Is that the wind, or is it the sound of a vibe shift being presaged?
I promise, this is the only reference you will find in this edition of Curios to the most idiotic bit of ‘discourse’ of the week. If that reference means nothing to you, then GOOD – don’t, whatever you do, attempt to find out more. If it does mean something to you then, well, congratulations on being, like me, part of the problem.
Anyway, I imagine that you’re all battening down hatches and securing pets as I type, so let me wish you all the best as you attempt to survive the wind – I know I say this every week, but seeing as going outside is basically suicide-by-branch for those of you in the UK right now, you have no excuse not to click EVERY SINGLE LINK in this edition.
I am still Matt, this is still Web Curios, and know that if you are at any point planning to write the words ‘vibe shift’ in a ‘deck’ in the coming week, I think less of you as a human being and that you probably ought to reevaluate your life choices to date because really.
By Owen Gent
THE SECTION WHICH FINDS THAT THE TERM ‘FALSE FLAG’ HAS BEEN RENDERED ENTIRELY UNUSABLE BY RIGHT-WING CONSPIRACY THEORISTS AND AS SUCH IS REALLY STRUGGLING TO TAKE THE NEWS SERIOUSLY TODAY, PT.1:
- The Internet Game: I know you all know this, but I do feel it occasionally worth repeating – an appearance in Web Curios is not an endorsement of any sort, more a general acknowledgement by me that something exists and that I have a vague opinion on it. So it is with The Internet Game – which is NFT-ish (sorry) and so therefore very much not the sort of thing which I would be inclined to endorse even if such endorsements had any currency, which they don’t. Still, I suppose I should probably point out now that this is an idea very obviously designed to make as much money for its creators as possible and as such, and as with 99.9% of all NFTbollocks, you might want to approach with caution. BUT ALSO! This is, I am forced to admit, quite a slick little grift. Your elevator pitch here is basically ‘a no-risk, virtual series of elimination games, all played online, which grant the ‘survivors’ of all 5 games prizes in the form of ‘valuable’ (we could quibble the value, but it’s early and we’ve got a lot to get to, so just please note my slight skepticism here of the prizepool) NFTs, on a sliding scale from a Bored Ape to…some other identikit clipart sh1t.’ The ‘get rich quick for the creators’ bit is that the game is accessed via…THAT’S RIGHT! PURCHASING A TOKEN (or more tokens for more chances to play) – tokens started cheap and rise in price based on the number sold. There is as-yet no detail on what these mysterious ‘games’ will be or how they will work, and, let me be very clear, there’s no guarantee this won’t be rugpulled between now and the point midweek at which the games are slated to end, and therefore skepticism is advised…BUT the simple mechanic here is, if you remove the NFTs, actually quite interesting and the sort of thing which might reasonably used as ‘inspiration’ for some sort of hideous miserable BRAND ACTIVATION FOR SUPERFANS, should you be in the market for such a thing.
- Botto: This, though, this is an NFT project that I…quite like! Ok, the NFT-ness is the least-interesting part of it by far, but the concept is really rather neat. Mario Klingemann, long-standing ‘most famous person in the world of AI-generated artworks’, has developed this project, which has been running for a few months now and whose premise is wonderfully simple. Klingemann’s got some code which generates images. Every week, a selection of these images (350) are created and presented to a group of people, who vote on which image they prefer in the classic ‘image vs image deathmatch’-style – voting rights are conferred through (you guessed it!) purchase of $BOTTO tokens – with the image garnering the most votes being minted as an NFT and put up for sale, with 80% of proceeds being kept by the project – so far, sales of Botto-generated works have netted over $1m in sales. Since October. Which, objectively, is impressive as fcuk. I don’t find the works produced particularly special – I am a bit jaded by this stuff, and it strikes me as a bit ‘generically-GAN’ – but the idea is so, so neat, as is the proof-of-concept stuff about THE COLLECTIVE, and it will be worth keeping an eye on this to see how the bot and the works it produces evolve, and where Klingemann takes the project in terms of profitsharing and rewards for the voting community; at present the profits generated by the machine’s works aren’t being shared, but the website promises a potential degree of retrospective redistribution…although I wouldn’t hold my breath about Botto creating a new class of investor-millionaires anytime soon. Still, I fcuking love the way this is set up, even if it is NFTish and so therefore inherently just a bit grubby.
- Sougen: New metaverse just dropped! To be honest, I am including this mainly as an example of how much painfully-generic crap is currently being peddled using the m-word as a hook. A browser-based virtual space in which you can navigate using a nonspecifically-designed avatar to no apparent end whatsoever? No real clue as to what the practical benefits any user might achieve from choosing to experience something in said browser-based virtual space could be? A bunch of almost-entirely-meaningless words on the homepage speaking of the possibility for metaverses and microverses (‘the microverse! For when the metaverse is too massively, meaninglessly intimidating and you need your snake-oil-flavoured bullsh1t in a more-digestible portion!)? Yes, yes and thrice yes! Look, this stuff was fine during the pandemic when it was being presented as ‘a means of bringing some measure of perceived physicality or ‘thereness’ to digital spaces within the alienating horror of a pandemic’ and ‘something free to play around with’, but NONE OF THIS SH1T IS WORTH SPENDING MONEY ON! I am speaking to YOU, advermarketingprscum! If you are selling this stuff – if you are going to clients and attempting to peddle them ‘a metaverse’ – you are a crook! An ACTUAL CROOK! And yes, I know that fleecing clients at large international businesses is basically a victimless crime, but do you have no shame? Eh? Oh.
- Digital Curator: Oh this is GREAT – and such an interesting way of using machine learning to reengage with museum collections. “The Digital Curator application allows you to explore the art collections of Central European museums and search for artworks based on specific motifs. Users of the application can build their combination of objects and reveal how often the subject has occurred across the centuries, view graphics, drawings, or paintings that represent it in different epochs, and compare data with other themes…The Digital Curator database now contains 158 456 works from the collections of 90 museums from Austria, Bavaria, the Czech Republic, and Slovakia. 33 750 of these works are available under an open license, so it is possible to view them online.“ Honestly, this is wonderful and smart and makes the experience of browsing the collections thematically SO much more engaging – you can get the AI to create what it ‘thinks’ are interestingly-themed exhibitions for you automatically, or alternatively you can use keywords to pull together selections of works from the archives based on the machine’s analysis of the collection, thereby creating a selection of works which feature, say, cats AND industry, and if nothing else it’s a wonderful way of tracking the depction of a whole range of things over the 600-year span of artistic history covered by the collections. Superb work.
- The Museum of Precious Things: A near-perfect Curio, this. Inspired by a viral tweet from last year about a museum in Poole, Dorset which holds a small stone donated by a little girl named Bethan as part of its collection, The Museum of Precious Things invites anyone to submit a photo of an object that they own that they consider to be precious to them in some way, which will be added to the digital museum’s collection – the Museum has only recently opened and so there are only a dozen or so exhibits, but there’s an open form for submissions, so if you have a particularly precious object you would like immortalised then you know what to do. I find this almost painfully charming and I would visit the fcuk out of this place should it ever exist in real life.
- Virgin Galactic: Richard Branson’s continually-delayed promises of ‘space tourism for all…tomorrow!’ have been amusing me for a few years now, but it seems that the most-#metoo-able of all plutes (seriously, how has he managed to avoid it?) has finally managed to make his dream of charging other violently wealthy people for a trip in a high-spec vomit comet a reality. Welcome to the Virgin Galactic sales site, now open for bookings! It’s slightly-less shiny than I might have expected, if I’m honest, although maybe that’s part of the same ‘this is NOT just a jolly for people with nine-figure bank balances!’ positioning that sees the site feature a pull-quote from Steven Hawking about THE MAJESTY OF THE COSMOS, and some frankly risible guff about how “when we witness the majesty and fragility of Earth from space, something inside us shifts. We believe this transformation will bring countless benefits to life on our beautiful planet.” So, er, what you’re saying, Dickie, is that by charging the super-rich several hundred thousand quid to spend a few minutes weightless in near-space you are also helping to bring about a transformative, species-level consciousness shift that will usher in some sort of new age of human achievement and endeavour? Oh, well, that’s ok then, crack on! There’s a lot to love about this (read: dislike intensely), although I confess to being genuinely-impressed by the engineering of the spacecraft, but my personal absolute favourite thing is the fact that two-thirds of the way down the page they try and upsell you a limited-edition Land Rover! “As a Virgin Galactic astronaut, you will have the opportunity to purchase a unique, ‘Astronaut Edition’ Range Rover.” SIGN ME THE FCUK UP, DICKIE, YOU HANDSY GENIUS!
- Storyliving by Disney: You may have seen this week that one of the Things That People On Twitter got a bit frothy about was the announcement that Disney was going to start offering superfans the opportunity to buy houses and live in Disney-run ‘communities’ – effectively creating a ‘lifestyle, by The Mouse’ brand for adults and the logical next step for a remorseless money-making machine which has long been catering to the needs of / exploiting (delete as applicable) the sort of people who really, really want to holiday at Disneyland three times a year despite being comfortably at the lifestage where they start to consider varifocal lenses. ‘Storyliving’, Disney calls it, and I can’t quite express how utterly odd I find everything about it. There’s something quite incredible – to be clear, not in a good way – about living in a world in which we’re just about coming to terms (in the West/North, at least) with a whole new killer virus, we’ve reason to feel a bit twitchy about a whole host of environmental issues, we’re toying with the idea of a little bit of nuclear conflict and everything just feels a bit jagged, and thinking, “you know what, fcuk it, I am going to opt to attempt to live in an entirely-idealised pre-packaged version of ‘life’ as sold to me by the world’s largest entertainment brand”. It’s worth reading the copy on the site – it’s literally advertising a version of life that has no link to reality, the promise that you can exist in a series of scripted, well-lit vignettes, with the uncomfortable edges of reality smoothed away by the everpresent attentions of Disney’s ‘placemakers’…honestly, I find this so incredibly, dystopian and sinister, and there is no way in hell that this exact premise isn’t going to be adapted for a horror film within the next year or so (it already feels very Jordan Peele imho). The first ‘compound’ is in Palm Springs in California, should you be interested – I think, and there’s strong competition for this title, that this might be the worst thing I have seen so far in 2022, so well done Disney.
- Dreamachine: Sent to me by Former Editor Paul, I must caveat this but saying it’s not entirely clear what it is, or, more accurately, what it’s going to be. Still, it’s ART and it sounds interesting, so here: “Created by Collective Act, in collaboration with Turner Prize-winning artists Assemble, Grammy and Mercury nominated composer Jon Hopkins, and a team of leading technologists, scientists and philosophers, Dreamachine is a one-of-a-kind programme inviting you to stop and think about what it means to be alive. To be you. It offers a chance to explore an entirely new way of re-connecting with yourself, and others.” No? Me neither, but here’s more: “Dreamachine is inspired by an extraordinary but little-known 1959 invention by artist–inventor Brion Gysin. His experimental homemade device used flickering light to create vivid illusions, kaleidoscopic patterns and explosions of colour in the mind of the viewer. Designed to be the ‘first artwork to be experienced with your eyes closed’, Gysin had a vision for his invention to replace the television in every home in America. Instead of passive consumers of mass-produced media, viewers of his Dreamachine would create their own cinematic experiences.” This is going to be a touring experiential THING, across four UK cities between May and September this year, and you can sign up for updates and the opportunity to book…something in due course. Look, I think Jon Hopkis is ace and I will happily check out anything he’s involved in, and I think you should too.
- Daily Dorries: On the one hand, LOL A TWITTER ACCOUNT SHARING EXTRACTS FROM NADINE DORRIES’ NOVELS LOL! On the other, this is an actual, elected politician in the UK, and someone who is putatively in charge of ‘culture’, and who is, amongst other things, currently one of the people responsible for the development of legislation which will significantly affect how we use the web and how it’s governed. Is it funny or is it deeply sad? I CAN’T TELL ANY MORE! Anyway, some superb descriptions of knee-trembling sex and COMEDY BLARNEY IRISHNESS here from Nadine, whose skills as a politician, orator and interviewee are seemingly only matched by her prose artistry.
- Is Mercury In Retrograde?: This website will tell you. Except, obviously, the answer is really “the position of the celestial spheres has less of an impact on your daily life than the constant predation of capital”, but that makes for a less-pleasing single-shot website and so I can sort-of understand why they went for the astrology thing instead tbf.
- Exnge: This…this doesn’t feel like a great idea, but maybe I am wrong and it will take us all TO THE MOON! Exnge (an annoying name not only for its inherent ugliness but also because GDocs wants to autocorrect it to ‘expunge’ each time I type it, chiz chiz) is a beta project that seeks to use AI to predict tech stocks – which, fine, is something that trading houses and brokers have been toying with for time, but usually as part of a suite of tools designed to help them make better trades at scale and certainly not as the sole determinant of whether to buy or sell or HODL (sorry). This, though, uses some troublingly-ill-defined ‘AI’ (which I have a horrible feeling is just machine learning based on past stock performance) to offer a range of ‘predictions’ of how a selection of stocks will perform over a short-term period. It’s hard to look at this and not want to slap a massive ‘PLEASE DO NOT USE THIS TO MAKE ACTUAL REAL-MONEY INVESTMENT DECISIONS’ warning on the homepage – could someone who knows something about money and investments confirm whether or not I am right and whether this is an immensely-silly idea, or whether I am being too bearish and I should instead encourage all Curios readers to spend the next month betting the farm on stocks based on the predictions of a black box system created by an anonymous stranger on the web? Thanks!
- The Fantasy Map Generator: A whole new machine imagined worldmap complete with perfectly-silly computer-generated fantasy names for continents and countries, with just a single click. Partly just fun to play with for a few minutes – it’s amazing how evocative maps and names can be – but obviously designed to aid with worldbuilding for DMs or writers or anyone else who needs to spin up a few continents with names like ‘Thorgandia’ and ‘The Riven Bloodmass’.
- LitRPGAdventures: I have no idea how many of you play DnD or anything like that, but let’s presume that there’s at least one of you and that this link won’t be totally wasted. This is a company that offers you the chance to, for a relatively small fee, access an INCREDIBLY deep library of DnD character modules and campaigns and all the jazz that you need to prepare if you’re running a game, all produced by AI using GPT-3. Which, to be clear, is SUCH a clever idea – I would imagine that a model trained on previous classic DnD campaigns would churn out pretty decent stuff with a modicum of human editing and pruning, which makes this a really clever business model and a smart service for players to boot. I, er, don’t obviously play DnD, so caveat emptor and all that, but I am a fan of the idea and the use of GPT-3 on display here.
- Wander: “We’re on a mission to help people find their happy place. To build a network of smart homes across the globe you can access with the tap of a button…Wander was born after our founder was struck by the frustrating experience of trying to work while traveling (uncomfortable beds, choppy WiFi, more disappointments). He knew there had to be a better way. There was. Today, Wander offers smart homes in inspiring places across the West Coast [of America], from Tahoe to Mendocino County to Southern Oregon, with many more locations coming soon.” So this is basically ‘airbnb, but with fancy smarthomes and SIGNIFICANTLY more expensive’, which is proof that there is literally no business idea in the world that you can’t append “…but LUXE!” to in a business plan.
- Yarchive: One of the things about the current era of the web is its ephemerality – the ubiquity and centrality of social media over the past decade to the way we use and relate to the web means that there’s a real difficulty in going back to previous eras of How We Were Online because everything we wrote and photographed and posted is, in many respects, simply not there any more. Which is (one of the reasons) why I love this – the Yarchive is a bunch of archived links to old posts on Usenet from Back In The Old Internet Days, arranged by topics covering everything from ‘food’ to ‘military’ to ‘chemistry’ to ‘jokes’. This is all text, and a bit cumbersome to navigate, and is obviously Of The Past in terms of the very male and North American feel to everything here (guns lol!), but it’s also a fascinating bit of sociotechnological anthropology (/pseud) and a weirdly…reassuring(?) example of how some things on the web (communities of people sharing terrible political ‘jokes’, the way people will always seemingly fetishise meat, its preparation and consumption on any male-dominated internet forum you can imagine) are immutable.
- DSi Paint Community: Another idiosyncratic old-internet hangover, this is AMAZING – an old forum which was set up to act as a community hub for people using the Paint function on the NintendoDS, and which incredibly is still active. Seriously, there are people posting in here about STUFF THAT IS HAPPENING RIGHT NOW! This would be less remarkable were it not for the website’s interface, which makes reading anything a…challenge, but the fact that seemingly dozens of people log on here each day to chat to their friends about THE GENERAL STUFF OF LIFE, eschewing more modern or popular platforms with nice features and a usable interface in favour of just sticking to what they know, makes me immoderately happy. SHH, DON’T LET THEM KNOW WE’RE WATCHING! This is basically proof that forums are the best internet communities, and I will fight anyone who disagrees.
- Interland: Google’s ‘Be Internet Awesome’ educational strand, helping to teach kids about safe online behaviours from personal information security to spotting dodgy sites, has been going for a while now and I featured it at launch a few years back; this is a new element to it, a series of cute little games which help teach younger people about things to watch out for when learning how to navigate the web. Cute, gently amusing, and seeing as it’s half term for lots of you, something you can sit your kids in front of with the vague excuse that it’s ‘educational’ and so it doesn’t matter if you just leave them with your phone for three hours while you try and forget they exist (that’s how parenting works, right?).
- Habits: This is a beautifully-designed app which takes the ‘if you do something every day you will form a habit which will compel you to keep doing that thing because we humans like keeping streaks of achievements going because it does something involving dopamine which I don’t entirely understand’ premise first popularised by…I want to say Jerry Seinfeld, but may be wrong…but anyway, it takes that premise and makes it GORGEOUS and HYPERDESIGNED and SEXY and basically if you want a free app to help you form BENEFICIAL HABITS (although on reflection there’s nothing to say these have to be positive, improving habits – you could probably also use it to, I don’t know, encourage yourself to get addicted to skag, although my anecdotal experience suggests you may not in fact need the app’s help for that) then you could do worse than check this out.
- Proxi: This is potentially quite useful – Proxi lets you easily create personalised maps with annotations, embedded images and videos, outlinks and all sorts of other vaguely-multimedia gubbins. You can do quite a lot of this stuff already using Google Maps, fine, but I’ve always found that side of the product to be a bit shonky and not quite as slick and flexible as you might like, whereas Proxi, from what I can tell, is rather nice to use and has a few more features, and, like Google Maps, it’s free. Worth a look if you need to create personal, annotated maps for whatever reason (treasure hunt / map of your murders / sad memory cartography / etc).
- Cigarettes: I have smoked for approximately 28 years, to varying degrees, and recently upped my intake a bit because frankly I am bored and lonely and I miss my girlfriend and, well, it passes the time until I can start smoking weed in the evenings. I quite like a tab, basically, but not quite as much as the people who populate /r/Cigarettes, the subReddit for people who really, really enjoy a smoke. Photographs of cigarettes, lovingly arranged, practically inviting you to light up and take a lung-obliterating toke! Reviews of cigarettes with suspiciously-detailed tasting notes given the likelihood that the reviewers’ tastebuds will have been utterly obliterated by decades of tab abuse! Pack design appreciation threads! And, er, occasional appreciation of how ‘sexy’ people look when smoking (sorry, but this is still Reddit)! I love this with all of my blackened little lungpieces. In fact I am off for a tab RIGHT NOW.
THE SECTION WHICH FINDS THAT THE TERM ‘FALSE FLAG’ HAS BEEN RENDERED ENTIRELY UNUSABLE BY RIGHT-WING CONSPIRACY THEORISTS AND AS SUCH IS REALLY STRUGGLING TO TAKE THE NEWS SERIOUSLY TODAY, PT.2:
- City Map Generator: Yes, fine, city map generators are ten-a-penny, but this is slightly-fancier in that it spits out cityplans which are not only viewable in 2d but which also come packed with topographical data which means you can render them in 3d with the right software and spin up actual, proper, boxy rendered urban environments (modelled on your classic North American planning concepts) in seconds (well, minutes, but still). Which then offers up the tantalising prospect of a near-future in which you could plug a bunch of different bits of software together and create fully-realised worlds which can be explored – which is sort-of cool, right? The possibility for on-the-fly creation of procedurally-generated environments is huge, basically. Which is yet another reason why I might hold off on commissioning your own ‘metaverse’ for six-figure sums just yet.
- Listr: Twitter lists are one of those features which are hugely-useful and yet still relatively underused, but which I can highly-recommend as a way of pruning your timeline from HORRORS and curating your experience on the app – Listr is a useful service which offers a selection of curated, thematic lists that you can follow directly from the site, letting you quickly find potentially-useful communities of interest around a whole range of topics from (obviously, ffs) crypto to finance to VCs. Users can submit their own curated lists for consideration, and in general this isn’t a bad place to start if you’re looking for a quick ‘in’ to a particular topic on Twitter.
- Underwater Photographer of the Year 2022: FISH! SO MANY FISH! Also anemones and crabs and crustacea and molluscs and OH ME OH MY! As ever, these are spectacular – in particular there are some VERY scary looking sharks which caught my eye, but you will find your own hideous deep-sea monster to love. My favourite is this INTENSELY sci-fi looking squid, fwiw.
- Lord of the Logos: It’s long been a point of accepted internet fact that all death metal logos basically look the same – like a nest of spiders that has been run over by a truck. Still, that’s not to say that their creation doesn’t require a modicum of skill and craft – this week I discovered one such an artisan craftsman, the LORD OF THE LOGOS, who will on application provide you with a quote for your very own DEATH METAL LOGOTYPE! Want to see your company name rendered in the style of a terrifying Norwegian grindcore horrordeathband? YES YOU DO! I am currently toying with the idea of redesigning the entire Curios site in this aesthetic, so don’t be alarmed if things get significantly more illegible round here in the not-too-distant.
- Museum Ships: Have you ever wanted a website dedicated to listing all the museums in the United States that are also boats? No, I can’t imagine that you have, and yet I still provide. Web Curios – giving you links you didn’t know you needed (and which, in all honesty, you probably don’t in fact need at all) since approximately 2010!
- Better Stock Photos of Older People: A resource compiled by the Centre for Ageing Better, this is what they describe as the ‘Age Positive Stock Photo Library’, offering a variety of depictions of people in later life doing things that aren’t just ‘staring confusedly at a computer screen’ or ‘pointing angrily at a pothole in a local newspaper’ or ‘voting for things that will fcuk future generations’. There was a brief vogue for ‘let’s make an improved stock image library as a PR stunt!’ activations a few years ago, but this project shows that there are still shedloads of different aspects of life and society that could do with better, more interesting and more diverse photographic representation. What’s most distressing about this, for me at least, is the fact that a lot of the people in these photos don’t actually look that much older than I do. Am I…am I an ‘older person’? OH GOD SENESCENCE, TAKE ME NOW!
- The Disney Filmmaking Process: Having written a few-hundred snarky words about Disney a few hours ago I now present the good Disney content – this is a wonderful resource explaining how The Mouse develops animations, from concept through to final production, and is superb as a practical guide to what it takes to make an animated feature. If you or anyone you know is an aspiring animator who dreams of one day working on Toy Story 9, or the Mr Potato Head Origin Story (I jest, but only slightly) then this is a wonderful guide to How It All Works, each step in the development process, and all the people who make the initial vision a final reality. There is SO MUCH in here, it’s honestly great and makes me almost forgive them for the ‘forget reality, why not hide in a Disneyfied version of real life and pretend that nothing bad ever happens anywhere!’ gated community vision (but not quite).
- Emerge Home: I’ve been saying for years that I think the biggest barrier to mainstream VR adoption (other than, obviously, the fact that the tech is unwieldy, expensive and lacks anything resembling a killer use-case at present) is the lack of haptic feedback – Emerge Home is a Kickstarter project that offers a potential solution to that lack via, er, jets of air! I confess to being somewhat skeptical about this and how good it is likely to be, but, still, here: “The Emerge Wave-1 projects ultrasonic waves around virtual objects and interactions. You can feel this mid-air force field up to 3 feet above the device and 120 degrees around it. With the Emerge Wave-1 device, you’ll feel unique sensations that elevate virtual greetings and gameplay in the Emerge Home Quest 2 app. Think: a rush of precise mid-air pressure when you reach out to hold someone’s hand, or an energetic beam that you can direct with your palm to destroy incoming asteroids.” It’s almost-impossible to imagine what this would be like to experience (or at least it is for me – you might well be significantly more imaginative than I am), but I am intrigued by the premise. If you’ve got an Oculus2 and $450 to burn on something that may or may not in fact ever a) do what it promises; and b) exist, then GO FOR IT!
- The Plug Socket Museum: You know how I always say that these things – these slightly-odd, single-issue obsessional websites, collecting information about a very specific, very niche thing which you can’t imagine why anyone would be fascinated by but which it is clear some people very much are – are inevitably maintained by men (which they almost always are)? Well I might broaden that to ‘Dutch men’ – honestly, it’s amazing how many of these sites are hosted and maintained by guys in the Netherlands, just gently exploring their passion for, say, traffic cones. Here is one Dutchman’s personal obsessional guide to the wonder of plug sockets, “displaying an amazing collection of modern and classic domestic plugs and sockets from all over the world.” Leaving aside questions over the author’s use of ‘amazing’, this is exactly what it promises and I am glad that it exists.
- The Dunecyclopedia: The Internet Archive recently published the 700+ page PDF of the OFFICIAL COMPANION ENCYCLOPEDIA to Frank Herbert’s Dune novels – “The definitive companion to Frank Herbert’s Dune chronicles features articles by both scholars and fans that cover diverse facets of the history, culture, religion, science, and people of Arrakis”, according to the blurb, and whilst this is (from the cursory flickthrough I have given it – look, I read Dune when I was 11 and, honestly, that was enough) isn’t the most visually compelling of books, it’s certainly the place to go if you’re looking for the exhaustive backstory on exactly how the p1ssdrinking mechanics work.
- Frog Leap Studios: You may already be aware of the output of Frog Leap Studios – a YouTube channel run by Norwegian musician and sound engineer Leo Moracchioli, on which he showcases a frankly INSANE selection of musical covers, mostly performed just by him but occasionall featuring guests, where he reimagines various songs in various styles with a degree of infectious joy and enthusiasm that you can’t help but be charmed by – but, if not, this is absolutely wonderful and feels pretty much PURE in its celebration of how fun it is to mess around with songs and music and arrangements. Mr Moracchioli is a hell of a musician, basically, and there’s such an incredible breadth of tracks covered here that you’re almost certain to find something that you like.
- Circle Populations: Click any point on this map and it will calculate the population of the surrounding area, within a radius of your choosing. Which, fine, isn’t hugely compelling as a description, but I lost a good 5 minutes earlier this week trying to find the least-densely-populated part of Italy so I could plan my ‘when this is all over I am going to go and hide somewhere for a while where I can be alone’ getaway and so I figured you might find it useful too.
- Input Delay: I don’t quite know why you would want to play with a website whose primary purpose is to frustrate, but you’re reading this, so…Input Delay lets you experience exactly how frustrating it is typing on sites with varying degrees of lag between input and output – so you can toggle the delay between keypress and letter-appearing-onscreen to determine at exactly which point you nope out in frustration. I quite like the idea of applying this code under the hood to any website with a ‘contact us’ form-fill function, with IP location making it more unusable if you come from certain particular undesirable locations (ie North America), but I’m sure you can think of other ways in which you might deploy this.
- C0ckhands: Pictures of famous people with hands whose thumbs have been replaced by penises. I mean, that’s literally it. Obviously NSFW, but in a very non-sexual way (unless, er, you have a very specific fetish, in which case can I once again point you at this all-time internet classic piece of writing which I will never tire of linking to).
- Murlin: Ok, so this links you to the website of a photographer called Murlin, based in NYC and Florida, who photographs naked people. EVERY PHOTO ON THIS SITE IS OF AN ACTUAL NAKED PERSON – just so you’re fully-informed before clicking. BUT WHAT PHOTOS! Honestly, I think I love this – there’s something about the way they shoot the models, the range of shapes and sizes of people, and the insane lighting and colouring used which makes everything look like a sort of weird hypervaporware jpeg from approximately 2013, and reminds me intensely of that old tyre ad from the UK which used Venus in Furs and a bunch of fetish models to create what is still one of the most visually-arresting spots in UK TV history. Basically I think this stuff is unusual and interesting and idiosyncratic and, generally, fcuking great, and I think you might do too.
- Simutrans: I have had a somewhat-trying fortnight, professionally-speaking, as a result of having brushed up against the ‘gender-critical’ movement and feeling, thankfully at one remove, the intense anger of a, er, VERY VOCAL and VERY ANGRY group of people. So let me just point out here that despite the name of this site and its URL it is not in fact anything to do with the current, intensely-toxic debate around transgender rights and inclusion. That caveat out of the way, I can get on with describing what it actually is – specifically, a free-to-download SimCity-ish game which basically lets you play at building your own transport network. I have had a bit of a play with this and it’s a surprising amount of fun – you need to be more of an urban planning obsessive than I probably am to get the most out of it, fine, but if you ever played Transport Tycoon as a kid, and if you ever enjoyed SimCity, then you could do worse than check this out.
- Squabble: Wordle, but competitive and against the clock, as you try and solve the puzzle before 10 other online strangers all playing at the same time. Slightly-janky, but reasonable (if enervating) fun. If you prefer your Wordle battles to be one-on-one, you could try WarWordly instead, which creates individual puzzles which you can share with another player to challenge your spouse/lover/professional nemesis to vocabulary-based combat.
- Worldle: This week’s ‘riff on Wordle’ is this geography-based puzzler which I confess to having given up on after about 5 minutes because I am so painfully, embarrassingly bad at geography as to make this utterly impossible. Still, if you’re the sort of person who not only knows where countries are on the map, relative to each other, and the shape of said countries, then this may well be catnip to you (you fcuking weirdo) – the game presents you with the outline of a country and it’s your job to guess what it is; wrong guesses will see the program tell you how far away your guess is from the target, and in which direction, letting you narrow your search incrementally until you stumble upon, I don’t know, Andorra. Basically impossible, and I will fight anyone who suggests otherwise.
- Dictionar.io: This is basically the Wikipedia game (“Can you get from Hitler to Haberdashery in fewer than 5 Wiki entries?”, etc) but applied to language. Can you get from one word to another, in the fewest number of clicks, simply by clicking through other words contained in each word’s definition? Which, fine, is a horrible attempt at a description, but I promise that it’s explained better on the site. This is HARD, but in a good way, and forced me to try and think about words in a very different way to that which I’m used to.
- Shepherd: Finally this week, a tiny, 8-bit sheepherding simulator. Come for the meditative, shortform gameplay, stay for the incredibly cute ‘Baah!’-ing noises.
By John Wesley
THE CIRCUS OF TUMBLRS!
- Best of Reblogs: Tumblr, by Tumblr: “A bratty teenager at heart, Tumblr has remained the same hellsite you’ve always made it: with your faves, aesthetics, and fandoms, your blogs and sideblogs, your reblog chains and tag conversations. Some of you will have been here for The Dress and the ball pit; some of you know those as lore but only come here for the sexymen and, idk, bees, the bee movie. And you’re all valid. Throughout February, we’ll be reblogging some of the most iconic reblog chains from our time here with you to @best-of-reblogs.” This is a great little lookback at some of the…’best’ feels like the wrong term, but certainly ‘most iconic’ bits of Tumblr culture over the past few years. Man, Tumblr is great.
THE TROUGH OF (INSTA) FEEDS!
- Paperholm: The gorgeous paperctaft work of one Charles Young, an Edinburgh artist who crafts gorgeous little models from paper. Honestly, these are literally perfect and will tickle that very particular brainspot around ‘tiny things executed wonderfully’.
- Marble Mannequin: Incredibly-satisfying looping CG animations, which also tickle a very specific brainspot and which in all honesty I could quite happily watchfor the next two hours rather than finishing off this blognewslettertypething BUT I WILL KEEP ON GOING JUST FOR YOU.
LONG THINGS WHICH ARE LONG!:
- Class 1 and Class 2 Problems: I found this a really-interesting piece of writing about ways of thinking about problems or issues – the central premise is that all technological problems can be categorised as either Class 1 Problems (problems caused by the technology not working perfectly) or Class 2 Problems (problems caused by the technology working perfectly), and that this category distinction can prove a useful way of both assessing problems and attempting to find solutions to them. Kevin Kelly offers the following example to illustrate his thesis: “One example: many of the current problems with facial recognition are due to the fact that it is far from perfect. It can have difficulty recognizing dark skin tones; it can be fooled by simple disguises; it can be biased in its gendering. All these are Class 1 problems because this is still a technology in its infancy. Much of the resistance to widely implementing facial recognition stems from its imperfections. But what if it worked perfectly? What if the system was infallible in recognizing a person from just their face? A new set of problems emerge: Class 2 problems.” Of course, there are criticisms to be made – as my friend Simon pointed out over email, “If only problems were in isolation then this would be true. As it is, any problem such as the author describes are part of a system, so a Class 1 problem in one space might be a Class 2 problem in another, and vice versa. Rarely are things so binary, if ever.” – but I can see how this is a useful way of considering issues relating to negative externalities of tech.
- This Week’s Excellent Crypto Takedown: Fine, I appreciate that many of you will be BORED TO TEARS by any and all things crypto-related, and to be honest I share a degree of that ennui, but, equally, I do think that the amount of money sloshing about makes its ascent (to a degree) a self-fulfilling prophecy, and that as such it behooves us all to start to understand more about what all this stuff is, and, perhaps more importantly, what it very much isn’t. This is the transcript of a talk delivered by David Rosenthal, a software engineer and former Nvidia employee, in which he calmly and methodically goes through all the most-cited usecases for cryptocurrency and the unique benefits it confers, and dismantles them neatly one-by-one. I’m not presenting this as a definitive ‘crypto is rubbish!’ text, to be clear – as I think I’ve mentioned previously, I don’t doubt that buried within this stuff is the kernel of what will eventually become future global infrastructure to some degree – but it’s a very helpful corrective to the more bullish claims about How It Will Change The World Forever. Oh, and if you’re in the market for more of this stuff, this is a very clear, very sensible explanation of the void at the heart of the NFT goldrush.
- Noone Knows How To Build The Metaverse: On why the utopian Zuckergergian metaverse narrative is maybe significantly more theoretical than Mark and Nick and Sheryl (AND GAVIN! HI GAVIN!) might want us to believe – mainly because we simply don’t have the computing power available to us to actually build and maintain all the wonderful visionary promises we’re currently being sold about persistent better-than-life digital spaces which seamlessly-intersect with meatspace and open up fields of human experience that we cannot quite conceive of with our puny, pre-mataverse brains. Obviously it’s worth caveating this with some aspirational guff about ‘yes, but quantum computing!’, but this paragraph neatly-summarises the current best-projection reality: “Without a generational leap in computing, a lower-fidelity version of the Zuckerverse is attainable. Assuming users will settle for graphics somewhat better than Second Life was able to achieve a decade ago, it should be possible in the longer run to make something that achieves some of the goals, such as a persistent, internet-connected virtual world.” Does that sound like something you want? I would posit that like fcuk it does.
- Cashing Out in the Freedom Convoy: So, those Canadian truckers, eh? WHAT TO BELIEVE (here’s a decent overview, if you’re interested)? What is incontrovertibly true, though, is that the convoy has become something of a beacon for a certain type of libertarian cryptodude (HI ELON YOU MASSIVE CNUT! I don’t, obviously, expect him to see this – I don’t check, but I’m pretty sure he’s not a subscriber – but it feels nice to type it anyway) – said libertarian cryptodudes raised a bunch of money in Bitcion to support the convoy, and this VICE article very calmly explains the steps that are currently being taken to get the Bitcoin from the wallet into which it was collected and into the hands of various truckers. Now, take a moment to read this and then think to yourself ‘does this read like the future of finance?’ Reader, I would strongly argue that it very much does not.
- Making Marketplace: You might not think that an exhaustive account of how Facebook built its ‘Marketplace’ product would be interesting, but you would be WRONG. Oh, ok, fine, ‘interesting’ is perhaps doing a bit of heavy lifting here, but if you have any interest in product or service design or development I promise you will find this fascinating – as a look at how to think about product development, and how to overcome snags or hurdles along the way, it’s fascinating. Also I think it’s a useful reminder of why I continue to be broadly-bullish about Meta in the medium-term – remember that it’s not about how we use the service, it’s about how the vastly-more-numerous swathes of people in the rest of the world do, and it’s stuff like marketplace that continues to make FB sticky for lots of people for whom services like Marketplace are borderline-essential. Also, as an aside, much as I hate Facebook, I did get a slightly-wistful ‘wow, I wonder what it would be like to do a job that involves actually making stuff rather than one which seemingly just involves writing words to be ignored by other white collar morons just like me’ feeling reading this, which, presuming that you’re another white-collar waste of space just like me, you might empathise with.
- Facebook’s African Sweatshop: Of course, there’s also this side of Facebook – the side that protects profit margins by paying bottom-dollar for moderation and which seemingly doesn’t give too much of a fcuk about the strain it places on the poor humans doing the moderating. You know all those stories we’ve been reading for the past few years about the horrors of being a FB mod? Well turns out it’s even worse when you’re a Facebook mod in Africa, not least because you get paid a disgustingly-small amount for cleaning up the sewers in Zuckerberg’s Big Blue Misery Factory. If you’ve spent any time reading about Facebook, the specifics here won’t necessarily be wholly new to you, but it’s important to remember this at all times, I think – that the human cost of everything you use online is invisible-but-always-there, regardless of whatever investor-pleasing guff about AI gets spat out by Clegg, and that that human cost tends to be paid out of the global South because, bluntly, we in the global North prefer it that way. Horrible, miserable, shameful, but also true.
- Your Shein Returns: Not just Shein – I would imagine that the practices described here are largely similar across the fast-landfill-fashion sector, whatever noises PrettyLittleThing might be making about moving towards a sustainable, seconds-led marketplace (GYAC you think these clothes – the clothes you buy for a tenner – are made with longevity in mind? You think they will survive being repackaged and resold as ‘used’? Ahahahahahaha no, no they won’t, BECAUSE THAT IS NOT HOW YOU MAKE MARGIN ON A £10 TOP FFS). This article describes the reality of what happens to your cheap clothes, offered with cheap returns – which, basically, is often ‘landfill, because it’s literally cheaper to bin them than it is to attempt to reintegrate them into the supplychain. Look, I know didacticism is boring but, equally, I am old and I can’t help myself. Here’s a maxim to live by – IF YOU ARE BUYING AN ARTICLE OF CLOTHING AND IT COSTS £10 AND WAS MADE ON THE OTHER SIDE OF THE WORLD THEN YOU CAN LITERALLY GUARANTEE THAT EITHER SOME OF THE PEOPLE MAKING IT, OR THE PLANET, OR BOTH, ARE GETTING UNPLEASANTLY-FUCKED BY THE PROCESS OF SAID ARTICLE OF CLOTHING’S CREATION. Put that on a tshirt.
- Greetings Cards: A brief, not-entirely-serious, investigation into trends in greetings cards copy, and specifically whether or not its true that there’s been a significant degree of copy creep in card writing. I rather enjoyed this, not least because it made me wonder about the extent to which the fact that so much more of our communication is visual and shortform and shorthand now – memes and emoji and (if you’re old) reaction gifs and all that jazz – that there’s going to be a resurgence in personalised mid-form copy for stuff like this because, well, no fcuker will be able to write any more in a few years’ time. Which obviously is classic bullsh1t old person’s reasoning, fine, but equally feels to me like there’s a grain of truth in it somewhere – after all, as an observation I saw doing the rounds this week after that Candace Bushnell piece about earning $5k a month as a Vanity Fair writer back in the day stated, the fact that writing is now something that everyone has to do far more than we used to doesn’t seem to have resulted in people getting better at it (after all, 8k words a week of Curios over several years with no discernible improvement in the quality of the prose would suggest that practice very much does not make perfect here).
- TikTok Missed Connections: This is, fine, a Mashable article (sorry), but I found the premise interesting – people are apparently attempting to use the TikTok algo to track down ‘missed connections’-type strangers in real life, which is…well. First, that’s basically stalking, no? But secondly, I find the increasing extent to which algorithms are questions of faith, to a degree, fascinating. There’s something interesting in the idea of us placing so much of our lives in the hands of these incomprehensible, unknowable bits of maths, and of the willingness with which we do so, and the increasing degree to which certain aspects of our behaviour are defined by appeals to these ineffable…well, I didn’t want to use the word, but let’s say ‘gods’. Algorithms are the new gods. There, that’s my thesis. If someone isn’t already writing a not-very-good Masters’ dissertation on ‘The Algopantheon: Faith, Worship and Sacrifice in the post-Digital Age’ then, well, what the fcuk is wrong with modern academia?
- The Afterparty Party:I am not sure that I will EVER get tired of reading about terrible cryptoparties, and this one sounds like a doozy. There’s a lot to love about this – the horrid empty money aesthetic of the Hollywood hills mansion at which all such events must take place (by law, if it’s not Brooklyn it MUST be a mansion with an infinity pool and the sort of wipe-clean furniture that suggests booking by the hour for…specalist shoots), the frankly-astonishing description of ‘The Minting Room’ (can I just say, again, ALGORITHMS ARE THE NEW GODS? Eh? Oh, fine, suit yourselves), the staggering vapidity of…well, of all of it to be honest. Maybe I’m just jealous because I am still waiting on my invite to the Roman cryptoscene. DO’CAZZO STA IL MIO INVITO, STRONZI?
- Adriano: If you’re a football fan of a certain vintage, you will remember Adriano for one of three reasons; either his brief spell as the most terrifyingly-explosive forward in the game whilst at Inter, or his status as THE most unrealistically-overpowered left foot ever to feature in a videogame (PES 6, to be precise), or for how everything seemed to go very pear-shaped for him very quickly at a certain point, and how for a while he was the go-to example for ‘when footballers go wrong’, accused of drugtaking and excess and generally seen as something of a cautionary tale. This piece in the Player’s Tribune is his account of his career and life and what really happened, and it is a blast – I love these pieces, as they’re basically just lightly-tidied-up transcripts of interviews and so you get the cadence of a player’s speech and his vocal tics and mannerisms, and a real sense for the person they are. I think Adriano sounds like a lot of fun, although I don’t think we have much in common.
- How Many Words To Make A Mistake?: This is SUCH a good essay. William Davies writes in the LRB on the mechanisation of learning – specifically, on how we mark and assess students, how use of technology is changing what we assess, and, by extension, what we value, and the fundamental question of what it is that we are trying to teach people through education in the first place. I…I was not a good student in many respects, but I was a very successful one, mainly as I worked out reasonably quickly what the game was and how to perform quite well at it. I was fcuking good at passing exams (thanks, Satan!) but generally terrible at learning – which even at the time struck me as a cast-iron example of ‘systems with unexpected negative outcomes’, as I’m pretty sure the overall aim of my education was not to create the sort of monster who can remorselessly-fillet a text for content with little or no care for meaning. Or maybe it was, it’s hard to tell. Still, here we are. Anyway, I found this really interesting, although personally think that the main meat of the piece – ie what are we teaching when we teach? – might usefully have been explored a bit further.
- Suzanne: A profile of Suzanne Verdal, the titular muse behind Leonard Cohen’s song ‘Suzanne’, and a woman whose life has been entirely-characterised by her relationship to That Man and That Song. This is absolutely heartbreaking, and wonderfully-written by Lacy Warner whose own ambiguity about the ‘right-ness’ of even writing the profile in the first place makes the whole thing significantly more interesting than ‘just’ a portrait of someone immortalised in old song.
- Nico: Finally in this week’s longreads, another article about a woman whose life was defined by others, specifically men. This is another LRB piece which is SO SO SO GOOD – not just in terms of the way it tells Nico’s story (relatively unflinchingly; if you’re not familiar, it is not what you’d call a happy tale), but also in terms of the quality of the writing. I found myself pausing as I read to pull up YouTube clips of her performances and interviews – in particular, the scenes of her in La Dolce Vita are amazing, she’s basically like a human migraine onscreen, which I know sounds weird but I promise you you’ll see what I mean if you watch it – and by the end you have a picture of a quite incredible, difficult, sad person who got treated incredibly-badly by an awful lot of people (and who, no doubt, was not exactly an easygoing type herself). This is a tragic story, brilliantly told.
AND NOW, MOVING PICTURES AND SOUNDS!:
- I didn’t expect to enjoy this based on the first 10s or so, but then it charmed me entirely. This is by Jordana, and it’s called ‘Catch My Drift’, and it’s a proper good pop song which I like all the more for not having attempted the pop-punk styling that is tediously-ubiquitous right now (and I say this is someone who was roundly pilloried in 1997 for enjoying pop-punk a bit too much).
- Another one of those songs that I find and that I have no idea whether it’s already fcuking massive on TikTok – it’s probably fcuking massive on TikTok. Still, if you’re like me and don’t get all your music through viral clips, this may be new to you – it’s called ‘I Love This Song’, and it’s by flowerovlove, and it’s GREAT.
- Finally this week, I honestly thought this was going to be terrible – but BLOW ME DOWN if it isn’t a work of absolute stone-cold genius. Imagine how long it would take you to rerecord Radiohead’s OK Computer using only your own voice to create all the sounds on each track. JUST IMAGINE! Well you don’t have to – NO, STOP! – because this persona has done it for you and oh my god this is honestly incredible. Really, seriously, not in a ‘lol’ way – I am in AWE. You may be sceptical, but I promise you that after about two minutes you will be a convert, and you’ll be applauding by the time Paranoid Android properly kicks in. This is PERFECT, and a pure Curio, and a perfect point to end on because THAT’S IT THAT’S YOUR LOT YOU HAVE REACHED THE END OF THE INTERNET THIS WEEK OR AT LEAST THAT PROPORTION OF THE INTERNET WHICH HAS BEEN CONSUMED AND DIGESTED BY YOUR HUMBLE NARRATOR AND THEREFORE ALL THAT REMAINS IS FOR ME TO TELL YOU I LOVE YOU AND I MISS YOU ALREADY AND THAT I WILL BE BACK NEXT WEEK BECAUSE WHAT ELSE IS THERE OTHER THAN WORDS AND LINKS THAT IS RIGHT THERE IS NOTHING I LOVE YOU I MISS YOU I NEED YOU DON’T LEAVE MY BYE!