Webcurios 03/07/20

Reading Time: 35 minutes

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

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

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

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

By Antoine D’Agata

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

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

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

By Patrick Morales Lee

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

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

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

By Jerome Lagarrigue

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

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

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

By Margaret Lansink

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

THE CIRCUS OF TUMBLRS!:

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

THE TROUGH OF (INSTA) FEEDS!:

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

LONG THINGS WHICH ARE LONG!:

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

By Mark Tansey

AND NOW, MOVING PICTURES AND SOUNDS!:

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

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