HELLO! How are you?
Oh, that’s right, you’re not here, are you, you fcuks, you’re either in Cannes or at Glastonbury. WELL SEE IF I CARE.
(that mention of Cannes has just reminded me of a time a decade or so ago when I was still working at H+K and they were still, inexplicably, letting me publish an early version of Curios as part of their official weekly content output; it was Cannes week, and I made some throwaway reference to the fact that significant numbers of my colleagues were on the Croisette, “snorting low-grade cocaine from the tanned midriffs of Eastern European hookers”, and then went to lunch; I got a phonecall approximately 20 minutes later from the company’s global head of digital in the States suggesting I might want to edit the line, but, well, I was at lunch. The blog was killed, I got a not insignificant wrist-slap, and it was about that point that I realised that, probably, I wasn’t really cut out for Big Agency Life. So it goes).
I DO NOT CARE! Curios exists with or without you! I DON’T NEED YOUR EYEBALLS!
I am still Matt, this is still Web Curios, and you will really regret that third pill when you wake up at 7am in a very hot tent.
By Tobi Kahn
THE SECTION WHICH ISN’T BITTER AT ALL ABOUT NOT BEING AT GLASTONBURY AND DEFINITELY ISN’T PRAYING FOR RAIN, PT.1:
- Champagne Avenue Foch: The Bored Ape Yacht Club…thing is by far the most visible and recognisable of the multifarious NFT profile picture projects, and the one which has done the best job of creating a brand or identity beyond the obviously-preposterous central idea of ‘sell a link to a poorly-drawn jpeg for a six-figure sum’, with its celebrity backers and real-world restaurant chains and appearances in music videos by actual, proper artists (albeit ‘actual proper artists with an interest in promoting their investments in said poorly-drawn-jpeg-empire’). It’s also been subject to some…fairly persistent allegations around a lot of incredibly, er, coincidental affinities that much of the brand’s artwork has with some staggeringly-Nazi tropes. I’ve read around quite a lot of this and had, previous to this week, not been totally convinced that these fashy links were necessarily there. Then a few days ago I read about the fact that the brand has just launched its own champagne brand, available in a limited-edition 1/1 NFT sale (I have literally no clue how an NFT and a bottle of real-world fizz connect to each other, and, honestly, I don’t care), and I clicked the link, and I saw the name of the champagne and wondered ‘what happens when I Google the street that this champagne is named after, I wonder?’ and it turns out that Avenue Foch was the address of the SS in occupied Paris and…I mean, look, maybe this is all entirely coincidental, and maybe this whole investigation by Rider Ripps is all overblown, and maybe everything in this video is a huge reach, but it’s quite hard to look at this stuff and not conclude that a bunch of far-right fcuks are laughing at the massively-lucrativly Nazi troll that they have spent the past year or so perpetrating on the world. There are very strong Pepe-ish vibes about all this, is all I’m saying.
- Priceless: What does your credit score sound like? A full, sonorous chime, or a distant, forlorn keening? Sadly this project from Mastercard doesn’t allow you to create an aural portrait of your own personal financial apocalypse (honestly, ‘create a song from the horror that is my bank balance’ feels like a great idea and I would totally switch my banking to a provider that afforded me this niche ability, just in case anyone was desperate to take on my debt) – it’s far more miserable than that. You may not be aware of the fact that a couple of years ago Mastercard joined the ranks of brands that have paid unconscionable amounts of money for the development of its very own aural brand expression (a corporate jingle, basically) – you can acquaint yourself with said sonic branding here if you wish – but it did, and Mastercard has now decided that it is NOT ENOUGH to have a completely-anodyne piece of muzak to accompany all its advertising and presentations and conferences, and that it must LEVERAGE said muzak across MULTIPLE TOUCHPOINTS to INTERSECT WITH A BROADER RANGE OF CONSUMER PROFILES and, as such, Mastercard has become quite possibly the first ever financial services brand to release an ALBUM and Oh My Dear God It Is So Bad. Honestly, this is…look, click here and scrub through some of the tracks because they really do have to be heard to be believed. This whole project is utterly astounding in its pointlessness – I can, fine, sort-of understand the concept and potential utility of ‘sonic branding’ but…but…who in the world would ever conceivably want to listen to an entire album of songs based around the 60s musical sting composed to representa a payment provider? I will humbly submit to you, gentle reader, that the answer to that question is ‘literally noone, ever’. This is a project that will have involved the time and energy of at least 50-odd people (possibly more if you factor in all the various people involved in the recording process for the songs), all to create something that has literally no discernible purpose, an album of music that I would charitably guess will garner somewhere in the region of <1000 listens in the entire history of the human race. The total amount spent on this, if you factor in people’s time and salaries and stuff, will be well into six figures. WHY? I honestly find whole swathes of modern capitalism utterly fcuking batsh1t.
- The Human Record Player: This, though, is a musical project I can very much get behind. The Human Record Player is the promo site for Weezer’s new single, which, the gimmick is, you can only listen to on your phone. Whilst, er, spinning around at speed. Open the site on your phone and it will ask you to rotate on the spot (or, if you’re feeling a bit sicky, to spin your phone on the table or something) – this mimics a turntable, and if you get the speed right will allow you to listen to the new track (but you need to keep spinning). Obviously this is an utterly terrible way to listen to music – non-Weezer fans might well argue that it’s barely music, in any case – but I am a huge fan of the silliness of the idea, and the slightly-old-school ‘using the accelerometer on your phone for POINTLESS FUN!’ vibe of the site, and I used to really like Weezer as a kid so this is basically perfect in my eyes (BONUS WEEZER CONTENT: this is a very good video about the band and the exact point at which it started to suck, and why).
- Mesopotamia: Another superb bit of work from Getty, offering an online tour through its exhibition on the history of Mesopotamia which was held last year at the Getty Villa in California – a really nicely-built scrolly tour through some of the objects featured in the show, with light accompanying text that explains some of the significance of the relics. This is SUCH a better way of doing ‘a digital version of an exhibition’ than an attempt at some sort of ‘metaversal’ 3d gallery space – focus on a few objects, use the web to bring the viewer closer to them than would be possible irl, tell stories.
- Internet Walks: Oh I love this! Ascii-internet-art! A project born out of COVID and realised by a seemingly-nameless coder, this website exists to seek to replicate its creators experience of connecting with others during lockdowns; during the pandemic, they spent time talking with strangers online about the places they came from, sharing stories of homes and communities and environments that formed them, and this site is meant to evoke some of those feelings of being led through someone else’s sense of place and history. There are four ‘walks’ to go on, each linked to the creator’s conversation with a different individual, and they take the shape of a series of ‘folders’ which you can click through to find short poems or pictures or ascii maps which describe places that matter to them. This is honestly so so lovely – simple and half-abstract and poignant in a way it simply wouldn’t be were it more obviously-visual.
- Aztec Gods: The clever people at The Pudding turn their datavisualisation skills to the Aztec pantheon, presenting this beautifully-designed guide to some of the deities beloved of South America’s premier tribe of human sacrificers. This is lovely – colourful and clear and interesting – but I really wish it contained a decent guide as to how the everliving fcuk I am supposed to pronounce ‘Tlaltecuhtli’.
- Guess The Sub: This is a lovely little game with a very simple premise – can you guess which SubReddit a particular post title might be drawn from? Some of these, fine, are pretty easy, but it’s a nice, low-friction way of browsing Reddit (and, if you turn on the NSFW option, of discovering some incredibly-niche tastes in bongo). Also, as with all Reddit-based stuff, it’s a window into some truly terrifying corners of the human psyche – I was just served a question asking me where I might expect to have found a post asking whether it’s possible to get a refund on money you’ve spent buying shares, which paints such a terrifying picture of the sort of damage about to be done to very, very stupid people by the increasingly-imminent financial apocalypse that it doesn’t bear thinking too closely about.
- Sirens: As the the war in Ukraine limps into its fifth month with no sign of abating, the need for aid and donations and relief to help support the people of the country being bombed to fcukery by Cuddly Vlad grows. Whether or not you think ‘buying an AI-generated artwork depicting the war as an NFT’ is a smart or useful way of helping is very much up to you, but that is exactly what Sirens is offering you the chance to do. “We created a neural network pipeline that generates artworks from text descriptions. Then, we made a chronology of the most significant events of the Russian full-scale war against Ukraine, described them, and used this as input for our neural network. Art generated by this process will be sold in the form of NFTs. All funds raised from the sale will be donated to assist Ukraine in solving the humanitarian crisis.” It’s unclear exactly how these images are created – as with so much AI art, there’s a degree of unhelpful opaqueness about the creative process that has happened here – but the outputs are…interesting. There’s a certain oil-painting quality to the style that the machines working in, and the thick ‘brushwork’ does a decent job of fudging some of the ‘rough round the edges’ elements of the AI’s work – I’d struggle to call this stuff ‘great art’, but it’s for a good cause and an interesting idea.
- The Alternative Narratives Visualisation Archive: Ooh, this is super-interesting. “Alternative narratives are those that provide different stories from the ones of dominant power structures, such as information provided by governments, corporations, organizations, the media, etc…This archive brings together digital online projects which use data visualization to support alternative narratives to the ones from dominant power. It aims to raise knowledge and gather the design expertise on the relevant task of portraying evidence to not-visible or alternative social issues that aren’t been told by the main power institutions. At the same time, the archive aims to bring to the fore discussion and awareness on the political role of designers when they design with data.” This is a portal into SO much interesting stuff, from mapping global terrorist organisations and their interactions and ideological overlaps, to stories about corruption in Spanish banking, all told in a variety of innovative digital ways. Seriously, if you have any interest in how to show information and tell stories online, this is a superb resource.
- Metaverse Standards: Whilst I will continue shouting ‘THE METAVERSE DOESN’T EXIST STOP TALKING ABOUT IT LIKE IT IS A REAL THING IT IS NOT IT IS A FCUKING CONCEPT AND A VERY WOOLY ONE AT THAT’ loudly at anyone who will listen (turns out, not that many people!), the fact remains that it is an idea that a lot of people have invested lots of money in and which is going to be forced into becoming some sort of reality whether we like it or not. On that basis, then, the establishment of a Metaverse Standards Forum can broadly be seen as ‘A Good Thing’ – the idea that a bunch of disparate companies can cooperatively establish a baseline set of principles and parameters which govern the development of any eventual persistent virtual environments seems sensible, and the fact that some many large brands with a foothold in this stuff have signed up seems…broadly positive!
- The Malware Museum: Oh SUCH MEMORIES! “The Malware Museum is a collection of malware programs, usually viruses, that were distributed in the 1980s and 1990s on home computers. Once they infected a system, they would sometimes show animation or messages that you had been infected” – this is a collection of those animations and messages. Obviously viruses are BAD THINGS made by BAD PEOPLE, but I can’t help but get a bit nostaglic for an era in which a bunch of children spent their spare time making small bits of code for the express purpose of just fcuking people’s digital sh1t up via the medium of a small pixellated animation of a poorly-drawn marijuana leaf.
- Shahar Varshal: Mashups very much feel like the uncool kid at a school disco, dancing slightly-too-hard and not realising that everyone is laughing at them rather than with them (repressed memories? NO NEVER), and yet I confess to having a small corner of my heart that will forever love Freelance Hellraiser and Osymyso and all those other early-00s lads who made the London scene briefly-thrilling circa 2002. This is the YouTube channel of one Shhar Varhal, who has been making their own mashups and chucking them up on YouTube for years and OH MY GOD this person is an artist. Honestly, these are SO GOOD and pleasingly-inventive in their song selections – if nothing else, the Bad Habits/Smalltown Boy mix is a work of genius and deserves your aural attention.
- Noisy Cities: Rome has many things to recommend it – ice cream, very old buildings, the most beautiful light in the world, starlings – but one adjective you would never use for the city is ‘peaceful’ (unless your particular version of ‘peace’ is congruent with ‘being woken up at approximately 5am most mornings by the sound of the fcuking bottlebanks being emptied under your windows’). Then again, as this website shows, nowhere is peaceful thanks to FCUKING CARS – Noisy Cities is a project which maps decibel levels across various capital cities (specifically London, Paris and New York) and shows you the quietest and loudest areas in each city, with accompanying audio to give you a picture of what the ambient noise sounds like across the various metropolises. Cars are a fcuking cancer, basically (although here in Rome it’s hard not to form the strong belief that it’s also people and their INCESSANT DESIRE TO BEEP THEIR FCUKING HORNS FOR NO APPARENT REASON GYAC YOU IMPATIENT FCUKS MAKING A LOT OF NOISE DOES NOT MAGICALLY MAKE TRAFFIC DISAPPEAR).
- Lighter Side: One of my favourite things about the web is the occasional insight it provides into professions or areas of interest that are utterly alien to me, like, I don’t know, millinery or cheesemaking or proctology. So it is with this particular subsection of the website of the Health Physics Society, “a scientific organization of professionals who specialize in radiation safety”, which collects a bunch of ‘humorous comic strips’ all about, er, the laugh-a-minute world of radiation in medicine! This is some FABULOUSLY-NICHE humour – I understand possibly 7% of the cartoons that I’ve looked at here, and been moved to smile by exactly none of them, but WHO CARES? I really want a radiologist to explain some of these to me, and also to tell me whether that my hunch is correct and that, even if you totally understand the science behind the gags, these are all approximately as funny as cancer.
- Tip of my Tongue: Oh this is such a clever idea – Tip of my Tongue is a website which helps you find words which you can’t quite remember, letting you input a whole range of parameters to help you find the very specific word you’re after. Input starting letter, ending letter or meanings and see if it can’t help you.
THE SECTION WHICH ISN’T BITTER AT ALL ABOUT NOT BEING AT GLASTONBURY AND DEFINITELY ISN’T PRAYING FOR RAIN, PT.2:
- Roast Potatoes: Do you enjoy a roast spud? All crispy on the outside and fluffy on the inside, with bronzed edges and possibly a slight animal fat tang? However much of a fan of the roastie you are, I can almost categorically-guarantee you that your enthusiasm pales into insignificance when compared with that of the members of The Society for the Recognition of Roasted Potatoes as an Independent Dish, a Slovenian organisation which basically exists to celebrate and venerate the roast spud. The website is all in Slovenian, fine, but thanks to the magic of Google translate (or, of course, thanks to your surprisingly-polished Slovenian) you can revel in all sorts of spud-related information and content, and learn all about the Roast Potato Festival that seems to have taken a few years off due to COVID but which I sincerely hope will be back with a bang soon because, honestly, THERE WILL BE SO MANY POTATOES. “It is the duty of each participant to prepare “about” 50 kg of roasted potatoes, you can provide them in several roasts (potatoes, spices and additives yourself !!!) according to your own recipes. You will hand over the written recipes with all the information about the provider of fried potatoes to the representative of the association, who will visit you at the stand. When we collect them for each day of the year, we will publish a book entitled “Roasted Potatoes in 365 Ways”. This is possibly my favourite thing of 2022 so far (it’s been an appalling year and the bar is low).
- Earth FM: “Like Spotify, but for natural soundscapes”, apparently – “a non-profit, free repository of pure, immersive natural soundscapes as a fundraising platform for local, grassroots charities that support the restoration of our natural world. Based on empirical evidence as well as numerous recent studies from all over the world, listening to natural soundscapes (particularly mindful listening) has a great positive impact on our wellbeing, and potentially on our respect for nature. However, these soundscapes are increasingly scarce as we humans continue to destroy the natural ecosystems which produce them. That’s where earth.fm comes in: as well as sharing a new natural soundscape every three days, we’re actively helping the community to go out in nature more often and discover a deeper, more direct connection with the wonders around us, which can lead to more well being on individual and collective levels.” I spent the time writing this entry listening to the sounds of a Thai forest (admittedly with the far-less-relaxing background hum of Roman traffic) and I can categorically promise you that you will feel marginally-better as a result of listening to some natural audio (Web Curios takes no responsibility should you unaccountably end up feeling worse).
- The Rotary Unsmartphone: You may recall an image doing the rounds a few years back of a mobile phone that had been hacked to have a rotary dialer on its front, creating a slightly-aesthetically-pleasing but fundamentally-useless modern/retro chimeratoy – well, now the person who cobbled that together is selling kits which will let you make your very own! $400 (that is a LOT OF MONEY) will get you everything you need to create your very own barely-functional mobile which will let you make calls and send and receive texts. This is 100% designed for people who are into steampunk and ‘funny’ nerd rap, and if that’s you then I am happy for you but I can’t claim to understand you.
- Sniffspot: Do YOU have a massive tract of land that you simply don’t know what to do with? Would YOU like the opportunity to monetise it? Do YOU fancy spending a significant proportion of your time clearing dog faeces from said massive tract of land? If the answer to each of those questions is a resounding “YES!” then you may well be in the market for Sniffspot, the latest in the seemingly-neverending series of attempts to monetise the fcuk out of every single facet of human existence. The premise here is relatively simple – land owners can sign up to the service and offer ther private space for rent to dog owners who want a private place for their canine pals to frolic. I am not, admittedly, a canine expert, but my loose observation of the hounds at my local dog part suggests that they are in fact social animals and therefore does make me wonder who the idea of ‘a place to take your dog where there will be no other animals, guaranteed’ is aimed at – the site mentions ‘sensitive dogs’, which I can sort-of understand, but I can’t help but wonder whether the real market is for owners of massively-toothed balls of coiled muscle with names like ‘Throatripper’ or ‘Old Gouger’. Basically I wouldn’t sign up for this unless you’re comfortable having a terrifying procession of barely-controllable weapondogs defecating copiously all over your gardenias.
- Pacman Poems: This doesn’t quite work, but it feels like there’s the kernel of something fun in here. Pacman Poems is a small webtoy which each time you load the page presents you with a 4×4 grid containing words and punctuation marks – you move the 8ball cursor around the grid, with the order you ‘eat’ the words and symbols in creating a short ‘poem’ which will be different each time. It feels like a riff on cut-up work, and whilst the outputs are more often than not gibberish, there’s something interesting about the functional constraint placed on the composition process and the formlessness of the outputs.
- John Dopamine: While Dall-E and GPT-3 get all the popular engagement and column inches, interesting work continues to be done on the less-immediately-compelling area of audio AI. John Dopamine is a YouTube channel posting experiments in computer-imagined audio, specifically OpenAI’s Digital Jukebox, and whilst the stuff it’s creating isn’t great it’s also…getting better. A lot of these are ‘AI fills’ – the software is asked to imagine how a particular song might continue beyond a certain point – but there’s also some interesting composition happening, and occasionally it gets properly convincing, as in the case of this example when the software’s asked to imagine how some guitarwork by Billy Corgan might extend beyond a single solo (whether or not this is a reflection of the, er, skill and complexity of Corgan’s fretwork is unclear). This is a long way from being anywhere near comparable to human output, but it starts to give a feeling of what might be possible through Centaur composition (and it’s all significantly less horrible than that fcuking Mastercard album).
- The Calendar Collective: “Calendar Collective is a living archive of alternate calendars. It is an ongoing investigation for collecting, cataloguing and publishing calendars that are little-known to our world. We use openly contributed voicemails as our unique research material. The archive offers an uncommon collection of calendars traced through these unwritten and slightly incongruous fragments.” I don’t understand this AT ALL, but there is something utterly compelling about the weirdness – what are the voicemails? How do they relate to the calendar designs? Some of them seem to be telling…short stories about worlds or universes governed or described by these imagined calendars? Regardless, some of the designs on display here are wonderful and I am a big fan of the fact that this at no point gives the impression that anyone involved in its creation cares whatsoever about whether or not I or anyone else has the faintest idea what the fcuk is going on here.
- Digital Detox: Oh I do like this. Since 2017, Marco Land has been using a browser extension which tracks his in-browser scrolling and translates that into physical distance, mapping said distance against the route of the Camino Frances – so every time Land scrolls down a webpage, this site, displaying the Google Streetview of the trail, will move you a tiny bit along the route. At their present rate of scrolling, Marco will reach the end of the route in 2027 which I think merits some sort of celebration – also, I strongly believe that someone ought to start doing an annual Online Scrolling Marathon for charity so if one of you could make that happen that would be lovely, thanks (I am not joking, I think it is a legitimately great idea).
- Setlist: A site for people to share information on artist setlists at recent gigs, which might be useful should you want to ensure that whoever you’re contemplating seeing on tour is going to be playing the bangers rather than the b-sides.
- Ringtone Bangers: Speaking of bangers (seamless!), this is an excellent Twitter account which “posts (non-game) consumer technology-related bangers, such as ringtones, BGM and synth demo songs.” You may not have thought you needed or wanted more late-90s mobile ringtones in your life, but I assure you that you do – it is legitimately insane to me that there was a period of time in which the composition and sale of these was a multi-billion-pound industry, but then again some of these absolutely slap; there has to be some bedroom producer out there making tracks using some of this stuff as a base, surely?
- The Platformer Toolkit: This is ACE – it describes itself as ‘an interactive video essay’, but it’s more easily understood as a platform game in which you can modify a bunch of parameters as you go to teach you about how game design works. This is so much fun, and a really good basic introduction to game systems and physics and basic principles of ludic design and, even better, it’s just an awful lot of fun to play with.
- WordDall-E: Can you guess the prompt fed to Dall-E mini just by looking at the images it spat out? This is more fun than you might think, although because of the way people are insisting on using this a large proportion of the answers will be things like a ‘A Pokemon playing DDR’ or ‘Sonic the Pope’.
- Stupid Word Game: Sent to me by Curios reader Colin Devroe, who also created it, this is a nice twist on the Wordle format (I promised I wouldn’t keep including Wordle riffs, but I will make exceptions for ones that are fun or which are accompanied by a polite email) which asks you to unscramble a different word each day, with a limited number of guesses and backspaces to help you. This is, I concede, a terrible description, but I promise you that it will make perfect sense as soon as you click and start playing around. It is, I warn you, harder than you initially think (or it is for me; I am having something of a stupid morning, though).
- Only Connect: Have you ever watched Only Connect and thought ‘I could totally do that’? You’re significantly smarter than me, in that case – whilst I very much enjoy the show, I am less of a fan of exactly how thick it makes me feel every time I watch it. Still, if you fancy giving it a try you can thanks to this browser-based version – there’s slight frustration to be had in terms of the need to type the exact wording of the answers, meaning you can occasionally find yourself being penalised for ‘wrong’ answers that ARE TOTALLY RIGHT FFS YOU UNBENDING MACHINE WHY WILL YOU NOT ACCOMMODATE MY INTERPRETATION OF THE ANSWER ahem but this is a lot of fun (if your definition of the word ‘fun’ is broad enough to include ‘repeatedly failing to spot the association between a series of what look like entirely-unconnected words’).
- Below The Ocean: Last of the miscellaneous links this week is this gorgeous little in-browser platform puzzler, which looks like an old ZX Spectrum title but plays with all the slickness of a modern game – Below The Ocean “ is a fun, adorable, and atmospheric 2D Side-Scrolling Platformer! Use your oxygen supply’s tether to swing around unique level designs and solve interesting puzzles.” This is so so good, and a perfect way to distract yourself from the fact you’re not at Glastonbury for 15 minutes or so.
By Chris Taylor
THE CIRCUS OF TUMBLRS!
- Transparent Flowers: If you’ve ever thought “God, I wish I knew of a website where I could find a ridiculous quantity of images of flowers, cacti and other flora, all with transparent backgrounds” then WOW is this site going to please you. If not, your reaction is likely to be more muted. Still, flowers!
- Wild About Houdini: Ok, fine, not in fact a Tumblr. Still, it feels like it fits here and it’s a WONDERFUL trove of information and anecdotes about the life and career of Harold Houdini, with just a touch of the wildly-obsessional which is just how I like it.
THE TROUGH OF (INSTA) FEEDS!
- Gorilla Doctors: Photos of gorillas in Rwanda, Uganda and DRC, taken by vets working for a non-profit organisation dedicated to the creatures’ safety. There is literally no way that your timeline contains enough gorillas, so rectify it by clicking this link.
- Penny Thompson: Thompson is an artist who creates truly incredible miniature animals, miniature animals that MOVE thanks to some quite amazing mechanical design. These are so so so cool, and I now really want a small toucan whose wings flap at the turn of a tiny crank – turns out these are in fact for sale, so should any of you want to provide me with some sort of token of your appreciation for over a decade’s worth of TIRELESS LINK-GRUBBING then, well, I wouldn’t say no.
- Jon Paul’s Balls: This man stitches footballs together, from other stuff, for fun. It’s more compelling than you’d imagine it to be, promise.
LONG THINGS WHICH ARE LONG!
- Some Notes On The Crypto Crash: It’s obviously tempting to laugh at the current bonfire that is everything to do with crypto, except, as with all massive financial crashes/corrections it does rather look as though an awful lot of regular (if very gullible, financially-imprudent) people are getting quite badly burnt by it. Still, if you’re interested in reading a short overview of What Is Happening and Why It Is Happening then this is pretty comprehensible even to someone with next-to-no financial acumen whatsoever (ie me). Also, it contains this summary paragraph which I very much enjoyed: “It’s a huge Rube Goldberg machine slapstick custard pie clown car, where each custard pie triggers three more custard pies. A clown’s tie pops up, causing three other clowns’ ties to pop up. Several tons of organic cow manure fall from above. The clowns stick their heads up out of the poop, proclaiming how clean they are and what a mess everyone else is.”
- The Extremely Online Workplace: Or ‘does your business need a community manager to moderate its Slack?’ which, fine, feels like a silly idea when you put it like that but is in fact an increasingly-important question in an era in which we’re all feeling a touch fragile and everything is a hot-button issue and we’re all spending more time communicating on platforms and via media that do an excellent job at flattening nuance and context, and much of our interactions with colleagues now take place in these strange spaces which intersect with the social and professional in ways we’re not totally comfortable with.
- Facebook’s Ditching News: You may have seen the recent headlines proclaiming that people are increasingly avoiding news for the entirely-understandable reason that, well, it’s mostly unspeakably-horrid. I read this piece, on Facebook’s pivot away from news as a content vector, and did rather wonder how far we are from there being an entire swathe of Western society that just totally stops engaging with it entirely – for better or worse (lol we all know it’s worse!), Facebook is still a platform used by over 2bn people, for many of which it simply is the internet, and it’s the lens through which all of their online life (which, as we all know, is just…life these days) is filtered. What does ‘basically removing news from that lens’ do? This piece is a story about Facebook’s relationship with news organisations, and about money, but I personally think that the far more interesting idea at the core of it is the very real possibility of a significant proportion of the population just deciding that they don’t really want to know what’s going on in the world beyond TikTok and their mates. That doesn’t feel like a good thing imho.
- The Google Problem: Or “ANOTHER article about how Google search isn’t as good as it used to be, and why that is” – Charlie Warzel writes in the Atlantic about all the reasons why trying to find information using Google is often a significantly more-frustrating experience than it used to be. Some of this you’ll know – SEO people have ruined the web! Adverts! – but I found some of the more psychological stuff here interesting – the fact that we simply expect anything we want to know or find out to have been put online in a searchable manner, for example, is interesting to me, as is the generational shift towards more conversational query writing amongst younger users. Warzel followed the article up with some additional thoughts which you can read here, covering some responses to the original piece, which is also worth reading – the line in here about how part of the problem is that so much potentially-useful content now exists in the gated hinterlands of Insta or Facebook Groups was also striking.
- CryptoStunts: A profile of the MSCHF-ish collective behind some of the more eyecatching stunts taking the pss out of crypto that have sprung up over the past 12 months. The general sense I got from this is of a group of people who are genuinely astonished that they have encountered a scene so free of self-awareness that it will literally pay money to people who are effectively shouting “YOU’RE ALL REALLY REALLY DUMB” right in their faces: “Last December, when some NFTs were selling for tens of millions of dollars, the three men were making “a thousand dumb jokes” in their shared Discord, Lacher remembered. Eventually, though, one of those jokes stuck. They launched their inaugural crypto project, Non-Fungible Olive Gardens, last December, putting images from Google Maps of the restaurants on the blockchain. “For too long, ownership of Olive Garden franchises has been dominated by the capricious whims of the fiat system,” their website read, cheekily promising that the ultimate goal was a “leveraged buyout of Darden Restaurants, Olive Garden’s parent company.” “We were like, we’ll send it to two people just to get their take on it and to see how dumb this is,” Moore said. They severely underestimated the appetite of investors in crypto, a category in which even meme projects can bring in a lot of money. All 880 NFOGs, costing $19.99—the price of Olive Garden’s Tour of Italy entree—sold out in twelve hours. Moore said the Mossy team made enough to break even on the cost of making it.” Astonishing.
- Remilia Corporation: This is on the one hand very inside-sceney, but on the other I think there’s something interesting in the wider story of the extent to which the crypto scene is intersecting with quite a lot of edgelord unpleasantness – between this and the ‘BAYC may or may not be a Nazi sh1tposting project’ it feels like there’s something bubbling. As an aside, there was a point this week where I realised that I understood every single word of the sentence “Inside Remilia Corporation, the anti-woke DAO behind the doomed Milady Maker NFT”, and that this suggests my life has not been the unalloyed success I might like to occasionally pretend to myself that it is.
- Nike: A properly-fascinating profile of the Nike brand as it approaches 50 (only 50?!) – I’m normally quite sceptical of hagiographic pieces about THE POWER OF BRAND, but this is a really interesting read and contains loads of stuff which might be useful or interesting if you’re in the horrible, invidious position of ‘having to at least pretend to care about things like brand strategy’.
- Making The Cosmo Cover With AI: The OpenAI Pr machine is doing some quality work for its paymasters at present – the latest example is a new edition of Cosmopolitan whose cover has been DESIGNED BY AI!!!! This piece links to the ‘how we did this’ explainer article, also in Cosmo, which is a far more interesting explanation of the creative process undertaken than I was expecting, and gives a really interesting look at how AI-generated imagery works best when developed in conjunction with a creative human with a clear idea of what they want to achieve. There’s a lot of PR puffery in here about how OpenAI sees software like this as ‘an artist’s tool’ rather than ‘a replacement for the artist’ – but, well, they would say that. Give it another couple of iterations, kids, and see how many commissions you’re getting for billboard mockups or moodboard renders.
- What’s Good About This Photo?: I really enjoyed this short article, looking at a photo taken by an amateur photographer (coincidentally someone I know – HI MIKE!) and analysing what makes the composition particularly pleasing to the eye. AI composition will start to become properly-interesting when it can incorporate some of these subjective aesthetic judgements into its work – “A minion painting the Golden Gate bridge yellow” is DULL; “A minion painting a really ugly canvas” starts to become interesting (a bit interesting, maybe).
- Palm Oil: A fascinating piece in the LRB about palm oil, much maligned by apparently a far more complex product than we’re aware of. This is a great bit of writing, covering everything from agriculture to chemistry to cookery to international trade to the very nature of the modern capitalist machine, and, like the best essays about small, specific topics, it contains multitudes.
- Papas Nativas: A brilliant, beautiful photo essay about the many varieties of potato that are indigenous to Peru, and the farmers and chefs and scientists looking to preserve them and repopularise them both domestically and internationally. This is culinarily and culturally fascinating, but the photography is the real star here. I promise you that you will absolutely CRAVE a spud once you’re done with this.
- Three Blind Kings: I confess that before reading this dizzying interview I had only a passing knowledge of who Edward Luttwak is – turns out, he is FASCINATING and not a little mad, a proper, sui generis mind who may also be slightly terrible. This is an honestly incredible interview – the person asking the questions (ostensibly about three world leaders – Putin, Biden and XI), David Samuels, is also something of a, er, character, and the piece starts with the line “Edward, you are a Washington fixture, surrounded by a flourishing mythology that suggests among other things that you are a Romanian vampire who was raised by the Mafia” and only gets odder from thereon in. This covers geopolitics, history, the cognitive improvements granted by nicotine and why it’s a tragedy for humanity that people smoke less, and quite a lot of interesting analysis of Where We Are Now in terms of global power relations. There is, just so you’re aware, a bit of tedious old man ‘wokebashing’ towards the end, and I am not certain that Mr Luttwak isn’t a tiny bit of a racist – with those caveats, though, this really is an interesting and stimulating read.
- Making Up’s Opening: Everyone cries at the first 10 minutes of ‘Up’. Everyone. Except my mother, who when it was on TV here in Italy a few years ago saw me start to weep about three minutes in, watched me go to the bathroom to get tissues, and then disdainfully remarked ‘Jesus Christ, Matthew, it’s just life’. Which, I suppose, is one way to look at it. Anyway, this is a lovely piece looking at how the writers and animators and Pixar created what is to my mind one of the greatest pieces of filmic storytelling ever made.
- The Art in AI Art: I know I am featuring an awful lot of stuff about AI art and creativity at the moment but, well, it’s better than this time last year when it was all NFTs, right? Anyway, this is a brilliant essay by Sam Keeper about where, if anywhere, the ‘art’ lives in AI art, which covers all sorts of questions of ‘what makes art art?’ and ‘who is doing the creative lifting here?’, and, honestly, I find these things SO fascinating. This is the first in a planned series of essays around the topic, so bookmark this and check back to read the rest.
- Still: A very short piece of writing – a single paragraph, more or less – about the death of a child, by Casey Mulligan Walsh. This left me winded, it’s so good.
- Satellites: Finally in this week’s longreads, a short story by Rebecca Curtis. “My husband was short, broad-shouldered, and muscular, with a handsome, olive-tinted oval face, a huge nose like an ice scoop, and black eyes. Genetically, he was sixty per cent Irish, twenty per cent Syrian, two per cent Jewish, and eighteen per cent English, but he identified as Dutch-New Netherlandish. His ancestors, he told me, had founded America. He’d started working at age twelve, as a farmhand, and eventually acquired a Ph.D. in quantum physics from Harvard, then served for decades as the “head quant” at a world-renowned investment bank. But he wasn’t smart enough to be skeptical when go-go dancers said, Don’t worry, I’m on the pill.” That should tell you enough about who the people are – Curtis writes them superbly.
AND NOW, MOVING PICTURES AND SOUNDS!:
- Last up this week, this is Brotherhood (featuring the ever-excellent Manga) with a track called ‘Whole Life’ and it feels like a bit of a summer banger THAT’S IT THAT’S YOUR LOT I AM SPENT I AM DONE AND ONCE AGAIN I JUST WANT YOU TO KNOW THAT I LOVE YOU AND THAT I NEED YOU AND THAT I MISS YOU ALREADY AND WANT NOTHING MORE THAN FOR YOU TO COME BACK NEXT WEEK SO PLEASE DO I LOVE YOU I LOVE YOU BYE!