Did you enjoy the scenes from Tory Party Conference this week? Back in the day when I used to have to attend those things annually because of work, the Tories was always in many respects the least-awful of the lot – the politics and people stank, fine, but this was in the New Labour era when you could at least laugh at their awfulness safe in the knowledge that they weren’t getting elected anytime soon. Labour, by contrast, was characterised by the sort of smug backslapping that hindsight shows us was one of the main identifying features of the Blair era, and which resulted in me having a proper Damascene moment at around 3am in a conference bar when, alone and misanthropic, I saw a bunch of then-’rising stars’ from the party doing ‘Things Can Only Get Better’ at karaoke and vowed that I was never, ever going to find myself in that position again.
(In case you were wondering, by the way, Lib Dem conference was always the best, because noone cared and you could spend literally 3 days in the pub playing pool and getting slaughtered if you could persuade the landlord to put the conference on TV so you could pretend you’d seen the speeches)
Other than the worst people in British politics having their annual self-congratulatory orgy, the week’s other big news was Facebook falling over – it’s been a bad few weeks for the Big Blue Misery Factory, prompting some slightly overheated chat about whether this is THE BEGINNING OF THE END. A small note on that point – I think anything that demonstrates quite how central the company and its platforms are to the running of huge swathes of global communication and commerce is probably not going to be the thing that presages its demise. You may want to do a quick Google for past news articles trumpeting the death of Facebook and check the timestamps to see just how right everyone was about this in 2013/4/5/7/8, is all I’m saying.
Anyway, you don’t kindly splay your inbox for me to fill it with my editorialising – you do so for the LINKS. Links which you are mere SECONDS away from being able to enjoy – gird yourselves however you best see fit, for THEY ARE A’COMING!
I am still Matt, this is still Web Curios, and I would still prefer you not to read this if you voted for Boris Johnson.
THE SECTION WHICH THINKS EVERYONE SHOULD ATTEND AT LEAST ONE POLITICAL PARTY CONFERENCE IN THEIR LIVES AS IT PROVIDES A CONVENIENT BENCHMARK FOR ALL FUTURE ‘WORST EXPERIENCE OF MY LIFE’ CLAIMS, PT.1:
- Badvertising: The second week in a row in which I lead on a link dedicated to pointing out the advermarketingpr industry’s possible complicity in the climate crisis – I’ve long thought that the best way to ensure Web Curios remains an unloved, niche concern is to constantly attempt to alienate my readership at every turn (and also, er, to make it overlong and impenetrable and stylistically…idiosyncratic – never let it be said that I’m not dedicated). Anyway, this is Badvertising, ‘a campaign to stop advertising fueling the climate emergency’, being organised by Think Tank the New Weather Institute. The argument is simple – that those of us working in and around the edges of advermarketingpr should, if we really believe that our work causes shifts in behaviour and opinion (and this is the bit where I maybe demur because, reader, very little of what I do on a day to day basis in my working life does anything other than cause the movement of money from one largely-pointless seeming branch of an organisation to another), perhaps spend a bit more time thinking about what behaviour we’re changing and what opinions we’re supporting. This website explains the campaign and provides a bunch of tools and guidelines on what you can do to help stop the spread of ads which, I don’t know, trumpet BP’s environmental credentials whilst conveniently ignoring the fact that it and companies like it are responsible in large part for fcuking the planet with knives.
- Gawds: It’s been a great week for people who enjoy laughing at NFTs, with the news that another selection of projects have – and you might be shocked by this – been revealed to have been nothing but elaborate scams designed to induce greedy morons to part with their cash. Now I don’t doubt there are some token projects out there which really do believe in ‘the magical power of community’ to heal of society’s ills (even when the community exists solely to juice the market for pixelated portraits of, I don’t know, management consultants or something), but, equally, lots of them quite evidently don’t and instead are just a way of parting fools with their money. Where Gawks sits on this spectrum I have no idea, but I very much like the vibe that the whole thing is giving off. While other NFT projects sell you piddling little avatars, Gawds has ratcheted up the hubristic absurdity several levels by creating a whole pantheistic ecosystem into which your markov-generated digital gewgaws will ‘exist’. The website talks about POWER LEVELS and ‘uniquely-generated beings’ and THE ABILITY TO EMBED YOUR NFT IN HOLOGRAPHIC GLASS! Honestly, I can’t see how this could be anything other than a massive success that will inevitably take your investment TO THE MOON!!!1111eleventy. Fair play to these people for leaning into the culty (no, I said culty) elements of this hard – I can almost respect the grift. Almost.
- Ether Canvas: Long-term readers will be aware of the special place that Reddit’s The Place holds in my heart as an example of a web project that distilled most of the lovely things about online communities (diversity, collaboration, creativity) into one surprising package. Now, though, it’s 2021 and The Place is but a distant memory, and instead of thinking ‘what fun things can we build, what experimental playgrounds can we create?’ we are apparently all thinking ‘how can I persuade people to buy into my apocalypse-token Ponzi scheme?’ That, seemingly, is the idea behind Ether Canvas, a project which is literally ‘what if The Place or even Million Dollar Homepage, but crypto?’ – and a project so phoned-in that I want to bookmark it to wave at anyone who attempts to tell me that NFTs are all about ART AND CREATIVITY. Are they? Are they really? WHERE IS THE ART HERE? Anyway, if you want to spend 15 quid to put a TINY, TINY JPEG onto a website that noone in their right mind will ever visit again (BECOME PART OF THE COMMUNITY!!!) then here’s your chance.
- SadGrl Online: What did YOU do during The Great Facebook Outage of 2021? Did you rediscover your love for the odd and unheralded corners of the internet and go paddling in their tentacular shallows? Did you take the opportunity to detach yourself from the content hose and go outside? As we limp towards the finishing line of 2021 (lol! It’s not a finishing line! KEEP FCUKING GOING, SISYPHUS!), one of the few ‘this is a thing wot I have observed this year’ statements I feel comfortable making is that the past 12m or so really have seen a small resurgence in the homespun web – Curios has seen an uptick in interesting ‘portals to the small web’-type sites, and SadGrl Online is another such project. It’s weird really – this is the sort of thing that a couple of decades ago wouldn’t have been noteworthy at all, seeing as this is the sort of presence that seemingly every teenager cultivated for themselves prior to the all-consuming advent of VIDEO EVERYWHERE, and yet now feels fun and retro-fresh. SadGrl Online is a personal website very much in the GeoCities mould which presents links to stuff its owner finds interesting, little ‘shrines’ to their hobbies, some articles…it’s just some kid’s website, to be clear, but given the ubiquitous homogeneity of Insta and The Toks (there isn’t just one TikTok, is there, so characterising them as multiples seems somehow right), and Tumblr’s odd zombie limbo state, it’s really nice to see something so personalised and homespun cropping up. Plus, there are some excellent interesting links on there which are definitely worth checking out.
- NeoCities: The above site is made using NeoCities, “a social network of 394,700 web sites that are bringing back the lost individual creativity of the web” offering “free static web hosting and tools that allow you to create your own web site.” So basically GeoCities but NEW and MODERN (whilst still looking old!) – what’s nice about this is the slightly webring-style nature of the project which makes it easy to find and browse and enjoy everyone else’s projects on the network. If you want a project now the nights are drawing in, why not make yourself the website you always wanted when you were 14 but never had the time or inclination to produce? Or, alternatively, you may want to take up a hobby that doesn’t require the use of electricity given How Things Currently Are on sovereignty isle.
- The Internet is Sh1t: It’s not, obviously – the internet is great and I love it, despite my constant carping and whinging about the stuff I find on there (the internet is great; it’s the people that ruin it) – but it’s not hard to see what people might have a bit of a problem with it. Speaking of trends, another I’ve seen this year is the increasing realisation amongst even your less-terminally-online web user that the general experience of being online doesn’t seem to be getting much better. Google is increasingly awful, people are trapped on a limited number of platforms whose entire raison d’etre is to keep them there and not let them out, thereby limiting discovery and serendipity (beyond the algo-controlled simulacrum of serendipity we’re increasingly being peddled as the real thing) and making us miserable(r). This in particular resonated with me in no small way: “The internet is not the sole basis upon which you can determine existence. It sounds simple but people are starting to forget. If it doesn’t have a website, that doesn’t make something low quality. If you can’t Google your blind date, that doesn’t make them a freak. If one website says something about anything, it’s more than likely pure invention and shouldn’t be taken seriously. Checking your sources does not mean finding another website that says the same. Fiction is self-perpetuating.” Well quite. STOP THE INTERNET! Or at least this version of it.
- Low Tech Magazine: This is not a wholly original idea – it’s reminiscent of The Solar Protocol which I featured in here a few years back – but it’s SUCH a clever one and a HUGELY stealable idea which is perfect for our ECO CONSCIOUS (but not so much as to actually change our behaviours in any significant way!) times. Low Tech Magazine has a solar-powered website – it is powered by solar panels, and as such the website will go offline when there’s not enough natural energy to run it. Simple, but hugely clever and a great way of reminding users that the web is powered by actual, physical stuff that require actual energy to run, and that that energy needs to come from somewhere. There are SO many potential applications for this (although if you’re reading this in the UK, probably not until next year which gives you LOADS of time to persuade your idiot clients to do something interesting for a change rather than just throwing £100k at some influencers and some ASPIRATIONAL VIDEO CONTENT).
- BioLiquidator: This is included solely because I find the whole thing morbidly-fascinating and not a little scary – BioLiquidator is a company which deals with what it semi-euphemistically terms ‘mortality management’ in livestock. Basically, if you have animals that you need to dispose of, these are your people. How do they do it? Well as far as I can tell you basically pack your dead animals into some sort of vat and in 18-20h they have turned into slurry. Honestly, this is FASCINATING (if a little bleak) and the sort of thing I am 100% convinced we are going to have uncomfortable conversations about using on people in a few decades’ time. There’s also something quite odd about all the images of very alive animals all over their website – I know that disposal of dead animals is part and parcel of the agricultural process and animal husbandry in general, but, well, don’t present me with images of cute calves when what you’re in fact doing is providing me with a facility with which to compost them (after I have shoved their corpses into a metal box with a pitchfork).
- Pizza Pranks: Not in fact anything to do with pizza! Pizza Pranks ihome to Indiepocalypse, a project which is basically a regular zine-type-thing, bringing together independent game makers to sell their projects in bundles for about $15 a pop: “Indiepocalypse is a curated monthly collection looking to highlight the very best of the DIY indie game scene. Each month will feature games by 10 different developers, including newly commissioned game exclusive to the bundle-zine. The games cover a wide variety of styles, genres, and themes as they fight against any definition of “indie game” as a genre.Also, and this part is very important to me and should truly be taken as given, each contributor is paid and developers are paid royalties on all future sales.” If you fancy taking a monthly punt on some small-but-perfectly-formed independently-created games this is an EXCELLENT way of doing so – titles run the gamut from platformers to artgames to shoot-em-ups to interactive fiction, and the bundle I downloaded contained at least 2 titles which I would have been happy to pay the £$15 for alone.
- BondGifs: Bond occupies a weird place in the cultural landscape at present – obviously super-popular but with whom? Is there anyone who is a Bond fan anymore? Other of course than the world’s luxury brands, which are very much fans of spending millions for product placement in what are the most lavish pieces of branded content ever created. Still, a NEW BOND is here, and to celebrate there is also a Bond collection of gifs, available for you to abuse in every single message conversation for the next few weeks. Why not endear yourself to friends and family by insisting on accompanying your every utterance with a shot of Daniel Craig having his testes lightly-flagellated with a thick piece of rope?? Actually I’m not sure they have that specific clip in there, but there are 430 of the damn things, from Connerty to Lazenby to Dalton to Craig – there are some that are obviously designed in the hope they’ll attain status as part of the reactive lingua franca of the web, and others chosen for reasons known only to the curators (maybe they’re there as warning signs – after all, anyone who uses a ‘The name’s Bond…James Bond’ gif in conversation is quite obviously an irredeemable cnut), but if you fancy communicating via a short videoclip of Rutger Hauer taking a punch to the stomach then HERE YOU GO!
- Google Newsletters: Or as the company has unforgivably styled them, ‘Museletters’ (no, exactly). This was probably inevitable, but the product looks like it might be useful (should you be one of the seven people worldwide who are yet to launch their own newsletter in 2021). It effectively creates a publication and distribution layer for Google Drive: “Create a public profile for your Google Drive and publish any Google Drive file directly to it. You can also publish to an email list. Just open Museletter, choose a Drive file, and publish.” Which seems sensible! No idea if this is any good or not in practice, and it’s not like Google as a company is significantly better than, say, Substack, and it definitely has a somewhat iffy record when it comes to supporting these sorts of experimental initiatives, but it could be worth a look – just don’t come crying to me when Google decides to kill the service in a year or so’s time.
- Somi-1: This is really interesting – over the past few years I’ve seen several attempts to reinvent the musical instrument crop up on Kickstarter and assorted other platforms, and to date none of them have seemingly ushered in the seismic change in musical creativity their inventors had promise, and this is the latest to catch my attention. Somi-1 is basically a bunch of sensors and associated kit that will, if it does what it promises, allow you to transform your movements into sound. You strap sensors to yourself, and said sensors use the data they pick up from your movements (direction, acceleration) and convert that into music – multiple sensors can be combined to capture data from several sources simultaneously, whether on one person or on a group, and you can plug the output into any MIDI controller of your choosing. This looks like it could be really rather fun, though the quality of the output will depend on the sensitivity of the sensors which obviously is a bit unknowable til it launches – still, if you like the idea of turning your morning Qi Gong session into a beautiful ambient soundscape then this could well be one for you. The Kickstarter is about 60% there with 11 days to go, so it’s not certain it will make it, but it could be worth a punt for the more experimental musos among you.
- The Ellis Island Database: This is wonderful – a searchable database of US immigration records, collecting data on 65million passengers (THAT IS A HUGE NUMBER OF PEOPLE) that arrived by boat in New York between 1820 and 1957. You have to register to do a proper deep-dive into the records, but it’s a light-touch signup process and I promise it’s worth it – there’s a proper genealogical buzz to plugging in a surname and seeing all the people who over 130 years disembarked in hope and then got swallowed up by the city, for better or ill. I personally want to know the story of Angelo Muir, who arrived from Modena in 1913 – what was a Muir doing in Modena in the early-20th Century? WHO WERE YOU, UNCLE ANGELO???
- The Accessible Games Database: A really useful resource for people looking for games suitable for those with physical impairments – you can filter by the type of game, or the accessibility features, you’re looking for, so if you want to find a first-person shooter with settings suitable for people with slight motor control issues, say, or games that are colour-blind friendly, this will help.
- Stravart: This may well have existed for ages, but I was hugely cheered to find it this week – there’s a website dedicated to collecting examples of people who’ve used Strava to ‘draw’ creative running or cycling routes, and some of these are AMAZING. Fine, there’s a reasonable number of crap squiggles, but then there is stuff like the quite incredible portrait of Christ (complete with thorny crown and beatific expression and three crosses in the background, along with the legend “A Holy and Happy Easter to All” – sadly the site doesn’t allow for linking to individual images, but I urge you to go and check that one out. It’s filed under ‘fiction’, which is a ballsy move from whoever’s curating this) which makes you really admire the dedication of those involved. Special shout out to the person who drew Medusa and subjected themselves to what look like a series of very unsatisfying short runs to make the hair-snakes.
- The Stripe Press: I can’t work out if this feels like a proper thing or just an example of slightly-silly tech company hubris – perhaps it’s both! Stripe, the payments company, has started publishing books – the Stripe Press is its new(ish) publishing imprint, through which you can buy a bunch of titles (some new, some revised editions, some reprints) in nice hardback editions, all for around $20 and all promoting a very Valley-ish ideology of GROWTH and CRUSHING IT (and, er, a book chronicling the history of classic videogame Prince of Persia, for some reason). Why? Well, partly, why not? I imagine Stripe isn’t exactly short of a quid or two at present. Equally, though, this is a clear way of signalling both status (WE ARE A TECH COMPANY BUT WE ARE ALSO BOOKSMART PEOPLE!!!) and also of marking out the ideological territory that the business inhabits (increasingly important in this sort of techspace). I would fcuking LOVE Nando’s to copy this. Or, I don’t know, Pot Noodle.
- The Encyclopaedia of Pulp Heroes: A wonderful resources, exploring the magical world of classic pulp novels from the early-to-mid-20th Century, “an attempt at providing a panoptical view of the characters of genre culture from across media and around the world, spanning the years from 1902 to 1945”. This is SUCH a labour of love and there is so much interesting stuff in here – from a glossary explaining some of the popular terms and tropes of the time, a history of the genre, and notes on the characters and authors that constituted the pulp scene. If nothing else, this is a wonderful resource for anyone interested in storytelling convention and the different types and styles of narrative that can be explored within the pulp genre (which I know is what you were all hoping to get from today – you’re welcome!).
THE SECTION WHICH THINKS EVERYONE SHOULD ATTEND AT LEAST ONE POLITICAL PARTY CONFERENCE IN THEIR LIVES AS IT PROVIDES A CONVENIENT BENCHMARK FOR ALL FUTURE ‘WORST EXPERIENCE OF MY LIFE’ CLAIMS, PT.2:
- 12ft: I feel slightly conflicted about including this link, I must admit. The older I get, the more I feel that taking stuff for free online feels a bit, well, wrong – not taking stuff that’s freely given, you understand, but circumventing payment systems to get free access to stuff that people want you to pay for. I may be skeptical about the promise of the creator economy, but that doesn’t mean that I don’t think people should get paid for their work (which perhaps explains why my monthly outlay on subscriptions and newsletters is quite so punishing). Of course, I also appreciate that I am lucky enough to be able to afford to consume (mostly) whatever I fancy without it screwing over my ability to, I don’t know, eat or leave the house, or pay rent, and that not everyone is that lucky, and that it feels fundamentally wrong for access to information to be linked to material income in 2021. That’s a longwinded way of saying that I appreciate that this link is by some standards a bit problematic, being as it promises to let you get behind the paywall of a whole bunch of sites that ordinarily require a login (Medium, NYT, the Economist, etc etc) and therefore deprives those outlets of income – can we all agree that if you can afford to pay subscriptions you will continue doing so, and that if you can’t you will use this? We can? GREAT, my conscience is therefore clear.
- 20th Century Audio: If you make music, this stuff looks like it could be LOADS of fun. The link takes you to the website of one Giorgio Sancristofero who sells a BUNCH of audio software (each version around $25) which lets you make music replicating the sounds available to engineers using a variety of 20th Century production and recording techniques. From electro-acoustic modelling to the ability to recreate the sound and feel of stuff recorded reel-to-reel, this is a modern audiophile’s dream (or at least I am guessing it is – I’m not really a modern audiophile, but it feels like the sort of thing that one of those might enjoy). Want to imbue your oh-so-modern TikTok banger with the analogue soul of Delia Berbyshire? OF COURSE YOU DO!
- Montfor: I’m unsure as to whether I find this funny or depressing – maybe both! Oh the duality of modern life! Montfor asks the question ‘why shouldn’t I get some sort of academic credit for the fact that I spend literally hundreds of hours a week watching stuff on YouTube? Surely that should count for something?’ and answers it with ‘there is no reason whatsoever! Why SHOULDN’T self-directed YouTubeing be elevated to the same pantheon of academic consideration as, say, postgraduate study?’. “We analyse the pages you go to, and run them through our custom AI models to figure out what they’re about. Then we reward you with relevant XP based on time spent, activity, and other metrics. You get a dashboard with insights on your learning and a shareable profile” So, er, you can get data about the fact that you’ve spent 200 hours since June ‘learning about crypto’ and share it with people to…to what? To win online arguments? To convince them to give you a job? It feels very much like the people behind this think that their metrics ought to become a valid means of judging expertise (“well Tony, your CV’s unusual but it says here you’ve clocked the equivalent of three months watching medical procedure videos so, well, I guess you are doing the trepanning this afternoon!”). I am sure the people behind this mean well, but I can’t stress enough what a bad idea it is (this is inevitably going to become part of the fabric of society, isn’t it, and I’m going to lose my employment prospects to a bunch of 19 year olds who’ve clocked the equivalent of 4 years watching ‘marketing 101’ tutorials on TikTok? GREAT).
- The Fart Pedal: Are you a guitarist? Have you ever considered how much better your axework would be if you had an effects pedal that turned the output from your Gibson into a selection of farts? No, of course you haven’t, and yet still this exists. The sort of idea that you can imagine having when very stoned aged 14 in your mate Nev’s bedroom and which has now become (nearly) reality thanks to this Kickstarter. With nearly 3 weeks to go this has already met its target, so we can all look forward to a future in which any guitarist in the world can choose to add dynamic ‘wet fart’ effects to their solo with the flick of a mere switch. Progress.
- Adventure Snack: I presume that you are like me and can’t physically fit any more newsletters into your life right now, but on the offchance that you have a fee slot in your inbox for some occasional ludic distraction you might find this pleasing. Adventure Snack sends you a tiny interactive story every now and again, a bite-size pseudogame to distract you for 5 minutes and hopefully amuse. They’re basically small vignettes which present you with a bunch of choices – you’re a wrestler! You’re an astronaut! You’re a…er…bear! – which play out as tiny stories, and they are silly and whimsical and a really nice little exercise in creative storytelling, and generally pleasantly cute. Lovely, and pleasantly creative.
- Blue Fever: Another new social network! Except this isn’t a social network, oh no, this is an emotional network! What that means in practice is that Blue Fever presents an environment in which anyone can post anonymously about whatever they are feeling at present – posts are nameless, meaning anyone in theory should feel free to post whatever they like without fear ofjudgement, and the idea is that it creates a supportive community in which people can discuss their fears and hopes and stuff without the worry that comes from SHOWING ONE’S WHOLE SELF (is that the commonly=accepted parlance these days? It’s so hard to keep track, honestly). I am desperately miserable and cynical and as such am inclined to scoff at this sort of thing, but the idea behind the app is generally a positive one and thus it’s hard to get too angry about the slightly-self-helpy nature of the vibe here. If you feel like you might have some STUFF you want to get off your chest in front of a nameless community of other people then perhaps this will provide the succour you need.
- The Map Projection Playground: I had NO IDEA that the world of maps was so fragmented – I mean, we all remember the Mercator projection (you know, the one that presents the world as it ‘actually’ is rather than the Europe-centric conceptualisation of the planet which persisted in the early days of cartography which tended to underplay the sheer mind-fcuking size of Africa because it didn’t make whitey look important enough), but who knew that there were apparently dozens of different ways in which scientitsist and cartographers have attempted to present our geography? NO FUCKER (well, not me at least), and yet here we are. I’ve been staring at the Peirce Quincuncial projection for 5 minutes now and can’t make head nor tail of it – there’s something magical about how alien an otherwise-familiar geography can look when perspective-shifted in this fashion, and you can probably derive all sorts of metaphors for knowledge and learning here if you’re that way inclined. Otherwise, though, cool maps!
- The Nature Conservancy Photos of the Year 2021: I think we can all agree we have perhaps reached Peak Photo Contest – are there any subcategories of photo that don’t have their own annual competition anymore? I am yet to see the ‘Colorectal Imaging of the Year’ contest, but other than that I’m not sure there are any universes left to explore. Still, this collection – compiled by The Nature Conservancy – contains some cracking pictures of the natural world (and man’s interaction with it); if you can look at the orangutan photo without feeling some complex maternal/paternal (delete as applicable) feelings then, well, you’re a monster, frankly.
- Social Justice Kittens 2022: Another long-term Web Curios favourite makes a welcome return – the Social Justice Kittens! For those of you unfamiliar, the project has for several years been producing and selling calendars featuring pictures of impossibly cute kittens juxtaposed with some of the best (read: most ridiculous) examples of extreme social justice-y tweets, reasonable liberal positions taken to slightly-wild extremes – so, for example, August 2022 is represented by a kitten next to a stack of books with the legend “Maths, history, technology, science and history are all inherently-racist. Most schoolbooks should be burned”. These make me laugh LOTS, and I am reasonably-certain that these are mocking from A Good Place and so it’s totally ok to laugh.
- Vonnegut’s Story Shapes: Kurt Vonnegut famous theorised that ‘stories have shapes’ – this is a lovely little visualisation project that presents a series of story shapes and shows how they play out over the course of a narrative. As a tool for understanding how stories are constructed and how narratives build tension, it’s super-useful and the sort of thing which if you’re a strategist you might find a helpful tool in terms of visualising your thinking and teaching people how to communicate better. If one of you isn’t already working out how to turn this into something about ‘THE 10 ARCHETYPAL SHAPES OF CAMPAIGNS’ for a bit of sweet LinkedIn traction then I am VERY disappointed.
- Flippory: A neat little image-manipulation toy which lets you upload any picture you fancy and flip and mirror it in various ways so as to create something new and, if you choose the right source image, utterly terrifying. Seriously, take a photo of your own face and have a play with it in this – you will quickly fund yourself transformed into a multi-eyed horror, perfect for your new avatar or as a pleasing counterpoint to all the otherwise-perfect pouty representations of yourself adorning your ‘gram. Go on, FCUK WITH YOUR FACE (or, erm, anything you like – I’ll stop shouting now).
- Repeeted:Wordclouds, we can all agree, are mostly stupid and pointless and useful for nothing other than presenting the illusion of meaning to people who don’t really care or understand. Still, with that caveat in mind, this site lets you do something moderately-fun with them – to whit, produce a wordcloud of the most-used lyrics by any artist you care to mention. Which, to be clear, won’t tell you much that’s useful about anything, but can be used as an EXCELLENT stick with which to beat rabid superfans of a particular musician – even the most lyrically-adept songwriter will look banal when they’re output is rendered a series of stark single-words arranged by popularity. With this you can PROVE that Dylan was a miserable depressive (his most-used word is ‘down’, you see!) or that Billie Eilish is the premiere love-chanteuse of here generation (she uses ‘love’ more than any other word!), or that worldclouds are almost entirely useless in terms of providing meaningful analysis of anything at all! Hours of fun.
- Fat Ronald Koeman: “For every 25 likes I’ll make Ronald Koeman fatter” wrote Twitter user FootballFax at the end of September. They were true to their word, and the resulting Twitter thread is one of the funniest things I have seen all year. Fine, you need a bit of an interest in football to get all the jokes but, honestly, as it progresses there is some honest-to-goodness surreal genius evident in the photoshopping and accompanying text. This feels like the sort of thing that could be ripped off and ruined by a brand, so, er, please don’t!
- Crewdle: Are you running out of ways in which you can claim to be making a positive difference to the environmental health of the planet without actually changing anything significant about your behaviour? AREN’T WE ALL? Help is at hand thanks to Crewdle, a videocalling platform which promises that it is less energy-intensive than other offerings due to its use of peer-to-peer technology which eliminates the need for (and environmental cost associated with) servers. My snark aside, this seems like a smart idea and, if the tech works well, a reasonable lower-energy alternative to your Zooms and your Teams.
- Less Whiny, More Fixy: If you only do one thing as a result of reading this week’s Curios, please make it bookmarking this url and sending it to each and every person at work over the next week who emails you with a complaint without proferring any sort of suggested solution. I guarantee it will have a positive impact on your career (even if you may not see ‘being sacked’ as positive now, the benefits will, I am sure, become increasingly obvious).
- ISS Docking: No, Lisa Stansfield! I said ISS Docking (that is a very obscure and slightly-disgusting gag which only people who used to read Popbitch a decade or so ago are likely to get – never let it be said that Web Curios is needlessly obscurantist in its references!)! This is a rather zen little browser game, produced by SpaceX (presumably to show us how AMAZINGLY COOL it is) which lets you attempt to dock the SpaceXDragon2 spacecraft with the International Space Station – it is VERY SLOW and you need to be VERY GENTLE with your clicks, but it’s oddly-calming to spend 5 minutes attempting to interface your Muskian space-dong (all billionaire-funded space explorattion vehicles must, post-Bezos, be referred to as space-dongs, it is now law) with the ISS. Put Also Sprach Zarathustra on in the background while you play this for maximum effect.
- Triangular: You may not think that a game that effectively asks you to triangulate between two points would capture your attention for longer than about 10s, but I promise you that this is FAR more addictive than you think it’s going to be. I spent a good 15m on this attempting to get a perfect score until I was forced to log off to preserve my sanity – see how you get on!
- Flesh, Blood and Concrete: Finally this week, an honest-to-goodness adventure game in your browser! Flesh, Blood and Concrete is a beautiful little game which casts you as someone exploring a slightly Silent Hill-esque little town (creepy mist, sinister abandoned buildings, mysterious residents, pervasive sense of dread…you get the idea) in classic point-and-click fashion. It looks like it’s made in RPG Maker or similar, and is obviously less-than-AAA in its production values, but the story is really nicely-told and deals with sensitive themes…er…sensitively, and it’s a perfect thing to play while you wait for the clock to tick down on another day of ‘fiddling with pointless words on pointless slides’. Grab a mug of tea and get stuck in, this is really rather good.
By Dos Diablos
THE CIRCUS OF TUMBLRS IS SADLY EMPTY THIS WEEK!
THE TROUGH OF (INSTA) FEEDS!
- Daanpark Chichi FanFan: This is all in Japanese so I’m not 100% certain what’s going on here, but as far as I can tell it’s an Insta account devoted to the geese that live in a particular park. Just a bunch of photos of geese from somewhere in Japan. Why? WHY THE FCUK NOT?
- Dasha Plesen: Ms Plesen creates truly beautiful art from mould – the spores in her petri dishes are quite the thing, and the sort of thing which you feel could serve as ‘inspiration’ (ahem) for, I don’t know, a domestic cleaning brand wanting to highlight all the gross stuff knocking around your house that you could eliminate with Cillit Bang (I have never bought Cillit Bang, but man was Barry Scott some effective advertising) – imagine an exhibition and photoseries like this, based on bacterial samples from the average home. GREAT IDEA, RIGHT? Or, er, you could just enjoy these images for their aesthetic and scientific value and not attempt to bastardise the concept for corporate gain. Your choice.
LONG THINGS WHICH ARE LONG!:
- Eric Schmidt on AI: An interesting interview with former Google CEO Eric Schmidt about what he sees as the current state of play in AI, and the things we might need to think or worry about as we continue on our inevitable path towards machine-enabled post-scarcity luxury-Communism (that’s…that’s definitely what’s going to happen, right? Oh good). There’s lots of fascinating stuff in here, but what struck me most was how…cautious Schmidt is through much of this, and also how absurd-and-yet-miserable his ‘racist bear’ thought experiment is. Basically what we can look forward to before we get to the post-scarcity luxury-Communism is a brief-yet-terrifying interregnum in which awful people teach their smart fridges to be racist, was my main takeaway from this – along with the fact that we don’t at present know what we might do to stop that from happening, or what will happen when we inevitably don’t. Good stuff!
- How The Facebook Outage Happened: This is Cloudflare’s very technical explainer about their best-guess as to what went down (EVERYTHING LOL!) earlier in the week – this is very much ‘how the web works 101’-type stuff, though, and as such is worth attempting to get your head round, if only because it feels important that we all have at least some rudimentary understanding of how exactly the world works (I possibly feel this particularly strongly given that I have basically no practical understanding of how anything functions at a practical level (cars? MAGIC! WiFi? ALMOST CERTAINLY THE WORK OF THE WOOKEY HOLE WITCH! Etc etc). The piece doesn’t examine what we might want to do to ensure that huge swathes of what is effectively at this point global infrastructure can’t just fall over like that, but I’m sure someone somewhere is working on that. Er, someone is, right?
- The Defector Annual Report: This is probably only of interest to those of you interested in the economics of digital publishing (and who isn’t? NO FCUKER, that’s who!), but it’s an unusually-transparent piece of comms when it comes to annual reporting. Defector is the US sports website which spun out of the ashes of Deadspin – it’s been alive for a year, and this post goes through their performance and results in surprising detail. The explanation of the site’s revenue model, its approach to advertising and marketing, its use of sponsorship…all are discussed here with a degree of openness that’s rare to see.
- The Internet of Grift: Another excellent post by Ed Zitron, this time neatly-encapsulating everything I think and feel about the current state of play in crypto/NFTworld. It’s worth reading the whole piece as it’s a distillation of everything I have been trying to say in fragmented fashion over the past 6m here in Curios, but, well, better-written. “It is an oligarchy masquerading as a meritocracy (or a utopia), where the rich have built mechanisms to increase the value of their assets, drumming the desperate into a frenzy of people looking to become one of the rich months (or years) after that was possible. Celebrities like Lindsey Lohan aren’t joining because they care about art or NFTs or crypto – they are intentionally capitalizing on a frothy market that’s purpose-built to screw over the investor. It is built to overvalue assets that come from a famous person, just as the regular art investment world is, but with even less tangible goods and more chances to get utterly, irreversibly screwed.” What Ed said, basically. Oh, and if you’re in the market for some more NFT skepticism, this is an excellent article which explains the parallels between the existing NFT scene and multi-level marketing scams – worth reading before you decide to spunk your kids’ savings on a crap cartoon picture of a psychedelically-coloured ocelot.
- Is It Time To Hire A Chief Metaverse Officer?: A classic example of Betteridge’s Law, this, but worth reading to have a quick laugh at the desperate flailing for relevance and position that is currently going on in brand and agencyland. “WHAT IS THIS THING WE DO NOT UNDERSTAND, WHICH DOESN’T HAVE AN ACCEPTED DEFINITION AND WHICH DOESN’T YET EXIST IN ANY MEANINGFUL SENSE?” ask the brands, “AND SHOULD WE HIRE SOMEONE ON A SIX-FIGURE SALARY TO SPEAK ABOUT IT AT CONFERENCES?” If you want any additional proof that this is all moronic – not ‘the metaverse’ as a concept, to be clear, but the desperation at play in attempting to be FIRST to it – then please read this paragraph, where the individual in question appears to think that they have reinvented the concept of the ‘project manager’: ““I didn’t realise how much time is spent on emails,” says Samuel Jordan, a digital fashion pioneer and Roblox creator who has partnered with brands such as Stella McCartney to create digital assets, when he started working with fashion brands to create assets for Roblox, and he is working on multiple undisclosed projects. “Every team wants to know they’ve been involved, and usually the core team in charge of brand representation wants the final sign-off. Building a chief metaverse officer is so useful. There are so many people to coordinate, so it’s about understanding the company they work for and who needs to be involved and who doesn’t.”” Intellectual giants, these people.
- The Ozy Story: An excellent bit of tech journalism by Ryan Borderick, looking into the story of digital publishing business Ozy which was in the news recently when one of its principles was unmasked attempting to pass themselves off as someone from Google on a sales call. There’s some really good base-level reporting happening here, looking into the business model of the company and how fundamentally fcuked it was, but the main takeaway I got from this was how utterly and deeply screwed the ‘content’ economy is – people making content noone cares about, paying to promote it to eyeballs that may not exist, to sell ad space that noone may see…it’s INVISIBLE TURTLES, all the way down!
- Mobile Gaming in Turkey: I had no idea that the gaming industry was such a big deal in Turkey, but according to this piece it’s growing at a massive rate and has produced the country’s first unicorn. Rest of World looks at the industry’s growth, it’s financial heft, how it works and how it’s (inevitably) leading to issues for the developers who are coding the seemingly-infinite stream of casual titles for the ever-hungry global market. I don’t mean to be endlessly-negative (I CAN’T HELP IT), but there’s a core truth here about the mechanics of the creative industries at scale which doesn’t feel much like the proposed sunlit uplands of the creator economy we were all promised.
- TikTokTranscription: One of the core realities of The Now which is yet to be fully accepted or codified seems to be something like ‘every magical technological advance (often with AI at its heart) has a significant degree of (often very cheap) human labour underpinning it which you’re encouraged to ignore or not think about’ – this is another wonderful example, this time focusing on TikTok and its translation software, and how said software is being trained and calibrated by the less-than-minimum-wage labour of all sorts of people in the developing and second world. The piece looks specifically at workers in Brazil, transcribing the audio from TikToks to help assess the quality of the company’s own automated translation and transcription services, and getting paid as little as $0.70 per hour for the work. This is less a story about TikTok and more one about modern economics and labour practices, and the way in which technology companies often have a very vested interest in making us think that they’re all tech all the way, whereas in fact a lot of the time they are meat and gristle and exploitation.
- Libertarian Honduras: Another Rest of World article, this one looking at Silicon Valley’s latest attempt to create a self-governing utopian libertarian paradise (words that, despite the best efforts of Randian supermen, continue to appear to not work at all in conjunction with each other), this time in Honduras. There is SO MUCH in here to boggle/gawp at, but the overall theme – that some of the richest people that have ever existed continue to firmly believe that they should be able to exist in market-driven societies free of the petty governmental dictats that constrain more ordinary mortals – is a slightly-miserable one. It may not surprise you to learn that the project in question doesn’t appear to have been a…vast success for the Honduran people who live in proximity to it.
- Pandemic Nostalgia: When I was young – cue wavy-lined flashbacks to an era in which you could smoke anywhere and noone cared about anything and you could still buy speed for £5 a gram and OH THE MEMORIES – it felt very much like there was an accepted 20-year nostalgia cycle; the kids of the 80s rediscovered the 60s, my generation spent a not-inconsiderable part of the mid-90s seemingly in thrall to the disco era of the 70s (if I could be bothered I would attempt to draw some sort of throughline between this and the boom in modern cocaine usage, but, well, I can’t)…now, of course, we are already nostalgic for this morning (things were just BETTER then, ok), which is why you see articles like this, seeking to explain the fact that people are already exhibiting nostalgic symptoms for a year ago. Whether or not you believe pandemic nostalgia is a thing is up to you, but I do sort-of buy the central thesis here that the sudden contraction of opportunity has meant that people are reacting oddly to its sudden reintroduction (albeit opportunities that may now look slightly different to those that existed 18m ago) and perhaps feel somewhat overwhelmed by it and have a slight desire to go back to the safe, warm, cocoonlike state when you had to stay indoors and so didn’t have the chance to have to choose.
- Social Media and Mental Health: Or, as my notes put it, “Mental health, categories and the modern web” – this piece discusses the need for categorisation and self-diagnosis extending to the field of mental health, and the self-pathologisation that occurs as a result, when everyone sees everything as indicative of some sort of emotional or psychological condition, and each condition is a badge of belonging to a specific community or subculture. “Take, for instance, generalized anxiety disorder, which hinges on what a patient or doctor decides is an “excessive” amount of a fundamental human emotion. Diagnoses like this are left relatively vague to account for individuals’ ability to function in society and the amount of suffering their anxiety causes, but online, they can sometimes be used as throwaway terms. “For some people, especially when you’re young, there is a bit of a pull to join a group. And the group of people with social anxiety or depression feels like one you can easily join,”” I give it approximately ~3m before a savvy social media strategy takes advantage of this for a brand, like Steak Umms dialed up to 17.
- 15-Minute Groceries: THE frothy category in VC at the moment (joke! They are all frothy categories in VC at the moment! Should any bored investors fancy dumping a spare million into the Web Curios project – INFORMATION AS A SERVICE!!! – then I am open to offers) is localised, ultrafast delivery services, promising to bring fags, skins and 24 cans of cornershop lager to your door at 5am in 15m flat because your jaws are all working like tumbledryers and you can’t possibly face the nice man at the cornershop in that state. This article looks at the business model that underpins these businesses and asks whether they can in fact work at scale when the VC money finally runs out (spoiler: they can’t) – aside from the economics of these services, there’s an interesting argument running through the article about what services such as these would do to the experience of living in densely-populated urban areas were they to take off (nothing good, basically).
- A Week in Lagos: I am fascinated by megacities, and Lagos may be the most fascinating of all – this article in De Spiegel is a photoessay focusing on how water plays a central role in the city’s geography and the lives of its residents, and once again paints a picture of what sounds like the most scifi-adjacent place in the world right now (I mean ‘scifi’ in the Gibsonian sense rather than in the space operatic sense, fwiw).
- FicTok: Or, fictional TikTok – that peculiar section of the app which features people performing as characters, so embodying, I don’t know, ‘boujie home counties girl’, or ‘sports lad’ or ‘rich person’s butler’, as part of their schtick on the app – and the weird side-effect of the apps complete lack of any sort of context for the content it serves you meaning that it’s increasingly hard to tell who’s doing a ‘bit’ vs who’s actually being themselves (and one might argue that the central conceit of TikTok is that it’s all a ‘bit’, but then that raises its own questions). There’s going to be a properly good fiction delivered through TikTok before too long – in fact it’s probably already happening in a corner of the app I’m not aware of – but whether anyone knows that that’s what it is will be interesting to see. LonelyGirl15, anyone?
- Dwarf Fortress: Dwarf Fortress is one of the most astonishing videogame projects currently happening – an incredible self-produced labour of love game which lets you simulate the lives (and civilisation, and history, and mythology) of a group of Dwarves, across generations and dynasties, struggling to stay alive in a harsh and brutal fantasy world. Oh, and it’s all presented via a largely-impenetrable system of ASCII characters and super-complex menus. Much like Eve Online it’s a game I will almost certainly never play but which I could read about endlessly because of the fascinating way in which its systems work for the development of emergent narratives – I promise you that if you read this you too will become fascinated by a game in which it is entirely possible to lose an entire generation of characters because of one minor Dwarf’s longstanding genetic antipathy towards coriander (I am only slightly exaggerating).
- Salt Bae: Making fun of Nusret Gökçe is simultaneously very easy and very pointless – like he cares what I think of him, he’s a tiny Instaplutocrat and has the world’s famous queueing up to demonstrate their lack of culinary discernment and incredibly-deep pockets. Still, this short profile in the generally-execrable AirMail is a beautifully-measured takedown, with the sort of lightly-arched eyebrow that marks the very best stiletto-to-the-ribs written bodying.
- The TV Translator: You are, I presume, watching the Korean murder game show (is it good? It doesn’t matter, I don’t have Netflix so it’s a moot point), and you may have seen the Tweet this week suggesting that if you’re not watching it in Korean you’re basically watching a different show due to infelicities in the translation. This piece, written by a translator who does the job of writing the subtitles and the dubbing scripts for adaptations such as Squid Game, offers a fascinating window into the process – the need to ensure that dubs match as closely as possible the mouth movements of actors, the difficulty in translating culturally-specific references in a way that make sense for a local audience whilst retaining the spirit of the original… this is really interesting and will give you an enhanced level of respect for the people making the latest international megasmash consumable across language barriers.
- The Bad Art Friend: Yes, it’s the kidney story. You’ve seen the discourse, but have you read the article? It’s actually a far more interesting story than you’d glean from reading the endless streams of recycled analysis currently clogging up Twitter – the basic question at the heart of it is the same as was central to the Cat Person expose’ earlier this year (to whit, to what extent can authors take from real life in pursuit of their writing, and if they do how ought they deal with the real lives they are using as inspiration?), but this is FAR juicier insofar as everyone in this story comes across reasonably-badly. Noone, though, quite as badly as the person who pitched the story to the NYT in the first place – this, in Gawker, is quite the kicker.
- Rain Falling In The Pines: We finish the longreads this week with a couple of pieces of short fiction. The first is by Lavie Tidhar, one of the most interesting genre authors writing in English today imho – Tidhar’s scifi is WEIRD and literary and experimental and has lots of big ideas and also some utterly mad ones (‘A Man Lies Dreaming’ is quite the thing, for example), and always lots of fun. This short is a noir-ish, slightly hardboiled story about smuggling tech, in a future in which homosapiens exist alongside the genetically reengineered neanderthal community – so imaginative, and so tightly-written, this is really very good.
- The Every: This is an excerpt from David Eggers’ sequel to The Circle (a book which is I think better than history seems to remember it as being, if that makes any sense), about a company which is basically Google and Amazon rolled into one. You may not think you want to read another piece about how TECH IS SCARY and BIG CORPORATIONS ARE BAD (after all, uh, you’re coming to the end of a Curios and so it’s not like those themes aren’t a bit front-of-mind right now), but this is charmingly horrible, in an appallingly-recognisable sort of way, and will give you pleasing little frissons of future-but-actually-nowhorror every few words or so.
AND NOW, MOVING PICTURES AND SOUNDS!:
- Hand Habits is a ‘band’ or, more accurately, a variously-composed project by singer and guitarist Meg Duffy – this song is called ‘Clean Air’, and Duffy’s vocal is beautiful and haunting and the tune beautiful, and I could listen to this all weekend and maybe I will because THAT’S IT THAT’S IT NO MORE LINKS NO MORE WORDS THERE IS JUST ENOUGH TIME FOR ME TO TELL YOU THAT I LOVE YOU AND CARE ABOUT YOU AND WISH ONLY GOOD THINGS FOR YOU AND THAT I HOPE YOU WILL BE BACK NEXT WEEK BUT I WILL REGARDLESS BECAUSE I COULDN’T STOP EVEN IF I TRIED I LOVE YOU TAKE CARE I LOVE YOU BYE!