Webcurios 10/07/20

Reading Time: 36 minutes


Sorry, I appreciate that typing that in all caps does rather render me a crushing hypocrite, but, well, really. Could we all just please be quiet please and accept the fact that the overriding principle of life ought to be something along the lines of ‘do not be a cnut’ and that as long as you stick that – whatever side of whatever argument you’re on, in the main – you’ll probably be fine?

What? That’s not something we can all do? WHY THE FCUK NOT? WHAT’S SO HARD ABOUT NOT BEING A CNUT? God, it’s enough to make me all angry and shouty, I tell you.

Anyway, it’s been another week is about the best I can say. The sun is now shining, so I’m off to try and get some of it on my increasingly papery and tired-looking skin before it disappears beneath the steel-grey cloudcover once again, perhaps forever; you, though, stay right here and read the words and click the links like you’re supposed to (I will know if you don’t).

I am still Matt, this is still Web Curios, and the worst thing about almost everything in the world is still people.


Part of The Mask Project



  • TikTok Ads For Everyone!: Conveniently-timed to coincide with the Facebook ads boycott (on which note, want to know how much that’s hurting Facebook at present? Checked its share price recently?), TikTok this week has finally made its self-serve ad platform available to everyone. You don’t need a TikTok account to buy ads, the interface looks and feels an awful lot like LinkedIn’s ad manager crossed with an early version of Facebook’s, and it’s a bit clunky overall, but it works perfectly well. The targeting options aren’t a patch on Facebook’s granularity, obvs, but it’s worth digging in and seeing what’s available; there’s lots of stuff around app-based targeting based on the types of app people like, similar options around sport and gaming, but very little on things like life-stage status, etc. Also, targeting at the moment in the UK is restricted to a broad nation-level range of options, with no city-level granularity as yet. Custom and lookalike audiences are all up and running, though, which strikes me as the best use of this given the slightly wooly targeting available at present, but your mileage, as ever, will vary. It’s actually not that easy to find the link to the actual ad buying interface from the link, so it’s here in case you need it – now go and ‘enjoy’ the whole new challenge of having to get clients to understand the particular vibe and aesthetic of a whole new platform which they instinctively understand is important but of which they have no practical knowledge or experience whatsoever (not that that lack of knowledge or experience will prevent them from having VERY STRONG OPINIONS on how whatever you make should look or feel and how it should feature the logo front-and-centre and how it should be 60s long so you can fit all the key messages in and oh god this is just professional life isn’t it it’s just this over and over and over again and only the names of the clients and the platforms change but the ceaseless, neverending, onanistic circle of pointless rhetoric and needless creative interference will never, ever stop oh god)!
  • Instagram Now Lets You Pin Three Comments To Your Posts: It’s…it’s not exactly what I might call a big news announcement, but there may be some of you for whom this is in some way interesting. The idea here is presumably to help surface particularly funny or helpful comments beneath particular posts – and, actually, there’s a semi-nice fan service thing you can do here if you’re a brand that gets decent engagement (sorry) on its posts; picking three fans to have their comments pinned and who get a prize for contributing positively for the discourse sounds like a not-entirely-terrible idea, and a small incentive to people to perhaps treat the comments less like, I don’t know, a UK beach on the first weekend after lockdown.
  • Instagram Continues To Expand Reels: You remember Instagram Reels, don’t you? OF COURSE YOU DO! First mentioned in Curios on 15 November 2019 (God that was a GREAT DAY – I remember it yesterday, as should you!), Reels is Instagram’s beta TikTok clone, which had previously only been live in Brazil; coinciding with TikTok getting yeeted from the Indian market, the platform’s now expanded to the Indian app store. Of minimal relevance to most of you reading this (unless you’re responsible for social strategy for a major brand in India, obvs, but then if you are I’d sort of expect you to be all over this already – PULL YOUR FINGER OUT!), but worth keeping half an eye on, just in case the TikTok banhammer starts falling more widely and Reels starts gaining traction as a replacement. https://techcrunch.com/2020/07/09/whatsapp-business-now-with-50m-maus-adds-qr-code-and-catalog-sharing/
  • Whatsapp for Business Launches QR Codes and Catalogue Sharing: BIG FEW WEEKS FOR QR CODES! After last week’s EXCITING QR CODE ANNOUNCEMENT (also on Whatsapp) comes another HUGE announcement (actually I am still reasonably bullish on QR codes, ignore my irritatingly insincere tone) – this time users of Whatsapp’s business service will be able to add QR codes to connect users to them on the platform. “If you need to reach a business for customer support, to ask a question or order something, instead of manually entering a business phone number, you can scan a QR code from a receipt, a business display at the storefront, a product or even posted on the web, in order to connect with the company. Businesses that are using these can also set up welcome messages to start conversations once they’ve been added by a user.” I mean, you might still have to explain to customers how to actually scan the fcuking things in a meaningful way, but still. The catalogue stuff is basically just an expansion of the existing service, just that it’s now possible to share links to product catalogues outside of Whatsapp. Still, USEFUL.
  • Some New LinkedIn Stuff: I’ve had the slightly awkward experience this week of having some slightly-awkward interactions with a colleague in another office in another country; basically these interactions will have resulted in this colleague thinking – quite possibly entirely rightly – that I am a complete w4nker. This colleague also for some reason looked me up on LinkedIn this week (I presume as part of the general ‘who is this w4nker?’ thought process that people often go through when encountering me professionally for the first time), and attempted to add me, and now I am really slightly regretting the running gag I started a while back when first posting links to Curios on LinkedIn whereby I refer to everyone on the platform as basically a shambling mass of work-fcuked undead, lurching from bed to workstation and back again, fixated solely on the pursuit of professional success at the cost of everything else. Basically, LinkedIn is a vile hellhole and it’s awful and I hate it, which is why I can’t be bothered to tell you anything else about this update beyond the following: “new Follower analytics for company pages, a new audio option for pronunciation on user profiles, and an alternative process for limiting company page invites.” There.
  • Google Adds 3d Display Ads Options: Or rather, it’s taking something that it announced last year, called ‘Swirl’, and making it available to everyone – basically these are interactive 3d ads which means you can create games and reactive graphical experiences inside the previously-limiting canvas of a display ad. See? EASY!
  • YouTube Letting Mid-Roll Ads Into 8min Vids: Do you remember the BAD OLD DAYS, when only videos that ran a minimum of 10 minutes long were eligible for midroll ad monetisation, constraining ‘creators’ into lengthening their content to that magic point in order to maximise their profitability and leading to an awful lot of wooly editing and padding to hit the magical 600s mark? THEY ARE NO MORE! Now you can get away with a mere 480s of video and STILL squeeze and ad break into the middle. Good news for the monetisation of content, less good news from the point of view of the user – so it goes, eh?
  • Mav Farm: What does this company do? Well, according to the little spinning graphic on landing, they “build new network and alternate reality”. I don’t really know what that means, but MAN do they make it look exciting and future; as far as I can tell it’s a shop selling analytics software for websites and ecommerce..but also augmented reality? Is there some sort of virtual assistant thing going on here? And what the everliving fcuk does “show is the virtual black hole of the camera, the factory of the future’ mean? Honestly, I am so, so confused but also slightly convinced that maybe my confusion means that this is the future and I am just too old and broken to understand it. Or is that just what they want me to think? Honestly, please, if you work in digital could you please take a quick look at this and let me know what is going on here because I have literally no clue at all. Hell of a shiny website, mind.
  • B Surf: Burberry has made a surfing game! I don’t really know why! Still, pick a character (vaguely koala-ish, for reasons I don’t quite get) and GO SURFING in a little browsergame which pits you against a bunch of other surfing koalas in a race to win…oh, Christ alone knows why you’re doing it, but who cares? It’ll pass some time and that’s all your here for, right? Look, ordinarily I don’t feature work on here I don’t think is very good, but this is…quite phoned in, isn’t it? I know that Burberry isn’t short of a quid or two, and so I can’t work out whether this is the result of a digital agency seeing them coming from quite a long way of and making a LOT of margin on what is a poorly-reskinned NewGrounds clone, or instead whether the creative director’s nephew got the gig to build it as a family favour. Either way, this is the very definition of a premium mediocre webgame – DO BETTER PLEASE, MASSIVE AND PLUTOCRATIC FASHION HOUSES.

By Ado Vabbe



  • Motto: Honestly, if I had a more sensible approach to curating stuff I found interesting I would limit this week’s Curios to this site and be done with it. Motto is a mobile-only…web experience? Story? Play? Artwork? No idea, to be honest, it could be accurately described as each of those things and yet it’s something quite entirely sui generis. You’ll need to dedicate some time to this, but one of the beautiful things about it is that it’s designed in such a way that it’s pick-up and put-downable at will; you’ll need a few hours to do it all – but, honestly, think of this like a novel or a film rather than a throwaway piece of ephemeral webspaff, I promise it deserves that sort of consideration. It uses the visual language of Stories – short fragments of text and image and video, stitched together with the standard ‘tap to advance through the screens’ interface we’re all comfortable with here in 2020 – to gently guide you through a series of reflections and observations that over the course of the experience coalesce into something much bigger and more considered and beautiful. Seriously, there is so, so much to enjoy in this – the way in integrates anonymous video fragments from other users – the experience asks to use your camera and for you to take photos and videos throughout, which will then become part of the experience for other people, but you don’t have to engage with this part of it if you don’t want to (but please, if you can, do so – it adds a layer of participatory complicity and engagement that I think really adds to the whole thing). I don’t really want to say much else about it – just try it. Also, this really is the sort of thing to share with people who are curious about visual arts and theatre and storytelling and stuff but who aren’t convinced that digital platforms can add much – it’s JUST SO PERFECT, and so much of mobile, if you see what I mean. I’ll shut up now, just promise me you’ll try this please. Thanks to Andy for sharing it on his site – best thing I’ve seen this year, hands down.
  • AI Writer: I have always wondered how the ‘estate of’ thing works in fiction – you know, how a modern writer is occasionally given the rights to continue producing works in the style of the now-deceased creator or a particular character or franchise, in the way that Anthony Horowitz gets to write Bond books, say, or that someone else carried on the Stieg Larsson books after Mr Larsson found that death was interfering with his daily word output. Anyway, one way it might work in the future is like this – AI Writer is a really interesting project by Andrew Mayne, using OpenAI frameworks to see if it’s possible to replicate the voice of old authors when basing an AI on their corpus. There are a few examples on here, but the way the project works is that users can sign up to be added to the mailing list and then get access to an email address which you can use to address specific questions to specific historical literary figures – Mayne will then generate a response from the corpus and mail it back to you (I presume attempting to run this live on a website would be computationally…challenging). I only got the email address overnight so am yet to have my question answered, but the examples on the site look interesting, and I am slightly in love with the idea of being able to enter into an extended epistolary correspondence with a long-dead Arthur Conan Doyle, say. Really, really interesting.
  • Randonautica: This has gone mental this week as a result of a couple of kids on TikTok finding a dead body as a result of using it; of COURSE, though, all you long-term Curios readers will have long been bored of Randonautica, having been onto it since I wrote about ‘randonauts’ (and, er, the strange obsession with bottles of p1ss) way back in August last year (Web Curios – very much the definition of the ‘if you throw enough sh1t at the wall then some of it will stick!’ approach to trendspotting and futurology). Randonauts, for those of you who for some reason have better things to do with your brain than catalogue webpages from Curios past, is the collective name for a particular class of urban explorers who are drawn to seek out ‘places with weird energy’ in otherwise banal areas, and believe that there’s a certain sort of meditative effect to, er, going to unusual places. Look, there’s a whole load of stuff on the site about ‘quantum energy’ if you choose to engage with it, but I prefer to think of this as a manifestation of the simple fact that the world is generally quite interesting if you just bother to look at it for a while. Anyway, the Randonautica app is basically a means of sending you to new, unusual places (based on something QUANTUM, don’t forget), and if you’re desperate for a new walk after having exhausted every single route around your local estates over the course of the past 4 months then this could be a godsend. But, er, STAY SAFE.
  • NextMind: “Let Your Brain Take Control!”, parps the website, immediately raising the twin questions “I thought it was already in control, Descartes?” and “Hang on, of what?” NextMind is a frankly slightly sinister looking piece of early-development kit which is (I appreciate I am probably simplifying this quite a bit, but) designed to allow developers to code brain/software interfaces via its ability to…hm, it’s a bit vague here. “NextMind combines deep neural networks and neural signals from the brain to transform a user’s intention into direct brain commands, creating a symbiotic connection with the digital world.” So it’s effectively just tracking electrical impulses, and translating them into a series of rudimentary commands, right? It’s frustratingly opaque about exactly how it works and what it can do – there’s a line on here about how it has ‘AI-based Algorithms’ and ‘artificial neural networks’, which very much feels like classic AI snake oil bullsh1t, but maybe I’m being unfair. Developer kits are available for pre-order, so if you fancy getting your hands on some tech that will enable you to possibly play a slightly-crap version of Frogger WITH YOUR BRAIN then this could be for you.
  • AI Sandals: Does it feel to you like you might still get a beach holiday this year (by this I mean a beach on which you might conceivably expect to wear shorts and a tshirt on two consecutive days, to whit not one in the UK)? I am theoretically meant to be going somewhere for a fortnight in September, and I am starting to become almost tentatively hopeful – which, obviously, means that it will all be scuppered by the UK being forced back into lockdown come the end of August. Still, if you’re feeling optimistic about getting to wear your BRITS ON THE P1SS MAGALUF 1999 tshirt one last time, why not consider purchasing a pair of these one-of-a-kind AI designed sandals to accompany you – each is printed with an entirely artificially-imagined sunset-type design, guaranteed to be one of a kind. Is there a good reason why a major clothing retailer isn’t doing this sort of thing at scale with huge swathes of their range? Other than perhaps the fact that we humans are, just about, still better at design.
  • Voice: A NEW SOCIAL NETWORK! ALL ABOUT THE BLOCKCHAIN!! No, wait, come back! Voice is a just-launched new social platform whose gimmick is that you get rewarded for posting GOOD STUFF with micropayments in some cryptocurrenc…no, sorry, I just can’t. There is literally NOTHING I have ever seen that involves social media and crypto that doesn’t look like either a massive fcuking pyramid scheme or a repository for some of the very worst people on the internet – why is everyone who’s into Bitcoin and related-issues such a colossal bore about it? IS IT BECAUSE IT’S INCREASINGLY TURNING INTO A PONZI SCHEME??? Anyone would think so. Whatever, if you’re finding Twitter too toxic but Parler just too…well…boring (honestly, Arendt really was right; if you want an insight into the true banality of evil (I don’t really believe in evil, I just think they’re cnuts), spend 20m on Parler looking at the ‘I AM BEING CENSORED’ racists and realise that there is nothing more tedious than internet edgelords dangerw4nking their CONTROVERSIAL TRUTHS at each other in a place of perceived safety), why not give Voice a go? You could be rewarded with £0.004p worth of largely-imaginary currency for posting a good dog photo; what’s not to love?
  • New Stuff From Gary Larson: AKA The Far Side, which in the 80s was the most popular (or at least the most popularly-lauded) comic strip in the world, and whose wise cows and idiot people were, to me at least, some of the funniest things in the world and SO sophisticated (I was around 5 years old when I first encountered Larson and I was living in Swindon – the bar for sophistication was LOW). Larson’s been on hiatus for…ages, but this week relaunched his website with three new strips and the promise of more to come. I don’t know that this will convert anyone who doesn’t have a nostalgic draw to his stuff already, but this has made me very nostalgic and rather happy.
  • Web Desktops: Links lifted from last week’s B3ta, #1: this, by Simone Marzulli, which collects websites which recreate old web desktop interfaces. You may not think you wanted or needed a bunch of links to sites which remind you of using a PC in 1998, but this will prove to you that you really, really did and that I actually know you better than you know yourself.
  • The 90s Festival Generator: Links lifted from last week’s B3ta, #2: Click the link and generate your very own made-up 90s festival lineup which you can use to pretend that a) festivals are still happening this year, and b) that you’re young enough to recognise any of the acts on the lineup (I am aware that there are some people who read this who are under the age of 30 but know that this is not for you, children). Really nicely done, with some cute touches – the bands’ placing on the bill is directly linked to the number of streams they have on Spotify, adding a nice, accurate layer to the game, and you can click on any of the artists to get footage of them from festivals past ripped off YouTube. Really fun, and really nicely made.
  • Mmhmm: HYPED APP / WEBSITE OF THE WEEK! Tediously, it’s all about DOING BETTER PRESENTATIONS, which I know isn’t the sort of thing I normally get all frothy about, but this really does look quite impressive. You should click the link and watch the video to get the full idea, but the basic premise is that it allows for smart use of windows and video and animated backgrounds and all sorts of other things to be integrated into livestreamed video – so, for example, you could run training sessions for people which feature a bunch of videos running in the same screen as your livestream, so you can talk to a process that’s being shown onscreen. Effectively it allows you to do all the sorts of editing and presentational tricks that the YouTube Industrial Complex has basically injected into the visual lingua franca but which have til now been the sort of thing you need a modicum of expertise to do, except now it’s an out-of-the-box software solution. It’s an invite list thing, of course, and there’s no telling when they’ll open it up, but you may as well join the 5million other Twittertechpeople who’ve signed up this week – this sort of thing is very much going to become the norm, though, whether using this or new features baked into other existing platforms, so worth thinking now about now you might make use of this sort of stuff.
  • Michael Cthulhu: Michael Cthulhu (not, I don’t think, their real name; though if I’m wrong I’d suggest maybe not delving too hard into the genealogy databases) makes swords. This is his YouTube channel, in which they makes increasingly massive, preposterous swords that are bigger than they are. That’s all it is, fine, but Cthulhu’s pretty charismatic and the swords are VERY SILLY. Quick caveat here – I have only taken a cursory look at this one, and whilst it seems fine I also get a slightly ‘might be a bit adjacent to some possibly iffy stuff’ vibe off this (sorry Mr Chulhu, I’m sure you’re perfectly nice but I guess I’m just innately suspicious of any corner of the web that deals with things like bladed weapons, naked fire, celtic or Lovecraftian mythology and beards) so caveat emptor and all that.
  • Cyberpunk Culture: This is a two-day digital festival which has been taking place yesterday and today (9/10 July 2020, readers from the future!) – whilst you’ve missed most of the live stuff (or will have by the time it’s three hours into the future and I’ve finished typing and am resting my fingers in the warm saline recovery bath), it looks like lots of it will be archived on the site for posterity, meaning if you’d like to check out the talks and lectures on cyberpunk as a literary genre and art/design aesthetic (amongst other things, but that seems to be the main focus of things) then you can do so – also, it’s a pay-what-you-can thing, which is a nice touch.
  • AAVE Gone Wrong: AAVE here stands for ‘African American Vernacular English’, and this is a Twitter feed sharing examples of when brands or generally clueless individuals attempt to make use of AAVE online and get it…a bit wrong. Genuinely wonderful, and the sort of thing you ought to keep on file next time the client decides that they want the tone of voice to be rewritten to be more ‘urban’ (please don’t tell me I’m the only person to whom this request has come in).
  • Soundtrack Your Workout: Seeing as you’ll all be allowed to go back to the gym in a few short days time, this site by Spotify is perfectly-timed (yes, I know it’s just a piece of marketing and so it should be in the first section but, well, it’s MY FCUKING NEWSLETTERBLOGTHING) – answer a few questions, give it access to your account to scry your tastes and it will produce the PERFECT PLAYLIST FOR PERT PECS or somesuch. Will we EVER get bored of digital executions that purport to use data to give us a TRULY PERSONAL EXPERIENCE whilst at the same time doing nothing more than dropping us into one of five predefined buckets? Will we fcuk, and THANK GOD say all us lazy digital strategists!
  • The 2020 Audubon Photo Award Winners: The Audubon Society – as previously noted in Curios, an organisation of whose existence I had been entirely unaware of until approximately 2018 and which since then has been everywhere; excellent work by the commsmongs here, or alternatively evidence of a species-level shift towards a greater appreciation of birds – is the US birdwatcher’s club (basically); this is their annual photo contest, and if you’re looking for some excellent pictures of birds then, well, GREAT! Pick your favourite – mine, by some distance, is the Tiger Heron, mainly because I can’t look at the picture without making a sort of weird, involuntary ‘BAAAAARGH!’ sound which is what I imagine the bird is about to do as soon as the shutter clicks.
  • Remote Cheerer: I have watched no football since its return, but I hear the crowd noise is working pretty well. Still, here’s another option, as presented by Remote Cheerer – the idea being that everyone watching along at home can use an app to create one of a range of sounds within the stadium at any given time, meaning that the system can recreate the unique properties of multi-person audio (to whit, the fragmented nature of crowd sound, and the way it ebbs and flows and coalesces). Which is a lovely idea, but one which I can imagine getting immediately derailed by people just mercilessly trolling the software by exultantly cheering 2m passes on the halfway line and booing goals, that sort of thing. I’m not sure this is going to catch on, but it’s a really nice idea in theory.

By Kathe Kollwitz



  • Insects of LA: LA is in many respects a sh1thole of a city – the traffic is horrible, noone walks anywhere, 90% of everyone you speak to is better looking than anyone you have ever seen before in your life, which is just dispiriting, and everyone goes to bed at 10pm – but its insects are REALLY interesting, or at least that’s what I’ve learned thanks to this excellent digital exhibition of West Coast entomology. It features some excellent close-up photos of some very cool-looking bugs, along with stuff to read about how they work and what they do, and some audio of them…well, buzzing, mainly, but who doesn’t love some multimedia? Basically I’m a sucker for macro photos of shiny, chitinous exoskeletons and so this ticks quite a few of my boxes.
  • Talossa: Thanks to Alexander Burley for sending this my way – this is FASCINATING and not a little mad. I’ll let Alexander introduce it to you as he did to me: “I discovered recently that one of the boardgame designers I really like made up his own country when he was a teenager in 1979 from his Milwaukee bedroom – the Kingdom of Talossa. He even created his own language, laws etc. It’s quite a sweet story because at first it was just a small community of people locally in on it, but then he set up a website and people on the internet started to get involved and shape it. It looks like he’s kind of exiled from it now with his grandson “ruling” as the current King of Talossa.” Honestly, it really is worth having a bit of a nose around the website – there is a lot of slightly obsessive detail, but also a lot of stuff that is genuinely really, really charming: “At any given moment, you can find citizens of the Kingdom actively exercising their linguistic skills to learn, use, and nurture the beautiful Talossan language, honing their skills in the ancient arts of heraldry, putting on pompous airs to serve the nation in its legislative, judicial, executive, or royal offices, enjoying the performing arts, planning and running political parties (and the other kind of parties, too!), delving into the rich history of the nation, and doing any number of other things that they haven’t found themselves able to do for any “real” nation.” OK, it’s basically someone’s model railway project that’s gotten REALLY out of hand, but it seems generally benign and as such I am happy to give it the Web Curios seal of endorsement – should any Talossians happen to read this, I’m quite happy to get one designed up if you’d like to feature it on your site.
  • YoMoji: A series of alternate emoji stickers for iOS. This isn’t particularly novel or special, but I like the design style and I realised this week quite how much I fcuking hate the flattening, deadening, stultifying aesthetic of emoji and how I really, really want it to change or at least get a bit of fcuking variety.
  • The Volume Channel: I was chatting to Rishi the other week about music journalism and how the NME has always been quite cnuty and about the various merits of Melody Maker, Select and all these other things called ‘music magazines’ which used to be printed on paper and sold in shops for £4 and had stapl…oh, don’t worry, you wouldn’t understand, they were different times. Anyway, we agreed that the best magazine was Volume, which was printed in a really weird format and which came with a mixtape each week, and which was clever and funny and introduced me to so many bands I still love today and which, as Rishi found this week, has had all the aforementioned mixtapes uploaded to YouTube. If you want an excellent repository of 90s indiepop and a snapshot of slightly-alternative music from 25 years ago then this is it.
  • Plutoview: This is really, really interesting. Plutoview is software for collaborative web browsing, basically; it lets you have multiple shared browsing instances across different tabs, that you can dip in and out of. So, say, you could be looking for something online, find it, and then invite everyone else working on the same project to view the same page as you, in realtime, through a browser tab on each of your individual devices. How this works with the interactive bits of a webpage I find slightly baffling, I have to say, but in theory at least this is something that could be quite interesting to have a play with, particularly when doing collaborative research around a theme.
  • Invite Rick: Do you remember about three months ago when doing ‘fun’ things on Zoom and in video calls was, briefly, something that people got excited about? Doesn’t it feel like that ship has sailed rather (as I said to the colleague who this week responded positively to an idea I had sent them along these lines in April, “we might have missed the boat on this one”)? Still, no matter – it’s RICK ASTLEY and everyone loves Rick Astley! This…oh, no, it’s been shut down as it was in violation of Zoom’s Terms of Service. BOO ZOOM. Oh well, it was a service that let you Rickroll people within a Zoom call – the fact that it got shut down is interesting and should be a challenge to find a workaround, GO!
  • Loaf:: Matthew Carrozo is a Portuguese man who worked in advermarketingpr in London for a while and then moved back to Portugal a few years ago; he writes a rather nice newsletter you should subscribe to. He’s recently been writing about his ‘coming out’ as an artist, and about how creative practice can and should be pursued and encouraged regardless of one’s self-described (or externally-validated) status as a ‘creator’, and has put this on his website, which I think is a rather nice set of constraints/thematic processes for ‘doing’ creative. In Matthew’s words, “In my time working for the marketing industrial complex, I’ve made good use of strategic frameworks: analytical tools that easily distinguish and distill multiple inputs and often create actionable outputs and measurable outcomes. I wanted to find a way to create ideas for experimental films that resisted typical narrative structures, but still had the essence of a good story. After a couple of iterations, I decided that the most basic, necessary components for that were: Location, Object, Action, Feeling (LOAF).” There’s a simple tool on his website for sketching this out, but as a framework it’s perfect; you can carry it in your head, and it works WONDERFULLY in a surprising number of situations. Honestly, I am never normally interesting in ‘THINKING HACKS FOR YOUR BRAIN’ (mainly because I spend most of my waking life trying to make my brain wonky and less whirry and I don’t need anything to achieve the opposite thankyouverymuch), but this is really rather good.
  • Vikings Are Gay!: Look, I don’t normally include stuff in here that I haven’t personally consumed at least a bit of, but this is a podcast and you know how I feel about them. Still, the title – SO GOOD – and the subject matter – an exploration of all the reasons why Vikings, despite often being held up by unpleasant morons as paragons of some sort of ur-masculine ideal and an exemplar of the strength and purity of a certain type of white person, were actually VERY, VERY GAY – make me pretty sure it would be worth at least a cursory listen.
  • Threatening Cake: Or, to give this Twitter account its full name, ‘Cakes With Threatening Auras’. On the one hand, the overuse of terms such as ‘aura’, ‘vibe’ and ‘energy’ is causing me a not-insignificant intergenerational migraine; on the other, these cakes have some very dark chaotic energy indeed.
  • The Smell of Space: A Kickstarter which has raised the truly astonishing sum of £330k off a £1500 goal, with over a month left (out of interest, is there something inherently suspicious in Kickstarters with what seems like an unfeasibly-low funding goal? Like, is this an obvious grifting technique that I’m missing, or is it simply a trick to hit the goal earlier thereby attracting more funds from people who are more likely to buy in at a point of ‘guaranteed’ delivery? Genuinely curious) and which is promising to provide a fragrance that SMELLS OF SPACE! What does space smell like? Slightly burnt carbon, basically, or at least so the stories go – still, that hasn’t stopped lots of people getting very excited about what, let’s be clear, is very much the 21C equivalent of buying a bottle of “DiCulo’s – The Fragrance for the Sensual Woman” from the man out back of Debenhams who’s selling them off an unfolded cardboard box at 3 for a tenner. Remember, this is Kickstarter – if what you end up getting is 50ml of fag-scented rainwater then, well, a) GOOD LUCK WITH YOUR CONSUMER RIGHTS!!, and b) Who are YOU to say that that’s not what space smells like? Honestly, I am very impressed with this grift – not least the fact that you have to scrub almost RIGHT to the end of the Kickstarter video to see the disclaimer, in very small letters, that this is in no way affiliated with NASA.
  • Shuffle: ANOTHER attempt to fix the seemingly-intractable problem of podcast discovery (is this so hard because of the lack of a proper audio knowledge graph?), this offers you the option to browse podcast recommendations and hear preview snippets in a seemingly-user-friendly interface that mimics all your favourite dating apps. It looks…fine, but as with all these things it’s dependent on the quality of the content curation that sits behind it.
  • D’n’D Map Sketcher: No webgames this week – seriously, that Moot link uptop is all you need, just click it already – but if you’re someone who plays tabletop games (but online) then this is a superb tool to help with map sketching and creation in the absence of pen and spotty paper.
  • The Socially Distanced Strap-on: I am including this Indiegogo campaign not because I think it is clever or funny – no Mr Lee James Allen, it is neither of those two things – but more because it’s an idea that has been floating around a groupchat I am in since approximately March, and which I know Firebox almost bought, and which this destined-to-fail crowdfunding campaign has now proven was genuinely fcuking terrible. We should be ashamed of ourselves, lads. Having said that it’s destined to fail, it would be quite funny were we all to back this and then leave Mr Allen with the contractual obligation to produce and ship several hundred foot-long sex aids around the world. Shall we?
  • The Automoblow: On the one hand, this latest piece of semiteledildonic horrortat is almost certainly not actually real and is instead just designed to provide some SEO juice to the appalling company behind it (which, er, my linking to it is helping succeed – FFS MATT!); on the other, it lets me make the tired-but-still-pleasing ‘joke’ about all Tesla fans being w4nkers so I think we can all agree that the benefits are increasingly obvious. Yes, it’s an attachment that theoretically allows your car to fellate you whilst it drives itself. No, I don’t know why, were you so erotically transported by the prospect of vehicular autonomy, you couldn’t just use your hands. Nothing about this makes sense, which is why it is perhaps the perfect note on which to end this week’s miscellenea.

By Tina Berning



  • Anime User Interface: User interfaces! In anime films! Courtesy of the nice people at Twitter’s premier stationery and office supplies purveyors, Present & Correct!
  • Always Judge A Book By Its Cover: I’ve said this before and I will say it again – judging books by their covers is entirely legitimate and to pretend its not is to ignore the important role visual design plays in the marketing process! Don’t you wish I’d stop saying that, though, as it’s quite dull! Anyway, this is a great Tumblr that presents books that are exactly as weird as the titles/covers suggest – all books are real, with links to buy, so if you want your very own copy of ‘Learning To Play With A Lion’s Testicles’ then you know where to go.


  • Kiszkiloszki: Only one Insta worth featuring this week, but I very much like this one. In the artist’s own words: “Hi. I create animations about my love to the mankind. My name is @kajetanobarski and I’m a deadly serious person. Join me. We can be serious together.” There’s a slight Terry Gilliam sensibility to a lot of this, which I personally am a great fan of.


  • Whining About Being Silenced: As is evidently THE LAW this week, all blognewsletterwriters must include at least ONE link about that Harper’s letter and WHAT IT MEANS and why IT IS WRONG (not seen anyone trying to defend it so far, which is a rare case of the web generally seeming to be in agreement on what is still a largely contentious topic). You may well have read lots of words on the topic already this week, and I wouldn’t blame you for skipping this one – if you’re still in the market, though, this is my favourite of the MAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAANY pieces of commentary about why the open letter by the great and the good about ‘cancel culture’ and what they see as the pernicious restriction of the field of popular debate is, well, flawed. This is readable, clear and funny, and at its heart has the central premise that “the only ones trying to silence anyone here are those in this letter, saying that public shaming is somehow beyond the pale. It’s almost as if they don’t really want “argument and persuasion” while pretending that’s exactly what they do want. If they believe that the public shaming (counterspeech) is bad, then they should go right ahead and use argument and persuasion to show why it’s actually bad, without claiming it’s an unfair attack on their speech. Inasmuch as this letter attempts to do so, it fails. They should recognize that if their arguments suck — as they often do — people nowadays are less afraid to call that out.” As an aside – and as an acknowledgement that there’s a lot of the hysterical side of this that is obviously performative and awful and kayfabe-y that really ought to be stamped out, regardless of what you think about this letter – I read a thread somewhere on this topic, obviously railing against the Harper’s letter and its signatories; one of the comments was, simply, “I AM DONE WITH CHOMSKY AFTER THIS!”, which I thought was actually a far more effective point on the signatories’ side than anything they’d actually put their names to in the letter itself.
  • What Big Tech Does To Discourse: One of two pieces by Cory Doctorow this week, for which apologies – but they are both interesting in different ways and different topics, so I promise it’s justified. This first is a transcript of a talk he recently gave via video to the Oxford Internet Institute, and it (or at least the first half, which is the speech part – the Q&A is also interesting, but more divergent in scope) on how technology platforms and the web have affected (some might say warped) the manner in which discourse happens on- and offline. This ties into a lot of the stuff that I’ve been linking to of late around conspiracy theorising and culture war and related issues, and Doctorow’s typically smart and readable on all of it.
  • FulL Employment: Doctorow #2! This time it’s about full employment, or, more practically, why Keynesianism is basically the only correct economic approach to take post-pandemic. Now I would like this, what with being a committedly pro-Keynes person, but even if you’re not a fan or even hugely familiar (have you been skipping all the Keynesy links all these years? FIE ON YOU!) with the theory, this is again a clear articulation of some of the questions and problems we will have to deal with as a global, connected economy and at a national level in the coming years. You may not agree with the author’s assessment of the required solutions, but as an articulation of the situation it’s a useful summary.
  • Turning Malls Into Houses: This is a VERY DRY article, but I am increasingly fascinated by the recontextualisation of urban and commercial spaces that is going to happen over the coming 12-24 months (I saw a friend this week whose partner works in architecture as a lighting specialist who said he’s never been busier, as huge developments and building projects are pivoting to new use cases at a crazy pace and this requires respec and redesigning of windows and internal lighting sources to accommodate the new purpose); this article looks at the way in which old mall space, particularly in the US but theoretically everywhere, might be reused as domestic space in the future. Anyone fancy moving into Boots on Swindon High Street?
  • The Virtual Open House: A look at how estate agents in Dubai are turning to shiny 3d tours of properties to sell the ridiculously expensive, punishingly-sterile, air-conditioned coffins that pass for living space in the expat zoos of the middle east (Dubai – There’s No ‘There’ There!); this is obviously very high end, fine, but I think there’s a definite short-term PR win to be gained if you’re the first estate agent to offer house tours in Minecraft (come on, it would be quite funny).
  • Outsource Your Insta For £5: A look at the world of piecemeal social content work, specifically at the kids in India or the Philippines or other places half a world away who will use their excellent English and knowledge of internet vernacular to gloss your Insta copy for a few quid a time. Struggling to write the perfect ‘aspirational but inspirational but vibey’ caption to accompany this morning’s arty skyline-with-coffee-and-a-book shot? Why not get a kid in Jakarta to do it for £0.30? Quite a lot of this made me think – partly that it says something (not particularly great) about writing standards in this country that in many cases people for whom English is their second or even third language are better Insta copywriters than you, partly that this is a bleak precursor to the jobs market of the future, but mainly that if you do social content for a brand and you’re not outsourcing literally all of the work to the second world via Fiverr then, well, you’re a moron.
  • Light and Shadows: This is SCIENCE and it’s QUITE HARD (oh, ok, fine, it’s just too hard for me – you might totally understand all this, but personally speaking it very much falls into the category of ‘stuff which my mind slides right off, as though it were made of teflon and my brain were a fried egg’), but it’s also really interesting (on how light works, and how the particle physics behind how we experience it works) and an excellent example of using on-page interactive elements as a means of explaining and illustrating difficult concepts in visual fashion.
  • Is Anyone Watching Quibi?: I should probably go back and collate all the things I’ve written abouT Quibi since I discovered it was coming about 10 months ago; I would imagine my tone would mirror the platform’s lifecycle quite closely (surprise that it’s coming so quickly, awe at the names and the money involved, curiosity about the platform and the programming, skepticism about public appetite for premium, episodic mobile-only entertainments, and then a sort of horrified schadenfreude as COVID happened and it all went to tits quite hard). This piece is very much a ‘state of play’ article, but it equally reads a little like an early obituary – there’s a lot of detail in here that I’ve not seen before about the thinking behind the platform which makes me less-than-positive about its prospects. I fcuking hate the slavish adherence to THE PRIMACY OF DATA that now maintains in every single aspect of my fcuking professional life, ever (LOOK YOU FCUKING DOUBLE-FIGURE IQ MORONS, MERELY FINDING A DATAPOINT THAT SAYS SOMETHING DOESN’T IN AND OF ITSELF MEAN ANYTHING SIGNIFICANT AND JUST BECAUSE YOU CAN BASE AN ASSERTION ON IT DOES NOT MEAN THAT THAT ASSERTION IS CORRECT OR INDEED THAT YOU SHOULD DO SO FFS SO ANGRY), and yet even I can see that Katzenberg’s insistence on going with his gut on some of this stuff seems a touch on the madly hubristic side.
  • Meet China’s Most Popular Livestreamer: This is really interesting for two reasons; partly because it does a decent job of explaining the way in which Chinese streamer culture functions, from the point of view of the performer, partner brands and the audience, but also because of the interesting way its presented. The piece profiles Viya, who apparently dominates the live shopping/streaming scene in China, as though they are A N Other breakout star of a booming new economy; it’s only as you get to the latter half of the piece that you learn that Viya has been a star in China for a while now and that she won a reality show years back, and has been popular on multiple other platforms , and actually this new, transformative form of celebrity is remarkably close, tech aside, to the old forms of celebrity. I do wonder to what extent this is going to become universally true – that to attain truly mass-market appeal one still needs the wide bandwidth push of old media – or whether this is the last hurrah of television as a relevance driver in modern media economies.
  • The Computer Prophet: I’ve been fascinated by the idea of digital prayer and digital-as-an-extension-of-faith-based-practice for ages now – this piece is a semi-academic paper presented by a student at UCLA which sought to create artificially-generated pseudo-profound statements from a ‘digital prophet’. “Time and time again, we fail to find universal answers to the greatest questions we ask ourselves. Yet, metaphors can offer answers. Conceptual metaphors work by associating one metaphorical domain in terms of another: equating a broad-ranging target domain to a particular source domain. Target domains are the spheres we attempt to explain and grasp through concrete source domains. Target domains are so incredibly pervasive and all-encompassing that, for any given target domain, there is no sole perspective or single paradigm of understanding. Therefore, to attempt to understand an individual target domain, numerous source domains must be equated to said target domain. The more source domains we can invoke to clarify a target domain, the better our understanding of that target. By applying machine learning to synthesize, or create, novel metaphors, a new field of computer generated metaphors emerges: Artificially Generative Metaphor. Unique to this process, Artificially Generative Metaphor critically eliminates the various constraints that prevent novel metaphors from being created. If each conceptual metaphor oers a unique perspective towards a given target domain, a system that can produce limitless profound and novel metaphors has the potential to enhance the understanding of a target domain deeply.” The article collects some of the generated wisdom at the end – honestly, you could put these on nicely-designed backgrounds and have a moderately-successful Inspo-gram account in minutes.
  • Algos Can’t Do My Job: A piece by one of the journalists who recently lost their jobs at MSN after being famously replaced by an entirely-algorithmic journalistic and editorial team, all about what it felt like working as a fact-checker and safety net for the machines as they populated the (inexplicably popular) MSN News pages, and why the removal of human editorial oversight is unlikely to have positive consequences for the quality of information consumed by the millions who still seem to use MSN as a source of information on a daily basis. As with everything in modernity, it seems, behind this story is a possibly more interesting series of questions about who is likely to be most impacted by this sort of thing. I appreciate that I might be assuming something about the level of critical thinking and online ‘savviness’ of people who get their information about the world from MSN and Yahoo!, but it does feel quite a lot like we’re sort-of condemning a large slice of the world to getting what can only be described as pretty-low-quality input about the world in which they exist, the informational equivalent of a diet composed entirely of Richmond sausages.
  • Writing With The Algo: Not the first piece about what it’s like writing with a bit of GPT-2 based assistance, but one of the more revealing; Stephen Marche writes about his experience of writing short stories in close collaboration with an AI, with the machine offering suggestions on individual words as well as overall tone, style and theme. This is SO INTERESTING, not least as it goes into proper practical detail about how the process worked; I think that we’re about two years away from the first proper critically-acclaimed novel that might reasonably said to be cowritten by human and machine – but we’re about one year away from a slew of really fcuking bad attempts.
  • Watching Hamilton Onscreen: I HATE MUSICAL THEATRE AND I HAVEN’T SEEN HAMILTON I AM SORRY. Nevertheless I still found this interesting, which should mean that if you like musical theatre and have in fact seen Hamilton you will find this fascinating. The piece takes a really close look at the way in which the production translates the stage show to the screen, with particular attention to framing and the way in which the camera substitutes for the audience’s gaze; if you’re in any way interested in how to show live performance onscreen, this should be really quite useful (even if only as food for thought).
  • Thandie Newton: A rare, brilliant interview with an actor, not least because Newton has obviously decided that she can say what she likes now and so, well, does. Obviously all interviews are performance and so talking about them as being ‘honest’ always feels slightly disingenuous, but it’s a candid conversation that covers many topics including racism in the industry, her own sexual assault, the Me Too movement and why Tom Cruise is, as you’d probably expected, a bit of a tool when it comes to work.
  • Starship Troopers: On why Paul Verhoeven’s Starship Troopers is the perfect film for right now (it specifically looks at this through American eyes, but there’s also a sort of thematic similarity in the dumb, macho way so many nations – and, frankly, much of the global right – seem to be behaving in 2020). “Everyone is beautiful and selfish and mostly awful to each other, both in the thoughtless ways that teen-agers are and because their society is designed to channel them toward awfulness.” I mean, it doesn’t sound like a million miles from here, does it?
  • How Neapolitan Cookery Took Over The World: SUCH a good piece of writing, and not just because I’m a foodie wop. This is a wonderful portrait of Neapolitan gourmand Vincenzo Corrado, who was responsible for first chronicling in formalised fashion the cuisine of his city, and how these chronicles spread to have huge influence not only on global perceptions of Italian cuisine but also on certain perceptions of Italy as a whole – there’s a wonderful sense of Corrado being a precursor to the sort of modern culinary diplomacy popularised in recent years by the Thai and Peruvian governments’ exporting of their cuisine as a means of building broader cultural and economic connections with other nations. Also, LOOK AT HIS JOB TITLE: “At the court of Michele Imperiali, Prince of Francavilla, he was given the magnificent title of Capo dei Servizi di Bocca, literally translated as “Head of Mouth Services,”” SO GOOD.
  • 10 Years: Bit of an unusual one, this – this is the ten year look-back of independent game developer Nico Tuason, of the Philippines, who took a moment last month to consider the past decade of his life, what he had achieved, and how his aspiration to be a game designer had, objectively, gone. This is…well, to me it is fascinating – partly because I know about the games industry a bit and so this sort of slightly-inside-baseball thing is generally of interest to me, partly because Nico seems like a genuinely honest person, and he has a likeable style, but mainly because it is SO rare to see someone take this sort of forensic look back at any period of their life with so much frankness and honesty. I think this is objectively interesting, but even if the subject matter doesn’t grab you there might be something here from a ‘personal learning and reflection’ point of view (sorry, don’t know what came over me then, ‘personal learning and reflection’ indeed, HA!).
  • Auctioneer School: I got to this late, so it’s quite possible you’ll have read it already; in case not, though, this is a WONDERFUL account of what it’s like to train to become a cattle auctioneer, one of those people who talks the audience through the fast-paced, high-octane world of, er, livestock auctions, and who have that superfast, oddly-soothing, highly-rhythmical speaking style that’s a joy to listen to but VERY HARD to perform. This is an almost-perfect bit of ‘reporter goes to do weird thing, learns some wonderful things along the way’ writing.
  • Nature’s Revenge: This is very long, but I enjoyed it lots and it made me think quite differently about several things, which is always a pleasant surprise to someone as tediously entrenched in their views as I am. The author looks at man’s relationship to nature, specifically the lies we tell ourselves about the nature of that relationship, and the doublethink inherent in the concept of ‘nature’ as both natural force and something that exists only in opposition to humanity (and, as such, an entirely constructed concept). Far more interesting than I just made it sound, I promise you.
  • Seeing Things: I don’t quite know how to describe this piece, by Emily LaBarge, but it’s one of the most dizzyingly-erudite pieces of writing (specifically its erudition is London-centric, which I personally adore) I’ve read since the start of the pandemic, covering history and modernity and THE NEWS and FEELINGS – whilst noone could say it wears its knowledge lightly, it’s consistently fascinating and it made me want to walk around my city again SO MUCH. Honestly, this is long and takes a bit of effort but it’s a beautifully-constructed and deeply-intelligent piece of writing.
  • An Ordinary Woman: An Alan Bennett monologue in the LRB. This is SO PERFECT, to the extent that after about 3 minutes I found myself acting it out. Just read it, please.
  • The Decameron Project: I confess – this landed overnight and so I haven’t had a chance to read ANY of these. That said, this reinterpretation of the Decameron, with various world-renowned authors contributing an original piece of fiction born of the pandemic, to mimic the ‘multiple narrators telling stories outside a plague-ridden medieval city’ vibe of Boccaccio’s original, contains enough stellar names (Atwood! Slimani! Mitchell! Fuks!) to make me pretty confident that most of these are going to be pretty good.

By James O’Hanlon


  1. Thanks Alex for sending me this – 14 minutes on why everything is Kayfabe (an argument I have been making for several years now, since the aforementioned Alex taught me the term). Do watch this, it is a useful way of looking at the world I think (and may make you marginally less annoyed by the media – or it might make it worse, not quite sure):
  1. I love it when ‘people who I’ve known of online for years’ suddenly start getting proper gigs; it’s also rather nice how many people who started on B3ta have gone on to really quite big things. This is internet animation person Cyriak, bringing his unique brand of multi-limbed oddness to the video for the latest track from moustache-enthusiasts Sparks; the song’s called ‘The Existential Threat’ and it’s all rather fun:
  1. Nice little vision of our horrible present from Shardcore here, tweaking the intro to War of the World’s to accompany some sinister animation experiments in Unity – Pan’s Opticon:
  1. This is by Moses Boyd, it’s called ‘Stranger Than Fiction’ and I LOVE IT; it’s all weirdly filmic and jazzy and a bit electronic-y and, honestly, I would like a whole album of this:
  1. This is called ‘The Mind Sang’, and is one of the best examples of slightly-trippy, optical illusion-y animation I’ve seen in ages, This is really, really slick:
  1. To quote the producer, “Over the past 8 months, I’ve been putting this animation together with 60 amazing animators (under the code name Project Manticore 2020.) Each artist produced a 36 frame animation on the theme of “Love.”” These are wonderful, and the range of styles on display is dizzying:

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