SALVE! Benvenuti a una nuova edizione di Web Curios, la rubrica settimanale di ‘cose che ho trovato sull’internet’ piu’ comprensiva (o almeno piu menefreghista dal punto di vista editoriale) del mondo!
Actually, no, let’s not do that; I don’t think I can afford to alienate all 17 of you by suddenly pivoting to Italian (and badly-written Italian at that). Let’s try again.
Hello! Web Curios, for the foreseeable future, is coming to you from Rome (before you get jealous of the glamour, trust me when I assure you that there really is none) – I promise you, though, you really won’t notice the difference (other than perhaps a few references here and there to how much I fcuking despise this country’s bureaucracy and said bureaucracy’s inability to move on from 1990s-era webdesign). It is hot, I am lonely and I miss my girlfriend. Still, on the plus side I get to go downstairs and get pizza for lunch as soon as I hit send on this fcuker.
So, without further ado, on with the words and the links; be nice, I’m feeling a touch on the fragile side. I’m still Matt, this is still Web Curios, but everything else appears to be in something of a state of terminal flux.
By Amanda Ba
THE SECTION WHICH WOULD LIKE TO POINT OUT THAT IF YOU’RE STILL DITHERING ABOUT WHETHER TO DO AN NFT THING FOR YOUR CLIENTS THEN YOU’VE PROBABLY MISSED THE BOAT (CAN ANYONE SMELL TULIPS?), PT.1:
- Synthetic Messages: This is SUCH a clever idea, and one which I am very annoyed (but, if I’m honest with myself, entirely unsurprised) that I have never thought of before. It’s a really simple concept (though I imagine the execution is…er…tricky) – Synthetic Messages is a project which aims to promote news about climate change by working to convince news outlets across the world that the stories they post about how we’re fcuking the Earth seven ways from Sunday are the ones that deliver the most bang-per-buck for advertisers – with bots! Effectively underpinning the whole thing is a botnet trained to find articles online which report the climate emergency and then click the everliving fcuk out of all the ads said bots find on said articles, thereby (in theory at least) sending said articles soaring up the publications’ internal lists of ‘stuff what makes us money’. As the project’s authors explain, “In an algorithmic media landscape the value of news is determined by engagement statistics. Media outlets rely on advertising revenue earned through page visits and ad clicks. These engagement signals produce patterns of value that influence what stories and topics get future coverage. Public narratives around existential issues like climate change are shaped by these interwoven algorithmic and economic logics, logics that are presently leveraged by the fossil fuel industry.” SO MANY APPLICATIONS FOR THIS! My immediate thought is to wonder whether it is technically illegal to apply the same tech for any article which includes a positive reference to your client or business, thereby tricking news organisations into thinking that writing anilingual puffpieces about Company X is the best way to arrest the terminal decline of their business, but I’m sure you clever, creative folk can come up with more fun ways in which to rip this idea off. SO GOOD.
- Twitter Blue: I tell you what, not having to include a section on s*c**l m*d** at the top of Curios each week really has made waking up at 6am each Friday to write this fcuking thing slightly less unpleasant – hey, digimongs! Turns out that stopping pretending to care about this stuff really is good for your soul! Still, on occasion stuff happens that feels worth commenting on – in this instance, it’s the partial rollout of Twitter’s ‘Premium’ service, Twitter Blue, launched yesterday in Australia and Canada and which gives users willing to pony up a few quid a month a set of…largely-underwhelming new features. You’ll read a lot about the undo button, which gives you a window of regret after hitting ‘publish’ before your Tweet hits the ether, and the ability to search your bookmarks, and to unroll threads in-app, but to my mind the most interesting part of this (so far strangely unreported) is the fact that paying cashmoney for Twitter grants you access to ACTUAL REAL HUMANS to deal with your complaints (as they describe it, ‘dedicated subscription customer support’). Which, let’s be clear, is basically saying ‘yeah, if you pay us then we’ll pay proper attention to the racial abuse or general trolling you’re being subjected to’. Which…doesn’t seem great? Or fair? Or like the sort of thing that should really be going unremarked?
- Endless Letter: A Russian webproject that collects fragments of letters written by soldiers from the front throughout the second world war (from ‘41-’45). Fair warning, these are slightly devastating, and I was basically leaking from the eyes from the opening cinematic. I appreciate that there’s possibly a degree of stereotype-projection here (there really ought to be a word for this – the ascription of certain perceived national characteristics to historical materials – and in fact there might well be, but I have no idea what it might be if there is), but I think there’s something quite perfectly, bleakly…well…Russian about the prose in these missives.
- The Field: A POINTLESS AND OVERWORKED LARGE-SCALE CORPORATE WEB PROJECT! I do, as you know, love me one of these. The Field is a project by the Wall Street Journal’s ‘Custom Events’ team – in fairness, they’ve probably not had the best of years, and credit to them for pivoting to digital like this – which presents a PSEUDO-VR IN-BROWSER EXPERIENCE (which you could also experience with a headset if you have one – you won’t want to, but you can)! Two of them, in fact – one looking at the way in which the pandemic has affected the environment, and the other a sort of guided meditation type thing, designed to explore ‘wellness’ (GIVE ME FCUKING STRENGTH CAN WE STOP USING THIS STUPID FCUKING MEANINGLESS TERM PLEASE?) via the medium of, er, a voice over and some abstract blue graphics. There’s all sorts of grandiose talk here about creating a meeting space online, and STORYTELLING, but, honestly, what we have here are two very, very dull ‘experiences’, one of which takes 4 minutes to say ‘nature is healing!’ and the other which I simply couldn’t stand for longer than half of its eleven minute runtime. Look, if you’re a violently-rich company considering paying the WSJ to make you a digital event…don’t! Pay me a fraction of that amount instead to tell you you’re a moron instead!
- The La Liga Superfan Sweepstakes: This is rather odd. La Liga Superfan Sweepstakes (trips off the tongue!) is part of a wider initiative, by a company called Greenpark Sports (‘the mobile metaverse for sports fans!’) which invites fans of Spanish football from across the world to create a (pleasingly-customisable) little CG avatar with which they can…well, in the first instance, get the chance to win a football shirt, but more broadly the ‘appeal’ here is ‘to use your avatar to compete in minigames and quizzes to win points for your team on a global leaderboard, and to wander around a virtual world talking to other superfan avatars about…stuff’. Greenpark sports obviously have ambitions to become THE people who make pleasingly-customisable CG avatars for sports fans; I can’t in all honesty imagine why anyone would invest time or energy doing this purely for the opportunity to earn virtual points for their team so said team can climb a virtual leaderboard, but then again what do I know (rhetorical)? Realistically, though, this is the sort of thing that might well end up becoming popular in some form or another, but (and this is where I obviously guarantee that this will become HUGELY successful) it won’t be on this platform, which will eat an awful lot of investor money and will be completely forgotten by 2023.
- Poparazzi: The problem with taking a week off Curios, other than linkonstipation (wow, that’s an unpleasant portmanteau that I will try really hard to never, ever use again) is the risk that stuff that is all buzzy and zeitgeisty and new when I find it becomes old and played-out by the time I write it up. So it feels slightly with Poparazzi, which very much had its moment in the sun last week but which seems rather to have had the shine taken off in the past few days. Still, seeing as it was On The List, Poparazzi is AN Other photo sharing app, whose gimmick is NO FILTERS and NO SELFIES and basically just being a place where you post photos of other people and they post photos of you – the idea being that it both provides an unfiltered portrait of your life (LOL! Can we all accept that ‘verité’ as a concept in media is a bit dead) and also centres you as the MAIN CHARACTER (hence the name, DO YOU SEE?). Anyway, I could give you a detailed rundown of What It All Means And Why I Think It’s Bunkum (although in all seriousness I do think there’s something vaguely-interesting in the whole ‘you are the centre of this world’ vibe of the whole thing) but Ed Zitron did it already, rather well, here.
- Tianenmen Trolls: Thanks to Ged for sending this my way; it’s a project by Taiwanese organisation researching digital surveillance and authoritarianism which examines the different ways in which the Chinese state each year acts to suppress and derail online discussion of the Tianenmen Square massacre on its anniversary – which, lest we forget, is today (June 4). “On June 4th every year, the world comes together to mourn the Tiananmen Square Massacre, grieve the pro-democracy protesters who were killed, and condemn the totalitarian rule of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP). However, a propaganda drive to whitewash the Tiananmen massacre also kicks in at the same time on social media and private messenger groups, to speak up for the CCP and to attack the students in the pro-democracy movement. Doublethink Lab has collated messages intended to whitewash the CCP’s atrocities, and were able to categorize them into three groups, each with their own motives and narrative strategies.” This is really, really interesting – it’s presented really well, but most-fascinating is its analysis of the differing ways in which the information is used and manipulated by the State to attempt to deny and deflect the story. Obviously fascinating for anyone interested in China and its use of the web, but equally useful for any of you working in or around misinformation, propaganda, trolls, fringe politics and the like.
- Who Is We?: Thanks to Lauren for this (which, by the way, came via her excellent newsletter which I really do recommend – it always contains stuff I have NEVER seen, which I promise you is no mean feat – and which you can sub to by emailing her here) – it is WONDERFUL (but I confess to only having a…vague grasp of what the everliving fcuk it’s actually about). Part of the Dutch entry to the Venice Architecture Biennale, Who Is We?…oh, look, here: “Who is We? questions the dominant structures and histories we inhabit and inherit, presenting an urbanism that is female, of colour, Indigenous, queer, and multispecies.” Clear? Leaving aside the slightly enervating use of international artanddesignwank English in the descriptors, the site is a joy to explore and the UI – painting your way into discovery of the various elements that make up the exhibition (which, honestly, will make more sense when you click) is glorious and something I have never really seen before, and once you get into the individual elements there is so much interesting thinking about space and place, and the intersection of both with gender identities (look, there’s literally no way of talking about this stuff without sounding like a pseud, just go with it). Beautiful.
- This Bacon Does Not Exist: My initial reaction on seeing GAN-generated art, particularly stuff that’s been trained on portraits of faces or people, is ‘wow, that’s very Bacon-esque’ – and lo, it came to pass that Shardcore took the Bacon canon, fed it to a machine and saw what it spat out. These are beautifully unsettling, horribly lovely images, and the greatest compliment I can pay them is that they wouldn’t look out of place amongst the Tate’s collection.
- Authentic Artists: ‘Authentic’ is an interesting word which I feel is doing quite a lot of heavy lifting in this particular context – Authentic Artists is a company which basically makes virtual musicians – the website itself is a bit light on detail, but it’s worth checking out the sizzle reel linked to on the homepage before checking out the Twitch channel, which gives you a better idea of what it’s all about. In summary, it seems that they create DJ ‘characters’ in CG, which perform sets mixing real tracks and their ‘own’ compositions; there’s obviously some money behind this somewhere, as the CG is competent and the latest Twitch stream had actual proper semi-superstar DJ Mike Shinoda as hypeman, but I still struggle to see what the appeal is of watching something that looks like it’s escaped from Crash Bandicoot pretending to mix and crossfade. That said, this week I also came across FN Meka, who is a virtual rapper and whose numbers on TikTok are fcuking insane – obviously this another one of those weird, increasingly-common examples of a totally different web that I am completely unaware of, existing in parallel with mine, but I was astonished at how polished and popular the stuff was (though it really does still look like videogame cutscenes rather than anything bigger, to my eyes at least). I think there’s going to be a breakout digital character doing brand work soon-ish; I also found out about Magalu this week, who’s the digital avatar of a Brazilian chain of shops and who’s also racking up some serious numbers on TikTok, which makes me think it can’t be long til a big international brand makes their own and goes big on this sort of thing. It all makes Lil Miquela look a bit shonky tbh.
- Chair Simulator: MSCHF’s current drop, this is literally what it says on the tin – a videogame, available free on Steam, which lets you ‘play’ at sitting in a chair. ‘Sit, earn points, buy chairs’ is the basic gameplay loop here – I presume that this is some sort of pointed satire of something or other, but I am more impressed by the fact that the Steam page suggests it’s been downloaded multiple thousands of times, and that 1200+ people have felt motivated enough to write a review of this, which suggests that MSCHF has at its disposal a significant coterie of online ironists who will literally do anything the company tells them to.
- AJ Tracey X Spotify: You’ll need to open this on mobile to play it – it’s sort-of worth it, for a 3 minute distraction from whatever it is you’re meant to be doing, but as ever with these sorts of things I was left wishing that the developers had maybe gone a little further. This is a promo for AJ Tracey’s latest album, the basketball-inspired ;Flu Game’, and it lets you play a short street basketball game on your phone whilst listening to snippets of album tracks via Spotify. Except, well, it’s all over in literally 3 minutes, it’s a bit shonky, and even Tracey sounds bored to fcuking tears by it as he delivers the instructions – seriously, it’s worth playing to the end just to hear how underwhelmed he sounds as he checks out of the experience (apologies to Mr Tracey if this is just what he sounds like). There are SO many talented devs out there making SO many interesting and fun indiegames across so many different genres and platforms that it just seems like a wasted opportunity to cobble together something this perfunctory, is the thing (it’s not bad, to be clear, it just feels like it could have been a lot better).
- Jamie Janković x White Pube: The White Pube are ace – if you’re not aware, they’re a pair of art…ists? Critics? Enthusiasts? Whatever, art people, who for the past few years have been engaged in some of the most interesting and trenchant criticism of the London (and UK, and global) arts scene, from the perspective of the sort of (young, non-male, non-white) people who don’t normally get to ‘do’ arts criticism; they’re also refreshingly interested in taking an arts perspective on the sort of media that are usually disdained by the trad scene (games, social media, etc etc). This month they’ve given over their website to the ‘trans femme/non-binary filmmaker slash artist slash poet’ Jamie Janković, who shares their experiences of how videogames and digital worlds have enabled them to explore their own sense of self and gender. Super-interesting for anyone interested in games, art, gender issues and the general idea of ‘I’ in virtual space (and who isn’t interested in the general idea of the ‘I’ in virtual space? NO FCUKER, THAT’S WHO!)
- GNOD: I’m slightly embarrassed that I haven’t come across or featured GNOD before, given it seems to have been around since about 2002 – still, better late than never. GNOD is a proper labour of love, and a super-interesting long-running project by Marek Gibney who has been working for years on developing his own series of recommendation engines for music, art, films and literature (and ‘stuff you can buy’) – the site links to all the various different recommendation engines he’s built, which as far as I can tell he continues to build and add to. I had a play around with the art and music ones, and they are a really interesting alternative to the larger algo-led networks; like a hand-knitted Pandora or Spotify or something. I am slightly in awe of the effort and endeavour on display here, not to mention the intelligence underpinning it all.
- Spacecasts: Regular readers will by now know that I abhor the podcast (I CAN READ FASTER THAN YOU CAN TALK WHY WILL YOU NOT LET ME JUST READ YOU SELFISH FCUKS???), but for those of you who don’t, and for those of you who have the terrible FOMO that Clubhouse and Twitter Spaces engender (the thing with both of these being that they are LIVE and you HAVE TO BE THERE) then Spacecasts might well be of interest. It’s a podcast series that offers selected Twitter Space and Clubhouse conversations as a ‘listen again’ service – given the nature of both, this is only likely to be of interest if you have a burning desire to hear people talk frothily about THE TRANSFORMATIVE POWER OF TECHNOLOGY and stuff like that, but should you feel a stirring in your loins at such a prospect then, well, fill your boots.
- Eezy: Eezy is the latest in the seemingly-infiniite line of apps that promise to use ‘AI’ to help you fill all those empty hours between birth and death, offering you personalised recommendations for stuff do do in the city you’re in or, more tragically to my mind, in your own home. I don’t mean to be rude, but if you need a machine to tell you what to do with your time in your own house then I think you perhaps need to take a long, hard look at the direction your life has taken. “How do you make the right choice of where to go in the city, with so many options?” Oh, I don’t know, maybe display some base-level curiosity? Jesus wept.
- Gamestop Does NFTs: I have nothing to say about this, other than “ahahahahahahahahahahahahaha”. If this ever sees the light of day I will be very, very surprised indeed.
- Random Website: A site that will take you to another, apparently entirely-random, website at the press of a button. What’s nice about this is a) that the sites really do seem to be random; I have no idea how they are selected, but I got sent to the Dusseldorf Chamber of Commerce just now and I refuse to believe anyone would have programmed that in; and b) you can, should you desire, choose from a dropdown from a selection of site types, such as ‘blog’, ‘memes’, ‘wiki’, and, inevitably, ‘nsfw’. I would STRONGLY ADVISE AGAINST choosing the NSFW option, not least because I don’t think any of these have been vetted and I don’t want to feel responsible for you either contracting some unpleasant malware or alternatively being jailed for being sent somewhere borderline-illegal. Caveat emptor, as ever.
- Milky Way Photographer of the Year: These will make you feel very, very, very small indeed. Excellent antidote to hubris, should you be feeling overly-gassed.
- The Big Picture Photo of the Year: Beautiful nature photos – my personal favourite’s a toss-up between the mouth-to-mouth crows and the seal with mask, but pick your own!
- Sophisticated Company Name Generator: I imagine this is made by a North American – this is based solely on the fact that it uses English place names as its base, and I know that lots of Americans have a sort of ‘oh my gosh that is SO CUTE!’ attitude to English place names like Chipping Sodbury and Little Malling and suchlike – and I wasn’t expecting to enjoy it, but I am an idiot because it turns out that you really can make GREAT business names from English places. BRB, off to register ‘Risley Elton’ as an upscale crockery business.
- Anonymous Cubed: A Twitter feed which shares panels from a new comic strip, drawn by Hank Pattison and Zeta Ray Zac, all about the adventures of the eponymous, cube-headed Dadaist detective. It’s worth clicking through to the links in the bio and checking out the full strips; there are only a few, but the art style’s lovely and I laughed out loud in parts; fine, this may not be a ringing endorsement (I am slightly hysterical at present), but I think this is worth checking out.
THE SECTION WHICH WOULD LIKE TO POINT OUT THAT IF YOU’RE STILL DITHERING ABOUT WHETHER TO DO AN NFT THING FOR YOUR CLIENTS THEN YOU’VE PROBABLY MISSED THE BOAT (CAN ANYONE SMELL TULIPS?), PT.2:
- Steve Keene: I don’t know whether Keene can be counted as an ‘outsider artist’ – after all, his work’s been used on album covers by bands you might actually have heard of, and he’s got a Wikipedia entry and everything. He could, though, have legitimate claim to being the most prolific painter working today – estimates suggest that he’s produced literally hundreds of thousands of works over a career spanning 5 decades, using a technique more akin to industrial production than ‘traditional’ painting (he paints colour-by-colour, lining up 30+ canvases (well, wooden boards) and using one pigment at a time across each before moving onto the next to improve the efficiency of the process). What’s even more astonishing is that the work is (in the eyes of this humble observer at least) actually pretty good, distinctive in style and vibrant and all of those other words that I flail and clutch at when trying to talk about art. Anyway, this is Mr Keene’s website, through which you can buy a job lot of 6 of his works (a random selection) for a frankly knockdown price of $150 including shipping – as soon as I have finished this I am absolutely shelling out.
- Everything You Ever Said: A project whose concept is at present more successful than its execution, EYES is nonetheless a fascinating idea. Created by Dr Nick Kelly of the Queensland University of Technology, the idea behind it is to use machine learning to effectively seek to alter the meaning – or underlying meaning – of any body of text. My garbled explanation of this is as follows – linguistic analysis has created a ‘meaning’ web of language, which Kely can then use to identify portions of text which relate to a specific concept (‘fear’, say, or ‘happiness’) with a degree of fuzziness (so not just looking for the words ‘scared’ or ‘fear’, for example, but also adjacent words and concepts) and through so doing grant the user the opportunity to swap those out for other words with fuzzy associations to whatever the user chooses. Fcuk, this stuff is HARD, and I am probably getting it wrong anyway – sorry, Dr Nick. Anyway, you can have a play with it at the link above – it produces mostly garbled messes, but they are interesting garbled messes, and we’re all about the interesting garbled mess here at Web Curios.
- Vote For Your Favourite Minecraft Block: I don’t know why you would want to do this, but if you have a kid who’s into Minecraft and you’re basically at the end of your post-half-term tether, just plonk them in front of this and enjoy a few hours of silence while you inject yourself with heroin or whatever it is that those of you with progeny do to cope.
- The Rogue’s Lexicon: Oh yes, this is superb. The Rogue’s Lexicon is a book, published in 1859 by one George Washington Matsell, which is basically a dictionary of the sort of language that BAD SORTS might have used in 19thC America. My days there are some wonderful examples of language in here – feel free to go through and pull out your own and pepper your speech with them next week (no of course it won’t look like an awful affectation!), but some examples plucked at random just now include ‘Nazy’ (meaning drunk – a GREAT word which I reckon you could probably pass off as modern slang), ‘Fam Grasp’ (to shake hands – again, this is basically London 2021), and ‘Ottomised’ (dissected, specifically of a human corpse). SO GOOD.
- Vatican In Exile: As a general rule I try not to feature sites on here that are quite obviously the work of the mentally unwell – it seems mean and unfair, and a bit punching down-ish. I will, though, make an exception for this one, because, well, maybe they’re not mentally ill at all and maybe there is something weird going on with the Catholic Church (it wouldn’t, er, be the first time, eh lads?). Vatican in Exile is the website of Pope Michael, who you may be surprised to know is in fact the actual Pope. Not that charlatan in the Vatican, whose rinsing the office at present; no, the REAL papacy in fact sits in, er, Topeka, Kansas, and this website explains why (there was a schism, you see, and the Roman lot have strayed from The True Path). We may scoff, but this sort of thing went on all the time in the middle ages – seeing as I’m now living in Rome, I might pop down to the Vatican once I’m done with this and see what Frankie’s got to say about all this.
- Updating Happiness: The Wellcome Collection is one of my favourite museums – this is a small digital art-toy that asks you a few questions about what makes you happy, and generates an image based on your responses that you can download and use for whatever you wish, and which will be (anonymously) added to their exhibition.
- Owls Near Me: Do you want to know what sort of owls you’re likely to be able to find nearby, should you be in the market for, er, owlspotting? YES YOU WOULD! Apparently I can get a glimpse of the fabulously-pointy long-eared owl, which will give me something to look forward to on these long, lonely Italian nights.
- FUSER Live: This is fascinating (to me at least). Many years ago – we’re talking…2005? 2006? The agency I was working for got to the final round of a pitch for PlayStation, specifically to do Singstar (you may be amused to know that I fcuked it up literally within the first 15 minutes by making some comment about how PS had transformed gaming into something vaguely cool whereas previously it had been seen as the preserve of semen-smelling teenagers masturbating frenetically inbetween games of Sensible Soccer, a viewpoint which I was surprised to see went down…poorly with the rather conservative North Americans we were pitching to. So it goes), and there was all sorts of stuff alluded to in Sony’s internal plans about basically making Singstar an international online X Factor, which obviously never happened because 90% of people were on 56kb domestic internet, Now, though, that’s all changed, and the recent-ish ‘Play at being a DJ’ game, FUSER, has a proper integration with Twitch, where the best players get to have their 15m of fame by being granted access to the game’s official Twitch channel, to DJ to a (potential) live audience. Fine, it might not catch on, but it feels like something that might develop into A Real Thing at some point or another. The music’s fcuking awful, mind.
- Babble Comics: Such a good idea, this. A work-in-progress project by a single developer somewhere, who had the idea that comics might be a good way for kids to learn languages – the idea is that you can read the comic online as normal, but by clicking on the speech bubbles you can hear the text read out loud, helping you connect the words on the page with accurate native pronunciation. This is only partially-finished, but it struck me as a really ingenious idea.
- Marine Mammal Rescue: Another EXCELLENT Twitch channel, this time showcasing marine mammals that have been rescued by a charity in Vancouver. This is SO SOOTHING – look at the sleeping mustelids! – and is included in the main for my girlfriend and her cat, both of whom will enjoy this but perhaps for slightly different reasons.
- Rugs In Games: You may not think that what your Twitter stream has been missing is occasional posts about rugs found in videogames, but you are WRONG.
- AI Captions: Typically excellent work from data visualisers and wranglers The Pudding, who have turned their attentions to AI in an attempt to get a caption written by machine to win the New Yorker caption competition. For those of you unaware, there’s a contest online each issue which anyone can enter and which is voted on by three panelists, with the final selection voted on by the public online – the Pudding is getting an AI to generate captions and then putting those to a public vote, with the best each week being entered into the contest. It’s only on week 2, but it’s worth following to see how this progresses – I reckon they’ll win one by the end of the year (but then again I also think that a lot of New Yorker cartoons are terrible).
- Thangs: If you’re one of the approximately 17 normal people in the world to own a 3d printer, this database of open source models of stuff to print might well be of use. For the rest of us, it’s another opportunity to hark back to 2010 or so when we all thought that this was the future and we would by now all be printing our own pants out of cornmeal.
- Tattour: I love this idea. Dani Polak is a very tattooed person – they have built a website which effectively uses their tatts as QR codes to tell the story of each. “I consider my tattoos little works of art. I spend a ton of time researching artists and their work before getting tattooed. But what art is, has always been debatable. This is something that intrigues me. That’s why I created tattour, a mobile website that uses image recognition, machine learning and lifelike speech synthesis to guide you through my tattoos, just like you would in an actual museum. I collected my tattoos all over the world and most of them come with a great and/or personal story. Since my tattoos are all fairly visible, I often get questions regarding their meaning, the artist or its origin. This audio tour gives you insights on the artists and the details of the artwork itself, but also on the backstories that come with the tattoos. Every tattoo is scannable and links to a webpage with details and the specific audio clip.” I think this is SUCH a clever use of tech – although equally I think that if I were to meet Dani and ask them about their tattoos and then they were to attempt to make me scan them with an app, I would probably lose patience quite quickly. Still, wonderful concept.
- Zosya: I will never ceased to be amazed at the incredible things that modern coders can do with old tech. Witness Zosya, a Russian studio which is coding new games for the ZX Spectrum, which can be downloaded and played via emulator. If you’re old, like me, you will remember the ZX Spectrum with false fondness, knowing in your heart of hearts that all the games were basically garbage and every single one looked like someone had stuck a bunch of wine gums and jelly babies to a telly – now click the link and look at what these people are making. Honestly, this is witchcraft and SO impressive, and almost makes me want to download software to play them (but not quite).
- Schmooze: Surely we’re running out of spins to put on dating apps? Schmooze is the latest to appear, its particular gimmick being that…er…you swipe left and right on memes based on what you find funny, and your matches are delivered based on that. So there’s no aesthetic selection, no curation of profile, just the raw, unfiltered connection one gets from the knowledge that you both get an inexplicable kick out of, I don’t know, and endless parade of BTS memery. Is this good? Is this bad? I can’t even tell any more, but the one thing that I am certain of is that I am TOO OLD FOR THIS.
- Orbis: This is quite the thing. Orbis is by Stanford University, and is basically Citymapper for the Roman Empire. Plug in where you’re going from, and where to, and it will tell you what the optimal route would have been, how long it would likely have taken you, how much of the route would have been on a donkey versus by sea, and how many bushels of wheat and denarii you’d have had to part with to get there. HOW??! Honestly, this is basically magic.
- DoomCaptcha: All Captchas are obviously terrible; this one turns the concept into a small game based on Doom, because in the same way that all arguments online eventually end with someone invoking the Nazis, so anything involving modern computing will at some point or another invoke Doom (it is the law).
- Little Ball Creations: I’m going to make a sweeping generalisation here and suggest that everyone finds marble runs vaguely-soothing; there’s something about seeing small glass spheres careening around a track that speaks to a deep part of our soul, probably something to do with our innate powerlessness in the face of fate and the fact that free will is basically an illusion and whatever we do fundamentally doesn’t matter because we’re all on rails and deep deep down we know this to be true (hm, that sentence didn’t end up quite where I expected it to, how revealing). This is a wonderful YouTube channel that combines that ‘truth’ (obviously not a truth at all, Matt, you moron) with the generally-pleasing world of intricate craft – it consists solely of videos of marbles moving around intricately-constructed wire cages, and the craftsmanship on display is superb, the marbles hypnotic, and basically the whole thing is a vaguely-ASMR smorgasbord of zone-out pleasure (for me at least; your mileage may vary, but know that if this doesn’t move you in some small way then you are WRONG).
- Remix Rotation: This is really rather cool, and if you’re into dance music, whatever the genre, is very much worth checking out. “Select one of 36 CHANNELS (genres) on the homepage to play full-length videos from YouTube which correspond to music that DJs are buying right now and downloading for their mixes from Beatport, JunoDownload and Traxsource. You can also use RemixRotation recommendations to add music to playlists in your Spotify account” As a way of keeping tabs on what’s ‘hot’ (sorry), this is hugely-useful.
- Uji: A self-described ‘generative art thing’ – play with it, make shapes, you can create some rather cool mathematically-inspired imagery from it.
- Diecast Racing: Another slightly niche YouTube channel, which features nothing but videos of, er, die-cast model cars, racing each other on plastic tracks. Which, fine, doesn’t sound hugely-exciting, but took me right back to being about 5 years old and may well do the same for you. Also, if you have small kids I reckon you can totally use this channel as a babysitter for a few hours, or as a respite from whatever godawful cartoon you’re currently being forced to watch on repeat.
- Joust: Joust is an OLD videogame, which featured knights on ostrichbak attempting to knock each other off said ostriches – this is that game, in browser, as a massively-multiplayer experience. It’s janky as all hell, fine, but it’s also unutterably satisfying to chase a stranger around the screen, flap-bouncing from platform to platform as you attempt to stick their ostrich up the bum with a digital prod.
- Roots: Finally this week, a super-enjoyable little game which sees you attempt to grow a plant by extending its roots as far into the ground as you can. Soothing in its repetitiveness, there’s a charming simplicity to the gameplay and it will provide you with a neat 20 minutes of distraction from the fact that judging by what I can see on Slack, Summer is now over in the UK.
By Tatum Shaw
THE CIRCUS OF TUMBLRS!
- The Darling and the Dirty: Rather excellent collage art. Seemingly on hiatus, which is a shame as the style here is gorgeous and whilst stylistically of a type it’s equally sort-of sui generis in feel. ‘Sui generis’? FFS MATT. Sorry about that.
- Tokyo Street: Photos of Tokyo by Lukasz Palka. It seems ridiculous to say that Tokyo is ‘overphotographed’, but I do feel I’ve seen a lot of pictures of the city of a certain style; Palka’s work feels somehow fresh, though, and is worth a look.
- Vinyl Sleeves: This is a sadly-dead Tumblr, last updated 6 years ago, but its collection of gorgeous 60s record sleeve design is a wonderful repository of oldschool graphics and such good stylistic inspiration, should you be in the market for it.
THE TROUGH OF (INSTA) FEEDS!
- Cats of Brutalism: Brutalist architecture + looming felines. Threatening in ways you couldn’t possibly imagine.
- Brad Walls: Walls’ schtick is that he takes photographs of stuff from above, often swimming pools. If you find the idea of looking at a lot of shots of azure swimming spaces in bright sunshine in a year in which you’re unlikely to go anywhere slightly depressing, perhaps skip this one.
- Nakauchi Kiyoshi: Generative code art by a Japanese software developer, which is unique enough to present an interesting spin a slightly-played-out genre.
LONG THINGS WHICH ARE LONG!:
- Amazon Prime Is An Economy-Distorting Lie: This is a slightly-dry article about the economics of the Amazon Prime business model, but a very good read if you’re at all interested in exactly how the company has created its stranglehold monopoly over online retail and exactly what that is doing to the competition. This is interesting in particular because it gets to the heart of one of Amazon’s greatest canards – to whit, that it’s ‘all about the customer’ when in fact, along with every other publicly-listed company under the sun, it’s all about the extraction of maximum shareholder value. The fundamental truth at the heart of this piece – that Prime, by design, forces prices up rather than providing consumer discount, and distorts the marketplace like few other retail initiatives (if any) ever have – is worth internalising next time you feel compelled to renew for another year (seriously, the telly is garbage and you DO NOT NEED THAT PARCEL IN 24H).
- Only Gojek Knows: Gojek is an Uber-esque business operating in Indonesia; this piece (another example of superb journalism by the continually-excellent Rest of World, which I cannot recommend subscribing to enough) offers a dispiriting portrait of the opacity of its systems and how that opacity serves to create a strongly-imbalanced power dynamic between the company and the drivers that work for it. As ever with these things, the more you read the more it feels like a peculiarly modern and baroque form of psychological torture – you are bound by rules that you’re not privy to, that you can’t ever quite see, and which can and do change at a moment’s notice with no means of control, which I am pretty sure a psychologist would say is a recipe for some not-insignificant mental health issues.
- Caught in the Study Web: This is a wonderful piece of research and exposition, all about the particular peculiarities of online study communities that have sprung up online over the past few years, and the different ways in which students commune and support each other across the web. Partly of interest simply because it’s…well…interesting – it’s simultaneously heartening to see that young people are finding each other and coming together to support and encourage each other through the often-lonely pursuit of academia, whilst also being incredibly indicative of the intense competitive stress that modern educational systems and structures engender – but also because, to my mind, it is an object lesson in good planning research. I sort of want to use it as a go-to example of ‘what it looks like to really get under the skin of an online community and understand the ecosystem around an area of interest’, and to send it to the next person who sends me ‘research’ that consists of ‘three things I got from page one of Google’, along with some choice and very personal insults.
- The Art of Negativity: I am not, it may surprise you to learn, a ‘glass half full’ person (the glass is nearly empty, and likely full of p1ss), so this article very much spoke to me. Its premise is not so much that being a miserable cnut is necessarily good per se, so much as that the current trend towards blanket positivity and optimism is perhaps not necessarily helpful, whether intellectually or emotionally. You should read the whole thing, but, well, PREACH: “In its stress-inducing suppression and dangerous infantilism, the almost dogmatic nature of toxic positivity inhibits raw human emotion and invalidates the necessary negative feelings we all have in life. The blindly optimistic lunge towards a meretricious idea of positivity is one deeply traced by the logic of 21st-century capitalism and its ceaseless drives for production. We should not police our emotions. Perpetual happiness is impossibly perilous and the attempt to suppress the lows of life can create deep-seated stress, which is detrimental to physical health and mental wellbeing.”
- Status Anxiety as a Service: This came to me via Elle Hunt (thanks Elle!), and is a neat exploration of the way in which Twitter by its nature serves to exacerbate and highlight the stratified nature of society and that the way it functions – the mechanics of the platform as well as the way in which we (users, media, players of the Twitter metagame) – work to reinforce that. In a week in which various media commentators have expressed a degree of discomfort at their relationship with the platform and the way in which they report on it, this feels like a timely and unpleasantly-accurate depiction of it and its status as a mirror of a particular aspect of a particular facet of society.
- Boys Who Hate Women: I noticed about 7 or 8 years ago that men a generation younger than me were starting to refer to women and girls as ‘females’ – and never in a nice way. It’s always stuck with me, that little verbal tick, as something of a tell as to the way in which a speaker was contextualising a woman, internally if not overtly, and it came back to me in this slightly depressing piece in VICE by Hannah Ewens, in which she looks at the reasons why so many young men in the UK are increasingly feeling angry and resentful towards women, and how this anger and resentment is often stoked by outside actors on a path towards some dark political places. I have said this before and will say it again and again and again – there is a fascinating history waiting to be written that draws a red thread between Neil Strauss, Gamergate and the current weird place we’re at as men in the culture wars – can someone write it, please?
- Journey to the Centre of the Bowling Ball: Brilliant article about something you would never think would be interesting but really, really is – what’s inside a bowling ball, what shape it is, and how that affects bowling, and the slightly-odd people who’ve made it their life’s work to make the perfect ball (whatever that means). A superb read, even if, like me, you struggle to get treble figures when facing down the pins (I am so, so ashamed of this admission).
- A Brief History of Netflix Personalisation: It’s not that brief, but if you want to get an understanding of how hard Netflix has worked to get to a point where it can reasonably-accurately predict the sorts of things that millions of people worldwide might each want to watch at any given moment, it’s fascinating. Also, I don’t quite know what to think about the closing lines – on the one hand, it’s sort of cool, but on the other there’s something slightly-upsetting on a human level about this: “Here’s the long-term personalization vision: twenty years from now, Netflix will eliminate both the “Play Something” button and its personalized merchandising system, and that one special movie you’re in the mood to watch at that particular moment will automatically begin to play. My guess is that Netflix will achieve this vision within twenty years. They’ve come a long way in the last twenty years, so I think this is feasible.” I really do look forward to the next round of the ‘free will vs determinism’ fight once all this stuff gets really good.
- A Dozen Fragments on Playground Theory: This is all about game design, but I promise that if you’re involved in making anything, of any sort, you should read it – not just because it offers a series of really interesting observations on the gap between design, intended use and actual use, but also because it’s really rather beautifully-written and the principles it describes could, if you squint a bit, be applied to almost anything at all.
- The Kit Industrial Complex: I follow a few American Chelsea fans on Twitter, and at least one of them is ALWAYS sharing photos of amazing kits from teams that I had never heard of but assumed that they were somehow linked to; this article explains to me that in fact there are a whole load of very small local US clubs who have made a thing out of making and marketing their kits as fashion/design items. If you’re a football fan, this is a decent read; if you’re the sort of person who can get away with wearing football tops as fashion, there will be stuff in here you really want to buy; and if you work in marketing, there’s almost certainly some godawful ‘learning’ about branding you can extract from this like the soulless vampire you know deep inside you really are.
- Kenya’s Smart Cities: More superb journalism from Rest of World (seriously sign up to the newsletter if nothing else), this time looking at smart cities in Africa and in particular the Konza Technopolis Development Authority (KoTDA), a yet-to-be-completed vision of the future, sold to Kenya by Mckinsey and currently under construction. This is such good journalism, drawing a picture of a sort of miserable new colonialism in which Western consultancies sell an expensive vision – white papers! Economic models! – at great expense, leaving behind building sites and a lot of quite-possibly-unworkable theory, which attracts all sorts of investment without seemingly ever actually going anywhere. I read a piece recently that the Smart Cities boom (or at least the boom in the idea of Smart Cities as a desirable thing) was very much in abeyance, leading to a potential situation in which these developments will never be completed in any meaningful sense; I quite hope i’m proved wrong, but it doesn’t look superhopeful right now. Special bonus shout out for musician Akon, whose proposed (and wonderfully-hubristic) Akon City development in Senegal features a building shaped exactly like a Rampant Rabbit vibrator on its website homepage (no, really, look!).
- The Paris Hilton Sex Tape: It feels rather like the present is having something of a reckoning with the early-00s, and rightly so; this is a really good article in Vox, looking with 2021 eyes at the way in which the media treated Paris Hilton in the wake of the release of the ‘One Night in Paris’ sextape; it’s…really horrible to read, and I say this as someone who almost certainly thought and probably said some awful things about Hilton at the time myself. You may not be surprised to see Piers Morgan’s name crop up, but the whole media industrial complex was a total sewer at the time when it came to women – especially young women. This made me feel very grubby, as indeed it should.
- America Has A Drinking Problem: English readers will look at this headline and LAUGH (God knows what Russians will make of it), but this is actually a lot more interesting than the title suggests. It’s written as an accompaniment to a new book by Edward Slingerland, on the history of humanity’s relationship with drink, and is less about the US and more about us as a species and why we like drinking, and what the booze has done for us and to us, and why we can’t stop. As someone who could reasonably be described as ‘a heavy drinker’ (and that with the sort of euphemistic eyebrow-raising that suggests there may be a problem there but that we’re not going to talk about it) who has just moved to a country where people really do NOT drink every day, and where if you drink like an English person in public people will be at first amused and then quite quickly alarmed, this resonated quite hard.
- Cooking Backwards: Gorgeous writing by Pamela Petro, about going through old familial recipe books and the way in which food and memory and family all intertwine. If you are the sort of person who has their mother or father or grandparents’ recipe books on a shelf, or who keeps notes in the margins of a sauce-spattered copy of Elizabeth David, this is very much for you.
- The Australians Have Lost Their Goddamn Minds: I don’t quite know how to describe this, so all I’ll say is that it is a baffling and very funny whirlwind tour through the Australian meme landscape. I understood about 30% of what is being written about or referred to, but I laughed a LOT. Click all the links (but not at work, probably).
- The Space Between Vertebrae: August Lamm writes beautifully about pain – physical pain, the sort that changes your life and doesn’t go away and is there all the time like some sort of persistent background noise. I’ve always thought that in many respects problems of pain are problems of language – the subjectivity and intensely-personal nature of pain, and the inadequacy of words to communicate something so intimately felt, make it one of the loneliest things I can conceive of; bridging that gap is impossible, but this is a superb attempt at communicating the reality of hurting. As Lamm writes, “It sounds like fiction because it can’t be real. Pain can only be felt individually. To the rest of the world, it is fictional. When I walk down a city street, passing thousands of strangers along the way, not a single one of them registers my pain, obvious though it may be to me.”
- Sisyphus at the Selectric: I know, I know, you don’t want to read a load of words about one of the ‘great old white dead men’ of modern literature. BUT! Honestly, this is stellar, and whether or not you know or care about its subject it’s absolutely worth your time. James Wolcott ‘reviews’ three recent biographies of Philip Roth, including THAT one, but more than a review this is a wonderful, biting, portrait of the author and his life, and contains more lines that made me laugh out loud than is seemly in an LRB article. Honestly, I enjoyed this so much – whether you think Roth is a great or simply an overrated misogynist who we should probably stop talking about (he is both, fyi), the prose here is joyful and you will, I promise, enjoy it.
- The Anxiety of Influencers: As a rule I wouldn’t recommend a piece which might usefully be summarised as ‘stuffy academic hangs out with teens and documents his experience in Harper’s’, but, as with the previous essay, this is so much better than that precis makes it sound. Barrett Swanson spent some time in a TikTok hype house in LA; his account of it is bleak, baffling, hilarious and poignant, and imho a shoo-in for the end of year ‘best of’ lists.
- There I Almost Am: Finally in this week’s longreads, this is a superb essay on twinship and self, but, mostly, about jealousy. I can’t recommend it highly enough. It is painfully honest and superbly-written and I am jealous of how good its author Jean Garnett is.
AND NOW, MOVING PICTURES AND SOUNDS!:
- First up, this is Marcus John Henry Brown’s latest performance piece, delivered recently for re:publica in Berlin. It’s about advermarketingpr and business and the strange collective illusions we all maintain, and the silliness of it all, but it’s also a really beautiful piece of poetry which I enjoyed as much for the sound of the words and their rhythm as what they mean. Marcus is a friend, but I would include this regardless – it’s rather beautiful. It’s called ‘Hustletology’.
- Finally this week, one of the most impressive bits of one-person CG work, all done in Blender, I have seen in ages. This is the first part of a planned series set in this imagined world, and the visual style and sheer strength of vision here puts loads of big budget stuff to shame. It’s called ‘Salad Mug’, and the title will make sense if you watch it, and OH LOOK THAT’S THE END OF THE LINKS CHRIST MY HANDS HURT BUT IT WAS ALL WORTH IT BECAUSE YOU READ THIS FAR THANKYOU THANKYOU I LOVE YOU THANKYOU HAVE A GOOD WEEK AND TAKE CARE I LOVE YOU BYE I LOVE YOU I LOVE YOU BYE BYE BYE!