Have you all gone and bet the farm on Gareth’s Plucky Young Lions? I might have to do that myself, seeing as it’s the only way in which I can render England’s increasingly-inevitable-looking Euros victory in any way palatable.
I imagine you’re all really happy and excited – I wish I could share your joy, whereas instead I have inside me the cold fear of a man who’s spent the past 41 years laughing whenever England exit a tournament early and now has the growing realisation that that sound he hears might be the chickens finally coming home to roost (WHITE CHICKENS DAUBED WITH THE CROSS OF ST FCUKING GEORGE).
So excuse me if this intro lacks its usual vim and vigour and brio, but I am too football-nervous to really put my heart into it this week (rest assured that the rest of Curios maintains the standards which you’ve come to expect – note that I at no point refer to these as ‘high’). Should the unthinkable happen and the football gods serve up an England Italy final, I will be typing this using the stubs of what remains of my terminally-bitten fingers (it won’t; it’ll be Belgium).
Anyway, while you all wait to get drunk on national fervour and patriotic joy, I’m off to perform a complicated ritual involving a goat, a pentagram and some definitely ethically sourced snake’s blood outside the Stadio Olimpico; forza Ucraina and all that jazz.
I am Matt, this is Web Curios, let my words into your head and nothing bad will happen, I promise.
THE SECTION WHICH IS GENUINELY CURIOUS AS TO WHAT THE CLIMATE CHANGE DENIAL LOBBY’S ANSWER IS TO ‘IT’S CURRENTLY 50 DEGREES IN CANADA, WHY MIGHT THAT BE?’. pt.1:
- Death on the Blockchain: Memento mori, everyone! Yes, a nice, cheery one to kick off this week as we commence Curios by staring down the barrel of our own inevitable demise! Except this is death 2.0 – death on the blockchain!!! Which, to be clear, is still very much death – there doesn’t appear to be any magical bestowing of immortality at play here, or any indication that your digital remains will in any way be eligible for metaversal resurrection at some point down the line, but, still, BLOCKCHAIN! The project’s name is Gone To Mars (of course it is!), and it offers YOU, the user, the opportunity to ‘immortalise yourself in a distributed digital eternity’. What does that mean? NO FCUKING CLUE! Let’s dig, shall we? “Gone to Mars is the first-ever virtual cemetery on a blockchain. There is a total of 1,089 Spaces arranged in a Cartesian coordinate system. Each Space has unique coordinates and a visual representation, a mesmerising crystal. All 1,089 crystals were generated algorithmically, and each of them is unique. The authenticity and ownership of each Space are guaranteed by a unique ERC721-standard token (NFT) issued and stored on the Ethereum blockchain. Once you’ve purchased a Space, you can link your social account to it and set up a time capsule for future generations. A time capsule contains an AES-encrypted text message secured with a keyword and stored on-chain. Once you’ve set up a time capsule, it will be sealed until 2050. When you feel the time is right, pass on your token together with the keyword to your descendants so they can take it to Mars one day.” Anyone? Anyone at all? So…er…I have to pay in crypto to have access to one of a limited number (16×16) of digital burial plots which I can link to my social accounts and which will live on the blockchain to guarantee…what? That I can leave an ‘everlasting’ record of my existence for future generations (except it will only last for 29 years, which, honestly, doesn’t quite seem worth the hassle tbh – I mean, you can buy literal time capsules for £30 quid ffs), but digital so that it can…er…be taken to mars one day? I think my favourite part of this – and there are many; I really recommend enjoying the corporate manifesto and the FAQ, which are superb examples of the genre – is the site owner’s seeming conviction that THE BLOCKCHAIN somehow does away with the need for physical burials, allowing us to ‘move beyond’ the physical storage of human remains. Er, GYAC lads, whether or not you blockchain your Insta on death, someone somewhere will still need to do something with the putrefying meatsack you leave behind. FYI, the central ‘plot’ in this digital graveyard will retail at £1.5m, going by today’s ETH prices. BARGAIN!
- What The Robot Saw: A super-interesting piece of digital art, this explores some similar areas to Shardcore’s The Machine Gaze but, well, significantly-less upsettingly pr0n-y – namely, what does the machine ‘see’ when it ‘looks’? The project uses a bunch of code (yes, that’s the technical explanation) to sort through unpopular videos on YouTube (the ones that only the crawlers see, the ones with no views, the ones that are made for an unknown audience) and use those to create an infinite, live-generated film of its own making, cobbled together from these fragments footage, with machine-generated descriptive subtitles popping in and out… you can watch the output on the project website or on its own dedicated 24/7 Twitch channel, and, honestly, this is mesmerising and it’s all I can do not to sack of Curios entirely this morning and instead lose myself in the hypnotic world of machine-curated visuals. Kudos to creator Amy Alexander – if this isn’t installed in a gallery by the end of the Summer I will be amazed (and slightly disgusted tbh). Oh, and if you work for any tech companies dealing with machine learning, computer vision, etc, and can’t see a role for this sort of art in your promocomms then, well, you’re a miserable husk devoid of imagination and I’d like you to think long and hard about what the point of you is.
- Cryptosnoos: I am, as you may be aware, a bit sniffy about NFTs as a thing, but this is one of the rare recent occasions where I can sort-of see the point of them. Cryptosnoos are Reddit’s initial attempt to dip its toes in the threateningly-primordial swamp that is the NFT game – they’re collectible digital cards, effectively, each featuring a version of the Reddit mascot (Snoo – hence the name) with varying degrees of rarity (from ‘unique’ through ‘very rare’ and ‘a bit rare’) which you can buy and own and which you can then make visible as your avatar picture on the platform and which will grant your posts a special ‘glow’ on-site, and which can of course be resold on a secondary market. Which seems…not stupid? I mean, look, if you’re unconvinced by the idea of virtual goods and the trading thereof, and if you think that someone paying money for what is effectively a bit of code that makes their interactions on a website look non-standard and which they might then sell on at a theoretical profit to anyone who wants to buy it then this probably isn’t going to change your mind, but overall this is significantly less dumb than buying an NFT gravestone.
- Tone of Voice Examples: If you do copywriting, or if (perhaps more likely) you’re one of the seven people working in your organisation who can halfway string a sentence together and therefore you’re always the one tasked with ‘doing the copy’ for whatever content is being created this week, then this presentation might well be of use. 65 slides collecting examples of different brands’ copywriting, across format, demonstrating some of the best work in terms of clarity, theme, consistency, etc, of recent (and not-so-recent) years. EVEN BETTER, the kind and generous Carolyn Barclay who has compiled this has had the common decency to make the examples non-US-centric, meaning at least some of the spelling’s right and there’s slightly less of the grating Americanisms that often characterise much of these sorts of collections. A genuine motherlode of useful examples of branded writing, which also doubles as a neat resource for spotting themes and trends and commonalities of style, should that be of use. Fine, it does feature Innocent, but it’s only one slide and you can ignore it and move on before the burning rage rises too far.
- Sudowrite: I had completely forgotten about this til my beta access arrived this week; Sudowrite is A N Other AI writing assistant, whose specific gimmick is that it’s specifically pitched as a creative writing ‘helper’ – you’re not meant to use it as a standalone copy generator so much as a prompter, something to help you get over writer’s block or to help you flesh out characters or situations or to explore different directions in which you could take a character or narrative. You only get a few weeks’ free trial before it will start asking you for cash, but, honestly, it’s quite frighteningly good. Give it a paragraph and it will, on request, suggest a selection of follow-on paras to take the story in different directions; highlight a character name or object and it will provide you with ‘colour’ on that character or object. Playing around, I fed it this: “Alan and Tony weren’t friends exactly, not since Rome. Their relationship was characterised by none of the easy familiarity that one might expect from people who spent as much time in each other’s company as they did; instead, they circled each other warily, sniping and each occasionally witheringly sneering at the others’ choice of scarf or brogue.” The first suggested follow-on para? “The dynamic wouldn’t be out of place in a sort of overgrown schoolboy’s fantasy, but their friendship was grounded in the realpolitik of their business. A significant part of their work together was the selling of Alan’s particular aesthetic, an aesthetic that was — so far as the world at large was concerned — entirely Tony’s. Tony, who had come to Alan” I mean…that’s not bad, right? Highlight the word ‘scarf’ and ask it for a description, and it offered me “The scarf was made of polyester and viscose rayon, and on its corners were brooches from the Society of the Crossed Keys, an organisation started in the 13th century to protect Byzantine silk weavers.” I have always been realistic about my skills as a writer, certainly realistic enough to know that – praise be! – I definitely do not have a book in me, but it’s somewhat distressing to be so obviously outwritten by a bit of software. I am 100% using this for the next piece of commercial copy I have to write, though, and I suggest you do too.
- The 808 Cube: This is both a synthtoy and a Rubik’s cube – move the sides around, rotate the elements, and by so doing alter the sounds that you can make with the various beats and clangs, shifting the rhythm and tempo as you see fit. More fun than it ought to be considering everything I try and compose using it sounds like a child let loose on the saucepans.
- Strumming Tutor: I should really have given this its proper title – for the avoidance of doubt, this is actually called ‘Lord of the Strings’ so well done whoever came up with that. This is a clever little site which lets you upload any recording of an acoustic guitar performance and which will analyse it to tell you the strumming pattern you need to replicate to be able to play it – it won’t tell you the chords, fine, but presuming you have those then this will let you see how you’re meant to approach the up-and-down bit (that’s the technical term; right? I did actually play guitar a bit as a kid, but due to a mixup it was the pluck-y classical version rather than the sexy, strummy variety, which I personally hold in some small way responsible for me not being more attractive than I actually am). Might be useful if you or someone you know is at the early stages of picking up the instrument (although I appreciate that you may not in fact want to encourage them).
- Ayako Taniguchi: Ayako Taniguchi is a musician who composes primarily for commercial purposes – films, adverts, that sort of thing – and whose website presents a selection of beautiful, simple visualisations of their piano compositions. The visuals are rather lovely but to be honest the main draw here is the music – this is SO BEAUTIFUL, honestly, and I bought their debut album within a couple of minutes of landing on the site. If you like modern classical piano music – and who doesn’t? NO FCUKER, that’s who! – then this is honestly glorious (and the site’s pretty too, and it has a really nice little UX/UI feature where you can set the audio to play even when you navigate to another tab, so you can use it as a background music player if you so choose – simple, but SO POLITE!).
- Deadheads: Having been quite polite about the Reddit NFTs a few links ago it’s reassuring to be able to get back to the slightly less positive appraisal of this effort which I feel significantly more comfortable with. Deadheads are NFT collectibles – LOOK FFS CRYPTOPUNKS ARE UNLIKELY TO HAPPEN AGAIN STOP TRYING TO MAKE THEM HAPPEN AGAIN – whose theme is ‘cutesy hallowe’en’ as far as I can tell, and ownership of which gives the right for said collectibles (or the 3d models associated with them) to be used as an avatar anywhere within the metaverse (er, software compatibility permitting, one would presume) and which is set to become an ANIMATED SERIES featuring all the characters. There’s not that much more information out there at the moment – there’s a Discord server you can sign up to to ‘join the community’, but, honestly, life is too short – but I am curious about the way in which the Twitter thread here linked to alludes to an idea of ‘member led’ community, with owners of the NFTs being able to apply to work on the project, voted for by other owners. Whilst I’m skeptical of this even becoming A Thing, I think the way they’re baking incentivised community into the model is interesting – and perhaps I’m a know-nothing bozo, as they have seemingly shifted all the initial allocation of characters, so perhaps this is set to be the next Disney and I will have crypto egg all over my stupid face. Time will tell.
- Joy Generator: A nice little site by NPR which presents a selection of small digital projects to generate ‘small moments of delight’ – each lasts a few minutes, and is designed to embody a particular pleasure, from that of ‘anticipation’ to ‘the outside world’ or the act of creation. These are delightful – small, cute, and there’s even an ‘insight’ behind them (WE LOVE AN ‘INSIGHT’!!!1111dear god so tired): “Scientists are learning that our feelings aren’t hard-wired — emotions are created by our brains in response to what we’re experiencing now and what we’ve felt in the past. Small doses of daily delight can shift our focus away from our worries and give more opportunity for joy to arise.” Charming webwork.
- Mojo Swaptops: The YouTube channel of a creator whose sole schtick appears to be using the level creator from videogame Far Cry 5 to recreate real-world scenes in the game engine. Which wouldn’t be hugely interesting in and of itself, impressive though it is, but which is elevated to Curios-worthy levels by the artist’s choice of subject matter – there are things like ‘A Wild West Saloon’, fine, and a bunch of stuff recreated from within other videogames, but there is also a video showing them recreating a Gregg’s in painstaking detail, and another in which they build a Tesco carpark (during a pandemic), and another in which they do a pub interior (OH GOD I MISS THE PUB) and, honestly, if you can’t get behind the idea of watching someone silently apply textures to the walls of a fictional digital boozer then what are you even doing here?
- Images Generated by AI Machines: A Twitter account posting pictures generated by AI, specifically AI which is running that currently-quite-zeitgeisty CLIP-led software – which basically means that it’s displaying code hacked together from a couple of different AI systems and which lets the user specify the output it desires from the machine in words. So, for example, you can ask it to make you ‘an English football fan’ and it will spit out its best approximation of what it thinks one of such a thing might look like. If you’ve ever wanted to see what a computer thinks ‘Pride Month’ looks like, or ‘A Hegelian Sex Dungeon’ (God bless whoever plugged that one in), this is the account for YOU. BONUS LINK: here’s a really good and clear explanation of how all this stuff functions which you might want to have a read of if you’re curious.
- The Best Film Shots of the 2010s: Or at least, ‘the best film shots of the 2010s as selected by a bunch of people on Twitter’; still, this (very long) thread of responses contain some absolutely amazing images from films as diverse as Mad Max, various Avengers movies, the Spiderverse…oh, who am I kidding, this skews very hard towards the big CG blockbusters of recent years, but I suppose that’s hardly surprising. What’s amazing about this is looking through and picking the painterly references – SO MUCH JOHN MARTIN INFLUENCE! The composition on display here is quite amazing.
- Oily Painting: I know that makes this sound desperately unappealing, but bear with me – this is a really satisfying painting toy, which replicates surprisingly well the feeling of using thick oilpaints with a thick-bristled brush (yes, fine, that is a very specific thing, what of it?); seriously, have a play with this and marvel at the practically visceral pleasure you get from the slightly-shiny, pleasingly-textured paint being slapped onto the virtual canvas. The only thing that would improve this would be the ability to pile it on really thick and to then get in there with some virtual fingers, but I appreciate not everyone desires virtual tactility from their online arttools.
- Cool Ponies Draw: A TikTok account which does one thing, and one thing only – namely, it draws famous people in the style of My Little Ponies. So if you’ve ever wanted to see the process by which, er, Robert Mugabe gets turned into a cartoon pony by someone with a lot of talent but an…idiosyncratic subject selection process, HERE! Other figures subjected to the treatment include Karl Marx and Margaret Thatcher, suggesting the artist very much knows what they are doing here.
- Bulletin: Facebook’s newsletter product is here! Exciting, huh? No, no it’s not – the only thing that I find interesting about this is the selection of initial writers they have on board (is this what’s considered middle-of-the-road, unthreatening pseudo-intellectualism for the English speaking world in 2021? I suppose it must be) and the coming contortions Facebook is forced to make when it tries to explain how despite the fact that it is now recruiting people on contract to write content delivered to readers via Facebook-owned channels it is still definitely not a publisher, honest.
- Spore: As we continue to be sold the idea that we can all make a living in the glorious and imminent future simply by making content about the things we love – ahahahaha I will never stop finding this lie funny ahahahahaha – so more platforms are springing up to seek to facilitate this particular economy (and to presumably cream a few % off the top). Spore is another one – its gimmick is that it offers creators a place to house all their content on one platform, from podcast to newsletter to social content, along with forum functionality and analytics and and and and. All the gubbins that an aspiring creator could want, seemingly, although the site’s remarkably opaque about what the costs are or where Spore’s cut is coming from, which gives me small pause. Still, if you’re looking for somewhere to act as a central content repository then you could do worse than check this out.
- Twemex: “Twemex is a browser extension for Twitter that automatically surfaces the most interesting ideas. It helps you spend less time mindlessly scrolling, and more time developing your thoughts” – so runs the blurb. This is not a million miles away from those old Gmail extensions that pulled social data for whoever you were emailing to enable you to stalk them incessantly / pull in realtime information about what they were interested in to personalise your interactions (delete as applicable) – it lets you see a user’s ‘best’ Tweets, what they were Tweeting about on this day various years ago, see your past conversations, etc etc. More usefully, though, it brings a lot of the Twitter Advanced Search into the Twitter-on-web experience, which could be genuinely useful for those of you who are POWER USERS (I have always found that designation laughable, by the way, am I the only one?).
- Habitat 2.0: Another Facebook innovation, this, and a very technical one, but if you’re interested in AI and robotics and the training thereof then it’s also fascinating. Habitat 2.0 is the new iteration of Facebook’s existing Habitat AI training software, which creates digital environments which replicate the physical and which allow AIs to undergo hundreds of hours of training in ‘real’ environments in relatively quick time. Habitat 2.0 is that but better, environments with more detail and with objects that have their own physics, to allow for more accurate simulation of the movement of individual elements within space by robotic bodies. This is SO interesting – the not-too-distant evolution of this is, say, a drone flying though a warehouse and mapping it via camera, then that mapping being uploaded into software like this, which overnight runs a million training cycles on an AI which the next morning starts running robots based on said training cycles and are therefore ‘aware’ of the warehouse topography as soon as they’re turned on…it’s hard not to look at this stuff and get slightly excited about the future, even when it is so terrifying and hot.
- This Song Plants Trees: Such a nice idea, this. A single song on Spotify which for every 100 or so plays will pay for a tree to be planted. That’s it – there’s no brand behind it (though, er, this is VERY STEALABLE) or anything like that, it’s just a clever idea that’s environmentally kind (please don’t anyone feel the need to tell me that the amount of computational power needed to play 100 tracks on Spotify has a higher environmental cost than would be mitigated by the planting of a single tree; I WANT TO BELIEVE FFS). Well done to Matt Gordon who made this.
- Chickfly: Before we start, let me just make absolutely clear that I think these are a good idea and there is nothing whatsoever wrong with bodily functions or inherently funny about the act of either micturation or defecation. Now we’ve got that out of the way, Chickfly is a brand of trousers designed for women exercising in the great outdoors who might not want to, er, drop trou entirely when they need to relieve themselves (for reasons of comfort, modesty, safety, whatever). As such, these trousers (leggings? pants? whatever) are designed with a ‘fly’ which can be stretched open to allow easy, er, egress of whatever biological materials one might need to divest oneself of – which is SUCH a smart bit of design, but which (and I’m sorry about this) I can’t now think of without also imagining an abseiling woman literally just letting go down 300ft of rockface (look, blame the website imagery). If you do climbing, hiking, or indeed any sort of outdoor pursuit, then I can imagine these might be a godsend to anyone with a vagina – although possibly not if you do your climbing at an indoor wall, where I imagine this sort of behaviour is…frowned upon.
THE SECTION WHICH IS GENUINELY CURIOUS AS TO WHAT THE CLIMATE CHANGE DENIAL LOBBY’S ANSWER IS TO ‘IT’S CURRENTLY 50 DEGREES IN CANADA, WHY MIGHT THAT BE?’. pt.2:
- Postdates: By the same digital pranksters who brought you that spoof Amazon dating service a year or so ago, Postdates is a similarly on-the-nose gag except that this time it’s real (or at least it is for a limited time only). The idea is simple – a service, available in NYC and LA, which lets users sign up and pay a fee for someone else to get their stuff back from their ex. Simple and exactly the sort of thing that we, as the most-emotional-labour-averse generation in history (I am taking everyone below about 45 as a single post-web generation here, deal with it) would absolutely jump at the chance of using whilst at the same time making ennui-laden gags on social about how ‘OMG this is literally the WORST example of late-period modern capitalism lol sign me up how do I get my Juul back from the last fuckboi/egir i am so trash lolllllllll’. I am not artdecider, but if I were then this would definitely be ART.
- Tella: Another ‘better video, honest!’ app, this time designed to help you make your screenrecordings better (or at the very least ‘less sh1t’). This all looks really smart if I’m honest – it all runs through the browser, and lets you (seemingly – I haven’t done more than VERY quickly play around because, well, WHAT DO YOU EXPECT FFS HAVE YOU SEEN HOW MANY LINKS THERE ARE IN HERE AND DO YOU KNOW HOW MUCH STUFF I DON’T FEATURE EACH WEEK AND WHERE AM I MEANT TO FIND THE TIME??) do lots of clever stuff with your screenrecordings, using windows and layers to let you create really quite sophisticated videos which look particularly useful for training and onboarding purposes. Definitely worth a look if you spend a lot of your time showing people how to do stuff on screenshare and wish you didn’t have to.
- Biztoc: Another of those ‘ALL OF THE INFORMATION ABOUT X IN ONE PLACE!’ websites, this one for BUSINESS, which combines a dizzying number of feeds from business news sources, stock prices, trending videos from business YouTube, recent YouGov polling data, with some community gubbins which lets users post their own links, have forum-style discussions (presumably about BUSINESS, but who knows?), etc etc. Personally-speaking I find the style of this page ever so slightly anxiety-inducing, but if you are more BUSINESS than me (not, it must be said, hard) then you may get more out of this than I did.
- A Soft Landing: This is rather lovely, and a pleasingly ‘slow’ piece of internet. “A Soft Landing is an online resource inspired by the activity of communal gardens and city allotments. It is a space where volunteers are invited to share, learn, contribute and care for themselves and others, through the sharing of material that could be used for nourishment, growth, pleasure, education or healing. This material might take the form of recipes, remedies, instructions, inspirations, sounds or images – but these are just suggestions. Volunteers are welcome to contribute material to a fresh plot or respond to material from another. Visitors are free to notice all contributed material and take from it what they might need (a recipe, a remedy, or simply inspiration…) They may also request to volunteer and contribute at a later date. Although there are no strict limits, there is a general focus on themes surrounding nature, ecology, plants, food, care and sustainability.” Everything on the site is presented in a beautiful style – the shapes and colours on the homepage are extremely-reminiscent of a very specific aesthetic that annoyingly I can’t name but will be instantly familiar, I promise – and the fact that it’s populated by email submissions means that there’s a thoughtfulness and a lack of immediacy which I find personally very appealing. A project by artist Sam Williams.
- Copilot: It does feel like we’re slowing coming to the realisation that the best usecase for most AI at present is to act as an adjunct or augmentation for existing human capabilities – so it was with Sudowrite up there, and so it is with Copilot, which is Github’s new AI assistant for coders, designed to act as an always-on codehelper, which will ‘learn’ your style of coding and, when asked, offer suggestions of how to solve specific question. This is SUCH an interesting idea, and exactly the sort of use-case for AI I can get behind, working as a smart helper to do the boring bits faster than we can (in this case, searching through Git repositories) – obviously I am a useless luddite who can’t code and so therefore can’t vouch for the excellence or otherwise of the software, but it looks like it would be worth a try.
- American Dream Sleep Sounds: I know literally NOTHING about this, other than what appears on the site – to whit, the phrase ‘achieve the American dream in your sleep (and at any other time!)’ and an embedded sound file – and the brief snippets of the audio I have listened to, but I presume that this is some sort of subliminal learning…thing? designed to somehow imbue you with beliefs and powers while you sleep. Now, having scrubbed through the track a bit, I have some…questions. Why is it saying these phrases? What do they mean? What will happen to me if night after night I let my subconscious imbibe such ‘messages’ as ‘Get off my lawn’, or ‘football in the fall, baseball in the spring, botox in the summer’, or ‘you worshipped the correct God’? WHAT IS HAPPENING HERE? Look, can one of you just put this on overnight each night for the next week or so and then let me know what happens to you? It’s for science.
- Lollipop AI: I am 100% certain I have seen something very much like this before, YEARS ago, which suggests that that failed miserably and this is attempt number 2 (at least) to make this very sensible-seeming idea fly. Lollipop is a recipe and shopping service whose gimmick is that users can browse recipes (from BBC Good Food and ‘expert chefs’ and, when they see one they like, have all the necessary ingredients for said meal dumped into their Sainsbury’s shopping basket with one click. This is SO clever, imho, and the supermarket partnership seems solid – what with being in a foreign country (and, er, having never signed up for online shopping in the UK in any case) I am not able to actually test this out, but it’s a really smart concept which I can imagine being reasonably popular if promoted well (I’ve doomed it, haven’t I? Sorry, Lollipop AI) (also, is it just me or does the ‘AI’ in the brandname make it feel somehow less good and trustworthy?).
- Brickit: You will doubtless have seen the video doing the rounds on social this week of the MAGICAL LEGO APP which scans a bunch of bricks in a messy pile, identifies them and suggests stuff you could make with said bricks, with building guides and everything – this is the app that created said video (as ever with these things, I imagine the poor bggers behind this app were very grateful for the attention but not the fact that the original post singularly failed to mention where the footage was from, what the app was, etc etc). It’s not an official LEGO app (though I would be surprised if it wasn’t before too long) and apparently it really does work as the video suggests so, er, if you have a awful lot of LEGO and have run out of ideas with what to do with it then why not give it a try?
- Neeva: After the Brave browser last week, this week sees Neeva staking its claim to be ‘the search engine you use when you can be bothered to remember that Google is a bit evil and nowhere near as good as it used to be’. Except Neeva will ask you to pay a monthly fee to use it, meaning you might be more inclined to remember to use the damn thing when it’s costing you £50 a year. The big difference between it and Google is the fact that, because you pay for it, Neeva is ad-free – which if you’re the sort of person who simply can’t be bothered to scroll past the first 5 results then, fine, may well be worth it. There’s a longread in the section below which goes into greater depth about what Neeva is, what it wants to be, and how it works at launch – the tl;dr here is that it’s probably not worth signing up just yet for its qualities as a Google-killer, but might well be if you believe in the project and want it to get better.
- Virtra: I think I said a few weeks ago that I was far more interested in the specific, niche use-cases for AR and VR than I am in the attempts to make it a mass-market entertainment technology; so it is with Virtra, a company which produces VR training software for the police and military agencies in the US to train officers on dealing with specific situations in a safe environment. Now, it’s not a…controversial statement to suggest that the behaviour of the police in America is often suggestive of the fact that they’re not without flaws(!), and so programmes that can ameliorate the training process to help better prepare them to maybe not attempt to murder black people (or indeed anyone else, but, well, we know what the stats say) is broadly A Good Thing, as is anything that helps maybe weed out the racists and the sociopaths and the would-be-killers and the ones who love their guns a bit too much.
- Made How?: Have you ever wanted to know, in exact and very specific detail, how, say, incense sticks are produced at scale? Or how one might go about manufacturing a rough terrain forklift vehicle? No, you haven’t, have you, you dullard. Still, now you can make up for lost time and find out these facts and MANY MORE – this is a very odd little website (this is meant entirely positively, should the owner ever stumble across this writeup and feel affronted – I love odd little websites, and by extension I love YOU and YOURS) which lists 7 volumes of alphabetically-arranged objects which you can click through into to read exhaustive descriptions of the manufacturing process thereof. I have no idea where these descriptions are sourced from, or who wrote them, or how accurate they are, and so can take no responsibility if your attempt to construct the aforementioned forklift vehicle ends in ignominious failure, but this is an admirable (and strangely-curated – who decided the frankly arbitrary list of things included? Why ‘leather jacket’ and not ‘leather chaps’? We will never know) attempt to enable us to recreate society from scratch should it ever come to that.
- Askafly: MORE FLYING CARS! Except this one is a helicar – electric, and multi-rotored like a drone, and super-cool-looking, and it costs nearly a million quid (and it doesn’t actually exist yet) and, well, just watch the video of the rotors unfurling for it to take off and tell me that it doesn’t look like it would break literally every time you attempted to fly to Lidl for some cheap booze.
- Worldwide Telescope: Not actually a telescope! “It’s not a physical telescope — it’s a suite of free and open source software and data sets that combine to create stunning scientific visualizations and stories.” Seriously, if you’re in any way interested in the stars or space or astronomy, this is an incredible resource – even better, it’s got all sorts of guided tours you can do to help you navigate the slightly confusing interface and to help you find the interesting stuff. I have no idea whether ‘space’ is on the national curriculum, but if your kids are vaguely interested in the stars and planets and stuff then this might be worth a look.
- Merlin Bird ID: Shazam, for birds! What a GREAT idea – Merlin is an existing bird identification app (annoyingly it’s North American, meaning its utility will be restricted for those of you who find yourselves elsewhere) which recently added software which will ket you attempt to identify birds based on their song, which is SO COOL and if nothing else would have enabled me to work out exactly which bstard creatures it was which for a solid month or so a year ago decided to set up camp on my roof and greet the dawn with cheery chirping every single morning circa 5am. I was in Costa Rica several years ago – if you are ever able, do go; it is impossible to be cynical when you are surrounded by the most amazing critters, everywhere, and God knows I tried – and learned that in the US bird fanciers are called ‘birders’, a fact which I found inordinately pleasing and which I hope you do too.
- Toei Tokusatsu World: Those of you a few years younger than me may have fond memories of Power Rangers from when you were growing up; those of you a bit older may have equally fond memories of early Godzilla films, or maybe Ultraman if you grew up in the Far East or certain parts of Europe. Regardless of which version, most of the world is broadly familiar with the particular category of Japanese entertainment that is ‘person in shonky latex costume terrorises Earth; is eventually despatched by hero(es) in equally-shonky, often also latex, costume’ – this is a YouTube channel dedicated to exactly such shows and MAN are there a lot of them, and MAN are the latex costumes shonky. Sadly I don’t think these are subtitled, but, honestly, who cares? If you’re into the genre this will be golden for you, and if you’re in the market for a bunch of VERY kitchsy video to rip for whatever project you’re currently embarking on then this is also great. If anyone knows anything about what these programmes are then I would love to hear it.
- Iveonte: This is quite the thing. Possibly the most genuine piece of outsider art I have ever featured in Curios, Iveonte is sadly only really going to be accessible to the Italians amongst you (which, er, is about three people I think – still, NICHE FAN SERVICE, amirite?) but you should all click on the link because the site is a near-perfect nugget of homespun internet, and also features VERY HEROIC autoplaying music. Iveonte is the epic work of one man, Luigi Orabona, who has dedicated his life to the production of this fantasy epic, which traces the history of the titlar hero and the world he inhabits across a barely-credible 47 volumes of fantastical prose, the total opus (now completed) weighing in at a quite mind-flayingly long 14million words or so (to give you a sense of comparison, apparently Proust’s ‘A La Recherche…’ is a ‘mere’ 1.4million or so). I read an interview with the author (sadly I have mislaid the link, and it was all in Italian anyway) where he explained that his wife has read it all (she liked it, apparently) and a mate of his, but that he’s not sure if anyone else has – still, WHAT AN ACHIEVEMENT. If you ever needed a reason to learn to read Italian, you won’t get a better one than this).
- Alltruists: Outsource your pursuit of altruistic goals, with caring as a service! Ok, maybe that’s a bit unfair, but there’s something about this that made me feel a bit icky (as previously noted, this is a technical philosophical term). The idea is that this is a subscription service which each month will send you and your kids a box designed to help them to investigate socially-conscious issues such as homelessness, etc. “Every box experience walks kids through four steps, starting with an accessible overview of the issue at hand, then empathy-building activities to deepen kids’ understanding of others’ experiences, then the volunteer project itself, and finally a giving activity where kids can direct a $5 donation (included in every box) toward one of three relevant projects.” EVEN BETTER, “In our first box on homelessness, one of the empathy-building activities is the construction of a simple home made of mini-concrete blocks, representative of many majority world homes.” No, sorry, I can’t – this is grotesque, isn’t it? Paying to teach your kids to have a social context because you can’t be fcuked or don’t know how? There’s a pullquote on the site which actually reads “Finally!! I’ve wanted to volunteer with my kids for years but have never been able to make it happen until this box showed up” which, wow, made me really angry! This doesn’t appear to be a joke, and yet very much feels like it ought to be one.
- Sublime Text: You type, and the website plays ‘What I Got’ by Sublime until you stop typing. As someone with an unlikely attachment to the album that this is from (look, they were formative years, ok?), the only way in which this could be improved from my point of view would be for it to play the whole album.
- Questionable Vintage Recipes: You will be familiar with the particular viral content genre of ‘disgusting recipes from 1970s cookbooks, often featuring jelly used in ways you didn’t think were possible’ – this is a Facebook Group devoted to such food, and WOW is there some great stuff in here, not least because most of it hasn’t been done to death in previous viral roundups. Whoever invented coleslaw souffle is an evil genius.
- Thinky Puzzle Game Jam: This closes today (Friday 2 July), but already contains 22 different tiny examples of thinky puzzle games, playable in your browser and a superb way of both killing some of the working day and exercising your brain cells after a few hours of their being dulled by the moribund tedium of your pointless job. Some of these are GREAT – I particularly enjoyed the elephant one, but all the ones I’ve tried have nee fun so give them a go and pick a favourite.
- Masters of the Universe: Finally in this week’s miscellaneous links, MASTERS OF THE UNIVERSE! Or at least a small pixelart game based on the cartoon series (being rebooted! Why? Who wants or needs it? Still, here’s the trailer), which plays a bit like old Spectrum/C64 classic Barbarian and which features a rendition of the theme tune, in the chiptune style, so powerful that it will magically transport you back to your childhood, seated on fraying carpet before a black and white television as you wished REALLY HARD that your cat could transform just like Cringer (I am assuming you had my childhood).
THE CIRCUS OF TUMBLRS IS SADLY EMPTY THIS WEEK AND IF IT KEEPS ON BEING THIS WAY I MIGHT HAVE TO RETIRE THE SECTION OR DEVOTE IT TO TIKTOKS INSTEAD WHICH I REALLY DO NOT WANT TO DO! CURIOS IS PAIN!
THE TROUGH OF (INSTA) FEEDS!
- Squeaky and Roy: This is an interesting development in the evolution of the INFLUENCER CONTENT INDUSTRIAL COMPLEX – TikTok superstars the D’Amelio sisters apparently have a thing about their old plush toys from when they were kids, so the obvious evolution of their brand is the creation of a separate diffusion content line which features 3dCG animated versions of said lost toys, ‘interacting’ with the sisters in videos posted on TikTok and in this Insta feed. This feels incredibly, nakedly cynical – way to open up a secondary market in low-quality plush toys, sisters! – but, equally, quite smart, and another step in the ‘video star to GLOBAL BRAND’ pipeline which is where all these kids aspire to arrive (not to mention their parents, siblings, entourage, managers, etc etc etc etczzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz).
- Lior Patel: Lior Patel does drone photography – his work went a bit viral this week after footage of sheep being herded did the rounds, but his whole account is worth a look as it’s a bit less cookie-cutter than lots of the other drone imagery you see all over Insta (imho).
- Eslyn’s Dolls: The Insta account accompanying the Etsy shop of Eslyn, a ‘doll artist’ who makes custom creations of hugely-impressive and (sorry Eslyn) incredibly-creepy dolls which are designed to look like very beautiful tiny women and which are arranged in glamorous outfits like they’ve just stepped out of a Vogue shoot and which are posed…sexily? Are these sexy dolls? The artistry here is undeniable, but I can’t pretend I ever want to look at these ever again.
- Atlas Snail Art: I LOVE THIS! A Scottish woman owns a pair of giant pet snails – by creating (entirely animal-safe) dyes from fruit and vegetables, she and the snails can create watercolour ‘paintings’, as showcased on this Insta feed. GIVE THE SNAILS A GALLERY SHOW! Apparently they do ‘commissions’, though I confess to being a bit iffy about how that might work in practice.
LONG THINGS WHICH ARE LONG!:
- Human Augmentation: I tend not to feature too many White Papers by the Ministry of Defence in here, but I will make an exception for this as it’s really, really interesting and also very frightening indeed (depending on your point of view). It’s all about the potential that the MoD sees in ‘human augmentation’, both in the general sense and in the very specific ‘what if we were in the future to create a new cadre of bionic cyborg supersoldiers?’ sense, and it contains some truly chilling lines. The document makes repeated reference to the ‘human platform’ and boldly states that ‘we cannot wait for the ethics of human augmentation to be decided for us…the future of human augmentation should not…be decided by ethicists’. The section on ‘Ethics’ within the 110-page document is a whole 4 pages long, suggesting that we can all rest easy on that front.
- The Invention of Critical Race Theory: Cultural exchange in the English-speaking world in 2021: we give the US TERFism, they give us ‘Critical Race Theory’ – seems fair! This is a good piece in the New Yorker which explains how the current (very real) furore over the concept of ‘critical race theory’ was largely confected by one man for the specific purpose of finding another way to kick at the popular right-wing illusion of leftist thought, and how it has spread to become this Summer’s hot culture war potato. It’s worth linking to because it’s surely only a matter of time before the Mail and Telegraph go full-throttle on this stuff, so forewarned is forearmed and all that.
- Modern Logistics: A fascinating look at the effect that modern consumption and shopping trends have on the way in which logistics functions, and the knock-on effects that the development of modern logistics has on the physical environment of the spaces between our towns and cities. It’s not a massive stretch to envisage a future some 100 years hence in which the burnt-out land between our urban hellholes is carpeted in warehouses and server farms as far as the eye can see.
- The Internet is a Collective Hallucination: The concept of ‘digital decay’ or linkrot is much-discussed, but this article in the Atlantic does a better job than most of practically explaining why this is a potentially-dangreous thing that should be guarded against. This paragraph is a good summation, but it’s very much worth reading the whole thing if you’re at all interested in memory and permanence and the concept of ‘truth’ in a post-digital age: “The project of preserving and building on our intellectual track, including all its meanderings and false starts, is thus falling victim to the catastrophic success of the digital revolution that should have bolstered it. Tools that could have made humanity’s knowledge production available to all instead have, for completely understandable reasons, militated toward an ever-changing “now,” where there’s no easy way to cite many sources for posterity, and those that are citable are all too mutable.”
- About Neeva: A profile of the ex-Googlers behind the new paid-for search engine Neeva, which looks at why they are doing it and the tech underpinning it, and asks some moderately-interesting questions about the extent to which a market for ad-free, paid-for search actually exists. I personally wonder whether or not most people care enough about ads, etc, to bother – as ever with these things, I worry that people who know a bit about this sort of thing significantly overestimate the extent to which people who know very little about it give anything resembling a fcuk.
- Bitcoin in El Salvador: You may have seen the story a few weeks ago about how El Salvador was going to start using Bitcoin as its official currency – all the reports about it were light on practical detail, which is why this piece about how crypto’s adoption in the country has been working and the extent to which it’s practically taking place (beyond the hype) is so interesting. It’s an odd mix of the optimistically-philanthropic (albeit motivated by murky ideology) and the obviously-grifty (as, frankly, is the case with most crypto stuff as far as I can tell), and the uptake doesn’t quite seem to have been either as widespread or panacealike as evangelists might like to pretend, but there’s undoubtedly some interesting stuff happening here, not least in the potential benefits in terms of empowerment of poorer communities and their ability to control and move resources (but, seriously, THIS IS NOT A CURRENCY).
- The Ukrainian Government App: As someone currently residing in a country whose bureaucracy is literally the most ridiculous I have ever seen – honestly, I had to print out a tax form the other day for my mum’s records which required you to cut a chunk out of it, halfway up a sheet of A4 paper, to staple to another form, which, honestly, is a system only a brilliantly sadistic mind could devise – I am currently very pro the idea of the digitisation of public services. Most Westerners (myself included fwiw) have, I imagine, largely forgotten about Ukraine’s comedian leader since the flurry of coverage following his election a few year’s back, but I was quite impressed with the tech solutions and approach he’s employed to bringing the country’s administration kicking and screaming into modernity (and I say that as someone who rarely if ever thinks technology is the answer).
- A History of Selling Ski: If you work in advermarketing PR, this account of how the author sold yoghurt to the English masses in the 70s is EXCELLENT reading, partly as a glimpse into a different world (the line about the strippers towards the end is particularly choice) but also as an example of the fact that nothing changes as much as we ever think it does.
- Hollywood Gets the NFT Bug: Or, “how Disney is going to screw Star Wars fans out of even more money”. If you can read this and think anything other than ‘wow, this really is an incredibly naked attempt to squeeze even more cash out of a franchise and with no real explanation of where the value lies, AGAIN’ then you’re either more visionary or more credulous than I am (we can decide which is correct in 5 years time, feel free to come back and raise it with me then). Every single person quoted in this has horrible Scrooge McDuck dollar sign pupils.
- The Staged Photoshoots of China: How a rural area in South East China has created an economy around providing a stageset against which people can photograph a version of China that no longer exists, and perhaps never did in such photogenic fashion. File under ‘everything is kayfabe now’, and remember this when you’re employed as an extra in the ‘BeforeTimes London Office Diorama’ come 2036.
- My TikTok Feed Is Disgusting: What does what your TikTok feed show you tell you about yourself? What does it tell others about you? Would you let someone else see your FYP? Would you feel embarrassed at the sorts of videos that you get shown above all else? Can we even be said to share a platform if our experiences on it are so distinct and so different? And is the logical endpoint to all this an infinite number of infinitely-tailored feeds, laser-cut to fit our tastes and keep us scrolling in a way that’s designed to be addictive just for us? Let’s all agree that the answer to the last of these questions is a loud ‘yes’, if nothing else.
- TikTok Influencer Culture: Specifically, fashion influencers – the piece tries to draw out particular things that make the TikTok fashion community unique, but all I could think of as I read this was that all platforms tend towards beef culture and takedowns and controversy over time, because that’s what we like and the algos know that. I can’t see the 3-minute TikTok announcement doing anything other than accelerating the progression towards the platform becoming significantly more YouTube-y.
- An Oral History of Terminator 2: The only thing that would improve this imho is slightly more from Edward Furlong about whether he thinks the film fcuked him up as much as it quite obviously seemed to, but this is a great read overall and one which happily cements the ‘James Cameron=ar$ehole’ narrative that has existed in my head for time.
- An Oral History of All Tomorrow’s Parties: The legendary, much-lamented indie showcase, which for several years was the only reason anyone could ever have to visit a Pontin’s – this is a great read (admittedly probably slightly better if you know some of the principals involved, but still) which does a good job of capturing the peculiar hedonism of the events and the very real reasons why it all fell apart quite so spectacularly.
- Semen Retention: I laughed so, so much whilst reading this – not so much at the individuals quoted, none of whom seem bad per se so much as perhaps a bit misguided, as at the idea that semen is somehow a magical fluid whose retention grants MYSTICAL BENEFITS like clarity of thought and emotion. In my experience, the only mystical benefit gained from retaining one’s semen is the distinct and unique sensation that all your excess weight is being stored in one’s testicles; however, should any male readers feel like trying out a retention experiment, please do feel free to get in touch and tell me of all the benefits you’re enjoying as a result.
- Jeffrey Fang: A brilliant piece of journalism by WIRED which profiles Jeffrey Fang, who earlier this year made headlines as the Doordash delivery driver whose car was stolen while he was dropping off an order whilst his kids were in the back. The article recounts Fang’s life and how he ended up as a gig economy driver, and how his experience with Lyft, Uber et al changed over time as the perks for drivers dried up and it became harder and harder to make the sort of money that attracted Fang to the job in the first place. Slightly depressing in a uniquely-modern way.
- Where Does It End?: 135 questions for the people shaping New York’s skyline, which could equally be applied to the people shaping the skylines of London or any other city where the red-lit cranes have continued to pop up even as the world has shut down. This is as much a superb piece of writing (and a clever use of form/style) as it is a series of arguments, but this in particular struck me as fundamental to the issue in hand: “If these buildings were to suddenly disappear, who would miss them? How many of those people are there?”
- Writing For Games: Joe Dunthorne writes about his experience writing for an unnamed videogame. This is wonderful, about writing and the creative process and the oddity of writing for an interactive medium, and it’s an almost-perfect piece of short storytelling imho.
- How Twitter Can Ruin A Life: I didn’t feature the ‘Attack Helicopter’ piece which is at the heart of this article in Curios when it came out, mainly because I didn’t know what to make of it and I was very conscious of not wanting to misinterpret or misunderstand something that it seemed clear to me was a serious and important piece of writing that I wasn’t remotely-qualified to opine on. This article looks at the article, its reception, and how the discussion around it and the flattening of context of nuance that can only occur on Twitter led to its author having to step back from the identity that they were painstakingly trying to create for themselves. This is a very sad story in many ways – take from it what you will (I think Chuck Tingle’s is good, fwiw), but my main feeling was of how miserable it is that all work dealing with any significant issue in 2021 is immediately subject to this degree of mistrust and scrutiny and the assumption that it might be an aggressive, covert operation against a particular group or ideology. I can see why, but I really wish this weren’t the case.
- The Last Meal: Finally in this week’s longreads, a piece from Esquire in 2008, in which author Michael Paterniti is commissioned to go and eat the same last meal as Francois Mitterand, including the famous, unforgivable ortolan. If you’re upset about the idea of people eating animals in ways that are not exactly kind, then skip this one – if you can stomach it, though, this is a wonderful piece of magazine writing of the sort I don’t think gets commissioned much anymore. It’s also a VERY men’s mag sort of piece, lots of LITERARY FLOURISH and authorial presence, but that’s forgivable when it’s also so evocative. I don’t want to eat ortolan, but I will happily read others’ experiences of so doing – for the epicures amongst you, this is a must-read.
AND NOW, MOVING PICTURES AND SOUNDS!:
- Last up in this week’s videos, the new one from Poppy – the video to this is SO GOOD, and the song’s not bad either (if very comfortable in its 90s revivalist style; it could be a Garbage b-side). There’s a lot in the lyrics which reflects the Bella Poarch track fro a few weeks ago and its preoccupations with ‘being built’, etc, which considering the genesis of the ‘Poppy’ character is either part of the gag or a knowing joke at her own expense or who the fcuk knows anymore what the meta is here? Still, it’s a good song and worth a listen – it’s called ‘Her’. Oh, and THAT’S IT FOR THIS WEEK YOU HAVE REACHED THE END HAVE A SMALL FEELING OF ACCOMPLISHMENT AND REST EASY IN THE KNOWLEDGE THAT I AM PROUD OF YOU AND THAT I WILL BE HERE NEXT WEEK TO SPOONFEED YOU MORE CHUNKS OF WET INTERNET AND THEREFORE YOU CAN LOG OFF NOW SAFE IN THE KNOWLEDGE THAT YOU WON’T MISS ANYTHING BUT MAKE SURE YOU COME BACK DON’T LEAVE ME HERE ALL ALONE I LOVE YOU BYE COME BACK BYE COME BACK BYE!