Hi everyone! Hi! Welcome back to Web Curios, which this week is eschewing the traditional ‘vaguely topical introparagraph’ in favour of just getting straight on with the links and stuff because, well, I’ve had a long week, you’ve had a long week, and I don’t for a second imagine that any of you subscribe to this to read three of four paragraphs of ‘funny’ prose about how everything is a terrible and terrifying mess.
I am still Matt, this is still Web Curios, and you are, I imagine, practically tumescent with anticipation at what’s to come.
THE SECTION WHICH IS CURRENTLY OBSESSED WITH FINDING A USE-CASE WHICH MAKES ‘TIMESTACK’ A VIABLE WORD, PT.1:
- GoldenNFT: I have, I know, spend a large part of this year making fun of NFT projects in here, but am happy to hold my hands up and admit that I have finally found one that I think is…quite good (Don’t worry, though, all the others in here are treated with the usual disdain, I’ve not become one of them)! GoldenNFT is an art project which takes as its starting point the depressing fact that a European visa is often available to people rich enough to buy one, often through the means of ‘investing in a country’ – people with a lump-sum to spare can purchase their way to residency in a number of European countries of their choice, options that are usually unavailable to your common or garden refugee seeking safe haven. GoldenNFT will use an NFT auction to raise money to pay this buy-in for refugees in need – “On the 20th of October at 8pm (CET), we will be offering a collection of 5555 NFTs for individual sale. Among these works are the 16 originals that can be seen here on the site. The remaining 5539 works are collectibles that our script has made based on the originals. The sale of the individual works takes place covertly – anyone who buys an NFT does not know beforehand which one it is…With the first sale of our collection we buy a Golden Visa for a family from Afghanistan. All proceeds go towards the purchase of the Golden Visas, and the artists have donated their works. From each resale of the works we receive 15%, which we also use completely for the purchase of the next Golden Visas.” I love this – it exposes the NFT craze for what it in part is (a raffle – buy enough tickets and YOU TOO might chance upon something that the cryptotwats decide to send TO THE MOON!), it makes use of the medium’s unique properties (resale revenues to the artist), and it will be a neat test of what the famed ‘NFT community’ is really like and what it’s really about. Willing to show the same mad desire to throw six-figure sums at jpegs when it’s less about encouraging others to buy-in and more about getting money to deserving causes? Let’s…let’s see, shall we?
- Star Atlas: Whilst the previous link is probably the most high-minded NFT project I’ve seen to date, Star Atlas definitely feels like the shiniest. From the landing page, which seemingly invites you to, er, zoom into a gigantic space anus (look, sorry, but it does look a bit like that), to the nicely-designed scroll animations throughout, promising you a WORLD OF ADVENTURE, this feels like a slightly-higher-end grift than, I don’t know, CryptoNorks or something (NB – I just made up ‘CryptoNorks’, but the very fact that it sounds plausible doesn’t speak highly of the whole scene imho). It’s…it’s quite hard to work out what it’s all about, mind, but as far as I can tell Star Atlas is a forthcoming space exploration and trading and shooting game – not unlike massively-multiplayer online spreadsheet simulator EVE Online – which will allow players to exist and flourish in a digitally-created universe (can we all say ‘metaverse’? WE CAN!) and (and this is the bit that the creators seem most excited about) buy and sell goods with real-world value! There’s a second website which you can access here and which is a little bit better at giving you an idea of the game’s eventual mechanics (not much, mind) – 99% of the focus here appears to be on the buying and selling of digital gewgaws, from ships to goods to weapons to missions, which, I have to say, doesn’t fill me with anticipation. It’s…quite hard to work out what this actually is or how it is going to work, but judging by all the high-end CG in the trailer there’s a reasonable amount of cash behind all this. Whether or not there’s a game actually underpinning all this is…uncertain, and I’m personally not convinced that this isn’t going to disappear without a trace, but I will obviously eat my words when you’re all cryptobillionaire space captains or something.
- The CNN Vault: Would you like to buy an NFT of some news footage? If so, and you live in the US, GREAT! CNN has leapt onto the NFT bandwagon with the launch of Vault, a service whereby it’s selling videoclips of ‘moments that changed us’ (imagine that line being read out in the gravelliest America voiceover accent ever) (also, I bet their definition of ‘moments that changed us’ is…skewed; I mean, you could argue with quite some conviction that Columbine changed America in reasonably significant ways, but I’m going to go out on a limb here and suggest that they’re not going to be flogging clips of that particular rolling news event). This has been going for a little while, apparently, meaning they are now on ‘drop’ (no, please, stop) 5, which is a selection of clips of moments of significance in US LGBT history – is…is this good? Is this a good way of commemorating and celebrating the progress made in gay rights, by paying CNN $250 for a 1/1000-edition of a fcuking mpeg? IS IT? I mean, you can ‘display your purchases on your CNN Vault Page’ which is quite some draw, I’ll admit, but it doesn’t feel like a significant commemoration of history. At the time of writing, CNN has sold 53 of the edition of 1000, which on the one hand is over $10k that CNN didn’t previously have but on the other suggests that anyone thinking they are going to ride, I don’t know, some footage of the Stonewall riots TO THE MOON is possibly due for a disappointment.
- Discover NFTs: Don’t worry, we’re nearly done with this week’s crop of non-fungible idiocy – this link, though, is a gift that really keeps on giving. Discover NFTs is another portal which tracks new NFT projects as they launch, and which is my new favourite overview of the ‘boundless creativity’ being unleashed by this ‘new paradigm’ in artistic expression. What does ‘boundless creativity’ mean? It means, apparently, a seemingly-infinite parade of poorly-drawn avatars which their creators are trying to turn into A Thing – you have hornets and minotaurs and dear God no please. If you want more of this stuff – and who doesn’t?!1111eleventy – then you might also enjoy this Twitter account, which shares some of the best new NFT projects out there with exactly the sort of awe which they merit. I think my favourite (not favourite), though, has to be Imaginary Girlfriends. No, really, these are investments.
- Telephonic Youth: I don’t ordinarily worry too much about link placement and, er, ‘flow’ in Curios, but on this occasion it felt important to follow up all that NFT nonsense (it’s lines like that that are going to come back and bite me when you’re all swanning around with your 7-figure avatars, isn’t it? ffs) with something rather more analogue. Telephonic Youth is a joint project between Southampton University and the BT Archives which is aiming to collect memories and recollections of the role of the telephone in the lives of young people in the 80s and 90s – specifically, “how young people accessed phones, the experience of children’s phone use at that time, and how it was imagined. This project uses a range of methods – archival research, arts methods, crowd-sourced research and oral history interviews – to uncover this recent history and trace the importance of phones in children’s lives in this era.” I am obviously PRIME fodder for this, as someone who grew up during the 1980s and 90s and spent about an hour on the phone after school every evening (astonishing to think of, really, given that now I would rather sew my ears shut than subject myself to any sort of telephonic interaction lasting more than about 10s), but even those of you who treat landlines with the suspicion they probably deserve (why SHOULD anyone have the ability to ring a really loud bell in my house whenever they want? MADNESS) might find something interesting in here. The project is starting with collecting stories from the Southampton area, but hopes to grow to encompass the country as a whole – except, er, it doesn’t seem to have any submissions yet. So if you’re a middle-aged person in the Southampton area (I happen to know at least one of you is), then maybe spend 5m contributing your memories of, I don’t know, prank-calling random numbers by shouting “NONCE!” down the phone at them and then hanging up (look, I was young).
- Useful Unknown Websites: I know I occasionally say this, but this link really is worth bookmarking – a wonderful Reddit thread in which users list their recommendations for ‘websites that you wish more people knew about’ and (aside from the puzzling failure of anyone to include Web Curios – anyone would think no fcuker knows that this exists!) which contains links from the sublime to the useful to the utterly ridiculous. Honestly, there are HUNDREDS of links in here, each of them wonderful in their own way and many of which have been featured in Curios over the past decade or so (but many more which have not). Seriously, this is SO SO USEFUL – aside from the timewasting stuff, there are links in here to all sorts of free software resources and browser tools (image and video editors, online libraries, training courses) which are all reasonably-easy to find with a bit of ctrl+fing. Oh, and there’s also stuff like this – a collection of the worst musical MP3s on the web. ALL OF HUMAN LIFE IS HERE. Or at least a small slice of it – human life is vast and blubbery and unknowable in its immense hugeness, but this at least lets you take a small flesh sample for study (so to speak).
- Just The Punctuation: I confess that I am occasionally surprised as to which links will do the rounds in a given week – I hadn’t, for example, expected that this little tool, which will strip out the letters from any text you feed it, leaving you only with the punctuation, the grammatical skeleton which supports the meat of your prose, would capture people’s imagination to the extent that it has been everywhere this week. Still, if you’re yet to see it then it’s a neat little trick and there’s something stylistically-fascinating about being able to quickly see an individual author’s preferences and quirks when it comes to, I don’t know, semicolons vs dashes. I chucked a couple of editions of Curios in there and it taught me that a) I really, really oversuse brackets, to the point that I have no fcuking idea how any of you keep track of which nested ‘argument’ is being tortuously outlined at any given moment and I am SORRY for that; b) long texts produce lovely punctuation trails, and I can imagine that there’s something rather nice about your favourite novel rendered solely in its commas, full-stops and ellipses as a piece of wall art. There’s some explanation by creator Clive Thompson about the ‘why’ behind this, which you can read here if you so desire – try it with some writing you care about, you’ll be surprised how interested you are in the results.
- Sheep Films: Rob Manuel’s long-running digiLOLs website B3ta has produced some genuine UK superstars in recent years – actual, proper film director Ben Wheatley was a B3tan, as is leg-enthusiast animator Cyriak Harris – but one long-standing contributor who I remember from the early-00s (when refreshing the B3ta boards was one of the few coping strategies I had for ‘being a junior lobbyist’) who I never thought quite got the recognition they deserved was a bloke who made looping videos under the name of Sheep. Their work was always simple, very funny and perfectly executed – and now, pleasingly, there’s a bunch of their work up on Giphy which you can peruse to your heart’s content and use in your messages. These are small but absolutely wonderful – Sheep properly gets what makes a good looping gif gag, and the execution is in every instance pretty much perfect. Honestly, someone hire this person for your digital content factory, they are ACE.
- Deep Fried Web: The next few links are going to cause me a small amount of pain to write – I don’t like featuring multiple things by the same people in one edition, but those annoying fcukers at MSCHF have released a whole bunch of stuff at once (or I just haven’t paid attention to them for a while and misse a load of good new ish) and I now feel compelled to tell you all about it. The first is Deep Fried Web – a Chrome plugin which you can install to give any website you visit that deep fried aesthetic of a jpeg that’s been compressed to within an inch of its life and has lost almost all of its image fidelity and which can reasonably be described as ‘a challenging w4nk’. Largely-pointless other than for the aesthetics (which are everything, amirite?), but I reckon you can probably use this to convince at least three ‘scared of the internet’ type people you work with that your company website has been hacked.
- Endless Enya: MSCHF link number 2! This is a site which uses some sort of rudimentary code to produce an ever-looping Enya song. You may not think you want this, but I have had this open for about 15m now in the background and am currently so zen that I might void myself through an excess of relaxed comfort.
- Bootleg Miquela: MSCHF link number 3! They’ve made all the assets for virtual influencer Lil Miquela available for download – from the full body renders to jpegs, to (as far as I can tell – I confess I haven’t downloaded the full 1gb pack of assets because, well, I don’t really know what I would do with them) – for you to do with as you wish. Want to put Lil Miquela in your own weird 3d CG animated short? GREAT! Want to use her to endorse your clubnight (and has that sentence made me sound as old as I think it has)? EVEN BETTER! I would quite like to see Miquela combined with the sort of advertising you see at these types of arms fairs, just for kicks – can someone make that happen please? Thanks!
- Stolen Stories: MSCHF link number 4! This is my favourite of the lot – Stolen Stories is such a smart little idea (not the first of its type that I’ve seen, but I’m surprised that there haven’t been more services that let you download vertical video snippets for inclusion in your Stories) which rips footage taken by fancy people from fancy restaurants (in the US, so places like Alinea and the like) and makes it available for download so anyone in the world can get the thrill of being able to performatively-demonstrate their gustatory plutocracy for the ‘gram. There’s a manifesto on the page, about the ‘democratisation of clout’, which is all well and good, but, honestly, my main thought here was quite how perfect this is for ripping off from a brand POV.
- This Sneaker Does Not Exist: Yes, I know, websites featuring stuff that doesn’t exist are SO 2019. Still, I rather liked this one – as with all of its ilk, the selection of trainers here presented has been heavily curated so as to present the best ones, but even given that caveat it’s impressive the extent to which each of these look like it could be on sale right now (and significantly better than anything ‘designed’ by Kanye West over the past 5 years). Add ‘footwear designer’ to the list of professions which will be eviscerated by the advent of AI – not for the rich, obvs, you’ll still want your artisanal Choos, but the idea of paying actual people to design your $7 bottom-end footwear? Never again.
- Rock Paper Scissors Deluxe Edition: A Kickstarter, just over halfway there with a month to go, looking to raise funds for the creation of an updated version of the classic game for 2021. You know what’s been holding rock, paper, scissors back? After all, it’s not the gameplay mechanic – a staggering number of videogames are at heart just RPS. Seriously – Pokemon? Rock, paper, scissors. Every single fighting game ever made after Street Fighter 2? Rock, paper, scissor (I believe this very strongly to be true and will fight you if you disagree, fwiw). No, it’s the presentation – which is why this set will, if funded, drag the game KICKING AND SCREAMING into modernity with an ACTUAL ROCK and some ACTUAL SCISSORS and, er, some golden paper. It’s a joke, obviously, but I admire their commitment to the bit (the Kickstarter video on the page is genuinely funny, in a sort of dad-ish way).
- Slapchat: It’s a shame that this exists only for Google Meet, the least-loved of all the videochat solutions out there (why is that?), but if you happen to use it as your professional videoconferencing platform of choice then you could have some fun with Slapchat. The deal here is that Slapchat is a plugin which enables anyone who has it installed to see images, gifs and animations which users can overlay onto a videochat screen – which will be invisible to those who don’t have the plugin. So, for example, all your HYPERCOOL WORK FRIENDS can laugh as you place, I don’t know, a gigantic pair of reindeer antlers on your boss at the company meeting! Or googly eyes on that w4nker from sales! Obviously these examples are incredibly lame, but Snapchat is a relatively gentle tool – I encourage those of you who like this idea to build our own version which instead lets you place libellous speech bubbles next to people’s faces, or allows you to make believe that your video interlocutors are all engaged in some sort of coprophiliac snacktime (sorry).
- Bananas: “Banana Craze is the first major study of how a natural resource such as the banana has shaped the past and the present of a continent, and how this phenomena finds expression through culture. Banana Craze brings together almost 100 pieces of contemporary Latin American artists in which the banana is the main feature. Starting with Cuban photographer Raúl Corrales and his 1960 piece Caballería (The Cavalry), in which a group of men ride on horseback celebrating the revolutionary government’s expropriation of United Fruit Company plantations, Banana Craze stretches to the present day and will continue progressing into the future. An artistic, cultural and philosophical approach is used to analyse these pieces and to allow a greater understanding of how the mass cultivation of bananas contributed to the growth of social inequality in Latin America, changing traditional ways of life and transforming the landscape and environment of the region. Not to mention how the banana trade contributed to the formation of xenophobic, racist, and sexist stereotypes of local inhabitants.” I love this – not only because of the subject matter, which is fascinating (I have a bit of a thing for stories the ways in which small objects are analogues for larger questions – is this an opportunity for me to correctly use the word ‘synecdoche’? I don’t know, I’ve never tried before, do let me know if I got it right), but also because of the way it’s set out – it doesn’t attempt to ‘be a gallery’, it knows it’s a website and leans into that, and as a result it’s far more pleasant to navigate through than other galleries which attempt to make the exhibition ‘more immersive’ or ‘more digital’. Also, there’s some great stuff in there – I love this photo, for example.
- Twisted Tug’s: “Twisted Tug’s Studio is your source for custom, hand-made, horror dolls and collectibles. These dolls are hand sculpted, no molds, and not mass produced. Each creation is a unique, one-of-a-kind work of art.” Honestly, these are HORRID, well done the person making them.
- The Infinity Saga: Do you LOVE the MCU? Do you wish, though, that there were a way for you to experience every single moment of the films in chronological order rather than as a series of distinct narrative experiences? WHY? THAT SOUNDS FCUKING AWFUL! Still, thanks to the magic of the web and online fandoms – it will never cease to amaze me the amount of work people will put in to this sort of stuff, seriously – now you can! You have to get in touch with this specific bloke on Reddit, fine, and ask him to torrent you the files, but apparently there now exists a 50-hour cut of the whole Avenger’s saga where every scene has been cut into exact chronological order. Will it make the films better? Unlikely! Will it make any sense whatsoever? Improbable! And yet, it exists. The web for you, in a microcosm.
THE SECTION WHICH IS CURRENTLY OBSESSED WITH FINDING A USE-CASE WHICH MAKES ‘TIMESTACK’ A VIABLE WORD, PT.2:
- Saturday Night Live Intros: Saturday Night Live is a US institution which I confess to always having been baffled by and which thanks to the web has now attained a degree of global renown that seems entirely out-of-proportion with how good it is – I know it’s been responsible for launching lots of impressive careers, but I don’t think I’ve ever seen any clips from it that have caused me to do more than raise a vaguely-amused eyebrow (two nations divided by a language, etc etc). Still, one thing it has always been famed for is the diversity of musical acts it showcases – and thanks to Daniel Craig, the fact that said acts are always introduced by a famous is now also A Thing. This Twitter account shares clips of acts being introduced by a rolling cast of said famous over the years – so if you’re aching to see what it would be like to see, I don’t know, Donald Trump cueing up Jack Johnson (yes, that was a thing), or Martha Steward introducing Slipknot (this may not in fact have happened), then this will be right up your street.
- Adobe Sucks Scrotum: Does anyone like Adobe? No, they do not (this is borne out by having known a few people who worked there who all hated the company just as much as the rest of us appear to ), which is why this little site is such a joy. Want to get all the benefits of Adobe products without giving any of your hard-earned cash to the bandits? Then use this link to find all of the open-source non-Adobe visual tools you could hope for, from video editing to image editing to post-production. Includes loads of tools you will have heard of – Blender, etc – and loads you won’t, and will hopefully mean that you will never have to pay money to those miserable bstards ever again. NO WE WILL NOT ACCEPT THAT PHOTOSHOP IS A TRADEMARK YOU FCUKS.
- Hollywood Age Gap: It feels like this is getting better, but it’s fair to say that the history of cinema in the 20th Century (and some of the early-21st) was characterised by relationships in which there was often a…questionable age difference between the male and female party. This site collects the most egregious examples of this and sets them out quite baldly – I confess to never having really noticed most of these, partly due to not being a cinephile, but when you see them pointed out…well, wow. Woody Allen, as you’d expect, features heavily here, but did you know that there’s a 30 year agegap between Arnie and his love interest in Kindergarten Cop? Blimey, Arnold.
- Cripple Media: This is GREAT. Cripple Media “is the first-ever media company where young disabled creatives can shift the lens disabled people are viewed — into something more honest, accurate, impactful, and youthful…At its heart, Cripple Media is striving to train and center young disabled media professionals to lead conversations in mainstream media. With that being said, Cripple is entirely self-funded, and it is our intention to continue on and expand for seasons to come. And most importantly, we believe that young disabled creatives deserve to get paid.” Featuring articles by and for young people with disabilities, this is a pleasingly clear-eyed and unsentimental resource for information and lifestyle material aimed at people who are still not served as well by the mainstream as they might reasonably-hope – I am a big fan of the name, too, fwiw.
- Kara Singer: Thanks Shardcore for sending this my way – Kara Singer is the name given to the ‘vocalist’ in this AI project, which is experimenting with the creation of AI-generated melodies for imagined voices. What that means in practice that the webpage here linked presents a selection of lines which are vocalised by AI and which attempt to ‘invent’ melodies for said lines – so you can hear the machine’s attempt to create a tune within which to fit the lyrics to ‘Don’t Stop Believing’, say. It’s INTENSELY odd – these are almost tunes but not quite, just nestled in an aural uncanny valley which I hadn’t ever really known existed before – and whilst they obviously don’t work at all as things you might actually want to listen to, they work very well as scary precursors to a time in which our songs are lyrically and sonically AI-determined; I give it…~3 years before an AI has a cowriting credit on a number one single.
- Typographic Posters: Via Present & Correct (as I’ve said previously, the best social media account belonging to a stationery retailer IN THE WORLD), “typo/graphic posters is a platform for inspiration and promotion of good design through the poster culture. It focus exclusively on typographical and graphical posters, those that challenge type, colors and shapes to express a message. each poster is reviewed to meet a standard in visual qualities and functional efforts.” SUCH a great resource for designers looking for inspiration, and very much worth bookmarking if this is your sort of thing.
- Seeing Pastoralism: A wonderful series of pieces of…what? Documentary journalism, I suppose, and ethnographic research, focused on the concept of ‘pastoralism’ in Europe and looking at how that concept is differently-characterised in various countries worldwide. So you can explore the links between people and land in Sardinia, Kenya, Tunisia, India and elsewhere, with photography and writing, all presented as a series of rich visual essays – this is SO nicely done, not only in terms of content but in terms of presentation, and is one of those fantastic projects that makes a hitherto-uninteresting (to me, at least) area of study suddenly fascinating. Another excellent example of how to present information in an exhibition-y way online with minimal fuss whilst still rendering it accessible and engaging.
- Platoon Aviation: One of those occasional links that I include less because of the webwork and more because it offers a brief glimpse into a world that most of us are unlikely to ever experience (perhaps I’m getting my demographics wrong here, but i am reasonably confident that noone reading this is in a position whereby the renting of a private jet is a regular occurrence). Platoon Aviation offers private jet rental on a 24h basis, and this site sets out all the reasons why you might want to spend 5-6 figures on hiring your own personal leather-interiored pleasurevessel. What’s fascinating to me is what they consider to be the selling points – there’s a lot of stuff about cargo space and they mention ‘moving house’, and they REALLY want to make it clear that these jets are good at getting to ‘remote and hard-to-access airports worldwide’ and…this is absolutely a service for plutocrats looking to get their family out to the secret island bunker before the revolutionary mob arrives with the pitchforks and torches, isn’t it? Come on, seriously, click the link and tell me that this doesn’t sound IMMENSELY criminal (also, and I know that this is an opinion coloured by the fact that I have been living in Rome for 5 months now and that regional racism in Italy is very much A Thing, the fact that they have Naples as one of their homepage ‘we fly from…’ locations does rather scream ‘the provider of choice for organised crime!’ to my mind).
- Here Comes The Sun: In anticipation of the heavily-trailed new Beatles doc that’s coming out imminently, have this lovely piece of creative coding by Brazilian developer Márcio Ribeiro, which algorithmically visualises the most lovable of all the Beatles’ songs (don’t @ me, it’s true – also, this was four-year-old me’s favourite piece of music IN THE WORLD) – this is very soothing indeed.
- Wildlife Photographer of the Year: You know the drill by now – the Natural History Museum in London has once again announced the finalists and winners in each category in its annual contest to celebrate the best of the world’s wildlife photography, and once again the resulting imagery is fantastic. The bloodied lioness, the TERRIFYING BRAZILIAN UNDERBED SPIDER, the bat being nursed back to health…click and lose your heart to one of the many beautiful critters here displayed.
- Cloud Index: One of two links this week lifted wholesale from Giuseppe Sollazzo’s weekly dataviz newsletter (which I have mentioned here before, but which really is worth subscribing to as it’s regularly filled with properly interesting stuff which I simply don’t see elsewhere), this is the Cloud Index, a project by one Jonas Fischer which self-describes as “a growing online archive that collects and presents cloud imagery of fossil fuel combustion sites. Since September 2020, I have been photographing the skies above power plants, industrial facilities and other greenhouse gas emitters. Even beyond the end of fossil fuel use, their consequences will continue to shape humanity and its environment for the unforeseeable future: While the clouds in the sky will have long since faded, the impact of emissions and the resulting damage will be far greater than we can imagine today…This visual contribution makes the supposedly invisible destruction visible, puts it in the context of facts and offers a new way of looking at clouds that sees ourselves as part of a global problem.” There’s something quite darkly-beautiful about the juxtaposition of the inherent loveliness of cloud formations and the industrial processes which are creating said formations in the first place – also, has any of the seemingly-infinite number of tedious tech companies currently peddling ‘cloud-based solutions’ done any environmentalCSR stuff around actual clouds? Seems like an easy win, no?
- Hash AI: The second link from Mr Sollazzo this week is this service which is designed to let people build digital simulations of real-world systems and processes for modeling purposes (‘digital twins’, if you will) – this is free and seemingly rather powerful, but even if you don’t have need of it yourself the site presents a bunch of examples of how others have used the software which are honestly fascinating. I never thought I would be the sort of person who is interested in watching a digital simulation of rainfall, or of robots stacking shelves, and yet it appears that is exactly who I am become. If you want a quick way of understanding how digital twin technology works and what it can do, this is a useful place to start – and if you’re interested in modeling your own data, it seems properly useful.
- The Checkmark Webcam: Proof that you can create pixels out of anything, this little webtoy uses your webcam to create images made out of checkboxes. You may not have thought when you woke up today that what you really wanted was a representation of your face rendered in low-res ‘pixels’ made from html checkboxes, but it turns out that past you was an idiot and knows NOTHING about your deepest desires. I think there’s a gimmick in here for a dating app – you get videochat access with anyone you match with, but until you’ve logged a certain number of minutes talking to each other your view of your interlocutor is pixelated in this fashion – it’s only by accruing time as ‘a good conversationalist’ that you get to heighten the resolution and see what the person you’re chatting to actually looks like. As a bonus, it would make it quite hard for anyone to flash their d1ck in any meaningful way, which as Chatroulette foretold is the main issue with any sort of online videochat between strangers.
- Abduction: Not quite sure why this exists other than for its creator to demonstrate that they could, but here’s a little in-browser toygame which lets you imagine that you’re an alien spacecraft engaged in a little bit of light person-harvesting over the topography of an unnamed landmass. Move yourself around the landscape using your tractor beam to hoover up the unsuspecting hominids from the hills and valleys below – you can’t, sadly, then choose to rectally probe them, but I presume that that will be coming in release 2.0.
- Papapal: Very much the sort of web project that is, I often think, born out of a fundamentally-positive but equally-misguided understanding of human nature, Papapal is an epistolary language-learning service which offers you the opportunity to hone your foriegn language writing skills by pairing you with another person who also wants to communicate in a specific language, the idea being that you will improve your skills by entering into penpal-ish correspondence. It’s a GREAT idea in theory, whose success rests entirely on a) everyone involved having the stamina to keep the correspondence going, not a given considering the likely-clunking nature of the prose you’ll be employing; b) it not being overtaken by men (it is always men) who think that everything online is, at heart, an opportunity for them to get laid. Still, it’s free and could be an interesting way of meeting new people to practice your Tagalog with – Web Curios as ever accepts no responsibility for the horrorshows of humanity you may end up encountering as a result of your desire for linguistic self-improvement.
- Temp Mail: A super-easy way of getting a quick burner email address, which may be of use if you sign up to the service above and want to make sure that the sex language men can’t follow you around for the rest of your natural life.
- The Walk of Life Project: The site’s hypothesis is simple – Dire Straits’ song ‘The Walk of Life’ is the perfect song to close any film, and this applies to every single movie ever made. It’s hard to argue looking at the assembled clips here – try telling me that ‘The Shawshank Redemption’ isn’t infinitely-improved by having Mark Knopfler noodling over the top of it and I will tell you you are WRONG, repeatedly.
- What Does A Million Pennies Look Like?: Just in case you’ve ever been curious, this person has done the hard maths and visualisation. Beautifully, and for reasons known only to them, they have added some bonus content at the end which goes on to theorise about what a similar volume of cows would look like – if you’ve ever been curious as to the visual impact of a million-strong bovine horde appearing on the horizon then this website will answer a lot of questions for you.
- A Very Long Baguette: Finally in the grab-bag of miscellania this week is this fun little game which sees you playing the part of a pair of bakers who need to move an unfeasibly-long baguette through an equally-unfeasibly mazelike restaurant. It’s simple, but the controls are rather fun – you control each of the bakers separately, making the whole thing abit like the game equivalent of patting your head and rubbing your tummy at the same time. Alternatively you can also play it as a two-player co-op, presuming you have someone nearby who you like enough to sit VERY CLOSE TOGETHER as you share a keyboard. Were we back in the olden days of working in an office, this is the sort of thing that could perhaps lead to a burgeoning workplace romance (“How did you meet?” “We shared a keyboard and one thing led to another” is definitely one of the more romantic relationship origin stories it’s possible to imagine, right? RIGHT???).
THE CIRCUS OF TUMBLRS IS SADLY EMPTY THIS WEEK AND I DO NOT KNOW IF IT WILL EVER RETURN ALTHOUGH I AM AWARE THAT I HAVE SAID THIS BEFORE AND SO I LIVE IN HOPE!
THE TROUGH OF (INSTA) FEEDS!
- Parker S Jackson: SPOOKY ART. Witches and apparitions and incubi and oh me oh my! Seeing as Hallowe’en’s coming up (not that you’d know here – Italy really doesn’t do Hallowe’en like the anglo nations, for which I lay blame squarely at the feet of those PRUDES at the Vatican) this feels appropriate.
- Small Woodland Things: On the one hand, this is almost-unbearably twee – GOBLINCORE! COTTAGECORE! ALL THE ARBOREAL AESTHETICS! – but on the other, well, it is autumn and who doesn’t love some beautiful photos of mushrooms shot from above? NO FCUKER, that’s who!:
LONG THINGS WHICH ARE LONG!:
- The Four Dirty C-Words of the Internet: I’ve long railed against the ubiquity of the word ‘content’ and the fact that referring to what we make as such does nothing but devalue and flatten creative output into one single monetisable layer of grey nothingness – this piece takes that idea and runs with it, adding another three terms to the Bad Lexicon of online existence. ‘Content’, ‘Community’, ‘Culture’ and ‘Creator’ are all here unpacked and examined and found wanting by Paul Jun in this excellent essay which explains why these terms are not only insufficient to describe the things we make, but why they are A Bad Thing in terms of said things being valued and how, in fact, by using them we’re complicit in the reduction of creative work to nothing but another cog in the infinitely-grinding capitalist machine. Er, comrades.
- Amplified Propaganda: An interesting essay examining how the use of promoted narratives has shifted thanks to the advent of social media, and how we ought now to think of the concept; the author offers the concept of ‘ampliganda’ as a new term to distinguish from more traditional propaganda, which “presumes that governments, authority figures, institutions, and mass media are forcing ideas on regular people from the top down. But more and more, the opposite is happening. Far from being merely a target, the public has become an active participant in creating and selectively amplifying narratives that shape realities. Perhaps the best word for this emergent bottom-up dynamic is one that doesn’t exist quite yet: ampliganda, the shaping of perception through amplification. It can originate from an online nobody or an onscreen celebrity. No single person or organization bears responsibility for its transmission. And it is having a profound effect on democracy and society.” Leaving aside the slightly-hyperbolic final line there, this is a good piece of writing which neatly-articulates something which has long felt true but which I’ve not seen explained this cogently before.
- Google and Big News: I’ve mentioned here before how Google’s evolution from ‘search engine’ to ‘platform which wants to know what you want to know before you know you want to know it’ has made its core product significantly worse than it use to be – a trend which is only going to continue as the company continues using AI to ‘better’ interpret our wants. This piece looks at Google’s plans to move into breaking news – “the proposed feature aims to spotlight and provide more historical context about important events, from health crises and terrorism to entertainment and sporting events, as they unfold. It would go beyond the types of news articles and tweets Google currently shows in its search results by highlighting the most authoritative facts about a specific event in real time, such as death and injury counts, and updating them as new information emerges.” This is hugely-significant for a number of reasons – first, it doesn’t sound like great news for publishers whose readers will have one less reason to click through when they can get all the relevant facts from Google directly; and secondly, there is a LOT of tricky stuff inherent in deciding on source validity, etc, when pulling this sort of info which feels very much like the sort of questions that digital businesses have traditionally struggled with (see Facebook’s multiple experiments with news for examples).
- Substack: Now that Substack has been A Thing for a while, and now it’s starting to evolve its business model further by getting people like Salman Rushdie onboard to serialise novels through it, it’s time for the latest round of assessment pieces on the business, its model, and how it is CHANGING JOURNALISM AND PUBLISHING FOREVER. This article, in Fortune, is a reasonably level-headed assessment of how the company is doing and how it is serving the writers who use it – there’s a lot of quite bullish chat in here focusing on the people who are making a killing using a subscription model, but it also acknowledges that the vast majority of people attempting to monetise their writing using the platform are making the square root of fcuk all and that the CREATOR ECONOMY is perhaps not quite as equally-distributed as we might have been promised.
- Amazon’s Six-Page Memo: One of the things that everyone seems to know about Amazon’s working culture is the insistence of making all ideas be presented in six-page written documents rather than on slides, the idea being that it forces people to think more about what they are proposing by demanding that they articulate it in longform. This article by Tim Carmody details the process and why it works, and whilst I couldn’t give two fcuks about Amazon per se, as someone with a natural aversion to slides and who still insists on writing everything out in Word this provided a wonderful degree of assurance as to why I AM RIGHT and everyone else who puts things into slides straight away is stupid and wrong.
- Smooth Operator: Or ‘why are there all these touchscreen devices in airports and who uses them?’, or even ‘the semiotics of technology in liminal spaces’ (but probably not the latter as even I have limits) – this is a great piece of writing which captures something I had never really thought of before but which now I have read this piece seems self-evident. “The enduring presence of touchscreens in modern life is explained by their status as highly observable stand-ins for progress. Designers of spaces seeking to mark sophistication feel compelled to create some monument to technology — iPad stations, or interactive urban kiosks. These screens are vessels that manifest our connectivity to the immense technological competence of the era, and provide a sense of physicality — something to touch.” Well quite.
- Feeling, In Situ: This is SO interesting – Elitsa Dermendzhiyska writes in Aeon about the commonly-held Western belief that emotions are in some way universally-experienced – that there is a universal concept of ‘happy’, say, or ‘sad’ that can be communicated via facial expressions – and how recent research has suggested that this in fact this isn’t the case and that emotions may well be culturally determined, and that as such much of the way in which we conceive of and use emotion in Western culture and thought has perhaps been ‘wrong’. There’s loads of truly fascinating stuff in here with adjacencies in AI and art and communication and EVERYTHING, and I felt slightly-dizzied by it, in the best possible way.
- How Deep Mind Is Reinventing the Robot: This is a bit of a PR puff-piece for Deep Mind, fine, but it’s worth reading for the way it unpacks the limitations with much of current AI thinking and machine learning, and the ways in which the Alphabet-owned company is trying to overcome said limitations. The initial section is a bit technical, but I promise it gets more readable and clearer as it goes on (and I say this as someone whose practical knowledge when it comes to machine learning is next to nil), and the way it explains the concept of ‘catastrophic forgetting’ in ML is really helpful.
- China’s Indiegame Market: A long, involved and comprehensive look at the independent games market in China, which is blossoming in no small part due to the odd, not-quite-censored nature of the Steam PC games marketplace behind the Great Firewall. This is a bit industry news-y, but it’s a really good read if you’re interested in the games industry, or indeed in the way in which Chinese cultural products are interestingly-distinct from their Western counterparts and the reasons why, or, more generally, the way in which art reflects the culture its born from and how that reflects through a relatively-new medium such as videogames.
- Botched Plastic Surgery Vloggers: It’s hard not to look at headlines like this and go into some sort of weird doomspiral of OH GOD IT’S A RACE TO THE BOTTOM AND EVERYTHING 1980s SCIFI TAUGHT US ABOUT THE FUTURE IS COMING TRUE, but let’s see if we can hold it together. This piece in i-D looks at the ‘boom’ (it’s not a boom, but we might describe it as a microtrend) in influencers and aspirant influencers having plastic surgery go wrong and then documenting the outcome (AND THEIR FEELINGS ABOUT IT) in exquisite/excruciating detail (delete per your personal perspective) – is it part of the desire to be ‘relatable’, and a helpful shift in the way in which online famous relate to the procedures that give them the bodies and faces that make them stars? Or is it another gearshift in the race to the bottom of the content sump pit? YOU DECIDE? I bet you £100 that there are currently people looking at suspiciously-cheap brazilian bottom treatments, though, and thinking “if this goes well it’s a cheap ar$e; if it goes badly, it’s at least 3 months’ worth of highly-personal material which will do great numbers!”. Is that a good thing? Not sure.
- People Are Getting QR Code Tattoos: I’m including this article solely in the hope that one of you will read this and think that, yes, THIS is the time to bring back the gonzo heyday of games PR in which publishers tempted members of the public to name their kids after videogame characters or get the game’s logo tattooed somewhere prominent in exchange for cash prizes. PLEASE can one of you pitch ‘challenge our brand’s superfans to get a QR code linking to our ICONIC ads’ activation, please? I reckon it could fly.
- The Chatroulette Penis Moderation Problem: I mentioned Chatroulette and penises earlier on, and AS IF BY MAGIC I now bring you this article, an interview with the person who invented Chatroulette and who has spent the years since its creation wrestling with the thorny issue of Penises on the Web (specifically: there will always be more penises on the web than there are people who want to look at said penises) – this is super-interesting, not only as a potted history of a website which I can’t imagine that many of you have thought about since its heyday about 9 years ago, but also as a broader series of thoughts and considerations about what communities are for and how you make them work, and how you create systems that allow for open participation whilst incentivising good behaviour and minimising the presence of d1cks both literal and metaphorical).
- VR Addiction: We are, I think, a comfortable distance away from VR addiction being A Thing that people have to worry about – still, the tech is readily-available and sophisticated enough that we’re starting to see edge cases where its immersive potential gets a bit too much, as in this story about a student in the UK who fell into a VRChat hole and struggled to get out. This is a really interesting piece – there’s no suggestion that this is anything other than one person’s experience, and there’s no attempt to create any sort of panic around a VR addiction CRISIS heading our way, and overall its pleasingly-unhysterical. There’s also a happy ending of sorts, with the subject’s shift from VR-obsessed recluse to ostensibly-confident dancer quite a pleasing narrative arc (although I get the feeling there’s probably some quite complicated stuff going on under the surface here) – bookmark this, though, for that inevitable period in about 24m or so’s time when the Mail decides that ‘Save Our Children From Their VR Sex Prisons’ is a sensible campaign to run and you want to remember where it all began.
- True Crime Is Rotting Our Brains: Or, ‘how TikTok and parasociality are creating a weird situation whereby an increasingly large subset of people online are obsessed with analysing every single thing they see with a degree of forensic detail ordinarily reserved for CSI and which isn’t doing anyone any favours’ (their title is snappier, tbf). This is something that a lot of the smarter internet culture commenters have been acknowledging for a while now, and which Ryan Broderick has been particularly good on – how current trends in online storytelling have caused us to increasingly believe that BAD THINGS ARE HAPPENING EVERYWHERE, and that we need to be alert to signs of abuse and danger and incipient violence at all times, and that EVERYTHING IS A POTENTIAL CLUE FOR THE INEVITABLE FORTHCOMING MURDER ENQUIRY. “This is the message that young women are internalizing, that hypervigilance will keep you safe, that being in a constant state of anxiety is simply a fact of life and not something to work on with your therapist.” Doesn’t sound healthy.
- Castaway Cuisine: I don’t know if it’s quite that they don’t make eccentrics like they used to, or simply that the web has opened our eyes to the fact that everyone’s eccentric and so we’ve become a little dulled to it, but you simply don’t get stories like this in 2021, I find. Alain Bombard was a French physician from the mid-20th Century who refused to believe that it was impossible to survive adrift at sea for an extended period of time, and decided to prove this by, er, spending two months adrift in a small boat, subsisting only on what he was able to source himself to eat and drink (there was also a small package of emergency rations, but apparently Bombard didn’t need to use it). An astonishing commitment to scientific research and the sort of thing which you probably wouldn’t want to replicate yourself – the concept of subsisting on what the piece euphemistically describes as ‘fish juice’ for 43 of the 60 days sounds…bleak.
- I Hate My Dogs I Love My Dogs: I am not a dog person, but I appreciate that I am in a minority here and that most people adore the furry morons. Regardless of my own personal indifference to canines, I enjoyed this article by Claire Messud about her relationship with hers – in particular there’s a certain sort of brutal bloodymindedness to the affection which I associate exclusively with a certain type of the English upper-middle classes and which came through wonderfully here. It feels like it’s wearing a barbour jacket, this piece, which may or may not endear it to you – the writing’s great, though, regardless.
- Tongue Stuck: After 5 months in Rome my Italian is pretty good again – it gets rusty through lack of use most of the time, but I feel like I’ve gotten it back again and have even caught myself thinking in Italian every now and again which is a pleasant-if-odd experience. This essay by Irina Dumitrescu speaks of her experiences with English and Romanian, and articulates with a skill I rarely encounter the unique oddity of differentially-skilled bilingualism. “To them, I sounded like a stranger who had learned Romanian very well; I spoke the English language but with Romanian words” – I can’t tell you how much this struck me as I read it. Any of you who speak multiple languages will feel this very deeply, I think.
- What Is Internet Criticism?: SUCH a good essay, this, by Daisy Alioto, about ‘the internet’ and the internet, and the new aesthetic which isn’t so new anymore, and the new terms and forms and expressions of thought we need to be able to characterise our relationship with the web now that it is not just a thing but the thing and that we can now no longer disentangle ourselves from it as both concept and reality. I know I have just made it sounds appallingly-pretentious, but I promise you it is SO much better than that and you will find it thought-provoking and fascinating.
- A Decent Death: An excellent article in the latest LRB, in which Steven Sedley sets out current thinking on assisted dying and the difficulties in creating a legal position which allows for it based on our existing structures and frameworks, and the legacy of theological thought in our conceptions of a ‘good’ life and ‘good’ death. This deals with a lot of the legalese around assisted dying debates, but it’s as light-touch as you can be when talking about this sort of stuff and I promise you it’s knotty rather than impenetrable and an excellent example of presenting difficult arguments in comprehensible style.
- The Nobel Prize Speech Draft of Paul Winterhoeven, With Notes: Finally in this week’s longreads, this is a very funny short story written from the perspective of a man about to, rather bitterly, accept the Nobel Prize for Science. I won’t spoil it by giving away the premise, but it’s vaguely-scifi – more importantly, though, this is a near-perfect example of elegant comic writing, storytelling and scene-setting, and of a narrator who is not so much unreliable as…blinkered, let’s say. Absolutely superb.
By Abraham Lule
AND NOW, MOVING PICTURES AND SOUNDS!:
- I don’t ordinarily too much instrumental guitar noodling in Curios, but the video for this is SO GOOD that I felt compelled – this is Los Bitchos with ‘Las Panteras’, and the best way I can describe it is that it channels the exact same vibe (to me at least) as the ‘Fox Force Five’ pilot from the Tarantino universe and is JOYFUL in the extreme.
- This is called ‘So Grown Up’ by Phoebe Green – “whatever happened to the men we lost our virginities to?’, runs an early lyric, and if you’ve ever spent a day getting illicitly-p1ssed with an old schoolfriend and doing the whole ‘man, how did we get so OLD?’ thing then this will resonate rather hard.
- I need to create a script that rips all the videos from these sections and autoadds them to a YT playlist, as I think it would throw out some musical tics that I’m not quite aware of – one of which is a definite predilection I have for a particular style of feminine vocal, not unlike this one found in yeule’s single ‘Don’t Be So Hard On Your Own Beauty’ which is a great song and has exactly the sort of diction that makes me go a bit funny.
- If you like Wes Anderson and all his schtick then I imagine you’re salivating at the prospect of The French Dispatch (a film seemingly designed to meet the exact aesthetic requirements of a specific 12-block square of Manhattan) – even if you’re not, though, it’s worth listening to the track ‘Aline’ which Jarvis Cocker has recorded for the film because, well, Cocker is always a joy to listen to, and the animated video is quite lovely.
- Finally this week, the sort of thing I never ordinarily feature but which is SO GOOD I couldn’t help but include this week as it’s honestly mesmerising – this is a mashup of Under Pressure by Queen and All Eyes On Me by Bo Burnham, performed by Scary Pockets and Theres Curatolo and OH MY GOD what a performance. Honestly, I could watch this person perform forever, she is MAGNETIC and the band is great and the song is SO much better than it ought to be. Seriously, trust me on this one, just press play and enjoy it and enjoy her in particular and OH LOOK THAT’S IT FOR THIS WEEK IT’S BEEN AN ABSOLUTE PLEASURE AS ALWAYS AND I LOOK FORWARD TO SEEING YOU AGAIN NEXT WEEK AND IF I DON’T, IF THIS IS THE EDITION THAT CAUSES YOU TO FINALLY GIVE UP ON ME AND CURIOS THEN, WELL, KNOW THAT I LOVE YOU AND I WILL MISS YOU AND THAT I RESPECT YOUR DECISION AND THAT I WILL BE WAITING FOR YOU SHOULD YOU EVER CHANGE YOUR MIND BECAUSE I LOVE YOU AND I CARE AND I LOVE YOU AND I CARE AND I LOVE YOU BYE!