I obviously have no idea who reads Web Curios, but it seems reasonable to assume that some of you are Jewish – I hope your families and friends and loved ones are ok. It’s less likely that any of you are Palestinians, I think, but in case any of you are then I hope the same for you too.
Beyond that I obviously have nothing useful or informed or helpful to say about a situation that is incredibly fcuking bleak, other than perhaps to remind everyone (and, as ever, myself) that sometimes it’s ok not to publicly opine about every fcuking thing because, per this excellent and ever-relevant Tweet, you are not a fcuking embassy.
I am still Matt, this is still Web Curios, and you could probably do with some interesting links and internet ephemera to take the edge off so, well, here you are.
LET’S KICK OFF THE MUSIC WITH A FOUR-HOUR SET FROM MR SCRUFF, WHICH IS NOT ONLY LEGITIMATELY GREAT BUT ALSO CAN’T FAIL TO PUT A SMALL SMILE ON YOUR FACE WHICH, FRANKLY, FEELS LIKE IT MIGHT BE NECESSARY THIS WEEK!
THE SECTION WHICH DOES WONDER WHETHER THIS MIGHT TURN OUT TO BE SOME SORT OF POST-TRUTH RUBICON (BUT RATHER HOPES IT ISN’T), PT.1:
- Links: Our first site this week is so perfect, such an infinitely-wonderful example of EVERYTHING I LOVE ABOUT THE INTERNET, that I could frankly stop right here and declare Curios over and complete (but I am not in fact going to do that – sorry, but you think you get off that lightly?) – it is also OLD, and I am slightly amazed that I’ve not come across it before (turns out that the web is…quite big! Who knew?!). This is the personal website of one Justin Hall, which started in 1996 and has apparently was one of the first large-scale personal webprojects to gain any sort of significant traction, and is basically – Christ, I don’t really know how to explain it beyond the fact that it’s sort of someone’s entire brain and history just kind of laid out in rambling HTML. You can read something of a rundown of the project in this post, which offers a decent overview of the volume of…stuff on here: “In ‘94, the web was small enough that you could browse everything new over the weekend. So Justin set out to make his personal website site the ultimate curation project, to show the world what was possible on this weird new thing called “the Internet.” At its peak, links.net had 27,000 daily viewers, which at the time was (to my best guess) 1% of all web traffic (for context, Mr. Beast captures 1% of today’s traffic). But Justin didn’t just curate the Internet, he shared his whole self online. He influenced a group of writers that came to be known as “escribitionists.” The word is a cross between “scribe” and “exhibitionist” (Justin has no issues with nudity). His website contains an autobiography, family history, write-ups about his friends, poetry, essays… just about anything he could imagine, and it’s all linked together in an insane, choose-your-own-adventure HTML maze. There are 5,000 pages in there, and I’d guess near 2 million words.” Honestly, I lost a good couple of hours to this when I came across it via Kris, and I really recommend you just treat it like an old-school online rabbithole – just click and read, and see where it takes you, but this is part diary, part commentary on early internet culture, part some sort of weird outsider art project, part chronicle of the web that once was…best of all, though, the way the links sort of tumble through each other really does make it feel like you’re effectively clicking through someone’s actual brain, which, yes, fine, might not SOUND like fun but I can honestly assure you is fcuking WONDERFUL. The world would honestly be so much better if everyone had a website like this, and I mean that entirely sincerely.
- Facecheck: Dodgy services which purport to find people online based on a single photo are nothing new, but Facecheck is the first of these that I’ve seen that does it for free – the idea here is that you upload an image of someone (can I recommend you just use a photo of yourself? as otherwise…well, otherwise it starts to get a bit creepy, and I’d prefer not to encourage any stalkers if at all possible) and the MAGICAL FACE RECOGNITION TECHNOLOGY searches a bunch of profiles and images from around the web to find other instances of what it thinks is that person. Ostensibly used to ‘check if someone is real’ or ‘find out if someone’s actually a massive crimmo on an Interpol list’, it’s almost-certain that the actual practical market for the tool is ‘help creepy men track unwitting women around the internet without their consent’ and, well, that obviously sucks. HOWEVER, I really do recommend you trying it out with a photo of yourself as a) it’s always useful to check whether someone has stolen your identity and is using your countenance to catfish single mothers in Utah; b) it opens up a genuinely-unsettling uncanny valley world of people who look incredibly similar to you BUT ALSO TOTALLY DIFFERENT, like weird half-siblings or discount-supermarket replicant versions of yourself, the Sindy to your Barbie, if you will (and I very much will).
- The Rewind Pendant: I actually featured the parent company here *checks* almost exactly a year ago, but it’s worth re-upping because this is a nicely-creepy bit of tech which feels perfectly-Curios-dystopian. Rewind, lest you forget (AND NOONE EVER FORGETS, NOONE, EVER, THESE WORDS ARE ETCHED INTO YOUR MEMORIES) was a service that basically ‘records’ everything you do online so that there’s a permanent, searchable record of everything you’ve ever done (typed, watched, etc) – the Rewind Pendant offers the same sort of total recall, but specifically for your speech and conversations. Wear the pendant and it will record and transcribe EVERYTHING you say so that you can refer back to it at a later date and ensure that everyone who wrongs you is made in some small way to pay for the slights they have committed against your name (I mean, look, there are obviously other use cases – aides memoires, that sort of thing – but also you KNOW that the market for this sort of thing is, to quote past-Matt, “the sort of person who believes in the vital importance of ‘keeping the receipts’ for everything.” There are apparently safeguards in place that will prevent you from inadvertently recording the voices of every single other person who passes within a metre of you, but personally this strikes me as a privacy nightmare – not to mention a genuinely-unpleasant constant reminder of how horribly, stumblingly inarticulate we all in fact are in real life. Would you like all of your conversations EVER transcribed and made searchable, with every “um?” and “er” and half-finished sentence and idiotic joke and poorly-constructed analogy and off-colour anecdote that you realise halfway through isn’t landing but you’re too committed to to cut off halfway…WOULD YOU? I posit that you would NOT (but, equally, that perhaps I am *slightly* more self-conscious about this stuff than you are, or indeed than is healthy).
- Inception: This website only does one thing, but it does it very well – click the link, scroll and get absolutely fcuked by the weird sense of vertigo induced by that whole ‘the floor is also the horizon and also the sky’ effect from the film Inception. I would quite like to see this playing on a high-res loop at one of those hideous Outernet screens at Tottenham Court Road, mainly as I have a fairly strong suspicion that it would cause people to actually fall over.
- Giant 105: This is so so so lovely – the work of a Korean developer called Chanwoo, this is a gorgeous bit of scrolly webwork that tells a small, gentle story about a giant and a flower. The art style here is glorious, and the way the animation is built into the site is really very neat indeed. Chanwoo writes that they ‘wanted to create a picture book that could be read with just a scroll’, which is exactly what this is.
- The Meta AI Avatars: I confess to not having paid particular attention to the announcement the other week that Meta had licensed a bunch of famouses voices and likenesses so that they could be turned into chatbots for billions of people to ‘interact’ with through Messenger – mainly because, if I’m honest, I don’t really know what I would say to the real Kendall Jenner, let alone her AI equivalent. If you’ve also been…less than whelmed by the idea and have let it rather pass you by, It’s worth taking the three minutes to watch this video which demonstrates exactly how they work and what they look like and…fcuk, it’s genuinely VERY WEIRD. I don’t know if I have the same ‘this is going to get lots of people hooked’ reaction that the presenter here demonstrates, but there’s undoubtedly something genuinely odd about this as a mode of interaction – the photorealistic Max Headroom-y avatars lolling their heads as you type to them, their baffling insistence that they are not in fact Kendall Jenner but your ‘ride or die bestie’ (I mean, what the fcuk does that even mean?) Billie, the attempt to get you to tell the AI your fears and problems…Actually, on reflection, I can imagine this being absolute catnip to a certain type of teenager with a certain type of parasocial obsession, so expect to lose your 13 year old son to a virtual relationship with a digital clone of Mr Beast. Sorry!
- Texts From My Ex: Do you think that there is always TRUTH IN DATA? Do you believe that if you analyse enough information you’ll be able to scry some sort of hitherto-unknown clue that will help you make sense of the confusing mess that is LOVE? Well if so then you will adore this service, which offers you the ability to hand over the entire corpus of your messaging history with a significant other (or indeed anyone tbh) and let this AI toy ‘analyse’ it to determine exactly how and in what specific way you fcuked everything up. This is actually just a PR stunt for some dating app or another – I know, I was SHOCKED to find out that it wasn’t in fact a series piece of analytical software! – but there’s the kernel of an interesting idea here, particularly given the imminent advent of mass-market multimodal AI; the general ‘get AI to assess and comment on X/Y/Z dataset’ has a lot of potential for fun and frivolity imho – on which note, by the way, there’s an open source image-parsing model doing the rounds at the moment which might be useful for some of you to play with; if nothing else it means that someone can now use this to build the MAGIC ROASTING MIRROR which will assess your outfit and tell you why you look dreadful and which I think would be a genuinely fun thing to put in Westfield and then just film the reactions (but perhaps I am just mean).
- Cambrian Explosion: I don’t think I will ever get bored of websites that simulate evolution, and this is no exception – pick a creature shape, set the terrain parameters and watch as the ungainly single-celled organisms flump and wobble across the screen in search of genetic supremacy.
- The Museum of Everyday Life: My knowledge of Vermont in the US is limited to some vague guff about maple trees, pecans and the fictitious higher education institution of Donna Tartt’s The Secret History, but I now have a reason to visit – specifically to make a pilgrimage to The Museum of Everyday Life, an institution which offers “a heroic, slow-motion cataloguing of the quotidian–a detailed, theatrical expression of gratitude and love for the minuscule and unglamorous experience of daily life in all its forms. We celebrate mundanity, and the mysterious delight embedded in the banal but beloved objects we touch everyday. In pursuit of this mission, some of the questions we ask ourselves are: What would it be like to imagine a museum filled, not with exotic objects, but with perfectly familiar ones? What would it look like to defy the commodity-based model of collection and display? And how might it be possible to create massive participatory collections of objects in a way that illuminates the back and forth dance, the essential, vibrant relationship between objects and people?” Ok, so it’s a physical museum which means that the website is more about essays and writing around the broad concepts of ‘the quotidian’, but there’s something so charming about the idea, and the ‘philosophy’ section of the site contains some genuinely-interesting pieces which feel quite appropriate for autumnal afternoons.
- AI Text-to-Gif Maker: Do YOU want the ability to spin up gifs of whatever you like in just a few seconds, limited solely by your imagination? Are YOU relatively relaxed about whether the resulting outputs look like they’ve been made out of candlewax, by Helen Keller? If the answer to these questions is a resounding ‘yes!’ and ‘no!’ respectively then WOW are you going to enjoy this – the first link is a HuggingFace instance that you can play with, but if that’s too slow or laggy then you might want to give this other version a try – what you get out of this is VERY potato-ey, but there’s something undeniably fun about seeing how badly The Machine mangles the concepts you feed it. I just tried to get an output for ‘batman wiping his bum’ and, well, it’s fair to say that the tech’s not quite there yet, but see how you get on.
- Lethelink: This is very much a prototypical idea and, as far as I can tell, nothing more than some hacked-together code on Github at the moment, but I thought it an interesting idea and use-case for AI (if one that also, if I’m honest, made me feel incredibly sad inside) – Lethelink is “an interface to create grounding messages for people who suffer from anterograde amnesia, which a popular symptom of Alzheimer’s. The messages can be delivered to the person’s hearing aid on a schedule to prevent episodes of disorientation. Caregivers can use Lethelink to create nudges that ground their Patient in reality, remind them they are safe, and help them orient in time and space.” So basically this monitors someone’s heartrate, vital signs, location or any other dataset you care to think of, which monitoring can trigger specific, personalised messages and ‘reassuring content’ to assist in reassuring and calming a distressed or disoriented patient – which on the one hand is a smart and genuinely-useful-sounding idea, but on the other…Jesus, sorry, but there’s something so utterly bleak about the idea of a residential home full of the incraesingly-untethered from reality, all of them being gently reassured by voice messages in the spoofed voices of their loved ones who haven’t in fact come to visit for years…no, sorry, if I keep writing about this it’s going to make me start crying, next link please (I am, it’s fair to say, a touch ‘overtired’ this morning and as such am perhaps a touch more emotionally fragile than normal, sorry about that)!
- Script Monkey: Given the furore this year over the Hollywood writers’ strike and AI and the associated questions about securing creative labour for the future it seems appropriate to feature ScriptMonkey this week – an AI-assisted screenwriting tool that will generate story outlines for you based on simple characters sketches and genre cues…OH MY GOD THIS IS AMAZING! Not, to be clear, because it will produce anything decent, but because it writes genuinely-dreadful, tone-deaf dialogue, it doesn’t seem to be able to keep track of what’s happening meaning the continuity’s all over the shop, the plots are about as sharply-conceived as you’d expect from what is basically ‘Script Clippy’…seriously, this is HOURS of fun, and if you’re in an office when you happen to be reading this can I please strongly advise you to stop whatever you are currently doing (NOONE CARES YOUR JOB IS POINTLESS) and instead use this tool to spin up a screenplay featuring all your colleagues which you can then spend the rest of the day acting out? Seriously, this really is GLORIOUSLY terrible (but, equally, it does sort-of-technically work, so for the right brand you might be able to have some ‘we got AI to script our next ad lol’ using this.
- 4k Rivers: Photos of rivers. Really, really beautiful photos of rivers! “An ongoing series of vibrant river and delta images from North America and other parts of the world. The images are constructed using high-resolution elevation data.” RIVERS!
- Unfcuk Twitter: Lol, jk! You can’t unfcuk it! It’s beyond unfcuking! Still, if you’re still committed to Twitter, clinging on by your fingernails until That Fcuking Man finally renders it entirely unusable by, I don’t know, deciding arbitrarily to stop anyone who isn’t a BlueTick from posting vowels, then you might find this Chrome extension useful – it undoes some of the more egregious changes to the platform (not least the logo!) including the hideous ‘removing the text from links’ thing which has proven itself to be a fcuking anti-masterstroke since last weekend’s events (YES ELON YES WHY DON’T YOU JUST FILL OUR INFORMATIONAL WATER TABLE WITH P1SS??), and based on my usage of it this week it also seems to make the whole site run marginally less badly. It increasingly feels like rearranging the deckchairs on the Titanic, but we persist.
- Banchan Art: An interesting idea, this, for artists who do commissions and buyers looking to commission work – basically Banchan is a place for people to put their work and manage their sales, and for buyers to browse, but with an interesting community-owned ethos behind it which I think might appeal to a lot of you. For those of you who Make Stuff On Demand, it might be worth checking out and signing up.
- Dashtoons: There have been a lot of people over the past week or so getting quite upset about AI-generated comics and how they are basically soulless and miserable and stealing work from the mouths of artists, and I do broadly agree – AI can’t do scripts, and its compositions are banal (but, of course, this is the worst it will ever bezzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz) – but at the same time I did think that this site, which lets you basically spin up panel comics with AI assistance for character creation and composition, might be useful. While you’re not going to use it to create anything artistically-astonishing, I can 100% see how it could be helpful for storyboarding or blocking out a narrative, or for spending several hours creating an incredibly-detailed and VERY PETTY anime-style retelling of all your friends’ secret beefs (you decide).
- The Magnum Collection: This is quite a cool little promo stunt for Squarespace, which is somewhat undermined by the fact that Squarespace makes websites that almost universally look like dogsh1t (yes, I am aware, please do not feel that you have to inform me about the glassiness of my current dwelling) – still, the broad premise is nice, and there’s some excellent photography to enjoy. Squarespace partnered with Magnum Photo Agency to give a bunch of famous photographers (the budget for this must have been pretty big, I don’t imagine that Steve McCurry gets out of bed for pennies) a single roll of film to shoot however they saw fit; each of those rolls then got turned into a website by Squarespace which ‘embodies the work’ or somesuch guff; the websites are also available as template options for Squarespace customers which is a nice link back to product and purchase. Except, well, as previously mentioned, the websites are all just a bit…crap.
- Microsoft Comic Chat: Did you know that there was, back in the DISTANT PAST of the web, there was a Microsoft IRC client that let you chat to people via the medium of infinitely-customisable comic strips, like a sort of proto-bitmoji? I BET YOU DID NOT! “Microsoft Comic Chat (later renamed to Microsoft Chat) is an sublime IRC client developed by Microsoft during their glorious golden age back in 1996, which provides an equally humourous and useful way of chatting that no other program to date has ever replicated. Unlike every other IRC client, where communication is done purely in text form, Comic Chat allows you to assume an avatar and use it to chat in the form of an ongoing comic strip. Every line you say can be punctuated with specific emotions/poses, allowing you to both express yourself in a clearer manner, or alternatively, to inject humour into conversations in a way that is scarcely possible to do via just text alone.” This page both looks back at the magic of Comic Chat and also gives you tips on how you can still use it if you can be bothered to jump through some technical hoops; whilst, ok, it’s all a bit fiddly and oldschool, can you imagine how much better your friendships would all be if they were conducted exclusively via the medium of 90s-web-aesthetic comic strips? YES, AND IT IS GLORIOUS!
THE SECTION WHICH DOES WONDER WHETHER THIS MIGHT TURN OUT TO BE SOME SORT OF POST-TRUTH RUBICON (BUT RATHER HOPES IT ISN’T), PT.2:
- JD In The Metaverse: I do enjoy those occasional moments in 2023 when you get reminded of that frothy, idiotic period a year or so ago when a surprising number of people who you’d think ought to have known better were suckered into paying significant amounts of cash for…a really crap level in a sub-Roblox digital sandbox that a grand total of, at best, 60 actual real people would ever experience – and here’s another one! This is Jack Daniel’s demonstrating that someone at ‘metaverse platform’ Spatial really saw them coming, with this IMMERSIVE EXHIBITION which…oh, fcuk it, seeing as someone evidently SLAVED over this copy I will here reproduce it in full: “Jack Honey Art, Beats + Lyrics welcomes you to “The Verse”, an immersive VR experience that celebrates visionary artists and musicians that push the urban art culture forward. This out-of-this-world exhibition showcases incredible urban artwork, iconic photo collections, a larger-than-life musical concert, and a bar where you can actually order Jack Honey to be delivered right to your door.” Which, of course, translates into an empty, soulless virtual space – which, if you’re a connoisseur of these dreadful things as I by now sadly am, you will notice is VERY SIMILAR to the empty, soulless virtual spaces created for all the other brands on the Spatial platform, because it turns out that there are only a set number of off-the-shelf metaverses and, well, people are lazy – which is weirdly incredibly lo-res and, er, doesn’t seem to load properly! Special mention too to the ‘art gallery’ on level 2, which seems to be almost entirely broken – excellent quality control, everyone! I really, really hope that the people involved with this have had to have some very specific, very pointed conversations about budget and impact – how many bottles of JD Honey do you think were ordered through this? I think…three!
- The Journey: Staying with pointlessly-shiny websites that don’t really make any sense, here’s a GLORIOUS example of ‘budgets? PAH! We work in luxe, darling, and budgets are things that the little people have to worry about!’ as an ethos. LVMH is apparently a VERY INNOVATIVE COMPANY in lots of different ways – while you might think that the best way to learn about that innovation might be to, I don’t know, read the business’ annual report, or to look through its portfolio of companies, or to listen to a talk with their head of innovation, you are WRONG! The best way, it turns out, is to access ‘The Journey’, a text-lite and VERY gnomic website which itself is just a portal to a bunch of equally-confusing and similarly-gnomic other websites! I love this so much – the fact that it uses copy like ‘navigate through LVMH’s new innovation territories and opens windows into the Group’s possible futures!’, which means literally nothing! The fact that it’s not really clear why you would want to click on anything! The fact that for some reason all of these innovative concepts are presented as strange, mirrored rectangles in some sort of strange space desert! The assumption that I have either the time, or the patience, to spend a few hours parsing whatever the fcuk LVMH thinks this all means! Well done EVERYONE, this is very special indeed.
- The Working Class History Map: Working Class History is a project dedicated to surfacing the stories of ‘ordinary’ people from around the world who have shaped the communities or environments in which they have lived; to quote the project’s ‘About’ page, “History isn’t made by kings or politicians, it is made by us: billions of ordinary people. It is our struggles which have shaped our world, and any improvement in our conditions has been won by years of often violent conflict and sacrifice. WCH is dedicated to all those who have struggled in the past for a better world, and who continue to do so now. To help record and popularise our grassroots, people’s history, as opposed to the top-down accounts of most history books.” The project has recently launched a new map interface, which you can use to find stories from specific places to dive into – for example, looking at Italy I have just learned of “ Tommaso Pesci, an innocent farmer who was murdered by fascists two days previously. His funeral procession was led by a column of the Arditi del Popolo, Italy’s first militant anti-fascist group, who marched armed with knives, bayonets and walking sticks. The killing prompted in response the first action of the Arditi outside Rome, who successfully prevented fascists from entering Viterbo for three days.” You could lose days to this.
- Vedeo: AI video continues to be, well, a bit shonky, but IT IS ONLY GOING TO GET BETTER AND EVENTUALLY IT WILL BE GOOD ENOUGH. Vedeo is a website that collects examples of AI-generated video and animation, submitted by creators and enthusiasts, and is a decent place to bookmark if you’re interested in keeping track of the tech’s development and spotting the exact point at which it flips from ‘no, everyone in this video looks like they are made of fuzzy felt, I feel incredibly discomfited by their teeth’ to ‘I am literally never hiring another video editor again’.
- Wikiloc:Do YOU love the great outdoors? If you’re reading this it seems…unlikely, tbh, but I suppose it’s possible that some of you might spend SOME time away from screens every now and again – anyway, if you’re the sort of person who has ‘kit’ and owns dubbin wax then you might find Wikiloc useful, a site which collects information about walking trails and hikes across the world, and makes them available for anyone to search and download and access via an app. This has been going for 17 YEARS, which feels frankly remarkable and made me feel warm and fuzzy in an unexpected, healthy, bosky sort of way.
- IKEA Instructions For Anything: A cute little AI toy on HuggingFace – type in anything you like and The Machine will generate a cute little illustration in the style of IKEA self-assembly furniture instructions (I promise this will make sense once you click the link). I particularly enjoyed giving it things like “pointless office drudgery”, which would make a truly EXCELLENT motivational poster imho.
- International Pet Photographer of the Year: I’ve just noticed that this site has the surprisingly-aggressive banner legend ‘UNDER NEW MANAGEMENT’ running across the top of the homepage, which makes me wonder whether there is some sort of dark beef underpinning the change, whether the previous conveners were found to be taking kickbacks from ambitious Borzoi snappers or something. ANYWAY, we will probably never know, so best to focus instead on the photos of the LOVELY ANIMALS – these are obviously great photos, but I can’t help but also find them…incredibly, endearingly gauche, in the same way as those staged studio portraits that your friends get of them and their partner and their kids, and that you have to smile at and pretend to like while all the while wondering what the everliving fcuk happened to their sense of aesthetics (fortunately the friends in question don’t read Curios – or at least I really hope that they don’t, otherwise this is going to get quite awkward). I strongly recommend that you click into the ‘creative’ category for some truly wonderful staging and post-production, including one portrait of a dog that looks almost EXACTLY like someone’s run it through a ‘make this photo look like a pencil drawing’ filter from a seaside arcade photobooth (also, there is one particular dog on that page who you know will never forgive their owner – you’ll know the one when you see it).
- Wildlife Photographer of the Year: MORE CRITTERS! These are obviously all sorts of amazing – the winning photo, which you may already have seen elsewhere, is particularly gorgeous this year – but my personal favourite is the one of the mollusc…well, *squirting* (although special mention also to the genuinely-unhinged shot of the people bothering the dead snakes, which is…Jesus). NB – there are a reasonable number of pics in here of animals that are wounded or dead or dying, so, you know, caveat emptor and all that.
- We Are Learning: Ostensibly this is a platform that lets you create animated CG training videos using a bunch of pre-rendered avatars who you can give scripts to and who will ‘act’ out vignettes and scenarios to make training more ‘engaging’ – but, honestly, give a fcuk. The appeal of this, to me at least, is the ability to use it to bring the terrible scripts spat out by that AI script generator that I linked to earlier to life – THINK OF THE BRILLIANTLY-TERRIBLE THINGS YOU CAN MAKE! You need to pay to get full access, but there’s a free tier which is worth playing around with (but only for frivolous purposes, please).
- Cocoa Press: I don’t imagine that many of you are domestic confectioners – still, in the unlikely event that one of my vanishingly-small readership is in the habit of making elaborate sculptures from criolla in their spare time then BOY do I have the toy for you! Cocoa Press is basically a 3d printer for chocolate – for the low, low (ok, not actually that low at all, but, come on, YOU CAN 3D PRINT CHOCOLATE FFS!) price of $1500 you can get a machine with which you can create, I don’t know, A SCALE MODEL OF THE HOUSE OF COMMONS OUT OF CHOCOLATE! A BUST OF YOUR OWN FACE, OUT OF CHOCOLATE! A FULL-BODY-CAST OF YOURSELF THAT YOU CAN EAT IN SOME SORT OF BIZARRELY-SEXUAL CANNIBALISTIC RITUAL…OUT OF CHOCOLATE! Can one of you please get one of these and let me know how you get on? Thanks!
- The Good Song Club: Many years ago, in the halcyon days of circa 2010 when everything was NEW and SHINY and HOPEFUL (or, more accurately, we were stupid and naive and blind to what was already happening) there was an excellent if short-lived website called This Is My Jam, which basically worked as a single-idea social network; anyone with a profile was able to have a single song up on there at any given time, the idea being that you will always have a particular obsessional favourite track of the moment, and that the site was a place to share and celebrate your current obsessions and where you’d go to share your new ones…anyway, it was lovely but sadly doesn’t exist anymore (because nothing pure ever lasts), but I was reminded of it by this site, which exists solely to share links to good songs on YouTube. I like this – more of these VERY SPECIFIC single-use networks, please.
- The Birdsong Visualiser: This makes SUCH lovely artworks, honestly – you need to jump through a couple of hoops to produce the images, but it’s pretty easy and the outputs really are gorgeous in a slightly-70s-design kind of way. The idea here is that the software works to produce a visualisation of different audiofiles of birdsongs, which render as sort of negative-orange explosions…wow, I really am making a pig’s ear of this – just rest assured that that you’ll get something genuinely cool looking if you follow the instructions.
- Paper Toys: Specifically, SPOOKY PAPER TOYS! This is a frankly mental collection of print-out-and-cut-and-fold-and-keep model instructions, running the gamut from ‘spooky houses’ to ‘shrunken heads’ to, er, ‘spooky biplanes’ (it does feel like a *bit* of license has been taken around the ‘spookiness’ of some of these, but given the generosity in making them all free to download it seems somewhat churlish to complain). The papercraft candelabras are genuinely cool-looking, in particular, and would grace ANY table – there is a lot of really cool stuff here if you and your friends/family/flatmates feel like spending an evening with the scissors and the pritt stick.
- Hummingbirds: “Published between 1849 and 1887, English ornithologist John Gould’s monumental work depicts and describes all the known species of hummingbirds at the time—comprising 418 lithographic plates and information on 537 species.” THERE ARE SO MANY PRETTY ILLUSTRATIONS OF VERY SMALL BIRDS HERE. No idea what you might do with them, but I’m sure you’ll think of something.
- Google’s History: I know it’s not cool, and I know that it is Just Another Fcuking Business, and that at heart it’s motivated by the pursuit of profit and shareholder value just like every other soulless capitalist enterprise, but I must confess to still having a soft spot for Google as a business – there’s something about the brand that will always remind me of those early days surfing the web (YES, IT WAS JUST LIKE SURFING, WHY ARE YOU LOOKING AT ME LIKE THAT?) and the endless possibilities afforded by the textbox and the places it might take you, limited only by your own imagination (and possibly your own fear and embarrassment about what you might find and how you might feel about it), and, well, I know that everything’s adverts and sales funnels here in 2023, but I still feel that old nostalgia. Which, perhaps, is why I enjoyed this rather pretty but of scrollytelling, which takes you through the evolution of the company’s search offering from the mid-90s to the present day. If nothing else it’s just really stylishly-built, and a reminder that the Google design team really has been consistently excellent for a long time now.
- Observable Radio: I don’t quite know what this is, but I think it might be something that some of you find appealing – it self-describes as ‘a found footage anthology podcast of retro and analogue horror’, and the blurb reads as follows: “Late at night, from an isolated satellite communications installation, an unnamed Observer secretly broadcasts a bizarre transmission to a nearby facility. In the wake of a global communications disruption following a near-miss with a comet, he has begun to detect mysterious signals from other worlds. With no one but an isolated colleague that he can trust, he shares a series of seemingly impossible signals, unsure of what to do next…” This sounds pleasingly-weird, if you’re in the market for something seasonally-spooky to feed into your lugholes.
- The Museum of Youth Culture: I am slightly embarrassed that I had no idea that this existed – still, I do now, and I think I might pop down there this afternoon and have a look. For those of you not able to hop on the tube to Shaftsbury Avenue and visit in person, though, you might enjoy the Museum’s website – here’s the blurb: “Museum of Youth Culture is a new emerging museum dedicated to the styles, sounds and social movements innovated by young people over the last 100 years. Championing the impact of youth on modern society, the Museum of Youth Culture is formed from the archives of YOUTH CLUB, a non-profit Heritage Lottery & Arts Council Funded collection incorporating photographs, ephemera, objects and oral histories celebrating our shared youth culture history. From the bomb-site Bicycle racers in post-war 1940s London, to the Acid House ravers of 1980s Northern England, the Museum of Youth Culture empowers the extraordinary everyday stories of growing up in Britain. Throughout the pandemic the Museum has received thousands of submissions from the general public through a highly successful online campaign, ‘Grown Up in Britain’ inviting the public to submit their own photographs showing us what it was like growing up across the country and challenging traditional stereotypes about young people.” You can also get to the Subculture Archives from the homepage, which is an INSANE resource of cultural ephemera from the past 60-odd years of UK youth movements and which I imagine might be of use to quite a few of you – you have to apply for access, and there may be a fee for commercial use, but I think it might be worth it.
- Wol: We still don’t have a compelling use-case for AR, but while we wait for one to emerge why not amuse yourself with this in-no-way-necessary but still oddly-touching experience by Niantic, which lets you interact with a small, digital owl which appears on your table or floor via the magic of your phone, and with which you can ACTUALLY TALK thanks to the magic of voice recognition – I mean, fine, Wol wil likely bore the everliving sh1t out of you with their warblings about THE FOREST and THE REDWOODS, but it’s kind-of cool to play with for 5 minutes and made me think that there is, potentially, a market for this sort of thing once the whole ‘conversational’ element gets up to speed; it’s not hard to imagine some sort of unholy crossover between this and the Meta AI avatar stuff, in which a 3-inch tall Kardashian homunculus squats on your kitchen floor and tells you you look fabulous (I mean, that sounds hideous, obviously, but I am sure you can think of something less overtly-unsettling).
- The Worst SubReddits: Or, specifically, the most fcuked-up – I think it’s important to point out that there are some links in here to things that are GENUINELY AWFUL, and in the main I wouldn’t recommend clicking on any of them, but also that scrolling through and reading the descriptions (and the occasionally horrified reactions of other posters who did not heed the advice and did, in fact, click) is kind-of horribly compelling and a nice, bracing jolt of ‘wow, the human zoo is a genuinely repellant spectacle and perhaps it would be for the best if we just let the rising seas take us”. I don’t know which of the examples here listed gave me the biggest ‘OH GOD I KNOW I SHOULDN’T CLICK BUT THERE IS SOME SORT OF HORRIBLE, LEMMING-LIKE COMPULSION FORCING MY FINGERS’ feeling, but it was probably one of the ones relating to the seemingly-not-uncommon-as-you-might-think fetish for self-castration; but, er, PICK YOUR OWN! NB – I am not joking when I say that you really, really don’t want to click most of the links in this thread.
- The GoodEnough Guestbook: Finally this week, a small-but-lovely webtoy by a group of software developers in Minnsesota, who’ve set up this webpage so that anyone who visits can send them a message – draw whatever you fancy, and it will be MAGICALLY sent to their Tiny Printer and, er, printed. You can see a gallery of messages that others have sent, but I just love the idea of there being this small device in a corner of their office that every now and again whirrs with a missive from a stranger somewhere miles away, and I honestly think that this should become a general part of life – I would very much like to be able to send ANYONE a small sketch or message that will be printed on a very small roll of paper and possibly stuck to a ‘wall of messages from strangers’ that grows over time. SO PURE AND CHARMING, which isn’t something I feel we’ve had much of a chance to say this week.
THE CIRCUS OF TUMBLRS!
- Cybergems: Incredibly strong aesthetic snippets from the early internet – this is a TROVE of gorgeous, horrible, appallingly-resized gifs and jpegs and like a very specific time machine, and I love it.
THE TROUGH OF (INSTA) FEEDS!
- Alice Zhang: A designer who’s running a project on her Insta page where she’s designing a different poster each day for 100 days – there’s some really nice work here across a range of styles and aesthetics which is worth delving into.
- Milwaukee Public Library: A rare example of a public institution that is GOOD at social media, I am never going to visit the Milwaukee Public Library but I am very glad that it exists.
LONG THINGS WHICH ARE LONG!
- The Pope On Climate: Despite my Italian ancestry and the fact that I have been baptised and had communion and all that jazz, I’m not – and I’m aware that this may shock some of you – a hugely-committed Catholic (but, to be clear, they are My Team when it comes to religion – there is no God, the Catholic church is a largely-corrupt instutution and we will all die alone, but if I’m going to pick a flavour of Christianity to ‘support’ I am obviously going to choose the one with the frocks and the pomp and the ceremony and the PROPERLY batsh1t beliefs and the implied cannibalism, not the frankly THIN SIMULACRUM OF FAITH that is protestantism – just, er, don’t mention all the terrible stuff), and as such I don’t spend a huge amount of time reading Papal encyclicals, but I made an exception for this one as I was genuinely curious to see how the Vatican articulated its position on the climate crisis – this is a surprisingly fascinating read, and I genuinely recommend it; partly because you don’t generally get to consume this sort of copy any more, partly because of the way it wrangles science and faith together in its second hald, and partly because it’s nice to hope just for a second that this sort of statement might make an iota of difference.
- Taxes: No! Wait! Come back! I promise that despite the less-than-promising premise, this piece – Stefan Collini in the London Review of Books writing about tax, the history of the concept, its current implementation in the UK, the political theory that underpins redistributive theories…honestly, this really is interesting, and it will force you to think about what we pay tax for, and who should pay it, and how perhaps we might think about reimagining tax for a fairer and more equitable future (yes, ok, lol, but a boy can dream).
- Where We’re At With AI Right Now: Our semi-regular check in with Ethan Mollick, who continues to be essential reading for anyone wanting to do anything practical and, you know, actually useful with generative AI – here he gives a decent overview of the current state of the tools and what you can use them for, with a focus on the new multimodal stuff which has just come to GPT4, and as ever he’s clear and helpful about the practical ways you can actually, you know, make this stuff useful. Tangentially-related is this piece, about how various companies are using LLMs to write RFPs and pitch documents – which, if you’re yet to think about it, really is an excellent use-case; literally noone in the world gives a flying fcuk about the prose quality of public sector procurement documents, and if you’ve ever suffered the pain of having to complete one then you will also know how appealing the prospect of just handing the drudgery over to The Machine is. Oh, and while we’re doing ‘practical AI bits and pieces’, this is a really interesting academic paper looking at some of the practical use-cases of machine vision and which takes you through a pretty exhaustive list of theoretical things you can do with multimodal AI and how GPT4 fares at a set of tasks; again, super-useful if you want to think about how you can actually make this stuff useful.
- Rest vs West: SUPERB bit of reporting by Rest of World here, where they profile a selection of tech companies who are dominating their respective sectors and which aren’t from North America or Europe: “What is the most widely used social media platform in Vietnam? Not Facebook or TikTok — it’s Zalo, with an impressive 87% adoption rate. And what was one of the earliest online food delivery platforms? That would be Talabat, launched by a group of Kuwaiti students in Cairo, in 2004. That’s three years before the iPhone came to market. If these names surprise you, they shouldn’t. Startup ecosystems outside the West have been churning out billion-dollar tech companies and radically innovative products for years. But their achievements are rarely celebrated or known here in the U.S. Today, not only are entrepreneurs in Buenos Aires, Lagos, and Jakarta building businesses that create huge economic opportunity and value, they’re also competing directly with Silicon Valley for users and growth in these markets. And they’re winning. Our 2023 annual list is devoted to 40 trailblazing companies that, in their own ways, beat the West. Some of them won by market combat: Years of bruising competition led to lucrative acquisitions by their Western rivals, or acquisitions of the Westerner’s local assets. A few just dominate their sector outright.” So many interesting businesses in here, some of which you will obviously have heard of but many more of which were totally new to me and which offer a fascinating insight into markets and sectors about which I knew (and, frankly, still know) the square root of fcuk all.
- AI and Stereotypes: While we’re doing Rest of World, this is another interesting piece by them which looks at how various text-to-image systems are encoded with specific visual stereotypes around specific nationalities – it’s not a whole novel area of enquiry, fine, but the analysis is well done and well-presented, and it’s a useful reminder of the fact that (as I’m sure you all know) THIS STUFF REFLECTS THE SYSTEMS THAT BUILT IT! Long-term readers will of course recall that we covered this exact topic here on Web Curios a whole two-and-a-half-years-ago in this post by Shardcore – SEE YOU FCUKERS IF YOU JUST CLICK ALL THE LINKS AND READ EVERYTHING YOU WILL BASICALLY KNOW THE FUTURE.
- The Average Chinese City: I found this so interesting, in part because it gives a window into a China that I personally rarely think about but which is the lived reality for literally hundreds of millions of people – lives in unremarkable urban centres which straddle the boundaries between rural and urban living. “Some of the top headlines coming out of China this year have trumpeted its struggling economic situation, as the nation emerges out of zero-covid: property sales have been falling, local governments are collectively in the red by trillions of dollars, and youth unemployment is at a record high or 21.3% (and you need to work only an hour per week to be considered employed). With extremely poor job outcomes and a home price-to-income ratio as high as 35:1, Xi Jinping’s urging for today’s youth to “ask for hardship” is hardly comforting. After a summer trip, ChinaTalk editor Irene gives us a first-person window into a small city in northwestern China, Baoji.”
- What Was ‘Replying’?: SUCH a good little webculture essay, this, in which Mariah Kreuter, writing for Dirt, dissects how the concept of the online ‘reply’ has changed, and how dialogue isn’t working any more and how we seem to have in some small-but-meaningful-ways somehow *broken* online conversations, and how the concept of ‘the reply’ as a performative declaration is its own, sui generis thing that is very much of the now. I am a sucker for this sort of stuff, I admit, but I promise you that after you have read this you will see it EVERYWHERE. BONUS LINK FROM DIRT: another very good internetculturesnippet, this time about engagement harvesting and the very, very modern desire to know the exact labels one should apply to oneself and how those labels define and determine and enable.
- STOP IT BRANDS: Ok, fine, that’s not the title the subs gave it – still, it’s very much the sentiment of a piece which asks the question ‘if every single brand is now doing that weird Twitter memetically-deep-fried post-Duolingo-and-SteakUmms schtick on social media, does that mean that it is in fact horrible and played-out and should stop?’, and answers it with a resounding YES. I think, honestly, the only good thing about the risible joke that is my ‘career’ is that I no longer have to have serious conversations with actual adults about what tone of voice a brand of batteries ought to have on the internet – if that is still what your professional reality looks or feels like, might I gently suggest that, on balance, perhaps it’s better just to be unemployed?
- Myst: For a certain generation of people – specifically, people who are middle-aged and had wealthy enough families that meant that they had a decently-specced home PC in the 90s – the videogame Myst is a sort of Proustian artefact, the mere mention of the name taking them back to an era of massive beige CRT monitors and AOL cds; if that’s you then you’ll very much enjoy this piece looking at the design and ludic principles that underpinned the game and which made it peculiar and particular and so uniquely-immersive.
- The Man Who Invented Fantasy: This is SO interesting, and was entirely new to me – I had no idea whatsoever that the genre we broadly know as ‘fantasy’ nowadays (you know the idea – epics! worldbuilding! magic/majick/magyk! an occasionally-troubling amount of implicit racism! Characters with names like ‘Tharg, son of Thargandia’!) was basically an entirely-confected one, developed by one Lester del Rey who saw the obsessional devotion applied to Tolkien and, not unreasonably, thought ‘wow, if we keep churning out stuff about wizards and little green pointy-eared guys, and women in improbably-skimpy armour sets then we’ll basically have these nerds in the palm of our hands forever and we can afford all the smoked-glass tables and cocaine paraphernalia our hearts desire!’ (it was the 70s, after all). Reading this made me think that someone at Penguin or Doubleday is going to eventually just ‘embrace the Omegaverse’ (if you know, you know, and if you don’t then…frankly, if you don’t then you’re lucky) and make an awful lot of money as a result.
- The Kabul Intercontinental: This is a superb piece of journalism published by Swiss paper NZZ – it profiles the people who are currently trying to run the Kabul Intercontinental, a relic of Afghanistan’s more glamorous past currently being used by the ruling Taliban as an administrative centre, canteen, hospitality centre…interviewing various people involved in the running of the place, the piece speaks with Taliban and non-Taliban alike to paint a picture of a strange, twilighty-feeling world where noone quite trusts anyone else despite the smiles and the bonhomie. Honestly, this really is very good indeed and one of the most human-feeling pieces coming out of Kabul I’ve read in years.
- SBF: I’ve been weirdly uninvested in the FTX/Sam Bankman-Fried story (other than the stuff about the polycule, mainly because it once again proved to me that my thesis about the polyamorous – to whit, that they are almost NEVER people who you would actually want to bone – is correct), but this is a particularly-excellent review of the new Michael Lewis profile of the man, which is scathing both about Bankman-Fried and about the extent to which Lewis was apparently charmed by him. Having gotten through the Musk biography – sadly I can’t link you to my review as it’s print-only (HOW QUAINT IN 2023!), but I can happily inform you that it contains the following description of Musk of which I am personally quite proud: “someone incapable of breathing without Tweeting, who is already not so much open as prolapsed?” – which is equally tainted by a feeling that the author admires their subject more than is seemly. it seems oddly common for these biographers to be…weirdly unquestioning about their subjects. Is this normal?
- The Morality of Gossip: You may not think that you want to read an actual academic text which explores the extent to which the act of gossiping can and should be considered a morally deleterious act – but you are WRONG, because this is genuinely brilliant and entertaining and is exactly the sort of philosophy I most enjoy, ostensibly-fluffy but knotty at heart.
- The Complete List of Bingo Calls: I have no idea where I found this, but it was published on the Mecca Bingo website a few years ago and I was THRILLED to learn a selection of less-heralded bingo calls – everyone knows ‘88 – two fat ladies’, fine, but were you aware that ‘30’ is traditionally known as ‘dirty gertie’, or that ‘64’ is upsettingly rhymed with ‘red raw’ (I really don’t think I want to know the etymology of that particular one)? YOU WERE NOT DO NOT LIE TO ME.
- Trapped In A Veil: I’ve been reading my way through the Booker longlist over the past few months, and ‘The Bee Sting’ by Paul Murray is one of my personal favourites so far (fwiw, my other picks are ‘If I Survive You’ and ‘In Ascension’, should you care) – this is the LRB’s review of the Bee Sting, which also encompasses reflections on his earlier works, and, while I think that I enjoyed the novel significantly more than the reviewer did, it’s a brilliant bit of analysis of form and style and thematics which also has the benefit of being very readable.
- More Than Meets The Eye: I appreciate that it’s vanishingly-unlikely that any of you woke up this morning thinking ‘you know what I’d really like to read today? Several thousand words of unlikely socialist-inflected nostalgic analysis of the Transformers cartoon series of the 1980s’, but, seriously, you are in for a TREAT. Ok, fine, it helps if you’re a middle-aged man who was obsessed to the point of single-minded devotion with Optimus Prime et al, but even if not this is a warm and evocative bit of nostalgia that covers a surprising amount of ground considering that, at heart, it’s basically about some animated advertisements for plastic tat from 40-odd years ago.
- Remember Kony 2012?: I was talking with someone the other week about watershed moments – in that specific instance we were discussing the point at which UK culture shifted from that 00s-era ‘aggressive, angry, hypersexualised vulgarity’ to the slightly-more inclusive and sensitive landscape of today (in case you’re interested, I put it at Dapper Laughs sombre poloneck Newsnight appearance), but I wonder whether Kony2012 was in its own way a watershed moment too, the death-knell of the idea that going viral was in any way ‘good’. Do you remember Kony2012? IT WAS A FCUKING WEIRD TIME, basically, and this piece takes us right back there, recapping the frenzy and then, more interestingly, securing an interview with the guy behind Invisible Children, the one who famously had that naked breakdown in LA when the gaze of the world became too much…I think it’s fair to say that he still has issues, and I’m not 100% certain that the reporter’s wholly responsible in the way they write this up if I’m honest with you, but it really is a quite incredible mental time machine to a very different era.
- Influencer Boxing: A great piece in GQ, looking at how KSI and the rest are ‘disrupting’ boxing – or, depending on your point of view, how we’ve basically reinvented cockfighting but instead of specially-reared fowl we’re howling for the blood of seventh-tier entertainers and internet personalities. There is something very funny – if sort-of depressingly irresponsible – about some of the vignettes in here where the promoters brainstorm new boxing formats; while I generally have no interest in sports in which pituitary meatheads hit each other, I would totally watch a puglistic Royal Rumble (but, you know, guiltily).
- Pilar: I loved this article – David Coggins writes in Esquire about the magazine’s relationship with Hemingway, and specifically about how Hemingway was able to parlay that relationship into his beloved boat, Pilar – you don’t have to like, or indeed have any affection for, Hemingway to enjoy this article, which paints a picture of an era to which literally anyone who gets paid for words would give their kidney to return to (fine, we’re not all Hemingway, but the per-word rates quoted in here! Oh me oh my!).
- Long Distance: Finally this week, a story from the Paris Review – it was published in 2014, but I stumbled across it this week and it is SO GOOD; specifically, it has that very specific quality I get from reading South American Spanish prose in translation, a sort of lightness to it which I absolutely adore. I promise you that this really is excellent and 100% worth your time.
By Don McCullin
AND NOW, MOVING PICTURES AND SOUNDS!:
- All the indications are that the Frasier reboot is, predictably, terrible – so why not celebrate the show when it was good, courtesy of this BRILLIANT animated version of one of the episodes from the original series, which has been interpreted by over 100 animators who’ve each contributed a few frames – seriously, the range of styles here is dizzying and there are some truly wonderful riffs on the characters and the script throughout.
- The Mountain Goats are an amazing band, and John Darnielle is an amazing lyricist, and I think I could happily listen to them play while he read out his shopping lists over the top – but thankfully this new song is loads better than that. This is called ‘Murder at the 18th Street Garage’ and it’s probably not going to convert you if you hate the band’s previous output but otherwise it is a TOTAL TREAT.
- I don’t know what it is exactly about the production here but it is AMAZING (to my ears, at least) – put headphones on and turn this up and enjoy what is basically a sort of squelchy electronica-based ASMR experience (your mileage may vary here, fine, but that’s what it felt like for me). This is called ‘I H8 FC’ and its by Frost Children.
- This really isn’t my usual sort of thing, but I think the video’s really smartly-done and improves the track immeasurably – it’s a bit ‘one of the downtempo ones from the Street’s first two albums’ or ‘Example on a comedown’, fine, but as long as that doesn’t put you off I think this is worth a listen. This is by Mall Grab & Real Lies and it’s called ‘End Credits’.
- Our final music video of the week is by Dani Miller for a song called ‘Hard Way’ – all lofi and minimal and grainy-pseudo-VHS on the video which initially put me off, but the tune here has absolutely earwormed me and there’s something pleasingly dark and slightly-off about the arrangement and, basically, I think this is fcuking great and maybe you will do too. Oh, and THAT’S IT NO MORE TO SEE HERE BYE SEE YOU NEXT WEEK BYE!