Hello! Have we all been enjoying the football? Have we all been laughing at the new channel? Have we all gotten over our Prime Minister once again being forced to backtrack on his overoptimistic promises but definitely, absolutely guaranteeing that that will be the very last time???
Good! Who says that collective experience is dead in the fragmented internet age? Certainly not here, where literally DOZENS of you are once again preparing to leap head-first into the soupy morass that is contained within my weekly tureen of words’n’links (can one have a weekly tureen?) to engage in the shared joy that is Web Curios; a lumpy, indigestible joy, fine, and one liable to leave you feeling weakened rather than energised as you come to drain the final chunks from the murky depths, but a joy nonetheless.
So before you prepare to strap on a kilt/carve a fresh cross of St George into your sternum ahead of the BIG MATCH, why not take the time to read some stuff on the web first?;if nothing else it’ll give you something to talk about once the game becomes a tedious foregone conclusion from about the 55 minute mark (and which pub wouldn;t be enlivened by a bit of chat about…er…*scrolls down* the applications of AR in industrial construction??).
I am Matt, this is Web Curios, and it could reach 37 degrees here this weekend which by anyone’s standards is TOO HOT.
(Oh, and as a small adjunct, I was asked to do a podcast yesterday and because it’s an old colleague I said yes – if you’d like proof that the way in which Curios is written is literally the way I talk and think then you can find it here)
THE SECTION WHICH IS SLIGHTLY DISAPPOINTED THAT THE PEOPLE BEHIND *THAT* NEWS CHANNEL DIDN’T DECIDE TO BRING BACK NEWS BUNNY AS I THINK HE WOULD HAVE FITTED PRETTY WELL WITH THE OVERALL VIBE OF THE STATION, Pt.1:
- The Afterlife Experience: We start this week with something that I found…quite hard, but very very beautiful indeed. The Afterlife Experience is a new project made by theatre/play/interactive experience company Coney to accompany the current performance of After Life, a play which starts a new run at the National in London in a week’s time – the summary on the NT’s site offers the following description: “If you could spend eternity with just one precious memory, what would it be? A group of strangers grapple with this impossible question as they find themselves in a bureaucratic waiting room between life and death.” And so, the accompanying web experience invites you to do just that – to think of the moment in your life, the singular memory, in which you’d consent to be trapped as though in amber, reliving it forever. The site lets you choose between two options – to take a guided journey into your own memory to find your own moment, and maybe record it for others to listen to in posterity, or simply to read or listen to others’ choices and the reasons behind them. Not going to lie, this absolutely destroyed me, but it is so so so lovely (and painful) that I would urge each of you to spend the 10-15 minutes it takes to do your own little mental journey, and then to take some time to experience those of others. You can call it meditation or mindfulness or self-care if that helps (you dreadful, dreadful people). Honestly, if you only click one link this week then a) who am I doing this for? Eh? INGRATES; and b) make it this one.
- Reverso Hybris Mechanica: Look, I know that not everyone is quite as enamoured of the shiny-but-pointless luxe website as I am, and I promise that as soon as this current spate of them abates I’ll dial back the ‘look at the amount of money they’ve spaffed on this sh1t!’ posts, but we’re not quite at that point yet. This is a site for a watch by Jaeger which has FOUR FACES! And, er, ELEVEN COMPLICATIONS (is that an actual horological term? Is that a good thing?) and which speaks to its maker’s MASTERY OF TIME! And some really, really small bells which, according to the website, will, at the pull of a small lever, ‘unleash’ a melody (there’s a wonderful disconnect between the extremely-mannered design of the timepiece in question and the…aggressive tone the copy strikes when talking about the sounds it makes)! As ever, this is all very funny as long as you don’t spend too long thinking about how much the thing costs – obviously this is a hugely-impressive feat of engineering and the people who make it should feel very proud of themselves, but, well FOUR FACES! UNLEASH THE CHIMES! Sorry, but it’s very silly.
- Remy Martin Gold Leaf: More luxe! What do you think is the very apogee, the acme, of luxurious decadence? Is it bathing in milk infused with pearl dust? Is it wearing only boxfresh trainers? Is it NEW PANTS EVERY DAY? No, it is none of these things – as the people at Remy Martin know (as do a certain subset of Come Dine With Me contestants), it is GOLD LEAF! Which presumably is why they have spent a not-inconsiderable whack on this website which, er, shows you a flake of gold leaf ‘flying’ through a variety of cognac-related locations (vineyard, cellar, etc etc) before landing on a bottle of booze to give it that truly high-class flourish that every true plute demands. It’s worth going all the way to the end of this just to get a feel for how spectacularly pointless this is – you click four times, see some stuff turn gold, and then get funneled straight to the ‘click to buy’ page. NO REMY MARTIN! This is not enough to persuade me to drop £200 on cognac – TRY HARDER.
- You Laugh You Lose: Nicked off B3ta, this one (thanks Rob!), and SUCH a nice idea – You Laugh You Lose is a really simple premise, namely a challenge in which you try not to laugh as the site tells you jokes and uses facial recognition to track whether or not you’ve cracked a smile or not. Not that hard, or at least not for normal people who don’t break into paroxysms when reading jokes off a screen, but a really neat concept that’s executed really well and which neatly-illustrates the brilliance of modern webstuff – the facial recognition stuff, which is the hard bit, is now all basically available as plugin stuff. ANYONE CAN DO THIS! Sort of, with enough imagination. This particular gimmick, for example, is an excellent one for, I don’t know, promo for a new comedy show or audiobook or something – I’m sure you can think of better ones – but the general point is that we can do SO many fun things in-browser these days, so, er, can we? Can we try and be a bit more imaginative with the stuff we make, particularly when we’re spending pointless, dead-eyed corporate money?
- Euro Probabilities: I would imagine all the serious gamblers amongst you have already put your children’s inheritances on the football already, but if you’re still wondering who to back (I am for the sake of this entry assuming you’re all DESPERATE to give bookies your money – to be clear, Web Curios thinks gambling is a mug’s game) then this site might prove useful. “The KU Leuven DTAI Sports Analytics Lab executed a statistical simulation to answer these questions. [Their] simulation takes into account the results in historical games to estimates each team’s skill level and predict the odds of each country’s performance. The probabilities are based on 20,000 simulations and will be updated after each game.” At the time of writing, the site has Belgium with a 33% chance of winning, but obviously Christ alone knows how accurate that will prove to be (it’s going to be France, isn’t it? ABE, basically) – still, as good a reason as any to yeet next month’s paycheck into Ladbroke’s.
- All The Passes: Another football thing, while we’re here; this is a really hypnotic piece of dataviz which takes information on passes made in high-level football (it combines a number of datasets from the past few years including a World Cup, a lot of the Spanish league, some Champions League data, etc etc) and plots them on a pitch so you can move your cursor around and see a visualisation of all the passes going to and from that point on the field. It’s quite beautiful, and it would be lovely to be able to explore this from different angles; if nothing else, I imagine a VR simulation in which you could stand at any point on a virtual football field and then ‘enjoy’ the experience of all the balls flying at you would be quite an intense experience.
- Portal Cities: Back in 2008, artist Paul St George created a videolink between New York and London – the London end was on the South Bank, and let passers by see and interact with people in NYC via mutual livestream, and it was SO much fun (and the whimsical steampunk way it was framed was kind of cute too, even if you sort-of hate steampunk as a vibe). I have basically attempted to suggest this at every single large-client brainstorm I have ever been involved in (I am so good at my job – SO GOOD!) with literally no success whatsoever, and so am particularly pleased to see that it’s being recreated in some small way by a team from Lithuania instead. Portal Cities does exactly the same thing, except this time the inter-city links are presented on Stargate-style circular portal-screen things, and the idea is that they will travel the world. There is currently one set up between Vilnius and Lublin in Poland, but the site says they plan to create links with Reykjavik and London in the future. This is wonderful, and I want these everywhere, permanently, please. After all, social media has shown us that being permanently-connected to other humans around the world is a really great idea with absolutely no disbenef…oh, hang on.
- The Netflix Shop: Digital businesses shifting into physical product development is DEFINITELY a trend now (to the extent that if I am saying it it’s probably practically over) – here is Netflix, branching out into merch to accompany its most popular shows, all the clothes and accessories leaning into whichever aesthetic the programme in question best embodies and generally acting as a nice bit of additional marketing collateral which won’t make them any actual money (at least not in the short-term) but will do a nice job of creating mythos and community around their content while also borrowing some cool by collaborating with buzzy designers. Annoyingly, some of this stuff is quite cool (also annoyingly, it only ships to the US at present) – although I am sure people said that of the Neighbours-themed purple shellsuits that were available in the 80s (honestly, these were REAL – they had the show logo in the famous cursive across the shoulders and everything), so perhaps I am a know-nothing style-bozo (I am a know-nothing style-bozo).
- Pr0nhub Remastured: More pretty superb comms from the clever people at Pr0nhub, who once again demonstrate that they are quite good at PR. This is (I presume) a way of gently promoting their in-house image recognition and visual AI tech via the medium of presenting a bunch of old-school bongo from the early-20th Century that’s been, er, ‘touched up’ (oh, fine, colourised) by AI. So you can watch the slightly-jerky movements of a pair of consenting adults from a century ago IN COLOUR! I would imagine that for the majority of us, reduced as we are to desensitised and barely-conscious meatslabs by the constant avalanche of highly-stimulating niche bongocontent we’re exposed to 24/7 (or that’s what it feels like), cracking one out to this selection of videos would be…challenging at best, but I have faith that one of you will give it a go. One small point – I get why ‘Remastured’, but the spelling makes the word horrible and, as Rishi pointed out to me, wouldn’t ‘Retouched’ have been a nicer name?
- August: I really like this – August is a new feminine hygiene brand which wants to talk about periods openly and honestly and with none of the coy euphemisms that tend to characterise the multi-billion pound industry that exists around menses. There’s merch, and a subscription offer (for once, this is an industry where a monthly sub really does make sense), and you can build your own box of period products to suit your needs, and generally this is SUCH a good thing – and the brand’s nicely-done too (if, fine, very much OF THE NOW), and anything that gets people talking more honestly and openly about periods is A Good Thing (fine, as a non-owner of a uterus I have little skin in this game, but as someone who was brought up by a single woman and therefore got used to popping out to buy tampons from a pretty early age, I have always been slightly baffled by the silence around this whole area).
- Jadu: Augmented Reality meets NFTs! The crossover we’ve all been CLAMOURING for! Jadu is actually an interesting idea – the platform wants to create scanned 3d visualisations – sort of digital AR holograms (they are not holograms, but, honestly, I struggle to describe this stuff so you’ll have to bear with me) of artists and creators doing their thing, which fans can download and place in-world with AR, and which are also available as NFTs to allow the artists to monetise said ‘holograms’ in perpetuity. You can read a thread here which explains the whole thing in slightly better detail – I like the ethos which positions it as a way of enabling the sorts of people who create dance crazes on TikTok, etc, to monetise their work, though as ever I am hugely skeptical of the future market for any of the digital assets that the platform’s going to create; is there really going to be a healthy resale market for an NFT based on a TikTok routine that went MASSIVE in late-July 2021 by the time we get to…well…November, frankly? Still, interesting in theory – the app’s iOS-only, sadly, so I’ve not been able to ‘enjoy’ the capering AR avatars myself, but do let me know how you get on.
- Free Your Bones: “Your bones are wet. Fix this.” Can someone please tell me what this is about? Anyone?
- Blankos: Another metaverse-y type thing! Blankos is a Roblox-style (sorry, sorry, I know that’s lazy, but it’s the closest comparison to hand) platform which lets users create avatars, play games together, design their own games, trick out their characters and, er, trade NFTs in a marketplace! There’s something quite bleak about this imho – it’s VERY shiny and feels very high-production value, but it also very much has the design and aesthetic of the sort of post-Funko Pop vinyl tat that you see cluttering up the end-of-aisle displays (or your favourite manchild’s shelves) and feels squarely-aimed at this market; the fact that the trailer on the website talks about ‘playing games with your friends’ and ‘toys’ and then adds in a completely-unnecessary and very ‘2008-era-XXXTREME CONTENT’-style ‘FCUK YEAH!’ in the voice over gives you some idea of who it’s really for (not children). Oh, and apparently Burberry is one of the early brands getting involved. Can we…can we make sure that this doesn’t win the metaverse race, please?
- GB Newswipe: So, GB News! Are you watching it? No, of course you’re not, unless you’re a journalist or media commentator, in which case that’s seemingly all you’re doing, tweeting out an endless stream of dunks and commentary and OWNS, all for those sweet, sweet numbers…IT HELPS THEM WHEN YOU TWEET ABOUT THEM FFS! Gah, look, I can’t be bothered to do the whole ‘is it important criticism of a right-wing media outlet or is it simply playing into their hands by giving them the oxygen of publicity they crave and turning them into a genuine talking point that is therefore worthy of discussion by other, more mainstream outlets and by so doing helping them gain a foothold in the news landscape of the UK?’ (GYAC IT IS BOTH) thing, so, er, I won’t. This link is to a site which lets you Tweet at advertisers which have been seen on the channel, asking them to stop – the reason I’m including it is a) because from a comms point of view it’s useful to be aware of how easy it is to set these sorts of things up now; b) because, again from a comms point of view, it’s important to remember that the people using these services aren’t necessarily your customers, and so it’s perhaps worth taking a more nuanced point of view on the import of such movements to your brand than ‘oh no some people on Twitter are shouting’; and c) because, honestly, looking at some of the brands on here, if people think the worst thing they are doing globally is advertising on a right-wing joke of a news channel in the UK then WOW will they be upset when they do some proper thinking about how modern capitalism works. Anyway, if you want to do some laughing at how sh1t GB News is, you could also look at this Twitter feed which is collecting the best (worst) of it – while you laugh, though, it’s worth taking a moment to think about who is paying for this channel, and why they are doing it, and what the long game might be.
- The Brimley/Cocoon Line Generator: You will remember the Brimley/Cocoon Line from Curios past (don’t tell me the truth about your memory of Curios past, it will only serve to upset me), of course – “When ‘Cocoon‘ reached theaters on June 21, 1985, Wilford Brimley was 18,530 days old (50 years, 9 months and 6 days)”, and the Brimley/Cocoon line is the point in one’s life at which one reaches this age. Using this website you can calculate the point at which you or indeed anyone else who’s birthday you happen to know will reach this exalted milestone – useful for very long-term party planning.
- Pattern Generator: Seeing quite a few of these around recently; this is a particularly nice little toy which lets you create pleasing, vaguely-textiley patterns in-browser which you can then export as tiles, SVG or CSS – super-useful if you do visual design and want to be able to spin up lots of different patterns and textures with relative ease.
- Team Halo: I really like this project. Team Halo is an initiative by the UN, in partnership with the London School of Tropical Medicine and other partners, which is working to fight vaccine misinformation online. Rather than creating a website and putting information on it and then hoping that people find it, the project instead recruits medical professionals from across the world and offers them training and guidance on making social content (primarily Insta and TikTok) which addresses commonly-held misconceptions around vaccines. Such a clever approach, and admirably light-touch; the content being posted is hugely diverse, and the lack of prescriptive aesthetic guidelines or content themes means that the doctors and other medical professionals involved can make stuff that they feel comfortable with rather than forcing themselves to fit into a template as defined by the project. Imho this is an object lesson in how to approach these sorts of things – kudos to the people involved, I am very impressed.
- Click Here To Save The World: Websites which ‘talk’ to you are nothing new, but I really like the effect they engender – creating a strange bond between user and site and a weird intimacy that you don’t feel with video. This is really nicely-written, and super-effective (it worked on me, at least) – if you’re in the business of trying to make people do, think or feel something (aren’t we all, dear, aren’t we all?) then I urge you to check this out. Thanks to Alessia Clusini for pointing it out.
- Uncharted Streets: One of my favourite ever London publications was a small magazine called Smoke, which was pulled together on a semi-regular basis over several years by various contributors before quietly disappearing. Smoke was gorgeous – eclectic and varied and full of odd, different voices that all loved the city, and who were given space to write about their favourite bus routes or the weird beauty of Penge high street, or London’s Campest Statues (one of my favourite ever semi-regular magazine features, that). Anyway, one of the founders of Smoke has started Uncharted Streets, which is set to be a series of pamphlet-books offering guided walks around various parts of London – Leyton has been written, and there are walks in the works for Deptford, Vauxhall and Brentford. I am basing this entirely on previous output here, but if this is halfway as wonderful as Smoke was then these will be ace – if you love London then you will love these. Fcuk I miss London.
- Fridai: No, it’s not a typo, it’s just a really stupid name. This is a fascinating idea, though, and a proper glimpse of the future (or, more accurately, ‘a’ future) – FridAI (AI DO YOU SEE????) is a voice assistant which uses voice recognition and language processing to help gamers and streamers interact with their machines without having to take their hands off the controls. So you can use voice commands to record your play, search for other gamers to play with, look for tutorials, and even, for certain games, activate in-game commands, etc – basically like Alexa but with a very specific usecase. Limited appeal, this – unless you’re a streamer running stuff on a very high-end rig, I can’t imagine this is either necessary or that it would work – but it’s an interesting look at how voicerecognition will be in everything in ~10 years or so.
- XYZ Reality: Cool and interesting technology in a boring setting is, to my mind, often more interesting than ostensibly more ‘fun’ applications of said technology – so it is with XYZ Reality, which is Augmented Reality for the MASSIVE CONSTRUCTION INDUSTRY! Not in any way sexy, fine, but as someone who’s spent the past decade or so being shown massively-underwhelming AR stuff by various vendors (remember Blippar? God, that still exists!), it’s so nice to look at something using the technology where I can absolutely see the use-case for. This lets engineers and architects plan out exactly where all the big pipes and boxes need to go (er, I am not totally comfortable with all the detail when it comes to large-scale construction projects, you may be surprised to learn) and then lets the people building the things see exactly where said big pipes and boxes need to be placed in the real world – SO clever.
- iOS 15 Humane: A nice piece of speculative UX/UI work, imagining what a new Apple OS might look like if were designed with the goal of helping people use their phones more sensibly and less like lab rats desperately hitting the foodswitch.
- Sharkle: ANOTHER ‘press the button, get taken to a random website which we promise will be moderately-diverting!’-type site (why so many of late? Has there been something dumped on Github recently that makes these newly-trivial to build?), this one with a strong skew towards little webGL arttoys like fluid simulators and the like. Fun, silly, pointless and as far as I have been able to work out very unlikely to link you to some malware-spawning bongo-horrorshow.
By Eric Yahnker
THE SECTION WHICH IS SLIGHTLY DISAPPOINTED THAT THE PEOPLE BEHIND *THAT* NEWS CHANNEL DIDN’T DECIDE TO BRING BACK NEWS BUNNY AS I THINK HE WOULD HAVE FITTED PRETTY WELL WITH THE OVERALL VIBE OF THE STATION, Pt.2:
- The BBC Programme Index: God I love the BBC (and not only because it has paid me money on occasion). Stuff like this – a new searchable interface for the BBC archive, letting you search for ANYTHING and get results from old editions of the Radio Times, listenable and watchable content from iPlayer…”Since its inception in 2014, BBC Genome has been a work in progress and we have introduced many changes and improvements to the website over the years. With help from a host of fantastic volunteer editors who have picked up on the small typographical errors that come with scanning and converting what’s in millions of listings into plain text, we’ve accepted nearly 900,000 edits that have been submitted to our listings. We now display four decades of the Radio Times magazine on the website and we link through to thousands of programmes on iPlayer and Sounds…Programme Index, like BBC Genome before it, is a spine of data – this time stretching back nearly 100 years. You can use it to browse nearly 10 million network and regional BBC radio and TV listings, including scans of the earliest Radio Times magazines, and to search more than 200,000 programmes that you can watch on BBC iPlayer and listen to on BBC Sounds.” Brilliant.
- Homesick Sounds: Remember a year ago when we were all still getting used to everything being shut and there were all these websites that cropped up which let you recreate the sounds of coffeeshops and the office and suchlike as a way of making you feel vaguely like everything was normal and not in fact going to tits? Well now that you’re all being forced to go back into work again by uncaring bosses (or, er, maybe rushing back to the office because you LOVE YOUR COLLEAGUES and stuff), perhaps you want to recreate the now-familiar and much-loved domestic soundscape of your home working environment – well now you can! Homesick Sounds lets you add all sorts of background noises, from children to lawnmowers to next door’s screaming row to your partner’s INCESSANT FCUKING ZOOM CALL…this feels like you could quite easily nick and reskin for some cheap and lazy branded content kudos, should you be that sort of lazy ‘creative’ (and I, to be clear, very much am).
- Ælfgif-who?: A newsletter by Florence Scott, a Leeds-based historian who’s studying for their Phd and who is writing this to share the stories of women who lived in early-medieval England (so between 550 and 1100 AD – no, I didn’t know that off the top of my head, no need to feel inadequate I promise). These are short-but-fascinating, and I have really enjoyed the archive which has taught me about racial diversity in medieval England and the history of the ‘real’ Lady Godiva amongst other things. Properly niche and stupendously-interesting.
- IRL: This is interesting – apparently doing reasonable numbers in North America at present, IRL is basically Facebook Groups and events without the horrible Facebook bit. So it gives you the ability to create community groups based around interests, etc, assign roles, apply moderation, arrange meetups, share calendars…all the things that you would do within the Facebook ecosystem if you were, say, 50ish, but which if you’re 20 you probably don’t like or know Facebook (the app) well enough to make use of. Nothing to suggest that this will break out and become A Thing, but I can sort of see the need for / appeal of something with this featureset that doesn’t rely on you being attached to the Big Blue Misery Factory for it to work.
- Come Internet With Me: This is the sort of thing I LOVE. Jay Springett is, I think, an advermarketingpr person who is pursuing this wonderful little project on their YouTube channel – in each video, Jay goes browsing on the web for about an hour with a different guest, talking about how they use the internet and what they find, and exploring topics and ideas around whatever that edition is ‘about’ (jellyfish, say, or tornadoes) and how we interact with and interrelate to the web and the browser, and how it shapes our thinking and our lives. It’s not exactly high-octane viewing, fine, but I find these sorts of personal explorations of how we engage with the online absolutely wonderful – I know that ‘video about the internet’ is a bit ‘dancing about architecture’, but there really is something gently-compelling about this (to my mind, at least).
- Autopilot: My immediate reaction to this, as evidenced from my notes, was ‘oh fcuk off’, and upon reopening the link it hasn’t really changed. Autopilot is designed to help you get off to the perfect start every morning, to help you remember to run through the steps that YOU need to create YOUR optimal environment to be the very best person YOU can be and oh dear God really? Really? Do we need an app with a series of checklists that we can personalise to take us through the optimal way to brush our teeth or have breakfast or take a fcuking sh1t so that we can ensure our day is PERFECT? LIFE IS NOT A CONTROLLABLE PROCESS IT IS SOMETHING THAT HAPPENS AT YOU FFS AND THE LESS YOU APPRECIATE THAT THE MORE MISERABLE YOU WILL END UP BEING AS THE LACK OF AGENCY YOU FUNDAMENTALLY HAVE ENDS UP WEARING AWAY AT YOUR SOUL UNTIL ALL THE SOFT AND TENDER BITS ARE EXPOSED AND RENDERED JAGGEDLY PAINFUL FROM LIFE FRICTION! Ahem. Sorry, that came rather out of the blue. Still, if you’re the sort of person who thinks that their life would be ameliorated by having a carefully-optimised series of checklists to work through before 7am each day, this may well prove a boon.
- Future: Or, ‘Venture Capitalists Try Their Hands At Tech Journalism Because How Hard Can It Be?’ Andreesen Horowitz, storied VC outfit and strong advocates for the technooptimistic viewpoint which suggests that everything will be just fine if we stop worrying our pretty little heads about anything and let the clever men with the big ideas take care of everything (and if you wouldn’t mind making the financial incentives for this a bit better that would be great too, ta), have grown tired of the endless and unfair sniping of the tech media at the poor, misunderstood geniuses of the valley and decided to start their own tech publication. So if you’re sick of reading reporters like Taylor Lorenz question exactly why something like Clubhouse can be worth theoretical billions when it’s a mess of conspiracy theories, racism and no-moderation, or why so much of Silicon Valley seems not to really give anything resembling a fcuk about the long-term implications of what it creates (HATERS!), this may be the place for you. Basically every article on here so far is of the ‘why that thing which stupid people think is bad [eg tech bubbles, financial speculation, billionaires, etc] is in fact GOOD, actually, if you are like us in possession of a superstar VC galaxy brain viewpoint’ – thanks, VCs! THANKS FOR MUNIFICENT WISDOM!
- Weird Food: “What’s a weird food thing you do that is actually delicious?”, asked cartoonist Jamie Smart on Twitter, and DEAR GOD PEOPLE ARE SICK. Honestly, read this thread and feel safe in the knowledge that however odd your own personal food habits may be they are NOTHING compared to some of the people in here (unless you are one of them). Strawberries and scrambled eggs? Scooping up melted vanilla icecream with salt and vinegar McCoys? This will be particularly good / bad for any of you who aren’t English, I feel.
- Paralives: An indie game currently in development, Paralives basically looks like The Sims but with a far greater focus on being able to make proper Grand Designs-style domestic architecture projects. You can back it on Patreon if you so desire, but even if you don’t fancy committing actual cashmoney to a videogame which will come out at…some indeterminate point in the future, I encourage you to take a look at the trailer because honestly it looks SO COOL and I could happily lose a day or so creating my perfect living space before spending an equal amount of time crying at the realisation that all my dreams are unattainable and it’s likely to be Barratt Homes all the way down.
- Smily Didgeridoo: English readers will likely only be aware of the didgeridoo for two reasons – either you came to it via now-disgraced handsy-art-lover Rolf Harris, whose antipodean stylings introduced an entire generation to the odd tones of the aboriginal wind instrument; or otherwise you had a flatmate at university who’d been travelling and had decided that a didge would be a GREAT way of simultaneously showing off their well-travelled nature, their musical chops and their creativity (they were wrong, inevitably; what it in fact showed was that they were a cloth-eared cnut who was both selfish and, objectively, tone-deaf). I had no idea that there were didgeridoo superstars, but apparently they exist and the fabulously-named Smily Didgeridoo is one such superstar. Smily is Japanese, and was apparently briefly YouTube fanous for having made a working didgeridoo out of a spider crab (history does not recount how the spider crab felt about this), but the whole website is ace and Smily’s sound, which combines dodge with beatboxing, is, ok, VERY CRUSTY but at the same time quite fun.
- The Submarine Cable Map: The latest in a long, long line of websites for things which, fine, are a bit boring but which through decent-ish webdesign become slightly less dull than they would have been otherwise (there really should be a compound noun for this, shouldn’t there? Where are the Germans when you need them?), this is a map of all the undersea cables currently crisscrossing the depths, designed by Telegeometry and sponsored by Telecom Egypt, and, look, I won’t pretend to now have a deep and abiding love for undersea cabling and a desire to learn more about it and maybe pay money to Telecom Egypt to fit me some undersea cabling ofg our very own, but it was quite interesting to see where it all goes, which is frankly more than I would have hoped for and therefore a BONUS SUCCESS! See, the bar is SO LOW with this stuff, a tiny bit of nice design makes all the difference,
- Clockwork: When thinking of ‘industries set to be banjaxed by the rise of the robots’, I confess that I hadn’t given manicurists a second thought – seemingly, though, they too are going to be feeling the cold hand of the automated revolution on their shoulder sooner rather than later, or at least they will if this is anything to go by. Clockwork is a brand of automated manicure, offering you a both-hands nail service delivered with machine-guided precision, all done in 10 minutes, for the price of $8 (is that cheap? I have disgusting, bitten nails and have no clue how much one pays to prettify them). You have to be in San Francisco to avail yourself of the service, fine, but if this stuff works then I would imagine it will become pretty widespread pretty quickly. So, er, if any of you reading this are nail technicians, or know nail technicians, I might consider retraining. Sorry.
- BBC Micro/Acorn Playback: This is so SPECTACULARLY geeky even by the standards of Web Curios and will only really be of use to those of you – ha! There will be noone who fits this description, obviously, but just in case – who happen to have a working BBC Micro or Acorn knocking about at home. You DO??? Amazing! In which case all you need to do is hook up your browser-enabled device to the audio jack of either machine, and this website will let you load a whole bunch of old cassettes onto the old systems, so you can play literally hundreds of games from the early-80s so you can, er, ruin your childhood with a clear-eyed perspective on how limited and frankly dull all said games were when compared to stuff you can literally play for free in your browser right now. Still, as a creative endeavour and engineering project this is undeniably-impressive and pretty much as close to a perfect Curio as it’s possible to get.
- What’s After The Credits: A site which tells you whether or not it’s worth sitting through the credits of a film for some sort of easter egg which the director may or may not have chosen to include right at the very end. Simple and useful and frankly the sort of thing they ought to include in reviews.
- My Bear Love: Look, this is very much NOT LIKE ME, but for some reason I found this tiny, pointless site – which features a bear looking sad in front of a rainy backdrop, which becomes happy and multicoloured when you click it – oddly-affecting in a way I can’t adequately describe. NO REALLY I’M FINE I PROMISE.
- The Bongo Tells: Or, to give the Reddit thread its full title, “Ladies: What is a dead give-away that a man watches too much porn when he’s in bed with you?” These are very funny, but probably significantly less so if you’re someone having to deal with this sort of thing on a regular basis. If nothing else you will feel VERY SORRY for the clitoris after reading a few of these.
- Welcome To Factus: A lovely piece of interactive fiction, designed to help promote scifi novel Ten Low which has just been published. It’s very well-written, does a decent job of worldbuilding, and has the slightly-dense and slightly-heady vibe of the writing in Disco Elysium (which, if you’re not familiar with it, is the best videogame I have played in literally years and which I recommend UTTERLY unreservedly, even if you don’t normally play games at all).
- DDD: Finally in this week’s miscellanea, this little game which requires you to get the ball into the hole by bouncing it off other balls. Simple, soothing, fun.
THE CIRCUS OF TUMBLRS!
- Cats Will Eat You: NOT ACTUALLY A TUMBLR! Still, despite the fact it’s built on WordPress it feels like a Tumblr, and that’s how we do taxonomy here at Web Curios (badly, it turns out). Anyway, Cats Will Eat You is work by an artist whose name I can’t quite scry from the site, but I like their style.
THE TROUGH OF (INSTA) FEEDS!
- Katrin Vates: Embroidered treescapes. The technique here is glorious.
- 36 Days of Type: The Instagram account of the (I think) annual project in which designers reinvent numbers and letters in whichever way they desire. There are some lovely examples of typography and number design here, and so much visual inspirations should you be in the market for such a thing (and who isn’t? NO FCUKER, that’s who!).
- Star Trek Design: Nice design, from Star Trek (that might be considered oxymoronic by some, but I’m presenting this without prejudice because, well, Trekkies suffer enough, don’t they?).
- Edvin Cindrak: The 3d animation displayed here is gorgeous, but mainly I am a fan of this person’s name – EDVIN CINDRAK! So powerful! I am very jealous both of Edvin’s talent and their excellent handle.
- Masayo Fukada: Beautiful paper-cut art by someone with incredible patience and VERY STEADY HANDS. I would love to see an animation done in this style, but imagine that there are not enough hours left before the inevitable heat death of the universe for it to be made.
LONG THINGS WHICH ARE LONG!:
- Theses on Techno-Optimism: I’ve been looking for a good counterpoint to the ‘this is the greatest day to ever be alive in the recorded history of humanity!’-rhetoric peddled by a lot of alt-right-adjacent people over the past few years, and this essay neatly provides it. It’s a superb critique of the idea of techno-optimism – not that it’s criticising the idea of being broadly optimistic about technology so much as it is criticising the idea of expecting technology to solve everything. In particular, it looks at the tendency for techno-optimism to lead us to ignore, or devote insufficient effort to, non-tech solutions to extant problems, because they are hard and messy and tend to involve people who we all know are difficult and unpredictable – why address the systemic inequalities that cause current income differentials when you can just put your hopes into a vague belief that we’ll live in a post-scarcity society one day thanks to *waves vaguely* matter compilers and AI! This line in particular says it all, and made me do a proper ‘laugh and then feel really cold and sad because oh God it’s true’: “At moments when social progress seems stuck, technology can provide an appealing alternative. After all, real progress on serious social issues can be slow and filled with backsliding, but over the last ten years the Playstation really has gotten better.”
- Four Americas: Ok, this is very long and VERY Ameri-centric; I do, though, think that by the end it offers some interesting parallels to the development of political discourse more broadly that makes it worth reading even for those of you not obsessed with American political theory. In particular, its characterisations of ‘Real America’ and ‘Just America’ as two new poles on the political spectrum can usefully be transposed across the Atlantic (and indeed to many other countries around the world right now) – while the tone of its descriptions can feel sneery, the broad points the piece raises about the intractability of difference that exists between these factional groupings, these ‘Americas’ which exist in parallel and in superimposition and in direct contact, and yet which seem incapable of dialogue, feel resonant. Read this and then think about the GB News thing again, basically.
- The Terrific Triviality of Twitter: Or ‘Why The Twitter Mob Is Nothing To Be Scared Of’, which is perhaps more true for the author than it might be for other victims of said mob, but which is nonetheless an interesting point on the twin illusions that Twitter perpetuates, namely those of numbers and consequence. The piece posits that the numbers of people who are angry at you when Twitter is angry at you is in fact vanishingly small, and that the consequences for those who are the subject of said anger are in fact never as wide-ranging or far reaching as they are painted as being, and that a better appreciation of both these questions would be of benefit to all of us. Which feels trueish, but at the same time equally feels like it doesn’t quite take into account the category difference between being ‘today’s main character’ and something like Gamergate. Also, the closing line depressed the fcuk out me: “Humans have never before lived in a society where everyone is getting yelled at all the time by strangers. But we’re in that society now, and we will eventually adapt to it.” – really? Must we?
- Why We Will No Longer Use Allyship or Privilege: This is a piece on the website of MA Education Consultancy, an organisation that exists to help organisations improve their anti-racist practice, which explains why they will no longer be using the terms ‘Ally’ and ‘Privilege’ in their work and in their language. Even if stuff like this normally makes your teeth itch, I urge you to read this – it’s a really good explanation of how language works in these contexts, and why terms that become canonical can lose their power and become counterproductive. Also, the points they make about ‘privilege’ being an unhelpful term with regard to the emotional reaction it elicits is, I think, a really important one. Really good writing in a space where you don’t always find really good writing.
- An Illustrated Field Guide to Social Media: This is VERY LONG and quite academic, but if you are interested in being taken on an anthropological/sociological journey around social media platforms, specifically some of the less-popular and discussed ones, to get a feeling for how community and communities work in these different spaces and how that is shaped by the platforms themselves, then you will very much enjoy and appreciate this.
- Rare Breed: I’m including this not because I necessarily agree with it and more as a warning as to the sort of inspi/aspirational bullsh1t floating down the LinkedIn sewer towards you. This is by a couple of people who run a consultancy and have written a book and are now flogging said consultancy and book with articles like this – the central premise of which is that actually, contrary to what we’ve been told over the past few years, businesses SHOULD let odd, unconventional geniuses just get on with it, even if it makes everyone else miserable and uncomfortable. “Rare Breeds value truth and individuality over conformity. They are out of the ordinary and outspoken, unapologetically moving in one direction while the herd moves in the other. Rare Breeds are the ones who realize visions other people insist are impossible. They rebel against business-as-usual and never let “the way things are” get in the way of “the way things could be.” Their nerve and imagination open up rich veins of opportunity for others. Although they can make some people uncomfortable by saying what others won’t, Rare Breeds also show up every day as the highest, most impactful, most honest versions of themselves, inspiring those around them to do the same.” Doesn’t this…doesn’t this sound like every ar$ehole who thinks they’re Steve Jobs? Doesn’t this sound like the worst people you’ve ever worked with? And I say this as someone who’s just about self-aware enough to know that this is, deep down, how they think of themselves, and who’s own attitude at work is, much as it pains me to admit it, very much ‘I’m special so I don’t have to do what you tell me actually’. I don’t think pandering to this sort of thing is a good idea. And despite what the article says, I don’t think that ‘asking people to wash’ is an unreasonable ask, however good the fcuker is at their job.
- The Airbnb Crisis Crew: A really interesting look at the bit of Airbnb’s business that deals with the mess when things go wrong – and they do, often. The reason you don’t hear about it so much, though, is that the company has adopted a (very sensible imho, at least from a corporate reputation perspective) ‘throw money it the problem’ approach, where if something goes VERY WRONG with your rental then they will spend whatever it takes to mollify you and make the problem go away. The piece looks at how the strategy emerged and evolved, and how it now works with the business operating at international scale – think about it hard enough and it all starts to seem quite grubby, it’s fair to say.
- A Definitive History of House: If you like House music (or techno, or any of the post-house derivatives with names that were faintly-ridiculous even when I used to go clubbing and now, at the distance of a decade or so, are just silly) then this insanely-comprehensive history of the genre, taking you from its Chicago origins through its various genre-evolutions encompassing soulful house and prog house and tech house and bungalow (NOT REALLY! Dad joke for you there, and I don’t even have kids), and with plenty of links to the music so you can listen to what you’re learning about. A labour love in scholarship, by Joe Muggs.
- Flying Cars: I first came across the exciting world of electric flying cars when I was working with VC firm Atomico several years ago – one of their recent investments at the time was in a company called Lilium, which is one of the brands named in this article competing to win the future of personal flying vehicles. Whether the future is flying taxis or private vehicles or a combination of the two, there’s a LOT of money and buzz behind the technology; I remember back in the day there was talk of Lilium supplying Vegas with flying taxis by 2022, though, so I’d also take some of the timescales being talked about in this piece with a reasonably-sized shovelful of salt.
- Staging the Iliad in Hades: This is less an interesting and well-written article so much as it is an interesting idea – a bunch of Twitch streamers and other interested parties are banding together to read the Iliad in-game, using popular 2020 game Hades (set, of course, in the Greek underworld) as a backdrop. I love this, mainly because i have a massive soft spot for storytelling and emergent play in-game – the whole thing kicks off on 20 June, and should be available on YouTube afterwards and I will try and remember to chuck it in the videos once it’s live. BONUS THEATRE IN GAMES: here’s someone attempting to perform Hamlet in GTAV with…limited success.
- Zola: You may, back in the distant past of Twitter when things were only 140 characters and the world was so different, recall a THREAD that went viral and basically made THREADS a thing, which opened with the now-iconic phrase “Y’all wanna hear a story about why me & this bitch here fell out???????? It’s kind of long but full of suspense” and which told the story of the narrator’s wild weekend with a fellow stripper in Florida. The thread was written by A’ziah King and it’s been made into a film, which is just gearing up for release having been snarled up in production limbo and then in COVID hell – this is a promo piece for the movie, and in all honesty there’s a bit too much Inside Hollywood ‘this is how the sausage gets made’ for my tastes, but King is a fascinating character and honestly I could happily read a longer profile of just her with none of the associated film stuff. It’s worth going back and reacquainting yourself with the story while you wait for the film, which honestly sounds like it could be quite a lot of fun.
- A Very Expensive Vegan Meal: I have no problem spending a reasonable whack of cash on a decent meal – I don’t have kids, I don’t have expensive taste in clothes (or indeed ‘any’), I don’t buy gadgets or tech or…things, really, so I feel OK about occasionally dropping three figures on a nice dinner (and wine, lots of wine). I confess, though, to seeing the price of this meal and wincing slightly – $730 for two without booze?! Are you MAD? Leaving aside the fact it’s vegan, that’s just an astonishing sum. Reading the account of the meal, served at New York’s Eleven Madison Park, you do start to get a feeling for the ‘reason’ for the cost – there are dishes here that require a couple of chefs to work for 8 hours to prepare, which require time and effort and skill, and you’re paying not just for the ingredients but for the expertise and effort that goes into making them sublime but, well, IT’S $730 FOR VEGETABLES, MARJORIE! I don’t doubt that this is a remarkable experience, and I am possibly only being snarky because I will never go and I am getting slightly antsy at the fact that I am now living in a city which, while blessed with some of the best natural produce in the world and a cuisine I love, believes ‘using parmesan rather than pecorino’ is the height of culinary innovation, but equally if the chef needs to spend an hour every morning seated on the floor grinding seeds by hand in a process that they describe as ‘very painful’ then maybe, just maybe, it’s not worth it.
- JFK8: A look at Amazon’s New York City fulfilment centre over the course of the pandemic, and how it can work as a microcosmic view of the company’s attitudes to its warehouse staff overall. Look, I think anyone who’s been reading Curios for any length of time will have a reasonable appreciation of how I feel about Amazon and Bezos, but leaving my own personal animus to one side I would urge all of you to read this if only because I think it’s very, very important for us all to have a better appreciation of how we get all these wonderful products delivered to us so seamlessly and quickly at the tap of a button, and what the human cost of this might be, and how brands such as Amazon have become very very powerful by hiding the thrashing guts of the machine beneath a smooth-looking exterior. It’s like that analogy about the swan – serene on top, paddling frantically underneath, except instead of frantic paddling it’s a mincer and the water is thick and bloody with chunks.
- Logging Off: This is a longer-form articulation of an argument Ryan Broderick has been making for a while now – namely that for all internet creators, the goal is increasingly to get offline as quickly as possible so that they can stop riding the content/algo merrygoround – this piece looks at three long-standing internet stars (Bo Burnham, Jenna Marbles and Shane Dawson) and how each of them has retreated from the performative side of social media, albeit for varying reasons. It’s worth dwelling on this as we continue to w4nk ourselves dusty with breathless talk of the creator economy – what’s the long game for these ‘creators’? It’s…mental illness and madness and horror, isn’t it, unless they can unshackle themselves from the flywheel.
- Turf: I tend not to include longreads from the Guardian in here, as I imagine that if you’re reading Curios you’re probably the sort of pinko lefty (LIKE ME!) who basically always has the site open and reads about 90% of everything they publish (filter bubble? eh?) – still, I’m making a rare exception for this, as it’s a PERFECT piece of Curios longform and is SO much more interesting than you might think a deep-dive into the world of football groundsmen (that is, the people whose job it is to look after the grass on a professional football pitch) would be.
- The High Crustaceans: Does getting a lobster very stoned indeed help make dispatching the poor animals any less cruel? And should we therefore do lungs with crustaceans before sending them to a buttery grave? All these questions and more are answered in this very funny (if not hugely scientific) essay which I swear smells strongly of patchouli oil.
- The King of Squirrels: Just to be clear, this is about animal trafficking and so you should avoid it if you’re of a sensitive disposition when it comes to the critters (NO SAZ DO NOT CLICK!). Rest of World looks into the trade in rare species taking place in Vietnam and other East Asian countries, profiling Phan Huynh Anh Khoa who built up and ran a veritable empire flogging tigercubs and sugar gliders and all sorts of other Insta-friendly pets across national lines. It’s a good crime yarn, but the underlying story here (as it often is) is about how Facebook pays about 10% of the attention to what is going on on its non-English/Spanish/French/German Pages as it does on Western language pages.
- Kip Kinkel is Ready to Speak: The name Kip Kinkel meant nothing to me before reading this – Kinkel was one of the modern eras first US highschool shooters, who murdered his parents and two fellow students in 1998 before being subdues and arrested. Kinkel is now serving time in a US jail – this article is a superbly-sensitive piece on the man he is now, the 23 years he has spent in various correctional institutions serving his time, and the question of the extent to which it makes sense to hand out life sentences for crimes committed by adolescents with mental illness.
- An Oral History of Planet Hollywood: Man, the 90s were a very silly time indeed, and Planet Hollywood was a very silly restaurant. Still, this is an entertaining look back at a time in which ‘Burgers, backed by Arnie and Bruce Willis and Sylvester Stallone!’ was enough to secure you international franchising. SO MUCH COCAINE is the overriding vibe here, to my mind.
- The Hype House From Hell: Fine, you might think you’ve read enough stories about hype houses and the horrible people who run/inhabit them, but I promise you that this one is the daddy of them all and, in Pete Vincer, features one of the best characters I have read all year, a man who if he wasn’t ostensibly real you would think had been made up by an over-eager scriptwriter who’d dialed up the ‘zany, out of control frat-boy’ character elements too high. This is ostensibly the story of how a talent house for podcasters, funded in part by Chinese media giant Ximalaya, went wrong, but really it’s just an excuse for increasingly insane anecdotes about Vincer, delivered by a supporting cast with an increasingly-wearly and disbelieving air. The writer here does a superb job of communicating just how tired of his sh1t everyone quoted is, but Vincer really is a force of nature who you will simultaneously sort-of-like (despite him being objectively appalling in every way) and never, ever want to meet in your life.
- In All The History of Wanting: Lishani Ramanayake writes for Guernica about her mother and her family and female desire and the control of that desire by men. This passage in particular leapt out at me, not least because my mother tells a remarkably similar story about my grandfather father in Italy in the late-50s: “I imagine my grandfather finding my mother like this, giggling as she spied on boys she was not meant to be talking to, her stick-thin brown legs finding purchase on the limber branches of the araliya tree. I imagine the force of his anger, the pinch of his hands as he pulled her down, as he dragged her inside the house, as he twisted one hand into the dark torrents of my mother’s hair and pulled, hard. The sharp slice of the scissors. “Nothing is more important than honor,” he would have brayed, spit speckled on his face. Eyes wild with fear and rage. And falling all around him, like soft, clipped feathers, my mother’s hair. How it tumbled from her shoulders and settled, with a sigh, on the marbled floor below.”
- On Aging Alone: Finally this week, this is a beautiful piece of writing by Sharon Butala, which I promise is less miserable than you might think (even if it’s not exactly happy) and offers a calm and rational and reasoned perspective on the particular loneliness of aging and its place as a necessary part of being alive.
By Chris Austin
AND NOW, MOVING PICTURES AND SOUNDS!:
- This is a very small song – it feels like something made for TikTok tbh – by a singer-songwriter called Thomas Porter, and it’s rather cute in a small sort of way, but the video really struck me; it fits very well with the music, and is pleasingly wrong, if you see what I mean. Give this a listen, it’s stuck with me a surprising degree.
- Last up in this week’s selection of videos, the best MC in the UK is back with another superb track – this is the inimitable Manga St Hilare with ‘Don’t Just Sit There, Do Something’ – turn it right up, bop your head and OH HANG ON THAT’S IT WELL TAKE CARE REMEMBER THAT I LOVE YOU AND WHATEVER YOU DO DON’T GET INTO FIGHTS WHEN WATCHING THE FOOTBALL LATER AND HAVE FUN I LOVE YOU HAVE FUN BYE HAVE FUN BYE SEE YOU NEXT WEEK FOR MORE LINKS AND WORDS AND EXISTENTIAL CONFUSION I LOVE YOU BYE!