Oh God, it is going to be Truss, isn’t it? Why must the Bad Things keep happening?
Entropy, probably. Or just LIFE (yes, I know, THE SAME THING). Anyway, as another Bad Thing looms into view, so I come bearing my small, increasingly-pathetic grab-bag of words and links to hedge against the horror – see if you can’t fashion them into some sort of castle or shield or suit of armour.
Curios will be off next week due to my being in transit and getting back to London for the first time this year and having ACTUAL SOCIAL EVENTS to attend (given I haven’t spoken English to more than one person at a time for nearly a year, I expect all said social engagements to go swimmingly and in no way be an embarrassing car crash) and getting to see my girlfriend and her cat, so I’ll see you in…a bit. Til then, should you happen upon an ugly, emaciated man kissing the tarmac anywhere within the M25, that will probably be me so BE KIND (lol).
I am still Matt, this is still Web Curios, and I cannot wait to come home
THE SECTION WHICH OVERHEARD A COUPLE OF PEOPLE IN A SHOP YESTERDAY TALKING ABOUT HOW ‘WHAT ITALY REALLY NEEDS IS BERLUSCONI TO COME BACK AND SORT STUFF OUT’, WHICH MAY HELP IF YOU’RE LOOKING REASONS TO FEEL LESS BAD ABOUT THE CURRENT STATE OF UK POLITICS, PT.1:
- Get On The Dall-E Waitlist: You’re all probably on it already, but if you’re not then this week’s announcement that the software is officially IN BETA and that they were going to be onboarding another million people in the coming weeks, along with the news about them having opened the outputs to commercialisation, should be the impetus you need to hand over your contact details. This feels very much like a tipping point – noone I know has had a chance to play with API access and ‘making it all work with other stuff’ yet, but if I’ve had conversations with enterprising webmongs about ‘the Dall-E to on-demand sales and printing and shipping pipeline’ then it’s certain that other, far more commercially-minded people have also started doing this, and we are about to see the start of ‘press a button, get an artwork shipped to you’-type services and the beginning of the first ever machine-generated imagery boom. Worth pointing out that the cost per use is going up slightly, and whilst you do get a number of free credits per month as part of the beta you will also have to pay some money if you’re planning on making Dall-E your little digital artgoblin slave, churning out tshirt and bumper sticker designs for evermore. As for what it’s like and how it works? I mean, it’s witchcraft. I am deliberately going to try and avoid stuffing Curios with machine-made images as a) I think real artists probably need the exposure more; and b) there’s still an essential same-ness to the Dall-E created stuff which, whilst interesting, tends to a bit of familiarity/contempt after a while, but overall the experience of co-collaborating on making a picture with a responsive, fast-paced digital assistant is quite incredible, and I say this as someone who has never, ever enjoyed making pictures because I am so so so bad at it.
- Read it and Weep: I LOVE THIS! No idea what it is or how it works or who made it, mind (I’m not being lazy, promise, it really is that obtuse), but as far as I can tell this is a generative work which pulls lines from various urls, and presents them as pop-up bits of scrolling text which overlay on each other creating a sort of existential neverending COLLAGE OF FEELINGS and which reminds me a lot of (perennial Web Curios favourite and artwork about which I am aware I have rhapsodised too much) The Listening Post. This on a big screen with some dreamy music, a beanbag and some airconditioning (and, fine, maybe a bit of MDMA) = bliss, imho.
- BBC Rewind: THIS IS (one of the reasons) WHY THE BBC IS WONDERFUL! BBC Rewind (available only in the UK, so you’ll have to VPN should you be elsewhere) is an incredible new portal into the BBC news archive, which lets you go back in time across various bits of footage culled from the past 80-odd years of the network. “The Rewind website allows people to explore thousands of films from the BBC news and current affairs archive for the first time. This unique collection shows life and events across the UK since the 1940s” – you can search by keyword, by region, explore through suggested clips, or (to my mind the best thing of all) use a map of the UK to explore geographically, letting you see all the archive clips attached to a specific part of Britain and meaning you can, should you so desire, make yourself feel better about The Mad Horror of the Now by flashing back to 1977 and seeing how fcuked everything was then too (ok, fine, that’s not guaranteed to improve your mood, but you never know). This is an incredible potential timesink – I just got stuck for 5 minutes watching clips tagged ‘heatwave’, and particularly enjoyed this one about temperatures hitting the dizzying heights of 80-odd degrees in 1977, and tips on what to do if you’re not a fan of ‘the big currant bun in the sky’ (that is literally what the guy says).
- Otherside: So the big lie that is the metaverse continues to be spun, mainly by people with a massive vested interest in it becoming a semi-real thing as quickly as possible (such as Sir Martin Sorrell, lol Marty!). Still, I do think it’s worth checking in on the bigger, shinier projects in the area every now and again to see what they look like and how they are developing – the caveat here, of course, is that this particular one (Otherside) is the metaversal offshoot of Yuga Labs, the ape people, who as regular readers know I have some potential issues with, so consider this a dispassionate look at what it is (or, more realistically, or what it seems to want to promise to be) rather than any sort of endorsement. Anyway, Otherside is one of the more fleshed-out examples of ‘We have a roadmap!’ out there at the moment, and last weekend saw the first demos of its platform which the developers say is going to enable literally-thousands of users to share virtual space together with reasonably-low-latency interactions, and allow for large-scale interoperability – which, objectively, is no small thing, given current multiplayer experiences tend to top out around the ‘several hundred simultaneous users’ mark. As for what players will eventually be able to do…well, that’s less clear. There’s the usual guff about COMMUNITY, significantly less guff about NFTs than you might expect, but, crucially, not that much detail about what buying a plot of virtual land (your minimum stake for access to the platform) will actually get you – still, it looks very shiny, and it’s objectively-interesting to see actual, semi-real, semi-playable stuff emerge from the stinking morass of ‘WE HAVE A PIPELINE!’ NFT-to-game non-projects. I just wish that a) this had nothing to do with NFTs; and b) it had nothing to do with the ape people.
- Futurecube: It may be that the past week and its slightly-punchy weather has left you feeling a touch less confident than you might previously have been about the future of our planet (and, er, if not, why not? LOOK AT ALL THIS FFS!), then perhaps you will find FUTURECUBE reassuring. I don’t entirely understand what it is – it’s definitely the website for Japanese company The Kubota Corporation, but the whole ‘cube’ thing is somewhat baffling to me – but it seems designed to reassure, with lots of hopeful and shiny graphics about how technology (and, specifically, technology purchased from this specific company) will make it all ok. This is, at its heart, a website to sell the services of a high-tech agro-industrial business with a bit of green gloss, fine, but it’s also SO nicely-made, and SO shiny, and so utterly, bizarrely out of step with What It Feels Like To Be Alive Right Now in its general clean lines and hopefulness and tech-utopian CG style that it almost made me feel like everything was going to be ok. My only slight criticism is that it’s significantly less like TimeCube than the name had initially made me hope, but I suppose you can’t have everything (or, it seems, really anything at all).
- AI Video Editing: Now that we’re all broadly ok with the fact that the designers and photoshoppers and writers are all about to be swept into obsolescence by the AI tsunami (we are all ok with that, aren’t we? Because, well, if not then I have some bad news), it’s time to take a moment to think about what other professions might be about to receive some ‘helpful assistance from smarter automation tools’ (COMING FOR YOUR JOBS). In this case it’s the turn of the video editors to look nervously over their shoulders and pine for the days when you needed to be able to run AVID across two monitors to do anything at all (real heads will know) – this clip, shared by Nathalie Gordon on Twitter and arriving to me via Rob’s newsletter, is a terrifying example of how machine vision can frame match and edit with pretty impressive results. Watch this parkour clip, in which each frame of the runner through the city has been replaced by another frame from another unrelated video where the individual’s body position broadly matches that of the target actor (look, it will make more sense when you click the link, I promise), and just think about what this stuff will be able to do in ~24m time.
- Wind: Thanks to Lee for sending this to me – in a week in which, even by the standards of the English, the weather has been a HOT TOPIC (lol) of conversation, this rather lovely website feels appropriate. Windy isn’t the first ‘look, here’s a visualisation of current wind patterns and weather formations taken from live satellite data!’ website I’ve featured, but it’s one of the prettier ones I’ve seen and there’s something almost tranquil about staring at the tiny arrows failing to move about the dead-aired tomb that is the city in which you live (Rome, I love you, but you are too hot and you smell of slow-cooking rubbish all the time and I haven’t slept properly in weeks and I think there may now be a permanent sweat-me outlined on the mattress). It’s also a very good tool for helping you work out places where you are currently grateful not to be – Turkmenistan looks like a particularly unpleasant vibe right now, for example.
- Pottery: Oh God this is VERY SOOTHING – put an icepack on, chuck The Righteous Brothers on and Swayze yourself into oblivion (I am sure that there are other pottery references that one could make, but it is too hot for me to think of them, sorry). “Pottery is one of the oldest human inventions, with first appearances more than 20,000 years ago. This project makes the process of designing such objects accessible through a digital medium, using Three.js. You can modify an existing design or create one from scratch and export your design to an STL file for 3D printing.” This really is fun to play with – I do wonder whether 3d printers for ceramics are cheap/functional enough to make a ‘this to a 3d printer’ on-demand pipeline viable? I for one quite like the idea of being able to dick around online and then get a 3d printed bit of bespoke pottery sent to me which I can finish/decorate how I please. That said, it would also inevitably lead to a glut of newly-minted decorative cocknballs (you know it, I know it, let’s just admit it and move on), so perhaps this lacuna is for the best.
- Cats Watch Stray: ‘Stray’, for those of you unaware, is a game which launched this week on most major platforms and which features a cat, which you the player have to guide through a future landscape in search of…some videogamey mcguffin or another. It’s meant to be a lot of fun, but the real draw is the fact that you play as the aforementioned feline, and a lot of work has gone into making the player’s avatar suitably and realistically-feline – you can do stuff like knock things off tables, make biscuits on furniture, have a kip, all the good stuff that cats do – to the extent that it appears that real-life cats very much enjoy watching their digital counterparts doing their thing. Hene this Twitter account, which shares images and clips of cats watching digital cats – which, honestly, if you’re a cat lover is just cute. If you don’t like cats, maybe skip this one (and know that I like you less than I did 2 seconds ago).
- Re-AOL: Are you SO nostalgic about the AOL era of chatrooms and dial-up that you want to pay a monthly fee to someone so that you can time capsule your way back to that era, when everything made sense and you still had your own hair and a working recent memory of what your shoes look like? I mean, you probably don’t, do you, and yet here we are. Re-AOL is a Patreon project which describes itself as “a nostalgic return to the youth of the 90s’, and the online community that sparked a copious amount of young adults’ interests in software development. America Online was one of the foundations that started many on their paths into the computer sciences. And so I embark on a journey to [re]animate/[re]vive/[re]turn AOL® by writing a server, from scratch, using resources found all over the internet – while also learning Python.“ In fairness to the person who’s making this, the entry-level support tier to get access is the very-reasonable sum of $1 per month which seems affordable and a small price to pay for the opportunity to chat with a bunch of similarly-nostalgic middle-aged people about how the internet was loads better when you could just type ‘a/s/l?’ into a chat window and within minutes receive a poorly-spelled digital handjob from a stranger.
- 35mm: Seeing as the bottom appears to be falling out of the streaming marketplace as we all come to the collective realisation that Netflix hasn’t actually made more than 6 decent shows in the past decade, and that £30 a month on various mediocre entertainment services is probably not a good use of your money in a world in which you’re being asked to remortgage for Lurpak, maybe it’s time to cast the net a little wider in search of new entertainments to Soma ourselves with. 35mm is a great resource, compiled and presented by the Polish Film Institute, which presents “160 feature films, 71 documentaries, 474 animated films, including 10 full-length animated films”, and over 4,000 pieces of video in total, all streamable for free, and all available in English too for those of us too ignorant to speak Polish. This is AMAZING – such an incredible cultural gift (parenthetically, made possible by European Union funding – I know, I know, but I can’t help but be bitter all over again when I see stuff like this), and definitely worth bookmarking if you feel you’ve got to the end of watching Ryan/Chris/Chris/Chris gurn charismatically at you on the other platforms. I obviously have no idea what any of this stuff is like, but, come on, read this description of one movie picked at random and tell me it doesn’t sound great: “Johnny Pollack, a hired killer gets a contract from the Chicago Mafia. He is to eliminate a gangster of Russian origin who fled to the USSR after he defrauded the mafia by selling alcohol. Pollack reaches Odessa by ship, claiming to be a professor of entomology.“ Who doesn’t want to watch a film about an assassin masquerading as an insect expert? NO FCUKER, that’s who!
- Radical Desire: A brilliant, fascinating archive of materials relating to On Our Backs magazine, a lesbian publication from 80s San Francisco. “On Our Backs magazine launched in San Francisco in 1984 promising, per the tagline on the cover, “entertainment for the adventurous lesbian.” The title On Our Backs referred, tongue-in-cheek, to off our backs, a radical feminist newspaper whose anti-pornography stance situated it on the opposing side in the feminist sex wars of that decade. The women of On Our Backs set out to challenge a narrative of victimization and to create pornography on their own terms. Taboo-breaking sex, stereotype-breaking women, so-called “vanilla” traditional lesbian sex and romance, and other forms of lesbian intimacy all had room within the pages of On Our Backs. It was the first glossy magazine in the United States to reflect, cater to, and celebrate lesbian sexuality, and its editorials embraced the view that sexual fantasies and pleasurable, consensual sex could never be “anti-feminist.” The photographic images on the cover and throughout were central to delivering on the magazine’s promise of sexual content for lesbians. The photography also created the greatest difficulties for the magazine’s circulation, at a moment when many feminist leaders decried pornographic photographs and film as a form of violence against women. This exhibition presents original photographs created for On Our Backs during its first decade. Made by staffers and freelancers, professionals and amateurs, members of the magazine’s inner circle and its far-flung readership, they convey the fantasies, imagination, humor, rigor, radicalism, political engagement, and ethos of community building and inclusion that defined On Our Backs and made it a touchstone in the queer press.” A wonderful collection with some great photography and a proper piece of lesbian history.
- Long-term Abusers of Wikipedia: Wikipedians – and I mean this with great affection, some (well, a couple) of my friends are Wikipedians! – are an odd bunch, dedicating so much time and effort to unpaid labour about very specific and very niche topics, and often expending huge amounts of energy debating what, to the outside world, often seem like…minor points of fact in the ‘Talk’ pages. The very weirdest of the Wikipedians, though, have to be those described on this (obviously) Wikipedia page, which lists some of the site’s most dedicated trolls, the people who simply WILL NOT LEAVE IT ALONE when it comes to persistently attempting to vandalise or fcuk with specific bits of the Wiki. Some of these are obvious ‘BAD ACTORS’ – the people consistently modifying anything relating to the Chinese Communist Party, for example – but then there are people like user HarveyTeenager who is cited for repeatedly posting “Hoax information about Harvey Girls Forever! Returning” which seems like a…spectacularly-niche troll to dedicate a chunk of time to. So much of this is wonderfully-funny, in a ‘I wish I knew the backstory here’ way – what does “POV-pushing about railways” mean? Who are the people who are consistently adding “Wrong Muppets” to the credits of muppet films, and why? Also I just lost it at this, the description of a user known as ‘Techno Genre Warrior from Greece’: “Without ever referencing a published source, the person frequently adds “techno” to the genre parameter of an infobox, or replaces existing genres with “techno”.” AMAZING.
- TypeWaiter: An initially-incredibly-frustrating but then weirdly-meditative little webartthing – the cursor moves across the page at consistent speed, and if you want to type you need to do so when it is in the right position for you to drop characters. Which, I know, makes little sense when I write it down like that (HOW AM I SO BAD AT DESCRIBING WEBSITES AND HOW THEY WORK AFTER A FCUKING DECADE OF THIS?) but I promise you will get it as soon as you click. This is strangely-relaxing once you get into the right frame of mind – I can imagine that for a certain subset of people this could be quite useful as a calming/mindfulness (sorry) thing.
- 3d Billboards: A potentially-useful in-one-place collection of videos of 3d billboards, a technology which is still exciting and novel to those of us in Europe (as evidenced by the frankly-ridiculous fact that there was an item on Today about them this week – props to whoever the media agency person was who sounded SO underwhelmed by the whole thing and who basically said ‘yeah, look, we’ve been doing these in Asia for a few years now, pretty over them tbqhwym’) and which has just about attained the degree of ‘shiny new toy’ ubiquity in the minds of idiot clients here which means that you can now probably earn some low-end kudos points by just chucking one or other of these in a presentation about ‘some speculative ideas’, even if you and the client both know that Rustler’s Microwave Burgers is probably not going to stump up the Leicester Square billboard cash.
THE SECTION WHICH OVERHEARD A COUPLE OF PEOPLE IN A SHOP YESTERDAY TALKING ABOUT HOW ‘WHAT ITALY REALLY NEEDS IS BERLUSCONI TO COME BACK AND SORT STUFF OUT’, WHICH MAY HELP IF YOU’RE LOOKING REASONS TO FEEL LESS BAD ABOUT THE CURRENT STATE OF UK POLITICS, PT.2:
- BlkMarket: This may be old news to any and all of you that do design stuff and who spend more time than me (that is – any time) creating beautiful images with which to populate your Stories and your Reels and your videos and whatever else you want to make – I only discovered it this week, though, and it struck me as not only a super-useful (if paid) resource for anyone wanting to make ‘better and more interesting images’ but also a neat synecdoche for ‘how creativity and making works now and is increasingly-likely to work in the future’. BLKMarket is a marketplace where you can go and buy skins and layers and effects and filters to apply to your images and video – either per skin, or, more granularly, per effect, or with an annual sub for unlimited access. There is SO MUCH STUFF in here it’s slightly-dizzying, and it made me think of the extent to which AI is just going to accelerate this sort of thing and expand the way in which it’s sold – it’s not impossible to imagine prompt strings for Dall-E that are guarantee to achieve specific output effects being traded, for example, not to mention all the fascinating grey areas we’re going to get into. If you’re a copyright lawyer these are EXCITING TIMES, basically. Anyway, this looked really useful/interesting to me, but apologies to all design folk reading this who have known about this for years and are disgusted at the basic-ness of the link.
- ExcelFormulaBot: Type in what you want Excel to do and this will punt out a formula that will do just that, ready to c&p into your sheets and to hide your shame at the fact that despite the fact you’re 42 years old you still don’t really understand how pivot tables work. Not interested in Excel formulas? Well how about this tool, that lets you input anything you might want from a code point of view in ‘normal’ language and get code snippets from a variety of sources (things like ‘add a new customer using Stripe API’)? Or this one, which lets you input any jargon from an academic paper and get a ‘plain English’ translation straight back? Or, if you fancy something more frivolous, this little toy into which you can plugin anything you like and get a GPT-3-derived Urban Dictionary definition for it (eg “A webcurio: a person who spends far too much time online”, apparently – THANKS YOU FCUK). Again, we’re going to start seeing a LOT more of this ‘AI as a service’ thing – each of these tools/toys uses GPT-3 API access to pull very specific results, and it’s remarkable how well it works; the Excel thing in particular is INCREDIBLY useful, but I can imagine the code search thing being equally helpful if you’re a beginner. This is just the start of the coming boon in ‘hit a button to get a specific AI solution built on the OpenAI stack’ services – there are a LOT of potential gimmick uses here if you’re an agency type looking for a NEW AND EXCITING APPLICATION OF AI TECHNOLOGY (off the top of my head, something as simple as ‘GPT-3-enabled coverletter drafting tool for a recruiter’, for example, or a guided image-creation tool using Dall-E with some prompt-presets for branded lols, but SURELY you creative folk can do better?).
- MensaScran: A Twitter feed posting images of meals being served at various European educational institutions. Ever wanted to see how miserable your diet would be if you were dining at the canteen of the University of Leipzig? IT WOULD BE THIS MISERABLE – honestly, I know that ‘Italians getting annoyed about the bastardisation of their cuisine’ is a now-exhausted internet trope, but, seriously, this ‘carbonara’ is a crime and someone really should be made to pay.
- LA Street Names: I do love me a bit of urban history, and this site is a wonderful look at how and why the streets of Los Angeles are named the way they are. “Welcome to L.A. Street Names, the origin stories of street names across Los Angeles County, from the shortest cul-de-sacs to the longest boulevards. Mysteries solved, myths debunked, scandals exposed, history revealed. This is an ongoing project with more than 1,200 streets – and growing.” Obviously this is more interesting if you have a passing familiarity with LA and an interest in its history, but even for the casual browser there’s some interesting stuff about how places get their names and how these names evolve over time as culture and historical understanding shifts.
- Viture: I will say this right off the bat – I do not think that this tech is going to be as amazing in real life as the website makes it look. Still, if the prospect of ‘magic AR glasses that will let you play streaming AAA games wherever you are and watch films projected into the air as though you have a floating screen accompanying you wherever you go’ sounds appealing then you may be interested in Viture, which, for the price of approximately £600, promise to ship you this exact kit later this year. This is a post-Kickstarter project and as such all the caveats about expectations and delivery apply – still, it’s VERY shinily-presented, suggesting that they have at least some money in the bank (although clicking the ‘better gameplay on the go’ does present you with a CG representation of two people sitting side-by-side on the sofa, one staring blankly into their phone while the other sits rapturously-immersed in AR Zelda, which vignette looks SO LONELY that it almost made me want to cry – HUMAN CONNECTION, LADS, IT’S STILL A THING), and if you still have faith in the Stadia tech that this is built on then it might be worth a look. Still, caveat emptor and all that – also, note that the website claims a battery life of 3.5h which is NOTHING and which will almost certainly be an overestimation.
- Found In A Library Book: ‘Found ephemera’ is one of my favourite genres of ‘internet oddity’, and this section on the Oakland Public Library website, which collects scans of things its staff have found in library books over the years, is just wonderful. I will never stop adoring places that let me find things like the note reading “Remember I love u sweetheart. The past is the past, so lets [sic] not take it home with us, I just want to love you and be happy” – I WANT TO KNOW EVERYTHING ABOUT THIS NOTE AND WHO LEFT IT! Sadly no more information is forthcoming, but everything here is a story, or a fragment of one, and I could spelunk in here for hours looking through these tiny ephemeral fragments of lives stuffed into dustjackets.
- Mega Trends and Technologies: I do love me a good, mad, incomprehensible diagram of a state or process – stuff like the increasingly-insane ‘map of the martech landscape’ graphics that you see doing the rounds every year, or the classic examples of military slidework that occasionally crop up. In this spirit I present to you the Map of Trends and Technologies 2017-2050, a diagrammatical representation of…well, look, I can’t exactly pinpoint what this is attempting to communicate, or why its creator has seen fit to attempt to arrange everything, approximately 3,000 different elements, into the world’s most-confusing imaginary tube map, but if you’ve ever thought ‘Christ, you know what I’m missing? A gigantic, hugely-complex visual representation of the deep thematic links between such apparently-disparate concepts as ‘Medical Identity Theft’ and ‘People Renting Dreams’’ (no, me neither) then this will be your white whale. I honestly couldn’t tell you what this is trying to communicate, or to what end, but I am absolutely going to start wheeling it out everytime someone asks me to do a presentation about ‘trends’ or ‘where we are now’ – I think just flashing this up on a slide, asking everyone to think hard about what it means for 5 minutes and then throwing the floor open for questions feels like GREAT consultancy to me. To be clear – I presume that this is not intended entirely-seriously, and as such I think it is ART and I love it immoderately, and I would very much like a huge version of this for my wall please thankyou. This came to me via Giuseppe Sollazzo’s excellent newsletter, by the way.
- Victoria Street Cleaning Trading Cards: For reasons known only to the city of Victoria in Australia, you can download trading cards based on the various street cleaning vehicles said city employs. I have literally no idea what you are meant to do with these – there are only 5 cards! You can’t play a trading card game with only 5 cards! Who is going to print these out and play with them? – but there is something so utterly charming about how (and I mean this in a kind way, I promise) utterly crap this is. Hugely sweet, and very well-meaning, but, well, really crap. Although if this is the start of every single local authority buying into the idea and creating a gigantic new global card trading sensation based on the relative values of street-cleaning machinery from across the globe then I am very much here for it and retract my snark forthwith.
- The History of User Interfaces: Literally that! A series of screenshots tracking the development of user interfaces for desktop computing over the past 40-50 years – which, fine, I appreciate is a niche concern, but THIS IS WHAT YOU ARE PRESUMABLY HERE FOR. Compiled by a certain Victor, who also runs a newsletter about UI/UX design should you be in the market for such a thing (you can sign up at the bottom of the page).
- Zoo Index: This is curious – feels partly like a campaign resource and partly (stylistically) like an art project. Zoo Index is a “is a 1) visual research, 2) open platform, 3) growing archive of visual and textual zoo related material, questioning its relevance in contemporary society”, and the project presents photos of animals in zoos arranged under various alphabetical headings – so you have a whole section devoted to images of elephants playing with balloons (as the site asks, what is it with us giving elephants balloons?), another to zoos’ ‘VIP Animals’, another on people having ‘fun’ with zoo animals…I really like this, the disconnection and relatively-loose thematic connections between the images make the whole thing slightly detached and do a pretty good job of making you think again about the slight weirdness of much of the zoo experience. The final section, demonstrating examples of ‘zoochosis’ (or animals responding with unusual or distressed-looking behaviour to being in captivity) is somewhat-upsetting, so be aware before clicking on that particular one should you be someone particularly sensitive to the distress of the critters.
- Bill The Patriarchy:I got a nice email last week from Curios reader Patti, who mentioned in passing that she had made this little website which I rather adore; Bill The Patriarchy is a webtool which asks users a series of questions about the amount of domestic and emotional labour they undertake on a weekly basis, the value they would place on their time in the labour market, and which then lets you know exactly how much the work said users are putting in at home would be ‘worth’ on that basis. I genuinely hope that noone reading this sees this link and feels the need to use it to point out to their partner that said partner needs to pull their fcuking finger out when it comes to doing the laundry or you will start invoicing so help you God – but in case you do, I hope that this is useful. Not solely for use by women, obvs, but, well, we all know who’s likely to find this most helpful.
- Resounding: Visit the site, ring some bells – anyone currently on the URL can click one of a series of buttons to play the sound of various different bells ringing. If you’re there alone, it’s quietly-meditative; if you’re there with others, you can have a brief moment of campanological connection as you all ring together. Similar in idea to Frog Chorus which I featured a few months back – there’s something really rather lovely about these serendipitously-collaborative projects, and there’s definitely more that can be done with this sort of stuff for brands (but you can come up with your own ideas, it is now 34 degrees here at 1040am and I am too sweaty to do anything much more than just type at this point).
- Recipes For Food: Yes, I know you don’t need another recipe website, but this is…nice. “Recipes for Food is a platform for sharing recipes that we have collected from our friends, peers, and strangers. They range from actual recipes, to more ingredients for a nap. We make no guarantees over the outcome of each recipe, so enjoy at your own risk : ).” It’s partway between recipe collection and collective diary, a crowdsourced collection of instructions to cook an incredibly wide-ranging selection of dishes, all written up by different people in different styles, some of which come with accompanying stories…I love the fact that it all feels so personal, like a bunch of pages torn from different people’s family recipe books and cobbled together in random fashion. You can submit your own recipes via email or a webform if you fancy adding your own personal favourites to the collective, which I am totally going to do as soon as I have finished up here.
- Autoblow AI: I wasn’t going to include this – after all, it’s merely an update of a piece of wanktech that I think I put in here about 5 years ago – but then I clicked the website and it made me laugh SO MUCH that I felt compelled to share it with you too. “When You Control The Grip You Control Your Destiny“ may well be my favourite EVER piece of marketing copy, closely-followed by the singular erotic promise of “The new Autoblow AI+ features a first-ever adjustable penis gripper that allows you to customize your sensations. Dial in your preferred tightness level in seconds using only a screwdriver.” NOTHING SCREAMS ‘SEXY ALONETIME’ LIKE MESSING ABOUT WITH A PHILLIPS! This is…powerfully unerotic on every single level, and also has the added disbenefit of looking like it was cobbled together using LEGO Technics and one of those collapsible rubber waterbottles, but I will never cease to be amazed at the amount of time and engineering energy that a certain subset of penis-owners will devote to ‘having a slightly-better onanistic experience’. Also, if you don’t see the phrase ‘control it with your voice!’ and immediately leap to imagining a naked man screaming at the device to “SLOW DOWN!” as it friction-burns him into A&E then, well, you’re a better person than I am.
- Probable: You may not think that a small ‘game’ based on trying to guess whether a virtual coin will fall heads or tails could keep you occupied for more than about 3 minutes, and you’re probably right. For 2m59s, though, you will be HOOKED by this.
THE CIRCUS OF TUMBLRS IS EMPTY THIS WEEK!
THE TROUGH OF (INSTA) FEEDS!
- Autoexec Cat: A feed of art images of cats, all generated by AI (I think everything here is being made by Midjourney). To my point earlier on about the AI-to-shop API pipeline, it’s not hard to imagine each of these being automatically made available as a print-on-demand poster on Cafepress as soon as they are posted to Insta with an outlink to purchase – I wonder how long it will take for the web to be completely overrun by people trying to flog this stuff?
LONG THINGS WHICH ARE LONG!
- We Are Not Going To Make It: WARNING: this is not a happy article, so if you’re feeling a little overwhelmed by everything, and in particular if you feel like the past week’s news about climate and temperature has all been a bit much, then I strongly advise you to skip this one and stop reading now. The rest of you, OH BOY ARE WE FCUKED. I mean, it should have been obvious long before this week that we are possibly being a touch optimistic about the extent to which our futzing around at the very edges of ‘changing how we live in the West’ is going to deliver the improvements in carbon emissions (and the rest) that we need to stave off environmental catastrophe, but I think we can (mostly) all agree that the past seven days have rather brought the urgency into sharp relief. And so to the article, in which Umair Haque outlines all the ways in which we are fcuked – you can get the general vibe from this paragraph: “Take a hard look at right now. Do you really think our civilization’s going to survive another three decades of this? Skyrocketing inflation, growing shortages, runaway temperatures, killing heat, failing harvests, shattered systems, continents on fire, masses turning to lunacy and theocracy and fascism as a result? Seriously? Another three decades? Where every summer is that much worse than this one?” And whatever your perspective on individual elements of this – the environmental data, the economics, the politics, the logistics – it’s hard to argue against the wider thesis, that the trend for each of these things is monodirectional and that the scale of said monodirectional change is greater than our likely ability to weather its consequences.
- 10,000 Years of Patriarchy: This is VERY LONG, and is more ‘academic overview and historical resource’ than ‘a 15 minute longread’, but it’s also an absolutely dizzying piece of work which takes the reader through the historical reasons for The Great Gender Divergence – to whit: “Objective data on employment, governance, laws, and violence shows that all societies are gender unequal, some more than others. In South Asia, North Africa and the Middle East, it is men who provide for their families and organise politically. Chinese women work but are still locked out of politics. Latin America has undergone radical transformation, staging massive rallies against male violence and nearly achieving gender parity in political representation. Scandinavia still comes closest to a feminist utopia, but for most of history Europe was far more patriarchal than matrilineal South East Asia and Southern Africa. What explains the Great Gender Divergence? It emerged in the twentieth century as a result of the great divergence in economic and political development across countries. In countries that underwent rapid growth, technological change freed women from domestic drudgery while industry and services increased demand for their labour. Paid work in the public sphere enables women to build strong supportive friendships. They build solidarity.” This is SO SO SO INTERESTING – and just to be clear, I am not an historian and so I can’t pretend to know how much of the material cited here is standard or uncontentious, but it’s all rigorously hyperlinked for reference, and so I’m going to make the assumption that it is all legit. Fascinating.
- The Lobbyist Next Door: You will I presume have seen the Ofcom data this week which suggests that TikTok is the fastest-growing source of news in the UK – one of the GREAT things about TikTok (not great) is the degree to which, compared to Insta and Facebook, it really is the wild west in terms of what you can get away with when it comes to influencer work and the like, and this piece looks at how various companies in the US are using this to help propagate certain viewpoints and beliefs in the minds of ordinary Americans, using microinfluencers to peddle particular lines on social issues as though they were just the regular old opinions of some kid on the internet. It’s not hard to see the…potentially negative side-effects of people flocking to a peer-to-peer content platform which rewards conspiratorial thinking and where disclosure of paid-interest is…sporadic and ill-enforced for their news content (or indeed how incredibly easy it would be for any agency with a faulty moral compass and a couple of digitally-savvy staff to make an AWFUL lot of bank out of offering this sort of service in the short-to-,medium term).
- Computer Vision, AI and Ethics:This is, sorry to say, another not-hugely reassuring article (I promise I’ll put some fun stuff in shortly), all about exactly how seriously technologists in the AI vision space are taking questions around ethical tech development. It’s a pretty stark reflection of why ONLY having science/tech-minded people working on tech is A Bad Idea – it’s a simple matter of ways of thinking. I mean, just read this: “Some researchers bristle at the increased concern around ethics, in part because they are producing incremental work that could have many future applications, just like any tool might.“It’s not the techniques that are bad; it’s the way you use it. Fire could be bad or good depending on what you are doing with it,”…Changing hearts and minds may come, but slowly, said Olga Russakovsky, an assistant professor in Princeton University’s department of computer science, during an interview at the conference where she gave a presentation on fairness in visual recognition. “Most folks here are trained as computer scientists, and computer science training does not have an ethics component,” she said. “It evokes this visceral reaction of, ‘Oh, I don’t know ethics. And I don’t know what that means.’”” HIRE MORE PHILOSOPHERS, basically – God, after a mere 22 years my education may FINALLY come in handy.
- How Computers and the Internet Work: Yes, yes, I know that you all know how computers work and how binary makes code makes programs make the world go round, but I confess to being…a little iffy on some of the specifics, which is why I found this explanation of How The Modern World Basically Functions so clear and helpful. “This post is meant to take someone from having the vaguest ideas about how computers work to having a general understanding of all the important concepts and how they relate. This post should be read from start to end as the concepts build on one another. After reading this, you should come away with a high level understanding of all the different components of a computer, and how they fit together.” Thanks to Julian Hunt for writing this incredibly-comprehensive and luddite-friendly guide to, basically, how the fcuk I am able to write Curios at all.
- Prompt Engineering: A decent WIRED piece looking at the whole ‘being able to make the AI machines spit out the inputs you want them to is going to be a really useful skill’ thing that I have been banging on about for ages now (can I just point out, self-servingly, that Curios really is a fcuking great repository of ‘ideas I could pitch to an editor were I a journalist’? Can I? Oh). There’s an easy PR win, by the way, in being the first company to advertise for the position of ‘Prompt Engineer’ to create the perfect AI images of, I don’t know, Hunter wellies – see, this stuff is GOLDEN I promise.
- Exposing CanadianUkrain1: The concept of ‘stolen valour’, or ‘kids on the internet pretending to be military veterans and then getting embarrassingly called out for their lies by real vets who then mercilessly eviscerate them online’ has a long history, so I suppose we shouldn’t be surprised that it’s cropped up again in the current war in Ukraine. CanadianUkrain1 purported to be a Canadian who’d rocked up in Ukraine to support them against the Russian invasion, and who was posting an awful lot of content demonstrating what a MILITARY MADLAD he was: “CanadianUkrain1 shared videos and images he claimed to have taken himself from combat, alleging to have killed a Russian soldier with a tomahawk on one occasion and writing a tweet thread about a top-secret bicycle mission through Kherson on another.” Turns out, though, they were in fact nothing of the sort, and were posting all this stuff from Canada lol – this piece in Rest of World looks at how the OSINT community unmasked the fraud. It doesn’t, though, note the funniest (to me) part of the whole thing – that former romance novelist turned former MP turned former entrepreneur (MENSHN!) turned full-on-internet nutjob conspiracist Louise Mensch was one of the people caping for the fraud. NEVER CHANGE, LOUISE! Also, can I just point out that the existence of people like Mensch, and Truss, does rather make one look differently at the value of a degree from Oxford.
- The Most Threatened Flightpath: Gorgeous multimedia scrolly storytelling by CNN, which tells the story of the birds which live on the world’s busiest flightpaths and the efforts to help preserve them. This is really well-done, and a nice evolution of the ‘video and images and annotations and some nice scrolly-parralax’ work that we’re all now so jaded about (also, it’s a really good story in its own right, regardless of your personal interest in ornithology or avian conservation, and contains at least one lovely animated illustration of a spoonbill, perhaps my favourite bird (I like to drop in these nuggets of pointless personal information in the hope that it engenders some sort of DEEP BRAND CONNECTION with the reader; does it work?).
- A Gig In Roblox: Apparently the band/singer Soccer Mommy (whose latest single I featured in here JUST LAST WEEK, showing me to be ABSOLUTELY on the zeitgeist and definitely not old and out of touch SO THERE) did a gig in Roblox as part of the promo for their new album – this is videogames site Kotaku writing about the experience of attending said gig and, honestly, it just sounds EXHAUSTING. Obviously 42 year old men who are increasingly finding the idea of just dying and making it all stop appealing probably aren’t they’re core target demographic, but I can’t imagine who would be based on the description of the whole thing. Look, this may sound like fun to you, but I doubt it tbh: “It’s sort of funny and exciting to get hit by cars and shot at with a gun at a Soccer Mommy concert held in Roblox. The very concept is 10 levels of absurdity and apocalypse—choosing to enter a low framerate digital world where kids try to kill you for listening to music while looking like a cube.“
- Emoji Kitchen: A post from Jennifer Daniels’ newsletter (Daniels, lest we forget, is chair of the Unicode Consortium’s emoji subcommittee) in which she waxes lyrical about the wonder and magic of the Gboard feature ‘Emoji Kitchen’, which lets Android users make their own emoji on the fly to create their own new language flourishes. This is partly-interesting because of a quote from Daniels I saw elsewhere this week, suggesting that certain types of emoji were ‘at saturation’ and we are unlikely to see as many new entries in the Unicode-approved lexicon in coming years as we might have done previously, and the way in which Emoji Kitchen circumvents this by giving you an infinite communications canvas; it’s also partly interesting because I now want to start using my ‘poop bouquet’ creation with everyone I know (jk, obviously I only use emoji with my girlfriend and even then with all the grace of a septuagenarian).
- Urban PlanningTok: It does rather feel like there’s an article to be written about every single TikTok subculture, pitched at very specific trade verticals – “Welcome to horology TikTok!”, for Watchtime Magazine, say, or “Goose-force-feeding TikTok is blowing UP!”, for Le Fois Gras Magazine (apparently a real thing, who knew? Not going to check whether goosetortureTok is equally real, though) – and here’s yet another one in the seemingly-infinite series, about LOCAL PLANNING AND URBAN TRANSITTOK! This is partly interesting because it’s always curious to me to see how particular passions or areas of interest get bent to fit the TikTok format, partly because I wonder how much people who are experts in these fields find these sorts of short, popular explainers of stuff to be a frustrating oversimplification of their discipline, and partly because it’s a useful thing to use to persuade your clients that there is no sector so boring that they shouldn’t pay you a fat fee to develop a TikTok strategy for them (lol the grift it is ceaseless and unchanging). BONUS TIKTOK VERTICAL CONTENT – this piece is about delivery driverTok, and is written by Chris Stokel-Walker, a journalist so currently prolific that I half believe him to have developed the ability to type a different story with each hand simultaneously.
- Being A Ref: A rare link to a Guardian article in the hope that you haven’t already read this one – this is an extract from a forthcoming book by Ian Plenderlith, all about his experiences of being a referee for football matches in Germany over the past 6 years. I’ve always believed that there’s a very particular set of character traits required to willingly subject oneself to 90+ minutes of abuse on a weekly basis whilst also running a half-marathon, and this account does little to disabuse me of the notion that I would be anything other than a crying, snotty mess after approximately 5 minutes of ‘banter’ from players and fans. I can only imagine how much ‘better’ this has all gotten over the past two years, during which we’ve all seemingly forgotten how to be anything other than utterly feral (my cousin works security at Rome airport, as an anecdotal aside, and he says that whereas pre-pandemic you might get half-a-dozen passengers kicking off on a bad night, now they’re looking at 2-3 an hour just losing their sh1t when asked to put their liquids in a plastic bag. God, we all juts need retraining, don’t we? Some sort of gigantic species-wide Kennel Club, or a Big Brother-like SuperNanny figure to naughty step us back into shape).
- Reporting on the Internet: I love this – interviews with a bunch of different journalists whose ‘beat’ is basically ‘stuff on the web’, talking about what they think they are reporting on, and what it means, and how they do it, and how they stay sane, and what they see in the tealeaves of EVERYTHING ONLINE. Featuring people who are imho very much at the very top of the game when it comes to documenting life online – Rebecca Jennings, Taylor Lorenz, Ryan Broderick, Rusty Foster and Jason Parham – this felt like it was written specifically for me, in particular this from Foster: “All my life I’ve been online and then gone a little more offline for a while because you need breaks. I don’t think people are really meant to engage with the whole world. It is exhausting. I feel like everybody who works on social media needs to know that you have to be making plans for what you’re going to do when you can’t do this anymore.”
- Writing with an AI Partner: In some respects a companion article to the earlier piece about prompt engineering, this article looks at the relationships various authors have developed with writing assistants – the piece mentions GPT-3 and Sudowrite, amongst others – and the way in which it has changed their working practice to have an indefatigable digital writing partner that is always ready to spit out ideas and new angles on demand. I particularly enjoyed the testimony from Jennifer Lepp, about the discomfort she felt when leaning too hard on the software to compose her ‘cozyy fiction’ novels, and the unpleasant sensation of a loss of agency when reviewing old copy that she hadn’t written herself. As with all pieces around this theme, it’s very clear that the various PR departments of the tech companies running this sort of software are punting the ‘work together!’ line to hedge against ‘it’s the death of creativity!’ reporting, which, you know, fine; I challenge you, though, to read this paragraph without a significant chunk of you just sort of sighing and rolling over and dying: “In any case, originality isn’t the primary objective for people using Jasper. They’re using it to generate Google-optimized blog posts about products they’re selling or books that will serve as billboards on Amazon or Twitter threads and LinkedIn posts to establish themselves as authorities in their field. That is, they’re using it not because they have something to say but because they need to say something in order to “maintain relevance” — a phrase that I heard from AI-using novelists as well — on platforms already so flooded with writing that algorithms are required to sort it. It raises the prospect of a dizzying spiral of content generated by AI to win the favor of AI, all of it derived from existing content rather than rooted in fact or experience, which wouldn’t be so different from the internet we have now. As one e-commerce Jasper user pointed out, it would be naive to believe most top 10 lists of any product you Google and that would be true whether written by AI mimicking existing content or marketers doing the same.“
- Drug Deaths in Kabul: WARNING – THESE ARE GRAPHIC PHOTOS. They are also amazing – I can’t stress enough how distressing some of these are, but, equally, they are some of the most powerful photojournalism I have seen in several years. There’s a particular image of a man being shaved which I just sort of stopped and stared at for 5 minutes it’s that powerful.
- Peckham In Restaurants: This is from Vittles and I think might be paywalled – it’s worth paying for this, though, as it’s SUCH a smart article; in it, Jonathan Nunn collages together writing about food in Peckham over the past 50-60 years to build a picture of how the perception of the area has changed and shifted along with the demographics, as the gentrification of the past 20 years has taken hold. It’s stark how well this collection of fragments tells the story of how the print media’s interpretation of an area, and the narrative that gets built around it, is determined to a significant extent by the colour of the skin of the people living there.
- Ivana Trump’s Funeral: I don’t think it’s possible to feel ‘pity’ for anyone with the surname ‘Trump’, but you will feel an odd series of emotions as you enjoy this writeup of Ivana Trump’s funeral – a sort of high-handed disdain at the gaucheness of the whole lot of them (sorry but it’s true), but also a very real sense that they are all horribly, horribly broken by each other and that all their wealth has given them is the ability to in turn break others without ever really thinking about how or why. It’s worth reading this out loud to someone – there are some proper laugh-out-loud moments, not least the bits about QVC (no, really).
- Neom: Ah, Neom! I have just checked and this is the fourth time I’ve had cause to mention MBS’ insane, vainglorious project to build the most future city in the world out of dreams and innumerable petrodollars out in the Saudi desert. (From my 2017 entry: “Read the breathlessly-optimistic future utopian prose! See the photos of the in-no-way-repressed women jogging in croptops! It’s all going to be great! Then think a little bit longer, and consider that if you were Saudi and you were seeking international investment for your proposed future-leading hub city-state, you’d probably dial down the woman-suppressing rhetoric, at least til the first few rounds were closed. Then think quite how much this website looks like the opening 15 minutes of every single dystopian scifi you’ve ever seen, the bit before you realise that there is a HEART OF DARKNESS beating beneath the shiny metallic skin.”) So, er, how’s it going? You may bne unsurprised to learn that the answer is ‘not brilliantly’ – turns out a constantly-shifting series of design priorities directed by the capricious whims of a murderous billionaire makes for a tricky working environment, but the one silver lining in all of this is that the consultants are all making significant wedge out of the whole thing so, well, that’s ok then! Just read this paragraph about the visual concepting work that was being done and IMAGINE the markup you could charge these plutocratic morons for a day’s worth of ‘reading up on modern scifi trends’ and a week or so’s high-end PPT monkeying: “An internal document from this exercise listed 37 options, arranged alphabetically from “Alien Invasion” to “Utopia.” After input from a panel of experts, 13 advanced to the next phase of consideration—almost all of them cyberpunk-related in some way. These were divided further into “backward-looking” and “forward-looking” categories and laid out on a spectrum from dystopian to utopian. Each was analyzed in depth, with Neom staff interrogating their values. (“The big question biopunk asks is, Where does one stop being human?”) Next they ranked the concepts on a matrix of factors, including whether they had a “strong architectural component” and their alignment with Neom’s goals. Two guiding philosophies for the Gulf of Aqaba came out on top: “solarpunk,” depicting a future where environmental challenges have largely been solved, and “post-cyberpunk.” The latter, the document said, takes a relatively optimistic view of the world to come, with clean edges, slim skyscrapers, and sleek flying cars. It identified the best example of the style as Ryan Coogler’s Black Panther—coincidentally, the first movie shown when MBS allowed Saudi cinemas to reopen after a decades-long ban.” I do wonder at what point we’ll look on this and recognise one of the greatest examples of hubris in the history of our species.”
- Yachts: Finally this week, there is literally no way you can read this and not want to then go and set fire to a billionaire. I promise, it’s impossible. This is a wonderful article about the rarefied world of the superyacht – the buyers, the sellers, the crew and the strange world in which people compete to spend the most on depreciable assets which will in the main see very little use, all to be able to win this epoch’s plute’s p1ssing contest. SO MUCH TO LOVE (hate) in here, but personally my favourite extract is the following – find your own! “If you’ve just put half a billion dollars into a boat, you may have qualms about the truism that material things bring less happiness than experiences do. But this, too, can be finessed. Andrew Grant Super, a co-founder of the “experiential yachting” firm Berkeley Rand, told me that he served a uniquely overstimulated clientele: “We call them the bored billionaires.” He outlined a few of his experience products. “We can plot half of the Pacific Ocean with coördinates, to map out the Battle of Midway,” he said. “We re-create the full-blown battles of the giant ships from America and Japan. The kids have haptic guns and haptic vests. We put the smell of cordite and cannon fire on board, pumping around them.” For those who aren’t soothed by the scent of cordite, Super offered an alternative. “We fly 3-D-printed, architectural freestanding restaurants into the middle of the Maldives, on a sand shelf that can only last another eight hours before it disappears.”” HOW IS THIS NOT SATIRE? HOW IS THIS REAL LIFE?
By Sii Gii
AND NOW, MOVING PICTURES AND SOUNDS!:
- This is the final part of Marcus John Henry Brown’s ‘Hustle’ work, The Hustle Royale. It’s about mental health and advermarketingpr and myths and stories and the way we create meaning where none exists, and it’s rather moving. Familiarity with the other parts of the work helps but isn’t essential – this is worth your time.
- I’ve seen the poster advertising this track loads online this week, but not the actual song – which is a shame, as this is very good indeed and far better than a comedy track about being English and Brexity and crap at languages ought to be. It’s called ‘No Hablo’ and it’s by Beanstalk, and I promise this is worth your time and will generate at least one genuine laugh or your money back.
- This is another ‘novelty’ hiphop track, by Pete and Bas who have been doing the whole ‘unlikely old blokes do drill’ for a while now but who have now graduated to being…actually good? Like, honestly, this is a legitimate banger, they can properly rap, the production’s not bad…this is honestly better than most of what crops up on SBTV these days. As far as I can tell the bars are written by their grandkids or something, but the rapping is all them – I really hope they don’t end up being Britain First or something (I know, I know, books/covers).
- Finally this week, this is the latest single by Titus Andronicus who I have loved for 15 years now and who still make great songs. This is called ‘(I’m) Screwed’ and it’s a lovely bit of melodic guitar music and it’s worth turning it up and I hope you like it because THAT’S IT IT’S ALL OVER FOR ANOTHER WEEK OR SO AND I PROMISE I WILL BE BACK SOON ALTHOUGH I CAN’T EXACTLY PROMISE WHEN BUT I PROMISE AND I ALSO PROMISE THAT I WILL MISS YOU WILL YOU MISS ME PLEASE MISS ME LIKE I MISS YOU I LOVE YOU I NEED YOU BYE!