You’re lucky to be getting this, if I’m honest with you (‘lucky’ is doing a lot of work here, I realise) – I feel a bit iffy after vaxx #2, but figured that the only thing that was likely to make me feel worse than the jab was being backed up for another week with 100 odd links, and so here I am, purging myself into your inbox again. Hi! Happy Friday!
I am tired, I am achey, and I’m still not quite up to historic Curios typing speed, meaning I am also slightly late – I hope you are NONE of those things, and that instead you are bright of eye, bushy of tail, girded of loin and READY TO CLICK.
I am Matt, this is Web Curios and you are probably wondering why you haven’t unsubscribed yet. ‘Enjoy’!
By Miki Kim
THE SECTION WHICH WOULD ONE DAY LIKE TO LIVE IN A COUNTRY WHERE THE LEFT WINS ELECTIONS ALL THE TIME, JUST FOR A CHANGE, TO SEE WHAT IT MIGHT BE LIKE, PT.1:
- The Museum of Annoying Experiences: One of two websites in here this week that made me stop and give a small internal round of applause to whoever it was who persuaded the moneymen to sign it off. This is from Zendesk, a customer services software company, and for some reason is presented as a fictitious museum from the future (the year 3000, to be specific, though sadly there don’t seem to be any references to the ‘fineness’ or otherwise of anyone’s great-great-great-granddaughter) (that’s a gag that’s not really going to land outside of the UK, on reflection) in which bad customer service has been eliminated, and humankind apparently looks back on it with detached amusement, to the extent that a digital museum has been built to showcase all these examples of silly corporate behaviour from The Bad Old Days. What this ends up meaning is a pseudo-3d, slightly-vaporwavey (it’s not quite that aesthetic, but you’ll see what I mean), rendered space which you can click around to see exhibits mocking things like Captchas, and, er, branded baseball caps for customer service staff. This is…utterly pointless? I mean, I’m sure that there’s some sort of link to products and services that the company flog in here somewhere, but there’s not even an obvious link to the company’s main website visible anywhere. Basically what I am saying is that this website appears to serve no real purpose whatsoever, and as such is a complete, total and utter waste of a few tens of thousands of corporate cash, which, to my mind, makes it PRACTICALLY ART!
- Beautiful Imaginary Faces: I know that ‘this X doesn’t exist’-style computer-imagined faces are no longer that exciting (how jaded we have all become, and how soon!), but these made me do a proper double-take. This is a link to a bunch of bits of code that are floating around the web, of Chinese (I think) origin, and all designed to create specific types of fake faces – basically it’s just slightly-filtered versions of StyleGAN2, making it faster to create a ‘chinese popstar’ or ‘hollywood star’ than it would be if you were going through ALL the models rather than a small subset. Anyway, click the link and scroll down and then get to the ‘supermodels’ gallery – honestly, I appreciate that writing things like this as a middle-aged man does rather invite expressions of guffawing disbelief, but I really don’t spend any time at all looking at photos of beautiful people (I find them hard to look at, like the sun), and yet I cannot stop looking at these. Uncannily beautiful – I mean really otherworldly – and strangely-compelling, if you think that things are weird now just you wait a few years until this stuff + the next iteration of GPT + reasonable text-to-speech synthtech = people literally falling in love with beautiful, imaginary computer people who will scam them out of their life saving. Look, I know it sounds hyperbolic, but £10 says that story comes true by 2030 (I WILL COLLECT MY WINNINGS). If you want to see what this stuff looks like when you mess around with it, Shardcore has been setting some pretty faces to music, to see what happens when you treat the human face like a graphic equaliser for breakbeats – it’s rather cool, and I would love to see a whole Venetian Snares song visualised like this (specifically, this one).
- Stumbled: Many years ago, when Web Curios hadn’t even been thought of and poor, desperate office monkeys the world over slavered for the distracting balm of Odd And Interesting Links to help them pass the working day, there existed a site called StumbleUpon, one of the wave of ‘social bookmarking’ platforms which briefly caused every single ‘share’ button on the web to be populated with 318 icons, and which were designed to add a slight social element to everyone’s webbrowsing and linksharing. StumbleUpon shut a few years ago, becoming something called ‘Mix’ (no, I know you don’t care, but completeness compels me). Anyway, this is by way of long-winded preamble to this site, Stumbled, which is loosely-inspired by the same principles as StumbleUpon was all those years ago, and which is seemingly a one-person project designed to help people find interesting, niche, odd stuff online. Anyone can submit sites – they’re vetted by one Kevin Woblick and then, if considered ‘good’ (no idea what the criteria are here, but I’m willing to bet Kevin’s a touch more discerning than I am when it comes to what laughably gets termed ‘curation’) it gets added to the selection. Click a button, get a new, interesting, hand-curated website – simple as that. This is charming – not least because it speaks to something I’m seeing more and more of, a desire to help people rediscover the slightly-odd, janky, home-made, craft-y side of the web.
- The SAP Procurement Tour: The second ‘take a bow, webpeople!’ corporate website of the week, this is a truly-baffling effort by SAP – one of those incredibly-tedious companies that does ‘cloud’ or ‘business solutions’ or somesuch thing; honestly, can you imagine having to sell people ‘a database, but ON THE INTERNET!’ for a living? – which seems to be trying to sell you the company’s procurement and logistics software by taking you on an animated bicycle journey and very slowly explaining to you via animation, voice-over and some really pointless clicking that…er… hang on, what is it telling me? GYAC, SAP, if your website takes 6 minutes to communicate information which I could have read in 30s (and if it does so via the medium of a remarkably-soporific voice-over) I am unlikely to spend a lot of time there. Honestly, I would love to know how this got approved. “We need to sell more software – how are we going to do it?” “Well, we’ve never tried spending £50k on a lightly-interactive narrative website telling the human stories of the people who we help every day…? Also, my sister-in-law runs a webdesign agency” “GREAT! Next year we’ll do an ARG!”
- Twitter Spaces: Poor the Clubhouse, all withering after the frothy excitement of way back in January. It’s hard not to look at Twitter Spaces – which, honestly, works really well and which is yet another example of the company all of a sudden getting quite good at shipping new product – and see it, and the eventual Facebook copycat product, as the most likely bets in the audio game right now. Spaces is as of now available to anyone with 600 followers or more – should you want to turn your Twitter Groupchat into an HILARIOUS zoo-radio-style ‘show’ for all your ‘fans’ (you do not have fans; Jesus, perspective) to enjoy, now’s your chance! Honestly, I am sort of grimly-fascinated at the idea of quite how much terrible, terrible content is going to be visited on the world as a result of this – we could be in for a short-lived boom in ‘Overheard on Spaces’ horrorshow human zoo-type wrapup programming.
- Tip Jar: Seeing as we’re talking about Twitter features (and yes, I know that this is exactly the sort of stuff for which I could have considered keeping the ‘social media’ section of Curios, but, honestly, even typing those two words together makes me feel slightly ill, so), the ability to send money directly to Twitter users through the platform is slowly starting to be implemented. This is, I think, a really big thing, not least as it’s been in the works for YEARS (small namedrop here – when I met Biz Stone 10y or so ago, he told me that his one big dream for Twitter was exactly this feature. 10 YEARS! Also, by the way, the reason I met Mr Stone was that he was interviewing me for a job that I very much did not get, so rest easy in the knowledge that even that small bit of ‘insider access’ was redolent with the heady stench of failure and embarrassment); the idea of creating a simple, free (there’s no vig on the payments and Twitter isn’t taking a cut) and seamless means of being able to make peer-to-peer in-app micropayments feels like something potentially-transformative. It will also make for an interesting potential competition with Onlyfans, etc, and will lead to a short-term boom in Twitter dealers. Fun!
- The Trump Website: On the one hand, one probably oughtn’t give That Awful Man any of the oxygen of publicity he craves. On the other, he’s unlikely to get too gassed about appearing in Curios (I knew he was a cnut) and, well, it’s VERY FUNNY. If you’ve read about Trump’s new platform but haven’t explored it for yourself, it’s very much worth clicking around; one of my very favourite things about the Trump administration, visible now in hindsight, is quite how incredibly rubbish so much of it was, and so phoned-in. Honestly, I put literally no effort whatsoever into anything I do, personally or professionally, and even by my standards there was an impressive degree of ‘will this do?’ to almost every aspect of Trumpism – this website is no exception, and feels like if you click around enough it might just sort of spontaneously combust or something.
- Rapchat: Another ‘everything you need to make a passable track using nothing but your phone’ app, Rapchat is a frankly-amazingly-powerful bit of kit, letting you choose from 100,000+ beats, layer multiple vocal tracks, edit in-app, and (of course) ‘join a community’ of musicians and producers. Quite a lot of fun to play around with – if nothing else, the idea of very loudly and seriously attempting to produce a worldwide smash whilst on the top deck of the 333 makes me laugh.
- Toilet Paper: Toilet Paper is a FINE ART magazine – that sort of ‘fine art’ that is massively-garish and clashing and in dubious taste, and very much feels like super-glossy Testino shoots and Karl Lagerfeld being hideous to an audience of guffawing giraffe skeletons and huge amounts of cocaine for breakfast, and endless conversations with people with non-specific mid-Atlantic accents which seem to constantly revolve around being in, or going to, Miami or New York or Berlin or Lisbon or Buenos Aires but in which nothing, ever, is said – and it’s basically the most incredible aesthetic mood I have seen in ages. Like The Face crossed with the brashest of Versace and D&G, with some sort of vague webziney Geocitiesish vibe…I love it, in case you couldn’t tell.
- Friends With Benefits: Look, I feel I ought to apologise momentarily for the fact that once again there’s going to be some NFT and crypto stuff (sorry Andy, Sorry!), but if we all grit our teeth we’ll get through it together. First up is Friends With Benefits – a ‘community’ for ‘thinkers and creators’ which, for reasons that MAKE NO SENSE WHATSOEVER, requires that its members invest in the site’s own cryptocurrency to gain access. A community that you have to pay to join? And which promises you that if you attract more members, the value of your investment will go up? Does this…does this…does this sound like a scam? Why yes! Yes it does! I mean, look: “…it means that everyone who is a part of the community is literally invested in the community’s success. As the community becomes more appealing, and more people want to join Friends With Benefits there will be more demand for $FWB tokens which will drive the price of $FWB up and make the existing $FWB holders (community members) wealthier. The simple idea is that if we all participate in the upside of the community we’ll collectively work to make it a better place. In short, we can be friends the same way we are in our group chats, on twitter, and in other forums but in this case, it comes with some real benefits” If you read that and think ‘hm, yep, sounds legit and like something I want to be a part of!’ then, honestly, come over here a second and look at these magic beans.
- Meebits: You may recall Cryptopunks, an early NFT which let people buy little cartoon punks, each unique, and which are now considered to be one of the most valuable of the asset class; this is the same thing, by the same people, but with a different name and aesthetic. Want to invest in your very own NFT avatar which you will, theoretically at least, be able to use THROUGHOUT THE METAVERSE???? Well now you can. Beautifully, one of the ‘selling points’ is that all the avatars are programmed with the ability to strike a ‘T-Pose’ – that is, to be rendered standing with their arms outstretched. HOW IS THAT A FEATURE ATTRACTIVE ENOUGH TO PERSUADE PEOPLE TO SPEND NOT-INSIGNIFICANT CHUNKS OF REAL MONEY ON A CG AVATAR??? No, I’m sorry, this is all too silly.
- VeeFriends: This, though, this is the end – the final, incontrovertible sign that this really is a massive fcuking scam. I was wondering how long it would take for the King of the Hustle Goblins to show up in the NFT space, and HERE HE IS! Gary Vaynerchuck is a con artist, a scammer, a confidence trickster and and a pyramid-salesman (and a man who I am sure could not give less of a fcuk about some random webmong’s opinion of him) – the fact that HE is jumping into the NFT space with both feet should be all it takes to finally demonstrate that the emperor is naked and that his penis is tiny. What are VeeFriends? Well, it’s not clear, other than that you will be able to buy them, and that there will be a ‘community’ – they seem to be character-based ‘trading cards’, which from what I can tell have been sketched by a not-particularly-talented 9 year old, and the tokens will grant you access to Gary (and his ‘friends’!) for ‘mentoring’ and ‘advice’ and FCUKING HELL HOW STUPID DO YOU HAVE TO BE???
- Scamily: Look, they’re even putting the word ‘SCAM’ in the name of crypto stuff now ffs!
- Humit: Seemingly designed to upset the sorts of men (always men) who read Mojo and Rolling Stone, and who are big, big fans of ‘listening to the whole album start to finish’, Humit is an app that lets you share snippets of songs – upto 30s – with your friends because (this is the bit that will make the musos cry) ‘noone has time to listen to a whole 5 minutes of song anymore’. Regardless of your thoughts on the ‘rightness’ of this – or indeed the viability of Humit as a platform – I find this increased tendency to bitsize everything fascinating. Have we ever had a <60s number one single? I reckon we could be heading that way soon.
- Open Sohko Design: An amazing open-source design repository with some very cool-looking stuff, Open Sohko is ‘a project for all people who want to renovate warehouses (sohko) or other buildings and turn them into creative offices or studios.
It is a database to distribute designs for offices, furniture, or renovation ideas that anyone can copy or modify (open source design) so that everyone can implement a cool, warehouse-like space.” Very cool, particularly if you’re a maker/designer yourself.
- The Hiring Chain: This is a lovely idea, a worthy initiative and I am very much pro it. I am also utterly baffled as to what Sting is doing here. The Hiring Chain is a project which seeks to help people with Down’s Syndrome find jobs, the idea being that the presence of Down’s people in the workplace helps normalise the idea that they are perfectly-capable of fulfilling paid roles, and that their condition isn’t a barrier to normal adult life – which is all great! The website’s nicely made, and very shiny, and is properly-international, with resources to connect you to relevant charities around the world if you’re interested in finding out more – but, er, there’s also the small matter of the VERY WEIRD fact that Sting just basically sings a song about ‘giving people with Down’s a job’ over the top of the whole thing which, I’m not going to lie, does make the whole thing feel less like a proper charitable initiative and more like something that was agreed whilst drunk at some sort of super-luxe charity ball. Basically, I would like this more if there was less Sting in it – sorry, Sting.
- Megablock: Quite simple. “Don’t like a bad tweet? Block the tweet, its author, and every single person who liked it—in one click.” SUPERB idea (and with a few tweaks this is quite nickable, imho).
- Swagfair: This is a really, really smart idea, and all you advermarketingpr folk should bookmark this for the next time you’re feeling guilty about maildrops of plastic tat – Swagfair is an online shop for renewable, sustainable, artisanal (do I win some sort of modern business buzzword prize?) promotional swag – so pens made from recycled plastics, bamboo notepads, headphone stands, handmade mugs, etc etc. It ships internationally, loads of the stuff is made in Europe by small suppliers, and overall it just seems like…quite a nice thing? Of course, however green all this stuff purports to be, the fact remains that promo swag is just creating more pointless crap that noone needs which is destined to end up in landfill but, well, every little helps! *cries*
- Cartoonise: Simple, single-use web app which basically applies a lightly-rotoscopey filter to any photo and video you care to feed it. You’ll have seen this sort of stuff before, fine, but this is free, seemingly works, and is quite useful if you want to create slightly anonymous-looking graphics out of photos of real people (or if you inexplicably want to turn all the homemade bongo on your phone into cartoons – look, I just serve up the links, you can do what you like with them, I never judge).
- The Turn off the Dark Archives: One of the slightly-odd side effects of the world moving at 3billion miles an hour and there being SO MUCH happening ALL THE TIME and it all being SO LOUD AND SO BRIGHT AND SO SHOUTY (I’m not helping, am I?) is that you will occasionally realise that you’ve completely forgotten whole swathes of popular culture stuff from relatively-recent times. So it was with this – a YouTube channel which is collecting footage taken from performances of the Spiderman broadway musical Turn of the Dark, a musical plagued with bad luck and terrible press and injuries, and which never really made it out of previews despite a book by The Bono and Edge (look, it makes me laugh) and which was the subject of DOZENS of broadsheet snarkfests as it limped through its equally-unworkable iterations. This had totally disappeared from my mind as having been a thing – which, when you look at some of the footage, you can sort-of understand why. This is so, so, so bad (and therefore something of a must-click).
- Botwiki: A repository of links to, and information about, online bots from around the world. If you’re interested in what can be done with automation, this is very much worth a look – there are examples of work on Tumblr, Facebook (obviously, Twitter and all of the other platforms you can think of, and overall this is a superb resource for creative coding ideas.
- Buy Nothing: I first came across the concept of Buy Nothing Day in 2001, when I was living briefly in Washington DC and I bought a copy of Adbusters – past Matt would be really, really upset with future Matt about his life choices, turns out. This is a forthcoming app and community, spun out of the informal network of global ‘Buy Nothing’ Facebook Groups which exist worldwide, which will hopefully enable people to not only share goods and belongings but also skills and expertise as well. Obviously this stuff always feels super-utopian in theory, and it’s impossible to tell how it will function at networked scale, but it’s a lovely idea and it’s nice to occasionally be hopeful and positive rather than miserably, destructively-cynical (that note was to me rather than you fwiw).
- Types of Academic Papers: A Twitter thread of parodies of a recent XKCD strip which stereotyped ‘types of scientific papers’ and which sparked a huge number of variants as people across various super-specific disciplines created their own versions. Click through for gently-comedic riffs on what it’s like to be a paleontologist, ethicist, AI researcher and LOADS more – if you or anyone you know is in, or adjacent to, academia, there will be something in here that…well, probably does nothing more than raise a small smile tbh, but it’s better than a kick in the teeth.
- Harmony of the Spheres: A small music toy which lets you make sounds by placing planets in various orbits. You’re unlikely to make a viral hit with this, but it’s a really lovely way of messing with sounds and it reminded me a little bit of what it might be like to be a massive interplanetary being playing a planetary theremin, which I can honestly say isn’t something I’ve ever thought of before. So that was nice.
- Ferrari 1000: A fan-made project celebrating 70 years of Ferrari in motor racing, and presenting data and information from each of the scuderia’s races since the 1950 grand prix. I personally can’t think of anything less interesting than watching cars go round and round and round and round, but this is a nice piece of dataviz and presentation, and Ferrari fans will very much enjoy it.
- The Life of Saint Fiona Bianco Xena: I love this. A digital artwork prepared as part of the National Gallery’s recent series of commissions ‘The Rules Do Not Apply’, this…”tells the hotly disputed story of the fictitious saint’s life. Multiple interpretations of key moments in Saint Fiona’s life are presented in a hyper-chromatic, unholy panorama – a maelstrom of figures, stories and symbols occurring on different timelines, dimensions and scales.” It basically feels like every single hyperaesthetic webpage I’ve seen over the past decade, all bred with each other to produce this – a sort of hyperflattened vision of digital design history, packed with silly gags and things to discover. Honestly, I would quite like to sit in a room that’s wallpapered like this.
- The Institute for the Study of the Neurotypical: This is a superb website. Mirrored from an old page from 2010, this is the spoof homepage for the widespread condition ‘Neurotypical Syndrome’: “Neurotypical syndrome is a neurobiological disorder characterized by preoccupation with social concerns, delusions of superiority, and obsession with conformity. Neurotypical individuals often assume that their experience of the world is either the only one, or the only correct one. NTs find it difficult to be alone. NTs are often intolerant of seemingly minor differences in others. When in groups NTs are socially and behaviorally rigid, and frequently insist upon the performance of dysfunctional, destructive, and even impossible rituals as a way of maintaining group identity. NTs find it difficult to communicate directly, and have a much higher incidence of lying as compared to persons on the autistic spectrum.
NT is believed to be genetic in origin. Autopsies have shown the brain of the neurotypical is typically smaller than that of an autistic individual and may have overdeveloped areas related to social behavior.” This is very smart, very pointed and very funny – if you’re neurodivergent, or have friends or family who are, you and they will rather enjoy this. It’s worth scrolling to the bottom of the homepage to read the ‘about’ section – the anger that prompted its creation is worth noting and remembering.
- We Are Child Free: I recently had a slightly-saddening moment when the very last of my contemporary male friends to still be childless announced that his girlfriend is pregnant; whilst I’m obviously ‘happy’ for them (not so much so that I’m willing to abandon the inverted commas, though), it’s also genuinely miserable to know that I have run out of people my own age to go to the pub with every night of the week. We Are Child Free is less about pandering to the pathetic Peter Pan-ism of a 41 year old man, you’ll be pleased to hear, and more about offering a community for people (specifically women) who have for whatever reason not had children and who don’t intend to. If you fall into that camp, you might find some of the stuff here useful or interesting.
NEXT UP, WHY NOT ENJOY THIS SUPERB SELECTION OF LONDON SOUNDS PICKED BY JED HALLAM (WHOSE ‘LOVE WILL SAVE THE DAY’ NEWSLETTER REALLY IS WORTH SUBSCRIBING TO AND WHOSE MIXES ARE CONSISTENTLY EXCELLENT!)?
THE SECTION WHICH WOULD ONE DAY LIKE TO LIVE IN A COUNTRY WHERE THE LEFT WINS ELECTIONS ALL THE TIME, JUST FOR A CHANGE, TO SEE WHAT IT MIGHT BE LIKE, PT.2:
- Denny Kuhnert: Mr Kuhnert is a developer working in mixed reality; his Twitter account, to which this is a link, seems to mainly consist of examples of his work in creating better mapping of joints and bones in AR ‘skeletons’ – which I appreciate is sort-of hard to understand, so I suggest you sit back, click this specific link, and watch as you are made to feel a greater degree of uncomfortable body horror than you have ever experienced before from a simple animation. Honestly, I can’t stress enough quite how remarkable-and-yet-horrifying this is – totally SFW, no gore or anything (it’s all CG), but, well, you’ll see.
- The Meades Shrine: I’ve been a huge fan of Jonathan Meades since I picked up a copy of his novel Pompey when I was about…14? I’ve since read it half a dozen times, and it remains one of the strangest things I’ve ever read, combining quite staggering erudition, some truly horrible characters and set pieces, an examination on exactly how awful Belgium’s behaviour in the Congo was, and some really filthy sex and death – I highly recommend it (though it’s…quite rich, if you know what I mean). Anyway, this is a YouTube channel collecting clips of Meades’ various TV appearances over the years, in which he angrily fulminates about food, architecture, film, modernity, and anything else that takes his fancy – I appreciate that he’s not very now, Meades, with his pretty shameless elitism, but I can’t help but love someone who equates ‘mainstream’ with ‘stupid’ and doesn’t apologise for it.
- Memegine: A search engine, for memes, which lets you search the in-meme text – so if you remember a VERY SPECIFIC rage comic from 2011 you could use this to find it again. Works surprisingly well, and if you need to find brand-related memery from years past (I have no idea why you might need to do this, but equally I understand that our lives are baroque and unknowable, and who really understands anything anymore?) this could be useful.
- Secret Sky: The whole ‘let’s do physical events but in virtual spaces!’ thing didn’t really take off, did it? I mean, obviously lots of these things did quite well, but to the best of my knowledge, Clubhouse’s brief ascendancy aside, all the stuff that has worked has been delivered through existing platforms like Minecraft or on YouTube, etc. Still, this looks interesting – Secret Sky was an online festival-type-thing that took place a few weeks ago, so this is just a video recap of the event, but the way in which it was staged – relatively sparse visuals compared to the Fortnite extravaganzas of Lil Nas X, etc, single points of focus for viewers, limited focus on avatars and more on the performance, etc etc – seems quite smart.
- Infinite Nature: I could try and explain this, but I will do a really bad job – just click the link, and marvel at the fact that AI can now create video from a static image, video that gives the illusion that you the viewer are flying through the photograph, video that effectively creates an imaginary ‘there’ to take you to where no ‘there’ really exists…seriously, whilst this doesn’t look totally convincing, the absolutely mind-buggering oddness of what is happening here and what this could presage for AI-generated visuals and spaces is quite jaw-dropping.
- Phases: Or, to give this Reddit thread its full title, “What was your biggest/most regrettable “It’s not a phase, mom. It’s my life.” that, in fact, turned out to be just a phase and not your life?”. SO MANY GOOD STORIES that will make you feel marginally-better about all the stupid things you did as a child. It’s worth scrolling through as there’s gold all the way down – there’s one particular anecdote about a kid peppering his speech with ‘Eminem-style’ vocabulary when he was 11 or so that made me do the sort of full-body cringe which is what passes for abdominal crunches in my life.
- Ogi: Ogi is a small search engine created by a certain Vladimir Prelovac which exists to give you search results that Google won’t. It’s obviously of relatively-limited utility, but I love the fact it exists – partly as it’s a genuinely interesting tool to find information at the edges of the web, but also because it’s a reminder of how much Google, for all its brilliance and wonder, has itself contributed to the flattening and dulling of the web through its focus on ‘high-ranking’ sites. Try putting in something you’re interested in – I guarantee this site will take you somewhere different and unexpected.
- Lighthouses: A map of the world’s lighthouses. Soothing, and the sort of thing I would quite like to see made massive on a large wall somewhere. Also, I am absolutely fascinated by the seemingly-landlocked lighthouses of Austria – WHAT ARE THEY DOING THERE?!
- Scorecard: An app simply designed to help you keep score of…whatever arbitrary thing you might want to keep score of. Totally pointless, except for the sort of incomprehensible in-joke games you have with your friends or colleagues – in fact, why not engage in some light-touch bullying of a workmate or two by starting to keep track of scores in an imaginary game within your team, a game which they will always lose. “Oh Andy! You lost a point! No, we’re not explaining the rules to you again! Still stuck to the bottom of the table – no team drinks for you this week!” Seriously, you could drive someone slowly mad with this, could be loads of fun (NB – Web Curios does not condone the psychological torture of colleagues or indeed anyone else for that matter).
- TwoTone: Via Giuseppe Sollazzo’s wonderful newsletter of dataviz and related matters, Two Tone is a simple website which lets you create audio from data – upload an Excel or CSV and it will map that data to notes, which you can then fiddle with a little to try and create something aurally pleasing. I am a total sucker for ‘sounds from data’-type projects and generally feel that we don’t spend enough time trying to engineer club bangers from the 2019-20 South West Region Sales Data (or whatever). Why not spend this afternoon turning your company’s latest financials into some sort of breakbeat horrorshow? WHY NOT????? Fcuk’s sake, live a little.
- ee Cummings: Perhaps unfairly, I sort-of hold ee Cummings responsible for Rupi Kaur and instapoetry in general (I mean, that is unfair, but I also hold Warhold responsible for NFTs, so I have no problem blaming artists of the past for things that can’t reasonably be blamed on them) – that said, if you’re less angry with the dead capitalisationphobic than I am, you might enjoy this website which is collecting his works as they fall out of copyright. If nothing else, I get the feeling that this would be a style easily-replicable by GPT-3.
- The Best Things For Everything: Smart from Google, highlighting its status as a place for trusted reviews and information and very much putting it in contrast with Amazon, where you can’t really believe anything any more. This side collects recommendations, based on data supplied to Google by user reviews, for the very best examples of hundreds of different product categories – the shift from ‘cheapest’ to ‘best’ as a search term in online shopping has been ongoing for a few years now, and this is a nice reflection of that.
- Mountains: This is interesting – Mountains is a platform / marketplace for aspirant filmmakers to submit their projects for feedback from more experienced professionals – paying, of course, for the privilege. So you can choose from a variety of different people – none of whom I’ve ever heard of, but I know nothing about filmmaking so I don’t suppose that matters – and they charge you to take a look at your WIP and tell you what they think. You’re charged per minute of the content you want them to look at – interestingly, there doesn’t appear to be any guarantee of what form the feedback will take, leaving it tantalisingly open to the possibility that you’ll spend a few grand asking a latterday Jim Jarmusch for their opinion on your magnum opus and get a laconic ‘S’ok’ in reply. I think it might be quite fun to mess with this a bit, and you could actually make quite an interesting piece about the creative process and the subjective nature of criticism, but perhaps I’m just being an insufferable pseud here.
- Cereal Offers: This is PURE CURIOS – a website (still very much active, and last updated in December of last year) which ‘hopes’ (hopes! HOPES! See, it’s stuff like that that gets me – seriously, I might cry) to become the most comprehensive database of UK cereal box giveaways anywhere on the web. I am not sure how much competition there is for that title, but I am rooting for this person (it’s obviously a man) all the way. There’s even a ‘for sale’ section, should you want to drop £15 on some collective Tony the Tiger badges from Frosties in the 80s, or a frankly BARGAINOUS Honey Monster toy for £8. Honestly, it’s all I can do not to stop Curios right here and go spelunking in the slightly-dusty Riboflavin-boosted Weetos of the past.
- Mighty: This is a bit techy and so therefore I am probably going to do a terrible job of explaining what it is – apologies in advance. Mighty is, I think, a Cloud-based browser which effectively outsources all the processing elsewhere to stop your laptop wheezing like some sort of asthmatic bongo addict every time you attempt to have Gmail and GDocs open at the same time. No idea if this is any good, but if you constantly have to put icepacks around your computer to stop it melting then this might be worth a look.
- New Utopia: This slightly foreshadows a longread later on, but is quite the Curio in its own right – New Utopia is the still-active website for a long-dormant project which sought to create a new sovereign state at sea, “An oasis in the middle of the ocean: Office buildings, hotels, theaters and shopping centers, sitting slightly above the surface of the sea in neat rows surrounded by greenery and flowers, with canals of clear blue water, water taxis and gondolas providing transportation for the inhabitants.” The fact that you’ve never heard of New Utopia would rather suggest that it doesn’t exist – as does the fact that they never seemed to get beyond the concept art stage, and that the concept art was seemingly created by a middle-aged watercolourist from the Home Counties – and yet the site is still being updated. Christ alone knows who by, or who ‘Prince John’ is, or indeed why they have so many photos of the ‘Embassy to the USA’, or why the Embassy’s kitchen has a large white sculpture of a humanoid rabbit in the centre of a countertop…SO MANY QUESTIONS.
- The Fish Doorbell: It’s really hard not to love the Dutch for things like this. Literally a web-enabled alarm so that internet users around the world can keep an eye out and see whether some fish need to be let through a small gate – look: “Fish swim every spring from the Vecht, via the Oudegracht and the canals, to the Kromme Rijn. Straight through Utrecht, looking for a place to lay eggs and reproduce. Sometimes they have to wait a long time at the Weerdsluis, because the lock gates do not open often in the spring. We have come up with something for that. There is a camera under water at the lock. You can see the live images below. Are there any fish in the picture? Then press the fish doorbell. The lock keeper is alerted and, if there are many fish, can open the lock. This way you help fish through the canal.” I think that this might well be my favourite website of the year so far. FISH DOORBELL! Also, there is an excellent gallery of piscine images as a bonus.
- Crittervision: A Twitch stream from the US which captures raccoons, deer, opossums and all sorts of other mammalian wildlife as it generally stuffs its face. The time difference means that you’re likely to see quite a lot of HOT ANIMAL ACTION if you log on during working hours – as I type there is a spectacularly-fat raccoon fighting a piece of rope which, fine, may not sound like the acme of entertainment but which when you’ve been typing for four hours straight like have is, I promise you, some high-quality entertainment.
- Papercraft Fish: This is all in Japanese, so I have no idea why it exists – still, if you’re after a selection of papercraft models of very realistic fish that you can cut out and assemble to create your very own papery piscine menagerie (and who isn’t? NO FCUKER, that’s who!) then this is the link to end all links.
- Undying Dusk: I’m increasingly into people making games out of things that you shouldn’t necessarily be able to make games out of (so in Excel, say, or in a Tweet) – this is the latest iteration of that trend, with a WHOLE DUNGEON-CRAWLER contained within a simple PDF document. Free to download, this really is so, so clever – even if you’re not into the game mechanics, the way that its author Lucas Cimon has used the format is really smart, and the game itself is far more interesting and engaging than it ought to be. Next time some dullard comes to you with a ‘what are some really EXCITING things we can do with modern digital publishing?’ question, rather than tiredly-sighing and slitting your own throat at the sheer futility of it all, why not instead suggest that you turn the latest tedious piece of pointless thought leadership you’ve shat out into an INTERACTIVE PDF GAME??? Come on, it might be fun, and it’s not like it matters anyway.
- This Button Does Nothing: This made me laugh more than I expected to, and then started to make me feel quite weirdly guilty about the fact I was engaging with it at all.
- Steven Pool: Via last week’s B3ta (THANKS ROB!), this is snooker crossed with golf and it is an EXCELLENT little timewaster which reminded me quite a lot of Archer Maclean’s 3d Pool (should that mean anything to you, which it almost certainly won’t on reflection chiz chiz chiz).
- Poki: Seriously though, it does feel a tiny bit like there’s a cycle being completed in terms of webculture in some small way. The resurgence in newsletters and ‘blogs’ (and the resurgence of the debate about how these are defined), the resurgence in ‘small web’ craft, Tumblr having a sort of weird cultural moment again…alongside all of these SIGNS (look, they’re signs to me, ok?) comes the fact that there’s also been a huge spike in the past year or so of site’s which seek to replicate the early-00s ‘flash games for work avoidance’ boom, except for a post-Flash world. So it is that we have Poki, basically a HUGE repository for all sorts of old flash games, and old mobile games, all ported to work in-browser, and all for free. There’s a lot of tripe here, fine, but equally I was able to spend an entire call earlier this week blazing through 25 levels of this little MotoGP game whilst having a spliff, so, well, it’s GREAT!
THE CIRCUS OF TUMBLRS!
- Star Trek Hugs: Nothing says ‘a harmonious future for all the peoples of Earth!’ like a Tumblr featuring intergalactic hugs from Star Trek.
THE TROUGH OF (INSTA) FEEDS!
- Watch Parts Motorcycles: Things sculpted from watch parts. Small, intricate and fascinating (although I do slightly despair at pop culture’s insistence on reducing everything to KAWS and Star Wars).
- Dog Sledge Taxi: Photographs of huskies, pulling a sled. I don’t care how terrible you’re feeling, photos of dogs in snow will always provide a slight mood corrective.
- The Katsugyo Bag: This is slightly-baffling, but brilliantly so. The Katsyugo Bag is, as far as I can tell, a prototypical device that’s designed to let you carry live fish with you wherever you go, in their own little…fish-briefcase? Honestly, not quite sure how to describe this but it’s made me VERY HAPPY and it might do the same to you (let’s hope it makes the fish happy too).
- Cheugy Life: Presented without comment (it is not a real thing) – that said, quite a lot of this made me laugh rather.
AND NOW, LONG THINGS WHICH ARE LONG!:
- Mind The Product – Surviving 2020: This isn’t the sort of thing I usually include in Curios – I’m not as a rule into stories of BUSINESS TRANSFORMATION AND RESILIENCE – but I found it a really interesting read and thought some of you might too. Mind the Product was, pre-pandemic, largely an events business – and then it had to stop being one very quickly. This is the company’s own internal set of reflections on what it did, how it did it, how it survived and what it learned, and, honestly, as a piece of clear-minded and honest writing about the practical realities of running a business, it’s superb (I mean, I say that – obviously I have no fcuking idea about what running a business is like, but it feels superb).
- Brain Sex Isn’t A Thing: New research has continued to show that there is no meaningful difference in brain function between the sexes – something one would have hoped we’d all have agreed on by now, but which sadly seems to be a point which continues to need to be made. As the piece states, “sex is a very imprecise indicator of what kind of brain a person will have. Another way to think about it is every individual brain is a mosaic of circuits that control the many dimensions of masculinity and femininity, such as emotional expressiveness, interpersonal style, verbal and analytic reasoning, sexuality, and gender identity itself. Or, to use a computer analogy, gendered behavior comes from running different software on the same basic hardware.” So there.
- The Web, According to the NSA in 2007: The NSA – that is, the National Security Agancy, those people you might remember from all the Edward Snowden surveillance stuff a few years back; you remember, the spooky bad guys – was unsurprisingly quite up on the web, right from the start. This document is a KILOMETRIC PDF of their guide to the web and its culture from 2007, and if you’re any sort of ‘scholar’ (yes, ok, fine, dry-mouthed obsessive) of the past web then this will be absolute catnip to you. Too long to read all of, fine, but fascinating to flip through – I am particularly curious to imagine what current versions of similar documentation look like. How do you go about explaining what the web looks like today?
- The One Minute City: You remember how last year everyone was getting excited about the idea of recalibrating urban environments post-pandemic to be ‘15-minute’ cities, with all necessary amenities (work, healthcare, leisure, etc) being arranged within a 15m journey from any residents’ house? Yeah, well that’s SO OLD HAT – welcome to the future, or at least the Scandinavian present, where a group of designers in Sweden is exploring what urban design looks like when applied to a street-by-street or block-by-block scale. This is a really interesting idea, effectively creating a series of modular elements which can be distributed by the local community however they see fit, to reflect the needs and geography (human and spatial) of the area. So smart, and exactly the sort of thing that we look at in the UK with slightly wistful eyes.
- Project Catchy Content: Another day, another step towards complete professional irrelevance and unemployability! ‘Project Catchy Content’ (the only thing worse than its name is its essence!) is a newly-trailed Adobe suite of tools which promise to basically use ‘AI’ and ‘machine learning’ and other buzzwords to analyse EVERYTHING you make and produce and tell you exactly how many hits it’s going to get and how you can optimise it for ALL TEH CLICKS! The idea is that the software will ‘learn’ what works and then ‘use’ those ‘learnings’ to offer advice to users on things like photo selection, webdesign, palette choice, copy… which is all fine, of course, but also means that we’re going to end up with everything on the web saying the same thing and looking the same and reading the same and sounding the same, the ‘YouTube Thumbnailisation of Everything’ as I have just decided I am going to call it.
- Google Returns To Work: Want to see what THE FUTURE OF WORK looks like if you’re a Googler? ‘Slightly terrifying’ is my immediate take, but I confess to doing an actual, proper LOL at the short video showing the ‘inflatable balloon wall’ which can be moved around and put in place wherever you want in a matter of seconds to preserve privacy, etc, and which looks almost-but-not-exactly-like something you would have seen as a prop on Playdays.
- Crypto-Remittances: All my snarking around NFTs and Crypto over the past few months/years does of course rest on my own personal inability to understand what the fcuk these systems and the others built on them are actually for. This piece made me think slightly-differently about the role of cryptocurrencies in society, and the use to which they can be put to assist people for whom access to traditional fiat currencies can be problematic. This piece, in Rest of World (the best new outlet for international journalism in years, by the way), takes a look at how crypto can benefit migrant workers looking to send money home without fees, etc – I still can’t help but think there should be a simpler way of doing all this, but I ended the piece feeling slightly-less anti crypto, and slightly-more like someone who could probably do with thinking from a different perspective every now and again.
- Celebrity Lookalike Cameo: I am blown away at the fact that it’s seemingly possible to make a living as a lookalike on Cameo – people will actually pay for lookalike Tom Cruise to send them a message! Why?! Still, this got me thinking about how far we are from a Cameo-type system that mixes ‘extreme YouTube’ and ‘record me a video for a tenner’ – teenagers offering to rub naga chillies across their frenulum for the meagre sum of £5.99, that sort of thing. I reckon about 6 months.
- The News Influencers: A fascinating profile of a new breed of YouTuber – the news summarisers, effectively acting as daily shortform news digest channels, mixing real-world reportage with dispatches from the world of Beefing-on-YouTube, viral TikToks and Twitter’s main character. It does rather feel that ‘traditional’ news outlets have rather slept on this – you’d think it wouldn’t be too much of a stretch to get Newsround on TikTok, for example, with 1-minute daily news summaries for kids, etc, but seemingly none of the mainstream players appear to be trying it (see also – games streaming).
- Manifest The Glow-Up: I actually walked past a couple of girls the other week who were discussing how one of their friends had ‘manifested’ a new job (I didn’t stop to ask them whether this ‘manifesting’ had at any point involved, I don’t know, ‘attending an interview’ or ‘tarting up a CV’, or whether they had simply waited for the universe’s beneficence to come good – presume the latter), meaning that this is therefore DEFINITELY A REAL THING (the day I see people doing ‘universe cheat codes’, though, is probably the day I make with the pills and the xacto knife). If nothing else, this piece made me think about what sort fresh madness we can expect from modernity’s collision of professional hopelessness, environmental collapse, odd, DIY-spiritualism, rampant, unfettered capitalism and STUFF-WANT. It feels to me that ‘a generation that wants to hack the world’ is an interesting startpoint for something, though I’m not sure what.
- Cool Vaccines: Super-interesting look at how Pfizer’s vaccine has somehow managed to become the ‘cool’ anti-rona jab (no, me neither), at least in the US, and why this might have happened and what this might ‘mean’. I particularly enjoyed the serious reflection as to how the sound of Pfizer makes it inherently cooler than ‘Johnson & Johnson’, but I think the truest part of this is when it comes to talking about TikTok and the increasingly binary nature of the way in which things are considered on the platform; I found the bit at the end about the ironic detachment of GenZ fascinating, particular in the context of millennials’ oft-discussed joyless sincerity.
- The Tetris Shakeup: A really interesting look at how competitive Tetris playing – yes of COURSE it is a thing! – is evolving, and how (more broadly) online communities can lead to step-changes in evolution for certain skills and practices; I wonder to what extent the past couple of decades is retrospectively going to be considered something of a golden age of small, incremental improvements in certain disciplines due simply to the never-before-available chance to pool expertise and learning afforded by the web.
- Designing The Future: This is an amazing article, quite often in the most literal sense but not always entirely-positively. Perception is a design company which you have probably never heard of but whose work you are doubtless familiar with – it’s been responsible for the design of most of the fictional technology of the world’s biggest films for a decade or more. Minority Report, Iron Man, in fact all the MCU stuff…all imagine by these people. The crazy part is where they start to talk about how they now get commissioned to help design this stuff in real life, based on people looking at stuff in the films and thinking ‘yeah, that looks cool – want one of those’. Is this how the future is supposed to be designed? I know, I know, I am a miserable git who is increasingly-incapable of finding joy in anything – still, I can’t be the only person who has a few questions about whether we should be taking our technological inspiration from a neoliberal capitalist militaristic power fantasy, can I? Eh? Oh.
- The Case For Legalising Heroin: An interview with Ben Wallace Wells, who got a fair bit of press a few months back as a result both of his works on the modern nature of drug abuse and control, and for the fact that he’s a tenured professor and author who is also quite open about his regular recreational use of heroin. This is far more interesting and less sensationalist than you might expect – Wallace Wells doesn’t get a particularly easy ride, and it’s not hard to side with the author’s conclusion (which, basically, is that just because Wallace Wells can get away with it doesn’t mean that everyone else can, whatever he might think), but it’s so refreshing to read someone talking sensibly about the topic. Interestingly, the interview with Seth Rogen from the other week in which he talked about weed as ‘something he uses to get through the day, like someone else might wear glasses’ was widely-praised, with Rogen’s perspective quoted all over the place as a classic example of his stoner-savant. Why do we feel differently about heroin, and is it anything other than squeamishness?
- The Wrath of Corleone: Long-time readers may be aware that I am something of a Michael Owen when it comes to films, which is why I only relatively-recently saw the Godfather films – which, in turn, is why I ended up reading this critical reappraisal of the trilogy by Noah Millman. I really enjoyed this – I never read film criticism, mainly because I have never seen the films that the criticism is of – though obviously Coppola-obsessives may feel differently.
- The Light Fantastic: I am an absolute sucker for massive works of art that will exist forever – this is one of the most incredible examples of such a project, which I first read about a decade or so ago and which is slowly moving towards ‘completion’ (insofar as it will ever be completed). James Turrell is building…what is he building? A sculpture, a camera obscura, a monument, a mystery…it’s almost impossible to write about without sounding insanely-hyperbolic, because it really is that mad – “Known as Roden Crater, it stands 580 feet tall and nearly two miles wide. One of the tunnels that Turrell has completed is 854 feet long. When the moon passes overhead, its light streams down the tunnel, refracting through a six-foot-diameter lens and projecting an image of the moon onto an eight-foot-high disk of white marble below. The work is built to align most perfectly during the Major Lunar Standstill every 18.61 years. The next occurrence will be in April 2025. To calculate the alignment, Turrell worked closely with astronomers and astrophysicists. Because the universe is expanding, he must account for imperceptible changes in the geometry of the galaxy. He has designed the tunnel, like other features of the crater, to be most precise in about 2,000 years. Turrell’s friends sometimes joke that’s also when he’ll finish the project.” Absolutely fascinating, and something I would like to see before I die.
- The Weaponisation of the Female Orgasm: One woman’s account of being nonorgasmic, and society’s continual struggle to fix that for her, and what that means. This was super-interesting, occasionally very funny, and incredibly-illuminating – I had NO IDEA that there was such an incredibly lucrative Goop-adjacent business empire constructed around KNOWING THE YONI, or indeed that those men in baggy linen trousers who style themselves ‘orgasm gurus’ and charge hundreds of pounds to wave burning sage over your perineum (or whatever it is that they do) actually exist.
- The QAnon of Architecture: What if we were all secretly being lied to? What if there was a secret civilisation with GREAT KNOWLEDGE AND WISDOM, whose relics are visible throughout our modern society but whose existence is being denied and erased by powers beyond our ken? WHAT IF???? “The overall premise is an alternative history. A vast, technologically advanced “Tartarian” empire, emanating from north-central Asia or thereabouts, either influenced or built vast cities and infrastructure all over the world. (Tartaria, or Tartary, though never a coherent empire, was indeed a general term for north-central Asia.) Either via a sudden cataclysm or a steady antagonistic decline — and perhaps as recently as 100 years ago — Tartaria fell. Its great buildings were buried, and its history was erased. After this “great reset,” the few surviving examples of Tartarian architecture were falsely recast as the work of contemporary builders who could never have executed buildings of such grace and beauty, and subjected them to clumsy alterations.” This is so gloriously, wonderfully silly and mad.
- Why AI Is Harder Than We Think: This is, fine, an academic paper, but it’s a very readable one, I promise, and is a really accessible and nicely-structured overview of some of the reasons why AI is often harder than we think and why the predictions we make about it are so often wildly optimistic – in particular, the arguments here about our use of language around AI and how that affects the way in which we think of its capabilities really struck me as worth further investigation, particularly when we use terms like ‘thinking’ and ‘learning’ and ‘vision’. So, so interesting and very much worth a read.
- The Gravlix: Absolutely the most enjoyable piece of writing I have read so far in 2021. Honestly, if you enjoy words at all you will adore this – on the gravlix, and associated terms used in the writing of comics. I promise, you’ll be rolling these phrases around your mouth all day, they are good enough to chew.
- The Floating Utopia: As alluded to a bit further up, this is a wonderful article, all about the latest attempts to create a sea-based utopia, free of the pesky constraints of government and offering a truly democratic, free society on the ocean waves. As you might expect, it’s a bit more complex than that – and, as ever, there’s definitely the whiff of criminality about quite a lot of this – but this is such a wonderful tale, partly because of the supremely-human ‘hope in the face of adversity and the fact that, bluntly, noone really wants to live on an ocean-going principality’, but also partly because of the cast of characters who all have that slightly weird international outlaw vibe going on. Wonderful journalism.
- You And I Get Tanked Differently: Finally this week, Tom Usher writes for Vittles on getting drunk and how we, the English, do it in a particular way, and what that says about us and what we ought to do about it. Far better than it needs to be, this is an excellent piece of writing about what, at its heart, is a sad subject – Britain as the slumped grey man with the stained trousers, always having too much ‘fun’ – if you ‘enjoy’ a drink then you will very much ‘enjoy’ this.
AND NOW, MOVING PICTURES AND SOUNDS!:
- There was an article I read somewhere recently – helpful reference, I appreciate – which referred to the next big musical wave to hit us as being A-Pop; African music starting to gain proper global traction as artists increasingly gain access to the means of distribution that can garner them a truly international audience. This is Jupiter & Okwess, from Democratic Republic of Congo, and the song’s called ‘Telejayi’
- Last up in this week’s musical selections, have the new single by Little Simz, 100% one of the best female MCs working in the UK right now. This is ‘Women’, it is an AWESOME early-Summer song, and, oh, hang on, that’s it for this week, BYE! BYE BYE BYE! SO LOVELY TO SEE YOU AGAIN, HAVE LOVELY WEEKENDS, ENJOY THE OUTDOORS, SEE YOUR FRIENDS, TAKE CARE AND REMEMBER THAT I LOVE EACH AND EVERY ONE OF YOU WITH THE SORT OF CREEPY INTENSITY THAT YOU’D PROBABLY FIND AWKWARD WERE WE EVER TO MEET BUT WHICH IS PROBABLY OK WHILE WE’RE SEPARATED BY MILES AND SCREENS TAKE CARE I LOVE YOU BYE!