Hello, Internet Fans! Hello! Are you well? Are you thriving? I do hope none of you have been burned in the great crypto crash of May 2022 and that your apes are all safe (lol).
Summer is starting to kick in here in Rome, meaning that I’m once again slowly getting used to the light patina of sweat that it’s impossible to shift from my body, and the joyous early-morning ritual that is ‘slowly discovering all the new places the mosquitoes have managed to exsanguinate me from’, and, in celebration, I am TAKING A SHORT BREAK – my girlfriend’s coming to visit and we’re going to spend a few days by the sea and I am going to try and forget that the web exists for a week or so. I know you don’t care, but it’s important for me to put this stuff in writing as proof (if only to myself) that I exist outside of Curios (it doesn’t always feel like that, if I’m honest).
Which means that this will be your last Curios for a few weeks – it will be back for the Summer stretch in late-May (early-June at the latest), but hopefully the following overflowing cornucopia of links’n’words will keep you sated until then (and if it doesn’t, tough – you consume too much internet as it is, frankly, and you could do with going on a diet).
I am still Matt, this is still Web Curios, and I am going to miss you, you know.
By Owen Freeman
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- MRI of the Earth: I don’t know whether this is a factor of getting older, or simply something to do with the tech becoming more ubiquitous, but everyone I know these days seems to have had an MRI or two – I feel oddly left-out not to have yet experience the odd existential horror of being packed into a metal tube whirring at 3billion decibels while I sit and sweat about all the things that could be going wrong with my meat prison. Fcuk, I mean even PLANET EARTH has had an MRI, as evidenced by this new website from Google – not sure whether the doctors have delivered the prognosis to the patient yet, but the findings…don’t look good! I confess to being slightly-baffled as to what the exact point of this is – I mean, we seem dead set on whistling distractedly every time someone tries to gently point out to us that things are getting a bit urgent down here, what with the record temperatures and the Bad Companies and the like, and I’m not 100% certain that a few shiny webpages telling us how we are ‘living through an era of unprecedented decline’ but how we should make sure to ‘learn, remember and dream’ (the project is developed in conjunction with one Refik Anadol, “a Turkish-American new media artist and designer. His projects consist of data-driven machine learning algorithms that create abstract, dream-alike environments”, and it does rather tend towards the…sweepingly-meaningless imho) are going to shock us into taking the steps necessary to avoid a hot, arid species-level death event. Still, shiny webwork! “Imagining nature as a totality that fills the gaps in our otherwise narrow perception of the cosmos lies at the heart of Anadol’s Nature Dreams – a series of synaesthetic reality experiments based on GAN algorithms developed by artificial intelligence…Applying machine learning to 68,986,479 million images and creating a dataset that transforms into a collective latent cinematic experience, the piece commemorates the beauty of this land we share” – sounds impressive, eh? What this seemingly boils down to, though, is, as far as I can tell, an arbitrary list of meteorological events from the past few decades mapped onto a vaguely-glitch globe, and a bunch of GAN-generated animated videos presenting machine-imagined visions of ‘nature’ with some vague bromides about “WILL THIS BE ALL THERE IS LEFT???” and, honestly, WHAT THE FCUK IS THIS MEANT TO BE SAYING? I am generally a big fan of data-led art projects, but this feels phoned-in, wafer-thin and generally like a massive waste of time and money on everyone’s part – A BIT LIKE ALL THE ‘SUSTAINABILITY INITIATIVES’ BEING PROMOTED BY LARGE CONSUMER-FACING BRANDS, EH? EH??? Dear God.
- Backup Ukraine: As the third month of the war in Ukraine drags on and it becomes increasingly apparent that this one’s going to run and run, so the long-term damage done to the physical infrastructure of the country by months of sustained shelling will accumulate and accrue – and whilst, fine, you might think that ‘saving lives and ensuring the availability of aid to those who need it’ might take precedence over ‘attempt to create decent records of what this country looked like physically and architecturally before Cuddly Vlad decided to try and ‘denazify it’ back to the 1700s’, I think there’s something incredibly valuable about projects that seek to capture the totality of what was lost – the history and art and sense of place and self that war demolishes. A project by 3d scanning software Polycam, “Backup Ukraine lets anyone become an archivist. You can scan buildings and monuments as full 3D models using just your phone. And store them in an open, secure online archive — where no bombs can reach.” Obviously if you’re not currently in Ukraine and in possession of a smartphone here you’re not going to be able to participate, but you can if you wish look at the gallery of objects that have been scanned and uploaded, from statuary to antique furniture to doorhandles to ironwork to domestic interiors…I don’t know, there’s something about this collective attempt to capture things in digital amber like this that I find hugely affecting, though it’s entirely possible that I’m just overtired and need a rest.
- In-Browser Fortnite: I know that noone is excited by Fortnite anymore, but I am legitimately amazed that, should I wanted (I don’t, but still) I can now play it anywhere on a web browser without needing a download or anything. Works on mobile or desktop – all you need is a Microsoft account (yes, I know, it’s a pain, but they probably have all your data already anyway, probably) and an internet connection and you’re away. I did actually play this for 10m when I found it, just to check it works (it works), and I discovered that Fortnite is now marginally-easier than it used to be thanks to there being a build-free game mode, meaning I no longer have to worry about everyone I try and shoot being able to erect massive defence fortresses within seconds (instead I have to worry about my old person’s reaction speed and increasingly-obviously shaky hands) – this is worth a look, partly because of how slickly-impressive the connectivity is (honestly, I know it’s not super-exciting, but it is incredibly impressive) and partly because having a quick, free distracting webgame to hand is never a bad thing when you do jobs as soul-destroyingly pointless as I know for a fact yours probably is.
- Twitter Data Dash: One of the few elements of Twitter’s future and governance that Elon hasn’t mouth-farted out an opinion on over the past month is data security – or, if he has done, it’s been lost amongst the tidal wave of inanities about letting Trump back and left-wing bias and, honestly, the very worst thing about this whole news story isn’t so much that Musk exists and is really rich and is continuing to accrue more power and influence than it’s probably healthy to have, it’s that it’s now impossible to ignore the fcuker. Anyway, this link has nothing to do with Musk – see? The fcuker inveigles himself into EVERYTHING these days! – and is instead a little browsergame that Twitter has developed to educate consumers about how seriously it takes data privacy and the like. Jump your way through various levels, learning all about how Twitter RESPECTS YOUR DATA PRIVACY and stuff like that. A curious one, this – whilst, obviously, I am all for brands making games as a comms tool, and this one isn’t terrible (in particular the soundtrack’s pretty good – ok, fine, it’s pretty good for a promotional broswergame about platform-led data security, but still), but, equally, it lacks the sort of polish you’d expect from something made by a global company with Twitter’s renown. There’s also the small issue that it doesn’t really seem to understand what ‘data privacy’ is – I mean, yes, you can block ads on Twitter, but, equally, the company does sort of track all of your onsite activity and then sell all the data it can glean about you to all sorts of people with nary a whim, which, er, doesn’t quite seem to fit the narrative here. Still, COLLECT THE BONES!
- Chill Pill: As we limp to the end of another Mental Health Awareness Week (did you feel that the pressures created by the undue importance placed upon your utterly-futile advermarketingpr job by clients and bosses alike was in some small way alleviated by the fact that HR compiled a series of ‘meditation techniques’ YouTube video guidelines into their weekly internal comms newsletter? I BET YOU DID!!!) with our collective psyche in tatters and our fingernails beginning to splinter under the very real strain of clinging onto what is loosely termed ‘sanity’, it seems a reasonable moment to introduce a BRAND NEW APP which promises to make it all better (actually, in its defence, I don’t think it really promises anything at all). Chill Pill “helps you find new friends in our anonymous audio-only support groups led by members of our community, where everyone is welcome, worthy, and valid in discussing their mental health. you can share how you really feel by posting your thoughts, experiences, and emotions in real time with a judgement-free community who gets you.” What this in practice means is a combination of live voice chat, feed-like posts, groups and community, all geared towards the nebulous promise of ‘better mental health’ – I can’t help but feel that this hasn’t quite been thought through. It’s obviously aimed at kids – the aesthetic and the copy is nailed-on GenZbait – and, whilst I am broadly-supportive of the idea of ‘talking it all out’, I am not getting a huge sense of professional responsibility from the app here in terms of safeguarding, etc. “As a Chill Caterpillar, we’re getting to know each other…once you’ve posted on 3 different days, you can attend support groups! when you’ve attended 10 support groups and become a Chill Bestie, you can start leading support groups of your own with the help of one of your new friends!” So, hang on, for me to qualify as a ‘mental health support group leader’ within the app – an anonymous person convening and leading equally-anonymous support groups for kids about how they feel, etc – all I need to do is…attend ten other support groups? That doesn’t strike me as…entirely smart or sensible. Also, there is a special place in hell reserved for whoever copywrote this particular abomination of a line: “we’re anonymous but not strangers, we’re your future friends who listen and validate“. I mean, really.
- The Phone From Dilemma: This song came out in 2002, at which point I was already dipping a toe into the horrible, murky waters of work and as such basically missed out on music videos, etc, for a few years until YouTube and Google Music changed the game – which means that I only have very limited understanding of the whole ‘KELLY ROWLAND GOT A TEXT IN MICROSOFT EXCEL ON A NOKIA COMMUNICATOR PHONE IN THAT NELLY VIDEO?????’-hysteria that seems to crop up online every few years (don’t worry, you can see the clip in question here and it really is majestic – I sort of want to read an oral history of exactly how the fcuk that shot came to be used). Still, thanks to this tiny website – which does one thing,and one thing only, but does it perfectly – you can now send a text message to anyone you like in the world, for free, as though sent from a Nokia Communicator. This is, in the main, utterly pointless, but it does afford you a really simple way of anonymously sending vaguely-trolly texts to anyone you like anywhere in the world – particularly good when you’re a member of an overlarge Whatsapp group with people you don’t fully know, and there’s someone who is really getting on your nerves and you want to mess with them (ahem this is a non-specific example, honest).
- Scrungy Cats: A subReddit dedicated to cats looking…scrungy. ‘Scrungy’ is a new term to me, but, looking at these cats, it is clearly the PERFECT word to describe them (although, that said, it would still be impossible for me to pen anything even approximating to a working definition of ‘scrungy’) – you might have described them as ‘derpy’ a few years ago, in internet parlance, but these are definitely scrungy rather than derpy. I don’t make the rules (or if I do, I am certainly not telling you what they are).
- Glitcher: OH YES THIS IS FUN! This website does one simple thing – feed it a drum loop and it will spit that drum loop back at you, all glitched out and generally-fucked-up. Honestly, if I were in any way musical I would go WILD with this – it reminds me slightly of a guy at University called Chris who I was briefly friends with and who when on acid one time had a ‘vision’ about combining very hard drill’n’bass with samples taken from Francophonic kids’ animation of the 1970s ‘Barbapapa’ (it may surprise you to hear that Chris never found the widespread acclaim for this idea that at the time he felt he merited) and whose musical output sounded not-unlike the drums that result from this alchemic process of transformation.
- NFT Master Thread: Amusingly this week,. 16 months after I first mentioned them in an all-agency email and in a week in which it’s widely agreed there’s been something of a…collapse in interest and belief in the general cryptoNFTweb3hypecycle, I was sent an email by a colleague asking if I might run a training session on ‘what all this stuff was about’ (‘no’, is the answer, ‘I do not believe in it and I would feel like a charlatan taking your money’). AGENCY PEOPLE, NEVER CHANGE! Still, if you are in the market for an exhaustive list of resources and thinkpieces and updates and ‘state of play’-type overviews, then this thread (neatly expanded at the link) by this Singaporean person might be of use. Perhaps helpfully contains a floor price calculator so you can calculate exactly how much you’re currently out on monkey jpegs.
- Indx: Very much a throwback to The Web Of The Past, this, with its vowel-eschewing (schwng? No, in that case it really should be ‘ndx’) name, and it’s almost oldschool ‘personal information categorisation and taxonomy tool’ mission statement – still, given that, as I have often remarked, noone’s seemingly managed to create a better personal universal digital filing cabinet than Evernote, and Evernote is widely considered to be a piece of software bloated to the point of unusable unrecognisability, there’s definitely a gap in the market. Indx pitches itself as ‘Pinterest for learning’, which I can sort of see from a UI / interface point of view, but it strikes me as a bit more like Pocket or one of those read later services, but for everything – one-click tagging and filing of anything you come across online, from webpages to Tweets to podcasts, with a nice visual frontend when you want to look back at your accumulated infogubbins…this could be really useful if you’re someone still looking for a helpful research tool and digital memory augmentation.
- The Department of Homeland Security Colouring Book: I know that the heyday of the adult colouring book craze is now long-past, much to the chagrin of the publishing industry which, with the seeming death of the ‘celebrity memoir as annual cash cow’ bandwagon, must be wondering where on earth the pennies are going to come from – still, given that it’s MENTAL HEALTH AWARENESS WEEK (are you aware of the edges of your sanity crumbling like so much chalky rock into the threatening ocean of ‘nonspecific brainterror’ below? GREAT! Job done here, then, now onto *checks* NATIONAL STATIONERY WEEK!) and I imagine that several of you are desperate for some gentle colouring-in between the lines to distract you from the pitches and the proposals and the fraught meetings about cashflow with the private equity people whose toothy smiles are – is it just your impression? – starting to curdle slightly as the hockeystick fails to materialise, this is probably a great moment to share with you the oh-so-soothing effort from America’s Department of Homeland Security, which lets anyone who needs a bit of distraction from the horrors of modernity do some gentle colouring of scenes such as “ICE Border Patrol Guard With Friendly Attack Dog!” or “Fed With Earpiece Stonily Surveils Presidential Motorcade!” or “Children In Cages Await Deportation!” (oh, ok, fine, I made the last one up). I can’t work out whether this attempt to ‘humanise’ the Feds and make them appealing to kids is funny or horrifying, but you can make up your own minds I suppose.
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- Waterworks: A few years ago now I featured a now-seemingly-defunct (the url works but it’s no longer being updated – actually the slightly broken nature of what remains makes it a slightly more interesting work imho, with the linkrot and the vaguely-post-memorial feel to the whole thing) webart project from New York, which sought to catalogue all the instances in which people had found themselves crying in public around the city – in part as a storygathering exercise, and in part (I think) as a way of seeing whether it was possible to form any sort of ‘psychic map’ of the city in terms of where the bad vibes were (except it was 2018 and ‘vibes’ obviously hadn’t been invented yet). Anyway, Waterworks is a bit like that but for a smaller, more specific area, the University of Waterloo Campus. “It’s experimental art: a heatmap of where people have cried on UWaterloo* campus. But why? The easy answer is “to show you that you’re not alone!”, though true, that’d be way too cliche to be in an artist’s statement. We want you to know that feeling sad and expressing emotions are not bad things. It’s a valid experience for everybody, and can help process feelings in a healthy way. But when it does get bad, we believe mental health crises are not just solved through reactive resources, but also through proactive conversations and strengthened emotional awareness. We also know the only way to get into the heads of some of you Waterloo folks is through ~data~, so, I guess that’s what got us here.” Sadly this doesn’t currently seem to be getting updated either, but I love that it existed and I love even more the idea of all these projects one day finding each other, some grand crowdsourced map of where the global sads live so that we can avoid them or hunt them down, ticking sads off the ‘visited!’ list like bucketlist trackers with a melancholic bent. I would like these for everywhere, is what I am saying, and I think there’s something wonderful and underexplored about emotive maps of space – something which feels like it should be easier to do now in meaningful ways due to the everproliferating UGC firehose but which dying API access for all the major platforms seems rather to be stymieing chiz chiz. I love this immoderately, and would love to think of ways to make this sort of thing modern and better and more visually interesting, in the unlikely event anyone wants to pay me to do so.
- Henry Heffernan: ANOTHER SUPERB PERSONAL PORTFOLIO WEBSITE! Another one which, I have just realised, has been made by someone who is almost certainly young enough to be my biological son! I do wonder whether on some subconscious level I keep including these (wonderful) examples of personal creativity from talented children because I think that by so doing one of them may one day in the future take pity on me and employ me in some capacity when I’m in my 80s and still attempting to shill ‘brand narratives’ to smooth-faced idiots. Anyway, Henry Hofferman is a student graduating this month with a BS in Computer Science, and his personal portfolio website is a combination of really nice graphical work (the tiny desk! The tiny computer!) and really nice coding (you can use the tiny computer to play tiny games! Including a tiny version of Doom!) and it just feels right, like Hebry basically knows what he is doing when it comes to making pleasing web gubbins – which, frankly, is the sort of endorsement that should see Henry happily pay me millions when he’s lead UI developer at Snap come 2029 (please Henry I am counting on you please).
- The LinkedIn Skills Guide: I had a slightly awkward moment the other week when I was talking to someone relatively professionally important (or at least ‘relatively professionally-important when compared to me’) and happened to mention that I hated LinkedIn with a passion and, when asked why, explained that it was “performative alpha dress-up for people with dust where their souls should be” – I then learned that this person was an assiduous online networker and valued the platform immensely for its purpose in burgeoning their personal network, and that they had been ‘surprised’ at my vehement dislike, so, well, that’s another professional bridge burned. Thing is, though, LinkedIn really is sh1t, and this piece of ‘work’ by the platform, looking at the changing need for ‘skills’ in the workplace across various countries, is a great example of why. It’s nicely-laid-out, fine, and contains some light-touch data personalisation interactivity (choose your industry! Choose your country!) but as soon as you look closely you realise it is utterly empty and bereft of substance – JUST LIKE EVERYONE ON LINKEDINzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz. “To understand how skills have changed, we first identify the top skills a worker had in the past for a specific job, and then compare that with the skills a worker today has for that same job”…hm, yes, ok, fine, “…taken together, this analysis showed that skills changed by 25% on average in the United Kingdom since 2015.” Hang on, what? What the shuddering fcuk does ‘skills changed by 25% on average’ mean? Does it mean – hang on – LITERALLY FCUKING NOTHING? Oh yes, that’s right, it does! It even lets you look at the data industry by industry, meaning I was able to learn that ‘For Media & Communications in United Kingdom, skills have changed an average of 21.4% since 2015’ (still no indication of what that percentage refers to!) and laugh at the list of current skills most in-demand by my ‘chosen’ profession, all of which will be 90% automated by 2030. Stupid, shallow, and basically hateful – JUST LIKE EVERYONE ON LINKEDIN! Except, er, you!
- StarWaves: I semi-regularly feature bits of synthy software in here, but I don’t think I have ever come across anything as flat-out bonkers as StarWaves – this requires a download, and quite possibly a reasonably-powerful bit of kit to run it on, but, equally, when was the last time you were afforded the opportunity to compose complex electronic soundscapes using software which effectively acts as a space-themed GUI complete with satellites and orbital patterns? NEVER, I would happily wager! “StarWaves is an audiovisual scene architect, the embodiment of sound, space and visual design rolled into one. StarWaves gives the sound designer the architect’s role by creating possibilities of dialogue between these multiple elements…In physics, light can be modeled by particles, moving in light speed and a laser beam is nothing else than a very focused and directed beam of light. So the dynamics of the StarWaves emitters are built with this inspiration. The emitters and platforms constitute the space-atmospheric, non-gravitational 3D scene of the StarWaves. It is an interaction space where the dynamics of physical movement, kinematics which result to an audio-visual experience to be seen and heard in a direct relationship.” I am copying directly from the manual here, but, as you can see, even that offers only a…partial explanation as to the complex madness that is StarWaves. Honestly, I I really hope one of you is tempted to have a proper play with this, as it looks GREAT (and fiendishly complicated, if I’m honest).
- LJ4D: This is, fine, niche even by mystandards, and will likely only be of (limited) interest to people who also happen to live within a mile or so of the specific area of London this is talking about, but, well, here! “An ongoing project to model the development of Loughborough Junction from the mid-19th century up to the current day.This small area of South London initially gained its identity as the location of a significant railway junction. The railway station has since lost its prominence, but the railway viaducts built during the 19th century continue to define the neighbourhood. The complex history of what has been built, dismantled and rebuilt since can be difficult to read from ground level, or from two dimensional historical maps and photos alone. This project attempts to put the pieces back together by reconstructing the past in three dimensions, and at multiple points in time.” It’s not, I accept, what you might call traditionally interesting, but at the same time there’s something really rather wonderful about the work that the person behind it, Colin McGuinness, has put into cataloguing the changing shape and character of a relatively small, relatively unremarkable corner of the city, and I am very happy this exists.
- Cowturtle: I never, even as a child, had a particular desire to own tropical fish or amphibians or anything like that (though I confess to having the oh-so-basic love for axolotls that characterises most of the terminally-online these days), but that didn’t prevent me from finding this person’s TikTok channel, in which they document themselves doing all sorts of domestic tank upkeep for a dizzying collection of fish and reptiles and amphibians – you want lungfish? YOU GOT LUNGFISH! This is great, mesmerising and ever-so-slightly frightening (I don’t know why, but there’s something about this sort of fauna that gives me the creeps rather – I don’t know, maybe it’s their sort of essentially-oozy nature, but I am wary), and pretty muc perfect TikTok content.
- Make VR For Mars: I don’t mean to be rude about any of you, but, well, if I’m honest I’m not 100% certain how many of my tiny readership are world-leading VR developers. Still! If I’m doing my readership a disservice and you are in fact all significantly more talented and successful that…well, than I am, frankly, then perhaps this will be of use – it certainly sounds like a fascinating opportunity for the right person or people. “Virtual reality is rapidly becoming an integral part of how NASA conducts research and developmental testing to support many of its missions. The agency is currently building a virtual reality testbed focused on simulating extravehicular activities (EVAs) on the surface of Mars. You can be a part of this development! The NASA MarsXR Challenge is seeking developers to create new assets and scenarios for the Mars XR Operations Support System (XOSS) environment. Participants are tasked with creating additional assets and scenarios focused on EVAs, which will be used to test procedures and plan for conditions astronauts may experience while exploring on the surface of Mars. The top 20 ideas will share a prize purse of $70,000 and have the opportunity to participate in a conversation with the NASA team developing and using XOSS. The submission deadline is June 30, 2022.” HOW MUCH FUN IS THAT? Imagine how enjoyable it would be to come up with VR games to test the competence and mental fortitude of tomorrow’s martian astronauts? You could send them LITERALLY MAD before they’d even finished basic training (or, you know, ensure that they are equipped with the necessary skills to succeed – either/or, really).
- BeamNG Nation: You may have seen a video doing the rounds last week of a series of cars attempting to overcome a VERY LARGE bump in the road, all render in comically CG with appropriate physics and everything – this YouTube channel collects similar experiments, all undertaken with the same software (called BeamNG) whereby you can basically set up whatever odd, destructive vehicular challenges you fancy, just to see what would happen if, say, you attempted to do an Evl Kneval over a dozen Routemasters but driving a Ford Transit rather than a motorbike (spoilers: nothing good will happen). I don’t drive, I know nothing about cars and care about them even less, and yet, still, this is fcuking MESMERISING. I had no idea up until this week that the way I really enjoy spending my time is in fact watching CG cars try and fail to drive over 600 unevenly-spaced spruce logs without their suspension giving out (and trust me when I say that I barely even know what suspension is).
- Experimenting With Snap’s City Landmarker: Having slagged off LinkedIn a few short entries ago, here I am linking to a post on it – I know, I know, my hypocrisy is disgusting and repellent. Still, it’s practically worth it for the slightly-mindblowing video showcasing Snap’s City Landmarker tech, which works over the digital twin Snap’s built over London to let you access contextual AR information for whatever you like. Fine, yes, you can also do this with Google Live View, but the interesting thing about the Snap application is that it’s open, and anyone can create their own layers on top of it – honestly, if you can look at this and not immediately think ‘live immersive theatregame experience’ then, well, you’ve obviously spent less time and money on ‘interactive entertainments with a vague roleplaying bent’ than I have. Honestly, this made me properly excited in a way that really doesn’t happen very often any more – the idea of being able to create your own ludic layers over specific areas of a city which players can use to drape a narrative skin over familiar surroundings is so, so interesting to me, and flashed me back to the excitement of experiencing stuff that Gideon Reeling were doing 15 years ago. Seriously, this looks very fun, and the fact that it’s theoretically available to use by anyone makes the possibilities properly enticing.
- Nightclub Chaos: You know that ‘Chaotic Nightclub Photos’ Twitter account I featured in here a few weeks back which in about a month has gone from 0 to 1.2 million followers (in preparation for its inevitable pivot to astroturfing meme superstore)? Well this is the subReddit that has been created to feed the Twitter feed – there is some…choice content in here, let’s say. Whilst some of the pictures will be familiar to you if you’re an aficionado of the Twitter feed, there’s enough fresh content here to make it worth a look on its own merit – I was particularly taken to see that one of the people featured in the Twitter feed (cherubic faced kid posing in photo with ‘mate’ whilst elegantly decanting a bottle of WKD or similar all over ‘mate’) appears repeatedly in the submissions, which is, in its own, small-town way, an achievement! Well done, small, cherubic looking man! There’s a longread later on about these pictures, which I recommend to you unreservedly – I would bet actual cashmoney that there will be at least three dissertations and possibly a Phd written about this in the next 12 months, and I would quite like to read those too please (“Anomie and Aftershock: Post-Masculine Representation and Aspirational Hedonia in the post-Social Age”).
- Dead Trees: Tetris, except the blocks break up when they hit the bottom of the screen. This is quite janky and sort-of impossible, but weirdly fun at the same time.
- Eurosong Generator: It’s been quite fun seeing the buildup to Italy hosting Eurovision this year – not least because Italy has NEVER given a fcuk about Eurovision before, particularly, but now, since Maneskin won last year, they’re giving it all ‘THIS IS ONE OF THE MOST PRESTIGIOUS MUSICAL EVENTS IN THE WORLD (GYAC lads it really isn’t). Still, IT IS HAPPENING, so while we all wait to find out who comes second to Ukraine (erm, not sure giving a currently wartorn country the exciting opportunity to host a not-inexpensive international telly pageant next year is quite the prize you maybe think it is, Eurovision voters!) let’s gear up for the BIG NIGHT by playing an old UsVsTh3m game from a few years back where you get to pick a country, a musical genre, a topic for your song, your outfits, and see if YOU can win what is, for copyright reasons, called EUROSONG! Silly, fun, and significantly shorter than the real thing. By the way, the Italian entry this year is a bit dull imho, and should instead have been this which is objectively terrible, fine, but you just try getting it out of your head once you’ve heard the chorus a single time.
THE CIRCUS OF TUMBLRS!
- Simz: Simz is an Italian artist who does lovely illustrations featuring a small cast of beautifully-drawn and very cute characters, and there’s something inherently charming about their style that made me enjoy it more than I normally do this sort of thing – worth a look.
THE TROUGH OF (INSTA) FEEDS!
- Just Joshing: I am not sure that I will ever entirely get over the fact that it’s now entirely possible to create the same sort of effects that would have earned you a full-time gig at Industrial Light & Magic and possibly a VFX Oscar back in the 90s on your phone (or, fine, a not-that-fancy laptop). This is the Insa channel of a person who I presume is called Josh and who does some properly-impressive stuff with CGI and who I hope gets a job off the back of this because, Jesus, at his age all I was doing was picking the lumps of plastic out of suspiciously-petrol-scented soapbar.
- Anasabdin: Pixelart. Yes, I know, but this is really really good pixelart, the emphasis on the ‘art’ rather than the ‘pixel’ and with a focus on landscapes rather than imagined fantasy cityscapes which often tends to be the style of choice with this sort of style of work. Really very good indeed.
LONG THINGS WHICH ARE LONG!
- The War As Seen On Russian TV: Whilst it’s clear that Cuddly Vlad’s plans for a swift resolution to his entirely-altruistic attempts to remove those DREADFUL NAZIS from the Ukraine aren’t going entirely to plan, you wouldn’t necessarily know that were you getting your war reportage from within Putinland. This is a really interesting piece in the New York Times which looks at exactly how the war is being spun within Russia’s borders – there’s something particularly-chilling about the way in which the narratives around the atrocities committed in Bucha and elsewhere are sinuously reconfigured day-by-day, and whilst obviously there is nothing lazier than invoking Orwell when writing about state manipulation of information it’s also quite chilling to note the intensely ‘we have always been at war with Eastasia’-like nature of a lot of this back-and-forthing. For what it’s worth, I am spending a reasonable amount of time with a Ukrainian at the moment who’s just got out of the country, and the photos on their phone don’t make any of this feel like a massive false-flag operation, but, hey, Vlad knows best!
- Stablecoins: I’m really hoping that noone currently reading these words is staring sadly at a lot of graphs which have all of a sudden started shifting right/down and wondering how exactly they’re going to pay the mortgage this week – but it also seems clear that, based on this week’s…somewhat iffy cryptonews and performance that that’s a situation that a lot of people are going to find themselves in before too long. The big story this week has been the insane unraveling of the Tether stablecoin project – which, if those words mean nothing to you, you can find a useful explainer on here, courtesy of the (essential) Today In Tabs newsletter. This stuff is simultaneously quite complicated and, as far as I can see, very stupid, and Rusty’s explanations are helpfully simple, even for financial morons like me: “The obvious way to make a stablecoin would be to get a whole lot of dollars in a pile, lock them up, and issue one stable beanie per dollar. So the tokens are just a database entry that says “this represents one dollar, which I definitely have.” That’s also what “actual U.S. dollars” are now, so this is pretty uncontroversial. The second biggest stablecoin is called USDC, and it claims to be “fully backed by cash and short-dated U.S. government obligations, so that it is always redeemable 1:1 for U.S. dollars.” I.e. more or less “a big pile of real money,” without getting into the hairy question of what even is money, anyway. There’s about $50 billion worth of USDC out there, so backing it all with real money is expensive as heck.1 What if instead of “a big pile of money,” you could back a stablecoin with “a big pile of other stuff that’s kind of like money?” That’s the approach of Tether, which is the biggest stablecoin, with over $80 billion circulating. Tether is backed by real money in the sense that when you ask what it’s backed by they say “real money” and when you request that they show you the money they say “lol no.”” Honestly, this is a really good read and probably the best explainer I have yet read about this utter mess (one of many, many utter messes in and around crypto right now that are going to see a bunch of people who can’t afford to lose lose a LOT, and a bunch of people who can afford to lose probably make out just fine. So it goes, eh?).
- The Smash and Grab Economy: I have two pet theories about the now that I like to kick around occasionally, specifically about two groups of people who will, in some unspecified future reckoning, be saddled with a healthy share of the blame for getting us into the messes we currently find ourselves and which, unless something miraculous and odd happens, we are likely to continue to find ourselves in for a while longer yet – specifically, people in advertmarketingpr and people in Private Equity/VC. We’ll leave the advermarketingpr lot for another time – IT WILL COME – but this piece takes a healthy swipe at the Private Equity lot, specifically its increasingly-ubiquitous status as a parasitical shadow player within all sorts of previously-untouched fields. “In the popular imagination, private equity is often portrayed as a vulture, or some other scavenger that feasts on the sick and dying. Gross but unavoidable. But the bulk of the work done by modern-day private equity firms is not to finish off sick companies, but rather to stalk and gut the healthy ones. This type of predation is the result of 50 years of policies that have prioritized the profit-making of a few over the wellbeing of many: a corporate world that grew accustomed to valuing shareholders over everyone else, a penchant for siding with executives over unions, and a legislative establishment loath to enact strict regulations on the financiers whose donations fuel their campaigns. In short, a toxic soup of regulatory inertia and corporate greed.”
- All The Google Stuff: So Google this week had a big conference and announced a bunch of stuff – this is a decent overview both of some of the tech they showed off (the babelfish AR subtitling glasses – yes, I know, that’s a horrible description, but DEAL WITH IT – in particular are astonishing, in a ‘wow, this is a legtimitately potentially-transformative piece of futurekit’ sort of way) but also more broadly about the company’s broader ambitions as regards its future place in the World Dominated By A Handful Of Massive Tech Companies. The short version is, of course, device ubiquity – in the same way that Amazon wants an Alexa in EVERYTHING, so Google wants to be inside every single piece of moulded plastic you possess – “the only way Google can get to its ambient computing dreams is to make sure Google is everywhere. Like, literally everywhere. That’s why Google continues to invest in products in seemingly every square inch of your life, from your TV to your thermostat to your car to your wrist to your ears. The ambient-computing future may be one computer to rule them all, but that computer needs a near-infinite set of user interfaces.” Why’s that? What sort of business is Google in? THE ADVERTISING BUSINESS! The future’s so clogged with ads I can barely see my flying car through my Apple specs.
- Kill-Switching Tractors: Cory Doctorow on the darker side to a story you may have seen doing the rounds recently – tractor manufacturer John Deere prevented the theft of a bunch of tractor equipment from Ukraine by Russian soldiers by enabling the ‘kill switches’ embedded in the kit to remotely brick the hardware. One in the eye for the invaders! Except, as Doctorow neatly points out, this is perhaps not the great big win it might at first appear to be, and is instead a slightly-frightening look at the lack of meaning the idea of ownership over goods can have in an age in which everything is internet-connected and everything can be controlled by the manufacturer to, say, bar you access from your car if you’ve missed an insurance payment, or your fridge if your scales suggest you’re piling on the pounds a bit. Not only that, of course, but this sort of tech puts a huge reliance of the security systems of the companies controlling it – companies which aren’t, as a rule, often primarily concerned with these sorts of questions: “John Deere’s decision to build ag-tech that can be remotely controlled, disabled and updated, along with its monopolization of the world’s ag-tech market, means that anyone who compromises its system puts the world’s food-supply at risk. Which is a terrifying proposition, because John Deere has extraordinarily terrible information security. When Sick Codes probed Deere’s security, they found glaring, serious errors that put the entire food supply chain at risk.Worse, John Deere seems to have no clue as to how bad it is at security. In the company’s entire history it has never once submitted a single bug to the US government’s Common Vulnerabilities and Exposures (CVE) database. As far as Deere knows, its security is literally perfect. John Deere is wildly imperfect.” Reassuring!
- Amazon Everywhere: It’s not just Google that wants to be everywhere, of course – Amazon has long harboured similar ambitions of ubiquity, and, as you may occasionally have noticed over the past few years, is getting pretty close to achieving them. This is a slightly-chilling story from the US, in which Amazon is rolling a programme whereby it will co-opt exactly the sorts of small shops in rural locations which it has largely put to the wall with its combination of low, low prices and next-day shipping to become part of its local delivery network – instantly making them beholden to the company, and magically extending its last-mile delivery network to places that it might otherwise struggle to reach cost-effectively. It’s undeniably very smart, not least but, well, it’s hard not to see it as one additional lead-booted step on the road to the Amazonification Of Everything And Everyone.
- How To Run Virtual Events: Yes, fine, it’s not 2020 anymore and we are all seeing each other in meatspace and as such this may not be quite such a HOT LINK as it would have been a couple of years back, but at the same time it’s not like anyone’s RARING to go back to in-person corporate socialising anytime soon (you’re not, are you? Be honest – it’s nice seeing your colleagues again twice a week or so, but, equally, who needs more than that? And you’d forgotten about Alan and his rash, and Sonya’s incessant cat talk, and actually maybe one day will do) and as such this guide to running a good virtual event in 2022 might still be useful (and, for those of you who will INSIST on having some sort of meatspace component, it also contains useful tips for the horrific chimera that is the ‘hybrid’ event).
- The Rise of Shein: Companies that seemingly come out of nowhere don’t, it transpires, actually come out of nowhere – so at least this profile of Shein, charting its meteoric rise over the past few years, would suggest. There’s a lot that’s fascinating in this profile of the business – you probably alreadey know about the algojuiced supplychain management stuff, but there’s a lot of interesting material about the culture of the business in here which ones again goes some way to demonstrating some of the reasons why Chinese businesses are doing so well right now. Oh, and of course there’s the now-traditional nod to the fact that, as I always like to point out, if you’re buying a garment from very far away and it’s being delivered to your home for £5, you can be fairly certain that one or more people involved in the production and transportation of said garment are having a really appalling time. This sort of business model is obviously the future – once we stop needing the nimble fingers of children to stitch our garments and the machine-tailors take over then this sort of on-demand production chain will become the norm, but til then the present seemingly involves lots of people having a reasonably-miserable existence so we can have a cheap knockoff of a pair of leggings that a Kardashian once wore.
- Working At TikTok: What do you think this NYT piece about ‘what it’s like to work at one of the fastest-growing and buzziest businesses in the world’ says about working at TikTok? Do you think it paints it as a fun experience, or instead to be the sort of merciless corporate sweatshop that chews people up and spits them out, saliva-soaked and molar-marked? This short excerpt should give you an idea: ““Competition is more extreme in China’s tech sector than in the U.S., said Xuezhao Lan, founder and managing partner of Basis Set Ventures, a venture-capital firm. “Obviously no one wants to have to be working until 2 a.m.,” but if employees don’t put in long hours, they don’t survive, she said. “That’s the context that’s missing when people try to understand Chinese culture.”” An agency I work with used to have TikTok as a client a few years back, and I was always struck by the stories the client team told me about one of their contacts in China who not only worked the seemingly-standard 12-hour days in the office but then, at the end of another punishing shift in the Shenzhen corporate colosseum, ran 18 miles home as a winding down mechanism. I honestly don’t think English has words to describe that sort of work ethic. Or at least I certainly don’t.
- WeChat Shopping: The last of this week’s triumvirate of pieces on Chinese business and retail trends, this piece in Rest of World looks at how retailers are using WeChat to effectively groom customers on a 24/7 basis, taking the oddly-parasocial vibe of influencer shopping channels and sort-of applying that to WeChat groups in which brand managers spend their day talking to consumers, answering questions about products and effectively taking on a role somewhere inbetween sales assistant and community manager. I know that not everything that gets Big In China translates to the West, but, given the recent expansion in WhatsApp functionality to allow for wider-scale managed groupchats and the fact that every cnut like me is sitting in meetings telling clients about the incredible power and opportunity afforded by COMMUNITY (dear God), I can very much imagine this taking off in the UK. It’s not a stretch to conceive of a bunch of WhatsApp Groups being run for Boohoo or Pretty Little Thing customers where people can share style tips, get discount codes and gently be sold at all day by a bunch of sales reps masquerading as mates.
- The TikTok Sorting Hat: Or ‘how US teens are using TikTok to make decisions about where to go to college’ – which, fine, unless you’re one of said US teens isn’t particularly exciting per se, but which made me think (not for the first time) that there’s GOT to be something in a Diceman-esque ‘run my life, anonymous internet strangers!’ series or experiment. Obviously this isn’t a new idea, but the unique qualities TikTok possesses – video first, powerful and simple captioning and polling functionality, and, most importantly, the ability to reach fcukloads of people if your content is sticky enough (which I personally think ‘Hey, TikTok, you get to run my life for a day and see what happens LIVE’ very much is) – makes me think that this time it’s a format that could really work.
- Cryptodiary: I know that making fun of people who are really into stuff is mean and wrong, and that we should just let people get on with their little enthusiasms in peace. I know this. Still, I promise you that it is literally impossible not to read this and feel a small bit of happy schadenfreude at the thought that its subject had something of a tricky week, financially-speaking. This is a quite amazing article, in which ‘some bloke who’s really into NFTs’ talks to you about their week- so much of the language in here would have been utterly incomprehensible just 18m ago (and, frankly, still is now to about 97% of the world’s population who have better things to do than watch a bunch of idiots lose their shirt on monkey jpegs), which if nothing else makes it an interesting linguistic / cultural curiosity, but it’s equally fascinating in terms of how clear it is that there is nothing of value happening here in any meaningful sense, just empty numbers moving up and down and around. “Before I head out to the NY Yankees game, I check OpenSea — ETH has been dipping. I’m thinking about getting another Mutant Ape. I see on NFT Twitter more Spaces about Goop. I have no idea why there’s so much buzz about this project but I did see a Twitter meditation Space recently where people just said the word Goop for minutes or maybe even an hour, lol. Gotta love NFT Twitter.” I am, it transpires, now quite annoyed with myself for being able to make sense of any of this – WHAT AM I DOING WITH MY LIFE?
- Dutch Still Life: Another of the New York Times’ excellent explorations of art, in this case Dutch still lives – the piece focuses on a specific work by Willem Claesz Heda and takes you through its details to reveal the information encoded in the work, and then broadens its horizons to take a wider look at the still life genre. This is so, so nicely made – the zoomy-scrolly (the technical term for this sort of thing) is beautifully-done, and overall this is a bit like being give a private curatorial talk by someone who really, really knows their stuff and who’s really good at explaining it in engaging fashion. Wonderful, and the sort of thing that were I a digital editor at a newspaper in the UK I would be very much looking to rip off (honestly, a series of these sorts of explorations of specific works done by the White Pube people, for example, would be ACE – ffs The Guardian, why won’t you immediately comply with my every editorial demand and whim?).
- In The Court of the Liver King: On the one hand, I am not totally convinced that giving ‘comedy internet personalities’ the oxygen of publicity is necessarily a good thing for either the personalities in question or indeed the wider world; on the other, it’s undeniable that they make for great copy. So it is with Brian ‘Liver King’ Johnson, who this year has become internet famous for the twin facts of his insanely-ripped (and, let’s be honest, not a little steroidal-looking) physique, and the fact that he claims to maintain it by basically consuming as much iron-rich animal protein as possible in the form of unconscionable quantities of barely-cooked liver (and testicles and bone marrow and all sorts of other things). Now obviously The Liver King is a persona, and one that is working out quite well for Johnson, but I can’t help but look at the images of his two pubescent sons throughout this and think ‘I am probably going to hear about you in the future, but I do not think it will necessarily be for ‘good’ reasons’ – I’m also curious as to how far and in what direction the whole tradmasc thing here goes, and at what point Johnson’s going to end up pivoting to alt-right ‘kinder kirche küche’-type nonsense. Still, this is an amusing-enough look at a genuinely odd person, as long as you don’t think too hard about exactly what he’s selling (because the coming truth is that in the new now everyone is always selling something, most likely themselves – this is true, and only becoming truer).
- Devouring The Heart of Portugal: This is an absolutely WONDERFUL story, about attempted fraud on a truly staggering scale, attempted by one Artur Alves Reis, a Portuguese gentleman who, judging by this article, was possibly the most insanely-confident man ever to wax his moustache and who, in the early-20th Century, hatched a plan to forge huge amounts of Portuguese currency and set up his own bank to legitimise said forgery. This is SUCH a great yarn – yes, it’s a yarn – and whilst obviously Mr Reis and his accomplices were crooks, and the forging of millions of pounds worth of currency can reasonably be agreed upon to be A Bad Thing, it’s equally hard not to root for a man who blagged his way into a job as a chief structural engineer in Angola by inventing a degree certificate from ‘Oxford Polytechnic’.
- Chaotic Nightclub Photography: As promised, a PROPER SCHOLARLY ESSAY about the Chaotic Club Photography Twitter account by the brilliant people at White Pube, looking at where these depictions of hedonic revelry fit into the wider artistic canon of depictions of excess (in a not-entirely-serious, but still-actually-quite serious way). “The earliest nightclubs appeared in New York in the 1840s. An article in a 1927 issue of The New Yorker reflects on ‘When New York Was Really Wicked’ with contemporary engravings of concert saloons from the 60s. These saloons ‘provided dancing and liquor, but the principal attractions were the waiter girls and the low theatrical performances, although some of the cheaper establishments, particularly those along the Bowery, offered as entertainment only a piano virtuoso, who was always drunk and was always called the Professor.’ Music, bevvies, and women serving them; time is a flat circle. In the images, everyone is seated and fully clothed. The other day, Chaotic Nightclub Photos shared a picture of a girl pulling her own skirt up to take a photo of her crotch. It currently has 81 thousand likes. You can see my issue here — it is a trip looking back.”
- The Map: A short story by Venkatesh Rao, about technology and place and data and knowing and inference – this is superb, and creepy to just the right degree. I do love fiction that appears to be set about 15m into the future like this: “It was the most sublime map ever made; superbly detailed and wonderfully dynamic. They said a trillion-parameter model drove the real-time updates. Whether you wanted a simple route to your destination or a restaurant recommendation, if you were in the territory, this was the map you wanted. They said it was so responsive to even the subtlest of event currents, the stream had to be artificially delayed to avoid spoilers. The speculative extrapolation ran minutes to hours ahead of the evolution of the territory, and if you knew how to hack in with a properly jailbroken client, you could surf the liminal future. The map was not so much a map as a live inference frontier. It would only be a mild exaggeration to say that it tracked and anticipated the fate of every blade of grass in the territory. It was as much an evolving spatiotemporal promise as a map. And it was right a lot. Uncannily right. Not just about traffic or the weather, but about vibes and moods. About whether you should go to the concert or to get an ice-cream.”
- Just A Little Fever: Finally this week, another short story, this time by Sheila Heti in the New Yorker. Heti is a genius and I love everything she writes, and this, about a relationship between a young woman and old man she meets whilst working in a bank one day, is no exception.
By Guy Rubicon
AND NOW, MOVING PICTURES AND SOUNDS!:
- First in the videos this week, you may not think you want to watch a video explaining how one person managed to organise a bunch of internet strangers to create coordinated artwork out of Reddit’s The Place experiment last month, but I promise you that this is super-interesting and, from a slightly-boring and more professional point of view than I am used to giving, an excellent example of how to Make Stuff Happen.
- I don’t quite understand how, at the time of writing, this only has 1200 views – this song is GREAT (especially if you’re in the market for something that sounds vaguely-like something you’d have heard on a Volume compilation circa 1993) and the video involves someone making a lovely, beautifully-detailed bedroom in miniature, making this pretty much personal catnip for me. The song is called ‘Shotgun’ and it’s by Soccer Mom.
- Many years ago I went to an industry showcase event where Jamie T did a 30m acoustic set, just him and his bass guitar – this was before Panic Prevention came out, and I remember being amazed at the sound he got that thing to make, and how good a songwriter he was, and it was nice to be reminded of that with this track, called ‘The Old Style Raiders’ which won’t surprise anyone with its RADICAL CHANGE OF DIRECTION, but is an excellent song in the now-classic Jamie T style and made me once again think what a great way with words he has and how he makes English sound chewy in a way that’s uniquely-pleasing to me (I can’t quite explain what I mean by that, sorry, but I promise that ‘chewy’ is exactly the right word).
- Last up this week we have Ayrtn with his new single ‘Caution’. Good flow and the production on this is so nice – this feels like 9pm on a Summer night in the city when you’re not entirely sober but not quite fcuked, and it’s making me miss London something chronic and that means it’s time to say BYE IT’S OVER THAT’S IT I AM OFF I AM GOING I AM GONE AND I WILL NOT BE BACK FOR A COUPLE OF WEEKS AND I HOPE YOU DON’T FORGET ME WHILE I AM GONE BUT IF YOU DO THEN KNOW THAT I WILL NOT FORGET YOU THAT YOU WILL INSTEAD BE PART OF MY EVERY WAKING MOMENT AND EVERY DREAMING SECOND AND THAT YOU SUSTAIN ME AND YOU MAKE ME WHOLE SO PLEASE DO NOT FOR A SECOND CONSIDER LEAVING ME BECAUSE I NEED YOU MORE THAN YOU CAN POSSIBLY IMAGINE BYE!