Yes, well, the news, blimey.
Per last week, Curios is eschewing warcommentary and warchat – you know where to get news, comment, opinion and asinine, performative takes on current affairs should you so desire them – here it’s just links and distractions til the end times come (how is the clock looking?).
So instead, let me devote this opening blurb to saying a heartfelt THANKYOU to the PRmongs at Hope & Glory for kindly agreeing to change their name of their EXCITING NEW NEWSLETTER PRODUCT, all about ‘interesting stuff on the internet’, from ‘Curio’ to something else, after I, er, kindly asked them to earlier this week. Obviously everyone at said agency now thinks I am a colossal prick, and I have clearly added another name to the long list of ‘companies that will never, ever employ me’, but, on the plus side, I can rest assured that the title of ‘least-read editorial product in the world with ‘Curio’ in the title’ remains mine for a little while longer yet – THANKS, PRMONGS! Also thanks for the classy shade thrown at me in the email you sent, which included the line “cards on the table, wasn’t aware of webcurios” – I mean, YOU DIDN’T HAVE TO TWIST THE KNIFE, YOU FCUKS.
I am still Matt, this is still Web Curios, and hopefully everything that follows will help you momentarily slough the horror of the brutal truth that we are all made of meat (and gristle, and hatred).
THE SECTION WHICH WOULD LIKE TO POINT OUT THAT NOT ALL ENTERTAINERS WOULD MAKE GOOD POLITICAL LEADERS, AND WOULD LIKE TO REMIND EVERYONE OF THAT TIME THE UK BRIEFLY CONSIDERED RUSSELL BRAND A ‘SERIOUS’ POLITICAL THINKER, PT.1:
- Aphetor: It’s…it’s not easy to find reasons to be cheerful at this particular point in human history (or at least it’s not for me; you, fine, might be gambolling through the metaphorical sunlit fields of your mind on the daily, sun-saluting like a blithely-unaware Fotherington-Thomas, and more power to you, but, well, how?), but if you’re on the lookout for something to cling to in the hope that THINGS WILL ONE DAY GET BETTER, a light at the end of the tunnel that isn’t an oncoming train (or, er, the blinding flash that pre-empts the mushroom cloud) then let me present to you the glory that is Aphetor (thanks to Alex Fleetwood for bringing this to my attention – how it had previously evaded my gaze I will never know). Aphetor, which apparently launched last year to…minimal fanfare is THE CREATOR GAMES, which in a few short weeks (apparently – I am…not 100% convinced that this year’s event will go ahead, but let’s see shall we?) will see the 2022 event begin in Denmark. What is Aphetor? Well, as far as it’s possible to work out, it’s a several-week-long influencer jamboree, in which a bunch of shiny-haired ‘creators’ (extroverts with good skin) make CONTENT for…well, for no discernible purpose, as far as I can tell: “Epic events in amazing locations, where the world’s best creators compete against each other in a series of awesome challenges…The creators do their thing and create awesome content. Fresh collaborations, amazing experiences and new adventures, through their eyes and on their channels…Audiences engage with the content on the creators’ channels, Aphetor’s social channels and on Aphetor.com, where all the content is aggregated…Between events our unique creator collabs continue, with live and interactive formats, scouring the internet for content that epitomises Aphetor!” Do…Do any of you have the first idea what any of that actually means? I have tried to watch some of the ‘content’ from last year’s event and, sorry, I just can’t – it’s just a bunch of pretty people being blandly, cheerfully, stupid at each other for no discernible purpose whatsoever – and I struggle to imagine that anyone else in the world could have anything other than feelings of intense ambivalence about the whole thing, and yet…and yet it exists. Why? For whom? Who’s making money here? HOW CAN THIS EXIST AND LEAVE LITERALLY NO TRACE WHATSOEVER ONLINE? Please, I beg you, if any of you know anything about this, do tell me – I am getting incredibly strong ‘borderline criminal money-laundering operation’ vibes from the whole thing, basically. Still, in times of conflict we all need entertainments, so, er, something to look forward to!
- Neon Door: I’m generally a big fan of the collective creative endeavour – more power to you, collectives! Do your thing! This, though, slightly baffles me – Neon Door is a very shiny web portal which promises to be ‘the first truly immersive literary exhibit’, which, as you can imagine, sounded right up my street, and which rather disappointingly ended up being A N Other online magazine when I finally clicked through, presenting a selection of writings and artworks and poetry by a bunch of different artists and writers. The quality of stuff in here is…variable (de gustibus nil disputandum and all that, but, well, it’s true), but there are a few things which play with form and function in halfway-interesting ways and if you’re interested in ‘Ways Of Presenting Literary and Artistic Work Online That Isn’t Just A Standard Website (but, frankly, might as well be)’ then this is worth a look (also, if you just fancy reading a bunch of random work by strangers, because, why not?).
- Cookie Factory: This is a nice piece of work by UNESCO (and some digital agency, almost certainly – sorry, nameless digital agency!) – a Chrome extension designed to help you experience the subjectivity of the browsing experience, simply by letting you load up a bunch of different ‘profiles’ based on in-browser Cookies, so you can see how this behind-the-scenes, invisible information characterises and personalises one’s experience of the web without one actually realising. “Choose a cookie profile and watch the factory browse the internet for you. Depending on the keywords corresponding to this profile, the factory will automatically open dozens of internet windows, organically creating new cookies. Your history, your cookies and your favorites will be replaced, as if you had become someone else.” So you can pick from one of 40 different pre-set personae or create your own, and get a flavour for the way your recommendations, ads and associated content recommendations shift based on these often-unknowable parameters. Smart, and a really effective way of teaching people how online personalisation and tracking works and what it can do (and, obviously, a GREAT thing to ‘take inspiration from’ should you be in the market for any INCREDIBLY WORTHY brand-led activations). If you want a really on the nose alternative to this, why not download a VPN this week and set your location to Moscow?
- The Procedural Web: So before you click this one, be aware that all it does it take you to a Github repo – sorry, nothing to actually see here, but conceptually this is one of my favourite things of the week. This is basically a bunch of code which the more technically-capable of you can spin up to play around with, and which lets you create a local search engine, called Goopt, which creates procedural results using GPT-3 as you search. So, in layman’s terms, all the results for your search query will be automatically created by AI – so you get to experience a sort of fever-dream of machine-imagined ‘truths’ in response to whatever you feed it. Which is in part obviously just a fascinating creative tool and imaginative exercise but, more soberingly, is also a potential window into the near-future in which GPT-3 has been opened up to everyone and the content marketers have had a good play with it, and the whole of the web has been flooded with junk machine-generated content because it’s cheaper and easier to fill webpages with machinecopy and it doesn’t matter that it doesn’t make sense because in the main the copy exists to be indexed rather than read, and the spiders doing the indexing don’t know it’s junk, and so our information landscape is littered with utterly meaningless rubbish which the machines can’t tell is meaningless rubbish. Sounds hyperbolic, but I promise you that that is a totally plausible scenario – look, if you’re anything resembling a competent online researcher then you will be well aware of the fact that Google is basically junk these days, and it’s getting worse…you think this is going to get better when every third new bit of ‘content’ published online is written by an AI based on a six-word sentence input?
- Feral Earth: I LOVE THIS! Also, we need a term for websites and digital gubbins whose function is tied to physical variables – can someone coin one, please? FCUK’S SAKE I ASK NOTHING OF YOU, NOTHING, THE LEAST YOU COULD DO IS THIS ONE THING. Jesus. Anyway, Feral Earth is a website featuring a bunch of hyperlinks which are only clickable under certain specific environmental conditions – so one will only work when one of the sensors attached to the website tells it that it’s raining, for example, whereas another will only work on the Summer and Winter Equinoxes. This is basically the physical equivalent of in-game Easter Eggs that unlock on specific dates, and this is SO SO SO RIPE for a miserable exploitation by a brand, delivered to a double-figure-IQ client that will never appreciate the beautiful elegance of the execution. Honestly, if you can’t think of a fun way of using this for vouchers and things at the very least then, well, I’d like you to stop reading this newsletterblogtypething and have a word with yourself.
- World Atlas 2.0: Was World Atlas 1.0…a book? Anyway, thanks to Giuseppe Sollazzo’s newsletter for this gem of a site, which has a whole bunch of datasets sitting in its backend which you can overlay on the world map however you choose, for all your dataspelunking and geoanalytical needs. Pleasingly there’s an ‘apply a random dataset’ button, meaning even people like me who don’t really understand data or have the first clue of where to start with something like this can hit a switch and be presented with, say, information about the proportion of the world’s parliamentarians in each country who are under-40 (wow, Chad has a young political class! Go Chad!), or, er, colorectal cancer death rates (less fun, honestly, but wtf is going on Hungary? STOP EATING SO MUCH PROCESSED MEATS, HUNGARIANS!)! I lost a good 10 minutes to this just clicking through random data facts about the planet – this is really, really interesting, and might even be useful if you’re searching for specific global datapoint comparisons (all the data is sourced and linked, so you could use this for Proper Reasons if you so chose).
- Letter To Ur Ex: A bit of singlepromo for the new record by Mahalia, this is a cute little website which lets you listen to the single (a track all about wanting your partner’s ex to basically fcuk off and stop texting them) and also browse various letters that Mahalia’s fans have written to their exes, which are posted up on the virtual walls of the virtual rooms of the site. I presume there’s some pretty heavy-moderation going on here, as I’m yet to discover anything featuring someone’s phone number or a threat to ‘do them’ if they don’t stop sending 3am ‘I love you’s, but I am a sucker for this sort of anonymous confessional-type thing and I quite enjoyed sifting through the brief-but-occasionally-poignant loveandpainnotes (like the horrible little emogoblin I evidently at-heart am).
- Creative Quests: This was sent to me by Sam, the person who created it, and, whilst I don’t normally feature stuff that costs money in Curios, I thought that a few of you might find this interesting or appealing. Creative Quests is “an immersive digital programme that helps you explore your creative potential, alongside a worldwide community of fellow Questers. Each Quest challenges you to embrace a different creative theme for one month, giving you a framework to fill your life with illuminating new perspectives on the world around you. Join us for weekly workshops, innovative challenges and enriching conversations. Inspired by our Quest themes: we playfully explore, empower our inner artists, embrace being beginners and of course, we create.” The website is very keen to stress that IT IS NOT A COURSE – which, if I’m honest, feels a bit like a disclaimer for anyone who turns around at the end of it expressing dissatisfaction that they have learned NOTHING – but if you fancy a way of meeting new people who are also interested in making stuff and who are generally curious then, well, this could be good. It’s £60 for a month, which is a reasonable whack, but equally looks like A Real Thing into which Sam has put proper thought – worth a look (but, equally, Web Curios bears no responsibility whatsoever should Sam turn out to be a crook or a criminal) (though I’m sure he’s probably not) (Sam, was this the sort of writeup you were after? It probably wasn’t, was it? SORRY!).
- Machine Wilderness: This looks GREAT. “Machine Wilderness is an artistic field programme exploring new relationships between people, our technologies and the natural world. Machines have become an intrinsic part of our world (according to some a second nature). But their presence is highly disruptive to the worlds of other beings on land, in the seas and skies. How can technologies relate more symbiotically with other living beings? In 2022, seven artists join the Machine Wilderness residency programme exploring the rich and diverse worlds of animals, plants and microbes in ARTIS and MICROPIA. From March till June artists will each be experimenting for a number of weeks in the park to get closer to the lives of other creatures and reveal hidden worlds. Visitors can see them at work during their research or learn more in artists’ presentations. By exploring the relations between technology and other life forms we investigate how animals and plants share signals, how they learn, set boundaries, or organize their lives. Through experiments and prototypes we try to find ways to engage with their worlds more deeply. Can machines help us rejoin the great conversation with life?” I read this and thought “Hm, this sounds vaguely-related to that bloke Thomas Thwaites who spent an age trying to build a toaster from scratch and then became briefly internet-famous for living as a goat for a while and who I met at a party once and totally failed to charm” and LO! Thwaites is one of the artists involved with this. If you have any interest in ‘how technology and nature intersect and how we can use one to improve or better-understand the other’ (and who doesn’t? NO FCUKER, that’s who!) then this is very much worth keeping an eye on.
- GenZ: I think, as far as I can tell, this is A Real Thing (if that designation even means anything anymore) – a new brand of water (literally just water), sold for more money than it’s worth, in web1.0-aesthetic bottles, via a web1.0-aesthetic website, because EVERYTHING IS VIBES NOW (sorry). This is US-only, but buying the product isn’t really the point here – this is interesting because of the confluence of web1.0 fetishisation and dropshipping and brand-over-substance and flat-voiced detachment and non-ironic irony…have we had one of these brands pop up in the UK yet? It feels like we probably ought to have done, and, equally, that I am too old to have noticed if it did (so tired, so ready to die).
- The Yesterweb: “The Yesterweb is a community which acknowledges that today’s internet is lacking in creativity, self-expression, and good digital social infrastructure. It is driven by everyday users of the internet, regular people with diverse skills and interests who care about online spaces. We acknowledge that the internet is made up of human beings. Conversing online doesn’t make this any different. Behind every username is a real person with their own perspective and experiences…It’s not just about nostalgia or retro aesthetics but these interests signify that there is a need for change. Our goal is to forge a new path forward, toward building and cultivating a better internet.” So this is interesting – effectively the yesterweb looks like a place for people to congregate around the oldschool idea of self-created websites and online spaces, collecting a bunch of resources around self-publishing and platform-independent creation, alongside a (borderline-unreadable, but top marks for effort) Zine which offers personal stories and tips about Making Stuff Online Without Using Fcuking Substack/Insta/TikTok/etc.
- Six Zeros: One day I will get through a whole Curios without feeling forced to link to some fcuking NFT ‘art’ project – sadly this is not that day. This is by London-based artist Stuart Semple, who I’ve previously referenced here for his Anish Kapoor-baiting ‘blackest black’ and ‘pinkest pink’ paints and who, in a previous life, was responsible for the most Nathan Barley night of my working existence (I have linked this before, I think, but, really, read this and tell me you want ‘indie sleaze’ to come back; trust me, you do not) – Six Zeros is…oh, look, here, click this link and listen to the HIGH CONCEPT. Got it? ART CAN BE NOTHING BUT ALSO SOMETHING AND THAT IS WHY I AM SELLING A MILLION ENTIRELY BLACK PIXELS AS NFTs and oh dear God. No shade on Semple here – man’s got to eat, after all – but I am not totally sure that ‘selling a black pixel’ is quite the subversive comment on the ineffable nature of What Art Is that it’s here being presented as. Still, if you’ve got a few Eth burning a hole in your wallet then this may be up your street.
- MRE Reviews: A YouTube channel in which a man apparently named ‘Steve’ prepares and eats military rations from various countries and points in history. So if you’ve ever wanted to watch someone painstakingly pore over and then reconstitute a packet of what purports to be ‘omelette and salsa’ from the Canadian Army’s 2010 menu, and then attempt to force it down their gullet while describing the ‘taste’, then, well, you’re in luck. I am slightly baffled as to why each of these videos is seemingly 50 minutes long – is it the algorithm’s demands? Is it just a real desire to be INCREDIBLY THOROUGH in his appraisal of powdered stewed meats? – but there’s something undeniably compelling about the reveal in each case (which is odd, considering every single meal I’ve checked on looks exactly like it’s been pre-digested by a toddler).
- Tip Of My Fork: A subReddit serving two distinct purposes. The first is to give people desperately trying to find out what a long-remembered food experience was a community to help them uncover their gustatory memories – you have a vague recollection of a particular brand of soft drink you once tried on a French trip when you were 17 and which you have never seen again but which you dream of finding again in the hope that it will unlock the innocent memories of The Child You Once Were? Then these people will help you work out what said soft drink was, where you can find it now, and what sort of counselling you’ll need when you realise that nothing will ever bring that child back, they are dead, bury them. The second is to offer opinions on whatever that weird thing you found in your food was, and OH MY GOD does the second category deliver. From the odd ‘log’ of what one hopes is ‘pea protein’ in a packet of pasta, to the frankly terrifying biological specimens fished out of someone’s order of clams, this may well make you too scared to ever eat again and will definitely open your eyes to the fact that some people really will munch first and ask questions later.
- Animal Noses: Via Present & Correct, the best stationery retailers on Twitter (fine, I appreciate this may not be a hotly-contested category, but I hope they appreciate the accolade) comes this excellent and soothing hashtag. Apparently if you search for the characters “#お鼻見” on Twitter or Insta you will be greeted with a neverending stream of (mostly) mammalian noses, and if you’re not in some small way soothed and comforted by this then you are probably dead.
- Only The Questions: A simple webtool which lets you paste any bit of text and, at a click, will isolate any questions it contains, leaving only those behind. Particularly useful if you have any colleagues who are so in love with the sound of their own written voice that their emails tend towards the baroque and overwritten and overlong, and are quite evidently penned for their own entertainment rather than to impart any actual information to the reader, and which need a fcuking index to help you navigate them…colleagues, in short, like me. Sorry to everyone I work with, for this and everything else. SEE, IF YOU BOTHERED TO READ CURIOS YOU WOULD SEE THAT I DO APOLOGISE SOMETIMES YOU FCUKING INGRATES.
- Charades: I know that ‘fun games over videocall’ is very much ‘early pandemic’ behaviour (now we either meet up in person briefly before realising that we don’t quite remember how in-person socialising works, or simply don’t bother to hide our disdain and resentment on Teams anymore), but this looks fun – Charades is, er, exactly that – a structured game of Charades, done over video, in browser, and free for up to seven players. I haven’t tried this out (I have no friends), but can’t help but feel that there might be something a bit sad about doing this over a janky connection, miming ‘my heart will go on’ to six frozen faces while your cat stares at you derisively from the corner of your Deliveroo-strewn bachelor-palace. Still, er, ENJOY!
By Ishii Shigeo
THE SECTION WHICH THE SECTION WHICH WOULD LIKE TO POINT OUT THAT NOT ALL ENTERTAINERS WOULD MAKE GOOD POLITICAL LEADERS, AND WOULD LIKE TO REMIND EVERYONE OF THAT TIME THE UK BRIEFLY CONSIDERED RUSSELL BRAND A ‘SERIOUS’ POLITICAL THINKER, PT.2:
- QRDate: This feels like quite a neat little idea, designed to offer some small hedge against the constant context collapse and impossibility of verification on social media (lol see the horse cantering across the distant fields as the get swings forlornly in the breeze!) – the site generates a QR Code linked to a specific date and timestamp, which “can be used to verify the date in rapidly disseminated photo- or videography where a large amount of people will be able to see and verify the code shown within a reasonable time from publishing, which is measured in seconds to minutes today.It provides a kind of social proof of other people observing a clock, given to you by a trusted third party, that you are holding up in a photo instead of writing the date on a piece of paper. It does *not* work against the past (taking snapshots of the produced codes and using them later) – the point is to try to guard media against the *future*. Therefore, unseen QR Dates are meant to have a lifespan after which they should be considered tainted.” Imperfect, fine, but seeing as the promise of THE BLOCKCHAIN has, unaccountably, yet to solve this particularly-thorny issue of modernity then at least it’s a start.
- Minimalist PixelArt Icons: Erm, literally just that! Still, these are really nicely-made, and very cute, and all free to download and use. The animals are particularly lovely, and I now want to find a reason to populate a website with an infinity of tiny pixellated snails (what do you mean “this has no relevance to any of our clients, Matt, what the fcuk are we paying your for?”?).
- Kia Move.Ment: Car marketing is a fcuking mystery to me, I tell you. Partly as a non-driver, but also because, honestly, none of it makes any sense. I would absolutely love it if someone related to this project were to see my bafflement and explain to me exactly why car manufacturer Kia has seen fit to create an entire synthprogramme, designed to let anyone apparently create soundscapes using a bunch of predetermined audiofiles which you can sequence and synch and mess with. WHAT IS ALL THIS GUFF ABOUT NEUROSCIENCE? HOW IS THIS MEANT TO PERSUADE ME TO DROP FIVE FIGURES ON A NEW CAR? Still, in the unlikely event that you’ve been itching to download a new piece of music-making software but have been holding out for one created by a company best-known for making middle-of-the-road hatchbacks then, well, MERRY FCUKING CHRISTMAS! They even commissioned a bunch of musicians to make tracks using the software – WHY?????? Please, someone, let me in on the ‘insight’ behind this (so I can laugh and laugh and laugh at the preposterousness of automotive advermarketingpr). If the total number of global downloads of this hits more than 500 I will be AMAZED – ROI, kids, ROI!
- Old Mouse: Not, sadly, the personal site of a methuselan rodent, this is instead an online museum dedicated to old computer mice. Found via Caitlin Dewey, this is perfect in every possible way: “In the belief that every mouse has a tale, oldmouse.com intends to track the evolution of the computer mouse and its kin along its zig-zag trail of human ingenuity. Most of the mouses featured here live together in Missoula, Montana, gathered from across the US and beyond. A few rare mouses appear in photos courtesy of their owners. Like its furry namesake, the computer mouse proliferated across societies worldwide by its opportunistic adaptability. Creative human programming propagates its nearly infinite variations. The familiar mouse whose pointer glides through email, documents, or the World Wide Web earned its way to the top of the computer evolutionary tree of input devices (alongside the ubiquitous keyboard).”
- Not An NFT: This is lovely. “As a kind of protest against low-effort NFTs flooding the market, I decided to create my own, except… they’re free. Yep, you too can ‘own’ a piece of digital art, just like the cool kids, and for absolutely nothing. A NANFT (Not An NFT) is a piece of generative art created by a twitterbot, and posted every hour to @NotanNFT1. To claim one, all you have to do is reply to the particular twitter post that features an image you like, with “I stake my claim!” Then right-click and save. Boom! It’s yours! The images are released under the Creative Commons CC BY-SA licence. That means you can do whatever you like, copy it, redistribute it, adapt it, even commercially, but… you must give credit and anything you create also has the same freedoms applied.” Get your new PFP here, vaunt your artistic nous and investor chops…for free!
- The Batname Generator: There is another Batman film out! Which, frankly, feels like a bit much – since I first failed to get into see Batman at the cinema in 1989 (Swindon town council was one of the few in the UK not to accept the brand-new ‘12’ classification for the film when it came out, meaning it was rated ‘15’ and inexplicably my 10-year-old self fooled noone when it came to sneaking in underage) there have been…12? films about the tediously-psychologically-troubled billionaire bully, which seems like TOO MANY for any healthy society. Still, if you’re FROTHING WITH EXCITEMENT at the prospect of watching yet another muddily-graded gruntfest then you may enjoy this unofficial website which lets you render any word you choose in the style of the new film’s logo. Because it’s unofficial there’s no banned word list sitting behind this, so if you want to create the word ‘NONCE’ in glorious batfont then, well, fill your boots!
- Peak Culture: Depressing-but-inevitable, really, that OPTIMISATION CULTURE should finally get round to attempting to MAXIMISE RETURNS from the generally non-competitive world of ‘messing around online’ (I really should spin up that range of ‘WEBMONG NOOTROPICS’ I’ve been toying with). Peak Culture is a frankly-risible-sounding browser extension which promises to help you REACH YOUR PEAK, MENTALLY AND PHYSICALLY. Exactly how it thinks it can do this via the medium of ‘some additional gubbins in Chrome’ is…unclear, but it offers you a CENTRAL EVENT COUNTDOWN (so, presumably, you can add an urgent countdown timer to your browser, creating an exciting frisson of YOU’RE WASTING YOUR LIFE every time you log onto Tube8 or NewGrounds), and HABIT TRACKING, and WORKOUT LOGS and GOAL TRACKING and dear God isn’t it tiring being this alpha and this GOAL FOCUSED all the time? Don’t you ever just want to lie down and close your eyes and never open them again? My favourite feature is the MOTIVATIONAL QUOTES, though, which I like to assume mean that every now and again you’ll get some stoic bullsh1t BLARED at you as you blamelessly browse seed catalogues or something. Astonishingly bleak and utterly dead-eyed.
- DIY Wood Boat: If there’s an antithesis to ‘a browser extension which seeks to squeeze every last second of productivity from your online life’ it’s this website, which simply sets out a bunch of resources and instructions for building your own wooden boat. Want a project that will in no way improve you but which might be fun? GREAT. Fcuk self-improvement, fcuk the quantified life, build a boat instead and sail off into the (potentially nuclear, fine) sunset!
- US Government Website Analytics: Ok, I appreciate that this is aspectacularly un-enticing link description, but I promise you there’s something (a bit) interesting here (sort-of). This website pulls traffic and download data from all the publicly accessible US government websites so you can see which are the most visited sites and pages, and downloaded documents. Which means you can see what sites people are looking at, what forms they are downloading, where they are browsing from…this is so interesting, unexpectedly so, and affords so many opportunities for interesting uses of the data in question; campaign planning based on user need and interest, content planning based on visitor location data…ok, fine, so I appreciate this is very much at the ‘less frivolous and fun’ end of the Curios scale, but there’s a very dull part of me that would love the opportunity to explore this sort of information for other countries so, again, CAN ONE OF YOU PLEASE SORT THAT FOR ME PLEASE THANKS?
- Pixelfed: Do you remember a few years ago when Mastodon launched and everyone got briefly excited at the prospect of an alternative to Twitter that was DECENTRALISED and ALL YOURS, and then everyone quite quickly realised that, actually, decentralisation isn’t necessarily all it’s cracked up to be, and setting up and running your own instances of a Twitter-like product is a massive pain, and actually most people don’t really need or want all the gubbins that a decentralised product can bring? No, I don’t suppose you necessarily do, Still, Pixelfed is basically ‘Mastodon, but Instagram’ – ad free photosharing, create your own instance or join a new one…you get the idea (and, frankly, if you don’t, I can’t be bothered to explain it to you – sorry, but I slept poorly and I’m a bit tired and, just, you know, no). If you’re one of the growing number of photographers who feel that Insta no longer really works for you as a platform then you might want to take a look at this – caveat usor, as ever, but it could be a nice way of finding new communities of interest.
- Technovelgy: Firstly, congratulations to the creators of this site for having coined one of the very worst portmanteau words I have ever read in my life – no small feat seeing as I’ve worked in PR for two decades. Secondly, additional congratulations to them for having kept this going for a couple of decades without seemingly changing the design even once. Thirdly, even more congratulations for the fact that it’s properly interesting stuff – the premise of Technovelgy (SUCH A HORRIBLE WORD!) is to explore concepts from fiction that become reality – so tracking the ideas from scifinovels past as they slowly become part of modernity. Exoskeletons and cyborgs and brain-machine interfaces and OH ME OH MY! The…idiosyncratic site design doesn’t make the browsing experience what you might call seamless, but it’s a really interesting collection of examples of imagination becoming reality, often in unexpected ways – see for example this entry on artificial eyes, and then cross-reference it with this recent Meta patent. Wonderful, creepy, vaguely-inspirational stuff.
- The Seed Site: I am very brown-fingered (STOP SNIGGERING) and as such don’t have any real idea of how THE CYCLES OF NATURE work, or when you ought to start turning the topsoil to maximise your begonias, but I have a vague feeling that this is the sort of time when you might want to consider planting stuff in the rocky, largely-sterile patch of scorched earth you laughably call a ‘garden’. You can check whether or not I’m in fact right on The Seed Site, a one-stop guide to everything to do with, er, seeds – how to plant them, how to nurture your seedlings, that sort of thing. Photos, plant profiles, harvesting guides…given we’re all approximately only a month or so out from being told to GROW FOR VICTORY (I jest, but, well, not that much) you might want to get revising.
- Colors Lol: Colour palettes with algorithmically-generated names. Which may not sound good, I appreciate, but I promise you that you will find yourself enjoying the nomenclature here far more than you expect (particularly if you’re of a vintage old enough to remember the original line of Urban Decay cosmetics, when there was nothing more subversive than wearing a lipstick called ‘Burnt Roach’ to accessorise your choker). “Milk-white yellow brown”, for example, is simultaneously nonsensical but also deeply, perfectly evocative and repellent.
- Clock: Animated clocks are not a new thing, fine, but this one is perhaps the most anxiety-inducing one I’ve ever seen. I don’t know whether it’s just me or whether it’s a function of This Fcuking World We Live In, but I don’t think I have ever experienced such a visceral sense of THE DESTRUCTIVE PASSING OF TIME AND THE SLOW-YET-INELUCTABLE MARCH TO DEATH as I have whilst watching the seconds tick past on this website. Watch the blocks build the time, watch it disintegrate, watch it build, watch it collapse…WE ARE BUT SANDS IN THE HOURGLASS OH GOD.
- DickDoodles: A variant on the hoary old Google classic ‘start drawing a thing and let the AI try and finish the drawing based on what it thinks the thing that you were drawing is meant to be’, except here it works by attempting to turn whatever you sketch into a crudely-drawn penis, because there is NOTHING FUNNIER than a cartoon prick.
- Tonetta: So I had to do a bit of digging and due diligence around this, as one of the few editorial tenets I have in Curios is ‘don’t feature stuff by people who have what might reasonably considered to be a mental illness, particularly if the end goal is basically to mock them’ and, well, Tonetta could possibly be read as such in a certain light. Then, though, I discovered the Tonetta rabbithole and read about his backstory and, well, I became a convert. THIS IS ART! Intensely odd outsider-art, fine, the sort of art that leaves you feeling quite uncomfortable but which also leaves you feeling like you have definitely just experienced A Thing, which isn’t something you can always say. Click the link and browse Tonetta’s frankly insane volume of output – the skits, the songs, the performances, the costumes, the masks (oh God the masks), the paintings and the sketches and the dancing and OH GOD REALLY THE MASKS. Seriously, this is quite incredible – I think the last time I got so oddly excited by one person’s output was Jandek about 20 years ago. I can’t stress enough what a…unique experience this stuff is, and really do encourage you to find a quiet place to experience some of it yourself. You won’t necessarily like it, but it’s unlikely to leave you indifferent.
- Microwave 59: I don’t really understand why this exists, or why you would want to play an endless-runner game rendered in the reflection of the door of a small CG microwave (no, really), but, well, that’s exactly what this is, so here, have it.
- Babadum: Ooh, this is a lot of fun. Babadum is a website which purports to help you learn languages – no idea how much actual use it would be, but it’s a GREAT timesink. Select your language, and listen as a series of words are read out – you just need to pick one of four images which corresponds to the meaning of the words that’s just been spoken. Which is useful if you want to test your vocab in a language you already sort-of know, but less so when all you can hear is a voice shouting random syllables at you – still, I imagine if you spend long enough with it then words will start to repeat, so you can probably pick up some light vocab from scratch, and it’s an excellent way of reminding yourself how little GCSE German you remember.
- Pixler: Via B3ta, this is an excellent little game which asks you to identify the animal in the picture in the fewest number of guesses – the image starts out with few, massive pixels, and becomes marginally-more-visible with each guess you take. Basically this boils down to ‘how good are you at telling a baboon from a badger when all you’ve got to work with is six block-colour pixels?’, but I promise it’s more fun than I just made it sound.
- Mimic: Final miscellaneous link of the week goes to this lovely little pixelly puzzle game, in which you have to complete each level by reaching the goal, which can only be accomplished by mimicking the movement patterns of different animals so as to acquire their movement skills (so you might need to become a fish, say, to cross a river). This is simple, fun and caused me to scratch my head rather more than I would be comfortable admitting to you face-to-face.
By Shir Pakman
THE CIRCUS OF TUMBLRS!
- Cover Laydown: Not, according to the sourcecode, actually a Tumblr, but very much one in spirit (and that’s what’s taxonomically-important, RIGHT KIDS?), Cover Laydown is all about folk covers of pop songs and unexpected covers of folk songs – in the real sense, rather than the simple ‘oh it’s an acoustic guitar so we’ll call it folk because we’re lazy’ sense. There are some great oddities on here – very much worth exploring.
- The Director’s Commentary: Download a HUGE range of audio files of Director’s Commentary from DVDs here – you want to listen to, say, the director’s commentary on the horrific mess that was 2019’s ‘Cats’? WHY??? Anyway, you can do that here. Lucky you!
THE TROUGH OF (INSTA) FEEDS!
- 90s Art School: Did you go to art school in the 90s? Did you have BIG CONCEPTUAL DREAMS which you occasionally look back on with regret as the STUPID CLIENT rejects another one of your BRILLIANT CAMPAIGN CREATIVES and you worry sadly at your stick tattoos as the baby sicks up again on your shoulder and you wonder whether the money and the CD title are really worth it after all, despite the nice house in Hackney, because honestly all you want to do is cry all day at the prospect of once again having to feign interest in developing a really stand-out visual concept for this exciting new brand of loan product you’re meant to be launching in Q3? This Instagram account is for YOU!
LONG THINGS WHICH ARE LONG!:
- Metalabels: This is, fine, a touch on the w4nkily-conceptual side, but I found it really interesting as a way of thinking about work and practise and areas of interest and influence, and maybe you will too (this feels very much like the sort of thing that those of you with ‘strategy’ in your job titles will lap up – take that either as a cuss or a compliment, as, well, it’s both!). Whilst it’s also a ‘launch manifesto’ for the author’s new project (called, obvs, ‘metalabel’), I found it an interesting framework or lens through which to conceive of loosely-thematically-linked bodies of work – as they put it, “A metalabel is like an indie record label, but for all forms of art, culture, and ideas. A book publisher, a local collaborative creative project, an online community, an activist movement, an artist collective, a record label, and other collective cultural projects are examples of metalabels: groups of people using a shared identity for a shared purpose with a focus on public releases that manifest their worldview.” Much as it pains me to say so – it’s so horrible when I realise that I tend to see this stuff through the lens of my (laughable) ‘job’ – there’s a really useful way of thinking about strategy and campaign planning in here should you wish to dig it out (but let’s never speak of it again if you do).
- Pods, Squads, Crews and Gangs: A caveat before I explain this one – this is very much not my sort of thing, both in terms of tone and general ethos, and I find it a bit awkward and uncomfortable (no shade to the author here, who I am sure is lovely, but we are obviously very different people; speaking personally, this degree of self-analysis and introspection makes my teeth itch and my skin start to turn inside out, but your mileage may vary). With that caveat out of the way, let me introduce this article which is a LONG-but-interesting exploration of something I’m increasingly seeing explored in various thinkpieces online over the past few months; to whit, the resurence of microtribes and communities online, the different ‘units’ of community that can be sketched out based on size and network type, and their difference in terms of end-user utility. Which, I realise, sounds dull-as-you like, but if you strip out the (to my mind psychbabbly) stuff about GOAL SETTING and OPENNESS (sorry, no, I am a closed book and now FCUK OFF) there’s some interesting observations in here about how group dynamics can and do function. Interesting to sociologists and the sort of people who get paid a lot of money to attempt to manipulate groups of people to think or act in specific ways (OH HI ADVERMARKETINGPRMONGS!).
- Magic Carpets: On what a world made up of ubiquitous, universal screens, screens indoors and outdoors, above us and below us, can and will do to our perceptions of space and information – I found this bit in particular to be fascinating, conceptually-speaking: “We are being conditioned to think of the metaverse as something that is yet to come, but in many respects it has already long been here, in the enhanced commercial environments we already experience in everyday life. Environmental screens would attempt to build on this. As with nature itself, we might grow to take the presence of such screens for granted as objects with an innate three-dimensional presence in our world…If screens covered everything, we would be no longer able to trust the illumination or the shadows we saw on walls and surfaces as a reliable reference point for perceiving three-dimensional space. They might sometimes feel a bit like they were being digitally rendered. The appearance of physical objects would become more provisional, and the things around us could start to be conceptualized similarly to how 3-D content is in games now: as calculated mathematical assemblies of geometric planes that are all surface and no interior. Physical space would be experienced more like game space, without the need for an interface.”
- The Wikipedia War: I figure that you’re all perfectly capable of reading your own accounts of the war in Ukraine, so have attempted to avoid it here – that said, this piece, about the edit wars currently taking place across Wikipedia as another front in the digital battle, struck me as worth sharing. Once again it’s worth taking a moment to admire the incredible robustness of Wikipedia as a platform and community – the systems and processes in place here to attempt to guard against abuse and misinformation are laudable (if, obviously, imperfect) – and to marvel at the extent to which it’s become not only one of the most important information resources in human history but also an incredible bellwether for What Is Really Going On behind the ‘truth’ of any particular issue. In the future, Wikipedia edit records will be valuable documents of historical import (and when I say ‘in the future’ I mean ‘now’).
- China’s AI Regulation: A really good look at the current legislative changes being planned in China to seek to regulate the behaviour of algorithms, both consumer-facing and not. Interesting in part because whilst this sort of legislation is going to start cropping up all over the place, China’s is likely to be the first to make it onto the statute books and it will be fascinating to see how exactly this gets enforced – determining algorithmic activity designed to cause “addiction or excessive consumption” sounds a) tricky and b) like the sort of ambiguous wording that is going to have lawyers licking their lips and running to put a deposit down on a new LearJet. I am…not exactly bullish about the extent to which this sort of regulation is even possible in any meaningful sense, but will be watching this closely.
- Post The Body Fascist: A discursive look at the links between the less-savoury corners of the bodyimage web, specifically the pro-ana and incel communities, and the far right; this is a bit rambling, and maybe a tiny bit undergraduate essay-ish (sorry, but, well, it is), but it’s also an interesting investigation into one of those odd online community venn diagram crossovers that I have never previously quite understood. If you’ve ever wondered why so much YogaTurmericLatte content seems so, well, fashy, this may help you understand.
- Creators: Or ‘how the creator myth got created’ – Vox looks at when and how and why everyone online started referring to themselves as ‘creators’, and What That Means And What It Tells Us. I can give you one answer – in part, it started 6 or 7 years ago when people in advermarketingpr like you and I started switching from saying ‘influencers’ to instead calling them ‘creators’ because ‘we co-created some really engaging content to drive brand awareness’ sounded more impressive than ‘we paid an influencer to say your brand name on camera’. Once again, everything is the fault of advermarketingprmongs. FCUK’S SAKE, ADVERMARKETINGPRMONGS!
- Bandcamp and Epic: Surprising business news of the week came with the news that Epic was buying Bandcamp, much to the chagrin of indie music enthusiasts who fear, not without justification, that The Man may not necessarily have the same desire to provide cheap music streaming and selling services to microfamous artists. This piece is a short analysis by Ted Gioia of What It Might Mean, which basically boils down to ‘probably not that much good if you’re a musician’ – interesting to me because of Gioia’s angle on this, which is basically ‘if music isn’t the company’s primary priority then the acquisition of a formerly-music-focused business by said company is not likely to be particularly good news for the music in this equation’.
- The NukeSim Guy: Charlie Warzel interviews the bloke behind the once-again-terrifyingly-relevant Nukemap website (you will have seen and used it at some point over the past decade, I promise), which has received a sudden spike in interest over the past week for obvious, miserable reasons. Much like his interview last year with the bloke behind the ‘stuck ship in the Suez Canal’ website, this is unexpectedly fascinating – the detail about what people use the nuke site for is fascinating (WHY DO WE ALL NUKE JAPAN???), as is the general background detail about what it’s like to be quietly responsible for a genuine artefact of the Small Web.
- Village Cooking: There was a brief period a couple of years ago when I ended up in an algorithmic sweetspot and had a happy few months during which all my feeds were just FULL of videos of people in rural parts of the distant world cooking vast quantities of food for the local community; honestly, few things are more relaxing to me than watching someone methodically butcher 400 chickens and turn them into seventeen kilos of biryani. This is a fascinating profile of one such channel from Bangladesh – how it works, how it’s changed the lives of the people behind it, and, inevitably, the creeping sense that it’s also created a small-but-growing monkey on the backs of the principal creators who I have a horrible feeling are going to find themselves algochasing the same content high for the rest of their lives.
- The $6,000 Star Wars Holiday: A writeup of what it’s like to visit the new immersive holiday experience built by Disney around Star Wars, where you can pay six grand for four of you to spend a weekend LIVING YOUR STAR WARS DREAM as part of a LARP-ish amdram with incredibly high production values. What struck me about this is that the author is a self-declared Star Wars fanboy and still baulks at the cost of the trip – that, and the fact that Punchdrunk have a lot to answer for.
- The Bongo Moderator: A writeup of what it’s like to be one of the poor unfortunates tasked with keeping Pr0nhub free of the wrong sort of bongo – there is literally NO PART OF THIS that sounds anything other than hideous, and I can’t imagine that anything good happens to one’s libido after doing this for any length of time. Yet another one to add to the bulging file of ‘reasons why content moderation is, and will continue to be, one of the thorniest issues of the modern age and why we should all perhaps pay a bit more attention to how it works and who is doing it’.
- The Internet and Patrick Bateman: I’ve read American Psycho…a lot of times. Part of that’s down to having written a few essays on it as a kid, and part of it’s down to the fact that it’s a fcuking great novel (I do, though, tend to skip some of the more, er, colourful sections) – I promise I’m not some sort of weird axemurdery pervert, honest (I feel compelled to make this point because when I was 16 my English teacher was so weirded out by the fact I was reading it that she took my girlfriend to one side to ask her if I was ‘normal’ in bed, which, rereading that, is very much not ok imho). Anyway, that familiarity with the source material means I found this piece – on the web’s fixation with Patrick Bateman, particularly now – of specific interest; disappointingly it seems to ignore the existence of a novel, fixating on the film representation, but there’s a lot of interesting stuff in here about what it is about the entirely-image-fixated Bateman that so appeals to us here in the year of our Lord 2022. I was reminded throughout of this passage, which is both the sort of ur-Bateman manifesto, and also, well, feels a tiny bit relevant to the now: ““…there is an idea of a Patrick Bateman, some kind of abstraction, but there is no real me, only an entity, something illusory, and though I can hide my cold gaze and you can shake my hand and feel flesh gripping yours and maybe you can even sense our lifestyles are probably comparable: I simply am not there. It is hard for me to make sense on any given level. Myself is fabricated, an aberration. I am a noncontingent human being.”
- Amba: Another piece from Vittles, whose founder, Jonathan Nunn, has rightly been getting a lot of high-profile love of late. This is a typically-excellent essay, all about Amba, a particular type of mango pickle popular across India but also around the Middle-East – this is the sort of brilliant food writing that is nominally about a specific dish or ingredient but which ends up being about politics and trade and commerce and people and which basically teaches you loads AND makes you hungry.
- Urban Sprawlers: Web Curios favourite Clive Martin writes in The Face about the London-to-non-London exodus, the culture clash it elicits, and What It Tells Us About Ourselves And The Country We Live In. I loved this, not least because it eschews the usual ‘townies vs urbanites’ narrative in favour of a more nuanced picture of a country which, at its heart, doesn’t know how to relate to itself any more. “In my experience, people in the rolling fields and rocky coasts enjoy the same things most people do: Facebook, family, football, drink, drugs, romance, big TVs and TikTok. Yet these strange utopianists keep turning up and projecting all their frustrations with the 21st century onto these totally normal towns, desperately scratching for something that most likely isn’t there – all in lieu of looking at themselves and their own anxieties.”
- The Numbers In My Phone: I loved this so so much. Long, chatty, warm, personal, painful, this essay by one Sheena D touches on race and sexuality and navigating love being black and queer, and is like listening to a wonderful, rambling story – honestly, I adored this and I think you will too, it’s GREAT.
- How To Apply Makeup: Finally this week, another piece about being black and queer, and being ugly, and being in love, but less discursive, more structured and packing a significant punch. This is a superb piece of writing by Nicole Shawan Junior.
AND NOW, MOVING PICTURES AND SOUNDS!:
- I’m probably going to have to stop putting Wet Leg on here as frankly they are now TOO FAMOUS for Web Curios, what with being namechecked by Dave Grohl and all. Still, this is their latest single, and per the others it’s just so much FUN whilst at the same time being lyrically just dark enough to be interesting – it’s called ‘Angelica’.
- This is called ‘Static Dream’, it’s by Pendant, and as far as I can tell it’s approximately 4 songs (all of which sound vaguely like Jesus Jones) that have been cut into pieces and then welded together with varying degrees of success. I can’t say I like this, but I have listened to it more often than I expected to when I found it on Monday. Which is…well, not exactly praise, but a recommendation of sorts. Also, the video’s actually really good, which you can’t always say about these sorts of shorts.
- This, though, is undeniably glorious. Ezra Furman with ‘Point Me Toward The Real’ – I am admittedly a sucker for songs that tell stories, but tell me you’re not immediately drawn in by the lyric “You picked me up at the County Cook Psychiatry Institute / It’s my first day free. I’ve got nowhere to be so I’m coming home with you”.
- I used to really dislike Florence and the Machine – I think the ubiquity was the main thing, but also the fact that I spent a lot of time around 2006 trying to avoid people who reminded me quite a lot of Florence Welch at parties – but this song is a cracker, and the video’s a lot of fun. This is called ‘King’.
- Finally in this week’s selection of videos, a BONUS MIX! This is The Hood Internet’s ultimate 90s mix – 600 songs from 1990-1999, all seamlessly-mixed into one 40-minute set. This is A LOT, but, well, SO IS LIFE, and maybe flashing back to the last decade during which we can all honestly have though that Things Were Getting Better may make you feel better, and OH LOOK THERE WE ARE THAT’S IT THAT’S YOUR LOT I HOPE THAT THIS WEEK’S SELECTION OF LINKS HELPED OR AT THE VERY LEAST DIDN’T MAKE IT WORSE AND I HOPE THAT WE ARE ALL HERE TO MEET UP AGAIN NEXT WEEK BUT IN CASE NOT KNOW THAT I HAVE ALWAYS LOVED YOU AND I HAVE ALWAYS CARED I LOVE YOU I LOVE YOU DON’T LEAVE ME I NEED YOU I LOVE YOU BYE!