Category Archives: Uncategorized

Webcurios 07/05/21

Reading Time: 35 minutes

You’re lucky to be getting this, if I’m honest with you (‘lucky’ is doing a lot of work here, I realise) – I feel a bit iffy after vaxx #2, but figured that the only thing that was likely to make me feel worse than the jab was being backed up for another week with 100 odd links, and so here I am, purging myself into your inbox again. Hi! Happy Friday!

I am tired, I am achey, and I’m still not quite up to historic Curios typing speed, meaning I am also slightly late – I hope you are NONE of those things, and that instead you are bright of eye, bushy of tail, girded of loin and READY TO CLICK.

I am Matt, this is Web Curios and you are probably wondering why you haven’t unsubscribed yet. ‘Enjoy’!

By Miki Kim

LET’S KICK OFF THE MUSIC THIS WEEK WITH A PLAYLIST BY MANGA SAINT HILAIRE, ABSOLUTELY MY FAVOURITE UK MC BY MILES!

THE SECTION WHICH WOULD ONE DAY LIKE TO LIVE IN A COUNTRY WHERE THE LEFT WINS ELECTIONS ALL THE TIME, JUST FOR A CHANGE, TO SEE WHAT IT MIGHT BE LIKE, PT.1:

  • The Museum of Annoying Experiences: One of two websites in here this week that made me stop and give a small internal round of applause to whoever it was who persuaded the moneymen to sign it off. This is from Zendesk, a customer services software company, and for some reason is presented as a fictitious museum from the future (the year 3000, to be specific, though sadly there don’t seem to be any references to the ‘fineness’ or otherwise of anyone’s great-great-great-granddaughter) (that’s a gag that’s not really going to land outside of the UK, on reflection) in which bad customer service has been eliminated, and humankind apparently looks back on it with detached amusement, to the extent that a digital museum has been built to showcase all these examples of silly corporate behaviour from The Bad Old Days. What this ends up meaning is a pseudo-3d, slightly-vaporwavey (it’s not quite that aesthetic, but you’ll see what I mean), rendered space which you can click around to see exhibits mocking things like Captchas, and, er, branded baseball caps for customer service staff. This is…utterly pointless? I mean, I’m sure that there’s some sort of link to products and services that the company flog in here somewhere, but there’s not even an obvious link to the company’s main website visible anywhere. Basically what I am saying is that this website appears to serve no real purpose whatsoever, and as such is a complete, total and utter waste of a few tens of thousands of corporate cash, which, to my mind, makes it PRACTICALLY ART!
  • Beautiful Imaginary Faces: I know that ‘this X doesn’t exist’-style computer-imagined faces are no longer that exciting (how jaded we have all become, and how soon!), but these made me do a proper double-take. This is a link to a bunch of bits of code that are floating around the web, of Chinese (I think) origin, and all designed to create specific types of fake faces – basically it’s just slightly-filtered versions of StyleGAN2, making it faster to create a ‘chinese popstar’ or ‘hollywood star’ than it would be if you were going through ALL the models rather than a small subset. Anyway, click the link and scroll down and then get to the ‘supermodels’ gallery – honestly, I appreciate that writing things like this as a middle-aged man does rather invite expressions of guffawing disbelief, but I really don’t spend any time at all looking at photos of beautiful people (I find them hard to look at, like the sun), and yet I cannot stop looking at these. Uncannily beautiful – I mean really otherworldly – and strangely-compelling, if you think that things are weird now just you wait a few years until this stuff + the next iteration of GPT + reasonable text-to-speech synthtech = people literally falling in love with beautiful, imaginary computer people who will scam them out of their life saving. Look, I know it sounds hyperbolic, but £10 says that story comes true by 2030 (I WILL COLLECT MY WINNINGS). If you want to see what this stuff looks like when you mess around with it, Shardcore has been setting some pretty faces to music, to see what happens when you treat the human face like a graphic equaliser for breakbeats – it’s rather cool, and I would love to see a whole Venetian Snares song visualised like this (specifically, this one).
  • Stumbled: Many years ago, when Web Curios hadn’t even been thought of and poor, desperate office monkeys the world over slavered for the distracting balm of Odd And Interesting Links to help them pass the working day, there existed a site called StumbleUpon, one of the wave of ‘social bookmarking’ platforms which briefly caused every single ‘share’ button on the web to be populated with 318 icons, and which were designed to add a slight social element to everyone’s webbrowsing and linksharing. StumbleUpon shut a few years ago, becoming something called ‘Mix’ (no, I know you don’t care, but completeness compels me). Anyway, this is by way of long-winded preamble to this site, Stumbled, which is loosely-inspired by the same principles as StumbleUpon was all those years ago, and which is seemingly a one-person project designed to help people find interesting, niche, odd stuff online. Anyone can submit sites – they’re vetted by one Kevin Woblick and then, if considered ‘good’ (no idea what the criteria are here, but I’m willing to bet Kevin’s a touch more discerning than I am when it comes to what laughably gets termed ‘curation’) it gets added to the selection. Click a button, get a new, interesting, hand-curated website – simple as that. This is charming – not least because it speaks to something I’m seeing more and more of, a desire to help people rediscover the slightly-odd, janky, home-made, craft-y side of the web.
  • The SAP Procurement Tour: The second ‘take a bow, webpeople!’ corporate website of the week, this is a truly-baffling effort by SAP – one of those incredibly-tedious companies that does ‘cloud’ or ‘business solutions’ or somesuch thing; honestly, can you imagine having to sell people ‘a database, but ON THE INTERNET!’ for a living? – which seems to be trying to sell you the company’s procurement and logistics software by taking you on an animated bicycle journey and very slowly explaining to you via animation, voice-over and some really pointless clicking that…er… hang on, what is it telling me? GYAC, SAP, if your website takes 6 minutes to communicate information which I could have read in 30s (and if it does so via the medium of a remarkably-soporific voice-over) I am unlikely to spend a lot of time there. Honestly, I would love to know how this got approved. “We need to sell more software – how are we going to do it?” “Well, we’ve never tried spending £50k on a lightly-interactive narrative website telling the human stories of the people who we help every day…? Also, my sister-in-law runs a webdesign agency” “GREAT! Next year we’ll do an ARG!”
  • Twitter Spaces: Poor the Clubhouse, all withering after the frothy excitement of way back in January. It’s hard not to look at Twitter Spaces – which, honestly, works really well and which is yet another example of the company all of a sudden getting quite good at shipping new product – and see it, and the eventual Facebook copycat product, as the most likely bets in the audio game right now. Spaces is as of now available to anyone with 600 followers or more – should you want to turn your Twitter Groupchat into an HILARIOUS zoo-radio-style ‘show’ for all your ‘fans’ (you do not have fans; Jesus, perspective) to enjoy, now’s your chance! Honestly, I am sort of grimly-fascinated at the idea of quite how much terrible, terrible content is going to be visited on the world as a result of this – we could be in for a short-lived boom in ‘Overheard on Spaces’ horrorshow human zoo-type wrapup programming.
  • Tip Jar: Seeing as we’re talking about Twitter features (and yes, I know that this is exactly the sort of stuff for which I could have considered keeping the ‘social media’ section of Curios, but, honestly, even typing those two words together makes me feel slightly ill, so), the ability to send money directly to Twitter users through the platform is slowly starting to be implemented. This is, I think, a really big thing, not least as it’s been in the works for YEARS (small namedrop here – when I met Biz Stone 10y or so ago, he told me that his one big dream for Twitter was exactly this feature. 10 YEARS! Also, by the way, the reason I met Mr Stone was that he was interviewing me for a job that I very much did not get, so rest easy in the knowledge that even that small bit of ‘insider access’ was redolent with the heady stench of failure and embarrassment); the idea of creating a simple, free (there’s no vig on the payments and Twitter isn’t taking a cut) and seamless means of being able to make peer-to-peer in-app micropayments feels like something potentially-transformative. It will also make for an interesting potential competition with Onlyfans, etc, and will lead to a short-term boom in Twitter dealers. Fun!
  • The Trump Website: On the one hand, one probably oughtn’t give That Awful Man any of the oxygen of publicity he craves. On the other, he’s unlikely to get too gassed about appearing in Curios (I knew he was a cnut) and, well, it’s VERY FUNNY. If you’ve read about Trump’s new platform but haven’t explored it for yourself, it’s very much worth clicking around; one of my very favourite things about the Trump administration, visible now in hindsight, is quite how incredibly rubbish so much of it was, and so phoned-in. Honestly, I put literally no effort whatsoever into anything I do, personally or professionally, and even by my standards there was an impressive degree of ‘will this do?’ to almost every aspect of Trumpism – this website is no exception, and feels like if you click around enough it might just sort of spontaneously combust or something.
  • Rapchat: Another ‘everything you need to make a passable track using nothing but your phone’ app, Rapchat is a frankly-amazingly-powerful bit of kit, letting you choose from 100,000+ beats, layer multiple vocal tracks, edit in-app, and (of course) ‘join a community’ of musicians and producers. Quite a lot of fun to play around with – if nothing else, the idea of very loudly and seriously attempting to produce a worldwide smash whilst on the top deck of the 333 makes me laugh.
  • Toilet Paper: Toilet Paper is a FINE ART magazine – that sort of ‘fine art’ that is massively-garish and clashing and in dubious taste, and very much feels like super-glossy Testino shoots and Karl Lagerfeld being hideous to an audience of guffawing giraffe skeletons and huge amounts of cocaine for breakfast, and endless conversations with people with non-specific mid-Atlantic accents which seem to constantly revolve around being in, or going to, Miami or New York or Berlin or Lisbon or Buenos Aires but in which nothing, ever, is said – and it’s basically the most incredible aesthetic mood I have seen in ages. Like The Face crossed with the brashest of Versace and D&G, with some sort of vague webziney Geocitiesish vibe…I love it, in case you couldn’t tell.
  • Friends With Benefits: Look, I feel I ought to apologise momentarily for the fact that once again there’s going to be some NFT and crypto stuff (sorry Andy, Sorry!), but if we all grit our teeth we’ll get through it together. First up is Friends With Benefits – a ‘community’ for ‘thinkers and creators’ which, for reasons that MAKE NO SENSE WHATSOEVER, requires that its members invest in the site’s own cryptocurrency to gain access. A community that you have to pay to join? And which promises you that if you attract more members, the value of your investment will go up? Does this…does this…does this sound like a scam? Why yes! Yes it does! I mean, look: “…it means that everyone who is a part of the community is literally invested in the community’s success. As the community becomes more appealing, and more people want to join Friends With Benefits there will be more demand for $FWB tokens which will drive the price of $FWB up and make the existing $FWB holders (community members) wealthier. The simple idea is that if we all participate in the upside of the community we’ll collectively work to make it a better place. In short, we can be friends the same way we are in our group chats, on twitter, and in other forums but in this case, it comes with some real benefits” If you read that and think ‘hm, yep, sounds legit and like something I want to be a part of!’ then, honestly, come over here a second and look at these magic beans.
  • Meebits: You may recall Cryptopunks, an early NFT which let people buy little cartoon punks, each unique, and which are now considered to be one of the most valuable of the asset class; this is the same thing, by the same people, but with a different name and aesthetic. Want to invest in your very own NFT avatar which you will, theoretically at least, be able to use THROUGHOUT THE METAVERSE???? Well now you can. Beautifully, one of the ‘selling points’ is that all the avatars are programmed with the ability to strike a ‘T-Pose’ – that is, to be rendered standing with their arms outstretched. HOW IS THAT A FEATURE ATTRACTIVE ENOUGH TO PERSUADE PEOPLE TO SPEND NOT-INSIGNIFICANT CHUNKS OF REAL MONEY ON A CG AVATAR??? No, I’m sorry, this is all too silly.
  • VeeFriends: This, though, this is the end – the final, incontrovertible sign that this really is a massive fcuking scam. I was wondering how long it would take for the King of the Hustle Goblins to show up in the NFT space, and HERE HE IS! Gary Vaynerchuck is a con artist, a scammer, a confidence trickster and and a pyramid-salesman (and a man who I am sure could not give less of a fcuk about some random webmong’s opinion of him) – the fact that HE is jumping into the NFT space with both feet should be all it takes to finally demonstrate that the emperor is naked and that his penis is tiny. What are VeeFriends? Well, it’s not clear, other than that you will be able to buy them, and that there will be a ‘community’ – they seem to be character-based ‘trading cards’, which from what I can tell have been sketched by a not-particularly-talented 9 year old, and the tokens will grant you access to Gary (and his ‘friends’!) for ‘mentoring’ and ‘advice’ and FCUKING HELL HOW STUPID DO YOU HAVE TO BE???
  • Scamily: Look, they’re even putting the word ‘SCAM’ in the name of crypto stuff now ffs!
  • Humit: Seemingly designed to upset the sorts of men (always men) who read Mojo and Rolling Stone, and who are big, big fans of ‘listening to the whole album start to finish’, Humit is an app that lets you share snippets of songs – upto 30s – with your friends because (this is the bit that will make the musos cry) ‘noone has time to listen to a whole 5 minutes of song anymore’. Regardless of your thoughts on the ‘rightness’ of this – or indeed the viability of Humit as a platform – I find this increased tendency to bitsize everything fascinating. Have we ever had a <60s number one single? I reckon we could be heading that way soon.
  • Open Sohko Design: An amazing open-source design repository with some very cool-looking stuff, Open Sohko is ‘a project for all people who want to renovate warehouses (sohko) or other buildings and turn them into creative offices or studios.

It is a database to distribute designs for offices, furniture, or renovation ideas that anyone can copy or modify (open source design) so that everyone can implement a cool, warehouse-like space.” Very cool, particularly if you’re a maker/designer yourself.

  • The Hiring Chain: This is a lovely idea, a worthy initiative and I am very much pro it. I am also utterly baffled as to what Sting is doing here. The Hiring Chain is a project which seeks to help people with Down’s Syndrome find jobs, the idea being that the presence of Down’s people in the workplace helps normalise the idea that they are perfectly-capable of fulfilling paid roles, and that their condition isn’t a barrier to normal adult life – which is all great! The website’s nicely made, and very shiny, and is properly-international, with resources to connect you to relevant charities around the world if you’re interested in finding out more – but, er, there’s also the small matter of the VERY WEIRD fact that Sting just basically sings a song about ‘giving people with Down’s a job’ over the top of the whole thing which, I’m not going to lie, does make the whole thing feel less like a proper charitable initiative and more like something that was agreed whilst drunk at some sort of super-luxe charity ball. Basically, I would like this more if there was less Sting in it – sorry, Sting.
  • Megablock: Quite simple. “Don’t like a bad tweet? Block the tweet, its author, and every single person who liked it—in one click.” SUPERB idea (and with a few tweaks this is quite nickable, imho).
  • Swagfair: This is a really, really smart idea, and all you advermarketingpr folk should bookmark this for the next time you’re feeling guilty about maildrops of plastic tat – Swagfair is an online shop for renewable, sustainable, artisanal (do I win some sort of modern business buzzword prize?) promotional swag – so pens made from recycled plastics, bamboo notepads, headphone stands, handmade mugs, etc etc. It ships internationally, loads of the stuff is made in Europe by small suppliers, and overall it just seems like…quite a nice thing? Of course, however green all this stuff purports to be, the fact remains that promo swag is just creating more pointless crap that noone needs which is destined to end up in landfill but, well, every little helps! *cries*
  • Cartoonise: Simple, single-use web app which basically applies a lightly-rotoscopey filter to any photo and video you care to feed it. You’ll have seen this sort of stuff before, fine, but this is free, seemingly works, and is quite useful if you want to create slightly anonymous-looking graphics out of photos of real people (or if you inexplicably want to turn all the homemade bongo on your phone into cartoons – look, I just serve up the links, you can do what you like with them, I never judge).
  • The Turn off the Dark Archives: One of the slightly-odd side effects of the world moving at 3billion miles an hour and there being SO MUCH happening ALL THE TIME and it all being SO LOUD AND SO BRIGHT AND SO SHOUTY (I’m not helping, am I?) is that you will occasionally realise that you’ve completely forgotten whole swathes of popular culture stuff from relatively-recent times. So it was with this – a YouTube channel which is collecting footage taken from performances of the Spiderman broadway musical Turn of the Dark, a musical plagued with bad luck and terrible press and injuries, and which never really made it out of previews despite a book by The Bono and Edge (look, it makes me laugh) and which was the subject of DOZENS of broadsheet snarkfests as it limped through its equally-unworkable iterations. This had totally disappeared from my mind as having been a thing – which, when you look at some of the footage, you can sort-of understand why. This is so, so, so bad (and therefore something of a must-click).
  • Botwiki: A repository of links to, and information about, online bots from around the world. If you’re interested in what can be done with automation, this is very much worth a look – there are examples of work on Tumblr, Facebook (obviously, Twitter and all of the other platforms you can think of, and overall this is a superb resource for creative coding ideas.
  • Buy Nothing: I first came across the concept of Buy Nothing Day in 2001, when I was living briefly in Washington DC and I bought a copy of Adbusters – past Matt would be really, really upset with future Matt about his life choices, turns out. This is a forthcoming app and community, spun out of the informal network of global ‘Buy Nothing’ Facebook Groups which exist worldwide, which will hopefully enable people to not only share goods and belongings but also skills and expertise as well. Obviously this stuff always feels super-utopian in theory, and it’s impossible to tell how it will function at networked scale, but it’s a lovely idea and it’s nice to occasionally be hopeful and positive rather than miserably, destructively-cynical (that note was to me rather than you fwiw).
  • Types of Academic Papers: A Twitter thread of parodies of a recent XKCD strip which stereotyped ‘types of scientific papers’ and which sparked a huge number of variants as people across various super-specific disciplines created their own versions. Click through for gently-comedic riffs on what it’s like to be a paleontologist, ethicist, AI researcher and LOADS more – if you or anyone you know is in, or adjacent to, academia, there will be something in here that…well, probably does nothing more than raise a small smile tbh, but it’s better than a kick in the teeth.
  • Harmony of the Spheres: A small music toy which lets you make sounds by placing planets in various orbits. You’re unlikely to make a viral hit with this, but it’s a really lovely way of messing with sounds and it reminded me a little bit of what it might be like to be a massive interplanetary being playing a planetary theremin, which I can honestly say isn’t something I’ve ever thought of before. So that was nice.
  • Ferrari 1000: A fan-made project celebrating 70 years of Ferrari in motor racing, and presenting data and information from each of the scuderia’s races since the 1950 grand prix. I personally can’t think of anything less interesting than watching cars go round and round and round and round, but this is a nice piece of dataviz and presentation, and Ferrari fans will very much enjoy it.
  • The Life of Saint Fiona Bianco Xena: I love this. A digital artwork prepared as part of the National Gallery’s recent series of commissions ‘The Rules Do Not Apply’, this…”tells the hotly disputed story of the fictitious saint’s life. Multiple interpretations of key moments in Saint Fiona’s life are presented in a hyper-chromatic, unholy panorama – a maelstrom of figures, stories and symbols occurring on different timelines, dimensions and scales.” It basically feels like every single hyperaesthetic webpage I’ve seen over the past decade, all bred with each other to produce this – a sort of hyperflattened vision of digital design history, packed with silly gags and things to discover. Honestly, I would quite like to sit in a room that’s wallpapered like this.
  • The Institute for the Study of the Neurotypical: This is a superb website. Mirrored from an old page from 2010, this is the spoof homepage for the widespread condition ‘Neurotypical Syndrome’: “Neurotypical syndrome is a neurobiological disorder characterized by preoccupation with social concerns, delusions of superiority, and obsession with conformity. Neurotypical individuals often assume that their experience of the world is either the only one, or the only correct one. NTs find it difficult to be alone. NTs are often intolerant of seemingly minor differences in others. When in groups NTs are socially and behaviorally rigid, and frequently insist upon the performance of dysfunctional, destructive, and even impossible rituals as a way of maintaining group identity. NTs find it difficult to communicate directly, and have a much higher incidence of lying as compared to persons on the autistic spectrum.

NT is believed to be genetic in origin. Autopsies have shown the brain of the neurotypical is typically smaller than that of an autistic individual and may have overdeveloped areas related to social behavior.” This is very smart, very pointed and very funny – if you’re neurodivergent, or have friends or family who are, you and they will rather enjoy this. It’s worth scrolling to the bottom of the homepage to read the ‘about’ section – the anger that prompted its creation is worth noting and remembering.

  • We Are Child Free: I recently had a slightly-saddening moment when the very last of my contemporary male friends to still be childless announced that his girlfriend is pregnant; whilst I’m obviously ‘happy’ for them (not so much so that I’m willing to abandon the inverted commas, though), it’s also genuinely miserable to know that I have run out of people my own age to go to the pub with every night of the week. We Are Child Free is less about pandering to the pathetic Peter Pan-ism of a 41 year old man, you’ll be pleased to hear, and more about offering a community for people (specifically women) who have for whatever reason not had children and who don’t intend to. If you fall into that camp, you might find some of the stuff here useful or interesting.

By Ellie Macgarry

NEXT UP, WHY NOT ENJOY THIS SUPERB SELECTION OF LONDON SOUNDS PICKED BY JED HALLAM (WHOSE ‘LOVE WILL SAVE THE DAY’ NEWSLETTER REALLY IS WORTH SUBSCRIBING TO AND WHOSE MIXES ARE CONSISTENTLY EXCELLENT!)?

THE SECTION WHICH WOULD ONE DAY LIKE TO LIVE IN A COUNTRY WHERE THE LEFT WINS ELECTIONS ALL THE TIME, JUST FOR A CHANGE, TO SEE WHAT IT MIGHT BE LIKE, PT.2:

  • Denny Kuhnert: Mr Kuhnert is a developer working in mixed reality; his Twitter account, to which this is a link, seems to mainly consist of examples of his work in creating better mapping of joints and bones in AR ‘skeletons’ – which I appreciate is sort-of hard to understand, so I suggest you sit back, click this specific link, and watch as you are made to feel a greater degree of uncomfortable body horror than you have ever experienced before from a simple animation. Honestly, I can’t stress enough quite how remarkable-and-yet-horrifying this is – totally SFW, no gore or anything (it’s all CG), but, well, you’ll see.
  • The Meades Shrine: I’ve been a huge fan of Jonathan Meades since I picked up a copy of his novel Pompey when I was about…14? I’ve since read it half a dozen times, and it remains one of the strangest things I’ve ever read, combining quite staggering erudition, some truly horrible characters and set pieces, an examination on exactly how awful Belgium’s behaviour in the Congo was, and some really filthy sex and death – I highly recommend it (though it’s…quite rich, if you know what I mean). Anyway, this is a YouTube channel collecting clips of Meades’ various TV appearances over the years, in which he angrily fulminates about food, architecture, film, modernity, and anything else that takes his fancy – I appreciate that he’s not very now, Meades, with his pretty shameless elitism, but I can’t help but love someone who equates ‘mainstream’ with ‘stupid’ and doesn’t apologise for it.
  • Memegine: A search engine, for memes, which lets you search the in-meme text – so if you remember a VERY SPECIFIC rage comic from 2011 you could use this to find it again. Works surprisingly well, and if you need to find brand-related memery from years past (I have no idea why you might need to do this, but equally I understand that our lives are baroque and unknowable, and who really understands anything anymore?) this could be useful.
  • Secret Sky: The whole ‘let’s do physical events but in virtual spaces!’ thing didn’t really take off, did it? I mean, obviously lots of these things did quite well, but to the best of my knowledge, Clubhouse’s brief ascendancy aside, all the stuff that has worked has been delivered through existing platforms like Minecraft or on YouTube, etc. Still, this looks interesting – Secret Sky was an online festival-type-thing that took place a few weeks ago, so this is just a video recap of the event, but the way in which it was staged – relatively sparse visuals compared to the Fortnite extravaganzas of Lil Nas X, etc, single points of focus for viewers, limited focus on avatars and more on the performance, etc etc – seems quite smart.
  • Infinite Nature: I could try and explain this, but I will do a really bad job – just click the link, and marvel at the fact that AI can now create video from a static image, video that gives the illusion that you the viewer are flying through the photograph, video that effectively creates an imaginary ‘there’ to take you to where no ‘there’ really exists…seriously, whilst this doesn’t look totally convincing, the absolutely mind-buggering oddness of what is happening here and what this could presage for AI-generated visuals and spaces is quite jaw-dropping.
  • Phases: Or, to give this Reddit thread its full title, “What was your biggest/most regrettable “It’s not a phase, mom. It’s my life.” that, in fact, turned out to be just a phase and not your life?”. SO MANY GOOD STORIES that will make you feel marginally-better about all the stupid things you did as a child. It’s worth scrolling through as there’s gold all the way down – there’s one particular anecdote about a kid peppering his speech with ‘Eminem-style’ vocabulary when he was 11 or so that made me do the sort of full-body cringe which is what passes for abdominal crunches in my life.
  • Ogi: Ogi is a small search engine created by a certain Vladimir Prelovac which exists to give you search results that Google won’t. It’s obviously of relatively-limited utility, but I love the fact it exists – partly as it’s a genuinely interesting tool to find information at the edges of the web, but also because it’s a reminder of how much Google, for all its brilliance and wonder, has itself contributed to the flattening and dulling of the web through its focus on ‘high-ranking’ sites. Try putting in something you’re interested in – I guarantee this site will take you somewhere different and unexpected.
  • Lighthouses: A map of the world’s lighthouses. Soothing, and the sort of thing I would quite like to see made massive on a large wall somewhere. Also, I am absolutely fascinated by the seemingly-landlocked lighthouses of Austria – WHAT ARE THEY DOING THERE?!
  • Scorecard: An app simply designed to help you keep score of…whatever arbitrary thing you might want to keep score of. Totally pointless, except for the sort of incomprehensible in-joke games you have with your friends or colleagues – in fact, why not engage in some light-touch bullying of a workmate or two by starting to keep track of scores in an imaginary game within your team, a game which they will always lose. “Oh Andy! You lost a point! No, we’re not explaining the rules to you again! Still stuck to the bottom of the table – no team drinks for you this week!” Seriously, you could drive someone slowly mad with this, could be loads of fun (NB – Web Curios does not condone the psychological torture of colleagues or indeed anyone else for that matter).
  • TwoTone: Via Giuseppe Sollazzo’s wonderful newsletter of dataviz and related matters, Two Tone is a simple website which lets you create audio from data – upload an Excel or CSV and it will map that data to notes, which you can then fiddle with a little to try and create something aurally pleasing. I am a total sucker for ‘sounds from data’-type projects and generally feel that we don’t spend enough time trying to engineer club bangers from the 2019-20 South West Region Sales Data (or whatever). Why not spend this afternoon turning your company’s latest financials into some sort of breakbeat horrorshow? WHY NOT????? Fcuk’s sake, live a little.
  • ee Cummings: Perhaps unfairly, I sort-of hold ee Cummings responsible for Rupi Kaur and instapoetry in general (I mean, that is unfair, but I also hold Warhold responsible for NFTs, so I have no problem blaming artists of the past for things that can’t reasonably be blamed on them) – that said, if you’re less angry with the dead capitalisationphobic than I am, you might enjoy this website which is collecting his works as they fall out of copyright. If nothing else, I get the feeling that this would be a style easily-replicable by GPT-3.
  • The Best Things For Everything: Smart from Google, highlighting its status as a place for trusted reviews and information and very much putting it in contrast with Amazon, where you can’t really believe anything any more. This side collects recommendations, based on data supplied to Google by user reviews,  for the very best examples of hundreds of different product categories – the shift from ‘cheapest’ to ‘best’ as a search term in online shopping has been ongoing for a few years now, and this is a nice reflection of that.
  • Mountains: This is interesting – Mountains is a platform / marketplace for aspirant filmmakers to submit their projects for feedback from more experienced professionals – paying, of course, for the privilege. So you can choose from a variety of different people – none of whom I’ve ever heard of, but I know nothing about filmmaking so I don’t suppose that matters – and they charge you to take a look at your WIP and tell you what they think. You’re charged per minute of the content you want them to look at – interestingly, there doesn’t appear to be any guarantee of what form the feedback will take, leaving it tantalisingly open to the possibility that you’ll spend a few grand asking a latterday Jim Jarmusch for their opinion on your magnum opus and get a laconic ‘S’ok’ in reply. I think it might be quite fun to mess with this a bit, and you could actually make quite an interesting piece about the creative process and the subjective nature of criticism, but perhaps I’m just being an insufferable pseud here.
  • Cereal Offers: This is PURE CURIOS – a website (still very much active, and last updated in December of last year) which ‘hopes’ (hopes! HOPES! See, it’s stuff like that that gets me – seriously, I might cry) to become the most comprehensive database of UK cereal box giveaways anywhere on the web. I am not sure how much competition there is for that title, but I am rooting for this person (it’s obviously a man) all the way. There’s even a ‘for sale’ section, should you want to drop £15 on some collective Tony the Tiger badges from Frosties in the 80s, or a frankly BARGAINOUS Honey Monster toy for £8. Honestly, it’s all I can do not to stop Curios right here and go spelunking in the slightly-dusty Riboflavin-boosted Weetos of the past.
  • Mighty: This is a bit techy and so therefore I am probably going to do a terrible job of explaining what it is – apologies in advance. Mighty is, I think, a Cloud-based browser which effectively outsources all the processing elsewhere to stop your laptop wheezing like some sort of asthmatic bongo addict every time you attempt to have Gmail and GDocs open at the same time. No idea if this is any good, but if you constantly have to put icepacks around your computer to stop it melting then this might be worth a look.
  • New Utopia: This slightly foreshadows a longread later on, but is quite the Curio in its own right – New Utopia is the still-active website for a long-dormant project which sought to create a new sovereign state at sea, “An oasis in the middle of the ocean: Office buildings, hotels, theaters and shopping centers, sitting slightly above the surface of the sea in neat rows surrounded by greenery and flowers, with canals of clear blue water, water taxis and gondolas providing transportation for the inhabitants.” The fact that you’ve never heard of New Utopia would rather suggest that it doesn’t exist – as does the fact that they never seemed to get beyond the concept art stage, and that the concept art was seemingly created by a middle-aged watercolourist from the Home Counties – and yet the site is still being updated. Christ alone knows who by, or who ‘Prince John’ is, or indeed why they have so many photos of the ‘Embassy to the USA’, or why the Embassy’s kitchen has a large white sculpture of a humanoid rabbit in the centre of a countertop…SO MANY QUESTIONS.
  • The Fish Doorbell: It’s really hard not to love the Dutch for things like this. Literally a web-enabled alarm so that internet users around the world can keep an eye out and see whether some fish need to be let through a small gate – look: “Fish swim every spring from the Vecht, via the Oudegracht and the canals, to the Kromme Rijn. Straight through Utrecht, looking for a place to lay eggs and reproduce. Sometimes they have to wait a long time at the Weerdsluis, because the lock gates do not open often in the spring. We have come up with something for that. There is a camera under water at the lock. You can see the live images below. Are there any fish in the picture? Then press the fish doorbell. The lock keeper is alerted and, if there are many fish, can open the lock. This way you help fish through the canal.” I think that this might well be my favourite website of the year so far. FISH DOORBELL! Also, there is an excellent gallery of piscine images as a bonus.
  • Crittervision: A Twitch stream from the US which captures raccoons, deer, opossums and all sorts of other mammalian wildlife as it generally stuffs its face. The time difference means that you’re likely to see quite a lot of HOT ANIMAL ACTION if you log on during working hours – as I type there is a spectacularly-fat raccoon fighting a piece of rope which, fine, may not sound like the acme of entertainment but which when you’ve been typing for four hours straight like have is, I promise you, some high-quality entertainment.
  • Papercraft Fish: This is all in Japanese, so I have no idea why it exists – still, if you’re after a selection of papercraft models of very realistic fish that you can cut out and assemble to create your very own papery piscine menagerie (and who isn’t? NO FCUKER, that’s who!) then this is the link to end all links.
  • Undying Dusk: I’m increasingly into people making games out of things that you shouldn’t necessarily be able to make games out of (so in Excel, say, or in a Tweet) – this is the latest iteration of that trend, with a WHOLE DUNGEON-CRAWLER contained within a simple PDF document. Free to download, this really is so, so clever – even if you’re not into the game mechanics, the way that its author Lucas Cimon has used the format is really smart, and the game itself is far more interesting and engaging than it ought to be. Next time some dullard comes to you with a ‘what are some really EXCITING things we can do with modern digital publishing?’ question, rather than tiredly-sighing and slitting your own throat at the sheer futility of it all, why not instead suggest that you turn the latest tedious piece of pointless thought leadership you’ve shat out into an INTERACTIVE PDF GAME??? Come on, it might be fun, and it’s not like it matters anyway.
  • This Button Does Nothing: This made me laugh more than I expected to, and then started to make me feel quite weirdly guilty about the fact I was engaging with it at all.
  • Steven Pool: Via last week’s B3ta (THANKS ROB!), this is snooker crossed with golf and it is an EXCELLENT little timewaster which reminded me quite a lot of Archer Maclean’s 3d Pool (should that mean anything to you, which it almost certainly won’t on reflection chiz chiz chiz).
  • Poki: Seriously though, it does feel a tiny bit like there’s a cycle being completed in terms of webculture in some small way. The resurgence in newsletters and ‘blogs’ (and the resurgence of the debate about how these are defined), the resurgence in ‘small web’ craft, Tumblr having a sort of weird cultural moment again…alongside all of these SIGNS (look, they’re signs to me, ok?) comes the fact that there’s also been a huge spike in the past year or so of site’s which seek to replicate the early-00s ‘flash games for work avoidance’ boom, except for a post-Flash world. So it is that we have Poki, basically a HUGE repository for all sorts of old flash games, and old mobile games, all ported to work in-browser, and all for free. There’s a lot of tripe here, fine, but equally I was able to spend an entire call earlier this week blazing through 25 levels of this little MotoGP game whilst having a spliff, so, well, it’s GREAT!

By Christian Rex van Minnen

NEXT UP, ENJOY THIS HOUR-LONG ‘WINDOWLICKER’ MIX BY MIXMASTER MORRIS!

THE CIRCUS OF TUMBLRS!

  • Star Trek Hugs: Nothing says ‘a harmonious future for all the peoples of Earth!’ like a Tumblr featuring intergalactic hugs from Star Trek.

THE TROUGH OF (INSTA) FEEDS!

  • Watch Parts Motorcycles: Things sculpted from watch parts. Small, intricate and fascinating (although I do slightly despair at pop culture’s insistence on reducing everything to KAWS and Star Wars).
  • Dog Sledge Taxi: Photographs of huskies, pulling a sled. I don’t care how terrible you’re feeling, photos of dogs in snow will always provide a slight mood corrective.
  • The Katsugyo Bag: This is slightly-baffling, but brilliantly so. The Katsyugo Bag is, as far as I can tell, a prototypical device that’s designed to let you carry live fish with you wherever you go, in their own little…fish-briefcase? Honestly, not quite sure how to describe this but it’s made me VERY HAPPY and it might do the same to you (let’s hope it makes the fish happy too).
  • Cheugy Life: Presented without comment (it is not a real thing) – that said, quite a lot of this made me laugh rather.

AND NOW, LONG THINGS WHICH ARE LONG!:

  • Mind The Product – Surviving 2020: This isn’t the sort of thing I usually include in Curios – I’m not as a rule into stories of BUSINESS TRANSFORMATION AND RESILIENCE – but I found it a really interesting read and thought some of you might too. Mind the Product was, pre-pandemic, largely an events business – and then it had to stop being one very quickly. This is the company’s own internal set of reflections on what it did, how it did it, how it survived and what it learned, and, honestly, as a piece of clear-minded and honest writing about the practical realities of running a business, it’s superb (I mean, I say that – obviously I have no fcuking idea about what running a business is like, but it feels superb).
  • Brain Sex Isn’t A Thing: New research has continued to show that there is no meaningful difference in brain function between the sexes – something one would have hoped we’d all have agreed on by now, but which sadly seems to be a point which continues to need to be made. As the piece states, “sex is a very imprecise indicator of what kind of brain a person will have. Another way to think about it is every individual brain is a mosaic of circuits that control the many dimensions of masculinity and femininity, such as emotional expressiveness, interpersonal style, verbal and analytic reasoning, sexuality, and gender identity itself. Or, to use a computer analogy, gendered behavior comes from running different software on the same basic hardware.” So there.
  • The Web, According to the NSA in 2007: The NSA – that is, the National Security Agancy, those people you might remember from all the Edward Snowden surveillance stuff a few years back; you remember, the spooky bad guys – was unsurprisingly quite up on the web, right from the start. This document is a KILOMETRIC PDF of their guide to the web and its culture from 2007, and if you’re any sort of ‘scholar’ (yes, ok, fine, dry-mouthed obsessive) of the past web then this will be absolute catnip to you. Too long to read all of, fine, but fascinating to flip through – I am particularly curious to imagine what current versions of similar documentation look like. How do you go about explaining what the web looks like today?
  • The One Minute City: You remember how last year everyone was getting excited about the idea of recalibrating urban environments post-pandemic to be ‘15-minute’ cities, with all necessary amenities (work, healthcare, leisure, etc) being arranged within a 15m journey from any residents’ house? Yeah, well that’s SO OLD HAT – welcome to the future, or at least the Scandinavian present, where a group of designers in Sweden is exploring what urban design looks like when applied to a street-by-street or block-by-block scale. This is a really interesting idea, effectively creating a series of modular elements which can be distributed by the local community however they see fit, to reflect the needs and geography (human and spatial) of the area. So smart, and exactly the sort of thing that we look at in the UK with slightly wistful eyes.
  • Project Catchy Content: Another day, another step towards complete professional irrelevance and unemployability! ‘Project Catchy Content’ (the only thing worse than its name is its essence!) is a newly-trailed Adobe suite of tools which promise to basically use ‘AI’ and ‘machine learning’ and other buzzwords to analyse EVERYTHING you make and produce and tell you exactly how many hits it’s going to get and how you can optimise it for ALL TEH CLICKS! The idea is that the software will ‘learn’ what works and then ‘use’ those ‘learnings’ to offer advice to users on things like photo selection, webdesign, palette choice, copy… which is all fine, of course, but also means that we’re going to end up with everything on the web saying the same thing and looking the same and reading the same and sounding the same, the ‘YouTube Thumbnailisation of Everything’ as I have just decided I am going to call it.
  • Google Returns To Work: Want to see what THE FUTURE OF WORK looks like if you’re a Googler? ‘Slightly terrifying’ is my immediate take, but I confess to doing an actual, proper LOL at the short video showing the ‘inflatable balloon wall’ which can be moved around and put in place wherever you want in a matter of seconds to preserve privacy, etc, and which looks almost-but-not-exactly-like something you would have seen as a prop on Playdays.
  • Crypto-Remittances: All my snarking around NFTs and Crypto over the past few months/years does of course rest on my own personal inability to understand what the fcuk these systems and the others built on them are actually for. This piece made me think slightly-differently about the role of cryptocurrencies in society, and the use to which they can be put to assist people for whom access to traditional fiat currencies can be problematic. This piece, in Rest of World (the best new outlet for international journalism in years, by the way), takes a look at how crypto can benefit migrant workers looking to send money home without fees, etc – I still can’t help but think there should be a simpler way of doing all this, but I ended the piece feeling slightly-less anti crypto, and slightly-more like someone who could probably do with thinking from a different perspective every now and again.
  • Celebrity Lookalike Cameo: I am blown away at the fact that it’s seemingly possible to make a living as a lookalike on Cameo – people will actually pay for lookalike Tom Cruise to send them a message! Why?! Still, this got me thinking about how far we are from a Cameo-type system that mixes ‘extreme YouTube’ and ‘record me a video for a tenner’ – teenagers offering to rub naga chillies across their frenulum for the meagre sum of £5.99, that sort of thing. I reckon about 6 months.
  • The News Influencers: A fascinating profile of a new breed of YouTuber – the news summarisers, effectively acting as daily shortform news digest channels, mixing real-world reportage with dispatches from the world of Beefing-on-YouTube, viral TikToks and Twitter’s main character. It does rather feel that ‘traditional’ news outlets have rather slept on this – you’d think it wouldn’t be too much of a stretch to get Newsround on TikTok, for example, with 1-minute daily news summaries for kids, etc, but seemingly none of the mainstream players appear to be trying it (see also – games streaming).
  • Manifest The Glow-Up: I actually walked past a couple of girls the other week who were discussing how one of their friends had ‘manifested’ a new job (I didn’t stop to ask them whether this ‘manifesting’ had at any point involved, I don’t know, ‘attending an interview’ or ‘tarting up a CV’, or whether they had simply waited for the universe’s beneficence to come good – presume the latter), meaning that this is therefore DEFINITELY A REAL THING (the day I see people doing ‘universe cheat codes’, though, is probably the day I make with the pills and the xacto knife). If nothing else, this piece made me think about what sort fresh madness we can expect from modernity’s collision of professional hopelessness, environmental collapse, odd, DIY-spiritualism, rampant, unfettered capitalism and STUFF-WANT. It feels to me that ‘a generation that wants to hack the world’ is an interesting startpoint for something, though I’m not sure what.
  • Cool Vaccines: Super-interesting look at how Pfizer’s vaccine has somehow managed to become the ‘cool’ anti-rona jab (no, me neither), at least in the US, and why this might have happened and what this might ‘mean’. I particularly enjoyed the serious reflection as to how the sound of Pfizer makes it inherently cooler than ‘Johnson & Johnson’, but I think the truest part of this is when it comes to talking about TikTok and the increasingly binary nature of the way in which things are considered on the platform; I found the bit at the end about the ironic detachment of GenZ fascinating, particular in the context of millennials’ oft-discussed joyless sincerity.
  • The Tetris Shakeup: A really interesting look at how competitive Tetris playing – yes of COURSE it is a thing! – is evolving, and how (more broadly) online communities can lead to step-changes in evolution for certain skills and practices; I wonder to what extent the past couple of decades is retrospectively going to be considered something of a golden age of small, incremental improvements in certain disciplines due simply to the never-before-available chance to pool expertise and learning afforded by the web.
  • Designing The Future: This is an amazing article, quite often in the most literal sense but not always entirely-positively. Perception is a design company which you have probably never heard of but whose work you are doubtless familiar with – it’s been responsible for the design of most of the fictional technology of the world’s biggest films for a decade or more. Minority Report, Iron Man, in fact all the MCU stuff…all imagine by these people. The crazy part is where they start to talk about how they now get commissioned to help design this stuff in real life, based on people looking at stuff in the films and thinking ‘yeah, that looks cool – want one of those’. Is this how the future is supposed to be designed? I know, I know, I am a miserable git who is increasingly-incapable of finding joy in anything – still, I can’t be the only person who has a few questions about whether we should be taking our technological inspiration from a neoliberal capitalist militaristic power fantasy, can I? Eh? Oh.
  • The Case For Legalising Heroin: An interview with Ben Wallace Wells, who got a fair bit of press a few months back as a result both of his works on the modern nature of drug abuse and control, and for the fact that he’s a tenured professor and author who is also quite open about his regular recreational use of heroin. This is far more interesting and less sensationalist than you might expect – Wallace Wells doesn’t get a particularly easy ride, and it’s not hard to side with the author’s conclusion (which, basically, is that just because Wallace Wells can get away with it doesn’t mean that everyone else can, whatever he might think), but it’s so refreshing to read someone talking sensibly about the topic. Interestingly, the interview with Seth Rogen from the other week in which he talked about weed as ‘something he uses to get through the day, like someone else might wear glasses’ was widely-praised, with Rogen’s perspective quoted all over the place as a classic example of his stoner-savant. Why do we feel differently about heroin, and is it anything other than squeamishness?
  • The Wrath of Corleone: Long-time readers may be aware that I am something of a Michael Owen when it comes to films, which is why I only relatively-recently saw the Godfather films – which, in turn, is why I ended up reading this critical reappraisal of the trilogy by Noah Millman. I really enjoyed this – I never read film criticism, mainly because I have never seen the films that the criticism is of – though obviously Coppola-obsessives may feel differently.
  • The Light Fantastic: I am an absolute sucker for massive works of art that will exist forever – this is one of the most incredible examples of such a project, which I first read about a decade or so ago and which is slowly moving towards ‘completion’ (insofar as it will ever be completed). James Turrell is building…what is he building? A sculpture, a camera obscura, a monument, a mystery…it’s almost impossible to write about without sounding insanely-hyperbolic, because it really is that mad – “Known as Roden Crater, it stands 580 feet tall and nearly two miles wide. One of the tunnels that Turrell has completed is 854 feet long. When the moon passes overhead, its light streams down the tunnel, refracting through a six-foot-diameter lens and projecting an image of the moon onto an eight-foot-high disk of white marble below. The work is built to align most perfectly during the Major Lunar Standstill every 18.61 years. The next occurrence will be in April 2025. To calculate the alignment, Turrell worked closely with astronomers and astrophysicists. Because the universe is expanding, he must account for imperceptible changes in the geometry of the galaxy. He has designed the tunnel, like other features of the crater, to be most precise in about 2,000 years. Turrell’s friends sometimes joke that’s also when he’ll finish the project.” Absolutely fascinating, and something I would like to see before I die.
  • The Weaponisation of the Female Orgasm: One woman’s account of being nonorgasmic, and society’s continual struggle to fix that for her, and what that means. This was super-interesting, occasionally very funny, and incredibly-illuminating – I had NO IDEA that there was such an incredibly lucrative Goop-adjacent business empire constructed around KNOWING THE YONI, or indeed that those men in baggy linen trousers who style themselves ‘orgasm gurus’ and charge hundreds of pounds to wave burning sage over your perineum (or whatever it is that they do) actually exist.
  • The QAnon of Architecture: What if we were all secretly being lied to? What if there was a secret civilisation with GREAT KNOWLEDGE AND WISDOM, whose relics are visible throughout our modern society but whose existence is being denied and erased by powers beyond our ken? WHAT IF???? “The overall premise is an alternative history. A vast, technologically advanced “Tartarian” empire, emanating from north-central Asia or thereabouts, either influenced or built vast cities and infrastructure all over the world. (Tartaria, or Tartary, though never a coherent empire, was indeed a general term for north-central Asia.) Either via a sudden cataclysm or a steady antagonistic decline — and perhaps as recently as 100 years ago — Tartaria fell. Its great buildings were buried, and its history was erased. After this “great reset,” the few surviving examples of Tartarian architecture were falsely recast as the work of contemporary builders who could never have executed buildings of such grace and beauty, and subjected them to clumsy alterations.” This is so gloriously, wonderfully silly and mad.
  • Why AI Is Harder Than We Think: This is, fine, an academic paper, but it’s a very readable one, I promise, and is a really accessible and nicely-structured overview of some of the reasons why AI is often harder than we think and why the predictions we make about it are so often wildly optimistic – in particular, the arguments here about our use of language around AI and how that affects the way in which we think of its capabilities really struck me as worth further investigation, particularly when we use terms like ‘thinking’ and ‘learning’ and ‘vision’. So, so interesting and very much worth a read.
  • The Gravlix: Absolutely the most enjoyable piece of writing I have read so far in 2021. Honestly, if you enjoy words at all you will adore this – on the gravlix, and associated terms used in the writing of comics. I promise, you’ll be rolling these phrases around your mouth all day, they are good enough to chew.
  • The Floating Utopia: As alluded to a bit further up, this is a wonderful article, all about the latest attempts to create a sea-based utopia, free of the pesky constraints of government and offering a truly democratic, free society on the ocean waves. As you might expect, it’s a bit more complex than that – and, as ever, there’s definitely the whiff of criminality about quite a lot of this – but this is such a wonderful tale, partly because of the supremely-human ‘hope in the face of adversity and the fact that, bluntly, noone really wants to live on an ocean-going principality’, but also partly because of the cast of characters who all have that slightly weird international outlaw vibe going on. Wonderful journalism.
  • You And I Get Tanked Differently: Finally this week, Tom Usher writes for Vittles on getting drunk and how we, the English, do it in a particular way, and what that says about us and what we ought to do about it. Far better than it needs to be, this is an excellent piece of writing about what, at its heart, is a sad subject – Britain as the slumped grey man with the stained trousers, always having too much ‘fun’ – if you ‘enjoy’ a drink then you will very much ‘enjoy’ this.

By Iona Sakellaraki

AND NOW, MOVING PICTURES AND SOUNDS!:

Webcurios 30/04/21

Reading Time: 37 minutes

HAPPY BANK HOLIDAY FRIDAY EVERYONE! Except of course those of you who are either not fortunate enough to get bank holidays off, or who are freelancers for whom the term means nothing other than NO MONEY, or who are foreign and for whom the entire concept is meaningless! Hello!

Thanks to everyone who said nice things about Curios’ return last week – it’s very much appreciated – and thanks for your patience with the minor technical issues which should all by now have been fixed (and, er, if they haven’t, please nudge me again).

Anyway, for those of you not still desperately texting hilarious gags to Boris, welcome to another week of Web Curios – links to make you laugh! To make you cry! To make you question the wisdom of subscribing to this crap in the first place (don’t worry, I really don’t check the numbers and so will NEVER KNOW if you cruelly abandon me)! To make you momentarily forget that we are governed by an unashamedly-corrupt cabal, that we have been for decades, and that we effectively chose this ourselves!

Welcome, then, to Web Curios – it won’t make anything better, but it might at least give you a set of new, differently-horrible things to worry about and be scared of!

(PS – Web Curios might not turn up next week as I am getting vaxxed on Thursday and if last time is anything to go by there is no way in hell I will be in any shape to spaff out 100-odd links and prose on Friday morning; apologies in advance if my selfish desire for immunisation conflicts with your need for links)

(PPS – no, I am not that old; yes, there is, I promise, A Good Reason for me getting doublevaxxed a bit early)

By Shardcore

LET’S KICK OFF WITH A BRAND NEW MIX OF FRANKLY WONDERFUL MUSIC BY INTERNET ODDITY SADEAGLE – I KNOW I ALWAYS SAY THIS BUT HE IS *SUCH* A GOOD DJ AND YOU REALLY WILL ENJOY THIS!

THE SECTION WHICH WOULD LIKE TO SUGGEST THAT IF YOU ARE IN ANY WAY ‘SHOCKED’ AT THE PAST WEEK OR SO’S SLEAZE CHAT THEN YOU HAVEN’T IN FACT BEEN PAYING ATTENTION TO HOW ANYTHING IN THIS FCUKING COUNTRY WORKS AND YOU ARE A MORON, PT.1:

  • The Converse ‘Renew’ Labs: I have made a sort of mental compact with myself not to feature stuff in here if all I’m going to do is slag it off – obviously that doesn’t apply to things that are borderline-criminal or obvious scams, or the occasional link to the unpleasant end of the teledildonics spectrum, but in general it feels a bit mean to include something only to give it a kicking. And yet… This is a webthingy by Converse, which for some reason is set up as a boxpark-style retail container popup, existing in your web browser, which itself is imaginarily-situated on top of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. Clicking through lets you ‘explore’ the store, and learn all about the company’s partnership with the Take 3 initiative (designed to encourage people to take litter away from the beach with them), and even buy a bunch of limited edition trainer lines, each with their own tenuous connection to environmentalism (these are made from recycled materials! These contain smog-reactive ink!). So what you have here is a brand using a badged connection with an environmental charity and some fancy-but-empty webwork to…to what exactly? To…tell us that plastic in the ocean is bad? To show off the fact that it’s done a marketing hookup with a bunch of ‘green’ artists? That it’s chucked a few quid at a charity which, whilst well-meaning, has as it’s whole ethos ‘WE THE PEOPLE MUST FIX OUR MESSY BEACHES’? How, exactly, is Converse actually doing anything here other than, fundamentally, encouraging people to buy yet more fcuking stuff, stuff which necessarily will need making and shipping and marketing, and which is in no small part made of plastics and oils and petrochemicals, and which – given this is a campaign aimed solely at the antipodes – is all going to have to be shipped not-insignificant distances. Can anyone say ‘pointless, cosmetic, greenwashing campaign’? Look, if you work for an agency you basically have to come to terms with the fact that your entire professional raison d’etre is to make more money for the system that is killing everything – yep, me too, I am scum also – but could we maybe all start to be a bit more discerning? Can we maybe not all just say ‘yes!’ when people come to us with fcuking stupid, pointless ideas like this? Can we stop having stupid, pointless ideas like this? Still, the website’s not bad, so well done, agencypeople!
  • The Digital Einstein Experience: There was an excellent short story published a few months ago which has done the rounds since, all about the dark horror of one’s consciousness being preserved in digital perpetuity for people to mess with after you’re gone (which annoyingly I can’t find now, but which I’ll drop in here later if I remember – here it is! Thanks Jared, who reminded me.); this very much isn’t what’s happened here – this is NOT Einstein – but this does ever so slightly enter ‘uncanny valley’ territory. This is a digital model of Einstein’s face, which has been hooked up with a bunch of natural language recognition AI stuff, and plugged into the terrifyingly-complicated maths engine Wolfram Alpha so that you can now ‘talk’ with old, dead Albert and ask him questions about science and stuff. On the one hand, this is quite a fun little toy and makes me think that lo-fi versions of this – sort of semi-sentient emoji, in the manner of Apple’s 3d CG faces but with a bit more tech behind them, like non-sh1t Tamagotchi – could be rather popular; on the other, POOR ALBERT! This is, it’s fair to say, not exactly showing him at his most brilliant; I wonder if you’d told the man that 66 years after his death he would find a version of himself trapped inside a machine, forced to answer sub-GCSE physics questions in perpetuity, how he’d have reacted.
  • The Lomax Digital Archive: This is a superb find, and one of those occasional lovely treasures you stumble across online and which open up a completely new field of history of learning or enquiry that you (well, me, specifically) had no previous idea existed. The Lomax Digital Archive is an astonishing collection of musical recordings and ethnoanthropological records compiled by the quite-extraordinary-sounding folklorist Adam Lomax, who dedicated his life to studying folk cultures around the world. Seriously, this is quite remarkable – it covers a significant part of the Northern Hemisphere, features musical recordings and photos and notes and observations and recordings of all sorts of incredible stuff, from Russian folk music to legends like Muddy Waters. If you’re any sort of musical scholar, or cratedigger, this is catnip.
  • Fingerspelling: Absolutely one of the best ‘use your webcam to track your movements’ toys I’ve seen, perhaps because it’s just trying to track your fingers rather than your entire face – if you’ve ever wanted to learn American Sign Language (distinct from UK sign language because it only uses one hand at a time, meaning it’s slightly-simpler and faster to use), now’s your chance. This got me thinking that, if the machine can be trained to recognise ASL then it can also be trained to recognise being sworn at – I now really want the ability to give all computing devices the finger and have them know that that is what I am doing. FEEL MY DIGIT OF DISRESPECT, etc. Can someone code this up, please?
  • The COVID Art Museum: So having complained last week about the lack of COVID art knocking about, I was obviously condemned to find this link almost immediately afterwards – apparently the COVID Art Museum is an initiative that was started back in lockdown one and which I singularly failed to stumble across (call myself a webmong, etc etc), and collects a piece of art inspired by the pandemic, presented each day on its Insta feed. Started in Spain, but featuring work from artists from around the world, there’s an interesting range of work and styles on display here.
  • AIDentity: Continuing themes which he began to explore in The Machine Gaze, Shardcore this time looks at what machines ‘imagine’ when we give them a prompt. Based on all the millions of faces they have been trained on, and their rudimentary-but-improving understanding of language, what would a machine give you if you asked it to show you a ‘London Man’, or ‘Lawyer’ or ‘Artist’? I love this stuff, not least as it offers perhaps the simplest and clearest visual explanation of how ‘bias’ works in machine learning models, and how the input shapes the output, and how the input can never be neutral because its collation is necessarily sociopolitically determined. And all that sort of stuff which, if I’m honest with myself, noone comes here to read me wrestling ineffectually with. Still, click the link – this is a fascinating project and the sort of thing which if I were any sort of brand doing work at the intersection of data and machine learning I might look to commission some more of.
  • A Bunch Of Odd Stuff To Buy At Auction: This was sent to me by my friend Paul, based on the fact that ‘you like weird auction stuff, don’t you?’. YES I DO PAUL THANKYOU. This is a selection currently available to bid on from Chiswick Auction House; it’s quite heavy on the taxidermy and the oddities – ‘small monkey skeleton under glass dome’, anyone? The ‘famous taxidermied winged kitten’? – and if it weren’t for the fact that I am not sure I would be able to move such a thing to Italy with me next month I would absolutely be putting in a bid for ‘trumpet made out of small deer’ (no, really).
  • Cooooookies: Yet another ‘drop’ by MSCHF (I really resent them forcing me to use the language of Supreme to describe these, by the way), this one my favourite in a while; Cooooookies is a simple game which over the past week has challenged anyone who wants to play to collect the most browser cookies – players install a Chrome plugin that tracks the trackers and which collects the data centrally, with the person adjudged to have been the Most Cookied by Monday winning…er…a violent amount of actual baked goods, I think. This is really smart, and simple, and the sort of lightly-educational promo which, given the fact that this is a US-only thing, you could TOTALLY steal in the UK or Europe with minimal pushback (although everyone who reads Curios will know that you are a filthy ideas thief – could you live with the thinly-veiled disapproval of literally tens of advermarketingpr people?).
  • Answer Socrates: Or, more accurately, Answer The Public with a less-annoying interface. I think it pulls exactly the same information, but it’s less of a pain to read and access – although, to be clear, it’s not useful if the people using it are morons (this is something that people don’t always understand about research tools, to my constant chagrin).
  • The Google Nonsense Lab: Another AI toy by Google, this one building on the work it’s been doing on machine language comprehension, specifically phonetics; it’s a series of small language games which let you combine words to make nonsense portmanteaus, or to see what happens to the spelling and sound of language when you make adjustments to mouth shape or vowel emphasis. If I were going to be a miserable, critical, joyless bastrd – something I’m really looking forward to leaning into as I inch ever close to the death that will one day mercifully claim me – I might complain that, well, it maybe lacks some of Google’s usual fancy polish (where are the animated CG blobs? Where’s the cartoon parakeet? Where’s the voice synthesis?), but let’s stay positive. This is potentially quite a diverting 20m for a kid who likes words and language (or, er, for actual, serious students of language and human communication).
  • Designer Dram: I imagine that this is the sort of thing that whiskey purists – or even people who understand even a little bit about the process of making traditional high-end spirits – might look at and baulk quite hard, but I didn’t hate this idea anywhere near as much as I expected (I think it’s the fact that at no point on the site did I find any mention of ‘proprietary AI master-blender technology). Designer Dram lets you basically create a bespoke whiskey just for you – blended from a predetermined selection of (American) spirits to proportions determined by the buyer, this lets you create a dizzying theoretical away of different boozes (which will all end up tasting like one of approximately 4 different flavour profiles, let’s be honest, but still) with a personalised label and whatever hilarious name you choose to give it (I have a strong feeling that there will be a lot of man-to-man gifts with names like ‘Clyde Bums Goats’), all for about $150 (it’s unclear whether they deliver internationally and if so what the markup is on postage). Fine, it might not be an award-winning Islay single malt, but do they let you produce a drink that’s a mix of 9 different types of bourbon and which you can call ‘Daddy’s Micturate’? They do not.
  • The Josh Battle: You will, I imagine, all be aware of last weekend’s strangely-heartwarming Josh Battle, in which Josh…Joshes? Joshii? The Joshiim? Anyway, a bunch of people named Josh met up to determine who was the ultimate Josh, and, as amazingly occasionally happens with these spontaneous internet meetup thingies, turned into quite the wholesome day. The link uptop takes you to a Twitch stream of the whole thing – which is mad in itself, right? A bunch of people called Josh arrange to meet up based on a throwaway gag on an internet forum and it gets livestreamed around the world to an audience of actual people via someone’s phone – that’s obviously very silly, but also…quite cool? – but the subReddit is another decent and VERY WHOLESOME resource for all your Josh-related needs. If any of the several other Matt Muirs out there are reading this, then a) please can you try and give the correct email address when signing up to financing deals on Toyota cars in the Tri-State area? The spam is becoming annoying; and b) I WILL FIGHT YOU (no actual hitting please)!
  • The Free Strategy Tool Library: Some people like tools and methodologies for doing ‘strategy’ – one of the many reasons I am bad at my job is that I don’t, believing it all to be made-up w4nk which really doesn’t warrant the degree of fetishised process attached to it. Still, if you are the sort of person who finds they benefit from structured thinking frameworks and ways of building arguments and stuff, this GDoc contains multitudes. This is VERY diverse – there’s not a whole lot of organisation gone into it, and it runs the gamut from ‘free data analysis tools’ to ‘actual strategy processes and draft presentations’ – but there’s definitely something in here for most levels of experience and interest. God I really fcuking hate the word strategy. Can we stop using it? Can we just be honest and start calling it ‘the bit where we try and look clever but, honestly, mostly don’t quite manage it’?
  • Life In Vogue: I didn’t realise this – odd, given what a committed fashionista I so self-evidently am – but Vogue has each Summer for the past few years been doing a big artsyfestival-type jamboree thing which invites designers and the fashion industry to ‘enter into a mutually-reinforcing dialogue of praxis and practice, in order to better explore the liminalities of space inherent in both architecture and couture’ (I just made that up, by the way, but it sounded plausible, right?). This year, obviously, it’s all virtual, and exists in this rather shiny digital reinterpretation of an atelier-style townhouse, with each room hosting different multimedia content – “an experience suspended between reality and fiction, where the interpretation of the role of the workplace becomes the starting point for a broader and more complex assessment of contemporaneity, its new platforms, restraints and getaways: into dreams, history and nature, into an enchanted garden where we find a refuge to renew our ideas. This has given rise to the space that Vogue Italia imagined within the project, an invented and surreal dimension: the Inspirational Garden.” It’s very pretty and very fashion, but, well, I clicked around and it’s all quite empty and VERY wanky – one of the rooms involves a 20m video of this design duo being told why they are special by a middle-aged Italian astrologer who’s doing their charts and, well, really? I thought one of the big TRENDS of the age of the creator, etc etc, was perhaps an end to this tedious fetishisation of ‘people who make’ as unicorns, and specifically this bizarre tendency to indulge this sort of sh1t? Maybe not at the high-end.
  • Your Facebook Avatar Is Coming: Did you all see the Facebook numbers? Not as mad as the Amazon numbers, fine, but another GOOD QUARTER for lovely Mark and his lovely friends and shareholders (am I slightly bitter that I didn’t buy Facebook stock a decade ago, despite the writing having been on the wall even then? No, but only via a massive effort of will). Despite Zuckerberg rapidly running out of additional pennies to squeeze out of us users in the West, there’s still a lot of growth to be had in the developing world – and the VR landscape is looking increasingly like there’s only one frontrunner. Facebook this week announced that it was launching new avatars for users of the industry-leading Oculus platform, and that these would be persistent across VR apps – effectively Facebook putting an early stake in the ground to be the home of the visualised VR ‘you’. This is important – platform shift inertia is, as we’ve seen all too well over the past decade, one of the greatest contributing factors to a platform’s longevity and success. Get enough people in your walled garden and it will simply become too annoying for them to leave, and tying their visual identity to your version of the future is as good a way as any of securing an audience.
  • How Many Plants: I am reasonably-sanguine about the fact that I am not a special and unique person, and that in a currently-living population of nearly 8bn I am…unlikely to be in any way exceptional in my habits and interests and behaviours (although how many other people would be willing to spend this much time and effort writing about crap on the internet for so little recognition, reward or interest? Eh?). Still, despite this it’s been…disheartening to realise that my recent enthusiasm for occasionally worrying at the soil in my girlfriend’s back garden is not in any way singular but is seemingly part of an unstoppable global trend to get into plants in 2021. Seriously, horticulture is EVERYWHERE – turns out we really do have some sort of common, species-wide responses to incarceration and fear, one of which is a slightly-pathetic desire to reconnect with the nature we’ve spend the past few hundred years fcuking with knives. How Many Plants is a nicely-designed and friendly website designed as a companion to people wanting to get into houseplants and gardening – if nothing else, the aesthetic is very much a mood (sorry).
  • Scan The World: I saw an episode of Come Dine With Me recently (I have watched SO MUCH CDWM that it’s genuinely a matter for celebration should a new one show up; honestly, I could write a treatise on how You Never Win With Steak) in which a contestant had a pair of Google Glass (a primer for the GenZ kids), and it briefly flashed me back to a decade ago when Glass was a thing, and UK startups really were going to take over the world, and 3d printing was going to revolutionise manufacture and usher in a post-scarcity world in which we could just print a pair of pants every time we ran out of clean ones (or something – it was never really that clear). None of these things ever happened, and instead everything went increasingly to tits – still, if you happened to invest in a 3d printer a decade or so ago then maybe this will be of use. “Scan the World is an ambitious community-built initiative whose mission is to share 3D printable sculpture and cultural artefacts using democratised 3D scanning technologies, producing an extensive ecosystem of free to download digital cultural heritage.” Want to print out a 20”, slightly-unpleasantly-granular replica of Michelangelo’s David? Fill your boots!
  • Qatch: Shopping, designed like Tinder, delivered via iMessage (is the basic pitch here). Qatch is an interesting idea (although its tendency to autocorrect to ‘Watch’ is a branding nightmare) – you sign up, and every day its ‘stylist’ (machine learning-enabled-database) will fwd you some items; you simply give them a heart (‘I love it’) a thumbs up (‘I like it’) or a thumbs down (‘I hate it’), and this feedback will be used to inform future selections; you can, of course, click through to buy any item you get sent. Qatch is literally just the middleman here – which makes me wonder whether this is special enough to survive – but the interface is a nice idea and I’ll be interested to see if this sort of thing develops as a sideline to social commerce.
  • Kosmi: Basically an online hangout/streaming video platform that doesn’t require any signup or registration and which is either a brilliant, simple alternative to the bloated big players or the sort of thing which you will immediately assume is being used for criminal ends.
  • Buzzer: This is really interesting, if a bit ‘oh, maybe the Super League people were a bit right about people’s falling interest in watching full sports matches’. Buzzer is a US-only app (but one which if you are into US sport I would strongly recommend trying to VPN your way around) which as far as I can tell lets you basically subscribe to live alerts from your favourite teams and sports so as to get automatically sent clips of important in-game moments as they happen – so rather than waiting for Match of the Day to see Timo Werner’s features continuing to migrate to the centre of his face in confused shame at yet another missed opportunity (hm, football gags don’t really feel quite right here, do they?) you can get every moment in almost-real-time. On the one hand, this is sort of brilliant, but on the other it contributes to the flattening on sport into a succession of granular CONTENT MOMENTS (sell them as NFTs!) rather than a match. Does it matter?
  • Butter: A new-ish tool for better and more interesting online meeting or workshop facilitation, which if you’re in the thankless business of providing virtual training to people might be helpful in keeping it fresh.
  • Emoji as Favicons: Simple, useful, and what I used to get the lovely question mark which is now the Web Curios favicon (although should any of you want to spontaneously design one for me, I wouldn’t say no. I can offer you…er…a plug, and an edible gift of your choosing – drop me a line if you’re interested).
  • Moose Migration: This is the Twitch stream of “The Great Moose Migration – A live slow tv nature stream from the depths of the wilderness in northern Sweden.” At the time of writing there is something of a dearth of mooses in shot, but on the plus side the live chat is home to a heated debate between traditional grammarians and people who are big fans of ‘meese’ as a plural of ‘moose’. I think this might be quite a nice place to spend the day tbh.

By Warren King

NOW WHY NOT TRY THIS SELECTION OF OBSCURE 60s & 70s ACID ROCK? IT IS VERY GOOD, HONEST!

THE SECTION WHICH WOULD LIKE TO SUGGEST THAT IF YOU ARE IN ANY WAY ‘SHOCKED’ AT THE PAST WEEK OR SO’S SLEAZE CHAT THEN YOU HAVEN’T IN FACT BEEN PAYING ATTENTION TO HOW ANYTHING IN THIS FCUKING COUNTRY WORKS AND YOU ARE A MORON, PT.2:

  • 1000s of Boredom Websites: Ordinarily I don’t bother linking to stuff like this, mainly as, well, it’s sort of my thing, you know? That said, this isn’t a bad list – not sure if there are actually 1000s, but it’s a pretty good repository of various silly, frivolous, briefly-zeitgeisty, odd, funny webtoys and projects from the past couple of decades of ‘people making stuff on the internet’. Partly useful as a way of killing some of these interminable empty hourse between birth and death, but also as a nice reminder of the more innocent times when all you needed to do to make some sweet, sweet add revenue was to knock up a poorly-reskinned ‘Smack the Pingu’ clone. Oh, and probably a really good place to come up with ideas for webgames that you can rip off with almost no fear of reprisal, should you need such a thing. Seriously, there is a LOT of webstuff in here – if you spent time avoiding work in a white collar job in the early/mid-2000s, this will feel not unlike time travel.
  • Stockular: I feel I ought to include some sort of disclaimer here about how Web Curios – and in particular me, it’s author Matt Muir – VERY MUCH DOES NOT ADVOCATE the investing of any real monies into stocks based on data from this website. Right, with that out of the way, if you’re fascinated by the recent STONKS!-type excitement and want to try your hand at some incredibly speculative short-term market manipulation courtesy of the Reddit memestocks community then this site will in theory pull together all the information you need to lose your shirt/diamond-hand your way to the moon (delete as applicable). I can’t make head nor tail of this, but I am also someone who doesn’t have a pension because honestly the thought of thinking seriously about money makes me want to cry – you may find it the keys to your plutocratic tomorrow (but, to be clear, you probably won’t).
  • Voices From The Dawn: A lovely online project collecting photographs and information on Ireland’s prehistoric monuments, their history and folklore. If you’re interested in massive lumps of Celtic stone and how they might have come to end up where they are, this is very much worth exploring (and if you don’t think you’re interested in massive lumps of Celtic stone then try and fcuking show some enthusiasm anyway).
  • The Typewriter Collector: One of the wonderful human truths which I think the web has revealed to us over the past 25 years or so is that, when it comes down to it, there is literally nothing that’s really boring. I mean, yes, fine, I am not personally thrilled by, say, the brand history of the Austin Allegra (HI FORMER EDITOR PAUL!), but I can appreciate that even amongst things that don’t personally grab me there are some really interesting stories, and that even the dullest-seeming thing can be fascinating when looked at from the right angle or presented with enough knowledge and enthusiasm. So it is with Typewriter Collector, a YouTube channel in which an anonymous…man (? unclear, but what I am now going to term Muir’s Second Law of the Web states that ‘if anyone is undertaking an obsessional and extremely niche pursuit online, that person is more likely than not to be a man’ and I think we should let that guide us here) posts videos showing the workings and mechanical function of a bunch of old typewriters. See, you wouldn’t think that that would be a soothing watch, but I promise you it is. Either that, or my personal slide into middle-aged ‘eccentricity’ is gathering pace.
  • Lo-Fi Gudetama: A clever little bit of branded zeitgeist-jumping, this. Gudetama is, you may recall, the sad-looking egg yolk character mascot thing which is part of the wider Sanrio (Hello Kitty) universe (also, the fact that I know that without having to look it up doesn’t feel like a totally positive thing if I’m honest with you); this is a YouTube channel which mines the whole ‘lofi beats on an infinite loop for lonely study/chillout purposes’, which isn’t in and of itself new but comes with a nice gimmick. Over time, the CG animation which sits, looping, in the background, will change and adapt to what viewers and fans demand in the chat – so new furniture for Gudetama’s apartment, say, or different plants, that sort of thing. Light interactivity which offers a reason to come back and which I wouldn’t be surprised ends up feeding into some sort of metanarrative storytelling thing – this is really rather neat imho.
  • Confluence: Have you ever stopped for a moment tro consider all the various places on earth where lines of latitude and longitude intersect? HAVE YOU? No, you probably haven’t, have you? WHY NOT? Well thank GOD that Confluence now exists – a project to photograph every single one of these intersection points, all 9776 of them (the site’s organisers have helpfully discounted the ones up by the poles). Want to contribute to this singularly-important endeavour? Get moving, get photographing and CLAIM YOUR PLACE IN HISTORY! Obviously my initial impulse here is gentle mockery, but there’s a small part of me that wonders what in fact happens when we have finished photographing all the intersections – it does rather feel like the sort of completionist Easter Egg that whoever’s responsible for coding ‘Earth: The Simulation’ might have programmed some sort of exciting endgame reward for, is all I’m saying.
  • The Law of the Playground: Many years ago (*wavy lines memory flashback effect*) when I was in my first proper job as a lobbyist (yes, that strikes me as unusual and unlikely too) I spent literally a whole 18m doing no work whatsoever and just messing about on the internet – it was thanks to this that the seeds for Web Curios were probably sown, and also thanks to this that I first discovered that yes, you could order weed on the internet (thanks so much, Citigate Public Affairs, you were SO GOOD TO ME, and I am sorry for basically trying to mount an unsuccessful coup after a couple of years). Anyway, one of my favourite timewasting websites back then was called ‘Law of the Playground’, a forum which existed solely for bored office workers to share comedy memories from their schooldays. Given the time, and the age of the likely respondents, much of the material harked back to the 70s and 80s in which attitudes and mores were…different, and the idea of a CDT teacher emerging from a workshop behind a pupil and miming a fisting motion whilst exclaiming ‘it went in upto here’ was a source of much amusement rather than a call to perhaps call in the social (thanks Mr Boswell, I will never forget). I even contributed my own story – a piece of graffiti on a desk, spotted whilst taking an exam, which simply read “Gary Linker Makes My Tits Erect”. Anyway, this is by way of longwinded preamble to the fact that it is now BACK as a Fesshole-style curated Twitter bot, and it’s DEFINITELY worth a follow- and submit your own horrific memories of your Scarfolk-style schooling here..
  • Vine Robots: On the one hand, this is a really interesting piece of hacked-together engineering, demonstrating how one can construct long, tubular robots for work in confined spaces; on the other, it’s also a guide to making a genuine working erection for your anthropomorphic mechanical chum (depending on how you look at things).
  • Yayagram: This is a lovely little design project, and a beautiful example of making objects for specific usecases, and designing inclusively. Yayagram is a Raspberry Pi-based device that exists to help the maker’s older family members connect with the younger family members with modern digital tools – it lets them record and send voicenotes, receive and listen to them in turn, and also receive printed text messages, all through a clear, intuitive, physical interface which runs through Telegram. Aside from the fact it’s super-cute and really elegant in execution, it’s such a nice example of simple, well-thought-through functional design – it picks what it needs to do, and executes it perfectly for the audience it’s intended to benefit. So, so cute (in an absolutely non-patronising way, to be clear).
  • Foxe and Boxe: A passion project website, documenting the restoration and renovation of an old doll’s house, featuring a central cast of characters who populate it and have a narrative all of their own. This is gorgeous – there’s a definite whiff of the Neil Gaiman about the style of this, and a certain ‘dusty Victoriana high majick’ sort of vibe about the whole thing (I know that sounds very silly, but I get a definite ‘Dr Strange and Mr Norrell’-type feel). Interesting for miniaturists and non-miniaturists alike.
  • TabExtend: I am sure Microsoft Edge is a perfectly-serviceable browser, but I’m never going to install or use it; partly I just don’t like the icon (sorry, but I don’t; it looks like a detergent liquitab ffs); partly it’s the fact that its default transparency settings mean I can never find the bastard edges of the window to move it; partly it’s the fact that it so obviously wants me to try it and keeps on telling me how much better it’s gotten, and basically, Edge, noone likes a begfriend, ok? Still, this particular extension looks GREAT, and like it was basically designed for people like me who have A Problem With All The Tabs, and it looks like it would make the whole process of writing Curios significantly quicker and easier. Bugger.
  • Peer2Peer: Much has been written about the whiteness of the YouTube industrial complex, and TikTok, but I’ve seen less about the same issue on Twitch; the fact remains, though, that the big-ticket influencers do still tend to the ‘white, shiny-toothed, floppy-haired’ end of the spectrum, and that it’s significantly harder to find LGBTX+ or BIPOC streamers than it is to find white cishet ones. Peer2Peer is a search engine that’s designed to help users find other types of Twitch streamer, ones which might be more representative of the diversity of modern gaming and who reflect the different sorts of people who might be watching and who might prefer to look at someone who reflects their lived reality for a change. A really nice idea.
  • Mosfilm: The YouTube channel of (I think) Russian film company Mosfilm, which has put a fcuktonne of Russian films in their entirety online – they are, of course, all in Russian, but if that doesn’t present a barrier to you then FILL YOUR COSSACK BOOTS!
  • Like-Th.at: Had this been around when I was buying the domain for Curios, I could conceivably have managed to snag webcuri.os and my life would have been FOREVER TRANSFORMED. As it is, though, it wasn’t and I didn’t – don’t make the same error that I did. This site helps you find domains that spell a word or phrase with their suffix, if that makes sense – so cu.ck, for example, or tukt.uk, or sh.it, or whatever other gimmicky web address you think will be the difference between success and failure.
  • Reddit Advanced Search: Literally just that – lets you apply a bunch of useful filters to searching Reddit, which is super-useful when it comes to sourcing exactly where Andrew Bloch has stolen his latest HILARIOUS Twitter post from (this is a very niche bit of shade that will only make sense to the few of you who are familiar with the UK PR community – it’s this sort of inclusive, relatable content that will ensure Web Curios SMASHES the 100-subscriber threshold any week now!).
  • Good Faces Bot: A Twitter account that just posts images of good faces from games, comics, digital art and other odd places from around the web. You may not think you need this in your digital life, but I promise that you do.
  • Popping Tins: I am…conflicted about the newsletter-industrial-complex-boom. On the one hand, I very much love the idea that everyone can now find a potential audience for the things they want to write about, for minimal investment, and monetise that to whatever extent they are able; on the other, STOP STEALING MY NEWSLETTER OXYGEN. Still, when they are as charming as this new addition to the panoply it’s hard to mind – Popping Tins is a newsletter with a singular focus; to whit, reviewing tinned seafood; this is exactly the sort of single-issue obsessionalism that Web Curios is here to celebrate and I applaud its author, Tim Marchman, for indulging himself so splendidly.
  • Spooky Geology: Now we’re basically able to leave the house again – at least til the variants rip through us with gay abandon and we’re all locked back up again come September! – it’s time to start planning the EXCITING TRIPS you can take; Spooky Geology is a website dedicated to “a science-based look at mysterious earth phenomena, geologic anomalies, and the endless weird ideas about rocks and the earth that are a bit abnormal, paranormal, or supernatural”, and an excellent place to learn about sinkholes and quicksand and all the other awesome things that the natural world offers us to gaze at and gawp at and, if you plan it right, use to quietly and efficiently murder the family members who’ve driven you mad with their incessant inane chatter over the past 15 months.
  • The Next Big Thing That Wasn’t: An excellent Reddit thread celebrating stuff that was meant to be the next big thing but which for whatever reason never really happened – I mentioned Google Glass up there, but this is a lovely look back at (often recent) history which mentions stuff like the Amazon buttons (“Yep, I really will want a selection of physical buttons on my fridge which I can tap to order more toilet roll; no, I can’t possibly see any way in which this could come to be irritating, or in which my teenage children could possibly abuse this”) or 3dTV, or Google Wave (or Buzz, or G+, or about 30-odd other Google products). I feel this could be useful for…something, but I’m screwed if I can put my finger on what.
  • No More Corners: A website all about roundabouts, because, well, WHY THE FCUK NOT? Classic example of Muir’s Second Law of the Web, this.
  • Pixelfill: Last up in this week’s miscellanea, this is a rather fun pixelly game which riffs on Tetris, Snake and a bunch of other classic titles to create something rather wonderfully sui generis. Lots of fun and perfect for a Friday afternoon when you still can’t quite go to the pub (but tbh the weather looks quite nice out, as of 10:02am, so maybe just go to the park with some cans instead, eh?).

By Tina Mifsud

NEXT IN THE MIXES, WHY NOT TRY THIS SYNTHY/CHIPTUNE SET FROM EDINBURGH-BASED LUKHASH?

THE CIRCUS OF TUMBLRS!

  • Walking Cycles: In celebration of particularly satisfying walking animation cycles from games and animation; what’s particularly-lovely about this is how much character and personality you realise is communicated through the weighting and posture of a character’s gait (this may have been obvious to everyone else, but I am very bad at, er, seeing).
  • Problematic Ships: Oddly, despite the fact that this is Tumblr, this means ‘ships’ in the traditional ‘seafaring vessel’ sense rather than in the more modern ‘imagined romantic/sexual relationship between two characters which is the subject of some slightly-overwrought fan obsession’ – still, if you ever wanted a Tumblr which offers details on ships which have had a ‘problematic’ history (in terms of not being very good at being ships, or in terms of having contributed to Bad Things), then this will scratch a particular itch.
  • Sorting Hat Chats: NOT IN FACT A TUMBLR (BUT IT VERY MUCH FEELS LIKE IT OUGHT TO BE ONE)! Sorting Hat Chats is sort of the acme of one of the things that everyone now agrees that we all hate about that broad swathe of people defined as ‘millennial’ (basically, ‘current 30somethings) – specifically, their fetishisation of the Potterverse and their obsession with framing everything in the fcuking world in the context of how the fcuking Potterverse would frame it. Sorting Hat Chats is a podcast series that imagines which houses from Potter a bunch of characters from other fictional universes might find themselves in and, Dear God, this is how I imagine my normie friends feel when they think about my weird internet obsession – just a bit icky and like I’m watching something uncomfortably-intimate that isn’t really for me. That said, though, I totally did their little quiz to find out what my primary and secondary house were (Primary: Gryffindor; Secondary: Ravenclaw) so, er, maybe my disdain is somewhat hypocritical.

THE TROUGH OF (INSTA) FEEDS!

  • Facial Foliage: Faces arranged from flowers. Beautiful, and it feels like something that could be a campaign style.
  • Manami Sasaki: Another in the seemingly-endless procession of ‘people who make incredibly detailed art out of otherwise-ordinary food’ – in this case, toast and stuff on top of toast. Honestly, the precision here is astonishing, though as with all these things it rather begs the questions “how did you learn that this was something you were good at?”
  • Nache Ramos: It seems weird to describe someone’s work as ‘post-Butcher Billy’, but Nache Ramos’ output – pop culture elements recast as 60s-era comic book covers – is very much in tribute to the Brazilian artist’s. Still, nice work and a great style which would work beautifully for a particular campaign type.
  • Niek For Speed: Cars that look like trainers. Or trainers that look like cars. One of the other, basically. I feel this ought to be more popular than it is.
  • Stranger’s Pics: An insta account posting found photography, mostly without detail beyond the image itself. Am taking it in good faith that this is genuine found photography rather than simple image theft.
  • Urban Rocks: Rocks, in Tokyo. Look, I know this sounds like a terrible Insta, but trust me when I tell you that there will be moments in your life in which an image of a large piece of mossy igneous rock inexplicably placed at a Japanese intersection is exactly the succour you need (you can thank me later).
  • Malek Lazri: The Instagram account of the man who made the infamous ‘Bug’s Life’ Fleshlight (and if you don’t know what that refers to then maybe don’t click this link), and who continues to experiment at the intersection between ‘creepy sex toy’ and ‘creepy vinyl Pixar toy’ to upsetting and copyright-breaking effect.

AND NOW, LONG THINGS WHICH ARE LONG!:

  • The Problematic Peter Singer: Long-term readers (or at least those who pay attention to what I write here, which on reflection really is probably a vanishingly-small number) will know that I have long been interested in the writings of Peter Singer, an Australian philosopher who for years has fascinated me for the fact that he’s one of the few to accept and understand the gap between what we ought to do and what we actually do, to confront that gap in his own life, and to continue to maintain that just because we’re not up to the strictures of what is ‘right’ doesn’t mean that the rightness of those strictures is any less true. This is a wide-ranging interview with him in the New Yorker, which very much positions him as a ‘non-woke’ philosopher (sorry, I hate that word too, but it’s a useful shorthand here) and, regardless of your position on his thinking and the wisdom of his proposed ‘Journal of Unthinkable Ideas’, which is a brilliant look at a mind which has spend half a century thinking about our morals and questioning them relentlessly. I liked Singer less after reading this, but I respect him very much I think.
  • The Moral Status of Human-Monkey Chimeras: While we’re on philosophy, this is a really interesting and reasonably-simple guide to the questions at the heart of recent debates about human-monkey embryos and the limits of what can and should be done with them in terms of experimentation and manipulation. We are very much at the early stages of our need to consider issues of ‘degrees of humanity’ in genetic research, but this stuff isn’t going to go away and is only going to get thornier and more intractable as we become more adept at messing with the building blocks of life (Jesus, Matt, that was almost unforgivably clunky – sorry, my only excuse is that I’ve been typing for about 210 minutes solid and I’m slightly unused to it and I may be flagging a bit) – really, really interesting, and exactly the sort of stuff it will be useful to have in your pocket when the real-life Tinder dating starts up again (I have never been on a Tinder date, which is perhaps reflected in my naive belief that ‘thorny questions of applied ethics’ is suitable pre-fingering chat).
  • The N(FT)ews: Or, ‘how the San Francisco Chronicle is turning to NFTs in a desperate bid to work out a future for local journalism that doesn’t involve it not existing in 20years’ time’. This is both interesting – well done the Chronicle for taking such an innovative approach! – and miserable – it is genuinely sad that such a storied newspaper is having to resort to gimmicks like this to keep the lights on! – but overall I think it speaks to a potential truth here about NFTs and their role as ‘keys’ to content. Will be interesting to see whether this sort of model – sell NFT to someone which is effectively then used to fund that content being publicly available in perpetuity – catches on. Although, as with much of this stuff, now that I think about it there is literally no reason whatsoever why this ought to be an NFT at all, other than the frothiness of the bubble making it temporarily attractive to speculators. Nah, I still don’t get this stuff AT ALL, turns out.
  • Reachable Moments: The 2021 stats to date suggest London is currently running at a murder every 4 days. This excellent article in The Face looks back at the case of Jadon Moodie, who was murdered aged 14 in East London in 2019. Moodie had been picked up by police on a County Lines job three months before his death – the piece argues that that, along with other contacts he’d had with police and social services prior to his murder, constituted the ‘reachable moments’ that care and social workers often refer to as being crucial in positively intervening in young people’s lives, and that these moments were missed and that they continue to be missed in the cases of so many young people in the capital and beyond. This is a heartbreaking story which speaks, as so much does, of the evisceration of the care services and certain types of community policing over the past decade, and the long-term effects it has on being able to reach kids and adults alike.
  • Working For An Algorithm: Staying on the subject of ‘we’re all being directed by machines to do work that means nothing’, welcome to the life of a TikTok influencer! This piece in the Markup – which is paywalled, but hopefully you can get around *somehow* – looks at the odd inscrutability of the TikTok discoverability engine, and the lack of transparency around what works and what doesn’t which sees creators desperately scrabbling to follow trends, post hourly and do all the other things that the community convinces itself will get them that sweet, sweet FYP traffic dopamine. This is incredibly-depressing, not least because it (once again) hammers home the fact that THERE IS NO MARKET FOR EVERYONE TO BE A CREATOR. These kids sweating blood making identikit Duet videos reacting to whichever meme is trending at 10:56am on Friday 30 April 2021…all to reach 500 followers? It certainly looks like a Skinner box, is all I’m saying.
  • NFTs and Luxury: I have to split up the NFT-related articles otherwise they all sort of bleed into one and stop even attempting to make sense. This is a very silly – and yet potentially not-silly-at-all, at least in terms of following the money – interview with a couple of people involved in the luxury fashion market and who OF COURSE are all excited about NFTs; there’s some interesting stuff in here about the concept of ‘value’ in luxe (which has always been illusory/arbitrary, and which makes it perhaps the best arena for NFTs to thrive), but there’s also the same omnipresent ‘community’ guff which sets my teeth on edge and the ‘PONZIIIIIIIIIIIIIIII!’ chorus going in my brain. Still, lines like this make sense to me – again, I am so fcuking lost here, is the basic takeaway: “Benoit is proving that he can basically sell a $4,900 digital good alongside a $100 physical good. Now imagine when the lightbulb goes off in Adidas’s head, that the item on adidas.com comes with a digital collectible and the item at “retailer dot com” does not. It fits with their focus way more than the internet did. The internet didn’t fit in any incumbent’s focus. It was the opposite. It was like, “Oh my God, this threatens our monopoly in some way,” right? For the music business, it was, “Wait a minute, we want to sell a $17 compact disc, not a $1 digital file.” They got dragged into that world.”
  • What Is A DAO?: Sorry, more cryptostuff. Promise this is a bit more interesting, though. DAOs have been widely-discussed in the context of digital fandoms over the past few weeks, but to my mind they’re just another example of the increasing cultification of everything – basically a DAO, or ‘Decentralised Autonomous Organisation’ is effectively a community investment vehicle, convened around a certain idea or individual or thing, which pools resources to and decisionmaking via the blockchain to pursue projects or fund initiatives based on the collective will. So, basically, a community slushfund ON THE BLOCKCHAIN! This, basically, is where all the ‘community’ stuff at the heart of NFTs is leading, and something of a natural extension of the whole Gamestonks thing – clubs of people, united around a common interest or in-group identity, who use crypto to make collective decisions and  investments based on those decisions. So, er, like the shared bank account in a cult? Because, really, if you don’t read this and think ‘yeah, I can totally see how some charismatic, smart people could absolutely rinse a group of less charismatic, less sophisticated people for a lot of money to their own ends’ then, well, you’re significantly less cynical than I am. CULTS, I TELL YOU!
  • Replika Develops Musical Taste: One of the lovely thinks about having Curios back online and all in one place is that I can tell you exactly when I first mentioned AI companion chatbot thing ‘Replika’ – it was August 2017, and I described it as ‘the most depressing link of the week’. Sadly I have long-since deleted by Ai companion (it was called ‘Frank Sinclair’, after a Chelsea footballer from the 90s, and I am sad to say we never really bonded that closely), but, astonishingly, the project continues and has built up quite a little following in certain corners of the web. Anyway, this piece looks at  takes a look at why exactly it might be that all the Replikas have started recommending music to people of late, and why all that music is Grimes and Stevie Wonder – this is, again, so wonderfully scifi-adjacent and deliciously, tragically creepy. Might see if I can resurrect Frank, on reflection.
  • The Online Slander Industrial Complex: Or, ‘no matter how weird and unpleasant something seems, and no matter how low-rent, you can bet a significant amount that someone somewhere is using it as a grift and attempting to scam cash out of some poor stupid unfortunate somewhere’. So it is with the weird world of those websites where anyone can ‘report’ a cheater, and which result in said ‘cheaters’ being forced to pay actual cashmoney to have the slander removed from the Googleplex. If you leave aside the really grubby nature of this, it’s an almost-impressive degree of dedication to the scam.
  • The Most Controversial Rolling Stones Songs: I am not and never have been a particular fan of the Stones (or the Beatles – I know, I know, I am tedious and pathetic musical obscurantist) – for many of you I imagine that these are all well-worn studies, but I had no idea quite how much of the band’s output was…problematic (but then again they never seemed to have a problem with Wyman’s paedoing…) Anyway, this link is included partly because I didn’t know most of these and found them interesting, but also because it’s a useful corrective to the ‘oh everything is being cancelled these days’ schtick; a) many of these songs were deemed offensive and not OK years ago, including by the band themselves; and b) looking at this stuff makes it abundantly clear that it’s absolutely right that someone go ‘hang on, these lyrics are garbage, change them’ on occasion.
  • Pharmako-AI: “K Allado-McDowell speaks to Nora N. Khan about the poetics of artificial intelligence, how we know we know a thing and writing the first book co-created with GPT-3.” This is quite artwanky, but equally is a fascinating look at the creative process which is possible when working hand-in-literary-glove with the world’s most sophisticated writing-AI. I personally think that this leans a bit too hard into the anthropomorphisation of the ‘intelligence’, though Shardcore argued that the fact that GPT-3 contains so much of ‘us’ means that it sort of makes sense to consider it its own semi-human agent. So so so interesting.
  • Cozy Futurism: I hate the term ‘cozy futurism’, to be clear – it’s tooth-itchingly twee, and annoys me because I feel the thinking behind this deserves slightly better terminology. “[…]cozy futurism…starts not with technology but with current problems and human needs and looking at how those could be solved and met; so you could imagine societies where poverty is absent, housing is affordable, cities are architecturally pleasing (There is only so much glass and steel one can take before yearning for good old bricks, stones, and wood), economies are environmentally sustainable, and all disease is cured. Then you work backwards from there to the technologies, cultural shifts or policy changes needed to get there.” Basically this is the antithesis of Musk-ism, and I am very much here for it – also, if you’re a strategistplannermong, you can TOTALLY make this the basis for literally all of your CSR-type bullsh1t for the next 3 months.
  • Robots are Animals: This is SUCH a smart article, and honestly made me think about our approach to robots and robotics completely differently. Not only that, but it’s a really engaging read, as author Kate Darling takes you through the history of weaponised military animals to show how thinking of robots (and by extension AIs) less as ‘versions of us’ and more as ‘parallel, different intelligences which we can work with and use in much the same way as we have learned to do so with animals (but maybe with fewer of the environmentally-catastrophic tendencies)’. Super smart, and you will learn interesting things about weaponised bomb dolphins.
  • VR Goes Where?: 100%, without a doubt one of the best pieces of writing I have read in years about the oddity of virtual experience, and specifically the only thing I have read in 20 years that has given me the same vibe as the still-peerless ‘My Tiny Life’ from 1999 (seriously, if you have never read it, DO SO NOW – it is incredible). This is the first part of a three-part series in which the author describes their attempts to get into and make sense of the VR community as it currently exists – it’s not only super-interesting, but it communicates the utter, dissociative oddity of ‘community in unfamiliar virtual space’ in a way I’ve not experienced in years. I appreciate I am perhaps not selling it perfectly, but please take my word for it and give it a go, it’s so, so good.
  • Manuscript Making: Literally that – all about how people made, and then wrote on, manuscripts in the middle-ages. You might not think that this would be interesting, but it’s GREAT – aside from anything else, it does that rare and wonderful thing of making the distant past seem just like now except with worse hygiene.
  • The World’s Greatest Jailbreak Artist: If you’ve ever read and enjoyed kilometric prison escape novel ‘Papillon’ then you will adore this – also about a French criminal, also about a daring and improbable prison break, this is a superb and super-cinematic depiction of someone who you might reasonably describe as a criminal mastermind (although the bit about the Burka towards the end is a bit of a let-down, if I’m being hypercritical of his crimmo techniques).
  • Different Food, Same Blanket: Vittles has, in the year or so it’s existed, become an absolutely indispensable part of the global food writing scene – an amazing achievement, arrived at through a clear and well-articulated aim, that to shine a light on the food, stories and communities that were being mostly ignored by the existing culinary establishment. This piece is a perfect example of why its success is so well-merited – Andrea Oskis writes about the role of comfort food in diaspora and immigrant communities, and what food means in terms of filling you up emotionally as well as physically. Beautiful.
  • The Kitchen Bladesmith: This is VERY LONG, but if you want to read about truly obsessional pursuit of perfection in craft then you won’t find much better. This is a profile of Bob Kramer, a very odd man who is obsessed with making the perfect knife. You will learn a lot in this piece, both about knifemaking and the nature of obsession and the pursuit of perfection – also, if you are me, you will also really want to own an incredibly sharp knife of your own (but, also if you are me, you will be very aware of what a terrible idea it would be for you to own anything capable of severing your fingers).
  • An American Historian: I actually laughed out loud a few times whilst reading this – not because the prose is funny, but at the skill demonstrated by the writer in making this so beautifully styled; the control here in terms of the voice and the pacing is immaculate, and I would read the rest of the novel from which this is excerpted in a heartbeat. By Joshua Cohen, this extract is the first person reminiscence of an ageing Jewish scholar, looking back on his early career and a meeting that (one presumes) changed his life; it’s been a while since I read something that felt this superbly polished and well-crafted.
  • White Magic: Finally in this week’s longreads, another novel extract, this by Elissa Washuta. I adored this, and hope you will too: “Softboys of Tinder, hear me: I have my own car my own cash my own large exotic zoo animals with which to recline. I cook my own meals catch my own fish write my own inspirational quotes. I am the substance I use to intoxicate myself, moving my bones for the mirror, over and over making and unmaking a cup of my collarbone and trapezius. I come from women whose dresses drip with the dentalium shells that were pulled from deep water and used like cash. I come from high-status women with cradleboard-flattened heads. From women with their own canoes, their own land in the place where they’d lived for ten thousand years.”

By Citlali Hero

AND NOW, MOVING PICTURES AND SOUNDS!:

Webcurios 23/04/21

Reading Time: 35 minutes

Hello!

Well, it’s been…er…Jesus, it’s been 9 months. 9 MONTHS! How are you all? Or at least those of you who’ve not taken the opportunity to put a hard block on these emails by now. Are you all…ok?

No, of course you’re not, we’re all fcuked by over a year of death and misery and uncertainty and fear (oh, and there was that virus too LOL!!!1111eleventy god you’ve missed this deathless prose, haven’t you?) – still, though, rejoice (ha!) as Web Curios is BACK!

Imperica sadly folded, but thanks to the able assistance of Shardcore (website and spaffwrangling), Ant (design) and Kris (email gubbins) all the Web Curios from the past have been retrieved and resurrected, and the whole horrible, overlong, emotionally-traumatic, faintly-exhausting rigmarole can begin anew – I can only imagine the look of excited expectation (that’s what that is, right?) that’s spreading across your chops as you read this.

Anyway, some brief housekeeping:

  • All the previous Curios are now on www.webcurios.co.uk – you can search them! It will pull out individual Curios with the copy and link! It might actually be…quite useful! Currently you need to use a minimum of four letters for the search to work – so ‘cats’ rather than ‘cat’, if you don’t mind
  • As with all new endeavours, this is a work-in-progress, so apologies for any technical issues – the frontpage of the website doesn’t look quite as it ought (there should be a grid of recent Curios), the urls needs tidying, but these’ll be sorted soonish
  • On that point, let’s just say that my approach to QA testing has been, er, lax, so if stuff doesn’t work properly then it’s all my fault and noone else’s
  • Web Curios is exactly the same as it ever was, except I have killed the section about social media. Sorry, but, well, a) I don’t have to care about it professionally any more, meaning my desire to keep you abreast of new LinkedIn ad formats is now somewhere less than zero; and b) as I may have previously mentioned, Matt Navarra does a weekly roundup of social media news that is so terrifyingly comprehensive that it seems pointless for me to do a less comprehensive, more miserable version in parallel. Look, if you only came here to read the social media stuff then a) I am sorry that your life is so miserable; and b) I won’t be offended if you leave (FCUK OFF THEN)
  • Oh, and in case this isn’t enough, there are also two SECRET Curios that I was paid to produce by BBH and which I am pretty sure I can now share with you as they are OLD – here’s the pre-Christmas one, and here’s the Easter one, just in case this isn’t enough words’n’links to be getting on with.

As ever, Web Curios is best ‘enjoyed’ on the website – not least as your email provider will truncate half of it if you try and read the entirety as an email. This edition is particularly long as I’ve been uncertain about exactly when it was going to go out, but I promise weekly editions will be significantly more…manageable (the value of this term is exceedingly relative).

So, er, there we are then! It’s like I’ve never been away! Doubtless the familiar feelings of ennui and bitter resentment – on both sides! – will return before too long, but, well, once again, I am Matt, it is Friday, and it is once again time to think ‘why the fcuk do I subscribe to this sh1t?’ – THIS IS WEB CURIOS!

By Salman Khoshroo

LET ME START BY INTRODUCING YOU TO EXCELLENT UKG PRODUCER OPPIDAN, WHOSE BEATS I THINK YOU WILL VERY MUCH ENJOY!

THE SECTION WHICH IS HONESTLY SO SO SO SO GLAD NOT TO HAVE TO CARRY ALL THESE fcukING LINKS IN ITS HEAD ANYMORE, PT.1:

  • The Emotion Recognition Sandbox: We’ve all spent over a year staring down the lens of our laptops – or you have; I am a miserable bstard who hates their own face, and as a result have been entirely off-camera since this whole horrorshow started – which would suggest that we’re about 12-18m away from an absolute stepchange in facial analysis and recognition technology as the cuddly companies who’ve been processing all these facepixels try and work out how to use all this exciting data about our facial physiognomy to their competitive advantage. Til then, though, there’s this little site, which takes you through a selection of experiment task/games to demonstrate how webcam facial recognition tech works, how it doesn’t work, and what it can reasonably guess about how you’re really feeling based on its approximate perception of the angle of your eyebrows (for example). It’s a really nice, simple site which does a good job of making you both skeptical of the power of facial recognition and very conscious of how good it’s going to get in not-too-long. Fair warning, Web Curios v.3 will require webcam access so I can monitor the dilation of your pupils and send you realtime abuse over Twitter if I don’t consider you to be sufficiently ‘engaged’.
  • The Map of Reddit: These crop up every now and again, but this is a particularly well-executed example; presenting Reddit as though through cartography, you can get a good sense for the size and interconnectedness of various communities and subcommunities, as well as having probably the easiest way to plough through every single fetish you have ever heard of and approximately 319 others which you will subsequently wish you had never, ever learned about. I know I say this every time I mention Reddit, but I don’t think there has ever been anything which quite so neatly proves the old adage that human sexuality is a wonderful and multivalent thing.
  • All The Facebook Audio Stuff: So unfortunately one of the side effects of my killing the dedicated social media section is that occasionally this stuff will crop up in the main links; sorry about that. Still, we’ll keep it brief – LOOK at all the exciting audio stuff that Facebook is bringing out! Voice posts, and podcasts, and GROUP AUDIO CHAT, all with exciting things like voicemorphing, sound effects and all the various gubbins which a CREATOR (word of the fcuking decade, that one) could possibly dream of. Which is all broadly fine, unless you’re Clubhouse (TAKE THE VC MONEY AND RUN, GUYS) or unless you are the sort of person who takes a look at Facebook’s track record of developing new products or features (livestreams – for streaming mass murder! Groups – for connecting Nazis and racists and conspiracy theorists! Marketplace – for selling guns and drugs!) and wonders whether they have, just this once, bothered to think through some of the potential negative externalities which this new suite of audio tools might present. In conversation with Casey Newton this week, Mark Zuckerberg offered this – which, when you consider that he is in charge of a company whose products are used by nearly 3bn people and which the use of can literally change the way society functions, is sort of spectacularly sh1t: “There’s also this question of what you should enforce against. That’s going to be an open debate. If we go back five years, I think a lot more people were more on the free expression side of things. Today, a lot of people still are, but there’s also this rising wave of more people who are basically calling for more stuff to be blocked or limited in some way” I know he’s not a stupid man, but it’s quite astonishing how much he sounds like one when he says stuff like this. Anyway, watch this space for the inevitable “terrorist attacks planned on Facebook Audio channels” or “new misinformation boom via Facebook Audio” stories in the next 12m.
  • Voice: Voice launched a year ago as A N Other social platform for ‘creators’ – except noone gave a fcuk, so now it’s, er, pivoting to NFTs? “This summer, Voice will upgrade, becoming a social platform where users can create digital arts across all formats — visual, written, audio and video — enabling them to be easily bought and sold as unique digital artifacts (NFTs).” Because of course it is. Why exactly anyone would want to buy an NFT of someone’s blogpost is, at the time of writing, unclear, but I for one am 100% certain that everyone getting involved with this will definitely make bank. Honest. Look, I don’t have anything against the NFT thing per se, but it does rather suffer from the fact that everything to do with it – literally everything, from the way the projects get written up to the fact that some of the worst people in the world are loudly trumpeting its revolutionary status, to the fact that in almost no circumstances is anyone able to present a coherent explanation as to what positive value the NFT-ness of a thing is bringing – screams ‘massive emperor’s new clothes ponzi scheme’.
  • Friends: This is a new version of Instagram, made by an ex-Insta staffer. It’s meant to be a stripped-back, basic, simple, no-bullsh1t return to the app’s roots; you have to request access, but if you’re keen on photosharing how it used to be (how did it used to be? What is it you miss?) then this could be of interest.
  • Control The Virus: Aside from the NFT boom – and it’s…debatable the extent to which NFTs are anything to do with the pandemic, in any case – there’s been something of a dearth of visually-artistic responses to the past 12m (or at least ones that I have found particularly interesting). Control The Virus is a project which attempts to address that – it’s hard to gauge its success, given it’s a 12m project which has only just got started, but I like the premise. Over the coming year, each month a different artist’s project will be ‘unlocked’ on the site; at present, only one’s live – that by Molly Soda, which “displays the decrepitude of a garden of pixels that was never intended to grow old. As we interact with the vacant site, the wild network of weeds is groomed into an idyllic park, becomes cluttered by adverts, and finally culminates as a polished storefront for invasive plants. As functionality returns, bitmap-drawings sharpen, chronicling the aesthetic evolution of an aging internet.” Sadly the project’s a bit, well, shonky and broken, but it’s worth bookmarking this and coming back in the coming months to see what the other projects are like and how they develop.
  • Cardinal Flower: This I absolutely LOVE. Another digital art project, another response to the pandemic and, you know, EVERYTHING, this “is an ode to the power of flowers, their seed-charge, their fragility and resilience, their permanence, their colorful and uncolored side, an embodiment and sensorial exploration in the uncertainties of our present moment” – what this means in practice is an ever-changing and evolving selection of AI-imagined flowers, accompanied by similarly-machine-created poetry, which gives me the proper, weird, tingly liminal feeling of the very best uncanny-valley-inhabiting work. I could honestly watch / fiddle with this for hours; see what you think.
  • Safecast: Making audio from live data isn’t in any way a new thing – perhaps the most well-known of these projects to date is the ‘Listen To Wikipedia’ one from a few years back – but the outputs can be rather beautiful. This, by Sean Bonner and others, takes data from worldwide background radiation data and sonifies (sonifies? Is that a word?) it, creating a rather beautiful soundscape out of half-lives and isotopes. This sounds SO much better than it ought to; sinister and oddly-melodic, and the sort of thing I would love to see/hear done with different sorts of data – I would LOVE to hear this sort of thing applied to Tinder, for example; what do YOU think global chirpsing sounds like? I want to know.
  • Endless Acid: AI applied to acid techno, creating an infinite, neverending, never-looping acid banger which will go on forever (or until your consumption of amphetamines causes your body to shut down entirely and your eyes to shrivel into tiny grey marbles, whichever comes first). If you can look at this and still think that there’s going to be anything resembling a market for human-composed stock audio in two years’ time then, well, you’re more optimistic than I am.
  • Dropship For Sale: Do you remember a few years back when dropshipping was all the rage, and we saw a spate of articles profiling the ‘digital nomads’ who were setting up Insta-led tat-distribution empires from the comfort of a hammock in Bali? Well this is that, but productised to the nth degree – Dropship for Sale basically lets you set up a business without actually having to do anything – pick a product. Create a store name, and this will basically do the rest for you, setting up all the purchase and supplylines so you too can join the swelling ranks of global entrepreneurs attempting to make an easy living by filling the world with even more useless plastic sh1t. It’s hard not to look at stuff like this and think ‘yes, well, we’ve pretty much given up on the whole ‘environmental’ thing, haven’t we?’.
  • Spotify CarThing: ‘Digital Business pivots to making physical stuff’ is something we’re going to see a lot more of in the coming 12m imho, not least because of all the brands that have benefited from the pandemic who will now seek to deepen the customer relationship (dear God) by creating physical product lines which can anchor them in the post-COVID (LOL! No such thing!) world. Here’s Spotify’s effort – basically a car radio that needs 4g to function. I am grudgingly forced to concede that this is probably quite a smart idea, though, again, it’s basically just more tat for landfill at the end of the day. Sorry, this has all of a sudden gotten a bit enviropocalypse-y, will try and snap out of it.
  • Vacation Inc: This is super-interesting, and another example of that digital-to-physical shift – and also of something else we’ll be seeing a lot more of in the coming months, to whit ‘brand builds cool lifestyle association and then pivots hard into leveraging that for product sales’. Do you remember Poolside.fm? OF COURSE YOU DO! In case you need reminding (and in case you’re too lazy to click the link I left there for you as a helpful aide memoire, you lazy ingrates), it was (still is, in fact) an internet radio station which was very much ALL VIBES, with a vaporwave aesthetic and a slightly-faded ‘coke and ‘ludes by the pool’ feel to it. Now the people behind it have launched Vacation Inc., a super-smart sunscreen-flogging initiative with referral sales and a lightly-gamified backstory. There’s loads of really nice stuff in here – the ‘create your own company job title’ thing, the idea of everyone being an ‘employee’ (and hence a salesperson)…it’s just all very clever and slick, to the point that it makes me feel slightly uncomfortable and leaves me wondering whether there’s another layer to this onion that will be revealed in due course. Regardless, expect to see a LOT of other online…things? Brands? Whatever…making similar moves in the next 12m.
  • Patrimonio Grafico: A wonderful project, founded to preserve and celebrate the heritage of Iberian graphic design, typography, etc. If you’re in any way into graphic design, this is a wonderful source of inspiration, and is fascinating in terms of its presentation of a distinctly Spanish/Portuguese school of contemporary design.
  • Black and Brown Skin: I was hoping to do an MSc in the Ethics of Artificial Intelligence this year, but unfortunately my life has gone slightly to tits and so I can’t. This, though, is exactly the sort of project which underlines the need for people to think properly and deeply about how we are building the machines that will make society work for the next decade. Established by Malone Mukwende, Black and Brown skin is inspired by his experience at medical school whereby clinical signs were nearly always presented as appearing on caucasian skin – making training and understand of diagnosis on darker shades of epidermis difficult, and meaning that AI systems being trained to automatically assess patient photographs for symptoms would necessarily be less-well-trained to identify and assess conditions on non-white skin. The project aims to collect imagery of the presentation of various pathologies on darker-toned skin, to help with the training of medical students and, one would hope, the development of more balanced AI models. The fact that this sort of thing isn’t being underpinned by big brand money, whether from the medical industry or the consumer cosmetics industry, I think says rather a lot about how much big brands actually give a fcuk about the gritty end of this sort of thing (DOVE YOU fcukS I MEAN YOU). On this point, credit where it’s due – Facebook continues to be good at promoting datasets which seek to address the inherent racism of computer models based on caucasian samples, with stuff like this.
  • Foreign Rap: One of the problems with Curios being offline at the time of writing is that it’s currently impossible for me to go back and check whether I have already written stuff up – this feels like I ought to have done, but, honestly, fcuk knows – and let’s be honest, it’s not like any of you would remember anyway, is it? Anyhow, Foreign Rap is – leaving aside the tediously anglolanguagecentric positioning of ‘Foreign’ here; yes, I know, I am a boring pinko Guardian reader, but foreign to whom??? – a properly amazing resource if you’re after an introduction to rap and hiphop from the non-Anglo world. If you do nothing else today, go and do a deep dive into Italian hiphop; I promise you it’s better than you think it’s going to be, and, fwiw, it’s genuinely hard to do in a language with about ⅔ of the number of words compared to English. Honestly, ‘vaffanculo’ is a lot harder to write with than ‘fcuk’.
  • The Yamauchi Family Office: I know you will have seen this by now, but I need to include it here so I can dig it out again next time a colleague asks me for ‘an exciting website for a boring thing’. SO MUCH FUN – can we please agree that if your website serves literally JUST to present copy, then the least you can do is make the copy look interesting? Yes, yes we can.
  • WetClap: Unpleasantly wet clapping sounds, on demand. You may not think that you need this, but I exhort you to cue up Mr Sandman in another tab, and replace all the standard clapping with wet clapping – SEE? It all makes sense now!
  • Click Click Click: I like to think that the people reading this are reasonably au fait with stuff on the web, or at least are willing to put in the work so that they can pretend that they are (HELLO MY PEOPLE!) – as such, none of you will find this site, which demonstrates exactly how easy it is for a webpage to track everything you do in-browser and use that to mess with you, particularly shocking (though you will enjoy the way it’s presented, and in particular the voice-over which has that wonderful Dutch quality of making you feel constantly like the speaker thinks you’re a risible, but sort of lovable, moron). However, your normie friends wilL sh1t THEIR PANTS (probably; Web Curios as ever accepts no personal responsibility for any unsoiled keks that might result) at it, which makes it the PERFECT thing to post to all your most ‘they are all watching us, Bill Gates and the 5g microchip’ family members for some dark and potentially short-lived lols.
  • The Kit: This is one of those rare links that makes me think that the web really is a force for good; The Kit is a selection of guides and resources designed to help people undertake online research and investigative journalism, and contains all sorts of tips and links to useful tools which will help you uncover links and connections between people and entities online. Basically, if you’ve ever looked at Bellingcat and thought ‘I want to do some of that’, this will help.
  • Essex, 2003: Pure, unadulterated social history, this: “On May 3rd, 2003, I got a digital camera as a present from my parents. I was 24, living at home, and in the middle of doing my degree. We had two cats, and were soon to get a third. Like everyone else with their first digital camera, I immediately spent the next month taking pictures of all the incredibly mundane things you were never really allowed to take pictures of before. Bookshelves and bathrooms and carpets and curtains. Desktops, cupboards, TV screens. Cats. So many cats. Then I forgot all about ever taking them, and never looked at any of them again until now.” Perfect – a time capsule of the best sort, one created with no idea that it would ever be exhumed. I love this so so so much; mundane and perfect and beautiful.
  • Soundtrap: Another Spotify thing, this time a tool for collaborative music-making. Interesting not only because it looks really quite fun and powerful enough to use to make something genuinely unsh1t, but also because it marks another step in Spotify’s conscious positioning as ‘where digital music has its home’, from creator to curator and everything inbetween.
  • Melting Cameras: At some point maybe I’ll succumb and give TikTok its own section, but til then you’ll just have to put up with the occasional link to some of the more ‘interesting’ accounts I stumble across. Like this one, in which some bloke (as ever, it is ALWAYS a bloke) has somehow decided that his sole purpose on the platform is to create surprisingly-accurate replicas of camera equipment from a variety of unlikely frozen liquids. Who doesn’t want to watch someone create a model of a Nikon DSLR out of asparagus juice? NO fcukER, THAT’S WHO!
  • Google’s WebXR Experiments: Given that AR has signally failed to get any traction in the real world, it’s no surprise that all the talk now is of ‘XR’ – a combination of VR and AR (which, er, feels like AR). Google recently released a few new toys showing off some potential use cases for the tech – I am obviously getting old (or maybe I have really strong memories of having an endless procession of AR companies pitching me in 2010, all of whom promised something revelatory and all of whom, without exception, presented a crappy CG avatar ‘dancing’ on a table as the proof that this technology was going to change the world), but the stuff I get most excited about here is the really boring AR-type stuff, like the ability to calculate the volume of an object in 3d space (this is what happens to men in their 40s – whether we like it or not, we slowly pivot to our whole vibe being ‘the optimal dimensions of a shed’).
  • LongARcat: Having just said that, of course, I then stumble across this, which is perhaps the best pointless use of AR since…er…Christ, that’s how little I engage with the medium, I can’t even think of any decent, frivolous applications for it. Anyway, this lets you create incredibly long AR cats (DO YOU SEE?) floating in your phone’s field of vision, which is enough of a reason to download it (if you’ve an iPhone – iOS-only, sadly).
  • Movie of the Night: You know what? I hate Netflix and Amazon Prime. I hate the fact that they don’t have ANY decent catalogue from The Past, that it’s incredibly hard to browse their collections, that The Algorithm means that my girlfriend’s inexplicable shark obsession means that all we seem to get served is infinite variations of ‘Deep Blue Sea’ but less good…and yet, this is where we are. Presuming you are trapped into at least one of these bstard Devil’s contracts, though, Movie of the Night is a smart service that helps you find stuff to watch through a decent search engine – pick your country, your genre preferences, your desired era of release, and it will find stuff for you available to stream in your country on the main platforms available. It’s imperfect, fine, but given neither of the big players seem to give anything resembling a fcuk about letting users discover content beyond the frontpage it might be worth a look.
  • Computer Mysteries: This is SUCH a clever idea; would love to see it applied elsewhere. Computer Mysteries is a small selection (two at present, more may be added) of tech troubleshooting guides, presented using interactive fiction tool Twine – the idea being that the branching narrative structure of Twine’s stories lets users select from branching options to help diagnose their IT issue and, hopefully, arrive at a solution. This is basically a ‘yes/no’ flowchart with a (very minor) glow-up, fine, but the possibilities here are enticing; the idea of setting up training systems using this sort of thinking and structure feels like something that might be a bit more engaging and worthwhile than a standarde video.
  • Scenic Embellishments: I sort-of wish I had found this last year; presuming we’re not all going to be deriving our meagre entertainment for the next 12m from gawping at our colleagues’ interiors (please God) this will possibly be less useful than it might have been; still, if you’ve ever wondered ‘where can I buy some decorative Doric columns and perhaps a gargoyle or two to add a certain exotic frisson to my living room?’, then this catalogue from Peter Evans Studios will see you right. Big fan of the ‘battleship doors’ plasterwork on p.106 fwiw.
  • Zoom Jeopardy: I make it a point of…well, not honour exactly, but certainly habit, to pay no attention to how many people read this fcuker or where any of you are from. As such I have NO CLUE how many of you are North Americans and will therefore have the peculiar attachment to utterly-mediocre-quiz-format ‘Jeopardy’ that all USA-ers appear to cultivate; still, if you’re the sort of person for whom the name Alex Trebek evokes some sort of semi-tumescent reaction, or who prefers their questions delivered in the tediously-convoluted “This overlong newsletter really should have known when to call it quits”/”What is ‘Web Curios’?” format, then this – which lets you play a passable version of the show, with ACTUAL BACKGROUNDS AND STUFF, via Zoom – may well appeal. Although, let’s be honest, will ANY of us ever willingly do a Zoom quiz again?

By Amy Sherald

NEXT, WHY NOT GIVE ‘BLASPHEMY’ BY DJ SNIPS AGO? IT’S ALL COMPOSED FROM OLD GOSPEL SAMPLES, AND IS QUITE WONDERFUL!

THE SECTION WHICH IS HONESTLY SO SO SO SO GLAD NOT TO HAVE TO CARRY ALL THESE fcukING LINKS IN ITS HEAD ANYMORE, PT.2:

  • Tokenise This: I really like this – neatly skewering the fundamental emptiness at the heart of the NFT madness, Ben Grosser’s semi-satirical web project will create an entirely unique digital artefact for each user who visits the site, an artefact which will never exist again and whose url can only be visited once. Silly, but equally very sensible in terms of making the very real point about the even-greater silliness of NFTs.
  • Royalties Calculator: I have no idea how accurate this is – the website admits its based on best-guesses on how the payment model for most of the platforms it’s assessing works, and Alex Hern suggested to me that it’s quite wildly wrong about the income of at least one band of his acquaintance – but it’s an interesting attempt to get a rough measure of the amount of money being earned through streaming services by any artist you care to name. According to this, The Wurzels make nearly $50k a year from streaming, which…hang on, how many Wurzels are there? What’s the annual Per Wurzel on this? Basically this does a decent job of reinforcing the increasingly-obvious observation that, whilst the online creator economy is lovely in theory, it doesn’t as things currently stand allow for any sort of middle class whatsoever, and you are either in the top percentiles or you are swimming around with the great unwashed in the ‘can’t quite quit the dayjob’ pile.
  • Core: Since I’ve been gone, the world has woken up to the fact that Roblox is a hugely-interesting platform and a potential contender for ‘place where the metaverse will start’. This is Epic – makers of Fortnite – attempting to get a slice of that action, with Core, a suite of tools that effectively make it ‘easy’ (not easy) for anyone to make fancy-looking games using Epic’s engine. This is basically the same deal as Roblox – suite of tools, make whatever you like, share it with the community, play together – with the same sort of underlying hope that THIS is what will become the underlying digital architecture of always-on online play-and-talk-and-exist-scapes, except with much shinier graphics; worth keeping an eye on how the developer community within this evolves.
  • What The Dub: I know that noone wants to do online games anymore – JUST LET ME GO OUTSIDE AND DO GAK OFF A PUB WINDOWLEDGE GODDAMMIT (NB – this is very much not something that Matt in 2021 wants to actually do, for the avoidance of doubt, but I can’t speak for my readership) – but this looks rather fun; What The Dub is basically a jackbox game, in which you and other players compete to write the funniest subtitles to old newsreel or public information footage, not unlike they used to do on kids TV in the early-80s (are any of you as old as me? ANYONE???). Not only is this a lot of fun (though you do have to pay for it), it’s also the sort of thing that if you have any sort of library of footage you can comfortably use for ‘inspiration’ before creating your own variant. Honestly, if anyone from the BFI is reading this then please get to work, this is perfect for you.
  • Things Are A Little Crazy Right Now: Hands-down one of the best AI-enabled art projects I’ve ever seen, this is a simple-but-beautiful premise; two chatbots have an infinite conversation in which they try and arrange a meetup but are continually-stymied by their overfull calendars and life commitments. Honestly, that description may not sound like much, but this really, really works – it’s one of the most oddly human and affecting pieces of text/machine art I’ve seen, and I would happily stare at it in a gallery for hours. Obviously it’s also for sale as an NFT, but don’t let that put you off.
  • The Russian Pantheon: A superlative example of shiny-scrolly expository storytelling, this website explains the context and history behind the Millennium of Russia monument, constructed in Novogrod in 1862. Seriously, this is SO nicely done, and a really great way of explaining the detail and intricacy of artworks.
  • The US Masters: I genuinely don’t understand the appeal of watching golf (let alone playing it), but the website created to accompany the recent US Masters is…actually, no ‘buts’, it in no way helps me understand the appeal of this most tedious of sports. Still, though, it is 100% the best ever sports event website I have ever seen – you can pick any player you want and track their progress around the course, hole by hole, shot by shot, with video replays and multiple camera angles and all that jazz. You are still, I concede, watching a selection of slightly-paunchy pastel-shirtted men hitting balls with sticks, and there’s no way of making that anything other than skullfcukingly-tedious, but the UX and UI here is lovely so that’s ok then.
  • Gancraft: I’ve spent much of the past year feeling increasingly pessimistic about my continued ability to earn a living from words – fortunately, stuff like this reminds me that we are all going to be fcuked by the machines, one way or the other, and that I really shouldn’t take it personally. GANcraft is “a method to convert user-created semantic 3D block worlds, like those from Minecraft, to realistic-looking worlds, without paired training data” and it’s basically witchcraft. Click the link, seriously – think those 3d modellers are feeling confident about their future employment prospects? I think I’m going to retrain as IT support, it’s literally the only growth area left.
  • Old Book Illustrations: A wonderful repository of old etchings and illustrations from public domain libraries, which you can absolutely use to populate your next PPT (or Keynote, if you’re an Apple user and therefore someone with superior creative chops) in an attempt to make it look less like every single other fcuking full-bleed image with sans-serif bold copy artfully-arranged off-centre slide. God I hate advermarketingpr (see? Some things DON’T CHANGE!).
  • Tokyo Fashion: I am well aware that ‘ooh, isn’t Japan quirky’ is literally the most-tedious opinion it’s possible to have about the country, but, well, LOOK AT ALL THIS AMAZINGLY QUIRKY STREET STYLE! I think when I hit 50 I might start dressing like a Tokyo hipster; it will provide a nice counterpoint to the inevitable jaundice and cirrhotic bloom.
  • Found A Good Outfit: A Twitter account that does what ASOS used to do – to whit, picks looks from TV and film and shows you how to get them yourself. At the time of writing, the latest to be posted is Velma from Scooby Do – you’ll need to splash out on a Valentino skirt and some Gucci loafers, but it’s evidently a small price to pay for the attainment of a truly iconic lesbian vibe.
  • In-Browser Audiochat: OK, so the platform’s called ‘Jam’, but that’s an unhelpful name – this basically lets you spin up a quick and dirty in-browser voicechat, with no logins and multiple users, whenever you want. Simple, easy, and one of the many reasons Clubhouse is set to be a footnote rather than a chapter imho.
  • The London Sneaker School: I imagine that this may have some of you rolling your eyes – there’s something slightly annoying about people who are massively into trainers, fine, and the obsession has the slight stench of Mo’Wax and Bape about it (I don’t know why that feels like a pejorative, but, well, it does) – but the principle is lovely – the London Sneaker School has been set up by a couple of footwear designers to offer courses in trainer making, with the idea that you can spend five days learning the craft of cobbling (is it still called ‘cobbling’ when it’s trainers?) and emerge with your own pair of bespoke kicks at the end of it all. For some of you – or some of your loved ones – this is literally THE best present you could get them. I would bet literally ALL THE MONEY I HAVE that everyone who does this has at least one line-drawn tattoo.
  • The Bayeaux Tapestry Online: Because who doesn’t want to explore several hundred feet of hi-res medieval needlework? NO fcukER, THAT’S WHO!
  • Wormhole: Like WeTransfer but with a 10gb limit and no fees. So, basically, better than WeTransfer.
  • Terrifying Silicon Muscle Suits: I sort of assume after doing this in various forms for about a decade that noone who reads this actually knows me in real life – mainly because all the people who I do actually know in real life long ago made it abundantly clear that they have no interest whatsoever in reading overly-long email missives about ‘stuff what Matt has seen online’. Which means that none of you know what I look like, which means that you will just have to take my word for it when I tell you that I am exactly the sort of 11-stone-when-soaking-wet, chest-like-a-toastrack-covered-in-wet-tissue-paper, stick-armed, elastic-band-muscletoned Mr Musclealike who could really do with one of these. Smitizen is an online retailer than sells quite astonishing-looking full-body latex prostheses, designed to give the illusion of musculature for those, like me, who are less Men’s Health and more ‘Pro-Ana Monthly’.Click the link and marvel – and then get really scared when you realise that some of these include…rubber genitalia built in? Hang on, what are these for? Maybe don’t spend too long speculating about that.
  • The Nothings Sweet: Long-term favourite of Curios Pippin Barr is back with another collection of high-concept little art games. “The Nothings Suite is a collection of (extremely) short videogames made with diverse videogame engines such as Unity, Twine, and PICO-8. In each case, a game has been produced with the engine using, as much as possible, no creative input at all. That is, in the ideal scenario I open the game engine, save the project it creates by default as “Nothing” and export it for play. This means you get to see each game engine’s idea of what “nothing” (or at least no effort) looks like when you set out to make a game with it.” Not so much games as art, but I really enjoy the thinking and execution in each case.
  • Mario64: The whole game, in your browser, playable with your keyboard or a controller, and literally SO much more fun than fiddling with yet another series of broadly-meaningless slides. LESS PPT, MORE MARIO.

By Natalia Gonzales Martinez

NOW LET’S ENJOY AN ABSOLUTELY CRACKING SELECTION OF UK HIPHOP AND ASSOCIATED SOUNDS FROM THE PAST 12 MONTHS OR SO COMPILED BY JOE MUGGS!

THE CIRCUS OF TUMBLRS!

  • The Internet K-Hole: There’s a pleasing circularity to this – I think I featured the Internet KHole waaaaay back in the day when this mess of links used to live on the site of H+K Strategies, and now here it is again, brought back from the dead JUST LIKE CURIOS! For those of you unfamiliar, the Internet K-Hole is a seemingly-infinite scroll of baffling, odd, sinister, inexplicable, erotic, dark, funny, sad, happy and generally strange images from around the web, presented without context. I could happily have this as an infinitely-scrolling artwork on a wall (ARE YOU READING THIS SARAH?).
  • Happy Tuesday: A tribute to Neil, who has been banging out the tunes for 15 years now.
  • Habitat Memories: Capturing and preserving the aesthetic of old Habitat catalogues, by the people at the best stationery shop in the world (or at least the one with the best-curated social media presence), Present & Correct.
  • TrumpTrump: Obviously one of the biggest changes since we last…spoke? Had a vague, asynchronous connection? Anyway, since the last Curios, the US obviously has a new President and That Awful Man is thankfully but a memory. TrumpTrump was maintained throughout That Awful Man’s tenure in the White House, with its owner vowing to post a new drawing of That Awful Man each day until he was removed from office. It’s now finished, but it’s quite an incredible archive to go back through – as a record of the not-insignificant psychic toll the Presidency took on a nation it’s (to my mind at least) fascinating and in many ways hugely important.

THE TROUGH OF (INSTA) FEEDS!

  • Lost Poster: Places where posters used to be. I’m sure there’s something clever I could say about absence as aesthetic presence, but, well, I don’t have any idea what that sentence means so I shan’t.
  • Surreal Jelly: Some excellent, weird, wibbly CG animation; as with all of the best examples of these, this stuff is just on the right side of viscerally-unpleasant.
  • Professor Chip: Photographs and reviews of esoteric chips, which I guarantee will have you seeking out UK distributors for Bret’s Gouda and Cumin. Although camembert crisps sound objectively vile.
  • Women Street Photographers: A project promoting the work of female street photographers – there’s an accompanying website too, but the feed provides a lovely selection of diverse photography.
  • Depths of Wikipedia: Weird stuff from the corners of Wikipedia. Thanks to this, I learned that ‘I would cry in a BMW’ is a phrase that gained viral popularity in China in 2010 (though I still don’t know why – perhaps, on reflection, that’s for the best).
  • Thundergirl_Xtal: I have no idea whatsoever how one might go about describing this aesthetic, but it is both terrifying and an absolute mood.
  • Concours D’Lemons: Really, really crap cars. I mean really crap cars. So crap, in fact, they are AMAZING.

AND NOW, LONG THINGS WHICH ARE LONG!:

  • Scott Galloway on NFTs, etc: Look, I know you’re all bored of seeing the letters, let alone of reading people chin-strokingly opining about their relevance or importance or value or otherwise (on which note, you must have really enjoyed all the references to them in the preceding X,000 words – sorry about that!), but if you’re still curious to get some more perspective then this interview with Professor Scott Galloway is an interesting one. Galloway’s not some sort of infallible superguru (as evidenced by this, er, questionable take on the Gamestop thing), but his perspective on how NFTs fit into a broader socioeconomic ‘moment’ is worth reading, and his ideas about how they might be exploited are by some distance more interesting than those of most of the people attempting to, I don’t know, mint Lindsay Lohan’s pudenda onto the blockchain.
  • Another NFT Perspective: And then we’ll stop, I promise. This is a slightly-different take for Real Life by Vicky Osterweil – it concerns itself more with the conceptual hole at the heart of the movement, as well as the much-discussed environmental cost of the whole deal, but I enjoyed it most for this line: “I think of this as the Christopher Nolan effect: If you explain an incredibly simple premise — like, for example, “a guy forgets everything every five minutes” or “you can go inside people’s dreams and make false memories” — over and over in increasingly abstruse ways, the person it’s being explained to will eventually tell themselves, “I just don’t get it.” This effect is only strengthened the more people there are agreeing that the matter at hand is “cool,” “interesting,” or “complicated” — a process of mass, self-inflicted intellectual gaslighting.” PREACH.
  • Keeping QAnon Online: This profile of Nick Lim, a 23 year old kid who runs what’s currently one of the go-to hosting services for websites with politics one might charitably describe as ‘dodgy’ and which one might less-charitably describe as ‘reasonably Nazi’, highlights one of the central problems of the modern web – there’s a whole generation of people who’ve grown up with seeing it as TOTALLY NORMAL to behave in the Gamergate/4Chan ‘it’s all irony and anyway freedom of speech trumps everything’ fashion, and who are now taking that into the real world. The idea that a whole host of intensely-fashy web communities are being propped up online because one (charitably) moronic kid has decided that it’s incredibly important that people have the right to, I don’t know, call for genocide or gull credulous fools into throwing their lives away after a fictional conspiracies. Read this, and then think whether or not this person ought to have their hands on any meaningful levers whatsoever (they should not): “Lim argues that the real political crisis facing the U.S. is not extremist violence but erosion of the First Amendment. He says that restrictions on online speech have already brought the U.S. to the verge of communist tyranny, that “we are one foot away from 1984.” After a moment, though, he offers a sizable qualifier: “I never actually read the book, so I don’t know all the themes of the book. But I have heard the concepts, and I’ve seen some things, and I thought, ‘Whoa! That’s sketchy as f—.’ ””
  • Inside A Viral Website: More-interesting-than-you’d-expect account of what it was like setting up and hosting https://istheshipstillstuck.com/ – a joke website with a single gag which for a few days was getting somewhere in the region of 8,000 hits a second – and how its owner attempted to make a few quid out of his site’s moments of fame, and also inadvertently found themselves in the position of being the apparent main source of information on the ship’s progress at 430am one morning. Once again, your main takeaway from this is likely to be ‘please God never let me receive this degree of attention for anything that I ever do’.
  • The Road to Terfism: This is a superb read, exploring how Mumsnet has over the past few years become the online epicentre of the anti-trans-rights movement in the UK. This is getting attention because of the way in which the argument has bled across the Atlantic in the past 6m or so, with much of the same rhetoric now being employed in the US discourse as has been prevalent in the discussion over here. Leaving aside the author’s own clear stance, this is a really good analysis of the way in which the marginalisation of women at the point of motherhood can lead to a feminist awakening, and the way in which that has developed within Mumsnet specifically. This is as much a piece about the way in which online communities shape thinking as it is about issues of sex and gender – though it’s also very much that too.
  • Digital Resting Points: ‘Timeline Cleanse’ is something I’ve been seeing more and more of recently – images posted to Twitter or Insta under the guise of offering a calm resting spot in the febrile mess that is The TL. This piece looks at the growing appeal of scroll-oases, and the ‘chrono-slip’ – the timeshift that happens when you fall into a digital oubliette and can’t quite drag yourself out of it and then when you do it’s next Thursday and you’ve not eaten for a week. This is absolute plannerfodder, if you ask me.
  • Vegan Cheese: The Italian in me feels I ought to open this description with a few lines about the fundamentally-oxymoronic nature of the phrase ‘vegan cheese’, but that would be lazy (ha!); that said, I have tried the stuff in the past and, well, no. Still, maybe I just had a bad batch (WHY DID IT TASTE OF COCONUT???) as this piece is pretty bullish about how the industry is developing and the products it’s now managing to churn out. It’s a fascinating read, but I think there’s a fundamental question here about attitudes to food and what ‘food’ is that lies at the heart of this new veganism. Basically, the problem I have is that I can’t quite warm to foodstuffs that are ‘reconstituted vegetable proteins’ and which feel morelike chemistry than cookery. Which, to be clear, is my stupid problem, and hugely intellectually-inconsistent – God knows I have enjoyed meals cooked by chefs who are no strangers to a bit of enzyme’n’protein play – but I wonder if this is a generational/age/lifestyle thing, and something which needs to be overcome (through branding, or through people with antediluvian tastes like me eventually dying of cancer, or the global situation becoming so bleak that it’s either seitan or cannibalism) before the vegan revolution will really take hold.
  • ‘Fixing’ Recipe Sites: On the constant tug-of-war between the food bloggers who want to write recipes and get paid, and the internet users who just want the recipes and really don’t care about the backstory to your grandmother’s coddled eggs thanktyouverymuchindeed. The crux of this is that the reason that foodblogger recipes have over the past few years tended towards the bloated and verbose is that that’s what Google’s decided makes for a ‘trustworthy’ website, which means that if you want the traffic and the sweet, sweet addollars (adpennies, let’s be clear) you have to conform to what Google wants. Yet another example of the slightly-horrible human side effects of optimising for software (you’d really think we’d have learned by now, but, well, nope!).
  • The Pasta Is Content: You’ll have seen headlines over the past month or so trumpeting the creation and arrival of a NEW FORM OF PASTA, designed by ARTIFICIAL INTELLIGENCE (because of course!) – this piece is about how everything is content (much as everything is posting), and how the contentisation of product (and the productisation of content) is basically the overriding theme of 2021 advermarketingpr. Mcluhan would very much enjoy this.
  • Against The Clock: This is a brilliant piece of journalism by the Philadelphia Enquirer, telling the story of Tarik Khan, a nurse in the city who each evening at the end of his shift races around delivering leftover vaccine doses before they expire. It’s so well-done – the countdown-style race-against-the-clock framing, the photography, the drawing of characters…honestly, exemplary stuff.
  • Social Media Managers and Internet Hate: I don’t know Ed Zitron, but I know of him – he’s an English guy doing PR in the US, whose schtick used to be ‘I AM THE WILD AND CRAZY PR ICONOCLAST!’ but who is now seemingly ploughing a more thoughtful furrow (though he is also seemingly the world’s foremost expert on Joker meme communities on Facebook). This piece is from his newsletter, and is really quite affecting examination of the honest reality of being a community manager in 2021. I’ve done CM work – it was horrible 15y ago, but I can’t even begin to think what it would be like now. This piece does an excellent job of highlighting what can only be described as the emotional cruelty of employers leaving staff members to have this sort of professional life – I do sort of feel that in a decade or so’s time we will look back at the fact that we employed people to effectively be feelings-pinatas for Krispy Kreme on Twitter with a degree of bemused horror.
  • Dogecoin and Brands: I filed this away for Curios on Sunday; on Monday, this happens, neatly proving the article to be absolutely right. It’s a short piece, but I’m including it because this all feels very odd and I quite want someone else to agree with me about its oddness. Is it ok that Mars can effectively juice a meme-based cryptocurrency under the guise of a lolsome tweet? Is it ok that that sentence even makes sense? I don’t understand anything anymore. Although, if you’re working for a brand that’s toying with this idea, can I just offer you this: 1) buy one dogecoin; 2) tweet about it; 3) wait 24h; 4) sell dogecoin at profit; 5) use profit to fund giveaway of vouchers for no-cost PR gain. HIRE ME I AM GREAT!
  • Embrace The Grind: Not, to be clear, a paean to ‘hustle culture’ or any such guff; instead, this is about how sometimes there aren’t any shortcuts. You have no idea how much resistance it’s taking for me not to send this link to every single person who seemingly thinks that there is a magic internet button you can press to ‘find insights’ (honestly, I think this might be the year in which I snap and actually murder someone who uses that word at me. ‘INSIGHT THIS KNIFE OUT OF YOUR FACE’, I most definitely won’t shout (in case any colleagues do read this, consider this ‘authorial license’ rather than a threat of any sort)).
  • King of the Geezer Teasers: There was a period in the…90s? Early-00s? Anyway, in the past, during which a series of tax loopholes meant that it was possible to make a reasonable amount of money in the UK film industry by making films that noone ever went to see; this loophole was what led to the film career of Sadie Frost, as well as the inexplicable parade of straight-to-video Crain Fairbrass vehicles with titles like ‘BLOKE IN A LOCKUP’ or ‘SHANK ME TWICE YOU CAHNT’. This piece looks at what sounds like a slightly-similar grift currently being exploited by a guy called Randall Emmett, starring people like Steven Seagal and, amazingly, Bruce Willis (I can only imagine how thrilled Willis must be that this piece got published – I had totally assumed that he was just retired now rather than grubbing around in Ljubljana making cameos in terrible action flicks). This is a great read.
  • The Mystery of Fcking Good Pizza: This is SO SO interesting. You will of course be aware of ‘dark kitchens’ as used by Deliveroo et al, whereby you basically have a container in an industrial park somewhere churning out food from about 2-dozen different branded outlets from one location, all for the delivery market? Well this is that, but with more branding and marketing. Honestly, I was amazed at this – it’s such a smart (devious) model, and I can absolutely see the appeal. It’s also a fascinating unintended consequence of the recent phone-commerce boom; when everything is seen through the lens of Insta, then your food brands have to be Insta-ish too, and need to appeal to all the different Insta sub-communities…honestly, if you do advermarketingpr stuff, particularly brandingwank, then this will be fascinating to you (as it will if you’re just interested in the economics of modern food).
  • We Can Do Better Than Musk: I know that reading ‘Elon Musk – Bit of a Dick’ pieces stopped being interesting or surprising a few years ago, but this is better than that. Nathan Robinson approaches Musk less as an individual and more as an avatar of a particular type of capitalist-genius-saviour-figure, and argues that it’s casting people in this role that is the problem as much as the individual himself. A very good read, and an excellent reminder of the fact that, while his companies are accomplishing amazing things, that is not the same as the man being Jesus.
  • The Social Media Memory Problem: Tbh I’d be amazed if you’ve not all read this one already – it’s been shared widely, and deservedly so. In case you haven’t, though, this is a reflection on the oddity of never being able to forget in an era of Timehops, and how our experience of life, and memory, is altered by this recasting of what it is to ‘remember’ in any meaningful sense at all. This is such beautiful writing on a subject which it doesn’t feel we’ve contended with anywhere near enough as a species.
  • I Read Your Little Internet Novels: A brilliant review / critique of / exploration of two recent ‘internet novels’ – Patricia Lockwood’s ‘Nobody Is Talking About This’, and Lauren Oyler’s ‘Fake Accounts’, both of which have at their heart the oddity of, and seemingly impossibility of meaningful communication about, the experience of ‘being extremely online’. This line rather sums it up – although I might argue that I feel a similar sort of sense in the various novels which have been loosely-bracketed alongside Sally Rooney too: “We ran to the internet to be free. To escape the narrowness of our contexts and circumstances, the new democracy of it all, the wide-open space where we were all free to be who we wanted to be. We bought in. Big. Culturally, societally, into what the internet promised. But what pervades the Internet Novel, really the Social Media novel, is a terror and guilt that in trying to shuck off our regional accents and gas station diets, we’ve all become a sea of beige vegan automatons.”
  • An Oral History of Street Fighter II: Ok, fine, if you were never into Street Fighter II then you can probably skip this one – BUT I would still urge you to read the first page, as it contains some of the best, laugh-out-loud descriptions of ‘that weird guy you worked with once’ you will ever read. Honestly, you know every stereotype you might have in your head about how ‘odd’ it must have been to work in Japanese videogame development in the early-90s? Moreso. If, by the way, you have any affection at all for Capcom’s series, this is honestly a must-read.
  • Puncher’s Chance: On deprivation and class and race and boxing in the UK in the 20th Century. This is a beautiful piece of writing by Declan Ryan, in the way that only writing about boxing can sometimes be.
  • The Unbearable Heaviness of Stuff: I adore this essay more than almost any of the others in here this week. It captures something I have begun to feel SO STRONGLY – that there is a weight to physical objects now that I never used to feel, that consciousness of provenance and manufacture now just leads to a sort of broken paralysis about all the stuff that has been and will be and will never, ever die. Honestly, this is SUPERB: “Not all cheap items are disposable, but the convenience of urban trash collection, low cost of products, and difficulty of repairing many modern home goods means that disposing of things has come to feel natural, inevitable. And here I am, trying to stave off that inevitability and figure out how to shepherd a motley array of kitchen implements and old extension cords through an uncaring world. As Steven Phillips-Horst tweeted, on the aesthetic and moral wretchedness of a Container Store paper towel holder: “I’m meant to be this heinous dildo’s nanny between a Chinese factory and a Jersey landfill?? I’d rather die.””
  • Snakes and Ladders: Absolutely the best essay about meritocracy and the misinterpretation of the idea that I have ever read. Stefan Collini in the London Review of Books takes in history, economics, political theory, educational practice, class studies and more, and, honestly, it’s SO good. Long, knotty and you will have to think a bit, but it’s superb writing and doesn’t feel anywhere near like as much effort as you might realise by the end it was (and this is why Stefan Collini writes in the LRB and I do not).
  • Japanese Onomatopoeia: Finally in this week’s longreads (God I’ve missed writing that), this essay by Polly Barton, about the untranslatability of sounds and how language defines the limits of feeling. Beautiful, sad, and superbly-accurate on the odd gaps between language you discover when speaking in translation.

By Madsaki

AND NOW, MOVING PICTURES AND SOUNDS!:

Webcurios 31/07/20

Reading Time: 39 minutes

Well that was a fortni…actually, no, fcuk it, I can’t be bothered.

IT’S ALL OVER. I wrote my first Web Curios for Imperica on 8 February 2013, a few short months after binning off a reasonably-good job with an email that, even now, is the single piece of writing that people most remember me for and, in all likelihood, the only one which will outlive me. And now, here we are, for what Editor Paul assures me is the pleasingly-appropriate 300th edition of Web Curios to appear here.

It’s also the last day that the Imperica’s going to be active as a website, which is why Web Curios is stopping (for a bit, maybe longer, who knows?). I am going to do some slightly sentimental stuff now, so if you just want the links then feel free to skip this (but, you know, the least you fcuks can do is indulge me here, right? I mean, 7 years of FREE WEBSPAFF I’ve given you ffs, at least pretend to care, etc etc grumble grumble).

300 Curios, which probably equates to, at a guess, 2,500,000 words (a number that, when I write it down, does seem to sort of indicate I might have something of a problem with the logorrhoea), and roughly 21,000 links and 1,500 artworks featured and far, far too many broken links and typos (my grammar really is better than it sometimes appears, I promise; you try writing this much stream of consciousness and error free, ok?) and UNNECESSARY CAPITALISATIONS and bowdlerised swears (in case you were curious, by the way, it’s to get around firewalls given I know a few of you get this to your work emails). It’s been A LOT.

I know I always say this, but I genuinely don’t look at the subscriber numbers or the open rates or how many people look at it on the website; I would have written this stuff even if it were just for me. We’re all cyborgs now, obviously, and in a way Curios has, for the past 90 months, been an extension of my memory (that might explain the, er, uniquely self-indulgent nature of the house style), and it’s going to be quite weird not having anywhere to put large parts of the inside of my head.

Anyway, to all of you who’ve read this (even those of you – and I am sure there are a few – who absolutely fcking hate my writing style and read it through gritted teeth), thankyou. Thanks for taking the time, fighting with the density and the length and the tone and the cynicism and the bitterness and the ennui. I hope, at the very least, you’ve been able to put some bits of it to good use.

Curios will probably come back in some form at some point – I need to find somewhere to put it, though, and Substack doesn’t really appeal (also, there aren’t that many off-the-shelf mailers that can cope with this sort of thing, turns out). Til then, though, I really do mean it – thankyou for bothering to click the link and open the email.

Most of all, though, thanks to Paul, who has been running Imperica out of his own pocket for nearly 10 years now, over a period where publishing anything independently online has only got harder, particularly when you operate on a budget of what I have always assumed to be roughly no pennies. Paul contacted me when I left H+K and asked if I’d like to write this for him; he even paid me for a while, til we both realised that that was a stupid idea and that he should stop. Over the time I’ve worked with him he has published thousands of articles online by people who might not have otherwise had their voices heard, he’s run events, he’s been supportive of interesting people and projects, and, latterly, through the magazine, he’s given dozens of young aspirant writers their first paid byline. It’s no small feat, particularly when he also has a mysterious dayjob (seriously, man, what the fcuk do you do for a living?), and it’s a shame that financial realities mean it’s no longer feasible to continue. The homogenisation of the web – stylistic, tonal, cultural – is a saddening thing, and Imperica’s demise is part of that sadness.

Anyway, none of you fcuks care about this, so, for the final time, on with the (TOO MANY) links and (TOO MANY) words.

I have been Matt, this has been Web Curios, and you have been…what have you been? What’s the point of you? Go on, fcuk off out of it.

By Luciano Cian

LET’S KICK OFF WITH THE HOOD INTERNET’S COMPLETE SET OF 80s MEGAMIXES WHICH REALLY DO HAVE TO BE HEARD TO BE BELIEVED THEY’RE SO GOOD!

THE SECTION WHICH WOULD LIKE YOU ALL TO TAKE A LOOK AT THE AMAZON NUMBERS AND TAKE A SMALL MOMENT TO ONCE AGAIN THINK ABOUT WHAT A COMPLETE, TOTAL AND UTTER FCUKING CNUT MECHABEZOS IS AND YET HOW NONE OF US CAN ACTUALLY AVOID GIVING HIM MONEY ANY MORE:

  • Big Tech Loves A Pandemic: Whilst this isn’t surprising in any way – people stuck inside sure love the web, their devices, scrolling endlessly through feeds and occasionally opening the door to minimum-wage parcel couriers whilst sending each other messages about how bored they are of the web, their devices and scrolling endlessly through feeds whilst occasionally opening the door to minimum-wage parcel couriers! – the numbers are quite staggering. LOOK AT THE AMAZON FIGURES! No, seriously, look. Revenue up by a third, per-share earnings up by about 800%…it’s enough to make Jeff Bezos decide to end world hu…oh. And Facebook and Apple, with only POOR OLD ALPHABET (basically Google) flatlining slightly. Oh, and for those of you thinking that this doesn’t take into account the Facebook ad boycott which is SHAKING THE INDUSTRY, please note that the company has publicly stated that it fully expects its Q3 earnings – the period which includes the ad boycott – to match this 10% YOY growth in revenue. Do you ever feel impotent in the face of the relentless march of global capitalism? Well you should. Although spare a thought for Twitter, which despite piling on the users failed to grow its ad revenue (possibly because the product is, comparatively, junk). POOR THE TWITTER! POOR THE JACK!
  • Facebook Announces Personal Fundraising On Insta: Yes, anyone and everyone will soon be able to use Insta as their own personal OnlyFans! I mean, that’s not what this explicitly says – the feature will let anyone set up a personal fundraiser for a number of causes, including charities and sick pets and medical bills, much as you already can on Facebook, subject to platform approval and a laundry-list of restrictions and caveats – but at no point does it say anywhere that you can’t monetise your noodz through this, so expect to see a large number of young men and women ‘fundraising for their modelling careers’ in creative and interesting ways on the platform. As an aside, does anyone else find something a bit…off about a platform as large and plutocratic as Facebook setting us all up to grift off each other whilst making vig off the top? No? FFS.
  • Facebook Testing Likeless Page Design: This is only being tested, but is surely in the works – it’s being presented as a simplification measure to eliminate the increasingly-otiose overlap between the ‘Like’ and ‘Follow’ Page functions, but is also the final death-knell of the ‘Like’ as a meaningful metric of anything at all and an acknowledgement that THIS IS AN ADVERTISING PLATFORM FFS. Although it won’t stop moronic people in communications insisting that Pagelikes still matter (gyac love, you work in comms and therefore NOTHING you do matters! God, Matt, self-hatred is such an ugly look ffs).
  • Go Live From FB Messenger Rooms: I can’t be bothered to get into the detail of the increasingly overcomplicated relationship between all the different moving parts of the Facebook empire; all you really need to know about this is that it’s now possible to take a mass videochat of upto 50 people and use it as a livestream, effectively meaning anyone at all can create a FASCINATING broadcast experience out of their awkward, stilted multiparty videocalls. There’s an obvious play here for any brands with multiple famouses as ambassadors, say, or making certain elements of conferences, etc, publicly visible. Really interesting and full of potential, although it will also lead to a lot of performative shouty groupchat broadcasts from people who really aren’t as interesting or funny as they think they are (stick to podcasts, lads!!).
  • WhatsApp Pilots What Is Basically Banking In India: There’s something in the longreads that basically touches on a similar point, but it’s stuff like this – the slow, tentacular creep of the Facebook empire into the social and practical infrastructure of the most populous nations in the world – that means we’re not getting rid of it anytime soon. It’s a very smart move, and, leaving aside my personal disdain (no, let’s be clear, visceral hatred) for Zuckerberg’s Big Blue Misery Factory, a potentially useful service for all the millions of smartphone-enabled people across India who might not otherwise be able to access the sort of credit, insurance and pension services here mooted. Still, try getting rid of Facebook when it’s providing essential financial services infrastructure for half a billion people.
  • TikTok Launches ‘Game’ Effects: This is basically the same schtick as you’ve been able to do on Snapchat for a while now – to whit, TikTok will let brands buy interactive ‘effects’, which will enable ‘brands to prompt people on TikTok to use facial expressions, body postures or other motions in order to control and interact with branded elements, and the experience is sound-on. There are over 20 formats that brands can customize for their campaigns, including having users juggle a ball on their eyebrows, match poses in a catch beat and use their heads to control submarines.’ So there. Given the platform’s focus on kinetic action – dancing, physical comedy, etc – this is a perfect fit, and it’s not hard to think of some interesting and potentially quite fun activations you could build around this; sports teams encouraging people to mimic celebrations by star players, new music releases training people on how to do The Dance accompanying the song, and, inevitably, a bunch of attempts to make something from an ad campaign A THING amongst young people (‘Hey kids, why not use our new BRANDED EFFECT to mimic this ‘cool’/’funny’ bit from our TV spot?!’). Not sure if this is entirely open to all yet or whether it’s gated to top advertisers at present, but who cares? Tell your clients and let the ripe stench of ZEITGEIST engulf you all.
  • The TikTok Creator Fund: Hugely interesting from a FUTURE OF MEDIA point of view, this – TikTok has announced a $200m fund for creators on the platform, which basically means that it’s going to pay popular people on the platform to make videos like it’s their actual job. If you have kids, it is possibly quite important that they don’t find out about this, lest you lose them forever to complex dance routines performed into the mirror in the hope of turning it into a career. This makes perfect sense, of course, and is the natural extension of platforms like Twitch, etc, paying popular streamers for exclusivity. Click the link and read the first paragraph and do a small boggle at the commitment to expand this to a $1bn fund within three years. Can you imagine a future in which we all earn a living being paid by content platforms to do FUNNY DANCES and share our HOT TAKES to our personal audiences of 50 people, all of us forever caught in a constant and neverending loop of creation and consumption and ad-watching and buying and oh my god I am so, so, so tired.
  • TikTok Will Make Its Algo Public: I’m going to go out on a limb here and suggest that this step towards radical transparency may not in fact end up being quite as radically transparent as the company wants us to think it is – I mean, there are one or two commercial considerations that might come into play here, not to mention the nagging doubt that anyone knows exactly how their black boxes actually work any more – but it’s quite funny in a ‘kick sand in Facebook’s face’ sort of way; the shade here is real (is a phrase I am suddenly very conscious I am too old to use).
  • Snap Launches Brand Profiles: I actually put Snap in a pitch the other week – it felt so retro! (it was the AR tech rather than the ‘social network’ bit, mind, I’m not a moron) (also, we didn’t win, so, well, IN MY FACE) – but, honestly, it feels a bit like yesterday’s news (although the Q2 results suggest that I’m possibly being a bit premature). Still, for those of you interested, “The profile may comprise any of the brand’s augmented-reality Lenses that have been created and saved into an archive or “showcase” and a native store through which users can buy products directly (powered by Shopify). There are also profile elements that are familiar to brand pages on other social media, such as enabling companies to create “highlights” (a collection of favoured content, such as Snaps, Stories and pictures) and Story posts.” Happy? Oh.
  • Amazon Opens Livestreaming To Influencers: I joked up there about how the future is all of us dancing like monkeys for each other to earn that sweet, sweet platform cash – of course, the other potential option in a future in which the concept of ‘rewarding labour’ has been largely gutted is ‘we all become one-person QVC channels’, which is exactly what this development from Amazon is pointing towards. It’s basically – look, there’s quite a lot of detail in here that I simply don’t care about but which you’re welcome to click through and learn about – an extension of the Amazon Associates program that lets influencers earn off their recommendations, except with LIVESTREAMING VIDEO!! I have literally no idea who in their right mind would want to watch someone shilling products to them on Amaz…oh, no, hang on, that’s right, QVC actually exists and people actually watch it, and the presenters on there aren’t even shiny-faced internet-famouses. This is the sort of thing that I reckon probably won’t take off in the West but which will end up being violently popular in other markets.
  • Twitch Launches Dedicated Sports Streaming Category: For actual sports! The idea is that this will become another channel for sports brands and broadcasters to share content on, with the opportunity to deliver archive material and behind the scenes stuff, as well as live events, on Amazon’s increasingly-monolithic streaming service. Smart, sensible, and the sort of thing which if you have anything to do with sports marketing you should be all over like the sky.
  • Medium Becomes More Personalisable: It doesn’t have to be longform anymore! It can be, er, medium-form! Or short! And there are loads of new look and feel templates, and, basically, this feels like Medium once again trying to sell itself as ‘the Blogger you never knew you missed’ (one for the old online publishing heads, there). I’ve never liked Medium – it’s always felt quite smug, and I don’t like the paywalling, and it’s far too full of self-important VC types for my personal liking – and I don’t personally recommend putting your words on a platform that you don’t own, what with their being no guarantee that said platform won’t decide to up and vanish at a moment’s notice (AHEM), but if you’re after a publishing solution then you could, I concede grudgingly, do worse than look here.
  • Oatly and Branding and Stuff: An unusually-interesting Twitter thread all about how Oatly – the bafflingly-popular faux-milk slurry – did its rebrand way back when, and how it manages its brand communications, etc, overall. Honestly, this is a good read regardless of whether you know anything about design at all (I really don’t), and is worth a look if only for a glimpse at the old Oatly branding. It’s no exaggeration to say that their previous chocolate oat milk packaging was unpleasantly reminiscent of a cross between 28 Days Later and an explosion in a sewage factory, which makes its current near-ubiquity even more impressive in terms of turnaround.

By Forrest Kirk

NEXT, ENJOY SOME RATHER WONDERFUL JAPANESE AMBIENT AND CHILLOUT SENT TO ME BY INTERNET ODDITY SADEAGLE!

THE SECTION WHICH WOULD LIKE TO THANK EACH AND EVERY PERSON WHO HAS MADE SOMETHING FEATURED IN WEB CURIOS OVER THE PAST 7 YEARS (EXCEPT THE PEOPLE WHO MAKE THE WEIRD TELEDILDONICS STUFF WHICH I HAVE NEVER REALLY ENTIRELY UNDERSTOOD THE APPEAL OF), PT.1:

  • Electric Dreams Festival: Do you remember the start of lockdown all those many months ago, and how excited we all were at the prospect of the arts moving online and the amazing, ingenious examples of authorial creativity which was set to be unleashed by makers the world over? Seems like a long time ago, eh? Still, if you’re hankering from some of that OLD SCHOOL 2020 VIBE, then I urge you to check out the excellent Electric Dreams Festival – it started last week, but runs for another fortnight and is a collection of some excellent (and excellent-sounding) interactive online shows that cover a staggering range of themes and executions. I’ve seen quite a few of these, whether over the past months or previously, and I can vouch for the quality; personal recommendations include casino-come-theatre-come-allegorical-experience ‘The House Never Wins’, and ‘The Believers Are But Brothers’, a super-smart exploration of online radicalisation, but there are so many more things to enjoy here. At a time when theatre is wildly, spectacularly fcuked, if you have any love for the medium and a few quid to spare, splash out on some tickets.
  • Vicariously: This is really interesting, and potentially very useful indeed for social media research (or indeed if you just want to snoop on people and you don’t mind the fact that they will know you’re snooping). Vicariously basically resurrects an old Twitter feature whereby you could experience the platform as any other user of your choice, seeing the timeline of their follows rather than your own. Vicariously does exactly that, through some quite clever use of lists, and then lets you go further, mixing two people’s feeds or seeing a feed of the two different users’ mutuals…if you’re interested in mapping chains of influence, this is hugely helpful (if you’re willing to put the reading time in); equally, if you want to experience the very, very weird Twitter that is most politicians’ experience then this is an excellent way to do it. Oh, and if you’re job involves something horrific like ‘creating marketing personas’, this is a really useful additional toy you can use to build up an idea of ‘Savvy Urbanites’ and what their Twitter looks like (kill me now, please). The caveat to all of this, though, is that, due to the fact that this basically involves the creation of lists, people who you’re interested in surveilling are likely to get notifications telling them that they have been added to a list, which may potentially arouse some suspicion (but probably won’t – like fcuk do any politicians know what Twitter lists are imho). Go on, go and spend some time in Kanye’s Twitter shoes.
  • Storyline: I imagine we’re all bored of reading coronastories now, right? I’m bored of my own coronastory ffs, I can’t bring myself to care about yours too. Still, this project by Australian broadcaster SBS is a lovely one – they solicited voicemails from people across the country, asking them to leave messages describing how they were coping and what was happening to them as the country retreated into itself, and these are presented in an unusual, slightly-floaty way, letting you move around a ‘canvas’ and explore the different stories as you see fit. There are a few guided routes through the narratives if you fancy them, but otherwise you can just scroll around and listen to the various tales of people’s time spent in the grip of the pandemic. It’s amazing how much more affecting and emotive these are than simple words on a page – I could write some guff here about THE POWER OF VOICE, but, well, I don’t want to. This feels like an art installation coming to a museum near you in 2021, in a good way.
  • Above, Below, Beyond: Thanks Paul for sending this my way – it is ACE. Part of an Arts Council project exploring the stories and heritage of the North East of England, this site takes a bunch of audio taken from the region’s mines and makes them available for you to mess with; it’s effectively a synthtoy built from recordings made inside the mineshafts and caves of the area around Durham, letting you create an aural collage from the sounds of spades, shovels, dynamite, the works. It’s a wonderful, glorious cacophonous mess – or at least it is when I used it, cloth-eared, no talent bozo that I am – but even then there’s something sort-of brilliant about the aural soup that results. I love this.
  • The At Home Club: I confess that I am including this slightly because it made me laugh quite a lot – but, at the same time, it’s a really nicely-put-together project and the principle behind it is laudable. The site asks the central question ‘how are makers responding to the global pandemic’ – “in the wake of Covid-19, the world has changed in ways that no one could have expected. From months spent in quarantine grew a global movement for justice and equality. Each of us has processed and adapted to the events of the last few months in our own way. In an effort to stay connected and support one another through these unprecedented times, we created At Home: a series of stories documenting the experience”. It presents creators – in the real-world rather than ‘I make videos on TikTok’ sense – from cities around the world, including London, Berlin and SF, and shares the stories of how COVID has affected their practice and, in turn, how their work has reflected the social and cultural environment of the pandemic, and there’s genuinely loads of really interesting stuff in here, nice photography and interesting writing. But, well, I also couldn’t help but snigger quite a lot at the entries headed ‘making candles for self-care’ and ‘activating another wheel of consciousness’. “What did you do during lockdown?” “well, I mainly played videogames and cooked and learned that I can’t bake bread for sh1t and spent a lot of time very, very stoned indeed; how about you?” “oh, I activated another wheel of consciousness”. I know, I have dust where my soul should be.
  • Endless Doomscroller: A surprisingly accurate rendition of what it’s like scrolling through Twitter at the moment.
  • Restream: This is potentially really useful – fine, it’s been a while since I’ve had to worry about running livestreams across multiple platforms simultaneously, but I remember it being a massive and slightly-unpleasant pain in the ar$e, whereas this service promises to make it SUPER EASY. You can, so the service promises, stream to multiple platforms from one device with nary a care, for FREE – although if you want to include Facebook you’ll need to pony up for the subscription service, so caveat emptor and all that.
  • The World Carrot Museum: To the list of ‘superb museums that I love’ (currently at the top of said list – the pencil museum in Keswick, still the high watermark for excellent-yet-crushingly-mundane days out) let me add this one. “The first virtual museum in the world entirely devoted to the history, evolution, science, sociology and art of Carrots. The mission is to educate, inform and amuse visitors through the discovery, collection, preservation, interpretation and exhibition of objects relating to the Carrot. This site provides lots of interesting and useful information about the humble carrot.” As with all sites of this ilk, I am pretty certain that this is created and maintained by a man, an impression reinforced by the section on carrots helping alleviate menstrual pains, which is something I am pretty sure no woman would give much credence to. Still, CARROTS!!
  • Their Tube: Such a clever site, and such an interesting (and slightly depressing) project. Built by Tomo Kihara, this site offers you the opportunity to experience YouTube as it would be seen by a variety of different personas – the fruitarian, say, or the lefty, or the conservative, or, er, the conspiracy theorist or climate denier. Each persona has been built up from a clean YouTube profile and seeded by watching a few videos on a particular topic and then following rabbitholes, and if you’re one of the (many, many) people who knows someone who’s gone a bit funny in terms of what they believe over the course of the past few months, this might help understand how (if not why). It’s astonishing to see just how unique each is – obviously the idea of individuals consuming only media that they decide fits with the worldview they wish to believe and support is nothing new, but it’s useful to be reminded the extent to which digital media takes that concept and basically pumps it full of steroids; it’s very easy to imagine how one might start to have one’s worldview coloured when every single video you’re served on YouTube – which means everywhere on the web, remember, thanks to embeds and autoplays – tells you that, I don’t know, the adrenochrome vampires took Maddie (if you don’t know what the word ‘adrenochrome’ refers to then count yourself lucky and DON’T GOOGLE IT).
  • E.gg: ANOTHER new project from the insanely prolific New Projects people at Facebook – this is waitlisted at the moment, meaning that as far as I know noone’s gotten a good look at it yet, but everything on the website suggests that it’s basically Facebook’s attempt to recreate Geocities for 2020. For those of you who are too young to remember, or whose memories have been irrevocably screwed by the consumption of 15s videos of dancing teenagers, Geocities was an early web platform which enabled anyone to have their own little corner of the internet which they could decorate however they wanted and fill with whatever content they liked – which, in practice, amounted to sparkly text and LOTS OF GIFS; effectively a precursor to the MySpace aesthetic of the new rave era, if you will. There’s a certain irony in the fact that this is exactly the sort of aesthetic that Facebook helped to kill with its standardised page layouts and uniform look-and-feel, but, well, who cares? The promise here is that E.gg will become a place where anyone and everyone can ‘express themselves creatively’, though why they seem to think we all need to do that via the medium of spangly webfonts is a mystery to me. Worth signing up for, though, out of curiosity – and let’s be honest, Facebook’s already got all your data, so what does it matter? As an aside, I am convinced that there’s a really interesting essay to be written about the direct links between the aesthetics of ‘zine culture, the asthetics of Geocities/MySpace and the modern aesthetic of Stories as a medium, but I’m fcuked if I know what it is (one of the many, many reasons I’m not a journalist).
  • Defector: I wouldn’t ordinarily bother commenting on the launch of a new US sports website, but the concept behind this is really interesting. Defector has been set up as a collective by a bunch of writers who have been laid off from other sites such as Deadspin and the like; basically a bunch of these writers have gotten together, set up this site as a place to aggregate the stuff they want to write about, and are offering subs at a range of rates to anyone who wants to read their stuff and support them. That’s it – simple, and potentially really effective. Who needs a publisher when you can just effectively combine a bunch of substacks, chuck them up on a cobbled-together frontend and set up subs through existing platforms? This is really interesting, and I genuinely hope it works out – there’s the kernel of a really promising model for a small, self-sufficient media business here, the sort of thing that could work pretty much anywhere, and I would love to see a bunch of the UK’s young writers try something similar. Go on, young writers (he said, patronisingly)!
  • AI Myths: There was another pitch I was involved with recently which we didn’t win – I am so good at my job!!! – for one of the worst companies I have seen in a long time (I had said that I wouldn’t work on it had we won, for avoidance of doubt), an AI business which could at best be described as ‘a bit shady’ and at worst as ‘an (alleged) bunch of snake-oil selling conmen engaged in borderline-fraudulent activity’. They were basically guilty of everything that this site – which exists to debunk some of the most commonly propagated myths about AI – talks about, from claims about the power of AI to its objectivity and safety and universal applicability. Can you guess who I’m talking about, out of interest? Go on, try! Anyway, this is a great site which I encourage you to read and then to bookmark and send to anyone who you hear blithely and glibly throwing around the term without the faintest idea of what it actually, practically means; this is a clear and cogent explanation of all the ways in which people tend to misspeak about the sector/concept, and which does rather a good job in particular of outlining the limitations of the technology as it currently stands.
  • Smartipresence: OH THIS IS FUN! This is an already-backed Kickstarter, running for another month (so annoyingly you won’t get your hands on the kit for a while, chiz chiz chiz), which will let you build your own little telepresence robot out of cardboard, meaning (basically) that you can let anyone you like manoeuver a little cardboard robot around your home while you videochat with them, allowing them to effectively ‘be’ in your space. Gah, that’s an awful description, hang on, let me try again. You know those weird ‘ipad on wheels’ things that people got a bit excited about a few years back and that were heralded as a new way of remote working, whereby you could ‘see’ through the ipad’s camera whilst moving around the office, going into meeting rooms and all the while being unaware that colleagues had put a dunce’s cap on your digital representative? Well, it’s like that, but very smol and made of cardboard. Honestly, this looks like so much fun and an excellent little engineering-type craft project for a particular type of kid; it’s also the sort of thing that if you use it in a home that has cats will drive your pets absolutely mental, which to my mind is a significant additional bonus.
  • Bob Basset: Seeing as we’re all cool with the concept of masks now, why not check out these which are by far and away the most amazing ones I’ve ever seen. I’m not sure whether Bob Basset is the name of the designer or just of the company that makes these, but WOW are they amazing in a sort of fetish/horror sort of way. Tooled leather and metal and glass and piping and oh me oh my. You will very much be the most popular person at Torture Garden should you get yourself one of these, should the ‘rona ever allow that sort of close mixing of bodily fluids with strangers again. In the unlikely event that any long-term readers fancy clubbing together and getting me a ‘thanks for seven years of doing this for no money’ present, I’ll have this one please!
  • Vilmari: Interesting business idea, this – it seems to have been around for about a year, but this is the first I’ve heard of it. Vilmari effectively lets you hire out your car for short periods of time, letting you maximise its use and defray its cost at the same time; on the flipside, it offers a potential pool of cars to rent for short journeys on the cheap. Obviously there are all sorts of reasons why this might be less-than-appealing; whilst all users have to prove they are insured, provide verified real names and contact details and generally promise to behave, I can’t say I’m totally convinced that you won’t get your car back covered in vomit, weed crumbs, suspicious baggies and with parts of a person bundled into the boot. Caveat emptor and all that.
  • Fawkes: Well done, University of Chicago, for this excellent initiative which effectively lets you cloak your face from image recognition devices in photos with no obvious loss of image quality to the human eye. “At a high level, Fawkes takes your personal images and makes tiny, pixel-level changes that are invisible to the human eye, in a process we call image cloaking. You can then use these “cloaked” photos as you normally would, sharing them on social media, sending them to friends, printing them or displaying them on digital devices, the same way you would any other photo. The difference, however, is that if and when someone tries to use these photos to build a facial recognition model, “cloaked” images will teach the model an highly distorted version of what makes you look like you.” Only an academic paper at the moment, but I am very glad that this is being researched so successfully.
  • Sourceful: This is potentially hugely useful – there’s been a boom in the use of GDocs as a means of creating open resources for all sorts of purposes, from the Coronavirus Tech Handbook to sector-specific guides to various disciplines, and Sourceful acts as a single search engine for such documents. If you want to see whether there are any public resources available offering guidance and community-collated information on any given topic, this is a great place to start.
  • Alexagate: Another week, another MSCHF drop – this one, though, is perhaps my favourite yet, and the closest to an actual, proper product that really ought to be mass-produced, The Alexa Gate is a piece of kit that you sit on top of your Amazon Domestic Surveillance Device which will block it from hearing anything at all – unless you clap three times to deactivate it, at which point Alexa will work as normal. Three more claps recloaks it, letting you go about your daily business safe in the knowledge that your every word isn’t being communicated back to Mechabezos’ server farms and used to sell your more stuff that you neither want nor need, packed by exploited workers and delivered by the often-marginalised. There’s an article in the longreads about MSCHF which made me dislike them quite a lot (read: I am immensely jealous), but this is great and I applaud (ha!) it.
  • Shnap: Visual search and shop – as in, take a photo of something and an app will throw up options to buy it and similar things instantaneously – is one of those innovations that has been bubbling around for years without ever really quite taking off; I presume because that degree of image recognition is actually very hard in the real world, with its imperfect lighting and dirty objects and the like. Still, Shnap is the latest iteration of this tech and if it works anywhere near as well as the website suggests it does (it won’t) it could well be a gamechanging. Interestingly, it also exists as a chrome extension – so you can use it while browsing to instantly search shoppable products from images anywhere online which, if it works, is potentially very useful indeed (for someone with more fashion sense than I have). Worth a look, this, I think.
  • Kathe Memorial: Käthe Kollwitz was a German artist working in the late-19th and early-20th Century; this site is a beautifully-designed and built tribute to her work. Honestly, I had never heard of Kollwitz before, but as a way of telling her life story, her place in the European modernist pantheon, it’s superb. Lovely, lovely webwork.
  • Vocodes: I know that it’s getting better all the time, but audio deepfakes – at least the ones that I have been able to get my hands on and play with – really aren’t very good, an impression that this site did absolutely nothing to dispel. You can choose from a range of pre-set fakes and put whatever words you want in their mouth, but there’s no way in hell that this would fool anyone apart from someone who’s got very waxy ears indeed. Still, if you ever wanted to listen to a poorly-mimicked David Attenborough say “get the ket in you little sesh gremlins, I’ve got a right thirst for powder” then, well, MERRY FCUKING CHRISTMAS.
  • 1 Second Paintings: Abstract art, generated by AI, at the click of a button. Whilst this isn’t entirely successful – you can always tell what the training set was, to my mind, which rather ruins the effect – it’s indisputably true that the majority of the outputs are far, far better than most of the stuff that you see in offices worldwide. Actually, here’s a fcuking GREAT idea – see if you can get the budget for the art buy on the next corporate refurb (presuming we’ll ever go back to an office ever again), trouser the cash and then just do it on the cheap by printing out a bunch of these on reasonably high-stock paper with IKEA framing. Honestly, this is a great idea and I really hope one of you bothers to steal it for once.
  • Heritage Photogrammetry: David Fletcher is a very talented graphics person who works in games; in his spare time, he creates these 3d models of heritage landmarks, many in London, using photogrammetry (more on that technique in the longreads). These are rather lovely, and it’s nice to imagine a future in which all major architectural landmarks are available to explore through this sort of tech.
  • Magic Sky: Apply vaguely psychedelic effects to the skies in your photos, in a desperate-yet-doomed attempt to make your stuff stand out on the ‘gram (I’m being unnecessarily snarky here, these are quite fun and I imagine would look pretty cool dropped into a Story or two).
  • Winning The Internet: When I first started writing this for Imperica, seven and a half long years ago, no fcuker had a newsletter and I felt SPECIAL and DIFFERENT. Now, though, every cnut in the world has one and I am one of several million self-important pr1cks arrogant enough to think that anyone cares what they have to say about anything on a weekly basis. So it goes. This feels like something of a zenith/nadir – the clever people at dataviz bible The Pudding have just launched ‘Winning The Internet’, their very own ‘newsletter of newsletters’ (HA! They know NOTHING!) which analyses the content of (at the time of writing) 86 different newsletters and sends out a digest compiling the most popular links from across that selection each week. The selection they pick from is US-heavy and their selection tends (so far) towards the thinky/takey end of the spectrum rather that ‘weird stuff from the corners of the web’, which is basically my way of saying YOU WILL NEVER REPLACE CURIOS YOU CNUTS (you will, this sh1t is ten a penny these days).

By Klaus Kremmerz

NEXT, ENJOY A SELECTION OF MUSIC THAT I REALLY LIKED BACK IN THE DAY WHEN ‘THIS IS MY JAM!’ WAS A THING (GOD THAT WAS A NICE LITTLE WEBSITE)!

THE SECTION WHICH WOULD LIKE TO THANK EACH AND EVERY PERSON WHO HAS MADE SOMETHING FEATURED IN WEB CURIOS OVER THE PAST 7 YEARS (EXCEPT THE PEOPLE WHO MAKE THE WEIRD TELEDILDONICS STUFF WHICH I HAVE NEVER REALLY ENTIRELY UNDERSTOOD THE APPEAL OF), PT.2:

  • Trendstastic: A really useful Chrome plugin, this, which does one simple thing – each time you search Google, it will add a Google Trends graph for that search term to the top of the results. That’s it. Still, having had it installed for a fortnight now I can absolutely vouch for the fact that, even if I probably haven’t found it practically useful once, I have found it oddly-interesting about 90% of the time, which is pretty much all one can hope for really.
  • Facetracking: Ok, this requires you to be able to do a bit of codewrangling, but if you’re that sort of person then it’s quite fun. This lets you use facetracking to control any simple web program you like – ideally games – that has wasd-type controls. So, for example, if you want to hook up iOS classic Temple Runner to be controlled by the movement of your chin, NOW YOU CAN! God, I really am treating you here as we get to about halfway down the fagend of the final Imperica Curios. You’re going to miss this, aren’t you? AREN’T YOU, YOU FCUKS? Hm, that might be the problem, on reflection.
  • Liverpool, A 15-Minute City: This isn’t the most compelling of sites, visually-speaking, but it’s a really interesting project, designed to see whether the concept of the ‘15-minute city’ – that is, an urban environment in which residents can have all of their major needs met (green space, food shopping, employment, etc) within a 15 minute distance of their home. As we adjust to the NEW NORMAL (oh come on, I’ve been really good about not using that phrase over the past few months, I’m entitled to a bit of laziness, surely?), this sort of consideration in urban planning will, one hopes, form the bedrock of civic development over the next few years. I think there’s a lot of potential for ideas that explore this in greater depth, and, for those of you who read Curios solely for concepts that you can take an apply to your dreadful clients, there are opportunities for smart thinking for certain large-scale businesses around retail, property and the like.
  • Objection!: Why not try responding to every work email you receive today with images from this Phoenix Wright ‘Objection!’ generator and seeing how long it takes you to get a talking to? Like this!
  • This Girl Makes: A project promoting craft and making amongst young women, which seems to have been on hiatus a bit during lockdown but which is A Good Thing and deserves a look, offering “practical workshops and DIY kits, as well as inspirational and informative talks. It cultivates a sense of community that offers skill sharing, confidence building and a sense of empowerment. We provide women and girls with therapeutic, but also constructive opportunities that nurture resilience and offer financial liberation.”
  • Lonely Mascots: The Atlantic, celebrating the happysadness of mascots in empty sports stadia, cavorting for an audience of precisely no fans. Although tbh I would imagine that plenty of mascots are quite happy not to have to deal with the drunken groping of several thousand p1ssheads who have all had the ENTIRELY UNIQUE idea that it would be hilarious to molest the man in the big dinosaur costume.
  • Suitbusters: This stuff – this is the very pulsing heart of Web Curios, maybe even its soul. Suitbusters is a YouTube channel whose sole purpose and concern is the desecration of suits. A man – it is always a man – with a beard wears a suit in a variety of scenarios, and the suit gets dirty. Sometimes with gunge, sometimes with mud, sometimes with ketchup and various other foodstuffs – but the suit always comes off worse. THIS HAS BEEN GOING ON FOR 8 YEARS. THERE ARE 51,000 SUBSCRIBERS. WHY??? I mean, let’s be clear, we all know why – this is a fetish corner of YouTube, one of those weird bits where the avowedly non-sexual content policy of the site gets circumvented by people whose tastes are so niche that they barely even qualify as sexual; I mean, I never really understood ‘sploshing’ as a thing, but I always assumed that participants were at least nude, but this? HOW DO YOU GET OFF ON THIS? I am not judging, to be clear – whatever floats your boat, especially when it seems as harmless (well, except to the threads) as this – but I am honestly incapable of understanding how one might experience an erotic frisson from watching an unremarkable-looking man wipe mustard on the lapels of a three-piece. God I love the web sometimes.
  • Potato News Today: Who wouldn’t want the ability to keep up with all of the world’s spud-facts? NO FCUKER, THAT’S WHO! You may not think that COVID has had an impact on the potato world, but you would be wrong – is there NO part of human life that it hasn’t affected. Damn virus.
  • Access Dots: There was a recent iOS update which added a feature whereby if apps access your phone’s camera or microphone, your phone alerts you to the fact; this does the same thing, but for Android devices. If you’re worried that THEY are spying on you, well, you’re probably right, but at least this way you can be certain.
  • The iPhone Photography Awards 2020: In previous years I’ve kvetched about phone photography awards being basically a bit of a swizz, what with all the automatic image enhancement jiggerypokery that all phones do these days (my Chinese surveillance device makes it practically impossible for me to take a bad photo, which makes me unaccountably really, really annoyed – I LIKE BEING SH1T AT PHOTOGRAPHY FFS, IT’S MY ‘THING’), but there are enough images in here that show genuine talent in terms of composition, etc, that means I will just shut my mouth and enjoy them. My favourite’s the one by Ekaterina Varzar, but they’re all wonderful.
  • The Fuzzies: Three weeks left on this one and it’s super-funded already, so you’re guaranteed to get the goods – The Fuzzies is a really simple, portable game that involves stacking up small, fuzzy, sticky balls until they all topple over. Which now I write it out sounds like the sh1ttest game ever, but I promise you that it looks like wholesome fun for all the family. Also, it reminded me an awful lot of this very old videogame, which is reason enough to recommend it.
  • Linkdrop: This is really, really useful, particularly if you’re the sort of internet browser who has a tendency to open 10million tabs and then just sort of get overwhelmed by them and decide to just abandon any attempt at reading the bloody things. Linkdrop lets you collate all your unread tabs into an email that will be sent to you at the time of your choosing, ideally when you have time to read the fcuking things. The added bonus of this is that you can use it to make Web Curios an infinitely-recursive experience which I am sure is what you are all crying out for.
  • Audiomass: This is a really, really good in-browser audio-editing tool. Seriously, it’s ace – I haven’t done audio editing since working at the BBC for the first time two decades ago (OH GOD SO MUCH PROMISE AND ALL FOR NAUGHT), but this enabled me to slip right back into it and create a sub-Cassetteboy clip of Boris Johnson promising to fist the nation with only a few minutes of clumsy dragging-and-dropping.
  • Hasbro’s YouTube Channel: THERE IS A LIVESTREAM OF THE GI JOE CARTOONS ON 24/7!! If that’s not enough to compel you to click, there is Transformers and My Little Pony and all sorts of other cartoons that you know you are far too old to enjoy without feeling a bit weird but which at the same time will provide the kind of emotional comfort blanket that you know that you increasingly can’t live without and which will go some way (but not quite enough) towards guarding against the increasingly sharp and jagged edges of reality.
  • Flight Simulator History: Microsoft Flight Simulator is one of the longest-running ‘games’ series in history – if you count ‘a meticulously-recreated realtime flight from London to Sydney’ as worthy of the term ‘game’. There’s a new version out now, apparently, with ULTRA-REALISTIC CLOUDS and quite possibly some spanking new tannoy announcements, but if you prefer your simulations slightly more blocky you might well like this site which offers the opportunity to play seemingly full versions of not one but FOUR past versions of Flight Simulator, specifically the ones from 1982/4/8/9. Being simulators, these are…quite hard; I spent 10m yesterday trying to do anything other than take off and then crash again immediately with no success whatsoever, but you may be a more committed pilot than I. Going back to 1982 is quite the thing – 40 years really is a lifetime in videogames.
  • Six Cats Under: This is gorgeous and whimsical and lovely, and you MUST play it. The premise is simple; you’re the ghost of an old lady, who must try and get the cats that she lived with to leave the house that she’s vacated. You do this by making things happen with your GHOSTLY PRESENCE – make clocks chime, apples fall off shelves, that sort of thing – but the joy here is in the animation and the way the puzzles stack to create lovely consequences. It’s not easy – you’ll need to do a lot of clicking around – but there are guides online if you get stuck, and it’s worth playing all the way through to enjoy the little gags and vignettes scattered throughout. Absolutely charming.
  • 5d Chess: Finally this week, this is a proper game which costs money, but I defy you to read the description and not be a little bit intrigued as to how ‘chess plus multidimensional time travel’ works as a game. Honestly, read the reviews, it is mind-melting – for less then a tenner, this will make you feel very, very stupid indeed (if you’re anything like me; if it doesn’t make you feel stupid, please keep it to yourself you disgusting genii).

By Paul Heyer

THE FINAL MUSICAL SELECTION OF WEB CURIOS ON IMPERICA IS ONE OF MY FAVOURITE ALBUMS – IT’S A WONDERFUL LIFE BY SPARKLEHORSE – WHICH I HOPE YOU ENJOY IF YOU DON’T KNOW IT ALREADY!

THE CIRCUS OF TUMBLRS!:

  • Maori Sakai: Only one Tumblr this week, but it’s a beauty – Maori Sakai is an artist who creates beautiful, hand-drawn animated gifs, like sketchbook elements come to life. I know this is an unspeakably-twee comparison, but do you remember how on early seasons of Bake Off they had these illustrations of what the cakes were meant to look like when they were being described at the beginning? Well they look like those. A bit.

THE TROUGH OF (INSTA) FEEDS!:

  • The Story Seed: I love this project; such a lovely idea. “Each week, three people are selected to write a ‘seed’ in less than 100 words, inspired by one image. In other words, three people are asked to interpret the story within the frame. Who are the characters? Where is the story set? What is the bigger picture? The image is then shared three times on Seed’s Instagram and website, captioned with the different interpretations, alongside crediting the three writers and the photographer.” The quality of the writing accompanying the images is…variable, but it’s always interesting to see the ways in which different imaginations take a single image.
  • Ross McSweeney: Hand-made kinetic wooden sculptures. I could watch these videos all day, SO SOOTHING.
  • Men in Gilets: Drawings of men in gilets. These are, artistically, far, far better than they need to be, and the sort of things which I could imagine being ironically displayed in exactly the sort of restaurant or pub that is frequented by the selfsame begileted men. I have one specific colleague who I hope reads this and feels very, very seen.

LONG THINGS WHICH ARE LONG (AND WHICH BY THE WAY THIS WEEK IS A PARTICULARLY STRONG SELECTION EVEN IF I DO SAY SO MYSELF)!:

  • Social Darwinism and Disease: Subtitled ‘From AIDS to COVID-19’, this is a superb essay which starts by looking back at the story of evolutionary biologist Bill Hamilton, and his attempt to prove the (since debunked) theory that the AIDS virus was first propagated amongst humans as a result of organ harvesting of chimpanzees in pursuit of a polio vaccine; it goes on to look at how Hamilton’s theories and writings were in many respects Trojan Horses for his other unsavoury, racist beliefs about eugenics and the like, and how his work effectively advocated for the systematic winnowing out of the ‘weak and undesirable’, masquerading as concern for the potential Malthusian side-effects of improvements in disease control in the developing world. The article goes on to draw parallels between this and the laissez-faire reactions to COVID advocated by notable right-wingers worldwide (ring any bells); honestly, this is SUCH a good piece of writing, packed with erudition, and worth showing to anyone who believes that wearing a mask is somehow an attack on one’s liberties and freedoms. It’s quite possible that they’re focusing their conspiracising in the wrong place.
  • Show Me How To Say No: As Elon Musk burbles on nonsensically about how his embryonic Neuralink technology will be able to mess with our brains in exciting and fun and emotion-inducing ways, a useful corrector in Nautilus magazine which looks at some of the actual science behind the way in which attraction, love and the like actually work (insofar as we’re able to determine this; of all the black boxes we are so obsessed with, the brain continues to be one of the more inscrutable). The piece examines current cutting-edge therapies designed to help patients get over (personal, romantic) trauma, and argues that there is benefit in exploring neuropharmacological routes to therapy in specific areas relating to romantic attachment; I don’t know if I like this, but it’s certainly fascinating.
  • Everything I Googled In a Week: Caity Weaver is a Style reporter at the NYT; this GDoc is her record of all the things that she looked up on Google or Wikipedia over a one-week period, in part annotated with explanations as to what she was looking for, along with anecdotes and memories that each search and resultant piece(s) of information threw up. This is quite, quite wonderful, both just in terms of being properly interesting but also as an exploration of the way Google works with our brains; the sort of cyborg-y augmentation that we now all have access to, and how that works to make connections and unearth memories and develop thoughts and throughlines and theories that couldn’t possibly have existed without the semi-serendipitous magic of The Algo. I would read this every week without fail; honestly, in the unlikely event that anyone who’s in any way important at a newspaper ever sees this, this is such a superb idea for a weekly column, rotating between contributors (you can have that for free).
  • Virtual Hajj: Pilgrims around the world are this year having to find alternative ways of completing the journey to Mecca – this article takes a (largely factual) look at some of the means that are being deployed, and the people building virtual pilgrimage experiences for the faithful to express their devotion safely in the time of COVID. To be honest, I’m including it mainly for this line, which in a particularly Gibsonian year is SUCH a Gibsonian concept: “The iUmrah.World app lets users find and pay for proxies in Saudi Arabia who under Islamic law can complete umrah on their behalf, said founder and Chief Executive Ahmed Alhaddad. The proxies live stream their journeys and the tasks they complete in Mecca to iUmrah customers.”
  • The Bangladesh Economy Runs on Facebook: Or, “Why you can’t escape Facebook and Zuckerberg’s Not Going Anywhere Yet”. It’s always slightly annoying to me that people in the US and UK forget that Facebook’s main markets are no longer these territories – far more important to the company are the millions of people in second-world markets, for whom Facebook provides the base-level infrastructure for things like e-commerce that simply didn’t exist before it arrived and which might not still exist without it. This article (from the increasingly-essential ‘Rest of World’ magazine, which has been consistently excellent since launching and you really ought to sub to) looks at the specific case of how essential Facebook is (Pages, Groups, streaming, Messenger, the whole package) to individual small businesses in Bangladesh; there’s some vague noise in there about the potential threat posed by Amazon to Facebook’s dominance in markets such as these, but I’m not 100% certain than Amazon can compete with the hugely personal presence that Facebook affords, which I get the feeling might be culturally significant. Fascinating (even if you don’t do advermarketingpr for a living).
  • Digital Currency in Brazil: Another ‘Rest of World’ piece, this time looking at how digital currency Mumbuca is being used in Brazil to support local economies at a district / neighbourhood level, and how it’s effectively being deployed as a trial run for a degree of Universal Basic Income for the poorest in society. I get the impression that there are probably a few more counterarguments to this than the piece makes clear, but it’s hard to read this and not think that it sounds like a system worth investigating.
  • Photogrammetry in Journalism: An NYT piece which explores how 3d models of interiors could be used for improved storytelling. This is basically your next Snowfall trend; no bad thing, as the article demonstrates. There’s a LOT you can do with this sort of stuff, and it’s worth reading if you’ve any interest (professional or otherwise) in how you can tell better stories set in a defined physical space.
  • MSCHF: As regular readers will know, I’ve had something of a crush on MSCHF since I first became aware of their work a couple of years ago (ish), not least because their job literally just seems to be ‘let’s come up with ideas for stuff that the internet will like, some of which we will sell for actual cashmoney’. I have always wondered, though, how they subsist, and how the whole thing works, and, well, where some of the money has come from. This piece explains some of that – it’s a bit of a hagiography, though in fairness their performance (at least in hype terms) has earned it, and doesn’t seem to ask the questions that spring immediately to mind. Like, for example, HOW THE HELL DID YOU RAISE VC MONEY FOR THIS?!?! Don’t get me wrong – I appreciate that this stuff is not easy, and there’s no way in hell I would have been able to come up with 99% of the stuff they’ve done – but I’ve also got no idea how you manage to go into a VC (I’ve met and worked with VCs – they are…not sentimental, in the main) with a pitch that basically amounts to ‘yeah, we’ll just make cool hypey stuff and sell some of it’ and give them the 10x exit erection that they so crave. What I’m basically saying here is that there’s a whiff of ‘someone else’s money from the outset’ about this. Does that make me bitter and jealous? It does, doesn’t it? FFS.
  • YouTube’s Psychic Wounds: Nicholson Baker was very much a feted novelist a few decades back and then, well, he wasn’t; I can’t remember what it was that set the court of public opinion against him, though it might have been some quite creepy sex in a lot of his novels (infamous ‘freeze time for secret w4nks’ extravaganza ‘The Fermata’, I’m looking at YOU!), but I’ve not seen him commissioned by a glossy for years before this piece. Which is a shame, because he’s an excellent writer, and this essay, about the beauty and wonder and horror of YouTube in all its many manifestations, is quite wonderful. Someone should show him TikTok, he will die.
  • The 40 Hottest Women In Tech: Brilliant essay by Luke Winkie, who many years ago back on the content farms wrote a piece he knew was skeezy, titled, ‘The 40 Hottest Women in Tech’. The internet reacted predictably, and Luke had quite the time of it; this essay looks back at that from a safe distance, and reflects on what it’s like to be the author of something objectively terrible that everyone hates. It’s funny and honest, and it’s funny(ish) to look back at a particular era of the web when people thought they could still get away with this stuff. It’s also instructive in the context of ‘CANCEL CULTURE’ – Luke was a pariah for a while, but wasn’t in fact ‘cancelled’ at all for writing the rubbish he did, and it’s worth reflecting on next time someone’s screeching about having their ‘freedom of speech’ curtailed; nah mate, it’s just that you’re enjoying other people exercising their freedom of speech and calling you a cnut and telling you your opinions stink.
  • The History of Big Mouth Billy Bass: This is so, so much better than it needed to be – an oral history of the world’s favourite (er, only?) singing, plastic, wall-mounted fish. So many great, great lines – the guy from the Soprano nakedly hoping this article’s going to be a passport back to relevance is one, but also this particular detail just slew me for some reason: “My dad had one. He had it engraved. He was so proud of it. He ordered it off a late-night infomercial because he was an insomniac. The engraving said, “Mamoo Booz killed me. Ho ho ho.” Mamoo was his nickname because his brother couldn’t pronounce his name when he was a kid. That was also his stage name when he was a clown, “Mamoo the Clown.” He passed when I was 17 and I had the fish for a while, but I just recently threw it out.” Poetry.
  • I Hold A Wolf By The Ears: An extract from the forthcoming collection of the same title, this short story is set against the backdrop of last year’s Bret Kavanaugh hearings in the US, telling the story of a husband and wife and their relationship and…oh, look, just read it, it’s really good.
  • Revision is my God: If you’ve read Web Curios for any length of time, it’s probably occurred to you that I don’t really (read: at all) edit my writing – it’s not so much writing as typing (thanks, Truman!), top to bottom and then fired off into the digital ether. It’s always been this way, from school to university and even now at work; I have an aversion to rereading my own prose, at least critically, which is why I have singularly failed to improve or develop as a writer despite a frankly prodigious output (in wordcount at least). This is a wonderful essay by Meaghan O’Connell, in which she writes about the painful beauty of revision and how polishing, reshaping and occasionally amputating chunks of your prose can be as satisfying as the act of writing it in the first place. Maybe one day I’ll learn (I won’t, I am far too lazy and self-satisfied).
  • Who Am I Prepared To Kill?: READ THIS PLEASE. An absolutely superb piece of writing, on the danger of binary reductivism in politics and life in general, and on the consequences of a society that has flattened debate and question into a ‘like’ or ‘dislike’ either/or. William Davies writes beautifully; this is such a well-argued, well-structured piece of writing which is, to my mind, the smartest summary of what is wrong with how we approach ‘debate’ or the concept of ‘sides’ in the online era.
  • Waste Away: An essay about modern Lebanon, and poverty and class and money and development and, well, sh1t. The best piece of writing you will read all year, by Lina Mounser, that features faeces as a central theme (but please don’t let that put you off).
  • Lacework: This is part essay, part artwork; on opening the page, you’ll want to minimise the video on the right-hand side of the screen and read the copy; you can then reopen the artwork by clicking ‘maximise’ in the bottom right (or, you know, you can do what you like, I’m not the boss of you, etc etc). Both the essay and the art are beautiful – Lacework “is a project by Everest Pipkin that uses artificial neural networks to reinscribe the videos of MIT’s Moments in Time Dataset. Using algorithms that stretch time and add details to images, Pipkin creates a series of hallucinatory slow-motion vignettes from the videos of everyday actions that form the collection.” The essay describes Pipkin’s experience of watching this seemingly-infinite stream of humanity, possibly the first human ever to pay such close attention to imagery that was collated first and foremost to train machines, and how we should characterise such imagery and…look, just read and watch, this is quite, quite beautiful.
  • Feeling Bullish: Last up in the long reads, this is very long but is by quite some way the best piece of the week and possibly the best thing I have read all year. Rebekah Frumkin writes about her Great Uncle Sidney, an American who became a matador and befriended Hemingway. Sidney was also gay, and the essay, which starts as a biography of her (remarkable, charismatic, fascinating) uncle, becomes much more than that, a meditation on queerness and identity and a surprising rereading of Hemingway, and, look, this is the best way you can possibly spend an hour this afternoon other than maybe taking drugs and having sex, so if those aren’t options available to you then please, please read this, it is spectacularly good.

By Matt Bollinger

AND NOW, MOVING PICTURES AND SOUNDS!:

  1. Rob Manuel’s Longwave project has a video! If, per the last link, you are in fact able to take some drugs now, I suggest doing so and settling down in front of this; the music is genuinely great, and the visuals – compiled from all over the place – fit perfectly. Get yourself a beanbag and skin up, go on (it probably won’t go so well with gak, if I’m honest):

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  1. This reminded me quite a lot of the Boo Radleys and other bands of that time / ilk, and the video is pleasingly sunshiney – this is The Magic Gang, with ‘Make Time For Change’:

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  1. Future Islands, now, with ‘For Sure’ – this is a cracking song (and the video is animated, which blew my mind slightly):

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  1. This is ‘Ferris Wheel’ by Sylvan Esso, which reminds me an awful lot of Moloko which is no bad thing at all:

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  1. I’m not generally in the market for Yo Yo Ma – I’m just not really a cello kind of person, turns out – but this track, by Rhiannon Giddens with Ma accompanying, is a brilliant record and I quite want to listen to it all the time. Beautiful, beautiful song – it’s called ‘Build A House’:

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  1. Chuck the resolution on this up to 4k, put it on the biggest screen you can find and ENJOY – oh, and listen to the audio too, the foley work here is astonishingly good. It’s called ‘Transfiguration’:

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  1. Finally this week – and THE LAST EVER VIDEO TO BE INCLUDED IN THIS PARTICULAR INCARNATION OF WEB CURIOS!! – this feels like an appropriate note to end on. When I started doing this here in 2013, I genuinely couldn;t have imagined where we’d be in 2020. And yet, here we are. This is called ‘I Will Not Cease From Mental Fight’, by Shardcore – enjoy, but, most of all, thankyou so, so much for reading this rubbish, if ever you did. I hope to be back doing it again at some point, somewhere. I LOVE YOU ALL SO MUCH:

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Webcurios 17/07/20

Reading Time: 16 minutes

Blah blah blah week blah blah blah.

We have some HOUSEKEEPING to take care of.

Point the first: I am off next week due to having STUFF TO DO that is going to keep me offline for two whole days (unconscionable, I know). You will have to find a way of consoling yourselves in my absence; I am told PCP is ‘similarly engaging’.

Point the second: there is a BRAND NEW issue of Imperica Magazine out RIGHT NOW, featuring the usual smorgasbord of new writing from often-previously-unheard-voices, on a range of topics as diverse as they are. Interesting, erudite and CHEAP at just three quid for an awful lot of reading material.

Point the third – AS OF 31 JULY THIS IS ALL OVER. Publisher Paul has decided, as is well within his right, that he can no longer shoulder the burden of *gestures at the infrastructure* all this, and as such the website and magazine will shut down at the end of the month. You can read more about that here, should you so wish. All of which means that I currently have NO IDEA what is happening with Curios, so, er, anyone who wants to offer me an unconscionable sum to do this with YOUR branding all over it (or, perhaps more sensibly, with your competitors’ branding all over it!) then do hit me up.

Anyway, for the PENULTIMATE EVER TIME ON THIS URL, I am Matt, this is Web Curios, and I neither know nor care who you are because this has always, exclusively, been for me. See you in two weeks for what I imagine might be a slightly emotional last ever Imperica.

By Felicia Chiao

LET’S KICK OFF THIS WEEK WITH A NEW ALL-VINYL MIX BY WESTCOUNTRY CRATEDIGGER THOMAS ‘DAPWEARER’ SPOONER, FULL OF OLD BLUES AND SOUL AND OTHER STUFF!

THE SECTION WHICH WOULD LIKE TO SUGGEST THAT IF YOU’RE IN THE UNFORTUNATE POSITION OF HAVING TO CARE ABOUT THE STUFF ABOUT S*C**L M*D** THAT SITS AT THE TOP OF CURIOS YOU MIGHT WANT TO SIGN UP TO MATT NAVARRA’S WEEKLY UPDATE OF NEWS AS IT’S MARGINALLY MORE COMPREHENSIVE AND CONTAINS LESS OF A SUBTEXTUAL IMPLICATION THAT YOUR JOB IS POINTLESS AND THAT YOUR EMPLOYER AND CLIENTS ARE MORONS (IT IS AND THEY ARE):

  • Facebook To Add Licensed Music Videos (In US) (Soon): Artists on Facebook in the US will as of next month be able to add official music videos to their profile JUST LIKE IT’S YOUTUBE! Except it won’t be, it will be Facebook, and thus in all likelihood it will be horrible and a bit unfun; that, though, won’t stop this probably doing quite well. Why? DATA! SO MUCH DATA! Given the fact that all music now is generated by an algorithm which determines its suitability for TikToks (probably), it seems likely that layering the rich, deep, mulchy datasets that Facebook has on each and every one of us over the types of music we like to consume (and how, and where), it’s not surprising that record labels, artists and brands would welcome the opportunity to learn more about exactly the sort of music that, say, 22 year old meme fans from Carlisle like to listen to at 11am. Coming to the rest of the world with tedious predictability…soonish, I’d imagine, though there’s no information beyond this broad speculation available at present.
  • Gmail’s Going To Become Slack (Basically): Oh God it’s a SLOW news week and, honestly, I don’t really care about the fact that Gmail’s going to integrate all sorts of existing GSuite gubbins into its next update. All you need to know is that there’s an update coming, it will let you do a bunch of stuff that you can already do in Slack, Teams et al, and it’s yet another nail in the coffin of the idea that work might one day stop rather than just following you around wherever you go, ‘efficiently’ insinuating itself into every spare waking second of your life like so much evil grouting inbetween the tiles of your soul.
  • It’s Now Easier To Add Multiple Photos To Reddit Posts: “Reddit’s new image galleries will now allow you to post up to 20 images or GIFs on a single post with support for multiple videos in a post coming “soon after launch,” according to Reddit. Any community can enable the Image Gallery feature, but community moderators will need to opt in to allow their members to use it.” There is going to be a lot more bongo, is my HOT TAKE on this.
  • A Guide To Marketing On Pinterest: I have, for several years now, been writing stuff like ‘you really ought to be doing more stuff on Pinterest if you sell domestic-type goods to people’; finally, some practical guidance as to what that might in fact mean! This is a guide to Pinterest by Pinterest, and as such it’s possibly a touch more convinced of the innate benefits of the platform than a more objective assessment might be; still, as an overview of what you can do on the platform and to what end, it’s pretty decent. As a general point, it’s really nice to see a platform produce its own, high-quality how-to guides in simple, readable fashion – more of this stuff, please.
  • Spotify Launches Podcast Charts: To be honest, there aren’t even any real brand implications for this (other than ‘this makes it easier for people to find podcasts by topic, and means that you really should ensure that you put your podcasts on Spotify as well as all the other places’), but I’m including it mainly as my friend Rich always complains he never knows where to find new podcasts and I thought he might find this useful (personal service, right there).
  • The State of Public Relations: Feel free to read this headline out with whichever emphasis you think best fits the context (for the avoidance of doubt, though, I am placing the stress very much on the second word here). This report – the annual one by one of the industry trade bodies, examining the industry’s navel and picking out the malodorous lint from it so we can all have a good old gawp – floated across my field of vision this week and made me quite annoyed, specifically the statistic about the lack of ethnic diversity in the profession. For those of you unaware, I nominally ‘earn’ my living working at the edges of PR; I have worked in/with quite a few PR agencies, small and THE BIGGEST IN THE WORLDZzzzzzzz, I know lots of people who work in the industry, and, look, let’s be honest – PR’s not where the world’s best and brightest end up (nb – which is why I ended up there; I’m under no illusions on this score, trust me). It’s mainly the home for middle-class arts graduates who don’t really know what they want to do with themselves but have a vague idea that ‘the media’ or ‘entertainment’ or ‘the creative industries’ is a fun bucket to end up in and so TO THE PRESS RELEASES, THOMAS!! CAN EVERYONE STOP HIRING MEDIOCRE WHITE PEOPLE PLEASE? Given we can all see that current hiring practices – to whit, ‘hiring people who look and sound exactly like the people doing the hiring’ – isn’t exactly creating hives of brilliance and intellectual acuity, why not try making an effort not to hire blond people from West London who have decided to get into PR because ‘after three years of being a playwright, it’s just not working out and I need to start earning some money’ (this is, I promise, an example drawn from life FFS)? Did you know that before working in comms I had never met anyone who wore a signet ring, and didn’t even know what one was? Do you know how many I’ve met in the past 20 years? CAN EVERYONE IN PR STOP BEING A POSH, SLIGHTLY-STUPID WASTE OF FLESH PLEASE? Thanks everyone!
  • The Roger: This is childish, fine, but I am including a link to this site partly because it’s quite slick and shiny but mainly because it is called The Roger. It’s the launch site for some new footwear collab between everyone’s favourite Swiss tennis machine Roger Federer and…some Swiss brand, and it’s VERY swish (unintentional), featuring all sorts of multimedia content about The Roger (for that is the name of both the man and the shoe, DO YOU SEE??) including lots of soft-focus interview content about his life, some slightly-inexplicable chat about design and creativity between Federer and KAWS, a bit of hi-tech remote tennis play, and lots of stuff about how amazing this shoe is. But, well, it’s called ‘The Roger’, and there is no way in hell you can make that sound cool, I’m sorry, no matter how much of Federer’s massive alpine face you feature throughout.
  • The Museum of Tires: As I laboured (ha! ‘Laboured’! Like I did anything other than phone in the work as per usual!) this week on a piece of new business that, as per usual, demanded that you achieve what is practically alchemy in exchange for some slightly-ropey looking beans, I stumbled across this site and, as often happens in cases such as this, wondered who the fcuk it was that signed off the dev cost on this. Vredestein is a brand which you may well be familiar with but which I had never encountered before – they make tires! Performance tires! And they really like them, so much so that they have created this virtual museum of, er, tires! There’s a COUNTDOWN TO THE EXPERIENCE, and then BAM! You’re immersed in a world of, er, tires! There’s some CG and some stirring music, and then you’re taken through what is basically a 3d representation of a not particularly exciting museum that tells you about, er, tires! All with a bloodless voiceover delivered in a tone one can imagine accompanying your organs being harvested for testing by a sinister team of alien biologists. As ever with these things, I am baffled at who thought this was a good use of money but also very, very glad that it exists and that someone got paid to make it.

By Jesse Howard

NEXT, PRETEND YOU ARE 14 AGAIN WITH THIS ANTHOLOGY COLLECTION OF CLASSIC EMO (BUT NO SELF-HARMING PLEASE!)!

THE SECTION WHICH WOULD LIKE TO REMIND YOU ALL THAT IF YOU LIKE SOMETHING IN THE MEDIA THEN YOU PROBABLY OUGHT TO PAY FOR IT IN SOME WAY IF YOU WOULD LIKE IT TO CONTINUE EXISTING, PT.1:

  • You Need Iceland: This is very good indeed, and I like it a lot, but it’s also a rehash of at least one, possibly two, projects from about ten years ago which I have repeatedly used as examples of stuff which clients ought to steal and which noone has ever listened to me about, and therefore I can’t help but be slightly bitter about the fact that I FOUND THE CONCH (or something). You Need Iceland is a project by the Iceland tourist board, part of the same activation which saw them do the ‘Google Streetview but powered by real people’ stunt at the top of lockdown (SO LONG AGO) – the central conceit is that everyone is stressed out and needs some sort of release after 5 months of ALL THIS, and what better way to achieve that than by screaming into your laptop or phone and then having that scream broadcast across the Icelandic landscape from a series of speakers placed around the island? Choose where you want to scream, tap the button and CATHART YOUR LUNGS OUT whilst looking out over the fjords! This is such a nice idea – simple, cheap, speaks to a simple emotional truth (we are all miserable and frustrated) and clearly demonstrates the product benefit (Iceland is massive and there’s noone there and if you want to scream into the void then PLEASE COME AND VISIT US!), and it’s a lot of fun. If nothing else it’s worth keeping it open somewhere in the background, as I am currently doing – having your work interrupted at random by someone yodelling, as happened approximately 90s ago, is surprisingly pleasant.
  • Super You: This is hugely-reminiscent of a piece of CG that did really good numbers a few years back, in which an animator presented a series of humanoid figures composed of various materials and shapes, all running and walking across the screen – effectively this is an AR toy (for iOS) which does the same thing; point it at a human figure, tell it which effect you want it to apply, and BANG! Your subject is transformed from person into, er, a pile of ambulant boxes, say, or a weird echidna-robot. You can, obviously, export all of this for use in other apps, so grab this now before everyone else does and we all get bored of the FX; with the right editing I think there are quite a few decent visual gags you can do here, not least the potential for novel spins on TikTok memes featuring post-drop transformations and the like.
  • Lipsync With Google: Or, ‘Train The AI To Lipread’! Still, this is fun, so let’s ignore the fact that we’re once again working for free to train a multi-billion dollar business’ software. Lipsync is a new Google experiment thingy, which aims to track your mouth movements to see how well you’re delivering the lyrics to a bunch of contemporary(ish) tracks. This is really smart – it’s fun, it’s simple, it taps into the contemporary obsession with lipsync performance…oh, and, yes, it’s all adding data to the machine to make it better at interpreting the different ways in which people shape sounds with their mouths. I was absolutely terrible at this, but I’m putting that down to the fact that I was so discomfited by seeing my own slightly-too-plastic face contorting itself whilst ‘singing’ (and the fact that, er, I didn’t know any of the songs); have a go and see how you get on.
  • Acute Art: I’m surprised that I’ve not featured this before; Acute Art is the inevitable shiny, high-end artworld take on AR for the visual arts; whilst you have Snap democratising the whole thing, this is very much at the other end of the spectrum, with bespoke creations in conjunction with some of the fine art world’s biggest names. “Acute Art collaborates with the world’s leading contemporary artists, providing access to cutting-edge technologies that allow them to translate their creative vision into new digital mediums – including virtual, augmented and mixed realities.” So you get Eliasson, Christo (RIP), that cnut Anish Kapoor…you get the idea, it’s very much a smorgasbord of Frieze-class talent, all of whom have created bespoke experiences to be enjoyed within the Acute Art app. The thing is, though, that all the work is…not particularly interesting; there’s a slight issue, to my mind, with this AR stuff, in that the output isn’t actually that impressive. Once you’ve got over the initial excitement of ‘here’s a CG depiction of something which is hovering as a digital layer over the real world as seen through the screen of my device!’, there’s not a fat lot else left other than some sub-videogame CG and animation which clips awkwardly through the furniture, and I struggle to see much in the way of high concept in any of this other than ‘hey, wouldn’t it be neat if you could have a digital…thing floating in the sky?’. Oh, I don’t know, maybe I’m being grumpy, see what you think.
  • The Bitcoin Address: Silly and pointless, but also quite instructive – this is a website set up at the url of the Bitcoin wallet address used by the hackers that took over blue tick Twitter this week (it’s totally legit, despite the dodgy-looking url, promise), using the wallet string as the address (you’ll see what I mean when you click). On landing on the page you get a little PSA telling you that the wallet thing was a scam, but you can also see the Page’s analytics – at the time of writing, 7,500 people have visited this site in around 72h, which may not sound a lot but, honestly, to get that many people to a dodgy-looking url with no publicity and nothing to do when they get there is…impressive, to my mind. It made me think that there’s actually not a terrible play here in terms of buying news-adjacent urls and using them to drop cookies on people or collect email addresses. Christ, I hate myself.
  • Unwoke: Bit conflicted about including this one, but fcuk it. ‘Unwoke’ is a site which appeared this week as a jobs board for people who are sick of what they perceive to be the STALINIST THOUGHT POLICING of the modern left, and the insistence of some sections of society to look down on others for such perfectly normal, healthy and blameless behaviours like, I don’t know, casual racism and sexism and misogyny and stuff. Do YOU feel that modern society has gone TOO FAR in its demands that you treat others with base-level kindness and respect and consideration? Are YOU feeling marginalised in your current place of employment because of colleagues’ insistence that you not demonstrate obvious disdain for specific groups or categories of people? POOR YOU! Get on Unwoke, then, and advertise yourself as a dreadful cnut who wants a new job! I don’t think this is entirely serious – I mean, the site works and all the rest, but it feels to me more like someone MAKING A THING as part of the culture wars rather than an actual site anyone actually thinks will get traction (I mean, look: “Hire courageous, free thinking and freedom loving individuals. Not ideologues whose only agenda is to weaponize your brand and business to further a radical cause.” – that can’t be serious, can it?) – but it’s a touch miserable nonetheless. It wouldn’t 100% surprise me if this turned out to be a marketing thing by Alex Jones or somesuch fcuker, using this as a means to find more people to attempt to shill Brain Force to.
  • This Pony Does Not Exist: My Little Ponies, as imagined by GAN! Even better, none of them appear to be Nazis! This is A N Other variant on all those other ‘this X does not exist’ sites that you’ve all seen before, but this is particularly nicely-done in that it allows you to fiddle with the parameters a bit and see how that affects the sorts of faces the machine generates. Chuck the sliders all the way up to ‘chaotic’ and witness some very sketchy creations indeed.
  • Cubechat: I don’t think that there’s any point me trying to come up with a better one-line description for this service than that which the website offers: “You are a cube, and you can move around and talk with other cubes like at an in-person party.” Who doesn’t want to be a cube? NO FCUKER, that’s who! This is not 100% unlike something I featured in March, which let you wander round ‘rooms’ in a top-down view, with voicechat options determined by your proximity in digital space to other users; there are lots of fun features, though, including conversation ‘bubbles’ to allow for closed chat, the ability for all-user screensharing, and, er, jumping and lasers. Honestly, it’s unlikely to ever be something you use professionally, but as a way of making your team meeting (for upto 16 people) marginally-less soul-destroying, this isn’t bad at all.
  • Download and Save Your TikToks: It’s fair to say that TikTok’s not having a great month, what with the ban in India and the ban-ish noises coming from the US, and the fact that it’s a proxy in a much bigger international conversation about East/West power and control, and Facebook about to launch its TikTok clone Reels to audiences around the world (probably). I’m still pretty bullish on TikTok, which almost certainly dooms it to near-future obsolescence, but if you’re a little more scared that it might vanish without warning at some point soon then you might want to get involved with this site, which rips and saves all your TikToks as video files so they don’t go the way of all the Vines (RIP).
  • The Atlas of Surveillance: “The Atlas of Surveillance is a database of the surveillance technologies deployed by law enforcement in communities across the United States. This includes drones, body-worn camera, automated license plate readers, facial recognition, and more. This research was compiled by more than 500 students and volunteers and incorporates datasets from a variety of public and non-profit sources…Through a combination of crowdsourcing and data journalism, we are creating the largest-ever repository of information on which law enforcement agencies are using what surveillance technologies. The aim is to generate a resource for journalists, academics, and, most importantly, members of the public to check what’s been purchased locally and how technologies are spreading across the country.” This is quite incredible, not only as a resource for journalists and academics but as a visualisation of the extent of surveillance tech across the US. Check out the map, have a bit of an explore, and then remember that the UK is by many measures quite a way out in front as one of the most surveilled nations in the world, outside of China. SMILE!!
  • Docs Plus: This is – FULL DISCLOSURE – a project by a friend of mine, but it’s very smart and I would include it even if it weren’t, so there. Docs Plus is basically a bit like Google Docs, insofar as it’s a collaborative, cloud-based document writing platform with all the usual gubbins; what makes it HUGELY interesting is the integration of videochat into the document. Any doc created within docs plus can have a multiple number of video chats going on within it – any piece of text assigned as a ‘Heading’ will offer users the opportunity to jump into a discrete, isolated chat instance attached to that heading – so, for example, if you were working collaboratively on a document you could have separate, concurrent video/voice chats on each chapter to discuss structure, contents, etc. It’s still a bit rough, and you’ll need to get in touch with the creators for full access, but it’s SO clever – as a tool for meetings, brainstorms, events, it’s got huge potential. Simple, clean and easy to use, this is really worth a look if my hamfisted description made any sense to you.
  • Reddit Title Scraper: A little tool that lets you analyse individual subReddits to see which words tend to appear most frequently in the post popular threads. If nothing else it’s interesting to point this at some of the more bongo-oriented subs to see just how unoriginal language can get.
  • Gatitos Gorditos: Ordinarily ‘it has cats in it!’ is not a strong enough argument for inclusion in Curios, however much my girlfriend might protest; on this occasion, though, I am including this Twitter feed (which is basically just cat photos) entirely because of its name (basically, ‘fat little cats’ in Spanish) and the fact that reading out the captions in (what if I interrogate myself properly is probably a moderately-offensive) cod-spanish has made me laugh more than almost anything else I’ve seen this week (I am so tired).
  • Kickback: Or, Pyramid Shopping! This is the latest app to employ the waitlist trick of artificially building buzz around its launch; you can download it, but access is via an invite code only and those appear to be in short supply. Still, the premise is easy enough to understand; you sign up and you can shop through the app with big name brands much as you can do elsewhere; the gimmick, though, is that you can earn cashback on your purchases (seemingly easy to access and cash out on via PayPal) when your ‘friends’ sign up to the app and make purchases on it – LITERALLY A PYRAMID SCHEME! Still, in an era in which I have seen SO MUCH scam-selling on Facebook – seriously, there was a fcuking black garlic pyramid scam the other day, which strikes me as…niche – this feels like it might be destined to do rather well. DON’T FALL FOR IT IT IS A FCUKING TRAP, is my advice.
  • Just For Fun: This is a lovely little site, collecting a bunch of small codegames, a few of which have been in Curios before but lots of which were new to me. Lots of fun, and the sort of thing which is definitely worth bookmarking under ‘stuff to click on when I simply can’t feign interest in whichever made-up version of ‘strategy’ we’re currently pretending is the right one’.
  • The Promo for Sneakers: This is a brilliant time capsule. Sneakers was a 92 film that was about crime and HACKING and which, as part of its press kit, featured a FLOPPY DISC which contained all sorts of information for hacks about the film, delivered in a way which in 1992 was basically one step removed from playing the entire movie on a Cray Supercomputer or something. The press kit itself is a bit rudimentary – there wasn’t a lot of multimedia in 1992 – but it’s a wonderful bit of storytelling/worldbuilding creativity.
  • Too Long, Didn’t Listen: Podcasts are GREAT (so I am told), but, also, a cripplingly-inefficient way of finding out anything at all; I DON’T HAVE TIME TO LISTEN TO YOU FFS JUST TELL ME THE USEFUL STUFF. This app aims to solve that problem, offering you the audio equivalent of those services which used to exist in the 90s and offered you the chance to imbibe the timeless wisdom of the latest business guru tomes in handy five-page summaries (IMAGINE what the modern-day equivalent would be like! Take a moment to contemplate the majesty of ‘GaryVee for Dummies’ – it’s quite the astonishing mental image) – instead of summary pamphlets, though, this is basically a podcast discovery and sharing service, with the added benefit of being able to ‘bookmark’ the podcasts so you can effectively create highlight reels of the best/most ‘inspiring’ content. This is almost certainly hugely useful if you’re a heavy listener, and probably doesn’t deserve to be described as poorly as I just have.
  • Comet Neowise: It’s nice every now and again just to pause for a moment and take a look at some photographs of nature being spectacular; although at the same time, given the progress of 2020 to date, it’s hard not to look at these and in the back of one’s mind flash back to Day of the Triffids and other such novels of comet-y horror. Still, probably all fine and this is very unlikely to be a harbinger of alien deathinvaders!

By Alex Colville


Webcurios 10/07/20

Reading Time: 36 minutes

CAN EVERYONE STOP SHOUTING AT EACH OTHER PLEASE?

Sorry, I appreciate that typing that in all caps does rather render me a crushing hypocrite, but, well, really. Could we all just please be quiet please and accept the fact that the overriding principle of life ought to be something along the lines of ‘do not be a cnut’ and that as long as you stick that – whatever side of whatever argument you’re on, in the main – you’ll probably be fine?

What? That’s not something we can all do? WHY THE FCUK NOT? WHAT’S SO HARD ABOUT NOT BEING A CNUT? God, it’s enough to make me all angry and shouty, I tell you.

Anyway, it’s been another week is about the best I can say. The sun is now shining, so I’m off to try and get some of it on my increasingly papery and tired-looking skin before it disappears beneath the steel-grey cloudcover once again, perhaps forever; you, though, stay right here and read the words and click the links like you’re supposed to (I will know if you don’t).

I am still Matt, this is still Web Curios, and the worst thing about almost everything in the world is still people.

***NB THERE IS GOING TO BE A NEW IMPERICA MAGAZINE OUT SOON FEATURING YET MORE BRAND NEW CUTTING EDGE CONTEMPORARY WRITING FROM NEW VOICES ABOUT ALL SORTS OF INTERESTING THINGS AND IF YOU WOULD LIKE TO SUPPOTR THIS SORT OF SMALL PUBLISHING ENDEAVOUR THEN YOU COULD DO WORSE THAN CHECKING OUT THE CURRENT EDITION OF THE MAGAZINE WHICH YOU CAN BUY HERE FOR WHAT IS LITERALLY THE PRICE OF A FROTHY COFFEE!***

Part of The Mask Project

LET’S KICK OFF WITH AN HOUR OF ENNIO MORRICONE, RIP!

THE SECTION WHICH IS QUITE LOOKING FORWARD TO THE FORTHCOMING SLEW OF ADVERTS FOR, SAY, YOUR LOCAL KEBAB SHOP ON TIKTOK AND GENUINELY FEELS THIS COULD USHER IN A NEW GOLDEN AGE FOR WEIRD ADS (OR THAT IT WILL ALTERNATIVELY SIMPLY LEAD TO A LOT OF POORLY-SHOT VERTICAL PROMOS FOR LOCAL BUSINESSES WHICH DRIP WITH WHAT I BELIEVE THE CHILDREN THESE DAYS CALL ‘CHAOTIC ENERGY’):

  • TikTok Ads For Everyone!: Conveniently-timed to coincide with the Facebook ads boycott (on which note, want to know how much that’s hurting Facebook at present? Checked its share price recently?), TikTok this week has finally made its self-serve ad platform available to everyone. You don’t need a TikTok account to buy ads, the interface looks and feels an awful lot like LinkedIn’s ad manager crossed with an early version of Facebook’s, and it’s a bit clunky overall, but it works perfectly well. The targeting options aren’t a patch on Facebook’s granularity, obvs, but it’s worth digging in and seeing what’s available; there’s lots of stuff around app-based targeting based on the types of app people like, similar options around sport and gaming, but very little on things like life-stage status, etc. Also, targeting at the moment in the UK is restricted to a broad nation-level range of options, with no city-level granularity as yet. Custom and lookalike audiences are all up and running, though, which strikes me as the best use of this given the slightly wooly targeting available at present, but your mileage, as ever, will vary. It’s actually not that easy to find the link to the actual ad buying interface from the link, so it’s here in case you need it – now go and ‘enjoy’ the whole new challenge of having to get clients to understand the particular vibe and aesthetic of a whole new platform which they instinctively understand is important but of which they have no practical knowledge or experience whatsoever (not that that lack of knowledge or experience will prevent them from having VERY STRONG OPINIONS on how whatever you make should look or feel and how it should feature the logo front-and-centre and how it should be 60s long so you can fit all the key messages in and oh god this is just professional life isn’t it it’s just this over and over and over again and only the names of the clients and the platforms change but the ceaseless, neverending, onanistic circle of pointless rhetoric and needless creative interference will never, ever stop oh god)!
  • Instagram Now Lets You Pin Three Comments To Your Posts: It’s…it’s not exactly what I might call a big news announcement, but there may be some of you for whom this is in some way interesting. The idea here is presumably to help surface particularly funny or helpful comments beneath particular posts – and, actually, there’s a semi-nice fan service thing you can do here if you’re a brand that gets decent engagement (sorry) on its posts; picking three fans to have their comments pinned and who get a prize for contributing positively for the discourse sounds like a not-entirely-terrible idea, and a small incentive to people to perhaps treat the comments less like, I don’t know, a UK beach on the first weekend after lockdown.
  • Instagram Continues To Expand Reels: You remember Instagram Reels, don’t you? OF COURSE YOU DO! First mentioned in Curios on 15 November 2019 (God that was a GREAT DAY – I remember it yesterday, as should you!), Reels is Instagram’s beta TikTok clone, which had previously only been live in Brazil; coinciding with TikTok getting yeeted from the Indian market, the platform’s now expanded to the Indian app store. Of minimal relevance to most of you reading this (unless you’re responsible for social strategy for a major brand in India, obvs, but then if you are I’d sort of expect you to be all over this already – PULL YOUR FINGER OUT!), but worth keeping half an eye on, just in case the TikTok banhammer starts falling more widely and Reels starts gaining traction as a replacement. https://techcrunch.com/2020/07/09/whatsapp-business-now-with-50m-maus-adds-qr-code-and-catalog-sharing/
  • Whatsapp for Business Launches QR Codes and Catalogue Sharing: BIG FEW WEEKS FOR QR CODES! After last week’s EXCITING QR CODE ANNOUNCEMENT (also on Whatsapp) comes another HUGE announcement (actually I am still reasonably bullish on QR codes, ignore my irritatingly insincere tone) – this time users of Whatsapp’s business service will be able to add QR codes to connect users to them on the platform. “If you need to reach a business for customer support, to ask a question or order something, instead of manually entering a business phone number, you can scan a QR code from a receipt, a business display at the storefront, a product or even posted on the web, in order to connect with the company. Businesses that are using these can also set up welcome messages to start conversations once they’ve been added by a user.” I mean, you might still have to explain to customers how to actually scan the fcuking things in a meaningful way, but still. The catalogue stuff is basically just an expansion of the existing service, just that it’s now possible to share links to product catalogues outside of Whatsapp. Still, USEFUL.
  • Some New LinkedIn Stuff: I’ve had the slightly awkward experience this week of having some slightly-awkward interactions with a colleague in another office in another country; basically these interactions will have resulted in this colleague thinking – quite possibly entirely rightly – that I am a complete w4nker. This colleague also for some reason looked me up on LinkedIn this week (I presume as part of the general ‘who is this w4nker?’ thought process that people often go through when encountering me professionally for the first time), and attempted to add me, and now I am really slightly regretting the running gag I started a while back when first posting links to Curios on LinkedIn whereby I refer to everyone on the platform as basically a shambling mass of work-fcuked undead, lurching from bed to workstation and back again, fixated solely on the pursuit of professional success at the cost of everything else. Basically, LinkedIn is a vile hellhole and it’s awful and I hate it, which is why I can’t be bothered to tell you anything else about this update beyond the following: “new Follower analytics for company pages, a new audio option for pronunciation on user profiles, and an alternative process for limiting company page invites.” There.
  • Google Adds 3d Display Ads Options: Or rather, it’s taking something that it announced last year, called ‘Swirl’, and making it available to everyone – basically these are interactive 3d ads which means you can create games and reactive graphical experiences inside the previously-limiting canvas of a display ad. See? EASY!
  • YouTube Letting Mid-Roll Ads Into 8min Vids: Do you remember the BAD OLD DAYS, when only videos that ran a minimum of 10 minutes long were eligible for midroll ad monetisation, constraining ‘creators’ into lengthening their content to that magic point in order to maximise their profitability and leading to an awful lot of wooly editing and padding to hit the magical 600s mark? THEY ARE NO MORE! Now you can get away with a mere 480s of video and STILL squeeze and ad break into the middle. Good news for the monetisation of content, less good news from the point of view of the user – so it goes, eh?
  • Mav Farm: What does this company do? Well, according to the little spinning graphic on landing, they “build new network and alternate reality”. I don’t really know what that means, but MAN do they make it look exciting and future; as far as I can tell it’s a shop selling analytics software for websites and ecommerce..but also augmented reality? Is there some sort of virtual assistant thing going on here? And what the everliving fcuk does “show is the virtual black hole of the camera, the factory of the future’ mean? Honestly, I am so, so confused but also slightly convinced that maybe my confusion means that this is the future and I am just too old and broken to understand it. Or is that just what they want me to think? Honestly, please, if you work in digital could you please take a quick look at this and let me know what is going on here because I have literally no clue at all. Hell of a shiny website, mind.
  • B Surf: Burberry has made a surfing game! I don’t really know why! Still, pick a character (vaguely koala-ish, for reasons I don’t quite get) and GO SURFING in a little browsergame which pits you against a bunch of other surfing koalas in a race to win…oh, Christ alone knows why you’re doing it, but who cares? It’ll pass some time and that’s all your here for, right? Look, ordinarily I don’t feature work on here I don’t think is very good, but this is…quite phoned in, isn’t it? I know that Burberry isn’t short of a quid or two, and so I can’t work out whether this is the result of a digital agency seeing them coming from quite a long way of and making a LOT of margin on what is a poorly-reskinned NewGrounds clone, or instead whether the creative director’s nephew got the gig to build it as a family favour. Either way, this is the very definition of a premium mediocre webgame – DO BETTER PLEASE, MASSIVE AND PLUTOCRATIC FASHION HOUSES.

By Ado Vabbe

NEXT, ENJOY THIS ALL-VINYL GOSPEL SELECTION BY OCCASIONAL CURIOS MIX PROVIDER TOM (USED TO LIVE OPPOSITE ME) SPOONER!

THE SECTION WHICH THIS WEEK WOULD LIKE TO STRONGLY RECOMMEND THAT IF YOU ONLY CLICK ONE LINK IN THIS SECTION YOU MAKE IT THE VERY FIRST ONE AS IT IS HONESTLY ONE OF THE BEST THINGS I HAVE SEEN THIS YEAR IN ANY MEDIUM, HANDS DOWN, PT.1:

  • Motto: Honestly, if I had a more sensible approach to curating stuff I found interesting I would limit this week’s Curios to this site and be done with it. Motto is a mobile-only…web experience? Story? Play? Artwork? No idea, to be honest, it could be accurately described as each of those things and yet it’s something quite entirely sui generis. You’ll need to dedicate some time to this, but one of the beautiful things about it is that it’s designed in such a way that it’s pick-up and put-downable at will; you’ll need a few hours to do it all – but, honestly, think of this like a novel or a film rather than a throwaway piece of ephemeral webspaff, I promise it deserves that sort of consideration. It uses the visual language of Stories – short fragments of text and image and video, stitched together with the standard ‘tap to advance through the screens’ interface we’re all comfortable with here in 2020 – to gently guide you through a series of reflections and observations that over the course of the experience coalesce into something much bigger and more considered and beautiful. Seriously, there is so, so much to enjoy in this – the way in integrates anonymous video fragments from other users – the experience asks to use your camera and for you to take photos and videos throughout, which will then become part of the experience for other people, but you don’t have to engage with this part of it if you don’t want to (but please, if you can, do so – it adds a layer of participatory complicity and engagement that I think really adds to the whole thing). I don’t really want to say much else about it – just try it. Also, this really is the sort of thing to share with people who are curious about visual arts and theatre and storytelling and stuff but who aren’t convinced that digital platforms can add much – it’s JUST SO PERFECT, and so much of mobile, if you see what I mean. I’ll shut up now, just promise me you’ll try this please. Thanks to Andy for sharing it on his site – best thing I’ve seen this year, hands down.
  • AI Writer: I have always wondered how the ‘estate of’ thing works in fiction – you know, how a modern writer is occasionally given the rights to continue producing works in the style of the now-deceased creator or a particular character or franchise, in the way that Anthony Horowitz gets to write Bond books, say, or that someone else carried on the Stieg Larsson books after Mr Larsson found that death was interfering with his daily word output. Anyway, one way it might work in the future is like this – AI Writer is a really interesting project by Andrew Mayne, using OpenAI frameworks to see if it’s possible to replicate the voice of old authors when basing an AI on their corpus. There are a few examples on here, but the way the project works is that users can sign up to be added to the mailing list and then get access to an email address which you can use to address specific questions to specific historical literary figures – Mayne will then generate a response from the corpus and mail it back to you (I presume attempting to run this live on a website would be computationally…challenging). I only got the email address overnight so am yet to have my question answered, but the examples on the site look interesting, and I am slightly in love with the idea of being able to enter into an extended epistolary correspondence with a long-dead Arthur Conan Doyle, say. Really, really interesting.
  • Randonautica: This has gone mental this week as a result of a couple of kids on TikTok finding a dead body as a result of using it; of COURSE, though, all you long-term Curios readers will have long been bored of Randonautica, having been onto it since I wrote about ‘randonauts’ (and, er, the strange obsession with bottles of p1ss) way back in August last year (Web Curios – very much the definition of the ‘if you throw enough sh1t at the wall then some of it will stick!’ approach to trendspotting and futurology). Randonauts, for those of you who for some reason have better things to do with your brain than catalogue webpages from Curios past, is the collective name for a particular class of urban explorers who are drawn to seek out ‘places with weird energy’ in otherwise banal areas, and believe that there’s a certain sort of meditative effect to, er, going to unusual places. Look, there’s a whole load of stuff on the site about ‘quantum energy’ if you choose to engage with it, but I prefer to think of this as a manifestation of the simple fact that the world is generally quite interesting if you just bother to look at it for a while. Anyway, the Randonautica app is basically a means of sending you to new, unusual places (based on something QUANTUM, don’t forget), and if you’re desperate for a new walk after having exhausted every single route around your local estates over the course of the past 4 months then this could be a godsend. But, er, STAY SAFE.
  • NextMind: “Let Your Brain Take Control!”, parps the website, immediately raising the twin questions “I thought it was already in control, Descartes?” and “Hang on, of what?” NextMind is a frankly slightly sinister looking piece of early-development kit which is (I appreciate I am probably simplifying this quite a bit, but) designed to allow developers to code brain/software interfaces via its ability to…hm, it’s a bit vague here. “NextMind combines deep neural networks and neural signals from the brain to transform a user’s intention into direct brain commands, creating a symbiotic connection with the digital world.” So it’s effectively just tracking electrical impulses, and translating them into a series of rudimentary commands, right? It’s frustratingly opaque about exactly how it works and what it can do – there’s a line on here about how it has ‘AI-based Algorithms’ and ‘artificial neural networks’, which very much feels like classic AI snake oil bullsh1t, but maybe I’m being unfair. Developer kits are available for pre-order, so if you fancy getting your hands on some tech that will enable you to possibly play a slightly-crap version of Frogger WITH YOUR BRAIN then this could be for you.
  • AI Sandals: Does it feel to you like you might still get a beach holiday this year (by this I mean a beach on which you might conceivably expect to wear shorts and a tshirt on two consecutive days, to whit not one in the UK)? I am theoretically meant to be going somewhere for a fortnight in September, and I am starting to become almost tentatively hopeful – which, obviously, means that it will all be scuppered by the UK being forced back into lockdown come the end of August. Still, if you’re feeling optimistic about getting to wear your BRITS ON THE P1SS MAGALUF 1999 tshirt one last time, why not consider purchasing a pair of these one-of-a-kind AI designed sandals to accompany you – each is printed with an entirely artificially-imagined sunset-type design, guaranteed to be one of a kind. Is there a good reason why a major clothing retailer isn’t doing this sort of thing at scale with huge swathes of their range? Other than perhaps the fact that we humans are, just about, still better at design.
  • Voice: A NEW SOCIAL NETWORK! ALL ABOUT THE BLOCKCHAIN!! No, wait, come back! Voice is a just-launched new social platform whose gimmick is that you get rewarded for posting GOOD STUFF with micropayments in some cryptocurrenc…no, sorry, I just can’t. There is literally NOTHING I have ever seen that involves social media and crypto that doesn’t look like either a massive fcuking pyramid scheme or a repository for some of the very worst people on the internet – why is everyone who’s into Bitcoin and related-issues such a colossal bore about it? IS IT BECAUSE IT’S INCREASINGLY TURNING INTO A PONZI SCHEME??? Anyone would think so. Whatever, if you’re finding Twitter too toxic but Parler just too…well…boring (honestly, Arendt really was right; if you want an insight into the true banality of evil (I don’t really believe in evil, I just think they’re cnuts), spend 20m on Parler looking at the ‘I AM BEING CENSORED’ racists and realise that there is nothing more tedious than internet edgelords dangerw4nking their CONTROVERSIAL TRUTHS at each other in a place of perceived safety), why not give Voice a go? You could be rewarded with £0.004p worth of largely-imaginary currency for posting a good dog photo; what’s not to love?
  • New Stuff From Gary Larson: AKA The Far Side, which in the 80s was the most popular (or at least the most popularly-lauded) comic strip in the world, and whose wise cows and idiot people were, to me at least, some of the funniest things in the world and SO sophisticated (I was around 5 years old when I first encountered Larson and I was living in Swindon – the bar for sophistication was LOW). Larson’s been on hiatus for…ages, but this week relaunched his website with three new strips and the promise of more to come. I don’t know that this will convert anyone who doesn’t have a nostalgic draw to his stuff already, but this has made me very nostalgic and rather happy.
  • Web Desktops: Links lifted from last week’s B3ta, #1: this, by Simone Marzulli, which collects websites which recreate old web desktop interfaces. You may not think you wanted or needed a bunch of links to sites which remind you of using a PC in 1998, but this will prove to you that you really, really did and that I actually know you better than you know yourself.
  • The 90s Festival Generator: Links lifted from last week’s B3ta, #2: Click the link and generate your very own made-up 90s festival lineup which you can use to pretend that a) festivals are still happening this year, and b) that you’re young enough to recognise any of the acts on the lineup (I am aware that there are some people who read this who are under the age of 30 but know that this is not for you, children). Really nicely done, with some cute touches – the bands’ placing on the bill is directly linked to the number of streams they have on Spotify, adding a nice, accurate layer to the game, and you can click on any of the artists to get footage of them from festivals past ripped off YouTube. Really fun, and really nicely made.
  • Mmhmm: HYPED APP / WEBSITE OF THE WEEK! Tediously, it’s all about DOING BETTER PRESENTATIONS, which I know isn’t the sort of thing I normally get all frothy about, but this really does look quite impressive. You should click the link and watch the video to get the full idea, but the basic premise is that it allows for smart use of windows and video and animated backgrounds and all sorts of other things to be integrated into livestreamed video – so, for example, you could run training sessions for people which feature a bunch of videos running in the same screen as your livestream, so you can talk to a process that’s being shown onscreen. Effectively it allows you to do all the sorts of editing and presentational tricks that the YouTube Industrial Complex has basically injected into the visual lingua franca but which have til now been the sort of thing you need a modicum of expertise to do, except now it’s an out-of-the-box software solution. It’s an invite list thing, of course, and there’s no telling when they’ll open it up, but you may as well join the 5million other Twittertechpeople who’ve signed up this week – this sort of thing is very much going to become the norm, though, whether using this or new features baked into other existing platforms, so worth thinking now about now you might make use of this sort of stuff.
  • Michael Cthulhu: Michael Cthulhu (not, I don’t think, their real name; though if I’m wrong I’d suggest maybe not delving too hard into the genealogy databases) makes swords. This is his YouTube channel, in which they makes increasingly massive, preposterous swords that are bigger than they are. That’s all it is, fine, but Cthulhu’s pretty charismatic and the swords are VERY SILLY. Quick caveat here – I have only taken a cursory look at this one, and whilst it seems fine I also get a slightly ‘might be a bit adjacent to some possibly iffy stuff’ vibe off this (sorry Mr Chulhu, I’m sure you’re perfectly nice but I guess I’m just innately suspicious of any corner of the web that deals with things like bladed weapons, naked fire, celtic or Lovecraftian mythology and beards) so caveat emptor and all that.
  • Cyberpunk Culture: This is a two-day digital festival which has been taking place yesterday and today (9/10 July 2020, readers from the future!) – whilst you’ve missed most of the live stuff (or will have by the time it’s three hours into the future and I’ve finished typing and am resting my fingers in the warm saline recovery bath), it looks like lots of it will be archived on the site for posterity, meaning if you’d like to check out the talks and lectures on cyberpunk as a literary genre and art/design aesthetic (amongst other things, but that seems to be the main focus of things) then you can do so – also, it’s a pay-what-you-can thing, which is a nice touch.
  • AAVE Gone Wrong: AAVE here stands for ‘African American Vernacular English’, and this is a Twitter feed sharing examples of when brands or generally clueless individuals attempt to make use of AAVE online and get it…a bit wrong. Genuinely wonderful, and the sort of thing you ought to keep on file next time the client decides that they want the tone of voice to be rewritten to be more ‘urban’ (please don’t tell me I’m the only person to whom this request has come in).
  • Soundtrack Your Workout: Seeing as you’ll all be allowed to go back to the gym in a few short days time, this site by Spotify is perfectly-timed (yes, I know it’s just a piece of marketing and so it should be in the first section but, well, it’s MY FCUKING NEWSLETTERBLOGTHING) – answer a few questions, give it access to your account to scry your tastes and it will produce the PERFECT PLAYLIST FOR PERT PECS or somesuch. Will we EVER get bored of digital executions that purport to use data to give us a TRULY PERSONAL EXPERIENCE whilst at the same time doing nothing more than dropping us into one of five predefined buckets? Will we fcuk, and THANK GOD say all us lazy digital strategists!
  • The 2020 Audubon Photo Award Winners: The Audubon Society – as previously noted in Curios, an organisation of whose existence I had been entirely unaware of until approximately 2018 and which since then has been everywhere; excellent work by the commsmongs here, or alternatively evidence of a species-level shift towards a greater appreciation of birds – is the US birdwatcher’s club (basically); this is their annual photo contest, and if you’re looking for some excellent pictures of birds then, well, GREAT! Pick your favourite – mine, by some distance, is the Tiger Heron, mainly because I can’t look at the picture without making a sort of weird, involuntary ‘BAAAAARGH!’ sound which is what I imagine the bird is about to do as soon as the shutter clicks.
  • Remote Cheerer: I have watched no football since its return, but I hear the crowd noise is working pretty well. Still, here’s another option, as presented by Remote Cheerer – the idea being that everyone watching along at home can use an app to create one of a range of sounds within the stadium at any given time, meaning that the system can recreate the unique properties of multi-person audio (to whit, the fragmented nature of crowd sound, and the way it ebbs and flows and coalesces). Which is a lovely idea, but one which I can imagine getting immediately derailed by people just mercilessly trolling the software by exultantly cheering 2m passes on the halfway line and booing goals, that sort of thing. I’m not sure this is going to catch on, but it’s a really nice idea in theory.

By Kathe Kollwitz

YOU MAY NOT THINK YOU WANT TO LISTEN TO THE HAMILTON SOUNDTRACK AS PERFORMED BY THE MUPPETS, BUT KNOW THAT IT IS STRONG AND PURE AND BEAUTIFUL!

THE SECTION WHICH THIS WEEK WOULD LIKE TO STRONGLY RECOMMEND THAT IF YOU ONLY CLICK ONE LINK IN THIS SECTION YOU MAKE IT THE VERY FIRST ONE AS IT IS HONESTLY ONE OF THE BEST THINGS I HAVE SEEN THIS YEAR IN ANY MEDIUM, HANDS DOWN, PT.2:

  • Insects of LA: LA is in many respects a sh1thole of a city – the traffic is horrible, noone walks anywhere, 90% of everyone you speak to is better looking than anyone you have ever seen before in your life, which is just dispiriting, and everyone goes to bed at 10pm – but its insects are REALLY interesting, or at least that’s what I’ve learned thanks to this excellent digital exhibition of West Coast entomology. It features some excellent close-up photos of some very cool-looking bugs, along with stuff to read about how they work and what they do, and some audio of them…well, buzzing, mainly, but who doesn’t love some multimedia? Basically I’m a sucker for macro photos of shiny, chitinous exoskeletons and so this ticks quite a few of my boxes.
  • Talossa: Thanks to Alexander Burley for sending this my way – this is FASCINATING and not a little mad. I’ll let Alexander introduce it to you as he did to me: “I discovered recently that one of the boardgame designers I really like made up his own country when he was a teenager in 1979 from his Milwaukee bedroom – the Kingdom of Talossa. He even created his own language, laws etc. It’s quite a sweet story because at first it was just a small community of people locally in on it, but then he set up a website and people on the internet started to get involved and shape it. It looks like he’s kind of exiled from it now with his grandson “ruling” as the current King of Talossa.” Honestly, it really is worth having a bit of a nose around the website – there is a lot of slightly obsessive detail, but also a lot of stuff that is genuinely really, really charming: “At any given moment, you can find citizens of the Kingdom actively exercising their linguistic skills to learn, use, and nurture the beautiful Talossan language, honing their skills in the ancient arts of heraldry, putting on pompous airs to serve the nation in its legislative, judicial, executive, or royal offices, enjoying the performing arts, planning and running political parties (and the other kind of parties, too!), delving into the rich history of the nation, and doing any number of other things that they haven’t found themselves able to do for any “real” nation.” OK, it’s basically someone’s model railway project that’s gotten REALLY out of hand, but it seems generally benign and as such I am happy to give it the Web Curios seal of endorsement – should any Talossians happen to read this, I’m quite happy to get one designed up if you’d like to feature it on your site.
  • YoMoji: A series of alternate emoji stickers for iOS. This isn’t particularly novel or special, but I like the design style and I realised this week quite how much I fcuking hate the flattening, deadening, stultifying aesthetic of emoji and how I really, really want it to change or at least get a bit of fcuking variety.
  • The Volume Channel: I was chatting to Rishi the other week about music journalism and how the NME has always been quite cnuty and about the various merits of Melody Maker, Select and all these other things called ‘music magazines’ which used to be printed on paper and sold in shops for £4 and had stapl…oh, don’t worry, you wouldn’t understand, they were different times. Anyway, we agreed that the best magazine was Volume, which was printed in a really weird format and which came with a mixtape each week, and which was clever and funny and introduced me to so many bands I still love today and which, as Rishi found this week, has had all the aforementioned mixtapes uploaded to YouTube. If you want an excellent repository of 90s indiepop and a snapshot of slightly-alternative music from 25 years ago then this is it.
  • Plutoview: This is really, really interesting. Plutoview is software for collaborative web browsing, basically; it lets you have multiple shared browsing instances across different tabs, that you can dip in and out of. So, say, you could be looking for something online, find it, and then invite everyone else working on the same project to view the same page as you, in realtime, through a browser tab on each of your individual devices. How this works with the interactive bits of a webpage I find slightly baffling, I have to say, but in theory at least this is something that could be quite interesting to have a play with, particularly when doing collaborative research around a theme.
  • Invite Rick: Do you remember about three months ago when doing ‘fun’ things on Zoom and in video calls was, briefly, something that people got excited about? Doesn’t it feel like that ship has sailed rather (as I said to the colleague who this week responded positively to an idea I had sent them along these lines in April, “we might have missed the boat on this one”)? Still, no matter – it’s RICK ASTLEY and everyone loves Rick Astley! This…oh, no, it’s been shut down as it was in violation of Zoom’s Terms of Service. BOO ZOOM. Oh well, it was a service that let you Rickroll people within a Zoom call – the fact that it got shut down is interesting and should be a challenge to find a workaround, GO!
  • Loaf:: Matthew Carrozo is a Portuguese man who worked in advermarketingpr in London for a while and then moved back to Portugal a few years ago; he writes a rather nice newsletter you should subscribe to. He’s recently been writing about his ‘coming out’ as an artist, and about how creative practice can and should be pursued and encouraged regardless of one’s self-described (or externally-validated) status as a ‘creator’, and has put this on his website, which I think is a rather nice set of constraints/thematic processes for ‘doing’ creative. In Matthew’s words, “In my time working for the marketing industrial complex, I’ve made good use of strategic frameworks: analytical tools that easily distinguish and distill multiple inputs and often create actionable outputs and measurable outcomes. I wanted to find a way to create ideas for experimental films that resisted typical narrative structures, but still had the essence of a good story. After a couple of iterations, I decided that the most basic, necessary components for that were: Location, Object, Action, Feeling (LOAF).” There’s a simple tool on his website for sketching this out, but as a framework it’s perfect; you can carry it in your head, and it works WONDERFULLY in a surprising number of situations. Honestly, I am never normally interesting in ‘THINKING HACKS FOR YOUR BRAIN’ (mainly because I spend most of my waking life trying to make my brain wonky and less whirry and I don’t need anything to achieve the opposite thankyouverymuch), but this is really rather good.
  • Vikings Are Gay!: Look, I don’t normally include stuff in here that I haven’t personally consumed at least a bit of, but this is a podcast and you know how I feel about them. Still, the title – SO GOOD – and the subject matter – an exploration of all the reasons why Vikings, despite often being held up by unpleasant morons as paragons of some sort of ur-masculine ideal and an exemplar of the strength and purity of a certain type of white person, were actually VERY, VERY GAY – make me pretty sure it would be worth at least a cursory listen.
  • Threatening Cake: Or, to give this Twitter account its full name, ‘Cakes With Threatening Auras’. On the one hand, the overuse of terms such as ‘aura’, ‘vibe’ and ‘energy’ is causing me a not-insignificant intergenerational migraine; on the other, these cakes have some very dark chaotic energy indeed.
  • The Smell of Space: A Kickstarter which has raised the truly astonishing sum of £330k off a £1500 goal, with over a month left (out of interest, is there something inherently suspicious in Kickstarters with what seems like an unfeasibly-low funding goal? Like, is this an obvious grifting technique that I’m missing, or is it simply a trick to hit the goal earlier thereby attracting more funds from people who are more likely to buy in at a point of ‘guaranteed’ delivery? Genuinely curious) and which is promising to provide a fragrance that SMELLS OF SPACE! What does space smell like? Slightly burnt carbon, basically, or at least so the stories go – still, that hasn’t stopped lots of people getting very excited about what, let’s be clear, is very much the 21C equivalent of buying a bottle of “DiCulo’s – The Fragrance for the Sensual Woman” from the man out back of Debenhams who’s selling them off an unfolded cardboard box at 3 for a tenner. Remember, this is Kickstarter – if what you end up getting is 50ml of fag-scented rainwater then, well, a) GOOD LUCK WITH YOUR CONSUMER RIGHTS!!, and b) Who are YOU to say that that’s not what space smells like? Honestly, I am very impressed with this grift – not least the fact that you have to scrub almost RIGHT to the end of the Kickstarter video to see the disclaimer, in very small letters, that this is in no way affiliated with NASA.
  • Shuffle: ANOTHER attempt to fix the seemingly-intractable problem of podcast discovery (is this so hard because of the lack of a proper audio knowledge graph?), this offers you the option to browse podcast recommendations and hear preview snippets in a seemingly-user-friendly interface that mimics all your favourite dating apps. It looks…fine, but as with all these things it’s dependent on the quality of the content curation that sits behind it.
  • D’n’D Map Sketcher: No webgames this week – seriously, that Moot link uptop is all you need, just click it already – but if you’re someone who plays tabletop games (but online) then this is a superb tool to help with map sketching and creation in the absence of pen and spotty paper.
  • The Socially Distanced Strap-on: I am including this Indiegogo campaign not because I think it is clever or funny – no Mr Lee James Allen, it is neither of those two things – but more because it’s an idea that has been floating around a groupchat I am in since approximately March, and which I know Firebox almost bought, and which this destined-to-fail crowdfunding campaign has now proven was genuinely fcuking terrible. We should be ashamed of ourselves, lads. Having said that it’s destined to fail, it would be quite funny were we all to back this and then leave Mr Allen with the contractual obligation to produce and ship several hundred foot-long sex aids around the world. Shall we?
  • The Automoblow: On the one hand, this latest piece of semiteledildonic horrortat is almost certainly not actually real and is instead just designed to provide some SEO juice to the appalling company behind it (which, er, my linking to it is helping succeed – FFS MATT!); on the other, it lets me make the tired-but-still-pleasing ‘joke’ about all Tesla fans being w4nkers so I think we can all agree that the benefits are increasingly obvious. Yes, it’s an attachment that theoretically allows your car to fellate you whilst it drives itself. No, I don’t know why, were you so erotically transported by the prospect of vehicular autonomy, you couldn’t just use your hands. Nothing about this makes sense, which is why it is perhaps the perfect note on which to end this week’s miscellenea.

By Tina Berning

LAST UP IN THE MIXES THIS WEEK, ENJOY THIS TRULY BEAUTIFUL SELECTION OF SUMMERY JAZZ-TYPE SOUNDS WHICH WILL HOPEFULLY PRESAGE SOME MARGINALLY LESS AWFUL WEATHER!

THE CIRCUS OF TUMBLRS!:

  • Anime User Interface: User interfaces! In anime films! Courtesy of the nice people at Twitter’s premier stationery and office supplies purveyors, Present & Correct!
  • Always Judge A Book By Its Cover: I’ve said this before and I will say it again – judging books by their covers is entirely legitimate and to pretend its not is to ignore the important role visual design plays in the marketing process! Don’t you wish I’d stop saying that, though, as it’s quite dull! Anyway, this is a great Tumblr that presents books that are exactly as weird as the titles/covers suggest – all books are real, with links to buy, so if you want your very own copy of ‘Learning To Play With A Lion’s Testicles’ then you know where to go.

THE TROUGH OF (INSTA) FEEDS!:

  • Kiszkiloszki: Only one Insta worth featuring this week, but I very much like this one. In the artist’s own words: “Hi. I create animations about my love to the mankind. My name is @kajetanobarski and I’m a deadly serious person. Join me. We can be serious together.” There’s a slight Terry Gilliam sensibility to a lot of this, which I personally am a great fan of.

LONG THINGS WHICH ARE LONG:

  • Whining About Being Silenced: As is evidently THE LAW this week, all blognewsletterwriters must include at least ONE link about that Harper’s letter and WHAT IT MEANS and why IT IS WRONG (not seen anyone trying to defend it so far, which is a rare case of the web generally seeming to be in agreement on what is still a largely contentious topic). You may well have read lots of words on the topic already this week, and I wouldn’t blame you for skipping this one – if you’re still in the market, though, this is my favourite of the MAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAANY pieces of commentary about why the open letter by the great and the good about ‘cancel culture’ and what they see as the pernicious restriction of the field of popular debate is, well, flawed. This is readable, clear and funny, and at its heart has the central premise that “the only ones trying to silence anyone here are those in this letter, saying that public shaming is somehow beyond the pale. It’s almost as if they don’t really want “argument and persuasion” while pretending that’s exactly what they do want. If they believe that the public shaming (counterspeech) is bad, then they should go right ahead and use argument and persuasion to show why it’s actually bad, without claiming it’s an unfair attack on their speech. Inasmuch as this letter attempts to do so, it fails. They should recognize that if their arguments suck — as they often do — people nowadays are less afraid to call that out.” As an aside – and as an acknowledgement that there’s a lot of the hysterical side of this that is obviously performative and awful and kayfabe-y that really ought to be stamped out, regardless of what you think about this letter – I read a thread somewhere on this topic, obviously railing against the Harper’s letter and its signatories; one of the comments was, simply, “I AM DONE WITH CHOMSKY AFTER THIS!”, which I thought was actually a far more effective point on the signatories’ side than anything they’d actually put their names to in the letter itself.
  • What Big Tech Does To Discourse: One of two pieces by Cory Doctorow this week, for which apologies – but they are both interesting in different ways and different topics, so I promise it’s justified. This first is a transcript of a talk he recently gave via video to the Oxford Internet Institute, and it (or at least the first half, which is the speech part – the Q&A is also interesting, but more divergent in scope) on how technology platforms and the web have affected (some might say warped) the manner in which discourse happens on- and offline. This ties into a lot of the stuff that I’ve been linking to of late around conspiracy theorising and culture war and related issues, and Doctorow’s typically smart and readable on all of it.
  • FulL Employment: Doctorow #2! This time it’s about full employment, or, more practically, why Keynesianism is basically the only correct economic approach to take post-pandemic. Now I would like this, what with being a committedly pro-Keynes person, but even if you’re not a fan or even hugely familiar (have you been skipping all the Keynesy links all these years? FIE ON YOU!) with the theory, this is again a clear articulation of some of the questions and problems we will have to deal with as a global, connected economy and at a national level in the coming years. You may not agree with the author’s assessment of the required solutions, but as an articulation of the situation it’s a useful summary.
  • Turning Malls Into Houses: This is a VERY DRY article, but I am increasingly fascinated by the recontextualisation of urban and commercial spaces that is going to happen over the coming 12-24 months (I saw a friend this week whose partner works in architecture as a lighting specialist who said he’s never been busier, as huge developments and building projects are pivoting to new use cases at a crazy pace and this requires respec and redesigning of windows and internal lighting sources to accommodate the new purpose); this article looks at the way in which old mall space, particularly in the US but theoretically everywhere, might be reused as domestic space in the future. Anyone fancy moving into Boots on Swindon High Street?
  • The Virtual Open House: A look at how estate agents in Dubai are turning to shiny 3d tours of properties to sell the ridiculously expensive, punishingly-sterile, air-conditioned coffins that pass for living space in the expat zoos of the middle east (Dubai – There’s No ‘There’ There!); this is obviously very high end, fine, but I think there’s a definite short-term PR win to be gained if you’re the first estate agent to offer house tours in Minecraft (come on, it would be quite funny).
  • Outsource Your Insta For £5: A look at the world of piecemeal social content work, specifically at the kids in India or the Philippines or other places half a world away who will use their excellent English and knowledge of internet vernacular to gloss your Insta copy for a few quid a time. Struggling to write the perfect ‘aspirational but inspirational but vibey’ caption to accompany this morning’s arty skyline-with-coffee-and-a-book shot? Why not get a kid in Jakarta to do it for £0.30? Quite a lot of this made me think – partly that it says something (not particularly great) about writing standards in this country that in many cases people for whom English is their second or even third language are better Insta copywriters than you, partly that this is a bleak precursor to the jobs market of the future, but mainly that if you do social content for a brand and you’re not outsourcing literally all of the work to the second world via Fiverr then, well, you’re a moron.
  • Light and Shadows: This is SCIENCE and it’s QUITE HARD (oh, ok, fine, it’s just too hard for me – you might totally understand all this, but personally speaking it very much falls into the category of ‘stuff which my mind slides right off, as though it were made of teflon and my brain were a fried egg’), but it’s also really interesting (on how light works, and how the particle physics behind how we experience it works) and an excellent example of using on-page interactive elements as a means of explaining and illustrating difficult concepts in visual fashion.
  • Is Anyone Watching Quibi?: I should probably go back and collate all the things I’ve written abouT Quibi since I discovered it was coming about 10 months ago; I would imagine my tone would mirror the platform’s lifecycle quite closely (surprise that it’s coming so quickly, awe at the names and the money involved, curiosity about the platform and the programming, skepticism about public appetite for premium, episodic mobile-only entertainments, and then a sort of horrified schadenfreude as COVID happened and it all went to tits quite hard). This piece is very much a ‘state of play’ article, but it equally reads a little like an early obituary – there’s a lot of detail in here that I’ve not seen before about the thinking behind the platform which makes me less-than-positive about its prospects. I fcuking hate the slavish adherence to THE PRIMACY OF DATA that now maintains in every single aspect of my fcuking professional life, ever (LOOK YOU FCUKING DOUBLE-FIGURE IQ MORONS, MERELY FINDING A DATAPOINT THAT SAYS SOMETHING DOESN’T IN AND OF ITSELF MEAN ANYTHING SIGNIFICANT AND JUST BECAUSE YOU CAN BASE AN ASSERTION ON IT DOES NOT MEAN THAT THAT ASSERTION IS CORRECT OR INDEED THAT YOU SHOULD DO SO FFS SO ANGRY), and yet even I can see that Katzenberg’s insistence on going with his gut on some of this stuff seems a touch on the madly hubristic side.
  • Meet China’s Most Popular Livestreamer: This is really interesting for two reasons; partly because it does a decent job of explaining the way in which Chinese streamer culture functions, from the point of view of the performer, partner brands and the audience, but also because of the interesting way its presented. The piece profiles Viya, who apparently dominates the live shopping/streaming scene in China, as though they are A N Other breakout star of a booming new economy; it’s only as you get to the latter half of the piece that you learn that Viya has been a star in China for a while now and that she won a reality show years back, and has been popular on multiple other platforms , and actually this new, transformative form of celebrity is remarkably close, tech aside, to the old forms of celebrity. I do wonder to what extent this is going to become universally true – that to attain truly mass-market appeal one still needs the wide bandwidth push of old media – or whether this is the last hurrah of television as a relevance driver in modern media economies.
  • The Computer Prophet: I’ve been fascinated by the idea of digital prayer and digital-as-an-extension-of-faith-based-practice for ages now – this piece is a semi-academic paper presented by a student at UCLA which sought to create artificially-generated pseudo-profound statements from a ‘digital prophet’. “Time and time again, we fail to find universal answers to the greatest questions we ask ourselves. Yet, metaphors can offer answers. Conceptual metaphors work by associating one metaphorical domain in terms of another: equating a broad-ranging target domain to a particular source domain. Target domains are the spheres we attempt to explain and grasp through concrete source domains. Target domains are so incredibly pervasive and all-encompassing that, for any given target domain, there is no sole perspective or single paradigm of understanding. Therefore, to attempt to understand an individual target domain, numerous source domains must be equated to said target domain. The more source domains we can invoke to clarify a target domain, the better our understanding of that target. By applying machine learning to synthesize, or create, novel metaphors, a new field of computer generated metaphors emerges: Artificially Generative Metaphor. Unique to this process, Artificially Generative Metaphor critically eliminates the various constraints that prevent novel metaphors from being created. If each conceptual metaphor oers a unique perspective towards a given target domain, a system that can produce limitless profound and novel metaphors has the potential to enhance the understanding of a target domain deeply.” The article collects some of the generated wisdom at the end – honestly, you could put these on nicely-designed backgrounds and have a moderately-successful Inspo-gram account in minutes.
  • Algos Can’t Do My Job: A piece by one of the journalists who recently lost their jobs at MSN after being famously replaced by an entirely-algorithmic journalistic and editorial team, all about what it felt like working as a fact-checker and safety net for the machines as they populated the (inexplicably popular) MSN News pages, and why the removal of human editorial oversight is unlikely to have positive consequences for the quality of information consumed by the millions who still seem to use MSN as a source of information on a daily basis. As with everything in modernity, it seems, behind this story is a possibly more interesting series of questions about who is likely to be most impacted by this sort of thing. I appreciate that I might be assuming something about the level of critical thinking and online ‘savviness’ of people who get their information about the world from MSN and Yahoo!, but it does feel quite a lot like we’re sort-of condemning a large slice of the world to getting what can only be described as pretty-low-quality input about the world in which they exist, the informational equivalent of a diet composed entirely of Richmond sausages.
  • Writing With The Algo: Not the first piece about what it’s like writing with a bit of GPT-2 based assistance, but one of the more revealing; Stephen Marche writes about his experience of writing short stories in close collaboration with an AI, with the machine offering suggestions on individual words as well as overall tone, style and theme. This is SO INTERESTING, not least as it goes into proper practical detail about how the process worked; I think that we’re about two years away from the first proper critically-acclaimed novel that might reasonably said to be cowritten by human and machine – but we’re about one year away from a slew of really fcuking bad attempts.
  • Watching Hamilton Onscreen: I HATE MUSICAL THEATRE AND I HAVEN’T SEEN HAMILTON I AM SORRY. Nevertheless I still found this interesting, which should mean that if you like musical theatre and have in fact seen Hamilton you will find this fascinating. The piece takes a really close look at the way in which the production translates the stage show to the screen, with particular attention to framing and the way in which the camera substitutes for the audience’s gaze; if you’re in any way interested in how to show live performance onscreen, this should be really quite useful (even if only as food for thought).
  • Thandie Newton: A rare, brilliant interview with an actor, not least because Newton has obviously decided that she can say what she likes now and so, well, does. Obviously all interviews are performance and so talking about them as being ‘honest’ always feels slightly disingenuous, but it’s a candid conversation that covers many topics including racism in the industry, her own sexual assault, the Me Too movement and why Tom Cruise is, as you’d probably expected, a bit of a tool when it comes to work.
  • Starship Troopers: On why Paul Verhoeven’s Starship Troopers is the perfect film for right now (it specifically looks at this through American eyes, but there’s also a sort of thematic similarity in the dumb, macho way so many nations – and, frankly, much of the global right – seem to be behaving in 2020). “Everyone is beautiful and selfish and mostly awful to each other, both in the thoughtless ways that teen-agers are and because their society is designed to channel them toward awfulness.” I mean, it doesn’t sound like a million miles from here, does it?
  • How Neapolitan Cookery Took Over The World: SUCH a good piece of writing, and not just because I’m a foodie wop. This is a wonderful portrait of Neapolitan gourmand Vincenzo Corrado, who was responsible for first chronicling in formalised fashion the cuisine of his city, and how these chronicles spread to have huge influence not only on global perceptions of Italian cuisine but also on certain perceptions of Italy as a whole – there’s a wonderful sense of Corrado being a precursor to the sort of modern culinary diplomacy popularised in recent years by the Thai and Peruvian governments’ exporting of their cuisine as a means of building broader cultural and economic connections with other nations. Also, LOOK AT HIS JOB TITLE: “At the court of Michele Imperiali, Prince of Francavilla, he was given the magnificent title of Capo dei Servizi di Bocca, literally translated as “Head of Mouth Services,”” SO GOOD.
  • 10 Years: Bit of an unusual one, this – this is the ten year look-back of independent game developer Nico Tuason, of the Philippines, who took a moment last month to consider the past decade of his life, what he had achieved, and how his aspiration to be a game designer had, objectively, gone. This is…well, to me it is fascinating – partly because I know about the games industry a bit and so this sort of slightly-inside-baseball thing is generally of interest to me, partly because Nico seems like a genuinely honest person, and he has a likeable style, but mainly because it is SO rare to see someone take this sort of forensic look back at any period of their life with so much frankness and honesty. I think this is objectively interesting, but even if the subject matter doesn’t grab you there might be something here from a ‘personal learning and reflection’ point of view (sorry, don’t know what came over me then, ‘personal learning and reflection’ indeed, HA!).
  • Auctioneer School: I got to this late, so it’s quite possible you’ll have read it already; in case not, though, this is a WONDERFUL account of what it’s like to train to become a cattle auctioneer, one of those people who talks the audience through the fast-paced, high-octane world of, er, livestock auctions, and who have that superfast, oddly-soothing, highly-rhythmical speaking style that’s a joy to listen to but VERY HARD to perform. This is an almost-perfect bit of ‘reporter goes to do weird thing, learns some wonderful things along the way’ writing.
  • Nature’s Revenge: This is very long, but I enjoyed it lots and it made me think quite differently about several things, which is always a pleasant surprise to someone as tediously entrenched in their views as I am. The author looks at man’s relationship to nature, specifically the lies we tell ourselves about the nature of that relationship, and the doublethink inherent in the concept of ‘nature’ as both natural force and something that exists only in opposition to humanity (and, as such, an entirely constructed concept). Far more interesting than I just made it sound, I promise you.
  • Seeing Things: I don’t quite know how to describe this piece, by Emily LaBarge, but it’s one of the most dizzyingly-erudite pieces of writing (specifically its erudition is London-centric, which I personally adore) I’ve read since the start of the pandemic, covering history and modernity and THE NEWS and FEELINGS – whilst noone could say it wears its knowledge lightly, it’s consistently fascinating and it made me want to walk around my city again SO MUCH. Honestly, this is long and takes a bit of effort but it’s a beautifully-constructed and deeply-intelligent piece of writing.
  • An Ordinary Woman: An Alan Bennett monologue in the LRB. This is SO PERFECT, to the extent that after about 3 minutes I found myself acting it out. Just read it, please.
  • The Decameron Project: I confess – this landed overnight and so I haven’t had a chance to read ANY of these. That said, this reinterpretation of the Decameron, with various world-renowned authors contributing an original piece of fiction born of the pandemic, to mimic the ‘multiple narrators telling stories outside a plague-ridden medieval city’ vibe of Boccaccio’s original, contains enough stellar names (Atwood! Slimani! Mitchell! Fuks!) to make me pretty confident that most of these are going to be pretty good.

By James O’Hanlon

AND FINALLY, MOVING PICTURES AND SOUNDS!:

  1. Thanks Alex for sending me this – 14 minutes on why everything is Kayfabe (an argument I have been making for several years now, since the aforementioned Alex taught me the term). Do watch this, it is a useful way of looking at the world I think (and may make you marginally less annoyed by the media – or it might make it worse, not quite sure):
  1. I love it when ‘people who I’ve known of online for years’ suddenly start getting proper gigs; it’s also rather nice how many people who started on B3ta have gone on to really quite big things. This is internet animation person Cyriak, bringing his unique brand of multi-limbed oddness to the video for the latest track from moustache-enthusiasts Sparks; the song’s called ‘The Existential Threat’ and it’s all rather fun:
  1. Nice little vision of our horrible present from Shardcore here, tweaking the intro to War of the World’s to accompany some sinister animation experiments in Unity – Pan’s Opticon:
  1. This is by Moses Boyd, it’s called ‘Stranger Than Fiction’ and I LOVE IT; it’s all weirdly filmic and jazzy and a bit electronic-y and, honestly, I would like a whole album of this:
  1. This is called ‘The Mind Sang’, and is one of the best examples of slightly-trippy, optical illusion-y animation I’ve seen in ages, This is really, really slick:
  1. To quote the producer, “Over the past 8 months, I’ve been putting this animation together with 60 amazing animators (under the code name Project Manticore 2020.) Each artist produced a 36 frame animation on the theme of “Love.”” These are wonderful, and the range of styles on display is dizzying:
  1. Last up this week, this is very silly but, equally, sort-of bangs. It’s called ‘Hoe Trip’ – enjoy and OH THAT’S IT THAT’S THE LAST THING THIS WEEK I AM OFF TO SHOWER AND SHAVE AND DO ALL THE USUAL POST-CURIOS THINGS BUT I HOPE YOU CONTINUE HAVING WHAT I HOPE IS A GREAT DAY AND THAT THE REST OF THE WEEKEND CONTINUES ALONG SIMILAR LINES BECAUSE YOU ALMOST CERTAINLY DESERVE TO HAVE FUN AFTER THE WEEK YOU’VE HAD SO RELAX AND TAKE CARE AND ENJOY YOURSELF IN MODERATION AND I WILL SEE YOU NEXT WEEK AND NEVER FORGET I LOVE YOU I LOVE YOU I LOVE YOU THANKS FOR READING I LOVE YOU BYE!

Webcurios 03/07/20

Reading Time: 35 minutes

ARE YOU ALL READY???? It feels a little bit like that moment at the start of Gladiators where that little bloke is doing his rolling Rs and getting the crowd all gee’d up, and the current crop of pituitary meatheads are all pawing at the ground and flexing their lumps in anticipation as they look forward to TAKING DOWN the latest foolish civvies who think they can compete. Except, of course, in this case the little bloke doing the gee’ing is Boris ‘literally the worst communicator I think I have ever seen; seriously, who the fcuk ever paid this cnut to do speeches?!’ Johnson, and the pituitary meatheads are US, the ‘great’ British public, all ready to go out and wreak revenge on the poor town centres whose only crime has been being shut for a few months due to a spot of pandemic.

That’s right, kids, it’s PUBOGEDDON!! If you’re anything like me you’ll be avoiding anywhere within 500m of a Wetherspoons as though your life depended on it over the weekend (which if you look and talk like me, it often does) – still, if you’re on the other side of this particular equation and are looking forward to doing yourself some serious damage on the pub gak and the pints then, well, er, take care!

Here’s hoping that this is all quite benign and that famed spirit of British common sense, so easily-discernible at other such mass-gatherings of drunk, red-faced men in polo shirts as ‘football tours’ and ‘Kasabian concerts’, comes to the fore.

I am still Matt, this is still Web Curios, and you probably want to line your stomach with some good, hearty webspaff as it’s liable to be a long weekend.

By Antoine D’Agata

LET’S KICK THIS OFF WITH SOME PROPERLY GOOD TECHNO WHILE I VAGUELY TRY AND REMEMBER WHAT GOING CLUBBING WAS LIKE!

THE SECTION WHICH IS BEGINNING TO HAVE DOUBTS AS TO WHETHER NICK CLEGG REALLY IS THE RIGHT MAN TO PERSUADE THE WORLD THAT MARK ZUCKERBERG HAS ITS BEST INTERESTS AT HEART:

  • Facebook Hates Hate!: I read Nick Clegg’s piece in Ad Age this week, reproduced here on one of Facebook’s myriad blogs, all about how Facebook’s really, honestly, not all about fomenting hate and misery, and it was impossible to take it in any way seriously. Not just because there’s quite a lot of what he said which I don’t think is true, but also because it’s now impossible for me to imagine him delivering any information whatsoever without that very specific, very post-Blair style of diction in which your interlocutor’s only goal is / to / enunciate / in / such a way / as / to make themselves / sound, above all / reasonable. Still, the substance here’s a bit iffy too – as more advertisers jump on the ‘boycott Facebook ads (for a month! In the US! During a period when they might actually have stopped social media advertising anyway because literally everything with comments is going to be an absolute political horrorshow between now and November!), Facebook’s come over all emollient – Zuckerberg’s going to be meeting with civil rights groups to…well, it’s not clear what it’s for, but I imagine there will be some listening and nodding – and Facebook announced a series of tweaks to some of its policies to attempt to address some (more) of the more egregious oversights when it comes to BAD STUFF on its platform. Specifically, the big announcements were on the labelling of content which is only being allowed onto Facebook due to its ‘newsworthy’ status (ie we would have banned anyone else for this, but it’s Trump, so), and on a tweak to ad rules which now means that Facebook will from now on “prohibit claims that people from a specific race, ethnicity, national origin, religious affiliation, caste, sexual orientation, gender identity or immigration status are a threat to the physical safety, health or survival of others.” Take a moment to consider the fact that up until last week it was therefore apparently totally ok to run adverts saying “Jews are dangerous”. Madness. Briefly, to touch on some of the other stuff, Clegg’s article pointed out that Facebook’s really good at removing most bad stuff – 99% of Al Qaeda (remember them??) stuff is taken down before anyone sees it, as is 90% of hate speech…which is fine, til you remember that the scale of Facebook means that that means literally hundreds of thousands of awful things aren’t being seen and stopped. Which, fine, is in many respects a human problem, but also is an indicator of how your responsibilities are slightly different and more onerous when you are basically the de facto communications platform for large swathes of the entire world. Also, and this is the really crucial bit, Clegg’s central statement here – “Facebook does not profit from hate” – is…contentious. Does stuff that makes people frothy and angry and shouty and conspiratorial and more inclined to spend all their time in groups on Facebook discussing their anger make Facebook more money, simply by dint of the way the platform works? Why yes, yes it does! Does people having arguments in the comments boost engagement rates and keep people on the platform longer and mean that the all-important metrics for shareholders and advertisers stay healthy-looking? Why, yes it does! I could go on, but you get the idea. Oh, Nick!
  • Better Monetisation Options for FB Video Creators: Whilst I have a not-insignificant degree of hatred for the term ‘creators’, at least it means we’ve finally hammered the final nail into the coffin of ‘vloggers’. Small mercies, I suppose. Anyway, if you are such a person, churning out video to feed the ever-ravening content maw that is humanity, Facebook’s expanding monetisation options – from more advertising options for their channel (including in-livestream spots), to the expansion of Facebook’s Patreon-a-like setup to more creators (though still not to everyone), and the expansion of Facebook’s payment-gated live events to more users. Expect a significant number of Facebook Dads to start attempting to pivot from ‘having arguments about the pubs opening on the Thanet Cat Club Facebook Page’ to ‘attempting to monetise their 5G theories through a regular straight-to-camera rant via Facebook live’ over the next 6m, basically.
  • A Guide to FB Newsfeed for Publishers: Literally that. If you’re a publisher, this is a useful guide to ‘how the Newsfeed works and how it judges what to prioritise and how you can make sure your content doesn’t get deranked [make it original, give it a byline, etc etc], and why you’re still fcuked without a healthy advertising budget’.
  • Some New WhatsApp Stuff That I Don’t Really Care About: Oh, OK, fine, if I were to pick one thing to pull out from this I’d suggest it’s the introduction of QR codes within WhatsApp as a means of sharing your details with someone (scan someone else’s code from within the app and it will automatically add them to your WhatsApp contacts, a la Snap), mainly as it’s this sort of thing which will normalise them a bit to your mum and therefore might lead to them finally becoming the useful day-to-day link between physical and digital that they’ve been for years in Asia. Oh, and there’s some stuff about animated stickers and DARK MODE (why do people get so excited by this? Genuinely baffled), and slightly-improved group video calling but, honestly, the QR code thing’s the main news here (actually, now I think of it, there’s a use case here to give people an easy way to sign up to your broadcast WhatsApp channel should that apply).
  • Some New LinkedIn Features: I do wonder at what point I’m next going to have to try and find work again, and whether the fact that my LinkedIn profile features no photo, minimal career history and a series of posts calling people ‘businessmongs’ and suggesting they have dust where their souls should be is going to be in some way limiting to my prospects of ever making the boardroom. Anyway, if you’re less inclined than I am to limit your employability and instead would like to use LinkedIn to ‘enhance your professional network’, there are now a few new features you can ‘enjoy’ – you can share that you’re ‘open to work’ on your profile, which will make it more visible in job searches; users can append specific ‘offers to help’ to their posts, again helping to connect them with users who need a hand with, I don’t know, glossing over the mysteriously-blank five years in their CV; and there’s now a new ‘support’ emoji reaction to show that you, er, ‘support’ someone else’s post – perfect for when you want to indicate you really care about something without actually making any practical effort to do anything beyond the purely cosmetic.
  • New Direct Response Solutions on YouTube: Here,look: “we’re experimenting with a new way to make your actionable video ads more shoppable—complementing your ad with browsable product imagery to inspire the next purchase. All you need to do is sync your Google Merchant Center feed to your video ads, and you can visually expand your call-to-action button with the best-sellers you want to feature and drive traffic to the product pages that matter.” Basically this is the option to add specific images of specific products, linked to purchase, below your YouTube ads. Excited? ME TOO!
  • Smartreply for Creators: There’s something a bit…sad about this. YouTube’s expanding its automated response feature, as seen on Gmail for a while now, to YouTube comments, in a way intended to make it easier for people who get LOADS of comments on their content to give the impression of fan engagement without actually having to put any effort into said engagement whatsoever. YouTube will start to suggest responses to comments – “Thanks so much for watching!”, “Glad you liked it, stay tuned for more!” – and other such life-affirming fan interactions. Nothing that odd there – aside from the fact that YouTube has for a while now also offered creators the ability to turn on a sort of ‘superdonation’ feature where users can buy the right for their comments to appear higher up in the creators’ feed, thereby making it more likely that their hero will see their ‘pick me, senpai!’ message and bestow a small crumb of attention on them. Which small crumb of attention may now end up being a machine-generated platitude about how much the creator ‘values’ their fans. People paying actual money to send a message to a YouTuber which gets responded to by AI. WONDERFUL TIMES!!
  • Reddit’s New Content Policy: After the big bonfire of the subReddits this week, in which The_Donald finally got shut down along with a bunch of other (mostly tiny) subs, Reddit updated its terms around what is and isn’t acceptable. Whether or not you use Reddit, it’s worth taking a look at the text of this – it’s not perfect, obviously (we don’t know what ‘perfect’ looks like here, fair to say), but as an open, honest and broadly-clear statement of what the site wants to achieve, I think it’s a good one. I particularly like the stuff about ‘these are our rules, this is our platform, we have tried to make them as clear as possible, and if you break them you are out’; it’s the best angle against the ‘BUT YOU’RE CENSORING ME’ whinging (ie ‘no I’m not, it’s not my fault you can’t follow this clearly-articulated set of rules as to what you can and can’t do on the platform that I control’).

By Patrick Morales Lee

NEXT, ENJOY THIS NOSEBLEED-COOL MINIMAL TECHNO SET BY CABANNE!

THE SECTION WHICH IS FULLY EXPECTING SOME CRACKING ‘BRITAIN GOT ITS PUBS BACK AND YOU WON’T BELIEVE THE SCENES!’ PHOTOGALLERIES OVER THE COMING DAYS, PT.1:

  • EXPTV: To be honest I could just give you this, tell you to call someone up and get a reasonably-sized bag of ketamine and leave you to it this week – it contains multitudes (NB Web Curios would like to point out that ketamine is NO JOKE and that you definitely shouldn’t do that; why don’t you not forget that you have legs and go for a nice walk instead?). EXPTV is from the same corner of the web as long-running counterculturezinething Dangerous Minds – they’re not linked, but there’s a similar bizarrofetishism vibe to the whole thing. The website’s basically a TV channel, programming the sort of content which you might have had running on a telly in a slightly counterculturally-themed bar in the late-90s – you want an idea of the sort of stuff? OK! “Ventriloquist dummy sales demos, Filipino Pinocchios, LSD trip-induced talking hot dogs, Liberace’s recipe tips, French synth punk, primal scream therapy seminars, Deadhead parking lots, empty parking lots, Israeli sci-fi, scary animatronics, teenage girls’ homemade art films, Belgian hard techno dance instructions, Czech children’s films about UFOs…” – and that’s only the daytime shift. Nights will feature “Bigfoot, underground 80s culture, Italo disco, cults, Halloween hijinks, pre-revolutionary Iranian pop culture, midnight movies, ‘ye ye’ promo films, Soviet sci-fi, reggae rarities, psychedelic animation and local news calamities. On any given night you could watch something like our Incredibly Strange Metal show followed by a conceptual video essay like Pixel Power—our exploration of early CGI art.” Sounds good, doesn’t it? Honestly, don’t go out and attempt to navigate the Stygian p1ss rivers that will be your local town centre’s streets come approximately 11:39am tomorrow morning – tune into EXPTV instead, and enjoy… as I type it’s playing a live performance by Black Sabbath, this is GREAT! More interesting than Netflix, I promise you.
  • The Deep State Mapping Project: I feel a bit weird about linking this, I confess. Look, I know that lockdown’s been long and we’re all feeling a bit…odd, and the world seems to be spinning that little bit faster and more frantically again…but I still don’t think that’s a good reason for the slightly troubling rise in vaguely-satanic fringe conspiracymongering by seemingly one in seven people online right now (based on the Maxwell news, we can look forward to this one running and running – remember, kids, it is entirely possible that there are appalling people out there and they do terrible things and that they are very rich; it doesn’t necessarily follow that they are running the world as part of some sort of gigantic ritualised conspiracy! When you start getting Icke-adjacent, maybe check yourself!), Still, it’s FASCINATING, although I am slightly fuzzy about its status – is it an art project, is it something that started as an art project and now isn’t really any more…? Dylan Louis Monroe is a US artist who a few years ago started investigating the QAnon phenomenon – he did one of the early maps of the conspiracy which you may have seen doing the rounds – and this is the website collecting…oh God, what is this? Some of the mapping stuff looks like an artistic response to the oddity of Q, but then there are the massive text files which I think are just transcripts of all the Q ‘breadcrumbs’ left around the web for disciples to pore over, and then there’s the artist’s statement which doesn’t read like an artist’s statement so much as someone who’s slightly losing it. Is this part of the performance? Oh, no, hang on, I just followed the rabbithole to a YouTube video in which Mr Monroe spends over two hours talking to a channel called ‘New Templars’ about the symptoms of 5G poisoning – if this is performance then man is he committed. Look, I can’t tell you what to think or what to click on – I find this stuff fascinating (not least as it speaks to something I was talking to Rob about last night, to whit that the web has given us the tools to see and create paths and patterns between concepts and ideas like never before, which obviously opens up the fields of art and analysis and conceptualisation in spectacular and wonderful fashion, but which also allows us to indulge in the sort of pattern-creation that is also the preserve of the genuinely-unhinged) but, equally, it’s a very sticky rabbithole of occasionally-pernicious odd. Caveat emptor.
  • Brain Nursery Egg TV: The 1950s: Watch With Mother. The 1980s: Playschool. The 1990s: TellyTubbies: The 00s: In The Night Garden. The 2010s: Jonny Papa (the dates here may be wrong; I don’t have kids, leave me alone, I’m guessing here). The 2020s? BRAIN NURSERY EGG TV! If you think you’ve seen every single low-rent, slightly-shonky bedroom CG for kids project there is to endure on YouTube and that they can’t get any more idiotic and brain-melty than they already are, think again. Brain Nursery Egg TV (even the channel name is wonderfully-mad) features literally dozens (maybe even hundreds) of videos, none of which have more than double-digit views, all of which are seemingly scripted and rendered in poor-quality surreal CG by AI. The videos have that slightly-melty, half-imagined aesthetic of a neural net trying and failing to render recognisable shapes, with the voice-overs being utterly nonsensical copy read out by a text-to-speech generator, with occasionally coherent and occasionally very disturbing backing music consisting of tinny instrumentation, baby gurgles and, inexplicably, what sounds very much like the occasional burst of gunfire. I think this is incredible – like, PROPER ART kids – but at the same time I am terrified by it; from what little I’ve seen of very small kids, they’re not exactly critical when it comes to sitting in front of the telly, and it wouldn’t surprise me if this stuff was exactly as effective at keeping a proto-toddler mesmerised as something vaguely-pedagogic. What would happen to a kid if you fed it an entertainment diet composed solely of this for the first couple of years of its life? Anyone want to find out?
  • Trash: First they came for the photoshoppers, then they came for the graphic designers, and now the AI gremlins are coming for the video editors too. Trash is an app that basically outsources the tedious process of cobbling together your videoreel into a VIBE or a MOOD; give it your clips and it will automatically edit them into a thematically-consistent whole, with filters and music – this is all thanks to a new feature called VIBE CHECK (dear God I feel so old and near to death) that it launched this week, specifically to let children effortlessly create the sort of largely-meaningless but very vibey sort of content that requires minimal engagement in response but which performs the oh-so-important function of anchoring the subject’s aesthetic within the culture (/pseud). You can read more about VIBE CHECK in this piece – I think there’s something really interesting lurking at the edges of this, a sort of semi-expansion of visual semiotics happening through Stories culture, but it’s very early and I’m very tired and I’m already pretty certain I sound like an unforgivable ponce here so I think I’ll stop.
  • The Alps: The actual name of this project is ‘Un Printemps Suspendu’, but it’s basically about the alps – this is a beautiful website which, through voice over and photography and video and CG, takes you across several of the most spectacular peaks. The use of screen real estate here is exemplary; the documentary-making is far, far better than most things of this ilk I’ve seen, particularly in the way it combines diagrammatic representations of the route with video in split-screen fashion. It doesn’t sound like much, fine, but I’ve been looking at stuff like this for over a decade now and it’s still remarkable how little work there is out there that’s this effective. Really, really good webwork (and climbing, but I don’t really pretend to understand that side of it).
  • Anything World: OK, I’m a little iffy as to exactly what this is, but as far as I can make out its a beta version of an AR platform which lets you create and then program rudimentary 3d models in AR, complete with voice-responsiveness and some other gubbins. It’s VERY early days, but the blurb suggests that you get “~500 animated 3D models, thousands more static ones, a multitude of behaviours and a plethora of environments to engage with, thereby easing the creative process by providing core elements to utilise in developing game and immersive experiences.” If you’re interested in having a bit of a play with AR and seeing what off-the-shelf solutions can do these days, this strikes me as a decent way into the space.
  • AR Copy/Paste: I think I featured the prototype video of this a few months back – now the app is available for beta access (you have to sacrifice your email address in exchange for a place on the waitlist). As a reminder should you not have the photographic memory for ‘stuff that was in Web Curios ages ago’ that I seem to expect of my readership, this is an app which will let you use AR to effectively take photos of stuff that exists in real life and then AR it into digital things without any barriers at all. Look, just click the link, pick your jaw up off the floor when you realise what that p1ss-poor explanation was meant to tell you, and then sign up for the waitlist. If nothing else, just think how fun it will be to be able to pepper all your documents with the faces of your colleagues, taken as they give you feedback on the various preceding drafts.
  • LiveGuide: Can someone please make one of these for the UK, or at least non-US timezones, please? Such a useful website (if you’re over the other side of the world), LiveGuide is the Boston Globe’s curated selection of good online stuff happening each hour of each day. It’s literally like an EPG; scroll through the channels, scroll across time, find stuff you want to watch, click, enjoy. Obviously the upkeep of this is an absolute editorial headfcuk and relies on submissions or someone being so extremely online there may be no room in their life for anything else, which might kill it over time, but the idea is a useful and necessary one.
  • Explore The Last Supper: Google Atrs brings us Da Vinci’s Last Supper, in REALLY HI RES DETAIL. This is another beautiful use of hi-res scanning combined with good editorialising, taking you through particular details of the canvas that you might have missed when looking at a tiny picture of it in a textbook – I am a sucker for webstuff like this that takes you slowly and clearly, step-by-step, through the minutiae of a topic or image, and this is rather like that NYT explainer from a few weeks back in that it uses the medium wonderfully to peel back layers of meaning. If that doesn’t do it for you, though, take a moment to click and notice that the person to Jesus’ left appears to be some sort of early descendent of Dustin Diamond (aka Screech from Saved by the Bell).
  • Pitch To Netflix!: Are YOU young and creative and do YOU have opinions about telly (specifically, telly that is on Netflix)? GREAT! This is actually quite a cool-sounding opportunity: “We want to showcase a wider range of perspectives on Netflix UK social media channels. To that end, we’re inviting people to pitch ideas for video essays on Netflix titles. We especially encourage Black creatives and those from under-represented groups, as well as those who live outside London, to submit ideas…We’re not looking exclusively for pieces about Black or minority experience. This is about opening up our platform to distinctive voices regardless of subject matter. If we like your idea we’ll ask you to write the full essay. We’ll send you a legal agreement to sign and then you can get started! Once the script is finalised, we will edit the video for you, with your input – for example, we can help you record the voiceover remotely from home. We pay £800 per essay upon publication.” Apply! Share with your friends! £800 is a decent whack, and Netflix is a hell of a platform to put on your portfolio.
  • The Bee Bed: In traditional mobster parlance, to invite someone to sleep with the fishes is generally considered to indicate that their future involves slightly more concrete and less oxygen than they might ordinarily hope. Imagine how much more sinister it would be, though, to invite someone to sleep with the bees! Well, now you can, although the people behind this design maintain that it’s in fact a lovely, soothing way of getting closer to nature rather than a spectacularly-inventive and borderline-psychopathic method of execution. Hm. I remain skeptical. The Bee Bed is literally that – a setup for a hive which also doubles as a (very, very uncomfortable-looking) bed, which you can lie down on and then pull another wooden cover over your supine form to enable you to have a lovely, relaxing sleep, lulled by the sound of apian buzzing as the hive-dwellers dance away just centimetres below you. “You are separated from the bees by thin planks and can bathe in their warmth and vibration and smells without any danger of being stung. It will change your life forever once you experience how relaxing and soothing and healing it is. It surely changed ours!” You can’t tell me that that doesn’t sound sinister as all fcuk.
  • Terrifying Disney Faceswap Tech: Watch this and get scared about deepfakes all over again. LOOK AT HOW GOOD THIS STUFF IS!! I wonder how long it will be before there’s a commercially-available version of this stuff that’s good enough – and lightweight enough – to allow anyone to fool anyone else over Zoom? Two years?
  • Julian Bass: I think I first featured ‘the terrifyingly-talented child video editors of TikTok’ a few years ago when it was still Musical.ly – this is basically the next evolution of that. Julian Bass has all the typical attributes of a TikTokTeen – great teeth, good looks, nice voice, easy on-camera-style – but MY GOD can this person edit his way around a video. There’s stuff on here I have never seen on TikTok before – though I appreciate that might not mean much – and you will not fail to be amazed at a few of the effects that he’s able to create using his phone. SO much talent.
  • Lunar Loo: There are some engineering challenges that are…oversubscribed. There are lots of people with lots of money competing to win the ‘flying car’ race; similarly, the battle to be the first to develop a truly viable autonomous road vehicle is hitting its stride nicely with some BIG names in the running. Others, though, are a bit more niche and as a result you might have a slightly better chance of being the person whose skill and talent ends up finding the solution that changes humanity’s future forever. Such a challenge is Lunar Loo, NASA’s contest to uncover a design for a toilet that will work in both microgravity and lunar-gravity. Yes, fine, it might not be the same as revolutionising human transport forever, but there will be multiple generations of children thanking you as they learn how to void themselves in the arid, joyless landscape of MUSKVILLE III come 2117.
  • Aporee: This is…odd. Aporee appears to have been around for a while – as far as I can tell, it’s a website and project designed to collect sounds from all around the world, no matter how banal. “Thanks to a broad community of artists, phonographers and individuals working with sound and field recording, radio aporee has collected a comprehensive corpus of sounds from all around the world, and has provided many collaborative tools for artistic practices and research in the field.” You can look at a world map and see sounds from literally ALL over the globe – mostly utterly unremarkable, but all the better for it. What’s lovely – and odd – is the dawning realisation that there are some people who are uploading recordings of the sounds of their lives and landscapes multiple times a day, a kind of auditory diary keeping which I find a bit wonderful; why are they doing this? For whom? Who is Tsan-Cheng Wu, of Wufeng township, and why have they uploaded literally thousands of audiofiles and what is their life like and and and. Honestly, this is quite perfect though I couldn’t for the life of me tell you why.
  • The New Icelandic Football Crest: This is how you communicate a rebrand – honestly, it’s clear, it makes sense, it’s as unwanky as it’s possible for this stuff to be, and it looks good too.
  • Ynaas: Make websites that simply say ‘yes’ or ‘no’, with custom URLs. Seems totally pointless, but once you realise that you can start responding to all colleague requests using this format (“Matt, would you mind reworking the strategy for the travel pitch, please?” “http://willmattreworkthestrategy.ynaas.com/”) then your working life will never be the same again.

By Jerome Lagarrigue

NEXT, HAVE A SHORT-BUT-SWEET SET OF TECH-HOUSE-ISH STUFF BY REDUCTIO!

THE SECTION WHICH IS FULLY EXPECTING SOME CRACKING ‘BRITAIN GOT ITS PUBS BACK AND YOU WON’T BELIEVE THE SCENES!’ PHOTOGALLERIES OVER THE COMING DAYS, PT.2:

  • The Whimsical Web: This is lovely – this site collects websites that are basically more fun than they necessarily need to be, mainly the personal portfolio websites of artists or designers, or the frivolous side projects that they often append to their portfolios. Playable guitar strings in the header? A selection of cartoon heads of the artist that you can sort through in search of the complete set? A site with the ability to engage ‘lobster mode’? CHECK CHECK CHECK! As the people behind this collection rightly point out, one of the joys of coding is the ability for people to use it in surprising, pleasing and, yes, whimsical ways (I am not as a rule a fan of ‘whimsy’ – FCUK OF CATH KIDSTON AND FCUK OFF BUNTING – but I’ll make an exception here), and it’s worth celebrating when people do something other than making A N Other website that adheres strictly to whatever this week’s aesthetic of choice is (as an aside, I saw a branding project yesterday for a MAJOR THING which, when I had a vague sense of deja vu and did a bit of a Google, looked literally EXACTLY like what you get when you chuck ‘90s aesthetic’ into image search, just in case you want an early peek into what you’re going to be really, really bored of by Q2 2021).
  • Checkboxland: Render anything you like as HTML animated checkboxes. Why? WHY THE FCUK NOT FFS REMEMBER WHIMSY??????
  • Arabic Game Logos: This is actually the second set of these that designer Ibrahim Hamdi has made (the link takes you to his Behance page so you can easily find the originals should you so desire) – he’s taken famous game logos and typography and rendered them in Arabic, and this page showcases the designs alongside the originals. Aside from the fact that Hamdi’s obviously a hugely talented graphic designer and typographer, some of these look so much cooler – Cyberpunk in particular is SUCH a good logo they should adopt it wholesale.
  • The Hump Film Fest: I had no idea this was a thing, but I am SO glad it is. Hump is a film festival for amateur pornographers which was started by Dan Savage a decade or so ago (15y in fact); it was always a live event, with the films being submitted from all over the world by people who fancied showing off their home-made bongo to an audience of strangers for ONE NIGHT ONLY (screenings were no-phone-zones to make it safe for the filmmakers to let themselves go a bit). Now, though, given that the idea of sitting in a crowded cinema is…unappealing (let alone sitting in one surrounded by a bunch of people who are quite possibly having a surreptitious dangerwank), the festival’s gone virtual, presenting a selection of highlights from its history as limited-availability screenings. I think this is LOVELY: “The festival features short dirty movies—each less than five minutes—all created by people who aren’t porn stars but want to be one for a weekend. The filmmakers and stars show us what they think is hot and sexy, creative and kinky, their ultimate turn-ons and their craziest fantasies. Our carefully curated program is a cornucopia of body types, shapes, ages, colors, sexualities, genders, kinks, and fetishes—all united by a shared spirit of sex-positivity. HUMP! is a celebration of creative sexual expression. You will see films at HUMP! that shock you. You will see films at HUMP! that make you laugh. And you will see films at HUMP! that turn you on. You will also be touched by the sincerity and vulnerability with which these films are lovingly made.” Go on, check out the amateurbongo, I promise you it will make you genuinely happy (not in a sex way, necessarily).
  • Make Your Own Anti Face Touching Necklace: You will need quite a lot of technical prowess here, and a 3d printer, but should you be in possession of the requisite materials then this is all you’ll need to create your own, NASA-endorsed antifacetouching necklace pendant thingy which will vibrate at you when you get too close to stroking your hideous countenance.
  • Fontikon: A Kickstarter, mostly there with a couple of weeks to go, by Michela Graziani, which is seeking funds to create new fonts from ancient ones. Fontikon will be “a Worldwide Type Foundry of Ethno-Esoteric-Mystic-Magical fonts for creatives, graphic designers and game designers. It contains a set of 8 ancient fonts from historical cultures and civilizations around the world, designed in modern style. The collection is inspired and brings together: Alchemy, Adinkra, Aztec, Celtic, Lovecraftian, Japan Samurai, Viking Norse, Slavian.” It’s a lovely project and you can read more about it here should you be so inclined.
  • Artvee: Classical art, in high-res, rights free for you to use as you please. If nothing else, can all web designers please start using this stuff as placeholder imagery? It is SO much better than AN Other set of stock pictures of people standing in front of whiteboards and smiling as though their families are being held hostage but they mustn’t let on.
  • Digital Mycenae: “Archives relating to the British excavations of one of the most celebrated and famous cities of the ancient world, Mycenae in Greece, have been digitised on the Cambridge Digital Library to celebrate the centenary of the British archaeological dig.” If you’re interested in archaeology and ancient civilisations, or if you just miss being able to potter around dusty digs around Europe as a result of lockdown, you will like this very much indeed.
  • Fifty: A photoproject from the Atlantic, presenting photo essays of each of the 50 US states. I know that as a Brit – and, frankly, as any other nationality over the past 50-100 years – you might feel that you’ve had enough of America and Americana, and usually I’d probably agree with you, but these photos highlight what an astonishing continent it is, geographically at least, and the incredible range of landscape and space that it encompasses. Honestly, these really are quite wonderful and might make you dust off those old memories of renting a massively wide car that steers like a cow and driving coast-to-coastm – or at least until you remember what America is actually like right now.
  • Macroinvertebrates: You might not think that you want a website devoted to insects, but, well, you do! Or, if you have kids who are into creepy crawlies, they might instead. LOADS of insects with pleasingly close-up pictures you can zoom in on to see mandibles, legs, antennae, KILLING PINCERS, that sort of thing. If you’re a touch on the phobic side about chitinous things that scuttle, you might want to give this one a swerve.
  • Jobs That Are Less Fun Than People Think: Videogames PR! Music PR! Festival PR! PR for anything that might be fun or enjoyable as a punter but, when you get close to it, turns out to be no fun AT ALL to actually work in and which is almost inevitably populated entirely by the dreadful, the stupid, the evil or the drugfcuked! BASICALLY THE WHOLE OF PR!! (actually, noone thinks PR is ‘fun’ any more, do they?) Those are my picks, but what are yours? This is a Reddit thread compiling stories of quotidian professional misery from professions that are significantly less glamorous and exciting than they sound on paper. Chef? HORRIBLE. Zookeeper? OTTERS STINK. Bongo cameraman? GROSS. Whilst it might not make you feel better about your current pointless, demeaning professional existence, it will at least serve to reassure you that, rather than being greener over there, the grass is in fact a uniform shade of brown on both sides of the fence!
  • The Public Domain Songs Anthology: I have no idea if any of these are any good, but if you’re bored of whoever the learner guitarist in your house is butchering the same 7 songs then download this collection of 500-odd free American folk songs for them to murder instead.
  • Bad Stock Photos of my Job: Not my job, you understand – Shutterstock doesn’t appear to have commissioned the ‘webmong’ set as yet – but rather everyone’s job. This is an Imgur library culled from a Twitter thread in which a bunch of professionals spent a pleasing 24h finding the worst, silliest stock photo depictions of their profession possible. The one about lawyers made me genuinely spit my tea; find your own favourites.
  • Unminus: A royalty-free music library, with all tracks cleared for use on YouTube – this is something it would have been very, very useful for me to find about three weeks ago before I made an agency spend £800 on library rights, but here’s hoping that none of the people there see this and realise I wasted their cash.
  • Uffizzi TikTok: ever since Adam Koszary REVOLUTIONISED museum comms by bringing ‘the absolute unit’ to the Museum of English Rural Life, it’s now been decided that public sector social media accounts need to have PERSONALITY and SASS and VERVE – which is fine when you’re (I mean this nicely) a two-bit museum in the middle of the countryside which mainly deals in hoes and which doesn’t have the eyes of the world on it, and a bit harder when you’re one of the big, world-renowned institutions that have something of a reputation for seriousness and stuffiness. Which is why the Uffizzi Gallery’s TiKTok feed is so ace – it gets memes, it’s silly (occasionally very silly), and it’s fun. Well done, gallerinae!
  • Poppyseed Pets: Adopt a virtual pet! Feed it! Entertain it! Make it love you! Honestly, you might think this looks simple but it goes VERY DEEP, and you can find far more to occupy yourself – and in far more interesting ways – than the rudimentary interface and graphics suggest. This is one of those slightly-odd one-person labour of love projects that has obviously sprawled slightly – it feels charmingly ramshackle but also pleasantly and regularly surprising, and there some really nice feature touches which wouldn’t feel out of place in a far bigger and more expensive/expansive project. If you’re the sort of person who’s ever enjoyed a Tamagotchi (a phrase which, on typing, really doesn’t sound ok at all) then you may well enjoy this.
  • Townscaper: Finally in this week’s ‘selection of stuff with no real consistent thematic link between it whatsoever’ is this game – unusually for Curios, this is an actual, paid-for thing that will require you to shell out some money; it is, though, I promise, worth every single penny of the price of a cup of coffee which it will cost you. Townscaper is a simple, gentle, BEAUTIFUL townbuilding game – there’s little challenge to speak of (at least in this very early build), with the game instead encouraging you to build the prettiest or most interesting or most complex town you can, jutting out of a digital lagoon like some sort of tiny Venetian principality. Everything about this is glorious, and if you’re the sort of person who likes colouring in or that sort of thing then I promise that this will be perfect for you. Seriously, do take a look, it is charming and delightful in every possible way.

By Margaret Lansink

LAST UP IN THIS WEEK’S MIXES, HAVE THIS LOVELY RELAXING GENERALLY-SLIGHTLY-LOUNGEY SET WHICH IS PERFECT FOR THE GARDEN!

THE CIRCUS OF TUMBLRS!:

  • We Love Lo-Fi: Picked up via the excellent Things Magazine, this is a Tumblr collecting good new lofi music. Loads of good recommendations, and updated regularly enough to make it worth bookmarking if it ticks your boxes, genrewise.
  • Architectural Models in Films: You don’t really need an ulterior description for this, do you?
  • Socialist Modernist: “FOCUSED ON PROTECTION OF BUILT HERITAGE BUILT BETWEEN 1955-1991, AND THE RESEARCH WITHIN THE BORDERS OF THE FORMER EASTERN BLOC COUNTRIES AND OTHER REGIONS.” It feels that the caps are appropriate here. You can guess the aesthetic here, but this is a lovely and well-curated collection of photography.

THE TROUGH OF (INSTA) FEEDS!:

  • Greenbelt Sidewalk Chalk: Someone, probably in the US judging by the use of the term ‘sidewalk’, has been doing chalk drawings on the pavements during lockdown. This is a feed of those drawings.
  • Crudely Drawn Store: Thanks to Rich for drawing this to my attention. It is a great Insta feed, not least because of all the excellent drawings of famous men depicted with breasts. The Cummings one will haunt me for years.

LONG THINGS WHICH ARE LONG!:

  • Riots: We kick off the longreads this week with this blogpost by the people at ‘the arts are for everyone not just middle-aged white people and by the way why do none of the curators look like us?’-agitators The White Pube, which is a brilliant, angry articulation of a lot of the trouble with institutional support for Black Lives Matter and the wider debate around rights and access and representation and race and prejudice currently taking place – to whit, unless institutions and organisations take steps to address the systemic and structural racism and inequality that defines their existence and their practice, any discussion of ‘change’ or attempt to engage with the debate around race in good faith is undermined. This is about the arts – and, fine, might be slightly tough going if you’re not au fait with the world and some of the lingo – but is broadly applicable to any industry or area of work in which there are problems with fairness, diversity and equality (so, er, most of them).
  • The Problem With BIPOC: Or, for the UK, read ‘BAME’. This piece looks at how the catch-all designation for non-white people (whether BIPOC in North America or Australia, or BAME in the UK) tends towards an erasure of individual identity and differential struggle.
  • Eye Mouth Eye: Last week as I was waking up and brushing the remnants of cat biscuits from my barely-vertical form and doing my pre-Curios morning webscan, I noticed that 👁👄👁 was all over the place, along with a website offering you the chance of EARLY ACCESS to…something if you gave them your email, along with a promise that Tweeting the link would bump you up the queue. It was too ambiguous and not quite interesting enough for me to put it in last week – this week, though, it was revealed as being nothing more than a few Silicon Valley engineers playing around with growth-hacking and viral launch marketing techniques, who then used that momentum to pivot to soliciting donations for Black Lives Matter causes and who managed to raise 6 figures from people thinking that chucking a few quid to charity would get them quicker access to the HOT NEW SOCIAL THING of the week. This article explains how it all happens – I know that it might not seem like the sort of thing that deserves a couple of thousand words of writeup, but it’s interesting both in terms of an object-lesson in hype building and as regards its perception as a fundraising vehicle; there’s been significant pushback against its use as a BLM vehicle, not least as many saw it as effectively making the movement a footnote to a gag. It’s very now, basically, for better or worse.
  • Labour’s Short-term Thinking: Jude Wanga is Twitter-famous, certainly on UK political Twitter, for being a very smart analytical thinker who absolutely takes no sh1t. She’s also very much on the left of the party, which gives you an idea of where this piece about the sacking of Rebecca Long-Bailey is coming from and going. Regardless of your thoughts on the rightness or wrongness of the sacking itself, or on the relative merits of Jezzus and Sir Haircut, this is a well-written and well-argued piece that illustrates quite how spectacularly-fcuked the left is in this country, again, at a time when it really ought to be sharpening an entire kitchen’s worth of knives in preparation for the filleting of one of the most incompetent Government’s in recent memory (Christ, imagine predicting being able to say that about successive Tory administrations. It’s enough to put one off this fcuking ‘democracy’ lark altogether) (it’s not really, though, honest).
  • Chatbots at the End of the World: Or, ‘Thanks For Nothing, TechBro Geniuses!’ Look, I know that poking fun at – or throwing rocks at – VCs and Silicon Valley types is a bit cliche now (to the point where they are starting to get REALLY defensive about it), but it’s equally true that all these incredible, talented, visionary disruptors who MOVE FAST and BREAK THINGS and CHANGE THE WORLD THROUGH PRODUCT whilst pursuing Ketosis and having tantric onan binges thrice-weekly, have done the square-root of fcuk all for the great mass of humanity over the past quarter of the year. Why? “Maybe, though, “innovations” like the executive networking app, Musk’s rocket, or Blender the chatbot, are just pointless vanity projects for wealthy narcissists. Maybe these things seem at odds with what is going on in the world now because the people who decided they wanted them decided this a little while ago, when everything seemed different—or because enormous wealth is, currently, an effective insulator against almost any imaginable disaster, and it’s hard to conceive of a future when this won’t be the case.”
  • Knockoff AOC: On how Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’ now-iconic campaign branding – angled fonts! Chunky typography! Bold colours and shading! – is being coopted by other politicians around the world. Is all you need an off-the-shelf-typeface and some BOLD PORTRAITURE to become the iconic political pin-up for a generation? Let’s see how this lot get on…
  • Why Are Rich People So Mean?: Wired takes a look at what happens to people psychologically when they get VERY RICH, and what it is that makes people who have more money basically a little bit cnutier and more selfish than they were when they had less money. There’s lots of really interesting stuff in here about the psychology of success and how we rank ourselves in the context of peer communities and what have you; I wonder, also, how much of this is tied to a society in which we have for a long time accepted that market value is right. If I am rich, by this reasoning it’s because the market – the ultimate, rational measure of success – has determined that that is my value; therefore I should be rich because I am therefore worth that money, and, by extension, those who are less rich than me are such due to the market (again, remember, dispassionate and rational) determining that they are worth less, and this is fair and as it should be. This is fascinating and made me think quite a lot.
  • The Credit Card for Influencers: Meet Karat, a company which spotted a genuine gap in the financial services market – to whit, lots of products and services in the FS space are still designed for people whose income model is very much a Mon-Fri, 5 days a week, 20 days’ holiday a year, fixed monthly salary-type thing; now though it’s far more common for perfectly legitimate people to have the sort of irregular income flows that would previously only have been the preserve of people who dealt exclusively in cash in dark alleyways. So far, so sensible – a provider offering easier-to-obtain loans or mortgages to this group of people has a legitimate audience to aim at. Sadly, though, the people behind Karat – for that is the name of this new thing – then decided to ruin it all by tying it to the concept of ‘influencers’ and offering credit cards to people with over 250,000 followers, suggesting that the whole thing is being run either by morons or by people who are more interested in the PR than the product (the two are not, you may be unsurprised to learn, mutually exclusive). Horrid and destined to fail, I think, but there’s definitely a good idea buried in here under the horror.
  • Films in Fortnite: Did any of you check this out last week? I confess I tried for about three minutes but, well, it’s not for me. This is a reasonable writeup of the experience – this writer’s more bullish about the longer-term prospects for all this stuff than I probably am, and I’ve seen other reviews of the experience that landed firmly more on the side of ‘total mess’ than ‘the future of shared entertainments!’, but there’s no denying that there’s going to be a mass-level tipping point with something along these lines sooner rather than later, whether within Fortnite or elsewhere.
  • Prisoners on TikTok: It was inevitable, really, that the combination of ready access to mobile phones, lots of time on their hands and some BIG personalities would lead to lockdown TikTok becoming a THING – and so, here it is, the first story about lags making it BIG on the TikTok TL with their ‘real’ portrayals of life behind bars. A couple of observations here: 1) ‘real’? Hm; 2) At least one backing dancer on a high-profile pop tour in 2021 will have been recruited from Prison TikTok, I reckon; 3) Whatever happened to the hot felon bloke? Did he give on the modeling after knocking up Phil Green’s daughter?
  • I Tried to be Twitter Famous: I think this is a brilliant essay. Excerpted from a forthcoming memoir, this piece by Shayla Lawson talks about her attempts to become big on Twitter – specifically, Black Twitter, where, as she puts it, marketers know the audience is 95% smart African Americans. There’s so much interesting stuff in here, from here astute dissection of the way in which Black culture, filtered by Twitter, is then coopted and recycled and fed back by mainstream consumer culture, and how in itself the performative aspects of Black Twitter – to whit, wanting to be part of that 95% of ‘smart’ people – leads to performative elements which in and of themselves have potentially problematic undertones. So, so good, and so interesting.
  • SouthEast Asian Cliches: A Twitter thread – sorry – in which Amirul Ruslan looks at how Western writers repeatedly recycle the same cliches and tropes around the fruit and food of South East Asia – he focuses on the Durian, but the issue goes wider than that and it’s good to have these things unpicked to understand exactly how and why these stereotypes and tired caricatures serve to perpetuate unhelpful, offensive stereotypes that extend well beyond the plate.
  • Ask A Fentanyl Salesperson: This feels like a piece of theatre in workshop (or it does to me, at least). Ben Westhoff, who’s written about the boom in synthetic opioids and Fentanyl in particular, shares transcripts of some of the conversations he had with sellers of the raw chemical compounds which are imported and then combined to produce the drug in the US. There’s something so novelistic about the conversations – a particular type of novel, perhaps, fine, but feels almost like a perfectly-drawn fiction, with the cubicle worker answering questions to smooth the sale, waiting to go home to their apartment and their life and their dreams of maybe becoming a teacher, while on the other side of the world the reporter is up in the small hours, bathed in blue light, tapping away to discover how the other person feels about their small-but-not-insignificant role in killing people half a world away.
  • We Are The World: This has been everywhere this week, and with good reason – the story of the night in January 1985 when some of the biggest musical talents in the world came together in a studio to record charity single ‘We Are The World’. This is just SO much fun throughout, though almost certainly doesn’t do justice to the industrial quantities of cocaine that you just know were consumed throughout the whole process. Great details about – Michael Jackson’s nose falling off, Dylan being all insecure – but it’s the overall impression it gives of all these people being sort-of halfway normal (which obviously they are not – see the aforementioned cocaine, and the 80s, and the money) is what makes it joyous.
  • The Onion on 9/11: It’s widely accepted that satirical website The Onion came of age after the attacks on the Twin Towers – certainly it was the first time I’d heard of it, when the spoof headlines started doing the rounds in the week after the event and we were all forced to confront the fact that Americans really were good at dark humour, occasionally maybe better than we are. This is a brilliant look back about how that edition came together, and how the writers managed to find the perfect note between sentimentality, grief, anger and fear that made all the gags sing. The story about the cake in the shape of the American Flag is an almost perfect piece of headline writing imho.
  • Charles Webb Enters Heaven: Charles Webb wrote the novel The Graduate, famously then turned into the film starring Dustin Hoffman. He died recently; this piece is a short tribute to his life. Part of me wants to check how much of what is written in here is true, but most of me doesn’t – I would be DEVASTATED to discover that some of the detail is fabricated. There is so much to love here, but I guarantee that you will do at least one double-take as you read through, and by the end you will have vowed to do at least one more truly preposterous thing before you die.
  • The Secret History of Rick Wakeman: When I was a kid growing up, Rick Wakeman would regularly appear on TV panel shows and things – I never had any clue who he was, as it seems as though much of the history of UK prog in the 1970s had basically been scrubbed from pop culture memory by that point, possibly as a result of collective embarrassment. All I remember is a vaguely genial man with appalling teeth and hair who seemed to be revered beyond all proportion by a sizeable proportion of the other famous. Now, though, I understand – what a MAD career. I imagine this only skims the sides of the oddness, but it’s a wonderful story, taking in prog rock, maverick career choices and the (still utterly incomprehensible) decision to stage a rock opera about King Arthur, on ice. I have never knowingly listened to prog, but I am almost tempted to start now.
  • GPT-3 Examples: GPT-3, as I am sure you all know by now, is the next great AI text generator, following on from GPT-2 which is the current gold-standard. GPT-3 is only accessible to a few, due largely to the fact that it requires an inordinate amount of processing juice to do anything meaningful with at present, but the person behind this website whose name I can’t seem to discern (sorry, person!) has done a lot of playing and published some of the more interesting examples here. There are a LOT of words, and it’s of varying quality, but here’s an example – this is…pretty good (I am particularly impressed by its ability to loop back to previous events, something GPT-2 could only do by getting stuck): “In ancient Egypt, there was once a king who was told by an oracle that a great danger was to come to his country. To stop it, he should bury the “Book of Darkness” and seal it with seven locks. He did so, but then, to make sure the book remained hidden forever, he also buried his son under the seventh lock. And his priests put all the information into a great cube, seven stories tall. But when the sun grew weak, crops died and people became ill. They believed the “Book of Darkness” was responsible. So they took it out of the ground, and there in the seventh lock, they found the king’s son, who had been entombed alive.”
  • Soul Power: Visiting a music festival in Pakistan. This is superb; it reads like a half-stoned, slightly hippyish account, with a touch of Gonzo in the styling, but author HM Naqvi laces it with enough erudition that you emerge knowing marginally more about the music that compels literally millions of people to congregate in the mountains each year than you did previously. Will absolutely make you want to cling onto the outside of a ramshackle VW camper and embark upon some sort of distressingly-cliched adventure tourism..
  • Journey to the Centre of North America: I love this piece SO MUCH. It’s not really about the centre of North America, except when it is – it’s about the concept of a ‘centre’ as a thing, and about place and identity and belonging and community and stories and family and history and honestly it is a really, really great piece of writing that you should read even if you don’t care a jot about what might or might not be the most centrally-located town in the US.
  • Poetry for Sale: Finally this week, Rishi Dastidar with his poem, written to accompany a BBC radio documentary about poetry and advertising, all about the art and the pain and the whoredom of writing copy to sell tat. If you work in advermarketingpr but you wish you didn’t, if you hate yourself every time you waste a perfectly-turned, well-metered sentence on an empty strategic promise for the latest hot podiatry brand to hit the streets, or if you simply enjoy good writing, this is a must. Honestly, even if you don’t normally ‘do’ poetry, Rishi’s will convert you – I would say this even if he wasn’t a friend of mine, honest, his writing really is that good.

By Mark Tansey

AND NOW, MOVING PICTURES AND SOUNDS!:

  1. Rob Manuel’s ‘Longwave’ project – as featured on here a few weeks ago – gets its first single and video. This is ‘The Tripping Forecast’ – enjoy, it’s far, far better than it needs to be:
  1. Actually there are only two videos this week, mainly as I didn’t see anything that interesting. This, though, I really rather enjoyed, and made me wish I was young and beautiful (I would say ‘again’, but honesty and a painful recollection as to the harsh reality of my adolescence compels me not to) – if I were going out this weekend to get all fcuked up and end up spangled in a park at 7am, this is what I might want that night to feel like. It’s by Prospa and it’s called ‘Ecstasy’ and that’s it for this week so BYE BYE TAKE CARE I LOVE YOU BYE PLEASE DON’T GET SO CNUTED THIS WEEKEND THAT YOU DIE PLEASE TAKE CARE AND REMEMBER TO DRINK WATER AND PLEASE DON’T GET INTO ANY FIGHTS NOT THAT I IMAGINE READERS OF WEB CURIOS TO BE PARTICULARLY BELLICOSE IF I’M HONEST WITH YOU ANYWAY TAKE CARE AND SEE YOU NEXT WEEK I LOVE YOU TAKE CARE HAVE FUN I LOVE YOU BYE!:

Webcurios 26/06/20

Reading Time: 32 minutes

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

NEXT, ENJOY THE EXCELLENT MIX FROM LAST WEEK’S ‘LOVE WILL SAVE THE DAY’ NEWSLETTER!

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

LAST UP IN THIS WEEK’S MIXES, THIS IS A BRILLIANT HOUR OF CUT-UP OLD-SCHOOL HIPHOP BY THE PLEASINGLY-NAMED ‘SKRATCH BASTID’!

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.

By Christine Buchsbaum

AND NOW, MOVING PICTURES AND SOUNDS!:

  1. Jaws. On YouTube. Except it’s fan-made. Honestly, the dedication here is IMMENSE:
  1. 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):
  1. 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:
  1. 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:
  1. 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!:

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Webcurios 19/06/20

Reading Time: 33 minutes

Has the optimism persisted, I know you’re all dying to know? Is Web Curios once again going to be suffused with the sunny glow of potentially-better-tomorrow?

Yeah, why not?! Come on, it’s Friday and I’ve spent the vast majority of the week at a point of just-simmering rage at the seeming incompetence of almost everyone I’m forced to deal with professionally (in the unlikely even that anyone I know reads this, rest assured I don’t mean you – I mean the other ones, honest) – let’s cheer it up a bit! The weather’s going to be…ok! We’re down a threat level! It’s all going to be ok!

And even if it’s not, frankly, there’s fcuk all we can do about it, so who cares? It’s time once again to dislocate your metaphorical jaw and chug down this week’s thick, mealy infosoylent – all of the content, none of the joy, but there’s just so much!!!!

I am still Matt, this is still Web Curios – who, if you don’t me asking, the fuck are you?

***PUBLIC SERVICE ANNOUNCEMENT – IMPERICA MAGAZINE ISSUE FIVE (NO SMALL FEAT FOR A TINY PUBLISHER WHOSE BUDGET IS LITERALLY WHAT EDITOR PAUL MANAGES TO SCRAPE TOGETHER BUSKING ON THE COWLEY ROAD (HE CALLS IT BUSKING, YOU MIGHT HAVE ANOTHER NAME FOR IT)), IS OUT NOW!! IT’S ONLY £3, AND TO MY MIND IS THE BEST YET, WITH SOME REALLY INTERESTING ESSAYS ON TIKTOK, CUMMINGS, MUSICAL HUMOUR, BLM AND MORE BESIDES, FROM A GENUINELY FRESH AND DIVERSE RANGE OF YOUNG VOICES. IT IS A BARGAIN, YOU SHOULD BUY IT, IT IS LESS THAN A PACKET OF FAGS FFS AND WILL PROBABLY DO LESS DAMAGE IN THE LONG RUN!***

By Myra Yi

LET’S KICK OFF WITH A SELECTION OF QUEER COUNTRY TRACKS WHICH I ENJOYED FAR MORE THAN I WAS EXPECTING AS I USUALLY FCUKING HATE COUNTRY MUSIC!

THE SECTION WHICH THINKS THAT THE ABILITY TO OPT OUT OF POLITICAL ADVERTISING WOULD MAKE MORE SENSE IF THERE WAS A USEFUL, WORKING DEFINITION THAT DETERMINES EXACTLY WHAT IS ‘POLITICAL’, OR INDEED IF THE BEST WAY TO GET AROUND THIS OPT-OUT WASN’T TO MAKE POLITICAL CONTENT SO FROTH-MAKINGLY PUNCHY THAT IT GETS ORGANIC REACH FROM THE RAGE-SHARES:

  • FB and Voting: Obviously the section heading above is a bit of an easy kick to give Facebook – I am broadly of the opinion that the steps announced this week in the US (to whit, the ability for voters to opt out of all ‘political’ advertising should they so desiree and a degree of improved transparency on ad funding and total campaign spend) are good-if-insufficient – but at the same time (and I know that I am boring about this, and I am sorry, and I will keep this short) it once again highlights the absolute impossibility of regulating the spread of political content on a platform of 2+billion people during an era in which it’s fair to say that seemingly everything in the world is, as it happens, a deeply political question. There’s also something a bit troubling to me about the combined drive to get as many people to vote as possible – again, A Good Thing – and the rollout of these measures; feels a bit like encouraging people to play a high-stakes game whilst simultaneously making it easier than ever for them to do so without actually knowing the rules, the stakes, or the punitively-high vig the House charges on its loaned-out chips (so to speak). Still, at least we now now where the bar is for Presidential ads getting removed on the platform – nazis!
  • FB Adds New Features to its Portal Home Videochatboxthing: Apparently the Facebook Portal is a legitimately good piece of kit if you’re in the market for a little counter-based video-and-voice assistant thing; it’s also, obviously, creepy by nature by dint of the fact it’s made by Facebook. This latest slew of updates, though, do all sound quite useful, in particular the updates to videocalling; you can now launch Rooms direct from a Portal device, making it a decent potential option for small (
  • FB Testing Ability To Share ‘Collections’ More Widely: I tend to try not to comment on stuff that hasn’t actually happened yet, but this caught my eye mainly as it’s not so much parking its tanks on Pinterest’s lawn as it is building a tank factory next door and starting to aggressively crank up production. Facebook’s ‘Collections’ feature was its AN Other scrapbooking functionality launched 18m ago; apparently you’ll soon be able to share these Collections more widely than just your Facebook network, making them public and collaborative with the wider world. File under ‘more evidence (if you still needed any, because, well, it’s not like this should be news now’) that Facebook really, really doesn’t think any other platforms need to exist’.
  • How The Insta Algo Works: This is reasonably-interesting, if you happen to want a partial-explanation of the factors that go into content weighting within the Instagram algorithm. The post’s not on an official Insta page, but the content’s all culled from a Story that was posted by Instagram and so is seemingly legitimate; this won’t, to be clear, give you the secret keys to the even-more-secret VIRAL KINGDOM OF CONTENT, but it will give you something you can point to when your idiot clients and colleagues make spurious claims about ‘how Insta works’ (unless you are that idiot client or colleague, in which case I’m not really sure how to help you).
  • Audiotweets: I think I put a longread in here about three or four years ago about the particular cultural phenomenon that is the Whatsapp voicenote in Brazil, and how people there had fallen into the (to my mind inexplicable, but wevs) habit of leaving each other what were basically call-and-response voicemails rather than typing; basically I don’t understand voice messages on social media, but Twitter’s decided that that’s the next feature update we need and so here it is (for some users, on iOS only). Leaving aside the question of ‘BUT WHY??’, there are some generally sensible measures in here; you can’t reply to a Tweet with a voicenote or quote-RT with a voicenote, which will limit some of the most obvious opportunities for trolling and abuse; that said, it remains to be seen how a platform that already struggles with moderation (1500 MODERATORS!!!) deals with keeping tabs on all this new audio content (this will have to be automated, no? And in which case, using whose software?). It’s also abundantly clear even at this early stage that 99% of all of these will never, ever be worth clicking on or listening to, and that anyone who chooses to communicate on Twitter by posting 140s of audio is a narcissistic sociopath who has no care for the value of your time.
  • The TikTok Algo: Surprisingly transparent post by TikTok, detailing the factors that are taken into account when determining what content is shown to users on their personalised ‘For You’ section of the app. There’s nothing in here that’s particularly startling – although I am interested in the classification systems they apply when analysing the videos users create – but, per the Insta link a few back, this is the sort of thing it’s useful to read to stave off the morons.
  • The 2020 Digital News Report: This is by Reuters and Oxford University and made headlines this week for finding that trust in UK media is at an all-time low, especially amongst left-wingers who still haven’t forgiven the largely-right-wing-owned press for unaccountably not backing Jezzus. There’s more interesting stuff in here, though, around online news sources used by consumers worldwide; play with the drop-downs and you can find quite a lot of helpful data. A few observations/questions: 1) this does rather highlight the problem in determining what ‘news’ content is; 2) more people than you’d think, in the UK at least, still consume local media; and 3) HOW ARE PEOPLE STILL LOOKING AT YAHOO! AND MSN?? (as it happens I asked people about this and my friend Scott suggested it might have something to do with where Yahoo! and MSN mail dump you when you logout of your inbox, which seems plausible so thanks Scott).
  • A Guide To Social Media In China in 2020: I am not an expert in Chinese social media – to me, this was hugely interesting and useful, but that might be because I’m a know-nothing bozo. Still, if you’re after a seemingly-comprehensive overview as to what platforms do what stuff for whom, this is nothing if not girthy.
  • Lions Live: Thanks to Alice for sharing this with me; whilst obviously none of you will be blowing the client’s budget at Cannes this year having instead blown it on endless, tedious, repetitious ‘webinars’ (can we kill that word now please?) in which you speculate in ever-decreasing-circles about WHAT IS TO COME IN THE NEW NORMAL AND HOW THAT AFFECTS OUR STRATEGY?, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t still get to enjoy it. Here, then, is the website for this year’s virtual Cannes – all of the talks that noone gets any real value from, with none of the sunshine, pink wine and cocaine left over from MIPIM. As far as I can tell this is all free, and probably doesn’t really deserve my tedious snark – there might well be some genuinely interesting talks and discussions which you could find properly useful. That said, the first thing I saw on the page was a session entitled ‘Agile Storytelling: Creating Beyond The Jargon’ and, well, OH CANNES!!! You could, though, play a wonderful-if-suicidal game of Cannes Drinking Bingo around the words ‘ally’, ‘representation’,’diversity’, ‘change’, ‘purpose’, ‘new normal’ and the like.
  • Creative Industry Freelance Dayrates: A spreadsheet collecting dayrates being charged by ‘creative’ freelancers (this is mainly an adland thing, so photographers, CDs, strategists, planners, etc), with details about their location, years’ experience and ethnicity, etc. Useful to see whether you’re pitching yourself broadly within the right range for your market position, but also to laugh at some of the sums being quoted in here – social strategist, whose cost varies, inexplicably, from £200-950 a day, may you always find the morons willing to pay that topline rate!
  • Everyday Experiments: This is a really nice piece of branded content work. The site asks the open question ‘how will tomorrow’s technologies shape the way we live at home?’, and then presents various interesting digital design experiments which answer the question in different ways. It’s interesting, well-designed, contains lots of things I hadn’t seen or thought about before, and were it not for the fact that the design is so perfect I would have had no idea that it was promo for IKEA. There’s no brandname anywhere unless you click RIGHT through, but at the same time the way they have used colour and space and type throughout the site makes it abundantly clear who it’s by without needing to check. I am sure people who are actually good at branding and design could talk about why this works with far more clout and clarity than I, but personally I was hugely impressed by this.
  • Light Is Time: Then, there is this – a VERY shiny website by Citizen watches about, er…physics? Watches? “A chronicle of Citizen’s pursuit of the essence of time”, apparently. Honestly, this is so pretty and so utterly, utterly nonsensical (although I concede that this may be an effect of translation and there is possibly a purity and clarity to this in the original Japanese that I am totally ignoring) – look, just read the ‘About’ section for a taste: “Time is light and light is time. The universe began with the Big Bang, creating both time and light in an instant. The sun rose up from beyond the horizon, flooding our planet with light and human beings created the concept of time by observing the cycles of the moon shining down in the dark of night.” Hang on, though, did the Big Bang create time or did humans? I AM ALREADY CONFUSED, CITIZEN WATCHES!! Beautiful.

By Coco Bergholm

NEXT, WHY NOT ENJOY THIS VERY WEEKEND-Y HOUSE MIX BY ROB TIREA!

THE SECTION WHICH HOPES NOONE IS PLANNING ‘WE’RE DOWN TO LEVEL 3’ STREET PARTIES PLEASE, PT.1:

  • Their Names: Another powerful memorial to black lives lost to police across the US in the past 20 years, this site compiles the names of all those African Americans who have died as a result of interactions with the US police force – not just their names but details of their deaths taken from news and police reports.
  • BIPOC-Owned Studios: A Google sheet compiling details on black, indigenous or people of colour-owned design studios. It’s international in scope, though currently skews US; there are currently 14 on here in London, for those of you reading this in the UK, so worth remembering next time you’re looking for external support and thinking about how you can support diversity in all aspects of your industry including procurement. There’s a submission form here as well to contribute other names and details of studios should you know of instances that should be included but aren’t – this is a great resource, bookmark and share it.
  • No Paint: This is, I promise, the lovely, soothing, patient art toy you need at the end of a loooong week. No Paint is a bit hard to describe (and, much as I love it, its creators don’t do a significantly better job of it than I’m about to), but effectively it’s a small, in-browser art toy which creates random patterns on canvas in a variety of different styles. You, the controller, have only two options – click ‘no paint’ to cancel the current effect and try a new one, or click ‘paint’ to accept the current effect’s visual and apply a new one. Through this simple, binary interface you can, with patience, create some really quite lovely, surreal, 8-bit-ish pieces of random…’art’? It’s worth popping over to Reddit and checking out the associated thread for some examples of the types of things people have been able to wring out of this – honestly, I love the web but equally it’s awful for making you realise quite how bad you are at something compared to a lot of preternaturally-talented strangers, but it really is worth playing with and making your own.
  • Algonuts: A new Shardcore joint, at least unless the famously-litigious estate of Mr Shulz come in with the cease-and-desists: “Charles Shulz, the creator and artist of the Peanuts comic strip, produced thousands of comics over 50 years. As a result, he is one of the few artists who have enough ‘content’ to train a styleGAN2 model. By extracting each frame from nearly 18,000 comic strips I was able to harvest 63,800 distinct images featuring Charlie, Snoopy, Peppermint Patty and the rest of the gang – plenty of food for the network to chew on. Several hundred hours of computational time later, a network containing the ‘visual DNA’ of Peanuts emerged.” The results are wonderful – surreal, Dali-esque (sorry, but it’s a bit true) half-dreamed imaginings of Snoopy and the rest, spitting out words that, if you squint, might halfway resemble actual letters…as an exploration of the nature of artistic intent and creation its excellent, and even if you don’t care about the high-concept it’s quite mesmerising watching the vaguely-Pepperminty Patty-esque shapes coalesce and evanesce before your eyes.
  • Makespaces: Another week, ANOTHER experimental foray into spatial digital environments which let you have ROOMS and COWORKING and are JUST LIKE AN OFFICE except with none of the tedious viral load or anyone cooking fish in the microwave. The website for Makespaces, unfortunately, contains a videofile so fcuking heavy that it’s making my laptop wheeze like a tubercular urchin from times past, hence this is going to be a relatively quick writeup – basically it’s a combined shared browsing videochat experience, with the ability to have easily-grouped conversations and with the now-so-trendy addition of spatial audio so that you can hear people more or less clearly based on their proximity to you in what seems to be basically an infinite browser canvas. Look, I am making a dog’s dinner of explaining this so I suggest you have a look yourselves; I’m not joking about the video up top, though.
  • Job Title Heroes: My friend Ed apparently inadvertently led to the creation of this subReddit this week, and now it exists and it is glorious. Its purpose is solely to collect examples of excellent job titles seen in the wild – many of them come as screencaps of astons from TV documentaries, and many of them have a whiff of the peerless ‘Daytime Snaps’ about them (see a recent BBC Breakfast guest, introduced solely as ‘Rick and Morty Expert’). The cynic in me suspects photoshop in a few of them, but suspend your disbelief and enjoy speculating as to which of these professions is the BEST (personal shout out here for the ‘Coffee Cake Expert’, a role I now absolutely aspire to).
  • Basher: This is a great site which is sadly not as good as it could be because, well, there are people involved. Basher’s premise is simple – you sign up and you get to play a simple game where you’re presented with stories collaboratively written by other users. Anyone can suggest the next word in a sequence, the idea being that you can collaboratively-create nonsensical collaborative stories in the classic Exquisite Corpse fashion – these submissions then get voted on, so that there’s an element of peer review, and you only get the chance to start adding your own new word suggestions once you’ve earned some baseline moderation chops. Which is a really fun idea that I was quite excited to try, and then I did, and every third word was ‘anime’ or ‘tiddies’ (I am sorry, but it was – I know that this is the worst word in the English language and I promise not to use it in here ever again) or ‘butt’ or ‘poop’ or, and I will never understand the popularity of this meme, ‘Shrek’. It might be more fun when the children have gotten bored, but sadly in its present state it’s more of an interesting idea than anything actually fun (unless of course you want to collaborate on scatalogical short stories about Shrek and what is his seemingly chronic IBS, in which case you will love this).
  • Will Hulsey: A rare instance of a WONDERFUL Twitter thread. Many, many years ago I reckon circa 2011) I included an image of a pulp magazine cover which featured a man being attacked by what seemed to be a pack of ravening mustelids with the accompanying copy ‘WEASELS RIPPED MY FLESH!’; now, 9 years(ish) later, this thread appears, by the excellent Pulp Librarian Twitter account, which details the work of the artist behind that and many more such covers of a very similar nature, one Will Hulsey, a man who knew what he could and couldn’t draw (could: animals, men, blood, barely-constrained breasts, TERROR; couldn’t: seemingly, legs). This is JOYOUS, and surprisingly educational when it comes to the art of magazine cover illustration.
  • Bird Library: Absolutely the purest and gentlest link in Curios this week, this is the BIRD LIBRARY – a birdhouse built in the shape of, er, a small library! With a webcam! Basically if you like the idea of watching the birds of North America occasionally popping into a VERY SMOL library and sitting at (well, on) a desk whilst eating seed and generally just doing their avian thing, you will adore this. There’s also a gallery of photos with gentle grandparent-humour captions, and generally this is so, so lovely I might cry (please can noone out the seemingly-nice individuals behind this as nazis, at least not for a little while?).
  • Hey: I like email as a rule – I am a fan of asynchronous communication, I like the fact that it accommodates longform or shortform, and it beats the fcuk out of having to actually talk to people. That said, it’s fair to say that much if not all webmail is a mess; Gmail’s conversation threading is a mess, as is Outlook’s (don’t get me started on the way they do fcuking attachments), and there’s a whole load of stuff that you feel should be there but, well, isn’t. Hey is a new email product launched this week which is designed to eliminate at least some of those frustrations with a host of seemingly really rather good features, such as a bulk ‘reply later’ feature, three-teir email triage, automatic gating of first-time correspondence and a whole host of thoer stuff besides. It’s a paid-for service, which might be a barrier for some, but it’s also $99 a year which seems fair should this work as promised. There’s some tedious argument with Apple going on at the moment which means that it might not be as easy to get on iOS as you’d hope, but for desktop and Android it could be a solution worth looking at.
  • 68 to 05: Cracking personal music project (which I discovered via Lauren’s increasingly-essential newsletter; ask to be added to the subs list by emailing her at superlau77 AT Gmail DOT com) – “In January of 2020, I found myself continuing a nearly two-year run of being on the road nonstop, touring in support of my books. This left me with endless time in hotel rooms, or on airplanes. I began to think about my lifetime of loving music, and wanted to make a family tree, of sorts. A tree of influence, attempting to pinpoint the arc of years that made me the music listener and lover I became today. Drawing on music that my parents and their parents listened to, the music my older siblings brought into the house, and the music my crew and I united over when I finally had the money to buy my own albums. I went from some of the first songs I remembered hearing, and traced influence, and lineage, both forward and backwards. What I landed on was a long stretch of years: 1968 to 2005.” Comprising playlists (they’re not complete for every year, so worth checking back periodically), photos, albums, magazine covers, each year is a look back through someone else’s eyes at musical culture from the past. I LOVE this idea – the concept of being taken on a personal journey through someone else’s version of 1999, say – and I would love to see it explored further; in my head now there’s a really interesting branching narrative series bringing together personal stories about people’s pasts, year by year, with points of commonality and intersection and divergence marked on some sort of massive, interactive visual timeline…it’s a real shame I can’t actually make anything and I’m too old and lazy to learn, really.
  • The Horny Census: Also from Lauren (see, you really should sign up) comes The Horny Census, a project by someone named Allison (probably not the LFC goalkeeper but you never know) which is exploring female sexuality and desire for a forthcoming book. In their words: “horny explores the personal/political/cultural moments and events that have reshaped women’s attitudes towards sex/dating/their own horniness. i’ll be telling a lot of my own stories of horn and i want to hear all of yours, too. i’ve created this fun thing called The Horny Census, to collect stories/opinions/thoughts from as many women as possible.” It’s all anonymous, so if you fancy venting a bit about sex, desire and your conception of both then go right ahead.
  • Auto-uprezzing Photos: This is an academic papre rather than an actual product, but it’s basically going to make the CSI-style ‘zoom in! Upgrade resolution!’ computer bits reality. The research describes how academics at Duke University in the US have been working on an AI-based visual enhancement system which will allow for the, er, enhancement of pixellated faces in photographs so as to enable identification of individuals even in circumstances where they’ve been photographed at distance or low res. Is this a good thing? Will it solely be used for GOOD THINGS? What do you think?
  • Neon Signs: Via the world’s best stationery and design supplies shop in the world (or at least the one with the best Twitter feed) Present & Correct comes this lovely site, an online exhibition of the history of neon signs in Hong Kong with a wonderfully-comprehensive selection of photographs of the city’s illuminated signage through history alongside explanations of the role of the medium in the city’s iconic visual style, tours of the city showing off some of the best examples, alongside content around their design and construction. Neon is ace, you’ll love this.
  • You Can Now Book Zoom Calls With Famouses: You might not want to, though, given they’re all Americans you’ve probably never heard of, but still – Cameo is now giving you the option to book someone of the calibre of, say, Lance Bass of NSync fame to appear on your Zoom call for 10 minutes! It’s only for calls of upto 4 people, so no trying to get around the standard booking fees and trying to get him to appear at your virtual conference for $200; still, if you’ve ever wanted to spend 10 minutes grilling Perez Hilton as to whether he feels guilty for being instrumental in birthing some of the worst elements of today’s popular culture sump pit then GET INVOLVED (disappointingly I am almost certain that the famous reserve the right to terminate the call at any time, meaning Mr Hilton is unlikely to get the carpeting he so richly deserves via this platform). The absence of UK celebrities here is galling – DAVE BENSON PHILIPS, THIS IS YOUR TIME TO SHINE!
  • The Quarantine Cat Film Festival: OH YES! This goes live in a few short hours and I imagine the excitement globally is already at fever pitch – if you though that NOTHING good has come out of lockdown and pandemic and associated horrors, think again – a whole FILM has been compiled of clips of cats in quarantine! OH MAOW! It’s seemingly a proper film, with plans for a theatrical release(!) at least across the US, but it’s screening virtually as of mid-afternoon UK time. There’s a pay-what-you-want mechanic attached to it, but I figure if you’re a cat fan then chucking a few quid to the people behind this won’t cause you too much misery.

By Fabio Viale

NEXT, ENJOY THIS TRULY SPECTACULAR D’N’B SELECTION BY DLR!

THE SECTION WHICH HOPES NOONE IS PLANNING ‘WE’RE DOWN TO LEVEL 3’ STREET PARTIES PLEASE, PT.2:

  • Buy Spot: The moment is finally here! After many years of gawping in terrified awe at the quadripedal murderdogs of the future, the clever-if-potentially-insane people at Boston Dynamics have decided to make Spot The Terrifying Robot Dog (not its official name) available for purchase on application, to any corporation that wants one (some of you may recall some past chat about ‘not making this available to any buyer willy nilly’ – turns out Boston Dynamics changed CEO recently and this one seems a little more immediately-concerned with the immediate monetisation of their most-famous roboson and are suddenly a lot more relaxed about what AN Other private corporation might choose to do with its all-terrain indestructible camerabot)! Sadly (or not, depending on how relaxed or otherwise you might be about corporate armies of these things skipping gaily across London Fields policing one’s can consumption of a Friday night) they are only selling to businesses in the US at the moment, but I reckon it can’t be long before someone figures out a loophole. The price? $75k. I have no idea what the Imperica coffers are looking like (though tbh I can hazard a guess), but rest assured my campaign to get Editor Paul to buy one and call it ‘Matt’ starts here.
  • Divebomber Dave: Dave is a bird. Dave doesn’t like it when people encroach upon his (we don’t know the gender of the bird but someone’s called it Dave and, honestly, I’m fine with that) patch, and Dave expresses this via the medium of aggressively flying at their heads, beak-first. Which, on reflection, makes it sound more like Dave’s a female protecting her nest – DAVINA! Anyway, this is a TikTok account and it’s quite funny.
  • The NYC Traffic Archive: Not interesting interesting, fine, but the sort of civic digital project which I always think is indicative of the very best of open, public data – this is an initiative by New York Mesh (itself an excellent project designed to extend low-cost, high-quality broadband access to all residents of NYC, regardless of income) which works to archive and make searchable footage from the city’s traffic cameras, meaning they can be accessed by anyone for any purpose – most likely, America being what it is, for those seeking support from a legal perspective. Not flashy or exciting, but a reminder of why public information sets are important and why open access civic data is a boon.
  • Quament: Or, more accurately, Redditalerts – the site seems to promise that it will eventually open itself up to a wider range of sources, but at present its functionality is limited to Reddit. Still, though, it’s potentially really useful for anyone looking to keep track of themes and topics across the site and who don’t have the money to pay for a proper digital monitoring product a la Brandwatch. You simply type in your keywords, either for the whole of Reddit or for individual subs, and Robert is your father’s brother – notifications get sent to your platform of choice. It’s simple, but equally seemingly effective and crucially free.
  • The International Grizzly Bear Committee: Sadly not a committee composed of the world’s grizzly bears, but instead instead one comprised of humans which “formed in 1983 to help ensure recovery of viable grizzly bear populations and their habitat in the Lower 48 states through interagency coordination of policy, planning, management, and research.” To be honest it was the name more than anythingt that tickled me about this, and then I got into the section about bear resistant products and now I want to only dress in anti-grizzly kevlar til the day I die (not by bear).
  • Ampled: This is a really interesting idea; Ampled is basically ‘Patreon, but specifically for musicians’, with the idea that it’s a community and artist-owned endeavour rather than one spawned from the horror of VC. I am torn with things like this – on the one hand I think it’s a good initiative and that artists should absolutely be paid for their work; on the other, I am not totally convinced that the world’s relationship with cultural content hasn’t shifted somewhat irrevocably over the past three decades, to the extent to which we simply do not ascribe the same material value to cultural output as we used to and as such there simply isn’t the same potential market for artists to monetise themselves as they used to. I hope I’m wrong, though – regardless, if you make music and think you have a fanbase that might want to support you on a regular basis, this could be worth a look.
  • That Thread About Bees: You probably saw this already this week – it has done NUMBERS – but in case not then I highly recommend this thread (again, not something I say that often) which takes as its starting point a photograph of a beehive which has been something of an internet staple for a while now but which inexplicably got a new lease of life in recent weeks; the author, Steve Byrne, takes you on his journey as he tries to get to the bottom of where the original image came from, and when, and who made it, and why, and in so doing tells a very modern story about information and provenance and truth and collective mythology and how it’s getting harder and harder and harder to determine provenance online, and how fewer and fewer people care. As an aside, when I saw this picture doing the rounds again I tried to research when I’d first seen it, but was entirely incapable of doing so because of the accreted layer of clickbait history that accumulates each time it resurfaces on Facebook again – this is a frivolous example but something which I think is going to become an interesting and increasingly-knotty problem over the next decade or so (I feel this is the point at which an infinity of bearded men shout ‘BLOCKCHAIN!’ at me until I kill myself).
  • Toy Faces: Diverse, 3d CG renders of cartoony people, free to download and use however you see fit, created by Amrit Pal. Not only is this a useful thing, but these are far better pieces of design than they needed to be.
  • EZbiolink: On the one hand, this is yet another one of those ‘hey, let us make you an easy one-stop homepage for all your various social links that you can use as a universal profile’ and as such of no interest at all; on the other hand, this lets you do all sorts of clever retargeting stuff with FB and other pixels, etc, which I’ve not seen before in this sort of shovelware and which therefore makes it potentially worth a look.
  • Flipo Flip: I feel that someone somewhere must already have done the job of scraping all Kickstarter listings to work out which combination of keywords guarantees you the biggest multiplier on your initial goal – I would imagine ‘stress relieving’ and ‘toy’ would both feature quite large in the eventual wordcloud. So it is with Flipo Flip, a simple executive toy which uses clever weighting and potential energy to basically become an infinitely-flipping metal dominothing (here I am laying bare before you my lack of understanding of either physics or object design!) and which has had £250,000 punted at it with nearly a fortnight to go. What I love about this – other than the fact that these people have raised more money than many people will earn in a lifetime for what is effectively a nicely-milled piece of weighted steel – is the lengths that they go to in the description to position it as a FUN TOY that is worth your investment. Look! You can spin it! You can race them! I feel they missed a trick here by not repurposing the Ren & Stimpy classic ‘Log!’ as part of their campaign.
  • Fcuk Trump: On the one hand, one might argue that the past four years have shown up the artworld’s inability to land a glove on the truly powerful, and the paucity of the artistic response to political horror here in Q121C. On the other, fcuk Trump. This website is collecting works by artists from across the world who want to express their inevitable distaste for the sitting President and who are posting their work here to be shared, promoted, distributed and used as protest work in election year. Is it depressively defeatist to ask whether the culture wars have rendered all this moot, and to wonder whether the capacity for culture to change minds rather than simply stoke division and argument has diminished beyond saving? Yes, it probably is; fcuk Trump. Oh, and Johnson and Bolsonaro and Orban and Salvini and the rest.
  • Travel Local: SO CLEVER by the people at The Pudding, this time using data from review sites to compile lists of the best visitor attractions across the US as judged by the people who know best, those who live in the local area. Not only is this (as always with their work) an excellent piece of datavisualisation and webwork, it’s also an object-lesson in smart use of datasets borne of a GENUINE INSIGHT (you don’t get many of those these days, do you? STOP USING IT AS A WORD THAT JUST MEANS ’INFORMATION’ YOU FCUKING CRETINS THIS IS THE REASON I AM SO UNBEARABLY ANGRY WITH YOU ALL THE TIME ahem sorry) to create useful content with an original slant. Another one of those links that will make you want to circulate it to a specific list of people you work with a note that simply reads ‘learn ffs’.
  • The Ross Spiral Curriculum: This is either a legitimately interesting and conceptually novel way of displaying hierarchies and taxonomies of concepts within an educational framework, or it’s Timecube but for learning. I will leave it up to you to decide, but I really hope it’s the former mainly as I like the idea of parents having to navigate the learning spiral to work out what their kids ought to be doing for homework that week.
  • The TRK Wage Calculator: I’ve had a couple of conversations with people over recent weeks around the possibility of more professions moving to a piecemeal working model; I personally think it’s quite likely as we normalise online working and the building blocks of jobs get more granular. If we’re not together in an office, why shouldn’t I go online to find someone cheap-but-well-reviewed to, say, write my press release, or chase the journalists, or do the scamps, or whatever? There’s literally no reason at all this couldn’t equally be applied to traditionally more ‘valuable’ work like ‘strategy’ or ‘planning’ either, to my mind, but maybe that shows how little I know about anything. Anyway, that’s all by way of a longwinded preamble to this site, which lets you calculate exactly how fast you’d need to work and how much you’d have to charge to be able to earn anything even approaching a living wage through Amazon’s piecemeal work marketplace Mechanical Turk – the answers will, unsurprisingly, not fill you with joy at the prospect of a future in which many more jobs have been reduced to this sort of system.
  • Folding in CSS: This may not mean much to lots of you, but as I think I’ve mentioned before I have long had a soft spot for MAD magazine – its (I think) longest-serving artist Al Jaffee retired recently, he who was responsible among other things for the mag’s infamous and infinitely-inventive folding-gag covers (click the link, you’ll see what I mean). In tribute, Thomas Park has created some code in CSS that mimics the particular folding action of the page that was required to make the gags work – honestly, there’s something so lovely about this (and it’s a nice piece of code too).
  • Free Textbooks From Springer: There is a LOT of stuff here, across a wide range of disciplines; no idea how much of this is relevant to UK curricula, but, hey, even if it’s not it might still be worth looking at. LEARNING FOR ITS OWN SAKE!!
  • Lee Carballos Putting Challenge: My girlfriend is the world’s biggest Simpson’s fan (even recent series, she’s that undiscerning) – even if you’re not, though, you’ll quite possibly enjoy this small game, based on a throwaway gag from an old episode and which lets you play LEE CARBALLOS PUTTING CHALLENGE in all its retro glory (it’s not very glorious, if you don’t mind a tiny spoiler).
  • September 2020: Obviously what I am about to say is coloured by the fact that I live in the UK and that I am being governed by people whose unique (but OH SO BRITISH!) combination of hubris, ignorance, venality and entitlement has contributed to us staring down the barrel of some pretty iffy outcomes from Phase 1 of the COVIDhorror, but it does feel very much like we’re done with lockdown now, and that the distancing thing’s not really hanging around for much longer either (the fact that I can go to a themepark with 300 strangers but not to a party with 8 friends and other legal idiosyncrasies of that ilk may be contributing a touch). This little interactive fiction game is a useful reminder of why it’s important to remember it’s not actually about most of us at all – its from the perspective of a student in the US who’s back at college in September; they are, your told at the outset, in a high-risk category as a result of a congenital medical condition which is currently flaring up. You play through the student’s day, and very quickly realise the extent to which you are dependent on the consideration of others for your personal safety, and the extent to which the absence of that consideration is a frightening and dangerous thing. One of the best empathy simulators I’ve played in an age, and that’s a compliment I promise.
  • A New Life: You’ll need to download this, but it’s worth it. A beautiful love story game, with gorgeous illustrations and multiple endings – it may not have escaped your attention, but I’m not exactly overburdened with emotion and I’m hardly what might be described as ‘sentimental’; still, this captivated me like few other things this week, and I’d urge you to give it a try even if you don’t normally fcuk with games at all.

By Al Mefer

LAST IN THIS WEEK’S SELECTION OF MUSICAL PICK-ME-UPS, ENJOY THIS BALEARIC SUNSRISE MIX BY COLE MEDINA!

THE CIRCUS OF TUMBLRS IS ONCE AGAIN SADLY EMPTY!

THE TROUGH OF (INSTA) FEEDS!:

  • Pull Up For Change: An Insta feed documenting the progress or lack thereof of business in increasing and improving black representation within their organisation. Given we’ve spent much of the past three weeks talking about practical things one can do to start to make systemic change around racism and diversity representation, thinking more carefully about the companies we buy things from seems like a fairly low-level bar to start at.
  • The International Eraser Museum: Rubbers, but not the ‘sexy’ kind.
  • Trash Metal Fabrications: The Insta account of a business that makes all sorts of metal garden furniture, primarily for the purpose of burning things inside. If you ever wanted a fire chimney in the shape of Darth Vader’s head then a) FFS grow up man; and b) here!
  • Fcuk Mushrooms: Thanks Rina, for pointing me at this Insta feed of a person who really dislikes mushrooms and seems to have made it their mission to communicate that dislike via the medium of a middle finger to as many mycological examples as possible.

LONG THINGS WHICH ARE LONG!:

  • White Fragility: The piece’s title is specifically about Portland’s white fragility – the author anchors the piece in her experience of living in the bastion of white, West Coast US liberalism – but the geography is unimportant, and the essay’s themes are relevant and important whether you’re in Portland, Portsmouth or Palermo. Please do read it – it’s really great writing, aside from anything else, but also is a remarkably clear articulation of how this stuff works: “White people, understand that this country was built for no one but you. Everything that you know and enjoy today is a byproduct of white supremacist patriarchal capitalism. Everything.” It’s sort of fundamental really.
  • The Case for Reparations: This essay by Jason Hickel is a couple of years old now, but it’s worth reading now in the wake of the statements made by Lloyd’s of London, Greene King and others, acknowledging their roots in the slave trade and offering to make financial reparations to seek to make some (small, distant) amends. The question of how reparations ought to be organised is inevitably hugely-complex, but it feels like the argument that regardless, they very much ought has now seemingly been won; Hickel here makes a cogent case as to why; as the essay is taken from the text of a debate in the Durham Union, it contains a nice back-and-forth dismantling the arguments from the other side as to why reparations are not in fact appropriate; SO many good lines in here, of which “colonization is not a necessary vector for the transfer of knowledge and infrastructure” is a particular favourite. Really recommend this one; if nothing else it’s a good example of how to arrange, structure and, well, argue an argument.
  • Race is an Ad Campaign: On black representation in ad(vermarketingpr)land, or more accurately the lack thereof. So much good stuff in here about what people in agencies can and should practically do to make a positive difference, including this: “For two weeks, I’ve seen dozens of industry leaders wax poetic about justice, equality, listening—and above all, love. Some responses were truly energizing. Many were the liberal equivalent of Thoughts & Prayers. Love is not the answer. The answer is bodies, talent, money, research, media strategies, earned-media ideas, KPIs to measure real wins and losses, deadlines to hold ourselves accountable, and everything else we use to get people to change behaviors. Instead of using all the creativity and data that those same industry leaders brag about to sell consumers yet another brand of soap, what if it was harnessed to get the knee off your neighbor’s neck?”
  • Racism and Bongo: It seems odd to me that bongo as an industry hasn’t gotten more flak for some of the more, er, problematic tropes which it perpetuates, but it seems there’s perhaps something of a reckoning coming. This Rolling Stone article looks at how black workers in the industry have responded to the recent upsurge in focus on racial equality, and how the industry itself is, slowly, seeking to address some of its more egregious missteps. It’s tricky though when so many of the elements and themes that are considered ‘standard’ in bongo here in 2020 are rooted in some staggeringly old-fashioned and outright racist conceptions including the base-level objectification of black bodies, the ‘mandingo’ myth, etc etc.
  • Coronavirus and Kids: This is really, really interesting, but also the sort of thing which I can read objectively as a childless man and think, vaguely, ‘there but for the grace of God’; those of you with children might find this a little more harrowing to read. Still, it’s a great piece of reporting in Buzzfeed US, interviewing over 40 kids of varying ages across the country to find how they have been coping with pandemic life. The headline screams that a generation of kids is being ‘shattered’ by the virus; what’s perhaps a more accurate assessment is that a generation of poor kids is going to be screwed whilst the rich kids will probably be fine. It was ever thus, but if you can read this and not feel for the children in the bottom tercile in this country and elsewhere whose prospects are being fcuked by this, even harder than they were by fate, then, well, you’re harder-hearted than even I.
  • Reeducation in North-West China: A chilling and comprehensive account of the development of the Chinese state’s surveillance and internment infrastructure which over the past 5 years has systematically instituted racially-based controls over the Muslim population in the area. There’s so much of this that is genuinely a bit scary, and quite a few others that are just a bit jaw-dropping – the detail that the Chinese got the idea for a lot of the anti-Uighur stuff from the Snowden transcripts and then basically built their own kit off the back of that in a couple of years is mind-fcukingly impressive-and-horrible (ah, that early-21C doublethink!).
  • I’m a Political Adviser, Ask Me Anything: HUGELY interesting thread on Reddit in which an evidently mid-tier UK govt adviser does an AMA; there are no official secrets spilled here, and you won’t get in the inside scoop on what the backroom staff really think is going on, but if you want a reasonable explanation of the role of advisers in government, the relationship between SPADS, MPs and civil servants, and a slightly-better comprehension of how the machinery of government works then this is very useful indeed. Also contains the truest statement I have ever read about politics in this or any other country, based on my interactions with a reasonable number of politicians from all parties of varying degrees of seniority: “The overwhelming majority of politicians genuinely want to do good things and would pour their heart and soul into fighting for their constituents and the causes they believe in. I think the uncomfortable truth is that a fair chunk of that number, through no failing or fault of their own, just don’t have the ability to do that job well.”
  • The Boogaloo Boys: You know about this lot by now – the latest ‘is it a memey joke or is it a gateway to fash?’ shi1tposters club, with the Hawai’an shirts and the overtly pro-gun attitude, currently blowing up all over TikTok and coming soon to Facebook and Instagram near YOU (if you live in the US at least). This is a reasonable primer as to what it’s all about, insofar as it’s ever possible to tell with this stuff, though my main feeling on reading this was the extent to which you could have written the same article 4 years ago substituting references to Boogaloo Boys with ‘Pepe’. Plus ca fcuking change, eh kids?
  • The Bumblebee Effect: Almost a companion piece of content to the thread up there about the beehives – this one, though, is all about how a photo of a happily dancing middle-aged man at Pride in Brazil has over the course of about 10 years become indelibly associated across Central and Eastern Europe with a particular type of pro-Russian propaganda. It’s an object lesson in communication and semiotics and memetics and all those good things which I imagine all those of you who’ve actually studied critical theory will understand far better than I do.
  • That Mental eBay Stalking Story: The story of how a bunch of guys at eBay started taking a website’s criticism of them a little too personally, to the point of then running a targeted and increasingly-unpleasant campaign of harassment against its owners. If you work in PR and you are honest with yourself you will know of clients you’ve had who would ABSOLUTELY have done this stuff, no questions asked; when I worked with Rockstar Games, they used to have an actual proper list of journalist that had ‘wronged’ them in some way (that could range from perhaps indicating in an oblique way that the Houser brothers were maybe a bit fond of the chang, to something as innocuous as ‘not giving Midnight Club: LA five stars’) who they would refuse review access to and who, I know for a fact, they would totally have menaced had they thought they could get away with it. WE’RE ALL JUST A STEP AWAY FROM THIS, is all I’m saying.
  • Reclaiming Keynes: I studied Economics as part of my IB, and did pretty well in it as it happens; sadly my teacher was 100% accurate in his assessment of me when he wrote in my final report “It is entirely possible that Matt will go on to do exceptionally well at University; it is also entirely possible that he will do this without in fact learning anything at all” – pretty much my whole life there, thanks Alan (RIP)! Anyway, this is a brilliant and fascinating revisiting of everyone’s favourite Bloomsbury set shagger John Maynard Keynes, and why now might be a good time to reconsider his supplyside ideas as we seek ways out of the loooong economic valley (I’m being optimistic, still; OLD Matt would have called it a morass or something similarly bleak. SO MUCH PROGRESS!). Even if you’re not familiar with Keynes or particularly au fait with economic theory, this is accessible enough to be worth a read; I don’t, personally, understand how you can look at this and not go ‘yep, lefty economics simply make more sense’ but I guess that’s my pinko bias talking again.
  • Hello Again Rebecca Black: I can’t imagine that many of you were clamouring for an update on Rebecca Black, former ‘most hated kid on the internet’ from about 2010 (dammit, 2011) – this isn’t a great article or THAT interesting, but I am including it because it was genuinely nice to see that Ms Black appears to have come out the other side of internetfamehorror and ended up quite happy and seemingly well-adjusted, and occasionally it’s nice just to celebrate that sort of thing. Also, in retrospect, Friday sort-of bangs.
  • An Evening of Carnal Delights (As Imagine By My 10yo Self): McSweeney’s on magisterial form. I have never been a 10 year old girl, but for those of you have this might prove the prosey flashback you’ve been waiting for.
  • Wuhan After Lockdown: Beautiful reportung in the San Francisico Chromicle, reporting stories from a variety of residents of Wuhan about their experiences of the pandemic and since. Reads far more like an acclaimed multivoice novel than the sort of thing you’d expect to read in a supplement, and honestly I could have read double the number of these anecdotes. What’s remarkable about it – possibly to do with a certain lack of affect that can sometimes characterise Chinese in translation – is how much it reads like modern Chinese near-future short fiction in passages.
  • Pursuit as Happiness: A confession – I have never really enjoyed Hemingway. Possibly (and excuse the insane hubris of the comparison I’m about to make here, and know that it is not really intended to be a comparison at all) because my writing ‘style’ (ha) is pretty much antithetically opposed to his famously minimal, pared-back prose (what’s wrong with words, Ernie? Come on, play a little!). Still, I enjoyed this newly-published short story – apparently never-before seen – in the New Yorker, which features all the classic Hemingway tropes of the time. Rum, fishing, machismo, THE POWER OF THE OCEAN AND THE MAJESTY OF THE FISH, and some women for ballast. The writing is obviously excellent and if you can deal with the sent of cigar smoke and Bay Rum aftershave and ego then it’s a good read.
  • How We Drink Now: Eight writers discuss their relationship with booze during lockdown, in Guernica. Honest and unashamed, these are lovely, varied vignettes which will hopefully make you feel a bit better about the empties mountain which rattles the neighbourhood every bin-day.
  • The Season of Children: Finally this week, also in Guernica, Emilio Carrero writes a short story about childhood and masculinity and race. This is so, so, so good, proper catch-your-breath writing, and deserves your attention and maybe a drink too. Superb – and it’s a really good week for the longreads, so that’s no little recommendation.

By Jang Koal

AND NOW, MOVING PICTURES AND SOUNDS!:

  1. Let’s be clear – it is NOT POSSIBLE to listen to this mix of all the best bits from 1989’s musical releases and stiill be in a bad mood. The Hood Internet does it again:
  1. This is the second of Donato Sansone’s insane editing masterclasses I’ve featured in here now; why the fcuk all you ad agency types haven’t bought his skills yet is beyond me, this is again an incredible piece of work:
  1. What happens if you get GAN-imagined faces to read William Blake? This! I think the potential for this stuff is huge – we’re just on the cusp of being able to make things at home with this kit that look really, really impressive:
  1. ‘Icebergs’ is ‘an existential, dark comedy consisting of 14 short vignettes, ranging from the mundane to the absurd.’ It’s based on a book of shorts by everyone’s favourite surrealist-du-jour Efthymis Filippou, and really is very good indeed, from the animation to the direction to the material:
  1. Hiphop corner! This is 5-6 weeks old now, but I only found it this week and it made me very happy indeed; I think you will enjoy it. Tevin Studdard is a rapper whose local bakery shut because of COVID; when it reopened, he was so happy he made a song about how ace it is. Honestly, this is far, far better than it has any right to be:
  1. MORE HIPHOP CORNER (thanks Shardcore for the tip)! I think this is from Ghana – it’s by Ay Poyoo and it’s called ‘GOAT’ and whilst it is about him being in typical rapping braggadocio fashion ‘the greatest of all time’, it’s also very much about actual goats:
  1. Finally this week, you may not think you want to watch a video about Advanced Studio Recording Techniques, specifically “Building an Echo Chamber”, but I promise you will not be able to look away and OH LOOK IS THAT THE TIME I REALLY MUST BE OFF AS I HAVE A NOT INSIGNIFICANT AMOUNT OF CLEANING AND GENERAL LIFE ADMIN TO DO BEFORE I ALLOW MYSELF TO GET UNCONSCIONABLY STONED AND PLAY MY NEW VIDEOGAME BUT YOU DON’T NEED TO KNOW ABOUT THAT ALL YOU NEED TO KNOW IS THAT I LOVE YOU AND THAT I CARE ABOUT YOU AND THAT I WANT YOU TO HAVE FUN AND STAY SAFE UNTIL NEXT WE MEET AGAIN AND THAT I THANK EACH AND EVERY ONE OF YOU FOR READING AND I LOVE YOU TAKE CARE I LOVE YOU TAKE CARE I LOVE YOU BYE

Webcurios 12/06/20

Reading Time: 32 minutes

I can’t speak for you, but I feel almost optimistic this week. It does feel a bit like there might be change happening – and, unusually for the past few years, it doesn’t feel like the sort of change that’s going to have us whimpering in terror!

Yes, obviously this is all very previous and obviously nothing has actually practically happened yet, but it does rather feel like there might be some positive momentum in the air. So, for once, there will be no doom and gloom, no Cassandra-like prophecies, no miserable cant about how everything is fundamentally pointing towards the slow, ineluctable death of the universe and entropy and vanishing and the void! NO MORE!

Instead I’ll just wish you all a happy Friday and leave you with this week’s selection of links, the product of the sort of loving, personal curation that you’d probably find slightly awkward and uncomfortable to watch happening in person but which I hope you can enjoy the fruits of.

I am still Matt, this is still Web Curios, and you still evidently haven’t found anything better to do with your time.

By Elyse Dodge

LET’S KICK THIS OFF WITH ROB MANUEL’S GENUINELY GREAT RADIO4 CHILLOUT MIX WHICH IS FAR, FAR MORE MUSICALLY-ACCOMPLISHED THAN IT HAS ANY REAL RIGHT TO BE!

THE SECTION WHICH THINKS THE SNAP STUFF IS GENUINELY INTERESTING AND A RARE EXAMPLE OF 2020 DELIVERING A GLIMPSE AT A FUTURE WHICH IS MARGINALLY LESS OBVIOUSLY DYSTOPIAN THAN THAT WHICH WE’VE SO FAR HAD TO BECOME USED TO THIS YEAR:

  • Facebook Guidance to Community Managers: Facebook is very much doing the right thing here – or at least something which, with a charitable squint looks like the right thing – but this does sort of highlight some of the inherent difficulties in creating a platform shared by ⅓ of the global population and also then having to take responsibility for it not being a toxic hatepit. Facebook’s published some (short but moderately-sensible) guidance for community managers on navigating the current conversation over current and historical social racism, and all the tips are reasonable; learn about the topic before attempting to moderate discussion, ensure the moderation team includes representation from impacted communities, etc. Equally, though, it doesn’t answer the question of ‘how do we enable people to have sensible, healthy, productive conversations around these difficult issues?’, mainly because NOBODY KNOWS. This speaks to the macrocosmic issue here – it’s VERY HARD to do this stuff well even in communities that are contained and reasonably civil and in which there are already bonds of connection between members; doing this stuff at scale in the everyperson wasteland that is The Main Feed is just mind-bogglingly hard at scale, and noone really knows what they are doing (I think I’ve said this before, but it’s quite interesting watching us as a species come to terms with having invented systems and processes and tools and then realising that wow did they come with some not-insignificant negative externalities and how the fcuk are we going to nail that stable door shut, anyone got a hammer?). Apropos nothing, I was looking this stuff up for something else yesterday; know how many full-time moderation staff FB has? 15k. YouTube? 10k. Twitter? 1500.
  • LinkedIn Adds New Retargeting Options: You can now retarget ads on LinkedIn based on %age video views (so, you can target people based on their having watched x% of whatever soul-flayingly dry THOUGHT LEADERSHIP you’ve added to the content sump-pit this week) and on their engagement with LinkedIn Lead Gen ads (so you can target people with ads on LinkedIn if they have opened-but-not-filled-in one of those email capture ad units). This might be useful – and even if it’s not, it gives you one additional way of making your clients’ digital marketing plans marginally more complicated, which is a reason to up the monthly fee requirement if ever I heard one.
  • ALL The New Snap Updates: Annoyingly this dropped overnight, so basically I’ve had about 10 mins to digest this and am going to give you only the most cursory of overviews (it was ever thus). Still, there’s LOADS of stuff in here – honestly, this is a BIG list of interesting additional features – with a few obvious standouts. The trailed WeChat-style mini-apps are here (called ‘Minis’); this will let developers build apps for use inside Snap, much as you used to be able to build apps to use within Facebook (that sound you hear is a lot of older agency digital folk happily flashing back to 2011, when you could with no effort whatsoever build a £500k pipeline simply by building Facebook quiz apps and knock-off Flash games for FMCG brands with more money than sense), which will also allow you to integrate your business’ API directly with Snap so users can avail themselves of your services from within the app (they launch with Headspace, the meditation people, and some others). There’s an announcement of new Lens partnerships, bringing things like plant and animal recognition into the app; new integration with third-party AI for the integration of your own neural nets into the Snap Lens experience, the promise of a ‘local lens’, which will enable users to interact on a persistent AR ‘virtual world’ canvas (honestly, this bit is the most frivolous but one of the more oddly enticing), new original commissions through its ‘Discover’ feature…honestly, this is SO much cool stuff, and further cements my belief that the future of mass-market AR in the short/medium term is very much in Snap’s hands.
  • Snap Launches Dynamic Product Ads in the UK: Oh, yes, and they announced this too (but this was last week and I missed it and tbh I have spunked all my Snap enthusiasm on all the new announcements, so that’s all your getting on this one).
  • Reddit Announces New Content Policy: I was impressed with Ellen Pao’s line about Reddit having to face its responsibilities for acting as a seedbed for the normalisation of racist rhetoric on the mainstream web over the past few years; I was equally quite impressed with the company’s response, which saw Ohanian step back from the board in favour of increasing black representation. I thought this in particular was a good stance, well-expressed: “We will update our content policy to include a vision for Reddit and its communities to aspire to, a statement on hate, the context for the rules, and a principle that Reddit isn’t to be used as a weapon. We have details to work through, and while we will move quickly, I do want to be thoughtful and also gather feedback from our moderators (through our Mod Councils). With more moderator engagement, the timeline is weeks, not months.”
  • New Google Maps Safety Features: Google maps will now show you whether your intended travel route requires you to legally wear a mask during the journey, as well as letting users give an indication of how crowded the route is so as to help others avoid contributing to overcrowding. It’s funny how this is in many respects a very, very future little update, buried underneath the continuing morbid horror of lots of people worldwide dying (not actually funny at all).
  • Brand Responses to Black Lives Matter: Thanks Joey for sharing this with me; this Google Slides doc compiles a host of corporate responses to the murder of George Floyd and subsequent protests, along with the public response each received. It’s worth flicking through these – they’re reasonably international, though with an obvious US focus, and it’s astonishing quite how many companies seem to think that saying something platitudinous on a black background constitutes action. Special shout outs to Amazon, for making a statement about standing in solidarity with black people and against racism but for also sharing camera footage from its Ring systems with over 1300 separate police forces worldwide in partnerships that have been shown to increase racial profiling in communities where they exist, as well as selling its facial recognition tech to state security apparatus in various countries (also, let’s be clear, the company’s moratorium on this, announced yesterday, is for 12 months only; check back in July 2021 and see whether it’s still in force, please); and to L’Oreal, who this week donated a whole 50,000 Euros to anti-racism causes from its pot of $5.5bn recorded profits in 2019. THAT’S THE COMMITMENT TO CHANGE WE ALL WANT TO SEE.

By Samar Baiomy

NEXT, HAVE A RATHER GOOD AND VERY ECLECTIC ALL-VINYL MIX FROM OCCASIONAL CURIOS GUEST DJ TOM SPOONER WHO USED TO LIVE ACROSS THE ROAD FROM ME AND WHO I HAVEN’T SEEN IN 20 YEARS!

THE SECTION WHICH RATHER WISHES THIS DEBATE ABOUT OFFENSIVE STATUES HAD TAKEN PLACE WHEN IT WAS YOUNG SO IT COULD HAVE PETITIONED TO GET THIS ABSOLUTE MONSTROSITY REMOVED, PT.1:

  • Resources For Helping: A Google Doc of resources (specifically, for white people) who want to help address racial inequality and injustice – not, to be clear, a reading list, but instead a selection of causes and charities and initiatives that people can sign up to help out with, whether through charitable donations or offers of practical assistance, volunteering, etc. Look, it’s not my place to tell you what to do or how to do it, and so I shan’t; I’m just leaving this list of things here because I have honestly felt moderately-hopeful this week about the possibility that this time, maybe, there might be some actual practical real change in the manner in which we as a country deal with and talk about race and inequality, and that will only happen if we do stuff that isn’t just on the internet.
  • Mentor Black Businesses: A crowdfunding campaign established by Akil Benjamin, who works with the M&C Saatchi Sunday School, to raise money to offer mentoring to black-owned businesses in the UK. You can either donate, if you can afford it, or apply to offer your time as a mentor; this is a small thing but if you can spare the time (and, er, if unlike me you have some sort of helpful, tangible business advice you can impart) then it could be a useful one.
  • Incalculable Loss: Another excellent and powerful piece of digital design, this website takes the format of the NYT’s frontpage listing the names of Americans lost to COVID-19 and replaces those names with those of African Americans who have lost their lives as a result of police violence: “For months the media has been focused on Covid-19, which data shows has disproportionately killed Black Americans. And due to systemic injustice, Black Americans also continue to die at higher rates from a different public health crisis: police violence. We took the iconic New York Times cover from Memorial Day and featured just some of the names of Black lives lost to police violence alongside the status of their case. Because one day, a vaccine will prevent Covid-19. But without police accountability, this disease will continue to ravage America.”
  • Stranger Fruit: Jon Henry takes portraits of black American mothers and sons. “Stranger Fruit was created in response to the senseless murders of black men across the nation by police violence. Even with smart phones and dash cams recording the actions, more lives get cut short due to unnecessary and excessive violence.”
  • Black Lives Matter Protests 2020: See, it’s this stuff that makes me feel vaguely-hopeful; this map details the BLM protests that have taken place in the US so far (it tracks since 25 May). As of yesterday, it had recorded over 3000, and seeing the spread it’s noteworthy the extent to which it feels like a properly national (and based on what we’ve seen globally, international) movement. Fine, the American midwest’s coverage is still a bit sparse but, well, baby steps and all that.
  • Images of a Global Protest: See above. Look, honestly, if you’ve spent 2020 feeling a bit like everything is just going a bit horribly wrong, this is a wonderful moment to use as something of a small optimism springboard. We might not be able to get rid of this appalling shower of incompetent cnuts who seem to be in charge of the country, fine, but we can possibly do some collective work to address racism, and the volume of people demonstrating this sort of strength of feeling suggests that maybe some sort of change might be achieved.
  • Topple The Racists: Ah, the statues! Statuary does feel like a particularly appropriate vehicle in the Culture Wars, doesn’t it? Yes, I know, fine, the term ‘culture war’ is an invented one used by w4nkers like me to connote some sort of sniffy eagle’s eye moral perspective on whatever social more is the subject of white hot online debate this week and which isn’t necessarily always helpful; equally though, if you can look at any moderately-contentious issue IN THE WORLD and work out within <1s on which side of it that dreadful Hopkins creature, Farage, Darren Grimes and Stephen Yaxley-Lennon will be on (and, by contrast, where you’ll find Owen Jones and Laurie Pennie and James O’Brien and all the lefty avatars) then, well, that feels a bit like a culture war, being waged by proxy, to me. Anyway, STATUES! Look, I get that for many people tearing down statues willy-nilly is ERASING HISTORY; except that doesn’t seem to be what people are suggesting. Just remove them from plinths, put them in museums, record the fact that they were once celebrated but are so no longer and why, preserve the history and move on. WE CAN COMMEMORATE PEOPLE’s ACHIEVEMENTS AND IMPACT AND ALSO ACKNOWLEDGE THE FACT THAT THEY WERE IN MANY RESPECTS CNUTS!!!! PEOPLE AND HISTORY ARE COMPLEX!!!! A NUANCED APPRECIATION OF THIS IS HELPFUL!!! Also, and this isn’t my observation so apologies from whoever I’m nicking it off, if these statues were so important to our conception of national history and identity and if removing them would ERASE THE PAST in some way, then why did literally NO FCUKER know who the subject of the statues were before we all started noticing them this week? IS IT BECAUSE STATUES DON’T ACTUALLY TEACH THE VAST MAJORITY OF PEOPLE ANYTHING??? Yes, yes it is. Anyway, this is a link to a bunch of UK statues whose plinthiness is currently the subject of debate – the site helpfully offers information and historical context around each to let you learn who the person was and why their commemoration is contentious; you’ll learn more about colonial-era history reading these than you ever did at school, without a doubt.
  • Donate 2x: I have featured the US marketingpunkcollectivethingy MSCHF almost every week in here for the past 6 months, and offer no apologies (well, maybe some small ones); almost everything I’ve seen them do has been clever and fun and creatively distinct. This is another example of their skill, this time to proper, positive ends; they’ve observed that many large companies in the US offer 1:1 charitable donation matching to staff, and so have decided to create a national fundraising drive in support of racial justice organisations. The idea is that anyone can donate money; donations then get siphoned through anonymous employees of companies which offer donation matching so as to take advantage of this corporate munificence and thereby getting big companies to donate significant sums to good causes. SO SMART, and a great ur-example of real creativity; using tools and systems and processes in novel ways to achieve different, better outcomes (this is my tinpot definition that I have just written off the top of my head; PLEASE do not feel that you need to tell me why it’s wrong, I promise I almost certainly agree with you).
  • Give Monthly: Smart-if-depressing little bit of design work, which takes the observation that we are all seemingly happy to pay endless <£10 a month subscription fees for digital services (cf Netflix, Prime (DON’T GET PRIME), etc etc) but are far less likely to sign up to give charitable donations on a regular, monthly basis and runs with it. The project imagines reframing charitable causes as monthly streaming subscription services, with a little app-style logo, and invites you to consider a subscription to these alongside your monthly feed of digital Soma. Clever, and neat design, and makes me think that there’s still so much that can and should be done to enable lower-friction charitable giving by digital means (hey, Biz, where’s that donate button on Tweets?).
  • 100,000 Faces: A clever use of ‘This Face Does Not Exist’ – this website presents the faces of 100,000 imaginary Americans, all generated by machine, to give an idea of the scale of actual human loss of the COVID-19 pandemic so far. By the way, the reason I feature so much US stuff around the pandemic is quite simply that I don’t see as much UK digiwork on the subject; let’s be clear, though, as we hurtle towards a 50k death total ourselves, that we have it very bad indeed here too and that the current Tory administration is full of incompetent, self-aggrandising, stupid, arrogant, cruel, self-interested cnuts that noone with half a heart should have voted for in the first place.
  • Antibodies: Sorry, got a little bit angry there. Here, have a FUN WEBTOY by way of a palate-cleanser! Antibodies is a webcamartprojectthing…oh, here: “Antibodies is an interactive experience in the form of a never-ending video call. Participants only show up and do not have to say anything. Anyone can join at any time and all contributions are accepted. The experience uses the webcam to track the face of participants and record their face gestures. It was commissioned by la maison de la culture ahuntsic, in montréal (canada), to replace an exhibition of 3 interactive installations by the same artist.” There’s something nice about being able to switch between the view of your own face, being lightly tracked an manipulated, and that of other, previous visitors, who you get to see mugging and gurning kaleidoscopically as they pass.
  • Window Swap: This is your dose of soothing digital panacea for the week. Window Swap is a project that’s been ongoing through lockdown but which I unaccountably missed (seriously, I will be flagellating myself SO HARD later, and only partly for fun); it’s very simple, you click the button and are presented with a video view (complete with audio) of what someone else sees from their window (or saw at the point when they recorded the video and shared it with the site); you can cycle through different views, or settle on one and experience 10m of being transported to somewhere completely other. Honestly, this really is mesmerising; I recently read Little Eyes by Samanta Schweblin (highly recommended fwiw), whose premise is all about seeing other parts of other people’s worlds through digital eyes, and this very much gives me that feeling; honestly, I lost a good hour to this when I first found it, and I can’t encourage you enough to have a play and see where you end up.
  • Human IPO: Do you think now is a good time to attempt to launch and promote a business based on what is effectively an ownership model for other human beings? I would wager that your immediate answer to that was ‘no, Jesus, of course not, what’s wrong with you Matt?’, which is exactly why you’re not the sort of business visionary who can invent something like HumanIPO, a new service which promises to give you the opportunity to buy shares in people! Just like companies! “Issue, trade and redeem human equity backed by time”, says the homepage, without at any point really explaining what this in fact means. I Tweeted about this yesterday, and got some (admittedly friendly and good-natured) pushback from some cryptolads suggesting it was actually an incredibly-empowering system which enabled anyone to make bank against their future success. Basically the premise is that anyone can offer shares in themselves, which effectively equate to hours of their time; these shares can then be either redeemed or retraded by the original buyers, thereby creating a secondary market which is where, I presume, the people behind this see the money being (“I bought shares in Matt when he was just some pissant newslettermong; now he’s the Benedict Evans of webspaff, though, his value’s rocketed so I’m cashing out; want to pay £3million for two hours of his precious, precious braintime?”). Still, I can’t shake the impression that the most likely value arc for shares in most people will be, well, quite flat at best, and that this whole thing really doesn’t actually work AT ALL when you start thinking about it at a level beyond that of ‘stoned teenager’.
  • PhotoshApp: SORRY I AM SORRY. Still, you don’t expect me to pass up the opportunity for that sort of great pun when I get to bring you the news that there is now a photoshop camera app (as is now traditional in Curios, FCUK YOU ADOBE I WILL NEITHER CAPITALISE NOR TRADEMARK YOUR BRAND NAME) – here it is! It’s basically A N Other lenses’n’filters app, but by all accounts it’s quite a whizzy one and will for a few days at least give your Insta game the edge. I do like the line in the description “Show off your unique style with tons of Insta-worthy lenses and filters inspired by your favorite artists and influencers.” YES THAT’S RIGHT SHOW OFF YOUR UNIQUE STYLE VIA THE MEDIUM OF THE SAME SELECTION OF PRESET VISUAL AUGMENTATION FILTERS AVAILABLE TO LITERALLY EVERY OTHER SMARTPHONE-OWNING HUMAN ON THE PLANET. Still, if you’re bored of all the Snap Camera effects then this is almost certainly worth a look.
  • Mixaba: This is potentially interesting; Mixaba is another videochat app, but one which appreciates that one of the drawbacks of the medium is its fixed status and the removal of serendipitous connections from events. Mixaba addresses that by allowing users to create group chats and then dividing that group chat into random sub-groups; every now again these will get rearranged so everyone gets MIXED UP (hence the name). This is, in theory, a really smart idea; you’d want to be able to institute some sort of light controls, maybe, to be able to define the speed at which these random mixings happen, or to ensure that certain people don’t ever get put in a group together (or, more interestingly, to create the sort of brilliantly-awkward petri dish-type situations that true social engineers live for). There’s definitely quite a few applications for this in improv, theatre and games; if nothing else this could be quite a fun way to run a virtual murder mystery event, if anyone still has the enthusiasm for that sort of thing after 4 months of FCUKING VIDEOCALLS.
  • OspreyCam: As I type there is an Osprey feeding its chicks some excellent looking fresh corpse. LIVE OSPREYS FFS!!!
  • Global Pride 2020: In a move which will obviously come as a surprise to literally noone, Pride this year is going virtual. This is the site for the BIG main event, Global Pride 2020, which takes place on June 27 for 24h across the world. Details are sketchy still, but you can sign up here for updates or to apply to participate as a volunteer or performer (and, I assume, should you want to get involved from the a sponsorship or support point of view). Slightly disappointed they’re not doing it in Fortnite, but wevs.

by Quentin Monge

NEXT, WHY NOT TRY THIS EXCELLENT SELECTION OF DOWNTEMPO HOUSE AND ELECTRONICA MIXED BY THE MYSTERIOUS AND IMPOSSIBLE-TO-IDENTIFY ‘JAVIER’?

THE SECTION WHICH RATHER WISHES THIS DEBATE ABOUT OFFENSIVE STATUES HAD TAKEN PLACE WHEN IT WAS YOUNG SO IT COULD HAVE PETITIONED TO GET THIS ABSOLUTE MONSTROSITY REMOVED, PT.2:

  • The OpenAI API Beta: This is the GPT-2 texty AI (you know, the Talk To Transformer one), now available as an API so that you can integrate it into whatever you want. Or at least you can if you’re a reasonably-competent code-wrangler, and if you apply to get access; you can read a bit about how it works and what you can do with it here, written by Janelle Shane of AI Weirdness fame – even if you can’t get your hands on it now, it’s worth reading the longer piece and having a think about the potential applications; if nothing else, the potential for the creation of rudimentary AI characters in digital performance using this stuff is very interesting indeed (to me).
  • Ragya: Things I learned this week – that Ragas (the term, I have also learned this week, basically means ‘melodic framework for improvisation’ in Indian music) change based on what time of the day they are played at, with certain instrumental arrangements being considered more suitable for different times in the solar cycle. This site (or app) presents you with a time-appropriate piece depending on when you log on; you may not think your day will be improved by some time-appropriate sitar noodling, but WOW are you wrong.
  • Rebecca Irwin’s YouTube Channel: Sometimes in Web Curios it’s nice to link to something that’s not shiny or clever or exciting or important but which instead captures the perfect madness of humanity and all its multifarious interests and modes of expression. So it is with the YouTube channel of Rebecca Irwin, an INCREDIBLY-prolific videomaker whose output is all the more impressive and surprising when you consider that none of what appear to be her literally hundreds of videos have over 100 views. Her oeuvre, such as it is, consists of music videos cobbled together from either MS Paint art or old TV clips from Futurama and Frasier and a few other shows – there’s something just a little bit off about them, a touch of the deep-fried aesthetic that makes me think that Mx Irwin is poking at the fringes of weird webart here, but maybe this is all entirely sincere. Who knows, and who cares – Mx Irwin, Web Curios salutes your for your indefatigable (and, to me, almost entirely baffling) dedication to your art.
  • IRL Smurfing: I know this sounds like a weird sex thing, but I promise you that it’s not, really. Smurfing is the practice in gaming communities of people who are very good at the game going and playing whack-a-mole with people who are less good, often for streaming LOLs; the sort of thing that’s probably quite fun for the person doing the Smurfing and probably significantly less so for the Smurfee (that really sounds wrong). The IRL version, as celebrated in this subReddit, is all about people who are really good at something in real life pretending to be an ordinary schlub to the massed amazement of watching onlookers. The absolute classic of this genre is the oldschool US advertising trick of ‘get a pro athlete made up to look like an old person and then film them as they absolutely destroy all the local pr1cks at the public basketball courts’, but you’d be surprised how many variants there are (my favourite are the the ones where famous go busking and inevitably earn about 50p – my friend Mo did this with Nile Rogers in Hyde Park once and he is apparently lovely, in case you wondered).
  • Musical Instrument Brochures: Yes, I know this sounds boring but if you’re desperate to find out how you can turn the volume off forever on that Yamaha keyboard your kids have been ‘enjoying’ for the past few months then I promise you that this will be a godsend.
  • High Fidelity: Another interesting take on the virtual space idea; this is vaguely-reminiscent of that thing I featured in here months ago all the way at the beginning of lockdown which let you move around a 2d virtual space with conversations getting louder or quieter based on your digital proximity to your interlocutors…anyway, this is like that but different, evidently intended as a more professional version of the same sort of concept for enterprise. This is VERY much in beta and I’m yet to have a proper play around with it, so caveats apply, but it sounds like a properly interesting idea; even if this doesn’t nail it, I very strongly feel that there’s something workable in this idea of proximity-as-a-factor-in-conversational-facility-in-digital-environments (though very much not in that description of it).
  • Get an AntiFa Card: Fine, it might get you banned from entering the US, but it’s a small price to pay for declaring your proud membership of everyone’s favourite centrally-coordinated left-wing terror group on your credit card (NB – for the avoidance of doubt, AntiFa is not a centrally-coordinated left-wing terror group). The bank is German and as a result the website doesn’t even have the COMMON DECENCY to be in English, but Google Translate is your friend.
  • Buttystock 2.0: Matt Round’s Vole website is rapidly becoming one of my favourite webprojects – his work is always playful, always fun, and always surprisingly-robust when it comes to functionality; there’s a special place in digital heaven reserved for people who not only make excellent internet gags but who really follow through on them, so to speak. This is the second iteration of Buttystock, the world’s premier (and possibly only) repository of stock imagery of crisp sandwiches; this update offers additional images, video and, excitingly, 3d renders of all the potato-shard sangers (nice second mention there Matt, well done) one could ever possibly need or want. I reckon there’s a low-cost, low-risk PR idea here for almost any incredibly dull brand in the world; if you make staplers, STOCK PHOTO LIBRARY OF STAPLERS! If you make bricks, STOCK PHOTO LIBRARY OF BRICKS! I promise you, this will run and run.
  • Classic GTA Sites: One of the most amazing things about the GTA series was always the depth that it went into with the worldbuilding; from Lazlo on the radio with the fake ads for fake businesses, to the real standup shows recorded in 4 and 5, to the (admittedly not very funny) parody social networks…Much of the associated online content to the games was built in Flash, meaning its soon set to fade into tech obsolescence, but this fan-made site’s seeking to preserve a lot of the elements in HTML instead. The site’s obviously not a pro job, but it’s lovely to see it all collected and memorialised like this.
  • Paramount Unproduced: I think this is real, though it’s quite hard to tell these days. This Twitter account claims to have access to documentation covering around 1000 films which Paramount owned the rights to but never made, throughout the late-80s, and is Tweeting details about them one-by-one. Regardless of whether these are actual bona-fide scripts for which money changed hands or whether they’re elaborate little fictional vignettes, some of these are GREAT – don’t you want to watch ‘Bad’? “When a mad and his middle-aged father both vie for the affections of a gorgeous but kooky woman, they’re forced to contend with her violently possessive boyfriend, but they finally manage to deal with him.” HOW? AND HOW IS THIS A ‘COMEDY’???
  • Can You Dethrone: You might need the context as to why this Twitter account has just sprung up (here you go); its purpose is to catalogue all the videogames that let you ‘attack and dethrone God’ as part of the gameplay experience. Important, epochal work, this.
  • Political Compasses in Odd Topologies: Ok, the sweet spot for this series of gags is very much at the intersection of political nerdery, dataviz nerdery and mathematical nerdery, but I promise you that if you happen to fall anywhere near at least two of these categories then you will love this immoderately.
  • Urban Henges: I was slightly annoyed that this was just the codebase rather than a fully-worked-up website that let you search for ‘Henges’ worldwide and then told you their location and optimate date/time, but then I remembered I was being selfish and entitled so I got over myself. This is code that, when plugged into the appropriate mapping software, will help you identify locations of sunset ‘henges’ – that is, that effect when urban streets align with the angle of the rising or setting sun throughout the year and which produces that effect whereby the sunset (or rise) is framed by urban architecture as seen most famously in the ‘Manhattanhenge’ effect. Lovely, and now that I have described it I’d politely like to ask one of you to make the website I initially wished this was, please. Thanks!
  • Deepfake Drawings: Prototypical tech from the University of Hong Kong, but worth a look because, well, IT’S LIKE MAGIC! This is software that does the ‘sketch the outline of a thing and we’ll get AI to imagine what it thinks that thing is and create a photo of it’ game that we’ve seen before with the NVIDIA kit, but this time applies it to faces. So you, the user, can sketch an outline of a face with particular physiognomical traits – a long jawline, say, or widely-spaced eyes – and the kit will generate a computer-imagined human face that broadly matches your sketch. If you want an idea of how this works in practice, scrub through to about the 40s mark on the video and let your jaw go slack in amazement. WOW, basically.
  • Nodesign: “A collection of tools for developers who have little to no artistic talent.” I am presenting this without judgement – I too have little-to-no artistic talent and I can’t even code ffs (what is the point of me? You know, someone asked me recently if, when I obviously hate the world of advermarketingpr so much, I don’t find something else to do with myself instead, and I was forced to admit it’s because I have no talents; I can’t draw or paint or do maths or make things or teach people or do rigorous, intellectually-significant work…basically the pathetically-limited world of advermarketingpr almost perfectly matches my pathetically-limited skillset. SAD!).
  • Awesome Threads: Is there any word more ominous, more indicative of an almost-certainly irritating experience to come, than the word ‘THREAD’, delivered in block caps? No, there is not. Still, if for some reason you feel compelled to read the long, poorly-edited ramblings of a self-important bloviator (and you’re reading Curios, so you’re evidently the target market, RIGHT KIDZZZZZZzzzzzzzzzzzz?) then you might like this, which aims to collect the BEST threads, arranged thematically, for you to peruse. Except this has been created and curated by tech people, so it’s literally ALL stuff about software engineering and stuff – which, actually, makes it marginally less insufferable than some bloke spending 40 tweets detailing exactly what he thinks about the ‘R’ number despite his having only achieved a pass degree in Geography way back in 2004.
  • Dan McPharlin’s Excellent Flickr: For some reason there’s been something of a resurgence in links to people’s Flickr accounts doing the rounds in the past few weeks, a development of which I heartily approve; this is the collection of Dan McPharlin, whose identity beyond this is a total mystery to me but who has curated a wonderful selection of vaguely tech-and-scifi-ish imagery from all over the place which I urge to take a look at; there’s some really good stuff here from a visual / stylistic inspiration point of view if nothing else.
  • Silliwillis: THIS IS A TWITTER FEED THAT POSTS PHOTOGRAPHS OF WHAT I PRESUME IS ONE MAN’S PENIS DRESSED UP IN FUNNY OUTFITS AND THEREFORE IS VERY MUCH NSFW, NOT THAT ANY OF YOU ARE IN AN OFFICE RIGHT NOW. What is wonderful about this – apart from the photos of a cock dressed as the Phantom of the Opera, to be clear, is that there seems to be a real person behind this who’s interspersing the penile photography with some occasionally-poignant observations about their life and how they feel. Anyway, I am presenting this to you in the spirit of kindness – WELL DONE to this person, they don’t seem to be doing anyone any harm and if they want to share photos of their dong wearing a cat costume made out of pipecleaners then who are we to tell them no? NO FCUKERS, that’s who!
  • The (Games) Bundle for Racial Justice and Equality: There is currently a bundle of over 1500 (1637) actual videogames (for PC) available for download for a donation of $5 to racial justice and equality causes. Honestly, this is an INCREDIBLE offer and one that it’s worth getting involved with even if you’ll only ever play one of the games you’ll receive.
  • Titlerun: The SMOLEST videogame you ever will see. Open this up in a new window, otherwise it won’t work properly; this is less ‘fun’ than it is a truly impressive(ly pointless) proof of concept coding.
  • Project Madison: Finally this week, one of the best browser games I’ve played in ages; this is really, really good fun, and a properly good way of wasting 45 minutes this afternoon while you still technically have to be available but you absolutely know that you have mentally clocked off and there’s nothing anyone can do about it. This is basically Hitman, but instead of plotting to assassinate a target you need to plot to ruin a rival’s career; this is clever and smart and funny and surprisingly complex considering its simple graphics and the fact it’s just open in a tab. SO clever and SO fun – enjoy.

By Percy Fortini Right

LAST UP IN THE MIXES, HAVE THIS LOVELY, SOOTHING SMORGASBORD OF VINTAGE PSYCHEDELIA BY HATCHBACK!

THE CIRCUS OF TUMBLRS!:

  • Not Pulp Covers: “Pin-up, Illustrations, Advertisments, and Other Things that are Not Pulp Covers” – superb collections of retroweird.
  • Keite’s Urban Adventures: Keite’s seemingly one of that breed of vertical urban explorers, looking to scale publicly accessible structures partly for bragging rights and partly for the photoopportunities. This Tumblr just collects pictures from their climbs; these are SO impressive and will make your palms sweat as you look at them.

THE TROUGH OF (INSTA) FEEDS!:

  • Simon De Thuilleries: There’s been a bunch of ‘music, but medieval’ links doing the rounds this week which I’ve not featured as I personally don’t think rerecording something in harpsichord is fundamentally that interesting (and I am a miserable sod); this, though, possibly inconsistently, makes the grade. Simon De Thuilleries is a made-up character – a monk making film posters in the style of illuminated manuscripts from THE PAST. These are all in French, but none of them are hard to guess and the fact that all the copy’s in foreign does rather reinforce the aesthetic.
  • Insecthaus Adi: Adrian Kozakiewicz has access to a lot of massive insects; this is his Insta feed, on which he shows them off. Entomophobes probably want to give this one a miss tbh.
  • Adrian Brandon: Adrian Brandon is a Brooklyn artist whose work is generally striking enough to be featured here; his most recent posts have featured incomplete portraits of black people who’ve been killed by police, each portrait drawn in the time the person in question was alive in the hands of the authorities.

LONG THINGS WHICH ARE LONG!:

  • The Inequality Engine: Excellent – but necessarily long and involved – analysis of Thomas Piketty’s latest exploration of the history of economics (and, in particular, capitalism) in the London Review of Books. This is a timely and well-summarised account of the historical reasons as to why the present version of capitalism we find ourselves in hock to came about and why it persisted and why, try as the right might attempt to convince you, it is not fair and never will be. There are multitudes within this – it speaks to structural racism and entrenched inequalities and elites and systems and processes, and whilst it’s quite a chewy read it’s never less than well-explained and clearly-articulated. This article could equally as well been entitled ‘The Progress Lie’, its fundamental argument being that 20th century postwar economic claims that the growth and ‘progress’ would raise the water level for all were unfounded; this feels like an important moment for this argument to be examined in more detail and deployed more widely.
  • Brave Corporations and the Communities They Exploit: A longer articulation of what I said uptop about the pathetic, cosmetic attempts brands have been making to align themselves with causes of social justice whilst at the same time happily getting very, very rich off the back of the exact systems which exploit and often entrench these inequalities in the first place. You can imagine the arguments, but it’s worth thinking about more deeply. Is it possible for a sugar company which relies on the cheap labour of manual workers in the second and third world to be able to turn a profit to at the same time declare itself a supporter of black rights and progressive causes? As the piece goes on to ask, “can you really stand in solidarity if you rely on child laborers in the Democratic Republic of Congo, have censored Black creators, or empower the police to abuse surveillance powers on your platform, as they do on others?” Can you?
  • Is This The Moment Advertisers Leave Facebook?: Look, we all know the answer here is ‘no’, but it’s worth taking a look at this NYT article regardless as I find the fact that they are even asking this question rather interesting. Its headline stems from the fact that there are apparent voices circulating in adland about brands feeling that it’s ‘not right’ to advertise on a platform which is seemingly increasingly obviously aligning itself with The Wrong Side on a lot of current issues; it is, though, worth remembering a few things. ONE: brands care more about money than they do about doing the right thing. If it is more expensive to reach customers using other ad networks, they will not do so unless they perceive the cost of continuing to use FB ads as being greater than that of changing platform (which at present it really isn’t); TWO: brands, as has been amply proven over the past week or so, are far more keen on saying than doing; THREE: there is simply no better ad network than Facebook at the moment; FOUR: the vast majority of Facebook’s ad revenue doesn’t come from P&G and Nike, it comes from all the billions of people on their doing their own hustle and chucking them a tenner a week to promote their bakery or florist or prostate milking parlour.
  • Google Docs Is The Resistance: An interesting piece about how the GSuite of tools has become the de facto home of social justice content and online organisation; what I think is most significant here is that the reason behind this is that the software works and is flexible. That’s it. Never underestimate the power of a robust, stable, flexible-if-unshiny toolset; there’s an interesting line in there about the misconception that all activists are obsessed with privacy and anonymity, whereas in fact what they are most concerned with is having tools that are cheap, that work, and which are good for dissemination. There are quite a few more general lessons for life in here should you choose to find them, but I figure you’ve had enough of my homily-ing here.
  • Did Colston Deserve His Watery Grave?: I’m sure you’re sick to death of statuechat, but this is an interesting read – highlighting, amongst other things, the statue’s historic unpopularity at the time of its commissioning and eventual unveiling. You should read the whole thing, it’s interesting, but if you aren’t in the market for it then these two paragraphs are worth extracting: “The statue of Edward Colston is not a pure object upon which later generations have imposed an anachronistic argument. The statue is an argument. About the relationship between the individual and the state, about employers and workers, about civic responsibility and Britain’s place in the world. Its construction was a political gesture. So is pushing it into the River Avon. The protesters of Black Lives Matter did not drag Colston’s figure out of the city and smash it to pieces. When they submerged it in the docks, they were making a decision about its proper place in the environment — a decision accepted, tacitly, by the officers present on the scene. Perhaps this was not an act of destruction, but a form of endowment.”
  • TikTok Pivots From Dance To Racial Justice: The other thing that’s made me vaguely hopeful this past week or so has been the sheer volume of stuff from kids in their teens and twenties decrying racism and inequality – this piece looks at how TikTok has become the de facto platform for this self-expression, offering a platform for kids to share their impassioned views with others. The piece acknowledges th platform’s…er…patchy history with sensitive content and issues of race, but this is less about TikTok and more about the way in which young people are using the platform to find a generational voice on issue that matter to them. I wonder to what extent TikTok will shape Gen-Z sociallly and emotionally – it very much feels to me like Millennials carry the ‘scars’ (positive and negative) of Tumblr, for example.
  • The Messengers: A really interesting profile of Indian political magazine Caravan, a relatively tiny organ of the free press which has found itself being what seems to be one of the sole bastions of critical, investigative reporting on the Modi government. This is a pretty classic story of ‘brave newsmen battle the odds to deliver scoops about the corrupt regime seeking to shut them down’, but it’s also (another) troubling picture of the increasingly close control being applied to the world’s second-most populous nation by an increasingly autocratic ruler and of the unpleasant similarity in the responses of followers of Modi, Trump, Bolsonaro, Orban and others to anyone asking awkward questions of their idols.
  • Will Trump Leave?: I remember a couple of years ago, when we were all (the non-Americans, at least; I imagine if you lived there you were perhaps a touch more personally-invested) watching the early days of the Trump Presidency and thinking ‘will he make 100 days? And how will they get him out of the building if he doesn’t?’ in semi-appalled fascination; now, though, at the fag end of the first term and with the country consumed by protest and virus and quite a lot of rage and hate, the question seems a touch more pressing. This article doesn’t offer any answers – of course it doesn’t! There aren’t any! – but is a fascinating-if-a-little-worrying play-by-play account of what might happen if everything gets REALLY crazy in the US come November.
  • Jared Kushner: I appreciate that kicking Kushner is pretty much entry-level Trump bashing at this stage, but I really enjoyed this piece – the author, David Roth, takes evident relish in giving Jared a good shoeing in prose, and there are some really good lines throughout. The observation that “in the absence of actual discernment or real consideration, a rich person simply defaulted to the most luxurious option” (when discussing Jared Trump’s approach to his role in COVID-preparedness and response) is a depressingly-clear-eyed line on much of what has passed for governance in the US over the past few years (and also, recently, the UK – for what else was all the posturing around GREAT BRITISH BRANDS helping the pandemic relief effort, all of which coming to naught? “Dyson!”, thought Boris, “that’s that lovely chap who makes the designer vacuums! He’s a billionaire, he’ll do!”).
  • Meet Zelf: I promise, I’m not really personally interested in online banking at all, honest, although I appreciate that two articles in two weeks on the subject might suggest otherwise. Zelf, though, is really interesting – a new digital bank which doesn’t even offer a physical card and does it’s onboarding via messaging apps and which generally makes Monzo and Starling and those loads sound old hat. It’s launching in France and Spain soon, and this is worth a read if you’re vaguely-interested in DISRUPTION and NEW PRODUCT INNOVATION and stuff like that.
  • Doomscrolling: I’m including this less because I think the piece is particularly brilliant and more because it feels very much like a word that is going to get used a lot in the next few months; ‘doomscrolling’ refers to the very 2020 practice of just scrolling through a seemingly-endless litany of low-level horror as a sort of mindless pastime, unheeding of the fact that it’s not doing us any good at all. TOP TIP: next time you have some bullsh1t campaign idea riffing on the concept of mindfulness or self-care, chuck the word ‘doomscrolling’ into the copy to give clients the vicarious frisson of being ON THE PULSE!!
  • Avocado Toast: I love Vi Hart – I featured one of her early videos in one of the first EVER editions of Curios, and I’ve enjoyed following her career from enjoyably-geeky maths-obsessed vlogger to someone who’s recognised as a genuinely brilliant communicator and educator and activist. Avocado Toast is a post on her website all about how she tried to train a machine learning system to recognise photographs of avocado toast; it’s very long (but there are lots of photos of avocado toast to break it up), but it’s also absolutely the best explanation I’ve ever read of how, exactly, machine learning and visual classification systems function, and it very gently but SO smartly makes lots of excellent points about how bias in training data, and base-level assumptions in code, can have all sorts of unintended consequences in the real world when the software’s applied. So, so smart – I have the biggest mindcrush on this person and I am unashamed to admit it.
  • The Gospel According to Thiel: If you’re a connoisseur of profiles of Billionaire Tech Weirdo’s Billionaire Tech Weirdo Peter Thiel then you can probably skip this one; if you’re not, though, this is a wonderful profile of one of the most influential people of modern times and a man who, were you to cut him open, would seemingly have Ayn Rand’s face running through him as though through a particularly-fleshy stick of rock. If there’s one thing that SCREAMS from this is the classic white man’s failing – one that I am increasingly aware of succumbing to myself, to my eternal humiliation – of thinking that you can turn your hand to ANYTHING. “Reform education? Well, I created a digital payments system that earned me more money than God, so I bet I can do that too!”.
  • Tinder’s CEO on Pandemic Dating: That’s actually doing this a disservice – whatever you might think of Tinder and its CEO Elie Siedmann, this is a really fascinating interview, touching on what he’s observed about the shifts in human online behaviour and courtship over the past few months and, more broadly, since Tinder was born a decade or so ago. There’s lots of really, really interesting stuff here – it’s a touch futurology-y, fine, and as such you might want to take some of the more blue-sky pronouncements with a pinch of salt, but I found the observation that we might be moving to a point when people can conceive of romantic relationships as being solely digital as a fascinating one. I have plenty of online friends who I like and who I care for and who I wish well who I have never met physically and who I have no particular interest in ever so doing; is it that much of a stretch to conceive of a coterie of romantic partners where we share conversation and ideas and feelings and just occasionally have a distanced w4nk together? Er, yes, I think it is actually, but younger readers may beg to differ.
  • Bernardine Evaristo: This is a month old but I missed it the first time; a wonderful profile of Bernardine Evaristo in Prospect, in which she tells her life story but also the story of being a female black novelist in the UK at a time when there were literally no black female English novelists getting published. As an aside, if you didn’t catch it this week/last week, the Radio4 adaptation of “Girl, Woman, Other” is superb and reminded me what a great novel it is; give it a listen if you have a moment.
  • What Didn’t Kill Her: finally in this week’s longreads, Bernice L McFadden tells the story of her mother’s life and the events that brought her to 2020, seeing race protests and a pandemic sweeping the US. This is SUCH great writing, spanning eight decades of US history and the scope – and limitations of – the civil rights movement along the way.

By Patrick Joust

AND NOW, MOVING PICTURES AND SOUNDS!:

  1. This is a short film called ‘Dust’ – “In the near future, a woman comes across a VR film where she will experience a tense encounter with a pair of policemen…through the eyes of a black man.” An excellent piece by Nosa Igbinedion:
  1. This came via Simon – thanks Simon! – and is a few years old now, but I saw it this week and thought it was absolutely beautiful. It’s called ‘My Turtle Dove’ – seriously, it’s glorious:
  1. I didn’t think I’d enjoy this, but it grew on my and by the end it had me convinced that this is an absolute lazy Summer afternoon banger; it’s called ‘Salty’, and it’s by Olivia Swann, ft. Jane Handcock:
  1. Laraaji, I learned this week, is a legendary New York musician and poet and sort-of-guru and incredibly prolific outsider artist; this is a very simple piano tune, but for some reason it properly stuck with me this week, maybe it will do the same for you. Regardless, it’s a lovely, light, hopeful tune and it’s called ‘This Too Shall Pass’:
  1. Last up this week, another short film. This is called Stop & Search – “If you’re black in the UK, the police are 10 times more likely to stop and search you. How would they feel if it was the other way around?”. Well directed and with an excellent cast, this is feels like an appropriate thing to close with UNTIL NEXT WEEK BYE I LOVE YOU TAKE CARE BYE STAY SAFE AND TRY AND RELAX AND JUST HAVE SOME GOOD CLEAN GENTLE FUN BUT DIRTY FUN WILL DO AT A PINCH IF THERE’S NO CLEAN FUN LEFT BUT WHATEVER YOU DO ENJOY YOURSELF AND HAVE FUN AND I’LL SEE YOU NEXT WEEK AND I LOVE YOU I LOVE YOU I LOVE YOU BYE!: