I don’t know about all of you, but I am absolutely destroyed by the Olympics this year. Whether it’s a side-effect of The Year We’ve All Just Had(™) or the fact that, as I age and inch closer to the grave, the youthful athleticism of the contestants is so wonderful and fresh and…so…distinct from my own experience of the pre-senescence meatprison that I call a ‘body’ to make the mere experience of watching them almost unbearably-poignant, I seemingly can’t get through even the skeet shooting without shedding several litres of saline from my face.
Anyway, I am knackered, which is why I am taking a couple of weeks off to see whether my girlfriend remembers who I am and, if she doesn’t, to embark on ‘Reeducation Procedure #3’ (physically painless for all; emotionally krakatoan for at least one). Curios will return in a fortnight’s time, on 20 August, unless I die or lose all my digits in some sort of freak accident – in the meantime, I hope the following links and words go some way towards helping fill that gaping void between ‘birth’ and ‘death’ we all find ourselves trapped in.
I am Matt, this is Web Curios, and you are about to be very disappointed by everything that follows.
By Koen Hauser
THE SECTION WHICH WOULD LIKE THIS TO BE THE WEEK WHEN WE ALL DECIDE THAT WE ARE NO LONGER GOING TO PLAY THE GAME OF EVEN ENGAGING WITH THE AWFUL PEOPLE AND THEIR AWFUL TAKES AND WE PUT AN END TO THE OH-SO-MODERN OUTRAGE GRIFT ECONOMY BECAUSE, REALLY, ARE WE NOT ALL TIRED OF IT AND ARE WE NOT ALL SO BORED? pt.1:
- Project December: We kick off this week with a link that also appears in a longread later in Curios – I believe that this is what is called 360-degree-curation, or at least it would be if people bothered to develop terminology for the general act of ‘plucking stuff from the grab-bag of content that is the internet and presenting it as a weekly digest’ (why don’t people do that?). Project December is by artist Jason Rohrer, and is effectively a public-access portal to textual AI that anyone can use for a small fee to create and interact with GPT-3-type chatbots, trained on whatever text you like. So, to give you a more simple example, you could spin this up, train a fresh AI on a passage of text from your favourite character in a novel, and HEY PRESTO, a chatbot that will let you talk to, I don’t know, Professor fcuking Snape (I SEE YOU, MILLENNIALS). I can’t stress how amazing this is – to be clear, you need to pay to access this as there’s a baseline cost to cover the tech, but the entry level price is under a fiver and it is 100% worth it to experiment with something which honestly feels like magic. I trained it on a few hundred words of me and spent a few hours one afternoon chatting to myself and…well, frankly it was horrible, like staring into a funhouse mirror and having the distorted reflection taunt you with a drooling, gummy smile on its face, but it was sort of brilliant at the same time. Honestly, I can’t recommend it enough – and you really need to make sure you read the accompanying piece in the longreads down the bottom too.
- GPT-J: Textual AI plaything of the week #2! I actually discovered this via Jason Rohrer, above, who’s had to move from using Open AI’s GPT-3 software for Project December to using this open source equivalent – and now everyone else can use it too! This is the first time I’ve seen a post-GPT-2 textAI available for open use like this, and I encourage you to have a play with it – give it an input and it will spin up some follow-on copy, and let me tell you it is good. The really interesting thing about this is that it’s an open API and so you can use this to make all sorts of fun things (while it exists) – all the branded text AI idea you had, but had to shelve because you didn’t have a GPT-3 access key? MAKE THEM HAPPEN! If nothing else, why not see how much of the rest of the afternoon’s work you can get this to do for you?
- VW Virtual Drive: Volkswagen trying to flog a car here by letting you take a VIRTUAL DRIVE in a VIRTUAL CAR along VIRTUAL ROADS, all the while allowing you to turn your VIRTUAL HEAD (upsettingly, Volkswagen have inexplicably decided to give you full, 360-degree head motion, meaning your VIRTUAL NECK has some potentially-fatal VIRTUAL DISLOCATION ISSUES, but worry about that when you get out). This is quite shiny, but very, very boring – the main reason I’m including it is because of the fact it’s reasonably smooth webwork, and because of the fact that in both scenarios (you can choose between driving along the VIRTUAL COASTLINE or the VIRTUAL MOUNTAINS (sorry, no idea what’s happening with the capitals here, will try and snap out of it)) you are seemingly driving along a stretch of road that never ends. You sit in the car, the scenery scrolls past, but nothing on the horizon gets any closer. I can only imagine that Volkswagen is using digital design to communicate something about the human condition or making a point about purgatory, but it creeped me out rather.
- Team GB NFTs: You may be excited about the gold and silver in the BMX; you may be in awe of Adam Peatty; you may even still be making jokes about how funny and silly it is that they make the horses dance; still, all of the ‘lympics so far pales into insignificance when compared to the GREATEST and most important development of all – THE TEAM GB NFT STORE! Yes, that’s right, you too can now buy a blockchain-encoded link to a digital souvenir of the games – in this case, illustrations and other digital gewgaws like little Team GB shirts and virtual badges! I am sure this was all done with the best of intentions, but I did laugh when reading the press release about this, which rather read as thought it had been penned in February when this was all new and exciting and THE FUTURE: “This new initiative with Team GB comes as NFTs are experiencing an astronomical surge in popularity and when values are reaching new highs.” – er, really? Also, LOL at “Team GB and TOKNS will also work on ensuring the Team GB NFT programme will be carbon net positive.” – er, how exactly. Still, VIRTUAL DOODLES!
- The Times, 03 Jan 2009: Do you have access to a physical copy of The Times of London from 03 January 2009? No, you probably don’t, do you? Shame, though, as due to the fact that there’s a tangential link between the frontpage of the paper in question and the genesis of bitcoin, there’s an outside possibility that one or more bitcoin lunatics (I believe this is the official terminology for people who’ve gone cryptomad) will pay unconscionable sums of money for a copy of the thing. This site is seeking to manage the sales of these INCREDIBLY IMPORTANT RECORDS OF BITCOIN’S AMAZING JOURNEY, presumably taking a cut – there are currently 8 verified copies of the paper in question floating around, apparently, with prices being quoted varying from £200k to £1m (all payable in crypto, I presume). Look, this is obviously utterly idiotic, but if you know a hoarder who read the Times a decade or so ago, might be worth popping round for a cup of tea and a chat about how much they might want for that stack of yellowing newsprint in the corner.
- Pogged TV: This is an interesting idea – Twitch highlights, automatically clipped and posted to this channel as a rolling, automated ‘best of’ the platform. The clips are selected based on a fairly brute-force measure of ‘volume of comments and emotes over time’, with high comment/emote frequency connoting high-value action on-screen; this is…inexact and not always accurate, based on my casual viewing of the channel over the past week or so, and the nature of Twitch communities means that you’re likely to see clips here that very much excite a particular fandom but which mean less-than-nothing to the casual observer; as I type, the clip being shown is of some VTuber kawaii-squealing over some POV footage of…someone taking a pickle out of a jar? I think, more than anything, this proves that Twitch fandoms are utterly baffling to anyone who’s even slightly outside them (and that automatic assessment of what is ‘entertaining’ has a way to go).
- Human Experience Management: How would you like to be sold some enterprise software? Would you like to be able to calmly explore the features and benefits of the product in your own time? Or would, instead, you like to experience them via the medium of an INCREDIBLY DULL semi-interactive webcomicexperience which over the course of 10 interminable minutes will use a fictitious research trip to Antarctica to take you through some of the things that said software can help you accomplish, delivered with all the grace and elan of a crippled slug? If the latter, then WOW are you in luck! This is really nicely-made; the animation’s obviously been pored over, the webdesign is competent, and to its credit it does communicate what they are selling reasonably effectively – it also takes about 9x as long as it needs, and is no fun. Look, SAP, next time you make one of these can you chuck in a skidoo minigame, or a remixed version of ‘Smack the Penguin’ or something? Please?
- The AR Olympics: This is a bit of a crap link, sorry – it takes you to a not-particularly-good website which I presume is a general ‘AR and associated tech roundup repository’, which I wouldn’t normally link to but just take a moment and scroll down to the third gif on the page and see what you think. This is a look at some of the AR tech that’s being trialed by some of the Games’ tech sponsors – in this case, a Hololens build that lets you experience the swimming in augmented reality. I…I don’t know what to think about this – on the one hand, there’s something unpleasantly-bloodless about the idea of seeing the racers rendered as heatmap-looking digital avatars; on the other, it’s SO COOL! You can see the individual swimmers and their limbs far better, meaning you can see variances in technique more easily, and you can get a better sense of who’s where, relatively speaking, and the ‘see the world record line as you watch the race live, just like you do on telly!’ thing is quite amazing. I am sure that purists (are there ‘this is how you must watch the Olympics!’ purists? Probably, which is a depressing thought) will hate this, but I am slightly awed by the potential here.
- Explore China: Given it’s so unspeakably hot here that I literally did a presentation in my pants yesterday (one of the benefits of having refused to do video calls since the start of the pandemic is that I can get away with things like this), I may spend this afternoon sheltering from the temperatures and exploring virtual China instead, You can now access Baidu Maps on desktop, which includes the Google Streetview-style ability to navigate around using a person’s-eye (well, car’s eye, to be exact) viewpoint. Want to take a stroll through rural China? Why not! Want to spend a few hours looking at the terrifying number of 10m+ cities that are dotted all over the country and which despite their size noone knows anything about? Fill your boots! Want to explore the internment and reeducation facilities in which the country’s Uighur population is subject to what looks an awful lot like a version of ethnic cleansing? Yeah, you might struggle with that tbh. Still, if you ever wanted a ‘wow, China is really amazingly unknowable mindfcukingly huge, isn’t it?’ moment, this will facilitate such a thing.
- No Paint: This is very odd and a bit obscure, and I love it. No Paint is a little digital toy that lets you make strange images using your phone’s camera (or your webcam). There’s a strong ‘Gameboy Camera’ vibe to the outputs you can make from this, in the best way – I suggest you open it up and have a play, and then introduce the STRONGEST of aesthetics to your Insta/TikTok/Snap post-haste. There are VERY minimal instructions – I encourage you to play around and see what happens, and don’t be scared when nothing makes any discernible sense whatsoever.
- Olympic Tattoos: A lovely collection of photos of Olympian ink. These are heartwarming, particularly the various iterations of the Olympic rings, but there’s nothing here to match the insane majesty of Italian footballer Francesco Acerbi who has the full cast of Madagascar on his sleeves.
- Wanda Cobar Costumes: Will Hallowe’en be a thing this year? Will the oddity of the previous 18m see a boom in the late-October bacchanal as everyone rushes to squeeze into a ‘Sexy COVID Virus’ costume? It may seem a bit early, but perhaps it’s worth thinking about your outfit now to ensure that you’re not shown up when it comes to the BIG DAY – and if you’re thinking ‘Hallowe’en’, why not also think ‘I WILL DRESS LIKE A COCAINE-ADDLED 70s ROCKSTAR!’? This costume retailer on eBay will apparently sell you creditable knock-offs of the sort of getup that Freddie Mercury and David Bowie were strutting around in five decades ago – and, fine, a bunch of other cool outfits too, for women as well, but really the draw here is in wondering ‘could I get away with the incredibly-figure-hugging spandex cut-out harlequin outfit? Really? Even without the padding?’ READER, LET ME ASSURE YOU THAT YOU VERY MUCH CAN!
- Mordents: I have many failings as an adult, to many to enumerate here, but one that I feel quite keenly is my continued inability to really enjoy ‘classic’ classical music (don’t get me started on opera) – despite my advancing years, the Damascene conversion to the ineffable beauty of Brahms, say, is yet to transpire. Still, if you’re less of a boorish lout than I am, musically-speaking, you might enjoy Mordents, which is a seemingly-newish online magazine all about classical music but, well, sort of cool. Unusual in terms of classical music sites in giving very impression it’s written by and for people under the age of 60, this features writing about new music, old music, performers and theory, all with a nice, modern design and a copy style that uses terms like ‘fierce’ and doesn’t seem embarrassed about doing so. I can’t guarantee that it will make you like classical music, but it may make the genre less immediately-unappealing.
- Finger Hustler: I remember when miniature skateboards (fingerboards?) briefly became a thing in UK playgrounds, backed by what I recall being a briefly-ubiquitous advertising campaign which somehow made it look as though these little bits of plastic could do kickflips on their own across exercise book gaps on your schooldesk (they couldn’t, turns out), but I had totally forgotten that they were even a thing until a few years ago when videos of people demonstrating odd levels of skill started cropping up on YouTube. Now there’s this TikTok channel, and, honestly, I was mesmerised – seriously, I am now convinced that fingerboarding is the coolest sport IN THE WORLD and that it has a serious shot at consideration for the ‘28 Games. LOOK AT THE MINIATURE TRAINERS!!!! Seriously, click this link and if you’re not entirely-charmed within 15 seconds you can have a full refund.
- Lora Webb Nichols: Incredible photos of American rural life at the turn of the 20th Century. “Lora Webb Nichols (1883-1962) was born in Boulder, Colorado. She lived most of her life in Encampment, Wyoming where she was married to Albert (Bert) Oldman in 1900, and to her cousin Guy H. Nichols in 1914. She worked in the Encampment post office, owned and published the Encampment newspaper, and worked as a ranch cook. In 1935, she moved to Stockton, California, where she became superintendent of the Stockton Childrens Home. Upon retiring, she returned to Encampment, where she wrote her unfinished memoirs, “I Remember : A Girl’s Eye View of Early Days in the Rocky Mountains.” Collection contains transcripts of her diaries (1897-1907), an unfinished manuscript for “I Remember”, and photographs of the Encampment, Wyoming, area.” Honestly, take some time to browse through these – the interface is a little clunky, but the faces in these are amazing (there’s a whole novel in this portrait of a local Glee Club, for example).
- Bubble: Ironic comment on the nature of the startup industry? WHY NOT! Amusingly – or not, depending on your perspective on the madness of the startup ecosystem right now – this came to my attention as a result of having raised a bunch of funding this week, thereby making its name a self-fulfilling prophecy. I can only imagine the self-indulgent erection sported by the head of brand as a result. Anyway, Bubble is a platform which is designed to let any old no-code idiot cobble together a business from other people’s codescraps – think of it as a sort of Visual Basic but for internet business ideas! You could theoretically spin up your own clone of Uber or Doordash or Deliveroo, using plug-and-play out-of-the-box solutions and needing no coding expertise whatsoever! There’s, er, no real explanation as to why this would be a good idea – why making copies of stuff that already exists out of bits of code you didn’t make, via a third-party platform is a recipe for success rather than a means of parting fools from their money – but, well, EVERYONE’S AN ENTREPRENEUR NOW BABY! Can we all PLEASE stop pretending that we’re in a post-hustle economy? We’re not, at all.
- Meaning Supplies: This is interesting – thanks to reader Marie Dolle for sending it to me. It’s a project by Joe Edelman, which you can listen to them explain in a bit more detail here, to create connections of meaning and feeling between practices and behaviours and desires; a bit like a mind-map of sentiment and emotion and related action. I am doing a terrible job of describing this, I realise, but there’s something really fascinating about the idea of attempting to apply this sort of taxonomical approach to something often perceived as abstract.
- Snub TV: “Snub TV was an alternative culture television program that ran from 1987 to 1989. The original program, while made in the UK, was developed by American producer Fran Duffy and aired as part of the Night Flight variety show. In 1989-1991 a UK version aired for three seasons on BBC 2’s Def II strand. Snub’s main focus was on documenting musical groups such as The Stone Roses, with the UK version putting an emphasis on the indie and underground music scene in the UK during the rise of Madchester. The British series also featured other acts such as comedians. Snub TV has been credited with giving many then-new bands and musical acts initial and extra exposure to the major music business circles.” This is an amazing archive – episodes from 1989-1991, spanning three series and featuring people like The Boo Radleys and The Jesus and Mary Chain, and SO MUCH BRILLIANT HAIR. Students of The Culture of the Past could do worse than spend some time with this (also, WOW was everyone malnourished back then – they all look very much like they need some fresh fruit and possibly a steak dinner).
- The Fractal Vise: Do YOU want to own a Fractal Vise (a vise which has multiple edges of descending size to allow it to grip even small or irregularly-shaped objects with a, er, viselike grip)? WONDERFUL! This is included in part because they are wonderful-looking and obscure things, in part because the website is a classic example of ‘it’ll do’ webdesign, but mainly because of this wonderfully-mysterious bit of copy: “It will be a while yet before I have time to start production in quantities. However if you would like one you can order by placing a down payment. The final price of them has not been determined. You will be contacted when yours is ready if you make a down payment. At that time we will know the price and you may pay the remaining balance or you may cancel and have your down payment returned. Or if at any time you become tired while waiting you may cancel to have your down payment returned.” Has…has anyone ever bought one? Has one ever been completed? This feels slightly like the setup for a horror film, with a Hellraiser-esque cacodemon luring vise enthusiasts to a bloody, high-pressure demise in service of some unknowable eldritch maleficence from the Old Times (or at least it does to me).
NEXT UP, WHY NOT TAKE A JOURNEY THROUGH THE IMPECCABLY-CURATED VINYL COLLECTION OF TOM SPOONER WHO USED TO LIVE OPPOSITE ME AND WHO I HAVEN’T SEEN IN LITERALLY 25 YEARS BUT WHO I AM NOW VAGUELY CONNECTED TO AGAIN VIA THE MAGIC OF THE WEB!
THE SECTION WHICH WOULD LIKE THIS TO BE THE WEEK WHEN WE ALL DECIDE THAT WE ARE NO LONGER GOING TO PLAY THE GAME OF EVEN ENGAGING WITH THE AWFUL PEOPLE AND THEIR AWFUL TAKES AND WE PUT AN END TO THE OH-SO-MODERN OUTRAGE GRIFT ECONOMY BECAUSE, REALLY, ARE WE NOT ALL TIRED OF IT AND ARE WE NOT ALL SO BORED? pt.2:
- Moonbeam FM: This sounds awful, doesn’t it? I mean, the name ‘Moonbeam FM’ conjures up some sort of hideous, twee, “…and then all the little woodland creatures gathered while wise Mother Owl spun her timeless yarns beneath the speckled leaves of the yew…” horrorshow – whereas the reality is in fact FAR WORSE. Oh, ok, maybe I am being unfair here – perhaps those of you who hate podcasts less than I do will find something to love. Moonbeam is basically a highlights clip-reel of ‘best bits’ from lots of different podcasts to aid discovery (although, seriously, much as I am increasingly of the belief that every free moment at a computer must currently be spent signing up for, writing or reading newsletters such is there incessant proliferation (I WAS HERE FIRST FFS), so I am convinced that there can’t be any podcast enthusiasts left who aren’t already struggling under the weight of content to consume – noone can surely want MORE, can they?) – the app offers a ‘personalised feed’ (ALGOCURATIONzzzzzzzzzzzzzz) of podcast best bits, you can share your favourite clips on social, you can even tip podcast creators…actually, on reflection this could be a really smart concept if it takes off, shut my stupid face. If you have a podcast you can sign up to feature on the platform – seems worthwhile, probably, but obviously Web Curios takes no responsibility for any references to ‘your immortal soul’ made in the T&Cs.
- Absurd Design: A selection of free, high-quality surreal illustrations for you to use as art on your website as an alternative to the tedious, flat, single-colour-block style whose ubiquity is practically offensive by now in 2021. There’s only a limited number of free illustrations here, fine, with more available on subscription, but it’s a lovely little project and the art style’s charming, and I melted slightly at the description of the project on the ‘About’ page which you might well do too.
- Natsukashii: There’s been a small boom in recent weeks in sites that let you create old-school imagery – this version is a small, tile-printing toy which lets you (with a bit of fiddling) create some quite striking imagery, all rendered as though on a slightly-flickery CRT display circa 1983. It takes a bit of getting used to, but the mouse and keyboard controls are reasonably easy to grasp and there is something hugely-charming about the images you can churn out. If feels to my mind that it could benefit from a feature that lets you automatically export a knitting pattern from your final design (you’ll see what I mean when you click the link, honest – this could quite easily be repurposed as a ‘Christmas Jumper Design Toy’ and actually now I come to think of it that is a GREAT idea, particularly if you can recruit a team of willing care home residents to churn them out on demand. MILLIONAIRES BY CHRISTMAS!).
- Government Deals: This is an INCREDIBLE resource. GovDeals is the site which the US administration uses to dispose of assets it no longer needs or wants any more – so federal property, old department of education surplus, stuff that the police impounded and now want to get rid of…all available for auction! Not quite sure what the deal is with shipping outside the US, but if you’ve ever fancied owning your very own bin truck then there are over a dozen available to bid on RIGHT NOW! Fancy taking a punt on what is described simply as ‘14lb of assorted Swiss Army knives’? FILL YOUR MOTHERFCUKING BOOTS! I am not usually an acquisitive person and have limited interest in ‘stuff’, but even I am tempted by some of the crap on display here (sadly, though, the section headed ‘tanks’ is not what you hope it is).
- 80s Footballers Aging Badly: I was wondering during the Euros whether footballers have gotten better looking over the course of the past few decades, or whether it’s simply that the advent of HD coverage and 3million cameras covering every blade of grass has made players understandably a bit self-conscious about their looks; I am pretty sure that if I knew I was going to have several-million people being treated to a close-up of my face I would engage in some pretty radical plastic surgery, for example. Anyway, that’s by way of poorly-phrased introduction to this Twitter account which features players from the 1980s who despite being in their 20s and 30s looked very much like they had a few more miles on the clock. If you are a man in his 40s (specifically, if you are me) this will make you feel momentarily better about the pace at which you are hurtling gravewards.
- Having Fun On Stage With Everyone: A properly odd little audiocurio, this – Having Fun On Stage With Everyone is a concept album, pieced together from live recordings of various artists throughout the 20th Century and offering you the concert experience…but without the music. Instead, the track features applause and cheering and the between-song chat and, honestly, it’s weirdly pleasing and compelling. Even better, it’s available via Creative Commons so you can fcuk with it however you please – I think there’s an interesting project in taking this non-musical concert audio and creating something musical from it, personally, whether chopping and screwing it into beats or using it is a sampling base – then again, though, I have literally no musical talent whatsoever, so perhaps I am talking bunkum. Anway, this is a project by one Gavin Edwards and you can read more about it here should you so desire.
- The King of the Internet: Anyone can be King of the Internet – for a fee. Each time a new king wants to take the throne, the cost rises by $1. Currently the King is one Abraham Vegh, but you could topple them for a paltry $35 – apparently the proceeds all go to charity (is it bad that I don’t totally believe this?), and for a small donation you get your photo and name on this website until the next schmuck comes along with $36 to take your place. This is utterly pointless, very silly and SO Web 1.0 – perfect, in other words. Also, this mechanic could totally be reworked for a brand with a high-traffic url so, er, STEAL AWAY!
- Avant Garde: Avant Garde was a late-60s counterculture magazine which ran for 12 issues, all of which have now been digitised and placed online. The style and art direction and photography here is AMAZING – hugely of its time, obviously, as evidenced by the multiple adverts for drug paraphernalia scattered throughout the various issues I browsed, the propensity for artistic nudity (male and female, so well done there Avant Garde!), and the unmistakable sense that almost everyone who wrote for and read this magazine used the phrase ‘balling’ as a euphemism for fcuking. If you want a small window into the cool kids of 55 years ago, this is an interesting place to start – oh, and at least one of these features an original Roald Dahl short story, should you need another reason to explore the archive.
- Flag Search: Start to draw a flag and the software behind this website will try and guess which flag you’re attempting to render. Largely useless, but fun in terms of seeing behind the curtain and getting a sense of how the machines ‘see’ and identify objects; answers are provided as you draw, so you can get a sense for how the software is analysing and assessing based on your pixel-by-pixel additions.
- Affirmations Generator: Or, more accurately, a really simple ‘image plus top text and bottom text meme generator’ – still, it’s a really simple and easy to use one, and I personally am going to spend the two days before I go on leave next week communicating with my colleagues solely via the medium of the default frog image you get served on landing.
- Trainalyser: Oh, this is really interesting and super-clever. If you’re currently training for something physical, or trying to learn a dance or routine, or taking up yoga, or frankly anything physical, this could be hugely helpful. The app basically lets you film yourself doing something physical – holding a yoga pose, say – and compare your body movement and positioning when doing that to anyone else. So, for example, you could upload a specific TikTok dance and then film yourself doing it, and then compare the two to see how close you are to the original, or use it to analyse your form when, I don’t know, playing golf or something. Potentially SO useful for training kids, or anyone really – if you, unlike me, have a healthy and pleasant relationship with your body and like teaching it to do new stuff, this could be super-useful. It lets you see stuff like this, which is frankly amazing and I could watch all day – bodies are incredible.
- The Kimono Project: Well this is LOVELY – a kimono design created for each of 207 nations from around the world, a project which I think is linked to the Olympic Games but which I confess not really having investigated properly as I got distracted by the beautiful kimonos. Kimonos? Kimonii? Anyway, these are really quite stunning – the English one somehow manages to feature the Palace of Westminster and still doesn’t look sh1t, to give you some idea of the design skill at play here.
- All Trails: It does rather feel like there’s a TREND here of lots more of these sorts of websites doing the rounds at present – guides to the great outdoors and LONG WALKS, as we all seek to stretch out our legs after 18m of largely-sedentary living. The latest of these sites to pass across my gaze is All Trails – a searchable archive of walking, cycling, running (hobbling, limping…) routes across the world, free to access (though you need to sign up) and searchable by location, type of trail, all that jazz.
- The Mexican Cartel Spoils Lottery: Or to give it its official name, the ‘Gran Sorteo Especial’! On 15 September, 22 prizes will be allocated via a lottery in Mexico – tickets are on sale now, for the chance to win such incredible prizes as, er, the house in which drug lord ‘El Chapo’ was finally captured by authorities! “The Mexican government is raffling off the site of Guzmán’s dramatic escape, along with seven other houses, seven apartments, five lots, a ranch, and a 20-seat viewing box at the Azteca Stadium in Mexico City. The prizes — confiscated assets from various criminal operations and now owned by the government — are valued at a total of $12.5 million.” On the one hand, you could possibly imagine that there’s a bit of potential bad karma attached to some of these properties, which do very much give off the vibe of ‘terrifying timeshare complex where snuff movies were filmed and which are still redolent of the terrified p1ss of ill-treated pet tigers’; on the other, 2,000 square metres of druglord opulence for the price of a lotto ticket! I’m buying 12.
- The Magic Mushroom Map: Of course, rather than going on improving hikes or bike rides, or hoping against hope that you win an incarcerated cocaine magnate’s country manse, you could spend this summer picking hallucinogenic mushrooms and getting stoned out of your gourd; Web Curios does not judge, Web Curios simply proffers the links and asks NO QUESTIONS about what you do with them. Curious amateur mycologists amongst you might enjoy this – also, it’s BASED ON AI AND MODELLING and so is basically a perfect Curios link. The site’s owners use previous information about growth hotspots along with weather data to provide forecasts of where is likely to be a good spot to go picking; for a meagre £5, you get access to all their information, which frankly seems like a bargain price to pay to keep you in pixellated vision all Summer. Upsettingly, Italy seems to be entirely dry – if any readers fancy sharing theirs, please do get in touch via the usual channels.
- Can’t Unsee: An excellent example of the ‘sounds terrible, why am I still playing 30m later?’ genre of game – this one asks you to do one simple thing, to whit pick the correct choice between two examples of digital design. Do DM threads have rounded edges? Should that font be bolded? Incredibly annoying and yet equally incredibly compelling, and will also quickly make you aware of the fact that you have a deeper and more visceral appreciation of the rules of social media app design than you do of the faces of your loved ones.
- Windsor Road: A tiny, beautiful little Gameboy Colour-type storygame, about the memories of living with your friends and being at university. American, but universal enough that you will all find something to move you, I think.
- The Olympic Doodle: Finally in this week’s miscellanea, I assume you have all played this by now but if not then WHY NOT IT IS SO GOOD?!?!? Honestly, this is the best Doodle game…ever, I think, with multiple minigames and a *story* and picture-perfect 8-bit graphics and, honestly, I swear when I was a child (sorry) stuff like this used to retail at about £30 and STILL wasn’t as good. Honestly, so so so good (and you can also navigate to the archive of all other Google Doodles, should you need more timewasting assistance).
By Ryan Heshka
THE CIRCUS OF TUMBLRS IS ONCE AGAIN SADLY BEREFT OF ACTS!
THE TROUGH OF (INSTA) FEEDS!
- Mohamed Samir: Describing themselves as a ‘multidisciplinary designer’, Mohamed Samir’s insta feed features some beautiful examples of the sort of typographic work that I don’t ordinarily see in Arabic; there’s something wonderful about the way they play with the script in this poster-style work.
- Sara Andreasson: I made a passing flippant reference earlier to ‘flat, colour block illustration art style’ and how it’s blandly taken over everything – Sara Andreasson’s work is the GOOD variant, feeling very much of the now but imbued with infinitely more personality than the often-identikit work ploughing this sort of visual furrow (should Mx Andreasson ever see this, I would like to point out that this is intended as a compliment despite my cackhanded prose).
- Thibaut Derien: Photographs of eerily-lonely scenes in France (and quite possibly elsewhere). Derien makes you feel like there are a lot of dead people somewhere just out of shot in his images (or at least he makes me feel like that, and I rather like it).
- Past Postcard: This feels like one of those accounts that is super-famous in a completely different bit of the web to the one I inhabit – I mean, there seems to be a book of it and everything. Anyway, it’s new to me and maybe it is to you too – this Insta account posts pictures of old postcards along with fragments of the messages written on them – so you might get a postcard of Balmoral, with the fragmentary line “Eddie and I went to Church on Sunday and guess what Prince Philip was there, that made my day perfect.”, or one of a kitten with the simple line “Daddy is home at last.” Perfect internet.
LONG THINGS WHICH ARE LONG!:
- Horsehistory: This is a really smart and interesting piece of writing about language and what it means and how it works; specifically about how words are gateways to new ideas and new ways of thinking, and sometimes new words may be necessary to develop new modes of thought and enquiry. I find this stuff fascinating – I love language, but have never studied it properly (I have friends who’ve done English Language degrees and I am slightly awed listening to them talk about the way in which language functions, stuff that I have literally no idea about and couldn’t explain beyond my rough ability to use said language) and then I read phrases like this that stop me in my tracks and make me want to go back to university again: “New words are addresses to previously unused embeddings in concept space.” I mean, seriously, you can’t not fall in love with a sentence like that.
- AI and Analogies: Or, ‘why the use of analogies or at least the ability to grasp what they are and understand them as a conceptual category is potentially really significant in the search for an AI that ‘thinks’ in an way analogous to that which we do’ (you can see why I went with the shortened title). “Analogy isn’t just something we humans do. Some animals are kind of robotic, but other species are able to take prior experiences and map them onto new experiences. Maybe it’s one way to put a spectrum of intelligence onto different kinds of living systems: To what extent can you make more abstract analogies? One of the theories of why humans have this particular kind of intelligence is that it’s because we’re so social. One of the most important things for you to do is to model what other people are thinking, understand their goals and predict what they’re going to do. And that’s something you do by analogy to yourself. You can put yourself in the other person’s position and kind of map your own mind onto theirs. This “theory of mind” is something that people in AI talk about all the time. It’s essentially a way of making an analogy.”
- Doing TikTok Right: This is VERY NICHE, but if you do social media and if that includes TikTok then you should probably take a look at this article by the person who does the TikTok channel for videogame sensation Among Us (the one with the slightly-bloblike cartoony space people that everyone was playing in lockdown 1 when they got bored of Animal Crossing). It’s a really comprehensive breakdown of what worked on the channel, how they tracked success, how they piggybacked on trends…all the sorts of things that you never see anyone talking honestly and openly about, and which Victoria Tran (for that is the person’s name) should take huge credit for sharing and laying out so helpfully. Seriously, if you do social for any sort of entertainment brand, or even a non-entertainment brand which has a degree of community around it, this is a must-read.
- The History of Olympic Gymnastics: In a week in which the world’s worst people have decided to use athletics as their ‘I will now say dreadful things about THIS PARTICULAR THING for attention, everybody look!’ soapbox, why not spend some time reading about the history of the sport in modern competition, from classical civilisation to the past century’s professionalisation of the discipline. Lots to love in here, not least the images of people doing athletics at the turn of the 20th century with what looks like equipment nailed together from driftwood and nary a crashmat to be seen – what sort of lunatic would attempt the parallel bars when they are not even parallel due to being made of incredibly-knotty-seeming wood? This is in Smithsonian mag, and so the final paragraphs are a bit US-centric – and obviously this was written prior to the games, before Biles’ withdrawal – but it’s interesting to see the evolution of the discipline. Still, there has never been anyone like Biles before – I hope we get to see her be amazing again one day.
- An Amazing Olympian: Ok, this is not a particularly brilliant piece of writing, but I was struck by the story here and how it’s microcosmic of the Games as a whole – just fcuking amazing human beings, often people who are amazing in multiple fields, working really hard to attain excellence. I am a deeply miserable and cynical human being who has no personal ambition whatsoever and who honestly hates effort and hard work of almost any sort, and EVEN I am moved by stories like this one, of Austrian cyclist Anna Kiesenhofer who trains on her own, does her own diet regimen, and is a world-class mathematician who works at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology, and who won a cycling gold earlier this week. Honestly, this is incredible.
- On Geofoam: I appreciate that you may not be immediately compelled to click on a link to several thousand words about industrial building materials, but I promise you that there is NOTHING BORING about this admittedly very boring-sounding article about geofoam; effectively massive polystyrene blocks that are used in large-scale landscaping, and which are increasingly stuffed under layers of turf to create landscaped areas. Is it a good thing to have loads of polystyrene stuffed into the soil? NO IDEA! Were I an artist (I am very much not; perhaps why I have ideas like this) I reckon I could probably get some ‘conceptual’ mileage out of using this as a sculpting material.
- vTubers: I’ve featured CodeMiko in Curios before, but this is an excellent overview of the general vTuber landscape by the smart people at Rest of World. I’m still on the fence as to the overall breakout potential of vTubing – there does feel like there’s something a bit Japan-centric about its appeal, but then again we live in an era in which Manga and anime are incredibly universally popular, and we’re all increasingly comfortable with AR masks and filters and the like, and so possibly this is going to become a new mainstream thing. I remember a few years ago at the BBC, my friend Tom and I got very excited by the idea of a dating show which effectively used this sort of tech to mask participants whilst still letting them communicate via facemapped CG avatars – it is STILL a great idea, and loads better than that Netflix one which I am currently quite bitter about as it’s simply not as good as my version (he says, grumpily). Anyway, I have convinced myself in the course of this para that vTubers are going to be A THING, so read all about it at this link and feel smug when you’re AHEAD OF THE CURVE in 3m time.
- From Brent to Lasso: Or, ‘how TV got all sincere after years of miserable ironic distance”. I haven’t seen the Lasso thing, I am not going to watch the Lasso thing, but the broad premise here – that in TV but also across the broader artistic and cultural spectrum we have shifted from detachment and irony to a position of sincerity and connection – seems correct (if not one I like, to be clear; I am good at ironic detachment, my non-feeling carapace has been hard-won FFS!). “It would be hacky to blame this shift on the internet. But I will be just hacky enough to say that it parallels the internet. Outlets like Twitter promote passionate fandom and unambiguous condemnation — and, because trolls can use these platforms’ anonymity in bad faith, this can lead users to assume that every complex, distanced or sardonic comment is in bad faith, too.” – this struck me as a good summation, and I say that as someone who finds the seemingly-ubiquitous use of ‘good faith’ and ‘bad faith’ as descriptors of motivation one of the most infuriating linguistic tics of the current age.
- The Poppers Factory: This is a history of poppers. Let me be clear – when I was about 15-17, I loved poppers. Not in a sexy way, more in a ‘wow, this reminds me of glue but it’s SO MUCH BETTER (and also it doesn’t feel like bits of my brain are about to fall out of my nose after sniffing it)’ way. My friends and I would do them whilst smoking weed as a bit of a counterpoint to the terrible hash we’d often be stuck with – I can categorically say that I have never laughed as hard or as long during that brief-but-heady period of experimentation when we decided to see what would happen if you used three bottles of amly in a bong instead of water (it is possible that Curios would be significantly better had I taken better care of my braincells back then). Anyway, that’s by way of tedious memoryhole preamble to this piece, which tells the story of how poppers were invented, sold and marketed as a lifestyle accessory to generations of gay people and club kids and confused people who really did buy them as ‘air freshener’. I love the detail that all brands of poppers are exactly the same – only the packaging and prices differ.
- The Bottoming Revolution: I have limited personal interest in bottoming as a pastime, but this piece on how youngsters in the queer community are sharing useful information and honest advice about what it’s actually like to be fcuked, and the sort of occasionally-messy practical questions that tend not to be addressed in bongo, was fascinating. As ever, there is a TikTok for bottoms (botTikTok? No, maybe not on reflection), and the article speaks to some of the bigger name creators in the space about what they want to communicate and the need for this sort of information. There is a glaring error in the second paragraph that made me almost stop reading (they use ‘dearth’ when they mean its antonym), but it’s super-interesting (but, to be clear, it is all about bumsex and its occasional hazards, so, er, caveat emptor).
- Roller Pigeons: This is a beautiful piece of writing, about Cornell Norwood, an LA-based pigeon fancier and breeder. It’s one of those great essays that you could probably take in at least 3 different directions – there’s the story of Cornell and his passion for the birds and his life on the edges of LA criminality; the story of pigeons themselves, and how their breeding and upkeep provides a weird sort of glue for communities of (often marginalised) men worldwide; and the story of race and class in the US in the late 20th-Century – and the essay touches on all of them. Honestly, this interested me enough that I spent 10 minutes looking up the flight patterns of roller pigeons on YouTube – and then later this week I found this Reddit thread on pigeon breeding, where the comments felt like they came from some of the same sorts of people described in this essay. Sometimes it feels like everything in Curios really is linked in some way to the roiling oddity of the cosmos (but mostly it all just feels terrifying and jagged).
- The Food of Suburban Shopping Centres: Another week, another article from Vittles – this time, a paean to the odd beauty of London’s suburban shopping centres. I feel a personal degree of connection to the one in Wood Green mentioned here as it’s near my girlfriend’s, but the feelings elicited by these pieces, covering blasted architectural horrorshows from all over the capital, from the Elephant of the past to the oddity of modern Lewisham, will be familiar to you even if you’ve never visited one of the specific places mentioned. My personal ‘yes, this is a London shopping centre’ is the smell of sweetcorn sold in small pots from a cart (WHY?) – your own Proustian signifier will of course vary.
- The Dignified Exit: On assisted dying, and what it means to ‘die with dignity’. I have personal interest here, but I challenge anyone to read this and come to the end and still think that it’s ok not to afford people the opportunity to leave with painless grace when they have had enough, for whatever reason they choose.
- Making Billy Joel: This is a BRILLIANT story, and I am going to believe it is all true. Imagine you worked in a record store in smalltown America in the early-70s and you found a record that noone had really cared about on release but which you recognised was an absolute banger. Imagine you decided that you were going to do everything you could to make this months-old LP a hit. Imagine that that record was Piano Man, by Billy Joel. A superb tale, brilliantly told and SO redolent of the past – I really want this to be the way it really happened, and I really hope that Billy Joel reads this and buys the author something nice.
- The Retiree: A short story about billionaire space travel by Venkatesh Rao, which I promise you will make you think a lot more than that premise might suggest and which asks a very significant question about the limits that can or should be placed on wealth and personal power, even when it’s employed for ostensibly munificent means.
- Pebbles: A beautiful piece of writing by Max Porter, author of ‘Grief is the Thing with Feathers’ and ‘Lanny’, about childhood and memory and the stories we tell ourselves and each other. Gorgeous.
- The Jessica Simulation: Finally this week, I cried quite a lot reading this and you might do to. It’s the article I alluded to all the way up top when writing about Project December, and it’s the story of Joshua, who lost the love of his life to illness when he was in his 20s and who never really got over it – and so turned to an AI art project to attempt to bring back Jessica, his dead girlfriend, to help him deal with the fact that she no longer existed. This is a beautiful story, superbly-told, and asks so many fascinating questions about what is ‘right’ and ‘healthy’ in terms of coping with grief, and the extent to which our paraeidolia extends to emotions, and you might need some tissues to hand. So so so so good.
By Shane Pierce
AND NOW, MOVING PICTURES AND SOUNDS!:
- First up, this is an advert for a podcast – yes, yes, I know – but I found it rather affecting and I think you might too. James McMahon’s a journalist and writer whose life has been blighted by OCD; in recent years he’s been diagnosed and taken steps to come to terms with his condition. He’s launching a podcast called ‘Shame’, in which people who for various reasons have been shamed or felt intense shame discuss their experiences – this is the trailer for it, which I think is a beautiful and moving piece of short storytelling.
- This is new from Deerhoof, and is called ‘Department of Corrections’, and exists in a very strange and specific place on my personal musical spectrum of musical appreciation where it is just on the cusp of ‘unlistenable garbage’ and ‘I must listen to this every second of my life til I die’. See where YOU place it!
- “A selection of some of the In-Show packaging we created for season 4 of Cake, a curated assortment of shorts on FXX and FX on Hulu” – this is a series of animated promos, fine, but I *love* the style and vibe here, and would quite like to be able to eat all of these animations (you will see what I mean).
- I remember when Coldplay first appeared in the…mid-90s? And the song ‘Yellow’ was everywhere, and I was righteously furious at its popularity because HAVE YOU LISTENED TO THE FCUKING LYRICS THEY ARE GARBAGE FFS. Anyway, this is a cover of that song, by Ian Sweet, and it has singlehandedly redeemed it for me – this is superb, and even though the word ‘haunting’ should be banned from any writing about music it still sort of applies here.
- Finally in this week’s videos, a track which is by all accounts one of the tracks which is currently playing all over Cuba as protests against the regime continue (or at least a remix of it – it’s the only version I could find with decent accompanying visuals). It’s called ‘Oe Policia Pinga’, which means (roughly) ‘Fcuk the Police’ or ‘the police are [insert expletive]’, and it slaps and OH THAT’S IT WE’VE RUN OUT OF CONTENT SHUT DOWN THE INTERNET IT IS EXHAUSTED AND, HONESTLY, SO AM I AND SO I WILL TAKE A FORTNIGHT OFF AND RETURN HOPEFULLY RESTED AND FULL OF VIM AND VIGOUR AND BEANS AND IN THE MEANTIME I HOPE YOU ALL TAKE CARE AND HAVE A NICE TIME AND DON’T MISS ME TOO MUCH (BUT STILL A BIT) AND THAT YOU HAVE A WONDERFUL FEW WEEKS AND THAT I WILL SEE YOU BACK HERE IN MID-AUGUST I LOVE YOU I LOVE YOU BYE I LOVE YOU BYE!