inevitably, the anti-anti-email backlash is on its way, and not before time. I’ve never really understood people’s problem with email – it works! – but the past decade or so has seen an infinite number of ‘solutions’ to the ‘problem’ of your inbox, mainly based on messenger software and variants thereof. Which has now led to a working world in which colleagues are able to communicate with me via email, Whatsapp, Teams, Sharepoint and telephone, sometimes all at once for no discernible reason whatsoever. Does anyone actually like having seventeen different ways in which they can be contacted? And what the fcuk is the problem with people who decide to switch medium with no warning and for no discernible purpose? Anyway, tedious observational riffing to one side, Just Use Email is a website collecting arguments as to why email is BEST. Save the url and send it to whoever next suggests that company productivity would be hugely improved by implementing this really exciting new realtime coworking platfohgodnopleasenomore.
- Records At The Wrong Speed: I don’t normally link to these sorts of posts, but this collection of ‘songs that sound surprisingly excellent when played at the wrong speed’ is genuinely revelatory (and the site it’s on, In Sheep’s Clothing HiFi, is lovely if you’re an audiophile, with loads of interesting features on the sort of musicians that people with large vinyl collections tend to get messianic about, like Cornelius).
- Hearses: When I was in Rome last Summer, I spotted this whilst walking into town – the very acme of post-mortem class in the shape of a Maserati hearse (I very much hoped that the officiating priest at the imminent funeral would be wearing sunglasses, but didn’t hang around to check). This week Alexander Burley sent me this site for Kuhlman Cars, a German hearse vendor that offers some truly gorgeous Vehicles Of Death (probably not a designation they’d appreciate, but, well, tough). Notable mainly for the window it offers into a very, very niche world – and the darkly wonderful copy in the ‘used hearses’ section that takes special pains to explain just how thoroughly they clean the vehicles.
- The Euro2020 Wallchart: As is now traditional in the run-up to a major football tournament, I am quietly convinced that this is the year that England will finally break their 65-year wait to win anything, and English football will therefore become even more insufferably self-obsessed and self-absorbed than it already is (please God no). Still, if you’re less-trepidatious about the forthcoming FESTIVAL OF FOOTBALL and would like one of the oldschool wallcharts that you’d get in Shoot! or Match! or Terrifying Terrace Violence!, or whichever football magazine you chose to read as a kid, you could do worse than pick up this rather nice version by Elliott Quince, with all proceeds going to a neonatal intensive care unit. Nice art, good cause, please God don’t let England win.
- IconDuck: SO MANY FREE ICONS YOU WILL NEVER USE THEM ALL.
- The Mental Health Media Guide: I have…mixed feelings about Mental Health Awareness Week/Month. Look, I think it’s good and important that we acknowledge that Life Is Hard and People Are Sad; equally, though, the pastel-hued bromides churned out by employers and brands and seemingly every media outlet in the world around this time does rather obscure the fact that we don’t actually do very well at taking care of people with real mental health issues – the sorts of messy ones that are frightening and sad and life-ruining and involve serious drugs and being sectioned and all the ugly bits. We’re great at saying we care when someone’s feeling anxious, say, or nervous – we are very fcuking bad at helping people whose brains are fighting them. Anyway, that’s by way of rambling, unfocused introduction to this rather good site, which is designed to offer guidance to filmmakers and other content producers as to how to address mental illness in their work; this is very much worth a look.
- Stationhead: ANOTHER audio app! Another company that has reinvented live radio for the smartphone age! Stationhead is reasonably-generic in terms of features – broadcast live! Bring in guest speakers! Have listener interactions with ‘call-ins’! – but which has the whole ‘make money’ thing baked in from the start, with the ability for listeners to tip creators in-stream, and claims that you can stream whatever music you want through it without falling foul of copyright. I can’t imagine this will ever be anything other than a sideline, but the music thing makes it marginally more interesting than some competing platforms out there.
- Can You Have Black Hair?: A Twitter account showcasing games in which character creation allows both for black skin tones and black hairstyles – it’s miserable how not-widespread these options are in games even in 2021.
- Skiff: “Skiff is the only end-to-end encrypted document collaboration platform with password protected folders, expiring links, and secure workspaces.” No idea why you’d need this, but if you’d like to add an extra layer of security to your endless corporate powerpoint presentations then HERE YOU GO!
- Lyrics That Look Like Sh1tposts: Obviously this is the most middle-aged thing I could POSSIBLY write here, but I swear lyrics are getting worse (IT’S NOT MUSIC IT’S JUST NOISE, etc etc) – this Twitter account spits out pleasingly-awful examples of the songwriting art. Although now that I’ve opened it up again and scrolled a bit, there’s actually a load of older stuff and the absolute worst one on there is by the venerable Snoop Dogg, so perhaps I should shut up (“She want the nigga with the biggest nuts, and guess what? / He is I”, in case you were interested).
- Thanxalotl: I have a bit of a thing about axolotls, so this Etsy shop which seemingly exists only to sell cute, crocheted versions of these quite remarkable amphibians (honestly, axolotls are MAD – they can literally regrow skin, limbs and even bits of their brain when they get a bit fcuked up) was catnip to me. There is a pink axolotl poncho/hoodie-type thing here which if I were a certain type of teenager I would wear the fcuk out of, but basically everything on here is charming and lovely and ace.
- Birmingham: It’s Not Sh1t: An already-funded Kickstarter raising funds for a book celebrating 50 things about the UK’s second city that aren’t rubbish. If you or anyone you know is a Brummie, this feels like an essential gift purchase.
- The Whimsical Club: I have to say I’m starting to get a bit concerned at the quantity of other websites springing up which also occupy the ‘hey, look, here’s some odd and interesting and obscure internet for you!’ niche that Curios does, but do it less-irritatingly and therefore better. FFS CAN I NOT EVEN HAVE THIS ONE THING TO CALL MY OWN??? Anyway, The Whimsical Club is a very nice site collecting a load of really nice examples of webdesign, many of which are the personal sites of designers or artists but which also include such Curios favourites as Vole. There are LOADS here that are totally new to me, and it’s a really lovely selection that highlights the beauty and idiosyncracy of personal webwork.
- What 3 Rude Words: What 3 Words is a very, very odd company – it’s never made any money, yet has 100+ staff and despite only ever being referred to as ‘a really clever idea that will one day revolutionise the way we think about the concept of ‘addresses’’ rather than an actual thing that actual people actually use, seems to be on a regular 2-year PR hype cycle that shows no signs of abating (they definitely used to use Edelman, which suggests deep pockets somewhere), and has some pretty significant flaws in its methodology. However, it also means that there are now places on Earth with 3 word designations such as ‘Large Bottom Penetrator’ (it’s in Korea, in case you fancy visiting), so on balance it’s probably A Good Thing.
- Cumrocket: It’s been a pleasingly-crypto-lite Curios this week, so apologies for sullying it at this relatively-late stage in the miscellania, but I couldn’t not include this latest entrant into the cryptohypemarket. Partly because I think the idea – a Coin for adult content creators, campeople and the like, which theoretically allows them to monetise their image via NFT – is marginally-less-dumb than many of the other things I’ve seen in this space recently, and also partly because the coins are called ‘Cummies’ which is possibly the most perfect expression of ‘everything is sh1tposting and the future is going to be a ridiculous place in which a future Prime Minister will 100% have to answer questions about their early posting history as something like ‘AssFister3000’ and we’ll have to just put up with stuff like cummies being Actual Real Things’.
- Weird Rule 34 Art: A Reddit thread in which erotic artists discuss the oddest commissions they’ve been asked to fulfil. It’s reasonably SFW – what do you care? You’re at home! Click with abandon!!! – and you won’t have to actually see any of the offending work, but you will have to contend with copy like this: “Spongebob with multiple arms, sticking all his hands into Squidward’s tentacle holes”. As ever with Reddit, the main takeaway from all this is that human sexuality is a genuinely incredible, rich, and ultimately unknowable tapestry.
- Normal Nudes: Another Reddit link, this to a specific sub in which people post photos of themselves naked – not sexually, just nude – as a means of self-acceptance and in order to normalise the huge breadth of different body types and shapes that exist. Obviously it’s all photos of naked people, so, er, be warned, but it’s honestly really lovely and just sort of anthropologically wonderful. It’s mixed gender, though the photos skew female, but if you’re the sort of person who doesn’t like to look in the mirror and who feels self-conscious about their body then you might find this a helpful place to remind yourself that we really do come in all shapes and sizes. There are also links in there to specific galleries of penises and vulvas (vulvae?) should you want to again reassure yourself that you are totally normal (or look at a lot of strangers’ genitals). Enjoy!
- LightNite: Jesus. A Fortnite clone through which you can…somehow? earn crypto by playing. Look, if your kids are going to spend their whole adolescents playing collaborative shooters online, shouldn’t they at least earn some fcuking money whilst doing so? EXACTLY. PUT YOUR KIDS TO WORK IN THE BITCOIN FARMS! Actually, now I type that, it increasingly looks to me like a good idea – again, proving my childlessness is a benefit to the world at large.
- Bumpsquare: This week’s ‘charming, simple little browsergame I’ve borrowed from B3ta’ is this – get the coloured dots into the coloured squares. Simple, clever, and the way the puzzles build is very satisfying indeed. About a million times more fun than the Ferragamo example uptop – which admittedly isn’t saying much, but it’s stuff like this that throws into sharp relief how soulleslly sh1t most corporately-funded gamestuff is. MAKE BETTER GAMES, ADVERMARKETINGPRMONGS!
THE CIRCUS OF TUMBLRS!
- Cursed Render: Slightly-off-kilter 3d rendered objects. So, so Geocities-ish, in a good way.
- Broken Nightlight: I don’t know what this is, or where these photos were taken, or why, but there is something intensely odd and ever-so-slightly-disturbing about the vibe of all this.
THE TROUGH OF (INSTA) FEEDS!
- Veermaster Berlin: God it would be nice to have a cocktail. Something stupidly-elaborate and very cold which takes about 17 times longer to prepare than it does to drink – in fact, exactly the sort of thing that this Insta, belonging to a German…ugh, I suppose I have to call them a mixologist now, don’t I? Know that I do so resentfully. Anyway, my grumpiness about modern language aside, this is a lovely feed that will make you want to get neck-deep in spirits.
- Pomme Queen: Beautiful photos of flowers and pearls and fruit. A very specific aesthetic here, but I rather like it.
- Babyland: This is GREAT – Babyland is the mansion in the US which is the heart of the Cabbage Patch Kids universe, where the ‘babies’ are ‘born’ of the terrifying-sounding Mother Cabbage (no, really) and to which adult fans of Cabbag Patch Dolls make pilgrimages. This feed is ADORABLY shonky and mainly posts poorly-cropped and therefore slightly creepy photos of the plate-faced gonk children; honestly, if I used Insta I would relish seeing one of these pop up in-feed every now again to break the monotony of LIFESTYLE ILLUSION PORN.
- DadBreeder: This is described as an “Artist project using machine learning to create the perfect Daddy” – that is ‘daddy’ in the quite specific bear-ish sense, in case you were under any illusions about the vibe here. My favourite thing about this is the little bios that are written to accompany each imaginary ‘daddy’ – “So many people live on social media now, but I prefer real life. Real people, real bodies, real conversation. I’m a social psychologist and I find parasocial dynamics fascinating, but personally I like to look someone in the eyes, share a bottle of wine, talk about life, laugh, cry and everything else in between. Join me?” YES DADDY (no, not like that).
AND NOW, LONG THINGS WHICH ARE LONG!:
- Cryptofundamentals and NFTs: A presentation rather than a longread to start with, this has been widely praised this week as a decent explainer as to what NFTs are and how they work. I’d cautiously agree that it’s a useful primer on the tech, but would also argue that the problem with it is that it drinks rather too deeply from the kool aid and imho fundamentally misunderstands the nature of ‘value’ – for most material online, the greatest ‘value’ as we might traditionally understand it lies in the attention we are willing to give to that material…and that has literally nothing to do with ownership, and I still don’t understand how NFTs relate to that at all. Anyone?
- The New Frontier of Belonging: This is SUCH a good piece of writing and SUCH an interesting exploration of some very NOW ideas, specifically DAO and what they might be used for – so much so that I left this thinking that perhaps it’s not all bunkum after all. The first section is a brilliant exploration of how place and identity, and our conceptions of both, have been radically transformed by the existence of ‘online’ space; the latter part moves into exploring how DAOs might usefully work – honestly, this is very long but it’s worth every minute of your time.
- Towards A New Concept of Privacy: An interesting essay exploring how our conversations about digital rights, etc, might change if we began to conceive of privacy as a collective rather than a personal good. Particularly pertinent given the current Facebook/Apple spat, this line does a decent job of capturing the article’s overall thrust: “An individual framing of this problem asks questions like, why don’t you want Google to see your email? What have you got to hide? But if you only have the right to privacy when you’re hypervigilant about defending it, you never really had that right to begin with. Instead, at a very minimum the question should be: why does Google deserve to see your email?”
- Why Life Can’t Be Simpler: This is a great essay, which I found usefully articulated a bunch of stuff I’d sort of worked out on my own but had previously been far too stupid to usefully pull together into coherent thought. Basically, the thrust here is that all systems have a base level of complexity that is constant and that therefore any attempt to simplify a system will necessarily simply result in the complexity moving rather than disappearing – so to make something more simple to a user will require it to become more complex under the hood, for example. Honestly, if you’re in UX or UI or systems design…well, actually, if you do any of those things then you probably know all this already, but if you’re a generalist who likes to pretend they’re smarter than they are by occasionally reading very specific thinky pieces that might be tangentially-relevant to your life (hi! snap!) then this is very much worth reading.
- What Is An Entertainment Company?: I’ve featured Matthew Ball’s writing in here before, previously on various videogame-related topics; this time he’s writing about how entertainment companies work in 2021, with specific focus on Disney. This is a very good piece of analysis indeed, which gets right to the heart of what a modern ents behemoth does – to whit, creates and then monetises the fcuk out of fandoms (or as Ball would have it, ‘love’), and which I am going to claim as another piece of evidence for my ‘the most powerful force in the 21st century is the cult’ thesis (for what are franchise fandoms other than cults, after all?). It ends on an incredibly depressing note for anyone who prefers their culture a little more variegated and diffuse than the current ‘THERE ARE ONLY 7 FRANCHISES AND THAT IS ALL THERE EVER WILL BE’ vibe of much of modern media, but it’s a really good piece of analysis (if LONG).
- The Absurdity Is The Point: I’m not sure I’m 100% sold on the recently-launched Sidechannel media empire – partly because it does rather feel like at least a third of the writers all cover basically the same beat, albeit well – but this edition of Charlie Warzel’s newsletter does an excellent job of attempting to articulate the very peculiar flavour of a lot of life on- and offline right now, specifically the fact that it is all very silly and yet the silliness is of a sort with very real-world impact and therefore we have to treat it with a degree of seriousness that seems vastly out of step with, well, how silly it is (see: cummies).
- Ximalaya and the Economy of Ears: I like to think I’m reasonably au fait with digital stuff – obviously there’s TOO MUCH, and it’s impossible to be aware of even a fraction of what is happening across the web, but I’m usually reasonably confident that I have at least a broad sort of idea of What Is Going On. Except then I read stuff like this, and I remember that there’s a whole other series of other webs in other languages and specifically all the stuff in China which is like a Looking Glass version of our web, on speed and possibly also steroids. This is a fascinating look at Chinese audio app Ximalaya, which can lazily be described as ‘Spotify, but not quite’ and which possibly offers some clues as to how audio apps might go about monetising more seriously over the coming years.
- Digital Space Force: This is the ‘Vision for a Digital Service’ by the Trump-created SPACE FORCE! (sorry, I just always feel it deserves capitals and an exclamation mark), which I am including not because it’s particularly-interesting but because it’s just full of the sort of terrible, meaningless corporate wankspeak that I thought was the preserve of ‘thought leadership’ rather than the sort of thing you’d expect to see in an actual government document. I mean, really: “We will capitalize on the inherently selective nature of our small Service to attract and recruit technically proficient talent from all corners of the nation, and we will manage this talent within a fully integrated Digital Workforce. As part of our strategy to achieve and maintain digital fluency, we will ensure Guardians have timely access to tailored learning opportunities to sharpen and update their technology-related skillsets so they can intuitively prioritize data-centric solutions over product-centric processes.” WHAT THE FCUK DOES THAT MEAN??? There is literally no facet of life that hasn’t been infected by this sort of writing – can we all stop, please? Please?
- The Edits That Define The Web: This is so, so interesting, and the sort of thing that as a very non-visual person I would never have noticed or thought of of my own accord. The evolution of visual semiotics (/pseud) we’ve seen created by Vine, Stories and TikTok has been incredible, and this article takes you through 25 editing tricks and techniques whose use has come to define what we consider ‘contemporary vertical video aesthetic’, and which are increasingly bleeding over into 16:9 viewing as well (the latest Lynx as is SUCH a post-TikTok spot, imho). If you’re in the unfortunate position of having to churn out garbage content for hateful brands to keep a roof over your head then read this and see if you can’t at least have some sort of aesthetic fun with it. Oh, and there’s another piece extolling the rise of the video editor here, which explores adjacent topics and is also very much worth checking out, should you be in the market for more.
- The Enemy as Sociologist: I had never heard of ‘Signal’ magazine before – it was a propaganda effort by the Nazis during the second world war, designed to present a benign picture of national socialism to countries outside the Reich (countries which those same national socialists planned to, er, bomb, invade and eventually conquer and enslave, thereby probably undermining some of that propaganda work rather), which was widely distributed in the US; this piece specifically examines the publication’s reflections on America and its culture, making the interesting observation that it’s often our enemies who are best positioned to present a sober examination of our flaws.
- Robinhood: A profile of ‘stock trading, democratised!’ app Robinhood, which, as with all profiles of these sorts of businesses, leaves you in absolutely no doubt whatsoever that none of the people at the top of this company have given anywhere near enough thought to the wide and long-term consequences of their ‘disruption’, and that the idea that ‘anyone can make money on the markets, all you need is an app and some gumption, and the little guy really can win!’ is, fundamentally, fcuking stupid.
- How Cities Will Fossilise: This is a really interesting bit of apocalypse futuregazing – if you’ve spent any time playing videogames in the past decade you will no doubt spent your fair share of hours exploring abandoned postapocalyptic megalopolises; this article explores what they might actually look like after a few hundred years, when the seas and the lands have shifted. Fascinating, and also contained this passing fact which rather surprised me: “A city like Manchester in the UK, which is situated on ground still rising after the last ice age, will erode entirely over time, washing a trail of brick, concrete, and plastic particles out into the Irish Sea” Manchester’s…rising? Does that mean that one day it will emerge from cloud cover? Look, I lived there for three years, it literally rains horizontally for 9 months of the the year, don’t @ me.
- Lil Nas X: I could take or leave the music tbh – gyac I am 41 and that is exactly as it should be; I think if I liked it, Mr X might reasonably ask himself what he was doing wrong – but I don’t think it’s possible to overstate the man’s importance as a cultural figure. I don’t think prior to his rise to fame and eventual coming out there were a whole lot of openly-out, queer black male superstars – RuPaul is the only one that springs immediately to mind, but they’re very much of a different generation. There’s something wonderful about knowing that there are all sorts of kids out there who might feel a little bit easier within themselves seeing someone like Nas bestriding the entertainment world right now; equally, there’s something that makes me slightly uncomfortable about the very GenZ confidence/affirmations stuff that’s buried in there too, but that’s simply intergenerational ickiness, I expect – you GO, Mr X.
- Life In A Cell: This is a beautiful piece of writing about living in an Egyptian prison, by Abdelrahman ElGendy “who spent more than six years behind bars, from October 6, 2013 at the age of 17 until his release on January 13, 2020, at the age of 24.” Lovely, gentle, intimate writing; I would read a whole book of this stuff, it’s lovely prose.
- In Bed With Madonna: An oral history of In Bed With Madonna (or ‘Truth or Dare’ as it was known in the US), the behind-the-scenes documentary of the Blonde Ambition tour. This is particularly fascinating to me – when I was at school, one of my best friends Chris Fleming was obsessed with Madonna and got this on bootleg VHS from somewhere and would watch this on repeat (he also once performed ‘Like A Virgin’ on the desk in French, complete with sexy actions; perhaps unsurprisingly, Chris is now occasionally to be found as his drag alter ego Latrine Lurka). Anyway, it doesn’t feature Madonna’s own recollections, perhaps unsurprisingly, but contains lots of great anecdotes from other people involved and is generally an entertaining look back at (what I personally consider to be) Madonna’s career zenith.
- Prestavba: A really interesting article which describes how coding and the distribution of self-made games for the ZX Spectrum and other machines was part of the anti-communist underground in 1980s Czechoslovakia. Seriously, even if you have no interest in coding, this is a wonderful read and a cracking story.
- Disgusting Food: A profile of the Disgusting Food Museum in Malmo, Sweden, which is also an exploration of cultural difference and identity, particularly the odd sensation experienced by the Chinese-American author at seeing so much of what is, for many Asians, just…food being classed as in some way repellent.
- Dowsing: I wasn’t expecting to read an article in 2021 about how dowsing is real, actually – and yet here we are. Dowsing, should you not be aware, is the ancient practice of locating sources of water using nothing but some sticks and ENERGY FIELDS and stuff like that; this piece profiles a few professional dowsers in the US. A few things here: a) now I am a deeply cynical and skeptical person, but the existence of ‘professional dowsers’ did give me brief pause; b) there are a few bits of this piece where it pivots quite hard and fast from ‘finding water’ to ‘THEIR ARE DIMENSIONAL PORTALS’ and it’s all the better for it; and c) by the end of this I was significantly less-skeptical about dowsing than I was at the start. See what you think (I still don’t really believe in it, to be clear, but IT MAKES YOU THINK EH???).
- Pride and Predators: Finally this week, absolutely the best academic paper about Pride and Prejudice you will ever read, ever. I promise you, I have very little time for Austen (I know, I know, sorry) and I devoured all of this – it is angry and funny and very modern, and more entertaining than anything published in the Michigan Law Review has a right to be. Please read it, and share with all your Austen-loving friends – Heidi S Bond is a genius.
By Katie Benn
AND NOW, MOVING PICTURES AND SOUNDS!:
- This one’s…quite odd. A 30 minute London skate video, called ‘Blokes’, which features some excellent skating, some truly impressive staged violence in the opening, and a very, very weird vibe, sort of menacing-but-staged-but-I-sort-of-wonder-if-actually-not-after-all? Basically this video REEKS of cheap pub gak, much in the same way that late-00s rapper English Frank did (I wonder what happened to him). Anyway, this intrigued me – be warned, the opening few minutes are quite…strong.
- Finally in the videos this week, this is a rather remarkable piece by Self-Esteem. You really have to listen to it, but I promise it’s worth it – but, before you do, er, THAT’S IT FOR THIS WEEK BYE I LOVE YOU BYE BYE BYE TAKE CARE ONLY A FEW MORE DAYS TIL WE CAN GET INCONTINENT WITH DRINK INDOORS RATHER THAN HAVING TO STRUGGLE TO HOLD PINTGLASSES WITH NUMB FINGERS SO TAKE CARE HAVE FUN AND I HOPE YOU HAVE SOME NICE THINGS TO LOOK FORWARD TO NEXT WEEK TAKE CARE I LOVE YOU BYE!