Whilst on the one hand it’s good to see that one or two of the iffily-plutocratic Russians who’ve spent much of the past three decades effectively buying Kensington brick-by-brick are now being scrutinised, it’s also fair to say that a) this should possibly have happened a while ago; b) this doesn’t in any way remove uncomfortable questions about the Tory party’s relationship with said iffy plutes, and we should continue asking them; and c) it still doesn’t make the constant attempts of Certain Sections of the UK (ffs Carole!) to make this all about Brexit any less tedious.
Still, at least the potential shuttering of Chelsea Football Club provides a lightly-comedic side to the inevitably-utterly-fcuking-horrific spectacle of hospitals being shelled (and I say that as a Chelsea fan who’s quite looking forward to getting a seat at the Bridge again for the big glamour tie against Wealdstone in the National League next season).
Everything is confusing, mad, slightly-scary and increasingly jagged – so why not make it worse by consuming an entire week’s worth of web in one thick, clotted throatful?
I am still Matt, this is still Web Curios, and, honestly, there’s probably a good few hours’ respite from the news contained in the following words’n’links, which is probably no bad thing right now.
By Yan Pei-Ming
THE SECTION WHICH HAD HONESTLY HOPED WE WERE GOING TO SPEND LESS OF THE 21ST CENTURY TALKING ABOUT NAZIS THAN WE IN FACT APPEAR TO HAVE DONE, PT.1:
- The Games Bundle For Ukraine: We kick off this week with a chance to do A Good Thing for small, ludic reward – Itch has pulled together a quite incredible collection of indie games, tabletop RPGs, books and the like and made them all available for the frankly insane price of a tenner, all of which goes to charities assisting Ukrainians on the ground. It shouldn’t take a ‘quid pro quo’ arrangement to get people to donate to people currently being bombed, fine, but if you need a reason to chuck another few quid at the war-ravaged, and if you can spare £10, this is a quite astonishing deal which will keep you amused and distracted long into the third year of the nuclear winter (I don’t know why I keep making ‘jokes’ like this, sorry – they are trite and not very funny and I think I will try and stop now).
- Connect Vermeer: ANOTHER wonderful website using AI and machine learning to do FUN ART TAXONOMY (what do you mean ‘we appear to have wildly-divergent concepts of what constitutes ‘fun’, Matt’?). “Through a series of interactive visualisations, this website allows users to discover the network of connections between Vermeer and his sixteen contemporaries. Users can discover the strength and likelihood of relationships between the seventeen artists, the impact of an individual artist’s paintings on the work of his contemporaries, as well as how artists adopted, adapted and disguised elements, from their peers’ work, in their own paintings…For the purposes of this project, connections between paintings are any similarities in subject, composition, style and technique; these similarities between paintings were taken as indicators of an artist’s knowledge of another one’s work. Additionally, any evidence that the artists travelled to each other’s home towns or knew each other in passing is considered a ‘connection’ in this project. The rich content of the RKD databases (https://rkd.nl/nl/]) was mined to identify these many connections either through examination of historical documents and literature, or through visual analysis of the paintings. All connections were then recorded in a single database which allowed us to analyse and visualise them in a more comprehensive and historically correct way than was hitherto possible.” Honestly, this is fascinating – the interface, if I’m quibbling, isn’t necessarily the shiniest or most-intuitive, but once you start clicking and investigating you quickly get an idea for how it works, and the way you can leap around the works contained within the collection using specific compositional details or common scenes as linkpoints between works means you quickly find yourself down all sorts of rabbitholes you wouldn’t necessarily when exploring the collection in more traditional, linear fashion. Obviously I have no idea whatsoever whether the thematic connections here are valid or simply another example of our endless desire to seek pattern and order in a world increasingly-defined by incomprehensible chaos, but, well, let’s presume that they are.
- The Hendrix Axis: In a week in which both Ed Sheeran and Dua Lipa are being pursued with plagiarism suits relating to their songwriting (there’s an interesting breakdown of the latter case here, should you be interested), it seems timely to share the Hendrix Axis, a webtoy that lets you plug in any YouTube url you like and get an OFFICIALLY-SANCTIONED readout of exactly how much the song in question resembles the work of Mr Hendrix (rendered as a percentage, so you can see exactly how much of a ripoff any particular track is). Sadly the particular song I wanted to test it on isn’t on YouTube (it was this one, for the avoidance of doubt, whose initial guitar riff feels like it should score a comfortable 93%), but Ms Lipa should be reassured that when I ran ‘Levitating’ through the software it appeared reasonably-confident that at least she wasn’t ripping off Hendrix when she wrote it. This takes…some time to work its magic, but thankfully while you’re waiting you can open the rest of the site in another tab – it’s called ‘Hendrixiana’, and is basically a huge and VERY in-depth guide to Hendrix’s guitar-playing style, should you wish to bookmark another IMPROVING PROJECT to enjoy when we’re all back in lockdown in 6m time (I mean, let’s hope that doesn’t happen, but would it surprise you?).
- All Hours Radio: I really, really like this. In a week in which Amazon announced that IT TOO was going to reinvent radio (and seriously, all the headlines about this this week leaned into the whole ‘Amazon does Clubhouse a year after everyone stopped caring about audio, lol’, which I personally think massively misses the opportunity that Amp gives people to literally play at doing radio, with actual music – I could totally imagine pulling together a weekly radio show with music, etc, when I was a kid using this stuff, and I am personally slightly-hopeful that lots of interesting new and different voices and personalities might emerge and we might get something of a revival of music-and-voices programming and that, perhaps, podcasts might fcuk off for a bit), this is a really cool little project by musician Anz as part of the promo for her record All Hours. It’s a simple idea – a few days of Spotify programming, basically – but with the nice twist that it’s geolocated so as to ensure you’re getting time-appropriate programming wherever you log in from. Simple and rather lovely, it made me wonder what else you could use this trick for – between this and the Feral Earth site from last week, I now really want to make some sort of hyperlocalised website that serves up different content based on incredibly granular and intrusive datacollection about where you are and what time it is and what the weather’s like and how much free space you have on your hard drive, etc.
- Dreampire: It is a truth that has long been self-evident that there is nothing on earth – nothing, literally nothing, not watching paint dry, not sitting through a ‘trends’ presentation by a moron in fancy designer glasses, not having to feign interest and engagement as the PR manager for a pharmaceutical manufacturer talks to you about their ‘content strategy’ (can you tell how much I hate what I do for a living? SO MUCH, I HATE IT SO MUCH!) – so dull as listening to someone else tell you about their dreams (there are occasional exceptions to this rule, fine, but they tend to be closely-linked to the extent to which you’re willing to rub mucous membranes with the person doing the telling). With that caveat, then, let me introduce you to my new least-favourite portmanteau term in the world – THE DREAMPIRE! This site has been going for AGES, turns out, collecting the stories of people’s dreams for the analysis and curious explanation of strangers worldwide. The site is…quite shonky, but the blurb is as follows: “Dreampire is a dream sharing movement, an online video-based dream archive and a networking space. Whether you share dreams for fun, to gain knowledge or for self-development purposes, Dreampire brings thousands of people together from around the world by providing a space to share their stories. Let our dreams connect us!” So, if you’ve ever harboured an inexplicable desire to hear a 30s anecdote by a middle-aged woman about how she once dreamed about being on a French exchange trip chaperoned by Michael Gove, say (yes, someone really did spontaneously choose to share that – WHY WOULD YOU OUT YOUR SUBCONSCIOUS SO?) then, well, fill your boots! There are seemingly hundreds of pages of video on here, and huge amounts of (let me reiterate, almost certainly incredibly-tedious) dream memory to sift through if you choose – as someone who hasn’t had a dream (literal or figurative) for decades as a result of persistent marijuana abuse, this is sort-of fascinating (and, also, VERY BORING). If nothing else, the freetext search function is worth a play – there is exactly ONE dream in the database tagged with the word ‘custard’, in case you were curious (it also involves firemen – for many of you this could well be a powerful erotic awakening).
- Seems Unreal: If you’re into GAN-ish AI art, this gallery of work produced in collaboration between Brooklyn-based artist Mark Forscher and some software might be of interest – and, obviously, there’s an NFT sale too! The work here on display isn’t personally that interesting to me – I don’t mean to sound jaded, but I’ve been looking at GAN stuff for a few years now, and there’s seemingly not that much innovative on display here in terms of output or aesthetics – but I do find the NFTness here moderately-interesting; there’s a significantly-more-interesting project in here somewhere based around giving anyone the tools to create and mint their own GAN-imagined artwork series as NFTs, neatly-skewering the complete lack of artistic and creative merit inherent in most such projects. ‘One-Click AI Art NFT Collection Creation’ seems to me like quite a fun thing to explore building, should any of you be minded to take on a large and unwieldy project for no obvious commercial gain whatsoever.
- Pooping Ladies: It’s been a long year of scraping, but I think we might just have reached the bottom of the NFT ‘art’ barrel. Pooping (I really don’t want to write that word again – it’s right up there with ‘titties’ as a term that makes me recoil almost physically) Ladies is a series of ‘hand drawn and unique’ images of women on the toilet, available for sale as NFTs. Except, quite obviously, these are neither hand-drawn or unique – they are instead quite obviously pictures ripped from the web (I don’t want to think about where they come from) which have had a pretty simple 2018-era image style transfer applied to them; you too could make your very own Pooping Lady (dear God, NEVER AGAIN) simply by engaging in some ill-advised Googling. At the time of writing, these have been traded to the value of 12 grand, which isn’t much and yet is far, far more than I might have expected. Is this maybe the start of the beginning of the end of the NFT hype train? Please?
- SoundOn: Thankfully I long ago unhooked Web Curios from the miserable train of ‘tech and social media platform news’, meaning I don’t tend to bother covering platform announcement stuff, but this announcement from TikTok this week struck me as interesting – SoundOn is basically TikTok’s play to encourage all artists to use it as a distribution platform, offering ‘100% rights and 100% royalties’ (inevitable legal asterisks apply here, but still) to anyone uploading tracks for licensed use. Basically if you or anyone you know makes music it seems sensible to add this to your list of places where you attempt to flog it.
- Africa Is A Country: This is a brilliant website which I am slightly-annoyed I haven’t stumbled upon before now. Africa Is A Country is an online journal/magazine which has been going for 13 years now and which basically exists to collect left-ish writings from and about the continent by a collection of global writers. If you want Afro-centric perspectives on the war in Ukraine, global economic trends, the digital economy, etc, then this is a really interesting place to explore – as you would expect from a self-declared left-wing publication with ties to Jacobin amongst others, there’s quite a lot of theory in here, but there’s also stuff like an essay about ‘The Afropolitism of Ted Lasso’ so, well, something for everyone!
- Kylie’s Moods: Not, for the avoidance of doubt, anything to do with the diminutive antipodean popstar – the Kylie celebrated on this website is a dog. A dog which, judging by the likely age of the site, probably isn’t with us any more (NO TEARS SAZ!) but whose life is lovingly preserved on this website which lets users select from a number of different emotions and then see Kylie embodying said emotion in photographic form, rather like a canine Emotion Eric. Ever wanted to see what a dog looks like when it’s doing ‘blase’? GREAT! I now rather like the idea of creating a template site that lets pet owners easily create similar tributes to their own pets, with the eventual aim of creating a universal taxonomy of pet emotion, but I appreciate I might be alone in this ambition.
- Magic Hour: A Twitter bot which punts out old cinema ads from the 20th Century London press, so you too can reminisce about The Good Old Days when you could pay ninepence to go and see “The Leather Boys” at the International Film Theatre in Bayswater (rather than, er, just logging onto Scruff like you might do now).
- Cars Shaped Like Friends: Another Twitter bot, this one with the sole purpose of blessing your timeline with pictures of incredibly-friendly-looking motor vehicles. “But Matt,” I hear you ask, “how can a car be friendly?” All your doubts will be dispelled upon clicking and being confronted with the BEAMING GRILLES of the vehicles in question, all rounded angles and hopefully-wide-eyed headlamps and, honestly, if you grew up reading ‘Cars and Trucks and Things That Go’ then this is basically every car from Scarryville brought to life.
- Lamplight: Should you be worried about the fact that inflation, rising energy costs and the prospect of bread rising to a tenner a loaf as the grain crisis starts to bite is going to make it harder to get to the end of the month (FCUKING HELL IT’S THE 1970s ALL OVER AGAIN), you might be interested in Lamplight, a website which offers TOTALLY FREE films and TV series which you can watch on YouTube and which might mean you can ditch one of the threehundred separate entertainment subscription services you’re currently signed up to. Fine, ok, so most of the stuff available on here looks awful, and there’s not that much of it (such small portions!), but there’s also quite a lot of indie scifi filmmaking and animation which looks like it could be worth a punt, as well as a load of comedy series available for free, and some truly awful-sounding horror films (there is no way that Cannibal Troll isn’t one of the worst films ever made, for example). If you fancy getting very stoned and laughing at terrible telly, this is potentially a few evenings worth of free ‘fun’.
- The Index of Fictional Liveability: Are YOU dissatisfied with your current living arrangements? Would YOU like to spend a bit of time futilely imagining what it might be like to instead escape into a fictional world? If the answer to either or both of those questions is ‘yes’ (and if it isn’t, HOW???) then you might appreciate this site, which ranks a bunch of fictional places in terms of their likely livability – you may be unsurprised to discover that Gotham doesn’t rank particularly highly, but I confess to having never previously considered how nice it might be to live in Smurf Village (slightly-weird gender dynamics and constant threat of Gargamel aside).
- Flat Social: A real throwback, this, to THE EARLY DAYS OF LOCKDOWN – a browser-based v2d virtual environment for chatting and screensharing and hanging out! God, remember when we briefly thought these were going to be A Thing? My favourite of these platforms continues to be Skittish, but Flat seems like a reasonably-fun, reasonably-lightweight version of the same type of idea – as a free way of spinning up a marginally-more-fun Zoom call, it’s pretty good. I am including this, though, mainly as the latest in my near-constant stream of reminders that this is exactly the same as all the metaverse w4nk that people are currenty flogging, except free and in 2d! You don’t need to spend money on an exciting-but-basically-clunky-sub-Second-Life 3d interface! You really don’t! No matter what Gavin from WT says (HI GAVIN!). Once again, for the people in the back and in the cheap seats – ANYONE ATTEMPTING TO SELL YOU A METAVERSE RIGHT NOW IS A HUCKSTER AND A SHILL AND DOES NOT HAVE YOUR BEST INTERESTS AT HEART!
- Watch Seinfeld: Seinfeld is a series that never felt like it quite got the love that it deserved in the UK due to the weird scheduling that saw it occupy a variety of very obscure late-night broadcast slots back in the 90s, and I have only seen sporadic episodes here and there, and so was slightly-thrilled to discover this site which, as far as I can tell, is just streaming the whole series directly, start to finish, possibly on a loop. I obviously have no idea whether it is in fact the whole run – that would seem…bold, from a copyright point of view – but let’s presume that it is and rejoice at the fact that you can now guarantee that wherever you are in the world, whatever time it is, you can log onto this site and enjoy a bunch of New Yorkers being self-obsessional and intensely-90s at each other (and some killer slap-bass).
- PianoVision: THIS IS THE FUTURE! I love this – one of those occasional things I stumble across that make me feel like the fun bits of Tomorrow’s World actually came true. PianoVision is an AR app designed to help teach you to play Rach 3 at pace (it is unlikely to help you play Rach 3, sorry) – or, perhaps more accurately, to turn the experience of learning and playing the piano into a Guitar Hero-style ludic experience, with you being presented with an overlaid note cascade descending towards your waiting fingers ,showing you where to hit, when, with what pressure, etc. This looks SO MUCH FUN and like it would make piano practise legitimately enjoyable (I say this as someone who has never enjoyed practising anything, ever, and who as you are all probably aware can’t even be bothered to proof his writing before publishing it, so know that this is some BIG endorsement) – the Oculus AR app is still to come, but you can sign up for updates should you so desire (and you should, this looks GREAT).
- Pockit: Do you remember that much-cooed-over (and inevitably eventually vaporware) modular mobile phone that the web got all frothy about in the mid-10s (and which, I have just remembered, Google was briefly exploring)? Well this is like that, but for simple computing. Basically (very basically – take my simplification here with a pinch of salt, as I am obviously a know-nothing bozo with very limited technical understanding) like a Raspberry Pi but with a more user-friendly user interface, the idea is that you can integrate a whole bunch of different plug-and-play components with the central processor – so adding dials and displays and sensors and the like to cobble together a range of different small computing devices for whatever you like. This is VERY early in development and mostly just a proof-of-concept at the moment, but the concept is fascinating and feels like it should work – although I thought that about the phone, so obviously you shouldn’t listen to me at all.
- South Korean Election Graphics: South Korea held elections this week. This is a Twitter thread compiling some of the graphics used during their version of the marathon electoral telethon that all democracies must now engage in by law (do all countries also have their own Jeremy Vine figure, capering gamely amongst the CG? And have all their Jeremy Vines also pivoted to being bizarrely, insanely hawky about the war? Just wondering really) – honestly, if you didn’t catch this doing the rounds this week then let me assure you that it is a TREAT. My personal favourite bit is the utterly-inexplicable (to me at least – there may well be excellent reasons that I simply don’t understand by simple dint of my being too stupid and lazy to speak Korean) decision to render the two principal candidates as computer-generated speedskaters, but you may prefer the strangely-KAWS-like faceless bear. BBC, take note please.
- The World Nature Photography Awards: This year’s ‘NATURE IS AMAZING AND ALSO VERY VERY VERY VIOLENT’ photo awards (that’s what they should be called) are as astonishing and, er, violent as ever – this is occasionally at the ‘red in tooth and claw’ end of the natural photography spectrum, so be aware that clicking through will get you pictures including buffalo eyeballs being pecked, and penguins about to be dismembered by hungry seals (the caption on the seal photo is bleakly-hilarious – “Each time, the seal chased after the penguin again, as if it was enjoying the game. The terrified penguin tried to escape as the game continued. But soon, the end came.” Give whoever penned that last line a prize). Still, if you don’t mind the death and blood then these are STUNNING, and there are loads of really cute ones too – if the picture of the small arctic fox struggling through a blizzard doesn’t make you do a small ‘awwww’ then you are deader inside than I am, well done.
THE SECTION WHICH HAD HONESTLY HOPED WE WERE GOING TO SPEND LESS OF THE 21ST CENTURY TALKING ABOUT NAZIS THAN WE IN FACT APPEAR TO HAVE DONE, PT.2:
- DeepMind Ithaca: I’m…uncertain as to the number of you with a working knowledge of Ancient Greek, but I can’t imagine it’s a number significantly higher than ‘one’. Still, for that LUCKY Web Curios reader I imagine this will be like Christmas come early, so, you know, thank me via the usual channels. Regardless of whether or not you’re able to read Aristophanes in the original, though, this is properly-impressive – DeepMind, Alphabet’s AI shop, has developed this quite magical AI tool which is designed to recompose Ancient Greek texts from fragments based on machine learning analysis of thousands of sources pulled together from museums around the world – you give it your text, marking out the gaps, and it will spit out its best-guess approximation of what the complete copy might have been, as well as in which part of Attic Greece it was composed in based on stylistic cues. Which, honestly, is MAGICAL – the idea that we can reach into the past and do stuff like this is mindblowing to me, and is in many respects the perfect illustration of what machine learning is really good at (to whit, brute force cryptography). This is in no-way shiny, but it is hugely-impressive.
- British Book Covers of the Year: I always find the US equivalent of this list (and featured this year’s a few weeks back), but I haven’t til now come across the UK equivalent – here, though, is the Academy of British Cover Design’s shortlist of the best book cover design of the past 12 months, and there are some beauties in here – personal favourites of mine include a beautiful version of Animal Farm (no really, it is still possible to come up with innovative designs for classics!) and one for a novel called ‘The Child’ by Kiersti Skomsvol, but you pick your own (THESE ARE MINE).
- The March 2022 Covers Tourney: Throughout the month of March, this website is running a contest to find the BEST cover version ever, using the tried and tested ‘March Madness’ bracketing style popularised by American sports tournaments and now used worldwide to help determine What Is The Best Thing. This was interesting to me less because of its attempt to find THE BEST COVER and more because of the selection of tracks included in the bracket – there are a bunch ofGREAT songs included in here (Luna’s cover of ‘Sweet Child of Mine’, for example, is AMAZING and I can’t believe I’d never heard it before), many of which might be new to you and which deserve a bit of exploration.
- The Sinai Collection: If you’re in the market for some religious artefact exploration then LUCKY YOU! “This platform makes available for study, teaching, and research the vast collection of icons, manuscripts, and liturgical objects from the Monastery of Saint Catherine at Mount Sinai. The website brings together for the first time the photographic archives from the Michigan-Princeton-Alexandria Expeditions to Sinai in 1956, 1958, 1960, 1963, and 1965, now held in the Visual Resources Collections at Princeton University and the University of Michigan. The images display the scans of the 5 x 7 inch Ektachrome transparencies and the 35mm slides in color and black and white from the Sinai archives at both institutions.” If nothing else there’s an interesting art project in here somewhere based around downloading the several thousand examples of Christian iconography housed on here and then getting a machine to mess with them in various iconoclastic ways (but, er, you may wish to consult a priest after so doing).
- NoseID: This is either very clever or very silly, and I can’t quite work out which. Apparently each dog’s nose has a shape that is unique to them, like a human fingerprint, and as such missing animals can be identified by the shape of their scnozz. This INSIGHT, coupled with the fact that loads of dogs go missing each year in North America, led Mars Petfoods to create this website which lets pet owners upload pictures of their missing dogs noses to help identify them if found – photos get uploaded to an app, which can be used to scan the noses of found pets to match them with their nasal counterparts in the database. On reflection, this feels like a nice bit of branded app CONTENT, and, as far as the map on the website suggests, it’s actually being used by real dog owners, so well done everyone involved. Two thoughts – firstly, this is totally stealable in the UK, and second WHAT THE FCUK IS GOING ON IN NASHVILLE WHY ARE ALL THE DOGS DISAPPEARING? (seriously, check out the map – there’s a DARK STORY here, I am sure of it).
- Inversion: This, though, this feels very silly in a spectacularly-future sort of way. Now that we have spacecraft jetting off into the upper atmosphere on what feels like an hourly basis thanks to Elon et al, and with the presumed continued boom in private sector interest in all things extraplanetary, we will also have the inevitable raft of industries seeking to piggyback off said boom via complementary services. Which brings us neatly to Inversion, a company which as far as I can tell is basically trying to invent ‘lockers, but IN SPACE!’. The idea here is that the company will produce pods which can be loaded up with goods stored on space stations or, who knows, storage satellites or something, and then fired back down to earth with laser-guided precision. The idea being sold here is ‘get medical supplies to people in remote areas VIA SPACE!’ and that sort of thing (anyone in their 40s or older reading this will be forgiven for getting strong flashbacks to Bill Hicks’ ‘shoot bananas at hungry people’ Gulf War routine here), which is on the one hand interesting and on the other is so madly, batsh1tly (yes, that is a word) far-fetched that it boggles the mind. Still, a potential version of the future, where rather than getting your fast fashion containerized to you from Shenzhen you can instead get it sat-dropped to you from low-orbit. Progress? Of a sort, I suppose.
- Perma: The general conversation about digital impermanence has come round again in recent weeks, partly as a result of the immense volume of digital stuff coming out of Ukraine in the past couple of weeks, most of which is being posted on socials and is therefore likely to be utterly ephemeral. Which makes Perma a timely service to feature – aimed at professionals and academics, Perma offers a service, backed by various academic institutions, designed to offer a ‘permanent’ (insofar as that means anything at all) record of information by creating separate copies of the information linked to: “You give Perma.cc the URL of the page you want to preserve and cite. Our software visits that URL, preserves what’s there, deposits it into our collection, and gives you a unique URL (e.g. “perma.cc/ABCD-1234”) – a “Perma Link” – that points to the record in our collection. You then can use that Perma Link in your citation to give readers access to a stable, accurate record of the source you referenced, even if the original disappears from the web.” Smart and useful and the sort of thing that reminds you quite how much of what we’ve said and done and thought and made over the past two decades is going to disappear utterly (and in fact has already).
- Jesse’s Ramen: The personal portfolio site of Jesse Zhao, who has crafted this lovely small ramen stand to display her CV and project work. I am including this partly because it’s very cute, partly because I am a sucker for creatively-presented personal websites (would you rather hire Jesse Zhao, or would you rather hire someone who posts thought leadership on LinkedIn? WELL QUITE!), and partly because I discovered that Ms Zhao works as a management consultant at EY as her dayjob and made me feel so utterly disgusted with my relative lack of skills and endeavour that I felt I ought to link to her site as penance.
- Digital President Whitfield: ‘Senior Academic In Mismanagement Of Funds SHOCKER!’ is a headline so hoary and overused that it barely raises an eyebrow anymore, but even my jaded eye was caught this week by the stories of the University of Nevada, whose President (Mr Whitfield) has somehow seen fit to shell out a reported $160,000 on a VIRTUAL VERSION OF HIMSELF to act as a creepy, CG guide to the university to new students and the internationally-curious. Click the link, LAUNCH PRESIDENT WHITFIELD, and marvel at how little useful tech you seem to get for your six figures. This is such a spectacular waste of money that you feel perhaps President Whitfield might face one or two questions about appropriate allocation of funds at the next trustees meeting, but well done to the sales team who convinced him that no, really, chatbots are worthwhile, but only if you pay for the expensive CG avatar to go with it! This is so broken, so barely-functional, and so obviously a complete waste of everyone involved’s time that it feels almost like some sort of parody of academic and administrative idiocy – WELL DONE EVERYONE INVOLVED!
- Threads By Me: There is an argument to suggest that, Zola aside, Threads on Twitter have been a scourge on humanity. “Buckle up!” – NO I DO NOT WANT TO! “Time for some game theory!” – NO DEAR GOD PLEASE STOP I BEG YOU! However, if for whatever reason you don’t agree, and if you instead think that YOUR threads are different – that they are wise and informative and that you are dropping wisdom left right and centre (you are not, this is hubris) – then you might relish this incredible vanity service which lets you pin and compile all your BEST threads into one handy page which you can then share with anyone you like on a single URL so that they can see easily see all the reasons why you’re a dreadful person who they should never sleep with in a million years.
- The Micropedia: Vocabulary is a tricky thing. It’s unfortunate that so many terms associated with the liberal left have become punchlines for a certain type of moron over the past few years, as it means that quite important stuff has become easy to dismiss with airy appeals to the chimerical beast that is ‘wokeness’ or ‘snowflakes’ – and so it is with ‘microagressions’, a term which now feels freighted with scorn when used by pr1cks in the right-wing commentariat. Which is a shame, as it means that this website, which exists to explain what they are and how they work and the impact they can have, may not carry the weight which it perhaps ought. Offering information and resources about different categories of microaggression (race, age, gender, class, etc), this is a really interesting tool to help consider how we use language, to whom, in what context, and what impact it has. As the website states, “we know that our actions and the things we say matter – they have an impact on whether people feel included and respected, and they can sometimes play a role in upholding stereotypes and biases. Each of us has a responsibility to be mindful of how our words and actions impact others. This means addressing microaggressions in our everyday lives.” And, honestly, if you don’t agree with that statement then you are a bit of a cnut.
- The Legacy Quilt Project: The website accompanying a new exhibition being held at Brooklyn’s Museum of Food and Drink which explores African American influences and contributions to the culinary history of America. “African American contributions to our nation’s culinary culture are foundational and ongoing. For over 400 years, African Americans have inspired our country’s food through their skill, creativity, and entrepreneurship. Black foodways have shaped much of what we farm, what we cook, what we drink, and where we eat.” The website collects digitised panels from a collaborative quilt whose panels each illustrate the different ways in which black people have contributed to US food culture, from the pre-Civil War experiences of the enslaved to more recent elevations of diasporal cuisine to the forefront of culinary discourse. Fascinating history and stories in here.
- Open Reel Ensemble: “Open Reel Ensemble is a group where they perform by manipulating reel-to-reel tape recorders. The music was performed by placing their hands directly on the reels and tapes. The ensemble was constructed by using the sounds and voices recorded onto the tape right on the spot.” I know that this makes very little sense when written down, but click the link and scroll down the page and then play one of the videos and marvel at quite how good this sounds when it really has no right to do so whatsoever. How in the name of Christ do you discover that this is possible?
- Almost Pong: Pong, but you are the ball. This is basically Flappy Bird but small and monochromatic, but that’s no bad thing in my book.
- Who Are Ya?: I’d made a small personal vow to stop including Wordle clones in here because, well, there are too fcuking many of them tbh, but then this cropped up (and the next link) and I was forced to reconsider. Who Are Ya? Takes the wordle template and tweaks it so as to make the game ‘work out which footballer playing across Europe’s top leagues the game is referring to’ – this is HARD, be warned, and you will need a pretty encylopaedic knowledge of players and their clubs and their ages, and frankly I got annoyed yesterday at my inability to guess Dimitri Payet and so probably won’t play this again as I am sulking.
- Heardle: I have a longstanding belief that women are simply better at divining songs from the first few bars than men are – though this may simply be to do with the fact that I am very, very bad at it, and my girlfriend always gets them first. Anyway, you can now test that with Heardle, Wordle but where the game is ‘guess the song title within six guesses, with each guess letting you hear slightly more of the track in question’. This is VERY good, and will make you very angry with yourself on a daily basis (if you are me).
- To A Starling: Finally this week, a small-but-perfectly-formed platformer built in Pico-8 – this is, be warned, quite hard, but given as you’re all currently getting eviscerated in Elden Ring I imagine you’ll be used to that by now. I got stuck for about 5 minutes on the third screen, to give you an idea, but perhaps you are less stupid and bad at games than I am.
By Yuko Shimizu
LAST UP IN THIS WEEK’S SELECTION OF MUSICAL DELIGHTS IS THE SOUNDTRACK TO VIDEOGAME DISCO ELYSIUM WHICH I THIS WEEK REMEMBERED AND WHICH, HONESTLY, IS A GORGEOUS ALBUM IN ITS OWN RIGHT AND WHICH I HIGHLY-RECOMMEND EVEN IF YOU DON’T KNOW OF THE (EXCELLENT) GAME – IT IS PROPER MUSIC BY A PROPER BAND, HONEST!
THE CIRCUS OF TUMBLRS!
- Autogerechte Stadt: As far as I can tell, this German-run Tumblr collects photos of people parking like d1cks. No idea why, and I am quite happy that I am ignorant as to the motives of whoever runs it – it’s just nice seeing Germans being disorderly and chaotic every now and again.
- People Getting Kinda Mad At Food: Horrific content sourced from 4Chan’s ‘food’ board. You can sort of imagine the kind of thing you’ll find on here, but, equally, it’s always nice to be reminded that, however many your myriad failings, you’re still probably doing better at life than most of the people whose culinary ‘creations’ and questions and musings are featured on here.
THE TROUGH OF (INSTA) FEEDS!
- A Smith: Mr Smith makes miniature models of old music venues in Toronto that are now shut down, and posts photos of them on his Insta feed. These are lovely, simply from a technical craft point of view, but there’s also something quietly elegiac about these small memorials to nightlife and fun that no longer exists.
- Geomorphological Landscapes: Just beautiful shots of natural landscapes, because sometimes you need something uncomplicatedly-pretty to stare at as you wish your actual life away.
- Springfield Palettes: Colour palettes derived from individual frames from the Simpsons. No word on whether the palettes in the first 10 seasons were superior to those of the subsequent 23.
LONG THINGS WHICH ARE LONG!:
- Long Distance Thinking: Or, more simply-put, why trying to make everything really simple sometimes isn’t necessarily A Good Thing. This is an essay that resonated with me a lot this week, as for the nth time in my professional life someone attempted to force me to turn perfectly good written thinking (oh, ok, fine, ‘good’ is perhaps an exaggeration, but it was at the very least adequate(ish)) into slides. “But, hang on, this stuff is quite complicated and needs words to explain it properly”, I attempted to reason, “and it’s something that’s going to be sent to a client and then read without context and, as such, perhaps attempting to excise all the explaining bits in favour of replacing them with URGENT-LOOKING ARROWS AND PYRAMIDS isn’t necessarily the smartest idea here?” Reader, it may not surprise you to learn that I did not win that argument (except to a certain extent I did, by telling the person in question that they could make the slides themselves, in that case, because it was a poor use of my time and a stupid idea that I didn’t agree with – so EVERYONE lost!). Anyway, this essay by Simon Sarris looks at why perhaps complexity and contemplation are not in fact to be avoided after all, and that maybe, just maybe, thinking longer and harder, and not trying to skip straight to the end, might well be beneficial. The sort of thing that all of you with ‘strategy’ in your laughable job titles will absolutely LICK up, and which everyone else will look at and go ‘Christ, people with ‘strategy’ in their laughable job titles really are self-important pr1cks, aren’t they?’.
- War 101: I don’t know that I like this necessarily – it did feel a little bit glib and a little bit high-theoretical when there’s some, you know, actual dying happening right now, but it was definitely interesting – it’s the second in a three-part examination of practical combat advice given to US Marines, specifically imagining how it might be practically-deployed in the current Ukrainian conflict. I obviously haven’t spent any time at all thinking about the practical reality of How Fighting Works, being as I have never a) been in the army cadets; b) been into paintball; c) spent hours imagining myself as a Navy SEAL whilst playing CS:GO, so this was hugely-informative as to the ways of thinking employed by soldiers in combat, and the relationship between strategy and tactics when fighting. As I said uptop, though, there’s equally something a bit…off, to my mind, about the slightly-glib tone employed here, but your tolerance will inevitably vary.
- Иди Hаxуй: On the weight of swearing in foreign languages, and the untranslatability of phrases such as that uttered by the Ukrainian soldiers on Snake Island in defiance of the Russian warship that was threatening to reduce them to so much pulpy mist. This is wonderful – especially so if you’re fortunate enough to be able to swear in multiple languages, but even if not as an exploration of language and meaning and the particular weight of each tongue’s worst possible words.
- OSINT: Amongst all the froth and furore over THE SOCIAL MEDIA WAR (none of which aside from TikTok’s primacy is new, per se) one of the most interesting aspects of the web’s response to the past two weeks’ events has been the role of amateur intelligence operatives in determining what’s actually happening on the ground in Ukraine. This is a really interesting overview in Rest of World on how the Open Source Intelligence (OSINT) community works and is rallying around the war – on the one hand, this is quite amazing and wonderfully-future, and, broadly, can be argued as A Good Thing with regards to transparency and the ability to get through the propagandafog; on the other, there’s something slightly odd here about the extent to which this sort of activity builds on the extant trend of ‘we are all detectives now!’ evidenced in the rise of the true crime podcast and the mad investigative work of TikTokers, and our need to see ourselves as useful protagonists in any event that occurs anywhere, regardless of our actual relationship to it. Still, some incredible work being done by an insanely-disparate group of curiously-minded people.
- Spice DAO Now What?: The ill-fated attempt by a bunch of cryptowankers to buy the rights to Jodorowsky’s adaptation of Dune so they could make their own film of it seems like it happened several decades ago – in fact it was only a few weeks, but, well, THERE IS A LOT GOING ON. This wrapup piece in the Verge looks at what happened after they realised that simply buying the rights to someone’s adaptation of a work doesn’t give you the rights to the work itself, and that their Dunefilm probably wasn’t going to happen anytime soon – it’s a bit schadenfreude-y, fine, but it’s also a useful practical overview of some of the problems inherent in the idea of DAOs, their limitations as governance vehicles (sexy, I know!), and the difficulties inherent in getting creative endeavours off the ground when said creative endeavours are effectively at the mercy of a multiheaded hydra of competing interests and concerns and vastly-different levels of interest and engagement. Really interesting, though mainly as a cautionary ‘this is why DAOs won’t solve your corporate governance and investment headache’ tale.
- The Environmental Impact of The Cloud: Look, I know there’s a lot going on right now, and that you probably don’t need something else to worry about, so if you’re feeling a little bit overwhelmed and doom-y then you can probably skip this one, it’s ok. The rest of you? WELCOME TO THE CLOUDPOCALYPSE! Well, ok, fine, that much be a touch hyperbolic, but not that much – the upshot of this article is basically ‘the cloud isn’t real you morons it is all built on very real and very physical machines that require increasingly-vast quantities of very real energy to power and where is that going to come from then, eh?’. This is…sobering, not least the slightly-terrifying predictions about water scarcity in the 2040s which make me increasingly-glad that I am quite unlikely to live that long.
- How BlackRock, Vanguard, and UBS Are Screwing the World: I could probably have shortened the title, but I think it’s important to state these things in full. The world’s three largest asset management firms “have quietly taken up a central role in our economic and political life. The Big Three cast more than 25 percent of votes at corporate shareholder meetings, meaning they “exercise something akin to state authority over the largest corporations that account for the vast bulk of economic activity in … the world economy,” as investment strategy analyst Anusar Farooqui put it last year. It’s not just corporate governance, either: Major political decisions around the construction of crucial public infrastructure like the building of roads and hospitals have been structured in order to eliminate risk for asset managers and their clients as part of “public-private partnerships.” In 2020, professor and finance law expert William Birdthistle went as far as to call BlackRock a “fourth branch of government,” after the U.S. Federal Reserve again enlisted it to prop up the entire corporate bond market.” None of the information contained in this piece was news to me, exactly, but it was sobering to be reminded of the fact that, yes, money literally does control everything in ways that we don’t always bear in mind when thinking about policy, and that these companies have unconscionable levels of power based on the funds at their disposal, power which is often silent and faceless and near-invisible. “The really scare plutes are the ones whose names you never hear” is the precis, but there’s lots in here that will cause you to think (and, possibly, to scream).
- OnlyFans Boundaries: Ah, parasociality, what a weird and wonderful world. This article looks at people who use OnlyFans with clearly-defined personal boundaries (no fisting, say, or nips-only) and whose ‘Fans’, despite that, don’t actually want to accept what those boundaries are and get quite annoyed when said performers stick to them. This isn’t about bongofans being particularly entitled (or at least not entirely) so much as it’s about the very weird relationship that entails between a provider of a good that’s sold at scale and the purchaser of said good who feels like it’s bought personally – it’s this disparity in perception that I think is at the heart of much of the parasociality problem, that you as the buyer feel you’re transacting individually with the creator (bongo or otherwise), whereas to them you’re just A N Other mook subbing to their ish (I obviously don’t think of any of YOU that way, come back!).
- The Video Essay Boom: Or “why are all YouTube videos about seemingly-inconsequential topics now inevitably six hours long?” – the answer, basically, is THE RISE OF THE VIDEO ESSAY! There are a few interesting things here – in part, the power of the web to enable to anyone to GO DEEP and GO LONG on anything they choose, no matter how trivial-seeming, and the ability of said people to find an audience for their obsessions, no matter how small; but also the increasingly post-YouTube videoandinformationliteracy (catchy!) of a whole generation, for whom dense, intensely-hypertextual explorations of online phenomena and cultural tropes have been a thing since fandom explorations on Tumblr bitd. I like to think that there will be one person who reads this in Curios this week who uses this article as the opportunity to pitch a whole series of two-hour branded content deep dives into, I don’t know, toast or something (you know what? That’s not a totally terrible idea imho – if I were Warburton’s then I would totally explore a 120-minute moderately tongue-in-cheek toast explainer. I would also get sacked almost immediately).
- The Gender Bias of GPT-3: Another one to file under ‘examples of how machine learning and artificial intelligence are only as good or as useful as the sources they are trained on, and unfortunately we probably didn’t pay as much attention to said sources as we ought to have done when building the current crop of best-in-class ‘AI’ tools and toys’, this is a neat-if-slightly-miserable exploration of the inherent gender bias deep-coded into GPT-3.
- Hedge Bongo: I’m including this less because it’s a great read and more because I am very much of the generation who lived in hope of finding a slightly-rain-damaged bongocache in a hedge every time they went to the park with their friends in the late-80s – there was one particular occasion on which we discovered a cache of copies of a particular niche publication called ‘New Direction’ which was…somewhat experimental in its contents and meant I was significantly more familiar with some of the more outre’ aspects of borderline sexuality than I might have been expected to be at age 10. Anyway, this article has a) reminded me of that, for which, er, thanks!; b) accurately captured the very real sense of titillated-but-also-scared confusion that I felt as a young boy confronted with very explicit and anatomical sex photos; and c) alerted me to the existence of this website which lets you buy old copies of vintage grot mags, which raises SO many questions, the greatest of which is, surely, “PLEASE GOD, NO, THESE CAN’T BE…SECOND HAND???”.
- A Review of the Donda Stem: Kanye West is once again going through a manic episode in public while we all point and laugh, which doesn’t feel particularly ok. This article, reviewing his Donda Stem music player, feels fair, though, focusing less on the poor man’s mental state (to be clear, I say ‘poor man’ in a general not specific context – I don’t feel particularly sorry for West) than the baffling decision to create his own, apparently-not-very-good, music player. This is both funny (in a non-cruel way, promise), curious (I mean, you and I are never going to touch or see one of these things, so I am curious to read at least one account of what they are like) and slightly-sad.
- Skeleton Brunch: Or, “How Anyone Can Make Up Any Old Sh1t Now And Have It Become A Thing In Approximately 10 Minutes”. This is, on the one hand, just A Silly Internet Anecdote about how someone made a meme out of nonsense, but, on the other, is a neat encapsulation of how, with enough imagination and a bit of luck, literally anyone, anywhere, can make their mark on the soft, malleable clay of popular culture with nothing but a phone and a wifi connection. I feel that there’s something fun you can do with this – if you’re someone (or something) with a significant bunch of enthusiastic followers (remember, kids, EVERYTHING’S A CULTZzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz) then you could perhaps experiment with this power (for good or, let’s face it, most likely ill).
- Death is a Feature: A profile of Hidetaka Miyazaki, the creator of the Dark Souls series of videogames which recently saw its latest incarnation, Elden Ring, released to universal critical acclaim. This is fascinating as a bit of auteur-profiling, and does that thing you always get in interviews with Japanese creative geniuses of making Miyazaki sound simultaneously like a genius, like a child and like an incredibly deep soul – you simply don’t get this vibe when they interview Peter Molyneux, is what I’m saying. This will be of varying interest depending on your familiarity with the games in question, though I would say that it’s a pleasingly-thoughtful profile even if you have little interest in games or this series in particular. I am nowhere near patient or coordinated enough for the Souls games, by the way, but have gotten massively into watching people stream Elden Ring on Twitch over the past couple of weeks – it’s an almost-perfect streaming title, if you find a Twitch creator whose persona isn’t too SHOUTY – I’ve been very much enjoying this guy fwiw.
- How I See Numbers: The most amazing thing about the web, for me at least, is the way that every single hour of every single day it forces us (well, ok, forces me) to confront the fact that not everyone’s brain works like mine, and that I should stop automatically assuming that they do. This is a short essay that neatly-illustrates this concept – in it, Cameron Sun writes about how they think of numbers, what shapes they have, what sounds they make when you add them together, how they feel…which, obviously, is not how I experience numbers AT ALL, but which gave me proper frisson-y braintingles when reading. So so so so so interesting, and will make the edges of your consciousness fizz slightly (if you’re anything like me. Which, we’ve just agreed, you’re probably not. FFS HUMAN SUBJECTIVITY!).
- They Carry Us With Them: A glorious piece of visual storytelling, all about how trees migrate over time (they do!) – this is so nicely-made, and the combination of imagery and video and text is beautifully-constructed.
- A Poem (and a Painting) About the Suffering That Hides in Plain Sight: Another beautiful bit of visualised publishing, this time from the New York Times, and this time breaking down, line by line, the WH Auden Poem ‘Musee des Beaux Arts’. This is beautifully-made, and, crucially, makes the poem about 100% easier to read and parse and dissect and analyse – a proper, wonderful example of form and function working together. Superb – I would love a whole website doing the same for a range of significant works by a range of poets, should any of the FAMOUSLY WEALTHY UK poetry houses fancy making such a thing.
- The Nature of Art: Returning to the themes explored in one of the first links in this week’s Curios (THEMATICALLY SEAMLESS, I TELL YOU!), this is a brilliant essay exploring the extent to which it is even possible to answer questions of artistic meaning through recourse to data and technology, whether it’s possible to effectively brute force yourself into the artist’s head with data analysis and number crunching. “Digitisation makes art machine-readable; when machines read art they generate numbers; numbers breed statistics; the use of statistics to reveal the structure and workings of the world is science. I do not say that this sequence of propositions has the force of syllogistic necessity, but I do think that it describes how things will actually go. I have argued that a science of art will inherit much from art history. It will differ from it in various ways too. Its canvas will often be large. Particular artists may well come under its gaze.24 But it will be less concerned with the deep structures of dozens of pictures than the superficial properties of thousands. Current aesthetic or political values will be eschewed. “The best art historian is one who has no personal taste”—Aloïs Riegl—will be engraved above its door.” Fascinating.
- The Balldo: A very good piece of comic writing in which the author reviews a sex aid called ‘The Balldo’ which, as its name suggests, exists to answer the hitherto-unimagined (at least by me – I have no idea what goes on in your imagination, but, well, I hope it’s not this) question of ‘what would it be like if you could attach a penis-simulacrum to ones testes?’ You may be unsurprised to learn that the answer here is ‘nothing good’, but you will very much enjoy the authorial journey of discovery that you will be taken on (almost certainly more than the author seemed to).
- Beirut Fragments 2021: Notes from Beirut, still fcuked beyond belief after the port explosion of 2020. This is so beautifully-written, and feels timely as a reminder of how problems don’t stop when the cameras and the eyes of the world move elsewhere. By Charif Majdalani in Granta, this is a superbly-written essay about the quotidian horror of continuing to try and forge an existence in a city that to all intents and purposes sounds screwed beyond repair.
- Babang Luksa: Finally this week, a short story by Nicasio Andres Read about family and reunions. This really surprised me – I wasn’t expecting it to be this good, or to to stay with me as long as it did, and I would read a novel in this register and voice in a heartbeat.
AND NOW, MOVING PICTURES AND SOUNDS!:
- Let’s kick things off with something LOUD. This is Otoboke Beaver, who you will obviously remember from Curios past, with ‘I Am Not Maternal’. I obviously have no idea what this is about, but I like to think it’s saying “I don’t want kids, I want cats instead”, and so that’s what I am going to believe.
- To be clear, I don’t think this is a very good song (sorry, but I don’t) – the video, though, is AMAZING. Seriously, it is SO MUCH FUN, and takes you on a proper journey, and feels like an incredible hypercollage of all sorts of different visual tropes from the past 10 years of the internet and, honestly, felt a bit like a 2022 version of that Fatboy Slim video that takes you through evolution to the guy munching a burger (it’s not in fact like that AT ALL, but hopefully you’ll see what I mean).
- This song is by Ural Thomas and the Pain – ignore the name, though, there is no pain here, this will make you feel nothing but GREAT. Excellent funky bassline, beautiful layered vocals, and a video featuring the singer’s face superimposed on the moon. This sounds like it could have been recorded 60 years ago and is all the better for it – it’s called ‘Dancing Dimensions’ and I hope you like it because THAT’S IT IT’S OVER THAT’S IT WE’RE ALL DONE I HOPE YOU LIKED IT AND IT HAS MADE YOU FEEL MARGINALLY BETTER ABOUT EVERYTHING AND THAT YOU HAVE A NICE WEEKEND IN PROSPECT AND THAT YOU COME BACK NEXT WEEK FOR MORE WORDS AND LINKS WITH A RENEWED SENSE OF HOPE AND VIGOUR AND POSSIBLY EVEN VIM BECAUSE, WELL, I LOVE YOU AND I NEED YOU AND I MISS YOU WHEN YOU ARE NOT HERE I LOVE YOU I LOVE YOU BYE!.