Hello everyone! Hello! I’m back! Did you mi- hang on, there’s noone here. Fcuk.
Yes, unfortunately I have rather screwed the timings here – I had totally forgotten that this was JUBILEE WEEKEND, and that therefore the vast majority of you (who as far as I am aware live in the UK and receive this at work as some sort of Friday afternoon buffer against The Pain Of Your Pointless Advermarketingprjob) won’t actually see this, given you will all be either just getting into the swing of the 96h bender you’re constitutionally-obliged to embark on (I can only begin to imagine the state of the nation’s pub toilets come Sunday), angrily Tweting about how AWFUL it all is and worrying at your crochet HRH voodoo dolls, or w4anking yourselves to repeated, dusty climaxes at all of the pageantry (take your pick).
In many respects, then, this is the perfect Web Curios, written solely for ME and with no expectation that anyone outside of a handful of North Americans will read the fcuking thing. JUST HOW I LIKE IT.
(yes, I had a lovely break, thanks for asking!)
I am still Matt, this is still Web Curios, and you should probably make sure to drink lots of water.
THE SECTION WHICH WAS ONCE ACCUSED OF STEALING A TOY CORGI FROM THE BUCKINGHAM PALACE GIFT SHOP AND WHICH WOULD LIKE TO STATE ITS INNOCENCE ON THE RECORD HERE, PT.1:
- Different Strokes: I feel I should be upfront with you here about the fact that this link contains absolutely no trace whatsoever of Gary Coleman – sorry. Still, once you’ve got over that minor disappointment (or alternatively once younger readers have taken a moment to look up who Gary Coleman was – RIP, small king) then hopefully you will allow yourself to be charmed by this utterly-lovely webprojectgamething, which lets you wander around a small digital art gallery, presented in 3d (and with nary a mention of the fcuking ‘M’ word, for which infinite extra points). Which, in itself, isn’t that interesting – except all the works in the gallery have been created by visitors, can be edited by visitors, and the whole thing is a giant collaborative series of canvases produced and maintained and curated by anyone who happens upon the site. “Your friend, a conceptual artist, has invited you to their latest exhibition. You enter expecting to see their art adorning the walls, but to your surprise, the VISITORS are the ones drawing the art — they’re even drawing over each other’s work! It’s up to you to protect the exhibition from being covered in artwork that is, intentionally or otherwise, truly awful.” The idea here is that the community of visitors will collaboratively work to keep the walls from being covered with swastikas (dear God, what a depressing phrase to write – HUMAN NATURE, EH???), and (on a more positive note) that seems to be working, with no apparent horror anywhere to be found. This is so so so good – lovely flat style to the gallery space, easy navigation, simple controls to make your own works or contribute to the editing of others’, and a surprising amount of really decent sketches and doodles, especially considering you’re effectively working on MS-Paint to create stuff. Honestly, it’s enough to briefly give you a vague sense of pride in and hope for humanity – PRESERVE THAT FEELING IN AMBER!
- Leap For Mankind: Have YOU ever wanted to play an active part in the Apollo moon landings? Have you ever wanted to feel in control of several thousand tonnes of metal careening through the void of space? Well today’s your LUCKY DAY! Leap For Mankind is a nice little site which lets you experience various stages of one of the moon landings (sorry, I forget which one – whichever number has Aldrin et al onboard), from launch to landing the module to DRIVING THE BUGGY, all in perfectly-serviceable in-broswer 3d. As far as I can tell this is a hobby project drawing on a bunch of open source NASA materials, which makes the whole thing even more impressive – this is quite fun, in a light sort of way, and for some reason the presentation of the various assorted images and archive assets feels significantly more human and personal than in other NASA-y stuff about the landings that I’ve seen (to the extent that if I’m in honest some of the moon pictures do look a bit, well, stagey).
- Amends: I suppose it was only a matter of time before someone churned out an NFT artwork riffing on the harm being done by NFT artworks – and here it is! Amends is, in fairness, not quite as nakedly-stupid as that description probably made it sound – look, here!: “Amends is three digital sculptures by Kyle McDonald, designed to capture all historical emissions from three major art NFT marketplaces. When Ethereum transitions away from proof-of-work, Amends will go on sale. The work is priced to fund complete carbon mitigation.Handmade glass blocks, filled with artifacts from each removal process, will be revealed a month after launch. These sculptures will be shipped to the owners of the NFTs—if they burn their NFTs…The work is priced at a rate that will pay for a mix of carbon removal and reduction from three different providers, plus overhead from the marketplaces and for our non-profit partner facilitating the auction. Emissions totals are based on a bottom-up estimate of Ethereum emissions combined with a value-based accounting of all transaction fees associated with each marketplace. This means that the emissions allocated to a marketplace is proportional to its transaction fees.” Now, your tolerance for this will to an extent be dependent on the extent to which you can hear the term “emissions capture” and “carbon mitigation” without rolling your eyes and muttering “pull the other one, sonny jim, I can smell the greenwashing from here and your hands are all oily”, but I can’t help but quite like the clever-cleverness of the idea. Also, personally-speaking, I enjoy the aesthetic of the glasswork here and wouldn’t mind a giant glass cube part-filled with high-carbon soil if anyone fancies making one for me please thankyou.
- Like Like: It’s been a pleasing few weeks for ‘small and slightly-whimsical digital art projects that have captured my attention” – here’s another one, in the shape of “Like Like” made by Elan Kiderman Ullendorff (WHAT a name – I do hope they insist on it being used in full in conversation) which, as they describe it, is “a tool for wandering through twitter that’s also an essay about wandering through twitter”. Like Like takes you on a journey through Tweets, largely at random, with the only connection being ‘Likes’ – you start with Tweets you’ve liked, and from there take a series of hops through the Liked Tweets of others, all the while being read a short piece of writing about the way in which Twitter presents and contextualises information for us, and how nice it is to occasionally subvert that through this sort of clicky serendipity. There’s something almost exquisite corpse-ish about the journeys it takes you on, but perhaps more pleasingly it’s a gorgeous little reminder of the infinite oddity and breadth of humanity online – each time you ‘play’ this it will end up being a completely unique piece of…pseudo-poetry? Found fiction? Whatever, it’s almost-perfect, to my mind. Oh, and if you’re the sort of evil person who sees stuff like this and thinks ‘hm, how can I replicate the mechanics here for some sort of tawdry and soulless brand activation?” then a) know that I judge you; b) but only because I too am that person; c) there’s almost certainly some quite fun and playful stuff you could do here around ‘six degrees of separation’ or similar.
- Space Perspective: You might feasibly argue that ‘a sense of fcuking perspective about space and the degree to which its exploration and exploitation by a small cadre of the violently-wealthy is perhaps not the humanity-wide benefit that said cadre might want to make us think is is exactly what we need’ – but that’s not what this website’s about. No, Space Perspective is (OF COURSE!) another space tourism company! Whilst Jeff and Rich want to send you to the cosmos in LUXURY SPACEPLANES, these guys want to take you there via, er, LUXURY SPACE BALLOON! It’s carbon neutral, apparently, and so therefore a guilt-free (LOL!) way for the very wealthy to imagine leaving all the povvos behind to scrabble for energy and food and water while they extract rare earth metals from asteroids. “Spaceship Neptune is the first carbon-neutral way to space. Lifted by our SpaceBalloon™—a technology used for decades by the likes of NASA—we take Explorers on a leisurely flight, spending hours at the edge of space” – sorry, but I now can’t help but think of this as ‘space edging’, which has somewhat killed the mystique – “We go to space not to escape our planet, but to better understand and appreciate its beauty. We want to make space travel accessible to as many people as possible, which means limiting its environmental impact is an essential part of our mission.” Hm, ‘accessible’ you say – how much? Oh, a mere $125k. ACCESSIBLE! Still, it’s hard not to argue that it’s probably less environmentally-ruinous than a flight on JetBlue or Virgin, and who wouldn’t be tempted at the prospect of sipping cocktails in a near-zero-G space balloon as you see the curvature of the Earth silhouetted against the inky-blackness of the cosmos? NO FCUKER, that’s who!
- Cooking Flavr: This cropped up a few weeks ago – SORRY I AM LATE SORRY – and continues to intrigue me – as far as I can tell, this is entirely AI-generated (GPT-2 or 3 or similar), with articles seemingly entirely-generated by machine from headline prompts. When I found it it was mainly cooking-related stuff, featuring odd explainers about ‘what edible seaweed is’ and suchlike, but it’s pivoted to more esoteric subject matter such as ‘can proteins be hydrophobic’, and it’s churning out a LOT of copy…but why? Who has created this and what for and is this basically what the web is going to look like in a few short years – a bunch of AIs spaffing out infinite copy based on equally-AI-generated headlines derived from, say, signals from Google search spikes? I suppose the one saving grace is how bad all the writing is, but then again you could say much the same about most of the stuff filling the web’s extant near-infinity of pages, so fcuk knows if we’ll even be able to tell when the machines finally take over fulltime.
- The New Face: There’s a lot of talk at the moment about the extent to which BIG MONEY is continuing to try as hard as it possibly can to will Web3cryptoNFTdecentralisationmetaversecrap into existence, without at any point being able to come up with a coherent reason as to why it is A Good Thing (beyond, of course, the need to protect and juice the investments made by the aforementioned Big Money) – it is therefore inevitable that as part of this process, a bunch of tertiary parasites will evolve to help in that educative process. So it is with The New Face, a (French?) outfit which offers brands and businesses the chance to buy EXCITING AND INTERACTIVE TRAINING SESSIONS on all things Web3cryptoNFTdecentralisationmetaversecrap – training sessions which will involve learning about the NFT ecosystem, Discord, the crypto ethos…oh, and (OF COURSE!) minting and buying your very own NFTs, because once people have bought in they have a stake and you have them forever. This is obviously on the one hand a HUGE GRIFT, but…no, actually, there is no ‘but’, this is just a huge grift, but fair play to these people for going all-in on the fools/money axis.
- Imagen: Google recently announced its own alternative AI image creation software, a rival to OpenAI’s Dall-E project, this one called Imagen – as per Dall-E, it’s borderline-magic in its ability to conjure up fantastical images in a variety of visual styles based only on a few words of prompting; also, as per Dall-E, us normies can’t get our hands on it yet as it’s accessible only to a limited few researchers at present. Still, you can see some of the outputs here and, yep, it’s impressive – it’s also FULL OF HORROR! “While a subset of our training data was filtered to removed noise and undesirable content, such as pornographic imagery and toxic language, we also utilized LAION-400M dataset which is known to contain a wide range of inappropriate content including pornographic imagery, racist slurs, and harmful social stereotypes. Imagen relies on text encoders trained on uncurated web-scale data, and thus inherits the social biases and limitations of large language models. As such, there is a risk that Imagen has encoded harmful stereotypes and representations, which guides our decision to not release Imagen for public use without further safeguards in place.” There are SO MANY interesting philosophical questions to be considered around what can and should be used as source material for machines such as these, who should determine the answers to those questions, who should be granted access to use them and for what ends…sadly, though, those questions are all being asked behind closed doors, and the answers are being determined by the companies running the experiments, meaning that people using Dall-E 2 are discovering (for example) that there are certain words you can’t ask the machines to imagine (‘hell’, apparently, is a hard block, for example). There’s something interestingly-Gibsonian about the idea of there eventually being ‘on-market’ and ‘off-market’ models for this sort of thing, the dark dataset derived imagegenerators used to create bespoke bongo by backstreet fantasy purveyors our of sight of the Alphabets and OpenAIs of the future…it’s quite a strange feeling seeing stuff you read about in scifi as a child coming into being around you and crystallising slowly into near-reality. Oh, and speaking of DALL-E, this is rather lovely.
- Somewhere Good: I have been paying attention to stuff on the web for few decades now, and it’s been a while since I’ve seen a social platform idea that seems genuinely new in terms of form or function, but Somewhere Good does strike me as genuinely different. It’s basically an audio-based community which is designed to foster daily discussions and meditations around specific guided topics which change every 24h; users can add their thoughts (via voicenote) to the daily ‘thread’, which can then branch off into conversations and shared discussion, with links and filesharing and all sorts of smart means of developing and deepening the conversation. FULL DISCLOSURE – I haven’t used this as it very much doesn’t look like it’s for me (in the sense that I am a miserable, cynical and hopeless middle-aged white man, and this is by and for POC who want to talk openly and sincerely about stuff, and as such I don’t think I would necessarily fit in), but that doesn’t mean I don’t think the design and UX and UI looks super-interesting (I featured this a year ago, but it hadn’t gone live yet and it’s interesting-looking enough post launch to warrant a rare second mention imho).
- Stepn: I don’t understand the economics of ‘X To Earn’ stuff – or rather, I think I do and I think that they are all necessarily pyramid schemes because otherwise how the everliving fcuk do the numbers work?! – but I am interested in them as a growing SHINY NEW THING that lots of money keeps getting hurled at. So it is with STEPN, whose gimmick is ‘move to earn’! Yes, that’s right, YOU TOO could earn actual real-life cashmoney by downloading this app and simply walking or jogging or running – the further you go, the more coin you earn which can then trade out (in theory at least) for proper fiat currency. Which sounds great in theory, except when you get to the part about needing to buy a pair of NFT ‘trainers’ before you can start playing, which are currently trading at around $600. Oh, and you’ll need to upgrade those trainers to be able to make decent points. And it will take you 2-3 months before you start earning back. And there are upgrades and boosters and skins and THIS DOESN’T SOUND LIKE FUN ANYMORE! This is…not exactly easy to get your head around, but if you think it sounds complicated on paper then I encourage you to watch a YouTube video or two of someone trying to explain it, which will (I hope) prove to you that this is just another case of people at the top of the pyramid needing to get new mooks into the bottom of the pyramid to keep the cash flowing.
- Sexn: Ok, fine, so perhaps ‘walk to earn’ doesn’t appeal to you – perhaps you think ‘no, I am a lover not an athlete and I therefore need something that allows me to exploit my uniquely-sexy skillset for PROFIT but without getting into Onlyfans’. Well today is your LUCKY DAY, as, inspired by Stepn, some ‘clever’ person has invented ‘Sexn’, a ‘fcuk to earn’ platform! Absolutely, definitely not a joke/con (it is definitely a joke/con), Sexn promises to track your performance in the sack and, somehow, reward you with COIN for your boning. “SEXN: web 3.0 sexual app that implements the sex-to-earn concept. SEXN is designed to give users two of the indispensable things that humans love most: sex and money. This sexual application will start from sex-to-earn and gradually develop private social and e-commerce sectors Users of SEXN will gain a high return of $SOT (Sex Orgasm Token) and $SST (Sexual Stamina Token) through ‘SEX’. There are several modes, including coitus mode, masturbation mode, Sadism & Masochism model, and super mode, which can meet the needs of different groups of people in different situations and contain different rewards methods” – yes, it sounds GREAT, doesn’t it? Especially the ‘sadism and masochism’ modes – “whip to earn” or “grovel to earn” sound like absolutely-legitimate economic models, don’t they? I really don’t want to believe that anyone is going to give these crooks money, but I have a terrible feeling that more people than read this newsletter probably will (I am astonished that the illusory promise of literally being able to w4nk for pennies is more appealing than 10k words a week about ‘links’).
- Clovercities: We must be getting right to the end of the ‘resurrecting the Geocities aesthetic’ trend, surely? Anyway, this is Clovercities, a ‘make a website like that looks like an old Geocities page in no time at all’ service, with a little bit of light AI copy generation thrown in for good measure. This is, fine, a bit of digital marketing for a piece of notebook software, but the pagebuilder is surprisingly-robust and it’s actually very easy to create something genuinely gaudy and eyebothering in a few short seconds.
- Orbits: This isn’t the first ‘look, here’s a visualisation of all the stuff that’s currently orbiting our planet, isn’t there an awful lot of junk up there?’ website I’ve featured in Curios, but it’s definitely the nicest-looking and most-colourful, and possibly the one most likely to cause you to think back to that ‘luxury balloon voyage to space’ link back up there and wonder how the fcuk anyone expects to escape the Earth’s atmosphere without crashing into at least six burnt out bits of Starlink kit and a few asteroids-worth of frozen astronaut faeces.
- The Underpinnings Museum: PANTS! “The Underpinnings Museum is an online museum: a radical innovation in showcasing and documenting exquisite objects, dedicated to the evolution of underwear through the ages. Whilst high profile exhibitions on the history of lingerie hit the headlines in Paris, New York, Sydney and now London, and brands seek to celebrate their heritage by looking to their archives for inspiration, lingerie lovers can struggle to find in depth information and analysis of garments. The Underpinnings Museum aims to satisfy this desire by offering free access to all, with high-quality photography capturing the garments in exquisite detail. Each object is accompanied by extensive technical and historical contextual information. The museum creates an invaluable community resource: whether it’s for lingerie lovers, fashion students, historians or home sewers, permanent items and regular exhibitions offer an unparalleled depth of insight and fresh perspectives on the world of undergarments through the ages and across the globe.” This is really interesting – although personally I would have liked a section on the hideousness that is most male underwear, just for balance – and will satisfy all your whalebone and garter needs. However much you might admire the design and the overall aesthetic of oldschool smalls, it’s hard not to look at this stuff and think (not for the first time) ‘blimey but being a woman was uncomfortable in The Past’ – also, ‘child’s corset’ is very much a combination of words that shouldn’t ever really have existed.
- Interactive Art Museum: We started this section with a bit of digital art, and we will finish it with more of the same – I promise you that however hard your day might be, or however tense and stressed you might feel, this selection of small interactive digital artworks will make you feel slightly better (if only momentarily – Web Curios wants to make clear that this will at best be an elastoplast on the gaping axewound that is life). Imagine Mario Party, but for tiny web-based art toys and you will get the idea – this collection by MIT contains dozens of small, perfectly-formed little interactive gubbins to soothe and distract and amuse, all of which are experienced simply through clicking and moving your mouse around. Experiment, play, and especially enjoy the music which I personally think is a gorgeous and soothing counterpoint to the various digitalarttoythings.
By Jane Chen
THE SECTION WHICH WAS ONCE ACCUSED OF STEALING A TOY CORGI FROM THE BUCKINGHAM PALACE GIFT SHOP AND WHICH WOULD LIKE TO STATE ITS INNOCENCE ON THE RECORD HERE, PT.2:
- The Minecraft Jubilee: I imagine that England is basically one big plastic Union Jack triangle right now, like the opening credits to Dad’s Army made corporeal, but perhaps you’re unfortunate enough to exist in one of those weird and unpatriotic places that has somehow chosen not to set up a ‘get the Queen’s face tattooed over your own!’ booth on the high street and somehow feel you’re missing out on all the fun. FEAR NOT, though, as Web Curios has your back – you can, thanks to this link, experience the wonder of pageantry and doilies (no idea why, but I am imagining them featuring heavily this weekend) in Minecraft! You will, fine, need a copy of the game, and the ability to download the Jubilee map and install it, but should you be able to surmount those small hurdles then a festival of blocky Monarchism awaits! “Commissioned by NVIDIA, the street party gives everyone around the world a chance to visit the UK’s iconic capital to be part of the Platinum Jubilee celebrations and experience a traditional British street party with all the trimmings. The festivities start at Pall Mall in London where crowds will gather next to the royal guards wearing special platinum coloured jackets to mark the occasion. As players move down the Mall, they will be able to see Buckingham Palace and the Victoria Memorial – a monument to Queen Victoria – bathed in glorious pixel-perfect sunlight, thanks to ray-traced global illumination. Once players have savoured exploring these National landmarks, the celebrations really begin with the traditional British street party laid out for all to enjoy. Decorated with bunting and balloons, a street band will provide musical entertainment as cake, champagne and sandwiches are served. There will also be a number of activities to enjoy, including a game of pin the tail on the corgi. No party would be complete without fireworks, as Buckingham Palace comes to life in the night world with an incredible fireworks and light show that uses real-time ray tracing to realistically light up the world around players by simulating the physical behaviour of light, enabling reflections, shadows and other natural lighting effects.” PIN THE TAIL ON THE CORGI! What better way could there possibly be to celebrate a fabulously-wealthy woman’s longevity?
- Jelly: Yes, fine, this is nothing more than a relatively-simple physics simulation of a block of jelly which you can manipulate in-browser, but I promise you that there is something almost viscerally-satisfying about the way in which you can warp and rend and tear the digital material under your mouse. Honestly, this is almost obscenely enjoyable, though I can’t for the life of me explain why.
- This Image Does Not Exist: If you’re in the business of making images for money you might have started to get slightly-bad-vibes from the current rash of ‘computers can make insanely good visuals based on a few simple text prompts’ software, and might be starting to wonder exactly how you’re going to pay your mortgage when the bottom falls out of the ‘can you knock up some renders for the pitch?’ market – FEAR NOT, though, as this small websitequizgame will hopefully provide you with some lowkey reassurance that the machine takeover is slightly further away than we might fear. This Image Does Not Exist is a simple game – it presents you with a variety of pictures and you simply have to try and identify which are computer-generated and which are human-created. It does an excellent job of demonstrating the areas in which machines are still not quite up to the task, and those places where the fuzzy edges and indistinct outlines show the hallmarks of AI-generation, and it will hopefully reassure you imagemakers that you’ve probably got a good 18 months or so to retrain before the jig is up. So, er, that makes you feel better, right?
- A Trail Tale: OH THIS IS SO NICE! A wonderful little personal website travelogue project by some bloke called Andy Moliski and his siblings, who writes: “Hey, I’m Andy! Tag along with me as I hike the Appalachian Trail, the longest hiking-only trail in the world. From counting bug bites to watching the stars, I’ll relay my experiences, in real time, to my avatar so you can join me in the challenges, trials, and joys of wilderness backpacking.” The website lets Andy share details of his journey, from location to notes on the day’s hike, to data about the temperature and the amount he’s eaten and his mental state, all presented via a lovely pixart style; the website’s live in realtime, so at the time of writing Andy’s asleep but during North American daylight hours you can get more realtime updates and even chat with him as he hikes. Honestly, this is such a lovely way of visualising the walk and sharing updates, and feels like something that would work rather well as a template should they ever feel like sharing the code.
- Cabo Verde: If we ignore the fact that everyone’s feeling the pinch and the environment is still banjaxed and we probably should still be trying to minimise the whole ‘air travel’ thing, then it’s clear to see that the world is very much feeling the desire for holidays again, and that the competition for tourist eyeballs and pennies is going to be particularly hot this and next year (this does rather feel like I might be tempting new variant fate rather, but hey ho) – as such, I found this website which is apparently the OFFICIAL online presence of Cape Verde, very refreshing. Not for them a fancy multimedia gallery of sweeping drone shots of beaches and endless copy about ‘finding your mindful’ – this is PURE 1995 web aesthetic, despite still being very much a going concern. I genuinely hope that this is a result of a determinedly-cussed marketing person who simply doesn’t want to move on from Dreamweaver rather than a more calculated attempt to work a retro vibe.
- The Jiffy Reader: The earlyish days of the web saw a boom in slightly-grifty techniques being peddled for speedreading, as people struggled to deal with the insane volume of written content suddently spaffed all over the nascent information superhighway – now that everything is video this has slowed slightly, but I’m always fascinated by new ‘hacks’ that promise to turn everyone into a speed reader. The latest to get a bit of hype is The Jiffy Reader, a Chrome extension which, when installed, lets you toggle a setup whereby the first few letters in each word on a Page gets highlighted which, according to the ‘science’ behind it, effectively helps the brain overcome the natural handicap of our eyes’ limited movement and recognition speed and scan a load of copy upto 1.5x faster than we might normally do so (apparently it’s based on the same principles behind those ‘ddi yuo nowk ttah teh bianr cna usarbcmlen wrods whttoui yuo eevn tknihgni atoub ti?’ paragraphs that do the rounds every now and again). No idea if this works or not, but if you feel you need a boost to your reading speed then it might be worth a go.
- Sh1t Planning: “A celebration of all the Sh1t Stuff imposed on our environment. Perpetrated by Architects, Planners, Surveyors, Engineers & other environmental ne’er do wells.” A Twitter account sharing some wonderful (dreadful) examples of architecture and the built environment. A bit like the canonical opposite of Create Streets.
- Ilios: I presume that the recent boom in new dating apps is a result of people spending two pandemic years swiping and hating every second of it, and thinking ‘there has to be a better way’ – exactly how Ilios, a dating app which promises to use the power of astrology to find the perfect person for you to explore the crevices of, is appreciably ‘better’ than a service which doesn’t use the mysterious power of the spheres is…unclear, but, well, it’s here! “ilios employs the Eastern, Western, and Vedic astrology and numerology to help users understand their own personal character traits while suggesting suitable matches based on compatible characteristics as suggested by the stars and planets utilizing proprietary algorithms.” If you think that the sole thing holding your love life back is the fact that you’re yet to find someone with the right combination of ascendant moons in Jupiter, then perhaps this will be the solution you’ve been searching for – but, equally, perhaps you just need to stop spending so much time on AstroTikTok.
- Dress Circle: I miss many, many things about London, but I think more than anything I miss the theatre – Rome has many wonderful qualities (oh, ok, six wonderful qualities), but ‘access to high-quality, plentiful, interesting and experimental theatre’ is very much not one of them. Anyway, I found this site this week and got a proper sad nostalgiahit for all the shows I am currently missing – Dress Circle is a site which collects listing information for all the London theatres (well, most of them – there are a LOT of theatres in London, and whilst this contains a reasonable number there are a few gaps when it comes to the smaller venues) so you can easily see what’s on across various venues at a glance (exactly the sort of thing that Time Out literally never managed to do well, which is fcuking embarrassing for them when you think about it). You can also use it to track the shows you’ve been to and rate them and share your ratings – like Goodreads for the stage, basically – but the main draw here for me at least is the listings.
- Canairi: This isn’t particularly web-y, fine, but it’s such a lovely piece of design that I wanted to feature it anyway. Canairi is an airquality monitor that you affix to the wall – it’s in the shape of a cute yellow canary (DO YOU SEE???), which will change its position depending on the levels of CO2 in the air and which will let you quickly see at a glance whether you should open a window or not. Fine, not hugely-exciting, but click the link and tell me that you’re not charmed by the model and the design and the riff on the old miner’s warning mechanism – also, one hundred million points to the designers for not making this internet-enabled. THERE IS NO APP! Expect to see this on lists of ‘good design’ prizes at the end of the year (if it hasn’t already won loads).
- Plantarium: Would you like a browser-based tool to create 3d models of various types of plants? YES YOU WOULD! This is quite complicated, but unless you really want to get into the intricacies of the how then you don’t really need to worry about that – instead just focus on fiddling with the numbers in the various tables and seeing what sort of mad jurassic ferns you can conjure up. Whilst I don’t have any particular interest in the idea of ‘A VIRTUAL HOME IN THE METAVERSE’, or at least not the way it’s currently being sold to me, I am rather charmed by the idea of having a digital home somewhere which I could decorate with all sorts of mad, unpleasant-looking trailing ferns that I’ve generated with something like this – see, Mark, this is what you need to sell people on your vision. Fcuk the idea of being able to have metaversal meetings – what the people REALLY want is some light digital gardening tools.
- Monumental Trees: A website dedicated to information about, and photos of, absolutely MASSIVE trees. The website acknowledges that trees should not be judged by size alone, but you and I both know that there is nothing quite so majestic as a tree whose proportions are so mind-fcukingly insane that it gives the impression of having existed since the time of primordial sludge. Most of the really big lads named on here are the Americas, but there’s also a helpful list of Massive European Trees, just in case you fancy embarking upon some sort of megaflora pilgrimage around the Old Continent (also, the UK apparently has quite a few of the top 10 should you be looking for a way of spending the Summer that will really, really upset your teenage children).
- Lookback: Memory and death has long been something that the web has tried-and-failed to crack – I have lost count of the number of services and businesses I have seen over the years which offer some sort of personal memorybox service, allowing users to curate and collate and narrate their memories over multimedia content for the delectation of their family members and eventual descendents (although, look, let’s be honest here – whilst the idea of this sort of thing is nice, in practice don’t you think it would end up a bit like being forced to sit through someone else’s holiday slideshow?). Lookback is another one – and there’s evidently still money floating around this idea, as this particular variant has professional hustlegoblin GaryVee’s face all over it. Still, if that’s not enough to put you off then you might be interested in the features – you get to pull together photos, videos and the like, and add your own videocommentary to the top of it to create a guided tour through your memories. Which, fine, I can sort of see the appeal of – but which strikes me as a FAR more interesting idea if you use it to be incredibly cruel or mysterious or opaque. I mean, look, yes, it would be nice to leave some voicenoted memories of your life to your family and loved ones – but wouldn’t it be more fun to sow hatred and division amongst your remaining family members? To inject some excitement and mystery to their otherwise-mundane existences by fabricating some sort of long-standing family secret or treasure? To send them off on a years-long wild goose chase from beyond the grave? COME ON FFS THE POTENTIAL IS HUGE! If nothing else this feels like a really neat setup for a film.
- Lays Around The World: It is a truth commonly held that the best thing about foreign travel is new flavours of crisps (no, it is, sorry, I don’t make the rules) – and it is a FACT that there is no taste better than that of a paprika flavour ridged crisp, eaten when slightly sunburnt and enjoying a sunset beer with the taste of saltwater still on your upper lip. Lays is basically Walker’s in many corners of the world, and this site collects all the amazing flavours of said brand it’s possible to buy – crab curry flavour! Grilled pork flavour! Capelin Roe Mayonnaise Onigiri flavour! You won’t necessarily want to try all of them – I am sorry, but there is nothing on earth that would induce me to consume ‘sausage cheese bites’ flavour crisps – but you will be amazed by the ingenuity. Genuinely amazed that these companies don’t ever cross the geographic flavour streams (so to speak) – I don’t suppose anyone knows why and cares to explain it to me?
- 10 Seconds: How good are you at gauging the passage of time – and, specifically, are you able to accurately count 10 seconds in your head? This is VERY SIMPLE and significantly more addictive than you might think (10:62, since you asked).
- Artle: Worlde, but for artworks! Your task is to guess the artist, based on seeing as few of their works as possible – this is on the one hand a simple riff on the now-insanely-overused Wordle template, but on the other it’s a really smart use of archive material by the National Gallery of Art in the US which, frankly, any museum with a decent digital archive and a bit of spare dev capacity could do worse than experiment with ripping off.
- We Wordle: Play Wordle against someone else. This is FUN, but, be warned, will quickly introduce you to people who are a LOT better at this than you are (oh, OK, fine, than I am). You choose a ‘time per round’ (between 20-40s), and you then get paired with an anonymous opponent – you each take it in turns to make guesses, with the winner being the person who submits the correct word, and this is PROPERLY addictive with an excellent ‘just one more go’ quick rematch feature. Worth bookmarking – there are a reasonable number of regular players, meaning it’s almost always viable for a quick 10m break from whatever pointless crap you’re meant to be doing.
- Half Earth Socialism: Finally this week, a FUN LITTLE GAME all about the climate crisis and how banjaxed everything is – this is the interactive companion to a book of the same name which explores what we might need to do as a species to attempt to make meaningful differences to the current vertiginously-downward trajectory of the health of the planet. This is quite involved – you will need to read stuff and pay attention to how it all works – but once you get your head into it it becomes a really interesting (and properly educational, in a light-touch way) exercise in resource management and diplomacy, and (it’s important to warn you) an equally-powerful demonstration of how incredibly-fcuking hard it’s going to be to make a meaningful difference to all this stuff in the face of our (meaning all of us) widespread reluctance to actually do anything meaningful about anything. Entertaining-and-depressing in equal measure – see if you can do better than me when it comes to saving the porpoises, who every time I play this seem to succumb to extinction circa 2050.
By Joiri Minaya
THE CIRCUS OF TUMBLRS!
- The Peculiar Manicule: Ok, fine, not in fact a Tumblr, but it feels like it ought to be one and frankly that’ll do. “Enter the Day-Glo world of The Peculiar Manicule and explore an awe-inspiring archive of 1960s and 70s graphic design. Witness mind-blowing displays of ink on paper by designers and illustrators, both known and unknown, in four main galleries, Books & Magazines, Ephemera, Typography and Paper Playthings” – there is some quite lovely psychedelic design work here.
THE TROUGH OF (INSTA) FEEDS!
- David O’Reilly: David O’Reilly messes around with machines to make art – he’s created some of the most interesting digital artgameexperiences of the past few years, to my mind, including the amazing ‘Everything’, and his Insta feed is just a great collection of weird and fascinating bits and pieces from the edges of computational art.
- Thomas Collett: Glitched-out art and Google Maps and I LOVE THIS STUFF SO MUCH. Shades of machine-imagined Mondrian here, except loads less lazy and derivative than that crappy description makes it sound.
LONG THINGS WHICH ARE LONG!
- When May I Shoot A Student?: This is a piece from the New Yorker in 2014, which I present here largely without comment other than to say that it is astonishing and depressing in equal measure that what was presented as broad satire 8 years ago is now seemingly Republican policy.
- Life In Wartime: As the war counter today ticks into its 100th day, people across Ukraine continue to live with conflict as a matter of daily life. These two essays by Andrei Krasniashikh present fragmented vignettes – bits of conversation, quotidian observations, scenes from a warzone – which collage together a rough impression of part of what it is like living under bombardment and siege.
- Welcome to Web2.5: As previously mentioned, the big money project to convince us all that (whatever it may be) Web3 and all the associated gubbins are THE FUTURE and that we cannot afford to ignore said future lest we get left behind and the great TO THE MOON wealth tsunami passes us by is very much ongoing, despite increasing signs that literally no normal people whatsoever are in fact interested in developing a portfolio of tokenised goods that they can exchange for mixed-reality brand experiences. Presumably as part of that, web3 marketing firm Serotonin has compiled this guide to what it terms ‘web2.5’ – that is, where we are currently now and the journey towards the eventual brave new world of FULLY TOKENIZED ULTRACOMMERCIAL WEB3 UTOPIA! This is, obviously, written by people with a strong vested interest in selling you this particular flavour of magic beans, but, with that borne in mind, it’s also a pretty good overview of Where All This Stuff Is Currently At, and is a useful primer if you feel you need to have an opinion about loads of this stuff but don’t really feel you know enough to pretend to have one. RELATED: here’s a decent longread accompaniment to this, about exactly how and why this is getting juiced so hard by the VC moneymen and why that should probably make us all quite wary of how it’s all going to play out in the short term at least.
- Epistemic Considerations: I always enjoy reading Matt Web’s blogposts, even though they always make me angry that someone who shares my name and evidently exists in a vaguely-similar space to me is so much smarter than I am. The fcuker. Anyway, this is a typically-interesting series of notes around the tools we use to explore and develop knowledge, which asks smart questions about how things might be different (better?) if we tried different ways of thinking about discovery and information. Loads of smart ideas in here – I remember about 10 or so years ago talking to Time Out about ideas to make event recommendations more interesting using fuzzy parameters and ‘degrees of discomfort’, for example, which is very much along the lines of Matt’s thought processes here – and it’s all quite timely given Twitter’s imminent opening up of its Bluesky multialgothing.
- The AR Layer Is Growing: I am increasingly-fascinated by the race to create the ultimate AR layer – I thought Snap had it sewn up, or at least a significant head start – but the recent announcement by Niantic of its new ‘Lightship’ product (effectively a common AR space which will be accessible to players of all its ‘wander round and catch stuff in AR’ games so that they can see other players, plan and strategise, and effectively have a sort of overarching semi-metaversal ‘layer’ that connects them all) suggests that it might be closer than that. The article linked to gives an overview of the Niantic product, but I also read about Living Cities, another project which is looking to build a virtual layer over the physical planet and which you can read more about here – basically whilst this is all quite a way from being meaningfully-differencemaking just yet, you can start to get a feel for how these things might start working in the not-too-distant future, and how physical spaces might begin to make use of these third-party digital layers for commercial and experiential gain. This feels far more metaverse-y (ha! Yes, I know) than Meta’s current plans, imho.
- Sidechat: File under ‘there is nothing new under the sun’, or possibly ‘dear Christ will we never learn?’, this is an NYT piece about a new app which is apparently spreading across US colleges like wildfire and which sounds like an objectively terrible idea from almost every standpoint you can think of. Remember YikYak, the app that let you anonymously post geolocated messages and which basically became the de facto app for children to be incredibly cruel to each other at schools up and down the land? Remember how that was a, er, haven of positivity and warmth? Well now imagine each college has its own hyperlocal YikYak, with moderators drawn from the student body…sounds like a great idea, doesn’t it? No, of course it doesn’t, and yet, inexplicably, someone has seen fit to build it. Anyone would think that the people making these apps simply can’t be fcuked to think through all the hard questions about how they should actually function!
- How To Buy: A new series of essays commissioned by Rest of World, looking at modern commerce around the globe – this is the hub where writings on the topic will be collated, and at present there are three pieces to read covering baby formula in Vietnam, fried chicken in China and fashion in Brazil. Each is interesting in its own right, but together they paint a properly-fascinating picture of How Global Capitalism Works Now, from reselling to influencer-peddling to backchannel international delivery systems. If you do anything pertaining to The Selling Of Physical Stuff Around The World, this is probably worth bookmarking and coming back to. SEE ALSO: this interesting article about the new wave of commercebots and software and support companies designed to facilitate the buying and flipping of games consoles – again, the creation of marginal markets that would have been literally inconceivable even five or six years ago.
- The TikTok Effect, pt.1: Food: Or, ‘how TikTok has changed food influencing and what it is like to go out for dinner with someone who’s documenting it for the app’ – it’s really interesting seeing how TikTok is actively-reshaping culture in significant ways, in much the same way as Instagram did a few years back. The main differences? Everything takes about 5x longer now because it’s video, basically. Otherwise, same old. Still, expect to see ephemeral GenZ-focused urban design and space planning evolve to be ‘TikTok friendly’, in much the same way as every single fcuking brand had to ensure all its physical spaces were ‘highly ‘grammable’ circa 2015.
- The TikTok Effect, pt.2: Music: No, not Halsey et all complaining about having to ‘make stuff go viral on TikTok’ (also, lol at the fact that seemingly noone working in record label marketing has learned anything about ‘virality and the chasing thereof’ in the decade or so that we’ve all been playing this game), but instead how the formula of ‘cutesy song, but with swearing, delivered by an algo-pretty child with performatively-affected dissociative ennui’ has become played-out as quickly as it emerged. This is to me more interesting as a marker of ‘the increasingly-breakneck pace of trend adoption and abandonment’ as it as about music per se, and does rather make me wonder whether we’re soon going to reach a point where we start becoming nostalgic for 11am around about teatime each day.
- Discord and Music Fandoms: Or ‘why you’re going to get really, really sick of people talking to you about the power of community’, this is actually a very interesting article about how Discord is being used by artists to engage and connect with their fanbases, and how it’s increasingly key to revenue generation. Unfortunately what stuff like this means is that your life is soon going to be ruined by idiot consultants who think they can make a fast buck out of selling the concept of ‘community’ to a detergent brand – just as we did a decade ago! Good to know we can trot out the old lies again, just replacing ‘Facebook Page’ with ‘Discord’!. I hope and pray that none of your clients are the sort of gullible, hubristic morons who will fall for the ‘we really NEED an always on community space for our stock cube brand fans!’ pitch – but, well, I have met clients, and in the main that is exactly the sort of people they are. Sorry about that. BONUS CONTENT: GQ is doing a Discord! I think this is a bad idea! Still, let’s see shall we.
- LARPING Goes To Disneyworld: Or, ‘What It Is Like To Go One One of Disney’s Immersive Star Wars-themed Spacecruise Experiences’ – this was, to me, really interesting, as it spends a lot of the time focusing on the how and why of the experience (so the background to the live action roleplay community, its intersection with experiential theatre, how you make one of these things work, etc), but I appreciate if what you want is to get the feeling of what it’s like to actually experience several thousand pounds worth of Disney cosplay then you might not enjoy it quite as much. Still, if you have any interest in the ‘how’ of a Punchdrunk or similar type of immersive experience this is an excellent read.
- Imagined AI Futures: Such an interesting project, this – the Future of Life Institute has been running a contest seeking submissions of imagined futures in which AI plays a positive role – it has narrowed submissions down to 20 finalists, which you can read here, with a winner being announced on 15 June. The scope of the project is interesting in itself – “Anna Yelizarova, who’s managing the contest and other projects at FLI, says she feels bombarded by images of dystopia in the media, and says it makes her wonder “what kind of effect that has on our worldview as a society.” She sees the contest partly as a way to provide hopeful visions of the future. “We’re not trying to push utopia,” she says, noting that the worlds built for the contest are not perfect places with zero conflicts or struggles. “We’re just trying to show futures that are not dystopian, so people have something to work toward,” she says. The contest asked a lot from the teams who entered: They had to provide a timeline of events from now until 2045 that includes the invention of artificial general intelligence (AGI), two “day in the life” short stories, answers to a list of questions, and a media piece reflecting their imagined world.” What’s nice about the pieces here gathered – of which I’ve read about half-a-dozen – is their internationalism and breadth of enquiry; contributions from Kenya, Peru, New Zealand, Spain, France, Bolivia (as well as the inevitable US and UK) make it a far more variegated picture of possible futures than you often get with these things. Fascinating – and full of interesting ideas as to where AI might take us.
- Desert Island Discs: A history of the programme from the latest LRB. OK, fine, you need to be English and to have a familiarity with the radio programme in question for this to work for you, but if you do then I promise you that this is a gorgeous read.
- Learning Chess at 40: A delightful essay in Nautilus magazine about the author’s struggles with being repeatedly beaten by his daughter at chess, and his attempts to get good enough at the game to be able to take at least a couple of games off her. This is SO good – not just on the neurological reasons as to why young people have a greater facility with the game (and why performance tends to fall off a cliff, relatively-speaking, after the methuselan age of about 30) and the differences in mental function between a child and an adult, but also about what it feels like to start to feel intellectually like you’re being lapped by people who came after you (IT FEELS HORRIBLE FYI).
- The Dark Motherhood Club: On motherhood and insomnia and family and and and. “We did not know Mom would die, or I think we didn’t. We’d had years of plucky nurses in kitty-cat scrubs with a dripline of dismissive optimism. Maybe that was why Dad felt okay about having an affair. Or at least when Mom asked if he’d kissed that woman, he was honest, and she said she didn’t want to know more. “You don’t love me,” she’d declared, teeth-clenched, gloriously fierce and bald-headed, with blue half-moons stamped beneath her eyes from chemotherapy. She was not asking. But he answered anyway: “I haven’t loved you in years.”” Pleasingly-unsentimental and sharply-written, this, by Val Kiesig.
- Empirical Notes on Kissing: I want to preface this by saying that I am pretty sure that this is sincere and not a work of stylistic fiction, and that, presuming that to be true, I am no way posting this to make fun of the author. I enjoyed this SO MUCH – it’s like someone tried to explain kissing to someone who knew basic human phsyiognomy but not much else about us. “Before my first kiss, I scoured The Internet (Google Scholar + tracing blog posts back to their underlying studies – this was some time ago so I don’t still have the sources) for every valuable scrap of information available on the topic while trying to stray away from anything opinion-based. This is the result.” It’s, honestly, sort-of beautiful.
- Meades vs HRH: Finally this week, anothre LRB piece, this time Jonathan Meades writing about the royal family and the British relationship with it, couched as a review of Anna Wintour’s book about them. This is perfect Meades – if you know you dislike his style already this is unlikely to change your mind, but if, like me, you’re a fan of his prose (occasionally so ripe it carries the very real whiff of decay about it, and I absolutely mean that as a compliment) then you will adore this. I mean, just look at this: “What they do feel they know is that their subjects – the industrially injured with callouses like king-size buboes, the salt of the earth and their pneumoconiosis, the proud forklift drivers and the loyal company of chamfering machine operators – are pleased to stand to deferential attention for hours no matter what the weather and are proud to be just about decipherable in the blurred background of a majesty-mayoral-chain-lord-lieutenant-town-crier framed photo on a mantlepiece of honour in a spit and polish house just like all the houses of the house-proud little people they’ve ever seen. They know the scent of fresh paint, of just-crimped lawns, beeswax, Cardinal Red doorsteps. They are familiar with the lumbar groan of an ancient loyalist curtsying (they make skivs of us all). They recognise the swoon in a fawner’s eye, the brisk music of a colour sergeant’s bark. They are touched by the public’s fondness for plastic union flags in the drizzle. They believe that when it comes to Maundy alms, it’s the thought that counts. They appreciate the fealty of those maimed in the sovereign’s name who dutifully strive to give great forelock even if the stump can’t reach the hairline.” SO GOOD.
AND NOW, MOVING PICTURES AND SOUNDS!:
- First up in this week’s videos, a little more on TikTok and the music industry – this is a great explainer about How It All Works, and how TikTok is slowly but surely shifting the power balance between artist and label towards the artist again – this is really interesting and I promise worth the time.
- Last up in this slightly-truncated videos section is this absolute banger by BackRoad Gee – the sample in this is SO GOOD and I wish I knew what it was, but the whole track generally slaps and I hope you enjoy it because THAT’S YOUR LOT THAT’S IT I AM SPENT AND DONE AND I NEED TO LIE DOWN FOR A WHILE BECAUSE IT TURNS OUT THAT FIVE HOURS SOLID OF TYPING DOES RATHER TAKE IT OUT OF ONE BUT I HOPE YOU ENJOYED IT AND HAD FUN AND ENJOY THE REST OF THE WEEKEND AND WHATEVER YOU ARE DOING WITH IT AND MOST OF ALL THAT YOU COME BACK NEXT WEEK BECAUSE I HAVE MISSED YOU AND I NEED YOU AND I MISSED YOU DON’T LEAVE ME BYE!