It is TOO HOT and I am slightly hungover and, honestly, all I want to do is get into a bed made of ice and possibly never wake up.
Because I’m really fcuking nice, though – or, alternatively, because writing this rubbish has now become the sort of weekly compulsion that I couldn’t stop even if I tried – I still got up at 6am to type all of the below. The words are no better than usual, fine, but the links are a pretty good crop this week – don’t go out and irresponsibly celebrate the heatwave by drinking your bodyweight in cans and then voiding yourself off a pier (no, seriously, please don’t), stay in and celebrate it by clicking the lovely, cooling links instead!
I am still Matt, this is still Web Curios, and you’re still not going to tell your colleagues where the ‘interesting links you share on a Friday afternoon’ come from, are you, you ingrates?
By Alice Moxlin
LET’S KICK OFF THE MUSIC WITH THE LATEST VINYL THROWDOWN BY INTERNET ODDITY SADEAGLE, ONCE AGAIN A SUPREMELY-ECLECTIC MIX OF STUFF HE BOUGHT AT CHARITY SHOPS FOR ABOUT 10p BUT WHICH SOUND LIKE A MILLION DOLLARS!
THE SECTION WHICH IS INCREASINGLY OF THE OPINION THAT PEOPLE OUGHT TO BE FORCED TO FILL OUT A BASIC QUESTIONNAIRE ABOUT THE HOW THE FCUKING WEB WORKS BEFORE BEING ALLOWED ONTO SAID FCUKING WEB:
- Facebook on Supporting Black Communities: I can’t imagine anyone reading this being surprised at the startling revelation that I am…not a massive fan of Facebook, either as a platform or a company, but credit where it’s due, this is an impressive set of commitments to supporting black communities worldwide. Actual financial investment, the creation of new sections in their app dedicated to promoting black content, a commitment to addressing the continued lack of diversity in leadership positions…fine, this would all be better were Facebook not one of the single biggest vectors for the transmission of racist garbage in the world, but, well, baby steps. Also, ‘garbage’? FFS, I promise I will revert to non-American English as soon as I wake up a bit.
- Facebook Launches Forecast: ANOTHER new app from Facebook’s experimental new products people – and another not-particularly-successfully-disguised attempt to get even more of your sweet, sweet data! Forecast – it’s waitlist only at the moment, but you can ask to be added to the list here if you like (good luck if you’re outside North America, though) – is ‘a community for crowdsourced predictions and collective insights’, which is basically a fancy way of saying ‘people post questions about whether stuff will happen or not, and other people vote on whether they think said stuff will or won’t end up in fact happening’. Questions will be moderated for ‘clarity’ (ahahaha not clarity, obvs), there will be profiles for all users so you can see someone’s predictions track record (although there’s nothing in the blurb about how you’ll keep track of this; if they’re expecting users to voluntarily admit that their predictions ended up being wrong then, well, good luck with that), there’s the possibility of discussing the questions being speculated upon…but, look, mainly this is a really good way of getting lots of quite useful data about individuals’ beliefs that can then be used to target ads at them more effectively BECAUSE THAT’S WHAT FACEBOOK IS FOR. I can’t, personally, ever see this taking off, not least because the burden of moderation to prevent most of the app becoming a cesspit of hate feels like it would be too onerous, and expensive, to ever make sense from a business point of view (so expect all polling to be conducted via Forecast by this time in 2022).
- Facebook Debuts More Ads in Creators’ Livestreams: This applies to creators in Facebook’s gaming vertical – look, here, it’s too boring for me to bother to try and paraphrase: “First, Level Up creators who have reached at least 250 “returning weekly viewers” will now be able to access Fan Subscriptions, a feature that allows fans to pledge a monthly donation to their favorite creators in exchange for certain perks, like access to custom stickers and emoji. The Level Up program was designed to help creators grow their audiences on Facebook. Next, partnered gaming creators now have access to Live Ads. When a partnered creator is streaming, a viewer may see a preroll ad before the livestream, an image ad below the livestream video or a new midroll ad that plays in the main video window while the actual stream plays in a smaller one.” This is bigger news than it might have been a few months ago due to the news this week that Microsoft was shutting down its ‘Mixer’ streaming platform (making all the money it spent on enticing streamers from Twitch seem even more nonsensical – honestly, I had no idea quite how much even the non-Ninja level guys are getting at this point, but I had dinner last night (DISTANCED!) with a friend who works at A Very Big Games Company and fcuk me some of the numbers being quoted) and shunting everyone onto Facebook Gaming, a move that has gone down about as well as you might expect.
- Facebook To Inform Users When They Are Sharing Content Older Than 90 Days: On the one hand, good! On the other, the regularity with which stories from several years ago appear amongst the ‘most read’ selection on the Guardian suggests that this might not have the transformative effect on the quality of discourse that Facebook seems to hope.
- Everyone Gets To Sell Stuff On Insta As Of 9 July!: This ties into a link a little further down, but if you want a reason as to why ‘some brands pulling Facebook and Insta ads in July’ is not going to have the crippling effect on the companies revenues that they might be hoping, this is a decent one. Instagram’s opening up direct sales from the platform to everyone (or at least everyone in territories where Insta shopping is available for partner brands at present) meaning literally anyone with any sort of business can chuck a picture of a think on Insta and make it buyable through the platform. Which iss fcuking transformative, honestly – all of a sudden every single business in the major markets around the world has the ability to sell to anyone else on Instagram (so literally a theoretical market of 1bn+ people) for free. I don’t think it’s possible to overstate what a power move this is and quite how much I think this is going to do to (further) cement Facebook/Insta as a de facto necessity for any business that flogs stuff to ordinary people – and how much richer this is going to make the business. Whilst North Face pulling ads might be a big news story, it’s literally meaningless in terms of income – the long tail of small businesses who can’t afford to stop paying Facebook’s ad vig because it’s literally their primary means of driving income is what actually makes them the cash.
- TikTok Business: Not that much of what’s on this page is new, but TikTok this week launched a dedicated ‘Business’ webpage, collecting information for brands on how they can best use the platform, how advertising on it works, resources for ad creation and all sorts of other useful gubbins all in one place. This is all quite standard, but the language is quite interesting – I was struck by the line ‘Turn culture into a cult-like following’ which is both slightly sinister and something of a stretch if you’re a company that makes, I don’t know, industrial cladding.
- Ofcom’s Online Nation Report 2020: The headlines on publication of the latest Digital Nation stats from Ofcom focused on the fact that as a nation we’re now spending 4h a day online as a result of lockdown – a figure which, as ever, seems to me to be a woeful underestimation. I know that I’m basically connected to the web by some sort of stretchy cord and that as such my impression of what constitutes ‘normal’ online behaviour is somewhat skewed, but like fcuk are people only online for 4h a day; I guarantee this is being skewed by people who don’t want to admit that a good 45% of their ‘working’ day is spent browsing ASOS and Mail Online. The most interesting part of this, to me at least, were the stats buried in here about the woeful degree of knowledge that people seem to have about how the web works. “When it comes to recognising ads online and understanding the role advertising plays in online business models, only about half (53%) of all adults identified advertising as the main source of funding for search engines, while 43% were aware that YouTube’s main source of funding is advertising. These figures have remained broadly stable since 2018, and are broadly in line with understanding among 12-15 year old users of these platforms (54%).” HOW??? HOW IS THIS STILL POSSIBLE???? Honestly, I fcuking despair.
- Slides for Strategists: My friend Rob’s GroupThink conference the other week was very good, so I’m told; these are the slides summarising the event’s sessions which have kindly been chucked online for you all to gawp at. There’s some good stuff in here about the theory and practise of strategy development, which is worth a read if you spend your professional life doing the first ten slides of a new business presentation over and over and over again, like some sort of miserable Powerpoint Sisyphus.
- Corn Revolution: This week’s instalment of the occasional, long-running Web Curios feature ‘websites that are far shinier than their ostensibly-tedious subject matter might ordinarily require’ features a real beauty – you might not think that a business which (as far as I can tell) genetically engineers seeds to produce terrifyingly-robust mutant strains of corn requires a website with full-bleed video and lovely scrolling effects but FIE ON YOU for your lack of ambition. Fine, I imagine that the GM corn business is probably pretty lucrative and therefore they can afford the parallax, but I applaud the extra mile that they seem to have gone here to make the very limited degree of interactivity on display here look as groundbreakingly-hi-tech as possible.
By Granville Carroll
THE SECTION WHICH THINKS THAT DRIVING 200 MILES TO GET TANKED UP AND SUNBURNT AND THEN TO SUBSEQUENTLY TAKE A SH1T ON A BEACH IS IN MANY RESPECTS QUINTESSENTIALLY ENGLISH BEHAVIOUR, PT.1:
- Shared Piano: Well isn’t this lovely. Brand new from Google’s Chrome Experiments people, Shared Piano is exactly that – click the link and it generates a unique url which you can share with others, enabling you all to play piano together on a shared keyboard. As far as I can tell you get an octave each to play with, enabling some rather nifty multi-person tinkling of ivories; even if all you can play is chopsticks, get three other people on this and play THE BEST AND MOST COMPLEX version of chopsticks you can! Honestly, this is gorgeous – so simple, but just really fun and playful and generally wholesome, and a reminder of quite how lovely shared online experiences like this can be. Oh, and even better you can change the sound just like on those old Casio synths, meaning that you too can play chopsticks BUT ON THE MARIMBA! Does anyone know what a ‘marimba’ is? I obviously could look it up but I fear that the reality would be less immediately exciting than what I am currently imagining in my head.
- Aquarium: To assuage any disappointment right off the bat here, let me just let you down gently – this is not in fact anything to do with tropical fish. COME BACK THOUGH! I don’t really understand what it in fact is – the whole site being very Russian, and my ability to read cyrillic not being what it was – but I’d hazard a guess that Aquarium is a Russian record label and this site is a promo-y type thing for their roster of artists. Frankly, though, I don’t really care – this is a GREAT throwback to a web aesthetic from about 7 or 8 years ago, all long scroll and parallax and slightly-vertiginous first-person rollercoastery effects, all accompanied by a soundtrack of varied (and occasionally slightly unnerving) Russian pop-rock bangers. I think that the different visual styles that you cycle through each correspond to a different artist, but to be honest I think it’s probably best not to interrogate this one too hard and just enjoy the 3d rainbow unicorns and the, er, descent down the ruined staircase, and the oddly-martial feel to a lot of the songs. Can anyone explain to me what the actual fcuk is going on here?
- AI Snake Oil: My very favourite type of snake oil! This is an interesting project compiled by students at the University of Vienna, as part of their Design Investigations course; AI Snake Oil is an exploration of the different ways in which ‘AI’ (my inverted commas) is presented in popular culture, business, science and beyond, with a variety of projects each taking a slightly different angle on the question ‘what is AI, and what is it for, and what can it be for’. There are lots of interesting bits and pieces in here; I particularly like the project looking at AI-imagined single-cell organisms in a digital ‘ocean’, and momentarily got quite excited at the possibility of an entirely-digital primordial soup, living in the cloud somewhere, which we could all prod and poke to create an entirely new digitally-imagined pseudo-biological ecosystem. Is this how ‘the world as simulation’ starts? With bored webmongs prodding at GAN-generated amoeba? It’s not the most compelling origin story, but it may have to do.
- Finger On The App: Not for the first time I am here featuring something by MSCHF whilst angrily seething about the fact that I didn’t think of it (you’d think I’d have come to terms by now with the fact that I am not and never will be creative but, well, seems not!). Do you remember the local commercial radio boom of the 80s and 90s, in which seemingly every single town had three or four equally-appalling stations with names like “The Dragon 106.3” or “Pirate FM” or “Hertfordshire Sound”, and which were distinguishable only by which local car dealerships bought advertising on them? No? FFS. Anyway, it very much was a thing, along with competitions run by said stations where you could win a car if you were the person who managed to spend the most time continuously touching said car (these usually took place in local shopping centres, surveilled by a group of bored teenagers hoping against hope that someone would wet themselves in pursuit or vehicular nirvana) – now MSCHF have made a virtual version and it is GENIUS. Download the app and on Tuesday 30 June you and everyone else will be challenged to keep your finger on your phone’s screen for as long as possible – the person who does so for the longest will, potentially, win $25k. Honestly, this is SO SIMPLE and so clever and the sort of thing that is just about niche enough that you could rip it off wholesale and probably get away with it.
- The Air Force Puzzle: I think this is an official US Air Force site, which makes me wonder whether it’s not in fact some sort of sneaky recruitment thing; still, seeing as I am in the UK, am slightly short-sighted and have the muscletone of an elastic band, I think I can be relatively sure I won’t be receiving a call from an aggressively-moustached staff sergeant requesting my presence at flight school anytime soon. Another smart idea, this, and another one you can probably lift without too much hassle (and given it’s the US Air Force, probably not too much guilt either) – this is a GIANT COLLABORATIVE PUZZLE! The site presents a very hi-res, wide angle shot of a big hanger full of planes and stuff; this is broken down into a series of smaller images, each of which is a collaborative puzzle to be completed with the goal of eventually filling in the whole picture, at which point…actually, I have no idea what happens then, but given the site is tracking the percentage completion to date and displaying that prominently in the bottom-left I’d suggest there’s some sort of reveal or something planned for when they hit 100%. Maybe they’ll declare war on space or something, or announce plans to solve the pandemic by shooting COVID into space – honestly, very little coming out of America has the capacity to shock or surprise anymore.
- Katalog: This came via Andy Baio at Waxy and I love it. Katalog is a project by photographer Barbara Iweins, reflecting on the possessions she’s accumulated through her life, whereby she spent two years meticulously photographing every single object she owned. They are presented on this website, catalogued and categorised by colour, material, the room they exist in, whether Iweins would save them in a fire…you can filter the objects by a range of categories, which does a wonderful job of communicating the multiple roles objects fulfil in a home and in a life, but also of the beauty and joy inherent in classification and taxonomy. Really, really soothing although I couldn’t accurately explain to you why.
- Hereafter: Long-term readers may be aware that I have something of a ‘thing’ about digital legacy and the way in which our selves can increasingly be said to have an online life which extends well beyond the physical; it’s something that we’re increasingly having to confront as a society, but which equally is oddly, in many respects woefully, underexplored in popular culture and mainstream discourse. Hereafter is the latest attempt I’ve come across to create some sort of digitally-enhanced memorial for the deceased, using voice recordings and ‘AI’ (my inverted commas – I am, as you might expect, very skeptical about the amount of heavy lifting those two letters are doing here) to create a sort of Alexabot of someone which will exist after their death as a moderately-interactive sort of voicenote or something (this is not how they sell it on the website). This is definitely a future, if not necessarily the future – our hubris as a species mean there’s no way in hell that there won’t be a significant market for digital immortality in some shape or form – and the base-level idea of being able to access a version of a friend or loved one even after they’ve died is innately appealing; it reminded me a bit of this story from a few years back about creating a chatbot out of a your chatlogs with an old friend. There’s also, though, something pretty joyless and horrid about the way its described – the first groups of people it suggests as being valuable to preserve beyond biological life are ‘CEOs, founders and philanthropists’, which reeks of the fcuking VC community, and, whilst it’s obviously a business, there’s something particularly bleak about the pricing structure on the site and the fact that the entry level bracket gives you a legacy AI based on a single hour of conversations with the person in question. There’s a (slightly derivative, fine, but) scifi novel in this somewhere, about the question of differential legacy options being determined by income and how this might end up having interesting – and unpleasant – effects on how society develops in the future, but I’m far too lazy and untalented to write it.
- Keen: Keen is basically Pinterest but made by Google; it’s BRAND NEW and doesn’t look like it will ever be anything other than A N Other of Google’s failed experiments, but if you’re interested in seeing how they approach the question of online curation and scrapbooking it could be worth a peek.
- Mapping Future Karens: I can’t tell whether this is a side effect of being appallingly online and therefore having been exposed to an absolute tsunami of Karen-related content over the past 18m or so, or simply the fact that it’s yet another example of the fact that‘everyone is shouting at everyone else all the time and it’s VERY NOISY and a bit tiring, but I am very, very bored of the whole thing – still, this is another excellent piece of research and datawork by The Pudding and so I’ll put aside my Karen disdain for a moment to bring it to you. The site has analysed trends in child naming in the US over the past few decades to track those which most closely map trends for the name ‘Karen’, to determine those names which are most appropriate to use as alternatives to this hugely-played-out-non-slur (I don’t know why, but my personal favourite option is ‘Pamela’ – I think it’s to do with exactly how dismissive you can make the opening syllable sound if you put your mind to it); they also go on to use the data to attempt to predict which names will in the future be an equally-acceptable analogue for the mixture of white privilege and irritating entitlement currently represented by the K-name. Julie – your time will, apparently, come.
- The Evolution of Stock Photography: This is, I think, a piece of promo by a stock photo business, but it’s really nicely done and deserves its place in the non-branded-crap section this week; the site takes you back through the past 10 years to show how the aesthetics of what’s considered appealing and ‘normal’ in stock libraries has changed, and how that reflects wider shifts in social and cultural mores. Interesting, particularly if you work in advermarketingpr, and a nicely-made site to boot.
- The Electric Zine Maker: This is ACE. I’ve been of the opinion for a few years now that zine culture and the general aesthetic associated with it has been slowly coming back into the mainstream; in many respects, Stories are modern zines with the cut-out aesthetic of the stickers, the mismatched fonts and their use as a means of personal creative expression for millions of kids worldwide. The Electric Zine Maker ‘ is a printshop and art tool for easily making and printing zines. Art, writing, and image tools are included. This is freeware made with collaboration in mind.’ You need to download the programme, but once you have it’s surprisingly powerful; you can do a lot with what seems at first quite a limited toolset, and it’s amazing quite how quickly I flashed back to making comics as a kid with pritt stick and scissors and literally no artistic talent whatsoever. Honestly, if you’ve got kids who are halfway-creatively-incllined, this is PERFECT for them.
- Chris Nolan in Fortnite: This is happening TODAY (Friday 26 June), so if you happen to be reading this in the future then, well, SORRY. Still, if you see this in time then I would heartily recommend giving this a look; as part of the promo for whatever his new film is, three of Christopher Nolan’s films are being shown in Fortnite’s Party Royale non-shooty game environment (the film you get to watch depends, for various legal reasons, on the region you’re in; UK users get the Prestige, re it only being rated 12); even if you don’t have any particular interest in watching the movie, how it works and how people engage with it will be fascinating to see; this is a genuine world first, I think, at least in terms of the scale of the event; whilst you might well have had film screenings in Second Life before, those will have been attended by approximately 300 people, whereas this is going to get a 6-7 figure audience. Once again, this may not be the future of entertainment, but it’s certainly a future.
- Goal Click Refugees: I have featured Goal Click in here before (and I should point out that it’s made by some lovely people who I used to work with many years ago), but I have no problem doing so again; the project, which captures the different faces of football around the world through analogue photography, recently partnered with UNHCR to document the ways in which refugee communities worldwide find solace through sport and football in particular. There are some beautiful photosets here, and some wonderful stories, and whilst I am obviously a horrible, cynical vacuum of misanthropy, I was also quite moved by a lot of this.
- Train The Mars Rover: Want to do something more useful with your time than whatever pointless charade you undertake Monday to Friday to stave off penury? Well why not join in this project to help train the Mars Rover to recognise different terrain types, to minimise the likelihood that future missions don’t get stymied by the plucky little vehicle getting stuck on a rock or something. It’s not, fine, the most compelling job in the world – you’re literally just looking at photos and determining whether or not they contain rocks or not, basically – but at least you can say that you’re in some small fashion contributing to something moderately-useful, which is significantly more than you can probably say about ‘writing a communications strategy for a major high street bank’.
- Link To Text Fragment: Thanks to Paddy for this – a HUGELY useful Chrome extension that lets you hyperlink to specific bits of text on a webpage. It’s not interesting, fine, but it is incredibly useful indeed.
- Chiara Luzzana: The professional website of apparently world-renowned sound designer Chiara Luzzana, which I am featuring because a) fcuk me does this sound lika a cool job – how does it work? Do people come to her and say ‘Chiara, I would like some sounds please!’ and Chiara says “ok, I will design you some sounds!’?; and b) honestly, the music that plays across the site is SO, SO GOOD that I would legitimately pay money to hear it. Honestly, your tolerance for bullsh1t ‘lo-fi beats’ will be absolutely decimated after hearing this.
By Alex Void
FOR ALL THOSE OF YOU WHO ARE MEANT TO BE AT GLASTONBURY THIS WEEKEND BUT OBVIOUSLY AREN’T, THE BBC’S FESTIVAL HOMEPAGE HAS AN ABSOLUTE MOTHERLODE OF CLASSIC SETS FROM THE FARM WITHOUT THE HORROR OF OTHER PEOPLE AND BEING CHARGED NINE QUID FOR CIDER AND WITHOUT ALL THE HILARIOUS FUNSTERS WHO ENJOY WANDERING THE CAMPSITES SHOUTING ‘DAVE!’ AT 8AM!
THE SECTION WHICH THINKS THAT DRIVING 200 MILES TO GET TANKED UP AND SUNBURNT AND THEN TO SUBSEQUENTLY TAKE A SH1T ON A BEACH IS IN MANY RESPECTS QUINTESSENTIALLY ENGLISH BEHAVIOUR, PT.2:
- Read The Plaque: Stuff I learned when we were all still bothering with lockdown – Vincent van Gogh once lived near me in London (shamefully, despite there being a school and a cafe and several streets within spitting distance of my flat which bear his name, I had, er, never paused to consider why) and there’s a blue plaque and EVERYTHING. Who doesn’t love a plaque? NO FCUKER, that’s who! This website celebrates, er, plaques, in all their glorious commemorative wonder; it’s a remarkably comprehensive database of, er, plaques (fcuk me it’s impossible to work out how else to refer to these; ‘enamel memorystamps’? ‘embossed recollection aides’? No idea) from across the world which you can browse on a map should you so desire. Honestly, you might not think this is going to prove a compelling way to spend your time, but I found myself spending longer than I might have expected exploring the commemorative metalwork (that’ll do!) of Central Europe. Did you know that there’s a plaque commemorating the visit of problematic racist Winston Churchill to Hrad Veveri in the Czech Republic? You do now, and I bet you’re grateful.
- Project Shakespear: I am quite curious to see what happens with this; fine, there’s every likelihood that it will never come to anything and that its creator will get bored, or that people will stop discovering it, but, equally, it’s entirely possible that a (completely nonsensical, almost-certainly vastly scatological) novel will emerge. Project Shakespear (the spelling upsets me too, but here we are) is another collaborative writing project, but more ambitious than others I’ve featured here previously. Rather than simply attempting to create an Exquisite Corpse-type game to cobble together short stories, this is seeking to crowdwrite an entire novel; the project’s yet to officially kick off, but visitors are invited to submit a 100-word paragraph to the site and to vote on other people’s submissions; Every hour, on the hour, the site will pick out the paragraph with the most upvotes and add it to the novel. It’s such a fascinating idea, and pleasingly hopeful – I can’t help but think that this is condemned to end up full of horror because, well, we’ve all been online for a while now and we know how this stuff works, but I am going to make a note to check back on it at the end of July and see how it’s doing just in case it’s somehow managed to create something that doesn’t feature Nazis violating Shrek.
- What Is The Stupidest Thing That You’ve Done?: Reddit is amazing for many, many reasons – it showcases the full gamut of (Western, very online) life in its multifaceted glory and horror, and is one of the rare sites which within the span of minutes can make you feel both hugely inadequate and hugely superior. This link definitely falls into the latter category – the full title of the thread is ‘what is the stupidest thing that you’ve done just to show you could?’ and MY GOD there are some cracking entries. If I tell you that at the time of writing the top response is ‘let a friend taser me in the butt for 1000 pesos (approximately $0.30)’ you’ll get a feel for the tenor of the responses; you will all find your favourites, but my personal pick is the simple purity of ‘i ate a bar of soap’.
- Photographs of the Solstice Eclipse: So it turns out the world didn’t end this time either – surely one of these predictions will have to be right someday, though? Whilst it’s obviously miserable that we’re all still here, console yourself with this selection of photographs of both the eclipse and people across the world enjoying it.
- Analog: On the one hand, this made me quite angry (my girlfriend just wandered in, peeked at the site over my shoulder and was irritated within five seconds, so I’m slightly-reassured that it’s not just me); on the other, it’s hard not to admire the chutzpah and grift on display here. Analog is a Kickstarter project which has raised 100k with over a month left to go – what is it? It’s…hang on, here’s the short blurb…it’s ‘a physical companion for your digital tools that helps you prioritize and focus on your most important tasks.’ What that actually means – and bear with me here, this is pretty fcuking revolutionary – is that Analog is…a notepad! A notepad whose creator suggests ought to be used for you to copy out all the stuff in your digital planning and project management tools like Trello and the like, so as to make you MORE EFFICIENT AND PRODUCTIVE. Now anyone who’s worked with me can attest to the fact that I have a personal and idiosyncratic approach to ‘getting stuff done’ (mainly involving resentment and profanity), but even I can see that spending time not only entering tasks into a digital task management system and then writing exactly the same information down on little cards is not a hugely productive use of one’s time. Also, and this bears repeating, IT’S A FCUKING NOTEPAD! Oh and EVEN BETTER, it’s a subscription-based service! Yes, that’s right, you can subscribe to PAPER! Honestly, I take it all back, the person behind this is a genius and I admire them unreservedly.
- Mount Trumpmore: This doesn’t seem to be a joke, but equally it doesn’t seem to be affiliated with the Trump campaign in any way, so it’s entirely possible it’s a joke or just someone looking to take advantage of the idiocy of his base to make a few quid; that said, the site claims that a proportion of the price of each one of these monstrosities goes to Trump’s coffers, so maybe not worth buying one even as a joke. It’s definitely worth clicking, though, if only to test the veracity of the claim that it’s “modeled after Mount Rushmore and made in the USA, each piece is unique and handcrafted by skilled artisans”; I would put money on this being 3d-printed and the artisans not in fact being skilled in any way at all.
- Fold’n’Fly: Quite possibly the greatest collection of paper aeroplane designs that you will ever come across; if you live anywhere vaguely-high-rise, I would urge you to spend the weekend making these and seeing how far you can get them to go – ideally with the addition of small, plaintive and vaguely-unsettling messages written on them, like “please bring real toilet paper” or “timecube is real don’t let them stifle the truth.”
- Mowned: Possibly the most baffling web project I’ve seen all week, Mowned seemingly exists to provide a service that I don’t think anyone, anywhere, ever, has asked for – to whit, the ability to create an online record of all the mobile phones you’ve ever owned (hence m-owned DO YOU SEE??). I have literally no idea at all why you might want to do this, but should you be in the market for a new project then perhaps creating a loving tribute to all the exciting and esoteric devices you used to own before all phones became largely-indistinguishable black rectangles of misery.
- Fishes Get Stitches: A TikTok account owned by someone called Kate but where the real star is Kate’s possum, Pablo. LOOK AT HIS LITTLE TOES!!
- Welcome Dream: Found via Kicks Condor (who continues to be one of the best I know at finding genuinely interesting, borderline outsider art webstuff), this is a fascinating, labyrinthine project whose aim I can’t even begin to speculate at but is basically some sort of massively-interlinked surrealist hypertext maze thingy. Yes, I know that’s an absolute horrorshow of a description, but click the link and have a wander through a few of the pages and then imagine how you might go about explaining it to someone. NOT SO SMUG NOW EH?? I honestly can’t describe this – it’s like a weird mix of cut-up fiction and poetry and disconnected fragments of someone’s half-finished psychedelic scifi novel – but I can recommend spending a while getting the measure of it.
- Stinkymeat: A genuine relic of the old web, this – Stinkymeat is about 20 years old now, and is still, I promise, a classic. The site description tells you all you really need to know – “This is what happened in the summer of 2000 when I took 3 kinds of meat, 19 days, and 1,000,000 maggots, and stuck them in the yard of my unwitting neighbor.” – but it’s the commitment to the gag, and the photography, that really makes this. I know that this is a VERY old man thing to type, but this just wouldn’t be the same as a story on Insta, and I am sad that all the stupid stuff that people are doing for fun in 2020 is unlikely to be recorded for posterity in the same way as a plate of rotting protein from two decades past.
- A Twitter Thread of Sampled Songs: If you didn’t see this doing the rounds earlier this week, then ENJOY – you will, I promise, learn LOADS from this, even if you’re generally quite good at the ‘what obscure sample was used in which popular song?’ game. BONUS FACT – I also learned this week that Chas and Dave technically appear on the Eminem track ‘My Name Is’, by dint of the fact that they were session musicians on the Labi Siffre song that it samples. I know, I know, you all find me incredibly attractive right now.
- Hard Lads: I think I’ve featured the work of Robert Yang in here before, but, in case you’re not familiar, Yang is a digital artist and game designer who makes small, technically-impressive games which explore questions of masculine identity and sexuality (you may know him from such works as ‘The Tearoom’, all about cottaging and the police and urinals). This is Hard Lads, a game inspired by that iconic video of those incredibly fcuked northern lads hitting each other with chairs in a back yard somewhere, where you get to play a surprisingly-robust physicsy game of ‘hit the lads with the chairs’ whilst at the same time exploring questions of modern masculinity. I think this is GREAT; if nothing else, you definitely won’t see anything else like this this week.
- A Better World: Last in the miscellanea this week, a wonderfully-ambitious little text game in which you change elements in past history and see what the unexpected and complex ramifications might be for the subsequent future. How would history have been different had Mesopotamia held power for longer, or had Jesus escaped crucifixion? It’s simple, and there is (obviously) a pretty hard limit to how much stuff you can change, and there are a limited number of scenarios predicted for how this plays out, but I really, really enjoyed the way it lets you tweak seemingly small things and envisage the wider knock-on implications. There’s the seed of something really, really interesting here.
By Angela Deane
THE CIRCUS OF TUMBLRS!:
- Mildly Interesting: Not in fact a Tumblr! Still, it feels like it ought to be and that’ll do. This page collects some of the best and most interesting of the posts from the ‘Mildly Interesting’ subreddit and, well, it’s mildly interesting. Don’t say I don’t deliver on the promises made in these descriptions.
THE TROUGH OF (INSTA) FEEDS!:
- Sasha Gordon: There are a bunch of good artist feeds in here this week, Sasha Gordon’s is one of them. Her work portrays women in pleasingly-atypical fashion, both in terms of the style of the work and the way in which her subjects are presented; this is really striking and rather wonderful.
- Jan’s Postcard Stories: OH THIS IS SO LOVELY! “A daily dose of microfiction with bespoke illustrations by amazing little artists” – each day this account posts a kid’s drawing and a story to accompany it. Honestly, this is charming in the best way,.
- VR Rosie: Rosie Summers is an artist working mainly in tiltbrush in VR; this feed collects her work, and whilst it’s not the same as experiencing it in the medium in which it was constructed, it gives a good idea of her considerable talent.
- Sarah Selby: A digital artist working around the intersection of digital technology and sociocultural enquiry, Selby’s work asks “How does digital culture contribute to the development and implementation of new and pervasive technologies? How many of our online trends can be explained by emergent social phenomena, and how many have much more orchestrated origins?” Helpfully, it’s also really good.
- Tomoya Sakai: I am a sucker for beautiful ceramics, and these really are beautiful ceramics.
- William Cobbing: Massively odd, very tactile sculptural performance art. And yes, I know, but you try describing this stuff.
LONG THINGS WHICH ARE LONG!:
- A Guide To Allyship: I like this a lot – partly because it presents itself as a guide rather than the guide, partly because it wears its open sourcing on its sleeve and is free with the credits to those who’ve contributed to its genesis, and partly because it’s designed to be a guide to allyship in general rather than for a particular group of people. Whether it’s being a better ally to black, queer, trans or any other marginalised group, this is a decent set of principles to read and generally abide by. Oh, and if the term ‘ally’ for some reason gets your back up – language is hard – then perhaps consider an alternative title for this to be ‘a guide to not behaving like a selfish cnut’, because in many respects, stripped of the language of social activism, that’s just what this is.
- The Long Con of Britishness: I know that Laurie Pennie’s very much persona non grata in some circles, for a variety of reasons, but her writing is nearly always interesting, whether or not you agree with her. It just so happens that I do agree with her about the central premise of this essay – that the idea of ‘Britishness’ and the qualities the rest of the world seems to ascribe to us as a nation, sits quite at odds with the reality of our role in world history and the way in which our country has behaved for centuries. “The plain truth is that Britain had, until quite recently, the largest and most powerful empire the world had ever known. We don’t have it anymore, and we miss it. Of course we miss it. It made us rich, it made us important, and all the ugly violent parts happened terribly far away and could be ignored with a little rewriting of our history.” Quite.
- On Finding Your Heroes Are Monsters: The videogame and comic book industries are currently having their own reckoning with sexual harassment and inappropriate behaviour, and there are an awful lot of people being outed as having done some fairly awful things. In comics, one of those who’s come to light as having behaved in questionable fashion is Warren Ellis, whose recommendation I know quite a few of you read Curios as a result of. This article, by Harris O’Malley, is a good overview of what Ellis did, but also (and more interestingly) an exploration of the culture that existed whereby it was possible for him to treat women the way he did. It’s staggering how many people, particularly in games and comics but in many, many other disciplines besides, don’t seem willing to acknowledge the fact that in lots of cases these are less stories about sex (though they very often are) and more stories about entrenched power dynamics and the culture they foster and create.
- The Verification Handbook: This is hugely useful for any journalists who might be reading this – but, equally, for anyone at all who’s interested in general questions around social media and data and what you can unwittingly reveal about yourself via seemingly innocuous use of apps. “This book equips journalists with the knowledge to investigate social media accounts, bots, private messaging apps, information operations, deep fakes, as well as other forms of disinformation and media manipulation”, runs the blurb, and whilst I’ve not read all of it, the bits I’ve explored look like a decent primer for the layman.
- Investigate TikTok Like A Pro: A fairly natural segue (RIP) from the last link, this is Bellingcat once again doing God’s work and explaining how you can find stuff on TikTok using the app’s own search and some clever little Google tricks. Seriously, you might not think you need this but you’ll be grateful for it next time a client asks you for an overview of who’s big on Fiat500 TikTok and you have no idea.
- How Uber Ruined Jump: I promise, you don’t need to have a deep interest in the bikesharing market to find this interesting – whilst it does a decent job of explaining the various players and how it all works, it’s far more a piece about how the rapacious nature of modern business funding – O HAI VCs! – contributed to the gutting of a business and, quite possibly, sort-of fcuked the market for bikesharing overall. By the time you reach the end of this piece you will think even less of Uber as a business, impossible as that might seem.
- The Conquest of Bread: Or, if you’d like an alternative title, ‘why food absolutely is a political issue you moron’. Jonathan Nunn is on good form here for Tribune Magazine, but as with everything he writes your enjoyment is likely to be determined by where exactly on the left-right spectrum you sit. I personally agree with every word of this, but if you don’t then you probably won’t enjoy the rest of the essay either (also, fcuk off Tory scumzzzzzz): “Food writing blithely acknowledges inequality but offers nonsensical solutions. If only we bought meat from high street butchers rather than supermarkets then animal welfare would be better; if only we stopped buying sugary and processed foods our diets would be healthier; if only we ate locally and ate British, the flaws in our farming systems would be ironed out. There is a reluctance to admit that not only are all these things caused by a capitalist food system that will always put profit margin over any duty of social care, but that they are also characteristics of the system itself rather than defects that can be eventually ironed out.”
- My Little Pony vs Nazis: Fair play to whoever wrote the headline on this one, as it guaranteed its virality this week – “My Little Pony fans confront their Nazi problem’ is pretty much a 2020 buzzword bullseye – but it was a shame seeing it shared so widely by people who’d obviously not taken the time to read it, as the LOLing over the title obscures the fact that this is actually a really good piece of journalism, on both the history of how MLP became an unexpected haven for some pretty nasty right-wing propaganda and, more broadly, how that’s progression is increasingly characteristic of the normalisation of hard-right ideology amongst subcultures. There’s a line in here that is the best articulation of How This Stuff works that I’ve ever read – about the creation of environments “where racial slurs are just jokes but anti-racism makes you a “social justice warrior”, and how that acts to normalise hatespeech and prejudice, and penalise and exclude any attempt to reject it.
- The Social Media Cult: I know that I am unusually attuned to this sort of thing what with the terrifying amount of INTERNET STUFF I consume, but I swear I’m seeing a significant uptick in cult-related stuff in recent weeks. This, though, is using ‘cult’ in the very literal sense – this is a quite mental story of how two common-or-garden-seeming pyramid scheme grifters ended up basically creating some sort of web-based alien-worshipping doomsday cult. It’s interesting in a slightly-depressing way, but it’s also quite easy to imagine how you could effectively employ a lot of these sorts of techniques amongst some of the more committed fandoms to quite scary, large-scale effect.
- Games As Work: Specifically, why do so many videogames now feature gameplay elements which are effectively rote tasks which require regular completion, just like a job? ‘Control and agency’, basically – there’s something really interesting about the growth in entertainments like this and the parallel sensation (which I don’t think is a massive reach to suggest is shared by many here in 2k2k) that our lives are in fact largely without any sort of meaningful agency whatsoever and the world is a slightly-terrifying runaway train complete with sparking wheels and a frantically-galloping cowboy alongside attempting vainly to lasso their way onto the engine to wrest back control.
- Changing Your Name To Turok: As I often bang on about, I used to work in videogames PR – videogames PR was at the time a very sketchy gig in the UK, dominated by one agency with slightly-less-than-ethical connections to the games press and where games were still not taken seriously AT ALL meaning that getting coverage beyond a review required some…creative thinking (or, if you were me at the time, chucking the Daily Star on Sunday a grand every time we had a launch in exchange for them dressing up Amii Grove as a topless version of whatever female character was in whatever game we were peddling at the time. Amii and I had some nice chats, and I do hope she was successful in setting up her own modelling agency I should have warned her that Jermaine Pennant was a wrong’un, though). One INFAMOUS stunt involved the publishers of a game called Turok offering cash prizes to anyone who changed their name by deedpoll to that of the titular character – coverage was GREAT, as you’d expect, but as this excellent little piece of investigative journalism goes, it was all lies. I love this story, not least as it proves that a certain UK agency person, renowned for being a thieving cnut who bolsters his own reputation for being funny and clever and creative by nicking other people’s material wholesale, has always been an ethically-dubious chancer.
- The ‘Don’t Leave Me Challenge’: I was very grateful for this piece as it explained some of the context behind the otherwise-baffling flood of videos I’ve seen all over the place this week or people making really, really bad puns and then running away. It’s nice to see someone bothering to find the originator of the meme and crediting them for it – there’s an increasing backlash from young black people on TikTok seeing their dances, memes and gags get appropriated by other, more famous ‘stars’ without attribution, so it’s good to see this being at leats in some part reversed. I still don’t find it funny, though – I think this is very much my ‘old’ Rubicon.
- The Virtual Pub Quiz: God I would LOVE to do a proper pub quiz in a proper pub – I don’t, though, ever need to do one on videocall ever again (a sentiment I imagine shared by every single reader of this newsletterblogtypething); still, however sick of them you might be, I challenge not to have your cockles warmed by the story of how one bloke accidentally ended up creating the most popular quiz of the pandemic, and how it’s changed his life for the better. Honestly, this is REALLY NICE.
- Jellyfish Are Ace: An excellent essay detailing all the reasons that jellyfish are far, far cooler and more important than you might previously have thought; I found the fact that they are basically floating forests for small marine creatures quite wonderful, and this piece is peppered with lovely facts about how we should probably pay more attention to jellies and their health than we currently do. Also, jellyfish is fcuking delicious – I mean it, slice it up and serve with sesame and chili and soy, it’s oddly like biting into your own gums but in a good way.
- Eyes in the Sky: I think I stumbled across the website Rest of World about a month ago; since then I’ve included a piece from their every week in Curios. The writing’s uniformly excellent, and the range of pieces and places from which they report is a wonderful antidote to the painfully West-centric media diet I mostly consume. This article, about how Indian authorities have brought in high-tech surveillance techniques to help manage the crowds of literally millions of people which descend on the Ganges to take a cleansing bath each year. Honestly, I love this so much – aside from anything else, it’s such a weirdly Gibsonian fusion of ancient practice and very, very ‘now’ tech.
- The Rise of Alt-Black Girls: A really interesting piece at the broadening of ‘accepted’ identities for black women in the UK and beyond. The rise of Afropuk over the past few years is one of the more obvious examples of this, but the article explores how the UK’s alternative scene in particular has become (slightly) more diverse in recent years. “For many, recent representation and reappraisal of history have played a big part in reconciling blackness with cultures they were taught were opposed to it. Much of alternative culture has black roots: many forms of body modification derive from African culture, for instance. “Once I discovered rock ‘n’ roll was invented by black people – Big Mama Thornton, Sister Rosetta Tharpe, and therefore anything that branched off and came after wouldn’t have existed without African Americans who created that sound – I was at peace. But regardless of the connection, I’m old enough and wise enough to know the music I listen to doesn’t impact my blackness.””
- A History of Reddit: This is a Mashable article (sorry), so it’s not particularly well-written or insightful; it’s worth reading, though, if only for the appreciation it gives of quite how influential Reddit has been across several different distinct eras of online culture.
- My Kid Could Do That: Superb bit of near-future scifi writing, exploring the coming world of augmentation and asking questions about the extent to which talents and the outputs they result in can be considered to be ‘ours’ when they are plugged into us as software updates. It may seem fanciful, but this is only a small step away from the current reality whereby everyone’s a prizewinning photographer thanks to the magic AI photoenhancing software in their phone.
- The Blacker The Berry, The Quicker They Shoot: Brilliant, beautiful writing by Shamecca Harris, on growing up black in the US over the past three decades. Honestly, this is wonderful.
- Someone Is Wrong On The Internet: Finally this week, Irina Dumitrescu with hands-down the best piece of writing about what the inside of my head feels like right now, and quite possibly about how yours feels too, capturing the mental effects of four months of low-level pandemic panic like noone else I have read. It might not help, but you will at least feel like someone understands.
AND NOW, MOVING PICTURES AND SOUNDS!:
- And if that’s not enough, The Artist formerly known as Sadeagle sent me this – a full-length, terrible, 70s sword’n’sorcery EPIC called ‘Hawk The Slayer’. It really is as good as you hope (by which I mean very, very bad):
- This is a heavy-metal version of ‘We’re Going On A Bear Hunt’ performed in Animal Crossing by heavy metal kids TV crossover pioneers ‘Slay Duggee’. It is both everything you expect and far, far better:
- I was never a fan of CarterUSM, but this song – by former Carter frontman Jimbob – absolutely blew me away; it’s called ‘Jo’s Got Papercuts’ and, fine, it’s not musically groundbreaking but it is a CRACKING tune and it’s tells a story in that beautiful way that reminds me of Squeeze and those sorts of people, and, whilst it’s obviously a bit of a throwback in terms of the way it sounds, everything it talks about is very, very now. Honestly, this is great:
- HIPHOP CORNER! Last up this week, new Public Enemy – Chuck D might be getting on a bit, but there are few people in rap who can do righteous indignation as well. This is called ‘State of the Union’ and OH THAT’S IT LAST LINK I’M DONE TAKE CARE HAVE FUN AND WEAR SUNSCREEN AND TRY NOT TO SH1T ON ANY BEACHES IF YOU CAN PLEASE HELP IT I LOVE YOU AND WILL BE BACK SOON BUT TIL THEN PLEASE BE NICE TO EACH OTHER AND INDEED YOURSELVES I LOVE YOU TAKE CARE I LOVE YOU I LOVE YOU BYE I LOVE YOU BYE!: