Watching another country get invaded does rather put Dudley and Eunice into perspective, doesn’t it?
Look, I have nothing to say about the war – you don’t need my opinions or lukewarm takes, not least because it’s already clear that this conflict has ushered in a whole new era of social media, an era of truly gargantuan stupidity, in which people seemingly compete to say the most jaw-droppingly wrong-headed things about geopolitics that they can muster. It’s hard not to look at some of the things that people are Tweeting and think ‘you know, maybe thermonuclear war wouldn’t be such a bad thing’. Maybe that was the vibe shift.
Anyway, if you fancy taking a short break from listening to hawks and doves, tankies and apologists, the people trying to make this all about Brexit and the people trying to make this all about themselves, the people frantically Googling ‘Clausewitz’ and the people revealing themselves as secretly-fanatical wargamers, the ghouls and the grief-porners, the conflict-clout-chasers and the bitcoiners convinced that THIS IS THEIR TIME (and if you don’t fancy taking a break…why not?), then WEB CURIOS IS HERE FOR YOU!
I am still Matt, this is still Web Curios, and it’s hard not to be a tiny bit scared right now.
By David Denil
THE SECTION WHICH WONDERS WHAT BAUDRILLARD WOULD MAKE OF WARS EXPERIENCED VIA TIKTOK, PT.1:
- Brainstream: We kick off this week’s selection of links with a new project from the perennially-pleasing folk at the National Film Board of Canada, who, long-time readers will be aware, have for years produced some of my favourite digital storytelling gubbins anywhere on the web. Brainstream is no exception – this is a glorious, lightly-intreractive piece of narrative work which takes you inside the mind of a young girl named ‘D’, who’s having her brain massaged by you and a bunch of other people as part of a futuristic de-stressing technique which is apparently totally normal in the alternafuturistic version of Canada ‘D’ inhabits. Listen to ‘D’s story, massage her brain, and enjoy the weirdly-intimate feeling this gives you of literally being inside somebody else’s head. This is just marvellous, honestly – there’s something about the way the vocals are recorded, and the particular intimacy of scribbling away on your phone’s screen as you listen, that gives a proper sense of transported-oddness and of being someone else for a few minutes (or it does to me, at least; then again, I have all the empathetic nous of a piece of bone and so perhaps know not whereof I speak), and the way the ‘brain massage’ animates is just lovely. This takes either 5 or 20 minutes, depending on your preferences, but I can honestly recommend doing the whole 20 minute session – it’s a perfect piece of bitesized storytelling, and I promise you’ll feel better about almost everything as a result (NB – Web Curios doubts that this is likely to alleviate any symptoms of anxiety born out the increasing threat of global thermonuclear conflict, but, equally, suggests it’s worth a go just in case).
- Finesse: You remember Botto from last week, right – the art project that lets people vote on which machine-generated artwork is going to put up for sale next? WHY NOT FFS PAY ATTENTION. Anyway, for those of you who do remember Botto, this is basically that, but for clothes. Finesse is a fashion brand who have decided to do away with the tedious, messy and primadonna-ish concept of ‘the designer’ and instead realised that you can churn out plausible-looking fast fashion using some algos and a bunch of dropshipping production contacts half a world away – the result is a service which invites users to vote on which of a selection of designs they want to see produced next, designs spat out by an ‘AI’ presumably trained on TikTok and TMZ, which will then see the highest-voted garment sent for production and available for retail within 2 weeks. This is, on the one hand, a brutally-brilliant bit of business – on the other, I don’t think this is necessarily good for the planet or society. Fine, the company trumpets is sustainability (the ‘on-demand’ nature of the business should in theory lead to less wasted inventory, for example), but let’s be realistic – this stuff will inevitably fit like a fcuking sackcloth unless you happen to luck into the one, specific bodytype that a particular outfit happens to work for; it will be made out of stuff with all the tensile resilience of gossamer but significantly more toxic and likely to have a half-life of a few centuries and, oh yes, an actual human being still has to stitch this sh1t. Basically until we can put not only the designers but also the tailors and seamstresses out of business thanks to the magical march of machines, there is literally no way to make clothes like this that doesn’t in some way fcuk someone, painfully and unpleasantly. Still, though, LOOK AT ALL THESE MAD GARMS! Do people still say ‘garms’? So old, so tired, so nearly ready to die.
- CAR: I ought, by rights, to hate this, but I simply can’t, it’s too gloriously silly, and too perfectly high-concept. TODAY (presuming you’re reading this on Friday 25 February 2022 – and if not, why not?) artist Shloms will start selling NFTs from his new CARS collection – CARS is a project that saw Shloms blow up a Lamborghini (because, well, obvs) and film it, with the output being 888 individual videos of fragments of the exploded Lambo that are all being auctioned as NFTs. Which is sort-of perfect, right? The Lambo! The conspicuous consumption! The deep irony! Shloms maintains that the majority of proceeds from the auction – which could be a lot of money – will be redirected to other art projects, and in the absence of any obvious stench of grift from this project, I am going to tentatively declare it art. I bet Shloms, in the unlikely event they ever see this brief writeup, will be thrilled.
- Lobby3: I may have mentioned this before, but I worked as a lobbyist for a while in my 20s – I am morally OK with this, though, because I did literally no work and was generally awful at everything connected to my job, and so on balance I actually probably sort-of made the world a better place through my professional indolence and incompetence. Still, I am largely of the belief that lobbying and public affairs is at best a socially-acceptable form of cash for access, and at worst a fcuking cancer on modern politics, so imagine my utter joy when I discovered that the latest bunch of people investing big to get the ear of lawmakers is…THAT’S RIGHT IT’S THE FCUKING WEB3CRYTOCNUTS! Yes, everyone’s favourite failed NYC mayoral candidate (read: noone’s favourite, everyone seemingly thought he was a prick by the end) Andrew Yang has decided to REINVENT LOBBYING by basically making it a DAO – you buy tokens which confer voting rights, which voting rights are used to determine the future causes on which the group will lobby Congress, etc. I don’t, honestly, have the time or the energy to exhaustively explain all the reasons why this is a fcuking terrible idea from an organisational point of view, but, briefly, just consider exactly the sorts of things that a well-funded organisation representing the cryptoweb3nutcases might potentially seek to advocate for – well, yes, quite. The main hope for this is that the inherently-chaotic nature of a DAO makes the whole thing unworkable, as otherwise I can sort-of imagine the Republicans leaning hard into “Mak3 Am3rica Gr3at With Web3 and Bitcoin” come 2024.
- Vmail: Matt Round continues to surprise and delight with his pleasingly-silly web projects – this latest one is a real gem imho, even by his high standards. VMail (that’s VoleMail, obviously) is a newsletter with a difference – anyone can contribute to it via a form on Matt’s website, and once there are 20 THINGS in the newsletter it gets automatically formatted and sent out. What those 20 things are is entirely determined by what people like YOU decide to submit (and, one would assume, some light curation on Matt’s part to ensure that your inbox isn’t overwhelmed by particularly-nasty equine bongo), which means that the first few editions have been a truly wonderful collection of odd anecdotes, bad jokes, experimental novel fragments, pictures that look like they’ve been taken with a GameBoy Advance camera attachment, and, inexplicably, some shopping lists. This is practically-perfect in every way, and whilst I know that there are obviously NO OTHER newsletters in your life (you…you wouldn’t cheat on Curios, would you?), you may wish to find space for this one.
- Maddox Jets: As a non-driver (I would say a ‘proud’ non-driver, but, honestly, it’s more the fact that I am horrifically malcoordinated that prevents me from getting behind the wheel rather than any moral objection to the combustion engine) I am perennially fascinated by incredibly fast vehicles and the people who pilot them – how do you learn, do you think, that where you find your heaven is ‘sat in a shopping trolley, strapped to what to all intents and purposes looks like the back end of a cruise missile’? Anyway, whatever childhood trauma brought Bob Maddox to this point, here is his website – MADDOX JETS, where he details all the different ways he’s courted death via the medium of wheels, axles and a borderline-insane quantity of rocket propellant. If you’ve ever wondered ‘what would it look like if a middle-aged man with the sort of ash-blonde barnet and complexion you’d normally associate with a minor member of the cursed Johnson dynasty attempted to reach approximately 200mph in a vehicle made of Meccano?’, well, NOW YOU KNOW! Pleasingly there’s a shop on the site – whilst Bob doesn’t sell complete vehicles, possibly due to restrictions on international arms sales (honestly, tell me these things aren’t bombs on wheels), you can buy completed engines to affix to whatever currently-stationary object you fancy. YOU KNOW YOU WANT TO, MIDDLE-AGED MALE READERS OF CURIOS!
- Gucci PickNTwist: NEW LUXURY BRAND VIDEOGAME JUST DROPPED! This is, even by the standards of the ‘pointless videogames for luxe brands with no discernible product connection and, as far as I can tell, without even cookie tracking to try and resell me a handbag for the rest of my natural life’ genre, a doozy. Firstly – and I concede that I might be about to make myself sound very stupid here, but, well, not for the first time – there is no explanation of how the game works. “Align the things!” the instruction on the first screen says. YES GUCCI BUT HOW?? AND WHY??? I managed to get through the first couple of levels by clicking and dragging almost at random, but I am baffled as to what I am actually meant to be doing – I assume that there’s an analogue to a clasp or lock or arrangement of segments in a bracelet or pendant or something, but, er, I didn’t get far enough to find out. Basically I have been outsmarted by a throwaway casual game designed to somehow inveigle people into dropping 5 figures on a shirt, and, let me tell you, it smarts. Still, the visual design of the games themselves is gorgeous – the objects you’re manipulating are gorgeously shiny and tactile, and there’s something hugely satisfying about the aesthetic here. Which I suppose makes up for my double-figure-IQ fumblings to work out what the everliving fcuk is happening here.
- The Race: Ooh, ANOTHER NEW LUXURY BRAND VIDEOGAME JUST DROPPED! This, by Montblanc (they make…fountain pens, right? Just that it’s not immediately clear from anything on this website what the fcuk it is that I am being sold, which I sort of admire as a tactic), is, for reasons only known to their marketing team, a racing game – you’re in a red car, and your sole task is to steer left and right in an attempt to adhere to the racing line and fill up a boost meter so as to speed yourself around the track at optimum pace. It’s mildly diverting for the 45s or so it takes to do a circuit, and there’s a light degree of replayability in the fact that it’s possible to do a ‘perfect’ run (should you be the sort of weirdo who likes to challenge and better themselves), but I am utterly baffled as to how they think this is going to help flog them more pens – there’s even the option to submit your score, but no indication as to why the fcuk you might want to do so. Once again, can I make a plea that any people working in luxe brands who want to spend an unconscionable amount of money on a shiny advergame come to me to discuss it? I won’t make anything good, or even noticeably better than this, but I promise that I will be slightly cheaper than whoever else you ask.
- Leisure Project: There’s something quietly sinister about the way in which so much copy around food and drink has moved from the pleasingly-sensual (“creamy texture, full-bodied flavours and a nose you could suck all night long”) (there’s a reason I don’t write for Haagen Dazs) to the miserably-functional (“high-energy focus-shakes for Keynote WARRIORS!”), a vibe (sorry) very much embodied by the homepage for Leisure Project. “A New Type of Hydration Beverage…Crafted with natural electrolytes, adaptogens, and nootropics for a less stressed, more focused you.” That’s as may be, Carl, but I bet it tastes like actual ass (and not even in the good way). So Leisure Project is A N Other type-A personality-oriented ACHIEVEMENTSHAKE, designed to make you sharper and stronger and more focused and more able to CRUSH IT each and every day (or, more realistically, to at least to pretend to cope with the increasingly-baroque vicissitudes of LIFE), but that’s not what makes it Curios-worthy, That, my friends, is…oh, God, it’s fcuking NFTs again. Yes, that’s right, they’re not just selling you a brand new drink, they’re selling you the chance to buy into a COMMUNITY (and, er, as we all know well, the very best communities, the most meaningful, are the ones you have to pay your way into! Clubs, maybe; influence networks, perhaps; communities? No). Aside from the promise of “Three holistically refreshing flavors. Three new pathways to creativity” (I am starting to wish harm on the person who wrote this), you also get the chance to be part of “The World’s First Co-Created Beverage Brand…We are a beverage brand built for and by our community. We’re launching 4,567 Leisure Creature NFT’s. Ownership of the NFT grants exclusive access and membership privileges to the Leisure Project brand launching later this Spring.” What does this get you? STUFF! PROBABLE (well, possible) STUFF IN THE FUTURE! It’s clear that I no longer understand anything about a world in which people are willing to spend hundreds of actual dollars to be part of a club based around an as-yet-untasted soft drink. Either that, or this is yet another example of an NFT project preying on the stupid and greedy. HMMMMMMMM.
- Digital Public Goods: Hm, on reflection, going at breakneck speed from the previous entry to this one shows some of the…limitations inherent in Curios’ curatorial style (ha!). Still, this is an excellent project, and in a way feels to me like the diametric opposite of NFT grift – Digital Public Goods is a multi-agency initiative whose goal is to “accelerate the attainment of the sustainable development goals in low- and middle-income countries by facilitating the discovery, development, use of, and investment in digital public goods”; so, basically, to try and get different organisations to work together to make more useful, free, open-source digital tools available for all. There are various workstreams within the project – which was convened in 2021 – and various Governments and NGOs are already onboard, including German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ), the Government of Sierra Leone, the Norwegian Agency for Development Cooperation (Norad), iSPIRT, UNDP, and UNICEF. If you happen to work for, or with, any organisations or companies that might be able to help with creating and distributing open-access digital solutions for literacy, government, healthcare, sustainability and the like, this is a link you should very much click on.
- Dorksearch: It’s long been known that your standard Google search is basically unusable if you want to do proper research (we’ve SEO’d one of the greatest inventions of our species – I sort-of mean that, I think – into obsolescence within a decade, well done guys!), but for those of you who still want to try and do some decent infospelunking then Dorksearch is a godsend. Basically it has a bunch of pre-written string queries you can select from dropdowns – so if you can’t remember exactly the commands you need to write into Google to search by filetype, say, or for any results that contain mp3s, then this will let you do it quickly and easily with a few clicks. Now, it’s worth pointing out that technically this looks like it’s been built to let you find textfiles containing password dumps and credit card info – WHICH WEB CURIOS IN NO WAY ENDORSES – but there’s also a lot of perfectly non-dodgy stuff you can do with it. You…you won’t do a crime, will you? Good.
- VRPranksters: There have been a spate of stories over the past week or about the…less than robust moderation currently in-place across various VR communities, from VRChat (home, lest we forget, of The Incredibly Racist Ugandan Knuckles Meme) to Roblox (kiddy stripclubs), to Horizon Worlds, along with a parallel piece in VICE about what a nightmare it must be to be one of the poor mods employed to prevent griefing in the Big Blue Misery Factory’s VR version of LinkedIn. VRPranksters is a TikTok channel which presents various ‘comic’ instances of users doing light trolling in virtual space, and, oh god, it just looks so tiresome and, basically, like Horizon Worlds is mainly being used by 10 year olds to make sight gags and mum jokes at each other. I can’t work out whether this is A Good Thing (insofar as it makes the Zuckerbergian vision of THE METAVERSE look as distant and ridiculous as iti ought) or A Bad Thing (insofar as it suggests that kids are already getting hooked into this corporatised vision of VR and are basically signing themselves up as Meta-users in perpetuity), but, whichever way you cut it, it makes hanging out in virtual spaces look about as much fun as spending an afternoon in a Year 8 double science session.
- Prosepainter: PAINT WITH WORDS! Well, sort-of – Prosepainter, made by the same people who spun up the rather fun Artbreeder, which lets you effectively ‘breed’ images together using AI, lets you sketch out the broad shapes you want the machine to fill in as well as using language to determine what sort of visual style you want the shapes to display – so, for example, you can sketch the shapes of your foreground and background and rough buildings, and then tell it to make the floor ‘a suppurating carpet of bloody limbs’ and the sky ‘a roiling maelstrom of teeth’ and the building ‘a cathedral of pain’ and see what it spits out! I mean, other visual styles are available, and there’s nothing to say you have to take it down the ‘dark metal album cover’ that I just described, but, well, you know you want to.
- Infinite Passarella: I’ve featured digital studio Lusion’s work in here before, I think – this is another of their sideline projects, seemingly just done as a proof-of-concept, which lets you watch an apparently-infinite catwalk show, featuring headless models wearing procedurally-generated garments strut their stuff before an audience of equally-virtual fashionistas and frow-dwellers. At heart just a super-cool screensaver, this is beautifully-designed and really nicely-rendered, and you can imagine a world in which this is combined with the sort of business model outlined in the entry about Finesse uptop – viewers watch the show, vote in realtime on the algocreations they would like to see produced, which triggers the sweatshops! Ah, the future! Still, this is lovely webwork by some obviously very talented people, so well done them.
- They Can Talk: I do quite want to append the words “…but not in any way which we can meaningfully understand’ to the title of this website, but shan’t for fear of upsetting those of you with ‘fur babies’. They Can Talk is “a community-generated site dedicated to helping people teach learners to communicate using sound board Augmentative Interspecies Communication (AIC) Devices. We’re constantly discovering new things about teaching words to dogs, and so there’s a need for a place that brings together tips, tricks, do’s and don’ts that seem to work. This site is a work in progress, and content here is changing as we learn more.” So if you think your dog is unusually intelligent and has a few things it really MUST communicate to you, and you want to set up an elaborate system of buttons with which it can tell you its deepest wants and desires, then this is the website for YOU. The do’s and don’ts section was particularly-interesting to me – I sort of admire the hardline teaching ethos set out here, but wonder whether instructions such as “If your learner is looking like they want something from you, ask them to “use your words”” might end up with the trainer in this scenario having a slightly-p1ssier home than one might ideally wish for. Still, do let me know how you get on (NB – note to my girlfriend, THIS WILL NOT WORK WITH YOUR CAT).
THE SECTION WHICH WONDERS WHAT BAUDRILLARD WOULD MAKE OF WARS EXPERIENCED VIA TIKTOK, PT.2:
- The Golden Age of Wrestling: Did you grow up watching slightly-grainy bootleg VHS footage of Hulk Hogan and Ultimate Warrior, taped off the telly by that one kid at school whose parents shelled out for BSkyB? Did you spend more time than was strictly good for your musculoskeletal development attempting to perfect the suplex on pockmarked tarmacadam in clear violation of all known health and safety legislation? If the answer to either of those questions is ‘yes’, then, well, ENJOY: “Growing up in the 1980s and ’90s, heroes didn’t all wear capes. But they did wear fluorescent spandex, face paint, and occasionally snakes. This was the Golden Era of Professional Wrestling in the United States, if not the Universe. Perhaps Vince McMahon and Hulk Hogan’s brand of kid-friendly, larger-than-life WWF stars were your thing? Or maybe you were a fan of Ric Flair, Dusty Rhodes, and their unique brand of NWA / WCW blood-soaked hot-dogging? Well, 10-year-old Fraser Davidson was a sucker for it all, every last drop. The music, the neon, and of course, the toys. The huge volume of toys. The Golden Era of Wrestling project is an attempt to create a nostalgic series of ‘action figure style’ renders, paying homage to the greatest epoch of ‘Sports Entertainment’.” The renders here are lovely, really satisfying and tactile-looking, and I could imagine there being a decent market for these as vinyl toys for the sort of men who claim they’re ‘limited edition vinyl artpieces, actually’.
- Glitch Image Generator: Glitch any image you like, with just a click. Lots of different ways of adding a layer or two of noise, should you wish to start pursuing ‘the computer is dying and my soul along with it’ as your visual aesthetic for 2022.
- MacSimulator: There were few disappointments in the 80s quite like that of going round to someone’s house and discovering that they had access to a computer and then discovering that that computer was a Mac, with its horrible unfamiliar interface and hideous grayscale display – this website lets you experience that whole miserable sensation of ‘being let down’ once again, letting you play around with a Mac emulator running some sort of antedeluvian OS (MacOS7, for exactness). You can play a few games on it, including the desperately-unfun cult misery simulator Oregon Trail, but mainly this will be of interest as a nostalgiaportal, and a way of showing the young people in your life exactly how miserable the past was from an entertainment point of view, and exactly why we have all turned out the way we have.
- Menus of New York: I appreciate that any complaints about food from a man living in Rome will come across as churlish at best, so, er, I will keep them to myself, but I will say that I would give at least one of my testicles (I mean, take both! It’s not like I’m likely to use them for anything!) to eat a meal that doesn’t involve Italian food (turns out one can get tired of pizza, gricia, amatriciana and artichokes, who knew?). So I spent a bit of time living vicariously through this wonderful collection of menus from New York’s restaurant scene over the past 150 years or so. Select by decade and browse the dishes of the beau monde in the roaring 20s, or the nouvelle-cuisine boom of the 80s, and OH MY GOD I WOULD KILL FOR SOME DECENT THAI FOOD OR BASICALLY ANYTHING THAT CONTAINS SPICES. What’s that? The sound of literally no violins? Oh.
- The Museum of the Future: This is amazing, in a very odd sort of way. The Museum of the Future is a new(ish) institution in Dubai, designed to showcase the UAE’s vision of a GLORIOUS TECHNOLOGICALLY-ENABLED FUTURE PARADISE, all within a quite incredible building (honestly, this is a proper architectural showstopper- I don’t necessarily mean that in a positive way, but it’s certainly…something) which is adorned with Arabic calligraphy depicting the poetry of Emirati Prime Minister His Highness Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum (I don’t know about you, but I get…a touch antsy at the idea of leaders being so convinced of their genius that they decide to have it immortalised via the medium of 10ft carvings of their best lines). What’s inside the museum? THE FUTURE! Except, well, it’s hard to tell – lots of multimedia and AR and XR, and lots of vaguely-utopian stuff about THE MAGIC FUTURE OF MACHINE LEARNING and NATURE and SPACE…I don’t know about you, but I don’t feel like this sort of thing really captures the current spirit of the age, or indeed has any actual bearing on what our best-guess version of THE FUTURE actually looks like. Still, WHAT a building.
- International Landscape Photographer of the Year: Landscapes! Pictures of landscapes! Beautiful, breathtaking, humbling pictures of the natural world! If you want a properly-inspirational selection of pictures which will remind you of the unparalleled beauty of our planet’s natural landscapes then, well, HERE YOU ARE! A slight shame that the website makes the experience of browsing the images so underwhelming, but I’m nitpicking here – these really are astonishing, and pleasingly-varied.
- Gylne Tider: This is one of those things which may well already be SUPERFAMOUS in your corner of the web – in which case, apologies for the OLD ISH. For the rest of you, though, welcome to the glorious world of Gylne Tider, a Norwegian TV show which over the years has built up a quite incredible collection of songs being sung by international celebrities. Maybe a Norwegian reader (no idea if I have any, but writing stuff like this makes me feel like Web Curios is an INTERNATIONALLY-RENOWNED publication rather than just A N Other newsletter written by a generic media w4nker with loggorhoea and a touch of anhedonia) can enlighten me as to how exactly this TV show has over the years managed to inveigle stars of the wattage of Limahl, Glenn Madeiros, Bananarama, Keisha Buchanan, EDDIE THE FCUKING EAGLE, and more, to participate in line-by-line singalongs of tracks like ‘We Are The World’. The link takes you to the Google video results for the show, and it’s worth taking your time to savour the various iterations of ‘a bunch of random famouses sing a song together for no discernible reason and HANG ON IS THAT JOHN NETTLES WHAT IS BERGERAC DOING HARMONISING WITH MARK HAMILL?!?!?’. Honestly, this is GOLD, and frankly the sort of thing which social media has basically ruined, as no famous these days would ever be able to get away with doing something so…utterly, inexplicably, humiliatingly joyous.
- Stephen Biesty: Stephen Biesty does cut-out illustrations, of the sort you might recall from Usborn books of your youth about ‘how televisions work’ or ‘what was it like being crew on a Roman trireme (the kids’ version)?’ – this is his website, which collects examples of his work and which flashed me right back to being small. These are great – a personal favourite is this illustration of Waterloo tube in cross-section, which, honestly, I could stare at for hours, but pick your own.
- Low-Carbon Websites: I appreciate that worrying about the carbon emissions produced by your website may not be the highest priority in terms of ‘attempting to unfcuk the climate crisis’, but, well, every little helps (not, it must be said once again, as much as every big bit does – like, I don’t know, hammering the oil giants with violent taxes on all their fossil fuel extraction and exploitation work – but I think we’ve all accepted that the way we’re going to deal with the inevitable heat-death of the planet is by making individuals feel guilty rather than tackling the systems that actually perpetuate the problem – SO IT GOES, etc). This website is, fine, a sales tool by a webdesign firm that specialises in low-emission websites, but the copy here is fundamentally true: “This directory of lightweight websites has been created to inspire actors of the digital industry to design and build lighter and greener products.
The Internet is a physical thing. And it is responsible for around 4% of global emissions – more than the entire airline industry, and is growing by 5% each year. In an age when scientists are warning us that every bit of warming matters, it’s time to get real about the impact of the digital world.” If you’re thinking of a new website anytime soon, perhaps worth thinking in these terms when you do so.
- Mechanical Animations: A YouTube channel featuring, seemingly, hundreds of short, simple animations depicting mechanical processes – gears and pistons and pulleys and that sort of thing. Which, I appreciate, may not quite get the blood racing, but click the link and tell me that you don’t derive some sort of light, soothing satisfaction from watching some gears rendered in what looks like CAD software from the mid-90s (don’t tell me, I don’t want to know).
- Tool Graphics: A selection of little graphical AI arttoys which let you play around to generate small ‘artworks’ based on specific styles or movements – so, for example, you can play around with a Mondrian generator, or a Bauhaus generator, fiddling with settings and parameters to play around with palettes and compositional styles. The outputs are a bit shonky, fine, but there’s something quite nice about the way you get to sort-of appreciate the ‘rules’ under the skin of each style as you play with the generators.
- Artificial Nightmares: “Fcuk off, Matt!”, I hear you cry (and not for the first time), “the real nightmares are quite enough without you trying to introduce artificial ones to my subconscious!” Well, tough, this is MY newsletterblogtypething and you’ll get what you’re given. Artificial Nightmares is a YouTube channel which presents videos of GAN-imagined horrorscapes, Sort-of fun, in the now-quite-traditional GAN-art style, although there’s also a VERY STRONG whiff of teenage bedroom about a lot of the output (you know, tries a bit hard).
- The Gentle Author’s Tour of Spitalfields: A crowdfunding campaign to raise money for the development of a community tourism project in Spitalfields, East London, which would serve to provide alternative historical narratives for the area beyond ‘JACK THE RIPPER EVISCERATED TARTS HERE’ which does feel a bit tired in the grand old year of 2022. There’s a mission-statement and everything: “I am appalled that educational institutions send classes of students and school children on the exploitative serial killer tours which display autopsy photographs of women in the street, indulging in ghoulish humour at the expense of these victims. Instead, I am offering visitors the opportunity to meet a member of the local community and learn something of the infinite variety of life that has evolved in London’s first suburb over two millennia. For the past two years, I have been developing and road-testing THE GENTLE AUTHOR’S TOUR OF SPITALFIELDS which I plan to launch this spring.
Now I am raising £20,000 to create a booking website, train local tour guides, print maps and buy targeted online advertising to reach tourists planning a visit. This project is a means to create local employment, draw attention to the distinctive wonders of the place and reclaim the true stories of our living community. I want to celebrate a rich and diverse history of resourcefulness, driven by successive waves of migration from across the world – Huguenots, Jews, Irish and Bengalis, among many others – which tells the story of how modern Britain was created.” I can’t quite claim to be ‘appalled’ by the Ripper fetishism (words which have lost all meaning in the 21st Century, part x of an infinite series), but this project feels like A Good Thing.
- The Strangest SubReddits: I can’t pretend to have done an exhaustive investigation into WEIRD SUBREDDITS, fine, but there are some pretty superb examples collected in this thread. A subReddit dedicated to users’ hatred for particularly fat squirrels? CHECK! An entire community where people spend their time photoshopping top hats onto hi-res photos of bees? CHECK! An, er, enthusiasts’ group for people who particularly enjoy hentai pictures of women whose nipples have, for reasons inadequately-explained, been replaced by erect, often-ejaculating phalli? CHECK CHECK CHECK (also, VERY NSFW)! I don’t think there has ever been anything in the history of our species that lets you truly understand the incredible gamut of human interest, experience and sexuality quite like Reddit does, for better or worse. ENJOY!
- Emoji Fortune Cookies: A new random emoji fortune, delivered each time you refresh. “Incoming letter construction worker earth Africa”, you say? PROPITIOUS! I quite like the idea of using this in a Diceman sort of way, letting emoji fortunes guide your behaviour every 30m or so – obviously Web Curios accept no personal responsibility whatseoever for any…er…negative consequences of such an experiment, but would very much like to hear from anyone giving this a go.
- Wardle: I’d made a private pact with myself to stop posting Wordle clones because, well, I’m bored of them, but then Giuseppe Sollazzo created this and I had to include it because it is SO perfectly-geeky. This is less a Wordle clone than a Worldle clone, in truth, but hey ho – the game here is to seek to identify individual electoral wards in the UK, based on their shape and their relative position / distance from your last guess. Obviously this will be utterly impossible and deadly-dull to 99.9% of you, but the remaining 0.1% – the political obsessives, the psephological twitchers who dream of boundary changes and stay up all night reminiscing about Great Counts I Once Attended – will be rendered practically-tumescent by this.
- The Dinosaur Game: The ‘You are offline’ dinosaur game from Chrom, playable on any browser and with a light bit of leaderboard functionality meaning that your score is tallied with those of others playing from the same country, so you can feel a small sense of collective national pride as your timewasting sends your nation soaring to the top of the table. If nothing else, Russia is currently ‘winning’ and so it behooves us all to STICK IT TO VLAD by playing this for the next 24h and toppling them from their perch. That’s…that’s how ‘protesting’ works, right?
- Rotate The Shapes: Finally this week, a game which asks you to select the matching shapes from a selection of 6 – you see how many you can get right within the time limit. This is one of those things where I imagine some of you will find this so easy as to make it practically offensive to your intelligence, whereas others of us (ie me) will basically stare slack-jawed and drooling at the screen as you try and make your brain and its crippling lack of spatial awareness do its thing. This is basically the Rotators vs Wordcels meme made real.
By Mark Tennant
THE CIRCUS OF TUMBLRS!
- DVD Movie Menus: Celebrating one of the great lost graphic design and UX canvases of recent generations, the DVD menu! SO MUCH GREAT WORK HERE, and a surprising amount of format nostalgia considering I think I owned a grand total of six DVDs in my lifetime.
THE TROUGH OF (INSTA) FEEDS!
- Digital Brand Bites: I’ve thankfully long-since stopped having to pretend to care about s*c**l m*d** for brands – I leave all that to Matt Navarra these days, the indefatigably-cheery masochist that he is. Still, if you’re still in the invidious position of having to think about REACTIVE CONTENT TO BOOST ENGAGEMENT then a) I feel deeply sorry for you; and b) you may find this Insta account useful, being as it is a regular feed of ‘stuff that brands are doing on Twitter and Insta and TikTok which you could usefully rip off for your own clients because, well, who cares?’.
- Suiteru: Little videos of someone messing around with a sequencer and some visualisation software, which, fine, I appreciate doesn’t sound like much but which I promise you is a lot more interesting than my shabby description might initially have led you to think.
- Geometric Artists:Images of geometric artworks curated for your feed, for when the ‘give peace a chance’ posts get too much (I don’t use Insta, so am guessing slightly about the peaceposting, but, well, it’s inevitable).
- Alexander Ivanov: Some very impressive VFX work on display in these little videoclips, with a nicely-playful style. The sort of thing which will be very familiar to anyone who spent time lurking on the B3ta imageboards, and no worse for that.
- Ayumi Shibata: Quite beautiful paper art here – I can’t quite comprehend the degree of patience and control that creating stuff like this requires, but it’s gorgeous.
LONG THINGS WHICH ARE LONG!:
- Minecraft is the Metaverse: This is quietly-amazing, I think. All the snark around ‘THE METAVERSE’, and in particular the attempts by an awful lot of people to make a fast buck out of the concept by selling rubbish and lies to people who are stupid and credulous (HI AD AGENCIES! HI HYPEBEASTS!!!!), is entirely justified, but, equally, the broad idea that ‘we are moving towards a more seamlessly-integrated digital/physical existence and that direction of travel is pretty unilateral’ strikes me as pretty uncontroversial. Which is why this piece, about how various communities are using Minecraft as the basis for an experiment into multiple interconnected virtual worlds, with economies and transferable digital goods, is so interesting to me – it’s probably the best example of what the potential for this stuff is, from the ground up, with none of the horrific Zuckerbergian sheen or a million d1ckheads with cartoon avatars screaming about DECENTRALISED PROTOCOLS like they understand the first thing about what those words mean. The article focuses on a project which is effectively selling NFTs as ‘seeds’ for new Minecraft worlds, which, once created, can be linked to a wider project which features “interconnected communities with server connection details stored on-chain, currency transactions without a central authority, and ownership of digital items across servers.” Now, I might have reservatrions about the general thrust of Web3 (MAKE EVERYTHING TRADEABLE! is not, to my mind at least, the utopian future vision that its proponents seem to see it as being), but I can’t help but get a little excited at the potential here.
- Cortiez Goods: I am not, it’s pretty clear, an economist of any sort (RIP Alan Glanville, you tried and failed to educate me and I am sorry for being so utterly uninterested in the Laffer curve), but I have enough of a rudimentary understanding of basic principles to find stuff like this interesting. This is a shortish post by Ana Andjelic where she proposes a new category of good to sit alongside your veblens when it comes to ‘subverting established economic logic’ – specifically, the ‘Cortiez’ good, “something that gets more desirable if substitutable. In the Cortiez Model, individuals often exchange a more expensive, better-known good with lower cultural currency for a cheaper, lesser-known one with higher cultural currency.” This is specifically based on the author’s observation of consumer behaviour around new drops by fashion label Cortiez, which recently invited punters to swap their North Face or Moncler jackets for a brand new Cortiez – theoretically worth less cash, but dripping with cachet. If you’re in the business of building hypey brands and selling overpriced tat to kids and baddies alike, then you probably ought to read this.
- Dry Capitalism: Or ‘Selling Sobriety: How Abstinence and Virtue Got Monetised’, or even ‘Selling Sobriety: How Abstinence Was Repackaged As A Gateway To Being A Better Capitalist” – pick your favourite title. This is a really interesting article looking at the rise of the sobriety industry and What It All Means in terms of our attitudes to work and achievement and attainment and THE PERENNIAL HUSTLE, and the slightly-puritanical-joylessness that inhabits the edges of all the nicely-packaged rhetoric about BEING YOUR BEST SELF and LIVING YOUR BEST LIFE (so you can wake up bright-eyed and bushy-tailed at 5am to CRUSH IT at the gym and at work and at book club and in therapy and in bed and and and OPTIMISE EVERYTHING god I am so so so so so so so so ready to die).
- Crypto and Sanctions: I’m mainly staying away from warchat this week as a) I don’t have anything useful to add; and b) I figure if you want to seek it out it’s not exactly hard to find. That said, I did find this piece interesting, about how crypto could be used to circumvent sanctions against Russia, partly as a cautionary example of how technology is now so regularly outstripping legislative attempts to confine it that stuff like ‘sanctions’ are only ever going to be partially effective, if at all.
- Maps From Fashion: Ok, so this is a technical paper and perhaps not the most compelling read from a prose point of view, but I promise that there’s interesting stuff in and around it which is worth thinking about for a moment or two. This is a paper by academics at a couple of US universities, working alongside researchers and engineers from Facebook, which examines what sort of maps and models can be created by crossreferencing analysis of photos posted on social media with geography to enable non-traditional analyses of urban spaces. So, like this basically: “We propose a method to create underground neighborhood maps of cities by analyzing how people dress. Using publicly available images from across a city, our method automatically segments the map into neighborhoods with a similar fashion sense. Our approach further allows discovering insights about a city, such as detecting distinct neighborhoods (what is the most unique region of NYC?) and answering analogy questions between cities (what is the “Downtown LA” of Bogota?).” Firstly, if you make a living running ‘trend safaris’ then GOOD LUCK finding a line item in the budget for that in a few years’ time; secondly, this raises all sorts of questions about how this sort of thing is used, and who by, and how running these sorts of surface-level analyses of communities based on nothing other than what they look like could end up being a touch problematic. Fascinating, if a bit dry.
- The Reinvention of Playboy: My friend Shardcore has visited the Playboy Mansion, back when he was a reality TV star (he remains tight-lipped about what he got up to there, but the word ‘sticky’ has definitely featured in his descriptions), but now it’s GOING DIGITAL! This is a really interesting look at how a legacy business is attempting to drag itself kicking and screaming into the 21stC – or at least a version of the 21stC, one that’s all crypto and NFTs and the like. You can read this either as a bold reimagining of the Playboy brand and ethos, less overtly-misogynistic and more about the shared ‘values’ of the business, or alternatively as an object-lesson in the base economics and motivation behind cryptoweb3, to whit ‘let’s rinse EVERYTHING as hard as we can, forever!’. There’s a particularly telling line in here: “ “What the internet is powerful about is it can connect fans around content…and the ability for NFTs to be a way of gating that and making it so that you can really create a community among your most passionate fans—that’s really interesting.” What do you think the most significant part of that sentence is? Is it ‘community’? Or is it ‘gating content’? I know what I believe, but maybe I am just being a miserable cynic (plus ca change, eh?).
- How Movies Are Scored: I knew nothing of this, but turns out that your international superstar composers, your Zimmers of this world, are a lot more akin to Jeff Koons and Damien Hirst than they are to, say, Beethoven, with vast armies of contentmonkeys supporting their every note. Basically it seems that a lot of the big ticket compositions by a ‘name’ are often nothing more than a vague idea of a melody sketched out by the superstar in question which then gets fleshed-out and filled-in by the aforementioned compositionalcontentmonkeys, who often remain nameless and, quite understandably, get a little bit salty at the fact that all their actual work gets hidden behind the veneer of the MASSIVE NAME. Slightly-depressing, although nowhere near as depressing as the harsh reality that all this will be 99%-machine generated by 2030.
- Deep-Fried Selfies: I rather enjoyed this, and were I not so selfie-averse (honestly, I would rather stick pins in myself than look at photos of my face) I would totally give this a go. “Like a parrot in front of a mirror, I am mindlessly vain and shine-obsessed, so I had to try this one out. The app didn’t disappoint; having chosen a decent selfie, I came out looking like an anime goddess. I proceeded to Cartoonify another selfie … only instead of selecting a new photo, I accidentally chose the image I’d just saved, adding another layer of Cartoon effects atop the first. Thus an intriguing experiment was born. How many rounds of cartoon yassification would it take for my face to become unrecognizable? Or, to be more ambitious: How long until it looked less like a selfie and more like something that might generally be recognized as “art”?”
- The Un-Grammable Hangzone: I am self-aware enough to know that one of the (many, many) reasons behind the continued inability of Web Curios to attain GLOBAL CULT STATUS is my…idiosyncratic approach to writing, and the OCCASIONALLY UNPLEASANTLY SHOUTY style I employ here, and that there are lots of people (well, ok, some people) who might actually quite enjoy Curios were it not for the fact that they find my writing style the prose equivalent of having needles firmly inserted under their fingernails. So it was when I read this piece – it gave me something of a headache, frankly, but I figure that that might just be an age thing. Still, it was interesting enough to warrant me including it here nonetheless – the Blackbird Spyplane newsletter wrote about the concept of ‘Un-grammable Hangzones’, places that are basically the antithesis of the highly-grammable environments of your Museum of Ice Creams and instead lean hard into an aesthetic that can best be described as “FRUMPY, MISSHAPEN, INVITINGLY INELEGANT” (their words, their caps). If you’re in the market for a NEW VIBE (sorry) to hang your hat on, this feels worth exploring.
- Against Access: This is SO INTERESTING. An essay by John Lee Clark, who is deafblind, about how he wants to experience the world, how and why sign language is, in his experience, an inadequate means of communicating the environment to the non-hearing, and some thoughts about how we might want to think about helping people with different sensory setups and abilities to experience the world around them. I found this utterly fascinating, not least as it made me think about my own sense experience in a totally different way – even if you have no personal interest in or connection to the topics addressed here, as a means of trying on someone else’s experience for size this is superb.
- 44 Thoughts for Cecil Taylor: I know nothing of Cecil Taylor (or at least I didn’t before I read this piece), and I know next-to-nothing about jazz music and the art of playing it, but I absolutely loved this essay by fellow musician Taylor Ho Bynam. It’s structured in 44 loosely-connected sections, written in a way that’s designed to reflect the structural qualities of jazz improvisation, which, yes, I know, sounds almost unbearably w4nky, but which, I promise, makes the whole thing an absolute joy to read regardless of how interested you think you might be in a disquisition about a record you may never have heard by an artist you may have no knowledge of. If you know and enjoy Cecil Taylor’s music then this will likely be even better, but even those of you with no knowledge at all should find something to love in here. SUCH a lovely exercise in form and function, which, yes, fine, sounds toe-curlingly-pretentious, but is also true.
- Mandelson’s Pleasure Dome: Travel back in time to 1997 now, to the early days of New Labour and the excitement and ridicule engendered by the Millennium Dome project – in a week in which we saw it shredded by Eunice, it’s oddly-poignant to look back 25 years and see how we were discussing the project and What It All Meant. This is Ian Sinclair, which means that it’s not necessarily an easy read; few people write about London and physical geography and history like Sinclair, though, as evidenced by passages like this one: “But you’ll smell it. An unmannerly belch of black fumes. A brewery pall that hits you as soon as you emerge from the tunnel: oasty, hot in the throat, disquieting. Like griddled bird sh1t. The world through a sepia filter. Gravy browning dust-storms. Iron filings in a furious wind that scrapes the cornea. Noise you can taste. The thump of generators and jack-hammers that refuse to synchronise with your heart-beat. Headache preambles. The torrid promise of Peter’s Savoury Products. Yards set-dressed with Hazchem drums in the same virulently up-beat blue as the millennial hard hats. The peninsula is also the home of Amylum UK (Glucose, Starches, Proteins). Sheltering in Dreadnought Street, bent against back-draughts of tailgating traffic, you can admire a startling Ballardian dreamscape of auto-fetishism, chemical alps, and an ever-changing hoarding that dwarfs Dorrington’s, a mock-Tudor pub. The hoarding salutes a new film release: Conspiracy Theory. The pub forecourt, ankle-deep in broken bottles – Liebfraumilch Pflaz, Olde English, the Original Strong Cyder, Becks Beer, Omega Extra Strong White Cider, Dragon Stout – promises nights given over to ‘playing Garage, Speed Garage, Deep America House’. Silver funnels hiss. Pipes spit red smoke. The graffiti on walkway walls catch the mood: ‘Disorientate Yourself. Reappropriate Your Surroundings.’ This is truly a place of transformation, shape-shifting, metempsychosis. Protein soup (courtesy of Hays Chemicals) in which new life-forms can breed and take shape. The perfect rehearsal for apocalypse.” Heady stuff indeed. Oh, and this particular line gave me a dark moment of ‘ffs we learn NOTHING’: “in the wake of the Conservative meltdown and the dismissal of the sorriest rump of chancers, carpet-baggers and self-serving apologists ever inflicted on a passive democracy.” 25 YEARS AND HERE WE ARE AGAIN FFS.
- First Love as Whiskey: A beautiful, sad, fragmented story about doomed love over a lifetime, and addiction, and memory, told in gorgeous shards of story. “Both of our families settled our textile town early on, lineages overlapping. We sat in your living room the following summer in the afterglow of sex, fingers tracing your family tree to the far-enough-off shared relative. Your freckles matched mine, but we were a family forged of need, not genetics.” Gorgeous, gorgeous writing.
- Line Go Up: Finally this week, you may already have read this short story by Tim Maugham about crypto and art and THE NEAR FUTURE – but if you haven’t then WELL are you in for a treat. This is superb – if I had to kvetch I might say a touch to in thrall to Gibson, stylistically, but that’s just nitpicking – and absolutely the best thing I have read in an age in terms of taking where we are now and fast forwarding it just a few short cycles to see where it might end up. If you’re curious about some of the logical conclusions of ‘making everything tradeable thanks to the magic of THE BLOCKCHAIN!’, then read this and understand why they are not perhaps as universally-positive as many of the cryptojuicers might maintain. I would absolutely read novels set in this world, but don’t really fancy living in it very much – which is a shame, considering its seeming-inevitability.
AND NOW, MOVING PICTURES AND SOUNDS!:
- First up, have one of the more unsettling uses of vocal AI I have yet come across – synthetic voice outfit Sonantic put this out for Valentine’s Day to showcase the POWER OF THEIR FAKE VOICES. This is a computer-generated voice, being flirtatious at you, and it’s…it’s horrible, honestly. Even if you take it with a skipful of salt – there is no way that the raw output sounds like this, to be clear, and this has clearly been tweaked and edited to make it sound this lifelike – there’s something inherently creepy about seeing the interface being used to drop in little vocal tics (breaths, throat-catches, that sort of thing) to render the resulting vocal more convincing. SEXY, HUH?
- Max Cooper is generally great, and this, his latest track and video, is no exception. Should you get the opportunity I can highly recommend going to see him live – the video projection work at his gigs is ASTONISHING. This is called Exotic Contents, and the GANwork in the video is particularly impressive imho.
- Let me caveat this next vid by saying that, as a rule, I have little time for beatboxing – this, though, this is AMAZING. I originally found this on Reddit, and I can’t seem to find the creator’s own video on YouTube, but this is apparently someone called ‘Jasmine’ and, honestly, just listen, it’s incredible.
- Last up in this week’s selection of videos is this, by Porridge Radio, called ‘Back To The Radio’. I don’t know what it is about the vocal here, but this absolutely floors me every time I listen to it – seriously, there’s something quite astonishing about the timbre and heft of it, if you know what I mean, and the song’s great too, which helps, and I hope you like it because THAT’S THE END THAT’S IT THAT IS ALL THE LINKS AND MOST OF THE WORDS DONE UNTIL NEXT WEEK AT LEAST SO PLEASE TRY AND STAY SANE AND SAFE IN THE FACE OF THE MOUNTING AND INCREASINGLY-FRENETIC MADNESS AND KNOW THAT I LOVE YOU AND I WILL BE WAITING FOR YOU TIL NEXT FRIDAY ROLLS ROUND AND I LOVE YOU I LOVE YOU I LOVE YOU TAKE CARE I LOVE YOU BYE!