A NEW TUBE LINE! Or at least there is for those of you in London; in Rome, the tube doesn’t get to where I live because of the trifling matter of there being 2,000 year-old pottery fragments everywhere which tend to slow the development of the underground network somewhat.
Still, I’m happy for you! No, really, I am! Hopefully it will go some way towards compensating for the Winter of Discontent 2.0 which looks like it’s going to be heading for Sovreignty Isle sometime in the next few months, unless the combined intellectual might of the new Cabinet can somehow contrive to sort everything out. My breath, as they say, is bated.
Except obviously it’s not, as I don’t currently live in the UK and none of this is my problem anymore. Instead I am looking forward to the frankly-staggering lineup for Italian ‘Strictly Come Dancing’ which features none other than ex-reality-TV doyenne Bianca Gascoigne as one of the contestants! No, really! Someone who I honestly thought had given up the InstaLife and retired to the country to raise hogs or something but who it transpires has once again plumped their lips for another go on the reality TV merrygoround. I do hope Bianca’s agent knows what they are doing – whilst on the one hand it’s a great booking, on the other it was immediately clear from yesterday’s announcement that there are certain contestants who have been very much included just because they might fcuk one another, and I get the impression Ms Gascoigne is firmly in that camp. More news as and when from what I think you’ll agree is the hottest TV ticket of the year.
Anyway, none of you care about that – and if I’m honest, neither do I! – and you probably don’t care about what comes next either. Still, Web Curios continues to exist regardless of whether or not you give a sh1t about it – it’s one of its key skills. See if you can identify any others – linguistic imprecision? Laziness? A fundamental sense of coming to the end of it all? – as you rake through the messy detritus of my prose in search of some – any! – small nuggets of goodness. They’re there, I promise, but you’ll really need to get down in there with your teeth to pull them out.
I am still Matt, this is still Web Curios, and the pace of everything is still dizzying to the point of nausea.
THE SECTION WHICH IS CONFUSED AS TO HOW THIS WEEK HAS MANAGED TO FEEL SO FUTURE AND AT THE SAME TIME SO REMINISCENT OF WHAT I AM TOLD THE 1970s WERE LIKE, PT.1:
- The F-List: This first link is a bit ‘inside baseball’, fine, and unlikely to be of much interest to you unless you have a vague degree of connection with the murky and unpleasant world of advermarketingpr, but, well, I know what most of you do for a living (I don’t, to be clear, I’m just making an educated guess based on out-of-office replies). The F-List is a newly-published rundown, by campaign organisation Clean Creatives, detailing exactly which advermarketingpr agencies in Europe, North America and Australia are employed by the big oil and gas companies (information which, surprisingly, they don’t seem overly keen on making publicly available – whodathunkit?!). To be clear, I’m not attempting to take a position of moral superiority here – whilst I don’t work for any of the people here listed at present, I have taken money from several of these agencies in the past and am not trying to judge anyone working at any of them now. This is more about the fact that I think it’s important that people be given the information to make their own decisions about who they do and don’t want to work for based on the clientbase the agencies in question have – there are jobs I have taken in the past that I wouldn’t have done had I known the agency’s client roster in advance of joining (*cough*Edelman*cough*). If you’ve a spare few minutes, I advise you to find those companies that represent the largest number of these companies and then go and read their corporate sustainability statements, and perhaps take a moment to reflect on exactly how meaningful said statements are when you consider exactly whose reputations said agencies are burnishing.
- Probable Futures: More climate-related ‘fun’! This is an excellent piece of website-y communications by campaign organisation Probable Futures, which presents a huge amount of useful information about the climate crisis in clear, simple, easy to follow fashion, starting from the probable impact on the planet and our lives should things continue as they are, and then moving through the science behind why what is happening is happening, all presented clearly and with an emphasis on simple design and language. If you’re relatively clued-up on all this it won’t tell you anything new, but in a field where so much of the information available is either a bit technically dense or dressed up in sustainability-woo, this is admirably simple and effective.
- Evian: Another pointlessly-overengineered consumer-facing website that I struggle to imagine anyone ever visiting – this time, for water! Sorry, sorry, it’s not a ‘website’, it’s an ‘experience’ – important to clear that up. This ‘experience’ lets you, the thirsty user, track the journey of Evian from the glaciers of France, with three distinct stages that you can, er, ‘enjoy’ – basically what this means is that there are three little animated vignettes that the website takes you through, each representing a different point in the journey the H20 takes from mountain to bottle, each with its own vaguely-inspirational voice-over and each taking you on a flythrough of a different alpine-type landscape. Which, to be clear, is largely pointless – WHY??? THE WHOLE THING TAKES 6 MINUTES!! WHY??? – but it’s also, if I’m honest, SO PRETTY – the art style is painterly in a way you don’t often see on websites, and replicates the visual style of the Evian logo with visible brushstrokes on all the detail of mountains and trees that you swoop through as the disembodied voice intones something about, I don’t know, the effect of glacial moraine on water purity (I wasn’t really listening, sorry). You can even send a virtual postcard of the scenery to a friend, just like it’s 2009! This is a very silly website which serves no discernible purpose (I haven’t even been retargeted with ads ffs! COME ON!) and yet which is really nicely made and so gets a tentative thumbs up from me (the hope of which, let’s be clear, was I’m sure one of the main motivating factors in making it in the first place).
- All Vulvas Are Beautiful: Not only a statement of fact, but the URL of a website made to accompany the latest series of Sex Education, the Netflix show about fingering (I have never seen it, but I’m fairly confident that’s broadly right). Apparently one of the characters in the show has some insecurities around their vulva’s appearance and goes on what I imagine is something of a JOURNEY OF ACCEPTANCE around how all bodies are lovely or somesuch – this site is a resource to reinforce the positive messages about self-acceptance presented by the programme. I can’t stress how much I love this – it’s made in conjunction with The Vulva Gallery, a long-running project along similar lines by Dutch artist Hilde Atalanta, and I love the fact that not only did they buy the all-vulvas-are-beautiful.com url, but also a bunch of the translated versions – being in Italy, this redirects me to tutte-le-vulve-sono-belle.com, which pleases me no end. A really well-made piece of supplementary content to a TV show, something you don’t see anywhere near often enough imho.
- Loot Watcher: You recall a few weeks back when I introduced you to Loot, one of the seemingly-infinite NFT drops which was special insofar as the ‘product’ you were purchasing an NFT of was a randomly-generated list of objects such as you might have in your inventory were you playing an RPG? The thing where you got objects you might one day use in a game, but where, er, there is currently no game? Well, this website tracks the spin-off projects that are being created around Loot to flesh out the possible game that may one day exist around the concept (but which, to be clear, currently very much doesn’t). You can now get involved with (read: spend money on) NFT drops that offer, say, menus for in-game banquets! 8-bit character portraits! Quest lists! All for a game that doesn’t exist! THERE IS NO GAME MECHANIC! I read something earlier this week that said that NFTs and the associated frothy ‘ecosystem’ around them was in fact A Good Thing Actually because they were fostering an unprecedented boom in creativity, as evidenced by stuff like this – I mean, look, if you take ‘creativity’ to mean ‘innovative ways of parting fools with money’ then I am wholeheartedly in accordance, but if you are trying to tell me that ‘creating a bunch of ripoffs of an idea that was just ‘generate a list of stuff at random off a Google Sheet’ in the first place’ counts as ‘creativity’ then, look, my magic beans are very reasonably priced. And this isn’t the only listing for Loot-adjacent projects – here’s another one, which features (amongst other things) a project that lets you buy generated penile statistics for your fantasy warrior in a game which does not exist. ART! IT’S ART I TELL YOU! Jesus fcuking Christ.
- NFT As Access Rights: This was pointed out to me as a potentially more-interesting-than-usual application of the NFT thing – Shaan Puri is…I have no idea who they are actually, but they seem to be some sort of appalling digital business guru, advising people on how to make their first $10m via the medium of thinly-disguised Ponzi schemes. Anyway, they are selling an NFT which grants its owner the right to 5 minutes of airtime on a 1million+ monthly-download podcast – the idea being that the Token can accrue in value based on the performance of the podcast, which performance will create the future market for its trading, leading to PROFIT FOR ALL! On the one hand, the idea strikes me as halfway-interesting – on the other, though, and as is ALWAYS THE FCUKING CASE with this stuff, I am incapable of seeing any reason why this need be an NFT rather than, say, an adult human male’s femur with the words ‘A TOKEN FOR A PODCAST’ daubed onto it in blood. Seriously, can ANYONE explain to me why this needs the blockchain to work as an idea? Anyone?
- XTingles: Someone’s now doing ASMR as NFTs – a statement which I suppose I should be grateful will mean less than nothing to a comfortable 99% of the world’s population. Still, it saddens me – I like ASMR and the famous purity of its community, and am slightly upset that it’s been polluted by the Vaynerchuck-scented NFT bros. Still, if you’ve ever desperately wanted to spend actual cash money to buy a link to an audio file ON THE BLOCKCHAIN then your dreams will all soon come true. Or, you know, you could just pay the creators you like directly and not pay the gas fees, or contribute to the slow-but-increasingly-inevitable fcuking of the planet by cryptoprogress. Your call really.
- Wowcube: I feel I ought to caveat this link with the fact that I am fairly sure that this will turn out to be vapourware and will never see the light of day (I also want to caveat that caveat by saying that my record of predicting the future about anything is generally appalling and therefore you probably shouldn’t listen to anything I say). All that aside, Wowcube is a really fun-looking prototype…digital toy? Games console? Educational aid? As far as the website is concerned, all three! Imagine a Rubik’s Cube, except each face only has 4 sections, and each section is a digital screen – make sense? No, I didn’t think so – click the link ffs, I’ll wait. NOW do you see? Looks fun, doesn’t it? The idea is that the twisty-turny Rubik’s-ness of the device will be integrated into the way that gameplay works, which you can imagine being hugely interesting for puzzle design and the like – but you can also use the device as a small multimedia portal, or as something to try out your own game designs on. If this thing turns out to do all the things that it says that it is going to be able to do, it will be incredible; I can’t quite shake the feeling of cynicism about it, but that’s almost certainly a result of the deep soul-sickness that afflicts me rather than anything to do with the kit in question.
- MaykIt: This isn’t quite live yet, but I got a beta code a few weeks back – it’s iOS-only, but according to my friend who played with it it’s ‘quite fun’. MaykIt is designed to be a music creation app for people who can’t play any instruments and who don’t have any discernible musical ability whatsoever. You choose moods, beats, effects and whatever poor-quality vocals you’ve burbled into your phone’s mic and HEY PRESTO, the software magically turns your rubbish into something halfway-listenable. The sign-up screen lets you hear various examples of the stuff made in-app (click on the spinning hotel above the form fields), or alternatively you can get an EXCLUSIVE LISTEN to new track ‘Matt Muir’ made by my mate in approximately 6s. It’s obviously terrible, but also I can 100% imagine there being some TikTok famous tracks being produced by this – see what you think.
- Coso Contraception: I want to point out here before I begin that I am 100% in favour of better male contraception and the idea that the burden of making sure you don’t accidentally have a kid should be made more equal, and that every advance that can be made towards a point whereby men can take responsibility for their own fertility in a simple and easy way that doesn’t negatively impact the sexual experience is A Good Thing. With that out of the way, I honestly don’t think that there’s a link in here that has made me laugh more this week. Coso is a really interesting piece of kit which uses ultrasound to temporarily…stun(?) sperm, thereby rendering men temporarily infertile, a condition which reverts back to normality a few hours later. Or at least that’s the idea – this is very much prototypical, and has only been tested on animals so far. “But Matt!”, I hear you cry, “I don’t understand what is funny about this?” That, my friends, is because you have yet to click on the link. How do you think you administer the ultrasound? YOU DUNK YOUR BALLS INTO A LITTLE BUCKET! Yes, that’s right, the design as it stands requires the testicle owner to lower said testicles into a very small plastic container which then blasts said testes with ultrasound and renders the sperm temporarily indolent and useless – YOU DUNK YOUR BALLS! Look, I appreciate that this is a bit silly and a bit childish, but the idea of preparing for a romantic session of no-pregnancy coitus by spending 3 minutes with my testes resting in a little 3d-printed cup being blasted with ultrasound is so, so wonderful that I can’t help but smile at the picture. Please let this become a reality. Also the semi-abstract testicular illustration on the site is quite something.
- Orangutan Trading Co: Facebook advertising WORKS. For reasons I can’t quite fathom, this site has been following me around for the past week and that ad campaign has worked well enough for me to feature it here so, well, SUCCESS! If what they wanted was for their url to be exposed to a bunch of bored advermarketingprdrones then they will be thrilled. The Orangutan Trading Co is a business which sells mushroom spores. NOT MUSHROOMS. And the spores are for analysis NOT GROWING. However, these are the sorts of mushrooms which if you were to grow and ingest them would induce hallucinations and the like – so, er, make of that what you will. This strikes me as a really nice service – all the reviews are hugely positive, and I am fond of the style in which the site is written, and as far as I can tell it’s basically just one bloke, so if you fancy some amateur mycological microscopy then, well, go for your lives.
- The China Ugliest Buildings Survey: This story did the rounds this week, but it’s worth checking out the website that accompanies this year’s vote on China’s ugliest building (their version of the UK’s Carbuncle Cup, sadly no longer a thing) – I know aesthetic standards vary, but some of these…aren’t that bad? I mean, obviously all the ones in the shape of, I don’t know, three farmers and their cow are hideous, but about 25% of them just look like standard, big city high-density building projects, no? Maybe that’s the point – we’re just inured to how bad much of this stuff is. Anyway, amongst the slightly-banal office blocks there are some truly batsh1t designs – my personal favourite is this one, which whilst perhaps not the wildest from a conceptual point of view has a very real sense of creeping evil in a ‘Ministry of Love’-type fashion, but do pick your own.
- Met Gala In 3D: Did you enjoy the FROCKS? Vogue certainly did, which is why they partnered with tech company Altava to create these 3d scans of some of the famous and their outfits, which you can see embedded on this page on the Vogue website. This is interesting less because of the outfits – sorry, I am a sartorial Helen Keller and there’s no helping me – but because of how well these 3d scans of said outfits work as in-page embeds; this is one of the first times this sort of thing makes sense to me as a means of photography/promotion, and I can imagine that, as soon as the tech gets good enough to not require a massive specialised rig to create the shots, we’ll see this sort of thing all over the place.
- Marginalia: I LOVE THIS. Marginalia “is a search engine, designed to help you find what you didn’t even know you were looking for. If you search for “Plato”, you might for example end up at the Canterbury Tales. Go looking for the Canterbury Tales, and you may stumble upon Neil Gaiman’s blog. If you are looking for fact, this is almost certainly the wrong tool. If you are looking for serendipity, you’re on the right track. When was the last time you just stumbled onto something interesting, by the way?” Such an interesting project – the code at its heart privileges text-heavy sites over those with more modern design, and whilst it’s borderline-useless for practical purposes it is SO MUCH FUN for finding rabbitholes and investigating them. Possibly my favourite site of the week.
- Fat Bear Week: One of my favourite recurring online things, Fat Bear week returns again for another year. For those of you unaware, Fat Bear Week is a longstanding tradition whereby denizens of the internet vote on the fattest (or more accurately their favourite fat) bear – from the site: “Choose the fattest bear of the year! Some of the largest brown bears on Earth make their home at Brooks River in Katmai National Park, Alaska. Fat Bear Week is an annual tournament celebrating their success in preparation for winter hibernation. Fat Bear Week is a single elimination tournament. From September 29th to October 5th, your vote decides who is the fattest of the fat.” The bears look very cute (but would kill you in seconds and eat your face in a heartbeat), and if you look at the selection in this year’s bracket you can see how quickly they pile on the pounds over the summer – the biology here is amazing. Also, though, CHONK.
- Street Complete: This is a GREAT way of exploring a city or town, particularly one you’re not familiar with. Street Complete is an app linked to OpenStreetMap and which tasks you with completing information about your local area to help complete the OpenStreetMap dataset. Let the app access your location and it will bring up a bunch of different datapoints that are at present incomplete – is the pavement here wide or thin, is this shop wheelchair-accessible, can cyclists use this road without being turned into lumpy jam, etc etc. You will contribute to the development of a genuinely useful global dataset, and you can end up finding yourself in parts of your town or city you wouldn’t ordinarily explore (which on reflection, depending on where you live, may or may not be a good thing, so, er, caveat emptor, as ever).
- Astronomy Photographer of the Year 2021: These are always incredible – if you have the chance, do go and see the exhibition that they hold at the Royal Observatory in Greenwich, which is always worth a look – but this year’s winner is one of the most sci-fi pieces of photographic art I have ever seen, and the sort of thing which ought to be on a film poster. The link takes you to the category winners, but it’s worth clicking through and seeing the highly-commended entries in each category – it will make you slightly jealous that awful people like Musk and Bezos get to go to space and you (presumably) don’t.
THE SECTION WHICH IS CONFUSED AS TO HOW THIS WEEK HAS MANAGED TO FEEL SO FUTURE AND AT THE SAME TIME SO REMINISCENT OF WHAT I AM TOLD THE 1970s WERE LIKE, PT.2:
- Hot Singles NYC: This link is of no personal interest to me – I am neither single, nor am I in NYC, nor indeed am I ‘hot’, at least not by any ordinarily accepted definition of the word – but I am pleased that it exists. Hot Singles NYC is a newsletter project which in each edition profiles a different single person in New York and presents them as a potential dating partner, with a little profile of them and some stories about them and, honestly, as a little project to show the wonderful diversity of people looking for love in a big city is just beautiful. All of human life is here (or at least ‘all of human life’ as defined by ‘people looking to get laid in a Western urban metropolis’), and it’s rather nice to go through the archive and read the stories of all the people they’ve featured over the 10 or so months the project has been active. Someone should do this for other cities – if nothing else I would be fascinated to see what the different demographics were like across the world.
- Readwise: This is an interesting idea – Readwise is designed to make all the notes and highlights from your various reader apps a little more useful. Taking as its starting point the ‘insight’ that noone ever looks back at all the things they highlight on their Kindle (it’s true, it’s nearly impossible to find the fcuking things within the impenetrable Amazon interface), the service packages up a selection of notes and highlights from across a range of platforms (Kindle, Instapaper, Pocket, etc) and sends them to you via daily emails or in-app notifications, the idea being that by seeing them again you are more likely to recall them, and that the annotations will form links and connections in your mind and therefore become more useful as time goes on. My Kindle highlights tend to be vaguely-miserable existential snippets from whichever depressing contemporary fiction I am currently staining with my tears, but if you’re more inclined to read improving literature than I am you might find this of significant use.
- Podchaser: Podcast discovery continues to be a total nightmare, made worse by the seemingly-incessant cavalcade of new audio content being vomited out on a second-by-second basis. Podchaser attempts to help with this by offering the opportunity to search podcasts by theme, title, creator and guest – which is super0useful both for people looking for new content around certain themes and for anyone looking to do research around an individual or topic. As a way of finding, say, recent-ish podcast appearances by specific individuals this is really helpful.
- The US Wind Turbine Database: I love me a data map, and whilst there’s nothing ostensibly-exciting about this one – which shows the location of wind turbines across North America – it’s interesting to see just how few there actually are across the States. One might argue that it presents a reasonable argument as to why we might be a little bit fcuked, energy-wise – I mean, I refuse to believe that there’s nowhere else in the vast expanse of land that is the US that couldn’t usefully benefit from a few more of the tall, spindly lads bestriding the landscape like so many four-armed colossi.
- Surf: Every few years over the past decade or so a new attempt to ‘make browsing the web pay!’ crops up, none of which have ever amounted to anything. Still, perhaps this latest iteration will be the thing that finally makes my longstanding ambition of ‘earning a living through being a webmong’ reality! Surf effectively offers you ‘points’ in exchange for you giving up your browsing data to advertisers – your browsing habits get collated (anonymously, or at least so they claim – obviously I don’t doubt their sincerity, but, well, we’ve all been here before, haven’t we?) and advertisers pay for REAL, HIGH-QUALITY DATA about the browsing habits of (in my case) middle-aged men sitting sadly in Rome and wishing they were somewhere else. Users get points which can be exchanged for actual real-world products from the partner companies, including such lovable brands as Amazon, Uber, Spotify and others. I can see the benefit here to an extent – the data should be of better quality than most anonymised ‘this is what people REALLY do on the web!’ stuff, and the companies are large enough that there’s a pull here for the user – but the success of these sorts of things depends entirely on them reaching a critical mass of users to make the dataset large and broad enough to be valuable, and there’s no way of telling whether that is (or indeed will ever become) the case. Still, I’ll watch with interest – this is sadly US-only at present, but if anyone fancies paying me in book tokens for a full weekly rundown of my browsing history I am all ears.
- Tilde: I know, I know, virtual meeting spaces are SO LAST YEAR. Still, Tilde is FREE, and if you’re looking for a quick and easy way to spin up a multiperson videocall slash brainstorm board slash digital coworking space then it could be of interest.
- Thames TV Archive: For the non-English, or the children, amongst you, “Thames Television, commonly simplified to just Thames, was a franchise holder for a region of the British ITV television network serving London and surrounding areas from 30 July 1968 until the night of 31 December 1992.” This is the YouTube channel on which the Thames TV archive is hosted, and if you want some top-quality retro-Britain nostalgia then there is no finer link in this week’s Curios. Want to see some footage of Mary Berry baking cakes before anyone knew who Mary Berry was? GREAT! Want playlists from THE PAST all about Christmas, or the punk movement, or the horror that was British public transport in the 1970s? OH GOOD! Terrible cooking show recreations of wartime food? POTENTIALLY USEFUL GIVEN HOW THINGS ARE LOOKING AT THE MOMENT! Such a wonderful timetunnel, this, and a reminder that the UK was a really, really rubbish place 50 years ago (so, er, why were 52% of the population so keen to recreate it?).
- Orbital Marine Power: I am not an engineer (I realise, by the way, that I spend an inordinate amount of time in Curios writing caveat-y statements about stuff along the lines of “I am not an expert in compost mulching, but…” or “I have never engaged in sweaty congress with a professional wrestler, but…”, which does rather beg the question of what I in fact am and what I in fact do – a good question, to which I continue to search for an answer), and I know literally nothing about the (presumably fascinating) world of underwater turbines, but I do know an impressive website when I see one, and this – the website of Orbital Marine Power, a company which makes tidal turbines which I presume use the tidal movement of water to generate energy – is SO IMPRESSIVE. Not because of the website, which does normal website things, but because of how incredibly cool it makes the tech look. I have no personal use for an underwater turbine (and probably couldn’t afford one even if I did), but based on the insanely scifi vibes I get from this I now really, really want one.
- Faykdoors: An infinite selection of what I presume are procedurally-generated doors, none of which open but which you can click on if you want to produce a small sound effect. There is literally no point to this at all, that I can discern, which as regular readers will know makes it practically perfect to my addled mind.
- Bespoke Synth: I occasionally feature sites in here which act as in-browser synthtoys, for the creation of simple, looping beats and layered audio tracks – this is very much not one of those. Instead Bespoke Synth is a proper, serious looking bit of software for the production of actual music – its creator describes it thusly: “Bespoke is like if I smashed Ableton to bits with a baseball bat, and asked you to put it back together.” If you’re the sort of person who grew up on FruityLoops and who thinks nothing of plugging together a bunch of different instruments and sequencers and justs having a play around, then this could be perfect for you – it’s free, and judging by the explainer video looks like you can do quite a lot of very cool stuff with it. If you do music, this is worth a look I think.
- Nature Track: “Nature Track is a podcast that opens a window on the beautiful sounds of the Australian wilderness. These long, uninterrupted soundscapes are the perfect relaxing soundtrack for your work, exercise, meditation or sleep. Each unique track is carefully recorded on location in a different part of Australia by the ABC’s nature specialist Ann Jones.” If you’re an Aussie expat who is feeling the nostalgic pull of the Kookaburra (sorry, but that was the first noisy Australian animal that came to mind – I know it’s a cliche, but, well, most of the other animals native to Australia are silent ones that murder you, so I was clutching at straws slightly here) or simply the sort of person who likes to attempt to escape from your urban prison by listening to nature sounds and imagining yourself free and far away, then this could be a pleasing balm to your troubled soul.
- Ozzilate: Many years ago – I’m talking 200…10ish? – there was an app that had a brief vogue-y moment which allowed users to send files to each other from phone to phone as an audio encode. I have long thought that there was something cool about the tech that could be applied in interesting and creative ways, whilst at the same time not being creative enough to actually think of any (story of my fcuking life, lads) – this website reminded me of that, and of my continued failure to find a reason to use it. Ozzilate lets you take any file, turn it into sound, and then lets anyone else download said file by logging onto the site and listening to said sound, which gets converted into bits and downloaded onto your device. It’s not the best-explained site in the world, and obviously its utility is limited by the fact that you need to be at the url for it to work, but it’s not hard to imagine ways in which you could bake this sort of thing into apps, etc, as a novel way or sharing information – or, more interestingly, as a way of transmitting clues in secret, or allowing for secure downloads without an internet connection, or any number of different things. This is really clever, is what I’m basically saying, and I want someone to use this in a semi-mainstream way. Go on. Please?
- Football Stickers: A selection of completed, scanned football sticker albums from the 1980s, from the 77-78 season to 92-93 (there are also a couple from the past two seasons of the Premier League, but they’re less interesting). Great nostalgia, obviously, for anyone who spend a large proportion of their playground time at the age of 6-10 shouting “GOT GOT GOT NEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEED!” with varying degrees of desperation, but also as a cultural record of the evolution of professional footballer aesthetics over the past 40-odd years. I suppose it was inevitable that a profession whereby, at the highest level, you are followed around wherever you go by an array of ultra-HD cameras would lead to people taking more care over their personal appearance, but it’s fair to say that today’s footballers look like a totally different species to those from the 70s and 80s. WHY WERE THEY ALL SO UGLY IN THE PAST??? There’s also some small joy to be found in the player descriptions, which are far more editorial than I imagine they are now and contain lots of indignant references to why, say, Steve Clark isn’t being picked regularly for Scotland in the early 90s.
- The Cookout Club: This is a really interesting take on building online community. The Cookout Club is an invitation-only social media platform, designed by black people for black people (and which therefore I obviously have only seen the landing page of rather than the app itself). The stringent vetting procedure the platform owners apply before allowing people in has by all accounts created a community which is supportive and pleasant, with (as they say on their homepage) only seven reported posts in total since the platform’s inception. The approvals process means that scale is impossible, but that’s very much not the point here – the app is designed for quality connections rather than mass participation, and its creators are fine with that. I very much like this idea, and wonder whether this is A (not The, just A) future of social media; the best and most useful Groups I belong to are all characterised by their selective nature and strong moderation, stuff that I am not convinced its possible to make work beyond a certain size and scale and a well-defined sense of who your audience isn’t as much as who it is.
- Mubert: Another week, another AI-led music creation tool which promises to spit out royalty-free, machine-imagined tunes for you to use in all your appalling, tedious corporate video content (which in 99% of cases will be viewed with the sound off, in any case, so it’s not like it matters what the audio track is) – select a ‘vibe’, select a style of music and tell it how long you need the track to be and VWALLAH! A seemingly-infinite selection of sounds for you to use as the bed for whatever stock footage Frankenstein’s monster you’re churning out this week. This should offer some small succour to t he jobbing musicians out there – I just asked it for 45s of ‘chill’ music with the theme ‘Zen Meditation’ and it gave me what I can only describe as the sort of droning horror I can imagine soundtracking grainy snuff footage taken from CCTV. Which may well be the vibe you’re going for, fine, but I don’t think Hans Zimmer need lose sleep just yet.
- The Lost Media Wiki: OH WOW. “This wiki is a community passion project where we detail and attempt to track down (at least, in most cases) pieces of lost or hard to find media; whether it be video, audio or otherwise (of either a fictional or non-fictional nature), if it’s completely lost or simply inaccessible to the general public, it belongs here.” Cartoons, comics, idents, ads…there is a whole world of stuff on here, searched for and found by the community and uploaded to YouTube but with the Wiki providing a convenient entrypoint into the archives. Presuming you’re all advermarketingpr-adjacent, you may want to start with the ‘Lost Advertising’ section, which has so far tracked down such gems as Aardman’s Lurpak ads, some promos for Bryant and May matches, and a quite-indescribable video which is both an advert for World Peace (their capitals, not mine) and an exhortation for South Americans to reject the allure of the international narcotics trade. A true timesink, and a wonderful resource for anyone searching through the dusty, half-remembered archives of their childhood media memories.
- Always Judge A Book By Its Cover: I have long been of the belief that we need to retire the old canard ‘never judge a book by its cover’ – after all, you know exactly what you’re going to get if you purchase a fat novel where the surname of the author is slightly longer than their forename, and both are embossed on the cover in gold or red (you know), or where the cover art involves a muscular man, often shirtless, holding some sort of weapon – and this site, which collects real books with improbable covers and titles which are all currently available to buy, rather supports that notion. There are some internet classics on here (“Crafting With Cat Hair”, which my girlfriend not only owns but threatens repeatedly to make use of for present ideas, and the omnipresent “Cooking With Semen”), but also some gems that I have never seen before – I would be fascinated to learn what the tips included in ‘A Beginner’s Guide To Sex in the Afterlife’ are, for example.
- Playable Quotes: This is SO interesting, and such a clever idea (which I found via Andy Baio) – the tech basically lets you share moments from games (‘quotes’) which can be embedded in websites to let people experience a specific element of gameplay. This is the same sort of thing which is included in the latest-gen console hardware, I think, but lo-fi and made for ROMs – it currently works with Gameboy emulation files, but the idea behind the tech is super-smart from a conceptual point of view and I would be fascinated to see where this sort of idea crops up next.
- Thatcher’s Techbase: Would you like to play a version of classic first-person shooter Doom that has been modded to take place in 80s Britain and where the ultimate baddie that you’re facing up against is a terrifying mecha-Thatcher? OF COURSE YOU WOULD! This project looks ACE – it’s meant to launch today, though at the time of typing it’s not yet available for download – and it could be an excellent way of preparing for the onslaught of Party Conference season, the very worst time of the year, and wondering whether or not the IRA should have had another go at her (NB WEB CURIOS DOES NOT SUPPORT OR CONDONE POLITICAL VIOLENCE OF ANY FORM EXCEPT AGAINST NAZIS AND OBVIOUSLY DOES NOT REALLY WISH THAT THE IRA HAD DONE MORE BOMBINGS, EVEN AGAINST TORIES).
- Space Huggers: Last miscellaneous link of the week is this, another TINY game from the 13kb challenge – Space Huggers is a little side-scrolling jumpy/shooty game where your sole task is to find an eliminate the baddies on each level – what makes this fun is the destructible environments and the light physics involved, which makes every single time you play pleasantly different and unpredictable. An excellent way of p1ssing away 20m or so while you wait for it to become socially acceptable to go to the pub.
THE CIRCUS OF TUMBLRS! IS SADLY EMPTY THIS WEEK! POOR CIRCUS! POOR TUMBLR!
THE TROUGH OF (INSTA) FEEDS!
- The Feed: If you work in advermarketingpr, this Insta feed (powered by We Are Social, who are not paying me for this endorsement) could be worth a follow. The Feed presents trend-type stuff from around the web and the world, and a cursory look through the posts over the past few weeks suggests that it’s pleasingly-international in its outlook and features a slightly-broader selection of work for inspiration than you usually get with this sort of agency-led tripe.
- The Witching Museum: Objects, pictures and prints associated with WITCHES AND WITCHING. There is no evidence that this account will hex you if you follow it, but there’s equally no evidence that it won’t hex you so, well, you be careful.
- Looney Tunes Backgrounds: Literally that – an account that posts nothing but background images from Looney Tunes cartoons, which are literally BEGGING to be used as backdrops for your own cartoon/comicstrips featuring whoever it is that you and your groupchat are secretly laughing at this week.
LONG THINGS WHICH ARE LONG!:
- The Algorithm Tweaks Won’t Save Us: It’s fair to say Facebook hasn’t had a great few weeks, what with the Wall Street Journal ‘Facebook Files’ investigation revealing a bunch of stuff that we all sort-of assumed but didn’t previously know to be definitively true. The question of ‘what do we do about it, though?’ is an interesting one – there’s been a noticeable quality in all the coverage of the WSJ’s investigations of just sort of vaguely burbling words like ‘regulation!’ and ‘stop using Facebook!’ without presenting any meaningful suggestions about what you do when you finally have proof that the world’s largest mass-communications platform is knowingly acting against human interest. This piece, by Charlie Warzel, suggests that perhaps the issue is that we are past the point of saving – not that everything is doomed (it is, obviously, just for different reasons), but that there is nothing that can be done to Facebook (the platform and the business) that would ameliorate the problems it has caused. “I’ve come to believe that arguments weighing Facebook’s good and bad outcomes are probably a dead end. What seems rather indisputable is that as currently designed (to optimize scale, engagement, profit) there is no way to tweak the platform in a way that doesn’t ultimately make people miserable or that destabilizes big areas of culture and society. The platform is simply too big. Leave it alone and it turns into a dangerous cesspool; play around with the knobs and risk inadvertently censoring or heaping world historic amounts of attention onto people or movements you never anticipated, creating yet more unanticipated outcomes. If there’s any shred of sympathy I have for the company, it’s that there don’t seem to be any great options.” It’s quite hard to argue against this line, which is a slightly chilling admission.
- The Gospel of DAO: I read this piece twice to try and understand whether there was any critical heart to it – there isn’t, to be clear, but it’s still worth reading as I think that lack of critical heart gets to the, er, ‘heart’ of the problem I have with NFTs et al. In theory, the idea of Decentralised Autonomous Organisations is an interesting one with multiple potential avenues of positive impact – and yet this essay, which seeks to make that point and garland it with real-world examples of why this is a good thing and why it could be useful and beneficial (even transformative), simply ends up by burbling vague things about ‘community’ and ‘creativity’ and ‘artists’, without ever sounding like anything other than a bunch of people who in another era would have been wearing fedoras and paying Neil Strauss for dating tips discussing how they are going to unlock their full potential brah. On a similar theme, there’s also this piece in which the author explicitly states that they are trying to be open-minded and positive about the movement but by the end seemingly sort of throws their hands up in the air in exasperation at the fact that, any way you look at this, the current web3 hype is built on several layers of neatly-stacked confidence – any of which might fall over at any given moment.
- Pakistan’s Great Game: An interesting look at Pakistan’s current role in the geopolitical rollercoaster, specifically in relation to the recent Taliban takeover of Afghanistan and the country’s status as an increasingly-close ally of China. A useful reminder of a) how incredibly complicated international diplomacy is at present; and b) exactly where the balance of power lies globally at present (clue: not, in any way, on a small island in the North sea).
- AIssassination: Sorry about the title, but I couldn’t help myself. This is a startling report of exactly how the Israeli government killed Iran’s top nuclear scientist, using an AI-operated gun mounted on a flatbed truck which used machine vision identify, target and shoot the individual in question while he was driving with his wife. If you look at this entirely objectively, it’s an incredible feat of robotics and AI and engineering; if you look at it in any way other than entirely-objectively, it’s absolutely terrifying and seems to finally usher in the long-discussed era of fully autonomous intra-state warfare which is…not a good thing? I am also slightly confused by the NYT’s reporting of this – I’m in no way an expert on what is and isn’t allowed in terms of assassinations, and how the international community looks on this sort of thing, but I’m not sure that the state-sanctioned murder of another nation’s scientists should be reported this…blandly?
- Peter Thiel: There have been a bunch of Thiel profiles published this week ahead of the publication of a new biography of everyone’s favourite terrifyingly-amoral eminence gris, but this one was my pick of the lot. Thiel is of course a very smart person, but it’s hard not to read this (and indeed anything about him) without coming away with the impression that his influence on the way the world has developed over the past two decades or so is A Bad Thing; the stories in here about his cast-iron will and determination to become staggeringly powerful and wealthy are EXACTLY the sort of ‘founder myths’ about ‘unique, driven, often difficult individuals who will CHANGE THE WORLD’ which an entire suite of VC-led industries now take as gospel, much to the detriment of the world that these people are seeking to change. More fuel to my growing belief that the geeks inheriting the earth has not been the unalloyed positive that films such as ‘Revenge of the Nerds’ taught me it would be.
- Socialist Cyborgs: This is a great read, all about how Bulgaria implemented a widespread programme of computer education in the 1980s, and how that, combined with the fall of communism in the early-90s, led to the creation of some of the first large-scale global computer viruses which caused panic in the early digital age. Not only a fascinating historical account of the growth of modern computing, but also a really interesting look at how policy decisions can play out in unexpected ways over the medium-term.
- Cancelling Universities: I know, I know, CANCEL CULTURE ISN’T A REAL THING. That said, the attempt to make it a thing very much is real, and this article gives a slightly-terrifying overview of one of the sides currently doing a pretty good job of pretending that right-wing voices are being silenced on campuses by the ‘tyranny of the woke’. This is worth reading – it’s very US-centric, but if you think that there aren’t large-scale financial interests doing in the UK and Europe what the Koch brothers have successfully been doing for years (to whit, spending an awful lot of money to promote ideologies that will serve to cement their interests) then you might want to perhaps pay a bit more attention to How Things Work. Who DOES pay Darren Grimes to exist, for example?
- The Offensive Language Summary 2021: Each year, UK media regulator OFCOM publishes research into attitudes into offensive language in the UK – this year’s report is part-fascinating sociological study, charting the shifting social mores of a nation as it undergoes generation and demographic changes, and part-snigger-inducing lolfest – I’m sorry, but there will NEVER be a situation in which official government documentation containing the word ‘clunge’ isn’t funny. More seriously, though, this offers a picture of a country that is far more respectful and tolerant than we might sometimes think, where people understand that certain terms are offensive and wrong and shouldn’t be used, and where there seems to be a growing appreciation that language, how it’s used, and who it’s used by, matters. If someone wants to quietly explain the term ‘Yoon’ to me, though, I am all ears.
- The Greenwashing Guide: I have mentioned on here a few times now that I find the term ‘sustainability’ to be so overused and ill-defined as to be entirely useless, in the main – this short post by VICE does a good job of explaining exactly what a lot of other terms involved in the ‘sustainability’ conversation mean, and why it is that a large number of them are in fact broadly meaningless when it comes to making a significant difference to our environmental impact. Worth a read, and maybe bookmarking for the next time your client comes to you and tells you about the AMAZING new carbon offsetting scheme they have set up which they would like you to PR please.
- FinanceTok: This week’s edition of ‘there’s a TikTok for everything!’ comes in the form of this piece, profiling FinanceTok – the odd world in which people who are practically children peddle investment tips and tricks to the desperate FIRE-seeking generation desperate to make enough on speculative stocks to never have to go back to the Deliveroo bike again. The main takeaways, to my mind, are: a) the people making the videos always seem to be doing well, whereas you never seem to hear of anyone following their advice making bank – why is that, do you think?; b) this feels like the sort of thing which probably ought to be regulated in some way but which I cannot for the life of me imagine how one might go about regulating (hi, welcome to the modern web!).
- The Digital Death of Collecting: This is ostensibly a complaint about the way in which we don’t really ‘own’ anything digitally any more, and our status as digital renters means that our ‘collections’ are forever at the mercy of the platform owners, who through (to their mind) small tweaks to UX or UI can radically reconfigure our experience of the media we want to consume – to my mind, though, the piece functions as quite an effective explainer as to the currently boom in digital collectibles and NFTs, as a sort of corrective to the other-governed ephemerality of modern content. Interesting, and made me think differently and (marginally) more positively about NFTs than I did prior to reading it (whether or not this is a good thing is a matter for debate).
- File Not Found: SUCH an interesting essay, about how younger generations have experienced digital information in such a radically-different way to older people (ie people like me, chiz chiz) that the current accepted language of file storage and retrieval means literally nothing to them. But then again, why would it? If you’re entire digital life has been borrowed content on demand, served by platforms whose primary in-point is search, why would you think of ‘files’ as individual things that need to ‘live’ somewhere, or the taxonomy that would allow for their easy storage and retrieval? One of those brilliant articles which makes you realise that everything digital is just a representation of our minds, and that when our minds and ways of thinking change, so those representations will necessarily also need to evolve. The symbiotic relationship between devices and the way we conceive of the information accessed via said devices, and how a change in the former engenders a change in the latter, is mind-screwing in a good way.
- Trump’s Florida: I know he doesn’t matter any more – isn’t it nice? A genuine small ray of sunshine in what I can honestly say has been a truly sh1tty year, football aside – but that doesn’t make this portrait of his base in Florida any less entertaining. It features a revolving cast of truly awful people – Roger Stone! Ann Coulter! – saying stupid and awful things, and being skewered whilst so doing by a writeup that is just the right side of openly sneering; I know that laughing at stupid right wing nutters is a bit low and a bit easy, but sometimes that’s just what you need. I will of course be laughing on the other side of my face should That Awful Man somehow secure the GOP nomination in a few years’ time, but let’s not think about that right now.
- The D’Amelios and Money: I thought this was an interesting portrait of the D’Amelio family, two of whom are TikTok megastars and all of whom are now subject of a reality show in the US which follows Charlie, Dixie and their parents as they navigate the world of being really, really famous for no discernible reason whatsoever. The piece contains all the standard handwringing about now noone here looks happy, etc, but then pivots towards the end to asking why it is that noone involved in this sort of life ever admits that they are doing it for the cash – this is an EXCELLENT point, and one that people don’t mention often enough. There is no way in hell anyone would be TikTok, YouTube or Insta famous if it wasn’t for the cash you might accrue – and yet this is never explicitly mentioned. It’s not about the fans, the art or the ‘community’ – it’s about the fact that you can potentially trouser millions, and they all know it, and we know it, and the sooner we acknowledge this rather than dressing it up in the socially-acceptable clothing of ‘being a creator’ the better it will be imho.
- TikTok and Gabby Petito: I believe that at the time of writing Petito’s body has been found, which is a sad-if-predictable development; this piece was published a few days ago, but is a good look at the frenzy that built up around the investigation on TikTok and the weird sense of involvement that people seek when engaged in this sort of amateur sleuthing. What could be more main character energy than helping solve a murder, after all?!! We are all ill.
- The Trials of Diet Prada: I think I first featured Diet Prada in Curios in…2017? Anyway, it was already big but not quite as big as it has now become – this article details the case being brought against the Insta handle (an amazing sentence to write, even in 2021) by Dolce & Gabbana who are claiming that Diet Prada’s part in reporting Stefano Gabbana’s racist and inflammatory comments about China and Chinese culture cost the brand tens of millions. It’s partly a sobering example of how law and big business works – the idea that a man who wrote things like “China Ignorant Dirty Smelling Mafia” in Insta messages can blame someone else for the brand tanking in China is sort-of astonishing, as is the fact that he is able to sue and quite possibly win the case – and partly about how the line between individual and media brand is increasingly blurred. It’s also an interesting example of quite how broken the Italian legal system is, in case you should care. Here’s hoping D&G get their a$ses handed to them, legally-speaking.
- Compost Yourself: I’ve been thinking a lot about death recently – in the absence of eros, thanatos fills the available space – and this article, all about post-mortem body disposal company Recompose, which is the first to offer human composting, fascinated me. It’s a surprisingly warm article despite the subject matter, and has made me very much want to be turned into garden mulch when I die (presuming my long-held dream of a zoroastrian sky burial comes to naught).
- Tell Me, Do You Intend To Fcuk It?: Full disclosure – Jay Owens, who wrote this piece, is a friend of mine – but I would have included it anyway, as Jay is one of the smartest people I know when it comes to culture and society and modernity and ALL THAT STUFF. Here she discusses the ‘sexiness’ of the iPhone – how it’s sold, how it’s marketing, how it’s designed, and how this ‘sexiness’ presents it as an object of desire, both for ourselves and to the world. It will make you think of your phone and your relationship to it slightly differently, which is something which ought to happen more often than it probably does (though I am personally disappointed that Jay at no points explores the world of phone-linked teledildonics, perhaps because they are the antithesis of ‘sexy’).
- Freediver: A wonderful profile of Alexey Molchanov, apparently the world’s greatest freediver – freediving being that weird ‘sport’ where people compete to go as deep as they can on one lungful of air without suffering the bends, or a blackout, of pink frothing bloodfoam on the lips or death. Why you would want to do such a thing is honestly a mystery to me – also, I imagine the learning curve is quite steep – but this is a lovely profile of a singular man and a singular sport. There’s also a lovely detail in here about Molchanov’s ‘meaty a$s’ (a quote from the piece), which suggests that the web’s obsession with THICCNESS and CHONK has now bled comfortably out into real life and we are all now bottom-obsessives whether we like it or not.
- Benzo Mama: Eaton Hamilton writes about their childhood, their gender and their relationship with their mother, a depressive addict whose moodswings defined their upbringing. This isn’t what you might call an ‘uplifting’ read, but it’s beautifully-written and the authorial voice elevates it above the level of your standard pity memoir.
- Pull Off My Head: Finally in the longreads this week, this is by Patricial Lockwood in the LRB and whilst it’s ostensibly a review of ‘Bear’, a 70s novel by Canadian author Marian Engle (which sounds SO bizarre that I am going to read a copy as soon as I have a space in the stack) it’s more than anything a chance to glory in Lockwood’s writing – I would read her shopping lists, she’s that good. There are gens of sentences in here, scattered throughout, along with trenchant literary criticism and lightly-worn erudition in every paragraph. She is so, so, so good, and I want to read everything she has ever written.
AND NOW, MOVING PICTURES AND SOUNDS!:
- Next, this is ‘Can’t Stop Me From Dying’ (Jesus, so much death! Sorry) by Ada Lea – the song REALLY reminds me of something but I can’t quite put my finger on what, but I promise it’s a good soundalike. The video, on the other hand, reminds me EXACTLY of ‘Money For Nothing’ by Dire Straits if it was remade in Roblox.
- My note for this track simply says ‘Tension Headache’, and, yeah, I wasn’t wrong. This is pretty much the exact opposite of easy listening, but it’s weirdly compelling. It’s called ‘Grime’, by AJA, and the description runs thusly: “an intensely emotional work mapping the journey of recovery through addiction through a lightning jar of relentless beats, vocal mutations and bracing noise.” Bracing is about right tbh.
- Last up this week, a song which I am reasonably sure is old despite the fact that it sounds almost exactly like it was recorded 60 years ago. I am a sucker for these sorts of crystalline vocals, and the arrangement here is a perfect evocation of a particular brand of folk from back in the day – if you enjoyed Weyes Blood you will like this. It’s called ‘I Already Love You’ and it’s by Le Ren and OH LOOK WE HAVE RUN OUT OF TIME ALL THAT IS LEFT IS FOR ME TO SAY GOODBYE AND GOOD LUCK AND SEE YOU NEXT WEEK AND NEVER EVER FORGET THAT I LOVE YOU AND THAT I CARE AND THAT I WOULD BE DEVASTATED WERE ANYTHING BAD TO HAPPEN TO YOU SO PLEASE MAKE SURE THAT IT DOESN’T OK THANKS I LOVE YOU THANKS BYE!