SO COLD. SO COLD. But no, it is not cold enough to go home from work, IT IS NEVER COLD ENOUGH TO STOP.
I'm late with this today, what with...well, what with having been a bit slow, in the main. Anyway, as a result you're getting little in the way of preamble; instead, enjoy this WARM AND SOOTHING bath of links I have prepared especially for you. Disrobe - MENTALLY AND METAPHORICALLY YOU SICKO, PUT IT AWAY - and slide yourself into my warm, soapy miasma. This is Web Curios - click ALL the links and watch your computer overheat, thereby providing you with something on which to warm your hands.
By Maxime Mouysset
SHALL WE KICK OFF WITH A MIX BY CUT CHEMIST? YES WE SHALL!
THE SECTION WHICH IS INCREASINGLY AMUSED BY THE DISCONNECT BETWEEN THE MEDIA-SAVVY CLASSES’ OPINION OF BIG TECH AND THE VERY OBVIOUS ‘YEAH, WELL, WE DON’T GIVE A FCUK, GIVE US OUR CONVENIENCE CAPITALISM AND DIGITAL DISTRACTIONS BECAUSE, FRANKLY, PRIVACY IS THE LEAST OF OUR WORRIES’ ATTITUDE DISPLAYED BY SEEMINGLY EVERYONE ELSE IN THE WORLD:
- Those Facebook Results: So these are the Q418 numbers and, well, seems we got over #deletefacebook pretty quickly (what’s that? Performative hashtag activism isn’t necessarily a good barometer of practical action? HEAVEN FORFEND!). You can interrogate the data yourself should you desire, but the headline numbers are that FB is making more money than ever, user numbers continue to rise in the developing world, even Europe added 6m MAU despite our being at near-saturation point, and, though the US is stagnant, the overall outlook is seemingly pretty good. Too big to fail? No, but it’s pretty clear that we are too apathetic to care. There’s an interesting analysis of WHAT THIS ALL MEANS here - the take is that Facebook will focus on innovation and new product in the next 12m after its focus on housekeeping over the past 18. HOW EXCITING!
- That Facebook Messenger Services Integration Thing: Obviously now this is OLD NEWS (I do hate it when stuff drops on a Friday just as I finish writing this; you’d have expected that the major press offices would take Curios into account and yet, well, unaccountably not), but I mention it for completeness. Yes, they want to do back-end integration between all the messaging apps that Facebook owns; yes, this will mean encryption on all platforms as standard. No, this doesn’t mean Insta and Messanger and WhatsApp will all be rebranded as one thing. Anyway, this isn’t going to be a thing til next year, earliest, so don’t worry about it - or at least it is unless some plucky little regulator attempts to point out the ever so slightly monopolistic nature of all of this.
- Data Privacy Day: This really isn’t important at all, but it’s worth pointing out Facebook’s statement for Data Privacy Day on Monday, in which its Chief Privacy Officer Erin Egan (a person whose job I very much do not envy, I must say) charmingly tells us that it’s really important ‘for people to periodically review their privacy choices to be sure they’re still the right ones’. In a week in which Facebook’s been censured by Apple for being less-than-transparent in its research and datagathering practices, and just as a general mood, this requires some not insignificant chutzpah.
- FB Expanding Electoral Ad Transparency To More Countries: I mean, literally that, along with some additional information on what Facebook will do to prevent people from using its platforms and services to fcuk up democracy. Let’s be clear - WHATEVER IT DOES WILL NOT BE ENOUGH.
- FB Making Crowdtangle Data Available To Academics: Or at least, it will eventually - this is only of interest to a small subset of you, I’m sure, but those of you in research or academia should probably keep an eye on this - Crowdtangle is the software that basically shows users what is being shared on Facebook, and how much, and by whom, and is used by Editors to drive online content policy amongst other things; as a means of developing insight into information flow, etc, it’s potentially very useful indeed to researchers.
- You Can Now Use Insta Story Filters on Old Photos: On the one hand, I can’t get excited about this at all (and the link is to Mashable, sorry about that); on the other, if you’re the sort of person who relentlessly filters their selfies to perfect the no-texture skinfeel so beloved of the life-through-a-lens generation then know that you can now go back and revise your personal aesthetic history. This is the sort of thing that is a GODSEND for brands - you can basically reuse every single photo you’ve ever posted, but filtered for a ‘2019 aesthetic remix’ look. You’re welcome.
- Hulu Pause Ads: Not available in the UK - in fact, do we all know what Hulu is? It’s a US streaming service, is what - but SUCH a clever idea that I can’t believe noone else has done it already; Hulu’s introducing an ad unit that will display when users pause a video. Simple, and, as they rightly point out, static so as to minimise intrusion, the targeting options here mean you could be wonderfully creative with the image and copyrighting using this inventory. I realise that it’s pathetic to get moderately enthused about an ad unit, but, well, there’s not enough snow here for me to go sledging so I’m slightly clutching at straws for positives this morning.
- The Amazon Numbers: There is a LOT of stuff to unpack in these, not least the jaw-dropping stat that says that Amazon’s Operating Income was $3.8 billion for the quarter, up 81 percent year over year and almost as much as they made in all of 2017. Which is, frankly, insane. Other things that are worth noting - Amazon’s ad revenue is now 20% of Facebook’s, which is also insane given it’s still a nascent ad platform, and the earning’s call was a LOT about Alexa (despite the fact people only use it to listen to the radio, in the main). Basically MechaBezos is probably going to be able to afford a new robosuit made entirely of platinum, diamonds and the One True Cross within the next year or so.
- The Amazon Chronicles: As an aside, this is a new newsletter which will focus on news and analysis of Amazon as a business - I got the first one yesterday and it is EXCELLENT; if you’re the sort of person who needs to know about this stuff, or if you’re simply the sort of person who likes to keep up-to-date with the inexorable process of the apex predator of the capitalist anthropocene, this is a very useful resource indeed.
- A Guide To TikTok: Here at Web Curios, we’re not afraid to admit when we know nothing about something (a lie - I’ve built an entire ‘career’ out of talking quickly and with an air of authority about things I know literally nothing about), and I know next to nothing about TikTok - I downloaded it a year or so ago but just felt weirdly uncomfortable looking at it, like some sort of weird uncle (basically if everyone you see using an app is <20 and you are ~40, it very much feels like it is NOT OK), and, thankfully, very little of the work I do includes ‘REACH OUT TO THE BARELY PUBESCENT’ as an element. This guide, then - ostensibly for parents, but, well, wevs - is hugely useful; it explains the premise of the app, the interface, some of the memes, the culture and the controversy. Obviously if you’re familiar with it already this is probably laughable facile, but as a primer for people like me who will inevitably be asked about this by someone in a meeting, who will say ‘my daughter loves it should we be on TikTok ahahaha’, just like in 2007 with myspace and 2009 with Facebook and 2014 with Snap and OH GOD IT NEVER ENDS, this is helpful.
- 2019 Shutterstock Trends: It’s February now (PINCH! PUNCH!) so this is the last trend thing I’ll put in here til we get to the 2020 predictions in 10 short months’ time (dear god the creaking of the sh1tty merrygoround really is ceaseless, isn’t it?), but this is worth a look - it’s based on data on downloads, searches, etc, from Shutterstock’s millions of members, and whilst obviously this is a silly and slightly bullsh1t statement a lot of these just feel right. Anyway, feel free to point at these to make whatever point you want in your meetings this month.
- Google Dataset Search: “Dataset Search enables users to find data sets stored across the web by way of a simple keyword search. The tool surfaces information about data sets hosted in thousands of repositories across the web, making these data sets universally accessible and useful.” Hugely useful if you need to find numbers for professional purposes.
- The Dulux Visualiser: I can count on the fingers of...er...possibly no hands the number of times I’ve included something here which has featured the words ‘AR’ and ‘useful’ in the same sentence, and yet here in the year of our lord 2019 I have finally found a genuinely smart application of it, by Dulux. Use the app to select the shade of paint you’re thinking of using, and then check out what your walls would look like in, say, Dowager’s Tears via the magic of Augmented Reality. Simple and solves a real-world need. CAN WE STOP WITH THE DANCING AR HOMUNCULI NOW PLEASE? PLEASE?
- All The Digital Stats: It’s that time of year when We Are Social and their various data partners drop their massive ‘ALL OF THE STATS ABOUT DIGITAL IN THE WORLD’ presentation - bookmark it and leech off their hard work for the next 12 months. They don’t mind, they want you to do it. Contains data on Alexa takeup by country and a few other new datapoints besides; equally, it makes clear exactly how meaningless the term ‘social media’ has become in 2019, and how silly it is to bundle usage of stuff like Messenger et al in with Insta / FB / Twitter; can we please start thinking about how we split out one-to-many networks vs closed networks when we talk about this stuff, because they are fundamentally different. THANKS!
By Alma Haser
NEXT, WHY NOT EXPERIENCE THE JOY OF MALLWAVE IN THIS TWO-HOUR MIX OF ODDLY-SOOTHING AMBIENT MUZAK?
THE SECTION WHICH QUITE ENJOYS THIS WEATHER AS IT RENDERS THE OTHERWISE DREADFUL MINEFIELD OF PROFESSIONAL SMALL TALK MOMENTARILY NAVIGABLE, PT.1:
- The Net Art Anthology: Let’s kick off with something BIG and CHUNKY and VERY INTERNET - this is a wonderful project, where over a two-year period will present 100 projects from the history of net art, one each week. “The series takes on the complex task of identifying, preserving, and presenting exemplary works in a field characterized by broad participation, diverse practices, promiscuous collaboration, and rapidly shifting formal and aesthetic standards, sketching a possible net art canon.” So there. If you’re interested in the idea of art as an internet thing, then this will obviously be up your street, but even if you think that the vast majority of what’s commonly called ‘net art’ is self-indulgent wank there is a LOT of it here and there will be at least one thing which you’ll look at and go “yep, I can totally rip off the base concept there and the client will think I’m a leftfield genius”. Also, thanks to this I have just learned that Brazil had email in the 80s, basically, which is MIND-BLOWING: “Videotexto, a pre-internet telecommunications network in Brazil was implemented in 1982, offering public information and a user-to-user messaging system via special terminals. Because a phone line was a rare and valuable commodity in Brazil at that time, these were mostly available in public spaces such as libraries or stores.” WHO KNEW?
- The Recursive Painting Tree Diagram: You’ve all read the story about the recursive Reddit painting this week, right? No? Fine, read it, I’ll wait. Done? Sweet, isn’t it? Anyway, someone built a little website showing the evolution of the meme from the original artwork through all the various baroque reworkings the community has churned out, all presented as a little family tree; the creator’s apparently going to keep updating this as new artworks are created, so expect the Louvre to be devoting its entire West wing to this stuff by 2021 if my maths is right.
- The News Lifespan: This is an EXCELLENT site and a really interesting project, seeking to map how the news enters, spreads within and then leaves the public consciousness, based on tracking Google search data. The project only takes data from US searches, but nonetheless it’s fascinating to see the commonalities in half-life amongst all the stories - they tend to follow a similar pattern of interest, in the main, though in certain cases the pattern extends over a far greater length of time than others. I would be fascinated to see how this applies to UK news; I wonder whether any of the big UK publishers would use their own traffic data to run something similar?
- Loop: This is a really interesting idea that I can’t imagine working at all, but I’m almost certainly wrong about that so perhaps go and invest in this RIGHT NOW. Loop is a yet-to-launch but seemingly-imminent service which will let consumers in the US shop for a selection of products from ACTUAL REAL BRANDS (Haagen Dazs and a few P&G/Unilever-type things, for example) which will be delivered to their home - so far, so standard. The gimmick here is that Loop will deliver the goods in their own durable, washable, reusable containers - so your icecream will come in some sort of metal tiffin tin, your detergent in a reusable squeezy bottle, that sort of thing. You use the stuff, you return the containers (free collection and shipping, obvs) and then you get a load of new containers full of stuff to replace the old ones. No packaging waste! So clean! So green! Let’s be charitable and assume that the whole supply chain here - deliveries and container-washing and the like - is carbon neutral here; even given that, do people want to get their stuff (even consumables) in packaging scuffed from repeat usage and high-pressure dishwashing? I’m going to say the sort of people who are rich enough to afford this are also the people least likely to to want to eat icecream out of a scratched metal tub which has been touched by STRANGE, GERMY OTHERS, personally, but then again I’m just a know-nothing digimong and these people have presumably got a fcukload of VC funding so, well, don’t listen to me.
- Phishing Quiz: A ‘fun’ little quiz from Google, which sets you a series of little tests to see how good you are at spotting when someone’s trying to trick you into giving up all your data through a scam website. Send this to your parents to scare the everliving sh1t out of them (don’t do that, it would be MEAN) - honestly, this is HARD (or, er, I am a moron and have very much been pwned by every single script kiddie out there, either/or).
- The B3ta Dictionary: B3ta’s been home to many projects, not least the no-longer-B3ta affiliated Sickipedia, the offensive gags website which really is the best example I can think of of how popular culture has changed in the last 10 years (1999: Let’s make a site collecting all the nonce jokes people can think of! 2019: Let’s never, ever make nonce jokes again, please don’t come round to our houses and burn us for our lapse in taste). This is another of those - the B3ta dictionary is a small lexicon of terms and phrases popularised on the board, and is a lovely reminisce if you ever spent any time on there. If you didn’t it may be in large part incomprehensible, but it could provide you with a whole load of obscure, rude-sounding phrases with which to baffle (and, eventually, irritate to the point of violence) your colleagues.
- PPT App: Having noted the ACTUALLY QUITE GOOD Dulux AR activation up there, we now return very much to the AR terra firma with this Canadian app - ANOTHER attempt to make ‘persistent AR tags in the real world’ a THING. “Be in the know and bring positive change to your community through localized augmented reality videos straight from your phone.Our mission is simple. We want to reconnect you with the people, places and things that make your neighborhood awesome.” So, to be clear, the idea here is that you will see stuff near where you live, use the app to add an AR tag to it - the developers’ suggestions include such helpful notes as ‘New!’ and ‘Yum’ and, incredibly, “Curb!”, a note that wouldn’t be necessary UNLESS YOU WERE STARING AT YOUR FCUKING PHONE RATHER THAN LOOKING WHERE YOU WERE GOING - and then wait for others to ‘discover’ your notes. HOW? HOW WILL THEY DO THIS? Do the developers expect everyone to wander round the streets staring through their phone in case they spot an AR love heart? Is there some sort of push notification when you stumble across a tag which tells you to launch the app to see it, and if so won’t that get a little old the 99th time you’re instructed to get your phone out to look at some idiot who typed an AR ‘Lol!’ over a real-world dog poo? THIS SOUNDS TERRIBLE. Bafflingly, this has seemingly been at least part-funded by the Canadian state - truly, they are so NICE.
- Pro Stories Video Editor: Do YOU make Stories? Of course you do! We love Stories! WATCH THE POORLY-SHOT-AND-EDITED-SUB-MADE-IN-CHELSEA REALITY-SHOW-THAT-IS-MY-LIFE! Ahem. Anyway, if you love Stories as much as we do here at Curios then you might find this web editing tool for video rather useful; it lets you crop and stitch them for the Stories format and then export them to the platform of your choice. As a free tool, this is probably worth a look. Be aware, though, that it won’t make people care.
- Google Talk To Books: This is a really interesting if not entirely successful idea - Google’s taken the huge corpus of literature its digitised and indexed and is running it through its natural language processing brains with a view to creating a searchable, conversational database that will let one draw from the wisdom of literature; the idea is that you can ask the interface anything you like, and it will try and make sense of your question and spit out a suitable bit of book that fits with your query. It doesn’t QUITE work, but there’s definitely a sort of ‘magic 8-ball’-type toy you could hack together with this. I just asked it “why am I so scared?” and it replied with “You’re surrounded on all sides by enemies bigger and stronger than yourself.Why wouldn’t you be scared? “But I’m here to tell each and every one of you that YOU AREA WINNER!” which, frankly, was just the motivational fillip I need at 845 on a snow Friday morning. See what it tells YOU.
- Black 3.0: I’ve featured Stuart Semple and his work in here quite a lot over the past few years; this is the latest in his gloriously petty (but also actually sort of serious) one-man project to annoy Anish Kapoor by creating a paint as-black as Kapoor’s famously VERY black Vantablack (if you want the background to the story you can read it all here, but basically Semple thinks that Kapoor is a pompous, self-important arsehole and, by all accounts, Semple is absolutely 100% right). Anyway, if you want the chance to own some of the blackest paint EVER MADE, here’s your chance - the Kickstarter for it is 3x funded with over a month left to go, so this is definitely happening, and it’s worth backing it purely to have the chance to draw ACME-style Wil E Coyote-esque fake tunnels on walls all over London.
- Bassoon Tracker: Sadly nothing to do with Shatner’s Bassoon - this is instead a seemingly-perfect replica of an old-style Amiga synth programme, lovingly recreated in your browser. Want to go back to 1993 and make the sort of track that could happily be used as the backing music on a pre-load crack screen? YES YOU DO! You can export your creations, in case you want to spend the day making slightly bleepy synth tracks and then uploading them to Soundcloud to an audience of literally noone.
- Buy Music Club: This is a lovely way of discovering new music - Bandcamp’s long been an excellent place to discover new, obscure, leftfield stuff, and this site lets anyone pull together a playlist of tracks from the site, give it a name and leave it here for anyone to stream, with the added bonus that all Bandcamp links are shoppable, meaning that (in theory at least) the creators have a chance of being paid. A Good Thing, and there are some really rather good mixes/playlists on there already.
- Blendle: Is 2019 the year in which someone finally nails micropayments as the solution to the CRISIS IN MEDIA? No, probably not - I am pretty much convinced that this is something that will eventually come, but when it does it will be one of the usual suspects who makes it work (it’ll be Amazon, won’t it? Everything’s going to be fcuking Amazon). Anyway, Blendle is an in-Beta service which promises that all sorts of major outlets are already signed up and which promises to finally fulful the promise of micropayments for news - you’ll pay a per-article price, though it’s not clear exactly what that is, and can get refunds if you click on something by accident. Actually, digging a bit more, this is already live in the Netherlands and Germany; it’s just in Beta in the US. Maybe it will succeed? It’s slightly depressing to note that the service covers features-y journalism rather than news, though - proof positive, again, that whilst we’re increasingly willing to pay for ‘journalism’ in its widest sense, we’re far less inclined to pony up for the hard business of news reporting. Doesn’t necessarily bode well.
- BIG Meals: Would you like a website featuring HUNDREDS of recipes for EXTREMELY LARGE AMOUNTS OF FOOD? Would you like to know how you might go about making a Waldorf Salad that feeds 100? Meatloaf for 1000? You wouldn’t want to eat ANY of this stuff, it’s fair to say, but it’s all sort of grimly fascinating.
- PUBG Report: OK, this is perhaps a bit niche but I think it’s potentially an interesting bellwether. PUBG refers to Player Unknown Battlegrounds, the shooting game that made the ‘Battle Royale’ genre popular before Fortnite sent it stratospheric. PUBG is a slightly more serious game, much less popular and played mostly on PC - this is an incredible website that lets you search for the username of any PUBG player (PC users only) and which will pull up footage of any kills they have made or suffered in-game in the past two weeks, presuming it was streamed on Twitch. This is HUGE - fine, you might not care about the current application, but as a window into how esports will work when they get BIG it’s fascinating. Imagine being able to quickly pull together a highlights reel of your favourite streamer with a few short clicks, or quickly get all the headshots from a particular map over the past week to analyse...honestly, however shonky this is right now, the theory behind it is VERY future.
- Vile and Awful Conservative Art: A Twitter account sharing the excellent, awful memery from the weird Conservative internet. It’s a US account and, well, it’s not exactly non-partisan, but neither am I and I find all this quite funny in a miserable, ‘really? Jesus’ sort of way.
- Along The Mekong: A beautiful travelogue on National Geographic, in which Christopher Niemann travels the river through Cambodia and Vietnam - the photographs are beautiful, and, in a lovely touch, they’re embellished with Niemann’s illustrations, adding his own personal observations to each seen. Just a really beautiful series of images, presented wonderfully.
- The Secret Dunny Box: SO AUSTRALIAN! An excellent, silly little arty project in which Nicole He set up a small Raspberry Pi-powered recording and playback device in a toilet, creating “a bathroom installation that lets you listen to a secret message left for you by the previous visitor, but only if you leave a message for the next person”. Literally just that, but if someone doesn’t attempt to pitch a variant at this to Andrex then, well, you’re MAD - look, pin it on the spurious insight that 34% of people feel like they only really get time alone on the toilet (I have made this up but you could totally get away with it, plausible as it sounds) and have their best thoughts there, I bet you they go for it. Here’s a list of all the messages people left, by the way - fair play to the multiple people who, bafflingly, chose to leave a message saying ‘drink more p1ss’.
- Occult Voices: You want a collection of creepy, occult audio recordings, with titles like ‘Jack Sutton contacts dead airmen’ and ‘Voices of possessed children’? No, I can’t imagine you do, but why not use your imagination and maybe set these to play quietly from a cupboard in the corner of the office all week and see how long it takes for people to start to worry?
- This Is Our Art: “Startling, strange and obscure paintings from the UK National Collection” - this is a GREAT Twitter feed collecting images of artworks currently in storage; this year it’s presenting pictures which depict the Thames, from the source to its mouth, and the whole account is generally a delight.
By Lucy Dyson
NEXT, TRY THIS EXCELLENT ALBUM BY CANNIBALE WHICH IS A PLEASINGLY JAZZY ANTIDOTE TO THE SNOW!
THE SECTION WHICH QUITE ENJOYS THIS WEATHER AS IT RENDERS THE OTHERWISE DREADFUL MINEFIELD OF PROFESSIONAL SMALL TALK MOMENTARILY NAVIGABLE, PT.2:
- Buttondown: There are a million-and-one newsletter solutions out there at the moment, but this looks like a particularly neat one. Free and seemingly simple to use, the idea here is that you can just paste some HTML or Markdown and then hit send, confident that it will all work ok and look nice and stuff. Which is generally A Good Thing - I say that as someone who somehow manages to fcuk up the formatting of this bastard newsletterblogthing every single week, despite having been writing it on this platform for the best part of 6 years. Oh, and as an additional point, we don’t need any more newsletters. Stop it. Noone reads mine as it is, I don’t want the competition. OK? Thanks.
- OMG A Girl: A slightly depressing, eye-opening and yet unsurprising YouTube channel, in which the creator, streamer Spawntaneous Gaming, posts compilations showing exactly what it’s like being a girl playing online. It’s no so much the sexism (and the racism, my GOD the racism) that’s upsetting so much as the crushing banality of it - it’s just air - and the fact that (and I know this isn’t an original observation, but I spend very little time with teenage boys and so it was new to me) how stupid teenage boys are. No wonder noone wanted to kiss me when I was 14.
- 80s Anti-Game Propaganda: EXCELLENT examples of the sort of scaremongering that was everywhere in the 80s, and which, if you choose to see it as such, is eerily analogous to some of the more breathless ‘TECH IS KILLING OUR CHILDREN’ screaming we’ve seen a lot of so far in 2019. I particularly love the ‘Pacman Eye’, with the pupil replaced with a gobbling sprite to connote the MAD ADDICTION of the gamer.
- Instaset: I shouldn’t be surprised that this is a business, and yet, well, I am. Instaset offers you, an INFLUENCER, the opportunity to buy some, er, slightly crap-looking vinyl backgrounds on which you can photograph your latest lifestyle or shoot or product haul, with a huge variety of colours, shades and textures available so as to ensure that your acai porridge quinoa breakfast prolapse really *pops*. On the one hand, I can totally understand the purpose of this and the market for it; on the other, welcome to a world in which you’re not effectively setting up a professional quality shoot for your artfully-posed makeup regime snapshot then you may as well be DEAD in Insta terms. Nothing is real, everything is faked and everyone thinks they are David fcuking Bailey. GREAT!
- Ceave Gaming: Think you’re good at videogames?You’re not. This person is, though - watch as they complete a bunch of Mario games increasingly weird and unfeasable ways. Did you know that you could complete the entirety of a Mario game without ever pressing ‘right’? No, of course you didn’t, nor indeed did you care, and yet now that you’ve read that there’s part of you that’s slightly curious as to how, isn’t there? God, I can read you like a book (30pp, £3.99, Usborn Slow Readers Series).
- Mascot Silence: Football mascots, observing minute’s silences, on Twitter. Genuinely wonderful.
- Headliner: ANOTHER video creation app - this one’s basically witchcraft, though, given you can just plug in a bunch of audio and it will, apparently, generate appropriate video (in the aspect ratio you specify) on the fly. THIS IS AMAZING. OK, fine, the outputs aren’t the most polished, but if you need to churn out a proof of concept or similar this is a GREAT idea - also, it’s free. I know I keep saying this, but 2019 is a very, very bad time to be a low-margin video editor.
- Photos Of Cold: IT'S REALLY COLD EVERYWHERE! Look at it!
- Weird Science: “What's the weirdest thing you've done for science? For me, it was giving nicotine enemas to caterpillars” So did Jason Rasgon kick off this WONDERFUL Twitter thread, in which scientists vie with each other to claim the crown of ‘oddest activity performed in the name of scientific enquiry’. You’ll find your own favourite, but I find it hard to look beyond: “slit the spine of a mouse at the top and bottom, insert a syringe and pop the spinal cord out like it was silly string”. Scientists, you are MONSTERS.
- Descript: ANOTHER piece of tech voodoo, this is probably magic. Descript describes itself as a visual audio editor, and it lets you do lots of cool things with regard to isolating words in an audio file and easily move them around...the main draw here, though, is the text-based audio editor; upload an audio file, it will spit out a transcript, which you can then edit in a text editor - those edits get automatically applied to the audio file. I KNOW, RIGHT? MAGIC! It’s a paid-for service, but, honestly, you can’t put a price on MAGIC.
- Queer Archive Work: I’m going to let them describe this - if you’ve any interest in contemporary art practive, queer theory, postmodernism or any of that jazz, this is very much worth a read / explore, but be aware that those of you with less of a background in artwank might find it a bit tricky to parse: “QUEER.ARCHIVE.WORK is an urgent act of publishing that’s radical, messy, and future-looking. It’s a signal sent out into muddy waters, the start of a speculative practice emerging from (and moving towards) the undercommons—a collective place for subversive artists and writers who reject normative narratives.” Take a look.
- Autopo: Thanks to Ed for pointing this out to me - Autopo is an interesting tool designed to help people organise ‘gatherings’, whether parties, festivals or conferences; you can set up teams, manage workloads and workflows, take payments, and generally do any of the myriad things you’ll need if you’re the sort of lunatic who does events stuff rather than avoiding them like the plague.
- SeaTube: Would you like a YouTube channel devoted solely to very slow, very relaxing, VERY dull videos of shipping containers? YES YOU WOULD! Make a playlist of these and soundtrack it with Brian Eno and you’ve basically got a 7-figure art installation. You’re welcome!
- Squiggle: I give it literally a week before a YouTuber features these and they become a THING. ‘Artists’ the Bendel Brothers have made these ‘sunglasses’ - except their not sunglesses, they’re literally a perspex squiggle that sits across your nose and obscures your vision, looking a little bit like the sort of vapourwave stencil overlay you see on Insta stickers. There’s some high-concept here about ‘seeing’ or somesuch crap but, well, look at these and tell me they’re not going to be a desirable fashion item before the Summer comes round. Anyone working for TopShop or ASOS? Here’s your next thieving opportunity.
- Missing: This is a wonderful piece of digital storytelling by SBS Australia, about Wendy Jane Pfeiffer who was abducted in the mid-60s in Australia and who was subsequently found by a pair of aboriginal trackers. Presenting the story through photos and audio with a little bit of dynamic web interface gubbins on the side, I love the aesthetic of this - the way they use perspective and collage in many of the elements is lovely, and the voice work is wonderful. Really, really nice, and a great example of what you can do when you don’t have video but you have a good art director and some animation.
- Drawer Simulator: CAN YOU GET THE DRAWER OPEN? CAN YOU? Honestly, this game is GRIPPING (also, it’s very short and the multiple perspectives at once thing is a nice touch).
- Ancient Greek Punishment - Inversion Edition: I think I featured the original version og this - a series of small browser games in which you play through some of the Greek gods’ greatest punishment hits, like Sisyphus and his boulder and Prometheus and his eagle. This is the same game, except reversed - so instead of being Sisyphus, you’re the boulder. Short, clever, and funnier than it ought to be for a reasonably one-note gag.
- Wake Word: Finally in this week’s miscellanea, The Verge has commissioned an interactive fiction piece about the dystopian near-future we can all see just around the corner if we squint hard enough - I won’t spoil the details, but this is VERY good and the observations are painfully spot-on. All I’ll say is that it takes 5 minutes or so to get going, but after that, well, ENJOY.
By Igor Skaletsky
LAST UP, TRY THIS ECLECTIC ELECTRONICA MIX BY RESOM!
THE CIRCUS OF TUMBLRS (NEITHER OF WHICH THIS WEEK ARE TUMBLRS, THEREBY MAKING A MOCKERY OF MY CAREFULLY-CONSTRUCTED TAXONOMICAL STYLINGS ONCE AGAIN!)!:
- An Accumulation of Things: A Tumblr-ish website collecting the writings of...someone? No idea who the author is, but I *love* their work - honestly, take 5 minutes to have a peruse, there are some beautiful words in here.
- Brooklyn Stereography: You like 3d photos? I mean 3d in the old, left eye / right eye sense? OH GOOD! “Ian Ference's blog on all things stereographic, from classic scopes & stereoviews to historical context & modern analysis”
THE TROUGH OF (INSTA) FEEDS!:
- TinTin: His creator may have been a dreadful man, TinTin himself might have some...questionable elements in his past, but he still has many fans, including whichever Brazilian enthusiast it is who runs this Insta account. You want TinTin? YOU GOT TINTIN!
- Nice Nails: A reasonably standard nail art account, but which is elevated to brilliance in my mind by the occcasional customer who seemingly comes in and says ‘hi, can you draw a whole bunch of crudely-drawn cocks on my nails, please?’.
- KJ Cardigan: Some genuinely remarkable knitting. The sausage rolls look good enough to eat.
LONG THINGS WHICH ARE LONG!:
- The Facts About Facebook: Or at least some of the facts, in the main the bad ones. This is a TechCrunch piece recapping all the BAD THINGS that Facebook, and Zuckerberg, has done in the past 15 years, and it is a HUGELY irritating article. You may be aware from Curios past and present that I am no fan of the Big Blue Misery Factory, but, equally, TechCrunch sitting here and talking about HOW EVIL IT IS whilst at the same time being part of exactly the same coterie of the uncritical tech press which for a decade gave the platforms an absolute free ride, talking up GROWTH and INNOVATION and how COOL AND FUN it all was, never asking any of the questions about data and privacy and intention and influence and impact that any proper journalist might perhaps have thought of...I mean, look, Facebook has lots to answer for, but the chummy smugness of this piece really boiled my p1ss.
- Steve Jobs Never Wanted This: An interesting look back at the launch of the original iPhone, and specifically the manner in which Jobs presented what Apple saw as the manner in which it would be used. No app store, ‘it’s killer feature is it’s a phone’...seems quaint, doesn’t it? A useful reminder to anyone and everyone involved in product design that you can never, ever accurately predict user behaviour in the wild.
- The Truth About The Techlash: Excellent piece of writing about the current backlash against tech companies, which suggests that part of the reason is that private companies have never been in a position of having so much public impact before, and that as such they are in uncharted territory when it comes to dealing with the issues raised by their products; as the author puts it, “Inventing new technology is easy; creating new kinds of organisations with novel governance arrangements is much more difficult.”
- The Emotional Support Dogs of Buzzfeed: There is nothing funny about a bunch of people losing their jobs, and there’s nothing funny per se about this piece which shares some of the conversations from the ‘Ask Jonah’ Slack channel at Buzzfeed, where staff waiting to find out whether the sword of Damocles was about to fall on them asked beleaguered boss Jonah Peretti for clarification on what the fcuk was going on. However, there’s something very now about the way in which the conversation pivots halfway through to a conversation about how everyone should be provided with emotional support puppies to cuddle as a means of dealing with the stress of all the job losses. Witness Peretti leaping on it as a convenient salve for the ills the VCs have wrought! Watch staff get distracted by the promise of PUPPY CUDDLES to the point where they seem to forget entirely about things like worker rights! This is so very, very NOW - but also, kids, if anyone suggests that you maybe have a doggy cuddle when they sack you, maybe you ask them about union representation, yes?
- Down From The Mountain: This is very long, but (at least for me, who is FAR from an expert on South American politics) it’s a hugely useful primer on the recent history of Venezuela and how, from an outside perspective, it’s arrived at its current, messy impasse. From the LRB, so as well-written as you’d expect, this is a review of a new biography of Chavez, offering a fascinating precis of ‘Chavezismo’ - reading this makes it all the more miserable that the country’s currently so utterly banjaxed.
- The Bulletproof Biohacker: Do you remember Bulletproof Coffee from a few years back, when people were momentarily convinced that adding half a pack of Lurpak to your latte would magically make you live forever? It sounded like bollocks then and sounds like bollocks now - and I was convinced it and everyone associated with it had vanished, but it turns out that the guy who ‘founded’ it is in fact still around and still rich and...er...undertaking an insane-sounding healthcare regime involving having axolotl jizz injected into his eyelids or something. Read this and realise that if this is what it is going to take to live to 150 then it sounds AWFUL. As an aside, just click the link and look at the guy’s photo and guess how old he is without reading any of the copy. What do you think? How old you reckon he is? A good looking 50? A really good looking 60? NO HE IS 45! FFS mate, YOU DON’T LOOK THAT GOOD.
- Can Computers See Bongo?: A fascinating look at how one could train machines to ‘know’ what bongo is - not just based on a percentage of fleshtone pixels within a certain area, but based on an actual ‘understanding’ of what bongo is. There’s a fascinating wider question here about how much of the web is made up of images of naked people fcuking and how odd it is that none of the bots and spiders and the rest are really doing anything with it; with a bit of luck, I will be able to bring you some GENUINELY EXCITING AND SEMI-EXCLUSIVE CONTENT all about this a little later in the year. Maybe.
- The Route of a Text Message: Do you know how text messages get sent? You don’t, do you? In fairness there’s every possibility that you don’t care either, which is obviously fine, but aren’t you even a bit curious? No? FFS. For those of you who do care, this is a very long and technical but surprisingly readable explanation of exactly how all the tech works when you send a message to someone else - from the touchscreen you input on to the phone that spits it out at the other end. You will learn something (or at least I presume you will, but then again I also tend to assume that everyone else is as bad at tech as I am).
- The Art of Eyeball Harvesting: Not actual eyeball harvesting, obviously, that would be SICK (also, is not art! Is science!), but instead the practice of delivering eyeballs to advertisers through EXCITING DIGITAL MEANS. This is a very, very useful primer on how ad buying works in 2019, explaining how the difference between various types of ad sales models and how they all work. To those of you who work in ad sales this might all be second nature, but I found it genuinely useful as a guide to the techy business of how ad servers determine who gets fed what.
- How Bots Ruined Buying Sneakers: Or ‘trainers’ to us non-obsessive normies. As per lots of other high-competition markets, the world of compulsive trainer purchasing has been transformed by tech, with all sorts of bots being developed to help the ‘heads get their hands on the latest ish (this is how they talk, isn’t it, the trainer people?) ahead of the competition. It’s interesting in part because of the specific intersection between tech and street culture this represents, but also because of the clear explanation it gives of how pretty much any market for any good where scarcity and high demand are in play can be effectively turned upside down using variations on this sort of approach. I am off to absolutely DISRUPT the high-end Koi carp market, brb.
- When Diderot Met Voltaire: It’s not often you can describe the account of a meeting between two intellectual giants of the late-18th century as ‘deliciously salty’, but that absolutely applies here. SO GOOD - I do love these pieces that remind you of the essentially crappy, human nature of even the greatest minds. Also, this description (of Voltaire, by Diderot) is just lovely: an “enchanted castle whose various parts are falling apart,” but whose corridors were “still inhabited by an old sorcerer.”
- Kingdom Hearts III: Might need to explain this one a bit, bear with me. Kingdom Hearts is a videogame series, whose third iteration launched this week, in which you play as some weird little anime kid fighting his way through a series of worlds all officially licensed from Disney properties; the game features literally EVERY Disney character you can imagine and a baffling, nonsensical plot and it is all VERY Japanese and VERY Disney and VERY weird. I have no interest in the games in particular, but this review is written by Tim Rogers (see Curios passim for how much I love Tim’s writing) and contains some truly BRILLIANT writing. If you’re interested in games at all, regardless of your interest in this particular one, you ought to read this piece. I mean, just LOOK: “It is a museum exhibiting its own architecture. Its decadent spectacle is the closest games have come yet to giving me the catharsis of walking into a Louis Vuitton store and neither buying anything nor being asked to leave. I challenge Metacritic to extract a number from that last paragraph.” See?
- Marlon James: A truly fascinating profile of Marlon James in the New Yorker, in advance of the publication of his next novel which the piece characterises as being like ‘an African Game of Thrones’. The stuff about the current book, and even about ‘A Brief History of Seven Killings’ is less interesting than the stuff about James himself, who comes across as a fascinating, contrary, stubborn and brilliant man; I particularly liked this quote, about James: “This is one of the things that’s always fascinated me about him. I don’t know that he always realizes how inventive he is, or how subversive. I think, in his mind, he’s always written this highly commercial thing.”
- Remembering The Day Today: You all know The Day Today, right? You must do. If not, you can find all the episodes on YouTube - here’s the first one, and don’t come back until you’ve watched them all (and yes, I am acutely aware of how incredibly fcuking annoying it is to have ANOTHER middle-aged white man tell you that HIS favourite thing is the BEST and MOST IMPORTANT thing, but, honestly, it really is the best and most important thing). Back? Good, we can continue. As you now know, The Day Today was a fake news show put together by Armando Ianucci (before The Thick of It was even thought of) and Chris Morris (pre-Brass Eye); it launched Alan Partridge (and basically Coogan’s mainstream career) and a bunch of other people, and if you watch it back now you realise that, well, it could literally be the news today, except then it was ridiculous and now it’s just, well, today. Just watch the opening credits - that was a JOKE in 1992, whereas now that’s every single fcuking news channel in the world. Anyway, this is an oral history of the programme - god it was good.
- The Race for the Egg: You remember The Egg, don’t you? Come on, it was only a few weeks ago! That’s right, the egg that became the most followed thing on Instagram ever and thereby attained a degree of cultural significance - this is a piece all about how various people are attempting to exploit its fame for personal fortune. Yes, that’s right, an Instagram account owned by a person pretending to be an egg is being seriously discussed as a viable means through which someone might launch their bid to be the next President of the United States. Hi, month two of 2019, you’ve got a lot to live up to!
- How Alts Went Mainstream: Sarah Manavis and Amelia Tate continue to do some of the most interesting writing about online culture in the UK, although it’s always a bit weird to see them bylined in the New Statesman of all places. Anyway, this is Manavis writing about how the ‘alt’ account is now a mainstream thing for everyone, or at least those people who feel the need to share and emote online but don’t necessarily want the public vulnerability that that can lead to. Are we moving towards a position where our online identities are nested like matryoshka dolls, getting smaller and denser as we descend, finstas all the way down? What do you think?
- Amazon Vine: I was honestly fascinated by this - I honestly did not know that Amazon Vine was a thing. If you’re similarly ignorant, then know that Vine is Amazon’s Super Reviewer programme, where people get sent LOADS of free stuff by Amazon in exchange for posting honest reviews of said stuff. This is REALLY interesting - in part because of the weirdly murky ethics of it, but also because of the repeated sense from the Viners interviewed that there was something quite psychologically odd about getting all this free stuff all the time, and that it warps your relationship with consumer capitalism in quite a strange way. This feels very much like there is a novel in here somewhere (which observation may well be why I am not, as yet, a bestselling - or indeed any sort of - novelist).
- The Oral History of Mark E Smith: The Fall’s lead singer died last year - he was a, er, problematic individual and there was a lot of quite reasonable debate around his death about whether it was ok to lionise someone who it’s pretty clear was at best ‘a bit of a cnut’ and at worst ‘a likely abuser’ - that said, this oral history of the man, pieced together for former bandmates, girlfriends, journalists and others who crossed his path, is BRILLIANT. Almost every line is gold - I mean, look: “Some trendy French promoters took us for a meal in this swanky restaurant. Mark decided he was going to horrify everyone by being as outrageous as possible. He ordered a steak with no vegetables or anything else, just steak. Then he proceeded to eat it without any cutlery, just eating it with his hands and mouth and tearing chunks off it like a starved wolf, and then spitting it out. You should have seen the looks on their faces. I was in hysterics. He was a wind up merchant.”
- Who Was Lil Tay?: I think I featured Lil Tay last year, in a sort of horrified ‘oh look what social media has wrought’ way - if you don’t recall, Lil Tay got some pretty hefty viral notoriety last year when videos appeared of a cute-looking 10 year old saying some very un-cute and un-10y/o things; fame quickly followed, and hookups with Bhad Bhabie and other such luminaries. Then, Lil Tay disappeared. Welcome to another story in which it seems a little kid is getting royally screwed by a bunch of adults who see marketing dollars where a small child should be - can we all agree that we’ll stop making these kids famous when it looks this dodgy? No? No, we can’t, can we? FFS.
- The Dons of Disco: Italodisco! Nylon! Polyester! SO MUCH COCAINE AND SYNTH! This is a brilliant yarn, about the prince of Italodisco and the slightly Milli Vanilli truth behind it all. It’s accompanying a documentary on the same subject, which frankly sounds like a bit of a must-watch.
- The High School Basketball Fraud: One of two proper WTAF stories in here this week, this is the tale of Sidney Gilstrap-Portley who decided to give himself a second chance of being somebody thanks to being a high school basketball prodigy; the only issue with this was that Sidney was in his mid-20s by the time he made this decision, and that pretending to be 17 so you can play high school basketball REALLY REALLY WELL is a bit, well, odd. This is a very, very strange story, and you feel pretty sorry for Sidney by the end of it, whilst at the same time really not wanting him to hang around your kids very much.
- The Bicycle Bank Robber: The second WTAF story of the week, this takes in bank robberies, Olympic cycling, the French Foreign Legion and crack cocaine - and that’s all just one man. This HAS to be a film one day - honestly, enjoy this one, it’s a cracking yarn.
- Thoughts and Prayers: Finally this week, near-future fiction by Ken Liu - the premise of the short is ‘how bad can trolling get?’, but the story itself is far more nuanced and interesting than the sort of schlocky scenario that conjures up. Eminently plausible, and like all the best scifi this is very much about the now rather than tomorrow.
By Kai Wai Wong
AND NOW, MOVING PICTURES AND SOUNDS!:
1) First up, I have no idea what this is but the video unsettled me something chronic and so, well, here you are! It’s called ‘Compliance’ by Preoccupations and it’s a sort of droney industrial thing with a very weird pagan video and, well, er, enjoy!:
2) Next, give this a go from Stella Donnelly - it’s called ‘Lunch’, and I love her voice:
3) This is Balthazar, the song is called ‘Wrong Vibration’, and it’s a GREAT pop song with a slightly 60s vibe to it - also, the line ‘don’t let your morality / affect your imagination girl’ is beautifully sleazy:
4) Would you like a punk track where the video imagines a sleazy, techy future not unlike our own present while the singer screams about being on the brink of calamity? YES YOU WOULD! This is Pup with ‘Kids’:
5) HIPHOP CORNER! This is brilliantly wonky - J.E.T.S. ft. Mykki Blanco with ‘PLAY’. This is really very good imho:
6) I have no idea at all what this is. It seems to feature a sentient soup can, but if any of you can explain it to me then, well, great. It’s fcuking unsettling, though, so fits right in with the accepted Curios aesthetic:
7) Finally in the videos this week, have this track by Japanese boyband World Order, which is a charming autotuned pop song with an equally charming video all about the Orwellian nature of the now - THIS IS AMAZINGLY GOOD! Enjoy, take care, have fun, and BYE BYE BYE WRAP UP WARM NOW IT’S VERY COLD OUTSIDE AND TAKE CARE NOT TO SLIP ON THE ICE LATER ON WHEN YOU’RE ALL DRUNK AND WOBBLY YOU KNOW HOW I WORRY ABOUT YOU SO WHY NOT DO THE SENSIBLE THING AND JUST STAY AT HOME AND MULL SOME WINE OR SOMETHING GO ON YOU KNOW YOU WANT TO ANYWAY TAKE CARE HAVE FUN AND MAKE A SNOWMAN I LOVE YOU BYE BYE!: