Oh hi everyone! Hi! There you are!
Summer has somewhat taken its gloves off in Rome this week; it feels like 35 degrees in the shade here, which you might think sounds nice until you remember that rather than lying on a beach in this heat you’re in fact expected to just carry on with your life, which means that all the tedious quotidian elements of the day-to-day take on a hellish, sweaty new cast. Doing the washing up is miserable at the best of times, but even moreso when sweat is bulleting from you like spines from a particularly-defensive porcupine; grouting the bathroom is NO FUN even when the temperature is temperate, let alone when the climate is seemingly trying to boil your brains. Basically what I am saying here is that it is TOO HOT and I am going to pop out and get an icecream later.
Before that, though, it’s time for me to once again damply lay my proffered haul of webgubbins at your shapely feet, look up at you in supplicatory fashion and hope that you find them pleasing – DO THEY PLEASE YOU??? DO THEY??? FOR FCUK’S SAKE IT’S LIKE TALKING TO THE VOID SOMETIMES.
Ahem. It’s the heat.
I hope it’s cooler where you are. While I go and find some icecubes to put inside me, you settle down and enjoy this week’s Web Curios; salty as ever, and not just from the sweat.
THE SECTION WHICH DOESN’T NEED TO HEAR ANYMORE PEN1S-RELATED MATT HANCOCK JOKES EVER AGAIN PLEASE THANKYOU, PT.1:
- Wayfinder: A beautiful bit of interactive storytellingameplaytypething (it’s a technical term) from perennial Curios favourites the National Film Board of Canada, Wayfinder feels a *tiny* bit like beautiful, acclaimed artygame ‘Journey’ and is an exploration of humanity’s relationship with the natural world. To quote the site, “Wayfinder is a web-based generative art game that takes the player on a contemplative cause-and-effect journey through nature. Symbolizing the give-and-take relationship humans have with the natural world, players move a mystical character through forest, grasslands and tundra in search of poetic tokens dotting the landscape. When activated, they reveal words hidden in the wind, breathing new life into the nearby flora and fauna. Leaves stir and flowers spring up in the character’s footsteps. Birds and butterflies emerge. As the player continues on their journey, these uncovered words combine into verse, expressing our eternal need to capture nature’s fleeting moments in poetry.” The generative nature of the work means that everyone’s experience will be different, down to the poetry you piece together from fragments of text hidden in the world, which makes it a pleasant thing to experience more than once as every experience of it will be different. Soothing and beautiful and a nice antidote to whatever high-pitched buzzing is deafening the inside of your skull right now (it’s not just me, right?).
- Neutrinowatch: Well this is very clever. Readers with excellent memories – or those of you who pay far more attention to the contents of Curios than it probably warrants – may recall a project which I featured a few years ago, called Sheldon County, which aimed to be an entirely-generative podcast, with the idea that each listener’s experience of the story of the fictional people in the fictional district of Sheldon County would be unique, based on procedural generation. That sadly doesn’t seem to have gone anywhere (it was a very ambitious concept), but Neutrinowatch is a slightly-scaled-back version of the same sort of idea – basically each time you listen to an episode of the podcast, it will be different, thanks to the use of the same sort of tech that allows targeted ads to be inserted into podcasts based on who’s listening. This is a really interesting idea that I very much feel has *something* about it, although I’m cautious as to the long-term viability of this particular iteration of it – it’s a nice gimmick, but I don’t know to what extent the resultant output (a podcast that is slightly different each day it’s listened to) is that exciting per se. Still, I can imagine a few scenarios in which this sort of thing could be used in interesting ways – a detective story in which as time passes earlier episodes are recontextualised based on what the protagonist has subsequently learned, for example, or the story of a romance whose early days are re-considered by the omniscient narrator as future events unfold (if you see what I mean. Do you see?).
- The Digital Divine Comedy: This is a lovely bit of visualisation and datawrangling work by Italian studio The Visual Agency, which has gathered a bunch of artworks inspired by the Divine Comedy and arranged them on this site, viewable and navigable by chapter and verse of Dante’s trilogy (the only one worth bothering with by the way, should you ever be struck by the desperate desire to read them, is ‘Inferno’ – it’s a sad truth, but reading about good people being rewarded for their virtue, or normal people waiting to accede to heaven, is significantly less entertaining than reading about very bad people having their viscera worried at by hellhounds), along with explicatory narration about the work and its illustration of the text. The narration is all in Italian I’m afraid – sorry, but, well, you could have done something with lockdown and learned the bloody language, couldn’t you? – but even without that it’s interesting to dip into the various chapters and verses and browse some of the imagery that it’s inspired. A very boring point, but I really like the way it’s laid out – the navigation from book to chapter to verse and back up the chain again is handled very nicely indeed.
- Wisdoms for Love: Honestly, I don’t understand this AT ALL. Wisdoms for Love is a…branching narrative meditative exploration of the self? An interactive story with the inexplicable aesthetic of an early-00s CD-ROM? A psychological test of some sort? A digital tarot reading? Seriously, I couldn’t begin to explain this properly even if I tried – which, er, is sort of what I’m here for, isn’t it? So. Wisdoms for Love takes you, the viewer, through a story, guided by a disembodied voice which opens by telling you that you care carrying items in your womb and which goes onto present to you the Divine Mother (in glorious CG, obvs) and, depending on the choices you make at certain points in the narrative, take you through a series of inexplicable, surreal, shiny and ever-so-slightly-sinister environments while the v/o burbles on about energy and discovery and stuff. You collect the mysterious ‘items’, each of which are named and designated as ‘rare’ or ‘common’ in classic videogame fashion, and there are enough of them that they can’t all be gathered on a single playthrough. At a certain point my choices led me to experience a room full of gigantic, very thicc, CG horses, all arranged in a sort of equine centipede formation. I really, really don’t know what to make of this, so if anyone fancies explaining it to me then I am ALL EARS.
- Listen & Donate: Motor Neurone Disease is a VERY CRUEL condition – seriously, try for a second imagining someone losing their ability to talk then walk then move their arms and then their hands and then their ability to chew then swallow and then eventually breathe, trapped in a meat prison, all while they’re entirely conscious of what’s going on and they can do nothing about it; horror movie stuff. This site is by the quite remarkable French hiphop producer Pone, who was diagnosed with the condition a few years ago but who has continued to make music using eye-tracking software as an interface – it presents Pone’s story, and the story of his Listen & Donate music project whereby purchases of the vinyl or streams of the tracks will raise money for a project that trains carers to help sufferers of MND use tools that let them maintain independence. You can navigate normally using a mouse, or you can instead enable your webcam to experience a version of the eyetracking tech which Pone uses to communicate and compose despite his tetraplegia – I find eyetracking stuff magic-adjacent, and so am both charmed by the tech and moved by the story here; if nothing else, chuck this on repeat for a while and raise a few pennies for a good cause (the music’s good too, promise).
- The Birds and the Trees: Nice bit of comms by the Impossible plant-based food people, who’ve designed this site (doubtless based on the INSIGHT – sorry! – that young people have different opinions about the climate crisis and the importance of acting to ameliorate it than their parents do, and that talking about it to OLD PEOPLE can be HARD) to offer young people ways of opening dialogue with their elders about the importance of looking after the planet (and of eating more Impossible plant-based burgers, one might imagine). The whole thing’s presented in the slightly-post-Adult Swim aesthetic that I sort-of associate with all ‘cartoons for grown-ups’ and which gives it a reassuring gloss of knowingness (I’m sure there were many dozens of slides created in the process of making this a reality that explained exactly how and why this was the right aesthetic choice and what this visual style connotes for the Gen-A/Gen-Z consumers of today, and the fact that making arguments like that bores me to literal tears explains why I am not a successful advermarketingprmong), and it’s a nice piece of brandwork from a company that’s seemingly quite good at this sort of thing.
- Wall of Fame: Another nice bit of brandwork – see? I can say nice things! – this time by a company called Edding which I imagine makes markers and drawing tools and which I’m sure had I sniffed more solvents as a child I might be more familiar with. It’s basically a riff on the ‘infinite online canvas’ idea, and presents a series of white pages for the brand’s fans to collaboratively decorate as they see fit, I imagine with a hefty degree of moderation seeing as I can’t see any pr0nography or hatespeech on it anywhere, and with prizes available for the best drawings as judged by some influencer or another. Nice, on-brand, a fun place to visit to browse the (occasionally very talented) artists who’ve submitted work and (if I may take a moment to say) an example of ‘taking an idea from the wider internet and slapping a client logo on it’ which I have long been an advocate for here at Curios WILL NOONE LISTEN TO ME FFS? No, it appears they will not.
- Prairie Dash: Right, enough of the positivity – back to snarking at branded webwork! This is a mobile-only game by some whiskey brand from the US – it’s called ‘High West’, apparently – in which for reasons I really, really don’t understand you play some sort of antelope-type creature and have to perform in a series of minigames to run, duck under barbed wire fences, weave through some trees, etc etc. There are several things that baffle me about this – let me list them in order. First, why am I some sort of antelope-type creature? Secondly, why is this meant to make me want to drink whiskey? And thirdly, when will this game EVER stop? It seems intent on continuing to serve up a neverending stream of these slightly-underwhelming minigames, with no purpose or end in sight – maybe the idea is to exasperate you to the point where you need a drink, in the hope that you’ll be conditioned to demand High West via some sort of logo-based mind control. Either that or someone started making this and just couldn’t really be bothered to think about how to stop it. Still, the polygonal dikdik (deer? Look, I’m not an expert on horned ruminants) is nice.
- TRAC:COVID: I don’t know what it feels like in the UK at the moment, but Italian news this week has been watching rising case numbers with something of a side-eye (this is obviously in part political posturing, as Rome would quite like the semis and the final of the Euros to be moved here); still, they shouldn’t be too smug given Italian summer is very much happening and they’re preparing to open up clubs again (definitely not something that should wait until more people have been vaccinated, definitely not, oh no). Anyway, should you be in the market for MORE COVID ANALYSIS then you might be interested in TRAC:COVID, a project by the University of Birmingham which “investigates online conversation surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic using aggregated data sampled from Twitter (so individual tweets are not shown). The dashboard combines Corpus Linguistic tools (the linguistic and computational study of textual data) with data visualisations to allow the interpretation of a large number of tweets. Frequent patterns of word and hashtag use, word and hashtag combinations, change over time and the proliferation of web links can be viewed in the dashboard.”
- Copyhat: The promise of artificial intelligence lies, at least in the more immediate future, in its ability to enable us to do more, and better – to augment our meagre human capabilities with the brute force analytical capabilities of machines, to apply the (at present, at least) unique human abilities of lateral thinking and creative conceptualisation to computers’ increasing skills at datawrangling and extrapolation. What we choose to do with this promise is of course up to us – which is why it comes as little surprise that Copyhat exists, a service which harnesses the immense power of machine learning and neural networks to, er, help you come up with better pickup lines for the apps. Yes, thanks to Copyhat, you too can come up with better email copy, ‘answers to philosophical dilemmas’ and, last but very much not least’, craft better Tinder openers. Look, I’m not going to make (too much) fun here – the project’s by a bunch of young guys from the Czech Republic and this sort of software, whilst easy to make fun of, is probably super-useful for people who have to do a lot of writing in a language that isn’t their own and with which they’re not super-comfortable – but, equally, NOONE IS GOING TO SEND YOU PHOTOGRAPHS OF THEIR MUCOUS MEMBRANES BASED ON A COMPUTER-GENERATED PICKUP LINE. This is a fact, and I stand by it, mainly because if it turns out not to be true then I think I will cry.
- 100 Visions of Fatherhood: This would have been a PERFECT link to include last week in advance of Father’s Day – ffs internet! – but you can have it a few days late instead. 100 Visions of Fatherhood is a collection of beautiful images of fathers, sometimes with their children and sometimes without, fathers of all races and ages and shapes and sizes and, honestly, these are gorgeous and may well make you a bit emo for varying different reasons. The website featuring them – called The Luupe, which exists to connect brands and photographers, apparently – also has a similar collection of 100 photos of motherhood, which are equally gorgeous if perhaps somewhat less surprising (just because one sees more photographic depictions of mothers than you do fathers, in my experience at least); both these collections are gorgeous and worth spending some time with.
- Old Time Radio: Thanks to Rob Dawson for sending me this – it’s his own project, cobbled together from the Internet Archive and with a simple front-end interface, which lets you select themed radio stations patched together from content from The Old Times, spanning action stories, horror stories, scifi, suspense, comedy, drama…I have been listening to this on and off all week, and there is SO MUCH GOLD in here; it’s beautiful time travel, if nothing else, but also takes you back to an era (an era, let me be clear, I never experienced – I am not that old) in which the radio waves were full of stories and life was better (life was not better AT ALL – there was widespread poverty and malnutrition, food was terrible and things were mostly VERY BORING and dangerous, but it wouldn’t be Curios without a slight whinge about this fcuking world we live in). As far as I can tell the material this draws from is all American, but that’s no bad thing as US radio in the mid-20th-Century was quite amazing; go lose yourself in this, it’s so so good.
By Steve Banes
THE SECTION WHICH DOESN’T NEED TO HEAR ANYMORE PEN1S-RELATED MATT HANCOCK JOKES EVER AGAIN PLEASE THANKYOU, PT.2:
- 50 Books, 50 Covers: This is an annual thing in the US which I have featured in previous years – per previous years, I am slightly baffled as to why this selection of the 50 best covers of books published in the US in 2020 has been published in mid-2021, but then again perhaps I should stop being so impatient and just be grateful. For those of you who work in and around publishing, or indeed anyone with an interest in graphic design, this is an interesting look at cover design trends from the US – my personal favourite is this beautiful example for Interwoven by Kyle Meyer, but there are lots of gorgeous pieces of work here.
- Content With Silence: I am going to CONFIDENTLY PREDICT that there’s going to be a resurgence in treasure hunt-type activations in the next year or so – the recent bubble of revived interest in Perplex City, the return to being outside, the desire for analogue experiences and REAL THINGS after 18 months of digital existence and insufferable chat about the metafuckingverse…all of these have me convinced that we’re on the cusp of a new Masquerade-style craze (we obviously won’t be now I’ve said that, but I can dream). Anyway, if you’re looking for datapoints to prove that I am write about this, have this project by musician Erland Cooper, who has recorded a new album, deleted the digital files, and buried the single extant tape recording somewhere on Orkney. To quote Cooper, “This year, instead of music, I will release a map of sorts. With this, you are welcome to travel, search and attempt to find the recording and dig it up yourself. I only ask that if you do find it, please bring it back to me where we will play and listen together. At that point I will release the unearthed tape and share it back into our digital world.” I love this idea, and I am very much looking forward to seeing who finds it and when and hearing the music – you can sign up for updates at the site, should you be as curious as I am.
- Arkup: There was a piece I put in here a while back (the weeks are blurring, time is meaningless, I mark its passing by the vanishing links) about the small-but-enthusiastic community of people seeking to make on-sea living a Thing – this is the high-end version of that. Arkup is a floating house – not in the more traditional houseboat sense of things so much as in a rather more mansionboat sense (I have friends who live or have lived on houseboats and whilst they are lovely I don’t think anyone, including their owners, would ever describe them as ‘luxurious’ or ‘palatial’ or ‘the sort of place where one might choose to swing a cat, even a very patient one with a very thick skull’). Click the link and marvel at the oddity of seeing what is effectively a duplex flat being plonked onto a floating platform and presented as a viable means of luxury living. WHAT HAPPENS IF IT GETS CHOPPY??? Anyway, if you have $5.5million to spare you can probably afford to pay someone else to worry about the practical questions while you get on with the important business of looking fabulous on-deck as you drink sunset cocktails whilst staring blankly at the poor unfortunates condemned to live in non-luxury, non-floating onshore misery as their hovels burn into the night sky (look, this is the slightly-Ballardian image in my head, don’t ruin it for me).
- Intelligent Relations: PR is a godawful, miserable profession – and I say this as someone who makes the majority of their living working in the industry. Vapid, largely-pointless busywork which despite its almost universal lack of import is nonetheless treated by its practitioners as somehow REALLY VITAL and with a reverence normally reserved for stuff that matters rather than with the disregard appropriate for an industry staffed largely by double-figure-IQ morons. Anyway, that’s all by way of preamble to the introduction of Intelligent Relations, a new company which is set to make PR even worse if you can imagine it. Intelligent Relations (it sounds…it sounds like an escort agency for the sort of people who bother applying to Mensa, is what it sounds like) is PR, but with AI! That’s right, AI! The MAGICAL SECRET SAUCE that makes EVERYTHING BETTER and definitely isn’t a sign that someone is attempting to sell you some magic beans! Just listen to this – “GPT-Powered Outreach, 24/7 analysis of all relevant public event data to identify opportunities and pitch your company’s stories faster than the competition…Relentless customized global outreach based on AI-ranked relevancy to your brand. Generate responses that start, nurture, and build personal relationships with media influencers. Put your execs and your company in the heart of the conversation. No agency. You own your relationships – not your PR firm…Precisely worded campaigns, aggressively scaled with technology. Faster than humans, more personal than email blasts.” So, er, you are outsourcing the writing of pitch emails, and followups, to a machine? Have, er, you read any non-tweaked GPT-3 generated copy recently? The only thing funnier than imagining how bad this service is going to be is this person’s Tweet about it, which managed to make my point about the industry more cogently than I could ever hope to.
- Six Degrees of Ryu: A Twitter account doing the ‘six degrees of Kevin Bacon’ thing, but for videogame characters and Ryu from Street Fighter – each Tweet gives you the ‘Ryu number’ of a character from the gaming pantheon, should you be interested (proper game nerds only, this one).
- Brave Search: The people behind the Brave browser have now created their own search engine – it’s basically a Duck Duck Go-alike, except their gimmick is that they’ve built their own search algos as opposed to DDG which effectively relies on Bing for its results. If you’re in the market for a non-tracking search engine and have never gotten on with DDG, you could do worse than check this out – given Google’s increasing brokenness for deep, legacy searches (honestly, it’s SO hard to find interesting and niche stuff these days), this might be worth playing with.
- Blockchain Diamonds: This is about as stupid as it sounds (I think – as with much blockchain stuff, it’s slightly hard to tell exactly what the fcuk is going on here), although as ever with anything cryptoNFT-y I reserve the right to be totally wrong about this. It’s a platform called Icecap, which – I think – lets you buy and sell NFTs which are linked to actual diamonds, the idea being that you can trade in a secondary market linked to the assets whilst those assets are kept safe and sound in a vault and therefore don’t depreciate as they do on the open market; exactly how this differs in any meaningful way from trading stocks other than in its total, sketchy non-regulation is slightly beyond me, but I imagine that questions like that mark me down as a non-visionary hater and not worthy of consideration.
- The VCA: The Vault of Contemporary Art is a V&A project which – and I love the V&A, so feel a bit bad saying this – feels like it’s a few years too late. It’s AN Other digital gallery space of the sort that, if I’m honest, I’ve seen dozens of over the past few years and which does very little interesting or novel with the concept; it’s another Myst-alike, basically, like Stuart Semple’s VOMA, or the Beeple gallery in Decentraland, or any number of other art ‘galleries’ in which you navigate through a sterile series of virtual ‘rooms’, ‘turning’ your ‘head’ to see flat jpg artworks on the ‘walls’ along with video explainers, which you can zoom in on (but not very well)…I suppose it just feels like something of a missed opportunity, particularly for a gallery which has a decent track record of embracing new formats and styles for its shows. Don’t get me wrong, there is nothing wrong with this, and the works displayed in the current exhibition (by Ben Johnson) are great, just that it’s a bit…uninteresting. Sorry.
- Streamerbans: As the increasingly-odd game of cat and mouse between Twitch and the (mostly-female) streamers pushing the boundaries of its Ts&Cs continues (the latest round of this, should you care, involved a few super-popular women being suspended from the platform for, er, doing slightly-baffling ASMR-adjacent content with a ‘sexy’ twist and dear God it feels so wrong to be even writing these words but there you go), the ability to keep track of who’s been banned at any given moment might become useful – this site lets you do just that. It also, perhaps more helpfully, keeps track of previous bans, letting you get an overview of a streamer’s track record which could be useful should you need to do due diligence ahead of potential partnerships or similar.
- CMY Cubes: Are these a thing? Regardless, I was amused by the VERY SERIOUS nature of the website, which proudly announces that these are the ORIGINAL colour cubes (perspex cubes which are coated with film to colour them cyan, yellow and magenta – REVOLUTIONARY!) and that you should be wary of cheap knockoff imitations from China and that these come with a WARRANTY which obviously totally justifies paying $20 for a bit of plastic with some coloured film glued to it (beautifully, the website also gently cautions against touching the edges of the corners of the cubes as the film might peel off, which to me speaks of HIGH QUALITY MERCH). Still, cubes! With coloured sides! Amazing!
- GAN Theft Auto: Or ‘playing a GTA map imagined by a computer’ – but my title’s better, so THERE. This is quite remarkable – obviously terrible from a gameplay point of view, but the fact that a neural net has been trained on GTA and can spin up roads on the fly which can then be played by a user is mind-blowingly impressive, and enables you to see into the future when virtual worlds can be procedurally-generated on the fly by AI which is conceptually fascinating and very exciting if you like the idea of infinite gaming worlds generated by an imaginary mind (and who doesn’t? NO FCUKER, that’s who!).
- Moodlight: Open this, put it fullscreen, put some music on, take some mushrooms and just SIT. I may, possibly, be projecting a desire here.
- Seismic Explorer: This is very cool – pick anywhere on the earth’s surface, select an area, and watch as this site shows you all the earthquakes that have happened in that area over the past 40 years, giving you data on how deep the quake was, its size and its exact location. Ok, fine, as a non-seismologist I can’t think of any obvious uses for this, but I suppose if you’re looking to move to another part of the world then it might be useful to check up on how likely you are to have to hide under the tables at regular instances.
- Rugs: SO much fun, and such a nice musicviztoything (which I am not 100% certain I totally understand, but all the more reason for you to have a play). This is a site to promote the Rugs EP by a musician called Sam Greens – as the track plays, you can use the cursor to draw shapes on the screen, shapes which move and animate and (I think) emphasise certain elements of the song as it plays, so you’re effectively creating a responsive drawing which reacts to the music whilst (I think) shaping it in small ways at the same time. It’s possible that it’s less clever than I am giving it credit for, but I don’t really care – I love the way your brushstrokes come alive to the beat, and how every single person’s response to this will look and feel different; it’s a lovely piece of digital art, and fits the track perfectly.
- Sequencer 64: A rather powerful online sequencer toy thing, which I reckon if you’re halfway musical you could make some very cool beats with but which requires a degree of understanding of time signatures and…well, the basic mathematical building blocks of music, really, which renders it utterly beyond my skillset – you can do stuff like stretch and split notes, and pitch shift things, and basically at this point I am just typing words without actually knowing what they mean. Sad but true – I really am a cloth-eared, sausage-fingered dunce when it comes to making sounds.
- Imitone: More musical fun! Imitone is a clever toy which lets you play instruments with your voice (sort of) – you sing or whistle, and the software turns that into melody based on whatever instrument(s) you choose. This sounds VERY cool, and I’ve seen some people using it in the past week to quite remarkable effect – it’s in beta, and it’s a paid service, but if you make music then this could be really rather fun to check out and play with.
- Fluid Simulation: Draw some boxes, click a button and watch them collapse into fluid particle form. This is very soothing if utterly-pointless (just how we like it).
- 1D Chess: Not a joke! Instead, someone has actually reconfigured the game of chess so that it takes place on a single row of squares rather than a board of them, reducing the pieces to a single one of each type, and boiling the game down into something very different and yet instantly-recognisable. “1D Chess is a fun, innovative chess variant played on a single row of 16 squares. Each player begins with one of each piece and must take their opponent’s king to win. The rules are intuitive for new and expert players alike, but offer a refreshing twist on the classic game of chess.” This link takes you to a page where you can read about the game, download a board to print out, read the rules and (if you’re me) fail to really understand what’s going on – maybe you’ll have more luck.
- The Toaster Museum: Beautifully, this site describes itself as ‘the world’s largest online toaster exhibition’ – there’s competition?! Still, should you want to peruse a seemingly-endless collection of toasters from around the world, across the years, presented by a man who really LOVES toasters – from the ‘about’ section: “I was deeply impressed, how much creativity engineers spent on flipping bread! Being a designer, this fact fascinates and inspires me every day. That could be one answer of the typical “Why do you collect toasters?”-question I often hear when people see my toaster-wall in my loft.” Anyone who has a ‘toaster wall’ in their loft is a friend of Web Curios (whether they like it or not; this friendship is non-negotiable).
- Knights of San Francisco: I never feature app games in here, but for some reason I downloaded this a few weeks ago (it’s a couple of quid) and was utterly charmed by it – if you liked Choose Your Own Adventure books then this will be right up your street. The writing’s far better than you’d expect, the mechanics are fun, and the game does some really smart things with procedural generation when it comes to combat and writing – for the price, this is very much worth a look. Oh, and the music is really very good indeed, should you need another reason to support a one-man band developer and their work.
- Maze of the Mini-Taur: Finally in the miscellenea this week, a GREAT little puzzle game. Escape the mazes by rearranging them as you play – it sounds more complicated than it is, although I started scratching my head quite hard around about level 11. Excellent timewasting, should you be in the market for it.
By Chen Ke
THE CIRCUS OF TUMBLRS IS SADLY EMPTY THIS WEEK!
THE TROUGH OF (INSTA) FEEDS!
- Mon Copain Ray: I would imagine every single country has their own variations on certain well-worn internet tropes; every nation has its YouTube controversymongers and the attendant community of tea-vultures; everyone will have their own version of the down-to-earth person whose food everyone loves; and everyone will have their own ‘man with an impossibly close and cute relationship with their cat’. This is France’s cat man (there may be others; it just so happens to be the one I found this week). Meet Ray, the feline companion of this Insta’s owner and a cat with a seemingly infinite degree of patience for being dressed up in 3d printed helmets, Ray, you are a VERY PATIENT BOI.
- Lee Wagstaff: A Berlin-based artist with a very distinctive style, part optical-illusion part graphic design. These are very cool indeed (and he sells originals, should you be in the market for some art).
LONG THINGS WHICH ARE LONG!:
- The Rise of Elevated Stupidity: This is a piece in Esquire and is about the US, but, honestly, it applies to literally the WHOLE WORLD – just swap out the names and specifics referenced in this piece for whichever ones work best for you where you are. The general gist of it is that we are in the grip of a new type of ‘discourse’ being enacted by a new type of actor – one that wears the trappings of intellectual seriousness (the big words, the endless appeals to reason and rationality and the desire for ‘debate’) but is in fact moronic. Witness literally EVERY vaguely right-wing kid on YouTube, witness the ceaseless, meaningless appropriation of academic language misused with abandon, witness “any recent argument against the rights of trans people. Strip away the feints at empathy, dumb down the big words, and what you are left with, roughly 100 percent of the time, is “But what if a boy puts on a wig and joins the girls’ soccer team, and then they win state?” These arguments are written in real publications and said into real news-network cameras and spoken at real lecterns for hefty appearance fees.” A good read (regardless of whether you agree with the author about the issue I just referenced).
- An Interview With Marc Andreesen: Andreesen is now seemingly THE VOICE of VC – or at least a certain type of VC, the Valley VC with its continued conviction that It Is The Answer – and as such this interview with him (an uncritical hagiography in which Andreesen is given free rein to make all sorts of sweeping statements with nary a challenge in site) is worth a read, regardless of how little you might want to hear MORE words from a very rich technology investor from the West Coast of the US. Andreesen is clearly a very smart person, but SO MUCH of this left me wanting to tap him on the shoulder and draw him back and ask him to maybe elaborate a bit and perhaps explain the thinking behind some of these statements – from the opening assertion that we are seeing a ‘chronic collapse of state capacity virtually everywhere in our time’ to the following claim that ‘the private sector can and does deliver even under considerable duress, and even when much of our political system is devoted to stifling it with regulatory handcuffs and damaging it with misguided policies’, to the slightly-jaw-dropping “So much of legacy media, due to the technological limitations of distribution technologies like newspapers and television, makes you stupid. Substack is the profit engine for the stuff that makes you smart” (seriously mate, have you read many newsletters recently?) this is basically a succession of slightly-Randian fever-dream quotes and scared me quite a lot if I’m honest with you.
- Ethical AI: A series of experts offer their opinions as to how questions of ethics and artificial intelligence will be addressed over the coming years, and recount their worries and hopes for the development of ‘ethical’ AI. There are some fascinating perspectives in here, although I don’t think I’m spoiling anything if I reveal to you that most of the experts aren’t…hugely positive about the likelihood of commercial AI development focusing on the ethical elementa as much as they feel it ought (‘amusingly’ I happened across an MoD White Paper this week which talks about the possibilities for human augmentation in military use, and states quite plainly that developments in the field should not be hamstrung or hampered by ethicists, just in case you were wondering how the thinking on the rights and wrongs of the development of cyborg supersoldiers is going). As Susan Crawford of Harvard says, “We have no basis on which to believe that the animal spirits of those designing digital processing services, bent on scale and profitability, will be restrained by some internal memory of ethics, and we have no institutions that could impose those constraints externally.”
- Microsoft and the Future of Work: There is a LOT of writing flying around at the moment about the return to the office and whether it’s worthwhile (fwiw, I think I hate people less when I can see them, so for me personally I think occasionally going into a workspace is good to keep the bloodlust at bay; your mileage may vary); this piece looks at Microsoft’s recently trailed vision for the future of the office, which interested me more than some others because of the focus on the need to reconfigure spaces and rooms for a mixed home/office worker configuration. Don’t get me wrong, none of the stuff in here sounds fun or even necessarily good, but it’s kind-of interesting.
- A Unified Theory of Peloton: This is the first in what is intended to be a series of posts by Ann Helen Petersen (via her excellent newsletter) in which she looks at Peleton as a brand and how it works, how it’s grown, what makes it successful, etc – this initial article looks at the way in which the brand has created a ‘family’ identity through its elevation of instructors to superstar status, and its leveraging of the parasocial nature of the relationship between instructor and sweaty bikemong as a means of selling more STUFF to said sweaty bikemongs. Super-interesting, whether you’re curious about Peloton itself or simply the more general questions around how to build brands and sell more people more things that they don’t necessarily need and which are all individually contributing to the death of the planet in some small-but-inevitable way.
- How Juul Happened: An extract from a book which purports to give the inside story on how Big Tobacco pivoted to vaping as a way of getting a whole new generation hooked on tabs (they are still tabs – they’re just futuretabs), this article looks at how Juul managed to become a must-have item across North America before it had even launched, a strategy which can basically be summarised as ‘do that thing where you find the cool kids and ask them who the coolest person they know is til you reach the top of the cool pyramid and then give them a bunch of free stuff’. If you have reason to care about / be interested in how to sell tat to kids, this is probably a must-read.
- GenZ Productivity Hacks: The more I read about GenZ as a monolithic collective, the more I once again realise that a) referring to swathes of people whose years of birth are separated by upto a decade as a single entity is moronic; and b) there is an AWFUL LOT OF CRAP being spouted. Witness this article, which is a look at the way in which GenZ is gravitating towards content all about maximising your efficiency and productivity via JOURNALS and METHODS and PROCESS and shiny-looking ring-binders and hang on, didn’t we do this with Bullet Journals about 5 years ago, and I thought GenZ was anti-hustle-culture anyway, and wasn’t that a millennial thing anyway, and and and and. For what it’s worth, and as I have written here before, I think that the anticapitalist stylings of GenZ have been vastly overplayed, and that, as this companion piece points out, hustle and ASPIRATIONAL YUNG BOSS BUSINESS CULTURE haven’t gone away, they have just been rebadged and rebranded as ‘efficiency’ and ‘portfolio lifestyles’ and, of course, the creator economy. If someone can explain to me the difference between someone 10 years ago talking about their ‘side hustles’ and someone now talking about how they are a ‘content creator’ and run a couple of TikToks on the side then, well, I am all ears basically.
- The Disc Golf Celebrity: Or, ‘how anyone can now apparently earn an 8-figures sponsorship deal if they are good enough at something REALLY REALLY NICHE’. This is ostensibly about Paul McBeth, who has signed a $10m endorsement deal with some frisbee company based on his prowess at the definitely-real sport of disc golf, but in fact is more of an exploration of the increased monetisation opportunities available for people who excel in fringe areas. On the one hand, it’s sort of nice that people can get sponsored for being good at things other than kicking a ball; on the other, it’s sort-of sad that every single hobby in the world, however smol and pure, is eventually going to have a Monster Energy logo attached to it. It’s also a potentially-useful piece of inspirarional content for parents of small children – now’s your chance to think of a seemingly-useless skill you can train your kid up in, with the expectation that when they are the world’s best, I don’t know, enema lassoist, they’ll be able to clean up via sponcon.
- Electric Vehicles Won’t Save Us: I appreciate that this is a somewhat miserable headline, but I think it’s important to keep banging the ‘stuff really needs to change’ drum as I think we have slightly lost sight of the urgency of the global situation over the past year (in fairness, we’ve been distracted as a species). This article points out that, whilst obviously switching to electric vehicles is an undeniable positive for the environment, it is not, at the same time, perhaps the silver bullet that we might like to think it is, not least because of the fact that the way we live – as determined by our reliance on vehicular transport – affects the environment in ways which won’t be improved by simply switching to EVs. Basically the overall message here is WE CAN’T KEEP LIVING LIKE THIS, which you’d have thought might maybe have filtered through by now but apparently not. Still, reusable cups!
- The TikTok Content Farms: What do you think when you stumble into Industrial TikTok, in which you get to watch hypnotic conveyor belts or incessant machine production or cheery workers on a production line? Do you think ‘oh look, another wonderful example of the web bringing us closer together and enabling us to see small-but-interesting vignettes from people and places we’d otherwise never have known; how interesting!’ or do you think ‘hm, I wonder who’s shooting these videos and why?’? If the latter, then WELL DONE YOU CYNICAL BSTARDS you were right to question it – this piece examines how Chinese companies are increasingly using TiKTok as a means of marketing themselves and their wares to Western consumers, with factory floor staff as the smiling shills. “Factory TikTok, in other words, isn’t about workers documenting their own labor, but is primarily a marketing scheme devised by their employers, many of whom may be under increasing financial pressure. In the videos, workers often show off specialized skills set to happy-go-lucky background music, but rarely are people really the focus of the lens. Instead, the camera gravitates towards the material object, which just might be on sale at the link above. “You could actually take one of these videos and re-edit them with different messages and different music and turn them into a documentary about exploitation,”“
- The Best of Voyager: This is a proper bit of past-spelunking; a GREAT post (the first in a series) in which the author goes back through old Apple Voyager CD-ROMs – Voyager being a company that produced much of the early CD-ROM content for Apple machines. This is fascinating – partly as a time capsule into past software land, but also as a look at how people experimented with form and function when granted the ‘power’ of CD for the first time as a computer storage device. Seriously, if you do webdesign/dev stuff at all then this is totally worth a read, as much for inspiration as curiosity.
- Russians In London Courts: Or, how oligarchs are pursuing personal vendettas through London, because it suits us to take the money, and how crooked quite a lot of the murky investigation around said vendettas sounds. It’s quite hard to read this – an excellent piece of reporting in the NYT – and not think that there’s something slightly, well, infra dig about all this from a legal standpoint.
- Lunch with Vlad: This is a quite astonishing interview, by the Financial Times as part of its ‘Lunch With…’ series, with one Vladislav Surkov, a man whose name was new to me but who scholars of Kreminlology will doubtless be familiar with as one of Putin’s right-hand men over many years who’s recently stepped back from the limelight and who, in this article by Henry Foy, reveals himself to be a quite astonishingly-unrepentant…what do I call him? Sociopath seems too loose, somehow. Amoralist? Is that a thing? Regardless, this is a chilling portrait of someone who is the literal embodiment of that old ‘omelettes/eggs’ adage, where ‘omelettes’ in this case are ‘a decade-long autocracy’ and ‘eggs’ are ‘laws, hopes, dreams and people’s skulls’. So so so scary – and I couldn’t help thinking by the end of the interview that that was exactly what he wants us to think.
- The Telegram Billionaire: Another of those occasional articles that remind you that so much of the world is run by people we really have no idea of and whose motives are at best mysterious and at worst…questionable, and that there’s nothing we can really do about it. So it is with this profile of the founder of Telegram, previously just AN Other encrypted messaging service but increasingly the one you turn to if you’re a dealer or a nazi or some other flavour of unpleasant. Pavel Durov is a mysterious figure who, according to this profile by Der Spiegel, doesn’t much worry about how his platform’s being used as long as it makes him rich. GOD SAVE US FROM CODERS WITH NO ETHICS.
- Fleeing Venezuela: It’s strange to think that as recently as a decade or so ago Venezuela was still seen by the West (or at least by clueless people like me) as a relative success (or at least non-failure) – ‘Chavismo’ was obviously a weird cult of personality but it seemed to hold the country together. Now, though, it’s become abundantly clear that without Hugo’s magnetism to hold it all together it’s a desperate mess – this account of the author’s smuggled trip across the border into Colombia is not only a brilliant piece of first person reporting but a reminder of why it is that people are motivated to cross borders under extreme conditions with nothing more than the shirt on their back.
- My Dinner With Giorgio Armani: An excerpt from a forthcoming book by one Alexander Lubrano which I now want to read ALL of, this is delicious – a wonderful, waspish account of what it’s like to dine with a very famous fashion designer, and the peculiarity of admittedly-talented people whose sole interactions are with a world that seems to exist only to tell them how marvellous, fascinating and unique they are. On the rare occasions I have entered this orbit (HI, HANS-ULRICH, YOU CNUT!) I have been amazed not only at the self-absorbtion of the people in question but also the people who let them become like that – did nobody think to stop them?
- Soldier on Speed: Your enjoyment of this article may well hinge on the extent to which you appreciate the slightly hyperbolic house style of Cracked magazine, but, honestly, I laughed SO MUCH during this account of the traumatic wartime experience of Finnish soldier Aimo Koivunen who accidentally ingested an entire bottle of military-grade Nazi speed when fleeing a Soviet patrol. Fine, yes, Aimo was on the wrong side, but you can’t help but feel for the man as you read about his increasingly farcical (and painful) attempts to survive.
- Prison Gangs with Danny Trejo: When I was at international school I shared a room in my first year with a Spaniard and a Mexican; it was 1995, which also meant that there were a lot of VERY BAD post-Boyz’N’The Hood-style gangster films around, many of which attempted to ‘refresh’ the formula by making the gangs hispanic rather than black. Which all means that I know a surprising amount of chicano street slang for a white Englishman, and which meant that I enjoyed the occasional snatches of gangsta-spanglish dotted throughout this article immensely, as I did the story itself which is all about terrifying-looking (but by all accounts LOVELY) ex-con actor Danny Trejo choosing between two films about Mexican gangsters, and what happened to the people who chose the wrong film. This is, fine, a bit ‘latin gangster tourism’, but it’s really interesting and Trejo’s a sympathetic narrator.
- The Most Musical Man in the World: I guarantee you, there is no mood you can find yourself in so bleak that it will not be in some small way improved by reading this, a profile of Brazilian musician Hermeto Pascoal. I don’t want to spoil it in any way – it is a delight in every possible sense, and I cannot recommend it enough. You really should listen to all the accompanying songs that are linked/embedded to, it really will add to the experience. Honestly, I have basically nothing in the way of ambition in my life and very few desires, but I would love to see this man perform.
- Hell Is A City In Texas: Finally this week, a piece about mental illness and being locked up and how people cope and come to terms with the fact that their brain doesn’t work in the way they want it to and how you deal with that. Beautiful writing about the mental health stuff that, as I regularly allude to, we don’t like to talk about because ‘be kind’ doesn’t fcuking cut it and because it is messy and painful and hard and ugly and unpleasant and and and and. If you know people who struggle with serious mental conditions, this will speak to you I think.
By Dadu Shin
AND NOW, MOVING PICTURES AND SOUNDS!:
- I don’t know how to describe it, so I am not going to try – it’s…oh, look, here: “This may be a reverie of our increasingly virtualized world that is submerged into a directional flow of information and disparate impressions that takes shape as a slow-burning anxiety; a rupture in linear time. Composed of a single take, “Incomplete” invites us to traverse an endless choreography of bodies in perpetual free-fall and updating images that reflect a world in constant change. This work is an ode to what artist and media theorist Hito Steyerl coins the “poor image.” The image which is collected, copied, and processed to the point of disorientation and anonymity. The image which is not one but consists of many while presenting a different perception of coherency.” Clear? Good! Regardless of your appetite for it based on that description, do give this a go – it’s beautiful, honest, and the music is rather good too.
- Finally this week, I wouldn’t normally recommend a nine-minute song but this – and the accompanying film – by Ethel Cain (featuring Wicca Phase Springs Eternal, an artist who I’ve enjoyed for a few years now despite being very much not entirely sure why) is very beautiful in a fragile and brittle and very now-ish way. Try it, you might like it, and OH GOD LOOK IS THAT THE TIME I LOVE YOU BUT I NEED TO RUN I LOVE YOU I LOVE YOU GOODBYE I LOVE YOU GOODBYE TAKE CARE AND BE CAREFUL OUT THERE I AND SEE YOU NEXT WEEK AND I LOVE YOU BYE!