HELLO I AM BACK HELLO!
Well wasn’t that a three weeks? What was your favourite bit? The ‘realising we’ve really, really fcuked things, planet-wise’ bit, or the ‘realising we’ve really, really fcuked things, Afghanistan-wise’ bit? Hard to choose!
My favourite bit of the Curio-less weeks just gone was neither of those – it was instead attending a (genuinely lovely) wedding at which one of the attendees got so drunk that they had to be escorted from the venue before the meal. It takes a special effort of will to drink that hard, but WELL DONE, nameless person who I shall never ever see again, you managed it. I am sad on your behalf that your memories of your achievement are likely to be hazy at best.
Now, though, all the fun and frivolity is OVER and I am back doing the serious stuff – by which, of course, I mean stuffing myself full of internet and then spending Friday mornings squeezing it out of me in what I hope are pleasing shapes and patterns. Gaze upon my informational scatplay, my pretties, and revel in its curlicues – I am still Matt, this is still Web Curios, and I imagine at least three of you have unsubscribed by now.
By Eric Kessels
THE SECTION WHICH HAS NEVER BEEN SO HAPPY TO BE RAINED ON AS IT WAS LAST WEEK IN THE UK AND WHICH HONESTLY WOULD QUITE HAPPILY NEVER EXPERIENCE TEMPERATURES ABOVE 30 DEGREES EVER AGAIN, PT.1:
- OnlyFansTV: Well who saw that coming? The news this week that OnlyFans is going slit its own throat by apparently ‘banning explicit content’ came as a shock to the world, but was sort-of trailed earlier in the week when the company launched its OnlyFansTV app – an app store-approved (iOS and Android) version of everyone’s favourite wanky parasocial superstore with, er, all of the titillating content removed. OnlyFansTV is literally that – a softcore TV channel via which, judging by the most visible content it’s peddling, you can watch a succession of people in their pants making burritos. Fcuk knows why anyone would want to do that, mind – I can’t imagine that the appeal of a show called ‘Coffee & Cleavage’, for example, extends much beyond 13 year old het boys in the brief window between ‘discovering their sexuality’ and ‘working out how to access incognito mode and pr0nhub’. Anyway, if you’re curious as to what OF might look like come October, it may well look like this – a graveyard of terrible content bereft of any reason to watch it! Of course, the terms of the OF ‘explicit content’ ban are currently very opaque, meaning we can expect an awful lot of tedious semantic wrangling over what ‘explicit’ means, while a whole new host of ‘put videos of you cracking one out online for profit!’ platforms spring up, many of which will doubtless be sketchy and exploitative and borderline-criminal! So that’s good, then. Interestingly, whilst the story being peddled yesterday was that OF was blocking bongo as a result of cold feed from payments providers and banks, and as a result from investors, the BBC is claiming that it’s a direct result of investigations into the company’s less-than-stellar record on moderation of illegal content. It’s the Love Island contestants who I feel sorry for – how are they meant to make a post-show buck now?
- Snapchat Trends: Hugely useful, this – trends data portal from Snapchat which lets you see, er, trends in what people are making Stories about on the platform, with a degree of local market granularity. So if, say, you want to track the relative popularity of Love Island (sorry, I don’t even watch Love Island so have no idea why my brain has decided to fixate on it this morning; I will find another tic shortly, I am sure) contestants over the course of the show, based on people’s breathless Story-based dissections of their performance, now you can! Obviously Snap data is less representative than Google’s, but on the other hand it’s a pretty decent window into what children are into and should be helpful when trying to pull together ‘strategy’ (God I really do hate that word) on how to flog more useless tat to children.
- Horizon Workrooms: So after Zuckerberg’s recent burbling about the metaverse and how Facebook is planning on ensuring its dominance over the next stage of human digital experience (no Alexander he – no way Mark is going to run out of worlds to conquer!), we get the first look at how that’s going to manifest itself. What are you offering us, Mark? A limitless digital playground through which we can embody our true selves and communicate unfettered by the cruel limitations of mere physicality? A new, true ‘third’ (or even ‘fourth’?) space for human flourishing? Or, er, an office, but in mixed reality? THAT’S RIGHT KIDS, IT’S AN OFFICE! Horizon Workrooms is now available in open beta, and if you have an Oculus 2 then you too can experience the FUTURE OF TOIL for yourselves. It’s worth watching the video embedded on the page, as it does a decent job of explaining how the software works and what it does – and, you know, it looks…good? I mean, not good – it’s work, and all work is awful – but functional, and I can see the point / utility of the whole thing (although there was a point in the video in which a headsetted woman was smiling, alone, whilst drawing on a virtual whiteboard which made me soulsad in a very specific-yet-unfamiliar way, which was…a newly unpleasant feeling) and why it might be useful. As was widely noted yesterday, though, there’s something so sad about the purely-functional nature of what’s on display – I know that things need to be familiar to be understood, and mapping the tools to the way work currently ‘works’ makes sense from a sales and onboarding point of view, but must the digital world so slavishly mimic the worst parts of the real world? Must it feel like there’s a water cooler and a sad, messy coffee station and a fridge adorned with passive-aggressive notes about milk ownership just out of shot? Metaverse? More like metaworse, amirite? Eh? Eh? Oh.
- Reminiscence: This is a film, apparently – or rather, it’s promoting a film – but WHO CARES about that? NO FCUKER (or at least not this one), THAT’S WHO! Instead, we care about the shiny digital promo-toy that’s been made to accompany it, which captured my heart at the point at which I realised that it is EXACTLY like a ‘your face in this internet video!’ promo toys from circa 2010 (the best of which was Lollipop, which I have just checked in on and which still exists but is now charging you cash to make it work, which, well, LOL!) but this time USING AI! You click, you upload a photo, and you then watch as the photo is integrated into the trailer in what is honestly pretty-impressive fashion – can we bring this back as a thing, please?
- Drama vs Reality: Regular readers will know I have something of a bee in my bonnet about how good browsergames are as a marketing technique, and how more mainstream brands ought to invest in them; someone at ITV has obviously been reading Curios (NB – it should be obvious, but, to clarify, I do not in fact believe that anyone in any position of power anywhere reads Curios) as they have followed my advice (see previous) and MADE A GAME! And, you know what, it’s rather fun – it’s a side-on beat’em’up in the style of Street Fighter (or more accurately King of Fighters, but noone would get that reference so SF it is) in which you can pick from 6 combatants (3 from the ‘drama’ roster, 3 from the ‘reality’ side of things) and face off in a series of bouts to determine…who gets to host the TV Choice awards next year, maybe. The best thing about this is the audio samples it’s peppered with – I am very bad at TV-based pop culture and so only recognised Anna Friel from the lineup, but I really enjoyed the squawks made by whoever Bobby Norris is as I used him to dispense summary justice to some pixellated actors.
- Bulwer Lytton 2021: I’ve featured the Bulwer Lytton contest for YEARS, so you really ought to know what it is by now – still, for those of you with short memories, it’s the annual contest to pen the worst possible opening line to an imaginary novel (inspired by, and carrying the name of, Edward George Bulwer-Lytton, the novelist credited (erroneously, turns out) with first committing ‘It was a dark and stormy night…’ to paper). This year’s selections are as wince-inducingly bad as ever, and I shan’t spoil the joy of investigating them yourself, but some of my favourites include: “He had never seen such a beautiful woman, he thought to himself as his blind date was being escorted to their table at the restaurant, although unfortunately he hadn’t seen her yet and was just staring at a framed photograph taken three years earlier of a famous actress standing awkwardly with the restaurant manager.”, and “She had a deep, throaty laugh, like the sound a dog makes right before it throws up.”
- Citycoins: There are interesting questions around how cities are going to have to adapt to a potential new, post-pandemic world in which working and commuting habits evolve, land usage shifts, and a recalibration of the urban environment leads to a shift in economic priorities and pressures in our more densely-populated centres. How best to address these? WITH CRYPTO!!!! That’s right – once again, someone on the internet is positing THE BLOCKCHAIN as the best possible solution to a problem, despite THE BLOCKCHAIN not once (ever!) having been the best answer to a question. As far as I can tell (and it’s not easy to work out what the fcuk is going on here), this is basically a version of bonds, issued at a civic level, but, er, ON THE BLOCKCHAIN! Want an explanation? Here! “CityCoins offer people a way to support their city and grow its crypto treasury while earning Bitcoin BTC and Stacks STX for themselves. Each city has their own coin, starting with Miami and MiamiCoin ($MIA)…With any CityCoin, you can mine it, hold it, stack it to earn STX, borrow it, lend it, and program it. Built on open source software, CityCoins are a new way for developers to create applications and experiment with innovative use cases. At launch, the benefit of CityCoins will be earning STX. However, CityCoins are programmable and will have additional utility over time. The possibilities of CityCoins become endless as cities one by one begin to #pickupthebag and communities and software develop around their respective CityCoins. CityCoins communities will create apps that use tokens for rewards, local benefits, access control (to digital or physical spaces), trading, lending, smart contract execution, and more. As one simple example, local businesses can provide discounts or benefits to people who show they “Stack for their city” by Stacking their CityCoins.” Except…except…look, lads, AT NO POINT HERE ARE YOU EXPLAINING WHAT THIS IS OR WHY ANYONE SHOULD CARE APART FROM YOU, THE PEOPLE WHO ARE PEDDLING IT. I mean, you could replace the word ‘CityCoin’ in the above screed with ‘MagicBeans’ and it would make literally as much sense.
- IMVU: ‘#1 AVATAR-BASED SOCIAL EXPERIENCE!’ screams the landing page for Imvu, and, well, who am I to argue? Imvu has apparently been around since 2004(!) in one form or another, but is currently making a big metaverse play (because of course it is!) – apparently 4million people use this regularly (which, frankly, I am massively skeptical about), so if you want to see what it’s like to spend your days in a sub-Second Life digital world with your own avatar and (of course!) a native economy which allows for the buying and selling of digital goods with real-world currency, then fill your boots. If nothing else, you might want to make yourself an avatar just in case this ends up being the platform that wins the web 5.0 wars (it won’t be).
- YikYak Comes Back: YikBACK, if you will (you won’t). That’s right, everyone’s (noone’s) favourite mid-2010s app has returned from the digital grave, and this time it cares about the safety and wellbeing of its users! YikYak, if you recall, was even by the standards of the day a particularly binfirey app – the gimmick is that it’s anonymous chat for anyone within a 5km radius of each other; which bitd equated to groups of schoolkids shouting ‘SUCK YOUR MUM’ at each other on the schoolrun every day, as far as I was able to tell, but which also made it an inevitable hub of toxic bullying with very few reprisals. The app has relaunched in the US (iOS-only) with a view to rolling out globally – the product is basically the same, but to the devs’ credit there is a significantly more robust section about ‘community safety’, and the community moderated ‘5 downvotes and content gets yeeted’ feature isn’t a bad idea – it remains to be seen if it functions as intended or gets enforced, though, as there seems to be quite a heavy onus on human checking behind the scenes which will struggle should this grow at scale. Good luck to it, but this feels like a series of increasingly-shrill MORAL PANIC headlines waiting to happen imho.
- The Internet Onion: This is near-perfect smallform internet art, imho. The Life and Death of an Internet Onion (to give it its full title) is a project which will run from 11 August to 14 September and which describes itself as ‘a perennial anthology about the possibility of love online’. Arranged as a series of ‘layers’ which the reader/visitor can explore either sequentially or in an order of their choosing, the website presents a series of essays, dialogues and thoughts about love, each in subtle relation to the others but equally functional as standalone writings; honestly, this is beautiful and I really enjoy the onion-y ness of it (you will see what I mean).
- Eros Magazine: Eros Magazine was, as the name suggests, a magazine about sex which was published for 4 issues in the 1970s. It is everything you would expect from a highbrow literary endeavour all about the meshing of mucous membranes, with, variously, articles with titles like ‘A Plea for Polygamy’, a surprising lack of naked photos (it’s highbrow, so there’s plenty of longform smut should you be in the market), and some quite staggeringly 70s-ish writing and viewpoints (special shoutout to whoever penned the headline ‘Love Among The Indians: A Sociological Investigator Discovers That WE Are The Ones With Reservations’, which even at the time it was written would, one would hope, have raised a few eyebrows). This is a wonderful relic of its time.
- The Identity Factory: A slightly odd ‘digital museum experience’ which is designed to accompany a real-life exhibition of the work of Hito Steyerl at the San Jose Museum of Art which opened last week. You move through a series of rooms in the classic ‘WSAD + mouse’ style, lightly-interacting with different elements to create a slowly-layering personalised visual experience which you can ‘photograph’ throughout to create a record of your own journey through the exhibit – my maths isn’t great, but there are several thousand potential different experiences you can make from this, meaning there’s a certain pleasure in taking the time to craft your own cyberpunk disco (which is basically what it sort-of boils down to). Have a play, this is more interesting than I have probably made it sound.
- The OpenAI Codex: This is so, so interesting, and is one of those ‘where tech looks like magic’ things that AI occasionally throws up. OpenAI are taking applications for access to their new product which (and yes, I know that this explanation is VERY shonky) basically works to translate text requests into working code via the magic of GPT-3 (or a descendent of it). So basically it will let you write things like ‘a calculator with scientific functions in cobalt blue’ and it will magically code a working version for you in literally seconds. Which, honestly, is astonishing – you can watch a demo of it in action here (admittedly all of the examples demonstrated are less-than-compelling from a visual point of view, but you can get an idea of the magic at play). It’s this sort of thing that I find compelling about the evolution of AI in conjunction with the metaverse chat; the possibility inherent in a persistent virtual space in which anyone can create anything simply by speaking it into existence is the most magically scifi thing, and it’s within touching distance. Which will be a nice distraction as the temperatures reach 55 degrees and our brains slowly poach in their skulls.
- ShlinkedIn: There were a spate of articles this week about how GenZ is ‘brilliantly trolling’ LinkedIn and how they treat the platform with the disdain it deserves – I would argue that if you don’t treat LinkedIn with disdain then you’re doing it wrong, but maybe I’ll revise that attitude next year when I am staring down the barrel of 6 months of unemployment and all the people who I have spent a decade calling ‘businessmongs’ on the platform are refusing to acknowledge my increasingly desperate offers to w4nk for pennies. Anyway, if you would like to openly mock the idiocy of LinkedIn but are too much of a craven coward to do so on the platform itself, you may appreciate ShlinkedIn, a frankly baffling website which seems to be an incredibly full-featured LinkedIn clone which exists solely for the purposes of people who want to spend time cosplaying as LinkedInwankers for lols. It seems…it seems like an awful lot of effort, if I’m honest, creating a whole profile and logging on to post spoof motivational screeds, but I suppose if you’re the sort of person who also enjoys Facebook groups in which you all pretend to be in your 60s then you may well get some kicks from this.
- Dumb Tshirts: A Twitter account (accompanying the subReddit of the same name) posting photographs of terrible tshirts, either listed for sale or, even better, in real life. There are some beauties in here, but the best thing I have seen so far is a bumbag sporting the legend ‘My D1ck Isn’t Tiny’ which, honestly, feels like a really powerful piece of clothing. Special secondary shout out to the 10 year old kid wearing a tee emblazoned with “I Went To Your Hood And Nobody Knew You!!”, which I am sure is a sick burn in some universes but not in mine.
- The Light Herder: A beautiful piece of artistic sculptural machinery (not a phrase I write as often as I would like), this is almost indescribable – think of it as a kinetic kaleidoscope, if you will, but it’s really worth clicking the link and watching the videos as it is SO soothing and really rather lovely. “This is part sculpture, part performance art, and may make the most complex video feedback ever created, using three cameras, two video switchers, a sheet of beam-splitter glass, and an HDMI input from a phone or live video feed. Much like a musical instrument, the operator at the helm of this device plays it, but instead of making sounds, makes entire worlds, spirals within spirals, loops within loops, galaxies, classical fractal imagery and primordial organisms, leaves, trees, and insects. It really is the God machine.”
- Paint Transformer: AI that turns your photos into paintings isn’t new, but this toy also creates a little gif of the composition coming together, stroke-by-stroke, which is very pleasing indeed.
- Sicktionary: B3ta’s Rob Manuel has a history of side-projects around off-key definitions and gags – Sickipedia (the Wikipedia of sick jokes) no longer belongs to him as he decided, understandably, that he didn’t necessarily want to be associated with That Sort of Thing, but now there’s Sicktionary, a thesaurus of euphemisms and colloqualisms for RUDE THINGS, not unlike a crowdsourced version of the (in)famous Roger’s Profanisaurus – should you desire, say, a list of 27 different ways of referring to male sexual dysfunction then you’re in luck (I just spat water everywhere at the idea of mournfully intoning ‘Blackhawk Down’ at a recalcitrant member, if you want an idea of where the bar is set here).
- Grids: A lovely piece of webdesign all about webdesign, Grids explores, er, grids! This is really, really nicely-made, and given the fact that grid-based design has been the overriding feature of hipster websites for a good few years now, it’s nice to read something of a theoretical explainer as to why they are so fcuking popular (but seriously, can we stop with the grids now please?).
- Potato Photographer of the Year 2021: Whilst this is obviously something of a joke, the winning photo in this competition is a legitimately great piece of art. Also, seriously, WHATEVER you or your clients do, start a photo competition! Insurance Photography of the Year! Actuarial Portraiture 2022! You know it makes sense.
- TypeScholar: Such a good idea, this – learn while you learn touch-typing, by using Wikipedia entries as your practice-content. This project, by UK developer Peter (one name, like Neymar – I like your style, Peter), lets you type in anything you fancy into the search bar, working your way through the entry as the software grades you on speed, accuracy, etc. If you’re looking for a free way to practice your typing (and might I respectfully suggest that EVERYONE needs to get better at typing, or at least they do if my growing irritation at waiting for people to write things is ever going to be addressed) and learn at the same time, this is literally perfect.
- GTA Geoguesser: You know those games that use Google Maps and Streetview to plonk you somewhere on Earth and ask you to guess exactly where you are to within 10miles or so? Well this is exactly like that, except rather than being placed in the real world you are instead plonked somewhere in Los Santos, the fictitious version of Los Angeles created by Rockstar for GTAV. This is momentarily fun, but, honestly, if you can get any of these right then you have quite possibly spent more time than is healthy playing this game.
- Unlimigur: PROBABLY NSFW CONTENT! This website pulls a live feed of images being uploaded to hosting site Imgur every time you refresh – if you want a scattershot picture of the id of a certain part of the web, this is IT. For some reason, all the thumbnails it pulls are very lo-res which lends the whole thing a pleasingly-shonky, deepfried air – be warned, though, there is ALWAYS bongo on here (or at least there has been each time I’ve checked), and I’ve seen Goatse twice so, you know, caveat emptor and all that jazz.
THE SECTION WHICH HAS NEVER BEEN SO HAPPY TO BE RAINED ON AS IT WAS LAST WEEK IN THE UK AND WHICH HONESTLY WOULD QUITE HAPPILY NEVER EXPERIENCE TEMPERATURES ABOVE 30 DEGREES EVER AGAIN, PT.2:
- Suupcover: A brilliant site which collects excellent album cover design from across the years and around the world for you to browse and take inspiration from. What’s great about this is that it’s designed to connect the artists who design the records with recording artists looking for people to do their new album design – EVERYONE’S A WINNER! The landing page asks you to sign up, but you can jump straight into the art by clicking the ‘want to take a look?’ button just below the fold; this is a lovely way of passing time (and if you’re anything like me and used to occasionally buy albums by obscure artists solely based on the strength of the cover art, a potentially great way of finding new music to boot).
- Playrole: Quite a large part of me wishes that D&D wasn’t quite such a cursed pastime when I was a kid – I would, I think, have really enjoyed playing it, but there was literally no way in hell that was going to happen at a comprehensive school in Swindon in the 1990s where doing things like ‘reading books for fun’ marked you down as a dangerous outsider who was possibly a predatory homsexual. For those of you who were sensible enough to not spend your time worrying about what the double-figure-IQ playground morons thought, though, and who embraced the Dungeons and the Dragons and who still enjoy a game, Playrole might be of interest – it’s an online roleplaying platform that combines video and voice chat with a whole host of quality-of-life improvements for playing roleplaying games (not just D&D but all sorts of other rulesets that I’ve never heard of before), including character sheets, maps, all the dice you could ever want…can someone teach me how to play, please?
- Scottish Agates: A Twitter feed which posts a different example of a highly-polished and aesthetically-pleasing stone from the National Museums Scotland mineral collection. You may not think you need this in your life, but I promise you that you will breathe an actual sigh of relief the first time your timeline is cleansed with some soothing agates inbetween people expressing their deeply-felt opinions about something which 5 minutes previous they had no knowledge whatsoever.
- Strofe: The worst thing about making videos out of stock footage for pitches and showreels is obviously having to pretend to care about the output – look, let’s be honest, it’s a corporate video, noone gives a fukc and noone will watch it, so can we all afford this the requisite degree of effort and attention which is to say none at all? GREAT – but the second worst is having to pick the musical bed which obviously has to come from a stock library and which HAS to be there despite the fact that the video will be played with the sound up exactly once and no more. That, though, could be a thing of the past thanks to Strofe, which lets you pick a mood and an instrument type and which will in a few short seconds spaff out an AI-generated composition per your specifications. A sad tune on the marimba? NO PROBLEM SIR! What’s even better about this is that the tracks are generated in a multitrack way which lets you edit them post-creation, so you can tweak in-browser before exporting. Honestly, this is SO much better and more fun than having to sit through ten different identikit uptempo tracks called things like ‘Business Energy’ or ‘Hit The Heights’ or ‘Shareholder Value: FTSE Remix’.
- Mecabricks: This is CAD for LEGO. If you don’t think your kids display a sufficient degree of design or engineering skill when making their misshapen creations (“Christ Jolyon, that’s not how an architrave works!”) then you may want to spend your evenings planning their ‘creative play’ with this – it lets you design INCREDIBLY complex LEGO builds on a grid system, picking your brick sizes and colours, spinning and flipping and placing them with remarkable ease. Whether or not you will ever actually be bothered to build your scale replica of Cape Canaveral after designing it in 3d is possibly besides the point – it’s the journey that counts, right? Possibly the most Dad link I’ve included in Curios all year.
- Lost & Found Nature: Given the slightly bleak news we’ve had recently about the fate of the planet, it’s nice to feature a site which presents a slightly cheerier picture – Lost & Found Nature is a site which features all the animals which we thought were extinct which in fact tuned out not to be (hi, splay-footed cave salamander!). “The “Lost and Found” project works to bring to life the inspirational stories of those that never stopped believing and whose passion led them to rewrite the history of the species they so deeply cared about. Our goal is to use the universal language of storytelling to showcase in narrative and visual format the most formidable rediscoveries of both vertebrates and invertebrates animals as well as plants from five continents.” This is SO lovely – the stories of the animals are presented variously as stories, comics and videos, and there’s a quality to the writing and artwork that you don’t always get with this sort of project. Also, thanks to this I learned that there is a creature known as ‘Bocourt’s Terrific Skink’, which makes me now wonder whether there is a ‘Bocourt’s Mediocre Skink’ out there, bitterly complaining that the other one is ‘nothing special’.
- The Debt Project: Money in America is a mad a terrifying mess – this website, accompanying a book of the same name, houses a photo project which documents that mess. “In 2013, Brittany Powell made the difficult decision to file for bankruptcy for her photography business. In the years following the 2008 economic collapse, she found herself in a significant amount of debt, a position many Americans across the country still share, a common yet isolating and private experience often steeped in shame. Her personal experience, inspired by the “We Are the 99%” slogan that came out of the Occupy movement, brought her to start the Debt Project, an exploration of the role debt and finance plays in our personal identity and social structure. This book presents an intimate look into 99 different lives: each shares an arrestingly honest portrait in the person’s home, surrounded by all their belongings, accompanied by a handwritten note of the amount of debt that person is in and the story behind the numbers.” What’s miserable about this is the extent to which it shows the insane breadth and scale of the problem – the whole gamut of American life is here, demonstrating that debt is for the vast majority of the population a simple reality of existence. Also, CHRIST some of the numbers are eye-watering.
- Loud Numbers: A podcast (so obviously I haven’t listened to it, but I have it on good authority that it’s very good) all about data sonification – “Loud Numbers is a data sonification podcast, created by Duncan Geere and Miriam Quick. Data sonification is the process of turning data into sound, and we take it a step further by turning those sounds into music. In each episode, we introduce a data story, explain how we sonified it, and then play the sonification we’ve created.”. I’m something of a sucker for data sonification projects – although I found this one earlier, which attempts to get people to create soundscapes for their personal spending and is possibly one of the silliest things I have ever seen, ever (WHY AM I GOING TO SPEND TIME INPUTTING MY SPENDING HABITS TO GET AN AUDIO REPRESENTATION OF HOW FCUKED I AM???) – and if you are too then this might be your cup of tea.
- Glass: Annoyingly this is iOS-only so I’ve not been able to try it out, but it’s getting a LOT of buzz this week and if you do photography on an iPhone then you might want to check it out. It’s A N Other attempt to create an Instagram-ish platform which is morelike Insta used to be before the video and the influencers and the reels and the stickers and the FCUKING HELL WHAT EVEN IS THIS APP MEANT TO BE ANY MORE??? The feed is chronological, there are no ‘Likes’, and the feed doesn’t even show the name of the photographer who took each individual image so as to, I don’t know, preserve the purity of the aesthetic experience or something. Photographers I know are almost universal in their complaint that getting your work seen on Insta these days is basically impossible – it’s basically become ITV2 on mobile – so perhaps this will be worthwhile from a ‘getting your work out there’ point of view.
- The Nikon Small World Contest 2021: TINY MICROSCOPIC CREATURES CAPTURED ON CAMERA! If you’ve ever wanted to watch a water flea giving birth (also, did you know that a flea’s offspring are called ‘cubs’? This is possibly the best thing I have learned all week) then you are an odd individual but one who will be made happy by this website, which collects the winners of the annual competition to get the BEST imagery of tiny things doing their tiny thing.
- Newsletterss: Being largely-offline for 10 days was instructive for a variety of reasons, as always (not least: wow, you can do SO MUCH MORE STUFF when you’re not compelled to spend three hours a day trawling the web for spaff!), but perhaps what it made most apparent to me was that there are TOO MANY NEWSLETTERS (this one, though, this one’s essential). Honestly, I think I subscribe to about 100 of the bstard things and that is a LOT OF INFORMATION. If you are similarly afflicted then a) why? This newsletterblogtypething is my excuse, what’s yours?; and b) you might find Newsletterss useful. This is a service which lets you basically chuck all your newsletters into one place, sending them into a single app and letting you keep them separate from your actual email. Whether this works for you, or whether this simply becomes another guilty oubliette into which all the stuff you feel you probably ought to read but definitely never will ends up falling, will probably depend on how rigorous you are as a person – personally I’m waiting for a service which automatically extracts all the interesting stuff from the ones I subscribe to into an easy digest for inclusion in Curios. So a Curios for Curios. Jesus, this feels unhealthy.
- An Incredible List of Musical Archives and Resources: If you’re interested in music and musical scholarship, this will be absolute catnip to you – Todd L Burns is the person behind a newsletter called Music Journalism Insider, and this is his Gdoc containing an incredibly-comprehensive list of links to third party musical archives and collections for research and discovery. From hiphop collections to the Irish Pirate Radio Archive (no, really, that’s apparently a thing!), there is something for every taste in here – very much worth bookmarking for the next time you fancy some undiscovered musical oddity exploration.
- Nestflix: This has been EVERYWHERE this week, so I will presume you’ve already seen it – in case not, though, it’s a very nicely-made Netflix spoof devoted to fictional shows, and shows-within-shows, from popular media. So you’ve got McBain and Itchy & Scratchy from the Simpsons, but also more obscure stuff like Boyfights from Arrested Development – if nothing else, it’s a good reminder of exactly how long the Simpsons in particular has been satirising pop culture.
- The One Week Cartoon Workout: I imagine that those of you with kids are anxiously counting down the days til you can once again offload them into the care of their teachers (consider for a moment what it’s like in Italy, where school holidays run from early June to mid-September, and thank your lucky stars you’re presumably not Italian) – if your children are of reasonable age and have a degree of artistic potential, you could do worse than looking at this as a way of keeping them quiet for a few of the remaining days of freedom afforded them. The OWCW is a week-long self-directed course to help you get better at drawing cartoons and comics, with day-by-day challenges and exercises which gently improve the student’s technique over the course of about 10-20h of instruction – fine, the downside to this is that you may have to feign enthusiasm for your 10 year old’s interminable new series of ‘Bum Man and Fart Girl’ periodicals, but it’s a small price to pay for a few days’ peace (apologies to those of you who have children and actually like and enjoy their company; I am aware that such people exist, but am yet to meet one in the wild).
- Solopsist: I can’t really explain what this TikTok channel does, but I do know that it is ART because it makes me feel slightly uncomfortable and uncertain and that’s what art is meant to do, right? Right? There is an obsessive relationship with payphones, and some quite Cronenbergian bodyhorror undertones, and the whole thing feels pleasantly unpleasant if you see what I mean.
- Blotter Barn: Growing up, acid was never quite enough of a thing to get into blotter art – I vaguely remember ingesting something that had Denis the Menace on it, but that’s about as far as it goes (now the stamps on pills, on the other hand…). Still, if you’re the sort of person who can wax nostalgic about that particular strip of Dougal-imprinted microdots you had that one Summer in The Old Times then, well, fill your boots! Blotter Barn collects images of acid art from Times Past – honestly, there’s a whole bunch here that look like Liberty wallpaper designs which makes me wonder whether there wasn’t some design collusion going on in the 60s.
- Make Cardboard Boxes: Yes, I know that’s hardly the most compelling link title, but this Dutch site lets you download templates for the creation of foldable cardboard structures in any shape you could possibly conceive of. Want to make a nice cardboard box in the shape of a heart for a loved one? HERE! Fancy creating the Platonic Solids in sugar paper? GREAT! Seriously, if you’re the sort of person who likes arts and crafts and homemade gifts and stuff like that then this will be GOLDEN.
- Fishdraw: Simple, but a near-perfect use of machine ‘intelligence’ (not intelligence) – procedurally-generated fish drawings. These are some ugly, ugly little bstards.
- Minimal Avatars: With all this talk of THE FCUKING METAVERSE (seriously in the running for the most annoyingly-overused term of 2021, which in the year that saw the popularisation of NFTs is no mean feat) I imagine you are all rushing to secure your very own personalised avatar to carry with you into the glorious persistent digital future to come. To that end, why not try one of these – Minimal Avatars are available in either static or animated form, and have a pleasingly lo-fi Cryptopunkish vibe to them, and you can download them to use across the web should you so desire. Were it not for the fact that I hate change and am convinced that my Twitter avatar is basically ME now, I would totally consider adopting one of these.
- Bauhaus Generator: Make your own Bauhaus graphic. Because anything those overprivileged early-20thC artbastards can do, we can do, right? RIGHT! These make lovely phone wallpapers, which I appreciate feels insanely reductive but, well, it is what it is.
- After The Tone: Oh my word I love this so so much. A direct descendent of old web projects like Found, After The Tone is a website which collects found answerphone messages, from the days when people listened to them rather than simply deleting them out of fear (noone leaves a message in 2021 unless they are trying to track you down for Bad Reasons, we all know it). From the ‘about’ section: “Since the late nineties we’ve been “finding” old tapes in thrift stores, yard sales, friend’s garages, or wherever we can, from all over North America…Out of thousands of hours of found (or donated) recordings, we’ve compiled the best of the best, and put them here to play at random. There is a lost story inside each message. Some of these stories are obvious, but you will probably find yourself playing an elaborate guessing game as you take them in. Some are pissed off. Some are funny. Some are pathetic. Some are beautiful and sweet. And it could be said that all of them are intimate. They run the gambit of the human spectrum of emotions.” Honestly, I could listen to these all day – there is something so so magical about these forgotten stories and people and the fact that it really kicks you in the face with the ephemerality of life and experience (or, er, it does if you’re me; less morbid people might experience different and less-dark emotions).
- The Space Juggler: What would it look like if you juggled in zero gravity? I have no idea and neither do you (liar!), but thanks to the YouTube channel of The Space Juggler you can get a vague idea. This is really, really soothing, as well as being mathematically really rather fascinating. This is gorgeous to watch, but also a very gentle way of learning about geometry and physics should you so desire.
- Type The Alphabet: How quickly can you type the letters of the alphabet from A-Z? NOT FAST ENOUGH TYPE HARDER! This is more fun than you think it would be.
- Cubic Experiment: Finally in this week’s selection of miscellanea, this is a VERY satisfying puzzle game which involves rolling a cube around a landscape, hitting buttons and trying not to get stuck. The animation of the cube is, honestly, one of the most soothing things I have experienced all year, which somewhat mitigates the frustration of my getting stuck around level 12.
By Ci Demi
THE CIRCUS OF TUMBLRS
- The Matchbook Archives: Matchbook designs from around the world, through the late-20th Century to the modern day (though obviously skewing 70s/80s). I do wonder about the sort of person who thought ‘yes, I will choose to carry a matchbook with a photo of a naked woman on it around with me as a symbol of…” – a symbol of what? Manliness? Virility? Uncontrollable horn? “I can’t enjoy a tab unless I’m thinking of breasts”? Again, the 70s – wow.
- Jonathan Burnham: Mr Burnham is 67 and CEO of Giantbulb Unlimited. Jonathan Burnham also doesn’t exist. This is very odd, but equally very pleasing, and was brought to my attention by Ryan Broderick’s Garbage Day newsletter – you can read about Mr Burnham and the other members of his fictional universe here, but there are seemingly half-a-dozen of these characters all interacting with each other across the Tumblrverse, cosplaying as middle-aged, middle-American small-c conservatives? Why? WHY NOT EH?
THE TROUGH OF (INSTA) FEEDS!
- Dead Pubs of London: As the bio says, charting the dead or abandoned pubs of London, one photo at a time. There are few things sadder or more sinister than dead pubs in the middle of housing estates or down-at-heel residential districts; the thought that all of these are going to be turned into awful exploitative flat conversions to rent out at 1100 pcm for a tiny room with an in-bedroom toilet is quietly miserable.
- Watching New York: Like the Sartorlist, updated for 2021, this account presents street photos of NYC – the gimmick in this case is that all the pictures are candids, taken with a veeeery long lens, with subjects captured au naturel rather than posing to be papped. These are BEAUTIFUL, and there’s something genuinely-cheering about the vibrancy and youth and diversity of the subjects.
LONG THINGS WHICH ARE LONG (AND WHICH THIS WEEK REALLY ARE UNIVERSALLY SUPERB, SO DO CLICK WITH ABANDON)!:
- Was There A Plan in Afghanistan?: I am not, evidently, anything resembling an expert in war or security studies, much less the theatre of the Middle East, much less Afghanistan specifically. Someone who is, though, is the War Nerd, aka Gary Brecher, aka John Dolan (it’s complicated), who has been writing about wars around the world for decades and who has been proved right about an impressive number of conflicts over the years. This is a piece that was published in May and which has been de-paywalled in light of this week’s events, looking back at the past two years of US involvement in Afghanistan and asking what the plan was and if indeed there was a plan at all. Honestly, this is so well-written and so cogently argued – I am not in a position to critique Brecher/Dolan’s analysis, but it’s hard not to nod along as he outlines the relationship between the Afghan war and that in Iraq, and the convenient way in which a quite staggering amount of cash has ended up being spent on the business of war which – now here’s a coincidence! – in turn has ended up in the pockets of a lot of lovely-sounding businesses. Probably the most compelling explanation of the sheer callousness of the whole operation you will read, and pleasingly clear-eyed about everything.
- The UK’s Illusion of Strategy: Writing for UK defence Think Tank RUSI, Professor Michael Clarke does a superb (and again, dispassionate) job of exposing the hollowness of the UK’s ‘strategic’ ambitions in Afghanistan. This is a very well-argued piece, which can in part be summarised thusly: “As a result of the tragedy in Afghanistan, Western democracies will take a big credibility hit in the eyes of the autocracies and the uncommitted of the world. It may result in more challenges to the status quo as the West’s adversaries test the resolve of a wounded US to uphold its ‘values’ when its own hard interests are not directly at stake. It is not difficult to envisage circumstances in areas such as Southeast Europe, the Mediterranean, East Africa or the South China Sea where new challenges might arise. If that begins to happen, policymakers across Whitehall should take another hard look at the Integrated Review and decide just how much ‘Global Britain’ can exercise independent influence at a strategic level.”
- Afghans Online: There’s been a lot of discussion of the ‘sophistication’ of the Taliban’s social and digital work this week – I enjoyed this WaPo piece which suggested in slightly hushed tones that maybe they were being helped by an agency, which made me think that the WaPo is possibly giving agencies a bit too much credit for being good at social tbh (although I wouldn’t be surprised if one of the really lovely little agencies that sprang up post-BP – people like these fine folk, for example – was involved somehow) – but more interesting to my mind is the way in which Afghans are working to wipe their social media profiles in the wake of the return of the Taliban, to remove evidence of collusion with the West or their interest in non-Sharia-approved things like dancing and music and the like. There’s an interesting intersection with the whole ‘Facebook has banned the Taliban’ argument here – after all, Facebook hasn’t banned the Taliban (Facebook doesn’t know if someone’s a member of the Taliban when they log on), it can’t ban the Taliban (it can only try and ban its propaganda), and it can’t stop the Taliban from using its platforms to find and persecute those citizens which it believes display beliefs antithetical to its rule.
- It’s Not Subtle: This is short-but-heartbreaking by Zeynep Tufekci, and imho says something quite true and rather saddening about the intensely-personal way in which we interpret tragedies in the social media age, with the visible suffering transmuted into currency until it’s no longer worth anything anymore. Tufekci writes about the Afghan Girls Robotics Team, a group of young roboticists who traveled the world as a piece of soft-propaganda for the way things were going in Afghanistan (girls doing STEM! Progress! technology!) and yet who have not, you may be surprised to learn, been the beneficiaries of extraction to the US. As Tufekci writes, “there are things worse than a world of superficial and performative caring: it’s dropping even the pretense of it, even for that few, even after that much publicity before.”
- Longtermism: I read this before I went away, so apologies that it’s now a few weeks old – if you’ve not already read it, though, this account of longtermism as a growing ; philosophical movement is fascinating; partly because it’s a batsh1t way of thinking (to my mind, at least; I remember skirting around this sort of stuff when doing my masters and even then thinking it was a bit out there), partly because there’s one screamingly obvious flaw in the reasoning as laid out here that noone seems willing to acknowledge (if you spot it, do let me know), and partly because once you read about it and think about the way than many of the world’s richest people are behaving it makes a sort of terrifying sense (not the thinking, to be clear, but the idea that said thinking is increasingly popular with the hyperrich). The short version of the theory is that we should treat human progress on a FAR longer continuum than we in fact tend to, and by so doing we should probably not sweat things like ‘half the world’s population or more dying as a result of the climate emergency’ because that’s a small and acceptable price to pay for trillions of us living us an infinite, post-Singularity existence come 2820. See, I told you it was batsh1t.
- I Know A Place: One of two pieces in here this week by Everest Pipkin, this one talks about their experiences in exploring Roblox, and why the platform makes sense to them as a space to both create and experience creations, and how it aligns with a concept of ‘the metaverse’ (sorry) which is about freedom of expression and discovery and the ability to move through ‘a Wikipedia of worlds’ (a phrase I have lifted from somewhere that I can’t quite recall, sorry), a little like the pools used to traverse realities in the first Narnia book. Of course, Roblox is also a massively successful business with a 9-figure valuation, and as such is also a hugely exploitative means of using child labour to juice your bottom line – or at least it is according to this really interesting video by Quinn Norton, where they explore the economics of the Roblox model and the way in which they market themselves to the child creators that make the bulk of the platform’s content. It’s complicated, basically.
- Axie Infinity: This is fascinating – before yesterday I had never heard of Axie, but this story spread like wildfire yesterday and it feels like something that is going to be used as a case study in all sorts of places for the rest of the year. Axie is an online game which is providing an income to a growing number of people in the Philippines, who use the game’s marketplace to sell items that they have farmed for crypto, which they can then exchance for real-world cash. I don’t know what to think about this. Is it hugely blinkered and unempathetic to think of people doing digital piecemeal work as ‘bad’ or ‘sad’? – I mean, objectively it’s hard to argue that this sort of labour is worse than backbreaking manual work. At the same time, the idea of a whole tier of society labouring collecting digital gewgaws for lazy, richer players to buy from them to secure in-game progress without putting the hours in feels…wrong, in ways that I can’t adequately articulate. This strikes me as a hugely-interesting test case, and an offshoot of the ‘creator’ economy which merits further exploration – there’s been insufficient thought given to the sub-creator layer, imho, and the digital industries that will grow bacteria-like in the wrinkles between innovations (if that makes sense. Does it make sense?)
- The Omerta’ of Consultancy: This is, fine, a bit of a sales pitch for the author’s agency, but the point that it makes overall – that consultants should feel an increasing sense of guilt for trousering cash from the companies that are destroying the planet, for engaging in and assisting with greenwashing, for turning a blind eye to the supplychain and manufacturing iniquities which plague every industry and mean that EVERY SINGLE BUSINESS IN THE WORLD is fcuking things up in some small way.This article massively overstates the importance and role of consultants, but makes some good-if-uncomfortable points about the conversations we should all be having around ‘less’ and ‘no, actually let’s not to that’ and ‘ffs what are you DOING the planet is quite literally on fire’.
- Selling the Story of Disinformation: A good piece in Harper’s on disinformation, and specifically the narrative that has been established whereby said disinformation is ALL the fault of the social media companies. Let’s be clear, they are very much culpable, but I agree with the central thesis that it is basically a very convenient scapegoat to blame Facebook for everything whilst not looking anywhere near hard enough at questions around people and society. Basically, blaming Facebook lets us continue to believe that people are rational actors when given the opportunity to be such – that doesn’t really feel true anymore, now that we have intimate knowledge of each other’s metaphorical opinionar$eholes and their unique bouquet, and perhaps it’s not helpful to suggest that it’s the internet that’s made us like this rather than thinking a bit more about the fact that maybe we were this way all along and we simply weren’t aware of it.
- Dead White Man’s Clothes: This is a depressing read – turns out it’s not just fast fashion that fcuks the planet, it’s clothing donations too! There are too many clothes, they are mostly tat, and much of what is donated ends up as landfill in the very countries said donations are hoping to help. “An estimated 85 per cent of all textiles go to the dump every year, according to the World Economic Forum, enough to fill Sydney Harbour annually. Globally, that’s the equivalent of one garbage truck of textiles being burned or going into landfill every second.” STOP BUYING MORE STUFF FFS being the overriding message here.
- The Sounds of the Subway: This is lovely and cheering – I had never really noticed that different subway networks around the world have different audio stings to accompany the closing of the doors (perhaps because London’s is an aggressive beeping that I couldn’t possible have imagined had been thought of for more than 5seconds), but it turns out that they all have their unique personality. Vancouver’s in particular is lovely.
- Whistled Languages: I very much enjoyed this article, all about how there are certain areas and cultures where whistling has developed to be an adjunct of language to enable people to communicate over long distances without straining their voices, but when it got to the bit where there weer audio examples of people ‘whistling phrases’ I confess that there was quite a large part of me which wondered whether this was simply an elaborate troll by the residents of the Canary Islands being profiled for the piece. See what you think.
- Bow Lips and TikTok: This is ostensibly all about makeup trends, specifically related to lips, and the evolution of the cupid’s bow into something more cartoonish and how that relates to TikTok culture. What it made me think of, though, was the perhaps underrated extent to which so much of modern attitudes to costume, makeup and personal presentation (including questions of identity) can be traced back to videogame culture – BEAR WITH ME HERE. Today’s <25s have had an entire life of gameplaying, regardless of gender, and as such are used to being able to choose their own avatars, to customise them, to change and swap and edit to their heart’s content how they appear represented in these virtual spaces, many of which they have shared with other people through online play. Why wouldn’t that extend to real life? Why wouldn’t you expect to be able to do much the same sort of identity and aesthetic shifting on your corporeal form as you would on your digital form, now that the tools are available to you? Everything is videogames in 2021, basically, is my central thesis (if you want to pay me a fat fee to do a really poorly-argued talk on this, let’s chat!).
- Small Vehicles of Tokyo: If you are not charmed by this photoessay – which documents the tiny, usually human-powered,vehicles which are used for local deliveries around Tokyo’s tiny and confusing streets – then you’re probably dead.
- Revenge Compositions: “For a reasonable fee, Mozambique’s Sam Chitsama belts out revenge songs about everything from cheating spouses to family disputes.” This is AMAZING, and I spent a good 10m thinking about all the ways in which this might play out in the UK. I would honestly LOVE this to catch on over here – the small-town teenage dramas of 100k suburbia played out over trap beats, “Tony’s a melt and Leanne’s a cheating slag” going viral in 6th forms across Basingstoke…Can we get the kids from Blackpool Grime a secondary career composing ‘sends’ on demand? Can we?
- What Mike Knew: This is quite a piece of writing. Anna Sproul-Latimer is a literary agent who (I am making a leap here, but it feels fair to say based on this article) quite fancies herself as a writer too. This is her tribute/elegy/weirdly-aggressive celebration of the life and career of her client, Mike Rose, who recently died. It is in parts very funny, though the style is a touch…relentless, and I don’t think I have ever read anything quite like it before.
- What Landlords Really Think: Linking to Joel Golby feels like a bit of a waste – I mean, he’s really famous and loads of people read his stuff anyway – but occasionally you get a reminder of the fact that actually he’s just a really good prose stylist. This is one of his ‘appalling London flat listing review’ pieces for VICE, but it’s also a really rather brilliant Bateman-esque analysis of the internal monologue of the sort of estate agent whose life consists in showing nervous 20somethings around borderline-criminal listings like the one in this piece.
- Soft Corruptor: Finally this week, the second piece of writing by Everest Pipkin this week – this is part-poetry, part-interactive fiction, and it is beautiful and masterful in its marriage of form and function (/pseud). Honestly, this really is exceptional and even if you don’t normally bother with poetry I promise you this is worth your time.
AND NOW, MOVING PICTURES AND SOUNDS!:
- This is a superb bit of AI-assisted video editing – Permutation City cuts together various parkour videos from around the world into a single, beautiful, flowing collage. Can’t be long before making this stuff is as easy as pointing an AI at a few TB of footage and pressing a button – is that a good thing? Unsure.
- Finally this week, this is new from hyperpop sensation Glaive – though the track put me far more in mind of the sadboi stuff of Yung Lean from a decade or so ago (whatever happened to them?). This is called ‘All Dogs Go To Heaven’ and it’s SO BEAUTIFULLY TEENAGE EMO (and a decent tune as well) – BUT PLEASE DON’T CRY I LOVE YOU THAT IS THE END OF CURIOS FOR THIS WEEK BUT I WILL BE BACK IN SEVEN DAYS AND IT WILL ALL BE OK AND IF IT’S NOT OK THEN AT LEAST IT WON’T LAST FOREVER I LOVE YOU TAKE CARE I LOVE YOU TAKE CARE I LOVE YOU BYE!