On the one hand, the mugshot is objectively very funny; on the other, he won’t go to jail and he might end up being President again, which is…less funny. Still, LOL AT THE FUNNY ORANGE MAN PHOTO!
Once again it is Friday and once again I have spent the past six hours typing feverishly with nary a pause for tea; once again, the quality of the output suggests that perhaps I should take a different approach to writing this thing, one which, you know, improves it.
I am still Matt, this is still Web Curios, and you probably deserve better.
By Shay Semple
THE SECTION WHICH REALLY WISHES PEOPLE WOULD PAY ATTENTION TO THE STUFF THAT MUSK DOES RATHER THAN WHAT HE SAYS, PT.1:
- The Human Generator: One of the nice things about The Future, or at least the particular version of it that lives inside my skull and causes me no end of sleepless nights as I contemplate the idea of ‘all this but generally a bit worse’, is the insane degree to which we will be able to personalise our experiences. No more the tedious one-size-fits-all ‘will this do?’ reality we’re all used to – instead, we can look forward to an exciting, technologically-enabled existence where we will be able to bend reality (or at least the part of it that lives inside our phone/AR glasses/in-no-way-troubling brain implant (delete as per your own personal vision of The Glorious Tomorrow)) to our whims, ensuring that our experiences are tailored to our wants in seamless fashion. We are, of course, not there yet, instead inhabiting a slightly-odd uncanny valley where we can just about scry the shape of this future through some slightly scifi mists, but it doesn’t quite have the fidelity that we’d expect from a proper out-of-beta version of the product. So it is with this site – The Human Generator is a site which lets you, the user, generate an infinite number of digital people, AI-generated out of nothing, to use…well, it’s unclear what you might use them for, and frankly the fact that they currently render only as straight-on, full-body jpegs means that unless your dreams extend only as far as ‘a gallery of imaginary people, standing and staring at you’ you might find this a bit limiting. Still, there is the germ of something hugely powerful and interesting here – you pick your pose from a selection of options, you select the rough ‘age’ range from the slider, pick a gender, hairstyle and hair colour, and add in some flavour text to give The Machine something to work with (“saturnine, emaciated vagrant with evident skin conditions”, that sort of idea), or even upload a photo to have a specific face integrated into the model, and BINGO, you have your very own DIGITAL HUMAN to enjoy! It’s not hard to imagine version 1.3 of this which exports 3d models that can be used across different gaming platforms, or dropped in to video, and from there it’s a short hop, skip and jump to the concept of a digital AI-powered sandbox into which you drop your characters, give them some ‘personality’ traits and motivations, define a scenario and SEE WHAT HAPPENS. I am basically expecting this sort of thing to end up combined with the AI Town ‘community and relationship’ simulator from last week – you know how there’s a certain subset of people who when they play The Sims like to effectively torture and murder the characters? Give it a few years and WOW will they have some fun new toys to play with.
- Luma Flythroughs: It’s on the more techy end of the Curios spectrum, fine (and as with all the more techy stuff, I don’t *really* understand how it works – but, well, you don’t come here for accuracy, do you – why DO you come here? I mean, I’m grateful and all but I do occasionally worry that it’s not healthy for either of us), but I continue to be fascinated by the creative opportunities afforded by NeRF video tech – which you will of course recall is that slightly-magic tech that lets you create 3d digital representations of physical space using nothing but some phonecam stills and some really clever maths (I am available for highly-technical presentations, should you wish to book me). This link takes you to a new feature recently announced by LumaAI, which basically lets you take a few pictures of a room or house or whatever and which, thanks to the MAGICAL POWERS OF ARTIFICIAL INTELLIGENCE, turns said pictures into a 3d ‘flythrough’ of said space by ‘imagining’ the spaces inbetween the stills (if that makes sense; it might not, to be fair). This is quite remarkable and the examples they have on the site really do look quite amazing – although, on reflection, I wonder whether that’s because they all feature properties that effectively look like CG renders to start with. Still, this is quite mad and very future, and makes me think that all those people charging a premium for drone footage in 2023 might not necessarily be able to do so come 2026.
- Monumental Labs: You will, as seasoned consumers of The Web and people who, based on the fact that you are reading this, could probably be filed in the ‘reasonably online’ cabinet of humanity, be aware of the phenomenon of ‘right wing social media accounts with classical statue avatars using their fetishisation of past architectural styles as something of a Trojan horse in which to smuggle a bunch of actually quite fashy ideologies and ideas’ – you…you know what I’m talking about, right? GREAT! Anyway, those people spend an awful lot of time bemoaning the fact that “wE dOn’T bUiLd GlOrIoUs TeMpLeS aNyM0rE!111eleventy’ and, as a result, are probably HUGELY EXCITED at the concept of Monument Labs, a company which is promising to BRING BACK THE AGE OF GLORIOUS CLASSICAL-ERA STONEWORK via the medium of AI and robots! Yes, that’s right, welcome to the future in which we use The Machine to replicate the architectural stylings of the past but with (I assume – there’s limited actual detail on the site, tbh) less death resulting from the construction process. “We’re developing the next generation of stone carving robots. With sensors and AI, they’ll complete commissions in hours that previously took months; and execute the finest details flawlessly. By imparting human craft to machines, and driving down the cost of 3D fabrication, we’ll expand the creative possibilities of artists and architects everywhere…We’re looking to partner with forward-looking contemporary and neo-traditional builders to create buildings of beauty and lasting value.” This is, I think, genuinely interesting – in the unlikely event that anyone reading this is in charge of any significant construction projects in the coming months, can I please put in a formal request that you commision these guys to add a custom marble frontispiece to the whole thing? Or at the very least, I don’t know, a bust of my head somewhere? Anyway, this isn’t fully launched yet but you can sign up for updates – the categories into which interested parties can sort themselves as part of the subscription process include ‘architect’, ‘artist’ and the beautifully-baroque ‘lover of beauty’, which has made me inordinately pleased at 739 am.
- Ideogram: We are very much in the ‘trough of disillusionment’ stage of the Gartner Hype Curve when it comes to generative AI stuff – I have read a dozen articles in the past week alone asking semi-rhetorical questions about whether it’s ALL OVER and THE BOOM IS BUST, although I imagine you still can’t move for cnuts on LinkedIn telling you that IT IS THE FUTURE AND IF YOU ONLY CROSS MY PALM WITH SILVER I WILL GUIDE YOU THROUGH IT LIKE SOME SH1TTY CORPORATE VIRGIL. The truth, of course, is significantly less shouty and definitive than that – the more accurate appraisal, to my mind at least, is that this is just a slight corrective born of the fact that people are beginning to understand that making The Machine do anything *actually useful* with these tools is harder than ‘just typing some words’, but the potential utility is still pretty mindblowing. Anyway, that’s by way of unnecessarily long-winded preamble to Ideogram, a BRAND NEW text-to-image engine which might not SOUND hugely thrilling (how quickly we become jaded!) but which is interesting for three main reasons: 1) based on my cursory fiddling with it, it seems to me to be only a step or two less good than Midjourney (I imagine this is built on top of the latest Stable Diffusion iteration, but obviously have no fcuking clue), but with the benefit of not having to use fcuking Discord to access it, or indeed of having to pay cashmoney; 2) it doesn’t seem to have any restrictions on reproductions of famous people, which is always ‘fun’; and 3) it can produce readable text based on prompts rather than the ‘like writing, but not in fact real words’ glyphs that you got with the previous iterations of this sort of tech. Which all combines to mean that if you want to create an image of, say, The Donald in striped prison pyjamas holding a sign that says ‘“B-Wing’s Little Slut” (for the sake of argument) then now you can! WHAT A TIME TO BE ALIVE!
- The Message: I like this idea a lot, although I can’t for the life of me think of a way to do anything with it (that’s a failure of my own creative imagination (lol) rather than anything to do with this being entirely pointless, probably) – The Message is a site which has ONE FUNCTION, specifically to let anyone with more Twitter followers than the last person to do so ‘claim’ the Page and display a message of your choosing. At present it’s been squatted by Rob Manuel’s Fesshole account, but anyone with more than a million followers could, if they so chose, claim their right to scrawl their digital graffiti on the homepage for…well, for an almost certainly vanishingly-small number of people to ever see. Still, I do like the idea of digital spaces that allow people to carve out ‘ownership’ in this limited way- there’s something quite nice about applying the same concept but with social media images, like maybe allowing anyone to put up an image from Insta with the only caveat being that each image selected needs to have more ‘likes’ than the last (for example – no idea whether the Insta API would let you do that, but work with me here). I am fairly certain that literally noone who is ever going to read this has more than a million Twitter followers, but, just in case, if you could see your way to making the site direct to Curios that would be lovely thanks.
- The Rijkscollection: I have waxed lyrical about the digital brilliance of Amsterdam’s Rijksmuseum before – their digital work is almost always wonderful, and demonstrates a real understanding of how the form and function of the web can augment the experience of exploring artworks. This, though, is not in fact by them (as far as I can tell) – instead it appears to be a hobby project which lets you pull a selection of works from the museum’s collection and display them in a 3d virtual space for you to navigate and explore in your browser – which, fine, is not wholly novel (I think I have been covering ‘digital art galleries which let you wander through corridors looking at art on walls’ for literally a decade now) but in this case is really wonderfully executed, and which has a pleasingly-flexible selection of works which you can arrange in all sorts of ways. The site uses the museum’s API (a museum API! See?! God I love this place) to let users input search terms to ‘curate’ the selection of pieces visible and then pull them onto the virtual walls, along with accompanying explanatory texts, meaning every visitor’s experience of the works will necessarily be different based on what they keyword-pull from the archives – try throwing in random words and see what comes up (I can highly recommend ‘dogs’, fyi).
- BeFake: I have been writing this fcuking newsletterblogtypething for approximately 13 years, give or take a few months, and in that time I have seen SO MANY frothy social networks appear and disappear – Ello! Peach! Yo! So many others whose names I am genuinely grateful I have forgotten! – but I think that this might be my favourite variant to date. BeFake is, basically, ‘BeReal but for AI pictures’ – the idea is that you will get a prompt each day which encourages you to share a photo with your friends on the network, a photo which you have manipulated and messed with via the POWER OF AI to create something…well, something that looks like the vast majority of other AI art, to be honest, but still, I have no idea how long it will take for literally everyone using this to get bored of sending their friends photos manipulated to make them look like superheroes or bongo stars (everyone manipulated by AI image toys ends up looking like a superhero or bongo star, it is The Law), but this might be a fun distraction for a few days.
- An Abundance of Beasts: An online beast generator, using (I presume) Markov chains to generate an ENTIRELY NEW imaginary creature, presented as though plucked from the pages of a mediaeval tome, complete with manuscript-style illustration. Pleasingly, the names are drawn from a list of real animals, whereas the descriptions are machine-generated, meaning you get weird little juxtapositions like this one: “Lambs have tawny coloured hair which turns contrariwise, and they are as swift as a bird. They are beautiful in life but not after death. They have the upper body of a woman and the lower body of a fish or serpent, a gaping mouth full of teeth, a belly like a beast and the tail of a dolphin, and are the enemy of sailors and all other humans.” See, doesn’t that sound more interesting than the actual truth?
- Viewports: I think I’ve written here before about the difficulty of doing webdesign in the mobile era when you have to just sort of basically accept that whatever you build will end up looking like total dogsh1t for at least one user because it’s literally impossible to code for every single one of the approximately three-million different screen proportions and configurations that exist in the mobile ecosystem – this site is a glorious ‘celebration’ of that diversity produced by Set Studio, which looked at over 120,000 datapoints and identified over 2,000 different viewing ‘sizes’ and DEAR GOD if your job is making stuff that’s designed to look nice on a phone then you will feel VERY SEEN (and then possibly want to go and lie down and have a small cry at the horror of your professional existence).
- Onnu Jonuson: I have long been a sucker for a nicely-made ‘hey look, we’ve turned our album into a website!’ project, and this, by one Onnu Jonuson who I believe is an Icelandic singer-songwriter, is a really beautifully made piece of webwork. As far as I can tell, the site will add another song each month over the course of a year, with each having its own full-bleed video that accompanies the track – at present there are three on the site, each of which is a genuinely lovely slice of guitar-folk-pop, in the gentle NOrthern European style that will be familiar to anyone who knows the work of Jose Gonzales, etc. The ‘about’ section of the site explains that the songs were written variously in the 90s and over the past year, and are in part inspired by the artist’s experience of living with muscular dystrophy, which, honestly, isn’t something you tend to hear acoustic balladry about as a rule. The few films I’ve watched are beautiful, and as a rule this feels…just lovely, really.
- The World YoYo Contest: If you are from the UK and Of A Certain Age (ie old) you will recall a weird moment in the 1980s where Coca Cola ran a promo across all its brands where you could collect rungpulls and send them off in exchange for a BRANDED YOYO – because it was the 80s and there were only 4 TV channels and videogames didn’t really exist and there was no internet, a whole nation’s worth of bored kids all got involved, meaning there was a 9 month period in which primary school playgrounds up and down the country were full of children trying and mostly failing to learn YoYo tricks (and then, when they realised that they were HARD, turning the toys into frankly-terrifying weapons – I definitely remember one kid sticking sharp things to the outside of his, turning it into the sort of weapon not normally seen outside of fantasy RPGs). Anyway, this link takes you to the official site of the 2023 YoYo World Championships, where you can watch a selection of videos of people doing frankly insane things with spinning wheels and threads – I had no idea that there were so many different categories of YoYo-ing, but FCUK ME is this impressive and, on occasion, quite a lot like some sort of very weird martial art. Also lol at the fact that there’s an over-40s category – YoYoing is evidently a young person’s game.
- AirPano: ALL OF THE PANORAMIC FOOTAGE YOU COULD POSSIBLY ASK FOR! So much 360 footage! So many aerial shots! I know that panoramic and 360 photography is a bit old hat these days – how quickly we get jaded! – but these will, I think, remind you of how cool this stuff can look.
- The Midnight Run: Ok, this is IRL rather than online (DON’T BE SCARED!) and is only viable for those of you who are in London (SORRY!), but I love The Midnight Run and I think it’s been on hiatus for a bit and I want to recommend it to you all as it’s SUCH a nice thing to do – started by poet and writer Inua Ellams a few years back, The Midnight Run is a walk/tour/exploration of the city over the course of an evening; previous iterations ran literally overnight, but the timings have been tweaked so this runs from 6pm-midnight or thereabouts. I’ll just quote the blurb, as it tells you all you need to know: “The Midnight Run is a walking, arts-filled, night-time cultural journey through urban spaces. It gathers strangers and local artists together to explore, play and create, whilst the city sleeps. The Midnight Run aims to break down social barriers and provide a platform for established and emerging creatives, bringing moments of genuine interactive creativity. Past MNRunners have enjoyed a spectrum of activities including life-drawing, choral singing, puppetry, wrestling, cocktail making and tai chi, all whilst exploring a city as a group. The Midnight Run was established by Inua Ellams in 2005, since then, there have been 48 events nationally and internationally. This special Midnight Run will take you on an adventure to celebrate the City of London’s 21st century revival of London’s ancient Bartholomew Fair, exploring nocturnal life of the Square Mile, The City of London. The route will journey past iconic City buildings as well as lesser-known nooks and crannies of the Square Mile as we celebrate a return to cultural activity. Come ready to explore, play and create. The Run will be facilitated by Midnight Run Founder, Inua Ellams and two of his long-standing MNR collaborators, Vicky Wright and Kit Caless, all being joined by other local artists.” When I’ve done these before they’ve involved writing poetry, doing ‘parkour’, making up stories about the city, and seeing London in ways distinct and different to the quotidian – I really can’t recommend this enough.
- Lockheed Martin Apparel: When I was a kid growing up, there was a brief vogue for ‘cool’ kids (for the avoidance of doubt, I was not one of them) to wear bomber jackets emblazoned with inexplicably-pedestrian brand names; Technics I could understand (decks, innit), but I was constantly baffled as to why anyone would want to walk around with VHS manufacturer ‘TDK’ emblazoned across their shoulders. Still, that’s nowhere near as WTAF as this foray into streetwear by, er, everyone’s favourite purveyor of fiery death from the skies Lockheed Martin, who have quietly launched this apparel store in South Korea. The ‘Hot Summer’ collection – HOT AS IN FIERY BOMBARDMENT, AMIRITE?!?! – features a selection of tees, some of which are daubed with the (I have to concede, pretty cool-looking) LM logo, some of which have some nonsensical-sounding tech jargon printed over them, and all of which celebrate the inherently-SEXY pursuit of ‘dropping large-scale ordnance from the skies in pursuit of DEMOCRACY (probably)’. This is so far beyond parody and satire that I don’t really know what else to say here – other than that should any of you have access to a South Korean shipping address I quite fancy this one please.
THE SECTION WHICH REALLY WISHES PEOPLE WOULD PAY ATTENTION TO THE STUFF THAT MUSK DOES RATHER THAN WHAT HE SAYS, PT.2:
- Sgt Prepper’s: I don’t, as a rule, like to mock particular lifestyle choices here – aside from the fact that it’s, well, mean, it would also feel a little like taking my slingshot out while still firmly ensconced inside my greenhouse (what do you mean ‘spending so much time online is an appalling waste of the mysterious gift of life granted to you by an unknown power’?) – but I will make an exception for preppers. LOOK LADS IF EVERYTHING GOES TO TITS AND SOCIETY COLLAPSES DO YOU REALLY THINK THAT A HANDFUL OF SCOUTING BADGES AND A LEATHERMAN IS GOING TO KEEP YOU SAFE?!?! Still, I am featuring this site because, well, LOOK AT THE NAME! That sort of punnery deserves celebrating, although I do slightly wonder at the fact that The Beatles’ lawyers have yet to clamp down on this (maybe Paul’s secretly planning for the apocalypse – although on reflection I think Ringo’s the more likely of the surviving members to have a well-appointed bunker somewhere in Herefordshire) – again, I know it’s mean to mock but, well, I couldn’t help but laugh at the image of the father and son enjoying some quality pre-apocalypse moments by the campfire about halfway down the Page (just below the various links taking you to cheery inventory items such as ‘three months of emergency food’ for a mere £557 – think of the lols you and your son will have as you hunker down and heat the rations!) – I very much get the feeling that the general vibe of the average visitor to this site is more ‘she took the kids, Dave, she took the fcuking kids; I love those kids, Dave’ than it is ‘let’s you and I spend a pleasing few hours catching, skinning and gutting a rabbit, son, while we discuss The Facts of Life’.
- Knuckle Tattoos: Have you ever wondered what it might look like if you were to have a pair of four-letter words tattooed across your knuckles? OF COURSE YOU HAVE (personally I always quite fancied ‘FISH’ and ‘CHIP’, although I also have a personal soft spot for ‘CNUT’ and ‘EYES’) – and now you can visualise that thanks to this simple, single-function website, where you type in any 8 letters you like and watch as they get emblazoned across a pair of digital fists. Entirely pointless, just the way we like it.
- Crate: I know that I spend an awful lot of time complaining about how dreadful everything is and how the web is basically THE DEVIL (I don’t mean it, of course; the web is a neutral thing, it’s the PEOPLE who ruin everything), but I do genuinely believe that there is something wonderful and amazing about the fact that the past 20-odd years of human history have, thanks to the internet, led to an absolutely incredible shift in our understanding and acceptance of the fact that *other people’s brains work very, very differently to our own*. I appreciate that, fine, that possibly sounds a touch facile (facile? Me? FCUK OFF), but I don’t think it’s an overstatement to suggest that 30 years ago we simply didn’t have the same perspective on the fact that our brains are all wired ENTIRELY DIFFERENTLY and the way in which, as a result, we relate to and parse and file and manage information and thoughts and concepts is multivariate and infinitely-different; I think about that each and every time I come across a service like Crate, which is basically a knowledge-and-information-management interface for all the stuff you find online – it’s an Evernote-ish system, basically, which lets you tag and file everything you come across online into ‘crates’ (DO YOU SEE?!?!) which are arranged via theme and which you can refer back to and annotate and cross-reference, and which over time will apparently learn how you ‘think’ and as a result apply a degree of automated taxonomical wrangling to stuff as you browse…which, honestly, I personally can’t for a moment ever imagine needing or wanting but which I appreciate might, for a certain type of brain, be the most useful thing ever.
- Images of AI: I do love me a visual cliche, and there are few visual cliches more entrenched at present than the way in which ‘AI’ as a concept is represented by some sort of ‘person with visible circuitry’ or ‘brain that is also circuitboard’ picture – while obviously it’s in-part just sort of funny when you start to see this sort of lazy pattern in the wild, there are also more serious questions around the extent to which this sort of visual language can end up codifying certain concepts without really meaning to – which is why Deepmind (the Alphabet AI people) have worked to develop a selection of imagery to represent its AI work, imagery which (based on the examples I’ve seen, at least) feature NOT A SINGLE CYBERPERSON (and certainly no alluringly-sexy female-presenting ones) and instead use a more interesting selection of visual cues to represent the wider concept of machine intelligence. These are all available for free use (as far as I can tell), should you wish to illustrate your tedious and empty corporate ‘thought leadership’ content about AI with something marginally less stereotypical than usual. Oh, and there are video versions of these too should you so desire them – MERRY AI CHRISTMAS!
- Concert Archives: A BRILLIANT resource, this, which compiles photos and setlist and footage and audio from ALL OF THE GIGS IN THE WORLD! Well, ok, fine, not quite ‘all the gigs in the world’, but seemingly quite a few of them – search by bandname, location or venue and get an incredible array of user-captured images and audio from a dizzying array of artists covering a frankly insane timespan – there’s footage on here of gigs from the 90s ffs, which is slightly amazing to me. Want to get footage of Pat Benatar’s recent gig in St Louis? No, I can’t for a moment imagine that you do, but you can!
- The Wizard’s Guide to Statistics: I may have mentioned this before, but I am bad at maths; I know that it’s often painted as a lazy opinion to have of oneself, and that noone is ‘bad’ at maths so much as they are victims of poor teaching methods and mediocre schooling, but I promise you that beyond a certain degree of complexity I can literally *feel* my brain becoming smooth as I try and wrap it around concepts like ‘logorithmic scales’. Anyway, as a result of my double-figure-IQ number prowess or lack thereof I have always struggled slightly with statistics and probabilities and as such I was both charmed and hugely grateful for this excellent little webtoy which does an excellent job of teaching you stats from the ground up with a selection of simple interactive puzzles which talk you through, step-by-step, the BAFFLING WORLD OF FRACTIONAL PROBABILITIES. I can’t pretend that I don’t still feel incredibly thick when confronted with numbers, fine, but I at least now understand a bit more about exactly *how* I am failing to understand.
- Awful But Great: Twitter limps on, but the fact that they killed Tweetdeck this week (parenthetically, it’s remarkable that I have been using that product for over a decade, on a daily basis, and that I have found it personally and professionally incredibly useful, and that despite this and the fact that I am squarely in the middle of their target ‘power user’ market for it I would rather stick pins down my urethra than consider paying That Fcuking Man a single penny to continue doing being able to access it – truly, an astonishing bit of anti-brand-power there) means that I might finally be forced to bid a final farewell to ‘social media’ – still, accounts like this one make me think that maybe it’s worth sticking around a bit longer. A BRAND NEW COMEDY/MEME ACCOUNT, IN 2023!!! Whodathunkit? ‘Awful But Great’’s full title is ‘Awful Taste But Great Execution’, which should tell you everything you need to know about the content – there is some genuine gold on here, I promise.
- The Song Clock: Another fantastic bit of webwork by The Pudding, this time abandoning visual stats-based storytelling in favour of making a clock which will, when you load it up, play you a song featuring the current time in its title. Taking the songs from Spotify, there are nearly 9,000 potential tracks that could play over 1,440 minutes of a day, so bookmark this and check in every now and again to hear exactly how amazing, say, 9:28 by Daisha Macbride is (genuinely amazing how many people have released tracks named after very specific times of day – I do wonder what exactly happened at 9:28 one day in Daisha’s life to cause her to memorialise the moment in song).
- Robots: Watch the robots ‘dance’. Pick up the robots. Throw them around. Watch them get back up again. SEE WHAT HAPPENS.
- Uninhabitable Earth: DON’T WORRY NOT YET! But, er, soon! This is a nice (lol ‘nice’!) visualisation by German newspaper Berliner Morgenpost that collects data about imminent projected changes in climate worldwide (and related data around projected sea level rises, etc) and maps them on a globe which you can rotate and explore to get a picture of exactly where things are likely to get particularly ‘spicy’ over the coming years as we all start to realise that, hang on, this stuff is ACTUALLY HAPPENING RIGHT NOW. This is…sobering, not least because it’s the first series of projections I’ve seen which starkly points out quite how spectacularly fcuked Italy is going to be – I appreciate that for most of you this is of less import, but, well, I have something of an affection for the my mother country and whilst it’s a horrible, racist, bureaucratic sh1tshow full of some of the most irritating people on Earth (CIAO RAGA’!) I’d also prefer it to not become 50% uninhabitable by 2050, which does rather look like it might be SLIGHTLY on thecards.
- Online Safari TV: Neatly segueing from the last link (SEAMLESS!), here’s an opportunity to appreciate some of the planet’s natural bounty before we set fire to it all – SO MANY WEBCAMS! SO MANY CRITTERS ON CAMERA! Whether you want to spend your day admiring the albatrosses (albatri?) in New Zealand, or hedgehogs in Munsterland, all of your ‘spying on cute animals without their knowledge’ needs can be fulfilled at this link.
- Leonardo: I know it’s not really ‘cool’ to praise Google these days, but I can’t help but feel a deep and abiding affection towards the company for its ongoing commitment to producing high-quality, free webwork around the arts – Google’s Arts and Culture division is a rare example of a company really putting its heart and soul behind a non-commercial endeavour in a way that you can’t imagine, say, Meta doing (although based on an approach I received from them about 9 years ago they pay APPALLINGLY). This latest bit of work is no exception – an exploration of the life and work of Da Vinci, from sketches to designs to artworks to inventions, with a combination of wonderful scans and archives to explore, and some more interactive AI-enabled gubbins which let you do things like combine concepts from Leo’s notebooks to generate ENTIRELY NEW IDEAS AND IMAGES. This is just great, and far deeper than it need be.
- 16 Colors: This is an INCREDIBLE resource and community based around 16-bit style pixelart – if you’re of an age whereby you can remember the Amiga, then that’s basically the aesthetic here. Honestly, this is an amazing repository of a particular style of art and a genuine pleasure to spelunk around.
- Metazooa: Occupying the coveted ‘last miscellaneous link of the week’ slot is this cracking little game based around natural taxonomy – NO WAIT COME BACK! It is, I promise, genuinely fun – each day, your task is to guess the MYSTERY ANIMAL, by narrowing it down based on guesses as to its position amongst the various types of creature known to man. “The animal kingdom (Metazoa, in Greek) is full of our distant relatives… some more distant than others. This game is about finding out how similar any 2 species of animal are to each other. Your goal is to figure out today’s Mystery Animal in as few guesses as possible. Wrong guesses will narrow down the answer by taxonomic rank (kingdom, phylum, class, order, etc.) The more your guess has in common with the answer, the more you will learn about the Mystery Animal.” Honestly, this may seem incredibly difficult but you’ll get your head around it after a few guesses and will be busting out terms like ‘mustilidae’ before you can say ‘order of the species’
By Grace Brooks
THE CIRCUS OF TUMBLRS!
- Fcuking Advertisements: This is quite incredible – a Tumblr collecting the sort of dodgy ads that I would imagine you stumble across when perusing low-rent bongo sites (not that I’d know, obvs), all ‘meet hot singles in your area!’ and ‘welcome to the world of free sex!’ (without a doubt the single most depressing formulation of this particular ad style, to my mind), and featuring some genuinely astonishing ‘artwork’ – there was one about halfway down the first page that made me do a proper double-take because JESUS (you will know what I mean, I think).
THE TROUGH OF (INSTA) FEEDS!
- Pattern Up: The Instagram of art collective Pattern Up, which has been doing vaguely-AdBusters-esque schtick for a while now and whose work here collected gives you a feel for their general vibe – a bit ‘Fuct-by-way-of-Dazed’, but not terrible for it.
LONG THINGS WHICH ARE LONG!
- The Real Cost of Good Films: Our first longread of the week is a genuinely brilliant essay looking at the modern economics of making art, specifically films, and which takes in the practical mechanics of the movie business, AI and authorship, the streaming economy, attempting to make a living from ‘creativity’…honestly, this is SUCH a good read that does a superb job of explaining and contextualising lots of the disparate elements that make up the modern cultural economy, although it will almost certainly leave you feeling a bit short-changed by the future; the numbers in there about the relative degree of choice available via streaming vs, say, DVD rental stores are probably not going to be a huge surprise to you, fine, but seeing them laid out that starkly does rather make one think ‘hang on…this is…this is sh1t’.
- AI, Power and Governance: An excellent overview in Foreign Affairs Magazine about the current state of play as regards AI regulation and the global conversation around if, how and when it might be implemented – if you’re already across these issues you won’t necessarily find anything startlingly new in here, but it’s an excellent primer to the questions at play and some of the potential answers, with specific reference to the twin axes of the US and China and how a workable, mutually-effective regulatory framework for global AI deployment might potentially be arrived at. What’s fascinating about this is how quickly you get to stuff like “A regime designed to maintain geotechnological stability would also fill a dangerous void in the current regulatory landscape: responsibility for governing open-source AI. Some level of online censorship will be necessary. If someone uploads an extremely dangerous model, this body must have the clear authority—and ability—to take it down or direct national authorities to do so” – which feels ‘right’, but also something which you can imagine is going to be an absolute FCUKER to define, agree upon and implement. GOOD LUCK EVERYONE!
- The Time For Grimoires: Your semi-regular dose of Ethan Mollick on AI now – and your regular reminder to subscribe to him, because he is SO GOOD – in which he sets out a useful way of thinking about ways of using AI within an organisation or workplace, and specifically the concept of encoding knowledge of what ‘works’ (or at least what seems to, this week) in repositories (he uses the terms ‘grimoires’, as in spellbooks, as he is obviously a massive nerd, and, well, more power to him, frankly). As he writes, “companies can develop useful prompts that do serious work and capture them in corporate grimoires, prompt libraries that encode the expertise of their best practices into forms that anyone can use. I would expect individuals to similarly come up with their own spellbooks of prompts to automate their work. And I would hope that more academics, government agencies, and open source developers would be creating freely available prompt libraries for everyone” – honestly, this is VERY GOOD ADVICE and 100% the most useful thing that you or your employer could currently be doing in terms of ‘making this stuff practically useful to your business or life in general’.
- Farrow On Musk: One of my least favourite parts of the past year and That Fcuking Man’s purchase of Twitter has been the fact that for Professional Reasons I have had to become a MuskWatcher, and as such have spent a LOT of time reading his words and listening to him talk, and reading about his history, all of which means that there was nothing in this week’s profile of Elon by Ronan Farrow that was particularly new to me – that said, it’s a very good overview of the odd and unique position he occupies in current geopolitics through Tesla and SpaceX and Twitter, and his insane wealth, which almost-but-not-quite skewers the thing that noone really seems to want to say out loud – specifically, that Musk is increasingly not just fash-adjacent but, well, fash. I mean, seriously, just look.
- China and the Metaverse: I know, I know, the ‘M’ word is so 2022! Still, despite the fact it’s currently something of a punchline, I remain moderately-bullish about the eventual prospect of ‘people spending significant swathes of their waking lives inside virtual environments that to an extent mimic or seek to replicate aspects of physical reality’ (I mean,you can see why they went with ‘metaverse’ instead, can’t you?), even if that prospect might be a reasonable way away. This piece in Politico looks at steps that China is making to get an early start on regulating and managing whatever this digital space might end up being – in news that probably shouldn’t surprise anyone who’s been paying attention to China over the past few decades, it turns out Xi’s regime is working in developing and implementing “a “Digital Identity System” for all users of online virtual worlds, or metaverses. They recommended that the digital ID should work with “natural characteristics” and “social characteristics” that include a range of personal data points like people’s occupation, “identifiable signs” and other attributes. They also suggested this information be “permanently” stored and shared with law enforcement “to keep the order and safety of the virtual world.” The proposals even provides the example of a noxious user called Tom — an ideal stand-in for whoever uses the fledgling technology, for instance for gaming or socializing — who “spreads rumors and makes chaos in the metaverse”; the digital identity system would allow the police to promptly identify and punish him.” On the one hand, this sounds obviously somewhat dystopian; on the other, literally anything at all you read on VR/XR tech makes you realise that it’s an absolute tracking and surveillance paradise, and that whatever flavour of metaverse (lol!) you end up experiencing it will involve someone watching your every move and either trying to imprison you or sell you something. FUN TIMES!
- The AI Bongo Marketplace: Fair play to new tech outfit 404 Media – launched this week by ex-VICE staffers who’ve jumped (sinking) ship from Motherboard to start their own news platform – who absolutely hit the ‘vaguely zeitgeisty AND salacious’ jackpot with one of their first stories, this piece about the various places where people are posting the insane AI bongo they are generating with open source tools. In fact they did a follow-up piece focusing on the VERY WEIRD AND NICHE stuff being produced on the fringes of the scene which, honestly, made me feel intensely grubby and like I needed my hard drive cleansing, despite being largely SFW-ish – both pieces feel a BIT like they were written because the authors knew full-well that people will click on anything about AI or bongo, but equally they are interesting and detailed looks at the sorts of scenes that are spinning up around sexual imagery in the AI world, and some of the miserable ways we can look forward to this stuff playing out in wider society. As an aside, I had to do some digging around Stable Diffusion mods the other week and found myself briefly purusing the Unstable Diffusion Discord and DEAR GOD THE STUFF THAT PEOPLE ARE MAKING MY EYES! On the one hand, it’s very weird and quite horrid; on the other, I do slightly admire the commitment of a lot of men online (of course it’s men) to the concept of ‘a challenging w4nk’.
- Do Insects Feel Joy Or Pain?: I’m going to shortcut to the answer to the headline here – some of them might do, yes. This is FASCINATING and so much better-written than it needs to be, and will make you think even more highly of bees than you did beforehand – and, quite possibly, make you want to become a Jain. Honestly, this made me want to create a small apian playground and just watch the little guys play.
- Adieu, Skyblog: I had literally never heard of ‘Skyblog’, but apparently it was a French social network which predated Facebook and which has been around for 20 years, and which finally shut down this week as a result of slowly-dwindling user numbers – I am personally fascinated by local social networks and their strange, occasional local persistence in the face of the Big Platform Juggernaut. There were times in the late-00s if you worked in social media where you had to know about things like Hyves in Holland, or VKontakt in Russia, and each was oddly, weirdly distinct in terms of interface and character and functionality, before everything got smoothed to blandness by Insta and the rest; from what I was able to glean from poking around Skyblog this week it was a bit MySpace-y, but I would genuinely love to read a more in-depth and personal history of the platform and how it arose and how it was used – also, what is it with France and its weirdly-future adoption of tech stuff like this (see also: Minitel)? Genuinely curious should any of you happen to have any insight into this,
- Dazi: I know, I know, THERE ARE TOO MANY ‘TRENDS’ AND THEY ARE MOSTLY BULLSH1T AND MADE UP! Still, allow me to make an exception for this piece from China, which specifically references the current vogue for young Chinese having what they term ‘dazi’ – perhaps best described as ‘temporary plastic friends’ who they hang out or interact with for very specific purposes like ‘having lunch at work’ or ‘going to yoga’. “Sha has an online games partner. Initially, she knew nothing about the partner’s gender, age, or where he or she lived, but this did not prevent them making appointments to play games together. “We later added each other on WeChat to collect and exchange cards for the games. It was then that I learned my partner was female and that she was studying at an elite school in the United States,” Sha said. “I do not talk to her about studying or living abroad. All we discuss is the video game…If you happen to know a very compatible person, it is natural to develop an intimate relationship. But there is a tacit understanding between myself and the dazi. We are partners, our communication is casual, and to avoid pressure, we don’t interfere in each other’s lives apart from our interests.” I find this fascinating – this sort of nakedly-transactional approach to personal relationships and the stripping back of interactions to the bare bones of ‘what I get out of it’, and the idea of this being not just acceptable but desirable.
- Creating Animated Cartoons With Character: This is AMAZING, and if you or anyone you know is an aspirant cartoonist this is 100% the best link of the year, hands down. In 2010, Joe Murray (the artist who did ‘Rocko’s Modern Life’ among other ‘toons from the 00s) wrote a book in which he set out everything he knew about making cartoons for TV, or the web, or for short films – he recently realised it’s being sold at extortionate markups by specialist booksellers, and so has chucked a PDF of the whole thing up online for free. Honestly, this is an incredible resource full of practical advice and wisdom – while, fine, the world has changed a lot in terms of distribution and platforms in the intervening 13 years since this was first published, the content about craft and storytelling and narrative techniques is still golden.
- DissociaTok: When did it become definitively impossible to know whether or not you could take something at face value? It’s hard to identify an exact moment, but it feels like it was at some point in the last 5 years or so that I basically decided that I could no longer assume the sincerity of any opinion or outlook or belief expressed online. So it is with this piece, all about the people online (mostly TikTok) who present themselves as having ‘Dissociative Identity Disorder’, perhaps more commonly known as ‘multiple personalities’, and who create content talking about, and often dramatising, the conflicts and interrelationships between the different identities that form part of their ‘systems’…and dear God this is Tulpas again, isn’t it? Whilst I don’t for a second doubt that DID is a thing for some (vanishingly small number of) people, I also harbour…strong feelings of disbelief that these people are also the ones who film themselves wearing cat ears and whose personalities are also conveniently-tropey anime-inflected egirl characters. Can we maybe collectively decide to…NOT take teenagers seriously all the time when they talk about sh1t like this, maybe?
- Cool Quitting: This feels like the sort of thing that will end up being a small case study on an MBA course somewhere – as a result of the fact that kids are getting hooked on nicotine all over again thanks to the vaping craze, there’s now a whole new industry springing up to ‘disrupt’ the ‘quit smoking’ market previously dominated by the less-than-vibey Nicorette, now being infiltrated by a bunch of new brands with dropshipping-style aesthetics and design-y fonts. In fairness this does feel like one of those areas where the current marketing buzzword of ‘community’ does make sense, but it’s also lightly amusing to see how a very old product set is being retooled for a new generation.
- Learning To Do A Backflip: Ok, this is a video – SORRY I KNOW IT IS IN THE WRONG SECTION I AM SORRY – but in my defence it’s an NYT short which won’t embed, and so I have to link it like this. This is a film in which artist Nikita Diacur builds an avatar of himself in virtual space and tries to teach it to perform a backflip, unaided – honestly, this is 100% one of the best bits of video art I have seen all year, and I promise you it is worth every single minute of its 10m runtime (and I NEVER say that about video art, a medium for which I generally have less-than-no-time).
- New Farmer: Another not-super-textual link (SORRY), this is a lovely art project by Bruce Eesly which uses AI image generation to present a photographic record of a forgotten moment in 20thC British agriculture: “After the Second World War, scientists developed new super-productive varieties of crops that – with large inputs of fertilizer, pesticides and water – could produce more food than traditional crops. This became known as the Green Revolution and paved the way for the industrial agriculture of today.” Except, obviously, that’s not true and it never happened. A lovely bit of fake history with some really nice use of AI – very much a sort of Scarfolk vibe here, albeit one with less of an air of creeping menace.
- The Media and Graham Linehan: Graham Linehan is a genuinely sad case – a man whose mental disintegration has been documented in near-realtime over the course of the past decade, as his unhinged obsession with transgenderism (specifically, transwomen) has led to him becoming largely ostracised from the comic community that once adored him, and has seen him lose friends and family as a result of his monomaniacal and increasingly-offensive, hurtful and borderline-criminal behaviour. Linehan’s been in the news this week in the UK thanks to the right-wing press which have been bolstering his preposterous claim about ‘cancellation’ by the Edinburgh Fringe – this article does a good job of explaining exactly why pieces suggesting he was being ‘silenced’ are, as ever, wide of the mark, and questions the ethics of reporting without question the views of someone who, by any objective assessment, is teetering on the brink of a fairly serious breakdown as though they are ‘mainstream’.
- My Generation: Oh, Generation X! So forgotten! So ignored! Although tbh I have long thought that we’re quite lucky on that front, really, as if people stopped to look and think for a second we’d be quite rightly excoriated for having basically entirely abnegated our responsibilities for anything. This piece, though, argues that IT’S ALL THE BOOMERS’ FAULT whilst also taking some slightly-lazy swipes at the cultural conservatism of those that came after us. I have a degree of sympathy for the arguments here about boomers, specifically about the sadness of how their youthful hope and idealism quickly calcified into something rotten in the 70s and 80s, but, in general, I found the article frustrating and ill-focused and I didn’t think the focus on music as a central thread necessarily worked with the other themes…still, it’s rare to read something this long and in-depth about MY PEOPLE (fine, I am a ‘young’ gen x, but gen x nonetheless) and as such you might find it interesting.
- Harmony Korine: I went through something of a Harmony Korine phase in my teens – Kids was a genuinely transgressive film at the time, and Julien Donkey Boy has stuck in my memory more than it probably ought to have done – but I haven’t really thought about him or his work for years; turns out he’s still out there and preparing to launch a new…film? Blinx (his word; I hate it)? Whatever, he’s planning to launch something – a video project starring Travis Scott and all filmed in heat sensitive vision, which is part of an ongoing ‘conceptual universe’ being created by his new digital culture production art collective called EDGLRD…I mean, look, so much of this piece sounds literally like a 17 year old’s idea of what is ‘cool’ being reported on by someone significantly older who REALLY wants to ‘get it’, and I don’t know how many of the ‘ideas’ here represented are anything other than brainfarts from an overindulged former-enfant-terrible, but, equally, Korine’s early work was genuinely cinematically and narratively interesting so there’s at least an outside chance that whatever all *this* ends up being will be worth paying attention to. Then again, rereading this, maybe it won’t: ““This is Home Invasion,” Korine says, pointing at a computer monitor inside the house. On the screen plays security–camera and GoPro footage of masked men and women, wearing horns, rampaging through various Miami McMansions, tying up various innocent-looking families. “We’re trying to gamify movies,” Korine says. So Home Invasion is designed to look, at times, like a first-person shooter, and inside the film the home invaders are sometimes playing games —the idea being you can scan a QR code and play along with them. “What we’re trying to do is to build some mechanism that allows people to interface with the footage and basically remix, or make their own, films,” Korine says. They also have been experimenting, Korine says, with replacing the faces of the home invaders with the faces of babies. That film, he says, has a title too: Baby Invasion. Korine has EDGLRD cofounder and head of production Joao Rosa, a grave, priestlike native of Brazil, cue up some sample footage: terrifying.”
- Why Bill Watterson Vanished: The internet knows all about how the creator of Calvin and Hobbes is a famous recluse, with little interest in discussing his famous and beloved creation; I’ve not, though, read much in the way of analysis about why, until this superb article which, I must admit, left me feeling VERY SEEN in more ways than I had expected. There is something very particular about the sensation of a long-running creative endeavour, and specifically the feeling you get when you have been doing something for a while of the *shape* of it, and how that shape both reflects and imprisons you, and how ugly and blemished and misshapen and personal it is, and, honestly, I genuinely felt more shocks of self-recognition reading this than I did with any other link this week. Not, to be clear, that I consider Curios to be either a particularly ‘creative’ endeavour or to be in any way comparable to C&H, but more that I know exactly what it is like to find yourself using what you make as a primal screaming session (so to speak).
- The Comebacker: A truly excellent short story by Dave Eggers – it is technically sort-of about baseball, but not really (and, in any case, baseball is like boxing in that reading about it is infinitely less boring than watching it), and I had to stop reading it at various points to pause and admire the construction and the writing and the sense of style – it feels like a piece of 20th Century short fiction, which I mean as a very high compliment indeed.
- Expectation: Finally this week, a short piece of writing byAbigail Thomas who is 81 and, unsurprisingly, starting to think about dying. This is beautiful and, I promise, in no way morbid or sad, and the penultimate line is worth chewing over.
AND NOW, MOVING PICTURES AND SOUNDS!:
- I appreciate that it’s only August and as such it’s perhaps a *touch* early for Christmas songs, but this came across my radar this week and I was CHARMED, in part by the production which is really cool, and in part by the Line Rider-esque video which is GORGEOUS. This is Pobbles with ‘We Wish You’.