God that was a nice break. My girlfriend and I went to pick olives, like it’s the most natural thing in the world, and I now have a bottle of insanely-green gloop sitting proudly on my kitchen countertop, made by my own FAIR HANDS (actually not made by me AT ALL – the olives were pressed by this amazing old guy in Viterbo who’s 87 years old and who inexplicably has a room full of motheaten war memorabilia in the frantoio which he insisted on showing us and which contained several gas masks so weathered that it’s almost certain that people died wearing them – bit of a tonal lurch, that: olives olives olives HORRIBLE WAR DEATH olives olives olives).
Now, though, I am back and have ploughed through a fortnight’s worth of webspaff JUST FOR YOU – I can’t say with any certainty that it was worth it, but here we are. Still, if you’re coming to the end of a long week and looking for a distraction from either the imminent heat death of the planet or the nakedly-avaricious corruption of the UK’s ruling party (neither of which, it must be said, should really have come as any surprise to clear-eyed observers), then HERE IT IS!
I am still Matt, this is still Web Curios, and you should still brace yourself, this is a BIG ONE.
THE SECTION WHICH WOULD LIKE TO ENCOURAGE ALL UK RESIDENTS TO BUY PRIVATE EYE THIS WEEK BECAUSE YOU REALLY OUGHT TO KNOW EXACTLY HOW CORRUPT THOSE FCUKS RUNNING THE COUNTRY ARE, PT.1:
- How Not To Suck At Money: I spend a lot of time in Curios pointing and laughing at corporate webwork which I consider to be bloated, overengineered and a general waste of time, so I suppose it’s only fair that I praise things that I think are quite good on the rare occasions I stumble across them (I do this grudgingly, though, just to be clear). How Not To Suck At Money is a really nicely-made bit of promo by tedious financial dullards Investec designed to act as both an educational resource for kids who want to learn some principles of financial management and (obviously) a tractor beam to pull said kids into becoming Investec customers at some point in the future (because they’re not a fcuking charity, are they?). As someone whose financial literacy was so poor when they were younger that he still doesn’t totally understand how mortgages and compound interest work, I can hand-on-heart say that something that helped me learn some tips and tricks on how not to end up with a terrifying amount of credit card debt by my late-20s would have been very welcome – I can’t pretend that this site makes any of this stuff compelling, exactly, but it certainly beats the Natwest piggybanks as a bit of financial education comms. The user navigates around a WACKILY-DESIGNED and VIBRANTLY-COLOURED townscape, learning about money and saving and…it’s not terrible! The graphics aren’t immediately-recognisable as the sort of thing a bank might use, the music is…tolerably good, the character design is interesting, the general tone doesn’t seem woefully outdated or out of touch (to me, a 42 year old man, who obviously knows nothing about what ‘in touch’ is) and in general this feels like something made by…a bunch of people who vaguely cared about making something good and useful rather than just ticking a box marked ‘a thing for the kids what like being online’. Obviously we could get into a debate here about the positives and negatives of coopting kids into a lifetime of propping up the capitalist system via pleasingly-wacky purple-hued environment design, but, well, it’s early, and I am very tired, and let’s not do this right now ok? Good. BONUS INSTRUCTIONAL WEBSITE CONTENT! This is a similar thing, except this time about cybersecurity – it’s also rather nicely done, if less personable, and is also worth bookmarking if you ever need a ‘this is what educational content about boring things looks like done well AND THAT COSTS MONEY YOU CHEAPSKATES’ example.
- Beautiful Zither Website: Thanks to Web Curios’ resident translator Alex Wilson for explaining to me that this utterly gorgeous (but, selfishly and bafflingly, entirely-Chinese) website is in fact all about celebrating the skill and beauty of the traditional instrument of the zither rather than, I don’t know, an attempt to sell more calligraphy materials for Singles Day. You don’t need to know what’s going on here to appreciate a gloriously-made website; I am a real sucker for the particular aesthetic on display here which renders watercolour brushwork on screens, the music is lovely (although I must shamefacedly-admit that I have literally no idea what a zither in fact looks like or how one plays), and generally this feels like a pleasingly-pure online experience of a sort I don’t find enough of.
- Ravi and Emma: This is LOVELY, and a really nice use of webcam tech to help teach signing through story. An Australian project, Ravi and Emma tells the story of how the two titular characters met and got together; Ravi is hearing-impaired, and the couple tell their stories through signing in Australian sign language (Auslan), with the site inviting you to sign along at various points to move the story along through your hand prompts (this bit’s optional if you don’t want to enable your webcam – the site doesn’t seem dodgy, but I appreciate you might not want your recorded hand movements being used to train the panopticon). Everything about this is beautifully-made – even the loading screen at the start is adorable, with its lines about the nervousness of going on a first date – and whilst the finger-tracking to pick up the signing isn’t perfect, it’s still fun to play with and a decent way in to learning Auslan if you’re so inclined. If not, though, Ravi and Emma are a very cute couple indeed, and their story here is beautifully-told.
- Orbital Reef: This was announced a few weeks ago, fine, but I don’t think that it quite got the attention it deserved at the time – or maybe we were all so stunned at the dissonance between COP26 and our desperate flailings at saving the planet and one of the world’s richest people blithely suggesting that actually what we really need to do is more of the same, BUT IN SPACE!! Orbital Reef is MechaBezos’ (well, his company Blue Origin to be exact, but let’s just say it’s Jeff) latest exciting new vision of the future – whilst Zuckerberg wants the digital, Jeff’s eyes are firmly fixed on the ultimate prize, which from what I can tell from the website seems to be becoming the very first landlord of the very first business park IN SPACE! Yes, that’s right, this is yet another of the increasingly-frequent datapoints that suggest that the future that is currently being constructed for us by our billionaire overlords is one in which we are able to make money for them in a variety of interesting and novel locations! The metaverse (make money for advertisers)! Web3 (make money for Andreesen Horowitz)! SPACE (make money for Jeff Bezos)! The site is light on actual details of how Orbital Reef will work or what it will entail, but take a moment to consider that someone with more money than any single human has ever possessed (probably) has tried to imagine a future (IN SPACE!, lest we forget) and has gotten as far as…offices, and possibly a bowling alley and multiplex. It’s…it’s not the future I feel we were promised. Still, it “opens doors to new markets and catalyzes the growth of a vibrant space ecosystem”, which is nice. Oh, and it’s promising “an “address on orbit” for use, lease, or ownership that is international and open to all” – so that’s non-doms and tax avoidance covered too, then! BEAM ME UP, JEFF (please do not beam me up, it sounds horrid).
- The COP26 Projections: As ever when I write Curios I have BBC Radio4 on in the background, and this morning Mishal Husain is talking about the climate change conference currently drawing to a close in Glasgow and the (at the time of writing) uncertain reception to the draft agreements reached over the past fortnight. If you want a pleasingly-hued and lightly-interactive visualisation of what all this potential horror looks like (it makes the terror easier to cope with, I find), this website neatly demonstrates the difference in global temperatures over the coming years based on the world meeting a +1.5c temperature increase cap and it not doing so. It is…sobering stuff, suggesting that if I am still alive and living in Rome in 2050 and we don’t hit the 1.5c target I will be uncomfortably hot and that literally a couple of continents will be borderline-uninhabitable. Still, I’m sure the pledges will make all the difference. They…they will make a difference, won’t they? Won’t they? Hm.
- Rabbitars: Having spent a couple of weeks offline I’ve resolved to try and feature slightly-less NFTw4nk from hereon in, unless there’s something particularly interesting or silly about a particular project – there’s simply too much of it, and in the main it seems pointless making fun of the stuff as, well, as previously-discussed, much of it is just sh1tposting for ETH in any case. Still, though, cryptoetc continues to be unavoidable (at least in the corners of the web that I frequent), and it’s still occasionally amusing (to me) to gawp at some of the odder or madder-sounding projects out there. So it is with Rabbitars, the latest inevitable attempt of a legacy brand to get some of that sweet, sweet cryptobubble cash. That brand is Playboy, the gimmick is BUNNY AVATARS, and this is the homepage blurb: “The Playboy Rabbitars are a lagomorphic-themed civilization of 11,953 unique, non-fungible rabbits inspired by Playboy iconography, heritage and lore. In the context of the metaverse, the Rabbitars are NFTs that live on the Ethereum Blockchain as ERC-721 tokens. Each Rabbitar is generated from 175+ traits including fur, ears, facial expressions, apparel, accessories, occupation-related characteristics, and more. Some of the rarest Rabbitar traits are inspired by culturally significant aspects of Playboy’s art and editorial history. (And yes, you can tell your friends you officially belong to a Playboy Club!)” Got that? No? ME NEITHER! The avatars are at least slightly-less-shonky-looking than many of the current crop of NFT drops, and I quite like the degree of care that has been put into creating a(n utterly nonsensical) backstory for the digital bunnies, but I still don’t understand how anyone can look at this and not see a naked emperor. Click on the homepage and scroll down and read through the planned project timeline, and then please email me if you can explain what any of it actually means – although I for one am throbbing with tumescent excitement at the planned opening of ‘The Metamansion’ in 2022 (I am so tired already, and this is all only going to become sillier).
- The.com: Building websites…but on the blockchain! I can’t work out whether this is an interesting application of web3-type tech (sorry for all the web3 references, by the way, but if you want explainers there are a few in the longreads) to the building of the web, or a nakedly-grabby attempt to create a new market where none need exist (but I know which my money is likely to be on). I think that the idea behind it is for developers to sign up to the platform, making ‘blocks’ (effectively modules for the building of digital experiences, websites for example) which they can then be remunerated for when said ‘blocks’ get used in other people’s projects – so effectively (and bear in mind that this is a non-developer’s explanation of a very developer-y thing) creating a new alternative to things like Github and Pastebin, where instead of code use being free and exchangeable it is instead a persistent marketplace with fractional reuse payments to creators. Which, in theory, doesn’t sound like a bad thing – although of course there’s also a large degree of ‘the market is the best possible solution to all possible ills!’ thinking inherent in this, which is where my problem with this all stems from if I’m honest. What if – and I’m just spitballing here, guys, but go with me – making every single thing online subject to a series of transactions isn’t necessarily the best way of ensuring a positive evolution of the digital commons? What’s that? You’re getting rid of the digital commons entirely and replacing it with a series of microtransactional hoops to jump through? Oh.
- Dickasso: Readers who have been ‘enjoying’ Curios’ coverage of the NFT boom of 2020 will doubtless recall the bongo-themed NFT called ‘Cumrocket’ which I featured here a few months back – Cumrocket has now evolved into being (you’ll never guess) another marketplace for poorly-scrawled digital ‘art’ tat, and one of the ‘artists’ (I am often told that it is the mark of a cnut to attempt to define what is and isn’t ‘art’ – on this occasion, I am willing to wear that mark) is this person, working under the nomme d’art of ‘Dickasso’. This links to their portfolio on Cumrocket – it’s a tiny bit NSFW, but not so’s you’d notice, so feel free to click through and look at what $100k in sales this month looks like. Go on, click, and then realise that nothing makes sense any more.
- The Best Inventions of 2021: The second year of Time’s ‘Best Inventions of the Year’ rundown, this once again features some absolutely amazing examples of engineering ingenuity and proper creativity (yes Craig, I know your job title says ‘Creative Director’, but let’s agree that this is…different to coming up with ideas for social posts for Ronseal). If you have – or are meant to have – even a passing interest in ‘where the world is going’ , this feels like it should be required reading; there are definitely at least a dozen things in here which should spark some decent thinking for one or more of your clients imho. Although I don’t quite understand what the reengineered y-fronts are doing on the list, if I’m 100% honest.
- The Integrity Institute: It’s been instructive watching the speed with which the world moved on from all the stories confirming what we’ve all known forever about Zuckerberg’s Big Blue Misery Factory – anyone would think that, much like with the things that are causing climate change, we can see the problems inherent in the products but simply don’t want to stop using them because, well, they feel nice sometimes! Still, we now have this – the Integrity Institute, a collection of individuals who work (or have worked) in ‘integrity’ departments at various tech companies (for those of you who didn’t read all the Facebook Papers stuff, ‘integrity’ is what platforms call the bits of the business which are concerned with protecting users and promoting ‘good’ platform usage (one might argue that there’s something a touch ‘Ministry of Love’ about that nomenclature, but let’s not split hairs)). The Institute has been set up to provide a forum for people who’ve worked in this space to share best practice and learnings, so that it can work with businesses to devise better systems and processes to mitigate against the increasingly-known negative side effects of social/digital platforms and how they are currently designed – if you can hear a slight flapping sound, that will be the gate slamming in the wind as the horse careens madly across the adjoining fields. Still, if you have any interest in the business of managing communities and theory behind that business, this is very much worth keeping an eye on.
- Name The Films: Another year, another one of those ‘see how many films you can pick out of this image based on the visual clues’ games which seem to pop up every year around Christmas and which do reliably-good numbers and which I have still never managed to persuade a client to buy. This one is from annoyingly-named TV channel SyFy (I don’t know why it annoys me, but it does), and you can guess the genre at play I’m sure. This is really nicely done, with all sorts of Easter Egg-ish bells and whistles to discover as you play through – although, just to manage your expectations, this is still just a ‘game’ where you type the names of films and TV shows into a text box. Maybe my clients were right after all.
- The Pocketverse: While we all wait for our Oculus sets and passports into the Zuckerbergian metafuture to show up, why not enjoy a far smaller version of a digitally-enclosed universe? The Pocketverse is a lovely web project by one Karsten, a self-taught computing student who decided that they wanted to build something which would generate galaxies in your browser…so did. Click ‘generate’ and the site will spin up a new sun for you to look at – some will have orbiting planets, some won’t, but you can explore using the buttons orbiting each star and click below to see any planets which may exist in their orbit. It’s small-but-perfectly-formed, and I really like the fact that each planet comes with its own autogenerated flavour text which includes a dominant political orthodoxy – I am currently orbiting De Karrolch, an unusually-brown planet which operates under a gerontocracy, and until Meta can provide me with this sort of beautifully-pure browsing experience then it can fcuk off, frankly.
- Postcards: A library of old postcards from the US, on Flickr, sorted into albums. You might not think that this is worth your time, but let me reassure you that it very much is – Christ alone knows what postcard makers were thinking in the mid-20th Century, or why anyone ever thought that someone would want to send something featuring a hotel blaze to a loved one with a ‘missing you!’ message, but there’s a whole category devoted to images of ‘Fire, Destruction, etc’, along with a whole slew of ‘Ugly Restaurants’, ‘Theme Parks’, and even ‘Advertisements’ – I am now genuinely saddened that I did not grow up in an era in which I could have sent someone a missive featuring members of the Manitoba Brewers Association Service Division, for example. This is joyfully odd.
- Toys Cabin: As far as I can tell, Toys Cabin is a Japanese company which specialises in small plastic toy models of real-world things, made to scale to surprising detail. So cars, trucks, lorries…designer chairs, street furniture, nondescript small urban car parking areas…basically I want everything on this website and am slightly upset that I can’t seem to work out how one might go about ordering from it.
- Faces of Open Source: This is a lovely project, showcasing photographs of some of the pioneers of the Open Source movement who have been quietly fundamental in shaping so much of what the modern web looks like. “Faces of Open Source is an on-going photographic documentation of the people behind the open source revolution. The project is comprised of portraits of notable and unsung heroes who dedicate themselves to the creation and advancement of our open source technologies.” It’s fascinating (to me at least) to see the faces attached to names I’ve been reading about for years, and to see that it’s not quite such an all-white-male lineup as I might have initially expected (although to be clear it is still quite white and male).
- The Acid Machine: Thanks Gill for sending this to me – an in-browser synthtoy with which you can (if you’re significantly more talented and patient than I am) make all sorts of pleasingly-squelchy bits of acid techno to which to take unconscionable quantities of speed and reminisce about Club414 (RIP).
- Eterneva: Absolutely my new favourite TikTok account, Eterneva is a company which exists to turn the living remains of humans or animals into diamonds by way of a memorialisation process – their TikTok account is the slightly-unhinged sales arm of the business, which leans in to the oddity of the process with a charming degree of commitment. “Do you want to see me turn this horse into a diamond?”, asks a pleasingly-scientific looking presenter in the opening seconds of one video, and I refuse to believe that there is a single person on earth whose soul doesn’t scream “YES, DEATH-DIAMOND LADY, SHOW ME THE POST-MORTEM MAGIC!” at those words.
- Wilderness Land: Thanks so much to reader Kristoffer Tjalve for sending this in – in his own words, “In essence it is a map made using Google Sheets where I hid 500 links to my favourite places on the internet.” This is charming – part imagined map of nonexistent territory, part a crapshoot-treasurehunt where you could stumble upon a link to virtual meadows full of flowers, or topographical representations of North America, or generative music makers…this is lovely, slow, random internet, and it’s soothing in the extreme (unless Kristoffer has hidden a link to something really horrible in there – which he might have done, I don’t know the person, but let’s give him the benefit of the doubt and presume there are no hidden links to ‘one lunatic one icepick’ in there or anything like that).
- The Meataverse: Yes, ok, this is a VERY obvious joke but it made me laugh lots and lots and that’s all that counts.
- You Cnut: This site is not big and it’s not clever but, I’m sorry, it is very funny. If you have ever wanted a link which when clicked on will proceed to sing you a song about what a cnut you are along with a beautifully-Geocitiesish procession of falling graphics and hideous clipart text then this is an early Christmas present for you. If you’re leaving a job today and see this in time, YOU KNOW WHAT TO DO.
By Miss Printed
THE SECTION WHICH WOULD LIKE TO ENCOURAGE ALL UK RESIDENTS TO BUY PRIVATE EYE THIS WEEK BECAUSE YOU REALLY OUGHT TO KNOW EXACTLY HOW CORRUPT THOSE FCUKS RUNNING THE COUNTRY ARE, PT.2:
- You: Attempts to create a viable Google alternative continue to proliferate – if you’ve not already switched to DuckDuckGo or similar in a desperate (and let’s be clear futile) to prevent Google knowing your inside leg measurement and condiment preferences then you might be interest in You, a new offering from a bunch of ex-Valley (Salesforce et al) people which promises a NEW and DIFFERENT (but not at this stage better, crucially) search engine which promises not to track and monetise your data SO HELP THEM GOD. The gimmick here is that You lets you customise the way your results show up, allowing you to easily and seamlessly run domain-level searches within a single window – so you can spin up a search for, say, “meat gibbets” which clearly delineates the results by platform (YouTube, Reddit, Stack Overflow, etc) within a single view. If you’re curious, this is an interesting overview of the project and the thinking behind it – I can’t personally say it offers enough to lure me away from the Googleplex, but for very specific use cases and research tasks I can see it being potentially helpful.
- Seachlore: Seeing as we’re talking about search (SEAMLESS!), it seems an appropriate time to drop in this very curious little site which I don’t pretend to understand at all but which is odd and impenetrable enough to earn its rightful place in the Web Curios pantheon. To quote the homepage, “I have fished you out of the web on purpose, and for your own good. On this fine Friday, you happen to have approached a site of knowledge, fashioned in the manner of the “web of old”. There are no banners and no advertisement whatsoever on my site, where you will meet others that are interested in learning – and teaching – searching methodologies. You’ll gain knowledge and power here that will enable you to search the web MUCH more effectively in the future.” This is, I think, a collection of articles and tipsheets on how to use search engines better – mostly sadly obsolete now due to Google having effectively hamstrung its own deep search tools in favour of making its product moron-accessible, but a reminder of when one could accrue significant personal and professional advantage via the simple medium of ‘knowing how nested brackets work’ and ‘occasionally dropping the wood ‘Boolean’ in conversation’. If anyone can explain to me what the fcuk is going on here I would be genuinely grateful.
- Joo Jaebum: The personal website of Korean webdesigner Joo Jaebum, all presented in beautiful old-style Mac graphics and containing a truly wonderful array of 8-bit art and portraits. Click around – this is charming, and Jaebum’s style is charming in the extreme.
- Jazzmags: Not what you’re thinking, you pervert. Instead, this is an archive of Coda magazine, a jazz publication which ran from 1973-2008 and which is pretty much the lodestar if you’re a genre enthusiast or simply want to peruse 4 decades of magazine design. The covers alone are glorious, but if you’re a jazz aficionado then you could properly lose yourself in the contents. Also, this has convinced me that there needs to be some sort of artistic / aesthetic celebration of the wrinkles that appear on the foreheads of committed trumpeters, as you could plant potatoes in some of these facefurrows.
- Frantic Fanfic: I am too old to have experienced the fanfic explosion firsthand, but I imagine that should any of you be in your 20s/30s you will have grown up remixing your favourite stories either through the writing or consumption of fan fiction. Frantic Fanfic is a website that lets you set up a fun-sounding game of ‘Exquisite Corpse’ with your favourite canonical fiction – you create a game, invite players, and the system will set up a game whereby you take it in turns to move the story on. Each player gets time to read the story so far and to write their own continuation, so there’s a pleasing zippiness to the mechanic and you’re forced to write rather than think too hard – if you’ve a group of nerdy mates who like writing, this feels like a fun thing to do on wet Wednesdays inbetween pointless slidetweaking.
- Total Recall Bot: Random stills from the classic Arnie movie Total Recall, posted at regular intervals. No reason other than to brighten your day with some Voerhoevenish dystopia – this was made by Michael Hobson, who’s done the same thing for the Cage/Travolta classic Face/Off, should you be in the market (and who wouldn’t be? NO FCUKER, that’s who!).
- Temporal Anomalies in Time Travel Movies: I once fell out with a friend at secondary school because they asserted (possibly fairly, I have to admit) that I ruined films by pointing out all the things that didn’t make sense while we were in the cinema watching said films – look, I’ve never pretended to be likeable, ok? Anyway, if you read that last sentence and felt a small, chill frisson of self-awareness and recognition, you may enjoy this exhaustive database of temporal anomalies in time travel films – from famously-twisty cult favourites like Primer to rather more scholcky fare such as Men in Black III, you too can now get irrationally-irritated at the lack of basic logical consistency inherent in FAR TOO MANY imaginings of what it might be like to flit between eras. If you’re a fan of websites which dedicate far too much time and energy seriously discussing things that were only ever meant to be frivolous entertainments (AREN’T WE ALL???) then this will be catnip to you.
- Frame Your Wifi: I don’t know why this pleases me so, but it really does. A simple website that lets you input your WiFi details and which generates a QR code which will connect to said network on scanning. All of which is perfectly sensible – it’s just the idea that you would then print out said QR code and display it proudly on your wall for guests that makes me laugh, along with the template design that features a ‘Welcome to ❤️ home” copy, I think, that sends me slightly. On the one hand this makes perfect sense if you run an airbnb or similar – on the other, I reckon there’s possibly a market for a service providing high-end, bespoke versions of these, printed and framed, that say things like ‘NO LOOKING AT BONGO IN MY HOUSE YOU W$NKER”. Anyone interested? We can share the IP and make MILLIONS!
- Animals, Aquariums and Zoos: I found myself watching a streamer on Twitch the other day and there was a moment when they said a really heartfelt thankyou to everyone watching who was making it all worthwhile and lending meaning to their life, and there were in total 12 people watching at the time, and the sheer poignancy of that moment made me so embarrassed that I was forced to log off and have a cigarette (yes, I am an entirely emotionally normal adult man, why do you ask?). If you also find the parasociality of the streamer/viewer relationship just a bit odd up-close – or, more likely, if you just REALLY LOVE THE CRITTERS – then this Twitch category may be for you – you can now find streams from zoos and aquariums and animal shelters all gathered under this one convenient category, so that any time of the day or night you can log on and get your dose of soothing furry (or scaly, or tackily-smooth) fun. Live RIGHT NOW are some ducks, a Japanese cat shelter, and some suspiciously-large rabbits, so frankly you’re lucky I’m bothering to write the rest of this at all (‘lucky’).
- The Weeklypedia: Long-term readers may be aware that I have a personal fascination with the oddity of the Wikipedia community and the edit wars that occasionally erupt within it – this is a fascinating newsletter which every week pulls a digest of the most-edited and discussed articles from across the Wikiverse (is this a term? It is now) into one email. Not only a fascinating glimpse into all sorts of topics you’d never usually be aware of, but also a useful gauge of what particular bit of the infoworld is currently blowing up – the most edited / discussed articles of the past week in English Wikipedialand have been on the Astroworld tragedy and Katherine Stock, which is interesting not least as an example of how digital ‘truth’ gets decided and the ways in which the culture wars are fought in the public commons.
- Cleanup Pictures: Remove elements from images in-browser, which what is effectively a lightweight photoshop – this wouldn’t pass muster for anything which will be scrutinised too closely, but as a bit of quick-and-dirty image doctoring it’s better than you’d expect and can be usefully used to troll your friends in lightly-amusing ways (why not use this to crudely digitally remove one of your circle of friends from all the photos of your next big night out and then not mention it AT ALL when sharing them? See, HOURS OF FUN!).
- Artbots: Andrei Taraschuk has made a LOT of artbots on Twitter – this is a list of them. These are simple – just a standard ‘tweet an image every X hours’ setup – but if you want a way of cleansing your TL with some nice images of classic painting to leaven the otherwise-incessant screaming and shouting and rending that almost certainly characterises your Twitter feed then this could be perfect.
- Close Up Photographer of the Year: I remember when I worked on the launch of the Sony World Photography Awards that ‘let’s launch an online photography prize!’ was still a relatively-novel thing to do. Now, though, there’s literally an ‘of the year’ award for every single conceivable branch of the discipline – I would be amazed if someone somewhere isn’t preparing their acceptance speech for the coveted title of ‘Colorectal Photographer of the Year 2021’. Still, that’s not to complain (much as I am aware that it very much sounded like a complaint) – good photos are always a thing of wonder, and these close-up efforts are no exception. Lots of excellent insect photography as you’d expect, but also some glorious semi-abstract images in the ‘manmade’ categories which are worth checking out (also, as ever, so much ‘inspiration’ for the art directors among you).
- The Pano Awards: MORE PHOTOS! Panoramic this time – not strictly, though, as this also encompasses 360s and vertical pano shots. Again, super-impressive, although possibly a bit overproduced for my liking – there’s a shot of the mountains in Kyrgystan, though, that did the previously-impossible and made me think ‘hm, maybe a trip to the steppes would be fun’, so worth clicking for that alone.
- Joeah VR: All this recent talk of the metaverse has made me temporarily curious about the current state of VR games again, so I spent a bit of time the other day having a delve. There’s nothing, still, that looks worth forking out for at present, but I did find this subReddit collecting the first-person videos of one JeoahVR, who shares clips of the things that they do in a particular modded version of a VR FPS game called BoneworksVR. I caveat this link with the fact that this is VERY teenage boy – there’s a bit more ‘OWN3D!’ and ‘N00B!’ and teabagging than I am personally comfortable with here – but if you can get beyond that then the glimpse you get into what immersive VR gameplay could look like is astonishing. Still, though, how the fcuk this person plays like this without suffering massive motion sickness is beyond me. By the way, it’s worth scrolling through the sub to find any clips where the poster shows what they look like IRL when playing this game – it is quite the thing.
- Think Like A Bot: A selection of little webgames that challenge you to think like ‘AI’ – your job is to try and guess the image tags that a bot has applied to a particular photo. Simple, but what’s interesting is how quickly it reveals the fact that the ‘AI’ tends to have at best a very fcuking limited idea of what is being represented anywhere – amusingly, it seems that these image recognition systems tend to just classify everything as ‘a bit human’ just in case. Surprisingly quite fun, and a useful corrective for those moments when you get overwhelmed by the fact that the machines are running everything (of course, if you think about it a bit harder all this will serve to do is to make you more scared because, yes, the machines are running everything and the machines are fcuking morons).
- WanderPrompts: I really, really like this project – and I say this as a desperate cynic who increasingly finds it hard to remember what ‘joy’ means. Wander Prompts is a collection of tiny…games? Prompts is, I suppose, the best word for them…where you, the user, are presented with a small instruction to follow to set you off on a random walk with no destination. “Sniff the air – walk in the direction that smells best”, reads one; “Stretch out your arms – walk in the direction of the longer one”, reads another. This is perfect – tiny, gently ludic, infinitely personal, and uniquely-repeatable, and as soon as Rome stops being so preposterously-damp I am going to give it a proper go.
- The Right-Angle Doodling Machine: This is very, very simple – it lets you make doodles with lines that only turn at 90-degree angles – but I can’t stress how soothing it is and what an excellent mind-clearing tool it seems to be. Honestly, this is practically therapy.
- The Opera Game: Storytelling through chess. I can’t tell you how much I love this short story/game-type thing, telling “a story based on a famous game of chess played between American Paul Morphy and two European noblemen during a performance of Bellini’s Norma.” I am a sucker for anything that plays with the form and convention of narrative like this; SO clever.
- Stone Stacker: I have featured Neal Agarwal’s webtoys on here before, but his latest – Stone Stacker – is perhaps my favourite so far. Replicate the famously un-relaxing pursuit of attempting to stack stones on the beach (look, THEY KEEP FALLING OVER THIS IS NOT RELAXING FFS) except without the wind and the sand in your pants and the annoying children. Instead, you can do it from your browser with a pleasingly-beachy backing track – despite not really having any actual clue what ‘Zen’ actually means, I feel confident describing this as ‘a really Zen way to spend 15m of your day’.
- The Christmas Cannon: Because Christmas is coming and there is NOTHING you can do about it (although who’s willing to bet that the UK Government is once again going to give it a damn good try?) – celebrate by firing the CHRISTMAS CANNON! You can fiddle with the parameters of this little webtoy – personally I found it pleasing to whack the ‘firing speed’ variable right up and absolutely obliterate the CG living room with an assortment of trees, presents and baubles, but you may be of a slightly more sedate bent.
- Saturday Afternoon IKEA Simulator: I have spent much of my 42 years on this planet ensuring that my life is such that I rarely if ever have to do things like ‘spend a Saturday afternoon at IKEA’ – fine, this may mean that I spend my dotage, such as it is, alone and unloved and sat in faintly-urine-scented squalor, but it’s WORTH IT, I tell you (reassure me). Still, on the few occasions I have had to venture into the Warehouseverse (everything is now a -verse – I am calling this ‘Zuck’s third law’ (the first being ‘everyone has a secret racist in their family’ and the second being ‘there is for every human alive one person from their schooldays that they are obsessed with looking at photos of in a sadly-reminiscent fashion no matter how pleasant or successful one’s current circumstances’)) it has struck me as a uniquely=unpleasant experience – one exquisitely-captured in this small, perfectly-observed Twine game. Experience IKEA via the medium of text adventure – you will laugh, you will wince, and you will almost certainly emerge with an unquenchable desire for a hot dog.
By JC Gotting
FINALLY IN THIS WEEK’S MIXES, THIS IS A *VERY* HIGH-OCTANE RAVE AND BREAKS AND HARDCORE MIX BY VTTS WHICH FEATURES A SAMPLE OF ‘FREESTYLER’ BY THE BOMFUNK MCs RIGHT UP TOP WHICH ALONE SHOULD BE REASON FOR YOU TO CLICK IT!
THE CIRCUS OF TUMBLRS!:
- Very Good NFTs: A tumblr presenting a bunch of ‘art’ which could be available for sale as an NFT based on its style and competence, but which isn’t. Yet. It would not surprise me in the slightest to check back in a few months to find this having been made the basis for a whole fcuking collection, despite its current status as an obvious p1sstake of the whole scene.
THE TROUGH OF (INSTA) FEEDS!
- The Simpson’s Library: All the books, magazines and printed materials from The Simpson’s, in one Insta account. A convenient reminder of the fact that, whatever your thoughts about the series’ decline over the past XX years it has long been home to some of the best throwaway sight gags in TV comedy history. Also, there is something inherently hilarious about a bongo mag called, simply, ‘Giant Asses’.
- Nyankichi5656: Photos of Japanese street cats. There’s a particular hole in the tarmac that these guys hide in and pop their heads out of and OH GOD I DIE.
- Phetru: These have done the rounds a bit over the past few weeks, but rarely crediting the creator – who is this person, one ‘Phetru’. If you’ve seen any images recently of TINY FOOTBALLERS or TINY ACTORS, shopped so as to be VERY SMOL INDEED, then this is where they came from.
- Johanna Jaskowska: Jaskowska is a digital artist working in AR and developing face filters and masks – her Insta feed is a delight, and a wonderful example of some of the fun, playful stuff that you can make with ARKit and the rest. Also her website is great – it tells you little, but the latexy face which it features is properly-unsettling.
LONG THINGS WHICH ARE LONG!:
- Sustainable Investing: You neither need nor want me to embark on a tediously-nihilistic screed about COP26 and the environment and all that jazz, so I shan’t – I imagine the next few days won’t want for gloomy predictions from all quarters, most of them better-written than I could possibly hope for, so I’ll keep my nose out. I would, though, suggest that if you have a bit of spare time and attention that you might want to consider giving this a look. Be warned – this article is part one of three, and they are all VERY LONG and could, perhaps, have done with some editing. That said, though, it’s one of the more clear-eyed explanations as to why the notion of ‘sustainable investing’ (and by extension ‘green capitalism’ and ‘eco-friendly business’) is largely meaningless. Written by former BlackRock investment analyst Tariq Fancy – a man who very much knows whereof he speaks – this is a readable (even for financial know-nothings like me) look at the world of ‘green’ investing, how and why it works, and why it’s basically nothing but another bulletpoint on the laundry list of greenwashing practices adopted by the machinery of capital. You might argue with some of the thinking in the latter parts of the essays when Fancy gets to talking about potential fixes, but the analysis here presented as to why all this stuff is nothing more than tiny, tiny plasters on an increasingly gangrenous-looking axewound feels particularly compelling this week.
- CryptoCities: I continue to struggle hugely to understand exactly what the huge benefits that crypto and web3 and all of this disruptive, blockchain-based innovation are set to bring us actually are. I of course mean this from the point of view of a peon – it’s equally clear to me exactly what the benefits of all this stuff are if you’re at the top of the financial pyramid (scheme), but less so when it comes to ‘societal benefit’. This essay is a discursive look at some of the current thinking around the use of crypto in the civic space – how can the blockchain and associated technologies be used to create better-functioning urban environments, smart cities and local democratic infrastructures? The article is broadly positive about the potential impact of crypto on urban planning and governance, and there are some really interesting ideas posited here about electoral security and taxation systems and the like – as ever, though, I can’t personally see why these have to be done using crypto, other than because an awful lot of already very rich people and institutions stand to gain if they are. I would love to hear from any readers who can help explain this stuff to me, as I would genuinely like to be proved wrong about this.
- Why I Won’t Make An NFT Videogame: Sorry for the slightly-crypto/NFT/web3/Metaverse-heavy opening to the longreads this week, by the way, but it’s very much been that sort of fortnight in my corner of the web – another thing to blame Zuckerberg for! This is a sort-of companion piece to the previous one, this time looking at the arguments for including NFT/cryptostuff inside videogames (or game-adjacent things), and why, in the opinion of the author, doing so is a fcuking terrible idea. Whether or not you’re into games or the gaming industry, I would suggest this is a good read on the NFT/crypto discourse overall – I very much sympathise with the author when they write: “I don’t know how this is supposed to be a good value proposition for anyone other than the people who run the exchange and take a cut of every transaction, trying to put a transaction in the middle of everything we do just fine without needing transactions. They just want to extract money from us that we don’t have any reason to spend. We’re literally better off not doing it.” – but again, please feel free to tell me why I am wrong, I am genuinely curious.
- Notes on Web3: I promise we’re nearly done with this section, NEARLY. This is by Robin Sloan, and neatly outlines their position on Web3 as a ‘thing’ (by the way, someone very pro-Web3 was attempting to convince me of its validity the other day – their best encapsulation of what it means is ‘the introduction of digital scarcity and the potential for transaction to every single facet of online existence’, which I think serves as a neat way of calibrating your likely reaction of the current proposed future of the web. If you’re the sort of person who thinks ‘hang on, I don’t know whether introducing the market to ABSOLUTELY EVERYTHING ONLINE is necessarily a good idea’ then poor you, sucker, is the upshot as far as I can tell here) – they are not pro, but the arguments set out here as to why are again a potentially-useful way for you to test your thinking and gut feeling about the present direction of travel.
- NFT NYC: In what is (I am almost certain) the last mention of NFTs in this week’s Curios, the New York Times takes us behind the scenes at New York’s recent NFT enthusiasts’ conference – it’s exactly as you’d expect, a light profile puffpiece reporting from various parties, with a slightly air of bafflement which doesn’t preclude the piece from making a lot of vague ‘next big thing’ noises. What struck me about this most was less about the tech and its implications and more about the ‘scene’, which strikes me quite strongly as being another group of previously-overlooked nerdy enthusiasts enjoying their time at the top of the power pyramid – not to harsh their vibe, but things like Gamergate and the Marvel Cinematic Universe suggest that it’s not always a universally positive thing when the previously-downtrodden (or at least those who thought of themselves as such) suddenly get given the keys to the kingdom.
- The Facebook Papers: I have been writing about Facebook for nearly a decade now – not here, you understand, somewhere else, a REAL publication that actually pays me (a tiny amount of) money and has editors and suchlike – and over the past few weeks have had conversations with various peers, which have all basically trodden the same ground when it comes to the latest swathe of FB revelations: “hmm, I mean, great, but this is literally what we have been saying for the past 10 years and noone cared then and I am not 100% convinced that anyone is going to care now either”. And lo, it came to pass…this is an interesting article in Rest of World which looks at why the Washington Post’s big scoop, and the subsequent release of the materials to much of the rest of the world’s media, has gained so little traction; fine, there were lots of articles, but you can already tell that the shelf-life of this is going to be a lot shorter in the public consciousness than it was for Cambridge Analytica (a story which was in many respects overblown bullsh1t, let’s not forget). A combination of anglocentrism in the distribution of materials, too much stuff, and general Facebook fatigue, basically – combined of course with the fact that COP has neatly decapitated the story. It’s been interesting that there’s been very little reporting of this in Italy, for example, despite the fact that the population here is as Facebook-addled as anywhere in the world (and that one might argue that its politics have been shaped by FB like no other country in Europe).
- Sopranos vs Skyrim: Popular fantasy dragon-bothering videogame Skyrim turns 10 this month – I confess that when I was doing the UK PR for it and attempting to find multiple different ways of pitching ‘It’s like Game of Thrones, but interactive! No, listen, dragons are cool now, honest!’ to bored-sounding features editors I didn’t imagine it would still be part of the culture 10 years hence. Still, it is – this is a lovely piece looking at the way in which it’s become part of the memetic landscape. Technically it’s about people who mash up characters from the Sopranos with Skyrim graphics, fine, but actually it’s about how everything is a remix and all culture now exists simply as units of memetic currency to be fcuked with by the consumer however they see fit (ackshully – God, I am insufferable; sorry about that).
- The GTA Roleplayers: I’ve featured the roleplaying communities of GTAV in here before in various guises, but this is probably the best article I’ve read about the communities that exist on there, using their leisure time to pretend to be policemen or criminals or journalists or HR people (I know that one should never mock another’s harmless pleasures, but I do wonder rather about someone who chooses to spend their leisure time embodying the epitome of whitecollar drudgery). What I found most interesting about this was the glimpse it gives into a very specific potential version of the metaverse (sorry) – parallel existences in virtual space, given significance and weight by those participating it. Remind me again why we need Meta or the blockchain (SORRY!) to deliver this?
- Digital Clothes: An interesting overview of the digital fashion space as it currently stands – obviously much of this will be OLD HAT to Curios regulars, who will have first read about all this circa 2018, but I am including it mainly as a) fodder for all you lazy strategists who want an article to crib from when you are inevitably asked to produce a ‘deck’ (FFS!) about all this as part of your pointless ‘2022 trends’ work, and b) as a small ‘fuck you’ to the person who decided to remove all the digital fashion stuff from a pitch I worked on earlier this year which the agency then ended up losing. I WAS RIGHT YOU IDIOTS.
- History and Assassin’s Creed: The Assassin’s Creed videogame series has been going for AGES now, and whilst your appetite for open world ‘collect all the icons on the seemingly-infinite megamap!’ gameplay may vary, there’s no arguing with the series’ ability to create incredible realisations of historical moments for the player to parkour around (my time in Italy is hopelessly coloured by my experiences playing Assassin’s Creed 2, which made me look at literally all renaissance architecture through the ‘yes, but could I climb it?’ lens). This piece looks at how historians feel about these ludic representations of history, what this sort of digital archaeological reconstruction can be used for in terms of education and reappraisal of history, and where this fits in the context of artistic imaginings of The Past in other media – if you’re in any way interested in history, art and art history, this is a great read.
- Dune and Recycled Waste Water: It feels appropriate in a week in which we’re all nervously looking at future thermometers to link to a piece which strongly advocates that we reconsider the wisdom of imbibing our own recycled p1ss. The Verge looks at the recent Dune adaptation in the context of how it approaches Frank Herbert’s famous imagining of the ‘stillsuit’, the clothing that lets desert dwellers recycle moisture from the atmosphere and their own bodies to survive the aridity of Arakis, and asks why we are still so reticent to consider recycled waste as a viable source of hydration when all the signs point to us needing to get on board with it sooner rather than later. I’ll have a urea latte, please (hold the sprinkles).
- The Serial Killer Expert: A quite brilliant longread profile from The Guardian, all about Stéphane Bourgoin, author and serial killer expert whose claims to have interviewed dozens of the world’s most notorious murderers have turned out to be somewhat less watertight than he wanted the public to believe. Such a well-told story (admittedly the material is great; you’d have to work hard tro fcuk this up), and proof positive, if ever any were needed, that there’s no area of inquiry so odd and grubby that people won’t pursue celebrity within it, however undeservedly. Bourgoin’s chutzpah here is quite astonishing, as is the fact it took so long for this story to come out – it’s testament to the skill of the author that this isn’t the hatchet job it could easily have been.
- Shebeen Queens: A supremely-readable book review from the LRB, by Sophie Lewis, of a book about women and alcohol throughout history by Mallory O’Meara, this is a great romp through the way in which women’s work with and association with booze has been treated by society over the years, and the manner in which said work and association has been used to perpetuate gender divides over the years, Contains so many wonderful lines and facts, including “an affluent Egyptian woman named Chratiankh (birth and death dates unknown)’ whose tomb inscription was said to read: ‘I was a mistress of drunkenness, one who loved a good day, who looked forward to [having sex] every day, anointed with myrrh and perfumed with lotus scent.’” Wonderful stuff.
- The Untold Story of Sushi in America: You may not think you’re interested in reading about how sushi became ubiquitous across North America, but I promise you that this article – which traces the unexpected (by me at least) links between raw fish and rice and the church of the Moonies – will persuade you that you in fact are. One of those wonderful pieces of writing which exposes the often buried links between all sorts of seemingly-unrelated cultural / social elements, and the incredible role that circumstance plays in the way in which the world works. The only bad thing about this is the pretty-but-irritating layout choices – the illustrations are lovely, but the way the text is set makes the whole thing rather a pain to actually read. Still, though, it’s worth persevering with.
- The Executioners’ Burden: Have you ever contemplated the reality of the death penalty and thought ‘yes, but what about the poor executioners? What do THEY go through?’? No, I can’t imagine you have – I certainly hadn’t – and yet that’s exactly the thrust of this quite remarkable piece of journalism in South Carolina’s The State newspaper. It’s fascinating, don’t get me wrong, and I don’t doubt that there’s a huge psychological impact on those people who administer the process of lethal injection or electric chair, but at the same time I couldn’t help but find the general tone of the piece – “won’t somebody think of the executioners??!!” – somewhat…odd, although perhaps not unexpected when you consider its provenance. There were several points in the article when I mentally paused to shout “Yes, but you could always have NOT DONE THAT JOB”, but I suppose that’s the sort of pinko, lefty viewpoint that makes me unsuited to ever fulfilling the position (or to ever living in red-state America).
- The Subtle Look and Overwhelming Feel of Today’s Misogyny: Ann-Helen Petersen writes on what misogyny looks like in 2021, and some of the ways in which codified versions of it present in modern (American, but by that token Western) culture. So so so good, and a useful reminder that the culture wars are always happening, even when you can’t explicitly see them happening.
- The Wild Inside: Finally this week, an appropriately-environmentally-themed short story, all about what happens when nature becomes the enemy. Beautifully-written, and a wonderful example of writing that tells the reader as much by omission as by narrative.
AND NOW, MOVING PICTURES AND SOUNDS!:
- Fallout76 is an online multiplayer game set in a post-apocalyptic world. Some people who play the game decided that they were going to use it to stage a version of Macbeth, performed entirely in-engine, with each part played by a different actor (well, ok, some of them doubled up, but still). This is not, fine, an RSC-level bit of bard, but I can’t help but love the endeavour on display here and the obvious fun they are having with the source text.
- This is one of those weird cultural things that I come across every now and again – something that is obviously massive for a certain target audience, but which audience is so distinct from me that I had no idea it was even a thing. This track is called ‘Enemy’ and it’s by Imagine Dragons (a band who I know exist, but by whom I have never knowingly heard anything – see also Rita Ora and The Saturdays), and it’s the soundtrack to a new cartoon that’s airing…soon(?), and which is based on hugely-popular videogame League of Legends. See? HUGE cultural properties which exist in an entirely-different bit of internet to that which I inhabit. Anyway, I am featuring this because whilst the track is a bit ‘meh’ (it screams FIFA soundtrack, for better or worse) the animation is absolutely fcuking spectacular, and made me almost want to watch the show in question (but not quite).
- Last up in this week’s videos, it’s a new one from the UK’s best MC (according to Web Curios) Manga St Hilare – this is called DKFM and as ever it fcuking bangs, and OH THAT’S IT THAT’S ALL WE’VE GOT TIME FOR IT IS SO GOOD TO BE BACK I HAVE MISSED YOU EVEN IF YOU WERE LARGELY IGNORANT OF MY TEMPORARY ABSENCE AND I LOOK FORWARD TO SEEING YOU AGAIN NEXT WEEK BUT IN THE MEANTIME TAKE CARE AND HAVE FUN AND BE SAFE BUT MOST IMPORTANTLY LET ME REITERATE HAVE FUN AND I LOVE YOU BYE!