Well, it’s been…er…Jesus, it’s been 9 months. 9 MONTHS! How are you all? Or at least those of you who’ve not taken the opportunity to put a hard block on these emails by now. Are you all…ok?
No, of course you’re not, we’re all fcuked by over a year of death and misery and uncertainty and fear (oh, and there was that virus too LOL!!!1111eleventy god you’ve missed this deathless prose, haven’t you?) – still, though, rejoice (ha!) as Web Curios is BACK!
Imperica sadly folded, but thanks to the able assistance of Shardcore (website and spaffwrangling), Ant (design) and Kris (email gubbins) all the Web Curios from the past have been retrieved and resurrected, and the whole horrible, overlong, emotionally-traumatic, faintly-exhausting rigmarole can begin anew – I can only imagine the look of excited expectation (that’s what that is, right?) that’s spreading across your chops as you read this.
Anyway, some brief housekeeping:
- All the previous Curios are now on www.webcurios.co.uk – you can search them! It will pull out individual Curios with the copy and link! It might actually be…quite useful! Currently you need to use a minimum of four letters for the search to work – so ‘cats’ rather than ‘cat’, if you don’t mind
- As with all new endeavours, this is a work-in-progress, so apologies for any technical issues – the frontpage of the website doesn’t look quite as it ought (there should be a grid of recent Curios), the urls needs tidying, but these’ll be sorted soonish
- On that point, let’s just say that my approach to QA testing has been, er, lax, so if stuff doesn’t work properly then it’s all my fault and noone else’s
- Web Curios is exactly the same as it ever was, except I have killed the section about social media. Sorry, but, well, a) I don’t have to care about it professionally any more, meaning my desire to keep you abreast of new LinkedIn ad formats is now somewhere less than zero; and b) as I may have previously mentioned, Matt Navarra does a weekly roundup of social media news that is so terrifyingly comprehensive that it seems pointless for me to do a less comprehensive, more miserable version in parallel. Look, if you only came here to read the social media stuff then a) I am sorry that your life is so miserable; and b) I won’t be offended if you leave (FCUK OFF THEN)
- Oh, and in case this isn’t enough, there are also two SECRET Curios that I was paid to produce by BBH and which I am pretty sure I can now share with you as they are OLD – here’s the pre-Christmas one, and here’s the Easter one, just in case this isn’t enough words’n’links to be getting on with.
As ever, Web Curios is best ‘enjoyed’ on the website – not least as your email provider will truncate half of it if you try and read the entirety as an email. This edition is particularly long as I’ve been uncertain about exactly when it was going to go out, but I promise weekly editions will be significantly more…manageable (the value of this term is exceedingly relative).
So, er, there we are then! It’s like I’ve never been away! Doubtless the familiar feelings of ennui and bitter resentment – on both sides! – will return before too long, but, well, once again, I am Matt, it is Friday, and it is once again time to think ‘why the fcuk do I subscribe to this sh1t?’ – THIS IS WEB CURIOS!
THE SECTION WHICH IS HONESTLY SO SO SO SO GLAD NOT TO HAVE TO CARRY ALL THESE fcukING LINKS IN ITS HEAD ANYMORE, PT.1:
- The Emotion Recognition Sandbox: We’ve all spent over a year staring down the lens of our laptops – or you have; I am a miserable bstard who hates their own face, and as a result have been entirely off-camera since this whole horrorshow started – which would suggest that we’re about 12-18m away from an absolute stepchange in facial analysis and recognition technology as the cuddly companies who’ve been processing all these facepixels try and work out how to use all this exciting data about our facial physiognomy to their competitive advantage. Til then, though, there’s this little site, which takes you through a selection of experiment task/games to demonstrate how webcam facial recognition tech works, how it doesn’t work, and what it can reasonably guess about how you’re really feeling based on its approximate perception of the angle of your eyebrows (for example). It’s a really nice, simple site which does a good job of making you both skeptical of the power of facial recognition and very conscious of how good it’s going to get in not-too-long. Fair warning, Web Curios v.3 will require webcam access so I can monitor the dilation of your pupils and send you realtime abuse over Twitter if I don’t consider you to be sufficiently ‘engaged’.
- The Map of Reddit: These crop up every now and again, but this is a particularly well-executed example; presenting Reddit as though through cartography, you can get a good sense for the size and interconnectedness of various communities and subcommunities, as well as having probably the easiest way to plough through every single fetish you have ever heard of and approximately 319 others which you will subsequently wish you had never, ever learned about. I know I say this every time I mention Reddit, but I don’t think there has ever been anything which quite so neatly proves the old adage that human sexuality is a wonderful and multivalent thing.
- All The Facebook Audio Stuff: So unfortunately one of the side effects of my killing the dedicated social media section is that occasionally this stuff will crop up in the main links; sorry about that. Still, we’ll keep it brief – LOOK at all the exciting audio stuff that Facebook is bringing out! Voice posts, and podcasts, and GROUP AUDIO CHAT, all with exciting things like voicemorphing, sound effects and all the various gubbins which a CREATOR (word of the fcuking decade, that one) could possibly dream of. Which is all broadly fine, unless you’re Clubhouse (TAKE THE VC MONEY AND RUN, GUYS) or unless you are the sort of person who takes a look at Facebook’s track record of developing new products or features (livestreams – for streaming mass murder! Groups – for connecting Nazis and racists and conspiracy theorists! Marketplace – for selling guns and drugs!) and wonders whether they have, just this once, bothered to think through some of the potential negative externalities which this new suite of audio tools might present. In conversation with Casey Newton this week, Mark Zuckerberg offered this – which, when you consider that he is in charge of a company whose products are used by nearly 3bn people and which the use of can literally change the way society functions, is sort of spectacularly sh1t: “There’s also this question of what you should enforce against. That’s going to be an open debate. If we go back five years, I think a lot more people were more on the free expression side of things. Today, a lot of people still are, but there’s also this rising wave of more people who are basically calling for more stuff to be blocked or limited in some way” I know he’s not a stupid man, but it’s quite astonishing how much he sounds like one when he says stuff like this. Anyway, watch this space for the inevitable “terrorist attacks planned on Facebook Audio channels” or “new misinformation boom via Facebook Audio” stories in the next 12m.
- Voice: Voice launched a year ago as A N Other social platform for ‘creators’ – except noone gave a fcuk, so now it’s, er, pivoting to NFTs? “This summer, Voice will upgrade, becoming a social platform where users can create digital arts across all formats — visual, written, audio and video — enabling them to be easily bought and sold as unique digital artifacts (NFTs).” Because of course it is. Why exactly anyone would want to buy an NFT of someone’s blogpost is, at the time of writing, unclear, but I for one am 100% certain that everyone getting involved with this will definitely make bank. Honest. Look, I don’t have anything against the NFT thing per se, but it does rather suffer from the fact that everything to do with it – literally everything, from the way the projects get written up to the fact that some of the worst people in the world are loudly trumpeting its revolutionary status, to the fact that in almost no circumstances is anyone able to present a coherent explanation as to what positive value the NFT-ness of a thing is bringing – screams ‘massive emperor’s new clothes ponzi scheme’.
- Friends: This is a new version of Instagram, made by an ex-Insta staffer. It’s meant to be a stripped-back, basic, simple, no-bullsh1t return to the app’s roots; you have to request access, but if you’re keen on photosharing how it used to be (how did it used to be? What is it you miss?) then this could be of interest.
- Control The Virus: Aside from the NFT boom – and it’s…debatable the extent to which NFTs are anything to do with the pandemic, in any case – there’s been something of a dearth of visually-artistic responses to the past 12m (or at least ones that I have found particularly interesting). Control The Virus is a project which attempts to address that – it’s hard to gauge its success, given it’s a 12m project which has only just got started, but I like the premise. Over the coming year, each month a different artist’s project will be ‘unlocked’ on the site; at present, only one’s live – that by Molly Soda, which “displays the decrepitude of a garden of pixels that was never intended to grow old. As we interact with the vacant site, the wild network of weeds is groomed into an idyllic park, becomes cluttered by adverts, and finally culminates as a polished storefront for invasive plants. As functionality returns, bitmap-drawings sharpen, chronicling the aesthetic evolution of an aging internet.” Sadly the project’s a bit, well, shonky and broken, but it’s worth bookmarking this and coming back in the coming months to see what the other projects are like and how they develop.
- Cardinal Flower: This I absolutely LOVE. Another digital art project, another response to the pandemic and, you know, EVERYTHING, this “is an ode to the power of flowers, their seed-charge, their fragility and resilience, their permanence, their colorful and uncolored side, an embodiment and sensorial exploration in the uncertainties of our present moment” – what this means in practice is an ever-changing and evolving selection of AI-imagined flowers, accompanied by similarly-machine-created poetry, which gives me the proper, weird, tingly liminal feeling of the very best uncanny-valley-inhabiting work. I could honestly watch / fiddle with this for hours; see what you think.
- Safecast: Making audio from live data isn’t in any way a new thing – perhaps the most well-known of these projects to date is the ‘Listen To Wikipedia’ one from a few years back – but the outputs can be rather beautiful. This, by Sean Bonner and others, takes data from worldwide background radiation data and sonifies (sonifies? Is that a word?) it, creating a rather beautiful soundscape out of half-lives and isotopes. This sounds SO much better than it ought to; sinister and oddly-melodic, and the sort of thing I would love to see/hear done with different sorts of data – I would LOVE to hear this sort of thing applied to Tinder, for example; what do YOU think global chirpsing sounds like? I want to know.
- Endless Acid: AI applied to acid techno, creating an infinite, neverending, never-looping acid banger which will go on forever (or until your consumption of amphetamines causes your body to shut down entirely and your eyes to shrivel into tiny grey marbles, whichever comes first). If you can look at this and still think that there’s going to be anything resembling a market for human-composed stock audio in two years’ time then, well, you’re more optimistic than I am.
- Dropship For Sale: Do you remember a few years back when dropshipping was all the rage, and we saw a spate of articles profiling the ‘digital nomads’ who were setting up Insta-led tat-distribution empires from the comfort of a hammock in Bali? Well this is that, but productised to the nth degree – Dropship for Sale basically lets you set up a business without actually having to do anything – pick a product. Create a store name, and this will basically do the rest for you, setting up all the purchase and supplylines so you too can join the swelling ranks of global entrepreneurs attempting to make an easy living by filling the world with even more useless plastic sh1t. It’s hard not to look at stuff like this and think ‘yes, well, we’ve pretty much given up on the whole ‘environmental’ thing, haven’t we?’.
- Spotify CarThing: ‘Digital Business pivots to making physical stuff’ is something we’re going to see a lot more of in the coming 12m imho, not least because of all the brands that have benefited from the pandemic who will now seek to deepen the customer relationship (dear God) by creating physical product lines which can anchor them in the post-COVID (LOL! No such thing!) world. Here’s Spotify’s effort – basically a car radio that needs 4g to function. I am grudgingly forced to concede that this is probably quite a smart idea, though, again, it’s basically just more tat for landfill at the end of the day. Sorry, this has all of a sudden gotten a bit enviropocalypse-y, will try and snap out of it.
- Vacation Inc: This is super-interesting, and another example of that digital-to-physical shift – and also of something else we’ll be seeing a lot more of in the coming months, to whit ‘brand builds cool lifestyle association and then pivots hard into leveraging that for product sales’. Do you remember Poolside.fm? OF COURSE YOU DO! In case you need reminding (and in case you’re too lazy to click the link I left there for you as a helpful aide memoire, you lazy ingrates), it was (still is, in fact) an internet radio station which was very much ALL VIBES, with a vaporwave aesthetic and a slightly-faded ‘coke and ‘ludes by the pool’ feel to it. Now the people behind it have launched Vacation Inc., a super-smart sunscreen-flogging initiative with referral sales and a lightly-gamified backstory. There’s loads of really nice stuff in here – the ‘create your own company job title’ thing, the idea of everyone being an ‘employee’ (and hence a salesperson)…it’s just all very clever and slick, to the point that it makes me feel slightly uncomfortable and leaves me wondering whether there’s another layer to this onion that will be revealed in due course. Regardless, expect to see a LOT of other online…things? Brands? Whatever…making similar moves in the next 12m.
- Patrimonio Grafico: A wonderful project, founded to preserve and celebrate the heritage of Iberian graphic design, typography, etc. If you’re in any way into graphic design, this is a wonderful source of inspiration, and is fascinating in terms of its presentation of a distinctly Spanish/Portuguese school of contemporary design.
- Black and Brown Skin: I was hoping to do an MSc in the Ethics of Artificial Intelligence this year, but unfortunately my life has gone slightly to tits and so I can’t. This, though, is exactly the sort of project which underlines the need for people to think properly and deeply about how we are building the machines that will make society work for the next decade. Established by Malone Mukwende, Black and Brown skin is inspired by his experience at medical school whereby clinical signs were nearly always presented as appearing on caucasian skin – making training and understand of diagnosis on darker shades of epidermis difficult, and meaning that AI systems being trained to automatically assess patient photographs for symptoms would necessarily be less-well-trained to identify and assess conditions on non-white skin. The project aims to collect imagery of the presentation of various pathologies on darker-toned skin, to help with the training of medical students and, one would hope, the development of more balanced AI models. The fact that this sort of thing isn’t being underpinned by big brand money, whether from the medical industry or the consumer cosmetics industry, I think says rather a lot about how much big brands actually give a fcuk about the gritty end of this sort of thing (DOVE YOU fcukS I MEAN YOU). On this point, credit where it’s due – Facebook continues to be good at promoting datasets which seek to address the inherent racism of computer models based on caucasian samples, with stuff like this.
- Foreign Rap: One of the problems with Curios being offline at the time of writing is that it’s currently impossible for me to go back and check whether I have already written stuff up – this feels like I ought to have done, but, honestly, fcuk knows – and let’s be honest, it’s not like any of you would remember anyway, is it? Anyhow, Foreign Rap is – leaving aside the tediously anglolanguagecentric positioning of ‘Foreign’ here; yes, I know, I am a boring pinko Guardian reader, but foreign to whom??? – a properly amazing resource if you’re after an introduction to rap and hiphop from the non-Anglo world. If you do nothing else today, go and do a deep dive into Italian hiphop; I promise you it’s better than you think it’s going to be, and, fwiw, it’s genuinely hard to do in a language with about ⅔ of the number of words compared to English. Honestly, ‘vaffanculo’ is a lot harder to write with than ‘fcuk’.
- The Yamauchi Family Office: I know you will have seen this by now, but I need to include it here so I can dig it out again next time a colleague asks me for ‘an exciting website for a boring thing’. SO MUCH FUN – can we please agree that if your website serves literally JUST to present copy, then the least you can do is make the copy look interesting? Yes, yes we can.
- Click Click Click: I like to think that the people reading this are reasonably au fait with stuff on the web, or at least are willing to put in the work so that they can pretend that they are (HELLO MY PEOPLE!) – as such, none of you will find this site, which demonstrates exactly how easy it is for a webpage to track everything you do in-browser and use that to mess with you, particularly shocking (though you will enjoy the way it’s presented, and in particular the voice-over which has that wonderful Dutch quality of making you feel constantly like the speaker thinks you’re a risible, but sort of lovable, moron). However, your normie friends wilL sh1t THEIR PANTS (probably; Web Curios as ever accepts no personal responsibility for any unsoiled keks that might result) at it, which makes it the PERFECT thing to post to all your most ‘they are all watching us, Bill Gates and the 5g microchip’ family members for some dark and potentially short-lived lols.
- The Kit: This is one of those rare links that makes me think that the web really is a force for good; The Kit is a selection of guides and resources designed to help people undertake online research and investigative journalism, and contains all sorts of tips and links to useful tools which will help you uncover links and connections between people and entities online. Basically, if you’ve ever looked at Bellingcat and thought ‘I want to do some of that’, this will help.
- Essex, 2003: Pure, unadulterated social history, this: “On May 3rd, 2003, I got a digital camera as a present from my parents. I was 24, living at home, and in the middle of doing my degree. We had two cats, and were soon to get a third. Like everyone else with their first digital camera, I immediately spent the next month taking pictures of all the incredibly mundane things you were never really allowed to take pictures of before. Bookshelves and bathrooms and carpets and curtains. Desktops, cupboards, TV screens. Cats. So many cats. Then I forgot all about ever taking them, and never looked at any of them again until now.” Perfect – a time capsule of the best sort, one created with no idea that it would ever be exhumed. I love this so so so much; mundane and perfect and beautiful.
- Soundtrap: Another Spotify thing, this time a tool for collaborative music-making. Interesting not only because it looks really quite fun and powerful enough to use to make something genuinely unsh1t, but also because it marks another step in Spotify’s conscious positioning as ‘where digital music has its home’, from creator to curator and everything inbetween.
- Melting Cameras: At some point maybe I’ll succumb and give TikTok its own section, but til then you’ll just have to put up with the occasional link to some of the more ‘interesting’ accounts I stumble across. Like this one, in which some bloke (as ever, it is ALWAYS a bloke) has somehow decided that his sole purpose on the platform is to create surprisingly-accurate replicas of camera equipment from a variety of unlikely frozen liquids. Who doesn’t want to watch someone create a model of a Nikon DSLR out of asparagus juice? NO fcukER, THAT’S WHO!
- Google’s WebXR Experiments: Given that AR has signally failed to get any traction in the real world, it’s no surprise that all the talk now is of ‘XR’ – a combination of VR and AR (which, er, feels like AR). Google recently released a few new toys showing off some potential use cases for the tech – I am obviously getting old (or maybe I have really strong memories of having an endless procession of AR companies pitching me in 2010, all of whom promised something revelatory and all of whom, without exception, presented a crappy CG avatar ‘dancing’ on a table as the proof that this technology was going to change the world), but the stuff I get most excited about here is the really boring AR-type stuff, like the ability to calculate the volume of an object in 3d space (this is what happens to men in their 40s – whether we like it or not, we slowly pivot to our whole vibe being ‘the optimal dimensions of a shed’).
- LongARcat: Having just said that, of course, I then stumble across this, which is perhaps the best pointless use of AR since…er…Christ, that’s how little I engage with the medium, I can’t even think of any decent, frivolous applications for it. Anyway, this lets you create incredibly long AR cats (DO YOU SEE?) floating in your phone’s field of vision, which is enough of a reason to download it (if you’ve an iPhone – iOS-only, sadly).
- Movie of the Night: You know what? I hate Netflix and Amazon Prime. I hate the fact that they don’t have ANY decent catalogue from The Past, that it’s incredibly hard to browse their collections, that The Algorithm means that my girlfriend’s inexplicable shark obsession means that all we seem to get served is infinite variations of ‘Deep Blue Sea’ but less good…and yet, this is where we are. Presuming you are trapped into at least one of these bstard Devil’s contracts, though, Movie of the Night is a smart service that helps you find stuff to watch through a decent search engine – pick your country, your genre preferences, your desired era of release, and it will find stuff for you available to stream in your country on the main platforms available. It’s imperfect, fine, but given neither of the big players seem to give anything resembling a fcuk about letting users discover content beyond the frontpage it might be worth a look.
- Computer Mysteries: This is SUCH a clever idea; would love to see it applied elsewhere. Computer Mysteries is a small selection (two at present, more may be added) of tech troubleshooting guides, presented using interactive fiction tool Twine – the idea being that the branching narrative structure of Twine’s stories lets users select from branching options to help diagnose their IT issue and, hopefully, arrive at a solution. This is basically a ‘yes/no’ flowchart with a (very minor) glow-up, fine, but the possibilities here are enticing; the idea of setting up training systems using this sort of thinking and structure feels like something that might be a bit more engaging and worthwhile than a standarde video.
- Scenic Embellishments: I sort-of wish I had found this last year; presuming we’re not all going to be deriving our meagre entertainment for the next 12m from gawping at our colleagues’ interiors (please God) this will possibly be less useful than it might have been; still, if you’ve ever wondered ‘where can I buy some decorative Doric columns and perhaps a gargoyle or two to add a certain exotic frisson to my living room?’, then this catalogue from Peter Evans Studios will see you right. Big fan of the ‘battleship doors’ plasterwork on p.106 fwiw.
- Zoom Jeopardy: I make it a point of…well, not honour exactly, but certainly habit, to pay no attention to how many people read this fcuker or where any of you are from. As such I have NO CLUE how many of you are North Americans and will therefore have the peculiar attachment to utterly-mediocre-quiz-format ‘Jeopardy’ that all USA-ers appear to cultivate; still, if you’re the sort of person for whom the name Alex Trebek evokes some sort of semi-tumescent reaction, or who prefers their questions delivered in the tediously-convoluted “This overlong newsletter really should have known when to call it quits”/”What is ‘Web Curios’?” format, then this – which lets you play a passable version of the show, with ACTUAL BACKGROUNDS AND STUFF, via Zoom – may well appeal. Although, let’s be honest, will ANY of us ever willingly do a Zoom quiz again?
By Amy Sherald
THE SECTION WHICH IS HONESTLY SO SO SO SO GLAD NOT TO HAVE TO CARRY ALL THESE fcukING LINKS IN ITS HEAD ANYMORE, PT.2:
- Tokenise This: I really like this – neatly skewering the fundamental emptiness at the heart of the NFT madness, Ben Grosser’s semi-satirical web project will create an entirely unique digital artefact for each user who visits the site, an artefact which will never exist again and whose url can only be visited once. Silly, but equally very sensible in terms of making the very real point about the even-greater silliness of NFTs.
- Royalties Calculator: I have no idea how accurate this is – the website admits its based on best-guesses on how the payment model for most of the platforms it’s assessing works, and Alex Hern suggested to me that it’s quite wildly wrong about the income of at least one band of his acquaintance – but it’s an interesting attempt to get a rough measure of the amount of money being earned through streaming services by any artist you care to name. According to this, The Wurzels make nearly $50k a year from streaming, which…hang on, how many Wurzels are there? What’s the annual Per Wurzel on this? Basically this does a decent job of reinforcing the increasingly-obvious observation that, whilst the online creator economy is lovely in theory, it doesn’t as things currently stand allow for any sort of middle class whatsoever, and you are either in the top percentiles or you are swimming around with the great unwashed in the ‘can’t quite quit the dayjob’ pile.
- Core: Since I’ve been gone, the world has woken up to the fact that Roblox is a hugely-interesting platform and a potential contender for ‘place where the metaverse will start’. This is Epic – makers of Fortnite – attempting to get a slice of that action, with Core, a suite of tools that effectively make it ‘easy’ (not easy) for anyone to make fancy-looking games using Epic’s engine. This is basically the same deal as Roblox – suite of tools, make whatever you like, share it with the community, play together – with the same sort of underlying hope that THIS is what will become the underlying digital architecture of always-on online play-and-talk-and-exist-scapes, except with much shinier graphics; worth keeping an eye on how the developer community within this evolves.
- What The Dub: I know that noone wants to do online games anymore – JUST LET ME GO OUTSIDE AND DO GAK OFF A PUB WINDOWLEDGE GODDAMMIT (NB – this is very much not something that Matt in 2021 wants to actually do, for the avoidance of doubt, but I can’t speak for my readership) – but this looks rather fun; What The Dub is basically a jackbox game, in which you and other players compete to write the funniest subtitles to old newsreel or public information footage, not unlike they used to do on kids TV in the early-80s (are any of you as old as me? ANYONE???). Not only is this a lot of fun (though you do have to pay for it), it’s also the sort of thing that if you have any sort of library of footage you can comfortably use for ‘inspiration’ before creating your own variant. Honestly, if anyone from the BFI is reading this then please get to work, this is perfect for you.
- Things Are A Little Crazy Right Now: Hands-down one of the best AI-enabled art projects I’ve ever seen, this is a simple-but-beautiful premise; two chatbots have an infinite conversation in which they try and arrange a meetup but are continually-stymied by their overfull calendars and life commitments. Honestly, that description may not sound like much, but this really, really works – it’s one of the most oddly human and affecting pieces of text/machine art I’ve seen, and I would happily stare at it in a gallery for hours. Obviously it’s also for sale as an NFT, but don’t let that put you off.
- The Russian Pantheon: A superlative example of shiny-scrolly expository storytelling, this website explains the context and history behind the Millennium of Russia monument, constructed in Novogrod in 1862. Seriously, this is SO nicely done, and a really great way of explaining the detail and intricacy of artworks.
- The US Masters: I genuinely don’t understand the appeal of watching golf (let alone playing it), but the website created to accompany the recent US Masters is…actually, no ‘buts’, it in no way helps me understand the appeal of this most tedious of sports. Still, though, it is 100% the best ever sports event website I have ever seen – you can pick any player you want and track their progress around the course, hole by hole, shot by shot, with video replays and multiple camera angles and all that jazz. You are still, I concede, watching a selection of slightly-paunchy pastel-shirtted men hitting balls with sticks, and there’s no way of making that anything other than skullfcukingly-tedious, but the UX and UI here is lovely so that’s ok then.
- Gancraft: I’ve spent much of the past year feeling increasingly pessimistic about my continued ability to earn a living from words – fortunately, stuff like this reminds me that we are all going to be fcuked by the machines, one way or the other, and that I really shouldn’t take it personally. GANcraft is “a method to convert user-created semantic 3D block worlds, like those from Minecraft, to realistic-looking worlds, without paired training data” and it’s basically witchcraft. Click the link, seriously – think those 3d modellers are feeling confident about their future employment prospects? I think I’m going to retrain as IT support, it’s literally the only growth area left.
- Old Book Illustrations: A wonderful repository of old etchings and illustrations from public domain libraries, which you can absolutely use to populate your next PPT (or Keynote, if you’re an Apple user and therefore someone with superior creative chops) in an attempt to make it look less like every single other fcuking full-bleed image with sans-serif bold copy artfully-arranged off-centre slide. God I hate advermarketingpr (see? Some things DON’T CHANGE!).
- Tokyo Fashion: I am well aware that ‘ooh, isn’t Japan quirky’ is literally the most-tedious opinion it’s possible to have about the country, but, well, LOOK AT ALL THIS AMAZINGLY QUIRKY STREET STYLE! I think when I hit 50 I might start dressing like a Tokyo hipster; it will provide a nice counterpoint to the inevitable jaundice and cirrhotic bloom.
- Found A Good Outfit: A Twitter account that does what ASOS used to do – to whit, picks looks from TV and film and shows you how to get them yourself. At the time of writing, the latest to be posted is Velma from Scooby Do – you’ll need to splash out on a Valentino skirt and some Gucci loafers, but it’s evidently a small price to pay for the attainment of a truly iconic lesbian vibe.
- In-Browser Audiochat: OK, so the platform’s called ‘Jam’, but that’s an unhelpful name – this basically lets you spin up a quick and dirty in-browser voicechat, with no logins and multiple users, whenever you want. Simple, easy, and one of the many reasons Clubhouse is set to be a footnote rather than a chapter imho.
- The London Sneaker School: I imagine that this may have some of you rolling your eyes – there’s something slightly annoying about people who are massively into trainers, fine, and the obsession has the slight stench of Mo’Wax and Bape about it (I don’t know why that feels like a pejorative, but, well, it does) – but the principle is lovely – the London Sneaker School has been set up by a couple of footwear designers to offer courses in trainer making, with the idea that you can spend five days learning the craft of cobbling (is it still called ‘cobbling’ when it’s trainers?) and emerge with your own pair of bespoke kicks at the end of it all. For some of you – or some of your loved ones – this is literally THE best present you could get them. I would bet literally ALL THE MONEY I HAVE that everyone who does this has at least one line-drawn tattoo.
- The Bayeaux Tapestry Online: Because who doesn’t want to explore several hundred feet of hi-res medieval needlework? NO fcukER, THAT’S WHO!
- Wormhole: Like WeTransfer but with a 10gb limit and no fees. So, basically, better than WeTransfer.
- Terrifying Silicon Muscle Suits: I sort of assume after doing this in various forms for about a decade that noone who reads this actually knows me in real life – mainly because all the people who I do actually know in real life long ago made it abundantly clear that they have no interest whatsoever in reading overly-long email missives about ‘stuff what Matt has seen online’. Which means that none of you know what I look like, which means that you will just have to take my word for it when I tell you that I am exactly the sort of 11-stone-when-soaking-wet, chest-like-a-toastrack-covered-in-wet-tissue-paper, stick-armed, elastic-band-muscletoned Mr Musclealike who could really do with one of these. Smitizen is an online retailer than sells quite astonishing-looking full-body latex prostheses, designed to give the illusion of musculature for those, like me, who are less Men’s Health and more ‘Pro-Ana Monthly’.Click the link and marvel – and then get really scared when you realise that some of these include…rubber genitalia built in? Hang on, what are these for? Maybe don’t spend too long speculating about that.
- Poopy Pinata: It’s a clicker game. You know what to do.
- The Nothings Sweet: Long-term favourite of Curios Pippin Barr is back with another collection of high-concept little art games. “The Nothings Suite is a collection of (extremely) short videogames made with diverse videogame engines such as Unity, Twine, and PICO-8. In each case, a game has been produced with the engine using, as much as possible, no creative input at all. That is, in the ideal scenario I open the game engine, save the project it creates by default as “Nothing” and export it for play. This means you get to see each game engine’s idea of what “nothing” (or at least no effort) looks like when you set out to make a game with it.” Not so much games as art, but I really enjoy the thinking and execution in each case.
- Mario64: The whole game, in your browser, playable with your keyboard or a controller, and literally SO much more fun than fiddling with yet another series of broadly-meaningless slides. LESS PPT, MORE MARIO.
THE CIRCUS OF TUMBLRS!
- The Internet K-Hole: There’s a pleasing circularity to this – I think I featured the Internet KHole waaaaay back in the day when this mess of links used to live on the site of H+K Strategies, and now here it is again, brought back from the dead JUST LIKE CURIOS! For those of you unfamiliar, the Internet K-Hole is a seemingly-infinite scroll of baffling, odd, sinister, inexplicable, erotic, dark, funny, sad, happy and generally strange images from around the web, presented without context. I could happily have this as an infinitely-scrolling artwork on a wall (ARE YOU READING THIS SARAH?).
- Happy Tuesday: A tribute to Neil, who has been banging out the tunes for 15 years now.
- TrumpTrump: Obviously one of the biggest changes since we last…spoke? Had a vague, asynchronous connection? Anyway, since the last Curios, the US obviously has a new President and That Awful Man is thankfully but a memory. TrumpTrump was maintained throughout That Awful Man’s tenure in the White House, with its owner vowing to post a new drawing of That Awful Man each day until he was removed from office. It’s now finished, but it’s quite an incredible archive to go back through – as a record of the not-insignificant psychic toll the Presidency took on a nation it’s (to my mind at least) fascinating and in many ways hugely important.
THE TROUGH OF (INSTA) FEEDS!
- Lost Poster: Places where posters used to be. I’m sure there’s something clever I could say about absence as aesthetic presence, but, well, I don’t have any idea what that sentence means so I shan’t.
- Surreal Jelly: Some excellent, weird, wibbly CG animation; as with all of the best examples of these, this stuff is just on the right side of viscerally-unpleasant.
- Professor Chip: Photographs and reviews of esoteric chips, which I guarantee will have you seeking out UK distributors for Bret’s Gouda and Cumin. Although camembert crisps sound objectively vile.
- Women Street Photographers: A project promoting the work of female street photographers – there’s an accompanying website too, but the feed provides a lovely selection of diverse photography.
- Depths of Wikipedia: Weird stuff from the corners of Wikipedia. Thanks to this, I learned that ‘I would cry in a BMW’ is a phrase that gained viral popularity in China in 2010 (though I still don’t know why – perhaps, on reflection, that’s for the best).
- Thundergirl_Xtal: I have no idea whatsoever how one might go about describing this aesthetic, but it is both terrifying and an absolute mood.
- Concours D’Lemons: Really, really crap cars. I mean really crap cars. So crap, in fact, they are AMAZING.
AND NOW, LONG THINGS WHICH ARE LONG!:
- Scott Galloway on NFTs, etc: Look, I know you’re all bored of seeing the letters, let alone of reading people chin-strokingly opining about their relevance or importance or value or otherwise (on which note, you must have really enjoyed all the references to them in the preceding X,000 words – sorry about that!), but if you’re still curious to get some more perspective then this interview with Professor Scott Galloway is an interesting one. Galloway’s not some sort of infallible superguru (as evidenced by this, er, questionable take on the Gamestop thing), but his perspective on how NFTs fit into a broader socioeconomic ‘moment’ is worth reading, and his ideas about how they might be exploited are by some distance more interesting than those of most of the people attempting to, I don’t know, mint Lindsay Lohan’s pudenda onto the blockchain.
- Another NFT Perspective: And then we’ll stop, I promise. This is a slightly-different take for Real Life by Vicky Osterweil – it concerns itself more with the conceptual hole at the heart of the movement, as well as the much-discussed environmental cost of the whole deal, but I enjoyed it most for this line: “I think of this as the Christopher Nolan effect: If you explain an incredibly simple premise — like, for example, “a guy forgets everything every five minutes” or “you can go inside people’s dreams and make false memories” — over and over in increasingly abstruse ways, the person it’s being explained to will eventually tell themselves, “I just don’t get it.” This effect is only strengthened the more people there are agreeing that the matter at hand is “cool,” “interesting,” or “complicated” — a process of mass, self-inflicted intellectual gaslighting.” PREACH.
- Keeping QAnon Online: This profile of Nick Lim, a 23 year old kid who runs what’s currently one of the go-to hosting services for websites with politics one might charitably describe as ‘dodgy’ and which one might less-charitably describe as ‘reasonably Nazi’, highlights one of the central problems of the modern web – there’s a whole generation of people who’ve grown up with seeing it as TOTALLY NORMAL to behave in the Gamergate/4Chan ‘it’s all irony and anyway freedom of speech trumps everything’ fashion, and who are now taking that into the real world. The idea that a whole host of intensely-fashy web communities are being propped up online because one (charitably) moronic kid has decided that it’s incredibly important that people have the right to, I don’t know, call for genocide or gull credulous fools into throwing their lives away after a fictional conspiracies. Read this, and then think whether or not this person ought to have their hands on any meaningful levers whatsoever (they should not): “Lim argues that the real political crisis facing the U.S. is not extremist violence but erosion of the First Amendment. He says that restrictions on online speech have already brought the U.S. to the verge of communist tyranny, that “we are one foot away from 1984.” After a moment, though, he offers a sizable qualifier: “I never actually read the book, so I don’t know all the themes of the book. But I have heard the concepts, and I’ve seen some things, and I thought, ‘Whoa! That’s sketchy as f—.’ ””
- Inside A Viral Website: More-interesting-than-you’d-expect account of what it was like setting up and hosting https://istheshipstillstuck.com/ – a joke website with a single gag which for a few days was getting somewhere in the region of 8,000 hits a second – and how its owner attempted to make a few quid out of his site’s moments of fame, and also inadvertently found themselves in the position of being the apparent main source of information on the ship’s progress at 430am one morning. Once again, your main takeaway from this is likely to be ‘please God never let me receive this degree of attention for anything that I ever do’.
- The Road to Terfism: This is a superb read, exploring how Mumsnet has over the past few years become the online epicentre of the anti-trans-rights movement in the UK. This is getting attention because of the way in which the argument has bled across the Atlantic in the past 6m or so, with much of the same rhetoric now being employed in the US discourse as has been prevalent in the discussion over here. Leaving aside the author’s own clear stance, this is a really good analysis of the way in which the marginalisation of women at the point of motherhood can lead to a feminist awakening, and the way in which that has developed within Mumsnet specifically. This is as much a piece about the way in which online communities shape thinking as it is about issues of sex and gender – though it’s also very much that too.
- Digital Resting Points: ‘Timeline Cleanse’ is something I’ve been seeing more and more of recently – images posted to Twitter or Insta under the guise of offering a calm resting spot in the febrile mess that is The TL. This piece looks at the growing appeal of scroll-oases, and the ‘chrono-slip’ – the timeshift that happens when you fall into a digital oubliette and can’t quite drag yourself out of it and then when you do it’s next Thursday and you’ve not eaten for a week. This is absolute plannerfodder, if you ask me.
- Vegan Cheese: The Italian in me feels I ought to open this description with a few lines about the fundamentally-oxymoronic nature of the phrase ‘vegan cheese’, but that would be lazy (ha!); that said, I have tried the stuff in the past and, well, no. Still, maybe I just had a bad batch (WHY DID IT TASTE OF COCONUT???) as this piece is pretty bullish about how the industry is developing and the products it’s now managing to churn out. It’s a fascinating read, but I think there’s a fundamental question here about attitudes to food and what ‘food’ is that lies at the heart of this new veganism. Basically, the problem I have is that I can’t quite warm to foodstuffs that are ‘reconstituted vegetable proteins’ and which feel morelike chemistry than cookery. Which, to be clear, is my stupid problem, and hugely intellectually-inconsistent – God knows I have enjoyed meals cooked by chefs who are no strangers to a bit of enzyme’n’protein play – but I wonder if this is a generational/age/lifestyle thing, and something which needs to be overcome (through branding, or through people with antediluvian tastes like me eventually dying of cancer, or the global situation becoming so bleak that it’s either seitan or cannibalism) before the vegan revolution will really take hold.
- ‘Fixing’ Recipe Sites: On the constant tug-of-war between the food bloggers who want to write recipes and get paid, and the internet users who just want the recipes and really don’t care about the backstory to your grandmother’s coddled eggs thanktyouverymuchindeed. The crux of this is that the reason that foodblogger recipes have over the past few years tended towards the bloated and verbose is that that’s what Google’s decided makes for a ‘trustworthy’ website, which means that if you want the traffic and the sweet, sweet addollars (adpennies, let’s be clear) you have to conform to what Google wants. Yet another example of the slightly-horrible human side effects of optimising for software (you’d really think we’d have learned by now, but, well, nope!).
- The Pasta Is Content: You’ll have seen headlines over the past month or so trumpeting the creation and arrival of a NEW FORM OF PASTA, designed by ARTIFICIAL INTELLIGENCE (because of course!) – this piece is about how everything is content (much as everything is posting), and how the contentisation of product (and the productisation of content) is basically the overriding theme of 2021 advermarketingpr. Mcluhan would very much enjoy this.
- Against The Clock: This is a brilliant piece of journalism by the Philadelphia Enquirer, telling the story of Tarik Khan, a nurse in the city who each evening at the end of his shift races around delivering leftover vaccine doses before they expire. It’s so well-done – the countdown-style race-against-the-clock framing, the photography, the drawing of characters…honestly, exemplary stuff.
- Social Media Managers and Internet Hate: I don’t know Ed Zitron, but I know of him – he’s an English guy doing PR in the US, whose schtick used to be ‘I AM THE WILD AND CRAZY PR ICONOCLAST!’ but who is now seemingly ploughing a more thoughtful furrow (though he is also seemingly the world’s foremost expert on Joker meme communities on Facebook). This piece is from his newsletter, and is really quite affecting examination of the honest reality of being a community manager in 2021. I’ve done CM work – it was horrible 15y ago, but I can’t even begin to think what it would be like now. This piece does an excellent job of highlighting what can only be described as the emotional cruelty of employers leaving staff members to have this sort of professional life – I do sort of feel that in a decade or so’s time we will look back at the fact that we employed people to effectively be feelings-pinatas for Krispy Kreme on Twitter with a degree of bemused horror.
- Dogecoin and Brands: I filed this away for Curios on Sunday; on Monday, this happens, neatly proving the article to be absolutely right. It’s a short piece, but I’m including it because this all feels very odd and I quite want someone else to agree with me about its oddness. Is it ok that Mars can effectively juice a meme-based cryptocurrency under the guise of a lolsome tweet? Is it ok that that sentence even makes sense? I don’t understand anything anymore. Although, if you’re working for a brand that’s toying with this idea, can I just offer you this: 1) buy one dogecoin; 2) tweet about it; 3) wait 24h; 4) sell dogecoin at profit; 5) use profit to fund giveaway of vouchers for no-cost PR gain. HIRE ME I AM GREAT!
- Embrace The Grind: Not, to be clear, a paean to ‘hustle culture’ or any such guff; instead, this is about how sometimes there aren’t any shortcuts. You have no idea how much resistance it’s taking for me not to send this link to every single person who seemingly thinks that there is a magic internet button you can press to ‘find insights’ (honestly, I think this might be the year in which I snap and actually murder someone who uses that word at me. ‘INSIGHT THIS KNIFE OUT OF YOUR FACE’, I most definitely won’t shout (in case any colleagues do read this, consider this ‘authorial license’ rather than a threat of any sort)).
- King of the Geezer Teasers: There was a period in the…90s? Early-00s? Anyway, in the past, during which a series of tax loopholes meant that it was possible to make a reasonable amount of money in the UK film industry by making films that noone ever went to see; this loophole was what led to the film career of Sadie Frost, as well as the inexplicable parade of straight-to-video Crain Fairbrass vehicles with titles like ‘BLOKE IN A LOCKUP’ or ‘SHANK ME TWICE YOU CAHNT’. This piece looks at what sounds like a slightly-similar grift currently being exploited by a guy called Randall Emmett, starring people like Steven Seagal and, amazingly, Bruce Willis (I can only imagine how thrilled Willis must be that this piece got published – I had totally assumed that he was just retired now rather than grubbing around in Ljubljana making cameos in terrible action flicks). This is a great read.
- The Mystery of Fcking Good Pizza: This is SO SO interesting. You will of course be aware of ‘dark kitchens’ as used by Deliveroo et al, whereby you basically have a container in an industrial park somewhere churning out food from about 2-dozen different branded outlets from one location, all for the delivery market? Well this is that, but with more branding and marketing. Honestly, I was amazed at this – it’s such a smart (devious) model, and I can absolutely see the appeal. It’s also a fascinating unintended consequence of the recent phone-commerce boom; when everything is seen through the lens of Insta, then your food brands have to be Insta-ish too, and need to appeal to all the different Insta sub-communities…honestly, if you do advermarketingpr stuff, particularly brandingwank, then this will be fascinating to you (as it will if you’re just interested in the economics of modern food).
- We Can Do Better Than Musk: I know that reading ‘Elon Musk – Bit of a Dick’ pieces stopped being interesting or surprising a few years ago, but this is better than that. Nathan Robinson approaches Musk less as an individual and more as an avatar of a particular type of capitalist-genius-saviour-figure, and argues that it’s casting people in this role that is the problem as much as the individual himself. A very good read, and an excellent reminder of the fact that, while his companies are accomplishing amazing things, that is not the same as the man being Jesus.
- The Social Media Memory Problem: Tbh I’d be amazed if you’ve not all read this one already – it’s been shared widely, and deservedly so. In case you haven’t, though, this is a reflection on the oddity of never being able to forget in an era of Timehops, and how our experience of life, and memory, is altered by this recasting of what it is to ‘remember’ in any meaningful sense at all. This is such beautiful writing on a subject which it doesn’t feel we’ve contended with anywhere near enough as a species.
- I Read Your Little Internet Novels: A brilliant review / critique of / exploration of two recent ‘internet novels’ – Patricia Lockwood’s ‘Nobody Is Talking About This’, and Lauren Oyler’s ‘Fake Accounts’, both of which have at their heart the oddity of, and seemingly impossibility of meaningful communication about, the experience of ‘being extremely online’. This line rather sums it up – although I might argue that I feel a similar sort of sense in the various novels which have been loosely-bracketed alongside Sally Rooney too: “We ran to the internet to be free. To escape the narrowness of our contexts and circumstances, the new democracy of it all, the wide-open space where we were all free to be who we wanted to be. We bought in. Big. Culturally, societally, into what the internet promised. But what pervades the Internet Novel, really the Social Media novel, is a terror and guilt that in trying to shuck off our regional accents and gas station diets, we’ve all become a sea of beige vegan automatons.”
- An Oral History of Street Fighter II: Ok, fine, if you were never into Street Fighter II then you can probably skip this one – BUT I would still urge you to read the first page, as it contains some of the best, laugh-out-loud descriptions of ‘that weird guy you worked with once’ you will ever read. Honestly, you know every stereotype you might have in your head about how ‘odd’ it must have been to work in Japanese videogame development in the early-90s? Moreso. If, by the way, you have any affection at all for Capcom’s series, this is honestly a must-read.
- Puncher’s Chance: On deprivation and class and race and boxing in the UK in the 20th Century. This is a beautiful piece of writing by Declan Ryan, in the way that only writing about boxing can sometimes be.
- The Unbearable Heaviness of Stuff: I adore this essay more than almost any of the others in here this week. It captures something I have begun to feel SO STRONGLY – that there is a weight to physical objects now that I never used to feel, that consciousness of provenance and manufacture now just leads to a sort of broken paralysis about all the stuff that has been and will be and will never, ever die. Honestly, this is SUPERB: “Not all cheap items are disposable, but the convenience of urban trash collection, low cost of products, and difficulty of repairing many modern home goods means that disposing of things has come to feel natural, inevitable. And here I am, trying to stave off that inevitability and figure out how to shepherd a motley array of kitchen implements and old extension cords through an uncaring world. As Steven Phillips-Horst tweeted, on the aesthetic and moral wretchedness of a Container Store paper towel holder: “I’m meant to be this heinous dildo’s nanny between a Chinese factory and a Jersey landfill?? I’d rather die.””
- Snakes and Ladders: Absolutely the best essay about meritocracy and the misinterpretation of the idea that I have ever read. Stefan Collini in the London Review of Books takes in history, economics, political theory, educational practice, class studies and more, and, honestly, it’s SO good. Long, knotty and you will have to think a bit, but it’s superb writing and doesn’t feel anywhere near like as much effort as you might realise by the end it was (and this is why Stefan Collini writes in the LRB and I do not).
- Japanese Onomatopoeia: Finally in this week’s longreads (God I’ve missed writing that), this essay by Polly Barton, about the untranslatability of sounds and how language defines the limits of feeling. Beautiful, sad, and superbly-accurate on the odd gaps between language you discover when speaking in translation.
AND NOW, MOVING PICTURES AND SOUNDS!:
- I think I’ve featured Grrl Gang! on here before – if not, I ought to have done as they are ace and this, a live performance of their song ‘Honey Baby’ at SXSW last month, is a decent introduction if you don’t know them. It’s entirely possible that I like this because it’s hugely-reminiscent of a bunch of female-fronted bands I was into when I was 15, but LET AN OLD MAN HAVE HIS NOSTALGIA FFS.
- I had obviously never heard of the Tramp Stamps before this week, but after the story about them being ‘industry plants’ broke (on which point, that may well be true but the idea that there’s a whole generation which now believes in ‘authenticity in the music industry’ is SO CUTE!) I felt compelled to check them out and, wow. I can’t claim to be any sort of authority on what GenZ might be into, but even I can see that this sort of reeks of fake posture. Also, to be clear, the music blows.
- Last up in the musical selections this week, this is Tom Mcrae and Lowri Evans with ‘High & Lonesome’ – it’s proper bedwetter music, but I’m feeling all emo about once again finding myself at the bottom of approximately 10,000 words of copy that perhaps 6 people will read so, well, INDULGE ME, WEBMONGS! Oh, and, er, BYE BYE THANKS FOR READING IT’S GOOD TO BE BACK I LOVE YOU TAKE CARE OF YOURSELVES AND I WILL BE BACK NEXT WEEK AND THANKS AND REALLY I MEAN IT THANKS I LOVE YOU BYE!