Well what an unexpected pleasure this is! Ordinarily I don’t do a Curios on Good Friday, what with it being a Bank Holiday in the UK and therefore you all having better things to do than kill a few hours reading this rubbish. This year, though, my life is so oddly-small and peculiarly-focused that I only realised that it was coming up to Easter weekend on Wednesday, by which point I’d already done five days worth of internetting and it seemed a shame to let all the accumulated spaff go to waste (also, pathetically, writing this is actually better than what the rest of my weekend is going to entail).
So, then, I am pretty sure that I am scribing to an audience even more vanishingly-small than normal, but NO MATTER! Much like the fundamental concept of the triangle, Curios exists independently of people’s knowledge of or interest in it – THIS HAPPENS WHETHER YOU LIKE IT OR NOT, YOU FCUKS.
I am still Matt, this is still Web Curios, and you are almost certainly rendering yourselves diabetic via the medium of chocolate in celebration of an execution that took place a couple of millennia ago, so, honestly, who’s the weirdo really?
By Anne Collier
THE SECTION WHICH THINKS MAYBE WE SHOULD ALL JUST IGNORE THE MAN AND MAYBE HE’LL GO AWAY , PT.1:
- Farewell: Whilst Europe appears to have (at least temporarily) decided that covid is over, that’s very much not currently the case in parts of Asia, as evidenced by the intensely-creepy lockdown scenes playing out in Shanghai right now. This site is, I think, made by a bunch of Chinese developers as a memorial to some of the people killed in the pandemic whose deaths, for various reasons, were overlooked or went unacknowledged – it presents a series of images of the deceased, their dates, and how they died, and it’s a hugely-poignant collection of people, some with visible faces, some photographed from behind, all presented in a vaguely-particulate visual style which adds to the elegiac nature of the site. “As COVID-19 spreads across the globe and the number of deaths continues to be updated, the people we’ve lost and the heartbreaking experience they had have been replaced by the collective mourning. When we look back at the patients’ help-seeking posts at that time, those who waited to die because of unconfirmed testing; those whose death certificates were being tampered; those who committed suicide out of despair; those non-COVID patients whose medical treatment were squeezed… None of them were included in the death toll, and are likely to be forgotten over time. They didn’t have fair medical treatment during their lifetime, and they were not mentioned after their death. At the same time, many frontline workers have lost their lives due to infection or overwork. When communicating with one of the families, we were asked: “After this pandemic, who can remember the pain of someone like my mother who had nowhere to seek medical treatment, being refused by the hospital, and died at home?” Perhaps this is one of the reasons why we build this online platform, trying to document as many people who have left us because of the pandemic as possible. The website also includes the help-seeking information they posted before they passed away, which is the evidence they left to this era. Hope it could provide a space for family members to release their grief and for the public to mourn. Behind every number is a life.”
- Puck: I imagine that your weekends are going to be PACKED full of exciting things – egg hunts and painting and possibly birthing some lambs or something like that (nothing says ‘Easter and spring have arrived!’ quite like being shoulder-deep in an ovine birch canal!), but if you’re still not convinced you’ll be able to adequately fill all these work-free hours then you may be interested in playing around with Puck – you have to download it, but it’s a properly-interesting little toy which effectively lets you mess around with an AI that invents videogames. Simple videogames, fine (you’re unlikely to be spinning up a triple-A title while you chocolate yourself into a diabetic coma), but games nonetheless – I have been fiddling with it all week, and there’s something honestly captivating about watching it learn (or at least an approximation of learning). You can read a bit more about Puck and how it works here – the developers promise that this is just the first iteration, and later versions will get better at judging what makes a ‘good’ game and include the ability to be ‘taught’ new design elements – but I really recommend you just download it and see what it comes up with.
- Downpour Games: More indiegame invention here, this time in the shape of experimental games made as part of the Now Play This festival, using the forthcoming easy game-creation engine by V Buckingham, called Downpour. Downpour’s being launched officially later this year, so will link to it again then, but in the meantime this is a wonderful collection of examples of tiny game experiences made by a bunch of people who visited NPT last weekend. Downpour is a ‘do everything on your phone’ kit, which means that all the games are effectively photo-based choose-your-own-adventure-style branching narratives, but that doesn’t mean that they’re not inventive and fun and funny and weird – I just lost a few minutes to reacquainting myself with some of the creations, and did a proper laugh-snort at ‘Regency Horse Romance Simulator’, which frankly is all the endorsement you should need to get involved (sadly I did not achieve Horse Romance – perhaps you will have better luck). I love this, not least because it shows how quick and dirty and silly and various game-making can be when you make the tools accessible.
- Primeval Foods: When I was at university (starts literally no story that anyone has ever wanted to listen to, ever, but I’ve started now so you have no choice but to let me finish) there was a brief vogue for Australian or South African-themed restaurants whose gimmick was “YOU CAN EAT A FCUKING ALLIGATOR STEAK!” (or ostrich, or poor, blameless kangaroo), which meant that on more than one occasion I found myself dispiritedly gnawing on a charred puck of animal protein which may or may not have once met Steve Irwin while Men At Work played on a loop over the tannoy (the 90s – good in many ways, but, also, really quite rubbish in others). That era has thankfully passed, but we’ve instead moved into a different era, in which people now get excited by ideas like EATING LIKE A CAVEMAN and THE PALEO DIET, and the idea of EATING LOTS OF MEAT, ALL THE TIME is tied to some sort of weird and not-entirely-healthy concept of masculinity (lobster daddy has a lot to answer for), which is what I presume explains the existence of Primeval Food, a company which is basically Jurassic Park if the central animating concept was not so much ‘what if we could walk amongst the beasts of the past?’ and more ‘what if we could eat a mammoth?’. Thanks to the magic of vat-cultivated animal proteins, Primeval Food promises you, jaded carnivore who is sick to the canines of eating boring old ruminants and wants something a bit more recherché, the chance to sink your teeth into a cultivated lion steak. Is this a joke? Honestly, I really can’t tell – it’s quite a slickly-designed site, but then I read copy like “There are over one million species of animals only in Africa, including both the heaviest and the tallest, from the fastest to the oldest land animals on Earth. And who knows how many undiscovered creatures exist untouched by civilization” and the implicit, unspoken “…SO WHY NOT EAT THE FCUKERS???” at the end of it, and I think “no, this can’t possibly be real, can it?” Anyway, you can give them your email address should you wish to be kept updated with their efforts to provide you with ‘ethical’ zebra steaks – Web Curios does not judge (it does, it judges hard).
- Scrubstack: I read something this week suggesting that Substack was going to start trying to diversify into other forms of media and content, feeling perhaps that the newsletter market had plateaued somewhat, and I don’t know about you but news like that always sounds to me like the initial deathknell for publishing companies (it’s ‘pivot to video’, isn’t it? It’s always pivot to video). Anyway, it does rather feel like we have absolutely reached Peak Newsletter – I know that we’re unlikely to ever get data on this stuff, as obviously Substack has absolutely no interest in divulging it, but I would love to see numbers on newsletters started in the past 24m vs newsletters still publishing regularly. THIS SH1T IS HARD, is what I’m saying, and it takes REAL DEDICATION (it is not hard, at all, and the dedication required is minimal – do not trust anyone who tells you otherwise, they are lying). Still, we are living in an era of UNPRECEDENTED CONTENT RICHNESS, with more words being written by more people than at any time ever in recorded human history – some of them must be good, right? Scrubstack is a really nice idea – the webpage presents you with a random Substack newsletter each time you refresh, and lets you see the truly-dizzying array of authors and subject matters the platform supports. This range means that you’re only ever about six clicks away from finding something railing against ‘cancel culture’ or transwomen in sport, just fyi, but it’s also a wonderful way of flitting between strangers’ minds. I have just clicked a few times and discovered an arabic writer talking about her life in Milan, a history of the electric tricycle, a discussion of the role of community in product development and, beautifully, a newsletter entitled “Pigs Who Can’t Feel Pain”, which, frankly, if that doesn’t excite you then I’m not sure you’re my sort of person.
- The BBC Africa Social Forensics Dashboard: Now that we’re all au fait with the language of OSINT (thanks, war!), perhaps you’ll be interested in this wonderful digital toolbox, compiled and maintained by a bunch of current and former BBC Africa journalists, which contains links to a wonderful array of research and investigation tools which will let you dig into any number of questions around image provenance, individuals’ online footprints, etc. This is dizzying, but if you’ve any interest in digging around the truth value of any particular bits of digital information then this could be worth bookmarking – if nothing else, there are SO many good links to various little social media monitoring and analysis toys in here.
- Synesthesia: I am pretty sure that the synesthesiac experience is one of the most utterly-subjective and untranslatable known to humanity – it’s almost-impossible to conceive of what it must be like to hear colour or taste sound, let alone to communicate what the experience of that might be to people who don’t have the ability. Which is by way of apologetic preamble to the fact that this webtoy is unlikely to suddenly open your eyes (nostrils, ears) to the magical wonder of the synesthesiast’s world – still, if you’re after a pretty graphical toy which lets you create gently-different soundscapes with accompanying 3d visuals, based on keypresses or, if you’re feeling fancy, any musical input you choose to give it, then HERE, enjoy! I’m screwed if I know what this actually has to do with synesthesia, mind, but I’m sure its creator Rikard Lindstrom could tell me were I inclined to ask them (I am not inclined).
- The MIT Mystery Investigation: I think that the audience for this is probably pretty small, but I also reckon that there might be two or three of you who will think this is the best thing you have seen in ages, and so it is for YOU few weirdos who I include this link (I can only imagine your tearful gratitude). This is a series of interconnected puzzle games, created by MIT for what I think is an annual student contest which gets opened up to the rest of the world after completion (I am sketchy on the details, though, as it’s not like they go out of their way to explain what the fcuk is going on at any point), which take the form of FIENDISH word games and crosswords and logic games and, look, if you’re the sort of person who enjoys those Bumper Book Of Word Puzzles And Logical Mindbenders (you know, the sort beloved of a particular type of grandmother) then this will enrapture you like nothing else in this week’s Curios. Be aware, though, that these are HARD (or at least I found them so – it’s entirely possible that I am just stupid when it comes to these things), and there are minimal instructions (see if you can make head or tail of the FAQ page as, honestly, I really couldn’t) – still, if you want an intensely-geeky and brain-intensive way of passing the next four days then a) what is wrong with you?; and b) you will probably REALLY enjoy this.
- Pronounce GIF: A website dedicated to answering a question that noone, really, cares about at all (things that people on the internet pretend they feel more strongly about than they actually do: comic sans, coulrophobia (IT IS NOT A REAL THING FFS), the pronunciation of ‘GIF’), and which concludes that if you insist on pronouncing if with a hard ‘g’ you are wrong and basically a wnker. Sorry, this one has apparently been settled and that’s that.
- Eat My Art: As often happens around public holidays, I find myself including links in Curios with a vague sort of ‘maybe those of you with kids will find this useful or interesting’ gesture – except, obviously, I have literally no idea what it is like having children or having to entertain them for multiple days at a time. What do you do? Have we all just accepted that it’s simpler and easier to consign young minds to the nurturing care of a screen rather than going through the tedious pantomime that is ‘parenting’? Do people under the age of 10 still get excited by paper and pencils and stickers, or do they refuse to engage with stuff if it doesn’t have a screen? Anway, if YOU are a parent anxiously staring down the barrel of 96h with your children and no trained professionals to take care of them for you, maybe you will enjoy this. Eat My Art is a website which provides you with some nifty toys for making stop-motion animated drawings – you’ll need a printer, fine, but other than that it’s pretty simple-seeming. Print out a template sheet, draw in the boxes, upload the sheet to the website and VWALLAH! A stop-motion masterpiece! I can’t for a second imagine that there aren’t a million-and-one things that already let you make stop-motion things on your phone, fine, but there’s something rather nice about the very analogue creation process, and I still think there’s a benefit to drawing onto paper rather than onto screen when learning this sort of stuff (lol what do I know? I literally draw like Helen Keller). It’s entirely possible that your sticky, feral progeny will turn their noses up at this, but why not try it anyway?
- LinkedIn Fake Profile Detector: As I think I may have mentioned before, I don’t really used LinkedIn, except to post weekly links to Curios along with some borderline-offensive copy which will almost-certainly ensure my long-term unemployability. I am, though, aware of the platform-specific phenomenon which sees any and all men (but specifically middle-aged ones) get a…suspicious number of connection requests from beautiful young women who seem uncommmonly-keen on developing mutually-beneficial professional understandings with corpulent, balding marketing professionals in London (it’s always fun to look at those connection requests and see how many of your professional acquaintances are seemingly willing to engage with these career-focused STUNNERS – guys, you do know we can see this stuff, right?). Anyway, if you want a tool to help you tell whether Zosia, 23, Gdansk, is in fact reaching out to discuss the finer points of Maslow with you, or whether she may have something more sinister in mind (and is in fact a male software engineer from Uttar Pradesh), then this Chrom plugin promises to help you tell whether a particular LinkedIn profile is using an AI-generated profile picture to draw you in. One might argue that if you need this you are possibly spending too much time ‘connecting’ with people you fancy on a platform ostensibly-designed for professional networking, but, once again, Web Curios does not judge (so much judging happening here right now, SO MUCH)!
- Ceremony: A really excellent example of how to present an exhibition online, this is the website to accompany Australia’s 4th National Indigenous Art Triennia. Entitled ‘Ceremony’, this is an exploration of contemporary work by indigenous artists – “‘Ceremony’ is not a new idea in the context of our unique heritage, but neither is it something that belongs only in the past. In their works, the artists assert the prevalence of ceremony as a forum for artmaking today in First Nations communities. Our people still hold our ceremonial practices close. They are a part of our everyday lives.” This is not a digital exhibition, and the website is a companion to the Triennale rather than a work within it, but it’s SUCH a well-constructed and curated journey through the artists and their works. Honestly, it’s not super-shiny or flash, but it’s easy to navigate (undervalued in art sites in 2022, seriously) and offers a clear and in-depth overview of the works and themes contained in the Triennale.
- Spark To Go: I don’t get sparkling water. It gets up your nose, you can’t drink it quickly, and it…it tickles, frankly. Don’t like it, don’t understand it, don’t want it. Still, I appreciate that there are those of you (the wrong-headed) for whom anything other than sparkling hydration is anathema, who would carbonate milk given the opportunity (I jest, but have you ever tried that? I did once in a mate’s sodastream when I was a kid, and, honestly, it’s the most astonishingly-wrong thing I have ever drunk (that I am willing to admit online, at least)), and who suffer every time they are forced to imbibe flat fluids. In which case you will probably already have backed this crowdfunding project, which has just passed its goal, for a PORTABLE SODASTREAM! It’s not called that, obviously, but that is totally what it is – a portable water bottle which lets you carbonate its contents with the push of a button (and the insertion of some CO2 canisters), meaning your morning run need never be ruined by non-sparkling water ever again. This strikes me as…well, frankly mad, but also so beautifully, pointlessly scifi that it almost has to be applauded (as long as we don’t think too hard about the insane production and environmental costs of the waste involved in the manufacturing process for this sort of stuff).
- VoiceCue: This is a really interesting idea which I have to confess to not having tried out – I would be…well, I’d be astonished if this worked AT ALL, or at least if it worked well enough to be useful, but the concept is appealing. VoiceCue lets you upload any audio file (it’s designed to be used with recordings of speech – so meetings, or interviews, say) and analyses it to ‘find sentiments, tags, entities, and actions in your voice recordings instantly’. Obviously it’s designed to aid editing and the like – but, obviously, think a little harder about this sort of tech and you start to rabbithole into all the sinister ways in which this kind of (let’s remember, utterly imperfect and in-no-way-that-accurate) technology will get deployed for nefarious reasons, analysing (say) staff performance on the phone, or their response in appraisals, based on AI analysis of their perceived emotional reactions, etc etc. Still, don’t think about that! Think about how it can help you find all the funny, happy bits from that interview! There, that’s better.
- Recommend Me A Book: This is an excellent little book discovery tool – it presents you with the anonymised first page of a series of novels for you to try without prejudice. Click a button and you can see what the title and author are, and get a link to buy the title if it appealed to you. Simple and clever way to explore new things to read, even if it doesn skew towards ‘classics’, and if you have a particular favourite you’d like to add to the corpus (and, er, if you can be fcuked to type out its first page) you can add your own suggestions to the site. Lovely, and the sort of thing it would be lovely to see done ‘officially’ by a bookseller (NO NOT THAT ONE).
- Persepolis: I LOVE THIS! A wonderful bit of scrolly historical storytelling, taking you on a tour of the ancient Iranian city of Persepolis – honestly, this is so so so so good, kudos to Getty for the excellent and very smooth webwork, and the genuinely-captivating historical storytelling throughout.
THE SECTION WHICH THINKS MAYBE WE SHOULD ALL JUST IGNORE THE MAN AND MAYBE HE’LL GO AWAY , PT.2:
- Mars: Technically this site is called The Areo Browser, but, basically, MARS! Here you can see a quite dizzying array of images and videos captured by the various rovers that have been cast onto the surface of the red planet over the past few years – I haven’t been through all of them, so can’t say with any exactitude whether you will discover evidence of intelligent life in any of these (but trust me when I say you probably can’t), but if you fancy spending your long weekend daydreaming about what it might be like to one day colonise a distant world and leaving this dying husk of a planet behind then, well, fill your boots! Ok, so all the images and videos could basically be characterised as ‘rocks, lots of rocks’, but there’s something quite astounding about the fact that you can sit at home with a cup of tea and casually browse the surface of a many-million-miles-distant planetary mass. The Future, eh?
- Mark My Spaceship: I can’t imagine why you would want to compare the relative size of various fictional starships from popular cultural properties but, well, just in case! This site lets you dump any number of models of spacecraft from all your favourite scifi franchises onto a Google Maps satellite view, so you can FINALLY settle that debate of whether or not the Millennium Falcon is bigger than Wembley (and, honestly, if that is a debate you’ve ever had, please keep it to yourself).
- Olwi: If you’re in the unfortunate position of occasionally having to dredge up ‘insights’ for advermarketingpr purposes (and dear God, please can we all take this brief break in our professional lives to perhaps consider retiring that word? If I have to read one more email in which a doublefigureiqdullard invites me to read through some ‘insights’ about how ‘young people value experiences more than things’ I will honestly start to give serious consideration to gargling with bleach) then you will know that one of the few genuinely-useful places to get them is Reddit. Olwi is a free(ish – there are premium tiers, but you can get some reasonable use out of the non-paid tier of the service) platform which lets you do better, more granular subReddit searches, letting you easily search for keywords and brand names across various categories of community (finance, tech, home, cookery, etc), with advanced parameters for date ranges and the like. Given the fact that a depressingly-large number of the main social monitoring platforms really struggle with forums, this is definitely worth a play.
- Ladybird Fly Away Home: NOSTALGIA! This website is run by one person – Helen! Hello Helen! – and is basically a compendium of nostalgia and trivia relating to old Ladybird kids books from 1914-1975. Covers, history, illustrations…anything and everything you could ever want to know about them, basically. If you are Of A Certain Age, this will provoke an almost-perfect hit of memorytimetravel.
- DAOpenPen: The bio of this Twitter account simply reads ‘Monster Designer’, which is a frankly-unbeatable job title imho. The monsters in question are more on the ‘techno-polemon’ side of the spectrum than the ‘eldritch, many-fanged horror’ end, and the imagination and inventiveness on display here are quite amazing. I would LOVE to see these animated, possibly as part of a videogame, so could someone please sort that out for me? Thanks in advance!
- The Kettle Companion: Such a clever little idea, this one, and the sort of thing that, if you’re a particular sort of brand in search of a neat little SOCIAL PURPOSE campaign (and who fcuking isn’t, eh? Jesus wept), you could do worse than take ‘inspiration’ from. The Kettle Companion is a simple bit of kit designed to provide a light-touch means of checking in with a friend, relative or loved-one – “The Kettle Companion is an assisted living product, that helps those who live apart to stay connected, by illuminating when a loved one activates their kettle at home. This is signaled through a monitoring plug and communicated via Wi-Fi to a paired Kettle Companion in another user’s home. Additionally, if there is a change in pattern of use, for instance, an elderly parent has not had their habitual morning cup of tea by the usual time, the paired Kettle Companion will illuminate red. A text message alert can also be sent to the owner of this appliance, prompting them to check on their loved one.” Simple, unintrusive and smart, and the sort of thing that you’d imagine Yorkshire Tea or someone like that should be all over like the sky.
- Old Skool Mixes: Ok, slight caveat emptor here – this is a link to a public Google Drive, and as such Web Curios would like to point out that simply downloading random files from places such as this can be A BIT RISKY and you should probably make sure you have some sort of virus protection in place before you start appropriating the contents. Right, PSA announcement over with, THIS IS INCREDIBLE! Someone (sorry, I have literally no idea where I found this one, but thankyou SO MUCH to the nameless person who has compiled all of these and made them available) has uploaded a truly insane collection of mixes and live sets from a bunch of the biggest old school, d’n’b and hardcore names from the original rave era (and some later stuff by people like Carl Cox as well) – so Slipmatt and DJ Rap and Amnesia and Technodrome and OH ME OH MY! You have to download the individual files as they’re too large to stream from Gdrive, but it’s worth freeing up space on your hard drive for these – honestly, it’s like a time machine back to being surrounded by sweaty, unhealthily-pale, saucer-eyed children somewhere in the M4 corridor (and with a description like that I imagine you’re SOLD, right?).
- Management Games Aesthetic: Via Dan Hon’s excellent newsletter (which really is good – if you’re vaguely interested in digital public services and information management, and you appreciate good writing, I highly-recommend it) comes this Twitter account which shares images from management games, which, fine, may not sound like the most compelling thing in the world, but I can’t tell you how pleasing it is to occasionally have your doomscrolling interrupted by a gif from Planet Zoo or SimCity.
- Theatrum Mundi: REAL WORLD CURIOS! “Theatrum Mundi brings the spirit of the Wunderkammer to the 21st century, by exploring what today can be considered marvelous and exceptional. Theatrum Mundi presents an eclectic selection in which extraordinary paleontological specimens, such as dinosaurs, fossils, and meteorites, coexist in perfect harmony with contemporary myths, including original costumes from Hollywood movies and authentic spacesuits, witnesses to the space conquest era. A unique combination of archaeology, design, classical and primitive art. Theatrum Mundi wishes to create a new celebration of human knowledge and achievements, combining rigorous experience and integrity with a taste for the unconventional.” Well well well, “a new celebration of human knowledge”, eh? What that seemingly means in practice is ‘a massive warehouse full of odd stuff which the owner sells and rents out at eye-watering expense to the sort of rich people who like the idea of adorning their living room with a ‘genuine’ fragment of martian meteorite’ (in fairness, if I were a plute I’d be quite tempted to try and divest myself of my unspendable patrimony by buying up, say, every known relic claiming to be Rasputin’s penis I could get my hands on). This place is in Italy – whilst it’s not open to the public, it does say that visits can be arranged for collectors and THE MEDIA. Now I don’t know how loosely they define that particular designation, but blogtypenewsletterthings are media, right? I can feel a JOURNALISTIC PILGRIMAGE coming on. You can read a profile of the Theatrum’s owner, one Luca Cableri, here – it’s worth a click if only for the photo of him wearing Wolverine’s claws, which looks SO MUCH like a promotional shot for Shooting Stars that I had to do a doubletake to confirm that it wasn’t in fact Vic Reeves/Jim Moir.
- The InviSimpsons: A Twitter account which shares frames from The Simpson’s, except all the characters have for some reason been rendered invisible – you can see their clothes, but not the rest of them. I have literally no idea whatsoever as to why someone is dedicating time to making these images and sharing them on Twitter, which is, frankly, just how I like it.
- Ghost Town Gallery: Thousands of images of American ghost towns – usually from the gold rush era, starting in Colorado and covering states West to California. Wonderful, evocative stuff, which can’t help but remind me of the Red Dead Redemption games (there’s something genuinely odd to me about the fact that there are significant swathes of history – the Old West, Renaissance Italy – which I associate first and foremost with videogames, but this is only going to become more of a thing I’d imagine; so many kids whose referencepoints for Ancient Greece will be Assassin’s Creed rather than Usborne’s Guide to the Pyramids. No bad thing, to be clear, just a curious ‘wow, that’s an interesting shift’ observation). “It was in 1996 when we got caught by the Ghost Town virus, during a “normal” vacation to the US. We were driving back to L.A. from Las Vegas, when we decided to have a quick look at the tourist Ghost Town of Calico. Inside a shop there was a picture on the wall showing the city as it was around 1890. We found it interesting what had become of the city that once had over 3500 inhabitants. Back in L.A. we changed our vacation plans, bought literature on Ghost Towns and visited many of them in the California back country. One of them was the famous Bodie Ghost Town. The buildings there were so picturesque that we couldn’t stop taking pictures. Since then we have visited and photographed more than 200 Ghost Towns in nine states and our fascination for them is still strong.” A wonderful treasure trove of interesting stuff, and a site which has briefly made me wish I could drive as this would be a great basis for a road trip.
- Fageras: One of the odd things about living in a city where you’re literally surrounded by INCREDIBLY OLD STUFF wherever you go, and which contains some of the most incredible examples of sculpture that have ever been created by human hand (no, seriously, I’m not joking) is that you quickly get a bit sniffy about anything that doesn’t quite match those standards. To be clear, I don’t think this guy is any Bernini, but I was properly impressed with the standard of marblework displayed by Norwegian sculptor Håkon Anton Fagerås, whose website this is. In particular the pillows are rather lovely, and if anyone fancies buying me one that would be great, thanks.
- This Bench Does Not Exist: I don’t think anyone’s spend quite enough time considering the potentially-seismic impact that machine-imagined park benches could have on our perceptions of truth an falsehood. Still, now that that particular pandora’s box has been opened, thanks to this site which has used training data from over 25,000 images of park benches to create this selection of nonexistent street furniture, we must simply grit our teeth and deal with the consequences.
- Book Jackets: I’m not totally sure how I feel about these as a concept, but I do very much admire the creativity on display in their creation. You know those varsity jackets that American jocks used to wear in the 50s and which are a staple of a certain type of US high school/college film From The Past? You know, the red felt bomber-type ones with letters and patches all over them? The ones worn by the sort of characters who always made you really glad that you didn’t in fact get educated in America because, dear God, these people are awful? Well this site takes commissions for bespoke versions of those, based on your favourite novels. Want a varsity jacket emblazoned with detail and badges and embroidery that communicates your deep and abiding love for and obsession with Donna Tartt’s The Secret History? Well here’s where you get one. On the one hand, these are undeniably sort-of awesome for fans – on the other, I can’t thing of anything more red-flag-ish than ‘a custom varsity jacked themed on Nabokov’s ‘Lolita’’ (and I would imagine there are a near-infinite number of women who would say much the same for ‘a custom varsity jacket themed on ‘Infinite Jest’’). Still, I can’t pretend I’m not curious as to what ‘a jacket that embodies the dark sensuality of ‘50 Shades of Grey’’ might look like.
- Waffle: I’ve not really stuck with any of the seemingly-infinite number of Worlde clones and variants that have cropped up in the past few months, but this one has managed to hold my attention all week – Waffle is another ‘find the five letter word’ game, but all the letters are already there. You have to rearrange them on a grid to uncover the six separate five letter words that are contained within it, with clues coming via the now-canonical green and yellow squares. There are a finite number of moves each day, and each game is ‘perfectly’ winnable, insofar as there is an optimal solution that will let you complete it in a minimal number of steps, and this manages to scratch itches on both sides of my brain simultaneously. Not too hard, but a pleasant addition to your morning pre-work procrastination routine.
- In A Kharkiv Bomb Shelter: I’ve been saying for a few years now how small in-browser game engines like Pico-8 are excellent vehicles for some really emotionally-resonant shortform storytelling (or I’ve certainly meant to say that, so let’s presume I have) – this is a wonderful contemporary example of that. Made in Bitsy by an as far as I can tell nameless Ukrainian designer, the game is a shortform exploration of what it’s like to be in a bomb shelter as munitions fall around you. “I started developing this game while sitting in a bomb shelter in Kharkov. Something was howling and thumping overhead all the time, and I did not want to work on it, but I needed to distract myself somehow, so I did it. I continue working on the game in Lviv, in between volunteer activities (I helped people evacuate from cities where hostilities were taking place). When I finished it, I realized that working in safety brings me joy, and it allowed me to take my mind off my nervousness for at least a few hours. I hope this game can bring some joy to someone too. Although the game was not planned to be fun. It was a fixation of the reality, when author can’t control it with their works, so they can just be a witness. I was just a eyewitness, spectator of things that happen, and I was too ruined too, to create something new. So I just asked people that lived with me in a bomb shelter, and my friends, who lived in other bomb shelters, how are they – what they think and feel. This is what game is about.” Beautiful, and most definitely ART.
- Dreamhold: Finally this week, this is old-but-wonderful, and a perfect thing for a bank holiday weekend (unless it’s nice out, in which case STOP READING THIS and go and enjoy yourselves!). Dreamhold is described as an introduction to the world of interactive fiction – basically text adventures – and it’s a really lovely way into what is still one of my favourite storytelling game genres, in part because of the way in which it gently breaks the fourth wall to help you understand the game’s mechanics and the conventions of the genre. If you’ve never tried text adventures or interactive fiction, this is a wonderful place to start.
By an artist whose surname is Schwarting and who painted this in the mid-20th Century but about whom I can find no other information, sorry!
THE CIRCUS OF TUMBLRS!
- The Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows: This is OLD, and has apparently recently become a book, but WHO CARES when it contains such wonderful gems as “Ringlorn (adj.): the wish that the modern world felt as epic as the one depicted in old stories and folktales—a place of tragedy and transcendence, of oaths and omens and fates, where everyday life felt like a quest for glory, a mythic bond with an ancient past, or a battle for survival against a clear enemy, rather than an open-ended parlor game where all the rules are made up and the points don’t matter”, or “Midding (v. intr.): feeling the tranquil pleasure of being near a gathering but not quite in it—hovering on the perimeter of a campfire, chatting outside a party while others dance inside, resting your head in the backseat of a car listening to your friends chatting up front—feeling blissfully invisible yet still fully included, safe in the knowledge that everyone is together and everyone is okay, with all the thrill of being there without the burden of having to be.” This is wonderful, and a must-browse if you have any interest in words and language.
THE TROUGH OF (INSTA) FEEDS!
- Just Movie Frames: Single frames from apparently-obscure films, presented shorn of context. These are excellent.
- Lisa Lloyd: Hugely-impressive paper art, which (if you are me) will give you proper sensory flashbacks to the feeling of sugar paper and pritt stick (and the growing realisation that what you are making will not in fact look like a beautiful, multi-feathered bird but instead a lot more like a pile of papery vomit).
- Mr Tingus: Small line-drawn animations, featuring a recurring character who I presume is the titular Mr Tingus. These are…odd, in a good way (but VERY odd). You may never consider roast chicken in quite the same way again.
LONG THINGS WHICH ARE LONG!:
- Collapse Won’t Reset Society: I can’t quite work out whether this is in any way reassuring and comforting, or whether it’s just miserable on every level. Why don’t you decide? A reaction to all the recent chat about ‘er, so, nuclear war, eh?’ and the nihilistic/doomer strain of thinking that basically goes ‘well maybe it would be for the best if society just did a small collapse for a bit, that way we could REBUILD IT and make it better than it is now, and get rid of all the iniquities and unfairnesses and instead create a LUXURY COMMUNIST PARADISE!’, this piece does a very good job of demonstrating a succession of periods throughout human history during which, despite civilisation-as-was doing a very good impression of collapsing, things like ‘tax collection’ and ‘going to work for The Man’ still managed to carry on regardless. If you ever wanted concrete proof of that old ‘two certainties, death and taxes’ line, this is it. Of course, you might also argue that this sort of defeatist fatalism is exactly what they want you to think, which, well, maybe!
- Welcome To Bitcoin Miami: The seemingly neverending parade of cryptoevents in the US continued last week with Bitcoin Miami, where a bunch of people who are REALLY into Bitcoin got together to talk to each other about why it really is the future (honest, guv) and, seemingly, to also complain about cancel culture and listen to a set by Diplo (is the entire crypto scene set up exclusively to give Diplo DJ gigs? It does rather feel like that). On the one hand this is another ‘look at the mad crypto people’ piece, which you may feel you have read enough of by now – on the other, I don’t think I have quite tired of trying to get to the heart of what these people think It All Means, other than the (seemingly vanishingly small) possibility that they might become stratospherically wealthy as a result of their dabbling in BTC. Can anyone with a better and more all-encompassing view of the arc of human history give me a quick rundown on how many species-benefiting initiatives have been born solely from people’s desires to individually become very, very wealthy? As, off the top of my head, I am struggling slightly. Oh, and if you’re in the market for this sort of thing, there’s another writeup here that covers parallel ground.
- NFTs and D&D: I don’t play Dungeon’s & Dragons, and never have done. Not that that matters either way, except by way of my pointing out that this article is interesting even if you have no particular skin in the D20 game – whilst this is basically a look at a new NFT-based platform that is hoping to TRANSFORM THE WAY PEOPLE PLAY D&D, it’s also a really useful overview of what the integration of NFTs to an existing community or space can mean, Specifically, everything immediately becomes needlessly-complicated and expensive, and there doesn’t seem to be any immediate reason why said introduction of NFTs makes the community or space better than it was before. The author of the piece is very much coming at this from a specific angle, and if you’re an NFT bull I would imagine you’d read all of this with a lot of eyerolling commentary about a lack of vision on the part of the critical observer, but for the less-redpilled amongst you this is a good way of understanding what some of the potential issues are with turning every single element of a system or process into an on-chain transaction.
- Selling The Metaverse As The Future of Work: One of the things I find most interesting about the ‘metaverse’ (similarly to crypto, in a way) is the extent to which at present it is a concept in search of a reason to exist. All the stuff that makes up the vision of the metaverse we’re being sold by Zuckerberg et al exists in large part already (or at least the stuff that is appealing, like the ability to hang out in shared spaces and have shared experiences – oh hi, online gaming!), and the stuff that they are trying to sell as additional benefit doesn’t really seem that appealing (a VR office? THANKS MARK!!!). Which is why I found this article in the Wall Street Journal so amusing – it really does smack of people desperately attempting to find a reason for the metaverse to exist, and the answer is…er, SOCIALISING WITH YOUR COLLEAGUES! Look, friends, I don’t mean to p1ss on your parade, but if this is your killer metaversal usecase then, well, I probably wouldn’t bulk-buy Oculus sets just yet.
- War Crimes and Social Archiving: The question of what to do to preserve digital materials coming out of a warzone isn’t a new one – at the very least, it’s been a point of discussion around the war in Syria for quite a few years now – but the global focus on Ukraine has meant it’s once again being discussed seriously. This piece in Wired looks at the difficulty of archiving and preserving on-the-ground materials from within a warzone that are being shared on platforms designed for ephemeral lols rather than being an historical record, and how third party actors are seeking to preserve this content, often in the face of little assistance from the platforms in question. “One thing that isn’t new about working on the war in Ukraine is that social platforms often pull down posts of interest to investigators for breaching policies on depictions of violence. Valuable evidence that isn’t collected in time by Mnemonic or others using rigorous methods can be effectively lost forever, says al Khatib. “I don’t see why social media companies don’t build tools to facilitate the human rights community in what we’re doing,” he says. Twitter spokesperson Elizabeth Busby did not comment on whether the company specifically supports open source investigators but said all researchers can use the company’s “uniquely open” API to access public tweets. TikTok did not return a request for comment; Meta spokesperson Drew Pusateri declined to comment.” I mean, FFS. Still, this is EXACTLY the sort of thing that I imagine that Melon really cares about, so it should all be fine.
- The ‘Grooming’ Thing: Even though I’m not really that plugged in to the American side of Twitter and try and stay away from the mad, frothy political shouting, I wasn’t able to avoid the increasingly shrill and weird conversation around ‘Disney is a paedo company’ which Republicans have kicked off over the past few weeks. This is a really good overview in queer magazine Them about how and why it is happening right now, and what the backstory is – whilst you might not care particularly about whatever mad sh1t the GOP is wanging on about at any given time, it’s worth noting the extent to which what starts over there tends to bleed over here before too long, that a lot of the same bad money that backs the reds in the US is interested in backing the blues in the UK, and that the increasingly-unhinged ‘debate’ around trans rights in Britain appears to be having a not-necessarily-positive impact on the wider LGBT+ community. Feels a bit canary-ish, is all I’m saying.
- How To Get A Job in Videogames: This is a GREAT resource for anyone looking to get into the games industry, covering the technical side of things in terms of coding and design, but also the wider kinds of jobs including QA and marketing – presuming some of you are parents of children who are being encouraged to think about exactly what space they will occupy in the Great Capitalist Pageant Of Life, and presuming that a significant number of those kids will have ‘work in videogames’ up there alongside ‘content creator’ and ‘professional teledilonicist’ on their wishlist of future professions, this might be a really useful resource.
- Low-Tech Sustainability: Or ‘why sometimes simple solutions are perfectly fine, and it’s not always necessary to look for BIG TECH ANSWERS to things and, honestly, sometimes it’s actually unhelpful to always look for the big scifimoonshot answer’. There is, fine, a slightly hair-shirtish element at the heart of all this, but, equally, I think it feels increasingly clear that we probably can’t carry on as we are should we wish to still all be here in a few hundred years time. “The first principle of low-tech is its emphasis on sobriety: avoiding excessive or frivolous consumption, and being satisfied by less beautiful models with lower performance. As Bihouix writes: “A reduction in consumption could make it quickly possible to rediscover the many simple, poetic, philosophical joys of a revitalised natural world … while the reduction in stress and working time would make it possible to develop many cultural or leisure activities such as shows, theatre, music, gardening or yoga.”” Utopian, fine, but I have a lot of time for smaller theories of change that don’t require us to rely on the invention of new things to save us.
- How Plastics Recycling Really Works: Or, more accurately, how it doesn’t quite work at all. I don’t mean to be down on recycling, or to suggest that it’s all pointless and we shouldn’t bother, but I do think it’s important to highlight instances when the promise we are sold by retailers and the logistics industry doesn’t in any way match up to the reality of what actually happens. So it appears to be with Tesco’s promise to recycle its ‘soft’ plastic packaging (plastic films, basically), which this Bloomberg investigation reveals isn’t as effective as they perhaps want people to think as they drop off their empty polyethylene bags with a sense of Doing Good – there’s a slightly depressing sense in this piece that whilst we are all very keen to be seen to be doing things, we are significantly less keen on the far trickier business of ensuring those things that we are seen to be doing are of any practical benefit whatsoever.
- Fake Artists and Spotify: Not just Spotify, of course, but they’re the streaming platform everyone knows and where the biggest share of this stuff happens. I found this properly-interesting, and a classic example of those weird new ways of making money that are spotted by enterprising people who are attuned to the way in which new technology changes human behaviour in exploitable ways. The rise of the domestic surveillance device – otherwise known as ‘Alexa’ – has meant that a growing number of people now choose to listen to music by genre, with loose instructions such as ‘play jazz’, or ‘play a dinner party mix’; we also increasingly do this with streaming platforms, which recommend ‘mood’ playlists to us left right and centre, and which we slap on in the background to provide us with ambient accompaniment to our ceaseless toil on the content farms. Which means that there’s a LOT of money to be made by making sure that it’s your playlist that people get when they want ‘nighttime soul’ or ‘shower music’ – which is why record labels have quietly spent a lot of time and energy ensuring that they basically own these playlists, packing them with music for which they have paid low fees and which can therefore render massive profit when streamed at scale by millions worldwide. “On Amazon Music around 70% of all activity is happening on Alexa devices and the vast majority of streams are passive sessions where the user is listening to pre-curated stations or playlists, all made by Amazon since unlike Spotify they do not feature user generated playlists. Across all streaming services an increasing share of consumption is happening in areas of the product that is entirely controlled by the DSP, because as it turns out, most users prefer easy access to pre-curated experiences vs doing the work of actively finding what to listen to.” See, this is an insight. FFS.
- Minimalism is Dead: Or at least that very specific sort of minimalism embodied by the rash of DTC brands aimed at ageing millennials that cropped up everywhere between around 2015-8 – now it’s all about stuff that POPS on TikTok, apparently. Anecdotally, this feels very true – there was a conversation about this in relation to the publishing industry and book covers which I saw the other day, and I feel like I am seeing a lot more BIG colours and metallic shades across new product launches aimed at children. Is this enough to make it a THING? Yes, I have decreed, it is a thing.
- Trauma Dumping: Which is SUCH a 2022 term and one which I really don’t like – what it means in this contex is the practice of people watching Twitch streamers and deciding to use the stream chat to unburden themselves about whatever HEAVY SH1T is currently going on in their lives, with little regard for whether anyone else wants to hear about it, or how it might derail the streamer’s show. Which, obviously, is the nth iteration of ‘wow, parasociality really is a thing, and you really should remember that these people are not your friends’, but was interesting to me in part because of what it says about the smudging effect of the web and online interactions on the idea of ‘hierarchies of friendship’. I wonder whether the flattening of interaction engendered by Being Online (we communicate with everyone on the same platforms, in the same register, using the same language, regardless of what our actual relationship with them is – our interactions with our parents, colleagues, university friends, family, acquaintances, strangers all occur on the same screens in the same selection of apps) has removed to an extent our ability to accurately define degrees of closeness and to gauge the appropriateness of sharing and engagement on certain issues (resulting both in this sort of oversharing and also of people being wary of sharing anything at all). WHO KNOWS (not me)?
- Whither The Cumberbitches?: A brief, nostalgic look back at that brief period of time when the web lost its collective sh1t over how hot it found Benedict Cumberbatch, the collective insanity of the Cumberbitches, and how it all waned and why. Obviously this is very silly and utterly frivolous, but it’s interesting to me that this feels like DECADES ago and yet it’s only a couple of years – at this rate we can look forward to a big anniversary retrospective on “Remembering The Slap” in approximately two weeks’ time.
- Algospeak: I have seen this doing the rounds a LOT this week – you know that a technology or platform has reached absolute mainstream acceptance and saturation when you start to get the vaguely-scared “IT’S CHANGING THE LANGUAGE!!!” pieces about it. So it is with TikTok, which is now ubiquitous enough to have the Washington Post write a piece about how users are attempting to get around what they perceive to be algorithmic penalties for using certain language by inventing alternative phrases – so ‘becoming unalive’ for dying, for example, or ‘swimmers’ used by antivaxxers to denote the vaccinated. This is, fine, sort-of true – you only need to look at the comments section of TikTok to find this sort of mirror universe vernacular – but also made me laugh a LOT, as it has such a ‘The FBI’s Guide To Internet Slang’ vibe to it. I can imagine there are a lot of parents who will read this (and the inevitable raft of follow-up articles in other papers) and start desperately worrying that their child is referring to violent bongo every time they mention ‘corn’.
- An Oral History of Barbie Girl: I first heard Barbie Girl by Aqua in Dusseldorf, watching MTV at my then-girlfriend’s house aged 16 (going to international school when I was 15 meant that I got to meet people who did things like ‘live in Dusseldorf’ and ‘have MTV’, which was pretty mindblowing tbh), and I remember very clearly that our reaction was one of baffled amusement at what those crazy Europeans thought passed for ‘music’. Six months later and the fcuking song was everywhere, once again proving to me that I have an unerring ability to get it completely wrong when it comes to discerning what is likely to be a hit and what isn’t. This is a lovely lookback at the song and its temporary status as global earworm – the Aqua people all seem genuinely nice, and it reminded me quite how much I fancied Lene Nystrøm. Also, whilst this is about a different song, can I urge you while we’re here to go and watch the video to Doctor Jones, which really is a masterpiece.
- Swallowing Goldfish: This is WONDERFUL. I didn’t know until this week that there had at a certain point in America’s history been a vogue for people swallowing goldfish as a party trick. Well, there was – this article takes you on a whistlestop tour of the craze and the accompanying media hysteria that accompanied it. Worth bookmarking next time there’s some sort of confected tabloid hysteria about, I don’t know, putting mentos up your bum or something.
- What It Costs To Live: Arianne Shahvisi in the LRB, writing about the coming cost of living crisis. In not-entirely-pleasant parallels with the first article in this section, it reminds us that our current political leaders’ response to this is not new: “There is a precedent for the government shafting working-class people after a pandemic. After the Black Death nearly halved the population of England, the demand for labour grew so great that it threatened to give the peasants meaningful bargaining power. In response, Edward III set a cap on earnings to protect the nobility. His successor, the 14-year-old Richard II, or whoever was really in charge, went further, introducing a poll tax to pay for the ongoing skirmishes with France.” Death and taxes, people, death and taxes.
- One Little Goat: Finally this week, a story about goats and farming and parents and tradition and passover and meat, by Miriam Bird Greenberg – this is actually three years old, but it was new to me and I think it fits in rather nicely here. Enjoy, and happy Easter/Passover to those of you celebrating (and also happy fasting to those of you doing Ramadan).
By Zoe Keller
AND NOW, MOVING PICTURES AND SOUNDS!:
- We kick off this week with a short explainer by Shardcore on What His Art Is About – which I am including in part because he’s a mate, but mainly because I am interested in digital image creation and What It Means in terms of ART and INTENT and all that jazz, and he offers a cogent explanation of what is interesting about things like DALL-E and the intersection of machine creation and human imagination. Worth a watch if you’re similarly interested in questions around ‘whither art in the age of the machine-created infinite?’ – and who isn’t? NO FCUKER, that’s who!
- Finally this week, this is so so so so lovely, from the track – a slowed-down, even more shoegazey cover of Fade Into You by Mazzy Star – to the video, which is an honestly beautiful short film (and I say this as someone who generally has no patience for this sort of work whatsoever). It’s by American Football – put this on fullscreen and turn the volume up and give yourself to it for 7 minutes. I confess this had me in bits, but maybe you’re made of sterner stuff, so see how it grabs you and OH WILL YOU LOOK AT THAT THAT’S IT IT’S OVER WE’RE DONE AND YOU’RE FREE TO GET ON WITH YOUR LIVES AND LEAVE ME HERE BUT YOU WILL COME BACK WON’T YOU YOU WILL COME BACK YOU WILL COME BACK YOU WILL COME BACK I MISS YOU I LOVE YOU BYE!