HELLO EVERYONE HAPPY FRIDAY!
It’s been a GOOD WEEK! ABBA are coming back, and the Italian immigration services finally got back to me after 3 months (if you ever fancy a cushy life, try getting a job as a civil servant in Italy where there is seemingly no obligation that you do your job competently, or indeed at all!) meaning I might not in fact be deported after all, and the temperature in Rome has dipped to a relatively-temperate 28 degrees or so, meaning that for the first time in several months I am not covered in a light patina of sweat at all times (no need to thank me, you can have that image for free).
Hopefully this positivity will be evident in this week’s selection of links’n’words – why not read on and find out (you’ll be disappointed, but try not to let it get to you)? With little in the way of further ado, then, let’s once more leap into the ballpit-of-the-mind that is the latest edition of Web Curios – as with all ballpits, you must remember to thoroughly disinfect yourself on exiting.
I am still Matt, this is still Web Curios, and, regrettably, the web is still what it is.
By Jenny Holzer
THE SECTION WHICH NEVER WANTS TO HEAR ANYONE PROFFER AN OPINION ABOUT THE NOVELS OF SALLY ROONEY EVER AGAIN, PLEASE GOD , PT.1:
- Loot: This is simultaneously the most incredible NFT grift I have ever seen AND one of the more conceptually-interesting of said grifts to float across my field of vision this year – oh, the everpresent duality of crypto! So, how to describe this? Imagine, right, that there was a videogame, a sort of fantasy roleplaying-type thing, with quests and magic and items and stuff. Imagine that there was a bag of random in-game objects that you could buy, with the contents of the bag revealed to you/your character only after the point of purchase – effectively an in-game FOBT, but, wevs, you can see how that works and how people might be motivated to shell out. NOW, though, imagine the exact same scenario…but without the game. Imagine that you had the opportunity to buy a ‘bag’ of ‘loot’ for a ‘game’ that doesn’t exist (there’s something lovely about the fact that the only part of that sentence that I can write without the inverted commas is the final, ‘doesn’t exist’ part) – THERE YOU ARE! Yes, that is ‘Loot’ – a sold-out collection of 8,000 bags of…random words generated by Markov chain? Incredibly (or not – the guy behind this is the guy who also co-created Vine, and who did Peach (remember your Peach strategy lol?), and as such is an INTERNET FAMOUS and so is possibly more likely to be able to sell imaginary tat to fans than you are) these are now all sold out, and there’s a secondary market for the bags (BAGS OF WORDS. BAGS OF WORDS. THIS IS MELTING MY BRAIN) and people have now set up FURTHER markets to sell individual ‘objects’ (not ‘objects’ in any way in which I can honestly make sense of, but, ok!), and there is now a ‘guild’ for all those people whose ‘bags’ contained a randomly-generated object referred to as a ‘Divine Robe’, effectively a ‘pay to enter’ club whereby the bar for entry is…ownership of some words on the blockchain? AND STILL THERE IS NO GAME! This is, my madly-gaping mouth aside, really interesting. Will a game develop around this? Is this anything other than cryptowhales flexing, muchlike the rocks? Am I going to regret not investing in any of these things when I am old, grey and scrabbling together for pennies to pay someone to clean my feeding tube? ONLY TIME WILL TELL!
- Who The Baer?: This is an exhibition currently taking place at the Fondazione Prada in Milan, by British-Japanese artist Simon Fujiawara – it’s on until the end of the month, but presuming that you’re not going to be able to pop to Milan to visit it then this is the next best thing. There’s some fabulous artwank accompanying the exhibition – “Who the Bær is a cartoon bear without a clear character – “Who” as they are known, seems to have not yet developed a strong personality or instincts, they have no history, defined gender or even sexuality. Who the Bær only knows that they are an image, and they seek to define themselves in a world of other images.” – but I rather like the style, and the way that the gallery space within the Fondazione has been constructed from cardboard. The site only works on mobile, and the navigation around the gallery space using your phone is really nicely done – it’s a linear journey, but arranged as a series of frames that you pass through, creating both a stop-motion-style experience but also making it really easy for the viewer to pause and focus in on specific exhibition elements should they so desire. Also (and I appreciate that this is unbearably twee, but, well, I can’t help it) I am a slight sucker for the sub-Pooh stylings of the spelling ‘baer’ – openly-manipulative childlike naivete, it really works!
- Cinephobe: September! Mist, mellow fruitfulness, all that jazz! Or, more accurately, steel-grey skies and the creeping knowledge that you don’t have any more holidays til mid-December. Still, with the nights once more drawing in you’re probably DESPERATE for new entertainments and the like – thank GOD, then, for Cinephobe. This is quite incredible – it’s a TV station, based out of New York and playing online, 24/7, which plays cult, arthouse and obscure movies. I presume all of the stuff that they’re streaming is out-of-copyright, but it’s all human-curated and programmed, meaning that there’s a real sense of theme and coherence to the stuff that they show. You can look at the schedules for the coming day on the site (just scroll down past the player), and, let me tell you, if you’re reading this on the day of publication then you have some TREATS coming up later on. I am genuinely tempted to make time in my packed diary (ha! So alone!) to watch Herostratus, for example, a 1967 film in which ‘a young poet hires a marketing company to turn his suicide-by-jumping into a mass media spectacle’ which in all honesty sounds like the most Web Curios film EVER. This website and the associated project is an absolute treat and pretty much perfect in every way.
- Daylight: What would make banking better? Do you think it would be…maybe…reforming the whole institution? Perhaps moving towards a world in which passive income from others’ wealth isn’t a thing? Or, MAKING BANKS GAY???? Let’s go with the last of those, shall we, and introduce Daylight – GAY BANKING FOR GAY PEOPLE AND GAY BUSINESSES! This is quite amazing – Daylight is a US bank which was talked about a bit at the tail end of last year as a thing but which has seemingly launched this week and WOW does it want you to know how progressive it is! “See how queer-friendly your spending is!”, it challenges customers, promising cashback for spending at queer-owned businesses! It promises a full choice of names on cards, and aggressively leans into its progressiveness – but, er, it’s a bank! It’s backed by notoriously-countercultural financial institution Citi! It will still chase you for fees, even if it does so in a really queer way! There’s a decent overview here of some of the (many!) reasons why this feels…a bit odd (obvs I am a cishet guy, but I don’t think you need to be queer to appreciate all the ways in which financial institutions attempting to sell capitalism by an ostensible link to outsider/counterculture is at best a bit icky and at worst nakedly exploitative), but I’d be interested to know your thoughts.
- Super Follows: A brief note on Twitter’s (partial) launch of Super Follows this week – you know, that feature that will let users with 10k+ followers set a paywall on some of their Tweets (and some other features as well, but that’s basically the ‘need to know’ bit). The pricepoints are interesting – $2.99, $4.99 and $9.99 a month – and I’ll be fascinated to see how people use this, but, well, it’s going to be bongo, isn’t it? Given that Twitter’s promising 97% revenue on Super Follow income upto 50k pa (dropping pretty steeply to 80% beyond that point), I can see this being an appealing avenue for smaller ‘creators’ who perhaps don’t feel confident in OnlyFans’ renewed commitment to bongo. Of course, Twitter won’t mention sex workers as target users of this service, but given the amount of smut all over the platform it seems a reasonable expectation – not least because I really struggle to imagine the sort of content that might otherwise persuade people to commit to shelling out between £30-100 a year to read the shortform thoughts of a bunch of strangers, although that doesn’t of course mean that this isn’t going to be a huge gamechanger (I am, after all, a know-nothing bozo who has a track record of predictions that can only be described as ‘ruinous’). Of course, maybe Twitter is the next platform to be targeted by the increasingly-influential online conservative movement, but there’s money to be made here before that happens imho.
- Flip Shop: The move towards seemingly 50% of the world’s population pivoting to earning a living through mobile-based QVC tat-flogging continues apace, with the launch of Flip Shop, a new appnetworkthingy which (and I am sorry in advance, you are about to get a VERY lazy simile here) seems a bit like TikTok for shopping (I warned you, but sorry again). You can browse reviews of products by ‘your favourite creators’, and shop 100s of retailers’ products from within the app – there’s a referral system to earn credits, and additional credits can be earned by interacting with the app, the videos it hosts and ‘the community’. I don’t doubt for a second that this is A Thing, although whether Flip Shop as a platform has legs I have no idea – I am, though, utterly fascinated about the cultural shift that has occurred whereby ‘watching people talk to you about how good a lash enhancer is’ is now something aspirational that people will happily do, admit to and talk about, whereas a relatively short time ago watching the shopping networks was very much the preserve of the terminally depressed and the long-term unemployed. What happened?
- Hour One: Have you decided that your role in the CREATOR ECONOMY is as a presenter? A face? Someone who will mug and gurn and perform on camera for whichever brand overlord chooses to throw you a few wankpennies this week? Or are you a jobbing actor who’s decided that, fcuk it, after all those extra appearances in the Queen Vic you can’t quite make thesping work anymore and you’re going to just take the corporate gigs – they’re lucrative, the corporate gigs! And it’s still real acting! – and do the training videos for the banks and the oil companies and the retail giants? Well SORRY, but welcome to the future in which even those opportunities are being wrenched from your cold, tired hands by the advent of NEW TECH! “Hour One is an end-to-end video creation platform. Powered by life-like, programmable presenters, we bring studio-grade video to all businesses…instantly add a photoreal presenter to your videos! Create thousands of videos at once with the dat you already have!” Yes, it’s a poor lookout for all of those Equity members who’ve padded their lean months with training videos and the like – these are all getting the AI-automation treatment, as companies realise that using a CG ‘person’ is cheaper than booking someone with RADA training and frankly noone cares anyway. Stil, though, it’s not all doom and gloom for actors – you can still get one final payday by, er, ‘submitting’ to digitisation. No, really, listen to this: “Submit to become a character on the Hour One platform, and make yourself available for work…Join our growing community of characters through a simple capture process” Feel free to write your own short two-handed play in which a pair of out-of-work actors discuss whether or not to ‘submit’ to digitising themselves for piecemeal digiwork – a surefire, feelgood hit!
- Geneticat: Have you ever wanted a perfect encapsulation of the Sisyphean nature of LIFE, but, er, in the form of a digital cat? GREAT! Geneticat is a little webpage which presents a filing cabinet, a shelf, and a polygonal cat which is attempting to jump from the former to the latter. Except the cat doesn’t know how its body works, and is learning, generation by generation, what its limbs do and how ‘jumping’ is meant to happen – each time the poor thing falls to the floor, a new iteration is generated, learning from the mistakes of its predecessors. Will the cat ever make it? Will evolution permit it to eventually leap to the shelf? WHO KNOWS??? This is, honestly, almost unbearably poignant and also VERY funny, and offers much the same experience as I would imagine getting a cat very drunk on meths would but with none of the guilt and eventual feline death.
- Mindset: I think I am about as far away from being the target audience for this app as it’s possible to be, which is perhaps why the idea of it made me a bit sad. Mindset promises to offer you access to the intimate thoughts and life lessons from a bunch of famous – you sign up and can access a set quota of these celebrity bromides for free, before the inevitable microtransactional models kick in and you’re shelling out an extra $20 to hear exactly how a member of BTS deals with the occasional feelings of inadequacy that assail even a member of the world’s most successful boyband at 3am in a nameless 6-star hotel suite (I have no idea if BTS are on this – I doubt it, somehow). This is, cynically, a very smart idea indeed and I can imagine it making unconscionable amounts of money – could someone do a version of this for slightly less famous famouses, maybe? Something that collects the same sort of inspirational advice but delivered by the sort of people who might end up on a series of Celebs Go Dating? I want some inspirational content from Lauren Goodger, it’s more relatable.
- Tweetview: This is a nice, and potentially-useful, little webtoy Twitter app, made by perennial tech-tinkerer Terence Eden – plug a Tweet url and Tweetview will produce a visualisation of the conversation that stemmed from it, showing you clearly and neatly how replies and discussion around the original post developed. It’s a great way of making visual representations of the scale of a conversation, purely for aesthetic ‘I NEED SOMETHING ON A SLIDE!’ purposes, but it’s also a useful way of identifying ‘influencers’ on a topic, and of tracking the development of a discussion around a topic. Hover over the tweets to read their contents – this is a really nice piece of homebrew webwork.
- Neural Yorker: A Twitter account sharing New Yorker cartoons generated by a neural net. These are obviously a total mess, visually-speaking – the AI-generated images are…busy, and not always very good and making much sense – but there’s occasionally something surreally-brilliant about the juxtaposition of images with captions that result.
- Take it Back: An interesting project which is designed to give people the tools to make Zines about their own personal experiences of mental health issues – or, as the collective likes to term it, ‘madness’ (I have a lot of time for this reclaiming of the word ‘mad’, not least because ‘mental health’ has become so banally-overused and watered-down that it feels like we need a specific designator for the messier and less twee (sorry, but) expressions of what it is like when your brain acts against you). If you’re interested in participating, you can sign up on the website – there will be workshops later in the year to help you with the creative process: “Sign-ups for Take It Back will open at the start of September 2021. If you sign up, in October you’ll receive a workbook zine and some materials by post, access to online resources and a place in the online workshops happening in November 2021. In December 2021, you’ll be invited to submit either an individual zine or page(s) for a collaborative zine for the project’s library” If you’re a bit mad, this could be A Good Thing.
- 30 Years of Ukrainian Independence: This is SUCH a cute website! Celebrating the recent 30th anniversary of Ukraine’s independence, it collects a bunch of POSITIVE FACTS about the country, its people and their achievements. Sportspeopl and artists and designers and musicians are all celebrated, as is the country’s cuisine and natural beauty, and the whole thing is just utterly charming (the best bit, to my mind, comes near the top where the site proudly celebrates the country’s size with a little splash of colour bearing the legends ‘actually the biggest!’ and ‘the most singing nation in the world’. I DIE! IS SO CUTE!). You can also ‘congratulate Ukraine’ and, frankly, I think more countries should start openly requesting to be congratulated by strangers on the internet.
- Talk to Kanye: Have you listened to Donda yet? Can you tell me if it’s worthwhile, if so? I am unlikely to ever buy a Donda Stem, or, probably, listen to the whole album (Kanye West, a man of whom the idea is significantly more interesting than the reality), but I was momentarily-charmed by this chatbot which lets you TALK TO KANYE! I imagine it makes marginally less sense than the man himself, but those of you who observe Mr West more closely than I may be better-placed to judge.
- Tactimotion: Now that THE FOOTBALL is once again happening (did it stop? It doesn’t feel like it stopped), so also are the discussions about tactics and formations and MOVEMENT and OFF THE BALL RUNS INTO THE CHANNELS and GET BLINDSIDE OF HIM (am I doing it right? I haven’t played football since approximately 2004, and even then I was laughably bad at it). If you’re the sort of person who likes tactics and would like to bring an additional layer of technical wizardry and insight to your 4-pint chat about whether or not Spurs have had a good window then you might like Tactimotion, a simple webtool that lets you easily programme player and ball movement onto a 3d representation of a pitch, to let you create really clear visualisations of how amazing Team X would be if they just followed your outstanding tactical advice.
- /r/Produce: Until this week I had no idea that Reddit had a thriving community of…er…look, I don’t know the technical term for this job and I don’t want to offend, so let’s go with ‘the people whose job it is to ensure that the shelves of supermarkets are stocked with fresh fruit and vegetables and that siad fruit and vegetables look appealing to customers’, and that those people proudly share photos of what a great job they’ve done of, say, piling up the purple cabbages into a near-perfect to-scale representation of the Great Pyramid at Giza. This is near-perfect Redditing, and makes me wonder what it must be like to do something for a living that gives even a fraction of the joy that these people seem to experience in their creations.
- The Comedy Wildlife Photography Awards 2021: These haven’t been decided yet, but the vote is now open for the People’s Choice category, and you can pick the most deserving image at this link. You are of course at liberty to vote for whichever picture you like, but know that the official Web Curios selection is this one.
- AI Movie Posters: The second version of this game I’ve seen this year – try and guess the film based on the AI-generated movie poster that a computer spat out when given a description of the film in question. This is significantly harder and more abstract than the version I linked to a few weeks back, but the images are wonderfully abstract and you’ll get a proper ‘oh, yes, I see what the machine was trying to do there’ once you reveal the answers in each case (or at least I did; I should stop trying to second-guess you, really).
THE SECTION WHICH NEVER WANTS TO HEAR ANYONE PROFFER AN OPINION ABOUT THE NOVELS OF SALLY ROONEY EVER AGAIN, PLEASE GOD , PT.2:
- Great Movie Scenes: Thanks to Marie Dolle for sending this to me – a newsletter for cinephiles which in each edition breaks down and analyses a particular iconic scene from cinematic history each week. There’s also a companion newsletter in which the author analyses BUSINESS scenes from films, and another for LAW scenes, so you basically have all your needs covered here (I refuse to believe that there could be MORE cinematic needs; impossible dream).
- Dramatic Houseplants: The flat I’m living in has a balcony (don’t get jealous – it looks out over, er, a bunch of other flats, and currently affords me a view of a bunch of men drilling – it’s a relaxing idyll, I tell you) whose current sole adornment is the world’s saddest basil plant which I have been attempting to keep alive with limited success (four leaves is ‘alive’, right?) – those of you with similarly brown thumbs might also enjoy this subReddit which is devoted to videos of plants dramatically-reacting to being watered, which whilst it doesn’t, fine, sound interesting, is in fact almost-incredbly compelling. Honestly, if you’ve ever struggled to get a handle on the concept of ‘life’ as applied to flora, watch a couple of these and try and fight back the creeping feeling of Triffid-y horror as they move and stretch in reaction to being watered. Really, this is fascinating and strangely-creepy.
- Transformers: This is SUCH a wonderful memoryhole, for me at least – the original Transformers cartoon from the 80s was, of course, literally just a vehicle to sell plastic toys to children, but it was also a properly good example of classic animation and a surprisingly-compelling (well, to my young mind at the time, at least) struggle between robotic good and evil, and also led to a whole generation of young boys running around playgrounds making the now-iconic ‘ah-eh-eeh-oh-ooh’ sound of gigantic robots turning into playground furniture (my memory of the Transformers universe may not in fact be entirely-accurate, but I’m sure it was something like that). The entire first series of the cartoon is now up on YouTube, and apparently the other 3 series will be online in the coming weeks – if you want to immerse yourself in nostalgia for A Better And Simpler Time, or if you want to attempt to force your own childhood memories onto your kids, this will be right up your street.
- Duchamp, But NFTs: This is conceptually quite funny – an artist has taken a urinal, smashed it up, and is now selling NFTs of the fragments for Ether. High-concept riff on a classic 20thC art concept or another shameless grift in the increasingly-insane digital artspace? YOU DECIDE! It’s unclear to me whether or not you get the actual porcelain shard too, but, well, who cares? IT’S AN NFT! NF-wee, if you will (sorry, even by my low ‘standards’ that was almost-unforgivable).
- Research AI: I am led to believe that the issue of essay plagiarism and fakery continues to be problematic in academia, with increasingly-sophisticated techniques being employed by institutions to catch out students who are buying essays from online libraries. Still, that’s going to become even harder over time, as evidenced by this new service which promises to provide ‘help’ with essay-writing, delivered by an AI. It’s unclear what this is built on, but I’d guess it’s the open source GPT-3 analogue I linked to here a few weeks back (I can’t imagine Open-AI licensing the real thing for something this nakedly-iffy) – the deal, as is standard nowadays, is that you provide a prompt and the machine does the rest. Anyone in any doubt as to the intended use of this can rest assured that it’s 100% designed for cheating – as the site says, “Research AI generates original text based on your input, so you can be assured about originality” – no danger of failing your plagiarism tests here, kids! Obviously the likelihood of this providing anything remotely-decent is…small, but a) like that will stop this service from making money from the gullible; and b) give it a year or so, and another iteration of the software, and I reckon this will be worth a 2:2 at least.
- Missile Base For Sale: As we emerge (do we? Are we emerging? Honestly, I have literally no idea anymore) from the COVID times, I imagine many of you are trying to work out whether you can make wholesale life changes born out of the LEARNINGS from the past 18m of dark horror. If what you have decided to do is GET OUT of the city and CHANGE YOUR LIFE, and if you happen to have a spare half-a-million dollars at your disposal, why not consider investing in this, ‘one of the rarest nuclear hardened underground structures in the world!’. Fine, you’d have to move to North Dakota (fun fact: if you ask Americans which state they would lose if they had to ditch one, chances are they will cite one of the Dakotas), but, well, it’s a small price to pay for isolation, security, and the knowledge that, should the warheads drop, you will be safe to live through the post-radiation nightmare in your bunker. “This was a part of the Stanley R. Mickelesen Safeguard Complex located in NE North Dakota. This property, for sale by owner, was one of 4 Sprint Missile Sites located approximately 10-20 miles from a central radar control site. Constructed in the early 1970’s, these bases were a last line of defense meant to intercept ICBMs coming over the North Pole. There was only 1 Safeguard Complex ever completed making this unique property an incredibly rare opportunity.” The price has dropped by ⅓ since its original listing, apparently, so, er, GET INVOLVED (and if you buy it, can, er, can I have a room when it all goes south?).
- The New Shepherd Model: Do you remember WAY back in the distant past when those two billionaires had the space race p1ssing contest? Remember how funny Jeff’s penile spacecraft was? Well now you can own your very own scale model of the Bezos cockrocket! The blurb says that it’s an ideal adornment for your office or a shelf at home, but, well, given the ‘unique’ design of the craft, I would personally be amazed if any and all sales of this aren’t to specialist OnlyFans creators with niche audience interests.
- Civic Online Reasoning: A superb set of resources made available by Stanford University to help educate on online information assessment in the modern age. How do you spot disinformation? What are the elements of critical thinking we need in order to be able to better-navigate the messy digital world in which ‘truth’ is an increasingly-difficult quality to identify? The stuff on ‘lateral reading vs vertical reading’ is, in particularly, really interesting and useful – if you’re curious about becoming a ‘better’ (or at least more discerning) consumer of online information (although were you discerning it’s, er, unlikely you’d be reading this), or if you have kids or family members who you think might find this sort of thing useful, you will find this hugely helpful.
- European Heraldry: Want a website which collects the various heraldic emblems of the great European houses and local regions, the cantons andcounties, departments and regioni? OF COURSE YOU DO! This is fascinating, particularly the Central European area which has SO MUCH in the way of shields and emblems – if nothing else, should you be interested in creating a GAN-based system to generate your own AI-imagined heraldic insignia (a description that I imagine applies to all of you, amirite?), this might be of use.
- Click Brawl: Perfectly pointless, this – a site which exists solely to provide a rolling record of whether more people have clicked on the left or right-hand side of the screen. So far there have been over 36million clicks, and the right-hand side is 500-odd clicks up – WILL YOU STAND FOR THIS, LEFT-HAND-SIDE ADHERENTS? You may think that this is a complete waste of time, but take a moment to think about exactly what you’re doing with your time at work at the moment and then realise that you might as well spend a few hours clicking the screen because, well, it’s no more pointless than making content for brands, is it?
- Multicolour Illustrations: Want a free-to-use, no-limits illustration library? YES YOU DO! “One new high-quality, open-source illustration each day. No attribution needed!” This is potentially worth bookmarking – there’s LOADS on there, and the licensing is incredibly-generous.
- 404 Page Found: This is OLD – I think the site’s been dormant for about 7 years – but it’s nonetheless a lovely repository of links to oldschool websites which still exist in their original form (as opposed to, say, links to Wayback Machine archived pages), So you can see sites such as this one, the personal site of one Piero Scaruffi, which is still active despite still sporting the look and feel of something built in circa 1997, or the gallery of interactive geometry, or hundreds of others. Time travel, in-browser, and one of my favourite sorts of online Curio. Lots of these will have decayed over time, but as a way of browsing some interesting examples of The Old Web this is rather wonderful.
- The Cyberfeminism Index: Very dense and a bit academic, this is nonetheless an incredible resource for anyone interested in exploring the intersection of tech-thinking and feminist praxis – this is all very post-Cyborg Manifesto (which of course is the first link in the list), but contains over 700 links to resources which trace the evolution of tech-centric feminist thought over the past 35 years, If you’re interested in the intersection between gender, technology, and power structures (and WHO ISN’T???), this is a superb bookmark to add to your arsenal (can one have an ‘arsenal’ of bookmarks? Probably not, and yet here we are).
- Random Earth: A site which collects particularly-pleasing aerial shots of the Earth, taken from satellite imagery (basically Google Maps) – you can cycle through a seemingly-infinite selection of images submitted by the community, vote on the ones you think are best, and submit your own – as a way of reminding yourself that the world is a beautiful and wondrous place that you will never be able to see all of but which you can, thanks to the wonders of technology, experience vicariously at your desk through the eyes of satellites, this is rather lovely. Also, if you’re in the market for aesthetically-pleasing geographic imagery, this little site which lets you select anywhere on earth to make a pleasingly-minimalist map-based phone background out of, might also appeal.
- The Geek Jargon List: I have no idea when this dates from, or who compiled it, but it feels old and like the sort of thing which will only really make sense to those of you who’ve been wrangling code since the 90s and for whom such newfangled things as Ruby and Java feel weird and wrong. If you’ve ever wanted a glossary of slightly-obscure (to a normie like me, at least) coding slang and terminology like ‘rabbit job’ (apparently, ‘a batch job that does little, if any, real work, but creates one or more copies of itself, breeding like rabbits’) or ‘shambolic link’ (‘A Unix symbolic link, particularly when it confuses you, points to nothing at all, or results in your ending up in some completely unexpected part of the filesystem….’), then this is all your Christmases at once.
- Mars Now: NASA recently launched this webpage, which lets you see in ‘realtime’ (not quite sure exactly how ‘real’ it is, but given that it’s based on data that is being beamed across the literal cosmos from another fcuking planet, it feels like it might be churlish to complain about lag in this instance) where all the various Mars-based bits of space kit currently are. See the satellites and the rovers on the surface of the red planet, and start to dream of booking your own ticket to MuskVille on the BezosExpress come 2046 (when everything here is on fire and you’ve been unemployed for 8 years as a result of aggressive robotic overreach).
- FunCooker: This is a search engine for scenes from the TV show 30 Rock, something I have never watched but am reliably informed is ‘quite good’. I’m including it less because of its memetic potential (although if you want a whole bunch of new reaction images for the groupchat this is probably super-useful), and more because every single TV show in the world should have one of these. Seriously, if you’re C4 and you own the Peep Show archive, why wouldn’t you do this? IT IS SUCH A GOOD IDEA. It exists for The Simpsons, it exists for this, so why can’t I have it for Peep Show? FFS!
- The Museum of Home Video: The second ‘TV, but reinvented for the modern age!’-type link in Curios this week, the Museum of Home Video is ‘90 minutes of found footage for stoners, seekers, archivists and drinkers. Every Tuesday at 7:30p PST, we gather on Twitch.tv to watch pirate television for the soul. The Museum of Home Video’s channel is also home to a number of like-minded programs—all dedicated to the intersection of art, archivism and the pursuit of a good time.” Basically it’s a weekly watch-along bit of scheduled programming, run through Twitch, and featuring all sorts of weird, odd, quirky and…unusual bits and pieces – I have watched a couple, and they’re fun in much the same way the sorts of programming you’d stumble across post-pub in the 90s on C4 are. Personally speaking I am fascinated to see how people start to build programming out of the vast trove of copyright-free material available online via services such as Twitch; I reckon there’s quite an interesting agency play here, doing deconstructions of old ads and campaigns and things on the platform (which is literally the most-joyless application I could possibly have thought of, fine, but equally I know who you are and what you do so let’s not pretend we’re above this sort of thinking).
- Space Nerds In Space: This may well be the geekiest link in what I am aware is quite a geeky edition. Space Nerds in Space is a Linux-only (yeah, mainstream!) game which basically lets you play a real-life (not real life) game of Star Trek using a bunch of laptops and a projector. It’s quite complex – you basically all have assigned roles, from engineering to navigation to weapons, etc, which you all play individually on your laptops, while an ‘overview’ screen shows you all how your work is affecting your ship’s progress through the cosmos. Meanwhile, a ‘space dungeon master’ (see, I told you it was geeky) basically manages the story, throwing challenges and enemies and solar flares at you to create the plot and excitement. I have no expectation that any of you will actually play this, but it’s a really interesting idea that gives a tantalising glimpse of how this sort of thing could work in more mainstream fashion – you can imagine retooling all the individual elements into slightly more user-friendly iterations, and a version of this in which everyone uses their mobiles to do their individual tasks viewing the shared screen on Twitch, say… Oh, fine, it is irredeemably-geeky, but it’s still interesting – it’s worth taking a look at the videos on the site to get a feel for how it works in practice, as it’s easier to watch than describe (story of my fcuking life).
- Destroy The Planet: Finally this week, the clicker game to end all clicker games. You win by consuming all of our natural resources and condemning us to a fiery planetary demise – what’s not to love? This is quite fun, if a) you like clicker games; and b) you studiously-ignore the message that it is trying to communicate.
THE CIRCUS OF TUMBLRS
- Richard In A Hat: Not, in fact, a Tumblr! Still, feels like one – and what could be more Tumblr than a series of photographs of a man called Richard wearing a selection of different types of millinery? Apart, of course, if Richard declared themselves to be otherkin.
- Frogpostbot: A tumblr collecting examples of the classic channer post-Pepe ‘anon’ memes, these are ostensibly AI-generated but I have my doubts; most of these are far, far too good to be the product of a machine imho (either that or imitating Chan humour is the latest post-Turing test to be blown to smithereens by the march of technology). Either way, if you find content like “alert alert i have a challenge for you
the challenge is ask the cute nurse at my doctors to stick the vaccine needle directly into my balls do u accept?” to be strangely-compelling (and who doesn’t? NO FCUKER, that’s who!) then you will enjoy this.
THE TROUGH OF (INSTA) FEEDS!
- Franz Ditaa: An Insta account which presents images made my one Franz Ditaa in which cats assume gigantic proportions. Want an image of a giant cat sitting atop a Mayan (I think) structure? Want to see a kitten wreaking havoc as it swats passers-by at a New York street crossing? Of course you do, you’re only human. Not hugely original, fine, but nicely-done.
- The NU Transportation Library: God I love a niche institution Insta. This is the Northwestern University Transport Library’s OFFICIAL Insta, which posts all sorts of retro-transport-related imagery for the cleansing of the timeline. If you’d like to leaven the ceaseless procession of madness that is your Insta feed with some rather beautiful transport-related art and design then, well, fill your boots.
LONG THINGS WHICH ARE LONG!:
- Epistemic Trespassing: As it was with Brexit, as it was with COVID, as it is again with Afghanistan, our online age (specifically, the experience of being on social media) is characterised by the expression of knowledge and expertise on certain topics by people who, it’s fair to say, don’t necessarily have the foundational knowledge to perhaps opine with the confidence which they in fact do. This essay offers an interesting perspective on the question of whether this is in fact a more valuable thing that we might initially believe, and that its corollary – to whit, the practice of ‘epistemic squatting’, or gatekeeping around areas of knowledge, can in fact be more damaging than the plurality of viewpoint and (admittedly often ignorant) opinion that we get every day on Twitter (because, mainly, it’s Twitter, isn’t it?). A good read, and one which challenged quite a lot of thinking I had previously taken to be self-evident.
- Rewilding Your Attention: This is absolutely the sort of essay I would have written were I a) a better writer; b) a more coherent thinker; c) less lazy; and d) more interested in doing proper analysis of topics rather than the micron-deep dive that I tend to do – it’s also basically the Web Curios manifesto made, er, text. Clive Thompson writes about how algorithmic, feed-based content streams necessarily have a dulling effect – in his words, “Big-tech recommendation systems have been critiqued lately for their manifold sins— i.e. how their remorseless lust for “engagement” leads them to overpromote hotly emotional posts; how they rile people up; how they feed us clicktastic disinfo; how they facilitate “doomscrolling”. All true.But they pose a subtler challenge, too, for our imaginative lives: Their remarkably dull conception of what’s “interesting”. It’s like intellectual monocropping. You open your algorithmic feed and see rows and rows of neatly planted corn, and nothing else.” Thanks, Clive, for neatly-articulating why Web Curios exists. If you work in strategy or planning or one of those sorts of pointless, made-up jobs, this is the sort of thing you should read and then annoy all your younger colleagues by forcing them to read too.
- When McKinsey Types Run Everything: Thanks Alex for sending this my way – an essay about the extent to which the failure of US (Western) efforts in Afghanistan (although, per previous essays in Curios on this subject, the extent to which it was ever possible for there to be a ‘success’ is moot) can in some part be linked to the prevalence and growth of a certain type of managerial thinking in the military (as in other disciplines) – basically: “None of these tens of thousands of Ivy league encrusted PR savvy highly credentialed prestigious people actually know how to do anything useful. They can write books on leadership, or do powerpoints, or leak stories, but the hard logistics of actually using resources to achieve something important are foreign to them, masked by unlimited budgets and public relations.” Sound familiar, even if you don’t work in the military? It does, doesn’t it?
- The Biometric Databases of Afghanistan: How Afghan government databases containing millions of records pertaining to military personnel are now in the hands of the Taliban and how this information could (depending, obviously, on the extent to which the Taliban reveal themselves to have been lying about having turned over a new leaf – who knows???!!!!1111eleven) be used to make life incredibly uncomfortable for those Afghans remaining in the country who might not in fact want records of how they spent the past two decades shared with the new regime. Interesting in part because of the specifics, and in part because of the fact that this sort of story is just How Things Are Now – every regime change story (and human rights story) from hereon in is also a tech story, is also a data story, is also a privacy story, and the sooner we come to terms with this (and factor it into our thinking when building systems and processes) the better.
- The Rise of Aesthetics: A year or so after the aesthetics wiki was everywhere, YouTube has created its own official explainer around the whole concept of ‘aesthetics’ as a thing, as well as some guidelines as to what cottagecore, goblincore, psycore, strongbowdarkfruitscore, etc, are. If you’re desperate for data to prove why it’s VITAL that your next campaign embrace the tradwife aesthetic (more on which later), this will be very useful indeed – beyond that, it’s another interesting datapoint for the general thesis (fine, my general thesis) that subculture and belonging has weirdly never been more important to KIDS THESE DAYS, despite the lack of anything resembling universal subcultures that any GenX people could recognise as such.
- Parasocial Bongo: OR, to give the article its actual title, “The OnlyFans drama has creators worried about more than money”. Still, the main theme of this piece is the relationship online sex workers have with their fans, and how the specifically-parasocial nature of said relationship enables them to monetise in a way that they simply wouldn’t be able to do without those sorts of emotional connections. I find this fascinating and borderline-troubling – not that there’s anything wrong with wnking at a camera for cash, more that the idea (referred to by at least one interviewee in this piece) of performers having ‘internet boyfriends’ feels…odd. This might of course be the simple ‘resistance to the new’ that accompanies any shift in social mores (see the mid-00s and the way online dating was perceived), but I do wonder about how healthy these sorts of relationships are for both customer and performer.
- Barbie Career of the Year as a Window on Centrist Feminism: A look at what the Barbie ‘Career of the Year’ doll tells us about popular conceptions of women’s roles and what is and ought to be considered ‘aspirational’ for girls and young women. Far more interesting than I thought it would be.
- NFT as Flex: A piece on the evolution of the NFT marketplace into something where, effectively, some whales are using the pieces as nothing more than signifiers of their immense crypto spending power. I am interested in this idea of NFT-as-status-object; if you consider that the coming generation has grown up with online play and digital avatars, and the idea of skins and customisation of said avatars being a totally normal thing to consider spending money on, it’s entirely plausible to imagine a situation a few years hence where digital drip is an entirely mainstream concern – beyond clothes, this could be ANYTHING to connote special status in an online space. Obviously there’s no need for these to be on the fcuking blockchain, but the principle is interesting beyond the NFT-froth.
- Big Anime: I wondered last week at which point anime became the global cultural powerhouse it currently appears to be – as if by magic, this WIRED piece appeared this week which neatly looks at the growth of the genre and the extent to which it’s now being monetised hard at a global scale via streaming and production companies. Imho there’s a pretty easy attention hack available at the moment online – ergo to do whatever you do in reasonably-competent anime style for guaranteed eyeballs. I give it 12m before a major bank does a youth-focused campaign using anime-styled illustrations and the whole scene dies a horrible death as a result of the ensuing shame and embarrassment.
- Cultish Language: This piece is technically about the venn diagram intersection between wellness bloggers and ‘mummy’ bloggers and peddlers of woobollock (the technical term for all pseudo-spiritual industrial complex that involves the sale of crystal-based tat for money), and how the language used is increasingly akin to that used by cults to position themselves as absolute arbiters of truth and authority. In practice, though, I think that you can apply the broad thesis here outlined to most online communities in 2021 – EVERYWHERE IS A CULT AND EVERYONE WANTS TO BE A CULT LEADER. I have said this before, but really – take this line from the piece: “In Cultish, Montell explores the language used by everyone from the notorious Jim Jones, who coerced nearly 1,000 members of his church to kill themselves in 1978 to the leggings-hawking direct sales company LuLaRoe. What unifies all these organizations and leaders is the use of language deliberately designed to make followers feel like part of a community, to feel privy to salvation or a higher power of being.” Now think of that excerpt in the context of any online interest group you care to mention. NFTs? CULT! Football Twitter? CULT! Mental Health Twitter? CULT! I don’t normally think I am right about stuff – honestly, I don’t! This veneer of certainty is just a pose! – but I honestly reckon that my assertion that the cult is the most important cultural unit of the modern age is bang on the money.
- GenZ Tradwives: Or ‘the weird, culturally-conservative creep currently happening in quite a few corners of online space’ – I first started seeing this a few years back in the Jordan Petersen-addled narratives constructed by alt-right adjacent men, talking about the need to go back to more traditional family models and values (aka I EAT STEAK AND RECEIVE FELLATIO AND OCCASIONALLY BREED, as far as I can tell), and it’s been interesting watching it bleed into ‘aesthetics’ internet and more mainstream lifestyle content. This article discusses the extent to which this aesthetic is being used as a trojan horse for certain strains of right-wing thinking – I don’t know about you, but people starting to talk about ‘moving to the country and having a quieter life with more connection to the land and local community’ is now indelibly linked in my mind them falling down a fash-adjacent rabbithole, though that perhaps says more about me than anything else.
- Mob Justice: There is, it seems, a neverending appetite for longform articles in the serious press about how unforgiving and trigger-happy the world is these days, and how the slightest transgression from accepted social mores can lead one to ostracisation and career-death in a matter of seconds. Here’s the latest, in The Atlantic – to be clear, I don’t hold with most of what is written in this piece, but I found it fascinating to read the author’s attempt to paint a society in which – let’s be clear – people are no longer able to behave in a way that upsets people without the people they have upset making them aware of it and asking them to stop behaving like that as A Bad Thing. My main overriding thought when reading most of the examples of ‘cancellation’ here recorded (in their defence, the author accepts that that’s a silly term) was that this is how it used to be for everyone who wasn’t at the top of the pyramid. To hear the interviewees complain about now living in a world where they no longer feel they understand the social conventions required of them and what is ‘acceptable’ or not is enlightening insofar as not one of them seems to acknowledge the fact that they are literally describing the life experience of being part of a marginalised community for literally all of history. No violins, basically, but an interesting read nonetheless.
- Disco Elysium: I don’t normally proselytise about videogames you MUST PLAY, but I will make an exception for this. If you have a PC or Playstation and you like reading – even if you don’t really like games! – you absolutely must play Disco Elysium. This article is a lovely explanation of some of the reasons why – it contains mild spoilers, but it also perfectly captures the beauty of the writing and the fact that, more than anything else I have ever experienced, it feels like ‘playing’ a novel. Honestly, this is possibly the most interesting evolution of storytelling in games I have ever experienced, and you owe it to yourself to try it (again, even if you don’t really like games!).
- The English Food Store: From the latest Vittles email, a wonderful piece of writing by Huw Lemmey about Englishness, food, class, history and embarrassment – “A visit to an English food store overseas is a vision of Englishness when the lights come up in a club at the end of the night. You’re staring straight into the flickering, blinding truth. You can’t hide from it. This is it, son: the nation that made you, the food that put flesh on your bones, the custard powder and Angel Delight that built your skeleton strong and the Fray Bentos and black pudding that made you broad.”
- The Route Setters of Tokyo: Did you enjoy the climbing at the ‘lypmics? Wasn’t it GREAT? This is an absolutely brilliant article – and an excellent companion to that NYT explainer about how Olympic climbing works – about the people who make the course that the climbers seek to climb. Honestly, I can’t stress enough how fascinating this is, on both a practical and human level; I adore articles like this that shine a light on a niche profession or skill which I had literally never considered the existence of before.
- Rooms Occupied by Ghislaine Maxwell: This is a brilliant piece of writing, about the Maxwell case but, more, about the power structures and systems that enable the sort of abuse that she and Epstein engaged in over the years. The final paragraphs in particular are some of the best writing about the horrific power dynamics that characterise this sort of abuse that I have ever read.
- Proust’s Panmemnicon: This is a very odd one. I can’t quite recommend it, exactly – it’s VERY long, and unless you really want to read a hardcore literary analysis of A La Recherche…then you probably won’t want to read every single word, but at the same time it is so wonderfully, stylishly idiosyncratic in its writing that I think all of you would enjoy skimming it. Its author, one Justin Smith, is obviously an intelligent and erudite human being with a wonderfully turn-of-phrase; they are also someone who is…unafraid of pretension, to the extent that there was a certain point in the opening section where I had to stop and check that it wasn’t a parody of a certain type of arts writing. Honestly, though, this is packed with high-quality writing, and they even manage to make Proust interesting (obviously I have never read Proust).
- The Youths: Finally this week, a piece of short fiction by Lisa Owens which, honestly, felt so familiar to me at points that it was almost like witchcraft. The story of a couple, from workplace meeting to middle-age, drawn so perfectly and with such pinpoint observation that it’s like observing something trapped in amber. This is absolutely superb, and the best piece of short story writing I’ve read in months – make a pot of tea (or, fcukit, open a bottle!) and enjoy it.
AND NOW, MOVING PICTURES AND SOUNDS!:
- This is called ‘I Am A Cloud’ and it’s by a band/artist called ‘Fire Tools’ and, honestly, I can’t say I like it exactly, but it’s a very weird track that sounds like someone trying to make their actually-very-pleasant melody sound totally unlistenable by adding multiple layers and filters to it to mask the prettiness. Reminds me not a little of Wicca Phase Springs Eternal and that whole genre, should that mean anything to you.
- Last up in the videos this week, thanks to Shardcore for pointing me at this new track by Bob Vylan, which is angry and jagged and all the good things. It’s called ‘Pretty Songs’ and OH LOOK THAT’S ALL WE’VE GOT TIME FOR AND THE LINKS ARE ALL DONE I HOPE YOU HAVE LOVELY WEEKENDS IN PROSPECT AND THAT YOU ARE ALL REASONABLY OK ALL THINGS CONSIDERED AND THAT YOU TAKE CARE AND COME BACK NEXT WEEK BECAUSE WITHOUT YOU I AM NOTHING I LOVE YOU TAKE CARE COME BACK I LOVE YOU BYE!