Have you pre-ordered your ZuckerBans yet? Will you be rushing to don a pair of shiny, branded surveillance specs with which to better CREATE and through which you can enable your fans, followers, friends and family (delete as applicable, or alternatively come up with an entirely new word for the odd combination of all four audiences that certain people seem to honestly believe they are all times presenting for) to get closer to the real ESSENCE of the YOU-EXPERIENCE?
No, I can’t imagine you have, have you? And yet that doesn’t really matter, because SOME people will have, and that means that we’re ever closer to a world in which you don’t just have to contend with the fact that you’re inevitably being surveilled by CCTV but you also have to account for the reality that some dreadful person will be snapping you unbeknownst and irregardless of your wishes. So it goes, as a wise man once wrote.
What does this all mean, though? Two predictions, in case you care: 1) enthusiasts of point-of-view pornography are going to find themselves very well-catered for (and in the real world, noone should EVER have sex with anyone wearing sunglasses ever again, or at least not without taping over the top-right lens); and 2), we are going to see an absolute explosion in the numbers of that very specific genre of video in which someone awful has a meltdown whilst being filmed by someone who, whilst not being quite as awful as the person melting down, does themselves no moral favours by uploading that video to the internet in pursuit of numbers. So, er, that’s something to look forward to!
Anyway, that was my TOPICAL TAKE on the big tech announcement of the week (aren’t you glad I didn’t decide to focus my CRITICAL NOUS on tomorrow’s anniversary?) – now on with the webspaff! A particularly thick and clotted batch this week, so imbibe with due caution and take regular breaks as this sort of stuff can tax even the sturdiest of constitutions.
I am still Matt, this is still Web Curios, and I apologise to all the new subscribers (whose immediate unsubscription I totally understand and in some small way admire – would that I could stop so easily).
LET’S KICK OFF WITH SOME BEAUTIFULLY-CURATED, ECLECTIC MUSIC FROM ALL OVER THE PLACE, MIXED WITH LOVE BY TOM ‘DAPWEARER’ SPOONER! (ALSO, A BONUS LINK TO THE ETYMOLOGY OF THE TERM ‘DAP’ SHOULD YOU BE IN ANY WAY CURIOUS!)
THE SECTION WHICH FOR SOME REASON HAS ALREADY ASSOCIATED THE FACEBOOK RAYBANS WITH MIDDLE-AGED AMERICAN MEN CHEWING CIGARS AND LUSTFULLY GAZING AT HOLIDAYING COLLEGE STUDENTS WHILE SINKING THEIR SIXTH MAITAI OF THE DAY AT A SWIM-UP BEACH BAR, PT.1:
- Lifeforms: I feel I should apologise for Web Curios’ continued coverage of the NFT thing – what can I say, I am simply a MIRROR TO THE ZEITGEIST. Also, whilst I don’t personally have any interest in owning a verified link to a file somewhere on the internet, I do find the thickening, coalescing sense of possibility around the movement increasingly interesting, even if only as an ur-example of the evergrowing cultification of everything (see Curios passim). Lifeforms is an interesting riff on the phenomenon – my notes (ha! ‘notes’!) describe the link as ‘NFTamagotchi’, which is not a million miles from the truth. This is very much NFT-as-art project – to whit: “Lifeforms are NFT-based entities created by Sarah Friend. Like any living thing, lifeforms need regular care in order to thrive. If not properly looked after, lifeforms die. A lifeform that has died will no longer appear in wallets, is not transferable, and cannot be brought back to life in any way. How do you care for a lifeform? Within 90 days of receiving it, you must give it away.” So basically a game of digital creature pass-the-parcel? GREAT! Friend has also taken the time to try and make the project as un-environmentally ruinous as possible, which is sort-of the bare minimum anyone playing in this space ought to attempt, and there’s no theoretical limit to the amount of these which can be created and traded – “The lifeforms on display on this website are in foster care at the Kunstverein Hamburg until November 14, 2021. After this, these lifeforms will continue their perilous journey through many hands, and the lifeforms contracts will open for public creation. Lifeforms run on polygon, a proof of stake network with a low ecological footprint. The total supply of lifeforms is uncapped, and creation will cost ~10 USD’. Despite my absolute skepticism of the whole sh1tshow around the NFT scene I am very tempted to create one of these and then send it out into the world and see where it ends up.
- Slaps: “What if TripAdvisor, but TikTok?’ is a question that I can’t imagine anyone has ever posed, and which now it exists in the wild is a clear contender for ‘worst speculative app idea of 2021’. Except it’s not speculative, it’s real, and it’s here in the form of Slaps, “The video-based discovery platform built for Gen Z to show the best places in town, now” (if you are not <25 you can FCUK OFF, basically). Not only does this strike me as A Bad Idea – “would you like to be able to quickly browse community reviews of venues to be able to assess their suitability for your current needs?” “NO!! What I would like to do instead is sit through 9 1-minute videos in which people performatively play the role of ‘reviewer’ in the neverending fcuking self-directed soap opera that they appear to have decided is their life!” – but the language on the page slightly does my head in. “Local discovery platforms are outdated, flawed, & biased”, it says, “Videos are far more informative than 1-5 star reviews tbh”. Also, categories are hypergenZ to the point of parody, with categories for venues including ‘vibes’ and the almost-unwriteable ‘Grammable Places’ (you can’t see me, but I am cringing so hard as I type that that my entire being is now nothing more than a puckered anus of embarrassment). Now I know that this is copy designed to rile the old – I know this, and yet here I am, biting like a piranha. Anyway, this is VERY early, and in Beta, and I think only operating in Florida at present, but I’m interested in whether the current vogue for ‘that thing, but this time video!’ catches on.
- Face The Facts: Germany goes to the polls in just over a fortnight, ushering in a strange new world in which Mutti is no longer Mutti and we have to recalibrate our perceptions of How Europe Works (not that we have to care anymore, what with our surfeit of post-Brexit control). In the run-up to polling day, this is a joint project by…a bunch of organisations that I don’t recognise what with their being German and all that, but which looks like a coalition of not-for-profits and pro-democracy institutions, which is designed to let Germans quickly and easily find information about the candidates on their ballots who are currently being advertised to them on posters and billboards nationwide. Face The Facts is a downloadable app which Germans can use to scan political posters – the app will then pull up information about the candidate in question, the party they represent, their voting record (if a current parliamentarian), all taken from verified public sources (and Wikipedia). It’s a super-smart use of image recognition and search tech, and whilst obviously the success of the project depends on people actually being aware of the app and downloading it, the idea is a super-smart one which can be used over and over again. I know a few German people read this, so if any of you have THOUGHTS on this I would be fascinated to hear them – it strikes me as a neat idea, though.
- Ghostpacer: On the one hand, this is VERY scifi – on the other, it already feels oddly-dated, and the sort of thing that has a lifespan exactly as long as it takes for a proper AR glasses solution to come to market. Ghostpacer is a company making mixed-reality glasses which exist solely to provide wearers with an AR training companion for when they run. That’s literally it – put the glasses on, load up some data from your previous run or from some terrifying local superstar on Strava, and then watch as the blue CG hominid absolutely destroys you in a virtual race. It’s a really clever idea – the idea of ‘ghost runners’ is a longstanding one from games, and it’s a logical step to bring this to life via AR/MR for training purposes, and the Strava data thing is a great touch – it was backed on Indiegogo a year ago and is just about ready to ship, apparently. There’s seemingly no current option to buy, but keep an eye on the site if you’re curious (and, er, look at reviews before you do, as, well, crowdfunding).
- Made To Measure: “Made to Measure is an experiment that asks if you can reconstruct a person based solely on their digital data trail. Can you build a doppelganger of a person you don’t even know? Record, recreate, and replay the life of someone and their personality in detail? This is exactly what we attempted to do. In Summer 2020, we published spots on social media requesting personal data from people with access to Google and Facebook. More than 100 people from all over Europe answered our call and anonymously handed over their data.” This is, to be clear, a documentary and requires 80m or so of your time – it is, though, really interesting and very well-made, and is a nicely-practical antidote to much of the frothier post-Cadwalladr ‘THEY ARE ALL WATCHING US’ fearmongering of the past few years (to be clear – they are all watching us, but they don’t care what we are doing because you, and I, don’t matter).
- The Matrix is BACK!: You all obviously know this by now – the internet has been all aquiver at Lena Wachowski’s attempt to make up for Matrices 2 & 3 – but the promo website they’ve made is very slick (as you’d expect) and worth a look if you’ve yet to check it out. There’s the standard redpill/bluepill choice as an entry mechanic – the smart bit is the use of IP tracking and other gubbins to present to you a TOTALLY PERSONALISED EXPERIENCE, splicing together a selection of shots from the forthcoming film based on various datapoints (where you are, the time you log on, etc etc) meaning each little trailerexperience is ‘unique’. This is not only sort-of cool (and the fact that the time gets seamlessly-integrated into the voice-over is a small-but-impressive touch, and there’s an object lesson here in how modern tech will soon make certain aspects of creative work obsolete – how long before you just shoot a bunch of stuff and then throw it into an AI blender for the creation of infinite numbers of edits which will then get A/B tested to bggery until an optimal version is found with no human input whatsoever? Not that long.
- Elan School: This is a quite remarkable thing. Elan School is a webcomic which has been running for a little while and which is still ongoing and approaching what I think will be its climax. It tells the story of its author, anonymously writing under the pseudonym ‘Joe Nobody’, and his experience at the Elan School, a real-life facility which existed in the US until 2011, and which was basically a cult-like system for the coercion and control of ‘problem’ children who were sent there by desperate parents who feared their progeny were headed down A Bad Path. This is very long, and very harrowing, and not an easy read, but as a work of art it’s quite amazing. The art style is simple-but-powerful, and improves over the course of the comic’s evolution, and the story is gripping – I inhaled this over the course of a couple of hours, and am anxiously awaiting the next instalment. Were I the sort of person who put trigger warnings on links, this would carry multiple – there’s a lot of bleak stuff in here, although it’s relatively sensitively-handled and doesn’t feel sensationalist at all. Highly recommended (I mean, EVERYTHING here is highly recommended – what, you think I just throw in any old sh1t? You should see the stuff I don’t link to).
- The Ultimate Emulator: This is a very, very geeky link, but there are some of you for whom it might be the best present EVER. This is a device which calls itself the MISTer and which is basically a little semi-DIY bit of electrical kit which emulates every single console from the past you can imagine, upto the PlayStation era. NES, SNES, MegaDrive, Neo Geo…if these names mean anything to you and spark a small ember of 90s nostalgia and make your thumbs twitch with the memory of horrible, Sonic-induced blisters, this may well be for you. The website does a generally-terrible job of selling the kit to normies, so take a look at this article and see if the MISTer is something you could fall in love with – it looks like a lot of fun.
- Villagebot: Thanks to Ale for sending this my way – Villagebot is a simple, single-function website which generates made-up names for English villages. It’s built on a neural net trained on ACTUAL VILLAGE NAMES, you can tweak the model to make it more or less mad in its suggestions (turn it up much over halfway and it starts throwing out things like “Farn Greggneux”, which sounds to my mind like a cattarhal Devonian’s battlecry), or specify certain prefixes, and if you’ve a need to generate names of fictitious places for any reason whatsoever then this could be perfect for you – after all, it would be a shame if such inventions as “Bogworth”, “Rotaby” or “Almshaut” went to waste.
- Preserving Worlds: There’s a small niche genre of online content these days which I feel deserves a name – maybe digitalhistorchaelogy? Yeah, that’s catchy, let’s go with that! By which, of course, I mean ‘the practice of revisiting virtual worlds which are now abandoned or in abeyance to see what they teach us about the digital and analogue lives we used to lead in the distant and comforting-looking past’ – which is what Preserving Worlds is doing. The site is a wrapper for a documentary hosted on MeansTV (linked to directly here), which takes you through the history of Second Life, MystOnline, ZZT and others – the first link offers you an overview of the documentary, and a host of links to learn more about each of the digital environments featured. I know that this sort of thing feels a bit…frivolous, on first glance, but I honestly think there are all sorts of important things to be learned about how humans interrelate in digital spaces from looking at how nascent online communities and ‘worlds’ developed (but I also appreciate that it’s perhaps more appealing to just sit on TikTok and not think about it).
- Fairuseify: I’m not 100% sure, but I can imagine certain musicians having a few…thoughts about the term ‘fair use’ in the title of this new AI-based service. Plug in an MP3 of any song you like and the AI will ‘learn’ that song and create a version of it which is a bit similar but just different enough to ensure that you don’t fall foul of copyright. I have had a very brief play with this, and the results are…not great (I think perhaps I was a touch ambitious in my hope that it would out-Mozart Mozart), but then again they probably don’t need to be. If all you want is ‘muzak that is reminiscent of Taylor Swift’ then this is perfectly-capable of churning out exactly that (albeit for an audience that has only ever heard Taylor Swift coming out of someone’s phone on the upstairs deck of a bus, but still) – if you’re a composer making commercial tracks for libraries then, er, another reason not to be cheerful, I’m afraid. – EDITOR’S NOTE – ANDY BAIO GOT IN TOUCH AND TOLD ME THIS IS A QUITE OBVIOUS FAKE, WHICH IS EMBARRASSING ON A NUMBER OF LEVELS AND WILL TEACH ME NOT TO CHECK THINGS PROPERLY BEFORE POSTING ABOUT THEM
- Thoughts: I am unlikely to ever use this, but I am glad it exists. “thoughts.page is a platform for hosting a small webpage for your thoughts. it’s basically like twitter, but nobody can @ you…thoughts pages are an attempt at a quieter, slower, more personal internet. a little space on the web, just for you.” There’s something about the format that makes reading other people’s ‘Thoughts’ pages a strangely-intimate experience, perhaps because you get the impression that they were never written with the intention of being read – you can find a few living examples of live Thoughts pages here, and they might inspire you to start your own.
- Sprout: No, not the horrible joyless social marketing platform – this is FUN! Feeling very much like something which should have come out a year ago (not dated, just very much OF THE PANDEMIC), Sprout is a super-interesting little tool/toy which feels like Miro or similar but SO MUCH NICER. Basically anyone can create a Sprout space and invite others to it for videochat, coworking, brainstorming, collaboration and, eventually, publication as a webpage – the scope here for making interesting and fun and intensely-personal little spaces online is vast, and I think you could have a really good time making something with similarly-minded friends.
- Generative Fish: You may recall that a few weeks ago I linked to a small project which generated a completely new, AI-imagined fish at the press of a button – you remember, right? SOMEONE READS AND CLICKS ON EVERYTHING, DON’T THEY???? Ahem. Obviously you don’t remember, but I do (it’s here, in case your curious) – anyway, someone saw that project and thought ‘yeah, I can totally rip that code and use it to create an NFT marketplace!’ and lo! Generative Fish was born. Generate a fish, mint a bunch on Ethereum and…er…own a bunch of digital fish drawings? Still, it’s good to know that, for the enterprising amongst you, Web Curios offers a regular stream of ideas that you can turn into a massively-shady grift on a weekly basis!
- HBD NFT: Do you have a loved one with a significant birthday coming up? Would you like to get them something which isn’t just a banal gift but is instead a promise of future earnings, and membership of an exciting new community and, obviously, a marker of the giver’s exquisite taste and zeitgeist-surfing ability? Yeah, fcuk flowers, fcuk dinner, fcuk a holiday or theatre tickets or jewellery or experiences – the BEST presents these days are entirely digital and NON-FUNGIBLE! Just imagine the look on their face when you give them their card and they see you’ve included a link to, er, a CG image of a friendly piñata! There are of course a limited number, and of course some of them are SPECIAL (this is, I have realised EXACTLY the same as Panini sticker albums having occasional ‘shiny’ foil stickers, isn’t it?) and they are currently retailing at about £150 so, er, why not? (that is a rhetorical question, please do not attempt to engage me on this as I will likely cry and start expressing blood).
- Frasier Looking at Videogames: A Twitter account featuring pictures of Frasier staring out of his insane apartment and seeing, instead of Seattle’s skyline, a scene from a videogame. No idea why this is funny, but it is (this is canonical and I will brook no argument).
- Tiny Text Generator: I find ᴠᴇʀʏ sᴍᴀʟʟ ᴛᴇxᴛ on Twitter strangely affecting/amusing. If you do too, then this site (which lets you type anything you like and then copy the resulting tinytext for use elsewhere) may be of interest. If you don’t, it won’t.
- Mad Max’s Cars: I have literally no idea what you would do with one of the cars from the 21stC Mad Max film (fan conventions? Road trip? Turn it into a massive planter and create weird postapocalyptic submissions to next year’s Chelsea Flower Show? Actually I quite like the idea of the last one of those), but if you think that you could give them a good home then you will LOVE this forthcoming auction taking place in Australia at the end of September where there are 14 lots, all starting at the low, low price of $1. The first one is a bundle of 13 different cars – I have no idea how much any of these could possibly go for, but I like the idea that at least one of them will be sold to a drunk man on the other side of the world who will have to have a very awkward conversation the next morning about where the savings have gone and what the fcuk he thinks they are going to do with an 8ft high monster truck in various shades of Uluru rust.
- BugGirl2000: This is literally just a tshirt shop, but I found the designs so utterly charming and very funny that I thought you might too. The Twilight / One Direction ones made me properly LOL, which isn’t something I often say about either Twilight or 1D – obviously none of this is the sort of thing that I personally as a 41 year old man could or would want to wear, but I appreciate that some of you are Not Like Me and as such there are a few of you who might be young enough to get away with these.
THE SECTION WHICH FOR SOME REASON HAS ALREADY ASSOCIATED THE FACEBOOK RAYBANS WITH MIDDLE-AGED AMERICAN MEN CHEWING CIGARS AND LUSTFULLY GAZING AT HOLIDAYING COLLEGE STUDENTS WHILE SINKING THEIR SIXTH MAITAI OF THE DAY AT A SWIM-UP BEACH BAR, PT.2:
- Minus: Yeah, I think it really does feel like an interesting period of fertile creativity in terms of people experimenting at the edges of digital/social platforms – I HAVE CALLED IT, IT IS A TREND! Fine, a microtrend that has little-to-no-impact on mainstream culture, but still. Minus is another vector in that trend – a project which is supported by Arebyte Gallery and made by Ben Grosser which imagines a social network built on a principle of scarcity of posts. If you only had 100 posts to play with – 100 ever, and then you were never allowed to post again – what would you post? How does that change the act / nature of ‘posting’? You may not use your 100 posts, but it’s interesting to create a profile and see how others are choosing to use theirs.
- RemoteOK: This is a cute idea – RemoteOK is a recruitment site for remote working positions, and they’ve made a version of their website which looks exactly like a word document for jobseekers who are forced to come into the office by their EVIL AND UNCARING bosses (my girlfriend was told this week that the expectation is that she will be in the office one day a week come next year which, honestly, is pretty much the dream, no?), so that they can browse for new roles incognito, right under the EVIL AND UNCARING bosses’ noses. Simple, clever, and a gentle reminder that they could have done this all on GDocs for free and so could you.
- Neglected Books: I love this – Neglected Books is a site which reviews and writes up books which are, er, neglected – authors who have fallen out of fashion, obscure imprints, anything that’s a bit musty and unpopular. Honestly, if you’re interested in books and literature then this is an absolute treasure trove – I learned about the fascinating life and work of Peter Vansittart thanks to this site, and there is SO MUCH wonderful information to enjoy here, and new (old) authors to discover.
- Precious Plastic: This is so incredibly Dutch, in a good way (what’s the bad way? Workplace rudeness and an inexplicable insistence on making you drink milk at lunchtime?) – Precious Plastic is an initiative which has gone through various iterations since its genesis in 2012, and which now seeks to help people around the world get involved with plastics recycling on a commercial level – giving people the tools and information needed to set up their own small businesses dealing with plastics (reusing, remoulding, repurposing, recycling) at a local level and educating them as to how to make a difference to the impact of plastics on the environment. “Our solutions see people as the key element to fix the plastic mess. Precious Plastic approaches count on people to bring about the necessary change.Small steps, multiplied by millions. That’s where we can win our battle. We don’t believe in techno-utopian, fix-it-all, dream technology. Precious Plastic is a combination of people, machines, platforms and knowledge to create an alternative global recycling system.” This is genuinely great.
- The Estate of Al Capone: If you didn’t fancy the Mad Max murdervehicles a few links back, perhaps this auction will be slightly more your speed – California auction house Withells is running an auction in early October, selling off a bunch of items from the estate of Al Capone. You could, if you so wished, bid on some old daguerrotype photos of chubby-cheeked Al as a butter-wouldn’t-melt child, or maybe chuck a few hundred quid on, er, some questionable pottery gewgaws seemingly held in high regard by the Capone family. OR you could bid on a bunch of Capone’s guns – the estimated sale prices for these seem VERY low, and part of me wonders whether if I buy Al’s Smith and Wesson (estimated sale price: $500-1000!!!) they’ll just post it to me in Rome and trust that I won’t do any Bad Things with it (I won’t, I promise – my mum got into trouble with the police a couple of years back because she found an old gun of my grandfather’s and handed it in; she has a record now as a result, which says all you need to know about the way the Italian policing system works, and explains why I’m not hugely keen on having another illicit firearm in the house).
- The Camera Offset Project: Let’s stop doing videocalls. Please. I don’t care about your face, I don’t need to see it, stop showing it to me. Let’s all just go back to the days of voice-only remote conversation so we can all start rolling our eyes and silent-screaming and all the other cathartic gestures that you can make off-video and which having to suppress makes being on-video so draining and painful (I say this as someone who has outright-refused to do videocalls at any point during the past 18m). If you want a good excuse – although why you should need one beyond ‘I DO NOT SEE WHY IT MATTERS IF YOU CAN SEE ME EFFECTING A PAINFUL RICTUS GRIN HOW IS THIS GERMANE TO MY WORK YOU FCUKING SADISTS’ is a mystery to me – as to why you should be allowed to turn off the camera, why not appeal to sustainability? Yes, the genius ‘fact’ that turning off your camera reduces the carbon footprint of your videocall by 96% may be total bullsh1t (there’s a distinct absence of citations on the site), but WHO CARES? All your clients’ sustainability claims are total bullsh1t too, so they will be too scared to call you out when instead of your face they instead see a smug poster explaining how you’re going camera free for the planet. This is the work of some ad agency called McKinney, who I imagine are as sick of looking at serried ranks of bored faces as I am.
- Playbyte: Or TikTok for games (‘TikTok for X’ is the new ‘Tinder for Y’!) – this is a really interesting idea that I am fascinated to try but can’t yet due to iOS-exceptionalism, but which is effectively a no-code platform on which anyone can make a simple (by all accounts VERY simple – we’re talking NewGrounds shovelware-type stuff here) game using the on-platform software and submit it for play by anyone else on the platform. All the games are single-screen, and the user-experience for players is a simple ‘play, swipe, play another’ interface which will apparently ‘learn’ your tastes and serve you increasingly-’you’-type content until, presumably, you are so entranced that you will never again do anything else. There’s something lovely about the no-code nature of this – UNFETTERED CREATIVITY! – although inevitably it means that 99.9% of everything on the platform will end-up being borderline-unplayable, and a similar proportion will inevitably end up being Columbine simulators rendered in emoji. There’s a writeup here if you’re interested – can I just invite you to take a close look at the game pictured in the article, to give you an idea of the content? Yes, that’s right, it’s a ‘shoot civilians’ button. Very much caveat emptor here, as this is obviously going to be a poorly-moderated hellhole and the sort of thing I can see eliciting a frothy ‘THINK OF THE CHILDREN!’ Daily Mail worrypiece in a few short weeks’ time.
- Podopi: I imagine all of you who listen to podcasts spend much of your lives thinking ‘God, there simply aren’t enough of the bstard things! I NEED MORE AUDIO CONTENT’ – so thank GOD for Podopi, which offers anyone the ability to turn any online content into a Podcast automatically. “Without lifting a finger, Podopi turns blog text into spoken audio and video’. Will said automatically-created audio and video be any good? NO! Of course it won’t! And who the fcuk in their right mind would want to listen to a computer-generated voice reading out a blogpost? NO FCUKER, that’s who! Still, MOAR CONTENT! Should I be mistaken here, and should there be a hitherto-unimagined appetite for Web Curios in podcast form, please do let me know.
- The Star Trek Show Bibles: I am neither a Trekkie or a Trekker (I can never recall which is which, but apparently one of these is ‘someone who quite likes Star Trek’ and the other is ‘someone who has gone to the trouble of learning Klingon’), but I find these documents super-interesting in terms of worldbuilding and framing – this site offers the show bibles for each of the Star Trek series available for your perusal. Want to know what the guardrails guiding the narrative development of The Next Generation are? Want to know what the core storytelling principles of Voyager were? If you’re in the business of worldbuilding, or interested in how to create principles to inform storytelling, this is all absolute gold – equally, if you’re the sort of person who knows Worf’s inside leg measurement this will be grist to your weird, obsessional mill.
- Untools: I am aware that many of you working in the loosely-defined field of ‘strategy’ will occasionally use models and frameworks with which to structure your thinking and present a rigorous working of your thought processes to arrive at the KILLER INSIGHT that will help you sell more bathroom equipment (or something). If you’re that sort of person, this site – which collects a wide range of different thinking tools and methodologies and frameworks – might well be of use. These are as-useful for systems thinkers and designers and UX people as they are for ‘strategists’, frankly, and are a boon for anyone attempting to add a degree of rigour to their processes (I laugh in the face of ‘rigour’, which explains why I am likely to be very unemployed in a few short months’ time).
- The Film Colour Database: Interested in the history of film and how colour in movies evolved over time? OH GOOD! “This database was created in 2012 and has been developed and curated by Barbara Flueckiger, professor at the Department of Film Studies, University of Zurich to provide comprehensive information about historical film color processes invented since the end of the 19th century including specific still photography color technologies that were their conceptual predecessors.” One for the professionals, this, but if you’re in the business (or studying the history of cinema) then this site is potentially very useful indeed.
- Maiahi Bot: I LOVE THIS. A Twitter bot with a single purpose – tag it in a Tweet containing an image, and it will (eventually) reply with a version of the same image turned into a little animation which sings the Maiahi song (you will know it when you hear it). This is very silly, but VERY fun and the sort of thing which you will be grateful for bookmarking next time you want to troll someone who’s foolishly posted a photo of themselves to Twitter.
- 1001 Albums Generator: If you feel that the one thing you REALLY want to do now that the world is opening up again is to commit yourself to a long online project that will eat into your time and possibly give you an excuse not to have to engage with the real world ever again then HERE YOU ARE! The 1001 Albums Generator is a nice idea which takes the list of ‘1001 Albums You Need To Hear Before You Die’ (as listed in this book) and turns them into a randomly-arranged ‘to listen’ list, which prompts you to listen to a new album from the list each day, with Spotify links to facilitate the process and a function to take notes on each to record your thoughts. You can even generate a new sequence for group listening, with everyone able to collaboratively share ratings on each album. Whether you’ll have the stamina to keep the project up for 3 years is questionable, but as a way of creating a series of scheduled obligations you can use an excuse to avoid social commitments for the foreseeable future (“No, sorry, Ican’t come to your birthday dinner, I simply must listen to and rate White On Blonde this evening”) it’s pretty superb.
- Daily: This is sort-of amazing – Daily is an API service that basically lets anyone add videocalling (PLEASE FOR THE LOVE OF GOD NOW) or audiochat to any website, for free (fine, there are paid tiers too, but the free version should be enough for most projects). The web is amazing sometimes – something that was the preserve of specialist software just a few years ago, now a free plugin for literally any site you care to mention.
- Relisten: Relisten is an incredible archive of live concert audio from the past 30-ish years, presenting a truly astonishing amount of bootleg recordings in one place. The list of bands featured is slightly-odd – there’s a definite prog-ish bent, along with some artists who I haven’t thought of for literally decades (Matisyahu! Orthodox hiphop! Jesus, or perhaps more-accurately Yahweh!) and far more who I have never heard of in my life, but if you’re interested in delving into the live back catalogues of, say, Leftover Salmon (no, really), this will please you no end.
- English Sandwich: Simple-but-excellent culinary guessing game – you get presented with a list of ingredients and a photo, and your task is to guess which nation the dish is from. It’s multiple-choice, which makes it a touch less daunting, and it’s a really interesting way of learning about cuisines from around the world and also of learning about regional similarities in ingredient usage and flavour combinations. In particular there’s SO much to learn about the foods of various African nations – if you live in a multicultural city (GOD I MISS LONDON SO MUCH) it’s also an excellent way of picking which nation’s food you’re going to try next.
- Mapping Theories of Everything: I have mentioned on here before the extent to which I am baffled and indeed slightly-frightened by physics at a high level – I simply don’t understand quantum stuff at all, and it makes me feel stupid and nervous (most of the time I only feel one of those things at a time). Still, even a know-nothing science-bozo like me was able to appreciate the beauty of this visualisation by Quanta magazine, which presents all the BIG concepts of physics in a pleasingly-designed interactive which shows you how they all interrelate. I may no be any closer to knowing what the everliving fcuk ‘Electroweak Baryogenisis’ means, but I now know where it sits in the pantheon of modern physics relative to other concepts I don’t understand, and that can only be a good thing.
- LengUSA: This is a fascinating tool which (to my mind) is slightly let down by an impenetrable interface. The idea behind this is that you plug in words and it shows you how they are used in real-life English language context – the platform lets you compare different words and phrases, and shows them in action so that you, the writer, can determine which is best-suited for your purposes. Unfortunately the site doesn’t do a great job of explaining what it does and how it works, but it’s seemingly pretty-powerful and could be useful if you’re a student of English or simply looking to use more £3 words where £1 words will do (I FEEL SO SEEN).
- The Most Fcuked Tattoos: A Reddit thread in which Tattoo artists discuss the most…unusual requests they have received. If this makes you laugh, you will very much enjoy this (and if it doesn’t then, well, what’s wrong with you?): “Not a tattoo artist myself but trained a bit. Asked a master what the weirdest thing he tattooed was and he said, without hesitation “a pair of eyes on me mate’s balls””
- Mumu: Do YOU struggle to find exactly the right emoji to communicate the exact nuance of the specific feelings you want to express? Do YOU feel that you’re stymied by this problem, that you’re being held back from being the best and truest you that you can be? Do YOU feel this so strongly that you’d be motivated to pay for a service which uses AI (OF COURSE IT FCUKING DOES!) to help you search for emoji with natural language, and which will use its AI SMARTS (stop it ffs) to find the perfect symbol for your needs? In the unlikely event that the answer to all three of those questions is ‘yes’ then a) therapy. Get therapy; and b) Mumu will be a godsend, as that is exactly what it promises to do for the low, low price of £35. Fine, it’s a lifetime price, but if they sell more than 10 licenses I will be AMAZED.
- The BPM Database: Want to know exactly what the BPM is of Darude’s Sandstorm? What if it’s the ‘Darude Vs. Orgy Astro American Remix’? This and other important BPM-related questions will all be answered thanks to the BPM Database – no samples, no audio, just cold, hard, BPM facts. I have never been a DJ, but this might be of use/interest to those of you who dabble (although tbh I would this is only of use for people on vinyl, as everything digital will surely be automatically beatmatched by now, no?).
- Omnimedia: This is SUCH an interesting idea. Omnimedia is a game which plays through a fictional version of a corporate Wikipedia from the future. The link takes you to the Omnimedia site, which is freely accessible and lets you explore the first ‘chapter’ of the story – later chapters, which let you explore more of the Wiki and see various versions across time, to explore the story and solve its central mystery, are paid-for pieces of additional content. This is basically a sort of transmedia murder mystery game, played out across different Wiki pages and with the mystery revealed through edit histories and lots of between-the-lines reading – this is obviously not going to be everyone’s cup of tea, but as a means of experimental storytelling and a novel gameplay mechanic it’s fascinating. You can read a better, more in-depth explanation here, should you be curious, but it’s worth a click and explore simply to marvel at the degree of work put into the project.
- Sisyphus: The most honest ‘clicker’ game I have ever seen, which will have you asking serious questions of yourself and why you are ‘playing’ it, even as you RSI your way to 50,000 clicks.
- Heartreasure: A cute, hand-drawn Where’s Wally?-style game, in-browser, which is at first soothing and then, if you’re me, tooth-grindingly frustrating. ENJOY!
- Kung-Fu Chess: Finally this week, a very silly but oddly-fun twist on chess, in which each player plays simultaneously with pieces on cooldown – so you end up in a frenetic rush to annihilate the other player before they can annihilate you, all the while trying to remember enough rudimentary chess strategy to stop yourself being overrun. Purists will scoff, but the 4-way deathmatch version of this is one of the oddest and most-exhilarating little game experiences I’ve had in a while. This is very homespun and the matchmaking is a bit janky, but do persist – it really is quite a special idea.
THE CIRCUS OF TUMBLRS!
- Wikipedia Food: Food images taken from Wikipedia and which seem to be selected for the sole purpose of ensuring you never want to eat solids again. The picture of Moussaka in particular is criminal.
THE TROUGH OF (INSTA) FEEDS!
- All Bugs Go To Kevin: Lovely macro photography of insects by photographer Kevin Wiener, who I can almost-but-not-quite forgive for the title of their Insta feed.
- Unsettling Toys: The Insta feed of Unsettling Toys, a…company? project? which offers to take ‘unsettling’ toys off their owners’ hands. When they say ‘unsettling’, they really aren’t lying; I tend to put ‘scary dolls’ in the same category as ‘scary clowns’ (ie not in fact scary and a very tired and banal idea in general), but, well, these are horrible. I mean, just look at this malevolent little plastic fcuk, for example.
LONG THINGS WHICH ARE LONG!:
- The Other Afghan Women: There are no 9/11 links this week, given that I imagine you will all be more than capable of finding your own thinkpieces about the anniversary; of course, you could argue that this piece about women in Afghanistan is in a way very much a 9/11 piece. It’s a superb piece of journalism which takes one subject – a woman called Shakira – and uses her story to tell a wider narrative about women (and more broadly, rural communities) in Afghanistan over the past 3 decades, and which by so doing paints a better and more complete picture of the complexities which made the whole thing so complex, and the incompetencies which made the whole thing a sh1tshow from the off. Very long, but very much worth reading, this is one of the best ‘explainers’ (not really an explainer) about the country and the conflict I’ve yet read.
- Tech Lessons from the Pandemic: I don’t know about you, but I wrote at least two ‘trends’ presentations about STUFF THAT WAS CHANGING during COVID – they were, obviously, utter b0llocks, but, you know, agency life!!!1111eleventy This piece is a bit like one of those, except it’s been written with the benefit of a bit more hindsight and as such is one of the more sober and real-sounding of these ‘HOW THE WORLD HAS CHANGED FOREVER’ pieces. There’s nothing in here that will (or should, at least) surprise you, but everything it says is well-argued and well-judged, and if you want a decent overview about how tech and work and society all interact now in the weird, liminal, ‘is it post- or is it still just ‘pandemic’?’ time in which we find ourselves.
- On Pronouns: Given the latest Mantel-induced furore about pronoun-usage, and the standard terrible arguments made by dreadful people about how attempting to respect people enough to refer to them in the manner in which they desire to be referred is THE DEATH OF LANGUAGE AND SOCIETY, this LRB piece by philosopher Amia Srinivasan is particularly-timely. Srinivasan looks back at the history of pronoun usage, the multiple attempts made to coin different terms for use in those circumstances where the binary he/she distinction simply doesn’t work (from THE PAST! THIS IS NOT A NEW ISSUE FFS!!!!), and some solid analysis of linguistics to explain why this is in fact a useful conversation to have from both an English-language and philosophico-sociological point of view. Impressively erudite and even more-impressively readable and clear, this is superb writing and thinking and exposition.
- Silicon Valley and the Fashion Editors: Or ‘everything is publishing in 2021 and there’s nothing you can do about it’ – this article looks at the growing trend of people moving from editorial positions in the fashion world to in-house roles at tech companies, and what that says about the narratives that companies are building around themselves and the way in which their businesses work. More interestingly, to my mind at least, it also highlights the extent to which EVERYTHING is storytelling and EVERYTHING is narrative (or at least ‘a’ narrative), which made me momentarily hopeful as to my continued ability to pay my mortgage until I remembered I am not actually very good at either of those things.
- Jeff Bezos Wants To Live Forever: An interesting look at Altos Labs, a company which is apparently attracting significant big money investment from all the terrifying alphatechcunts in Silicon Valley based on its promises to help people live forever. The piece is a bit dry, but I find the general concept of this search for immortality amongst the super-wealthy grimly-fascinating – I appreciate the whole Alexandrian ‘there are no worlds left to conquer!’-type lament of the world’s richest man (well, not so much ‘appreciate’ as ‘can just about sort-of understand if I squint really hard), and the hubristic desire of those who see themselves as having changed humanity in some way (which Bezos almost certainly does, and with some justification I suppose) to see the longterm way in which said changes play out, but, well, there’s a novel I rather enjoy called Bug Jack Barron which tells this story and which doesn’t end well (it’s hard to ‘recommend’ it exactly in 2021 – it is very much OF ITS TIME, and let’s just say that there are certain tropes and language choices which very much do not fly right now – but it’s a hell of a trip if you’re in the market for some high-psychedelic nightmare-scifi).
- The Chip Shortage: On the one hand, this is a fairly-dry Q&A with Harvard professor Willy Shih as to the reasons why it’s so hard to buy a PS5 at the moment; on the other, it’s a properly-fascinating examination of the complicated bits of manufacturing and supply that we (oh, ok, fine, that I) never, ever think about. So much of this caused me to do a small pause for thought, not least the number of times Shih, an expert in the field and someone who understands all this stuff, refers to the way it all works as ‘crazy’ – honestly, all the stuff about how chips are actually made slightly blew my mind.
- TikTok and the Vibes Revival: The nth thinkpiece about ‘vibes’ and WHAT THEY ALL MEAN – it’s interesting to see people scrabble to codify something which in and of itself is the verbal equivalent of a half-shrugging arm-sweep. If I were a different sort of ‘writer’ (don’t worry, I am aware of the fact that I am very much not a writer) I might attempt to make some sort of tortured analogy between the idea of ‘vibes’ and the rise-and-ubiquity of memetic culture – visual-elements-as-carrier-of-oceans-of-meaning-type stuff – but, thankfully for you and quite possibly for me too, I am not.
- What Is Mephedrone?: This article made me laugh a LOT – partly because I hadn’t thought about mephedrone since the weekend it became illegal and someone gave me a load for free because they were ‘scared’ (never quite understood of what, but hey ho) and I had a very fun time as a result; and partly because the whole spin of the piece is how people are now apparently using it to have marathonwanks. LADS, A WORD IF YOU DON’T MIND – if you’ve become so desensitised, so bored of playing with yourself, so inured to the all the free bongo you’re saturated with, that you feel the need to ingest some iffy powders simply to make your junk feel something again, then perhaps (just PERHAPS) there are issues here. I don’t know about you, but any succinct summary of the M-Cat self-abuse experience which reads “when I came down, I couldn’t move from dehydration, my dick was raw from the friction and every time I farted, I’d sh1t myself” does not, to me, sound like ‘a good time’. God, I’m so vanilla.
- The Manchester Scene: A really interesting picture of some of the artists making up a particular branch of the Manchester music scene – I featured a video by Space Afrika and Blackhaine on Curios a few months ago, and this is a great overview of the other artists in that orbit. There’s some great stuff linked to and referred to throughout the piece, and I like the fact that it feels very mancunian, if that means anything to you.
- Bad Boy Chiller Crew: If the Manchester artists written about above represent a side of the UK music scene which feels like it’s thinking hard about modernity and shaped by the current state of the nations whilst simultaneously being utterly shaped by it, then Bad Boy Chiller Crew represent the side of the music scene that is resolutely NOT thinking about it despite being equally a product of nos canisters and universal credit and terrible diets and boredom and COVID and anxiety and and and. I can’t pretend the music makes any sense to me, but that’s hardly the point – BBCC are painted here as a weird force of nature, a brand in the making, and three young men who at this point will do literally anything to keep riding the fametrain because they will have a horrible time if it stops or if they fall off. I have particular respect for the line in the piece about them embracing commerciality if it means becoming rich – reminds me of late-00s chartbotherer Example who, after his Mike Skinner-endorsed debut rap album sold approximately 30 copies, decided ‘fcuk it, I am going to write top-10 singles instead, screw ‘integrity’ I would like to be a popstar’ and promptly did just that.
- Films Never End: On how modern films just go ON AND ON AND ON AND DEAR GOD PLEASE STOP, and, specifically, on why that is – primarily, it seems, because THE DATA says that audiences respond better to people enjoying victory than they do the actual victory itself, and as such films are now optimised to deliver more of this specific dopamine hit, meaning you now need all sorts of padding to frame said enjoyment after the actual business of the plot has been dealt with. Combine that with the need to ensure that a sequel has been set up to create demand for MOAR CONTENT and you have films that last forever, like songs that never fcuking stop. A classic example of how data can give you the correct answer and still lead you to draw terrible conclusions – you may find it useful to wheel this out next time some awful person tries to use numbers to persuade you to make more fcuking branded video content or something.
- Novels By AI: I love this lots and lots. Phil Gyford fed the first line of a variety of famous novels to GPT-x-enabled writing generators and here compiles their efforts – he also includes AI-generated covers for each, just to add to the uncanny flavour. These are sort-of beautiful – I particularly liked the direction the Invisible Man went in, not least because it reveals some of the inputs to the copy generators (you can practically feel the Reddit-y corpus seeping out), The way it groks the style in certain instances is quite uncanny – The Secret History in particular feels very right.
- Ambergris: All about the trade in, market for and history of ambergris, one of the odder substances to ever become a valued commodity. Noone’s 100% sure exactly what it is, but ‘some sort of organic whale material’ is the general consensus – the following description is so beautifully-revolting that I want to reproduce it here for those of you who don’t click through to the whole thing: “when squid beaks become lodged in a whale’s intestines, fecal matter accumulates around the blockage until “eventually the rectum stretches until it breaks, causing the whale’s death, and the ambergris is released into the sea.”” (they make perfume from this stuff!). The article looks at the history of trade in the substance, the mythology that surrounds it, and the weird, insular community that exists among amregris traders, enthusiasts and scammers worldwide – so wonderfully-niche and powerfully-strange.
- What Romans Found Funny: An analysis of humour in ancient Rome, looking at playwrites and their works and presenting a reasonably-rigorous series of thematic comparisons with the structure of jokes and comedy in modernity. I particularly liked this passage, suggesting thematic commonalities between then and now: “a very common feature of Roman comedy is the frustration of old, wealthy, stupid men who take themselves too seriously. This trope was immensely popular with the Roman audience, whose diversity meant that they would have found it funny for different reasons, whether it was an older elite man laughing at a hyperbolic representation of himself, or a younger slave laughing at the inversion of traditional social norms.” Basically, ‘OK Boomer’ has been a thing forever. Also, this was written by a Cambridge University classics PHD called Orlando Gibbs, which is SUCH a perfect name for someone studying Roman Comedy at Trinity.
- On Semen Retention: As the now-inexplicably-mainstream Redditfest that is Nonut November shuffles ever-closer, this is a timely article looking at all the reasons why increasingly-popular theories about how retaining semen is a key to VIRILITY AND SUCCESS are, well, a load of old w4nk, based on her analysis of writings on the topic from ancient history (of which, SURPRISE!, there are lots – men, it turns out, have long been obsessed with the workings of their magical testes). This is a lot of fun, not least because the author, Dr Eleanor Janega, finds the whole subject entirely ridiculous and makes it clear throughout, and also because it is written in language like this (which imho should now be the house style for any investigation into really, really dumb behaviours): “In other words, dudes, be careful lest a woman drain off all your semen and then hulk TF out or something.”
- Sister Sauce: This is a wonderful piece of writing from the Paris Review, all about Gabriele d’Annunzio, visionary, artist, thinker, madman and ar$ehole, but also about his cook, Alice Beccevello, and their food-based relationship. D’Annunzio, for those of you not familiar, was a poet and all-round cultural whirlwind in the early-20th Century, whose multiferous theories of, and opinions on, food and diet ended up influencing Marinetti’s ‘Futurist Cookbook’ and all that jazz – he was also a total prick. The article looks at his life, and the curious relationship he had with Beccevello who was seemingly part-cook, part maternal figure and part counsellor, and whose life I don’t envy one bit. This is fascinating, and in parts funny, but does also make me think, not for the first time, that the only criteria for being declared a genius in the early 1900s were being a man, being rich, and being a mad cnut.
- Chase Scene: This is about death and love and loss and mourning, and is beautiful and very very sad.
- A Better Place: Finally this week, David Sedaris in the New Yorker, also talking about death but, well, in a very David Sedaris way. Obviously very funny, obviously very sharp, but surprisingly-poignant and superb on the oddity of expected reaction to a death you’re not sure whether to be sad about.
AND NOW, MOVING PICTURES AND SOUNDS!:
- My note for this simply says ‘best or worst, I can’t tell anymore’ – listening to it again, I still can’t. This song is called ‘Lately’ and it’s by Porches, and I imagine they are fantastic live. It’s a weird combo of TikToky emosynthpop and trad indie and I think on reflection I have decided it’s ‘best’ rather than ‘worst’.
- More hiphop, this time from Atmosphere – this is VERY oldschool, which makes the video’s very-online stylings slightly incongruous but I like the juxtaposition. Classic verses from superb MCs – Lateef is a longterm favourite of mine, and he closes this one out beautifully, but my personal standout on the track is Sa-Roc – see what you think.
- Last up this week, this is by Japanese Breakfast and the track and video visuals are taken from a forthcoming videogame called Sable. The song is called ‘Glider’ and it is SO BEAUTIFUL – also, it feels like this could have been released at any point in the past 30 years and it wouldn’t have felt out of place, which is a strange thing to say about a piece of what is in many respects a very modern piece of music. Put this on and let yourself drift, it really is so so so good. Oh, and BYE! BYE! THAT’S IT SEE YOU NEXT WEEK TAKE CARE OF YOURSELVES AND EACH OTHER AND TRY NOT TO LET EVERYTHING GET YOU DOWN BECAUSE THERE IS LOTS TO BE CHEERFUL AND EXCITED ABOUT IF YOU LOOK HARD ENOUGH I PROMISE YOU (AND IF SOMEONE AS GENERALLY NIHILISTIC AS ME IS SAYING IT THEN, WELL, IT MUST BE TRUE), SO ENJOY YOUR WEEK AND I WILL SEE YOU HERE NEXT FRIDAY I LOVE YOU THANKYOU I LOVE YOU BYE!