Web Curios 02/11/18
I know this has been a tricky week, with all sorts of stress and pain and difficulty and quite a lot of general 'wow, everything seems really quite messy and terrible, doesn't it?'-type vibes knocking about, but, well, I have spent much of it being a digital cowboy and frankly that's been enough to ensure that I've not really spent too much time thinking about it. It turns out that THIS is how to cope with the massive centrifuge of horror that is 2018 - simply hunker down and pretend that you're in fact living an outlaw's life in the late-19th century.
So sadly I have little to say about America's racist President and his continued attempts to disfigure the US political landscape to the point of permanent scarring, or Comedy Phil Hammond's largely theoretical Budget, or poor old 'Handsy' Sitwell and his swordfalling, or indeed much else - I have a supermarket trip to do (I know that you live for these occasional insights into my life) and then I am getting RIGHT back in the saddle.
While I do that, why don't you take a deep breath, travel to that special safe place within yourselves where you keep your reserves of courage and pluck and spunk, and prepare to take a walk back through the week online; the seemingly inexorable word inflation that seems to be afflicting Curios at the moment means that this one's touching just shy of 10k words which means that probability suggests at least some of them ought to please you. Take my kilometric musings and let them inside you - THIS, AS EVER, IS WEB CURIOS!
By Chen Fei
THE SECTION WHICH WONDERED BRIEFLY WHETHER THE ABILITY TO PROMO INSTA STORIES WILL LEAD US TO A POINT AT WHICH ORDINARY PUNTERS WITH A THIRST FOR INSTAFAME START BOOSTING THEIR STORIES IN A DESPERATE ATTEMPT OF GETTING CAST ON LOVE ISLAND NEXT YEAR AND THEN REALISED THAT OF COURSE IT FCUKING WILL:
- The Facebook Numbers: Another set of quarterlies and another reminder that despite what we all might think of Facebook and its impact on our lives it remains a terrifyingly successful product which is nowhere near done insinuating itself into every single corner of the world. User numbers rose again (though once more stayed stagnant in the US and Europe), and there was lots of exciting (not exciting) talk about how Whatsapp and Stories are the next frontier in the great drive to full monetisation; a Facebook exec was quoted in Indian media this week as saying that ads were coming to Whatsapp’s ‘Status’ updates soonish, so, well, look forward to that one! The upshot here is that Facebook isn’t looking like it will stop being horribly ubiquitous anytime soon, basically.
- New, Better Instagram Analytics (and Promoted Stories!): Currently in beta and being tested with various usergroups worldwide (you can request access via the page here), this will nonetheless be rolled out all over the place SOON. This is big stuff, and presaging the imminent rollout of promotion for Stories - there are full details in the piece, but the information available to Page owners will include Story view numbers, swipe-ups, etc, for full conversion tracking, etc. They’re also making some tweaks to Facebook Analytics, though slightly less seismic ones. You can read more about the changes in this piece, but it leads with the FAR more exciting news that Instagram is currently running limited tests of the ability to PROMOTE YOUR STORIES! Effectively offering a similar functionality to the ‘Boost Post’ button on a FB Page, this is obviously VERY much aimed at the ‘normies’ market, with a high degree of automation in the targeting options, from simple lookalikes of your existing followers to basic geotargeting. So get ready for the parade of local ‘celebrities’ boosting themselves into your consciousness as they attempt to parlay being ‘big in Chelmsford’ to a slot on next year’s reality TV fleshfest.
- Share InstaTV Videos To Insta Stories: Insta continues to attempt to make its TV offering fly, this time by introducing the ability to cross-promote content from IGTV into your Instagram Story; although, bizarrely, it’s not a particularly well-realised integration and means (like the Soundcloud integration from last week) that you will simply be able to insert a still image of the InstaTV video into your Story which will then link to the full content on InstaTV rather then presenting it as a native part of your story. Which is significantly less good than one might have hoped, and makes me wonder why they bothered. (also, semi-related but I am really sorry about how ugly the writing here is, but I promise you that descriptions of products from the Facebook stable really don’t lend themselves to sparkling prose).
- Facebook Offers a Bunch of New Ad Formats In Advance of Black Friday: This is actually OLD NEWS, but I only saw it this week (and even then only courtesy of the even-more-complete-than-Web-Curios news roundup by We Are Social, which you ought to keep an eye on if you care about this stuff as they pick up the stuff that I miss or which, quite often, I am simply too bored or underwhelmed by to write up) - anyway, if you have actual physical products to flog and you want to do so on Facebook with a selection of EXCITING NEW AD UNIT TYPES then, well, it’s like all your Christmases have come at once. There’s some quite interesting stuff buried in here about automatic video creation too, should you care about being able to make mediocre product showreels from existing stock imagery.
- Facebook ‘Breaking News’ Expands to UK and Elsewhere: Facebook’s ‘Breaking News’ functionality (whereby select publishers have the opportunity to tag posts as ‘breaking news’ a couple of times per week, thereby giving their post a special designation within FB and, from what I can tell, granting it a small in-feed signal boost to boot) is now rolling out to a range of other countries including the UK. Which will only be of relevance if you work for a news org (although I wonder how loosely they’ll apply this - will ‘Closer’ make the cut? Love It? One can but hope).
- Snap Launches Desktop AR Camera: Following some...slightly iffy numbers in the latest earnings report, Snap’s latest announcement seems another step on the path to ceasing being a messaging platform and instead being the de facto AR layer in other companies’ tech stacks. “Snap Camera can be selected as a camera output in OBS Skype, YouTube, Google Hangouts, Skype, Zoom and more, plus browser-based apps like Facebook Live so you can browse through Snapchat’s Lens Explorer to try on AR face filters. And through its easily equipped new Twitch extension, streamers can trigger different masks with hotkeys.” So there. This is potentially a really interesting development.
- You Can Now Integrate LinkedIn Ads With Google Campaign Manager: A perfect headline; I literally don’t have to write anything else, thank fcuk.
- Promoted Carousel Comes To Pinterest: Has your professional existence been rendered awful by the lack of sufficient ad units on Pinterest? Have you been lying awake of a night wishing that there was a way that you could promote five images at once to your eager audience of cake fetishists and West Elm fans and wedding planners? YOUR PRAYERS ARE ANSWERED.
- Twitch Launching Karaoke Product: They’re launching this in beta to a ‘select’ number of creators, but I will be fascinated to see how this works and whether it takes off; for certain types of artists/streamers, the prospect of offering your fans a direct, in-broswer singalong opportunity is HUGE, and there has to be some sort of ‘world’s biggest singalong’ or ‘largest online choir ever’ stunt that you could pull...basically I think this is a MASSIVE PR opportunity for the right brand / streamer, so, er, go and do it! There’s a bigger, more in-depth dissection of how it works here should you desire one.
- New Google Docs Shortcuts: Fine, it’s not really about s*c**l m*d**, but it is work-ish and so it sort of fits here. You can now create new GDocs, sheets, etc, directly in-browser simply by typing ‘new.doc’ or ‘new.form’ or ‘new.sheet’ or whatever. Which is nice.
- Moon AR: I really, really like this idea; I had quite a few conversations this year with people about using large-scale environmental points as AR markers, but at no point did I think ‘hm, you could actually use the moon as a marker, couldn’t you, wouldn’t that be interesting and fun?’ which is why I am not doing some sort of highly-paid and exciting marketing gig for a film studio and instead am wild-haired and baggy of face in a South London kitchen at 7:26am on a Friday morning. Anyway, this is a promo for the newish film about the moon landings, which will show you COOL STUFF via in-browser AR if you visit the site on your phone and then point it at the moon. DO IT.
- The World’s First FB Messenger Novel: On the one hand, innovation! On the other, unnecessary and awful! This is the latest book by one-man thriller production line James Patterson, the sort of author whose heavily-embossed surname you have almost certainly noticed in passing as you stride purposefully past WH Smith towards the Wetherspoons at the airport, and you can ‘enjoy’ it through FB Messenger, which gives you all sorts of exclusive content and features which basically take the BORING old concept of the novel and make it shiny and exciting - video and audio clips! Photos! An exclusive FB discussion Group! An Instagram profile for the main character (imagine how sad that will look in about a month when they get to the end of the planned content calendar and the budget runs out)! This is...unnecessary, I think.
- The 2008 Pepsi Rebrand: A decade ago, Pepsi did a rebrand. This week, the design document setting out the branding agency’s thinking did the rounds online; this is, as far as I can tell, genuine; it’s also an absolutely mental, Brass Eye-level, beyond parody example of brandwankery which I urge you all to look at and try and make sense of; honestly, by the time you get to the end this has basically become the PDF version of the ‘Galaxy Brain’ meme.
THE SECTION WHICH FEELS SO MUCH LIKE A COWBOY THAT IT’S BEEN WRITING THIS WHILST WEARING NOTHING MORE THAN A PAIR OF BACKLESS CHAPS, PT.1:
- The Facebook Junk News Aggregator: A prpoject by Oxford University which is looking to track and measure the quantity of what it terms ‘junk news’ being shared on Facebook, specifically in the runup to the US midterms; the study defines ‘junk news’ as being “various forms of propaganda and ideologically extreme, hyper-partisan, or conspiratorial political news and information. The term includes news publications that present verifiably false content as factual news. This content includes propagandistic, ideologically extreme, hyper-partisan, or conspiracy-oriented news and information. Frequently, attention-grabbing techniques are used, such as lots of pictures, moving images, excessive capitalization, personal attacks, emotionally charged words and pictures, populist generalizations, and logical fallacies. It presents commentary as news. The term refers to a publisher overall, i.e. based on content that is typically published by a publisher, rather than referring to an individual article.” This is...sort of staggering, really. I mean, obviously anyone who’s spent longer than 30s online in the past 3-4 years is reasonably aware of what an incredible cesspit of idiocy Facebook can be, but looking down this list (which in its default view presents ‘junk news’ in reverse-chronological order, showing you the newest links first) you get an impression of the sheer volume of this stuff, and the range of weird, shonky ‘news’ sites punting it out. There’s a better and more comprehensive look at the study and how it works here, but do have a poke around for yourself (just be careful what you click on, there is a LOT of frothy-mouthed lunacy here).
- Voiceroulette: Have you ever thought ‘you know, what I really want is a service exactly like Chatroulette which connects me with random strangers online at the press of a button, but one which drops the ‘video’ part of the experience to prevent me from having to see a succession of overweight men masturbating tenaciously into their webcam’s eye with the sort of steely determination ordinarily reserved for endurance athletes’? No, you probably haven’t, and yet Voiceroulette STILL exists! I rather like this actually; when I played with it earlier this week I had a really nice chat with an English tutor in Warsaw who was using it to help his clients learn conversational English and he didn’t attempt to talk to me about his penis even once, so, well, RESULT!
- Guns In America: In another week in which Americans once again sadly trotted out that Onion article which stopped being funny about twenty mass shootings ago, Time Magazine published this superb interactive profiling a variety of Americans and their relationship with guns. The webwork is really nice, interactive and shiny without being showy for its own sake.
- Plink (Redux): This is a VERY RARE Web Curios moment in which I feature a link for the SECOND TIME EVER (quick everyone, the internet is running out!). I have just checked, and I first wrote up Plink in March 2014 (in which edition of Curios I opened by making some weak gag about George Osborn’s budget and wow don’t those look like innocent, halcyon days by contrast) - that’s 4.5 WHOLE YEARS, webmongs, that I’ve been doing this . Anyway, for those of you without the encyclopaedic recall of all the links I have ever featured that I seemingly have, Plink is a webtoy which lets you make surprisingly good musical compositions in collaboration with other strangers online, simply bly clicking and wiggling your mouse a bit. It’s super simple, and they have just revamped the interface meaning that it looks all shiny and nice, and, well, go and have a play, it’s a lot of fun.
- Gluckauf: There’s meant to be an umlaut in this word but, well, life’s too short. Have YOU ever wanted to take a (surprisingly shiny) 360 video pseudo-VR interactive tour around a German mine? No, you probably haven’t, but why not take one anyway? “At the end of 2018, the last coal mine in the Rhine-Ruhr region will close. An era that shaped the whole country economically and socially will be over forever. But, even after the last pit is closed, you can still experience this impressive underground world, with your own eyes in our Virtual Mine.” You can experience this in-browser or with a VR headset, and the production values are really very high indeed, although, well, it’s....oh God, I feel bad saying this, but, well, it’s really dull - I mean, I don’t know what I was expecting, fine, but after about 5 minutes of looking round at damp walls and industrial boring machinery I was about ready to escape. I can imagine if I did this in full VR I would get quite claustrophobic quite quickly; on reflection, there’s probably some quite fun horror stuff you can do playing on that specific feeling (although, er, totally unrelated to German mines).
- Gifaanisqatsi: Jesus, I’m not typing that again. You might have seen this this week - either in B3ta or elsewhere as it’s done the rounds - but in case not, it is GREAT. I can’t explain it any better than its creator, Monkeon, so in their words: “Koyaanisqatsi is a 1983 wordless documentary primarily made up of slow motion and time-lapse footage. If you haven't seen it, you can watch the trailer here. I wondered how easy it would be to make an internet version using random Giphy 'gifs' which have been tagged as slow motion or time-lapse, playing them along with the Philip Glass soundtrack.” The random juxtapositions it throws up are genuinely wonderful, and I could see a version of this being taken absolutely seriously as a piece of generative art.
- 1150 Free Films: I mean, you can’t say fairer than that, can you? Open Culture presents this INCREDIBLE selection of links to freely available films online; most of them old, many of them classics, subdivided by category. Seriously, if you’re a fan of crap kung fu movies then MY GOD will you be happy with the selection laid out here, but enthusiasts of any genre should be pretty well served. Look, who doesn’t want to watch ‘Vegetarian World’, a 1982 documentary in which"William Shatner walks us through the history, benefits, and misconceptions of adhering to a vegetarian diet." NO FCUKER, THAT’S WHO (apart, perhaps, from Handsy Sitwell (topical!)).
- Turtle Audio: This is a fun toy. You know that ‘Turtle’ thing that so many people learned to do basic coding with back in the day? You remember - that programmable drawing toy which you could instruct to move in simple patterns with the base commands of forward, turn left, turn right, etc? This is that, except a) it’s virtual; and b) you can ascribe different notes to various points on the route you program, turning the whole thing into a music making game. It looks very simple, but if you click on the tutorial explaining how to make more interesting patterns you can see that with a bit of work you can create reasonably complex, multi-layered compositions. Fine, it’s not the most efficient way of composing your next symphonic masterpiece, but it’s an excellent way of somehow filling all these empty, dragging hours between birth and death.
- Feedfilter: This really annoyed me when I found it, not least because some friends and I came up with this EXACT idea about 9 months ago and then obviously did nothing with it because we are a) lazy; b) incapable of coding; c) but mostly lazy. Feedfilter is a service into which you can plug your Twitter feed in order for it to show you all the ones that could be considered ‘offensive’; it also gives you the opportunity to go through and prune all the ones it picks up from your feed. Which is...fine, but it only seems to pick up on the major swears, and it’s all a bit po-faced. Look, OUR version was going to be called ‘milkshakeduck.me’ and it was going to tell you exactly how likely it was on a percentage scale to get Milkshake Ducked in the future based on your Twitter history, and we were going to use the full BBC moderation list of banned words as part of the analysis, with different terms given different badness weightings and GOD IT WAS SUCH A GOOD IDEA. I am now in an AWFUL sulk, sorry, will try and snap out of it.
- Time Traveler: I was CERTAIN I’d done this one already, but seems not - Time Traveler is a lovely idea from US dictionary publishers Merriam-Webster which lets you select a year from a drop-down and then presents you with a list of all the words which were first introduced to the dictionary in that year; so, on checking the year of my birth, I can discover that 1979 was the year in which ‘first world problems’ was first granted official ‘real term’ status, and the year in which ‘hip hop’ first earned a place (which absolutely backs up the lie I most like to tell my friends’ small children, to whit that I invented hiphop). Fascinating linguistic history, well-presented.
- Soul Machines: I was pretty much convinced that this was a promo site for a fictional corporation from a new film or game when I first found this, part of some sort of transmedia marketing effort, and yet it seems to be entirely sincere and REALLY COLDLY CREEPY (although they are Kiwis so probably not all bad). “We use neural networks that combine biologically inspired models of the human brain and key sensory networks to create a virtual central nervous system that we call our Human Computing Engine™. When you 'plug' our engaging and interactive artificial humans into our cloud-based Human Computing Engine™, we can transform modern life for the better by revolutionizing the way AI, robots and machines interact with people.” It’s not 100% certain what the company actually, practically does, but a look at the website with all its photorealistic CGI renders of eerily perfect human faces does rather suggest that they’re helping usher in a future full of smooth-faced, dead-eyed AI companions. Great!
- Fridge Detective: a subReddit dedicated entirely to people posting photographs of the content of their fridges, for other people to use to guess what sort of person they are. “Show me a man’s fridge and I will tell you the very essence of his soul”, as the old saying goes, this is oddly and perversely fascinating - there’s something weirdly intimate about seeing these, though I’m at a loss as to why I feel that, and even BETTER is the chance to look at the madly calorific fridges of North America, where it’s not unusual to see a selection of food which contains NO natural ingredients whatsoever.
- Glyph Drawing Club: A very involved glyph-based image creator, which lets upi pick from upto 100-odd elements which you can combine on a grid to compose fonts, images, etc, to your heart’s content. Fiddly, but if you’re a design-y type person then you might find quite a lot to enjoy in here.
- The Art Institute Chicago Collection: Another wonderful museum archived digitised for the enjoyment of the curious, this is a really nicely-done piece of digital curation, offering the ability to search by a wide and flexible range of criteria and presenting the works in a clean, easy-to-browse manner. The variety of work on display here, from an extensive pop-art collection to a significant body of work from the African diaspora, is impressive, and you could happily spend a few hours disappearing down rabbitholes; why not do that instead of working on that Powerpoint thing you’re supposed to be doing, the one that you know deep down is a total waste of time and exactly the sort of crushing busywork that we all know robs us of our dignity and eats away at what remains of our ‘souls’? Go on.
- Picular: This describes itself as ‘Google, for colours’, which, frankly, I can’t really improve upon. You type in your colour palette inspiration (say, vomit, or pustule, or wound) and it will present you with a series of colours which it associates with that keyword, based on (as far as I can tell) running a hex analysis on the Google Image results for that term. Potentially helpful if you’re looking for A N Other site to assist when pulling palettes together.
- Request A Woman Scientist: Do YOU have a need for a speaker, panellist, board member or similar? Do YOU need that person to be a scientist? Would YOU like to ensure that you at least pay lip service to diversity by ensuring that you book a woman? GREAT! This is a smart and useful tool created as part of the 500 Woman Scientists initiative which lets you either sign up to a database of female scientists worldwide or to search said database, by discipline, interest, degree status and geography to ensure that you never again have an excuse for having a scientific debate undertaken entirely by middle-aged men.
- Naked Mole Rat Cam: Naked mole rats - creatures once memorably described by someone who I can’t for the life of me recall as looking not unlike flaccid caucasian penises with teeth, which I defy you to ever forget - are REALLY odd looking little buggers, but apparently they’re also quite interesting for a variety of zoological reasons, which is why the Smithsonian has set up this webcam letting you observe these tiny, penile creatures going about their daily business. At the time of writing there is literally NOTHING going on, but I guarantee that if you check in around about now (does this attempt at reaching forward into the future in which you’re reading this work as an authorial device? I’m not sure it does) then you’ll see all sorts of writhing pink fun happening. If that’s your thing.
- Art Connoisseur: An excellent Twitter bot which Tweets out images of old art and offers up its own critique of the pieces in question; you can read about how it works here, should you so desire, but it’s good, clean, silly, artwanky fun.
- Aqua Dew: The lovely thing about the now and the coming future is that, thanks to our phones and digital tracking and voice assistants and smart homes and the like, there are very few places and times in our lives when we’re not intimately connected and communicating with one of the tech behemoths. One of the few times, in fact, is when we’re in the shower - or at least that used to be the case, but now, thanks to the just-funded miracle of Aqua Dew on Kickstarter (I don’t know why, but the weirdly low and very specifi funding target makes me a little suspicious here), you can take Jeff Bezos, or at the very least his omnipresent digital avatar, into the shower with you! Aqua Dew is a shower-mountable, waterproof, voice-activated Alexa unit which you can use to...er...well, almost certainly just listen to music, but who knows? Maybe you’ll want to dictate your novel or your shopping list or just ask Alexa what the news is today, or do some shopping....you know, I feel I ought to write something vaguely ‘WHAT IS THE WORLD COMING TO?!’-ish about this, but why bother? This is what the world is coming to; it just feels clunky because we still need the boxes, but fast forward 15-20 years when voice assistant tech is just ambient reality and we will think nothing of chatting to Alexa v.4.0 whilst voiding our bowels or ‘making love’. So it goes.
- Magic UX: Ooh, this is very interesting. Magic UX is a project by...er...Special Projects Studio which prototypes a really novel and rather smart user interface based on navigating between browser windows via the physical movement of your handset. It’s hard to explain, but imagine that all the windows you have open on your phone are arrayed as an invisible row, left to right, and you can switch between them by physically moving your phone along said virtual row, copy and paste between them with ease, etc. You sort of have to watch the promo video to get a feel for it, but the opportunities seem huge - take a look and see what you think.
- Make Yourself Great: God this site made me miserable. It’s all part of the SELF-IMPROVEMENT and PERSONAL GROWTH movement, and asks you to tell it how much time you spend doing ‘distracting’ things (social media, gaming, watching TV, ‘going out’, etc) vs how much you spend doing ‘productive’ things (by ‘productive’ it means learning, making stuff, etc etc); it then shows you how much more time you could have to do GOOD THINGS if you cut out some of the distractions, and how that would enable you, over time, to be more productive and successful and stuff. This is, at its core, exactly the same sort of horrific, LinkedIn-friendly, GaryVee-style strugglepornwank that I despise so much; such a pathetically narrow definition of what is ‘good’, such a total lack of understanding of the mental space afforded by doing certain ‘distracting’ things, such a pathetic and miserable obsession with SUCCESS and ACHIEVEMENT and GOALS and QUANTIFICATION and dear God you awful people just relax for fcuk’s sake.
THE SECTION WHICH FEELS SO MUCH LIKE A COWBOY THAT IT’S BEEN WRITING THIS WHILST WEARING NOTHING MORE THAN A PAIR OF BACKLESS CHAPS, PT.1:
- Dark Studio: There’s nothing wrong with this at all, to be clear - a new darkroom in East London which will help you learn to shoot and develop your own prints - but the absolute (post-?)hipster fetishisation of ANALOGUE all over this site did make me laugh rather. Still, if you fancy spending some money on learning how to do your own photo prints in the company of the sort of people who I am fairly confident in predicting will get into this because of the fakeness of Insta (“it use to be so much more real back in the day, yeah, but now it’s all influencers and it’s just, well, so artificial,, you know?”) and yet then go on to take photographs of their eventual prints to put on that very platform. The twats.
- Giant Poppy Watch: A Twitter account tracking the annual madness around Remembrance Sunday and the culture wars around the poppy / no poppy / white poppy debate. If you ever momentarily let it slip your mind that there is something very, very odd and not entirely healthy about this country’s relationship to the World Wars, this will very much remind you.
- Hundreds of Thousands of Copyright-Free Vintage Graphics: I’ve done that thing where as a result of writing a very comprehensive and descriptive title here I’ve not really got anything else to say about the link in question. Erm, onwards!
- Chroma: This bills itself as an AR Piano tutor, and in theory this is a very smart idea indeed - you fire up the app, select the piece you want to play, then point your phone at your piano keyboard to see an AR representation of the notes flying off the relevant keys in time, giving you a visual cue as to where your fingers are meant to be and when. Except, and this is the kicker, HOW ARE YOU MEANT TO PLAY THE PIANO IF YOU ARE HOLDING YOUR PHONE TO LOOK AT IT THROUGH THE CAMERA? IS NOT POSSIBLE! Either I am being an idiot here and not really understanding how this is supposed to work, or someone here has dropped something of a ricket.
- 190 Free Online University Courses: Look, despite what I often write here about being avowedly anti-effort I’m not against self-improvement and stuff - you want to better yourselves academically? GREAT! More power to you! Look, here’s a whole bunch of free online courses from a load of Universities around the world, meaning you can start thinking about which of them you’re going to start in a burst of optimism in January before giving up disillusioned in March! These skew towards engineering and computer science, but there are a dozen or so arts courses which might be of interest, amongst other things.
- Macbook Alarm: Simple-and-clever, this is tool for Macs designed for people who ‘work’ in cafes and who want to be able to go to the bathroom without worrying that someone’s going to half-inch their computer; you set up the alarm and it will SHRIEK if someone unplugs it or closes the lid, along with sending you a message on Telegram. Clever, this.
- Great Minds Auction: There is currently an auction taking place at Christie’s in London, in which you can bid on the papers and ephemera of some of the greatest scientific minds ever produced; Darwin, Newton, Einstein and Hawking. You want a signed note from Newton repaying a loan? Christ knows why, but OK! You want a letter from Darwin saying he can’t attend an event due to ill-health? Fine, you weirdo. You want...er...one of Hawking’s electric wheelchairs? WHY DO YOU WANT THAT? I sort of feel whoever buys that ought to be on some sort of list somewhere, but perhaps I am being unfair (when I Tweeted about this, Internet Oddity Sadeagle asked me whether it had been washed, which suggested that he ought to be on a list somewhere).
- Book Errata: Fabulously pedantic site collating book errata - those mistakes that make it to publication despite the best efforts of editors - and offering a classification of books based on how many mistakes they contain (it’s wonderfully sniffy, with ratings veering between, ‘Sloppy’, ‘Very Sloppy’ and ‘Horrendous’). I am very, very glad that this site exists, but simultaneously I wouldn’t really want to spend too much time with the people who contribute to it.
- Word Mine: FULL DISCLOSURE - this is made by Sensible Object, the games company that make Beasts of Balance, whose founder Alex I know a bit; regardless NO MONEY HAS CHANGED HANDS in exchange for me featuring this link (although if anyone wants to discuss the possibility of SPONSORED CONTENT in Curios then, well, I can’t say we wouldn’t consider it). Anyway, Word Mine is a fun free game for Alexa which merges anagrams and puzzles and light discovery - “Crack the anagram by digging deep into the Word Mine. Your handy canary will help you discover the letters needed to master the mines. You are an explorer on a mission to piece together the forgotten words of the world. Your canary assistant guides and helps you navigate the mines, she looks out for your safety and helps you read the letters, but it's up to you to solve the anagram in time before the mine collapses in on you” - into a cute experience which might appeal to those of you with linguistically-curious kids. Worth a look imho.
- Blloc: You already have a phone. You almost certainly don’t want to buy this, a model specially designed to minimise distractions and intrusions by making the interface monochromatic and generally unappealing, and splitting apps and notifications into a separate part of the interface to minimise their ability to mess with your focus. There are, though, a few rather nice design features to this - the toggle for colour vs monochromatic view at the touch of a button is really quite clever I think, and the way in which the UI works so as to minimise the number of times you’ll have to actually open apps rather than just browsing their information via the homescreen is neat; if you’re the sort of wilfully obscurantist weirdo who would rather have a phone that NOONE ELSE uses (ie me, who even had a bloody Windows Phone for a couple of years because, well, it was different (and really, really sh1t, turns out)) then this could be of interest.
- Poetryscript: Creating sonnets from individual lines taken from the 57,000 novels available as part of the Gutenburg project. Silly, but the outputs are surprisingly good and it has a decent ear for rhyme and meter which a lot of these toys don’t always possess.
- The Caselaw Access Project: This is a SPECTACULAR resource - “CAP includes all official, book-published United States case law — every volume designated as an official report of decisions by a court within the United States. Our scope includes all state courts, federal courts, and territorial courts for American Samoa, Dakota Territory, Guam, Native American Courts, Navajo Nation, and the Northern Mariana Islands. Our earliest case is from 1658, and our most recent cases are from 2018.Each volume has been converted into structured, case-level data broken out by majority and dissenting opinion, with human-checked metadata for party names, docket number, citation, and date.” So basically the entire recorded history of US law, made available for you to mess with - just THINK of what you could do with this stuff with access to a decent RNN and some computational heft; I reckon we’re going to see some really interesting analyses of how race and gender have played out in the courts, for a start, along with some fascinating stuff about the changing language of the law, but for starters here’s a toy which turns fragments of case law from the archive into limericks because, well, why not?
- Miniature Calendar: A truly astonishing labour of love which has, incredibly, been going on for nearly 8 years(!) - since 2011, this calendar presents one photo per day of tiny little dioramas. Why? WHY NOT? “Everyone must have had thoughts like these before: Broccoli and parsley may sometimes look like a forest of trees, and tree leaves floating on the surface of water may sometimes look like little boats. Everyday occurrences seen from a miniature perspective can bring us lots of fun thoughts. I wanted to take this way of thinking and express it through photographs, so I started to put together a “MINIATURE CALENDAR.” These photographs primarily depict diorama-style figures surrounded by daily necessities.” So cute I might die.
- Maquette: This is potentially interesting for those of you who work in VR or who want to work in VR - Maquette is a free set of tools launched recently by Microsoft and currently in Beta which are designed to let anyone create assets for VR in reasonably simple fashion; far more practical than the rather more arty Tiltbrush and the like, this feels a lot more like the sort of thing that engineers rather than artists might enjoy (a neat encapsulation of the difference between Microsoft and Google there). I haven’t tried it, but the videos give a reasonable degree of clarity as to what it can do, and as a flexible tool to model for VR environments it seems pretty powerful and intuitive. At least one of you will use this to make a big, geometric VR penis, and I am probably ok with that.
- Walpurgis: There is nothing about women’s footwear that doesn’t strike me as part of a cruel and unusual punishment - look, now that fashion and footwear design is no longer the preserve of men, why aren’t shops flooded with women’s shoes that aren’t mad and murderous to wear? Are you all secretly footwear masochists? I demand to be told. Anyway, of all the mad and horrifying footwear things I have seen, these potentially take the metaphorical biscuit - you want clogs designed to look like hooves, angled so vertiginously that you almost expect them to have the red soles of Louboutin? GREAT! These are really, really sinister, and frankly the rest of the site - Japanese, obvs, and which seems to sell...odd silken Elvish ears? - gives me a touch of the fantods.
- Websites In 2018: Very well observed, but will make you immediately notice exactly how incredibly fcuking annoying almost all websites are right now.
- Amazing Mazes: This site features hand-drawn (and computer-generated, but it’s the hand-drawn ones that are the real...er...draw) mazes of a degree of brow-furrowing complexity so great that you wonder as to the creator’s sanity. These are all available as hi-res JPEGs, so why not print a selection out on A3 paper and spend the afternoon getting increasingly frustrated and cross-eyed as you try and solve them sitting on the floor by your desk (ideally with your tongue poking out of the corner of your mouth, for the full ‘concentrating idiot’ look).
- The Autoblow AI: You may recall that several years ago I featured the Autoblow on Kickstarter - a weirdly R2D2-reminiscent machine into which men would, it was assumed, push their erections in order to experience a sad, lonely and almost certainly unrealistic representation of fellatio. Those were good times, weren’t they? Anyway, now times have moved on and so has the Autoblow - now they’re crowdfunding a version with AI TECHNOLOGY! Yes, that’s right, the power of artificial intelligence (not, in fact, AI or anything like it) will allow you to receive 10 different types of sad, lonely and almost certainly unrealistic representations of fellatio! If you want a brief glimpse of just how bleak this is, can I just quote from the campaign site - “FLUIDS REMAIN INSIDE THE SLEEVE! Because your penis naturally plugs the opening of the sleeve, all fluids remain inside. Ejaculte freely without messy consequences!” SO BLEAK. However, if you want a (slightly dark) laugh, I can’t recommend this enough - there’s even a pseudo-academic paper about the science of the blowjob that they use to underpin their wankmachine’s tech. You don’t need to read it all - in fairness, it is actually a proper paper with proper maths and stuff - just click the link and scroll a bit til you get to the animated gif (you’ll know the one I mean) and take a moment to realise that, yes, men really ARE this obsessed with their penises.
- Sorry: Finally this week, a powerful little ‘game’ made by Dan Hett which details the his experiences of media intrusion in the wake of his brother’s death as a victim of the Manchester bombings. All the messages from media you see here are real, which makes it all the bleaker - it’s not a ‘fun’ game, but it’s an excellent example of using ludic mechanics to make a point hit home, hard.
THE CIRCUS OF TUMBLRS!
- Mere Pseud: Not actually a Tumblr! Still, this is a really interesting project; a fictionalised autobiography, in diary form, of a young man in early-80s England. SO evocative of a certain time and place, so much so that you can almost see the dogsh1t-brown Datsun Cherry parked outside.
- Angular Merkel: In honour of Mutti.
- Sherlock Topz: Absoolutely no idea why the person behind this Tumblr - which celebrates the Sherlock/Foster ship in very explicit fashion (the drawing at the bottom is...remarkable, and very NSFW) - decided to start it this week, but damn fandoms are odd and wonderful things.
THE TROUGH OF (INSTA) FEEDS!
- Japanese Sandwich Bags: Sharing photos of the plastic bags in which Japanese people keep sandwiches. WHY NOT EH?
- Sandwich Monsters: Making monsters out of food, primarily sandwiches; if you want to feel inadequate about the amount of effort you put into amusing your kids at mealtimes then this will do it.
- Subway Ads: Collecting examples of subway advertisements in New York which have been modified by the public; these prove, much as it pains me, that commuters in NYC are funnier than those in London.
- Subway Creatures: On the one hand, I think that taking photos of people in public without their knowledge and then posting said pictures to the web for the numbers is a crappy thing to do; on the other hand, these are REALLY funny and tbh if you’re going to actually urinate on the tracks then, well, perhaps you deserve to be shamed.
- Please Hate These Things: Collecting appalling examples of interior decoration from the world of US property adverts. Some of these are just ASTONISHING.
- Mediugh: I imagine that this is made by one of you, seeing as the associated Twitter account started following me at launch - in any case, Mediugh offers up beautifully-illustrated examples of the small things that annoy journalists and PRs (if you’re a journalist, the existence of PRs; if you’re a PR, the fact that your job is a joke and noone respects you).
- Spongenuity: An artist working on algorithmically-generated portraits which are drawn by a doodline machine. These are BEAUTIFUL and there are prints for sale which I am totally going to buy one of right now.
- Sarah Sitkin: There is quite a lot of body horror here, including full skinsuits. You have been warned.
- Fecal Matter: But I promise you it’s nowhere near as unpleasant as this, which honestly creeps me out something chronic and is basically what I think would happen if someone crossed the aesthetic of Hellraiser with Vogue.
LONG THINGS WHICH ARE LONG!:
- How We Radicalised The World: It’s not been a great week for those of us increasingly concerned that we’ve spent the past decade effectively creating conditions designed specifically to facilitate the rise of extremist views, it’s fair to say, what with shootings and racism on the campaign trail and Italy and Germany and Brazil...this Buzzfeed piece is a general sort of ‘look how we’ve messed this all up’ piece, but presents an interesting chronology of the past few years and all the ways in which online activity has bled into real life politics and, well, WOW when you set it out like this is there a compelling argument to be made that perhaps we ought to just turn off the internet and maybe hibernate for a few decades.
- Bolsonaro In His Own Words: Obviously it’s unfair to judge a politician until they take office, and obviously it’s impossible to assess the likely impact of any leader until you see how they behave once power is in their hands, but, well, reading through this list of official quotes from Brazil’s lovable new leader, it’s fair to say that I’m not hugely convinced that he’s going to be a force for good in the world.
- Screens and Kids in Silicon Valley: You may not be hugely surprised on reading this piece to discover that Silicon Valley’s elites are somewhat disinclined to allow their kids to binge on screentime ,instead being of the opinion that it’s, well, not very good for them. Leaving aside the bleak ‘comedy’ of this, the piece paints a somewhat worrying picture of an additional potential divide developing between the rich and poor - of course if you don’t have any money and limited time you’ll be more likely to default to parenting-by-screen based on the near-infinite degree of mostly-free distraction it provides vs the expensive and finite (by contrast) pleasures afforded by books or travel or whatever. Welcome to a future in which people at the lower end of the income scale eat worse food, have worse health and consume more infojunk than people at the top, and in which the chances of doing anything about the poverty gap start to look significantly more remote the harder you squint.
- Self-Driving Ethics: You may recall that a year or so ago a link did the rounds online which presented a series of dilemmas based on the idea of a self-driving car; you were asked to choose, in a variety of differing scenarios with different actors, whether you would prefer a vehicle under AI control to risk the lives of driver and passenger or of pedestrians, given a range of different variables. Millions of people worldwide participated in the experiment, meaning MIT is now able to publish the findings which throw up some fascinating variations in morality around the world, particularly related to the relative value placed on young and old lives in different parts of the world. This is a genuinely interesting read, not least on the extent to which we can be said to share a moral perspective as a culture.
- Online Hate in the Real World: A sort of companion piece to the first article linked to here, this is another Buzzfeed writeup looking at the way in which online vitriol is increasingly translating to real-world action, from pipebombs to synagogue shootings, and which argues that part of the problem is the extent to which we’re now so inured to people saying awful, extreme things online that we aren’t able to accurately predict which of the hate-spewing nutjobs on 4chan is actually going to grab the automatic and which is just going to continue rubbing themselves insensible to tentacle hentai. Not cheering.
- School Shooting Survivors: A wonderful piece of photojournalism / interviewing by New York Magazine, which profiles 27 Americans who have survived high school shootings since 1946; beautiful photos, brave people, very sad stories. The first recorded instance of a high school shooting in the US was in 1840, by the way.
- Making Money From Mindfulness: I’ve spoken before about how irritated I am by tech people who spend much of the late-00s/early-10s exploiting the Skinner Box-like design principles of social media for commercial gain before pivoting into mindfulness apps in later life as they discovered that it was SO STRESSFUL being really rich and, actually, maybe all this tech isn’t that good for us after all, hey? Not to mention the specific London ones who spent much of their time making cost with Milo (O HAI MICHAEL ACTON SMITH). Anyway, this is about how people are monetising mindfulness - the numbers here are staggering, and there’s obviously a market for it, but there’s something unpleasantly surface level (ironically) about it all, and there’s a good point buried in here about how perhaps this is all just, well, keeping us compliant: “That meditation and mindfulness have entered the repertoire of global capitalism isn’t surprising: In the face of stagnant wages and an ever-deteriorating boundary between work and whatever we do outside it, why not shift the responsibility of finding peace to the individual? Put another way: Next time work makes you feel less than human, should you gently speak truth to power, or should you use mindfulness to self-regulate and maintain function in an oppressive system? And should you choose to self-regulate, are you tacitly thanking the oppressive system for giving you the tools of self-regulation to begin with? “
- All Magazines Go To Heaven: A profile of James Hyman and his remarkable Hyman Archive, something which I featured in one of the very first Web Curios back in the H+K days and which I am delighted to find is still very much a thing. For those of you unfamiliar, James Hyman used to work at MTV and started collecting magazines for professional purposes; this soon grew into an obsession, to the point where he now owns and administers the largest collection of magazines from around the world. If you’ve never had a poke around it, can I suggest you take a moment to visit the website because, honestly, it’s an incredible feat.
- Memory of Mankind: This is, honestly, one of the more oddly beautiful and touching things I read this week - I found myself thinking about it far more than I would have expected. Martin Kunze is a 50 year old Austrian man who has established the Memory of Mankind in a salt mine near his home; the project involves taking information about people, their lives, their hobbies, their learnings, about science and art and maths and medicine, and etching it on ceramic tablets to be kept, forever, in a cave in the salt mine where, over aeons, the levels of salt will rise and eventually expose them to the outside world again. This is SUCH an incredible project, effectively seeking to provide a snapshot, microcosmic as it will necessarily be, of the human experience for future civilisations. The wonderfully postmodern flattening of context this engenders is particularly wonderful - the juxtaposition of personal blogs and scientific journals and photos and...look, just read the piece and then go and visit the museum’s website; for a relatively small cost you can submit your own data to be etched and stored, which personally I would LOVE - I might submit a few Curios, as I feel certain that future civilisations will be THRILLED to bathe in my webspaff.
- Boyscouts in a Warzone: I read this and I confess did a little bit of a weep at how INCREDIBLY sweet it is - the Boy Scouts of the Central African Republic fulfil a particular and unique function in the country, riven as it is by warring factions, corruption and a barely-functioning infrastructure, taking the idea of ‘doing good’ to pretty significant conclusions. A fascinating portrait of a very, very fcuked country.
- The Petty Hall of Fame: A BRILLIANT list of the 60 pettiest moments in human history - obviously incomplete, as I personally have witnessed at least three instances that deserve to be on here - including such gems as Lord Byron’s insistence in keeping a domesticated bear as a pet in order to thumb his nose at his College’s rules against keeping dogs, and the brilliant story of the Iran-Turkey conflict sparked by a piece of furniture. A truly wonderful compendium of people being, well, just a bit dickish.
- Robert Drury’s Diary: The London Review of Books has a regular ‘Diary’ column, with various writers sharing details of their lives, however mundane. This is Robert Drury, who writes about his trip to investigate corruption in the oil industry in Kazakhstan. It’s ostensibly quite dull - he goes to Kazakhstan, he investigates a bit, he leaves Kazakhstan - but the writing is just perfect; it’s spare and cold and precise and, I don’t know, engineered, almost, and it made me quite jealous of how good it is.
- On The Nose: A profile of a quite remarkable-sounding woman; Sissel Tolaas is one of the world’s foremost authorities on scent and the science of smell, a ‘nose’ who preserves an archive of scents and who regularly works with large companies and brands to help them solve olfactory problems (and, honestly, this is just her third-stage career; the section at the beginning of this piece which blithely recounts her life to date doesn’t quite display enough awe for her achievements in my opinion; this woman is INCREDIBLE); the article does a very good job of describing the very particular world in which she operates, and the fascinating business of analysing and preserving scents.
- Post Malone: I don’t like the music of Post Malone; I find it facile and stupid and it all sounds the same. Then again, I’m a nearly 40-year-old man, so perhaps I shouldn’t like the music of Post Malone. Regardless, this is a review of his recent ‘homecoming’ gig in Dallas combined with a profile of the artist - it is without a shadow of a doubt one of the most savage takedowns of a musician I think I’ve ever read, a really enjoyable brutalising not only of him but of the culture that he embodies. Fine, maybe its alternative headline could be ‘out-of-touch critic doesn’t understand kids’ but this paragraph encapsulates the thesis rather nicely: “It is true, after all. Post Malone has won. He’s received wealth and fame with little accountability. He’s reaped the extreme benefits of a system that allowed him to flourish yet asserts his privilege to remain purposefully ignorant. He knows he won the lottery but doesn’t understand that it was rigged in his favor. This is what the zeitgeist demanded as the latest whole-milk hip-hop avatar: a proud non-voter, a nonreader of books, the type of person who gets a JFK tattoo without knowing about Kennedy’s role in the Voting Rights Act while bizarrely claiming that he was “the only president to speak out against the crazy corruption stuff that’s going on in our government nowadays.””
- Making Hot Sauce At Scale: A really interesting series of observations from the author about what she learned trying to build her hot sauce startup; honestly, it’s far more interesting than you’d think, even if you have no desire to read about someone’s entrepreneurial struggle; just the breadth of considerations involved here was an eye-opening detail.
- Colony Collapse Disorder: An essay comparing the manner in which colonies of bees react to stress and adversity, and how said colonies can simply fall apart under too great a degree of strain, and how one might argue that we can see that replicated within human communities too and how, perhaps, we ought to think of the rise in child suicide and self-harm as a potential indicator a a significant societal malaise. I mean, it’s not a cheery read but it’s a well-written and necessary one.
- A Diary of Life, One Day in 2018, For My Future Self: Author Tom Cox has a rather good personal blog, and this essay, published a couple of weeks ago, is a delight; a sort of free-form, disconnected diary entry taking a snapshot of his life right now for an imagined time capsule into the future. I think when people talk about the death of blogging in nostalgic terms it’s stuff like this that they mean; it meanders, it doesn’t exist to make big points or to get clicks, it’s just a snapshot of a mind in a place in a moment and it’s all the better for it.
- Six Glimpses of the Past: This is GLORIOUS. Janet Malcolm takes 6 photographs from her past and uses those to frame this six-part essay, part personal memoir, part family history, which throughout explores (both explicitly and not) the peculiar relationship between photography and memory, the pavlovian way in which images can evoke past events and the gaps that necessarily remain...honestly, this is a superb piece of writing and a genuine slow pleasure to read.
- New Words for the New World: I just want to give you the first three paragraphs and then hopefully you’ll be tempted to click. This is superb: “When your sleeves bunch up while putting on your coat it’s called a scrauntlet, or malsleevance. Gripping the shirt sleeve to keep it from bunching is called cuffling. Saying the same word at the same time as somebody else is a jinxing; trying to get past someone at the elevator door is a juggling, a side-step, a beshuffling. Not getting enough likes on social media is being screenied, and when a less important post than yours gets more shares it’s an inter-rage.” Like ‘The Meaning of Liff’ but beautifully, poignantly written.
- Late Life Love: Finally this week, I wept like a child as I read this account of the author’s home life with her ageing husband - as a depiction of what love is at heart, , and what it evolves into, and ageing and senescence, it’s unparalleled. It’s an extract from a book of the same name which is set to be published next year and which I am now massively anticipating - this is, honestly, so gorgeous.
By Fia Cielen
AND NOW, MOVING PICTURES AND SOUNDS!
4) I can’t work out if I like the song particularly or not - I mean, it’s not bad, it just leaves me a bit cold - but WOW the video is EXCELLENT and SO INTERNET. Watch it - I promise you won’t be disappointed, it’s really very clever. This is called ‘Material’ by Flesher:
5) I used to have a very loved Pedro the Lion tshirt. I wonder where that is. Anyway, this is said band Pedro the Lion and their new song ‘Yellow Bike’, a typically excellent slice of indiepop Americana:
6) Finally this week, this is apparently the first time a band commissioned a Line Rider artist to do them an official music video. This is SO GOOD - honestly, every part of it is perfect, not least the way they depict the pitch shifts through the changing track. Practically perfect - this is called ‘Hard Times’ and it’s by Guster and OH THAT’S IT ISN’T IT I AM DONE WITH THE VIDEOS AND THUS WITH THIS WEEK’S CURIOS BYE THEN BYE I LOVE YOU BYE HAVE A LOVELY WEEKEND AND TAKE CARE OF EACH OTHER AND TRY NOT TO SPEND TOO MUCH TIME ONLINE IF YOU CAN AND MAYBE GO FOR A WALK OR CALL A FRIEND OR ACTUALLY YOU KNOW WHAT JUST DO WHATEVER MAKES YOU HAPPY AS YOU PROBABLY DESERVE IT ANYHOW I AM OFF NOW TAKE CARE AND SEE YOU NEXT WEEK I LOVE YOU BYE BYE!: