Gah! I am late! I am so sorry!
I could explain exactly why, but I can’t imagine you care that much – after all, it’s not like any of you sit there on a Friday morning, sweaty palms worrying up and down your denimclad thighs as you bite-rip at your inner lip, waiting for your fix of links and words and incapable of focusing on anything ’til you have them, is it? No, it is not – but suffice it to say that it involved not one but TWO trips to the local health centre to pick up medical grade Soylent, so it’s…well, it’s a reasonable excuse, I think.
Anyway, this tardiness means that you’re at least spared my tedious opining on ALL THE PARTIES (you can, though, get a flavour for what I might have said here) and instead can get stuck straight into the ‘good’ stuff – thanks for your patience, and sorry that what follows is no better than normal (but, on the plus side, it’s not discernibly worse either – there’s much to be said for having consistently low standards, I’ve come to learn).
I am still Matt, this is still Web Curios, and Boris Johnson is still a fcuking cnut.
By Lisa Vaccino
THE SECTION WHICH THIS WEEK LEARNED HOW TO FEED SOMEONE DIRECTLY INTO THEIR STOMACH, WHICH IS MARGINALLY MORE FUN THAN IT SOUNDS (THOUGH PROBABLY NOT FOR THE FEEDEE), PT.1:
- Elon Goat: Long-term readers may be aware as to my position on both cryptostuff/NFTs (to whit: potentially interesting in the long term, but absolutely rife with cnuts and lies and grift in the short- to medium-term) and Elon Musk (to whit: a wnker), so why am I kicking off this week’s Curios with a project which combines both of those things into a single ridiculous whole? Well, er, because it made me laugh, pathetically – look, this is obviously all silly and terrible and Bad News, but, equally, I can’t not be slightly-pleased by something so obviously stupid as a project whose goal is ostensibly to construct “a biblical sized monument on the back of a semi-trailer dedicated to the Godfather of Crypto, Elon Musk. When the Elon GOAT is complete, we’re towing it to Tesla and demanding that Elon claims his GOAT! The Elon GOAT Monument will serve as an anchor to the Token and as a tribute to the world’s Crypto community!” I mean, if you consider that 99.9% recurring of all coin/token projects to date have been absolute moronic garbage then there’s something to applaud in taking that to the absolute nth degree – I defy you to come up with a more stupid, pointless and fundamentally-ugly project than this one. The only way I could love this more would be if they were to amass a fortune in Musk-fan crypto and then rugpull the whole project (yes, fine, theft and fraud are Bad Things, but occasionally it feels like the victims justify the crime).
- NFTs as Staff Bonuses: As we ease ourselves into another year of wageslavery with all the enthusiasm of someone self-catheterising, take a moment to think of how you would like your paymasters to acknowledge YOUR contribution to the ceaseless incremental increasing of shareholder value – bonuses? Nah, too 80s. Spa days? Nah, too 00s. Food vouchers? Potentially-useful tbh, but a bit grim. I know – HOW ABOUT NFTs???? Said literally no fcuker, ever, and yet here we are – I think this is the first instance, at least that I’ve seen, of a business minting its own line in NFTs to distribute to its workforce (before inevitably opening the market up to the wider cryptocommunity so as to, er, ‘inevitably’ drive up the value of said NFTs which will DEFINITELY become the subject of a frenzied bidding war and definitely, definitely won’t end up having absolutely no value whatsoever). So it is for employees of seemingly-generic SAAS platform Yotpo, who are all being given ‘Fabulous Flamingos’, the latest tedious, no-imagination spin on the whole BAYC thing (you know, one base design with 8 or so variables to produce 12,912,998 potential variations which all feel emptily similar) as a reward for BEING AWESOME, which they will soon be able to trade with other cryptoheads. Do…do you think the Yotpo staff asked for this? “Would you like an actual cash bonus this year, staff, or would you instead like us to spend the bonus pot on making a bunch of ugly cartoon avatars of each of you and causing a small-but-not-insignificant uptick in our carbon emissions for the year to boot?” “YES PLEASE, PAYMASTERS!!” is how I don’t imagine the conversation going at all. Baffling, but doubtless a sign of things to come – you may laugh now, but you’ll be laughing on the other side of your face when even the carriage clock you get for 75 years’ loyal service is a fcuking NFT that nobody wants to buy. Still, you can put it on your mantelpiece in the metaverse (that JWT can design for you SORRY GAVIN!) (don’t worry, I am not going to try and make that running ‘gag’ (I use the term loosely) a ‘thing’).
- EnviroNFTs: “Wow!”, I thought when I saw this, “an NFT project specifically designed to help the environment! That sounds…well, it sounds massively intellectually-incoherent, to be honest, and like a bad joke, but maybe I am missing something”, and so I clicked and, well, nope! “The NFT Series for 100,000,000 mangroves is a collaboration between Regenerative Resources (RRC), Regen Network, Chainlink, and Elevenyellow, to raise sufficient funds to grow 100 million mangroves. This series will emit ~120 tons of carbon, but is expected to sequester 20,000,000 tons of carbon over 25 years, a 160,000:1 ratio of C sequestered to C emitted.”” I am…unconvinced as to the validity of your carbon calculations here, NFT-peddlers, but let’s look closer – and, er, why do I need to buy anNFT anyway? Can’t I just plant some trees? Even better, though, is when you click through to investigate a little more about the Regenerative Resources lot who are apparently underpinning this whole thing, and you see that their website says in big letters “Want to grow mangroves instead of paying taxes?”, so we can rest assured that this is DEFINITELY a philanthropic project harnessing the decentralised power of the blockchain to solve problems in an innovative and disruptive manner and definitely not just another example of how all this stuff is being used by the already-rich and already-crooked to further line their nests. You would have to be a FOOL and a COMMUNIST to doubt the motives here, truly. Oh, but hang on – what’s this? A site that allows you to donate to non-profits with crypto? US-only, but surely a good thing, right? This also emphasises the tax writeoff benefits and so therefore feels inherently icky, but there’s nothing inherently wrong with advertising the personall benefits of a charitable act so as to induce more of said act I guess. Anyway, there’s something that feels slightly *off* about the intersection of crypto and charity, though I concede that’s something that might just be me projecting my own inherent dislike of the ‘scene’ (although according to this academic paper there are fundamental issues with direct cryptofunding of charitable enterprises, so perhaps that sort of intermediary solution is the only way. Christ, this is boring, sorry).
- Australian Open NFTs: Just in case you thought that Australian tennis had reached an apogee of preposterousness with the Djokovic saga (as an aside, he is 100% going to end up doing some really terrible things when his career’s over, isn’t he? I can see some sort of borderline-hard-right political adventures in the Novak crystal ball), have THE NFT TENNIS BALL! I don’t really understand how this is meant to work, but that hardly seems like the point of these things anymore. OWN THE COURT, it screams, although exactly what definition of ‘ownership’ they’re working with here is unclear. Also, the seventh tab on the right hand side inexplicably takes you to a page that reads ‘ENTER THE METAVERSE’ without explaining what that might in fact entail, although perhaps they are promising that your balls can follow you across virtual realms, which is nice. Thanks to Matt Fernand for sending this to me, and for being kind enough to admit that he doesn’t understand it either.
- Explore the John Soane Museum: Inexplicably I have apparently NEVER featured this in Curios – I think this version of the Soanes site was created during the…second? (it’s so hard to tell) wave of COVID, but, honestly, who cares? All you need to know is that it’s a beautifully-presented and genuinely fascinating way to explore the museum (which, should you be able to, is absolutely worth visiting In Real Life, should that still be something that we do in 2022), and the vaguely-kinect-y (can I still use that as a reference point? Does anyone actually remember the Microsoft Kinect? Milo? BUELLER?) graphics they use to display the house and the warren-like maze of rooms that house its collection do wonders at bringing it to life. Also, it’s a fcuking GREAT collection, almost as good as the Pitt Rivers in Oxford (which will always win because of its frankly insane collection of very, very evil weaponry, and of course the majesty of the shrunken heads).
- Locket: Is this the first big hypey app of 2022? I have no idea, nor does it matter, but lots of people have been talking about it this week and it’s a really smart, simple idea. Locket lets you interact with a small group of friends (I can’t be bothered to check; let’s say 5), with whom you can share pictures (straight cameraroll, no filters). The gimmick is that through a widget on your iPhone (iOS only at-present) it presents them in a small window on your homescreen, showing moments from the lives of people you know. It’s such a cute idea (although as I think/type that, I am visited by an horrific vision of all the many ways in which it could be not cute at all, for which no thanks at all to my subconscious), and I look forward (do not look forward at all) to the flurry of horrific advermarketingpr ‘activations’ (god that’s a horrible term, I must stop using it) which attempt to bribe you into letting them advertise directly at you from your homescreen in exchange for magic Zuckerbergian metaverse beans (other currencies will doubtless be available).
- Luciteria: Have you ever wanted to be MASTER OF ALL THE ELEMENTS! Well in a very small way you can, thanks to this quite remarkable online shop which will sell you tiny (like, really tiny – if you’re looking into some sort of large-scale (or even small-scale, frankly) chemical ‘experiment’, this is unlikely to be of use to you) quantities of every known element. Actually that’s not true, sorry – per the site, “Of the 92 naturally occurring elements over 80 are collectible with probably half of those being relatively easy to find in more or less pure form.” But, still, MASTER OF THE ELEMENTS! Want some lovely sodium chunks in oil, just like in chemistry? OF COURSE YOU DO! Lovely, bubbly Ruthenium? All yours mate. Honestly, this is great, and I am off to order a vial of shiny glowing Nitrogen. Oh fcuk me, they have purple gold, this site is amazing.
- A Play About Sex: Not actually link to a play about sex, sorry; instead, this is a piece of research to inform a forthcoming work by Hannah Farley-Hills who says: “For my next play, I want to talk to women about sex. This is not limited to those who were assigned female sex at birth. So, if you have lived experience as a woman and you live in the UK or the Republic of Ireland, then this project is for you. I am working with a diverse team of artists, academic experts, sexologists and psychologists but I need more voices in the mix! I want to know about your relationship with sex, the conversations you have and the references you use. I want to work out how a theatre play could benefit your relationship with sex and what that play could look like.” So there you have it – if you think that sounds like something you’d be interested in contributing to, there’s more information and a survey on the link. NB – I have no connection to this whatsoever, it just sounds like an interesting project.
- Paper Website: I am genuinely quite angry that it’s taken me this long to find out about this (the internet is not a race, the internet is not a race), not least because it’s SO clever and I feel like it should be more famous. Paper Website is a really simple product – take your written notes and turn them into a website, with no coding. You write, take a photo, upload it to the app, and it becomes a simple blogpost (the site claims that it works for even the most illegible of scrawls, although it’s English-only). If you’re the sort of person who’s never without a Moleskine (although actually this comes with its own notebook too), jotting down thoughts inspired by the world around you, maybe sketching a bit in the margin and thinking about that graphic novel you always wanted to write, then this might be for you (also, I hate you). PS – this is a really interesting writeup by Ben Stokes (no), whose work it is, about how the whole thing came about and how it works.
- The Facebook Pixel Hunt: I know we’ve all sort of just blithely-accepted the idea that modernity is now little more than a succession of digital platforms shaking you down for that sweet, monetisable personal datastream, but if you feel like raging against the machine (it’s futile! We are the machine!) a little longer than you may be interested in signing up to this latest investigation by Mozilla and The Markup which is looking for volunteers to share browser data (anonymised, obvs) with them to get a better picture of how targeted ads and tracking actually work. The study ‘seeks to map Facebook’s pixel tracking network and understand the kinds of information it collects on sites across the web. The Markup will use the data collected in this study to create investigative journalism around the kinds of information Facebook collects about you, and where.’ Of course, there’s no guarantee that the platform won’t do its usual thing and just shut this down citing ‘data protection’ (oh, the irony!), but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t give it a go while it lasts.
- Let’s Settle This: Many years ago I worked on a BBC3 series whose central premise was Big Narstie sitting in a barbershop and settling various big online debates – cheese or chocolate, and ‘are West Indian parents more strict than African parents?’, that sort of thing. It wasn’t a, er, huge hit, and Narstie was very much in the ‘still far too keen on getting absolutely blazed at 10am with a massive entourage of non-specific ‘helpers’’ stage of his career and so was by all accounts an occasionally challenging person to produce, but my main regret is that we never got signoff on the digital spinoff bits we wanted to make, one of which was basically EXACTLY this gam which has now been created by the prolific Neal Agarwal (see Curios passim). This is simple, silly and fun – you get a series of binary proposition,pick one side for each, and then see how your opinion compares to the rest of the web. If nothing else, we can now consider the toilet paper over/under question finally resolved for good.
- Mitchells vs Machines: Was this a good film? As a child-free person, my knowledge of kid-focused CG animations is…limited, but I seem to recall that The Mitchells vs The Machines was reasonably well-received when it came out…at some point in the weird timeslurry that is the past two years. Anyway, should you or anyone in your family have been a fan of the film, or indeed just generally interested in animation and illustration and character design and stuff, then you might enjoy this – Netflix has put the artstyle lookbook (that’s the technical term, right?) for the film online, so you can peruse character and set sketches, read background material about the principles, and generally immerse yourself in the world of the film. It’s a really interesting look at the thought and craft that goes into animation, and super-interesting from a design and production point of view (also, the character art is charming).
- But Blockchain: Everything, on the blockchain! A Twitter account that spits out a seemingly-infinite procession of ideas for stuff that could be put ON THE BLOCKCHAIN! Either a coruscating satire of the current mania for BLOCKCHAIN-BASED SOLUTIONS or an incredible resource for entrepreneurial inspiration, depending on your point of view. Personally ‘jetpacks, on the blockchain’ sound pretty good to me.
- Lioness: This is an interesting project. Effectively a third-party organisation set up in the US to assist with whistleblowing and investigation into poor workplace practice, “Lioness is a storytelling platform and new media company that brings forward stories about encounters with power. At the crux of a Lioness story is the interplay of those who have power and those who don’t. Many of the stories that Lioness brings to the public are stories that have been previously stifled by money, non-disclosure agreements, and threats. The two women behind Lioness, Ariella Steinhorn and Amber Scorah, have looked into thousands of untold stories submitted by everyday people, including stories of corruption, sexual abuse and harassment, cover-ups, fraud, resilience, and redemption. Many of the stories we publish are ones that would not have been reported on otherwise, despite being verified — usually due to entrenched power, legal threats, or the fact that people with the stories do not always know how best to connect with the media.” It’s a fascinating model, and the sort of thing which might usefully be replicated outside of North America.
- Litclock: I have no idea when this got made, but it’s a quietly-lovely little webproject from the Guardian which tells the time via the medium of literary quotes – each hour and minute is accompanied by an appropriate quote from a novel which mentions that specific moment in time (for example, at the exact time of writing, “The lecture was to be given tomorrow, and it was now almost eight-thirty”). This is such a cool little idea – and you can find the code here on Github should you want to cobble together a local version, which is exactly the sort of thing I’d be tempted to do were I the owner of an independent bookshop with some coding skills and a spare e-ink display (which, obviously, applies to LOADS of you, right? Eh? Oh).
- Onlooker Postcards: A Flickr album featuring postcards collected over several decades and which all feature someone staring out into the distance; for reasons I don’t entirely understand, a significant proportion of said people are wearing red (is this some sort of sign? WHAT ARE THEY TRYING TO TELL US?). I don’t know why these are so compellingly-sinister, but they really are.
- Emoji Frequency: This year’s report from Unicode, telling us what the most-used emoji were globally in 2021. The headline here is that we are all still irredeemably basic, with the cry/laugh emoji accounting for a quite astonishing 5% of all global emoji usage (NOTHING IS THAT FUNNY! PARTICULARLY NOT NOW!). I won’t pretend that there are any GREAT INSIGHTS that you can derive from this (but, equally, I won’t stop you from pretending that there are – we’re all in the same boat, I won’t judge you), but there are some interesting points in the writeup about the sorts of emoji that might have reached saturation point, particularly should you be considering submitting your own (animal emoji are ‘at saturation level’, sadly, so don’t expect to see your application to add ‘axolotl’ to the menagerie be successful).
- Electronicos Fantasticos: “”Electronicos Fantasticos!” Is a co-creation led by artist / musician Ei Wada, who revives the electric appliances that have finished their roles into new electronic musical instruments and gradually forms an orchestra. It is a project to go. Currently, we have established activity bases in three cities, Tokyo, Kyoto, and Hitachi, and with the participation of nearly 70 members, we have turned many home appliances such as CRT TVs, electric fans, ventilation fans, video cameras, eco-an, and telephones into musical instruments.” If you’re a fan of people making weird instruments out of old CRT televisions and calculators and stuff, then you will LOVE this – if anyone’s reading this from Hoover, Dyson or one of those companies, PLEASE click this link in particular and then commission these guys to create a bespoke wind orchestra from your appliances. PLEASE.
- Hive: As a result of having a somewhat…reduced social life at present, I have found occasional minor solace in Twitch – there’s something oddly-soothing about using Nobody to browse the long, unwatched tail of the platform, a bit like a penis-free, game-heavy version of chatroulette. Anyway, that’s how I found this – a Twitch channel that streams a livefeed of a beehive, 24/7. You may not think that you need to see a few thousand bees doing their thing but, I guarantee you, this is mesmerising and therapeutic.
By Nickie Zimov
THE SECTION WHICH THIS WEEK LEARNED HOW TO FEED SOMEONE DIRECTLY INTO THEIR STOMACH, WHICH IS MARGINALLY MORE FUN THAN IT SOUNDS (THOUGH PROBABLY NOT FOR THE FEEDEE), PT.2:
- The FBI Artifact of the Month: The FBI is not, it’s fair to say, an institution you would necessarily describe as ‘cute’ or ‘whimsical’, and yet there’s a touch of both in this regular feature on their website, where they present a variety of oddities from their archives for curious eyes. This month’s is a small, slightly-grubby-looking plastic statuette of ‘Alvin’ (lead singer of the Chipmunks, as any fule kno) which was once fitted with a mic as part of a long-running surveillance sting. Which is on the one hand quite interesting and sort-of cool, but I couldn’t help but note the aforementioned grubbiness and then go on to invent a slightly dark backstory that involved some BAD PEOPLE meeting STICKY ENDS. Basically this is just a way to humanise the Feds, is what I’m saying, and should be treated with slight suspicion as a result – alternatively, just treat it as a wonderful series of writing prompts for your ‘Write Detective Fiction In Just 12 Months!’ class.
- Poly Pizza: Google recently shuttered its free 3d assets platform, but it’s popped up again in this guise, with literally thousands of models to download and use in your own creations. “Explore thousands of free, high quality assets. Ready to use in any Unity, Unreal, Godot, Blender or VR/AR project. Models are available in a variety of formats like OBJ, FBX and GLTF” – sounds good, right? This is one of the things that’s amazing about the future – the tools to create standalone 3d environments, games, worlds, all made by generous people for free use by the wider community. Remind me again what crypto brings to this party?
- Women Of Rock: I put it to you that it’s near-impossible to read the words ‘Women of Rock’ without (at least mentally) making small devil horns with your fingers and doing a gentle headbang. This is a YouTube channel collecting videos about women in modern music history – “a collection of digital interviews and written transcripts, housed at the Sophia Smith Collection at Smith College—one of the oldest women’s history archives in the United States. Started by Tanya Pearson in December, 2014, WOROHP documents the lives and careers of women in rock whose work and careers have been underrepresented or omitted from rock journalism and historical scholarship. With a collection of publicized and accessible primary source documents, the Women of Rock Oral History Project seeks to facilitate a more comprehensive, inclusive, and accurate cultural history.” Featuring interviews and profiles of people like Peaches, Nina Gordon, Gail Ann Dorsey and more, this is super-interesting if you’re a student of musical history or, er, women in rock (DEVIL HORNS!).
- The Gallery Companion: Started last year by lecturer Victoria Powell, The Gallery Companion is a (paid, but there are free options) membership organisation which aims to give people who are interested, but not experts in, art a place to discuss, explore, learn and generally enjoy the visual arts with other curious people. There are various online and offline events, talks, tours and things, which could be of interest for any of you who have decided that 2022 is the year in which you FINALLY learn the name of a contemporary artist that isn’t ‘Banksy’.
- Ukrainian Murderers: A photoseries by David Tesinsky of portraits of people imprisoned for murder in Ukraine. These are…heavy, I suppose, feels like the best word to describe them, and I can’t pretend I didn’t find there to be something slightly odd about the fact that there are prints for sale (is there a profitshare with the subjects? Do proceeds go to charity? I don’t know what the ‘right’ thing is, here, but it feels…weird). Still, unless you’ve got a very specific sort of interior decoration vibe I can’t see them being the sort of things that you’d want hanging on your wall (“You know what would look nice over the mantel, Janet? That print of the man convicted of seven murders and serving a ton-stretch in Kharkiv! The sadness in his eyes!”).
- Minimator: Oh this is nice. If you’re the sort of person whose doodles tend towards the regimented and geometric and gridlike (I AM NOT JUDGING YOU (but know that I am inferring things about your character)) then this little webtoy could prove very satisfying indeed. You get given a grid-based canvas which you can draw on with simple black lines, lines which can either be straight quarter-circles – with these limitations, you can make some quite detailed and complex designs, whether abstract patterns or simple cartoon-style illustrations, and I reckon this could be quite soothing if you’re less of a cack-handed no-talent aesthetic carcrash than I am.
- Instaraid: “Make Instagram fun again!”, says this website, before then going on to suggest that it doesn’t really understand how ‘fun’ works. Instaraid is a platform/project that basically exists to create temporary, one-off Insta ‘pods’ (remember those, content marketers of long-standing? GREAT DAYS!) – “Every day, our algorithm randomly select an account that we’ll “raid” on Instagram: we follow them, give them likes, and comment positive things on their pictures. Every participant who uses the #instaraidsubmission on one of the pictures of the currently selected person will have a chance to be selected in the next round. You can participate even if you don’t want to be “raided”: just follow along and comment positive things with the #instaraid hashtag.” Now, on the one hand, this feels like a fun throwback to the days when people would rally round to attempt to boost each others’ accounts as a general ‘a rising tide lifts all ships’ sort-of mindset; on the other, though, this feels like it sort-of fails to appreciate the extent to which ‘suddenly going viral on Insta’ is no longer anything fun and is instead something to be feared and guarded against. OH WHAT WE HAVE LOST!
- Relax: I normally have very little time for anything that claims to help me ‘relax’ via the medium of a screen (THAT’S WHY I TAKE DRUGS FFS), but I was honestly mesmerised by this. Click the link, click the button, and find yourself staring slack-jawed at a beautiful blue pool which will slowly calm to reveal the simple word ‘RELAX’ beneath the water and MY GOD does this work – seriously, I had a whole 90s of relative calm and tranquility as a result of this (before I remembered who and where I was, and the fantods started again).
- Browser Shazam: I got quite excited about this when I found it, and then realised that it has…limited use cases – after all, doesn’t everyone likely to want to use Shazam likely to have it on their phones already? And isn’t it more likely that you’ll want to identify songs when you’re out and about and subject to the whims and tastes of others rather than when you’re at home listening to whatever you choose? Still, should you be the sort of person who has an innate distrust of putting apps on your phone (WE ARE BRETHREN!), or the sort of person who likes to put on random music on a tab in the background and who keeps their phone in another room when they work (locked in a box, in a cupboard, underground), then you might find Chrome extension, which lets you identify any song playing on your laptop, useful.
- First Ascent: Some of the shine has been taken off the ‘Ascent of Everest’ experience in recent years, partly borne of the fact that technology has made it more accessible than ever which means that we now have far more first-hand accounts of the reality of Everest, which as far as I can tell is ‘too many tourists’ and ‘a distressing number of frozen corpses and turds’. Still, it’s undeniable that there’s a sense of romance associated with the first time anyone managed it, and so this little webproject telling the story of the first (official) ascent achieved by John Hunt. Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay is pleasingly compelling, telling the history of people’s obsession with summitting (sorry – this is a horrible word but I am assured it’s appropriate) the mountain and how it was finally achieved.
- The Trade Journal Cooperative: For several years, a particular favourite hipster gift has been one of those subscriptions that send you a different trends design/lifestyle magazine each month; you know the ones, all 2014-Insta-aesthetic photography and lumpy knitwear and hand-fired pottery and names like ‘Ecru’ and ‘Ennui’ and ‘Askance’. This week I learned of a way to improve upon that – The Trade Journal Cooperative “delivers a lovingly curated niche trade journal to your door every quarter. Our editors painstakingly comb through the back alleys of capitalism to bring you fascinating publications like Pasta Professional, American Funeral Director, and Plumber Magazine. Each issue comes complete with a newsletter from our Editorial Board that provides a wealth of insightful commentary, historical analysis, and various amusing tidbits from our explorations.” If you don’t want to read Pasta Professional, I don’t want you reading my newsletter.
- Direct Trains: I LOVE that this exists – a small website which lets you click on any train station in the Europe and see how far you can get from it without changing trains. You may not think you want to know exactly how far you can get from Kidderminster without switching carriages, but you never know when this knowledge may come in handy. In particular, if you fancy dreamily planning some sort of pan-European rail journey, this is a wonderful way of imagining it into being.
- The 101 Best Book Covers of 2021: Not my assessment, to be clear, but a selection pulled together by Literary Hub, as identified by a bunch of designers. These tend to be North American, so there’s a certain aesthetic distinction between the preferred style of publishers in the US and Canada and those in Europe, but it’s still fascinating to see the work and the prevailing trends in aesthetic that you can identify. Personally-speaking, I have a lot of time for the design of Sam Riviere’s Dead Souls (also a great book fwiw, if a bit ‘inside poetry’), but you pick your own (that’s MINE, leave off).
- Letterle: Turns out I can’t not talk about The Word Game, so let me grudgingly round up all the Wordle-adjacent stuff that’s cropped up in the 10 days since everyone has decided to start spreading the viral gospel of coloured squares (marginally-preferable, I concede, to the viral gospel of COVID). So we have Letterle – where the joke is you have to guess one letter of the alphabet! We also have Absurdle, Wordle where the solution tries to escape (this one’s really hard to explain but, honestly, is a lot of fun and pleasingly hair-pulling in terms of its brainmelting oddity), Sweardle, which is Worlde but where all the words are swears (this is harder than I expected it to be, and trust me when I say I know a lot of swears), Hello Wordle, which is Worldle but with the ability to play multiple games rather than just one a day, should you be jonesing TOO HARD for your next competitive word-guessing fix, and finally Wordle Stats, a Twitter account which shares the daily global performance at that day’s Worlde so that you can feel smug at your prowess/stupid like a rock (delete as applicable). It feels unnecessarily curmudgeonly to complain about the rash of people sharing their score-shapes daily all over Twitter, so I shan’t, but I will say it’s quite revealing to see how people approach it (and know that if you’re someone who spends a lot of time thinking about how you can WIN WORDLE via a more-efficient system of word selection that I think you’re in some small way broken, just fyi).
- Planets: Remember that gorgeous little browser-based aquatic-town-building-simulator from the other week? Well this is sort of like that, except instead of a town you get to terraform your own planet, with trees and oceans and towns. It’s by the same person, Oskar Stalberg, and was a made a few years earlier, but it’s no less lovely and will have you imagining all sorts of intricate backstories for your floating lumps of galactic rock (or it will if you’re me).
- Karawan: Finally this week, tiny pixellated ludic distraction (it’s a wonder they didn’t use that as a strapline, really) in the shape of Karawan, a tiny game made for Ludum Dare in 72h and SUCH a lovely game which I would love to see fleshed out into something a bit longer. Your task is simple – get your caravan from its starting point to the portal, across a landscape of weird hexagons floating in space which have a a disconcerting habit of disconnecting from the main landmass and floating off towards the Milky Way. Will you be able to guide your ragtag band to safety? Will you find the portal? Will you starve to death? WHO KNOWS???? This is a pretty stripped-back game experience, but a beautiful one, and the music in particular is hauntingly-brilliant.
THE CIRCUS OF TUMBLRS!
- Liquial: A Tumblr collecting water-related media – gifs, graphics, videos – for no discernible purpose that I can identify, which is just the way we like it round here.
THE TROUGH OF (INSTA) FEEDS!
- Salvage Design: Hugely-satisfying collage art by Kristen Meyer, which sees her take bits of..well, bits of stuff, basically, which she then arranges into ordered shapes. So imagine a perfect circle formed from differently-hued eggshell fragments, for example. Or from biscuits. This is exactly the sort of thing that you will look at and go ‘oh, what an excellent and simple crafting idea that I can replicate at home!’ and which will then see you sitting in your livingroom surrounded by smashed eggs and sticky albumen, crying to yourself.
- Kev Craven: A modern cartoonist drawing in the classic 40s/50s ‘Rubber Hose’ style of cartooning, Craven’s insta feed is brilliant and modern-nostalgic and, if you’re anything like me, will make you wish that stuff that you doodled look like this rather than the by product of Helen Keller’s less-successful hobbyist leanings.
- Watergate Living: Sharing advertising photography from the 1970s; this is all North American, I think, but you will all recognise the slightly-brown aesthetic at play here, as though all the pictures have been given a quick once-over with gravy, or varnished or something. This is very much what I believe was briefly known as ‘a mood’ last year before vocabulary moved on at whiplash-speed once more.
- Caffs Not Cafes: This is missing an accent over the ‘e’ in ‘Cafes’, but despite living in Italy for 6 months now I am still fcuked if I can work out the keyboard commands for such FOREIGN MADNESS. Anyway, that’s fine because this is a PROUDLY BRITISH account (albeit not in that way), which celebrates the traditional CAFF beloved of the cabby and the builder and the tradesman and the young middle-classes cosplaying at class solidarity – so if you want a succession of photographs of slightly-anaemic chips and sausages which you just know are approximately 90% rusk and 10% pig, and whose only contact with the exotic world of ‘spicing’ is ‘too much white pepper’ then you are absolutely in the right place.
- Beautiful Pints: Specifically, beautiful pints of Guinness – this is a companion account to the one featuring awful pints of Guinness which I featured a few years ago, and, honestly, for someone living in a country in which the pint doesn’t exist as a unit of measurement (and 330ml is NOT ENOUGH BEER FFS) this is basically like bongo/torture.
LONG THINGS WHICH ARE LONG!:
- Have We Forgotten How To Read Critically?: In many ways my favourite article of the week, this, which takes as its starting point one of the first big DISCOURSE-y reads of the year at least in US media circles (specifically, that book excerpt in which the woman talked in evidently ironic fashion about ‘hating’ her husband) and uses it to ask a series of questions about the changing way in which the way readers relate to texts in the post-web era, and, specifically, the extent to which the reader has any right to expect engagement from an author of a work around once said author considers said work finished and final, and whether or not it’s…ok for us to demand that the creators of what we consume accommodate our discussions about what they’ve created. Written by Kate Harding, this is both a really smart essay which tackles all sorts of complicated questions about The Nature of The Text but is also at the same time hugely-stylish and very funny. Also it contains this line, which struck me as one of the more true observations about What It Is Like To Observe The Day’s Discoure On Twitter: “Reading can make you feel close to someone without actually knowing them, a precious gift in a lonely world. But if the pleasure of reading is feeling connected to a distant stranger, then the pain of watching people read badly is its opposite: a severing of shared humanity. A cold, demoralizing reminder that we never can look inside each other’s minds, no matter how we try.”
- Every Bad Bill The Tories Are Trying To Pass In 2022: Web Curios is not, as a rule, a political organ, but I think I’ve said before that I think people who vote Tory are, in the main, cnuts, and I would like to state on record that I believe that to be doubly true for anyone who voted for this current incarnation of the Party. Non-Anglos can skip this, but if you happen to be a happy citizen of ‘Great’ Britain then you might want to give this a quick read just to get a full picture of the sorts of legislative horror being shovelled our way by Priti, Michael, Nadine, Liz and the rest.
- More Reasons Why Web3 Might Be Bunkum: This has been everywhere this week, and it’s quite technical, but it’s also a really cogent explanation as to why the ‘there’ that we are being promised with Web3 (specifically, DECENTRALISATION AND FREEDOM FROM THE TYRANNY OF BIG PLATFORMS AND BIG BUSINESS!) may not in fact exist. This is by Moxie Marlinspike, both the best-named person currently working in tech and the founder of Signal, who here collects his initial thoughts about Web3 after having dug around the concept for a while – even if you’re not huge on how API calls work and server connections and on- and off-chain data storage (and trust me, I really am not), this still gives a decent enough explanation of why exactly some of the much-touted benefits of Web3 don’t seem to actually exist yet, and may not in fact exist at all. In particular, the creation of an NFT whose visual representation changes depending on who’s looking at it is both a very clever little hack and a superb way of demonstrating some of the…er…flaws inherent in a lot of how this stuff is presented and sold.
- CryptoJustice: Take a moment to think of everything you know about cryptostuff and, as you ruminate on it, speculate as to whether there are any areas of life, based on that knowledge, that wouldn’t benefit from a lovely injection of TOKEN-RELATED MADNESS. Did you come up with anything? Did…did you maybe think ‘well, I can’t see an obvious benefit to the criminal justice system in putting it on the blockchain’? WELL MORE FOOL YOU! This is a not-insignificantly-depressing piece which profiles a company called Ryval (no, me neither), which promises to create a system which lets anyone “Buy and sell tokens that represent shares in a litigation and access a multi-billion dollar investment class previously unavailable to the public.” Which, in English, means ‘you can basically invest in a legal case and through that investment seek to secure a return on that investment through any profits made by said case’. Is this how ‘justice’ ought to work (this is a rhetorical question; this is after all an American company operating within the Americal judicial system, where ‘justice’ long since forked off into its own, US-only meaning which doesn’t seem to bear much relation to how it works elsewhere)? It doesn’t feel like it, but, on the plus side, just think how rich you’ll be when that investment you make in the inevitable ‘TikTok Made Us Stupid’ class-action lawsuits of the mid-20s comes in!
- Is Bored Ape Yacht Club A Big Racist ‘Joke’?: Full disclosure – my response to that question, were it not obviously rhetorical, would very much have been ‘I have no idea, because this incredibly long Twitter thread (which I have here collected for you via threadreader, because I’m nice like that) is one of those classic examples of internet detectivework which contains so many inferences and cross-references and suppositions and assumptions and bits of DEEP INTERNET KNOWLEDGE that it’s a bit dazzling and does rather feel as though you could use it to prove just about anything’, but it’s certainly true that there do seem to be an awful lot of suspiciously-Nazi-ish elements in the BAYC aesthetic when you drill down into it. EVEN THE CARTOON APES ARE A RIGHT-WING TOOL OF MEMETIC CULTURE WARFARE, IS NOTHING SAFE OR SACRED ANY MORE?!?!!?
- How To Trademark The Metaverse: This isn’t, to be clear, a great article – I am including it mainly because I found the headline so crushingly-depressing that I had to sit down for a moment and try and imagine a better, different future in which the digital playgrounds we’re being ushered towards hadn’t all been sold and parcelled out to the highest bidders before we got to them. A BOY CAN DREAM.
- Moribund Podcasts: I don’t mean to say I told you so, but, well. This is a bit of analysis by Bloomberg which points out that there basically hasn’t been a bing breakout podcasting hit for fcuking years, and that basically it’s still only the big ones from a few years back (pituitary meathead Rogan and some others) that get any BIG numbers (when was the last breakout hit even in the relatively-small UK market? Elizabeth Day’s ‘How To Fail’, maybe?). The reason? THERE ARE TOO MANY FCUKING PODCASTS. I don’t mean to be a downer, kids, but it’s worth looking at this example – low barriers to entry into a medium lead to oversaturation and noone makes and money, SUPPLY AND DEMAND ECONOMICS 101 – and then thinking again, hard, about the promise of how exactly the ‘creator economy’ is going to work out for all of us, CREATING AWAY using the same suite of off-the-shelf tools.
- Nostalgia For Nostalgia: Or, ‘why do stories never end, and what does that mean for the way we tell them and the way we relate to each other and ourselves?’ (their title is better tbf). “The very structure of our most prevalent plot devices indicates a cultural atmosphere of temporal erosion. Fictional plots today may be taking our increased continual connectivity into account, eschewing the tight contours of the singular, removed adventure narrative that once defined youth media.” I found this really interesting, particularly in terms of the way in which the lack of defined ‘endings’ to things contributes to (what I think is) the increased degree to which we all see ourselves as HEROES on JOURNEYS. Bring back beginnings and endings, seriously – they’re good for us, and if nothing else you’ll have the element of surprise on your side if you unexpectedly decide not to string something out for all eternity.
- What We Got Stuck In Our Rectums In 2021: To be clear – this is not an inclusive ‘we’. I got nothing stuck in my rectum in 2021, and would like to be quite open about that. I can’t, of course, speak for any of you – perhaps one of you, dear readers, was the person admitted to hospital with a rolling pin lodged uncomfortably in their bottom? Anyway, this isn’t just the stuff found through bumspelunking – there’s stuff that got stuck in ears, noses and, er, penises and vaginas! Special shout out this year to the guy who went to hospital and delivered this story with what one presumes was a straight face: “STATES HE AND HIS FRIENDS HAD A PRACTICAL JOKE GOING ON EACH OTHER. THIS TIME, HE WAS SLEEPING WHEN HIS FRIEND PUT A DILDO IN HIS RECTUM AND NOW UNABLE TO GET IT OUT”
- What Happened To Colours?: Specifically, what happened to colours in film and TV shows, and where did they go, and why is everything basically sludge-coloured these days? It’s an interesting shift from the 2010-ish era in which all films had to be graded to be as blue/orange as possible (it was the law – seriously, if you don’t remember then read this), and the reasons are more technical now than they were then (“JUST MAKE IT POP”). There are multiple potential reasons cited here as to why ‘sludge’ is the prevailing aesthetic of 2022, but I think my favourite is ‘it helps cover up all the sh1tty CG work’ which simply feels true even if it’s not.
- Plastics: A brilliant article looking at plastics and why the fcuk we use so many of them – spoiler, it’s ANOTHER SIDE EFFECT OF MASS-CAPITALISM! Honestly, I was captivated by this – it’s one of those great pieces which feels like it lifts a veil and shows you How The World Really Works, and how incredibly complex everything is and how interrelated and how if you think the butterfly flapping its wings has some unexpected distant consequences you ain’t seen nothing yet. It’s probably also worth pointing out that this isn’t exactly a cheering read from an environmental point of view, although there’s an argument to suggest that one of the big takeaways from this is ‘it’s not our fault’ – once again, the real blame for Where We Are Now And How Badly It’s Fcuking The Planet With Knives rests with the chemical manufacturers and…yes, that’s right, THE ADMEN! Do…do you ever think that there’s one day going to be a big reckoning where everyone suddenly realises that one of the main side-effects of the 20th Century has been giving us terrible, species-wide habits that are killing us, and that the people responsible were those much-derided advermarketingprmongs, and that maybe they should pay? Because I’m increasingly of that opinion myself, and I am one. In case you’re in the market for it, by the way, here’s another piece along similar lines – complementary imho.
- Future Food: Fascinating piece by Eater which looks at the way in which food service and delivery is developing and changing, thanks to technology and the pandemic, and what the next 5-10 years in the sector might look like. If you’ve any interest in urban living, how we live and how we eat, this is a must-read – if nothing else it’s a decent and incredibly-fcuking-important reminder that we’re currently living in a period of time where there are no magic machines, scarcity still exists, human labour is still necessary, and in which every single minor convenience granted with you is almost always sweated for by another human being who’s probably being paid minimum wage (if they’re lucky), and we ought to get better at keeping that front-of-mind when we make decisions about how we want to live now and in the future (he said, like some sort of fcuking beacon of moral rectitude – sorry, that was a bit insufferable, will try and be less of a preachy w4nker).
- Being In A Band: Read this para, and then go and read the whole thing: “For a brief moment in the mid 00s, we were everywhere. We were on the cover of the NME when humans wrote it and actual people read it to learn about bands not just to be sold shoes; we were touring the world as the support act for a big Hollywood band called 30 Seconds To Mars, fronted by arguably the fourth best Joker, Jared Leto. We had people turning up to our gigs cosplaying as us. We had a fan club, believe it or not. We had been touted as ‘the most perfect new band ever’. But as quickly as that ascent had come, it disappeared and I became me. I’d forgotten.” This is such a wonderful piece of writing, which is more about their manager than the experience of being in a band itself – I want to read a whole book of this, so get on with it Michael M.
- Sonny’s Blues: Finally in the longreads this week, a short (30-odd pages) short story by James Baldwin, which I’d not read before and you might not have done either. It’s Baldwin, so doesn’t need me to sell it – you know that this is going to be good, and you’re right. Make a pot of tea and enjoy it.
By Wa Unpis
AND NOW, MOVING PICTURES AND SOUNDS!:
- This week Joelle Taylor won the TS Eliot Prize for Poetry in the UK, for her recent work called ‘Cunto and Other Poems’ – I met Joelle once, doing Inua Ellams’ Midnight Run, and she was amazing and I am so, so happy she won this prize. Her poetry is superb and visceral (and I know that using ’visceral’ is a bad writing cliche, in the main, but fcuk you because in this instance it really fits), and this is her reading one of the poems from Cunto, called ‘Valentine’.
- Finally in this week’s videos, this is Kae Tempest and Kevin Abstract, collaborating on new single ‘More Pressure. This bangs. Enjoy, and BYE BYE BYE SORRY THIS WAS LATE THIS WEEK BUT IN ALL HONESTY THINGS ARE A BIT TOUGH RIGHT NOW BUT I PROMISE NORMAL SERVICE WILL BE RESUMED NEXT WEEK I LOVE YOU TAKE CARE I LOVE YOU BE CAREFUL HAVE FUN TAKE CARE I LOVE YOU SEE YOU NEXT WEEK I HOPE TAKE CARE I LOVE YOU BYE!