HELLO EVERYONE! What's happening? Does anyone have any idea? No? GREAT!
For once, though, I genuinely don't care. I am about to embark upon a disgustingly lavish weekend of eating and drinking with my girlfriend, and, frankly, everything other than food, booze and the happy functioning of my gastrointestinal tract can get royally fcuked until Monday (apart from you, dear reader). There's a reasonable chance that I might contract gout between now and next Friday, so apologies in advance if next week's Curios gets delayed by painful crystalline deposits of uric acid around my finger joints - until then, though, let ME feed YOU like some sort of shabbily-plumed miserybird (a glum-beaked stork, perhaps, or a slightly sh1t heron). Open wide and let the anticipation build - WHICH of this week's multitude of partially-digested, meaty little nuggets of webspaff will I deposit down your pinkly-throbbing epiglottis first? LET'S SEE SHALL WE???
I, as ever, am Matt; this, as ever, is Web Curios; everything, as ever, is a mess and broken beyond all probable repair. ENJOY!
By Craig Keenan
LET’S KICK OFF THIS SECTION WITH THE NEW FOUR-TRACK EP FROM PIXEL AND JACK NIMBLE WHICH IS A CRACKING LITTLE SLICE OF UNDERGROUND UK HIPHOP!
THE SECTION WHICH SUGGESTS, IF YOU’RE A CLIENT AND FEELING SADISTIC, THAT YOU EMAIL YOUR AGENCY ASKING FOR A WHITE PAPER OUTLINING IN DETAIL WHAT THEY THINK YOUR ‘THREADS’ STRATEGY SHOULD BE:
- Instagram Launches Threads: A NEW SOCIAL MEDIA! A NEW SOCIAL MEDIA! Remember the good old days, before everyone just threw up their hands in resignation at the realisation that Facebook had won, when a new social platform sprang up seemingly every couple of months? Peach? Ello? Yo? Well HUZZAH, then, for Threads, Insta’s new spinoff app (trailed a few months ago and mentioned in here on 30 August, when I said that it ‘couldn’t be less important’, an opinion I’m struggling to revise at 652am this morning)! Threads is effectively to Instagram what Messenger is to Facebook; it’s a messaging app, pure and simple, with the sole gimmick that it’s limited to using with whoever you’ve designated as your ‘close friends’ on Insta; the idea being to streamline the experience for those users who conduct their entire lives through the app. It also includes the to-me-baffling autostatus thing, to whit: “We’ve heard that you want an easier way to keep up with your friends throughout the day – especially when you don’t have the time to send a photo or have a conversation. That’s why we created status. You can choose from a suggested status (? Studying), create your own (? Procrastinating) or turn on Auto Status (? On the move), which automatically shares little bits of context on where you are without giving away your coordinates. Only your close friends will see your status, and it’s completely opt-in” (those are Instagram’s own emoji, btw, in case you thought my long-standing aversion to the sodding things had passed; it really hasn’t). WHO? WHO WAS ASKING FOR THE ABILITY FOR THEIR PHONE TO SEND AUTOMATIC MESSAGES ABOUT WHAT THEY ARE DOING TO A HANDFUL OF PEOPLE? No fcuker, that’s who. Anyway, this is rather a lot of words for something with little-to-no immediate brand implications, though there is definitely some sort of ‘surprise and delight’ (sorry) mechanic certain popular brands could maybe do with granting fans the ‘joy’ of being one of their close friends for a week, offering them exclusive content and offers and a bit of BIG BRAND LOVE (before then cruelly withdrawing the attention and moving on to the next idiot in the queue). I don’t know, you’re the social media people, you come up with something (and if you’re not the social media people, why the fcuk are you reading this section? It’s awful! Skip to the good bits!).
- Insta Tests Reminders For Product Launches: Yep, if you’re the sort of brand whose fans (brand fans - a concept so alien and hideous that it makes me feel a tiny bit less human each and every time I type it) eagerly await your new products with fevered anticipation then this potentially-forthcoming new feature from Insta might be of use; “The product launch sticker in Instagram Stories and product launch tag in feed lets people set reminders for the launch date, preview product details and buy as soon as a product is available without leaving Instagram.” Being tested with a limited number of large brands in the US, but I feel reasonably confident in predicting that this will become available to all in due course.
- AR Shopping Launches On Insta: For a small range of partners (in the US), at least - still, this is another feature that will be available more widely within 6m or so - it’s a standard (ha! ‘standard’! How quickly the magic fades!) feature that will let brands with wearable products allow users to ‘wear’ them in AR, before swiping to buy directly through the app if users like what they see. Why not start pestering your Facebook rep about this each and every day til it finally rolls out in the UK? They live for those sorts of interactions, I promise you.
- Instagram Creators: A slightly-baffling Insta account, from Instagram itself, which is seemingly designed to offer tips and inspiration to ‘Creators’ (fine, I’m not going to wang on again about how much I hate that term; know, though, that I really, really do) for making better, more engaging stuff on the platform. It’s fair to say that, 12 posts in, it’s not really offering much in the way of value, but maybe it will improve and say or do something useful one day. Beautifully, the comments to most of its posts are along the lines of “want to help creators, Insta? Well stop throttling our fcuking content, then, we don’t want to buy any fcuking ads”, though if any of those people think that particular genie’s going back in the bottle they may well be disappointed.
- Twitter Launches Anti-Hate DM Filters: Or at least it’s testing them, and I can’t see this not becoming a universal part of the product. Don’t want to click the link? Here, look, this is the ‘interesting’ bit: “Instead of lumping all your messages into a single view, the Message Requests section will include the messages from people you don’t follow, and below that, you’ll find a way to access these newly filtered messages.Users would have to click on the “Show” button to even read these, which protects them from having to face the stream of unwanted content that can pour in at times when the inbox is left open. And even upon viewing this list of filtered messages, all the content itself isn’t immediately visible. In the case that Twitter identifies content that’s potentially offensive, the message preview will say the message is hidden because it may contain offensive content. That way, users can decide if they want to open the message itself or just click the delete button to trash it.” A Good Thing.
- Smarter YouTube Ads: Turns out I’m really not in the market for paraphrasing a bunch of relatively-tedious social media platform updates this week. Fancy another load of C&P from the link? Tough! “Rather than managing separate campaigns for 6-second bumper ads, skippable in-stream ads, and non-skippable in-stream ads, now you can upload multiple video creatives into a single campaign. From there, Google’s machine learning will automatically serve the most efficient combination of these formats to help you reach your audience at scale.” It’s a glorious time to be alive.
- Snapchat Enables Three-Minute Ads: It’s uncertain whether anyone ever actually needs to see a three-minute advert for anything, but, more interestingly, you can now promote (short) music videos on the platform, longer film trailers and the like; in terms of advertising media to children, this is probably quite useful. Additionally, Snapchat “is also giving advertisers the ability to add swipe actions to their commercial campaigns, just like users can do with non-commercial content. In the new format, any commercial campaign can now enable users to swipe to a web view, long-form video or camera attachment.” Genuinely potentially useful, this, though the obvious caveats around ‘is Snap really a good use of our ad budget though? Is it really?’ apply.
- Reddit Offers More Video Ad Size Options: There are a couple of other small updates here as well, including mobile landing pages and referral URLs; I’m personally of the opinion that Reddit (or at least certain bits of it) is just about normie enough that advertising on it shouldn’t be quite as scary as it used to be, though don’t quote me on that (the idea that anyone goes around quoting some webmong’s opinion on Reddit advertising!).
- Better Privacy Controls for Google Products: There is literally NO brand implication for this at all, but it’s good to know about and the sort of thing you might want to read and inform your friends and family about, should any of them be the sort of odd throwback who cares about privacy and not having their every move tracked by a somewhat-sinister advertising behemoth. This includes an incognito mode for Maps, letting you use the app without automatically flagging each and every step you take to Google, along with improved password security and a couple of other bits and pieces. Not fun, but worth knowing.
- Google Launches Action Blocks: Sinister Google may be, but it does also make some very, very smart things. Action Blocks is a great idea to improve smartphone accessibility; “Action Blocks are essentially a sequence of commands for the Google Assistant, so everything the Assistant can do can be scripted using this new tool, no matter whether that’s starting a call or playing a TV show. Once the Action Block is set up, you can create a shortcut with a custom image on your phone’s home screen.” So, for example, a user could set up an automated chain of actions which would allow them to order an Uber back to their house with a single tap of an easily-recognisable icon from the homescreen; for users with learning difficulties, or dementia sufferers, touches like this can radically increase the usability of a smartphone. SUCH a good idea - currently only in beta, but worth keeping an eye out for this if you know people who might benefit.
- Google Shopping Gets Revamped: The really interesting bit of this update is the tweak to Google Lens, which (as the piece points out) brings it much closer to Pinterest in terms of the ability to take photos of stuff and then buy things that look like whatever’s in that photo. There are a few other updates here too, but at present it’s US-only and, well, I’m bored of this stuff now so am going to leave you to click the link and find out what the fcuk they might be.
- BoostApps: Whilst I appreciate many of you are snugly-ensconced in the ivory towers of BigAgencyLand and as such have access to ready, willing teams of CRACK DESIGNERS and CUTTING-EDGE VISUAL CREATIVES (lol jk I bet it’s a constant battle to get anyone to even crop an image for you, right? And they never answer their emails? FCUKING ART DIRECTORS, EH???), I know that others of you don’t always have the resource and have to cobble together your content in other ways. BoostApps is a set of three apps which are designed to let you make quick, fancy-looking content for the socials, with one designed for Story creation, another for better video editing and the last for the creation of animated ‘posters’. As with all these things, the outputs won’t look quite like the stuff Nike does - still, better than messing around in Paint like I tend to.
- Feast of Legends: In a week in which I saw that the FT has launched a financial literacy boardgame to sell to schools, Wendy’s (the US burger chain whose inexplicable USP is...er...square patties) has done what might be my favourite pointless advermarketingprthing of the year and created a whole Dungeons & Dragon’s-style tabletop roleplaying game which you can download as a PDF and play RIGHT NOW! I just took a look at the game manual and, fair play, it’s nearly 100-pages and is seemingly a pretty well-fleshed-out standalone campaign, although I imagine the near-ceaseless shilling of assorted fast-food products throughout might get a bit wearing after a while. Still, I am officially declaring the creation of branded tabletop gaming products a PROPER TREND FOR 2020 (is this the first trend prediction of the year? Am I a PIONEER?!?!) - you read it hear first, kids!
By Ian Francis
NEXT UP, ENJOY THIS GREAT PLAYLIST OF SONGS INSPIRED BY SCIFI, COMPILED BY FRED DEAKIN!
THE SECTION WHICH IS THIS WEEKEND MORE THAN MOST IS VERY MUCH AWARE OF ITS OWN MORTALITY, PT.1:
- The UK Deprivation Map: Taking publicly available data about relative deprivation across the UK, by postcode, this is an excellent piece of dataviz which quickly and easily allows you to see how different areas of the UK rate on a scale of more-deprived to less-deprived. This is new data, published with relatively little fanfare last week, and it doesn’t paint a great picture of equality and wealth distribution around the country. What’s most striking, to me at least, about this is how it neatly and starkly points out quite how much wealth and privilege is concentrated in certain areas of London; not, I’m sure, news to any of you who aren’t members of the Capital’s liberal elite, fine, but it’s particularly evident here, as is the (again, unsurprising) rise in deprivation in urban areas as soon as you go North of Cambridge.
- Civility in Politics: FULL DISCLOSURE - this is a project by my friend Alison Goldsworthy, but it’s a good project and I would be including it anyway, and it’s my newsletterblogthing so, well, there. Civility in Politics is an award seeking to celebrate the seemingly-lost art of, well, politicians not being complete cnuts to each other; nominations are open in a selection of categories including politician of the year and campaigner of the year, and winners will get a £3k donation to the charity of their choice. Should you know of someone in politics at a local or national level (in the UK) who deserves recognition, nominate them - apparently they’ve had a surprisingly high number of suggestions already, which is pleasing-if-a-touch-surprising given, well, 2019.
- The Depression and WWII In Colour: A fabulous archive of colourised photos of the 30s and 40s in the US from the US Library of Congress on Flickr; there are hundreds of pictures here (1600, to be precise), and if you listen to a combined soundtrack of Count Basie and South Pacific while browsing them you’ll basically be transported back in time.
- The Mr Global 2019 Photos: These have done the rounds a bit this week, but if you’ve not seen them then OH BOY are you in for a massive, beefcake-based treat. Mr Global, I learned this week, is the male equivalent of Miss Universe; much like in that particular bastion of good taste, Mr Global contestants are also required to model costumes based on their traditional national garb, and this photo set presents the JOYFUL press shots for each of the several-dozen square-jawed, brooding-browed hunks dressed up in all their local finery. It’s almost impossible to pick a favourite, but a few observations: 1) WHY DOES THE UK NOT SUBMIT AN ENTRY? Also, what would our national dress look like?; 2) I think I just got pregnant as a result of Mr Nigeria’s lusty gaze; 3) Mr Taiwan is corpsing very hard in his second shot; 4) Absolute respect to Mr Cuba not only for absolutely owning his (very, very silly) outfit, but also for having what appears to be a truly gigantic penis, albeit one which exists at a fixed 90-degree angle to the rest of his body at all times; and 5), WHAT THE FCUK USA THAT IS NOT YOUR NATIONAL COSTUME ALSO PUT SOME EFFORT IN. Honestly, I could stare at these for HOURS.
- Mammalz: Actually, having complained *up there* about the fact that noone launches new social networks anymore, here’s another new one - Mammalz is ‘A new way to experience nature’ - that is, seemingly by tapping away on your phone. The idea is that Mammalz is a (standard-seeming) social platform, designed specifically for people working in, or interested in, nature and conservation, for sharing photos and information and news about, I don’t know, Gnu mating season. This is obviously never going to become anything other than, at best, a niche product (fast forward to 2050 when Mammalz buys out TikTok for $73bn), but it’s entirely possible that the nature community is CRYING OUT for a Facebook analogue; can someone check back in on it in a year and let me know how it’s going? Thanks.
- Flags Mashup Bot: I’m late with this one, mainly as I was convinced I’d featured it MONTHS ago (but I hadn’t. God, it must be thrilling to read about the day-to-day mechanics of running a long-running-but-still-very-much-not-very-popular-newsletterblogtypething!); Flags Mashup Bot is a Twitter bot (SHURELY NOT!) which, er, combines different flags to make new ones. That’s it - except as a result ofthe fact it’s entirely random, it quite regularly throws up...problematic examples which occasionally seem like exhortations to all-out war between certain nations. Can’t imagine too many people on either side being happy with its Sino-Japanese combination, for example, not to mention the Yorkshire/Lancashire abomination. Follow not only for the flags but for the surprisingly-excellent vexillological chat that you get in the replies.
- Peter Lindbergh: I didn’t know this, but Peter Lindbergh was a renowned fashion photographer who died this year after decades of work at the very top of the industry; this site is an online obituary to him and a celebration of his life and work, featuring his biography and portfolio, presented in lovely sober, beautifully-designed fashion. This is in part just a really nice piece of memorial webwork, as well as being a wonderful record of trends in fashion (and fashion photography) since the 60s; it also made me briefly contemplate the sort of esteem one must be held in to get a tribute website in death. When I shuffle off this mortal coil, can someone please create a CurioBot which will churn out GPT2-Generated Curios for the rest of time? Hubris? ME????
- Mylee: I went to dinner at the house of some friends last night who’ve recently had a baby, and we were talking about breastfeeding (it’s a highbrow laugh riot being in middle-age, kids, you just wait!) and what a weirdly political and fraught topic it is. Well, if you want to make it more fraught and give yourself an additional level of worry and anxiety as a parent, Mylee could be the product for YOU! Yes, that’s right ladies, QUANTIFIED TITS!!! You can use Mylee to undertake CHEMICAL ANALYSIS of your breast milk, getting near-instantaneous judgement as to the perceived quality of your body’s output, as well as using it to measure the quantity of your lactation to (and this is the good bit) ‘motivate you to reach your breastfeeding goals!’. Now as a cishet man my experience of either having breasts or lactation is...minimal, but I don’t think this sounds like a particularly good idea, especially not at a time which can often be fraught and nervous and stressful anyway. Would YOU like an app cajoling you about your fluctuating milk protein levels? Do YOU want another reason to be terrified you’re somehow failing the precious, fragile output of your union? I can’t imagine you do, but, well, here it is anyway! Also, and this is a beautiful closing kicker, it costs $250! AND THAT’S A DISCOUNTED PRICE! Madness.
- Natalist: Not content with exploiting nervous parents immediately post-partum, the mad world of startups is also attempting to exploit people’s fear of sterility for profit! Natalist is one of the most shameless grifts I have seen in years - it’s fertility as a service! The site offers visitors the opportunity to buy either one-off ‘Get Pregnant’ bundles, containing a few pregnancy tests, some ovulation tests, some vitamins and a book called ‘Conception 101’, or (and this is the REALLY horrid bit) subscribe to a monthly delivery of this tat for the princely sum of $75 a month. WHAT?!?!? I checked this out yesterday when I found this and the retail price of the goods included isn’t more than £40-odd quid, max, making this a quite staggering amount to pay for a bunch of stuff which, with the best will in the world, are unlikely to make a significant material difference to one’s likelihood of getting knocked up; not only that, but WHO NEEDS THREE PREGNANCY TESTS A MONTH?!?! This is madness, and quite unpleasantly exploitative madness at that.
- What’s Your Grief: A website offering resources for people coping with loss, this contains a wide range of resources, articles, links and advice on how to try to cope with the death of a loved one. It’s not hugely cheery as a casual browse, as you might expect, but it’s the sort of thing I would have found hugely helpful at various points over the past 10 years and which might be worth bookmarking or keeping somewhere because, well, it’s a universal problem.
- Oollee: Preposterous subscription service of the week part two! Oollee does, I will concede, have an oddly-compelling and pleasingly over-engineered website, featuring a strangely-threatening humanoid figure made out of water and a persistent (and, as I am finding as I type this with the tab open, bladder-troubling) watery soundtrack. That’s my goodwill runs out, though - Oollee is selling a subscription to a water filtration system, and specifically to the filters, which you need to replace at the cost of $29 a month. Now there are a few things wrong with this - for a start, US tap water is entirely potable, making this pointless from the outset, not to mention the fact that most commercially-available domestic filtration systems require you to spend around £40 a year on replacement filters rather than the £360 you’d be spending to enjoy the ‘convenience’ of a new one being mailed to you each month. The WORST thing about it, though, is the ability to ‘check the quality of your water whenever you like through the app’ - WHY? WHO THE EVERLIVING FCUK IS GOING TO THINK “OOH, YOU KNOW WHAT, LET ME CHECK THE MAGNESIUM LEVELS IN MY FILTERED WATER TANK WHILE I’M AT WORK, I DON’T WANT THEM DROPPING BELOW OPTIMAL LEVELS!” Literally NO FCUKER, that’s who. The cherry on the cake of this godawful company is that it’s based out of Menlo Park. Of course it is.
- Plotify: I love this - such a clever idea, and I’m slightly annoyed I didn’t think of it. Plotify lets you plug in any film title you like, and will generate you a Spotify playlist based on its plot; the song selection is a touch loose, fine, but the technique is quite smart; as far as I can tell, it pulls a plot summary of whatever you type in from...somewhere, and then using that copy as a series of keyword searches to populate the playlist. If you want an excellent way of throwing together some VERY random (but loosely thematic) playlists this is almost unparalleled.
- Surveillance Cinema: This is a really clever art project; artist Rachel Fleit reimagines iconic scenes from cinema, stitching them together from surveillance camera footage. The resulting short films are sinister and alien despite being very, very familiar - I would love to see a short horror film shot entirely using Amazon’s Ring doorbell cameras, maybe one set in a suburban cul-de-sac; sadly Ring’s current privacy travails mean that the likelihood of them commissioning one is pretty low.
- Pret Etranger: The existential musings of Albert Camus, applied to Pret A Manger. You may not think that this sounds funny, but you are wrong.
- Impeachment FYI: Your one-stop-shop for the latest impeachment news and updates. Sadly this pertains to the impeachment happening on the other side of the Atlantic rather than a newly-announced attempt to dethrone That Fcuking Man, but US readers might find it useful and those of us in the UK can just sort of wistfully hope.
- Canoo: This is interesting - a much-predicted business model in the wild for the first time (for me at least). One of the things futurists have been predicting for a few years now is the advent of ‘vehicle as a service’ provision; Canoo does exactly that, offering residents of...some cities in the US (it’s not launched yet, you see) the ability to pay a monthly fee to gain use of one of their specially-designed electric vehicles, which look rather nice and are all spacious and city friendly and stuff. It will be interesting to see what takeup of this is - if they can make it work in the States where people are big into car ownership they can potentially make it work anywhere.
- Drama Online: No, sadly not that sort of drama - instead it’s a wonderful trove of theatrical resources, including playtexts and analysis and theory and all sorts of other gubbins; if you or anyone you know is a bit thespy then this is a glorious resource (although you need to me associated with an academic institution to get access).
- Real Fantasy: I don’t mean to make too many assumptions about my readership, but I feel quite strongly that there may be more than a few of you who might be interested in this. Let’s see: “Real Fantasy is a magazine about interpersonal connections formed in virtual worlds. We are asking for story submissions from people who have played, or currently play, a Massively Multiplayer Online (MMO) game. The only requirement is that the story is about a strong memory you made in-game and carry with you today.” Did you fall in love in Azeroth? Have you developed a secret and burning hatred for someone on your Minecraft server? TELL THE STORY.
- A Kids’ Book About…: On the one hand, this is probably a really good idea - this site presents a selection of books designed to help adults have conversations with children about difficult topics, like sexism or depression or death (and more positive things, like creativity or belonging), all with friendly-looking designs and written by proper kids’ authors, and I can imagine that these aren’t a bad way of beginning to have Serious Chats about stuff. On the other hand, I did laugh a LOT at the sheer miserable horror of the ‘buy’ page, where you’re presented with a litany of titles like ‘A kids’ book about racism’ and, most perfectly of all, ‘A Kids’ Book About Failure’, which at least one of my godchildren is now getting for Christmas and which their parents had better find funny.
- Fat Bear Week: IT’S FAT BEAR WEEK! Thanks to Curios reader Hannah for reminding me of this, and of the fact that you can (as soon as the sun comes up over there, at least) watch a livestream of some VERY CHONKY BEARS catching salmon in the Katmai National Park; there’s currently voting going on to determine which of the bears so-far captured on camera is in fact the thiccest boi, so you may want to get involved.
- Whatsappr: An easy way of adding a ‘share this on WhatsApp’ link / button to anything you want. Which is useful. LOOK, NOT EVERYTHING IN CURIOS HAS TO BE FUNNY OR WEIRD OK, SOME THINGS ARE JUST USEFUL AND THAT IS FINE. Jesus.
- Echo Chamber Club: “The Echo Chamber Club is a philosophical research institute dedicated to understanding how information environments can be healthy and democratic in a digital age.” Part of Ed Saperia’s Newspeak House project, exploring digital democracy and its development, this is worth keeping an eye on if you’re interested in this sort of thing.
- This To That: A website celebrating its 20th anniversary this year and an absolute CLASSIC of the genre, serving one very specific purpose - that purpose is to help you work out how best to stick one sort of physical material to another. You ever wanted to know exactly the best means of sticking rubber to wood? YES MATE IT’S CHRISTMAS COME EARLY.
- Studio Binder: Even in weeks when the internet is an absolute horrorshow of bad, there will be occasional nuggets like this that momentarily convince me that it wasn’t a terrible invention after all; this is a YouTube channel which offers an incredible selection of video production tutorial and theory content, covering everything from scriptwriting to captioning to direction masterclasses...fine, it’s produced by a software company as marketing for its editing tools, but who cares - this is genuinely useful if you’re a budding filmmaker.
- Tilt Five: This is a really interesting Kickstarter, looking like it’s going to do over a million by the time it’s through and offering you the opportunity to get hold of an AR boardgames kit; it will ship with a board, sets of glasses and a variety of different games you can play with the kit. The idea is that the AR will basically turn everything into some sort of amazing Battlechess-style experience, with animations and SFX and all sorts of other digital gubbins which will make your tabletop gaming more immersive than ever before. Which is great in theory, though obviously the value of this will be determined by how good the games are and how many more get made for this specific platform; it does rather feel like it’ll end up being a bit Betamax-ish once Oculus and the rest become mainstream, but til then it could be worth a look if you fancy an augmented boardgame fix (and, er, if you’re ok with Kickstarter’s increasingly unpleasant labour practices).
- The Highway Wiki: You want a Wiki all about traffic signals and associated information? You want to get lost in an exhaustive list of every single manufacturer of traffic signals in the world? No, I can’t imagine you do for a second, and yet I know that at least one of you will click this link and THIS IS THE POWER I WIELD!!!
- Parliament Buildings of the World: A sublime Twitter thread offering photos and, even better, short critical appraisals of the Parliaments of the world. It’s amazing quite how many of them look quite a lot like not-very-good-motels.
By Serge Gay Jr.
NEXT, HAVE A RATHER GOOD TECH-HOUSE MIX BY FRANCESCO MONTI!
THE SECTION WHICH IS THIS WEEKEND MORE THAN MOST IS VERY MUCH AWARE OF ITS OWN MORTALITY, PT.2:
- Leo Aerospace: I can’t imagine there are many of you who are likely to find this particularly useful, but I wanted to include it purely to share my amazement at the fact that you can apparently fire rockets into space FROM A BALLOON, but also because the little illustration of the balloon with said rocket attached to it is SO incredibly shonky that I’m not totally convinced this whole thing isn’t a joke (it isn’t a joke, it’s real, let’s shoot something into space from a balloon!).
- Can You Microwave?: There are certain categories of question that are so important that they need a standalone website (see also: that one up there about how to stick things to each other). This is onesuch site, offering all the information anyone could possibly need or want on the likely outcome of microwaving a bunch of different objects and materials. Even if you don’t click, I feel it’s important to share this particular entry from the homepage: “Can you microwave lube? No.” I’m basically a public servant.
- Knowable: “Knowable is a first-of-its-kind audio learning platform and library of original, expert-led audio courses. We create immersive, screen-free learning experiences that help people get inspired, learn new things, and accomplish their personal and professional goals.” It’s a paid-for service, obviously, but they have some pretty big names involved, including the likes of Alexis Ohanian on their ‘how to be an entrepreneur’ course (I personally think that the likelihood of any of you learning anything from Alexis Ohanian burbling into your ear about entrepreneurship is approximately zero, but feel free to come and laugh at me when you’re riding around on a platinum BMX or whatever it is you choose to buy with the millions). Could be worth a look, maybe, but equally caveat emptor and all that.
- The Brimley Line: A joyous piece of internet silliness, the Brimley Line is...oh, look, here: “When 'Cocoon' reached theaters on June 21, 1985, Wilford Brimley was 18,530 days old. This account makes note of people who have reached that age.” Yes, that’s right, a Twitter account that arbitrarily celebrates celebrities’ 18,530th day of life, sporadically Tweeting out things like “Born Jan. 2, 1969, supermodel and maternal health activist Christy Turlington is 18,530 days old today, making her the same age as Wilford Brimley on the day ‘Cocoon’ was released. Congrats @CTurlington — you’ve reached the Brimley/Cocoon Line.” You may not think it will make you happy, but I promise you it really does.
- The SWPA Award Entries: A selection of photos submitted to this year’s Sony World Photography Awards, collected by the Atlantic and featuring some absolute gems; the last one on the page is a particular favourite of mine.
- Cheatman: Would you like to play a game of hangman against the computer? One in which the computer cheats incessantly? One which is impossible to win? You wouldn’t automatically think that this would be anything other than a deeply frustrating and futile experience, and in the main you’d be absolutely right, but there’s something sort-of bitterly amusing about the machine opponent’s ceaseless cnutery which means I enjoyed it quite a lot more than I expected to. Still, you really CANNOT win.
- Haywire: Photographs of the incredibly tangled telephone wires of Nepal, which, again, shouldn’t be anywhere near as interesting as pleasing as they in fact turn out to be.
- Smartcan: I can’t work out if this is the best product innovation I’ve seen all year or absolutely the worst. You decide. There are certain parts of the world in which residents are expected to move their bins to a specific collection point to facilitate the binmen’s job; I can only imagine the intense pain and discomfort these people feel each week when they have to move a wheeled plastic container a dozen or so feet and then back again. Well THANK GOD for Smartcan, then, which eliminates that onerous chore by, er, fitting the bins with wheels and a motor and letting you programme them so they’ll wheel themselves out each week. YOU CAN TRACK THE BIN USING AN APP! “What are you doing, Brad?” “Oh, nothing Steve - just checking my motorised Smart Bin is manoeuvring itself into place with sufficient accurac-oh for fcuksake, it’s gotten stuck on the SUV”. No, I have decided, this is a terrible, terrible idea.
- SeatyGo: An appalling name - honestly, can we ban tweeness for a few years? I thought we’d got all that ‘boaty mcboatface’ and twee nonswears out of our systems a few years ago, but I worry it’s creeping back - for what otherwise looks like quite a sensible thing, a detachable bike seat currently seeking funding on Kickstarter. It’s about halfway there with three weeks to go, so there’s a reasonable chance it’ll make its target - cyclists bored of having their seats nicked could do worse than check this out (previous comments about Kickstarter’s anti-union fcukery notwithstanding).
- The Trade Journal Cooperative: I am MISERABLE that this doesn’t deliver to the UK, but am including it in case anyone fancies setting up something parallel (if it already exists over here, please do let me know) - this is a subscription service which, for an annual fee, will send you a different obscure trade publication each month. It may not sound great, fine, but how much would YOU like to wake up one morning to find an unexpected copy of ‘Pizzaiolo Monthly’ or ‘Sprocket World’ on your mat? LOTS is the obvious answer. Quite annoyed I can’t subscribe.
- Tonic: Sorry, I’ve just realised there’s rather more US-only stuff in here than usual; I’ll be more careful in future. Still, Tonic is a really interesting idea - an app to surface new and interesting content from the web, which uses a combination of automated scraping of sources allied with a human editorial team to triage and maintain quality control. It’s focused on reading rather than audio or video, and is currently US-only for the entirely reasonable reason that most of the content that they are currently surfacing is from / about the US and they want to expand their range before going international. I’ll be watching this with interest - in a sense it could work like a less-overwhelming Curios, which sounds, to my mind, POINTLESS, but then again I would say that.
- AngelFace: A facial recognition app for VCs, cobbled together as a sort-of joke but actually functioning as a reasonably sobering warning about how easy it is to make this stuff now from off-the-shelf bits of code and whatever database of photos you happen to have lying around. It’s not awfully difficult to imagine this sort of thing being used for less-than-lovely purposes - although maybe that’s only if you’re a relentless Cassandra-type miserabilist like I am.
- Fitzframes: Now this seems like a smart business idea - bespoke, to measure, 3d-printed glasses, designed for kids, which come in a range of colours, are claimed to fit perfectly, and which as a result of the manufacturing process are cheap, apparently sturdy and easy to replace. Obviously I can’t speak to the quality as - again - this is a US-only product, but this feels very much like the sort of thing you could probably absolutely rip off and do in another territory if you work fast enough (but, er, don’t! Sorry, people behind this website, I don’t mean to suggest that people just steal your ideas (although that is in fact exactly what I just did)).
- UX Frameworks: A whole host of resources and frameworks for designing UX. Not hugely interesting if this isn’t your field but potentially hugely valuable on the offchance that it is.
- 50 Digital Wood Joints: No, I have literally no clue whatsoever as to why you might want to download a PDF of 50 different ways of making joints in wood, but I’m sure you can come up with a reason.
- Epidermis: A really powerful photo project presenting a range of women, posing in ways familiar from beauty advertising, each of whom have a skin condition which they’re not attempting to conceal with makeup. Sophie Harris-Taylor’s images are rather beautiful; here’s the artist’s statement on the project, which is even nicer due to not having been coopted by fcuking Dove. “Normality is defined by the images we see all around us, we are led to believe all women have idealised, flawless skin - they don't. Whether unshown or simply disguised, many women have conditions such as acne, rosacea and eczema and many of these women feel a pressure to hide behind a mask of makeup, covering up what actually makes them unique. Here these beautiful women stand unashamed of baring their skin.”
- K-Stans: More photos, this time a gorgeous selection taken in the ‘Stans (Kazakh, Kyrgi, and possibly one or two others) and which are full of impossibly blue skies and yurts and people who grew up on a diet of yak milk. Included in part for my friend Jay, should they be reading this (HI JAY!).
- Troll Factory: A small game by Finnish public service media company Yle (which I think is a bit like their equivalent of the BBC) which is designed to help kids understand issues around disinformation, fake news and social media. It’s short and simple and not aimed at the likes of YOU, but your kids might find it interesting or educative.
- Name The US Cities: This is SO HARD but at the same time SO COMPELLING and I am SO BAD AT IT.
- The Interactive Fiction Contest 2019: Last up in this week’s selection of webephemera, this year’s entries into the annual Interactive Fiction competition features a wonderful, diverse selection of different types of IF, spanning an incredible range of plots, themes, mechanics and styles, from genre fiction to serious, emotionally hefty explorations of some pretty adult themes. My personal favourite from this year’s lineup is this, a (very dark) little story called “The Mysterious Stories of Caroline”, but do take some time to read through see if there’s something that piques your fancy; there are honestly some truly wonderful pieces of writing here, and I think IF is very much slept on as a mainstream content mechanic.
By Naudline Pierre
LAST UP IN THIS WEEK’S MIXES, THIS IS A TRULY SUPERB AND ECLECTIC MIX OF ROCK AND SOUL AND ALL SORTS OF OTHER THINGS THAT I GUARANTEE YOU WILL LOVE OR YOUR MONEY BACK!
THE CIRCUS OF TUMBLRS!:
- Fcuk Yeah Jaques Chirac: So long, Jacques. Enjoy a bunch of photos of him looking incredibly fcuking gallic.
- Horny Jar Jar Binks: I make no apologies. IT FINDS ME, OK?? This is broadly SFW insofar as I haven’t seen any obviously deviant images, but the text of the site is very much not the sort of thing you want to be caught reading in the office; the obsession with fellating Metallica is very, very odd.
THE TROUGH OF (INSTA) FEEDS!:
- Vanessa McKeown: McKeown is a (UK-based?) photographer and designer, whose Insta feed presents her gently surreal manipulated images. The style’s familiar, but there are a lot of very good little visual gags in here.
- Samuele Recchia: An Italian artist with a pleasingly scratchy and slightly sinister style - I came across this via an excellent newsletter by someone called Pietro Minto, which comes out every Saturday and always contains at least five links I’ve never seen before. It’s all in Italian, but that will make it all the more exciting to find out what the fcuk it is you’ve clicked on; worth a sub imho.
- Dirk Koy: Short examples of creative videography, with a very distinct style.
- Domenic’s Can Collection: There’s an article down there about the weird hobby of collecting cans of Monster Energy Drink, through which I discovered this EXCELLENT feed in which Dom shows off the many, many different flavours of Monster they’ve managed to accumulate. What’s particularly nice about this feed - there are MANY others like it, turns out - is that Dom takes the trouble to try and compose the shots in gently pleasing ways; I particularly like the use of flowers and fresh fruits as a contrast to the luridly artificial energypiss.
LONG THINGS WHICH ARE LONG!:
- How Does Trump Win: A Twitter thread by Rob Blackie analysing how and why Trump - and similar politics elsewhere - is so successful; you may think that you’ve read all this stuff before, but I promise you Blackie’s analysis is cogent and he pulls together lots of different elements to make his case. Contains lots of pointers for all your PR people too, should you wish to take lessons from the Bad People.
- Inside Aspen: The Aspen Institute is, if you take it at face value, basically like a paid-for Davos for liberals; a $10,000+ retreat where rich ‘leaders’ (occasionally real, occasionally self-defined) convene to explore ideas of liberalism, statecraft, democracy and the like, whilst communing with like-minded individuals as they learn how to become the best version of their incredibly successful and undeniably-hubristic selves. This is a very, very good read in the Economist’s 1843 magazine, and, especially if you’re a left-leaning person like me, will make you feel a bit uncomfortable (though not as much as it will make you fcuking despise the concept of the Aspen Institute).
- Among Arms Dealers: One of two superb LRB pieces in this week’s longreads, this first is a relatively brief series of vignettes and observations gleaned from the recent DSEI arms fair which took place in London. So, so much to love (read: hate) about this, from the wonderful details (the Italian booth babe in a camo cocktail dress), to the discomfort of the interviewees when they realise they’re talking to a reporter - absolute special shout out, though, to whichever agency it was which came up with ‘Strike With Creativity’ as a brand position / strapline for death-merchants Raytheon; I hope you feel incredibly proud of yourselves, you dreadful cnuts.
- The Surveillance of the Suburbs: A very good article on the growing ubiquity of Amazon’s Ring doorbells, which as I’m sure you’ll recall have come under a bit of scrutiny this year as a result of some rather interesting marketing tactics whereby the company cosies up to police forces to get them to act as de facto salespeople for the tech. The piece shows quite how attitudes in tech reporting have changed over the past few years, and not before time - a few years back, the potential social consequences of surveilled neighbourhoods are unlikely to have been subjected to quite the degree of scrutiny we’re seeing here.
- I Worked At Capital One: An honest account of what it’s like working for a company whose entire business model was predicated on selling people debt that that they were going to have to keep paying off for decades; the interesting bits in this piece are less about the day-to-day mechanics of working for an awful business, so much as the questions that exist in the margins about whether said awful business absolutely had to be as awful as it was to make money; turns out, it probably didn’t! “An ethical corporation could be tempted by compelling evidence about the suffering it caused to relinquish some of its massive revenue. But over the long run, a publicly traded company wasn’t going to sacrifice a meaningful amount of income to avoid destroying lives—unless the law required it.” Well, quite.
- Entertainment is Getting Shorter (And Longer): Hugely interesting essay, particularly if you’re in the content business (AND WHO ISN’T???), about the growing polarisation of content types across different media - on the one hand, ‘snackable’ content designed to be consumed constantly, voraciously, without even thinking; this is your 3-10s bucket, the majority of the stuff we scroll through on the feed and enjoy on the TL; on the other, looooong content, from the hour-long visual albums dropped by Beyonce and others to the proliferation of longform writing all over the web. The piece asks what this means for the more traditional 20-30m content format, the 1500 word essay and the other formats stuck in what the author terms the purgatorial middle-ground; I find the theorising about the relationship between the two forms genuinely interesting, though I appreciate I might be a niche case here.
- Being Famous on TikTok: Another week, another essay about TikTok to try and explain it to the old; this time Vox looks at what it’s like to achieve a modicum of fame on the platform, but frankly it’s less about TikTok as a platform than it is about the increasingly common dream amongst global youth (to quote this excellent line from the article) “wherein performing your life online becomes a paying job.” Performing for who, though? And for what?
- Facebook Dating: The first proper writeup I’ve seen of what Facebook Dating is actually like as a product - the author, an obviously media-literate Manhattanite, is obviously not target audience for it, but her observations ring true nonetheless; that Facebook dating will work most successfully for heavy FB users, which means in turn that it’s likely going to be most popular amongst older demographics and in the developing world. I share the author’s skepticism as to whether it’s going to be enough to entice people back to the platform and make them start using it regularly again, though admittedly one oughtn’t underestimate the powerful motivator of ‘I might get laid’, especially among men.
- Trepanation: I remember always having a weird fascination with trepanation, ever since I was a kid (I remember slightly freaking out my English teacher when I was 15/16 by knowing that word; she was also incredibly disturbed by the fact I was reading American Psycho, suggesting, on reflection, that she was possibly drawing some unfortunate inferences). Anyway, this is an honestly fascinating history of the practice, from its use in Neolithic times to the weird, niche communities who do it to themselves in 2019. Imagine for a second drilling a small hole into your own skull. JUST IMAGINE IT. Maybe it would let the voices out, though.
- Remember Balloon Boy?: Oh wow, those were great and innocent times! Nearly 10 whole years on from that glorious Summer in which a small kid was flown away by a balloon and his terrified parents were briefly famous until it turned out that it may in fact have all been staged as a means of getting famous! HALCYON DAYS! This is a wonderful story - the reporter treats it with admirable respect and restraint, even when portraying a family best described as eccentric, and even when it all gets very odd towards the end. Even if you don’t recall the original incident this is worth a read.
- JD Salinger’s Spiderman: It’s a single joke, fine, but it’s executed perfectly. What if Holden Caulfield was Peter Parker?
- On Escapism, Twitchcon and the Fortnite Habit: I enjoyed this lots more than I expected to based on the writing style (a touch on the overblown style) - I suppose it’s the honesty of the author’s account of his own obsession with the game, and how he felt about it after having seen thousands of obsessive kids hopped-up on primary coloured fizzy drinks and Fortnite fever at this year’s TwitchCon. It sounds awful.
- The Red Bull Experiment: I had totally forgotten that Red Bull tried to find an American F1 driver a few years back; this absolutely fascinating piece tells the story of that process, and what happened to all the people who didn’t make it (as well as the ones who did). The central question here is an interesting one which applies to a range of disciplines, not just sporting; is the search for an exemplary talent ever worth fcuking up the lives of a selection of less-exemplary talents for? Randian theorists need not respond to that rhetorical question.
- Building the Starbucks of Weed: On the race to work out what the perfect environment for people to consume all this newly-legal weed is. The author speaks to a variety of people trying to find the perfect formula for smoking venues; upsettingly, all of them seem pretty much wedded to the idea of some sort of ‘Museum of Icecream’-type Insta-friendly photo playground, which strikes me as HORRIBLE; look mate, when I am very stoned I very much do NOT want to be surrounded by people taking photos of stuff, posing and being all performative. I want, in the main, to be in my house, suggesting on reflection that I am probably not the target market for these places. Still, if you’re interested in the future of weed or indeed retail in general, this is worth reading.
- How Kerrygold Conquered America: If you’re me, Kerrygold is what you buy from the corner shop when you realise that the butter in your fridge has been there approximately seven months and it’s probably not supposed to taste like that. If you’re American, though, it’s apparently THE chic dairy product of choice, endorsed by famouses and redolent of the thick, verdant grass of DE AUOLD CONNTRY (that’s my phonetic Irish - good, isn’t it?); find out why in this article (it doesn’t actually tell you why, but it’s a nice read on the business of food which I am always fascinated by).
- It’s Decorative Gourd Season, Motherfcukers!: YES IT FCUKING IS.
- Cut From The Same Cloth: I absolutely love this essay, in which Myfanwy Tristram writes about her attitudes to her teenage daughter’s fashion choices, and draws links between her past as a goth and the evolution of teen style into the 21 Century. I imagine that if you’re the parent of t(w)een girls this is wonderful - even if you’re not, though, it’s a genuinely beautiful piece about memory and growing up and letting go, and with a healthy dollop of late-20thC fashion history and cultural tribalism. So good.
- Darkness on the Edge of Cougartown: Some of the downsides of dating a younger man, by the older woman in the relationship. Genuinely very funny indeed.
- Consider The Butt: In which the author, Heather Radke, writes for the Paris Review about visiting Butt-Con, an event designed to promote “Tushy, a hefty plastic gizmo that attaches to a toilet in order to turn it into a bidet. The founder of Tushy, Miki Agrawal, says that she likes to work in the “taboo space.” Before getting into butts, Agrawal was busy rebranding menstruation as the CEO of Thinx, a company that makes underwear for people on their periods. Butt-Con was a showcase for her new product, as well as for her own personal brand of transgression: Agrawal doesn’t just want to talk about the body parts we keep hidden, but about what those body parts do. She makes products for periods and pooping, and then she works to make those products seem hip.” This is BRILLIANT; funny and smart and far better than an essay about visiting the launch of a bidet product ought to be.
- Was It Worth It?: A selection of essays by women who in one way or another participate din the Me Too movement, whether by outing an abuser or blowing the whistle on unacceptable behaviour in their industry; each one looks at what happened afterwards, and how their lives have changed. It’s fair to say that it’s not exactly a hugely uplifting series of accounts, but it’s an important one; not only is there some powerful writing in here, but it’s also a useful reminder of the sort of structural power imbalances that still exist to perpetuate the problems that the movement hoped to address.
- Topping From The Bottom: Sex and pain and ageing and illness and drugs and self-hatred and look, I know this doesn’t sound like fun but I promise that it is a beautiful piece of writing by Susannah Breslin.
- Reviewing Updike: Last up in this week’s longreads, possibly the best thing I have read all year, let alone all week. Patricia Lockwood reviews early-period John Updike - you don’t have to have read his work to enjoy this, and please don’t ignore it just because you know nothing about the author whose work it analyses. The piece gives you all the information you need to enjoy it, and the writing is...actually, it’s not even worth trying to describe it, it’s just perfect, to the point where I again got that slightly saddening feeling whereby you read something and you realise that, yes, this is what being really good reads like. Honestly, I kept stopping to enjoy particular sentences or turns of phrase - if you only read one thing from this section, please make it this one.
By Hiroshi Watanabe
AND NOW, MOVING PICTURES AND SOUNDS!
1) First up, a superb mashup of 50 songs from the year of my birth by the ever-excellent The Hood Internet:
2) Next up, this is a BEAUTIFUL piece of animation and on a cold autumnal afternoon it’s just the bleak little tonic I’m sure you all need. It’s called ‘The Full Story’:
3) This is a few months old, but it’s gorgeous - Girl Ray with ‘Tell Me More’:
4) HIPHOP CORNER! This is the latest from Curios favourites Clipping, and it’s as fuzzily, brilliantly anxious as ever. This is ‘Blood of the Fang’:
5) Finally this week in the musical selections, the aptly-titled “Soon There Will Be No Summer” by Fauness - this is gorgeous and cold and crisp and reminds me of frosty mornings, and OH LOOK THAT’S THE LAST VIDEO OF THE WEEK AND I REALLY NEED TO GET MOVING AS I HAVE SOME SERIOUSLY LAVISH EATING TO START PREPARING FOR I LOVE YOU TAKE CARE I LOVE YOU I HOPE YOU GET TO EAT NICE THINGS TOO THIS WEEKEND AND THAT YOU DO SO WITH MODERATION AND DON’T GET FOOD POISONING AND THAT YOU KNOW THAT I CARE ABOUT YOU VERY MUCH AND REALLY HOPE THAT I CAN BE HERE AGAIN NEXT WEEK TAKE CARE BYE BYE TAKE CARE BYE I LOVE YOU BYE!: