OH MY GOD THAT FEELS BETTER. Not that you care, but this bit is always the last thing I write in Curios; as I’m typing this it’s almost impossible to prevent a slow smile of relief from plastering itself across my hideous countenance as I luxuriate in the feeling of having purged myself of internet after what feels like three weeks of infoconstipation.
By extension, of course, that effectively means that your minds are the lucky receptacle into which I’m evacuating my backed-up webmulch - you lucky, lucky things! Anyway, THANKYOU for letting me get all this off my chest; welcome to Web Curios, back after a fortnight’s hiatus caused by technical difficulties (er, me leaving a laptop cable at work) and the necessary finalising and release of THE FIRST EVER GLORIOUS IMPERICA MAGAZINE, which you can buy here for just two units of currency and which is honestly, genuinely worth reading (FYI I am neither in it nor do I profit from it, I just think it’s GOOD).
So seeing as there’s a LOT to get through, let’s crack on shall we? Prepare to receive a high-pressure stream of thick, curdled, near-clotted internet right to the brainstem as once again I roar to a largely indifferent world that THIS IS WEB CURIOS!
LET’S KICK OFF THE MUSIC WITH THE LEGITIMATELY STELLAR NEW ALBUM BY JONWAYNE - THIS IS RAP ALBUM TWO AND IT IS GREAT!
THE SECTION WHICH IS REALLY, GENUINELY SORRY ABOUT HOW MUCH S*C**L M*D** NEWS THERE IS AFTER A FORTNIGHT’S INDOLENCE, AND WHICH PROMISES TO TRY AND GET THROUGH IT AS QUICKLY AS POSSIBLE FOR ALL OUR SAKES:
Facebook Messenger Is Doing Fcuking Stories Too Now: Fingers crossed for PLUCKY LITTLE BILLION-DOLLAR UPSTART Snapchat with its recent IPO; it’s sort of hard to see how it’s going to maintain any sort of competitive position, mind, when this keeps happening. Yes, ‘Stories’-style CONTENT CREATION has now been added to FB Messenger, after its inclusion in both Instagram and Whatsapp - this is a pretty straight clone with some additional functionality around being able to choose exactly who you choose to share your crushingly banal life snapshot with from your friends list. As an aside, there was an almost-sickeningly hagiographic puff-piece on Techcrunch yesterday trailing this update, which took the line that Facebook wasn’t just copying, it was changing the way we interact with the camera function on our phones - which was exactly the same line punted by Bloomberg in a piece on Snap from last year. EXCELLENT WORK, TECH JOURNALISM. Anyway, combine this with some HOT CHAT about how messenger bots are the future for some easy ‘impress your moron novelty-obsessed client’ meeting wins TODAY!
Updates To FB Messenger: Techy, but if you do this stuff then it’s important to know about. Basically the big takeaways here are a whole load of features which make it easier to share from Bot conversations to the wider world, as well as easier to pull content in from elsewhere on the web to Bot conversations; helpful for Customer Service reasons, among other things. Oh, and there’s some interesting stuff about how the platform can use menus, making it easier to build user journeys through more complex pathways (they’ve sort of accepted that natural language conversation with bots isn’t really a thing yet, which is for the best imho).
Facebook Messenger Potentially Turning Into Slack: All that waffling about a ‘Dislike’, or thumbs-down, button in Messenger is a red herring; the story here is actually about the addition of line-by-line responses to Messenger conversations, just like you can in Slack. BECAUSE EVERYTHING MUST BE THE SAME. It does rather feel like, if you were Snapchat or Slack or one of the COOL NEW SOCIAL MEDIA KIDS, you could create any totally preposterous new feature and Facebook would clone it just because they can, much in the manner of the kid in the playground who, desperate to be liked, will happily agree that they love the new album by Chimney Factory and that it’s the best thing EVER, only to be told after they’ve spent 10 minutes extolling its virtues that it’s in fact totally made up, at which point their slightly fat face crumples and warps as the tears start. Except, er, Facebook’s the biggest bully in the playground and so that analogy really doesn’t work in the slightest. Sorry, turns out I’m slightly more logorrhoic than usual this morning after the fortnight off; I’ll try and rein it in or we’ll be here all day.
Love Trumps Like In FB Reactions: Momentous occasion, this - I just typed the word ‘trump’ in a context which has nothing to do with That Man! Anyhow, this is the news that Facebook is now giving additional weight to reactions beyond Like when it comes to the Newsfeed - so, simply put, if you’re a Community Manager then you’re going to start wanting to beg people to ‘Love’ rather than ‘Like’ your posts as you continue to chase the chimera that is ‘organic reach’. Oh, and just so’s you know, this is all feeding into an inevitable ad product which allows targeting based on a range of emotional affinity with a thing. Datapoints, kids, YOU’RE ALL JUST DATAPOINTS.
Ad Breaks Coming To Facebook Video: Literally this - not here yet, at least not for everyone, but this announcement lets people broadcasting Live on FB to over 300 people insert ad breaks in their shows for ££. They’re also testing the ability to add mid-roll ads into uploaded video - new or historical - which is in NO WAY going to provide an intrusive or upsetting experience, oh no. Actually there are a few interesting / creative ways you could approach a TV-style mid-show ad break on FB, particularly with live broadcast, so if you work with content creators it might be worth spending 10 minutes thinking up some CLEVER IDEAS you can sell in before the novelty wears off and these just become hideously played out.
Facebook Advanced Measurement For Ad Effectiveness: I’m really sorry, I just can’t bring myself to care about this. I’m just going to lift some spiel from the article - is that ok? It’s ok: “Facebook is launching a new tool called Advanced Measurement that lets advertisers stack up how their Facebook campaigns performed compared with other platforms...Advertisers can soon use Advanced Measurement to assess which platforms — such as Facebook, Instagram, search, or display ads on Google — drove the most purchases on their online store, or had the highest reach among their desired target audience...It works by using a measurement tag to track users as they cross around the web and apps and from one device to another. Facebook users often log into the platform using different devices, so the tool has reliable first-party data about whether people who saw an ad for a product on one device checked it out on another.” Do you care? Good, I am happy for you.
You Can Now Look At FB Photos & Videos In VR: If you have a Samsung Gear, at least. Christ alone knows why you’d want to, but you can.
Facebook Job Listings: North America only at the moment, but an interesting development which I think will be great for small businesses; obviously part of the attraction is the targeting options you’ll have when advertising any listing. There will be a brief window when these launch in Europe in which you’ll be able to do some genuinely interesting / clever things with this in terms of advertising (in all likelihood about 8 hours) - really interesting way of recruiting brand fans for stuff, for example (you can imagine something like 2010’s ‘Marmarati’ campaign working quite well through this sort of thing, for example, or at least I can).
Facebook Adding City Guides: Basically pulling together a whole bunch of data about where people check in, take photos, etc, in cities, including where your ‘friends’ have been, to ensure that you can have exactly the same cookie-cutter experience when travelling as everyone else, that you can take the same selfies in the same place, that you can eat in the same Instagram-friendly eatery and enjoy the same artisanal icecream and generally continue your evolution into some sort of data-driven simil-human with all the rough edges sandblasted off by the irresistible force of the INFORMATION SANDBLASTER that is Facebook. Doesn’t that sound GREAT? Oh, there’s almost certainly going to be the option for venues, etc, to pay for privileged status on these Guides; I mean, it’s not stated but it’s hardly a stretch to imagine it.
Whatsapp Also Becoming Snapchat: I can’t be bothered to write this up as a) it’s OLD NEWS now; and b) you know exactly what this means/entails, so can probably fill in the gaps yourself.
Post Multiple Photos/Videos In A Single Instagram Post: Upto 10, in fact. Also OLD NEWS now, but I confess to having been slightly disappointed at the lack of any standout ‘LOOK! WE ARE USING THIS IN A CREATIVE WAY FOR SPURIOUS ‘STORYTELLING’ PURPOSES!’ from brands since this launched the other week. Up your games, kids (or send me examples, I am ‘genuinely’ interested).
Instagram Launches Geostickers: JUST LIKE SNAPCHAzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz. Well, quite. Only available in NYC and Jakarta at the time of writing, but inevitably coming to the whole world soonish, this is the standard ‘we know where you are, have some SPECIAL STICKERS to add to your Story!’ feature which Snapchat’s had forever, brought to Instagram with, as far as I can tell, absolutely no difference whatsoever. I imagine they’re currently looking for deep-pocketed partners with which to launch the commercial side of this, so speak to your rep TODAY to get what is doubtless a violently expensive rate card chucked at you with a dismissive giggle.
Instagram Lanching ‘Tag Partners’ Feature: Timely, given recent rulings here in the UK about disclosure of commercial partnerships on s*c**l m*d**. This is the same sort of thing as Facebook announced last year, whereby an INFLUENCER can post something and tag the brands they’ve partnered with in that post, to connote a commercial relationship and to allow for automated revenue splits from videos, etc. It’s only being tested at the moment, but worth keeping an eye on if you’re in the hideous, soul-crushing business of paying idiots money to grin whilst drinking protein shakes in the name of ‘influencer marketing’ (it’s not too late to stop, you know).
Twitter Launches Personalised Customer Service Messaging: Not sexy AT ALL, but sort of useful; Twitter quietly launched this the other week, meaning companies can now receive DMs from customers and have their staff respond to the conversation with a named profile; so rather than talking to the impersonal T-Mobile Twitter account, for example, you might instead get help from Hans or Anna or someone. The thinking is that it will allow people to know when they’re dealing with a real person rather than with a bot; it will also save VALUABLE CHARACTERS by obviating the need for CS minions to sign off their posts with their initials. Anyway, this is in Private Beta at the moment, but if you do a lot of this sort of stuff on Twitter it might be worth investigating if you can have a play.
Analytics For Twitter Moments: Literally just that - you can now see how many people have looked at any particular moment. Which is nice.
Twitter Did Some Safety Updates: Once again, too little too late - but the ability to mute eggs is a nice touch, admittedly. Might be worth looking at being able to mute anime avatars too, though, and Pepes.
You Can Now Do 360-Degree Video On Vimeo Too: Expect to see some REALLY nicely-lit artvideowank as a result.
YouTube Is Killing 30s Unskippable Ads: About time too, frankly.
Google Hangouts Is Now Copying Slack Too: Really boring, but if internal comms is your thing then this is reasonably big news, offering another reason to move all your stuff to the Google Suite. This announcement is both about its improved Hangouts system for enterprise, called Meet, and updates to Hangouts Chat which is Slack in all but name. The ability to build bots for it is interesting, and I can imagine some really interesting tools you could cobble together pulling data from Gdocs into chat with single commands. Yes, I know it’s dull, but it’s USEFUL. FFS.
Medium Launches Series: NEW STORYTELLING OPPORTUNITIES!!! Medium - look, guys, IT’S JUST A FCUKING BLOGGING PLATFORM - is introducing something it calls ‘Series’, which is (and sorry, this is going to be a VERY lackadaisical description but it’s 738am and there’s literally 9 pages of links for me to triage here and frankly it’s all I can do not to cry, so bear with me please) basically a way of presenting posts as a series of cards - it reminded me quite a lot of FB Canvas in the way you can combine images, prose and video into a series of swipable slides which let you craft a narrative in some interesting ways. There’s some fun stuff you could do around episodic storytelling here, along with some potentially fun multimedia stuff; worth having a think about ways to use it, I think.
Pinterest Launches Labs: Doing AI stuff. “Labs brings together top researchers, scientists, and engineers from around the world to work on image recognition, user modeling, recommender systems, and big data analytics. Our researchers are embedded throughout Pinterest allowing our discoveries to affect hundreds of millions of users each day”, apparently. So there. Oh, and they bought Biz Stone’s Q&A app Jelly, too, though fcuk only knows why.
There’s A Bot For That: A search engine for messenger bots, which is a useful resource if you’re interested in flogging some of these and want to know what’s already out there that you can ‘take inspiration from’ (ha!). Seeing as we’re on bots, this one by Transferwise is really rather smart indeed, letting you move money from within Messenger. By contrast, this one by anti-food brofuel Soylent is wonderfully pointless (also, as an aside, the press release promoting it referred to the bot being ‘coyly named’ Trish; ‘coyly’? Really? FFS you dreadful cnuts) and sort of terrible, and this one by KLM, which lets you send emoji and get travel tips back in return, seems to believe it’s still late 2015 and we are still all excited by pictographic communication. Bless.
The Gruffalo Spotter: I’m including this as literally EVERYONE I KNOW has children these days and they all go through a phase of loving the Gruffalo and as a result all my friends will, if they’re in the right sort of battered-by-parental-exhaustion frame of mind, occasionally enter a sort of fugue state whereby they just repeat the opening couplet to the original story under their breath like a strange, terrible mantra, and as such I reckon that many of YOU, gentle readers, who I know are unlike me and don’t necessarily view procreation as an horrific and mentally ruinous ordeal, might appreciate this app by the Forestry Commission which will let you do some gentle AR-enabled Gruffalo spotting in the manner of Pokemon Go!.
">NEXT UP, HAVE A RECENT RADIO SHOW OF ECLECTICISM BY THE INTERNET ODDITY FORMERLY KNOWN AS SADEAGLE!
THE SECTION WHICH WASN’T LYING ABOUT THE NINE PAGES OF LINKS AND WHICH AS A RESULT IS GOING TO BE DOING QUITE A LOT OF ON-THE-FLY ‘CURATION’ HERE AND SO APOLOGISES IN ADVANCE FOR THE LIKELY SOMEWHAT EMBATTLED QUALITY TO MUCH OF THE PROSE WHICH FOLLOWS, PT.1:
Texts I Want To Send My Ex: I can’t stress enough how great/terrible this is. I found this somewhere a full 2-3 weeks ago and have been sitting on it since, hoping it stayed live long enough to share with YOU fine folk. This is a Google sheet containing a whole load of text messages the anonymous contributors would like to send their ex partners. Sad, funny, poignant, profane, mad and wonderfully human, I could literally read this for hours at a time; this is why I love the web.
Tiny Trumps: Funny not least because it’s not hard to imagine exactly quite how upset this would make him.
Resist Supply: A free resource for protest signs, available to customise and print out, because frankly who’s got time to spend on crafting the perfect ‘guaranteed to go viral’ pithily-worded message which simultaneously conveys your wokeness and your ironic sensibilities? NO FCUKER, that’s who! There’s something sort of terribly wrong about the bland, mass-produced aesthetic here, which seems to be sort of semiotically (META) antiethetical to the whole principle of signs at protests, but, er, wevs.
Emotional Labour: This is BLEAK. A Chrome extension which works with your Gmail account to add some emotional engagement to your emails with the click of a button. That’s right, you just churn out your standard prose, devoid of any emotional affect and icy as you like, and this will seek to gussy it up with some actual, real human feeling (provided by a computer programme). Obviously a joke, but also a Black Mirror vignette in waiting.
Snakisms: One of the smartest things I’ve seen in AGES, this is a little webartgameprojectthing which presents a variety of different takes on the classic ‘Snake’ game, each one serving as an example of the characteristics of a particular ‘-ism’; so, for example, when playing ‘capitalism’ you can only eat the apples until you run out of money, at which point you’re told you can’t afford any more apples and starve to death - LOL! Erm, ok, so that’s a bad example, but some of these are genuinely funny - ‘narcissism’ made me laugh out loud, for example. Philosophy students past and present will enjoy this particularly.
Crafted By My Heart: Turn your heartbeat into a ring! Again! There have been several variants on this theme which I’ve featured here in the past, but here’s another one in case my hunch is wrong and the resulting jewellery isn’t in fact really ugly (I think it might be, though).
SnooTube: Useful service which lets you plug in any sub-Reddit you like and watch all the videos from it in a carousel format, which is great for killing time and meant that when I found this I lost an inordinate amount of time to Japanese cooking videos. Obviously there may be other subs you wish to explore using this feature; I couldn’t possibly comment. DON’T GO BLIND KIDS.
Reddit User Analysis: Potentially useful tool which lets you plug in any Reddit username and gives you stats on their posting frequency, favourite subs, most popular posts, etc, which, if you’re in the unfortunate position of having to do influencer work on Reddit, might actually prove rather helpful in identifying people to tap up.
Passport Collector: A whole LOAD of information about passports from history. No, I don’t know who this is for either, but never let it be said that Web Curios is afraid to explore the very edges of what might be termed ‘niche interest content’.
Langorhythm: Wonderfully pointless but strangely pleasing, Langorhythm lets you input any text you like and generates ‘music’ from the copy you feed it. The compositions tend towards the minimalist and piano-led, and are obviously dreadful and yet there’s something weirdly near-listenable to the stuff it’s generated for me so far; the sound of Curios is, you’ll be unsurprised to learn, a godawful mess.
Idiots Win: A GREAT little game which asks you to guess which of 5 options is the top Google Autocomplete result for any given input. Will suck you in whilst simultaneously making you wish for a nuclear-level event to wipe this human cancer from the planet forever - you always think that you can’t be any more amazed by people’s idiocy, and then you see that people do actually search for stuff like ‘Can humans get fleas?’ and you want to burn everyone.
Go Rando: Randomising your Facebook reactions to FOOL THE MACHINE. Go Rando is a plugin which randomises which reaction you express when you hit ‘Like’ on a FB post - which is interesting from the point of view of attempting to obfuscate the datacollection of the Big Blue Misery Machine, but also from the point of view of how you explain to your friends why you just ‘Loved’ that post about their imminent divorce.
Code Poetry: To quote the site, “This website displays a collection of twelve code poems, each written in the source code of a different programming language. Every poem is also a valid program which produces a visual representation of itself when compiled and run.” Some of these are more accessible than others, but even to a non-coder like myself there’s some rather beautiful work in here; if you get this stuff more than I do then there’s probably something genuinely elegant about the form.
eBay Garfield: A Twitter feed showcasing a selection of the Garfield-related tat on sale on eBay. There is a LOT of Garfield-related tat for sale on eBay.
TNY Poetry: A Twitter bot by the New York Times, which Tweets a poem each day. Small and pleasing.
Deep Elon: Neural Network Twitter bot trained on Elon Musk’s gnomic utterances which produces some oddly plausible results. “I think we'll be able to create a species. I think long term.” is pretty much a textbook Musk-ism. Why do I find this man so unsettling?
AutoEdit: This is HUGELY impressive, and is almost certainly a possible future for video editing. The idea is you upload a video, it does speech-to-text analysis of it to provide a transcript, you edit the transcript (removing bits, swapping bits around) and then the software produces an edit based on your textual changes. Obviously won’t work for anything with sophisticated cuts or multi-camera stuff, but for simple pieces to camera this is absolute genius.
Everlearners: This is an incredible resource of online learning materials, featuring links to a mind-boggling selection of courses, videos, podcasts, etc, on a huge variety of topics. If you’re interested in doing online learning around...well, frankly almost anything to be honest, this is an excellent place to start and is well worth bookmarking.
Future Library: This is such a lovely artwork. “One thousand trees have been planted in Nordmarka, a forest just outside Oslo, which will supply paper for a special anthology of books to be printed in one hundred years time. Between now and then, one writer every year will contribute a text, with the writings held in trust, unpublished, until the year 2114.” The website will over the course of the coming 97 years collect information about each of the selected writers (those so far are Margaret Atwood, David Mitchell and Sjon), essays by them and in response to them, and, eventually, will be a digital record of the forest and the works associated with it. Gorgeous.
Diamond Route Japan: Yeah, ok, so it’s a tourism site, but it’s SO nicely made. Really slick webwork, and I like the UX/UI very much indeed. Also, contains loads of really pretty and generally fascinating videos about Japan.
Sony World Photography Awards 2017: This year’s selection of ‘wow, isn’t the world a beautiful and diverse and generally amazing place if you can just ignore all the horror?’ photos, which as ever contains some absolutely cracking entries (and, obviously, a healthy dose of horror in the shape of the ‘Current Affairs’ section which also contains the best images imho).
Woman Interrupted: Miserable that this even needs to be a thing, but hey ho. Woman Interrupted is an app which uses the mic on your phone to listen to conversations and track how often male voices interrupt female voices in meetings, lectures, or just in general day-to-day life. If you feel that your domestic life is just a bit too tranquil, why not download this app and leave it running in your house this weekend and then enjoy the full and frank exchange of views that the data might engender? Let me know how that works out for you.
FetchitGo: A smart idea, this, if you’re the sort of person who likes the idea of those programmable buttons which let you order a pizza or some toilet paper with one tap; FetchitGo is seeking to raise money for a customisable, multi-button piece of kit which lets you programme 16 separate buttons to perform automated tasks when pressed and which can be reconfigured when/however you like. It’s all based on IFTTT and so seems pretty simple to set up and use, and could be a reasonably simple and cost-effective way of setting up your smarthome and of automating your condom or milk purchasing FOREVER. What a glorious future this is.
Cardigan: A service to help you delete your Tweets, simply and quickly and in bulk. Just in case you’re travelling to the US or similarly ‘difficult’ country anytime soon and want to hide some of your more controversial utterances from anyone who might want to check up on you. Oh, and here’s another one in case you want a different option.
The Supremo Putin: Just in case you’d ever dreamed of owning a lavish Nokia 3310 in a gold and platinum case embossed with the likeness of everyone’s favourite diminutive judo master, here’s your chance! Beautifully, the accompanying blurb lists one of features of the phone as the fact that it’s ‘not cheap’, suggesting that the old Stella Artois adage continues to hold true amongst taste-deficient morons the world over.
Phil Collins Given The Steve Reich Treatment: You know Piano Phase, right? Well this is the same principle - timeshifting and layering the playback of a piece of music to create interesting layered doppler-ish effects - applied to the drum fill from In The Air Tonight by Phil Collins. It’s MESMERISING. BONUS PIANO PHASE! Here’s the same technique applied to a pair of iPhones - Steve Reich Is Calling.
The 90s DJ Archives: Spend the weekend reminding yourself of those times when you used to go out on a Friday rather than slumping into the familiar dent in the sofa and praying for sleep to overtake you with this MENTAL archive of DJ mixes from back in the day. There are literally hundreds of mixes on here, so get a Mitsu down you and gurn like it’s 1995.
Beetmoves: Yes, I know, but I don’t make up the names. This is a COMING SOON innovation which is basically a motion-sensing wristband which makes music based on your movements and which, I am pretty confident in predicting, will not make the sort of cool music produced by the telegenic Japanese youths in the video when it’s attached to the arm of one of your kids.
360 Northern Lights: This is rather soothing, in a simple sort of way. Look around and MARVEL AT THE VIRTUAL MAJESTY OF THE ATMOSPHERE!
Memebroker: There’s an extent to which discussion of the ‘meme economy’ and the trade in Pepes, rare or otherwise, is the point at which I stop being able to even vaguely get or explain web/chanculture. I mean, really. Still, if this sort of stuff means more to you than it does to me you may well enjoy this app which provides access to a marketplace where you can trade the dankest memes. “Invest in the right memes, use your skills to identify trends and sell memes in your portfolio at the right time to make the highest profit. MemeBroker is a simulation of the meme economy, connected to Reddit so that when a post gets upvoted, the share price of that meme will increase.” Got that? Good. Oh, and there’s now a magazine about meme culture and the meme economy - read an issue here and get VERY CONFUSED about how the world works in 2017.
Dwitter: One for the programmers amongst you, Dwitter is a neat little riff on Twitter on which programmers show off their skill in creating stuff in <140character codebursts in Java (I think). I imagine some of this stuff is really impressive if you understand more about programming than I do.
The Hardlight VR Suit: So it’s been a longstanding theory of mine that until haptics become more of a thing VR simply won’t move beyond being a niche pursuit; the lack of feedback mechanisms makes it simply too hard to fool us into thinking there’s a ‘there’ there. Well, here’s a Kickstarter seeking to bridge that gap - fully funded with a fortnight to go, this will theoretically go into production this year. It’s a vibrating bodysuit thing designed to provide physical feedback such as punches, gunshots, etc, to gamers, to better immerse themselves in the experience. Oh, and, inevitably, there will be some sort of slightly depressing and grubby sex application too - the suit’s advertised as being ‘sweatproof’, which presented me with a really rather vile mental image of its use which I now wish to share with you. You’re welcome.
Seeing Theory: This is just excellent. A selection of visual guides to probability and statistics produced by Brown University, which if you know anyone studying this stuff is just SO helpful and useful. Aside from anything else, the coding on the animations and transitions and stuff is also wonderfully elegant imho.
Nope: I’m currently doing 4 days a week across two different jobs in two different offices, and I’ve been reminded of the great horror of office working, namely that people actually occasionally want to talk to you. This is a Chrome extension designed to help mitigate that horror - at the press of a button it will call your phone, giving you an immediate excuse to not converse with whoever’s attempting to engage you in small talk. NB - in the unlikely event that any of my colleagues are reading this, I obviously don’t mean you.
Little Planet Factory: You can buy miniature planet models on Etsy. I mean, LOOK how cute they are! I mean, they’re also £50-odd quid, but still, planets!
The CIA’s Approved List of Japanese Emoji: Just because they’re the intelligence services doesn’t mean that they’re not into some frivolous online banter! Obviously of vanishingly small import amongst the whole load of stuff revealed this week, but it’s also a very, very strange thing for the CIA to have compiled, no?
Raildar: All of the trains in the UK! In realtime! On a map! I’ve had to spend quite a lot of time in the past few weeks eavesdropping on the online conversations of rail enthusiasts (it’s a glamorous life, mine), so perhaps when the job’s done I will reveal myself and leave them this as a thankyou for all of the trainlols.
HiPhi Nation: A podcast exploring philosophical concepts in a really rather nice style - these are very good if you fancy a bit of chewy thinking in your podcast diet.
420 Friends: A dating app for marijuana enthusiasts, so you can find that special someone to not have sex with!
The Wellcome Image Awards: This year’s pick of scientific photography - this is my favourite, but there are some wonderful shots scattered throughout this.
Enter The Sandbox: Ok, so this is a promo thingy for Audi, fine, but the interesting thing here is the application of the tech; using 3d scanning and VR, this is a toy (really, it’s a toy) which scans an actual 3d sandpit at turns it into a virtual environment for a user to drive a virtual car around. Imagine the possibilities in game design, 3d-modelling, etc - this is really quite exciting and VERY clever.
Logobook: An encyclopaedic collection of logos, symbols and trademarks in black and white. If you’re a designer or student of branding, this is a fascinating archive.
The Skittles Sorting Machine: If you work for a music venue then you HAVE to contact the inventor and buy this off him, if only for the inevitable EXCELLENT PR you’d get off the back of the classic rider-nased ‘No Brown M&Ms’ gag. Seriously, DO IT. Oh, in case it’s not obvious, this is a machine which sorts Skittles (or indeed any coloured sweet) by colour. INGENIOUS.
400 Ways To Make A Sandwich: A brilliant collection ofsandwich recipes from the early 20C, which includes amongst others the recipe for the fabulously-named ‘Bummers Custard’ (but aside from the childish sniggering it’s also a really interesting piece of food history).
Incredibly Carved Fruits: Yeah, I know, but just click on this and MARVEL. You will TOTALLY follow this Instagram account, I promise.
Commonplace: A N Other attempt to break the filter bubble, Commonplace is a Facebook bot which sends you regular links and questions to content from THE OTHER SIDE of the political divide. A nice idea although I personally find the execution a touch shonky; I think, though, that there’s an interesting kernel of an idea here which could be developed; maybe something that sends you a selection of stories each day from media you’d normally eschew, or the most-commented Mail link of the past 24h just so you can see what the others (the WRONG) are thinking, that sort of thing.
Txt.ify: Ephemeral, anonymous blogging platform - type anything you like into the interface and it will be presented as a plaintext screed with its own url for you to share just like this. You could have some fun with this, I think - the potential for textual treasurehunts and the like is high, and the low-friction nature of it means you could very quickly spin up quite a nice web of CONTENT to direct and misdirect. Obviously it’s also RIPE for use by people who want to be bastards, but WHAT CAN YOU DO? Nothing, fyi, the bastards ALWAYS win.
The Hypochondriapp: Tell it your symptoms and it will suggest the worst possible thing that might be wrong with you. Worth bookmarking for use with that colleague who insists on whinging about feeling ill all the time but who is never seemingly ill enough to FCUK OFF AND DIE (you can tell I’m enjoying work at the moment, right?).
Steps To Overcoming Social Anxiety: A little app which presents a series of small tasks, delivered daily, encouraging users to take tiny steps towards tackling their social anxiety. Offering daily goals - go somewhere you’ve never been, make eye contact with the coffee person, that sort of thing - it’s a gentle way of helping people cope with STUFF which I can imagine potentially being useful to people struggling with the basics of social interaction for anxiety-based reasons.
Renaissance Art In Real Life: Photoshopping figures from renaissance painting into real-world situations with some pretty astounding skill, this is a very impressive Instagram feed indeed (and also, you know, all like JUXTAPOSE-Y and stuff).
The Robot Pr0n Addict: Making a neural net watch bongo and attempt to describe what it sees. “A man holding an apple”, apparently, which raises lots more questions than it answers. Totally SWF, this Twitter feed pleases me no end.
Affine Layer: You remember that thing that did the rounds the other week which let you draw an outline of something and then get a neural net to fill it in with its best approximation of what it would look like were it a cat, say, or a handbag? Yes, that. I know it’s a hugely unprepossessing description, but if you’ve not played with this yet then it’s totally worth doing; it’s impressive and points towards how easy it’s going to be in very short order to create AI-generated generic imagery, but it’s also a really great way of drawing some truly horrifying cat beasts without even trying.
Lab Box: FULL DISCLOSURE - the people behind this are friends of mine, but I’d be including this anyway as it’s SUCH a clever idea. Just over 3 weeks left to go on Kickstarter and funded to the tune of nearly 10x its goal at the time of writing, Lab Box is a super-clever piece of kit which lets you develop film photographs quickly and easily without recourse to a darkroom. Given how COOL analogue photography is these days I imagine that several of you hipsters will have film-based cameras; this is a pretty essential piece of kit if you do, I think.
T-Rex D&D: Sue the T-Rex is the Twitter account of the Field Museum in Chicago’s T-Rex skeleton. The other day, the account started livetweeting a game of Dungeons and Dragons for its followers to interact with - this is BRILLIANT, geeky, funny and wonderful, and exactly the sort of thing which Twitter is best at; have a read of the whole thing, it’s glorious.
Lollyphiles: You want to buy wasabi flavoured lollipops? Blue cheese? No, me neither, and yet here we are.
Gastaloops: 100 days, 100 looping gifs by Nicola Gastaldi. The quality of the work on display here is astounding, as is the consistency; these are really quite beautiful.
Dull Men’s Club: A community for men (though they are accepting of women, they equally understand that, well, it’s mostly going to be men, isn’t it, who collect hubcaps or want to obsess about Dinky cars?) who are into boring stuff. Charming and, as with all ostensibly boring things, much of this is fascinating (in small doses, admittedly). You can probably get a half-decent ‘Your Da’ joke out of this if you’re part of that corner of Twitter (you know who you are).
The Smithsonian Photo Contest Finalists 2016: More wonderful shots.
Tube Patterns: Patterns, on the Tube, on Instagram. Pleasing.
Pixar In A Box: A pretty astounding series of resources deisgned to teach you how to animate like the people at Pixar (NB won’t actually teach you that, obvs). This is all quite deep and hard, but if you’re serious about learning - or improving - digital animation techniques then this is an absolutely invaluable resource.
Neverblink: A selection of unskippable web TV channels. Choose where you want it to pull videos from and it will play an infinite selection, one after the other, of whatever crops up. You can’t skip, you can only switch channels or turn it off; probably useless for entertainment purposes, but one of the better ‘This is the id of the web, marvel at the weird horror of who we really are as a species’ things I’ve seen lately.
Godotify: This is EVIL GENIUS - a piece of code which will add the blinking ‘...typing…’ ellipses to every single conversation you have with anyone on Messenger, keeping them waiting for a message which will never arrive. An exquisitely-conceived exercise in psychological torture, this.
Tintype Portraits from Afropunk 2016: Beautiful, stylised, old-school-effect photos from last year’s Afropunk festival. Such beautiful people in here.
Whitman Alabama: A lovely project, taking the stories of Americans from across the state of Alabama and presenting a patchwork picture of the character of the state through the words of Walt Whitman’s poem ‘Song of Myself’, each verse read by a different Alabaman. Human, affecting, and a celebration of diversity which is a nice antidote to That Man and prevailing US political discourse so far this year.
iSpy: Dropping with near-perfect timing, iSpy is a webdoc in 5 parts exploring the Five Eyes Alliance, “a secretive, global intelligence arrangement between the governments of Australia, Canada, New Zealand, United Kingdom and United States. The alliance represents the largest surveillance program in human history.” Really nicely put together from a webwork point of view - I can’t say that the content makes for anything other than grimly unsurprising viewing, though. But, er, if you’ve got nothing to hide it’s fine, right? Right? Eh? Oh.
Bear 71: Another WONDERFUL project by NFB Canada - see Curios passim for further explorations of their excellence; if you don’t know their work, do go here and check it out as they have consistently been the best purveyors of ‘digital storytelling’ stuff I’ve seen over the past 5 years from a narrative/design point of view - this time exploring the life of a female grizzle bear over the 8 year period she was monitored by conservation officers. Merging VR, film, graphics and excellent interface design, this is an object-lesson in how to ‘do’ interactive storytelling.
The i-Con: Lesser curators (sorry) of internet ephemera and weirdness have been referring to this as an ‘internet connected condom’. IT IS NOT! It is an internet-connected cockring! DO YOU NOT SEE THE DIFFERENCE??? Anyway, should you ever have wanted to track every single minute aspect of your inevitably disappointing sexual performances, now you can - simply apply this bit of kit to the base of the penis, to record exactly how many thrusts, etc, you perform during the course of the act. Obviously don’t want to generalise here, but I’m going to go out on a limb and assume that people who are that obsessed with the quantification of their sexual performance are - whisper it - probably not particularly sensitive or generous lovers.
OCast: More teledildonics news! This is...blimey. OCast is a gimmick from some camgirl outfit which lets users record a unique vibration pattern using their phone’s touchscreen which can then be downloaded and used to power a sextoy. Anyone want to try this out and let me know how it works? No? Thought not.
HTML Marquee De Sade: The major works of the most famous deviant in history, presented online with Marquee html markup making them look rather a lot like random MySpace pages, in what is the best single-note literarygeekgag I have seen in AGES.
Girl Talk In A Box: Finally this week (THANK FCUK), this is absolutely the best ‘play at being a remixer’ toy I have ever seen. It’s ugly, fine, but you can do SO MUCH with it. Take any track you like and just mess with it - seriously, you’ll lose HOURS with this, I promise.
Where Music Is Going 2017: Once again the New York Times produces an EXCELLENT longread taking a look at 25 tracks and what they say about the the state of (Western, mostly pop) music in 2017. Great writing and a decent breadth to the selection makes this a very good read indeed.
What It’s Like To Lose Your Short-term Memory: Brilliantly lucid piece of writing about how it feels to all of a sudden have no short-term memory at all, to have to reappraise situations, people, feelings, desires on a minute-by-minute basis, and what it does to one’s sense of self and identity. Not as depressing as I have just made it sound, I promise.
Leaving North Korea: Told in comic strip format, this is a beautifully-drawn (and thus told) account of what it takes to escape the DPRK and how it’s becoming ever harder to do so without outside assistance.
My Freecell Win Percentage Is All I Have: McSweeney’s capturing perfectly the everyday sensation of futility and lack of agency that, let’s be honest, is pretty much the defining characteristic of the year so far.
A Normal Person’s Guide To The Alt-Right’s Vocab: This is interesting, and funny, and Katie Notopoulos is as ever spot-on on web culture, but it’s also increasingly impossible to separate this stuff from parody, isn’t it? I mean, this could literally ALL be a Brass Eye sketch and we’d be none the wiser. Chris? Is that you?
The Redpill Right: The few of you who actually read and remember the words I write between the links may recall me opining on the links and intellectual red thread which can be drawn between the meninist movement and the Alt-right; here’s a decent explanation of exactly that thread.
Laurie Penny on Milo, Again: So this got absolute pelters from Woke Twitter when it was published, not least because of a couple of ill-advised lines making comparisons with young black kids which got people most angry. Leaving that aside, if you can, this is actually an excellent piece of writing about the sort of weirdly childlike way in which Milo did his schtick, and the equally childlike manchildren who are his followers and entourage. I thought at the time - and still do - that there’s an interesting line between this and the manchildren on the tech and startup world, which after all is where Milo got his first sniff of notoriety and which, as far as I’m concerned, is far more culpable for the cnut’s rise than it seems to want to accept.
Videogames Are Better Than Life: On why, and how, increasing numbers of young men (in the States, but also elsewhere) are pouring more of their emotional energy into games than anything else. Add this to the file marked ‘datapoints on the way to Ready Player One becoming actual, real life’.
Solo Disneyland: Reflections on going to Disneyland alone as an adult. The author of the piece is, it’s fair to say, a Disney superfan - it’s very well-written and absolutely not a sad piece, but I couldn’t shake the feeling of absolutely intense and crippling loneliness between every single word here.
The Power and Purpose of PMQs: Wonderfully observed vignette of how PMQs works behind the scenes and what, if you’re the government, it’s *actually* for.
How The World’s Heaviest Man Lost It All: This, though, really IS sad - what happens when you’re the world’s heaviest man, and you decide to lose the weight? I really wanted to give him a hug at the end of this.
And Then The Strangest Thing Happened: A really interesting breakdown of the signature, singular Adam Curtis style, how it’s evolved, and how it’s made his documentaries arguably less effective. I always find watching Curtis that it’s terribly convincing while I’m in the moment but a few days afterwards I can’t help but think of it as an example of the clever propagandising he himself decries.
Second Life For The Disabled: One day I will stop posting stuff about Second Life - it continues to fascinate me, though, particularly it’s use case as a community for marginalised groups. This is a genuinely uplifting report about disabled people from around the world coming together in virtual space with a freedom their physical impairments mean will never be afforded to them in meatspace. Seriously, made me very happy, this.
Meet The Mole Catchers: I had NO IDEA it was such a divided world, frankly. This is great and wonderfully, beautifully British in its eccentricity.
20 Questions With Peter Singer: Still, to my mind, the most interesting moral philosopher of the 20th Century, this is eminently readable even if you don’t have a background in the discipline. There are few people better at making you think about hard answers to unpleasant questions, imho.
The Commis Chef: This is a VERY technical look at the role of the commis chef in a Chinese restaurant kitchen - if you’re interested in food, though, and the restaurant business then I promise you it’s a fascinating read.
A Tribute To AA Gill: Wonderful writing about a wonderful bastard of a writer.
The Wait: This is about having a miscarriage; it’s obviously not a happy piece of writing, but it is very beautiful indeed.
A Season Under The Gun: This is BRILLIANT journalism. A 5-party series (the link goes to pt1, all the others are linked to from the bottom of the piece) about teens playing basketball in downtown Chicago, against a backdrop of all the sort of classic urban issues you’d expect, from drugs to guns to organised crime to grinding poverty and all the stops inbetween. If you watched Hoop Dreams (and if not, why not? HERE YOU GO!), you’ll find a lot to love in here.
Europe’s Child Refugee Crisis: In a week in which the Dubs amendment got given its marching orders to little-to-no outcry, it’s worth reminding ourselves of exactly what kids across the Middle East have been going through to get to some place of safety, and exactly how badly we’ve been letting them down. Still, jokes in the Budget!
Gay Loneliness: A really interesting essay examining what the author perceives as a fundamental loneliness at the heart of the gay male experience. I can’t speak to the truth or accuracy of this, but it was a really interesting read.
You May Want To Marry My Husband: Finally this week, I warn you that this made me absolutely bawl my eyes out and it may do the same to you; still, it’s a truly beautiful little essay and it deserves your attention. You might want some tissues handy, though.
1) This is called ‘The Future of Shopping’ and is an interesting look at the future of retail; what’s notable about it, though, is that it’s all drawn within Tilt for Oculus, and as such offers a really interesting look at how you can use the tech for effective exposition. Worth watching, honest:
2) This is by Cosima, it’s called ‘Build a House’ and it is the best vocal I have heard in an age. WHAT a voice:
3) Ok, if you accept the fact that large parts of this are a straight rip of ‘Cars’ by Gary Numan, this is a legitimate dancefloor BANGER. It’s called ‘Give Me A Reason’ by Ibibio Sound System:
4) This is by a young man called London O’Connor, it’s called ‘Nobody Hangs Out No More’, and I adore it immoderately (it has elements of Kevin Abstract, which may be why):
5) HIPHOP CORNER! Can’t stress how good this one is - it’s called ‘Back Up’, it’s by Clipping, and the whole package - song and video - is unsettling and claustrophobic and nervous and slightly comedowny and generally ACE:
6) I can’t quite work out if this is utterly dreadful or sort of genius, which equivocation suggests it’s probably the former; still, in the 3 weeks since I first heard it I keep coming back to it, which suggests...well, that my taste is possibly dreadful. Still, see what YOU think - this is called ‘Cruel’ and it’s by The Rhythm Method:
7) Last up this week is this beautifully-shot promo for Serpentine by Oyinda; simultaneously warm and glacial, the track’s rather good too. Enjoy, take care, and HAVE FUN! Anon, webmongs: