Hi everyone! Hi! ARE YOU EXCITED ABOUT THE FOOTBALLS?
It’s slightly odd not being in the UK for a major football tournament and therefore not feeling the same mixture of terror that England will finally win one and that I will never hear the fcuking end of it, and excitement at the national soul-searching and recrimination when they inevitably don’t (as you can imagine, I tend to be…unpopular in pubs when England play; I have been ‘asked to leave’ on more occasions than I am comfortable admitting).
Still, before that happens it’s ALL TO PLAY FOR! So while we wait to see whether the right-wing media and government’s attempts to somehow denigrate and weaponise the idea of anti-racism has borne fruit (thanks guys!), let’s all come together as one and enjoy a whole week’s worth of internet, arriving in your inbox like some sort of appallingly-timed two-footed tackle designed to snap your productivity off at the knee (it’s that sort of quality of simile that you can expect throughout this week’s edition, you lucky, lucky people).
Settle back, then, into the dentist’s chair as I upend several bottles of pure web ethanol into your waiting and entirely-metaphorical mind-mouths – DON’T BE SICK!
By Molly Bounds
LET’S START THIS WEEK WITH AN ABSOLUTELY CRACKING TECHNO MIX BY SAMA’ ABDULHADI WHICH MADE ME WANT TO GO CLUBBING SO SO SO MUCH UNTIL I REMEMBERED MY AGE AND WHAT MY EYES LOOK LIKE WHEN I AM ON DRUGS!
THE SECTION WHICH IS SLIGHTLY GRATEFUL THAT IT IS NOW IN ROME AND IS THEREFORE LESS LIKELY TO HAVE TO ENDURE CONVERSATIONS WITH CERTAIN TYPES OF PEOPLE ABOUT ‘DOM’S LATEST SUBSTACK’, PT.1:
- Discriminator: There have been a spate of rather nice interactives over the past year looking at facial recognition tools and how they work, all designed to highlight both how oddly, creepily, not-quite-accurate they are, and to point out to us that giving uncritical credence to the assumptions made by said tools is possibly quite a stupid idea; this is ‘funny’, because said tools have all appeared at a point where it’s largely too late to do anything about the fact that said tools have been out in the wild for quite a few years now, and oh is that a horse’s arse we can see disappearing into the distance as we fumble to get the gate shut? Anyway, tortured metaphors to one side, this is another excellent bit of webwork which takes the viewer through some of the history behind the largest facial dataset ever assembled, what it was used for, and some of the problems inherent in said assembly and use – it’s a really lovely webdoc, which weaves in your webcam and the facial recognition tech almost-subtly rather than beating you over the head with HOW CLEVER. Also, it does that excellent thing where it shows your face on a telly and puts words into your mouth, which is one of the few elements of the early-2010s ‘consent to this website scraping all of the Facebook data of you and your friends and something cool will happen!’ design boom that I miss and would like to see more of (except, er, without that data than being used to peddle psychogeographic snake oil; I don’t miss that bit at all).
- Upland: I accept that Web Curios quite often features links to things that I don’t fully understand – I like to think, though, that I make a reasonable attempt to get my head around concepts before sharing them with you (I might often fail, but I try). On this occasion, though, I am reasonably-certain that attempting to parse this sentence is possibly beyond me, and probably not worth my time; I mean, listen: “Join a brand new NFT metaverse that is mapped to the real world and quickly becoming the largest and most dynamic blockchain-based economy in existence. Buy, sell and trade virtual properties mapped to real addresses. Build your dream house, start a virtual business and earn UPX coins or U.S. dollars by selling your NFT properties in a free and open marketplace. Make friends in Upland, make friends for life. Ready to join one of the most positive and diverse player communities in the digital world today?” So, er, it’s a virtual world thing? Mapped to the real world? Which wants me to ‘build’ ‘property’ and ‘sell’ it to other users? Who want to buy it…because? Oh, and the trailer’s animated and features llamas, but no actual explanation of what the everliving fcuk is going on. It seems like some sort of combination of…monopoly, a Second Life knockoff, a ‘community’ and, frankly, a massive grift. No fcuking clue what the llamas are about, though; if someone is motivated enough to get under the hood of this, please do let me know.
- Lamborghini: As a non-driver I always feel like something of a fraud waxing lyrical about the beauty of sports cars, but Lamborghini really do make some pretty pieces of carbon fibre (and tractors; the tractors are ace). Their website’s quite shiny too, in the slightly-standard car company way of LOTS OF VIDEOS and 3D EXPOLRABLE MODELS OF CARS; what really makes this stand out, though, and what reduced me to actual paroxysms, is the voice-over they’ve applied to the videos. As far as I can tell, the script was written in Italian and then translated into English before recording, meaning there’s a certain…idiosyncracy to the language which is both charming and amazingly shonky from a company that’s going to ask me to drop 6 figures on an incredibly-fragile road rocket. Honestly, the only thing that could make me love this more would be an option to toggle the voice-over between the standard version and one that sounds exactly like the Dolmio puppets (I can say this, i am half-Italian, I promise this is acceptable-borderline-racism).
- Prejudice Free: A lovely site which lets you explore data around the opinions and values of national populations: “Over the past 5 years, 120,000 people were interviewed around the world about their opinions and values as part of the World Values Survey. This website will take you through a short data-driven journey to show you how some socio-demographic factors, often outside our control, might affect how people around you think.” A significant number of major nations are represented here – you select the country you’re interested in and then explore public opinions about homosexuality or abortion, asking you your opinion on either topic and showing where you sit compared to the population of the selected country. Simple and effective datavisualisation, done well.
- TurntableFM: …is back! In beta, fine, but still! TurntableFM, for those who don’t recall its earlier incarnation(s), is a site that basically lets anyone set up ‘DJ rooms’ where they can stream music of their choosing to an audience of whoever wants to listen in; this new beta comes in website or app form (requiring an Apple Music or Spotify Premium login to power the streaming), features some light social elements and a nice skin with your little avatars DJing and dancing together and generally having a gay old time of it in the digital ‘club’. Social audio hasn’t quite ever taken off in a big way, and it makes me slightly-bullish about Turntable’s prospects, not least because of the goodwill the brand has amongst internet hipsters (ha! there is no such thing, obviously) – although of course Discord is now massive and actually lets you do much of the same stuff (if you fiddle with it) so maybe this is too little too late. Who knows? Regardless, sign up and use it to prove to a bunch of strangers on the internet that it really ought to be YOU who controls the aux cable at the afterparty (it shouldn’t, you are a gurning mess and should go home NOW).
- This Italy Does Not Exist: The project’s actual title is ‘Strolling Cities’, but, well, I prefer mine. This site presents work which I think is featured at the current Architecture Biennale in Venice (it’s…hard to tell thanks to the copy all being written in what can charitably be described as a sub-dialect of International Art Wank) – the basic premise is that a GAN has been trained on a bunch of images of 9 Italian cities (Milan, Venice, Rome, etc), and then linked to a text-to-image generator, which is then fed poems by a selection of canonical Italian writers to generate imagined visual depictions of said cities based on said poems. Which, obviously, is a car crash of a description; sorry about that, you’d think I’d have learned how to describe this sort of stuff properly after all these years but, well, it seems not. You can watch the videos, listen to the poems and lose yourself in fugue of ASMR-y non-spaces, or you can type in your own scene descriptions and see what the machines throw up – either way, I love this immoderately and frankly could happily sit in a darkened auditorium with this washing over me for a couple of hours with no complaints whatsoever.
- The CyberSpa: What do YOU think noted peddler of online security gubbins Kaspersky does in terms of marketing? Would you expect it to, I don’t know, maybe offer a sober reflection on the threats facing internet users at the hands of malicious actors here in the third decade of the 21st Century and then outline the products and services it offers to keep said users safe? Would you expect some reassuring testimonies and some impressive-sounding tech details that you don’t really understand but which feel reassuring? Yeah, well you’d be wrong, mate – what Kaspersky actually seems to be into is offering you, er, a digital spa opportunity!! Yes, that’s right, don’t worry about the army of bots attempting to DDOS you into oblivion; instead, listen to some anodyne new-age background music whilst clicking on different coloured clouds and, er, watching some digital ‘flames’ flickering! Contort your face as a webcam watches you to ‘energise your jaw chakra’ (I am making this up, but I promise it really is this fcuking stupid)! WHY DOES THIS EXIST? WHICH MORON SIGNED THIS OFF? I can, if I squint really hard, possibly come up with some bullsh1t intellectual throughline here (it’s either some appalling digital ‘wellness’ thing – Kaspersky keeps your machine well, so why shouldn’t it also keep your mind well too? DO YOU SEE????? – or some sort of link between how relaxed you can be when you know you’re protected by their software and how relaxed this meditationwank will make you), but, honestly, everyone involved in commissioning this should feel very ashamed.
- IBM Harmonic State: While we’re doing ‘stupid corporate websites’, this one made me laugh quite a lot. Do you remember IBM Watson? The FUTURE of artificial intelligence for business! Which, er, didn’t actually do most of the things that it said it would (By the way, any of you working for Publicis who read this and laugh, shall we talk about Marcel? ahahahaha)! No, you probably don’t, given that after three years of claiming that their AI products were basically some sort of digital cross between Sherlock Holmes. Marie Curie and Jesus IBM has gone rather quieter about its magical qualities. So, if you can’t sell your snake oil based on its ostensible performance any more, how do you sell it? Er, by creating a series of (in fairness, reasonably-diverting) little browser games which task the player with catching little balls of light in a manner not-unreminiscent of Tempest (for those of you old enough to remember that)! These look nice, but, well, WHY? After all, who wouldn’t be ready to drop a six figure sum with IBM based on playing a selection of timewasting games with a vaguely-neon aesthetic? NO FCUKER, THAT’S WHO!
- The Museum of Other Realities: You’ll need a VR headset to enjoy the works in here, but the Museum of Other Realities collects a selection of works/experiences in virtual reality which you can download and explore. Rather than being a ‘virtual museum’ (can we all accept now that they are…all quite crap? Good), this is instead just a bunch of art-toys to experience; to my mind, a far better way of thinking of these things than attempting to create a VR ‘space’ in which to interact with the works themselves.
- City Roads: Pick any city you like, and this website will render its roads in pleasingly-minimal graphical style. You can change the colours of the roads and the background, zoom in and out, and then export the resultant image as a vector or PNG to do with what you will; with a bit of fiddling (and not even too much), you can create some rather cool abstract-ish images; also, sections of these would make rather cool tattoos imho, should any of you be in the market for a piece of ink as recommended by some random webmong’s newsletter.
- Scream It Off Screen: This is SUCH a nice idea, and a really neat twist on the ‘gong show’ talent format; Scream it on Screen is a monthly short film competition, with screenings on the first Friday of each month on YouTube. Filmmakers submit their shorts during the month – the rules are that they have to be their own work, between 3-15m long, and safe for YouTube, but otherwise anything goes – and they are then screened as a livestream, with viewers reacting in realtime to either vote the films off mid-run, or to let them play in their entirety. The range and breadth of styles and content here is amazing, and if you have any interest at all in cinema or filmmaking this is worth a look – this is the selection from last week, should you be interested in checking it out.
- The Black Artist Database: I can’t recall I featured this in the past (it used to go under the name ‘Black Bandcamp’), but no matter if I did – it’s a good idea that deserves a re-up. The Black Artist Database is, as the name suggests, a database of black musicians which you can search by location and genre (it’s broadly focused on what it terms ‘underground electronica’, but that’s a pretty broad church tbh and you can find a lot of different styles in here). An excellent resource for finding new musicians to work with on commercial projects.
- Learn Morse: My girlfriend has a taxidermy fox which we call ‘Morse’ – I miss him very much. That has literally nothing to do with this website, though, which is instead a really nicely-designed tool to help you learn the rudiments of Morse Code through simple repetition and nice, friendly, big fonts. There was a period in my life when I was slightly-obsessed with getting a tattoo of the Morse Code for ‘It Probably Doesn’t Matter’ tattooed on my inner-wrist; is that a terrible idea? It’s probably a terrible idea, isn’t it? Still, I’m not exactly overburdened with things to do at the moment, maybe getting a permanent record of regrettable nihilism will help fill those empty hours between birth and death.
- Splendour: I can’t in all honesty say I really get VR festivals – I mean, the theory, fine, but the actual experience of them (or at least the few, limited ones I’ve had) have been largely-underwhelming; once you get over the slightly excitement of having a virtual avatar and being able to look around in a virtual world at a virtual performer on a virtual stage, you’re left with the reality that the graphics inevitably look crap, the audio’s never that great and that without the booze and the people and the (let’s be honest) drugs, you might as well just stream some music and play WOW because it would basically be the same thing. Still, if you’re less of a miserable naysayer than I am, you might be interested in checking out Splendour Festival next month; it’s Australian, meaning you’ll be staying up til the wee hours to enjoy it live, but it’s using Sansar which as far as I can tell is the market leader in virtual gigs and the lineup looks pretty decent (apart from the inexplicable appearance of the Killers as headliners, so it could be worth a look.
- Fcukoff YT: A small piece of code which will change the text on the YouTube ad skip box from ‘Skip’ to ‘Fcuk Off’, allowing you to wave an impotent finger at the digital media industrial complex whilst still feeling the toothgrinding frustration at once again being forced to watch a 10 second promo for B2B accounting software before you can ‘enjoy’ another series of Italian Come Dine With Me (don’t judge). Small, pointless ‘victories’ like this are what we live for, after all.
- Pitchfork Reviews Explorer: What’s the current status of Pitchform as taste arbiter? I get the impression that it’s very much a dad website now and the sort of thing that young people rather disdain should they in fact be aware of it at all; still, Web Curios is not and has never pretended to be ‘cool’, or indeed ‘young’, and as such feels no qualms recommending this new site, which lets you enter any artist you like and see both their Pitchfork reviews history mapped on a sliding scale from lowest-scoring to highest and which will also show you other albums by other artists that the publication considers to be ‘related’ and which you might therefore like. Which isn’t new as a concept, of course, but the value here depends on the extent to which you feel Pitchfork’s taste and nous matches your own.
- Mathigon: A website all about maths, presenting complex concepts in geometry, number theory, logorithms and all those things that I never really understood and which I feel slightly-sheepish attempting to talk about, in an engaging, simple and accessible fashion. There are courses and games and, honestly, if your kid is into maths (or struggling with it slightly) then this might be a wonderful resource. It might not, though – I don’t know your kids ffs.
- Geneva: I know that just because there is A Popular Version of a thing doesn’t mean that people shouldn’t continue to make new versions of a thing to attempt to improve it, or optimise it for different groups of people, but, well, HOW MANY DIFFERENT COMMUNITY MESSAGING PLATFORMS DO WE NEED? Slack, every single social platform in the world, Discord, now this…why the proliferation? Geneva, in its defence, looks very nice, and all the features seem very sensible – groups, rooms, text chat, voice chat, video chat, events, roles and responsibilities…it all seems useful, don’t get me wrong, but it does make me wonder if there’s enough different here to make it fly. Still, if you can’t get on with Discord – actually I can’t get on with Discord; maybe this is for me? – then you might want to check this out as a reasonably-comprehensive-looking alternative.
- Go Rick Yourself: Is Rick and Morty good? It might be, but it sadly very much falls into the camp of ‘things I might have once enjoyed but which now I know I will never, ever even attempt to consume due to the fact that everything I have seen to do with it on the internet makes me think that its fans are awful’ – which I know is as much my problem rather than said fans’, but, well, it is what it is. Still, if you’re the sort of person who had some sort of minor psychological meltdown at the prospect of some branded tie-in McDonald’s sauce, or who understands what the fcuk ‘pickle rick’ is (I hate the fact that there are parts of my brain occupied with remembering this stuff, honestly; a term I do not understand and do not want to understand but which I am seemingly condemned to carry in my mind until the heat death of the fcuking universe), then you might enjoy this webtoy which lets you create your own character / avatar in the art style of the series.
- Better Reddit Search: Advanced search for Reddit. Useful for all sorts of things, but you and I both know that the main purpose for this will be the pursuit of whatever appallingly-niche bongo you’re secretly into.
- Comrade Crackers: Possibly my favourite joke site of the week (BUT IS IT A JOKE???), Comrade Crackers exists for one purpose and one purpose alone – to turn parrots into communists. Load up the site, press play on the Soundcloud file, and leave your parrot to commit the first part of the communist manifesto to memory; over time they will hopefully get to the point where they’ll spontaneously croak out some dialectical nuggets, thereby hastening in some small way the inevitable-but-sadly-delayed collapse of the capitalist superstructure. As the site itself says, it’s parrot praxis! (there’s also a capitalist version, should you instead wish to turn your avian friend into some sort of Randian monstrosity; but don’t do that, do this instead).
By Lauren Hare
BO BURNHAM’S ‘INSIDE’ REALLY IS AS GOOD AS EVERYONE SAYS IT IS AND ALL THE SONGS ARE ON SPOTIFY AND PRESUMING THAT YOU ARE AS ONLINE AS YOUR READERSHIP OF CURIOS WOULD SUGGEST THEN I STRONGLY ADVISE YOU TO LISTEN TO THE WHOLE THING!
THE SECTION WHICH IS SLIGHTLY GRATEFUL THAT IT IS NOW IN ROME AND IS THEREFORE LESS LIKELY TO HAVE TO ENDURE CONVERSATIONS WITH CERTAIN TYPES OF PEOPLE ABOUT ‘DOM’S LATEST SUBSTACK’, PT.2:
- Star Turnz: I have no idea who was the first person to popularise this sort of image collage – you know, the ones where you take a bunch of photos of a famous taken from different angles and then run through them quickly so it looks like they’re turning their heads as you watch – but then again neither does anyone else either; such is the ‘joy’ of online attribution and crediting in the marvellous digital age. Still, this is a Twitter account that posts nothing but these, by one Duncan Robson; maybe it was their idea first. Let’s imagine it was, it’s nicer that way.
- TikTokHot: This is potentially interesting and useful; it’s a rolling chart of what is ‘hot’ (sorry) on TikTok in terms of hashtags, profiles and, most usefully/interestingly, music. It’s powered by a marketing platform so it’s basically a sales tool for their TikTok analytics software – still, it’s a really good way of getting a snapshot of who and what is trending on the platform, particularly given the uniquely-opaque nature of the TikTok culture and the odd little niches you can find yourself in based on whatever the algo thinks you’re into. The music stuff in particularly could be hugely useful, depending on how up-to-date it is; definitely worth keeping an eye on this when considering what tracks to license for your next piece of appalling genz/genalpha-focused advermarketingprcontent.
- Community Lens: Sort of the exact opposite of the last link in terms of seriousness/vibe, this (can local community data be said to have a ‘vibe’? Probably not tbh, but it’s MY newsletter and MY rules (it’s this sort of attitude that in some part explains Web Curios steadfast refusal to ‘go viral’, isn’t it? Amongst other things). If you do anything to do with local community engagement, or are doing local-level campaign planning, or (even better) if you’re job doesn’t in fact attempting to flog tat to people at all, and you’re just interested, then this is super-useful. Plug in whatever postcodes you want, and this will spit out a bunch of data and maps covering economic status, crime, health stats and all sorts of other things; this is in no way ‘cool’ but is SUCH a great project and a really good, robust piece of digital datawork.
- The All About Photo Awards: I had never heard of this photo competition before – it invites entries from anyone around the world, and the entry criteria appear to be no more than ‘send us a really good photo, doesn’t really matter what it’s of’ – but there are some absolutely astonishing images here, up there with your SWPAs and your National Geographics and the like. There are some dead bodies in here, be warned, but nothing hugely graphic; I think there are two that stand out for me in particular, one of a corpse being managed by hazmatted workers in Ethopia during COVID, and another of a bottle lit like a Morandi still life, but pick your favourites.
- Seeing CO2: Do you struggle to conceptualise the enormity of the damage we’re doig to the planet? Is it hard to get a real idea of the volume of carbon dioxide we’re continuing to pump into the atmosphere every second, despite our increasingly-hollow species-wide promises to ‘make a difference’ and ‘do better’ (promises slightly undermined by our continual insistence on BUYING MORE TAT ALL THE FCUKING TIME)? You may find this website helpful, in that case – it lets you drive around an orange landscape in a pleasingly-boxy little car, collecting ‘facts’ about CO2 emissions (there are lots of them! They are bad!) whilst at the same time seeing helpful visualisations of the sheer quantity of the stuff being belched into the skies. I’m not…totally sure what knowing that 100sq Kilotons of CO2 is a quantity larger in mass than the Great Pyramid of Giza does for me, or indeed the world, but I suppose I am sort-of glad that I now do.
- Slide Ventura: This is very silly, very pointless, and VERY old web. Your enjoyment will be directly-linked to your recollection of, and affection for, Ace Ventura: Pet Detective (turn the volume up).
- Elocance: Do YOU find you don’t have time to read all the emails and PDFs and documents and THINGS demanded of you by your high-powered executive career? Does this upset you and stress you out? Would you like a MAGICAL TECH SOLUTION? Well GREAT NEWS! Elocance is a tool which takes your documents and does some text-to-audio magic to turn them into a podcast which you can then listen to at your leisure, presumably when at home and needing something to distract you from the horror of your domestic reality. In theory, this is a great idea, particularly for people who find reading dense documentation timeconsuming; in practice, I have…doubts about how well this will work when it comes to turning a ppt into audio. Also, this is exactly the sort of thing which I can imagine being used by bosses who are TOO BUSY to read emails during the day and who will therefore plough through them all on their headphones and then do that really annoying thing of responding to the one-by-one at a distance of about 7h distance. FFS, BOSSES, YOU SH1TS.
- TurnSignl: If you want an(other) indication of how fundamentally broken the relationship between the police and the people they ‘serve’ is in the US, and in particular the relationship between the police and black people, look no further than the existence of TurnSignl, an app that exists to provide live, on-camera legal advice to anyone in the US who gets pulled over by the police and wants to have a lawyer on hand talking them through the interaction to make sure they don’t get shot dead. “Next time you’re stopped by the police, be safe and be empowered with on-demand legal guidance from an attorney. TurnSignl is an application that offers easy, expert, and affordable legal help at a touch of a button. TurnSignl’s vetted attorneys help guide the entire interaction with law enforcement and their experience allows them to de-escalate police-citizen interactions.” If you can read that without getting a proper pang of ‘the future is broken’ then you’re possibly not thinking about this hard enough – whilst the website makes no explicit reference of who the service is for, it doesn’t take a genius to work out that this is an app made by black people for black people because white people simply don’t have to worry about this in the same way. Horribly depressing.
- Papercraft Spaceships: Fancy making some intricate papercraft models of space shuttles and space stations and satellites, using nothing more than paper, scissors and glue? Who doesn’t want to have a collection of beautifully-folded replicas of the Apollo space missions hanging from their ceiling? NO FCUKER, THAT’S WHO!
- Shed of the Year: A regular Web Curios favourite, this year’s Shed of the Year competition features some absolute beauties, not least in the ‘unexpected’ category (SURPRISE SHEDS, MOTHERFCUKER!) – I am particularly fond of ‘Granddad’s Arcade’, and the ‘Creme de Menthe Summer Bar’ but these are all great (and will make you realise that you have done NOTHING with your lockdown, comparatively).
- RaveDJ: Seeing as we’re now upto the early-00s in the ever-accelerating nostalgia stakes, does that mean that we’re soon to see mashups enjoying a surprise return to prominence? That we’ll get to enjoy classics like this and this again? I do hope so. Til then, though, you can mess around with RaveDJ which lets you pick two tracks from YouTube to smash together in a spastic attempt at ‘mixing’ – the results are inevitably quite terrible but at the same time not quite terrible enough to make you stop trying to make a good one; I can confirm, though, that Napalm Death and Timmy Mallet (feat.Bomballerina) do not a happy partnership make, should any of you be curious.
- Tier Zoo: If you are into videogames and videogame culture and the way in which people talk about videogames and the idea of ‘the meta’ in gameplay, then this YouTube series which analyses the natural world as though playable characters in a gigantic MMO-type game will amuse you no end. Played pleasingly-straight, this talks about birds in the context of the ‘cenozoic balance patch’, or elephants in the contecxt of whether they are game-breakingly-overpowered mid-game units – if these turns of phrase mean nothing to you then you may not slip quite so seamlessly into this as I did, but I promise you this is funny even if you don’t quite get the vibe.
- Picrew: OK, this is all in Japanese and I am relying on a slightly-iffy Google Translate to get the detail here, but as far as I can tell this is just a tool to let you create your own slightly-anime avatar – but my GOD is the creation engine overpowered. You have to register to use it, but once you’re in you have a literally astonishing array of elements to mix and match as you see fit; check out the Google image results to get an idea of the range. If you’re willing to put a bit of time and effort in, you can make something genuinely impressive and reasonably-unique to use wherever and however you wish – if nothing else, you could pass time when you’re meant to be working by creating an avatar for each of your colleagues (there is no WAY they could reprimand you for timewasting when your reason was SO CUTE).
- Anti-Waste: I really like the idea behind this company – it makes lamps out of old umbrellas, which it disassembles and combines with electrics to create some rather beautiful (if slightly-’I live in a warehouse, you know, and have lots of coffeetable books, and one of those esoteric magazine subscriptions that sends me a different limited-edition Scandinavian interiors bible each month’; you know what I mean) lights. They cost around £200, which is obviously a lot of money but which doesn’t feel insane for something that’s not mass-produced and which is Good For The Planet (in the general sense).
- Metasub: This is very much one of those things which is right at the edge of my ability to properly understand it; from what I can make out, this is the website of a project designed to attempt to identify the biological indicators of urban spaces. “Just as there is a standard and measurement of temperature, air pressure, wind currents– all of which are considered in the design of the built environment– the microbial ecosystem is just as dynamic and just as integral and should be integrated into the design of cities. By developing and testing standards for the field and optimizing methods for urban sample collection, DNA/RNA isolation, taxa characterization, and data visualization, the MetaSUB consortium is pioneering an unprecedented study of urban mass-transit systems and cities around the world.” So basically attempting to take the biological/bacterial ‘temperature’ of urban spaces and mass transit systems around the world, which is AMAZING – I mean, I would love to know what the microbial makeup of the tube says, for example, or what the microflora of Kensington is like compared to that of Catford. Can we use this to make TUBE CHEESE???? Can someone, er, explain this to me in words I can actually understand?
- Web Badges World: A collection of the small, often animated, badges that used to accompany Web 1.0 sites, used to give an idea of their content or their owners membership of a specific online community or webring or similar. I know it’s easy to scoff at this sort of digital memorialisation of the seemingly-trivial, but for many early(ish) internet users, these sorts of things engendered a real sense of community and belonging in the same sort of way as patches sewn on stained denim (but, er, objectively a bit less cool, fine) and as such they’re very much worth preserving and remembering. I would really like Twitter to add the ability to add one of these, custom designed, to one’s bio – come on ffs, no one is going to pay for Twitter Blue, get on with the important stuff instead lads.
- Wet Pants Denim: Have YOU ever wanted to film an hilarious / terrifying scene in which someone wets themselves, but don’t want to actually get them to wet themselves and aren’t sure how to mock it up convincingly? Do YOU know someone with a public p1ss fetish who would really appreciate the idea of you wetting yourself in public, only you don’t actually want to wet yourself in public? Well you’re in luck! Wet Pants Denim is the premium (only?) online purveyor of ‘jeans that look like the wearer has wet themselves, except they really haven’t!’, and their garments are a knock-down $70 plus shipping! I sort of wish I had affiliate marketing on Curios at times like this, as I can only imagine the number of you who will be desperately throwing your credit card details at these people.
- I Fcuked My Computer: Has there ever been a sadder url in Curios? I posit that there has not. IFMY (I don’t want to have to type it out again, is too sad) is ‘an erotic indie game’ which in practice is a couple of Telegram sexbots, one male and one female, which you can ‘interact’ with in ‘sexy’ fashion and oh my god no it’s just too miserable. I can’t quite tell if there’s some sort of ‘BIG IDEA’ here or whether it’s just a not-very-good w4nking aid, but, whatever you may decide to do with this, DO NOT SEND IT ANY NUDES. Web Curios accepts no responsibility for pictures of your junk being used to blackmail you at some future point in time. This is absolutely filthy, FYI, so be prepared (it is also perhaps the least-erotic thing I have ever experienced, though maybe I’m wrong and it’s actually super-hot and I am the weird one here; I can’t really tell anymore).
- Palworld: I don’t usually feature paid-for videogames in here, let alone ones that aren’t even out yet, but the trailer for this floated across my field of vision this week and I was floored. Palworld looks like a Pokemon knock-off, from the creature design to the palette to the art style, and contains many of the series’ classic tropes – capture creatures, bond with them, explore a fantasy world, do battle… – and quite a few things that seem…well…a bit off. Exploit the animals! Revel in the absence of labour laws preventing you from working them to the bone! Use them as meat shields! Steal their eggs! This is a WONDERFUL extension of the thing that anyone who’s spent more than 5 minutes thinking about the concept of Pokemon has landed on at least once – to whit, am I (the player) the bad guy here? Am I…exploiting these creatures? Isn’t this basically dog fighting but cute? Even if you don’t like games, I encourage you to watch the trailer as it’s tonally fascinating.
- Feels: Last of this week’s miscellaneous links is this simple game, which is basically Where’s Wally? but with emoji rather than a shy, bespectacled man who probably just wants to be left in peace ffs. More fun than it should be, and definitely good for 15 minutes of timewasting at work (also, literally any retail brand with a reasonable catalogue could rip this off using images of its products, which actually isn’t a terrible idea now I think of it that will be £1k please thankyou).
THE CIRCUS OF TUMBLRS!
- Endless Svmmer: An aesthetic that we’ve already seen rinsed hard by the Poolside.fm people with their ‘Vacation Inc’ project, this peddles that 80s WASP luxe-by-the-pool-on-the-beach-high-cut-swimsuit vibe very hard indeed. Not sure what the project is exactly, but there’s an accompanying fake newspaper and a Discord – follow the rabbithole…
THE TROUGH OF (INSTA) FEEDS!
- Kindafiction: The digital design of Agatha Yu, whose pastel-coloured work goes from 2-3d and who has a genuinely lovely style to it; the sort of stuff that really looks like it would be hugely pleasingly tactile despite existing only onscreen, if you know what I mean.
- Polly Pick Pocket: An Insta feed devoted to Polly Pocket, the tiny doll playsets that were (and quite possibly still are) inexplicably popular with girls when I was a kid (Transformers are OBVIOUSLY better, don’t @ me). This may tickle some deep nostalgiawrinkle in your lizard brain, or it may not. Click and see!
- Dice Ideas: Portraits, made of dice! Lots of dice! Being used as pixels! It’s a cool effect and the sort of thing which you could probably do worse than bookmark for future campaign use.
- Cult Class: Collage art, but a decent example of what is (to my mind) an increasingly played-out medium (that sounds wankier than I mean it to; it’s just that this particular aesthetic has become SO prevalent over the past few years that it feels like it needs something of a rest or a refresh to become interesting again).
- Monsterlool: The second Insta this week to be dedicated to ‘toys from the past’, this account is dedicated to Bratz dolls – photos of them, drawing other people as Bratz dolls, that sort of thing. You may enjoy this because of your connection to the dolls in the past; I found it fascinating because the overall facial aesthetic of Bratz, derided as ‘weird’ and ‘plastic’ and ‘unnatural’ by many when the dolls first came out in the early-00s, is now…just what people look like? It’s basically the instaface, no?
LONG THINGS WHICH ARE LONG!:
- What The Silicon Valley Idealists Got Wrong: I know, I know, you don’t need to read another piece about ‘why the web is bad and social media is evil and not what we were promised at all’ – and yet, I promise you that this article by Nicholas Carr is worth your time. To be clear, I don’t particularly enjoy the style of the piece or Carr’s tone, which feels ever-so-slightly paternalistic and a touch patronising; also, I appreciate that a lot of the assertions which Carr makes about the effect of the web on society could almost certainly be countered with equally-respectable-sounding academic citations; still, though, the two main points he makes really resonated with me. In summary, Carr draws a distinction between information and knowledge, and connection and community, and argues that the people who built the social web confused the former with the latter in both instances with…damaging effects.
- Generation Alpha – The Shrewdest Consumers Ever: This article is included not because it’s hugely well-written or revelatory, but more because it made me so deeply sad and miserable about the world in which I live and my role in it that I felt compelled to share it with you so that you too could ‘enjoy’ the sensations it engendered in me. It’s basically about how luxury brands are targeting younger and younger consumers in China, and how they are going about it, and contains some honestly-chilling lines – I mean, look at this one: “Quite naturally, Gen Alphas have inherited the hedonic values of their parents by accompanying them to shopping malls, gaining early exposure to luxury brands.” Or this one: “A Louis Vuitton bag may be out of their reach, but consumerism is integral to a child’s identity” Is this ok? It doesn’t feel ok.
- The Return of FOMO: One for the planners and strategists now, this is all about the fact that the return to LIFE, post-COVID (although, er, let’s not get ahead of ourselves, eh? I’d still not put too much money on us all enjoying an unconstrained September, put it that way) is going to see a similar return to some of the social/emotional baggage that goes with it; in this instance the fear of missing out and calendar-overload and ‘oh my god everyone else is having Hot Girl Summer why can’t I?’ etc etc. This feels to me like exactly the sort of largely-banal observation that you can stretch across 10 slides, augmented with embedded TikToks and Stories, ending up with you suggesting the same old tired influencer crap you always do because we’re all just phoning this stuff in these days, aren’t we? BONUS CONTENT – this, on how our relationship to ‘busyness’ has changed (or more accurately ‘will hopefully change’) post-COVID, which you can probably also use in the same presentation because MOAR INSIGHTS (dear God alive).
- Liveshopping Politics: A fascinating portrait of the politicisation of livestream shopping in China – although on reflection not one that should probably have come as a surprise to me because, well, China. Viya is widely-regarded as one of THE streamers in China, a woman who can shift tens of millions of sales with a recommendation and who is increasingly being used to peddle soft-propaganda for the state as part of her daily streams. It was inevitable that this was going to happen – the state expands to fill the media available to it, after all – but there’s still something weird about what I can only describe as ‘politically-weaponised livestream qvc’. Still, in many respects this isn’t hugely different from the government in the UK paying influencers to peddle public health messaging, I guess (although, er, the influencers in question are less likely to go on an enforced reeducation holiday should their messaging not pass muster).
- Reckonings: This is an excellent article which is as relevant for us in the UK as it is for the American audience it was written for. It looks at the way in which Germany confronted its actions during World War II as a nation, how it spent several decades forcing itself to look right in the eyes of Nazism and the Holocaust so it could get a better understanding of how it happened and why it happened, and how the country and society should talk about it and process its guilt, and how to work to make sure that it never happened again. It compares this with the way in which the US has singularly failed to do the same with its history of slavery, and how that lack of reckoning has led to the current difficulties faced by the country when it comes to talking about its racial history and how to work to address the ills it wrought. Which, one might argue, could equally be argued about the UK and its legacy of colonialism – or indeed Italy and its fascist history (something which has never been adequately been addressed and which lack of critical thinking about leads to a modern world in which it’s seemingly considered entirely ok for modern Italians to declare themselves ‘fascists’ without any shame whatsoever). This is a really important piece of writing imho.
- Sinofuturism and Chinese Science Fiction: FULL DISCLOSURE – I haven’t read all of the stories in this anthology of essays, because, well, this is basically a whole academic journal’s worth of stuff and I am not quite sufficiently interested in the subject matter to spend 4 hours on it. Still, the one essay I did read (the snappily-titled “Sinofuturism as Inverse Orientalism: China’s Future and the Denial of Coevalness”) is super-interesting, and if you’re one of the many people over the past few years who have read Liu Cixin’s Three Body Problem series then you will find something fascinating in here to latch onto (and also, if your job involves attempting to make sense of China and Chinese culture, the essays in here touch on a lot of broad topics that might be of interest).
- The Bitcoin Conference: I don’t imagine for a second that it is fair of me to judge the value of a conference by the photos of what its attendees look like; that said, scrolling through this piece and examining the pictures, it’s fair to say that I didn’t get the overwhelming impression that the assembled masses were some of the world’s…winners. Don’t get me wrong – there were a lot of very wealthy and successful people speaking, but the huddled masses hanging on their words rather gave the impression of being at the bottom of the pyramid rather than its apex (IT’S ALL A SCAM). This is a suitably-view-from-above take in the NYT; the truest thing in here is the quote from the owner of the venue that hosted the whole shebang in which he compares the whole thing to a religious movement – yep, one of those televangelical ones where they pass a hat down the aisles every 5 minutes and you’re invited to buy into high-tier Jesus membership for a low, low $500. IT’S A FCUKING CULT FFS.
- What Happens To Your Bitcoin When You Die?: Worth reading if you’re currently HODL-ing and want to be able to hand this on to your kids or godchildren in the hope that theirs will be the generation that can finally cash out of the goddamned ponzi scheme, or if you work with the sort of brand or company which could reasonably make some light PR hay out of creating THE WORLD’S FIRST BITCOIN-FRIENDLY WILL (PROBABLY ON THE BLOCKCHAIN). That will be another £1,000 in consultancy fees, please and thankyou.
- Twitch At 10: Underrated as a transformative website imho, Twitch’s influence is yet to be fully realised but, as this piece points out, it’s one of the central building blocks of current conception of ‘the creator economy’ (ffs) and has radically changed the way in which a significant proportion of the world thinks entertainment is or can be. It’s also the platform which has done the most to normalise the sort of parasocial relationships which characterise ‘creation and consumption’ in 2021, for better or ill, and is (I think) going to be seen as one of Bezos’ smartest Amazon acquisitions a few years down the line.
- Why Is Everyone So Mad at Gabbie Hannah?: I had no idea who Gabbie Hannah was before reading this – this is neither a good thing or a bad thing, just something I’m pointing out as it’s another example of the infinitely-siloed nature of modern culture (monolithic and yet fragmented – we need a new analogy for this. Giant’s Causeway? No, not that, it’s fcuking terrible, Jesus) – and now I do know I feel nothing but pity for them. They don’t seem like a very nice person, to be clear, but they also don’t seem very well, or very happy, or like they are going to be ok any time soon, and more than anything this made me feel (and not for the first time recently) that there is something so so so so rotten at the heart of the performative creative life that harms people on a fairly deep level and that the psychological toll of this constant performance (which we all enact, obviously, though to a lesser extent than these pros) is probably going to come back to bite us all in a few years’ time.
- Welcome To Planet E-Girl: Or ‘Is This Empowerment? Pt. X of Y’. This Wired article looks at the concept of the E-Girl in streaming – you may not know the term, but you’ll know the aesthetic they embody, all pastels and ahegao-faces and kitten-ears and knee-socks and basically the sort of look that inhabits some sort of weird hinterland between otaku wankpillows, anime-cat-women, camgirls and hyperpop lead singers, and which is designed to create the sort of lucrative parasocial relationships that are the goal of many streamers but which have their own oddly-problematice dynamics and cultural roles at their heart – and attempts to unpack it (with, it must be said, limited success). Interesting enough, but mainly made me feel…icky, if I’m honest with you.
- The TeachInfluencers: Or, how TikTok thirst traps are now dominating language learning in Brazil. Or, more accurately, how ALL businesses will be parasocial one day. This is really interesting – the piece looks at how a bunch of English teachers in Brazil have become super-popular on TikTok, combining a strong content game with good looks, nice voices, a punishing content-production schedule and, oh yes, some light linguistic instruction. Is this the future of everything? We’ll base all our future purchase decisions on whether or not the seller is able to create a deep and meaningful human connection with us via the medium of to-camera first-person vids with impeccable lighting and the odd thirst trap thrown in? I am so fcuked, if so.
- Microfishing: Fishing seems like a really relaxing way to spend a day, aside from the worms and the occasional danger that you might catch something and then have to spend several unpleasant moments removing a barbed spike from the mouth of another living being while it gasps for breath and flounders in terror (yes, fine, angling, I know). This is a look at the growing pastime of microfishing – that is, going fishing for VERY SMOL fish, which are more numerous and often easier to catch, and are generally sort of fascinating. It’s a good piece – interesting, full of cool photos of fish, and smart enough to make you realise as you read it that it’s not so much about fishing as it is about the fact that microfishing could be read as yet another sign that we’ve really fcuked things up, nature-wise. Happy fishing!
- You Ain’t Never Been No Little Girl, Taylor Townsend: Tennis player Taylor Townsend, a few years back a top-ranked US junior who’s still on the circuit but who, it might have been argued, didn’t quite fulfil her early-years promise, writes movingly on what it was like being a black girl on the Junior Tour at the age of 16 when your face and your body and who you are doesn’t quite fit with what the world around you seems to expect of a tennis player, and how that made her feel, and what that did to her, and how she responded. As with all the Player’s Tribune pieces, this is a brilliant piece of writing that really captures Taylor’s voice; given the recent treatment of Naomi Osaka, this feels like a timely read about the sport deals with people who don’t fit its traditional model.
- Calm: A brilliant profile of the ‘mindfulness’ app Calm (have I mentioned how much I fcuking hate the term ‘mindfulness’? I really, really fcuking hate it), its steady rise to proper global phenomenon status, and the people behind it – Alex ‘Million Dollar Homepage’ Tew, and Michael Acton Smith. Couple of things here that are worth noting; firstly, the irony of two very rich men who spent a large part of the 00s doing an awful lot of cocaine (this is a fact, but one which I am prepared to excise from the record should the lawyers come calling) waxing lyrical about the benefits of calm meditation; and secondly, Acton Smith’s excited insistence that Calm can pivot into all sorts of products like films and music and candles and and and and…look, Michael is a smart and in many ways visionary man, and he is far richer and more successful than I will ever be, but he also absolutely killed Moshi Monsters by focusing on an endless line of brand-devaluing merch deals and brand extensions rather than the actual business-critical task of making the thing work on mobile, so forgive me if I watch this coming brand expansion with skeptical interest (feel free to remind me of this paragraph when we’re all sleeping on Calm mattresses and going on Calm holidays in a decade’s time).
- Finding Satoshi: The reason I know Michael is that I worked with him on the end of his ARG Perplex City (we did the PR for the BIG REVEAL ANNOUNCEMENT, when someone won £100k for finding a cube buried in a forest); this article in WIRED is about how the game’s hardest, most esoteric puzzle was solved. This is everything that I loved about the idea of Perplex City – I can honestly say that being involved in that, even tangentially, absolutely changed my life in some small ways, introducing me to ideas and theories I would never have encountered otherwise, and it’s still one of the loveliest relics of the ‘old’ internet (pre-socials) that I can think of.
- The Madman and the Dwarf: A short history of the friendship between Toulouse Lautrec and Vincent Van Gogh; it’s fair to say that neither sounds like the sort of person you’d relish hanging out with, but this contains so many wonderful details and occasional laugh (wince) out loud moments that it’s worth reading despite the slightly-unappealing nature of both its subjects.
- May You Live Long Enough To Become The Standard Of Beauty: Blessing J Christopher writes about the collision of Western beauty ideals, propagated throughout the world in the 90s and 00s, and life in Nigeria, and what it feels like when what you are is not what you are told is beautiful. Embarrassingly this is something I had never, ever thought about before; this is a gorgeous essay.
- The Traveller and his Baggage: Ok, this is VERY VERY LONG, but if you want to read a truly amazing story of a mass murderer, the French resistance, a Paris-wide manhunt, police entrapment and a hugely-entertaining trial, this is PERFECT. Honestly, its length is totally justified by the end – this is so much fun (if that’s not a massively-inappropriate to thing to say about an essay with mass murder as its subject and the second World War as its backdrop).
- A Star of the New York Times: The first of two superb pieces of short fiction this week, this one is about the ‘friendship’ between two journalists in the late-90s, and is SUCH a good example of the genre; the tone and style is very much ‘US 20th Century literary fiction’, fine, but if you like that (and I do), then this is superb.
- You Owe Me: This, by Eliza Smith, is a far more modern-feeling piece of writing which imagines a future in which men have finally been made to pay reparations to women for the microagressions (and the macro ones) they perpetrate. The skill here is in making this a far lighter read than it could have been given the premise; this will stick with you for days post-reading, I promise you (and could form the basis for some interesting domestic discussions).
- The Man: A Compilation: Finally in this week’s longreads, a poem by Rebecca Hazelton. I sent this to a friend earlier in the week, who replied that it appeared the author had met their ex-husband; I would imagine every woman who reads this will identify with it to varying degrees, and every man will feel a varying number of painful shocks of recognition (and if you don’t, well, you might want to think about that). Superb, uncomfortable writing.
AND NOW, MOVING PICTURES AND SOUNDS!:
- First up, it’s quite likely you have watched/listened to this already given that you’re reading Web Curios and are therefore right at the very epicentre of the demographic for it – still, if not, here’s ‘Welcome To The Internet’ by Bo Burnham, which, were Web Curios to have a soundtrack would definitely be it.
- I have an absolute soft-spot for pop punk and whilst this is a genre parody by comedian Jarrod Alonge it’s also a legitimate banger (if you like this sort of thing) and a decent pastiche of the general ‘KEEP SMILING’ bromides we’re increasingly-often palmed off with (via Ryan Broderick’s essential Garbage Day newsletter, fyi).
- Italian hiphop corner! I am attempting to immerse myself in Italian culture while I’m here – which is a bit hard, seeing as I don’t have a TV and Italian newspapers are ATROCIOUS, and the Italian internet is basically social media and nothing else, but I am trying – and anyway, here’s the result of some light spelunking; I present it more as a curiosity than something ‘good’, but see what you think. My personal favourite bit is the last rapper, who goes hard but equally looks very much like Barry from Eastenders reimagined as a Southern European mid-level coke dealer.
- Finally this week, a truly impressive 10 minutes of VERY HIGH OCTANE rap – this is Dax, who over the course of this keeps up a frankly astonishing pace and with some killer lyrics and imagery to boot. Turn this up and listen – it really is very, very good indeed. Oh, and, er, THAT’S IT BYE SEE YOU NEXT WEEK BYE HAVE LOVELY WEEKENDS AND ENJOY THE FOOTBALL AND GENERALLY TAKE CARE OF YOURSELVES AND EACH OTHER AND HAVE FUN AND TAKE CARE I LOVE YOU I LOVE YOU I LOVE YOU BYE!